THE KING'S MIRROR
BY ANTHONY HOPE
Author of The Chronicles of Count Antonio—The Prisoner of Zenda—The God in the Car—Phroso—Rupert of Hentzau, etc.
NEW YORK D. APPLETON AND COMPANY 1899
COPYRIGHT, 1898, 1899, BY ANTHONY HOPE HAWKINS.
All rights reserved.
CHAPTER PAGE I.—A PIOUS HYPERBOLE 1 II.—A BIRD WITHOUT WINGS 11 III.—SOME SECRET OPINIONS 22 IV.—TWO OF MY MAKERS 34 V.—SOMETHING ABOUT VICTORIA 47 VI.—A STUDENT OF LOVE AFFAIRS 60 VII.—THINGS NOT TO BE NOTICED 73 VIII.—DESTINY IN A PINAFORE 84 IX.—JUST WHAT WOULD HAPPEN 96 X.—OF A POLITICAL APPOINTMENT 109 XI.—AN ACT OF ABDICATION 122 XII.—KING AT A PRICE 136 XIII.—I PROMISE NOT TO LAUGH 151 XIV.—PLEASURE TAKES LEAVE TO PROTEST 165 XV.—THE HAIR-DRESSER WAITS 179 XVI.—A CHASE OF TWO PHANTOMS 193 XVII.—DECIDEDLY MEDIAEVAL 207 XVIII.—WILLIAM ADOLPHUS HITS THE MARK 219 XIX.—GREAT PROMOTION 233 XX.—AN INTERESTING PARALLEL 248 XXI.—ON THE ART OF FALLING SOFT 261 XXII.—UT PUTO, VESTIS FIO 275 XXIII.—A PARADOX OF SENSIBILITY 290 XXIV.—WHAT A QUESTION! 304 XXV.—A SMACK OF REPETITION 318 XXVI.—THE SECRET OF THE COUNTESS 334 XXVII.—OF GRAZES ON THE KNEE 349 XXVIII.—AS BEDERHOF ARRANGED 363
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS FACING PAGE "I'm not a king for my own pleasure" Frontispiece Hammerfeldt came to me and kissed my hand 43 The firelight played on the hand that held the screen 102 "My ransom," said I. "The price of my freedom" 148 "On my honour, a pure accident," said Varvilliers 215 "Why, what brings you here?" I cried 262 "My dear friend, have you forgotten me?" 293 "I'll try—I'll try to make you happy" 342
THE KING'S MIRROR.
A PIOUS HYPERBOLE.
Before my coronation there was no event in childhood that impressed itself on my memory with marked or singular distinction. My father's death, the result of a chill contracted during a hunting excursion, meant no more to me than a week of rooms gloomy and games forbidden; the decease of King Augustin, my uncle, appeared at the first instant of even less importance. I recollect the news coming. The King, having been always in frail health, had never married; seeing clearly but not far, he was a sad man: the fate that struck down his brother increased his natural melancholy; he became almost a recluse, withdrew himself from the capital to a retired residence, and henceforward was little more than a name in which Prince von Hammerfeldt conducted the business of the country. Now and then my mother visited him; once she brought back to me a letter from him, little of which I understood then, although I have since read often the touching words of his message. When he died, there was the same gloom as when my father left us; but it seemed to me that I was treated a little differently; the servants stared at me, my mother would look long at me with a half-admiring, half-amused expression, and Victoria let me have all her toys. In Baroness von Krakenstein (or Krak, as we called her) alone, there was no difference; yet the explanation came from her, for when that evening I reached out my little hand and snatched a bit of cake from the dish, Krak caught my wrist, saying gravely,
"Kings must not snatch, Augustin."
"Victoria, what do you get when you are a king?" I asked my sister that night. I was hardly eight, she nearing ten, and her worldly wisdom seemed great.
"Oh, you have just what you want, and do what you like, and kill people that you don't like," said she. "Don't you remember the Arabian Nights?"
"Could I kill Krak?" I asked, choosing a concrete and tempting illustration of despotic power.
Victoria was puzzled.
"She'd have to do something first, I suppose," she answered vaguely. "I should have been queen if you hadn't been born, Augustin." Her tone now became rather plaintive.
"But nobody has a queen if they can get a king," said I serenely.
It is the coronation day that stands out in memory; the months that elapsed between my accession and that event are merged in a vague dimness. I think little difference was made in our household while we mourned the dead King. Krak was still sharp, imperious, and exacting. She had been my mother's governess, and came with her from Styria. I suppose she had learned the necessity of sternness from her previous experience with Princess Gertrude, for that lady, my mother, a fair, small, slim woman, who preserved her girlishness of appearance till the approach of middle age, was of a strong and masterful temper. Only Krak and Hammerfeldt had any power over her; Krak's seemed the result of ancient domination, the Prince's was won by a suave and coaxing deference that changed once a year or thereabouts to stern and uncompromising opposition. But with my early upbringing, and with Victoria's, Hammerfeldt had nothing to do; my mother presided, and Krak executed. The spirit of Styria reigned in the nursery, rather than the softer code of our more Western country; I doubt whether discipline were stricter in any house in Forstadt than in the royal palace.
They roused me at eight on my coronation day. My mother herself came to my bedside, and knelt down for a few minutes by it. Krak stood in the background, grim and gloomy. I was a little frightened, and asked what was afoot.
"You're to be crowned to-day, Augustin," said my mother. "You must be a good boy."
"Am I to be crowned king, mother?"
"Yes, dear, in the cathedral. Will you be a good king?"
"I'll be a great king, mother," said I. The Arabian Nights were still in my head.
She laughed and rose to her feet.
"Have him ready by ten o'clock, Baroness," she said. "I must go and have my coffee and then dress. And I must see that Victoria is properly dressed too."
"Are you going to be crowned, mother?" I asked.
"No," she said. "I shall be only Princess Heinrich still."
I looked at her with curiosity. A king is greater than a princess; should I be greater than my mother? And my mother was greater than Krak! Why, then—but Krak ended my musings by whisking me out of bed.
It was fine fun to ride in the carriage by my mother's side, with Victoria and old Hammerfeldt opposite. Hammerfeldt was President of the Council of Regency; but I, knowing nothing of that, supposed my mother had asked him into our carriage because he amused us and gave us chocolates. My mother was very prettily dressed, and so was Victoria. I was very glad that Krak was in another vehicle. There were crowds of people in the street, cheering us more than they ever had before; I was taking off my hat all the time. Once or twice I held up my sword for them to see, but everybody laughed, and I would not do it any more. It was the first time that I had worn a sword, but I did not see why they should laugh. Victoria laughed most of all; indeed, at last my mother scolded her, saying that swords were proper for men, and that I should be a man soon.
We reached the cathedral, and with my hand in my mother's I was led up the nave, till we came to the front of the High Altar. There was a very long service; I did not care about or heed much of it, until the archbishop came down on to the lowest step, and my mother took my hand again and led me to him, and he put the crown on my head. I liked that, and turned round to see if the people were looking, and was just going to laugh at Victoria, when I saw Krak frowning at me; so I turned back and listened to the archbishop. He was a nice old man, but I did not understand very much of what he said. He talked about my uncle, my father, and the country, and what a king ought to do; at last he leaned down toward me, and told me in a low but very distinct voice that henceforward God was the only Power above me, and I had no lord except the King of kings. He was a very old man with white hair, and when he had said this he seemed not to be able to go on for a minute. Perhaps he was tired, or did not know what to say next. Then he laid his hand on my head—they had taken the crown off because it was so heavy for me—and said in a whisper, "Poor child!" but then he raised his voice, so that it rang all through the cathedral, and blessed me. Then my mother made me get up and turn and face the people; she put the crown on my head again; then she knelt and kissed my hand. I was very much surprised, and I saw Victoria trying hard not to laugh—because Krak was just by her. But I didn't want to laugh; I was too much surprised.
So far memory carries me; the rest is blurred, until I found myself back in our own home divested of my military costume, but allowed, as a special treat, to have my sword beside me when we sat down to tea. We had many good things for tea, and even Krak was thawed into amiability; she told me that I had behaved very well in the cathedral, and that I should see the fireworks from the window presently. It was winter and soon dark. The fireworks began at seven; I remember them very well. Above all, I recollect the fine excitement of seeing my own name in great long golden letters, with a word after them that Krak told me I ought to know meant "king," and was of the third declension. "Rex, Regis," said Krak, and told poor Victoria to go on. Victoria was far too excited, and Krak said we must both learn it to-morrow; but we were clapping our hands, and didn't pay much heed. Then Hammerfeldt came in and held me up at the window for a few minutes, telling me to kiss my hand to the people. I did as he told me; then the crowd began to go away, and Krak said it was bedtime.
