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24. The Festival Of The Volunteers

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He quietly took the count's arm and went with him to the adjoining room. Indicating to him a chair standing not far from the other door, he walked rapidly forward and entered the reception-room.

General Bernadotte, quite a young man, approached him with a stiff and dignified bearing, and there was an expression of bold defiance and undisguised hostility plainly visible on his youthful and handsome features.

Thugut, on his side, had called a smile upon his lips, and his eyes were radiant with affability and mildness.

"I am very glad, general, to see you here at so unexpected an hour," he said, politely. "Truly, this is a distinction that will cause all of our pretty ladies to be jealous of me, and I am afraid, general, you will still more exasperate the fair sex, who never would grant me their favor, against myself, for I am now assuredly to blame if some of our most beautiful ladies now should vainly wait for your arrival."

"I am always very punctual in my appointments, your excellency, whether they be armed rencounters or such rendezvous as your excellency has mentioned just now, and, therefore, seems to like especially," said Bernadotte, gravely. "I call upon your excellency, however, in the name of a lady, too--in the name of the French Republic!"

"And she is, indeed, a very exalted and noble lady, to whom the whole world is bowing reverentially," said Thugut, smiling.

"In the name of the French Republic and of the French Directory; I would like to inquire of your excellency whether or not it is a fact that a popular festival will be held to-morrow here in Vienna?"

"A popular festival! Ah, my dear general, I should not have thought that the French Republic would take so lively an interest in the popular festivals of the Germans! But I must take the liberty of requesting you, general, to apply with this inquiry to Count Saurau. For it is the duty of the police minister to watch over these innocent amusements and harmless festivals of the people."

"The celebration I refer to is neither an innocent amusement nor a harmless festival," exclaimed Bernadotte, hastily; "on the contrary, it is a political demonstration."

"A political demonstration?" repeated Thugut, in surprise. "By whom? And directed against whom?"

"A political demonstration of Austria against the French Republic," said the general, gravely. "It is true, your excellency pretends not to know any thing about this festival of the thirteenth of April, but--"

"Permit me, sir," interrupted Thugut, "is to-morrow the thirteenth of April?"

"Yes, your excellency."

"Then I must say that I know something about this festival, and that I am able to inform you about it. Yes, general, there will be a popular festival to-morrow."

"May I inquire for what purpose?"

"All, general, that is very simple. It is just a year to-morrow, on the thirteenth of April, that the whole youth of Vienna, believing the country to be endangered and the capital threatened by the enemy, in their noble patriotism voluntarily joined the army and repaired to the seat of war. [Footnote: "Memoires d'un Homme d'Etat," vol. v., p. 499.] These young volunteers desire to celebrate the anniversary of their enrolment, and the emperor, I believe, has given them permission to do so."

"I have to beg your excellency to prevail on the emperor to withdraw this permission."

"A strange request! and why?"

"Because this festival is a demonstration against France, for those warlike preparations last year were directed against France, while Austria has now made peace with our republic. It is easy to comprehend that France will not like this festival of the volunteers."

"My dear general," said Thugut, with a sarcastic smile, "does France believe, then, that Austria liked all those festivals celebrated by the French Republic during the last ten years? The festivals of the republican weddings, for instance, or the festival of the Goddess of Reason, or the anniversaries of bloody executions? Or more recently the celebrations of victories, by some of which Austria has lost large tracts of territory? I confess to you that Austria would have greatly liked to see some of those festivals suppressed, but France had not asked our advice, and it would have been arrogant and ridiculous for us to give it without being asked for it, and thus to meddle with the domestic affairs of your country. Hence we silently tolerated your festivals, and pray you to grant us the same toleration."

"The French Republic will not and must not suffer what is contrary to her interests," replied Bernadotte, vehemently. "This festival insults us, and I must therefore pray your excellency to prohibit it." A slight blush mantled the cold, hard features of Baron Thugut, but he quickly suppressed his anger, and seemed again quite careless and unruffled.

"You pray for a thing, general, which it is no longer in our power to grant," he said, calmly. "The emperor has granted permission for this festival, and how could we refuse the young men of the capital a satisfaction so eagerly sought by them and, besides, so well calculated to nourish and promote the love of the people for their sovereign and for their country? Permit us, like you, to celebrate our patriotic festivals."

"I must repeat my demand that this festival be prohibited!" said Bernadotte, emphatically.

"Your demand?" asked Thugut, with cutting coldness; "I do not believe that anybody but the emperor and the government has the right in Austria to make demands, and I regret that I am unable to grant your prayer."

"Your excellency then will really permit this festival of the volunteers to be celebrated to-morrow?"

 

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Louisa of Prussia and Her Times -by- Louisa Muhlbach

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