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In Brief Authority
by F. Anstey
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"Hang it all, Mater!" he said, "you can't expect me to stay here and have them saying I shirked!" And he went off to the stables with the Marshal and other members of the Court.

"It'll be no good!" groaned King Sidney. "It's as likely as not that beast has eaten the poor girl by this time!"

"I can't believe anything quite so horrible as that has happened, Sidney," cried the Queen. "It has only delivered her into that wretch's power—which is quite horrible enough! But there's hope still. The Baron says Prince Mirliflor is quite near here—and he's sending him to rescue her. And a real prince like dear Mirliflor ought to be a match for that miserable Rubenfresser and his dragon too!"

"If he could get at them he might be," said the King lugubriously; "but that's just what he can't do!"

* * * * *

On finding herself borne swiftly through the air by a dragon, Edna had done what was the correct thing to do in the circumstances—she had promptly fainted. She opened her eyes to find that she had been deposited uninjured, on a truss of straw in a Courtyard. On her right was the massive front of Castle Drachenstolz; before her were its lofty walls and the grim towers that flanked its heavy gate; to the left were the stables, from the windows of which some of the black carriage horses looked out, their wrinkled lips exposing their long yellow teeth in ghastly grins. Some distance away the owner of the Castle was caressing the dragon, which lay with its huge wings compactly folded, giving its unconscious imitation of a tremendously powerful dynamo. On perceiving that she had returned to consciousness the Count came towards her, followed by the ex-Astrologer Royal, who was smirking and rubbing his hands.

"I couldn't do without you," began the Count by way of explanation, "so as I couldn't come myself I sent Tuetzi for you."

Edna resolved to bear herself with all the dignity of a Queen's daughter. She sat up and felt for her pince-nez, and, discovering that it was intact, she adjusted it on her nose. "Considering," she said, "that all is at an end between us, you had no right whatever to send your dragon to bring me here. It was a thing that no gentleman would have done!"

"Wouldn't that great and learned gentleman you told me of—the one whose name I always forget—have done it?" he inquired.

"Nietzsche," said Edna, instructively superior even in such a crisis; "most certainly not. Even if he had owned a dragon!"

"You told me he did," he insisted; "a great meta-something dragon that talked and said, 'Thou shalt not.' But if he wouldn't send his dragon for anybody, he would approve of my sending mine for you, because I was doing as he advised, and acting exactly as I thought fit."

She realised the hopelessness of reasoning with him. "You thought fit to act most improperly," she said severely, "and you will gain nothing by it, you know!"

"Oh, yes I shall," he said, "or I shouldn't have done it."

"You are quite mistaken," she assured him, "if you are imagining I shall ever consent to renew our engagement now I know what you are."

"I'm what you wanted me to be," he said, "a Superman."

"You're not, you're an—an Ogre. I couldn't possibly bring myself to become an Ogress!"

"You wouldn't make much of an Ogress," he said dispassionately. "You haven't the build for it. But I'm not an Ogre even yet. It's not my fault. I meant to begin with those pages of yours—but you all seemed to have some ridiculous objections. Then I've sent Tuetzi out to forage and pick up a small child or two, but the peasants round here are so selfish and unneighbourly that they never give him the chance—actually shutting all the children up indoors!"

"What else can you expect?" she demanded indignantly. "Surely your—your better self must see that even to attempt to devour poor helpless children is—is too perfectly disgusting for words!"

"It's disgusting when one doesn't succeed," he admitted; "I see nothing in it to object to myself. Of course the average man may, but you've taught me what to think of his opinions."

"You entirely misunderstand me," said Edna. "But I've no wish to discuss such subjects with you now—I insist on your allowing me to go home at once."

"Before I do that," he said, "you must write a letter on my behalf to your parents."

"I don't mind asking them to overlook the way you have treated me, and assuring them that you regret it and will behave yourself properly for the future," conceded Edna, "if you mean that."

"I don't mean that," he said; "I don't want to behave properly—what they would call properly. I want to lead a fuller life than I can while I'm cooped up in my own Castle. You see, it's no good having the Will to Power if you're not allowed any opportunities of exercising it. And I'm not, with guards stationed all round my walk to see that I don't get out. I might set Tuetzi at them, it's true, but he is the only dragon I've got, and it would be very annoying if they hurt the poor thing. So you must get the King to send me free permission to go wherever I choose and do whatever I like. Then I can make a start as an Ogre. At present I'm hampered at every turn!"

"Father and Mother," said Edna, "wouldn't hear of setting you free for such wickedness as that. It would be contrary to all their principles."

"What I think you called 'Slave-morality,' eh?" he said. "But you needn't tell them why I want to get out. Besides, I've other reasons. My carriage horses want airing, and I should like to drop in to lunch at the Palace now and then, as I used to. Not as your betrothed, you know—that's all over—but just as a friend of the family. I always enjoyed my meals at the Palace."

"Oh!" gasped Edna, "I'm sure, quite sure, they would never consent to receive you again. How could they?"

"They would," he said, "if you told them what would be the consequences if they didn't."

"And—and—what will the consequences be?" inquired Edna.

"Well," he replied darkly, "poor Tuetzi will never reach his full growth on his present diet. I fancy he would rather relish a change."

"You couldn't see me—me you were once engaged to—devoured by your horrible dragon!" she cried.

"Why not?" he asked cheerfully. "I am great enough now to be able to bear the sight of others' pain, as your learned What's-his-name said I ought to be."

"Listen," said the unhappy Edna. "If—if I write this letter will you promise me, on your sacred word of honour, to become a vegetarian at once?"

"Certainly," he said. "It won't bind me, you know. You might put in the letter that I've promised to. Rather a good touch! Now go and write it at once, and I'll send Tuetzi over with it. You can say, 'Please send answer by bearer!' Xuriel, show the Princess to a chamber and provide her with writing materials."

"If your Royal Highness will graciously come this way," said the despicable Xuriel, bowing low. Poor Edna had to follow him up a steep outside staircase to a gloomy room where deep-set windows commanded a view of the Courtyard below. He found some sheets of parchment and a reed pen, and lent her the inkhorn from his own girdle. As he was depositing these on a great oaken table, he glanced out of the window and gave a high cackling laugh.

"I fear my venerable and respected friend the worthy Court Godmother must have met with some mishap," he sniggered. "For see, Princess, her dove-chariot has just descended, without its Gracious occupant, on the roof of the bastion! Hee-hee! I trust—I sincerely trust that Tuetzi may not so far forget himself as to snap up any of those dear little doves!"

And, so saying, he hurried to the Courtyard. Edna was naturally concerned at any possible accident to the Court Godmother or her doves, but her letter had to be written, and it was not at all an easy letter to write. She got as far as: "Dear Father and Mother,—You will be relieved to hear that I am, so far, unhurt. But"—and there she stuck. It was really very difficult to find any plausible wording for the Ogre's preposterous terms.

Xuriel had rejoined his patron, and both were watching Tuetzi with interest. He had already become aware of the doves and reared his head above the level of the bastion roof, where they were strutting about unsuspicious of danger. His hideous lidless eyes regarded them intently, with a view to selecting the plumpest bird.

"Those pigeons will be quite a treat for poor Tuetzi," remarked Count Rubenfresser. "But what is that thing flashing there on the roof? There it is again! Can't you see it?"

Xuriel looked, and saw a thin scintillating ray of light which shifted capriciously from place to place. "It is the blade of a sword!" he said. "More—it is the blade of the enchanted sword I sold to Prince Clarence."

"Fool!" said the Count, "how can any sword be there with no hand to wield it?"

"The Crown Prince is wielding it," replied Xuriel. "He is rendered invisible by the magic cap I made for the Court Chamberlain!"

"You had no business to make such things," returned the Count, "they were very properly forbidden. But Tuetzi will very soon——"

Before he could say more there was another flash—a sweeping circle of light—and Tuetzi's head flew from his neck, which sent up a column of blood.

"The wretch!" shrieked the Count, "the cruel, cold-blooded wretch, he's killed my Tuetzi!"

"It will be our turn next!" cried the little Astrologer Royal, too terrified to stir.

"Help!" the Count bawled, "we are attacked! Where are you all?" A few retainers had run out to various doorways at his summons, but when they saw the dragon's great body rolling convulsively round the Courtyard, its hooked wings thrashing up the cobblestones, while its head bounded independently about, barking and snapping like a mad dog, they very prudently withdrew.

Xuriel had recovered strength to run, but he had not gone far before the head, probably quite automatically, seized his right calf and brought him down. There was another sharp glint of light—and his body was headless, like the dragon's. What with the endeavour to avoid Tuetzi's head, and Tuetzi's body, and the terrible sword flashes, all at once, the Count was kept pretty busy for the next minute or so. He rushed, leaping and yelling, roaring and dodging, from side to side and corner to corner, and then made a frantic bolt for the outer staircase, but he had only got half-way up when his head fell with a splash into a water-butt below, while his body slid down to the bottom of the steps, where it lay in a limp crumpled heap.

The noise of all these proceedings was not exactly conducive to literary composition, and Princess Edna had already been obliged to abandon her letter. In fact she had begun to realise that it would no longer be necessary to finish it. Her brother, she thought, had come to her deliverance with a promptness and energy which she would really have hardly expected of him. She put on her pince-nez again, and went out to the head of the staircase. "Clarence!" she called, "where are you?"

She was immensely surprised to encounter a plain young man in homely costume whom she had certainly never seen before. Mirliflor, who had just removed his cap and was springing up the steps in search of Daphne, was at least equally surprised at finding Edna.