Now here I might conclude the story of my coronation day; but an episode remains trivial and ludicrous enough, yet most firmly embedded in my memory. Indeed, it has always for me a significance quite independent of its obvious import; it seems to symbolize the truth which the experience of all my life has taught me. Perhaps I throw dignity to the winds in recording it; I intend to do the like all through what I write; for, to my thinking, when dignity comes in at the door sincerity flies out of the window. I was not tired after the day, or I was too excited to feel tired. My small brain was agog; my little head was turned. Amidst all that I did not understand I understood enough to conceive that I had become a great man. I saw Victoria led off to bed, and going meekly. But I was not as Victoria; she was not a king as I was; mother had not knelt before her; the archbishop had not told Victoria that she had no lord except the King of kings. Perhaps I was hardly to blame when I took his words as excluding the domination of women, of Krak, even of the mother who had knelt and kissed my hand. At any rate, I was in a wilful mood. Old Anna, the nurse, had put Victoria to bed, and now came through the door that divided our rooms and proposed to assist me in my undressing. I was wilful and defiant; I refused most flatly to go to bed. Anna was perplexed; unquestionably a new and reverential air was perceptible in Anna; the detection of it was fuel to my fires of rebellion. Anna sent for Krak; in the interval before the governess's arrival I grew uneasy. I half wished I had gone to bed quietly, but now I was in for the battle. Had there been any meaning in what the archbishop said, or had there not? Was it true, or had he misled me? I had believed him, and was minded to try the issue; I sat in my chair attempting to whistle as my groom had taught me. Krak came; I whistled on; there was a whispered consultation between Anna and Krak; then Krak told me that I was to go to bed, and bade me begin the process by taking off my shoes. I looked her full and fair in the face.
"I won't till I choose," said I. "I'm king now"; and then I quoted to Krak what the archbishop had said. She lifted her hands in amazement and wrath.
"I shall have to fetch your mother," she said.
"I'm above my mother; she knelt to me," I retorted triumphantly.
Krak advanced toward me.
"Augustin, take off your shoes," said she.
I had no love for Krak. Dearest of all gifts of sovereignty would be the power of defying Krak.
"Do you really want me to take them off?" I asked.
"This instant," commanded Krak.
I do not justify my action; yet, perhaps, the archbishop should have been more careful of what he said. My answer to Krak was, "Take them, then." And I snatched off one of them and threw it at Krak. It missed most narrowly the end of her long nose, and lodged, harmlessly enough, on Anna's broad bosom. I sat there exultant, fearful, and defiant.
Krak spoke to Anna in a low whisper; then they both went out, leaving me alone in the big room. I grew afraid, partly because I was alone, partly for what I had done. I could undress myself, although I was not, as a rule, allowed to. I tumbled quickly out of my clothes, and had just slipped on my nightshirt, when the door opened, and my mother entered, followed by Krak. My mother looked very young and pretty, but she also looked severe.
"Is this true, Augustin?" she asked, sitting down by the fire.
"Yes, mother," said I, arrested in my flight toward bed.
"You refused to obey the Baroness?"
"Yes. I'm king now."
"And threw your shoe at her?"
"The archbishop said——" I began.
"Be quiet," said my mother, and she turned her head and listened to Krak, who began to whisper in her ear. A moment later she turned to me.
"You must do as you are told," she said; "and you must apologize to the Baroness."
"I'd have taken them off if she had asked me," I said, "but she ordered me."
"She has a right to order you."
"Is she God?" I asked, pointing scornfully at Krak. Really the archbishop must bear some of the responsibility.
Krak whispered again; again my mother turned to me.
"Will you apologize, Augustin?" she said.
"No," said I stubbornly.
Krak whispered again. I heard my mother say, with a little laugh, "But to-day, Baroness!" Then she sighed and looked round at me.
"Do apologize, Augustin," said she.
"I'll apologize to you, not to her," I said.
She looked at the Baroness, then at me, then back to the Baroness; then she smiled and sighed.
"I suppose so. He must learn it. But not much to-night, Baroness. Just enough to—to show him."
Krak came toward me; a moment later I occupied a position which, to my lively discomfort, I had filled once or twice before in my short life, but which I had not supposed that I should fill again after what the archbishop had said. I set my teeth to endure; I was full of bewilderment, surprise, and anger. The archbishop had played me terribly false; the Arabian Nights were no less delusive. Krak was as unmoved and business-like as usual. I was determined not to cry—not to-night. I was not very hard tried; almost directly my mother said, "That will do." There was a pause; no doubt Krak's face expressed a surprised protest. "Yes, that's enough to-day," said my mother, and she added, "Get into bed, Augustin. You must learn to be an obedient boy before you can be a good king."
The moment I was released I ran and leaped into bed, hiding my face under the clothes. I heard my mother come and say, "Won't you kiss me?" but I was very angry; I did not understand why they made me a king, and then beat me, because I behaved like all the kings I had been told or read about. Moreover, I had begun to cry now, and I would have been killed sooner than let Krak see that. So presently my mother went away, and Krak too. Then Anna came and tried to turn down the clothes, but I would not let her. I hung on to them hard, for I was still crying. I heard Anna sigh, "Poor dearie!" then she went away; but directly after Victoria's voice came, saying, "Anna says I may come in with you. May I, please, Augustin?" I let her move the bedclothes and get in with me; and I put my arms round her neck. Victoria comforted me as best she could.
"You'll be a real king when you grow up," she said.
A thought struck me—a rapturous thought, born of the Arabian Nights. (In the archbishop lay no comfort at all.)
"Yes," I cried, "and then I'll bastinado Krak!" With this comforting thought I fell asleep.
A strange day, this of my coronation, odd to pass through, to the highest degree illuminating in retrospect. I did not live to bastinado Krak; nor would I now had I the power. What they did was perhaps a little cruel, a little Styrian, as Victoria and I used covertly to say of such harsh measures; but how valuable a lesson on the state and fortune of kings! The King is one, the man another. The King is crowned, the man is lashed; they give us greatness in words: in fact, we are our servants' servants. Little as I liked the thing at the time, I can not now regret that I was chastised on my coronation day. I was thus put into an attitude eminently conducive to the perception of truth, and to a realization of the facts of my position. I forgive thee the blows, Krak—Lo, I forgive thee!
A BIRD WITHOUT WINGS.
A man's puerilia are to himself not altogether puerile; they are parcel of the complex explanation of his existent self. He starts, I suppose, as something, a very malleable something, ready to be hammered into the shape that the socket requires. The two greatest forces at work on the yielding substance are parents and position, with the gardener's boy beneath my window crusts and cuffs, with me at the window kingship and Styrian discipline. In the latter there was to me nothing strange; I had grown into it from birth. But now it became suddenly noticeable, as a thing demanding justification, by reason of its patent incongruity with my kingship. I have shown how swiftly and sharply the contrast was impressed on me; if I have not made that point, then my story of a nursery tragedy is unexcused. I was left wondering what manner of king he was who must obey on pain of blows. I was very young, and the sense of outrage did not last, but the puzzle persisted, and Victoria's riper philosophy was taxed to allay it. Waiting seemed the only thing, waiting till I could fling my shoes at whom I would, and sit on my throne to behold the bastinadoing of Krak. My mother told me that I must be an obedient boy first. Well and good; but then why make me a king now? In truth I was introduced over-early to the fictions of high policy. A king without power seems to a child like a bird without wings; but a bird without wings is a favourite device of statesmanship.
The matter did not stand even here. My kingship not only lacked the positive advantages with which youthful imagination (aided by the archbishop's pious hyperbole) had endowed it; it became in my eyes the great and fertile source of all my discomfort, the parent of every distasteful obligation, the ground on which all chosen pleasures were refused. It was ever "Kings can not do this," or "Kings must do that," and the "this" was always sweet, the "that" repellent; in Krak's hands monarchy became a cross between a treadmill and a strait-waistcoat. "What's the use of being a king?" I dared once to cry to her.
"God did not make you a king for your own pleasure," returned Krak solemnly. I recollect thinking that her remark must certainly be true, yet wondering whether God quite realized how tiresome the position was.
It may be supposed that I had many advantages to counterbalance these evils that pressed so hardly on me. I do not recollect being conscious of them. Even my occasional parades in public, although they tickled my vanity, were spoiled for me by the feeling that nobody would look at me with admiration, envy, or even interest, if he knew the real state of the case. I may observe that this reflection has not vanished with infancy, but still is apt to assail me. Of course I was well fed, well housed, and well, though firmly, treated. Alas, what we have not is more to us than all we possess. I was thankful under protest; prohibitions outweighed privileges. I have not the experience necessary for any generalization, but my own childhood was not very happy.
A day comes into my mind almost as clear and distinct in memory as my coronation day. I was nine years old, and went with my mother to pay a visit to a nobleman of high rank. He had just married and brought to his house a young American lady. We were welcomed, of course, with infinite courtesy and deference. Princess Heinrich received such tributes well, with a quiet, restrained dignity and a lofty graciousness. I was smart in my best clothes, a miniature uniform of the Corps of Guards, and my hand flew up to my little helmet when the Countess curtseyed very low and looked at me with merry, sparkling blue eyes. Her husband was a tall, good-looking fellow, stiff in back and manner, as are most of our folk, but honest and good-hearted, as are most of them also. But I paid little heed to him; the laughing Countess engrossed me, and I found myself smiling at her. Her eyes seemed to enter into confidence with me, and I knew she was rather sorry for me. The day was damp and chill, and, although my mother would not refuse to go round the Count's gardens, of which he was proud, she declared that the walk was not safe for me, and asked the Countess to take care of me. So she and I were left alone. I stood rather shyly by the table, fingering the helmet that my mother had told me to take off; presently looking up, I saw her merry eyes on me.
