Prince and Peasant, by Max Simon Nordau
The first regiment of dragoon-guards had been waiting idly behind a
screen of low bushes in a shallow hollow for more than an hour, to
receive the order to advance.
It was an interesting point in the spacious battle-field of Metz, and
an important period in that day of August 16th, 1870, which paved the
way for the ultimate prevention of Bazaine's breaking through to
Verdun. By rising in the stirrups, or ascending one of the numerous
shallow ridges which intersected the meadow, a charming view appeared.
A few hundred paces in the rear lay the little village of Vionville
with its slender church-steeple, from whose top floated the flag of the
red cross. Several roads bordered with poplars diverged from the
hamlet, crossing in straight lines the broad, undulating meadow. In
the foreground was a tolerably steep declivity, which at this moment
formed the boundary of the German lines. Northward and southward, as
far as the eye could reach, extended a ravine several hundred feet
wide, at whose bottom a little stream had worn a narrow, winding
channel. The western slope was tolerably gentle, the opposite one, on
the contrary, was somewhat steep. Beyond stretched a bare plain, with
a few church steeples and white buildings, in the distant background.
Here the French were apparently drawn up in considerable force.
On the crest of the German hill several batteries were mounted, which
maintained a rapid fire with bombs. Small bodies of infantry lay on
the ground a short distance in the rear of the artillery. Still
farther back was the regiment of dragoons, each man with his horse's
bridle wound around his arm, waiting with weary, somewhat stolid faces,
for orders. The battle had evidently been at this point some time.
Nearly all the enemy's shells fell into the ravine, few reached the
level ground on the German side, and they, too, thus far, had effected
no special injury. Only a broken gun-carriage and two or three holes
in the earth which, surrounded by a loose wall of yellow clay, looked
like new-made graves, lent the plain something of the character and
local colouring of a battle-field. The ear had a larger share in the
mighty work of the day than the eye. From the sides, the front, the
rear, everywhere, cannon thundered, at a short distance on the right
echoed the rattle of a sharp fire of musketry, while the terrible,
ceaseless roar which filled the air alternately swelled and sank, like
the rising and falling flood of melody of a vast orchestra, during the
storm of the pastoral symphony.
A number of officers had assembled on a little mound in front of the
regiment of dragoons, whence they were attentively watching the French.
Among them a major stood smoking a cigarette and gazing dreamily into
vacancy. He was a man a little under thirty, with a slender figure,
somewhat above middle height, and a pale, narrow face, to which cold
grey eyes, and a scornful expression resting upon the colourless lips
shaded by a blond mustache inclining to red, lent a stern, by no means
winning expression. In this environment of human beings, amid these
excited young men with their healthful, sunburnt faces, he, with his
impassive, reserved expression and somewhat listless bearing, looked
strangely weary and worn. A woman's eye gazing at the group of
officers would scarcely have regarded him with favour; a man's would
have singled him out as the most intellectual of them all.
Removing his helmet and wiping the perspiration from his forehead with
his handkerchief, he displayed a head on which the hair was already
growing thin and, at the same time, a well-kept, aristocratic hand,
with long, thin, bloodless fingers. His whole appearance, even in the
levelling uniform, revealed a man of exalted rank. And, in fact, this
officer was Prince Louis of Hochstein-Falkenburg-Gerau, the head of a
non-reigning line of a German princely race.
Orphaned at an early age, he found himself at eighteen when, by the
rules of his House, he attained his majority, in the unrestricted
possession of a yearly income of several millions. From his mother, a
very fine musician, he inherited artistic tastes and a keen
appreciation of the beautiful; from his haughty and somewhat eccentric
father a rugged, independent nature, which found every external
constraint intolerable and wished to obey only the law of its own will.
It requires little power of imagination to picture how the world looks
to the eyes of a young, immensely wealthy scion of royalty. The court
treated Prince Louis with marked distinction, the ladies petted him,
gentlemen showed him the most flattering attention.
