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life is a thing of nought, when it interferes with a single drop of
pleasure?"

"What fearful things you are telling me," exclaimed the Countess at
length, "why do you wish to terrify me?"

"Because I see that you are innocent and pure, and that you know not
what you may expect here. You cannot have been here long."

"Only a few hours," replied the Countess.

"And you did not spend your childhood here, or you could not look as
you do now," continued the old man.

"My childhood was spent at Holstein; I have been Count Hoym's wife for
several years, but I have lived in the country."

"Then I suppose you do not know much about your husband?" said the old
man, shivering. "I pity you, for you are beautiful and innocent as a
lily, and now a herd of savage beasts are going to trample on you.
'Twere better had you bloomed and shed forth your perfume in God's
desert."

He became silent and thoughtful. Anna moved a few steps nearer to him.

"Who are you?" she inquired.

The old man appeared not to hear her, so she repeated her question.

"Who am I?" he repeated. "I am a sinner; a wretched being, the
laughing-stock of all. I am the voice crying in the wilderness. I am he
who predicts downfall, annihilation, and days of misery. Who am I? I am
God's messenger, sent to point out to His people the path of virtue,
but to whom none will hearken. I am an outcast to the rich - I am
despised - but I am true and pure in the sight of the Lord."

The last words were spoken quietly, then he became silent.

"How strange it all is!" said the Countess. "After years of
tranquillity, passed in the country, I am summoned here by my husband,
and here I meet you, who are to me as a voice of warning. Surely in
this there must be the finger of God!"

"Yes, verily!" rejoined the old man, "and woe to those who heed not
God's warning. You ask who I am. I am a poor preacher, I have spoken
against powerful lords, and therefore their vengeance pursues me. My
name is Schramm. Count Hoym knew me when I was a mere lad, and I have
come here to ask his protection, for my life is threatened. This is the
reason I am here; but who brought you hither?"

"My husband," replied Anna briefly.

"Ask him to let you go away," he whispered, looking timidly round as he
spoke. "I have seen all the beauties of the court, and, taken all
together, they cannot compare with you in beauty. Woe be to you if
you remain here. They will entangle you in a net of intrigues; they
will intoxicate you with songs; they will still your conscience with
fairy-tales; they will accustom you to shame. Then one day,
intoxicated, weary, feeble, you will fall over the precipice."

Anna Hoym frowned.

"Never!" she exclaimed. "I am not so feeble as you think. I am aware
that I am surrounded by peril, but I have no desire for a life of
luxury. No, the life of the court has no attractions for me. I despise
it!"

"You must not trust in your own strength; flee, flee from this hell!"

As he spoke, he stretched out his arms, as though he would have liked
to drive her away. But Anna stood motionless, and smiled scornfully.

"But where could I go?" she inquired. "My fate is bound up with that of
my husband. I cannot break the ties that unite me to him. I am a
fatalist. I believe what will happen will happen - only never will they
be able to conquer me. It is rather I who shall rule over them."

Schramm looked frightened; Anna stood before him full of strength and
pride, the smile still on her lips.

At that moment the door opened, and there entered, confused and
hesitating, Count Adolf Magnus Hoym.

He never looked very attractive amid the elegant company of the King's
favourites, but after a night spent in revelry, his appearance was
still worse. There was nothing noble in his features, and his face,
which was commonplace, was only remarkable for the quick, convulsive
changes it underwent. His grey eyes were either hidden beneath his
bushy eyebrows, or glowing with fire and animation; his lips were now
smiling, now contorted; now his forehead frowned, but the next moment
it was clear and unruffled. It seemed as though some secret power were
continually struggling within him, and changing the expression of his
features.

Even at the moment when he perceived his wife, it seemed as though some
hidden influence were at work within him, giving rise to the most
contradictory feelings. First he smiled at her, but the next moment his
anger seemed about to break forth. With a violent effort, however, he
controlled himself, and entered the room. But on perceiving Schramm,
his eyebrows contracted, anger was clearly visible on his face.

"You madman, you fanatic, you clown!" he shouted, without waiting to
speak a word to his wife. "You have been doing some fresh mischief, and
again you come to me to help you out of your difficulty. But I cannot
help you. You act as you please. You think that a minister may do
anything; and that you can declare what you call God's message to every
one. You fancy you can play the part of an apostle. But I tell you
again, as I have told you a hundred times already, that I cannot help
you."

