Sullen and silent he brooded on the changes in his fortunes with no very satisfied mind. While he could not, as a brave man, refuse his respect and homage to the monarch who had quietly made himself complete master of the 'Revolutionary' organisation, and who had succeeded in turning thousands of disaffected persons into ardent Loyalists, he was nevertheless troubled by a lurking suspicion that Lotys had secretly known and favoured the King's scheme. Vaguely ashamed in his own mind of the idea, he yet found himself giving way to it now and again, as he remembered how she had defended his life,—not once but twice,—and how she had often frankly declared her admiration for the unselfishness, heroism, and tireless energy of the so-called 'Pasquin Leroy.' After much perplexed meditation, he came at last to one resolve.
"She must be my wife!" he said, his eyes gleaming with a sudden fire of passion and determination combined; "If,—as she says,—she does not love me, she must learn to love me! Then, all will be well! With her, it is possible I may reach still greater heights; without her, I can do nothing!"
Meantime, while the results of the Election to what was now called 'The Royal Government,' were being daily recorded in all parts of the world, and the King himself, from a selection of the ablest and most honourably-proved men of the time, was forming a new Ministry, the news of these radical changes in the kingdom's affairs, spreading rapidly everywhere by cable, as news always spreads nowadays, reached a certain far corner in one of the most beautiful provinces of India,—a corner scarcely known to the conventional traveller,—where, in a wondrous palace, lent to them by one of the most civilised and kindly of Oriental potentates,—a palace surrounded by gardens that might have been a true copy of the fabled Eden, Prince Humphry and the fair 'Gloria' of his life, were passing a happy, 'hidden-away' time of perfect repose.
The evening on which they learned that their own nation demanded their return was 'like the night of Al-Kadir, better than a thousand months.' All day long the heat had been intense,—and they had remained indoors enjoying the coolness of marble courts and corridors, and plashing fountains,—but with the sunset a soft breeze had sprung up, and Gloria, passing into the shadiest corner of the gardens, had laid herself down in a silken hammock swung between two broad sycamore trees, and there, gently swaying to and fro, she watched her husband reading the various European journals that had arrived for his host by that day's mail. Beautiful always, she had grown lovelier than ever in these halcyon days of rest, when 'Love took up the harp of Life and smote on all the chords with might; Smote the chord of Self, that, trembling, pass'd in music out of sight.' To her native grace she now united a distinctive dignity which added to her always gracious and queenly charm, and never had she looked more exquisite than now, when rocking gently in the suspended network of woven turquoise silk fringed with silver, she rested her head against cushions of the same delicate hue, and turned her expressive eyes enquiringly towards her husband,— wondering what kept him so silent, and what was the cause of the little line of anxiety which furrowed his brow. Clad in a loose diaphanous robe of white, with a simple band of silver clasping it round her supple form, her rich hair caught carelessly back with a knot of scarlet passion-flowers, she looked a creature too fair for earth, a being all divine; and the Prince presently turning his glances towards her, evidently thought so, from the adoring tenderness with which he bent over her and kissed the ripe, red, smiling lips which pouted so deliciously to take the offered caress.
"They want us back, my Gloria!" he said; "The Nation asks for me—and for you!"
She raised herself a little on one arm.
"Do they know all?"
"Yes! The King, my father, has announced everything concerning our marriage, not only to the Government, but by special 'manifesto' to the People. I did not think he would be so brave!"
"Or so true!" said Gloria, her eyes darkening and deepening with the intensity of her thought. "Let me read this strange news, Humphry!"
He gave her the papers,—and a few tears sparkled on her lashes like diamonds and fell, as with a beating heart she read of the complete triumph of the King over the Socialist and Revolutionary party,—of his march with the multitude to the Government House,—of his bold denunciation of Carl Perousse, ending in the utter overthrow of a fraudulent Ministry,—and of his determination to renounce for five years, one half his royal revenues in order to personally assist the deficit in the National Exchequer.
"He is, in very truth a King!" she said, looking up with flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes,—"Surely the noblest in the world!"
Prince Humphry's face expressed wonderment as well as admiration.
"I have been utterly mistaken in him,"—he confessed,—"Or else, something has greatly changed his ideas. I should never have deemed him capable of running so much risk of his position, or of showing so much heroism, candour and self-sacrifice. All my life I have been accustomed to see him more or less indifferent to everything but his own pleasure, and more or less careless of the griefs of others; but now it seems as if he had kept himself back on purpose, only to declare his true character more openly and boldly in the end!"
Gloria read on, with eagerness and interest, till she came to the King's 'manifesto' regarding his son's marriage with 'a daughter of the People.' She pointed to this expression with the tapering, rosy point of her delicate little finger.
"That is me!" she said; "I am a daughter of the People! I am proud of the name!"
"You are my wife!" said the Prince; "And you are Crown Princess of the realm!"
She looked meditative.
"I am not sure I like that title so well!" she said surveying him archly under the shadow of her long lashes; "Indeed—if you were not Crown Prince,—I should not like it at all!"
Prince Humphry smiled, and tenderly touched the scarlet passion-flowers in her hair.
"But as I am Crown Prince, you will try to put up with it, my Gloria!" and he kissed her again. "We must return home, Sweetheart!—and as speedily as possible,—though I am sorry our restful honey-time is over!"
Gloria looked wistfully around her,—over the long smooth undulating lawns, the thickets of myrtle and orange, the lovely deep groves of trees, and away to the peaks of the distant dark blue hills, over which a great golden moon was slowly rising.
"I am sorry too!" she said; "I could live always like this, in peace with you, far, far away from all the world! Hark!"
She held up her hand to invite attention, as the delicious warble of a nightingale, or 'bul-bul' broke the heated silence into liquid melody. Her lover-husband took that little uplifted hand, and drawing it in his own, kissed it fondly,—and so for a moment they were very quiet, while the little brown bird of music poured from its palpitating throat a cadence of heart-moving song. Gradually, the golden splendour of the Indian moonlight widened through the trees, enveloping them in its clear luminous radiance; and the two beautiful human creatures, gazing into each other's eyes with all the unspeakable rapture of a perfect love, touched that wondrous height of pure mutual passion which makes things temporal seem very far off, and things eternal very near.
"If life could always be like this," murmured Gloria; "We should surely understand God better! We should feel that He truly loved us, and wished us to love each other! Ah, if only all the world were as happy as I am!"
"You will help to make a great part of it so, my beloved!" said the Prince; "You will bring with you into our kingdom, comfort for the sorrowful, aid to the poor, sympathy for the lonely, thought for all! You will forget nothing that calls for your remembrance, my Sweet! And one nation at least, will know what it is to have a true woman's love to light up the darkness of a Throne!"
That night a cable message was sent by the Prince to his father, stating his intention to return home immediately. The Oriental potentate who had generously placed his palace at the Royal lovers' disposal, and had religiously preserved the secret of their identity and whereabouts, being himself much fascinated and interested by the romance of their story, now commanded festivals and illuminations for their entertainment before their departure, and within a fortnight of the despatch of his message, the Prince's yacht had left the mystic shores of the East, and started on its homeward journey.
The news that the Crown Prince was returning with his bride, set all the country in a flutter of excitement, and the General Election being concluded, and the meeting of the new Government being deferred until after the Heir-Apparent's return, the people of every city and town and province set themselves busily to work to prepare suitable festivities for the homecoming of the Royal pair. At The Islands especially the spirit of enthusiasm was complete—all sorts of ideas for fetes and sports, and bonfires and illuminations, exercised the minds of the simple fisher-folk, who were wild with joy at the singular destiny that had befallen their 'waif of the sea' as they were wont to call the beautiful girl who had grown up among them,—and the aged Rene Ronsard was made the centre of their interest and attention,—even of their adulation. But Ronsard had grown very listless of late. His age began to tell heavily upon him, and the news that Gloria was returning in all triumph as Crown Princess, moved him but little.
"She would have been happier as a simple sailor's wife!" he averred, when Professor von Glauben, who visited him constantly, sought to rouse him from the apathy into which he appeared to have sunk. "The greater the position, the heavier the burden!—the more outwardly brilliant the appearance of life, the deeper its secret bitterness!"
"But Gloria has Love with her, my friend!" urged the Professor; "And Love makes the bitterest things sweet!"
Ronsard's aged eyes sparkled faintly.
"Ay, Love!" he echoed; "A dream—a delusion—and a snare! Unless it be a love strong enough to drag one down to death!—and then it is the strongest power in the world! It is a terror and a martyrdom,—and in nothing shall its desire be thwarted! If It calls—even kings obey!"
BETWEEN TWO PASSIONS
Slowly, and with hesitating steps, Sergius Thord mounted the long flight of stairs leading to the quiet attic which Lotys called 'home.' Here she lived; here she had chosen to live ever since Thord had made her, as he said, the 'Soul of the Revolutionary Ideal.' Here, since the King had conquered the Revolutionary Ideal altogether, and had made it a Loyalist centre, did she dwell still, though she had now some thoughts of yielding to the child Pequita's earnest pleading, and taking up her abode with her and her father, in a pretty little house in the suburbs which, since Pequita's success as premiere danseuse at the Opera, Sholto had been able to afford, and to look upon as something like a comfortable dwelling-place. For with the election of Thord to the dignity of a Deputy, had, of course, come the necessity of resigning his old quarters where his 'Revolutionary' meetings had been held,—and he now resided in a more 'respectable' quarter of the city, in such sober, yet distinctive fashion as became one who was a friend of the King's, and who was likely to be a Minister some day, when he had further proved his political mettle. So that Sholto had no longer any need to try and eke out a scanty subsistence by letting rooms to revolutionists and 'suspects' generally,—and Thord himself had helped him to make a change for the better, as had also the King.
