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THE PREACHER'S DAUGHTER.
AN UNPUBLISHED ANECDOTE OF FREDERICK THE GREAT.
In the year 1821, during a tour I was making in the north of Germany, an accident introduced me to a clergyman, who invited me to spend a few days with him in the country. The second day of my stay was to be devoted to an excursion in the neighbouring mountains, whence a glorious view could be enjoyed of the Frische Haff and the littoral of Pomerania.
We had, however, scarce quitted the rectory, when my new friend attracted my attention to an old man who was sitting on the root of a tree, and smoking his pipe with apparently the greatest contentment, while his geese were feeding on the grassy borders of the wide village
"Look there," the clergyman said; "that old man is the only living witness of a trait of iron justice in the life of Frederick the Great which but very few are acquainted with. Halloh! Father Frank, do you remember bringing the baron home from Stettin ?"
"How could I forget it," the old man replied, as he doffed his cap reverentially; "I was a young fellow of about twenty-five at the time." "Did he swear at all?" my friend asked further.
"I should think so," the old man said with a laugh; "he raved furiously the whole distance, especially when the carriage drove over the pine-roots on the heath."
"Yes," my friend replied, "you may laugh now, Father Frank, but in truth you ought to have shared the baron's punishment, for I can never forgive you for helping to carry my poor predecessor out of his house in his dying moments, and placing him in the glaring sunshine."
"I was forced to do so," the old man answered; and as he pointed with his staff to a neighbouring garden, he continued: "The baron was standing behind that walnut-tree with his telescope, and if we had not placed the old gentleman on the exact spot he ordered, he would have beaten us to death. Still I shall feel sorry for it as long as I live, and cannot look at the spot without sighing. His chair was just at the very place where you are now standing, and there he died within a quarter of an
The reader may fancy that these remarks caused me to feel considerable curiosity, and we had scarce left the old man, when I begged the rector to tell me the story. He did so in the following terms:
The Baron von L-, of whom our old friend was talking, was formerly owner of this estate, and a favourite of Frederick the Great. The nearer circumstances of his introduction to the king are sufficiently remarkable to induce me to mention them. Frederick had come to inspect a morass that had been lately drained by the baron, and while waiting for fresh horses at P, he talked with the land-agent, and as he saw some gentlemen in military uniform at a little distance, he asked him, "Where have those gentlemen served ?"
The agent, who knew that the king liked a quick and ready answer,
replied, with a deep bow, "In your majesty's army;" to which the king rejoined, with equal quickness,
"Sheepshead! I am well aware that they have not served as labourers on your estate. But where is the baron ?"
The latter, however, had been delayed, and arrived just as the king was asking for him, in such a hurry that the coachman drove against a tombstone, which had been brought the day before for the grave of a lately deceased clergyman, and had been placed temporarily by the side of the road. The carriage was overturned, and the baron as well: a terrible prognostic, for he was fated to owe his ruin to the tombstone of a clergyman, though it did not occur on this occasion. On the contrary, he managed to acquire the king's favour in such a degree, that his majesty was continually sending for him to be present at the reviews in Stargardt, and eventually invested him with the then highly distinguished order, "Pour le Mérite."
Through this, however, the baron's arrogance waxed incredibly. He was not merely a tyrant whom every one in the neighbourhood feared because they knew the favour in which he stood with the king, but a still greater tyrant to all the clergy. For while he usually called the landed gentry, when speaking about them, "uncultivated clods," he also, after the fashion of the great king, termed the clergy "unreasoning brutes," and displayed his enlightenment on every occasion in a manner as ridiculous as it was insulting for education and respect could not be counted among our baron's virtues.
But of all the clergymen, his own, Thilo by name, my poor predecessor, fared the worst. He was an old man, modest in the highest degree, and put up with anything from his patron. His only daughter, Sophie, was, however, one of the most energetic women I ever saw, and even at the advanced age when I first formed her acquaintance, bore evident traces of her former beauty.