The minister stood motionless, gazing into the Count's eyes.

"But I am God's servant," he rejoined. "I have sworn to bear witness to
the truth, and if they desire to make a martyr of me, I am ready."

"A martyr!" laughed Hoym, "that would be too great a favour, they will
kick you out, that is all!"

"Then I shall go," said Schramm, "but so long as I am in Dresden I
shall speak the truth."

"And you will preach to deaf people," retorted the Count sarcastically,
shrugging his shoulders as he spoke. "But enough of this, do what you
please, I should be glad if I could protect myself. I told you to keep
quiet. In these times you must flatter or you will be trampled on, and
perish. Sodom and Gomorrah indeed! Good-bye, I have no more time."

Schramm bowed without a word, cast a pitying glance on Hoym's wife, and
then, after gazing on the Count for a moment in silent surprise, he
turned to leave the room.

Hoym pitied him.

"I am sorry for you; go! I will do my best to help you; but read your
Bible and say nothing. This is the last time I shall advise you."

Schramm went, and husband and wife were left alone.




CHAPTER III.


Even now Hoym did not greet his wife, evidently he was at a loss what
to say, and was in consequence embarrassed and angry. Seizing his wig,
he began to pull at it.

"Why did you summon me so hastily?" said the Countess proudly, with
reproach in her tones.

"Why?" exclaimed Hoym, raising his eyes, and rushing to and fro across
the room like a madman. "Why? Because I was crazy! Because those
scoundrels made me drunk! Because I did not know what I was doing!
Because I am an idiot and an ass!"

"Then I can return?" asked Anna.

"You cannot return from hell!" shouted Hoym. "And thanks to me you are
now in hell!"

He tore open his waistcoat as he spoke, and sank into a chair.

"Yes," he continued, "I shall go mad! but I cannot make war against the
King!"

"What do you mean?"

"The King, Fürstenberg, Vitzthum, all of them, my own sister too, for
aught I know to the contrary, all have conspired against me. They have
learned that you are beautiful; that I am an idiot; and the King has
ordered me to show you to him."

"Who told them about me?" inquired the Countess quietly.

Hoym was silent, he could not say that he himself had done it; he
gnashed his teeth, and sprang from the chair. Suddenly his anger
changed to cool and biting irony.

"Let us talk reasonably," said he, lowering his voice. "I cannot undo
what is done. I asked you to come here because it was the King's wish,
and you know that Jupiter launches his thunderbolts at anyone who
thwarts his will. Everything and everybody must contribute to his
amusement - he tramples other persons' treasures beneath his feet, and
then casts them on the dung-hill!"

Again he began his walk up and down the room.

"I have laid a wager with the Count von Fürstenberg that you are more
beautiful than all the ladies at the court. Was I not an idiot? I allow
you to answer me that. The King is to be the judge, and I shall win the
thousand ducats."

Anna frowned, and turned from him in the greatest contempt.

"You villain!" she exclaimed angrily. "First you keep me shut up like a
slave, and now you bring me forward like an actress on the stage, to
help you to win your wager, by the brightness of my eyes and the smiles
of my lips. Could any one conceive deeper infamy?"

"Do not spare me; you may say what you please," said Hoym, full of
grief and remorse. "I deserve everything you can say. I possessed the
most beautiful woman in the whole land; she smiled only for me. I was
proud and happy. Then the devil made me drown my common sense in a few
cups of wine."

He wrung his hands.

"I am going home," said the Countess. "I shall not remain here; I
should be ashamed. Order my carriage!"

She moved towards the door; Hoym smiled bitterly.

"Your carriage!" he repeated. "You do not realize where you are. You are
almost a prisoner, you cannot leave this house. I should not be
surprised to find that guards had been placed before the door. Even
should you succeed in escaping, the dragoons would pursue and bring you
back. No one would dare to help you."

The Countess wrung her hands in despair. Hoym looked at her with
mingled feelings of jealousy, grief, meanness, and sorrow.

"Listen to me," said he, touching her hand, "perhaps it is not so bad as
I think. Those who wish to perish, can easily perish here. But you, if
you like, need not look beautiful; you might look severe, forbidding;
you might even look repulsive, and thus save yourself and me."

Here he lowered his voice.

