Excerpt, Friedrich Freiherr De La Motte Fouque’: “Romantic Fiction.” 1871.
horseman sprang from his horse, the singer to his feet,and they clasped and embraced each other right lovingly. They had much to tell, for they had been a long while parted ; Leutwald at home in the fair city, under the teaching of the most accomplished minstrels; Adelard with the renowned Count Albert of Bayreuth, who for his beauty and his knightly prowess was surnamed Albert Achilles. With him had the warlike youth lived after his heart’s desire ; and he too had become dear to the German Achilles for his skill in arms, and for many proofs of dauntless contempt of death displayed in hard-fought battles.
” So, then, it was a grief to you to leave him ?” asked Leutwald of his friend.
” Indeed it was,” answered Adelard ; ” but what could be done ? As soon as the count mustered his troops against our beloved mother, the holy free city of Nuremberg, I made myself ready, fastened my horse to the gate, and then, resolved in mind, and with girded sword, I mounted the stairs to my beloved lord, saying, ‘ You have been a gracious prince to me; but as things are at present, I must use against yourself the skill I learned from you.’
I thought the valiant Achilles would have broken forth in anger, as is sometimes his way, but he smiled quietly to himself. ‘ Thou art a brave fellow ;’ then again a little time he was silent, jingling the large knightly sword, inlaid with gold, which never leaves his side, and spoke : ‘ This sword might one day have made thee a knight. Now, however, it may strike thee after another fashion. See only that thou comest honourably under its stroke ; so will it be for thy good, whether it touch thee with the flat edge or with the sharp —for life or for death.’ Then he dismissed me after his gracious manner ; and as I rode forth, a solemn stillness came on my soul ; but since I reached our own borders, and still more since I have met with you, I have become light-hearted as before. But are you ready here ? It is full time.”
” That we know well,” answered Leutwald. ” Only come you today to the aged Councillor Scharf. There will be a cheerful meal; you will learn what is about to happen ; and be of good heart.”
Then the two youths embraced joyfully ; and leading the horse after them, approached the city, singing battle-songs with all their heart and voice, through the flowery country . At the house of the venerable councillor Adam Scharf there was an assemblage of the brave citizens of every sort. Some whose hoary heads, bowed down with age, seemed to look forward to their last deed of arms, and close beyond it to an honourable grave ; others who, in the midday of life, moved on with lofty resolve ; others, and many more, with fresh colours on their cheeks and bright hopes in their hearts.
Here the two youths, Adelard and Leutwald, were right welcome ; and as every one gladly beheld the latter on account of his graceful songs, so they took no less pleasure in the knightly-trained pupil of their valiant foe, the German Achilles.
Read the rest of this Antique German Story in Translation in its entirety here!
Excerpt, “Wild Love and Other Tales from the German of De La Motte Fouqué.” London: 1844.
In his eager pursuit of a wild boar, our hero had been led far away and alone, over hill and valley, till at last all trace of his prey was lost; he hung his gun upon the branch of an oak, and sat down fatigued among the long grass under its shade.
The straggling sunbeams through the reddened autumnal foliage, the ever-green fir-branches, holding a low soft converse with the breeze, the parting cry of the birds of passage, the heavenly canopy overspread with many-tinted clouds, all conspired to send a deep sadness into his soul.
A kind of feeling which he had been familiar with even from his earliest years, when often, even in the midst of his mirthful sport, and unseen of all the world, warm tears would flow down the cheeks of the otherwise cheerful boy; and now, too, a moist drop sparkled in his eye, and he said to himself:
“These might have been designed to foreshow how cruelly the world would deal with a true heart.” Then he hid burning face in his hands, and sighed. “Rosaura!” The tones of a cittern sounded, nor far distant, in his ears, and he heard plainly sung the following words, in a voice which seemed to be interrupted by violent weeping.
“Wildeck! Thou noble deer so good –
Wildeck! Thou gentle roe;
Why stray’st thou in and out the wood,
Thy heart so full of woe?
Let that a warning to thee tell
Which once thy ancestors befell!
Shun, Wildeck! Shun the dangerous heat,
Bold looks not ever will defeat.”
All was again still.Julius scarce knew if he was awake, or in a dream.He had heard the fearful tale, how once, in ancient times, many of his ancestors, men and women, had been burned to death, through an unaccountable fire breaking out in their own castle, and how his great-great-grandfather alone was saved in a wonderful manner, whereby the noble race of a noble stem was preserved from extinction.
But who in this place could know the tale? Or was it only some popular rhyme brought hither in some accidental way? “But the voice was broken by sobbing! And ah! It sounded so sweet, so lovely!”
Again it was heard nearer —
“Wildeck! The murderer comes this way;
Thou, Wildeck, have a care;
Askest — Who may the murderer be?
‘Tis I, the murderer here!”
