THE VILLAGE OF RAUNDORF
SCENES FROM WARTIME IN SILESIA
(Adapted from Gustav Nieritz)
Springtime came, and Mother Nature was awakening from her winter sleep, trees and shrubbery were putting on their mantle of green, and all nature appeared rejoicing over the approaching coming of summer.
“Soldiers are coming!” cried Liese, the gooseherd girl. “They are already at the bridge! Soldiers! soldiers!”
Even in that country, in the Kingdom of Prussia, where every man is a soldier for some part of his life, the cry of “fire! fire!” could not create more excitement than that of “soldiers!” All who could do so rushed out to see them. Out of fields and granaries came farm workers; out of kitchens and parlours came maids; out of schools came the scholars and students; from workbenches, the woodcarvers; from the shops, the salesmen; everybody running at the sound of trumpets, for the soldiers were not averse to having it known that they were on the march. Although a company of soldiers is frequently made up of stalwart country boys, perhaps some of them from the neighbourhood through which they are passing, yet, as cavalry, they were regarded by the Raundorf people with a certain awe, for they looked very noble indeed, mounted upon handsome horses, their bright weapons shining in the sun, and tall helmets shading their fair, handsome faces. It appeared that the horses felt the pride which animated the breasts of their masters, for they arched their necks and chomped their bits as though knowing that thousands of thalers would not pay for the equipment of even that one regiment passing through Raundorf that beautiful spring day.
Having never before seen a cavalry company, most young people were almost bewildered by the splendor. Their hearts beat high.
Why are these well-formed, strong, healthy men, these noble horses, these bright weapons, gathered in a common cause? And the answer comes. To wound, to kill; to bring anguish upon tender wives, brides, and mothers, and tears to little ones who should know nothing of sorrow. Very attractive is the profession of arms, but it is like the bitter pill coated with sugar; and all the glare and glitter of dress-parade cannot atone for the real hardship and danger.
“But every country has soldiers, hasn’t it?”
“Yes, but not such an immense standing army as ours. At least two millions of able-bodied men are in the army, who could be added to the working force of King and Fatherland, and many hundreds of thousands of horses.”
“But the Herr Baron is an officer, and he is so good and kind that sure he would not be willing to cause trouble to anyone.”
“It is every man’s duty to protect his country, and in the Fatherland we have many noblemen for whom there seems to be no occupation, seeing that the rules which govern society prohibit the members of the nobility from engaging in manual labour of any kind, or the professions of law, medicine, or the ministry; there seems nothing but the army for our young noblemen. They may be good and tender-hearted, as I well know our kind friend Baron Carl is, but let war break out, and the most peaceful of them will, during the horrors of a battle, lead his men over the bodies of the fallen. Yes, war is a terrible thing, and nothing can make it anything else.”
The regiment was to be quartered at Raundorf and other places around. Every family had one or more, and the pastor’s wife had agreed to accommodate ten, while at the castle many of the officers were to be entertained, about equally between the parsonage and the castle, seeing commanders and commanded.
The evening of their arrival at the parsonage, where Frau Seeback and her maid had prepared a good hot supper, and had it upon the table in readiness for them the moment they should arrive. “We have to attend first to our horses,” replied they, curtly, and followed on to the stalls, Frau Seeback had the viands returned to the oven to keep warm. For the accommodation of the horses the pastor had given up even the cow-stall, yet the cavalrymen, hungry and tired, grumbled at the meagre accommodations while feeding, watering, and rubbing down their horses; and Tobias began to think that, after all, the infantry had quite as easy times on foot as the cavalrymen on horseback; for not a particle of rest or refreshment could they take until their horses were in perfect order, saddles and bridles put carefully away, and the dust of travel wiped from their weapons.
In the castle the stables were filled with fine horses, and the whole place thronged with officers, their aids and servants; and the servants of the castle were roasting, broiling, and baking, and the great kitchen was fragrant with good things, as, indeed, it had been for several days.
While the night watchman kept strict guard, that fires might not result from the smoking of pipes and cigars by the soldiers.
About two o’clock in the morning the tired cavalrymen were aroused from slumber by the shrill sound of a trumpet. They hurried to the stables, saddled and bridled their horses, and placed themselves in position at the command of their officer. The roll was called, and the laggards were severely reprimanded and punished. At the end of fifteen minutes they were allowed to return to their quarters, but not to sleep long, for they had to arise early to attend to their horses and polish their weapons.
"It was only a false alarm, and is done for the purpose of training them for sudden attacks. Oh, my boy, a soldier’s life is not one of play and excitement, but of labour and stress, even in times of peace."
THE TWO BATTLES.
By eight o’clock that morning the cavalry set out at the sound of the trumpet, and, followed by all the boys and tomboys of the neighbourhood, went to the training-field, at the severity of the discipline, and the searching scrutiny men and horses were subjected to by the officers. If a soldier was a moment too late, if the weapons or mountings were not as bright as polish could make them, a saddle-girth the least slack, a stirrup not adjusted to the proper length, it was a subject for reprimand. A sham battle was fought, as earnestly as though it were the real thing, and one was was delighted at the wonderful order and discipline of the troops. At first, a part of the regiment moved toward the enemy at a slow trot, which grew faster and faster until the horses broke into a gallop; the earth trembled with the beating of many hoofs, and the orders of the officers and the clash of sabres was a scene of exciting interest. Then a trumpet sounded, and instantly the opposing forces dropped into line, the only sound being the snorting and hurried breathing of the horses. As the dust cleared away, it was found that two men and three horses were missing, and later on it was ascertained that one of the men had been thrown and killed instantly, and another was so injured by a horse stepping upon him that it would be some time before he could be in line again. Two of the horses were injured, one so badly that it was ordered to be shot, and the other limped from a sprain.
The Colonel of the regiment, much disturbed by these accidents, called the officers together, and spoke to them in a quick, angry tone.
“Herr Major von Biskowitz, I have good cause to find fault with your company in point of training and discipline. Your soldiers are not prompt, and two of your horses had loose shoes. In my report to the commander I certainly cannot speak well of your company; you must in the future be stricter with your men.”
The handsome face of the Major flushed with anger; he was about to retort, but remembering that it was his superior officer he restrained the impulse; instead, he glanced at his brother officers to see if there were any evidence of rejoicing over his humiliation, and seeing such signs, he gave the military salute to his superior, and galloped back to the men to vent his wrath upon the officer next lowest in his command. ”Herr Lieutenant von Schönfeld,” said he, angrily, “because of your negligence I have been severely reprimanded. I wish in future that you would look more to your men, and less into the looking-glass. Both the accidents were to the men in your company, caused by loose shoes upon their horses. Do you leave it to me to inspect the hoofs of every horse in the company?”
Young von Schönfeld turned pale with mortification, for not only in the presence of his men, but of the villagers and other spectators was the rebuke given, all looking on in surprise to see the gayly dressed and handsome young officer receive such harsh criticism.
“Herr Major,” exclaimed he, “in exchange for this undeserved charge I would say that — ”
“Be silent!” exclaimed the Major, peremptorily, “or I will report you.”
“Don’t speak, von Schönfeld,” cautioned a brother officer, in a low tone, “remember he is our superior officer.” Seeing the truth of this, there was nothing left the Lieutenant but to bite his lips, and lean forward to smooth the mane of his horse, and the moment the Major’s back was turned he put spur to it, and galloped back to his men to vent his wrath upon them for their lack of attention to orders, many of them so much older than himself that they were soldiers when he was a schoolboy.
There were tears in the eyes of the Major, and the Lieutenant had to gnaw his moustache to keep in the bitter words. All this scolding after they had taken so much trouble with their horses!
The whole thing today was only sham, yet it cost one man’s life, and that of two horses; what must a real battle be!”
The regiment returned to their quarters, horsemen and riders covered with dust. The trumpets clanged merrily, but many of the cavalrymen were anything but' merry. The Major was so much out of humor that he would not converse with any one, and all the officers at the castle seemed so out of sorts that the dinner was not at all a cheerful meal; Lieutenant von Schönfeld leaving the table the moment he had finished, and remaining in his room most of the day.
Think of that poor cavalryman, Rückert, who was thrown from his horse today and killed, and the other so badly hurt that he can never again be a soldier, and the horse that had to be killed because of its broken leg; and yet it was only a sham battle.
The Baroness returned to her room, satisfied that it would not happen again. Yet she was not in her usual spirits. She longed for the time when the castle would be free of soldiers, and order and quietude take the place of clanking sabres and spurs, the smell of cigars, and the banging of doors. She longed, oh, so earnestly, for the presence of her husband, who was absent, for she felt the responsibility of entertaining so many officers; but he, too, was a soldier, and duty called and kept him from his loved home.
Two children returned to the beech forest, where they sat down upon a fallen tree behind the shadow of a great rock. They were scarcely seated when they heard the sound of horses’ hoofs, and peeping from behind their shelter they saw that several young officers, whom the lads recognized as those quartered at the castle, halted close to them. The boys were full of curiosity to know for what purpose, and were not long in doubt, for after a few minutes’ conversation one of them commenced stepping off a space in the fragrant turf of the forest, and they saw with beating hearts that they were to witness a duel.
Major von Biskowitz and Lieutenant von Schönfeld were the principals, and had come that lovely, peaceful morning, under the name of honour, to wipe out the insult of the day before by risking their young lives.
The lads had heard from their grandfathers deplore these murders and suicides which flaunted under the name of honour, and were so filled with horror at seeing an example of it so near that it left them speechless, and could only look on in mute helplessness at the terrible, sickening scene.
“The code of honour is so well known to you, Herr Major and Herr Lieutenant, that it is unnecessary to remind you who is entitled to the first shot,” said one of the seconds, as he placed pistols in their hands.
A deep silence followed, and the eyes were fastened upon the ghastly face of von Schönfeld, who was waiting for the “one! two! three! fire!” and the ball, the bullet, of his antagonist, who, to the horror, was taking aim.
Although both were good marksmen, excitement had unsteadied their nerves, and the Major’s ball was lost in the air, while that of the Lieutenant grazed the ear of his antagonist, and the boys took a deep breath of satisfaction, for they thought the duel was over. But no; so-called honour demanded two shots; and when the second called time for another attempt at murder, the hand of the Major had regained its steadiness, a fearful cry filled the silent beech grove, and Lieutenant Schönfeld fell to the ground desperately wounded.
