At this the King felt bound to make some comment. "Very even game this, Marshal, so far," he said.
"Very even indeed, Sire!" said the Marshal curtly, and turned aside to curse under his breath.
However, after they had played the fourth and fifth holes with precisely the same result, King Sidney became suspicious. "Clarence, my boy," he said, taking him aside. "It strikes me there's something rather odd about his play. I can't understand it!"
"I can," said Clarence; "it's plain enough. Haven't you noticed he's been using a mashie—the same mashie every time? Well, he's bribed or bullied that pop-eyed little swine of an Astrologer to enchant it for him—that's what he's done!"
"What a confounded low, ungentlemanly trick!" spluttered King Sidney in high indignation. "Just when I was beginning to find my form at last, too! I shall decline to go on with the match. And what's more, when we do get a Golf Club started, I'll have him blackballed for it!"
"I wouldn't make a row about it if I were you," advised Clarence.
"Not make a row? When he's taking an unfair advantage of me by using this infernal Magic?—which is unlawful, by Gad, don't you forget that! Why shouldn't I denounce such trickery?"
"Because," said the Crown Prince, "he might say something disagreeable about it being a case of Pot and Kettle, don't you know."
"Let him!" cried the King. "Let him! I defy him to prove that I've had anything done to my clubs!"
"Not the clubs," said Clarence; "it's those balls I gave you. I hadn't meant to tell you, but p'raps I'd better now. I paid that little sweep to put a spell on 'em. Of course I'd no idea he'd go and overdo it like this. If he'd been anything of a Golfer he'd have known most of these holes couldn't be done under three or four. And now he's given you both away, blast him!"
"It—it's most unfortunate!" said King Sidney. "I—I don't quite see what to do about it."
"Simple enough," said his son, "pretend not to notice anything and play it out."
"I suppose I must, my boy, I suppose I must. But I know I shan't play so well after this—it's quite put me off my game!"
"No, it hasn't, Guv'nor. You'll play up all right, at least if Xuriel knows his job."
Xuriel apparently did know his job, for the King's ball continued to be as foozle-proof as the Marshal's mashie.
It would be tedious to describe any further holes. When a bewitched mashie is pitted against an enchanted ball, there can obviously be none of the alternations and vicissitudes of Fortune which constitute the charm of Golf.
When they were at the turn, having halved every hole up to the ninth, the Marshal had had enough of it. "We are too well matched, Sire," he said, "and to proceed would only be to waste your Majesty's time, which is of far more value than my own."
"H'm, well, perhaps we'd better call it a draw and have done with it," said the King.
The Court had witnessed the game without excitement or astonishment. They saw no particular reason why the balls should fail to reach the hole in one stroke, and did not care in the least whether they failed or not. The only impressions they received were that Golf was too monotonous and too easy a pastime to have any attractions for them, and that nothing should induce them to indulge in it against such invincible champions as his Majesty and the Ex-Regent.
"I must say, my boy," said the King to his son, as they walked back to the Palace together, "I wish you hadn't gone to that magician fellow. It makes it so very awkward for me."
"It would have been a jolly sight more awkward if I hadn't. Just think of the licking you'd have had, what?"
"Yes, yes—but there's your Mother. She's so set against Magic of any kind. I really don't know what I'm to say to her."
"Well," said Clarence, "I should hope, Guv'nor, you wouldn't be such a jay as to say anything."
"It might be only distressing her unnecessarily," said the King.
"Sidney!" exclaimed the Queen when they met, "I can see by your face that you've been beaten after all!"
"Not at all, my love, not at all. Far from it!"
"Then you've won?"
"Well—er—not exactly won, my dear. We—we finished up all square."
"Considering how long you've been learning, that's as bad as if you'd lost. Now, mind what I say, Sidney, you must never attempt to play golf again after this. I cannot have you making yourself ridiculous!"
"I think you're right, my dear," he said meekly. "In fact, I had already decided to give it up."
Clarence clung to his Golf as long as he could, but he found it dreary work going round the course alone. None of the Courtiers could be induced to learn the game, and he felt a natural reluctance to take on the Marshal as an antagonist, even if the latter had continued to be keen. But he had conceived a strong distaste for the game, and it was rumoured that there had been a stormy interview between him and the Astrologer Royal, who kept his bed for several days afterwards.
And Clarence, as the Yellow Gnomes were impossible as caddies, had to carry his own clubs, which he particularly detested. So in course of time he ceased to visit the links, and thus deprived himself of his only form of open-air exercise.
There was nothing much for him to do, except to lounge and loaf aimlessly about the Palace, with a depressed suspicion that he was not inspiring the full amount of respect that was due to his position as Crown Prince. It would have been a distraction to make advances to Daphne, but, after his somewhat cavalier treatment of her at the Ball, he could not be sure how they would be received. Moreover, either by her own management or his Royal Mother's, he was never given a chance of seeing her except in public.
He found a resource in gambling with the gentlemen of the Royal Household. They played for high stakes, but no higher, seeing that he could replenish his purse as often as it was emptied, than he could well afford. His visits to the sacks of gold in the King's Counting-house became more and more frequent, but he would have derived more enjoyment from cards if he had won occasionally.
One afternoon when, the usual card-players being absent on some hunting expedition, he was left to his own devices, he wandered forlornly through a suite of empty halls till he drifted out upon a balcony that overlooked the Palace gardens.
And then, as he stepped through the window, his heart gave a sudden leap. At the corner of the balcony he had just recognised Daphne. She was quite alone, and he recognised that the opportunity, half-feared, half-desired, had come at last.
"A STEED THAT KNOWS HIS RIDER"
Daphne turned and saw Prince Clarence almost immediately, and, after making the prescribed curtsey, was about to retreat indoors when he stopped her.
"I say, Lady Daphne," he remonstrated, "don't run away like that!"
"Your Royal Highness will be good enough to excuse me," she said; "I ought to be with Princess Ruby by this time."
"She's all right—trying to teach the Pages hockey in the Entrance Court. And—look here, you needn't be so beastly formal—with me, you know."
"I may remind your Royal Highness that you desired me to observe the strictest etiquette."
"Did I? I only meant in public. Let's drop it just now, anyway. I've been wanting to get a talk with you. You see, you're the only person here I can really talk to; and if you only knew how awfully hipped and depressed I'm feeling——"
"Are you?" she said. "I'm sorry." And there was certainly pity in the soft grey eyes which rested on him for a moment or two.
"I give you my word," he went on, "there are times when I almost wish myself back at the office again. There were things to be done there, even if I didn't do 'em. Here there's nothing—except cards. It wouldn't be so bad if the chaps here only knew Auction—I could hold my own at that. But you couldn't play bridge with the sort of packs they've got in this God-forsaken country. So they've taught me a bally game they call 'Krebsgriff,' and I've lost over two sacks of ducats at it already. Anyone would think after that they'd treat me as a pal, but not a bit of it!"
"Perhaps, Sir, they're afraid of being rebuked for such presumption."
"Perhaps, but I don't think it's that. They're polite enough and all that, to my face, but they don't look up to me, you know!"
"Why should they?" Daphne thought, but all she said was, "That's very sad."
"Isn't it?" he said; "they don't give me a chance to show what I can do. I could knock their silly heads off at golf, and they won't even learn! And now I can't get a game; and this afternoon, when I was feeling inclined for cards, they all go off to the forest without a word to me, hunting beastly boars and bears, and I'm left without a soul to speak to."
"They might have asked you to do them the honour of coming too," said Daphne.
"I couldn't very well have gone if they had. You see, they hunt boars and that on horseback here, and riding's a thing I've never gone in for."
"It's not too late to begin, Sir."
"Well, to tell you the truth, I did think at one time of taking a few lessons. But I don't know. You see, it would get about, and—well, people would think it rather ridiculous."
"I should have thought—" began Daphne; "no, I mustn't say any more."
"Oh, go on, Lady Daphne, don't mind me! What would you have thought?"
"Well," said Daphne boldly, "that nothing could be so ridiculous as a Crown Prince who can't sit a horse."
"I daresay I could as well as any other fellow, if I tried."
"No doubt, sir, but if you never do try."
"I would, if I thought you cared."
"Of course I care, Prince Clarence," said Daphne. "Naturally, I should like to see you doing everything that other Princes do. You really aren't, so far, you know. I suppose I oughtn't to have said that—I couldn't help it."
"That's all right," he said. "There's one thing," he added, thinking aloud, "if I did learn to ride decently, you and I might go out riding together, what?"
"It's rather early to talk about that," said Daphne, "when you haven't even begun to learn."
"I know, but I will begin. For your sake."
"No, Prince Clarence, for your own," she replied, "though I shall be glad, too. And now, I mustn't stay here any longer."
Why, he asked himself, after she had gone, was she so keen on his cutting a figure at Court? The answer was obvious—he had interested and impressed her more than he could have hoped. But that, he shrewdly perceived, only made it more necessary for him to be wary. She was certainly a most fascinating girl, but if she had any ambitious designs on him, she would find that he was quite capable of taking care of himself. Still, she was right about his riding. Every Prince ought to be able to ride. It would not take him long to learn. And when he could ride he would go out hunting. She would think a lot more of him when she saw him returning in triumph with a few boars and bears as trophies of the chase.
