Part 3 out of 11
last few moments,--"Speak on, man! Whoever heard of a dumb Socialist!
Rant--rant! Rant and rave!--as I do, when the fit is on me! Do I not,
Thord? Do I not move you even to tears?"
"And laughter!" put in Zegota. "Hold your tongue, Zouche! No other man
can talk at all, if you once begin!"
Zouche laughed, and drained his glass.
"True!--my genius is of an absorbing quality! Silence, gentlemen!
Silence for our new comrade! 'Pasquin' stands for the beginning of a
jest--so we may hope he will be amusing,--'Leroy' stands for the king,
and so we may expect him to be non-political!"
THE KING'S DOUBLE
As Leroy rose to speak, there was a little commotion. Max Graub upset
his glass, and seemed to be having a struggle under the table with Axel
"What ails you?" said Leroy, glancing at his friends with an amazed
air--"Are you quarrelling?"
"Quarrelling!" echoed Max Graub, "Why, no--but what man will have his
beer upset without complaint? Tell me that!"
"You upset it!" said Regor angrily--"I did not."
"You did!" retorted Graub, "and because I pushed you for it, you showed
me a pistol in your pocket! I object to be shown a pistol. So I have
taken it away. Here it is!" and he laid the weapon on the table in
front of him.
A look of anger darkened Leroy's brows.
"I was not aware you carried arms," he said coldly.
Sergius Thord noticed his annoyance.
"There is nothing remarkable in that, my friend!" he interposed--"We
all carry arms,--there is not one of us at this table who has not a
loaded pistol,--even Lotys is no exception to this rule."
"Now by my word!" said Graub, "_I_ have no loaded pistol,--and I
will swear Leroy is equally unarmed!"
"Entirely so!" said Leroy quietly--"I never suspect any man of evil
intentions towards me."
As he said this, Lotys leaned forward impulsively and stretched out her
hand,--a beautiful hand, well-shaped and white as a white rose petal.
"I like you for that!"--she said--"It is the natural attitude of a
A slight colour warmed his bronzed skin as he took her hand, pressed it
gently, and let it go again. Axel Regor looked up defiantly.
"Well, I _do_ suspect every man of evil intentions!" he said, "So
you may all just as well know the worst of me at once! My experience of
life has perhaps been exceptionally unpleasant; but it has taught me
that as a rule no man is your friend till you have made it worth his
"By favours bestowed, or favours to come?" queried Thord, smiling,--
"However, without any argument, Axel Regor, I am inclined to think you
"Then a weapon is permissible here?" asked Graub.
"Not only permissible, but necessary," replied Thord. "As members of
this Brotherhood we live always prepared for some disaster,--always on
our guard against treachery. Comrades!" and raising his voice he
addressed the whole party. "Lay down your arms, all at once and
In one instant, as if in obedience to a military order, the table was
lined on either side with pistols. Beside these weapons, there was a
goodly number of daggers, chiefly of the small kind such as are used in
Corsica, encased in leather sheaths. Pasquin Leroy smiled as he saw
Lotys lay down one of those tiny but deadly weapons, together with a
small silver-mounted pistol.
"Forewarned is forearmed!" he said gaily;--"Madame, if I ever offend, I
shall look to you for a happy dispatch! Gentlemen, I have still to make
my speech, and if you permit it, I will speak now,--unarmed as I am,--
with all these little metal mouths ready to deal death upon me if I
happen to make any observation which may displease you!"
"By Heaven! A brave man!" cried Zouche; "Thord, you have picked up a
trump card! Speak, Pasquin Leroy! We will forgive you, even if you
praise the King!"
Leroy stood silent for a moment, as if thinking. His two companions
looked up at him once or twice in unquestionable alarm and wonderment,
but he did not appear to be conscious of their observation. On the
contrary, some very deeply seated feeling seemed to be absorbing his
soul,--and it was perhaps this suppressed emotion which gave such a
rich vibrating force to his accents when he at last spoke.
"Friends and Brothers!" he said;--"It is difficult for one who has
never experienced the three-fold sense of Liberty, Equality and
Fraternity until to-night, to express in the right manner the sense of
gratitude which I, a complete stranger to you, feel for the readiness
and cordiality of the welcome you have extended to me and my
companions, accepting us without hesitation, as members of your
Committee, and as associates in the work of the Cause you have
determined to maintain. It is an Ideal Cause,--I need not tell you
that! To rescue and protect the poor from the tyranny of the rich and
strong, was the mission of Christ when He visited this earth; and it
would perhaps be unwise on my part, and discouraging to yourselves, to
remind you that even He has failed! The strong, the selfish, and the
cruel, still delight in oppressing their more helpless fellows, despite
the theories of Christianity. And it is perfectly natural that it
should be so, seeing that the Christian Church itself has become a mere
system of money-making and self-advancement."
A burst of applause interrupted him. Eyes lightened with eager
enthusiasm, and every face was turned towards him. He went on:--
"To think of the great Founder of a great Creed, and then to consider
what his pretended followers have made of Him and His teaching, is
sufficient to fill the soul with the sickness of despair and
humiliation! To remember that Christ came to teach all men the Gospel
of love,--and to find them after eighteen hundred years still
preferring the Gospel of hate,--is enough to make one doubt the truth
of religion altogether! The Divine Socialist preached a creed too good
and pure for this world; and when we try to follow it, we are beaten
back on all sides by the false conventionalities and customs of a
sacerdotal system grown old in self-seeking, not in self-sacrifice.
Were Christ to come again, the first thing He would probably do would
be to destroy all the churches, saying: 'I never knew you: depart from
me ye that work iniquity!' But till He does come again, it rests with
the thinkers of the time to protest against wrongs and abuses, even if
they cannot destroy them,--to expose falsehood, even if they cannot
utterly undo its vicious work. Seeing, however, that the greater
majority of men are banded on the side of wealth and material self-
interest, it is unfortunately only a few who remain to work for the
cause of the poor, and for such equal rights of justice as you--as we--
in our present Association claim to be most worthy of man's best
efforts. It may be asked by those outside such a Fraternity as ours,--
'What do they want? What would they have that they cannot obtain?' I
would answer that we want to see the end of a political system full of
bribery and corruption,--that we desire the disgrace and exposure of
such men as those, who, under the pretence of serving the country,
merely line their own coffers out of the taxes they inflict upon the
people;--and that if we see a king inclined to favour the overbearing
dominance of a political party governed by financial considerations
alone,--a party which has no consideration for the wider needs of the
whole nation, we from our very hearts and souls desire the downfall of
A low, deep murmur responded to his words,--a sound like the snarl of
wolves, deep, fierce, and passionate. A close observer might perhaps
have detected a sudden pallor on Leroy's face as he heard this ominous
growl, and an involuntary clenching of the hand on the part of Axel
Regor. Max Graub looked up.
"Ah so, my friends! You hate the King?"
No answer was vouchsafed to this query. The interruption was evidently
unwelcome, all eyes being still fixed on Leroy. He went on tranquilly:
"I repeat--that wherever and whenever a king--any king--voluntarily and
knowingly, supports iniquity and false dealing in his ministers, he
lays himself open to suspicion, attack, and dethronement! I speak with
particular feeling on this point, because, apart from whatever may be
the thoughts and opinions of these who are assembled here to-night, I
have a special reason of my own for hating the King! That reason is
marked on my countenance! I bear an extraordinary resemblance to him,
--so great indeed, that I might be taken for his twin brother if he had
one! And I beg of you, my friends, to look at me long and well, that
you make no error concerning me, for, being now your comrade, I do not
wish to be mistaken for your enemy!"
He drew himself up, lifting his head with an air of indomitable pride
and grace which well became him. An exclamation of surprise broke from
all present, and Sergius Thord bent forward to examine his features
with close attention. Every man at the table did the same, but none
regarded him more earnestly or more searchingly than Lotys. Her
wonderful eyes seemed to glow and burn with strange interior fires, as
she kept them steadily fixed upon his face.
"Yes--you are strangely like the King!" she said--"That is,--so far as
I am able to judge by his portraits and coins. I have never seen him."
"I _have_ seen him,"--said Sergius Thord, "though only at a
distance. And I wonder I did not notice the strange resemblance you
bear to him before you called my attention to it. Are you in any way
related to him?"
"Related to him!" Leroy laughed aloud. "No! If the late King had any
bastard sons, I am not one of them! But I pray you again all to
carefully note this hateful resemblance,--a resemblance I would fain
rid me of--for it makes me seem a living copy of the man I most
There was a pause,--during which he stood quietly, submitting himself
to the fire of a hundred wondering, questioning, and inquisitorial eyes
"You are all satisfied?" he then asked; "You, Sergius Thord,--my chief
and commander,--you, and all here present are satisfied?"
"Satisfied?--Yes!" replied Thord; "But sorry that your personality
resembles that of a fool and a knave!"
A strange grimace distorted the countenance of Max Graub, but he
quickly buried his nose and his expression together in a foaming glass
"You cannot be so sorry for me as I am for myself!" said Leroy, "And
now to finish the few words I have been trying to say. I thank you from
my heart for your welcome, and for the trust you have reposed in me and
my companions. I am proud to be one of you; and I promise that you
shall all have reason to be glad that I am associated with your Cause!
And to prove my good faith, I undertake to set about working for you
without a day's delay; and towards this object, I give you my word that
before our next meeting something shall be done to shake the political
stronghold of Carl Pérousse!"
Sergius Thord sprang up excitedly.
"Do that," he said, "and were you a thousand times more like the King
than you are, you shall be the first to command our service and
Loud acclamation followed his words, and all the men gathered close up
about Leroy. He looked round upon them, half-smiling, half-serious.
"But you must tell me what to do!" he said. "You must explain to me why
you consider Pérousse a traitor, and how you think it best his
treachery should be proved. For, remember, I am a stranger to this part
of the country, and my accidental resemblance to the King does not make
me his subject!"
"True!" said Paul Zouche,--his eyes were feverishly bright and his
cheeks flushed--"To be personally like a liar does not oblige one to
tell lies! To call oneself a poet does not enable one to write poetry!
And to build a cathedral does not make one a saint! To know all the
highways and byways of the Pérousse policy, you must penetrate into the
depths and gutter-slushes of the great newspaper which is subsidised by
the party to that policy! And this is difficult--exceedingly difficult,
let me assure you, my bold Pasquin! And if you can perform such a
'pasquinade' as shall take you into these Holy of Holy purlieus of
mischief and money-making, you will deserve to be chief of the
Committee, instead of Sergius! Sergius talks--he will talk your head
off!--but he does nothing!"
