Adelaide of Brunswick/Chapter Two
The intrigue had reached this point when the Prince of Saxony, one day, had the count called into his office.
"Mersburg," said Frederick, "the place of First Chamberlain has become vacant, and I think you should fill the position. The princess has spoken of you in high terms, and the Marquis of Thuringia seems to be your friend. Their recommendation suffices. The high grade of the position is ample proof of my confidence in you."
The count dropped to one knee to show his gratitude.
"For some time," continued the prince, "I have wanted to speak to you of something else. I feel that you should make a suitable marriage before too long. The daughter of the Marquis of Rochiltz has been proposed to me for you. She is young, beautiful and rich, and I believe that in offering her to you, I shall contribute to the happiness of your life."
"Pardon, Milord," answered Mersburg, "But I do not believe that marriage would contribute to this happiness which Your Highness wishes me to have. I am young enough to wait, and I beg Your Highness to save his good intentions until a time when I will be in a better position for marriage. I want to be able to serve Your Highness with my complete devotion, and I believe I would be able to do a better job if I were single. I fear that the duties of a household might distract me from doing all that I could for Your Highness. A man cannot serve a master perfectly if he is serving a mistress at the same time."
"One does not prevent the other," said Frederick. "I think you really mean that you do not believe you could have happiness in marriage."
"I believe, to the contrary, Milord, that these bonds when they are well selected, are the means of assuring happiness; but I also believe that when conditions are not suitable, they become very painful."
"Ah, my dear count, how right you are! The greatest misfortune in life is not to be loved as one loves, and the fear of not being loved, combined with jealousy, is indeed very painful."
"Your Highness is so far from any such situation that it would seem impossible that he would ever experience it."
"Yes, my dear count, I am happy; at least I think I am, but the more one believes he possesses happiness, the more he dreads losing it."
"Certainly there is nothing which could cause you to have any jealousy?"
"One can be jealous in spite of not having any reason to be so. The more charms the loved one has, the more one is susceptible to its stings. Perhaps one often wishes that the loved one had fewer charms in order to have fewer rivals to fear."
"On the other hand, is there a single being who would wish, who would dare, try to take from Your Highness that which he possesses? You have too many things to captivate the wife who shares your throne to fear that any mortal could ever cause her to stray from her duties; especially since those duties become such a pleasure with you."
"I want to believe what you are saying, Mersburg, but one is not so easily cured of this overpowering feeling; this jealousy which is not known except by those who do really love. One says in vain that it causes a man to love even more the object of his affections. The very fact that he adores a woman makes him think that another man will have the same idea. If he has this idea then jealousy is justified; if he doesn't, then love is not justified."
"But has Your Highness seen in his virtuous wife anything which would cause him to have any suspicions?"
"No, my friend," said Frederick with a kind of uneasiness which he could not conceal. "But I am sure that her love is not equal to mine. Everything in her appears to be duty and obedience. I can never find in her any of those little attentions which a woman has for a man; those little things which convince a man that his wife really loves him."
"But all that will come, Milord; the princess is still young. The habit of living with you will soon change what now seems like a duty into pleasure, and the love which will come, will be all the more lasting."
"Thus it is only a question of time until I get my happiness? I would like to have you go into the depths of the situation and to study it and then tell me what you find, and then I will attempt to establish my ideas on your report."
"Ah, Milord," cried Mersburg, "do you realize the responsibility that Your Highness is putting on me? Adelaide will detest me if she ever discovers my part in it. She is either innocent or guilty. If she is innocent then any suspicions of her will make her furious, and if she is guilty, she will never pardon me for discovering it and revealing it to you. Taking advantage of the love which she knows you have for her, she will demand my punishment for having sought out her faults, whether they exist or not."
"Will not my protection guarantee you safety?"
"No, Milord. She will be eager to destroy that protection and from that time on, nothing could preserve me from her anger. She will be able to persuade you to abandon me, and I will become the object of your anger as well as her hatred."