Accordingly he took the earliest opportunity of mentioning to his family that he intended to take lessons in horsemanship, which both the King and Queen considered an admirable idea. The Marshal was consulted, and though he opposed it at first, on the ground that anything which might affect the succession to the throne was to be avoided, he gave way in the end, and undertook to act himself as Clarence's riding master. Clarence was prudent enough to stipulate that none of his family should be present while he was undergoing instruction, and the Court were not to be informed that he was having any lessons at all until he had completed the course and become an accomplished equestrian.
"Well, my boy," said the King, when the Crown Prince entered the Royal Parlour after his private lessons in the Palace tiltyard. "Well, and how did you get on, hey?"
"Never got on at all," Clarence reluctantly admitted. "Not likely I should, when there wasn't a bally gee in the stables that would let me come near him!"
"Clarence!" cried his mother, "you don't mean to say you've been there all this time without riding a single horse!"
"I'd have ridden 'em right enough, if they'd let me get on 'em—but they wouldn't."
"And pray what was the Marshal about?" inquired the Queen.
"Well, he was laughing most of the time; it's my belief he'd had 'em all gingered up beforehand."
"I'm quite sure, Clarence, he would be incapable of such conduct as that. Why should he?"
"I don't know," he said. "But I won't have him about again. I'll get some one else to teach me."
"But, my dear boy, nobody can teach you much if you can't even manage to get on a horse's back. You'll only get hurt if you try any more, and you will be far wiser to give it up altogether."
"Not much, Mater!" he declared; "I'm not so easily bested as all that. Now I've begun I mean to go on with it."
And he went on; for, to do Clarence justice, want of pluck was not among his defects. But he was obliged to admit that the Marshal was not fairly accountable for the horses' behaviour, since they were quite as unmanageable when he was no longer there.
They were spirited creatures, but perfectly docile until they caught sight of Clarence, when they immediately became as vicious as the most untameable bronco. If he contrived occasionally to get hoisted into the saddle, he never remained there long enough to put the Royal Chief Huntsman's instructions into practice, and he began at last to have serious doubts whether Nature had ever intended him to shine as a horseman.
He said nothing of these ignominious experiences to Daphne, partly because he never found an opportunity, though more from a fear of being laughed at. But he could not keep them from his family, and so Daphne came to hear of his repeated failures through Princess Ruby. She did not laugh at them, however; she was even a little touched. She thought more of him for his attempts to follow her unlucky suggestion than if he had never attempted anything at all, and fully believed that if he persevered he would conquer in the end.
His Royal Mother was so perturbed and alarmed that at last she made a confidant of the Court Godmother, who was about to depart on her annual visit to the Court of Clairdelune. "He will go on with it!" Queen Selina lamented, "and I know he'll break his neck before long! It does seem so strange that those horrible horses should behave like this with Clarence and nobody else. When his poor dear Grandfather was such a good rider, too! I can't think why they should, Court Godmother, can you?"
The Fairy Vogelflug thought privately that the reason was not very far to see. The horses of the Royal stud were, she knew, of an exceptional aristocratic breed. Now poor Clarence, though of Royal blood on his mother's side, unfortunately had little of the air and appearance which these intelligent and observant animals probably connected with a true Prince. It was more than likely that they had failed to recognise that he was a Prince at all, and so resented being called upon to carry him.
But, though she could be out-spoken enough on occasion, she felt that this was hardly an explanation she could give to his mother. "Well, my dear," she said, "it's very trying for you, of course. But I don't know that there's anything I can do."
"I—I thought perhaps," said Queen Selina, with some natural hesitation, "that you, as a Fairy, might—er—know some quite simple little spell which——"
"As I have told you before," interrupted the Fairy, "I make a point of using my knowledge of Magic as seldom as I can nowadays. I have my health to consider. And, in any case, I am acquainted with no spell for making a Prince into a horseman. Princes in Maerchenland," she added, rather unkindly, "have never needed such aids."
But, after all, she was anxious that this Royal family, whom she had been largely responsible for importing, should do her as much credit as possible, and so she applied herself to think of something that might be of help to the unfortunate Crown Prince. A means occurred to her at length, but as she was by no means sure that it would be effectual, she was careful not to commit herself.
She did not even mention it till she was on the point of starting for Clairdelune, and then, before she stepped into her dove-chariot, she suddenly said to the Queen, a propos of nothing in particular, "By the way, my dear, that jewel you were wearing when you first came—I haven't seen you with it for a long while—how is that?"
"Well, you see, Court Godmother, my Crown jewels seem to suit me so much better."
"Then, if you don't want that pendant yourself, you had better give it to your son."
"To Clarence?" cried the Queen. "Why, what use would it be to him?"
"It is a jewel which any Prince might be proud to wear," said the Fairy; "and I should strongly advise you to see that he wears it. Not merely now and then, but constantly. It may—mind, I don't say it will—but it may bring him better luck than he has enjoyed as yet."
"But really, Godmother, I can't quite believe that a thing—" began the Queen, when the Fairy cut her short unceremoniously.
"I've no time to stay here arguing about it," she said; "my doves will be catching cold if they stand about any longer. By all means don't take my advice if you don't believe in it; I merely thought you might find it worth trying—but you must please yourself. And now, with your permission, I'll take my leave of you."
At a sign from her, the team of doves fluttered up in a snow-white cloud and winged their flight to the neighbouring Kingdom of Clairdelune, where she had another Royal Godson, Prince Mirliflor, in whose affairs she took a keener interest than she could in Clarence's.
"Old people have such queer ideas," thought Queen Selina, as the chariot rapidly receded from sight. "As if that twopenny-halfpenny pendant of Miss Heritage's could—but the Court Godmother will be annoyed if I don't follow her advice—and it's best not to offend the old creature. I'll go up and see if it's still in my jewel case."
It was, and she brought it down in time to intercept Clarence as he was starting in rather low spirits for another crowded hour of anything but glorious life in the Riding Court.
"Clarence, my boy," she said, "I want you to oblige me by wearing this in future."
"What—that thing you bought before we came away!" he replied. "I say, Mater, you don't expect me to go about with a woman's pendant on my manly bosom!"
"Your Godmother Vogelflug thinks it is quite a fit ornament for a Prince," urged his mother, "and—and she as much as said that it would bring you good-luck."
"Did she, though? Well, I could do with a bit of that for a change." And he allowed her to fasten the chain round his neck. "By Gad, makes me feel like a Good Forester or a Member of the Ancient Order of Buffaloes or something!" he remarked.
"Never mind," she said; "and it really doesn't look so very out of place. But remember, Clarence, if it's to do any good, you must wear it always."
"Right-oh!" he said; "and now I'll go and take my usual morning toss, what?"
Half an hour later, he came into the Royal Parlour, where his family were assembled, Daphne being with them. He looked round the circle with a satisfied air, and then said in a tone of studied carelessness, "If you've nothing better to do just now, all of you, you may as well look in at the Riding Court in a few minutes, and see how I'm getting on. I—er—should like Lady Daphne to come, too, and the whole Court. Tell 'em to hurry up. You'll find me down there ready for you." He was gone before they had recovered from their surprise.
"Dear me," said the King, "I'm not quite sure that it would be wise to have the Court looking on just yet, eh, my dear?"
"I have every confidence in Clarence," said the Queen. "He would not have suggested that they should attend unless—but perhaps a smaller audience, of just ourselves, might be less trying for him."
So it was only the Royal family and Daphne that went down to the Riding Court, where, to Queen Selina's alarm, some very formidable-looking jumps had been put up.
"He's never going to be rash enough to try to get over those!" she said. "Tell him he's not to run such risks. I can't allow him to!"
Just then Clarence cantered in on a high-spirited mare, over which he seemed to have complete control. He put her at obstacle after obstacle, and surmounted all of them with the greatest ease. To prove that he was equally at home on any mount, he had several other horses brought in, and over each he showed the same mastery, and a seat with which Daphne, who was critical in such matters, could find no fault.
"You young dog!" said his father, when the exhibition was over and Clarence had dismounted. "So you've been taking us in all this time, pretending you couldn't stick on a horse for more than a few seconds, hey?"
"Oh, well," he said modestly, "I didn't like to say too much. Fact is, it's only quite lately that I've felt what you might call at home on a gee."
The Stud grooms could have testified how very lately this was if they had thought proper to do so—which, of course, they did not.
"It only shows what can be done with a little perseverance," said Queen Selina. "Clarence, you will be able to ride through the City now!"
He managed to get Daphne to himself for a few minutes on the way back to the Palace.
"Well, Lady Daphne," he began, "I've done what I could to please you, and I hope you are satisfied, what?"
"Indeed I am, Prince Clarence," she said warmly, for he had risen several places in her esteem during the past hour. "And I congratulate you most heartily. And now things will be ever so much pleasanter for you, won't they?" As she spoke she noticed the pendant, which, of course, she recognised immediately.
"Ah, you're looking at this," he said. "Daresay it strikes you as funny my wearing it?"