Precocious, as people become in the hot-house atmosphere of
aristocratic society, reflective and shy, as only children, who are
reared among grown people, without intercourse with companions of their
own age, almost always are, endowed, moreover, with a critical mind,
which always confronted appearances sceptically and anxiously went to
the bottom of everything, Prince Louis, unlike so many of his equals in
rank, did not accept the tokens of consideration offered him on all
sides as a matter of course, but constantly asked himself their cause.
He was honest with himself and admitted that he owed his sovereign's
clasp of the hand, the wooing smiles of the ladies, the cordial
advances of men of rank and distinction, not to his own personality,
but to his title and his wealth.
"What do they all know about me?" he often said to himself, when he
returned from an entertainment at court to his splendid palace,
tenanted only by servants. "Nothing! They give me no chance to open
my mouth, and if everything I said to-night had been written down and
laid before a man who was capable of judging, that he might give an
opinion of the person who made these remarks, he could not truthfully
say anything except: 'The fellow is perhaps not actually a simpleton,
but does not surpass mediocrity.' Yet I am received as if I were some
one of consequence. Yes, that's just it: it is not I, Louis, who am
treated so, for no one would trouble himself about me, but Prince Etc."
He became really jealous of "Prince Etc.," whom he regarded almost as
an enemy, who supplanted and cast into the shade his own individuality,
and the noble ambition entered his mind to win esteem by his
personality, not by the external advantages which chance had bestowed.
But this was no easy matter. "Prince Etc." everywhere stood
intrusively in his way and would allow poor "Louis" no opportunity. He
went to a university, less in order to study than to steep himself for
a few terms in the poetry of student life. The members of his
extremely aristocratic club formed in two ranks before him when he went
to their tavern, and old professors whom, hitherto, he had admired for
their works, blushed with joyous emotion when he introduced himself to
them, and in the class-room appeared to address him alone. He soon had
enough of this, and entered the army. The colonel thanked him for the
compliment which he paid the regiment by choosing it, his superior
officers showed him endless marks of consideration, and if some of them
affected to make no distinction between him and other young officers,
he detected in it an intention which also irritated him. As, moreover,
he found no special pleasure in the conversations of his comrades, nor
in the parades, watchwords, and other details of garrison life, he
forthwith quitted active service, not without having been promoted, in
rapid succession, to first-lieutenant, captain, and major in his
Of course meanwhile woman had entered his existence. But in what a
manner! Light relations with actresses, which merely occupied his
senses and left no trace in his life except some considerable sums in
the account book which his faithful family steward kept with great
accuracy; fleeting flirtations with society ladies, which soon became
intolerable because he merely found incomparably greater demands, but
otherwise nothing more than with his actresses, toward whom he need use
no ceremony. This was all. A great, deep love would have given his
life happiness and purpose; but it did not dawn for him. Was it
because he did not meet the right woman? Was it because he did not
come out of himself sufficiently? was he, as it were, too much walled
in by his indifference to discover, behind the reserve of maidenly
timidity, faint emotions by which his own feelings might have been
kindled? Enough, he passed woman by, without seeing in her aught save
a toy. By accident, or to be more accurate, through the jealousy of
another interest which believed itself threatened, he discovered a
cleverly woven intrigue to lure him into a marriage with a princess
who, though neither especially beautiful nor wealthy, was yet very
pretty, and this so roused his distrust that henceforth he saw in the
favour of matrons and in the smiles of young ladies only speculations
upon his revenue of two millions and his title of prince, and acquired
a positive abhorrence of the circles in which people marry.
Once he had a meeting which narrowly escaped making a deeper
impression. On a journey from the Black Forest to Norderney the
prince, who cared nothing for aristocratic isolation, occupied the same
compartment with a young girl from Mayence, who was going to the same
place. She was remarkably beautiful, charming, gay, and brilliant, and
exerted a powerful attraction over the prince. He was extremely
attentive to her during the trip, while she remained pleasantly
indifferent and appeared to care nothing for him.
