The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz/Volume One/Chapter 10
IMMEDIATELY after my arrival in Berlin I put myself in communication with several persons, who had been designated to me as trustworthy by Frau Kinkel, and by my democratic friends. I spent some time in studying them carefully, as I could not confide the purpose of my presence in Berlin to anyone of whom I might not be convinced that he would be useful in its accomplishment. After this review I told my secret to one of them only, Dr. Falkenthal, a physician who practiced and lived the life of an old bachelor in the suburb of Moabit. Falkenthal had already been in correspondence with Frau Kinkel. He had an extended acquaintance in Spandau and conducted me there to an innkeeper by the name of Krüger, for whom he vouched as a thoroughly reliable and energetic man. Mr. Krüger occupied in Spandau a highly respected position. He had for several years served his town as a member of the common council; he conducted the best hotel; he was a man of some property, and was also generally liked on account of his honorable character and his amiable disposition. Although much older than myself, we gradually became true friends. I found in him not only qualities of heart and soul thoroughly sympathetic to me, but also clear judgment, great discretion, unflinching courage, and a noble, self-sacrificing devotion. He offered me his hotel as headquarters for my enterprise.
KRÜGER, INNKEEPER AT SPANDAU
I preferred, however, not to live in Spandau, as the presence of a stranger in so small a town could not well remain a secret. To dwell in the great city of Berlin appeared to me much less dangerous, at least during the long time of preparation which my undertaking would probably require.
From Berlin to Spandau and from Spandau back to Berlin I did not avail myself of the railroad, because at the Berlin station the police examined the passcards of every traveler, even on the way-trains, and if my passport, with the name of Heribert Jüssen, issued in Cologne, appeared too frequently, it might have excited suspicion. I therefore always hired a street cab, a “droschke,” and each time a different one, on going and coming to and from Spandau, usually making the short journey during the night.
The first point to be considered was whether it would be feasible to liberate Kinkel by force. I soon convinced myself that there was no such possibility. The armed guard of the penitentiary itself consisted only of a handful of soldiers and the turnkeys on duty. It would therefore have been possible for a number of resolute men to storm the building. But it was situated in the center of a fortified town filled with soldiers, and the first signal of alarm would have attracted an overpowering force. Such a venture would therefore have been hopeless. On the other hand, we knew of cases in which prisoners, even more closely watched than Kinkel was, had escaped by breaking through barred windows and tunneling walls, and then being helped to a safe place by their friends. But this, too, seemed hardly possible in our case for several reasons, among which Kinkel's lack of skill in the use of his hands was not the least serious. In any event, it seemed prudent to try first whether or not one or the other of the officers of the penitentiary could be induced to help us. This sort of business was extremely repugnant to me. But what would I not do to save a dear friend, who had been so badly and cruelly treated, and a champion of liberty who might still be so useful to a great cause?
Krüger selected two young men, well known to him, who were in friendly intercourse with some of the officers to be taken into our confidence. Their names were Poritz and Leddihn, vigorous, strong, and true men, who confessed themselves willing to render any aid required of them in so good a work as the liberation of such a prisoner as Kinkel. They agreed to bring to me the one of the penitentiary guards who, they believed, might be most easily persuaded. Thus they introduced to me in a little beerhouse, in which I had a room to myself, a turnkey who had been, like most of his colleagues, a non-commissioned officer in the army and was now supporting a large family upon a very small salary. Poritz and Leddihn had vouched to him for my good faith, and he listened quietly to what I had to say. I presented myself as a traveler for a business house, who was closely related to the Kinkel family. I described to him the misery of the wife and the children, and how anxious they were, lest with the poor convict fare he would gradually waste away in body and mind. Would it not be possible to smuggle into Kinkel's cell from time to time a bit of meat or a glass of wine to keep up in a measure his strength, until the king's grace would take pity on him?
The turnkey thought Kinkel's lot indeed very deplorable. It would be a good work to alleviate it a little—perhaps not impossible, but perilous. He would consider what might be done. At the close of our conversation I slipped a ten-thaler note into his hand with the request that he buy with it some nourishing food for Kinkel if he could transmit it to him without danger. I intimated that business affairs required me to leave Spandau, but that I would return in a few days, to hear what report he could give about the condition of the prisoner. He could be certain of my gratitude.
Thus we parted. Three days later I went again to Spandau and met the turnkey in the same way as before. He told me he had succeeded in handing to Kinkel a sausage and a little loaf of bread, and that he had found the prisoner in comparatively good condition. He was also willing to do still more in a similar way. Of course I did not wish him to do so at his own expense, and therefore gave him a second ten-thaler note which I accompanied with the request that he deliver into Kinkel's hands a few words written on a slip of paper, and bring back to me from Kinkel a word in reply. This too he promised to do. I wrote down a few words without a signature, containing about the following: “Your friends are true to you. Keep up your courage.” It was less important to me to inform Kinkel of my presence than to satisfy myself that the turnkey had really carried out my instructions, and whether I could go farther with him.
Again I left to return in a few days. In the same manner as before my man turned up and brought me my slip of paper, which bore a word of thanks in Kinkel's hand. The turnkey had evidently kept his promise, and had thereby taken a step which compromised him greatly. Now it appeared to me time to come to the point. Thus I told him that the thought had crossed my brain what a splendid deed it would be to deliver Kinkel entirely from his dreadful situation, and, that before returning to my home on the Rhine, I thought it my duty to ask him whether this thing could not be accomplished through his aid. The man started and at once exclaimed this would be impossible; with such an attempt he could and would have nothing to do.
