Part 2 out of 11
dazzling light of her physical faultlessness. He, looking at her with
mingled impatience and sadness, almost wished she would grow older in
appearance with her years, and lose that perfect skin, white as
alabaster,--that glittering but cold luminance of eye. For experience
had taught him the worthlessness of beauty unaccompanied by tenderness,
and fair faces had no longer the first attraction for him. His eldest
son, Prince Humphry, bore a strong resemblance to himself,--he was tall
and slim, with a fine face, and a well-built muscular figure; the other
two younger princes, Rupert and Cyprian, aged respectively eighteen and
sixteen, were like their mother,--beautiful in form and feature, but as
indifferent to all tenderness of thought and sentiment as they were
full of splendid health and vigour. And, despite the fact that the
composition and surroundings of his household were, to all outward
appearances, as satisfactory as a man in his position could expect them
to be, the King was intellectually and spiritually aware of the
emptiness of the shell he called 'home.'
Love was lacking; his beautiful wife was the ice-wall against which all
waves of feeling froze as they fell into the stillness of death. His
sons had been born as the foals of a racing stud might be born,--merely
to continue the line of blood and succession. They were not the dear
offspring of passion or of tenderness. The coldness of their mother's
nature was strongly engendered in them, and so far they had never shown
any particular affection for their parents. The princes Rupert and
Cyprian thought of nothing all day but sports and games of skill; they
studied serious tasks unwillingly, and found their position as sons of
the reigning monarch, irksome, and even ridiculous. They had caught the
infection of that diseased idea which in various exaggerated forms is
tending to become more or less universal, and to work great mischief to
nations,--namely, that 'sport' is more important than policy, and that
all matters relating to 'sport,' are more worth attention than wisdom
in government. Of patriotism, or love of country they had none; and
laughed to scorn the grand old traditions and sentiments of national
glory and honour, which had formerly inspired the poets of their land
to many a wild and beautiful chant of battle or of victory. How to pass
the day--how best to amuse themselves--this was their first thought on
waking every morning,--football, cricket, tennis and wrestling formed
their chief subjects of conversation; and though they had professors
and tutors of the most qualified and certificated ability, they made no
secret of their utter contempt for all learning and literature. They
were fine young animals; but did less with the brains bestowed upon
them than the working bee who makes provision of honey for the winter,
or the swallow that builds its nest under warmly sheltered eaves.
Prince Humphry, however, was of a different nature. From a shy,
somewhat unmanageable boy, he had developed into a quiet, dreamy youth,
fond of books, music, and romantic surroundings. He avoided the company
of his brothers whenever it was possible; their loud voices, boisterous
spirits and perpetual chatter concerning the champions of this or that
race or match, bored him infinitely, and he was at no pains to disguise
his boredom. During the last year he seemed to have grown up suddenly
into full manhood,--he had begun to assert his privileges as Heir-
Apparent, and to enjoy the freedom his position allowed him. Yet the
manner of his enjoyment was somewhat singular for a young man who
formed a central figure in the circle of the land's Royalty,--he cared
nothing at all for the amusements and dissipations of the time; he
merely showed an abnormal love of solitude, which was highly
unflattering to fashionable society. It was on this subject that the
King had decided to speak with him,--and he watched him with closer
attention than usual on this particular evening when his habit of
absenting himself all day in his yacht had again excited comment. It
was easy to see that the Prince had been annoyed by the message Sir
Roger de Launay had conveyed to him on his arrival home,--a message to
the effect that, as soon as dinner was concluded, he was required to
attend his Majesty in private; and all through the stately and formal
repast, his evident irritation and impatience cast a shadow of vague
embarrassment over the royal party,--with the exception of the princes
Rupert and Cyprian, who were never embarrassed by anything, and who
were more apt to be amused than disquieted by the vexation of others.
Welcome relief was at last given by the serving of coffee,--and the
Queen and all her ladies adjourned to their own apartments. With their
departure the rest of the circle soon dispersed, there being no special
guests present; and at a sign from De Launay, Prince Humphry
reluctantly followed his father into a small private smoking-room
adjacent to the open loggia, where the equerry, bowing low, left the
For a moment the King kept silence, while he chose a cigar from the
silver box on the table. Then, lighting it, he handed the box
courteously to his son.
"Will you smoke, Humphry?"
The King seated himself; Prince Humphry remained standing.
"You had a favourable wind for your expedition today;" said the monarch
at last, beginning to smoke placidly--"I observe that The Islands
appear to have won special notice from you. What is the attraction? The
climate or the scenery?"
The Prince was silent.
"I like fine scenery myself,--" continued the King--"I also like a
change of air. But variation in both is always desirable,--and for
this, it is unwise to go to the same place every day!"
Still the Prince said nothing. His father looked up and studied his
face attentively, but could guess nothing from its enigmatical
"You seem tongue-tied, Humphry!" he said--"Come, sit down! Let us talk
this out. Can you not trust me, your father, as a friend?"
"I wish I could!" answered the young man, half inaudibly.
"And can you not?"
"No. You have never loved me!"
The King drew his cigar from his mouth, and flicking off a morsel of
ash, looked at its end meditatively.
"Well--no!--I cannot say honestly that I have. Love,--it is a
ridiculous word, Humphry, but it has a meaning on certain occasions!--
love for the children of your mother is an impossibility!"
"Sir, I am not to blame for my mother's disposition."
"True--very true. You are not to blame. But you exist. And that you do
exist is a fact of national importance. Will you not sit down?"
"At your command, Sir!" and the Prince seated himself opposite his
father, who having studied his cigar sufficiently, replaced it between
his lips and went on smoking for a few minutes before he spoke again.
Then he resumed:--
"Your existence, I repeat, Humphry, is a fact of national importance.
To you falls the Throne when I have done with it, and life has done
with me. Therefore, your conduct,--your mode of life--your example in
manners--concern, not me, so much as the nation. You say that you
cannot trust me as a friend, because I have never loved you. Is not
this a somewhat childish remark on your part? We live in a very
practical age--love is not a necessary tie between human beings as
things go nowadays;--the closest bond of friendship rests on the basis
of cash accounts."
"I am perfectly aware of that!" said the Prince, fixing his fine dark
eyes full on his father's face--"And yet, after all, love is such a
vital necessity, that I have only to look at you, in order to realize
the failure and mistake of trying to do without it!"
The King gave him a glance of whimsical surprise.
"So!--you have begun to notice what I have known for years!" he said
lightly--"Clever young man! What fine fairy finger is pointing out to
you my deficiencies, while supplying your own? Do you learn to estimate
the priceless value of love while contemplating the romantic groves and
woodlands of The Islands? Do you read poetry there?--or write it? Or
Prince Humphry coloured,--then grew very pale.
"When I misuse my time, Sir," he said--"Surely it will then be needful
to catechise me on the manner in which I spend it,--but not till then!"
"Fairly put!" answered the King--"But I have an idea--it may be a
mistaken idea,--still I have it--that you _are_ misusing your
time, Humphry! And this is the cause of our present little discussion.
If I knew that you occupied yourself with the pleasures befitting your
age and rank, I should be more at ease."
"What do you consider to be the pleasures befitting my age and rank?"
asked the Prince with a touch of satire; "Making a fool of myself
The King smiled.
"Well!--it would be better to make a fool of yourself generally than
particularly! Folly is not so harmful when spread like jam over a whole
slice of bread,--but it may cause a life-long sickness, if swallowed in
one secret gulp of sweetness!"
The Prince moved uneasily.
"You think I am catechising you,--and you resent it--but, my dear boy,
let me again remind you that you are in a manner answerable to the
nation for your actions; and especially to that particular section of
the nation called Society. Society is the least and worst part of the
whole community--but it has to be considered by such servants of the
public as ourselves. You know what James the First of England wrote
concerning the 'domestic regulations' on the conduct of a prince and
future king? 'A king is set as one on a stage, whose smallest, actions
and gestures all the people gazinglie do behold; and, however just in
the discharge of his office, yet if his behaviour be light or
dissolute, in indifferent actions, the people, who see but the outward
part, conceive preoccupied conceits of the king's inward intention,
which although with time, the trier of all truth, will evanish by the
evidence of the contrarie effect, yet, _interim patitur justus_,
and prejudged conceits will, in the meantime, breed contempt, the
mother of rebellion and disorder.' Poor James of the 'goggle eyes and
large hysterical heart' as Carlyle describes him! Do you not agree with
his estimate of a royal position?"
"I am not aware, Sir, that my behaviour can as yet be called light or
dissolute;" replied the Prince coldly, with a touch of hauteur.
"I do not call it so, Humphry"--said the King--"To the best of my
knowledge, your conduct has always been most exemplary. But with all
your excessive decorum, you are mysterious. That is bad! Society will
not endure being kept in the dark, or outside the door of things, like
a bad child! It wants to be in the room, and know everything and
everybody. And this reminds me of another point on which the good
English James offers sound advice. 'Remember to be plaine and sensible
in your language; for besides, it is the tongue's office to be the
messenger of the mind, it may be thought a point of imbecilitie of
spirit, in a king to speak obscurely, much more untrewly, as if he
stood in awe of any in uttering his thoughts.' That is precisely your
mood at the present moment, Humphry,--you stand 'in awe'--of me or of
someone else,--in 'uttering your thoughts.'"
"Pardon me, Sir,--I do not stand in awe of you or of anyone;" said the
Prince composedly--"I simply do not choose to 'utter my thoughts' just
The King looked at him in surprise, and with a touch of admiration. The
defiant air he had unconsciously assumed became him,--his handsome face
was pale, and his dark eyes coldly brilliant, like those of his
beautiful mother, with the steel light of an inflexible resolve.
"You do not choose?" said the King, after a pause--"You decline to give
any explanation of your long hours of absence?--your constant visits to
The Islands, and your neglect of those social duties which should keep
you at Court?"
"I decline to do so for the present," replied the young man decisively;
"I can see no harm in my preference for quietness rather than noise,--
for scenes of nature rather than those of artificial folly. The Islands
are but two hours sail from this port,--little tufts of land set in the
sea, where the coral-fishers dwell. They are beautiful in their natural
adornment of foliage and flower;--I go there to read--to dream--to
think of life as a better, purer thing than what you call 'society'
would make it for me; you cannot blame me for this?"
The King was silent.
"If it is your wish,"--went on the Prince--"that I should stay in the
palace more, I will obey you. If you desire me to be seen oftener in
the capital, I will endeavour to fulfil your command, though the
streets stifle me. But, for God's sake, do not make me a puppet on show
before my time,--or marry me to a woman I hate, merely for the sake of
heirs to a wretched Throne!"
