Part 1 out of 11
Charles Adarondo and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
A STUDY IN SUPREMACY
BY MARIE CORELLI
I. THE KING'S PLEASAUNCE
II. MAJESTY CONSIDERS AND RESOLVES
III. A NATION OR A CHURCH?
IV. SEALED ORDERS
V. "IF I LOVED YOU!"
VI. SERGIUS THORD
VII. THE IDEALISTS
VIII. THE KING'S DOUBLE
IX. THE PREMIER'S SIGNET
X. THE ISLANDS
XI. "GLORIA--IN EXCELSIS!"
XII. A SEA PRINCESS
XIII. SECRET SERVICE
XIV. THE KING'S VETO
XV. "MORGANATIC" OR--?
XVI. THE PROFESSOR ADVISES
XVII. AN "HONOURABLE" STATESMAN
XVIII. ROYAL LOVERS
XIX. OF THE CORRUPTION OF THE STATE
XX. THE SCORN OF KINGS
XXI. AN INVITATION TO COURT
XXII. A FAIR DEBUTANTE
XXIII. THE KING'S DEFENDER
XXIV. A WOMAN'S REASON
XXV. "I SAY--'ROME'!"
XXVI. "ONE WAY--ONE WOMAN!"
XXVII. THE SONG OF FREEDOM
XXVIII. "FATE GIVES--THE KING!"
XXIX. THE COMRADE OF HIS FOES
XXX. KING AND SOCIALIST
XXXI. A VOTE FOR LOVE
XXXII. BETWEEN TWO PASSIONS
XXXIII. SAILING TO THE INFINITE
THE KING'S PLEASAUNCE
"In the beginning," so we are told, "God made the heavens and the
The statement is simple and terse; it is evidently intended to be
wholly comprehensive. Its decisive, almost abrupt tone would seem to
forbid either question or argument. The old-world narrator of the
sublime event thus briefly chronicled was a poet of no mean quality,
though moved by the natural conceit of man to give undue importance to
the earth as his own particular habitation. The perfect confidence with
which he explains 'God' as making 'two great lights, the greater light
to rule the day, the lesser light to rule the night,' is touching to
the verge of pathos; and the additional remark which he throws in, as
it were casually,--'He made the stars also,' cannot but move us to
admiration. How childlike the simplicity of the soul which could so
venture to deal with the inexplicable and tremendous problem of the
Universe! How self-centred and sure the faith which could so arrange
the work of Infinite and Eternal forces to suit its own limited
intelligence! It is easy and natural to believe that 'God,' or an
everlasting Power of Goodness and Beauty called by that name, 'created
the heavens and the earth,' but one is often tempted to think that an
altogether different and rival element must have been concerned in the
making of Man. For the heavens and the earth are harmonious; man is a
discord. And not only is he a discord in himself, but he takes pleasure
in producing and multiplying discords. Often, with the least possible
amount of education, and on the slightest provocation, he mentally sets
Himself, and his trivial personal opinion on religion, morals, and
government, in direct opposition to the immutable laws of the Universe,
and the attitude he assumes towards the mysterious Cause and Original
Source of Life is nearly always one of three things; contradiction,
negation, or defiance. From the first to the last he torments himself
with inventions to outwit or subdue Nature, and in the end dies,
utterly defeated. His civilizations, his dynasties, his laws, his
manners, his customs, are all doomed to destruction and oblivion as
completely as an ant-hill which exists one night and is trodden down
the next. Forever and forever he works and plans in vain; forever and
forever Nature, the visible and active Spirit of God, rises up and
crushes her puny rebel.
There must be good reason for this ceaseless waste of human life,--this
constant and steady obliteration of man's attempts, since there can be
no Effect without Cause. It is, as if like children at a school, we
were set a certain sum to do, and because we blunder foolishly over it
and add it up to a wrong total, it is again and again wiped off the
blackboard, and again and again rewritten for our more careful
consideration. Possibly the secret of our failure to conquer Nature
lies in ourselves, and our own obstinate tendency to work in only one
groove of what we term 'advancement,'--namely our material self-
interest. Possibly we might be victors if we would, even to the very
vanquishment of Death!
So many of us think,--and so thought one man of sovereign influence in
this world's affairs as, seated on the terrace of a Royal palace
fronting seaward, he pondered his own life's problem for perhaps the
"What is the use of thinking?" asked a wit at the court of Louis XVI.
"It only intensifies the bad opinion you have of others,--or of
He found this saying true. Thinking is a pernicious habit in which very
great personages are not supposed to indulge; and in his younger days
he had avoided it. He had allowed the time to take him as it found him,
and had gone with it unresistingly wherever it had led. It was the best
way; the wisest way; the way Solomon found most congenial, despite its
end in 'vanity and vexation of spirit.' But with the passing of the
years a veil had been dropped over that path of roses, hiding it
altogether from his sight; and another veil rose inch by inch before
him, disclosing a new and less joyous prospect on which he was not
too-well-pleased to look.
The sea, stretching out in a broad shining expanse opposite to him,
sparkled dancingly in the warm sunshine, and the snowy sails of many
yachts and pleasure-boats dipped now and again into the glittering
waves like white birds skimming over the tiny flashing foam-crests.
Dazzling and well-nigh blinding to his eyes were the burning glow and
exquisite radiance of colour which seemed melted like gold and sapphire
into that bright half-circle of water and sky,--beautiful, and full of
a dream-like evanescent quality, such as marks all the loveliest
scenes and impressions of our life on earth. There was a subtle scent
of violets in the air,--and a gardener, cutting sheafs of narcissi from
the edges of the velvety green banks which rolled away in smooth
undulations upward from the terrace to the wider extent of the palace
pleasaunce beyond, scattered such perfume with his snipping shears as
might have lured another Proserpine from Hell. Cluster after cluster of
white blooms, carefully selected for the adornment of the Royal
apartments, he laid beside him on the grass, not presuming to look in
the direction where that other Workman in the ways of life sat silent
and absorbed in thought. That other, in his own long-practised manner,
feigned not to be aware of his dependant's proximity,--and in this
fashion they twain--human beings made of the same clay and relegated,
to the same dust--gave sport to the Fates by playing at Sham with
Heaven and themselves. Custom, law, and all the paraphernalia of
civilization, had set the division and marked the boundary between
them,--had forbidden the lesser in world's rank to speak to the
greater, unless the greater began conversation,--had equally forbidden
the greater to speak to the lesser lest such condescension should
inflate the lesser's vanity so much as to make him obnoxious to his
fellows. Thus,--of two men, who, if left to nature would have been
merely--men, and sincere enough at that,--man himself had made two
pretenders,--the one as gardener, the other as--King! The white
narcissi lying on the grass, and preparing to die sweetly, like
sacrificed maiden-victims of the flower-world, could turn true faces
to the God who made them,--but the men at that particular moment of
time had no real features ready for God's inspection,--only masks.
"C'est mon metier d'être Roi!" So said one of the many dead and gone
martyrs on the rack of sovereignty. Alas, poor soul, thou would'st have
been happier in any other 'métier' I warrant! For kingship is a
profession which cannot be abandoned for a change of humour, or cast
aside in light indifference and independence because a man is bored by
it and would have something new. It is a routine and drudgery to which
some few are born, for which they are prepared, to which they must
devote their span of life, and in which they must die. "How shall we
pass the day?" asked a weary Roman emperor, "I am even tired of killing
'Even' that! And the strangest part of it is, that there are people who
would give all their freedom and peace of mind to occupy for a few
years an uneasy throne, and who actually live under the delusion that a
monarch is happy!
The gardener soon finished his task of cutting the narcissi, and though
he might not, without audacity, look at his Sovereign-master, his
Sovereign-master looked at him, furtively, from under half-closed
eyelids, watching him as he bound the blossoms together carefully, with
the view of giving as little trouble as possible to those whose duty it
would be to arrange them for the Royal pleasure. His work done, he
walked quickly, yet with a certain humble stealthiness,--thus
admitting his consciousness of that greater presence than his own,--
down a broad garden walk beyond the terrace towards a private entrance
to the palace, and there disappeared.
The King was left alone,--or apparently so, for to speak truly, he was
never alone. An equerry, a page-in-waiting,--or what was still more
commonplace as well as ominous, a detective,--lurked about him, ever
near, ever ready to spring on any unknown intruder, or to answer his
But to the limited extent of the solitude allowed to kings, this man
was alone,--alone for a brief space to consider, as he had informed his
secretary, certain documents awaiting his particular and private
The marble pavilion in which he sat had been built by his father, the
late King, for his own pleasure, when pleasure was more possible than
it is now. Its slender Ionic columns, its sculptured friezes, its
painted ceilings, all expressed a gaiety, grace and beauty gone from
the world, perchance for ever. Open on three sides to the living
picture of the ocean, crimson and white roses clambered about it, and
tall plume-like mimosa shook fragrance from its golden blossoms down
every breath of wind. The costly table on which this particular Majesty
of a nation occasionally wrote his letters, would, if sold, have kept a
little town in food for a year,--the rich furs at his feet would have
bought bread for hundreds of starving families,--and every delicious
rose that nodded its dainty head towards him with the breeze would have
given an hour's joy to a sick child. Socialists say this kind of thing
with wildly eloquent fervour, and blame all kings in passionate
rhodomontade for the tables, the furs and the roses,--but they forget--
it is not the sad and weary kings who care for these or any luxuries,--
they would be far happier without them. It is the People who insist on
having kings that should be blamed,--not the monarchs themselves. A
king is merely the people's Prisoner of State,--they chain him to a
throne,--they make him clothe himself in sundry fantastic forms of
attire and exhibit his person thus decked out, for their pleasure,--
they calculate, often with greed and grudging, how much it will cost to
feed him and keep him in proper state on the national premises, that
they may use him at their will,--but they seldom or never seem to
remember the fact that there is a Man behind the King!
It is not easy to govern nowadays, since there is no real autocracy,
and no strong soul likely to create one. But the original idea of
sovereignty was grand and wise;--the strongest man and bravest, raised
aloft on shields and bucklers with warrior cries of approval from the
people who voluntarily chose him as their leader in battle,--their
utmost Head of affairs. Progress has demolished this ideal, with many
others equally fine and inspiring; and now all kings are so, by right
of descent merely. Whether they be infirm or palsied, weak or wise,
sane or crazed, still are they as of old elected; only no more as the
Strongest, but simply as the Sign-posts of a traditional bygone
authority. This King however, here written of, was not deficient in
either mental or physical attributes. His outward look and bearing
betokened him as far more fit to be lifted in triumph on the shoulders
of his battle-heroes, a real and visible Man, than to play a more or
less cautiously inactive part in the modern dumb-show of Royalty. Well-
built and muscular, with a compact head regally poised on broad
shoulders, and finely formed features which indicated in their firm
modelling strong characteristics of pride, indomitable resolution and
courage, he had an air of rare and reposeful dignity which made him
much more impressive as a personality than many of his fellow-
sovereigns. His expression was neither foolish nor sensual,--his clear
dark grey eyes were sane and steady in their regard and had no tricks
of shiftiness. As an ordinary man of the people his appearance would
have been distinctive,--as a King, it was remarkable.
