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The Major's Reward

The Major's Reward image
Parent Issue
Day
14
Month
July
Year
1899
Copyright
Public Domain
OCR Text

The great battle of Torgau was at lts height. The air was thick with hot, tifling smoke, and the eannonade made the very earth tremble as column after column of blue coated Pruseian soldiers came sweeping forth from the wood that sheltered them from the flarning rnouths of 400 canaon whieh thundered incessantly agalnst the wood held by the Prussians and against every living thing that issued from it. Twice the assailants had foreed their way tbrough the pelting shot, and twlce they had been driven back with severe loss after a desperate conflict. In the mad hurly burly and confusión of that terrible struggle the two arrnies had got so coinpletely mingled together that not a few Prussian and Austrian regirnents had fairly changed places, and when the third attack began it was no easy matter for the Prussian column of assault to make out where the key of the euemy's position lay or which way they must turn in order to strike it. But just then appeared out of the thick of the smoke a small, lean, sickly looking old man, in a soiled and threadbare uniform, at the sight of whom and at the sound of the few short, clear orders that he uttered everything seemed to arrange itself at once as if by magie. And well might it be so; for this queer little fellow was ao other than the King of Prussia himelf. Frederick the Great, who had already sent is name throughout the whole world as the greatest soldier of his time. Just then, however, a body of Ausi.rian grenadiers showed themselves through the rolling smoke at a short distance and began to pour a heavy fire of musketry upon the Prussians and their leader. Two men feil wounded beside the king, and his own sleeve was torn by a bullet. "Tour majesty is in danger here," eaid a Prussian offleer, saluting him respectfully. "Will you not be pleased to move farther back?" Frederick was just about to refuse, for he cared little what risk he ran pro■vided his presenee could do anything to turn the fortune of the battle. But before he had time to speak the officer (who had placed himself in front of the king, apparently to shield him from the flying bullets with his own body) feil to the ground as if struck by lightning. Frederick stooped over him with a look of concern, for he saw that the fcreast of the fallen man's uniform had been piereed by a bullet and naturally coneluded that he must be either killed or mortally wounded. But, to his no email amazement, the supposed dead man suddenly rose from the earth, to all appearances quite uninjured, and took out of his clothes a flattened musket ball, which had been stopped by the metal cover of a miniature that he wore in his breast. "I shall keep this," said he, holding out the shapeless piece of lead, "in remembrance of your majesty." "You shall have something better than that to remember me by, my brave fellow," answered the king kindly. "You have sa ved my life, and you shall not find me ungrateful. What is yonr name?" The officer told it Frederick repeated it twice to himself, as if to fix it more surely in his memory, and thea he said: "Very good; I will not forget you. If we both live through this night's work, yon shall be promoted. And now let ach of us go to his duty." And on the following morning, when the battle was won and the Austrian arniy in full retreat, King Frederick made good his promise. But, unhappily, the brave officer Lood fortune went no further than this. Two years later the war came to an end, and Frederick, witb bis treasury enjpty and his whole kingdom lying wasted and ruined around him, wa fain to devote every penny that he could raise to the putting of matters to rights again. As a matter of course every b ranch of public expenditure bad to be cut down to the very lowest point. Among other economies the army was reduce by a good many thousand men, and tbe sudden disbanding of so many regiments at once was a heavy blow to tiundreds of officers who unexpectedly foend tbemselves cast upon the world In their old age witb no occupation, no snoney in tbeir poe kets and no visible (jray of gettiog any. Among the eountless suCerers by thii r.ieasure was poor Major Tapfermann, the nero of Torgau, who, with three wounde, chronic rheumntism and almost as little mouey as lie had ten years before, found it no easy matter to "ruake both euds meet." Oue by one lie had to part with all the little kniekknacks whieh he had treasured up so long- the silver mounted pistols presented to hiin by junior olfieers of his regiment, the fieldglass which he had nsed during his last campaign and the ivory handled hunting knife which had been given to him by an Austrian prisoner to whom he had shown sorne kindness. Even his watch had to be sold at last. But, although in this sore strait, he could not bring himself to part with the chain which had been a gift to him from his wife not long before her death. There was still. however, one hope left for the poor old man. King Frederick was now back again in his palace at Potsdam, near Berlin; and, ha ving by this time begun to get the affairs of his kingdom into sonie sort of order again, he was not so overwhelmingly busy as he had been before. Perhaps some help ruight be got from him, and, at all events, it was worth while to try. Tapfermann's first idea was to draw up a memorial stating his ease and send it to Frederick himself; but u then remembered that it would have to pass through several hands before reaching the king and might possibly never reach him at all. In any case he could not afford to wait long for an mswer, being almost down to his last penny as it was. so he finally determined to present himself at the palace and see what would become of it. The very next morning, accordingly, the major smartened up his worn and faded uniform as well as he could, and concealed the absence of his wateh by fixing the chain in its usual place a.nd keeping it there by attaching to one end of it the memorable "flattened bullet" of Torgau, wliich he had preserved as a souvenir ever since. Then, taking his stick in his hand, he set out for Potsdam. He had to do the whole nine miles on foot, the hire of a horse being far beyond his ineans, poor fellow, and when he reached the palace he was heated and oovered with dust and altogether a veiy strange figure to appear at a king's levee, as the scornful glances of the smart officials plainly told him. Among these there was one mean and malicious fellow, Hugo von Wakenitz by name, who held the post of chamberlain of the palace, and, being mortally jealous of every one whom the king seemed inclined to favor, and more especially of Frederick's old officers, always did his best to keep them away from the royal presence. It happeued by ill luck that just as Major Tafpermann opened his uniform to adjust his chain (which he had got out of place in the course of this long march), the chamberlain, looking down from one of the windows, saw what he was aDout. The courtier's quick eye detected at a glance that the chain had a bullet instead of a watch attached to it, and, far from pitying the old warrior's poverty, as any true man would have done, this spiteful rogue at once resolved to get rid of him by putting him to open shame before the whole assembled company. And it really seemed as if circumstances tbemselves had conspired to aid his cruel project, for when the king made his appearance his first remark was: "My wateh must surely be wrong, for I had no idea that it was anywhere near my hour for receiving visitors. Wakenitz, what says your wateh?" "Most unfortuuately, your majesty, mine has just stopped," answered the chamberlain. "But I see this worthy offieer here (glancing at Major Tapfermann) has brought his along with him, and he will doubtless be able to teil your majesty the true hour." The spiteful tone and look of the speaker did not escape the shrewd king; but, before he could make any comment, the stout old major, drawing himself up proudly, auswered Frederick's inquiring glance by holding up the useless watch chain and the flattened musket ball which hung to it so that every oue could see them. At the sight of the flattened bullet and the sound of the old warrior's voice the recolloction of his rescuer on the field of Torgau Üashed back upon the king's memory in a moment, and one glance at the brave old man's threadbare dress and at the malicious grin upon the face of the chamberlain sufficed to teil him the whole story. "Here is a watch for jou, my old comrade, which will teil you the right time," said Frederick, taking off his owu watch and handing it to the major, "and that you may have a chance of using it in my service I give you a place In my household from thts day forth. and as for you, you rascal," he added, casting a terrible look at the dlscomfited chamberlain, "since you are mean enough to insult an old man who has fought bravely for his king and country, get out of my eight, and never show your face here again!"-