Youth of the Great Elector - George Upton

The Runaway

The Prince and Leuchtmar one day took a long ride to a mill in a wooded valley about two miles away. When about a half-mile distant from it they met a horseman. He suddenly drew up as if undecided whether to keep on his way or take another road. At last he approached them, and the Prince and Leuchtmar recognized him as the miller's son a strong, handsome young fellow. He greeted them and was about to ride on.

"Stephen, wait a minute and tell—"

But Stephen put spurs to his horse and dashed on. The Prince looked from the rider to his governor as if to seek an explanation of his conduct. Suddenly Stephen turned, rode back, and stopping a few paces away from them said: "Herr Prince, console my parents, and tell them I will restore everything that the war takes from them. God keep and bless you also." Thereupon he turned once more and soon disappeared in the woods.

Leuchtmar at once understood Stephen's strange conduct: he was on his way to Wallenstein's army. Leuchtmar rode by the side of the Prince with a serious face, for the latter several times looked at him inquiringly. It was an embarrassing situation for him. What should he do? Pass over the whole matter in silence? He considered it from every point of view. At last, he said: "Stephen has run away from his parents. Sooner or later he will regret it. He is going to the foreign war, and remember, Prince, it is a foreign war. We are not at war with any one."

His words did not wholly allay the Prince's disquiet, for Stephen had said he would restore to his parents everything that the war took from them; and this clearly indicated war in that neighborhood. Leuchtmar was not unaware of that statement, and it made it all the harder for him to decide what to do. Should he ride on to the mill? He feared what might be said then; but they were already so near it that they could hear the barking of the miller's dog.

Suddenly he stopped and said: "Prince, I shall be a poor consoler for Stephen's parents. I would rather ride over here a few days hence."

Both turned their horses, but before they had one far they saw the miller hurrying along the footpath. He was already close to them. It would not be polite to run away from the old man, Leuchtmar said to himself, and stopped. The Prince followed his example. The gray-haired miller accosted them. "My son, my son," he moaned, "have you met him on the road, Herr Prince?"

The Prince replied: "Yes, my good man, we met your Stephen. He was about to pass us without a word, but at last he called to me and asked me to console you and tell you he would restore everything that the war might take from you."

"Alas!" exclaimed the old man, "it is just as I thought. The wicked boy! He has joined hands with the devil and left his old parents, who will soon go to the grave in sorrow."

"But what put such an idea into his head?" asked Leuchtmar.

"Ah! my good sir," replied the miller, one lad can spoil many others. Fine, strong young fellows have been running away from all the villages hereabouts. And now, alas, my Stephen! God knows what is the matter with these young fellows. Wallenstein is their idol, their ideal of all that is splendid. Many have been running away to him for a long time and some of them are now officers. Those stories about him pass from mouth to mouth and attract those who are not bad at heart. Tell them he is a Catholic and the leader of the Catholic army and they will reply: 'We care nothing about our religion, what he wants is men of courage.' For several days Stephen has been talking with my daughter Elizabeth. He said to her: 'Am I to wait here until Wallenstein comes, and then get treated like a mangy dog who is clipped and has to lie behind the stove, while everything is going topsy turvy without?' And Elizabeth replied: 'Even if they come into our neighborhood and the villages around us, they will not find us here in the valley; and even if they should, we can run into the forest and stay until they are gone.' Stephen answered: 'You do not understand what you are talking about, Elizabeth. Once the Wallensteinians are here in the villages they will quickly find the way to the mills and farms. I tell you they have keen noses. There are many of them who have lost all they had in the war, and they are going to make it up with whatever they can lay their hands on here, and then, I tell you, when we have lost everything you will be glad to see Stephen coming home with his pockets full of gold pieces.' This is the way the boy talked; and when Elizabeth told me about it, it made me sad and anxious. 'Take the boy to Schoneick,' said my wife to me yesterday, 'and keep him there. Perhaps he will gradually forget all about the war.' He must have overheard her, for when I was making ready to do so to-day he took the horse out of the stall, mounted, and rode off. Alas! I shall never see him again, my Stephen, my handsome boy!"

"Your misfortune touches me deeply, old father," said the Prince, "but how could Stephen engage in such a foolish project? We are not at war with any one. Even if the troops should come here, they would come as friends and harm no one."

"Ah, my gracious Prince," replied the miller, "the good God thus far has protected this region from the calamity of war, but what about other parts of the country? You well know that even the hereditary Prince is not safe in the capital, but has to live in a fortress. If troops were to come into the country to-day, they would treat burghers and peasants alike without caring whether they were enemies or friends. That is what I say, but you, gracious Prince, of course, know more about it than I."

Instead of replying, the Prince reddened. He was ashamed to expose his ignorance. The old man read this in his looks, and continued: "Perhaps your princely parents have kept the knowledge of such things from you. Yes, yes, it must be so. They may think their dear son will have enough of suffering without this. Well, well, they are right, the good parents."

The Prince had lost all desire to go to the miller's house. He gave the Baron to understand this and both rode off. On the way, Leuchtmar said to him: "The miller has mentioned things about which we will talk later, if your parents think it advisable. I will communicate with them at once, and in the meantime beg you patiently to await their decision."