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   Chapter 4 HUSBAND AND WIFE.

Joseph II. and His Court: An Historical Novel By L. Mühlbach Characters: 20348

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


A half an hour later, the princes and princesses of Austria were all assembled in their mother's private parlor. They were a beautiful group. The empress, in their midst, held little Ferdinand in her arms. Close-peeping through the folds of their mother's rich dress, were three other little ones; and a few steps farther were the Archduchesses Christine and Amelia. Near the open harpsichord stood the graceful form of the empress's eldest child, the Princess Elizabeth, who now and then ran her fingers lightly over the instrument, while she awaited the arrival of her father.

In the pride of her maternity and beauty stood the empress-queen; but her heart throbbed painfully, though she smiled upon her children.

The page announced the coming of the emperor, and then left the room. The empress made a sign to her eldest daughter, who seated herself before the harpsichord. The door opened, and on the threshold appeared the tall, elegant form of the Emperor Francis. Elizabeth began a brilliant "Welcome," and all the young voices joined in one loud chorus, "Long live our emperor, our sovereign, and our father!" sang the children; but clear above them all were heard the sonorous tones of the mother, exclaiming in the fulness of her love, "Long live my emperor, and my husband!" As if every tender chord of Maria Theresa's heart had been struck, she broke forth into one of Metastasio's most passionate songs; while Elizabeth, catching the inspiration, accompanied her mother with sweetest melody. The empress, her little babe in her arms, was wrapped up in the ecstasy of the moment. Never had she looked more enchanting than she did as she ceased, and gave one look of love to her admiring husband.

The emperor contemplated for a moment the lovely group before him, and then, full of emotion, came forward, and bending over his wife, he kissed the round white arm that held the baby, and whispered to the mother a few words of rapture at her surpassing beauty.

"But tell me, gracious empress," said he, aloud, "to what am I indebted for this charming surprise?"

The eyes of the empress shot fire, but instead of a reply, she bent down to the little Archduchess Josepha, who was just old enough to lisp her father's name, and said:

"Josepha, tell the emperor what festival we celebrate to-day" the little one, turning to her father, said, "To-day is imperial mamma's wedding-day."

"Our wedding-day!" murmured the emperor, "and I could forget it!"

"Oh, no! my dear husband," said the empress, "I am sure that you cannot have forgotten this joyous anniversary. Its remembrance is burned in your heart, and the presence of your children here, my trust, has awakened that remembrance, and carried you back with me to the happy, happy days of our early love."

The voice of the wife was almost tearful, as she spoke those tender words; and the emperor, touched and humbled at the thought of his own oversight, sought to change the subject. "But why," asked he, looking around, "why, if all our other children are here to greet their father, is Joseph absent from this happy family gathering?"

"He has been disobedient and obstinate again," said the empress, with a shrug of her shoulders, "and his preceptor, to punish him, kept him away"

The emperor walked to the door. "Surely," exclaimed he, "on such a day as this, when all my dear children are around me, my son and the future emperor should be the first to bid me welcome."

"Stay, my husband," cried the empress, who had no intention of allowing the emperor to escape so easily from his embarrassment.

"You must be content to remain with us, without the future emperor of Germany, whose reign, I hope I may be allowed to pray, is yet for some years postponed. Or is this a happy device of the future emperor's father to remind me, on my wedding-day, that I am growing old enough to begin to think of the day of my decease?"

The emperor was perfectly amazed. Although he was accustomed to such outbursts on the part of his wife, he searched vainly in his heart for the cause of her intense bitterness to-day. He looked his astonishment; and the empress, mindful of her resolve not to reproach him, tried her best to smile. The emperor shook his head thoughtfully as he watched her face, and said half aloud: "All is not right with thee, Theresa; thou smilest like a lioness, not like a woman."

"Very well, then," said she sharply, "the lioness has called you to look upon her whelps. One day they will be lions and lionesses too, and in that day they will avenge the injuries of their mother."

The empress, as she spoke, felt that her smothered jealousy was bursting forth. She hastily dismissed her children, and going herself to the door, she called for the governess of the baby, and almost threw him in her arms.

"I foresee the coming of a storm," thought the emperor, as the door being closed, Maria Theresa came quickly back, and stood before him.

"And is it indeed true," said she bitterly, "that you had forgotten your wedding-day? Not a throb of your heart to remind you of the past!"

