Read CHAPTER X. THE TRAGEDY OF HERRENHAUSEN of The Historical Nights Entertainment‚ Second Series, free online book, by Rafael Sabatini, on ReadCentral.com.

Count Philip Koenigsmark and the Princess Sophia Dorothea

He was accounted something of a scamp throughout Europe, and particularly in England, where he had been associated with his brother in the killing of Mr. Thynne.  But the seventeenth century did not look for excessively nice scruples in a soldier of fortune; and so it condoned the lack of virtue in Count Philip Christof Koenigsmark for the sake of his personal beauty, his elegance, his ready wit, and his magnificent address.  The court of Hanover made him warmly welcome, counting itself the richer for his presence; whilst he, on his side, was retained there by the Colonelcy in the Electoral Guard to which he had been appointed, and by his deep and ill-starred affection for the Princess Sophia Dorothea, the wife of the Electoral Prince, who later was to reign in England as King George I.

His acquaintance with her dated back to childhood, for they had been playmates at her father’s ducal court of Zell, where Koenigsmark had been brought up.  With adolescence he had gone out into the world to seek the broader education which it offered to men of quality and spirit.  He had fought bulls in Madrid, and the infidel overseas; he had wooed adventure wherever it was to be met, until romance hung about him like an aura.  Thus Sophia met him again, a dazzling personality, whose effulgence shone the more brightly against the dull background of that gross Hanoverian court; an accomplished, graceful, self-reliant man of the world, in whom she scarcely recognized her sometime playmate.

The change he found in her was no less marked, though of a different kind.  The sweet child he had known ­she had been married in 1682, at the age of sixteen ­had come in her ten years of wedded life to the fulfilment of the handsome promise of her maidenhood.  But her beauty was spiritualized by a certain wistfulness that had not been there before, that should not have been there now had all been well.  The sprightliness inherent in her had not abated, but it had assumed a certain warp of bitterness; humour, which is of the heart, had given place in her to wit, which is of the mind, and this wit was barbed, and a little reckless of how or where it offended.

Koenigsmark observed these changes that the years had wrought, and knew enough of her story to account for them.  He knew of her thwarted love for her cousin, the Duke of Wolfenbuttel, thwarted for the sake of dynastic ambition, to the end that by marrying her to the Electoral Prince George the whole of the Duchy of Luneberg might be united.  Thus, for political reasons, she had been thrust into a union that was mutually loveless; for Prince George had as little affection to bring to it as herself.  Yet for a prince the door to compensations is ever open.  Prince George’s taste, as is notorious, was ever for ugly women, and this taste he indulged so freely, openly, and grossly that the coldness towards him with which Sophia had entered the alliance was eventually converted into disgust and contempt.

Thus matters stood between that ill-matched couple; contempt on her side, cold dislike on his, a dislike that was fully shared by his father, the Elector, Ernest Augustus, and encouraged in the latter by the Countess von Platen.

Madame von Platen, the wife of the Elector’s chief minister of state, was ­with the connivance of her despicable husband, who saw therein the means to his own advancement ­the acknowledged mistress of Ernest Augustus.  She was a fleshly, gauche, vain, and ill-favoured woman.  Malevolence sat in the creases of her painted face, and peered from her mean eyes.  Yet, such as she was, the Elector Ernest loved her.  His son’s taste for ugly women would appear to have been hereditary.

Between the Countess and Sophia there was a deadly feud.  The princess had mortally offended her father-in-law’s favourite.  Not only had she never troubled to dissemble the loathing which that detestable woman inspired in her, but she had actually given it such free and stinging expression as had provoked against Madame von Platen the derision of the court, a derision so ill-concealed that echoes of it had reached its object, and made her aware of the source from whence it sprang.

It was into this atmosphere of hostility that the advent of the elegant, romantic Koenigsmark took place.  He found the stage set for comedy of a grim and bitter kind, which he was himself, by his recklessness, to convert into tragedy.

