L. Mühlbach.

The Merchant of Berlin An Historical Novel online

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flames with insulting and licentious songs. And the fire seemed only
to awaken their inventive powers, and excite them to fresh deeds of
vandalism. After the fire had burnt out, and only a heap of ashes told
of what were once magnificent royal vehicles, the Austrians rushed
back again into the building with terrific outcry, to the apartments
of the royal master of the horse, Schwerin, in order to build a new
bonfire with his furniture, and fill their pockets with his gold and
silver ware.

In the royal stalls a great uproar arose, as they fought with each
other for the horses that were there. The strongest leaped on them and
rode off furiously, to carry into other neighborhoods the terror and
dismay which marked the track of the Austrians through Berlin. Even
the hospitals were not safe from their brutal rage. They tore the sick
from their beds, drove them with scoffs and insults into the streets,
cut up their beds, and covered them over with the feathers. And all
this was committed not by wild barbarians, but by the regular troops
of a civilized state, by Austrians, who were spurred on, by their
hatred of the Prussians, to deeds of rude cruelty and beastly
barbarity. And this unlucky national hatred, which possessed the
Austrian and made him forgetful of all humanity, was communicated,
like an infectious plague, to the Saxons, and transformed these
warriors, who were celebrated for being, next to the Prussians,
the most orderly and best disciplined, into rude Jack Ketches and
iconoclastic Vandals.

In the royal pleasure-palace at Charlottenburg, where Brühl's (Saxon)
dragoons had taken up their quarters by force, they set up a new
species of dragoonade, which was directed not so much against the
living as against marble statues and the sacred treasures of art. All
the articles of splendor, brilliancy, and luxury which had been
heaped up here, every thing which the royal love of the fine arts
had collected of what was beautiful and rare, was sacrificed to their
raging love of destruction. Gilded furniture, Venetian mirrors, large
porcelain vases from Japan, were smashed to pieces. The silk tapestry
was torn from the walls in shreds, the doors inlaid with beautiful
wood-mosaic were broken up with clubs, the most masterly and costly
paintings were cut in ribbons with knives. To be sure, it sometimes
happened that the officers rescued from the soldiers some costly vase,
some rare treasure or painting, and saved it from destruction,
but this was not to save the King of Prussia's property, but to
appropriate it to themselves, and carry it home with them.

Even the art-collection of Count Polignac, embracing the most splendid
and rare treasures of art in the palace of Charlottenburg, did not
escape this mania of destruction. This collection, containing among
other things the most beautiful Greek statues, had been purchased in
Rome by Gotzkowsky, and had afforded the king peculiar gratification,
and was a source of much enjoyment to him. In the eyes of some Saxon
officers, to whom this fact was known, it was sufficient reason for
its condemnation. They themselves led the most violent and destructive
of their soldiers into the halls where these magnificent treasures
were exposed, even helped them to break the marble statues, to dash
them down from their pedestals, to hew off their heads, arms, and
legs, and even carried their systematic malice so far as to order
the soldiers to grind into powder the fragments, so as to prevent any
restoration of the statues at a subsequent period.

The unfortunate inhabitants of Charlottenburg witnessed all this
abomination that was perpetrated in the royal palace with fear and
trembling, and in order to save their own persons and property from
similar outrage, they offered the enemy a contribution of fifteen
thousand dollars. The Saxons accepted the money, but, regardless of
every obligation usually considered sacredly binding, they only became
more savage and ferocious. With yells of rage they rushed into the
houses, and, when the money they demanded was refused them, they
stripped the men of their clothes, lashed them until the blood flowed,
or cruelly wounded or maimed them with sabre-cuts; and when the women
fled from them, they followed them up, and forced them by brutal
ill-treatment to yield themselves. No house in Charlottenburg escaped
being plundered; and so cruel were the tortures which the inhabitants
suffered, that four of the unfortunate men died a miserable death at
the hands of the Saxon soldiers.

