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bleeding foot resting upon the lap of her sister.

"You are wounded, signora, you bleed!" cried the young Prince of
Wurtemberg, with such an expression of horror, you would have
thought he expected the instant death of the Barbarina.

The lovely Italian looked up in seeming surprise. "Did not your
highness know that I was wounded? I thought you were a witness to my
accident yesterday?"

"Certainly, I was at the opera-house, as were all these gentlemen;
but what has that to do with your bleeding foot?"

"A curious question, indeed! You did not, then, understand the cause
of my swooning yesterday? I will explain. I felt a severe pain in
the sole of my foot, which passed like an electric shock through my
frame, and I became insensible. While unconscious, my blood, of
course, ceased to flow, and the physician did not discover the cause
of my sudden illness. This morning, in attempting to walk, I found
the wound."

"My God, what a misfortune, what an irreparable blow!" cried the
cavaliers with one voice; "we can never again hope to see our
enchanting dancer."

"Compose yourselves, gentlemen," cried Barbarina, smiling, "my
confinement will be of short duration, and will have no evil
consequences. I stepped upon a piece of glass which had fallen upon
the boards, and piercing the slipper entered my foot; the wound is
not deep; it is a slight cut, and I shall be restored in a few
days."

"And now," said Barbarina, with a triumphant smile, as she was once
more alone with her sister, "no one will mock at me and make
malicious comments upon my fainting. In an hour the whole city will
hear this history, and I hope it may reach the ears of the king."

"He will not believe it," said Marietta, shrugging her shoulders;
"he sent immediately for your physician and questioned him closely
as to your sudden indisposition in the theatre. I had just left your
boudoir to get you a glass of water, and when I returned I found the
king standing before your door and listening to your groans."

A wondrous expression of light and peace shone in her great black
eyes. "The king was then behind the curtains, he stood before my
door, he wished to speak to me, and you tell me this now, only now,
when you might have known - " Barbarina paused, and turned away her
blushing face.

"Well, I might have known that the king, whom you hate so bitterly,
had waited in vain at your door, had been turned away by the proud
dancer as a common man; this was, indeed, a triumph of revenge,"
said Marietta, smiling.

"I did not turn him away," said Barbarina, with embarrassment.

"No! you drew your bolt on the inside, nothing more."


CHAPTER XIV.

THE STUDIO.


Barbarina was right; the wound in her foot was not dangerous. She
was ordered to be quiet for some days, and give up dancing. The
physician to whom she showed her foot, and declared that she had
only just discovered the cause of her sudden swoon, examined the
wound with an incredulous smile, and asked to see the shoe, the sole
of which must also be necessarily cut, he said; in this way only
could he tell if the wound had been inflicted by a piece of glass or
nail, and know the size and sharpness of the instrument. Barbarina
blushed, and ordered Marietta to bring the shoe; she returned
immediately with a slipper, showing a sharp cut in the sole. The
physician examined it silently, and then declared that it was a
piece of glass which had caused the fainting of the signora; he
ordered cooling applications and perfect quiet, and promised
restoration in a few days.

The king had commanded the physician to come to him immediately
after his visit to Barbarina. He was announced, and as he entered,
Frederick advanced to meet him.

"Well," said he, "is the wound dangerous? will the signora be
obliged to give up the stage?"

"Ah, surely your majesty cannot believe that the Barbarina has given
herself a wound which will destroy her fame and fortune!"

"I do not understand you," said Frederick, impatiently; "do not
speak in riddles."

"I repeat, your majesty, the signora would not intentionally have
wounded her foot seriously, and thereby destroyed her art."

"Do you believe that she wounded herself voluntarily?"

"I am convinced of it, sire. The signora declares that she stepped
upon a piece of glass. I desired to see the slipper; Marietta
brought me one, in the sole of which I discovered a cut, but it did
not correspond at all with the wound in the foot, and had been
evidently just made with a knife. Certainly Barbarina was not
wounded while she wore that shoe; moreover, I affirm that the wound
was not inflicted by a piece of glass or a nail, but by a stiletto;
the wound is three-sided; I am confident she wounded herself with a
stiletto I saw in her room."

The king's face grew dark while the physician spoke; he pressed his
lips together: this was ever a sign that a storm was raging in his
breast which he wished to control.

"Is that all you have to say?"