"I do what I can,"--said Thord, patiently. "It is true I have no access
to the centres of diplomacy or journalism. But I hold the People in the
hollow of my hand!"
He spoke with deep and concentrated feeling, and the power of his soul
looked out eloquently from the darkening flash of his eyes. Leroy
studied his features with undisguised interest.
"If you thus hold the People," he said,--"Why not bid them rise against
the evil and tyranny of which they have cause to complain?"
Thord shook his head.
"To rouse the People," he replied, "would be worse than to rouse a herd
of starving lions from their forest dens, and give them freedom to slay
and devour! Nay!--the time is not yet! All gentle means must be tried;
and if these fail--why then--!"
He broke off, but his clenched hand and expressive glance said the
"Why do you not use the most powerful of all the weapons ever invented
for the destruction of one's enemies--the Pen?" asked Max Graub. "Start
a newspaper, for example, and gibbet your particular favourite Carl
"Bah! He would get up a libel case, and advertise himself a little more
by that method!" said Zegota contemptuously; "And besides, a newspaper
needs unlimited capital behind it. We have no rich friends."
"Rich friends!" exclaimed Lotys suddenly; "Who speaks of them--who
needs them? Rich friends expect you to toady to them; to lick the
ground under their feet; to fawn and flatter and lie, and be anything
but honest men! The rich are the vulgar of this world;--no one who has
heart, or soul, or sense, would condescend to seek friendships among
those whose only claim to precedence is the possession of a little more
yellow metal than their neighbours."
"Nevertheless, they and their yellow metal are the raw material, which
Genius may as well use to pave its way through life," said Zegota.
"Lotys, you are too much of an idealist!"
"Idealist! And you call yourself a realist, poor child!" said Lotys
with a laugh; "I tell you I would sooner starve than accept favour or
assistance from the merely rich!"
"Of course you would!" said Zouche, "And is not that precisely the
reason why you are set in dominion over us all? We men are not sure of
ourselves--but--Heaven knows why!--we are sure of You! I suppose it is
because you are sure of yourself! For example, we men are such wretched
creatures that we cannot go long without our food,--but you, woman, can
fast all day, and scorn the very idea of hunger. We men cannot bear
much pain,--but you,--woman,--can endure suffering of your own without
complaint, while attending to our various lesser hurts and scratches.
Wherefore, just because we feel you are above us in this and many other
things, we have set you amongst us as a warning Figurehead, which cries
shame upon us if we falter, and reminds us that you, a woman, can do,
and probably will do, what we men cannot. Imagine it! You would bear
all things for love's sake!--and, frankly speaking, we would bear
nothing at all, except for our own immediate and particular pleasure.
For that, of course, we would endure everything till we got it, and
then--pouf!--we would let it go again in sheer weariness and desire for
something else! Is it not so, Sergius?"
"I am glad you know yourself so well!" said Thord gloomily.
"Personally, I am not prepared to accept your theory."
"Men are children!" said Lotys, still smiling; "And should be treated
as children always, by women! Come, little ones! To bed, all of you! It
is growing late, and the rain has ceased."
She went to the window, and unbarring the shutters, opened it. The
streets were wet and glistening below, but the clouds had cleared, and
a pale watery moon shone out fitfully from the misty sky.
"Say good-night, and part;" she continued. "It is time! This day month
we will meet here again,--and our new comrades will then report what
progress they have made in the matter of Carl Pérousse."
"Tell me," said Leroy, approaching her, "What would you do, Madame, if
you had determined, on proving the corruption and falsehood of this at
present highly-honoured servant of the State?"
"I should gain access to his chief tool, David Jost, by means of the
Prime Minister's signet," said Lotys,--"If I could get the signet!--
which I cannot! Nor can you! But if I could, I should persuade Jost to
talk freely, and so betray himself. He and Carl Pérousse move the
Premier and the King whichever way they please."
"Is that so--?" began Leroy, when he was answered by a dozen voices at
"The King is a fool!"
"The King is a slave!"
"The King accepts everything that is set before him as being rightly
and wisely ordained,--and never enquires into the justice of what is
"The King assumes to be the friend of the People, but if you ask him to
do anything for the People, you only get the secretary's usual answer--
'His Majesty regrets that it is impossible to take any action in the
"Wait!--wait!--" said Leroy, with a gesture which called for a moment's
silence; "The question is,--_Could_ the King do anything if he
"I will answer that!" said Lotys, her eyes flashing, her bosom heaving,
and her whole figure instinct with pride and passion; "The King could
do everything! The King could be a man if he chose, instead of a dummy!
The King could cease to waste his time on fools and light women!--and
though he is, and must be a constitutional Monarch, he could so rule
all social matters as to make them the better,--not the worse for his
influence! There is nothing to prevent the King from doing his most
Leroy looked at her for a moment in silence.
"Madame, if the King heard your words he might perhaps regret his many
follies!" he said courteously;--"But where Society is proved worse,
instead of better for a king's influence, is it not somewhat too late
to remedy the evil? What of the Queen?"
"The Queen is queen from necessity, not from choice!" said Lotys;--"She
has never loved her husband. If she had loved him, perhaps he might,--
through her,--have loved his people more!"
There was a note of pathos in her voice that was singularly tender and
touching. Anon, as if impatient with herself, she turned to Sergius
"We must disperse!" she said abruptly; "Daybreak will be upon us before
we know it, and we have done no business at all this evening. To enrol
three new associates is a matter of fifteen minutes; the rest of our
time has been wasted!"
"Do not say so, Madame!" interposed Max Graub, "You have three new
friends--three new 'sons of your blood,' as you so poetically call
them,--though, truly, I for one am more fit to be your grandfather! And
do you consider the time wasted that has been spent in improving and
instructing your newly-born children?"
Lotys turned upon him with a look of disdain.
"You are a would-be jester;" she said coldly; "Old men love a jest, I
know, but they should take care to make it at the right time, and in
the right place. They should not play with edge-tools such as I am,
though I suppose, being a German, you think little or nothing of
"Madame!" protested Graub, "I think so much of women that I have never
married! Behold me, an unhappy bachelor! I have spared any one of your
beautiful sex from the cruel martyrdom of having to endure my life-long
She laughed--a pretty low laugh, and extended her hand with an air of
"You are amusing!" she said,--"And so I will not quarrel with you!
"Auf wiedersehn!" and Graub kissed the white hand he held. "I shall
hope you will command me to be of service to you and yours, ere long!"
"In what way, I wonder," she asked dubiously; "What can you do best?
Write? Speak? Or organize meetings?"
"I think," said Graub, speaking very deliberately, "that of all my
various accomplishments, which are many--as I shall one day prove to
you--I can poison best!"
The exclamation broke simultaneously from all the company. Graub looked
about him with a triumphant air.
"Ah so,--I know I shall be useful," he said; "I can poison so very
beautifully and well! One little drop--one, little microbe of
mischief--and I can make all your enemies die of cholera, typhoid,
bubonic plague, or what you please! I am what is called a Christian
scientific poisoner--that is a doctor! You will find me a most
invaluable member of this Brotherhood!"
He nodded his head wisely, and smiled. Sergius Thord laid one hand
heavily on his shoulder.
"We shall find you useful, no doubt!" he said, "But mark me well,
friend! Our mission is not to kill, but to save!--not to poison, but to
heal! If we find that by the death of one traitor we can save the lives
of thousands, why then that traitor must die. If we know that by
killing a king we destroy a country's abuses, that king is sent to his
account. But never without warning!--never without earnest pleading
that he whom the laws of Truth condemn, may turn from the error of his
ways and repent before it is too late. We are not murderers;--we are
merely the servants of justice."
"Exactly!" put in Paul Zouche; "You understand? We try to be what God
"Blaspheme not, Zouche!" said Thord; "Justice is the very eye of God!--
the very centre and foundation of the universe."
Zouche laughed discordantly.
"Excellent Sergius! Impulsive Sergius!--with big heart, big head and no
logic! Prove to me this eternal justice! Where does it begin? In the
creation of worlds without end, all doomed to destruction, and
therefore perfectly futile in their existence? In the making of man,
who lives his little day with the utmost difficulty, pain and struggle,
and is then extinguished, to be heard of no more? The use of it, my
Sergius!--point out the use of it! No,--there is no man can answer me
that! If I could see the Creator, I would ask Him the question
personally--but He hides Himself behind the great big pendulum He has
set swinging--tick--tock!--tick--tock! Life--Death!--Life--Death!--and
never a reason why the clock is set going! And so we shall never have
justice,--simply because there is none! It is not just or reasonable to
propound a question to which there is no answer; it is not just or
reasonable to endow man with all the thinking powers of brain, and all
the imaginative movements of mind, merely to turn him into a pinch of
dust afterwards. Every generation, every country strives to get justice
done, but cannot,--merely for the fact that God Himself has no idea of
it, and therefore it is naturally lacking in His creature, man. Our
governing-forces are plainly the elements. No Divine finger stops the
earthquake from engulfing a village full of harmless inhabitants,
simply because of the injustice of such utter destruction! See now!--
look at the eyes of Lotys reproaching me! You would think they were the
eyes of an angel, gazing at a devil in the sweet hope of plucking him
out of hell!"
"Such a hope would be vain in your case, Zouche," said Lotys
tranquilly; "You make your own hell, and you must live in it!
Nevertheless, in some of the wild things you say, there is a grain of
truth. If I were God, I should be the most miserable of all beings, to
look upon all the misery I had myself created! I should be so sorry for
the world, that I should put an end to all hope of immortality by my
She made this strange remark with a simplicity and wistfulness which
were in striking contrast to the awful profundity of the suggestion,
and all her auditors, including the half-tipsy Zouche, were silent.
"I should be so sorry!" she repeated; "For even as a mortal woman my
pity for the suffering world almost breaks my heart;--but if I were
God, I should have all the griefs of all the worlds I had made to
answer for,--and such an agony would surely kill me. Oh,--the pain,
the tears, the mistakes, the sins, the anguish of humanity! All these
are frightful to me! I do not understand why such misery should exist!
I think it must be that we have not enough love in the world; if we
only loved each other faithfully, God might love us more!"
