A hurricane of applause interrupted her,—she waited till it subsided, then went on quietly.
"There should be no scheming in the dark; no secret contracts for which we have to pay blindly;—no refusal to explain the way in which the people's hard-earned money is spent; and before foreign urbanities and diplomacies and concessions are allowed to take up time in the Senate, it is necessary that the frightful and abounding evils of our own land,—our own homes,—be considered. For this we purpose to demand redress,—and not only to demand it, but to obtain it! Ministers may refuse to hear us; but the Country's claims are greater than any Ministry! A King's displeasure may cause court-parasites to tremble— but a People's Honour is more to be guarded than a thousand thrones!"
As she concluded with these words, she seemed to grow taller, nobler, more inspired and commanding,—and while the applause was yet shaking the rafters of the hall, she left the platform. Shouts of "Lotys! Lotys!" rang out again and again with passionate bursts of cheering,— and in response to it she came back, and by a slight gesture commanded silence.
"Dear friends, I thank you all for listening to me!" she said simply, her rich voice trembling a little; "I speak only with a woman's impulse and unwisdom—just as I think and feel—and always out of my great love for you! As you all know, I have no interests to serve;—I am only Lotys, your own poor friend,—one who works with you, and dwells among you, seeing and sharing your hard lives, and wishing with all my heart that I could help you to be happier and freer! My life is at your service,—my love for you is all too great for any words to express,— and my gratitude for your faith and trust in me forms my daily thanksgiving! Now, dear children all,—for you are truly as children in your patience, submission and obedience to bitter destiny!—I will ask you to disperse quietly without noise or confusion, or any trouble that may give to the paid men of law ungrateful work to do;—and in your homes, think of me!—remember my words!—and while you maintain order by the steadiness and reasonableness of your difficult lives, still avoid and resent that slavish obedience to the yoke fastened upon you by capitalists,—who have no other comfort to offer you in poverty than the workhouse; and no other remedy for the sins into which you are thrust by their neglect, than the prison! Take, and keep the rights of your humanity!—the right to think,—the right to speak,—the right to know what is being done with the money you patiently earn for others;— and work, all together in unity. Put aside all petty differences,—all small rancours and jealousies; and even as a Ministry may unite to defraud and deceive you, so do you, the People, unite to expose the fraud, and reject the deception! There is no voice so resonant and convincing as the voice of the public; there is no power on earth more strong or more irresistible than the power of the People!"
She stood for one moment more,—silent; her eyes brilliant, her face beautiful with inspired thought,—then with a quiet, half-deprecatory gesture, in response to the fresh outbreak of passionate cheering, she retired from the platform. Pasquin Leroy, whose eyes had been riveted on her from the first to the last word of her oration, now started as from a dream, and rose up half-unconsciously, passing his hand across his brow, as though to exorcise some magnetic spell that had crept over his brain. His face was flushed, his pulses were throbbing quickly. His companions, Max Graub and Axel Regor, looked at him inquisitively. The audience was beginning to file out of the hall in orderly groups.
"What next?" said Graub; "Shall ye go?"
"I suppose so," said Leroy, with a quick sigh, and forcing a smile; "But—I should have liked to speak with her——"
At that moment his shoulder was touched by a man he recognised as Johan Zegota. He gave the sign of the Revolutionary Committee bond, to which Leroy and his comrades responded.
"Will you all three come over the way?" whispered Zegota cautiously; "We are entertaining Lotys to supper at the inn opposite,—the landlord is one of us. Thord saw you sitting here, and sent me to ask you to join us."
"With pleasure," assented Leroy; "We will come at once!"
Zegota nodded and disappeared.
"So you will see the end of this escapade!" said Max Graub, a trifle crossly. "It would have been much better to go home!"
"You have enjoyed escapades in your time, have you not, my friend? Some even quite recently?" returned Leroy gaily. "One or two more will not hurt you!"
They edged their way out among the quietly moving crowd, and happening to push past General Bernhoff, that personage gave an almost imperceptible salute, which Leroy as imperceptibly returned. It was clear that the Chief of Police was acquainted with Pasquin Leroy, the 'spy' on whose track he had been sent by Carl Perousse, and moreover, that he was evidently in no hurry to arrest him. At any rate he allowed him to pass with his friends unmolested, out of the People's Assembly Rooms, and though he followed him across the road, 'shadowing him,' as it were, into a large tavern, whose lighted windows betokened some entertainment within, he did not enter the hostelry himself, but contented his immediate humour by walking past it to a considerable distance off, and then slowly back again. By and by Max Graub came out and beckoned to him, and after a little earnest conversation Bernhoff walked off altogether, the ring of his martial heels echoing for some time along the pavement, even after he had disappeared. And from within the lighted tavern came the sound of a deep, harmonious, swinging chorus—
"Way, make way!—for our banner is unfurled, Let each man stand by his neighbour! The thunder of our footsteps shall roll through the world, In the March of the Men of Labour!"
"Yes!" said Max Graub, pausing to listen ere re-entering the tavern— "If—and it is a great 'if'—if every man will stand by his neighbour, the thunder will be very loud,—and by all the deities that ever lived in the Heaven blue, it is a thunder that is likely to last some time! The possibility of standing by one's neighbour is the only doubtful point!"
THE SCORN OF KINGS
Inside the tavern, from whence the singing proceeded, there was a strange scene,—somewhat disorderly yet picturesque. Lotys, seated at the head of a long supper-table, had been crowned by her admirers with a wreath of laurels,—and as she sat more or less silent, with a rather weary expression on her face, she looked like the impersonation of a Daphne, exhausted by the speed of her flight from pursuing Apollo. Beside her, nestling close against her caressingly, was a little girl with great black Spanish eyes,—eyes full of an appealing, half- frightened wistfulness, like those of a hunted animal. Lotys kept one arm round the child, and every now and again spoke to her some little caressing word. All the rest of the guests at the supper-board were men,—and all of them members of the Revolutionary Committee. When Pasquin Leroy and his friends entered, there was a general clapping of hands, and the pale countenance of Lotys flushed a delicate rose-red, as she extended her hand to each.
"You begin your career with us very well!" she said gently, her eyes resting musingly on Leroy; "I had not expected to see you to-night!"
"Madame, I had never heard you speak," he answered; and as he addressed her, he pressed her hand with unconscious fervour, while his eloquent eyes dilated and darkened, as, moved by some complex emotion, she quickly withdrew her slender fingers from his clasp. "And I felt I should never know you truly as you are, till I saw you face the people. Now——"
He paused. She looked at him wonderingly, and her heart began to beat with a strange quick thrill. It is not always easy to see the outlines of a soul's development, or the inchoate formation of a great love,— and though everything in a certain sense moved her and appealed to her that was outside herself, it was difficult to her to believe or to admit that she, in her own person, might be the cause of an entirely new set of thoughts and emotions in the mind of one man. Seeing he was silent, she repeated softly and with a half smile.
"Now," continued Leroy quickly, and in a half-whisper; "I do know you partly,—but I must know you more! You will give me the chance to do that?"
His look said more than his words, and her face grew paler than before. She turned from him to the child at her side—
"Pequita, are you very tired?"
"No!" was the reply, given brightly, and with an upward glance of the dark eyes.
"That is right! Pasquin Leroy my friend! this is Pequita,—the child we told you of the other night, the only daughter of Sholto. She will dance for us presently, will you not, my little one?"
"Yes, indeed!" and the young face lighted up swiftly at the suggestion; while Leroy, taking the seat indicated to him at the supper-table, experienced a tumult of extraordinary sensations,—the chief one of which was, that he felt himself to have been 'snubbed,' very quietly but effectually, by a woman who had succeeded, though he knew not how, in suddenly awakening in him a violent fever of excitement, to which he was at present unable to give a name. Rallying himself, however, he glanced up and down the board smilingly, lifting his glass to salute Sergius Thord, who responded from his place at the bottom of the table,—and very soon he regained his usual placidity, for he had enormous strength of will, and kept an almost despotic tyranny over his feelings. His companions, Max Graub and Axel Regor, were separated from him, and from each other, at different sides of the table, and Paul Zouche the poet, was almost immediately opposite to him. He was glad to see that he was next but one to Lotys—the man between them being a desperado-looking fellow with a fierce moustache, and exceedingly gentle eyes,—who, as he afterwards discovered, was one of the greatest violinists in the world,—the favourite of kings and Courts,—and yet for all that, a prominent member of the Revolutionary Committee. The supper, which was of a simple, almost frugal character, was soon served, and the landlord, in setting the first plate before Lotys, laid beside it a knot of deep crimson roses, as an offering of homage and obedience from himself. She thanked him with a smile and glance, and taking up the flowers, fastened them at her breast. Conversation now became animated and general; and one of the men present, a delicate- looking young fellow, with a head resembling somewhat that of Keats, started a discussion by saying suddenly—
"Jost has sold out all his shares in that new mine that was started the other day. It looks as if he did not think, after all his newspaper puffs, that the thing was going to work."
"If Jost has sold, Perousse will," said his neighbour; "The two are concerned together in the floating of the whole business."
"And yet another piece of news!" put in Paul Zouche suddenly; "For if we talk of stocks and shares, we talk of money! What think you, my friends! I, Paul Zouche, have been offered payment for my poems! This very afternoon! Imagine! Will not the spheres fall? A poet to be paid for his poems is as though one should offer the Creator a pecuniary consideration for creating the flowers!"
His face was flushed, and his eyes deliriously bright.
"Listen, my Sergius!" he said; "Wonders never cease in this world; but this is the most wonderful of all wonders! Out of the merest mischief and monkeyish malice, the other day I sent my latest book of poems to the King—"
"Shame! shame!" interrupted a dozen voices. "Against the rules, Paul! You have broken the bond!"
