The Pandour and His Princess ~ A Hungarian Sketch

DGG fur DMdJ
“What is the day’s news? Tell me something, my dear Colonel, for I am
dying of _ennui_,” said the showy Prince Charles of Buntzlau, one of the
handsomest men about the court, and incomparably the greatest coxcomb.

“Not much more than yesterday,” was the answer of Colonel the Baron von
Herbert. “The world goes on pretty much the same as ever. We have an
Emperor, five Electors, and fifty sovereign princes, in Presburg; men
eat, drink, and sleep notwithstanding; and, until there is some change
in these points, one day will not differ much from another to the end of
the world.”

“My dear Colonel,” said the Prince, smoothing down the blackest and
longest pair of mustaches in the imperial cuirassiers, “you seem to
think little of us, the blood, the _couronnés_, the salt of the earth,
who preserve Germany from being as vulgar as Holland. But I forget; you
have a partiality for the _gens du peuple_.”

“Pardon me, Prince,” said Herbert, with a smile, “I pity them
infinitely, and wish that they might exchange with the Landgraves and
Margraves, with all my heart. I have no doubt that the change would
often be advantageous to both, for I have seen many a prince of the
empire who would make a capital ploughman, while he made but a very
clumsy prince; and I have, at this moment, three prodigiously high
personages commanding three troops in my regiment, whom nature palpably
intended to clean their own horses’ heels, and who, I charitably
believe, might, by dint of drilling and half-a-dozen years’ practice,
make three decent dragoons.”

“Just as you please, Colonel,” said the Prince, “but beware of letting
your private opinion go forth. Leopold is one of the new light, I allow,
and loves a philosopher; but he is an Emperor still, and expects all his
philosophers to be of his own opinion.–But here comes Collini.”

Collini was his Italian valet, who came to inform his Highness, that it
was time for him to pay his respects to the Princess of Marosin. This
Italian’s principal office was, to serve his master in place of a
memory–to recognise his acquaintance for him as he drove through the
streets–and to tell him when to see and when to be blind. The Prince
looked at his diamond watch, started from the sofa, gave himself a
congratulatory glance in a mirror, and, turning to Collini, asked, “When
am I to be married to the Princess?”

“Poh, Prince,” interrupted the Colonel, with something of disdain, “this
is too absurd. Send this grimacing fellow about his business, and make
love on your own account, if you will; or if not, choose some woman
whose beauty and virtue, or whose want of them both, will not be
dishonoured by such trifling.”

“You then actually think _her_ worth the attentions of a Prince of the
Empire?” said the handsome coxcomb, as, with one finger curling his
mustaches, he again, and more deliberately, surveyed himself in the
mirror.

“I think the Princess of Marosin worthy of the attentions of any King on
earth,” said the Baron, emphatically; “she is worthy of a throne, if
beauty, intelligence, and dignity of mind, can make her worthy of one.”

The Prince stared. “My dear Colonel!” he exclaimed, “may I half presume
you have been speculating on the lady yourself? But I can assure you it
is in vain. The Princess is a woman; and allowing, as I do,”–and this
he said with a Parisian bow, that bow which is the very language of
superiority,–“the infinite pre-eminence of the Baron von Herbert in
everything, the circumstance of her being a woman, and my being a
Prince, is prodigiously in my favour.”

The Baron had involuntarily laid his hand upon his sword at the
commencement of this speech, but the conclusion disarmed him. He had no
right to quarrel with any man for his own good opinion, and he amused
himself by contemplating the Prince, who continued arranging his
mustaches. The sound of a trumpet put an end to the conference.

“Well, Prince, the trumpet sounds for parade,” said the Baron, “and I
have not time to discuss so extensive a subject as your perfections. But
take my parting information with you. I am not in love with the lady,
nor the lady with me; her one-and-twenty, and my one-and-fifty, are
sufficient reasons on both sides. You are not in love with the lady
either, and–I beg of you to hear the news like a hero–the lady is
_not_ in love with you; for the plain reason, that so showy a figure
cannot possibly be in love with anything but itself; and the Princess
is, I will venture to say, too proud to share a heart with a bottle
of lavender water, a looking-glass, and a poodle.”

The Prince raised his eyebrows, but Von Herbert proceeded. “Buntzlau
will be without a female sovereign, and its very accomplished Prince
will remain, to the last, the best dressed _bachelor_ in Vienna. _Au
revoir_, I see my Pandours on parade.”

Von Herbert and the Prince parted with mutual smiles. But the Prince’s
were of the sardonic order; and after another contemplation of his
features, which seemed, unaccountably, to be determined to disappoint
him for the day, he rang for Collini, examined a new packet of uniforms,
bijouterie, and otto of roses, from Paris, and was closeted with him for
two profound hours.

* * * * *

A forest untouched since the flood overhung the road, and a half-ruined
huge dwelling.

“Have the patrol passed?”

“Within the last five minutes.”

“I wish them at the bottom of the river; they cost me a Turkish
carabine, a brace of diamond watches, as I’ll be sworn, from the showy
fellow that I levelled at, with the valise behind his courier, scented
enough to perfume a forest of brown bears.”

“Hang those Hulans,” was the answer. “Ever since the Emperor’s arrival,
they have done nothing but gallop about, putting honester men than
themselves in fear of their lives, and cutting up our employment so
woefully, that it is impossible to make money enough on the road to give
a decent education to one’s children. But here comes the captain. We
shall now have some news. Speranski never makes his appearance unless
something is in the wind.”

This dialogue passed between two Transylvanian pedlars, if a judgment
were to be formed from their blue caps, brown cloaks, and the packs
strapped to their shoulders. A narrower inspection might have
discovered within those cloaks the little heads of a pair of short
scimitars; their trousers would have displayed to the curious the
profile of two horse-pistols, and their boots developed a pair of those
large-bladed knives which the Hungarian robber uses, alike to slice away
the trunks of the britchska, to cut the harness of the horse, the throat
of the rider, and carve his own sheep’s-milk cheese.

The captain came in, a tall, bold figure, in the dress of an innkeeper.
He flung a purse upon the table, and ordered supper. The pedlars
disburdened themselves of their boxes, kindled a fire on a hearth which
seemed guiltless of having administered to the wants of mankind for many
a wild year; produced from an unsuspected store-house under the floor
some dried venison, and the paws of a bear, preserved in the most
luxurious style of Hungarian cookery; decorated their table even with
some pieces of plate, which, though evidently of different fashions,
gave proof of their having been under noble roofs, by their armorial
bearings and workmanship, though the rest of their history did not lie
altogether so much in high life; and in a few minutes the captain,
throwing off his innkeeper hat and drab-coloured coat, half sat, half
lay down, to a supper worthy of an Emperor, or of a man who generally
sups much better–an imperial commissary.

The whole party were forest robbers; the thing must be confessed. But
the spirit of the country prevailed even under the rotting roof of “the
Ghost’s house,”–the ominous name which this old and ruinous, though
still stately mansion, had earned among the peasantry. The name did not
exactly express the fact; for, when tenanted at all, it was tenanted by
anything rather than ghosts; by some dozens of rough, raw-boned, bold,
and hard-living fellows–as solid specimens of flesh and blood as had
ever sent a shot right in front of the four horses of a courier’s
cabriolet, or had brought to a full stop, scimitar in hand, the heyducs
and chasseurs, the shivering valets and frightened postilions of a court
chamberlain, whirling along the Vienna road with six to his britchska.

Etiquette was preserved at this supper. The inferior plunderers waited
on the superior. Captain Speranski ate his meal alone, and in solemn
silence. The pedlars watched his nod; filled out the successive goblets
at a glance, and having performed their office, watched, at a respectful
distance, the will of the man of authority. A silver chime announced the
hour of ten. One of the pedlars drew aside a fragment of a ragged shawl,
which covered one of the most superb _pendules_ of the Palais Royal.

If the Apollo who sat harping in gold upon its stytolate, could have
given words to his melodies, he might have told a curious narrative; for
he had already seen a good deal of the various world of adventure.
Since his first transit from the magnificent Horlogerie of M. Sismonde,
of all earthly watchmakers the most renowned, this Apollo had first sung
to the world and his sister muses in the chamber of the unlucky Prince
de Soubise. The fates of France had next transferred him, with the
Prince’s camp-plate, despatches, secret orders, and military chest, into
the hands of a regiment of Prussian hussars, at the memorable battle of
Rosbach, that modern “battle of the Spurs.” But the Prussian colonel was
either too much or too little a lover of the arts, to keep Apollo and
the Nine all to himself; and the _pendule_ next rang its silver notes
over the roulette-table of the most brilliant of Parisian opera-dancers,
transferred from the _salle_ of the _Academie_ to the Grand Comedie at
Berlin. But roulette, wheel of Plutus as it is, is sometimes the wheel
of fortune; and the fair La Pirouette, in spite of the patronage of the
court and the nation, found that she must, like generals and monarchs,
submit to fate, and part with her brilliant superfluities. The pendule
fled from her Parisian mantel-piece, and its chimes were thenceforth to
awake the eyelids of the handsomest woman in Hungary, the Countess
Lublin née Joblonsky, memorable for her beauty, her skill at _loto_, and
the greatest profusion of rouge since the days of Philip Augustus. Its
history now drew to a close. It had scarcely excited the envy of all
the countesses of her circle, and, of course, became invaluable to the
fair Joblonsky, when it disappeared. A reward of ten times its value was
instantly offered. The Princess of Marosin, the arbiter of all elegance,
who had once expressed her admiration of its taste, was heard to regret
its loss as a specimen of foreign art. The undone proprietor was only
still more undone; for of all beauties living or dead, she most hated
the Princess, blooming, youthful, and worshipped as she was, to the
infinite detriment of all the fading Joblonskys of the creation. But no
reward could bring it back. This one source of triumph was irrecoverably
gone; and from Presburg to Vienna, all was conjecture, conversation, and
consternation. So ended the court history of the _pendule_.