“He challenged me, and it is his own fault if he got the worst of it,” remarked Major von Biskowitz, turning away from the terrible sight.
The physician who had accompanied them stepped forward and tried to stay the flow of blood; a litter was provided, and the young officer was placed upon it and carried to the castle.
WHAT IS TRUE HONOUR?
“The Lieutenant von Schönfeld having gone out for a morning ride in the beech forest, his horse fell and threw him, and in rising stepped upon him,” was the report which went to the commander of the regiment, and was given to the Baroness, who was filled with anxiety and sorrow over the accident; “It is not true,” was said to Peter the coachman, “I saw the Major shoot the Lieutenant in the breast with his pistol.”
“We all know that as well as you do; Jakob told us,” replied Peter, “and the Colonel knows it too, but it is his policy not to let people suspect that he has knowledge of it, or they would all be court-martialled.”
“Then the commanders don’t allow it?”
“No, they pretend not, but I often hear of duels among the hot-blooded young officers.”
A crime that was forbidden and yet allowed, was a mystery.
“Yes, with officers of that style a duel is not only considered commendable, but a necessity, when they imagine their honour assailed, although it is strictly forbidden. No wonder you are shocked, dueling may be the code of officers...”
War in any form is a terrible evil. Thousands of innocents are murdered, for we cannot call it by any other name, whole villages are burned to the ground, expensive and useful bridges destroyed, and cruel loss and havoc follow wherever it goes. But a duel is the most bloodthirsty and cruel of all, for it, there is never any excuse, and there is no good to be gained from it in any way. Lieutenant von Schönfeld considered that his superior officer had insulted him in the presence of his men and others, and what has he gained? Nothing, and may lose his life. Oh, it is far better to suffer injustice than to inflict it, and if he had killed Major von Biskowitz for a few hasty words, his life would have been one of remorse, as no doubt that of the Major will be, although he carried a high head in the affair.”
The sham battle of the day before, and the wounding of Lieutenant von Schönfeld was the subject of neighbourhood talk, and while the servants at the castle were taking their breakfast, Jakob, the servant of Lieutenant von Schönfeld, came to the kitchen for warm water and linen cloths.
“How is your Herr Master?” questioned Peter, “will he get well?”
Jakob looked very sad, and finding that the servants knew it to be the result of a duel, and not an accident, gave what information he could.
“They are searching for the ball, and it causes the loss of much blood,” said he. “I don’t see how he can live, and I don’t know how his mother and father can bear the news of his death, for he is their only child, and they almost worship him.”
“What made him so silly as to fight the Major?” questioned Peter. “Words don’t kill; and if anybody speaks crossly to me, I just say to myself, ‘Keep your mouth shut, Peter, and move off.’ I let all rough speeches roll off like water off a duck’s back; so nobody is hurt.”
“Yes, that will do for common people like us,” responded Jakob, “but young officers must attend to points of honour. Three weeks ago, when my young master took leave of his home, his father said : ‘ Remember, my son, first comes honour; then the LORD; then the Kaiser; then your parents. Honour lost, all is lost; and I would rather see you in your grave than to hear that you had turned your back upon honour.”
“What is honour?” questioned old Bertha, the cook. “I cannot make out exactly what it is.” “Honour,” responded Jakob, reflectively and pompously, “honour is when a man makes other men afraid of him.”
“Then rats must have plenty of it, for I am afraid of them,” grumbled Bertha.
“I don’t like anybody to make light of such a serious subject,” remarked Jakob, with dignity.
“Our old Herr Baron thought that our young Baron Carl had injured his honour by marrying a lecturer’s daughter; can you explain that, Jakob?” questioned Peter.
“Honour among the nobility is a curious thing, and cannot be easily explained,” replied Jakob.
But, oh! how many they who will not seek
this humble, pure nobility of soul;
and deem their fellows cowardly and weak,
who faithfully their littleness control,
and look o’er time to that immortal goal
where honour false shall quick be disarrayed,
and honour true receive its rightful dole,
a crown! That crown, oh, comrade, will not fade.
To gain it strive; may it thy brow enshade!
“Yes,” remarked Jakob, when he had finished, “that sounds very good, and I suppose it is, but it would not do for our young officers at all. If there were no fear of duels, the superior officers would tyrannize until life would be a burden, for the inferiors cannot resent it in any other way that I know of. Yes, yes, the fear of a challenge keeps them respectful. If my poor Herr Lieutenant had been willing to put up with the insulting words of the Major, all his brother officers would have despised him. Yes, he would have been ashamed to meet the eyes of his comrades. Now that he has met the Major and exchanged shots with him, they will have respect for him.”
“What use will that be if he is in his coffin?” inquired Peter.
“What use? Why much. People can die but once, and a soldier’s life is never secure; just think of cavalryman Rückert yesterday.”
“When is he to be buried?”
“This evening, and tomorrow bright and early the regiment moves, but my poor Lieutenant will remain.”
“Had Rückert any family, Jakob?” inquired Bertha.
“Yes, the Colonel sent them word of the accident, but they don’t come.”
The words had scarcely been uttered when there came a timid knock at the kitchen door, and Peter hastened to open it. There stood a feeble-looking little middle-aged woman dressed in mourning, and with her a half-grown girl in black as well. Both seemed scarcely able to stand from weariness, and their eyes were dim with tears. “
Where is the body of my boy, my Heinrich?” said the elder woman, oh! tell me that I am not too late! I am his mother and this is his only sister, Sophie. We have walked a long way, but if we only see my boy.”
Tears stopped her utterance, and the servants looked upon her with deep sympathy, but thought of bringing chairs for them.
“His death was so sudden, little mother Rückert, that I doubt if he suffered pain,” said Jakob. “We must all die, and we don’t know how soon, and it was much easier than to have been wounded in battle, and perhaps live a long time a miserable cripple.”
The mother looked at him as though unable to comprehend his words.
“He was my only son, my support, for I am a widow,” said she, with pale lips.
“Exactly, so is my master an only child,” answered Jakob, “and oh, misery! I had forgotten that I came for warm water and bandages; here, you people, give me the things, why dont you hurry? dear, dear I to think I should forget in such a time!”
He hurried away, and the others turned to Frau Rückert.
“Have some coffee and semmels, little mother,” said Bertha, “come to the table and eat, it will rest you.”
“But first tell me of my lad, and that I am not too late.”
“No, you are not too late,” with tears of sympathy in his eyes. “He is at Herr Schindler’s, where he was quartered. I will take you there, if you are not too tired.”
“Oh, tired indeed are we, for we have walked eight hours, but we would walk double the distance to see my poor boy.”
“But eat something, mother, before you go.” said Peter.
“Oh, I could not swallow it. If Sophie can eat, I will wait for her.”
But the sister also declined, and both arose and followed. It was quite a distance, and the time was beguiled by telling them of the duel, of the parting words of Lieutenant von Schönfeld’s father, and of his terrible wounding.
“Oh! how could any father give such advice to his son?” exclaimed Frau Rückert, in shocked surprise. “And to put honour before his Maker! Poor boy! poor boy! he felt compelled to stand up and be shot for what he considered honour. Oh! had he no good mother to counteract that goodless advice?”
“Jakob did not say that she did. But we have reached the Schindlers', and your son is in that room where the blind is down.”
The mother turned very pale, and leaned against the door-frame for support; but, quickly recovering, she took the arm of her daughter, and followed into the room. There lay young Heinrich Rückert in his cavalry uniform, his face peaceful in the repose of death, and in his hands a bunch of wildflowers, placed there by a comrade in arms. Speechless and tearless, the mother gazed for a moment, and then came a low cry: “Heinrich, my boy, my son!” and she sank, almost fainting, upon the rocking chair which had been placed for her.
‘‘A better son no mother ever had,” said the poor woman, after a long pause, and rocking herself slowly to and fro. “He had only one year more to serve; then he was to have come home, and was to have married our good Lotta, the best party in our village; and her parents were to have given her a piece of land, three cows, and five hundred thalers. And my boy was not willing that Sophie should go out to service, but said that he would give her the amount she would earn, so that she might stay with me while he was away. He was always so thoughtful and kind.”
...lying in the place of Heinrich.
After a time they heard a great trampling of horses’ hoofs outside, and they knew that the cavalrymen were returning from the training field. Frau Rückert knew it, too, and tears rained from her eyes at the thought that at the last training her boy was alive and well, and that he was now deaf to her words of love. It had been arranged that the funeral was to be late in the afternoon, and Herr and Frau Schindler showed every kindness to the poor mother and sister in the interval, and seeing them in such good hands, they resolved to prepare the funeral.
The servants listened eagerly to all there was to tell, and back to the Schindlers' came a message from the Baroness, that Frau Rückert was welcome to return to the castle when the funeral was over, and remain as long as she felt contented to stay.
To the surprise of the villagers the Colonel came to the funeral, and all his officers followed his example. Nearly all the regiment followed the simple casket, and the whole village turned out to see a soldier’s funeral. Half-holiday was given the schoolchildren, and all took flowers to lay upon the grave. Next to the coffin walked the two mourners, for the mother wished it, and the boy was glad that it was a comfort to her to see him there, and the words of Herr Seeback touched the hearts of many of the dead cavalryman’s comrades.
Then the mother and sister were taken to the castle, where a good room was given them, to which they retired after their light supper, and where they slept the sleep of exhaustion.
Early the next morning the regiment left Raundorf, and no one was sorry to part from them.
All had left the castle except Herr Lieutenant Schönberg and his servant Jakob, the poor young officer being too badly wounded to move in his bed, and to the great satisfaction of the Baroness, Frau Rückert, who was an experienced nurse, was very willing to stay and take care of him, and Sophie made herself useful in many ways.
AN ATTACK BY FREEBOOTERS.
Few weeks passed, and the whole country was agitated by the cry of “War! War!” which, brought sorrow to every household in Raundorf.
“Oh, my husband,” cried the Baroness von Raundorf, weepingly, “why not ask for your discharge from the army? There are plenty to go without your risking your life; you can easily procure a discharge.”