The mere suggestion had evidently terrified him, and I saw clearly that he was not the man whom I needed. Now I had to get rid of him and assure myself at the same time of his silence. I expressed to him my regret at his unwillingness, and added, that if he, who had been represented to me as a compassionate and at the same time courageous man, thought such an attempt hopeless, I had to accept his opinion and abandon the idea. I would therefore without delay depart for my home and not return. Then I hinted to him something about a secret and mysterious power which, if it could not liberate Kinkel, might become very dangerous to those who betrayed him. I succeeded indeed in intimidating him to such a degree that he begged me most earnestly not to bear any ill-will against him. I assured him that if he would bury in silence all that had happened, he might expect me to remain his friend. He might count even upon my further gratitude if, also, after my departure he would continue to furnish Kinkel from time to time with some nourishment. This he promised to do with demonstrative earnestness. Then I handed him another ten-thaler note and took leave of him forever.
So my first attempt had failed. I remained quiet for some days until Krüger, Leddihn and Poritz, who in the meantime had been watching the penitentiary people very carefully, communicated to me their conviction that my man had not disclosed anything. Thereupon my Spandau friends brought to me another turnkey. I began with him in the same manner as with the first, and everything seemed to progress favorably until I put the question whether or not he was willing to lend his hand in an attempt to set Kinkel free. The second man showed no more courage than the first, whereupon I dismissed him. A third man was brought, but he seemed so frightened by the first word that I did not put the decisive question to him at all.
Now it appeared to me prudent to let the affair rest for a while, at least until we could be perfectly assured that the three disquieted souls in the penitentiary had preserved silence. My sojourn in Berlin, too, began to become uncomfortable to me. The number of friends who knew of my presence in the Prussian capital had grown a little too large, and I was confronted too often by the question why I was there and what were my intentions. I therefore requested one of my friends to bid good-bye to the others in my behalf. I had departed not to return. Where I went, nobody knew. In fact, I went for a week or two to Hamburg. There I met my friend Strodtmann and got into communication with some people of our way of thinking. But the most agreeable society could not hold me long. By the end of September I returned to my work, but I did not go back to Berlin, thinking it safer to live with my friend, Dr. Falkenthal, in the suburb of Moabit.
At Spandau I received the report that everything had remained quiet. In general my secret had been well kept. To my friends in Berlin I had disappeared into regions unknown. Only one of them, a law student, by the name of Dreyer, once accidentally ran against me in Moabit. He may have had a suspicion as to what my business was, but I could firmly count upon his discretion. At a later period many persons who were entire strangers to me have stated that they were at that time in confidential relations with me, but such statements were unfounded. Even Dr. Falkenthal and Krüger did not at that time know my true name. To them I was, as my passport indicated, Heribert Jüssen, and among Dr. Falkenthal's neighbors, who sometimes saw me, I passed for a young physician assisting the doctor in his studies. To strengthen this impression I always carried a little kit of surgical instruments with me as they are frequently seen in the hands of physicians. From Moabit I made my nightly excursions as before.
After my return from Hamburg I did not at once succeed in finding among the penitentiary officials the man I wanted. A fourth was introduced to me, but he too would undertake nothing more than to smuggle into Kinkel's cell some eatables and perhaps a written communication. I began to entertain serious doubts as to whether the plan so far pursued could be successfully carried out, for the list of the turnkeys was nearly exhausted. Then suddenly and unexpectedly I found the helper whom I had so long looked for in vain. My Spandau friends made me acquainted with Officer Brune.
At the first moment of our meeting I received from him an impression very different from that which his colleagues had made upon me. He too had been a non-commissioned officer in the army; he too had wife and children and a miserable salary like the others. But in his bearing there was nothing of the servile humility so frequently found among subalterns. When I talked to him of Kinkel and of my desire to alleviate his misery at least a little by conveying to him additional fare, Brune's face expressed none of the pitiable embarrassment of the man who is vacillating between his sense of duty and a ten-thaler note. Brune stood firmly upright like a man who is not ashamed of what he is willing to do. He talked with astonishing frankness without waiting for the gradual advance of my suggestions.
“Certainly,” he said, “I will help as much as I can. It is a shame and a disgrace that so learned and worthy a gentleman should sit here among common rogues in this penitentiary. I would gladly help him out myself, if I had not to take care of my wife and children.”
His indignation at the treatment Kinkel had received appeared so honest, and the whole manner of the man expressed so much courage and self-respect that I thought I might come to the point with him without circumlocution. And thus I told him point-blank that if the support of his family was his greatest trouble, I would be able to overcome that difficulty. Assured of this, would he then, I asked, be willing to lend a hand to Kinkel's escape?
“If it can be done,” he answered; “but you know it is a difficult and dangerous thing. I will consider whether and how it may be done. Give me three days' time to think it over.”
“Good” I replied. “do think it over; to judge from your accent you are a Westphalian.”
“Yes, born near Soest.”
“Then we are near neighbors; I am a Rhinelander. In three days then.”
Those were three long days which I passed in Dr. Falkenthal's quarters. I sought to soothe my impatience by reading Dumas' “Three Musketeers” and a large part of Lamartine's history of the Girondists. But the book would fall again and again into my lap and my thoughts roam abroad.
On the evening of the third day I went again to Spandau and a heavy burden fell from my heart at Brune's first word.
“I have thought it over,” he said. “I think we can do it.”
I had to restrain myself for joy. Brune explained how some night in the near future, when the watch in the upper story of the penitentiary would be his and a certain other officer would be in the lower story, he might possess himself of the necessary keys and conduct Kinkel to the gate of the building. The plan, as he laid it before me, the details of which I shall return to later, appeared feasible.
But not until the night from the 5th to the 6th of November would the night watches be as he would have them. This suited me, for I too wanted some time for necessary preparations.