Paul Zouche laughed loudly.
"How you yell, my baboons!" he cried; "How you screech about the rules of your lair! Wait till you hear! You surely do not suppose I sent the book out of any humility or loyalty, or desire for notice, do you? I sent it out of pure hate and scorn, to show him as a fool-Majesty, that there was something he could not do—something that should last when he was forgotten!—a few burning lines that should, like vitriol, eat into his Throne and outlast it! I sent it some days ago, and got an acknowledgment from the flunkey who writes Majesty's letters. But this afternoon I received a much more important document, —a letter from Eugene Silvano, secretary to our very honourable and trustworthy Premier! He informs me in set terms, that his Majesty the King has been pleased to appreciate my work as a poet, to the extent of offering me a hundred golden pieces a year for the term of my natural life! Ha-ha! A hundred golden pieces a year! And thus they would fasten this wild bird of Revolutionary song to a Royal cage, for a bit of sugar! A hundred golden pieces a year! It means food and lodging—warm blankets to sleep in—but it means something else,—loss of independence!"
"Then you will not accept it?" said Pasquin Leroy, looking at him with interest over the rim of the glass from which he was just sipping his wine.
"Accept it! I have already refused it! By swift return of post!"
Shouts of "Bravo! bravo!" echoed around him on all sides; men sprang up and shook hands with him and patted him on the back, and even over the dark face of Sergius Thord there passed a bright illumining smile.
"Zouche, with all thy faults, thou art a brave man!" said the young man with the Keats-like head, who was in reality confidential clerk to one of the largest stockbrokers in the metropolis; "A thousand times better to starve, than to accept Royal alms!"
"To your health, Zouche!" said Lotys, leaning forward, glass in hand. "Your refusal of the King's offered bounty is a greater tragedy than any you have ever tried to write!"
"Hear her!" cried Zouche, exultant; "She knows exactly how to put it! For look you, there are the true elements of tragedy in a worn coat and scant food, while the thoughts that help nations to live or die are burning in one's brain! Then comes a King with a handful of gold—and gold would be useful—it always is! But—by Heaven! to pay a poet for his poems is, as I said before, as if one were to meet the Deity on His way through space, scattering planets and solar systems at a touch, and then to say—'Well done, God! We shall remunerate You for your creative power as long as You shall last—so much per aeon!'"
"You wild soul!" he said; "Would you starve then, rather than accept a king's bounty?"
"I would!" answered Paul. "Look you, my brave Pasquin! Read back over all the centuries, and see the way in which these puppets we call kings have rewarded the greatest thinkers of their times! Is it anywhere recorded that the antique virgin, Elizabeth of England, ever did anything for Shakespeare? True—he might have been 'graciously permitted' to act one of his sublime tragedies before her—by Heaven!— she was only fit to be his scrubbing woman, by intellectual comparison! Kings and Queens have always trembled in their shoes, and on their thrones, before the might of the pen!—and it is natural therefore that they should ignore it as much as conveniently possible. A general, whose military tactics succeed in killing a hundred thousand innocent men receives a peerage and a hundred thousand a year,—a speculator who snatches territory and turns it into stock-jobbing material, is called an 'Empire Builder'; but the man whose Thought destroys or moulds a new World, and raises up a new Civilization, is considered beneath a crowned Majesty's consideration! 'Beneath,' by Heaven!—I, Paul Zouche, may yet mount behind Majesty's chair, and with a single rhyme send his crown spinning into space! Meanwhile, I have flung back his hundred golden pieces, with as much force in the edge of my pen as there would be in my hand if you were his Majesty sitting there, and I flung them across the table now!"
Again Leroy laughed. His eyes flashed, but there was a certain regret and wistfulness in them.
"You approve, of course?" he said, turning to Sergius Thord.
Sergius looked for a moment at Zouche with an infinitely grave and kindly compassion.
"I think Paul has acted bravely;" he then said slowly; "He has been true to the principles of our Order. And under the circumstances, it must have been difficult for him to refuse what would have been a certain competence,—"
"Not difficult, Sergius!" exclaimed Zouche, "But purely triumphant!"
Thord smiled,—then went on—"You see, my friend," and he addressed himself now to Leroy; "Kings have scorned the power of the pen too long! Those who possess that power are now taking vengeance for neglect. Thousands of pens all over the world to-day are digging the grave of Royalty, and building up the throne of Democracy. Who is to blame? Royalty itself is to blame, for deliberately passing over the claims of art and intellect, and giving preference to the claims of money. The moneyed man is ever the friend of Majesty,—but the brilliant man of letters is left out in the cold. Yet it is the man of letters who chronicles the age, and who will do so, we may be sure, according to his own experience. As the King treats the essayist, the romancist or the historian, so will these recording scribes treat the King!"
"It is possible, though," suggested Leroy, "that the King meant well in his offer to our friend Zouche?"
"Quite possible!" agreed Thord; "Only his offer of one hundred gold pieces a year to a man of intellect, is out of all proportion to the salary he pays his cook!"
A slight flush reddened Leroy's bronzed cheek. Thord observed him attentively, and saw that his soul was absorbed by some deep-seated intellectual irritation. He began to feel strangely drawn towards him; his eyes questioned the secret which he appeared to hold in his mind, but the quiet composure of the man's handsome face baffled enquiry. Meanwhile around the table the conversation grew louder and less restrained. The young stockbroker's clerk was holding forth eloquently concerning the many occasions on which he had seen Carl Perousse at his employer's office, carefully going into the closest questions of financial losses or gains likely to result from certain political moves,—and he remembered one day in particular, when, after purchasing a hundred thousand shares in a certain company, Perousse had turned suddenly round on his broker with the cool remark—"If ever you breathe a whisper about this transaction, I will shoot you dead!"
Whereat the broker had replied that it was not his custom to give away his clients' business, and that threats were unworthy of a statesman. Then Perousse had become as friendly as he had been before menacing; and the two had gone out of the office and lunched together. And the confidential clerk thus chattering his news, declared that his employer was now evidently uneasy; and that from that uneasiness he augured a sudden fluctuation or fall in what had lately seemed the most valuable stock in the market.
"And you? Your news, Valdor," cried one or two eager voices, while several heads leaned forward in the direction of the fiercely- moustached man who sat next to Lotys. "Where have you been with your fiddle? Do you arrive among us to-night infected by the pay, or the purple of Royalty?"
Louis Valdor, by birth a Norseman, and by sympathies a cosmopolitan, looked up with a satiric smile in his dark eyes.
"There is no purple left to infect a man with, in the modern slum of Royalty!" he said; "Tobacco-smoke, not incense, perfumes the palaces of the great nowadays—and card-playing is more appreciated than music! Yet I and my fiddle have made many long journeys lately,—and we have sent our messages of Heaven thrilling through the callous horrors of Hell! A few nights since, I played at the Russian Court—before the beautiful Empress—cold as a stone—with her great diamonds flashing on her unhappy breast,—before the Emperor, whose furtive eyes gazed unseeingly before him, as though black Fate hovered in the air—before women, whose lives are steeped in the lowest intrigue—before men, whose faces are as bearded masks, covering the wolf's snarl,—yes!—I played before these,—played with all the chords of my heart vibrating to the violin, till at last a human sigh quivered from the lips of the statuesque Empress,—till a frown crossed the brooding brow of her spouse—till the intriguing women shook off the spell with a laugh, and the men did the same with an oath—and I was satisfied! I received neither 'pay,' nor jewel of recognition,—I had played 'for the honour' of appearing before their Majesties!—but my bow was a wand to wake the little poisoned asp of despair that stings its way into the heart under every Royal mantle of ermine, and that sufficed me!"
"Sometimes," said Leroy, turning towards him; "I pity kings!"
"I' faith, so do I!" returned Valdor. "But only sometimes! And if you had seen as much of them as I have, the 'sometimes' would be rare!"
"Yet you play before them?" put in Max Graub.
"Because I must do so to satisfy the impresarios who advertise me to the public," said Valdor. "Alas!—why will the public be so foolish as to wish their favourite artist to play before kings and queens? Seldom, if ever, do these Royal people understand music,—still less do they understand the musician! Believe me, I have been treated as the veriest scullion by these jacks-in-office; and that I still permit myself to play before them is a duty I owe to this Brotherhood,—because it deepens and sustains my bond with you all. There is no king on the face of the earth who has dignity and nobleness of character enough to command my respect,—much less my reverence! I take nothing from kings, remember!—they dare not offer me money—they dare not insult me with a jewelled pin, such as they would give to a station-master who sees a Royal train off. Only the other day, when I was summoned to play before a certain Majesty, a lord-in-waiting addressed me when I arrived with the insolent words—'You are late, Monsieur Valdor!—You have kept the King waiting!' I replied—'Is that so? I regret it! But having kept his Majesty waiting, I will no longer detain him; au revoir!' And I returned straightway to the carriage in which I had come. Majesty did without his music that evening, owing to the insolence of his flunkey- man! Whether I ever play before him again or not, is absolutely immaterial to me!"
"Tell me," said Pasquin Leroy, pushing the flask of wine over to him as he spoke; "What is it that makes kings so unloved? I hate them myself! —but let us analyse the reasons why."
"Discuss—discuss!" cried Paul Zouche; "Why are kings hated? Let Thord answer first!"
"Yes—yes! Let Thord answer first!" was echoed a dozen times.
Thord, thus appealed to, looked up. His melancholy deep eyes were sombre, yet full of fire,—lonely eyes they were, yearning for love.