“I know it, my Amalie, but think how cowardly it would be to ask for it when my country needs my services! I would not be worthy the name of nobleman, much less of soldier and officer in the Kaiser’s service. The Fatherland calls upon all her sons, and we must obey.”
Throughout the Fatherland mothers were crying because of the danger to which their loved ones would be exposed, children sobbing for their fathers, sisters for their brothers, brides for their grooms, and wives for their husbands. From every town, village, hamlet, and farmhouse in Prussia came response to the call “to arms!” the farmer going from his fields, the merchant from his desk, the pastor from his pulpit, teachers from their pupils, work of all kinds left unfinished, the hands employed upon it having taken up sabre and musket. There was another great question to be considered which the war entailed, and that was provisions for such a great number; and for this object contributions were levied, all doing their share according to their ability, and that of Baron von Raundorf was a generous one, cattle, sheep, and other animals for food, beside all kinds of grains and vegetables.
Before the militia left Raundorf, they, headed by the Baron, went to the church, where there was service especially for them. The good pastor prayed for their safe return, and blessed them. Sadness was upon every face; women dried up their tears, and the solemn tones of the organ touched many hearts. “With God, for Crown and Fatherland!” Herr Seeback had said, and his discourse inspired them to battle for the right. He bade them to keep faith ever before their eyes, and love in their hearts. Then the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was administered, and they marched away, and the pastor returned to the parsonage.
“War is the last resort of those who are striving for power, ultima ratio regum; and bloody wars are fought for territory which by right belongs to others. Such was the case with the wars of Napoleon, which, for twenty years, devastated Europe. But there are such things as just wars, and that is when a country must protect itself against an enemy, as in the case of Germany against France in 1813, when we all took up arms in defence of our Fatherland, our wives, our children, our elders, and our homes. But I cannot look upon the present war in that light, it appears to be more for the sake of a covetous longing for more territory and a desire for glory. I think a certain faction of the councillors of the Kaiser much to blame in influencing him to declare war. To stir up quarreling and strife is no great achievement, any simple-minded school-boy can do that, but to establish peace and keep peace is a noble virtue worthy of heroes and rulers. May the Lord of Mercy bring the war to a close speedily, and for that we must pray.”
The once peaceful village, busy with its daily work of living, was now idle; the men who were at home gathered in groups discussing the situation, and those who once spent their evenings at home gathered in public places to hear the news by word of mouth and to read the newspapers.
At the same time there was much anxiety at the castle to hear the news, the Baroness watching for letters from her husband, and reading with beating heart the list of killed and wounded after each battle.
“The messenger brought nothing this morning, but I am sure a later mail has something for me; I am terribly anxious about the Herr Baron.”
They found Berlin in a state of great excitement, every face wearing a look of anxiety. Men were gathered at every street corner, and others were on church towers and other high places watching with field-glasses in hand.
“If you lie down and put your ear to the ground, you can hear the booming of cannon,” the boys heard a man say; “‘it must be a terrible battle; may our troops be given the victory, or the enemy will be on us by tomorrow morning.”
The boys listened to this and many other bits of news, then getting a letter for the Baroness and some newspapers they started for home; their talk naturally being upon the subject uppermost in all minds.
“I cannot help wishing that, if there must be a battle, we were near enough te see it,” remarked Gustav. “We boys, and some of the most spirited girls, have often played war, and speared each other with corn-stalks and bombarded with clods of soil, but I have never seen cannon fired and limbs shot off; that is real war.”
“But I hope we will never see that; just think of the people who have sons and fathers and brothers and husbands in the army! And there is a great battle going on now, and the poor Frau Baroness, who is nearly sick from anxiety and cannot sleep, will feel far worse when she hears of it.”
“Don’t you hear somebody coming? I do, just listen.”
“Let us put our ears to the ground, there is no one about to see and laugh at us.”
The boys laid themselves flat upon the ground and listened. It was near a strip of woodland, bushes near at hand, and tall trees in the background.
‘‘Don’t you hear the thunder of cannon?
“Yes, but that sounds far off; near at hand I hear the people walking; look, Gustav, there come two soldiers.”
The boys sprang to their feet, Gustav running into the woods.
“Halt, you rascal!” shouted the man, but Gustav did not obey; instead, he ran the faster.
“Have you seen any soldiers about here?”
“What have you in your pocket?” was the next question, “unload, we will take care of all you have.” As he refused to comply, whereupon one of them held his arms fast to his side while the other rifled his pockets. In one was found crumbs of bread smeared with butter, and in the other the letter for the Baroness; the newspapers which he carried under his arm had already scattered to the winds.
The boy looked on in silent dismay while they broke the seal and unfolded the letter; but, though speaking German, they could not read it, therefore could not understand its contents.
“Here, boy, read this, we want to know what it says,” said one of them.
“But it is not right to read other people’s letters unless thy give us permission.”
“All is fair in love and war, boy, have you never heard that?”
“Louder, boy, louder, if you don’t want a cut from my sabre.”
“My beloved wife, Amalie, I have only time for a few words, but I know that to tell you I am well is the best news I can send. I am full of anxiety for you and the children. If you hear of the enemy coming in that direction, secret yourselves in the wing of the castle in which are the apartments occupied by Steward von Seerhausen, and be ready at any moment to descend through the secret door to the vaults below, where I secreted the family plate, jewels, and other valuables. I implore you not to let one night pass without having two trusty men from the village to guard the castle and give you warning of any attack. May mercy take you and our children in her mighty keeping. Farewell my beloved, my wife. “Your Raundorf.”
The boys now realised by their glances at each other and nods of satisfaction, that they were enemies, and the last people who should have heard the contents of the letter.
“Oh, no, my pretty boy, you are too useful to let go so quickly, come with us,” and they led their captive to the bushes, where were secreted a number of armed men to whom he was compelled to read the letter. They all listened with interest, and for the rest of the day kept their eyes upon him, threatening him with instant death if he tried to escape.
Gustav had not heard the contents of the letter, that he might warn the Baroness, and, added to that was the fear that Oustav did not know they were enemies, although he had run so fast that the soldier who had chased him saw it was impossible to overtake him.
At length night came, and as soon as the men dropped asleep, the captive besought the leader, with tears and prayers, not to molest the castle, which he had so unwittingly betrayed. But he was commanded to silence, and at midnight, when they set out on their march, they placed him in front to lead the way.
“Oh! if I could but lead them from Raundorf, and instead guide them to the swamp of Gumpersdorf,” thought he, “it would not hurt them, only keep them prisoners until morning, and I could run and give the Raundorf people the alarm.”
But there was no chance to do this Some of them knew in what direction the village lay, and they watched him constantly, and it seemed to him but a very short time until the village lay before him. He knew every tree and shrub, saw the steeple of the church pointing to the silent stars... and when the castle came into view, and he saw the solitary light burning in the sleeping-room of the Baroness, he longed to cry out to her of the danger approaching. He knew that she was watching for him and for the letter, and that, instead of the words of love from her husband being the comfort and assistance to her which they were intended to be, they had, by his agency, proved a snare; but he knew that his voice could not reach her, and that any effort to give her warning would cost him his life.
“Now, boy, we will visit the castle first, then the village; and we want you to show us the way to the secret steps mentioned in the letter. We also wish to know how many entrances there are to the castle, and how many people are in it.”
The prisoner was compelled, at the point of the bayonet, to answer these questions, and to answer quickly, for the least hesitation was followed by blows and pushes that nearly knocked him off his feet.
In a few minutes they were in front of the castle, and several sentinels were detailed to guard against surprises, while the others entered. They pried open the gate of the courtyard, then the entrance to the castle, and were masters of the situation. The frightened servants, half clothed, gathered about the Baroness, who had her two children clinging to her, screaming with fright. Her chief fear was that Lila, her younger daughter, would have another attack of illness like the convulsive fevers that had preyed upon her in infancy.
“Take all, everything you can find,” said she, giving the keys into their hands, “but go away quickly, that my little ones may not die of terror.”
THE ALARM BELL.
The freebooters were not long in telling the Baroness that there were other treasures in the castle than those which the keys would unlock, and in proof of it they told her the contents of her husband’s letter.
In the meantime they had sent one of the servants of the castle to the village to tell the inhabitants that, if they would raise the sum of fifteen hundred thalers, their property should be spared; if not, the whole place would be rifled, and then set on fire.
Tumult reigned in and about the castle. The soldiers threw themselves upon the handsome sofas and chairs, their dusty clothing and hobnailed shoes making sad havoc of the richly embroidered coverings. They ordered a meal to be served for them of the best that the larder contained, and what they did not eat they threw over the richly-carpeted floors. They ran their sabres through feather beds and cushions to see whether any treasures were concealed in them, and they broke handsome mirrors from pure love of destruction. The castle resounded with singing, shouting, and whistling; and while the leader was lolling in a handsome reception chair, he was informed that a delegation of local villagers was coming.
“Ha! they had better come,” said he. “I was intending to wait half an hour longer, and, if the sum of fifteen hundred thalers was not forthcoming, they would have seen a red rooster (a flame) on their rooftops.
“Welcome, good friends,” he continued, turning to the villagers. “I hope that you have agreed to our demands, for your own sakes as well as ours.”
“Herr Officer,” said the mild voice of Pastor Seeback, “I beg of you, in the name of manhood and religion, to believe me when I say that in the whole village it is impossible to raise the sum that you demand. You know as well as I that in war times no one has much money by him; and there are no wealthy people in Raundorf. I have brought eight hundred and sixty-four thalers, and many of us have given all that we had. I hope that you will call to mind your mothers, your wives, and your children, and will leave this home, where you are causing terror to the lady and her children. To protect helpless women and little ones is always the duty of strong men, particularly of soldiers.” “Oh, save your words, Herr Blackcoat; we did not come here to listen to preaching; we came to plunder. Give out the money that you have brought, and go back for the balance, or it will go hard with your village. Now be off.”