When the repast was fully over, Speranski, pouring out a glass of Tokay
from a bottle which bore the impress of the Black Eagle of the House of
Hapsburg, and which had evidently been arrested on its road to the
Emperor’s table, ordered one of the pedlars to give him the papers,
“which,” said he, with a smile, “that Turkish courier _mislaid_ where he
slept last night.” A small packet was handed to him;–he perused it over
and over with a vigilant eye, but it was obvious, without any of the
results which he expected; for, after a few minutes’ pause, during which
he examined every part of the case in which they were enclosed, he
threw the letters aside. “What,” said he, in a disappointed tone, “was
to be expected from those opium-eaters? Yet they are shrewd in their
generation, and the scandals of the harem, the propitious day for
shaving the Sultan’s head, the lucky star for combing his illustrious
beard, or the price of a dagger-hilt, are as good topics as any that
pass in our own diplomacy. Here, Sturnwold, put back this circumcised
nonsense into its case, and send it, do you hear, by one of our _own_
couriers, to the Turkish secretary at Vienna; let it be thrown on his
pillow, or tied to his turban, just as you please; but, at all events,
we must not do the business like a clumsy cabinet messenger. Now,
begone; and you, Heinrich, hand me the Turk’s meerschaum.”

The bandit brought him a very handsome pipe, which he said would
probably be more suited to the Turk’s tobacco, of which he had deposited
a box upon the table. Speranski took the pipe, but, at his first
experiment, he found the neck obstructed. His quick conception
ascertained the point at once. Cutting the wood across, he found a long
roll of paper within. He glanced over its contents, instantly sprang up,
ordered the attendance of half a dozen of “his friends” on horseback,
looked to the priming of his pistols, and galloped off through the
forest.

* * * * *

On the evening of one of the most sultry days of July, and in one of
the most delicious yet most lonely spots of the Carpathian hills, a
trampling of hoofs, and a jingling of horse-furniture, and a confusion
of loud and dissonant voices, announced that strangers were at hand. The
sounds told true, for, gradually emerging from the glade covered with
terebinth trees, wild vines that hung their rich and impenetrable folds
over elms, hazels, and cypress, like draperies of green and brown silk
over the pillars of some Oriental palace, came a long train of sumpter
mules, led horses, and Albanian grooms; next came a more formidable
group of horsemen, the body-guards of the Hospodar of Moldavia, sent to
escort Mohammed Ali Hunkiar, the Moslem ambassador, through the Bannat;
and then came, seated on the Persian charger given to him from the
stables of the Padishah, the brother of the Sun and father of the Moon,
Sultan Selim, the most mighty–a little bitter-visaged old Turk, with
the crafty countenance of the hereditary hunchbacks of the great city of
the faithful. Nothing could be more luxurious than the hour, the golden
sunset; nothing lovelier than its light streaming in a thousand rays,
shifts and shapes of inimitable lustre through the blooms and foliage of
the huge ravine; and nothing less lovely or more luxurious than the
little old ambassador, who had earned his elevation from a cobbler’s
stall to the Divan, by his skill in cutting off heads, and had now
earned his appointment to the imperial embassy, by his dexterity in
applying a purse of ten thousand sequins to the conscience of the
slipper-bearer to the slipper-bearer of his highness the Vizier.

Nothing could seem less inclined to look at the dark side of things at
this moment, or to throw away the enjoyments of this world for the good
of Moslem diplomacy, than Mohammed Ali Hunkiar, as he sat and smoked,
and stroked his long beard, and inhaled the mingled fumes of his Smyrna
pipe, and the air aromatic with a host of flowers. But the Turkish
proverb, “The smoker is often blinded by his own smoke,” was to find its
verification even in the diplomatic hunchback. As he had just reached
the highest stone of the pass, and was looking with the triumph of
avarice–or ambition, if it be the nobler name–down the valley
checkered with the troop that meandered through paths as devious and as
many-coloured as an Indian snake, a shot struck his charger in the
forehead; the animal sprang high in the air, fell, and flung the
ambassador at once from his seat, his luxury, and a certain dream of
clearing ten times the ten thousand sequins which he had disbursed for
his place, by a genuine Turkish business of the dagger, before he left
the portcullis of Presburg.

All was instant confusion. The shots began to fall thick, though the
enemy might have been the beasts of the earth or the fowls of the air,
for any evidence that sight could give to the contrary. The whole troop
were of one opinion, that they must have fallen into the power of the
fiend himself; for the shots poured on them from every quarter at once.
Wherever they turned, they were met by a volley. The cavalry of the
Hospodar, though brave as panthers on parade, yet were not used to waste
their valour or their time on struggles of this irregular nature. They
had bought their own places, and paid the due purchase of a well-fed
sinecure; they had bought their own clothes, and felt answerable to
themselves for keeping them in preservation worthy of a court; they had
bought their own horses, and, like true Greeks, considered that the best
return their horses could make was to carry them as safe out of the
field as into it. The consequence was, that in the next five minutes the
whole escort was seen riding at will in whatever direction the destiny
that watches over the guards of sovereign princes might point the safest
way. The ravine, the hill, the forest, the river, were all speckled with
turbans, like flowers, in full gallop; the muleteers, being of slower
movement, took the simpler precaution of turning their mules, baggage
and all, up the retired corners of the forest, from which they emerged
only to turn them with their lading to their several homes. All was the
most picturesque mêlée for the first half-dozen rounds, all was the most
picturesque flight for the next. All was silence thenceforth; broken
only by the shot that came dropping through the thickets wherever a
lurking turban suddenly seemed to recover its energies, and fly off at
full speed. At length even the shots ceased, and all was still and lone.
The forest looked as if it had been unshaken since the deluge; the
ravine–calm, rich, and tufted with thicket, shrub, and tree–looked as
if it had never heard the hoof of cavalry. The wood-dove came out again,
rubbed down its plumage, and cooed in peace to the setting sun; the
setting-sun threw a long radiance, that looked like a pyramid of amber,
up the pass. Turban, Turk, skirmish, and clamour, all were gone. One
remnant of the time alone remained.

Under a huge cypress, that covered the ground with its draperies, like a
funeral pall, lay a charger, and under it a green and scarlet bale. The
bale had once been a man, and that man the Turkish ambassador. But his
embassy was over. He had made his last salaam, he had gained his last
sequin, he had played his last trick, he had told his last lie. “Dust to
dust” was now the history of Mohammed Ali Hunkiar.

* * * * *

The Hall of the Diet at Presburg is one of the wonders of the capital.
The heroes and magnates of Upper Hungary frown in immeasurable
magnitude of mustache and majestic longitude of beard on its walls.
The conquerors of the Bannat, the ravagers of Transylvania, the
_potentissimi_ of Sclavonia, there gleam in solidity of armour, that at
once gives a prodigious idea of both their strength and their terrors.
The famous rivers, figured by all the variety of barbarian genius, pour
their pictured torrents over the ceiling. The Draave embraces the Saave,
the Grau rushes in fluid glory through the Keisse; and floods that
disdain a bridge, and flow a hundred leagues asunder, there interlace
each other in streams as smiling and affectionate as if they slept in
the same fountain. Entering that hall, every true Hungarian lifts up his
hands, and rejoices that he is born in the country of the arts, and,
leaving it, compassionates the fallen honours of Florence and Rome.

Yet in that hall the Emperor Leopold, monarch of fifty provinces, and
even sovereign of Hungary, was pacing backwards and forwards without
casting a glance on the wonders of the Hungarian hand. Colonel the Baron
von Herbert was at the end of the saloon, waiting the Imperial pleasure.
The dialogue, which was renewed and broken off as the Emperor approached
or left him, was, of course, one of fragments. The Emperor was in
obvious agitation. “It is the most unaccountable thing that I ever heard
of,” said Leopold. “He had, I understand, a strong escort; his own train
were numerous; the roads regularly patroled; every precaution taken;
and yet the thing is done in full sunshine. A man is murdered almost
under my own eyes, travelling with my passport; an ambassador, and above
all ambassadors, a Turk.”

“But your Majesty,” said Von Herbert, “is not now in Vienna. Your
Hungarian subjects have peculiar ideas on the subject of human justice;
and they would as soon shoot an ambassador, if the idea struck them, as
a squirrel.”

“But a Turk,” said the Emperor, “against whom there could not have
existed a shadow of personal pique; who could have roused no jealousy at
court; who could have been known, in fact, by nobody here; to be killed
almost within sight of the city gates, and every paper that he had upon
him, every present, every jewel, everything carried off, without the
slightest clue to discovery! Baron, I shall begin to doubt the activity
of your Pandours.”

The Baron’s grave countenance flushed at the remark, and he answered
with more than even his usual gravity. “Your Majesty must decide. But,
whoever has been in fault, allow me to vindicate my regiment. The
Pandour patrol were on the spot on the first alarm; but the whole affair
was so quickly over, that all their activity was utterly useless. It
actually seemed supernatural.”