"You here, Princess!" he cried breathlessly, "Tell me! Is—is Daphne safe?"

"If you refer to Miss Heritage," replied Edna, "I have not seen her for weeks, but I have no reason for believing that she is not safe—in England."

"Then," he said blankly, "the dragon carried off you—not her?"

"I should have thought that fairly obvious," said Edna frigidly. "You have evidently rescued me under a misapprehension, though, of course, I am just as much indebted to you. And I shall be glad to know who you are. In answering, kindly address me as 'Your Royal Highness.' It is more correct."

This was highly embarrassing, he thought, though he felt thankful that his Godmother had not had time to make him recognisable. "My name, your Royal Highness," he replied, "is Girofle. I have the honour to be one of his Majesty's under-gardeners."

"Oh," said Edna, "one of them? Really. Well, you have behaved most creditably—very creditably indeed. I really don't know what mightn't have happened if you hadn't arrived just then. I have never been in such a trying situation before. And, even as it is," she added, "there doesn't seem to be any means of getting out of this odious place."

By this time Tuetzi's death-throes were over; his body lay extended half across the Courtyard, while the head, after having bitten one or two of the carriage horses rather severely, had also ceased from troubling. "Perhaps," said Mirliflor, "your Royal Highness will condescend to make use of the dove-car which brought me here? It will carry you back in safety to the Palace."

"It looks rather tit-uppy," said Edna, as the doves flew down with it at his call. "And it only holds one. How are you going to get away yourself?"

"I shall order some of those varlets to open the gate," he said, "and they will be wise to obey."

"Clarence's sword is a great help!" said Edna. "Then—you will be all right. And you may be sure that his Majesty will pay you a suitable reward."

"The satisfaction of having been of any service to your Royal Highness," he said, "is reward enough in itself."

"Oh, but that's such a pose!" said Edna. "Of course you expect to be paid for it!... And you will be. Must I tell these birds where to take me?... I see. Then—Home, please!"

And the doves, glad to escape from such uncongenial surroundings, whirred upwards with the car and, after a few tentative circles, took it clear over the battlements.

As for the retainers, they waited for no order to unbar the gate for Mirliflor, being all eagerness to facilitate his departure. He strode unconcernedly out, and, finding a party of the Royal guard outside, he informed them that they would find one or two severed heads within if they cared to collect them, and then, borrowing a charger, he galloped off to Eswareinmal, impatient to know what had befallen Daphne.

On the Palace terrace there had been a period of painful surprise. The Crown Prince was the first of the rescue party to return. He would have much preferred to do so by a back way, but, perceiving that he had been observed, took the manlier course. "Clarence!" shrieked the Queen as he limped up with his breastplate and hose covered with mire, a bent sword and badly dinted helmet, "is she saved?"

"Couldn't tell you, Mater," he replied heavily. "I've done all I could, and so—and so I came back."

"He's wounded!" cried Ruby tearfully. "Oh, Clarence, was it that horrid Tuetzi?" for she was effectually disillusioned at last.

"No, Kiddie, no," he said, "I'm all right. Took a bit of a toss, that's all."

"My poor boy," said his mother, "was it at the Castle? Did the thing attack you?"

"I never got to the Castle," he replied, "only about half-way. It was like this. That bally pendant you made me wear, Mater, got unfastened somehow, slipped down inside my breastplate and was hurting like the very deuce. So I got off and unbuckled a bit and pitched it away. When I got on again the horse was all over the shop with me in a jiffy. Couldn't hold him for toffee! And, before I knew it, I was over the brute's head. I tried to mount again, but he wouldn't let me. I tried some other gees, and none of them would. Somehow I seemed to have lost the knack all at once. So, after I'd come off once or twice more and was getting a trifle lame, I thought the best thing I could do was to leg it home."

"Hem!" said his Father. "Rather unfortunate thing to happen just now, my boy!"

"Well, Guv'nor," he replied, "I should never have got there in time, walking."

"You were quite right to come back, Clarence," said his Mother, "And—oh, look, look!" she cried suddenly, "our darling is safe after all! She's coming back in the dove-car!"

The car landed shortly after on the terrace, and Edna was frantically embraced and plied with questions. "I am quite all right, thank you," she said as soon as she had an opportunity of speaking. "Of course it was a most disagreeable thing to happen to one, and I don't feel equal to talking about it just yet—but I am very little the worse for it now."

"But how did you get that awful man to let you go?" inquired the Queen.

"He couldn't very well help himself—his head had been cut off. So had the dragon's, and that abominable little wretch Xuriel's too."

By this time not only the Marshal but the Court Godmother and the Chamberlain had joined the party.

"But who was brave enough to do all this?" asked the Queen. "Though I think I can guess!"

"I fancy he said he was one of the under-gardeners here. Of course he couldn't have done it without Clarence's sword, but still——"

"I never lent him it," said Clarence. "If I'd had it—however, perhaps it's as well he did borrow it. Jolly plucky of the beggar, I call it!"

"He behaved extremely well," Edna admitted. "You will have to reward him or something, Father."

"His Majesty," said the Marshal, with a certain gusto, "has already offered your Royal Highness's hand in marriage to whomsoever should be so fortunate as to effect your deliverance."

"Without consulting Me!" cried Edna. "Really, Father, these things aren't done nowadays! It's too absurd!"

"My love," said the Queen with a glance of secret intelligence at the embarrassed Baron, who looked another way, "the circumstances were exceptional. And a King can't go back on his word! Besides, this ex-gardener may be not such a common person as he seems—may he not, Baron?"

"But, dash it, Mater!" said Clarence, while the Baron could only blink, "an under-gardener—what!"

"I'm bound to say—" began the King, when the Queen interrupted:

"You are bound to say that you'll keep your promise, Sidney, and that is enough till the dear fellow comes to claim his reward."

It was the Marshal whose superfluous zeal led him to order Girofle to be stopped and brought into the Royal presence as soon as he arrived at the Palace.

The Royal Family, with the Court Godmother, the Baron, and other members of the Household, had assembled in the Throne Room when the Marshal entered, leading the reluctant Girofle, acutely conscious of looking his very worst. After him came some men-at-arms, who carried the dragon's still terrific head, with those of the Count and Xuriel, as trophies of the hero's exploit.

They caused a general but by no means unpleasant shudder to run through the beholders.

"Your Majesties," said the ex-Regent, "I have the honour to present the gallant youth who has nobly earned even such a prize as the hand of her Royal Highness."

"But—but," stammered Queen Selina, "this isn't—there's not the least resemblance! Baron, Baron, what did you mean by telling me that the Prince——?"

"I—I must have been misinformed, your Majesty," said the Court Chamberlain, having no better explanation to offer.

"You should be more careful about what you tell Us, Baron," said the Queen. "And, really, there was no need to bring those dreadful heads into our Throne Room, making all that horrible mess! It's a piece of bad taste which, perhaps—in an under gardener—please have them removed directly. Well, young man," she continued to the indignant Mirliflor, who, it need not be said, had nothing to do with the gruesome introduction of the heads, "I'm sure we are all very much obliged to you—very much obliged indeed. If you hadn't come forward as you did, it's dreadful to think what might have happened. And, though it seems you did take the liberty of borrowing the Crown Prince's sword without permission, we are the last to blame you for that. We think you are entitled to be very handsomely rewarded. But if you're expecting our daughter, the Princess Edna's hand, I think your own good sense——"

"Yes, yes," said the King; "mustn't open your mouth too wide, you know. There's a limit to all things! And a round sum of money with which you could start in business and marry some nice little woman in your own class of life would be far more useful to you."

"I ask for no reward," said Girofle. "And the hand of a Princess is an honour to which I do not aspire, since I am already affianced!"

"That," replied the Queen, "is very satisfactory. We shall certainly send the young person a wedding-present. Who is she? One of the Royal kitchen-maids, I presume?"

"She was in your Majesty's service as a lady-in-waiting," he said, "and her name is Daphne."

"Oh," said Queen Selina. "Really? Miss Heritage? Well, you are to be congratulated, I'm sure."

"But, Mater," said Clarence, "it can't be her! I thought you'd had her sent home?"

"I had made arrangements for her return, Clarence, but it seems to have been postponed for some reason—luckily, as things have turned out. She has been given rooms in a pavilion behind the Palace Gardens, where no doubt she managed to become acquainted with this young man."

"And he may take it," said the Fairy, "that the Lady Daphne is at liberty to depart with him at once?"

"Certainly," said the Queen. "It is hardly, perhaps—but Miss Heritage is no doubt right in accepting the first offer she receives."

"Quite," said Princess Edna, "though it seems odd—even for a Governess—to think of marrying a gardener! But I'm sure I wish her every happiness."

There is no doubt that the Court Godmother should have been content with this, but her anger and disgust were too much for her discretion. She could not resist the temptation to humiliate and confound these upstarts by a sensational stroke, whatever it cost her.

"Perhaps," she said, "the Lady Daphne has made a wiser choice than any of you may imagine." With this, after muttering an incantation, she touched Girofle with her crutch-handled staff, and in his stead Prince Mirliflor stood revealed in rich and splendid attire before them all.

The Queen was electrified for a moment, as were Edna and most present. But as soon as the shock had passed she cried: "This is a surprise! But, my dear Prince Mirliflor, why—why didn't you tell us who you were before? You see, we couldn't possibly——!"

"It was really too naughty of you to play us such a trick, Prince!" said Edna, "when, as you might have known——!"