The King rose from his chair, and, walking towards the garden, threw
the rest of his cigar out among the foliage, where the burning morsel
shone like a stray glowworm in the green. Then he turned towards his
son;--his face was grave, almost stern.
"You can go, Humphry!" he said;--"I have no more to say to you at
present. You talk wildly and at random, as if you were, by some means
or other, voluntarily bent upon unfitting yourself for the position you
are destined to occupy. You will do well, I think, to remain more in
evidence at Court. You will also do well to be seen at some of the
different great social functions of the day. But I shall not coerce
you. Only--consider well what I have said!--and if you have a secret"--
he paused, and then repeated with emphasis--"I say, if you have a
secret of any kind, be advised, and confide in me before it is too
late! Otherwise you may find yourself betrayed unawares! Good-night!"
He walked away without throwing so much as a backward glance at the
Prince, who stood amazed at the suddenness and decision with which he
had brought the conversation to a close; and it was not till his tall
figure had disappeared that the young man began to realize the doubtful
awkwardness of the attitude he had assumed towards one who, both as
parent and king, had the most urgent claim in the world upon his
respect and obedience. Impatient and angry with himself, he crossed the
loggia and went out into the garden beyond. A young moon, slender as a
bent willow wand, gleamed in the clear heavens among hosts of stars
more brilliantly visible than itself, and the soft air, laden with the
perfume of thousands of flowers, cooled his brain and calmed his
nerves. The musical low murmur of the sea, lapping against the shore
below the palace walls, suggested a whole train of pleasing and
poetical fancies, and he strolled along the dewy grass paths, under
tangles of scented shrubs and arching boughs of pine, giving himself up
to such idyllic dreams of life and life's fairest possibilities, as
only youthful and imaginative souls can indulge in. He was troubled and
vexed by his father's warning, but not sufficiently to pay serious heed
to it. His 'secret' was safe so far;--and all he had to do, so he
considered, was to exercise a little extra precaution.
"There is only Von Glauben,"--he thought, "and he would never betray
me. Besides it is a mere question of another year--and then I can make
all the truth known."
The lovely long-drawn warble of a nightingale broke the stillness
around him with a divine persistence of passion. He listened, standing
motionless, his eyes lifted towards the dark boughs above him, from
whence the golden notes dropped liquidly; and his heart beat quickly as
he thought of a voice sweeter than that of any heavenly-gifted bird, a
face fairer than that of the fabled goddess who on such a night as this
descended from her silver moon-car to enchant Endymion;--and he
murmured half aloud--
"Who would not risk a kingdom--ay! a thousand kingdoms!--for such
happiness as I possess! It is a foolish, blind world nowadays, that
forgets the glory of its youth,--the glow, the breath, the tenderness
of love!--all for amassing gold and power! I will not be of such a
world, nor with it;--I will not be like my father, the slave of pomp
and circumstance;--I will live an unfettered life--yes!--even if I have
to resign the throne for the sake of freedom, still I will be free!"
He strolled on, absorbed in romantic reverie, and the nightingale's
song followed him through the winding woods down to the shore, where
the waves made other music of their own, which harmonised with the
dreamy fancies of his mind.
Meanwhile, the King had sought his consort in her own apartments.
Walking down the great corridor which led to these, the most beautiful
rooms in the palace, he became aware of the silvery sound of stringed
instruments mingling with harmonious voices,--though he scarcely heeded
the soft rush of melody which came thus wafted to his ears. He was full
of thoughts and schemes,--his son's refusal to confide in him had not
seriously troubled him, because he knew he should, with patience, find
out in good time all that the young Prince had declined to explain,--
and his immediate interest was centred in his own immediate plans.
On reaching the ante-room leading to the Queen's presence-chamber, he
was informed that her Majesty was listening to a concert in the rosery.
Thither he went unattended,--and passing through a long suite of
splendid rooms, each one more sumptuously adorned than the last, he
presently stepped out on the velvet greensward of one of the most
perfect rose gardens in the world--a garden walled entirely round with
tall hedges of the clambering flowers which gave it its name, and which
were trailed up on all sides, so as to form a ceiling or hanging canopy
above. In the centre of this floral hall, now in full blossom, a
fountain tossed up one tall column of silver spray; and at its upper
end, against a background of the dainty white roses called "Felicité
perpétuelle" sat the Queen, in a high chair of carved ivory, surrounded
by her ladies. Delicious music, performed by players and singers who
were hidden behind the trees, floated in voluptuous strains upon the
air, and the King, looking at the exquisite grouping of fair women and
flowers, lit by the coloured lamps which gleamed here and there among
the thick foliage, wondered to himself how it chanced, that amid
surroundings which were calculated to move the senses to the most
refined and delicate rapture, he himself could feel no quickening
pulse, no touch of admiration. These open-air renderings of music and
song were the Queen's favourite form of recreation;--at such times
alone would her proud face soften and her eyes grow languid with an
unrevealed weight of dreams. But should her husband, or any one of his
sex break in upon the charmed circle, her pleasure was at once
clouded,--and the cold hauteur of her beautiful features became again
inflexibly frozen. Such was the case now, when perceiving the King, she
waved her hand as a sign for the music to cease; and with a glance of
something like wonderment at his intrusion, saluted him profoundly as
he entered the precincts of her garden Court. But for once he did not
pause as usual, on his way to where she sat,--but lightly acknowledging
the deep curtseys of the ladies in attendance, he advanced towards her
and raising her hand in courtly homage to his lips, seated himself
carelessly in a low chair at her feet.
"Let the music go on!" he said; "I am here to listen."
The Queen looked at him,--he met her eyes with an expression that she
had never seen on his face before.
"Suffer me to have my way!" he said to her in a low tone--"Let your
singers finish their programme; afterwards do me the favour to dismiss
your women, for I must speak with you alone."
She bent her head in acquiescence; and re-seated herself on her ivory
throne. The sign was given for the continuance of the music, and the
King, leaning back in his chair, half closed his eyes as he listened
dreamily to the harmonious throbbing of harps and violins around him,
in the stillness of the languid southern night. His hand almost brushed
against his wife's jewelled robes--the scent of the great lilies on her
breast was wafted to him with every breath of air, and he thought--"All
this would be Paradise,--with any other woman!" And while he so
thought, the clear tenor voice of one of the unseen singers rang out in
half gay, half tender tones:
If I loved you, and you loved me,
How happy this little world would be--
The light of the day, the dancing hours,
The skies, the trees, the birds and flowers,
Would all be part of our perfect gladness;--
And never a note of pain or sadness
Would jar life's beautiful melody
If I loved you, and you loved me!
'If I loved you!' Why, I scarcely know
How if I did, the time would go!--
I should forget my dreary cares,
My sordid toil, my long despairs,
I should watch your smile, and kneel at your feet,
And live my life in the love of you, Sweet!--
So mad, so glad, so proud I should be,
If I loved you, and you loved me!
'If you loved me!' Ah, nothing so strange
As that could chance in this world of change!--
As well expect a planet to fall,
Or a Queen to dwell in a beggar's hall--
But if you did,--romance and glory
Might spring from our lives' united story,
And angels might be less happy than we--
If I loved you and you loved me!
'If I loved you and you loved me!'
Alas, 't is a joy we shall never see!
You are too fair--I am too cold;--
We shall drift along till we both grow old,
Till we reach the grave, and gasping, die,
Looking back on the days that have passed us by,
When 'what might have been,' can no longer be,--
When I lost you, and you lost me!
The song concluded abruptly, and with passion;--and the King, turning
on his elbow, glanced with a touch of curiosity at the face of his
Queen. There was not a flicker of emotion on its fair cold calmness,--
not a quiver on the beautiful lips, or a sigh to stir the quiet breast
on which the lilies rested, white and waxen, and heavily odorous. He
withdrew his gaze with a half smile at his own folly for imagining that
she could be moved by a mere song to any expression of feeling,--even
for a moment,--and allowed his glance to wander unreservedly over the
forms and features of the other ladies in attendance who, conscious of
his regard, dropped their eyelids and blushed softly, after the fashion
approved by the heroines of the melodramatic stage. Whereat he began to
think of the tiresome sameness of women generally; and their irritating
habit of living always at two extremes,--either all ardour, or all
"Both are equally fatiguing to a man's mind," he thought impatiently--
"The only woman that is truly fascinating is the one who is never in
the same mind two days together. Fair on Monday, plain on Tuesday,
sweet on Wednesday, sour on Thursday, tender on Friday, cold on
Saturday, and in all moods at once on Sunday,--that being a day of
rest! I should adore such a woman as that if I ever met her, because I
should never know her mind towards me!"
A soft serenade rendered by violins, with a harp accompaniment, was
followed by a gay mazurka, played by all the instruments together,--and
this finished the musical programme.
The Queen rose, accepting the hand which the King extended to her, and
moved with him slowly across the rose-garden, her long snowy train
glistering with jewels, and held up from the greensward by a pretty
page, who, in his picturesque costume of rose and gold, demurely
followed his Royal lady's footsteps,--and so amid the curtseying
ladies-in-waiting and other attendants, they passed together into a
private boudoir, at the threshold of which the Queen's train-bearer
dropped his rich burden of perfumed velvet and gems, and bowing low,
left their Majesties together.
Shutting the door upon him with his own hand, the King drew a heavy
portière across it,--and then walking round the room saw that every
window was closed,--every nook secure. The Queen's boudoir was one of
the most sacred corners in the whole palace,--no one, not even the most
intimate lady of the Court in personal attendance on her Majesty, dared
enter it without special permission; and this being the case, the Queen
herself was faintly moved to surprise at the extra precaution her
husband appeared to be taking to ensure privacy. She stood silently
watching his movements till he came up to her, and bowing courteously,
"I pray you, be seated, Madam! I will not detain you long."
She obeyed his gesture, and sank down in a chair with that inimitable
noiseless grace which made every attitude of hers a study for an
artist, and waited for his next words; while he, standing opposite to
her, bent his eyes upon her face with a certain wistfulness and appeal.
"I have never asked you a favour," he began--"and--since the day we
married,--I have never sought your sympathy. The years have come and
gone, leaving no visible trace on either you or me, so far as outward
looks go,--and if they have scarred and wrinkled us inwardly, only God
can see those scars! But as time moves on with a man,--I know not how
it is with a woman,--if he be not altogether a fool, he begins to
consider the way in which he has spent, or is spending his life,--
whether he has been, or is yet likely to be of any use to the world he
lives in,--or if he is of less account than the blown froth of the sea,
or the sand on the shore. Myriads and myriads of men and women are no
more than this--no more than midges or ants or worms;--but every now
and then in the course of centuries, one man does stand forth from the
million,--one heart does beat courageously enough to send the firm echo
of its pulsations through a long vista of time,--one soul does so exalt
and inspire the rest of the world by its great example that we are,
through its force reminded of something divine,--something high and
true in a low wilderness of shams!"