Then I informed Brune what provision I would be able to make for his family. A sum of money was at my disposal which was contributed partly by German democrats, partly by personal admirers of Kinkel, among them the Russian Baroness Brüning, of whom I shall have more to say. This enabled me to offer to Brune a decent compensation. Brune was content. The question whether it would be best to ship him and his family to America he rejected at once. Perhaps he hoped to remain undiscovered as a participant in our enterprise or he preferred, in case of discovery, to suffer his punishment and to keep his family in the Fatherland.
Thus we were agreed. Now the important preparations were taken in hand. Frau Kinkel had instructed me to call personally for the sum of money at my disposal at the residence of a lady in Berlin, a friend of hers who was a relative of the celebrated Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. It was in the dusk of evening that I arrived at this lady's house. I was received by a somewhat solemn footman to whom I gave my name Heribert Jüssen. He showed me into a large drawing-room, in which everything—furniture, pictures, books, musical instruments—breathed comfort and refinement. I had to wait a little while, and the contrast between my own wild business and these peaceable and elegant surroundings became very sensible to me. At last a lady clad in black entered, whose features I could just discern in the twilight. She was no longer young nor altogether beautiful. But her presence radiated a rare charm. In her hand she carried a large pocketbook.
“You bring me greetings from a Rhineland friend?” she said with one of those mellow voices that touch the soul like a benefaction.
“Yes, cordial greetings,” I replied, “from a friend who asked me to beg you for a package of valuable papers which she had put into your hands for safe-keeping.”
“I knew that you would come at about this time,” the lady replied. “In this pocketbook you will find all. I do not know your plans, but they must be good. You have my warmest wishes; God protect and bless you.” Then she reached out to me her slender hand with a warm pressure, and I felt, after having left her, that her blessing had already become a reality.
That money was a heavy care to me. Never had I borne any responsibility of this kind for the property of others. In order not to expose this precious treasure to any accident, I carried it constantly with me tightly sewed in the inside pocket of my waistcoat.
The difficult task which I had still to perform before the decisive hour consisted in arranging for means of transportation to a safe place of refuge. Where should we turn after the escape of the prisoner? The frontiers of Switzerland, Belgium and France were too far away. We could not venture upon so long a journey through a hostile country. Nothing remained, therefore, but to try to reach the seacoast somewhere in order to cross over to England. After due consideration I concluded that the government would certainly take all precautions to watch every outgoing vessel in the harbors of Bremen and Hamburg. It appeared therefore prudent to choose another seaport, and so I turned to Mecklenburg. We had an influential and true friend in Rostock in the eminent jurist and president of the house of delegates, Moritz Wiggers, with whom I had become personally acquainted at the democratic congress in Braunschweig. I might also hope to reach Rostock more quickly than any other port—for we could not trust ourselves to the railroads—and the journey to Rostock offered the advantage that if we left Spandau about midnight, we might hope to cross the Mecklenburg frontier and thus to be beyond the immediate pursuit by the Prussian police about daybreak. I had also on my list of reliable persons a very considerable number of Mecklenburgers to whom I could apply for assistance.
I now set out to travel along the road which I had resolved to take, in order to make the necessary arrangements as to relays of horses and carriages for the decisive night and the day following. Of course, we could use only private carriages with, if possible, the owners on the box. Until then I had succeeded in keeping my secret within a very narrow circle of participants. But now it was necessary to draw a larger number of persons into confidence, and thus the danger grew in proportion. What I feared most was not malicious treachery, but excessive and indiscreet zeal. Everywhere I was met with hearty cordiality, and this cordiality was not confined to persons of the same political belief.
Of this I had a surprising example. My democratic friends had designated as specially trustworthy and helpful a gentleman living in the interior of Mecklenburg who was not on my list. I visited him and was very kindly received. He also assured me without hesitation of his willing assistance in the arrangement for relays. Then our conversation turned upon politics, and to my indescribable astonishment, my new friend declared to me that he considered our democratic ideas as well meant but as vain phantasies. He became quite eloquent in setting forth his opinion that human society would appear most delightful and would also be most happy if it were as variegated and checkered as possible in its division into estates and classes and ranks and conditions and callings, with princes, knights, merchants, clergymen, tradesmen, peasants, each and all with different rights and duties. Even monasteries he would have preserved with their abbots and abbesses, monks and nuns. In short, of all phases of human civilization the Middle Ages seemed to him the most congenial. “You see,” he added with a kindly smile, “I am what you would call a full-blooded reactionary, and I don't believe at all in your liberty and equality and that sort of thing. But that they have put Kinkel, a poet and a sage, into a penitentiary on account of his idealistic imaginings, that is a revolting scandal, and although I am a good conservative Mecklenburger, I am at all times ready to help Kinkel out.”
So we parted in the warmest agreement. But after all I did not feel quite comfortable about my new friend, and I talked afterwards with my democratic associates in Mecklenburg of the curious speeches of this gentleman and of my anxiety about him. “Do not borrow any trouble on that score,” was the answer. “He is indeed a very curious saint and talks amazing stuff. But when there is a good deed to be done, he is as true as gold.” And so he proved to be.
After a journey of several days my relays were arranged, and I could hope that a drive of less than thirty hours would take us from Spandau to Rostock. There we might confide ourselves to our good friends until a vessel should be ready to take us across the sea. To carry us from Spandau to the first relay, Krüger applied to a well-to-do farmer in the neighborhood by the name of Hensel, who had fast horses and would be glad to put them and his carriage and himself as driver at our disposal.
