His Royal Highness the Crown Prince Ferdinand William Otto was in disgrace.
He had risen at six, bathed, dressed, and gone to Mass, in disgrace. He ha_reakfasted at seven-thirty on fruit, cereal, and one egg, in disgrace. He ha_one to his study at eight o'clock for lessons, in disgrace. A long line o_utors came and went all morning, and he worked diligently, but he was stil_n disgrace. All morning long and in the intervals between tutors he had trie_o catch Miss Braithwaite's eye.
Except for the most ordinary civilities, she had refused to look in hi_irection. She was correcting an essay in English on Mr. Gladstone, with _lue pencil, and putting in blue commas every here and there. The Crown Princ_as amazingly weak in commas. When she was all through, she piled the sheet_ogether and wrote a word on the first page. It might have been "good." On th_ther hand, it could easily have been "poor." The motions of the hand ar_imilar.
At last; in desperation, the Crown Prince deliberately broke off the point o_is pencil, and went to the desk where Miss Braithwaite sat, monarch of th_merican pencil-sharpener which was the beloved of his heart.
"Again!" said Miss Braithwaite shortly. And raised her eyebrows.
"It's a very soft pencil," explained the Crown Prince. "When I press down o_t, it—it busts."
"It busts—breaks." Evidently the English people were not familiar with thi_ew and fascinating American word.
He cast a casual glance toward Mr. Gladstone. The word was certainly "poor."
Suddenly a sense of injustice began to rise in him. He had worked rather har_ver Mr. Gladstone. He had done so because he knew that Miss Braithwait_onsidered him the greatest man since Jesus Christ, and even the Christ ha_ot written "The Influence of Authority in Matters of Opinion."
The injustice went to his eyes and made him blink. He had apologized fo_esterday, and explained fully. It was not fair. As to commas, anybody coul_ut in enough commas.
The French tutor was standing near a photograph of Hedwig, and pretending no_o look at it. Prince Ferdinand William Otto had a suspicion that the tuto_as in love with Hedwig. On one occasion, when she had entered unexpectedly, he had certainly given out the sentence, "Ce dragon etait le vieux serpent, l_rincesse," instead of "Ce dragon etait le vieux serpent, le roi."
Prince Ferdinand William Otto did not like the French tutor. His being sill_bout Hedwig was not the reason. Even Nikky had that trouble, and once, whe_hey were all riding together, had said, "Canter on the snaffle, trot on th_urb," when he meant exactly the opposite. It was not that. Part of it wa_ecause of his legs, which were inclined to knock at the knees. Mostly it wa_is eyes, which protruded. "When he reads my French exercises," he complaine_nce to Hedwig, "he waves them around like an ant's."
He and Hedwig usually spoke English together. Like most royalties, they ha_een raised on languages. It was as much as one's brains were worth, sometimes, to try to follow them as they leaped from grammar to grammar.
"Like an aunt's?" inquired Hedwig, mystified.
"An ant's. They have eyes on the ends of their feelers, you know."
But Miss Braithwaite, overhearing, had said that ants have no eyes at all. Sh_ad no imagination.
His taste of liberty had spoiled the Crown Prince for work. Instead o_onjugating a French verb, he made a sketch of the Scenic Railway. He drew th_ittle car, and two heads looking over the edge, with a sort of porcupin_ffect of hairs standing straight up.
"Otto!" said Miss Braithwaite sternly.
Miss Braithwaite did not say "sir" to him or "Your Royal Highness," like th_utors. She had taken him from the arms of his mother when he was a baby, an_ad taught a succession of nurses how to fix his bottles, and made them rais_he windows when he slept—which was heresy in that country, and was brought u_or discussion in the Parliament. When it came time for his first tooth, an_e was wickedly fretful, and the doctors had a consultation over him, it wa_iss Braithwaite who had ignored everything they said, and rubbed the toot_hrough with her silver thimble. Boiled first, of course.
And when one has cut a Royal Highness's first tooth, and broken him of suckin_is thumb, and held a cold buttered knife against his bruises to prevent thei_iscoloring, one does get out of the way of being very formal with him.
"Otto!" said Miss Braithwaite sternly.
So he went to work in earnest. He worked at a big desk, which had been hi_ather's. As a matter of fact, everything in the room was too big for him. I_ad not occurred to any one to make any concessions to his size. He wen_hrough life, one may say, with his legs dangling, or standing on tiptoe t_ee things.
The suite had been his father's before him. Even the heavy old rug had bee_orn shabby by the scuffing of his father's feet. On the wall there hung _icture his father had drawn. It was of a yacht in full sail. Prince Huber_ad been fifteen when he drew it, and was contemplating abandoning hi_rincely career and running away to be a pirate. As a matter of fact, th_acht boasted the black flag, as Otto knew quite well. Nikky had discover it.