It began by the Countess von Platen’s falling in love with him.  It was some time before he suspected it, though heaven knows he did not lack for self-esteem.  Perhaps it was this very self-esteem that blinded him here to the appalling truth.  Yet in the end understanding came to him.  When the precise significance of the fond leer of that painted harridan’s repellent coquetry was borne in upon him he felt the skin of his body creep and roughen But he dissembled craftily.  He was a venal scamp, after all, and in the court of Hanover he saw opportunities to employ his gifts and his knowledge of the great world in such a way as to win to eminence.  He saw that the Elector’s favourite could be of use to him; and it is not your adventurer’s way to look too closely into the nature of the ladder by which he has the chance to climb.

Skilfully, craftily, then, he played the enamoured countess so long as her fondness for him might be useful, her hostility detrimental.  But once the Colonelcy of the Electoral Guards was firmly in his grasp, and an intimate friendship had ripened between himself and Prince Charles ­the Elector’s younger son ­sufficiently to ensure his future, he plucked off the mask and allied himself with Sophia in her hostility towards Madame von Platen.  He did worse.  Some little time thereafter, whilst on a visit to the court of Poland, he made one night in his cups a droll story of the amorous persecution which he had suffered at Madame von Platen’s hands.

It was a tale that set the profligate company in a roar.  But there was one present who afterwards sent a report of it to the Countess, and you conceive the nature of the emotions it aroused in her.  Her rage was the greater for being stifled.  It was obviously impossible for her to appeal to her lover, the Elector, to avenge her.  From the Elector, above all others, must the matter be kept concealed.  But not on that account would she forgo the vengeance due.  She would present a reckoning in full ere all was done, and bitterly should the presumptuous young adventurer who had flouted her be made to pay.

The opportunity was very soon to be afforded her.  It arose more or less directly out of an act in which she indulged her spite against Sophia.  This lay in throwing Melusina Schulemberg into the arms of the Electoral Prince.  Melusina, who was years afterwards to be created Duchess of Kendal, had not yet attained to that completeness of lank, bony hideousness that was later to distinguish her in England.  But even in youth she could boast of little attraction.  Prince George, however, was easily attracted.  A dull, undignified libertine, addicted to over-eating, heavy drinking, and low conversation, he found in Melusina von Schulemberg an ideal mate.  Her installation as maîtresse en-titre took place publicly at a ball given by Prince George at Herrenhausen, a ball at which the Princess Sophia was present.

Accustomed, inured, as she was to the coarse profligacy of her dullard husband, and indifferent to his philandering as her contempt of him now left her, yet in the affront thus publicly offered her, she felt that the limit of endurance had been reached.  Next day it was found that she had disappeared from Herrenhausen.  She had fled to her father’s court at Zell.

But her father received her coldly; lectured her upon the freedom and levity of her manners, which he condemned as unbecoming the dignity of her rank; recommended her to use in future greater prudence, and a proper, wifely submission; and, the homily delivered, packed her back to her husband at Herrenhausen.

George’s reception of her on her return was bitterly hostile.  She had been guilty of a more than usual, of an unpardonable want of respect for him.  She must learn what was due to her station, and to her husband.  He would thank her to instruct herself in these matters against his return from Berlin, whither he was about to journey, and he warned her that he would suffer no more tantrums of that kind.

Thus he delivered himself, with cold hate in his white, flabby, frog-face and in the very poise of his squat, ungainly figure.

Thereafter he departed for Berlin, bearing hate of her with him, and leaving hate and despair behind.

It was then, in this despair, that Sophia looked about her for a true friend to lend her the aid she so urgently required; to rescue her from her intolerable, soul-destroying fate.  And at her elbow, against this dreadful need, Destiny had placed her sometime playmate, her most devoted friend ­as she accounted him, and as, indeed, he was ­the elegant, reckless Koenigsmark, with his beautiful face, his golden mane, and his unfathomable blue eyes.

Walking with him one summer day between clipped hedges in the formal gardens of Herrenhausen ­that palace as squat and ungraceful as those who had built and who inhabited it ­she opened her heart to him very fully, allowed him, in her overwhelming need of sympathy, to see things which for very shame she had hitherto veiled from all other eyes.  She kept nothing back; she dwelt upon her unhappiness with her boorish husband, told him of slights and indignities innumerable, whose pain she had hitherto so bravely dissembled, confessed, even, that he had beaten her upon occasion.