"Sire," said the Countess, "if you sat down I would."
I bowed and sought a chair; there was a high wooden arm-chair, and I clambered into it; my legs dangled in mid-air. Another little laugh came from the Countess as she brought me a high footstool. I tried to jump down in time to stop her, but she would not let me. Then she knelt herself on the stool, her knees by my feet.
"What beautiful military boots!" she said.
I looked down listlessly at my shining toes. She clasped her hands, crying:
"You're a beautiful little king! Oh, isn't it lovely to be a king!"
I looked at her doubtfully; her pretty face was quite close to mine. Somehow I wanted very much to put my arms round her neck, but I felt sure that kings did not hug countesses. Imagine Krak's verdict on such a notion!
"I'm not a king for my own pleasure," said I, regarding my hostess gravely. "I am a king for the good of my people."
She drew a long breath and whispered in English (I did not understand then, but the sound of the words stayed with me), "Poor little mite!" Then she said:
"But don't you have a lovely time?"
I felt that I was becoming rather red, and I knew that the tears were not far from my eyes.
"No," said I, "not very."
"They—they don't let me do any of the things I want to."
"You shall do anything you want to here," she whispered. I was very much surprised to see that her bright eyes had grown a little clouded.
"We've no kings in my country," she said, taking my hand in hers.
"Oh, I wish I'd been born there," said I; then we looked at one another for a minute, and I put out my arms and took hold of her, and drew her face near mine. With a little gulp in her throat she sprang up, caught me in her arms, kissed me a dozen times, and threw herself into the big chair with me on her knees. Now I was crying, and yet half laughing; so I believe was she. We did not say very much more to one another. Soon I stopped crying; she looked at me, and we both laughed.
"What babies we are, your Majesty!" said she.
"They might let me do a little more, mightn't they? It's all Krak, you know. Mother wouldn't be half so bad without Krak."
"Oh, my dear, and is Krak so horrid?"
"Horrid," said I, with grave emphasis.
The Countess kissed me again.
"You'll grow up soon," she said. Somehow the assurance comforted me more from her lips than from Victoria's. "Will you be nice to me when you grow up?"
"I shall always be very, very fond of you," said I.
She laughed a funny little laugh, and then sighed.
"If God sends me a little son, I hope he'll be like you," she whispered, with her cheek against mine.
"He won't be a king," said I with a sigh of envy.
"You poor dear!" cooed she.
Then came my mother's clear, high-bred voice, just outside the door, descanting on the beauty of the Count's parterres and orangery. A swift warning glance flew from me to my hostess. I scampered off my perch, and she stood up in respectful readiness for the entrance of Princess Heinrich.
"Don't tell mother," I whispered urgently.
"Not a word!"
"Whatever they do to you?"
"No, whatever they do to me!"
My mother was in the room, the Count holding the door for her and closing it as she passed through. I felt her glance rest on me for a moment; then she turned to the Countess and expressed all proper admiration of the gardens, the house, and the whole demesne.
"And I hope Augustin has been a good boy?" she ended.
"The King has been very good, madame," returned the Countess. Then she looked in an inquiring way at her husband, as though she did not quite know whether she were right or not, and with a bright blush added, "If you would let him come again some day, madame!"
My mother smiled quite graciously.
"You mustn't leave me out of the invitation," she said. "We will both come, won't we, Augustin?"
"Yes, please, mother," said I, relapsed into shyness and in great fear lest our doings should be discovered.
"Say good-bye now," commanded the Princess.
I should have liked to kiss the Countess again, but such an act would have risked a betrayal. Our adieu was made in proper form, the Countess accompanying us to the door. There we left her curtseying, while the Count handed my mother into the carriage. I looked round, and the Countess blew me a surreptitious kiss.
When we had driven a little way, my mother said:
"Do you like the Countess von Sempach?"
"Yes, very much."
"She was kind to you?"
"Then why have you been crying, Augustin?"
"I haven't been crying," said I. The lie was needful to my compact with the Countess; my honour was rooted in dishonour.
"Yes, you have," said she, but not quite in the accusing tones that generally marked the detection of falsehood. She seemed to look at me more in curiosity than in anger. Then she bent down toward me. "What did you talk about?" she asked.
"Nothing very particular, mother. She asked me if I liked being king."
"And what did you say?"
"I said I liked it pretty well."
My mother made no answer. I stole a look at her handsome clean-cut features; she was frowning a little.
"I didn't tell her much," said I, aiming at propitiation.
"Much of what?" came sharply, but not unkindly. Yet the question posed me.
"Oh, I don't know!" I murmured forlornly; and I was surprised when she turned and kissed me, saying:
"We all love you, Augustin; but you have to be king, and you must learn how."
"Yes," I assented. The thing was quite inevitable; I knew that.
Silence followed for a little while. Then my mother said:
"When you're ten you shall have a tutor, and your own servants, Augustin."
Hastily I counted the months. There were nine; but what did the proposal mean? Was I to be a free man then?
"And we women will leave you alone," my mother went on. She kissed me again, adding, "You don't like us, do you?"
"I like you, mother," I said gravely, "at least generally—not when you let Kr—the Baroness——"
"Never mind the Baroness," she interrupted. Then she put her arm round my neck and asked me in a very low voice, "You didn't like the Countess better than me, did you, Augustin?"
"N—no, mother," said I, but I was an unaccomplished hypocrite, and my mother turned away. My thoughts were not on her, but on the prospect her words had opened to me.
"Do you mean that the Baroness won't be my governess any more?"
"Yes. You'll have a governor, a tutor."
"And shall I——?"
"I'll tell you all about it soon, dear."
The rest of our drive was in silence. My mind was full to overflowing of impressions, hopes, and wonders; my mother's gaze was fixed on the windows of the carriage.
We reached home, and together went up to the schoolroom. It was not tea-time yet, and lesson-books were on the table. Krak sat beside it, grave, grim, and gray. Victoria was opposite to her. Victoria was crying. Past experience enlightened me; I knew exactly what had happened; Victoria had a delightfully unimpressionable soul; no rebuke from Krak brought her to tears; Krak had been rapping her knuckles, and her tears were an honest tribute to pain, with no nonsense of merely wounded sensibility about them. My mother went up and whispered to Krak. Krak had, of course, risen, and stood now listening with a heavy frown. My mother drew herself up proudly; she seemed to brace herself for an effort; I heard nothing except "I think you should consult me," but our quick children's eyes apprehended the meaning of the scene. Krak was being bearded. There was no doubt of it; for presently Krak bowed her head in a jerky unwilling nod and walked out of the room. My mother stood still for a moment with a vivid red colour in her cheeks. Then she walked across to Victoria, lifted one of her hands from the table, and kissed it.
"You're going to have tea with me to-day, children," said she, "and we'll play games afterward. Augustin shall play at not being a king."
I remember well the tea we had and the games that followed, wherein we all played at being what we were not, and for an evening cheated fate of its dues. My mother was merriest, for over Victoria and myself there hung a veil of unreality, a consciousness that indeed we played and set aside for an hour only the obstinate claims of the actual. But we were all merry; and when we parted—for my mother had a dinner-party—we both kissed her heartily; me she kissed often. I thought that she wanted to ask me again whether I liked the Countess better than her, but was afraid to risk the question. What I wanted to say was that I liked none better if she would be always what she was this evening; but I found no skill adequate to a declaration of affection so conditional. It would be to make a market of my kisses, and I had not yet come to the age for such bargains.
Then we were left alone, Victoria and I, to sit together for a while in the dusk; and, sitting there, we totted up that day's gains. They were uncertain, yet seemed great. All that had passed I told Victoria, save what in loyalty to my countess I might not; Victoria imparted to me the story of the knuckle-rapping. For her an added joy lay in the fact that on this occasion, if ever, she had deserved the affliction; she had been gloriously naughty, and gloried in it now; did not her sinfulness enhance the significance of this revolution? So carried away were we by our triumph that now again, after a long interval, we allowed our imagination to paint royalty in glowing colours, and our Arabian Nights and fairy tales seemed at last not altogether cunningly wrought deceptions. When we had gone to bed, again we met, I creeping into her room, and rousing her to ask whether in truth a new age had come and the yoke of Krak been broken from off our backs. Victoria sat up in bed and discussed the problem gravely. For me she was sanguine, for herself less so; for, said she, they go on worrying the girls for ever so long. "She won't rap your knuckles any more," I suggested, fastening on a certain and tangible advantage. Victoria agreed that in all likelihood her knuckles would henceforth be inviolate; and she did not deny such gain as lay there. Thus in the end I won her to cheerfulness, and we parted merrily, declaring to one another that we were free; and I knew that in some way the pretty American countess had lent a hand to knocking off our chains.
Free! A wonderful word that, whether you use it of a child, a man, a state, a world, an universe! That evening we seemed free. In after-days I received from old Hammerfeldt (a great statesman, as history will one day allow) some lectures on the little pregnant, powerful, empty word. He had some right to speak of freedom; he had seen it fought for by Napoleon, praised by Talleyrand, bought by Castlereagh, interpreted by Metternich. Should he not then know what it was, its value, its potency, and its sweetness, why men died for it, and delicate women who loved them cheered them on? Once also in later years a beautiful woman cried to me, with white arms outstretched, that to be free was life, was all in all, the heart's one satisfaction. Her I pressed, seeking to know wherein lay the attraction and allurement that fired her to such extravagance. And I told her what the Prince had said to me half-way through his pinch of snuff.