But Lotys had not as yet moved. She had lived so long among the desperately poor, who were accustomed to go to her for sympathy and aid, that she could not contemplate leaving so many sick and suffering and sorrowful ones alone to fight their bitter battle. So had she said, at least, to Thord, when he had endeavoured to persuade her to establish herself in greater comfort, and in a part of the city which had a 'better-class' reputation. She had listened to his suggestions with a somewhat melancholy smile.
"Once,—and not so very long ago,—for you there was no such thing as the 'better-class,' Sergius!" she said; "You were wont to declare that rich and poor alike were all one family in the sight of God!"
"I have not altered my opinion," said Thord, a slight flush colouring his cheek; "But—you are a woman—and as a woman should have every care and tenderness."
"So should my still poorer sisters," she replied; "And it is for those who have least comfort, that comfort should be provided. I am perfectly well and happy where I am!"
Remembering her fixed ideas on this point, there was an uneasy sense of trouble in Thord's mind as he ventured again on what he feared would be a fruitless errand.
"If I could command her!" he thought, chafing inwardly at his own impotence to persuade or lead this woman, whose character and will were so much more self-contained and strong than his own. "If I could only exercise some authority over her! But I cannot. What small debt of gratitude she owed me as a child, has long been cleared by her constant work and the assistance she has given to me,—and unless she will consent to be my wife, I know I shall lose her altogether. For she will never submit to live on money that she has not earned."
Arrived at the summit of the staircase he had been climbing, he knocked at the first door which faced him on the uppermost landing.
"Come in!" said the low, sweet voice that had thrilled and comforted so many human souls; and entering as he was bidden, he saw Lotys seated in a low chair near the window, rocking a tiny infant, so waxen-like and meagre, that it looked more like a corpse than a living child.
"The mother died last night," she said gently, in response to his look of interrogation; "She had been struggling against want and sickness for a long time. God was merciful in taking her at last! The father has to go out all day in search of work,—often a vain search; so I do what I can for this poor little one!"
And she bent over the forlorn waif of humanity, kissing its pale small face, and pressing it soothingly to her warm, full breast. She looked quite beautiful in that Madonna-like attitude of protection and love,— her gold hair drooping against the slim whiteness of her throat,—her deep blue eyes full of that tenderness for the defenceless and weak, which is the loveliest of all womanly expressions.
Sergius Thord drew a chair opposite to her, and sat down.
"You are always doing good, Lotys!" he said, with a slight tremor in his voice; "There is no day in your life without its record of help to the helpless!"
She shook her head deprecatingly, and went on caressing and soothing the tiny babe in silence.
After a pause, he spoke again.
"I have come to you, Lotys, to ask you many things!"
She looked up with a little smile.
"Do you need advice, Sergius? Nay, surely not!—you have passed beyond it—you are a great man!"
He moved impatiently.
"Great? What do you mean? I am Deputy for the city, it is true—but that is not the height of my ambition; it is only a step towards it."
"To what do you aspire?" she queried. "A place in the Ministry? You will get that if you wait long enough! And then—will you be satisfied?"
"No—I shall never be satisfied—never till—"
He broke off and shifted his position. His fierce eyes rested tenderly upon her as she sat holding the motherless infant caressingly in her arms.
"You have heard the latest news?" he asked presently, "That Carl Perousse has left the country?"
"No, I have not heard that," said Lotys; "But why was he allowed to go without being punished for his dishonesty?"
"To punish him, would have involved the punishment of many more associated with him," replied Thord; "His estates are confiscated;—the opportunity was given him to escape, in order to avoid further Ministerial scandals,—and he has taken the chance afforded him!"
She was silent.
"Jost too has gone," pursued Thord; "He has sold his paper to his chief rival. So that now both journals are amalgamated under one head, and work for the same cause—our cause, and the King's."
Lotys looked up with a slight smile.
"It is the same old system then?" she said. "For whereas before there was one newspaper subsidised by a fraudulent Ministry, there are now two, subsidised by the Royal Government;—with which the Socialist party is united!"
"You mistake! We shall subsidise no newspaper whatever. We shall not pursue any such mistaken policy."
"Believe me, you will be compelled to do so, Sergius!" she declared, still smiling; "Or some other force will step in! Do you not see that politics always revolve in the same monotonous round? You have called me the Soul of an Ideal,—but even when I worked my hardest with you, I knew it was an Ideal that could never be realised! But the practice of your theories led me among the poor, where I felt I could be useful,— and for this reason I conjoined what brains I had, what strength I had, with yours. Yet, no matter how men talk of 'Revolution,' any and every form of government is bound to run on the old eternal lines, whether it be Imperial, Socialistic or Republican. Men are always the same children—never satisfied,—ever clamouring for change,—tired of one toy and crying for another,—so on and on,—till the end! I would rather save a life"—and she glanced pityingly down upon the sleeping infant she held-"than upset a throne!"
"I quite believe that;" said Sergius slowly; "You are a woman, most womanly! If you could only learn to love——"
He paused, startled at the sudden rush of colour that spread over her cheeks and brow; but it was a wave of crimson that soon died away, leaving her very pale.
"Love is not for me, Sergius!" she said; "I am no longer young. Besides, the days of romance never existed for me at all, and now it is too late. I have grown too much into the habit of looking upon men as poor little emmets, clambering up and down the same tiny hill of earth,—their passions, their ambitions, their emotions, their fightings and conquests, their panoply and pride, do not interest me, though they move me to pity; I seem to stand alone, looking beyond, straight through the glorious world of Nature, up to the infinite spaces above, searching for God!"
"Yet you care for that waif?" said Thord with a gesture towards the child she held.
"Because it is helpless," she answered; "only that! If it ever lives to grow up and be a man, it will forget that a woman ever held it, or cherished it so! No wild beast of the forest—no treacherous serpent of the jungle, is more cruel in its inherited nature, than man when he deals with woman;—as lover, he betrays her,—as wife, he neglects her,—as mother, he forgets her!"
"You have a bad opinion of my sex!" said Thord, half angrily; "Would you say thus much of the King?"
She started, then controlled herself.
"The King is brave,—but beyond exceptional courage, I do not think he differs from other men."
"Have you seen him lately?"
The answer came coldly, and with evident resentment at the query. Thord hesitated a minute or two, looking at her yearningly; then he suddenly laid his hand on her arm.
"Lotys!" he said in a half-whisper; "If you would only love me! If you would be my wife!"
She raised her dark-blue pensive eyes.
"My poor Sergius! With all your triumphs, do you still hanker for a wayside weed? Alas!—the weed has tough roots that cannot be pulled up to please you! I would make you happy if I could, dear friend!—but in the way you ask, I cannot!"
His heart beat thickly.
"Why? Ask why the rain will not melt marble into snow! I love you, Sergius—but not with such love as you demand. And I would not be your wife for all the world!"
He restrained himself with difficulty.
She gave a slight movement of impatience.
"In the first place, because we should not agree. In the second place, because I abhor the very idea of marriage. I see, day by day, what marriage means, even among the poor—the wreck of illusions—the death of ideals—the despairing monotony of a mere struggle to live—"
"I shall not be poor now;" said Thord; "All my work would be to make you happy, Lotys! I would surround you with every grace and luxury— with love, with worship, with tenderness! With your intelligence and fascination you would be honoured,—famous!"
He broke off, interrupted by her gesture of annoyance.
"Let me hear no more of this, Sergius!" she said. "You were very good to me when I was a castaway child, and I do not forget it. But you must not urge a claim upon me to which I cannot respond. I have given some of the best years of my life to assist your work, to win you your followers,—and to advance what I have always recognised as an exalted, though impossible creed—but now, for the rest of the time left to me, I must have my own way!"
He sprang up suddenly and confronted her.
"My God!" he cried. "Is it possible you do not understand! All my work —all my plans—all my scheming and plotting has been for you—to make you happy! To give you high place and power! Without you, what do I care for the world? What do I care whether men are rich or poor— whether they starve or die! It is you I want to serve—you! It is for your sake I have desired to win honour and position. Have pity on me, Lotys! Have pity! I have seen you grow up to womanhood—I have loved every inch of your stature—every hair of the gold on your head—every glance of your eyes—every bright flash of your intelligent spirit! Oh, I have loved you, and love you, Lotys, as no man ever loved woman! Everything I have attempted—everything I have done, has been that you might think me worthier of love. For the Country and the People I care nothing—nothing! I only care for you!"
She rose, holding the sleeping child to her like a shield. Her features seemed to have grown rigid with an inflexible coldness.
"So then," she said, "You are no better than the men you have blamed! You confess yourself as false to the People as the Minister you have displaced! You have served their Cause,—not because you love them, but simply because you love Me!—and you would force me to become your wife, not because you love Me, so much as you love Yourself! Self alone is at the core of your social creed! Why, you are not a whit higher than the vulgarest millionaire that ever stole a people's Trade to further his own ends!"
"Lotys! Lotys!" he cried, stung to the quick; "You judge me wrongly—by Heaven, you do!"
"I judge you only by your own words;" she answered steadily; "They condemn you more than I do. I thought you were sincere in your love for the People! I thought your work was all for them,—not for me! I judged that you sought to gain authority in order to remedy their many wrongs;—but if, after all, you have been fighting your way to power merely to make yourself, as you thought, more acceptable to me as a husband, you have deceived me in the honesty of your intentions as grossly as you have deceived the King!"
