The two children, left alone together, gazed at each other in silence. Pazza, being the bolder, was the first to speak.
"What is your name?" asked she.
"Those who know me call me Your Highness," answered Charming, in a piqued tone; "those who do not know me call me simply My Lord, and everybody says Sir to me; etiquette requires it."
"What is etiquette?" asked Pazza.
"I don't know," replied Charming. "When I want to jump, shout, and roll on the ground, I am told that it is contrary to etiquette; then I keep still, and yawn for lack of amusement—that is etiquette."
"Since we are here to amuse ourselves," resumed Pazza, "there is no etiquette needed; speak to me as if I were your sister, and I will speak to you as if you were my brother. I will not call you My Lord."
"But you don't know me," said Charming.
"What does that matter?" returned Pazza; "I will love you, that is better. They say that you dance beautifully; teach me to dance, will you?"
The ice was broken; Charming took the young girl by the waist, and in less than half an hour taught her the last new polka.
"How well you dance!" said he. "You have caught the step directly."
"It is because you are a good teacher," she replied. "Now it is my turn to teach you something."
She took a beautiful picture-book, and showed him fine buildings, fishes, statesmen, parrots, scholars, curious animals, and flowers, all of which greatly amused Charming.
"See," said Pazza, "here is the explanation of all the pictures; read it."
"I don't know how to read," replied Charming.
"I will teach you; I will be your little tutor."
"No," replied the stubborn prince, "I do not wish to read. My masters tire me."
"Very well; but I am not a master. See, here is an A, a beautiful great A; say A."
"No," returned Charming, frowning, "I will never say A."
"Not to please me?"
"No, never. Enough of this; I do not like people to differ from me."
"Sir," said Pazza, "a polite man never refuses ladies anything."
"I would refuse the devil in petticoats," replied the young prince, tossing his head. "I am tired of you; let me alone. I don't love you any longer. Call me My Lord."
"My Lord Charming, or my charming lord," said Pazza, flushed with anger, "you shall read, or I will know the reason why."
"I won't read."
"Will you not? One—two—three!"
"No! no! no!"
Pazza raised her hand, and, lo! the king's son received a box on the ear. Pazza had been told that she was witty to the ends of her fingers, and had been stupid enough to believe it; it is never right to jest with children.
At this first lesson in reading, Charming turned pale and trembled; the blood mounted to his cheeks, his eyes filled with tears, and he gazed at his young teacher with a look that made her start; then all at once, with a great effort, he regained his self-possession, and said, in a tremulous voice, "Pazza, that is A." And the same day and at one sitting he learned all the letters of the alphabet; at the end of the week he spelled readily, and before the month was ended he read with ease.
King Bizarre was delighted. He kissed Pazza on both cheeks; he insisted on having her always with him or his son, and made this child his friend and counselor, to the great disdain of all the courtiers. Charming, still gloomy and silent, learned all that this young mentor could teach him, then returned to his former preceptors, whom he astonished by his intelligence and docility. He soon knew his grammar so well that the priest asked himself one day whether, by chance, these definitions, which he had never understood, had not a meaning. Charming none the less astonished the philosopher, who taught him every evening the opposite of what the priest had taught him in the morning. But, of all his masters, the one to whom he listened with the least repugnance was the colonel. It is true that Bayonet, for that was the colonel's name, was a skilful strategist, and that he could say, like the ancient poet, with a slight variation, "I am a man, and nothing that pertains to the art of despatching poor human beings is indifferent to me." It was he that initiated Charming into the mysteries of button gaiters and shoulder-straps; it was he that taught his pupil that the noblest study for a prince is the drilling of battalions, and that the groundwork of statesmanship is to have reviews in order to make war, and to make war in order to have reviews.
This was not perhaps altogether according to Bizarre's idea of the art of government; but he thought he could correct any errors in the future, and besides, he was so rejoiced at Charming's progress that he was unwilling in any way to meddle with the admirable work of an education so long considered hopeless.
"My child," he often said, "never forget that you owe everything to Pazza." As the king spoke thus, Pazza gazed tenderly at the young man. Despite all her wit, she was foolish enough to love him. Charming contented himself with coldly answering that gratitude was a princely virtue, and that Pazza should some day learn that her pupil had forgotten nothing.
When Prince Charming had attained his seventeenth year, he went one morning in search of King Bizarre, whose health was declining and who was very desirous of seeing his son married before his death.
"Father," said he, "I have long reflected on your wise words. You gave me life, but Pazza has done still more in awakening my mind and soul. I see but one way of paying the debt of my heart; that is, to marry the woman to whom I am indebted for what I am. I come to ask you for Pazza's hand."
"My dear child," answered Bizarre, "this step does you credit. Pazza is not of royal blood; she is not the one whom, in different circumstances, I should have chosen for your wife; but her virtues, her merit, and, above all, the service which she has rendered us, make me forget idle prejudices. Pazza has the soul of a queen; she shall mount the throne with you. In the country of Wild Oats, wit and humor are held in sufficient estimation to win you forgiveness for what fools call a misalliance, and what I call a princely marriage. Happy is he who can choose an intelligent wife, capable of understanding and loving him! To-morrow your betrothal shall be celebrated, and in two years your marriage shall take place."
The marriage occurred more speedily than the king had foreseen. Fifteen months after these memorable words, Bizarre expired of languor and exhaustion. He had taken the vocation of king in earnest; he fell a victim to royalty. The old countess and Pazza wept their friend and benefactor, but they were the only mourners. Without being a bad son, Charming was engrossed with the cares of the empire; and the court expected everything from the new reign, and thought no more about the old king, whose eyes were closed in death.
After honoring his father's memory by magnificent obsequies, the young prince, thenceforth wholly devoted to love, celebrated his marriage with a splendor that charmed the good people of Wild Oats. The taxes were doubled, but who could regret money so nobly employed? Men came from a hundred leagues round to gaze at the new king, and Pazza, whose growing beauty and air of goodness fascinated all hearts, was not less admired. There were interminable dinners, harangues longer than the dinners, and poems more tedious than the harangues. In a word, it was an incomparable festival, which was talked of for six months after.
Evening come, Charming took the hand of his graceful, timid, and blushing bride, and with cold politeness led her through the corridors of the old castle. All at once Pazza was frightened to find herself in a gloomy dungeon, with grated windows and huge bars and locks.