He paused; the Queen raised her beautiful eyes, and smiled strangely.
"Have you only just now thought of this?" she said.
He flushed, and bit his lip.
"To be perfectly honest with you, Madam, I have thought of nothing
worth thinking about for many years! Most men in my position would
probably make the same confession. Perhaps had you given me any great
work to do for your sake I should have done it! Had _you_ inspired
me to achieve some great conquest, either for myself or others, I
should no doubt have conquered! But I have lived for twenty-one years
in your admirable company without being commanded by you to do anything
worthy of a king;--I am now about to command Myself!--in order to leave
some notable trace of my name in history."
While he thus spoke, a faint flush coloured the Queen's cheeks, but it
quickly died away, leaving her very pale. Her fingers strayed among the
great jewels she wore, and toyed unconsciously with a ruby talisman cut
in the shape of a heart, and encircled with diamonds. The King noted
the flash of the gems against the whiteness of her hand, and said:
"Your heart, Madam, is like the jewel you hold!--clear crimson, and
full of fire,--but it is not the fire of Heaven, though you may
perchance judge it to be so. Rather is it of hell!--(I pray you to
pardon me for the roughness of this suggestion!)--for one of the chief
crimes of the devil is unconquerable hatred of the human race. You
share Satan's aversion to man!--and strange indeed it is that even the
most sympathetic companionship with your own sex cannot soften that
aversion! However, we will not go into this;--the years have proved you
true to your own temperament, and there is nothing to be said on the
matter, either of blame or of praise. As I said, I have never asked a
favour of you, nor have I sought the sympathy which it is not in your
nature to give. I have not even claimed your obedience in any
particular strictness of form; but that is my errand to you to-night,--
indeed it is the sole object of this private interview,--to claim your
entire, your unfaltering, your implicit obedience!"
She raised her head haughtily.
"To what commands, Sir?" she asked.
"To those I have here written,--" and he handed her a paper folded in
two, which she took wonderingly, as he extended it. "Read this
carefully!--and if you have any objections to urge, I am willing to
listen to you with patience, though scarcely to alter the conditions
He turned away, and walked slowly through the room, pausing a moment to
whistle to a tiny bird swinging in a gilded cage, that perked up its
pretty head at his call and twittered with pleasure.
"So you respond to kindness, little one!" he said softly,--"You are
more Christ-like in that one grace than many a Christian!"
He started, as a light touch fell on his shoulder, and he saw the Queen
standing beside him. She held the paper he had given her in one hand,
and as he looked at her enquiringly she touched it with her lips, and
placed it in her bosom.
"I swear my obedience to your instructions, Sir!" she said,--"Do not
fear to trust me!"
Gently he took her hands and kissed them.
"I thank you!" he said simply.
For a moment they confronted each other. The beautiful cold woman's
eyes drooped under the somewhat sad and searching gaze of the man.
"But--your life!--" she murmured.
"My life!" He laughed and dropped her hands. "Would you care, Madam, if
I were dead? Would you shed any tears? Not you! Why should you? At this
late hour of time, when after twenty-one years passed in each other's
close company we are no nearer to each other in heart and soul than if
the sea murmuring yonder at the foot of these walls were stretching its
whole width between us! Besides--we are both past our youth! And,
according to certain highly instructed scientists and philosophers, the
senses and affections grow numb with age. I do not believe this theory
myself--for the jejune love of youth is as a taper's flame to the great
and passionate tenderness of maturity, when the soul, and not the body,
claims its due; when love is not dragged down to the vulgar level of
mere cohabitation, after the fashion of the animals in a farmyard, but
rises to the best height of human sympathy and intelligent
comprehension. Who knows!--I may experience such a love as that yet,--
and so may you!"
She was silent.
"Talking of love,"--he went on--"May I ask whether our son,--or rather
the nation's son, Humphry,--ever makes you his confidante?"
"Never!" she replied.
"I thought not! We do not seem to be the kind of parents admired in
moral story-books, Madam! We are not the revered darlings of our
children. In fact, our children have the happy disposition of animal
cubs,--once out of the nursing stage, they forget they ever had
parents. It is quite the natural and proper thing, born as they were
born,--it would never do for them to have any over-filial regard for
us. Imagine Humphry weeping for my death, or yours! What a grotesque
idea! And as for Rupert and Cyprian,--it is devoutly to be hoped that
when we die, our funerals may be well over before the great cricket
matches of the year come on, as otherwise they will curse us for having
left the world at an inconvenient season!" He laughed. "How sentiment
has gone out nowadays, or how it seems to have gone out! Yet it
slumbers in the heart of the nation,--and if it should ever awaken,--
well!--it will be dangerous! I asked you about Humphry, because I
imagine he is entangled in some love-affair. If it should be agreeable
to your humour to go with me across to The Islands one day this week,
we may perhaps by chance discover the reason of his passion for that
particular kind of scenery!"
The Queen's eyes opened wonderingly.
"The Islands!" she repeated,--"The Islands? Why, only the coral-fishers
live there,--they have a community of their own, and are jealous of all
strangers. What should Humphry do there?"
"That is more than I can tell you," answered the King,--"And it is more
than he will himself explain. Nevertheless, he is there nearly every
day,--some attraction draws him, but what, I cannot discover. If
Humphry were of the soul of me, as he is of the body of me, I should
not even try to fathom his secret,--but he is the nation's child--heir
to its throne--and as such, it is necessary that we, for the nation's
sake, should guard him in the nation's interests. If you chance to
learn anything of the object of his constant sea-wanderings, I trust
you will find it coincident with your pleasure to inform me?"
"I shall most certainly obey you in this, Sir, as in all other things!"
He moved a step or two towards her.
"Good-night!" he said very gently, and detaching one of the lilies from
her corsage, took it in his own hand. "Good-night! This flower will
remind me of you;--white and beautiful, with all the central gold deep
He looked at her intently, with a lingering look, half of tenderness,
half of regret, and bowing in the courtliest fashion of homage, left
She remained alone, the velvet folds of her train flowing about her
feet, and the jewels on her breast flashing like faint sparks of flame
in the subdued glow of the shaded lamplight. She was touched for the
first time in her life by the consciousness of something infinitely
noble, and altogether above her in her husband's nature. Slowly she
drew out the paper he had given her from her bosom and read it through
again--and yet once again. Almost unconsciously to herself a mist
gathered in her eyes and softened into two bright tears, which dropped
down her fair cheeks, and lost themselves among her diamonds.
"He is brave!" she murmured--"Braver than I thought he could ever be--"
She roused herself sharply from her abstraction. Emotions which were
beyond her own control had strangely affected her, and the humiliating
idea that her moods had for a moment escaped beyond her guidance made
her angry with herself for what she considered mere weakness. And
passing quickly out of the boudoir, in the vague fear that solitude
might deepen the sense of impotence and failure which insinuated itself
slowly upon her, like a dull blight creeping through her heart and
soul, she rejoined her ladies, the same great Queen as ever, with the
same look of indifference on her face, the same chill smile, the same
perfection of loveliness, unwithered by any visible trace of sorrow or
The next day the heavens were clouded; and occasional volleys of heavy
thunder were mingled with the gusts of wind and rain which swept over
the city, and which lashed the fair southern sea into a dark semblance
of such angry waves as wear away northern coasts into bleak and rocky
barrenness. It was disappointing weather to multitudes, for it was the
feast-day of one of the numerous saints whose names fill the calendar
of the Roman Church,--and a great religious procession had been
organized to march from the market-place to the Cathedral, in which two
or three hundred children and girls had been chosen to take part. The
fickle bursts of sunshine which every now and again broke through the
lowering sky, decided the priests to carry out their programme in spite
of the threatening storm, in the hope that it would clear off
completely with the afternoon. Accordingly, groups of little maidens,
in white robes and veils, began to assemble with their flags and
banners at the appointed hour round the old market cross, which,--grey
and crumbling at the summit,--bent over the streets like a withered
finger, crook'd as it were, in feeble remonstrance at the passing of
time,--while glimpses of young faces beneath the snowy veils, and
chatter of young voices, made brightness and music around its frowning
and iron-bound base. Shortly before three o'clock the Cathedral bells
began to chime, and crowds of people made their way towards the sacred
edifice in the laughing, pushing, gesticulating fashion of southerners,
to whom a special service at the Church is like a new comedy at the
theatre,--women with coloured kerchiefs knotted over their hair or
across their bosoms--men, more or less roughly clad, yet all paying
compliment to the Saint's feast-day by some extra smart touch in their
attire, if it were only a pomegranate flower or orange-blossom stuck in
their hats, or behind their ears. It was a mixed crowd, all of the
working classes, who are proverbially called 'the common,' as if those
who work, are not a hundred times more noble than those who do nothing!
A few carriages, containing some wealthy ladies of the nobility, who,
to atone for their social sins, were in the habit of contributing
largely to the Church, passed every now and again through the crowd,
but taken as a spectacle it was simply a 'popular' show, in which the
children of the people took part, and where the people themselves were
evidently more amused than edified.
While the bells were ringing the procession gradually formed;--a dozen
or more priests leading,--incense-bearers and acolytes walking next,--
and then the long train of little children and girls carrying their
symbolic banners, following after. The way they had to walk was a
steep, winding ascent, through tortuous streets, to the Cathedral,
which stood in the centre of a great square on an eminence which
overlooked the whole city, and as soon as they started they began to
sing,--softly at first, then more clearly and sweetly, till gradually
the air grew full of melody, rising and falling on the capricious gusts
of wind which tore at the gilded and emblazoned banners, and tossed the
white veils of the maidens about like wreaths of drifting snow. Two men
standing on the Cathedral hill, watched the procession gradually
ascending--one tall and heavily-built, with a dark leonine head made
more massive-looking by its profusion of thick and unmanageable hair--
the other lean and narrow-shouldered, with a peaked reddish-auburn
beard, which he continually pulled and twitched at nervously as though
its growth on his chin was more a matter of vexation than convenience.
He was apparently not so much interested in the Church festival as he
was in his companion's face, for he was perpetually glancing up at that
brooding countenance, which, half hidden as it was in wild hair and
further concealed by thick moustache and beard, showed no expression at
all, unless an occasional glimpse of full flashing eyes under the bushy
brows, gave a sudden magnetic hint of something dangerous and not to be
"You do not believe anything you hear or read, Sergius Thord!" he said
--"Will you twist your whole life into a crooked attitude of suspicion
against all mankind?" He who was named Sergius Thord, lifted himself
slowly from the shoulders upwards, the action making his great height
and broad chest even more apparent than before. A gleam of white teeth
shone under his black moustache.