"Not at all, Sir," she replied; "it isn't really a woman's ornament." She did not tell him how she knew it was not, for she had not forgotten her undertaking to say nothing about it.
"Well, it was the Mater's," he said. "She's made me promise to wear it always. Thinks it may bring me luck."
"I hope it will, Prince Clarence," she said, quite sincerely; and, as the Queen happened to look back just then and summon her sharply to her side, that was all that passed between him and Daphne on that occasion.
She was rather pleased than otherwise that he should be the possessor of the pendant. As has been said, she had never known her father, so there were no tender associations attaching to it. And she had been a little afraid that Mrs. Wibberley-Stimpson had only bought it out of consideration for her. It was some relief that she had found a use for it. Daphne was, of course, quite unaware who her unknown father had been or that the pendant was a badge of his princely rank; and both the Queen and her son had no suspicion of the truth. Nor did either of them connect it with his suddenly acquired mastery of the whole art of horsemanship, Queen Selina believing that his reports of previous unsuccess had been intended to increase the surprise of his triumph, while Clarence naturally found it easy to persuade himself that he had been learning more from his disheartening failures than he had been conscious of at the time. He certainly did not hide his new talent in a napkin, but organised riding excursions of the lords and ladies of the Royal household, at the head of which he made a very gay and gallant appearance on a prancing bay palfrey. Only there was one thorn in his luxuriously padded saddle. He had hoped that he might have the pleasure of commanding Daphne to ride by his side on these excursions, but, though she accompanied them, it was never on horseback. Queen Selina, it seemed, had developed such a preference for her first lady-in-waiting's society that she was always required to accompany her in the Royal coach.
Daphne would willingly have dispensed with this and other signs of the marked favour with which her Sovereign was overwhelming her just then. She had no illusions as to the motives. The Queen thought—most mistakenly, as it happened—that making a favourite of Daphne was the surest method of snubbing and annoying her other ladies-in-waiting, for whom she had begun to conceive a hearty dislike.
The dislike was certainly reciprocated. They resented their Royal Mistress's insolence as much as they despised her previous obsequiousness. They accepted the fact that she was their Queen, but, among themselves, they did not pretend any respect for her, as was manifest from their habit of referring to her in private as "Mother Schwellenposch!" Edna, who was scarcely more beloved, was known as "Princess Four-eyes," in allusion to her pince-nez. Daphne found it hard at times to refrain from joining them in this irreverence, but, while she saw the Queen's and Edna's weak points as clearly as her companions—and indeed more clearly than any of them—her sense of loyalty kept her silent. She might laugh when she was alone, and frequently did, but that was a relief to her feelings for which she felt she need not reproach herself very severely. Another reason for Queen Selina's insistence on Daphne's company in the coach was, as she was fully aware, the desire to keep her at a safe distance from the Crown Prince—a needless precaution which had its amusing side for her.
Still, she often longed to be on a horse instead of being shut up in a great lumbering vehicle with the Queen and the Princess Royal, even if Princess Ruby's presence did something to make things less dull. On one of these expeditions Queen Selina had once more provided herself with a sack of gold from which she and the Princesses scattered largesse.
"You may throw a little if you like, Miss Heritage," said the Queen graciously. (She reserved the title "Lady Daphne" for occasions when the Court was present.)
"I'd rather not, your Majesty," she replied. "I mean," she explained, "it's not as if it was my money."
"I should have thought," said Edna, "that that was all the more reason for throwing it away." And as she spoke she flung a handful to a stout old citizen, who glared with indignation—not at her, however, but at the nimbler and needier persons who had grabbed most of the coins before he could stoop to pick them up.
Daphne felt rather ashamed of these proceedings, which seemed to her not merely undignified, but likely to demoralise the public. But she said nothing.
"We're not doing this out of ostentation, Miss Heritage," explained the Queen, who seemed to have divined something of her sentiments. "It's policy. You may have noticed that we've not been nearly so well received lately. Why, I don't know, unless there's any ill-feeling about those detestable little Gnomes."
There was a good deal. The Gnomes, having no employment on the golf-links, had recently broken out of their compound and found their way into Eswareinmal, where they made themselves very much at home. They quartered themselves on several of the householders, and, having discovered that cooked food was more palatable than earth, they had no diffidence in helping themselves. In other respects they were inoffensive and inclined to be sociable, but, even in Maerchenland, the most harmless and playful Yellow Gnome is not considered a desirable addition to any respectable family. The citizens one and all regarded their visitors as intolerable nuisances for which they had to thank their Sovereigns.
"It was his Majesty's idea to free them," the Queen went on. "I was always in favour of keeping them in the mine, where they were out of mischief. And they certainly mustn't be allowed to run about loose any longer. They ought to learn some sort of discipline. Perhaps the best thing would be to train them as Boy Scouts.... Have you caught cold, Miss Heritage? You seem troubled by a most distressing cough."
King Sidney himself had begun to doubt whether the enfranchisement of the Yellow Gnomes was quite one of his happiest inspirations. Such Maerchenlanders as had been induced to enter the mine were demanding wages which left but a small margin for profit, especially when it was considered that, if their methods of working were more systematic than their predecessors', they somehow got very much less gold. No sacks at all had been delivered of late, and the shelves of the Royal Counting-house were beginning to look ominously bare.
He forced himself to mention this to the Queen after the drive that afternoon, and point out the necessity for being rather more economical than they had been hitherto. "I'm sure, Sidney," she protested, "no one can say I am extravagant! It was absolutely necessary to have the whole Palace done up—I had to order some new dresses, as I couldn't be expected to wear ready-made robes in my position, and one or two tiaras and things from the Court Goldsmith, whose charges certainly were disgracefully high. Then the household expenses come to several sacks a week, try as I may to keep them down!"
"I daresay, my love, I daresay—but I hear there was another sack emptied only this afternoon—and we really can't go on like this!"
"Then I shall have to give up driving out altogether, Sidney. You've no idea how unpopular you've made us all by releasing those wretched little Gnomes. The people object to having to associate with them—and I'm sure I don't wonder. You simply must find some way of getting rid of them!"
"The Court Chamberlain tells me a certain number could be taken on the Palace Kitchens as extra scullions."
"And we shall have them getting upstairs and running about all over the Palace!"
"Oh no, my dear; there will be strict orders against that. But, to return to our expenses, I'm afraid Clarence hasn't been as careful as he might have been, and I shall have to speak to him very——"
"No, you will not, Sidney. I won't have you scolding Clarence just when he's doing so well—riding and going out hunting and making himself a social leader. You can give him a hint to be less extravagant if you like—but no more. But the first thing you have to do, is to settle the trouble about those Gnomes. You'd better ask the Marshal if he can suggest anything."
The Marshal's solution was simple but practical. There was, it seemed, a marshy tract at a considerable distance from the capital which needed draining and reclaiming—a work which the more able-bodied of the Gnomes could carry out under strict control. So the majority were deported to the Maerchenlands, the remainder being employed in the Royal Kitchens as supernumerary and highly incompetent scullions.
Whether a damp climate would suit the Gnomes' constitutions was not a matter of general concern. Most of them had been supplied with jerseys, which, if they made them look more hideous little objects than ever, had been knitted expressly for them by the Queen and her ladies-in-waiting—and what more could they possibly want?
The citizens of Eswareinmal witnessed the exodus of the gnomes with profound relief, but without any outburst of gratitude to their Sovereign. It had somehow been allowed to transpire that they owed their deliverance entirely to the statesmanship of the ex-Regent.
THE PLEASURES OF THE TABLE
King Sidney's remonstrances to Clarence on his extravagances were put in too mild a form to offend. "Perhaps I have got through rather a lot lately," the Crown Prince admitted. "Not that I spend much on myself—precious little chance in a bally place like this. It mostly goes in tips. You see, the peasants about here think anything under a purse of gold stingy. But it certainly struck me the last time I went to the Counting-house that what sacks there were looked a bit flabby. When do you expect some more in?"
"The Lord Treasurer thinks one or two may be delivered in a week or so—but we shall want considerably more than that to pay our way, and I don't see myself where it's to come from."
"I suppose," said Clarence, "it wouldn't quite do to have the gates melted down, or the thrones; but there's any amount of other gold furniture knocking about—what's the matter with coining that?"
"It did occur to me," confessed King Sidney, "but the Court Chamberlain says they're only silver gilt, and that's no good here, you know."
"Well," said Clarence, "it's pretty clear that we shall all be in the cart if we can't find some way to raise the wind."
A day or two later he burst into the Royal Parlour where his father was sitting disconsolately alone. "I've found it, Guv'nor," he announced triumphantly.
"Eh, my boy, found, what?"
"The way to raise the wind. I've been in to see little Pop-Eye—you know, the Astrologer Royal."
"Xuriel? I haven't seen him since that—er—match I played with the Marshal."
"I daresay not. The Marshal saw him, though—and he hasn't been fit to be seen in public since. Well, it seems he's been pottering away at Magic all this time on the quiet—and quite lately he's come upon an old spell-book of his father's and tried some of the formulas in it. And he's turned out one little thing that's simply it. I bought it of him on the spot. I'll have it brought in here for you to see."