“I wish to remind you, Herr Officer, that the day has gone past when we can be attacked in our homes by barbarians,” said the pastor, fearlessly. “I also wish to say that, if you carry out your threat, the report of such an outrage will not only ring through Germany, but throughout the whole of Europe; and that, to repel such atrocities, the civilians are perfectly justifiable in taking up arms to exterminate you; and with that necessity we exterminate all hope of doing away with our immense standing army that — ”
“Be silent!” roared the freebooter, “if you have any regard for your life,” and he seized his pistol from the table before him. “The Herr Blackcoat should remember that it is to protect, him and his peaceful flock that soldiers voluntarily risk their lives, and eat stale black bread, and drink murky water out of a field flask, while he and his peaceful sheep sit at home, count their thalers, eat of the best, and smoke their pipes. It is one of the rights of war to destroy all we can in an enemy’s country, and we are taking advantage of the right. Your Herr Baron is an officer, and no doubt is doing, in what he considers the enemy’s country, just what we are doing here. Here, you people! Go tell your lady I wish to see her again; if she will pay the balance of the fifteen hundred thalers we will go; if not, we will fire the place.”
Old Peter went to summon his mistress, and she came looking very pale and anxious, her children clinging to her dress. But before the leader had time to speak, a tall, pale figure with an officer’s cloak thrown about him appeared in the open door of an adjoining apartment.
“Your name, comrade,” said Lieutenant von Schönfeld, for it was he who had arisen from his sickbed in order to be what help he could to the Baroness and the others; “are you an officer, or merely leader to a band of robbers?”
“How dare you say that to me? Do you know that weaker words than those have cost life?”
“If you act the part of robbers you should not be ashamed of the name,” replied the Lieutenant, calmly, eyeing the pistol which the other had grasped.
“Who is it that dares to speak to me in that manner? ”
“My name is Benno von Schönfeld.”
With an exclamation of joy the leader sprang to his feet, and throwing his arm about von Schönfeld led him to a seat.
“Benno, don’t you know von Sichenan, your old cadet-comrade, who was heart and soul your friend?”
“We were friends; but ask yourself, can we be so longer, you an enemy of our Fatherland?”
“Now, Schönfeld, don’t condemn me unheard. You know I was always a wild boy, but not a wicked one, and you also know that I went into the regiment with Harold, the son of our colonel, because he was a dear friend of mine in the military school. But his father was so severe with me that I asked for my discharge, and joined the King of Prussia’s troops. At the breaking out of the present war the Baron von Lückburg raised a corps of volunteers, and I became its captain; while in the Kaiser’s service I was only lieutenant.”
“But you are fighting against your Fatherland, and against your brother Arthur, who is in my regiment,” answered von Schönfeld.
“Yes, but when I joined the King’s troops the monarchs were friendly. That they are now enemies is no more my fault than it is Arthur’s. Should I meet him in battle I should forget my duty as a soldier, and be the loving brother that I have always been to him.”
“You and your men have brought destruction into this beautiful home,” said von Schönfeld, looking about him, “have frightened a noble lady and her children, have brought me out of my sickbed, and insulted the pastor, who has been the best friend in the world to me, for he has brought me to my Saviour; you have plundered and — ”
“Hush, hush, Benno,” interrupted the leader, “you must remember that my boys are all volunteers in my service and would go through fire and water, through fire and ice, for me. They are brave boys, afraid of nothing; we have made a mistake, that is all, and are willing to do what we can to rectify it. But I cannot deprive them entirely of the rich booty which I have promised them, but all that is in my power to do I will do. Ho, Lehmann! Call our people, and tell them to gather here, I wish to speak to them.”
They came from every part of the castle where they had been ransacking for treasures, their sabres clattering as they ran, and touching their caps to the lady and to their captain, waited for him to speak.
“Boys, I am sorry to say that by our intrusion here we have frightened a gentle lady and her children, and brought my dear old friend, Lieutenant von Schönfeld, from his sickbed, to the endangering of his life. I feel deeply sorry for this, as no doubt you do also, and I know that you will do what you can to help me make amends. I know that it would not be keeping my word with you not to allow you any returns from this expedition, but I think you will agree with me that under the circumstances we should be satisfied with less than what we intended to take. Therefore I propose that the eight hundred and sixty-four thalers be divided among you equally, I giving up all share in it; and that we only keep the money that has been found in the castle, in which I shall also receive no share; the plate, jewels, and other valuables to be restored to their places. Are you satisfied?”
“Yes, yes,” shouted the men, tossing up their caps, “hurrah for our brave captain, hurrah! hurrah!”
“Are you satisfied with me now, von Schönfeld?” inquired the leader, taking the hand of the lieutenant, “have I not done the best I could under the circumstances, will you not be friends with me again?”
“Nothing but your promise to give up this terrible life of robbery can ever reconcile me to calling you friend, and — ” Lieutenant von Schönfeld was interrupted by the sharp clanging of the alarm bell in the village, and captain and men sprang to their feet.
“Ha! we are betrayed! Who did it? If we find him we will make him suffer for it!” and all rushed pell-mell out of the castle.
PRISONERS OF WAR.
It was some time before the castle could recover its serenity after the departure of the soldiers; and the Baroness feared that it could never appear the same, so complete was the destruction of things she valued as keepsakes and remembrances of departed friends. But she had one great subject of congratulation, that no evil consequences had followed for her children; and she was deeply grateful that Lieutenant von Schönfeld’s presence prevented greater loss, feeling that she had been richly rewarded for having him faithfully nursed during his illness.
‘‘He was your deliverer,” the Herr Pastor had said, when calling to see von Schönfeld the next day, “for I must believe that had it not been for him the castle would have been in ashes.”
The Baroness told Frau Rückert that not a single thaler was left; and her joy was greater when Sophie Rückert came in with a small package in her hand and gave it into the care of the Baroness, who, upon opening it, found it to be the money for which she had just been grieving. Sophie had kept her presence of mind when all was tumult and confusion; and when the alarm bell rang, and all were rushing from the castle, the soldier who had the package of money dropped it, and Sophie promptly seized it and threw it into a closet, where she had just searched for it, never supposing it to be the money.
“Another one whom you have helped, and who in turn has helped you,” said Pastor Seeback, when she told him the circumstances. “You cast your bread upon the waters, and it is returning to you. He must also have rejoiced who rang the alarm bell, for if he had not the robbers would not have dropped their ill-gotten gains.”
“It is natural that you should be excited and nervous, we are all more or less so, but it does not seem like you to be so cast down and discouraged, what is it that distresses you?”
“I have cause to be miserable, if it had not been for me all this would never have happened. For I have betrayed my kind Frau Baroness into the hands of the enemy, and she has always been so good to me.”
“Did you do it intentionally?” inquired the pastor. “Oh, no, but I might have refused to read the letter, even if they did threaten to kill me,” and he told the whole story to the astonished listeners.
“Now,” “don’t grieve another moment about it. If my husband is spared, and my Lila does not fall ill, I shall have nothing more to ask. Treasures of gold and silver are nothing in comparison to the lives and health of our dear ones, and I have every hope that both have so far escaped.”
“Then you forgive me, dear Frau Baroness?”
“I have nothing to forgive; you were in the robbers’ power, there was nothing left for you to do but to obey their commands.”
“War is the development of all the evil in human nature. It makes murderers, robbers, and deceivers. German fighting against German, countryman against countryman in general, brother against brother, son against father, and friend against friend.
But that is not only very unjust, for as a rule, in the Fatherland, only the officers are voluntary soldiers; and many of them rue, in time of peace, what they thought justifiable in time of war. Not to the soldiers must the blame be given, but to the causes which make them so.”
In the meantime war was raging, and the Raundorf people were harassed with anxiety, and the quartering of soldiers, and there was no quietude to be found anywhere, the whole region being in turmoil. This was increased by the marching through the village of a large number of the enemy as prisoners of war, who, weaponless, footsore and weary, were surrounded by their captors. From dwellings, barns, gardens, and fields ran old and young to see the prisoners; and, to prove the change which war makes upon peaceful natures, the villagers taunted, threatened, scoffed at, and mocked the miserable captives, pelted them with clods, and refused their request for water to quench their thirst.
In vain Pastor Seeback besought them to desist from this inhuman conduct, and reminded them that the prisoners were fellow creatures whom the chances of war had placed at their mercy; and that it was possible that the tide might turn, and that the village might fall into the hands of the enemy, in which case they could expect no favors.
Schoolteacher Siebert also plead to deaf ears, his pupils believing that in time of war they could do as they pleased. Even Gustav taxed his ingenuity to harass the prisoners, and he snatched a piece of wood from a lame officer, a young lieutenant not unlike von Schönfeld, who was using it as a staff.
However, another lad, nothing daunted, flew to the assistance of the crippled soldier, picked up the stick, and put it into his hand; and to the request for water, he ran to the village pump, and soon returned with a full pitcher of pure, cold water.
“Thank you, thank you, my boy! May you never want for a drink and be unable to get it!” said the man, after quenching his thirst and passing along the pitcher to other eager hands.
The heart of the friendly boy thrilled with sorrow that any one should suffer from thirst where water was so plentiful, and he carried pitcherful after pitcherful, until the procession was nearer to the castle than to the village; then he ran on ahead and told the Baroness of their thirst, and of the starvation they suffered, and she gave orders that all the provisions that could be supplied in the castle should be taken out to them.
They had scarcely eaten and departed, calling down blessings upon her, when some of the villagers gathered in the courtyard of the castle, and loudly denounced the action of the Baroness in thus befriending the enemies of her country.
“If the Frau Baroness had more provisions than she knew what to do with, let her distribute them to the people whom the marauders had robbed,” they said, “and not to those who came to destroy us.” But the Baroness made no reply; she had only done her duty, and her conscience was void of offence.
It was not long before the warnings of Pastor Seeback and the schoolteacher were brought to the memory of everyone, for their village was in the possession of the enemy, and hearts beat anxiously at the remembrance of the treatment of the prisoners. But two weeks passed, and no revenge had been taken for the indignities heaped upon them, when one day a company of the enemy’s troops rode through the village, and the villagers looked into each others faces in dismay. But the cavalrymen did not seem to pay any attention to their excitement, but laid siege to all the provisions found in cellars and pantries, killed cattle, sheep, geese, and poultry, making themselves very much at home. As they provided for themselves, so did they for their horses, and the best the region afforded, in the way of grain and other feed, was taken without asking leave or giving a word of thanks.
“Oh, my good dragoon,” said the father of Gustav, as he saw his two fine cows about to be driven off, “spare them to me, for they are all I have for the support of my wife and child. If you would go to the castle you would find far finer ones. The Frau Baroness has forty-four cows in fine condition, and would not miss all of them as I would my two, for she is rich.”