"'Sire,' said he, 'to become free—what is it? It is to change your master.'"
The lady let her arms fall to her side, reflected a moment, smiled, and said:
"The Prince was no fool, sire."
As the result of this day that I have described, I had become free. I had changed my master.
We did not, however, pay any more visits to the Countess.
SOME SECRET OPINIONS.
Even such results as might be looked for on Prince von Hammerfeldt's theory of the meaning of freedom were in my case arrested and postponed by a very serious illness which attacked me on the threshold of my eleventh year. We had gone to Schloss Artenberg, according to our custom in the summer; it was holiday-time; Krak was away, the talked-of tutor had not arrived. The immediate fruit of this temporary emancipation was that I got my feet very wet with dabbling about the river, and, being under no sterner control than Victoria's, lingered long in this condition. Next day I was kept in bed, and Victoria was in sore disgrace. To be brief, the mischief attacked my lungs. Soon I was seriously ill; a number of grave, black-coated gentlemen came and went about the bed on which I lay for several weeks. Of this time I have many curious impressions; most of them centre round my mother. She slept in my room, and I believe hardly ever left me. I used to wake from uneasy sleep and look across to her bed; always in a few moments she also awoke, came and gave me what I needed or asked for, and then would throw a dressing-gown round her and walk softly to and fro on bare feet, with her long fair hair hanging about her shoulders. Her face looked different in those days; yet it was not soft as I have seen mothers' faces when their sons lay sick or dead, but rather excited, urgent, defiant; the lips were set close, and the eyes gleamed. She did not supplicate God, she fought fate, or, if God and fate be one, then it was God whom she fought; and her battle was untiring. I knew from her face that I might die, but, so far as I can recall my mood, I was more curious about the effect of such an event on her and on Victoria than concerning its import to myself. I asked her once what would happen if I died; would Victoria be queen? She forbade me to ask the question, but I pressed it, and she answered hastily, "Yes, yes, but you won't die, Augustin; you shan't die." I was not allowed to see very much of Victoria, but a day or two afterward she sat with me alone for a little while, and I told her she would be queen if I died.
"No. Mother would kill me," she said with absolute conviction, in no resentment or fear, but in a simple certitude.
"Why? Because you didn't bring me in when I got wet?"
"Yes—if you died of it," nodded Victoria.
"I don't believe it," I said boldly. "Why shouldn't she like you to be queen?"
"She'd hate it," said Victoria.
"She doesn't hate me being king."
"You're a boy."
I wondered dimly then, and I have wondered since (hardly with more knowledge), what truth or whether any lay behind my sister's words; she believed that, apart from any unjust blame for my misfortune, her mother would not willingly see her queen. Yet why not? I have a son, and would be glad to lay down my burden and kiss his hand as he sat on the throne. Are all fathers such as I? Nay, and are all mothers such as mine? I know not; and if there be any position that opens a man's mind to the Socratic wisdom of knowing his own ignorance it is that in which my life has been spent. But it can hardly be that the curious veiled opposition which from about this time began to exist between my mother and my sister was altogether singular. It was a feeling not inconsistent with duty, with punctilious observance, not even with love; but there was in it a sort of jealousy, of assertion and counter-assertion. It seemed to me, as I became older, to have roots deeper than any accidental occurrence or environment, and, so far, I came near to the difficult analysis, to spring from the relation of one woman who was slowly but surely being forced to lay down what she had prized most in her womanhood and another who, slowly but surely, also became aware that hers was the prize in her turn, and thrust forward a tentative hand to grasp it. If I am at all right in this notion, then it is plain that feelings slight and faint, although not non-existent in ordinary homes, might be intensified in such a family as ours, and that a new and great impulse would have been imparted to them by such an artificial accentuation of the inevitable as must have resulted had I died, and my sister been called to the first place. Among men the cause for such an antagonism is far less powerful; advancing years take less from us and often bring what, to older eyes, is a good recompense for lost youth, and seems to youth itself more precious than any of its own possessions. Our empire, never so brilliant as a woman's in its prime, is of stuff more durable and less shaken by the wind of Time's fluttering garment as he passes by.
My confessor came to see me sometimes. He was an eminent divine, nominated to his post by Hammerfeldt in reward, I believe, for some political usefulness. I do not think he saw far into a child's heart, or perhaps I was not like most children. He was always comforting me, telling me not to be afraid, that God was merciful, Christ full of love, and the saints praying for me. Now I was not in the least afraid; I was very curious about death—I had never seen it—but I was, as I have said, more curious about the world I should leave behind. I wanted to know what would be done when I was dead, and where I was to be buried. Would they fire the guns and parade the troops? I did not rise to the conception of myself, not knowing anything of what they did. I thought I should be there somehow, looking on from heaven; and I think that I rather enjoyed the prospect. A child is very self-centred; I had no doubt that I should be the object of much attention in heaven on that day at least. I hinted something of what was passing in my mind to the confessor. He did not appear to follow the drift of my thoughts. He told me again that I had been a good boy, and that now, if I prayed and was sorry for my faults, I should be happy and should please God. This did not touch the point that engaged my attention. I tried whether my mother could help me, and I was surprised when the tears started into her eyes, and she bade me, almost roughly, to be quiet. However, when Victoria came we talked it all over. Victoria cried a little, but she was quite clear as to her own position in the procession, and we had rather an animated dispute about it. She said also that some one in heaven would hold me, and we differed again as to the celestial personage in whose lap I was to sit. I am afraid that here our imaginations were assisted by the picture of the Holy Family in the chapel of the Schloss.
Not the least tiresome incident of this time was that Krak felt it her duty to display affection. I do not mean to assert that Krak was not and had not been all along fond of me, but in ordinary seasons to feel affection was with Krak no reason at all for displaying it. I do more justice to Krak now; then I did not appreciate the change in her demeanour. On questioning Victoria, I found that Krak's softness did not extend beyond the limits of my sickroom; she had indeed ceased the knuckle-rapping, but in its place she curtailed Victoria's liberty and kept her nose to the grindstone pitilessly. Why should caresses be confined to the sick, and kindness be bought only at the price of threatened death? I was inclined to refuse to kiss Krak, but my mother made such a point of compliance that I yielded reluctantly. In days of health Krak had exacted, morning and evening, a formal and perfunctory peck; if I gave her no more now she looked aggrieved, and my mother distressed. Had Krak been possessed by a real penitence, I would have opened my arms to her, but I was fully aware that her mood was not this; she merely wanted to know that I bore no malice for just discipline, and it went to my heart even apparently to concede this position. There seemed to me something a little unfair in her proceedings; they were attempts to obtain from me admissions that I should have repudiated scornfully in hours of health. I knew that concessions now would prejudice my future liberty. In days to come (supposing I recovered) my hostility to Krak would be met by "Remember how kind she was to you when you were ill," or "Oh, Augustin, you didn't say that of the Baroness when she brought you grapes in your illness." I had plenty of grapes. There are few things which human nature resents more than a theft of its grievances. I was polite to Krak, but I lodged a protest with my mother and confided a passionate repudiation of any treaty to Victoria's sympathetic ear. Victoria was all for me; my mother was stern for a moment, and then, smiling faintly, told me to try to sleep.
After several months I took a decided and rapid turn toward recovery. This, I think, was the moment in which I realized most keenly the fictitious importance which my position imparted to me. The fashion of everybody's face was changed; mother, doctors, nurses, servants, all wore an air of victory. When I was carried out on to the terrace at Artenberg, rows of smiling people clapped their hands. I felt that I had done something very meritorious in getting better, and I hoped secretly that they would give me just as fine a procession as though I had died. Victoria got hold of a newspaper and, before she was detected and silenced, read me a sentence:
"By the favourable news of the King's health a great weight is lifted from the heart of the country. There is not a house that will not be glad to-day." I was pleased at this, although rather surprised. Taking thought with myself, I concluded that, although kingship had hitherto failed to answer my private expectations and desires, yet it must be a more important thing even in these days than I had come to suppose. I put a question to my mother, pointing at one of the gardeners.
"If Josef's son was ill and I was ill," said I, "which would Josef wish most to get better?"
"The King should be before a thousand sons to him," she answered quickly, and in a proud, agitated voice. But a moment later she bade me not ask foolish questions. I remember that I studied her face for some moments. It was a little difficult to make out how she really felt about me and my kingship.
Convalescence was a pleasant season. Styrian discipline was relaxed, and I was allowed to do very nearly all that my strength enabled me. Victoria shared in the indulgence of this time; I remember we agreed that there would be something to be said for never getting quite well. Had getting quite well meant going back to Krak, I should have felt this point of view most strongly, but I was not to go back to Krak. There was a talk of a governor, of tutors, and masters. Hammerfeldt came down and had a long conversation with my mother. She came out from the interview with flushed cheeks, seeming vexed and perturbed, but she was composed again when the Prince took his leave, and said to him pleasantly:
"You mustn't take him away from me altogether, Prince."
