Part 9 out of 11
With a nervous glance at her brother, who stood mute, his head slightly
bent, himself immovable as a figure of stone, Teresa curtseyed and
The Queen stood haughtily erect,--her white robes trailing around her,
--her exquisite face transfigured into a far grander beauty than had
ever been seen upon it, by some pent-up emotion which to Sir Roger was
well-nigh inexplicable. His heart beat thickly; he could almost hear
its heavy pulsations, and he kept his eyes lowered, lest she should
read too clearly in them the adoration of a lifetime.
"Sir Roger, speak plainly," she said, "and speak the truth! Some little
time ago you said it was wrong for me to shut out from my sight, my
heart, my soul, the ugly side of Nature. I have remedied that fault! I
am looking at the ugly side of Nature now,--in myself! The rebellious
side--the passionate, fierce, betrayed side! I trusted you with the
safety of the King!"
"Madam, he _is_ safe!" said Sir Roger quietly;--"I can guarantee
upon my life that he is with those who will defend him far more
thoroughly than I could ever do! It is better to have a hundred
protectors than one!"
"Oh, I know what you would imply!" she answered, impatiently; "I
understand, thus far, from what he himself has told me. But--there is
something else, something else! Something that portends far closer and
more intimate danger to him--"
She paused, apparently uncertain how to go on, and moving back to her
chair, sat down.
"If you are the man I have imagined you to be," she continued, in
deliberate accents; "You perfectly know--you perfectly understand what
Sir Roger raised his head and looked her bravely in the eyes.
"You would imply, Madam, that one, who like myself has been conscious
of a great passion for many years, should be able to recognise the
signs of it in others! Your Majesty is right! Once you expressed to me
a wonder as to what it was like 'to feel.' If that experience has come
to you now, I cannot but rejoice,--even while I grieve to think that
you must endure pain at the discovery. Yet it is only from the pierced
earth that the flowers can bloom,--and it may be you will have more
mercy for others, when you yourself are wounded!"
She was silent.
He drew a step nearer.
"You wish me to speak plainly?" he continued in a lower tone. "You give
me leave to express the lurking thought which is in your own heart?"
She gave a slight inclination of her head, and he went on.
"You assume danger for the King,--but not danger from the knife of the
assassin--or from the schemes of revolutionists! You judge him--as I
do--to be in the grasp of the greatest Force which exists in the
universe! The force against which there is, and can be no opposition!--
a force, which if it once binds even a king--makes of him a life-
prisoner, and turns mere 'temporal power' to nothingness; upsetting
thrones, destroying kingdoms, and beating down the very Church itself
in the way of its desires--and that force is--Love!"
She started violently,--then controlled herself.
"You waste your eloquence!" she said coldly; "What you speak of, I do
not understand. I do not believe in Love!"
The words sprang from his lips almost unconsciously, and like a
magnificent animal who has been suddenly stung, she sprang upright.
"How dare you!" she said in low, vibrating accents--"How dare you!"
Sir Roger's breath came quick and fast,--but he was a strong man with a
strong will, and he maintained his attitude of quiet resolution.
"Madam!--My Queen!--forgive me!" he said; "But as your humblest friend
--your faithful servant!--let me have my say with you now--and then--if
you will--condemn me to perpetual silence! You despise Love, you say!
Yes--because you have only seen its poor imitations! The King's light
gallantries,--his sins of body, which in many cases are not sins of
mind, have disgusted you with its very name! The King has loved--or
can love--so you think,--many, or any, women! Ah! No--no! Pardon me,
dearest Majesty! A man's desire may lead him through devious ways both
vile and vicious,--but a man's _love_ leads only one way to one
woman! Believe it! For even so, I have loved one woman these many
years!--and even so--I greatly fear--the King loves one woman now!"
Rigid as a figure of marble, she looked at him. He met her eyes calmly.
"Your Majesty asked me for the truth;" he said; "I have spoken it!"
Her lips parted in a cold, strained little smile.
"And--you--think," she said slowly; "that I--I am what you call
'jealous' of this 'one woman'? Had jealousy been in my nature, it would
have been provoked sufficiently often since my marriage!"
"Madam," responded Sir Roger humbly; "If I may dare to say so to your
Majesty, it is not possible to a noble woman to be jealous of a man's
mere humours of desire! But of Love--Love, the crown, the glory and
supremacy of life,--who, with a human heart and human blood, would not
be jealous? Who would not give kingdoms, thrones, ay, Heaven itself, if
it were not in itself Heaven, for its rapturous oblivion of sorrow, and
its full measure of joy!"
A dead silence fell between them, only disturbed by a small silver
chime in the distance, striking midnight.
The Queen again seated herself, and drew her book towards her. Then
raising her lovely unfathomable eyes, she looked at the tall stately
figure of the man before her with a slight touch of pity and pathos.
"Possibly you may be right," she said slowly, "Possibly wrong! But I do
not doubt that you yourself personally 'feel' all that you express,--
and--that you are faithful!"
Here she extended her hand. Sir Roger bowed low over it, and kissed its
delicate smoothness with careful coldness. As she withdrew it again,
she said in a low dreamy, half questioning tone:
"The woman's name is Lotys?"
Silently Sir Roger bent his head in assent.
"A man's love leads only one way--to one woman! And in this particular
case that woman is--Lotys!" she said, with a little musing scorn, as of
She laid her hand on the bell which at a touch would summon back her
lady-in-waiting. "You have served me well, Sir Roger, albeit somewhat
He gave a low exclamation of regret.
A smile, sudden and sweet, which transfigured her usually passionless
features into an almost angelic loveliness, lit up her mouth and eyes.
"Yes--roughly! But no matter! I pardon you freely! Good-night!"
"Good-night to your Majesty!" And as he stepped backward from her
presence, she rang for Teresa, who at once entered.
"Our excommunication from the Church sits lightly upon us, Sir Roger,
does it not?" said the Queen then, almost playfully; "You must know
that we say our prayers as of old, and we still believe God hears us!"
"Surely, Madam," he replied, "God must hear all prayers when they are
pure and honest!"
"Truly, I think so," she responded, laying one hand tenderly on
Teresa's hair, as the girl caressingly knelt beside her. "And--so,
despite lack of priestcraft,--we shall continue to pray,--in these
uncertain and dangerous times,--that all may be well for the country,--
the people, and--the King! Good-night!"
Again Sir Roger bowed, and this time altogether withdrew. He was strung
up to a pitch of intense excitement; the brief interview had been a
most trying one for him,--though there was a warm glow at his heart,
assuring him that he had done well. His suspicion that the King had
admired, and had sought out Lotys since the day she saved him from
assassination, had a very strong foundation in fact;--much stronger
indeed than was at present requisite to admit or to declare. But the
whole matter was a source of the greatest anxiety to De Launay, who, in
his strong love for his Royal master, found it often difficult to
conceal his apprehension,--and who was in a large measure relieved to
feel that the Queen had guessed something of it, and shared in his
sentiments. He now re-entered his room, and on doing so at once
perceived that the King had returned. But his Majesty was busy writing,
and did not raise his head from his papers, even when Sir Roger
noiselessly entered and laid some letters on the table. His complete
abstraction in his work was a sign that he did not wish to be disturbed
or spoken to;--and Sir Roger, taking the hint, retired again in
THE SONG OF FREEDOM
Revolution! The flame-winged Fury that swoops down on a people like a
sudden visitation of God, with the movement of a storm, and the
devastation of a plague in one! Who shall say how, or where, the seed
is sown that springs so swiftly to such thick harvest! Who can trace
its beginnings--and who can predict its end! Tragic and terrible as its
work has always seemed to the miserable and muddle-headed human units,
whose faults and follies, whose dissoluteness and neglect of the
highest interests of the people, are chiefly to blame for the birth of
this Monster, it is nevertheless Divine Law, that, when any part of
God's Universe-House is deliberately made foul by the dwellers in it,
then must it be cleansed,--and Revolution is the burning of the
rubbish,--the huge bonfire in which old abuses blazon their destruction
to an amazed and terror-stricken world. Yet there have been moments, or
periods, in history, when the threatening conflagration could have been
stayed and turned back from its course,--when the useless shedding of
blood might have been foregone--when the fierce passions of the people
might have been soothed and pacified, and when Justice might have been
nobly done and catastrophe averted, if there had been but one brave
man,--one only!--and that man a King! But in nearly all the convulsive
throes of nations, kings have proved themselves the weakest, tamest,
most cowardly and ineffectual of all the heads of the time--ready and
willing enough to sacrifice the lives of thousands of brave and devoted
men to their own cause, but never prepared to sacrifice themselves.
Hence the cause of the triumph of Democracy over effete Autocracy.
Kings may not be more than men,--but, certes, they should never be
less. They should not practise vices of which the very day-labourer
whom they employ, would be ashamed; nor should they flaunt their love
of sensuality and intrigue in the faces of their subjects as a 'Royal
example' and distinctive 'lead' to vulgar licentiousness. The loftier
the position, the greater the responsibility;--and a monarch who
voluntarily lowers the social standard in his realm has lost more
adherents than could possibly be slain in his defence on the field of
The King who plays his part as the hero of this narrative, was now
fully aware in his own mind and conscience of the thousands of
opportunities he had missed and wasted on his way to the Throne when
Heir-Apparent. Since the day of his 'real coronation,' when as he had
expressed it to his thoughts, he had 'crowned himself with his own
resolve,' he had studied men, manners, persons and events, to deep and
serious purpose. He had learned much, and discovered more. He had been,
in a moral sense, conquered by his son, Prince Humphry, who had proved
a match for him in his determined and honourable marriage for love, and
love only,--though born heir to all the conventions and hypocrisies of
a Throne. He,--in his day,--had lacked the courage and truth that this
boy had shown. And now, by certain means known best to himself, he had
fathomed an intricate network of deception and infamy among the
governing heads of the State. He had convinced himself in many ways of
the unblushing dishonesty and fraudulent self-service of Carl Pérousse.
And--yet--with all this information stored carefully up in his brain
he, to all appearances, took no advantage of it, and did nothing
remarkable,--save the one act which had been so much talked about--the
refusal of land in his possession to the Jesuits for a 'religious' (and
political) settlement. This independent course of procedure had
resulted in his excommunication from the Church. Of his 'veto' against
an intended war, scarcely anything was known. Only the Government were
aware of the part he had taken in that matter,--the Government and--the
Money-market! But the time was now ripe for further movement; and in
the deep and almost passionate interest he had recently learned to take
in the affairs of the actual People, he was in no humour for
He had mapped out in his brain a certain plan of action, and he was
determined to go through with it. The more so, as now a new and close
interest had incorporated itself with his life,--an emotion so deep and
tender and overwhelming, that he scarcely dared to own it to himself,--
scarcely ventured to believe that he, deprived of true love so long,
should now be truly loved for himself, at last! But on this he seldom
allowed his mind to dwell,--except when quite alone,--in the deep
silences of night;--when he gave his soul up to the secret sweetness
which had begun to purify and ennoble his innermost nature,--when he
saw visioned before him a face,--warm with the passion of a love so
grand and unselfish that it drew near to a likeness of the Divine;--a
love that asked nothing, and gave everything, with the beneficent glory
of the sunlight bestowing splendour on the earth. His lonely moments,
which were few, were all the time he devoted to this brooding luxury of
meditation, and though his heart beat like a boy's, and his eyes grew
dim with tenderness, as in fancy he dreamed of joy that might be, and
that yet still more surely might never be his,--his determined mind,
braced and bent to action, never faltered for a second in the new
conceptions he had formed of his duty to his people, who, as he now
considered, had been too long and too cruelly deceived.