"That is all, sire."

"Good! You will visit the signora to-morrow, and bring me news of
her."

The king was alone, and pacing his room nervously. It was in vain
that Biche, his favorite hound, raised herself up and drew near to
him. The wise little animal seemed, indeed, to understand the
sadness of her master, and looked up at him with sorrowful and
sympathetic eyes. Once Frederick murmured half aloud: "She has sworn
to hate me, and she keeps her oath." After long thought, he seemed
to be resolved, and drew near to the door; he opened it and stood a
moment on the threshold, then closed it again, and said: "No! I dare
not do that. I dare not do what any other man might do in my place;
not I - I am a king. Alas! men think it is a light matter to be a
king; that the crown brings no care, no weight to the brow and the
heart. Our hearts' blood is often the lime with which our crowns are
secured." He sighed deeply, then stood up and shook himself like a
lion, when, after a long repose, he rouses himself to new life and
action. "Oh! I am sentimental," he said, with a sad smile. "I doubt
if a king has a right to dream. Away, then, with sentiments and
sighs! Truly, what would Maria Theresa say if she knew that the King
of Prussia was a sentimentalist, and sighed and loved like a young
maiden? Would she not think she had Silesia again in her dress-
pocket?"

While the king struggled with his passion, Barbarina had a far more
dangerous enemy to contend with. Sentimentality is veiled in
melancholy, in softened light and faded tints; but ennui has no eye,
nor mind, nor heart for any thing. It is a fearful enemy! Barbarina
was weary, oh, so weary! Was it perhaps impatience to appear again
upon the stage which made the hours so leaden, so long drawn out?
She lay the whole day stretched out upon her sofa, her eyes wide
open, silent, and sighing, not responding to Marietta's loving words
by a glance, or a movement of the eyelash. Marietta proposed to
assemble her friends, but she affirmed that society was more
wearisome than solitude.

At the end of three days, Barbarina sprang from her sofa and tried
to walk. "It gives me no pain," said she, walking through the room.

"Yes. I remember, Arias said the same as she handed the dagger to
her beloved," replied Marietta.

"But I have no beloved," said Barbarina; "no one loves me, no one
understands this poor, glowing, agonized heart." As she said this, a
flood of tears gushed from her eyes, and her form trembled with a
storm of passion.

"Ah, Sorella, how can you say that - you who are so much loved, so
highly prized?"

Barbarina smiled contemptuously, and shook her head. "Do you call
that love? these empty words, this everlasting, unmeaning praise;
this rapture about my beauty, my grace, and my skill, is this
worship? Go, go, Marietta, you know it is not love, it is not
worship. They amuse themselves with a rare and foreign flower, which
is only beautiful because it has been dearly paid for; which is only
wondered at while it is rare and strange. You know, not one of these
men loves me for myself; they think only of my outward appearance. I
am never more solitary than when they surround me, never feel so
little beloved as when they swear that they love me boundlessly. O
my God! must I shroud my heart, must I bury it under the snows of
this cold north? O God, give me a heart for my heart, that can love
as Barbarina loves!" She covered her face with her hands, and her
tears flowed freely; she trembled and bowed from side to side, like
a lily in a storm.

Marietta drew near, and laid her head upon her sister's shoulder;
she did not try to comfort her: she knew there were griefs to which
words of consolation were exasperation; she knew that passion must
exhaust itself before it could be soothed. She comprehended the
nobility and energy of Barbarina's nature; those bursts of tears
were like clouds in the tropics; the storm must break, and then the
sun would shine more gloriously. Marietta was right. In a short time
her sister withdrew her hands from her face; her tears were
quenched, and her eyes had their usual lustre.

"I am mad," she cried, "worse than mad! I ask of the north our
southern blossoms. I demand that their ice shall become fire. Has
not a landscape of snow and ice its grandeur and beauty - yes, its
terrible beauty when inhabited by bears and wolves?"

"But woe betide us, when we meet these monsters!" said Marietta,
entering readily into her sister's jest.

"Why woe betide us? Every danger and every monster can be overcome,
if looked firmly in the face, but not too long, Marietta, not till
your own eye trembles. Now, sister, enough of this; the rain is
over, the sun shall shine. I am no longer ill, and will not be laid
aside like a broken play-thing. I will be sound and healthy; I will
flap my wings and float once more over the gay world."