He had of course been called handsome in his childhood,--what heir to
a Throne ever lived that was not beautiful, to his nurse at least?--and
in his early youth he had been grossly flattered for his cleverness as
well as his good looks. Every small attempt at witticism,--every poor
joke he could invent, adapt or repeat, was laughed at approvingly in a
chorus of admiration by smirking human creatures, male and female, who
bowed and bobbed up and down before the lad like strange dolphins
disporting themselves on dry land. Whereat he grew to despise the
dolphins, and no wonder. When he was about seventeen or eighteen he
began to ask odd questions of one of his preceptors, a learned and
ceremonious personage who, considering the extent of his certificated
wisdom, was yet so singularly servile of habit and disposition that he
might have won a success on the stage as Chief Toady in a burlesque of
Court life. He was a pale, thin old man, with a wizened face set well
back amid wisps of white hair, and a scraggy throat which asserted its
working muscles visibly whenever he spoke, laughed or took food. His
way of shaking hands expressed his moral flabbiness in the general
dampness, looseness and limpness of the act,--not that he often shook
hands with his pupil, for though that pupil was only a boy made of
ordinary flesh and blood like other boys, he was nevertheless heir to a
Throne, and in strict etiquette even friendly liberties were not to be
too frequently taken with such an Exalted little bit of humanity. The
lad himself, however, had a certain mischievous delight in making him
perform this courtesy, and being young and vigorous, would often
squeeze the old gentleman's hesitating fingers in his strong clasp so
energetically as to cause him the severest pain. Student of many
philosophies as he was, the worthy pedagogue would have cried out, or
sworn profane oaths in his agony, had it been any other than the 'Heir-
Apparent' who thus made him wince with torture,--but as matters stood,
he merely smiled--and bore it. The young rascal of a prince smiled
too,--taking note of his obsequious hypocrisy, which served an
inquiring mind with quite as good a field for logical speculation as
any problem in Euclid. And he went on with his questions,--questions,
which if not puzzling, were at least irritating enough to have secured
him a rap on the knuckles from his tutor's cane, had he been a grocer's
lad instead of the eldest son of a Royal house.
"Professor," he said on one occasion, "What is man?"
"Man," replied the professor sedately, "is an intelligent and reasoning
being, evolved by natural processes of creation into his present
condition of supremacy."
"What is Supremacy?"
"The state of being above, or superior to, the rest of the animal
"And is he so superior?"
"He is generally so admitted."
"Is my father a man?"
"Assuredly! The question is superfluous."
"What makes him a King?"
"Royal birth and the hereditary right to his great position."
"Then if man is in a condition of supremacy over the rest of creation,
a king is more than a man if he is allowed to rule men?"
"Sir, pardon me!--a king is not more than a man, but men choose him as
their ruler because he is worthy."
"In what way is he worthy? Simply because he is born as I am, heir to a
"He might be an idiot or a cripple, a fool or a coward,--he would still
"So that if he were a madman, he would continue to hold supremacy over
a nation, though his groom might be sane?"
"Your Royal Highness pursues the question with an unwise flippancy;"--
remonstrated the professor with a pained, forced smile. "If an idiot or
a madman were unfortunately born to a throne, a regency would be
appointed to control state affairs, but the heir would, in spite of
natural incapability, remain the lawful king."
"A strange sovereignty!" said the young prince carelessly. "And a still
stranger patience in the people who would tolerate it! Yet over all
men,--kings, madmen, and idiots alike,--there is another ruling force,
"There is a force," admitted the professor dubiously--"But in the
present forward state of things it would not be safe to attempt to
explain the nature of that force, and for the benefit of the illiterate
masses we call it God. A national worship of something superior to
themselves has always been proved politic and necessary for the people.
I have not at any time resolved myself as to why it should be so; but
so it is."
"Then man, despite his 'supremacy' must have something more supreme
than himself to keep him in order, if it be only a fetish wherewith to
tickle his imagination?" suggested the prince with a touch of satire,--
"Even kings must bow, or pretend to bow, to the King of kings?"
"Sir, you have expressed the fact with felicity;" replied the professor
gravely--"His Majesty, your august father, attends public worship with
punctilious regularity, and you are accustomed to accompany him. It is
a rule which you will find necessary to keep in practice, as an example
to your subjects when you are called upon to reign."
The young man raised his eyebrows deprecatingly, with a slight ironical
smile, and dropped the subject. But the learned professor as in duty
bound, reported the conversation to his pupil's father; with the
additional observation that he feared, he very humbly and respectfully
feared, that the developing mind of the prince appeared undesirably
disposed towards discursive philosophies, which were wholly unnecessary
for the position he was destined to occupy. Whereupon the King took his
son to task on the subject with a mingling of kindness and humour.
"Do not turn philosopher!" he said--"For philosophy will not so much
content you with life, as with death! Philosophy will chill your best
impulses and most generous enthusiasms,--it will make you over-cautious
and doubtful of your friends,--it will cause you to be indifferent to
women in the plural, but it will hand you over, a weak and helpless
victim to the _one_ woman,--when she comes,--as she is bound to
come. There is no one so hopelessly insane as a philosopher in love!
Love women, but not _a_ woman!"
"In so doing I should follow the wisest of examples,--yours, Sir!"
replied the prince with a familiarity more tender than audacious, for
his father was a man of fine presence and fascinating manner, and knew
well the extent of his power to charm and subjugate the fairer sex,--
"But I have a fancy that love,--if it exists anywhere outside the
dreams of the poets,--is unknown to kings."
The monarch bent his brows frowningly, and his eyes were full of a deep
and bitter melancholy.
"You mistake!" he said slowly--"Love,--and by that name I mean a wholly
different thing from Passion,--comes to kings as to commoners,--but
whereas the commoner may win it if he can, the king must reject it. But
it comes,--and leaves a blank in the proudest life when it goes!"
He turned away abruptly, and the conversation was not again resumed.
But when he died, those who prepared his body for burial, found a gold
chain round his neck, holding the small medallion portrait of a woman,
and a curl of soft fair hair. Needless to say the portrait was not that
of the late Queen-Consort, who had died some years before her Royal
spouse, nor was the hair hers,--but when they brought the relic to the
new King, he laid it back with his own hands on his father's lifeless
breast, and let it go into the grave with him. For, being no longer the
crowned Servant of the State, he had the right as a mere dead man, to
the possession of his love-secret.
So at least thought his son and successor, who at times was given to
wondering whether if, like his father, he had such a secret he would be
able to keep it as closely and as well. He thought not. It would be
scarcely worth while. It can only be the greatest love that is always
silent,--and in the greatest,--that is, the ideal and self-renouncing
love,--he did not believe; though in his own life's experience he had
been given a proof that such love is possible to women, if not to men.
When he was about twenty, he had loved, or had imagined he loved, a
girl,--a pretty creature, who did not know him as a prince at all, but
simply as a college student. He used to walk with her hand in hand
through the fields by the river, and gather wild flowers for her to
wear in her little white bodice. She had shy soft eyes, and a timid,
yet trusting look, full of tenderness and pathos. Moved by a romantic
sense of honour and chivalry, he promised to marry her, and thereupon
wrote an impulsive letter to his father informing him of his intention.
Of course he was summoned home from college at once,--he was reminded
of his high destiny--of the Throne that would be his if he lived to
occupy it,--of the great and serious responsibilities awaiting him,--
and of how impossible it was that the Heir-Apparent to the Crown should
marry a commoner.
"Why not?" he cried passionately--"If she be good and true she is as
fit to be a queen as any woman royally born! She is a queen already in
her own right!"
But while he was being argued with and controlled by all the
authorities concerned in king's business, his little sweetheart herself
put an end to the matter. Her parents told her all unpreparedly, and
with no doubt unnecessary harshness, the real position of the college
lad with whom she had wandered in the fields so confidingly; and in the
bewilderment of her poor little broken heart and puzzled brain, she
gave herself to the river by whose flowering banks she had sworn her
maiden vows,--though she knew it not,--to her future King; and so,
drowning her life and love together, made a piteous exit from all
difficulty. Before she went forth to die, she wrote a farewell to her
Royal lover, posting the letter herself on her way to the river, and,
by the merest chance he received it without a spy's intervention. It
was but one line, scrawled in a round youthful hand, and blotted with
"Sir--my love!--forgive me!"
It would be unwise to say what that little scrap of ill-formed writing
cost the heir to a throne when he heard how she had died,--or how he
raged and swore and wept. It was the first Wrong forced on him as
Right, by the laws of the realm; and he was young and generous and
honest, and not hardened to those laws then. Their iniquity and
godlessness appeared to him in plain ugly colours undisguised. Since
that time he had perforce fallen into the habit and routine of his
predecessors, though he was not altogether so 'constitutional' a
sovereign as his father had been. He had something of the spirit of one
who had occupied his throne five hundred years before him; when
strength and valour and wit and boldness, gave more kings to the world
than came by heritage. He did unconventional things now and then; to
the grief of flunkeys, and the alarm of Court parasites. But his
kingdom was of the South, where hot blood is recognized and excused,
and fiery temper more admired than censured, and where,--so far as
social matters went,--his word, whether kind, cold, or capricious, was
sufficient to lead in any direction that large flock of the silly sheep
of fashion who only exist to eat, and to be eaten. Sometimes he longed
to throw himself back into bygone centuries and stand as his earliest
ancestor stood, sword in hand, on a height overlooking the battle-
field, watching the swaying rush of combat,--the glitter of spears and
axes--the sharp flight of arrows--the tossing banners, the grinding
chariots, the flying dust and carnage of men! There was something to
fight for in those days,--there was no careful binding up of wounds,--
no provision for the sick or the mutilated,--nothing, nothing, but
'Victory or Death!' How much grander, how much finer the old fierce
ways of war than now, when any soldier wounded, may write the details
of his bayonet-scratch or bullet-hole to the cheap press, and the
surgeon prys about with Rontgen-ray paraphernalia and scalpel, to
discover how much or how little escape from dissolution a man's soul
has had in the shock of contest with his foe! Of a truth these are
paltry days!--and paltry days breed paltry men. Afraid of sickness,
afraid of death, afraid of poverty, afraid of offences, afraid to
think, afraid to speak, Man in the present era of his boasted
'progress' resembles nothing so much as a whipped child,--cowering
under the outstretched arm of Heaven and waiting in whimpering terror
for the next fall of the scourge. And it is on this point especially,
that the monarch who takes part in this unhesitating chronicle of
certain thoughts and movements hidden out of sight,--yet deeply felt in
the under-silences of the time,--may claim to be unconventional;--he
was afraid of nothing,--not even of himself as King!