Hence, something like an earthquake shock sent its tremor through the
country, when two things were suddenly announced without warning, as
the apparent results of the various Cabinet Councils held latterly so
often, and in such haste. The first was, that not only had his Majesty
accepted the resignation of the Marquis de Lutera as Premier, but that
he had decided--provided the selection was entirely agreeable to the
Government--to ask M. Carl Pérousse to form a Ministry in his place.
The second piece of intelligence, and one that was received with much
more favour than the first, by all classes and conditions of persons,
was that the Government had issued a decree for the complete expulsion
of the Jesuits from the country. By a certain named date, and within a
month, every Jesuit must have left the King's dominions, or else must
take the risk of a year's imprisonment followed by compulsory
Much uproar and discussion did this mandate excite among the clerical
parties of Europe,--much indignation did it breed within that Holy of
Holies situate at the Vatican,--which, having launched forth the ban of
excommunication, had no further thunderbolts left to throw at the head
of the recreant and abandoned Royalty whose 'temporal power' so
insolently superseded the spiritual. But the country breathed freely;
relieved from a dangerous and mischievous incubus. The educational
authorities gave fervent thanks to Heaven for sparing them from long
dreaded interference;--and when it was known that the excommunicated
King was the chief mover in this firm and liberating act, a silent wave
of passionate gratitude and approval ran through the multitudes of the
people, who would almost have assembled under the Palace walls and
offered a grand demonstration to their monarch, who had so boldly
carried the war into the enemy's country and won the victory, had they
not been held back and checked from their purpose by the counter-
feeling of their disgust at his Majesty's apparently forthcoming choice
of Carl Pérousse as Prime Minister.
Swayed this way and that, the people were divided more absolutely than
before into those two sections which always become very dangerous when
strongly marked out as distinctly separated,--the Classes and the
Masses. The comfortable wedge of Trade, which,--calling itself the
Middle-class,--had up to the present kept things firm, now split
asunder likewise,--the wealthy plutocrats clinging willy-nilly to the
Classes, to whom they did not legitimately belong; and the men of
moderate income throwing in their lot with the Masses, whose wrongs
they sympathetically felt somewhat resembled their own. For taxation
had ground them down to that particularly fine powder, which when
applied to the rocks of convention and usage, proves to be of a
somewhat blasting quality. They had paid as much on their earnings and
their goods as they could or would pay;--more indeed than they had any
reasonable right to pay,--and being sick of Government mismanagement,
and also of what they still regarded as the King's indifference to
their needs, they were prepared to make a dash for liberty. The
expulsion of the Jesuits they naturally looked upon as a suitable
retaliation on Rome for the excommunication of the Royal Family; but
beyond the intense relief it gave to all, it could not be considered as
affecting or materially altering the political situation. So, like the
dividing waves of the Red Sea, which rolled up on either side to permit
the passage of Moses and his followers--the Classes and the Masses
piled themselves up in opposite billowy sections to allow Sergius Thord
and the Revolutionary party to pass triumphantly through their midst,
adding thousands of adherents to their forces from both sides;--while
they were prepared to let the full weight of the billows engulf the
King, if, like Pharaoh and his chariots, he assumed too much, or
proceeded too far.
Professor von Glauben, seated in his own sanctum, and engaged in the
continuance of his "Political History of Hunger," found many points in
the immediate situation which considerably interested him and moved him
to philosophical meditation.
"For,--take the feeling of the People as it now is," he said to
himself; "It starts in Hunger! The taxes,--the uncomfortable visit of
the tax-gatherer! The price of the loaf,--concerning which the baker,
or the baker-ess, politely tells the customer that it is costly,
because of the Government tax on corn; then from the bread, it is
marvellous how the little clue winds upward through the spider-webs of
Trade. The butcher's meat is dearer,--for says he--'The tax on corn
makes it necessary for me to increase the price of meat.' There is no
logical reason given,--the fact simply _is_! So that Hunger
commences the warfare,--Hunger of Soul, as well as Hunger of body. 'Why
starve my thought?' says Soul. 'Why tax my bread?' says Body. These
tiresome questions continue to be asked, and never answered,--but
answers are clamoured for, and the people complain--and then one fierce
day the gods hear them grumble, and begin to grumble back! Ach! Then it
is thunder with a vengeance! Now in my own so-beloved Fatherland, there
has been this double grumbling for a long time. And that the storm will
burst, in spite of the so-excellently-advertising Kaiser is evident!
Hoch!--or _Ach_? Which should it be to salute the Kaiser! I know
not at all,--but I admit it is clever of him to put up a special
Hoarding-announcement for the private view of the Almighty God, each
time he addresses his troops! And he will come in for a chapter of my
history--for he also is Hungry!--he would fain eat a little of the loaf
of Britain!--yes!--he will fit into my work very well for the
instruction of the helpless unborn generations!"
He wrote on for a while, and then laid down his pen. His eyes grew
dreamy, and his rough features softened.
"What has become of the child, I wonder!" he mused; "Where has she
gone, the 'Glory-of-the-Sea'! I would give all I have to look upon her
beautiful face again;--and Ronsard--he, poor soul--silent as a stone,
weakening day after day in the grasp of relentless age,--would die
happy,--if I would let him! But I do not intend to give him that
satisfaction. He shall live! As I often tell him, my science is of no
avail if I cannot keep a man going, till at least a hundred and odd
years are past. Barring accidents, or self-slaughter, of course!" Here
he became somewhat abstracted in his meditations. "The old fellow is
brave enough,--brave as a lion, and strong too for his years;--I have
seen him handle a pair of oars and take down a sail as I could never do
it,--and--he has accepted a strange and difficult situation heroically.
'You must not be involved in any trouble by a knowledge of our
movements.' So Prince Humphry said, when I saw him last,--though I did
not then understand the real drift of his meaning. And time goes on--
and time seems wearisome without any tidings of those we love!"
A tap at the door disturbed his mental soliloquy, and in answer to his
'Come in,' Sir Roger de Launay entered.
"Sorry to interrupt work, Professor!" he said briefly; "The King goes
to the Opera this evening, and desires you to be of the party."
"Good! I shall obey with more pleasure than I have obeyed some of his
Majesty's recent instructions!" And the Professor pushed aside his
manuscript to look through his spectacled eyes at the tall equerry's
handsome face and figure. "You have a healthy appearance, Roger! Your
complexion speaks of an admirable digestion!"
De Launay smiled.
"You think so? Well! Your professional approval is worth having!" He
paused, then went on; "The party will be a pleasant one to-night. The
King is in high spirits."
"Ah!" And Von Glauben's monosyllable spoke volumes.
"Perhaps he ought not to be?" suggested Sir Roger with a slight touch
"I do not know--I cannot tell! This is the way of it, Roger--see!" And
taking off his spectacles, he polished them with due solemnity. "If I
were a King, and ruled over a country swarming with dissatisfied
subjects,--if I had a fox for a Premier,--and was in love with a woman
who could not possibly be my wife,--I should not be in high spirits!"
"Nor I!" said De Launay curtly. "But the fox is not Premier yet. Do you
think he ever will be?"
Von Glauben shrugged his shoulders.
"He is bound to be, I presume. What else remains to do? Upset
everything? Government, deputies and all?"
"Just that!" responded Sir Roger. "The People will do it, if the King
"The King will do anything he is asked to do--now--" said the Professor
significantly; "If the right person asks him!"
"You forget--she does not know--" Here checking himself abruptly, Sir
Roger walked to the window and looked out. It was a fair and peaceful
afternoon,--the ocean heaved placidly, covered with innumerable
wavelets, over which the seabirds flew and darted, their wings shining
like silver and diamonds as they dipped and circled up and down and
round the edges of the rocky coast. Far off, a faint rim of amethyst
under a slowly sailing white cloud could be recognized as the first
line of the shore of The Islands.
"Do you ever go and see the beautiful 'Gloria' girl now?" asked Sir
Roger suddenly. "The King has never mentioned her since the day we saw
her. And you have never explained the mystery of your acquaintance with
her,--nor whether it is true that Prince Humphry was specially
attracted by her. I shrewdly suspect----"
"That he has been sent off, out of harm's way!"
"You are right," said the Professor gravely; "That is exactly the
position! He has been sent off out of harm's way!"
"I heard," went on De Launay, "that the girl--or some girl of
remarkable beauty had been seen here--actually here in the Palace--
before the Prince left! And such an odd way he left, too--scuttling off
in his own yacht without--so far as I have ever heard--any farewells,
or preparation, or suitable companions to go with him. Still one hears
such extraordinary stories----"
"True!--one does!" agreed the Professor; "And after proper experience,
one hears without listening!"
De Launay looked at him curiously.
"The girl was certainly beautiful," he proceeded meditatively; "And her
adopted father,--Réné Ronsard,--was not that his name?--was a quaint
old fellow. A republican, too!--fiery as a new Danton! Well! The King's
curiosity is apparently satisfied on that score,--but"--here he began
to laugh--"I shall never forget your face, Von Glauben, when he caught
you on The Islands that day!--never! Like an overgrown boy, discovered
with his fingers in a jam-pot!"
"Thank you!" said the Professor imperturbably; "I can assure you that
the jam was excellent--and that I still remember its flavour!"
Sir Roger laughed again, but with great good-humour,--then he became
"The King goes out alone very often now?" he said.
"Very often," assented the Professor.
"Are we right in allowing him to do so?"
"Allowing him! Who is to forbid him?"
"Is he safe, do you think?"
"Safer, it would seem, my friend, than when laying a foundation-stone,
with ourselves and all his suite around him!" responded the Professor.
"Besides, it is too late now to count the possible risks of the
adventure he has entered upon. He knows the position, and estimates the
cost at its correct value. He has made himself the ruler of his own
destiny; we are only his servants. Personally, I have no fear,--save of
"Is what kills many strong men off in their middle-age," said Von
Glauben; "A disease for which there is no possible cure at that special
time of life,--Love! The love of boys is like a taste for green
gooseberries,--it soon passes, leaving a disordered stomach and a
general disrelish for acid fruit ever afterwards;--the love of the man-
about-town between the twenties and thirties is the love of self;--but
the love of a Man, after the Self-and-Clothes Period has passed, is the
love of the full-grown human creature clamouring for its mate,--its
mate in Soul even more than in Body. There is no gainsaying it--no
checking it--no pacifying it; it is a most disastrous business,
provocative of all manner of evils,--and to a king who has always been
accustomed to have his own way, it means Victory or Death!"
Sir Roger gazed at him perplexedly,--his tone was so solemn and full of
"You, for example," continued the Professor dictatorially, fixing his
keen piercing eyes full upon him; "You are a curious subject,--a very
curious subject! You live on a Dream; it is a good life--an excellent
life! It has the advantage, your Dream, of never becoming a reality,--
therefore you will always love,--and while you always love, you will
always keep young. Your lot is an exceedingly enviable one, my friend!
You need not frown,--I am old enough--and let us hope wise enough--to
guess your secret--to admire it from a purely philosophic point of
view--and to respect it!"
Sir Roger held his peace.
"But," continued the Professor, "His Majesty is not the manner of man
who would consent to subsist, like you, on an idle phantasy. If he
loves--he must possess; it is the regal way!"
"He will never succeed in the direction _you_ mean!" said Sir
"Never!" agreed Von Glauben with a profound shake of his head; "Strange
as it may seem, his case is quite as hopeless as yours!"
The door opened and closed abruptly,--and there followed silence. Von
Glauben looked up to find himself alone. He smiled tolerantly.