"What is this?" asked she. "It looks like a prison."
"Yes," said the prince, with a terrible look, "it is a prison which you will quit only for the grave."
"My dear, you frighten me," said Pazza, smiling. "Am I a criminal without knowing it? Have I deserved your displeasure, that you threaten me with a dungeon?"
"You have a short memory," replied Charming. "An insult is written on sand to the giver; it is inscribed on marble and bronze to the receiver."
"Charming," returned the poor child, beginning to be afraid, "you are repeating something from those speeches that tired me so much. Can you find nothing better to say to me to-day?"
"Wretch!" cried the king, "you no longer remember the box on the ear that you gave me seven years ago, but I have not forgotten it. Know that if I wished you for my wife, it has been only to have your life in my hands and to make you slowly expiate your crime of high treason."
"My dear," said Pazza, with a pettish manner, "you may put on your Bluebeard airs, but you will not frighten me, I assure you. I know you, Charming, and I warn you that if you do not put an end to this bad jest, I will not only give you one box on the ear, but three, before I forgive you. Make haste and let me go out, or I vow that I will keep my word."
"Vow it then, madame," cried the prince, furious at not intimidating his victim. "I accept your vow. I vow, too, on my side, that I will never acknowledge you as my wife till I have been base enough to receive three times an insult which nothing but blood can wash out. He laughs well that laughs last. Here, Rachimburg!"
At this terrible name, a jailer with a bushy beard and threatening mien entered the room, pushed the queen on a wretched truckle-bed, and shut and double-locked the iron door.
If Pazza wept, it was so quietly that no one heard her. Tired of the silence, Charming departed, with rage in his heart, resolving that his rigor should break the pride that braved him. Vengeance, it is said, is the delight of kings.
Two hours later the countess received a note by a sure hand acquainting her with the sad fate of her niece. How this note reached her is known to me, but I will not betray the secret. If a charitable jailer is found by chance, he should be treated with consideration; the species is rare, and is daily becoming rarer.
A TERRIBLE EVENT
The next morning the court gazette announced that the queen had been seized with a raging fit of madness on the very night of her wedding, and that there was little hope of saving her. There was scarcely a courtier, indeed, that had not observed the princess's restless air on the evening before, and no one was surprised at her malady. All pitied the king, who received with a gloomy and constrained mien the expressions of affection which were lavished on him. He was doubtless weighed down with grief, but this grief appeared very much lightened after the visit of the countess.
The good lady was very sad, and had a great desire to see her poor child, but she was so old, and found herself so weak and sensitive, that she entreated the king to spare her a heartrending spectacle. She threw herself into the arms of Charming, who tenderly embraced her, and withdrew, saying that she placed all her hope and trust in the love of the king and the talent of the chief physician of the court.
She had scarcely left the room when the physician whispered a few words in Charming's ear which called to his face a smile quickly repressed. The countess pacified, there was nothing more to fear; the vengeance was sure.
Doctor Wieduwillst was a great physician. Born in the country of Dreams, he had early quitted his native land to seek his fortune in the kingdom of Wild Oats. He was too able a man not to find it. In the five years that he had spent in the celebrated University of Lugenmaulberg, the medical theory had changed twenty-five times, and, thanks to this solid education, the doctor had a firmness of principle which nothing could shake. He had the frankness and bluntness of a soldier, it was said; he swore at times, even with ladies, a rudeness which left him at liberty always to be of the same mind with the stronger, and to demand a fee for having no opinion. The queen had fallen into his incorruptible hands.
She had been imprisoned for three days, and the town was already beginning to talk of something else, when one morning Rachimburg abruptly entered the king's apartments with a distracted air, and threw himself trembling at his feet.
"Sire," said he, "I bring you my head. The queen has disappeared."
"What do you tell me!" exclaimed the king, turning pale. "The thing is impossible; the dungeon is barred on all sides."
"Yes," said the jailer, "the thing is impossible, that is certain; the bars are in their places, the walls are whole, and neither the locks nor the bolts have been disturbed; but there are witches in the world that pass through walls without moving a stone, and who knows but what the prisoner is one of them? Was it ever known whence she came?"
The king sent in search of the doctor. He was a strong-minded man and had little faith in witches. He sounded the walls, shook the bars, and cross-examined the jailer, but all to no purpose. Trusty men were sent everywhere through the town, and spies were set on the countess, whom the doctor suspected, but all in vain, and after a week the search was abandoned. Rachimburg lost his place as jailer, but as he possessed the royal secret, as he was needed, and as he thirsted to avenge himself, he was made the warden of the royal castle. Furious at his bad luck, he exercised his supervision with such strictness that in less than three days he arrested Wieduwillst himself half a dozen times, and disarmed all suspicion.
At the end of a week some fishermen brought to the court the robe and mantle of the queen. The waves had cast on the shore these sad relics, covered with sand and sea-foam. That the poor mad woman had drowned herself no one doubted on seeing the grief of the king and the tears of the countess. The council was assembled. It decided with a unanimous voice that the queen was legally dead and that the king was legally a widower, and for the interest of the people entreated his majesty to abridge a painful mourning and to marry again as soon as possible, in order to strengthen the dynasty. This decision was transmitted to the king by Wieduwillst, the chief physician to the king and president of the royal council, who made so touching a speech that the whole court burst into tears, and Charming threw himself into the doctor's arms, calling him his cruel friend.
It is unnecessary to say that the funeral of a queen so much lamented was magnificent. In the kingdom of Wild Oats everything serves as a pretext for ceremony. The pageant was worthy of admiration, but the most admirable thing in it was the attitude of the young girls of the court. Every one looked at Charming, who was handsomer than ever in his mourning dress; every one wept with one eye in honor of the princess, and smiled with the other to attract the king. Ah! had photography only been invented, what portraits would antiquity have transmitted to us—what models for our painters! The passions still existed among these good people; their mobile faces were animated by love, hatred, and anger; to-day we are all so virtuous and prudent that we all wear the same dress, the same hat, and the same expression. Civilization is the triumph of morality and the ruin of art.