Perhaps this very indifference stimulated him, and he continued his
attentions at the North Sea watering place, where he maintained the
incognito of Herr von Gerau, the beautiful girl, who was at once
surrounded by other young gentlemen, only learning from him that he was
a land-owner. She accepted his daily gifts of flowers, it is true, but
otherwise showed no more favour to him than to the rest of her suitors.
Indeed, she paid even less consideration to the prince than to the
others, which greatly depressed him. Then it happened that a very
exalted personage who was a friend of Prince Louis came to Norderney.
The latter was obliged to pay him a ceremonious visit on which he wore
his uniform, and now could no longer conceal his rank and name. The
Mayence beauty saw him in his handsome blue uniform coat, and learned
that very day the identity of her admirer. Her manner to him altered
as if by magic. She had eyes for him alone, distinguished him by a
cordiality which justified the boldest hopes and, by her tender looks
and smiles, seemed to be imploring forgiveness for not having perceived
his value sooner. Prince Louis noticed this sudden change and felt the
For two days good and evil fought a hard battle in his soul. His
innate nobility of character urged him not to profit by his advantage,
to withdraw from a person whom he had discovered to be so superficial.
His bitter contempt for women whispered to carry the relation which had
assumed a frivolous turn, to the doubtful end. Baseness triumphed over
nobility, and let any man of twenty-four who feels that he is guiltless
cast the first stone at the prince. But his evil genius farther
instigated him to do something very odious. After a poetic hour, in
which the Mayence beauty, amid fervid kisses, had asked whether he, her
beloved one, would now be hers forever, he sent her a package which
contained—his uniform, and a costly pin in the shape of a crown,
accompanied by a little note stating that he gave, for her perpetual
possession, all that she had loved in him.
The remembrance of this unpardonably unchivalrous act often tortured
him afterwards, but his repentance by no means took the form of greater
respect for women. On the contrary, he became more and more a convert
to Don Juan's love—philosophy, and allowed only the millionaire and
Prince Etc. to sue for favour, while the sceptical Louis grew wholly
averse to the fair sex.
From early youth, he had secretly written lyric poetry, and his
productions, which, it is true, were imitative rather than original,
were pleasant to read and correct in form. He sent some under his own
name to great weekly periodicals, and they not only appeared at once
but he obtained the most flattering requests for more contributions.
This afforded him much gratification, but again only for a brief time.
Under the influence of his suspicious spirit of investigation, he sent
several poems, with an unpretending assumed signature, to other papers.
He either received no reply or curt rejections in the editors'
letter-box. So he was done with that too.
He tried the "naive" life of pleasure, as he called it. With small
success. Gaming soon ceased to attract him, for at the roulette table
in Monaco he loathed the companionship of old professional gamblers
with their gallows-bird faces, and of bedizened Paris courtesans, and
at his club in Berlin or Baden, where he played only with respectable
people, the stakes were never high enough to permit even the largest
possible gain or loss to excite him. The pleasures of the epicure
afforded him more satisfaction, and his table was famous among his
peers. He soon wearied of wine; the discomfort caused by intoxication
seemed to him too large a price to pay for the enjoyment of drinking.
This caused his guests to banter him about his moderation, and allude
to the historic drinking-horn of gigantic size, which, as the
chronicles of the House attested, his ancestors used to drain at their
banquets, though in those days the Burgundy was far from its present
perfection, and Canary had not yet been invented. His companions'
enthusiasm for drinking at last disgusted him with entertaining, and he
gradually lost his taste for choice dinners also.
Once, while living on his Silesian estates, whose extent was equal to a
small kingdom, he became ill, and was obliged to send for the district
physician. This man, who afterwards obtained a world-wide reputation,
was then young, unknown, and apparently an ordinary country doctor.