Koenigsmark went red and white by turns, with the violent surge of his emotions, and the deep sapphire eyes blazed with wrath when she came at last to the culminating horror of blows endured.

“It is enough, madame,” he cried.  “I swear to you, as Heaven hears me, that he shall be punished.”

“Punished?” she echoed, checking in her stride, and looked at him with a smile of sad incredulity.  “It is not his punishment I seek, my friend, but my own salvation.”

“The one can be accomplished with the other,” he answered hotly, and struck the cut-steel hilt of his sword.  “You shall be rid of this lout as soon as ever I can come to him.  I go after him to Berlin to-night.”

The colour all faded from her cheeks, her sensitive lips fell apart, as she looked at him aghast.

“Why, what would you do?  What do you mean?” she asked him.

“I will send him the length of my sword, and so make a widow of you, madame.”

She shook her head.  “Princes do not fight,” she said, on a note of contempt.

“I shall so shame him that he will have no alternative ­unless, indeed, he is shameless.  I will choose my occasion shrewdly, put an affront on him one evening in his cups, when drink shall have made him valiant enough to commit himself to a meeting.  If even that will not answer, and he still shields himself behind his rank ­why, there are other ways to serve him.”  He was thinking, perhaps, of Mr. Thynne.

The heat of so much reckless, romantic fury on her behalf warmed the poor lady, who had so long been chilled for want of sympathy, and starved of love.  Impulsively she caught his hand in hers.

“My friend, my friend!” she cried, on a note that quivered and broke.  “You are mad ­wonderfully beautifully mad, but mad.  What would become of you if you did this?”

He swept the consideration aside by a contemptuous, almost angry gesture.  “Does that matter?  I am concerned with what is to become of you.  I was born for your service, my princess, and the service being rendered...”  He shrugged and smiled, threw out his hands and let them fall again to his sides in an eloquent gesture.  He was the complete courtier, the knight-errant, the romantic preux-chevalier all in one.

She drew closer to him, took the blue lapels of his military coat in her white hands, and looked pathetically up into his beautiful face.  If ever she wanted to kiss a man, she surely wanted to kiss Koenigsmark in that moment, but as she might have kissed a loving brother, in token of her deep gratitude for his devotion to her who had known so little true devotion.

“If you knew,” she said, “what balsam this proof of your friendship has poured upon the wounds of my soul, you would understand my utter lack of words in which to thank you.  You dumbfound me, my friend; I can find no expression for my gratitude.”

“I ask no gratitude,” quoth he.  “I am all gratitude myself that you should have come to me in the hour of your need.  I but ask your leave to serve you in my own way.”

She shook her head.  She saw his blue eyes grow troubled.

He was about to speak, to protest, but she hurried on.  “Serve me if you will ­God knows I need the service of a loyal friend ­but serve me as I shall myself decide ­no other way.”

“But what alternative service can exist?” he asked, almost impatiently.

“I have it in mind to escape from this horrible place ­to quit Hanover, never to return.”

“But to go whither?”

“Does it matter?  Anywhere away from this hateful court, and this hateful life; anywhere, since my father will not let me find shelter at Zell, as I had hoped.  Had it not been for the thought of my children, I should have fled long ago.  For the sake of those two little ones I have suffered patiently through all these years.  But the limit of endurance has been reached and passed.  Take me away.  Koenigsmark!” She was clutching his lapels again.  “If you would really serve me, help me to escape.”

His hands descended upon hers, and held them prisoned against his breast.  A flush crept into his fair cheeks, there was a sudden kindling of the eyes that looked down into her own piteous ones.  These sensitive, romantic natures are quickly stirred to passion, ever ready to yield to the adventure of it.

“My princess,” he said, “you may count upon your Koenigsmark while he has life.”  Disengaging her hands from his lapels, but still holding them, he bowed low over them, so low that his heavy golden mane tumbled forward on either side of his handsome head to form a screen under cover of which he pressed his lips upon her fingers.