MAJESTY CONSIDERS AND RESOLVES
The little episode of his first love, combined with his ungovernable
fury and despair at its tragic conclusion, had of course the natural
result common in such a case, to the fate of all who are destined to
occupy thrones. A marriage was 'arranged' for him; and pressing reasons
of state were urged for the quick enforcement and carrying out of the
'arrangement.' The daughter of a neighbouring potentate was elected to
the honour of his alliance,--a beautiful girl with a pale, cold clear-
cut face and brilliant eyes, whose smile penetrated the soul with an
icy chill, and whose very movement, noiseless and graceful as it was,
reminded one irresistibly of slowly drifting snow. She was attended to
the altar, as he was, by all the ministers and plenipotentiaries of
state that could possibly be gathered together from the four quarters
of the globe as witnesses to the immolation of two young human lives on
the grim sacrificial stone of a Dynasty; and both prince and princess
accepted their fate with mutually silent and civil resignation. Their
portraits, set facing each other with a silly smile, or taken in a
linked arm-in-arm attitude against a palatial canvas background,
appeared in every paper published throughout the world, and every
scribbler on the Press took special pains to inform the easily deluded
public that the Royal union thus consummated was 'a romantic love-
match.' For the People still have heart and conscience,--the People,
taken in the rough lump of humanity, still believe in love, in faith,
in the dear sweetness of home affections. The politicians who make
capital out of popular emotion, know this well enough,--and are careful
to play the tune of their own personal interest upon the gamut of
National Sentiment in every stump oration. For how terrible it would be
if the People of any land learned to judge their preachers and teachers
by the lines of fact alone! Inasmuch as fact would convincingly prove
to them that their leaders prospered and grew rich, while they stayed
poor; and they might take to puzzling out reasons for this inadequacy
which would inevitably cause trouble. For this, and divers other
motives politic, the rosy veil of sentiment is always delicately flung
more or less over every new move on the national debating-ground,--and
whether marriageable princes and princesses love or loathe each other,
still, when they come to wed, the words 'romantic love-match' must be
thrown in by an obliging Press in order to satisfy the tender scruples
of a people who would certainly not abide the thought of a Royal
marriage contracted in mutual aversion. Thus much soundness and right
principle there is at least, in what some superfine persons call the
'common' folk,--the folk whose innermost sense of truth and
straightforwardness, not even the proudest statesman dare outrage.
But with what unuttered and unutterable scorn the youthful victims of
the Royal pairing accepted the newspaper-assurances of the devoted
tenderness they entertained for each other! With what wearied
impatience both prince and princess received the 'Wedding Odes' and
'Epithalamiums,' written by first-class and no-class versifiers for the
occasion! What shoals of these were cast aside unread, to occupy the
darkest dingiest corner of one of the Royal 'refuse' libraries! The
writers of such things expected great honours, no doubt, each and every
man-jack of them,--but apart from the fact that the greatest literature
has always lived without any official recognition or endowment from
kings,--being in itself the supremest sovereignty,--poets and
rhymesters alike never seem to realize that no one is, or can be, so
sickened by an 'Ode' as the man or woman to whom it is written!
The brilliant marriage ceremony concluded, the august bride and
bridegroom took their departure, amid frantically cheering crowds, for
a stately castle standing high among the mountains, a truly magnificent
pile, which had been placed at their disposal for the 'honeymoon' by
one of the wealthiest of the King's subjects,--and there, as soon as
equerries, grooms-in-waiting, flunkeys, and every other sort of indoor
and outdoor retainer would consent to leave them alone together, the
Royal wife came to her Royal husband, and asked to be allowed to speak
a few words on the subject of their marriage, 'for the first and last
time,' said she, with a straight glance from the cold moonlight mystery
of her eyes. Beautiful at all times, her beauty was doubly enhanced by
the regal attitude and expression she unconsciously assumed as she made
the request, and the prince, critically studying her form and features,
could not but regard himself as in some respects rather particularly
favoured by the political and social machinery which had succeeded in
persuading so fair a creature to resign herself to the doubtful destiny
of a throne. She had laid aside her magnificent bridal-robes of ivory
satin and cloth-of-gold,--and appeared before him in loose draperies of
floating white, with her rich hair unbound and rippling to her knees.
"May I speak?" she murmured, and her voice trembled.
"Most assuredly!"--he replied, half smiling--"You do me too much honour
by requesting the permission!"
As he spoke, he bowed profoundly, but she, raising her eyes, fixed them
full upon him with a strange look of mingled pride and pain.
"Do not," she said, "let us play at formalities! Let us be honest with
each other for to-night at least! All our life together must from
henceforth be more or less of a masquerade, but let us for to-night be
as true man and true woman, and frankly face the position into which we
have been thrust, not by ourselves, but by others."
Profoundly astonished, the prince was silent. He had not thought this
girl of nineteen possessed any force of character or any intellectual
power of reasoning. He had judged her as no doubt glad to become a
great princess and a possible future queen, and he had not given her
credit for any finer or higher feeling.
"You know,"--she continued--"you must surely know--" here, despite the
strong restraint she put upon herself, her voice broke, and her slight
figure swayed in its white draperies as if about to fall. She looked at
him with a sense of rising tears in her throat,--tears of which she was
ashamed,--for she was full of a passionate emotion too strong for
weeping--a contempt of herself and of him, too great for mere clamour.
Was he so much of a man in the slow thick density of his brain she
thought, as to have no instinctive perception of her utter misery? He
hastened to her and tried to take her hands, but she drew herself away
from him and sank down in a chair as if exhausted.
"You are tired!" he said kindly--"The tedious ceremonial--the still
more tedious congratulations,--and the fatiguing journey from the
capital to this place have been too much for your strength. You must
"It is not that!"--she answered--"not that! I am not tired,--but--but--
I cannot say my prayers tonight till you know my whole heart!"
A curious reverence and pity moved him. All day long he had been in a
state of resentful irritation,--he had loathed himself for having
consented to marry this girl without loving her,--he had branded
himself inwardly as a liar and hypocrite when he had sworn his marriage
vows 'before God,' whereas if he truly believed in God, such vows taken
untruthfully were mere blasphemy;--and now she herself, a young thing
tenderly brought up like a tropical flower in the enervating hot-house
atmosphere of Court life, yet had such a pure, deep consciousness of
God in her, that she actually could not pray with the slightest blur of
a secret on her soul! He waited wonderingly.
"I have plighted my faith to you before God's altar to-day," she said,
speaking more steadily,--"because after long and earnest thought, I saw
that there was no other way of satisfying the two nations to which we
belong, and cementing the friendly relations between them. There is no
woman of Royal birth,--so it has been pointed out to me--who is so
suitable, from a political point of view, to be your wife as I. It is
for the sake of your Throne and country that you must marry--and I ask
God to forgive me if I have done wrong in His sight by wedding you
simply for duty's sake. My father, your father, and all who are
connected with our two families desire our union, and have assured me
that, it is right and good for me to give up my life to yours. All
women's lives must be martyred to the laws made by men,--or so it seems
to me,--I cannot expect to escape from the general doom apportioned to
my sex. I therefore accept the destiny which transfers me to you as a
piece of human property for possession and command,--I accept it
freely, but I will not say gladly, because that would not be true. For
I do not love you,--I cannot love you! I want you to know that, and to
feel it, that you may not ask from me what I cannot give."
There were no tears in her eyes; she looked at him straightly and
steadfastly. He, in his turn, met her gaze fully,--his face had paled a
little, and a shadow of pained regret and commiseration darkened his
"You love someone else?" he asked, softly.
She rose from her chair and confronted him, a glow of passionate pride
flushing her cheeks and brow.
"No!" she said--"I would not be a traitor to you in so much as a
thought! Had I loved anyone else I would never have married you,--no!--
though you had been ten times a prince and king! No! You do not
understand. I come to you heartwhole and passionless, without a single
love-word chronicled in my girlhood's history, or a single incident you
may not know. I have never loved any man, because from my very
childhood I have hated and feared all men! I loathe their presence--
their looks--their voices--their manners,--if one should touch my hand
in ordinary courtesy, my instincts are offended and revolted, and the
sense of outrage remains with me for days. My mother knows of this, and
says I am 'unnatural,'--it may be so. But unnatural or not, it is the
truth; judge therefore the extent of the sacrifice I make to God and
our two countries in giving myself to you!"
The prince stood amazed and confounded. Did she rave? Was she mad? He
studied her with a curious, half-doubting scrutiny, and noted the
composure of her attitude, the cold serenity of her expression,--there
was evidently no hysteria, no sur-excitation of nerves about this calm
statuesque beauty which in every line and curve of loveliness silently
mutinied against him, and despised him. Puzzled, yet fascinated, he
sought in his mind for some clue to her meaning.
"There are women" she went on--"to whom love, or what is called love,
is necessary,--for whom marriage is the utmost good of existence. I am
not one of these. Had I my own choice I would live my life away from
all men,--I would let nothing of myself be theirs to claim,--I would
give all I am and all I have to God, who made me what I am. For truly
and honestly, without any affectation at all, I look upon marriage, not
as an honour, but a degradation!"
Had she been less in earnest, he might have smiled at this, but her
beauty, intensified as it was by the fervour of her feeling, seemed
transfigured into something quite supernatural which for the moment
"Am I to understand--" he began.
She interrupted him by a swift gesture, while the rich colour swept
over her face in a warm wave.
"Understand nothing"--she said,--"but this--that I do not love you,
because I can love no man! For the rest I am your wife; and as your
wife I give myself to you and your nation wholly and in all things--
He advanced and took her hands in his.
"This is a strange bargain!" he said, and gently kissed her.
She answered nothing,--only a faint shiver trembled through her as she
endured the caress. For a moment or two he surveyed her in silence,--it
was a singular and novel experience for him, as a future king, to be
the lawful possessor of a woman's beauty, and yet with all his
sovereignty to be unable to waken one thrill of tenderness in the
frozen soul imprisoned in such exquisite flesh and blood. He was
inclined to disbelieve her assertions,--surely he thought, there must
be emotion, feeling, passion in this fair creature, who, though she
seemed a goddess newly descended from inaccessible heights of heaven
was still _only_ a woman? And upon the whole he was not ill-
pleased with the curious revelation she had made of herself. He
preferred the coldness of women to their volcanic eruptions, and would
take more pains to melt the snow of reserve than to add fuel to the
flame of ardour.
"You have been very frank with me," he said at last, after a pause, as
he loosened her hands and moved a little apart from her--"And whether
your physical and mental hatred of my sex is a defect in your nature,
or an exceptional virtue, I shall not quarrel with it. I am myself not
without faults; and the chiefest of these is one most common to all
men. I desire what I may not have, and covet what I do not possess. So!
We understand each other!"
She raised her eyes--those beautiful deep eyes with the moonlight
glamour in them,--and for an instant the shining Soul of her, pure and
fearless, seemed to spring up and challenge to spiritual combat him who
was now her body's master. Then, bending her head with a graceful yet
proud submission, she retired.
