Youth of the Great Elector - George Upton

Colonel von Burgsdorf

Weeks have passed since the events just described. Knowledge has opened a new world for the Prince. Many questions have arisen in his mind. Some of them were settled, others troubled him. It was growing unsafe in the vicinity of Letzlingen. Several pillaging bands had appeared and murders had been committed. For this reason Leuchtmar wrote to the Elector, asking whether it would not be advisable to return to Custrin rather than remain at the hunting-castle until Fall, as originally intended.

It was midnight before his letter was finished, for he had much to say about the Prince's intellectual and physical progress, and then he retired. The wind roared in the chimney. The vines clinging to the iron shutters of the windows shook against the panes. Before he could get to sleep he heard a shot. He closed his eyes. Then came a second shot. Naturally he thought there was a party of marauders near by, and yet there might be some other cause for the firing. He quietly arose, went into the front room, closed the door behind him and stepped to the window. He opened it and listened. He heard voices near the charcoal-burner's hut. The hounds were already barking furiously. A number of persons seemed to be approaching the castle. The forester was on the alert. There was a soft knock at the door; Leuchtmar opened it. The Preceptor stood there with a light in his hand and anxiously asked him what he thought about the noise. Two servants who slept in the entry had started up, and the forester soon appeared at the door. "It is a plundering gang," said he, "but they will find their match."

"Silence, silence!" cautioned Leuchtmar. "Let us first consider what it is best to do." He went again to the window, but only heard the voices of those approaching; what they said was inaudible by reason of the barking of the dogs. The forester in the meantime went into the castle yard, hunting-knife in one hand and pistol in the other, and asked who they were, after a hunter had quieted the dogs with a whip.

"Colonel von Burgsdorf and two attendants, who have lost their way," was the reply.

The forester hesitated about opening the gate, but Leuchtmar, who recognized von Burgsdorf's voice, assured him that all was right and gave his friend a hearty welcome. He had lost his way in the forest and had purposely raised an alarm. Fortunately he found himself near the castle. The barking of the dogs first gave him the right direction, and then the charcoal-burner, whom he aroused, directed him to the castle.

The three men soon were sitting together, the Colonel, Leuchtmar, and Muller, in the Preceptor's apartment. Burgsdorf was a somewhat corpulent man with a genial face, notwithstanding his fierce mustaches. In a jovial way he declared that he had some highly important news, but he would not give them a morsel of it until he had appeased his hunger and quenched his thirst. Leuchtmar had already made his arrangements and a cold supper was brought in,—half a mountain-cock, and a wild boar's head with a lemon in its mouth, and good Rhine wine was not lacking. As he ate and drank heartily, he made fun of his table companions, who were sitting by him hungering for the news. At last he said: "I will begin my information thus: If there should be one explosion right at your doors would you not be frightened? and then, if a second should occur, would you not immediately make preparations to leave? What do you think about it?"

"Great heaven! you have terrified me already," said the Preceptor.

Leuchtmar spoke: "In fact, great things must have happened, when you introduce them in this way."

"They have happened," replied Burgsdorf. "Now listen: First explosion—Wallenstein has been dismissed. Second explosion—Gustavus Adolphus has landed in Pomerania. Ah! I see that the news excites you even more than if two powder-houses had exploded at your very door."

"Herr Colonel, you are a reliable man, otherwise I should think—"

"Two such pieces of news at once! This is too much; one is all we can stand."

Thus spoke Leuchtmar and Muller. The latter added: "And what about Tilly?"

"He is still at large," replied Burgsdorf; "my information concerns Wallenstein only. And do you know who brought about his retirement? The Catholic princes, his companions in the League. The rascal's colossal audacity was too much for them. They could not endure that he should dispossess the Dukes of Mecklenburg (though they cared nothing for them personally, as they are Protestants) and strut about as an imperial prince."

"Aha! So he has got himself into trouble!"

"Surely! Ferdinand went with high hopes to the assembly of the Electors at Regensburg. He intended to crush out the rights of the Protestants completely, besides arranging for the choice of his son as his successor. It turned out differently from what he expected. There was a storm of complaints on all sides, and in the midst of the excitement Maximilian of Bavaria appeared upon the scene. He satirically charged that Wallenstein was only the leader of the imperial halberdiers whom he had collected in Germany at an exorbitant price. Was it not most atrocious, he said, that the Electors, the pillars of the empire, should be made subordinate to the imperial army commanders, especially in Brandenburg, where this had been the case for years?"

"This much I know," said the Preceptor, "his expenses are not to be reckoned by thousands or hundreds of thousands, but by millions."

"Twenty million gulden," said Burgsdorf, "and perhaps more. Everything combined to force Ferdinand to displace Wallenstein. Many teeth chattered at the thought, 'Will the mighty Wallenstein give up his sword without resistance?' He has done it. They say that the stars told him he must obey the Emperor's behest."

Leuchtmar interrupted: "May he not contemplate taking it up again? Then he will make more extortionate demands than the former ones."

"Very possible," replied Burgsdorf. "He has a penetrating foresight."

The Preceptor now asked: "Was the arrival of Gustavus Adolphus known at that time to Regensburg?"

"No," replied Burgsdorf; "otherwise the Emperor would have had most substantial reasons for deferring the dismissal of his favorite, who has now retired to his kennel in Prague. But who can tell what is going on now in his brains? What may they be hatching cruel scenes of blood and revenge? But let us drop this fiend and speak of that brilliant hero, Gustavus Adolphus! It seems to me that the lightning of his sword is already flashing all over Germany. He will measure himself with Tilly, who is now in supreme command of the Catholic army."

"Truly, this news," said Leuchtmar, "is soul-inspiring. I feel already as if a new order of things had come. But how are affairs at the court? Above all, what does Schwarzenberg say?"

Burgsdorf made a bitter grimace. He has been trying in every way to induce the Elector to join the Emperor, and failing in that, he continually urges him to remain neutral and not to recognize Gustavus Adolphus. Now, as you know, there is a party at the Elector's court which for a long time has practically been on the side of Sweden. That I belong to it you will not doubt. The Electoress is decidedly on our side. The Elector remains quiet, and no one knows what is passing in his mind. One remark of Gustavus Adolphus concerning Schwarzenberg is well known. He called him a traitor, and added that he richly deserved to have his neck broken. To prevent a meeting of the two, the Elector has sent Schwarzenberg on business to Treves. I wish that he might never come back."

They spoke of many other distinguished persons and important events. At last Burgsdorf told them that he was commissioned to arrange for the return of the Prince to Custrin, as it was safer there than at the hunting-castle. For this reason no letter had been sent, as he had undertaken to convey the message personally.

It was between three and four o'clock in the morning when they sought their beds.