Adelaide of Brunswick/Chapter Fifteen
The Prince of Saxony had not yet unburdened his heart to the Marquis of Thuringia. He sent for him with the intention of doing that.
"I am the most unhappy of men, my dear cousin," he said on seeing him, "I have found my wife again only to find the torment of my life. How much happier I would have been if she had always stayed in her own country, and you had not brought her here. She has come to the point of being no longer able to hide her shame. Instead of answering my reproaches, she blushes because of them and her frankness, the only virtue which she has, only serves to double the torments of my life."
"But what proofs do you have of the wrongs which you attribute to her?"
"Her embarrassment and confusion when I question her on her conduct."
"Ah, my Prince, how feeble are such proofs. Don't you know that any such accusation makes a woman blush? What modest woman would not be alarmed by such words. If it is true that you no longer suspect young Kaunitz, on whom do your suspicions now remain? Allow me to say, Prince, that your situation is the result of your own imagination. You are seriously in error and all this is causing you to be the unhappiest of men when you should be the happiest."
"I am not convinced, like you," said the prince, "of her innocence with Kaunitz. What was she going to do at that rendezvous? But even if she were not guilty, how do you excuse the fact that against my orders she left Torgau and fled all over Germany to become in turn the mistress of a margrave, a bandit and of a conspirator? Can she justify this multitude of wrongs? When I question her why does she answer only by a guilty embarrassment? No, my friend, you can never clear her name."
"Your honor," said Thuringia, "is as dear to me as my own. I have thought it my duty to get some more information about what concerns Adelaide during her travels and Bathilda has given them to me. She is a young woman incapable of trickery or deceit, and she has assured me that there was nothing reprehensible in the conduct of your wife. During the course of absence and up to the present time there is nothing to reproach her for. As for the embarrassment which your questions cause her, I assure you, my prince, that it comes only from modesty. Don't let your imagination make life miserable for you and for the best of women."
This explanation might have calmed Frederick if Mersburg, who knew how the prince could be influenced, had not come to stimulate in his heart the serpents of jealousy.
When Frederick told the count of the conversation he had just had with his cousin and of the calm which had resulted from it, the count answered:
"Certainly, I am not astonished at what you tell me, and the one who makes your wife guilty should have the greatest interest in making her seem innocent to you."
"What!? Thuringia the lover of my wife? Impossible!"
"My prince, I have discovered all. The one who brought you the daughter of the Duke of Brunswick would have liked to take her for his own wife. Both of them had the same feelings, and everything which has happened has been the result of this guilty love. The rendezvous at the bird house near which Kaunitz was placed to put you in error, the burning of Torgau and the escape which followed, the trip which he had your wife take in order to get her out of your hands, that Bathilda which he placed in her service while she was traveling; all was the result of the guilty love of your cousin and the perfidy of your wife."
"Sir," said Frederick boiling with anger, "your life is at stake if all this is not true. Furnish me with the proofs of what you say and I will overwhelm you with favors. If you are mistaken, the scaffold waits for you."
"Although these confidences should not be received by threats, I submit to them anyway and I will furnish you with the proof that you need. The two lovers are supposed to meet each other this evening near the fatal bird house where they saw each other before the imprisonment of the princess. Be there, prince, and if I am mistaken may your sword be plunged into my breast."
One can easily imagine that the scoundrel had arranged everything for the success of a plan which he had worked out to accomplish all his wishes.
Mersburg convinced Adelaide and Thuringia that it was essential to change the place where they saw each other since Thuringia had been seen too often in her apartments. He suggested that they have their rendezvous at the bird house, and as this seemed like a good idea to both of them and to be safer than Adelaide's apartments they made arrangements to be there the next day at sunset.
Thuringia arrived on time at the rendezvous and found Adelaide waiting for him. Scarcely had he arrived when he threw himself on his knees at her feet and begged her to promise that she would never give herself to anybody else except him if she lost her husband.
The imprudent Adelaide pronounced this guilty oath and sealed it with the most ardent kiss. Suddenly there was a commotion and Frederick appeared, his face dark with anger.