From that time forth she never again spoke on this, or any other
subject of an intimate or personal nature, with her Royal spouse. Cold
as an iceberg, pure as a diamond, she accepted both wifehood and
motherhood as martyrdom, with an evident contempt for its humiliation,
and without one touch of love for either husband or children. She bore
three sons, of whom the eldest, and heir to the throne was, at the time
this history begins, just twenty. The passing of the years had left
scarcely a trace upon her beauty, save to increase it from the
sparkling luminance of a star to the glory of a full-orbed moon of
loveliness,--and she had easily won a triumph over all the other women
around her, in the power she possessed to command and retain the
admiration of men. She was one of those brilliant creatures who, like
the Egyptian Cleopatra, never grow old,--for she was utterly exempt
from the wasting of the nerves through emotion. Her eyes were always
bright and clear; her skin dazzling in its whiteness, save where the
equably flowing blood flushed it with tenderest rose,--her figure
remained svelte, lithe and graceful in all its outlines. Finely strung,
yet strong as steel in her temperament, all thoughts, feelings and
events seemed to sweep over her without affecting or disturbing her
mind's calm equipoise. She lived her life with extreme simplicity,
regularity, and directness, thus driving to despair all would-be
scandal-mongers; and though many gifted and famous men fell madly in
love with their great princess, and often, in the extremity of a
passion which amounted to disloyalty, slew themselves for her sake, she
remained unmoved and pitiless.
Her husband occasionally felt some compassion for the desperate fellows
who thus immolated themselves on the High Altar of her perfections,
though it must be admitted that he received the news of their deaths
with tolerable equanimity, knowing them to have been fools, and as
such, better out of the world than in it. During the first two or three
years of his marriage he had himself been somewhat of their
disposition, and as mere man, had tried by every means in his power to
win the affection of his beautiful spouse, and to melt the icy barrier
which she, despite their relations with each other, had resolutely kept
up between herself and him. He had made the attempt, not because he
actually loved her, but simply because he desired the satisfaction of
conquest. Finding the task hopeless, he resigned himself to his fate,
and accepted her at the costly valuation she set upon herself; though
for pastime he would often pay court to certain ladies of easy virtue,
with the vague idea that perhaps the spirit of jealousy might enter
that cold shrine of womanhood where no other demon could force
admission, and wake up the passions slumbering within. But she appeared
not to be at all aware of his many and open gallantries; and only at
stray moments, when her frosty flashing glance fell upon him engaged in
some casual flirtation, would a sudden smarting sense of injury make
him conscious of her contempt.
But he could reasonably find no fault with her, save the fault of being
faultless. She was a perfect hostess, and fulfilled all the duties of
her exalted position with admirable tact and foresight,--she was ever
busy in the performance of good and charitable deeds,--she was an
excellent mother, and took the utmost personal care that her sons
should be healthily nurtured and well brought up,--she never interfered
in any matter of state or ceremony,--she simply seemed to move as a
star moves, shining over the earth but having no part in it.
Irresponsive as she was, she nevertheless compelled admiration,--her
husband himself admired her, but only as he would have admired a statue
or a painting. For his was an impulsive and generous nature, and his
marriage had kept his heart empty of the warmth of love, and his home
devoid of the light of sympathy. Even his children had been born more
as the sons of the nation than his own,--he was not conscious of any
very great affection for them, or interest in their lives. And he had
sought to kindle at many strange fires the heavenly love-beacon which
should have flamed its living glory into his days; so it had naturally
chanced that he had spent by far the larger portion of his time on the
persuasion of mere Whim,--and as vastly inferior women to his wife had
made him spend it.
But at this particular juncture, when the curtain is drawn up on
certain scenes and incidents in his life-drama, a change had been
effected in his opinions and surroundings. For eighteen years after his
marriage, he had lived on the first step of the Throne as its next
heir; and when he passed that step and ascended the Throne itself, he
seemed to have crossed a vast abyss of distance between the Old and the
New. Behind him the Past rolled away like a cloud vanishing, to be seen
no more,--before him arose the dim vista of wavering and uncertain
shadows, which no matter how they shifted and changed,--no matter how
many flashes of sunshine flickered through them,--were bound to close
in the thick gloom of the inevitable end,--Death. This is what he was
chiefly thinking of, seated alone in his garden-pavilion facing the sea
on that brilliant southern summer morning,--this,--and with the
thought came many others no less sad and dubious,--such as whether for
example, his eldest son might not already be eager for the crown?--
whether even now, though he had only reigned three years, his people
were not more or less dissatisfied under his rule?
His father, the late King, had died suddenly,--so suddenly that there
was neither help nor hope for him among the hastily summoned
physicians. Stricken numb and speechless, he kept his anguished eyes
fixed to the last upon his son, as one who should say--"Alas, and to
thee also, falls this curse of a Crown!" Once dead, he was soon
forgotten,--the pomp of the Royal obsequies merely made a gala-day for
the light-hearted Southern populace, who hailed the accession of their
new King with as much gladness as a child, who, having broken one doll,
straightway secures another as good, if not better. As Heir-Apparent
the succeeding sovereign had won great popularity, and was much more
generally beloved than his father had been,--so that it was on an extra
high wave of jubilation and acclamation that he and his beautiful
consort were borne to the Throne.
Three years had passed since then; and so far his reign had been
untroubled by much difficulty. Difficulty there was, but he was kept in
ignorance of it,--troubles were brooding, but he was not informed of
them. Things likely to be disagreeable were not conveyed to his ears,--
and matters which, had he been allowed to examine into them, might have
aroused his indignation and interference, were diplomatically hushed
up. He was known to possess much more than the limited intelligence
usually apportioned to kings; and certainly, as his tutor had said of
him in his youth, he was dangerously "disposed towards discursive
philosophies." He was likewise accredited with a conscience, which many
diplomats consider to be a wholly undesirable ingredient in the moral
composition of a reigning monarch. Therefore, those who move a king, as
in the game of chess, one square at a time and no more,--were
particularly cautious as to the 'way' in which they moved him. He had
shown himself difficult to manage once or twice; and interested persons
could not pursue their usual course of self-aggrandisement with him, as
he was not susceptible to flattery. He had a way of asking straight
questions, and what was still worse, expecting straight answers, such
as politicians never give.
Nevertheless he had, up to the present, ruled his conduct very much on
the lines laid down by his predecessors, and during his brief reign had
been more or less content to passively act in all things as his
ministers advised. He had bestowed honours on fools because his
ministers considered it politic,--he had given his formal consent to
the imposition of certain taxes on his people, because his ministers
had judged such taxes necessary,--in fact he had done everything he
was expected to do, and nothing that he was not expected to do. He had
not taken any close personal thought as to whether such and such a
political movement was, or was not, welcome to the spirit of the
nation, nor had he weighed intimately in his own mind the various
private interests of the members of his Government, in passing, or
moving the rejection of, any important measure affecting the well-being
of the community at large. And he had lately,--perhaps through the
objectionable 'discursive philosophies' before mentioned,--come to
consider himself somewhat of a stuffed Dummy or figure-head; and to
wonder what would be the result, if with caution and prudence, he were
to act more on his own initiative, and speak as he often thought it
would be wise and well to speak? He was but forty-five years old,--in
the prime of life, in the plenitude of health and mental vigour,--was
he to pass the rest of his days guarded by detectives, flunkeys and
physicians, with never an independent word or action throughout his
whole career to mark him Man as well as Monarch? Nay, surely that would
be an insult to the God who made him! But the question which arose in
his mind and perplexed him was, How to begin? How, after passive
obedience, to commence resistance? How to break through the miserable
conventionalism, the sordid commonplace of a king's surroundings? For
it is only in medieval fairy-tales that kings are permitted to be
Yet, despite custom and usage, he was determined to make a new
departure in the annals of modern sovereignty. Three years of
continuous slavery on the treadmill of the Throne had been sufficient
to make him thirst for freedom,--freedom of speech,--freedom of action.
He had tacitly submitted to a certain ministry because he had been
assured that the said ministry was popular,--but latterly, rumours of
discontent and grievance had reached him,--albeit indistinctly and
incoherently,--and he began to be doubtful as to whether it might not
be the Press which supported the existing state of policy, rather than
the People. The Press! He began to consider of what material this great
power in his country was composed. Originally, the Press in all
countries, was intended to be the most magnificent institution of the
civilized world,--the voice of truth, of liberty, of justice--a voice
which in its clamant utterances could neither be bribed nor biassed to
cry out false news. Originally, such was meant to be its mission;--but
nowadays, what, in all honesty and frankness, is the Press? What was
it, for example, to this king, who from personal knowledge, was able to
practically estimate and enumerate the forces which controlled it
thus:--Six, or at the most a dozen men, the proprietors and editors of
different newspapers sold in cheap millions to the people. Most of
these newspapers were formed into 'companies'; and the managers issued
'shares' in the fashion of tea merchants and grocers. False news, if of
a duly sensational character, would sometimes send up the shares in the
market,--true information would equally, on occasion, send them down.
These premises granted, might it not follow that for newspaper
speculators, the False would often prove more lucrative than the True?
And, concerning the persons who wrote for these newspapers,--of what
calling and election were they? Male and female, young and old, they
were generally of a semi-educated class lacking all distinctive
ability,--men and women who were, on an average, desperately poor, and
desperately dissatisfied. To earn daily bread they naturally had to
please the editors set in authority over them; hence their expressed
views and opinions on any subject could only be counted as _nil_,
being written, not independently, but under the absolute control of
their employers. Thus meditating, the King summed up the total of his
own mental argument, and found that the vast sounding 'power of the
Press' so far as his own dominion was concerned, resolved itself into
the mere trade monopoly of the aforesaid leading dozen men. What he now
proposed to himself to discover among other things, was,--how far and
how truly these dozen tradesmen voiced the mind of the People over whom
he was elected to reign? Here was a problem, and one not easy to solve.
But what was very plain and paramount to his mind was this,--that he
was thoroughly sick and tired of being no more than a 'social' figure
in the world's affairs. It was an effeminate part to play. It was time,
he considered, that he should intelligently try his own strength, and
test the nation's quality.
"If there is corruption in the state," he said to himself, "I will find
its centre! If I am fooled by my advisers then I will be fooled no
longer. With whatsoever brain and heart and reason and understanding
the Fates have endowed me, I will study the ways, the movements, the
desires of my people, and prove myself their friend, as well as their
king. Suppose they misunderstand me?--What matter!--Let the nation
rise against me an' it will, so that I may, before I die, prove myself
worthy of the mere gift of manhood! To-day"--and, rising from his
chair, he advanced a step or two and faced the sea and sky with an
unconscious gesture of invocation; "To-day shall be the first day of my
real monarchy! To-day I begin to reign! The past is past,--for eighteen
long years as prince and heir to the throne I trifled away my time
among the follies of the hour, and laughed at the easy purchase I could
make of the assumed 'honour' of men and women; and I enjoyed the
liberty and license of my position. Since then, for three years I have
been the prisoner of my Parliament,--but now--now, and for the rest of
the time granted to me on earth, I will live my life in the belief that
its riddle must surely meet with God's own explanation. To me it has
become evident that the laws of Nature make for Truth and Justice;
while the laws of man are framed on deception and injustice. The two
sets of laws contend one against the other, and the finite, after
foolish and vain struggle, succumbs to the infinite,--better therefore,
to begin with the infinite Order than strive with the finite Chaos! I,
a mere earthly sovereign, rank myself on the side of the Infinite,--
and will work for Truth and Justice with the revolving of Its giant
wheel! My people have seen me crowned,--but my real Coronation is to-
day--when I crown myself with my own resolve!"