"We rely on your influence above everything, madame," was Hammerfeldt's courtly answer, but my mother watched his retreating figure with a rather bitter smile. Then she turned to me and asked:
"Shall you be glad to have tutors?"
Krak was in the distance with Victoria; my mother perceived my eyes travelling in that direction.
"Poor old Baroness! You never liked her, did you, Augustin?"
"No," said I, emboldened by this new and confidential tone.
"Try to think more kindly of her," she advised; but I saw that she was not in the least aggrieved at my want of appreciation. "You don't like women, do you?"
"Only you, and Victoria, and——" I hesitated.
"Oh, of course, old Anna."
"Well, and who else?"
"The Countess von Sempach," said I, a little timidly.
"Haven't you forgotten her?" asked my mother, and her smile became less bright.
"No, I've—I've not forgotten her," I murmured. "Does she ever come to see you, mother—here at Artenberg, I mean?"
"No, darling," said my mother.
I did not pursue the subject. I had eyes good enough to see that my dislike for Krak was pleasanter to my mother than my liking for the Countess. Women seem to me to have the instinct of monopoly, and not to care for a share of affection. Such, at least, was my mother's temperament, intensified no doubt by the circumstance that in future days my favour and liking might be matters of importance. She feared from another woman just what she feared from Hammerfeldt, his governor, and his tutors; probably her knowledge of the world made her dread another woman more than any number of men. She feared even Victoria, her own daughter and my sister; but a woman, very pretty and sympathetic, who would be only twenty-eight when I was eighteen, must have seemed to her mind the greatest peril of all. It is one of the drawbacks of conspicuous place that a man's likings and fancies, his merest whims, are invested by others with an importance that throws its reflection back on to his own mind; he is able to recollect only with an effort that even in his case there are a good many things of no importance. I did not make these observations as a small boy at Artenberg, but even as a small boy I knew very well that the Countess von Sempach would not be invited to the Schloss. Nor was she. My mother guarded the gate, a jealous angel.
Thus a pleasant summer passed at Artenberg, and in the autumn we returned to Forstadt. Then I had my procession, though it seemed scarcely as brilliant or interesting as that wherein Victoria had held first place while I looked down, a highly satisfied spectator, from heaven. I was eleven years old now, and perhaps just the first bloom was wearing off the wonder of the world. For recompense, but not in full requital, I was more awake to the meaning of things around me, and I fear much more awake to the importance of myself, Augustin. Now I appropriated the cheers at which before I had marvelled, and approved the enthusiasm that had before amused me. My mother greeted these signs in me; since I was to leave the women she would now have me a man as soon as might be; besides, she had a woman's natural impatience for my full growth. They love us most as babies, when they are Providence to us; least as boys, when we make light of them; more again when as men we return to rule and be ruled, bartering slavery in one matter for dominion in another, and working out the equilibrium of power.
But after my procession in the cathedral, when I was giving thanks for rescue from a death that had never been terrible and now seemed remote and impossible, I saw my countess. She was nearly opposite to me; her husband was not with her: he was on guard in the nave with his regiment. I wanted to make some sign to her, but I had been told that everybody would be looking at me. When I was crowned, "everybody" had meant Krak, and I had feared no other eye. I was more self-conscious now. I was particularly alert that my mother should observe nothing. But the Countess and I exchanged a glance; she nodded cautiously; almost immediately afterward I saw her wipe her eyes. I should have liked to talk to her, tell her that I liked being a king rather better, and give her the glad tidings that the dominion of Krak had ended; but I got no chance of doing anything of the sort, being carried away without coming nearer to her.
Victoria was in very low spirits that evening. It had suddenly come upon her that she was to be left to endure Krak all alone. Victoria and I were not somehow as closely knit together as we had been; she was now thirteen, growing a tall girl, and I was but a little boy. Yet our relations were not, I imagine, quite what they would have been between brother and sister of such relative ages in an ordinary case. The authority which elder sisters may be seen so readily to ape and assume was never claimed by Victoria; my mother would not have endured such presumption for a moment. I think Victoria regarded me as a singularly ignorant person, who yet, by fortune's freak, was invested with a strange importance and the prospect at least of great and indefinite power. She therefore took a good deal of pains to make me understand her point of view, and to convert me to her opinions. Her present argument was that she also ought to be relieved from Krak.
"Krak was mother's governess till mother was eighteen," I reminded her.
"Awful!" groaned poor Victoria.
"In fact, mother's never got rid of Krak at all."
"Oh, that's different. I shouldn't in the least mind keeping Krak as my daughter's governess," said Victoria. "That would be rather fun."
"It would be very cruel, considering what Krak does," I objected.
Dim hintings of the grown-up state were in Victoria; she looked a little doubtful.
"It wouldn't matter when she was quite young," she concluded. "But I'm nearly fourteen. Augustin, will you ask mother to send Krak away when I'm fifteen?"
"No," said I. I had a wholesome dread of straining the prerogative.
"Then when I'm sixteen?"
"I don't see what I've got to do with it," said I restlessly.
Victoria became huffy.
"You're king, and you could do it if you liked," she said. "If I was king, I should like to do things for people, for my sister anyhow." She pouted in much vexation.
"Well, perhaps I'll try some day," said I reluctantly.
"Oh, you dear boy!" cried Victoria, and she immediately gave me three kisses.
I was certainly on my way to learn the secret of popularity. In my experience Victoria's conception of the kingly office is a very common one, and Victoria's conduct in view of a refusal to forward her views, and of consent, extremely typical. For Victoria took no account of my labours, or of the probable trouble I should undergo, or of the snub I should incur. She called me a dear boy, gave me three kisses, and went off to bed in much better spirits. And all the while my own secret opinion was that Krak was rather good for Victoria. It has generally been my secret opinion that people had no business to receive the things which they have asked me to give to or procure for them. When the merits are good the King's help is unnecessary.
TWO OF MY MAKERS.
Physically my parents' child, with my father's tall stature and my mother's clean-cut features, intellectually I was more son to Hammerfeldt than to any one else. From the day when my brain began to develop, his was the preponderating influence. I had a governor, a good soldier, General von Vohrenlorf; I had masters; I had one tutor, of whom more presently (he for a time bade fair to dispute the Prince's supremacy); but above them all, moulding me and controlling them, was this remarkable old man. At this time he was seventy years old; he had been a soldier till thirty, since then a diplomatist and politician. I do not think in all things as Hammerfeldt thought; time moves, and each man's mind has its own cast; but I will make no claim to originality at the cost of depreciating what I learned from him. He was a solitary man; once he had taken a wife; she left him after two years; he used to talk about her as though she had died at the date when she ran away, without bitterness, with an indulgent kindness, with a full recognition of her many merits. Those who did not know the story little supposed that the lady lived still in Paris. His conduct in this matter was highly characteristic. He regarded passions and emotions as things altogether outside and independent of the rational man. Their power could not be denied in their own sphere and season; he admitted that they must be felt—raw feeling was their province; he denied that they should affect thought or dominate action. In others they were his opportunity, in himself a luxury that had never been dangerous, or an ailment that was troublesome but never fatal. He was hard on a blunder; as a necessary presupposition to effective negotiation or business he recognised a binding code of honour; he has frequently told me he did not understand the theological conception of sin. He had eaten of our salt and was our servant; thus he would readily have died for us; but he prayed pardon if we asked him to believe in us. "Conduct," he said once, "is the outcome of selfishness limited by self-conceit." It was his way so to put things as to strip them of friendly, decent covering; had he said self-interest limited by self-respect, the axiom would have been more accepted and less quoted. A superficial person used to exclaim to me, "And yet he is so kind!" A man without ideals finds kindness the easiest thing in the world. In truth he was kind, and in a confidential sort of way that seemed to chuckle and wink, saying, "We're rogues together; then I must lend you a hand." But he could be ruthless also, displaying a curious aloofness from his fellow-men and an unconsciousness of any suffering he might inflict that left mere cruelty far behind. If I were making an automaton king, I would model my machine on the lines of Hammerfeldt. He had no belief in a future life, but would sometimes trifle whimsically with the theory of a transmigration of souls; he traced all beliefs in immortality to the longing of those who were unfortunate here (and who did not think himself so?) for a recompense (a revenge he called it) hereafter, and declared transmigration to be at once the most ingenious and the most picturesque embodiment of this yearning. He played billiards extremely well, and excused his skill on the ground that he was compelled to pass the time while foreign diplomatists and his own colleagues were making up their mind. I do not think that he ever hesitated as to what he had best do. He was of an extremely placid and happy temper. As may be anticipated from what I have said, he regarded no man as utterly lost unless he were completely under the influence of a woman.