"Do you know, Sorella, that the higher you fly, the nearer you are
to heaven?"

"I will soar, but think not, that like Icarus I will fasten my wings
with wax. No, I am wiser, I will fly with my feet; the sun has no
power over them: they are indeed two suns. They warm the coldest
heart; they set the icy blood in motion, they almost bring the dead
to life. You see, sister, I have adopted the style of speech of my
adorers; none of them being present, I will worship and exalt
myself."

Barbarina said all this merrily, but Marietta felt this gayety was
not natural.

"Do you know what I have determined upon?" said Barbarina, turning
away, so that her face might not be seen; "as I cannot dance either
to-day or to-morrow, I will find some other mode of employing my
time. I will go to Pesne and sit for my portrait."

She had turned away, but Marietta saw that her throat was suffused
with a soft flush.

"Will you drive to the palace?" said Marietta.

"Not to the palace, but to Pesne."

"Pesne's studio is now in the palace; the king appointed him rooms
there."

"Well, then, I must sit to him in the palace."

"This, however, will be disagreeable to you; you abhor the king, and
it will be painful to be under the same roof. You perhaps suppose
the king to be in Potsdam: he is now in Berlin." Barbarina turned
suddenly, and throwing her arms around Marietta's neck, she pressed
a kiss upon her lips, and whispered: "I know it, Marietta, but I
must go."

The sisters went therefore to the new studio of the painter Pesne,
which was in the royal palace. The king took great pleasure in the
growth and development of works of art. While Pesne was engaged on
his great picture of Diana and her Nymphs, the king often visited
his studio and watched him at his work. He had closely examined the
sketch of the portrait of Barbarina, and, on his return from
Silesia, commanded Pesne to arrange a studio in the castle, as he
wished to be near him.

Barbarina sprang like a gazelle up the steps; her foot was not
painful, or she was unconscious of it. She was impatient, and would
scarcely wait to be announced before entering the room. Pesne was
there, and welcomed the signora joyfully. Barbarina looked about in
vain for her portrait.

"Has misfortune overtaken the portrait as well as the original?" she
said, smiling.

"Not so, signora," said Pesne; "the portrait excites as great a
furor as the original - only, though, because it is a copy."

"I do not understand you."

"I mean, that his majesty is so enraptured with the copy, that since
yesterday it has been placed in his study, although I protested
against it, the picture not being finished. The king, however,
persisted; he said he wished to show the portrait to his friends,
and consult with them as to its defects."

Never, in her most brilliant role, was Barbarina so beautiful as at
this moment: her countenance glowed with rapture; her happy smile
and glance would have made the homeliest face handsome.

"Then I have come in vain," she said, breathing quickly; "you can
make no use of me to-day?"

"No, no, signora! your face is a star seldom seen in my heaven, and
I must grasp the opportunity - have the kindness to wait; I will
hasten to the king and return with the picture."

Without giving Barbarina time to answer, he left the room. Why did
her heart beat so quickly? Why were her cheeks suffused with
crimson? Why were her eyes fixed so nervously upon the door. Steps
were heard in the adjoining room. Barbarina pressed her hands upon
her heart: she was greatly agitated. The door opened, and Pesne
returned, alone and without the picture.

"Signora," said he, "the king wishes that the sitting should take
place in his rooms; his majesty will be kind enough to make
suggestions and call my attention to some faults. I will get my
palette and brush, and, if agreeable to you, we will go at once."

Barbarina gave no reply, and became deadly pale, as she walked
through the king's rooms; her steps were uncertain and faltering,
and she was forced to lean upon Pesne's arm; she declared that her
foot was painful, and he perhaps believed her.

They reached at last the room in which the portrait was placed.
There were two doors to this room: the one through which they had
entered, and another which led to the study of the king. This door
was closed, and Barbarina found herself alone with the painter.

"The king has yet some audiences to give; he commanded me to
commence my work. As soon as he is at liberty, he will join us."

"Let us begin, then," said Barbarina, seating herself. "You must
allow me to-day to be seated. I think it can make no difference to
you, as you are at present occupied with my face and not with my
figure."