Her eyes were wet; she caught her breath hard, and smiled a little
difficult smile. Something in her soul transfigured her face, and made
it for the moment exquisitely lovely, and the men around her gazed at
her in evidently reverential silence. Suddenly she stretched out both
One by one the would-be-fierce associates of the Revolutionary
Committee bent low over those fair hands; and then quietly saluting
Sergius Thord, as quietly left the room, like schoolboys retiring from
a class where the lessons had been more or less badly done. Paul Zouche
was not very steady on his feet, and two of his comrades assisted him
to walk as he stumbled off, singing somewhat of a ribald rhyme in
_mezza-voce_. Pasquin Leroy and his two friends were the last to
go. Lotys looked at them all three meditatively.
"You will be faithful?" she said.
"Unto death!" answered Leroy.
She came close up to him, placing one hand on his arm, and glanced
meaningly towards Sergius Thord, who was standing at the threshold
watching Zouche stumbling down the dark stairs.
"Sergius is a good man!" she said; "One of the mistaken geniuses of
this world,--savage as a lion, yet simple as a child! Whoever, and
whatever you are, be true to him!"
"He is dear to you?" said Leroy on a sudden impulse, catching her hand;
"He is more to you than most men?"
She snatched away her hand, and her eyes lightened first with wrath,
then with laughter.
"Dear to me!" she echoed,--"to Me? No one man on earth is dearer to me
than another! All are alike in my estimation,--all the same barbaric,
foolish babes and children--all to be loved and pitied alike! But
Sergius Thord picked me out of the streets when I was no better than a
stray and starving dog,--and like a dog I serve him--faithfully! Now
She stretched out her hand in an attitude of command, and there was
nothing for it but to obey. They therefore repeated their farewells,
and in their turn, went out, one by one, down the tortuous staircase.
Sholto, the hunchback, was below, and he let them out without a word,
closing and barring the door carefully behind them. Once in the street
and under the misty moonlight, Pasquin Leroy nodded a careless
dismissal to his companions.
"You will return alone?" enquired Max Graub.
"Quite alone!" was the reply.
"May I not follow you at a distance?" asked Axel Regor.
Leroy smiled. "You forget! One of the rules we have just sworn to
conform to, is--'No member shall track, follow or enquire into the
movements of any other member.' Go your ways! I will thank you both for
your services to-morrow."
He turned away rapidly and disappeared. His two friends remained gazing
somewhat disconsolately after him.
"Shall we go?" at last said Max Graub.
"When you please," replied Axel Regor irritably,--"The sooner the
better for me! Here we are probably watched,--we had best go down to
the quay, and from thence----"
He did not finish his sentence, but Graub evidently understood its
conclusion--and they walked quickly away together in quite an opposite
direction to that in which Leroy had gone.
Meanwhile, up in the now closed and darkened house they had left behind
them, Lotys stood looking at Sergius Thord, who had thrown himself into
a chair and sat with his elbows resting on the table, and his head
buried in his hands.
"You make no way, poor Sergius!" she said gently. "You work, you write,
you speak to the people, but you make no way!"
He looked up fiercely.
"I do make way!" he said; "How can you doubt it? A word from me, and
the massed millions would rise as one man!"
"And of what use would that be?" enquired Lotys. "The soldiers would
fire on the people, and there would be riot and bloodshed, but no
actual redress for wrong. You work vainly, Sergius!"
"If I could but kill the King!" he muttered.
"Another king would succeed him," she said. "And after all, if you only
knew it, the King may be a miserable man enough--far more miserable,
perhaps, than any of us imagine ourselves to be. No, Sergius!--I repeat
it, you work vainly! You have made me the soul of an Ideal which you
will never realise? Tell me, what is it you yourself would have, out of
all your work and striving?"
He looked at her with great, earnest, burning eyes.
"Power!" he said. "Power to change the mode of government; power to put
down the tyranny of priestcraft--power to relieve the oppressed, and
reward the deserving--power to make of you, Lotys, a queen among
"I am a queen among men, Sergius, and that suffices me! How often must
I tell you to do nothing for my sake, if it is for my sake only? I am a
very simple, plain woman, past my youth, and without beauty--I deserve
and demand nothing!"
He raised himself, and stretched out his arms towards her with a
gesture of entreaty.
"You deserve all that a man can give you!" he said passionately. "I
love you, Lotys! I have always loved you ever since I found you a
little forsaken child, shivering and weeping on the cold marble steps
of the Temesvar place in Buda. I love you!--you know I have always
loved you!--I have told you so a hundred times,--I love you as few men
She regarded him compassionately, and with a touch of wistful sorrow in
her eyes. Her black cloak fell away on either side of her in two
shadowy folds, disclosing her white-robed form and full bosom, like a
pearl in a dark shell.
"Good-night, Sergius!" she said simply, and turned to go.
He gave an exclamation of anger and pain.
"That is all you say--'Good-night'!" he muttered. "A man gives you his
heart, and you set it aside with a cold word of farewell! And yet--and
yet--you hold all my life!"
"I am sorry, Sergius," she said, in a gentle voice; "very sorry that it
is so. You have told me all this before; and I have answered you often,
and always in the same way. I have no love to give you, save that which
is the result of duty and gratitude. I do not forget!--I know that you
rescued me from starvation and death--though sometimes I question
whether it would not have been better to have let me die. Life is worth
very little at its utmost best; nevertheless, I admit I have had a
certain natural joy in living, and for that I have to thank you. I have
tried to repay you by my service--"
"Do not speak of that," he said hurriedly; "I have done nothing! You
are a genius in yourself, and would have made your way anywhere,--
perhaps better without me."
She smiled doubtfully.
"I am not sure! The trick of oratory does not carry one very far,--not
when one is a woman! Good-night again, Sergius! Try to rest,--you look
worn out. And do not think of winning power for my sake; what power I
need I will win for myself!"
He made no answer, but watched her with jealous eyes, as she moved
towards the door. On the threshold she turned.
"Those three new associates of yours--are they trustworthy, think you?"
He gave a gesture of indifference.
"I do not know! Who is there we can absolutely trust save ourselves?
That man, Leroy, is honest,--of that I am confident,--and he has
promised to be responsible for his friends."
"Ah!" She paused a moment, then with another low breathed 'good-night'
she left the room.
He looked at the door as it closed behind her--at the chair she had
"Lotys!" he whispered.
His whisper came hissing softly back to him in a fine echo on the empty
space, and with a great sigh he rose, and began to turn out the flaring
lamps above his head.
"Power!--Power!" he muttered--"She could not resist it! She would never
be swayed by gold,--but power! Her genius would rise to it--her beauty
would grow to it like a rose unfolding in the sun! 'Past youth, and
without beauty' as she says of herself! My God! Compare the tame pink-
and-white prettiness of youth with the face of Lotys,--and that
prettiness becomes like a cheap advertisement on a hoarding or a match-
box! Contrast the perfect features, eyes and hair of the newest social
'beauty,'--with the magical expression, the glamour in the eyes of
Lotys,--and perfection of feature becomes the rankest ugliness! Once in
a hundred centuries a woman is born like Lotys, to drive men mad with
desire for the unattainable--to fire them with such ambition as should
make them emperors of the world, if they had but sufficient courage to
snatch their thrones--and yet,--to fill them with such sick despair at
their own incompetency and failure, as to turn them into mere children
crying for love--for love!--only love! No matter whether worlds are
lost, kings killed, and dynasties concluded, love!--only love!--and
then death!--as all sufficient for the life of a man! And only just so
long as love is denied--just so long we can go on climbing towards the
unreachable height of greatness,--then--once we touch love, down we
fall, broken-hearted; but--we have had our day!"
The room was now in darkness, save for the glimmer of the pale moon
through the window panes, and he opened the casement and looked out.
There was a faint scent of the sea on the air, and he inhaled its salty
odour with a sense of refreshment.
"All for Lotys!" he murmured. "Working for Lotys, plotting, planning,
scheming for Lotys! The government intimidated,--the ministry cast
out,--the throne in peril,--the people in arms,--the city in a blaze,--
Revolution and Anarchy doing their wild work broad-cast together,--
all for Lotys! Always a woman in it! Search to the very depth of every
political imbroglio,--dig out the secret reason of every war that ever
was begun or ended in the world,--and there we shall find the love or
the hate of a woman at the very core of the business! Some such secrets
history knows, and has chronicled,--and some will never be known,--but
up to the present there is not even a religion in the world where a
Woman is not made the beginning of a God!"
He smiled somewhat grimly at his own fanciful musings, and then,
shutting the window, retired. The house was soon buried in profound
silence and darkness, and over the city tuneful bells rang the half-
hour after midnight. Four miles distant from the 'quarter of the poor,'
and high above the clustering houses of the whole magnificent
metropolis, the Royal palace towered whitely on its proud eminence in
the glimmer of the moon, a stately pile of turrets and pinnacles; and
on the battlements the sentries walked, pacing to and fro in regular
march, with regular changes, all through the night hours. Half after
midnight! 'All's well!' Three-quarters, and still 'All's well' sounded
with the clash of steel and a tinkle of silvery chimes. One o'clock
struck,--and the drifting clouds in heaven cleared fully, showing many
brilliant stars in the western horizon,--and a sentry passing, as
noiselessly as his armour and accoutrements would permit, along the
walled battlement which protected and overshadowed the windows of the
Queen's apartments, paused in his walk to look with an approving eye at
the clearing promise of the weather. As he did so, a tall figure,
wrapped in a thick rain-cloak, suddenly made its unexpected appearance
through a side door in the wall, and moved rapidly towards a turret
which contained a secret passage leading to the Queen's boudoir,--a
private stairway which was never used save by the Royal family. The
sentry gave a sharp warning cry.
"Halt! Who goes there?"
The figure paused and turned, dropping its cloak. The pale moonlight
fell slantwise on the features, disclosing them fully.
"T is I! The King!"
The soldier recoiled amazed,--and quickly saluted. Before he could
recover from his astonishment he was alone again. The battlement was
empty, and the door to the turret-stairs,--of which only the King
possessed the key,--was fast locked; and for the next hour or more the
startled sentry remained staring at the skies in a sort of meditative
stupefaction, with the words still ringing like the shock of an alarm-
bell in his ears:
"'T is I! The King!"
