"Do you regret your action?"
"Would you do it again?"
Had he not been obliged to condemn Staps to death, he would gladly have pursued this conversation a little longer. The young man was very like him, as Charlotte Corday was like Marat. Terrorists attract terrorists . . . A civilization based on the dagger, the bayonet, and the cannon. In former times a man prided himself on being the perfect embodiment of polite behavior. When he had occasion to make war or engage in military activities, he did not boast of it. Thus, for instance, no soldier would ever have presented himself at Court, in uniform. First he would change his raiment, even if he had news to bring of a victory and a flag wrested from the enemy to lay at the King's feet. Similarly, between the blue cordon of knighthood in the Order of the Holy Spirit and the red cordon of the Order of Saint-Louis, honoring a military exploit, what well-born man would have hesitated? To be awarded the blue cordon was a source of greater pride.
During my birthday fete, even as we warmed ourselves at the flames of a generous fire and listened to the satisfying sound of the logs crackling between the andirons, we lamented the Emperor's latest plans, which, pacific though they were, did not detract from the already colossal list of his crimes. Some say that he proposes to live for a month every summer in the château of Versailles, though he finds it small and misshapen, "a horrible aberration," and an aberration, what's more, that costs him a fortune to keep up. He has decided to stay there occasionally, after he had the impudence to declare: "The Revolution destroyed so much; why did it not demolish the château of Versailles?" But other reports would have it that Napoléon plans to cut down the bosquets, take away the statues, and replace all that with monuments commemorating his victories . . . We had another serving of cake-absolutely delicious-and pursued our lamentations . . . Monuments to his victories . . . It is not enough for him to contemplate marriage with Queen Marie-Antoinette's great-niece Marie-Louise, the Austrian woman, as he so elegantly calls her, he must needs take over the château as well. And put his N everywhere. This man, who cannot tell the difference between hunting hounds and hunting rabbits, has commanded that all Louis XVI's hunting guns be engraved with his initial. "You cannot hunt stags when you are hounding kings," as the prince de Ligne mockingly observes . . . In the event that he fails to get the Tsar's sister, I wonder whether Vienna will tolerate such an abomination, whether Metternich will hand the poor archduchess over to her country's oppressor. In all this hellish warfare, with its threat of armed gangs and looting, its reduction of rape and murder to commonplace events, Napoléon's pretensions to legitimacy are very nearly the thing I find most offensive. I say very nearly, for what really offends me, what saddens and distresses me, is something that is not to be found in our professions of indignation; nor does it bear the stamp of those choruses of loathing in which we habitually join. No, the thing that appalls me derives rather from what we do not say, from our hypocritical acceptance of the rule that Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette are never to be mentioned. The prohibition applies in Vienna, indeed at all foreign courts, but the place where it is most strictly observed is certainly here, in Vienna. To pronounce those forbidden names in defiance of the interdict is productive of fearful embarrassment. If it involves Louis XVI, the social blunder, though serious, can be overcome; but to name Marie-Antoinette is an unforgivable lapse. Her memory is suppressed more viciously in her own home, family, and city than anywhere else. For this, this second death, Napoléon cannot be held accountable. If anything, the reverse is true . . . And we, with our noisy jeremiads, contribute to the work of obliteration. Noisy? I much overstate the case. I only wish we were still capable of making noise.
From Farewell My Queen by Chantal Thomas. Copyright Chantal Thomas 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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