The prince, however, soon perceived that he was far superior to his
circumstances and position, and placed himself upon a very confidential
footing with him. One day he complained of the desolation and monotony
of his life and asked, in a tone between jest and earnest, what he
should do with himself.
"Give your life a purpose, Prince," replied Dr. Backer, "strive for
Prince Louis smiled scornfully.
"For what shall I strive? Everything to which the rest of you aspire,
which you are struggling with your best powers to attain, I already
possess! Money? I cannot spend half my income unless I light my
cigars with hundred-thaler notes, or wish to bore a hole through the
earth. Women's favour? My visiting cards will obtain more than is
desirable for me. Honours? At six and twenty years old, I have the
grand cross of the highest orders, and have the precedence of every one
except a few princes of the blood. Power? Listen, my dear Doctor: I
really believe that if it suited my pleasure I could shoot a slater off
the roof, and the affair would have no unpleasant results. Fame and
immortality? My name is perhaps somewhat better known than Goethe's.
Wherever I desire to appear, I am far more of a lion than the greatest
poet and scholar, and every Prince Hochstein is sure of two lines in
the encyclopaedia and larger historical works, even if he has done
nothing except to be born and to die at a reasonable age. So, for what
should I strive?"
"For satisfaction with yourself," replied Dr. Backer, "and that you
will find only when you earn what you inherited from your ancestors, in
order to possess it, as Father Goethe says."
Satisfaction with himself—certainly! But to attain it is the greatest
art of life. The prince might gain it if he devoted himself earnestly,
not merely in a half-absent dilettante fashion, to some art, science,
or useful avocation. Only it required a self-discipline of which,
unfortunately, he was incapable. In all pursuits requiring dexterity,
all sciences, the first steps are laborious, wearisome, and apparently
thankless, and the Canaan which they promise is reached only after
weary wandering through the desert. Prince Louis did not possess the
self-denial requisite for it. So he continued his life devoted to
purely external things and meanwhile was as much bored as Jonah in the
whale. He undertook long journeys and disappeared for six months,
during which he hunted tigers in India and hippopotami in the Blue
Nile. When he returned home and was questioned at the club about his
experiences and whether he had been entertained, he answered with a
shrug of the shoulders.
"Entertained? As if one could be in this vale of tears! There really
is nothing remarkable about a tiger-hunt. The danger and excitement
concern the poor devils of Hindoos, who rouse the game. I sat in my
howdah on a very quiet elephant and fired as if I were shooting at a
target. Buy some big cats from Asia or Africa, put them into a cage in
your park, and shoot till you kill them. It is about the same thing.
True, the scenic effects are less glaring, there are fewer
supernumeraries, and there is not so much shrieking and struggling on
the stage. But that seems to me rather an advantage, and one doesn't
have the heat and the snakes."
His hearers laughed, and an old gentleman remarked:
"You have mental colour-blindness, my dear Prince, and I should not
like to have you guide the engine of my life-train."
He had hit the mark. Prince Louis saw life uniformly grey. How
infinitely true are Schiller's words:
"Each mortal heart some wish, some hope, some fear,
Linked with the morrow's dawn, must cherish here
To bear the troubles with which earth is rife,
The dull montony [Transcriber's note: monotony?] of daily life."
But Prince Louis wished, hoped, feared nothing, and when he thought of
the future he beheld it in the form of a drowsy monster, yawning
noisily. He longed like a languishing lover for some excitement,
pursued it to the end of the world, but did not succeed in finding it.
He was just on the eve of going to Norway to hunt reindeer, when the
war of 1870 broke out. In 1866 he had been in Africa and did not hear
of the events of the summer until everything was over. This time he
asked permission to join his regiment, the first dragoon-guards, which
of course was granted. To tell the truth, he was influenced less by
patriotism and enthusiasm than, in addition to propriety, the hope that
military life would afford him new sensations.
