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The foretaste of death overspread the blooming face of Rudolph with a livid paleness thick drops of sweat gathered upon his forehead; and the other exclaimed with a sneer-"I'm going you take too much time for consideration. May be you will see and recognise me at the place of execution and, if so, I shall have the dice with me; and it will not be too late even then to give me a sign: but take notice I can't promise to attend.”
Rudolph raised his forehead from the palm of his hand, in which he had buried it during the last moments of his perturbation, and would have spoken something in reply: but his counsellor was already gone. He felt glad, and yet at the same time sorry. The more he considered the man and his appearance, so much the less seemed his resemblance to his friend whom he had left buried on the field of battle. This friend had been the very soul of affectionate cordiality-a temper that was altogether wanting to his present counsellor. No! the scornful and insulting tone with which he treated the unhappy prisoner, and the unkind manner with which he had left him, convinced Schroll that he and Werl must be two different persons. Just at this moment a thought struck him, like a blast of lightning, of the black book that had perished in the fire and its ominous contents. A lucky cast of the dice! Aye; that then was the shape in which the tempter had presented himself; and heartily glad he felt that he had not availed himself of his suggestions.
But this temper of mind was speedily changed by his young bride, who hurried in, soon after, sobbing, and flung her arms about his neck. He told her of the proposal which had been made to him; and she was shocked that he had not immediately accepted it.
With a bleeding heart, Rudolph objected that so charming and lovely a creature could not miss of a happy fate, even if he should be forced to quit her. But she protested vehemently that he or nobody should enjoy her love.
The clergyman, who visited the
prisoner immediately after her departure, restored some composure to his mind, which had been altogether banished by the presence of his bride. "Blessed are they who die in the Lord!" said the grey-haired divine; and with so much earnestness and devotion, that this single speech had the happiest effect upon the prisoner's mind.
On the morning after this night of agitation-the morning of the fatal day-the three criminals saw each other for the first time since their arrest. Community of fate, and long separation from each other, contributed to draw still closer the bond of friendship that had been first knit on the field of battle. Each of the three testified a lively abhorrence for the wretched necessity of throwing death to some one of his comrades, by any cast of the dice which should bring life to himself. Dear as their several friends were to all, yet at this moment the brotherly league, which had been tried and proved in the furnace of battle, was triumphant over all opposing considerations. Each would have preferred death himself, rather than escape it at the expense of his comrade.
The worthy clergyman, who possessed their entire confidence, found them loudly giving utterance to this heroic determination. Shaking his head, he pointed their attention to those who had claims upon them whilst living, and for whom it was their duty to wish to live as long as possible." Place your trust in God!" said he : (6 resign yourselves to him! He it is that will bring about the decision through your hands; and think not of ascribing that power to yourselves, or to his lifeless instruments-the dice. He, without whose permission no sparrow falls to the ground, and who has numbered every hair upon your head-He it is that knows best what is good for you; and he only."
The prisoners assented by squeezing his hand, embraced each other, and received the sacrament in the best disposition of mind. After this ceremony they breakfasted together, in as resigned, nay, almost in as joyous a mood as if the gloomy and bloody morning
which lay before them were ushering in some gladsome festival.
When, however, the procession was marshalled from the outer gate, and their beloved friends were admitted to utter their last farewells, then again the sternness of their courage sank beneath the burthen of their melancholy fate. "Rudolph!" whispered amongst the rest his despairing bride, "Rudolph! why did you reject the help that was offered to you?" He adjured her not to add to the bitterness of parting; and she in turn adjured him, a little before the word of command was given to march-which robbed her of all consciousness-to make a sign to the stranger who had volunteered his offer of deliverance, provided he should anywhere observe him in the crowd.