Julius sprung up angrily from the ground and grasped his hunting knife. He thought of the fearful huntsman. “But, fool,” whispered he. “It is a woman’s voice that sings. Surely it is but a snatch of some traditionary song on the former misfortunes of our house. But ah! Sing not quite so sweetly – not quite so plainly to be recognized. O Rosaura! And he sank back into his former seat, covering his flowing face with his hands.
Then he heard a rustling waving sound among the grass near him, while the branches of the oak rattled over his head, as if to warn him.He sprung up; the gun which he had entrusted to the noble old tree was gone!
He looked indignantly round – no one could be seen.“A fine huntsman!” said he, mockingly, to himself.“Who takes such care of his arms!And such a weapon, too – the favourite piece of a dear parent!Best stay — I must find it again.By mine honour, I shall not leave this strange mountain till I have recovered it.”
And with keen looks, proper to him both as a soldier and a huntsman, he hastened through the trees, and along the ground, and at last discovered the traces of a light, soft footstep.“Good heavens!” said he with an inward shudder.“It is a woman who has wandered hither and robbed me of my weapon!”
He followed resolutely the scarcely discerned path, and in a short time emerged from the copsewood, and found himself — near to an old grey castle, with steep walls; and if his senses did not deceive him, it was the same as he passed on his journey to Finsterborn with the scarred huntsman.
While he stood musing on this, he suddenly felt his hunting-cap torn from his head, a ball whizzed quickly through it and struck against the nearest fir-tree. He reeled involuntarily back, not knowing rightly whether he was wounded or not. Then fearfully sung a female voice:
“Askest – Who may the murderer be?
‘Tis I, the murderer here.”
Julius bethought himself:The shot had only pierced his cap; he drew it again over his head – and seized his hunting-knife, ready for an attack.There stood over against him a female form, holding in her hand his own gun, which he had but just lost; — snow white was her robe – raven black her wildly flowing tresses – fiercely rolling her dark eye.O Heavens!No doubt remained, it was Rosaura!
She looked menacingly at him once more, and threw his gun. “The murderer here am I.”
A band of females now rushed hastily out of a neighbouring thicket, wrapped Rosaura in a veiled covering, and led her away. Julius heard her weeping bitterly. “I trust, in God’s name,” cried he, “no one means to do her any harm!”
“Be calm, Count Wildeck,” said Rosaura’s aunt, whom he now first recognized among the other ladies. “Rosaura of Haldenbach is in the best and kindest of hands; and if you would do her a real kindness, then depart hence as quickly as possible, and let nothing pass your lips of what has happened to you in these mountains.”
She disappeared with a gracious and earnest farewell. Julius took up his gun, and in deep astonishment pursued his uncertain way towards Finsterborn.
The evening darkened as the strayed huntsman wearily ascended a lofty rock, the summit of which was yet glittering in the last golden rays of the setting sun, in order, if possible, to discover from thence some beaten path, or the top of a tower which might serve him as a guide.On reaching the point of the rock, he saw some one already seated there, with his back turned towards him, and his legs dangling over the steep precipice beyond.
Fearing lest, by a too sudden advance, he might dangerously alarm the stranger in his perilous position, Julius remained standing; the other turned round – it was the terrible huntsman.
Quick as lightning he stood on his feet, and with a respectful greeting calmly approached Julius.The latter hardly knew how to conduct himself, alone with this awful being, and on such a dizzy height.The scarred hunter probably read some such apprehension in his countenance.He smiled.“Do not fear, Sir Count.I am not mad.But my master, Colonel Haldenbach, surnamed Death-brand, is so.
I see well enough you think that I speak from a crazed brain; but I will tell you all in order. Only be pleased to sit down by me, for I am tired to death” (and with this he resumed his giddy seat); “or should the good count be somewhat afraid, let him stand. But do not let him charge my old age with unpoliteness.”
Julius, to whom the thought of being taxed with fear was more dreadful than almost any other earthly danger, placed himself in a moment by the side of the old man, who then spoke as follows:
“Five hundred years ago, the noble counts of Wildeck celebrated in their ancestral castle a very joyful harvest feast, and drank wine and mead.They had brought thither their wives and children, and only waited, in order to complete their enjoyment, for the arrival of a knight who was related to their family, by name Haldenbach.
But the knight had already been within the walls of the castle for some time, though they knew it not.He was lurking far below, deep in the dungeon-vaults, whither he had stealthily penetrated by a hidden passage; and because one of the daughters of the house had repulsed his suit with disdainful coldness, he thought he could not otherwise satisfy his revenge than by destroying the whole castle and its inmates.
He set fire, therefore, to all the gates and stairs of the unguarded edifice.All the Wildecks were burned to death, with their wives and children.Save one little boy, whom his nurse, to preserve his beautiful complexion, had carried into the moonlight and sprinkled with dew.That boy was thy progenitor, young hero.
