KING JOHN OF JINGALO
THE STORY OF A MONARCH IN DIFFICULTIES
BY LAURENCE HOUSMAN
NEW YORK HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY 1912
I. A Domestic Interior
II. Accidents Will Happen
III. Wild Oats and Widows' Weeds
IV. Popular Monarchy
V. Church and State
VI. Of Things not Expected
VII. The Old Order
VIII. Pace-making in Politics
IX. The New Endymion
X. King and Council
XI. A Royal Commission
XII. An Arrival and a Departure
XIII. A Promissory Note
XIV. Heads or Tails
XV. A Deed Without a Name
XVI. Concealment and Discovery
XVII. The Incredible Thing Happens
XVIII. The King's Night Out
XIX. The Spiritual Power
XX. The Thorn and the Flesh
XXII. A Man of Business
XXIII. "Call Me Jack"
XXIV. The Voice of Thanksgiving
KING JOHN OF JINGALO
A DOMESTIC INTERIOR
The King of Jingalo had just finished breakfast in the seclusion of the royal private apartments. Turning away from the pleasantly deranged board he took up one of the morning newspapers which lay neatly folded upon a small gilt-legged table beside him. Then he looked at his watch.
This action was characteristic of his Majesty: doing one thing always reminded him that presently he would have to be doing another. Conscientious to a fault, he led a harassed and over-occupied life, which was not the less wearisome in its routine because no clear results ever presented themselves within his own range of vision. By an unkind stroke of fortune he had been called to the rule of a kingdom that had grown restive under the weight of too much tradition; and constitutionally he was unable to let it alone. So must he now remind himself in the hour of his privacy how all too fleeting were its moments, and how soon he would have to project himself elsewhere.
Glancing across the table towards his consort he saw that she was still engrossed in the opening of her letters—large stiff envelopes, conspicuously crested, containing squarish sheets of unfolded note-paper; for it was a rule of the Court that no creased correspondence should ever solicit the attention of the royal eye, and that all letters should be written upon one side only. The Queen was very fond of receiving these spacious missives; though they contained little of importance they came to her from half the crowned heads of Europe, as well as from the most select circle of Jingalese aristocracy. They gave occupation to two secretaries, and were a daily reminder to her Majesty that, in her own country at any rate, she was the acknowledged leader of society.
Having looked at his watch the King said: "My dear, what are you going to do to-day?"
"Really," replied the Queen, "I don't quite know; I have not yet looked at my diary."
Her Majesty seldom did know anything of the day's program until she had consulted her secretaries, who, with dovetailing ingenuity, arranged her hours and booked to each day—often many months in advance—the engagements which lay ahead. Therein she showed a calmer and more philosophic temperament than her consort. The King always knew; every day of his life with anxious forecast he consulted his diary while shaving, and breakfasted with its troubling details fresh upon his recollection.
Having answered his inquiry the Queen relapsed into her correspondence, while the King resumed his newspaper; and the moment may be regarded as propitious for presenting the reader with a portrait of these two august personages, since so good an opportunity may not occur again. The kind of portrait we offer is, of course, of an up-to-date and biographical character, and does not limit itself to those circumstances of time and space in which the commencement of this history has landed us.
So, first, we take the King,—not as we have just found him, seated at a table with chair turned sideways and features sharply illuminated by the reflected lights of the journal he holds in his hands—for thus we do not see him to advantage, and it is to advantage that we would exhibit in its externals a character of which, before we have done with it, we intend to grow fond. Time and space must provide us with a broader view of him than that.
This King had been upon the throne for twenty-five years; and during that period, like a rich wine in the wood, monarchy had mellowed within him, permeating his system with its mild and slightly dry flavor; it had become as it were a habit, and he carried it quite naturally, almost unconsciously, though with just a suspicion of weight, much as a scholar carries his learning or a workman his bag of tools.
A pleasantly florid face, quaintly expressive of an importance about which its owner was undecided, imposed above a fullish waistcoat a chin which was now tending toward the slopes of middle age. The eyes were mild and vaguely speculative, the lips full and loosely formed, and when they smiled they began tentatively in a tremulous lift showing only the two upper front teeth—the smile of a woman rather than of a man. This smile—when it made, as it so often had to make, its appearance in public—was curiously suggestive of interrogation. "Am I now meant to smile?" it seemed to say. "Very good, then I will." This tentatively advanced smile of a countenance so highly exalted for others to gaze on, was peculiarly winning to those who were its recipients; it suggested a gentle character, indicating through its shyness both the giving and the receiving of a favor; and among those in personal attendance on him the King was—perhaps on account of that smile—more liked than he knew. Servants whom the vastness of his establishments did not convert into total strangers found him a considerate master, full of a personal interest in their snug lives, and with a carefully practised memory for the numbers and names of their children; and the only complaint that even his valets had against him was that he remained his own barber and evinced a certain reluctance in casting his suits until they had begun to show a suspicion of wear. In outward relations he was a kind, touchy, companionable soul; inwardly he was one who suffered acutely from lack of companionship and conversation, not because he had not plenty of people to talk to, but because so many things came into his head that he must not say, while the correct substitutes for them only occurred to him later. And thus it came about that a good deal of his intercourse with humanity was limited to a pleasant expression of face, wearing generally, especially when it smiled, a wistful note of interrogation.
To present this face to the public in the regulation doses which were considered inducive to loyalty, he had sat thirty-nine times for his portrait to popular rather than famous painters, and to commercially successful photographers more times than any one could count. And painters and photographers alike had agreed that he was a steady and a patient sitter. They all liked him. He himself preferred the photographers; they came more often but they took less time and did not require the give-and-take of artificially made conversation. They were also more amenable to criticism, and kept behind the scenes for "touching-up" purposes wonderful anonymous artists who gave no trouble whatever, requiring no sittings and yet producing results that for tact and skill combined with accuracy could not be beaten. Occasionally, after having sat for his portrait to one of the painters, the King was advised to bestow on him a knighthood or an order. In his heart of hearts he would have much preferred knighting a photographer; but for some reason which was beyond him to discover this was not considered the correct thing, and the knighthoods went accordingly to the people who gave him the most trouble and the least satisfactory results.
It had never been the King's lot to be handsome; but now the approaches of age were giving to his countenance a dignity which in youth it had lacked. This was part and parcel of a certain mental obtuseness or obstinacy: when his Majesty did not understand, majesty became sedentary in his face. Often when it was the duty, or the device, of his ministerial advisers to confuse his mind with explanatory details about things which lay far beyond it, they would presently become aware that he did not in the least understand what they were saying, or that such understanding as he possessed at the beginning had become darkened by judicious counsel. This stage of the reasoning process was marked by a gentle access of majesty to the royal countenance; and when it appeared ministers were informed that, for the time being, their object was attained. When, however, the King did understand, or thought that he did, he was less majestic and more troublesome, and had to be circumvented in other ways; and a good deal of this history will be taken up with the circumventions practised by an astute Cabinet upon a monarch who was brought by accident to imagine that he really did understand the position of ignominy combined with responsibility in which the Constitution had placed him.
John of Jingalo had been in harness all his life: he had never known freedom, never been left to find his own feet, never been taught to think for himself except upon conventional lines; and these had kept him from ever putting into practice the rudimental self-promptings which sometimes troubled him. He had been elaborately instructed, but not educated; his own individual character, that is to say, had not been allowed to open out; but a sort of traditional character had been slowly squeezed into him in order to fit him for that conventional acceptance of a variety of ancient institutions (some moldering, some still vigorous) which, by a certain official and ruling class of monetarily interested persons, was considered to be the correct constitutional attitude. Monarchy, that is to say, had been interpreted to him by those who sucked the greatest amount of social prestige and material benefit from its present conditions as a "going concern"; and in that imposed interpretation deportment came first, initiative last, and originality nowhere at all.