“Don’t excite yourself, friend,” replied the soldier, coolly, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Why need we trouble ourselves to go to the castle when you have what suits us?”
“You need not go so far,” said Gottlob, “the Herr Pastor has two fine cows grazing in the Baron’s meadows; he is far abler to lose them than I am; pray leave mine and take his.”
“Very good and unselfish in you, my friend,” replied the dragoon, ironically, “but your cattle suit us exactly, so why put yourself to any trouble to recommend others?” and away they rode, driving Gottlob’s two cows, which action they kindly informed him was called foraging.
The enemy remained for some time in the neighbourhood, and the people were deprived of all their provisions and fuel, and starvation stared them in the face. They were so despairing that they no longer appeared like themselves; the vicar preached to almost empty benches, the schoolchildren never went near the school, but roamed idly about the enemy’s camp, listening to the singing of songs and telling of fireside stories by the soldiers; the once peaceful place was completely demoralized.
At length, when no more provisions were to be had, they commenced persecuting the villagers to make them give up the money they had secreted. In their despair, the Raundorf people called upon a neighbouring village to come and attack the enemy, they did so, and several of the cavalrymen were killed and wounded. But the victory was of short duration, for a larger company of the enemy came and made an attack upon the allied village and burned it to the ground.
The village of Raundorf would have shared the same fate had it not been for the pleadings of Pastor Seeback and the schoolteacher; it was spared, and a short time after the cavalrymen were withdrawn, leaving truly a desert wasteland behind them.
The Baroness was untiring in her efforts to help the poor people who had lost their all, and shared her food, and provided clothing for every one who came to her for assistance.
LETTERS FOR THE BARON.
The people of Raundorf were in a pitiable condition after the departure of the soldiers, the whole world seemed changed to them, and they felt very little interest in life. The church bell rang every holiday but well-clothed people did not come from every direction as formerly to listen to the sermon. The few who came were ill-dressed, sad, despondent and miserable, too stupified by their losses to heed the words which fell from their pastor’s lips.
The organ pealed forth its notes under the skilful fingers of the cantor, who was also the schoolteacher, but no choir of sweet voices gave praises to the LORD as formerly, and the pastor dreaded hearing the echo of his voice in the once well-filled church.
No more, of evenings, sat contented housewives at the doors of their dwellings, knitting in hand, and chatting to one another. Nor did Liese, the goose-herd, sing merrily among her quacking brood, but instead, she searched about the village for something to appease her hunger, happy if she found a raw potato which had been dropped unnoticed by the soldiers. The granaries were empty of grain, the stalls of cattle; the palings were torn from barnyards, fences from fields, and gates and doors from dwellings to be used as fuel, and from many houses the shingle roofs were taken for the same purpose. The people sat idly about, having no means whereby to repair the ravages of war.
The family plate and jewels of the castle had been taken to Berlin, the capital, and placed in the care of some friends of the Baroness, who besought her to come and remain with them until times grew better, but she would not leave the people in their distress, but stayed that she might help them in their need. She was grateful that her children had not suffered from the fright occasioned by the attack of the freebooters, and was happy to see them playing joyously in the covered walk and grounds of the castle, watched over by the faithful Sophie, now their governess.
Lieutenant von Schönfeld, though suffering somewhat from the exposure and fatigue of his encounter with the freebooters, was forced to leave the castle, fearing that he would be taken prisoner by the enemy, and was strongly advised by his physician to go to the mineral baths, and did so; and in his place the Baroness had prevailed upon Pastor Seeback and his wife and little orphan grandchildren to come to the castle as company and protection for her, and all were happier by being together.
Since the country was in possession of the enemy, the Baroness had received no reliable news from her husband, nor of the condition of the main army, the report being spread and believed by many that it had been vanquished, and a great number taken prisoners.
“If I could only get a trusty messenger who would walk to the encampment and bring us a letter from my husband’s own hand, I should feel like another person,” said the Baroness, one day at dinner, to her guests; “but, as it is, I feel wretchedly anxious.”
All the balance of the afternoon the Baroness passed in writing to her husband, and the pastor likewise wrote a long, kind letter, knowing that every bit of news, no matter how trivial, would be appreciated. Both letters were then sewed into the lining of the messenger's coat, which was old and shabby, as was all his clothing, it being less likely to attract the attention of the enemy. The money for his traveling expenses was sewed into the hems of his trousers; and the pastor gave him advice as to his demeanor toward friends and enemies, that there might be no unpleasant adventures in his undertaking.
With a heart thrilling with pleasure over the great expedition, he left the castle, and when he reached an elevation some distance away, he turned and gazed at the stately castle of Raundorf, then at the village, the tall church steeple, and the quiet churchyard.
As he plodded along upon his journey he saw on every side the devastation which war had made. He had many dangers to confront, and met with several hair-breadth escapes; but he became convinced, as he proceeded, that the enemy were not the victorious conquerors that they had been supposed to be before he left home, for they had lost as many battles as they had won, and, while their troops were upon Imperial territory, the Kaiser's own troops were upon theirs. Both encampments were surrounded by fortifications, and were at any hour expecting an attack, one apparently waiting for the other.
This messenger reached the Kaiser's encampment just as wagons were coming in with provisions, for the contending armies had devoured everything within reach, and now edibles had to be brought from a long distance. If eighty thousand men could consume that amount in one day, what must be the quantity required by all the people in the world for the same length of time, to say nothing of provender for millions, billions, and trillions of animals; and from this thought he turned to that of admiration of the quietude in which corn grows into the perfect ear, and fruit upon the trees, and bulbs in the ground; and then, when ready for use and in people’s possession, what a noise was made in preparing them for use, people not being able to grind a little corn without great hubbub and clatter.
As he went further into camp he was perplexed to know the position of the regiment in which the Baron von Raundorf was to be found. He passed hundreds of tents of the soldiers. Poor little places they appeared to him, not much protection against rain, nor as comfortable in any way as the poorest cottage of the working people. The tents of the officers were somewhat larger, but had very few comforts.
The Kaiser commanded his troops in person, and his tent, in the middle of the encampment, was by far the finest that they had seen, reminding him of the castle in comparison with the dwellings of the peasants.
There was a great stir about the tent of the ruler, officers going in and out, and couriers flying in different directions with messages. It was before this tent that he saw Baron von Raundorf standing amid a group of young officers, and in his joy the boy forgot his ragged clothing, and pressed forward to speak to the Baron.
“See here! who is this ragged urchin that has gotten into camp?” questioned one of the officers. “Stand back, boy! back! back!”
“I came to see the Herr Baron von Raundorf, and I must speak with him, I have brought him letters from the Frau Baroness and our dear pastor.”
“What is it?” exclaimed the Baron, stepping forward at the mention of his own name. “Who is the boy, and what does he wish?”
“O Herr Baron, don’t you know me? I came from Raundorf to bring letters, which I was to deliver into your own hand.”
“O heavenly Father, I thank thee!” cried the Baron, looking upward, with tears of joy in his eyes. “My Amalie, my children—tell me that they are well.”
“Yes, well, all well, only anxious about you. The gracious Frau Baroness, and little Otto and Lila, pray every night and morning for your safe return, and so do I. And the Herr Pastor and his wife and grandchildren are at the castle, and we all talk every day about you.”
The boy could say no more, for the Baron took him in his arms, pressed him to his heart, and kissed his forehead.
“And the servants, they all stayed with their mistress during these terrible times?”
“Yes; Peter and Bertha and Rosamond are all there, Frau Rückert and her daughter Sophie.”
Then the messenger took off his coat, and with the aid of the Baron’s pocket-knife the stitches were cut, and the letters delivered into his hand. He kissed the letter of the Baroness, broke the seal and read eagerly to the close, then again, slowly and carefully.
“Dear Amalie,” he said, as he folded the missive and put it in the breast-pocket of his oat, “how bravely she has borne all the troubles which war has brought upon her.”
Then he went to his tent, and giving orders to his servant to set the best the place afforded before the weary boy, he sat down to read the letter of the pastor.
Given the news of the whole region, even of Liese the goose girl, this listener was never weary.
Then it was decided that it were better that the boy should leave the encampment the next morning, as there was every expectation of a battle being fought.
The messenger expressed his willingness to go that evening if the Baron thought it wiser, but Herr von Raundorf told him that he wished to write letters to send back, and could not have the time during the afternoon as he had commands to fulfil for the Kaiser, and that it would give the lad one night to rest before setting out upon the long walk home.
So the boy took a walk through the camp, and chatted with the soldiers, and when evening came he returned to the Baron’s tent, partook of a comfortable supper, and lay down in a corner of it, and in a few minutes was fast asleep.
DISOBEDIENCE TO ORDERS.
It was night, so cloudy and dark that one could see nothing a few steps away, and the great encampment lay shrouded in gloom, resembling a cemetery, the white tents barely discernible and then only by one standing very near.
There was not the faintest glimmer of a light to be seen in any part of the encampment, no campfire, no call of a sentinel on duty. One would have supposed that there was no occasion for vigilance, and that every soldier was in a deep sleep; not a footstep was heard, no shadow glided between the rows of tents, no voice broke the stillness.
The Baron von Raundorf had, at the usual time of retiring, laid down , but sleep was never farther from his eyelids. On a camp-chest beside him was a picture of his wife and two children, Otto and little Lila, the object upon which his last gaze rested at night and the first in the morning. The tidings brought made them seem very near, and he hoped and prayed that they were sleeping peacefully in the distant castle, beyond the reach of danger.
He laid silently revolving in his mind the shortest manner in which he could express all he wished to say in his letter to his Amalie, then rising he went to the entrance of the tent, parted the opening and looked out. All was quiet, and going to his chest he took out a taper candle, lighted it and set it on the ground, while he pinned securely the entrance to the tent, and hung an army blanket over it. This done, he set the taper on the chest, got out his writing materials, and commenced the letter to his loved ones. Rapidly his pen glided over the paper, and so absorbed was he in his task that he saw nothing, heard nothing, until a heavy hand was laid upon his shoulder.
“Mercy, Your Majesty!” cried he, turning deadly pale, and dropping upon his knees he stretched imploring hands toward the stately form that towered above him.