"Poor Roger!" he murmured; "He lives the life of a martyr by choice!
Some men do--and like it! They need not do it;--there is not the least
necessity in the world for their deliberately sticking a knife into
their hearts and walking about with it in a kind of idiot rapture. It
must hurt;--but they seem to enjoy it! Just as some women become nuns,
and flagellate themselves,--and then when they are writhing from their
own self-inflicted stripes, they dream they are the 'brides of Christ,'
entirely forgetting the extremely irreligious fact that to have so many
'brides' the good Christ Himself might possibly be troubled, and would
surely occupy an inconvenient position, even in Heaven! Each man,--each
woman,--makes for himself or herself a little groove or pet sorrow, in
which to trot round and round and bemoan life; the secret of the whole
bemoaning being that he or she cannot have precisely the thing he or
she wants. That is all! Such a trifle! Church, State, Prayer and Power
--it can all be summed up in one line--'I have not the thing I want--
give it to me!'"
He resumed his writing, and did not interrupt it again till it was time
to join the Royal party at the Opera.
That evening was one destined to be long remembered in the annals of
the kingdom. The beautiful Opera-house, a marvel of art and
architecture, was brilliantly full; all the fairest women and most
distinguished men occupying the boxes and stalls, while round and
round, in a seemingly never-ending galaxy of faces, and crowded in the
tiers of balconies above, a mixed audience had gathered, made up of
various sections of the populace which filled the space well up to the
furthest galleries. The attraction that had drawn so large an audience
together was not contained in the magnetic personality of either the
King or Queen, for those exalted individuals had only announced their
intention of being present just two hours before the curtain rose.
Moreover, when their Majesties entered the Royal box, accompanied by
their two younger sons, Rupert and Cyprian, and attended by their
personal suite, their appearance created very little sensation. The
fact that it was the first time the King had showed himself openly in
public since his excommunication from the Church, caused perhaps a
couple of hundred persons to raise their eyes inquisitively towards him
in a kind of half-morbid, half-languid curiosity, but in these days
the sentiment of Self is so strong, that it is only a minority of more
thoughtful individuals that ever trouble themselves seriously to
consider the annoyances or griefs which their fellow-mortals have to
endure, often alone and undefended.
The interest of the public on this particular occasion was centred in
the new Opera, which had only been given three times before, and in
which the little dancer, Pequita, played the part of a child-heroine.
The _libretto_ was the work of Paul Zouche, and the music by one
of the greatest violinists in the world, Louis Valdor. The plot was
slight enough;--yet, described in exquisite verse, and scattered
throughout with the daintiest songs and dances, it merited a
considerably higher place in musical records than such works as
Meyerbeer's "Dinorah," or Verdi's "Rigoletto." The thread on which the
pearls of poesy and harmony were strung, was the story of a wandering
fiddler, who, accompanied by his only child (the part played by
Pequita), travels from city to city earning a scant livelihood by his
own playing and his daughter's dancing. Chance or fate leads them to
throw in their fortunes with a band of enthusiastic adventurers, who,
headed by a young hare-brained patriot, elected as their leader, have
determined to storm the Vatican, and demand the person of the Pope,
that they may convey him to America, there to convene an assemblage of
all true Christians (or 'New Christians'), and found a new and more
Christ-like Church. Their expedition fails,--as naturally so wild a
scheme would be bound to do,--but though they cannot succeed in
capturing the Pope, they secure a large following of the Italian
populace, who join with them in singing "The Song of Freedom," which,
with Paul Zouche's words, and Valdor's music was the great _chef
d'oevre_ of the Opera, rousing the listeners to a pitch of something
like frenzy. In this,--the last great scene,--Pequita, dancing the
'Dagger Dance,' is supposed to infect the people with that fervour
which moves them to sing "The Freedom Chorus," and the curtain comes
down upon a brilliant stage, crowded with enthusiasts and patriots,
ready to fight and die for the glory of their country. A love-interest
is given to the piece by the passion of the wandering fiddler-hero for
a girl whose wealth places her above his reach; and who in the end
sacrifices all worldly advantage that she may share his uncertain
fortunes for love's sake only.
Such was the story,--which, wedded to wild and passionate music, had
taken the public by storm on its first representation, not only on
account of its own merit, but because it gave their new favourite,
Pequita, many opportunities for showing off her exquisite grace as a
dancer. She, while preparing for the stage on this special night, had
been told that her wish was about to be granted--that she would now, at
last, really dance before the King;--and her heart beat high, and the
rich colour reddened in her soft childish face, as she donned her
scarlet skirts with more than her usual care, and knotted back her
raven curls with a great glowing damask rose, such as Spanish beauties
fasten behind tiny shell-like ears to emphasise the perfection of their
contour. Her thoughts flew to her kindest friend, Pasquin Leroy;--she
remembered the starry diamond in the ring he had wished to give her,
and how he had said, 'Pequita, the first time you dance before the
King, this shall be yours!'
Where was he now, she wondered? She would have given anything to know
his place of abode, just to send him word that the King was to be at
the Opera that night, and ask him too, to come and see her in her
triumph! But she had no time to study ways and means for sending a
message to him, either through Sholto, her father, who always waited
patiently for her behind the scenes,--or through Paul Zouche, who,
though as _librettist_ of the opera, and as a poet of new and
rising fame, was treated by everyone with the greatest deference, still
made a special point of appearing in the shabbiest clothes, and
lounging near the side-wings like a sort of disgraced tramp all the
time the performance was in progress. Neither of them knew Leroy's
address;--they only met him or saw him, when he himself chose to come
among them. Besides,--the sound of the National Hymn played by the
orchestra, warned her that the King had arrived; and that she must hold
herself in readiness for her part and think of nothing else.
The blaze of light in the Opera-house seemed more dazzling than usual
to the child, when her cue was called,--and as she sprang from the
wings and bounded towards the footlights, amid the loud roar of
applause which she was now accustomed to receive nightly, she raised
her eyes towards the Royal box, half-frightened, half-expectant. Her
heart sank as she saw that the King had partially turned away from the
stage, and was chatting carelessly with some person or persons behind
him, and that only a statuesque woman with a pale face, great eyes, and
a crown of diamonds, regarded her steadily with a high-bred air of
chill indifference, which was sufficient to turn the little warm
beating heart of her into stone. A handsome youth stared down upon her
smiling,--his eyes sleepily amorous,--it was the elder of the King's
two younger sons, Prince Rupert. She hated his expression, beautiful
though his features were,--and hated herself for having to dance before
him. Poor little Pequita! It was her first experience of the insult a
girl-child can be made to feel through the look of a budding young
profligate. On and on she danced, giddily whirling;--the thoughts in
her brain circling as rapidly as her movements. Why would not the King
look at her,--she thought? Why was he so indifferent, even when his
subjects sought most to please him? At the end of the second act of the
Opera a great fatigue and lassitude overcame her, and a look of black
resentment clouded her pretty face.
"What ails you?" said Zouche, sauntering up to her as she stood behind
the wings; "You look like a small thunder-cloud!"
She gave an unmistakable gesture in the direction of that quarter of
the theatre where the Royal box was situated.
"I hate him!" she said, with a stamp of her little foot.
"The King? So do I!" And Zouche lit a cigarette and stuck it between
his lips by way of a stop-gap to a threatening violent expletive; "An
insolent, pampered, flattered fool! Yet you wanted to dance before him;
and now you've done it! The fact will serve you as a kind of
advertisement! That is all!"
"I do not want to be advertised through _his_ favour!" And Pequita
closed her tiny teeth on her scarlet under-lip in suppressed anger;
"But I have not danced before him yet! I _will_!"
Zouche looked at her sleepily. He was not drunk--though he had,--of
"You have not danced before him? Then what have you been doing?"
"Walking!" answered Pequita, with a fierce little laugh, her colour
coming and going with all the quick wavering hue of irritated and
irritable Spanish blood, "I have, as they say 'walked across the
stage.' I shall dance presently!"
He smiled, flicking a little ash off his cigarette.
"You are a curious child!" he said; "By and by you will want severely
keeping in order!"
Pequita laughed again, and shook back her long curls defiantly.
"Who is that cold woman with a face like a mask and the crown of
diamonds, that sits beside the King?"
It was Zouche's turn to laugh now, and he did so with a keen sense of
"Upon my word!" he exclaimed; "A little experience of the world has
given you what newspaper men call 'local colour.' The 'cold woman with
the face like a mask,' is the Queen!"
Pequita made a little grimace of scorn.
"And who is the leering boy?"
"The Crown Prince?"
"No. The Crown Prince is travelling abroad. He went away very
mysteriously,--no one knows where he has gone, or when he will come
"I am not surprised!" said Pequita; "With such a father and mother, and
such impudent-looking brothers, no wonder he wanted to get away!"
Zouche had another fit of laughter. He had never seen the little girl
in such a temper. He tried to assume gravity.
"Pequita, you are naughty! The flatteries of the great world are
"Bah!" said Pequita, with a contemptuous wave of her small brown hands.
"The flatteries of the great world! To what do they lead? To
_that_!" and she made another eloquent sign towards the Royal
box;--"I would rather dance for you and Lotys, and Sergius Thord, and
Pasquin Leroy, than all the Kings of the world together! What I do here
is for my father's sake--_you_ know that!"
"I know!" and Zouche smoked on, and shook his wild head sentimentally,
--murmuring in a _sotto-voce_:
"What I do _here_, is for the need of gold,--
What I do _there_, is for sweet love's sake only;
Love, ever timid _there_, doth _here_ grow bold,--
And wins such triumph as but leaves me lonely!"
"Is that yours?" said Pequita with a sudden smile.
"Mine, or Shakespeare's," answered Zouche indolently; "Does it matter
Pequita laughed, and her cue being just then called, again she bounded
on to the stage; but this time she played her part, as the stock phrase
goes, 'to the gallery,' and did not once turn her eyes towards the
place where the King sat withdrawn into the shadow of his box, giving
no sign of applause. She, however, had caught sight of Sergius Thord
and some of her Revolutionary friends seated 'among the gods,' and that
was enough inspiration for her. Something,--a quite indefinable
something,--a touch of personal or spiritual magnetism, had been fired
in her young soul; and gradually as the Opera went on, her fellow-
players became infected by it. Some of them gave her odd, half-laughing
glances now and then,--being more or less amazed at the unusual vigour
with which she sang, in her pure childish soprano, the few strophes of
recitative and light song attached to her part;--the very prima-donna
herself caught fire,--and the distinguished tenor, who had travelled
all the way from Buda Pesth in haste, so that he might 'create' the
chief rôle in the work of his friend Valdor, began to feel that there
was something more in operatic singing than the mere inflation of the
chest, and the careful production of perfectly-rounded notes. Valdor
himself played the various violin solos which occurred frequently
throughout the piece, and never failed to evoke a storm of rapturous
plaudits,--and many were the half-indignant glances of the audience
towards the Royal shrine of draped satin, gilding, and electric light,
wherein the King, like an idol, sat,--undemonstrative, and apparently
more bored than satisfied. There was a general feeling that he ought to
have shown,--by his personal applause in public,--a proper appreciation
of the many gifted artists playing that evening, especially in the case
of Louis Valdor, the composer of the Opera itself. But he sat inert,
only occasionally glancing at the stage, and anon carelessly turning
away from it to converse with the members of his suite.