On November 4 I took leave of Dr. Falkenthal. He was acquainted with my plans in general, but I had not thought it necessary to initiate him into all the details. So he did not know the exact night in which the attempt was to be made, and he was also discreet enough not to ask me about it. But in bidding me farewell, he gave me a brace of pistols, which might serve me in close quarters. Arrived in Spandau on the evening of November 4, I had a conversation with Brune, in which we talked over the details of our scheme, in order to assure ourselves that nothing had been neglected. Everything seemed to be in order.
Our programme disposed of, Brune said: “There is one more thing of which I do not like to speak.”
I listened with some surprise. “What is it?”
“You have my fullest confidence,” Brune continued. “What you have promised to do for my family that you will honestly do—if you can.”
“Certainly I can. I have the means in my possession.”
“That is not what I mean,” Brune objected. “If everything goes well to-morrow night, then I am as sure of the money as if I had it in my pocket. That I know. But maybe all will not go well. The thing is dangerous. Accident may have its play. Something human can happen to you and to me too, in fact, to both of us. And what will then become of my family, my wife and my children?”
He was silent for a moment and so was I. “Now, what further?” I asked.
“Considering the matter calmly,” Brune slowly answered, “you will see yourself that the money must be in the hands of my family before I risk my head.”
“You tell me yourself that I must consider this thing,” I said with some hesitation. “Let me do so and I shall give you my answer as soon as possible. In the meantime will you prepare everything according to our agreement?”
“You may depend upon it.”
Then we wished each other good-night.
The hour I spent after this in the solitude of my room in Krüger's hotel, taking counsel with myself, I have never forgotten.
The money, according to my notions an enormous sum, had been confided to me for a specific purpose; should it be lost without having accomplished this purpose, then it was all over with Kinkel, for such a sum could hardly be raised for him a second time. My personal honor would also be lost, for I would then have upon me a suspicion of dishonesty or at least a reproach of guilty recklessness. And was it not really great recklessness to confide this trust fund, upon a mere promise, without further guarantee, to a man who after all was a stranger to me? What did I really know of Brune? Nothing but that his face and his utterances had made upon me a most favorable impression and that he was held in good repute by his acquaintances. And these acquaintances had told me that they would have brought Brune first to me had they not thought that a man like him would hardly consider such a proposition. Indeed, they had added, that if he did it, he might be absolutely trusted. But was not the opportunity to appropriate to himself such a sum of money and then to manifest his official fidelity by delivering me up to the police, to a person in his situation, in the highest degree seductive? And would not he, if he contemplated such a treachery, act exactly as Brune had done? Had he not by the most positive promises and by apparent preparations excited my hopes to the utmost, to the end of inducing me by some clever pretext to deliver to him the money, and then to ruin me all the more easily?
On the other hand, could Brune, were he ever so honest, really act differently? Could he expose his wife and his children to the chance of accident? Was he not obliged in order to secure the future of his family to demand the money in advance? Would I not do the same in his situation? Furthermore, did Brune seem like a traitor? Could a traitor look into my eyes and speak to me as Brune had done? Was his straightforward, frank, candid, even proud bearing that of a man who would entice another into an ambush to rob him? Impossible.
And finally, how could I hope to win if I did not dare? Should I abandon the liberation of my friend because I would deny to Brune the request which everybody else would make to me under similar circumstances? Yes, it was clear, if I would save Kinkel from his dreadful fate, I had to risk if necessary even my honor.
The thought to deposit the money for Brune in a third person's hand had occurred to me, but I rejected it, partly because that might have led to further complications; partly, also, because if I must dare, I preferred to dare in a manner which Brune would take as proof of my absolute confidence in his integrity.
I reminded myself that the war in Schleswig-Holstein was still going on. In the Schleswig-Holstein army, I thought, I might enlist as a volunteer under an assumed name and seek my fate on the field of battle, should the enterprise in Spandau miscarry, and the money be lost, and I at the same time escape. My friends would then at least believe in my honesty. This was the reasoning that led me to the decision to hand over the money to Brune before the fulfillment of his promise. I had just formed this conclusion when Krüger knocked at my door and said that Poritz and Leddihn were below; was there still anything more they could do for me?
“Yes,” I answered. “I would ask them to bring Brune to me once again in a quarter of an hour to the Heinrich Platz.”
Brune came with my friends. I took him aside.
“Mr. Brune,” I said, “I will not let you go to bed with a load of doubt on your heart. We have spoken about the money. That money is a treasure confided to me. My honor hangs on it. Everything I trust to you—money, honor, freedom, all. You are a brave man. I wish to say to you still this night that to-morrow evening at five o'clock I shall bring the money to your quarters.”
Brune was silent for a moment. At last he heaved a sigh and replied: “I would probably have done it without this. To-morrow at midnight your friend Kinkel will be a free man.”
I passed the larger part of the following day with Krüger, Leddihn, and Poritz, in going over the chances of our enterprise, in order to make provision for all not yet foreseen accidents. At last the evening came. I put the money for Brune into a cigar box and went to his dwelling. I found him alone in his scantily furnished but neat living-room, and handed the cigar box to him with: “Here it is; count it.”
“There you do not know me,” he answered; “if between us a mere word were not sufficient, we should not have begun together. What comes from you, I don't count.”
“Is there anything to change in our plan?”
“To-night, and good luck!”