“Has the ground been examined?” asked Leopold.

“Every thicket,” answered Von Herbert. “I would stake my troopers, for
sagacity and perseverance, against so many blood-hounds; and yet, I must
acknowledge to your Majesty that, except for the marks of the horse’s
hoofs on the ground, the bullets sticking in the trees, and the body of
the Turk himself, which had been stripped of every valuable, we might
have thought that we had mistaken the place altogether.”

“The whole business,” said Leopold, “is a mystery; and it must be
unravelled.” He then broke off, resumed his walk to the end of the hall;
then returning, said abruptly–“Look to the affair, Colonel. The Turks
have no good opinion of us as it is, and they will now have a fresh
pretext, in charging us with the assassination of their ambassador. Go,
send out your Pandours, offer a hundred ducats for the first man who
brings any information of the murder; offer a thousand, if you please,
for the murderer himself. Even the crown would not be safe if these
things were to be done with impunity. Look to your Pandours more
carefully in future.”

The Baron, with a vexation which he could not suppress, hastily
replied–“Your Majesty does not attribute this outrage to any of my
corps?”

“Certainly not to the Baron von Herbert,” said the Emperor, with a
reconciling smile. “But, my dear Baron, your heroes of the Bannat have
no love for a Turk, while they have a very considerable love for his
plunder. For an embroidered saddle or a diamond-hilted dagger, they
would go as far as most men. In short, you must give those bold
barbarians of yours employment, and let their first be to find out the
assassin.”

* * * * *

It was afternoon, and the Wiener Straat was crowded with equipages
of the great and fair. The place of this brilliant reunion was the
drawing-room of the Princess of Marosin, and the occasion was the
celebration of her birthday. Princesses have so many advantages over
humbler beauties that they must submit to one calamity, which, in the
estimation of many a beauty, is more than a balance for all the gifts of
fortune. They must acknowledge their age. The art of printing, combined
with the scrutiny of etiquette, prohibits all power of making the years
of a princess a secret confided to the bosoms of the privy council. As
the hour of her first unclosing the brilliancy of her eyes, in a world
which all the court poets profess must be left in darkness without them,
so the regular periods by which the bud advances to the bloom, and the
bloom matures into ripened loveliness, are registered with an annual
activity of verse, prose, and prostration, that precludes all
chronological error. Even at the period when the autumnal touch begins
to tinge the cheek, and the fair possessor of so much homage would
willingly forget the exact number of the years during which she has
borne the sceptre, the calculation is continued with fatal accuracy.
Not an hour can be silently subducted from the long arrear of Time; and
while, with all the female world beneath her, he suddenly seems to stand
still, or even to retrograde, with the unhappy object of regal reckoning
he moves mercilessly onward, with full expanded wing carries her from
climacteric to climacteric, unrestrained and irrestrainable by all the
skill of female oblivion, defies the antagonist dexterity of the toilet,
makes coiffeur and cosmetics null and void, and fixes the reluctant and
lovely victim of the calendar in the awful elevation of “the world gone
by.” She is a calendar saint, and, like most of that high sisterhood,
has purchased her dignity by martyrdom.

But the Princess of Marosin had no reason to dread the keenest reckoning
of rivalry. She was on that day eighteen. Eighteen years before that
morning the guns from the grey and war-worn towers of Marosin had
announced, through a circuit of one of the loveliest principalities of
Upper Hungary, that one of the loveliest beings that even Hungary had
ever seen was come from its original skies, or from whatever part of
creation handsome princesses visit this sublunar world. As the only
descendant of her illustrious house, she was the ward of the Emperor,
but having the still nearer claims of blood, her marriage now occupied
the Imperial care. A crowd of Marshals and Margraves felt that they
would make excellent guardians of the Principality, and offered their
generous protection. The lady seemed indifferent to the choice; but
Prince Charles of Buntzlau, by all acknowledgment the best dressed
Prince in the Empire, at the head of the hussar guard of the Emperor,
incalculably rich, and incomparably self-satisfied, had already made up
his own mind on the subject, and decided that the Principality, and the
lady annexed, were to be his. The Emperor, too, had given his sanction.
Prince Charles was not the man whom Leopold would have chosen for the
President of the Aulic Council, though his claims as a master of the
ceremonies were beyond all discussion. But the Imperial policy was not
reconcilable with the idea of suffering this important inheritance to
fall into the hands of a Hungarian noble. Hungary, always turbulent,
requires coercives, not stimulants; and two hundred thousand ducats
a-year, in the hands of one of her dashing captains, would have been
sufficient to make another Tekeli. The handsome Prince was evidently not
shaped for raising the banner of revolt, or heading the cavaliers of the
Ukraine. He was an Austrian in all points, and a new pelisse would have
won him from the car of Alexander on the day of his entry into Babylon.

Among the faithful of the empire the Sovereign’s nod is politics,
religion, and law. The Marshals and Margraves instinctively bowed
before the supremacy of the superhuman thing that wore the crown of
Charlemagne, and Prince Charles’s claim was worshipped by the whole
embroidered circle as one of the decisions which it would be court
impiety to question, as it was court destiny to fulfil.

Hungary was once the land of kings, and it was still the land of nobles.
Half oriental, half western, the Hungarian is next in magnificence to
the Moslem. He gives his last ducat for a shawl, a jewel-hilted sabre,
or a gilded cap, which nothing but his fear of being mistaken for a Turk
prevents him from turning into a turban. The Princess Juliana of Marosin
sat in the centre of a chamber that might have made the cabinet of the
favourite Sultana of the Lord of the Infidels. She sat on a low sofa
covered with tapestry from Smyrna; her caftan, girdled with the largest
emeralds, was made by the fair fingers of the Greek maidens of Saloniki;
her hair, long, black, and drooping round her person, in rich sable
wreaths, like the branches of a cypress, was surmounted by a crescent
which had won many an eye in the jewel mart of Constantinople; and in
her hand she waved a fan of peacocks’ plumes, made by the principal
artist to the serail of Teheran. Thus Oriental in her drapery, colours,
and costume, she sat in the centre of a chamber, which, for its gloomy
carvings, yet singular stateliness of decoration, might have reminded
the spectator of some Indian shrine, or subterranean dungeon of the
dark spirits enclosing a spirit of light; or, to abandon poetry, and
tell the truth in plain speech, the chamber reminded the spectator
of the formal, yet lavish splendour of the old kingly times of the
land, while its possessor compelled him to feel the fact, that all
magnificence is forgotten in the presence of a beautiful woman.

The Princess received the homage of the glittering circle with the
complacency of conscious rank, and repaid every bow with one of those
sweet smiles, which to a courtier are irresistible evidences of his
personal merit; to a lover, are spells that raise him from the lowest
depths to the most rapturous altitudes; and to a woman, cost nothing
whatever. But, to an eye which none of these smiles had deprived of all
its powers of reading the human countenance, there was in even this
creature of birth, beauty, and admiration, some secret anxiety, which,
in despite of all conjecture, proved that she was no more than mortal.
There was a wavering of her colour, that bespoke inward perturbation;
a paleness followed by a flush that threw the crimson of her gorgeous
shawl into the shade; a restless movement of the fingers loaded with
gems; a quick turn of the head towards the door, though the most
potential flattery was at the moment pouring into the ear at the
opposite side. There were times, when a slight expression of scorn upon
her fine features escaped her politeness, and gave sign that she agreed
with mankind of all ages, in the infinite monotony, dulness, and
commonplace of the _élite_ of the earth, the starred and ribboned
society of the high places of mankind. But all was peace to the emotion
of her features, when the door slowly opened; and after a note of
preparation worthy of the arrival of the Great Mogul, the chamberlain
announced, “Prince Charles of Buntzlau.” Pride and resentment flashed
across her physiognomy, like lightning across the serenity of a summer
sky. Her cheek grew crimson, as the gallant lover, the affianced
husband, came bowing up to her; her brow contracted, and the man would
have been wise who had augured from that brow the hazard of taking her
hand without first securing her heart. But all was soon over; the lovely
lady soon restrained her emotion, with a power which showed her presence
of mind. But her cheek would not obey even her determination, it
continued alternately glowing and pale; wild thoughts were colouring and
blanching that cheek; and the fever of the soul was burning in her
restless and dazzling eye. On the birthdays of the great in Hungary, it
is the custom that none shall come empty-handed. A brilliant variety of
presents already filled the tables and sofas of the apartment. But the
Prince’s present eclipsed them all; it was a watch from the Horlogerie
of the most famous artist of Paris, and a _chef-d’oeuvre_ in point of
setting. The Princess looked at it with a disdain which it cost her an
effort to conceal. “Prince,” said she, “I regret the want of patriotism
which sends our nobles to purchase the works of strangers, instead of
encouraging the talents of our own country.”–“Yes, but your Highness
may condescend to reflect,” said the lover, “on the utter impossibility
of finding anything of this kind tolerable except in Paris.” The
Princess turned to one of the Bohemians who formed her band of
minstrels, and said, “Vladimir, desire the jewel-keeper to bring my
Hungarian watch.” The Bohemian went on his mission–the jewel-keeper
appeared with the watch, and it was instantly declared, by the unanimous
admiration of the circle, to be altogether unrivalled in the art. The
Prince, chagrined at this discomfiture, asked, with more than the
authority of a lover, if the Princess “would do him the honour to
mention the artist so deserving of her patronage.” She handed the watch
over to him. He opened it, and a paper dropped out. On it was written
the name of Mohammed Ali Hunkiar.