But among the betrayed Wildecks there was one old man, a soothsayer; he stood amid theglowing mass, on the top of the last tottering wall, and sang forth words of strange prophecyin the night wind.He laid a fearful spell upon the race of Haldenbach – that all their descendants should be struck with madness every half year towards the hour of midnight, and that this should last each time for the space of three weeks.
God knows what secret meaning may be signified by those numbers, and this curse is to remain as long as a single Wildeck is alive upon the earth, unless – but the rest of the prophecy was drowned in the storm, and smoke, and flame.The wicked Haldenbach, in the fierce agony of his distracted conscience, could gather no more.
No way of escape is known; and twice a year during these three weeks, all the Haldenbachs are, about midnight, and sometimes also towards the evening hour, smitten with madness. Alas! Even that beautiful young lady Rosaura is regularly seized with this inherited malady; therefore, it was that I rode with you so secretly past her castle. For to see an angel like her clutched by such a demon-fury, this, indeed, is too horrible!”
“But if the last Wildeck were dead!” whispered Julius, while he bent himself forward toward the brink of the precipice.
“Sir Count, you are a Christian,” said the old man solemnly; and Julius rose from his dizzy seat.
“But whence knowest thou this?” said he after some thought. “Whence knowest thou all of this, old man?”
“Colonel Haldenbach,” replied the Huntsman, “once, in a sudden attack of his frenzy, precipitated me from this cliff, which is the cause of my scarred and disfigured countenance. He afterwards, in the agony of his remorse, confessed all to me; and, among other things, he told me that a dark tradition had assigned to his race the surname of “Death-brand,” although the Wildecks themselves knew not how that dreadful calamity came to fall upon their ancestral castle.
And since that time the colonel has more than once found it convenient to make people believe that I am the madman who disturbs the castle:A devilish instinct prompts him even to go about in my clothes.But I have thought it well on my part to inform Count Wildeck, and to save my own honour.”
“I return, nevertheless, to Castle Finsterborn, for this night,” said Julius; “direct me, therefore, thither.”
“Everyone to his own liking,” replied the Hunter, and led the way.
In the wood they met with servants and huntsmen on horse and foot, with torches in their hands, seeking for Colonel Haldenbach. He had returned before the evening had set in, but had suddenly disappeared again, nobody knew whither; and it was feared that in his wild frenzy he had run into the forest.
Julius felt too exhausted by the exertions of the day to render any assistance.He therefore proceeded with the old hunter, and they soon reached the now almost empty castle.When he found himself in his dark bed-chamber, lighted only by the dim light of a single taper, and was about to undress himself , he thought he saw in the mirror the figure of his groom standing behind him, and looking deadly pale.“Christopher, what is the matter!”asked he, appearing paler than usual himself.
The faithful boy, instead of answering, pointed to a dark corner of the room, where the tapestry, suspended in the ancient fashion from the cornice, appeared to be in motion.Julius seized his sword and turned toward the spot.
“For God’s sake, no,” whispered Christopher, and held him by the arm. “I believe the madman is behind.”
A hoarse laugh and whisper in the fearful corner confirmed the supposition, and Julius thought he could detect these words: “Ay, ay! Here the old mad Death-brand hides lurking for the last Wildeck. Only go to sleep first, my young fellow.”
Amazed, and overwhelmed with stupefying horror, Julius rushed after his servant, slammed the door behind him, and reaching the court-yard, called immediately for their horses. The old hunter stood by and praised the count’s determination. Julius told him where to search for his fearful master, and sprung forward as if on wings.
Alas! As he rode past Rosaura’s castle, the crazed song of the unhappy maiden fell upon his ear.
At Waldho, he met a military attendant, who had been sent to call him back as speedily as possible to his quarters.An unforeseen war had broken out between two neighboring states, and it appeared certain that the sovereign would take part in the contest.All the regiments, therefore, had ordered to hold themselves in readiness to march.
This was balm for Julius’ wounded heart.With far greater joy than he had dared to hope, he rode through the gate of the capital, and surveyed with sparkling looks the cannon and ammunition-wagons just drawn forth from the arsenal, and the soldiers hastening from the armoury with their field-pieces, who, giving vent to their long-suppressed feelings of martial joy, cheered each other on all sides with song and jest.
Julius’ spirit, too, soon revived through the occupation and bustle occasioned by the needful arrangements for his squadron, and the hours flew past like minutes; and yet not so fast but that Rosaura’s sad destiny, endured as it seemed for his sake, called up a sorrowful sigh from his loving bosom.
A great court-day was appointed, when the officers of the guards, who were called out to the field, should all be presented once more, before their departure, to the princesses of the reigning house.
The Princess Alwina, at other times so cheerful, was very pale and still. Julius imagined that the approaching eventful day was the only cause of this. But in passing him, she said, “Count Wildeck, I have some matters of weighty import on which to speak to you. Attend at eleven o’clock tomorrow morning in my antechamber.”
