L. Mühlbach.

The Merchant of Berlin An Historical Novel online

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ideals and no innocence, no faith, not even a doubt which in itself
implies a glimmer of faith; for him there was nothing but the plain,
naked, undeceivable disenchantment, and pleasure was the only thing in
which he still believed.

This pleasure he pursued with all the energy of his originally noble
and powerful character; and as all his divinities had been destroyed,
all holy ideals had dissolved into myths and hollow phantoms, he
wished to secure one divinity, at least, to whom he could raise an
altar, whom he could worship: this divinity was Pleasure.

Pleasure he sought everywhere, in all countries; and the more ardently
and eagerly he sought it, the less was he able to find it. Pleasure
was the first modest, coy woman who cruelly shunned him, and the more
he pursued her, the more coldly did she seem to fly him.

And now he converted his whole life into an adventure, a kind of
quixotic pursuit of the lost loved one, Pleasure. In the mean time,
his heart was dead to all the better and nobler feelings. But, at one
time, it seemed as if a higher and more serious inclination promised
permanently to enchain this dreaded rival of all husbands and lovers.

Feodor von Brenda, the most _blasé_, witty, insolent cavalier at the
court of his empress, became suddenly serious and silent. On his proud
countenance was seen, for the first time, the light of a soft and
gentle feeling, and when he approached his beautiful bride, the
Countess Lodoiska von Sandomir, there beamed from his dark eyes a glow
holier and purer than the fire of sensuality. Could he have fled with
her into some desert, could he have withdrawn into the stillness of
his mountain castle, he would have been saved; but life held him with
its thousand minute, invisible threads, and the experiences of his
past years appeared to mock him for his credulity and confidence.

Besides this woman, whom he adored as an angel, arose the demon of
skepticism and mistrust, and regarded him with mocking smiles and
looks of contempt; but still Feodor von Brenda was a name of honor, a
cavalier to whom his pledged word was sacred, and who was ready to pay
the debt of honor which he had incurred toward his betrothed; and this
love for the Countess Lodoiska, although cankered by doubt and gnawed
by the experiences of his own life, still had sufficient power over
him to cause the future to appear not gloomy but full of promise,
and to allow him to hope, if not for happiness, at least for rest and
enjoyment.

The war-cry roused him from these dreams and doubts of love. Elizabeth
had united with Maria Theresa against Frederick of Prussia, and the
Empress of Russia was about to send an army to the support of her
ally. Feodor awoke from the sweet rest into which his heart had sunk,
and, like Rinaldo, had torn asunder the rosy chains by which his
Armida had sought to fetter him. He followed the Russian colors, and
accompanied General Sievers as his adjutant to Germany.

As to him all life was only an adventure, he wished also to enjoy the
exciting pastime of war. This, at least, was something new, a species
of pleasure and amusement he had not yet tried, and therefore the
young colonel gave himself up to it with his whole soul, and an ardent
desire to achieve deeds of valor.

But it was his fate to be carried early from the theatre of war as
a prisoner, and in this character he arrived with General Sievers at
Berlin. But his durance was light, his prison the large and pleasant
city of Berlin, in which he could wander about perfectly free with the
sole restriction of not going beyond the gates.

General Sievers became accidentally acquainted with Gotzkowsky, and
this acquaintance soon ripened into a more intimate friendship. He
passed the greater part of his days in Gotzkowsky's house. As a lover
of art, he could remain for hours contemplating the splendid pictures
which Gotzkowsky had bought for the king in Italy, and which had not
yet been delivered at Sans Souci; or, by the side of the manufacturer
he traversed the large halls of the factory in which an entirely new
life, a world of which he had no idea, was laid open to him. And then
again Gotzkowsky would impart to him the wide and gigantic plans which
occupied his mind; and this disclosed to him a view into a new era
which arose beyond the present time, an era when industry would
command and raise the now despised workman into the important and
respected citizen.

While Gotzkowsky and his friend the general were discussing these
extensive plans, and speculating about the future of industry, the
young people, Elise and the adjutant, were dreaming about the future
of their love.