THE PREMIER'S SIGNET
The next day the sun rose with joyous brightness in a sky clear as
crystal. Storm, wind, and rain had vanished like the flying phantoms of
an evil dream, and all the beautiful land sparkled with light and life
in its enlacing girdle of turquoise blue sea. The gardens of the Royal
palace, freshened by the downpour of the past night, wore their most
enchanting aspect,--roses, with leaves still wet, dropped their scented
petals on the grass,--great lilies, with their snowy cups brimming with
rain, hung heavily on their slim green stalks, and the air was full of
the deliciously penetrating odour of the mimosa and sweetbriar. Down
one special alley, where the white philadelphus, or 'mock orange' grew
in thick bushes on either side, intermingled with ferns and spruce
firs, whose young green tips exhaled a pungent, healthy scent that
entered into the blood like wine and invigorated it, Sir Roger de
Launay was pacing to and fro with a swinging step which,
notwithstanding its ease and soldierly regularity, suggested something
of impatience, and on a rustic seat, above which great clusters of the
philadelphus-flowers hung like a canopy, sat Professor von Glauben,
spectacles on nose, sorting a few letters which he had just taken from
his pocket for the purpose of reading them over again carefully one by
one. He was a very particular man as regarded his correspondence. All
letters that required answering he answered at once,--the others, as he
himself declared, 'answered themselves' in silence.
"There is no end to the crop of fools in this world," he was fond of
saying;--"Glorious, precious fools! I love them all! They make life
worth living--but sometimes I am disposed to draw the line at letter-
writing fools. These persons chance to read a book--my book for
example,--that particularly clever one I wrote on the possibilities of
eternal life in this world. They at once snatch their pens and write to
say that they are specially deserving of this boon, and wish to live
for ever--will I tell them how? And these are the very creatures I
will not tell how--because their perpetual existence would be a mistake
and a nuisance! The individuals whose lives are really valuable never
ask anyone how to make them so."
He looked over his letters now with a leisurely indifference. The
morning's post had brought him nothing of special importance. He
glanced from his reading now and again at De Launay marching up and
down, but said nothing till he had quite finished with his own
immediate concerns. Then he removed his spectacles from his nose and
put them by.
"Left--Right--Left--Right--Left--Right! Roger, you remind me of my
drilling days on a certain flat and dusty ground at Coblentz! The
Rhine!--the Rhine! Ah, the beautiful Rhine! So dirty--so dull--with its
toy castles, and its big, ugly factory chimneys, and its atrociously
bad wine! Roger, I beseech you to have mercy upon me, and leave off
that marching up and down,--it gets on my nerves!"
"I thought nothing ever got on your nerves," answered Sir Roger,
stopping abruptly--"You seem to take serious matters coolly enough!"
"Serious matters demand coolness," replied Von Glauben. "We should only
let steam out over trifles. Have you seen his Majesty this morning?"
"Yes. I am to see him again at noon."
"When do you go off duty?"
"Not for a month, at least."
"Much may happen in that month," said the Professor sententiously;
"_Your_ hair may grow white with the strangeness of your experiences!"
Sir Roger met his eyes, and they both laughed.
"Though it is no laughing matter," resumed Von Glauben. "Upon my soul
as a German,--if I have any soul of that nationality,--I think it may
be a serious business!"
"You have come round to my opinion then," said De Launay. "I told you
from the first that it was serious!"
"The King does not think it so," rejoined Von Glauben. "I was summoned
to his presence early this morning, and found him in the fullest health
and highest spirits."
"Why did he send for you then?" enquired De Launay.
"To feel his pulse and look at his tongue! To make a little game of me
before he stepped out of his dressing-gown! And I enjoyed it, of
course,--one must always enjoy Royal pleasantries! I think, Roger, his
Majesty wishes this entire affair treated as a pleasantry,--by us at
any rate, however seriously he may regard it himself."
De Launay was silent for a minute or two, then he said abruptly:
"The Premier is summoned to a private audience of the King at noon."
"Ah!" And Von Glauben drew a cluster of the overhanging philadelphus
flowers down to his nose and smelt them approvingly.
"And"--went on De Launay, speaking more deliberately, "this afternoon
their Majesties sail to The Islands----"
Von Glauben jumped excitedly to his feet.
Sir Roger looked at him with a dawning amusement beginning to twinkle
in his clear blue eyes.
"Quite possible! So possible, that the Royal yacht is ordered to be in
readiness at three o'clock. Their Majesties and suite will dine on
board, in order to enjoy the return sail by moonlight."
The Professor's countenance was a study. Anxiety and vexation struggled
with the shrewd kindness and humour of his natural expression, and his
suppressed feelings found vent in a smothered exclamation, which
sounded very much like the worst of blasphemous oaths used in dire
extremity by the soldiers of the Fatherland.
"What ails you?" demanded De Launay; "You seem strangely upset for a
man of cool nerve!"
"Upset? Who--what can upset me? Nothing! Roger, if I did not respect
you so much, I should call you an ass!"
Sir Roger laughed.
"Call me an ass, by all means," he said, "if it will relieve your
feelings;--but in justice to me, let me know why you do so! What is my
offence? I give you a piece of commonplace information concerning the
movements of the Court this afternoon, and you jump off your seat as if
an adder had bitten you. Why?"
"I have the gout," said Von Glauben curtly.
"Oh!" And again Sir Roger laughed. "That last must have been a sharp
"It was--it was! Believe me, my excellent Roger, it was exceedingly
severe!" His brow smoothed, and he smiled. "See here, my dear friend!--
you know, do you not, that boys will be boys, and men will be men?"
"Both are recognised platitudes," replied Sir Roger, his eyes still
twinkling merrily; "And both are frequently quoted to cover our various
"True, true! But I wish to weigh more particularly on the fact that men
will be men! I am a man, Roger,--not a boy!"
"Really! Well, upon my word, I should at this moment take you for a raw
lad of about eighteen,--for you are blushing, Von Glauben!--actually
The Professor drew out a handkerchief, and wiped his brow.
"It is a warm morning, Roger," he said, with a mildly reproachful air;
"I suppose I am permitted to feel the heat?" He paused--then with a
sudden burst of impatience he exclaimed: "By the Emperor's head! It is
of no use denying it--I am very much put out, Roger! I must get a boat,
and slip off to The Islands at once!"
Sir Roger stared at him in complete amazement.
"You? You want to slip off to The Islands? Why, Von Glauben----!"
"Yes--yes,--I know! You cannot possibly imagine what I want to go there
for! You wouldn't suppose, would you, that I had any special secrets--
an old man like me;--for instance, you would not suspect me of any love
secrets, eh?" And he made a ludicrous attempt to appear sentimental.
"The fact is, Roger,--I have got into a little scrape over at The
Islands--" here he looked warmer and redder than ever;--"and I want to
take precautions! You understand--I want to take care that the King
does not hear of it--Gott in Himmel! What a block of a man you are to
stand there staring open-mouthed at me! Were you never in love
"In love? In love!--you,--Professor? Pray pardon me--but--in love? Am I
to understand that there is a lady in your case?"
"Yes!--that is it," said Von Glauben, with an air of profound relief;
"There is a lady in my case;--or my case, speaking professionally, is
that of a lady. And I shall get any sort of a sea-tub that is
available, and go over to those accursed Islands without any delay!"
"If the King should send for you while you are absent--" began De
"He will not send. But if he should, what of it? I am known to be
somewhat eccentric--particularly so in my love of hard work, fresh air
and exercise--besides, he has not commanded my attendance. He will not,
therefore, be surprised at my absence. I tell you, Roger,--I
_must_ go! Who would have expected the King to take it into his
head to visit The Islands without a moment's warning! What a freak!"
"And here comes the reason of the freak, if I am not very much
mistaken," said De Launay, lowering his voice as an approaching figure
flung its lengthy shadow on the path,--"Prince Humphry!"
Von Glauben hastily drew back, De Launay also, to allow the Prince to
pass. He was walking slowly, and reading as he came. Looking up from
his book he saw, them, and as they saluted him profoundly, bade them
"You are up betimes, Professor," he said lightly; "I suppose your
scientific wisdom teaches you the advantage of the morning air."
"Truly, Sir, it is more healthful than that of the evening," answered
Von Glauben in somewhat doleful accents.--"For example, a sail across
the sea with the morning breeze, is better than the same sort of
excursion in the glamour of the moon!"
Prince Humphry looked steadfastly at him, and evidently read something
of a warning, or a suggestion, in his face, for he coloured slightly
and bit his lip.
"Do you agree with that theory, Sir Roger," he said, turning to De
"I have not tested it, Sir," replied the equerry, "But I imagine that
whatever Professor von Glauben asserts must be true!"
The young man glanced quickly from one to the other, and then with a
careless air turned over the pages of the book he held.
"In the earlier ages of the world," he said,--"men and women, I think,
must have been happier than they are now, if this book may be believed.
I find here written down--What is it, Professor? You have something to
"Pardon me, Sir," said Von Glauben,--"But you said--'If this book may
be believed.' I humbly venture to declare that no book may be
"Not even your own, when it is written?" queried the Prince with a
smile; "You would not like the world to say so! Nay, but listen,
Professor,--here is a thought very beautifully expressed--and it was
written in an ancient language of the East, thousands of years before
we, in our quarter of the world, ever dreamt of civilization.--'Of all
the sentiments, passions or virtues which in their divers turns affect
the life of a man, the influence and emotion of Love is surely the
greatest and highest. We do not here speak of the base and villainous
craving of bodily appetite; but of that pure desire of the unfettered
soul which beholding perfection, straightway and naturally flies to the
same. This love doth so elevate and instruct a man, that he seeketh
nothing better than to be worthy of it, to attempt great deeds and
valiantly perform them, to confront foul abuses, and most potently
destroy them,--and to esteem the powers and riches of this world as
dross, weighed against this rare and fiery talisman. For it is a jewel
which doth light up the heart, and make it strong to support all sorrow
and ill fortune with cheerfulness, knowing that it is in itself of so
lasting a quality as to subjugate all things and events unto its
compelling sway.' What think you of this? Sir Roger, there is a whole
volume of comprehension in your face! Give some word of it utterance!"
Sir Roger looked up.
"There is nothing to say, Sir," he replied; "Your ancient writer merely
expresses a truth we are all conscious of. All poets, worthy the name,
and all authors, save and except the coldest logicians, deem the world
well lost for love."
"More fools they!" said Von Glauben gruffly; "Love is a mere illusion,
which is generally destroyed by one simple ceremony--Marriage!"
Prince Humphry smiled.
"You have never tried the cure, Professor," he said, "But I daresay you
have suffered from the disease! Will you walk with me?"
Von Glauben bowed a respectful assent; and the Prince, with a kindly
nod of dismissal to De Launay, went on his way, the Professor by his
side. Sir Roger watched them as they disappeared, and saw, that at the
furthest end of the alley, when they were well out of ear-shot, they
appeared to engage in very close and confidential conversation.
"I wonder," he mused, "I wonder what it all means? Von Glauben is
evidently mixed up in some affair that he wishes to keep secret from
the King. Can it concern Prince Humphry? And The Islands! What can Von
Glauben want over there?"