"Why are kings hated?" he repeated; "Because today they are the effete representatives of an effete system. I can quite imagine that if, as in olden times, kings had maintained a position of personal bravery, and personal influence on their subjects, they would have been as much beloved as they are now despised. But what we have to see and to recognise is this: in one land we hear of a sovereign who speculates hand-and-glove with low-born Jew contractors and tradesmen,—another monarch makes no secret of his desire to profit financially out of a gambling hell started in his dominions,—another makes his domestic affairs the subject of newspaper comment,—another is always apostrophising the Almighty in public;—another is insane or stupid,— and so on through the whole gamut. Is it not natural that an intelligent People should resent the fact that their visibly governing head is a gambler, or a voluptuary? Myself, I think the growing unpopularity of kings is the result of their incapability for kingship."
"Now let me speak!" cried Paul Zouche excitedly; "There is another root to the matter,—a root like that of a certain tropical orchid, which according to superstition, is shaped like a man, and utters a shriek when it is pulled out of the earth! Pull out this screaming mystery,— hatred of kings! In the first place it is because they are hateful in themselves,—because they have been brought up and educated to take an immeasurable and all-absorbing interest in their own identity, rather than in the lives, hopes and aims of their subjects. In the second—as soon as they occupy thrones, they become overbearing to their best friends. It is a well-known fact that the more loyal and faithful you are to a king, the more completely is he neglectful of you! 'Put not your trust in princes,' sang old David. He knew how untrustworthy they were, being a king himself, and a pious one to boot! Thirdly and lastly,—they only give their own personal attention to their concubines, and leave all their honest and respectable subjects to be dealt with by servants and secretaries. Our King, for example, never smiles so graciously as on Madame Vantine, the wife of Vantine the wine-grower;—and he buys Vantine's wines as well as his wife, which brings in a double profit to the firm!"
Leroy looked up.
"Are you sure of that?"
Zouche met his eyes with a stare and a laugh.
"Sure? Of course I am sure! By my faith, your resemblance to his Majesty is somewhat striking to-night, my bold Leroy! The same straight brows—the same inscrutable, woman-conquering smile! I studied his portrait after the offer of the hundred golden pieces—and I swear you might be his twin brother!"
"I told you so!" replied Leroy imperturbably;—"It is a hateful resemblance! I wish I could rid myself of it. Still after all, there is something unique in being countenanced like a King, and minded as a Socialist!"
"True!" put in Thord gently;—"I am satisfied, Pasquin Leroy, that you are an honest comrade!"
Leroy met his eyes with a grave smile, and touched his glass by way of acknowledgement.
"You do not ask me," he said then, "whether I have been able to serve your Cause in any way since last we met?"
"This is not our regular meeting," said Johan Zegota; "We ask no questions till the general monthly assembly."
"I see!" And Leroy looked whimsically meditative—"Still, as we are all friends and brothers here, there is no harm in conveying to you the fact that I have so far moved, in the appointed way, that Carl Perousse has ordered the discovery and arrest of one Pasquin Leroy, supposed to be a spy on the military defences of the city!"
Lotys gave a little cry.
"Not possible! So soon!"
"Quite possible, Madame," said Leroy inclining his head towards her deferentially. "I have lost no time in doing my duty!" And his eyes flashed upon her with a passionate, half-eager questioning. "I must carry out my Chief's commands!"
"But you are in danger, then?" said Sergius Thord, bending an anxious look of enquiry upon him.
"Not more so than you, or any of my comrades are," replied Leroy; "I have commenced my campaign—and I have no doubt you will hear some results of it ere long!"
He spoke so quietly and firmly, yet with such an air of assurance and authority, that something of an electric thrill passed through the entire company, and all eyes were fixed on him in mingled admiration and wonderment.
"Of the 'Corruption of the State,' concerning which our fair teacher has spoken to-night," he continued, with another quick glance at Lotys —"there can be no manner of doubt. But we should, I think, say the 'Corruption of the Ministry' rather than of the State. It is not because a few stock-jobbers rule the Press and the Cabinet, that the State is necessarily corrupt. Remove the corruptors,—sweep the dirt from the house—and the State will be clean."
"It will require a very long broom!" said Paul Zouche. "Take David Jost, for example,—he is the fat Jew-spider of several newspaper webs,—and to sweep him out is not so easy. His printed sheets are read by the million; and the million are deluded into believing him a reliable authority!"
"Nothing so easy as to prove him unreliable," said Leroy composedly; "And then——"
"Then the million will continue to read his journals out of sheer curiosity, to see how long a liar can go on lying!" said Zouche;— "Besides a Jew can turn his coat a dozen times a day; he has inherited Joseph's 'coat of many colours' to suit many opinions. At present Jost supports Perousse, and calls him the greatest statesman living; but if Perousse were once proved a fraud, Jost would pen a sublimely- conscientious leading article, beginning in this strain;—' We are now at liberty to confess that we always had our doubts of M. Perousse!'"
A murmur of angry laughter went round the board.
"There was an article this evening in one of Jost's off-shoot journals," went on Zouche, "which must have been paid for at a considerable cost. It chanted the praises of one Monsignor Del Fortis, —who, it appears, preached a sermon on 'National Education' the other day, and told all the sleepy, yawning people how necessary it was to have Roman Catholic schools in every town and village, in order that souls might be saved. The article ended by saying—'We hear on good authority that his Majesty the King has been pleased to grant a considerable portion of certain Crown lands to the Jesuit Order, for the necessary building of a monastery and schools'——"
"That is a lie!" broke in Pasquin Leroy, with sudden vehemence. "The King is in many respects a scoundrel, but he does not go back on his word!"
Axel Regor looked fixedly across at him, with a warning flash in the light of his cold languid eyes.
"But how do you know that the King has given his word?"
"It was in the paper," said Leroy, more guardedly; "I was reading about it, as you know, on the very night I encountered Thord."
"Ah! But you must recollect, my friend, that a statement in the papers is never true nowadays!" said Max Graub, with a laugh; "Whenever I read anything in the newspaper, unless it is an official telegram, I know it is a lie; and even official telegrams have been known to emanate from unofficial sources!"
By this time supper was nearly over, and the landlord, clearing the remains of the heavier fare, set fruit and wine on the board. Sergius Thord filled his glass, and made a sign to his companions to do the same. Then he stood up.
"To Lotys!" he said, his fine eyes darkening with the passion of his thought. "To Lotys, who inspires our best work, and helps us to retain our noblest ideals!"
All present sprang to their feet.
Pasquin Leroy fixed a straight glance on the subject of the toast, sitting quietly at the head of the table.
"To Lotys!" he repeated; "And may she always be as merciful as she is strong!"
She lifted her dark-blue slumbrous eyes, and met his keen scrutinizing look. A very slight tremulous smile flickered across her lips. She inclined her head gently, and in the same mute fashion thanked them all.
"Play to us, Valdor!" she then said; "And so make answer for me to our friends' good wishes!"
Valdor dived under the table, and brought up his violin case, which he unlocked with jealous tenderness, lifting his instrument as carefully as though it were a sleeping child whom he feared to wake. Drawing the bow across the strings, he invoked a sweet plaintive sound, like the first sigh of the wind among the trees; then, without further preliminary wandered off into a strange labyrinth of melody, wherein it seemed that the voices of women and angels clamoured one against the other,—the appeals of earth with the refusals of Heaven,—the loneliness of life with the fulness of immortality,—so, rising, falling, sobbing, praying, alternately, the music expostulated with humanity in its throbbing chords, till it seemed as if some Divine interposition could alone end the heart-searching argument. Every man sat motionless and mute, listening; Paul Zouche, with his head thrown back and eyes closed as in a dream,—Johan Zegota's hard, plain and careworn face growing softer and quieter in its expression,—while Sergius Thord, leaning on one elbow, covered his brow with one hand to shade the lines of sorrow there.
When Valdor ceased playing, there was a burst of applause.
"You play before kings,—kings should be proud to hear you!" said Leroy.
"Ah! So they should," responded Valdor promptly; "Only it happens that they are not! They treat me merely as a laquais de place,—just as they would treat Zouche, had he accepted his Sovereign's offer. But this I will admit,—that mediocre musicians always get on very well with Royal persons! I have heard a very great Majesty indeed praise a common little American woman's abominable singing, as though she were a prima-donna, and saw him give a jewelled cigar-case to an amateur pianist, whose fingers rattled on the keyboard like bones on a tom-tom. But then the common little American woman invited his Majesty's 'cheres amies' to her house; and the amateur pianist was content to lose money to him at cards! Wheels within wheels, my friend! In a lesser degree the stock-jobber who sets a little extra cash rolling on the Exchange is called an 'Empire Builder.' It is a curious world! But kings were never known to be 'proud' of any really 'great' men in either art or literature; on the contrary, they were always afraid of them, and always will be! Among musicians, the only one who ever got decently honoured by a monarch was Richard Wagner,—and the world swears that his Royal patron was mad!"
Paul Zouche opened his eyes, filled his glass afresh, and tossed down the liquor it contained at a gulp.
"Before we have any more music," he said, "and before the little Pequita gives us the dance which she has promised,—not to us, but to Lotys—we ought to have prayers!"
A loud laugh answered this strange proposition.
"I say we ought to have prayers!" repeated Zouche with semi-solemn earnestness,—"You talk of news,—news in telegram,—news in brief,— official scratchings for the day and hour,—and do you take no thought for the fact that his Holiness the Pope is ill—perhaps dying?"
He stared wildly round upon them all; and a tolerant smile passed over the face of the company.
"Well, if that be so, Paul," said a man next to him, "it is not to be wondered at. The Pope has arrived at a great age!"
"No age at all!—no age at all!" declared Zouche. "A saint of God should live longer than a pauper! What of the good old lady admitted to hospital the other day whose birth certificate proved her beyond doubt to be one hundred and twenty-one years old? The dear creature had not married;—nor has his Holiness the Pope,—the real cause of death is in neither of them! Why should he not live as long as his aged sister, possessing, as he does the keys of Heaven? He need not unlock the little golden door, even for himself, unless he likes. That is true orthodoxy! Pasquin Leroy, you bold imitation of a king, more wine!"