“The murdered ambassador!” instinctively exclaimed fifty voices.–The
Princess rose from her seat, overwhelmed with surprise and alarm. “The
Turkish ambassador!” said she; “then this must have been a part of
his plunder.” The jewel-keeper was summoned to give account of the
circumstances connected with the purchase. His answer was, that “it was
no purchase whatever.” But he produced a note which he had received
along with it. The note was “a request that her Highness would accept so
trivial a present on her birthday, from one of her faithful subjects;”
and that, unable to discover the name of the donor, he had accepted it
accordingly. Her circle soon after broke up. In a court all things are
known; in a province all things known or unknown are an invaluable topic
as long as they are new. The story of the Hungarian watch was turned
into shapes innumerable. But the result of the investigation which
immediately took place, by order of the Princess, was, that it had
actually been made by an artist of Buda for the Sultan, by whom it was
sent among the presents designed for the Emperor. On the fall of the
Turk it had disappeared, like all the rest of his plunder, and had been
unheard of until it started into light in the household of the Princess
of Marosin.

The little perturbation excited by this incident lasted but till the
high and mighty of the circle had withdrawn, to communicate the fact
to a dozen other circles, and talk of it until the world was weary
alike of the tale and the tellers. But there was a perturbation in the
mind of this young and lovely being, which came from a deeper source,
and lasted longer than even the delight of her dear five hundred
friends, in surmising all the possible modes in which the stately
relative of Emperors had contrived to charm into her fair hands the
most superb _montre_ under the roofs of the city of Presburg.

Sunset began to shed its quiet gold on the hill-tops round the city–the
sounds of day were fading fast–the glittering crowd had left her halls
to silence–and as she walked through the suite of magnificent chambers
in her gala dress, tissued with emeralds and rubies, and her regal
loveliness contrasting with her eye fixed upon the ground, and her slow
and meditative step, she might have been taken for the guardian genius
of those halls of ancestry, or a new avatar of the tragic muse. Arrived
at the balcony, she almost fell into the flowery seat, below which
spread a vast and various view of the most fertile plain of Hungary. But
the vision on her eye was not of the harvest heavily swelling before her
at every wave of the breeze. Her thoughts were of valleys, where the sun
never reached their green depths; of forests, where the roebuck fed and
sported in scorn of the hunter; of mountains, whose marble spines were
covered only with clouds, and whose only echoes were those of the
thunder or the eagle. All before her eye was beauty cultured, and calm
pleasure. The peasantry were driving their wains homeward loaded with
the luxuriance of the Hungarian fields, proverbially rich where they are
cultivated at all. Large droves of quiet cattle were speckling the
distant pasture, and enjoying the heat and light of evening. The
citizens were issuing from the city gates to taste the freshness of
the hour, and troops of the nobles attendant on the imperial ceremony,
relieved from the labours of etiquette and antechambers, were driving
their glittering equipages through the avenues, or caracolling their
Ukraine chargers through the meadows. Yet for the living landscape the
young gazer had no eyes. The scene on which her spirit dwelt was one of
savage majesty and lonely power. A vast pile of rocks, through which a
way seemed to have been cloven by the thunderbolt, opened on a glen as
desolate as if it had never been trodden by the foot of man. Yet, under
the shelter of one of its overhanging cliffs, peeping out from a drapery
of heath, lichens, and wild flowers, as rich as a Persian carpet, was
seen the outline of a rude building, half cottage, half tower, and
resting on the slope beside it, a hunter with his boar-spear fixed
upright in the turf–a greyhound beside him, and his whole soul employed
in listening to the roar of the Mediterranean, whose waters chafed and
swelled at the entrance of the ravine, and spread to the horizon like a
gigantic sheet of sanguined steel.

The murmur of the church bells for the evening service at length
scattered the vision. The mountain forests vanished, the glen of eternal
marble was a garden embroidered with all the cultivation of art, and
nothing was left of the whole proud picture but the star that now came,
like a bride from her chamber, and stood showering radiance upon her
head. That star, too, had gleamed upon the sky of the Croatian ravine,
and in her enthusiasm she could almost have addressed it like a friend,
or put up a prayer to its shrine as that of a beneficent divinity.
In the strong sensibility of the moment she uttered a few broken
aspirations to its brightness, and a wish that she might escape the
infinite weariness of life, and, like that star, be a gazer on
existence, from a height above the cares and clouds of this world. A
sudden movement among the shrubs below caught her ear; she glanced
down, and saw, with his countenance turned full on her, as if she were
something more than human, the hunter whom her fancy had pictured in
the glen!

* * * * *

It was midnight, when twenty individuals, evidently of high rank, had
assembled in an obscure house in one of the suburbs. But it was evident,
from the plainness of their dress, that they had some object in
concealing their rank; and from the weapons under their cloaks it was
equally evident that they had come upon some business, in which either
danger was to be guarded against, or violence intended.

For some time there was silence, the only words exchanged were in
whispers. At intervals, a low knock at the door, a watchword, and a sign
exchanged between the keeper of the entrance and the applicant without,
announced a new comer. Still nothing was done; and as the cathedral
bells tolled midnight, the anxiety for the arrival of some distinguished
stranger, who had unaccountably delayed his coming, grew excessive. It
gradually escaped, too, that the Cardinal di Lecco, the Papal
Internuncio, was the expected individual.

The signal was given at last; the door opened, and a pale, decrepit
Roman ecclesiastic entered. “Are all our friends here?” was his first
question. But the answer was by no means a hospitable one. “By what
means, Monsignore,” said a tall dark-featured personage, advancing to
him, “have we the honour of seeing _you_ here? We are upon private
business.”–“I come by your own invitation,” said the ecclesiastic
mildly, producing at the same time a letter, which was handed round the
circle. “But this letter is to the nuncio of his Holiness; and it was
only from him that we desired an answer in person.” Then, in a higher
tone, and half drawing his sword, an action which was imitated by all,
“We must know, reverend signor, who you are, and by what authority you
have intruded yourself into this room, or you must prepare to receive
the reward due to all spies and traitors.” The venerable priest’s
countenance betrayed the most obvious alarm; surrounded by this conflux
of indignant visages, and with twenty swords already flashing round his
head, it required more than usual firmness to contemplate his situation
without awe. The single glance which he cast to the door seemed to
say how gladly he would have escaped from this specimen of Hungarian
deliberation. His perturbation evidently deprived him of defence; he
tried to explain the cause of his coming; he searched his dress for some
paper, which, by his signs rather than his words, he intimated, would
answer for his character. He searched his bosom, all was in vain; his
hands became entangled; he made a sudden step to the door, but suspicion
was now thoroughly roused. Every sword was flashing there against his
bosom. He tottered back, uttered some indistinct sounds of terror, and
fell fainting into a chair.

The question was now how to dispose of him, for that he was not the
Cardinal was a matter of personal knowledge to Count Colvellino, the
personage who had first addressed him.