Yet it was by Hammerfeldt's will that Geoffrey Owen became my daily companion and familiar friend. Vohrenlorf visited me once or twice a week, and exercised a perfunctory superintendence. I had, of course, many masters who came and went at appointed hours. Owen lived with me both at Forstadt and at Artenberg. At this time he was twenty-five; he excelled my own adult stature, and walked with the free grace of a well-bred English gentleman. His dark hair grew thick, rising from his forehead in a wave; his face was long and thin, and a slight mustache veiled a humorous tender mouth. There was about the man a pervading sympathy; the desire to be friends was the first characteristic of his manner; he was talkative, eager, enthusiastic. If a man were good it seemed to Owen but natural; if he were a rogue my tutor would set it down to anything in the world save his own fault. Everybody could be mended if everybody else would try. Thus he brought with him into our conservative military court and society the latest breath of generous hope and human aspiration that had blown over Oxford. Surely this was a strange choice of Hammerfeldt's! Was it made in ignorance of the man, or with some idea that my mind should be opened to every variety of thought, or in a careless confidence that his own influence was beyond shaking, and that Owen's spirit would beat hopelessly against the cage and never reach mine in its prison of tradition?
A boy that would not have worshipped such a man as Geoffrey Owen must have wanted heart and fire. I watched him first to see if he could ride; he rode well. When he came he could not fence; in six months he was a good hand with the foils; physical fatigue seemed as unknown to him as mental inertia. There was no strain and no cant about him; he smoked hard, drank well after exertion, with pleasure always. He delighted to talk to my mother, chaffing her Styrian ideas with a graceful deference that made her smile. Victoria adored him openly, and Krak did not understand why he was not odious. Thus he conquered the Court, and I was the first of his slaves. It would be tedious to anybody except myself to trace the gradual progress of our four years' intimacy and friendship, of my four years' training and enlightenment. Shall I summarize it and say that Owen taught me that there were folks outside palaces, and that the greatness of a station, even as of a man, stood not in the multitude of the things that it possessed? The summary is cold and colourless; it smacks of duty, of obligations unwillingly remembered, of selfish pleasures reluctantly foregone. As I became old enough to do more than listen entranced to his stories, it seemed to me that to be such a man as he was, and not knowing that he himself was admired, could be no duty, but only a happy dream. There has been in my family, here and there, a vein of fancy, or of mysticism turning sometimes to religious fervour, again sometimes to soldierly enthusiasm and a knight-errantry in arms, the ruin and despair of cool statesmanship. On this element Owen's teaching laid hold and bent it to a more modern shape. I would not be a monk or a Bayard, but would serve humanity, holding my throne a naked trust, whence all but I might reap benefit, whereon I must sit burdened with the sorrows of all; and thus to be burdened was my joy. With some boys no example could have made such ideas acceptable, or won anything but scornful wonder for them; in me they struck answering chords, and as I rambled in the woods at Artenberg already in my mind I was the perfect king.
Where would such a mood have led? Where would it have ended? What at the last would have been my state and fame?
On my fifteenth birthday Prince von Hammerfeldt, now in his seventy-fifth year, came from Forstadt to Artenberg to offer me congratulations. Though a boy may have such thoughts as I have tried to describe, for the most part he would be flogged to death sooner than utter them; to the Prince above all men an instinct bade me be silent. But Owen rose steadily to the old man's skilful fly; he did not lecture the minister nor preach to him, but answered his questions simply and from the heart, without show and without disguise. Old Hammerfeldt's face grew into a network of amused and tolerant wrinkles.
"My dear Mr. Owen," said he, "I heard all this forty—fifty—years ago. Is it not that Jean Jacques has crossed the Channel, turning more sickly on the way?"
Owen smiled. Mine was the face that grew red in resentment, mine the tongue that burned to answer him.
"I know what you mean, sir," laughed Owen. "Still doesn't the world go forward?"
"I see no signs of it," replied Hammerfeldt with a pinch of snuff, "unless it be progress to teach rogues who aren't worth a snap to prate of their worth. Well, it is pretty enough in you to think as you think. What says the King to it?" He turned to me with a courteous smile, but with an unceremoniously intent gaze in his eyes.
I had no answer ready; I was still excited.
"I have tried to interest the King in these lines of thought," said Owen.
"Ah, yes, very proper," assented Hammerfeldt, his eyes still set on my face. "We must have more talk about the matter. Princess Heinrich awaits me now."
Owen and I were left together. He was smiling, but rather sadly; yet he laughed outright when I, carried beyond boyish shame by my indignation, broke into a tirade and threw back at him something of what he had taught me. Suddenly he interrupted me.
"Let's go for a row on the river and have one pleasant afternoon," he said, laying his hand on my shoulder. "The Prince does not want us any more to-day."
The afternoon dwells in my memory. In my belief Owen's quick mind had read something of the Prince's purpose; for he was more demonstrative of affection than was his wont. He seemed to eye me with a pitiful love that puzzled me; and he began to talk (this also was rare with him) of my special position, how I must be apart from other men, and to speculate in seeming idleness on what a place such as mine would be to him and make of him. All this came between our spurts of rowing or among our talk of sport or of flowers as we lay at rest under the bank.
"If there were two kings here, as there were in Sparta!" I cried longingly.
"There were ephors, too," he reminded me, and we laughed. Hammerfeldt was our ephor.
There was a banquet that night. I sat at the head of the table, with my mother opposite and Hammerfeldt at her right hand. The Prince gave my health after dinner, and passed on to a warm and eloquent eulogy on those who had trained me. In the course of it he dwelt pointedly on the obligation under which Geoffrey Owen had laid me, and of the debt all the nation owed to one who had inspired its king with a liberal culture and a zeal for humanity. I could have clapped my hands in delight. I looked at Owen, who sat far down the table. His gaze was on Hammerfeldt, and his lips were parted in a smile. I did not understand his smile, but it persisted all through the Prince's graceful testimony to his services. It was not like him to smile with that touch of satire when he was praised. But I saw him only for an instant before I went to bed, and others were with us, so that I could ask no explanation.
The next morning I rose early, and in glee, for I was to go hunting. Owen did not accompany me; he was, I understood, to confer with Hammerfeldt. My jovial governor Vohrenlorf had charge of me. A merry day we had, and good sport; it was late when we came home, and my anxious mother awaited me in the hall with dry slippers. She had a meal spread for me, and herself came to share it. Never had I seen her so tender or so gentle. I had a splendid hunger, and fell to, babbling of my skill with the gun between hearty mouthfuls.
"I wish Owen had been there," I said.
My mother nodded, but made no answer.
"Is the Prince gone?" I asked.
"No, he is here still. He stayed in case you should want to see him, Augustin."
"I don't want him," said I with a laugh, as I pushed my chair back. "But I was glad he talked like that about Owen last night. I think I'll go and see if Owen's in his room." I rose and started toward the door.
"Augustin, Mr. Owen is not in his room," said my mother in a strangely timid voice.
I turned with a start, for I was sensitive to every change of tone in her voice.
"Do you know where he is?" I asked.
"He is gone," said she.
I did not ask where, nor whether he would return. I sat down and looked at her; she came, smoothed my hair back from my forehead, and kissed me.
"I have not sent him away," she said. "I couldn't help it. The Prince was resolved, and he has power."
"But why?" burst from my lips.
"It is the Prince's doing, not mine," she reminded me. "The Prince is here, Augustin."
Why, yes, at least old Hammerfeldt would not run away.
My lips were quivering. I was nearer tears than pride had let me be for three years past, grief and anger uniting to make me sore and desolate. There seemed a great gap made in my life; my dearest companion was gone, the source of all that most held my fancy and filled my mind dried up. But before I could speak again a tall, lean figure stood in the doorway, helmet in hand. Hammerfeldt was there; he was asking if the King would receive him. My mother turned an inquiring glance on me. I bowed my head and choked down a sob that was in my throat. The old man came near to me and stood before me; there was a little smile on his lips, but his old eyes were soft.
"Sire," said he, addressing me with ceremonial deference and formality, "her royal highness has told you what I have done in your Majesty's service. I should be happy in your Majesty's approval."
I made him no answer.
"A king, sire," he went on, "should sip at all cups and drain none, know all theories and embrace none, learn from all men and be bound to none. He may be a pupil, but not a disciple; a hearer, but always a critic; a friend, never a devotee."
I felt my mother's hand resting on my shoulder; I sat still, looking in the Prince's eyes.
"Mr. Owen has done his work well," he went on, "but his work is done. Do you ask, sire, why he is gone? I will give you an answer. I, Prince von Hammerfeldt, would have Augustin and not Geoffrey for my master and my country's."
"Enough for to-night, Prince. Leave him now," my mother urged in a whisper.
The Prince bent his head slightly, but remained where he stood for a moment longer. Then he bowed very low to me, and drew back a step, still facing me. My mother prompted me with what I suppose was the proper formula.
"You are convinced of the Prince's wisdom and devotion in everything, aren't you, Augustin?" she said.
"Yes," said I. "Will Mr. Owen write to me?"
"When your Majesty is older, your Majesty will, of course, use your own pleasure as to your correspondence," returned Hammerfeldt.
He waited for a moment longer, and then drew back further to the door.
"Speak to the Prince, Augustin," said my mother.
"I am very grateful to the Prince for his care of me," said I.
Hammerfeldt came quickly up to me and kissed my hand. "I would make you a true king, sire," said he, and with that he left us.