"Never mind!" purred the Queen, "we'll forgive him—won't we, Edna?"

"Of course you only said that about Miss Heritage to tease us?" said Edna, who really believed it was so.

"I said but the truth, Princess," he replied. "She has promised to be my wife."

"And the match," put in the triumphant Fairy, addressing Queen Selina, "already has your sanction!"

"Oh," said the Queen, "but that was before—I think," she went on with a forced smile of much sweetness—"I think you and I, my dear Court Godmother, must have a little talk over this in private before I can make up my mind what I ought to do. Perhaps you will be kind enough to follow me to my Cabinet? Excuse my deserting you for a little while, my dear Mirliflor. I shall leave you to Edna, who, I know, is dying to express all the gratitude and admiration she feels."

And she swept with great stateliness out of the Throne Room towards her Cabinet, the Court Godmother following with a presentiment that her pet scheme was about to encounter some opposition, and no very definite idea how to meet it.

But that it must and should be overcome somehow she was thoroughly determined.

It should be mentioned here that, shortly after his transformation, Mirliflor found inside his rich doublet something which proved to be the Chamberlain's cap. He was about to return it, but the Baron showed so little desire to receive his property in public that the Prince decided to keep it until a better opportunity presented itself. And then he forgot all about it, for which, as things turned out, both had reason to be thankful afterwards.



CHAPTER XVIII

A PREVIOUS ENGAGEMENT

"Well, my dear Court Godmother," began the Queen, as she sank on an ivory and cloth-of-gold settee in her private Cabinet, and cooled her somewhat heated face with a jewelled ostrich-feathered fan, "I had better tell you frankly that I think both you and that designing little adventuress have behaved in a very underhand way in this business—a way that I naturally resent. Mirliflor, as you very well know, came here on darling Edna's account, and you deliberately threw that Miss Heritage in his way—I haven't the least doubt you told her who he really was!"

"That," said the Fairy, "is just what I did not do. It was part of the test I put to her. She still has no idea that he is more than a student."

"Well, you egged her on to set her cap at him, and if he cares for her at all it can be no more than a passing fancy. I cannot be a party to letting the poor, dear young fellow be entrapped into a mesalliance to please you, and I shall see that she is sent back to England at once, as, but for you, she would have been long before this."

"I don't want to lose my temper with you if I can help it," said the Fairy, with an ominous flush on her peaked old nose, "because I've been through a good deal as it is this morning, and I'm feeling very far from well in consequence. But you had better understand that Lady Daphne is not going to be sent back to England—she is going with Mirliflor and me to Clairdelune, and we shall start immediately."

"You are at liberty to go where you please, but Miss Heritage will certainly not leave the Palace except to return to her own country."

"And I tell you I intend to take her to Clairdelune with me, and you are powerless to prevent it."

"Indeed?" said the Queen, in high wrath. "Answer me this: Am I Queen of Maerchenland, or am I not?"

"You are not!" retorted the Fairy, before she could prevent herself, for the opening was really too tempting. She had not meant to go so far, but, having started, she proceeded to enlighten the Queen as to her title, and the very slender evidence on which it was based.

"I don't believe a single word of it!" declared Queen Selina, as defiantly as if this were the fact. "It's a wicked plot to set up my own governess as a pretender, but there's a very short way of settling that! I shall send for the Marshal"—and she made a movement towards a handbell of exquisitely engraved crystal with a sapphire tongue. "I shall tell him what you have dared to say, and have you and that wretched girl arrested as traitors!"

The Fairy shook with mingled fury and fear, for she saw too late that she had made a wrong move. "Before you do that, listen to me," she said. "All I have said is true, and you know it is true, but it was you who forced me to say it, and I am willing to be silent so long as you permit me to convey Lady Daphne to Clairdelune. As she has no suspicion of her claims to the throne, you need have no fear that she will assert them."

"I can't trust either of you—you are much too dangerous," said the Queen, and she rang the bell.

"You had better take my warning," said the Fairy, her wrinkled mouth working with passion. "Old as I am, I have some powers left that you little suspect. Scarce an hour ago I changed myself into a pool and Lady Daphne into a cypress" (she naturally omitted to add how narrowly they had escaped having to remain so indefinitely), "and by aid of the same spell I could transform you to a shape which—which you will discover after I have caused you to assume it. And it is a shape that you will not like!"

"Pooh!" said the Queen, on whom the re-integration of the under-gardener into Mirliflor seemed to have left little impression. "Either you're trying to frighten me or you're crazy. Whichever it is, you ought to be put under restraint—and I shall see to it that you are!"

"After that I'll do what I threatened!" snarled the Court Godmother. "It may kill me—but I don't care—I'll do it!" And she mouthed words of mystic sound and import, though her jaw trembled so violently that she could scarcely pronounce them. "Now," she concluded, pointing her crutch at the Queen's breast, "become—become a——!"

But what the Queen was to become never transpired, for before the infuriated Fairy could manage to name it her features suddenly became contorted, the stick fell from her hand, and she sank down in a heap just as the attendants entered in answer to the Royal summons.

"I'm afraid," said Queen Selina, "that the Court Godmother has fainted. I daresay it's nothing serious, still one of you had better bring the Royal Apothecary at once. Be careful to keep it from the Court, as I wish to avoid unnecessary alarm." The others endeavoured to restore the afflicted Fairy, but, though still alive, she was in some kind of cataleptic condition which was beyond the ordinary remedies. The Court Apothecary arrived and applied blisters without result, and finally gave it as his opinion that, while she might survive for some time, she would in all probability never speak again.

So Queen Selina ordered her to be removed to her apartments, and the fact that she was indisposed to be suppressed for the present, after which she left her Cabinet, feeling that Providence had been more than usually judicious. Her next step was to send for the Marshal and instruct him to remove Daphne from the Pavilion to a chamber in one of the Palace towers, where she was to remain a prisoner under his guardianship. "It's only for a short time, Marshal," she said. "And of course you will see that Miss Heritage is made thoroughly comfortable."

And then, the ground having been thus cleared, she returned to the Throne Room. "Just a moment or two, my dear Mirliflor," she said suavely, "if Edna can spare you," and she drew him aside. "Well," she began, "I've been telling the dear old Court Godmother the difficulty I am in. You see, I would willingly recognise this engagement of yours—whatever I may think about it—if I only could. But really, you know, I can't possibly allow you to take Miss Heritage away until I am satisfied that your dear Father approves of her as a daughter-in-law. As her employer I feel responsible for the poor girl. And, besides, he might think I had encouraged this match, and I can't afford to put myself in such a false position as that!"

"But," he objected, "my Godmother is going with us to Clairdelune, and she will explain all."

"She has altered her plans," said the Queen, who was developing a quite unsuspected talent for diplomacy. "To tell you the truth, I fancy she is getting a little nervous about how King Tournesol may take what she has done. She feels—as I am afraid I do—that it is wiser to keep dear Miss Heritage here under her own care till you have broken the news to your Father and obtained his consent."

"My Father is certain to consent," said the Prince, "and if he did not——"

"Oh, quite so—quite so—but both your Godmother and I consider that we ought to wait till he does consent. Of course, if you can bring us a letter from him stating that he approves, all will be well. I'm sure you must quite understand that that is really as far as I can go under the circumstances. And, if you start at once, you will be back here again in a very few days, bringing, I hope, a favourable answer. We shall be most pleased to lend you any horse you like in the Royal Stables."

She was so plausible that poor Mirliflor, who, like most Fairy princes, was not very deeply versed in feminine wiles, was quite taken in. He thought her lacking in distinction for a Queen, but well meaning. And it was so like his Godmother to impose one more test on him.

"I will set forth, then," he said, "as soon as I have seen my Daphne and assured her of my speedy return."

"I'm afraid, my dear Mirliflor," said Queen Selina, "I'm afraid you can't see her before you go."

"And why not?" he asked.

"Well, you see, the dear Court Godmother—mistakenly, I think—has told her what a great person you really are, and Miss Heritage feels that she has not the right to see you again unless and until she can hear that she will be welcomed at your Father's Court. I said all I could to show her that she need not be so over scrupulous as that, but she is such an extremely sensitive girl, and feels her social inferiority so acutely that nothing would persuade her to alter her resolution. You will only be distressing her by attempting it."

He pleaded and argued as long as he could, but eventually he was convinced that it was in vain. And so, as he knew that Daphne would be safe under the Fairy's protection, he took his leave, and, choosing the best horse in the Royal stud, set out on his journey to Clairdelune. By so doing, he was only—little as he suspected it—giving his hostess time to consider how she could best deal with the girl who, she no longer doubted, was the rightful possessor of the throne. But then Miss Heritage was not aware of her birthright, which seemed to suggest more than one way of coping with the situation.

After Queen Selina and her Royal Consort, with the Crown Prince and the Princess Edna and Ruby, had waved their last adieus to the departing Mirliflor, the Marshal approached Clarence. "Allow me, Sire," he said, "to restore this jewel, which was picked up close to the spot where your Royal Highness's steed became so suddenly and unaccountably unmanageable."

Clarence reddened—for there was a covert sneer in the ex-Regent's tone which he did not like, while he was angrily conscious that it was quite undeserved. "Oh thanks, Marshal," he said as he took the pendant. "I say, Mater, no wonder the bally thing slipped down—the clasp's worn out. Whoever you bought it from ought to have put it in proper repair before he sold it. Pity you can't send it back and make him mend it!"

"Do I understand," inquired the Marshal of the Queen, "that your Majesty bought this pendant?"