The Count, a man of habitual ferocity, proposed that he should be
stabbed on the spot–an opinion which met with universal assent; but the
difficulty was, how to dispose of the body. To bury it where they were
was impossible for men with no other instruments than their swords; to
fling it into the river would inevitably betray the murder by daylight;
and even to convey it through the streets, to the river side, might be
perilous, from the number of guards and loiterers brought together by
the Imperial residence. During the deliberation the old ecclesiastic
returned to his senses. By some accident his hand had fallen upon the
secret packet which contained his credentials; the discovery acted on
him as a cure for all his feebleness; and in his delivery of his mission
he even wore an air of dignity. “The length and haste of my journey from
Rome,” said the venerable man, “may apologise, most noble lords, for my
weakness; but this paper will, I presume, be satisfactory. It is, as
you see, the rescript of his Holiness to the Cardinal di Lecco, whose
servant and secretary stands before you. The Cardinal, suddenly occupied
by the high concerns of the Secreta Concilia, of which he has just been
appointed president, has sent me with his signet, his sign-manual, and
his instructions, as contained in this cipher, to attend the high
deliberations of my most honoured Lords, the Barons of Upper Hungary.”
The credentials were delivered. All were authentic. Colvellino sullenly
acknowledged that he had been premature in condemning the Papal envoy,
who now announced himself as the Father Jiacomo di Estrella, of the
Friars Minors of the Capital; and the point at issue was directly
entered upon. It was of a nature which justified all their caution. The
Emperor Leopold was supposed to have brought with him to the throne
some ideas, hostile alike to the ancient feudalism of Hungary, and the
supremacy of the Roman See. Revolution was threatening in Europe; and
the Barons felt violent suspicions of a revolutionary inroad on their
privileges, headed by the possessor of the Imperial Crown. The simple
plan of the conspirators on this occasion, was the extinction of the
hazard by the extinction of the instrument. Leopold was to be put to
death in the moment of his coronation, and the heir of the former royal
race of Hungary, a monk in the convent of St Isidore, was to be placed
on the vacant throne. The debate lasted long, and assumed various
shapes, in which the Papal Envoy exhibited the complete recovery of his
faculties, and showed singular vividness and subtlety in obviating the
impediments started to the project of getting rid of Leopold. Still, to
overthrow an imperial dynasty, in the very day when its head was in the
fulness of power, surrounded by troops, and still more protected by the
etiquette that kept all strangers at a distance from the royal person,
had difficulties which profoundly perplexed the Barons. But the deed
must be done; Colvellino, already obnoxious to suspicion, from his
habitual love of blood and violence of life, led the general opinion.
After long deliberation, it was decided that, as poison was slow, and
might fail–as the pistol was too public, might miss the mark, and but
wound after all–the secure way was the dagger. But how was this to find
the Emperor, through a host of attendants, who surrounded him like a
Persian monarch, and through ten thousand men-at-arms, covered with iron
up to the teeth, and as watchful as wolves? Fra Jiacomo then made his
proposal. “To attack the Emperor in his chamber,” said he, “would be
impossible; and, besides, would be an unmanliness disgraceful to the
warlike spirit of the nobles of Hungary.” All voices joined in the
sentiment. “To attack him in his passage through the streets, on the day
of the coronation, would be equally impossible, from the number of his
guards, and equally dishonourable to the high character of the Hungarian
nobles for fidelity to all who trust them.” A second plaudit, almost
an acclamation, followed the sentiment. Fra Jiacomo now paused, as
evidently waiting to collect his thoughts, and asked in the humblest
voice, whether it was absolutely necessary that Leopold should die?
“He or we,” cried Colvellino, indignant at the delay of the timid old
priest. “He or we,” echoed all the voices. “I obey,” said the Friar,
with a sigh, and clasping his trembling hands upon his bosom. “It is not
for an old monk, a feeble and simple man like me, my noble lords, to
resist the will of so many destined to lead the land of their fathers.
But let us, if we must be just, also be merciful. Let the victim
die at the high altar of the cathedral.” A murmur rose at the seeming
profanation. The Friar’s sallow cheek coloured at this mark of
disapproval. He was silent; but Colvellino’s impatience spoke. “Let us,”
said he, “have no womanish qualms now; what matters it where or when a
tyrant falls? Church or chamber, street or council, all are alike. The
only question is, who shall first or surest send the dagger to his
heart? Who among us shall be the liberator of his country?” The question
remained without an answer. The service was obviously a difficult one at
best, and the Brutus was sure of being sacrificed by the swords of the
guards. “Cowards!” exclaimed Colvellino, “is this your spirit? ‘Tis but
a moment since you were all ready to shed your blood for the death of
this German puppet, and now you shrink like children.” “If it were not
in the cathedral,” muttered some of the conspirators. “Fools,” retorted
the haughty Count, “to such scruples all places are cathedrals. But the
cause shall not be disgraced by hands like yours. Colvellino himself
shall do it; aye, and this good friar shall give me his benediction too
on the enterprise.” The ruffian burst out into a loud laugh. “Peace, my
son,” said the priest, with hand meekly waving, and his eyes fixed on
the ground. “Let us not disturb our souls, bent as they are on the pious
services of the Church and his Holiness the father of the faithful, by
unseemly mirth. But let us, in all humility and sincere soberness, do
our duty. The Count Colvellino has nobly offered, with a heroism worthy
of his high name, to consummate the freedom of the Hungarian church and
state. But this must not be, his life is too precious. If Prince Octar,
the last hope of the ancient line of Ladislaus, should die, Count
Colvellino is the rightful heir. The hopes of Hungary must not be
sacrificed.”

The Count’s dark eye flashed, and his cheek burned up with the flame of
an ambition which he had long cherished, and which had stimulated him to
this sudden and suspicious zeal for his country. “The Emperor must not
put the crown of Hungary on his head and live,” said he, in a tone of
expressed scorn and hope. “To-morrow,” said the Friar, rising as
if he could throw off the infirmities of age in the strength of his
resolution–“To-morrow, at the moment of the mass, Leopold dies, and
dies by my hand.” All stared. “Noble lords,” said the Friar, almost
abashed into his former humility by the sight of so many bold and proud
countenances gazing on him, in every expression of surprise, doubt,
wonder, and applause–“Noble lords,” he pursued, “what is my life that
I should value it, except as the means of serving his Holiness and this
illustrious country, which has for so many centuries been the most
faithful daughter of the Church? To me life and death are the same. But
I shall not die. My sacred function to-morrow will bring me close to the
Emperor unsuspected. I shall be among the prelates who lead him up to
the altar. At the moment when he takes the crown into his hand, and
before he has profaned it by its resting on his brow, Hungary shall be
free.”

A loud outcry of admiration burst from the whole assembly. Colvellino
alone seemed to resent the loss of the honour. His countenance lowered,
and grasping the self-devoted Friar’s sleeve, he said, in a tone of
wrath but ill stifled, “Friar, remember your promise. No parleying now.
No scruples. Beware of treachery to the cause. But to make all secure, I
tell you that you shall be watched. As Grand Chamberlain, I myself shall
be on the steps of the altar, and the slightest attempt at evasion shall
be punished by a dagger at least as sharp as ever was carried by a
priest in either church or chamber.” Fra Jiacomo bowed his head to his
girdle, and only asked, in a tone of the deepest meekness, “Count, have
I deserved this? Noble lords of Hungary, have I deserved this? Is
treason laid rightly to my charge? If you doubt me, let me go.” He
turned to the door as he spoke, but even Colvellino’s disdain felt the
folly of losing so willing an accomplice, and one who, besides, was now
so much master of the conspiracy. “Well, then, so be it,” murmured the
Count; “the cause will be disgraced by the instrument. But this Emperor
at least will molest Hungary no more.” Fra Jiacomo bowed but the
deeper. All was now concerted for the deed. The conspirators were
appointed to wait in the church of Saint Veronica, behind the cathedral,
for the signal of Leopold’s death, and thence to proceed to the convent
where the heir of Ladislaus was kept, and proclaim him King. Colvellino
listened to the latter part of the arrangement with a smile of scorn.
They were separated by the sound of the cannon announcing the dawn of
the great ceremonial.

* * * * *

The morning of the coronation found all Presburg awake. The streets were
thronged before day with citizens; nobles hastening to the palace;
troops moving to their various posts in the ceremony; peasants pouring
in from all the provinces, in all the wild festivity and uncouth
dialects of the land of the Huns. Then came the magnates, riding on
their richly-caparisoned horses, and followed by their long train of
armed attendants, a most brilliant and picturesque display. The
equipages contained all that the kingdom could boast of female beauty
and high birth, and the whole formed a singular and vivid contrast of
the strange, the lovely, the bold, and the graceful, the rude and the
magnificent, the Oriental and the Western–all that a feudal,
half-barbarian people could exhibit of wild exultation–and all that an
empire as old as Charlemagne could combine of antique dignity and
civilised splendour.

The sun, which so seldom condescends to shine on regal processions,
threw his most auspicious beams on the city of Presburg on this
memorable day. But it was in the cathedral that all the opulence of the
imperial and national pomp was displayed. The aisles were hung with
tapestry and banners of the great feudal families, and crowded with the
body-guards of the Emperor, and the richly-costumed heyducs and
chasseurs of the Hungarian lords. The centre aisle was one canopy of
scarlet tissue, covering, like an immense tent, the royal train, the
great officers of the court, and the Emperor as he waited for the
consecration. Farther on, surrounding the high altar, stood a circle of
the Hungarian prelacy in their embroidered robes, surrounding the
Archbishop of Presburg, and in their unmoving splendour looking like a
vast circle of images of silver and gold. Above them all, glittering in
jewels, looked down from clouds of every brilliant dye, and luminous
with the full radiance of the morning, the Virgin Mother, in celestial
beauty, the patroness of Presburg, a wonder-working Madonna, “whom Jews
might kiss, and infidels adore.”

At length, to the sound of unnumbered voices, and amid the flourish of
trumpets, and the roar of cannon from all the bastions, Leopold entered
the golden rails of the altar, ascended the steps, followed by the
great officers of the kingdom, and laid his hand upon the crown. At that
moment the Grand Chamberlain, Count Colvellino, had knelt before him to
present the book of the oath by which he bound himself to maintain the
rights and privileges of Hungary. In the act of pronouncing the oath the
Emperor was seen to start back suddenly, and the book fell from his
hand. At the same moment a wild scream of agony rang through the
cathedral; there was a manifest confusion among the prelacy; the circle
was broken, some rushed down the steps; some retreated to the pillars of
the high altar; and some seemed stooping, as if round one who had
fallen. Vases, flowers, censers, images–all the pompous ornaments which
attend the Romish ritual on its great days–were trampled under foot in
the tumult; and prelate, priest, and acolyte were flung together in the
terror of the time. The first impression of all was, that the Emperor
had been assassinated, and the startled flying nobles, and the populace
at the gates, spread the report through the city, with the hundred
additions of popular alarm. But the imperial body-guard instantly
drawing their swords, and pressing their way through the nobles and
multitude up to the altar, soon proved that the chief terror was
unfounded, by bringing forward the Emperor in their midst, and showing
him to the whole assemblage unhurt. He was received with an acclamation
that shook the dome.

But blood had been spilled–the Grand Chamberlain was found pierced to
the heart. He had died at the instant from the blow. But by whom he was
thus foully murdered, or for what cause, baffled all conjecture. The
general idea, from the position in which he fell, was, that he had
offered his life for the Emperor’s; had thrown himself forward between
his royal master and the assassin, and had been slain by accident or
revenge. Leopold recollected, too, that, in the act of taking the book
of the Oath, he had felt some hand pluck his robe; but, on looking
round, had seen only the Grand Chamberlain kneeling before him. Inquiry
was urged in all quarters, but in vain. Colvellino was a corpse; he
remained bathed in his loyal blood, the heroic defender of his liege
lord, the declared victim of his loyalty; and a reward of a thousand
ducats was declared on the spot by his indignant sovereign, for the
discovery of the murderer. The gates of the cathedral were instantly
closed; strict search was made, but totally in vain. Order was slowly
restored. But the ceremony was too important to be delayed. The crown
was placed upon the Imperial brow, and a shout like thunder hailed
Leopold “King of Hungary.” In courts all things are forgotten.