“Did you hear my command this evening that not a glimmer of light was to be seen in the whole encampment?” questioned the Kaiser sternly.
“Yes, Your Majesty, I knew it, but I received a letter from my wife, who is suffering the bitterest anxiety for me, and I felt it my duty to try to comfort her; I am a husband and father — ”
‘‘And a soldier, and an officer,” interrupted the ruler, “and obedience to orders is the first law, and must go before everything else. We are striving for a glorious victory in our coming battle, hope to save the lives of thousands of our men, and perhaps bring the war speedily and happily to a close. For this purpose I gave orders that not the faintest glimmer of a light should be had in any part of the encampment, under penalty of death. I wished to mislead the enemy into making an attack, and to find us fully prepared. This plan you have frustrated by your insolent disobedience of orders.”
“But, Your Majesty, it is impossible that the enemy could see the glimmer of this little taper at such a distance, and Your Majesty sees that a heavy blanket is over the entrance.”
“Your name and rank, Herr Officer?”
“Baron Carl von Raundorf; and I am rittmeister, captain in the cavalry.”
“Open your letter again, Herr Rittmeister, and tell your wife that tomorrow morning at nine o’clock you will be shot for disobedience to orders.”
“Mercy, mercy, Your Majesty,” implored the Baron, with pale lips. “I care not for myself, but for my innocent wife and children. It will add to her grief that her anxiety for me has been my death.”
“Are you intending to disobey me again, Herr Officer?” questioned the Kaiser, coldly.
“I would gladly shed my blood for the Crown and my Fatherland, but do not let me die the death of a criminal,” said the unhappy man.
“Write as I have said,” commanded the Kaiser.
The unfortunate young officer dipped the pen in the ink, and cast another look into the stern face above him, but seeing no sign of relenting, he wrote the words which would carry anguish to the loving heart far away.
The Kaiser then took the letter, glanced over the lines, and calling a guard to watch over the condemned officer he left the tent.
Daylight was just dawning when three of the superior officers were gathered in the tent of the General who commanded the regiment to which belonged Baron von Raundorf. “The only word to be given him is to fall upon his face when he hears the report of the musket,” was the command of the General, in a low whisper, and the secret council ended, and the other officers sought their tents.
When the sun arose, the Baron sat pale and silent in the tent, then went out to take a further view of the encampment. He noticed that every face looked sad, but attributed it to the expectation of a near attack from the enemy. He had taken a long walk and was about returning to breakfast when he overheard words which almost caused his heart to cease to beat.
“He was writing to his wife, poor fellow,” said one old soldier, with tears of sympathy in his eyes, “the last he will ever write to her or to anyone.”
“It is hard that such a brave officer as Rittmeister von Raundorf should lose his life for just lighting a taper that could not be seen six feet away.”
“You speak like an idiot, comrade,” answered an old Hussar, “it was not the taper, but the disobedience; it is not when and how a person sins, but that he does sin. If I pass a sentinel with a cigar in my mouth I am punished for it just the same as if I enter the powder magazine with it; I have disobeyed orders and deserve to suffer for it. In time of war there are things looked upon as crimes; which in time of peace would be only trifles.”
Everyone now had heard the terrible news that the Baron was to die. He walked mechanically back to the tent and sat down in silence, numbed and stupified by the overwhelming calamity which he was to witness, for he determined to remain until after the fatal hour.
The last act of the Baron was to give the messenger the letter, and money for his return, and some keepsakes for his wife and little ones. The heart of the boy was rent with the thought that by his well-meant effort to relieve the anxiety of the Baroness he had brought this bitter woe upon her; and he prayed, oh! so earnestly, that something, even at the last minute, might occur to save the life so dear to all who knew him.
But the ninth hour drew on, and the officers of the regiment to which the Baron belonged gathered in front of his tent, conversing now and then, but always in whispers. The chaplain of the regiment was with the doomed man to receive the last wishes and the blessed assurance that there was no fear of death, all was peace as far as concerned the beyond, the young officer had given his heart to the Saviour years before and had nothing to fear.
The sound of muffled drums smote upon the ear, and the Baron was led from his tent, followed by the sobbing lad.
“Oh, will no one plead for him?” said he, “surely God would be more merciful than this hard-hearted king.”
“See here, boy, you are speaking against your kaiser,” said a rough voice near him, and turning he saw a soldier who was wiping his tears away with the sleeve of his coat.
The Baron was told to kneel, that the black cloth might be tied over his eyes, and at the same moment the boy knelt and stretched his arms imploringly toward heaven.
“Oh, dear Saviour,” cried he, “come and save him from death! he is too good to die for such a little evil.”
The cloth being adjusted, another officer stepped forward and pinned a bunch of wildflowers on the breast of the Baron. “Fall forward when you hear the report of the musket,” whispered he.
The Baron trembled from head to foot, and was about to speak, but the officer’s hand was pressed heavily, as though by accident, upon his shoulder.
“Don’t speak,” whispered he, “you will attract attention.”
The lad was in an agony of grief and terror, but could not take his eyes from the terrible scene. He heard the word “fire!”, saw the Baron fall forward upon his face, and knew no more.
When he regained consciousness the servant of the Baron told him that the moment they heard the report of the musket and saw the Baron fall, two officers stepped to him and carried him quickly to a waiting ambulance, and drove rapidly away.
The story was ended, there was no more to be learned by remaining, so the boy left the camp and set out for his long walk to the castle.
THE HIDDEN LETTER.
On his way home, the lad compared his feelings with those which he had experienced when traveling the same road, but in an opposite direction. In his anxiety and distress of mind he had neglected to put the letter for the Baroness in the place where he had carried the one for the Baron, and seating himself under the shade of an apple tree, he took off his coat and placed the letter between the linings, securing it with a pin.
He had not replaced his coat when he heard footsteps, and glancing up he saw a farmer approaching.
“Have you heard the news, boy?” questioned he, eagerly, “there has been a terrible battle fought between the main armies; and our kaiser’s troops won the victory, and people say the war will be over. Oh, thank the Lord! thank the Lord!”
“If my poor Herr Baron could have lived but two days longer he would have shared in the victory, and would soon have been at the castle with his wife and children,” said the boy bitterly.
“Maybe so, maybe so,” replied the peasant, “there were thousands killed, and he might have been among them. The king’s troops made an attack upon the kaiser’s and were repelled; three times they advanced with like result, and people say that more than twenty thousand were killed and double as many wounded. The king of Prussia should have taken the advice of his councillors and not made war with the kaiser, for it is a chance if he has not only lost territory but his crown; and then so many lives lost, and so much property destroyed. It is an old saying, ‘ in peace enjoy, in war destroy.’”
“Yes, I have seen that with my own eyes,” replied the lad from Raundorf, as he called to mind his village in the days when no war was rife in the land.
The man having given his information, passed on to impart it to others whom he might meet, and the messenger arose, put on his coat, and proceeded on his way. He had not used the caution in avoiding the outposts of the enemy that he did in going, and had gone but a short distance when he was called upon to halt by two soldiers, who asked him who he was and where going.
Thinking that all danger to the Baron was now over, he made no secret of his errand, but did not mention the letter in his coat.
“Let me see what is in your pocket, boy,” said one of them. “Ha, I hear paper crinkling, hand out your letter, and let us read it.”
The lad refused, and clasped his arm more firmly over the coat and its contents.
“Here is a spy!” cried one of them, “even a child carrying news to the enemy, but children can hang as well as their elders. We will take him to our Lieutenant, he will soon bring him to terms.”
They tied his hands behind his back and marched him into camp. “You had better make your will, son. We will make short work of you if we find that our suspicions are correct.”
The lad by this adventure realized that life was sweet, and, notwithstanding the sorrow he had seen in the world, he was not willing to quit it; and he did not know what turn affairs might take, for he had very little confidence in the justice of war times; yet he determined not to despond, but to put a brave face upon the affair.
“When the officer reads my letter he will see that I am no spy,” said he.
“Maybe so, boy, but war makes people shrewd, and they know ways to find out what is not intended for them to know. Sometimes spies carry letters which read all right and innocently; but hold them over hot coals, and between the lines is the real news that the spy is carrying. Invisible ink is a fine thing in time of war, if the enemy has never heard of the way to make it show up.”
“There is nothing between these lines; you can hold the letter over as many hot coals as you choose.” “That isn’t our business; we catch the bird, and the officer picks him; our duty is done when we put a spy into his hands.”
“He can write to the Frau Baroness, or to the commander of the regiment in which our Herr Baron was, and he will find out that I am telling the truth.”
Both soldiers laughed at this, and looked with a glance of surprise at the boy, who had so little knowledge of the usages of war. “Do you imagine that in these times there is as much red tape in hunting up evidence against an evil-doer as in a court of law? No, indeed! This morning we catch a spy; this afternoon he swings from a rope; that is war.”
“Yes, it is; the terrible, horrible, wicked war, that from beginning to end has nothing but evil for the people.”
“Yes, but we soldiers can’t help that. We are here to kill or to be killed, and we do our best to kill in order to save ourselves from being killed.”
By this time they had reached the quarters of the Lieutenant, and the soldiers explained their errand. The Lieutenant was young and full of enthusiasm, and was, therefore, anxious for ways and means to distinguish himself.
“A spy!” said he, eagerly, ‘‘and has a letter fastened securely in his coat! Come from the headquarters of the enemy! That is certainly suspicious. I will take him to the commanding General.”
“Herr Lieutenant, do you really believe me to be a spy? You know me; you also saw the Frau Baroness, and you know that I am telling the truth when I say that this letter is the last one that her husband, the Herr Baron, will ever write, for he is dead.”
“But, boy,” said the bewildered Lieutenant, “how can I know you or the Frau Baroness?”
“Do not you remember, Herr Lieutenant, passing through Raundorf with many other prisoners, and Gustav took your crutch from you and threw it away, and I picked it up and gave it to you? And don’t you remember that I took you into the castle yard, and that the gracious Frau Baroness gave me leave to take out for the poor prisoners all the provisions that were in the castle?”
“Yes, yes, I do indeed remember. And are you the boy that did that, and that gave many of us water to drink out of a pitcher?”
“Yes, I am that boy. And now you can read the letter, and can hold it over hot coals; and if there is anything between the lines, you can hang me for a spy. The poor Herr Baron only thought of his wife and children when he was writing that.”