"The King!" he cried; "The King!"
She flashed a proud and passionate glance upon him—and then—he suddenly found himself alone. She had left the room; and though he knew there was only one wall, one door between them, he dared not follow.
Glancing around him at the simple furniture of the chamber he stood in, which, though only an attic, was bright and fresh and sweet, with bunches of wildflowers set here and there in simple and cheap crystal vases, he sighed heavily. The poor and 'obscure' life was perhaps, after all, the highest, holiest and best! All at once his eyes lighted on one large cluster of flowers that were neither wild nor common, a knot of rare roses and magnificent orchids, tied together with a golden ribbon. He looked at them jealously, and his soul was assailed by sudden resentment and suspicion. His face changed, his teeth closed hard on his under lip, and he clenched his hand unconsciously.
"If it is so—if it should be so!" he muttered; "There may be yet another and more complete Day of Fate!"
He left the room then, descending the stairs more rapidly than he had climbed them, and as he went out of the house and up the street, he stumbled against Paul Zouche.
"Whither away, brave Deputy?" cried this irresponsible being; "Whither away? To rescue the poor and the afflicted?—or to stop the King from poaching on your own preserves?"
With a force of which he was himself unconscious, he gripped Zouche by the arm.
"What do you mean?" he whispered thickly;—"Speak! What do you know?"
Zouche laughed stupidly.
"What do I know?" he echoed; "Why, what should I know, blockhead, save what all who have eyes to see, know as well as I do! Sergius, your grasp is none of the lightest; let me go!" Then as the other's hand fell from his arm, he continued. "It is you who are the blind man leading the blind! You—who like all thick-skulled reformers, can never perceive what goes on under your own nose! But what does it matter? What does anything matter? I told you long ago she would never love you; I knew long ago that she loved his Majesty, 'Pasquin Leroy!'"
"Curse you!" said Thord suddenly, in such low infuriated accents that the oath sounded more like a wild beast's snarl. "Why did you not tell me? Why did you not warn me?"
Zouche shrugged his shoulders, and began to sidle aimlessly along the roadway.
"You would not have believed me!" he said; "Nobody believes anything that is unpleasant to themselves! If you had not some suspicion in your own mind, you would not believe me now! I am foolish—you are wise! I am a poet—you are a reformer! I am drunk—you are sober! And with it all, Lotys is the only one who keeps her head clear. Lotys was always the creature of common-sense among us; she understood you—she understood me—and better than either of us—she understood the King!"
"No, no!" whispered Thord, more to himself than his companion; "She could not—she could not have known!"
"Now you look as Nature meant you to look!" exclaimed Zouche, staring wildly at him; "Savage as a bear;—pitiless as a snake! God! What men can become when they are baulked of their desires! But it is no use, my Sergius!—you have gained power in one direction, but you have lost it in another! You cannot have your cake, and eat it!" Here he reeled against the wall,—then straightening himself with a curious effort at dignity, he continued: "Leave her alone, Sergius! Leave Lotys in peace! She is a good soul! Let her love where she will and how she will,—she has the right to choose her lover,—the right!—by Heaven!—it is a right denied to no woman! And if she has chosen the King, she is only one of many who have done the same!"
With a smothered sound between a curse and a groan, Thord suddenly wheeled round away from him and left him. Vaguely surprised, yet too stupefied to realise that his rambling words might have worked serious mischief, Zouche gazed blinkingly on his retreating figure.
"The same old story!" he muttered, with a foolish laugh; "Always a woman in it! He has won leadership and power,—he has secured the friendship of a King,—but if the King is his rival in matters of love— ah!—that is a worse danger for the Throne than the spread of Socialism!"
He rambled off unthinkingly, and gave the only part of him which remained still active, his poetic instinct, up to the composition of a delicate love-song, which he wrote between two taverns and several drinks.
Late in the afternoon—just after sundown—a small close brougham drove up to the corner of the street where stood the tenement house,—divided into several separate flats,—in which the attic where Lotys dwelt was one of the most solitary and removed portions. The King alighted from the carriage unobserved, and ascended the stairs on which Sergius Thord's steps had echoed but a few hours gone by. Knocking at the door as Sergius had done, he was in the same way bidden to enter, but as he did so, Lotys, who was seated within, quite alone, started up with a faint cry of terror.
"You here!" she exclaimed in trembling accents; "Oh, why, why have you come! Sir, I beg of you to leave this place!—at once, before there is any chance of your being seen; your Majesty should surely know——!"
"Majesty me no majesties, Lotys!" said the King, lightly; "I have been forbidden this little shrine too long! Why should I not come to see you? Are you not known as an angel of comfort to the sorrowful and the lonely?—and will you not impart such consolation to me, as I may, in my many griefs deserve? Nay, Lotys, Lotys! No tears!—no tears, dearest of women! To see you weep is the only thing that could possibly unman me, and make even 'Pasquin Leroy' lose his nerve!"
He approached her, and sought to take her hand, but she turned away from him, and he saw her bosom heave with a passion of repressed weeping.
"Lotys!" he then said, with exceeding gentleness; "What is this? Why are you unhappy? I have written to you every day since that night when your lips clung to mine for one glad moment,—I have poured out my soul to you with more or less eloquence, and surely with passion!—every day I have prayed you to receive me, and yet you have vouchsafed no reply to one who is by your own confession 'the only man you love'! Ah, Lotys!—you will not now deny that sweet betrayal of your heart! Do you know that was the happiest day of my life?—the day on which I was threatened by Death, and saved by Love!"
His mellow voice thrilled with its underlying tenderness;—he caught her hand and kissed it; but she was silent.
With all the yearning passion which had been pent up in him for many months, he studied the pure outlines of her brow and throat—the falling sunlight glow of her hair—the deep azure glory of the pitying eyes, half veiled beneath their golden lashes, and just now sparkling with tears.
"All my life," he said softly, still holding her hand; "I have longed for love! All my life I have lacked it! Can you imagine, then, what it was to me, Lotys, when I heard you say you loved my Resemblance,—the poor Pasquin Leroy!—and even so I knew you loved me? When you praised me as Pasquin, and cursed me as King, how my heart burned with desire to clasp you in my arms, and tell you all the truth of my disguise! But to hear you speak as you did of me, so unconsciously, so tenderly, so bravely, was the sweetest gladness I have ever known! I felt myself a king at last, in very deed and truth!—and it was for the love of you, and because of your love for me, that I determined to do all I could for my son Humphry, and the woman of his choice! For, finding myself loved, I swore that he should not be deprived of love. I have done what I could to ensure his happiness; but after all, it is your doing, and the result of your influence! You are the sole centre of my good deeds, Lotys!—you have been my star of destiny from the very first day I saw you!—from the moment when I signed my bond with you in your own pure blood, I loved you! And I know that you loved me!"
She turned her eyes slowly upon him,—what eyes!—tearless now, and glittering with the burning fever of the sad and suffering soul behind them.
"You forget!" she said in hushed, trembling accents; "You are the King!"
He lifted her hand to his lips again, and pressed its cool small palm against his brows.
"What then, my dearest? Must the King, because he is King, go through life unloved?"
"Unless the King is loved with honour," said Lotys in the same hushed voice; "He must go unloved!"
He dropped her hand and looked at her. She was very pale—her breath came and went quickly, but her eyes were fixed upon him steadily,—and though her whole heart cried out for his sympathy and tenderness, she did not flinch.
"Lotys!" he said; "Are you so cold, so frozen in an ice-wall of conventionality that you cannot warm to passion—not even to that passion which every pulse of you is ready to return? What do you want of me? Lover's oaths? Vows of constancy? Oh, beloved woman as you are, do you not understand that you have entered into my very heart of hearts—that you hold my whole life in your possession? You—not I—are the ruling power of this country! What you say, that I will do! What you command, that will I obey! While you live, I will live—when you die, I will die! Through you I have learned the value of sovereignty,— the good that can be done to a country by honest work in kingship,— through you I have won back my disaffected subjects to loyalty;—it is all you—only you! And if you blamed me once as a worthless king, you shall never have cause to so blame me again! But you must help me,—you must help me with your love!"
She strove to control the beating of her heart, as she looked upon him and listened to his pleading. She resolutely shut her soul to the persuasive music of his voice, the light of his eyes, the tenderness of his smile.
"What of the Queen?" she said.
He started back, as though he had been stung.
"The Queen!" he repeated, mechanically—"The Queen!"
"Ay, the Queen!" said Lotys. "She is your wife—the mother of your sons! She has never loved you, you would say,—you have never loved her. But you are her husband! Would you make me your mistress?"
Her voice was calm. She put the plain question point-blank, without a note of hesitation. His face paled suddenly.
"Lotys!" he said, and stretched out his hands towards her; "Lotys, I love you!"
A change passed over her,—rapid and transfiguring as a sudden radiance from heaven. With an impulsive gesture, beautiful in its wild abandonment, she cast herself at his feet.
"And I love you!" she said. "I love you with every breath of my body, every pulse of my heart! I love you with the entire passion of my life! I love you with all the love pent up in my poor starved soul since childhood until now!—I love you more than woman ever loved either lover or husband! I love you, my lord and King!—but even as I love you, I honour you! No selfish thought of mine shall ever tarnish the smallest jewel in your Crown! Oh, my beloved! My Royal soul of courage! What do you take me for? Should I be worthy of your thought if I dragged you down? Should I be Lotys,—if, like some light woman who can be bought for a few jewels,—I gave myself to you in that fever of desire which men mistake for love? Ah, no!—ten thousand times no! I love you! Look at me,—can you not see how my soul cries out for you? How my lips hunger for your kisses—how I long, ah, God! for all the tenderness which I know is in your heart for me,—I, so lonely, weary, and robbed of all the dearest joys of life!—but I will not shame you by my love, my best and dearest! I will not set you one degree lower in the thoughts of the People, who now idolise you and know you as the brave, true man you are! My love for you would be poor indeed, if I could not sacrifice myself altogether for your sake,—you, who are my King!"