"Traitor," he cried seizing Thuringia, "come then and with your own hands end the days of the one whose death you await with such impatience. Come and assassinate me and break the bonds which trouble your happiness. I should sacrifice you on the very breast of the one whom you have seduced so criminally. I should by the blood drawn from your two hearts cement your two souls in an impure mixture. But I will not give you that pleasure. Guided by honor, it is only on the field of battle that I can avenge myself. Come there, and you will either have death or the one you love. I want my heart, if I die, to be presented to her every day that she lives. You will obey me, Thuringia, remember my last orders."
"Come Prince, let's go," said the rival of Frederick, "yes, let's fight this thing out. On me alone should fall all your fury; Adelaide is innocent. Fix the hour and the place, and I will show you that the one you judged worthy of replacing you on the throne is also worthy of measuring swords with you."
The two rivals separated. Frederick gave orders for the servants to take away Adelaide who had fainted and then went to his apartment.
"Oh, Mersburg," said the prince when the count appeared. "What a frightful service you have rendered me. It is indeed a service, but what a cruel one."
"Prince, I could not allow in silence any more the outrages with which you were covered. Honor and friendship have required me to reveal all this to you."
"Oh, my friend, what am I going to do with that unfortunate woman now?"
"You will no longer have the right to dispose of her," answered the count. "The outcome of the battle will decide her fate. If you have the misfortune of falling in battle, the one who will succeed you on the throne will see to it that her punishment would be commuted. If you win, then you will have to pardon her to stay in the graces of your people. Besides you have to think about the state of political events of the moment. You cannot afford to antagonize her father. Instead of thinking about her, you should be planning the fate of your people. You know that anything can happen in a duel, and you should be naming a successor in case anything happens to you."
"I have been thinking about it," said Frederick, "and here are some of my ideas. I will leave the regency to my wife. This generosity will touch her, and at least she will shed a few tears on my grave. In the same testament, I will require her to marry the one whom she considers to be my best friend and naturally that person is you."
"No, Prince, that cannot be. Adelaide loves Thuringia, and he is the one who should be on the throne."
"I cannot be generous to that point. I believe my wife is innocent, but I cannot think of Louis of Thuringia in the same way."
"Well, why not have your will read that the regent will give her hand to the one she will judge to be most worthy of the throne?"
"I consent to that!"
The will drawn up according to the form required by the laws of that time, Frederick signed it and began to prepare himself for the battle.
Mersburg went to spend a little time with Adelaide.
"Milady," he said, "we are at the most interesting epoch of your life."
"The most frightful, Sir, the most painful for my heart. Today I lose either my husband or my lover. What am I going to do in either case?"
Mersburg then told Adelaide the contents of the will. "I reign if I lose my husband by the hands of Thuringia! Or I lose my lover by the hands of my husband! I couldn't do it!"
"Reasons of state force you to do it. The prince wishes, if he dies, that you marry the man whom you judge to be the most capable to govern his people and consequently the most worthy of you. If any consideration prevents you from choosing the marquis, Milady, you are free to choose any other man you wish."
"Who can be the cause of all the misfortunes which overwhelm me?"
"It was due to an unforeseen stroke of bad luck. A squire of the prince was walking near the place of your rendezvous, and as soon as he saw what was happening, he ran to the prince whose jealousy caused him to come at once to where you were. If you had had more confidence in me I might have prevented the prince's arrival."
"Believe me, my dear count, I do not merit that reproach. Will you not be tomorrow the only friend I have?"
"In any case, Milady, I shall be the most sincere."
At that moment the trumpet rang out and the heralds came before the crowd and had them move off of the battle field. Mersburg, who had been named Marshal of the Field, brought the two contestants together and had them swear that their cause was just. He verified their arms. Then the witnesses were lined up and the two warriors appeared at opposite sides with their horses.
At the agreed-upon signal, the two men sprang on their horses and armed with their lances and protected by their shields they rode their horses rapidly at each other. For a long time the victory was not decided. Their shields sent out sparks at the terrific blows of the lances. Finally, however, a terrific blow by Thuringia struck the prince at a weak place in his armor and he fell to the middle of the arena bathed in his blood.