"Certainly not," replied the Queen, flushing in her turn. "You're mistaken, Clarence—it—it has been in the family for years!"

"You're mixing it up with something else, Mater," he said. "Don't you remember? You wore it for the first time that evening the Baron came to fetch us. And you told us you'd bought it out of old Uncle Wibberley's legacy. I'm sure I'm right!"

"That was a different ornament altogether," said his mother; "but it's not worth discussing." Accordingly the subject was dropped, for the time, at all events, though the Marshal did not forget it. His was not a brilliant intellect—brilliant intellects being rare in Maerchenland—but he had the faculty of putting two and two together, and inferring that the total was more likely to be about four than any other number. The Astrologer Royal had predicted that the Queen would be discovered in a certain spot in England, and would be identified by being the possessor of Prince Chrysopras's jewel. But the Marshal was now satisfied that she was the possessor by purchase only. The original owner—if Xuriel had read the stars correctly—was in the same locality. Was it not possible that Lady Daphne might be that owner? If so, it would explain the Queen's motive for placing her under arrest. Marshal Federhelm resolved to play a bold stroke. When in the course of his office he had next to visit his prisoner, whom he made a point of treating with all courtesy, she begged him to tell her what fresh offence she had given that she should have been condemned to solitary imprisonment.

"I know but this," said the Marshal, "her Majesty is displeased at finding that a certain jewel she purchased from you is of less value than she had been led to believe."

"But, Marshal!" protested poor Daphne, naturally imagining that the Queen had been complaining to him of the transaction, "surely it's worth at least thirty pounds! If it isn't, I'd willingly take it back and return the money. Only I can't—because I used it all to pay my bill. But I always thought that pendant was valuable, and, as it belonged to my father, I would never have sold it at all if I hadn't been obliged. What do you think I ought to do?"

"You can do nothing, Lady Daphne," he replied, "save trust that her Majesty's anger will pass away. For whatever price she may have paid for such a jewel, it is assuredly of far greater value than she is pleased to assert."

"I'm so glad to hear you say that!" said Daphne. "It would be hateful to think I had cheated her Majesty—even though I never meant to."

That was all that passed between them—but the Marshal had learnt all that he wanted to know, though he made no immediate use of his knowledge. It was enough for him to feel that he had a card which he might play to his own advantage when the opportunity came. The Court Godmother was now generally known to be hors de combat, and as for the old Baron, he could be left for the present in ignorance of his blunder.

Queen Selina meanwhile had already formed her plans. She was not a positively wicked woman, and even still thought herself irreproachable. If she had managed to separate Mirliflor and Daphne by some hard fibbing, it was only what her duty as a Queen and as a Mother demanded of her. She had never liked this Miss Heritage, and firmly believed that Daphne had alienated Mirliflor's affection from Edna to herself. And now, it seemed, she was the lawful Queen of the country, and Queen Selina had grown too habituated to power and grandeur to give them up to this inexperienced girl. Her first idea had been to carry out her original intention and have Daphne sent home to England without further delay. But this, she began to see, would expose her to considerable criticism at Court, and it occurred to her that there might be a simpler and more satisfactory way out of her difficulties.

So, full of her latest project, she went in search of Clarence, whom she found lounging with a very moody and disconsolate air in one of the balconies. Clarence was in low spirits just then, and not without reason. He had entirely lost his nerve for horsemanship, as his mounts had become as refractory as ever; he could not help perceiving that the courtiers had lost all respect for him, and received his overtures with hardly veiled impertinence; and, besides all this, there was another matter that had been weighing on his mind for some time past.

"Why, Clarence, dear boy," she began, "what are you keeping away from everybody like this for?"

"I wasn't 'keeping away' that I know of," he said. "There are times when a fellow's glad to get a quiet moment to himself, that's all."

"Perhaps," she said, "I know the real reason why you've been so mopy lately."

"What do you mean, Mater?" he asked. "You haven't——?"

"My dear Clarence, do you think I can't see that you've never got over your fondness for little Miss Heritage? I can't bear to see you looking so unhappy, and I've come to think that I may have been wrong in keeping her out of your way. So—and this is what I came to tell you—if you feel that she is necessary to your happiness, I shall not oppose you any longer—and I will see that your father doesn't."

"I wish you'd said so before, Mater!" he replied. "The Governor's been at me to propose to old Goldenenbergenland's daughter, but I had to tell him I couldn't take it on."

"Of course not, dear, I'm told she's hideous. While Miss Heritage, at all events——"

"But she's engaged to Mirliflor! Lucky chap he is to get her, too. I might have once, perhaps—if I'd had the pluck!"

"You may get her still, dear boy," said his fond Mother. "You see, she doesn't know who Mirliflor is yet—she thinks he's a student or something, pretending to be a gardener. Well, she's much too clever a little person not to get out of such an engagement as that if she knew she could be the Crown Princess." Which was no more than Queen Selina actually believed. "Trust me, Clarence," she concluded, "you've only to ask."

"I dare say you're right, Mater," he said, "only the worst of it is I'm not free to ask her."

"Not free? What do you mean?"

"I didn't like to tell you before," he said, "but—well, I—I've gone and got engaged to someone else."

"Engaged! Who to?" demanded the Queen, in her own English. "If it's anyone in my Court——!"

"It's no one you know, Mater. But she's all right, you know. At least, she's a King's daughter of sorts. Her Father's King of the Crystal Lake."

"The Crystal Lake!" cried Queen Selina. "You—you wretched boy! Don't tell me you're engaged to—to a Water-nixie!"

"Well, I suppose that's what it amounts to," he said. "I never wanted to be. I met her when I was fishing there. She came up out of the water, and we got talking and that, and I told her who I was. And after that, whenever I got to the lake, she was always popping up. I thought she was rather a jolly sort of girl if she was a trifle on the damp side, and it amused me to talk to her, but I never said a word to her that could—till her old Dad suddenly turned up and insisted on our being regularly engaged."

"And you gave way? Oh, Clarence, how could you be so weak?"

"I told him I'd see him blowed before I said yes, and he pulled me in and threatened to hold my head under water till I promised," said Clarence. "I didn't see any point in being drowned—and so—and so, sooner than have a row about it, I did say yes. What else could I say?"

"Well," said the Queen, "no engagement made under such circumstances can be binding, and you must break it off at once. Go and tell him that your Father and I refuse to hear of your engagement."

"It'll make him most awful ratty if I do," objected Clarence.

"What if it does? Clarence, you must get free. I'm extremely anxious that you should marry Miss Heritage before Mirliflor returns (if he does return) for her. It's most important, for your Sister's sake. Because, when he finds himself forsaken, he is sure to turn to Edna again. Now do you see?"

"I see," he replied lugubriously, "and I don't mind going to the Lake and trying to get the old boy to let me off—but I bet you he won't."

"Don't ask him anything. Simply inform him that your parents decline to allow such a match, and refer him to us."

"Perhaps that would be the neatest way out of it," he agreed. "Yes, I'll just tell him that—from a safe distance—and he can do what he jolly well pleases. But it won't be a pleasant job. What?"

It was some miles to the Crystal Lake, but he went on foot without any member of his suite in attendance, and in a plain cloak and slouched hat, which prevented him from being recognised as he passed through the streets of the Capital.

During his absence his Mother was engaged in long and anxious consultation with the King and Edna. "I'm surprised at Clarence," King Sidney had observed, "thought he knew his way about too well to be drawn into an entanglement of this kind!"

"He never would have been," said his mother, "if he hadn't had to choose between that and being held under water. And you can trust Clarence to make it clear that he would not be allowed to keep such a promise, even if he wanted to."

"If he marries any one," said the King, "it ought to be this Princess of Goldenenbergenland—he'll get money with her, and we want some rather badly."

"Pardon me, Sidney," said the Queen, "but I intend him to marry Miss Heritage."

"Mother!" exclaimed Edna, "Miss Heritage! What can you be thinking of?"

"I know what I am doing, my love. The poor boy is devoted to her and always has been, and, in short, I've decided that he shall have his way. It will be to your advantage that he should."

On reflection Edna saw this. Mirliflor might feel mortified for a time, but there was at least a chance of catching him on the rebound.

When Clarence returned later his entrance was hailed with an interrogatory "Well?" from his family. "Well," he replied, "I interviewed the old King. Told him you couldn't stick my marrying his daughter. He took it very quietly—better than I expected. All he said was that, if you would come to the big fountain in the Palace gardens (it's supplied from the Crystal lake, you know) at sunset, he'd be there and let you know his terms."

"Wants to blackmail us, does he?" said the King. "He won't get a farthing out of me!"

"It is like his impudence," added the Queen. "Still, it may be as well to see him."

And just before the sun's final disappearance, the four stood on the margin of a small artificial lake, from the centre of which a great column of water shot up to a colossal height against the crimson and orange sky.

"He doesn't seem to have kept his appointment," said the King. "Thought better of it, hey?" As he spoke, the tall column sank and resolved itself into a solid grey-green figure of little above the average stature, a long-bearded elderly personage in a flowing mantle which only partially covered his suit of glittering iridescent scales.

"There is the old blighter!" whispered Clarence. "This is my Father and Mother, Sir," he added aloud, "and anything you've got to propose must be settled with them."

"O King and Queen of Maerchenland!" said the Lake King, in a voice like the roar of a cataract, "is it true that ye consider a daughter of mine unworthy to wed your son?"

"Without entering into personalities," replied King Sidney, "which are better avoided at all times, I may say that an alliance with a family whose nature is so—er—amphibious could not be seriously entertained by any civilised monarch."