"You know our King," continued he, with a strange smile; "he is a most
munificent lord, he scatters broadcast the gold I am compelled to
extort from his poor subjects. There is not a monarch more munificent
than he, but at the same time there is not a monarch who requires such
continual pleasures. He breaks horse-shoes, and he breaks women; then
he casts them both away. The friend he embraces to-day, he imprisons
to-morrow in Königstein. He is a good King! He smiles until the last
moment on the victims he is sending to the scaffold. He has a
compassionate heart, but no one must oppose him."

He dropped his voice still lower, looking round the room suspiciously.

"He likes new mistresses: like the dragon in the fairy tale, he lives
on the maidens brought him by the frightened population; he destroys
them. Who can count the number of his victims? You may perhaps have
heard the names of some of them, but the number of those who are
unknown is three times greater than the number of those whose names are
recorded. The King is a man of strange taste; for two days he is in
love with the lady dressed in silks; then tiring of her he is ready to
love the woman in rags. Königsmark is still beautiful; Spiegel is by no
means plain; Princess Teschen still enjoys his favours; but he is tired
of them all. Again he is seeking whom he may devour! Ah! he is a great
lord! He is beautiful as Apollo, strong as Hercules, lecherous as a
Satyr, and terrible as Jupiter."

"Why are you telling me all this?" exclaimed Anna angrily. "Do you
think I am so wicked, that at the King's desire I should forsake the
path of honour? It is plain you do not yet know me! You insult me!"

Hoym looked on her with compassion.

"I know my Anna," replied he, "but I also know the court, the King, and
the people who surround him."

"I have sworn to be faithful to you, and that is sufficient," she
retorted proudly. "You do not possess my heart, it is true, but you have
my word. Women such as I do not break their vows."

"The Princess Teschen is proud!"

Anna shrugged her shoulders contemptuously.

"I can be a wife," exclaimed she, "but I could x never be a mistress. I
could not endure that such shame should rest upon my brow."

"Shame!" repeated Hoym. "It only burns for a time; the wound soon
heals, although the scar remains for ever."

"You are disgusting!" interrupted the Countess angrily. "You have
brought me here, and now you insult me with your vile insinuations."

Emotion checked her utterance; and Hoym said humbly, -

"Forgive me, I have lost my reason. I know not what I am saying.
To-morrow has been appointed for the court ball. The King has commanded
me to attend with you; you will be presented to him. It seems to me,"
added he softly, "that you can do anything you wish - you can even not
look beautiful. I am willing to lose my wager."

Anna turned away contemptuously.

"You ask me to act a comedy to save your honour!" said she, with a
sarcastic smile, "but I hate falsehood. Your honour is not at stake.
Anna Countess von Brockdorf does not belong to the class of women who
can be purchased for a handful of diamonds. Not a word more. I despise
you all. I shall not be present at the ball!"

Hoym grew pale.

"You must be present," said he, in an agitated voice. "This is not a
question of a childish fancy; my head and wealth are at stake. The King
has issued his commands."

"I do not care!" retorted Anna.

"You intend to disobey the King?" inquired Hoym.

"Why not? He rules over everything, I know, but he does not rule over
family life. What can he do to me?"

"Nothing to you," replied Hoym, uneasily. "He is only too polite to
beautiful women, but he will send me to Königstein, and confiscate our
estates. Misery and death threaten us!"

He covered his face with his hands.

"You do not know him," he whispered. "He beams and smiles like Apollo,
but all the time he is terrible as the god of thunderbolts. He has
never yet forgiven any one who doubted that he was all-powerful. You
must be present at the ball, or I shall perish!"

"Do you think, then, that the threat of your peril is so terrible to
me?"

She shrugged her shoulders and walked towards the window.

Hoym followed her, pale as a ghost.

"For God's sake listen to reason!" he exclaimed, "You cannot intend
disobeying the King's commands."

He had scarcely finished speaking, when there was a tap at the door,
and a lackey entered. Hoym frowned.

"The Countesses Reuss and Vitzthum," announced the servant.

Hoym rushed towards the door, and was just about to send the lackey
with a message that he could not receive any one, when he beheld the
beautiful Countess Reuss, and, behind her, his own sister.

He had thought that as yet no one knew of his wife's arrival, but the
visit of these two ladies convinced him that the folly he had committed
when drunk had already made him the laughing-stock of the town.

