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The White Mountain by August Strindberg

 

While the peace negotiations were being carried on in Osnabruck and Munster, the Thirty Years' War still flamed up here and there, more perhaps to keep the troops in practice, to provide support for the soldiers, and to have booty at command, than to defend any faith or the adherents of it.

All talk of religion had ceased, and the powers now played with their cards exposed. Protestant Saxony, the first State to support Lutheranism, worked in conjunction with Catholic Austria, and Catholic France with Protestant Sweden. In the battle of Wolfenbuttel, 1641, French Catholics fought against German Catholics, the latter of whom, however, later on carried the body of Johan Baner in their ranks.

The Swedish Generals thought little of peace, but when the negotiations dragged on to the seventh year, they thought the time had come to have some regard to it. “He who takes something, has something,” Wrangel wrote to his son.

Hans Christoph von Konigsmarck, who continued Johan Baner's traditions, had lately been with him at Zusmarshausen, and was now sent eastward in the direction of Bohemia. Since, besides cavalry, he had only five hundred foot-soldiers, he did not know what to do, but wandered about at random, and looked for booty. But nothing was to be found, for Johan Baner had already laid the district waste.

“Then they marched farther,” like Xenophon, and found the woods which bordered the highways' cut down; the fields were covered with weeds, and in the trees hung corpses; the churches had been burnt, but watch was kept in the churchyards in order that the corpses should not be eaten.

One night Konigsmarck himself was leading a small detachment in search of provisions. They rode into a wood where they saw a light burning. But it was only a red glow as if from a charcoal pile or a smithy. They dismounted from their horses, and stole on foot to the place. When they reached it, they heard voices singing a “Miserere” in low tones, and they saw men, women, and children sitting round an oven, the last remains of a village.

Konigsmark went forward alone, and, hidden behind a young fir-tree, he beheld a spectacle.... He had seen such sights before, but not under such circumstances. In an iron scoop on the oven some game was being roasted; it might have been an enormous hare, but was not. Like a hare, it was very spindle-shanked and lean over back and breast; only the hinder-parts seemed well developed; the head was placed, between the two fore-paws.... No! they were not fore-paws, but two five-fingered hands, and round the neck a charred rope was knotted. It was a man who had been hung, and whom they had cut down in order to eat him.

The General was not squeamish by nature, and had in his life passed through many experiences, but this went beyond all bounds. He was at first angry, and wished to interrupt the cannibals' meal, but when he saw the little children sitting on their mothers' knees with tufts of grass in their mouths, he was seized with compassion. The cannibals themselves looked like corpses or madmen, and the eyes and expectations of all were fastened on the oven. At the same time they sang “Lord, have mercy,” and prayed for pardon for the grievous sin which they were obliged to commit. “What does it really matter to me?” said the General to himself; “I only wish I had not seen it.” He returned to his men, and they marched on.

The wood became thinner, and they came to an open place where was something resembling a heap of stones, out of which there arose a single pillar. In the half-twilight which reigned they could not see distinctly, but on the pillar something seemed to be moving. The “something” resembled a man, but had only one arm.

“It is not a man, for he would have two arms,” said one of the soldiers.

“It would be strange, if a man could not have an arm missing.”

“Strange indeed! Perhaps it is a pillar-saint.”

“Give him a charge of powder, and we shall soon see.”

At the rattle of arms which was now heard there, rose a howl so terrible and multitudinous, that no one thought it came from the pillar-saint. At the same time the apparent heap of stones moved and became a living mass.

“They are wolves! Aim! Fire!”

A volley was fired, and the wolves fled. Konigsmarck rode through the smoke, and now saw a one-armed Imperialist standing on the chimney, which was all that was left of a burnt cottage. “Come down, and let us look at you,” he said.

The maimed man clambered down with his single arm, showing incredible agility. “We ought to have him to scale the wall with a storming-party,” said the General to himself.

Then the examination commenced.

“Are you alone?”

“Alone now—thanks to your grace, for the wolves have been round me for six hours.”

“What is your name? Where do you come from? Whither do you wish to go?”

“My name is Odowalsky; I come from Vienna; and I shall go to hell, if I don't get help.”

“Will you go with us?”

“Yes, as sure as I live! With anybody, if only I can live. I have lost my arm; I was given a house; they burnt it, and threw me out on the highway—with wife and child, of course!”

