Louisa of Prussia and Her Times

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Author: Luise Mühlbach

Chapter I. Dreadful Tidings.

The population of Vienna was paralyzed with terror; a heavy gloom weighed down all minds, and the strength of the stoutest hearts seemed broken. Couriers had arrived today from the camp of the army, and brought the dreadful tidings of an overwhelming defeat of the Austrian forces. Bonaparte, the young general of the French Republic, who, in the course of one year (1796), had won as many battles and as much glory as many a great and illustrious warrior during the whole course of an eventful life—Bonaparte had crossed the Italian Alps with the serried columns of his army, and the most trusted military leaders of Austria were fleeing before him in dismay. The hero of Lodi and Arcole had won new victories, and these victories constantly diminished the distance between his army and the menaced capital of Austria.

Archduke Charles had been defeated by Massena, and driven back to Villach; Bernadotte had reached Laybach; the citadels of Goritz, Triest, and Laybach had surrendered; Klagenfurth, after a most desperate struggle, had been forced to open its gates to the conquerors; Loudon, with his brave troops, had been dispersed in the Tyrol; Botzen had opened its gates to General Joubert, who, after a brief sojourn, left that city in order to join Bonaparte, who, in his victorious career, was advancing resistlessly toward Vienna.

Such were tidings which the couriers had brought, and these tidings were well calculated to produce a panic in the Austrian capital. While the court and the nobility were concealing their grief and their sorrows in the interior of their palaces, the populace rushed into the streets, anxiously inquiring for later intelligence, and still hopeful that God in His mercy might perhaps send down some ray of light that would dispel this gloom of anguish and despair.

But a pall covered Vienna, and everybody looked sad and dejected. Suddenly some new movement of terror seemed to pervade the crowd that had gathered on the Kohlmarkt. [Footnote: Cabbage Market.] As if a storm were raising up the waves of this black sea of human figures, the dense mass commenced to undulate to and fro, and a wail of distress arose, growing louder and louder, until it finally broke out into the terrible cry: "The emperor has deserted us! the emperor and the empress have fled from Vienna!"

While the masses were bewailing this new misfortune with the manifestations of despair, while they assembled in small groups to comment vociferously on this last and most dreadful event of the day, all of a sudden Hungarian hussars galloped up and commanded the people, in the most peremptory manner, to stand aside and to open a passage for the wagons which were about to enter the market from one of the adjoining streets.

The people, intimidated by the flashing swords and harsh words of the soldiers, fell back and gazed with an expression of anxious suspense upon the strange procession which now made its appearance.

This procession consisted of twelve wagons, apparently not destined to receive living men, but the remains of the dead. The broad and heavy wheels were not surmounted by ordinary carriage-boxes, but by immense iron trunks, large enough to enclose a coffin or a corpse; and these trunks were covered with heavy blankets, the four corners of which contained the imperial crown of Austria in beautiful embroidery. Every one of these strange wagons was drawn by six horses, mounted by jockeys in the imperial livery, while the hussars of the emperor’s Hungarian bodyguard rode in serried ranks on both sides.

The horses drew these mysterious wagons slowly and heavily through the streets; the wheels rolled with a dull, thundering noise over the uneven pavement; and this noise resounded in the ears and hearts of the pale and terrified spectators like the premonitory signs of some new thunderstorm.

What was concealed in these mysterious wagons? What was taken away from Vienna in so careful a manner and guarded so closely? Everybody was asking these questions, but only in the depth of his own heart, for nobody dared to interrupt the painful and anxious silence by a loud word or an inquisitive phrase. Every one seemed to be fascinated by the forbidding glances of the hussars, and stunned by the dull rumbling of the wheels.

But, when finally the last wagon had disappeared in the next street, when the last horseman of the hussar escort had left the place, the eyes of the anxious spectators turned once more toward the speakers who had previously addressed them, and told them of the misfortunes of Austria, and of the brilliant victories of the youthful French General Bonaparte.

"What do those wagons contain?" shouted the crowd. "We want to know it, and we must know it!"

"If you must know it, why did you not ask the soldiers themselves?" shouted a sneering voice in the crowd.

"Yes, yes," said another voice, "why did you not approach the wagons and knock at the trunks?—may be the devil would have jumped out and shown you his pretty face!"

The people paid no attention to these sneering remarks. The painful uncertainty, the anxious excitement continued unabated, and everybody made surmises concerning the contents of the wagons.

"The trunks contain perhaps the coffins of the imperial ancestors, which have been removed from the Kapuzinergruft, in order to save them from the French," said an honest tailor to his neighbor, and this romantic idea rolled immediately, like an avalanche, through the vast crowd.

"They are removing the remains of the old emperors from Vienna!" wailed the crowd. "Even the tombs are no longer safe! They are saving the corpses of the emperors, but they are forsaking us—the living! They abandon us to the tender mercies of the enemy! All who have not got the money to escape are lost! The French will come and kill us all!"