His eyes flashed in the sunshine;--a rose shook its pink petals on the
ground at his feet. In one of the many pleasure-boats skimming across
the sea, a man was singing; and the words he sang floated distinctly
along on the landward wind.
"Let me be thine, O love,
But for an hour! I yield my heart and soul
Into thy power,--Let me be thine, O Love of mine,
But for an hour!"
The King listened, and a faint shadow darkened the proud light on his
"'But for an hour!'" he said half aloud--"Yes,--it would be enough!
No woman's love lasts longer!"
A NATION OR A CHURCH?
An approaching step echoing on the marble terrace warned him that he
was no longer alone. He reseated himself at his writing-table, and
feigned to be deeply engrossed in perusing various documents, but a
ready smile greeted the intruder as soon as he perceived who it was,--
one Sir Roger de Launay, his favourite equerry and intimate personal
"Time's up, is it, Roger?" he queried lightly,--then as the equerry
bowed in respectful silence--"And yet I have scarcely glanced at these
papers! All the same, I have not been idle--I have been thinking."
Sir Roger de Launay, a tall handsome man, with an indefinable air of
mingled good-nature and lassitude about him which suggested the
possibility of his politely urging even Death itself not to be so much
of a bore about its business, smiled doubtfully. "Is it a wise
procedure, Sir?" he enquired--"Conducive to comfort I mean?"
The King laughed.
"No--I cannot say that it is! But thought is a tonic which sometimes
restores a man's enfeebled self-respect. I was beginning to lose that
particular condition of health and sanity, Roger!--my self-respect was
becoming a flaccid muscle--a withering nerve;--but a little thought-
exercise has convinced me that my mental sinews are yet on the whole
Sir Roger offered no reply. His eyes expressed a certain languid
wonderment; but duty being paramount with him, and his immediate errand
being to remind his sovereign of an appointment then about due, he
began to collect the writing materials scattered about on the table and
put them together for convenient removal. The smile on the King's face
deepened as he watched him.
"You do not answer me, De Launay,"--he resumed, "You think perhaps that
I am talking in parables, and that my mind has been persuaded into a
metaphysical and rambling condition by an hour's contemplation of the
sunlight on the sea! But come now!--have you not yourself felt a
longing to break loose from the trammels of conventional routine,--to
be set free from the slavery of answering another's beck and call,--to
be something more than my attendant and friend----"
"Sir, more than your friend I have never desired to be!" said Sir
The King extended his hand with impulsive quickness, and Sir Roger as
he clasped it, bent low and touched it with his lips. There was no
parasitical homage in the act, for De Launay loved his sovereign with a
love little known at courts; loyally, faithfully, and without a
particle of self-seeking. He had long recognized the nobility, truth
and courage which graced and tempered the disposition of the master he
served, and knew him to be one, if not the only, monarch in the world
likely to confer some lasting benefit on his people by his reign.
"I tell you," pursued the King, "that there is something in the mortal
composition of every man which is beyond mortality, something which
clamours to be heard, and seen, and proved. We may call it conscience,
intellect, spirit or soul, and attribute its existence, to God, as a
spark of the Divine Essence, but whatever it is, it is in every one of
us; and there comes a moment in life when it must flame out, or be
quenched forever. That moment has come to me, Roger,--that something in
me must have its way!"
"Your Majesty no doubt desires the impossible!"--said Sir Roger with a
smile, "All men do,--even kings!"
"'Even kings!'" echoed the monarch--"You may well say 'even' kings!
What are kings? Simply the most wronged and miserable men on earth! I
do not myself put in a special claim for pity. My realm is small, and
my people are, for aught I can learn or am told of them, contented. But
other sovereigns who are my friends and neighbours, live, as it were,
under the dagger's point,--with dynamite at their feet and pistols at
their heads,--all for no fault of their own, but for the faults of a
system which they did not formulate. Conspirators on the threshold--
poison in the air,--as in Russia, for example!--where is the joy or the
pride of being a King nowadays?"
"Talking of poison," said Sir Roger blandly, as he placed the last
document of those he had collected, neatly in a leather case and
strapped it--"Your Majesty may perhaps feel inclined to defer giving
the promised audience to Monsignor Del Fords of the Society of Jesus?"
"By Heaven, I had forgotten him!" and the King rose. "This is what you
came to remind me of, Roger? He is here?"
De Launay bowed an assent.
"Well! We have kept a messenger of Mother Church waiting our pleasure,
--and not for the first time in the annals of history! But why do you
associate his name with poison?"
"Really, Sir, the connection is inexplicable,--unless it be the memory
of a religious lesson-book given to me in my childhood. It was an
illustrated treasure, and one picture showed me the Almighty in the
character of an old gentleman seated placidly on a cloud, smiling;--
while on the earth below, a priest, exactly resembling this Del Fortis,
poured a spoonful of something,--poison--or it might have been boiling
lead--down the throat of a heretic. I remember it impressed me very
much with the goodness of God."
He maintained a whimsical gravity as he spoke, and the King laughed.
"De Launay, you are incorrigible! Come!--we will go within and see this
Del Fortis, and you shall remain present during the audience. That will
give you a chance to improve your present impression of him. I
understand he is a very brilliant and leading member of his Order,--
likely to be the next Vicar-General. I know his errand,--the papers
concerning his business are there--," and he waved his hand towards the
leather case Sir Roger had just fastened--"Bring them with you!"
Sir Roger obeyed, and the King, stepping forth from the pavilion,
walked slowly along the terrace, watching the sparkling sea, the
flowering orange-trees lifting their slender tufts of exquisitely
scented bloom against the clear blue of the sky, the birds skimming
lightly from point to point of foliage, and the white-sailed yachts
dipping gracefully as the ocean rose and fell with every wild sweet
breath of the scented wind. Pausing a moment, he presently took out a
field-glass and looked through it at one of the finest and fairest of
these pleasure-vessels, which, as he surveyed it, suddenly swung round,
and began to scud away westward.
"The Prince is on board?" he asked.
"Yes, Sir," replied De Launay--"His Royal Highness intends sailing as
far as The Islands, and remaining there till sunset."
"Alone, as usual?"
"As usual, Sir, alone, save for his captain and crew."
The King walked on in silence for a minute. Then he paused abruptly.
"I do not like it, De Launay!"--he said decisively--"I do not like his
abnormal love of solitude. Books are all very well--poetry is in its
way excellent,--music, as we are told 'hath charms'--but the boy broods
too much, and stays away too much from Court. What woman attracts him?"
Sir Roger's eyes opened wide as the King turned suddenly round upon him
with this question.
"Woman, Sir? I know of none. The Prince is but twenty----"
"At twenty," said the King,--"boys love--the wrong girl. At thirty they
marry--the wrong woman. At forty they meet the only true and fitting
soul's companion,--and cry for the moon till the end! My son is in the
first stage, or I am much mistaken,--he loves--the wrong girl!"
He walked on,--and De Launay followed, with a vague sense of amusement
and disquietude in his mind. What had come to his Royal master, he
wondered? His ordinary manner had changed somewhat,--he spoke with less
than the customary formality, and there was an expression of freedom
and authority, combined with a touch of defiance in his face, that was
altogether new to the observation of the faithful equerry.
Arrived at the palace, and passing through one of the long and spacious
painted corridors, lit by richly coloured mullioned windows from end to
end, the King came face to face with a lady-in-waiting carrying a large
cluster of Madonna lilies. She drew aside, with a deep reverence, to
allow him to pass; but he stopped a moment, looking at the great
gorgeous white flowers faint with fragrance, and at the slight retiring
figure of the woman who held them.
"Are these for the chapel, Madame?" he asked.
"No, Sir! For the Queen."
'For the Queen!' A quick sigh escaped him. He still stood, caught by a
sudden abstraction, looking at the dazzling whiteness of the snowy
blooms, and thinking how fittingly they would companion his beautiful,
cold, pure Queen Consort, who had never from her marriage day uttered a
word of love to him, or given him a glance of tenderness. Their rich
odours crept into his warm blood, and the bitter old sense of
unfulfilled longing, longing for affection, for comprehension, for all
that he had not possessed in his otherwise brilliant life, vexed and
sickened him. He turned away abruptly, and the lady-in-waiting, having
curtsied once more profoundly, passed on with her glistening sheaf of
bloom and disappeared vision-like in a gleam of azure light falling
through one of the further and higher casements. The King watched her
disappear, the meditative line of sadness still puckering his brow,
then, followed by his equerry, he entered a small private audience
chamber, where Sir Roger de Launay notified an attendant gentleman
usher that his Majesty was ready to receive Monsignor Del Fortis.
During the brief interval occupied in waiting for his visitor's
approach, the King selected certain papers from those which Sir Roger
had brought from the garden pavilion and placed them in order on the
"For the past six months," he said "I have had this Jesuit's name
before me, and have been in twenty minds a month about granting or
refusing what his Society demands. The matter has been discussed in the
Press, too, with the usual pros and cons of hesitation, but it is the
People I am thinking of, the People! and I am just now in the humour to
satisfy a Nation rather than a Church!"
De Launay said nothing. His opinion was not asked.
"It is a case in which the temporal overbalances the spiritual,"
continued the King--"Which plainly proves that the spiritual must be
lacking in some essential point somewhere. For if the spiritual were
always truly of God, then would it always be the strongest. The
question which brings Monsignor Del Fortis here as special emissary of
the Vicar-General of the Society of Jesus, is simply this: Whether or
no a certain site in a particularly fertile tract of land belonging
chiefly to the Crown, shall be granted to the Jesuits for the purpose
of building thereon a church and monastery with schools attached. It
seems a reasonable request, set forth with an apparently religious
intention. Yet more than forty petitions have been sent in to me from
the inhabitants of the towns and villages adjacent to the lands,
imploring me to refuse the concession. By my faith, they plead as
eloquently as though asking deliverance from the plague! It is a
curious dilemma. If I grant the people's request I anger the priests;
if I satisfy the priests I anger the people."
"You mentioned a discussion in the Press, Sir--" hinted Sir Roger.
"Oh, the Press is like a weathercock--it turns whichever way the wind
of speculation blows. One day it is 'for,' another 'against.' In this
particular case it is diplomatically indifferent, except in one or two
cases where papal money has found its way into the newspaper offices."
