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Hoym said nothing further. He hesitated for a moment, but a rap was
heard at the door. It was the King's messenger come to remind him of
the hour of departure.

In the castle the occupants were watching for Hoym to cross the bridge.
According to a pre-arranged plan, Countess Reuss was to invite Anna to
her palace, there the King could journey incognito. Countess Vitzthum
was immediately despatched to accomplish this mission secretly, but
Anna refused. It was in vain that the Countess strove to prove to her
that none would know of her visit; her sister-in-law guessed their
plans, and told her so.

"You are too intelligent," laughed Countess Vitzthum, "for me to try to
conceal the truth from you. It is possible that the King may wish to
become better acquainted with you, and that knowing everything, he
might call at Countess Reuss's castle. But what would you do should he,
in order to satisfy his curiosity, call on you here? You could not shut
the door on the King. Would it be more seemly for him to spend a few
hours alone with you in your own home?"

"But the King would not do such a thing. He would not cast a shadow on
my reputation!"

"Everything is possible for him to do. He is wearied and curious, and
he cannot endure any resistance to his will. The women have taught him
despotism by their submission. If you do not accept the Countess
Reuss's invitation, the King will certainly come here."

"How do you know this?"

"I do not know anything," said the Countess Vitzthum, laughing, "but I
know our lord perfectly. I remember a certain evening in my own life,"
she added, sighing.

Anna wrung her hands.

"Then it is necessary to be armed here, as on the road, against highway
robbers! I will find a pistol and dagger!"

Countess Vitzthum endeavoured to soothe the irritated woman, and to
turn everything into a laugh.

"You must know," said she, "that never in all his life has Augustus
used force with any woman. That is not his nature. He is far too
good-looking and too fascinating to have recourse to rough treatment."

After much conversation Anna finally decided to visit Countess Reuss
that evening in company with her sister-in-law. With this joyful news
Countess Vitzthum hastened to her friend, and Fürstenberg carried the
tidings to the castle.

The King said that he would pay a short visit to Princess Teschen, and
then on his way back he would send his carriage to the castle, and
proceed in a litter, and incognito, to call on Countess Reuss.

Any other woman, who was unhappy with her husband, would have been only
too glad to seize this opportunity of a splendid, although unstable
career, with the certainty of acquiring riches, and the hope that
perhaps a marriage would eventually cover the fault of a moment. But
Anna, Countess Hoym, had been educated in strict principles; she felt
indignant at the light-hearted conduct of those women, who consented to
serve as playthings for their wearied lord. She realized the
possibility of a divorce from Hoym, for she was disgusted with him, but
she would not give up her husband save for love of the King, and for a
marriage with him.

Such an idea would have excited the mirth of any one to whom she
mentioned it. To wish to chain so frivolous a man as Augustus seemed an
utter absurdity.

The King was handsome; he strove to please; the glamour of power and of
the crown increased his charm; what wonder that Anna's heart yearned
for him! Although she felt that she could be happy with him, she could
not, even for a moment, admit the possibility of such happiness being
realized in any way other than by marriage.

During the time that elapsed after the ball, amidst the pressure of the
intrigues that were being carried on around her with the object of
enabling Augustus to approach her, Anna was continually thinking and
pondering. At length she said to herself, -

"I may be his, but I must be the Queen."

And she determined to resign everything rather than be the creature of
intrigues. She felt that she was strong; the mirror assured her of her
beauty and charm; she read in the King's eyes the impression she had
made on him - she resolved to take advantage of it.

"I shall never degenerate," said she to herself. "I would rather be
Hoym's unfortunate wife than Augustus's mistress. I must be his wife or

She had already resigned herself to her fate, the only question was as
to the conditions. Yet none suspected that Countess Hoym had resolved
to break with her husband, although they had calculated that
circumstances might arise that would induce her to do so.

Anna had been indulging in dreams, and dreams are dangerous companions
in solitude. Pride and the desire to rule had slowly risen within her
soul, and made her ready to capitulate.

