Schiller. The Ghost-Seer and Sport of Destiny

This etext was produced by David Widger



I am about to relate an adventure which to many will appear incredible, but of which I was in great part an eye-witness. The few who are acquainted with a certain political event will, if indeed these pages should happen to find them alive, receive a welcome solution thereof. And, even to the rest of my readers, it will be, perhaps, important as a contribution to the history of the deception and aberrations of the human intellect. The boldness of the schemes which malice is able to contemplate and to carry out must excite astonishment, as must also the means of which it can avail itself to accomplish its aims. Clear, unvarnished truth shall guide my pen; for, when these pages come before the public, I shall be no more, and shall therefore never learn their fate.

On my return to Courland in the year 17-, about the time of the Carnival, I visited the Prince of ----at Venice. We had been acquainted in the ---service, and we here renewed an intimacy which, by the restoration of peace, had been interrupted. As I wished to see the curiosities of this city, and as the prince was waiting only for the arrival of remittances to return to his native country, he easily prevailed on me to tarry till his departure. We agreed not to separate during the time of our residence at Venice, and the prince was kind enough to accommodate me at his lodgings at the Moor Hotel.

As the prince wished to enjoy himself, and his small revenues did not permit him to maintain the dignity of his rank, he lived at Venice in the strictest incognito. Two noblemen, in whom he had entire confidence, and a few faithful servants, composed all his retinue. He shunned expenditure, more however from inclination than economy. He avoided all kinds of dissipation, and up to the age of thirty-five years had resisted the numerous allurements of this voluptuous city. To the charms of the fair sex he was wholly indifferent. A settled gravity and an enthusiastic melancholy were the prominent features of his character. His affections were tranquil, but obstinate to excess. He formed his attachments with caution and timidity, but when once formed they were cordial and permanent. In the midst of a tumultuous crowd he walked in solitude. Wrapped in his own visionary ideas, he was often a stranger to the world about him; and, sensible of his own deficiency in the knowledge of mankind, he scarcely ever ventured an opinion of his own, and was apt to pay an unwarrantable deference to the judgment of others. Though far from being weak, no man was more liable to be governed; but, when conviction had once entered his mind, he became firm and decisive; equally courageous to combat an acknowledged prejudice or to die for a new one.

As he was the third prince of his house, he had no likely prospect of succeeding to the sovereignty. His ambition had never been awakened; his passions had taken another direction. Contented to find himself independent of the will of others, he never enforced his own as a law; his utmost wishes did not soar beyond the peaceful quietude of a private life, free from care. He read much, but without discrimination. As his education had been neglected, and, as he had early entered the career of arms, his understanding had never been fully matured. Hence the knowledge he afterwards acquired served but to increase the chaos of his ideas, because it was built on an unstable foundation.

He was a Protestant, as all his family had been, by birth, but not by investigation, which he had never attempted, although at one period of his life he had been an enthusiast in its cause. He had never, so far as came to my knowledge, been a freemason.

One evening we were, as usual, walking by ourselves, well masked in the square of St. Mark. It was growing late, and the crowd was dispersing, when the prince observed a mask which followed us everywhere. This mask was an Armenian, and walked alone. We quickened our steps, and endeavored to baffle him by repeatedly altering our course. It was in vain, the mask was always close behind us. 'You have had no intrigue here, I hope,' said the prince at last, 'the husbands of Venice are dangerous.' 'I do not know a single lady in the place,' was my answer. 'Let us sit down here, and speak German,' said he; 'I fancy we are mistaken for some other persons.' We sat down upon a stone bench, and expected the mask would have passed by. He came directly up to us, and took his seat by the side of the prince. The latter took out his watch, and, rising at the same time, addressed me thus in a loud voice in French, 'It is past nine. Come, we forget that we are waited for at the Louvre.' This speech he only invented in order to deceive the mask as to our route. 'Nine!' repeated the latter in the same language, in a slow and expressive voice, 'Congratulate yourself, my prince' (calling him by his real name); 'he died at nine.' In saying this, he rose and went away.

We looked at each other in amazement. 'Who is dead?' said the prince at length, after a long silence. 'Let us follow him,' replied I, 'and demand an explanation.' We searched every corner of the place; the mask was nowhere to be found. We returned to our hotel disappointed. The prince spoke not a word to me the whole way; he walked apart by himself, and appeared to be greatly agitated, which he afterwards confessed to me was the case. Having reached home, he began at length to speak: 'Is it not laughable,' said he, 'that a madman should have the power thus to disturb a man's tranquillity by two or three words?' We wished each other a goodnight; and, as soon as I was in my own apartment, I noted down in my pocket-book the day and the hour when this adventure happened. It was on a Thursday.

The next evening the prince said to me, 'Suppose we go to the square of St. Mark, and seek for our mysterious Armenian. I long to see this comedy unravelled.' I consented. We walked in the square till eleven. The Armenian was nowhere to be seen. We repeated our walk the four following evenings, and each time with the same bad success.

On the sixth evening, as we went out of the hotel, it occurred to me, whether designedly or otherwise I cannot recollect, to tell the servants where we might be found in case we should be inquired for. The prince remarked my precaution, and approved of it with a smile. We found the square of St. Mark very much crowded. Scarcely had we advanced thirty steps when I perceived the Armenian, who was pressing rapidly through the crowd, and seemed to be in search of some one. We were just approaching him, when Baron F---, one of the prince's retinue, came up to us quite breathless, and delivered to the prince a letter. 'It is sealed with black,' said he, 'and we supposed from this that it might contain matters of importance.' I was struck as with a thunderbolt. The prince went near a torch, and began to read. 'My cousin is dead!' exclaimed he. 'When?' inquired I anxiously, interrupting him. He looked again into the letter. 'Last Thursday night at nine.'

We had not recovered from our surprise when the Armenian stood before us. 'You are known here, my prince!' said he. 'Hasten to your hotel. You will find there the deputies from the Senate. Do not hesitate to accept the honor they intend to offer you. Baron I-forgot to tell you that your remittances are arrived.' He disappeared among the crowd.

We hastened to our hotel, and found everything as the Armenian had told us. Three noblemen of the republic were waiting to pay their respects to the prince, and to escort him in state to the Assembly, where the first nobility of the city were ready to receive him. He had hardly time enough to give me a hint to sit up for him till his return.

About eleven o'clock at night he returned. On entering the room he appeared grave and thoughtful. Having dismissed the servants, he took me by the hand, and said, in the words of Hamlet, 'Count ---

''There are more things in heav'n and earth,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.''

'Gracious prince!' replied I, 'you seem to forget that you are retiring to your pillow greatly enriched in prospect.' The deceased was the hereditary prince.

'Do not remind me of it,' said the prince; 'for should I even have acquired a crown I am now too much engaged to occupy myself with such a trifle. If that Armenian has not merely guessed by chance'

'How can that be, my prince?' interrupted I.

'Then will I resign to you all my hopes of royalty in exchange for a monk's cowl.'

I have mentioned this purposely to show how far every ambitious idea was then distant from his thoughts.

The following evening we went earlier than usual to the square of St. Mark. A sudden shower of rain obliged us to take shelter in a coffee- house, where we found a party engaged at cards. The prince took his place behind the chair of a Spaniard to observe the game. I went into an adjacent chamber to read the newspapers. A short time afterwards I heard a noise in the card-room. Previously to the entrance of the prince the Spaniard had been constantly losing, but since then he had won upon every card. The fortune of the game was reversed in a striking manner, and the bank was in danger of being challenged by the pointeur, whom this lucky change of fortune had

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