She let him have his will with her hands.  It was little enough reward for so much devotion.

“I thank you again,” she breathed.  “And now I must think ­I must consider where I can count upon finding refuge.”

That cooled his ardour a little.  His own high romantic notion was, no doubt, to fling her there and then upon the withers of his horse, and so ride out into the wide world to carve a kingdom for her with his sword.  Her sober words dispelled the dream, revealed to him that it was not quite intended he should hereafter be her custodian.  And there for the moment the matter was suspended.

Both had behaved quite recklessly.  Each should have remembered that an Electoral Princess is not wise to grant a protracted interview, accompanied by lapel-holding, hand-holding, and hand-kissings, within sight of the windows of a palace.  And, as it happened, behind one of those windows lurked the Countess von Platen, watching them jealously, and without any disposition to construe the meeting innocently.  Was she not the deadly enemy of both?  Had not the Princess whetted satire upon her, and had not Koenigsmark scorned the love she proffered him, and then unpardonably published it in a ribald story to excite the mirth of profligates?

That evening the Countess purposefully sought her lover, the Elector.

“Your son is away in Prussia,” quoth she.  “Who guards his honour in his absence?”

“George’s honour?” quoth the Elector, bulging eyes staring at the Countess.  He did not laugh, as might have been expected at the notion of guarding something whose existence was not easily discerned.  He had no sense of humour, as his appearance suggested.  He was a short, fat man with a face shaped like a pear ­narrow in the brow and heavy in the jowl.  “What the devil do you mean?” he asked.

“I mean that this foreign adventurer, Koenigsmark, and Sophia grow too intimate.”

“Sophia!” Thick eyebrows were raised until they almost met the line of his ponderous peruke.  His face broke into malevolent creases expressive of contempt.

“That white-faced ninny!  Bah!” Her very virtue was matter for his scorn.

“It is these white-faced ninnies can be most sly,” replied the Countess, out of her worldly wisdom.  “Listen a moment now.”  And she related, with interest rather than discount, you may be sure, what she had witnessed that afternoon.

The malevolence deepened in his face.  He had never loved Sophia, and he felt none the kinder towards her for her recent trip to Zell.  Then, too, being a libertine, and the father of a libertine, it logically followed that unchastity in his women-folk was in his eyes the unpardonable sin.

He heaved himself out of his deep chair.  “How far has this gone?” he demanded.

Prudence restrained the Countess from any over-statement that might afterwards be disproved.  Besides, there was not the need, if she could trust her senses.  Patience and vigilance would presently afford her all the evidence required to damn the pair.  She said as much, and promised the Elector that she would exercise herself the latter quality in his son’s service.  Again the Elector did not find it grotesque that his mistress should appoint herself the guardian of his son’s honour.

The Countess went about that congenial task with zeal ­though George’s honour was the least thing that concerned her.  What concerned her was the dishonour of Sophia, and the ruin of Koenigsmark.  So she watched assiduously, and set others, too, to watch for her and to report.  And almost daily now she had for the Elector a tale of whisperings and hand-pressings, and secret stolen meetings between the guilty twain.  The Elector enraged, and would have taken action, but that the guileful Countess curbed him.  All this was not enough.  An accusation that could not be substantiated would ruin all chance of punishing the offenders, might recoil, indeed, upon the accusers by bringing the Duke of Zell to his daughter’s aid.  So they must wait yet awhile until they held more absolute proof of this intrigue.

And then at last one day the Countess sped in haste to the Elector with word that Koenigsmark and the Princess had shut themselves up together in the garden pavilion.  Let him come at once, and he should so discover them for himself, and thus at last be able to take action.  The Countess was flushed with triumph.  Be that meeting never so innocent ­and Madame von Platen could not, being what she was, and having seen what she had seen, conceive it innocent ­it was in an Electoral Princess an unforgivable indiscretion, to take the most charitable view, which none would dream of taking.  So the Elector, fiercely red in the face, hurried off to the pavilion with Madame von Platen following.  He came too late, despite the diligence of his spy.