They were Germans who waged against their brother Germans, against
their own countrymen, a brutality and barbarous love of destruction
almost unequalled in the annals of modern history. Consequently
it seemed but natural that the Russians should be excited by such
examples of barbarity, so unstintedly set them by the Austrians and
Saxons. No wonder that they, too, at last began to rob and plunder, to
break into houses at night, and carry off women and maidens by force,
in order to have them released next day by heavy ransom; and that even
the severe punishments, inflicted on those whom the people had the
courage to complain of to the generals lost their terror, and were
no restraint on these sons of the steppes and ice-fields, led away as
they were by the other ruffians.

Two hundred and eighty-two houses were destroyed and thoroughly
plundered in Berlin by the Austrians; the Saxons had devastated the
royal palace in Charlottenburg, and the whole town. Should not the
Russians also leave a memorial of their vandalism? They did so in
Schönhausen, the pleasure-palace of the consort of Frederick the
Great, who had left it a few days previous, by express command of the
king, to take up her residence in Magdeburg. Eight Russian hussars
forced themselves into the palace, and, with terrible threats,
demanded the king's plate. Only the castellan and his wife, and a few
of the royal servants, had been left behind to protect the place, and
the only answer they could make to the furious soldiers was, that the
booty which they were in search of had been carried with the royal
party to Magdeburg. This information excited their fury to the highest
pitch. Like the Saxon dragoons of Charlottenburg, they devastated the
Schönhausen palace, stripped the castellan and his wife, and, with
shouts of wild laughter, whipped them and pinched their flesh with
red-hot tongs. And, as if the sight of these bloody and torn human
bodies had only increased their desire for blood and torture, they
then attacked the two servants, stripped them of their clothes, cut
one to pieces like a beast, and threw the other on the red-hot coals,
roasting him alive, as formerly the warriors of her Most Christian
Majesty of Spain did those whom, in the pride of their civilization,
they denominated "the wild heathen."[1]


[Footnote 1: The account of all these cruelties and this vandalism is
verified in the original, by reference to Von Archenholz: "History of
the Seven Years' War," pp.194-198. - TRANSLATOR.]

* * * * *




CHAPTER IV.

THE CADETS.


The day following the occupation of Berlin, a strange and singular
procession moved down the Linden Street through the Brandenburg Gate,
and took the road to Charlottenburg. Brühl's dragoons and De Lacy's
chasseurs rode on each side of the line, which would have excited
laughter, if pity and sorrow had not overcome the comical element.
It was a procession of children decked in uniform, and having
nothing military about them but their apparel, nothing manly but the
dress-sword at their side.

This singular little regiment was the "Corps of Cadets," which had
been made prisoners of war by the Austrians and Saxons.

The commandant, Von Rochow, did not imagine that the enemy would carry
his hard-heartedness to such an extent as to consider these lads of
tender age as part of the garrison, and make them prisoners of war in
consequence. None of these boys exceeded the age of twelve years (the
larger and older ones having been drafted into the army to supply the
want of officers), and he presumed that their very helplessness and
weakness would be their security, and therefore had omitted to mention
them specially in the surrender. But the conqueror had no compassion
on these little children in uniform, and pronounced them prisoners of
war. Even Liliputian warriors might be dangerous! Remember the pangs
suffered by Gulliver, as, lying quietly on the ground, he was suddenly
awakened by a violent discharge poured into him from behind the high
grass by the Liliputians. To be sure their weapons were only armed
with needles - whence we may infer that the Liliputians are the
original inventors of the modern Prussian needle-percussion
rifles - but, one can be killed by needle-pricks. Count De Lacy feared,
perhaps, the needle weapons of the little Liliputian cadets, and
treated the poor, delicate, tender children as if they were tough old
veterans, accustomed to all the hardships and privations of war. With
coarse abuse and blows from the butt of the musket, they were driven
out into the highway, and compelled to travel on the soft, muddy roads
without cloaks, notwithstanding the severe weather, and only the short
jackets of their uniforms. Heart-rending was the wail of the poor
little ones from whom the war had taken their fathers, and poverty
their mothers - torn from their home, the refuge of their orphaned
childhood, to be driven like a flock of bleating lambs out into the
desert wilderness of life.

And when their feet grew weary, when their little bodies, unaccustomed
to fatigue, gave way, they were driven on with blows from sabres and
the butts of muskets. When they begged for a piece of bread, or a drop
of water for their parched lips, they were laughed at, and, instead of
water, were told to drink their own tears, which ran in streams down
their childish cheeks. They had already marched the whole day without
food or refreshment of any kind, and they could hardly drag their
bleeding feet along. With eyes bright with fever, and parched tongues,
they still wandered on, looking in the distance for some friendly
shelter, some refreshing spring.

