The Story Of My Life From Childhood To Manhood by Georg Ebers
Chapter IX. The Eighteenth of March.
The 17th passed so quietly that hopes of a peaceable outcome of the fateful conflict began to awake. My own recollections confirm this.
People believed so positively that the difficulty would be adjusted, that in the forenoon of the 18th my mother sent my eldest sister Martha to her drawing-lesson, which was given at General Baeyer's, in the Friedrichstrasse.
Ludo and I went to school, and when it was over the many joyful faces in the street confirmed what we had heard during the school hours.
The king had granted the Constitution and the "freedom of the press."
Crowds were collected in front of the placards which announced this fact, but there was no need to force our way through; their contents were read aloud at every corner and fountain.
One passer-by repeated it to another, and friend shouted to friend across the street. "Have you heard the news?" was the almost invariable question when people accosted one another, and at least one "Thank God!" was contained in every conversation. Two or three older acquaintances whom we met charged us, in all haste, to tell our mother; but she had heard it already, and her joy was so great that she forgot to scold us for staying away so long. Fraulein Lamperi, on the contrary, who dined with us, wept. She was convinced that the unfortunate king had been forced into something which would bring ruin both to him and his subjects. "His poor Majesty!" she sobbed in the midst of our joy.
Our mother loved the king too, but she was a daughter of the free Netherlands; two of her brothers and sisters lived in England; and the friends she most valued, whom she knew to be warmly and faithfully attached to the house of Hohenzollern, thought it high time that the Prussian people attained the majority to which that day had brought them. Moreover, her active mind knew no rest till it had won a clear insight into questions concerning the times and herself. So she had reached the conviction that no peace between king and people could be expected unless a constitution was granted. In Parliament she would have sat on the right, but that her adopted country should have a Parliament filled her with joyful pride.
Ludo and I were very gay. It was Saturday, and towards evening we were going to a children's ball given by Privy-Councillor Romberg--the specialist for nervous diseases--for his daughter Marie, for which new blue jackets had been made.
We were eagerly expecting them, and about three o'clock the tailor came.
Our mother was present when he tried them on, and when she remarked that now all was well, the man shook his head, and declared that the concessions of the forenoon had had no other object than to befool the people; that would appear before long.
While I write, it seems as if I saw again that poor little bearer of the first evil tidings, and heard once more the first shots which interrupted his prophecy with eloquent confirmation.
Our mother turned pale.
The tailor folded up his cloth and hurried away. What did his words mean, and what was the firing outside?
We strained our ears to listen. The noise seemed to grow louder and come nearer; and, just as our mother cried, "For Heaven's sake, Martha!" the cook burst into the room, exclaiming, "The row began in the Schlossplatz!"
Fraulein Lamperi shrieked, seized her bonnet and cloak, and the pompadour which she took with her everywhere, to hurry home as fast as she could.
Our mother could think only of Martha. She had dined at the Baeyers' and was now perhaps on the way home. Somebody must be sent to meet her. But of what use would be the escort of a maid; and Kurschner was gone, and the porter not to be found!
The cook was sent in one direction, the chambermaid in another, to seek a male escort for Martha.
And then there was Frau Lieutenant Beyer, our neighbour in the house, whose husband was on the general staff, asking: "How is it possible? Everything was granted! What can have happened?"
The answer was a rattle of musketry. We leaned out of the window, from which we could see as far as Potsdamstrasse. What a rush there was towards the gate! Three or four men dashed down the middle of the quiet street. The tall, bearded fellow at the head we knew well. It was the upholsterer Specht, who had often put up curtains and done similar work for us, a good and capable workman.
But what a change! Instead of a neat little hammer, he was flourishing an axe, and he and his companions looked as furious as if they were going to revenge some terrible injury.
He caught sight of us, and I remember distinctly the whites of his rolling eyes as he raised his axe higher, and shouted hoarsely, and as if the threat was meant for us:
"They shall get it!"
Our mother and Frau Beyer had seen and heard him too, and the firing in the direction of which the upholsterer and his companions were running was very near.
The fight must already be raging in Leipzigerstrasse.
At last the porter came back and announced that barricades had been built at the corner of Mauer-and Friedrichstrasse, and that a violent conflict had broken out there and in other places between the soldiers and the citizens. And our Martha was in Friedrichstrasse, and did not come. We lived beyond the gate, and it was not to be expected that fighting would break out in our neighbourhood; but back of our gardens, in the vicinity of the Potsdam railway station, the beating of drums was heard. The firing, however, which became more and more violent, was louder than any other noise; and when we saw our mother wild with anxiety, we, too, began to be alarmed for our dear, sweet Martha.
It was already dark, and still we waited in vain.
At last some one rang. Our mother hurried to the door--a thing she never did.
When we, too, ran into the hall, she had her arms around the child who had incurred such danger, and we little ones kissed her also, and Martha looked especially pretty in her happy astonishment at such a reception.
She, too, had been anxious enough while good Heinrich, General Maeyer's servant, who had been his faithful comrade in arms from 1813 to 1815, brought her home through all sorts of by-ways. But they had been obliged in various places to pass near where the fighting was going on, and the tender-hearted seventeen-year-old girl had seen such terrible things that she burst into tears as she described them.
For us the worst anxiety was over, and our mother recovered her composure. It was perhaps advisable for her, a defenceless widow, to leave the city, which might on the morrow be given over to the unbridled will of insurgents or of soldiers intoxicated with victory. So she determined to make all preparations for going with us to our grandmother in Dresden.
Meanwhile the fighting in the streets seemed to have increased in certain places to a battle, for the crash of the artillery grapeshot was constantly intermingled with the crackling of the infantry fire, and through it all the bells were sounding the tocsin, a wailing, warning sound, which stirred the inmost heart.
It was a fearful din, rattling and thundering and ringing, while the sky emulated the bloodsoaked earth and glowed in fiery red. It was said that the royal iron foundry was in flames.
At last the hour of bedtime came, and I still remember how our mother told us to pray for the king and those poor people who, in order to attain something we could not understand, were in such great peril.