In many respects, indeed, his training had been like that of a young girl whose parents have determined, without leaving her any choice in the matter, that matrimony is to be her single aim and the sphere of the home her outward circumference. Like a young girl whose future is thus controlled he had acquired a pleasant smattering of several social accomplishments; he had learned to speak three languages with fluency, to draw, to dance, to ride, to behave under all likely circumstances with perfect correctness, and to walk down the center of a large room with apparent ease. He had been trained, for review purposes and for the final privilege of carrying a cocked hat as well as a crown upon his coffin, in a profession which he would never be allowed to practise; and, having been "brought out" with much show and parade at an early age, had been introduced to a vast number of very important people, and dragged through a long series of social functions, which, however crowded, gave always a free floor for his feet to walk on and never presented a single back to his view. But as a result of all these crowds, with their bewildering blend of glittering toilet, deferential movement, and flattering speech, he knew no more of the inner realities of life than the young girl knows of it from a series of dances, flirtations, and afternoon teas. This polite and decorous, yet dazzling mask had been drawn between him and the actualities of existence, presenting itself to view again and again, and concealing its essential sameness in the pomp and circumstance with which it was attended. At these functions thousands of brilliant and distinguished people had bowed their well-stored brains within a few inches of his face, had exchanged with their monarch a few words of studied politeness and compliment, now and then had even laid themselves out to amuse him, but never once had they imparted to his mind an arresting or a commanding thought, never once endeavored to change any single judgment that had ever been formed for him. Not once in all the years since he came to man's estate—except occasionally with his wife and on one isolated occasion with his father—had he ever found himself involved so deeply in argument, or in any difference of opinion, as to be forced to feel himself beaten. That single discussion with his father had been closed peremptorily—parental and regal authority combining had cut it short; and as for his wife—well, she was dear, amiable, and, within her limits, sensible; but intellectually she was not his superior. Thus there had come to him a good deal of social discipline, experience of a kind, but of education in the higher intellectual sense scarcely any. He had merely been taught carefully and elaborately to take up a certain position, and in a vast number of minutely differing circumstances (mainly of social formality) to fill it or seem to fill it "as one to the manner born."
In addition he had been trained, on strictly impartial and noncommittal lines, to take an interest in politics; to have within certain narrow and prescribed limits an open mind—one, that is to say, with its orifice comfortably adapted to the stuffing process practised on kings by the great ones of the official world; and when his mind would not open in certain required directions, well, after all, it did not much matter, since in the end it made no practical difference.
Under these circumstances he would have been a mere social and official automaton had not certain defects of his character saved him. Though timid he was impulsive; he was also a little irritable, rather suspicious, and indomitably fussy in response to the call of duty. Temper, fuss, and curiosity saved him from boredom; he was conscientiously industrious, and though there was much that he did not understand he managed to be interested in nearly everything.
In the fiftieth year of his age, this monarch, amiable, affable, and of a thoroughly deserving domestic character, was destined to be thrust into a seething whirlpool of political intrigue in which, for the first time, his conscience was to be seriously troubled over the part he was asked to play. And while that wakening of his conscience was to cause him a vast amount of trouble, it was to have as enlarging and educative an effect upon his character as her first love affair has upon a young girl. From this moment, in fact, you are to see a shell-bound tortoise blossom into a species of fretful porcupine, his shell splintering itself into points and erecting them with blundering effectiveness against his enemies. And you shall see by what unconscious and subterranean ways history gets made and written.
And now let us turn to the Queen. In her case less analysis is needed: one had only to look at her, at the genial and comfortable expression of her face, at the ample, but not too ample, lines of her person, to see that in her present high situation she both gave and found satisfaction. She did, with ease and even with appetite, that which the King, with so much anxious expenditure of nervous energy, was always trying to do—her duty. She had a position and she filled it. She was not clever, but her imperturbable common-sense made up for what she lacked intellectually. No one, except the newspapers, would call her beautiful; but she was comely and enjoyed good health, and she had what one may describe as a good surface—nothing that she wore was thrown away on her, and any chair that she occupied, however large, she never failed to adorn. There you have her picture: you may imagine her as plump, as blonde, as good-tempered, and as well-preserved for her age as suits your individual taste—no qualifying word of the chronicler of this history shall obstruct the view; and you may be as fond of her as you like.
The Queen was the head of Jingalese society, and of its charities as well. Her influence was enormous: at a mere word from her organizations sprang into being. Without any Acts of Parliament to control or guide them—merely at the delicately expressed wish of her Majesty—thousands of charming, wealthy, and influential women would waste spare hour upon hour and expend small fortunes of pocket-money in keeping uncomfortable things comfortably going in their accustomed grooves. It was calculated that the Queen's patronage had the immediate effect of trebling the subscription list of any charity, while the mere withdrawal of her name spelt bankruptcy. Her Majesty was patron to forty-nine charities and subscribed to all of them. For the five largest she appeared annually on a crimson-covered platform, insuring thereby a large supply of silk purses containing contributions, and a full report in the press of all the speeches. It was her rule to open two bazaars regularly each summer, to lay the foundation-stones of three churches, orphanages, or hospitals (whichever happened to require the greatest amount of money for their completion), to attend the prize-giving at the most ancient of the national charity schools, and every winter, when distress and unemployment were at their worst, to go down to the Humanitarian Army's soup-kitchen, and there taste, from a tin mug with a common pewter spoon, the soup which was made for the poor and destitute. This last performance, which took so much less time and trouble than all the rest, proved each year the most popular incident of her Majesty's useful and variegated public life, for every one felt that it provided in the nicest possible way an antidote to the advance of socialistic theories. The papers dealt with it in leading articles; and the lucky casuals who happened to drop in on the day when her Majesty paid the surprise visit arranged for her by her secretaries would report that they had never tasted such good soup in all their born days.
It may truthfully be said that the Queen never spent an idle day, and never came to the end of one without the consciousness of having done good. All the more, therefore, is it remarkable that, as the outcome of so much benevolence and charity, the Queen knew absolutely nothing of the real needs and conditions of the people, and that she knew still less how any alterations in the laws, manners, or customs of the country could better or worsen the conditions of unemployment, sweated labor, or public morality. Her whole idea of political economy was summed up in the proposition that anything must be good for the country which was good for trade; and it may certainly be said that for the majority of trade interests she was as good as gold. Without caring too much for dress (being herself wholly devoid of personal vanity) she ordered dresses in abundance, and constantly varied the fashion, the color, and the material, because she was given to understand that change and variety stimulated trade. Her most revolutionary act had been to readopt, one fine spring morning, the ample skirt of the crinoline period in order to counteract the distress and shortage of work caused in the textile trade by the introduction and persistence of the "hobble skirt." As a consequence of this sudden disturbance of the evolutionary law governing creation in the modiste's sense of the word, there was a sharp reaction a year later, which—after the artificial stimulus of the previous season—threw more women out of employment than ever; new fancy-trades had to be learned in apprenticeships at starvation wages—with the result that wages had to be eked out in other ways. But of all this her Majesty heard nothing. It never occurred to anybody that these ultimate consequences of her amiable incentive to industry could possibly concern her; and the Queen, finding that people no longer knew how to adapt themselves to the long, full skirts of their grandmothers, accepted without demur the next wave of fashion that swept over Europe from London via Paris.
The Queen never herself opened a paper. Extracts were read out to her each day by one of her ladies; these being selected by another lady appointed for the purpose as those most likely to interest the royal mind. It was made known in the press that her Majesty never read the divorce cases; neither did she read politics or the police news. No controversial side of the national life ever entered her brain—until somehow or another it was reached by the dim uproar of the Women Chartists' movement. She expressed her disapproval, and the page was turned.
Her instinctive tastes stood always as a guide for what she should be told; and experience limited her inquiry. In all her life her influence had never been used for the release of an unjustly convicted prisoner, the abatement of an inhuman sentence, or the abolition of any abuse established by law. Queens who had done these things in the past were medieval figures, and such interference was quite unsuitable for a royal consort under modern conditions. Had Philippa of Hainault lived in these more enlightened times she would have been forced to let the Burghers of Calais go hang and restrict herself to making provision for their widows and orphans; for to arrest any act of government had long since ceased to be within the functions of a queen.