Had he deceived himself this time also? It almost seemed so; for,
during the fortnight which he had spent in the enemy's country, he had
as yet experienced nothing unusual. When a person is attended by two
capable servants, and has an unlimited amount of money at his disposal,
he need suffer no discomfort even in the field, especially during a
victorious advance, and as yet there had been no opportunity for
individual deeds of heroism, or perilous adventures.
Thus he had again relapsed into a half-listless mood, while, as we have
just seen him, he stood among his comrades in front of his regiment
smoking his cigarette. Now, however, the French appeared to be
advancing from the other side of the ravine. Their batteries came
nearer, their shells began to fly across the gorge and strike behind
the German cannon. One burst amid the division of infantry, killing
and wounding several soldiers. Another demolished a gun and made havoc
among those who served it. The short sharp whistle of bullets even
began to mingle with the peculiar shrill wailing sound of the sugarloaf
shot, and on the plateau beyond, slender lines of infantry, diverging
very far apart, could be seen moving swiftly onward. They ran forward,
flung themselves down, there was a succession of sudden flashes, little
clouds of white smoke rose, a confusing medley of sharp, rattling
reports followed, contrasting disagreeably with the deep, rolling
thunder of the artillery; then the men were on their feet again,
rushing on, no longer in a perfectly straight line, some in advance,
others a little behind, with their faces turned towards the sun,
beneath whose rays the red breeches flamed in a vivid, bloody hue, and
buttons, bayonets, all polished bits of metal alternately flashed and
The force of artillery was too weak to risk an advance. The colonel
who commanded the batteries ordered some shrapnels to be thrown among
the advancing lines of French infantry, and was about to move his
cannon a little farther back, when an aide dashed up from the right and
reported that he had ridden on in advance of the 38th brigade of
infantry, one regiment was close behind him, the other was marching as
rapidly as possible, and would soon arrive. "Hurrah! Hurrah!" shouted
artillerymen, infantry, and dragoons at the top of their voices.
"Hurrah! Hurrah!" came back from the distance, and a regiment of
infantry, headed by a colonel and a general, advanced at a rapid march
in broad, deep columns from the poplar-bordered road across the
pathless meadow. The group of officers exchanged greetings with the
new arrivals, the general received reports, quickly made himself
acquainted with the situation of affairs, and issued orders, signals
echoed, in an instant the masses of infantry separated, lines of
riflemen darted forward and hurried to the edge of the ravine, down
whose slope they were seen running a few minutes later. A second and
third rank followed at a short distance, and, almost ere one was aware
of it, the whole regiment had poured down into the hollow.
This was the Third Westphalian regiment. It had passed so near the
group of dragoon officers that Prince Louis could have distinguished
every figure, every face. The poor fellows had been on their feet
fourteen hours, marching steadily under the scorching August sun. A
thick gray crust of dust, which perspiration had converted into an ugly
mask, covered their fresh young faces. The uniforms bore marks of the
clay in the various camping grounds where they had halted for a short
rest. But nothing now revealed the mortal weariness of the band of
heroes. Their eyes, reddened by the heat, blazed with the enthusiasm
for battle, their parched throats once more gained power to shout
"Hurrah!" with the full strength of their voices; their feet, which but
a few minutes ago had dragged along the dusty highway with painful
effort, now moved lightly and elastically, it seemed as though the
whole regiment had been invigorated by some stimulating drink as it
inarched into the line of fire.
The batteries roared above their heads at the French with twofold zeal,
"Hurrah, Hurrah!" rose from a thousand throats in the bottom of the
ravine, one could hear the roll of the drums sounding the march, and
loud shouts and cries. Prince Louis watched the assailants, whose
foremost ranks were already climbing the hill on the opposite side.
"Poor fellows!" he thought, "there they go to death as joyously as if
it were a kirmess dance. They will shout hurrah till they are hoarse
or a bullet silences them. Of what are they thinking? Probably of
nothing. A blind impulse to conquer urges them on. And what does
victory mean to each individual? What advantage will it be to him?