When the hour fixed for the visit arrived, Anna was ready. She had
dressed herself with the greatest care, and her robe was both tasteful
and modest. Her complexion did not require the aid of paint, it was
snow-white by nature, and her luxuriant black curls did but the more
increase the transparency of her skin. But these attractions were as
nothing when compared with her eyes, so full of fire, and possessed of
such a bewitching charm. A glance from those eyes could drive a man
mad, and they said more than their owner would have cared to express
with her lips.

Looking in the mirror, she found she was so beautiful that she smiled
with satisfaction. Her dress was black enlivened with crimson ribbons,
which made a most picturesque costume. The Countess Vitzthum, who came
to fetch her, screamed with admiration on beholding her, so beautiful
did she appear, and she for one would have felt no surprise had a crown
been thrown at her feet.

"You say you wish to live with my brother," said she, "and yet you
dress so beautifully to receive the King?"

"No woman would willingly make herself appear homely," replied Anna

"But you are quite a master in the art of dress, and need no advice.
Well, let us be going."

The same kind of admiring exclamations greeted her on her arrival at
Countess Reuss's house. At the ball, her beauty had surpassed all
expectation, here it was dazzling. Even those ladies who had not given
up being beautiful felt old and withered beside her. Although they knew
that she was twenty-four, Anna did not appear to them to be more than

No one felt more pleasure in her appearance than Countess Reuss, for
she was now sure of the success of her plans. All crowded around Anna,
rendering her homage as to a queen, and trying to gain her favour.
Fürstenberg, who arrived a few moments before the King, was lost in

"I know the King," said he, "she will be able to do anything she likes
with him if only she knows how to stand firm."

Anna was guided by instinct, and needed none to teach her.

After a few moments the door opened cautiously, and the King entered
the room. While yet on the threshold his eyes were eagerly searching
for Anna. Perceiving her, he blushed, then he turned pale, grew
confused, and, forgetful of his hostess, he rushed forward to greet
Countess Hoym. On his brow there was now no trace of regret for lost
millions, anger at Polish ingratitude, shame at his defeat by the
Swedes, or any sign of disappointment.

Anna welcomed him coolly, but her dress alone was sufficiently
eloquent. That she wished to please him was evident, and this gave him

Although Anna had made a great impression on him, the King was,
nevertheless, very careful to observe all those forms of civility due
to the fair sex, and although he hated the Countess Reuss, he sat
beside her for a few moments, chatting courteously, yet all the while
looking towards Countess Hoym. He whispered to Fraulein Hulchen,
smiled at Countess Vitzthum, and gratified all the ladies by his
glances. During this ceremony, Countess Vitzthum had time to lead her
sister-in-law into an adjoining room under the pretence of having an
interesting conversation with her. It was a strategical man[oe]uvre to
enable the King to have a sweet _tête-à-tête_, for the moment Augustus
appeared in the doorway, Countess Vitzthum retreated towards the
drawing-room, and soon disappeared.

It is true that the door remained open, and the portière that was
raised allowed the chattering ladies to gaze on His Majesty, but no one
could hear a word of what the two were saying.

"Madame, to-day you are quite different to yesterday, and even more
beautiful! You are bewitching!" he exclaimed, without any restraint.

"Your Majesty's indulgence is so well known, that it is difficult to
believe these most flattering compliments," replied Anna.

"Do you wish me to swear it? I am ready to take an oath by all the gods
of Olympus, that I have never seen such a beautiful woman. I am amazed
at the cruelty of that destiny which has given such an angel into
Hoym's hands."

In spite of herself, Anna laughed, and for the first time a row of
pearl-like teeth appeared behind her coral lips. Her laughter made her
yet more beautiful.

The King looked at her hands, they were so beautiful, that he was
seized with a passionate desire to kiss them, and it was with
difficulty that he abstained from pressing one of them to his lips.
They were perfection. His head was beginning to be turned.

"Were I a tyrant," said he, "I should forbid Hoym ever to return
hither, I am jealous of that Vulcan."

"Vulcan is likewise jealous," responded Anna.

"But Venus cannot love him!" said the King.

"Should love be wanting, there are other chains that bind yet stronger
than those of love - the chains formed by oath and by duty."

The King smiled.

"An oath in love!"

"No, your Majesty, in marriage."

"But there are sacrilegious marriages," observed Augustus, "and I
regard as such, those marriages in which beauty is united to ugliness.
In such cases the gods give absolution for the broken oath."