She was attached to the son of the royal forester Weiher, who lived in S, and used to visit the old pastor when he came to church. The affair was, however, not known for a long while, as Sophie always received the young fellow's ardent declarations of love with great though pretended coolness. Besides, the young man was nothing, and had nothing, and it was very doubtful whether he would succeed his father in the forestry. Such being the case, there was little to be done in those days, and it is much the same now. But it is equally true that a lover never did, and never will, trouble himself about such paltry details. It was the same with our Fritz. On one occasion, when he had brought the old pastor, or rather his daughter, a brace of wild duck, and the latter gave him a rose in return, for she had nothing else to offer, Fritz regarded it as a declaration of her love, and begged her to give him her hand and heart. The sensible girl naturally tried to persuade him of his folly, and asked him how he could support a wife.
But Fritz had his answer cut and dried.
"I have a little," he rejoined, "and you, too, my dear girl, could have three times as much as myself, if you only wished."
"I am curious to know what you mean," Sophie remarked.
Well, your father says that the baron owes him his dues for the last ten years. That would make, at the rate of sixty bushels per annum, 600
bushels, worth, at the present price of grain, about 800 crowns. that, and my little savings, we could manage. We would take a farm in the neighbourhood if I was not made assistant to my father, as I expect, and could live happily."
But Sophie rejected this idea with a smile, and expressed her opinion "that the young man could sooner shake down wheat from his beechtrees than her father get his rye from the baron."
Still the plan continually occurred to her. She begged her father to make an earnest demand for his dues from the baron; for if he were to die, and she be left a poor unprotected orphan, the hard-hearted and arrogant man would not give her a shilling more in money or money's worth. Still the old man would not consent, though she renewed her entreaties repeatedly. The next Sunday, however, the forester turned the conversation to the same subject, whence it may be presumed that his son had opened his heart to him. But it was of no avail. The old man trembled even if he heard the baron's name, and said, earnestly and simply:
"It would be of no use; I have tried to no purpose every year. But the Lord is judge of all things."
"That's all very good," the forester replied; "but I don't see what your daughter will have to live on, if you were to quit the world this day or the next. Lay a complaint against the baron, unless he listens to your reasonable demands.”
The old man shook his head and sighed, upon which the former continued:
"Well, then, I must reveal something to you, pastor; my Fritz is ashamed to do it himself."
At these words, the young folk turned as red as cherries, and Sophie ran out of the room. Fritz stopped, it is true, but did not dare to raise his head, when his father proceeded to say:
"My Fritz here and your dear daughter would gladly get married; but as they want the main thing, and I do not know whether the boy will succeed me, you could make the young couple happy if you would send in a complaint against the baron, and force him to pay you either the corn or the money. Then we would take a farm for them."
"I never heard a word of this before," my old predecessor here remarked, "and do not know a better answer to give you than one from the Bible: 'We will call the damsel, and inquire at her mouth.""
Our Fritz now regained both his heart and his feet. He ran out of the room, and, on this occasion, his power of persuasion must have been very great, for he returned in a few minutes, hand in hand with the blushing girl.
My daughter," the old man said to her, "what am I forced to hear? You never kept anything from me before, and now have made a secret of the most important thing-that you wish to be married. Is that really true, Sophie ?"
Yes, father," she replied, without affectation, "if we only knew what we should have to live on; for without some certainty, I have always told Fritz, the marriage cannot take place."
Fritz now gained heart too, and said : "But the pastor has our future
welfare in his own hands; for if you were to complain against the baron, it would be very strange if you did not get your own."
The old man, however, replied, after repeated representations, "I will sleep on it;" and would probably have done so for the rest of his days, if his daughter had left him in peace. But it seemed to him almost a crime to proceed straightway to a plaint, and an encroachment on the reverence he fancied he owed to his patron. He made one attempt more on the path of conciliation, and begged the baron, in writing, and most respectfully, to pay him the dues owing to him for nearly ten years, at the same time apologising very humbly for making the request on this occasion before Michaelmas, because his dear daughter designed to alter her condition of life.
Of course the latter knew nothing of this confidential remark, which afterwards cost her so many tears, or else she would have protested against it most solemnly. But the patron acted in the usual way; whether Michaelmas or not, he did not pay the slightest attention.