At nightfall the little cadets were camped in an open field, on the
wet ground. At first, they begged for a little food, a crust of bread;
but when they saw that their sufferings gave pleasure to the dragoons,
and that their groans were to them like a pleasant song, they were
silent, and the spirit of their fathers reigned uppermost in the
breasts of these little, forsaken, trembling lads. They dried their
eyes, and kept their complaints in their little trembling hearts.

"We will not cry any more," said little Ramin, who though only twelve
years of age, was yet the oldest of the captives, and recognized as
their captain and leader. "We will not cry any more, for our tears
give pleasure to our enemies. Let us be cheerful, and that perhaps
will vex them. To spite them, and show how little we think of our
hunger, let us sing a jolly song."

"Come on, let us do it!" cried the boys. "What song shall we sing?"

"_Prince Eugene_," cried young Ramin; and immediately with his
childish treble struck up "Prince Eugene, the noble knight."

And all the lads joined in with a sort of desperate enthusiasm, and
the song of the noble knight rose from their young lips like a peal of
rejoicing.

But gradually one little trembling voice after another fell, by
degrees the song grew lower and shriller, and became lost in a
trembling whisper; then it would rise into an unnatural and terrified
scream, or sink into a whining sob or trembling wail.

Suddenly little Ramin stopped, and a cry of pain, like the sound of
a snapped string, burst from his breast. "I cannot sing any more,"
sighed he. "Hunger is killing me." And he sank down on his knees, and
raised his little arms beseechingly to one of the Austrian soldiers,
who was marching beside him, comfortably consuming a roast chicken.

"Oh! give me a bit of bread, only a mouthful, to keep me from starving
to death."

"Have pity on us, do not let us starve!"

With similar piteous lamentations, the whole corps of trembling,
weeping, starving little cadets threw themselves on their knees, and
filled the air with their cries and prayers.

"Well, if you positively insist upon eating, you shall have something
to appease your hunger," said the officer who commanded the chasseurs,
and he whispered a few words to his corporal, who received them with a
loud laugh, and then rode off.

"Now, be quiet, and wait," commanded the Austrian officer. "I have
sent the corporal and some soldiers into the village to get food for
you. Only wait now, and be satisfied." And the children dried their
eyes, and comforted each other with encouraging words.

With what impatience, what painful longing, did they look forward
to the promised food! How they thanked God, in the gladness of their
hearts, that He had had pity on them, and had not allowed them to die
of hunger!

They all seemed revived, and strained their hopeful eyes toward the
quarter whence the corporal was to return. And now, with one voice,
they broke out into a cry of joy; they had espied him returning,
accompanied by soldiers who seemed to be bringing a heavy load.

They approached nearer and nearer. "Form a ring," commanded the
officer, and they obeyed in expectant gladness; and around the thickly
crowded ring the Austrian officers and the troop of soldiers took
their stand. In silent waiting stood the cadets, and their hearts
leaped for joy.


"Attention! your dinner is coming," cried the officer.

The ring opened. Ah! now the corporal and the soldiers are going to
bring in the dinner.

But no! The dinner came walking along by itself. With a dignified
step it marched in and gave utterance to an expressive bleat. It was
a _live_ sheep, which was to be given to the poor lads who were faint
from hunger. An outburst of boisterous laughter from the Austrians
greeted the dignified wether, and drowned the cries of the bitterly
disappointed cadets.

"A sheep!" they cried, "and what are we to do with it?" - and they
began to weep afresh.

"Kill him and roast him!" jeered the officer. "You are brave soldiers.
Well, you will only have to do what we often do in camp. Be your own
cook and butler; none of us will help you. We want to see what sort of
practical soldiers you will make, and whether you are as good hands at
cooking as at crying and blubbering."

And the Austrians folded their arms, and looked on idly and with
derisive satisfaction at these poor children who stood there with
their heads bowed down with helplessness and grief.

At length little Ramin arose. His eyes glistened with fierce defiance,
and an expression of noble courage illuminated his pale countenance.