He heard her,—his whole soul was shaken by the passion of her words.
"Lotys!" he said,—and again—"Lotys!"
He drew her up from her kneeling attitude, and gathering her close in his arms, kissed her tenderly, reverently—as a man might kiss the lips of the dead.
"Must it be so, Lotys?" he whispered; "Must we dwell always apart?"
Her eyes, beautiful with a passion of the highest and holiest love, looked full into his.
"Always apart, yet always together, my beloved!" she answered; "Together in thought, in soul, in aspiration!—in the hope and confidence that God sees us, and knows that we seek to live purely in His sight! Oh, my King, you would not have it otherwise! You would not have our love defiled! How common and easy it would be for me to give myself to you!—as other women are only too ready to give themselves,— to take your tenderness, your care, your admiration,—to demand your constant attendance on my lightest humour!—to bring you shame by my persistent companionship!—to cause an open slander, and allow the finger of scorn to be pointed at you!—to see your honour made a mockery of, by base, persons who would judge you as one, who, notwithstanding his brave espousal of the People's Cause, was yet a slave to the caprice of a woman! Think something more of me than this! Do not put me on the level of such women as once brought your name into contempt! They did not love you!—they loved themselves! But I—I love you! Oh, my dearest lord, if self were concerned at all in this great love of my heart, I would not suffer your arms to rest about me now!— I would not let your lips touch mine!—but it is for the last time, beloved!—the last time! And so I put my hands here on your heart—I kiss your lips—I say with all my soul in the prayer—God bless you!—God keep you!—God save you, my King! Though I shall live apart from you all my days, my spirit is one with yours! God will know that truth when we meet—on the other side of Death!"
Her tears fell fast, and he bent over her, torn by a tempest of conflicting emotions, and kissing the soft hair that lay loosely ruffled against his breast.
"Then it shall be so, Lotys!" he murmured, at last. "Your wish is my law!—it shall be as you command! I will fulfil such duties as I must in this world,—and the knowledge of your love for me,—your trust in me,—shall keep me high in the People's honour! Old follies shall be swept away—old sins atoned for;—and when we meet, as you say, on the other side of Death, God will perchance give us all that we have longed for in this world—all that we have lost!"
His voice shook,—he could not further rely on his self-control.
"I will not tempt you, Lotys!" he whispered—"I dare not tempt myself! God bless you!"
He put her gently from him, and stood for a moment irresolute. All the hope he had indulged in of a sweeter joy than any he had ever known, was lost,—and yet—he knew he had no right to press upon her a love which, to her, could only mean dishonour.
"Good-bye, Lotys!" he said, huskily; "My one love in this world and the next! Good-bye!"
She gazed at him with her whole soul in her eyes,—then suddenly, and with the tenderest grace in the world, dropped on her knees and kissed his hand.
"God save your Majesty!" she said, with a poor little effort at smiling through her tears; "For many and many a long and happy year, when Lotys is no more!"
With a half cry he snatched her up in his arms and pressed her to his heart, showering kisses on her lips, her eyes, her hair, her little hands!—then, with a movement as abrupt as it was passion-stricken, put her quickly from him and left her.
She listened with straining ears to the quick firm echo of his footsteps departing from her, and echoing down the stairs. She caught the ring of his tread on the pavement outside. She heard the grinding roll of the wheels of his carriage as he was rapidly driven away. He had gone! As she realised this, her courage suddenly failed her, and sinking down beside the chair in which he had for a moment sat, she laid her head upon it, and wept long and bitterly. Her conscience told her that she had done well, but her heart—the starving woman's heart,— was all unsatisfied, and clamoured for its dearest right—love! And she had of her own will, her own choice, put love aside,—the most precious, the most desired love in the world!—she had sent it away out of her life for ever! True, she could call it back, if she chose with a word—but she knew that for the sake of a king, and a country's honour, she would not so call it back! She might have said with one of the most human of poets:
"Will someone say, then why not ill for good? Why took ye not your pastime? To that man My word shall answer, since I knew the Right And did it." [Footnote: Tennyson ]
A shadowy form moving uncertainly to and fro near the corner of the street, appeared to spring forward and to falter back again, as the King, hurriedly departing, glanced up and down the street once or twice as though in doubt or questioning, and then walked to his brougham. The soft hues of a twilight sky, in which the stars were beginning to appear, fell on his face and showed it ashy pale; but he was absorbed in his own sad and bitter thoughts,—lost in his own inward contemplation of the love which consumed him,—and he saw nothing of that hidden watcher in the semi-gloom, gazing at him with such fierce eyes of hate as might have intimidated even the bravest man. He entered his carriage and was rapidly driven away, and the shadow,—no other than Sergius Thord,—stumbling forward,—his brain on fire, and a loaded pistol in his hand,—had hardly realised his presence before he was gone.
"Why did I not kill him?" he muttered, amazed at his own hesitation; "He stood here, close to me! It would have been so easy!"
He remained another moment or two gazing around him at the streets, at the roofs, at the sky, as though in a wondering dream,—then all at once, it seemed as if every cell in his brain had suddenly become superhumanly active. His eyes flashed fury,—and turning swiftly into the house which the King had just left, he ran madly up the stairs as though impelled by a whirlwind, and burst without bidding, straight into the room where Lotys still knelt, weeping. At the noise of his entrance she started up, the tears wet on her face.
"Sergius!" she cried.
He looked at her, breathing heavily.
"Yes,—Sergius!" he said, his voice sounding thick and husky, and unlike itself. "I am Sergius! Or I was Sergius, before you made of me a nameless devil! And you—you are Lotys!—you are weeping for the lover who has just parted from you! You are Lotys—the mistress of the King!"
She made him no answer. Drawing herself up to her full height, she flashed upon him a look of utter scorn, and maintained a contemptuous silence.
"Mistress of the King!" he repeated, speaking in hard gasps; "You,— Lotys,—have come to this! You,—the spotless Angel of our Cause! You!—why,—I sicken at the sight of you! Oh, you fulfil thoroughly the mission of your sex!—which is to dupe and betray men! You were the traitor all along! You knew the real identity of 'Pasquin Leroy'! He was your lover from the first,—and to him you handed the secrets of the Committee, and played Us into his hands! It was well done— cleverly done!—woman's work in all its best cunning!—but treachery does not always pay!"
Amazed and indignant, she boldly confronted him.
"You must be mad, Sergius! What do you mean? What sudden accusations are these? You know they are false—why do you utter them?"
He sprang towards her, and seized her roughly by the arm.
"How do I know they are false?" he said. "Prove to me they are false! Who saved the King's life? You! And why? Because you knew he was 'Pasquin Leroy'! How was it he gained such swift ascendancy over all our Committee, and led the work and swayed the men,—and made of me his tool and servant? Through you again! And why? Because you knew he was the King! Why have you scorned me—turned from me—thrust me from your side—denied my love,—though I have loved and cared for you from childhood! Why, I say? Because you love the King!"
She stood perfectly still,—unmoved by his frantic manner—by the glare of his bloodshot eyes, and his irrepressible agony of rage and jealousy. Quietly she glanced him up and down.
"You are right!" she said tranquilly; "I do love the King!"
A horrible oath broke from his lips, and for a moment his face grew crimson with the rising blood that threatened to choke the channels of his brain. An anxious pity softened her face.
"Sergius!" she said gently, "You are not yourself—you rave—you do not know what you say! What has maddened you? What have I done? You know my life is free—I have a right to do with it as I will, and even as my life is free, so is my love! I cannot love where I am bidden—I must love where Love itself calls!"
He stood still, staring at her. He seemed to have lost the power of speech.
"You have insulted me almost beyond pardon!" she went on. "Your accusations are all lies! I love the King,—but I am not the King's mistress! I would no more be his mistress than I would be your wife!"
Slowly, slowly, his hand got at something in his pocket and clutched it almost unconsciously. Slowly, slowly, he raised that hand, still clutching that something,—and his lips parted in a breathless way, showing the wolfish glimmer of white teeth within.
"You—love—the King!" he said in deliberate accents. "And you dare— you dare to tell me so?"
She raised her golden head with a beautiful defiance and courage.
"I love the King!" she said—"And I dare to tell you so!"
With a lightning quickness of movement the hand that had been groping after an unseen evil now came out into the light, with a sudden sharp crash, and flame of fire!
A faint cry tore the air.
And Lotys staggered back—stunned, deafened—sick, dizzy——
"Death, death!" she thought, wildly; "This is death!"
And, with a last desperate rallying of her sinking force, as every memory of her life swept over her brain in that supreme moment, she sprang at her murderer and wrenched the weapon from his hand, clutching it hard and fast in her own.
"Say—say I did it—myself—!" she gasped, in short quick sobs of pain; "Tell the King—I did it myself—myself! Sergius—save your own life!—I—forgive!"
She reeled, and with a choking cry fell back heavily—dead! Her hair came unbound with her fall, and shook itself round her in a gold wave, as though to hide the horror of the oozing blood that trickled from her lips and breast.