The colonel had only commenced this love-affair with the daughter
of the rich manufacturer as a new adventure. It was so piquant to go
through all the stages of a romantic, dreamy German love, with a pure,
innocent German girl, and to let himself be led by her through
the sacred mazes of innocent romance, holy transports, and chaste
affection - it was so pleasant a diversion of his captivity, why should
he not enjoy it?

This attachment to Elise was for him at first only a temporary
amusement, and he toyed with his vows and wooing, until,
imperceptibly, he found his heart entangled in his own net. The ardent
yet innocent love of the young girl touched his feelings. It was
something new to be the object of so chaste and devoted an affection.
He was ashamed of himself in his inmost soul to perceive with what
childish trust, what sacred security and humble resignation this
young, rich, and beautiful maiden gave herself up to him.

For the first time, he experienced an ardent desire to be worthy of so
noble an affection, and to resemble, at least in some slight degree,
the ideal picture which Elise had formed of him - to be something of
the hero, the knight, the noble being whom Elise worshipped in him.

At the same time it was so surprising and strange to meet a girl, who,
all submission and devoted love, yet remained firm and immovable in
her purity and chastity, so bright and proud that even he felt respect
for this innocence which surrounded the beloved one like a halo, and
his lips refused to utter words at which her pure soul might tremble.

With his fiery and mercurial temperament, he had, with a kind of
passionate curiosity, adopted the _rôle_ of a Platonic lover, and
the libertine in his character had been subdued by the love of the
eccentric. He had converted this love into a kind of adoration. He
placed Elise upon the altar, and worshipped her as a saint to whom
he had turned from the turmoil and wild lust of life, and in the
contemplation and worship of whom he could obtain forgiveness of all
his sins and errors. It affected him to think that Elise was praying
for him while he, perhaps, forgot her in the whirlpool of pleasure;
that she believed in him so devotedly and truly, that she looked up to
him so lovingly and humbly - to him who was so far her inferior. And in
the midst of his wild life of pleasure he felt the need of some saint
to intercede for forgiveness for him. All these new and unaccustomed
feelings only enchained him the more closely, and made him consider
the possession of her as the most desirable and only worthy object of
his life.

She must be his; he was determined to wear this brilliant diamond,
the only one he had ever found genuine and without flaw, as his
most costly possession; to become, in spite of all difficulties and
impossibilities, unmindful of his betrothed bride and his solemn vows,
the husband of this beautiful German maiden, who had given herself to
him heart and soul.

In proportion to the difficulties that opposed such a union, increased
his fierce determination to overcome them. He was betrothed, and the
Empress Elizabeth herself had blessed the betrothal. He could
not, therefore, retract his vows without exciting the anger of his
mistress, and history had more than one example to show how violent
and annihilating this anger could be. In like wise, Elise dared not
hope ever to obtain the consent of her father to her union with a man
who was the enemy of her country. She was obliged to conceal this love
with anxious care from his eyes, if she did not wish to expose herself
to the danger of being separated from her lover forever. She knew that
her father, in every thing else uniformly kind and yielding toward
her, was on this one subject implacable, and that no tears, no
pleading, were capable of moving the firm and energetic will of the
ardent patriot.

Both were obliged, therefore, to preserve their love a secret, and in
this concealment lay for Feodor a new charm which bound him to her,
while it estranged Elise's heart still more from her father, and
chained it in unbounded devotion to her lover.

In the mean while the time arrived for Feodor to leave Berlin with
General Sievers. He swore eternal love and fidelity to Elise, and she
vowed to him cheerfully never to become the wife of another, but in
patience and trust to await his return, and to hope for the end of the
war and the coming of peace, which would solve all difficulties, and
remove the opposition of her father.

That besides her father there could be any obstacle, she did not
suspect; Feodor had so often sworn that she was his first and only
love, and she, young and inexperienced as she was, believed him.

* * * * *




CHAPTER XIV.

A FAITHFUL FRIEND.


Elise's father had not yet returned. She was still alone, but in her
soul there was neither fear nor trembling, but only a defiant grief at
this apparent indifference to the danger which had threatened her, in
common with the rest of Berlin, for the last two days.