So they took my friend from me, and not all the kindness with which I was loaded in the time following his loss lightened the grief of it. Presently I came to understand better the meaning of these things, and to see that the King might have no friend; for his friend must be an enemy to others, perhaps even to the King himself. Shall I now blame Hammerfeldt? I do not know. I was coming to the age when impressions sink deep into the mind; and Geoffrey Owen was a man whose mark struck very deep. Besides, he had those theories! It was not strange in Hammerfeldt to fear those theories. Perhaps he was right; with his statecraft it may well be that he could have done no other than what he did. But to my fifteen-years-old thoughts these reflections were not present. They had taken my friend from me. In my bed that night I wept for him, and my days seemed empty for the want of him. It was to me as though he had died, and worse than that; there are things as final as death, yet lacking death's gentleness. Such is it to be cut off, living friend from living friend, and living heart from heart not grown cold in the grave. I have told this story of my tutor and myself first, for the influence Owen had on me more than for the effect wrought in me by the manner in which I lost him. There must be none very near me; it seemed as though that stern verdict had been passed. There must be a vacant space about the throne. Such was Hammerfeldt's gospel. He knew that he himself soon must leave me; he would have no successor in power, and none to take a place in love that he had neither filled nor suffered to be filled. As I wandered, alone now, about the woods at Artenberg I mused on these things, and came to a conclusion rather bitter for one of my years. I would tie no more bonds, to have them cut with the sword; if love must be slain, love should be born no more; to begin was but to prepare a sad ending. I would not be drawn on to confidence or friendship. I chose not to have rather than to lose, not to taste rather than leave undrained the cup of sweet intimacy. Thus I armed my boyhood at once against grief and love. In all that I did in after days this determination was always with me, often overborne for the time by emotions and passions, but always ready to reassert itself in the first calm hour, and relentlessly to fetter me in a prison of my own making. My God, how I have longed for friends sometimes!
Geoffrey Owen I saw but once again. I had written twice to him, and received respectful, friendly, brief answers. But the sword had passed through his heart also; he did not respond to my invitation, nor show a desire to renew our intimacy. Perhaps he was afraid to run the risk; in truth, even while I urged him, I was half afraid myself. Had he come again, it would not have been as it had been between us. Very likely we both in our hearts preferred to rest in memories, not to spoil our thoughts by disappointment, to be always to one another just what we had been as we rowed together that last afternoon at Artenberg, when the dim shadow of parting did no more than deepen our affection and touch it to a profounder tenderness.
And that time when I saw him again? I was driving through the gates of an English palace, encircled by a brilliant troop of soldiers, cheered by an interested, good-humoured throng. Far back in their ranks, but standing out above all heads, I saw his face, paler and thinner, more gentle even and kindly. He wore a soft hat crushed over his forehead; as I passed he lifted and waved it, smiling his old smile at me. I waved my hand, leaning forward eagerly; but I could not stop the procession. As soon as I was within I sent an equerry to seek him, armed with a description that he could not mistake. But Geoffrey Owen was nowhere to be found, he had not awaited my messenger. Having signalled a friend's greeting across the gulf between us, he was gone. I could have found him, for I knew that he dwelt in London, working, writing, awakening hope in many, fear in some, thought in all. But I would not seek him out, nor compel him to come to me, since he would not of his own accord. So he went his way, I mine, and I have seen him no more. Yet ever on my birthday I drain a cup to him, and none knows to whom the King drinks a full glass silently. It is my libation on a friendship's grave. Perhaps it would support an interpretation more subtle. For when I stood between Owen and Hammerfeldt, torn this way and that, uncertain whom I should follow through life, was not I the humble transitory theatre of a great and secular struggle? It seems to me that then the Ideal and the Actual joined in battle over me; Hector and Achilles, and I the body of Patroclus! Alas, poor body! Greatly the combatants desire it, little they reck of the roughness it suffers in their struggle! The Spirit and the World—am I over-fanciful if I seem to see them incarnated in Geoffrey Owen and old Hammerfeldt? And victory was with the world. Yet the conquered also have before now left their mark on lands which they could not hold.
SOMETHING ABOUT VICTORIA.
I feel that I give involuntarily a darker colour to my life than the truth warrants. When we sit down and reflect we are apt to become the prey of a curious delusion; pain seems to us the only reality, pleasure a phantasm or a dream. Yet such reality as pain has pleasure shares, and we are in no closer touch with eternal truth when we have headaches (or heartaches) than when we are free from these afflictions. I wonder sometimes whether a false idea of dignity does not mislead us. Would we all pose as martyrs? It is nonsense; for most of us life is a tolerable enough business—if we would not think too much about it. We need not pride ourselves on our griefs; it seems as though joy were the higher state because it is the less self-conscious and rests in fuller harmony with the great order that encircles us.
As I grew older I gained a new and abiding source of pleasure in the contemplation and study of my sister Victoria. I have anticipated matters a little in telling of my tutor's departure; I must hark back and pick up the thread of Victoria's history from the time when I was hard on thirteen and she near fifteen—the time when she had implored me to rid her of Krak. I had hated Krak with that healthy full-blooded antipathy whose faculty one seems to lose in later years. It is a tiresome thing to be driven by experience to the discovery of some good in everybody; your fine black fades to neutral gray; often I regret the delightfully partial views of earlier days. And so many people succeed in preserving them to a green and untutored old age! They are Popes always to their heretics. Such was and is Victoria; she never changed in her views of other people. In contrast she was, as regards herself, of a temperament so elastic that impressions endured hardly a moment beyond the blow, and pleasures passed without depositing any residuum which might form a store against evil days. If Krak had cut her arm off, its perpetual absence might have made Victoria remember the fault which was paid for by amputation; the moral effect of rapid knuckles disappeared with the comfort that came from sucking them. Perhaps her disposition was a happy chance for her; since the Styrian discipline (although not, of course, in this blankly physical form later on) persisted for her long after it had been softened for me. I touch again perhaps on a point which has caught my attention before; undoubtedly my mother kept the status of childhood imposed on Victoria fully as long as nature countenanced the measures. Krak did not go; a laugh greeted my hint. Krak stayed till Victoria was sixteen. For my part, since it was inevitable that Krak should discipline somebody, I think heaven was mild in setting her on Victoria. Had I stayed under her sway I should have run mad. Victoria laughed, cried, joked, dared, submitted, offended, defied, suffered, wept, and laughed again all in a winter's afternoon. She was by way of putting on the dignity of an elder with me and shutting off from my gaze her trials and reverses. But there was no one else to tell the joke to, and I had it all each night before I slept.
But now Victoria was sixteen; and Krak, elderly, pensioned, but unbroken, was gone. She went back to Styria to chasten and ultimately to enrich (I would not for the world have been privy to their prayers) some nephews and nieces. It seemed strange, but Krak was homesick for Styria. She went; Victoria gave her the tribute of a tear, surprised out of her before she remembered her causes for exultation. Then came their memory, and she was outrageously triumphant. A new era began; the buffer was gone; my mother and Victoria were face and face. And in a year as Victoria said, in two or three as my mother allowed, Victoria would be grown up.
I was myself, most unwillingly, a cause of annoyance to Victoria, and a pretext for her repression. Importance flowed in on me unasked, unearned. To speak in homely fashion, she was always "a bad second," and none save herself attributed to her the normal status of privileges of an elder sister. Her wrath was not visited on me, but on those who exalted me so unduly; even while she resented my position she was not, as I have shown, above using it for her own ends; this adaptability was not due to guile; she forgot one mood when another came, and compromised her pretensions in the effort to compass her desires. Princess Heinrich seized on the inconsistency, and pointed it out to her daughter with an exasperating lucidity.
"You are ready enough to remember that Augustin is king when you want anything from him," she would observe. "You forget it only when you are asked to give way to him."
Victoria would make no reply—the Krak traditions endured to prevent an answer to rebukes—but when we were alone she used to remark, "I should think an iceberg's rather like a mother. Only one needn't live with icebergs."
Quite suddenly, as it seemed, it occurred to Victoria that she was pretty. She lost no time in advertising the discovery through the medium of a thousand new tricks and graces; a determined assault on the affections of all the men about us, from the lords-in-waiting down to the stablemen—an assault that ignored existing domestic ties or pre-arranged affections—was the next move in her campaign. When she was extremely angry with her mother she would say, "How odious it must be not to be young any more!" I thought that there was sometimes a wistful look in my mother's eyes; was she thinking of Krak, Krak in far-off Styria? Perhaps for once, when Victoria was hitting covertly at Krak, my mother remarked in a very cold voice:
"You remember your punishments, you don't remember your offences, Victoria."
I could linger long on these small matters, for I find more interest and incitement to analysis in the attitude of women toward women than in their more obvious relations with men; but I must pass over a year of veiled conflict, and come to that incident which is the salient point in Victoria's girlish history. It coincided almost exactly in time with the dismissal of Geoffrey Owen, and my pre-occupation with that event diverted my attention from the earlier stages of Victoria's affair. She was just seventeen, grown up in her own esteem (and she adduced many precedents to fortify her contention), but in my mother's eyes still wanting a year of quiet home life before she should be launched into society. Victoria acquiesced perforce, but turned the flank of the decree by ensuring that the home life should be by no means quiet. She set to work to prepare for us a play; comedy or tragedy I knew not then, and am not now quite clear. Our nearest neighbour at Artenberg dwelt across the river in the picturesque old castle of Waldenweiter; he was a young man of twenty-two at this time, handsome, pleasant, and ready for amusement. His father being dead, Frederick was his own master—that is to say, he had no master. Victoria fell in love with him. The Baron, it seemed, was not disinclined for a romance with a pretty princess; perhaps he thought that nothing serious would come of it, and that it was a pleasant way enough of passing a summer; or, perhaps, being but twenty-two, he did not think at all, unless to muse on the depth of the blue in Victoria's eyes, and the comely lines of her figure as she rowed on the river. To say truth, Victoria gave him small time for reflection.