Like her husband, this royal lady was surrounded by officialdom, or, rather, by its complementary and feminine appendices—the wives and daughters of the aristocracy, of politicians, of ecclesiastical and military dignitaries: these to her represented the sphere, activity, and capacity of her own sex. Other women—pioneers of education and of reform, rescue-workers, organizers, writers, orators, had—the majority of them—lived and died without once coming in contact with the official leader of Jingalese womanhood; for they and their like were outside the official ranks, and stood for things combative and controversial and dangerously alive, and only a few of them had been brought to Court in their venerable old age, to be looked at as curiosities when their fighting days were over and their work done.
On the governing boards of the hospitals to which the Queen gave her patronage there was not a single woman—or a married one either; but when her Majesty visited the wards she was very nice to the nurses. She was, in fact, very nice to everybody, and everybody was very nice to her.
A king and a queen take so long to describe that the reader will have almost forgotten how we left them at the breakfast table. But the Queen had her letters and the King his newspapers, and there, when we return to them in the historic present, they still are.
Yes, there they sit, an institutional expression of the nation's general complacence with the state of civilization at which it has arrived, interpreting in decorous form the voice of the articulate majority—the inarticulate not being interpreted at all. There they sit, he with his newspapers, she with her letters: the King a little anxious and perturbed, the Queen not anxious or perturbed about anything.
She was still enjoying her superfluous correspondence, he studying in a vague distrustfulness the various organs of public opinion which lay around him, doubtful of them all, yet wishing to find one he could rely on. For now they were all very full of the approaching constitutional crisis, and were adumbrating in respectful, yet slightly menacing terms, what the King himself would do in the matter. Whereas what he actually would do he had not himself the ghost of a notion,—did not yet know, in fact, what legs he had to stand on, having no information upon that point beyond what the Prime Minister had chosen to tell him.
And being puzzled he wanted to talk, yet not directly of the matter which perturbed his mind; but somehow by hearing his own voice he hoped to arrive at the popular sentiment. It was a way he had; and the Queen, who was often his audience, knew the preliminary symptoms by heart. So when presently he began crackling his newspaper and drawing a series of audible half breaths as though about to begin reading, his wife recognized the sign that here was something she must listen to. She put down her letters and attended.
"I see," said his Majesty, culling his information from the opening paragraph of a leading article, "I see that the Government is losing popularity every day. That Act they passed last year for the reinstitution of turnpikes to regulate the speed of motor-traffic is proving unpopular."
"Is it a failure, then?" inquired the Queen.
"On the contrary, it is a success. But the system was expected to pay for its upkeep by the amount of fines it brought in, whereas the result has been to make the conduct of motorists so exemplary that the measure has ceased to pay. Unable to escape detection, 'joy-riding' has become practically non-existent, motor-cars are ceasing to be used for breaches of the peace, and the trade is going down in consequence by leaps and bounds. The fact is you cannot now-a-days put a stop to any grave abuse without seriously damaging some trade-interest. If 'trade' is to decide matters it would be much better not to legislate at all."
"My dear! wouldn't that be revolutionary?" inquired the Queen.
"Keeping things as they are is not revolutionary," replied his Majesty, "though it's a hard enough thing to do now-a-days."
"But," objected his wife, "they must pass something, or else how would they earn their salaries?"
"That's it!" said the King,—"payment of members; another of those unnecessary reforms thrust on us by the example of England."
"Ah, yes!" answered his wife, feeling about for an intelligent ground of agreement, "England is so rich; she can afford it."
"It isn't that at all," retorted his Majesty; "plenty of other countries have had to afford it before now. But it was only when England did it that we took up with the notion. We are always imitating England: the attraction of contraries, I suppose, because we are surrounded by land as they are by water. Why else did they start turning me into a commercial traveler, sending me all over Europe and round the world to visit colonies that no longer really belong to us? Only because they are doing the same thing over in England."
"They saw that you wanted change of air," said the Queen.
"Change of fiddlesticks!" answered the King; "I consider it a most dangerous precedent to let a sovereign be too long out of his own country. It makes people imagine they can do just as well without him!"
The Queen looked at her husband with shrewd and kindly furtiveness. She had a funny little suspicion that the ministry did at times greatly prefer his absence to his presence: and that "change of fiddlesticks" was really their underlying motive. About this monarch she herself had no illusions: he was a dear, but he fussed; and when once he began fussing he required an enormous amount of explanation and persuasion. Even she, therefore, was not at all averse to letting him go on these State outings in which she need not always accompany him. They gave him something fresh to think about, and to her a time of leisure when she need not pretend to think about anything she did not understand.
"Of course," went on the King, "it makes good copy for the newspapers. The press is powerful, and governments are obliged now-a-days to throw in a certain amount of spectacle to keep it in a good temper. We are sent off to perform somewhere, and after us come the penny-a-liner and the cinematograph."
"Oh! my dear, much more than a penny-a-liner," corrected the Queen; "I heard of one correspondent who makes L5,000 a year. And think how good for trade! Besides, do not we get the benefit of it?"
"Benefit!" exclaimed the King irritably, "where is the benefit to us of journalists who describe State functions as though they were jewelers' touts and dressmakers rolled into one? The vulgarity of people's present notion of what makes monarchy impressive is appalling. Listen to this, my dear! This is you and me at the Opening of Parliament yesterday." He unfolded his paper and read—
"'The regal purple flowed proudly from the King's shoulders; above their three ribbons of red, green, and gold, the Orders of his ancestors burned confidingly on the royal breast. The Queen's diamonds were supreme; upon the silken fabric of her corsage they flashed incredibly; one watched them, fire-color infinitely varied, infinitely intensified, like nothing else seen on earth. As she advanced, deeply bowing to right and left, parabolas of light exhaled from her coronet like falling stars. When King and Queen were seated, their State robes flowing in purple waves and ripples of ermine to the very steps of the dais, the picture was complete. Single gems of the first water glistened like dewdrops in the Queen's ears, while upon her bosom as she breathed the three great Turgeneff diamonds caught and defiantly threw back the light. They became the center of all eyes.'
"I call that disgusting!" said the King. "Why diamonds should burn confidingly on my breast, and flash incredibly on yours, I'm sure I don't know. But there we are: a couple of clothes'-pegs for journalists to hang words on."
The Queen had rather enjoyed the description, it enabled her to see herself as she appeared to others.
"I don't see the harm," she said; "we have to wear these things, so they may as well be described."
"I wish some day you wouldn't wear them!" said the King. "Then, instead of talking of your trinkets and your clothes, they would begin to pay attention to what royalty really stands for."
The Queen was gathering up her letters from the table: she smiled indulgently upon her spouse.
"Jack," said she, "you are jealous!"
"I wish, Alicia," said the King testily, "that you would not call me 'Jack'; at least, not after—not where any of the servants may come in and overhear us. It would not sound seemly."
"My dear John," said the Queen, "don't be so absurd. You know perfectly well that it's just that which makes us most popular. People are always telling little anecdotes of that kind about us; and then, think of all the photographs! If people were to talk of you as 'King Jack,' it would mean you were the most popular person in the country."
"I wonder if they do?" murmured the King. "I wonder!" He felt remote from his people, for he did not know.
The Queen noticed his depression; something was troubling him, and being a lady of infinite tact, she abruptly turned the conversation. "What are you doing to-day, dear?" she inquired brightly.
"I have a Council at eleven," moaned the King, "and I really must get through a few of these papers first. It gives me a great advantage when Brasshay begins talking—a great advantage if I know what the papers have been saying about him. To-day it's the Finance Act. By the way, Charlotte was asking me yesterday to raise her allowance. Is there any reason for it?"
"A little more for dress would now be advisable," said the Queen. "She has lately begun to open Church bazaars: I thought they would do for her to begin upon. And the other day she laid the foundation-stone of a dogs' orphanage—very nicely, I'm told."
"Of course," said the King, "she's old enough, and it is quite time I asked for a definite grant from Parliament. But if one did that now they would probably not raise it afterwards. Very much better to wait, I think, till we have made a really brilliant match for her; then, for the sake of its financial prestige, the nation will do the thing handsomely."
"She has got an idea she doesn't like foreigners," said the Queen reflectively.
"She will have to like some foreigner!" said the King. "As the only daughter of a reigning monarch she must marry royalty, and we haven't any one left among ourselves who is eligible. Charlotte must get to like foreigners. Max has no objection to foreigners, I hope?"
