Joseph II. and His Court is a Webnovel completed by Louise Muhlbach.
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“Sire,” said he, in a distinct voice, “I wish to marry Therese.”
“With whom?” asked Joseph, without turning.
“With your majesty’s lord of the bedchamber, Count Kinsky.”
“And Therese?” asked Joseph, without turning around. “Does she love the count?”
“No, sire, she has never encouraged him. She affects to have a repugnance to marriage, and has continually urged me to allow her to enter a convent. But I will not give my consent to such a ridiculous whim. Count Kinsky is a man of honor; he loves Therese, and will make her happy. Therese is the true daughter of my house, sire; a wish of your majesty to her would be a law. I therefore beg of you, as the greatest favor you could bestow, to urge her to accept Count Kinsky. “
The emperor turned hastily around, and his face was scarlet.
“How?” said he, in a faltering voice. “You exact of me that I should woo your daughter for Count Kinsky?”
“It is this favor, sire, which you have so graciously promised to grant.”
The emperor made no reply. He gazed at the count with gloomy, searching eyes. The latter met his glance with quiet firmness. A long pause ensued, and the emperor’s face changed gradually until it became very pale. He sighed and seemed to awake from a reverie.
“Count Dietrichstein,” said he, in a trembling voice, “you have pointed out to me the means of serving you. I will do your behest, and urge your daughter to be the wife of Count Kinsky.”
“There spoke my n.o.ble emperor!” cried the count, deeply moved, while he pressed the hand, which had been extended by Joseph, to his lips. “In the name of my ancestors, I thank you, sire.”
“Do not thank me, my friend,” said Joseph, sadly. “You have understood me, and I you–that is all. When shall I see your daughter?”
“Sire, I leave Vienna this evening, and I would gladly leave Therese an affianced bride. The marriage can take place on my return.”
“Very well,” said Joseph, with a smothered sigh, “I will go at once. Is the countess in the city?” “No, sire, she is at the villa near Schonbrunn. But I will send for her, and when she arrives, she shall have the honor of an interview with your majesty.”
“No, no,” said Joseph, hastily; “let her remain at the villa, and enjoy one more day of maiden freedom. I myself will drive there to see her. I shall be obliged to renounce the pleasure of your company thither, for I know that you have important business to-day to transact with Prince Kaunitz.”
A distrustful look was the reply to this proposition. The emperor divined the cause, and went on: “But if you CANNOT accompany, you can follow me with Count Kinsky; that is, if you really think that I can persuade the countess to accept him.”
“I know it, sire. Therese will be as docile to the wishes of your majesty as her father. As I am ready, at your desire, to renounce the happiness of accompanying you to my villa, so she, if you speak the word, will renounce her foolish fancies, and consent to be Kinsky’s wife.”
“We can try,” said the emperor, moodily. But he smiled as he gave his hand to Count Dietrichstein, who, perfectly rea.s.sured, went off to his affairs of state.
When the count had left the room, the expression of Joseph’s face changed at once. With a deep sigh he threw himself into an arm-chair, and for some time sat there motionless; but when the little French clock on the mantelpiece struck the hour, he started up, exclaiming: “Eleven o’clock! Time flies, and my word has been given, Alas, it must be redeemed!–An emperor has no right to grieve; but oh, how hard it is, sometimes, to perform one’s duty!–Well–it must be:–I am pledged to fulfil the motto of my escutcheon: ‘Virtute et exemplo.'”
A quarter of an hour later, the emperor was on his way to the villa, which was situated in the midst of a fine park, not far from the palace of Schounbrunn. Joseph drove himself, accompanied by a jockey, who stood behind. The people on the road greeted their sovereign as he pa.s.sed. He returned the greeting, and no one saw how pale and wretched he looked; for he, like his mother, was fond of fast driving, and to-day his horse sped like the wind.
THE LAST DREAM OF LOVE.
Therese von Dietrichstein was alone in the little pavilion which her father had built expressly for her. It consisted of a parlor and a boudoir. The parlor was fitted up without magnificence, but with great elegance. Herein Therese was accustomed to receive her intimate a.s.sociates. But no one ever entered the boudoir without an express invitation; for it was her sanctuary and studio. There the countess was transformed into an artist; there she studied music, and painting, in both of which she excelled. Her father and her very dear friends knew of her great proficiency in art, but her reputation went no further, for Therese was as shy as a gazelle, and as anxious to conceal her talents as many women are to parade them.
At her father’s hotel, Therese received the distinguished guests who visited there, with the stately courtesy befitting a high-born countess; but in her little pavilion she was the simple and enthusiastic child of art. Her boudoir contained little besides a harp, a harpsichord, and an easel which stood by the arched window opening into a flower-garden.