When it was brought it was not much to look at, being just an ordinary round table of the plainest design.
"Ah, but you wait," said Clarence. "Just say to it 'Little table, be laid.'"
"Really, my boy," protested his father, who had evidently forgotten his Grimm's Fairy Tales, "I can't bring myself to——"
"Try it, Guv'nor—and see what happens."
"Oh well, it's all nonsense—all nonsense—but—er—'Little table be laid.'"
Instantly the table was covered with a snowy linen cloth and laid with a daintily prepared meal for one person, including a small flagon of wine and a knife and even a two-pronged fork.
"Neat, isn't it?" remarked Clarence. "The little joker wouldn't part with it at first—afraid of getting into more hot water about it."
"I don't suppose for a moment the food's genuine," said the King. "Well," he pronounced, after trying it, "I'm bound to say it's quite tasty—really very tasty indeed. I think I'll have a little more—ate so little at lunch. The wine isn't at all bad either—sort of Moselle flavour. It would be awkward if your mother were to come in just now, eh?"
"If you've done," said Clarence, "all you've got to say is: 'Little table, be cleared.'"
The King repeated the words, and the table became bare as before.
"Highly ingenious," he said; "but all the same, my boy, considering the cuisine we have in the Palace already, it seems a waste of money to buy it."
"But there's money in it, Guv'nor—money enough to make us all millionaires if we go the right way to work it! Listen to me. Xuriel says he could easily make any quantity of these tables—produce 'em in all styles and sizes, to dine any number, if you and the Mater will only give him a free hand."
"I think you're forgetting, my boy," said King Sidney with dignity, "that there is a law—a law which your mother and I think a very wise and salutary one—against the practice of anything in the nature of—ah—Magic in our dominions."
"Oh, I know that," said Clarence. "But you can alter it easily enough, can't you?"
"No doubt we could. But why should we?"
"Do you mean to say you don't see why? And you've been a business man all your life! Of course, we shouldn't give Xuriel such a concession as this except on our own terms. He's willing to let us take two-thirds of the selling price of every table he sells. And they'll sell like hot cakes! Why, there won't be a family in all Maerchenland that can afford to be without one. They'll pay any price we like to put on such an article as this. Just think of it, Dad! No expenses—no risk—and a bigger income than we could ever hope for from any bally mine. You can't let a chance like that slip through your fingers!"
"I quite see the possibilities, my boy!" said the King; "and in fact—but I can't decide one way or the other till I know what your Mother thinks of it."
Queen Selina took an unexpectedly broad-minded view of the scheme as soon as she fully understood its advantages.
"Of course," she said, "nothing would induce me to encourage any enterprise that was based on Sorcery. But the Astrologer Royal is far too respectable a little man to have anything to do with that. And these tables would be such a boon to so many hundreds! We cannot leave that out of consideration. The dear people will be so grateful to us for allowing them to be placed within the reach of the humblest. I daresay Mr. Xuriel would supply them on the hire system. And as for there being any Magic about the process—if there is, it's quite harmless, and it's much more probable that it can be accounted for by purely natural causes which unscientific persons like ourselves can't be expected to understand. After all, who really knows?"
"And who really cares?" added Clarence, "so long as the tables sell. It's lucky the Guv'nor and I have had a business training. We shall be able to check Master Xuriel's accounts—he'll do us in the eye if he can, I'll bet. We'd better start it as a private company. The Patent Self-supplying Tables Co., Limited. Under Royal Patronage, what?"
"I cannot have any in the Palace," objected the Queen. "The chefs would make such a fuss if I did. And another thing, Clarence—it mustn't on any account be known that we take a share of the profits. A Royal Family has to be so very careful that its actions are not misinterpreted."
"We'll be sleeping partners, Mater," said the Crown Prince, "and I don't fancy Master Xuriel will be such a fool as to give us away. So far as the Public'll know, we're interested in the venture on strictly philanthropic principles."
"And that will be quite true," added Queen Selina, "for I can conscientiously say that I wouldn't be connected with it if I didn't feel it was for the general advantage."
Thus was the "Patent Self-supplying Tables Co., Ltd.," founded. A large disused granary in the City was adapted as an Emporium, and the Astrologer Royal, after working day and night for a week, filled it with an extensive stock of dining-tables which were graduated to suit the needs of every class of purchaser.
As Clarence had predicted, they met with a ready sale, for, although Maerchenlanders had a tradition of the existence of such tables, they had never expected to be able to procure one for themselves by cash payment.
It was obvious to all that an article which simplified housekeeping by rendering both cook and kitchen fire superfluous was cheap at almost any price, and the demand was so great that Xuriel had to work harder than ever to keep pace with it.
And everybody expressed the greatest satisfaction with the tables when delivered—except, indeed, those citizens who earned their livelihood as provision-dealers. They protested that they were being ruined by what they chose to call unfair competition, and even sent a deputation to the Palace to represent their grievances.
"Show them into the Hall of Audience," said King Sidney, when he was told of their arrival, "and tell them I will be with them presently and hear anything they may have to say."
After he had done so he addressed them in a paternal manner, but with sound common-sense. It was very unfortunate, he admitted, but it was one of these cases where a small minority had to suffer for the benefit of the community at large. As a constitutional and democratic Monarch, he could not interfere to restrict the production of articles that increased the comfort and well-being of the vast majority of his beloved subjects. The deputation had his sincere sympathy, but he could do no more than offer them his advice, which was to escape the starvation they seemed—a little unnecessarily, if he might say so—to apprehend by immediately investing their savings in these self-supplying tables. He added that, from all he could hear, he thought it very probable that the prices would go up very shortly.
The deputation then thanked him and withdrew. Such dealers as could afford the outlay followed his advice, and very soon the sacks in the Sovereign's Counting-house were fuller than ever, and all danger of a Royal bankruptcy was happily at an end, while the Family had the additional pleasure of finding themselves popular once more.
Strictly speaking, the Astrologer Royal had not been authorised to employ his occult skill in producing any objects but the self-supplying dinner-tables, though it was rumoured that his industry was not entirely confined to these. He certainly sold the Crown Prince a sword with which he could face undismayed the fiercest of bears and boars, while the old Court Chamberlain bought a silk skull-cap that he found most useful on occasions when he did not desire to attract attention. But, perhaps from unwillingness to get Xuriel into trouble, neither of them made any mention of these purchases.
Clarence should have been satisfied, for his feats in the saddle and his daring in the forest, where he slew every wild beast he encountered, had rendered him a hero in the eyes of the populace, and even of the Court. And yet he was very far from being satisfied—for what was the good of his glory if it brought him no nearer Daphne? He hoped it was making an impression, but he could not be certain, because he never succeeded in getting a moment alone with her. When she was not in attendance on his Mother she was either with Ruby or the ladies-in-waiting, or, worse still, surrounded by courtiers who had not the tact to withdraw on his appearance. And although she did not seem to show a preference for any one in particular, that did not prevent him from being furiously jealous of them all.
One afternoon Daphne received a message by one of the pages that she was wanted at once in the Hall of Audience by Princess Edna. But when she obeyed the summons the only person she found in the hall was the Crown Prince in hunting costume, with high boots and a plumed hat.
"It's all right," he called out as she hesitated, "Edna will be here directly.... You look as if you didn't believe me."
"I'm afraid I don't, your Royal Highness," said Daphne.
"Don't you? Well, you're right. It was not Edna that sent for you. It was me."
"You might have sent for me in your own name, Prince Clarence."
"I daresay! And then you'd have got out of coming! I've something I particularly want to say to you. And I say—do sit down. It's like this," he proceeded, after Daphne had sat down on one of the benches, "I never seem to see anything of you now—what with all those Courtier chaps always hanging about you. I wonder you let 'em. You wouldn't if you knew as much about 'em as I do. Why, that fellow Hansmeinigel's ancestor was half a hedgehog—a beastly common ordinary hedgehog, by Gad!—and as for young Bohnenranken——"
"Your Royal Highness may spare yourself the trouble of going on," said Daphne. "I know all about their descent already—from themselves. They're not in the least ashamed of their ancestors—indeed they're very proud of them."
"More than I should be if they were mine. Anyhow, there isn't one of 'em that's fit for you to make a pal of."
"You would have more right to say that, Prince Clarence, if I had ever shown the slightest inclination to treat them as 'pals.'"
"You can look higher than bounders like them. And I must say I feel a bit hurt, that you haven't taken more notice of all I've been doing to please you. I mean, learning to ride as I've done, and leading an active life, and all that."
"I really thought your Royal Highness was doing it for your own pleasure. But of course I've noticed the change, and if I've had any share in bringing it about, I'm very glad."
"And is that all I'm to get by it? I want a lot more than that. I want you!"
"Don't be absurd, Prince Clarence," said Daphne. "You know very well you would never be allowed to marry me, even if I——"
"Oh, of course, I know that. But—but, you see, I—er—well, I wasn't thinking of marriage exactly."
"Then," said Daphne, with ominous quietness, "would your Royal Highness be good enough to explain what you were thinking of exactly?"
