But destiny is never propitious to German poets. The Cossacks swarm again upon the battle-field, and again they approach the groaning warrior in the open grave; he has no longer a glittering uniform, but the Cossack takes all; the poor old mantle excites his greed--he tears it from the unresisting soldier; he opens his hands and takes out the half gulden which Ewald von Kleist had received from the Russian hussar.
Again he lies naked, again the muddy water forces into his wounds, and adds cruel torture to the agonies of death. So lies he till the next day, till the enemy takes pity upon him and carries him as a prisoner to Frankfort. [Footnote: Ewald von Kleist died a few days after this, on the 24th of August. The Russians gave him an honorable burial; and as there was no sword upon his coffin, Captain Bulow, chief of the Russian dragoons, took his own from his side and placed it upon the bier, saying, "So worthy an officer shall not be buried without every mark of honor."--Archenholtz, 262.]
Happy those who meet with sudden death. It is true all the living did not share the cruel fate of Ewald von Kleist, but all those thousands who were borne wounded and bleeding from the battle-field were conscious of their sufferings and their defeat.
The little village of Octshef near the battle-field was a hospital. During the battle all the inhabitants had fled. The wounded had taken possession of the huts and the surgeons were hastening from house to house giving relief where it was possible. No one entered into those two little huts which lay at the other end of the village, somewhat separated from the others. And yet those huts contained two wounded men. They had been brought here during the battle--the surgeon had examined their wounds and gone out silently, never to return. Groaning from time to time, these two wounded men lay upon the straw, their eyes fixed upon the door, longing for the surgeon to bring them help, or at least alleviation.
And now the door was indeed opened, and an officer entered. Was it the obscurity of twilight, or had blood and pain blinded the eyes of the wounded men so that, they could not recognize the stranger? It was true his noble and generally cheerful face was now grave and stern, his cheeks were ashy pale, and his great, flashing eyes were dim; but there was still something inexpressibly majestic and commanding in his appearance--though defeated and cast down, he was still a hero, a king--Frederick the Great!
Frederick had come to take up his quarters in this lonely hut, to be alone in his great grief; but when he saw the two wounded men, his expression changed to one of earnest sympathy. With hasty steps he drew near to the two officers, bowed over and questioned them kindly. They recognized his voice--that voice which had so often inspired them to bold deeds in the wild whirl of battle, but whose tones were now mild and sympathetic.
"The king!" cried both in joyful surprise, and forgetting their wounds and helplessness, they strove to rise, but sank back with hollow groans, with the blood streaming anew from their wounds.
"Poor children," said Frederick, "you are badly wounded."