“Quite so—quite so,” murmured the Assistant Commissioner.
"This morning, at eleven o'clock, I attacked the enemy; we drove them back to Gudenberg. All my men performed deeds of daring and bravery, but, at the storming of Gudenberg, a terrific number of lives were lost. My army became separated. I reassembled them three times, but in vain. At last, they fled in wild disorder. I very nearly became a prisoner, and was obliged to leave the field to the enemy. My uniform was torn by the cannon-balls, two horses were shot underneath me, but death shunned me; I seemed to bear a charmed life; I could not die! From an army of forty-eight thousand men, there now remains three thousand. The consequences of this battle will be more fearful than the battle itself. It is a terrible misfortune, and I will not survive it. There is no one to whom I can look for help. I cannot survive my country's ruin. Farewell!"
"And now," said the king, when he had sealed and directed his letter, "now I am ready; my worldly affairs are settled. I am at the end of my sufferings, and dare claim that last, deep rest granted by Nature to us all. I have worked enough, suffered enough; and if, after a life of stormy disasters, I seek my grave, no one can say it was cowardly not to live--for all the weight of life rolled upon me, forced me to the ground, and the grave opened beneath my feet. I continued to hope, when overwhelmed with defeat at every point. Every morning brought new clouds, new sorrows. I bore it courageously, trusting that misfortune would soon weary, the storms blow over, and a clear, cloudless sky envelop me. I deceived myself greatly; my sorrows increased. And now, the worst has happened; my country is lost! Who dares say I should survive this loss? To die at the proper time is also a duty. The Romans felt this, and acted upon it. I am a true scholar of the old masters, and wish to prove myself worthy of them. When all is lost, the liberty to die should not be denied. The world has nothing more to do with me, and I laugh at her weak, unjust laws. Like Tiberius, will I live and die! Farewell, then, thou false existence; farewell, weak man! Ah! there are so many fools--so few men amongst you; I have found so many faithless friends, so many traitors, so few honest men! In the hour of misfortune they all deserted me! But, no!" said he; "one remained true. D'Argens never deceived me, and I had almost forgotten to take leave of him. Well, death must wait for me, while I write to D'Argens!"
A heavenly inspiration now beamed on his countenance; his eyes shone like stars. The holy muse had descended to comfort the despairing hero, to whisper loving and precious words to him. Thus standing at death's portals, Frederick wrote his most beautiful poem, called "Ami le sort en est jete'." A great wail of woe burst from his soul. The sorrows, the grievances hid until now from all, he portrayed in touching, beautiful words to his absent friend. lie pictured to him his sufferings, his hopes, his struggles, and finally, his determination to die. When all this had been painted in the most glowing colors, when his wounds were laid bare, he wrote a last and touching farewell to his friend:
"Adieu, D'Argens! dans ce tableau, De mon trepas tu vois la cause; Au moins ne pense pas du neant du caveau, Que j'aspire a l'apotheose. Tout ce que l'amitie par ces vers propose, C'est que tant qu'ici-bas le celeste flambeau; Eclairera tes jours tandis que je repose, Et lorsque le printemps paraissant de nouveau. De son sein abondant t'offre les fleurs ecloses, Chaque fois d'un bouquet de myrthes et de roses, Tu daignes parer mon tombeau."
[Footnote: "Adieu, D'Argens! In this picture Thou wilt see the cause of my death; At least, do not think, a nothing in the vault, That I aspire to apotheosis. All that friendship by these lines proposes Is only this much, that here the celestial torch May clear thy days while I repose, And each time when the Spring appears anew And from her abundant breast offers thee the flowers there enclosed That thou with a bouquet of myrtle and rose Wilt deign to decorate my tomb."]
"Ah!" murmured the king, as he folded and addressed his poetical letter, "how lovely it must now be at Sans-Souci! Well, well! my grave shall be there, and D'Argens will cover it with flowers. And have I no other friends at Sans-Souci? My good old hounds, my crippled soldiers! They cannot come to me, but I will go to them."
The king then arose, opened the door, and asked if a messenger was in readiness; receiving an answer in the affirmative, he gave the three letters to the adjutant. "And now my work is finished," said he, "now I can die." He took from his breast-pocket a small casket of gold which he always carried with him, and which, in the late battle, had served him as a shield against the enemy's balls. The lid had been hollowed in by a ball; strange to say, this casket, which had saved his life, was now to cause his death. For within it there was a small vial containing three pills of the most deadly poison, which the king had kept with him since the beginning of the war. The king looked at the casket thoughtfully. "Death here fought against death; and still how glorious it would have been to die upon the battle-field believing myself the victor!" He held the vial up to the light and shook it; and as the pills bounded up and down, he said, smiling sadly, "Death is merry! It comes eagerly to invite me to the dance. Well, well, my gay cavalier, I am ready for the dance."
He opened the vial and emptied the pills into his hand. Then arose and approached the window to see once more the sky with its glittering stars and its brightly-beaming moon, and the battle-field upon which thousands of his subjects had this day found their death. Then raised the hand with the pills. What was it that caused him to hesitate? Why did his hand fall slowly down? What were his eyes so intently gazing on?