"Well," he said, "my idea was something more in the nature of a—what do you call it?—a morganatic alliance. Of course even that would have to be kept dark because of the Mater, but——"
Daphne rose. "Prince Clarence," she said, "is it because I have been your sister's Governess that you think you have the right to insult me like this?"
"It isn't an insult," he protested; "you don't understand. I assure you it's quite the usual thing in cases like ours. You'd be none the less thought of—rather the other way about. So why take this narrow-minded, prudish view of it? I didn't expect it—from you, you know!"
"Probably," said Daphne, "you don't expect to get your ears boxed—but you will, if you dare to say any more."
"Oh, do you think you'd better?" he asked. "I mean—smacking a Crown Prince's head—well, it's a jolly serious offence, you know—what?"
"I suppose," she said scornfully, "you think I should deserve to be executed for it."
"It would make a good 'par' in the papers," he replied, "if we had any papers here. Something of this sort: 'The execution of Lady Daphne took place yesterday in the Market Square. There was no hitch, everything, including Lady Daphne's head, going off with the greatest eclat. The Crown Prince was expected to be present, but was unavoidably detained out hunting.'... Ah, you're laughing! You're not so very angry with me after all!"
"I was," said Daphne; "but, after all, you don't know any better, and it really isn't worth while. Still, as it seems I can't expect any consideration from your Royal Highness, it will be impossible for me to remain in her Majesty's service."
He began to realise at last how deeply he had offended her, and to desire a reconciliation on almost any terms.
"No, I say," he pleaded, "don't take it like that. I—I made a mistake. I'll never do it again. I swear I won't! Now won't you stay?"
Daphne looked at him for a moment before she replied. "I wouldn't stay, Prince Clarence," she said, "if I didn't believe you really are a little sorry and ashamed of yourself. And I will only stay now on condition that you never try to speak to me again except in public."
He had a sudden sense of what this would be to him—he might almost as well lose her altogether. There was only one way of obtaining her full forgiveness and the privilege of being alone with her as often as he wished. Of course he would have to pay pretty dearly for it—but, hang it, she was worth making some sacrifice for! He might be able to get round his people after all.... Yes, he'd take the plunge, whatever it cost him.
"But—but look here," he began desperately, "suppose—suppose I ask you"—he was on the point of adding, "to be my wife," when the words died on his lips as he saw that his mother had just entered the Audience Chamber. "Not now," he broke off heartily, "some other time."
Queen Selina regarded Daphne with cold displeasure for a moment or two before speaking. "I was not aware, Miss Heritage," she said, "that your duties required you to be in this part of the Palace at any time."
"I had a summons, your Majesty," explained Daphne, "which I understood was from the Princess Royal, to come to her in the Hall of Audience, or I should not be here."
"If her Royal Highness had required you at all, Miss Heritage, I think it more likely, on the whole, that she would have sent for you to my Bower, where she has been sitting with me all the afternoon. But I will find out if the message came from her."
Daphne bit her lip.
"It did not, your Majesty," she said; "I know now that it was given to me—by mistake."
"A mistake, Miss Heritage, which I trust will not happen again. And, as it is the hour when you should be in attendance on Princess Ruby, I will ask you to go to her at once."
"She wasn't to blame, Mater," said Clarence, after Daphne had left the Hall. "It was all my fault. I sent her that message."
"It's very chivalrous of you, Clarence, to take the blame on yourself," replied his Mother; "but don't imagine you can deceive me. I know very well you are much too clever and wideawake to do anything so compromising. That girl is doing her best to entrap you into some rash promise. I've suspected it for some time."
"No, I don't think so, really, Mater. Just before you came in she was asking me to promise not to speak to her again, except in public."
"And didn't you see that was just her artful way of leading you on? But of course you did! As if you could fail to see through such an obvious trick as that."
Now Clarence came to think of it, it was pretty obvious. He shuddered to remember how very nearly he had been taken in by it. But the shrewdest man is liable to lose his head for the moment. Fortunately he had recovered his in time.
"Well, Mater," he said, "I wasn't born yesterday, you know. I flatter myself I'm up to most moves on the board. And you may depend upon it if she's had any designs on me—mind you, I don't say she has—but if she has, she sees now that they'll never come to anything. She's given me up as a hopeless proposition."
This statement was inspired less by any personal conviction than by the dread that without such reassurance his anxious Mother might dismiss Daphne on the spot.
Queen Selina did not dismiss Daphne, whose powers of keeping Ruby amused and the ladies-in-waiting in good humour were too valuable to be dispensed with unless it was absolutely necessary. But she was allowed to see in many ways that she had fallen from favour. One of these was she was no longer invited to take part in the daily drives, a deprivation which would alone have consoled her for much worse penalties.
And she was freed from any further importunities from the Crown Prince, who kept his side of the compact by maintaining a cold and lofty dignity. Clarence intended this to convey that his eyes were at last open to her designs, and that it would be useless for her to seek to beguile him any longer. But as Daphne was quite guiltless of any designs at all, she was merely grateful to him for leaving her in peace.
Queen Selina generally left it to the Marshal to direct her excursions, and he always rode beside the Royal coach. One afternoon he had conducted her and her eldest daughter by a road across a fertile plain dotted with pleasant villages and isolated farmhouses, towards the outlying spurs of a range of mountains.
On one of these spurs the Queen happened to notice a large castle, whose grim-looking keep and towers were surrounded by a high and far-extending wall, while at its rear rose a frowning black crag.
"Tell me, Marshal," she said, "whose place is that, and who lives there?"
"That is Castle Drachenstolz, your Majesty," he said. "It has belonged for many centuries to a Count who chose, at some time during the previous reign, to change the original family name to that of von Rubenfresser. It's present occupant is the last of the race, the young Count Ruprecht."
"Really!" said the Queen, "considering the Count is so near a neighbour of ours, he might have had the civility to call, or at least leave cards, on us before now!"
"He would no doubt be happy to present himself at Court, Madam, if he were not under strict orders never to go outside his Castle walls."
"But why not?"
"His parents were accused, whether justly or not I cannot say, of certain malpractices, and the late King, your Majesty's gracious grandfather, ordered them both to be put to death. Burnt alive, if I remember rightly. This youth, being a mere infant at that period, was allowed to live, but in semi-confinement within his ancestral walls, with a custodian (who is now removed), and a few old family retainers, who are the only persons he has ever been permitted to see."
"And is there anything against the young Count himself?"
"Nothing whatever," replied the Marshal. "He has been brought up in the simplest manner and on the strictest principles, and by all accounts, is a most amiable and excellent young man."
"It seems rather hard that he should have been a prisoner all these years," said Princess Edna, "for no fault of his own."
"It does seem hard, your Royal Highness, and, in fact, while I was Regent I was on the point of ordering him to be allowed at large, when—when I was relieved of all responsibility. However, his lot is not a very severe one. The estate is large, and he can drive or walk anywhere within its boundaries. I understand that he spends much of his time in his kitchen garden, where he has brought the art of forcing certain vegetables to truly wonderful perfection."
The young Count did not sound from this description particularly exciting, even to Edna, but still she could not get him and his undeserved captivity out of her thoughts, and, as soon as she got back to the Palace, she attacked the King on the subject.
"It's all very well, father," she concluded indignantly, "but in these days you simply can't keep that young man shut up for life just because my great-grandfather chose to have his parents burnt alive—most likely for no reason at all."
"I don't want to keep him shut up, my dear. Never heard of him before. I am quite willing to set him free if I am satisfied that it's the right thing to do."
"Of course it's the right thing to do, Sidney," said his wife; "and, what's more, it will be very popular. Just one of these gracious little acts of clemency that go home to people's hearts. The Marshal quite agreed with me about that."
"Oh, very well," said the King, "I'll send a herald over to tell him he needn't consider himself a prisoner for the future."
"We owe him more than that, Sidney," said the Queen; "we ought at least to ask him over to lunch."
"Yes, we might do that," agreed Edna; "not that he's likely to accept."
"He cannot refuse a Royal command, my love," said her mother.
The Count did not refuse. On the appointed day Clarence and his sisters saw from one of the windows a dilapidated sable coach drawn by eight very ancient coal-black horses turn into the Courtyard.
"Only wants a few undertaker's men in weepers to be a really classy funeral!" was the Crown Prince's tribute to this equipage. "'Come to bury Caesar, not to praise him,' as Hamlet or some other Shakespearian Johnny says, what?"
When the young Count von Rubenfresser was ushered into the Royal presence his entrance made a slight sensation. Nobody had been prepared for the fact that he was much nearer seven than six feet in height. Otherwise there was nothing alarming about him; he wore his flaxen hair rather long and arranged over the centre of his head in a sort of roll; his china-blue eyes (which Ruby said afterwards was "plain all round, like a fish's eyes") were singularly candid; he had a clear, fresh complexion, full red lips, and magnificent teeth. He wore a rich suit of sable as deep as his coach. "Magog in mourning," Clarence christened him in an undertone.