"I do not twist my life into a crooked attitude, Johan Zegota," he
replied. "If it is crooked, others have twisted it for me! Why should I
believe what I hear, since it is the fashion to lie? Why should I
accept what I read, since it is the business of the press to deceive
the public? And why do you ask me foolish questions? You should be
better instructed, seeing that your creed is the same as mine!"
"Have I ever denied it?" exclaimed Zegota warmly--"But I have said, and
I say again that I believe the news is true,--and that these howling
hypocrites,--" this with an angry gesture of his hand towards the open
square where the chanting priests who headed the procession were coming
into view--"have truly received an unlooked-for check from the King!"
Sergius Thord laid one hand heavily on his shoulder.
"When the King--when any king--does anything useful in the world, then
you may hang me with your own hands, Zegota! When did you ever hear,
except in myths of the past, of a monarch who cared for his people more
than his crown? Tell me that! Tell me of any king who so truly loved
the people he was called upon to govern, that he sacrificed his own
money, as well as his own time, to remedy their wrongs?--to save them
from unjust government, to defend them from cruel taxation?--to see
that their bread was not taken from their mouths by foreign
competition?--and to make it possible for them to live in the country
of their birth in peace and prosperity? Bah! There never was such a
king! And that this man,--who has for three years left us to the mercy
of the most accursed cheat and scoundrel minister that ever was in
power,--has now declared his opposition to the Jesuits', is more than I
will or can believe."
"If it were true?"--suggested Zegota, with a more than usually vicious
tug at his beard.
"If it were true, it would not alter my opinion, or set aside my
intention," replied Thord,--"I would admit that the King had done one
good deed before going to hell! Look! Here come the future traitresses
of men--girls trained by priests to deceive their nearest and dearest!
Poor children! They know nothing as yet of the uses to which their
lives are destined! If they could but die now, in their innocent faith
and stupidity, how much better for all the world!"
As he spoke, the wind, swooping into the square, and accompanied by a
pattering gust of rain, fell like a fury upon the leaders of the
religious procession and tore one of the great banners out of the hands
of the priest who held it, beating it against his head and face with so
much force that he fell backward to the ground under its weight, while
from a black cloud above, a flash of lightning gleamed, followed almost
instantaneously by a loud clap of thunder, which shook the square with
a mighty reverberation like that of a bursting bomb. The children
screamed,--and ran towards the Cathedral pellmell; and for a few
moments there ensued indescribable confusion, the priests, the people,
and the white-veiled girls getting mixed together in a wild hurly-
burly. Sergius Thord suddenly left his companion's side, and springing
on a small handcart that stood empty near the centre of the square, his
tall figure rose up all at once like a dark apparition above the heads
of the assembled crowd, and his voice, strong, clear, and vibrating
with passion, rang out like a deep alarm bell, through all the noise of
"Whither are you going, O foolish people? To pray to God? Pray to Him
here, then, under the flash of His lightning!--in the roll of His
thunder!--beneath His cathedral-canopy of clouds! Pray to Him with all
your hearts, your brains, your reason, your intelligence, and leave
mere lip-service and mockery to priests; and to these poor children,
who, as yet, know no better than to obey tyrants! Would you find out
God? He is here--with me,--with you!--in the earth, in the sky, in the
sun and storm! Whenever Truth declares a living fact, God speaks,--
whenever we respond to that Truth, God hears! No church, no cathedral
contains His presence more than we shall find it here--with us--where
The people heard, and a great silence fell upon them. All faces were
turned toward the speaker, and none appeared to heed the great drops of
fast-falling rain. One of the priests who was trying to marshal the
scattered children into their former order, so that they might enter
the Cathedral in the manner arranged for the religious service, looked
up to see the cause of the sudden stillness, and muttered a curse under
his breath. But even while the oath escaped his lips, he gave the
signal for the sacred chanting to be resumed, and in another moment the
'Litany of the Virgin' was started in stentorian tones by the leaders
of the procession. Intimidated by the looks, as well as by the commands
of the priests, the girls and children joined in the chanting with
tremulous voices, as they began to file through the Cathedral doors and
enter the great nave. But a magnetic spell, stronger than any
invocation of the Church, had fallen upon the crowd, and they all stood
as though caught in the invisible web of some enchanter, their faces
turned upwards to where Thord's tall figure towered above them. His
eyes glittered as he noted the sudden hush of attention which
prevailed, and lifting his rough cap from his head, he waved it towards
the open door of the Cathedral, through which the grand strains of the
organ rolling out from within gave forth solemn invitation:--
"Sancta Dei Genitrix, Ora pro nobis!"
sang the children, as they passed in line under the ancient porch,
carved with the figures of forgotten saints and bishops, whose stone
countenances had stared at similar scenes through the course of long
"Sancta Dei Genitrix, ora pro nobis!" echoed Sergius Thord--"Do you
hear it, O men? Do you hear it, O women? What does it teach you? 'Holy
Mother of God!' Who was she? Was she not merely a woman to whom God
descended? And what is the lesson she gives you? Plainly this--that men
should be as gods, and women as the mothers of gods! For every true and
brave man born into the world has God within him,--is made of God, and
must return to God! And every woman who gives birth to one such, true,
brave man, has given a God-incarnated being to the world! 'Sancta Dei
Genitrix!' Be all as mothers of gods, O women! Be as gods, O men! Be as
gods in courage, in truth, in wisdom, in freedom! Suffer not devils to
have command of you! For devils there are, as there are gods;--evil
there is, as there is good. Fiends are born of women as gods are--and
yet evil itself is of God, inasmuch as without God there can be neither
evil nor good. Let us help God, we His children, to conquer evil by
conquering it in ourselves--and by refusing to give it power over us!
So shall God show us all goodness,--all pity! So shall He cease to
afflict His children; so will He cease to torture us with undeserved
sorrows and devilish agonies, for which we are not to blame!"
He paused. The singing had ceased; the children's procession had
entered the Cathedral, and the doors still stood wide open. But the
people remained outside, crowded in the square, and gathering
momentarily in greater numbers.
"Look you!" cried Sergius Thord--"The building which is called the
Sanctuary of God, stands open--why do you not all enter there? Within
are precious marbles, priceless pictures, jewels and relics--and a
great altar raised up by the gifts of wicked dead kings, who by money
sought to atone for their sins to the people. There are priests who
fast and pray in public, and gratify all the lusts of appetite in
private. There are poor and ignorant women who believe whatsoever these
priests tell them--all this you can see if you go inside yonder. Why do
you not go? Why do you remain with me?"
A faint murmur, like the rising ripple of an angry sea, rose from the
crowd, but quickly died away again into silence.
"Shall I tell you why you stay?" went on Thord,--"Because you know I
am your friend--and because you also know that the priests are your
enemies! Because you know that I tell you the truth, and that the
priests tell you lies! Because you feel that all the promises made to
you of happiness in Heaven cannot explain away to your satisfaction the
causes of your bitter suffering and poverty on earth! Because you are
gradually learning that the chief business of priestcraft is to deceive
the people and keep them down,--down, always down in a state of
wretched ignorance. Learn, learn all you can, my brothers--take the
only good thing modern government gives you--Education! Education is
thrown at us like a bone thrown to a dog, half picked by others and
barely nourishing--but take it, take it, friends, for in it you shall
find the marrow of vengeance on your tyrants and oppressors! The
education of the masses means the downfall of false creeds,--the ruin
of all false priests! For it is only through the ignorance of the many
that tyrannical dominion is given into the hands of the few! Slavish
submission to a corrupt government would be impossible if we all
refused to be slaves. O friends, O brothers, throw off your chains!
Break down your prison doors! Some good you have done already--be brave
and strong to do more! Press forward fearlessly and strive for liberty
and justice! To-day we are told that the King has refused crown-lands
to the Jesuits. Shall we be told to-morrow that the King has dismissed
Carl Pérousse from office?"
A long wild shout told how this suggestion had gone straight home to
"Shall we be told this, I ask? No! Ten thousand times no! The refusal
of the King to grant the priests any wider dominion over us is merely
an act of policy inspired by terror. The King is afraid! He fears the
people will revolt against the Church, and so takes part with them lest
there should be trouble in the land, but he never seems to think there
may be another kind of revolt against himself! His refusal to concede
more place for the accursed practice of Jesuitry is so far good; but
his dismissal of Pérousse would be still better!"
A perfect hurricane of applause from the people gave emphatic testimony
to the truth of these words.
"What is this man, Carl Pérousse?" he went on--"A man of the people--
whose oaths were sworn to the people,--whom the people themselves
brought into power because he promised to remain faithful to them! He
is false,--a traitor and political coward! A mere manufacturer of
kitchen goods, who through our folly was returned to this country's
senate;--and through our still further credulity is now set in almost
complete dominion over us. Well! We have suffered and are suffering for
our misplaced belief in him;--the question is, how long shall we
continue to suffer? How long are we to be governed by the schemes of
Carl Pérousse, the country's turncoat,--the trafficker in secret with
Jew speculators? It is for you to decide! It is for you to work out
your own salvation! It is for you to throw off tyranny, and show
yourselves free men of reason and capacity! Just as the priests chant
long prayers to cover their own iniquity, so do the men of government
make long speeches to disguise their own corruption. You know you
cannot believe their promises. Neither can you believe the press, for
if this is not actually bought by Pérousse, it is bribed. And you
cannot trust the King; for he is as a house divided against itself
which must fall! Slave of his own passions, and duped by women, what is
he but a burden to the State? Justice and power should be on the side
of kings,--but the days are come when self-interest and money can even
buy a throne! O men, O women, rouse up your hearts and minds to work
for yourselves, to redress wrongs,--to save your country! Rouse up in
your thousands, and with your toil-worn hands pull down the pillars of
iniquity and vice that overshadow and darken the land! Fight against
the insolent pride of wealth which strives to crush the poor; rouse,
rouse your hearts!--open your eyes and see the evils which are
gathering thick upon us!--and like the lightnings pent up in yonder
clouds, leap forth in flame and thunder, and clear the air!"
A burst of frantic acclamation from the crowd followed this wild
harangue, and while the loud roar of voices yet echoed aloft, a band of
armed police came into view, marching steadily up from the lower
streets of the city. Sergius Thord smiled as he saw them approach.
"Yonder comes the Law!" he said--"A few poor constables, badly paid,
who if they could find anything better to do than to interfere with
their fellow-men would be glad of other occupation! Before they come
any nearer, disperse yourselves, my friends, and so save them trouble!
