C.F. Van Der Velde: “A Tale of the Thirty Years’ War.” Part 3 of 3
Excerpt, “Tales From the German, Comprising Specimens of the Most Celebrated Authors.” Translated by John Oxenford and C.A. Feiling. London: 1844.
A TALE OF THE THIRTY YEARS’ WAR.
The baron, who could not resist, announced to his pale daughter the following morning as the day on which she was to be betrothed, adding with the utmost energy that this was his unalterable will. He then left her quickly, fearing his resolution might be changed by her imploring looks. The poor girl retired into the garden unconscious of what she was doing, and standing before the rose-tree which had witnessed the first kiss of Axel, looked sorrowfully to the grotto his last farewell. Suddenly a Capuchin friar, with a white beard, stood before her silently presenting half a copper dollar.
“For heaven’s sake tell me whether you come from Axel?” cried the maiden, trembling, while her pale cheeks were suffused with blushes.
“I come from him,” replied a strong unknown voice. “He now serves as dragoon in the Swedish army, which is about to engage in a pitched battle. Before this takes place he wishes once more to see you, and bid you farewell. But at present he does not venture here, and therefore entreats you to meet him this night on the Mordmiihle in the scharfen Thole. You may bring the old magister with you, and safe conduct is provided for you thither and back. Axel will wait there for you until one o’clock, at which time his duty will oblige him to leave. Will you come?”
“I will come,” whispered the Fraulein, after a short struggle.
The Capuchin now hastened with long unfriar-like strides towards the high garden wall, climbed it nimbly like a cat and disappeared.
At this moment Talander entered the garden to speak a few words of consolation to his pupil concerning the terrible morrow. But his words of unction died on his eloquent tongue, when the Fraulein made him the singular proposal to accompany her that night on a promenade to the Mordmiihle. He refused, she entreated, he remonstrated, she coaxed him, he was inexorable, she wept, and he, incapable of resisting tears from such eyes said, at length ‘comedo.’
Whoever knew the Mordmiihle could not but think the demand of Axel hazardous. It lay in a narrow valley formed by steep rocks, and lofty black pines, through which rushed the dark fierce torrent, and its last proprietor, whose soul was burthened with the commission of many murders, had fallen by the hand of his own son. The shepherds only dared during the day to let their herds graze in the rich pasture of the meadow surrounding the mill. As soon as evening twilight approached every living thing fled the awful precincts, within which, according to popular tradition, only the spirits of the murdered held their fearful haunts.
Tugendreich was not quite free from the superstition of the times, but strong love, which conquers every obstacle, overcame her fear, and when the last glow of evening in the west reddened the sky, she had contrived to get rid of her father and the importunate suitor, and commenced her heroic journey with the grumbling magister. As they came to the last heap of the ruins of the desolated village he drew her attention to four tall figures in dark clothes, who started up suddenly with a clattering noise, as if at the word of command, from behind the wall of a cottage that was burnt down, and accompanied them step by step, surrounding them on all sides. Tugendreich recollecting the promised escort walked on fearlessly. But as they entered the valley, the moon rising from behind the lofty firs, and the church clock in a neighbouring village striking twelve, she felt some alarm, and now fancied she heard but which at this time, and under these circumstances, could not be caused by anyone but evil spirits. Her companion silently shared her fears and thoughts, being moreover already so terrified by the figures who accompanied them in cloaks that the drops stood on his face.
At length he broke the awful silence, saying : “Child, I have complied with your wish, I have put my life in jeopardy and come this accursed walk. Now tell me, daughter, what do you wish to do in the most ill-famed corner of this country?”
“To bid farewell to Axel,” said the Fraulein, “he has appointed to meet me here.”
“To Axel. I wish I had known that,” muttered the magister, adding in an admonishing tone, “Have you perhaps been deceived by a hellish phantom? There are instances in which the evil one, with divine permission, avails himself of an excessive forbidden love in order subtly to destroy a soul. The place and time of your appointment are not in accordance with my notions of propriety. Supposing your singular admirer were dead, and that his departed spirit had sent you this summons, and was waiting for you in the Mordmiihle with his outstretched bony arms, to draw you into the dark subterranean bridal chamber?”
At this instant the speaker was interrupted by a loud and long-continued blast of a bugle, which was answered from the mill, the wheels of which were really revolving with a terrible noise, and emitted a thousand silvery sparks which were reflected by the moonlight: a tall man came out from the mill. The foremost of the four attendants approached him with respect, and a moment after Tugendreich was in the arms of Axel, reclining her burning cheeks against his beating heart.