But none of the grown-ups had recognized the damning fact. Nikky was not, strictly speaking a grown-up.
The sun came through the deep embrasures of the window and set Princ_erdinand William Otto's feet to wriggling. It penetrated the gloom_astnesses of the old room and showed its dingy furniture, its great desk, it_ark velvet portieres, and the old cabinet in which the Crown Prince kept hi_oys on the top shelf. He had arranged them there himself, the ones he wa_ondest of in the front row, so he could look up and see them; a drum which h_till dearly loved, but which made Miss Braithwaite's headache; a locomotiv_ith a broken spring; a steam-engine which Hedwig had given him, but which th_ing considered dangerous, and which had never, therefore, had its baptism o_ire; and a dilapidated and lop-eared cloth dog.
He was exceedingly fond of the dog. For quite a long time he had taken it t_ed with him at night, and put its head on his pillow. It was the mos_omforting thing, when the lights were all out. Until he was seven he had bee_llowed a bit of glimmer, a tiny wick floating in a silver dish of lard-oil, for a night-light. But after his eighth birthday that had been done away with, Miss Braithwaite considering it babyish.
The sun shone in on the substantial but cheerless room; on the picture of th_uchess Hedwig, untouched by tragedy or grief; on the heavy, paneled old door_hrough which, once on a time, Prince Hubert had made his joyous exits into _orld that had so early cast him out; on his swords, crossed over th_ireplace; his light rapier, his heavy cavalry saber; on the bright head o_is little son, around whom already so many plots and counterplots wer_entering.
The Crown Prince Ferdinand William Otto found the sun unsettling. Besides, h_ated verbs. Nouns were different. One could do something with nouns, althoug_ven they had a way of having genders. Into his head popped a recollection o_ delightful pastime of the day before—nothing more nor less than flippin_aper wads at the guard on the Scenic Railway as the car went past him.
Prince Ferdinand William Otto tore off the corner of a piece of paper, chewe_t deliberately, rounded and hardened it with his royal fingers, and aimed i_t M. Puaux. It struck him in the eye.
Instantly things happened. M. Puaux yelled, and clapped a hand to his eye.
Miss Braithwaite rose. His Royal Highness wrote a rather shaky French verb, with the wrong termination. And on to this scene came Nikky for the riding- lesson. Nikky, smiling and tidy, and very shiny as to riding-boots and things, and wearing white kid gloves. Every one about a palace wears white kid gloves, except the royalties themselves. It is extremely expensive.
Nikky surveyed the scene. He had, of course, bowed inside the door, and al_hat sort of thing. But Nikky was an informal person, and was quite apt to bo_eeply before his future sovereign, and then poke him in the chest.
"Well!" said Nikky.
"Good-morning," said Prince Ferdinand William Otto, in a small and nervou_oice.
"Nothing wrong, is there?" demanded Nikky.
M. Puaux got out his handkerchief and said nothing violently.
"Otto!" said Miss Braithwaite. "What did you do?"
"Nothing." He looked about. He was quite convinced that M. Puaux was wha_obby would have termed a poor sport, and had not played the game fairly. Th_uard at the railway, he felt, would not have yelled and wept. "Oh, well, _hrew a piece of paper. That's all. I didn't think it would hurt."
Miss Braithwaite rose and glanced at the carpet. But Nikky was quick. Quic_nd understanding. He put his shiny foot over the paper wad.
"Paper!" said Miss Braithwaite. "Why did you throw paper? And at M. Puaux?"
"I—just felt like throwing something," explained His Royal Highness. "I gues_t's the sun, or something."
Nikky dropped his glove, and miraculously, when he had picked it up the littl_ad was gone.
"For throwing paper, five marks," said Miss Braithwaite, and put it down i_he book she carried in her pocket. It was rather an awful book. On Saturday_he King looked it over, and demanded explanations. "For untidy nails, fiv_arks! A gentleman never has untidy nails, Otto. For objecting to winte_lannels, two marks. Humph! For pocketing sugar from the tea-tray, ten marks!
Humph! For lack of attention during religious instruction, five marks. Ten of_or the sugar, and only five for inattention to religious instruction! Wha_ave you to say, sir?"
Prince Ferdinand William Otto looked at Nikky and Nikky looked back. The_erdinand William Otto's left eyelid drooped. Nikky was astounded. How was h_o know the treasury of strange things that the Crown Prince had tapped th_revious afternoon? But, after a glance around the room, Nikky's eyeli_rooped also. He slid the paper wad into his pocket.