The Queen gave her husband a curious look.
"From what I hear," she murmured, "I should say none: but it is not for me to make any inquiries."
"Dear me! is that so?" said the King. "Well, well! When did you hear about it?"
"Only yesterday; but it has been going on a long time."
"I suppose," sighed his Majesty, "I suppose one couldn't expect it to be otherwise. Well, I must speak to him, then; and we shall really have to get him married to somebody. The religious difficulty, of course, narrows our choice most unfortunately; and when we happen to be on bad terms both with Germany and England, through trying to be friendly to both, why, really there is hardly anybody left."
"I hear," remarked the Queen, "that the Hereditary Prince of Schnapps-Wasser is returning from his three years' exploration of central South America this autumn. Wouldn't he be worth thinking about?"
"You mean for Charlotte? But I expect he will be wanted at the Prussian Court."
The Queen shook her head. "Oh, no! He is out of favor there. They have never forgiven him his description of the Kaiser's oratorio as 'Moses Among the Crocodiles.' That is why I thought he might not be averse to looking in our direction. He used to be a nice boy; he is handsome according to his portraits, and Charlotte is not without her taste for adventure."
"That doesn't solve the problem about Max," said his Majesty discontentedly. "And, by the way, where is Charlotte?"
"She has gone to stay with Lady—oh, I have forgotten her name—the one who had a fancy for history and took a diploma in it. They are opening that new college for women, with a Greek play all about the Trojans, and Charlotte particularly wanted to go."
"H'm?" queried the King; "rather an advanced set for Charlotte to consort with—just now, I mean,—don't you think? There might be some of those Women Chartists among them."
"Oh, no!" replied her Majesty; "they are all quite respectable,—ladies every one of them. I took care to make inquiries about that."
And then, quite contentedly, she made a final gathering of her correspondence, and sailed off for a preliminary interview with her two indispensable secretaries; while the King, selecting three out of the pile of newspapers, carried them away with him to his study. There was a sentence in one of them which he particularly wanted to read again. And with this vacating of the breakfast-chamber we may as well close the chapter.
ACCIDENTS WILL HAPPEN
The sentence which had attracted the King's attention, coming as it did from the newspaper on whose opinions he most frequently relied, ran thus—
"In this developing crisis the Nation looks with complete and loyal assurance to him who alone stands high and independent above all parties, confident that when the time for a final decision has arrived he will so act, within the recognized limits of the Royal Prerogative, as to add a fresh luster and a renewed significance to that supreme symbol and safeguard of the popular will which, under Divine Providence, still crowns our constitutional edifice."
The King read it three times over. He read it both standing and sitting: and read in whatever attitude it certainly sounded well. As a peroration its rhythm and flow were admirable, as a means of keeping up the courage and confidence of readers who placed their reliance mainly upon literary style nothing could be better; but what, by all that was constitutional, did it mean?—or rather, how did it mean that he, the high and independent one, was to do it? Point by point its sentiments were unexceptionable; but what it actually pointed to he did not know. "Add luster?" Why, yes, certainly. But was not that what he was already doing day by day on the continuous deposit system, even as the oyster within its shell deposits luster upon the pearls which a sort of hereditary disease has placed within its keeping? "Renewed significance?" But in what respect had the significance of the royal office become obscured? Was anything that he did insignificant? "Symbol and safeguard of the popular will?" Yes: if his Coronation oath meant anything. But how was he, symbol and safeguard and all the rest of it, to find out what the popular will really was? No man in all the Kingdom was so much cut off from living contact with the popular will as was he!
The King was in his study, the room in which most of the routine work of his daily life was accomplished—a large square chamber with three windows to one side looking out across a well-timbered park toward a distant group of towers. But for those towers, so civic in their character, it might well have been taken for a country view; scarcely a roof was visible.
Upon a large desk in the center of the chamber lay a pile of official letters and documents awaiting his perusal; and he knew that in the adjoining room one of his private secretaries was even now attending his call. But from none of his secretaries could he learn anything about the popular will.
He walked to a window and stood looking out into the soft sunlit air, slightly misty in quality, which lay over the distances of his capital. Away behind those trees, beneath those towers, sending toward him a ceaseless reverberation of bells, wheels, street cries, and all the countless noises of city life, went a vast and teeming population of men and women, already far advanced on the round of their daily toil. He was in their midst, but not one of them could he see; and not one of them did he really know as man to man. Everything that he learned about their lives came to him at second or at third hand; nor did actual contact bring him any closer, for wherever he moved among them they knew who he was and behaved accordingly. For twenty-five years he had not walked in a single one of those streets the nearest of which lay within a stone's throw of his palace. As a youth, before his father came to the throne, he had sometimes gone about, with or without companions, just like an ordinary person, taking his chance of being recognized: it had not mattered then. But now it could not be done: people did not expect it of him; his ministers would have regarded it as a dangerous and expensive habit, requiring at least a trebling of the detective service, and even then there would always have been apprehension and uncertainty. He was King; and though, whatever might happen to him, his place would be automatically filled, and government go on just as before, yet, as a national symbol, his life was too valuable to be risked; and so on ascending the throne he had been forced, as his father before him, to resign his personal liberty and cease to go out in the happy, unpremeditated fashion of earlier days.
He had long since got over the curious home-sickness which this separation had at first caused him, and as an opening to personal enjoyment the impulse for freedom had long since died within him; but his heart still vaguely hungered for the people who called him their King; and looking out into the pale sunshine that was now thinly buttering the surface of his prosperous capital, and listening to the perpetual tick and hum of its busy life, he knew that for him it was and must remain, except in an official sense, an unknown territory. And yet out there, in that territory which he was unable to explore, the thing that is called "the popular will" lived and moved and had its being! Dimly he dreamed of what it might be—a thing of substance and form; but there was none to interpret to him his dream—except upon official lines.
Before his eyes, a salient object in the heavens surpassing the stony eminences which surrounded it, rose the tall spire of the twin Houses of Parliament. Upon its top swung a gilded weathercock; while about a portion of its base stood a maze of scaffolding, the facade of the building having during the last few months been under repair. There seemed, however, for the moment, to be no workmen upon it. Presently, as he gazed vacantly and without intent, something that moved upon the upper masonry engaged his attention. Slowly along its profile, out of all those hidden millions below, one of his subjects, a single and minute representative of the popular will, emerged cautiously into view.
The King was gifted with good sight; and though the figure appeared but as a tiny speck, it was unmistakably that of a man bearing a burden upon his back and ascending steadily toward the highest point of all. In a word it was a steeplejack. As the name passed through the King's mind it evoked recollection; and he said to himself again, "I wonder whether they call me Jack,—I wonder."
With a curious increase of interest and fellow-feeling he watched the distant figure mounting to its airy perch. And as he did so a yet further similitude and parable flashed through his mind. For the man's presence at that dizzy height he knew that the Board of Public Works was responsible: as a single item in the general expenditure the weathercock of the Palace of Legislature had had voted to it a new coat of gilt, and this steeplejack was now engaged in putting it on. He was there in the words of a certain morning journal, "to add fresh luster to that supreme symbol of the popular will which crowned the constitutional edifice."
As the words with their caressing rhythm flowed across the King's brain he discerned the full significance of the scene which was being enacted before him. This weathercock—the highest point of the constitutional edifice—requiring to be touched up afresh for the public eyes—was truly symbolical of the crown in its relation to the popular will; twisting this way and that responsive to and interpretative of outside forces, it had no will of its own at all, and yet to do its work it must blaze resplendently and be lifted high, and to be put in working trim and kept with luster untarnished it required at certain intervals the attentions of a steeplejack—one accustomed to being in high places, accustomed to isolation and loneliness, accustomed to bearing a burden upon his back before the eyes of all: one whose functions were rather like his own.
