Friedrich Freiherr de la Motte Fouqué: “Rosaura and her Kinsfolk” 4/4
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