Much confused, he ordered the servant to leave the room.

Countess Reuss, fresh and pretty, although a little too plump, and with
a charming smile lighting up her features, had nothing terrible in her
appearance, yet, looking at her, Count Hoym grew still more confused,
as though some fresh misfortune threatened him through her.

Countess Vitzthum easily read her brother's feelings in his eyes, yet
despite the Count's evident embarrassment, the two ladies continued
smiling pleasantly.

"Hoym!" said Countess Reuss, in her sweet, melodious voice, "I really
ought to be angry with you. Here is your wife come to Dresden, and you
never told me a word about it. I learned it from Hulchen by a pure
accident."

"What?" exclaimed the Count impatiently. "Even Hulchen knows of it
already?"

"Oh, yes! She and every one are talking of it. They say that at length
you have shown some common sense, and that your wife will no longer be
condemned to wither away in the desert."

She approached the Countess as she spoke, looking at her inquisitively.

"How are you, my dear Countess?" said she, shaking hands with her. "How
delighted I am to welcome you here in your proper place. I am your
first visitor, but, believe me, it is not curiosity that has prompted
this visit, but an earnest desire to serve you. To-morrow you will
appear at the Queen's ball, my beautiful hermit. You do not know
Dresden; I entreat you command my service. Your sister-in-law and I
have been uneasy about you. Poor frightened birdie."

During this speech, the lady whom the Countess Reuss had called a
frightened bird had stood proud and erect, looking just as though she
had ruled in this mansion for years past.

"I thank you!" she replied coldly. "My husband has just told me of the
ball. But is my presence necessary? Can I not be taken ill from emotion
that so great a favour has been shown me?"

"I should not advise you to make any such pretext," replied Countess
Reuss, whom Hoym was leading to the gloomy reception room. "No one
would believe that you were ill, for you look exactly like Juno, full
of health and strength; and no one would believe that you were
frightened either, for you are perfectly fearless."

Countess Vitzthum took her sister's arm, and taking advantage of the
moment when her brother could not hear what she said, whispered, -

"Dear Anna! there is no reason for you to fear, or to excuse yourself;
now at last your captivity is at an end. You shall see the court, the
King, and all our splendour, which is unrivalled throughout the whole
of Europe. I congratulate you. I am convinced that a most splendid
future awaits you."

"I had become so accustomed to my life of tranquillity," replied the
Countess, "that I desired nothing different."

"Hoym," continued Countess Vitzthum, "will be consumed with jealousy."
Then she laughed.

The three ladies and the confused Secretary to the Treasury were still
standing in the reception room, when the lackey summoned Count Hoym
from the apartment. As soon as he had gone, Countess Reuss seated
herself, and addressing her beautiful hostess, said, -

"My dear, it is such a pleasure to me to be the first to welcome you at
the commencement of your new life. Believe me, I can be useful to you.
Hoym most unwillingly gave you this opportunity, which if rightly used,
will carry you very high indeed. You are beautiful as an angel."

Countess Hoym was silent for a moment, then she replied coldly, -

"You are mistaken, dear Countess, in thinking I am ambitious. The
foolish years of my life are long past. Whilst living in my quiet
country home, I was obliged to think much both about myself and the
world, and now my only wish is to return to the country, and continue
my study of the Bible."

Countess Reuss laughed.

"Everything will be changed now," said she. "At present let us talk
about your gown for to-morrow's ball. Vitzthum, you and I must advise
her what to wear; she will not do her beauty justice if left to
herself. You must take care of the honour of your brother's house."

"She will be the prettiest person there, no matter how she dresses,"
replied Countess Vitzthum. "Teschen cannot be compared to her - she is
withered. There is not another woman at court that can be compared to
Anna. In my opinion, the more modest the gown is, the more becoming it
will be to her; let others have recourse to artifices."

The conversation about silk and stuff that followed became both
animated and polemical. At first Countess Hoym took no part in it, but
sat listening to the two friends, who, however, were very careful not
to arouse her suspicions. But little by little, she was drawn by that
magnetic attraction that dress always exercises over the mind of every
woman. She said a word or two, and soon their conversation, mingled
with laughter, flowed on smoothly and swiftly.