After the description of the funeral ceremonies, which, according to etiquette, filled six columns, the court gazette laid down rules for the full and the second mourning, blue and pink, which are the mourning colors in the kingdom of Wild Oats. The court was required to be in deep affliction for three weeks, and to be comforted by degrees during the three weeks following; but carnival occurring during the period of the second mourning, and respect being had for trade, it was determined to give a masked ball at the palace. Tailors and dressmakers immediately set to work, invitations were solicited by great and small, and men began to intrigue as if the fate of the monarchy had been in question.
It was in this solemn manner that they mourned for poor Pazza.
THE MASKED BALL
The great day so impatiently expected at length arrived. For six weeks the good people of Wild Oats had been in a fever of excitement. Nothing more was heard of ministers, senators, generals, magistrates, princesses, duchesses, and citizens; for twenty leagues round, clowns, harlequins, punchinellos, gipsies, Columbines, and Follies alone were to be seen. Politics were silenced, or, rather, the nation was divided into two great parties—the conservatives that went to the ball, and the opposition that stayed at home.
If the official gazette is to be believed, the festival outshone in splendor all others past and to come. The ball was held in the midst of the gardens, in a rotunda magnificently decorated. A winding walk, shaded by elms and dimly lighted by alabaster lamps, led to a hall resplendent with gold, verdure, flowers, and light. An orchestra, half concealed in the foliage, breathed forth music, by turns plaintive and gay. Add to this the richness of the costumes, the brilliancy of the diamonds, the piquancy of the masks, and the charm of intrigue, and you will see that it would have needed the soul of an ancient Stoic to resist the intoxication of pleasure.
Yet Prince Charming was not amused. Concealed under a blue domino, with his face entirely masked, he had addressed himself to the most elegant and sprightly women, and had lavishly displayed his wit and grace, yet he had met with nothing but indifference and coldness. They scarcely listened to him, answered with a yawn, and hastened to quit him. All eyes were fixed on a black domino with pink rosettes that moved carelessly among the dancers, receiving with the air of a sultan the compliments and smiles that every one lavished on him. This domino was the Lord Wieduwillst, a great friend of the prince, but still more the friend of his own pleasure. In an unguarded moment the doctor had said that morning by chance, under the seal of secrecy, and to two ladies only, that the prince would wear pink rosettes in his black domino. Was it his fault if the ladies had been indiscreet or the prince had changed his mind?
While the doctor was enjoying, despite himself, indeed, his unexpected triumph, Charming seated himself in a corner of the hall and buried his face in his hands. Alone in the midst of the crowd, he abandoned himself to reflection, and the image of Pazza rose before him. He had no reproaches to make himself; his vengeance was just, yet he felt an indescribable remorse. Poor Pazza! no doubt she had been guilty; but at least she loved him, she understood him, she listened to him, her eyes sparkling with joy. How different from all those fools who had not recognized a prince under a domino at the first moment by his wit!
He rose suddenly to quit the hall, when he perceived, a little way off, a mask that had also left the crowd and seemed lost in contemplation. A half-open domino disclosed a gipsy's dress and a pair of slippers with buckles, containing a foot smaller than that of Cinderella.
The king approached the stranger, and saw through the velvet mask a pair of large black eyes, the melancholy glance of which surprised and charmed him.
"Fair mask," said he, "your place is not here. Why are you not among the eager and curious crowd that is pressing around the prince to dispute his smile and heart? Do you not know that there is a crown to be gained there?"
"I make no pretentions," answered the domino, in a grave, sweet voice. "In this game of chance one runs the risk of taking the servant for the king. I am too proud to expose myself to such a hazard."
"But if I show you the prince?"
"What could I say to him?" replied the stranger. "I could not blame him without offense, or praise him without flattery."
"You think much evil of him, then?"
"No, a little evil and much good; but what does it matter?" And, opening her fan, the domino relapsed into her reverie.
This indifference surprised Charming. He addressed her with warmth, she replied coldly; he prayed her so urgently to listen to him that she finally consented to do so, not in the ball-room, where the heat was overpowering and the curiosity indiscreet, but in the long elm-walk, where a few promenaders were seeking silence and fresh air.
The night was advancing, and the gipsy had already spoken several times of retiring, to the great regret of the prince, who vainly entreated her to unmask. The stranger made no reply.
"You drive me to despair," cried he, inspired with strange respect and admiration for this mysterious figure. "Why this cruel silence?"
"Because I know you, my lord," replied the stranger, with emotion. "Your voice, which goes to the heart, your language, your grace, all tell me who you are. Let me go, Prince Charming."
"No, madam," cried the prince, delighted at so much wit, "you alone have recognized me, you alone have understood me, to you belong my heart and kingdom. Throw off that suspicious mask; this very instant we will return to the ball-room and I will present to the ignorant crowd the woman whom I have had the happiness not to displease. Say but one word, and all my people shall be at your feet."
"My lord," replied the stranger, sadly, "permit me to refuse an offer which does me honor and the memory of which I shall always preserve. I am ambitious, I own; the time has been when I should have been proud to share your throne and name; but before all things I am a woman and place all my happiness in love. I will not have a divided heart, should my rival be only a memory; I am jealous even of the past."
"I have never loved in my life," cried the prince, with a vehemence that made the stranger start. "There is a mystery concerning my marriage which I can reveal only to my wife; but I swear to you that I have never given away my heart; I love now for the first time."
"Show me your hand," said the gipsy, approaching the lamp, "and let me see whether you have told the truth."
Charming extended his hand with assurance; the gipsy studied the lines and sighed.
"You are right, my lord," said she, "you have never loved. But this does not appease my jealousy. Another woman has loved you before me. These sacred bonds are not broken by death; the queen still loves you—you belong to her. To accept a heart which is no longer at your disposal would be sacrilegious and criminal in me. Farewell."
"Madam," said the king, with an ill-assured voice, "you do not know what you make me suffer. There are things which I would gladly burn in eternal silence, but which you force me to reveal. The queen never loved me; ambition alone dictated her conduct."
"That is not so," said the stranger, letting go the prince's hand. "The queen loved you."
"No, madam," replied Charming; "my father and I were the victims of a detestable intrigue."
"Enough!" said the stranger, whose hands trembled and whose fingers worked in a strange manner. "Respect the dead; do not slander them."