When Julius appeared at the appointed hour, he was immediately admitted. He found the princess in half-suppressed tears. She desired him to be seated opposite to her; and then began to speak in the following manner:
“On that evening at the hermitage, I enticed you, Count Wildeck, into a dangerous — nay, a very fearful piece of raillery. I see, from your countenance, that you have learned by your terrible visit to Finsterborn, the origin of the Haldenbach’s surname. I trust that no bloody tragedy has again taken place there.”
On hearing the Count’s calming reply, she breathed deeply.“God be praised!I was under dreadful apprehensions.You must know, that my wonder at Rosaura’s strange behavior that eveninginduced me to mention the circumstances to my father.He chid me severely, as well as my brother, for our untimely jesting; and he then laid before us the secret archives of the house of Haldenbach, relating to these events, and we have read with horror the whole history.
And, Count Wildeck, it much – very much – concerns you, that you should know the whole from the very foundation.”
“Your Highness,” replied Julius, “I believe I am already fully informed of this whole case of hopeless complicated fate.”
“Hopeless, alas!” replied the Princess; “And the only possibility of deliverance depends upon a condition.”
“I know it, your Highness; perhaps the impending war may bring this condition to its fulfillment, and too happy shall I reckon myself if, while I shed my blood for my prince and father-land, I can at the same time free the race of Haldenbach – so inexpressibly dear to me – from that fearful curse.”
“Now I see clearly, Count Wildeck, that you do not yet know all.Read:I shall come again presently, and ask for your decision.”And laying an old parchment scroll before him, she left him alone.
“By this instrument, we, Conrad of Thiessbach, knight, and Albert of Lahnhoff, gentleman, testify that we have learned the following from the mouth of Sir Wolfgram of Haldenbach, at the hour of his death, when he wrestled almost with despair. God be merciful to his poor soul!
“Sir Wolfgram having, in the fury of the chase, met with a deadly fall from the cliff, summoned us, his hunting companions, to come to him, and related to us, with great lamentation and remorse, all that he had formerly perpetrated against the noble house of Wildeck; which caused our very hair to stand on end with horror.”
Here followed the particulars already related of that horrible deed; but at the passage where the dying old man pronounced the malediction upon the race of Haldenbach, he proceeded thus:
“The soothsayer or prophet added yet farther, that if the family of Wildeck should become extinct, without one of them having first married a daughter of the house of Haldenbach, then the fearful spell should retain its power until the last day, whether a Wildeck should survive or not.
After this, however, it appeared that the prophet, mindful, probably, of his own situation, so soon to appear before the judgment-seat, and of the saying of his Lord, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged,” – was about to add .something consolatory to the race over whom he had pronounced this malediction
But in the mean time his whole mantle became enveloped and pierced through with the fury of the flames which was so horrible to behold, that he, Sir Wolfgram, being unable, in the agony of his conscience, longer to endure the sight, hurried away and buried himself in the forest. After a while he returned, but the tumbling walls had long since buried the old man in the flame and ruins, and Sir Wolfgram, to his great sorrow, knew nothing of the words of hope which he had uttered.
“This we have had officially drawn up by the venerable father Lambert, abbot of the monastery of S. Egidius. If peradventure at some future time it may serve to the use or advantage either of the race of Wildeck or that of Haldenbach. And I, Conrad of Thiessbach, have, as a farther attestation, affixed my seal with my signature; and I, Albert of Lahnhoff, being unable to write, have added a cross under my seal. Given at the castle of Thiessbach, on the 25th day of December, in the year of our Lord, 1293.”
With deep emotion Julius had deciphered the lines of this curiously written document, the spelling as well as the characters of which were to him strange and unusual.It was now as if a voice had called to him direct from the grave of his prophetic ancestor.With high, solemn fortitude, his hands folded in silent prayer, he stood before the parchment.
The princess entered.
“Your highness best knows,” said Julius, “how far it may meet with the approval of my sovereign that I should ask the lady of Haldenbach in marriage, so that she may bear the name of Wildeck before we march.”
“You are just what I expected,” replied the noble Princess; and a beam of pure delight shone from her maidenly eye upon the young knight. “The Prince is informed of all, and he leaves the decision to you. I have written also to Romaura’s aunt. The hour of the dreadful malady has gone by. Hold yourself ready, therefore, to set out at the hour of nine-tomorrow morning. My chamberlain has orders to call for and accompany you; and I will myself be witness to the marriage-rite.”
A gracious nod dismissed him.
Overjoyed in his pure soul, Julius hastened to arrange every thing for the solemn occasion.
In the mild glimmer of the evening hour, Julius halted next day before Rosaura’s castle. The chamberlain entered, in order to prepare for the reception of the solemn bridegroom.
Julius dismounted slowly from his carriage.Already he perceived in the distance the six dapple greys of the Lady Alwina’s carriage trotting through the valley.He knew not whether he should speak to Rosaura before the arrival of the Princess:He scarcely dared to think of it.Then the chamberlain motioned to him to come within the gate, and silently pointed to the castle chapel which stood close by, under a shade of lime-trees.