As I am convinced, before he had well considered the situation he had fallen into the habit of attending a rendezvous in a backwater of the stream about a mile above Artenberg. Victoria never went out unaccompanied, and never came back unaccompanied; it was discovered afterward that the trusted old boatman could be bought off with the price of beer, and used to disembark and seek an ale house so soon as the backwater was reached. The meeting over, Victoria would return in high spirits and displaying an unusual affection toward my mother, either as a blind, or through remorse, or (as I incline to think) through an amiability born of triumph; there was at times even a touch of commiseration in her manner, and more than once she spoke to me, in a tone of philosophical speculation, on the uselessness of endeavouring to repress natural feelings and the futility of treating as children persons who were already grown up. This mood lasted some time, so long, I suppose, as the stolen delight of doing the thing was more prominent than the delight in the thing itself. A month passed and brought a change. Now she was silent, absent, pensive, very kind to me, more genuinely submissive and dutiful to her mother. The first force of my blow had left me, for Owen had been gone now some months; I began to observe my sister carefully. To my amazement she, formerly the most heedless of creatures, knew in an instant that she was watched. She drew off from me, setting a distance between us; my answer was to withdraw my companionship, since only thus could I convince her that I had no desire to spy. I had not guessed the truth, and my mother had no inkling of it. Princess Heinrich's ignorance may seem strange, but I have often observed that persons of a masterful temper are rather easy to delude; they have such difficulty in conceiving that they can be disobeyed as to become ready subjects for hoodwinking; I recollect old Hammerfeldt saying to me, "In public affairs, sire, always expect disobedience, but be chary of rewarding obedience." My mother adopted the second half of the maxim but disregarded the first. She always expected obedience; Victoria knew it and built on her knowledge a confident hope of impunity in deceit.
Now on what harsh word have I stumbled? For deceit savours of meanness. Let me amend and seek the charity, the neutral tolerance, of some such word as concealment. For things good and things bad may be concealed, things that people should know and things that concern them not, great secrets of State and the flutterings of hearts. Victoria practised concealment.
I found her crying once, crying alone in a corner of the terrace under a ludicrous old statue of Mercury. I was amazed; I had not seen her cry so heartily since Krak had last ill-treated her. I put it to her that some such affliction must be responsible for her despair.
"I wish it was only that," she answered. "Do go away, Augustin."
"I don't want to stay," said I. "Only if you want anything——"
"I wonder if you could!" she said with a sudden flush. "No, it's no use," she went on. "And it's nothing. Augustin, if you tell mother you found me crying, I'll never——"
"You know quite well that I never tell anybody anything," said I, rather offended.
"Then go away, dear," urged Victoria.
I went away. I had been feeling very lonely myself, and had sought out Victoria for company's sake. However, I went and walked alone down to the edge of the river. It was clear that Victoria did not want me, and apparently I could do nothing for her. I have never found myself able to do very much for people, except those who did not deserve to have anything done for them. Perhaps poor Victoria didn't, but I was not aware of her demerits then. I repeated to the river my old reflection: "I don't see that it's much use being king, you know," said I as I flung a pebble and looked across at the towers of Waldenweiter. "That fellow's better off than I am," said I; and I wished again that Victoria had not sent me away. There is a period of life during which one is always being sent away, and it is not quite over for me yet in spite of my dignity.
At last came the crash. A little carelessness born of habit and impunity, the treachery of the old boatman under the temptation of a gold piece, the girl's lack of savoir faire when charged with the offence—here was enough, and more than enough. I recollect being summoned to my mother's room late one evening, just about my bedtime. I went and found her alone with Victoria. The Princess sat in her great arm-chair; Victoria was leaning against the wall when I entered; her handkerchief was crushed in one hand, the other hand clenched by her side.
"Augustin," said the Princess, "Victoria and I go to Biarritz to-morrow."
Victoria's quick breathing was her only comment. My mother told me in brief, curt, offensive phrases that Victoria had been carrying on a flirtation with our opposite neighbour. I have no doubt that I looked surprised.
"You may well wonder!" cried my mother. "If she could not remember what she was herself, she might have remembered that the King was her brother."
"I've done nothing——" Victoria began.
"Hold your tongue," said my mother. "If you were in Styria, instead of here, you'd be locked up in your own room for a month on bread and water; yes, you may think yourself lucky that I only take you to Biarritz."
"Styria!" said Victoria with a very bitter smile. "If I were in Styria I should be beheaded, I daresay, or—or knouted, or something. Oh, I know what Styria means! Krak taught me that."
"I wish the Baroness was here," observed the Princess.
"You'd tell her to beat me, I suppose?" flashed out my sister.
"If you were three years younger——" began my mother with perfect outward composure. Victoria interrupted her passionately.
"Oh, never mind my age. I'm a child still. Come and beat me!" she cried, assuming the air of an Iphigenia.
To this day I am of opinion that she ran a risk in giving this invitation; it was well on the cards that the Princess might have accepted it. Indeed had it been Styria—but it was not Styria. My mother turned to me with a cold smile.
"You perceive," said she, "the spirit in which your sister meets me because I object to her compromising herself with this wretched baron. She accuses me of persecution, and talks as though I were an executioner."
I had been looking very curiously at Victoria. She was in a dressing-gown, having been called, apparently, from her bedroom; her hair was over her shoulders. She looked most prettily woe-begone—like Juliet before her angry father, or, as I say, Iphigenia before the knife. In a moment she broke out again.
"Nobody feels for me," she complained. "What can Augustin know of it?"
"I know," observed my mother. "But although I know——"
"Oh, you've forgotten," cried Victoria scornfully.
For a moment my mother flushed. I was glad on all accounts that Victoria did not repeat her previous invitation now. On the contrary, when she had looked at Princess Heinrich, she gave a sudden frightened sob, rushed across the room, and flung herself on her knees at my feet.
"You're the king!" she cried. "Protect me, protect me!"
Throughout all this very painful interview I seemed to hear as it were echoes of the romances which I had read on Victoria's recommendation; the reminiscence was particularly strong in this last exclamation. However, it is not safe to conclude that feelings are not sincere because they are expressed in conventional phrases. These formulas are moulds into which our words run easily; though the moulds be hollow, the stuff that fills them may be solid enough.
"Why, you don't want to marry him?" I exclaimed, much embarrassed at being prematurely forced into functions of a pere de famille.
"I'll never marry anybody else," moaned Victoria. My mother's face was the picture of disgust and scorn.
"That's another thing," said she. "At least the King would not hear of such a marriage as this."
"Do you want to marry him?" I asked Victoria, chiefly, I confess, in curiosity. I had risen—or fallen—in some degree to my position, and it seemed strange to me that my sister should wish to marry this Baron Fritz.
"I—I love him, Augustin," groaned Victoria.
"She knows it's impossible, as well as you do," said my mother. "She doesn't really want to do it."
Victoria cried quietly, but made no reply or protest. I was bewildered; I did not understand then how we may passionately desire a thing which we would not do, and may snatch at the opposition of others as an excuse alike for refusal and for tears. Looking back, I do not think had we set Victoria free in the boat, and put the sculls in her hands, that she would have rowed over to Waldenweiter. But did she, then, deserve no pity? Perhaps she deserved more; for not two weak creatures like the Princess (I crave her pardon) and myself stood between her and her wishes, but she herself—the being that she had been fashioned into, her whole life, her nature, and her heart, as our state had made them. If our soul be our prison, and ourself the jailer, in vain shall we plan escape or offer bribes for freedom; wheresoever we go we carry the walls with us, and if death, then death alone can unlock the gates.
The scene grew quieter. Victoria rose, and threw herself into a chair in a weary, puzzled desolation; my mother sat quite still, with eyes intent on the floor, and lips close shut. A sense of awkwardness grew strong on me; I wanted to get out of the room. They would not fight any more now; they would be very distant to one another; and, moreover, it seemed clear that Victoria did not propose to marry Baron Fritz. But what about poor Baron Fritz? I approached my mother, and whispered a question. She answered me aloud.
"I have written to Prince von Hammerfeldt. A letter from him will, I have no doubt, be enough to insure us against further impertinence."
Victoria dabbed her eyes, but no protest came from her.
"We shall start mid-day to-morrow," the Princess pursued, "unless, of course, Victoria refuses to accompany me." Her voice took a tinge of irony. "Possibly your wishes may persuade her, Augustin, if mine can not."
Victoria raised her head suddenly, and said very distinctly:
"I will do what Augustin tells me." The emphatic word in that sentence was "Augustin."
My mother smiled bitterly; she understood well enough the implicit declaration of war, the appeal from her to me, the shifting of allegiance. I daresay that she saw the absurdity of putting a boy not yet sixteen into such a position; but I know that I felt it much more strongly.