"Madam," said the prince, "I assure you, and none ever doubted my word, that the queen never loved me. She was a wicked woman."
"Ah!" said the domino.
"Wilful, violent, and jealous."
"If she was jealous, she loved you," interrupted the mask. "Seek for proofs which have at least a shadow of probability; do not accuse a heart which was wholly yours."
"So far from loving me," said the king, excitedly, "the very night of my marriage she dared tell me to my face that she had married me only for my crown."
"That is not true," said the gipsy, raising her hand.
"I swear it," replied Charming.
"You lie!" cried the stranger. And, lo! a box on the ear blinded the prince; the blow was repeated, and the stranger fled.
The king stepped back furious, and sought the hilt of his sword; but men do not go to balls armed as for war; for his sole weapon he found a knot of ribbons. He ran after his enemy, but which way had she fled? Charming lost himself twenty times in the labyrinth; he met none but peaceful dominos walking in couples and scarcely glancing at him as he passed. Breathless, distracted, and desperate, he returned to the ball-room, where he doubted not that the stranger had taken refuge; but how was he to find her?
A brilliant idea crossed the prince's mind; he would order all to unmask, and would doubtless see the gipsy, confounded by the king's presence and betrayed by her own agitation. He instantly leaped on a chair, and exclaimed in a loud voice that caused every one to start:
"Ladies and gentlemen, day is approaching and pleasure is languishing; let us revive mirth by a new caprice. Off with the masks! I set the example; let all who love me follow it."
He threw off his domino, raised his mask, and appeared in the richest and most elegant Spanish costume ever worn by prince. There was a general outcry; all eyes were at first turned toward the king, then toward the black domino with pink rosettes, who retreated as fast as possible with a modesty that was not affected. All unmasked. The ladies gathered round the king, who, it was remarked, had the most violent fancy for the gipsy costume. Young or old, all the gipsies received his homage; he took them by the hand and gazed at them with an air which made all the other masks ready to burst with envy, then made a sign to the orchestra; the dance recommenced, and the prince disappeared.
He hastened again to the elm-walk in search of the traitress who had insulted him, doubtless led by vengeance. His blood boiled in his veins; he wandered at random, suddenly stopping short, looking, listening, and spying in all directions. At the faintest gleam of light through the foliage he sprang forward like a madman, laughing and weeping at the same time as though distracted.
At the turn of an alley he met Rachimburg advancing toward him trembling, with an air of terror.
"Sire," murmured he, in a mysterious voice, "has Your Majesty seen it?"
"What?" asked the king.
"The specter; it passed close by me. I am a lost man; I shall die to-morrow."
"What specter?" said Charming. "What fool's tale are you telling me?"
"A specter—a domino with flashing eyes, that threw me on my knees and boxed my ears twice."
"It is she!" cried the king; "it is she! Why did you let her go?"
"Your Majesty, I had not my pike; but if ever I see her again I will knock her down."
"Do no such thing!" returned the king. "If ever she returns, do not frighten her; follow her and discover her retreat. But where is she? Which way did she go? Lead me; if I find her your fortune is made."
"Sire," said the honest porter, looking at the moon, "if the specter is anywhere, it must be up yonder; I saw it, as plainly as I see Your Majesty, dissolving in mist. But before taking flight it gave me a message for Your Majesty."
"What? Speak quickly!"
"Sire, its words were terrible; I shall never dare repeat them to Your Majesty."
"Speak, I order you."
"Sire, the specter said, in a sepulchral voice, 'Tell the king that if he marries again he is a dead man. The loved one will return.'"
"Here," said the prince, whose eyes shone with a strange luster, "take this purse. Henceforth I attach you to my person; I appoint you my first attendant, counting on your devotion and prudence. Let this affair remain a secret between us."
"That makes two," murmured Rachimburg, as he departed with a firm tread, like a man who neither suffers himself to be cast down by fear or dazzled by good fortune. He was a strong-minded man.
The next morning the court gazette contained the following lines, in the form of a letter without signature, in the unofficial part of the paper:
"A rumor has been spread that the king is thinking of marrying again. The king knows what he owes to his people, and is always ready to sacrifice himself for the happiness of his subjects. But the people of Wild Oats have too much delicacy not to respect a recent affliction. The king's whole thoughts are fixed on his beloved wife; he hopes the consolation from time that is at present refused him."
This note threw the court and town in agitation. The young girls thought the scruples of the prince exaggerated; more than one mother shrugged her shoulders, and said that the king had vulgar prejudices worthy only of the common people; but at night there was strife in every well-ordered household. There was not a wife of any pretensions to aristocratic birth that did not quarrel with her unworthy spouse and force him to admit that there was but one heart capable of love, and but one faithful husband in the whole kingdom, namely, Prince Charming.
After so much excitement, the king was seized with a cruel fit of tedium. To divert himself, he attempted every kind of pleasure; he hunted, he presided over his council, he went to the play and the opera, he received all the state corporations with their wives, he read a Carthaginian novel, and reviewed the troops half a score of times; but all in vain: an inexorable memory, an ever-present image left him no rest or peace. The gipsy pursued him even in his dreams; he saw her, he talked to her, and she listened to him; but, by some unaccountable fatality, as soon as she raised her mask, Pazza's pale, sad face always appeared.
The doctor was the only confidant to whom Charming could avow his remorse, but at his word Wieduwillst burst into laughter.
"The effect of habit, sire," he said. "Gain time, multiply impressions, and all will be effaced."
To procure the prince excitement and to drive away sorrow by a bold diversion, the doctor supped every evening alone with His Majesty, and poured out intoxication and forgetfulness with a liberal hand. Wieduwillst did not spare himself, but wine had little effect on his strong brain; he would have defied Bacchus and Silenus together with Charming. While the prince, by turn noisy and silent, plunged into the extremes of joy and sadness, always restless and never happy, Wieduwillst, calm and smiling, directed his thoughts, and through pure goodness of soul took upon himself all the fatigue and care of the government.
Three decrees had already placed in his hands the police, the courts, and the finances. The doctor well understood all the advantages of centralization. The way in which he administered the taxes relieved him from all personal anxiety for the future. The courts punished those who clamored too loudly; the police silenced those who whispered too much. Nevertheless, in spite of the ability of these political schemes, the people, always ungrateful, did not appreciate their happiness. The inhabitants of Wild Oats delight in complaining; the pleasure was spoiled for them.