The streets and the windows were lined with spectators. Vainly did each of the criminals seek, by accompanying the clergyman in his prayers, to shelter himself from the thought, that all return, perhaps, was cut off from him. The large house of his bride's father reminded Schroll of a happiness that was now lost to him for ever, if any faith were to be put in the words of his yesterday's monitor; and a very remarkable faintness came over him. The clergyman, who was acquainted with the circumstances of his case, and, therefore, guessed the occasion of his sudden agitation, laid hold of his arm—and said, with a powerful voice, that he who trusted in God would assuredly see all his righteous hopes accomplished-in this world, if it were God's pleasure; but, if not, in a better. These were words of comfort: but their effect lasted only for a few moments. Outside the city gate his eyes were met by the sand-hill already thrown up a spectacle which renewed bis earthly hopes and fears. He threw a burried glance about him: but no where could he see his last night's visi
standers regarded him with silent congratulations in their eyes. For this man and Rudolph were the two special objects of the general compassion; this man, as the husband and father; Rudolph, as the youngest and handsomest, and because some report had gone abroad of his superior education and attainments.
Every moment the decision came nearer and nearer. It has begun. One of the three has already shaken the box: the die is cast: he has thrown a six. This throw was now registered amid the solemn silence of the crowd. The by3 ATHENEUM VOL. 14.
Rudolph was youngest in a double sense-youngest in years, and youngest in the service: for both reasons he was to throw last. It may be supposed, therefore, how much all present trembled for the poor delinquent, when the second of his comrades likewise flung a six.
Prostrated in spirit, Rudolph stared at the unpropitious die. Then a second time he threw a hurried glance around him-and that so full of desaire, that from horrid sympathy a violent shuddering ran through the by standers. "Here is no deliverer," thought Rudolph, "none to see me, or hear me ! And if there were, it is now too late: for no change of the die is any longer possible." So saying he seized the fatal die; convulsively his hand clutches it; and before the throw is made he feels that the die is broken in two.
During the universal thrill of astonishment which succeeded to this strange accident, he looked round again. A sudden shock, and a sudden joy, fled through his countenance. Not far from him, in the dress of a pedlar, stands Theiler without a wound-the comrade whose head had been carried off on the field of battle by a cannonball. Rudolph made an under sign to him with his eye. For clear as it now was to his mind-with whom he was dealing, yet, the dreadful trial of the moment overpowered his better resolutions.
The military commission were in some confusion. No provision having been thought of against so strange an accident, there was no second die at hand. They were just on the point of despatching a messenger to fetch one, when the pediar presented himself with the offer of supplying the loss. new die is examined by the auditor, and delivered to the unfortunate Ru
dolph. He throws: the die is lying on the drum; and again it is a six! The amazement is universal: nothing is decided the throws must be repeated. They are: and Weber, the husband of the sick wife-the father of the two half-naked children, flings the lowest throw.
Immediately the officer's voice was heard wheeling his men into their position on the part of Weber there was as little delay. The overwhelming injury to his wife and children inflicted by his own act, was too mighty to contemplate. He shook hands rapidly with his two comrades; stept nimbly into his place; kneeled down; the word of command was heard-"Lower your musquets;" instantly he dropt the fatal handkerchief with the gesture of one who prays for some incalculable blessing: and in the twinkling of an eye, sixteen bullets had lightened the heart of the poor mutineer from its whole immeasurable freight of anguish.
All the congratulations, with which they were welcomed on their return into the city, fell powerless on Rudolph's ear! Scarcely could even Charlotte's caresses affect with any pleasure the man who believed himself to have sacrificed his comrade, through collusion with a fiend.
The importunities of Charlotte prevailed over all objections which the pride of her aged father suggested against a son-in-law who had been capitally convicted. The marriage was solemnized but at the wedding-festival, amidst the uproar of merriment, the parties chiefly concerned were not happy or tranquil. In no long time the father-in-law died, and by his death placed the young couple in a state of complete independence. But Charlotte's fortune, and the remainder of what Rudolph had inherited from his father, were speedily swallowed up by an idle and luxurious mode of living. Rudolph now began to ill-use his wife. To escape from his own conscience, he plunged into all sorts of dissolute courses. And very remarkable it wasthat from manifesting the most violent abhorrence for every thing which could lead his thoughts to his own fortunate
cast of the die, he gradually came to entertain so uncontrollable a passion for playing at dice-that he spent all his time in the company of those with whom he could turn this passion to account. His house had long since passed out of his own hands: not a soul could be found anywhere to lend him a shilling. The sickly widow of Weber and her two children, whom he had hitherto supported, lost their home and means of livelihood. And in no long space of time the same fate fell upon himself, his wife, and his child.