How will it benefit his earthly fate, if he escapes death on the
battlefield? The renown of the German name? For me perhaps it has a
value. Yet it is not absolutely certain. My uniform will possibly
derive a prouder lustre; but I wear it so seldom! If I go to Japan
next year, perhaps the Mikado will receive me with more distinction
than if I belonged to a conquered nation. Yet whether we mow down the
French or they us, I think I shall always receive the same treatment at
the Paris Jockey Club and the Nice Cercle de la Méditerranée. So much
for me. But these obscure people below—what do they care about
military fame and the power of a victorious native land? They will
notice nothing of it in their villages. The tax-collector and the
gendarme will be just what they were before, and that is all they see
of their native country, yet they are filled with enthusiasm. The fact
exists. It is as clear as noonday. We owe this to the writers who
have given such beautiful pictures of our native land and military
renown, and to the schoolmasters, who have instilled their words into
the souls of the people. Marvellous power of language, which can
incite a prosaic peasant lad to sacrifice life joyfully for an abstract
idea, a fancy."
These were his thoughts,—it can neither be denied nor palliated. But
while they darted clearly and swiftly through his brain, he felt a
mental agitation which surprised and bewildered him. It was a strange
perplexity; he felt ashamed and embarrassed; it seemed as though he had
uttered his thoughts aloud, and a group of people with grave, noble
faces had listened, and were now gazing at him in silence, but with
mingled compassion and contempt. From inaccessible depths of his soul,
into which his sober, critical, mocking reason did not shine, a
mysterious voice appeared to rise, imperiously commanding his
scepticism to be silent. "I am right!" reason ventured to murmur.
"You are wrong!" thundered the voice from the depths. "I will not
consciously permit myself to be made giddy by the dizziness of romantic
self-deception!" answered reason—but now Prince Louis felt as though
some stranger, from whom he must turn indignantly, was uttering the
The Third Westphalian covered the opposite ascent. The foremost ranks
were already at the top and paused a moment, for a murderous fire
greeted the first heads which appeared, and several men, mortally
wounded, rolled down again. But the rest pressed on, using both hands
and feet to climb the hill, whose ascent would have been mere sport for
fresh youths, skilled in gymnastic exercises, but which must have
seemed terribly steep to harassed, exhausted troops. As they worked
their way upward with the utmost zeal, evidently striving to excel one
another, Prince Louis thought of some stanzas in the Winter Tale of his
favorite author, Heine:
"That lovable, worthy Westphalian race,
I ever have loved it extremely,
A nation so firm, so faithful, so true,
Ne'er given to boasting unseemly.
How proudly they stood with their lionlike hearts
In the noble science of fencing"—
And with their "lion-like hearts" they reached the crest of the hill
and, summoning all their remaining breath, dashed forward. But the
French, comparatively unwearied and, roused to the highest pitch of
combativeness by the appearance of the enemy directly in their front,
threw themselves upon them in greatly superior numbers, and after a
close fight, which by the front ranks of both forces was actually
conducted in certain places with steel weapons, forced them back to the
ravine. It was impossible to make a stand there, the poor Westphalians
were obliged to wheel, and tumbled heels over head down the slope
again, not without leaving a number of killed and wounded. The French
were close behind and reached the bottom of the gorge almost at the
same time. The Westphalians attempted to climb up the opposite side
again, and then those who were left behind witnessed a heart-rending
spectacle. The German soldiers were so utterly exhausted that their
limbs could not carry them up the ascent, gentle as it was. They sank
down in throngs as though paralysed, the muskets dropped from their
nerveless hands, which no longer obeyed their will, and the French
could seize hundreds of them and lead them away as prisoners, while
many fell on the way and were left lying on the ground by the foe.
Meanwhile a great bustle rose. The Eighth Westphalian regiment had
just come up and, while the batteries moved rapidly back toward the
village in the rear, the former, led by the general in person, dashed
down into the ravine to the aid of their sorely imperilled companions.