"There is nothing comforting in what you are saying, my dear count. In the first case, you say she would become irritated if she were innocent, because of the suspicions. That way of seeing the situation does not seem right, because your efforts will only prove her innocent. How can she become angry if she is proven worthy to be my wife? And since you seem to fear so much the results of your finding the second case to be true, it makes me think you are already convinced of the truth of this hypothesis."
"Ah, My Prince, how quickly does jealousy seize upon anything which can nourish it! There can be no doubt about the virtue of your wife, and that should be enough to give you all the tranquility you need."
"So be it," said the prince, "but what I propose to you will insure this tranquility, and I require you to do what I ordered."
"I will obey, My Prince," answered Mersburg, taking leave, "but if the truth cause me to hurt you, then I hope Your Highness will remember that I was acting under his orders."
The situation in which Mersburg found himself, would have been painful only for an honest man; but with such a character as his, he found in it intense delight. He became, in a sense, the master of the situation and he could turn to his own profit all the facts which he might discover, by revealing or hiding what he wished.
According to some plan which he had now established, Mersburg went to see the marquis to tell him about the conversation which he had had with the prince.
"I had already noticed Frederick's jealousy," said Thuringia, "but I don't know who the person is. I am sorry he didn't name him."
"Is there anyone besides you who could alarm him? Is there anyone else in this court who could please the one you love?" "But if his suspicions fall on me, I will be more restricted than ever in my contacts with Adelaide."
"That is right," said Mersburg, "but in your place I would want to find out exactly how I stood, and there is no other way than to get right to the point with the princess. I am sure she loves you. Be bold and tell her you love her. From that point on, we will know how to act."
"But do you think that any such procedure would please the princess?"
"I am certain of it. I have acquired enough information to assure you of her tenderness for you."
"What did she tell you?"
"That you were the object of her dearest affection, but that she did not dare fail in her duties towards her husband."
"Ah, her duties are to love me," said the marquis with delight. "Did I consult my duties when my soul became exalted at the thought of her? Does love admit any other duties than those it imposes? I adore Adelaide and I want to adore her all my life. I will sacrifice even life's blood if she wishes it. But why doesn't she respond a little more to my passion, and why doesn't she console me for what I suffer by offering a little hope that one day we will be together?"
"It seems to me that the two of you should try to arrange a rendezvous."
"What dangers for her in such a rash plan!"
"The most violent means are those that please the most in love and experience proves that they are the safest ones. Do you want me to try to arrange it?"
"Ah, my friend, I would owe you my life."
The count was getting ready to go to Adelaide when he found out that because of a threat which the Emperor had just made to Frederick, the latter, having full confidence in his wife, had closeted himself with her in order to answer this insolent message. It was Adelaide herself who dictated the proud letter in which she said to the Emperor that at his age, and with his degrading conduct, he could never impose his will on a prince who was always victorious and who ruled over all Saxony. She went on to say that before trying anything like that, he should change his morals by sending away all his mistresses, and that instead of coming to visit Saxony, which was in good order, he should go visit some of his other provinces which needed his advice and his help.
This letter so impressed the Emperor that he immediately gave up all his plans, realizing that such able resistance would ultimately cause them to fail.
This energetic action in such a young woman was very pleasing to her husband. He spoke of it to everybody in court, and soon the princess received praises where ever she went. It was at this moment that Mersburg chose to paint to Adelaide the intoxication into which this superb act had plunged the Marquis of Thuringia.
"Your friend and relative, Milady, is very anxious to show you the gratitude he feels for the great service which you have rendered to the country. He said to me that when one knows how to reign with so much nobility, why doesn't one know whom to love? One should not make all hearts burst into flame when one does not wish to listen to any of them."
"Let him come to see me," said Adelaide, "and I will be able to prove to him, perhaps, that if I have been able, by what I have just done, to merit the general approbation, it was perhaps from him more than anybody else that I wanted to receive the praise. I knew that an act of courage would please him; he should approve in me what he is worthy of doing himself."
Mersburg went instantly to tell the marquis that the princess would receive him in a little clump of trees situated in the back of her garden.