“Come into the mill, beloved girl,” he whispered imploringly, “we are not quite safe here from discovery. You, reverend sir, will bear us company. I thank you for having conducted the Fraulein hither.”
The magister followed the two lovers, shaking his head in doubts at the suspicious dwelling.
“Let everything proceed as I have already ordered,” said Axel, in a tone of command, to the tall figures who had posted themselves outside the door like statues, “and do not stop the wheels of the mill until the Fraulein is again safe.”
He now conducted his beloved into the only habitable room of the mill, which being well lighted with lanterns, looked tolerably cheerful, while a camp table, set out with flasks and cake, invited the weary and hungry magister, who sat down a camp-stool near to it. Axel affectionately took the Fraulein to the window; and whilst they were conversing confidentially, the magister, who was enjoying the repast, made his reflections on the decent preparations which Axel had made for the rendezvous, and which were not in unison with the plain jacket of a Swedish dragoon that he wore.
But his ideas became more and more confused; soon he had hardly a clear conception of what passed through his mind; and when, at length, the effect of the long walk, his age, the night, and the generous wine closed his eyelids, the creatures of his imagination assumed the shape of substantial and significant dreams, from which the old seer had already received many prophetic warnings. The village clock now struck one, and Axel gently disengaged himself from Tugendreich, in whose tears the rays of the setting moon were shining.
“I must go, dearest,” said he. “Only this one blissful hour could I withdraw myself from my duty. I would ask you to accompany me; but my journey will not be without danger, to which I will not expose you, and your father’s house will still be your fittest residence. To escape the hated betrothal tomorrow, you must feign illness. Everything may be gained by time, in the unhappy period in which we live. If God preserves my life, you shall soon hear good tidings of me; and if I die, let the thought that I fell in his holy cause be your consolation.”
Dissolved in tears, she clung to his neck, and thus they quitted the mill, on the outside of which a powerful roan-colour horse was pawing the ground.
“Farewell, and pray for me,” cried Axel, with a trembling voice, and he cut off with his sword one of her golden locks from her head as a remembrance, clasped her once more in his arms, leaped onto his charger, and galloped out of the valley.
Tugendreich returned to the room in which Talander still sat dreaming, his venerable wrinkled countenance being gloomily illumined by the lights which burned low in their sockets. His sleep became more and more troubled, his breathing heavy, and his half-open eyes stared as if glancing into a gloomy futurity. He now commenced talking in his dreams.
“Courage, my countrymen,” he muttered, “though the number of the enemy threaten to crush you; you fight for God’s word, and liberty of conscience. Behold on your banners the white messenger of heaven, spreading his shining wings; behold he hovers over your ranks; he announces victory. Now the cannon is thundering. Ah! blood, much blood! What! my Saxons, fleeing? Yet no, their whole force is still standing firm, a proud bulwark, bidding defiance to the waving masses of the enemy. Brave Swedes, fight fiercely, and the aged monster slowly yields, grinding his teeth. Heavily the arm of requital lies on him; the bleeding infant menaces him from amid the ruins of Magdeburg. He yields, he flies, the day is won triumph, triumph, the good cause prevails.”
At these words the dreamer started up from his slumber, while the pale Fraulein contemplated him, trembling. “This was a heavy sleep, child,” said he, as he fetched a deep breath. “It is fortunate that I awoke; it was too much for this old body of mine. I may say that I know much, but the dark realm of spirits makes one pay dear for the knowledge acquired there.”
“What have you learnt by this frightful dream,” asked Tugendreich with anxious curiosity.
“Nothing of that now, Fraulein,” said the old man, gravely. “But tell me what has become of Herr Axel,” he asked, looking cautiously around. “I saw him also in my dream, but not in the jacket of a dragoon.”
“Ah !” said she, sobbing, “he has just gone. He could no longer delay, for a great battle is “impending.”
“Indeed it is, but be of good cheer, the bold Swede will survive it. You will…” Here the magister broke off, vexed with himself, as though he had already said too much, and prepared for departure.
“But tomorrow, dear magister?” sighed she.
“The morrow has already become today,” said Talander, in a comforting tone, and your hostile constellation has lost its influence. Go boldly back to the castle with me. My awful vision has shown me many things, and you will find great changes. From poor Baron Grotta you have nothing more to fear in this life. But come, that the daylight may not surprise us. My dream was a long one.”