The piece went on;--and more and more the passion of Pequita's pent-up
little soul communicated itself to the other performers,--till they
found themselves almost unconsciously obeying her 'lead.' At last came
the grand final act,--where, in accordance with the progress of the
story, the bold band of 'New Christians' are fought back from the gates
of the Vatican by the Papal Guard; and the Roman populace, roused to
enthusiasm, gather round their defeated ranks to defend and to aid them
with sympathy and support in their combat,--breaking forth all together
at last in the triumphant 'Song of Freedom.' Truly grand and majestic
was this same song,--pulsating with truth and passion,--breathing with
the very essence of liberty,--an echo of the heart and soul of strong
nations who struggle, even unto death, for the lawful rights of
humanity denied to them by the tyrants in place and power. As the
superb roll and swell of the glorious music poured through the crowded
house, there was an almost unconscious movement among the audience,--
the people in the gallery rose _en masse_, and at the close of the
first verse, responded to it by a mighty cheer, which reverberated
through and through the immense building like thunder. The occupants of
the stalls and boxes exchanged wondering and half-frightened looks,--
then as the cheer subsided, settled themselves again to listen, more or
less spell-bound, as the second verse began. Just before this had
merged into its accompanying splendid and soul-awakening chorus,--
Pequita,--having obtained the consent of the manager to execute her
'Dagger Dance' in the middle of the song, instead of at the end,--
suddenly sprang towards the footlights in a pirouette of extravagant
and exquisite velocity--while,--checked by a sign from the conductor,
the singers ceased. Without music, in an absolute stillness as of
death, the girl swung herself to and fro, like a bell-flower in the
breeze,--anon she sprang and leaped like a scarlet flame--and again
sank into a slow and voluptuous motion, as of a fairy who dreamingly
glides on tiptoe over a field of flowers. Then, on a sudden, while the
fascinated spectators watched her breathlessly,--she seemed to wake
from sleep,--and running forward wildly, began to toss and whirl her
scarlet skirts, her black curls streaming, her dark eyes flashing with
mingled defiance and scorn, while drawing from her breast an unsheathed
dagger, she flung it in the air, caught it dexterously by the hilt
again, twisted and turned it in every possible way,--now beckoning, now
repelling, now defending,--and lastly threatening, with a passionate
intensity of action that was well-nigh irresistible.
Caught by the marvellous subtlety of her performance, quite one half
the audience now rose instinctively, all eyes being fixed on the
strange evolutions of this whirling, flying thing that seemed possessed
by the very devil of dancing! The King at last attracted, leaned
slightly forward from his box with a tolerant smile,--the Queen's face
was as usual, immovable,--the Princes Rupert and Cyprian stared, open-
mouthed--while over the whole brilliant scene that remarkable silence
brooded, like the sultry pause before the breaking of a storm.
Triumphant, reckless, panting,--scarcely knowing what she did in her
excitement,--Pequita, suddenly running backward, with the lightness of
thistle-down flying before the wind, snatched the flag of the country
from a super standing by, and dancing forward again, waved it aloft,
till with a final abandonment of herself to the humour of the moment,
she sprang with a single bound towards the Royal box, and there--the
youthful incarnation of living, breathing passion, fury, patriotism,
and exultation in one,--dropped on one knee, the flag waving behind
her, the dagger pointed straight upward, full at the King!
A great roar,--like that of hundreds of famished wild beasts,--answered
this gesture; mingled with acclamations,--and when 'The Song of
Freedom' again burst out from the singers on the stage, the whole mass
of people joined in the chorus with a kind of melodious madness. Shouts
of 'Pequita! Pequita!' rang out on all sides,--then 'Valdor! Valdor!'--
and then,--all suddenly,--a stentorian voice cried 'Sergius Thord!'
At that word the house became a chaos. Men in the gallery, seized by
some extraordinary impulse of doing they knew not what, and going they
knew not whither, leaped over each other's shoulders, and began to
climb down by the pillars of the balconies to the stalls,--and a
universal panic and rush ensued. Terrified women hurried from the
stalls and boxes in spite of warning, and got mixed with the maddened
crowd, a section of which, pouring out of the Opera-house came
incontinently upon the King's carriage in waiting,--and forthwith,
without any reflection as to the why or the wherefore, smashed it to
atoms! Then, singing again 'The Song of Freedom,'--the people, pouring
out from all the doors, formed into a huge battalion, and started on a
march of devastation and plunder.
Sergius Thord, grasping the situation from the first, rushed out of the
Opera-house in all haste, anxious to avert a catastrophe, but he was
too late to stop the frenzied crowd,--nothing could, or would have
stopped them at that particular moment. The fire had been too long
smouldering in their souls; and Pequita, like a little spark of fury,
had set it in a blaze. Through private ways and back streets, the King
and Queen and their sons, escorted by the alarmed manager, escaped from
the Opera unhurt,--and drove back unobserved to the Palace in a common
fiacre--and a vast multitude, waiting to see them come out by the usual
doors, and finding they did not come, vented their rage and disgust by
tearing up and smashing everything within their reach. Then,
remembering in good time, despite their excitement, that the manager of
the Opera had done nothing to deserve injury to himself or his
property, they paused in this work of destruction, and with the sudden
caprice of children, gave out ringing cheers for him and for Pequita;--
while their uncertainty as to what to do next was settled for them by
Paul Zouche, who, mounting on one of the pedestals which supported the
columns of the entrance to the Opera, where his wild head, glittering
eyes and eager face looked scarcely human, cried out:
"Damnation to Carl Pérousse! Why do you idle here, my friends, when you
might be busy! If you want Freedom, seek it from him who is to be your
new Prime Minister!"
A prolonged yell of savage approval answered him,--and like an angry
tide, the crowd swept on and on, gathering strength and force as it
went, and pouring through the streets with fierce clamour of shouting,
and clash of hastily collected weapons,--on and on to the great square,
in the centre of which stood the statue of the late King, and where the
house of Carl Pérousse occupied the most prominent position. And the
moon, coming suddenly out of a cloud, stared whitely down upon the
turbulent scene,--one too often witnessed in history, when, as Carlyle
says, 'a Nation of men is suddenly hurled beyond the limits. For
Nature, as green as she looks, rests everywhere on dread foundations,
and Pan, to whose music the Nymphs dance, has a cry in him that can
drive all men distracted!'
In such distraction, and with such wild cry, the night of Pequita's
long-looked-for dance before the King swept stormily on towards day.
"FATE GIVES--THE KING!"
News of this fresh and more violent disturbance among the people
brought the soldiery out in hot haste, who galloped down to the scene
of excitement, only to find the mounted police before them, headed by
General Bernhoff, who careering to and fro, cool and composed, forbade,
'in the name of the King!' any attempt to drive the mob out of the
square. Swaying uneasily round and round, the populace yelled and
groaned, and cheered and hissed; not knowing exactly whereunto they
were so wildly moved, but evidently waiting for a fresh 'lead.' The
house of Carl Pérousse, with its handsome exterior and stately marble
portico, offered itself as a tempting target to the more excitable
roughs, and a stone sent crashing through one of the windows would have
certainly been the signal for a general onslaught had not a man's
figure suddenly climbed the pedestal which supported the statue of the
late King in the centre of the square, and lifted its living visible
identity against the frowning cold stone image of the dead. A cry went
up from thousands of throats--'Sergius Thord!'--followed by an
extraordinary clamour of passionate plaudits, as the excited people
recognised the grand head and commanding aspect of their own particular
Apostle of Liberty. He,--stretching out his hands with a gesture of
mingled authority and entreaty,--pacified the raging sea of
contradictory and conflicting voices as if by magic,--and the horrid
clamour died down into a dull roar, which in its turn subsided into
"Friends and brothers!" he cried; "Be calm! Be patient! What spirit
possesses you to thus destroy the chances of your own peace! What is
your aim? Justice? Ay--justice!--but how can you gain this by being
yourselves unjust? Will you remedy Wrong by injuring Right? Nay--this
must not be!--this cannot be, with _you_, whose passion for
liberty is noble,--whose love for truth is fixed and resolute,--and who
seek no more than is by human right your own! This sudden tempest, by
which your souls are tossed, is like an angry gust upon the sea, which
wrecks great vessels and drowns brave men;--be something more than the
semblance of the capricious wind which destroys without having reason
to know why it is bent on destruction! What are you here for? What
would you do?"
A confused shouting answered him, in which cries of 'Pérousse!' and
'The King!' were most prominent.
Sergius Thord looked round upon the seething mass below him, with a
strange sense of power and of triumph. He--even he--who could claim to
be no more than a poor Thinker, speaker and writer,--had won these
thousands to his command!--he had them here, willing to obey his
lightest word,--ready to follow his signal wheresoever it might take
them! His eyes glowed,--and the light of a great and earnest
inspiration illumined his strong features.
"You call for Carl Pérousse!" he said; "Yonder he dwells!--in the regal
house he has built for himself out of the sweating work of the poor!" A
fierce yell from the populace and an attempt at a rush, was again
stopped by the speaker's uplifted hand; "Wait, friends--wait! Think for
a moment of the result of action, before you act! Suppose you pulled
down that palace of fraud; suppose your strong hands righteously rent
it asunder;--suppose you set fire to its walls,--suppose you dragged
out the robber from his cave and slew him here, before sunrise--what
then? You would make of him a martyr!--and the hypocritical liars of
the present policy, who are involved with him in his financial
schemes,--would chant his praises in every newspaper, and laud his
virtues in every sermon! Nay, we should probably hear of a special
'Memorial Service' being held in our great Cathedral to sanctify the
corpse of the vilest stock-jobbing rascal that ever cheated the
gallows! Be wiser than that, my friends! Do not soil your hands either
with the body of Carl Pérousse or his ill-gotten dwelling. What we want
for him is Disgrace, not Death! Death is far too easy! An innocent
child may die; do not give to a false-hearted knave the simple exit
common to the brave and true! Disgrace!--disgrace! Shame, confusion,
and the curse of the country,--let these be your vengeance on the man
who seeks to clutch the reins of government!--the man who would drive
the people like whipped horses to their ruin!"
Another roar answered him, but this time it was mingled with murmurs of
dissatisfaction. Thord caught these up, and at once responded to them.
"I hear you, O People! I hear the clamour of your hearts and souls,
which is almost too strong to find expression in speech! You cannot
wait, you would tell me! You would have Pérousse dragged out here,--you
would tear him to pieces among you, if you could, and carry the
fragments of him to the King, to prove what a people can do with a
villain proposed to them as their Prime Minister!" Loud and ferocious
shouts answered these words, and he went on; "I know--I understand!--
and I sympathise! But even as I know you, you know me! Believe me now,
therefore, and hear my promise! I swear to you before you all"--and
here he extended both arms with a solemn and impressive gesture--"that
this month shall not be ended before the dishonesty of Carl Pérousse is
publicly and flagrantly known at every street corner,--in every town
and province of the land!--and before the most high God, I take my oath
to you, the People,--that he shall never be the governing head of the
A hurricane of applause answered him--a tempest of shouting that seemed
to surge and sway through the air and down to the earth again like the
beating of a powerful wind.
"Give me your trust, O People!" he cried, carried beyond himself with
the excitement and fervour of the scene--"Give me yourselves!"
Another roar replied to this adjuration. He stood triumphant;--the
people pressing up around him,--some weeping--some kneeling at his
feet--some climbing to kiss his hand. A few angry voices in the
distance cried out--'The King!'--and he turned at once on the word.
"Who needs the King?" he demanded; "Who calls for him? What is he to
us? What has he ever been? Look back on his career!--see him as Heir-
Apparent to the Throne, wasting his time with dishonest associates,--
dealing with speculators and turf gamblers--involving himself in debt--
and pandering to vile women, who still hold him in their grasp, and who
in their turn rule the country by their caprice, and drain the Royal
coffers by their licentious extravagance! Now look on him as the King,
--a tool in the hands of financiers--a speculator among speculators--
steeped to the very eyes in the love of money, and despising all men
who do not bear the open blazon of wealth upon them,--what has he done
for the people? Nothing! What will he ever do for the People? Nothing!