Thuringia jumped off his horse and ran to the one he had just knocked down trying in vain to help him. His tears mingled with the blood of his enemy. He wept on the laurels which he never wanted to harvest, but ran nevertheless to take them to the one he adored. To his surprise, she refused to see him at first, but finally agreed after Bathilda told her that she would have to see him eventually.
"Princess," said Thuringia after she had finally appeared, "there was never a victory more fateful. I am only, in your eyes, the killer of your husband and as such I have no right to ask your hand."
"Sir," said Adelaide, "I esteem you for your realization that this unfortunate victory raises barriers between you and me. They will put the scepter in my hands, but it belongs to you. The Saxons accustomed to marching under your orders will like to see in your hands this scepter which you have adorned so often with laurels. Accept it; it is worthy of you, but in fulfilling all your duties of state, forget an unfortunate woman who cannot share these glorious duties with you. Sit on the throne which belongs only to you and reign. I have no other function left except to weep. We will both be accomplishing what we can do best and the happiness of being satisfied in what we are doing is the most important thing in life."
The princess on finishing these words rushed back into her apartment. Thuringia wanted to hold her back, but she fled.
The assembly of states convoked by Adelaide the next day awaited with much interest what she was going to tell them. She went arrayed in her royal ornaments which she was wearing for the last time. She stood before the silent assembly and said in a most august and solemn tone:
"Magnanimous and respectable nation, a great event has just been traced in your records. You regret like me the loss of a sovereign who loved you like a father, and whom I revere as the wisest and most virtuous of husbands. In naming me to the throne, he leaves to me the choice of putting at the head of the government the husband I am supposed to choose who would be the most worthy of succeeding him. Naturally he had Thuringia in mind. It was he who knew so well how to lead you to glory and he who during the travels of my husband knew so well how to hold the reins of state. He, I say, is the only one capable of replacing Frederick. But in designating Thuringia for his successor, I cannot, however, present him as my husband. The wrong of the Marquis of Thuringia, linked to my own, leaves me no other course than to go into the most profound retirement where I hope you will permit me to bury myself forever." At these words, she took off the priceless ornaments which covered her. "I hope you will accept these adornments of my position. I will leave them with Thuringia. Let him ornament the forehead of the one he will select to sit beside him on the throne which can only be occupied by him. I hope that you, respectable Saxons, will honor me sometimes with your memory and will you say in pronouncing the name of one who loved you: 'She lived for our happiness since she sacrificed herself for honor'."
Tears ran down all the cheeks. They had the proof of a great feeling of sensitiveness mixed with courage, and several voices were raised to demand that she stay on the throne which her present conduct made her worthy of. But Adelaide would not accept any such demand, and she left the meeting rapidly without looking back.
Thuringia, although he was heartbroken over the decision of Adelaide, felt that his duty to his country demanded that he take over the reins of government and he was crowned the next day.
Mersburg, furious at what had happened, upset at seeing all his plans go astray, determined to overthrow Thuringia since he would no longer be able to control him now that Adelaide had gone into retirement. He formed a conspiracy and Thuringia was almost killed, but escaped without being hurt.
Mersburg was identified as the leader of the plot and brought before his peers to be tried. He admitted all his crimes in the following confession:
"If the most violent love could serve as an excuse for the blackest crimes, then perhaps I would merit a little of your pity. But I expea only death and I deserve it. Listen to my story. Another passion than the one which holds me today motivated the disastrous end of Frau von Kaunitz. She refused to have me as her lover, and her refusal so irritated me that I had her poisoned. My anger went even as far as her son and wishing to compromise the princess who had already captivated my heart and to make both her husband and her lover jealous of her, I had fall on the breast of young Kaunitz the dagger which Frederick wished to use on the lover of Adelaide. I excited more and more the jealousy of the Prince of Saxony, thinking that this means would bring about the catastrophe which I wanted.