He saw that the steeplejack had now reached the point where his work was waiting for him, work that required nerve and courage. He wondered whether it were highly paid; he wondered also by what means the man slung himself into position, and by what process the new gold had to be applied so that it would stick. Perhaps he only polished up what was already there, coated and covered from view by the grime of modern industry. If so, how did he scrape off the dirt without also scraping off the gold? Perhaps, on the other hand, all the old gold had to come off before new gold could be put on. He wondered whether the man ever forgot his perilous position, whether habit did not make him sometimes careless, whether he ever felt giddy, and how far the exploit was really attended by danger to one possessed of skill and a cool head; and as he thought, putting himself in the man's place, his hands grew sympathetically moist.
Well, he was wasting time, he must really get to his own work now; that secretary would be wondering what had become of him. He glanced away over the distant roofs that here and there emerged above the trees, and then for a last look back again. And as he did so all at once he started and uttered an acute exclamation of distress. A dark speck had suddenly detached itself from the ball upon which the vane stood, and could now be seen glissading with horrible swiftness down the slope of the spire. It fell into the scaffolding, zigzagged from point to point, and disappeared. There could be no mistake about it, it was the man himself who had fallen: that single and minute expression of the popular will had passed for ever from view; and the smooth and equable hum of the unseen millions below went steadily on.
Fleeing from the sight still registered upon his brain the King rang for his secretary. A figure of correctitude entered.
"There has been an accident," said his Majesty. "Over there!" He pointed. "A steeplejack has fallen."
The secretary slid respectfully to the window and looked out. To that polite official gaze of inquiry the scene of the tragedy returned a blank and uncommunicative stare.
"Poor wretch!" murmured the King. "I actually saw him go! Ring up, and inquire at the Police Center; though, of course, the poor fellow must be dead!"
The secretary sped away on his errand, and the King, moving back to the window, gazed fixedly at the spire, as though it could still in some way inform him of the tragedy consummated below. Then he returned to his desk and looked distractedly at his papers, but it was no use—back he went to the window again.
Presently the secretary returned and stood drooping for permission to speak. Permission came. "The man is dead, your Majesty. He was killed instantly."
The King gave a sigh of relief. "Of course," he murmured, "from such a height as that!" He stood for a while still cogitating on the sad event: then he said, with that considerate thoughtfulness which habit had made a second nature, "Be good enough to find out whether the poor fellow was married. If so let a donation be sent to his widow,—whatever the case seems to warrant—more if there should happen to be children."
Over his tablets the secretary bowed the beauty of his person like a recording angel. Then he paused that the heavenly measure might be taken with accuracy.
"Shall it be five pounds, sir?" he inquired.
"Better make it ten," said the King; "I believe that pays for a funeral. In sending it, you might explain that I had the misfortune to be an eye-witness."
The secretary cooed like a brooding dove. Of course everybody would understand and appreciate. He made a memorandum of the ten pounds and closed up his tablets.
Meanwhile the King went on thinking aloud. "I wonder," he said, "whether they take proper precautions in a trade like that? I would like to look it up. Find me the 'ST' volume of the Encyclopedia Appendica."
And when the volume was brought to him the King sat down and read all about steeplejacks and climbing irons, and cranks, and pulleys, and all the other various appliances requisite for the driving of that dreadful trade; read also how the men were inclined to prime themselves for the task in ever-increasing measure, and so one day having over-primed to be found at the bottom instead of at the top, knowing nothing themselves of how they got there. It was all very interesting and very apposite, and rather pathetic; and when he had done he turned over the pages backward till he came from steeplejacks to "Statesmen" and "Statecraft" and "Statutes" and the affairs of State in general (it was from the Encyclopedia Appendica—a presentation copy—that he got most of his information upon practical things); and in these articles he became so absorbed that he quite forgot how time flew, until his chief secretary came formally to announce to him that the hour for appearing in Council had arrived.
This announcement, be it observed, was made by no ordinary working secretary, but by the chief of them all, the Comptroller of his Majesty's household, a retired general who had passed from the military to the civil service with a record brilliantly made for him by other men—adjutants and attaches and all those indefatigable right-hand assistants of whom your true diplomatist forms his stepping-stones to power. General Poast and the Prime Minister shared between them the ordering and disposal of the King's public services to the Nation, while over other departments impenetrable to the Premier the hand of the Comptroller was still extended. Though personally the King rather disliked him, he had become an absolutely indispensable adjunct to the daily life—so smooth in its workings, yet so easily dislocated—of the Royal Household; also, as a go-between for ministers whose intercourse with the Crown was purely formal, he had proved himself a very efficient implement when on occasion it became necessary to circumvent or reduce to reason the King's characteristic obstinacy in small matters of detail. He might, in fact, be regarded as the keeper not so much of the King's conscience, as of his savoir faire, and of that tact for which Royalty in all countries is conspicuous. Everything that related to the remembering of names and faces, of dates, anniversaries and historical associations, all those small considerate actions of royal charity which robbed of their due privacy have now become the perquisite of the press; all these things stood ranged under minutely tabulated heads within the Comptroller-General's department. He was, literally, the King's Remembrancer; and so, on this occasion also, he had come as intermediary to remind his Majesty that the hour for the Council was at hand.
But the Council was one of those functions in which it was held necessary that the part played by the King (albeit no more than a silent presidency at a Board where others spoke) should wear an appearance of importance. And so the announcement made by the Comptroller was merely preliminary to another and more flourishing announcement by an usher of the Court. Two lackeys threw open a door—other than that through which the General had just entered, and a bowing official, beautifully dressed and waving a fairy-like wand, announced from the threshold, "Your Majesty's Council, now in attendance, humbly begs audience of your Majesty."
Then followed a pause. The Comptroller-General with head deferentially bent waited to catch the royal eye. The King graciously allowed his royal eye to be caught; and the Comptroller-General, interpreting the silent consent of that glance, uttered with due solemnity the traditional form of words indicative of the royal pleasure. "His Majesty hears," he lowed in the correct "palace accent": and the usher bowed and retired.
All this helped, of course, to make the act of presiding in Council seem highly important and consequential to any monarch susceptible to ceremonial flattery. Whether it had originally been so devised may be questioned, for monarchs of old had needed no such ceremonial backing to their very practical incursions into ministerial debate. What we have to notice is that the ceremony had survived, while the other thing—the practice of substantial interference—had become obsolete.
The King passed from his private apartments to broad corridors and portals where resplendent footmen stood in waiting, where everything worked with silent and automatic precision to prepare the way for his feet, signaling him on from point to point as though he were a sort of special train for which the line had been expressly cleared and all other traffic shunted. And yet when he came to the small anteroom which opened directly into the Council Chamber he felt for all the world like a timid bather about to unbutton the door of his bathing-machine and step forth into a strange and hostile element. That moment of trepidation was one he never could get over,—to face his Council of Ministers was always a plunge; for here truly he felt out of his depth, aware that politically he was no swimmer. And now for a couple of hours he would have to endure while, thoroughly at home in their own element, twenty stout aquatic athletes tumbled around him.
The door was thrown open; and with an air of calm self-possession he walked to the head of the table about which his ministers stood waiting. "Be seated, gentlemen," he said, embracing in a single bow the obeisances of all; and like slow waves they closed in on him, subsiding in large curves and soft fawning ripples of hand-rubbing around the empurpled board at which nominally he was to preside.
When all were seated in order, he signed for the Prime Minister to open the proceedings, and thereafter had scarcely to speak; for at a King's Council only general reports were presented, no discussions took place, no fresh proposals were mooted; and so he sat and heard how this department or that was extending its beneficent operations, how statistics were completing to their last decimal places the prognostications of experts, and how along with these things imports and exports were balancing, trade declining, education advancing, and strikes growing every day more formidable and more popular.
It was only this last point that really interested him; for here he seemed to get a dim rumor of something that was part at least of that popular will which it was his duty to symbolize and to safeguard. But these official advisers of his were all for putting strikes down, and yet while putting them down they seemed to wish to curry favor with the strikers themselves. For on the one hand there was trade declining, if the strikes were not put down, to support fresh taxation, on the other the Labor Party, eighty strong, declining, if the strikes were put down, to support the Government. And with the Finance Act coming on the question was whether to accept an increasing deficit in the revenue or a declining majority in the Legislature. This could be read vaguely between the lines of the report presented by the Minister of the Interior. But all this time not one word was said about the coming constitutional crisis which was in everybody's mind. That had been thoroughly discussed by ministers sitting in real Council elsewhere, a Council at which the Head of the Constitution had not been present, and about which he would hear no more than the Prime Minister chose to tell him.