Flattered by self-seekers--stuffed with eulogy by a paid Press--his
name made a byword and a mockery by the very women with whom he
consorts, what should we do with him in Our work! Let him alone!--let
him be! Let him eat and drink as suits his nature--and die of the
poison his own vices breed in his blood!--we want naught of him, or his
heirs! When the time ripens to its full fruition, we, the People, can
do without a Throne!"
At this, thousands of hats and handkerchiefs were tossed in the air,--
thousands of voices cheered to the very echo, and to relieve their
feelings still more completely the vast crowd once more took up 'The
Song of Freedom' and began singing it in unison steadily and grandly,
with all that resistless force and passion which springs from deep-
seated emotion in the soul. And while they were singing, Thord,
glancing rapidly about him, saw Johan Zegota close at hand, and to his
still greater satisfaction, Pasquin Leroy; and beckoning them both to
his side whispered his brief orders, which were at once comprehended.
The day was breaking; and in the purple east a line of crimson showed
where the sun would presently rise. A few minutes' quick organisation
worked by Leroy and Zegota, and some few other of their comrades
sufficed to break up the mob into three sections, and in perfect order
they stood blocked for a moment, like the three wings of a great army.
Then once more Thord addressed them:
"People, you have heard my vow! If before the end of the month Carl
Pérousse is not ejected with contempt from office, I will ask my death
at your hands! A meeting will be convened next week at the People's
Assembly Rooms where we shall make arrangements to approach the King.
If the King refuses to receive us, we shall find means to make him do
so! He _shall_ hear us! He is our paid servant, and he is bound to
serve us faithfully,--or the Throne shall be a thing of the past, to be
looked back upon with regret that we, a great and free people, ever
tolerated its vice and tyranny!"
Here he waited to let the storm of plaudits subside,--and then
continued: "Now part, all of you friends!--go your ways,--and keep
order for yourselves with vigilance! The soldiery are here, but they
dare not fire!--the police are here, but they dare not arrest! Give
them no cause even to say that it would have been well to do either!
Let the spiritual force of your determined minds,--fixed on a noble and
just purpose, over-rule mere temporal authority; let none have to blame
you for murder or violence,--take no life,--shed no blood; but let your
conquest of the Government,--your capture of the Throne,--be a glorious
moral victory, outweighing any battle gained only by brute force and
He was answered by a strenuous cheer; and then the three great sections
of the multitude began to move. Out of the square in perfect order they
marched,--still singing; one huge mass of people being headed by
Pasquin Leroy, the other by Johan Zegota,--the third by Sergius Thord
himself. The soldiery, seeing there was no cause for interference,
withdrew,--the police dispersed, and once again an outbreak of popular
disorder was checked and for a time withheld.
But this second riot had startled the metropolis in good earnest.
Everyone became fully alive to the danger and increasing force of the
disaffected community,--and the Government,--lately grown inert and
dilatory in the transaction of business,--began seriously to consider
ways and means of pacifying general clamour and public dissatisfaction.
None of the members of the Cabinet were much surprised, therefore, when
they each received a summons from the King to wait upon him at the
Palace that day week,--'to discuss affairs of national urgency,' and
the general impression appeared to be, that though Carl Pérousse
dismissed the 'street rowdyism,' as he called it, with contempt, and
spoke of 'disloyal traitors opposed to the Government,' he was
nevertheless riding for a fall; and that his chances of obtaining the
Premiership were scarcely so sure as they had hitherto seemed.
Meanwhile, Pequita, whose childish rage against the King for not
noticing her dancing or applauding it, had been the trifling cause of
the sudden volcanic eruption of the public mind, became more than ever
the idol of the hour. The night after the riot, the Opera-house was
crowded to suffocation,--and the stage was covered with flowers. Among
the countless bouquets offered to the triumphant little dancer, came
one which was not thrown from the audience, but was brought to her by a
messenger; it was a great cluster of scarlet carnations, and attached
to it was a tiny velvet case, containing the ring promised to her by
Pasquin Leroy, when, as he had said, she 'should dance before the
King.' A small card accompanied it on which was written 'Pequita, from
Pasquin!' Turning to Lotys, who, in the event of further turbulence,
had accompanied her to the Opera that night to take care of her, and
who sat grave, pale, and thoughtful, in one of the dressing-rooms near
the stage, the child eagerly showed her the jewel, exclaiming:
"See! He has kept his promise!"
And Lotys,--sighing even while she smiled,--answered:
"Yes, dear! He would not be the brave man he is, if he ever broke his
Whereat Pequita slipped the ring on her friend's finger, kissing her
"Take care of it for me! Wear it for me! For tonight, at least!"
Lotys assented,--though with a little reluctance,--and it was only
while Pequita was away from her, performing her part on the stage, that
this strange lonely woman bent her face down on the hand adorned with
the star-like gem and kissed it,--tears standing in her eyes as she
"My love--my love! If you only knew!"
And then the hot colour surged into her cheeks for sheer shame of
herself that she should love!--she--no longer in her youth,--and
utterly unconscious that there was, or could be any beauty in her deep
lustrous eyes, white skin, and dull gold hair. What had she to do with
the thoughts of passion?--she whose life was devoted to the sick and
needy,--and who had no right to think of anything else but how she
should aid them best, so long as that life should last! She knew well
enough that love of a great, jealous, and almost savage kind, was hers
if she chose to claim it--the love of Sergius Thord, who worshipped her
both as a woman and an Intellect; but she could not contemplate him as
her lover, having grown up to consider him more as a sort of paternal
guardian and friend. In fact, she had thoroughly resigned herself to
think of nothing but work for the remainder of her days, and to
entirely forego the love and tenderness which most women, even the
poorest, have the natural right to win; and now slowly,--almost
unconsciously to herself,--Love had stolen into her soul and taken
possession of it;--secret love for the man, who brave almost to
recklessness, had joined his fortunes in with Sergius Thord and his
companions, and had assisted the work of pushing matters so far
forward, that the wrongs done to the poor, and the numerous injustices
of the law, which for years had been accumulating, and had become part
and parcel of the governing system of the country, now stood a fair
chance of being remedied. She, with her quick woman's instinct, had
perceived that where Sergius Thord, in his dreamy idealism, halted and
was uncertain of results, Pasquin Leroy stepped into the breach and won
the victory. And, like all courageous women, she admired a courageous
man. Not that Thord lacked courage,--he had plenty of the physical
brute force known as such,--but he had also a peculiar and
uncomfortable quality of rousing desires, both in himself and others
which he had not the means of gratifying.
Thus Lotys foresaw that, unless by some miraculous chance he obtained
both place and power, and a share in the ruling of things, there was
every possibility of a split in the Revolutionary Committee,--one half
being inclined to indulge in the criminal and wholly wasteful spirit of
Anarchy,--the other disposed to throw in its lot with the Liberal or
Radical side of politics. And she began to regard Pasquin Leroy, with
his even temperament, cool imperturbability, intellectual daring, and
literary ability, as the link which kept them all together, and gave
practical force to the often brooding and fantastic day-dreams of
Thord, who, though he made plans night and day for the greater freedom
and relief of the People from unjust coercion, had not succeeded in
obtaining as yet sufficient power to carry them into execution.
It was evident, however, to the whole country that the times were in a
ferment,--that the Government was growing more unpopular, and that Carl
Pérousse, the chief hinge on which Governmental force turned, was under
a cloud of the gravest suspicion. Meetings, more or less stormy in
character, were held everywhere by every shade of party in politics,--
and strong protests against his being nominated as Premier were daily
sent to the King. But to the surprise of many, and the annoyance of
most, his Majesty gave no sign. The newspapers burst into rampant
argument,--every little editor issued his Jovian 'opinion' on the grave
issues at stake;--David Jost kept his Hebraic colours flying for the
King,--judging that to flatter Royalty was always a safe course for
most Jews;--while in the rival journal, brilliant essays, leaders and
satires on the political situation, combined with point-blank
accusations against the Secretary of State, (which that distinguished
personage always failed to notice,) flew from the pen of the mysterious
writer, Pasquin Leroy, and occupied constant public attention. Unlike
the realm of Britain,--where the 'golden youth' enfeeble their
intellects by the perusal of such poor and slangy journalism that they
have lost both the art and wit to comprehend brilliant political
writing,--the inhabitants of this particular corner of the sunny south
were always ready to worship genius wherever even the smallest glimmer
of it appeared,--and the admiration Leroy's writings excited was fast
becoming universal, though for the most part these writings were
extremely inflammable in nature, and rated both King and Court soundly.
But with the usual indifference of Royalty to 'genius' generally, the
King, when asked if he had taken note of certain articles dealing very
freely with both him and his social conduct, declared he had never
heard of them, or of their writer!
"I never," he said with an odd smile, "pay any attention to clever
literature! I should be establishing a precedent which would be
inconvenient and disagreeable to my fellow sovereigns!"
The time went on; the King met his Ministers on the day he had summoned
them in private council,--and on the other hand Sergius Thord convened
a mighty mass-meeting for the purpose of carrying a resolution formed
to address his Majesty on the impending question of the Premiership.
From the King's council, the heads of Government came away in haste,
despair and confusion; from the mass-meeting whole regiments marched
through the streets in triumphant and satisfied order.
After these events there came a night, when the sweet progress of calm
weather was broken up by cloud and storm,--and when heavy thunder
boomed over the city at long dull intervals, like the grinding and
pounding of artillery, without any rain to cool the heated ether, which
was now and again torn asunder by flashes of lightning. There was
evidently a raging tempest far out at sea, though the land only
received suggestions of this by the occasional rearing up of huge dark
green billows which broke against the tall cliffs, plumed with mimosa
and myrtle, that guarded the coast. Heavy scents of flowers were in the
air--heavy heat weighed down the atmosphere,--and there was a languor
in the slow footsteps of the men, who, singly, or in groups, arrived at
the door of Sergius Thord's house to fulfil the dread compact binding
upon them all in regard to the 'Day of Fate.' Pasquin Leroy and his two
companions were among the first to arrive, and to make their way up the
dark steep stairs to the Committee room, where, when they entered, they
found the usual aspect of things strangely altered. The table no longer
occupied its position in the middle of the floor; it was set on a
raised platform entirely draped with black. Large candelabra, holding
six lights each, occupied either end,--and in the centre one solitary
red lamp was placed, shedding its flare over a large bronze vessel
shaped like a funeral urn. The rest of the room was in darkness,--and
with the gathering groups of men, who moved silently and spoke in
whispers, it presented a solemn and eerie spectacle.
"Ah! You have now arrived," said Max Graub, in a cautious sotto voce to
Leroy, "at the end of your adventures! Behold the number Thirteen! Six
lights at one end, six lights at the other,--that is twelve; and in the
centre the Thirteenth--the red Eye looking into the sepulchral urn! It
is all up with us!"
Leroy said nothing,--but the face of the man called Axel Regor grew
suddenly very pale. He drew Leroy a little aside.
"This is no laughing matter!" he said very earnestly; "Let me stand
near you--let me keep close at your side all the evening!"
Leroy smiled and pressed his hand.
"My dear fellow!" he said; "Have no fear! Or if you have fear, do not
show it! You stand in precisely the same danger as myself, or as any of
us; you may draw the fatal Signal!--but if you do, I promise you I will
volunteer myself in your place."