There was in this clump of trees a sort of temple of the Druids and also a large bird cage made of golden wire. Lilac bushes surrounded the temple, and beautiful roses entwined themselves among the wires of the cage. Here there were a hundred pairs of the rarest birds which announced by their various songs the tender and voluptuous occupations of a life animated by love.
"Oh, Milady," cried the marquis on seeing the one he adored in such a delightful spot, "how kind you are to receive from me the homages which all of Saxony is paying you."
"Marquis," answered Adelaide, "it was in your heart that I found the strength which I have used and which you like. In my situation, you would have acted as I did. It is because I am so sure of this, that I am satisfied with what I have done. I shall always be proud when I resemble you."
"Why can't I be equally proud, Milady, of the sentiments which I wish to inspire in you?"
"Everything forbids me to hear them, my dear marquis. Reflect on my position, and you will realize that I cannot."
"Why was I selected by Frederick to bring him a wife who was so perfect for my own happiness."
"Do not speak to me of these regrets, they fill my soul."
"What do I hear? All my torments are forgotten as soon as I know that you share them. Thus we are obliged to live eternally separated from each other. No consolation will ever appease the harm we have done to each other. Both of us are young, and we will have to weep until death over the misfortune of having known each other. Do you know of any way, Milady, that we can soften our sorrow?"
"I cannot think of any way."
"And why not cast aside these heavy irons which bind both of us?"
"Do such means suit people like us? Could I dishonor the throne on which my birth placed me?"
"Why are you on this throne without me?"
"Why did you come to get me to put me on the throne?"
"Please don't remind me of such a thing. It is tearing my heart."
"Oh, my friend, let me receive from you an example of courage. Am I not more unfortunate than you? There is nobody in your life who would prevent you from keeping my image before you. You know that I cannot say as much because when it is you that I would like to hold in my arms, it is your rival that I find."
"No, of course not, I didn't use the word right. You have no rival. Could I share the heart which belongs to you entirely? My admissions are very guilty, I agree, but I forgive myself if they can calm you."
"They only inflame me more. Do you think they can make me forget my love when you admit that if some accident …"
"What are you daring to say, Thuringia? Do you think that I would let myself think such things? If my heart is to be worthy of yours, then it must be as pure as yours. We would vilify ourselves if the least criminal thought ever entered our minds. There is no doubt that being deprived of each other is cruel; but if we did anything to break the bonds which separate us, it would be much more painful."
'Well," said the marquis, "I see nothing else to do except to go away. The wars which are so frequent in our provinces offer to me the means of glory, and if they do make me forget the sentiments which nothing can extinguish, at least they will appease momentarily the sorrows which I feel."
"I forbid you to go away," said Adelaide.
"You want my unhappiness to be continually under your eyes."
"What other hand than mine can help it?"
"Grant, at least, that I see you sometimes in this same spot."
"You can count on the desire I have to see you. I will be as eager as you to find moments when it will be possible to soothe you and for us to calm each other."
At that moment Adelaide thought she saw a shadow run rapidly through the trees which were near the bird cage. She squeezed the hand of the marquis:
"We have been discovered," she said with fright.
But Thuringia, looking in the direction which she pointed out, saw nothing.
"Somebody is going through the clump of trees over there," said Adelaide. "I am sure of it."
She held back Thuringia who wanted to pursue the person.
"No," she said, "such an act would make us seem guilty. We would appear to be afraid, and we have said nothing which could cause us to blush. Let's go away by a different way, but I forbid all searches for the person who was here."
As soon as they separated, Thuringia went to tell Mersburg all about it. He did not attempt to hide the princess' severity nor that in view of her position, she took away all hope for their complete happiness.
"I am not of your opinion about the circumstances," said the count. "You can never tell. How many times we have seen happiness come at a moment when all seemed darkest."
Thuringia spoke of the shadow which Adelaide had seen and of the uneasiness which it had caused her, but the count calmed his friend in assuring him that the prince had not even left his apartments.
"But the one who has surprised us might tell him what he has heard."
"If things happened as you have said, there is no danger in telling what happened."
"Ah, my friend, do those who pretend to serve the prince always tell the truth?"