The aunt of the bride was within, quite alone. With deep emotion the venerable lady took hold of the young man’s, saying “You bring hither a noble sacrifice, Count Wildeck, if it is only in virtue of marriage that it is in your power to bestow upon your spouse the noble name of Wildeck, and thereby provide for her honour and peace.”
“Oh! Is not this beyond measure enough!” whispered the glowing Julius. “Here I solemnly promise to you to perform whatever you may impose upon me, and, next to God, to keep Rosaura purely and faithfully before my eyes, even in the hour of death.”
In sweet sorrow, he knelt down before her. The pious widow breathed a holy kiss on his forehead, and disappeared.
Presently Rosaura entered, pale and beautiful as a saintly alabaster image, wearing a garland of myrtle in her hair, accompanied on one side by the Princess, and on the other by her venerable nurse.
The holy abbot pronounced the marriage-blessing over the wonderful pair, according to the prescribed ritual, visibly moved in all the features of his aged, venerable countenance; for he had been made aware of all that had happened here.
Scarcely audible, but in a silvery, pure, and firm tone, the “Yes” flew over Rosaura’s lips. And now, as Julius turned, with a reverential greeting, toward the door, she beckoned him once more back. “Thou art an angel,” whispered she, and sank weeping into her arms. Then she hid herself in the bosom of the Princess; and more blessed, and yet more agitated with sorrowful emotion, than ever was bridegroom before, Julius hastened homewards through the mist of a calm autumnal night.
To be continued…
Excerpt, “Wild Love and Other Tales from the German of De La Motte Fouqué.” London: 1844.
Soon was heard the awakening call to the field. Julius fought, as might have been expected of a loving, and at the same time death-seeking soul – one, too, who scorned to behind his heroic ancestors in heroic deeds. In his deep sense of Rosaura’s affection, he became so penetrated with a heavenly joyfulness, that all warrior hearts flocked around him with martial ardour and devoted confidence.
God wonderfully preserved the life of the young honour-loving hero, and rescued him victoriously from many a threatening danger. From step to step, Count Wildeck rose high in rank; and already, by the beginning of winter, he stood at the head of a regiment of light dragoons.
While the remainder of the army rested in their quarters during the severity of the winter season, the young hero ranged hither and thither with his bold horsemen: Now the back of the enemy – intercepting couriers and destroying transports – now surprising bodies of troops who believed themselves in secure cantonments; again, by a powerful stroke, breaking through outposts and garrisoned stations towards some headquarters. Each time, he returned to the army with victory and fresh booty.
“Wildeck’s dragoons are coming!” was a panic-cry among the enemy’s troops; and friend and foe mentioned with joyous enthusiasm the name of Count Wildeck – for he seemed to all the very pattern of a fearful yet good, a stern yet benign , martial hero. The true soldier always looks upon a noble adversary with the unbiased, nay, even a loving eye.
One day, on his return to the headquarters of the Prince from a successful campaign, with prisoners and trophies of victory, Julius found the following letter from Rosaura – the first which he had received from her fair hand:
“My hero, my protector, my beloved! Thy name resounds from the lips of poets and orators, as well as from the mouths of the people. I had foreseen this long before I avowed my love for thee: then I sighed for war in order that thy inbred nobleness might shine forth. But now, Julius – Count Julius Wildeck – I trust thou doest not court death for the sake of thy poor afflicted spouse? O, do not this, else I should – though not with diminished affection, yet truly with less pride – sign myself,
ROSAURA (OF HALDENBACH), ” Countess of Wildeck.”
Who can picture the ecstasy of the enraptured Julius? He who cannot pour forth the lines from his own heart may leave them unread, and pass them by as an unopened letter.
Alas! The spring brought him a far less cheering message; which he received in the midst of the bustle of a new campaign.
The Princess Alwina wrote to him with her own hand, in the most considerate and forbearing manner; but still the fearful part of the news – that the time of suffering had pressed more heavily upon Rosaura than ever – could not be removed. It was deemed necessary that the Count should be informed of it, because the attack had come suddenly upon the unhappy lady while in the royal castle.
And, as it was generally believed among the household to be a burning fever, the intelligence of such a deadly sickness being conveyed to Julius might have alarmed and unnerved him. Now all was again over. Rosaura herself had written, in faint characters at the close of the letter, a few affectionate consolatory words.
Hitherto Julius’ heart, from the consoling words which the soothsayer was supposed to have uttered, had not been quite void of hope, that the curse had already been removed by means of the priestly blessing. Alas! There now remained only the death of the husband which could deliver Rosaura! Julius prayed fervently to God for a speedy and honourable end, and rode off with a composed courage to the thundering battlefield.