"If the sheep belongs to us," said he, "we will eat him."

"But he's alive," cried the boys.

"We will kill him," answered the little fellow.

"We? we ourselves? We are no butchers. We have never done such a
thing!"

"Have we ever killed a man?" asked Ramin, rolling his large bright
eyes around the circle of his comrades. "Have we ever deprived a man
of his life?"

"No!"

"Well, then, we will have it yet to do! We hope to be able to kill
many an enemy, and to do that we will have to begin with some one. Let
us make believe, then, that this wether is the enemy, and that we have
to attack him. Now, then, down upon him!"

"Ramin is right," cried the boys; "let us attack the enemy."

"Attention!" commanded Ramin.

The boys drew themselves up in military order right opposite the
bleating sheep.

"Draw swords!"

In the twinkling of an eye they had drawn their little rapiers, which
looked more like penknives than swords, and which the Austrians had
left to their little prisoners of war.

"One, two, three!" commanded the little Ramin. "Attention! Forward!"

Down they charged upon the enemy, who was standing motionless, with
staring eyes, bleating loudly. The Austrian soldiers roared and
screamed with delight, and confessed, with tears in their eyes, that
it was the best joke in the world, and no end of fun to see these poor
boys made desperate by hunger.

The first feat of arms of the little cadets was completed, the wether
was slain. But now came the question how to dress him, how to convert
the dead beast into nice warm roast meat.

They were well aware that none of the laughing, mocking soldiers
would help them, and therefore they disdained to ask for help. Wood, a
roasting-pit, and a kettle were given them - means enough to prepare a
good soup and roast. But how to begin and set about it they themselves
hardly knew. But gnawing hunger made them inventive. Had they not
often at home skinned many a cunningly caught mole - had they not often
killed and drawn a rabbit? The only difference was that the sheep was
somewhat larger than a mole or a rabbit.

Finally, after much toil and trouble, and under the approving laughter
of the spectators, they accomplished it. The meat simmered in the
kettle, watched by two cadets, two others turning the spit. The work
was done; the sheep was converted into soup and roast.

And because they showed themselves so industrious and cheerful, one
and another of the soldiers softened their hearts and threw them a
piece of bread or a canteen; and the poor boys accepted these alms
thrown at them with humble gratitude, and no feeling of resentment
or defiance remained in their hearts, for hunger was appeased; but
appeased only for the moment - only to encounter new sufferings,
renewed hunger, fresh mockeries. For onward, farther onward must they
wander. Every now and then one of them sank down, begging for pity and
compassion. But what cared the soldiers, who only saw in the children
the impersonation of the hated enemy, to be tortured and worried to
death as a sport?

More than twenty of these little cadets succumbed to the sufferings
of this journey, and died miserably, forsaken and alone, on the high
road; and no mother was there to close their eyes, no father to
lean over them and bless them with a tear. But over these poor
martyr-children watched the love of God, and lulled them to sleep
with happy dreams and gentle fancies about their distant homes, their
little sister there, or the beautiful garden in which they had so
often chased butterflies together. And amidst such fancies and smiling
memories they dreamed away their childish souls, beyond the grave, to
a holy and happy reawakening.

* * * * *




CHAPTER V.

THE EXPLOSION.


General von Tottleben was alone in his chamber - at least he had no
visible company; but two invisible companions were there - Care and
Sorrow. They whispered to him uncomfortable and melancholy thoughts,
making his countenance serious and sad, and drawing deep and dark
lines across his brow. He was a German, and was fighting in the ranks
of the enemy against his German fatherland. Therein lay the secret
of his care-worn features, the reading of the suppressed sighs; the
broken, sorrowful words which he uttered, as with folded arms and
bowed head he paced up and down his room. He was a German, and
loved his country, which had repaid his love with that apathy and
non-appreciation that have destroyed and killed some of the greatest
and noblest men of Germany; while others have taken refuge in foreign
countries, to find there that recognition which was denied them at
home. General von Tottleben was only a German - why, then, should
Germany take notice of him? Because he possessed information, talent,
genius. Germany would have appreciated these if Von Tottleben had been
a foreigner; but, as unfortunately he was only a German, Germany took
no notice of him, and compelled him to seek in a foreign country the
road to fame and distinction. He had gone to Russia. There his talents
had been prized and employed. He was now a general in the Russian
army, and the alliance between Russia and Austria compelled him to
fight against his own country.