"It would be too grotesque!" said Queen Selina, "even in a country like this!"

"I have set my heart on becoming the Father-in-law of a Prince of the Royal blood," said the Lake King, "and I will not be denied."

"Now—now—now," protested King Sidney, "what is the good of taking that tone? If we were in England I should say this was a matter that could be settled in few minutes by our respective solicitors. As it is, you had better tell us how much you'll take to compromise it. I don't admit that your daughter has suffered any material damage—still, if you're reasonable in your ideas of compensation, you'll find us disposed to meet you—as far as we can, you know, as far as we can," he added hastily, as he remembered his shrunken gold sacks.

"My terms are these," the Lake King answered. "Unless the betrothal of Prince Clarence to my daughter Forelle be proclaimed throughout the City before nightfall, the waters of the Crystal Lake shall overflow and submerge the whole land to the tops of the highest houses. It is for ye to choose."

"That would be an outrageous thing to do, if you could do it," said the Queen, "but you know very well you can't!"

"Can I not?" retorted the Lake King. "Behold if I have boasted vainly or not!" And he waved his sceptre, which was surmounted by a crystal fish. Instantly the artificial lake came pouring over its marble border, and the Royal Family were ankle-deep in water. "It's no good!" said King Sidney, as the flood spread and threatened to rise higher still, "we've got to give in."

"Nothing but the safety of our poor subjects would make me consent," declared the Queen, "but as it is, I must. Stop this horrid flood, and we'll agree to everything!"

The water flowed back into the basin at a motion of the Lake King's sceptre. "It is agreed, then," he said, smiling for the first time, "that the betrothal is to be proclaimed before nightfall, and that the nuptials shall take place within eight days?"

"Oh, very well," said Queen Selina pettishly, "I can't think your daughter will ever settle down or be really happy with us—but that is her affair, and—and I will try my best to be a Mother to her."

"It is enough," said the King of the Crystal Lake, "I have your word. Should ye retract now, what follows will be upon your own heads!" And, with these parting words, he merged into a column of water which towered up as before, its spray falling like fine bronze dust against the now purple sky.

"I don't much think I shall ever get on with him," was all Clarence could find to say, as they walked back with wet feet. "But Forelle—well, she really isn't at all bad-looking—in her way."

"Has she got the same coloured hair as her father?" inquired Edna.

"It's green," he confessed, "but a much prettier shade of green—Eau de nil, I should call it."

"And I suppose all the furniture will have to be covered in oilskin?" went on Edna. "One of the delights of having a Nixie for a sister-in-law."

"You needn't talk!" he said angrily. "You came jolly near giving me a bally ogre for a brother-in-law—what?"

"There is just this difference, Clarence," replied his sister, "I was able to break it off—which you are not."

"Well, if I'm not, it's not my fault, so you needn't nag," he said savagely, for the thought that all hope of Daphne was now irretrievably lost had just begun to gall him.

"We shall all have to change our shoes when we get in," was her answer. "And it is lucky if we escape a bad cold in the head. But I dare say," she added sweetly, "that when dear Forelle is one of us we shall soon grow inured to damp."

"What I'm thinking of," said the King sombrely, "is how the Court and the populace will take this business. It's to be hoped that the Lake King is—er—liked in these parts."

"Who could help loving him?" jeered Edna. "No doubt the wedding will excite the greatest enthusiasm—especially if the bride goes through the ceremony in a tank!"

"Oh, shut up, can't you!" cried the worried Clarence. "Don't make it out more rotten than it is!"

Queen Selina was too occupied with her own reflections to interfere. Her plan for securing the succession to the throne by a union between Clarence and Daphne was clearly no longer practicable. She had been anxious to treat the girl with consideration, and even indulgence—but events had made this impossible. It was absolutely necessary now to get Miss Heritage safely out of the way as soon as it could be managed. "I must speak to the Marshal about it," she was thinking, "and have her sent back to England in that stork-car. The poor dear Court Godmother is much too ill to be consulted just now. I have just that much to be truly thankful for!"



CHAPTER XIX

SERVANTS OF THE QUEEN

If breaking the news of Edna's engagement to Count von Rubenfresser had been a matter of some delicacy, to inform the Court and Public of Clarence's betrothal to a Water-nixie was, as his parents felt, infinitely more so. Queen Selina told the Baron first, but, rather to her surprise, he took it calmly and almost apathetically. "I'm afraid, Baron," she said, "you will think it very weak of us to allow it, but, between ourselves, there are—er—State reasons which left us no choice." To which he replied that he would much prefer to be excused from offering any opinion as to the policy their Majesties had chosen to pursue.

The Marshal, on the other hand, expressed cordial satisfaction. His lizard-like eyes sparkled as he assured his Sovereigns that he would see that the heralds proclaimed the betrothal in the City before nightfall, and that he expected it would excite heartfelt enthusiasm.

It certainly had not that effect on the Court. The ladies-in-waiting resented the prospect of having to acknowledge a new Royalty the greater part of whose existence had been spent under water. The Courtiers shrugged their shoulders with sardonic resignation. In vain the Crown Prince attempted to carry off his secret uneasiness by clapping them on the back and saying, "You haven't seen Princess Forelle yet, you know, dear boy. When you do, you'll agree that she's a regular little ripper—what?" They made it sufficiently clear that they had no wish to see the future Crown Princess. In fact, if he had not already lost all the prestige he had ever had, he would have lost it now, and his feelings were not to be envied.

Marshal Federhelm requested a private audience from the Queen, who received him in her Cabinet. He began by asking permission to absent himself for a few days on a hunting expedition in the Forest, which permission was graciously accorded.

"If the Crown Prince had not—er—ties to keep him at home," she added, "I'm sure he would be delighted to join you."

"I doubt it, your Majesty," said the Marshal. "His Royal Highness's ardour for such pursuits has languished much of late. However, he is better employed. And, ere I leave, I must ask your Majesty's wishes in regard to my prisoner, the Lady Daphne."

"Ah, I was going to talk to you about that, Marshal," said Queen Selina. "There are many reasons why it is undesirable that Miss Heritage should remain here any longer. After the underhand and ungrateful manner in which she has tried to pervert Prince Mirliflor from his attachment to Princess Edna, I feel it my duty to have her removed."

"I understand, your Majesty," he said, "and it shall be done. But I would recommend, in your Majesty's interests, that the execution should take place in private, and that the Lady Daphne's decease should be supposed to be due to sudden illness. Otherwise there may be trouble with the Court."

"Execution!" cried Queen Selina, genuinely horrified. "Good gracious me, Marshal, you don't suppose I want the poor girl put to death, do you? What do you take me for?"

"It would be a prudent course," he said with meaning, "for any Sovereign to adopt in your Majesty's situation."

"For a Maerchenland Sovereign, perhaps! But I have been brought up with very different ideas. I should consider it most wicked to give orders for anybody to be killed. That is not at all what I meant in saying that I want Miss Heritage removed."

"Then I fail to understand your Majesty."

"It's perfectly simple. I merely wish to have her sent back to England. The Baron can take her in the Court Godmother's stork-car. She'll never be well enough to know of it now, poor old soul! And the dear old Baron's so devoted to Us, and has always been so anxious that Edna should marry Mirliflor, that I know I can depend on him."

"If it should be known," said the Marshal, "that your Majesty had banished Prince Mirliflor's chosen bride, there would be such an outcry that it might cost you your Kingdom."

"Oh, do you really think that, Marshal? But it is so essential that she should be sent to England! Surely it can be managed somehow without any scandal?"

"There is a way, Madam, if your Majesty is prepared to take it."

"I am prepared to do anything, Marshal—that is, almost anything. What do you advise?"

"Your Majesty should inform the Baron that, the Court Godmother being unhappily too indisposed to act as guardian to Lady Daphne, you desire him to convey her in the stork-car to Clairdelune and place her under the care of Prince Mirliflor."

"But, my dear good Marshal, that's the very last thing I desire!"

"I know, Madam, I know. But it is what he should represent to the Court and Lady Daphne, and he is more likely to do so if he believes it to be the fact. I will give him sealed instructions which he is not to open till after he is started, directing him to take her—not to Clairdelune, but to the land of her birth. Your Majesty will be good enough to write such instructions at once."

"It seems simple, and yet, Marshal, I'm not quite sure," demurred the Queen. "The Baron is an old dear, but just a bit of a chatterbox. He might let the whole thing out when he gets back!"

"He will not get back," said the Marshal. "I know a certain drug that I will administer to the storks before the journey. It is slow to act, and will not affect them until after they have reached the country that you call England. But they will never leave it again. And then it will merely be supposed that he has acted treacherously."

"I see," said Queen Selina. "Yes, I should be perfectly safe then. If there was any other way, or I didn't feel so strongly that it was really a kindness to Miss Heritage to save her from occupying a position she is so unsuited to, I really don't think I could. But I suppose I must do as you suggest."

She wrote the order, which she signed and sealed and handed to him. "I shouldn't like her to be left stranded in England without any means of support, Marshal," she said. "That would be a thing I could not reconcile to my conscience. So you will kindly see that she is supplied with a sack of gold."

"That will be a truly royal act of generosity," he said, "especially as I understand the number of sacks in your Majesty's treasury is by no means large just now."

"I was forgetting. On second thoughts, perhaps you had better make it a purse instead," she amended. "It will keep her while she is looking out for another situation."

"No doubt. And it would be wise, I think, if your Majesty would speed her departure with your good wishes in presence of the Court."