Go all to your homes and think on my words;--or enter the Cathedral
and pray, those who will--but let this place be as empty of you in five
minutes as though you never had been here! Disperse,--and farewell! We
shall meet again!"
He leaped down from his position and disappeared, and in obedience to
his command the crowd began to melt away with almost miraculous speed.
Before the police could reach the centre of the square, there were only
some thirty or forty people left, and these were quietly entering the
Cathedral where the service for the saint whose feast day was being
celebrated was now in full and solemn progress.
For one instant, on the first step of the great porch, Sergius Thord
and his companion, Johan Zegota, met,--but making a rapid sign to each
other with the left hand, they as quickly separated,--Zegota to enter
the Cathedral, Thord to walk rapidly down one of the narrowest and most
unfrequented streets to the lower precincts of the city.
The afternoon grew darker, and the weather more depressing, and by the
time evening closed in, the rain was pouring persistently. The wind had
ceased, and the thunder had long since died away, its force drenched
out by the weight of water in the clouds. The saint's day had ended
badly for all concerned;--many of the children who had taken part in
the procession had been carried home by their parents wet through, all
the pretty white frocks and veils of the little girls having been
completely soaked and spoilt by the unkind elements. A drearier night
had seldom gloomed over this fair city of the southern sea, and down in
the quarters of the poor, where men and women dwelt all huddled
miserably in overcrowded tenements, and sin and starvation kept hideous
company together, the streets presented as dark and forbidding an
aspect as the heavy skies blackly brooding above. Here and there a gas-
lamp flared its light upon the drawn little face of some child
crouching asleep in a doorway, or on the pinched and painted features
of some wretched outcast wending her way to the den she called 'home.'
The loud brutal laughter of drunken men was mingled with the wailing of
half-starved and fretful infants, and the mean, squalid houses swarmed
with the living spawn of every vice and lust in the calendar of crime.
Deep in the heart of the so-called civilized, beautiful and luxurious
city, this 'quarter of the poor,' the cancer of the social body,
throbbed and ate its destructive way slowly but surely on, and Sergius
Thord, who longed to lay a sharp knife against it and cut it out, for
the health of the whole community, was as powerless as Dante in hell to
cure the evils he witnessed. Yet it was not too much to say that he
would have given his life to ease another's pain,--as swiftly and as
readily as he would have taken life without mercy, in the pursuit of
what he imagined to be a just vengeance.
"How vain, after all, is my labour!" he thought--"How helpless I am to
move the self-centred powers of the Government and the Throne! Even
were all these wretched multitudes to rise with me, and make havoc of
the whole city, should we move so much as one step higher out of the
Gehenna of poverty and crime? Almost I doubt it!"
He walked on past dark open doorways, where some of the miserable
inhabitants of the dens within, stood to inhale the fresh wet air of
the rainy night. His tall form was familiar to most of them,--if they
were considered as wolves of humanity in the sight of the law, they
were all faithful dogs to him; doing as he bade, running where he
commanded, ready at any moment to assemble at any given point and burn
and pillage, or rob and slay. There were no leaders in the political
government,--but this one leader of the massed poor could, had he
chosen, have burned down the city. But he did not choose. He had a far-
sighted, clear brain,--and though he had sworn to destroy abuses
wherever he could find them, he moved always with caution; and his
plans were guided, not by impulse alone, but by earnest consideration
for the future. He was marked out by the police as a dangerous
Socialist; and his movements were constantly tracked and dodged, but so
far, he had done nothing which could empower his arrest. He was a free
subject in a free country; and provided he created no open disturbance
he had as much liberty as a mission preacher to speak in the streets to
those who would stop to listen. He paused now in his walk at the door
of one house more than commonly dingy and tumble-down in appearance,
where a man lounged outside in his shirt-sleeves, smoking.
"Is all well with you, Matsin?" he asked gently.
"All is well!" answered the man called Matsin,--"better than last
night. The child is dead."
"Dead!" echoed Thord,--"And the mother----"
"Asleep!" answered Matsin. "I gave her opium to save her from madness.
She was hungry, too--the opium fed her and made her forget!"
Thord pushed him gently aside, and went into the house. There on the
floor lay the naked body of a dead child, so emaciated as to be almost
a skeleton; and across it, holding it close with one arm, was stretched
a woman, half clothed, her face hidden in her unbound dark hair,
breathing heavily in a drugged sleep. Great tears filled Thord's eyes.
"God exists!" he said,--"And He can bear to look upon a sight like
this! If I were God, I should hate myself for letting such things be!"
"Perhaps He does hate Himself!" said the man Matsin, who had also come
in, and now looked at the scene with sullen apathy--"That may be the
cause of all our troubles! I don't understand the ways of God; or the
ways of man either. I have done no harm. I married the woman--and we
had that one child. I worked hard for both. I could not get sufficient
money to keep us going; I did metal work--very well, so I was told. But
they make it all abroad now by machinery--I cannot compete. They don't
want new designs they say--the old will serve. I do anything now that I
can--but it is difficult. You, too,--you starve with us!"
"I am poor, if that is what you mean," said Thord,--"but take all I
have to-night, Matsin--" and he emptied a small purse of silver coins
into the man's hand. "Bury the poor little innocent one;--and comfort
the mother when she wakes. Comfort her!--love her!--she needs love! I
will be back again to-morrow."
He strode away quickly, and Matsin remained at his door turning over
the money in his hand.
"He will sacrifice something he needs himself, for this," he muttered.
"Yet that is the man they say the King would hang if ever he got hold
of him! By Heaven!--the King himself should hang first!"
Meanwhile Sergius Thord went on, slackening his pace a little as he
came near his own destination, a tall and narrow house at the end of
the street, with a single light shining in one of the upper windows.
There was a gas-lamp some few paces off, and under this stood a man
reading, or trying to read, a newspaper by its flickering glare. Thord
glanced at him with some suspicion--the stranger was too near his own
lodging for his pleasure, for he was always on his guard against spies.
Approaching more closely, he saw that though the man was shabbily
attired in a rough pilot suit, much the worse for wear, he nevertheless
had the indefinable look and bearing of a gentleman. Acting on impulse,
as he often did, Thord spoke to him.
"A rough night for reading by lamplight, my friend!" he said.
The man looked up, and smiled.
"Yes, it is, rather! But I have only just got the evening paper."
"Any special news?"
"No--only this--" and he pointed to a bold headline--"The King
_versus_ The Jesuits."
"Ah!" said Thord, and he studied the looks and bearing of the stranger
with increasing curiosity. "What do you think of it?"
"What do I think? May I ask, without offence, what _you_ think?"
"I think," said Thord slowly, "that the King has for once in his life
done a wise thing."
"'For once in his life!'" repeated the stranger dubiously--"Then I
presume your King is, generally speaking, a fool?"
"If you are a subject of his--" began Thord slowly----
"Thank Heaven, I am not! I am a mere wanderer--a literary loafer--a
student of men and manners. I read books, and I write them too,--this
will perhaps explain the eccentricity of my behaviour in trying to read
under the lamplight in the rain!"
He smiled again, and the smile was irresistibly pleasant. Something
about him attracted Thord, and after a pause he asked:
"If you are, as you say, a wanderer and a stranger in this town, can I
be of service to you?"
"You are very kind!" said the other, turning a pair of deep, dark, grey
meditative eyes upon him,--"And I am infinitely obliged to you for the
suggestion. But I really want nothing. As a matter of fact, I am
waiting for two friends of mine who have just gone into one of the foul
and filthy habitations here, to see what they can do for a suddenly
bereaved family. The husband and father fell dead in the street before
our eyes,--and those who picked him up said he was drunk, but it turned
out that he was merely starved,--_merely_!--you understand? Merely
starved! We found his home,--and the poor widow is wailing and weeping,
and the children are crying for food. I confess myself quite unable to
bear the sight, and so I have sent all the money I had about me to help
them for to-night at least. By my faith, they are most hopelessly,
"Their lot is exceedingly common in these quarters," said Thord,
sorrowfully. "Day after day, night after night, men, women and children
toil, suffer and die here without ever knowing what it is to have one
hour of free fresh air, one day of rest and joy! Yet this is a great
city,--and we live in a civilized country!" He smiled bitterly, then
added--"You have done a good action; and you need no thanks, or I would
thank you; for my life's work lies among these wretched poor, and I am
familiar with their tragic histories. Good-night!"
"Pray do not go!" said the stranger suddenly--"I should like to talk to
you a little longer, if you have no objection. Is there not some place
near, where we can go out of this rain and have a glass of wine
Sergius Thord stood irresolute,--gazing at him, half in liking, half in
"Sir," he said at last, "I do not know you--and you do not know me. If
I told you my name, you would probably not seek my company!"
"Will you tell it?" suggested the stranger cheerfully--"Mine is at
your service--Pasquin Leroy. I fear my fame as an author has not
reached your ears!"
Thord shook his head.
"No. I have never heard of you. And probably you have never heard of
me. My name is Sergius Thord."
"Sergius Thord!" echoed the stranger; "Now that is truly remarkable! It
is a happy coincidence that we should have met to-night. I have just
seen your name in this very paper which you caught me reading--see!--
the next heading under that concerning the King and the Jesuits--
'Thord's Rabble.' Are not you that same Thord?"
"I am!" said Thord proudly, his eyes shining as he took the paper and
perused quickly the few flashy lines which described the crowd outside
the Cathedral that afternoon, and set him down as a crazy Socialist,
and disturber of the peace, "And the 'rabble' as this scribbling fool
calls it, is the greater part of this city's population. The King may
intimidate his Court; but I, Sergius Thord, with my 'rabble' can
intimidate both Court and King!"
He drew himself up to his full majestic height--a noble figure of a man
with his fine heroic head and eagle-like glance of eye,--and he who had
called himself Pasquin Leroy, suddenly held out his hand.
"Let me see more of you, Sergius Thord!" he said,--"You are the very
man for me! They say in this paper that you spoke to a great multitude
outside the Cathedral this afternoon, and interfered with the religious
procession; they also say you are the head of a Society called the
Revolutionary Committee;--now let me work for you in some department of
"Let you work for me?" echoed Thord astonished--"But how?"
"In this way--" replied the other--"I write Socialistic works,--and for
this cause have been expelled from my native home and surroundings. I
have a little money--and some influence,--and I will devote both to
your Cause. Will you take me, and trust me?"