It was curious that he should have inspired Daphne at first sight with a vague repulsion, and that Ruby should have felt a similar antipathy, though, with her, it took the form of a violent fit of the giggles—but so it was. Daphne was thankful that she was able to remain at a distance from him, as she was not lunching at the Royal Table.
He was shy at first, as most persons would be if the first meal they had ever eaten away from their own home had to be consumed in the presence of Royalty, but he had been evidently trained to observe the ordinary table etiquette, and as he became more at ease he talked fluently enough, though at times with a naivete that was almost childlike, and increased Clarence's resolve to pull his leg whenever he saw an opportunity.
"Your Majesties must pardon my asking the question," he said, in his thin, piping voice, as he helped himself to a cutlet, "but is this what is called meat?"
"So we're given to understand by the butcher, Count," replied Clarence. "Why do you want to know?"
"Because," he replied, "I've often heard of meat, but this is the first time I've ever seen it. Do you know," he went on presently, "I like meat. I shall have some more."
"I should, if I were you," advised Clarence; "it may make you grow!" which reduced Ruby to silent convulsions.
"Do you really think it will?" inquired the Count, either not noticing, or tactfully disregarding, Princess Ruby's lapse from good manners. "It might. My poor dear Father and Mother were both great meat-eaters, I believe, before they took to vegetarianism, which was quite late in life. I cannot remember seeing them, but I've always understood that they were much taller than I am."
"You don't say so," returned Clarence. "Must have been most interesting people to meet."
"They were, your Royal Highness. Though, unfortunately, I cannot speak of my own knowledge. As your Majesties may be aware, during the short time they were spared to me I was too young to appreciate their society."
"Well, well, Count," said Queen Selina, perceiving that this was delicate ground, "it's all very sad, but you must try not to think about it now. The Marshal tells me you give a great deal of your time to growing vegetables. How do tomatoes do with you?"
"I don't pay any attention to tomatoes, your Majesty," he replied, with a blush that few tomatoes could have outdone. "My efforts have been chiefly directed to pumpkins. I have reared some particularly fine ones. I am very fond of pumpkins."
"Jolly little things, ain't they?" put in Clarence. "So playful!"
"Are they?" said the Count with perfect simplicity. "I did not know that. But then I have never attempted to play with my pumpkins."
"Haven't you?" said Clarence. "Well, you get 'em to play kiss-in-the-ring with you, and you'll find out how frisky they can be!"
"I do not know anything about kissing," he confessed, "except that it is very wrong."
"Not pumpkins," said the Crown Prince. "There's no harm in that! Ask the bishop!"
"I say, old girl," he remarked to Princess Edna, after their visitor had taken his departure, "what on earth induced the Mater to tell that lanky overgrown lout we should be pleased to see him any time he cared to drop in? We shall have the beggar running in and out here like a bally rabbit, you see if we don't!"
"Not if you intend to go on insulting him, Clarence, as you did to-day at lunch," replied Edna coldly.
"Why, I was only ragging him. Who could help ragging such a champion mug as that?"
"There is more—far more—in him than you are capable of seeing, Clarence. And, even from a physical point of view, he is immeasurably your superior."
"I admit I shouldn't have a look in with him if we were both candidates for a Freak Show," he conceded. "On the other hand, no one can say I'm gone at the knees."
"It's a pity, Clarence, that you're so narrow as you are!" she said.
"D'you mean round the chest or calves?" he asked. "Because I'm quite up to the average measurements."
"I meant, so insular in your prejudices. You were almost rude to the poor Count. When he was our guest, too!"
"I expect," he said, "that if he's ever our guest again, I shall be a bit more insular. I can't stick the beggar, somehow!"
THE BLONDE BEAST
The Count was not slow to take advantage of his permis de circuler; his coal-black horses and coach were soon a familiar spectacle in the streets of Eswareinmal, where he had discovered the delights of promiscuous shopping. He ordered a self-supplying dinner-table of the best quality—to be paid for by monthly instalments—from the Astrologer Royal, with whom he struck up a sort of friendship. Nor did he neglect to avail himself of his general invitation to the Palace, where he dropped in so frequently as almost to justify Clarence's prediction. Queen Selina gave him occasional hints that she had not expected him quite so often, but hints were thrown away on the Count's ingenuous nature—he seemed to take it for granted that he was always welcome.
Princess Edna certainly never discouraged his visits. She had been struck from the first by his great stature and powerful physique, which were just what she imagined that Nietzsche's ideal Superman would possess. It has already been mentioned that she had been attending lectures on the Nietzschean philosophy.
Those were the days—not so very long ago, though they seem remote enough now—when a certain class of high-browed and serious persons accepted works of modern German philosophers as containing a new gospel which none who desired intellectual freedom, enlightenment, and efficiency could afford to neglect. The theories of "the Will to Power" and of Might being equivalent to Right are already hopelessly discredited in this country by recent exhibitions of the way in which they work out in practice. But it was not so then, and Edna, who liked to feel that she was one of the elect and in the advance guard of Culture, readily imbibed as much of the Nietzschean doctrine as could be boiled down for her in a single lecture. She would not, of course, have thought of regulating her own actions on such principles, any more than, in all probability, did their author himself. But she was very anxious to see some one else do so, and the young Count seemed to have been formed by Nature for Nietzsche's typical "Blond Beast," if he only chose to divulge his possibilities. Unfortunately, he did not seem even to suspect them; he remained quite oppressively mild and amiable. She very nearly gave him up in despair once when he timidly presented her with a pair of mittens which he had knitted for her himself. However, a day came when she saw him under a less discouraging aspect.
They were at lunch, to which he had invited himself as usual, and Ruby had asked her brother how it was that in all his hunting expeditions he had never managed to slay a dragon.
"Never saw one to slay, Kiddie," he replied. "They seem scarce about here."
The Court Chamberlain, from behind the King's chair, took it upon himself to explain that there were no longer any dragons in existence, the few that remained having been exterminated by the late King's orders.
"Oh!" exclaimed Ruby, "I did so want to see a dragon! And now I never shall!"
"If you wish it, little Princess," said Count von Rubenfresser kindly, "you shall see mine."
"Yours!" cried Ruby, quite forgetting her dislike for him in her excitement. "Have you really got a dragon—a real live one?"
"A real live one—and almost full-grown," he replied. "My poor dear Father had a pair, but they were killed. Mine is the last of the breed. I discovered it myself when I was a child in a cave close to the castle. At that time it was only an egg."
"Hatch it yourself?" inquired Clarence.
"Only partially," said the young Count; "the sun did the rest." (It was perhaps as well for Daphne that she was not at the table just then.) "I begged that its life might be spared, and it was. So Tuetzi and I have grown up together."
"Tootsie!" remarked Clarence sotto voce, "what a dashed silly-ass name for a dragon!"
"And will you show us him?" asked Ruby eagerly. "Mummy, couldn't we go to the Count's castle and see his dragon? This afternoon?"
"I should rather like to see it myself," said her Father. "No idea there were such things. What do you say to our driving back with the Count and having a look at it, eh, my love?"
"I think, Sidney," replied the Queen, "we certainly ought to do so."
So, to Ruby's delight, the State coach was ordered to take the Royal Family to Drachenstolz, and the party set out shortly after lunch. Clarence accompanied them on horseback, while the Count followed in his sombre vehicle. Daphne was left behind, and the Court, although invited to join the party, begged with singular unanimity that they might be excused.
On arriving at the Castle the visitors were first taken over the interior, which was ill-lighted and rather depressing, after which the Count led them through a spacious courtyard to the kitchen-garden, where the Queen deigned to compliment him on the huge size of the vegetable marrows and pumpkins that were ripening in the sun.
"If there should be a Harvest Festival at the Church, Count," she said graciously, "I'm sure some of those would come in very nicely for it!"
They then passed over a rough tract of ground towards a rocky cliff that formed part of the Castle boundary. In this cliff was a deep cavern, on one side of which was a stout staple with a chain attached, only a portion of which was visible. Here their young host stopped and gave a low whistle. Instantly there was a rattle of the chain, and the next moment all but the Count and Ruby hastily retreated as a great horny head with distended nostrils and lidless eyes was protruded from the opening.
"Don't be alarmed!" said the Count, calmly unfastening the chain and leading the creature out into the open. "Tuetzi is perfectly tame, as you can see."
It may or may not have been full-grown, but it was large enough at all events to be a fairly fearful wildfowl, with its huge leathery wings, crested spine, formidable talons, and restless tail. The colour of its scales was extraordinarily rich, ranging from deepest purple and azure through vivid green to orange and pale yellow, and fully justified King Sidney in remarking—from a safe distance—that "it appeared to be in very good condition."
But there was no doubt about its tameness. It suffered Ruby, who showed no fear of it whatever, to stroke it on its plated beak, and even to scratch it behind its bristly ears, with every sign of satisfaction.
"Ruby!" shrieked the horrified Queen, "come away at once! I'm sure it isn't safe to tease that dreadful thing!"
"I'm not teasing him, Mummy," replied Ruby, whose eccentric penchant for reptiles was now being gratified beyond her wildest dreams. "He loves being tickled. Can't you hear him purring?"