Pesne declared, however, that this attitude gave an entirely
different expression and bearing to the countenance. Barbarina must,
therefore, in spite of the pain in her foot, endeavor to stand. She
appeared now to feel no pain; she smiled so happily, she spoke so
joyously, that Pesne, while gazing at her animated, enchanting,
lovely face, forgot that he was there to paint, and not to wonder.
Suddenly her smile vanished, and she interrupted herself in the
midst of a gay remark. She had heard the door behind her lightly
opened; she knew, by the stormy beating of her heart, that she was
no longer alone with the painter; she had not the courage or
strength to turn; she was silent, immovable, and stared straight at
Pesne, who painted on quietly. The king had motioned him not to
betray him.

Pesne painted on, from time to time asked Barbarina the most
innocent and simple questions, which she answered confusedly.
Perhaps she was mistaken; possibly she was still alone with the
painter. But no, that was impossible, it seemed to her that a stream
of heavenly light irradiated the room; she did not see the king, but
she felt his glance; she felt that he was behind her, that he was
watching her, although no movement, no word of his betrayed him.

"I will not move, I will not turn, but I cannot endure this, I shall
fall dead to the earth."

But now she was forced to turn; the king called her name, and
greeted her with a few friendly words. She bowed and looked up
timidly. How cold, indifferent, and devoid of interest was his
glance, and he had not seen her for weeks, and she had been ill and
suffering! And now, she felt again that she hated him bitterly, and
that it was the power of this passion which overcame her when she
saw the king so unexpectedly. She felt, however, that every tone of
his voice was like heavenly music to her ear, that every word he
uttered moved her heart as the soft wind ruffles the sea.

The king spoke of her portrait; he said he had made it his study and
sought for its faults and defects, as others sought for its
advantages and beauties.

"I tremble, then, before the judgment of your majesty," said Pesne.

"I must confess you have some cause to fear," said the king. "I have
not looked at the picture with the eye of a lover, but with that of
a critic; such eyes look sharply, and would see spots in the sun; no
criticism, however, can prevent the sun from shining and remaining
always a sun, and my fault-finding cannot prevent your portrait from
being a beautiful picture, surpassed only by the original."

"Perhaps, sire, I am myself one of the spots in the sun, and it may
be that I grow dark."

"You see, signora, how little I understand the art of flattery; even
my best intended compliments can be readily changed into their
opposites. Allow me, then, to speak the simple, unadorned truth. You
are more beautiful than your picture, and yet I wonder at the genius
of Pesne, which has enabled him to represent so much of your rare
loveliness, even as I wonder at the poet who has the power to
describe the calm beauty of a sunny spring morning."

"That would be less difficult than to paint the signora's portrait,"
said Pesne; "a spring morning is still, it does not escape from you,
it does not change position and expression every moment."

Frederick smiled. "It would be truly difficult to hold the butterfly
and force it to be still without brushing the down from its
beautiful wings. But, paint now, Pesne, I will seat myself behind
your chair and look on."

Pesne seized his palette and brush, and began to paint. Barbarina
assumed the light, gracious, and graceful attitude, which the artist
has preserved for us in her beautiful portrait. She was, indeed,
indescribably lovely; her rounded arms, her taper fingers, which
slightly raised the fleecy robe and exposed the fairy foot, the
small aristocratic head, slightly inclined to one side, the flashing
eyes, the sweet, attractive smile, were irresistible; every one
admired, and every glance betrayed admiration.

The face of the king only betrayed nothing; he was cold, quiet,
indifferent. Barbarina felt the blood mount to her cheek, and then
retreat to her heart; she felt that it was impossible for her to
preserve her self-control; she could not bear this cruel comparison
of the portrait and the original, but she swore to herself that the
king should not have the triumph of seeing her once more sink
insensible at his feet; his proud, cold heart should not witness the
outbreak of her scorn and wounded vanity. But her body was less
strong than her spirit - her foot gave way, she tottered, and turned
deadly pale.

The king sprang forward, and asked in a sympathetic and trembling
voice why she was so pale; he himself placed a chair for her, and
besought her to rest. She thanked him with a soft smile, and
declared she had better return home. Would the king allow her to
withdraw? A cloud passed over Frederick's face; a dark, stern glance
rested upon Barbarina.

"No!" said he, almost harshly; "you must remain here, we have
business with each other. Swartz has brought me your contract to
sign; it requires some changes, and I should have sent for you if
accident had not brought you here."

"Your majesty can command me," said Barbarina.