King Bizarre's name was in all hearts and every one regretted the good old times when they shouted over the roof-tops that they were gagged.
The doctor was ambitious; he was born for a prime minister. Every morning some new ordinance made the people feel that the king was nothing and the minister everything. Charming was the only one that did not perceive his nothingness. Shut up in his palace, and dying of ennui, his sole companion was a page placed near him by the prime minister on Rachimburg's recommendation. Frolicsome, chattering, and indiscreet, a good musician and capital card-player, Tonto, for that was the page's name, amused the king by his pranks; he pleased the prime minister no less, but by other virtues. Devoted to his benefactor, the good-natured page innocently repeated to him the most trifling words of the prince—an easy task, moreover, as the king was constantly dreaming and never spoke.
It is a fine thing to have the advantages of power; but appetite comes by eating even with ministers. The ambitious doctor began to desire both the honors and luster of royalty. Charming's best friend did not once think of dethroning him; nations sometimes have foolish prejudices and cling to old habits, but nothing was easier than to frighten a sick prince and send him afar off in search of a cure that would be long coming, while in his absence the doctor would reign as his proxy.
Charming was young; he still clung to life, and, moreover, how could he resist the tender solicitude of the good doctor? The three most renowned physicians of the faculty met one evening in consultation at the palace—long Tristram, fat Jocundus, and little Guilleret, three celebrated men—three geniuses who had made their fortune, each with one idea, which had been the reason why they had never had any more.
After the king had been cross-questioned, looked at, handled, auscultated, and turned round again and again, Tristram spoke first, in a rude voice.
"Sire," said he, "you must be bled like a peasant, and live without any exertion whatever. Your disease is a deficiency of blood, a constitutional atony. Nothing but a journey to the Clear Waters can cure you. Go quickly, or you are a dead man. You have my opinion."
"Sire," said fat Jocundus, "I fully share the admirable opinion of my dear professional brother. You are suffering from superabundant vitality. Your disease is a constitutional plethora. Go, drink the Clear Waters, and you will be a well man again. You have my opinion."
"Sire," said little Guilleret, "the diagnostic of my masters fills me with admiration. I bow before their learning. Like them, I believe that you are suffering from disorder of the sympathetic nerves. Your disease is a constitutional nervousness. Drink the Clear Waters. Go quickly, or you are a dead man. You have my opinion."
A unanimous opinion was drawn up and immediately carried to the court gazette by Tonto; and the three doctors rose, bowed to the minister and the king, shook hands with one another, and went down-stairs quarreling or laughing, I know not which; the chronicle is almost illegible, owing to a large blot in this place.
After the three physicians had gone, Wieduwillst read the opinion, reflected deeply, and looked at the king. Charming, who had supped a little better this evening even than usual, had not once listened to the doctors, but sat gazing around him with bloodshot eyes.
"Sire," said he, "it is the unanimous opinion of these gentlemen that, if you wish to be cured, you must go to the Clear Waters and abandon the affairs of state. Such a resolution appears to me unworthy of Your Royal Majesty. A great prince should sacrifice himself for his people, and—"
"Enough," said the king. "Spare me this worn-out moralizing and come to the conclusion. You wish me to go, my good friend; you are dying for me to do so, for my own interest, of course. Draw up a decree placing the regency in your hands, and I will sign it."
"Sire, the decree is here, in your portfolio; a good minister always has papers drawn up to suit whatever circumstances may arise. He never knows what may happen."
Charming took the pen, carelessly signed the decree without reading it, and handed it to the minister, who approached to receive it with a smile; then, seized with a new caprice, he drew back the paper and read it.
"What!" said he, "no statement of reasons; nothing to assure my people of the kindness I bear them! Doctor, you are too modest; to-morrow this decree shall be in the gazette, with a statement from the hand of your friend and master. Good night; these gentlemen have tired me."
The doctor went out with a light step, erect brow, and sparkling eye, prouder and more insolent than ever. Charming sank again into his reverie, thinking that, in spite of all, he was not the most unhappy of princes, since Heaven had given him such a friend.
All at once the strangest little doctor that had ever been seen in a castle entered the king's apartment unannounced. He wore a wig with long curls, his snow-white beard fell on his breast, and his eyes were so bright and youthful that it seemed as though they must have come into the world sixty years after the rest of his body.
"Where are those knaves?" cried he, with a shrill voice, rapping on the floor with his cane. "Where are those ignorant fellows, those pedants, those ill-bred men that did not wait for me? Ah! so you are the patient," said he to the stupefied king. "That is good. Put out your tongue. Quick! I am in a hurry."
"Who are you?" asked the king.
"I am Doctor Truth, the greatest doctor in the world, as you will see, in spite of my modesty. Ask Wieduwillst, my pupil, who sent for me from the Land of Dreams. I cure everybody, even those who are not ill. Put out your tongue; that's right. Where is the opinion? Very well. Atony—asinis! Plethora—asini! Nervousness—asinorum! Drink the Clear Waters—asininum! Do you know what is your disease? It is vexation, and even worse."
"Do you see that?" said Charming, terrified.
"Yes, my son, it is written on your tongue. But I will cure you: it shall be done by to-morrow noon."
"To-morrow!" said the king. "All my treasures—"
"Silence, my son. What portfolio is that?—the minister's? Good. Sign these three papers for me."
"They are blank decrees," said the king. "What do you wish to do with them?"
"They are my ordinances. Sign. Well done, my son; be obedient, and to-morrow noon you shall be as gay as a lark. First ordinance: If you would live at peace, appear at peace; I suppress six regiments. Second ordinance: A penny in a peasant's pocket is worth twenty in the king's treasury; I suppress one fourth of the taxes. Third ordinance: Liberty is like the sunshine—it is the happiness and fortune of the poor; I throw open the political prisons and demolish the debtors' prisons. You are laughing, my son; it is a good sign when a patient laughs at his doctor."
"Yes," said Charming, "I am laughing to think of Wieduwillst's face to-morrow on reading these ordinances in the court gazette. Enough of these follies, buffoon doctor; give me back the papers and put an end to this farce."