Indeed, we had good reason to be confident of the success of our plan, barring incalculable accidents. The penitentiary building was situated in the center of the town, a large, barrack-like edifice, the bare walls of which were pierced by one large gate and a multitude of narrow slits of windows. On all four sides it was surrounded by streets. The entrance was on the main street. It led into a large gateway. Inside of that gateway there was, on the right, a door opening into the official dwelling of the director of the institution, and on the left a door leading into the guardroom of the soldiers on duty in the prison. At the end of the passage a third door opened upon an inner court. A stone staircase leading up from the hall united the lower with the upper stories. High up on the second story was Kinkel's cell. It had a window towards the rear of the edifice. This window was guarded by a screen which opened upwards so that a little daylight fell in from above and only a small bit of sky could be seen, but nothing of the surroundings below. The window was also guarded by strong iron bars, wire lattice and a wooden shutter, which was closed at night—in short, by all the contrivances that are usually employed to shut off a prisoner from all communication with the outside world. Moreover, the cell was divided into two compartments by a strong wooden railing, which reached from the floor to the ceiling. One of the compartments contained Kinkel's bed; in the other, during the day, he did his work. The two compartments were united by a door in the wooden railing, which every evening was securely fastened. The entrance to the cell from the corridor was guarded by two heavy doors, with several locks. In the street, under Kinkel's cell, stood day and night a sentinel. Another sentinel watched during the daytime the door of the building on the main street, but he was transferred to the inner court during the night—a regulation which proved very important to us. Had it not been for this stupid arrangement we would never have attempted what we did. The cell, the doors, the locks on the railings, were all examined several times every twenty-four hours by the turnkeys on duty.
The keys to Kinkel's cell, as well as those to the door in the inside wooden railing, were during the night, after Kinkel had been locked up in his compartment, kept in a locker in the room of the inspector, the so-called Revier room. As Brune had no access to the Revier room during the night, and the key had been confided to another superior officer, he had availed himself of some opportunity to procure a wax impression of that key, from which a duplicate key was made, enabling Brune to enter the Revier room during the night. The key to the locker containing the keys to Kinkel's cell was, as Brune knew, in the evening negligently put on top of that locker, so that without difficulty he could possess himself of the keys to the cell. Thus Brune believed himself fully able to enter the cell during the night and to take the prisoner out. It had been agreed that Brune, who had the watch of the night of the 5th to the 6th of November on Kinkel's corridor, should bring Kinkel down the stairs into the gateway. He was sure that he could take him without danger past the turnkey watching the lower floor. Whether he intended to interest that man in our affair, or to divert his attention in some manner, Brune did not tell me. He only assured me I might depend upon there being no difficulty about this. As soon as Kinkel was conducted into the gateway below, I was to be there to receive him. In one of the wings of the great door that opened upon the main street there was a little postern gate to facilitate the daily passage in and out. Of the key of this postern gate we had also procured a wax impression, and from it a duplicate key. Now, it was to be my task, shortly after midnight, after the town night watchman—for in Spandau there was at that time still a night watchman with spear and rattle—had passed by the building on the street, to open the postern gate, to step into the interior of the gateway, there to await Brune and Kinkel, to wrap Kinkel up in a cloak, to take him through the postern gate into the street and to hurry with him to Krüger's hotel, where he was to put on a suit of clothes, and then step with me into Hensel's carriage—and away.
I had asked Brune to provide Kinkel with a plentiful supply of food, so that he might be in a good physical condition. But to avoid long excitement, Kinkel was to be informed only on the evening of the 5th of November, the night of the attempt, that something was being done for him, and that he should go to bed at the accustomed hour, rise immediately before midnight, dress himself and be ready for the venture.
On the same day Leddihn and Poritz had entrusted two good, able-bodied friends with the charge of guarding the street corners nearest to the penitentiary during the night and to come to our aid if necessary. About midnight all my people were at their posts, and after the night watchman had passed down the street I approached the door of the penitentiary. I had covered my feet with rubber shoes, so as to make my step inaudible. A second pair of rubber shoes I had with me for Kinkel. In my belt I carried the pistols given to me by Dr. Falkenthal; in one pocket a well-sharpened dirk and in another a slungshot, with which to arm Kinkel in case of stress. I had thrown across my shoulders a large cloak with sleeves, which should serve Kinkel as a first wrap. So equipped I softly opened the postern gate to step into the gateway of the prison. I left that little gate ajar and the key sticking in the lock. The gateway was dimly lighted by a lantern hanging from the ceiling. My first task was to prevent the opening from the inside of the director's door on the right, and of the guardroom door on the left, and I did so by tying the doorhandles to the iron fastening of the bell rope with stout strings. This was the most delicate piece of work I had to do. Nothing moved. My gaze was riveted on the end of the passage opposite where Brune was to appear with Kinkel.
So I waited. One minute elapsed after another, but all remained still. I waited a full quarter of an hour, but nothing stirred. What did this mean? According to all calculations they ought to have joined me some time ago. My situation began to appear to me very precarious. Was Brune after all faithless? I took one of my pistols out of my belt and held it in my left hand ready to fire, and my dirk in the right. But I resolved to remain at my post until I could say to myself that the last chance of success was gone. Half an hour had passed and still everything was quiet as the grave. Suddenly I heard a faint rustle, and at the other end of the gateway I saw a dark figure appear like a specter as if it had stepped out of the wall. My hands closed more tightly on my weapons. The next moment I recognized in the dim light the form of Brune. There he was at last, but alone. He put his finger upon his lips and approached me. I awaited him ready for the worst.
“I am unfortunate,” he whispered with his mouth at my ear. “I have tried everything, I have failed. The keys were not in the locker. Come to me to-morrow and get your money back.”
I said nothing in reply, but quickly untied the strings from the door handles, right and left, and then stepped out through the postern gate, locked it, and put the key into my pocket. I was hardly on the street when Leddihn and Poritz hastened to join me. With a few words I told them what had happened. “We were afraid you had been trapped,” said Leddihn. “You stayed so long inside that we were on the point of coming after you to fetch you out.”
Soon we reached Krüger's hotel, where Hensel stood ready with his carriage to take Kinkel and me away. The disappointment that followed my report was terrible.