"My memory does not cling to dates, Theresa," replied the emperor. "What, if to-day be accidentally the anniversary of our marriage? With every beating of my heart, I celebrate the hour itself, when I won the proud and beautiful heiress of Austria; and when I remember that she deigned to love ME, the poor Archduke of Lorraine, my happiness overwhelms me. Come, then, my beautiful, my beloved Theresa; come to my heart, that I may thank you for all the blessings that I owe to your love. See, dearest, we are alone; let us forget royalty for to-day, and be happy together in all the fulness of mutual confidence and affection."

So saying, he would have pressed her to his heart, but the empress drew coldly back, and turned deadly pale. This unembarrassed and confident tenderness irritated her beyond expression. That her faithless spouse should, without the slightest remorse, act the part of the devoted lover, outraged her very sense of decency.

"Really, my husband, it becomes you well to prate of confidence and affection, who have ceased to think of your own wife, and have eyes alone for the wife of another!"

"Again jealous?" sighed the emperor wearily. "Will you never cease to cloud our domestic sky by these absurd and groundless suspicions?"

"Groundless!" cried the empress, tearing the letter violently from her bosom. "With this proof of your guilt confronting you, you will not dare to say that I am jealous without cause!"

"Allow me to inquire of your majesty, what this letter is to prove?"

"It proves that to-day you have written a letter to a woman, of whom yesterday you said that she was the most beautiful woman in the world."

"I have no recollection of saying such a thing of any woman; and I am surprised that your majesty should encourage your attendants to repeat such contemptible tales," replied the emperor, with some bitterness. "Were I like you, the reigning sovereign of a great empire, I should really find no time to indulge in gossip and scandal."

"Your majesty will oblige me by refraining from any comment upon affairs which do not concern you. I alone am reigning empress here, and it is for my people to judge whether I do my duty to them; certainly not for you, who, while I am with my ministers of state, employ your leisure hours in writing love-letters to my subjects."

"I? I write a love-letter?" said the emperor.

"How dare you deny it? "cried the outraged empress. "Have you also forgotten that this morning you sent Gaspardi out of the palace on an errand?"

"No, I have not forgotten it," replied the emperor, with growing astonishment. But Maria Theresa remarked that he looked confused, and avoided her eye.

"You confess, then, that you sent the letter, and requested an answer?"

"Yes, but I received no answer," said the emperor, with embarrassment.

"There is your answer," thundered the enraged wife. "I took it from

Gaspardi myself."

"And is it possible, Theresa, that you have read a letter addressed to me?" asked the emperor, in a severe voice.

The empress blushed, and her eyes sought the ground.

"No," said she, "I have not read it, Franz."

"But it is open," persisted he, taking it from his wife's hand. "Who, then, has dared to break the seal of a letter addressed to me?"

And the emperor, usually so mild toward his wife, stood erect, with stormy brow and eyes flashing with anger.

Maria Theresa in her turn was surprised. She looked earnestly at him, and confessed inwardly that never had she seen him look so handsome; and she felt an inexplicable and secret pleasure that her Franz, for once in his life, was really angry with her.

"I broke the seal of the letter, but I swear to you that I did not read one word of it," replied she. "I wished to see the signature only, and that signature was enough to convince me that I had a faithless husband, who outrages an empress by giving her a dancer as her rival!"

"The signature convinced you of this?" asked the emperor.

"It did!"

"And you read nothing else?"

"Nothing, I tell you."

"Then, madam," returned he, seriously, handing the letter back to her, "do me the favor to read the whole of it. After breaking the seal, you need not hesitate. I exact it of you."

The empress looked overwhelmed. "You exact of me to read a love-letter addressed to you?"

"Certainly I do. You took it from my valet, you broke it open, and now I beg you will be so good as to read it aloud, for I have not yet read it myself."

"I will read it, then," cried the empress, scornfully. "And I promise you that I shall not suppress a word of its contents."

"Read on," said the emperor, quietly.

The empress, with loud and angry tone, began:

"To his Gracious Majesty, the Emperor:

"Your majesty has honored me by asking my advice upon a subject of the highest importance. But your majesty is much nearer the goal than I. It is true that my gracious master, the count, led me to the vestibule of the temple of science, but further I have not penetrated. What I know I will joyfu

lly impart to your majesty; and joyfully will I aid you in your search after that which the whole world is seeking. I will come at the appointed hour.