The French recoiled before the shock and a large number of the
prisoners were recaptured. Yet the first assault did not succeed in
dislodging the foe; the French obstinately maintained their position at
the foot of the opposite height, and when attacked there, amid great
loss, with the bayonet, retired step by step up the scarf and again
made a stand at its top. A double flank movement of the Westphalians,
however, compelled them to retire somewhat quickly, and the latter,
stimulated by the sight, pressed after them cheering.
But this favourable turn did not last long. During the struggle for
the possession of the valley, the foe had not remained inactive. New
masses of infantry were brought up, and in the distance cavalry
appeared, moving slowly forward.
Prince Louis had watched the course of the battle with increasing
excitement, feeling his heart alternately beat joyously with twofold
rapidity and then contract in pain till it seemed to stop. The
situation now seemed to him critical and, glancing around, he found the
same feeling expressed in the looks and faces of the other officers.
But the colonel had already beckoned to his orderly and sprung into the
saddle. The trumpets sounded the first signal, a sudden movement ran
through the ranks of the dragoons, in an instant all were in the
saddle, sabre-sheaths clanked against stirrups, the chains and bars of
the bits rattled as the horses tossed their heads, then there was a
second blare of trumpets, a shrill neighing, a loud snorting, the
pawing and stamping of hoofs, swords flew from their sheaths, and the
troop of horsemen was in motion.
Prince Louis looked at his watch—it was half-past six o'clock. As, at
the head of the first squadron, he rode a short distance behind the
colonel, the aides of the regiment, and the trumpeters, a strange mood
which he had never before experienced came over him. The painful
excitement and quivering impatience, which, during the last half-hour,
had made his veins throb to his finger-tips, merged into a joyous
consciousness of purposeful activity, which restored his calmness. Now
he no longer reflected and criticised. It seemed as if the doubting
spirit had been driven out of him and he was obeying eagerly,
confidently, and devoutly as a child a command which filled his whole
being with an overwhelming desire to press forward. This man, so proud
of his personality, who had always sought his happiness in the
unrestricted exercise of his individuality, now felt his ego shrivel
until it was imperceptible. He was only a tiny stone in a piece of
mosaic, which formed a noble masterpiece only as a whole. A mighty
power, call it a law of nature or the will, whose manifestation is the
history of the world, had entered into and taken complete possession of
him. It was not he who now directed his fate, it was decided by some
unknown being outside of him. Had he been the most remarkable human
being on earth, a Newton, a Goethe, nay, the Saviour Himself, he would
now have weighed no more in the balance than the nameless Brandenberg
farm-hand by his side, he would now have had in the mechanism of the
world only the value of a dozen screws or rivets. And, strangely
enough, this merging of his individuality into a whole, as a crystal of
sugar dissolves in water, awakened neither discomfort nor regret. On
the contrary, it was an unknown delight, which pervaded his whole frame
and sent a little shiver of pleasure down his spine. He felt himself a
very small personage, and yet, at the same time, a very great one, who
had far outstripped the bounds of his individuality. It seemed as
though he was borne helplessly on by a mighty power, and the thought
entered his mind that Ganymede must have had similar sensations when he
flew heavenward between the rustling pinions of the eagle. He was now
experiencing the deep and mighty emotion for which he had always
longed, and he had obtained it by emerging from his selfish seclusion
and finding a point of connection with all mankind.
The regiment went down the slope at a walk, describing a wide curve,
partly to make the descent more easily, partly to avoid the dead and
wounded lying in heaps upon the ground at the bottom of the declivity.
Now the horses climbed the other side in a slanting line and reached
the meadow beyond. At a signal from the trumpets, the regiment formed
in two divisions which trotted forward, offering a wide front, still
keeping obliquely to the left for a time, past the cheering
Westphalians, and finally rushing straight upon the foe.