He now led her out of the mill where the four attendants were in readiness. Under their escort they arrived in safety at the castle, at the gates of which, to their astonishment, they missed the sentinel of Tienfenbach’s corps, and were surprised to see the baronial hall brightly lighted up.
“God be praised that you have come, you have been absent a long time,” said her maid, who was waiting for her. “Two hours ago a hasty order arrived for the soldiers to start immediately, and the colonel will also depart at break of day. Your betrothal was to take place this very night, but as neither you nor the magister were to be found, the baron began to suspect and your father showed great displeasure. Suddenly some horsemen galloped into the courtyard. They were Saxons, and proved to be Colonel Von Starschedel and his son, the major, with six carbineers. Now the tables were turned. The baron had to congratulate himself that these gentlemen, respecting the right of hospitality, did not take him prisoner, for his men were gone and your father was too much afraid of these relations to say any more on the subject of your betrothal. Now they are all sitting together and hardly know what to say to each other. Only come and see. The handsome major has already asked for his lovely cousin twice.”
The Fraulein now went with a light heart into the hall, where she found them sitting at their wine, the colonel and the Saxons quickly rose on her entrance, and the major hastened towards her, not a little astonished to see that the cheerfulness that was formerly expressed in her countenance had fled, and that she endeavoured to avoid his embrace. But this did not deter him from offering his usual courtesies to his lovely cousin, whilst Colonel Starschedel, in a deep voice, told her attentive father of the perfect union between the elector and the king of Sweden, .and the generous refusal of any security which the Saxons had offered.
The imperial colonel could no longer listen in quiet to their conversation. He rose and took his leave of the company with a few cold expressions of politeness. No one attempted to detain him, and the last angry look with which he turned from the Fraulein fell upon Talander, who was just entering, and who gave a singular look of compassion at the departing colonel.
He then posted himself behind the chair of the Fraulein, who felt uneasy at the attentions of her cousin, whom she nevertheless loved as a brother. With deep melancholy the seer’s eyes rested now upon the venerable countenance of the colonel, and now upon the youthful manly figure of his son.
At this moment there resounded in the court-yard the tramp of a horse, and the magister said: “There goes the imperial colonel. We shall never see him again, like many another who is in the prime of life.”
“What are you thinking of?” asked the baron, suddenly interrupting him, as the expression of his old inmate’s countenance told him that his words were prophetic. A general and mysterious awe seized the company, their conversation, which before had been so animated, stopped, and the chirping of a lark which hailed the morning dawn, gave them a welcome pretext for retiring, as the Saxons had to join the army of their elector on that day. The Carbineers were already mounted in the court-yard, the colonel took a parting cup with the baron, and the grief at parting inspired the major in the very doorway to try to extort from Tugendreich a confession of her inclination and a promise of her hand.
But Talander stepped between them and said with paternal warning, “Young hero, you are riding forth towards on a great day. This is not an hour to form a worldly alliance. As a Christian you ought first to think of your end. You are perhaps nearer to it than you think. Is the Fraulein, if you fall, to weep as a widow for you? This would be mere selfishness and not love. Do not stretch out your hand so hastily after the myrtle crown; its green will turn to blood and silver; an angel will perhaps soon entwine from it a martyr’s crown for you.”
Much struck, the major looked upon the seer, whose face beamed with a supernatural light, then offered him silently his hand, pressed a brotherly kiss on Tugendreich’s forehead, and soon the old castle stood mourning in silence, all the guests having quitted it.
The baron sat silently and gloomily before the blazing fire, and Tugendreich was reading to him from Luther’s Bible. He had experienced much to depress his spirits. The neighbourhood was indeed now free from troops, but all his stores were either consumed by the war or destroyed, his tenants expected support from him, and in Magdeburg, where his capital was invested, he had lost fifty thousand thalers. Frightful reports were moreover circulated about a battle in which the Saxons had been defeated. In this state of anguish he had had recourse to the word of God, and his daughter was reading to him in a mild and harmonious voice this passage from Sirach : “Who is ever daunted that abideth in the fear of God, or who that hath called him, is despised of him.”
The old baron shaking his head looked up to heaven, and Tugendreich read on: “For the Lord is gracious and merciful, forgiving sins and helping in the time of need.”