"Your majesty's loyal servant,

"RICCARDO."

"I do not understand a word," said the mystified empress.

"But I do," returned the emperor, with a meaning smile. "Since your majesty has thrust yourself into the portals of my confidence, I must e'en take you with me into the penetralia, and confess at once that I have a passion, which has cost me many a sleepless night, and has preoccupied my thoughts, even when I was by your majesty's side."

"But I see nothing of love or passion in this letter," replied Maria

Theresa, glancing once more at its singular contents.

"And yet it speaks of nothing else. I may just as well confess, too, that in pursuit of the object of my love, I have spent three hundred thousand guilders, and thrown away at least one hundred thousand guilders' worth of diamonds."

"Your mistress must be either very coy or very grasping," said Maria

Theresa, almost convulsed with jealousy.

"She is very coy," said the emperor. "All my gold and diamonds have won me not a smile-she will not yield up her secret. But I believe that she has responded to the love of one happy mortal, Count Saint-Germain."

"Count Saint-Germain!" exclaimed the empress, amazed.

"Himself, your majesty. He is one of the fortunate few, to whom the coy beauty has succumbed; and to take his place I would give millions. Now, I heard yesterday that the confidant of the count was in Vienna; and, hoping to learn something from him, I invited him hither. Signor Riccardo-"

"SIGNOR Riccardo! Was this letter written by a man?"

"By the husband of the dancer."

"And your letter was addressed to him?"

"Even so, madame."

"Then this passion of which you speak is your old passion-alchemy."

"Yes, it is. I had promised you to give it up, but it proves stronger than I. Not to annoy you, I have ever since worked secretly in my laboratory. I have just conceived a new idea. I am about to try the experiment of consolidating small diamonds into one large one, by means of a burning-glass."

The empress answered this with a hearty, happy laugh, and went up to her husband with outstretched hands.

"Franz," said she, "I am a simpleton; and all that has been for tormenting in my heart is sheer nonsense. My crown does not prevent me from being a silly woman. But, my heart's love, forgive my folly for the sake of my affection."

Instead of responding to this appeal, the emperor stood perfectly still, and gazed earnestly and seriously at his wife.

"Your jealousy," said he, after a moment's silence, "I freely forgive, for it is a source of more misery to you than to me. But this jealousy has attacked my honor as a man, and that I cannot forgive. As reigning empress, I render you homage, and am content to occupy the second pace in Austria's realms. I will not deny that such a rule is irksome to me, for I, like you, have lofty dreams of ambition; and I could have wished that, in giving me the TITLE, you had allowed me sometimes the privileges of a co-regent. But I have seen that my co-regency irritated and annoyed you; I have, therefore, renounced all thought of governing empires. I have done this, not only because I love you, Theresa, but because you are worthy by your intellect to govern your people without my help. In the world, therefore, I am known as the husband of the reigning empress; but at home I am lord of my own household, and here I reign supreme. The emperor may be subordinate to his sovereign, but the man will acknowledge no superior; and the dignity of his manhood shall be respected, even by yourself."

"Heaven forbid that I should ever seek to wound it!" exclaimed Maria Theresa, while she gazed with rapture upon her husband's noble countenance, and thought that never had he looked so handsome as at this moment, when, for the first time, he asserted his authority against herself.

"You HAVE wounded it, your majesty," replied the emperor, with emphasis. "You have dogged my steps with spies; you have suffered my character to be discussed by your attendants. You have gone so far as to compromise me with my own servants; forcing them to disobey me by virtue of your rights as sovereign exercised in opposition to mine as your husband. I gave Gaspardi orders to deliver Riccardo's note to me alone. I forbade him to tell any one whither he went. YOU took my note from him by force, and committed the grave wrong of compelling a servant, hitherto faithful, to disobey and betray his master."

"I did indeed wrong you, dear Franz," said the empress, already penitent. "In Gaspardi's presence I will ask your pardon for my indelicate intrusion, and before him I will bear witness to his fidelity. I alone was to blame. I promise you, too, to sin no more against you, my beloved, for your love is the brightest jewel in my crown. Without it, no happiness would grandeur give to me. Forgive me, then, my own Franz-forgive your unhappy Theresa!"

As she spoke, she inclined her head toward her husband, and looked up to him with such eyes of love, that he could but gaze enraptured upon her bewitching beauty.