With a horrid sense of unreality Thord stared upon the evil he had done. He gazed stupidly around him. He listened for someone to come and explain to him what had happened. But up in that remote attic, there was no one to hear either a pistol-shot or a cry. There was only one thing to be understood and learnt by heart,—that Lotys, once living, was now dead! Dead! How came she dead? That was what he could not determine. The heat of his wild fury had passed,—leaving him cold and passive as a stone.
He whispered the name. Horrible! How she looked,—with all that blood!— all that golden hair!
'Tell the King I did it myself!' Yes—the King would have to be told— something! Stooping, he tried to detach the pistol from the lifeless hand, but the fingers, though still warm were tightened on the weapon, and he dared not unclasp them. He was afraid! He stood up again, and looked around him. His glance fell on the knot of regal flowers he had noticed in the morning,—the great roses,—the voluptuous orchids—tied with their golden ribbon. He took them hastily and flung them down beside her,—then watched a little trickling stream of blood running, running towards one of the whitest and purest of the roses. It reached it, stained it,—and presently drowned it in a little pool. Horrified, he covered his eyes, and staggered backward against the door. The evening was growing dark,—through the small high window he could see the stars beginning to shine as usual. As usual,—though Lotys was dead! That seemed strange! Putting one hand behind him, he cautiously opened the door, still keeping his guarded gaze on that huddled heap of clothes, and blood, and glittering hair which had been Lotys.
"I must get home," he muttered. "I have business to attend to—as Deputy to the city, there is much to do—much to do for the People! The People! My God! And Lotys dead!"
A kind of hysteric laughter threatened him. He pressed his mouth hard with his hand to choke back this strange, struggling passion.
"Lotys! Lotys is dead! There she lies! Someone, I know not who, killed her! No,—no! She has killed herself,—she said so! There she lies, poor Lotys! She will never speak to the People—never comfort them,— never teach them any more—never hold little motherless infants in her arms and console them,—never smile on the sorrowful, or cheer the sick—never! 'I love the King!' she said,—and she died for saying it! One should not love kings! 'Tell the King I did it myself!' Yes, Lotys!—lie still—be at peace—the King shall know—soon enough!"
Still muttering uneasily to himself, he went out, always moving backwards—and with a last look at that fallen breathless form of murdered woman, shut the door stealthily behind him.
Then, stumbling giddily down the stairs, he wandered, blind and half crazed, into the darkening night.
SAILING TO THE INFINITE
Great calamities always come suddenly. With the swiftness of lightning they descend upon the world, often in the very midst of fancied peace and security,—and the farcical, grinning, sneering apes of humanity, for whom even the idea of a God has but furnished food for lewd jesting, are scattered into terror-stricken hordes, who are forced to realise for the first time in their lives, that whether they believe in Omnipotence or no, an evident Law of Justice exists, which may not be outraged with impunity. Sometimes this Law works strangely,—one might almost say obliquely. It sweeps away persons whom we have judged as useful to the community, and allows those to remain whom we consider unnecessary. But 'we,'—all important 'we,'—are not allowed to long assert or maintain our petty opinions against this unknown undetermined Force which makes havoc of all our best and most carefully conceived arrangements. For example, we are not given any practical reason why Christ,—the Divine Man,—was taken from the world in His youthful manhood, instead of being permitted to live to a great age for the further benefit, teaching, and sanctification of His disciples and followers. Pure, sinless, noble, and truly of God, He was tortured and crucified as though He were the worst of criminals. And apart from the Church's explanation of this great Mystery, we may take it as a lesson that misfortune is like everything else, two-sided;—it falls equally upon the ungodly and the godly,—with merely this difference—that when it falls on the ungodly it is, as we are reluctantly forced to admit, 'the act of God'—but when it falls on the godly, it is generally the proved and evident work of Man.
In this last way, and for no fault at all of her own, had cruel death befallen Lotys. Such as her career had been, it was unmarked by so much as a shadow of selfishness or wickedness. From the first day of her life, sorrow had elected her for its own. She had never known father or mother;—cast out as an infant in the street, and picked up by Sergius Thord, she had secured no other protector for her infancy and youth, than the brooding, introspective man, who was destined in the end to be her murderer. As a child, she had been passionately grateful to him; she had learned all she could from the books he gave her to study, and with a quick brain, and a keen sense of observation, she had become a proficient in literature, so much so indeed, that more than one half the Revolutionary treatises and other propaganda which he had sent out to different quarters of the globe, were from her pen. Her one idea had been to please and to serve him,—to show her gratitude for his care of her, and to prove herself useful to him in all his aims. As she grew up, however, she quickly discerned that his affection for her was deepening into the passion of a lover; whereupon she had at once withdrawn from his personal charge, and had made up her mind to live alone and independently. She desired, so she told him, to subsist on her own earnings,—and he who could do nothing successfully without her, was only too glad to give her the rightful share of such financial results as accrued from the various workings of the Revolutionary Committee,—results which were sometimes considerable, though never opulent. And so she had worked on, finding her best happiness in succouring the poor, and nursing the sick. Her girlhood had passed without either joy or love,—her womanhood had been bare of all the happiness that should have graced it. The people had learned to love her, it is true,—but this more or less distantly felt affection was far from being the intimate and near love for which she had so often longed. When at last this love had come to her,—when in 'Pasquin Leroy' she thought she had found the true companion of her life and heart,—when he had constantly accompanied her by his own choice, on her errands of mercy among the poor; and had aided the sick and the distressed by his own sympathy and tenderness, she had almost allowed herself to dream of possible happiness. This dream had been encouraged more than ever, after she had saved the King from assassination. 'Pasquin Leroy' had then become her closest comrade,—always at hand, and ever ready to fulfil her slightest behest;—while from his ardent and eloquent glances,—the occasional lingering pressure of his hand, and the hastily murmured words of tenderness which she could not misunderstand, she knew that he loved her. But when he had disclosed his real identity to be that of the King himself, all her fair hopes had vanished!—and her spirit had shrunk and fallen under the blow. Worse than all,—when she learned that this great and exalted Personage, despite his throned dignity, did still continue to entertain a passion for herself, the knowledge was almost crushing in its effect upon her mind. Pure in soul and body, she would have chosen death any time rather than dishonour; and in the recent developments of events she had sometimes grown to consider death as good, and even desirable. Now death had come to her through the very hand that had first aided her to live! And so had she fulfilled the common lot of women, which is, taken in the aggregate, to be wronged and slain (morally, when not physically) by the very men they have most unselfishly sought to serve!
The heavy night passed away, and all through its slow hours the murdered creature lay weltering in her blood, and shrouded in her hair,—looked at by the pitiless stars and the cold moon, as they shed their beams in turn through the high attic window. Morning broke; and the sun shot its first rays down upon the dead,—upon the fixed white countenance, and on the little hand grown icy cold, but clenched with iron grip upon the pistol which had been so bravely snatched in that last moment of life with the unselfish thought of averting suspicion from the true murderer. With the full break of day, the mistress of the house going to arouse her lodgers, came up the stairs with a bright face, cheerfully singing, for her usual morning chat with Lotys was one of her principal pleasures. Knocking at the door, and receiving no answer, she turned the handle and pushed it open,—then, with a piercing scream of horror, she rushed away, calling wildly for help, and sending frantic cries down the street.
"Lotys! Lotys! Lotys is dead!"
The news flew. The houses poured out their poverty-stricken occupants from garret to basement; and presently the street was blocked with a stupefied, grief-stricken crowd. A doctor who had been hastily summoned, lifted the poor corpse of her whose life had been all love and pity, and laid it upon the simple truckle-bed, where the living Lotys had slept, contented with poverty for many years; and after close and careful examination pronounced it to be a case of suicide. The word created consternation among all the people.
"Suicide!" they murmured uneasily; "Why should she kill herself? We all loved her!"
Ay! They all loved her!—and only now when she was gone did they realise how great that love had been, or how much her thought and tenderness for them all, had been interwoven with their lives! They had never stopped to think of the weariness and emptiness of her own life, or of the longing she herself might have had for the love and care she so freely gave to others. By and by, as the terrible news was borne in upon them more convincingly, some began to weep and wail, others to kneel and pray, others to recall little kindnesses, thoughtful deeds, unselfish tendernesses, and patient endurances of the dead woman who, friendless herself, had been their truest friend.
"Who will tell Sergius Thord?" asked a man in the crowd; "Who will break the news to him?"
There was an awe-stricken silence. No one volunteered such heart- rending service.
"Who will tell the King?" suddenly exclaimed a harsh voice, that of Paul Zouche, who in his habit of hardly ever going to bed, had seen the crowd gather, and had quickly joined it. "Lotys saved his life! He should be told!"
His face, always remarkable in its thin, eager, intellectual aspect, looked ghastly, and his eyes no longer feverish in their brilliancy, were humanised by the dew of tears.
The weeping people looked at one another. The King had now become a part of their life and interest,—he was one with them, not apart from them as once he had been; therefore he must have known how Lotys had loved them. Yes,—someone should surely tell the King!
"The King must be informed of this," went on Zouche; "If there is no one else to take the news to him,—I will!"
And before any answer could be given, or any suggestion made, he was gone.
Meanwhile, no person volunteered to fetch Sergius Thord. Every man who knew him, dreaded the task of telling him that Lotys was dead, self- slain. Some poor, but tender-hearted women sorrowfully prepared the corpse for burial, removing the bloodstained clothes with gentle hands, smoothing out and parting on either side the glorious waves of hair, while with the greatest care and difficulty they succeeded by slow degrees in removing the pistol so tightly clenched in the dead hand. While engaged in this sad duty, they found a sealed paper marked 'My Last Wish,' and this they put aside till Thord should come. Then they robed her in white, and laid white flowers upon her breast; and so came in turns by groups of tens and twenties to kneel beside her and kiss her hands and say prayers, and weep for the loss of one who had never uttered a harsh word to any poor or sorrowful person, but whose mission had been peace and healing, love and resignation, and submission to her own hard fate until the end!
