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4. The Two Ministers

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Baron Thugut took the count's arm and led him back to his cabinet.

"I read a question in your eyes," he said, smiling; "may I know what it is?"

"Why, yes, your excellency," replied Count Saurau.

"Let me ask you, then, what all this means? Why did you excuse the chief of police, who evidently had not done his duty and been guilty of a lack of vigilance? And why did you let these rascals go, instead of having them whipped to death?"

"You were away from Vienna, count? You were absent from the capital because you accompanied their majesties on their trip to Presburg, and have returned only an hour ago. Am I right?"

"Perfectly right, your excellency."

"Then you could not be aware of what has happened meanwhile here in Vienna, and the chief of police could not have informed you of the particulars. Well, then, he came to me and told me that an insurrection had been planned against the two emperors--(I believe you know that the people does us the honor of calling us the two emperors of Vienna), and that the faction hostile to us was going to make an attempt to overthrow us. A great deal of money had been distributed among the populace. Prince Carl von Schwarzenburg himself had dropped some indiscreet remarks. In short, the faction which hates me because I do not deem seditious Belgium a priceless jewel of the crown of Austria, and do not advise the emperor to keep that remote province at any price--the faction which detests both of us because we do not join its enthusiastic hymns in honor of the French Republic and the republican General Bonaparte--this faction has hired the miserable rabble to represent the people, to break my windows, and frighten me sufficiently to make me ready and willing to adopt its insane policy. The chief of police came to see me yesterday. He gave me an account of the whole affair, and declared himself fully prepared to protect my palace, and to nip the riot in the bud. I begged him not to do any thing of the kind, but to look on passively and attentively, and only come to my palace after the mob had entered it. I was very anxious for once to find out something definite about the strength, courage, and importance of the opposing faction. It is always desirable to know one's adversaries, and to learn as accurately as possible what they are capable of. Besides, it was a splendid opportunity for the police to discover the sneaking demagogues and ringleaders of the mob, and to take down their names for the purpose of punishing them by and by, as we Europeans unfortunately cannot imitate the example of that blessed Queen of Egypt, who took a thousand conspirators by the tails, and, holding them in her left hand, cut off their thousand seditious heads with one stroke of the sword in her right hand. Unfortunately, we have to act by far more cautiously."

"But why did you dismiss all the rioters this time without giving them into custody?" asked the count, moodily.

"Why, we have them all by the tails, anyhow," laughed Thugut, "for have not we got the list of the names here? Ah, my dear little count, perhaps you thought I would have gone in my generosity so far as to tear this list, throw the pieces away, and avert my head, like the pious bishop who found a murderer under his bed, permitted him to escape, and averted his head in order not to see the fugitive's face and may be recognize him on some future occasion? I like to know the faces of my enemies, and to find out their names, and, depend upon it, I shall never, never forget the names I read on this list."

"But for the time being, these scoundrels, having escaped with impunity, will go home in triumph, and repeat the same game as soon as another occasion offers."

"Ah, I see you do not know the people at all! Believe me, we could not have frightened them worse than by letting them go. They are perfectly conscious of their guilt. The very idea of not having received any punishment at our hands fills them with misgivings, and they tremble every moment in the expectation that they will have to suffer yet for their crime. Remorse and fear are tormenting them, and THEY are the best instruments to rule a people with. My God, what should be done with a nation consisting of none but pure and virtuous men? It would be perfectly unassailable, while its vices and foibles are the very things by which we control it. Therefore, do not blame the people on account of its vices. I love it for the sake of them, for it is through them that I succeed in subjecting it to my will. The idea of acting upon men by appealing to their virtues, is simply preposterous. You must rely on their faults and crimes, and, owing to the latter, all these fellows whom we dismissed to-day without punishment have become our property. The discharged and unpunished criminal is a sbirro--the police has only to hand him a dagger, and tell him, 'Strike there!' and he will strike."

"Your excellency believes, then, that even the ringleaders should not be punished?"

"By no means. Of course some of them should be chastised, in order to increase the terror of the others. But for God's sake, no public trials--no public penalties! Wenzel should be secretly arrested and disposed of. Let him disappear--he and the other ringleaders who were bold enough to come up here. Let us immure them in some strong, thick-walled prison, and while the other rioters are vainly tormenting their heavy skulls by trying to guess what has become of their leaders, we shall render the latter so pliable and tame by all kinds of tortures and threats of capital punishment, that when we finally set them free again, they will actually believe they are in our debt, and in their gratitude become willing tools in our hands to be used as we may deem best."

"By the eternal, you are a great statesman, a sagacious ruler!" exclaimed Count Saurau, with the gushing enthusiasm of sincere admiration. "Men grow wise by listening to you, and happy and powerful by obeying you! I am entirely devoted to you--full of affection and veneration--and do not want to be any thing but your attentive and grateful pupil."

"Be my friend," said Thugut. "Let us pursue our career hand in hand- -let us always keep our common goal in view, and shrink back from no step in order to reach it."

"Tell me what I am to do. I shall follow you as readily as the blind man follows his guide."

 

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Louisa of Prussia and Her Times -by- Louisa Muhlbach

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