"Come, Franz, come!" said she tenderly; "surely, that wicked jest of yours has amply revenged you. Be satisfied with having given me a heartache for jealousy of the coy mistress upon whom you have wasted your diamonds, and be magnanimous."

"And you, Theresa?-will you be magnanimous also? Will you leave my servants and my letters alone, and set no more spies to dog my steps?"

"Indeed, Franz, I will never behave as I have done to-day, while we both live. Now, if you will sign my pardon, I will tell you a piece of news with which I intend shortly to surprise all Austria."

"Out with it, then, and if it is good news I sign the pardon," said the emperor, with a smile.

"It is excellent news," cried the empress, "for it will give new life to Austria. It will bring down revenge upon our enemies, and revenge upon that wicked infidel who took my beautiful Silesia from me, and who, boasting of his impiety, calls it enlightenment."

"Have you not yet forgiven Frederick for that little bit of Silesia that he stole from you?" asked the emperor, laughing.

"No, I have not yet forgiven him, nor do I ever expect to do so. I owe it to him, that, years ago, I came like a beggar before the Magyars to whimper for help and defence. I have never yet forgotten the humiliation of that day, Franz."

"And yet, Theresa, we must confess that Frederick is a great man, and it were well for Austria if we were allies; for such an alliance would secure the blessings of a stable peace to Europe."

"It cannot be," cried the empress. "There is no sympathy between Austria and Prussia, and peace will never come to Europe until one succumbs to the other. No dependence is to be placed upon alliances between incongruous nations. In spite of our allies, the English, the Dutch, and the Russians, the King of Prussia has robbed me of my province; and all the help I have ever got from them was empty condolence. For this reason I have sought for alliance with another power-a power which will cordially unite with me in crushing that hateful infidel, to whom nothing in life is sacred. This is the news that I promised you. Our treaty with England and Holland is about to expire, and the new ally I have found for Austria is France."

"An alliance with France is not a natural one for Austria, and can never be enduring," exclaimed the emperor. [Footnote: The emperor's own words. Coxe, "History of the House of Austria," vol. v., p. 67.]

"It WILL be enduring," cried Maria Theresa, proudly, "for it is equally desired by both nations. Not only Louis XV., but the Marquise de Pompadour is impatient to have the treaty signed."

"That means that Kaunitz has been flattering the marquise, and the marquise, Kaunitz. But words are not treaties, and the marquise's promises are of no consequence whatever."

"But, Franz, I tell you that we have gone further than words. Of this, however, no one knows, except the King of France, myself, Kaunitz, and the marquise."

"How in the world did you manage to buy the good-will of the marquise?

How many millions did you pay for the precious boon?"

"Not a kreutzer, dear husband, only a letter."

"Letter! Letter from whom?"

"A letter from me to the marquise."

"What!" cried the emperor, laughing. "You write to La Pompadour-YOU,

Theresa?"

"With my own hand, I have written to her, and more than once," returned Maria Theresa, joining in the laugh. "And what do you suppose I did, to save my honor in the matter? I pretended to think that she was the wife of the king, and addressed her as 'Madame, ma soeur et cousine.'"

Here the emperor laughed immoderately. "Well, well!" exclaimed he. "So the Empress-Queen of Austria and Hungary writes with her own hand to her beloved cousin La Pompadour!"

"And do you know what she calls me?" laughed the empress in return.

"Yesterday I had a letter from her in which she calls me, sportively,

'Ma chere reine.'"

The emperor broke out into such a volley of laughter, that he threw himself back upon a chair, which broke under him, and the empress had to come to his assistance, for he was too convulsed to get up alone. [Footnote: Historical.]

"Oh dear! oh dear!" groaned the emperor, still continuing to laugh. "I shall die of this intelligence. Maria Theresa in correspondence with Madame d'Etoiles!"

"Well, what of it, Franz?" asked Maria Theresa. "Did I not write to the prima donna Farinelli when we were seeking alliance with Spain? and is the marquise not as good as a soprano singer?" [Footnote: The empress's own words. Coxe, vol. v., p. 69.]

The emperor looked at her with such a droll expression that she gave up all idea of defending herself from ridicule, and laughed as heartily as he did.

At this moment a page knocked, and announced the Archduke Joseph and his preceptor.

"Poor lad!" said the emperor; "I suppose he comes, as usual, accompanied by an accuser."

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