"We have business and contracts to consider," said the king roughly,
"and we will speak of them alone. Go, Pesne, and say to Swartz I
await him."

Frederick nodded to the painter, and, seizing Barbarina's hand, led
her into the adjoining room, his Tusculum, never before profaned by
a woman's foot; open only to the king's dearest, most trusted
friends.


CHAPTER XV.

THE CONFESSION.


Barbarina entered this room with peculiar feelings; her heart
trembled, her pulses beat quickly. She, whose glance was usually so
proud, so victorious, looked up now timidly, almost fearfully, to
the king. He had never appeared to her so handsome, so imposing as
in this moment. Silently she took her place upon the divan to which
he led her. Frederick seated himself directly in front of her.

"This is the second time," said the king, with a smile, a the second
time, signora, that I have had the honor to be alone with you. On
the first occasion you swore to me that you would hate the King of
Prussia with an everlasting hatred."

"I said that to your majesty when I did not recognize you," said
Barbarina.

"Had you known me, signora, you would surely not have spoken so
frankly. Unhappily, the world has silently resolved never to speak
the truth to kings. You avowed your resolution, therefore, at that
time, because you did not know you were speaking to the king. Oh,
signora, I have not forgotten your words. I know that you pray to
God every day; not for your own happiness, as all chance of that has
been destroyed by this cruel king; but for revenge on this man, who
has no heart, and treads the hearts of other men under his feet."

"Your majesty is cruel," whispered Barbarina.

"Cruel! why? I only repeat your words. Cruel, because I cannot
forget! The words of Barbarina cannot be forgotten. In that respect
at least I am like other men."

"And in that respect should your majesty the least resemble them.
The little windspiel may revenge its injuries, but the eagle
forgives, and soars aloft so high in the heavens that the poor
offender is no longer seen and soon forgotten. Your majesty is like
the eagle, why can you not also forget?"

"I cannot and I will not! I remind you of that hour, because I wish
to ask now for the same frankness of speech. I wish to hear the
truth once more from those proud lips. Barbarina, will you tell me
the truth?"

"Yes, on condition that your majesty promises to forget the past."

"I promise not to remind you of it."

"I thank your majesty; I will speak the truth."

"You swear it?"

"I swear it."

"Well, then, why did you wound your foot?"

Barbarina trembled and was silent; she had not the courage to raise
her eyes from the floor.

"The truth!" said the king, imperiously.

"The truth," repeated Barbarina, resolved, and she raised her
flashing eyes to the king; "I will speak the truth. I wounded my
foot, because - "

"Because," said the king, interrupting her fiercely, "because you
knew it was a happiness, a life's joy to the poor, lonely, wearied
king to see you dance; because you felt that your appearance was to
him as the first golden rays of the sun to one who has been buried
alive, and who bursts the bonds of the dark grave. You hate me so
unrelentingly, that even on the evening of my return from an
exhausting and dangerous journey, you cruelly resolved to disappoint
me. I hastened to the theatre to see you, Barbarina, you, you alone;
but your cruel and revengeful heart was without pity. You thought of
nothing but your pride, and rejoiced in the power to grieve a king,
at the sound of whose voice thousands tremble. Your smiles vanished,
your enchanting gayety was suppressed, and you seemed to become
insensible. With the art of a tragedian, you assumed a sudden
illness, resolved that the hated king should not see you dance. Ah!
Barbarina, that was a small, a pitiful role! leave such arts to the
chambermaids of the stage. You are refined in your wickedness; you
are inexorable in your hate. Not satisfied with this pretended
swoon, the next evening you wounded yourself; you were proud to
suffer, in order to revenge yourself upon me. You knew that a swoon
must pass away, but a wounded foot is a grave accident; its
consequences might be serious. The king had returned to Berlin, and
had only a few days to refresh himself, after the cares and
exhaustions of a dangerous journey; after his departure you would be
able to dance again. Ah! signora, you are a true daughter of Italy;
you understand how to hate, and your thirst for vengeance is
unquenchable! Well, I give you joy! I will fill your heart with
rapture. You have sworn to hate me; you pray to God to revenge you
upon the King of Prussia who has trampled your heart under his feet.



Online LibraryL. MühlbachBerlin and Sans-Souci; or Frederick the Great and his friends → online text (page 17 of 42)