"My main plan was to pit the husband and the lover against each other, and in that way be sure that one would perish, and then I could get rid of the other.
"The imprisonment of Adelaide at Torgau did not fulfill well enough the plans I had to make her seem guilty in the eyes of her husband. I therefore had her escape Torgau by setting the building on fire. I then took her to various places and finally had her arrested by Schinders where I was going to have her condemned for immorality. But as luck would have it, the father of Bathilda was there and helped her to escape.
"In the meantime, I was able to control the policies of Saxony to some extent by using influence with the Emperor Henry and by my friendship with Thuringia who was ruling in Saxony while I was away with Frederick. Since Frederick was about to return too soon to Saxony I turned him away by giving him new hope that he would find Adelaide. In the meantime, I was making all the arrangements to have her become mixed up in more adventures, which were always planned in such a way that my love for Adelaide and my ambition would be served, that is, I wanted to hurt her reputation so much that her husband would finally repudiate her and even Thuringia would not take her to be his wife.
"It was I who sent the margrave after her and kidnapped her. When she escaped, I had the brigand of Brenner Pass capture her. There were invisible threads which I controlled which brought her into the conspiracy of Contarino. My idea there was to keep her in prison in Venice until I could take over the throne of Saxony, and then I could ask the Venetians to turn her over to me. When she escaped from this last trap she only increased the number of accusations of infidelity which I could bring against her in Saxony. During this time I was continuing to poison Frederick's mind about her and I had Krimpser and other people by their lies convince him even more of her infidelity. I even made use of a necromancer on two occasions to help the situation.
"In the last few days, I have arranged the rendezvous of Adelaide and Thuringia and had Frederick find them there together. I was sure of everything, the combat, the death of Frederick, and the will.
"Since Adelaide was too noble and had too much grandeur to fall into my scheme, I had only daggers left to accomplish the other part of the main plan, that is to become ruler of Saxony. That, too, has failed, and so here I stand. Heaven is just; Thuringia is on the throne, and the scaffold awaits me. Have my blood flow; you owe it to posterity. Let my punishment be a lesson to the centuries to come and hasten to efface forever the traces of my infamy."
The condemnation of this criminal was soon pronounced since he had accused himself. The spectacle of his death was given to the whole city of Dresden. His death made more secure the throne of Thuringia who used the long years of his life to make the Saxons happy.
In the meantime, Adelaide had been making the preparations for her departure. She had not wanted to hurry about leaving because she had a vague feeling that she might be needed. But when she heard about the death of Mersburg and learned that the throne of Saxony was no longer in danger, she saw no longer any reason to delay her departure. She made Bathilda a handsome gift of properties which would make it possible for her to marry well, and she also settled some property on the Baron Dour lach to whom she owed so much. She then wrote to Thuringia to ask him to write letters of gratitude to the many people who had helped her in her moments of distress and also to any of those who had helped her at any time. Thuringia accomplished the last desires of a woman he had never ceased to adore and whom he held in his heart until the last sigh of his life.
The certainty that Thuringia would carry out the wishes of Adelaide was transmitted to this princess by a letter which he signed with his blood. Adelaide kissed it and put it next to her heart, then she left on the journey which would take her into the holy retreat which she had visited just before her arrival in Fredericksburg. She arrived there alone and on foot.
"I have returned to you, holy man," she said to Urbain, "you see that I have kept the word I gave you."
After having passed several days in this house, she announced her desire of taking the veil. She asked the abbess for her permission to decorate the chapel herself for that great ceremony and it was granted.
At her orders, all was draped in black. The tomb of the former princess of Saxony was opened and twenty lamps burned around it. An ebony seat was placed in front of the tomb.
Two lines of nuns appeared in the church with Urbain on one side and the abbess on the other. It was midnight. The doleful and plaintive sound of the bells warned Heaven of the sacrifice which was being prepared. Soon the nuns were bowed low and chanting de profundis in a low voice. One would say that these somber and shadowy voices were coming from the grave and were addressing to Heaven these sacred words of the prophet:
"It is from the depths that we raise our voices toward the Lord. God, listen to us, listen to us and see our tears."