Leroy filled the glass he held out to him. The glances of the company told him Zouche was 'on,' and that it was no good trying to stem the flow of his ideas, or check the inconsequential nature of his speech. Lotys had moved her chair a little back from the table, and with both arms encircling the child, Pequita, was talking to her in low and tender tones.
"Brethren, let us pray!" cried Zouche; "For all we know, while we sit here carousing and drinking to the health of our incomparable Lotys, the soul of St. Peter's successor may be careering through Sphere- Forests, and over Planet-Oceans, up to its own specially built and particularly furnished Heaven! There is only one Heaven, as we all know,—and the space is limited, as it only holds the followers of St. Peter, the good disciple who denied Christ!"
"That is an exploded creed, Zouche," said Thord quietly; "No man of any sense or reason believes such childish nonsense nowadays! The most casual student of astronomy knows better."
"Astronomy! Fie, for shame!" And Zouche gave a mock-solemn shake of the head; "A wicked science! A great heresy! What are God's Facts to the Church Fallacies? Science proves that there are millions and millions of solar systems,—millions and millions of worlds, no doubt inhabited;—yet the Church teaches that there is only one Heaven, specially reserved for good Roman Catholics; and that St. Peter and his successors keep the keys of it. God,—the Deity—the Creator,—the Supreme Being, has evidently nothing at all to do with it. In fact, He is probably outside it! And of a surety Christ, with His ideas of honesty and equality, could never possibly get into it!"
"There you are right!" said Valdor; "Your words remind me of a conversation I overheard once between a great writer of books and a certain Prince of the blood Royal. 'Life is a difficult problem!' said the Prince, smoking a fat cigar. 'To the student, it is, Sir,' replied the author; 'But to the sensualist, it is no more than the mud-stye of the swine,—he noses the refuse and is happy! He has no need of the Higher life, and plainly the Higher life has no need of him. Of course,' he added with covert satire, 'your Highness believes in a Higher life?' 'Of course, of course!' responded the Royal creature, unconscious of any veiled sarcasm; 'We must be Christians before anything!' And that same evening this hypocritical Highness 'rooked' a foolish young fellow of over one thousand English pounds!"
"Perfectly natural!" said Zouche. "The fashionable estimate of Christianity is to go to church o' Sundays, and say 'I believe in God,' and to cheat at cards on all the other days of the week, as active testimony to a stronger faith in the devil!"
"And with it all, Zouche," said Lotys suddenly; "There is more good in humanity than is apparent."
"And more bad, beloved Lotys," returned Paul. "Tout le deux se disent! But let us think of the Holy Father!—he who, after long years of patient and sublime credulity, is now, for all we know, bracing himself to take the inevitable plunge into the dark waters of Eternity! Poor frail old man! Who would not pity him! His earthly home has been so small and cosy and restricted,—he has been taken such tender care of— the faithful have fallen at his feet in such adoring thousands,—and now—away from all this warmth and light and incense, and colour of pictures and stained-glass windows, and white statuary and purple velvets, and golden-fringed palanquins,—now—out into the cold he must go!—out into the darkness and mystery and silence!—where all the former generations of the world, immense and endless, and all the old religions, are huddled away in the mist of the mouldered past!—out into the thick blackness, where maybe the fiery heads of Bel and the Dragon may lift themselves upward and leer at him!—or he may meet the frightful menace of some monstrous Mexican deity, once worshipped with the rites of blood!—out—out into the unknown, unimaginable Amazement must the poor naked Soul go shuddering on the blast of death, to face he truly knows not what!—but possibly he has such a pitiful blind trust in good, that he may be re-transformed into some pleasant living consciousness that shall be more agreeable even than that of Pope of Rome! 'Mourir c'est rien,—mais souffrir!' That is the hard part of it! Let us all pray for the Pope, my friends!—he is an old man!"
"When you are silent, Zouche," said Thord with a half smile; "We may perhaps meditate upon him in our thoughts,—but not while you talk thus volubly! You take up time—and Pequita is getting tired."
"Yes," said Lotys; "Pequita and I will go home, and there will be no dancing to-night."
"No, Lotys! You will not be so cruel!" said Zouche, pushing his grey hair back from his brows, while his wild eyes glittered under the tangle, like the eyes of a beast in its lair; "Think for a moment! I do not come here and bore you with my poems, though I might very well do so! Some of them are worth hearing, I assure you;—even the King— curse him!—has condescended to think so, or else why should he offer me pay for them? Kings are not so ready to part with money, even when it is Government money! In England once a Premier named Gladstone, gave two hundred and fifty pounds a year pension to the French Prince, Lucien Buonaparte, 'for his researches into Celtic literature'! Bah! There were many worthier native-born men who had worked harder on the same subject, to choose from,—without giving good English money to a Frenchman! There is a case of your Order and Justice, Lotys! You spoke to-night of these two impossible things. Why will you touch on such subjects? You know there is no Order and no Justice anywhere! The Universe is a chance whirl of gas and atoms; though where the two mischiefs come from nobody knows! And why the devil we should be made the prey of gas and atoms is a mystery which no Church can solve!"
As he said this, there was a slight movement of every head towards Lotys, and enquiring eyes looked suggestively at her. She saw the look, and responded to it.
"You are wrong, Zouche!—I have always told you you are wrong," she said emphatically, "It is in your own disordered thoughts that you see no justice and no order,—but Order there is, and Justice there is,— and Compensation for all that seems to go wrong. There is an Intelligence at the core of Creation! It is not for us to measure that Intelligence, or to set any limits to it. Our duty is to recognize it, and to set ourselves as much as possible in harmony with it. Do you never, in sane moments, study the progress of humanity? Do you not see that while the brute creation remains stationary, (some specimens of it even becoming extinct), man goes step by step to higher results? This is, or should be, sufficient proof that death is not the end for us. This world is only one link in our chain of intended experience. I think it depends on ourselves as to what we make of it. Thought is a great power by which we mould ourselves and others; and we have no right to subvert that power to base uses, or to poison it by distrust of good, or disbelief in the Supreme Guidance. You would be a thousand times better as a man, Zouche, and far greater as a poet, if you could believe in God!"
She spoke with eloquence and affectionate earnestness, and among all the men there was a moment's silence.
"Well, you believe in Him;" said Zouche at last, "and I will catch hold of your angel's robe as you pass into His Presence and say to Him;—' Here comes poor Zouche, who wrote of beautiful things among ugly surroundings, and who, in order to be true to his friends, chose poverty rather than the gold of a king!'"
Lotys smiled, very sweetly and indulgently.
"Such a plea would stand you in good stead, Zouche! To be always true to one's friends, and to persistently believe in beauty, is a very long step towards Heaven!"
"I did not say I believed in beauty," said Zouche suddenly and obstinately;—"I dream it—I think it—but I do not see it! To me the world is one Horror—nothing but a Grave into which we all must fall! The fairest face has a hideous skull behind it,—the dazzling blue of the sea covers devouring monsters in its depths—the green fields, the lovely woodlands, are full of vile worms and noxious beetles,—and space itself swarms with thick-strewn worlds,—flaming comets,—blazing nebulae,—among which our earth is but a gnat's wing in a huge flame! Horrible!—horrible!" And he spoke with a kind of vehement fury. "Let us not think of it! Why should we insist on Truth? Let us have lies!— dear, sweet lies and fond delusions! Let us believe that men are all honest, and women all loving!—that there are virgins and saints and angels, as well as bishops and curates, looking after us in this wild world of terror,—oh, yes!—let us believe!—better the Pope's little private snuggery of a Heaven, than the crushing truth which says 'Our God is a consuming fire'! Knowledge deepens sorrow,—truth kills!—we must—we must have a little love, and a few lies to lean upon!"
His voice faltered,—and a sudden ashy paleness overspread his features,—his head fell back helplessly, and he seemed transfixed and insensible. Leroy and one or two of the others rose in alarm, thinking he had swooned, but Sergius Thord warned them back by a sign. The little Pequita, slipping from the arms of Lotys, went softly up to him.
"Paul! Dear Paul!" she said in her soft childish tones.
Zouche stirred, and stretching out one hand, groped with it blindly in the air. Pequita took it, warming it between her own little palms.
"Paul!" she said; "Do wake up! You have been asleep such a long time!"
He opened his eyes. The grey pallor passed from his face; he lifted his head and smiled.
"So! There you are, Pequita!" he said gently; "Dear little one! So brave and cheerful in your hard life!"
He lifted her small brown hand, and kissed it. The feverish tension of his brain relaxed,—and two large tears welled up in his eyes, and rolled down his cheeks. "Poor little girl!" he murmured weakly; "Poor little hard-working girl!"
All the men sat silent, watching the gradual softening of Zouche's drunken delirium by the mere gentle caress of the child; and Pasquin Leroy was conscious of a curious tightening of the muscles of his throat, and a straining compassion at his heart, which was more like acute sympathy with the griefs and sins of humanity than any emotion he had ever known. He saw that the thoughtful, pitiful eyes of Lotys were full of tears, and he longed, in quite a foolish, almost boyish fashion, to take her in his arms and by a whispered word of tenderness, persuade those tears away. Yet he was a man of the world, and had seen and known enough. But had he known them humanly? Or only from the usual standpoint of masculine egotism? As he thought this, a strain of sweet and solemn music stole through the room,—Louis Valdor had risen to his feet, and holding the violin tenderly against his heart, was coaxing out of its wooden cavity a plaintive request for sympathy and attention. Such delicious music thrilled upon the dead silence as might have fitted Shelley's exquisite lines.