“But there is something more to do this night,” said I, “for my relays stand on the road deep into Mecklenburg. We must order them off.”
I stepped into the carriage, an open vehicle with a top over the back seat. Hensel took the reins, and so we drove away. It was a melancholy journey. We were on the road something over three hours when we observed sparks of fire sputtering from a black object that came toward us. We quickly recognized it to be a carriage. I had steel and flint at hand and also struck sparks. This was the signal of recognition that I had agreed upon with my Mecklenburg friends. The carriage coming toward us stopped and so did we.
“Is this the right one?” asked a voice. This was the concerted question.
“It is the right one,” I replied, “but our enterprise has failed. Pray turn back and advise the next relay and request our friends there to pass on the word in this way. But for Heaven's sake keep silent about the rest, lest all may be lost.”
“Of course, but what a confounded disappointment! How did the failure happen?”
“Another time. Good-night.”
The two carriages turned. We drove back in the direction of Spandau, but very slowly, almost as if a part of a funeral procession, both sitting silent. I tormented myself with the gravest reproaches. Could not the unfortunate accident that had crossed our plan easily have been prevented? Could we not have duplicated the keys to the cell as well as those to the postern gate and the Revier room? Certainly. But why had this not been done? Why had Brune not thought of it? But as Brune had not done so, was it not my duty to see to it? I had neglected that duty. Mine, mine only, was the fault of this terrible miscarriage. Mine the responsibility that Kinkel was not now a free man hurrying to the seacoast behind fleet horses. The fruit of long and dangerous labor had recklessly been jeopardized by my negligence. Would I ever be able again to reknit the torn threads of the scheme? And, if so, was it not probable that through the improvidence of some one of the participants rumors of what had happened would get abroad and Kinkel would be surrounded with the severest measures of precaution and even carried into another and more secure dungeon? But if nothing of this did happen—where was the money entrusted to me? No longer in my possession—in the hands of another man who might keep it if he would, and I perfectly powerless to recover it. And thus Kinkel's horrible lot might be sealed forever through my guilt. Thus my conscience put itself to the rack in that terrible night.
At last Hensel interrupted the silence. “How would it be,” he said, “if we stopped for a few hours in Oranienburg? We could there feed our horses, sleep a little, and then comfortably drive on.”
I was content. I began to feel very much exhausted; and then, if of last night's happenings anything had got abroad in Spandau and thereby any danger threatened, the prudent and watchful Krüger, I felt sure, would send somebody to find us on the road and to give warning.
It was very dark when we arrived at a hotel in Oranienburg. After I had permitted my thoughts to torment me a little longer, I fell asleep at last. When I awoke light shone through the windows of my room, and with me awoke also the consciousness of the whole weight of our failure, with even greater clearness than during the past night. Such awakenings belong to the unhappiest moments of human life. We breakfasted late, and it was on this occasion that for the first time I saw my companion, Mr. Hensel, in clear daylight. I had met him at Krüger's and on our night drive only in the dark. The stately broad-shouldered figure and the long dark beard had then struck my attention; but I could now see the clear, shrewd, and at the same time bold, sparkle of his eyes, and the expression of his face, which betokened a strong will as well as sincerity and kindness of heart. Hensel observed that I was in low spirits and tried to put a pleasant face upon things. He thought that our friends in Spandau were not only faithful, but also discreet, that the officers of the penitentiary in their own interest would keep silent, and that a new attempt would soon be possible. I willingly agreed with him. In fact I was busily thinking of what was now to be done, and such a thought is always the most effective antidote for discouragements. I have frequently in life had the experience that when we are struck by an especially heavy blow, we can do nothing better than to present to our minds all, even the worst, possible features of trouble that may still be in store for us, and so in our imagination drink the cup of bitterness down to the last drop; but then to turn our thoughts to the future and to occupy them entirely with that which must be done to prevent further misfortune, to repair the damage done, and to replace what has been lost by something equally desirable. This is a sure and rapid cure; for the consequences of the misfortune hardly ever will be as disastrous as imagined. Of course, I do not apply this to the loss of one very dear.
In returning to Spandau we were in no hurry. We even thought that it would be more prudent to arrive there in the dark, and therefore started only after noon at a slow trot. Arrived in Spandau, I learned from Krüger that all had remained quiet. I forthwith went to Brune's rooms. I found him there, evidently expecting me. The little cigar box stood on the table.
“That was cursed ill-luck last night,” he said, “but it was not my fault. Everything was in the best of order, but as I opened the locker in the Revier room I could not find the keys to the cell. I searched and searched for them, but they were not there. This morning I learned that Inspector Semmler had accidentally, instead of placing them in the locker, put them into his pocket and carried them with him to his home.”
For a moment he was silent. “There is the money,” he continued, pointing to the cigar box; “take it; count it first; no thaler is missing.”
I could not refrain from shaking the man's hand and in my heart asking his pardon for my doubts.
“What comes from you,” I answered, repeating his words of yesterday, “will not be counted. But what now? I do not give up. Must we wait until you have the night watch again?”
“We might wait,” he replied, “and in the meantime duplicate all the keys that we need so that this difficulty may not arise again; but,” he added, “I have thought over the matter to-day. It is a disgrace that that man should sit in the convict's cell a day longer—I will try to help him this very night, if he has courage enough for a break-neck feat.”
“What, this night?”