Countess Reuss listened attentively to every word her hostess uttered,
regarding her all the time with a strange uneasiness; from time to time
she questioned her, hoping to discover some hidden meaning in her
replies. Countess Hoym soon forgot her irritation, and becoming
animated, laughed, uttered witticisms suited to her age, and kept up an
easy flow of conversation that sparkled with intelligence. Countess
Reuss laughed.

"Anna!" she exclaimed, "you are charming! Enchanting! Incomparable!
To-morrow evening you will have the whole court at your feet. Hoym will
have to see that his pistols are in readiness. Teschen will be taken
ill; she will faint - she has a penchant for fainting, it is such an
opportunity for displaying her charms!"

Countess Vitzthum laughed. Then Countess Reuss went on to relate how
the Princess Lubomirska had captivated the King's heart by fainting
when he fell from his horse. They both fainted, for the King, having
been severely wounded, lost consciousness. Her awakening was charming,
for when she opened her eyes, Augustus was kneeling at her feet.

"But alas!" added Countess Reuss, "to-day, even though she should
faint, the King would no longer be pleased with her. His first rapture
is over. At Leipzic fair, he amused himself with some French actresses.
But worse than that, they say he fell madly in love with the Princess
Anhalt-Dessau, but that he was disappointed by her coldness. He has
told Fürstenberg that his heart is free, and that he is ready to offer
it to some other beauty."

"I hope, my dear Countess," said Anna proudly, "that you do not compare
me with French actresses. The King's heart is not a very attractive
present, and mine is of more value than to be satisfied with the
remnants of a heart formerly the property of the Princess Teschen."

Countess Reuss blushed.

"Be quiet, child," said she, looking round; "who has said anything of
the kind? We prattle about everything, and it will do you no harm to be
prepared for any emergency. We will send you our dressmaker, and if you
have not brought your diamonds, or should you require others, Mayer
will lend you, secretly, anything you want."

With this both ladies rose, and began to take leave of their hostess,
who conducted them, in silence, to the door. Hoym was already busy in
his office.

After entering the Countess Reuss's carriage, both ladies remained for
a time silent and thoughtful. The Countess Vitzthum was the first to
speak.

"What do you prophesy?" she asked.

"Hoym can consider himself a widower," replied her companion, in a
whisper. "She is proud, and for a long while will resist the good
fortune offered her, but there is nothing that makes the King more
enthusiastic than resistance. She is beautiful, daring, witty, and
quaint; and all these are qualities that not only attract, they also
bind. We must manage to be on the best of terms with her now; later,
when she has taken hold of the reins, it will be too late. I will help
you, and you must help me. Through her we shall hold the King, the
secretaries, everybody, and everything. Teschen is lost, and I am glad
of it, for I could never get anything from that tedious, sentimental
Princess. Besides she has got quite enough; her son is recognized, she
has obtained a title; she is enormously rich; she has ruled us too long
already. The King is tired of her, and now, more than ever, he requires
consolation and distraction. Fürstenberg, you and I must overthrow that
stranger. Only we must be wary, for Anna will not allow herself to be
taken by storm - she is too proud."

"Poor Hoym!" laughed Countess Vitzthum. "But if only he had some
sense - "

"He would profit by her," interposed Countess Reuss. "He did not love
her any longer, the old libertine, and he himself prepared the drama of
which he will be the victim."

"I distrust Fürstenberg."

Countess Reuss looked at her inquisitively, and a spark of irony
glittered in her eyes; she shrugged her shoulders.

"There are some people who are predestined!" said she sneeringly.

Suddenly she began to laugh.

"Do you know," she continued, "she should wear an orange dress, and
coral ornaments. She has black hair, and the fresh complexion of a
child. Such a costume would be most becoming to her. Did you notice
what fire she has in her eyes?"

"And how proud she unfortunately is!" said Countess Vitzthum.

"Let her once see the King," rejoined Countess Reuss; "let Augustus
once wish to please her, and I warrant she will soon lose her pride."




CHAPTER IV.


In Pirna Street, which in times of yore was the most elegant street in
the small walled city of Dresden, stood Beichling House, once the
residence of the unfortunate Chancellor, who was now a prisoner at
Königstein. Princess Lubomirska, _née_ Bohun, divorced from her
husband, the master of the pantry at Lithuania, and beloved by Augustus
II., who, after the birth of her son, the famous Chevalier de Saxe,[1]
had created her Princess Teschen, had received Beichling House as a


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