And so, smoothly, equably, and uneventfully the Council reached its conclusion; ministers one after another closed up their portfolios, and sitting mute in their places respectfully waited the royal word of dismissal.
Then the King rose: and all around the board the fawning ripples of hand-rubbing ceased, and the slow curving wave of the ministerial body receded to a respectful distance; while his Majesty passed forth to the adjoining chamber, there to give, as was customary, separate audience to those ministers who had any special memoranda to submit requiring the royal endorsement.
On this occasion he found his Comptroller already awaiting him, apologetic for what might seem intrusion on territory belonging more properly to the Prime Minister. Under the correctness of his deportment it was clear that urgency impelled.
"I have come, sir," he said, "to submit to your Majesty, before the matter goes further, a certain difficulty which has arisen in connection with your Majesty's gracious donation to the widow of the unfortunate workman who——" He paused.
"You mean the steeplejack?" queried the King.
The Comptroller-General bowed assent. "Your Majesty ordered inquiry to be made."
"I did. Has it been found whether he had a family?"
"A large family, sir: a wife and seven children."
"Ah," said the King, "then you would suggest that ten pounds is not quite——? Well, make it twenty."
"That, sir, is not the difficulty. The fact is we have discovered that the man was what in the industrial world is known as a 'blackleg.' As your Majesty may be aware there is at this moment a strike in the building trade: and this man was working against the orders of his Union. Under those circumstances a donation from your Majesty becomes pointed."
"Pointed at what?"
"At the Trades Unions, sir."
"But what," cried the King, astonished, "have a widow and children to do with the Trades Unions?"
"The man was working against orders, your Majesty."
"But at somebody's orders, I suppose? Anyway, it was for the Government."
"Oh no, sir!" Correctitude protested against so dangerous an implication.
"But surely! Wasn't he there at the orders of the Board of Works?"
"At the orders of the contractor, your Majesty."
"Who was under contract with the Board to complete by a certain date."
"That, sir, cannot be denied."
"Well, really then," said the King, "from what department does this objection to the donation emanate?"
"From no department, your Majesty. The objection is on general grounds of policy."
The King's pride and modesty were becoming a little hurt; he was annoyed that so small a matter of private charity should be thus canvassed and brought within the range of politics. Subconsciously he had also another and a more symbolic reason which helped him to show fight.
"Really, my dear General," he said, "I think we are discussing this matter very unnecessarily. The widow is still a widow, and the children, who you tell me number seven, are orphans; and surely at his death a man ceases to be either a blackleg or a trades unionist. He is not working against orders now, at any rate. Make it twenty! make it twenty." (His utterance grew hurried; a way he had when crossed and anxious not to have to give way.) "I can't hear anything more about it now: I have Brasshay waiting to see me." And as at that moment the Prime Minister was announced, the Comptroller-General, for the present at any rate, "made it twenty" and retired. But he did so with a wry and a determined face.
As for the King he was thoroughly put out; the steeplejack was by association beginning to assume in his mind a very particular importance; he had become a symbol not merely of the sovereign himself, but of that act of statesmanship which he had been adjured to undertake by his favorite newspaper. This man, his prototype, had failed to add in completeness that luster which he had set out to add; had even died in the attempt; and here, in seeking with all his sympathies aroused to provide for the widow and children, the King was finding himself thwarted, and thwarted, too, on purely political grounds. Well, it should be a test: he would not be thwarted. The Cabinet couldn't resign on this; so he would do as he liked! And under the table, on a soft deep carpet of velvet-pile he stuck his heels into the ground and felt very determined.
And then he found that he must attend to something else, for the Prime Minister was speaking, and now at last was speaking on a very important matter.
"Your Majesty," said the Prime Minister, "the Bishops are blocking all our bills; the business of the country is at a standstill."
"Blocking?" queried the King; for he did know a little of contemporary history at all events.
"Amending," corrected the Minister. "Amending on lines which we cannot possibly accept."
"Some of them seemed to me quite excellent amendments," said the King. "But, of course, I don't know."
"They express, sir, no doubt, a point of view—quite an estimable point of view, if it were not a question of politics: they reflect, that is to say, the mind of the ecclesiastical side of the Spiritual and Judicial Chamber. Your Majesty's House of Laity sees things differently: I am bound, therefore, to submit to your Majesty certain important proposals for the relief of the impasse at which we have now arrived. As no doubt, sir, you are aware, we have the Judges, the Juridical half of the Chamber, for the most part with us, since for the last few years their appointment has been entirely in our hands. But the Bishops, with the exception of one or two, are obdurate and immovable. We select the most liberal Churchmen we can find: but it is no use; each new Bishop, adopted by Dean and Chapter, becomes when once seated in the Upper Chamber, merely a reflection of those who have gone before him: the Juridical minority is swamped, the Spiritual element remains supreme, and we have no chance of obtaining a majority."
"It is only because you will try to do things too fast!" said the King; but the Prime Minister continued—
"And now, sir, our one opportunity has come. The Bill for dividing the dioceses and doubling the number of the Bishoprics has just passed into law. I flatter myself that when the Prelates assented to that Bill they did not realize how its powers might be directed. It is the proposal of your Majesty's advisers to nominate to those Bishoprics only Free Churchmen, men whose political views coincide with our own."
"Free Churchmen!" cried the King, startled; "but they are outside the Establishment altogether."
"Merely on a point of Church discipline," answered the Prime Minister. "They are ministers properly ordained. When they seceded over the 'Church Government Act' they carried their full Canonical Orders with them: only as they had no Bishops they have become a diminishing body. Their beliefs, or their disbeliefs (for on many points the churches are merely maintaining an observance of definitions which their intellects no longer really accept)—their professed beliefs, then, shall I say?—in all matters of doctrine are not more heterogeneous than those which distract the councils and the congregations of the Establishment. It is only on matters of administration and Church discipline that they fundamentally differ. We count upon the Free Church Bishops to give us a majority both on the secularization of charities and the opening of the theological chairs and divinity degrees of our Universities to all sects and communities alike. After that we shall be in a position to deal with State Endowment and with Education generally."
"But will the Chapters, under such circumstances, accept the Crown's nominees?" inquired the King. "And even if they do, may not the Bishops refuse to consecrate them?"
"The right in law of a Dean and Chapter to reject the Crown's nominee and to substitute one of their own has already been decided against them," said the Prime Minister. "As for the consecration, if the Bishops refuse their services we have an understanding with the exiled Archimandrite of Cappadocia to see the whole thing through for us."
"Good Heavens!" cried the King, "a black man with two wives."
"His orders," said the Prime Minister, "are perfectly valid, and are recognized not only by us but by Rome. Only last year the Bishops were making quite a stir about him; there was even a proposal that he should assist at the next consecration so as to clear away all doubts in the eyes of Romanists as to the validity of our own orders. It would, therefore, be a measure of poetic justice if now——"
"I don't think we ought to do it," interrupted the King.
"If the Bishops give way in time, sir, it will be unnecessary."
"Will you consent to my seeing the Archbishop about it?" inquired the King, much perturbed.
"Sir, I have already seen him."
"Well, what did he say?"
"He said a good many things, and said them very well. His general impression seemed to be that we should not dare to do it. That is where he is mistaken."
"You have to consult me also," remarked the King.
"Sir, that is what I am now doing." The Prime Minister bowed with the utmost deference.
"You put me in a great difficulty!"
"I am sorry that your Majesty should make difficulty," retorted the Premier dryly.
"You seem to forget," pursued the King, "that I am sworn to maintain both Church and Constitution as established by law."
"Sir, we propose nothing unconstitutional."
"Free Churchmen are not constitutional, they have no standing."
"They have a right to their opinions like all the rest of your Majesty's subjects."
"Not to be made Bishops."
"That merely legalizes their position."
The King shook his head. "I don't like it," he said; "I don't like it! And if you won't let me consult the Archbishop how am I to know what I ought to do?"