Sophia had been there, but her interview with the Count had been a brief one.  She had to tell him that at last she was resolved in all particulars.  She would seek a refuge at the court of her cousin, the Duke of Wolfenbuttel, who, she was sure ­for the sake of what once had lain between them ­would not now refuse to shelter and protect her.  Of Koenigsmark she desired that he should act as her escort to her cousin’s court.

Koenigsmark was ready, eager.  In Hanover he would leave nothing that he regretted.  At Wolfenbuttelyy, having served Sophia faithfully, his ever-growing, romantic passion for her might find expression.  She would make all dispositions, and advise him when she was ready to set out.  But they must use caution, for they were being spied upon.  Madame von Platen’s over-eagerness had in part betrayed her.  It was, indeed, their consciousness of espionage which had led to this dangerous meeting in the seclusion of the pavilion, and which urged him to linger after Sophia had left him.  They were not to be seen to emerge together.

The young Dane sat alone on the window-seat, his chin in his hands, his eyes dreamy, a faint smile on his shapely lips, when Ernest Augustus burst furiously in, the Countess von Platen lingering just beyond the threshold.  The Elector’s face was apoplectically purple from rage and haste, his breath came in wheezing gasps.  His bulging eyes swept round the chamber, and fastened finally, glaring, upon the startled Koenigsmark.

“Where is the Princess?” he blurted out.

The Count espied Madame von Platen in the back ground, and had the scent of mischief very strong.  But he preserved an air of innocent mystification.  He rose and answered with courteous ease: 

“Your Highness is seeking her?  Shall I ascertain for you?”

At a loss, Ernest Augustus stared a moment, then flung a glance over his shoulder at the Countess.

“I was told that her Highness was here,” he said.

“Plainly,” said Koenigsmark, with perfect calm, “you have been misinformed.”  And his quiet glance and gesture invited the Elector to look round for himself.

“How long have you been here yourself?” Feeling at a disadvantage, the Elector avoided the direct question that was in his mind.

“Half an hour at least.”

“And in that time you have not seen the Princess?”

“Seen the Princess?” Koenigsmark’s brows were knit perplexedly.  “I scarcely understand your Highness.”

The Elector moved a step and trod on a soft substance.  He looked down, then stooped, and rose again, holding in his hand a woman’s glove.

“What’s this?” quoth he.  “Whose glove is this?”

If Koenigsmark’s heart missed a beat ­as well it may have done ­he did not betray it outwardly.  He smiled; indeed he almost laughed.

“Your Highness is amusing himself at my expense by asking me questions that only a seer could answer.”

The Elector was still considering him with his ponderously suspicious glance, when quick steps approached.  A serving-maid, one of Sophia’s women, appeared in the doorway of the pavilion.

“What do you want?” the Elector snapped at her.

“A glove her Highness lately dropped here,” was the timid answer, innocently precipitating the very discovery which the woman had been too hastily dispatched to avert.

The Elector flung the glove at her, and there was a creak of evil laughter from him.  When she had departed’ he turned again to Koenigsmark.

“You fence skilfully,” said he, sneering, “too skilfully for an honest man.  Will you now tell me without any more of this, precisely what the Princess Sophia was doing here with you?”

Koenigsmark drew himself stiffly up, looking squarely into the furnace of the Elector’s face.

“Your Highness assumes that the Princess was here with me, and a prince is not to be contradicted, even when he insults a lady whose spotless purity is beyond his understanding.  But your Highness can hardly expect me to become in never so slight a degree a party to that insult by vouchsafing any answer to your question.”

“That is your last word, sir?” The Elector shook with suppressed anger.

“Your Highness cannot think that words are necessary?”

The bulging eyes grew narrow, the heavy nether lip was thrust forth in scorn and menace.

“You are relieved, sir, of your duties in the Electoral Guard, and as that is the only tie binding you to Hanover, we see no reason why your sojourn here should be protracted.”

Koenigsmark bowed stiffly, formally.  “It shall end, your Highness, as soon as I can make the necessary arrangements for my departure ­in a week at most.”

“You are accorded three days, sir.”  The Elector turned, and waddled out, leaving Koenigsmark to breathe freely again.  The three days should suffice for the Princess also.  It was very well.