"We will not permit it!" shouted a stentorian voice. "We want to keep the remains of Maria Theresa and of the great Emperor Joseph here in Vienna. As long as they lived they loved the people of the capital, and they will protect us in death. Come, brethren, come; let us follow the wagons—let us stop them and take the bodies back to the Kapuzinergruft [Footnote: Vaults of the Capuchins]".

"Yes, let us follow the wagons and stop them," yelled the crowd, which now, when it could no longer see the flashing and threatening weapons of the soldiers, felt exceedingly brave.

Suddenly, however, these furious shouts and yells were interrupted by a powerful voice which ordered the people to desist, and they beheld a tall man who, with cat-like agility, climbed upon the iron lamp-post in the centre of the square.

"Stop, stop!" roared this man, extending his arms over the crowd as if, a new Moses, he wanted to allay the fury of the sea and cause it to stand still.

The crowd instantly obeyed this tremendous voice, and all these indignant, anxious, and terrified faces now turned toward the speaker who stood above them on top of the lamp-post.

"Don’t make fools of yourselves," said he—"don’t give these Hungarians—who would be only too glad to quench their present rage in German blood—a chance to break your bones. Have you any arms to compel them to show you the wagons and their contents? And even if you were armed, the soldiers would overpower you, for most of you would run away as soon as a fight broke out, and the balance of you would be taken to the calaboose. I will do you the favor, however, to tell you all about those wagons. Do you want to know it?"

"Yes, yes, we do!" shouted the crowd, emphatically. "Be quiet over there!—Stop your noise!—Do not cry so loud!—Hush!—Let us hear what is in the wagons.—Silence, silence!"

Profound silence ensued—everybody held his breath and listened.

"Well, then, listen to me. These wagons do not contain the remains of the former emperors, but the gold and the jewels of the present emperor. It is the state treasure which those hussars are escorting from Vienna to Presburg, because the government deems it no longer safe here. Just think of what we have come to now-a-days! Our imperial family, and even the state treasure, must flee from Vienna! And whose fault is it that we have to suffer all this? Who has brought these French down upon us? Who is inundating all Austria with war and its calamities? Shall I tell you who is doing it?"

"Yes, tell us, tell us!" shouted the crowd. "Woe unto him who has plunged Austria into war and distress, and caused the flight of the emperor and the removal of the treasure from Vienna!"

The speaker waited until the angry waves of the people’s wrath had subsided again, and then said in the clear, ringing tones of his powerful voice: "It is the fault of our prime minister, Baron von Thugut. He don’t want us to make peace with the French. He would rather ruin us all than to make peace with the French Republic."

"But we don’t want to be ruined!" shouted the crowd—"we don’t want to be led to the shambles like sheep. No, no; we want peace—peace with France. Prime Minister Thugut shall give us peace with France!"

"You had better go and inform the proud minister himself of what you want," said the speaker with a sneer. "First compel him to do what the emperor and even our brave Archduke Charles wanted to be done— compel the omnipotent minister to make peace."

"We will go and ask him to give us peace," said several voices in the crowd.

"Yes, yes, we will do that!" shouted others. "Come, come; let us all go to the minister’s house and ask him to give us back the emperor and the state treasure, and to make peace with Bonaparte."

The speaker now descended hurriedly from the lamp-post. His tall, herculean figure, however, towered above the crowd even after his feet had touched the pavement.

"Come," said he to the bystanders in a loud and decided tone, "I will take you to the minister’s house, for I know where he lives, and we will shout and raise such a storm there until the proud gentleman condescends to comply with our wishes."

He led the way rapidly, and the crowd, always easily guided and pliable, followed its improvised leader with loud acclamations. Only one idea, only one wish, animated all these men: they wanted peace with France, lest Bonaparte might come to Vienna and lay their beautiful capital in ashes in the same manner in which he had treated so many Italian cities.

Their leader walked proudly at the head of the irregular procession; and as the crowd continued to shout and yell, "Peace with France!" he muttered, "I think I have accomplished a good deal to-day. The archduke will be satisfied with what I have done, and we may compel the minister after all to make peace with France."

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Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Chapter I. Dreadful Tidings.," Louisa of Prussia and Her Times, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891 in Louisa of Prussia and Her Times (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed January 28, 2020, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3T8ARZRPKZYA22U.

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Chapter I. Dreadful Tidings." Louisa of Prussia and Her Times, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891, in Louisa of Prussia and Her Times, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 28 Jan. 2020. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3T8ARZRPKZYA22U.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Chapter I. Dreadful Tidings.' in Louisa of Prussia and Her Times, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, Louisa of Prussia and Her Times, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 28 January 2020, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3T8ARZRPKZYA22U.