"If as advisers to the Crown we have had the misfortune to lose your Majesty's confidence," said the Prime Minister suavely, "I hope your Majesty will not hesitate to say so. But I am bound to inform you, sir, that should your Majesty be unable to accept the advice now offered, it will be the most painful duty of your Majesty's ministers to tender their resignation."
"I observe," retorted the King tartly, "that whenever you begin reminding me of my 'Majesty' you have always something unpleasant to spring on me! You are treating me now just as you have been treating the Bishops; you will not listen to advice; no, you will not accept amendments, you behave as though you were already a single Chamber Government. You ought to accept amendments! I don't like Free Church Bishops. If they want to become Bishops they can go to the Archimandrite for themselves. I suppose you are making it worth his while?" he added suspiciously.
"Doubtless there will be an arrangement," answered the Premier smoothly. "There again the Archbishop has already helped us. Less than a year ago he made representations to us on the subject, recommending the Archimandrite for a State pension."
"And pray, will that appear in the estimates?"
"There is no reason why it should not appear."
"I have noticed," commented the King, "that if people do an unscrupulous thing in the full light of day, it takes a certain appearance of honesty."
"A very statesmanlike observation, your Majesty," smiled the Prime Minister. "In this matter I may say we are without scruple because our case is unanswerable."
"You shall have my answer," said the King, "when I have had more time to think about it."
With which oblique retort to the Prime Minister's assertion he rose, and the interview terminated.
By this time he was thoroughly tired: he had done a hard morning's work; not only had he been harassed and annoyed, but he had been thinking a great deal more than he usually thought, and his brain ached. But even now his troubles were not ended; just as he turned to go the Minister of the Interior craved audience; and at his first word the King's irritation grew afresh, for here was dismissed controversy cropping up again.
While the King was receiving the Prime Minister his Comptroller-General had not been idle: indeed he never was idle. He had gone straight to the Minister of the Interior and had reported to him the failure of his efforts, for it was this minister who had in the first place come to him. The steeplejack had fallen, so to speak, right into the middle of his department; and with the King's donation coming on the top the catastrophe bulked large. For, be it known, on the order of the day for the morrow's sitting of Parliament was a motion of the Labor Party, directing censure on the Government for having brought pressure to bear on contractors and caused work to be continued upon Government buildings when Labor and Capital were at war. It was nothing to Labor that the hire of the scaffolding used in the repairs was costing the country a considerable sum of money while it stood uselessly waiting about the walls of the Legislature; blacklegs had gone up on it and blacklegs had been pulled down from it; and one particular blackleg had gone up on it and had come down without any pulling whatever—an accident over which Labor was savagely ready to exult and say, "Serve him right!" And how would it be if they saw in their morning papers, on the very day when the motion was down for debate, that the King had gone out of his way to make a handsome donation to the widow? The Minister of the Interior simply could not allow it; yet now word had come to him that his Majesty persisted in his intention. So when the Prime Minister came out the Minister of the Interior went in and put his case to the King, as I have put it here to the reader—only far more persuasively, and ornately, and at very much greater length. He also added to what has already been set forth, as a point making the man a less worthy object of compassion, that according to latest accounts he had gone to his work under the influence of drink.
"So do all steeplejacks," said the King, and quoted the Encyclopedia: "It is only when they are drunk that they can do it. I know." He spoke as though he had tried it.
Before the minister had done the King was really angry. "Mr. Secretary," said he, "I don't care how many strikes there are, or how many Trades Unions, or how many motions of censure from the gentlemen of the Labor Party: they may motion to censure me if they like! The man is dead, and I was unfortunate enough to be a witness of his death. He died in an attempt to do a laudable action." (Here the King was tempted to quote the peroration from his favorite newspaper, but he checked himself: the minister would not have understood.) "His wife," he went on, "is now a widow, and his children are orphans; and if that twenty pounds may not go to them, then I am not master of my own purse-strings, or"—he added by way of finish—"of my own natural feelings and emotions as an ordinary human being."
And before that burst of eloquence the Minister of the Interior was abashed into silence, and retired from the royal presence discomfited.
The King's argument had heated him, like the royal furnace of Nebuchadnezzar, seven times more than he was wont to be heated. He so seldom argued with anybody, still less with his ministers: and here he had been arguing with one or another of them for half the morning. He almost felt as if something had happened to him; a touch of giddiness seized him as he turned to retire to his private apartments; and the thought struck him—if he was as much upset as this over a small side-issue, what would he be like when he had done adding that luster to the constitutional edifice which the nation in its crisis would presently be demanding of him? The wear and tear were going to be considerable.
Circumstance had departed as he retraced his steps to the domestic wing. The lackeys, having done their ceremonial duty, had disappeared: he was free to go unobserved. As he ascended the marble staircase which led from the great hall toward the private apartments he was still thinking of the steeplejack, the man who somehow seemed now to be an emblem of himself. This man, set to the superfluous task of regilding the weathercock of the Legislature, doing it in defiance of master craftsmen and fellow-workmen, lured to do it because the cost of the hiring of the scaffolding had become an expensive charge on the Board of Works, and then, after the custom of the Trade, primed, emboldened, and made drunk to do it, drunk to a point which had brought him to destruction—yes, he was like that man; his temptations, his perils, his essential superfluity were all the same. As he went up the stair he tried to imagine he was the man himself, going up and up, a solitary and uplifted figure, fixing his thoughts on things above in order that he might forget the gulf which yawned below. He took his hand from the balustrade, and gazing upward at the gilt and crystal chandelier suspended from the dome above, so entirely forgot his surroundings for one moment that, missing a step, he lost balance backwards and fell with amazing thoroughness down the full flight of steps till he reached the bottom.
WILD OATS AND WIDOWS' WEEDS
Bump! bump! bump! went his head. Through a confused vision of stars, veined marble, stained glass, and flying stair-rails he saw his legs trail helplessly after, close in above, fling violently across him feet foremost, and dash out of view. In other words, having reached the bottom of the grand staircase he had turned a complete and homely somersault.
For awhile he lay half stunned, unable to move. Something had undoubtedly happened to his head, but he was still conscious. Cautiously he turned himself over and looked round. No one was about; no one had seen this ignominious downfall of Jingalo's topmost symbol on the too highly polished floors of its own abode; and nobody must know. It was not the right and dignified way for a royal accident to happen: falling down-stairs suggested the same failing as that to which steeplejacks were prone.
He picked himself up, and aware now of a sharp pain in the middle of his spine as well as at the back of his head, crawled slowly and in a rather doubled-up attitude toward the royal apartments.
As he moved cautiously along the private corridor, he met the Queen coming from her room, dressed for going out. She detected at once his painful and decrepit attitude. "What is the matter, dear?" she inquired.
"Nothing, nothing," mumbled the King, "only a touch of sciatica." And as he did not encourage her impulse to pause and make further inquiries, she let him go past.
He went into his room, and sat very carefully down, for he was still uncertain whether some vertebral bit of him was not broken. Then he put his hand to the back of his head and felt it. Yes, undoubtedly something had happened; at contact with his finger it made a sound curiously like the ticking of a clock, and under the scalp a portion of bone seemed to move. And yet he was not threatened with unconsciousness; on the contrary he felt very wide awake: shaken though he was, ideas positively bubbled in his brain, his whole being effervesced. For a moment a fear flickered across his mind that he was going mad. But if so it was a wholly pleasurable sensation, for though his fancy went at a gallop, it was orderly, logical, and consecutive, not like madness at all. He dismissed the notion; but further reflection confirmed him in his determination not to tell anybody; he did not want to explain how he had walked upstairs fancying himself a steeplejack. It would have sounded stupid.
Then all at once he felt very sick and giddy, and going to the couch he lay down on it, and there, finding relief in the horizontal position, he fell fast asleep.
When he awoke an hour later his head, except for an extreme local tenderness, felt all right again; but when he tested it the faint ticking sound was still there. His mind was now calm; his thoughts no longer went at a gallop, but they seemed—what was the word?—freer, more articulate, more at his beck and call; and in spirit he was far less harassed and anxious. Altogether he felt that he possessed himself more than he had ever done before: his mental views had become more open.
