Youth of the Great Elector - George Upton

The Hunting-Castle

It was in the morning of a beautiful spring day that the Prince and Leuchtmar rode together into the forest. They were on their way to the hunting-castle of Letzlingen, which the Prince's parents had selected as his summer residence. The Prince had been there during the previous summer and had left it in the autumn with the wood-birds of the romantic spot. He had looked forward longingly to this journey and could hardly wait for the day of departure. When he left in the autumn, the firs, enveloped in haze, looked to him like priests in dark robes standing at graves. Now the trees and shrubs were arrayed in bright new garments. He was overcome with joy in the fragrant arcades of the forest, shot through with golden sunbeams. What a soft, delicious life met his gaze everywhere. Now nimble squirrels frisked up the gray trunks of the oaks and watched the travellers inquisitively with bushy ears and tails uplifted. Again, a woodpecker tapped upon a dry limb, and under a tree stood a deer and two fauns, the slender animals looking fearlessly at the riders with their dark, beautiful eyes. Wood-doves, rollers, and nuthatches enlivened the crowns of the high oaks and firs. The cuckoo called in the distance, and in the clear sky a hawk circled with shrill screams.

The riders were now nearing the castle. The dogs must have known of their coming, for their loud barking was heard in the distance. "I know every one of them by their voices," said the Prince delightedly. "I hear Nimrod, and Diana, and Ajax. I wonder if they will know me?"

"Dogs are just as grateful to those who treat them well as men are," replied Leuchtmar. "They have not forgotten their last summer's friend."

At a short distance from the castle stood a charcoal-burner's house. He was evidently aware of the Prince's coming, for the family were at the door and the little cherry-cheeked daughter handed the Prince a nosegay.

The Prince reined in his horse, bowed, and took the flowers, saying: "I have something for you also, Dorothy. It is in my chest, which is on the way; you shall have it in the morning." Then he asked her parents how they were getting along, and after they had replied, the two rode on to the castle. The forester had already opened the gate, which was decorated with oak leaves, and with his wife and his young hunters in holiday attire met the Prince. He courteously extended his hand and inquired about their health. A favorable reply came from all. Meanwhile there were some others waiting anxiously to welcome him. Nimrod, Diana, and Ajax joyously barked and leaped about him, and the gold-brown Nimrod was so overcome by his emotions that he sprang upon the Prince and licked his face.

The Prince spent nearly the entire day visiting his favorite spots in the vicinity of the castle. It was not only the beauty of the woods which endeared the place to him, but the fact that in former years his parents had been accustomed to spend their summers there.

Much had happened of late in the theatre of war, much also in the immediate vicinity of the Prince which was kept concealed from him, though it might not have been had it not been for one predominant feature of his character,—his submission to the parental will. Several detachments of Wallenstein's army had been in the neighborhood of Custrin in 1627. Several of the imperial officers also had visited Custrin, and upon one of these occasions he was presented by Count Schoffgotsch with the cream-colored pony upon which he rode to the hunting-castle.

One day the Prince asked Leuchtmar what the appearance of these Austrian soldiers meant, and was answered that his parents wished him to refrain from asking such questions. In good time he would be told. It would be wrong for him to know now, as it would disturb his studies.