"_You_!" said Regor with a volume of meaning in the utterance;
"You would stand in my place?"
"Why, of course!" replied Leroy cheerily; "Life is not such a wonderful
business, that death for a friend's sake is not better!"
Regor looked at him, and a speechless devotion filled and softened his
eyes. Certain words spoken to him by a woman he loved echoed through
his brain, and he murmured:
"Nay, by the God above us, if death is in question, _I_ will die
rather than let _you_ die!"
"That will depend on my humour!" said Leroy, still smiling; "You will
require my permission to enter into combat with the last enemy before
he offers challenge!"
Max Graub here approached them with a warning finger laid on his lips.
"Hush--sh--sh!" he said; "Think as much as you like,--but talk as
little as you can! I assure you this is a most uncomfortable business!--
and here comes the axis of the revolving wheel!"
They made way,--as did all the men grouped together in the room,--for
the entrance of Sergius Thord and Lotys. These two came in together;
and with a silent salute which included the whole Committee, ascended
the raised platform. Lotys was deadly pale; and the white dress she
wore, with its scarlet sash, accentuated that paleness. She appeared
for once to move under the dominance of some greater will than her
own,--she moved slowly, and her head was bent,--and even to Pasquin
Leroy as she passed him, her faint smile of recognition was both sad
and cold. Once on the platform, she seated herself at the lower end of
the funereally-draped table; and leaning her head on one hand, seemed
lost in thought. Thord took his place at the opposite end,--whereupon
Johan Zegota moving stealthily to the door, closed it, locked it, and
put the key in his pocket. Then he in turn mounted the platform, and
began in a clear but low voice to call the roll of the members of the
Each man answered to his name in the same guarded tone; all without a
single exception were present;--and Zegota, having completed the
catalogue, turned to Thord for further instructions. The rest of the
company then seated themselves,--finding their chairs with some little
difficulty in the semi-darkness. When the noise of their shuffling feet
had ceased, Thord rose and advanced to the front of the platform.
"Friends," he said slowly; "You are here to-night to determine by the
hand of Chance, or Destiny, which of certain traitors among many
thousands, shall meet with the punishment his treachery deserves. In
the list of those who are to-night marked down for death is Carl
Pérousse;--happy the man that draws _that_ name and is able to
serve as the liberator to his country! Another, is the Jew, David
Jost,--because it has been chiefly at his persuasion that the heads of
the Government have been tempted to gamble for their own personal
motives with the secrets of State policy. Another, is the Marquis de
Lutera;--who though he has, possibly through fear, resigned office, is
to blame for having made his own private fortune,--as well as the
fortunes of all the members of his family,--out of the injuries and
taxations inflicted on the People. To his suggestion we owe the cruel
price of bread,--the tax on corn, a necessity of life;--on his policy
rests the responsibility of opening our Trades to such an over-excess
of Foreign Competition and Supply that our native work and our native
interests are paralysed by the strain. To him,--as well as to Carl
Pérousse, we owe the ridiculous urbanities of such extreme foreign
diplomacies as expose our secret forces of war to our rivals;--from him
emanates the courteous and almost servile attention with which we
foolishly exhibit our naval and military defences to our enemies. We
assume that a Minister who graciously permits a foreign arsenal to copy
our guns--a foreign dockyard to copy and to emulate our ships,--is a
traitor to the prosperity and continued power of the country. Two of
the great leaders in Trade are named on the Death-list;--one because,
in spite of many warnings, he employs foreign workmen only; the other,
because he 'sweats' native labour. The removal of all these persons
will be a boon to the country--the clearing of a plague of rats from
the national House and Exchequer! Lastly, the King is named;--because,
--though he has rescued the system of National Education from Jesuit
interference and threatening priestly dominance, he has turned a deaf
ear to other equally pressing petitions of his People,--and also
because he does nothing to either influence or guide society to its
best and highest ends. Under his rule, learning is set at naught--Art,
Science and Literature, the three saving graces which make for the
peace, prosperity and fraternity of nations,--are rendered valueless,
because no example is set which would give them their rightful
prominence,--and wine, cards and women are substituted,--the three evil
fates between which the honour of the Throne is brought into contempt.
We should know and remember that Lotys, when she lately saved the life
of the King, did,--as she herself can tell you,--plead personally with
him to save the people from the despotic government of Carl Pérousse
and his pernicious 'majority';--but though she rescued the monarch at
the risk of her own much more valuable existence--and equally at the
risk of being misunderstood and condemned by this very Society to which
her heart and soul are pledged,--he refused to even consider her
entreaty. Therefore, we may be satisfied that he has been warned;--but
it would seem that the warning is of no avail;--and whosoever to-night
draws the name of the King must be swift and sure in his business!"
There was a deep pause. Suddenly Max Graub rose, his bulky form and
great height giving him an almost Titanesque appearance in the gloom of
the chamber. Raising one hand as a signal, he asked permission to
speak, which was instantly accorded.
"To my chief, Sergius Thord, and my comrades," he said with a slight
military salutation; "I wish to explain what perhaps they have already
discovered,--that I am a poor and uncouth German,--not altogether
conversant with your language,--and considerably bewildered by your
social ethics;--so that if I do not entirely understand things as I
should, you will perhaps pardon my ignorance, which includes other
drawbacks of my disposition. But when death is in question, I am always
much interested,--having spent all my days in trying to find out ways
and means of combating man's chief enemy on his own ground. Because,--
though I fully admit the usefulness of death as a cleanser and solvent;
and as a means of clearing off hopelessly-useless persons, I am not at
all sure that it is an advisable way to get rid of the healthy and the
promising. I speak as a physician merely,--with an eye to what is
called the 'stock' of the human race; and what I now want to know is
this: On what scientific, ethical, or religious grounds, do you wish to
get rid of the King? Science, ethics, and religion being only in the
present day so many forms of carefully ministering to one's Self, and
one's own particular humour, you will understand that I mean,--as
concerns the 'happy dispatch' of this same King,--what good will it do
There was a silence. No one vouchsafed any explanation. After a
considerable pause, Thord replied.
"It will do us no good. But it will show the country that we exist to
"But--is the King unjust?"
"Can you ask it?" replied Thord with a certain grave patience. "During
your association with us, have you not learned?--and do you not know?"
"Sit down, Graub!" interrupted Pasquin Leroy suddenly; "I know the
King's ways well enough,--and I can swear upon my honour that he
deserves the worst that can be done to him!"
A murmur of sullen approval ran through the room, and somewhat lowering
glances were cast at the audacious Graub, who had, by his few words,
created the very undesirable impression that he wished, in some remote
way, to interfere with the Committee solemnities in progress, and to
defend the King from attack. He sat down again looking more or less
crushed and baffled,--and Thord went on.
"We have little time to spend together to-night, and none to waste. Let
each man come forward now, and take his chance,--remembering,--lest his
courage fail him,--that whatever work is given him to do, this
Committee are sworn to stand by him as their associate and comrade!--to
defend him,--even at the risk of their own lives!--and to share
completely in the consequences of whatever act he may be called upon to
perform in the faithful following of his duty! Friends, repeat with me
all together, the Vow of Fealty!"
At once every man rose,--and all lifting their right hands on high
repeated in steady tones the following formula after their Chief,--
"We swear in the name of God, and by the eternal glory of Freedom! That
whosoever among us this night shall draw the Red Cross Signal which
destines him to take from life, a life proved unworthy,--shall be to us
a sacred person, and an object of defence and continued protection! We
guarantee to shield him at all times and under all circumstances;--we
promise to fight for him against the utmost combined power of the law;
--we are prepared to maintain an inviolate silence concerning his
movements, his actions and their ultimate result,--even to the
sufferance of imprisonment, punishment and death for his sake! And may
the curse of the Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth be upon us and
our children, and our children's children, if we break this vow. Amen!"
The stern and impressive intensity with which these words were spoken
sent a slight tremor along even such steel-like nerves as those of
Pasquin Leroy, though he repeated the formula after Sergius Thord with
the attentive care of a child saying a lesson. At its conclusion,
however, a sudden thought flashed through his brain which brought a
wonderful smile to his lips, and a rare light in his eyes, and touching
the arm of Axel Regor, he whispered.
"Could anything be more protective to me,--_as you know me_,--than
this Vow of Fealty? By my faith, a right loyal vow!"
The man he so questioned looked at him doubtfully. He did not
understand. He himself had repeated the vow mechanically and without
thought, being occupied in serious and uncomfortable meditation as to
what possible dangerous lengths the evening's business might be
carried. And, accustomed as he now was to the varying and brilliant
moods of one whom he had proved to be of most varying and brilliant
intelligence, his brain was not quick enough to follow the lightning-
like speed of the chain of ideas,--all moving in a perfectly organised
plan,--conceived by this daring, scheming and original brain, which had
been so lately roused to its own powers and set in thinking, working
order. He therefore merely expressed his mind's bewilderment by a
warning glance mingled with alarm, which caused Leroy to smile again,--
but the scene which was being enacted, now demanded their closest
attention, and they had no further opportunity of exchanging so much as
The Vow of Fealty being duly sworn, Sergius Thord stood aside, and made
way for Lotys, who, rising from her seat, lifted the funeral urn from
the table and held it out towards the men. She made a strange and weird
picture standing thus,--her white arms gleaming like sculptured ivory
against the dark bronze of the metal vase,--her gold hair touched with
a blood-like hue from the reflection of the red lamp behind her,--and
her face,--infinitely mournful and resigned,--wearing the expression of
one who, forced to behold evil, has no active part in it. As she took
up her position in the front of the platform, Thord again spoke.
"Let each man now advance and draw his fate! Whosoever receives a blank
is exempt for another year;--whosoever draws the name of a victim must
be prepared to do his duty!"
This order was at once obeyed. Each man rose separately and approaching
Lotys, saluted her first, and then drew a folded paper from the vessel
she held. But they moved forward reluctantly,--and most of their faces
were very pale. When Pasquin Leroy's turn came to draw, he raised his
eyes to the woman's countenance above him and marvelled at its cold
fixity. She seemed scarcely to be herself,--and it was plainly evident
that the part she was forced to play in the evening's drama was a most
At last all the lots were taken, and Johan Zegota lit up the gas-
burners in the centre of the room. A sigh of relief came from the lips
of many of the men who, on opening their papers found a blank instead
of a name. But Leroy, unfolding his, sat in dumb amazement,--feeling,
and not for the first time either, that surely God, or some special
Providence, is always on the side of a strong man's just aim,
fulfilling it to entire accomplishment. For to him was assigned the Red
Cross, marked with the name of 'The King!' The words of Sergius Thord,
uttered that very night, rushed back on his mind;--"Whosoever draws the
name of the King must be swift and sure in his business!"
His heart beat high; he occupied at that moment a position no man in
all the world had ever occupied before;--he was the centre of a drama
such as had never before been enacted,--he had the greatest move to
play on the chess-board of life that could possibly be desired;--and
the greatest chance to prove himself the Man he was, that had ever been
given to one of his quality. His brain whirled,--his pulses throbbed,--
his eyes rested on Lotys with a passionate longing; something of the
god-like as well as the heroic warmed his soul,--for Danger and Death
stood as intimately close to him as Safety and Victory! What a strange,
what a marvellous card he held in the game of life!--and yet one false
move might mean ruin and annihilation! As in a dream he saw the members
of the Committee go up, one by one, to Sergius Thord, who, as each laid
their open papers before him, declared their contents. When Paul
Zouche's paper was declared he was found to have drawn Carl Pérousse,
whereat he smiled grimly; and retired to his seat, walking rather
unsteadily. Max Graub had drawn a blank,--so had Axel Regor,--so had
Louis Valdor and many others.