Then he remembered that he wanted to see his son Max, and talk to him about certain matters; and so, after a few more tentative touches to the back of his head to find if it was still ticking—which it was—he went into his study, and sending for one of his secretaries, got a message despatched. And only when he was well on in the routine of his afternoon's labors did he recollect that he had not lunched.
That break in the regularity of his habits seemed almost an adventure; but as he did not now feel hungry he plodded on, for this was his day of the week for signing accumulated arrears of documents, and several hundreds awaited him. So for a couple of hours he worked as regularly and monotonously as a bank-clerk, and while he was signing the less important papers, and passing them to one of his secretaries to be blotted and sorted, another read out to him those of which he wished to learn the contents.
This duty was generally performed by the Comptroller-General himself; but to-day he was missing, and the King, left to make his own selection, was rather startled to find what a number of really important documents had been left over for this day, devoted to what may be described as routine signatures. As a rule it was the Comptroller who, out of his long experience, selected those documents which must be read and, only after due consideration, signed. Now, by some accident, he had been prevented from attending, and here was a crowd of important documents, the terms of which the King had never heard. He began to wonder. At least ten or a dozen were strange to him: he ordered them to be set aside. And now very dimly, very gradually, he began to suspect his position, and to perceive that without watchfulness he might very easily become less a conscious instrument of Government than a mere mechanism. What if he had become that already?
And then it grew dusk. The King dismissed his secretaries, and without turning on the light sat and thought alone. The effervescence had all gone from his brain, melancholy ruled him; and as he sat ruminating upon the past and his own present position his mind became obsessed by all the historical characters who had preceded him in the exercise of those royal functions now grown so exiguous in his hands, who had sat and labored at Statecraft in that very room, some of them, perhaps, in the very chair in which he was now seated.
They became almost present to his consciousness. How would they have behaved in the present situation? How would they have set to work to add luster to that supreme symbol which still crowned the constitutional edifice?
He could imagine his own father opposing over a considerable period the weight of his personal prestige to the importunacy of ministers, saying with stately ease: "We will speak of that, gentlemen, some other day," and so calmly turning from the subject in dispute—not solving it, but at least imposing delay as the penalty which ministers must pay for a difference of opinion. That policy of quiet procrastination no minister of his time would have dared to withstand without first making for it a certain time-allowance. So much at least would have been secured, not of right, but through the weight of a stronger personality.
And what about others before him? Slowly there dawned upon the King's vision—clear as though he had seen her but yesterday, the regal presence of a certain ancestress who more than any other had made the monarchy what it now was—an almost miraculous survival from the past. It was the old Queen Regent, the lady who for the last twenty years of her consort's reign, when his wavering mind had failed him, had ruled her ministers with a rod which was not of iron, but which, none the less, they had feared, and sought by many devious ways to evade. Out of some book of memoirs a vision of something that had taken place in that very room rose up before him. Around her a ring of Bishops, crowding the royal hearth-rug, each standing defenseless with deferential stoop, tea-cup in hand; and she, seated before them with plump hands folded in her lap upon a lace kerchief, or tapping now and again upon the arms of her chair to give emphasis, was laying down her word of law, and putting an end to revolt in the Church.
"I won't have it!" she cried. "I won't have it! This nonsense has got to be put down!"
And what could a Bishop do with a tea-cup in his hand? There she had got them, six or eight chosen Prelates, every one of them in a defenseless position; how could they argue an affair of State so? What could they do but assent to the incontrovertible statement that "nonsense" must and certainly should be put down—though knowing all the time that the particular "nonsense" in question, being a thing inbred in the minds of men, could not be put down by any act of Parliament and would persist even to the breaking-up of Church unity? And so a perfectly ineffective Church Government Act had passed into law, causing its honest opponents to secede, while its far more numerous dishonest opponents had remained; and the Queen Regent, having for the time being asserted her authority in the Church, had passed on the actual solution of the problem to later times.
Later times: the King's brain ceased to visualize, he came back to himself and to the accumulated problems now pressing for solution. Yes; for the monarchy, not only as she had made it, but as it had now become, that great little lady was almost equally responsible. Her genius had only arrested its decay by bottling it up in the clear preservative of her own virtues. It now stood out more conspicuously than ever, a survival from the past: it had not really moved on. Had it, under that preserving process, become more brittle? With a more open mind he was beginning to suspect that the ancient institution was crumbling in his hands; that a creeping paralysis had seized hold of it. Why? What had he done? Was simple honesty the last and fatal touch that had called these symptoms of death to light? Had he been too human for an office with which humanity was no longer compatible? It seemed a confounding charge to one whose soul was filled with a social hunger which ever went unsatisfied, whose official isolation from his people was a daily obsession. His doubt was whether he had been human enough? As he cogitated on the matter the suspicion grew in him that he had only been human domestically; outside his domesticity he had resigned his humanity and become an automaton, a thing in leading-strings. He had allowed constitutional usage, aye, and constitutional encroachments also, to crush him down. In constitutional usage he was as harnessed and bedizened as the piebald ponies who drew his state-coach when he went each year to open or shut the flood-gates of legislative eloquence. Constitutional usage, determined for him by others, was the bearing-rein that had bowed his neck to that decorative arch of mingled condescension and pride with which he received deputations, addresses, ambassadors. Constitutional usage had put a bit in his mouth and blinkers upon his eyes, so that now, even in his own Council Chamber, he was not expected to speak, was not expected to see unless his attention were specially invited. More and more the critical and suspensory powers of the Crown were coming to be regarded as out of place, a straining of the Royal Prerogative. The growth of the ministerial system had gone on; and he, shut off from growth in its midst, was being robbed of strength day by day. And all this was being done, not in the eyes of his people, but secretly, under smooth and respectful formalities, by a Cabinet insidiously bent on acquiring as its own that of which it robbed him. In this unwritten and unnoticed readjustment of the Constitution nothing was being passed on to the people's representatives. They knew nothing about it; keeping all that to itself, the Cabinet, like the grim wolf with privy paw, "daily devoured apace, and nothing said."
So far (barring the quotation from Milton, a purely literary adornment on the author's part), so far he had got with drifting and despondent thought, when again that small regal presence, of low statute but ample form, became clearly defined, and he heard the soft staccato voice saying sharply: "I won't have it! I won't have it!"
The blood of his ancestors thrilled in his veins. There and then he formed a resolution—neither would he! He moved to his desk and sat down to write; and even as he did so material for the breaking of that resolve presented itself,—the Comptroller-General, calm and self-possessed, glided into the room.
He had a communication to make: the story did not take long to tell. He had been extending his inquiries—further and more particular inquiries into the life and domestic relations of the unfortunate steeplejack; and he had discovered, oh, horror! but just in time, that the woman who had lived with him was not his wife.
"But you told me they had seven children," said the King.
"That is so, Sir," replied the Comptroller-General; "it has been a relationship of long standing. Morally, of course, that only makes the matter worse."
The King did not know why morally the permanence of that arrangement should make it worse. It was a statement which he accepted without question; it came to him with authority from one whose guidance in such matters he had ever been accustomed to follow and find correct. Before the weight of the moral law, he bowed his head and gave up the ghost of the dead steeplejack. The widow and the seven orphans passed out of existence; they ceased any longer to be mouths and hearts of flesh, and became instead abstractions to be set in a class apart—one not eligible for rewards. To such as these no public declaration of the royal bounty could be made.
"Very well," said the King despondently, "strike off the memorandum! The twenty pounds need not go."
An hour later the Queen came in and found him sitting alone and miserable in his chair. She spoke to him, but he did not answer. Then as she drew nearer, to find out if anything were really the matter, his misery found voice.
"I can't move! I am unable to move!" he moaned.
"What is it, dear?" she inquired, "sciatica?"
His answer came from a source she could not fathom.
"No one," he murmured in a tone of deep discouragement, "no one will ever call me 'Jack.'"
Three hours later, after dinner, the King and his son, Prince Max, were sitting together in the same room. The King, feeling considerably better for a good meal, had given Max one of his best cigars, and having gone so far to establish confidential relations, was now trying to summon up courage to speak to the young man as a father should.