After this verse, the nuns arose and their hands crossed on their chests, they listened attentively to what Adelaide was going to say.
"You who are listening to me, saintly young women," she said, "you whose place is already set aside in Heaven, do not regret the promise which you have made to detach yourselves forever from a world where man lives only in the midst of traps which drag him daily towards his destruction. You see in me the unhappy victim of these traps. Would I have gone through all the dangers which I have run if I had been brought here in my childhood to share your work and your prayers? What have I found out in the world? Lies and perfidy, treasons and betrayal, uneasiness and pain, and in the midst of all that only a few instants of pleasure the light of which was always darkened by the abyss which threatened each moment. Ah, my dear sisters, the facility of being able to keep the soul pure does not exist in this deceitful world. It seems that poisoned by the air that one breathes there, it is necessary to lose oneself and be corrupted by the evil ones who inhabit the earth. And as we are obliged to be with them, we have to pretend to be deceived. One might say that weakness which is an integral part of us leaves us no choice except to weep because of our virtue or blush because of our vices. Does one want to live in a dangerous inertia and thereby fall into life of inutility, or does one want to head into the storm and go against the current?"
"Where then is happiness?" asked Urbain.
"There," said Adelaide pointing to the tomb. "It is only there that the end of all our ills awaits us and consequently happiness. For happiness does not exist on the earth. Man dreams of it and never has it, and the being who hopes to achieve it loses it as soon as he dreams of it. Let us admit, sisters, the absence of misfortune is the only happiness that man can enjoy in this world and it is God who has made it this way in order to teach us that it is He alone who is the source of any happiness. It is only in His arms that man can even believe in happiness. Let us thank Him then when we reach the moment of going to Him. Happiness comes only when we reach the tomb because it is there only that we cease to breathe the poison of the serpents on whom we step every day. It is then, my dear sisters, this firm resolution to withdraw from the evils of life which has made me make the decision."
At these words, the abbess came near her and having put on her the dress of the order, she covered her head with the sacred veil which bringing her closer to God, separated her forever from the world.
From that day on Sister Adelaide fulfilled all the duties of the convent and followed the rules which made this order the severest in Europe. Instead of the haughty and proud princess, she now became a gentle and obedient and self-effacing nun. Always the first to arrive at chapel, the most ardent in prayer, the most active in the work in the convent, she became the example of those who had formerly been considered the models.
But so much repression of her character and so much austerity in her conduct, so much violence in her affections, still only partially extinguished, such a hard and new life for her, soon affected her health. A harsh and frequent cough racked her now thin body. They tried to get her to take medicine, but she refused.
"Oh, Father," she said to Urbain who tried to get her to take some remedies, "it is not to continue to live that I came into your convent; it is to learn to die. As I approach this last moment, my heart becomes filled with a celestial joy. Let me enjoy without fright these last moments. My soul which has come from Heaven wishes to return there and this becomes the dearest of my desires. God, who is so good, will receive me with indulgence. Ah, with what an eye of scorn I will see all the vanities which attached me to this earth. My feeble voice joining that of the angels will praise without ceasing the Lord and it is then that I will find the happiness so vainly sought on this earth. How blind and hardened is the person who refuses to admit the existence of this heavenly happiness to which I feel myself already closely linked. Oh, Father, my vision is beginning to be blurred, my eyes are dazzled by the majesty of God extending his arms to me, and I can no longer see the things of this world. Have traced at the foot of the altar that cross of ashes where I want my body stretched out like that of the Son of our Lord. While I was still too much attached to the earth I wanted to share the tomb of the princess, I now give up this frivolous honor. My hands have dug my grave under one of the willow trees in the garden. Let my remains be put there like those of my companions and if my misfortunes have inspired some pity, may your tears fall upon my tomb accompanying the prayers which you will address to Heaven."
The last words of the Princess of Saxony were:
"Oh you who will one day read the story of my life, when a woman is cruelly outraged and is only slightly guilty and gives you such an example, why will you condemn her if your crimes are greater than hers?"