But the Russian general still preserved his German heart, this heart
so strong in suffering, so unfaltering in its faith, so faithful in
its love, so great in hope, humble in its obedience, modest in its
desires; this German heart of his was the cause of much suffering to
him, for it could not adapt itself to his Russian instructions,
and despite his efforts to render it callous, would insist upon
overflowing with pity and sympathy. He loved Berlin, for in this city
he had passed the best years of his youth. And now he was called on to
act as a cruel tyrant, an unfeeling barbarian, to sow broadcast death
and destruction in this city, from which he yearned so to win a little
love, a little sympathy for her rejected son.

But now his German heart was forced into silence by the exigencies
of Russian discipline, and the general had to obey the orders of his
superior officer, General von Fermore. His chief had ordered him to
exercise the utmost severity and harshness, and imposed upon him the
task of scourging Berlin like a demon of vengeance. And yet Berlin had
committed no other crime than that of remaining faithful to her king,
and of not wishing to surrender to the enemy.

A fresh dispatch had just arrived from General von Fermore, and its
contents had darkened the brow of Tottleben with anxious care. He
had received orders to blow up the arsenal in Berlin. This noble and
handsome building, which rose in proud splendor in the midst of a
populous town, was to be destroyed without reference to the fact that
the blowing up of this colossal edifice would scatter death and ruin
throughout unfortunate Berlin.

"I will not do it," said he, pacing up and down the room, and crushing
the accursed paper which brought the cruel order in his clinched hand.
"I cannot be such a barbarian. Fermore may command me to do barbarous
actions, but I will not accept such commands! I will not obey! No
one but myself knows of this order. I will ignore it. The Empress
Elizabeth has always been very gracious toward me, and will forgive
me for not executing an order which certainly never proceeded from
her own kind heart." At this moment the door opened, and the adjutant
entering, announced Count de Lacy.

Tottleben's countenance assumed a gloomy expression, and, as with
hasty step he advanced toward the Austrian general, he muttered to
himself, "I perceive the bloodhounds have got the scent, and are
eager for blood." In the mean time Count de Lacy approached him with
a friendly and gracious smile. He seemed not to be at all aware that
Tottleben did not accept the hand which the Austrian general held out
to him with a hearty greeting.

"I come to chat for a short quarter of an hour with your excellency,"
said Count de Lacy, in very fluent German, but with the hard foreign
accent of a Hungarian. "After a battle won, I know nothing pleasanter
than to recall with a comrade the past danger, and to revel again in
memory the excitement of the fight."

"May I request your excellency to remember that the Austrians cannot
count the conquest of Berlin in the list of their victories," cried
Count Tottleben, with a sarcastic smile. "It was the Russian army
which besieged Berlin, and Berlin surrendered _to us_."

"You are very kind to remind me of it," said Count de Lacy, with his
unchangeable, pleasant smile. "In the mean time may I request a more
particular explanation than this polite reminder?"

"You shall have it, sir," cried Tottleben, passionately. "I mean
to say that Berlin is not Charlottenburg, and to request that the
vandalism which the Austrian troops practised there, may not be
transferred to Berlin. Be satisfied with the booty which your soldiers
stowed away in their knapsacks at that place, and have the kindness to
order the Austrian army to learn a little discipline and humanity from
the Russians."

"From the Russians?" asked Count de Lacy, with ironical astonishment.
"Truly one is not accustomed to learn humanity from that quarter.
Does your excellency mean to say that the Austrians are to learn good
manners from the Russians?"

"Yes, from the Russians," replied Tottleben - "from my soldiers, who
neither plunder nor rob, but bear in mind that they are soldiers, and
not thieves!"

"Sir," cried De Lacy, "what do these words mean?"

"They mean that I have promised my protection to the people of Berlin,
and that I am prepared to afford it to them, even against our own
allies. They mean that I have made myself sufficiently strong to
bid you defiance, sir, and to defend Berlin against the cruelty and



Online LibraryL. MühlbachThe Merchant of Berlin An Historical Novel → online text (page 11 of 29)