Queen in Waiting: (Georgian Series) (6 page)

BOOK: Queen in Waiting: (Georgian Series)
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But it had happened.

‘She must not die. Anything rather than that. I must see her. I must talk to her.’

‘Your Highness,’ said the doctors, ‘you must not go into her apartments. That would be very dangerous. You know the nature of this terrible disease.’

But he would not listen to them. He went to her apartments; he took her into his arms.

‘Listen to me, Magdalen,’ he cried. ‘You must get well. It will not matter if the pox disfigures you. I will not care. I want you to live. Do you understand that?’

But she only looked at him with glazed eyes; and throughout the palace they heard him shouting in his grief.

Magdalen von Röohlitz was dead.

When the news was brought to the Dower House it was like a reprieve. Those servants who had received their orders from the Elector were stunned and did not know how to act.

Eleanor’s health immediately began to improve. Caroline, alert, fully aware of the situation, waited for what would happen next.

She heard that the Court of Dresden was in mourning, that the Elector was so stricken with grief for the loss of his mistress that he kept in his apartments and would see no one.

But there was more startling news to come.

John George had caught the smallpox from his mistress and was suffering from a major attack.

A few days later he was dead.

The shadow of murder was lifted from the Dower House and Eleanor was once more a widow.

There was a new Elector at Dresden. Augustus Frederick had taken his brother’s place and was determined to make the court even more notorious than before. He had no time to consider his brother’s widow and as long as she and her family did not make nuisances of themselves he had no objection to their continuing to take possession of the Dower House. Though just outside Dresden, this was far enough away not to bother him, so the Dowager Electress could stay there as long as she wished.

Eleanor rose from her sick bed, but the treatment she had received from her late husband had left its mark and she remained an invalid.

But it was a great joy to her and her daughter not to live in perpetual fear; and as the days passed, the nightmare receded. Life at the Dower House was uneventful and peace was something which was only fully appreciated when it had been missed.

One day Eleanor said: ‘Your brother should join us. It is not good for families to be separated.’

So William Frederick arrived at Pretsch – a charming little boy of nine. He was affectionate and happy to be reunited with his mother and sister.

How
young
he is, thought Caroline. And then the experiences at the court of her stepfather came back more vividly to her mind.

She thought: After having lived through that, I could never really be young again.

She worked hard at lessons, for it was rather boring to play truant from the schoolroom and she had a fear of being ignorant.

Life was so different now that simple matters had become important. Could she find the correct answers to mathematical problems? Had she cobbled her needlework? Did she know when to speak and when not to speak, when to bow and when to curtsy?

No one cared very much whether she was in the schoolroom or playing in the gardens of the Dower House. She could have escaped and wandered off alone into the country if she cared to. But she must not neglect her lessons, she knew. One day she would meet the Electress Sophia Charlotte once more and that lady would be very shocked to find her ignorant.

She would sit over her books. Her handwriting was bad; her spelling worse.

I must improve, she told herself. I must not disappoint the Electress Sophia Charlotte.

One day there was a letter for Eleanor from the Electress Sophia Charlotte.

Eleanor showed it to her daughter.

‘How kind she is!’ said Caroline.

‘Her conscience troubles her. But for her and her husband I should never have married.’

‘She thought it best for you,’ said Caroline.

‘It is so easy to see what is best for others.’

‘They could not have married you against your will.’

Eleanor sighed and gave up the discussion.

‘Well, she now says we must visit her at Lützenburg.’

Caroline clasped her hands. ‘When?’ she wanted to know.

‘Who can say? This is no definite invitation.’

‘Then you must write and say we shall be happy to go. Ask them when we can come.’

‘My dear child, that could not be. What a lot you have to
learn! I fear you run wild. Sometimes I sit here and worry about you children…’

‘Don’t worry about us, Mamma,’ said Caroline impatiently. ‘I can look after myself and William Frederick. But what about Lützenburg? She says we must visit her.’

‘It is merely a form of politeness. An invitation is not an invitation unless some date is given. Besides, I am too weak for the journey.’

‘Then, Mamma, write and tell her so, and perhaps she will come to see us.’