His brief meditation was interrupted by a soft voice calling.
He started, and at once advanced to meet the approaching intruder, his
sister, Teresa de Launay, a pretty brunette, with dark sparkling eyes,
one of the favourite ladies of honour in attendance on the Queen.
"What were you dreaming about?" she asked, as he came near, "And what
is the Prince doing with old Von Glauben?"
"Two questions at once, Teresa!" he said, stooping his tall head to
kiss her; "I cannot possibly answer both in a breath! But answer me
just one--What are you here for?"
"To summon _you_!" she answered. "The Queen desires you to wait
upon her immediately."
She fixed her bright eyes upon him as she spoke, and an involuntary
sigh escaped her, as she noted the touch of pallor that came on his
face at her words.
"Where is her Majesty?" he asked.
"Here--close at hand--in the arbour. She spied you at a distance
through the trees, and sent me to fetch you."
"You had best return to her at once, and say that I am coming."
His sister looked at him again, and hesitated--he gave a slight, vexed
gesture of impatience, whereupon she hurried away, with flying
footsteps as light as those of a fabled sylph of the woodlands. He
watched her go, and for a moment an expression came into his eyes of
intense suffering--the look of a noble dog who is suddenly struck
undeservedly by an unkind master.
"She sends for me!" he muttered; "What for? To amuse herself by reading
every thought of my life with her cold eyes? Why can she not leave me
He walked on then, with a quiet, even pace, and presently reaching the
end of the alley, came out on a soft stretch of greensward facing a
small ornamental lake and fountain. Here grew tall rushes, bamboos and
flag-flowers--here, too, on the quiet lake floated water-lilies, white
and pink, opening their starry hearts to the glory of the morning sun.
A quaintly shaped, rustic arbour covered with jasmine, faced the pool,
and here sat the Queen alone and unattended, save by Teresa de Launay,
who drew a little apart as her brother, Sir Roger, approached, and
respectfully bent his head in the Royal presence. For quite a minute he
stood thus in dumb attention, his eyes lowered, while the Queen glanced
at him with a curious expression, half of doubt, half of commiseration.
Suddenly, as if moved by a quick impulse, she rose--a stately,
exquisite figure, looking even more beautiful in her simple morning
robe of white cashmere and lace, than in all the glory of her Court
attire,--and extended her hand. Humbly and reverentially he bent over
it, and kissed the great jewel sparkling like a star on the central
finger. As he then raised his eyes to her face she smiled;--that smile
of hers, so dazzling, so sweet, and yet so cold, had sent many men to
their deaths, though she knew it not.
"I see very little of you, Sir Roger," she said slowly,
"notwithstanding your close attendance on my lord the King. Yet I know
I can command your service!"
"Madam," murmured De Launay, "my life----"
"Oh, no," she rejoined quickly, "not your life! Your life, like mine,
belongs to the King and the country. You must give all, or not at all!"
"Madam, I do give all!" he answered, with a look in his eyes of mingled
pain and passion; "No man can give more!"
She surveyed him with a little meditative, almost amused air.
"You have strong feelings, Sir Roger," she said; "I wonder what it is
"If I may dare to say so, Madam, I should wish you to experience the
sensation," he returned somewhat bitterly; "Sometimes we awaken to
emotions too late--sometimes we never awaken. But I think it is wisest
to experience the nature of a storm, in order to appreciate the value
of a calm!"
"You think so?" She smiled indulgently. "Storm and calm are to me
alike! I am affected by neither. Life is so exceedingly trivial an
affair, and is so soon over, that I have never been able to understand
why people should ever trouble themselves about anything in it."
"You may not always be lacking in this comprehension, Madam," said Sir
Roger, with a certain harshness in his tone, yet with the deepest
respect in his manner; "I take it that life and the world are but a
preparation for something greater, and that we shall be forced to learn
our lessons in this preparatory school before we leave it, whether we
like it or no!"
The slight smile still lingered on her beautiful mouth,--she pulled a
spray of jasmine down from the trailing clusters around her, and set it
carelessly among the folds of her lace. Sir Roger watched her with
moody eyes. Could he have followed his own inclination, he would have
snatched the flower from her dress and kissed it, in a kind of fierce
defiance before her very eyes. But what would be the result of such an
act? Merely a little contemptuous lifting of the delicate brows--a
slight frown on the fair forehead, and a calm gesture of dismissal. No
more--no more than this; for just as she could not be moved to love,
neither could she be moved to anger. The words of an old song rang in
She laughs at the thought of love--
Pain she scorns, and sorrow she sets aside--
My heart she values less than her broidered glove,
She would smile if I died!
"You are a man, Sir Roger de Launay," she said after a pause, "And man-
like, you propound any theory which at the moment happens to fit your
own particular humour. I am, however, entirely of your opinion that
this life is only a term of preparation, and with this conviction I
desire to have as little to do with its vile and ugly side as I can. It
is possible to accept with gratitude the beautiful things of Nature,
and reject the rest, is it not?"
"As you ask me the question point-blank, Madam, I say it is possible,--
it can be done,--and you do it. But it is wrong!"
She raised her languid eyelids, showing no offence.
"Wrong, Madam!" repeated Sir Roger bluntly; "It is wrong to shut from
your sight, from your heart, from your soul the ugly side of Nature;--
to shut your ears to the wants--the pains--the tortures--the screams--
the tears, and groans of humanity! Oh, Madam, the ugly side has a
strange beauty of its own that you dream not of! God makes ugliness as
he makes beauty; God created the volcano belching forth fire and molten
lava, as He created the simple stream bordered with meadow flowers! Why
should you reject the ugly, the fierce, the rebellious side of things?
Rather take it into your gracious thoughts and prayers, Madam, and help
to make it beautiful!"
He spoke with a force which surprised himself--he was carried away by a
passion that seemed almost outside his own identity. She looked at him
"Does the King teach you to speak thus to me?" she asked.
De Launay started,--the hot colour mounting to his cheeks and brow.
"Nay, no excuse! I understand! It is your own thought; but a thought
which is no doubt suddenly inspired by the King's actions," she went on
tranquilly; "You are in his confidence. He is adopting new measures of
domestic policy, in which, perchance, I may or may not be included--as
it suits my pleasure! Who knows!" Again the little musing smile crossed
her countenance. "It is of the King I wish to speak to you."
She glanced around her, and saw that her lady-in-waiting, Teresa de
Launay, had discreetly wandered by herself to the edge of the water-
lily pool, and was bending over it, a graceful, pensive figure in the
near distance, within call, but certainly not within hearing.
"You are in his confidence," she repeated, drawing a step nearer to
him, "and--so am I! You will not disclose his movements--nor shall I!
But you are his close attendant and friend,--I am merely--his wife! I
make you responsible for his safety!"
"Madam, I pray you pardon me!" exclaimed De Launay; "His Majesty has a
will of his own,--and his sacred life is not in my hands. I will defend
him to the utmost limit of human possibility,--but if he voluntarily
runs into danger, and disregards all warning, I, as his poor servant,
am not to blame!"
Her eyes, brilliant and full of a compelling magnetism, dwelt upon him
"I repeat my command," she said deliberately, "I make you responsible!
You are a strong man and a brave one. If the King is rash, it is the
duty of his servants to defend him from the consequences of his
rashness; particularly if that rashness leads him into danger for a
noble purpose. Should any mischance befall him, let me never see your
face again! Die yourself, rather than let your King die!"
As she spoke these words she motioned him away with a grand gesture of
dismissal, and he retired back from her presence in a kind of stunned
amazement. Never before in all the days of her social sway as Crown-
Princess, had she ever condescended to speak to him on any matter of
confidence,--never during her three years of sovereignty as Queen-
Consort had she apparently taken note, or cared to know any of the
affairs connected with the King, her husband. The mere fact that now
her interest was roused, moved De Launay to speechless wonderment. He
hardly dared raise his eyes to look at her, as she turned from him and
went slowly, with her usual noiseless, floating grace of movement,
towards the water-lily pool, there to rejoin her attendant, Teresa de
Launay, who at the same time advanced to meet her Royal mistress. A
moment more, and Queen and lady of honour had disappeared together, and
De Launay was left alone. A little bird, swinging on a branch above his
head, piped a few tender notes to the green leaves and the sunlit sky,
but beyond this, and the measured plash of the fountain, no sound
disturbed the stillness of the garden.
"Upon my word, Roger de Launay," he said bitterly to himself, "you are
an ass sufficiently weighted with burdens! The love of a Queen, and the
life of a King are enough for one man's mind to carry with any degree
of safety! If it were not for the King, I think I should leave this
country and seek some other service--but I owe him much,--if only by
reason of my own heart's folly!"
Impatient with himself, he strode away, straight across the lawn and
back to the palace. Here he noticed just the slightest atmosphere of
uneasiness among some of the retainers of the Royal household,--a vague
impression of flurry and confusion. Through various passages and
corridors, attendants and pages were either running about with extra
haste, or else strolling to and fro with extra slowness. As he turned
into one of the ante-chambers, he suddenly confronted a tall, military-
looking personage in plain civilian attire, whom he at once recognized
as the Chief of the Police.
"Ah, Bernhoff!" he said lightly, "any storms brewing?"
"None that call for particular attention, Sir Roger," replied the
individual addressed; "But I have been sent for by the King, and am
here awaiting his pleasure."
Sir Roger showed no sign of surprise, and with a friendly nod passed
on. He began to find the situation rather interesting.
"After all," he argued inwardly, "there is nothing to hinder the King
from being a social autocrat, even if he cannot by the rules of the
Constitution be a political one. And we should do well to remember that
politics are governed entirely by social influence. It is the same
thing all over the world--a deluded populace--a social movement which
elects a parliament and ministry--and then the result,--which is, that
this or that party hold the reins of government, on whichever side
happens to be most advantageous to the immediate social and financial
whim. The people are the grapes crushed into wine for their rulers'
drinking; and the King is merely the wine-cup on the festal board. If
he once begins to be something more than that cup, there will be an end
His ideas were not without good foundation in fact. Throughout all
history, where a strong man has ruled a nation, whether for good or
ill, he has left his mark; and where there has been no strong man, the
annals of the time are vapid and uninteresting. Governments emanate
from social influences. The social rule of the Roman Emperors bred
athletes, heroes, and poets, merely because physical strength and
courage, combined with heroism and poetic perception were encouraged by
Roman society. The social rule of England's Elizabeth had its result in
the brilliant attainments of the many great men who crowded her Court--
the social rule of Victoria, until the death of the Prince Consort,
bred gentle women and chivalrous men. In all these cases, the reigning
monarchs governed society, and society governed politics. Politics,
indeed, can scarcely be considered apart from society, because on the
nature and character of society depend the nature and character of
politics. If society is made up of corrupt women and unprincipled men,
the spirit of political government will be as corrupt and unprincipled
as they. If any King, beholding such a state of things, were to
suddenly cut himself clear of the corruption, and to make a straight
road for his own progress--clean and open--and elect to walk in it,
society would follow his lead, and as a logical consequence politics
would become honourable. But no monarchs have the courage of their
opinions nowadays,--if only one sovereign of them all possessed such
courage, he could move the world!