As the noise the brute was making would have drowned that of the most powerful dynamo, the question was almost unnecessary. Count Ruprecht next made his dragon exhibit the few accomplishments it had learnt, which were of the simplest, consisting in sitting up, rolling over and shamming death, and reviving to utter three terrific snorts, supposed to be loyal cheers, all at the proper word of command. He concluded by mounting its back and riding it several times round the enclosure, after which he lay between its forepaws, while it licked his face with its huge flickering forked tongue.
"Capital!" cried Clarence, apparently unimpressed, though he did not venture very near the beast. "You've only to teach it to jump through a hoop, and you'd make quite a decent Music-hall 'turn' together. What do you feed it on, eh? Sop—or canary-seed?"
To which the Count did not vouchsafe any reply.
"I've been most interested, I'm sure, my dear Count," said the Queen, after he had chained it up again. "And it's quite a thing to have seen—once. But we really can't allow you to go on keeping such a creature as that—can we, Sidney?"
"Certainly not, my love," said the King. "It's against the law, you know, Count, against the law."
"Is it, your Majesty?" said the Count. "I—I had no idea of that—no one ever told me so!"
"Well, it is, you know. You must put an end to it—have it destroyed. Painlessly, if you like, but—well, you've got to get rid of it somehow."
"In your own interest, Count," urged the Queen. "Just think how unpopular you would be with your neighbours if it broke loose!"
"I should not like to be unpopular," he said. "And if your Majesties insist on slaying the only living creature that loves me——!"
"What?" put in Clarence unfeelingly, "don't the hearse—I mean the carriage-horses love you?"
But again the Count took no notice of the question.
"It's too bad of you, Father!" cried Edna indignantly; "yes, and you too, Mother! To come here at Count Ruprecht's invitation, to see his dragon and then tell him to destroy it! I think it perfectly disgraceful of you, and you will get a very bad name in the country when people hear of it. When you happen to be Sovereigns you might at least behave as such!"
"Well, well, my dear," said her Mother, who had not considered the question from this side before, "we merely threw it out as a suggestion—nothing more. And if the Count will undertake to keep his dragon under proper control, that is all we shall require of him."
The Count willingly gave this undertaking, and the visit ended without any loss of cordiality on either side.
"We've seen the dragon, Miss Heritage!" Ruby announced with sparkling eyes on her return. "And he is such a darling! Do you know, I don't think the Count can be quite so horrid after all, or Tuetzi wouldn't be fond of him. Only fancy, Mums and Daddy wanted the Count to have him killed! But Edna made them say he needn't. Aren't you glad?... Oh, I forgot—you never really loved my newts. But you would Tuetzi—he's quite dry, you know—not the least bit clammy.... Do you think there's time before dinner for me to run down and play with the Gnomes?"
"My dearest!" cried Daphne, "surely your Mother doesn't approve of your doing that?"
"She wouldn't mind if she knew. They're yellow—but quite nice. Much better fun than those fat little muffs of pages, who are too afraid of spoiling their clothes to play at anything rough. You don't mind my having a game of 'I spy' with the Gnomes—just till it's time to dress for dinner—do you, Miss Heritage?"
"Well, darling," said Daphne, "I'm not allowed any authority over you now, you know. But I'm quite sure that if her Majesty ever hears of your running about with Yellow Gnomes, she will blame me for it, and probably send me away."
"Oh, then I won't any more. Only it will be rather dull without them. I almost wish sometimes I had lessons to do. But there's nothing for me to learn. I can understand everything everybody says, and they understand me. And there aren't any pianos, and History and Geography are no earthly good here, and I know more Arithmetic as it is than I shall ever want now I'm a Princess. Princess Flachspinnenlos promised to show me how to work a spinning-wheel some day, but she's not very good at it herself, and anyhow, I'm sure it will be frightfully boring. Still, I'd rather give up the Gnomes than lose you, Miss Heritage, dearest!"
She spoke with feeling, for it meant abandoning a cherished scheme of hers for inciting them to steal up during dinner and pinch the pages' legs.
Daphne was sorry for the poor little tomboy Princess, of whom she had grown to be really fond. There was little she could do for her, however, beyond being with her as often as she could; and the Queen had shown a tendency of late to discourage even this.
Edna looked forward with interest to the Count's next visit; his performances with the dragon had impressed her greatly in his favour, and she had begun to think that he might have the makings of a Superman in him after all. It might be time to begin his education, and she prepared herself for the task by running through her lecture notes on Nietzsche once more.
When he called he was shown by her command to the chamber which served as her boudoir, where, rather to the scandal of some of the Court ladies, she received him in private.
He looked taller than ever as he sat doubled up on a low seat. "I came to thank you, Princess," he began, "for persuading your exalted parents to spare my poor dear Tuetzi. Of course I don't want to break the law, but he is chained up, and besides, he is such a good dragon that I'm sure nobody could object to my keeping him."
"Why are you so anxious not to break the law?"
"Because it's wrong to break laws."
"And do you never do anything wrong?"
"Never. My tutors taught me that people who do wrong are always punished for it. I shouldn't like to be punished at all."
"Still, you must have wanted to do bad things now and then."
"Now and then I have," he confessed. "Especially lately. But I never do them. You see, bad people are never really liked."
"Do you know, Count, what the great German philosopher Nietzsche would call such goodness as yours? He would say it was 'slave-morality.' You only do what other people tell you is right because you're afraid of what they would think of you if you didn't. You have courage enough to master Tuetzi, but you daren't defy what Nietzsche so finely terms 'the Great Dragon of the Law,' which says: 'Thou shalt'—'Thou shalt not.'"
"What?" he said in surprise. "Is there another dragon besides Tuetzi? And one that can talk, too! I never heard of him!"
"Nietzsche was speaking metaphorically, of course," said Edna impatiently. "He meant the human laws and customs and prejudices which a true Superman should soar above. I think you ought to be more of a Superman."
"Ought I?" he said, open-mouthed. "What sort of things does a—one of those gentlemen—do?"
"Well," said Edna, after refreshing her memory by her notes, "you should begin by 'hating and despising the ideals of the average man'! You should create your own Truth—your own Morality. Obey only your primordial instincts—the Will to Power."
"I wonder if I could do all that."
"Of course you can, if you are strong enough—and I believe you are."
"And what else ought I to do, Princess?"
"Well, let me see—oh, yes, you should 'act towards slave or stranger exactly as you think fit.' You should be 'an intrepid experimentalist, ceaselessly looking for new forms of existence.' You must 'be able to bear the sight of others' pain, remembering that you cannot attain the height of greatness——'"
"I've grown taller lately," he interjected, "a great deal taller; haven't you noticed it?"
"'Attain the height of greatness,'" resumed Edna severely, "if you do not feel within yourself both the will and the power to inflict great suffering! And 'through it all you must exhibit the joyous innocence of a child that is amusing itself.' Do you understand?"
"I think I do. It means I must do whatever I feel inclined, without minding what people say. Shall you be pleased with me, Princess, if I do that?"
"I shall at least respect you more than I can do while you form your conduct entirely on Sunday School standards."
"Then I'll try," he said. "Yes, I will certainly try. Do you know, I think I shall rather like being what your great teacher with a name like a sneeze calls a Superman."
"Then make yourself one," she said, "for I am quite sure that you have the power."
Probably she did not know herself exactly what she wanted him to be; it did not mean much more than the admiration for the prehistoric male brute to which the more advanced type of young woman seems peculiarly prone. But when he left she felt that she had made a most promising convert, and had every reason to be satisfied with the success of her afternoon.
As much could not be said with regard to her Mother, who remonstrated with her after the Count's departure as strongly as she dared.
"I shouldn't see him alone like that, again, my love," she said anxiously. "It might put ideas into people's heads. Indeed I'm not sure that, as it is, some of the Court don't think there must be something between you."
"It's perfectly indifferent to me what they think, Mother," was the lofty reply. "As a matter of fact, there is nothing whatever between us. I am merely doing what I can to make him a little more civilised."
"There would be no objection to that, my dear. Only it does look so very like encouraging him, you know. And it's so necessary to be careful just now. I'm afraid the People think we are making far too much of that young man. I noticed they looked very black that day we drove over to Drachenstolz. I really think it would be better if the next time he calls you would be 'not at home' to him."
"My dear Mother," returned Edna, "I am old enough to have the right to choose my own friends, and I shall certainly decline to drop them just because the Court chooses to make my friendships a subject for foolish gossip."
Queen Selina did not venture to pursue the conversation any farther, but she was more relieved than she would once have thought possible when she heard that the Court Godmother had returned from Clairdelune. According to strict etiquette, it was for the Fairy to attend her Mistress and report herself, but the Queen waived all ceremony by paying the first visit. She went at once, and unattended, to the apartments in one of the towers that had been assigned to the Court Godmother, who, without seeming at all overwhelmed by such condescension, received her with more benignity than usual. "Thank you, my dear," she said, in answer to the Queen's inquiries, "I am tolerably well, and feel no ill effects from my journey. And I think," she added complacently, "you will agree that I have spent my time at Clairdelune not altogether unprofitably. But you shall hear all about it presently. Tell me how things have been going on here while I have been away. As satisfactorily, I trust, as possible?"