“Yes, this night. Now listen.” Then Brune told me that the officer who during the coming night should have the watch on the upper stories, had been taken ill, and he, Brune, had offered to take his place. Thereupon he had thought he might without much difficulty take Kinkel into the loft under the roof and let him down with a rope from out of one of the dormer windows on the street. To this end he would of course again require the keys to the cell, but after the accident of last night, when the inspector took them home with him through mere thoughtlessness, they would certainly be again in their accustomed place. I should only see to it that the street below was kept free, while Kinkel was let down from the roof, and that he then be promptly received and carried off. “It is a somewhat perilous undertaking,” Brune added; “from the dormer window down to the street it may be sixty feet, but if the Herr Professor has courage, I think we may succeed.”
“I vouch for Kinkel's courage,” I said; “what does not a prisoner dare for liberty?”
The details were rapidly considered and determined upon. I undertook to procure the necessary rope for Brune. He was to wind it about his body under the overcoat and take it into the penitentiary building in that way. About midnight I was to be in the dark recess of the door of the house opposite the gate of the penitentiary, from which I could observe the dormer windows of the building; when in one of them I should see the light of a lantern move up and down perpendicularly, three times, that would be a sign that everything was in order for the descent. If standing in my sheltered place I then struck sparks with my steel and flint, Brune would understand from this signal that everything was in safe order on the street.
With a hearty handshake I took leave of Brune and hurried to Krüger's hotel. Poritz and Leddihn, whom I had quickly sent for, procured at once a rope of the necessary length and strength, and carried it to Brune's dwelling. But after freeing Kinkel how should we get him away from Spandau? I had no relays of horses and carriages on the road; the preceding night everything had fitted in so excellently, but now? Fortunately Hensel was still in Krüger's house. When I told him what was to happen in the next few hours, he broke out in loud jubilation.
“I will take you with my own horses as far as they can travel,” he exclaimed.
“But our nearest friend is in Neu-Strelitz,” I replied; “that is a good many miles from here. Will your horses hold out that distance?”
“The devil take them if they don't,” said Hensel. We resolved then to risk it and to confide ourselves to benignant fate. A short conversation with Poritz and Leddihn followed about the measures necessary to keep the streets clear of unwelcome intruders, while Kinkel was swinging down on his rope. Those measures were simple. My friends were to occupy the street corners with their stalwart fellows whom they had already employed last night, and if some belated reveler should show himself, they were to simulate intoxication and use all sorts of means to divert the unwelcome person from our path. In case of necessity they were to use force. Poritz and Leddihn vouched for everything.
“Happy coincidence,” chuckled Krüger. “This evening some of the officers of the penitentiary are to celebrate a birthday in this hotel. There will be a bowl of punch, and I will make that punch especially irresistible.”
“And you will detain those officers long enough?”
“You may be sure of that. Not one of them will cross your way.” This prospect put us into the best of humor, and we had a cosy little supper together. Our thoughts were, however, constantly directed to the accidents that might again play mischief with us, and fortunately an important possibility occurred to us.
At the time of Kinkel's descent from the dormer window hanging on his rope, the rubbing of the rope against the edge of the brick wall might easily loosen tiles and brick which then would fall down and produce a loud clatter. We therefore resolved that Hensel should take his carriage immediately after midnight slowly along the street so that the rattle of the vehicle on the rough cobblestone pavement might drown all other noises.
Shortly before midnight I stood, equipped as on the night before, well hidden in the dark recess of the house door opposite the penitentiary. The street corners right and left were, according to agreement, properly watched, but our friends kept themselves as much as possible concealed. A few minutes later the night watchman shuffled down the street and when immediately in front of me swung his rattle and called the hour of twelve. Then he slouched quietly on and disappeared. What would I have given for a roaring storm and a splashing rain! But the night was perfectly still. My eye was riveted to the roof of the penitentiary building, the dormer windows of which I could scarcely distinguish. The street lights flared dimly. Suddenly there appeared a light above by which I could observe the frame of one of the dormer windows; it moved three times up and down; that was the signal hoped for. With an eager glance I examined the street right and left. Nothing stirred. Then on my part I gave the signal agreed upon, striking sparks. A second later the light above disappeared and I perceived a dark object slowly moving across the edge of the wall. My heart beat violently and drops of perspiration stood upon my forehead. Then the thing I had apprehended actually happened: tiles and brick, loosened by the rubbing rope, rained down upon the pavement with a loud clatter. “Now, good Heaven, help us!” At the same moment Hensel's carriage came rumbling over the cobblestones. The noise of the falling tiles and brick was no longer audible. But would they not strike Kinkel's head and benumb him? Now the dark object had almost reached the ground. I jumped forward and touched him; it was indeed my friend, and there he stood alive and on his feet. “This is a bold deed,” were the first words he said to me. “Thank God,” I answered. “Now off with the rope and away.” I labored in vain to untie the rope that was wound around his body.
[Illustration by Charlotte Weber-Ditzler]
“I cannot help you,” Kinkel whispered, “for the rope has fearfully lacerated both my hands.” I pulled out my dirk and with great effort I succeeded in cutting the rope, the long end of which, as soon as it was free, was quickly pulled up. While I threw a cloak around Kinkel's shoulders and helped him get into the rubber shoes he looked anxiously around. Hensel's carriage had turned and was coming slowly back.
“What carriage is that?” Kinkel asked.
Dark figures showed themselves at the street corners and approached us.
“For Heaven's sake, what people are those?”
At a little distance we heard male voices sing, “Here we sit gayly together.”
“What is that?” asked Kinkel, while we hurried through a side street toward Krüger's hotel.
“Your jailers around a bowl of punch.”