The long bright day unwound its sunny hours, crowned with blue skies
and fragrant winds, and the life and movement of the fair city by the
sea was gay, incessant and ever-changing. There was some popular
interest and excitement going on down at the quay, for the usual idle
crowd had collected to see the Royal yacht being prepared for her
afternoon's cruise. Though she was always kept ready for sailing, the
King's orders this time had been sudden and peremptory, and,
consequently, all the men on board were exceptionally hard at work
getting things in immediate readiness. The fact that the Queen was to
accompany the King in the afternoon's trip to The Islands, where up to
the present she had never been, was a matter of lively comment,--her
extraordinary beauty never failing to attract a large number of sight-
In the general excitement, no one saw Professor von Glauben quietly
enter a small and common sailing skiff, manned by two ordinary
fishermen of the shore, and scud away with the wind over the sea
towards the west, where, in the distance on this clear day, a gleaming
line of light showed where The Islands lay, glistening like emerald and
pearl in the midst of the dark blue waste of water. His departure was
unnoticed, though as a rule the King's private physician commanded some
attention, not only by reason of his confidential post in the Royal
household, but also on account of certain rumours which were circulated
through the country concerning his wonderful skill in effecting
complete cures where all hope of recovery had been abandoned. It was
whispered, indeed, that he had discovered the 'Elixir of Life,' but
that he would not allow its properties to be made known, lest as the
Scripture saith, man should 'take and eat and live for ever.' It was
not advisable--so the Professor was reported to have said--that all men
should live for ever,--but only a chosen few; and he, at present, was
apparently the privileged person who alone was fitted to make the
selection of those few. For this and various other reasons, he was
generally looked at with considerable interest, but this morning, owing
to the hurried preparations for the embarking of their Majesties on
board the Royal yacht, he managed to escape from even chance
recognition,--and he was well over the sea, and more than half-way to
his destination before the bells of the city struck noon.
Punctual to that hour, a close carriage drove up to the palace. It
contained no less a personage than the Prime Minister, the Marquis de
Lutera,--a dark, heavy man, with small furtive eyes, a ponderous jaw,
and a curious air of seeming for ever on an irritable watch for
offences. His aspect was intellectual, yet always threatening; and his
frigid manner was profoundly discouraging to all who sought to win his
attention or sympathy. He entered the palace now with an easy, not to
say assertive deportment, and as he ascended the broad staircase which
led to the King's private apartments, he met the Chief of the Police
coming down. This latter saluted him, but he barely acknowledged the
courtesy, so taken by surprise was he at the sight of this
administrative functionary in the palace at so early an hour. However,
it was impossible to ask any questions of him on the grand staircase,
within hearing of the Royal lackeys; so he continued on his way
upstairs, with as much dignity as his heavily-moulded figure would
permit him to display, till he reached the upper landing known as the
'King's Corridor,' where Sir Roger de Launay was in waiting to conduct
him to his sovereign's presence. To him the Marquis addressed the
"Bernhoff has been with the King?"
"Yes. For more than an hour."
"Any robbery in the palace?"
De Launay smiled.
"I think not! So far as I am permitted to be cognisant of events, there
is nothing wrong!"
The Marquis looked slightly perplexed.
"The King is well?"
"Remarkably well--and in excellent humour! He is awaiting you,
Marquis,--permit me to escort you to him!"
The carved and gilded doors of the Royal audience-chamber were
thereupon flung back, and the Marquis entered, ushered in by De Launay.
The doors closed again upon them both; and for some time there was
profound silence in the King's corridor, no intruder venturing to
approach save two gentlemen-at-arms, who paced slowly up and down at
either end on guard. At the expiration of about an hour, Sir Roger came
out alone, and, glancing carelessly around him, strolled to the head of
the grand staircase, and waited patiently there for quite another
thirty minutes. At last the doors were flung open widely again, and the
King himself appeared, clad in easy yachting attire, and walking with
one hand resting on the arm of the Marquis de Lutera, who, from his
expression, seemed curiously perturbed.
"Then you will not come with us, Marquis?" said the King, with an air
of gaiety; "You are too much engrossed in the affairs of Government to
break loose for an afternoon from politics for the sake of pleasure?
Ah, well! You are a matchless worker! Renowned as you are for your
studious observation of all that may tend to the advancement of the
nation's interests--admired as you are for the complete sacrifice of
all your own advantages to the better welfare of the country, I will
not (though I might as your sovereign), command your attendance on this
occasion! I know the affairs you have in hand are pressing and
"They will be more than usually so, Sir," said the Marquis in a low
voice; "for if you persist in maintaining your present attitude, the
foreign controversy in which we are engaged can scarcely go on. But
your action will be questioned by the Government!"
The King laughed.
"Good! By all means question it, my dear Marquis! Prove me an
unconstitutional monarch, if you like, and put Humphry on the throne in
my place,--but ask the People first! If they condemn me, I am satisfied
to be condemned! But the present political difference between ourselves
and a friendly nation must be arranged without offence. There does not
exist at the moment any reasonable cause for fanning the dispute into a
flame of war."--He paused, then resumed--"You will not come with us?"
"Sir, if you will permit me to refuse the honour on this occasion----"
"The permission is granted!" replied the King, still smiling;
"Farewell, Marquis! We are not in the habit of absenting ourselves from
our own country, after the fashion of certain of our Royal neighbours,
who shall be nameless; and we conceive it our duty to make ourselves
acquainted with the habits and customs of all our subjects in all
quarters of our realm. Hence our resolve to visit The Islands, which,
to our shame be it said, we have neglected until now. We expect to
derive both pleasure and instruction from the brief voyage!"
"Are the islanders aware of your intention, Sir?" enquired the Marquis.
"Nay--to prepare them would have spoilt our pleasure!" replied the
King. "We will take them by surprise! We have heard of certain
countries, whose villages and towns have never seen the reigning
sovereign,--and though we have been but three years on the throne, we
have resolved that no corner of our kingdom shall lack the sunlight of
our presence!" He gave a mirthful side-glance at De Launay. Then,
extending his hand cordially, he added: "May all success attend your
efforts, Marquis, to smooth over this looming quarrel between ourselves
and our friendly trade-rivals! I, for one, would not have it go
further. I shall see you again at the Council during the week."
As the premier's hand met that of his Sovereign, the latter exclaimed
"Ah!--I thought I missed a customary friend from my finger; I have
forgotten my signet-ring! Will you lend me yours for to-day, Marquis?"
"Sir, if you will deign to wear it!" replied the Marquis readily, and
at once slipping off the ring in question, he handed it to the King,
who smilingly accepted it and put it on.
"A fine sapphire!" he said approvingly; "Better, I think, than my
"Sir, your praise enhances its value," said De Lutera bowing
profoundly; "I shall from henceforth esteem it priceless!"
"Well said!" returned the King, "And rightly too!--for diplomacy is
wise in flattering a king to the last, even while meditating on his
possible downfall! Adieu, Marquis! When we next meet, I shall expect
He descended the staircase, closely attended by De Launay, and passed
at once into a larger room of audience, where some notable persons of
foreign distinction were waiting to be received. On the way thither,
however, he turned to Sir Roger for a moment, and held up the hand on
which the Marquis de Lutera's signet flashed like a blue point of
"Behold the Premier's signet!" he said with a smile; "Methinks, for
once, it suits the King!"
Surrounded by a boundless width of dark blue sea at all visible points
of view, The Islands, lovely tufts of wooded rock, trees, and full-
flowering meadowlands, were situated in such a happy position as to be
well out of all possibility of modern innovation or improvement. They
were too small to contain much attraction for the curious tourist; and
though they were only a two-hours' sail from the mainland, the distance
was just sufficiently inconvenient to keep mere sight-seers away. For
more than a hundred years they had been almost exclusively left to the
coral-fishers, who had made their habitation there; and the quaint,
small houses, and flowering vineyards and gardens, dotted about in the
more fertile portions of the soil, had all been built and planned by a
former race of these hardy folk, who had handed their properties down
from father to son. They were on the whole, a peaceable community.
Coral-fishing was one of the chief industries of the country, and the
islanders passed all their days in obtaining the precious product,
cleansing, and preparing it for the market. They were understood to be
extremely jealous of strangers and intruders, and to hold certain
social traditions which had never been questioned or interfered with by
any form of existing government, because in themselves they gave no
cause for interference, being counted among the most orderly and law-
abiding subjects of the realm. Very little interest was taken in their
doings by the people of the mainland,--scarcely as much interest,
perhaps, as is taken by Londoners in the inhabitants of Orkney or
Shetland. One or two scholars, a stray botanist here and there, or a
few students fond of adventure, had visited the place now and again,
and some of these had brought back enthusiastic accounts of the
loveliness of the natural scenery, but where a whole country is
beautiful, little heed is given to one small corner of it, particularly
if that corner is difficult of access, necessitating a two hours' sail
across a not always calm sea. Vague reports were current that there was
a strange house on The Islands, built very curiously out of the timbers
and spars of wrecked vessels. The owner of this abode was said to be a
man of advanced age, whose history was unknown, but who many years ago
had been cast ashore from a great shipwreck, and had been rescued and
revived by the coral-fishers, since when, he had lived among them, and
worked with them. No one knew anything about him beyond that since his
advent The Islands had been more cultivated, and their inhabitants more
prosperous; and that he was understood to be, in the language or
dialect of the country, a 'life-philosopher.' Whereat, hearing these
things by chance now and then, or seeing a scrappy line or two in the
daily press when active reporters had no murders or suicides to enlarge
upon, and wanted to 'fill up space,' the gay aristocrats or 'smart set'
of the metropolis laughed at their dinner-parties and balls, and asked
one another inanely, "What is a 'life-philosopher'?"