Thord caught his extended hand, and looked at him with a kind of fierce
"You mean it?" he said in thrilling tones--"You mean it positively and
"Positively and truly!" said Leroy--"If you are working to remedy the
frightful evils abounding in this wretched quarter of the poor, I will
help you! If you are striving to destroy rank abuses, I ask nothing
better than to employ my pen in your service. I will get work on the
press here--I will do all I can to aid your purposes and carry out your
intentions. I have no master, so am free to do as I like; and I will
devote myself to your service so long as you think I can be of any use
"Wait!" said Thord--"You must not be carried away by a sudden generous
impulse, simply because you have witnessed one scene of the continual
misery that is going on here daily. To belong to our Committee means
much more than you at present realize, and involves an oath which you
may not be willing to take! And what of the friends you spoke of?"
"They will do what I do," replied Leroy--"They share my fortunes--
likewise my opinions;--and here they come,--so they can speak for
themselves," this, as two men emerged from a dark street on the left,
and came full into the lamplight's flare--"Axel Regor, Max Graub--come
hither! Fortune has singularly favoured us to-night! Let me present to
you my friend--" and he emphasized the word, "Sergius Thord!"
Both men started ever so slightly as the introduction was performed,
and Thord looked at them with fresh touches of suspicion here and there
lurking in his mind. But he was brave; and having once proceeded in a
given direction was not in the habit of turning back. He therefore
saluted both the new-comers with grave courtesy.
"I trust you!" he then said curtly to Leroy, "and I think you will not
betray my trust. If you do, it will be the worse for you!"
His lips parted in a slight sinister smile, and the two who were
respectively called Axel Regor and Max Graub, exchanged anxious
glances. But Leroy showed no sign of hesitation or alarm.
"Your warning is quite unnecessary, Sergius Thord," he said,--"I pledge
you my word with my friendship--and my word is my bond! I will also
hold myself responsible for my companions."
Thord bent his head in silent recognition of this assurance.
"Then follow me, if such is your desire," he said--"Remember, there is
yet time to go in another direction, and to see me no more; but if you
once do cast in your lot with mine the tie between us is indissoluble!"
He paused, as though expecting some recoil or hesitation on the part of
those to whom he made this statement, but none came. He therefore
strode on, and they followed, till arriving at the door of the tall,
narrow house, where the light in the highest window gleamed like a
signal, he opened it with a small key and entered, holding it back
courteously for his three new companions to enter with him. They did
so, and he closed the door. At the same moment the light was
extinguished in the upper window, and the outside of the house became a
mere wall of dense blackness in the driving rain.
Up a long uncarpeted flight of stairs, and into a large lofty room on
the second storey, Thord led the way for his newly-found disciples to
follow. It was very dark, and they had to feel the steps as they went,
their guide offering neither explanation nor apology for the Cimmerian
shades of gloom. Stumbling on hands and knees they spoke not a word;
though once Max Graub uttered something like an oath in rough German;
but a whisper from Leroy rebuked and silenced him, and they pursued
their difficult ascent until, arriving at the room mentioned, they
found themselves in the company of about fifteen to twenty men, all
sitting round a table under two flaring billiard lamps, suspended
crookedly from the ceiling. As Thord entered, these men all rose, and
gave him an expressive sign of greeting with the left hand, the same
kind of gesture which had passed between him and Zegota on the
Cathedral steps in the morning. Zegota himself was one of their number.
There was also another personage in the room who did not rise, and who
gave no sign whatever. This was a woman, who sat in the embrasure of a
closed and shuttered window with her back to the whole company. It was
impossible to say whether she was young or old, plain or handsome, for
she was enveloped in a long black cloak which draped her from shoulder
to heel. All that could be distinguished of her was the white nape of
her neck, and a great twist of dead gold hair. Her presence awakened
the liveliest interest in Pasquin Leroy, who found it impossible to
avoid nudging his companions, and whispering--
"A woman! By Heaven, this drama becomes interesting!"
But Axel Regor and Max Graub were seemingly not disposed to levity, and
they offered no response to their lighter minded comrade beyond vague
hasty side-looks of alarm, which appeared to amuse him to an extent
that threatened to go beyond the limits of caution. Sergius Thord,
however, saw nothing of their interchange of glances for the moment,--
he had other business to settle. Addressing himself at once to the men
assembled, he said.--
"Friends and brothers! I bring you three new associates! I have not
sought them; they have sought me. On their own heads be their
destinies! They offer their names to the Revolutionary Committee, and
their services to our Cause!"
A low murmur of approbation from the company greeted this announcement.
Johan Zegota advanced a little in front of all the rest.
"Every man is welcome to serve us who will serve us faithfully," he
said. "But who are these new comrades, Sergius Thord? What are they?"
"That they must declare for themselves," said Thord, taking a chair at
the head of the table which was evidently his accustomed place--"Put
them through their examination!"
He seated himself with the air of a king, his whole aspect betokening
an authority that would not be trifled with or gainsaid.
"Gott in Himmel!"
This exclamation burst suddenly from the lips of the man called Max
"What ails you?" said Thord, turning full upon him his glittering eyes
that flashed ferocity from under their shaggy brows--"Are you afraid?"
"Afraid? Not I!" protested Graub--"But, gentlemen, think a moment! You
speak of putting us--myself and my friends--through an examination! Why
should you examine us? We are three poor adventurers--what can we have
"Much, I should imagine!" retorted Zegota--"Adventurers are not such
without adventures! Your white hairs testify to some experience of
"My white hairs--_my_ white hairs!" exclaimed Graub, when a touch
from Axel Regor apparently recalled something to his mind for he began
to laugh--"True, gentlemen! Very true! I had forgotten! I have had some
adventures and some experiences! My good friend there, Pasquin Leroy,
has also had adventures and experiences,--so have we all! Myself, I am
a poor German, grown old in the service of a bad king! I have been
kicked out of that service--Ach!--just for telling the truth; which is
very much the end of all truth telling, is it not? Tell lies,--and
kings will reward you and make you rich and great!--but tell truth,
and see what the kings will give you for it! Kicks, and no halfpence!
Pardon! I interrupt this so pleasant meeting!"
All the men present looked at him curiously, but said nothing in
response to his outburst. Johan Zegota, seating himself next to Sergius
Thord, opened a large parchment volume that lay on the table, and
taking up a pen addressed himself to Thord, saying--
"Will you ask the questions, or shall I?"
"You, by all means! Proceed in the usual manner."
Whereupon Zegota began.--
"Stand forth, comrades!"
The three strangers advanced.
"Your names? Each one answer separately, please!"
"Of what nationality, Pasquin Leroy?"
Leroy smiled. "Truly I claim none!" he said; "I was born a slave."
The words were repeated in tones of astonishment round the room.
"Why, yes, a slave!" repeated Leroy quietly. "You have heard of black
slaves,--have you not heard of white ones too? There are countries
still, where men purchase other men of their own blood and colour;--
tyrannous governments, which force such men to work for them, chained
to one particular place till they die. I am one of those,--though
escaped for the present. You can ask me more of my country if you will;
but a slave has no country save that of his master. If you care at all
for my services, you will spare me further examination on this
Zegota looked enquiringly at Thord.
"We will pass that question," said the latter, in a low tone.
"You, Axel Regor--are you a slave too?"
Axel Regor smiled languidly.
"No! I am what is called a free-born subject of the realm. I do what I
like, though not always how I like, or when I like!"
"And you, Max Graub?"
"German!" said that individual firmly; "German to the backbone--
Socialist to the soul!--and an enemy of all ruling sovereigns,--
particularly the one that rules _me_!"
Thord smiled darkly.
"If you feel inclined to jest, Max Graub, I must warn you that jesting
is not suited to the immediate moment."
"Jesting! I never was more in earnest in my life!" declared Graub,--
"Why have I left my native country? Merely because it is governed by
Thord smiled again.
"The subject of nationality seems to excite all three of you," he said,
"and though we ask you the question _pro forma_, it is not
absolutely necessary that we should know from whence you come. We
require your names, and your oath of fealty; but before binding
yourselves, I will read you our laws, and the rules of membership for
this society; rules to which, if you join us, you are expected to
"Suppose, for the sake of argument," said Pasquin Leroy,--"that after
hearing the rules we found it wisest to draw back? Suppose my friends,
--if not myself,--were disinclined to join your Society;--what would
As he asked the question a curious silence fell upon the company, and
all eyes were turned upon the speaker. There was a dead pause for a
moment, and then Thord replied slowly and with emphasis:--
"Nothing would happen save this,--that you would be bound by a solemn
oath never to reveal what you had heard or seen here to-night, and that
you would from henceforth be tracked every day and hour of your life by
those who would take care that you kept your oath!"
"You see!" exclaimed Axel Regor excitedly, "There is danger----"
"Danger? Of what?" asked Pasquin Leroy coldly;--"Of death? Each one of
us, and all three of us would fully merit it, if we broke our word!
Gentlemen both!"--and he addressed his two companions, "If you fear
any harm may come to yourselves through joining this society, pray
withdraw while there is yet time! My own mind is made up; I intend to
become familiar with the work of the Revolutionary Committee, and to
aid its cause by my personal service!"
A loud murmur of applause came from the company. Axel Regor and Max
Graub glanced at Leroy, and saw in his face that his decision was
"Then we will work for the Cause, also," said Max Graub resignedly.
"What you determine upon, we shall do, shall we not, Axel?"
Axel Regor gave a brief assent.
Sergius Thord looked at them all straightly and keenly.
"You have finally decided?"
"We have!" replied Leroy. "We will enrol ourselves as your associates
Whereupon Johan Zegota rose from his place, and unlocking an iron safe
which stood in one corner of the room, took out a roll of parchment and
handed it to Thord, who, unfolding it, read in a clear though low voice
"We, the Revolutionary Committee, are organized as a Brotherhood, bound
by all the ties of life, death, and our common humanity, to destroy the
abuses, and redress the evils, which self-seeking and tyrannous
Governments impose upon the suffering poor.
"_Firstly:_ We bind ourselves to resist all such laws as may in
any degree interfere with the reasonable, intellectual, and spiritual
freedom of man or woman.
"_Secondly:_ We swear to agitate against all forms of undue and
excessive taxation, which, while scarcely affecting the rich, make life
more difficult and unendurable to the poor.
"_Thirdly:_ We protest against the domination of priestcraft, and
the secret methods which are employed by the Church to obtain undue
influence in Governmental matters.
"_Fourthly:_ We are determined to stand firmly against the
entrance of foreign competitors in the country's trade and business.
All heads and ruling companies of firms employing foreigners instead of
native workmen, are marked out by us as traitors, and are reserved for
"_Fifthly:_ We are sworn to exterminate the existing worthless
Government, and to replace it by a working body of capable and
intelligent men, elected by the universal vote of the entire country.
Such elections must take place freely and openly, and no secret
influence shall be used to return any one person or party to power.
Those attempting to sway opinion by bribery and corruption, will be
named to the public, and exposed to disgrace and possible death.