Meantime Zouche, who had never been near any Royal precincts before, walked boldly to the Palace. All irresolution had left him;—his step was firm, his manner self-contained, and only his eyes betrayed the deep and bitter sorrow of his soul. He was allowed to pass the sentinel at the outer gates, but at the inner portico of the Palace he was denied admittance. He maintained his composure, however, and handed in his written name.
"If I cannot see the King, I must see Sir Roger de Launay!" he said.
At this the men in authority glanced at one another, and began to unbend;—if this shabby, untidy being knew Sir Roger de Launay, he was perhaps someone of importance. After a brief consultation together, they asked him to wait while a messenger was despatched to Sir Roger.
Zouche, with a curious air of passive toleration sat quietly on the chair they offered, and waited several minutes glancing meanwhile at the display of splendour and luxury about him with an indifference bordering on contempt.
"All this magnificence," he mused; "all this wealth cannot purchase back a life, or bring comfort to a stricken heart! Nor can it vie with a poet's rhyme, which, often unvalued, and always unpaid for, sometimes outlasts a thousand thrones!"
Here, seeing the tall figure of Sir Roger de Launay coming between him and the light, he rose and advanced a step or two.
"Why, Zouche," said Sir Roger kindly, greeting him with a smile; "You are up betimes! They tell me you want to see the King. Is it not a somewhat early call? His Majesty has only just left his sleeping- apartment, and is busy writing urgent letters. Will you entrust me with your message?"
Paul Zouche looked at him fixedly.
"My message is from Lotys!" he said deliberately; "And it must be delivered to the King in person!"
Vaguely alarmed, Sir Roger recoiled a step.
"You bring ill news?" he whispered.
"I do not know whether it will prove ill or well;" answered Zouche wearily; "But such news as I have, must be told to his Majesty alone."
Sir Roger paused a moment, hesitating; then he said:
"If that is so—if that must be so,—then come with me!"
He led the way, and Zouche followed. Entering the King's private library where the King himself sat at his writing-desk, Sir Roger announced the unexpected visitor, adding in a low tone that he came 'from Lotys!'
The King started up, and threw down his pen.
"From Lotys!" he echoed, while through his mind there flew a sudden sweet hope that after all the star was willing to fall!—the flower was ready to be gathered!—and that the woman who had sent him away from her the day before, had a heart too full of love to remain obdurate to the pleadings of her kingly lover!—"Paul Zouche, with a message from Lotys? Let him come in!"
Whereupon Zouche, bidden to enter, did so, and stood in the Royal presence unabashed, but quite silent. An ominous presentiment crept coldly through the monarch's warm veins, as he saw the dreary pain expressed on the features of the man, who had so persistently scorned him and his offered bounty,—and with a slight, but imperative sign, he dismissed Sir Roger de Launay, who retired reluctantly, full of forebodings.
"Now Zouche," he said gently; "What do you seek of me? What is your message?"
Zouche looked full at him.
"As King," he answered, "I seek nothing from you! As comrade"—and his accents faltered—"I would fain break bad news to you gently—I would spare you as much as possible—and give you time to face the blow,— for I know you loved her! Lotys——"
The monarch's heart almost stood still. What was this hesitating tone— these great tears in Zouche's eyes?
"Lotys!" he repeated slowly, and in a faint whisper; "Yes, yes—go on! Go on, comrade! Lotys?"
"Lotys is dead!"
An awful stillness followed the words. Stiff and rigid the King sat, as though stricken by sudden paralysis, giving no sign. Minute after minute slipped away,—and he uttered not a word, nor did he raise his eyes from the fixed study of the carpet at his feet.
"Lotys is dead!" went on Zouche, speaking in a slow monotonous way. "This morning, the first thing—they found her. She had killed herself. The pistol was in her hand. And they are laying her out with flowers,— like a bride, or a queen,—and you can go and see her at rest so,—for the last time,—if you will! This is my message! It is a message from the dead!"
Still the King spoke not a word; nor did he lift his eyes from his brooding observation of the ground.
"To be a great King, as you are," said Zouche; "And yet to be unable to keep alive a love when you have won it, is a hard thing! She must have killed herself for your sake!"
No answer was vouchsafed to him. He began to feel a strange pity for that solemn, upright figure, sitting there inflexibly silent,—and he approached it a little nearer.
"Comrade!" he said softly; "I have hated you as a King! Yes, I have always hated you!—even when I found you had played the part of 'Pasquin Leroy,' and had worked for our Cause, and had helped to make what is now called my 'fame'! I hated you,—because through it all, and whatever you did for me, or for others, it seemed to me you had never known hunger and cold and want!—never known what it was to have love snatched away from you! I watched the growth of your passion for Lotys —I knew she loved you!—and had you indeed been the poor writer and thinker you assumed to be, all might have been well for you both! But when you declared yourself to be King, what could there be for such a woman but death? She would never have chosen dishonour! She has taken the straight way out of trouble, but—but she has left you alone! And I am sorry for you! I know what it is—to be left alone! You have a palace here, adorned with all the luxuries that wealth can buy, and yet you are alone in it! I too have a palace,—a palace of thought, furnished with ideals and dreams which no wealth can buy; and I am alone in it too! I killed the woman who loved me best; and you have done the same, in your way! It is the usual trick of men,—to kill the women who love them best, and then to be sorry for ever afterwards!"
He drew still nearer—then very slowly, very hesitatingly, dropped on one knee, and ventured to kiss the monarch's passive hand.
"My comrade! My King! I am sorry for you now!"
For answer, his own hand was suddenly caught in a fierce convulsive grip, and the King rose stiffly erect. His features were grey and drawn, his lips were bloodless, his eyes glittering, as with fever. Stricken to the heart as he was, he yet forced himself to find voice and utterance.
"Speak again, Zouche! Speak those horrible, horrible words again! Make me feel them to be true! Lotys is dead!"
Zouche, with something like fear for the visible, yet strongly suppressed anguish of the man before him, sighed drearily as he repeated——
"Lotys is dead! It is God's way—to kill all beautiful things, just as we have learned to love them! She,—Lotys,—used to talk of Justice and Order,—poor soul!—she never found either! Yet she believed in God!"
The King's stern face never relaxed in its frozen rigidity of woe. Only his lips moved mutteringly.
"Dead! Lotys! My God!—my God! To rise to such a height of hope and good—and then—to fall so low! Lotys gone from me!—and with her goes all!"
Then a sudden delirious hurry seemed to take possession of him.
"Go now, Zouche!" he said impatiently—"Go back to the place where she lies—and tell her I am coming! I must—I will see her again! And I will see you again, Zouche!—you too!" He forced a pale smile—"Yes, poor poet! I will see you and speak with you of this—you shall write for her a dirge!—a threnody of passion and regret that shall make the whole world weep! Poor Zouche!—you have had a hard life—well may you wonder why God made us men! And Lotys is dead!"
He rang the bell on his desk violently. Sir Roger de Launay at once returned,—but started back at the sight of his Royal master's altered countenance.
"Have the kindness, De Launay"—said the King hurriedly, not heeding his dismayed looks—"to place a carriage at the disposal of our friend Zouche! He has much business to do;—sad news to bear to all the quarters of the city—he will tell you of it,—as he has just told me! Lotys,—you know her!—Lotys, who saved my life at the risk of her own,—Lotys is dead!"
Sir Roger recoiled with an ejaculation of horror and pity.
"It is sudden—and—and strange!" continued the King, still speaking in the same rapid manner, and beginning to push aside the various letters and documents on his table—"It is a kind of darkness fallen without warning!—but—such tragedies always do happen thus—unpreparedly! Lotys was a grand creature,—a noble and self-sacrificing woman—the poor will miss her—yes—the poor will miss her greatly!——"
He broke off, and with a speechless gesture of agonised entreaty, intimated that he must be left alone. De Launay hustled Zouche out of the apartment in a kind of impotent fury.
"Why have you brought the King such news?" he demanded—"It will kill him!"
"He has killed her!" returned Zouche, grimly—"If he had never crossed her path, she would have been alive now! Why should not a King suffer like other men? He does the same foolish things,—he has his private loves and hatreds in the same foolish manner,—why should he escape punishment for his follies? It is only in suffering that he grows human,—stripped by grief and pain of his outward pomp and temporal power, he even becomes lovable! God save us from this bauble of 'power'! It is what Sergius Thord has worked for all his life!—it is what this King claims over his subjects—and yet—both monarch and reformer would give it all for the life of one woman back again! Look you, the King has had a dozen or more mistresses, and Heaven knows how many bastards—but he has only loved once! And it is well that he should learn what real love means,—Sorrow always, and Death often!"