She had shut herself up in her room, not that she anticipated any
danger, but because she wished to be alone, because she wished to
avoid Bertram, the faithful friend, who had watched over her during
this time with the most attentive devotion. Truthfully had he remained
in the house, deserted by her father, as a careful watchman; had never
left its door; but, armed with dagger and pistol, he had stationed
himself as a sentinel in the antechamber, ready to hasten at the
slightest call of Elise, to defend her with his life against
any attack or any danger, and Elise felt herself bound to him in
gratitude, and yet this duty of gratitude was a burden to her. It was
distressing and painful to her to see Bertram's quiet and mournful
countenance, to read in his dimmed eyes the presence of a grief so
courageously subdued. But yet she had endeavored to overcome this
feeling, and she had often come to him lately to chat with him about
past times and to reward him with her society for his protection and
faithful presence. And yet Bertram's tender conscience was well aware
of the constraint Elise had put herself under, and the harmless and
cheerful chat was to him all the more painful as it reminded him of
past times and blasted hopes.

He had, therefore, with a melancholy smile of resignation, requested
Elise not to come any more into the hall, as it would be better, by
the anticipated occupation of the enemy, to remain in her room, in the
upper story of the house, and to lock the door in order to secure her
from any possible surprise.

Elise had completely understood the delicacy and nobleness of this
request, and since then had remained quiet and undisturbed in her
room.

Thus the second night had commenced. She passed it like the one
preceding, wandering up and down, not needing sleep, but kept awake by
her thoughts and cares. In the middle of the night she was interrupted
in her anxious reveries by Bertram, who came to her door, and in a low
and timid voice requested permission to enter.

Elise knew very well that she could trust Bertram like a brother, as
an unselfish, disinterested friend. Therefore, fearlessly she opened
the door, and bade him come in. Bertram entered timidly and confused,
almost overpowered by happiness, for this room into which he came was
Elise's bedroom, the sanctuary of maidenhood and beauty, and he felt
disposed to kneel down and pray, so evidently did this room seem to
him a temple of innocence.

It appeared to him as if his unholy foot was not worthy to tread this
ground, nor to approach the bed which, with its white curtains, seemed
to wave before his dazzled eyes like a white swan.

In soft and gentle words he brought to Elise greeting from her father.
He related to her how Gotzkowsky had visited his house, not to take
rest, but to see Elise; how, scarcely arrived there, a messenger
from the Council had called him back to the town-hall. There he had
commissioned Bertram to request his daughter to withdraw from the
front rooms of the house, and to retire into those next to the garden,
where she would be safer and have less to fear from the enemy as he
marched in.

"At last, then, my father has consented to think of me," said Elise,
with a bitter smile. "His patriotism has allowed him leisure to
remember his only daughter, who would have remained solitary and
forsaken in the midst of servants and hirelings if my noble and
faithful brother had not assumed the duties of my father, and watched
over and protected me." She reached out both her hands to Bertram with
a look full of gratitude, but he scarcely touched them; he held them
for a moment lightly and coldly in his, and then let them go. This
slight and transient touch had shot through him like an electric shot,
and reawakened all the sorrows of his soul.

"You will then leave this room?" asked Bertram, approaching the door.

"I will go into the hall immediately next to it."

"All alone?" asked Bertram; and then fearing that she might suspect
him of wishing to force his company upon her, he added, quickly, "You
ought to keep one of your maids near you, Elise."

Smilingly she shook her head. "For what purpose?" asked she. "Bertram
is my protector, and I am quite safe. I have sent my maids to their
rooms. They were tired from long watching and weeping; let them sleep.
Bertram will watch for all of us. I have no fear, and I would not
even leave this room, if it were not that I wished to comply with the
rarely expressed and somewhat tardy desire of my father."

Saying which, she took the silver candelabras from the table and
quietly traversed the room in order to proceed to the adjoining
hall. At the door she stopped and turned round. The full light of the
candles shone on her handsome, expressive face, and Bertram gazed on
her with a mixture of delight and anguish.

"Bertram," said she gently and timidly, "Bertram, my brother, let me
thank you for all your love and constancy. Would that I could reward
you more worthily! In that case all would be different, and we would
not all be so sad and despondent as we now are. But always remember,
my brother, that I will never cease to love you as a sister, and that
if I cannot compel my heart to love you otherwise, yet no other power,
no other feeling can ever lessen or destroy my sisterly affection.
Remember this, Bertram, and be not angry with me." She nodded to him
with a sweet smile, and retreated through the door.