“Indeed the Lord helpeth in trouble,” cried Talander, who rushed into the room with youthful impetuosity, holding an open letter in his hand. “The Swedes and Saxons have fought with the formidable Tilly near Leipsic, and have defeated him, and the word of God is again free in our dear Saxony. Here is the confirmation of it which an old friend has sent me from Halle.”
He read with a joyful trembling voice, “On the 7th September annicurrentis, there stood on the great plain of Leipsic more than 75,000 men opposed to each other as enemies, and it was to be looked upon as a happy omen, that shortly before the engagement a snow white dove perched upon a Saxon standard and afterward hovered over the whole line of battle of the protestants. At noon the cannonading commenced, the Swedes attacked and were at first victorious, but now Tilly threw himself with all his forces upon the Saxons, drove them back, and directed the guns taken from them against the Swedes. Some Saxon regiments, however, held out bravely until the Swedes came to their assistance. Then old Tilly was compelled at length to retreat, and had nearly been struck dead in his flight with the butt end of a pistol by a captain of the Rhinegrave regiment. He arrived here in a sad plight, and upon the side of the imperial army 7600 have been left dead on the field of battle. The body of the allied army consisted in twenty-six pieces of artillery, one hundred colours and standards, and many articles of value. This glorious victory was followed by the capture of Leipsic, and was purchased dearly by both armies. On the side of the imperialists the Duke of Holstein died of his wounds as a prisoner, and there were killed besides the Generals Schonburg and Erwitte, the Colonels Plankhart and Baumgartner and Lieutenant Colonel Grotta.”
The Baron Starschedel clasped his hands with a pious ejaculation, and Tugendreich honoured the memory of the fallen enemy and friend with a tear.
“The Saxons,” continued Talander, to read with great emotion, “lost General Bindhof, Colonel Loser and two Starschedels.”
“Merciful God, our cousins!” sobbed the Fraulein, and the old baron rose trembling from his chair, took a pen, beckoned to his daughter to follow him with the ink, and strode to the baronial hall, where he marked the appropriate crosses on the escutcheons of the beloved relatives in the pedigree, whilst some tears involuntarily rolled from his eyes to the ground. Tugendreich broke off some twigs from a laurel-tree standing near the window to adorn the pictures of the fallen heroes with deserved wreaths, and the magister, who had followed them with the letter in his hand, continued to read with mingled feelings of joy and sorrow.
“Colonel Starschedel fell at the head of his carbineers while resisting an assault of Tilly. On this occasion the Saxon standard, on which the white dove had perched before the engagement, fell into the enemy’s hands. To leave this symbol of victory in their hands appeared fatal to Major Starschedel, and a young officer of an ancient family in the Swedish staff; they therefore took an oath to rescue it from the enemy’s hands. Whilst the Saxon died the death of a hero, the Swede succeeded. The name of the latter was Count Guldenlowe, and he was on the field of battle promoted by the king to the rank of colonel for his extraordinary bravery, and for having led the regiment of Courville, after its colonel was made prisoner, three times against the enemy; also receiving permission to add the above standard with the white dove to his coat of arms.”
“What was that?” cried the baron, running to the window to listen.
“That is military music, and if I am not mistaken Swedish,” said Talander.
“The Swedes are entering the village,” shouted the servants, and Tugendreich flew to the turret with a palpitating heart to view the passing heroes. The march came nearer and nearer, and behind the trumpeters of a regiment of dragoons rode its colonel, a young noble hero, in splendid armour, while his standard-bearer, whose uniform was adorned by the golden lion on blue ground, carried before him the rescued Saxon standard, which now received the laurel crown as it dropped down from Tugendreich’s hands.
“That must be Colonel Guldenlowe,” cried Talander, who came panting behind the baron to the turret.
“Heavens! It is Axel,” cried the Fraulein, as the colonel looked up, and she fell senseless into her tutor’s arms. When she recovered she found herself in Axel’s arms, and on looking up her eye met his penetrating glance.
“Well have you stood this trial, lovely girl,” cried Axel in raptures. “I had vowed to wed only that girl who could love in me the man and not the count, whose love should be more powerful than any other consideration of her tender sex. You have stood your trial, and mine now begins, to show through my life that I am worthy of such a heart.”
The beautiful Fraulein sank blushing on her lover’s breast. With tears of joy in his eyes the old baron embraced his faithful Talander, and the trumpeters below sounded a slow and solemn “Now God be praised.”
The Monk in Armor: Johan Tzerclaes, Count of Tilly
Commander of the Spanish, Bavarian and Imperial armies.