The thunder of the artillery in front ceased and echoed only from the
distance at the right. From the opposite direction a regiment of
cuirassiers came to meet the dragoons. A few hundred yards separated
the front ranks of the two, and the trumpets of both regiments could be
heard at the same time. The order to attack was given, and with
frantic haste, the lines dashed over the resonant clay soil, which was
absolutely free from dust.
It was like a scene from the legends of the Norse gods. The
cuirassiers, riding straight toward the westering sun, glittered and
flashed with fairy-like radiance, their shining sword-blades looked
like tongues of fire, their cuirasses and helmets blazed as if they
were at a white heat, their whole van was steeped in dazzling light, as
though surrounded by a halo. The German dragoons had the sun directly
on their backs. The long black shadows of the horses and riders dashed
over the ground before them, as if the cruel shadows of death were
preceding the living against the proud cuirassiers. Now the ranks met
with a terrible crash. The supernaturally majestic scene was
transformed in an instant into a horrible, formless chaos. Overthrown
by the force of the shock, horses and riders rolled upon the earth.
Masterless steeds dashed wildly in every direction, revolvers snapped,
sword-blades clashed, the horses uttered short, harsh screams, the
Frenchmen fought amid oaths and exclamations, the Germans, with
clinched teeth, dealt blows around them, swords were buried in the
bodies of enemies, without their owners clearly seeing what they were
doing, single pairs of foes, hacking furiously at each other, were
suddenly separated by a movement of their horses and brought in front
of new antagonists, only to find themselves the next moment again in a
dense throng, thigh pressing against thigh, arms firmly pinioned,
panting into each other's faces, while the rearing horses tried to bite
one another. This frenzied medley lasted perhaps two, perhaps three,
minutes. In spite of the irregular swaying to and fro of the mass, the
dragoons had constantly advanced, and now the cuirassiers suddenly
wheeled their horses and, bending low in their saddles, dashed off in a
stretching gallop. An exultant "Hurrah!" burst like a peal of thunder
from the breasts of the terribly excited dragoons, and their steeds,
with the blood dripping from their torn flanks, their chests covered
with flakes of foam, continued their victorious race, while on the
field behind lay hundreds of French and Germans, dead and wounded.
Signals, shouts, and the waving of sabres gradually slackened the
onward rush of the conquerors and brought them to a halt on the brink
of a narrow stream. It seemed to Prince Louis like waking from a
dream, as he patted the neck of his gallant horse and, panting for
breath, gazed around him. On the opposite side batteries were seen
moving rapidly away, the remnants of the cuirassier regiment were
following the artillery, and in the distance, on both sides, columns of
infantry were hurrying back, not without pouring upon the dragoons,
during the retreat, an irregular and ineffective fire.
"Strange," said a very young lieutenant beside the prince, showing him
his sword, "half the blade is covered with blood, and cannot have
received the stain except in a Frenchman's body. Yet I cannot recall
how it happened."
Prince Louis was about to answer, when he suddenly received a
tremendous thrust in the breast, as if dealt by the hand of an
invisible giant or the tip of a bull's horn, and, with a low cry, he
pressed his hand upon the painful spot. He withdrew it stained with
blood, and could just grasp the thought that a bullet had pierced him
ere his senses failed.
When he regained his consciousness, he found himself lying on the
trampled turf with his head resting on a saddle. His coat was
unbuttoned and a number of his comrades were busying themselves about
him. He felt no pain, only an inexpressible weariness and a strange,
almost indescribable feeling, something like an internal trickling,
which appeared to be rising into his throat and forced him to struggle
for breath like a drowning man.
"How do you feel, Prince?" asked the lieutenant-colonel, bending
anxiously over him.
"I feel," he answered softly, "as if I ought to shout: Long live the
king! Long live our native land!" Then, after a brief pause, he added
almost inaudibly, while a barely perceptible smile flickered over his
white lips: "But I certainly am not at a public meeting."
These were his last words.
 English translation.