The Elector, too, thought that it was very well.  He had given this troublesome fellow his dismissal, averted a scandal, and placed his daughter-in-law out of the reach of harm.  Madame von Platen was the only one concerned who thought that it was not well at all, the consummation being far from that which she had desired.  She had dreamt of a flaming scandal, that should utterly consume her two enemies, Sophia and Koenigsmark.  Instead, she saw them both escaping, and the fact that she was ­as she may have supposed ­effectively separating two loving hearts could be no sort of adequate satisfaction for such bitter spite as hers.  Therefore she plied her wicked wits to force an issue more germane to her desires.

The course she took was fraught with a certain peril.  Yet confident that at worst she could justify it, and little fearing that the worst would happen, she boldly went to work.  She forged next day a brief note in which the Princess Sophia urgently bade Koenigsmark to come to her at ten o’clock that night in her own apartments, and with threat and bribe induced the waiting woman of the glove to bear that letter.

Now it so happened that Koenigsmark, through the kind offices of Sophia’s maid-of-honour, Mademoiselle de Knesebeck, who was in the secret of their intentions, had sent the Princess a note that morning, briefly stating the urgency of departure, and begging her so to arrange that she could leave Herrenhausen with him on the morrow.  He imagined the note now brought him to be in answer to that appeal of his.  Its genuineness he never doubted, being unacquainted with Sophia’s writing.  He was aghast at the rashness which dictated such an assignation, yet never hesitated as to keeping it.  It was not his way to hesitate.  He trusted to the gods who watch over the destinies of the bold.

And meanwhile Madame von Platen was reproaching her lover with having dealt too softly with the Dane.

“Bah!” said the Elector.  “To-morrow he goes his ways, and we are rid of him.  Is not that enough?”

“Enough, if, soon as he goes, he goes not too late already,” quoth she.

“Now what will you be hinting?” he asked her peevishly.

“I’ll be more plain.  I will tell you what I know.  It is this.  Koenigsmark has an assignation with the Princess Sophia this very night at ten o’clock ­and where do you suppose?  In her Highness’s own apartments.”

The Elector came to his feet with an oath.  “That is not true!” he cried.  “It cannot be!”

“Then I’ll say no more,” quoth Jezebel, and snapped her thin lips.

“Ah, but you shall.  How do you know this?”

“That I cannot tell you without betraying a confidence.  Let it suffice you that I do know it.  Consider now whether in banishing this profligate you have sufficiently avenged the honour of your son.”

“My God, if I thought this were true....”  He choked with rage, stood shaking a moment, then strode to the door, calling.

“The truth is easily ascertained,” said Madame.  “Conceal yourself in the Rittersaal, and await his coming forth.  But you had best go attended, for it is a very reckless rogue, and he has been known aforetime to practice murder.”

Whilst the Elector, acting upon this advice, was getting his men together, Koenigsmark was wasting precious moments in Sophia’s antechamber, whilst Mademoiselle de Knesebeck apprised her Highness of his visit.  Sophia had already retired to bed, and the amazing announcement of the Count’s presence there startled her into a fear of untoward happenings.  She was overwhelmed, too, by the rashness of this step of his, coming after the events of yesterday.  If it should be known that he had visited her thus, terrible consequences might ensue.  She rose, and with Mademoiselle de Knesebeck’s aid made ready to receive him.  Yet for all that she made haste, the precious irreclaimable moments sped.

She came to him at last, Mademoiselle de Knesebeck following, for propriety’s sake.

“What is it?” she asked him breathlessly.  “What brings you here at such an hour?”

“What brings me?” quoth he, surprised at that reception.  “Why, your commands ­your letter.”

“My letter?  What letter?”

A sense of doom, of being trapped, suddenly awoke in him.  He plucked forth the treacherous note, and proffered it.

“Why, what does this mean?” She swept a white hand over her eyes and brows, as if to brush away some thing that obscured her vision.  “That is not mine.  I never wrote it.  How could you dream I should be imprudent as to bid you hither, and at such an hour How could you dream it?”