"What is this?" said the little man, taking up the decree of the regency. "God forgive me! it is an abdication. What are you thinking of, Prince Charming? What! the inheritance bequeathed to you by your fathers, the people intrusted to you by God, your name, your honor, will you throw all these at the feet of an adventurer? Will you let yourself be dethroned and duped by a deceiver? Impossible! It does not suit me. I oppose it. Do you hear?"
"What insolent fellow addresses his prince in this way?"
"Politeness is not in words. Charming, are you mad? Are you dreaming? Are you wholly without heart?"
"This is too much!" cried the king. "Begone, wretch, or I will throw you out of the window."
"Begone!" said the little doctor, in a shrill voice. "No, not till I have destroyed this mad and stupid document. See, I tear your abdication in pieces and trample it under-foot!"
Charming seized the madman and called his guards. No one answered. The little man struggled with wonderful strength. With his foot he threw the lamp on the ground; but the king, despite the darkness, kept fast hold of the sorcerer, who felt his strength failing.
"Let me go!" murmured he; "for Heaven's sake let me go! You know not what you are doing. You are breaking my arm."
His words and prayers were useless. Suddenly a shower of blows, dealt by a strong hand, fell on the king's ears. Charming let go his hold in surprise, and turned to attack his invisible enemy. He found nothing but empty space, and, staggering in the darkness, cried loudly for the help that did not come. Such a thing could not have happened in a minister's house; kings are always worse guarded.
THE END OF A DREAM
At last a door opened and Rachimburg entered, according to etiquette, to undress the king. The faithful servant appeared greatly vexed to find him without a light, groping along the wall.
"Where is that infernal doctor?" asked Charming, foaming with rage.
"It is more than an hour, sire, since His Excellency quitted the palace."
"Who is talking of Wieduwillst?" cried the king. "Which way did the villain go that just insulted me?"
Rachimburg looked at the prince with a contrite air, and raised his eyes to heaven, sighing.
"A man went out of the door that leads to your rooms," said Charming. "How did he enter, and where has he fled?"
"Sire," said Rachimburg, "I have neither quitted my post nor seen any one."
"I tell you that a man was in this room a moment ago."
"Sire, Your Majesty is never mistaken; if a man was in this room he is still here, unless he has flown through the window or Your Majesty has been dreaming."
"Fool, do I look like a man who has been dreaming? Did I overturn this lamp? did I tear these papers?"
"Sire, I am nothing but a worm of the earth; God forbid that I should contradict my sovereign. Your majesty does not hire me to give him the lie. But this year strange dreams are an epidemic. No one knows what he may do or suffer in his sleep. Only just now I was overtaken with sleep in spite of myself, and if I were not sure that I was dreaming I should declare that an invisible hand boxed my ears twice, at which I awakened with a start."
"It was the specter!" said the king.
"Your Majesty is right," replied Rachimburg; "I am nothing but a simpleton; it was the specter."
"And I did not know her!" resumed Charming. "Nevertheless, it was her voice and air. What does this mean? Is it a new insult? Is it a warning from heaven? Does some danger threaten me? No matter, I will remain in my kingdom. My friend, not a word of all this: take this purse and keep the secret."
"That makes the third," murmured the faithful Rachimburg, as he undressed the king with a zeal and address which several times made His Majesty smile.
So many emotions one after another banished sleep; it was daybreak before the prince dozed, and broad daylight before he awoke. In the first moment between sleeping and waking Charming fancied that he heard a strange noise—bells ringing, cannon firing, and three or four bands of music playing each a different air. He was not mistaken; it was an infernal hubbub. The king rang. Rachimburg entered, carrying a bouquet of flowers.
"Sire," said he, "will His Majesty permit the humblest of his servants to be the first to express to him the universal joy? Your people are intoxicated with love and gratitude. The taxes lessened, the prisons opened, the army reduced! Sire, you are the greatest prince in the world; never has earth seen a ruler like you. Show yourself at the balcony; answer these cries of 'Hurrah for the king!' Smile on the people that bless you."
Rachimburg could not finish; tears choked his voice. He attempted to wipe his eyes, but in his excitement he took the gazette from his pocket instead of a handkerchief, and began to kiss it like a madman.
Charming took the journal, and vainly attempted, while dressing, to collect his ideas. By what chance had these insane ordinances found their way into the official journal? Who had sent them? Why did not Wieduwillst make his appearance? The prince wished to reflect, consult, and question; but the people were under the windows, and their majesties were too impatient to wait.
As soon as the king appeared in the balcony he was greeted with shouts of enthusiasm, which, despite everything, thrilled his heart. Men tossed their caps in the air, women waved their handkerchiefs, mothers lifted up their children and made them stretch their innocent hands to heaven, and repeat, "Hurrah for the king!" The guns of the palace guards were decked with flowers, the drums beat, and the officers' swords flashed in the sun. It was a scene of delirious joy. Charming was infected by the general emotion; he wept without exactly knowing why. At that instant the clock struck noon. The specter was right—the prince was cured.
After the crowd it was the turn of the corporations, all of whom, the ministers at the head, came to congratulate and thank the king for having so well understood the wishes of his faithful counselors. A single person was lacking, namely, Wieduwillst. None knew where he had hidden his ignorance and spite. A mysterious note received by him that morning had occasioned his flight, yet this note contained only the words, The king knows all! Who had written this fatal letter? Not the prince; he alone, perhaps, in the palace, thought of the minister, and wondered at not seeing him by his side.
All at once Tonto entered, pale and haggard. He ran to the king and gave him a letter which an officer had brought at full gallop. The governor of the province, General Bayonet, sent terrible news; the six disbanded regiments had mutinied, headed by Wieduwillst. The rebels had proclaimed the downfall of the king, whom they accused of abominable crimes, especially of the murder of the queen. Numerous and well commanded, they were approaching the city, which was defended only by a few doubtful and disaffected regiments. Bayonet entreated the king to come instantly and take command; an hour later, and all would be lost.
Hurried on by Tonto and Rachimburg, the king secretly quitted the palace, followed by a few officers. A proclamation, placarded on all the walls of the city and at every corner of the streets, declared that there was no truth in the rumors spread by a few malicious persons, and that the army had never been more devoted or faithful. Upon this there was a universal panic; stocks fell 50 per cent. in half an hour, and did not rise again till unofficial news arrived that the king had been well received at head-quarters.