"_Sixthly:_ We are resolved to unmask to the public the duplicity,
treachery, and self-interested motives of the Secretary of State, Carl
"_Seventhly:_ We are sworn to bring about such changes as shall
elevate a Republic to supreme power, and for this purpose are solemnly
pledged to destroy the present Monarchy."
"These," said Sergius Thord, "are the principal objects of our
Society's work. There are other points to be considered, but these are
sufficient for the present. I will now read the rules, which each
member of our Brotherhood must follow if he would serve us faithfully."
He turned over another leaf of the parchment scroll he held, and
continued, reading very slowly and distinctly:
"_Rule 1_.--Each member of the Revolutionary Committee shall swear
fidelity to the Cause, and pledge himself to maintain inviolable
secrecy on all matters connected with his membership and his work for
"_Rule 2_.--No member shall track, follow, or enquire into the
movements of any other member.
"_Rule 3_.--Once in every month all members are expected to meet
together at a given place, decided upon by the Chief of the Committee
at the previous meeting, when business will be discussed, and lots
drawn, to determine the choice of such members as may be fitted to
perform such business.
"_Rule_ 4.--No member shall be bound to give his address, or to
state where he travels, or when or how he goes, as in all respects save
that of his membership he is a free man.
"_Rule_ 5.--In this same respect of his membership, he is bound
to appear, or to otherwise report himself once a month at the meeting
of the Committee. Should he fail to do so either by person, or by
letter satisfactorily explaining his absence, he will be judged as a
traitor, and dealt with accordingly.
"_Rule_6.--In the event of any member being selected to perform
any deed involving personal danger or loss to himself, the rest of the
members are pledged to shelter him from the consequences of his act,
and to provide him with all the necessaries of life, till his escape
from harm is ensured and his safety guaranteed."
"You have heard all now," said Thord, as he laid aside the parchment
scroll; "Are you still willing to take the oath?"
"Entirely so!" rejoined Pasquin Leroy cheerfully; "You have but to
Here a man, who had been sitting in a dark corner apart from the table,
with his head buried in his hands, suddenly looked up, showing a thin,
fine, eager face, a pair of wild eyes, and a tumbled mass of dark curly
hair, plentifully sprinkled with grey.
"Ah!" he cried,--"Now comes the tragic moment, when the spectators hold
their breath, and the blue flame is turned on, and the man manages the
lime-light so that its radiance shall fall on the face of the chief
actor--or Actress! And the bassoons and 'cellos grumble inaudible
nothings to the big drum! Administer the oath, Sergius Thord!"
A smile went the round of the company.
"Have you only just wakened up from sleep, Paul Zouche?" asked Zegota.
"I never sleep," answered Zouche, pushing his hair back from his
forehead;--"Unless sleep compels me, by force, to yield to its coarse
and commonplace persuasion. To lie down in a shirt and snore the hours
away! Faugh! Can anything be more gross or vulgar! Time flies so
quickly, and life is so short, that I cannot afford to waste any moment
in such stupid unconsciousness. I can drink wine, make love, and kill
rascals--all these occupations are much more interesting than sleeping.
Come, Sergius! Play the great trick of the evening! Administer the
A frowning line puckered Thord's brows, but the expression of vexation
was but momentary. Turning to Leroy again he said:
"You are quite ready?"
"Quite," replied Leroy.
"And your friends----?"
Leroy smiled. "They are ready also!"
There followed a pause. Then Thord called in a clear low tone--
The woman sitting in the embrasure of the window rose, and turning
round fully confronted all the men. Her black cloak falling back on
either side, disclosed her figure robed in dead white, with a scarlet
sash binding her waist. Her face, pale and serene, was not beautiful;
yet beauty was suggested in every feature. Her eyes seemed to be half
closed in a drooping indifference under the white lids, which were
fringed heavily with dark gold lashes. A sculptor might have said, that
whatever claim to beauty she had was contained in the proud poise of
her throat, and the bounteous curve of her bosom, but though in a
manner startled by her appearance, the three men who had chanced upon
this night's adventure were singularly disappointed in it. They had
somehow expected that when that mysterious cloaked feminine figure
turned round, a vision of dazzling beauty would be disclosed; and at
the first glance there was nothing whatever about this woman that
seemed particularly worthy of note. She was not young or old--possibly
between twenty-eight or thirty. She was not tall or short; she was
merely of the usual medium height,--so that altogether she was one of
those provoking individuals, who not seldom deceive the eye at first
sight by those ordinary looks which veil an extraordinary personality.
She stood like an automatic figure, rigid and silent,--till Sergius
Thord signed to his three new associates to advance. Then with a
movement, rapid as a flash of lightning, she suddenly drew a dagger
from her scarlet girdle, and held it out to them. Nerved as he was to
meet danger, Pasquin Leroy recoiled slightly, while his two companions
started as if to defend him. As she saw this, the woman raised her
drooping eyelids, and a pair of wonderful eyes shone forth, dark blue
as iris-flowers, while a faint scornful smile lifted the corners of her
mouth. But she said nothing.
"There is no cause to fear!" said Sergius Thord, glancing with a touch
of derision in his looks from one to the other, "Lotys is the witness
of all our vows! Swear now after me upon this drawn dagger which she
holds,--lay your right hands here upon the blade!"
Thus adjured, Pasquin Leroy approached, and placed his right hand upon
the shining steel.
"I swear in the name of God, and in the presence of Lotys, that I will
faithfully work for the Cause of the Revolutionary Committee,--and that
I will adhere to its rules and obey its commands, till all shall be
done that is destined to be done! And may the death I deserve come
suddenly upon me if ever I break my vow!"
Slowly and emphatically Pasquin Leroy repeated this formula after
Sergius Thord, and his two companions did the same, though perhaps less
audibly. This ceremony performed, the woman called Lotys looked at them
steadfastly, and the smile that played on her lips changed from scorn
to sweetness. The dark blue iris-coloured eyes deepened in lustre, and
flashed brilliantly from under their drowsy lids,--a rosy flush tinted
the clear paleness of her skin, and like a statue warming to life she
became suddenly beautiful.
"You have sworn bravely!" she said, in a low thrilling voice. "Now sign
As she spoke she lifted her bare left arm, and pricked it with the
point of the dagger. A round, full drop of blood like a great ruby
welled up on the white skin. All the men had risen from their places,
and were gathered about her;--this 'taking of the oath' was evidently
the dramatic event of their existence as a community.
"The pen, Sergius!" she said.
Thord approached with a white unused quill, and a vellum scroll on
which the names of all the members of the Society were written in
ominous red. He handed these writing implements to Leroy.
"Dip your pen here," said Lotys, pointing to the crimson drop on her
arm, and eyeing him still with the same half-sweet, half-doubting
smile--"But when the quill is full, beware that you write no
For one second Leroy appeared to hesitate. He was singularly unnerved
by the glances of those dark blue eyes, which like searchlights seemed
to penetrate into every nook and cranny of his soul. But his
recklessness and love of adventure having led him so far, it was now
too late to retract or to reconsider the risks he might possibly be
running. He therefore took the quill and dipped it into the crimson
drop that welled from that soft white flesh.
"This is the strangest ink I have ever used!" he said lightly,--"but--
at your command, Madame----!"
"At my command," rejoined Lotys, "your use of it shall make your oath
He smiled, and wrote his name boldly 'Pasquin Leroy' and held out the
pen for his companions to follow his example.
"Ach Gott!" exclaimed Max Graub, as he dipped the pen anew into the
vital fluid from a woman's veins--"I write my name, Madame, in words of
life, thanks to your condescension!"
"True!" she answered,--"And only by your own falsehood can you change
them into words of death!"
Signing his name 'Max Graub,' he looked up and met her searching gaze.
Something there was in the magnetic depth of her eyes that strangely
embarrassed him, for he stepped back hastily as though intimidated.
Axel Regor took the pen from his hand, and wrote his name, or rather
scrawled it carelessly, almost impatiently,--showing neither hesitation
nor repugnance to this unusual method of subscribing a document.
"You are acting on compulsion!" said Lotys, addressing him in a low
tone; "Your compliance is in obedience to some other command than ours!
And--you will do well to remain obedient!"
Axel Regor gave her an amazed glance,--but she paid no heed to it, and
binding her arm with her kerchief, let her long white sleeve fall over
"So, you are enrolled among the sons of my blood!" she said, "So are
you bound to me and mine!" She moved to the further end of the table
and stood there looking round upon them all. Again the slow, sweet,
half-disdainful smile irradiated her features. "Well, children!--what
else remains to do? What next? What next can there be but drink--smoke
--talk! Man's three most cherished amusements!"
She sat down, throwing back her heavy cloak on either side of her. Her
hair had come partly unbound, and noticing a tress of it falling on her
shoulder, she drew out the comb and let it fall altogether in a mass of
gold-brown, like the tint of a dull autumn leaf, flecked here and there
with amber. Catching it dexterously in one hand, she twisted it up
again in a loose knot, thrusting the comb carelessly through.
"Drink--smoke--talk, Sergius!" she repeated, still smiling; "Shall I
Sergius Thord stood looking at her irresolutely, with the half-angry,
half-pleading expression of a chidden child.
"As you please, Lotys!" he answered. Whereupon she pressed an invisible
spring under the table, which set a bell ringing in some lower quarter
of the house.
"Pasquin Leroy, Axel Regor, Max Graub!" she said--"Take your places
for to-night beside me--newcomers are always thus distinguished! And
all of you sit down! You are grouped at present like hungry wolves
waiting to spring. But you are not really hungry, except for something
which is not food! And you are not waiting for anything except for
permission to talk! I give it to you--talk, children! Talk yourselves
hoarse! It will do you good! And I will personate supreme wisdom by
listening to you in silence!"
A kind of shamed laugh went round the company,--then followed the
scuffling of feet, and grating of chairs against the floor, and
presently the table was completely surrounded, the men sitting close up
together, and Sergius Thord occupying his place at their head.
When they were all seated, they formed a striking assembly of
distinctly marked personalities. There were very few mean types among
them, and the stupid, half-vague and languid expression of the modern
loafer or 'do nothing' creature, who just for lack of useful work plots
mischief, was not to be seen on any of their countenances. A certain
moroseness and melancholy seemed to brood like a delayed storm among
them, and to cloud the very atmosphere they breathed, but apart from
this, intellectuality was the dominant spirit suggested by their
outward looks and bearing. Plebeian faces and vulgar manners are,
unfortunately, not rare in representative gatherings of men whose
opinions are allowed to sway the destinies of nations, and it was
strange to see a group of individuals who were sworn to upset existing
law and government so distinguished by refined and even noble
appearance. Their clothes were shabby,--their aspect certainly
betokened long suffering and contention with want and poverty, but they
were, taken all together, a set of men who, if they had been members of
a recognized parliament or senate, would have presented a fine
collection of capable heads to an observant painter. As soon as they
were gathered round the table under the presidency of Sergius Thord at
one end, and the tranquil tolerance of the mysterious Lotys at the
other, they broke through the silence and reserve which they had
carefully maintained till their three new comrades had been
irrecoverably enrolled among them, and conversation went on briskly.