Too little used to labour to have any hope of improving his condition in that way, one day he bethought himself that the Medical Institute was in the habit of purchasing from poor people during their life-time the reversion of their bodies. To this establishment he addressed himself; and the ravages in his personal appearance and health, caused by his dissolute life, induced them the more readily to lend an ear to his proposal.
But the money thus obtained, which had been designed for the support of his wife and half-famished children, was squandered at the gaming-table. As the last dollar vanished, Schroll bit one of the dice furiously between his teeth. Just then he heard these words whispered in his ear-" Gently, brother, gently: All dice do not split in two, like that on the sand-hill." He looked round in agitation: but saw no trace of any one who could have uttered the words.
With dreadful imprecations on himself and those with whom he had played, he flung out of the gaming-house, homewards on his road to the wretched garret where his wife and children were awaiting his return and his succour. But here the poor creatures, tormented by hunger and cold, pressed upon him so importunately, that he had no way to deliver himself from misery but by flying from the spectacle. But whither could he go thus late at night, when his utter poverty was known in every ale-house? Roaming he knew not whither, he found himself at length The moon was in the churchyard. shining solemnly upon the quiet gravestones, though obscured at intervals by
piles of stormy clouds. shuddered at nothing but at himself and his own existence. He strode with bursts of laughter over the dwellings of the departed; and entered a vault which gave him shelter from the icy blasts of wind which now began to bluster more loudly than before. The moon threw her rays into the vault full upon the golden legend inscribed in the wall-"Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord!" Schroll took up a spade that was sticking in the ground, and struck with it furiously against the gilt letters on the wall: but they seemed indestructible; and he was going to assault them with a mattock, when suddenly a hand touched him on the shoulder, and said to him, "Gently, comrade: thy pains are all thrown away." Schroll uttered a loud exclamation of terror: for, in these words, he heard the voice of Weber, and, on turning round, recognised his whole person.
"What would'st thou have?" asked Rudolph,-" What art thou come for?""To comfort thee," replied the figure, which now suddenly assumed the form and voice of the pedlar to whom Schroll was indebted for the fortunate die. "Thou hast forgotten me: and thence it is that thou art fallen into misfortune. Look up and acknowledge thy friend in need that comes only to make thee happy again."
"If that be thy purpose, wherefore is it that thou wearest a shape before which, of all others that have been on earth, I have most reason to shudder?" "The reason is because I must not allow to any men my help or my converse on too easy terms. Before ever my die was allowed to turn thy fate, I was compelled to give thee cerfain intimations from which thou knew est with whom it was that thou wert dealing."
overcome by his desolate condition, he said immediately-" Dice: I would have dice that shall win whenever I wish."
Very well but first of all stand out of the blaze of this golden writing on the wall: it is a writing that has nothing to do with thee. Here are dice: never allow them to go out of thy own possession: for that might bring thee into great trouble. When thou needest me, light a fire at the last stroke of the midnight hour; throw in my dice and with loud laughter. They will crack once or twice, and then split. At that moment catch at them in the flames: but let not the moment slip, or thou art lost. And let not thy courage be daunted by the sights that I cannot but send before me whensoever I appear. Lastly avoid choosing any holy day for this work; and beware of the priest's benediction. Here, take the dice."
Schroll caught at the dice with one hand, whilst with the other he covered his eyes. When he next looked up, he was standing alone.