Eleanor smiled wanly at her daughter, and because Caroline was so eager at last she agreed to do as she suggested. As a result the Elector and the Electress of Brandenburg paid a visit to the Dower House.

Caroline was rapturous. During the years of terror she had thought a great deal about Sophia Charlotte and had taken great comfort from the fact that she existed. Often when she had felt particularly lost and lonely she had promised herself: I will write to Sophia Charlotte. Or even more wildly: I will run away and go to Sophia Charlotte.

And when Sophia Charlotte arrived, she was not disappointed. Her goddess was more beautiful, more dignified and more
kind
than she had remembered. Her adoration shone in her eyes and the Electress was aware of it.

She was all the more beautiful because the Elector, her husband, was a little man, whose head seemed to rest on his body without a neck to support it; he was pale and small. But how different from the wicked John George, and how he doted on Sophia Charlotte – which was natural, for all the world must love her.

When Sophia Charlotte embraced Caroline she told her she had often thought of her during the past and that she hoped they would always be friends.

Always be friends! Caroline would be her slave!

She said with emotion: ‘I should always wish to serve you, Madam.’

A reply which enchanted Sophia Charlotte.

Sophia Charlotte’s conscience did worry her. In the private apartments assigned to them in the Dower House, she discussed this with her husband.

‘Eleanor has become an invalid,’ she said.

‘At least she’s still alive,’ replied the Elector.

‘She might so easily have been murdered and we are in a way to blame.’

‘My dear, you must not think like that.’

‘But I do. We arranged the marriage. We persuaded her to it. And that poor child, what she must have suffered!’

‘And you like the child?’

‘I like both children, but the girl is enchanting. She attracts me because although she is only a child she has an air of wisdom. I tremble to think that before long she may be an orphan. Frederick, what will become of those children if their mother dies?’

‘The boy will go to Ansbach, I daresay. He’s the heir presumptive.’

‘And Caroline?’

‘Doubtless she will make her home there too.’

‘And if the boy does not become Margrave? Oh, it is an uneasy future. In a way we
are
responsible. My conscience would never let me rest unless…’

He was smiling at her indulgently, understanding what she was about to say. She knew this and smiled at him ruefully. It was one of those occasions when she wished she could have given him a deeper affection.

‘Go on, my dear.’

‘Something would have to be done for Caroline.’

‘I know what is in your mind.’

‘And you would raise no objection?’

‘If it were your wish I daresay it would be mine.’

‘You are so good to me.’ There were tears of emotion in her eyes. He took her hand and kissed it. ‘Thank you,’ she added.

She was warm in her gratitude and he in his turn was grateful to have kindled that warmth.

To no one else had Caroline ever talked as she did to Sophia Charlotte. They would walk in the gardens of Pretsch and while
they talked look down on the valley of the Elbe and beyond to the towers of Wittenburg, once the home of Martin Luther.

Sophia Charlotte talked to Caroline of that great man; she spoke animatedly of how he had defied the Pope and publicly burned the Papal Bull. At the same time she talked judiciously for, as she pointed out to Caroline, one must never be fanatical because as soon as one did the vision became blurred and the judgement impaired. At the same time one could applaud bold men who struck blows at tyranny. She talked earnestly of tolerance, for she thought it necessary to men’s dignity that they should have freedom to form their own opinions.

It was fascinating talk and Caroline was glad she had disciplined herself to study, because in doing so she had prepared herself for such conversation; and her reward was the approval of Sophia Charlotte.

Everyday the Electress would look for her.

‘I shall sadly miss our talks when. I leave Pretsch,’ she said.

And Caroline was torn between the sorrow parting must bring and the joy that the great Electress Sophia Charlotte – beautiful, brilliant and courted – should really want to share the company of an eleven-year-old girl.

Everyone at Pretsch was talking about the scandal of Hanover. Caroline listened and even asked questions of the servants.

She discovered that it concerned the Electoral Prince George Lewis, his wife Sophia Dorothea and a dashing adventurer named Count Königsmarck. Caroline had seen the Count for when he had visited Dresden she had been there. Very handsome, popular, gay, reckless – everyone at the Dresden court had been aware of him, even the young girl who had had to keep out of sight.