The topic of 'The King _versus_ the Jesuits' was one of the first
they touched upon, Sergius Thord relating for the benefit of all his
associates, how he had found Pasquin Leroy reading by lamplight the
newspaper which reported his Majesty's refusal to grant any portion of
Crown lands to the priests, and which also spoke of 'Thord's Rabble.'
"Here is the paper!" said Leroy, as he heard the narration; "Whoever
likes to keep it can do so, as a memento of my introduction to this
And he tossed it lightly on the table.
"Good!" exclaimed Paul Zouche; "Give it to me, and I will cherish it as
a kind of birthday card! What a rag it is! 'Thord's Rabble' eh!
Sergius, what have you been doing that this little flea of an editor
should jump out of his ink-pot and bite you? Does he hurt much?"
"Hurt!" Thord laughed aloud. "If I had money enough to pay the man ten
golden coins a week where his present employer gives him five, he would
dance to any tune I whistled!"
"Is that so?" asked Leroy, with interest.
"Do you not know that it is so?" rejoined Thord. "You tell me you write
Socialistic works--you should know something concerning the press."
"Ah!" said Max Graub, nodding his head sagely, "He does know much, but
not all! It would need more penetration than even _he_ possesses,
to know all! Alas!--my friend was never a popular writer!"
"Like myself!" exclaimed Zouche, "I am not popular, and I never shall
be. But I know how to make myself reputed as a great genius, and all
the very respectable literary men are beginning to recognize me as
such. Do you know why?"
"Because you drink more than is good for you, my poor Zouche!" said
Lotys tranquilly; "That is one reason!"
"Hear her!" cried Zouche,--"Does she not always, like the Sphinx,
propound enigmas! Lotys,--little, domineering Lotys, why in the name of
Heaven should I secure recognition as a poet, through drunkenness?"
"Because your vice kills your genius," said Lotys; "Therefore you are
quite safe! If you were less of a scamp you would be a great man,--
perhaps the greatest in the country! That would never do! Your rivals
would never forgive you! But you are a hopeless rascal, incapable of
winning much honour; and so you are compassionately recognized as
somebody who might do something if he only would--that is all, my
Zouche! You are an excellent after-dinner topic with those who are more
successful than yourself; and that is the only fame you will ever win,
"Now by all the gods and goddesses!" cried Paul--"I do protest----"
"After supper, Zouche!" interrupted Lotys, as the door of the room
opened, and a man entered, bearing a tray loaded with various eatables,
jugs of beer, and bottles of spirituous liquors,--"Protest as much as
you like then,--but not just now!"
And with quick, deft hands she helped to set the board. None of the men
offered to assist her, and Leroy watching her, felt a sudden sense of
annoyance that this woman should seem, even for a moment, to be in the
position of a servant to them all.
"Can I do nothing for you?" he said, in a low tone--"Why should you
wait upon us?"
"Why indeed!" she answered--"Except that you are all by nature awkward,
and do not know how to wait properly upon yourselves!"
Her eyes had a gleam of mischievous mockery in them; and Leroy was
conscious of an irritation which he could scarcely explain to himself.
Decidedly, he thought, this Lotys was an unpleasant woman. She was
'extremely plain,' so he mentally declared, in a kind of inward huff,--
though he was bound to concede that now and then she had a very
beautiful, almost inspired expression. After all, why should she not
set out jugs and bottles, and loaves of bread, and hunks of ham and
cheese before these men? She was probably in their pay! Scarcely had
this idea flashed across his mind than he was ashamed of it. This
Lotys, whoever she might actually be, was no paid hireling; there was
something in her every look and action that set her high above any
suspicion that she would accept the part of a salaried _comédienne_
in the Socialist farce. Annoyed with himself, though he knew not why,
he turned his gaze from her to the man who had brought in the supper,
--a hunchback, who, notwithstanding his deformity, was powerfully built,
and of a countenance which, marked as it was with the drawn pathetic
look of long-continued physical suffering, was undeniably handsome.
His large brown eyes, like those of a faithful dog, followed every
movement of Lotys with anxious and wistful affection, and Leroy,
noticing this, began to wonder whether she was his wife or daughter?
Or was she related in either of these ways to Sergius Thord? His
reflections were interrupted by a slight touch from Max Graub who was
seated next to him.
"Will you drink with these fellows?" said Graub, in a cautious whisper
--"Expect to be ill, if you do!"
"You shall prescribe for me!" answered Leroy in the same low tone--"I
faithfully promise to call in your assistance! But drink with them I
must, and will!"
Graub gave a short sigh and a shrug, and said no more. The hunchback
was going the round of the table, filling tall glasses with light
"Where is the little Pequita?" asked Zouche, addressing him--"Have you
sent her to bed already, Sholto?"
Sholto looked timorously round till he met the bright reassuring glance
of Lotys, and then he replied hesitatingly--
"Yes!--no--I have not sent the little one to bed;--she returned from
her work at the theatre, tired out--quite tired out, poor child! She
is asleep now."
"Ha ha! A few years more, and she will not sleep!" said Zouche--"Once
in her teens--"
"Once in her teens, she leaves the theatre and comes to me," said
Lotys, "And you will see very little of her, Zouche, and you will know
less! That will do, Sholto! Good-night!"
"Good-night!" returned the hunchback--"I thank you, Madame!--I thank
And with a slight salutation, not devoid of grace, he left the room.
Zouche was sulky, and pushing aside his glass of beer, poured out for
himself some strong spirit from a bottle instead.
"You do not favour me to-night, Lotys," he said irritably--"You
interrupt and cross me in everything I say!"
"Is it not a woman's business to interrupt and cross a man?" queried
Lotys, with a laugh,--"As I have told you before, Zouche, I will not
have Sholto worried!"
"Who worries him?" grumbled Zouche--"Not I!"
"Yes, you!--you worry him on his most sensitive point--his daughter,"
said Lotys;--"Why can you not leave the child alone? Sholto is an
Englishman," she explained, turning to Pasquin Leroy and his companions
--"His history is a strange one enough. He is the rightful heir to a
large estate in England, but he was born deformed. His father hated
him, and preferred the second son, who was straight and handsome. So
"Disappeared!" echoed Leroy--"You mean----"
"I mean that he left his father's house one morning, and never
returned. The clothes he wore were found floating in the river near by,
and it was concluded that he had been drowned while bathing. The second
son, therefore, inherited the property; and poor Sholto was scarcely
missed; certainly not mourned. Meanwhile he went away, and got on board
a Spanish trading boat bound for Cadiz. At Cadiz he found work, and
also something that sweetened work--love! He married a pretty Spanish
girl who adored him, and--as often happens when lovers rejoice too much
in their love--she died after a year's happiness. Sholto is all alone
in the world with the little child his Spanish wife left him, Pequita.
She is only eleven years old, but her gift of dancing is marvellous,
and she gets employment at one of the cheap theatres here. If an
influential manager could see her performance, she might coin money."
"The influential manager would probably cheat her," said Zouche,--
"Things are best left alone. Sholto is content!"
"Are you content?" asked Johan Zegota, helping himself from the bottle
that stood near him.
"I? Why, no! I should not be here if I were!"
"Discontent, then, is your chief bond of union?" said Axel Regor,
beginning to take part in the conversation.
"It is the very knot that ties us all together!" said Zouche with
enthusiasm.--"Discontent is the mother of progress! Adam was
discontented with the garden of Eden,--and found a whole world outside
"He took Eve with him to keep up the sickness of dissatisfaction," said
Zegota; "There would certainly have been no progress without
"Pardon,--Cain was the true Progressivist and Reformer," put in Graub;
"Some fine sentiment of the garden of Eden was in his blood, which
impelled him to offer up a vegetable sacrifice to the Deity, whereas
Abel had already committed murder by slaying lambs. According to the
legend, God preferred the 'savour' of the lambs, so perhaps,--who
knows!--the idea that the savour of Abel might be equally agreeable to
Divine senses induced Cain to kill him as a special 'youngling.' This
was a Progressive act,--a step beyond mere lambs!"
Everyone laughed, except Sergius Thord. He had fallen into a heavy,
brooding silence, his head sunk on his breast, his wild hair falling
forward like a mane, and his right hand clenched and resting on the
"Sergius!" called Lotys.
He did not answer.
"He is in one of his far-away moods,"--said one of the men next to Axel
Regor,--"It is best not to disturb him."
Paul Zouche, however, had no such scruples. "Sergius!" he cried,--"Come
out of your cloud of meditation! Drink to the health of our three new
All the members of the company filled their glasses, and Thord, hearing
the noise and clatter, looked up with a wild stare.
"What are you doing?" he asked slowly;--"I thought some one spoke of
Cain killing Abel!"
"It was I," said Graub--"I spoke of it--irreverently, I fear,--but the
story itself is irreverent. The notion that 'God,' should like roast
meat is the height of blasphemy!"
Zouche burst into a violent fit of laughter. But Thord went on talking
in a low tone, as though to himself.
"Cain killing Abel!" he repeated--"Always the same horrible story is
repeated through history--brother against brother,--blood crying out
for blood--life torn from the weak and helpless body--all for what? For
a little gold,--a passing trifle of power! Cain killing Abel! My God,
art Thou not yet weary of the old eternal crime!"
He spoke in a semi-whisper which thrilled through the room. A momentary
hush prevailed, and then Lotys called again, her voice softened to a
He started, and shook himself out of his reverie this time. Raising his
hand, he passed it in a vague mechanical way across his brow as though
suddenly wakened from a dream.
"Yes, yes! Let us drink to our three new comrades," he said, and rose
to his feet. "To your health, friends! And may you all stand firm in
the hour of trial!"
All the company sprang up and drained their glasses, and when the toast
was drunk and they were again seated, Pasquin Leroy asked if he might
be allowed to return thanks.
"I do not know," he said with a courteous air, "whether it is
permissible for a newly-enrolled associate of this Brotherhood to make
a speech on the first night of his membership,--but after the cordial
welcome I and my comrades, strangers as we are, have received at your
hands, I should like to say a few words--if, without breaking any rules
of the Order, I may do so."
"Hear, hear!" shouted Zouche, who had been steadily drinking for the
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