But even Queen Selina shrank from such duplicity as that. "I—I don't think I'll see her again myself," she said. "I—I'd rather not. It's most distasteful to me to have to deceive her at all, Marshal, and I shouldn't if it wasn't absolutely necessary in self-defence."

"Your Majesty has no need to assure me of that. I entirely understand," he said. "I would recommend that you send for the Baron at once, and direct him to convey Lady Daphne to Clairdelune to-morrow. Then, after I have given him the secret order, my part will be done and I shall be free to enjoy my hunting." And with that he bowed himself out.

Queen Selina followed his counsel so well that the old Court Chamberlain was completely deceived. Usurper as he now knew her to be, she was, he thought, still unaware of it, and such magnanimity to her daughter's successful rival gave him a better opinion of her. After all, he could bring himself to continue in her service, now that the Court Godmother's main object was attained. Like her, he had no wish to confess that he had been so mistaken as to saddle the Kingdom with a bogus Sovereign. So he spread the news of Lady Daphne's approaching departure with great satisfaction and the warmest eulogies of the gracious consideration Queen Selina had displayed. But even this could only partially check their disaffection, for they could not forgive her for subjecting them to the indignity of accepting a Water-nixie as their Crown Princess.

After dismissing the Baron, the Queen had felt somewhat shocked at her own talent for dissimulation. "I little thought at Gablehurst that I should ever fib like this!" she reflected. "But I wasn't a Queen then! And I can't afford to be too particular, when it's a question of keeping the Crown in the family!"

The Marshal waited until the Baron had concluded his interview with the Queen, and then visited him in his own quarters. The Court Chamberlain mentioned the instructions he had just received, and spoke in the highest terms of his Royal mistress's benevolence.

"As you say, Baron," said the Marshal, "such conduct does honour to her Majesty. She has, however, given me further instructions for you with which it is well you should be acquainted at once." And he drew out the secret order, and, after breaking the seal, presented the parchment to the Baron, who read it with honest amazement and indignation.

"I cannot believe her Majesty can have devised such wickedness!" he said. "What can be her reason—unless—unless—" and here he checked himself.

"You were about to say: Unless she knows—as you and I, my dear Baron, know beyond all doubt—that the Lady Daphne is the real Queen of Maerchenland?"

"So you know that, too!" cried the Baron, recoiling in terror. "I swear to you, my lord, that I myself had no suspicion of it until it was revealed to me by the Court Godmother but two days since!"

"I accept your word for it—though whether others will do so is another matter," said the Marshal as he picked up and thrust in his doublet the document which the other had let fall. "But what I should like to know is, which of your orders you intend to execute?"

"The first, of course," exclaimed the Baron indignantly. "Lady Daphne has a higher claim to my fealty than this interloper. I shall do my duty and carry her to Clairdelune."

"You forget that Prince Mirliflor will not be there as yet to receive her. Nor is it seemly that she should quit her Kingdom without making any assertion of her claim. My plan is better than yours, Baron. Hearken: I leave the Palace to-night on the pretext of hunting in the Forest of Schlangenzweigen. I take with me a company of my own—all tried soldiers on whom I can rely. To-morrow you will set out in the car, as though to Clairdelune, and Queen Selina will naturally believe that her secret order will be obeyed. But, after having gone a certain distance, you will head your storks for the chapel of St. Morosius in the forest. There we shall be waiting to swear allegiance to our young Queen and escort her in triumph to Eswareinmal. I shall have taken measures beforehand to proclaim her title, and it is certain that the populace will rise in her favour. You cannot fail to see, my dear Baron, that your best—in fact, your only way of escaping the penalty of your folly—to call it by no harsher name—is to aid us in undoing it."

"Enough, Marshal," said the Baron, "you can count upon me."

"I am sure of it, Baron, and, as I am leaving the Palace, I will deliver the Lady Daphne into your custody. See that you say nothing to her of our scheme till the fitting moment. For the present she must be told that she is to be taken to Clairdelune. And now I must quit you, for I have much to attend to before I start, which should be within an hour. To-morrow at mid-day we shall expect you at the Chapel in the forest, and have a care for your own sake that you fail us not."

An hour later, having disposed of the business he had attended to and left everything in train for his project, he set out with a chosen band on his alleged hunting expedition. "Whether this will fall out as I calculate, or in some other way, I know not," he told himself, as they clattered out of one of the City gates and took the road to the forest of Schlangenzweigen. "But this I know—whatever happens, I shall shortly be King of Maerchenland."

After he was gone the Baron began to reflect on what he had undertaken, and to feel that he would be glad of an excuse to get out of it, if he could find one. It was hardly credible that Queen Selina could have devised so treacherous a plot; it seemed far more likely that the Marshal had deceived him. After all, the secret order he had been shown might not be genuine. If it were not, the Queen was innocent, and the Baron was only too willing to leave her in peaceful permission of the throne. Before he committed himself any further he must satisfy himself on this point. His difficulty was that he could not ask her directly whether the secret order had indeed been given by her, as he might betray the Marshal, which might entail unpleasant consequences for himself. After some thought he hit upon a stratagem that was rather brilliant—for him. He obtained a private interview with the Queen, and begged her to consider whether it was altogether judicious to restore Lady Daphne to a Prince who might otherwise come forward once more as a suitor for Princess Edna. "Would it not be safer, Madam," he suggested, "to send Lady Daphne to her own country, where he would never be able to find her?"

Queen Selina was so convinced of his honesty and loyalty that she fell into his little trap without a moment's suspicion. "Now, it's really very curious you should have thought of that, my dear Baron!" she said, "very curious indeed! Because—I suppose the Marshal gave you a sealed letter from me before he left?... I thought so, and of course it isn't to be opened till after you've started. Still, I may tell you now that it contains instructions for the very identical course you suggest! I needn't say you must be careful not to mention it—but it may be a satisfaction to you to know that I've already decided on it."

"A great satisfaction indeed, your Majesty," he said, "for now my duty lies clear before me."

"And nobody, I'm sure, my dear Baron, will do it more faithfully!" was her gracious response. He proceeded to Daphne, who had heard that her Girofle had succeeded in his attempt to rescue Edna, but knew nothing of what had happened to him afterwards. He relieved her anxiety by informing her, not only that she was to rejoin Girofle at Clairdelune next day, but who he actually was, which last piece of information turned all her joy to dismay. Prince or no Prince, she knew that Girofle would be true to her—but what if the King, his father, forbade him to marry anyone so far below his rank? She would have to undergo the ordeal of being presented to King Tournesol, and the thought made her heart sink with terror.

"But the Court Godmother will come with me, Baron?" she asked anxiously, only to hear why this was impossible. "Too ill even to see me!" said Daphne sadly. "And that is why her Majesty is letting me be sent to Gir—I mean, Mirliflor? It's really very good of her. I suppose, Baron, I shall be able to see her and thank her before I go?"

"Undoubtedly," he said, and, having said as much as he thought prudent, he left his prisoner to her own reflections.

Most of the Court gathered to see her off the next morning, but the only Royalty present was little Princess Ruby, who held her former Governess in close and tearful embraces. "Darling!" she said, through her sobs, "it's perfectly beastly to think you've been here all this time and I never knew it! And now you really are going and I mayn't see you for ever so long! It will be so dull, for of course I wouldn't play with the Gnomes now—even if they weren't all down with mumps. And Edna's so snappy, and Clarence is going to marry a nasty wet Water-nixie—and I wish we'd all stayed at Inglegarth, that I do!" Daphne had not heard before of Clarence's engagement and, though she naturally made no comment, she could not think he was to be congratulated on his choice. She did her best to comfort Ruby, and after taking leave of her nearly as inconsolable friends in the Household, she at length found herself seated in the car with the Baron, who had dispensed with the usual attendants. And then the Courtyard, with the mass of upturned faces and waving hands, slowly sank to the rhythmical beating of the storks' wings as they obeyed the order, "To the Palace of Clairdelune."

Clarence saw the car pass overhead from the grove in the Palace Gardens, to which he had betaken himself in his dull misery. He knew that Daphne must be on her way to rejoin her lover, and tried to console himself by the reflection that it didn't matter to him. He was done for, anyhow, whether she went or stayed. But again came the bitter thought that there had been a time when, if he had only gone the right way about it, he might have—"I thought she wasn't good enough to marry," he said to himself. "Not good enough! a girl like her! Now I'm booked to marry a Lord-knows-what with green hair. Serves me damned well right too!"

Edna also saw the car as she walked with the Queen on the terrace that commanded the City. "There goes Miss Heritage!" she said. "Delighted to recapture her Mirliflor, no doubt! I don't wish to reproach you in any way, Mother, but I can't think you've shown much consideration for my interests in packing her off to him like this!"

It was painful to Queen Selina to be so misunderstood, but she decided that the injustice must be borne for the present. "My love," she said, "I could not possibly keep her here. And perhaps," she could could not help adding, "perhaps some day you will see that I have been a better mother to you than you imagine!"

To which pathetic appeal Princess Edna merely responded by a short sniff, expressive rather of incredulity than any softer emotion.



CHAPTER XX

AT THE END OF HER TETHER

Both the Queen and Edna that morning had observed an unwonted stir in the usually quiet and sleepy streets of Eswareinmal as they looked down on them from the Terrace parapet.

The great square was black with citizens, and from it rose a faint but angry drone that was unpleasantly suggestive of the results of pitching a large stone into a hornets' nest.

"I expect," remarked Queen Selina, "they're all busy discussing this engagement of Clarence's. If we drive out this afternoon we mustn't forget to take at least two sacks of gold with us."