“Capital!” said Kinkel. We entered the hotel through a back door and soon found ourselves in a room in which Kinkel was to put on the clothes that we had bought for him—a black cloth suit, a big bear-skin overcoat, and a cap like those worn by Prussian forest officers. From a room near by sounded the voices of the revelers. Krüger, who had stood a few minutes looking on while Kinkel was exchanging his convict's garb for an honest man's dress, suddenly went out with a peculiarly sly smile. When he returned carrying a few filled glasses, he said, “Herr Professor, in a room near by some of your jailers are sitting around a bowl of punch. I have just asked them whether they would not permit me to take some for a few friends of mine who have just arrived. They had no objection. Now, Herr Professor, let us drink your health first out of the bowl of your jailers.” We found it difficult not to break out in loud laughter. Kinkel was now in his citizen's clothes, and his lacerated hands were washed and bandaged with handkerchiefs. He thanked his faithful friends with a few words which brought tears to their eyes. Then we jumped into Hensel's vehicle. The penitentiary officers were still singing and laughing around their punch bowl.
We had agreed that our carriage should leave Spandau through the Potsdam gate which opens upon the road to Hamburg, and then turn in a different direction in order to mislead the pursuit that was sure to follow. So we rattled at a fast trot through the gate, and this ruse succeeded so well that, as we learned later, we were really the next day, in accordance with the report of the guard at the gate, pursued in the direction of Hamburg. Before we reached the little town of Nauen we turned to the right on a field road and reached the BerlinStrelitz turnpike near the Sandkrug. Our bays made the best of their speed.
Only when the keen night air touched his face, Kinkel seemed to come to a clear consciousness of what had happened. “I would like to hold your hand in mine,” he said, “but I cannot; my hands are too much torn.”
He then put his arm around me and pressed me once and again. I would not let him express his gratitude in words, but told him how the night before everything had been so well arranged, and how our plan had been crossed by an unfortunate accident, and what a mournful ride I had had in the same carriage only twenty-four hours before.
“That was the most terrible night of my life,” said Kinkel. “After Brune had instructed me to hold myself ready, I waited for the appointed hour with the most confident expectation. Before midnight I was up. I listened as only an ear practiced in long isolation can listen. Now and then I heard a distinct noise of steps in the corridors, but they would not approach. I heard the clocks outside strike the hours. When midnight was past the thought first rose in me: ‘Is it possible that this should fail?’ Minute after minute went by, and all remained quiet. Then I was seized by an anguish which I cannot describe. The perspiration dropped from my forehead. Until one o'clock I had still a little hope, but when even then Brune did not come I gave up everything for lost. The most gruesome pictures rose in my imagination. The whole design had surely been discovered. You were in the hands of the police and also imprisoned for many years. I saw myself a miserable wreck in convict's garb. My wife and my children perished in misery. I shook the rails in my cell like a madman. Then I dropped exhausted upon my straw bed. I believe I was nearly insane.”
“Well, and this night?”
“Oh, this night,” Kinkel exclaimed, “I could hardly trust my eyes and ears when Brune with a lantern in his hand came into my cell and whispered to me, ‘Get up quickly, Herr Professor; now you shall get out.’ That was an electric shock. In a moment I was on my feet, but do you know that to-night again everything was on the point of going wrong?”
I listened eagerly, and again and again a cold shiver ran down my back as Kinkel proceeded with his story. Half an hour before midnight Brune was in Kinkel's cell. This time he had found the keys in the locker and had opened with two of them the cell doors. After having called Kinkel up, he attempted to open, with a third key, the door in the wooden railing. He tried and tried, but in vain. The key did not fit. Afterwards it appeared that the key with which Brune tried to open the cell door belonged to the window shutters, but that one of the keys for the doors of the cell also opened the door of the wooden railing. Thus Brune had the true key in his hand without knowing it or without thinking of it in the excitement. So Kinkel stood on one and Brune on the other side of the wooden railing, baffled and for a moment utterly bewildered. Then Kinkel grasped with the strength of despair one of the wooden rails, trying to break it by throwing the whole weight of his body against it, but in vain. Brune worked hard with his sword to the same end, also in vain. Then he said: “Herr Professor, you shall get out to-night even if it costs me my life.” He left the cell and in a minute returned with an ax in his hand. With a few vigorous blows two of the rails were cut loose. Using the ax as a lever he effected an opening which just permitted Kinkel's broad-shouldered body to pass through. But had not the blows of Brune's ax alarmed the whole house? The two listened with suspended breath. All remained quiet. In fact, Brune had been no less prudent than daring. Before he swung his ax he had carefully closed the two thick doors of the cell. The sound of the blows which filled the interior of the cell was, as to the outside, very much deadened by the thick walls and by the heavy doors. They not only had not wakened any of the sleepers, but had not reached those that were awake, or if they did make any impression, it was as if the noise had come from the outside of the building.
Now Brune left the cell with Kinkel, the doors of which he again locked. Then they had to walk through corridors, up and down various stairways, and even to pass a night watchman. By Brune's clever management they succeeded in doing this. At last they reached the loft under the roof and the dormer window, through which the dangerous ride through the air had to be undertaken. Kinkel confessed to me that he was seized with a dizzy horror when he looked down upon the street below and then upon the thin rope which was to bear him; but when he saw my sparkling signal, the meaning of which Brune explained to him in a whisper, he regained his composure and boldly swung out over the precipice. At once the tiles and bricks began to rain about his head, but none of them struck him, only the hands which at first had taken too high a hold on the rope and through which it had to glide, suffered grievously. That was, however, a slight wound for so hard a struggle and so great a victory.
When Kinkel finished his narrative, Hensel took out of the hamper one of the bottles of precious Rhine wine that Krüger had provided us with for our journey, and we drank to the health of the brave Brune, without whose resoluteness and fidelity all our plans and labors would have come to nothing. It was a happy, enthusiastic moment, which made us almost forget that so long as we were on German soil the danger was not over, and our success not yet complete.