It was a victorious conflict; and two others followed in the spring and summer. Julius escaped unhurt, while many fell around him to whom life was as dear, as death would have been welcome to him. At times, he was tempted to throw himself head-long, as a sacrifice, upon the bayonets of the enemy; but she, for whom he was about to commit the act, deterred him by her consolatory letter, which never left his bosom.
And now the glory of God’s mercy shone upon him again; and he hoped and believed where man’s wisdom alone could see nothing but storm and precipice.
Towards autumn the victorious host had greatly melted away. The ally, for whom the army had first taken the field, proved lukewarm and indifferent, now that the tide of war was raging at a distance from his own territory. In order to a decisive conflict, it was necessary to have a strong reinforcement.
Many valiant country noblemen now rose up, mindful of the fame of their forefathers, and were already collecting into troops experienced archers from the mountains, equipping the poorer ones at their own expense, and placing themselves at their head for the cause of their prince and country.
From all sides were seen such squadrons marching along with the mirthful sounds of horn and trumpet; and there seemed little doubt that, with the aid of these troops, the approaching battle would be the last, and lead to an ultimate peace.
Wildeck – now in the rank of general, and honoured with the special confidence of the captains, and who had already occupied a distinguished place in the council of war – full of youthful eagerness, decided at once for the speediest accomplishment of the intended plan of attack, and assigned to the new auxiliaries some of the most important positions.
It is true that he, having been stationed at another wing of the army, had, as yet, seen nothing of this new troop; but their noble character was sounded abroad everywhere; and already, Wildeck felt within his glowing soul the victoriousness of a people’s might thus nobly be led on.
Among the other generals, no one had any great inclination to be connected with this auxiliary force. Some declared flatly that they were only used to the ancient and common forms of war, and that it would be impossible for them to conform to new modes; some smiled and held their peace; some whispered that they did not profess to be poetical, or at least not poetical enough for such very poetical subordinates.
Others, again, insisted that the auxiliaries should at all events be instructed in the principal points, of the newest military rules, since, in the event of a parade, honour and reputation would be hazarded with such a troop.
On the other hand, however, a wish was expressed by some experienced old warriors, that they might enjoy again their youthful vigour, in order to put themselves at the head of such a noble body of youths; on which, the Prince turned round to Julius with a friendly smile. “With you, General Wildeck, the will seems to be most in unison with the proposed achievements. Hasten, therefore, to the archers; and the newly collected troop shall march out according to the concerted plan, under your command.”
Scarcely has Julius time to inspect all the detachments of his new squadron before the signal of the Prince floated in the morning-dawn of the appointed day, summoning to the attack.
“We shall all get better acquainted with each other in the field,” said he with a friendly voice; and quickly surveying once more, with a bright kindling eye, all the parts of the enemy’s position, he dispatched adjutants and officers to the different detachments, with the order for decampment.
With a joyous huzza, the archers obeyed. To fight under Count Wildeck was what each of them longed for; and an inspiring proclamation, which he issued immediately on his arrival, had kindled the martial fire yet more powerfully in their youthful breasts.
The conflict began. At the head of his young hero-troop, the hero-youth stormed fiercely up the mountain-steep. But the enemy, on the other hand, well knowing the importance of this point of his positions, had posted there the boldest of his troops, led on by one of the most daring, and yet most prudent, of his captains; and the heights were thus rendered well-night inaccessible – not only by a vigorous defense and a fearful shower of balls, but also by several boldly conducted sallies.
Many of the brave archers fell. Sometimes the young warriors stood still, as if stunned by the assault, which, perhaps they did not expect would prove so fierce. But it only required an inspiring word, or even a nod, from their knightly leader, and again the warrior-stream, with loud hurrahs, rushed up the mountain.
Wildeck was seen whenever danger shewed itself most threateningly, and ever he was welcomed with a tremendous “Vivat!” and “Hurrah!” More joyfully than ever the victorious flood rolled up the heights. Sometimes, in galloping along, it seemed to him that he saw the old Colonel Haldenbach of Finsterborn at the head of a troop of young soldiers; and this supposition was soon confirmed, when the first height was stormed, and Julius, who stood looking round him from an elevated spot, saw the scarred huntsman springing quickly towards him, mounted on one of the strange-looking horses which he but too well remembered.
“Sir General,” said the hunter, “Colonel Hadenbach, who leads the detachment No. 3 yonder on the right wing, sends word that the enemy is rapidly advancing full in his front, and inquires whether he should not attempt to shift the whole position, and whether, therefore, he may venture to break out of the line of battle.”
Julius reflected a few moments, making a rapid survey of the place pointed out to him. He then replied: “Let the Colonel act as appears to him most advantageous from his position. Perhaps the victory may be accomplished at one stroke; and for the security of the right wing I will myself provide another way. Only the Colonel must remember that we have scarcely any horse – that the enemy has already shown us several squadron of hussars – and that the ground there must be much flatter and more open. Ride off, then, in God’s name; and salute your brave Colonel from me.”