As the stately procession returned down the aisle all was smiles and
salutation, answered by the noble ladies of the court and provinces, who
sat ranged down the sides according to their precedency, under pavilions
tissued with the arms of the great Hungarian families. In this review of
the young, the lovely, and the high-born, all eyes gave the prize of
beauty, that prize which is awarded by spontaneous admiration, and the
long and lingering gaze of silent delight, to the Princess of Marosin.
Her dress was, of course, suitable to her rank and relationship to the
imperial line, all that magnificence could add to the natural grace, or
dignity of the form; but there was in her countenance a remarkable
contrast to the general animation of the youthful and noble faces round
her–a melancholy that was not grief, and a depth of thought that was
not reverie, which gave an irresistible superiority to features, which,
under their most careless aspect, must have been pronounced formed in
the finest mould of nature. Her eyes were cast down, and even the slight
bending of her head had a degree of mental beauty. It was clearly the
unconscious attitude of one whose thoughts were busied upon other things
than the pomps of the hour. It might have been the transient regret of
a lofty spirit for the transitory being of all those splendours which
so few years must extinguish in the grave; it might have been the
reluctance of a generous and free spirit at the approach of that hour
which would see her hand given by Imperial policy where her heart
disowned the gift; it might be patriot sorrow for the fallen glories of
Hungary; it might be romance; it might be love. But whatever might be
the cause, all remarked the melancholy, and all felt that it gave a
deep and touching effect to her beauty, which fixed the eye on her
as if spell-bound. Even when the Emperor passed, and honoured the
distinguished loveliness of his fair cousin by an especial wave of his
sceptred hand, she answered it by scarcely more than a lower bend of the
head, and the slight customary pressure of the hand upon the heart. With
her glittering robe, worth the purchase of a principality, drawn round
her as closely as if it were the common drapery of a statue, she sat not
unlike the statue in classic gracefulness, but cold and unmoving as the
marble.

But all this was suddenly changed. As the procession continued to pass
along, some object arrested her glance which penetrated to her heart.
Her cheek absolutely burned with crimson; her eye flashed; her whole
frame seemed to be instinct with a new principle of existence; with one
hand she threw back the tresses, heavy with jewels, that hung over her
forehead, as if they obstructed her power of following the vision; with
the other she strongly attempted to still the beatings of her heart;
and thus she remained for a few moments, as if unconscious of the place,
of the time, and of the innumerable eyes of wonder and admiration
that were fixed upon her. There she sat–her lips apart, her breath
suspended, her whole frame fevered with emotion, the statue turned to
life–all beauty, feeling, amaze, passion. But a new discharge of
cannon, a new flourish of trumpet and cymbal, as the Emperor reached the
gates of the cathedral, and appeared before the assembled and shouting
thousands without, urged on the procession. The magic was gone. The
countenance, this moment like a summer heaven, with every hue of
loveliness flying across it in rich succession, was the next colourless.
The eye was again veiled in its long lashes; the head was again
dejected; the marble had again become classic and cold; the beauty
remained, but the joy, the enchantment, was no more.

* * * * *

The Baron von Herbert was sitting at a desk in the armoury of the
palace. Javelins rude enough to have been grasped by the hands of the
primordial Huns; bone-headed arrows that had pierced the gilded corslets
of the Greeks of Constantinople; stone axes that had dashed their rough
way through the iron headpieces of many a son of Saxon chivalry;
and the later devices of war–mail, gold-enamelled, silver-twisted,
purple-grained–and Austrian, Italian, and Oriental escutcheons gleamed,
frowned, gloomed, and rusted, in the huge effigies of a line of
warriors, who, if weight of limb, and sullenness of visage, are the
elements of glory, must have fairly trampled out all Greek and all Roman
fame.

A key turned in the door, and the Emperor entered hastily, and in
evident perturbation. He turned the key again as he entered. The Baron
stopped his pen, and awaited the commands of his sovereign. But Leopold
was scarcely prepared to give counsel or command. He threw a letter on
the table.

“Read this, Von Herbert,” said he, “and tell me what you think of it. Is
it an impudent falsehood, or a truth, concerning the public safety? Read
it again to me.”

The Baron read:–

“Emperor, you think yourself surrounded by honest men. You are
mistaken. You are surrounded by conspirators. You think that,
in offering a reward for Colvellino’s murderer, you are
repaying a debt of gratitude. You are mistaken. You are
honouring the memory of a murderer. You think that, in giving
the hand of the Princess of Marosin to Prince Charles of
Buntzlau, you are uniting two persons of rank in an honourable
marriage. You are mistaken. You are pampering a coxcomb’s
vanity, and breaking a noble heart. You think that, in sending
your Pandours to scour the country, you can protect your court,
your palace, or yourself.

“You are mistaken. The whole three are in _my_ power.

“SPERANSKI.”

The Baron laid down the paper, and gravely paused for the Emperor’s
commands. But the Emperor had none to give. He put the simple query–“Is
this a burlesque or a reality? Is the writer a charlatan or a
conspirator?”

“Evidently something of both, in my conception,” said the Colonel; “the
paper is not courtly, but it may be true, nevertheless. The writer is
apparently not one of your Majesty’s chamberlains, and yet he is clearly
master of some points that mark him for either a very dangerous inmate
of the court, or a very useful one.”

Leopold’s anxious gesture bade the Baron proceed. He looked again over
the letter, and commented on it as he passed along.

“‘Surrounded by conspirators!’ Possible enough. The Hungarian nobles
never knew how to obey. They must be free as the winds, or in fetters.
The mild government of Austria is at once too much felt and too little.
No government or all tyranny, is the only maxim for the magnates. If not
slaves, they will be conspirators.”

“Then this rascal, this Speranski, tells the truth after all?” said the
Emperor.

“For the fact of conspiracy I cannot answer yet,” said Von Herbert;
“but for the inclination I can, at any hour of the twenty-four.” He
proceeded with the letter–“You are honouring the memory of a murderer.”

“An atrocious and palpable calumny!” exclaimed the Emperor. “What! the
man who died at my feet? If blood is not to answer for honour and
loyalty, where can the proof be given? He had got, besides, everything
that he could desire. I had just made him Grand Chamberlain.”

Von Herbert’s grave countenance showed that he was not so perfectly
convinced.

“I knew Colvellino,” said he, “and if appearances were not so much
in his favour by the manner of his death, I should have thought him
one of the last men in your Majesty’s dominions to die for loyalty.”

“You are notoriously a philosopher, Von Herbert,” said Leopold,
impatiently. “Your creed is mistrust.”

“I knew the Grand Chamberlain from our school-days,” said the Baron,
calmly. “At school he was haughty and headstrong. We entered the royal
Hungarian guard together; there he was selfish and profligate. We then
separated for years. On my return as your Majesty’s aide-de-camp, I
found him the successor to an estate which he had ruined, the husband of
a wife whom he had banished from his palace, the Colonel of a regiment
of Hulans which he had turned into a school of tyranny, and Grand
Chamberlain to your Majesty, an office which I have strong reason to
think he used but as a step to objects of a more daring ambition.”

“But his death–his courageous devotion of himself–the dagger in his
heart!” exclaimed the Emperor.

“They perplex, without convincing me,” said the Baron.

He looked again at the letter, and came to the words, “Breaking a noble
heart.”

“What can be the meaning of this?” asked Leopold, angrily. “Am I not to
arrange the alliances of my family as I please? Am I to forfeit my word
to my relative, the Prince of Buntzlau, when he makes the most suitable
match in the empire for my relative the Princess of Marosin? This is
mere insolence, read no more.”

The Baron laid down the letter, and stood in silence.

“Apropos of the Princess,” said Leopold, willing to turn the
conversation from topics which vexed him, “has there been any further
intelligence of her mysterious purchase–that far-famed plunder of the
Turk, her Hungarian _chef d’oeuvre_?”

“If your Majesty alludes to the Princess’s very splendid watch,” said
the Baron, “I understand that all possible inquiry has been made, but
without the effect of tracing any connection between its sale and the
unfortunate assassination of the Turkish envoy.”

“So, my cousin,” said the Emperor, with a half smile, “is to be set
down by the scandalous Chronicle of Presburg as an accomplice in rifling
the pockets of Mohammed? But the whole place seems full of gipsyism,
gossiping, and juggling. I should not wonder if that superannuated
belle, the Countess Joblonsky, lays the loss of her _pendule_ to my
charge, and that the Emperor shall quit Hungary with the character of
a receiver of stolen goods.”

“Your Majesty may be the depredator to a much more serious extent, if
you will condescend but to take the Countess’s heart along with you,”
said the Colonel, with a grave smile. “It is, I have no doubt, too loyal
not to be quite at your Majesty’s mercy.”

“Hah!” said Leopold; “I must be expeditious then, or she will be
_devoté_, or in the other world–incapable of any love but for a lapdog,
or turned into a canonised saint. But in the mean time look to these
nobles. If conspiracy there be, let us be ready for it. I have
confidence in your Pandours. They have no love for the Hungarians. Place
a couple of your captains in my antechamber. Let the rest be on the
alert. You will be in the palace, and within call, for the next
forty-eight hours.”