"There the voluptuous nightingales, Are awake through all the broad noon-day, When one with bliss or sadness fails, And through the windless ivy-boughs Sick with sweet love, droops dying away On its mate's music-panting bosom; Another from the swinging blossom, Watching to catch the languid close Of the last strain; then lifts on high The wings of the weak melody, Till some new strain of feeling bear The song, and all the woods are mute; When there is heard through the dim air The rush of wings, and rising there Like many a lake-surrounded flute Sounds overflow the listener's brain, So sweet that joy is almost pain."
"Thank God for music!" said Sergius Thord, as Valdor laid aside his bow; "It exorcises the evil spirit from every modern Saul!"
"Sometimes!" responded Valdor; "But I have known cases where the evil spirit has been roused by music instead of suppressed. Art, like virtue, has two sides!"
Zouche was still holding Pequita's hand. He looked ill and exhausted, like a man who had passed through a violent paroxysm of fever.
"You are a good child, Pequita!" he was saying softly; "Try to be always so!—it is difficult—but it is easier to a woman than to a man! Women have more of good in them than men!"
"How about the dance?" suggested Thord; "The hour is late,—close on midnight—and Lotys must be tired."
"Shall I dance now?" enquired Pequita.
Lotys smiled and nodded. Four or five of the company at once got up, and helped to push aside the table.
"Will you play for me, Monsieur Valdor?" asked the little girl, still standing by the side of Zouche.
"Of course, my child! What shall it be? Something to suggest a fairy hopping over mushrooms in the moonlight?—or Shakespeare's Ariel swinging on a cobweb from a bunch of may?"
Pequita considered, and for a moment did not reply, while Zouche, still holding her little brown hand, kissed it again.
"You are very fond of dancing?" asked Pasquin Leroy, looking at her dark face and big black eyes with increasing interest.
She smiled frankly at him.
"Yes! I would like to dance before the King!"
"Fie, fie, Pequita!" cried Johan Zegota, while murmurs of laughter and playful cries of 'Shame, Shame' echoed through the room.
"Why not?" said Pequita; "It would do me good, and my father too! Such poor, sad people come to the theatre where I dance,—they love to see me, and I love to dance for them—but then—they too would be pleased if I could dance at the Royal Opera, because they would know I could then earn enough money to make my father comfortable."
"What a very matter-of-fact statement in favour of kings!" exclaimed Max Graub;—"Here is a child who does not care a button for a king as king; but she thinks he would be useful as a figure-head to dance to,— for idiotic Fashion, grouping itself idiotically around the figure- head, would want to see her dance also—and then—oh simple conclusion!—she would be able to support her father! Truly, a king has often been put to worse uses!"
"I think," said Pasquin Leroy, "I could manage to get you a trial at the Royal Opera, Pequita! I know the manager."
She looked up with a sudden blaze of light in her eyes, sprang towards him, dropped on one knee with an exquisite grace, and kissed his hand.
"Oh!—you will be goodness itself!" she cried;—"And I will be grateful—indeed I will!—so grateful!"
He was startled and amazed at her impulsive action, and taking her little hand, gently pressed it.
"Poor child!" he said;—"You must not thank me till I succeed. It is very little to do—but I will do all I can."
"Someone else will be grateful too!" said Lotys in her rich thrilling voice; and her eyes rested on him with that wonderful magnetic sweetness which drew his soul out of him as by a spell; while Zouche, only partially understanding the conversation said slowly:—
"Pequita deserves all the good she can get; more than any of us. We do nothing but try to support ourselves; and we talk a vast amount about supporting others,—but Pequita works all the time and says nothing. And she is a genius—she does not know it, but she is. Give us the Dagger Dance, Pequita! Then our friend Leroy can judge of you at your best, and make good report of you."
Pequita looked at Lotys and received a sign of assent. She then nodded to Valdor.
"You know what to play?"
Valdor nodded in return, and took up his violin. The company drew back their seats, and sat, or stood aside, from the centre of the room. Pequita disappeared for a moment, and returned divested of the plain rusty black frock she had worn, and merely clad in a short scarlet petticoat, with a low white calico bodice—her dark curls tumbling in disorder, and grasping in her right hand a brightly polished, unsheathed dagger. Valdor began to play, and with the first wild chords the childish figure swayed, circled, and leaped forward like a young Amazon, the dagger brandished aloft, and gleaming here and there as though it were a snaky twist of lightning. Very soon Pasquin Leroy found himself watching the evolutions of the girl dancer with fascinated interest. Nothing so light, so delicate or so graceful had he ever seen as this little slight form bending to and fro, now gliding with the grace of a swan on water—now leaping swiftly as a fawn,— while the attitudes she threw herself into, sometimes threatening, sometimes defiant, and often commanding, with the glittering steel weapon held firmly in her tiny hand, were each and all pictures of youthful pliancy and animation. As she swung and whirled,—sometimes pirouetting so swiftly that her scarlet skirt looked like a mere red flower in the wind,—her bright eyes flashed, her dark hair tangled itself in still richer masses, and her lips, crimson as the pomegranate, were half parted with her panting breath.
"Brava! Brava!" shouted the men, becoming more and more excited as their eyes followed the flash of the dagger she held, now directed towards them, now shaken aloft, and again waved threateningly from side to side, or pointed at her own bosom, while her little feet twinkled over the floor in a maze of intricate and perfectly performed steps;— and "Brava!" cried Pasquin Leroy, as breathless, but still glowing and bright with her exertions, she suddenly out of her own impulse, dropped on one knee before him with the glittering dagger pointed straight at his heart!
"Would that please the King?" she asked, her pearly teeth gleaming into a mischievous smile between the red lips.
"If it did not, he would be a worse fool than even I take him for!" replied Leroy, as she sprang up again, and confronted him. "Here is a little souvenir from me, child!—and if ever you do dance before his Majesty, wear it for my sake!"
He took from his pocket a ring, in which was set a fine brilliant of unusual size and lustre.
She looked at it a moment as he held it out to her.
"Oh, no," she faltered, "I cannot take it—I cannot! Lotys dear, you know I cannot!"
Lotys, thus appealed to, left her seat and came forward. Taking the ring from Leroy's hand, she examined it a moment, then gently returned it.
"This is too great a temptation for Pequita, my friend," she said quietly, but firmly. "In duty bound, she would have to sell it in order to help her poor father. She could not justly keep it. Let me be the arbiter in this matter. If you can carry out your suggestion, and obtain for her an engagement at the Royal Opera, then give it to her, but not till then! Do you not think I am right?"
She spoke so sweetly and persuasively, that Leroy was profoundly touched. What he would have liked would have been to give the child a roll of gold pieces,—but he was playing a strange part, and the time to act openly was not yet.
"It shall be as you wish, Madame!" he said with courteous deference. "Pequita, the first time you dance before the King, this shall be yours!"
He put aside the jewel, and Pequita kissed his hand impulsively,—as impulsively she kissed the lips of her friend Lotys—and then came the general dispersal and break-up of the assembly.
"Tell me;" said Sergius Thord, catching Leroy's hand in a close and friendly grasp ere bidding him farewell; "Are you in very truth in personal danger on account of serving our Cause?"
"No!" replied Leroy frankly, returning the warm pressure; "And rest assured that if I were, I would find means to elude it! I have managed to frighten Carl Perousse, that is all—and Jost!"
"Jost!" echoed Sergius; "The Colossus of the Press? Surely it would take more than one man to frighten him!"
"I grant you the Jewish centres of journalism are difficult to shake! But they all depend on stocks and shares!"
A touch on his arm caused him to turn round,—Paul Zouche confronted both him and Thord, with a solemn worn face, and lack-lustre eyes.
"Good-night, friends!" he said; "I have not kicked at a king with my boot, but I have with my brain!—and the effort is exhausting! I am going home to bed."
"Where is your home?" asked Leroy suddenly.
Zouche looked mysterious.
"In a palace, dear sir! A palace of golden air, peopled with winged dreams! No money could purchase it;—no 'Empire Builder' could build it!—it is mine and mine alone! And I pay no taxes!"
"Will you put this to some use for me?" said Leroy, holding out a gold piece; "Simply as comrade and friend?"
Zouche stared at him.
"You mean it?"
"Of course I mean it! Zouche, believe me, you are going to be the fashion! You will be able to do me a good turn before long!"
Zouche took the gold piece, and as he took it, pressed the giver's hand.
"You mean well!" he said tremulously; "You know—as Sergius does, that I am poor,—often starving—often drunk—but you know also that there is something here!"—and he touched his forehead meaningly. "But to be the 'fashion'! Bah! I do not belong to the Trade-ocracy! Nobody becomes the 'fashion' nowadays unless they have cheated their neighbours by short weight and falsified accounts! Good-night! You might be the King from your looks;—but you have something better than kingship—Heart! Good-night, Pequita! You danced well! Good-night, Lotys! You spoke well! Everyone does everything well, except poor Zouche!"
Pequita ran up to him.
"Good-night, dear Paul!"
He stooped and kissed her gently.
"Good-night, little one! If ever you show your twinkling feet at the Opera, you will be the 'fashion'—and will you remember Paul then?"
"Always—always!" said Pequita tenderly; "Father and Lotys and I will always love you!"
Zouche gave a short laugh.
"Always love me! Me! Well!—what strange things children will say, not knowing in the least what they mean!"
He gave a vague salute to the entire company, and walked out of the tavern with drooping head. Others followed him,—every man in going, shook hands with Lotys and Sergius Thord,—the lamps were extinguished, and the landlord standing in the porch of his tavern watched them all file out, and bade them all a cordial farewell. Pequita's home was with her father in the house where Sergius Thord dwelt, and Lotys kissing her tenderly good-night, left her to Thord's care.
"And who will see you home, Lotys?" enquired Thord.
"May I for once have that honour?" asked Pasquin Leroy. His two companions stared in undisguised amazement, and there was a moment's silence.