"I doubt if we can afford to drive out at all just now," said Edna.

"Perhaps," agreed her mother, "it would be wiser to wait till things have settled down a little. Why they should get so excited about it I can't think. It's most inconsiderate and troublesome of them—at a time, too, when, goodness knows, I've enough to worry about!"

Just then she was chiefly harassed by a doubt whether she had been wholly wise in accepting the Marshal as a confederate, and especially in committing her secret instructions to writing. What if he knew or guessed her real reasons for getting rid of Miss Heritage? But, even if that were so, he had probably acted as he had out of goodwill and desire to maintain the dynasty. He had never shown the slightest jealousy or chagrin at having been deprived of the Regency. No, on the whole, she thought he could be trusted to be silent—if only because he could not betray her without admitting his own complicity. Still, there was a danger that he might presume on his knowledge—which would be disagreeable enough. If their Majesties were reluctant to show themselves just then to the populace, the populace on the other hand were determined to be both seen and heard. The proclamation of Clarence's betrothal had served as the breaking strain to the attenuated links that still attached them to the Throne. They had murmured against the enfranchisement of the Yellow Gnomes; their deception in the matter of the self-supplying tables had weakened their loyalty seriously for a time; the projected alliance of the Princess Edna with the surviving member of a race whose scutcheon bore the taint of Ogreism had aroused their bitter resentment. But all these grievances had been redressed, and the amiable easygoing Maerchenlanders were willing to forgive and forget them. Now they were called upon to put up with a humiliation beyond all endurance. The prospect of seeing the throne occupied in days to come by a creature who was not only of dubious extraction, but probably did not possess so much as the rudiments of a soul, infuriated them to madness.

So much so that the Royal Family had scarcely finished lunch when they were startled by news that the people were once more advancing en masse up the road to the Palace, and would soon be battering at the gates for admittance.

"I can't see 'em," said King Sidney peevishly, plucking at his auburn moustache. "What am I to say to them about this engagement? There's nothing to say except that it's most——"

"If you say that again, Sidney," said the Queen, "I shall throw something at you! Tell them the truth."

"I—I'd rather the Council explained it to them, my dear," he said.

"The Council have been sitting tight with closed doors all the morning," said Clarence, "like a bally lot of broody hens. I don't know, of course, but I've a notion they're discussing a Republic or something."

"If you won't speak to the people, Sidney," declared the Queen, with the courage of despair, "I must order the guards to close the Courtyard gates, and tell the mob that, if they promise to be quiet and behave themselves, I'll come out and talk to them myself."

"Good egg, Mater!" cried Clarence, "I'll come with you. It's really my show!"

"You'll only make them worse! Much better keep indoors and take no notice. More dignified," said the King. But as his wife and son paid no attention to him, he followed them out for very shame.

As they came down the front steps and advanced to within hearing distance of the crowd, which had not attempted as yet to break through the closed gates, they were received with yells and howls of execration, frantic shaking of fists and brandishing of improvised weapons. The strength of the gates and the presence of the guards gave the Queen more confidence than she might otherwise have felt.

"Now, good people!" she said in rather a tremulous voice, "it's quite impossible to speak while you're making all this noise!"

She had sent up for her crown, and perhaps this impressed them unconsciously, though she had been too nervous to put it on straight. Gradually silence was obtained.

"I know why you've come," she began, "and we quite understand your feelings about our son's engagement. In fact we share them." This provoked a renewal of the uproar and a vehement desire to know why, if that were so, the union had ever been contracted.

"If you'll only listen, I'll tell you," said the Queen. "We shouldn't have consented to it at all but for the sake of our beloved people." At this the beloved people very nearly had the gates down. "You don't understand," she shouted. "Even now, if you insist on the marriage being broken off, we are quite willing—indeed we shall be only too happy—to put a stop to it."

Here there were shouts of "We do! We do insist! Stop it! No marriage!"

"Very well then," said Queen Selina with more assurance, "only I am bound to tell you what the consequences will be. The Crystal Lake will overflow till the whole of Maerchenland is under water. At least that's what the Lake King threatens. You know best whether he can do it or not."

Her hearers knew too well, and the cries and murmurs took an altered tone at once, though some voices cursed the Prince whose weakness and folly had brought them to such a dilemma.

"Weakness and folly!" cried the Queen indignantly. "How can you be so wretchedly ungrateful? When my poor, noble, unselfish boy is sacrificing himself—for you don't suppose he can have any affection for a Water-nixie?—sacrificing himself on—on the altar of his country!"

"Mater!" whispered Clarence in admiration, "you're the limit!"

"And all the reward he gets," the Queen went on, pressing her advantage, "all the reward we get—for providing that you can sleep safe and warm in your beds—instead of being drowned in them—is violence and rude remarks! Really, if you have any consciences left you ought to be thoroughly ashamed of yourselves!"

They undoubtedly were. For a moment or two there was a hush, and then the whole mob broke into tumultuous cheers—for the Queen, the King, and more particularly the Crown Prince. Never since their accession had the Royal Family been so popular.

"There now," said the Queen, when she and her family were weary of bowing their acknowledgments, "that will do. Now go quietly away, like respectable loyal persons, and tell all the other citizens what we're doing for them."

"I must say, my love," observed the King, after the crowd had melted away in a vastly different mood from that in which they had come, "you showed wonderful presence of mind. I quite thought myself we should have been massacred."

"And so we should have been, Sidney," she replied, "if I'd left it to you!"

On re-entering the Palace they heard that the Council was still sitting. "Let 'em sit!" cried Clarence. "This'll be a bit of a suck for them. What price a Republic now, eh?"

"They simply daren't depose us!" said the Queen, "now the dear people are with us heart and soul!"

Some time later, while they were sitting in the lapis-lazuli Chamber, a page entered to announce that a messenger had just arrived with tidings which he wished to communicate to their Majesties in private. "Tell him to come in," said the Queen. "I do hope it isn't some fresh trouble!"

The messenger brought grave news. The Marshal, it appeared, had been killed while hunting in the Forest. Particulars were wanting, but there was no doubt that he was dead.

"How very very sad!" exclaimed the Queen. "The poor dear Marshal! To be cut off like this in the prime of life! It must have been a wild boar, I suppose—or a bear. But, whichever it was, it is a terrible loss. I don't know exactly how long the Court ought to go into mourning for an ex-Regent—but at least a month!"

She was shocked, of course, by the suddenness of it. At the same time she could not help a renewed sense of gratitude to Providence, which had once more gone out of its way to smooth her path. "I've always said hunting these wild animals is a very dangerous sport," said King Sidney. "Glad you've given it up, my boy!"

"Fed up with it, Guv'nor. But I dare say I shall go in for it again—some day or other," Clarence replied, while he was thinking that it would have to be a day when he discovered what had become of his irresistible sword, and when he could find a horse among his numerous stud that would permit him to get on its back.

They were still discussing the Marshal's untimely end when an usher came from the Hall of Council with a message that the Councillors had ended their deliberations, and requested their Majesties to honour them by attending to hear their decision.

"I like their nerve!" remarked Clarence. "Of course, Guv'nor, you'll tell 'em they've jolly well got to come to us, what?"

"No, Sidney," said Queen Selina, flushed with her recent victory, "you will say that we are coming in presently to preside over the Council and give them our advice. I shall know how to put them in their proper places. I shall wear my crown again, and you had better put on yours, and—yes, I should certainly take your sceptre too."

She kept them waiting as long as her own dignity demanded, and then sailed into the Council Chamber, the King and Crown Prince following in her wake. The whole Council rose and remained standing until the Royal Family had taken their seats under a canopy.

The President then informed them that the Councillors had resolved to use every means to prevent a union which, if contracted, would infallibly cover the entire Kingdom with contempt.

"Oh, very well, gentlemen," said the Queen. "I should have thought even that was better than having it covered with water—but if you in your wisdom think otherwise, we bow to your superior judgment." And she explained the situation much as she had done to the mob at the gates, though with less effect, for the President's answer was that, if such were the alternatives, their Majesties would best show their anxiety for their subjects' welfare by abdicating immediately.

"I don't see that at all," she retorted. "Why in the world should we?"

"Because," was the reply, "when this so-called King of the Crystal Lake learns that your son is no longer a Prince, he will cease to desire him for his daughter."

"And may I ask, supposing we did abdicate, whom do you propose to put in our place?" inquired the Queen.

"We should appoint Marshal Federhelm as Regent once more—or even elect him Sovereign."

"A very pretty plan!" replied Queen Selina, "only there's one objection to it, as you would know if you hadn't shut yourselves up here all day. You will be sorry to hear that the poor Marshal was killed this very afternoon while hunting. So you can't get him. And, as there's no one else available, and as my husband and I feel that it would be very wrong to desert our dear people when they've just assured us of their perfect loyalty and affection—(another fact you seem to be ignorant of!)—I'm afraid, gentlemen, that, whether you like it or not, you will have to put up with us."

"It is true, O Queen!" the President admitted with a deep groan. "We can do naught except pray that Heaven may yet save this most unhappy Country from so deep a degradation!" And all the other Members of the Council groaned too, while several beat their breasts or tore their long white beards in senile wrath and despair.

"They are a cheery complimentary lot of old devils!" commented Clarence. "If I were you, Mater, I'd—what d'ye call it?—prorogue 'em."

The Queen was inclined to accept this suggestion, but at that moment a loud rapping was heard at the closed doors. "Go and see who it is, somebody," she commanded, "it may be important news." She thought it probable that an attendant had come to announce the decease of the Fairy Vogelflug, which was hourly expected.