HEROIC REMEDIES FOR GREAT EVILS
The news was false; the prince had been received with great coldness. It was his own fault. Sad, despondent, and abstracted, Charming had neither found a jest for the soldiers nor a word of trust for the officers. He entered the general's tent and fell into a chair. Tonto was little less disheartened.
"Sire," said Bayonet, "permit me to speak to you with the frankness of a soldier and the freedom of an old friend. The army is murmuring and hesitating; we must secure it, or all is lost. The enemy is in sight; we must attack him. Five minutes sometimes decide the fate of empires; it is so with us now. Do not wait till it is too late."
"Very well," said the king. "To horse! in an instant I will be with you."
Left alone with Tonto and Rachimburg, the king exclaimed, in despair, "My good friends, quit a master who can do no more for you. I shall not dispute my wretched life with my enemies. Betrayed in friendship and treacherously assassinated, I recognize in my misfortune the hand of an avenging God. It is in punishment for my crime. I killed the queen in my stupid vengeance; the hour has come to expiate my fault, and I am ready."
"Sire," said Tonto, trying to smile, "shake off these sad thoughts. If the queen were here she would tell you to defend yourself. Believe me," he added, twisting his budding mustache, "I am acquainted with women! Were they dead, they would still love to avenge themselves. Besides, you did not kill the queen; and perhaps she is not so dead as you imagine."
"What do you say?" exclaimed the king; "you are losing your reason."
"I say that there are women who die expressly to enrage their husbands; why should there not be those that would rise from the dead to enrage them still more? Leave the dead, and think of the living who love you. You are a king; fight like a king, and, if necessary, fall like a king."
"Sire," said Bayonet, entering, sword in hand, "time presses."
"General, to horse!" cried Tonto; "let us go."
Bayonet quitted the room to give the needful orders. When he was gone, Charming looked at Tonto and said: "No, I will not go. I do not understand my feelings; I abhor myself. I am not afraid of death; I am going to kill myself; nevertheless, I will not fight."
"Sire," said Tonto, "in Heaven's name, summon up your courage. To horse! Great God!" he exclaimed, wringing his hands, "the prince will not listen to me; we are lost. Come!" said he, taking hold of Charming's cloak; "up, sire; to horse, unhappy prince! Save your kingdom—save your people—save all that love you. Coward! look at me; I am nothing but a child, yet I am about to die for you. Fight! do not disgrace yourself. If you do not rise I will insult you—I, your servant. You are a coward—do you hear? a coward!"
And behold! the insolent page boxed the king's ears.
"S'death!" cried Charming, drawing his sword. "Before dying I will have the pleasure of punishing one subject, at least."
But the page had left the tent. With one bound he sprang into the saddle and galloped toward the enemy, sword in hand, crying, "The king! my friends—the king! Sound the trumpets! Forward!"
Charming, mad with anger, spurred his horse in pursuit of the page: like a bull at the sight of a red flag, he rushed forward, head downward, caring neither for death nor for danger. Bayonet rushed after the king, and the army after the general. It was the finest cavalry charge ever known in history.
At the noise of the squadrons, which shook the ground like thunder, the enemy, surprised, scarcely had time to form in line of battle. One man, however, had recognized the king—the infamous Wieduwillst. Charming was alone; wholly absorbed in his vengeance, he saw nothing but the page whom he was pursuing. The traitor threw himself on the prince, sword in hand, and would have slain him at one stroke had not Tonto, plunging his spurs into the flanks of his horse, made the animal rear and fall on Wieduwillst. The page received the blow intended for his master. He threw up his arms and fell with a loud cry; but his fall, at least, was avenged. The king thrust his sword into the throat of the treacherous physician, and drew it forth, dripping with blood, not without pleasure. Man is decidedly the king of wild beasts.
The traitor's death decided the fate of the day. The royal army, electrified by the heroism of its leader, soon dispersed the straggling battalions. The rebels, having nothing more to hope, sued for pardon, and their prayer was granted by the happy and clement king.
An hour after quitting the camp where he had wished to die, Charming returned in triumph, bringing with him conquerors and conquered, all blended in the same ranks, the former loudly protesting their loyalty, the latter overpowering them with their enthusiasm. Nothing sharpens devotion so much as a little treason.
IN WHICH WE SEE THAT IT IS WRONG TO JUDGE ACCORDING
TO APPEARANCES, AND THAT TONTO WAS NOT TONTO
The king entered his tent to rest a moment, when the sight of Rachimburg reminded him of Tonto.
"Is the page dead?" he asked.
"No, sire," answered Rachimburg; "unfortunately for him, he is still living; he is hopeless. I ordered him carried to his aunt's, the Countess de Castro's, close by here."
"Is he the countess's nephew?" said the king. "I was never told of it."
"Your Majesty has forgotten it," replied Rachimburg, quietly. "The poor child is fatally wounded in the shoulder; he cannot recover. It would give him great happiness could he see Your Majesty before he dies."
"Very well," returned the king; "lead me to him."
On his arrival at the castle Charming was met by the countess, who conducted him to a darkened room. The page was stretched, pale and bleeding, on a couch; nevertheless, he had strength to raise his head and welcome the king.
"What a miracle!" exclaimed Charming. "This is the strangest wound that I ever saw in my life: one side of Tonto's mustache is gone!"
"Sire," said the countess, "the blade of the sword probably swept off one side. Nothing is so capricious as sword wounds, as every one knows."
"How strange!" cried the king. "On one side it is Tonto, my page, my insolent subject, and on the other it is—no, I am not mistaken—it is you, my good angel and my savior; it is you, my poor Pazza!"
He fell on his knees and seized her hand, which lay on the coverlet.
"Sire," said Pazza, "my days are numbered, but before dying—"
"No, no, Pazza, you shall not die," cried the king, in tears.
"Before dying," she added, casting down her eyes, "I hope that Your Majesty will forgive me the box on the ear which I gave you this morning in indiscreet zeal—"
"Enough," said the king; "I forgive you. After all, a throne and honor were well worth—what I received."
"Alas!" said Pazza, "that is not all."
"What!" exclaimed Charming, "is there anything more?"
"Oh, sire, what have you done?" cried the countess; "my child is dying!"