"But pride will not suffer one to accept it."

"You are too severe, madame."

"More so than your Majesty supposes."

"Countess, you terrify me."

"Your Majesty?" Anna smiled. "Why should my lord care aught about

"More than you suppose," replied the King, repeating her own words.

"That I cannot understand," whispered Anna.

"What? Then you do not wish to see that I was conquered by your first

"That will not last until day-break, I fancy. Your Majesty has this in
common with the gods, that you love and forget easily."

"No," exclaimed the King, "believe me, those are calumnies. Is it my
fault that I have never yet met with a heart, a mind, a beauty to which
I was able to attach myself for ever? It is not I who am unfaithful, I
am betrayed. Each day these goddesses lose some charm, miracles become
ordinary phenomena, the angels lose their wings, and, instead of
finding love in the heart, I discover only coquettishness and coldness.
Am I the guilty one? Believe me, madame," he continued, with
enthusiasm, "I am busy searching for a woman to whom I could belong all
my life long. To such a woman I would give myself entirely."

"It is difficult to believe that," whispered Anna, "and it is still
more difficult to imagine a perfection that would be worthy of your

"I find it in you," interrupted the King. "You are bewitching," he
added, stretching forth his hands to seize hers.

Anna wished to withdraw them, but etiquette did not allow of this, and,
seizing her white hand, the King began to kiss it, and this he
continued to do for so long, that at length Anna grew afraid that those
in the drawing-room would see this familiar behaviour, and, with all
due respect for His Majesty, slowly withdrew her hand.

Augustus rose full of emotion.

"I cannot separate myself from you," said he, "I see that I shall be
obliged to summon the power of the King to aid my ardour, which does
not appear to move you in the least. You cannot leave the city. I
arrest you. As for Hoym, only your intercession - "

He did not finish his speech. Anna had no idea of interceding.

Their conversation would have lasted much longer, for Augustus was very
excited, only Countess Reuss entered, to beg the King to partake of a
collation of sweetmeats, fruits, and wine. The King consented, and
drank the first glass of wine to Anna's health.

Fürstenberg watched him attentively.

"Teschen is lost!" whispered he to Countess Vitzthum.

"And my brother likewise!" replied she, also in a whisper. "Provided
only that my sister-in-law has sense!"

"I wish she had not so much," rejoined Fürstenberg. "Look what
self-possession she has preserved, the King did not succeed in turning
her head, but it seems to me that he has lost his own."

The collation ended, the ladies again withdrew, and Augustus
endeavoured to detain Anna by entering into a clever conversation. She
remained, was animated and witty, but both the King and Fürstenberg
remarked that she still retained her self-possession, and was not in
the least intoxicated by her splendid triumph. It was the first time in
his life that Augustus had met such a woman. She did not immediately
succumb to his love as the others had done, neither did she appear to
take any advantage of it.

It stung him to the quick.

This woman's calmness began to irritate him, but at the same time it
increased his passion.

At first he had only intended to carry on a short intrigue with
Countess Hoym, but he now saw that this would be more difficult than he
had thought or calculated.

Anna laughed, jested, and was very amusing; she was evidently trying to
entangle the King, but she herself remained calm and inaccessible.
Instead of approaching his object, with the good fortune of Jupiter,
Augustus perceived that he was drifting away from it.

At the close of the conversation, when the King became more pressing,
and no longer concealed his ardour, he begged for a small place in the
heart of the beautiful lady. Anna, who had already grown familiar with
him, replied with precision, -

"Your Majesty forces me to make an unpleasant avowal. I am one of those
unfortunate, feeble creatures, whose pride is their only strength. If
your Majesty imagines that, dazzled by the allurements held out to me,
I shall forget the respect due to myself, or that, carried away by a
momentary madness, I shall forget the future, your Majesty is mistaken.
Anna Hoym will never become the King's temporary favourite. She will
give her whole heart, and for ever, or nothing."

Having said this, she rose and passed into the drawing-room.

Immediately after this, the King, accompanied by Fürstenberg, quietly
left Countess Reuss's house. The Countess followed him to the hall,
Augustus's face was gloomy and sad. From this, his hostess guessed how
Anna had treated the King, but she was glad of it, for their relations
promised to be the more lasting in proportion to the difficulty of the
commencement. A short love intrigue, that did not overthrow the
Princess Teschen, would not accord with her plans, for through Anna she
expected that her own influence would be more firmly established.