The officer took the letter and read it through, his face growing sadder and sadder, and when he read the last lines his face turned a shade paler, and tears filled his eyes.
“Poor fellow!” said he. “Was he really shot? Did the Kaiser never countermand the order?”
“No. I saw him fall. He was shot down like a mad dog, for burning a little taper that the men said you could not see a few yards from the tent; but they said that it was just.”
“Yes, for he disobeyed orders; that is a terrible offence in time of war.”
“Yes; but I cannot see what war is for, except to bring misery into the world.”
“Yes, boy, war is a bad thing, but it appears that everybody fights, civilized or uncivilized; even animals have their wars.”
“But they have no religion, no nations, no understanding. Our pastor says that, if we were more selfless, there would be no wars... but we don’t obey his word as soldiers do their officers.”
“I remember that good pastor of Raundorf. He plead with the villagers not to molest us. I remember, too, the Frau Baroness and her goodness to us. I will go to our commander, and tell him that you are no spy, but a good, kind boy, who helped us when we were in need of help. While I am gone with the letter you must have something to eat. Here, Apollonius, bring my guest that roast chicken, and make him a cup of good coffee.”
“What a change!” the lad thought as he sat down to a generous meal. “Instead of being hung as a spy, I am treated to the best that he has, and that best is very good to anybody, and especially to a hungry boy. The little kindness that I showed him has been returned a hundredfold, for it may be that it has saved my life. But I cannot see that the dear Herr Baron and Frau Baroness are being rewarded for their goodness. They seem to have had much trouble, and now his life is lost for a trifle. There are some things that I cannot understand. I must ask the Herr Pastor about this when I see him.”
He had scarcely finished his meal when the Lieutenant returned.
“It is all right,” said he, “and the commander advises you not to secrete the letter, but to carry it loosely in your pocket, and thus avoid further detention, and perhaps danger. Give my kindest regards to the gracious Baroness, and tell her that none of the prisoners will ever forget her goodness to them.”
‘‘I wish that you had been kaiser yourself, and I am sure that our dear Herr Baron would now be alive.”
He bade goodbye to the lieutenant, and, much refreshed by the rest that he had enjoyed and the good meal that he had eaten, set out again upon his walk.
Toward the middle of the afternoon the turrets of the castle came in view, then the village of Raundorf, and the church steeple, then the window in the belfry tower.
He missed the sound of the lowing of cows, the bleating of sheep, the cackling of geese, the joyous singing of shepherd boys and maidens, and the shouts of merry children. ‘‘All is sad and changed about here,” thought he, “nothing seems the same since the war; but what is the change to the Frau Baroness in comparison to this new trouble which I am taking to her?”
As he opened the gate of the courtyard he was amazed at the sight which met his view. Groups of ragged men and women, seniors, adults, and children, were receiving bread and butter, and meat, their haggard faces brightening with joy that they were to have at least one full meal.
“The kind Frau Baroness! she will give her last loaf to feed the poor. I do not think I can give her the letter, I will give it to the Herr Pastor, he will know better than I what to say.” This decision was a great relief to the boy, and he was on the point of going around to the covered walk and escape the gaze of the Baroness by entering the castle by way of the wing, when he met with another great surprise. It was no less than to see Albert Scheinert, the former steward’s son, dressed in a fine suit, and coming down the steps of the castle with a very high head indeed.
While the lad was pondering over this he saw something that surprised him yet more, and that was the old eagle-nosed curmudgeon, Herr Scheinert himself, equally well dressed, and apparently in high good humor with the whole world, himself included.
The messenger was so astonished that he could only look from one to the other in mute surprise, which reached its climax when the main entrance door of the castle opened and out walked that drunken twit, the baroness's spurned suitor, Bruno von Seerhausen. He was dressed in a handsome uniform, which did not appear to belong to the army or navy or kingsguard, but to some one of the government offices.
Off went ragged hats and caps and bonnets at the sight of him, and the air was rent with shouts of “Hurrah for our brave Herr von Seerhausen! Hurrah! three times three! Hurrah!”
“Our Herr von Seerhausen!” he said slowly to himself, “am I dreaming, or am I really at Raundorf Castle? Can it be possible that the Frau Baroness has heard of the Herr Baron’s death, and married von Seerhausen? I always thought that widows put on mourning black for their husbands, and did not marry again for a long time, if at all. But that was in time of peace; no one knows what to expect in time of war. People are not like themselves, and anything might happen.”
But poor as was the opinion of war in his mind, he was ashamed of himself for his foolish thought in regard to Frau von Raundorf.
“Never!” said he to himself, “she never would forget the Herr Baron, whom she so loved, as to ever marry Herr von Seerhausen who hated her children, and children in general. But I cannot see what it all means; if he is master here, it is no place for me, and I must not let him nor Albert see me if I can help it.”
Running his eyes over the motley crowd to single out one of whom he could inquire what it meant, he finally saw Frau Metzger, the butcher's wife.
She was engaged in putting her share of bread and meat in her apron, and Tobias waited until she moved toward the gate, then he slipped outside and waited for her.
‘‘Frau Metzger,” said he, “tell me what it all means. Has the Frau Baroness sold the castle to Herr von Seerhausen? Where is she, and the little Otto and Lila? ”
“Yesterday,” said she, “the Herr von Seerhausen rode into the village with several strange men in the kaiser’s own uniform, and they got our magistrate to tell the people of the village, that, by imperial decree, the Castle of Raundorf and all the estate belonging to it was to be the property of House von Seerhausen, according to the will of the old Baron. If the Raundorf people espoused the cause of Herr von Seerhausen, and were obedient to his wishes, prosperity would come to them as quickly as possible. You may be sure we welcomed him gladly on such terms, and in a quarter of an hour he was master of the castle, and the Frau Baroness was turned out with nothing. but the clothes she and her children had on at the time.”
“And where is she now, and Otto and Lila?”
“At the Herr Pastor’s for a time; she would have gone to Berlin, where she has friends and relatives, but the smallpox has broken out there, and she was afraid to expose the little ones to it.”
She had scarcely finished speaking when he was off to the parsonage.
“If I can only see the Herr Pastor first,” thought he, “but it would just be the luck of war to run right in the way of the Frau Baroness.” It turned out better than he had hoped; the pastor was walking in his garden, and the lad crept through the hedge, and telling him of the letter and the need of secrecy, accompanied him to an old arbour, hidden by trees from view of the parsonage, and put the letter in his hand.
“Lord of Mercy, how mysterious are thy ways!” cried the pastor, turning deadly pale, as he read the last lines. “Oh, the poor wife; the poor children! She, a widow, cast out penniless from her home; her brave and noble husband shot, not on the field of battle, but for disobedience to orders. Oh, it is frightful!”
“Everything is frightful in war, nothing is like what it is in times of peace.”
The pastor said nothing, his whole mind was set upon the best plan to pursue in regard to imparting the news to the Baroness. He put his hands behind him and walked slowly up and down the path, stopping now and then and looking absently about him, then resuming his walk.
“This bitter cup, too, must be drained to the dregs,” thought Herr Seeback; “Give me the right words, and to the poor widow his tenderest comfort.” He turned and went into the house.
Herr Seeback took the large Bible from the table, and, speaking to his wife and the Frau Baroness, said he wished to read them a chapter which he had been thinking of while walking in the garden. “It is the story of Christ upon the cross, as told in Luke,” said he, “and this afternoon the scene upon Calvary has come vividly to my mind.” He read the chapter through, then sat a moment in thought.
“I cannot but think of that poor mother whose beloved Son is hanging upon the cross,” said he. “She could almost feel the cruel thorns upon her forehead, the nails in her hands and feet, and her loving heart bled for his sufferings; her relief must have been great when he cried, ‘ It is finished! ’ You, gracious lady, have no doubt often grieved over the danger to which your husband is exposed as a soldier, and would rather his death should be speedy, than the long and painful one of our Saviour upon the cross.”
“Oh, I could not choose between the dreadful alternatives; I do not allow myself to think of his death, only of the happy close of the war and his homecoming. Thank Providence we have had no bad news! The losing of our property is nothing, if he but comes home safely.”
“There has been a terrible battle fought within the last few days between the main armies, and thousands on both sides are killed. The regiment in which your husband belonged was particularly unfortunate, and— ”
“He is dead! my husband!” cried the Baroness, sinking back almost fainting in her chair, “that is why you read that chapter, you were preparing me for the terrible news.”
“Yes, it is true, but call to mind the mother of our dear Lord. In a few days she had the joy of seeing him again; and comfort yourself with the thought that when your short pilgrimage is finished you will be with him never to part.”
“Are you sure that what you tell me is true?” questioned she, faintly, “sometimes the reports are not correct.”
“Yes, this is true, I heard it from a reliable source. He saw the Herr Baron, and got this letter from him. He is outside, I will call him.”
“A letter for me?” said the Baroness, taking it in her hand, “the last I will ever get from him,” and tears came to her relief.
“Read it, gracious lady,” said the pastor, after a time, “read it while we are with you.”
The Baroness read it aloud to her pale and silent listeners.
“My beloved wife, my Amalie! In spirit I am with you and our children, while my body is in camp, surrounded by preparations for an expected attack of the enemy. For your sake I often wish I had gotten my discharge from the army, but for my country’s sake I desisted. I consider it my duty to stand by our Fatherland and the Crown in time of need. I have rejoiced over the letters brought , and have much to be thankful for that you are all well; and I look forward with joy to the time when I shall see you again. Providence has indeed been good in preserving me from danger; no bullet, no sword, — O Amalie — beloved wife—the Kaiser is here —I have — disobeyed orders—and tomorrow at nine— I must—die. We will meet in heaven. Farewell—kiss the little ones—for me. “Your Carl.”
“What orders could he have disobeyed?” questioned the Baroness, in a faint voice.
“This lad will tell you, he saw and heard all; tell her, please.”
“The good Herr Baron but burned a poor, weak little taper of a candle in his tent, and the Kaiser had commanded that there should be no light in the camp. The soldiers said it could not be seen a few yards away, but they said it was just.”
“Why did he have a light?”
“He wished to write that letter to you, he had no time through the day.”
The letter dropped from the hand of the Baroness and she swooned away.
