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   Chapter 6 KAUNITZ.

Joseph II. and His Court: An Historical Novel By L. Mühlbach Characters: 8359

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Three weeks had elapsed since the memorable sitting at which Maria

Theresa had declared in favor of a new line of policy. Three long weeks

had gone by, and still no message came for Kaunitz; and still

Bartenstein and Uhlefeld held the reins of power.

With hasty steps, Kaunitz paced the floor of his study. Gone was all coldness and impassibility from his face. His eyes glowed with restless fire, and his features twitched nervously.

His secretary, who sat before the writing-table, had been gazing anxiously at the count for sometime. He shook his head gloomily, as he contemplated the strange sight of Kaunitz, agitated and disturbed.

Kaunitz caught the eye of his confidant, and coming hastily toward the table, he stood for a few moments without speaking a word. Suddenly he burst into a loud, harsh laugh-a laugh so bitter, so sardonic, that Baron Binder turned pale as he heard the sound.

"Why are you so pale, Binder?" asked Kaunitz, still laughing. "Why do you start as if you had received an electric shock?"

"Your laughing is like an electric shock to my heart," replied the baron. "Its sound was enough to make a man pale. Why, for ten years I have lived under your roof, and never have I heard you laugh before."

"Perhaps you are right, Binder, for in sooth my laugh echoes gloomily within the walls of my own heart. But I could not help it-you had such a droll, censorious expression on your face."

"No wonder," returned Baron Binder. "It vexes me to see a statesman so irresolute and unmanned."

"Statesman!" exclaimed Kaunitz, bitterly. "Who knows whether my role of statesman is not played out already?"

He resumed his walk in moody silence, while Binder followed him with his eyes. Suddenly Kaunitz stopped again before the table. "Baron," said he, "you have known me intimately for ten years. In all my embassies you have been with me as attache. Since we have lived together, have you ever known me to be faint-hearted?"

"Never!" cried the baron, "never! I have seen you brave the anger of monarchs, the hatred of enemies, the treachery of friends and mistresses. I have stood by your side in more than one duel, and never before have I seen you otherwise than calm and resolute."

"Judge, then, how sickening to me is this suspense, since, for the first time in my life, I falter. Oh! I tremble lest-"

"Lest what?" asked the baron, with interest.

"Binder, I fear that Maria Theresa may prove less an empress than a woman. I fear that the persuasions of the handsome Francis of Lorraine may outweigh her own convictions of right. What if her husband's caresses, her confessor's counsel, or her own feminine caprice, should blind her to the welfare of her subjects and the interest of her empire? Oh, what a giant structure will fall to the earth, if, at this crisis, the empress should fail me! Think what a triumph it would be to dash aside my rivals and seize the helm of state to gather, upon the deck of one stout ship, all the paltry principalities that call themselves 'Austria;' to band them into one consolidated nation; and then to steer this noble ship into a haven of greatness and glorious peace! Binder, to this end alone I live. I have outlived all human illusions. I have no faith in love-it is bought and sold. No faith in the tears of men; none in their smiles. Society, to me, is one vast mad house. If, in its frenzied walls, I show that I am sane, the delirious throng will shout out, 'Seize the lunatic!' Therefore must I seem as mad as they, and therefore it is that, outside of this study, I commit a thousand follies. In such a world I have no faith; but, Binder, I believe in divine ambition. It is the only passion that has ever stirred my heart-the only passion worthy to fill the soul of a MAN! My only love, then, ambition. My only dream is of power. Oh! that I might eclipse and outlive the names of my rivals! But alas! alas! I fear that the greatness of Kaunitz will be wrecked upon the shoals of Maria Theresa's shallowness!"

"No, no," said the baron vehemently. "Fear nothing, Kaunitz; you are the man who is destined to make Austria great, and to disperse the clouds of ignora

nce that darken the minds of her people."

"You may be sure that if ever I attain power, Binder, nor church nor churchman shall have a voice in Austria. Kaunitz alone shall reign. But will Maria Theresa consent? Will she ever have strength of mind to burst the shackles with which silly love and silly devotion have bound her? I fear not. Religion-"

Here the door opened, and the count's valet handed a card to the secretary.

"A visit from Count Bartenstein!" exclaimed the baron triumphantly. "Ah!

I knew-"

"Will you receive him here, in the study?"

"I will receive him nowhere," replied Kaunitz coldly. "Say to the count," added he to the valet, "that I am engaged, and beg to be excused."

"What! You deny yourself to the prime minister?" cried Binder, terrified.

Kaunitz motioned to the servant to withdraw.

"Binder," said he exultingly, "do you not see from this visit that MY day is about to dawn, and that Bartenstein is the first lark to greet the rising sun? His visit proves that he feels a presentiment of his fall and my rebuff shall verify it. The whole world will understand that when Bartenstein was turned away from my door, I gave old Austria, as well as himself, a parting kick. Away with anxiety and fear! The deluge is over, and old Bartenstein has brought me the olive-branch that announces dry land and safety."

"My dear count!"

"Yes, Binder, dry land and safety. Now we will be merry, and lift our head high up into clouds of Olympic revel! Away with your deeds and your parchments! We are no longer bookworms, but butterflies. Let us sport among the roses!"

While Kaunitz spoke, he seized a hand-bell from the table, and rang vehemently.

"Make ready for me in my dressing-room," said he to the valet. "Let the cook prepare a costly dinner for twenty persons. Let the steward select the rarest wines in the cellar. Tell him to see that the Champagne is not too warm, nor the Johannisberg to cold; the Sillery too dry, nor the Lachryma Christi too acid. Order two carriages, and send one for Signora Ferlina, and the other for Signora Sacco. Send two footmen to Counts Harrach and Colloredo, with my compliments. Stay-here is a list of the other guests. Send a messenger to the apartments of my sister, the countess. Tell her, with my respects, to oblige me by dining to-day in her own private rooms. I will not need her to preside over my dinner-table to-day."

"But, my lord," stammered the valet, "the countess-"

"Well-what of her?"

"The countess has been de-gone for a week."

"Gone, without taking leave? Where?"

"There, my lord," replied the valet in a low voice, pointing upward toward heaven.

"What does he mean, Binder?" asked Kaunitz, with a shrug.

Binder shrugged responsive.

"The good countess," said he, "had been ill for some time, but did not wish to disturb you. You must have been partially prepared for the melancholy event, for the countess has not appeared at table for three weeks."

"Me? Not at all. Do you suppose that during these last three weeks I have had time to think of her? I never remarked her absence. When did the-the-ceremony take place?"

"Day before yesterday. I attended to every thing."

"My dear friend, how I thank you for sparing me the sight of these hideous rites! Your arrangements must have been exquisite, for I never so much as suspected the thing. Fortunately, it is all over, and we can enjoy ourselves as usual. Here, Philip. Let the house look festive: flowers on the staircases and in the entrance-hall; oranges and roses in the dining-room; vanilla-sticks in the coffee-cups instead of teaspoons. Away with you!"

The valet bowed, and when he was out of hearing Kaunitz renewed his thanks to the baron.

"Once more, thank you for speeding my sister on her journey, and for saving me all knowledge of this unpleasant affair. How glad the signoras will be to hear that the countess has positively gone, never to return! Whom shall I get to replace her? Well, never mind now; some other time we'll settle that little matter. Now to my toilet."

He bent his head to the baron, and with light, elastic step passed into his dressing-room.

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