The doors were partly opened, and then a voice she had never thought to hear again cried in weak and quavering accents: "Let me pass. I claim my right of admission as Court Godmother."

The Queen changed colour, but felt that, inopportune as the demand was, she could not refuse it without laying herself open to suspicion, and perhaps worse. "Oh, let her come in, poor old soul," she said, "and find a seat for her. I'd really no idea she was well enough to get up."

The Fairy hobbled feebly in, looking incredibly old and shrunken, and like a grim ghost of her former self in her clinging grey night-rail. Her hollow eyes glowed like live coals as she faced the Queen, and stood labouring for breath before she could speak.

"So glad to see you looking so much better, dear Court Godmother!" said Queen Selina. "But was it wise of you to come downstairs so soon?"

"I have visited the pavilion and found it untenanted," said the Fairy, without troubling to explain how she had contrived to elude her attendants and get there. "Now, answer me, what have you done with Lady Daphne?"

"Oh, haven't they told you?" replied the Queen. "I should have consulted you, of course, if I had known you were conscious; but, as it was, I did what I thought you would wish and sent her off with the Baron in the stork-car this morning—to Clairdelune."

"Is this the truth—or are you trying to deceive me by lies?"

"Really!" cried the Queen, "this is most uncalled for! I don't know what you suppose I've done with the girl?"

"You may have imprisoned—murdered her, for all I can tell. It is more likely than that you would permit her to depart so easily."

"Well," said the Queen, "if you don't believe me, you have only to make inquiries. I was not in time to see her off myself, but I believe there are members of the Court who were more fortunate."

Several Councillors corroborated this by affirming that they themselves had not only been present but had heard the Baron give the order, "To Clairdelune."

"I daresay you don't think much of us, Ma'am," said Clarence, "but after all we're English, you know, and you might give us credit for playing the game, what?"

He spoke with a resentment which convinced his Mother of her wisdom in having played her own game without seeking any co-operation from him.

The old Fairy's suspicions had been completely quelled. "I perceive," she confessed, "that I have been over ready to think evil, and can but crave your forgiveness, Madam, for having done you so great an injustice."

"Pray don't mention it!" returned the Queen. "There was some excuse for it, and we willingly forgive you, if there's anything to forgive. And now," she added, after ordering the attendants to be fetched, "you really must take more care of yourself and get back to bed at once."

"I will return to it," was the reply, "for now that my mind is at ease I am well content to die."

"Oh, but you mustn't talk like that!" protested Queen Selina, "when you've just made such a marvellous recovery! Why, you're looking ever so much brighter than any of us could have hoped. All you really need now is a good long sleep."

"That is all, and I shall have it ere long. You may rest assured," she added, with a significance which the Queen alone understood, "that henceforth your peace shall not be disturbed by any word or deed of mine."

The attendants entered and she suffered them to lead her away, while King Sidney graciously extended his sceptre for her to kiss in passing, but drew it back shamefacedly on finding this civility ignored.

"It's evidently the last flicker, poor old thing!" said the Queen, after the Fairy had retired. "I don't at all expect we shall ever see her alive again!"

If she had so expected, her conscience might have troubled her more than it did. As it was, it did not reproach her too severely. It was not nice to deceive a dying person, but it was much nicer than confessing and losing a Kingdom for it. It would have been too ridiculous to begin to be squeamish now. And, after all, it was her misfortune rather than her fault if the family interests had necessitated a slight temporary lapse from principles she still held as rigidly as ever.

She dismissed her Council, which broke up in a chastened spirit, and the Royal Family, after a light meal which was the nearest approach to afternoon tea that Maerchenland afforded, went out for an airing on their favourite promenade—the terrace that overlooked Eswareinmal.

The market-place was still thronged, but such sounds as reached them were no longer menacing. "I do believe they haven't done cheering for us yet!" said the Queen. "And some of them seem to be waving flags! I shouldn't be the least surprised, Clarence, if your wedding next week goes off quite well after all!"

"I wish it would go off," he said, "but there's no chance of that now!"

"Well, it's no good being gloomy about it. Er—Forelle may turn out to be charming when we come to know her. Which reminds me, dear boy, you might tell her we should be delighted if she can come to tea here some afternoon before the ceremony."

"She could easily slip up through the fountain," suggested Edna. "I shall be anxious to see how she does her hair. Let me see—didn't you say it was green, Clarence?"

"Oh, give her hair a rest!" he replied.

"I saw before we left England," said the Queen tactfully, "that green hair was going to be quite the fashion this season. But, however strange she may be to society, we should remember, Edna, my love, that she will shortly become one of ourselves and treat her with every civility. We must avoid anything that might offend her Father."

Queen Selina was inclined that afternoon to take a more roseate view of the future. She felt herself once more secure on the throne now that all the dangers which had threatened to overturn it had been averted. The rival Queen would soon be landed in England, where, even if she ever heard of her rights, she would be powerless to claim them. Of the three persons who knew or might discover the truth, the Marshal was dead, the Court Godmother might just as well be so for all the harm she could do, and the Baron was on his way to a land from which he would never return.

As for Mirliflor, it would not be difficult to persuade him that some blunder of the Baron's must have caused the stork-car to go astray, and it was quite possible that when the Prince had abandoned all hope of recovering Miss Heritage he would return to Edna.

"Look at the dear people now!" she cried, as she looked down on the square, "they're actually forming a procession to march up to the Palace and thank us again!... Yes, they really are! It's quite wonderful the effect Clarence's self-sacrifice has had—it seems to have rallied them all round the Throne. But I knew it would, if it was put to them in the right way.... Did you hear that?" she asked later, when the procession had reached an angle of the zigzag incline which was directly below. "They're shouting for Me! I distinctly heard 'We want our Queen!' So nice and warm-hearted of them!"

The shouts had ceased, but the tramp of thousands of feet grew louder, until the sound was deadened as the demonstrators passed under the wing of the Palace on their way to the central entrance.

"Sidney, we must go in and show ourselves to them," said the Queen. "If they insist on a speech I will make it—you always manage to say the wrong thing!"

As they entered the Palace they heard a clamour which appeared to proceed from the great Entrance Hall. "Quite right to have asked them in," remarked the Queen with approval. "I shall order some refreshments for them, and then we can go up by a back way and appear at the top of the Grand Staircase." But this part of the programme was not destined to be carried out.

On attempting to pass through they were stopped, to the Queen's indignant amazement, in an inner hall by the Captain of her own Guards. "Really!" she cried, "I never heard of such a thing! What do you mean by it?"

He either could not or would not give any other explanation than that he had instructions to detain them. "Prince Hansmeinigel!" said the Queen, as she saw him approaching, "can you inform us why his Majesty and I are prevented from addressing our faithful subjects?"

"I think, Madam," he replied smoothly, "that you would find none here to address."

"How dare you tell me that, when you can hear them calling for 'their Queen' at this very moment!"

"But not for you, Madam. The Queen they are demanding is the Lady Daphne."

"Miss Heritage!" gasped Queen Selina. "Why should they want her?"

"It seems," he said, "that certain information has reached the Burgomaster and chief citizens which has convinced them of her title to the throne, and they are now in conference with the Council on the matter."

"So that treacherous old vixen of a Court Godmother had betrayed the secret after all, in spite of her promise!" concluded Queen Selina. But the battle was not lost yet by any means. She was not going to give in, when she had so many chances in her favour.

"They might have had the decency to invite us to be present," she said. "Surely we have some right to be consulted!"

"They will summon you before them presently, no doubt," he said, and almost as he spoke an official came towards them and whispered to the Captain of the Guard, who turned to the Queen:

"My orders are to bring you before the Council," he said, "if you will be good enough to follow me. We will go round by the outer corridor, so that you will be in no danger from the mob."

"What's all this about, my dear?" whispered King Sidney, as he walked with his wife and son between a strong guard. "I thought things had quieted down again."

"Oh, don't ask me, Sidney!" she returned, "you will know quite soon enough. But you needn't be uneasy. I've brought you through much worse things than this." She entered the Council Hall endeavouring to look as much like Marie Antoinette as she could. That her own Council should arraign her like this was, as she protested, most unconstitutional—they had no right whatever to do it. But, however that might be, they were doing it—a fact which even she was compelled to recognise.

The President began the proceedings by reciting the evidence of Daphne's title, which it now appeared had been put into the hands of the Burgomaster and other notables of Eswareinmal by the Marshal, just before he had gone to meet his sudden end. He then asked, in the name of the whole Tribunal, what the present occupants of the throne had to urge in their own defence.

If the Queen had possessed the legal mind she would have perceived at once that the evidence was merely hearsay—inferences that the Marshal had drawn from what Daphne had told him, and as proofs quite worthless. But she had not a legal mind; and besides she knew that the proofs were quite good enough for Maerchenland—also that the allegations happened to be true.

So she did not attempt to deny them. "All I can say is," she declared, "that this is quite new to me. When we were brought here I was given to understand that the Kingdom had descended to me, and of course I accepted the responsibility. If there has been any silly mistake about it, you can't blame me or my husband either. We've tried to do our duty—even so far as consenting to our son's making a marriage we could not approve of—for the sake of saving our Country from inundation. It's not every King and Queen who would have done that."

"That peril," replied the Burgomaster, "is no longer to be feared, since the King of the Crystal Lake, on being notified of the facts in our possession, has withdrawn his demands, saying he desires no union with a family of ignoble and beggarly pretenders."

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