“You are right,” said he, and laughed, perhaps to ease her alarm, perhaps in sheer bitter mirth.  “It will be, no doubt, the work of our friend, Madame von Platen.  I had best begone.  For the rest, my travelling chaise will wait from noon until sunset to-morrow by the Markt Kirck in Hanover, and I shall wait within it.  I shall hope to conduct you safely to Wolfenbuttelyy.”

“I will come, I will come.  But go now ­oh, go!”

He looked very deeply into her eyes ­a valedictory glance against the worst befalling him.  Then he took her hand, bowed over it and kissed it, and so departed.

He crossed the outer ante-room, descended the short flight of stairs, and pushed open the heavy door of the Hall of Knights.  He passed through, and thrust the door behind him, then stood a moment looking round the vast apartment.  If he was too late to avoid the springs of the baited trap, it was here that they should snap upon him.  Yet all was still.  A single lamp on a table in the middle of the vast chamber shed a feeble, flickering light, yet sufficient to assure him that no one waited here.  He sighed relief, wrapped his cloak about him, and set out swiftly to cross the hall.

But even as he passed, four shadows detached themselves from the tall stove, resolved themselves into armed men, and sprang after him.

He heard them, wheeled about, flung off his cloak, and disengaged his sword, all with the speed of lightning and the address of the man who for ten years had walked amid perils, and learned to depend upon his blade.  That swift action sealed his doom.  Their orders were to take him living or dead, and standing in awe of his repute, they were not the men to incur risks.  Even as he came on guard, a partisan grazed his head, and another opened his breast.

He went down, coughing and gasping, blood dabbling his bright golden hair, and staining the priceless Mechlin at his throat, yet his right hand still desperately clutching his useless sword.

His assassins stood about him, their partisans levelled to strike again, and summoned him to yield.  Then, beside one of them, he suddenly beheld the Countess von Platen materializing out of the surrounding shadows as it seemed, and behind her the squat, ungraceful figure of the Elector.  He fought for breath.  “I am slain,” he gasped, “and as I am to appear before my Maker I swear to you that the Princess Sophia is innocent.  Spare her at least, your Highness.”

“Innocent!” said the Elector hoarsely.  “Then what did you now in her apartments?

“It was a trap set for us by this foul hag, who...”

The heel of the vindictive harridan ground viciously upon the lips of the dying man and choked his utterance.  Thereafter the halberts finished him off, and he was buried there and then, in lime, under the floor of the Hall of Knights, under the very spot where he had fallen, which was long to remain imbrued with his blood.

Thus miserably perished the glittering Koenigsmark, a martyr to his own irrepressible romanticism.

As for Sophia, better might it have been for her had she shared his fate that night.  She was placed under arrest next morning, and Prince George was summoned back from Berlin at once.

The evidence may have satisfied him that his honour had not suffered, for he was disposed to let the matter drop, content that they should remain in the forbidding relations which had existed between them before this happening.  But Sophia was uncompromising in her demand for strict justice.

“If I am guilty, I am unworthy of you,” she told him.  “If innocent, you are unworthy of me.”

There was no more to be said.  A consistory court was assembled to divorce them.  But since with the best intentions there was no faintest evidence of her adultery, this court had to be content to pronounce the divorce upon the ground of her desertion.

She protested against the iniquity of this.  But she protested in vain.  She was carried off into the grim captivity of a castle on the Ahlen, to drag out in that melancholy duress another thirty-two years of life.

Her death took place in November of 1726.  And the story runs that on her death-bed she delivered to a person of trust a letter to her sometime husband, now King George I. of England.  Seven months later, as King George was on his way to his beloved Hanover, that letter was placed in his carriage as it crossed the frontier into Germany.  It contained Sophia’s dying declaration of innocence, and her solemn summons to King George to stand by her side before the judgment-seat of Heaven within a year, and there make answer in her presence for the wrongs he had done her, for her blighted life and her miserable death.

King George’s answer to that summons was immediate.  The reading of that letter brought on the apoplectic seizure of which he died in his carriage next day ­the 9th of June, 1727 ­on the road to Osnabrück.