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