"My Pazza, you must not die!" exclaimed the king. "Speak, and be sure that I forgive in advance all you have done. Alas! it is I that have need of forgiveness."
"Sire, the little doctor who took the liberty of boxing Your Majesty's ears—"
"Was it you that sent him?" asked Charming, with a frown.
"No, sire, I myself was he. Ah, what would I not have done to save my king! It was I who, to save Your Majesty from the traitorous knaves that surrounded you, took the liberty of boxing your ears—"
"Enough," said Charming; "I forgive you, though the lesson was a harsh one."
"Alas! this is not all," said Pazza.
"What, more?" cried the king, rising.
"Oh, aunt, I am dying!" exclaimed Pazza. By dint of care, however, she was restored to life; and, turning her languishing eyes toward the king, "Sire," said she, "the gipsy girl at the masked ball, who dared to box your ears—"
"Was yourself, Pazza?" said charming. "Oh, I forgive you for that; I well deserved it. How could I doubt you, who are sincerity itself! But, now I think of it, do you remember the rash vow that you made on the night of our marriage? You have kept your promise; it is for me to keep mine. Pazza, make haste to recover, and return to the castle from which happiness fled with you."
"I have a last favor to ask of Your Majesty," said Pazza. "Rachimburg was the witness this morning of a scene for which I blush, and of which all must remain ignorant. I commend this faithful servant to your goodness."
"Rachimburg," said the king, "take this purse, and keep the secret under penalty of your head."
"That makes the fourth," whispered Rachimburg to himself; "my fortune is made."
In a few moments Pazza was asleep. "Do you think that she will recover?" asked Charming, anxiously, of the countess.
"Bah!" said the old lady. "No matter how ill a woman may be, happiness will bring her back from the brink of the grave. Kiss the queen, my nephew; it will do her more good than all the doctors in the world."
Charming stooped and kissed the sleeping Pazza. An angelic smile stole over her features, at the sight of which he wept like a child.
A WIFE SHOULD OBEY HER HUSBAND
The countess was right (women are always right—past sixty). A fortnight of happiness set Pazza on her feet again, and enabled her to make a triumphant entry into the city with the king, her husband. Her paleness, and her wounded arm, which she carried in a sling, added to her grace and beauty. Charming had eyes for no one but the queen, and the people's looks followed the king's.
They were more than an hour in reaching the castle. The magistrates had erected not less than three triumphal arches, frowning fortresses, defended each by thirty-six deputations and thirty-six speeches. The first arch, made of trellis-work, and adorned with leaves and flowers, bore the inscription,
TO THE MOST TENDER AND FAITHFUL OF HUSBANDS
This was intrusted to the keeping of five or six thousand young girls, dressed in white, with pink ribbons, representing the spring of the year, the hope of the future, welcoming Glory and Beauty.
The second arch, more solidly built, was a frame covered with tapestry, surmounted by Justice, with her eyes bandaged and her scales in her hand.
On the pedestal of the statue was written,
TO THE FATHER OF HIS PEOPLE, THE BEST AND WISEST OF PRINCES
A host of priests, statesmen, and magistrates, in robes of all colors, represented Religion, Wisdom, and Virtue; at least so said these venerable and discreet personages, who are never in error.
Last came an immense arch, a true military trophy, bearing as its motto,
TO THE BOLDEST AND MOST VALIANT OF KINGS
Here the army awaited its general, and the queen was saluted by the majestic voice of a hundred cannon and two hundred drums—a voice before which all human eloquence falters, and which always has the last word.
I spare you a description of the dinner, which was interminable, and of sixty more speeches from the court gazette, where they had already done service two or three times, and wherein they were again deposited for the use of future generations. There is nothing so monotonous as happiness, and we must be indulgent to those who sing its praises officially. In such cases, the ablest is he who says the least.
The long evening, during which the king had lavished his most gracious smiles on those whom he despised at the bottom of his heart, was at length at an end, and Charming led Pazza, no longer to a dungeon, but to a magnificent apartment, where a new surprise awaited her. At the bottom of the room was an illuminated transparency, on which were written lines so bad that a king alone could have been the author of them. These lines, which were published in the official gazette, have been handed down to us by one of those indiscreet persons who suffer no follies of the past to be lost. Such persons are the rag-pickers of history.
Ye indolent dunces, who rust in your sloth, Too lazy or wilful to learn; Ye courtiers, who crowd round the king, nothing loth By base flattery his favor to earn; Ye doctors, who laugh at us cowards, and sell Long words and wise oracles dear— Beware lest some night a mischievous sprite Should give you a box on the ear.
And you, ye proud husbands, puffed up with conceit, Who deem yourselves statesmen so wise That the whole world admiringly bows at your feet— Who truth, love, and goodness despise— Beware lest some day your less frivolous wives, Derided by those they held dear, Should start from your side, aroused by just pride, And give you a box on the ear.
"What means this enigma, sire?" asked Pazza.
"It means that I do myself justice," answered the king. "I am nothing except through you, dear Pazza; all that I know and all that I think I owe to you. Without you I am nothing but a soulless body, fit only for follies."
"Pardon me if I contradict Your Majesty," said Pazza.
"Oh," returned the king, "I affect no false modesty; I know very well that I have the clearest head of any in my council; my ministers themselves are forced to acknowledge it, for they are always of my opinion; but with all this there is more wisdom in your little finger than in all my royal brain. My resolution, therefore, is fixed. Let my court and people celebrate my wisdom, my goodness, and even my valor; it is all very well, and I accept the homage. You alone have the right to laugh at it, and you will not betray me. But from this day I abandon my power to you. The king, my dear Pazza, will be only the chief of your subjects, the faithful minister of your will. You shall write the piece and I will play it; the applause will be mine, according to custom, and I will give it back to you by force of love."
"Do not talk in this way, my dear," said Pazza.
"I know what I am saying," returned the king, warmly. "I wish you to rule; I mean that in my empire, as in my house, nothing shall be done except by your command; I am the master and the king; I desire and order it."
"Sire," said Pazza, "I am your wife and servant; it is my duty to obey."
After this, says the chronicle, they lived happily to a good old age, beloved by all their subjects; and the people of the kingdom of Wild Oats still talk of the good old days of Prince Charming and the Princess Pazza.