Bertram stood rooted to the floor like one enchanted, and gazed at the
door through which this vision of light had departed. He then raised
his eyes to heaven, and his countenance shone with excitement. "God
grant that she may be happy!" prayed he, softly. "May she never be
tormented by the agonies of error or repentance; may he whom she loves
prove worthy of her!"

Overpowered by bitter and painful thoughts, his head sank upon his
breast, and tears coursed down his cheeks. But he did not abandon
himself long to his sad and anxious thoughts, nor did he allow sorrow
long to take possession of his heart. After a short pause he raised
himself and shook his head, as if to roll off the whole burden of care
and grief with all the power of his will.

"At least I will always be at her side," said he, his countenance
beaming from the noble decision. "I will follow her like a faithful,
watchful dog, and ward off from her every danger and every misfortune
which comes from man and not from God. She has called me her brother!
Well, a brother has both rights and duties, and I will perform them!"

* * * * *




CHAPTER XV.

AN UNEXPECTED MEETING.


The hall to which Elise had retired, next to her bedroom, was on the
garden side of the house, and its glass doors opened on a porch from
which handsomely ornamented bronze steps led winding down into the
garden. Notwithstanding the advanced season of the year, the night was
mild, and the moon shone brightly. Elise opened the glass doors and
stepped out on the porch to cool her burning forehead in the fresh
night air; and, leaning on the balustrade, she looked up smiling and
dreamily at the moon. Sweet and precious fancies filled the soul of
the young maiden, and brought the color to her cheeks.

She thought of her lover, who so lately had appeared to her as in a
dream; she repeated to herself each one of his words. With a sweet but
trembling emotion she remembered that he had bidden her to await him;
that he had sworn to her to come, even if his way should be over dead
bodies and through rivers of blood.

With all the pride of a loving girl she recalled his bold and
passionate words, and she rejoiced in her heart that she could call
herself the bride of a hero. Even if this hero was the enemy of
her country, what did she care? She loved him, and what to her were
nationalities or the quarrels of princes? She was his - his in love and
faith, in purity and innocence; what cared she for aught else?

Elise started suddenly from her dreams. She had heard a noise down
in the garden, and leaned listening over the balustrade. What was the
meaning of this noise? Was it perhaps some thief, who, under cover
of the general confusion, had stolen into the garden? Elise remained
motionless, and listened. She had not deceived herself, for she
distinctly heard footsteps. A feeling of fear took possession of her,
and yet she did not dare to move from the spot, nor to cry for help.
Might it not be her lover, for whom she had promised to wait?

With strained attention she gazed down into the garden; her eye seemed
to penetrate the darkness with its sharp, searching look. But she
could distinguish nothing; not an object moved through these silent
paths, where the yellow sand was sufficiently lighted up by the moon
to betray any one sufficiently bold to tread them. Every thing was
again quiet; but Elise shuddered at these long, black shadows cast on
both sides of the alleys; she was afraid to remain any longer on the
porch. She retired into the hall, the door to which she had left open
on purpose to perceive any noise coming from that quarter.

Now again she became aware of steps approaching nearer and nearer.
She wished to rise, but her feet refused their office. She sank back
powerless into her chair and closed her eyes. She could not determine
whether it was fear or happy expectation which pervaded her whole
being.

And now the footsteps ascended into the porch, and came quite near to
the window. Would a thief dare to approach these lighted windows? She
raised her eyes. He stood before her! - he, her beloved, the friend
of her heart, her thoughts, her hopes! Feodor von Brenda stood in the
doorway of the hall, and uttered softly her name. She could not rise,
her feet trembled so; and in her heart she experienced an uneasy
sensation of fear and terror. And yet she stretched her arms out to
him, and welcomed him with her looks and her smile.

And now she lay in his arms, now he pressed her firmly to his heart,
and whispered tender, flattering words in her ear.