At that moment the door was flung open, and Monsignor Del Fortis was
ceremoniously ushered into the presence of his Majesty. At the first
glance it was evident that De Launay had reasonable cause for
associating the mediaeval priestly torturer pictured in his early
lesson-book with the unprepossessing personage now introduced. Del
Fortis was a dark, resentful-looking man of about sixty, tall and thin,
with a long cadaverous face, very strongly pronounced features and
small sinister eyes, over which the level brows almost met across the
sharp bridge of nose. His close black garb buttoned to the chin,
outlined his wiry angular limbs with an almost painful distinctness,
and the lean right hand which he placed across his breast as he bowed
profoundly to the King, looked more like the shrunken hand of a corpse
than that of a living man. The King observed him attentively, but not
with favour; while thoughts, strange, and for him as a constitutional
monarch audacious, began to move in the undercurrents of his mind,
stirring him to unusual speech and action. Sir Roger, retiring to the
furthest end of the room stood with his back against the door, a fine
upright soldierly figure, as motionless as though cast in bronze,
though his eyes showed keen and sparkling life as they rested on his
Royal master, watching his every gesture, as well as every slightest
movement on the part of his priestly visitor.
"You are welcome, Monsignor Del Fortis,"--said the King, at last
breaking silence.--"To save time and trouble, I may tell you that I
need no explanation of the nature of your business."
The Jesuit bowed with an excessive humility.
"You wish me to grant to your Society," continued the monarch--"that
portion of the Crown lands named in your petition, to be held in your
undisputed possession for a long term of years,--and in order to
facilitate my consent to this arrangement, your Vicar-General has sent
you here to furnish the full details of your building scheme. Am I so
The priest's dark secretive eyes glittered craftily a moment as he
raised them to the open and tranquil countenance of the sovereign,--
then once again he bowed profoundly.
"Your Majesty has, with your customary care and patience, fully studied
the object of my errand"--he replied in a clear thin, somewhat rasping
voice, which he endeavoured to make smooth and conciliatory--"But it is
impossible that your Majesty, immersed every day in the affairs of
state, should have found time to personally go through the various
papers formally submitted to your consideration. Therefore, the Vicar-
General of our Order considered that if the present interview with your
Majesty could be obtained, I, as secretary and treasurer for the
proposed new monastery, might be able to explain the spiritual, as well
as the material advantages to be gained by the use of the lands for the
He spoke slowly, enunciating each word with careful distinctness.
"The spiritual part of the scheme is of course the most important to
you!"--said the King with a slight smile,--"But material advantages
are never entirely overlooked, even by holy men! Now I am merely a
'temporal' sovereign; and as such, I wish to know how your plan will
affect the people of the neighbouring town and district. What are your
intentions towards them? Their welfare is my chief concern; and what I
have to learn from you is,--How do you propose to benefit them by
maintaining a monastery, church and schools in their vicinity?"
Again Del Fortis gave a furtive glance upward. Seeing that the King's
eyes were steadily fixed upon him, he quickly lowered his own, and gave
answer in an evidently prepared manner.
"Sir, the people of the district in question are untaught barbarians.
It is more for their sakes,--more for the love of gathering the lost
sheep into the fold, than for our own satisfaction, that we seek to
pitch our tents in the desert of their ignorance. They, and their
children, are the prey of heathenish modern doctrines, which alas!--
are too prevalent throughout the whole world at this particular time,--
and, as they are at present situated, no restraint is exercised upon
them for the better controlling of their natural and inherited vices.
Unless the gentle hand of Mother Church is allowed to rescue these, her
hapless and neglected ones; unless she has an opportunity afforded her
of leading them out of the darkness of error into the light of eternal
He broke off, his eloquence being interrupted by a gesture from the
"There is a Government school in the town,"--said the monarch,
referring to one or two documents on the table before him.--"There is
also a Free Public Library, and a Free School of Art. Thus it does not
seem that education is quite neglected."
"Alas, Sir, such education is merely disastrous!" said Del Fortis, with
a deep sigh,--"Like the fruit on the tree of knowledge in the Garden of
Eden, it brings death to the soul!"
"You condemn the Government methods?" asked the King coldly.
The Jesuit moved uneasily, and a dull flush reddened his pale skin.
"Far be it from me, Sir, as a poor servant of the Church, to condemn
lawful authorities,--yet we should not forget that the Government is
temporal and changeable,--the Church is spiritual and changeless. We
cannot look for entire success in a scheme of popular education which
is not formulated under the guidance or the blessing of God!"
The King leaned forward a little in his chair, and surveyed him
"How do you know that it is not formulated under the guidance and
blessing of God?" he asked suddenly--"Has the Almighty given you His
special opinion and confidence on the matter?"
Monsignor Del Fortis started indignantly.
"Sir! Your Majesty----"
De Launay made a step forward, but the King motioned him back.
Accordingly he resumed his former position, but his equable temperament
was for once seriously disturbed. He saw that his Royal master was
evidently bent on speaking his mind; and he knew well what a dangerous
indulgence that is for all men who desire peace and quietness in their
"I am aware of what you would say," pursued the King--"You would say
that the Church--your Church--is the only establishment of the kind
which receives direct inspiration from the Creator of Universes. But I
do not feel justified in limiting the control of the Almighty to one
special orbit of Creed. You tell me that a government system of
education for the people is a purely temporal movement, and that, as
such, it is not blessed by the guidance of God. Yet the Pope seeks
'temporal' power! It is explained to us of course that he seeks it in
order that he may unite it to the spiritual in his own person,--
theoretically for the good of mankind, if practically for the
advancement of his own particular policy. But have you never thought,
Monsignor, that the marked severance of what you call 'temporal' power,
from what you equally call 'spiritual' power, is God's work? Inasmuch
as nothing can be done without God's will; for even if there is a devil
(which I am inclined to doubt) he owes his unhappy existence to God as
much as I do!"
He smiled; but Del Fortis stood rigidly silent, his head bent, and one
hand folded tight across his breast, an attitude Sir Roger de Launay
always viewed in every man with suspicion, as it suggested the
concealment of a weapon.
"You will admit" pursued the King, "that the action of human thought is
always progressive. Unfortunately your Creed lags behind human thought
in its onward march, thus causing the intelligent world to infer that
there must be something wrong with its teaching. For if the Church had
always been in all respects faithful to the teaching of her Divine
Master, she would be at this present time the supreme Conqueror of
Nations. Yet she is doing no more nowadays than she did in the middle
ages,--she threatens, she intimidates, she persecutes all who dare to
use for a reasonable purpose the brain God gave them,--but she does not
help on or sympathize with the growing fraternity and civilization of
the world. It is impossible not to recognize this. Yet I have a
profound respect for each and every minister of religion who honestly
endeavours to follow the counsels of Christ,"--here he paused,--then
added with slow and marked emphasis--"in whose Holy Name I devoutly
believe for the redemption of whatever there is in me worth redeeming;
--nevertheless my first duty, even in Christ, is plainly to the people
of the country over which I am elected to rule."
The flickering shadow of a smile passed over the Jesuit's dark
features, but he still kept silence.
"Therefore," went on the King--"it is my unpleasant task to be
compelled to inform you, Monsignor, that the inhabitants of the
district your Order seeks to take under its influence, have the
strongest objection to your presence among them. So strong indeed is
their aversion towards your Society, that they have petitioned me in
numerous ways, (and with considerable eloquence, too, for 'untaught
barbarians') to defend them from your visitation. Now, to speak truly,
I find they have all the advantages which modern advancement and social
improvement can give them,--they attend their places of public worship
in considerable numbers, and are on the whole decent, God-fearing,
order-loving subjects to the Throne,--and more I do not desire for them
or for myself. Criminal cases are very rare in the district,--and the
poor are more inclined to help than to defraud each other. All this is
so far good,--and, I should imagine,--not displeasing to God. In any
case, as their merely temporal sovereign, I must decline to give your
Order any control over them."
"You refuse the concession of land, Sir?" said Del Fortis, in a voice
that trembled with restrained passion.
"To satisfy those of my subjects who have appealed to me, I am
compelled to do so," replied the King.
"I pray your Majesty's pardon, but a portion of the land is held by
private persons who are prepared to sell to us----"
A quick anger flashed in the King's eyes.
"They shall sell to me if they sell at all,"--he said,--"I repeat,
Monsignor, the fact that the law-abiding people of the place have
sought their King's protection from priestly interference;--and,--by
Heaven!--they shall have it!"
There was a sudden silence. Sir Roger de Launay drew a sharp breath,--
his habitual languor of mind was completely dissipated, and he studied
the inscrutable face of Del Fortis with deepening suspicion and
disfavour. Not that there was the slightest sign of wrath or dismay on
the priest's well-disciplined countenance;--on the contrary, a chill
smile illumined it as he spoke his next words with a serious, if
somewhat forced composure.
"Your Majesty is, without doubt, all powerful in your own particular
domain of society and politics," he said--"But there is another Majesty
higher than yours,--that of the Church, before which dread and
infallible Tribunal even kings are brought to naught----"
"Monsignor Del Fortis," interrupted the King, "We have not met this
morning, I presume, to indulge in a religious polemic! My power is, as
you very truly suggest, merely temporal--yours is spiritual. Yours
should be the strongest! Go your way now to your Vicar-General with the
straight answer I have given you,--but if by your 'spiritual' power you
can persuade the people who now hate your Society, to love it,--to
demand it,--to beg that you may be permitted to found a colony among
them,--why, in that case, come to me again, and I will grant you the
land. I am not prejudiced one way or the other, but I will not hand
over any of my subjects to the influence of priestcraft, so long as
they desire me to defend them from it."
Del Fortis still smiled.
"Pardon me, Sir, but we of the Society of Jesus are your subjects also,
and we judge you to be a Christian and Catholic monarch----"
"As I am, most assuredly!" replied the King--"Christian and Catholic
are words which, if I understand their meaning, please me well!
'Christian' expresses a believer in and follower of Christ,--'Catholic'
means universal, by which, I take it, is intended wide, universal love
and tolerance without sect, party, or prejudice. In this sense the
Church is not Catholic--it is merely the Roman sect. Nor are you truly
my subjects, since you have only one ruler, the Supreme Pontiff,--with
whom I am somewhat at variance. But, as I have said, we are not here to
indulge in argument. You came to proffer a request; I have given you the
only answer I conceive fitting with my duty;--the matter is concluded."
Del Fortis hesitated a moment,--then bowed low to the ground;--anon,
lifting himself, raised one hand with an invocative gesture of profound
"I commend your Majesty to the mercy of God, that He may in His wisdom,
guard your life and soften your heart towards the ministers of His Holy
Religion, and bring you into the ways of righteousness and peace! For
the rest, I will report your Majesty's decision to the Vicar-General."
"Do so!"--rejoined the King--"And assure him that the decision is
unalterable,--unless the inhabitants of the place concerned desire to
have it revoked."
Again Del Fortis bowed.
"I humbly take my leave of your Majesty!"
The monarch looked at him steadfastly as he made another salutation,
and backed out of the presence-chamber. Sir Roger de Launay opened the
door for him with alacrity, handing him over into the charge of an
usher with the whispered caution to see him well off the Royal
premises; and then returning to his sovereign, stood "at attention."