The old man was at length forced to bite into the sour apple, and yield to the repeated entreaties of his daughter. He sent in a complaint against the baron, and, by his daughter's special solicitation, not merely asked for his dues, but also complained about the wretched state of dilapidation in which the rectory was, about which repeated useless petitions had been sent to the harsh man, who allowed his preacher to live worse than his daily labourers. It is true that this was not done without a severe struggle; but as Sophie at length represented to him that the baron would be equally embittered whether he laid one or two complaints before the authorities, he seemed at last to allow the truth of this, and wrote, though not without begging the baron's pardon for each of his complaints. The result might be anticipated. The chamber, which signed itself at that day, to some purpose, We, Frederick, by God's grace," entirely shared the king's contemptuous views of the clergy, but not his love of justice towards all-among them, consequently, the pastors. The baron, on being requested to answer his rector's plaint, denied everything, asserted that he had always paid his dues regularly, and that this highly insulting charge could only be explained or excused by the fact that the old man was quite childish, and did not know what he said or wrote. He ought, at any rate, to have produced his witnesses; but, far from doing so, or being able to do it, the old lackbrains had apologised to him, his patron, in a fashion that would furnish a very poor notion of the honesty of his fancied claim. His complaint about his house was equally false; for, though it was no palace, it was still habitable enough.
He had certainly some good reasons to regard his pastor's surprising demands from a much more criminal point of view; for it was shown by the annexed letter in his handwriting, that he wished his daughter to marry, and was greatly embarrassed about-the dowry. Still he would not carry out this idea for the pastor's sake, and would rather ascribe to his age and his forgetfulness, what others perhaps would impute to his villany. Still the authorities would perceive, without it being necessary for him to call their attention to it, that it was high time to dismiss the old man, and he would, therefore, present another candidate as soon as possible.
We may easily foresee the result of this reply. The old pastor was not only refused a hearing and threatened with an ungracious dismissal, but, besides, received some reprimands of the very coarsest style, as was the fashion in that day.
"I thought it would be so!" he exclaimed, in the deepest sorrow, "and for that reason I would not write, but you forced me to do so."
The consequence of this painful excitement was a severe illness, to which the old man yielded, not immediately though, but after the forester had come to him and told both him and his daughter, with unfeeling harshness, that all idea of a marriage with his son must be given up, whether he succeeded him or not, for his son could make no use of a portionless wife.
The old pastor only replied to this by a sigh; but his daughter answered instead of him, that this was quite natural, and that she was merely surprised that the forester had not said this only to them, but had before stated publicly in the village, "If she gets the 600 bushels of rye, my Fritz will take her; if not, the bargain will be off." This had annoyed her so much, that she had determined on not being mixed up in this corn transaction, had the result been favourable to her. So much the more she now requested that the whole affair should be broken off, and his son not annoy her again under any pretext.
"That you may be assured of," the forester replied, with equal roughness; "he shan't trouble you again, or, if he does, I'll break every bone in his body. Good-by! The Lord strengthen the old man!"
Fritz, though, did come again, and that too on the next night, as he did not dare do so by day. He knocked at his beloved's little bedroom window; she recognised him immediately in the moonlight, but would not open to him. At length she did so, however, and she now heard his complaints, which were accompanied by bitter tears, and with the entreaty that she would remain faithful to him, let things happen as they would.
But she replied boldly, "Fritz, our connexion is broken off for ever. Farewell, and do not dare to knock at my window a second time by night; I give you my word, that if you do, I will write to your father the next morning. So now, farewell, and may the Lord guide you, and preserve your father longer to you than He will mine to me."
With these words she sighed and closed the window, and spite of all poor Fritz's entreaties, could not be induced to open it again, but went into her father's room, whom she heard sighing and groaning.
On the next morning, however, she was destined to suffer still more. The baron no sooner heard of the old man's serious illness, than he spitefully sent a message to him: "He would have the goodness to leave his house next morning, for the rectory was going to be pulled down, and a new one built in its stead."
He naturally answered: "That it was perfectly impossible for him to do so, as he was very ill, and would hardly leave his bed again. He had lived so long in the old house, that he should like to stay in it till his death. The baron would surely be kind enough to let him die there."
But the first messenger was followed by another: "The matter could not be deferred: the pastor had made such serious complaints to the