Joseph II. and His Court is a Webnovel made by Louise Muhlbach.
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Read WebNovel Joseph II. and His Court Part 123
“You will not go farther, then–“
“Oh, no, we ask to be allowed to join your guests, and attend the christening. The baptism of a first-born child is a ceremony which touches my heart, and yours, also, does it not?” said the stranger to his companion.
“Certainly,” replied the other, laughing, “above all, when it is joined to another interesting ceremony–that of a good dinner. “
“Oh, you shall have a good dinner!” cried Etienne, won over by the sympathy of the first speaker. “Come in, gentlemen, come in. As the guests of our little son, you are welcome.”
“We accept with pleasure,” said the strangers, and they followed the host into the house. The door of the room where the guests were a.s.sembled was open, and the strangers, with a self-possession which proved them to be of the aristocracy, walked in and mingled at once in the conversation.
“Allow me, gentlemen,” said the host, when he had greeted the remainder of his guests, “allow me to present you to Madame Etienne. She will he proud to receive two such distinguished strangers in her house to-day.”
Madame Etienne, with a woman’s practised eye, saw at once that these unknown guests, who were so perfectly unembarra.s.sed and yet so courteous, must belong to the very first ranks of society; and she was happy to be able to show off her savoir vivre before the rest of the company.
She received the two travellers with much grace and affability; and whereas the curates were to have been placed beside her at table, she a.s.signed them to her husband, and invited the strangers to the seats instead. She informed them of the names and station of every person present, and then related to them how the winter previous, at the ball of the sub-prefect, she had danced the whole evening, while some of the prettiest girls in the room had wanted partners.
The gentlemen listened with obliging courtesy, and appeared deeply interested. The blue-eyed stranger, however, mingled somewhat in the general conversation. He spoke with the burgomaster from Solanges of the condition of his town, with the curates of their congregations, and seemed interested in the prosperity of French manufactures, about which much was said at table.
All were enchanted with the tact and affability of the strangers.
Monsieur Etienne was highly elated, and as for madame, her paleness had been superseded by a becoming flush, and she never once complained of over-exertion.
The dinner over, the company a.s.sembled for the baptism. It was to take place in the parlor, where a table covered with a fine white cloth, a wax-candle, some flowers, a crucifix, and an improvised font, had been arranged for the occasion.
The n.o.ble stranger gave his arm to Madame Etienne. “Madame,” said he, “may I ask of you the favor of standing G.o.dfather to your son?”
Madame Etienne blushed with pleasure, and replied that she would be most grateful for the honor.
“In this way,” thought she, “we shall find out his name and rank.”
The ceremony began. The curate spoke a few impressive words as to the nature of the sacrament, and then proceeded to baptize the infant. The water was poured over its head, and at last came the significant question: “What is the name of the G.o.dfather?” All eyes were turned upon him, and Madame Etienne’s heart beat hard, for she expected to hear the word “count” at the very least.
“My name?” said he. “Joseph.”
“Joseph,” repeated the priest. “Joseph–and the surname?”
“I thought Joseph would be enough,” said the stranger, with some impatience.
“No, sir,” replied the priest. “The surname, too, must be registered in the baptismal records.”
“Very well then–Joseph the Second.”
“The Second?” echoed the curate, with a look of mistrust. “The SECOND!
Is that your surname?”
“Yes, my name is ‘The Second.'”
“Well, be it so,” returned the curate, with a shrug. “Joseph– the–Second. Now, what is your profession–excuse me, sir, but I ask the customary questions.”
The stranger looked down and seemed almost confused. The curate mildly repeated his question. “What is your profession, or your station, sir?”
“Emperor of Austria,” replied Joseph, smiling.
A cry of astonishment followed this announcement. The pencil with which the priest was about to record the “profession” of the G.o.dfather fell from his hands. Madame Etienne in her ecstasy fell almost fainting into an arm-chair, and Monsieur Etienne, taking the child from the arms of the nurse, came and knelt with it at the emperor’s feet.
This was the signal for a renewal of life and movement in the room. All followed the example of the host, and in one moment old and young, men and women, were on their knees.
“Your majesty,” said Etienne, in a voice choked with tears, “you have made my child famous. For a hundred years the honor you have conferred upon him will be the wonder of our neighborhood, and never will the people of Vitry forget the condescension of your majesty in sitting among us as an equal and a guest. My son is a Frenchman at heart he shall also be a German, like our own beautiful queen, who is both Austrian and French. G.o.d bless and preserve you both! Long live our queen, Marie Antoinette, and long live her n.o.ble brother, the Emperor of Austria!”
The company echoed the cry, and their shouts aroused Madame Etienne, who arose and advanced toward her imperial visitor. He hastened to replace her gently in her arm-chair.
“Where people are bound together by the ties of parent and G.o.d-father,”
said he, “there must be no unnecessary ceremony. Will you do me one favor, madame?”
“Sire, my life is at your majesty’s disposal.”
“Preserve and treasure it, then, for the sake of my G.o.dson. And since you are willing to do me the favor,” continued he, drawing from his bosom a snuff-box richly set with diamonds, “accept this as a remembrance of my pleasant visit to you to-day. My portrait is upon the lid, and as I am told that all the lovely women in France take snuff perhaps you will take your snuff from a box which I hope will remind you of the giver.
“And now,” continued the emperor, to the happy Monsieur Etienne, “as I have been admitted to the christening, perhaps you will accommodate me with a pair of horses with which I may proceed to the next stage.”
THE ARRIVAL AT VERSAILLES.
The French court was at Versailles, it having been decided by the king and queen that there they would receive the emperor’s visit. A magnificent suite of apartments had been fitted up for his occupation, and distinguished courtiers appointed as his attendants. He was anxiously expected; for already many an anecdote of his affability and generosity had reached Paris.
A courier had arrived too say that the emperor had reached the last station, and would shortly be in Versailles. The queen received this intelligence with tears of joy, and gathered all her ladies around her in the room where she expected to meet her brother. The king merely nodded, and a shade of dissatisfaction pa.s.sed over his face. He turned to his confidential adviser, Count Maurepas, who was alone with him in his cabinet.
“Tell me frankly, what do you think of this visit?”
The old count raised his shoulders a la Francaise. “Sire, the queen has so often invited the emperor, that I presume he has come to gratify her longings.”
“Ah, bah!” said Louis, impatiently. “He is not so soft-hearted as to shape his actions to suit the longings of his family. Speak more candidly.”
“Your majesty commands me to be perfectly sincere?”
“I entreat you, be truthful and tell me what you think.”
“Then I confess that the emperor’s visit has been a subject of much mystery to your majesty’s ministers. You are right in saying that he is not the man to trouble himself about the state of his relatives’
affections. He comes to Paris for something nearer to his heart than any royal sister. Perhaps his hope is that he may succeed in removing me, and procuring the appointment of De Choiseul in my stead.”
“Never! Austria cannot indulge such vain hopes, for her watchful spies must ere this have convinced the Hapsburgs that my dislike toward this duke, so precious in the eyes of Maria Theresa, is unconquerable. My father’s shade banished him to Chanteloup, and I will follow this shade whithersoever it leads. If my father had lived (and perchance Choiseul had a hand in his death) there would have been no alliance of France with Austria. I am forced to maintain it, since my wife is the daughter of Maria Theresa; so that neither the Austrian nor the anti-Austrian party can ever hope to rule in France. Marie Antoinette is the wife of my heart, and no human being shall ever dislodge her thence. But my love for her can never influence my policy, which is steadfast to the principles of my father. If Joseph has come hither for political purposes, he might have spared his pains.”
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