The King noted his somewhat troubled aspect, and laughed.
"What ails you, De Launay?" he asked--"You seem astonished that for
once I have spoken my mind?"
"Sir, to speak one's mind is always dangerous!"
"Dangerous--danger!--What idle words to make cowards of men! Danger--of
what? There is only one danger--death; and that is sure to come to
every man, whether he be a hero or a poltroon."
"But--what? De Launay, if you love me, do not look at me with so
expostulatory an air! It does not become your inches! Now listen!--when
the next press reporter comes nosing round for palace news, let him be
told that the King has refused permission to the Jesuits to build on
any portion of the Crown lands demanded for the purpose. Let this be
made known to Press and People--the sooner the better!"
"Sir," murmured De Launay--"We live in strange times----"
"Why, there you speak most truly!" said the King, with emphasis--"We do
live in strange times--the very strangest perhaps, since Aeneas Sylvius
wrote concerning Christendom. Do you remember the words he set down so
long ago?--'It is a body without a head,--a republic without laws or
magistrates. The pope or the emperor may shine as lofty titles, as
splendid images,--but they are unable to command, and no one is
willing to obey!' History thus repeats itself, De Launay;--and yet with
all its past experience, the Roman Church does not seem to realize that
it is powerless against the attacks of intellectual common sense. Faith
in God,--a high, perfect, pure faith in God, and a simple following of
the Divine Teacher of God's command, Christ;--these things are wise and
necessary for all nations; but, to allow human beings to be coerced by
superstition for political motives, under the disguise of religion, is
an un-Christian business, and I for one will have no part in it!"
"You will lay yourself open to much serious misconstruction, Sir," said
"Let us hope so, Roger!" rejoined the King with a smile--"For if I am
never misunderstood, I shall know myself to be a fool! Come,--do not
look so glum!--I want you to help me."
"To help you, Sir?" exclaimed De Launay eagerly,--"With my life, if
you demand it!"
The King rested one hand familiarly on his shoulder.
"I would rather take my own life than yours, De Launay!" he said--"No,
--whatever difficulties I get myself into, you shall not suffer! But--as
I told you a while ago,--there is something in me that must have its
way. I am sick to death of conventionalities,--you must help me to
break through them! You are right in saying that we live in strange
times;--they are strange times!--and they may perchance be all the
better for a strange King!"
Some hours later on, Sir Roger de Launay, having left his Sovereign's
presence, and being off duty for a time, betook himself to certain
apartments in the west wing of the palace, where the next most trusted
personage to himself in the confidence of the King, had his domicile,--
Professor von Glauben, resident physician to the Royal Household.
Heinrich von Glauben was a man of somewhat extraordinary character and
individuality. In his youth he had made a sudden meteoric fame for his
marvellous skill and success in surgery, as also for his equally
surprising quickness and correctness in diagnosing obscure diseases and
tracing them to their source. But, after creating a vast amount of
discussion and opposition among his confrères, and almost reaching that
brilliant point of triumph when his originality and cleverness were
proved great enough to win him a host of enemies, he all at once threw
up the game as it were, and, resigning the favourable opportunities of
increasing distinction offered him in his native Germany, accepted the
comparatively retired and private position he now occupied. Some said
it was a disappointment in love which had caused his abrupt departure
from the Fatherland,--others declared it was irritation at the severe
manner in which his surgical successes had been handled by the medical
critics,--but whatever the cause, it soon became evident that he had
turned his back on the country of his birth for ever, and that he was
apparently entirely satisfied with the lot he had chosen. His post was
certainly an easy and pleasant one,--the members of the Royal family to
which his services were attached were exceptionally healthy, as Royal
families go; and he was seldom in more than merely formal attendance,
so that he had ample time and opportunity to pursue those deeper forms
of physiological study which had excited the wrath and ridicule of his
contemporaries, as well as to continue the writing of a book which he
intended should make a stir in the world, and which he had entitled
"The Moral and Political History of Hunger."
"For," said he--"Hunger is the primal civilizer,--the very keystone
and foundation of all progress. From the plain, prosy, earthy fact that
man is a hungry animal, and must eat, has sprung all the civilization
of the world! I shall demonstrate this in my book, beginning with the
scriptural legend of Adam's greed for an apple. Adam was evidently
hungry at the moment Eve tempted him. As soon as he had satisfied his
inner man, he thought of his outer,--and his next idea was, naturally,
tailoring. From this simple conjunction of suggestions, combined with
what 'God' would have to say to him concerning his food-experiment and
fig-leaf apron, man has drawn all his religions, manners, customs and
morals. The proposition is self-evident,--but I intend to point it out
with somewhat emphasised clearness for the benefit of those persons who
are inclined to arrogate to themselves the possession of superior
wisdom. Neither brain nor soul has placed man in a position of
Supremacy,--merely Hunger and Nakedness!"
The Professor was now about fifty-five, but his exceptionally powerful
build and robust constitution gave him the grace in appearance of many
years younger, though perhaps the extreme composure of his temperament,
and the philosophic manner in which he viewed all circumstances,
whether pleasing or disastrous, may have exercised the greatest
influence in keeping his eyes clear and clean, and his countenance free
of unhandsome wrinkles. He was more like a soldier than a doctor, and
was proud of his resemblance to the earlier portraits of Bismarck. To
see him in his own particular 'sanctum' surrounded by weird-looking
diagrams of sundry parts of the human frame, mysterious phials and
stoppered flasks containing various liquids and crystals, and all the
modern appliances for closely examining the fearful yet beautiful
secrets of the living organism, was as if one should look upon a rough
and burly giant engaged in some delicate manipulation of mosaics. Yet
Von Glauben's large hand was gentler than a woman's in its touch and
gift of healing,--no surgeon alive could probe a wound more tenderly,
or with less pain to the sufferer,--and the skill of that large hand
was accompanied by the penetrative quality of the large benevolent
brain which guided it,--a brain that could encompass the whole circle
of the world in its observant and affectionate compassion.
"Ach!--who is there that can be angry with anyone?--impatient with
anyone,--offended with anyone!" he was wont to say--"Everybody suffers
so much and so undeservedly, that as far as my short life goes I have
only time for pity--not condemnation!"
To this individual, as a kind of human calmative and tonic combined,
Sir Roger de Launay was in the habit of going whenever he felt his own
customary tranquillity at all disturbed. The two were great friends;--
friends in their mutual love and service of the King,--friends in their
equally mutual but discreetly silent worship of the Queen,--and friends
in their very differences of opinion on men and matters in general. De
Launay, being younger, was more hasty of judgment and quick in action;
but Von Glauben too had been known to draw his sword with unexpected
rapidity on occasion, to the discomfiture of those who deemed him only
at home with the scalpel. Just now, however, he was in a particularly
non-combative and philosophic mood; he was watching certain animalculae
wriggling in a glass tube, the while he sat in a large easy-chair with
slippered feet resting on another chair opposite, puffing clouds of
smoke from a big meerschaum,--and he did not stir from his indolent
attitude when De Launay entered, but merely looked up and smiled
"Sit down, Roger!" he said,--then, as De Launay obeyed the invitation,
he pushed over a box of cigars, and added--"You look exceedingly tired,
my friend! Something has bored you more than usual? Take a lesson from
those interesting creatures!" and he pointed with the stem of his pipe
to the bottled animalculae--"They are never bored,--never weary of doing
mischief! They are just now living under the pleasing delusion that the
glass tube they are in is a man, and that they are eating him up alive.
Little devils! Nothing will exhaust their vitality till they have
gorged themselves to death! Just like a great many human beings!"
"I am not in the mood for studying animalculae," said De Launay
irritably, as he lit a cigar.
"No? But why not? They are really quite as interesting as ourselves!"
"Look here, Von Glauben, I want you to be serious--"
"My friend, I am always serious," declared the Professor--"Even when I
laugh, I laugh seriously. My laughter is as real as myself."
"What would you think,"--pursued De Launay--"of a king who freely
expressed his own opinions?"
"I should say he was a brave man," answered the Professor; "He would
certainly deserve my respect, and he should have it. Even if the laws
of etiquette were not existent, I should feel justified in taking off
my hat to him."
"Never from henceforth wear a hat at all then," said De Launay--"It
will save you the trouble of continually doffing it at every glimpse of
Von Glauben drew his pipe from his mouth and gazed blankly at the
ceiling for a few moments in silence. "His Majesty?" he presently
"Yes; our Majesty--our King"--replied De Launay--"For some inscrutable
reason or other he has suddenly adopted the dangerous policy of
speaking his mind. What now?"
"What now? Why nothing particular just now,--unless you have something
to tell me. Which, judging from your entangled expression of eye, I
presume you have."
De Launay hesitated a moment. The Professor saw his hesitation.
"Do not speak, my friend, if you think you are committing a breach of
confidence," he said composedly--"In the brief affairs of this life, it
is better to keep trouble on your own mind than impart it to others."
"Oh, there is no breach of confidence;" said De Launay, "The thing is
as public as the day, or if it is not public already, it soon will be
made so. That is where the mischief comes in,--or so I think. Judge for
yourself!" And in a few words he gave the gist of the interview which
had taken place between the King and the emissary of the Jesuits that
"Nothing surprises me as a rule,"--said the Professor, when he had
heard all--"But if anything could prick the sense of astonishment anew
in me, it would be to think that anyone, king or commoner, should take
the trouble to speak truth to a Jesuit. Why, the very essence of their
carefully composed and diplomatic creed, is to so disguise truth that
it shall be no more recognisable. Myself, I believe the Jesuits to be
the lineal descendants of those priests who served Bel and the Dragon.
The art of conjuring and deception is in their very blood. It is for
the Jesuits that I have invented a beautiful new verb,--'To
hypocrise.' It sounds well. Here is the present tense,--'I hypocrise,
Thou hypocrisest, He hypocrises:--We hypocrise, You hypocrise, They
hypocrise.' Now hear the future. 'I shall hypocrise, Thou shalt
hypocrise, He shall hypocrise; We shall hypocrise, You shall hypocrise,
They shall hypocrise.' There is the whole art of Jesuitry for you, made
De Launay gave a gesture of impatience, and flung away the end of his
"Ach! That is a sign of temper, Roger!" said Von Glauben, shaking his
head--"To lift one's shoulders to the lobes of one's ears, and waste
nearly the half of an exceedingly expensive and choice Havana, shows
nervous irritation! You are angry, my friend--and with me!"