She pushed him gently back, and gazed at him with a smile of delight.
But suddenly her look clouded, and she sighed deeply. Feodor's
brilliant Russian uniform pained her, and reminded her of the
danger he might be incurring. He read her fear and anxiety in her
countenance.

"Do not be afraid, my sweet one," whispered he gently, drawing her
into his arms. "No danger threatens us. My people are now masters of
the town. Berlin has surrendered to the Russians. _The enemy_ is now
conqueror and master, and no one would dare to touch this uniform.
Even your father must now learn to yield, and to forget his hatred."

"He will never do it," sighed Elise sadly. "You do not know him,
Feodor. His will never bends, and the most ardent prayers would not
induce him to grant that to his heart which his judgment does not
approve of. He is not accustomed to yield. His riches make him almost
despotic. Every one yields to him."

"He is the king of merchants," said Feodor, as he passed his fingers
playfully through the dark tresses of the young girl, whose head
rested on his shoulder. "His money makes him as powerful as a prince."

"That is exactly my misfortune," sighed Elise.

The colonel laughed, and pressed a kiss upon her forehead. "Dreamer,"
said he, "do you call yourself miserable because you are the daughter
of a millionnaire?"

"Millions alone do not make one happy," said she sadly. "The heart
grows cold over the dead money, and my father's heart is cold toward
his daughter. He has so many thousand other things to do and think of
besides his daughter! The whole world has claims upon him; every one
requires his advice, submits to and obeys him. From all parts of the
world come letters to be answered, and, when at last, late in the
evening, he remembers he is something besides the king on 'Change, the
man of speculation, he is so tired and exhausted, that he has only a
few dull words for his child, who lives solitary in the midst of all
this wealth, and curses the millions which make her poor."

She had spoken with increasing excitement and bitterness. Even her
love had for a moment been eclipsed by the feeling of an injured
daughter, whose grief she now for the first time disclosed to her
lover.

As she finished speaking, she laid her arm on Feodor's shoulder, and
clung still more closely to him, as if to find in his heart protection
and shelter against all pain and every grief. Like a poor, broken
flower she laid herself on his breast, and Feodor gazed at her
with pride and pity. At this moment he wished to try her heart, and
discover whether he alone was master of it. For that purpose had he
come; for this had he risked this meeting. In this very hour should
she follow him and yield herself to him in love and submission. His
long separation from her, his wild soldier's life had crushed out
the last blossoms of tender and chaste affection in his heart, and
he ridiculed himself for his pure, adoring, timid love. Distrust had
resumed power over him, and doubt, like a mildew, had spread itself
over his last ideal. Elise was to him only a woman like the rest. She
was his property, and as such he wished to do with her as he chose.

But yet there was something in her pure, loving being which mastered
him against his will, and, as it were, changed his determination.
In her presence, looking into her clear pure eye, he forgot his dark
designs and his dreary doubts, and Elise became again the angel of
innocence and purity, the saint to whom he prayed, and whose tender
looks shed forgiveness on him.

This young girl, resting so calmly and confidingly on his breast, and
looking at him so innocently and purely, moved him, and made him blush
for himself and his wild, bold desires. Silent and reflecting he sat
at her side, but she could read in his looks, in his smile, that he
loved her. What further need had she of words?

She raised her head from his breast, and looked at him for a long
time, and her countenance assumed a bright, happy expression.

"Oh," said she, "do I call myself poor when I have you? I am no longer
poor since I have known you, but I have been so; and this, my friend,
must be the excuse for my love. I stood in the midst of the cold
glitter of gold as in an enchanted castle, and all around me was
lifeless, stiffened into torpidity by enchantment, and I knew no
talisman to break the charm. You came, and brought with you love. The
talisman was found; a warm life awoke in me, and all the splendor of
gold crumbled into dust. I was rich then, for I loved; now I am rich,
for you love me!"

"Yes, I love you," cried he; "let your father keep his treasures. You,
and only you, do I desire."

She sprang up startled from his arms. In the overpowering happiness
of the hour she had entirely forgotten the danger which threatened her
lover. She suddenly remembered, and her cheek paled.



Online LibraryL. MühlbachThe Merchant of Berlin An Historical Novel → online text (page 7 of 29)