“Kings!” said the two girls, joining their hands in admiration.
“Kings of the first water. Oh, he was no niggard of his crowns, our Emperor! I had a bed-fellow of mine, a brave soldier, who was afterwards promoted to be king. This flattered us; for, if it was not one, it was the other. And so, at this game, your father became count; but, count or not, he was one of the best and bravest generals of the army.”
“He was handsome, was he not, Dagobert?—mother always said so.”
“Oh, yes! indeed he was—but quite another thing from your fair guardian angel. Picture to yourself a fine, dark man, who looked splendid in his full uniform, and could put fire into the soldiers’ hearts. With him to lead, we would have charged up into Heaven itself—that is, if Heaven had, permitted it,” added Dagobert, not wishing to wound in any way the religious beliefs of the orphans.
“And father was as good as he was brave, Dagobert.”
“Good, my children? Yes, I should say so!—He could bend a horse-shoe in his hand as you would bend a card, and the day he was taken prisoner he had cut down the Prussian artillerymen on their very cannon. With strength and courage like that, how could he be otherwise than good? It is then about nineteen years ago, not far from this place—on the spot I showed you before we arrived at the village—that the general, dangerously wounded, fell from his horse. I was following him at the time, and ran to his assistance. Five minutes after we were made prisoners—and by whom think you?—by a Frenchman.”
“Yes, an emigrant marquis, a colonel in the service of Russia,” answered Dagobert, with bitterness. “And so, when this marquis advanced towards us, and said to the general: ’Surrender, sir, to a countryman!’—’A Frenchman, who fights against France,’ replied the general, ’is no longer my countryman; he is a traitor, and I’d never surrender to a traitor!’ And, wounded though he was, he dragged himself up to a Russian grenadier, and delivered him his sabre, saying: ’I surrender to you my brave fellow!’ The marquis became pale with rage at it.”
The orphans looked at each other with pride, and a rich crimson mantled their cheeks, as they exclaimed: “Oh, our brave father!”
“Ah, those children,” said Dagobert, as he proudly twirled his moustache. “One sees they have soldier’s blood in their veins! Well,” he continued, “we were now prisoners. The general’s last horse had been killed under him; and, to perform the journey, he mounted Jovial, who had not been wounded that day. We arrived at Warsaw, and there it was that the general first saw your mother. She was called the Pearl of Warsaw; that is saying everything. Now he, who admired all that is good and beautiful, fell in love with her almost immediately; and she loved him in return; but her parents had promised her to another—and that other was the same—”