At last it came to Leroy's turn, and as he walked up to the platform
and ascended it, there was a look on his face which attracted the
instant attention of all present. His eyes were singularly bright,--his
lithe handsome figure seemed taller and more erect,--he bore himself
with a proud, even grand air,--and Lotys, moved at last from her chill
and melancholy apathy, gazed at him as he approached, with eyes in
which a profound sadness was mingled with the dark tenderness of many
passionate thoughts and dreams. He laid down his paper before Thord,
who, taking it up read aloud:
"Our friend and comrade, Pasquin Leroy, has received the Red Cross
Then pausing before uttering his next words he raised his voice a
little, so that he might be heard by everyone in the room, and added
"To Pasquin Leroy, Fate gives--the King!"
A low murmur of deep applause ran through the room. Max Graub and Axel
Regor sprang up with a kind of smothered cry, but Leroy stood
immovable. Instead of returning to his seat as the others had done, he
remained standing on the platform in front of the Committee table,
between Lotys and Sergius Thord. A strange smile rested on his lips,--
his attitude was inexplicable. Surveying all the men's faces which were
grouped before him in a kind of chiaro-oscuro, he studied them for a
moment, and then turned his head towards Thord.
"Sergius,--so far, I have served you well! Destiny has now chosen me
out for even a greater service! May I speak a few words?"
Thord assented,--but a sudden sense of inquietude stirred in him as he
saw that Lotys had half risen, that her lips quivered, and that great
tears stood in her eyes.
"She grieves!" he thought, sullenly, in his strange and confused way of
balancing justice and injustice--"She grieves that the worthless life
of the King she saved, is now to be taken by a righteous hand!"
Meanwhile Leroy faced the assembly.
"Comrades!" he said; "This is the first time I have assisted in the work
of your Day of Fate,--the first time I have recognised how entirely
Providence moves _with_ you and _for_ you in the ruling of your
destinies! And because it is the first time, our Chief permits me to
address you with the same fraternal liberty which was allowed to me on
the night I became enrolled among you, as one of you! Since then, I
have done my best to serve you--" here he was interrupted by applause
--"and so far as it has been humanly possible, I have endeavoured to
carry out your views and desires because,--though many of them spring
from pure idealism, and are, I fear, impossible of realisation in this
world,--they contain the seed of much useful and necessary reform in
many institutions of this country. I have--as I promised you--shaken
the stronghold of Carl Pérousse;"--again the applause broke out, none
the less earnest because it was restrained. "I have destroyed the
press-power and prestige of that knavish Jew-speculator in false news,
David Jost; and wherever the wishes of this Society could be fulfilled, I
have honestly sought to fulfil them. On this night, of all nights in the
year, I should like to feel, and to know, that you acknowledge me as
your true comrade and faithful friend!"
At this, the whole of the company gave vent to an outburst of cheering.
"Do you doubt our love, that you ask of it?--or our gratitude that you
seek to have it expressed?" said Thord, leaning forward to clasp his
hand;--"Surely you know you have given new life and impetus to our
work!--and that you have gained fresh triumph for our Cause!"
Leroy smiled,--but though returning his grasp cordially, he said
nothing to him in person by way of reply, evidently preferring rather
to address the whole community than one, even though that one was his
"I thank you all!" he said in response to the acclamations around him.
"I thank you for so heartily acknowledging me as your fellow-worker! I
thank you for giving me your confidence and employing my services!
Tonight--the most important night of my destiny--Fate has determined
that I shall perform the greatest task of all you have ever allotted to
me; and that with swiftness and sureness in the business I shall kill
the King! He is my marked victim! I am his chosen assassin!" Here
interrupting himself with a bright smile, he said: "Will someone
restrain my two friends, Max Graub and Axel Regor from springing out of
their seats? They are both extremely envious of the task which has been
allotted to me!--both are disappointed that it did not fall to them to
perform,--but I am not in the humour for arguing so nice a point of
honour with them just now!"
A laugh went round the company, and the two delinquents thus called to
order, and who had really been seeking in quite a wild and aimless way,
to scramble out of their seats and make for the platform, resumed their
places with heads bent low, lest those around them should see the
deadly pallor of their countenances. Leroy resumed.
"I rejoice, friends and comrades, that I have been elected to the high
task of removing from the Throne one who has long been unworthy of it!
--one who has wasted his opportunities both in youth and middle-age,--
and who, by his own fault in a great measure, has lost much of the love
and confidence of his people! I am glad and proud to be the one chosen
to put an end to the career of a monarch whose vices and follies--which
might have suited a gambler and profligate--are entirely unbecoming to
the Sovereign Ruler of a great Realm! I shall have no fear in carrying
out my appointed duty to the letter! I here declare my acceptance of
whatever punishment may be visited on one who removes from life a King
who brings kingliness into contempt! And,--as our Chief, Sergius Thord,
suggested to-night,--I shall be swift and sure in the business!--there
shall be no delay!"
Here, as he spoke he drew a pistol from his pocket and turned the
muzzle towards himself,--at which unexpected action there was a hasty
movement of surprise, terror and confusion among the company.
"Gentlemen all! Friends! Brothers!--as you have been,--and are to me,--
by the binding of our compact in the name of Lotys! It is the
determination of destiny,--as it is your desire,--that I should kill
the King! You have resolved upon it. You are sure that his death will
benefit the country. You have decided not to take into consideration
any of his possible good qualities, or to pity any of the probable
sorrows and difficulties besetting him in the uneasy position he is
compelled to occupy. You are quite certain among yourselves, that
somehow or other his removal will bring about that ideal condition of
society which many philosophers have written of, and which many
reformers have desired, but which has till now, proved itself incapable
of being realised. The King's death, you think, will better all
existing conditions, and you wish me to fulfil not only the call of
destiny, but your own desire. Be it so! I am ready to obey! I will kill
the King at once!--here and now! I _am_ the King!"
THE COMRADE OF HIS FOES
This bold declaration, boldly spoken, had the startling effect of a
sudden and sharp flash of lightning in dense darkness. Amazement and
utter stupefaction held every man for the moment paralysed. Had a
volcano suddenly opened beneath their feet and belched forth its floods
of fire and lava, it could not have rendered them more helplessly
stricken and speechless.
"I _am_ the King!"
The words appeared to blaze on the air before them,--like the
handwriting on the wall at Belshazzar's feast. The King! He,--their
friend, their advocate, he--Pasquin Leroy,--the most obedient, the most
daring and energetic of all the workers in their Cause--he--even he--
was the King! Was it,--could it be possible! Their eyes--all riveted in
fearful fascination upon him as he stood before them wholly at their
mercy, but cool, dauntless, and smilingly ready to die,--had the wild
uncomprehending stare of delirium;--the silence in the room was
intense, breathless and terrible. Suddenly, like a lion roused, Sergius
Thord, with a half-savage movement, sprang forward and seized him
roughly by the arm.
"You,--you are the King?" he said; "You,--Pasquin Leroy?" and
struggling for breath, his words almost choked him. "_You_! Enemy
in the guise of friend! You have fooled us! You have deceived us--you--!"
"Take care, Sergius!" said the monarch smiling, as he gently disengaged
himself from the fierce hand that clutched him; "This pistol is
loaded,--not to shoot you with!--but myself!--at your command! It would
be unfortunate if it went off and killed the wrong man by accident!"
His indomitable courage was irresistible; and Thord, relaxing his
grasp, fell back in something like awe. And then the spell of horror
and amazement that had struck the rest of the assemblage dumb, broke
all at once into a sort of wild-beast clamour. Every man 'rushed' for
the platform--and Max Graub and Axel Regor, taking swift and conscious
possession of their true personalities as Professor von Glauben and Sir
Roger de Launay, fought silently and determinedly to keep back the
crowding hands that threatened instant violence to the person of their
A complete hubbub and confusion reigned;--cries of "Traitor!" and
"Spy!" were hurled from one voice to another; but before a single
member of the Committee could reach the spot where stood the undaunted
Sovereign whom they had so lately idolised as their friend and helper,
and whom they were now ready to tear to pieces, Lotys flung herself in
front of him, while at the same moment she snatched the pistol he held
from his hand, and fired it harmlessly into the air. The loud report--
the flash of fire,--startled all the men, who gaped upon her,
"Through me!" she cried, her blue eyes flashing glorious menace;
"Through me your shots! Through me your daggers! On me your destroying
hands! Through my body alone shall you reach this King! Stand back all
of you! What would you do? King or commoner, he is your comrade and
associate! Sovereign or servant, he is the bravest man among you! Touch
him who dare! Remember your Vow of Fealty!"
Transfigured into an almost sublime beauty by the fervour of her
emotion, she looked the supreme incarnation of inspired womanhood, and
the infuriated men fell back, dismayed and completely overwhelmed by
the strong conviction of her words, and the amazing situation in which
they found themselves.
It was true!--he, the King,--whom they had accepted and known as
Pasquin Leroy,--was verily their own comrade! He had proved himself a
thousand times their friend and helper!--they had sworn to defend him
at the cost of their own lives, if need be,--to shelter and protect him
in all circumstances, and to accept all the consequences of whatever
danger he might run in the performance of his duty. His duty now,--
according to the fatal drawing of lots,--was that he should kill the
King; and he had declared himself ready to fulfil the task by killing
himself! But--as he was their comrade--they were bound in honour to
guard his life!
These bewildering and maddening thoughts coursed like fire through the
brain of Sergius Thord,--the while his eyes, grown suddenly dark and
bloodshot, rested wonderingly on the tall upright figure of the
monarch, standing quietly face to face with the blood-thirsty
Revolutionary Committee, entirely unmoved by their fierce and lowering
looks, and on Lotys, white, beautiful and breathless, kneeling at his
feet! A crushing sense of impotence and failure rushed over his soul
like a storm wave,--his brain grew thick with the hurrying confusion,
and a great cry, like that of a wounded animal, broke from his lips.
"My God! My God! All my life's work lost--in a single moment!"
The King heard. Gently, and with careful courtesy, raising Lotys from
the position in which she had thrown herself to guard him from attack
for the second time, he pressed her hands tenderly in his own.
"Trust me!" he whispered; "Have no fear! Not a man among them will
touch me now!"
With a slight gesture he signed her back to the chair she had
previously occupied. She sank into it, trembling from head to foot, but
her eyes feverishly brilliant and watchful, were widely open and alert,
ready to note the least movement or look that indicated further danger.
Then the King addressed himself to Thord.
"Sergius, I am entirely in your hands! I wait your word of command! You
are armed,--all my companions here are armed also! But Lotys has
deprived me of the only weapon I possessed,--though there are plenty
more in the room to be had on loan. What say you? Shall I kill the
King? Or will you?"
Thord was silent. A strong shudder shook his frame. The King laid a
firm hand on his shoulder.
"Friend!" he said in a low voice; "Believe me, I am your friend more
than ever!--you never had, and never will have a truer one than I! All
your life's work lost, you say? Nay, not so! It is gained! You
conquered the People before I knew you,--and now you have conquered the
Slowly Thord raised his great, dark, passionate eyes, clouded black
with thoughts which could find no adequate expression. The look in them
went straight to the monarch's heart. Baffled ambition,--the hunger of
greatness,--the desire to do something that should raise his soul above
such common ruck of human emmets as make of the earth the merest ant-
hill whereon to eat and breed and die;--all this pent-up emotion swam
luminously in the fierce bright orbs, which like mirrors, reflected the
picture of the troubled mind within. The suppressed power of the man,
who, apart from his confused notions of 'liberty, equality, and
fraternity' could resort to the sternest and most self-endangering
measures for destroying what he considered the abuses of the law, had
moved the King, while disguised as Pasquin Leroy, to the profoundest
admiration for his bold character;--but perhaps he was never more moved
than at this supreme moment, when, hopelessly entangled in a net of
most unexpected weaving, the redoubtable Socialist had to confess
himself vanquished by the simple friendship and service of the very
monarchy he sought to destroy.
