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THE TRAGIC CHILD (last part)

The alarm had been sounded. The guards, torches in hand, combed all the paths of the park. They found Isabellita, still unconscious, her nightclothes stained in blood. With great care, they took her back to the castle and brought her to her chamber. A few seconds later she emerged out of her unconsciousness, and was immediately alert. She had been betrayed, of that there was no doubt! But by whom? By her sister, the deceitful Maria-Louisa? She did seem a bit too young to have been responsible for such an act. By Nicoletta, her preferred chambermaid, in whom she had placed such trust? Or perhaps by another chambermaid who had suspected something? What good was it to look for the guilty party anyway? Her lover was dead but, thank God, she would soon be with him!

“In three…you…”. He had told her with his dying breath. He must have meant in three hours. Isabellita waited. The three hours came and went. Nothing….

“In three…you…”. She may as well accept her fate and marry now since, in three weeks, she would be reunited in death with the man she loved. The ceremony took place in the magnificent Roman cathedral in Parma. The ambassador of the Empress Maria Theresa was there as the representative of the husband. The procession through the streets of the city was followed by the palace ball, a carousel, fireworks, and other customary festivities. Three weeks went by and Isabellita was perplexed and troubled to find that, as she herself had to admit, she was in perfectly good health. The court in Vienna claimed its new archduchess. In Parma, the enormous quantity of objects and effects that constituted the princess’ dowry was such that they now became neglected and were left to pile up in hundreds of boxes. Soon Isabellita would meet the archduke, her husband, before God and before men. The prospect neither warmed nor chilled her.

“In three…you…”. She was sure now that in three months her lover would come and take her with him to the hereafter. Isabellita left quietly for Vienna, at the head of a procession which stretched for miles, “she is no longer a lily, she is now a sun!” thought the Parmesans, amazed and filled with sadness to see their child move into the distance. The solemn entry of the archduchess, heir to the empire into her new capital will live long in the memory. All Vienna, rich and poor; men and women crowded around the windows or came out into the streets. Two ranks of armed soldiers lined the route and, at the crossroads, horsemen mounted the guard as the orchestra played. One hundred and twenty magnificent carriages followed escorted by servants in ceremonial dress. Isabellita took her place in a carriage of gold and glass which was drawn by eight horses. The crowd stood in unconfined admiration of her beauty.

The carriage stopped inside the Hofburg court, the Imperial Palace. Isabellita prostrated herself in deep reverence at the feet of her mother-in-law, the Empress, the most remarkable political figure of the time. She was then presented to the many children, her new brothers and sisters in law. She hardly noticed the presence among them of a gorgeous young girl called Marie-Antoinette.

She was led directly to the palace church. She moved majestically forward into the nave. The officials who were gathered together in the sanctuary were dazzled by her tall figure, her black eyes by her well-arranged dark hair on which gleamed a diadem of precious stones. She wore with great elegance a silver lamé dress with a long satin-embroidered train. A man awaited her, standing in front of the altar. It was her husband; the Archduke, Joseph. She gazed at him with curiosity: whilst he was not particularly ugly, his protruding eyes and long nose hardly made him very attractive.

Three months went by and, still, Isabellita did not die.

Maria-Theresa soon made her heir co-ruler of the empire and he became Joseph II. His wife received the imperial title and carried out her duties admirably. She carried this honour with distinction in the court ceremonies at displayed dignity, good grace and great warmth. She maintained very close relations with her formidable mother-in-law as well as with a great many members of the imperial family and in particular with her sisters-in-law. Yet no-one loved her as much as did her husband. This man obsessed with all things war, this introverted intellectual, this dry and rough man had fallen madly in love with his wife.

As for her, she respected and honoured her husband. She never refused him despite never feeling for him the slightest feeling of love. It is therefore without love that she found herself pregnant. A girl was born but, instead of bringing the couple closer together, the birth of their child drove them still further apart. The demands on the co-emperor began to weigh more heavily and soon evenings were dedicated to court receptions. Thus the only time at which Joseph and Isabellita found themselves alone was in their canopy-bed. Thankfully for him, the darkness hid the despair and disgust that was etched on the face of his wife.

She was soon pregnant once more. The doctors worried as she had become fragile. They warned the husband who became very concerned as did the Empress Maria-Theresa. Everyone was worried about the pregnancy of Isabellita…except her. On the contrary, it seemed, with every passing day, that she grew ever more radiant. Nobody could explain this change since she alone knew that fast approaching was the third anniversary of the death of her lover whom she will forever love. At the end of her pregnancy, she moved to the summerhouse in Schönbrunn. After going through a particularly long and difficult labour, she gave birth to a second child, who would not survive.

Despite the advice of these same doctors, she rose from her bed after a few days and wished to dine alone with her husband in the lounge of their residence. The room was welcoming with its wooden rococo coloured in white and gold and its lacquerware furniture. Isabellita had never before been so radiant. Joseph was literally vibrating with passion but his love blinded him such that he was not able to notice her reserved demeanour and, consequently, she escaped any attempt at investigation he may have made. Not quite knowing what to say to his wife, Joseph chose instead music, one of the few means of expression that united them. He went over to the piano and began playing; she took hold of her violin. Soon they were carried away by the sounds of Hadyn or of Mozart.

Over the course of the dinner which followed, her gaze remained fixed on the window overlooking the park, as if she was expecting something, or someone. Suddenly she stared, her eyes not moving from the window. She rose and, without giving the slightest explanation and, without turning, opened the high plate-window and went outside, leaving by the terrace. Taken by surprise, Joesph made no move to prevent her. Then he also rose and followed a short distance behind her. Isabellita moved forward down the path and, as if sleepwalking, crossed the lawn which was lit up by the moon, as if she had planned to meet someone…that he could not see. Her pace quickened, and then she stretched out her arms in a gesture of indescribable tenderness before falling down in the grass, motionless.

Joseph called for help and she was carried straight away into her chamber. She was dying. The doctors and the imperial family hastened to her side. The empress, in total despair, was suddenly struck by a strange idea:

I love her too much to lose her… her death must be a sacrifice demanded by heaven.

As for Joseph he could not shed a single tear as his grief knew no bounds. Instead he touched the face of his wife, stricken with pain. After only a very short time, Isabellita saw her wish finally granted: she died.

The communiqué of the court announced that the young empress had deceased as a result of post-natal complications. No-one was to know that she died on the anniversary of the assassination of her lover.

“In three…you…”. He had meant three years, and he had been true to his word. Never before had a phantom been more welcome.

 

 


by Prince Michael of Greece