The Emperor then left the room. Von Herbert wrote an order to the Major
of the Pandours for a detachment to take the duty of the imperial
apartments. The evening was spent at the opera, followed by a court
ball; and the Emperor retired, more than satisfied with the dancing
loyalty of the Hungarian beaux and belles.

* * * * *

The night was lovely, and the moon shone with full-orbed radiance upon
the cloth of gold, embroidered velvet curtains, and high enchased silver
sculptures of the imperial bed. The Emperor was deep in a midsummer
night’s dream of waltzing with a dozen winged visions, a ballet in the
Grand Opera given before their Majesties of Fairyland, on the occasion
of his arrival in their realm. He found his feet buoyant with all the
delightful levity of his new region; wings could not have made him spurn
the ground with more rapturous elasticity. The partner round whom he
whirled was Oberon’s youngest daughter, just come from a finishing
school in the Evening Star, and _brought out_ for the first time. But a
sudden sound of evil smote his ear; every fairy drooped at the instant;
he felt his winged heels heavy as if they were booted for a German
parade; his blooming partner grew dizzy in the very moment of a whirl,
and dropped fainting in his arms; Titania, with a scream, expanded her
pinions, and darted into the tops of the tallest trees. Oberon, with a
frown, descended from his throne, and stalked away in indignant majesty.

The sound was soon renewed; it was a French quadrille, played by a
Golden Apollo on the harp–a sound, however pleasing to earthly ears,
too coarse for the exquisite sensibilities of more ethereal tempers.
The God of Song was sitting on a beautiful pendule, with the name of
_Sismonde_ conspicuous on its dial above, and the name of the Countess
Joblonsky engraved on its marble pedestal below. The Emperor gazed first
with utter astonishment, then with a burst of laughter; his words had
been verified. He was in a new position. He was to be the “receiver of
stolen goods” after all. But in the moonlight lay at his feet a paper;
it contained these words:–

“Emperor–You have friends about you, on whom you set no value;
you have enemies, too, about you, of whom you are not aware.
Keep the _pendule_; it will serve to remind you of the hours
that may pass between the throne and the dagger. It will serve,
also, to remind you how few hours it may take to bring a noble
heart to the altar and to the grave. The toy is yours. The
Countess Joblonsky has already received more than its value.

“SPERANSKI.”

* * * * *

The Countess Joblonsky _had been_ the handsomest woman in Paris twenty
years before. But in Paris, the reign of beauty never lasts supreme
longer than a new Opera–possibly, among other reasons, for the one that
both are exhibited without mercy for the eyes or ears of mankind. The
Opera displays its charms incessantly, until all that remain to witness
the triumph are the fiddlers and the scene-shifters. The Belle
electrifies the world with such persevering attacks on their nervous
system, that it becomes absolutely benumbed. A second season of triumph
is as rare for the Belle as the Opera, and no man living ever has seen,
or will see, a third season for either. The Countess retired at the end
of her second season, like Diocletian, but not, like Diocletian, to the
cultivation of cabbages. She drew off her forces to Vienna, which she
entered with the air of a conqueror, and the rights of one; for the
fashion that has fallen into the “sere and yellow leaf” in Paris, is
entitled to consider itself in full bloom at Vienna. At the Austrian
capital she carried all before her, for the time. She had all the first
of the very first circle in her chains. All the Archdukes were at her
bidding; were fed at her _petits soupers_ of five hundred hungry
noblesse, _en comité_; were pilfered at her loto-tables; were
spell-bound by her smiles, laughed at in her boudoir, and successively
wooed to make the fairest of Countesses the haughtiest of Princesses.
Still the last point was incomplete,–she was still in widowed
loveliness.

The coronation suddenly broke up the Vienna circle. She who had hitherto
led or driven the world, now condescended to follow it; and the Countess
instantly removed her whole establishment, her French Abbé, her Italian
Chevaliers, ordinaires and extraordinaires, her Flemish lapdogs, her
Ceylonese monkeys, and her six beautiful Polish horses, to Presburg,
with the determination to die _devoté_, or make an impress on the
imperial soul, which Leopold should carry back, and the impression along
with it, to Vienna. But cares of state had till now interposed a shield
between the Emperor’s bosom and the lady’s diamond eyes. She had at last
begun actually to despair; and on this morning she had summoned her Abbé
to teach her the most becoming way for a beauty to renounce the world.
She was enthroned on a couch of rose-coloured silk, worthy of Cytherea
herself, half-sitting, half-reposing, with her highly rouged cheek
resting on her snowy hand, that hand supported on a richly bound volume
of the Life of La Vallière, delicious model of the wasted dexterity,
cheated ambition, and profitless passion of a court beauty, and her eyes
gazing on the letter which this pretty charlatan wrote on her knees, in
the incredible hope of making a Frenchman feel. The Countess decided
upon trying the La Vallière experiment upon the spot, writing a letter
to the Emperor, declaring the “secret flame which had so long consumed
her,” “confessing” her resolution to fly into a convent, and compelling
his obdurate spirit to meditate upon the means of rescuing so brilliant
an ornament of his court from four bare walls, the fearful sight of
monks and nuns, and the performance of matins and vespers as duly as
the day.

At this critical moment, one of the imperial carriages entered the
_porte cochère_. A gentleman of the court, stiff with embroidery, and
stiffer with Austrian etiquette, descended from it, was introduced by
the pages in attendance, and with his knee almost touching the ground,
as to the future possessor of the diadem, presented to the Countess a
morocco case. It contained a letter. The perusal of the missive brought
into the fair reader’s face a colour that fairly outburned all the
labours of her three hours’ toilette. It requested the Countess
Joblonsky’s acceptance of the trifle accompanying the note, and was
signed Leopold. The case was eagerly opened. A burst of brilliancy
flashed into the gazers eyes. It was the superb watch, the long-talked
of–the watch of the Princess Marosin, and now given as an
acknowledgment of the personal superiority of her handsome competitor.
She saw a crown glittering in strong imagination above her head. The
Life of La Vallière was spurned from her. The Abbé was instantly
countermanded. The Countess had given up the nunnery; she ordered her
six Polish steeds, and drove off to make her acknowledgments to the
Emperor in person.

But what is the world? The Countess had come at an inauspicious time.
She found the streets crowded with people talking of some extraordinary
event, though whether of the general conflagration, or the flight of one
of the Archduchesses, it was impossible to discover from the popular
ideas on the subject. Further on, she found her progress impeded by the
troops. The palace was double-guarded. There had evidently been some
formidable occurrence. A scaffold was standing in the court, with two
dead bodies in the Pandour uniform lying upon it. Cannon, with lighted
matches, were pointed down the principal streets. The regiment of
Pandours passed her, with Von Herbert at their head, looking so deeply
intent upon something or other, that she in vain tried to obtain a
glance towards her equipage. The Pandours, a gallant-looking but wild
set, rushed out of the gates, and galloped forward to scour the forest
like wolf-dogs in full cry. The regiment of Imperial Guards, with Prince
Charles of Buntzlau witching the world with the best-perfumed pair of
mustaches, and the most gallantly embroidered mantle in any hussar
corps in existence, rode past, with no more than a bow. All was
confusion, consternation, and the clank of sabre-sheaths, trumpets, and
kettle-drums. The Countess gave up the day and the diadem, returned to
her palace, and began the study of La Vallière again.

The story at length transpired. The Emperor’s life had been attempted.
His own detail to his Privy Council was–That before daylight he had
found himself suddenly attacked in his bed by ruffians. His arms had
been pinioned during his sleep. He called out for the Pandour officers
who had been placed in his antechamber; but to his astonishment, the
flash of a lamp, borne by one of the assailants, showed him those
Pandours the most active in his seizure. Whether their purpose was to
carry him off, or to kill him on the spot; to convey him to some cavern
or forest, where they might force him to any conditions they pleased, or
to extinguish the imperial authority in his person at once, was beyond
his knowledge; but the vigour of his resistance had made them furious,
and the dagger of one of the conspirators was already at his throat,
when he saw the hand that held it lopped off by the sudden blow of a
sabre from behind. Another hand now grasped his hair, and he felt the
edge of a sabre, which slightly wounded him in the neck, but before the
blow could be repeated, the assailant fell forward, with a curse and a
groan, and died at his feet, exclaiming that they were betrayed. This
produced palpable consternation among them; and on hearing a sound
outside, like the trampling of the guards on their rounds, they had
silently vanished, leaving him bleeding and bound. He had now made some
effort to reach the casement and cry out for help, but a handkerchief
had been tied across his face, his arms and feet were fastened by a
scarf, and he lay utterly helpless. In a few moments after, he heard
steps stealing along the chamber. It was perfectly dark; he could see no
one; but he gave himself up for lost. The voice, however, told him that
there was no enemy now in the chamber, and offered to loose the bandage
from his face, on condition that he would answer certain questions. The
voice was that of an old man, said he, but there was a tone of honesty
about it that made me promise at once.

“I have saved your life,” said the stranger; “what will you give me for
this service?”

“If this be true, ask what you will.”

“I demand a free pardon for the robbery of the Turkish courier, for
shooting the Turkish envoy, and for stabbing the Grand Chamberlain in
your presence.”

“Are you a fool or a madman who ask this?”