Thanking him in warlike fashion, the scarred huntsman sprang forward. As soon as Julius had made the necessary preparations for the intended alteration in his battle-array, he rode off himself to the decisive point, having first planted signals from height to height, that he might receive the earliest intelligence from all quarters of the field.
The old, dreadful Haldenbach proved himself indeed dreadful to the enemy, even as a very messenger of death. Already their left wing was in flight. Julius’ adjutants hastened from the centre to the squadrons of the archers, which, by the General’s skillful arrangement, they led on one-by-one, so that the enemy, on this bushy, mountainous region were left in doubt as to which was intended to be the chief point of attack.
“Now is the time!” cried Julius suddenly. “The whole line forward! The columns behind to the attack!”
And the signals sounded from the trumpets, echoing through the valleys the joyous “Hurrah!” of the archers, and the hasty, unarmed fire of the enemy’s cannon. The archers now shot no longer. They had screwed their long hunting-knives, previously prepared for this purpose, upon the end of their guns, to serve instead of bayonets; and now they rushed on to the attack with rejoicing shouts.
In few places could the enemy stand against this unlooked-for attack; and where resistance was made, those able, well-practiced youths speedily overpowered them. The victory on this side was decided: Almost all the enemy’s cannon were taken. Already, the allied cavalry might be seen trotting about far out on the open plain – which was no longer commanded by the enemy’s guns – and forming themselves for an attack on their rear.
Julius had halted — his heart beating high and joyfully with victory – on the last gained height. Haldenbach still continued to chase before him the remains of the defeated host, and was already close to an open space where the enemy’s hussars had stopped, on whom, at Julius’ command, a fire had just been opened from the captured guns. These troops kept moving hither and thither; but, upon the whole, maintained their position, determined, if it were possible, to protect the flying infantry.
The cavalry of their opponents, too, was at a distance, occupied with other and more important matters, so that they were secure from any attack from them.
“Ride off,” said Julius to one of his adjutants, “as speedily as possible , and warn Colonel Haldenbach against these Hussars. He ventures much too far upon the open ground.”
Scarcely had the messenger galloped off, when Haldenbach, full of wild eagerness for the fight, rushed forth upon the wooded plain, and fell, quick as lightning, upon the hussars. Julius glowed with indignation lest a single branch of the day’s victorious garland should be torn away. Looking round upon his officers, he cried out, “We are still two squadrons strong, are we not? It does not depend upon numbers alone. To arms! March!”
And with these words, he sprang forward, holding his drawn sword before him, while close behind him followed the small, but choice, band. With a loud “Hurrah!” they dashed upon the enemy, who, partly over-ridden and hewn down by the rejoicing assailants, fell into wild disorder and took to flight.
Haldenbach’s archers were saved. But the old Colonel himself, wounded and bleeding, was dragged by two of the enemy’s horsemen from his half-mangled horse. Julius spurred on his faithful Abdul once more, and overtook them in a moment. His good sword dispatched one of the hussars; the other, in despair, was about to fire his piece at the prisoner, but Julius wrenched it from his hand. Not, however, without its going off in a different direction, and wounding the brave deliverer himself. With bleeding side, Julius sank upon the neck of his noble charger, and soon fell powerless and fainting on the grass.
On coming to his senses, Julius found himself upon a soft couch in a magnificent apartment of one of the Prince’s hunting castles, situated among the forest mountains. The inquiring looks of the hero were met by those of his adjutants, who informed him that the battle had ended on all sides in a decisive victory; also that the Colonel had been saved, and had been conveyed hither, bleeding only from a slight wound on the head.
Julius pressed, with a thankful smile the hands of the brave men. Tears stood in their eyes. The surgeon turned away: Julius knew well what he had said to them. He wished to ask something farther, but his wounded side prevented this utterance. He motioned the surgeon to approach nearer, and at last he stammered out with difficulty, “How much longer! On your honour and duty!”
“Eight days; or, at most, fourteen,” answered the former, full of earnest sorrow, knowing well the heroic and Christian heart of his general, and seeing how foolish, nay, how sinful, all falsehood and concealment at such a time would be.
Julius raised his hands in serene thankfulness toward heaven. He was to die for his Prince and country, and for Rosaura; and he was to follow, from a victorious battlefield, the renowned heroes of his ancient line. Something like this he had fore-acted in his boyish games with childish eagerness, and had again dreamed of in the sleeping and waking hours of his youth.
The half-yearly period, when the Haldenbachs were seized with the fated madness, was now drawing near. Julius earnestly wished to die before this time, that Rosaura might not once more be subject to these dark, and alas! To her, unmerited terrors. He thought, too, how fearfully such an attack would agitate the old colonel, already suffering from his wound. He called for parchment and pencil, and wrote with a trembling hand these words:
“Day and night two surgeons and three attendants to Colonel Haldenbach. Report to me every three hours.”
