"Adieu, D'Argens! dans ce tableau, De mon trepas tu vois la cause; Au moins ne pense pas du neant du caveau, Que j'aspire a l'apotheose. Tout ce que l'amitie par ces vers propose, C'est que tant qu'ici-bas le celeste flambeau; Eclairera tes jours tandis que je repose, Et lorsque le printemps paraissant de nouveau. De son sein abondant t'offre les fleurs ecloses, Chaque fois d'un bouquet de myrthes et de roses, Tu daignes parer mon tombeau."
[Footnote: "Adieu, D'Argens! In this picture Thou wilt see the cause of my death; At least, do not think, a nothing in the vault, That I aspire to apotheosis. All that friendship by these lines proposes Is only this much, that here the celestial torch May clear thy days while I repose, And each time when the Spring appears anew And from her abundant breast offers thee the flowers there enclosed That thou with a bouquet of myrtle and rose Wilt deign to decorate my tomb."]
"Ah!" murmured the king, as he folded and addressed his poetical letter, "how lovely it must now be at Sans-Souci! Well, well! my grave shall be there, and D'Argens will cover it with flowers. And have I no other friends at Sans-Souci? My good old hounds, my crippled soldiers! They cannot come to me, but I will go to them."
The king then arose, opened the door, and asked if a messenger was in readiness; receiving an answer in the affirmative, he gave the three letters to the adjutant. "And now my work is finished," said he, "now I can die." He took from his breast-pocket a small casket of gold which he always carried with him, and which, in the late battle, had served him as a shield against the enemy's balls. The lid had been hollowed in by a ball; strange to say, this casket, which had saved his life, was now to cause his death. For within it there was a small vial containing three pills of the most deadly poison, which the king had kept with him since the beginning of the war. The king looked at the casket thoughtfully. "Death here fought against death; and still how glorious it would have been to die upon the battle-field believing myself the victor!" He held the vial up to the light and shook it; and as the pills bounded up and down, he said, smiling sadly, "Death is merry! It comes eagerly to invite me to the dance. Well, well, my gay cavalier, I am ready for the dance."
He opened the vial and emptied the pills into his hand. Then arose and approached the window to see once more the sky with its glittering stars and its brightly-beaming moon, and the battle-field upon which thousands of his subjects had this day found their death. Then raised the hand with the pills. What was it that caused him to hesitate? Why did his hand fall slowly down? What were his eyes so intently gazing on?
The king was not gazing at the sky, the stars, or the moon; but far off into the distance, at the Austrian camp-fires. There were the conquerors, there was Soltikow and Loudon with their armies. The king had observed these fires before entering the hut, but their number had now increased, a sign that the enemy had not advanced, but was resting. How? Was it possible that the enemy, not taking advantage of their victory, was not following the conquered troops, but giving them time to rally, to outmarch them, perhaps time to reach the Spree, perhaps Berlin?
"If this is so," said the king, answering his own thoughts, "if the enemy neglects to give me the finishing-blow, all is not lost. If there is a chance of salvation for my country, I must not die; she needs me, and it is, my duty to do all in my power to retrieve the past."
He looked again at the camp-fires, and a bright smile played about his lips.