"Dear Countess," whispered the King, as he bade her farewell, "try to
animate that beautiful statue."

Before Countess Reuss could reply, the King had descended the stairs.
The conversation that ensued between him and such an intimate friend as
Fürstenberg was different.

"The woman is enchanting," said the King, "but at the same time she
repels, and is cold as an icicle."

"Your Majesty, women are of different temperaments; it is no wonder
that she protects herself."

"But she speaks frankly about marriage."

"Every woman thinks that love for her must be everlasting, and one can
promise that to every one."

"It will not be done very easily with this one," added Augustus,
"Teschen was much easier."

"But there is no comparison between them."

"Alas! that is only too true. She is far superior to Teschen. Send Hoym
an order that he is not to dare to return."

"But what is he to do there?" laughed the Prince.

"Let him do what he pleases," said the King. "Before all things, he
must collect as much money as possible, for it seems to me that my new
love will be very costly."

"Your Majesty, then, is already talking of love?"

"And of fear, too! Fürstchen, you can do what you please, but she must
be mine."

"And Ursula?"

"Marry her!"


"Then marry her to any one else you please; all is over between us."

"Already?" inquired the Prince, with scarcely concealed joy.

"Yes! I shall gild Hoym, her, and you."

"But from whence shall we obtain so much gold?"

"That concerns Hoym," replied the King.

They entered the palace as he spoke, and Augustus went directly to his
chamber. He was sad and thoughtful. The last campaign, disastrous as it
was, had not caused him so much sorrow as the ill-success of this


Thus began the reign of one woman at the Court of Augustus II., and it
lasted longer than any other of the same kind.

The Court, and indeed the whole city, watched with great interest the
course of this intrigue, the end of which could be easily guessed.

Hoym was forbidden to return. Every day the Countesses Reuss and
Vitzthum, assisted by the Prince, invented some new pretext for
bringing the King and the beautiful Anna together; every day she was
bolder and more familiar with him, but since the evening spent at
Countess Reuss's house, Augustus had made no further advances, neither
had he heard from her anything different from what she had then said.
The beautiful Anna showed no signs of yielding, and at length her
coolness and self-possession began to alarm every one. They feared the
King would be discouraged, and retire, and that then some one else
would be suggested to him. Every time they attempted to question
Countess Hoym, she replied that she would become a wife, but never a
mistress. She demanded, if not an immediate marriage, to which there
was an obstacle in the person of Queen Christine Eberhardyne, at least
a solemn promise from the King that he would marry her, in the event of
his becoming a widower.

The condition was most strange and unusual; in other times, or in other
courts, or amongst a less light-headed people, it would have been
impossible. The first time Fürstenberg mentioned it to the King,
Augustus did not reply. A few hours later, he said, -

"I am already weary of this long courtship, we must end it once and for

"Break it?" inquired the Prince.

"We shall see," replied the King briefly.

His confidant could learn nothing farther.

One day the King ordered a hundred thousand gold thalers to be brought
him from the treasury. The bag was enormous, and two strong men could
scarcely carry it. When they had deposited their heavy burden, the King
seized it, and lifted it without the slightest difficulty. Fürstenberg,
who was present, did not dare ask for what purpose such an amount was
destined, the King's face was far too gloomy. It was clear that events
of considerable importance were at hand. The King was silent. He
visited Princess Teschen almost daily. That Princess almost drowned
herself in tears when the name of Countess Hoym was mentioned in her
presence, but she quickly dried them when she perceived the King. In
this state of uncertainty several weeks passed away - a time that seemed
to the courtiers all too long. They knew not to whom they should bow,
nor to whom they should go with gossip. At length Hoym was not only
permitted, but even commanded to return, for the treasury was empty,
and he alone could fill it.

The day the Secretary to the Treasury was expected to return, Augustus,
having placed the bag containing the hundred thousand thalers in his
carriage, gave orders that he should be driven to Hoym's palace.