“To you neither. I demand, further, your pardon for stripping Prince
Charles of Buntzlau of his wife and his whiskers together–for marrying
the Princess of Marosin–and for turning your Majesty into an
acknowledged lover of the Countess Joblonsky.”

“Who and what are you? Villain, untie my hands.”

The cord was snapped asunder.

“Tell me your name, or I shall call the guards, and have you hanged on
the spot.”

“My name!” the fellow exclaimed, with a laugh,–“Oh, it is well enough
known everywhere,–at court, in the cottages, in the city, and on the
high-road–by your Majesty’s guards, and by your Majesty’s subjects. I
am the Pandour of Pandours–your correspondent, and now your cabinet
counsellor. Farewell, Emperor, and remember–Speranski!”

“The cords were at the instant cut from my feet. I sprang after him;
but I might as well have sprung after my own shadow. He was gone–but
whether into the air or the earth, or whether the whole dialogue was
not actually the work of my own imagination, favoured by the struggle
with the conspirators, I cannot tell to this moment. One thing, however,
was unquestionable, that I had been in the hands of murderers, for I
stumbled over the two bodies of the assassins who were cut down in the
mêlée. The first lamp that was brought in showed me also, that the two
Pandour captains had been turned into the two Palatines of Sidlitz and
Frankerin, but by what magic I cannot yet conjecture.”

* * * * *

A more puzzling affair never had bewildered the high and mighty
functionaries of the imperial court. They pondered upon it for the
day, and they might have added the year to their deliberations without
being nearer the truth. The roll of the Pandours had been called over.
None were missing except the two captains; and certainly the two
conspirators, though in the Pandour uniform, were not of the number.

More perplexity still. The imperial horse-guards returned in the evening
terribly offended by a day’s gallop through the vulgarity of the
Hungarian thickets, but suffering no other loss than of a few plumes
and tassels, if we except one, of pretty nearly the same kind, Prince
Charles of Buntzlau. The Prince had been tempted to spur his charger
through a thicket. He led the way in pursuit of the invisible enemy;
he never came back. His whole regiment galloped after him in all
directions. They might as well have hunted a mole; he must have gone
under ground–but where, was beyond the brains of his brilliantly
dressed troopers. He was _un prince perdu_.

Leopold was indignant at this frolic, for as such he must conceive it;
and ordered one of his aides-de-camp to wait at the quarters of the
corps, until the future bridegroom grew weary of his wild-goose chase,
and acquaint him that the next morning was appointed for his marriage.
But he returned not.

Next morning there was another fund of indignation prepared for the
astonished Emperor. The bride was as undiscoverable as the bridegroom.
The palace of the Princess de Marosin had been entered in the night; but
her attendants could tell no more than that they found her chamber doors
open, and their incomparable tenant flown, like a bird from its gilded
cage. All search was made, and made in vain. The Prince returned after
a week’s detention by robbers in a cave. He was ill received. Leopold,
astonished and embarrassed, conscious that he was treading on a soil
of rebellion, and vexed by his personal disappointments, broke up his
court, and rapidly set out for the hereditary dominions.

He had subsequently serious affairs to think of. The French interest
in Turkey roused the Ottoman to a war. Orders were given for a general
levy through the provinces, and the Emperor himself commenced a tour of
inspection of the frontier lying towards Roumelia. In the Croatian levy,
he was struck peculiarly with the Count Corneglio Bancaleone, Colonel of
a corps of Pandours, eminent for beauty of countenance and dignity of
form; for activity in the manoeuvres of his active regiment, and one
of the most popular of the nobles of Croatia. The Emperor expressed
himself so highly gratified with the Count’s conduct, that, as a mark
of honour, he proposed to take up his quarters in the palace. The Count
bowed; reluctance was out of the question. The Emperor came, and was
received with becoming hospitality; but where was the lady of the
mansion? She was unfortunately indisposed. The Emperor expressed his
regret, and the apology was accepted; but in the evening, while, after
a day of reviews and riding through the Croatian hills, he was enjoying
the lovely view of the sun going down over the Adriatic, and sat at a
window covered with fruits and flowers, impearled with the dew of a
southern twilight, a Hungarian song struck his ear, that had been a
peculiar favourite of his two years before, during his stay in Presburg.
He inquired of the Count who was the singer. Bancaleone’s confusion was
visible. In a few moments the door suddenly opened, and two beautiful
infants, who had strayed away from their attendants, rambled into the
room. The Count in vain attempted to lead them out. His imperial guest
was delighted with them, and begged that they might be allowed to stay.

The eldest child, to pay his tribute to the successful advocate on
the occasion, repeated the Hungarian song. “Who had taught him?” “His
mother, who was a Hungarian.” Bancaleone rose in evident embarrassment,
left the room, and shortly returned leading that mother. She fell at the
Emperor’s feet. She was the Princess of Marosin, lovelier than ever;
with the glow of the mountain air on her cheek, and her countenance
lighted up with health, animation, and expressive beauty. Leopold threw
his arms round his lovely relative, and exhibited the highest
gratification in finding her again, and finding her so happy.

But sudden reflections covered the imperial brow with gloom. The
mysterious deaths, the conspiracies, the sanguinary violences of
Presburg, rose in his mind, and he felt the painful necessity of
explanation.

Bancaleone had left the room; but an attendant opened the door, saying
that a Pandour had brought a despatch for his Majesty. The Pandour
entered, carrying a portefeuille in his hand. The Emperor immediately
recognised him, as having often attracted his notice on parade, by his
activity on horseback and his handsome figure. After a few _tours
d’addresse_, which showed his skill in disguise, the Count threw off
the Pandour, and explained the mystifications of Presburg.

“I had been long attached,” said he, “to the Princess of Marosin, before
your Majesty had expressed your wishes in favour of the alliance of
Prince Charles of Buntzlau. I immediately formed the presumptuous
determination of thwarting the Prince’s objects. I entered, by the
favour of my old friend, Colonel von Herbert, as a private in his
Pandours, and was thus on the spot to attend to my rival’s movements.
The Pandours are, as your Majesty knows, great wanderers through the
woods, and one of them, by some means or other, had found, or perhaps
robbed, a part of the Turkish courier’s despatches. These despatches he
showed to a comrade, who showed them to me; they were of importance,
for they developed a plot which the Turks were concerting with some
profligate nobles of Presburg, to carry off your Majesty into the
Turkish dominions, a plot which waited only for the arrival of the
Turkish envoy. I got leave of absence, joined some of the rabble of
gipsies who tell fortunes, and rob when they have no fortunes to tell.
We met the Turk, a mêlée ensued, he was unfortunately killed; but I
secured the despatches. The Turk deserved his fate as a conspirator. His
papers contained the names of twenty Magnates, all purchased by Turkish
gold. The Magnates were perplexed by his death. They now waited for the
arrival of a Romish priest, who was to manage the ecclesiastical part of
your Majesty’s murder. I went into the woods again, caught the Cardinal
alive on his march, put him into the hands of the gypsies, who, feeling
no homage for his vocation, put him on a sanative and antipolitical
regimen of bread and water for a fortnight, and then dismissed him over
the frontier. On the day of the coronation, your Majesty was to have
died by the hands of Colvellino. I volunteered the office. Colvellino
followed me, to keep me to my duty. I plucked your robe to put you on
your guard; saw the Grand Chamberlain’s dagger drawn to repay me for my
officiousness, and in self-defence was forced to use my own. He was a
traitor, and he died only too honourable a death.”

“But the magic that changed the Pandour captains into Palatines? That
Speranski too, who had the impudence to lecture me in my bonds?” asked
the Emperor, with a smile.

“All was perfectly simple,” said the Count; “the two captains were
invited to a supper in the palace, which soon disqualified them for
taking your Majesty’s guard. Their uniforms were then given to two of
the Palatines, who undertook to carry off your Majesty, or kill you in
case of resistance. But no man can work without instruments. One of the
gypsies, who was to have acted as postilion on the occasion, sold his
employment for that night to another, who sold his secret to me. I
remained in the next chamber to your Majesty’s during the night. I had
posted a dozen of the Pandours within call, in case of your being in
actual danger. But my first purpose was to baffle the conspiracy without
noise; however, the ruffians were more savage than I had thought them,
and I was nearly too late. But two strokes of the sabre were enough, and
the two Palatines finished their career as expeditiously at least as if
they had died upon the scaffold. In this portefeuille are the Turk’s
despatches, the Cardinal’s prayers, Colvellino’s plot, and the Magnate’s
oaths.”

Leopold rose and took him by the hand. “Count, you shall be my
aide-de-camp, and a general. You deserve every praise that can be given
to skill and courage. But the watch, the pendule, the trap for that
prince of parroquets, Buntzlau?” said Leopold, bursting out into a laugh
fatal to all etiquette.

“Your Majesty will excuse me,” said the Count; “these are a lady’s
secrets, or the next to a lady’s, a man of fashion’s. Mystification all.
Magic everywhere; and it is not over yet. The Vienna paper this morning
met my astonished eye with a full account of the marriage of his Serene
Highness of Buntzlau with the illustrious widow of the Count Lublin née
Joblonsky. Capitally matched. He brings her his ringlets, she brings him
her rouge. He enraptures her with the history of his loves; she can give
him love for love at least. He will portion her with his debts, and she
is as equal as any Countess in Christendom to return the politeness in
kind. _Vive le beau marriage!_ A coxcomb is the true _cupidon_ for a
coquette all over the world.”

Pest

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