He now quitted the burying ground to return as hastily as possible to the gaming house, where the light of candles were still visible. But it was with the greatest difficulty that he obtained money enough from a "friend" to enable him to make the lowest stake which the rules allowed. He found it
much easier task to persuade the company to use the dice which he had brought with him. They saw in this nothing but a very common superstition-and no possibility of any imposture, as they and he should naturally have benefited alike by the good luck supposed to accompany the dice. But the nature of the charm was-that only the possessor of the dice enjoyed their supernatural powers; and hence it was, that towards morning, Schroll reeled home, intoxicated with wine and pleasure, and laden with the money of all present, to the garret where his family were lying, half frozen and famished.
"With whom then was it that I was dealing?" cried Schroll, staring with his eyes wide open, and his hair standing erect.
"Thou knewest, comrade, at that time-thou knowest at this moment," said the pedlar laughing, and tapping him on the shoulder. "But what is it that thou desirest?"
Their outward condition was immediately improved. The money, which Schroll had won, was sufficient not only for their immediate and most
Schroll struggled internally; but, pressing wants: it was enough also to
pay for a front apartment, and to leave a sum sufficient for a very considerable stake.
With this sum, and in better attire, Rudolph repaired to a gaming-house of more fashionable resort-and came home in the evening laden with gold. He now opened a gaming establishment himself; and so much did his family improve in external appearances within a very few weeks, that the police began to keep a watchful eye over him.
This induced him to quit the city, and to change his residence continual ly. All the different baths of Germany he resorted to beyond other towns: but, though his dice perseveringly maintained their luck, he yet never accumulated any money. Every thing was squandered upon the dissipated life which he and his family pursued.
At length at the baths of — matter began to take an unfortunate turn. A violent passion for a beautiful young lady whom Rudolph had attached himself to in vain at balls, concerts, and even at church, suddenly bereft him of all sense and discretion. One night, when Schroll (who now styled himself Captain Von Schrollshausen) was anticipating a masterstroke from his dice, probably for the purpose of winning the lady by the display of overflowing wealth and splendour, suddenly they lost their virtue, and failed him without warning. Hitherto they had lost only when he willed them to lose but, on this occasion, they failed at so critical a moment, as to lose him not only all his own money, but a good deal beside that he had borrowed.
Foaming with rage, he came home. He asked furiously after his wife: she was from home. He examined the dice attentively; and it appeared to him that they were not his own. A powerful suspicion seized upon him. Madame Von Schrollshausen had her own gaming circle as well as himself. Without betraying its origin, he had occasionally given her a few specimens of the privilege attached to his dice: and she had pressed him earnestly to allow her the use of them for a single evening. It was true he never parted with them even on going to bed: but it
was possible that they might have been changed whilst he was sleeping. The more he brooded upon this suspicion, the more it strengthened: from being barely possible, it became probable : from a probability it ripened into a certainty; and this certainty received the fullest confirmation at this moment when she returned home in the gayest temper, and announced to him that she had been this night overwhelmed with good luck; in proof of which, she poured out upon the table a considerable sum in gold coin. "And now," she added laughingly, "I care no longer for your dice; nay, to tell you the truth, I would not exchange my own
Rudolph, now confirmed in his suspicions, demanded the dice-as his property that had been purloined from him. See laughed and refused. He insisted with more vehemence; she retorted with warmth: both parties were irritated: and, at length, in the extremity of his wrath, Rudolph snatched up a knife and stabbed her: the knife pierced her heart: she uttered a single sob-was convulsed for a "Cursed acmoment-and expired. cident!" he exclaimed, when it clearly appeared, on examination, that the dice which she had in her purse were not those which he suspected himself to have lost.
No eye but Rudolph's had witnessed the murder: the child had slept on undisturbed but circumstances betrayed it to the knowledge of the landlord; and, in the morning, he was preparing to make it public. By great offers, however, Rudolph succeeded in purchasing the man's silence: he engaged in substance to make over to the landlord a large sum of money, and to marry his daughter, with whom he had long pursued a clandestine intrigue. Agreeably to this arrangement, it was publicly notified that Madame Von Schrollshausen had destroyed herself under a sudden attack of hypocondriasis, to which she had been long subject. Some there were undoubtedly who chose to be sceptics on this matter: but nobody had an interest sufficiently deep in the murdered person to prompt him to a legal inquiry.