Then Lotys spoke.
"You may!" she said simply.
There was another silence while she put on her hat, and wrapped herself in her long dark cloak. Then Thord took Pequita by the hand.
Leroy turned to his two friends and spoke to them in a low tone.
"Go your ways!" he said peremptorily; "I will join you later!"
Vain were their alarmed looks of remonstrance; and in another moment all the party had separated, and only Max Graub and Axel Regor remained on the pavement outside the tavern, disconsolately watching two figures disappearing in the semi-shadowed moonlight—Pasquin Leroy and Lotys— walking closely side by side.
"Was there ever such a drama as this?" muttered Graub, "He may lose his life at any moment!"
"If he does," responded Regor, "It will not be our fault. We do our best to guard him from the consequence of one folly,—and he straightway runs into another! There is no help for it; we have sworn to obey him, and we must keep our oath!"
They passed slowly along the street, too absorbed in their own uncomfortable reflections for the interchange of many words. By the rules of the Revolutionary Committee, they were not allowed 'to follow or track any other member' so they were careful to walk in a reverse direction to that taken by their late comrades. The great bell of the Cathedral boomed midnight as they climbed towards the citadel, and the pale moon peeping whitely through piled-up fleecy clouds, shed a silver glare upon the quiet sea. And down into the 'slums,' down, and ever deeper, into the sad and cheerless 'Quarter of the Poor' Pasquin Leroy walked as though he trod lightly on a path of flowers,—his heart beating high, and his soul fully awakened within him, thrilled, he knew not why, to the heart's core by the soft low voice of Lotys,—and glad that in the glimpses of the moonlight her eyes were occasionally lifted to his face, with something of a child's trust, if not of a woman's tenderness.
AN INVITATION TO COURT
The spring was now advancing into full summer, and some time had passed since the Socialist party had gathered under their leaders to the voice of Lotys. Troublous days appeared to be impending for the Senate, and rumours of War,—war sometimes apparently imminent, and again suddenly averted,—had from time to time worried the public through the Press. But what was even more disturbing to the country, was the proposed infliction of new, heavy and irritating taxes, which had begun to affect the popular mind to the verge of revolt. Twice since Lotys had spoken at the People's Assembly Rooms had Sergius Thord addressed huge mass meetings, which apparently the police had no orders to disperse, and his power over the multitude was increasing by leaps and bounds. Whenever he spoke, wherever he worked, the indefatigable Pasquin Leroy was constantly at his side, and he, in his turn began to be recognized by the Revolutionary Committee as one of their most energetic members, —able, resolute, and above all, of an invaluably inscrutable and self- contained demeanour. His two comrades were not so effectual in their assistance, and appeared to act merely in obedience to his instructions. Their attitude, however, suited everyone concerned as well as, if not better than, if they had been overzealous. Owing to what Leroy had stated concerning the possibility of his arrest as a spy, his name was never mentioned in public by one single member of the Brotherhood; and to the outside Socialist following, he therefore appeared simply as one of the many who worked under Sergius Thord's command. Meanwhile, there were not lacking many other subjects for popular concern and comment; all of which in their turn gave rise to anxious discussion and vague conjecture. A Cabinet Council had been held by the Premier, at which, without warning, the King had attended personally, but the results were not made known to the public. Yet the general impression was that his Majesty seemed to be perfectly indifferent to the feelings or the well-being of his subjects; in fact, as some of them said with dismal shakings of the head, "It was all a part of the system; kings were not allowed to do anything even for the benefit of their people." And rising Socialism, ever growing stronger, and amassing in its ranks all the youthful and ambitious intellects of the time, agreed and swore that it was time for a Republic. Only by a complete change of Government could the cruelly-increasing taxation be put down; and if Government was to be changed, why not the dummy figure-head of Government as well?
Thus Rumour talked, sometimes in whispers—sometimes in shouts;—but through it all the life of the Court and fashion went on in the same way,—the King continued to receive with apparent favour the most successful and most moneyed men from all parts of the world; the Queen drove or walked, or rode;—and the only prospective change in the social routine was the report that the Crown Prince was about to leave the country for a tour round the world, and that he would start on his journey in his own yacht about the end of the month. The newspapers made a great fuss in print over this projected tour; but the actual people were wholly indifferent to it. They had seen very little of the Crown Prince,—certainly not enough to give him their affection; and whether he left the kingdom or stayed in it concerned them not at all. He had done nothing marked or decisive in his life to show either talent, originality of character, or resolution; and the many 'puffs' in the press concerning him, were scarcely read at all by the public, or if they were, they were not credited. The expression of an ordinary working-man with regard to his position was entirely typical of the general popular sentiment;—"If he would only do something to prove he had a will of his own, and a mind, he would perhaps be able to set the Throne more firmly on its legs than it is at present."
How thoroughly the young man had proved that he indeed possessed 'a will of his own,' was not yet disclosed to the outside critics of his life and conduct. Only the King and Queen, and Professor von Glauben knew it;—for even Sir Roger de Launay had not been entrusted with the story of his secret marriage. The Queen had received the news with her usual characteristic immobility. A faint cold smile had parted her lips as she listened to the story of her son's romance,—and her reply to the King's brief explanation was almost as brief:—
"Nearly all the aristocracy marry music-hall women!" she said; "One should therefore be grateful that a Crown Prince does not go lower in his matrimonial choice than an innocent little peasant!"
"The marriage is useless, of course," said the King; "It has satisfied Humphry's exalted notions of honour; but it can never be acknowledged or admitted."
"Of course not!" she agreed languidly; "It certainly clears up the mystery of The Islands, which you were so anxious to visit;—and I suppose the next thing you will do is to marry him again to some daughter of a Royal house?"
"As you were married to me?" she said, raising her eyes to his face with that strange deep look which spoke eloquently of some mystery hidden in her soul.
His cheeks burned with an involuntary flush. He bowed.
"Precisely! As I married you!" he replied.
"The experiment was hardly successful!" she said with her little cold smile. "I fear you have often regretted it!"
He looked at her, studying her beauty intently,—and the remembrance of another face, far less fair of feature, but warm and impassioned by the lovely light of sympathy and tenderness, came between his eyes and hers, like a heavenly vision.
"Had you loved me," he said slowly, "I might never have known what it was to need love!"
A slight tremor ran through her veins. There was a strange tone in his voice,—a soft cadence to which she was unaccustomed,—something that suggested a new emotion in his life, and a deeper experience.
"I never loved anyone in my life!" she answered calmly—"And now the days are past for loving. Humphry, however, has made up for my lack of the tender passion!"
She turned away indifferently, and appeared to dismiss the matter altogether from her mind. The first time she saw her son, however, after hearing of his marriage, she looked at him curiously.
"And so your wife is very lovely, Humphry!" she said with a slightly derisive smile.
He was not startled by the suddenness of her observation nor put out by it.
"She is the loveliest woman I have ever seen,—not excepting yourself," he replied.
"It is a very foolish affair!" she continued composedly; "But fortunately in our line of life such things are easily arranged;—and your future will not be spoiled by it. I am glad you are going abroad, as you will very soon forget!"
The Prince regarded her steadfastly with something of grave wonderment as well as compassion,—but he made no reply, and with the briefest excuse left her presence as soon as possible, in order to avoid further conversation on the subject. She, herself, however, found her mind curiously perturbed and full of conjectures concerning her son's idyllic love-story, in which all considerations for her as Queen and mother seemed omitted,—and where she, as it were, appeared to be shut outside a lover's paradise, the delights of which she had never experienced. The King held many private conferences with her on the matter, in which sometimes Professor von Glauben was permitted to share;—and the upshot of these numerous discussions resulted in a scheme which was as astonishing in its climax as it was unexpected. Over and over again it has been proved to nations as well as to individuals, that the whole course of events may be changed by the fixed determination of one resolute mind; but it is not often that the moral force of a mere girl succeeds in competing with the authority of kings and parliaments. But so it chanced on this occasion, and in the following manner.
One glorious early morning, the sun having risen without a cloud in the deep blue of the sky, and the sea being as calm as an inland lake, the King's yacht was seen to weigh anchor and steam away at her fullest speed towards The Islands. Little or no preparation had been made for her short voyage; there was no Royal party on board, and the only passenger was Professor von Glauben. He sat solitary on deck in a luxurious chair, smoking his meerschaum pipe, and dubiously considering the difficult and peculiar situation in which he was placed. He made no attempt to calculate the possible success or failure of his mission— 'for,' said he very sagely, 'it all depends on a woman, and God alone knows what a woman will do! Her ways are dark and wonderful, and altogether beyond the limit of the comprehension of man!'
His journey was undertaken at the King's command; and equally by the King's command he had been compelled to keep it a secret from Prince Humphry. He had never been to The Islands since the King's 'surprise visit' there, and he was of course not aware that Gloria now knew the real rank and position of her supposed 'sailor' husband. He was at present charged to break the news to her, and bring her straightway to the palace, there to confront both the King and Queen, and learn from them the true state of affairs.
"It is a cruel ordeal," he said, shaking his head sorrowfully; "Yet I myself am a party to its being tried. For once in my life I have pinned my faith on the unspoilt soul of an unworldly woman. I wonder what will come of it? It rests entirely with Gloria herself, and with no one else in the world!"
As the yacht arrived at its destination and dropped anchor at some distance from the pier, owing to the shallowness of the tide at that hour of the day, The Islands presented a fair aspect in the dancing beams of the summer sunlight. Numbers of fruit trees were bursting into blossom,—the apple, the cherry, the pink almond and the orange blossom all waved together and whispered sweetness to one another in the pure air, and the full-flowering mimosa perfumed every breath of wind. Fishermen were grouped here and there on the shore, mending or drying their nets; and in the fields beyond could be perceived many workers pruning the hedges or guiding the plough. The vision of a perfect Arcadia was presented to the eye; and so the Professor thought, as getting into the boat lowered for him, he was rowed from the yacht to the landing-place, and there dismissed the sailors, warning them that at the first sound of his whistle they should swiftly come for him again.