That afternoon the whole city knew of the tragic end of Lotys. Nothing else was thought of, nothing else talked of. Thousands gathered to look up at the house where her body lay, stiffening in the cold grasp of death, and a strong body of police were summoned to guard all the approaches to the premises, in order to prevent a threatening 'crush' and disaster among the increasing crowd, every member of which sought to look for the last time on the face of her who had unselfishly served them and loved them in their hours of bitterest need. The sight of Sergius Thord passing through their midst, with bent head, and ashy, distraught countenance, had not pacified the clamorous grief of the people, nor had it elicited such an outburst of sympathy for him as one might have thought would have been forthcoming. An idea had gotten abroad that since his election as Deputy for the city, he had either neglected or set aside the woman who had assisted him to gain his position. It was a wrong idea, of course,—but the trifling fact of his having taken up his abode in a more 'aristocratic' part of the metropolis, while Lotys had still remained in the 'quarter of the poor,' was sufficient to give it ground in the minds of the ignorant, who are always more or less suspicious of even their best friends. Had they made a more ominous guess,—had they imagined that Sergius Thord was the actual murderer of the woman they had idolised, there would have been no remembrance whatever of the work he had done to aid them in the various reforms now being made for their benefit;—they would have torn him to pieces without a moment's mercy. The rough justice of the mob is a terrible thing! It knows nothing of legal phraseology or courtesy—it merely sees an evil deed done, and straightway proceeds to punish the evil-doer, regardless of consequences. Happily for the sake of peace and order, however, no thought of the truth, no suspicion of the real cause of the tragedy occurred to any one person among the sorrow-stricken multitude. A faint, half-sobbing cheer went up for the King, as his private brougham was recognised, making its way slowly through the press of people,—and it was with a kind of silent awe, that they watched his tall figure alight and pass into the house where lay the dead. Sergius Thord had already entered there,—the King and his new Deputy would meet! And with uneasy movements, rambling up and down, talking of Lotys, of her gentleness, patience and never-wearying sympathy for all the suffering and the lonely, the crowds collected, dispersed, and collected again,—every soul among them heavily weighted and depressed by the grief and the mystery of death, which though occurring every day, still seems the strangest of fates to every mortal born into the world.
Meantime, the King with slow reluctant tread, ascended into the room of death. Sergius Thord stood there,—but his brooding face and bulky form might have been but a mote of dust in a sunbeam for the little heed the stricken monarch took of him. His whole sight, his whole soul were concentrated on the white recumbent statue with the autumn-gold hair, which was couched in front of him, strewn with flowers. That was Lotys—or rather, that had been Lotys! It was now a very beautiful, still, smiling Thing,—its eyes were shut, but the eyelashes lay delicately on the pallid cheeks like little fringes of dark gold, tenderly slumbrous. Those eyelashes matched the hair—the soft, silken hair—so fine—so lustrous, so warm and bright!—the hair was surely yet living! With a shuddering sigh, the King bent over the piteous sight,—and stooping lower and lower still, touched with trembling lips the small, crossed hands.
As he did this, his arm was caught roughly, and Thord thrust him aside.
"Do not touch her!" he muttered hoarsely—"Let her rest in peace!"
Slowly the King raised his face. It was ashen grey and stricken old. The dark, clear, grey eyes were sunken and dim,—the light of hope, ambition, love and endeavour, was quenched in them for ever.
"Was she unhappy, that she killed herself?" he asked, in a hushed voice.
Thord drew back, shuddering. Those sad, lustreless eyes of his Sovereign seemed to pierce his soul! He—the murderer of Lotys—could not face them! A vague whirl of thoughts tormented his brain,—he had heard it said that a murdered person's corpse would bleed in the presence of the murderer,—would the dead body of Lotys bleed now, he wondered dully, if he waited long enough? If so—the King would know! He started guiltily, as once more the sad, questioning voice broke on his ears.
"Was she unhappy, think you? You knew her better than I!"
Huskily, and with dry lips, Thord forced an answer.
"Nay, it is possible your Majesty knew her best!"
Again the sunken melancholy eyes searched his face.
"She was endowed with genius,—rich in every good gift of womanhood! I would have given my life for hers—my kingdom to spare her a moment's sorrow!" went on the King; "But she would have nothing from me— nothing!"
"Nothing,—not even love!" said Thord recklessly.
"That she had, whether she would or no!"—replied the King, slowly,— "That she will have, till time itself shall end!"
Thord was silent. A passion of mingled fury and remorse consumed him,— his heart was beating rapidly,—there were great pulsations in his brain like heavy hammer-strokes,—he was afraid of himself, lest on a savage impulse he should leap like a beast of prey on this grave composed figure,—this King,—who was his acknowledged ruler,—and kill him, even as he had killed Lotys! And then,—he thought of the People! —the People by whose great force and strong justice he had sworn to abide!—the People who had worshipped and applauded him,—the People who, if they ever knew the truth of him and his crime, would snatch him up and tear his body to atoms, as surely as he stood branded with Murder in God's sight this day! With a powerful effort he rallied his forces, and drawing from his breast the small folded paper which had been found on the body of Lotys, and which was inscribed with the words 'My Last Wish,' he held it out to the King.
"Then your Majesty will perhaps grant her the burial she here demands?" he said—"It is a strange request!—but not difficult to gratify!"
Taking the paper, the monarch touched it tenderly with his lips before opening it. In all the blind stupefaction of his own grief, he was struck by the fact that there was something strained and unnatural about Thord's appearance,—something wild and forced even in his expression of sorrow. He studied his face closely, but to no purpose; —there was no clue to the mystery packed within the harsh lines of those dark, fierce features,—he seemed no more and no less than the same brooding, leonine creature that had mercilessly planned the deaths of men in his own Revolutionary Committee. There was no touch of softness in his eyes,—no tears, even at the sight of Lotys smiling coldly in her flower-strewn shroud. And now, unfolding her last message, the King beheld it thus expressed:
"To THOSE WHO SHALL FIND ME DEAD
"I pray you of your gentle love and charity, not to bury my body in the earth, but in the sea. For I most earnestly desire no mark, or remembrance of the place where my sorrows, with my mortal remains, shall be rendered back to nature; and kinder than the worms in the mould are the wild waves of the ocean which I have ever loved! And there,—at least to my own thoughts,—if any spiritual part of me remains to watch my will performed,—shall I be best pleased and most grateful to be given my last rest. LOTYS."
This document had been written and signed some years back, and had, therefore, nothing to do with any idea of immediate departure from the world, or premeditated suicide. And once again the King looked searchingly at Thord, as he returned him the paper.
"Her will shall be performed!" he said—"And in a manner befitting her memory,—befitting the love borne to her by a People—and—a King!"
He paused,—then went on softly.
"To you Sergius, my friend and comrade!—to you will be entrusted the task of committing this sweet casket of a sweeter soul to the mercy of the waves!—you, the guardian of her childhood, the defender of her womanhood, the protector of her life——"
"O God! No more—no more!" cried Thord, suddenly falling on his knees by the couch of the dead—"No more—in mercy! I will do all—all! But leave me with her now!—leave me alone with her, this last little while!"
And breaking into great sobs, he buried his head among the death- flowers in an utter abandonment of despair.
Silently the King watched him for a little space. Then he turned his eyes towards the pale form of the woman he had loved, and who had taught him the noblest and most selfless part of love, sleeping her last sleep, with a fixed sweet smile upon her face.
"We shall meet again, my Lotys!" he whispered—"On the other side of Death!"
And so,—with the quiet air of one who knows a quick way out of difficulty, he departed.
Some five days later, a strange and solemn spectacle was witnessed by thousands of spectators from all the shores and quays of the sea-girt city. A ship set sail for the Land of the Infinite!—a silent passenger went forth on a voyage to the borders of the Unknown! Coffined in state,—with a purple velvet pall trailing its rich folds over the casket which enshrined her perished mortality,—and with flowers of every imaginable rareness, or wildness, scattered about it,—the body of Lotys was, with no religious or formal ceremony, placed on the deck of a sailing-brig, and sent out to the waves for burial. So Sergius Thord had willed it; so Sergius Thord had planned it. He had purchased the vessel for this one purpose, and with his own hands he had strewn the deck with blossoms, till it looked like a floating garden of fairyland. Garlands of roses trailed from the mast,—wreaths from every former member of the now extinct 'Revolutionary Committee' were heaped in profusion about the coffin which lay in the centre of the deck,—the sails were white as snow, and one of them bore, the name 'Lotys' upon it, in letters of gold. It was arranged that the brig should be towed from the harbour, and out to sea for about a couple of miles,—and when there, should be cut free and set loose to the wind and tide to meet its fate of certain wreckage in the tossing billows beyond. In strange contrast to this floating funeral were the brilliant flags and gay streamers which were already being put up along the streets and quays, as the first signs of the city's welcome to the Crown Prince and his bride, who were expected to arrive home somewhere within the next ten days. Eager crowds watched the unique ceremony, unknown save in old Viking days, of sending forth a dead voyager to sail the pitiless seas; and countless numbers of small boats attended the funeral vessel in a long flotilla,—escorting it out to that verge where the ocean opened widely to the wider horizon, and spread its high road of silver waves invitingly out to the approaching silent adventurer. Comments ran freely from lip to lip,—Sergius Thord had been seen, pale as death, laying flowers on the deck to the last,—the King,—yes!—the King himself had sent a wreath, as a token of remembrance, to the obsequies of the woman who had saved his life,—the purple velvet pall, with its glittering fringes of gold, had been the gift of the city of which Thord was the lately-elected Deputy,—Louis Valdor had sent that garland of violets,—the great wreath of roses which lay at the head of the coffin, was the offering of the famous little dancer, Pequita, who, it was said, now lay sick of a fever brought on by grief and fretting for the loss of her best friend,—and rich and poor alike had vied with one another in assisting the weird beauty of this exceptional and strange burial, in which no sexton was employed but the wild wind, which would in due time scoop a hollow in the sea, and whirl down into fathomless deeps all that remained of a loving woman, with the offerings of a People's love around her!