"Sergius," said the King again,--"Trust me! Trust me as your Sovereign,
with the same trust that you gave to me as your comrade, Pasquin! For I
am still your comrade, remember! Nothing can undo the oath that binds
me to you and to the People! I have not become one of you to betray
you; but to serve you! Our present position is certainly a strange
one!--for by the tenets you hold, we should be sworn opponents, instead
of, as we are, sworn friends! Political agitators would have set us one
against the other for their own selfish ends; as matters stand, we are
united in the People's Cause; and I may perhaps do you more good living
than dead! Give me a chance to serve you even better than I have done
as yet! Still,--if you judge my death would be an advantage to the
country,--you have but to say the word! I have sworn,--and I am ready
to carry out the full accomplishment of my vow! Do you understand? You
are, by the rules of this Committee my Chief!--there are no kings here;
and I am good soldier enough to obey orders! It is for you to speak!--
straightly, plainly, and at once,--to the Committee,--and to me!"
"Before God, you are brave!" muttered Thord, gazing at him in reluctant
admiration. "So brave, that it is almost impossible to believe that you
can be a King!"
"Speak! Speak, my friend!" he urged; "Our comrades are watching our
conference like famished tigers! Give them food!"
Thus adjured, Thord advanced, and confronted the murmuring,
gesticulating crowd of men, some of whom were wrathfully expostulating
with Johan Zegota, because he declined to unlock the door of the room
and let them out, till he had received his Chief's commands to do so.
Others were grouped round Paul Zouche, who had sat apparently stricken
immovable in his chair ever since the King had declared his identity;
and others showed themselves somewhat inclined to 'hustle' Sir Roger de
Launay and Professor von Glauben, who guarded the approach to the
platform like sentinels,--though they were discreet enough to show no
weapons of defence.
The rich, deep voice of their leader thrilled through the room, and
brought them all to silence and attention.
"Comrades!" said Thord slowly,--his accents vibrating with the deepest
emotion. "I desire and command you all to be satisfied that no wrong
has been done to you! I ask you all to understand, fully and surely,
that no wrong is intended to you! The man whom we have loved,--the man
who has served us faithfully as Pasquin Leroy,--is still the same man,
though the King! Rank cannot alter his proved friendship and service,--
nor kingship break his bond! He is one of us,--signed and sealed in the
blood of Lotys;--and as one of us he must, and will remain! Have I
spoken truly?" he added, turning to the King, "or is there more that I
Before any reply could be given a hubbub of voices cried:--
"Explain! Confess! Bind him to his oath!"
Whereat the King, stepping forward a pace or two, confronted his would-
be doubters and detractors with a dauntless composure.
"Explain? Confess? Friends, I will do both! but for binding me to my
oath, there is no need,--for it is too strong a compact of faith and
friendship ever to be broken! Would you have me remind _you_ of
your Vow of Fealty pronounced so solemnly this evening? Did you not
swear that 'Whosoever among us this night shall draw the Red Cross
Signal which destines him to take from life a life proved unworthy,
shall be to us a sacred person, and an object of defence and continued
protection'? As Pasquin Leroy, this vow applied to me,--as King, I ask
no better or stronger pledge of loyalty!"
All eyes were fixed upon him as he spoke. For some moments there was a
This silence was presently broken by a murmur of conflicting wonder,
impatience and uncertainty,--deepening as it ran,--and then,--as the
full situation became more and more apparent, coupled with the smiling
and heroic calm of the monarch who had thus placed himself voluntarily
in the hands of his sworn enemies, all their struggling passions were
suddenly merged in one great wave of natural and human admiration for a
brave man and a burst of impetuous cheering broke impulsively from
every lip. Once started, the infection caught on like a fever,--and
again and yet again the excited Revolutionists cheered 'for the King!'--
till they made the room echo.
The tumult was extraordinary. Lotys sat silent, with clasped hands, her
eyes dilated with feverish watchfulness and excitement,--the tempest of
emotion in her own poor tortured soul, being of such a character which
no words, no tears, no exclamations could possibly relieve. The memory
of her interview with the King in his own Palace flashed across her
like a scene limned in fire. She had no power to think--she was simply
stunned and overwhelmed,--and held only one idea in her mind, and that
was to save him at all costs, even at the sacrifice of her own life.
Thord, carried away from his very self by the force of such a
'Revolution' as he had never planned or anticipated, stood more in the
attitude of one who was trying to think, rather than of one who was
"For the King!" cried Johan Zegota, suddenly giving vent to the
feelings he had long kept in check,--feelings which had made him a
greater admirer of the so-called "Pasquin Leroy" than of Thord
himself;--"For our sworn comrade, the King!"
Again the cheers broke out, to be redoubled in intensity when Louis
Valdor added his voice to the rest and exclaimed:
"For the first real King I have ever known!"
Then the excitement rose to its zenith,--and amidst the tempest of
applause, the King himself stood quiet, watching the turbulence with
the thoughtful eyes of a student who seeks to unravel some difficult
problem. Raising his hand gently, he, by this gesture created immediate
silence,--and so, in this hush remained for an instant, leaning
slightly against the Committee Table, draped as it was in its funereal
black,--the lights at either end of it, and the red lamp in its centre
flinging an unearthly radiance on his fine composed features. Long,
long afterwards, his faithful servants, Sir Roger de Launay and
Heinrich von Glauben retained a mental picture of him in that
attitude,--the dauntless smile upon his lips,--the dreamful look in his
eyes,--resting, as it seemed against a prepared funeral-bier, with the
watch-lights burning for burial,--and the face of Lotys, pale as a
marble mask, yet wearing an expression of mingled triumph and agony,
shining near him like a star amid the gloom, while the tall form of
Sergius Thord in the background loomed large,--a shadow of impending
After a pause, he spoke.
"Comrades! I thank you for the expressed renewal of your trust in me.
In my heart and soul, as a man, I am one of you and with you;--even
though fate has made me a king! You demand an explanation--a
confession. You shall have both! When I enrolled myself as a member of
your Committee, I did so in all honesty and honour,--wishing to
discover the object of your Cause, and prepared to aid it if I found it
worthy. When I sealed my compact with you in the blood of Lotys, the
Angel of our Covenant,"--here the cheering again broke out,--and Lotys,
turning aside, endeavoured to restrain the tears that threatened to
fall;--then, as silence was restored, he resumed;--"When as I say, I
did this,--you will remember that on being asked of my origin and
country, I answered that I was a slave. I spoke truly! There is no
greater slave in all the length and breadth of the world than a king!
Bound by the chains of convention and custom, he is coerced more
violently than any prisoner,--his lightest word is misunderstood--his
smallest action is misconstrued,--his very looks are made the subject
of comment--and whether he walks or stands,--sits to give wearisome
audience, or lies down to forget his sorrows in sleep, he should
assuredly be an object of the deepest pity and consideration, instead
of being as he often is, a target for the arrows of slander,--a pivot
round which to move the wheel of social evil and misrule! The name of
Freedom sounds sweet in your ears, my friends!--how sweet it is--how
dear it is, we all know! You are ready to fight for it--to die for it!
Then remember, all of you, that it is a glory utterly unknown to a
king! Were he to take sword in hand and do battle for it unto the
death, he could never obtain it;--he might win it for his country, but
never for himself! Nothing so glorious as Liberty!--you cry! True!--but
kings are prisoners from the moment they ascend thrones! And you never
set them free, save in the way you suggested this evening;" and he
smiled, "which way is still open to you--and--to me! But while you take
time to consider whether I shall or shall not fulfil the duty which the
drawing of lots on this Day of Fate has assigned to me,--whether you,
on your parts, will or will not maintain the Vow of Fealty which we all
have sworn together,--I will freely declare to you the motives which
led me to depart from the conventional rule and formality of a merely
'Royal' existence, and to become as a Man among men,--for once at least
in the history of modern sovereigns!"
He paused,--every eye was fixed upon him; and the stillness was so
intense that the lightest breath might be heard.
"I came to the Throne three years ago," he resumed, "and I accepted its
responsibilities with reluctance. As Heir-Apparent, you all know, or
think you know, my career; for some of you have very freely expressed
your convictions concerning it! It was discreditable,--according to the
opinions formed and expressed by this Committee. No doubt it was! Let
any man among you occupy my place;--and be surrounded by the same
temptations,--and then comport himself wisely--if he can! Such an one
would need to be either god or hero; and I profess to be neither. But I
do not wish to palliate or deny the errors of the past. The present is
my concern,--the present time, and the present People. Great changes
are fermenting in the world; and of these changes, especially of those
directly affecting our own country, I became actively conscious,
shortly after I ascended the Throne. I heard of disaffections,--
disloyalties; I gathered that the Ministry were suspected of personal
self-aggrandisement. I learned that a disastrous policy was on foot
respecting National Education--in which priestcraft would be given
every advantage, and Jesuitry obtain undue influence over the minds of
the rising generation. I heard,--I studied,--and finding that I could
get no true answer on any point at issue from anyone of my supposed
'reliable' ministers, I resolved to discover things for myself. I found
out that the disaffected portion of the metropolis was chiefly under
the influence of Sergius Thord--and accordingly I placed myself in his
way, and became enrolled among you as 'Pasquin Leroy'; his sworn
associate. I am his sworn associate still! I am proud that he should
call me friend;--and even as we have worked already for the People, so
we will work still--together!"
No restraint could have availed to check the wild plaudits that broke
out afresh at these words. Still thoughtfully and with grave kindness
contemplating all the eager and excited faces upturned to him, the King
"You know nearly all the rest. As Pasquin Leroy, I discovered all the
shameful speculations with the public money, carried on by Carl
Pérousse,--and found that so far, at any rate, your accusations against
him were founded in fact. At the first threatening suspicion of
possible condemnation the Marquis de Lutera resigned,--thus evidencing
his guilty participation in the intended plunder. A false statement
printed by David Jost, stating that I,--the King,--had revoked my
decision concerning the refusal of land to the Jesuits, caused me to
announce the truth of my own action myself, in the rival newspaper. Of
my excommunication from the Church it is unnecessary to speak; a man is
not injured in God's sight by that merely earthly ban. Among other
things"--and he smiled,--"I found myself curiously possessed of a
taste for literature!--and proved, that whereas some few monarchs of my
acquaintance cannot be quite sure of their spelling, I could, at a
pinch, make myself fairly well understood by the general public, as a
skilled writer of polemics against myself!--as well as against the
Secretary of State. This, so far as I personally am concerned, has been
the humorous side of my little drama of disguise!--for sometimes I have
had serious thoughts of appearing as a rival to our friend, Paul
Zouche, in the lists of literary Fame!"
A murmur of wondering laughter ran round the room,--and all heads were
turned to one corner, as the King, with the kindly smile still lighting
up his eyes and lips, called:
"Zouche, are you there? Do you hear me?"
Zouche did hear. He had been sitting in a state of semi-stupor all the
evening,--his chaotic mind utterly confused and bewildered by the
events which had taken place;--but now, on being called, his usual
audacious and irrepressible spirit came to his aid, and he answered:
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