"Oh, quite—quite—that is, I've been just a little worried lately about that young Count Rubenfresser. He has taken to coming here oftener than I think quite desirable."
"Coming here?" repeated the Fairy, with surprise. "Why, I thought he was never allowed outside his Castle!"
"Not till lately. My poor dear Grandfather seems to have been very severe both on him and his parents. But the Marshal spoke so highly of the poor young man, and recommended so strongly that he should be given his freedom, that his Majesty and I decided to do it."
"Oh," said the Fairy. "Well, of course, if the Marshal thinks it safe!" She suspected the ex-Regent of cherishing some resentment against her still for the part she had taken in bringing back the Sovereigns to supersede him, and she had no wish to run counter to him again. So, whatever she might think of the wisdom of his advice, she was far too prudent an old person to express her doubts. "But I gather," she went on, "that you don't approve of the young Count yourself, my dear?"
"Oh, he seems gentlemanly enough—though rather taller than the average. The only reason that I disapprove of him is that I'm afraid he comes here so often on Edna's account."
"You don't mean," said the Court Godmother, in some alarm, "that she shows any——?"
"Oh, dear me, no! Not the slightest! She thinks he requires civilising, and is trying to do it for him, that's all. But I can't get her to see that the notice she takes of him is liable to be misunderstood. Not only by him—but by everybody, you know."
"Oh well, my dear, if it's no worse than that, you needn't trouble yourself about it. And now for my news. You've heard me speak of Prince Mirliflor of Clairdelune, King Tournesol's only son?"
Queen Selina had heard her speak of him so often that she instinctively prepared herself for half an hour of ennui.
"A charming young man. I don't say he hasn't his faults, but I shall make it my business to cure him of them all in time. I was one of the three Godmothers at his christening—the other two have gone years ago—I forget what their gifts were—Courage and Good-looks, I think. I gave him what I still consider a most useful present for any infant prince—a complete set of the highest ideals."
"How nice!" murmured Queen Selina absently, for her attention was beginning to wander already. "Most neat and appropriate, I'm sure."
"They would have been," said the old Fairy, "if he'd made use of them sensibly, as I intended. But that is just what he hasn't done. For instance, although he's been of an age to marry these three years, he's refused to look at every eligible Princess that has been suggested to him because, if you please, she doesn't happen to come up to his ideal of beauty!"
"Dear me," said the Queen, concealing a yawn, "you don't say so, Court Godmother!"
"My dear," said the Fairy irritably, "it's nonsense to tell me I don't say what I've just said! And, as I was about to tell you, his conduct caused the greatest disappointment and annoyance to his father, who is naturally anxious that his line should not die out. So he begged me to use my influence. Well, I saw, of course, that the only way was to appeal to another of the ideals I had given him—his ideal of Duty. I put it to him that he owed it not only to his father, but his country, to choose a bride without any further shilly-shallying."
"And what did he say?" asked the Queen, with more interest, as she had begun to see what was coming.
"Don't be in such a hurry," said the Fairy; "I haven't finished what I said yet. I told him that personal beauty was of very little consequence in a bride, and that what he needed was a sensible girl who would be clever enough to keep him from having too high an opinion of himself—which, I may say, has always been one of his failings. I added that your Edna was just the very person for him."
"How kind of you to put in a word for her!" said Queen Selina. "And—was it any good?"
"So much so that, to his father's great joy, he recognised that it was his imperative duty to seek the hand of such a paragon of wisdom and learning. And I am empowered by him to prepare you for his arrival in the course of a day or two, in the character of the Princess Royal's suitor. So you see," she concluded, "I haven't been at Clairdelune all this time for nothing."
"Indeed you have not, dear Court Godmother; and I'm most grateful, I'm sure, for all the trouble you must have taken. Fancy our Edna the Queen of Clairdelune some day! Not that she isn't fitted for any position. How pleased she will be when she hears of this, dear thing! So will his Majesty—and Clarence too! He and dear Prince Mirliflor will be able to go out hunting together. For—I forgot to tell you—since you have deserted us, Clarence has learnt to ride most beautifully!"
"Has he indeed?" said the Fairy. "Then I was right after all. I thought it just possible that, if you could persuade him to wear that jewel——"
"Do you mean that pendant of mine? He does wear it, but that has nothing whatever to do with his riding. He'd taught himself to ride long before I gave it to him. He was only pretending he couldn't, as a joke."
"He may say so, my dear—but, all the same, if it hadn't been for that jewel——"
"Really, Court Godmother," said Queen Selina, who naturally resented anything that detracted from her son's credit, "it astonishes me to find anyone so—so clear-headed as you are in most things still clinging to these superstitious ideas. As if the mere fact of wearing a piece of jewellery could suddenly make anyone into a good rider!"
"It depends upon what the piece of jewellery is," said the Fairy.
Queen Selina saw her way to an absolutely crushing rejoinder. "Well, this particular piece of jewellery," she said, "happens to be a paltry ornament which I bought from Miss Heritage before I ever heard of Maerchenland."
Her shot had certainly told. "What?" faltered the Court Godmother, obviously out of countenance. "Did I understand you to say you bought that jewel—and from the Lady Daphne?"
"I prefer to call her Miss Heritage—the other is merely a courtesy title. Yes, I did buy it from her. She was in difficulties at the time, and I gave her thirty pounds for it, which was a good deal more than anybody else would have done."
"And—and—have you told this to any other person—the—the Marshal, for instance?"
"My dear Court Godmother, I am not in the habit of proclaiming my acts of charity—for it was an act of charity!"
"An act of charity," said the Fairy drily, "which I should strongly advise you to keep to yourself."
"I intend to," replied the Queen, as she rose with much dignity, though her face was redder than usual. "I should never have mentioned it at all, even to you, Court Godmother, if I hadn't felt it necessary. Of course, in my present position, I should never dream of buying jewellery from one of my own ladies-in-waiting. But it was different then. I hadn't come into my Kingdom, and Miss Heritage was only my governess; and anyway, it was a perfectly fair bargain, so my conscience is absolutely clear. Still," she added, turning on the threshold, "perhaps you will admit now that you were just a little mistaken in attaching any importance to wearing that pendant?"
"Yes," said the Fairy, completely crestfallen and subdued, "I made a mistake—a great mistake—I admit that."
"I thought you would!" returned the Queen triumphantly. "And now I must go to dear Edna and tell her the news about Prince Mirliflor."
She had no suspicion of the state of mind in which, by her unconscious revelation, she was leaving the unhappy Court Godmother, who was so stunned that it was some time before she could think out the situation at all clearly.
The present Sovereigns of Maerchenland, it seemed, were nothing but impostors! Innocent impostors, no doubt—but that did not lessen her own responsibility for helping to place them on the throne. If she made the truth known, would the people—worse still, would the ex-Regent—believe that she and the Baron and the Astrologer Royal had not been deceiving them from the first? She recognised now that they had been too ready to accept the wearer of Prince Chrysopras's jewelled badge as the sought-for Queen without some further inquiry—and yet who in all Maerchenland would have dreamed of making any? How could anyone have supposed that Queen Selina had merely become the possessor of the jewel by purchasing it from that little Lady Daphne? It seemed to follow that Lady Daphne must be the true Queen. The Fairy remembered now that she had taken her to be so at their first meeting. If only she had thought then of asking a question or two, the mistake might have been discovered before matters had gone too far—but, in her unfortunate anxiety to see a legitimate sovereign ruling Maerchenland once more she had taken everything for granted. How could she put it right now without appearing either a traitress to the Kingdom, or at least a foolish old Fairy who ought to have known her own business better? That was a bitter reflection for an autocratic dame who had long been accustomed to consider that age and experience had endowed her with a wisdom which was absolutely infallible.
There was just one faint hope to which she clung. She had been mistaken once—why should she not be mistaken again? Lady Daphne might herself have bought the pendant from some third person. In that case she would have no better claim to the throne than Queen Selina, and matters could be left as they were—which would relieve the Fairy of the unpleasant necessity of having to admit that she was liable to error.
She could not rest till she knew more, and so, as soon as she felt equal to any action, she took her crutch-handled staff, hobbled down the winding steps, and then up more stairs and along a succession of corridors, until she reached the door of the chamber she had been told was Daphne's.
"I shall know very soon now!" she told herself. "And, after all, there's nothing to be uneasy about. Whoever this girl may be, it's most unlikely that she will turn out to be any relation of poor Chrysopras'."
But, in spite of these reassurances, it was a very tremulous hand that rapped at the door, and the Court Godmother's heart sank as she heard a clear sweet voice inviting her to enter.
It would have been such a relief, just then, to find that Daphne was not in her room.
A WAY OUT
Daphne was rather surprised to see the Court Godmother enter, for she had not honoured her by any special notice since her first arrival. But she was pleased, and touched as well, by a visit which she knew must have cost the old Fairy considerable effort.
"I thought I'd come up and see how you were getting on, my dear," began the latter, after sinking into the chair Daphne had brought forward for her, and recovering her breath. "I hope you are happy here—and—and well treated?"