The surgeon bowed respectfully, and hastened out to fulfil his orders. Julius sank, almost free from pain, into a calm slumber.
Days and nights came and went, and still the intelligence of the Colonel’s condition was of a soothing nature. The surgeon could not comprehend the reason for the general’s anxious solicitude, and often assured him that the Colonel’s wound was of slight consequence, and might even be considered as good as healed.
At the same time, contrary to all expectation, Julius began to recover; and the joyful countenance of the adjutants, and sometimes even a cheerful smile from the surgeon, seemed to speak more and more of hope. But Julius sighed heavily at the thought. “Alas! Must Rosaura’s day of trial, then, still to be prolonged?”
More than three weeks had now elapsed since that glorious, bloody day; and the looks of the surgeon became every day more cheerful and confident – it happened one day that Colonel Haldenbach, who was now perfectly recovered, sent to ask for an interview with the General; and, if possible, in private.
At first a slight shudder crept through Julius’ frame. He thought of the possibility of the madness breaking out suddenly – of his own debility, and of the irritable state of his disordered imagination. He soon, however, recovered his courage, and complied with the request.
Earnest and solemn, but irradiated as it were with a mildness which Julius had never before seen in his countenance, the old man stepped in.
“Fear not me any longer, my young hero,” said he, in a soft and gentle voice, “for them is now an end of the madness of me and my race. The time has gone by more than twelve hours, and yet not the least symptoms of the malady has shewn itself. Thou hast saved us, my noble Wildeck; but, alas! Whatever hope the physician may entertain, it is so much the more certain that my niece Rosaura must soon be a widow.”
He wept bitterly, but softly. “With that victorious day all remembrance of our fated hour seemed to have passed away. My brave, scarred huntsman, too, fell in my defence, and was buried in the battlefield. But to think that thou, too, must soon be buried!”
His voice faltered, and was lost in a flood of tears, while he covered his aged head with his hands.
But Julius, through whose veins the news of Rosaura’s deliverance had flowed like a healing balsam, raised himself joyfully up, and spoke with unusual vigour.
“Be calm, thou aged hero of Haldenbach – be calm. I shall yet recover! I shall yet live many, many happy years with Rosaura; for the unknown words which my prophetic ancestor added, for the consolation of our race, they are now fulfilled – believe me they are now fulfilled!”
Astonished, and suspended between joy and doubt, the Colonel gazed upon the soul-inspired youth. But all farther explanations were postponed; for an adjutant of the general suddenly entered, and announced that the sovereign was about to visit Count Wildeck. And presently after the gracious Prince appeared.
“I have many things to relate to you, Count Wildeck,” said he, after the first salutations were over. “I begin with that which, to your true and well-approved knightly heart, is the most dear; our land has peace, the most glorious, the most secure peace that we could possibly have achieved. Next, here is a trifle for you,” and he pulled out a star and ribbon of the highest rank in the empire, and placed them on the bed of the wounded knight.
“These, I know your excellency will not be sorry to receive; it follows, too, as a matter of course, that the conqueror of these mountain forests is henceforth my lieutenant-general. But lastly, my courier has just brought me something unusually beautiful. My daughter, Alwina, writes me that the Countess Rosaura is completely freed from her former malady; and here is a letter to you from Rosaura herself, which will tell you why I no longer tremble for the life of my brave Wildeck.”
With eyes kindling with ecstacy, Julius gazed on the dear page, unrolled it, and read as follows:
“The time of the fearful visitation arrived; I had prepared myself for it with humiliation and prayer. But those once so fearful days passed over without sign of change. O Julius! Livest thou? Or is it thy death which has sealed my peace!
“But no! Julius, thou livest! And the curse is nevertheless removed. This was yesternight revealed to me in a vision. Hearken to it!
“Over my mountain castle the heavens opened, and I saw therein thy prophetic ancestor, clothed in a shiny purple robe, broidered with resplendent stars, and he drew towards him my poor once-erring ancestor, Wolfram; and both sang together that all was now over with the fearful curse, for that a Wildeck had shed his own life’s blood in saving the life of a Haldenbach. And then they embraced each other, and were transformed into two glorious seraph forms, moving to and fro, with azure wings, and chanting in harmonious concert.
“Julius, my hero! My expiating deliverer! Julius, thou noble Wildeck! It was assuredly no idle dream – thou livest, and thou hast here, full of inward love, thy faithful spouse,
ROSAURA (OF HALDENBACH) “Countess of Wildeck”
And the good God confirmed the beautiful promise. In joy, peace, and honour, the valiant Julius, now perfectly recovered, returned home; and from his and Rosaura’s happy union sprang numerous sons and daughters, who gave to their house of Wildeck many new blossoms of strength and beauty, even like so many blessed messengers of Heaven.
Friedrich Freiherr de la Motte Fouqué