"No I am not," replied De Launay, rising from his chair and beginning
to pace the room--"But I do not profess to have your phlegmatic
disposition. I feel what I thought you would feel also,--that the King
is exposing himself to unnecessary danger. And I know what you do not
yet know, but what this letter will no doubt inform you,"--and he drew
an envelope bearing the Royal seal from his pocket and handed it to the
Professor--"Namely,--that his Majesty is bent on rushing voluntarily
into various other perils, unless perhaps, your warning or advice may
hinder him. Mine has no effect,--moreover I am bound to serve him as
"Equally am I also bound to serve him;"--said Von Glauben, "And gladly
and faithfully do I intend to perform my service wherever it may lead
me!" Whereupon, shaking himself out of his recumbent position, like a
great lion rolling out of his lair, he stood upright, and breaking the
seal of the envelope he held, read its contents through in silence. Sir
Roger stood opposite to him, watching his face in vain for any sign of
astonishment, regret or dismay.
"We must do as he commands,"--he said simply as he finished reading the
letter and folded it up for safe keeping--"There is no other way; not
for me at least. I shall most assuredly be at the appointed place, at
the appointed hour, and in the appointed manner. It will be a change;
certainly lively, and possibly beneficial!"
"But the King's life--"
"Is in God's keeping!" said Von Glauben,--"Believe me, Roger, no harm
comes undeservedly to a brave man with a good conscience! It is a bad
conscience which invites mischief. I am a great believer in the law of
attraction. The good attracts the good,--the bad, the bad. That is why
truthful persons are generally lonely--because nearly all the world's
inhabitants are liars!"
"But the King--" again began Sir Roger.
"The King is a man!" said Von Glauben, with a flash of pride in his
eyes--"Which is more than I will say for most kings! Who shall blame
him for asserting his manhood? Not I! Not you! Who shall blame him for
seeking to know the real position of things in the country he governs?
Not I! Not you! Our business is to guard and defend him--with our own
lives, if necessary,--we shall do that with a will, Roger, shall we
not?" And with an impulsive quickness of action, he took a sword from a
stand of weapons near him, drew it from its scabbard and kissing the
hilt, held it out to De Launay who did the same--"That is understood!
And for the rest, Roger my friend, take it all lightly and easily--as a
farce!--as a bit of human comedy, with a great actor cast for the chief
role. We are only supers, you and I, but we shall do well to stand near
the wings in case of fire!"
He drew himself up to his great height and squared his shoulders,--then
"I believe it will be all very amusing, Roger; and that your fears for
the safety of his Majesty will be proved groundless. Remember, Court
life is excessively dull,--truly the dullest form of existence on
earth,--it is quite natural that he who is the most bored by it should
desire some break in the terrible monotony!"
"The monotony will certainly be broken with a vengeance, if the King
continues in his present humour!"--said De Launay grimly.
"Possibly! And let us hope the comfortable self-assurance and
complacency of a certain successful Minister may be somewhat seriously
disturbed!" rejoined Von Glauben,--"For myself, I assure you I see
"And I scent danger,"--said De Launay--"For if any mischance happen to
the King, the Prince is not ripe enough to rule."
A slight shadow darkened the Professor's open countenance. He looked
fixedly at Sir Roger, who met his gaze with equal fixity.
"The Prince,"--he said slowly--"is young--"
"And rash--" interposed De Launay.
"No. Pardon me, my friend! Not rash. Merely honest. That is all! He is
a very honest young man indeed. It is unfortunate that he is so; a
ploughman may be honest if he likes, but a prince--never!"
De Launay was silent.
"I will now destroy a world"--continued Von Glauben, "Kings, emperors,
popes, councillors and common folk, can all perish incontinently,--as--
being myself for the present the free agent of the Deity concerned in
the matter,--I have something else to do than to look after them,"--and
he took up the glass vessel containing the animalculae he had been
watching, and cast it with its contents into a small stove burning
dimly at one end of the apartment,--"Gone are their ambitions and
confabulations for ever! How easy for the Creator to do the same thing
with us, Roger! Let us not talk of any special danger for the King or
for any man, seeing that we are all on the edge of an eternal volcano!"
De Launay stood absorbed for a moment, as if in deep thought. Then
rousing himself abruptly he said:--
"You will not see the King, and speak with him before to-morrow night?"
"Why should I?" queried the Professor. "His wish is a command which I
must obey. Besides, my good Roger, all the arguments in the world will
not turn a man from having his own way if he has once made up his own
mind. Advice from me on the present matter would be merely taken as an
impertinence. Moreover I have no advice to give,--I rather approve of
Sir Roger looked at him; and noting the humorous twinkle in his eyes
smiled, though somewhat gravely.
"I hope, with you, that the experiment may only prove an amusing one,"
he said--"But life is not always a farce!"
"Not always, but often! When it is not a farce it is a tragedy. And
such a tragedy! My God! Horrible--monstrous--cruel beyond conception,
and enough to make one believe in Hell and doubt Heaven!"
He spoke passionately, in a voice vibrating with strong emotion. De
Launay glanced at him wonderingly, but did not speak.
"When you see tender young children tortured by disease," he went on,--
"Fair and gentle women made the victims of outrage and brutality--
strong men killed in their thousands to gain a little additional gold,
an extra slice of empire,--then you see the tragic, the inexplicable,
the crazy cruelty of putting into us this little pulse called Life. But
I try not to think of this--it is no use thinking!"
He paused,--then in his usual quiet tone said:
"To-morrow night, then, my friend?"
"To-morrow night," rejoined De Launay,--"Unless you receive further
instructions from the King."
At that moment the clear call of a trumpet echoing across the
battlements of the palace denoted the hour for changing the sentry.
"Sunset already!" said Von Glauben, walking to the window and throwing
back the heavy curtain which partially shaded it, "And yonder is Prince
Humphry's yacht on its homeward way."
De Launay came and stood beside him, looking out. Before them the sea
glistened with a thousand tints of lustrous opal in the light of the
sinking sun, which, surrounded by mountainous heights of orange and
purple cloud, began to touch the water-line with a thousand arrowy
darts of flame. The white-sailed vessel on which their eyes were fixed,
came curtseying over the waves through a perfect arch of splendid
colour, like a fairy or phantom ship evoked from a poet's dream.
"Absent all day, as he has been," said De Launay, "his Royal Highness
is punctual to the promised hour of his return."
"He is, as I told you, honest;" said Von Glauben, "and it is possible
his honesty will be his misfortune."
De Launay muttered something inaudible in answer, and turned to leave
Von Glauben looked at him with an affectionate solicitude.
"What a lucky thing it is you never married, Roger! Otherwise you would
now be going to tell your wife all about the King's plans! Then she,
sweet creature, would go to confession,--and her confessor would tell a
bishop,--and a bishop would tell a cardinal,--and a cardinal would
tell a confidential monsignor,--and the confidential monsignor would
tell the Supreme Pontiff,--and so all the world would be ringing with
the news started by one little pretty wagging tongue of a woman!"
A faint flush coloured De Launay's bronzed cheek, but he laughed.
"True! I am glad I have never married. I am still more glad--of
circumstances"--he paused,--then went on, "which have so chanced to me
that I shall never marry." He paused again--then added--"I must be
gone, Von Glauben! I have to meet Prince Humphry at the quay with a
message from his Majesty."
"Surely," said the Professor, opening his eyes very wide, "The Prince
is not to be included in our adventure?"
"By no means!" replied De Launay,--"But the King is not pleased with
his son's frequent absences from Court, and desires to speak with him
on the matter."
Von Glauben looked grave.
"There will be some little trouble there," he said, with a half sigh--
"Ach! Who knows! Perhaps some great trouble!"
"Heaven forbid!" ejaculated Sir Roger,--"We live in times of peace. We
want no dissension with either the King or the people. Till to-morrow
"Till to-morrow night!" responded Von Glauben, whereupon Sir Roger with
a brief word of farewell, strode away.
Left to himself, the Professor still stood at his window watching the
approach of the Prince's yacht, which came towards the shore with such
swift and stately motion through the portals of the sunset, over the
"Unfortunate Humphry!" he muttered,--"What a secret he has entrusted me
with! And yet why do I call him unfortunate? There should be nothing to
regret--and yet--! Well! The mischief was done before poor Heinrich
von Glauben was consulted; and if poor Heinrich were God and the Devil
rolled into one strange Eternal Monster, he could not have prevented
it! What is done, can never be undone!"
"IF I LOVED YOU!"
A singular pomp is sometimes associated with the announcement that my
Lord Pedigree, or Mister Nobody has 'had the honour of dining' with
their Majesties the King and Queen. Outsiders read the thrilling line
with awe and envy,--and many of them are foolish enough to wish that
they also were Lords Pedigree or Misters Nobody. As a matter of sad and
sober fact, however, a dinner with royal personages is an extremely
dull affair. 'Do not speak unless you are spoken to,' is a rule which,
however excellent and necessary in Court etiquette, is apt to utterly
quench conversation, and render the brightest spirits dull and inert.
The silent and solemn movements of the Court flunkeys,--the painful
attitudes of those who are _not_ 'spoken to'; the eager yet
laboured smiles of those who _are_ 'spoken to ';--the melancholy
efforts at gaiety--the dread of trespassing on tabooed subjects--these
things tend to make all but the most independent and unfettered minds
shrink from such an ordeal as the 'honour' of dining with kings. It
must, however, be conceded that the kings themselves are fully aware of
the tediousness of their dinner parties, and would lighten the boredom
if they could; but etiquette forbids. The particular monarch whose
humours are the subject of this 'plain unvarnished' history would have
liked nothing better than to be allowed to dine in simplicity and peace
without his conversation being noted, and without having a flunkey at
hand to watch every morsel of food go into his mouth. He would have
liked to eat freely, talk freely, and conduct himself generally with
the ease of a private gentleman.
All this being denied to him, he hated the dinner-hour as ardently as
he hated receiving illuminated addresses, and the freedom of cities.
Yet all things costly and beautiful were combined to make his royal
table a picture which would have pleased the eyes and taste of a
Marguerite de Valois. On the evening of the day on which he had
determined, as he had said to himself, to 'begin to reign,' it looked
more than usually attractive. Some trifling chance had made the floral
decorations more tasteful--some amiable humour of the providence which
rules daily events, had ordained that two or three of the prettiest
Court ladies should be present;--Prince Humphry and his two brothers,
Rupert and Cyprian, were at table,--and though conversation was slow
and scant, the picturesqueness of the scene was not destroyed by
silence. The apartment which was used as a private dining-room when
their Majesties had no guests save the members of their own household,
was in itself a gem of art and architecture,--it had been designed and
painted from floor to ceiling by one of the most famous of the dead and
gone masters, and its broad windows opened out on a white marble loggia
fronting the ocean, where festoons of flowers clambered and hung, in
natural tufts and trails of foliage and blossom, mingling their sweet
odours with the fresh scent of the sea. Amid all the glow and delicacy
of colour, the crowning perfection of the perfect environment was the
Queen-Consort, lovelier in her middle-age than most women in their
teens. An exquisite figure of stateliness and dignity, robed in such
hues and adorned with such jewels as best suited her statuesque beauty,
and attended by ladies of whose more youthful charms she was never
envious, having indeed no cause for envy, she was a living defiance to
the ravages of time, and graced her royal husband's dinner-table with
the same indifferent ease as she graced his throne, unchanging in the
Back to Full Books