In the same way, when a small volume of poetry, burning as lava, wild
as a storm-wind, came floating out on the top of the seething soup of
current literature, bearing the name of Paul Zouche, and it was said
that this person was a poet, they questioned smilingly, "Is he dead?"
for, naturally, they could not imagine these modern days were capable
of giving birth to a living specimen of the _genus_ bard. For
they, too, had their motor-cars from France and England;--they, too,
had their gambling-dens secreted in private houses of high repute,--
they, too, had their country-seats specially indicated as free to such
house-parties as wished to indulge in low intrigue and unbridled
licentiousness; they, too, weary of simple Christianity, had their own
special 'religions' of palmistry, crystal-gazing, fortune-telling by
cards, and Esoteric 'faith-healing.' The days were passing with them--
as it passes with many of their 'set' in other countries,--in complete
forgetfulness of all the nobler ambitions and emotions which lift Man
above the level of his companion Beast. For the time is now upon us
when what has formerly been known as 'high' is of its own accord
sinking to the low, and what has been called the 'low' is rising to the
high. Strange times!--strange days!--when the tradesman can scorn the
duchess on account of her 'dirty mind'--when a certain nobleman can get
no honest labourers to work on his estate, because they suspect him of
'rooking' young college lads;--and when a church in a seaport town
stands empty every Sunday, with its bells ringing in vain, because the
congregation which should fill it, know that their so-called 'holy man'
is a rascal! All over the world this rebellion against Falsehood,--this
movement towards Truth is felt,--all over the world the people are
growing strong on their legs, and clear in their brains;--no longer
cramped and stunted starvelings, they are gradually developing into
full growth, and awaking to intelligent action. And wherever the
dominion of priestcraft has been destroyed, there they are found at
their best and bravest, with a glimmering dawn of the true Christian
spirit beginning to lighten their darkness,--a spirit which has no race
or sect, but is all-embracing, all-loving, and all-benevolent;--which
'thinketh no evil,' but is so nobly sufficing in its tenderness and
patience, as to persuade the obstinate, govern the unruly, and recover
the lost, by the patient influence of its own example. On the reverse
side of the medal, wherever we see priestcraft dominant, there we see
ignorance and corruption, vice and hypocrisy, and such a low standard
of morals and education as is calculated to keep the soul a slave in
irons, with no possibility of any intellectual escape into the
'glorious liberty of the free.'
The afternoon was one of exceptional brilliance and freshness, when,
punctually at three o'clock, the Royal yacht hoisted sail, and dipped
gracefully away from the quay with their Majesties on board, amid the
cheers of an enthusiastic crowd. A poet might have sung of the scene in
fervid rhyme, so pretty and gay were all the surroundings,--the bright
skies, the dancing sea, the flying flags and streamers, and the soft
music of the Court orchestra, a band of eight players on stringed
instruments, which accompanied the Royal party on their voyage of
pleasure. The Queen stood on deck, leaning against the mast, her eyes
fixed on the shore, as the vessel swung round, and bore away towards
the west;--the people, elbowing each other, and climbing up on each
other's shoulders and on the posts of the quay, merely to get a passing
glimpse of her beauty, all loyally cheering and waving their hats and
handkerchiefs, were as indifferent to her sight and soul as an ant-heap
in a garden walk. She had accustomed her mind to dwell on things beyond
life, and life itself had little interest for her. This was because she
had been set among the shams of worldly state and ceremonial from her
earliest years, and being of a profound and thoughtful nature, had
grown up to utterly despise the hollowness and hypocrisy of her
surroundings. In extenuation of the coldness of her temperament, it may
be said that her rooted aversion to men arose from having studied them
too closely and accurately. In her marriage she had fulfilled, or
thought she had fulfilled, a mere duty to the State--no more; and the
easy conduct of her husband during his apprenticeship to the throne as
Heir-Apparent, had not tended in any way to show her anything
particularly worthy of admiration or respect in his character. And so
she had gone on her chosen way, removed and apart from his,--and the
years had flown by, and now she was,--as she said to herself with a
little touch of contempt,--'old--for a woman!'--while the King
remained 'young,--for a man! 'This was a mortifying reflection. True,
her beauty was more perfect than in her youth, and there were no signs
as yet of its decay. She knew well enough the extent of her charm,--she
knew how easily she could command homage wherever she went,--and
knowing, she did not care. Or rather--she had not cared. Was it
possible she would ever care, and perhaps at a time when it was no use
caring? A certain irritability, quite foreign to her usual composure,
fevered her blood, and it arose from one simple admission which she had
been forced to make to herself within the last few days, and this was,
that her husband was as much her kingly superior in heart and mind as
he was in rank and power. She had never till now imagined him capable
of performing a brave deed, or pursuing an independently noble course
of action. Throughout all the days of his married life he had followed
the ordinary routine of his business or pleasure with scarce a break,--
in winter to his country seat on the most southern coast of his
southern land,--in spring to the capital,--in full summer to some
fashionable 'bath' or 'cure,'--in autumn to different great houses for
the purpose of shooting other people's game by their obsequious
invitation,--and in the entire round he had never shown himself capable
of much more than a flirtation with the prettiest or the most pushing
new beauty, or a daring ride on the latest invention for travelling at
lightning speed. She had noticed a certain change in him since he had
ascended the throne, but she had attributed this to the excessive
boredom of having to attend to State affairs.
Now, however, all at once and without warning, this change had
developed into what was evidently likely to prove a complete
transformation--and he had surprised her into an involuntary, and more
or less reluctant admiration of qualities which she had never hitherto
suspected in him. She had consented to join him on this occasion in his
trip to The Islands, in order to try and fathom the actual drift of his
intentions,--for his idea that their son, Prince Humphry, had yielded
to some particular feminine attraction there, piqued her curiosity even
more than her interest. She turned away now from her observation of the
shore, as it receded on the horizon and became a mere thin line of
light which vanished in its turn as the vessel curtsied onward; and she
moved to the place prepared for her accommodation--a sheltered corner
of the deck, covered by silken awnings, and supplied with luxurious
deck chairs and footstools. Here two of her ladies were waiting to
attend upon her, but none of the rougher sex she so heartily abhorred.
As she seated herself among her cushions with her usual indolent grace,
she raised her eyes and saw, standing at a respectful distance from
her, a distinguished personage who had but lately arrived at the Court,
from England,--Sir Walter Langton, a daring traveller and explorer in
far countries,--one who had earned high distinction at the point of
the sword. He had been presented to her some evenings since, among a
crowd of other notabilities, and she had, as was her usual custom with
all men, scarcely given him a passing glance. Now as she regarded him,
she suddenly decided, out of the merest whim, to call him to her side.
She sent one of her ladies to him, charged with her invitation to
approach and take his seat near her. He hastened to obey, with some
surprise, and no little pleasure. He was a handsome man of about forty,
sun-browned and keen of eye, with a grave intellectual face after the
style of a Vandyk portrait, and a kindly smile; and he was happily
devoid of all that unbecoming officiousness and obsequiousness which
some persons affect when in the presence of Royalty. He bowed
profoundly as the Queen received him, saying to him with a smile:--
"You are a stranger here, Sir Walter Langton!--I cannot allow you to
feel solitary in our company!"
"Is it possible for anyone to feel solitary when you are near, Madam?"
returned Sir Walter gallantly, as he obeyed the gesture with which she
motioned him to be seated;--"You must be weary of hearing that even
your silent presence is sufficient to fill space with melody and charm!
And I am not altogether a stranger; I know this country well, though I
have never till now had the honour of visiting its ruling sovereign."
"It is very unlike England," said the Queen, slowly unfurling her fan
of soft white plumage and waving it to and fro.
"Very unlike, indeed!" he agreed, and a musing tenderness darkened his
fine hazel eyes as he gazed out on the sparkling sea.
"You like England best?" resumed the Queen.
"Madam, I am an Englishman! To me there is no land so fair, or so much
worth living and dying for, as England!"
"Yet--I suppose, like all your countrymen, you are fond of change?"
"Yes--and no, Madam!" replied Langton.--"In truth, if I am to speak
frankly, it is only during the last thirty or forty years that my
countrymen have blotted their historical scutcheons by this fondness
for change. Where travelling is necessary for the attainment of some
worthy object, then it is wise and excellent,--but where it is only for
the purpose of distracting a self-satiated mind, it is of no avail, and
indeed frequently does more harm than good."
"Self-satiated!" repeated the Queen,--"Is not that a strange word?"
"It is the only compound expression I can use to describe the
discontented humour in which the upper classes of English society exist
to-day," replied Sir Walter. "For many years the soul of England has
been held in chains by men whose thoughts are all of Self,--the honour
of England has been attainted by women whose lives are moulded from
first to last on Self. To me, personally, England is everything,--I
have no thought outside it--no wish beyond it. Yet I am as ashamed of
some of its leaders of opinion to-day, as if I saw my own mother
dragged in the dust and branded with infamy!"
"You speak of your Government?" began the Queen.
"No, Madam,--I have no more quarrel with my country's present
Government than I could have with a child who is led into a ditch by
its nurse. It is a weak and corrupted Government; and its actual rulers
are vile and abandoned women."
The Queen's eyes opened in a beautiful, startled wonderment;--this
man's clear, incisive manner of speech interested her.
"Women!" she echoed, then smiled; "You speak strongly, Sir Walter! I
have certainly heard of the 'advanced' women who push themselves so
much forward in your country, but I had no idea they were so
mischievous! Are they to be admired? Or pitied?"
"Pitied, Madam,--most sincerely pitied!" returned Sir Walter;--"But
such misguided simpletons as these are not the creatures who rule, or
play with, or poison the minds of the various members who compose our
Government. The 'advanced' women, poor souls, do nothing but talk
platitudes. They are perfectly harmless. They have no power to persuade
men, because in nine cases out of ten, they have neither wit nor
beauty. And without either of these two charms, Madam, it is difficult
to put even a clever cobbler, much less a Prime Minister, into leading
strings! No,--it is the spendthrift women of a corrupt society that I
mean,--the women who possess beauty, and are conscious of it,--the
women who have a mordant wit and use it for dangerous purposes--the
women who give up their homes, their husbands, their children and their
reputations for the sake of villainous intrigue, and the feverish
excitement of speculative money-making;--with these--and with the
stealthy spread of Romanism,--will come the ruin of my country!"
