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26. Victoria De Poutet

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Nearly a year had elapsed since the departure of the French ambassador from Vienna, but the rupture of the peace with France, so ardently desired by Minister Thugut, had not yet taken place. A strong party in the emperor's cabinet had declared against Thugut, and this time obtained a victory over the minister who had been believed to be all-powerful. This party was headed by the empress and Archduke Charles. Thugut, therefore, was compelled to suppress his wrath, and defer his revenge to some later time.

But although the dark clouds of the political thunderstorm had been removed for the time being, they were constantly threatening, like a gloomy spectre on the horizon, casting sinister shadows on every day and on every hour.

The merry people of Vienna, owing to the incessant duration of these gloomy shadows, had become very grave, and loudly and softly denounced Minister Thugut as the author and instigator of all the evils that were menacing Austria. In fact, Baron Thugut was still the all-powerful minister; and as the emperor loved and feared him, the whole court, the whole capital, and the whole empire bowed to him. But while bowing, every one hated him; while obeying, every one cursed him.

Thugut knew it and laughed at it. What did he care for the love and hatred of men? Let them curse him, if they only obeyed him.

And they obeyed him. The machine of state willingly followed the pressure of his hand, and he conducted the helm with a vigorous arm. He directed from his cabinet the destinies of Austria; he skilfully and ingeniously wove there the nets with which, according to his purposes, he wanted to surround friend or foe.

To-day, too, he had worked in his cabinet until evening, and he had only just now dismissed his two private secretaries, Heinle and Hubschle. This was the hour at which Thugut was in the habit of repairing either to the emperor or to his gardens in the Wahringer Street. His valet de chambre, therefore, awaited him in the dressing-room, and his carriage was in readiness below in the court- yard. To-day, however, the minister apparently wished to deviate from his custom, and instead of going to the dressing-room, he violently rang the bell.

"Germain," he said, to the entering valet de chambre, "no uniform to-day, no gala-dress, but my Turkish garments. Light up the Turkish cabinet, kindle amber in the lamps, and place flowers in the vases. In the course of an hour supper for two persons in the Turkish cabinet. Arrange every thing in a becoming manner."

Germain bowed silently and withdrew, in order soon to return with the ordered Turkish costume. Thugut silently suffered himself to be clad in the costly Turkish dressing-gown, and in the golden slippers, the wonderful Cashmere shawl to be wrapped around his waist, and the Turkish fez to be placed on his head. Germain then brought a Turkish pipe with a splendidly carved amber tip, and handed it to the minister.

"Now open the door," said Thugut, laconically. Germain touched the frame of the large painting on the wall, and Thugut stepped through the small door into the hall. With rapid steps he hastened down the hall, and soon stood at its end in front of the narrow wall on which a painting of the Virgin, illuminated by a perpetually burning lamp, was hanging. Thugut again touched an artificial rose on the frame, the painting turned around, and a door became visible behind it.

The minister opened this door, and, crossing the threshold, carefully closed it again.

He now was in his Turkish cabinet; all these beautiful gold brocades on the low sofas, these costly hangings covering the walls, these precious carpets on the floor and on the tables, these silver lamps of strange forms, hanging down from the ceiling, and filled with amber, all these richly gilt vessels arranged along the walls, were delightful reminiscences to Thugut--reminiscences of the happiest period of his life, for he had brought all these things from Constantinople, where he had lived for ten years as Austrian ambassador. Thugut, therefore, never entered this cabinet without a pleasant smile lighting up his hard features, and he only went thither when he wished to permit himself an hour of happiness amidst the perplexing occupations and cares of his official position.

On this occasion, too, as soon as he had crossed the threshold, his face had assumed a mild and gentle expression, and the harsh, repulsive stamp had disappeared from his features. He walked across the room with a smile, and quickly touched a golden knob, fixed in the opposite wall. After a few minutes he repeated this four times. He then raised his eyes to a small silver bell hanging above him in the most remote corner of the wall, and looked at it steadfastly. While he was doing so, a small side door had opened, and Germain, in the rich costume of a servant of the harem, had entered. Thugut had not once looked round toward him; he had not once glanced at the silver vases with the most splendid flowers, which Germain had placed on the marble tables; his nose was apparently indifferent to the sweet perfumes of the amber which Germain had kindled in the silver lamps, and which was filling the room with fragrant bluish clouds. He only looked at the small bell, and seemed to expect a signal from it in breathless suspense. But Germain had long since finished the decoration of the room and withdrawn again, and yet the bell was silent. A cloud passed over Thugut's brow, and the smile disappeared from his lips.

"She was not there, perhaps, and consequently did not hear my signal," he murmured. "I will ring the bell once more."

He stretched out his hand toward the golden knob in the wall, when suddenly a clear, pure sound was heard. It was the small bell that had been rung.

Thugut's countenance lighted up in the sunshine of happiness, and he looked up to the bell again in silent suspense. For a few minutes it hung motionless again, but then it resounded quickly three times in succession. "In thirty minutes she will be here," whispered Thugut, with a happy smile. "Let us await her, then."

He approached the small table on which he had laid his pipe, and near which Germain had placed a small silver vessel with burning amber. With the bearing and calmness of a genuine Turk he lighted his pipe and then sat down on the low square sofa. Crossing his legs, supporting his right elbow on the cushions of gold brocade, in a half-reclining attitude, Thugut now abandoned himself to his dreams and to the sweet enjoyment of smoking. He was soon surrounded by a blue cloud from which his black eyes were glistening and glancing up to the large clock on the mantelpiece.

On seeing now that the thirty minutes had elapsed, Thugut rose with youthful vivacity, and laid his pipe aside. He then approached the large and strangely formed arm-chair, standing immediately under the silver bell. When he had vigorously pushed back the arm-chair, a small door became visible behind it. Thugut opened it and placed himself by it in a listening position.

 

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Louisa of Prussia and Her Times -by- Louisa Muhlbach

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