From the Palace windows the Queen watched the weird pageant, with straining eyes, and a sense of relief at her heart. This unknown rival of hers,—this Lotys—was dead! Her body would soon be drifting out on the wild waste of waters, to be caught by the first storm and sunk in the depths of eternal silence. She was glad!—almost she could have sung for joy! The colour mantled on her fair cheeks,—she looked younger and more beautiful than ever. She had learned her long- neglected lesson,—the lesson of, 'how to love.' And to herself she humbly confessed the truth—that she loved no other than her husband! The King had now become the centre of her heart, as he had become the centre of his People's trust. And she watched the vessel bearing the corpse of Lotys, gliding, gliding over the waves—she tracked the circling concourse of boats that went with it—and waited, with quickened breath and eager eyes, till she saw a sudden pause in the procession—when, riding lightly on a shining wave, the funeral-ship seemed to stop for an instant—and then, with a bird-like dip forward, scurried out with full, bulging sails to the open sea! The crowding spectators began to break up and disperse—the flotilla of attendant boats turned back to shore—the dead woman who had held such magnetic influence over the King, was gone!—gone for ever into the watery caverns of endless death!
It was with a light heart that the Queen at last rose from her watch at the window, and prepared to array herself for the return of her sovereign lord. Her eyes sparkled, her lips smiled; she looked the very incarnation of love and tenderness. The snow-peak had melted at last, and underneath the ice, love's late violets had begun to bloom! She glanced once more out at the sea, where the vanishing death-ship now seemed but a speck on the far horizon, and saw a bank of solemn purple clouds darkening the golden sunset line,—clouds that rose up thickly and swiftly, like magic mountains conjured into sudden existence by some witch in a fairy tale. A gust of wind shook the lattice—and moaned faintly through the chinks of the door.
"There will be a storm to-night!" she said musingly, her eyes following the dispersing crowds, as they poured along the terrace from the shore, or climbed up from the quays to the higher streets of the town:—"There will be a storm!—and the woman who was called Lotys, will know nothing of it! The vessel she sails in will be crushed like a shell in the teeth of the blast, and her body will sink like a stone in the angry sea! So will she sleep—so does her brief power over the King come to an end!"
Turning, she smiled at her lady-in-waiting, Teresa de Launay, who had also watched the sea funeral of Lotys with wondering and often tear- filled eyes.
"How the people must have loved her!" the girl murmured softly; "No poor person or child came to these strange obsequies without flowers!— many wept—and some swear there is no happiness at all for them now, without Lotys! She must have been a sweet, unselfish woman!"
The Queen was silent.
"Since she saved the life of our lord the King, I have often thought of her!" went on Teresa—"I have even hoped to see her! Dearest Madam, would you not have been glad to thank her once before she died?"
The Queen's face hardened.
"She only did her duty!" was the cold answer—"Every subject in the realm would be proud to have the chance of being the King's defender!"
At that moment the door opened, and Sir Roger de Launay entered,—then drew back in some surprise and hesitation.
"I crave your pardon, Madam!" he said, bowing low—"I thought the King was here!"
"Truly the King should be here by now,"—replied the Queen gently—"But he is doubtless detained among the people, who wait upon his footsteps, as though he were a demi-god!" She smiled happily. "He went out to see yonder strange funeral pageant—and left no word of the hour of his return."
Sir Roger looked perplexed. The Queen noticed his expression of anxiety.
"Stay but a moment, Sir Roger," she added—"Now I remember, he bade me at sunset, go to my own room and fetch a packet I would find from him there,—he may be waiting for me now!"
She retired, the radiant smile still upon her face, and Sir Roger looked at his sister with concern for her tearful eyes.
"Weeping, Teresa?" he said—"What is the trouble?"
"Nothing!" she answered quickly—"Only a presentiment of evil! That funeral-ship has made me sad!"
Sir Roger said nothing for the moment. He was too preoccupied with his own forebodings to give much heed to hers. He walked to the window.
"There will be a storm to-night!" he said. "Look at those great clouds! They are big with thunder and with rain!"
"Yes!" murmured Teresa—"There will be a storm—Madam!"
She turned with a cry to feel the Queen's grip on her shoulder—to see the Queen, white as marble, with blazing eyes, possessed by a very frenzy of grief and terror. A tragic picture of despairing Majesty, she confronted the startled De Launay with an open paper in her hand.
"Where is the King?" she demanded, in accents that quivered with fear and passion. "From you, Sir Roger de Launay, must come the answer! To you, his friend and servant, I trusted his safety! And of you I ask again—Where is the King?"
Stupefied and stunned, Sir Roger stared helplessly at this enraged splendour of womanhood, this embodied wrath of royalty.
"Madam!" he stammered,—"I know nothing—save that the King has been sorely stricken by a great sorrow—"
She looked at him with flashing eyes.
"Sorrow for what?—for whom?"
De Launay gazed at her amazedly;—why did she ask of what she knew so well?
"Madam, to answer that is not within my province!"
She was silent, breathing quickly. Great tears gathered on her lashes, but did not fall.
"When saw you his Majesty last?"
"But three hours since, Madam! He bade me leave him alone, saying he would walk a while in the further grounds away from the sight of the sea. He had no mind, he said, to look upon the passing away of Lotys!"
A strange grey pallor crept over the Queen's face. She stood proudly erect, yet tottered as though about to fall. Teresa de Launay ran to her in terror.
"Dearest Madam!" cried the trembling girl—"Be comforted! Be patient! The King will come!"
"He will never come!" said the Queen in a low choked voice;—"Never again—never, never again! I feel—I know—that I have lost him for ever! He has gone—but where?—O God!—where!"
"Madam!" said Sir Roger, shaken to the soul by the sight of her suppressed agony—"That paper in your hand—"
"This paper," she said, with a convulsive effort at calmness, "makes me Regent till the return of my son, the Crown Prince—and—at the same time—bids me farewell! Farewell!—and why farewell? Oh, faithless servant!" and she advanced a step, fixing her burning eyes on the stricken De Launay—"I thought you loved me!"
His face flushed—his lips quivered.
"As God lives, Madam, I yield to no one in my love and service of you!"
"Then find the King!" and she stretched out her arm with a gesture of authority—"Bring back to me my husband!—the one man of the world!— the one man I have learned to love! Follow the King!—whether on land or sea, whether alive or dead,—in heaven or hell, follow him! Your place is not with me—but by your master's side! If you know not whither he has fled, make it your business to learn!—and never let me see your face again till his face shines beside yours, like sunshine against darkness!—till his eyes, his smile make gladness where your presence without him is a mocking misery! Out of my sight! And nevermore return again, save in your duty and attendance on the King!"
"Madam,—Madam!" exclaimed Teresa—"Would you condemn my brother to a lasting banishment? What if the King were dead?"
"Dead!" The word left the Queen's lips in a sharp sob of pain—"The King cannot die!—he is too strong—too bold and brave! He has met death ere now and conquered it! Dead? No—that is not possible—that could not be!"
She turned again upon Sir Roger, standing mute and pale, a very statue of despair.
"I give you a high mission!" she said—"Fulfil it!"
He started from his unhappy reverie.
"Be sure that I will do so!" he said—"I will—as your Majesty bids me— follow the King! And—till the King returns with me—I also say farewell!"
Catching his sister in his arms, he kissed her with a murmured blessing—and profoundly saluting the woman for whose love's sake his very life was now demanded, he left the room.
"Roger, Roger!" cried Teresa in an anguish, as the sound of his footsteps died away—"Come back! Come back!"
And falling on her knees by the Queen's side, she burst into wild weeping.
"If the King has gone for ever, my brother is gone too," she sobbed— "Oh, dearest Majesty, have you no heart?"
"None!" said the Queen with a strained smile, while the slow, hot tears began to fall from her aching eyes—"None! What heart I had is gone! It follows the King!"
A great storm was gathering. The heavy purple clouds which had arisen in the west at sunset, when all that was mortal of Lotys had been sent forth to a lonely burial in the sea, had gradually spread over the whole sky, darkening in hue as they moved, and rolling together in huge opaque masses, which presently began to close in and become denser as the night advanced. By and by a wild wind awoke, as it were, from the very cavities of ocean, and the waves began to hiss warnings all along the coast, and to rise higher and higher over each other's shoulders as the gale steadily increased. Rene Ronsard, sitting in his cottage, feeble and somewhat ailing, heard the beginnings of the tempest with long-accustomed ears. He was depressed in spirit, yet not altogether solitary, for he had with him a kindly companion in Professor von Glauben. The Professor had been one of the many who had attended the strange funeral-pageant of the afternoon, not only out of interest in, and regret for, the fate of the woman whose unique character he had admired, and whose difficult position he had pitied; but also because he had suffered from an unpleasant presentiment to which he could give no name. If he could have described his forebodings at all, he would have said they were more or less connected with the King,—but how or why, he would not have been able to explain, save that since the death of Lotys, his Sovereign master had no longer looked the same man. Stricken as with a blight, and grown suddenly old, his manner and appearance were as of one devoured by a secret despair,—a corroding disease,—of which the end could only be disastrous. Overcome by the pain and distress of being the constant witness of a sorrow which he felt to the heart, yet could not relieve, the Professor, on returning from the scene of Lotys's impressive funeral, had put ashore on The Islands, instead of going back to the mainland. He had sought permission from the King to remain with Ronsard for the night,—and the permission had been readily, almost eagerly granted. The King, indeed, had seemed glad to be relieved of the too anxious solicitude of his physician, who, he knew, was well aware of the concealed agony of mind which tortured and well-nigh maddened him,—and the Professor, keenly observant, was equally conscious that, under the immediate circumstances, his attendance might seem more of an intrusion than a duty.