Joseph II. and His Court is a web novel completed by Louise Muhlbach.
This webnovel is presently ongoing.
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Read WebNovel Joseph II. and His Court Part 150
“Whither would you then journey, my dear child?”
“I desire to visit the Empress Catharine.”
“The Empress Catharine!” echoed Maria Theresa, starting and coloring violently. “You would visit that woman?”
“Yes, your majesty. I would visit that woman as Baron Thugut did the King of Prussia; with this exception, that I do not go secretly–I first consult your majesty.”
Maria Theresa would not notice this thrust of her son. She contented herself with replying: “What object can you have in going on a mission to Russia?”
“I propose to win the friendship of the empress.”
“The friendship of that degraded woman! I do not covet it.”
“And yet your majesty was the first to request her mediation in our affairs with Germany. As you have raised the foul fiend, and he has come at your call, you must abide the consequences, and accept him as a friend. Since Russia is to have a voice in German politics, it is better that she speak for us, than sustain our enemy, Prussia.”
“But she has long been the ally of Prussia,” objected the empress.
“So much the more inc.u.mbent is it upon us to disturb the alliance. To do this, is the purpose of my journey to Russia. I repeat my request for your majesty’s consent.”
For some moments Maria Theresa contemplated her son with inexpressible tenderness. At length she said with a sigh, “You really desire, then, to go to Russia?”
“Such is my wish, your majesty.”
“Well, my child, since you desire it, I consent; but I do it unwillingly. I wish to prove to my son how gladly I gratify him, when I can do so without conflicting with my duties as a sovereign.”
The emperor bowed, but spoke not a word. Maria Theresa sighed again, and an expression of deep pain crossed her face.
“When do you expect to start?” said she, sadly.
“As soon as possible; for if I am not mistaken, the time is now propitious for stepping in between Prussia and her beloved ally.”
“Then I am to lose my dear son at once?” asked the mother, with tearful eyes. “I fear he leaves me without a pang; and will seldom bestow a thought upon the mother whose anxious heart follows his every movement with love.”
“I shall bestow my thoughts upon my sovereign, and remember that I am pledged to obtain for her a powerful ally. But I have much to do before I start. Above all things I must see Prince Kaunitz. I beg therefore of your majesty the permission to retire.”
“As the emperor pleases,” said Maria Theresa, with quivering lip.
Joseph bowed, and without a word or look at his mother’s sorrowing countenance, turned toward the door. Up to this moment the empress had controlled her distress, but she could master her grief no longer. She looked at the emperor with dimmed eyes and throbbing heart; and in the extremity of her maternal anguish, she cried out,
“Oh, my son, my precious boy!”
The emperor, who was opening the door, turned around. He saw his mother, her tears falling like rain, standing close by with outstretched arms.
But he did not respond to the appeal. With another ceremonious bow, he said, “I take leave of your majesty.” and closed the door behind him.
Maria Theresa uttered aloud cry and sank to the floor. “Oh,” sobbed she, “I am a poor, desolate mother. My child loves me no longer!”
Prince Potemkin was just out of bed. In front of him, two pages, richly dressed, bowed down to the floor as they opened the door for him to pa.s.s into his cabinet. Behind him, two more pages held up the train of his velvet dressing-gown, which, all bedecked with jewels, came trailing behind his tall, graceful figure. Behind the pages were four valets with breakfast and Turkish pipes.
And in this wise Prince Potemkin entered his cabinet. He threw himself upon an ottoman covered with India cashmere shawls, and received from a kneeling page a cup of chocolate, which was handed to his highness upon a gold waiter set with pearls. Then, as if the cup had been too troublesome to hold, he replaced it on the waiter, and ordered the page to pour the chocolate down.
The page, apparently, was accustomed to the order, for he rose briskly from his knees, and approaching the cup to Potemkin’s lips, allowed the chocolate to trickle slowly down his princely throat. Meanwhile the three pages, four valets, and six officers, who had been awaiting him in his cabinet, stood around in stiff, military att.i.tudes, each one uncomfortably conscious that he was momentarily exposed to the possible displeasure of the mighty favorite of the mighty Czarina.
Potemkin, meanwhile, vouchsafed not a look at any one of them. After he had sipped his chocolate, and the page had dried his mouth with an embroidered napkin, he opened his lips. The valet whose duty it was to present it, stepped forward with the Turkish pipe, and depositing its magnificent golden bowl upon the Persian carpet by the ottoman, placed the amber mouth-piece between the lips of his master.
Again a dead silence; and again those stiff forms stood reverentially around, while Potemkin, with an air of ennui and satiety, watched the blue wreaths that rose from his pipe to the ceiling.
“What o’clock is it?” asked he moodily.
“Mid-day, your highness,” was the prompt reply.
“How many people in the anteroom?”
“A mult.i.tude of n.o.bles, generals, and lesser pet.i.tioners, all awaiting your highness’s appearance.”
“How long have they been there?”
“Three hours, your highness.”
His highness went on smoking, impelled probably by the reflection that three hours was too short a time for the court of Russia to wait for the ineffable blessing of his presence.
After a while he became weary of the pipe, and raised his head. Three valets rushed forward, each with an embroidered suit, to inquire whether his highness would wear the uniform of a field-marshal, that of a lord-chamberlain, or the magnificent costume of a Russian prince.
Potemkin waved them off, and rose from the ottoman. His long brown hair, which flowed like the mane of a lion around his handsome face, bore here and there the traces of the down pillow upon which he had slept; his open dressing-gown exposed to view his slovenly undergarments; and his pearl-embroidered slippers were worn over a pair of soiled stockings which, hanging loosely around his legs, revealed his powerful and well-shaped calves.
In this neglige, Potemkin approached the door of his anteroom. As soon as he had been announced, a hundred weary faces grew bright with expectation; and princes, dukes, and n.o.bles bowed before the haughty man who was even mightier than the empress; for HE bent before no mortal, while she was the slave of one will–of Potemkin’s.
Silent and disdainful, Potemkin walked through the lines of obsequious courtiers that fell back as he pa.s.sed, here and there condescending to greet some n.o.bleman of wealth or influence. As for the others who raised their imploring eyes to his, he affected not to know of their insignificant presence, and returned to his cabinet without having vouchsafed a word to anybody.
“Is the jeweller there?” asked he of the officer at the door, and as the latter bowed his head, Potemkin added, “Admit him, and after him the minister of police.”
With these words he pa.s.sed into his cabinet, and his valets began to dress him. While his long mane was being combed into order, Potemkin amused himself playing like a juggler with three little golden b.a.l.l.s, while the pale and trembling jeweller stood wondering what new robbery awaited him now.
“Ah, Artankopf, you are there?” said the prince, when his toilet had been completed. “I have an order for you.”
The jeweller made a salam, and muttered some unintelligible words of which Potemkin took no notice.
“I saw a magnificent service of gold yesterday in your showcase.”
“It is an order, your highness,” said Artankopf, quickly.
“Then I cannot buy it?”
“Impossible, your highness.”
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