“Listen; do you know the way to Prague?”

“I can find the way to Prague, to the Hradschin and the Imperial treasure-house, Wallenstein's palace, the royal castle, Wallenstein's dancing-hall, and the Loretto Convent. There there is multum plus Plurimum.”

“What is your rank in the army?”

“First Lieutenant.”

“That is something different. Come with me, and you shall have a horse, Mr. First Lieutenant, and then let us see what you are good for.”

Odowalsky received a horse, and the General bade him ride beside him. He talked confidentially with him the whole night till they again rejoined the main body of the army.

       * * * * *

Some days later Konigsmarck stood with his little troop on the White Mountain left of Prague—“Golden Prague,” as it was called. It was late in the evening of the fifteenth of June. He had Odowalsky at his side, and seemed to be particularly good friends with him. But the troop knew nothing of the General's designs, and, as they saw that he went towards Prague, his officers were astounded, for the town was well fortified, and defended by a strong body of armed citizens.

“One can at any rate look at the show,” Konigsmarck answered to all objections; “that costs nothing.”

They halted on the White Mountain, without, however, pitching a camp. They saw nothing of the beautiful town, for it was dark, but they heard the church and convent bells.

“This, then, is the White Mountain, where the war broke out just thirty years ago,” said Konigsmarck to Odowalsky.

“Yes,” answered the Austrian. “It was then the Bohemian revolt broke out, your King Frederick V of the Palatinate was slain here, and there was great rejoicing at his death.”

“If you forget who you are, forget not who I am.”

“We will not quarrel about something that happened so long ago! But, as a matter of fact, the revolt was crushed, and the Protestants had to withdraw. What did they get by their trouble—the poor Bohemians? Hussites, Taborites, Utraquists sacrificed their lives, but Bohemia is still Catholic! It was all folly!”

“Do you belong to the Roman Church, First Lieutenant?”

“I don't belong to any Church at all; I belong to the army. And now we will take Prague with a coup de main.”

So it fell out. At midnight the foot-soldiers clambered over the wall, threw the sentinels into the moat, cut down the guards at the gates, and took that side of the town.

For three days the part of the city which lay on the left bank of the Moldau was plundered, and Konigsmarck is said to have sent five waggons laden with gold and silver to the north-west through Germany, as his own share of the spoil. Odowalsky received six thousand thalers for his trouble, and later on was raised to the Swedish House of Peers with the title of “Von Streitberg.”

But the right bank had not been captured. It was defended by ten thousand citizens, assisted by students, monks, and Jews. From ancient times there had been a large Jewish colony in Prague; the Jews were said to have escaped thither direct from Jerusalem during the last German crusade, and for that reason the island in the Moldau is still called Jerusalem. On this occasion the Jews so distinguished themselves that they received as a token of honour from the Emperor Ferdinand III a great flag, which can be still seen in their synagogue. Konigsmarck could not take the Old Town, but had to send for help to Wittenberg. The latter actually plundered Tabor and Budweis, but Prague, which had been plundered, did not attract him. Then the Count Palatine Karl Gustav had to come, and formally besieged the eastern portion of the town.

Konigsmarck dwelt in the Castle, where he could see the old hall of the States-General, from the window of which Count Thurn had thrown the Imperial governors Martiniz and Slavata; the Protestants say that they fell on a dungheap, but the Catholics maintain that it was an elder-bush.

Meanwhile Count Karl Gustav, who was a cousin of Frederick V, had as little success before Prague as the former. He became ill, and was sure that he had been poisoned. But he recovered, and was about to be reinforced by Wrangel, when news arrived that the Peace of Westphalia had been concluded.

With that the Thirty Years' War was at an end. Sweden received two million thalers and some places of importance; these were enfeoffed to Germany, and in exchange Sweden had three votes in the German Reichstag.

But Germany's population was only a quarter of what it had been, and, while it had formerly been one State under the Emperor, it was now split up into three hundred little States. However, the liberty of faith affirmed in the Confession of Augsburg, 1555, was recovered, and extended to the reformed districts. It was dearly bought, but with it North Germany had also obtained freedom from Rome, and that could not be too dearly purchased.

Out of chaos comes creation and new creation. From the Germanic chaos emerged North Germany, the seed of which was Brandenberg, later on developing into Prussia, and finally the German Empire, which received the imperial crown at Versailles, but not from the hands of Rome.

 
 
 

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