Near the easel was a small marble table covered with palettes, brushes, and crayons. When Therese retired to this boudoir, her maid was accustomed to keep watch lest she should be surprised by visitors. If any were announced, Therese came out of her boudoir, and, carefully closing the door, awaited her friends in the parlor.
To-day she sat in this boudoir, feeling so secure from visitors that she had raised the portiere leading to her parlor, and had flung wide the cas.e.m.e.nt which opened upon the park. The sweet summer air was fanning her brow as she sat at the harp, singing a song of her own composition.
She had just concluded; her little white hands had glided from the strings to her lap, and her head rested against the harp, above the pillar of which a golden eagle with outstretched wings seemed to be keeping watch over the young girl, as though to shield her from approaching misfortune.
With her head bent over her harp, she sat musing until two tears, which had long been gathering in her eyes, fell upon her hands. As she felt them, she raised her head. Her dark-blue eyes were full of sorrow, and tier cheeks were glowing with blushes.
“What right have I to weep over a treasure which is as far from me as heaven is from earth?” said she. “I will not repine, so long as I am free to dream of him without crime. But what if I should lose that freedom? What if my father should wish to force me into marriage? Oh, then, I should take refuge behind the friendly portals of a convent!”
“Why take refuge in a convent?” said a soft voice behind her.
Therese sprang up with such wild agitation, that the harp, with a clang, fell back against the wall. Too well she knew this musical voice–it was the voice which spoke to her in dreams; and as its tones fell so suddenly upon her ear, she felt as if a bolt from heaven had struck her heart, and knew not whether she would die of ecstasy or fright.
“Joseph!” exclaimed she, all unconscious of the word, and she sank back into her chair, not daring to raise her eyes. With one bound the emperor was at her side, taking her hands, and pressing them within his own.
“Pardon me, countess,” said he, tenderly, “I have startled you. It was wrong of me to send away your maid, and to present myself unannounced.
In my selfishness, I would not wait for form, and forgot that my visit was totally unexpected. Say that you forgive me; let me read my pardon in your heavenly eyes. “
Slowly Therese raised her head, and tried to speak. She longed to say that she had nothing to forgive; but had not the courage to meet the glances of those eyes which were fixed upon her with an expression of pa.s.sionate entreaty, and seemed to be gazing into her heart, reading its most cherished, most consecrated secrets.
Did he understand the language of her agitation? “Look at me, Therese,”
whispered he.” It is an eternity since we met, and now–one more look at your angel-face, for I come to bid adieu to it forever.”
She started, repeating his words, “Bid adieu–adieu!”
“Yes, sweet one, adieu. Some wiseacre has guessed the secret which I had fondly imagined was known to G.o.d and to myself only. And yet, Therese, I have never even told myself how pa.s.sionately I love you! My eyes must have betrayed me to others; for since that happy day at Sclionbrunn when I kissed the rose which had dropped from your hair, you have not been seen at court. I never should have told you this, my best beloved, but the anguish of this hour has wrung the confession from me. It will die away from your memory like the tones of a strange melody, and be lost in the jubilant harmony of your happy married life.”
He turned away that she might not see the tears which had gathered in his eyes and were ready to fall. As for Therese, she rose to her feet.
For one moment, her heart stood still–the next, her blood was coursing so wildly through her veins that she thought he must surely hear its mad throbbings in the stillness of that little room. The emperor turned again, and his face was grave, but calm. He had mastered his emotion, and, ashamed of the weakness of the avowal he had made, he determined to atone for it. He took the hand of the countess and led her to a divan, where he gently drew her down, while she obeyed, as though her will had suddenly been merged into his. She was conscious of one thing only. He was there!–he whose name was written upon her heart, though she had never uttered it until that day!
He stood before her with folded arms, and contemplated her as an enthusiast might look upon the statue of a saint.
“Therese,” said he, after a long silence, “why did you say that you would go into a convent?”
Therese grew pale and shivered, but said nothing. Joseph, bending down and looking into her eyes, repeated his question.
“Because my father wishes me to marry a man whom I do not love,” replied Therese, with a candor which yielded to the magic of his glance as the rose gives her heart’s sweet perfume to the wooing of the summer breeze.
“But, Therese,” said the emperor, mindful of his promise, “you must obey your father. It is your duty.”
“No–I shall never marry,” returned Therese, eagerly.
“Marriage is the only vocation fit for a woman,” replied Joseph. “The wife is commanded to follow her husband.”
“Yes, to follow the husband of her love,” interrupted she, with enthusiasm. “And oh, it must be heaven on earth to follow the beloved one through joy and sorrow, to feel with his heart, to see with his eyes, to live for his love, or, if G.o.d grant such supreme happiness, to die for his sake!”
“Therese!” exclaimed Joseph, pa.s.sionately, as, gazing upon her inspired countenance, he forgot every thing except his love.
She blushed, and her eyes sought the floor. “No,” said she, as if communing with herself, “this blessing I shall never know.”
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