"What a pity to spoil her peace of mind—her simplicity of life!" he thought, as he walked at a slow and reluctant pace towards Ronsard's cottage; "And I fear we shall have trouble with the old man! I wonder if his philosophy will stand hard wear and tear!"
The pretty, low timber-raftered house confronted him at the next bend in the road, and presented a charming aspect of tranquillity. The grass in front of it was smooth as velvet and emerald-green, and in one of the flower borders Ronsard himself was digging and planting. He looked up as he heard the gate open, but did not attempt to interrupt his work;—and Von Glauben advanced towards him with a considerable sense of anxiety and insecurity in his mind. Anon he paused in the very act of greeting, as the old man turned his strong, deeply-furrowed countenance upon him with a look of fierce indignation and scorn.
"So! You are here!" he said; "Have you come to look upon the evil your Royal master has worked? Or to make dutiful obeisance to Gloria as Crown-Princess?"
Von Glauben was altogether taken aback.
"Then—you know—?" he stammered.
"Oh yes, I know!" responded Ronsard sternly and bitterly; "I know everything! There has been full confession! If the husband of my Gloria were more prince than man, my knife would have slit his throat! But he is more man than prince!—and I have let him live—for her sake!"
"Well—that is so far good!" said Von Glauben, wiping the perspiration from his brow, and heaving a deep sigh of relief; "And as you fully comprehend the situation, it saves me the trouble of explaining it! You are a philosopher, Ronsard! Permit me to remind you of that fact! You know, like myself, that what is done, even if it is done foolishly, cannot be undone!"
"I know it! Who should know it so well as I!" and Ronsard set a delicate rose-tree roughly in the hole he had dug for it, and began to fiercely pile in the earth around it;—"Fate is fate, and there is no gainsaying it! The law of Compensation will always have its way! Look you, man!—and listen! I, Rene Ronsard, once killed a king!—and now in my old age, the only creature I ever loved is tricked by the son of a king! It is just! So be it!"
He bent his white head over his digging again, and Von Glauben was for a moment silent, vaguely amazed and stupefied by this sudden declaration of a past crime.
"You should not say 'tricked,' my friend!" he at last ventured to remark; "Prince Humphry is an honest lad;—he means to keep his word!"
Ronsard looked up, his eyes gleaming with fury.
"Keep his word? Bah! How can he? Who in this wide realm will give him the honourable liberty to keep his word? Will he acknowledge Gloria as his wife before the nation?—she a foundling and a castaway? Will he make her his future queen? Not he! He will forsake her, and live with another woman, in sin which the law will sanctify!"
He went on planting the rose-tree, then,—dropping his spade,—tossed up his head and hands with a wild gesture.
"What, and who is this God who so ordains our destiny!" he exclaimed; "For surely this is His work,—not mine! Hidden away from all the world with my life's secret buried in my soul, I, without wife, or children or friends, or any soul on earth to care whether I lived or died, was sent an angel comforter;—the child I rescued from the sea! 'Gloria, Gloria in excelsis Deo!' the choristers sang in the church when I found her! I thought it true! With her,—in every action, in every thought and word, I strove,—and have faithfully striven,—to atone for my past crime;—for I was forced through others to kill that king! When proved guilty of the deed, I was told by my associates to assume madness,—a mere matter of acting,—and, being adjudged as insane, I was sent with other criminals on a convict ship, bound for a certain coast-prison, where we were all to be kept for life. The ship was wrecked off the rocks yonder, and it was reported that every soul on board went down, but I escaped—only I,—for what inscrutable reason God alone knows! Finding myself saved and free, I devoted my life to hard work, and to doing all the good I could think of to atone—to atone—always to atone! Then the child was sent to me; and I thought it was a sign that my penance was accepted; but no!—no!—the compensating curse falls,— not on me,—not on me, for if only so, I would welcome it—but on Her! —the child of my love—the heart of my heart!—on Her!"
He turned away his face, and a hard sob broke from his labouring chest. Von Glauben laid a gentle, protective hand on his shoulder.
"Ronsard, be a man!" he said in a kind, firm voice; "This is the first time you have told me your true history—and—I shall respect your confidence! You have suffered much—equally you have loved much! Doubt not that you are forgiven much. But why should you assume, or foresee unhappiness for Gloria? Why talk of a curse where perhaps there is only an intended blessing? Is she unhappy, that you are thus moved?"
Ronsard furtively dashed away the tears from his eyes.
"She? Gloria unhappy? No,—not yet! The delights of spring and summer have met in her smile,—her eyes, her movements! It was she herself who told me all! If he had told me, I would have killed him!"
"Eminently sensible!" said Von Glauben, recovering his usual phlegmatic calm; "You would have killed the man she loves best in the world. And so with perfect certainty you would have killed her as well,—and probably yourself afterwards. A perfect slaughterhouse, like the last scene in Hamlet, by the so admirable Shakespeare! It is better as it is. Life is really very pleasant!"
He sniffed the perfumed air,—listened with appreciation to the trilling of a bird swinging on a bough of apple-blossom above him, and began to feel quite easy in his mind. Half his mission was done for him, Prince Humphry having declared himself in his true colours. "I always said," mused the Professor, "that he was a very honest young man! And I think he will be honest to the end." Aloud he asked:
"When did you know the truth?"
"Some days since," replied Ronsard. "He—Gloria's husband—I can as yet call him by no other name—came suddenly one evening;—the two went out together as usual, and then—then my child returned alone. She told me all,—of the disguise he had assumed—and of his real identity—and I— well! I think I was mad! I know I spoke and acted like a madman!"
"Nay, rather say like a philosopher!" murmured Von Glauben with a humorous smile; "Remember, my good fellow, that there is no human being who loses self-control more easily and rapidly than he who proclaims the advantage of keeping it! And what did Gloria say to you?"
Ronsard looked up at the tranquil skies, and was for a moment silent. Then he answered.
"Gloria is—just Gloria! There is no woman like her,—there never will be any woman like her! She said nothing at all while I raged and swore;—she stood before me white and silent,—grand and calm, like some great angel. Then when I cursed him,—she raised her hand, and like a queen she said: 'I forbid you to utter one word against him!' I stood before her mute and foolish. 'I forbid you!' She,—the child I reared and nurtured—menaced me with her 'command' as though I were her slave and servant! You see I have lost her!—she is not mine any more—she is his—to be treated as he wills, and made the toy of his pleasure! She does not know the world, but I know it! I know the misery that is in store for her! But there is yet time—and I will live to avenge her wrong!"
"Possibly there will be no wrong to avenge," said Von Glauben composedly; "But if there is, I have no doubt you would kill another king!" Ronsard turned pale and shuddered. "It is stupid work, killing kings," went on the Professor; "It never does any good; and often increases the evil it was intended to cure. Your studies in philosophy must have taught you that much at least! As for your losing Gloria,— you lost her in a sense when you gave her to her husband. It is no use complaining now, because you find he is not the man you took him for. The mischief is done. At any rate you are bound to admit that Gloria has, so far, been perfectly happy; she will be happy still, I truly believe, for she has the secret of happiness in her own beautiful nature. And you, Ronsard, must make the best of things, and meet fate with calmness. To-day, for instance, I am here by the King's command,— I bear his orders,—and I have come for Gloria. They want her at the Palace."
Ronsard stepped out of his flower-border, and stood on the greensward amazed, and indignantly suspicious.
"They want her at the Palace!" he repeated; "Why? What for? To do her harm? To make her miserable? To insult and threaten her? No, she shall not go!"
"Look here, my friend," said the Professor with mild patience; "You have—for a philosopher—a most unpleasant habit of jumping to wrong conclusions! Please endeavour to compose the tumult in your soul, and listen to me! The King has sent for Gloria, and I am instructed to take charge of her, and escort her to the presence of their Majesties. No insult, no threat, no wrong is intended. I will bring her back again safe to you immediately the audience is concluded. Be satisfied, Ronsard! For once 'put your trust in princes,' for her husband will be there,—and do you think he would suffer her to be insulted or wronged?"
Ronsard's sunken eyes looked wild,—his aged frame trembled violently, and he gave a hopeless gesture.
"I do not know—I do not know!" he said incoherently; "I am an old man, and I have always found it a wicked world! But—if you give me your word that she shall come to no harm, I will trust you!"
Silently Von Glauben took his hand and pressed it. Two or three minutes passed, weighted with unuttered and unutterable thoughts in the minds of both men; and then, in a somewhat hushed voice, the Professor said:
"Ronsard, I am just now reminded of the tragic story of Rudolf of Austria, who killed himself through the maddening sorrow of an ill- fated love! We, in our different lines of life should remember that,— and let no young innocent heart suffer through our follies—our rages against fate—our conventions—our more or less idiotic laws of restraint and hypocrisy. The tragedy of Prince Rudolf and the unhappy Marie Vetsera whom he worshipped, was caused by the sin and the falsehood of others,—not by the victims of the cruel catastrophe. Therefore, I say to you, my friend, be wise in time!—and control the natural stormy tendency of your passions in this present affair. I assure you, on my faith and honour as a man, that the King has a kindly heart and a brave one,—together with a strong sense of justice. He is not truly known to his people;—they only see him through the pens of press reporters, or the slavish descriptions of toadies and parasites. Then again, the Crown Prince is an honourable lad; and from what I know of him, he is not likely to submit to conventional usages in matters which are close to his life and heart. Gloria herself is of such an exceptional character and disposition, that I think she may be safely left to arbitrate her own destiny——"
"And the Queen?" interrupted Ronsard suddenly;—"She, at any rate, as a woman, wife and mother, will be gentle?"