"So grave as all that!" said the Queen lightly;--"But, surely, Sir
Walter, if you see ruin and disaster threatening so great an Empire in
the far distance, you and other wise men of your land are able to stave
"Madam, I have no power!" he returned bitterly. "Those who have thought
and worked,--those who are able to see what is coming by the light of
past experience, are seldom listened to, or if they get a hearing, they
are not seldom ridiculed and 'laughed down.' Till a strong man speaks,
we must all remain dumb. There is no real Government in England at
present, just as there is no real Church. The Government is made up of
directly self-interested speculators and financiers rather than
diplomatists,--the Church, for which our forefathers fought, is
yielding to the bribery of Rome. It is a time of Sham,--sham politics,
and sham religion! We have fallen upon evil days,--and unless the
people rise, as it is to be hoped to God they will, serious danger
threatens the glory and the honour of England!"
"Would you desire revolution and bloodshed, then?" enquired the Queen,
becoming more and more interested as she saw that this Englishman did
not, like most of his sex, pass the moments in gazing at her in
speechless admiration,--"Surely not!"
"I would have revolution, Madam, but not bloodshed," he replied;--"I
think my countrymen are too well grounded in common-sense to care for
any movement which could bring about internal dissension or riot,--
but, at the same time, I believe their native sense of justice is great
enough to resist tyranny and wrong and falsehood, even to the death. I
would have a revolution--yes--but a silent and bloodless one!"
"And how would you begin?" asked the Queen.
"The People must begin, Madam!" he answered;--"All reforms must begin
and end with the People only! For example, if the People would decline
to attend any church where the incumbent is known to encourage
practices which are disloyal to the faith of the land, such disloyalty
would soon cease. If the majority of women would refuse to know, or to
receive, any woman of high position who had voluntarily disgraced
herself, they would soon put a stop to the lax morality of the upper
classes. If our builders, artisans and mechanics would club together,
and refuse to make guns or ships for our enemies in foreign countries,
we should not run the risk of being one day hoisted with our own
petard. In any case, the work of Revolution rests with the people,
though it is quite true they need teachers to show them how to begin."
"And are these teachers forthcoming?"
"I think so!" said Sir Walter meditatively. "Throughout all history, as
far back as we can trace it, whenever a serious reform has been needed
in either society or government, there has always been found a leader
to head the movement."
The Queen's beautiful eyes rested upon him with a certain curiosity.
"What of your King?" she said.
"Madam, he is my King!" he replied,--"And I serve him faithfully!"
She was silent. She began to wonder whether he had any private motive
to gain, any place he sought to fill, that he should assume such a
touch-me-not air at this stray allusion to his Sovereign.
"Lèse-majesté is so common nowadays!" she mused;--"It is such an
ordinary thing to hear vulgar _parvenus_ talk of their king as if
he were a public-house companion of theirs, that it is somewhat
remarkable to find one who speaks of his monarch with loyalty and
respect. I suppose, however, like everyone else, he has his own ends to
serve!--Kings are the last persons in the world who can command
She glanced dreamily over the sea, and perceiving a slight shade of
weariness on her face, Sir Walter discreetly rose, craving her
permission to retire to the saloon, where he had promised to join the
King. When he had left her, she turned to one of her ladies, the
Countess Amabil, and remarked:
"A very personable gentleman, is he not?"
"Madam," rejoined the Countess, who was very lovely in herself, and of
a bright and sociable disposition;--"I have often thought it would be
more pleasant and profitable for all of us if we had many such
personable gentlemen with us oftener!"
A slight frown of annoyance crossed the Queen's face. The Countess was
a very charming lady; very fascinating in her own way, but her decided
predilection for the sterner sex often led her to touch on dangerous
ground with her Royal mistress. This time, however, she escaped the
chilling retort her remark might possibly, on another occasion, have
called down upon her. The Queen said nothing. She sat watching the
sea,--and now and again took up her field-glass to study the
picturesque coast of The Islands, which was rapidly coming into view.
Teresa de Launay, the second lady in attendance on her, was reading,
and, seeing her quite absorbed in her book, the Queen presently asked
her what it contained.
"You have smiled twice over that book, Teresa," she said kindly;--"What
is it about?"
"Madam, it speaks of love!" replied Teresa, still smiling.
"And love makes you smile?"
"I would rather smile than weep over it, Madam!" replied Teresa, with a
slight colour warming her fair face;--"But as concerns this book, I
smile, because it is full of such foolish verses,--as light and sweet--
and almost as cloying,--as French _fondants_!"
"Let me hear!" said the Queen; "Read me a few lines."
"This one, called 'A Canzonet' is brief enough for your Majesty's
immediate consideration," replied Teresa;--"It is just such a thing as
a man might scribble in his note-book after a bout of champagne, when
he is in love for ten minutes! He would not mean a word of it,--but it
might sound pretty by moonlight!" Whereupon she read aloud:--
My Lady is pleased to smile,
And the world is glad and gay;
My Lady is pleased to weep;--
And it rains the livelong day!
My Lady is pleased to hate,
And I lose my life and my breath;
My Lady is pleased to love,--
And I am the master of Death!
I know that my Lady is Love,
By the magical light about her;
I know that my Lady is Life,
For I cannot live without her!
"And you do not think any man would truly mean as much love as this?"
queried the Queen.
"Oh, Madam, you know he would not! If he had written such lines about
the joys of dining, or the flavour of an excellent cigar, they might
then indeed be taken as an expression of his truest and deepest
feeling! But his 'Lady'! Bah! She is a mere myth,--a temporary peg to
hang a stray emotion on!"
She laughed, and her laughter rippled merrily on the air.
"I do not think the men who write so easily about love can ever truly
feel it," she went on;--"Those who really love must surely be quite
unable to express themselves. This man who sings about his 'Lady' being
pleased to do this or do that, was probably trying to obtain the good
graces of some pretty housemaid or chorus girl!"
A slight contemptuous smile crossed the Queen's face; from her
expression it was evident that she agreed in the main with the opinion
of her vivacious lady-in-waiting. Just at that moment the King and his
suite, with Sir Walter Langton and one or two other gentlemen, who had
been invited to join the party, came up from the saloon, and the
conversation became general.
"Have you seen Humphry at all to-day?" enquired the King aside of De
Launay. "I sent him an early message asking him to join us, and was
told he had gone out riding. Is that true?"
"I have not seen his Royal Highness since the morning, Sir," replied
the equerry; "He then met me,--and Professor von Glauben also--in the
gardens. He gave me no hint as to whether he knew of your intention to
sail to The Islands this afternoon or not; he was reading, and with
some slight discussion on the subject of the book he was interested in,
he and the Professor strolled away together."
"But where is Von Glauben?" pursued the King; "I sent for him likewise,
but he was absent."
"I understood him to say that you had not commanded his attendance
again to-day, Sir," replied Sir Roger;--"He told me he had already
waited upon you."
"Certainly I did not command his attendance when I saw him the first
thing this morning," replied the King; "I summoned him then merely to
satisfy his scruples concerning my health and safety, as he seemed last
night to have doubts of both!" He smiled, and his eyes twinkled
humourously. "Later on, I requested him to join us in this excursion,
but his servant said he had gone out, leaving no word as to when he
would return. An eccentricity! I suppose he must be humoured!"
Sir Roger was silent. The King looked at him narrowly, and saw that
there was something in his thoughts which he was not inclined to utter,
and with wise tact and discretion forbore to press any more questions
upon him. It was not a suitable time for cross-examination, even of the
most friendly kind; there were too many persons near at hand who might
be disposed to listen and to form conjectures; moreover the favouring
wind had so aided the Royal yacht in her swift course that The Islands
were now close at hand, and the harbour visible, the run across from
the mainland having been accomplished under the usual two hours.
The King scanned the coast through his glass with some interest.
"We shall obtain amusement from this unprepared trip," he said,
addressing the friends who were gathered round him; "We have forbidden
any announcement of our visit here, and, therefore, we shall receive no
recognition, or welcome. We shall have to take the people as we find
"Let us hope they will prove themselves agreeable, Sir," said one of
the suite, the Marquis Montala, a somewhat effeminate elegant-looking
man, with small delicate features and lazily amorous eyes,--"And that
the women of the place will not be too alarmingly hideous."
"Women are always women." said the King gaily; "And you, Montala, if
you cannot find a pretty one, will put up with an ugly one for the
moment rather than have none at all! But beauty exists everywhere, and
I daresay we shall find it in as good evidence here as in other parts
of the kingdom. Our land is famous for its lovely women,"--and turning
to Sir Walter Langton he added--"I think, Sir Walter, we can almost
beat your England in that one particular!"
"Some years ago, Sir, I should have accepted that challenge," returned
Sir Walter, "And with the deepest respect for your Majesty, I should
have ventured to deny the assertion that any country in the world could
surpass England for the beauty of its women. But since the rage for
masculine sports and masculine manners has taken hold of English girls,
I am not at all disposed to defend them. They have, unhappily, lost all
the soft grace and modesty for which their grandmothers were renowned,
and one begins to remark that their very shapes are no longer feminine.
The beautiful full bosoms, admired by Gainsborough and Romney, are
replaced by an unbecoming flatness--the feet and hands are growing
large and awkward, instead of being well-shaped, white and delicate--
the skin is becoming coarse and rough of texture, and there is very
little complexion to boast of, if we except the artificial make-up of
the women of the town. Some few pretty and natural women remain in the
heart of the forest and the country, but the contamination is
spreading, and English women are no longer the models of womanhood for
all the world."
"Are you married, Sir Walter?" asked the King with a smile.
"To no woman, Sir! I have married England--I love her and work for her
"You find that love sufficient to fill your heart?"
"Perhaps," returned Sir Walter musingly--"perhaps if I speak personally
and selfishly--no! But when I argue the point logically, I find this--
that if I had a wife she might probably occupy too much of my time,--
certes, if I had children, I should be working for them and their
future welfare;--as it is, I give all my life and all my work to my
country, and my King!"
"I hope you will meet with the reward you merit," said the Queen
gently; "Kings are not always well served!"
"I seek no reward," said Sir Walter simply; "The joy of work is always
its own guerdon."
As he spoke the yacht ran into harbour, and with a loud warning cry the
sailors flung out the first rope to a man on the pier, who stood gazing
in open-mouthed wonder at their arrival. He seemed too stricken with
amazement to move, for he failed to seize the rope, whereat, with an
angry exclamation as the rope slipped back into the water, and the
yacht bumped against the pier, a sailor sprang to land, and as it was
thrown a second time, seized it and made it fast to the capstan. A few
more moments and the yacht was safely alongside, the native islander
remaining still motionless and staring. The captain of the Royal vessel
stepped on shore and spoke to him.
"Are there any men about here?"
The individual thus addressed shook his head in the negative.
"Are you alone to keep the pier?"