With many tears Frau Seeback used the simple restoratives within her reach, and after a time, the poor woman came back to a knowledge of her anguish.
“Oh, is there on this broad earth a creature so miserable as I,” said she, faintly, “I sought to give him comfort by writing to him that we were all well, and his love for me made him disobey the king. Not an honourable death upon the battlefield, but he, an officer, shot for disobedience to orders. Oh, that was a bitter drop in his cup, and all through me.”
“You must take the Christian’s comfort,” said the pastor, “your husband was a true Christian and was not afraid to die. You have a duty to perform in training your dear children for heaven; you will find comfort in your Saviour. For more than eighteen hundred years human beings have looked to him and have never been turned away comfortless. To one and all he says, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest,’ and you are one of his beloved children.”
It was and is an astonishing fact that people could endure much suffering, and yet live. One would had noticed it in the case of the Baroness, and, as time passed on, in that of the people of Raundorf. Every now and again you would say to yourself, “Well, they cannot hold out another day; they will certainly die of grief and despair;” but they did live, week after week, and month after month, suffering all the time, but enduring.
The war, which a chance acquaintance had predicted would soon be over, was raging as violently as ever, and the people had to endure the quartering of soldiers, the terrible battles, the loss of their cattle, the burning of their dwellings—in truth, every privation—as best they could, just as they had done for a year or more.
The kindness which the Baron and Baroness had always shown to Pastor Seeback and his family was now, in time of need, returned many fold. The Baroness and her children were made cordially welcome in the pastor’s home, and she was reminded by him and his family that through her husband’s kindness in paying promptly the legacy left by the late old Baron they were abundantly able to provide for her and her children.
There were great changes in the castle, none being in it who had formed part of the household of Baron von Raundorf. Frau Rückert and Sophie had gone back to their home; the servants had been set adrift by the new owner, and their places had been filled by those of his own choosing. Herr von Seerhausen had laid aside his sheep’s clothing, and showed himself the wolf that he really was, for he oppressed his tenants and persecuted them for the rent of their cottages, turning them out if they were unable to pay ; and no pleadings of sickness or squalor availed with him.
He set men to work to cut down the splendid beech forest, which had been the pride of the Baron’s heart. The woodsmen, however, never felled a tree until every branch of the one preceding it had been neatly cleared away, the wood sold, and the branches burned.
The Baroness knew very little of what was going on in the castle. She seldom stepped outside the parsonage except to go to church.
A HAPPY REUNION.
The second year of the war had nearly ended, and the soldiers had settled in winter quarters to await a call to commence again their work of death. They were not quartered at Raundorf, and for that the people rejoiced; but the evils of war were upon them in full force, and among them the smallpox, many being afflicted by the terrible pest.
Herr von Seerhausen was so alarmed by the reports of the epidemic that he would not leave the castle even for a short walk, nor would he allow any communication with the outside world; while the Baroness, Herr Seeback, and his wife were angels of mercy to the poor villagers, going freely among the sick, giving comfort, help, and sympathy to all who stood in need of assistance.
But for all Herr von Seerhausen’s vigilance, he took the disease, and, after a few days, was no longer of earth. He had not been just to his fellow men and women, had oppressed the needy, and had done very little good in the world; therefore his departure was not felt to be a loss; yet at the parsonage there were sorrowing hearts for the unfortunate, lonely curmudgeon, who had never enjoyed the riches to which he was not entitled, and who had died without making restitution. They could only indulge a hope that he had repented and had looked to a Saviour for help in his last days upon earth.
The castle was now again in the possession of the Baroness and her children, and it was decided that she should return to it and gather her tenants about her and the old servants, so soon as the apartments lately occupied by Herr von Seerhausen had been properly cleansed and fumigated, that all danger of smallpox might, so far as lay in their power, be averted. In the meantime they remained welcome guests at the parsonage.
One morning, said house guests were awakened from a sound sleep by hearing many voices in the yard under the window, among them that of Frau Seeback, and she was screaming.
There was a company of the enemy’s soldiers, and in the midst of them was Pastor Seeback, whom they were dragging away to act as guide for them in pointing out families who would be apt to have money, in order to make them tell where it was hidden. In vain the boy plead that he knew all the people in the neighbourhood as well as did the pastor, and that he would do what they required of him. They silenced him by threatening to kill Herr Seeback if he refused to go. ‘‘Be tranquil, dear wife,” said the pastor; “I am under the LORD's care, and he will protect me. He will never desert us.” The soldiers prevented any further speech by dragging him away, that boy following.
He found the village thronged with soldiers, and more coming. Campfires were burning, made from the roofs of dwellings, before which soldiers were resting, and warming their wet feet. In the distance was heard the thunder of cannon, making the earth tremble, and from many of the dwellings came the sounds of screaming children, waked from happy slumber by the terrible din, and of frightened caregivers, in danger of their lives unless they gave up all their possessions to the brutal invaders.
It was one of the terrible scenes of war times with which all had become familiar. More than once the brave lad was in danger of his life from the hoofs of the cavalry horses, or from soldiers who struck at him with their weapons, when he ran against them. The confusion increased as the day advanced, and the sound of cannonading grew nearer. The battle was near at hand, the village full of wounded soldiers, and the messenger grew almost faint at the sight of flowing blood; men’s blood, brothers’ blood, which cried to the heavens as did that of Abel, when slain by his brother Cain.
The village was set on fire, and he ran to the parsonage to see if it was spared, but found it in flames, and the women and children gathered in the garden, where they were a few minutes after joined by Herr Seeback.
‘‘We cannot grieve for our property, now that you two are spared,” said Frau Seeback, smiling through her tears, “we feared you would be killed.”
“I feel much exhausted from my long and hurried walk,” replied he, “but my chief anxiety was for you, when I saw them setting the buildings on fire.”
“Where can we go to be safe?” questioned his wife, anxiously.
“I know of no place likely to be secure, unless it be the vault under the church, we will go there, and do what we can on the way to escape the bullets that are flying in every direction.”
They joined hands and ran through the garden-way to the back entrance to the church, the windows and tower of which were filled with Imperial soldiers who were firing down upon the enemy. They reached it in safety, and with difficulty the pastor raised the trap-door of the vault, the hinges of which had grown rusty.
“Oh, woe is me!” said Herr Seeback, “I had forgotten that it was so deep, we cannot get down without a ladder.”
“I will get it from the gardener,” the boy replied eagerly. “Oh, you noble boy,” said the Baroness, tearfully, “may God protect you in your dangerous walk.”
“It is well we have to wait a while,” remarked the pastor, cheerfully, “the air in the vault is impure, and the trapdoor being open will allow it to escape by the time he returned.“
But the poor children were in such a state of nervous terror that his words gave but little comfort, and they were only quieted by the return of the ladder.
It was placed down the opening and the pastor descended, then one after another of the frightened band, except the boy, who closed the trapdoor, and kept guard on the outside. The firing continued, and overhead the pastor had heard a shot followed by a shriek of mortal pain, and his face blanched at a thought which came to his mind, but which he carefully kept from the others. What if it were their keeper who had been killed, who would open the trapdoor to let them out? For a moment he was so shaken by the dread that he almost lost consciousness, but his firm trust returned, he had faith that they would not be left to perish in that way, and waited in patience that endured to the end.
At length the firing grew less frequent, then subsided. There was no sound of voices, nor of the hoofs of horses; and, oh, joy! they heard familiar footsteps, the trapdoor was unhasped, was lifted, and they were free. One by one they ascended, and the lad drew up the ladder and locked the door, then all dropped on their knees, and the pastor thanked Providence for all the goodness to them. True, their dwelling was in ashes and they were homeless, but the castle stood ready for their reception, and thither they all went, the Baroness rejoicing that she could give them a home under her roof. A full suite of apartments was furnished for them.
For some months the war raged, but at length peace—sweet peace—spread its brooding wings over the unhappy country. People who had despaired were beginning to hold up their heads, and take interest in life, when, one evening as the Baroness and her children and Pastor Seeback and his family were conversing around the parlor fire, old Peter came, his aged face wreathed in smiles, to announce a visitor.
“A stranger, Peter?” questioned the Baroness.
“Yes, gracious lady, a stranger and yet a friend,” said the old man, beaming with joy.
“Bring the visitor here, Peter; my friends are friends of our good Pastor and Pastorin.”
“But he wishes to see you alone, gracious lady; he is in the ante-room, and will wait for you there.”
The Baroness arose, and followed; and the waiting listeners heard a cry of surprise and joy, and the words, “my precious wife!” “my long-lost husband!”
For it was indeed the Baron, come back—as it appeared to them—from the dead.
Oh! the joy of that meeting!
The messenger who had left for the front years ago was one of the happiest of the happy after he was convinced that the person whom he had seen fall was yet alive. They all returned to the parlor, and the Baron told the story of his deliverance.
“It was owing to the pleadings of my brother officers that the General let them plan to save my life. I do not know, and perhaps never will know, whether the Kaiser was aware of it or not; nor can I say whether I was conscious of their design when the officer who pinned the flowers on my breast whispered to me to fall forward when I heard the report of the musket. All that I know is, that as a soldier I was not afraid to shed my blood upon the field of battle; but it is a very different thing to kneel, and, with bandaged eyes, have a comrade aim at one’s breast for disobedience of orders. I believe that I was unconscious, for I remember nothing of falling, or of being carried away, my first knowledge being that I was on the way to the fort, where I was to remain a prisoner under an assumed name until the close of the war.”
If there was anything, next to the declaration of peace, that could make the people of Raundorf rejoice, it was that the Baron Carl von Raundorf was again among them as master of the castle; and he set to work immediately to help them regain their lost footing, for the only noticeable result from the long strife was the loss of thousands of lives and the destruction of millions of property. A new parsonage was built, and the pastor and his family went to it.
After a time the lowing of cattle, and the bleating of sheep, and the quacking of geese, were heard in the meadows; the village was rebuilt; and welldressed people came from far and near to the House of God every holiday.
Sweet-voiced child singers gave praise to their Father in Heaven, who had given their beloved country the great blessing of peace.
Pastor Seeback never closed a prayer without including the petition, ‘‘Oh, deliver us from the greatest evil which can befall a nation or a people; deliver us, if it be thy will, from the evil of war.”