"Gentle, she certainly is," said Von Glauben, with a slight sigh; "But only because she does not consider it worth while to be otherwise! God has put a stone in the place where her heart should be! However,—she will have little to say, and still less to do with to-day's business. You tell me you will trust me; I promise you, you shall not repent your trust! But I must see Gloria herself. Where is she?"
Ronsard pointed towards the cottage.
"She is in there, studying," he said; "Books of the old time;—books that few read. She gets them all from Sergius Thord. How would it be, think you, if he knew?"
The pleasantly rubicund countenance of the Professor grew a shade paler.
"Sergius Thord—Sergius Thord?—H'm—h'm—let me see!—who is he? Ah! I remember,—he is the Socialist lion, for ever roaring through the streets and seeking whom he may devour! I daresay he is not without cleverness!"
"Cleverness!" echoed Ronsard; "That is a tame word! He has genius, and the people swear by him. Since the proposed new taxation, and other injustices of the Government, he has gained adherents by many thousands. You,—whom I once took to be a mere German schoolmaster, a friend of the young 'sailor' whom my child so innocently wedded,—you whom I now know to be the King's physician—surely you cannot live on the mainland, and in the metropolis, without knowing of the power of Sergius Thord?"
"I know something—not much;" replied the Professor guardedly; "But come, my friend, I have not deceived you! I was in very truth a poor 'German schoolmaster,' once,—before I became a student of medicine and surgery. And that I am the King's physician, is merely one of those accidental circumstances which occur in a world of chance. But schoolmaster as I have been, I doubt if I would set our 'Glory-of-the- Sea' to study books recommended to her by Sergius Thord. The poetry of Heine is more suitable to her age and sex. Let us break in upon her meditations." And he walked across the grass with one arm thrust through that of Ronsard; "For she must prepare herself. We ought to be gone within an hour."
They passed under the low, rose-covered porch into a wide square room, with raftered ceiling and deep carved oak ingle nook,—and here at the table, with a quarto volume opened out before her, sat Gloria, resting her head on one fair hand, her rich hair falling about her in loose shining tresses, and her whole attitude expressive of the deepest absorption in study. As they entered, she looked up and smiled,—then rose, her hand still resting on the open book.
"At last you have come again, dear Professor!" she said; "I began to think you had grown weary in well-doing!"
Von Glauben stared at her, stricken speechless for a moment. What mysterious change had passed over the girl, investing her with such an air of regal authority? It was impossible to say. To all appearance she was the same beautiful creature, clad in the same simple white homespun gown,—yet were she Empress of half the habitable globe, she could not have looked more environed with dignity, sweetness and delicately gracious manner. He understood the desolating expression of Ronsard,— 'You see I have lost her!—she is not mine any more—she is his!' He recognised and was suddenly impressed by that fact;—she was 'his'—the wife of the Crown Prince and Heir-Apparent to the Throne;—and evidently with the knowledge of her position had arisen the pride of love and the spirit of grace to support her honours worthily. And so, as Von Glauben met her eyes, which expressed their gentle wonder at his silence, and as she extended her hand to him, he came slowly forward and bowing low, respectfully kissed that hand.
"Princess," he said, in a voice that trembled ever so slightly; "I shall never be weary in well-doing,—if you are good enough to call my service and friendship for you by that name! I hesitated to come before,—because I thought—I feared—I did not know!—"
"I understand!" said Gloria tranquilly; "You did not think the Prince, my husband, would tell me the truth so soon! But I know all, and now—I am glad to know it! Dearest," and she moved swiftly to Ronsard who was standing silent in the doorway—"come in and sit down! You make yourself so tired sometimes in the garden;" and she threw a loving arm about him. "You must rest; you look so pale!"
For all answer, he lifted the hand that hung about his neck, to his lips and kissed it tenderly.
"They want you, Gloria!" he said tremulously; "They want you at the Palace. You must go to-day!"
She lifted her brilliant eyes enquiringly to Von Glauben, who responded to the look by at once explaining his mission. He was there, he said, by the King's special command;—their Majesties had been informed of their son's marriage by their son himself; and they desired at once to see and speak with their unknown daughter-in-law. The interview would be private; his Royal Highness the Crown Prince would be present;—it might last an hour, perhaps longer,—and he, Von Glauben, was entrusted to bring Gloria to the Palace, and escort her back to The Islands again when all was over. Thus, with elaborate and detailed courtesy, the Professor unfolded the nature of his enterprise, while Gloria, still keeping one arm round Ronsard, heard and smiled.
"I shall obey the King's command!" she said composedly; "Though,— having no word from the Prince, my husband, concerning this mandate,—I might very well refuse to do so! But it may be as well that their Majesties and their son's wife should plainly, and once for all, understand each other. Dear Professor, you look sadly troubled. Is there some little convention, some special ceremonial of so-called 'good manners,' which you are commissioned to teach me, before I make my appearance at Court under your escort?"
Her lovely lips smiled,—her eyes laughed,—she looked the very incarnation of Beauty triumphant. Von Glauben's brain whirled,—he felt bewitched and dazzled.
"I?—to teach you anything? No, my princess!—and please think how loyally I have called you 'Princess' from the beginning!—I have always told you that you have a spiritual knowledge far surpassing all material wisdom. Conventions and ceremonials are not for you,—you will make fashion, not follow it! I am not troubled, save for your sake, dear child!—for you know nothing of the world, and the ways of the Court may at first offend you—"
"The ways of Hell must have seemed dark to Proserpine," said Ronsard in his harsh, strong voice; "But Love gave her light!"
"A very just reminder!" said Von Glauben, well pleased;—"Consider Gloria to be the new Proserpine to-day! And now she must forgive me for playing the part of a tyrannical friend, and urging her to hasten her preparations."
Gloria bent down and kissed Ronsard gently.
"Trust me, little father!" she whispered; "You have not taught me great lessons of truth in vain!"
Aloud she said.
"The King and Queen wish to see me and speak with me,—and I know the reason why! They desire to fully explain to me all that my husband has already told me,—which is that according to the rules made for monarchs, our marriage is inadmissible. Well!—I have my answer ready; and you, Professor, shall hear me give it! Wait but a few moments and I will come with you."
She left the room. The two men looked at each other in silence. At last Von Glauben said:—
"Ronsard, I think you will soon reap the reward of your 'life- philosophy' system! You have fed that girl from her childhood on strong intellectual food, and trained the mental muscles rather than the physical ones. Upon my word, I believe you will see a good result!"
Ronsard, who had grown much calmer and quieter during the last few minutes, raised himself a little from the chair into which he had sunk with an air of fatigue, and looked dreamily towards the open lattice window, where the roses hung in a curtain of crimson blossom.
"If it be so, I shall praise God!" he said; "But the years have come and gone with me so peacefully since I made my home on these quiet shores, that the exercise of what I have presumed to call 'philosophy' has had no chance. Philosophy! It is well to preach it,—but when the blow of misfortune falls, who can practise it?"
"You can," replied the Professor;—"I can! Gloria can! I think we all three have clear brains. There is a tendency in the present age to overlook and neglect the greatest power in the whole human composition,—the mental and psychical part of it. Now, in the present curious drama of events, we have a chance given to exercise it; and it will be our own faults if we do not make our wills rule our destinies!"
"But the position is intolerable—impossible!" said Ronsard, rising and pacing the room with a fresh touch of agitation. "Nothing can do away with the fact that we—my child and I—have been cruelly deceived! And now there can be only one of two contingencies; Gloria must be acknowledged as the Prince's wife,—in which case he will be forced to resign all claim to the Throne;—or he must marry again, which makes her no wife at all. That is a disgrace which her pride would never submit to, nor mine;—for did I not kill a king?"
"Let me advise you for the future not to allude to that disagreeable incident!" said Von Glauben persuasively: "Exercise discretion,—as I do! Observe that I do not ask you what king you killed;—I am as careful on that matter as I am concerning the reasons for which I myself left my native Fatherland! I make it a rule never to converse on painful subjects. You tell me you have tried to atone; then believe that the atonement is made, and that Gloria is the sign of its acceptance, and—happy augury!—here she comes."
They both instinctively turned to confront the girl as she entered. She had changed her ordinary white homespun gown for another of the same kind, equally simple, but fresh and unworn; her glorious bronze- chestnut hair was unbound to its full rippling length, and was held back by a band or fillet of curiously carved white coral, which surmounted the rich tresses somewhat in the fashion of a small crown, and she carried, thrown over one arm, the only kind of cloak she ever wore,—a burnous-like wrap of the same white homespun as her dress, with a hood, which, as the Professor slowly took out his glasses and fixed them on his nose out of mere mechanical habit, to look at her more closely, she drew over her head and shoulders, the soft folds about her exquisite face completing a classic picture of such radiant beauty as is seldom seen nowadays among the increasingly imperfect and repulsive specimens of female humanity which 'progress' combined with sensuality, produce for the 'advancement' of the race.
"I have no Court dress," she said smiling; "And if I had I should not wear it! The King and Queen shall see me as my husband sees me,—what pleases him, must suffice to please them! I am quite ready!"
Von Glauben removed the spectacles he had needlessly put on. They were dim with a moisture which he furtively polished off, blinking his eyes meanwhile as if the light hurt him. He was profoundly moved—thrilled to the very core of his soul by the simplicity, frankness and courage of this girl whose education was chiefly out of wild Nature's lesson- book, and who knew nothing of the artificial world of fashion.
"And I, my princess, am at your service!" he said; "Ronsard, it is but a few hours that we shall be absent. To-night with the rising of the moon we shall return, and I doubt not with the Prince himself as chief escort! Keep a good heart and have faith! All will be well!"