It was towards evening, and foggy. Countess Hoym was sitting solitary
and thoughtful in her boudoir. Being unaccustomed to receive visitors,
she was greatly surprised at hearing the voices of men conversing on
the stairs, and her astonishment increased when, without any warning,
the door opened and the King entered the room.

The door was immediately closed behind him. Anna was terrified, and
seized the pistol which, ever since her arrival in Dresden, she had
kept lying on the table. She had frequently been joked with about this
precaution. Although she concealed the weapon in the folds of her
dress, the King had noticed her action.

"You do not need to defend yourself," said he.

Anna stared at him, but was incapable of uttering a word.

"Listen," continued Augustus, throwing the bag of gold on the floor
with such violence that the ducats were scattered. "I can give you
gold, honours, and titles in abundance."

Then, taking a horse-shoe he had brought with him, he broke it, and
cast the fragments on the piles of gold.

"But," he added, "I can also break resistance as I have just broken
that iron. You have to choose between iron and gold, peace and war,
love and hatred."

Anna stood looking with indifference on the gold and the broken

"Your Majesty," said she, after a moment's silence, "I do not fear
death, I do not wish for gold. You can break me as you broke that
horse-shoe, but you cannot do anything against my will. Why do you not
bring me the thing that can conquer me? Why do you not offer me your

Augustus rushed towards her.

"That has been yours for a long time," he exclaimed.

"I neither see it, nor feel it," said the Countess slowly. "The heart
is shown in deeds. A heart that loves truly would never wish to
dishonour the object of its love. My Lord, I cannot conceal from you
that I love you. I could not resist your love, but I cannot stain it!"

The King knelt before her, but Anna retreated.

"Your Majesty, listen to me, I pray you."

"Command me!"

"Anna Hoym could never be yours except she felt she were worthy of

"What are your conditions?"

"A written promise that you will marry me."

Hearing this, Augustus frowned, and drooped his head.

"Believe me, Anna, such a condition is full of danger for yourself."

"I will not give it up. I would give my life for it. My honour requires
it. Then I should be your Majesty's wife, in thought and in hope. Else
you shall not touch me; I will kill myself if you do!"

The King retreated.

"Very well, then," said he, "if that is your wish, shall have it."

Anna gave a cry of joy.

"All the rest is as nothing in comparison with that!" she exclaimed in
a voice full of happiness. "But first I must be divorced from Hoym."

"That shall be done to-morrow. I will have it signed in the
consistory," said the King hastily. "Now, what further?"

"Nothing more on my side," she replied in a broken voice, as she knelt
before the King. "That is sufficient for me."

"But it is not sufficient for the King, for me," said Augustus, seizing
her in his arms, from which, however, Anna escaped by slipping down on
the floor.

"I believe your Majesty's word," she exclaimed; "but before I permit
myself to be touched, the chains that bind me must be broken, the
divorce must be pronounced, your promise signed. I am Hoym's wife, I
have sworn to be faithful to him - I must keep my oath."

Augustus kissed her hand.

"I am your slave, you are my lady! Hoym returns to-day, leave him;
to-morrow I will have a palace ready for you. You shall have a hundred
thousand thalers a year, I will lay my whole kingdom at your feet, and
with it, myself."

Seeing him kneeling at her feet, Anna kissed his forehead, then she
sprang backwards.

"Until to-morrow!" she said.

"Am I to leave you?" inquired Augustus.

"Until to-morrow," she repeated.

Then the King rose and left her. The heaps of gold remained lying on
the floor.

That same night Count Hoym returned home. He hastened to his wife's
apartment, but found the door locked, and, on inquiring of the
servants, was informed that their lady was unwell and had retired to
rest, after giving orders that no one should disturb her.

During his absence, which was of an unnecessary length, the Count had
grown seriously uneasy about his wife. It was true that his spies wrote
to him daily, informing him of her every movement, but as she was
always accompanied by his sister, he could not foresee any danger. He
felt, however, that the intrigue was growing ever stronger and
stronger, and that it threatened his matrimonial life. Still he was
powerless to prevent it, for at its head was the King, and him Hoym
feared, for he knew him better than any one else did. Besides, he could

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Online LibraryJózef Ignacy KraszewskiMemoirs of the Countess Cosel → online text (page 6 of 20)