Königsmarck had at one time been a favourite of John George; but when he had left Dresden he had talked very indiscreetly about the shocking way in which John George treated his wife. After that Königsmarck had not been welcome at Dresden; but when John George had died so suddenly the Count had returned to Dresden to stay awhile with his old friend Augustus, the new Elector, and there once more he had talked indiscreetly – this time of the notorious Countess von Platen who was the mistress of
the Elector of Hanover; he had joked about her and her lover as well as George Lewis, the Electoral Prince, and his mistress. He had boasted rather sentimentally, too, about his own success with George Lewis’s neglected wife, the beautiful Sophia Dorothea.

Now the Count was dead. No one knew how he had died or what had become of his body; but everyone seemed certain that he was dead. It had been discovered that he was the lover of Sophia Dorothea. As for this sad Princess, George Lewis was going to divorce her and make her his prisoner, and declared he would never see her again.

Caroline thought a good deal about Sophia Dorothea and compared her with her own mother, for they had both found great tragedy in marriage. It was alarming to consider that one day – not far distant – she would be grown up and marriageable. Then she would doubtless be obliged to embark on this perilous adventure.

Because she was so curious, she ventured to speak of the matter to Sophia Charlotte when they walked together one day in the gardens. She was puzzled; she would like to understand more.

‘Who is wrong,’ she asked. ‘George Lewis or Sophia Dorothea?’

‘So you have heard of this scandal?’

‘They talk of it all the time. Not to me, of course. They whisper when they see me near. And that, of course, makes me all the more curious to know.’

‘Naturally, it would. Tell me what you know.’

She told and Sophia Charlotte smiled.

‘I see,’ she said, ‘that you are by no means ignorant of the ways of the world. From what I have heard George Lewis is a brutal young man, Sophia Dorothea a frivolous and foolish woman. Who then would you say was to blame if disaster overtakes them.’

‘Both of them?’

‘You are wise, Caroline. I am sure both of them is the answer, although we must remember that even though the blame is shared, the punishment is not.

‘She will suffer more than he will.’

‘She is less powerful, poor creature.’

‘Could she have avoided this… trouble?’

‘We could by certain actions avoid all our troubles.’

Caroline considered this. Yes, even her mother. She need not have married the Elector of Saxony. Perhaps if she had wept less and fought more for her rights… In any case, Sophia Charlotte thought so, and she must be right.

‘I daresay you have heard a garbled story,’ said Sophia Charlotte. ‘It would be better for you to know the truth. After all, though you are only eleven years old you are much older in wisdom, I know.’

Caroline glowed with happiness and taking Sophia Charlotte’s hand kissed it.

‘My dearest child,’ murmured Sophia Charlotte, deeply moved. ‘Well,’ she continued briskly. ‘George Lewis is a man… not unlike your late stepfather. There are many like him. It is a pattern of our times. He turned from his wife to other women. She found that intolerable and took a lover. The result – the mysterious disappearance of the lover and punishment for the poor Princess.’

‘It seems so unfair when he began it and she only did what he did.’

‘Life is unfair, my dear. More so for women than for men. He took his mistress as a natural right. Such is the custom. But when she took a lover she dangered the succession. You see what I mean. But of course you do. That is the answer.’

‘So she
was
more to blame.’

‘It is not for us to blame. She was foolish, poor soul; and folly often pays a higher price than greater sins.’

‘What should she have done when he took his mistresses? Should she have accepted them? My mother…’

‘Your mother was not a proud woman like this Princess. Your mother accepted the position… and you see here she is alive and living in peace while her husband and his mistress are dead.’

‘But that was by accident.’

‘Life is made up of accidents, luck if you like – good and bad – but often our own actions can decide the course our lives will take. If Sophia Dorothea had accepted her husband’s mistressses, if she had not quarrelled with him…’ Sophia Charlotte
shrugged her shoulders. ‘Who knows what would have happened.’

BOOK: Queen in Waiting: (Georgian Series)
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