"I am afraid His Royal Highness has hurt your eye, M. Puaux," said Mis_raithwaite. Not with sympathy. She hated tutors.
"Not at all," said the unhappy young man, testing the eye to discover if h_ould see through it. "I am sure His Royal Highness meant no harm." M. Puau_ent out, with his handkerchief to his eye. He turned at the door and bowed, but as no one was paying any attention to him, he made two bows. One was t_edwig's picture.
While Oskar, his valet, put the Crown Prince into riding-clothes, Nikky an_iss Braithwaite had a talk. Nikky was the only person to whom Mis_raithwaite really unbent. Once he had written to a friend of his in China, and secured for her a large box of the best China tea. Miss Braithwaite onl_rewed it when the Archduchess made one of her rare visits to the Crow_rince's apartment.
But just now their talk was very serious. It began by Nikky's stating that sh_as likely to see him a great deal now, and he hoped she would not find him i_he way. He had been made aide-de-camp to the Crown Prince, vice Count Lussin, who had resigned on account of illness, having been roused at daybreak out o_ healthy sleep to do it.
Not that Nikky said just that. What he really observed was: "The King sent fo_e last night, Miss Braithwaite, and—and asked me to hang around."
Thus Nikky, of his sacred trust! None the less sacred to him, either, that h_poke lightly. He glanced up at the crossed swords, and his eyes were hard.
And Miss Braithwaite knew. She reached over and put a hand on his arm. "Yo_nd I," she said. "Out of all the people in this palace, only you and I! Th_rchduchess hates him. I see it in her eyes. She can never forgive him fo_eeping the throne from Hedwig. The Court? Do they ever think of the boy, except to dread his minority, with Mettlich in control? A long period o_ourning, a regency, no balls, no gayety that is all they think of. And who_an we trust? The very guards down below, the sentries at our doors, how do w_now they are loyal?"
"The people love him," said Nikky doggedly.
"The people! Sheep. I do not trust the people. I do not trust any one. _atch, but what can I do? The very food we eat—"
"He is coming," said Nikky softly. And fell to whistling under his breath.
Together Nikky and Prince Ferdinand William Otto went out and down the grea_arble staircase. Sentries saluted. Two flunkies in scarlet and gold thre_pen the doors. A stray dog that had wandered into the courtyard watched the_ravely.
"I wish," said Prince Ferdinand William Otto, "that I might have a dog."
"A dog! Why?"
"Well, it would be company. Dogs are very friendly. Yesterday I met a boy wh_as a dog. It sleeps on his bed at night."
"You have a good many things, you know," Nikky argued. "You've got a doze_orses, for one thing."
"But a dog's different." He felt the difference, but he could not put it int_ords. "And I'd rather have only one horse. I'd get better acquainted wit_t."
Nikky looked back. Although it had been the boast of the royal family for _entury that it could go about unattended, that its only danger was from th_verzeal of the people in showing their loyalty, not since the death of Princ_ubert had this been true in fact. No guards or soldiers accompanied them, bu_he secret police were always near at hand. So Nikky looked, made sure that _an in civilian clothing was close at their heels, and led the way across th_quare to the riding-school.
A small crowd lined up and watched the passing of the little Prince. As h_assed, men lifted their hats and women bowed. He smiled right and left, and, took two short steps to one of Nikky's long ones.
"I have a great many friends," he said with a sigh of content, as they neare_he riding-school. "I suppose I don't really need a dog."
"Look here," said Nikky, after a pause. He was not very quick in thinkin_hings out. He placed, as a fact, more reliance on his right arm than on hi_rain. But once he had thought a thing out, it stuck. "Look here, Highness, you didn't treat your friends very well yesterday."
"I know;" said Prince Ferdinand William Otto meekly. But Prince Ferdinan_illiam Otto had thought out a defense. "I got back all right, didn't I?" H_onsidered. "It was worth it. A policeman shook me!"
"Which policeman?" demanded Nikky in a terrible tone, and in his fury quit_orgot the ragging he had prepared for Otto.
"I think I'll not tell you, if you don't mind. And I bought a fig lady. I'v_aved the legs for you."
Fortune smiled on Nikky that day. Had, indeed, been smiling daily for som_hree weeks. Singularly enough, the Princess Hedwig, who had been placed on _ony at the early age of two, and who had been wont to boast that she coul_ide any horse in her grandfather's stables, was taking riding-lessons. Fro_welve to one—which was, also singularly, the time Prince Ferdinand Willia_tto and Nikky rode in the ring—the Princess Hedwig rode also. Rode divinely.
Rode saucily. Rode, when Nikky was ahead, tenderly.
To tell the truth, Prince Ferdinand William Otto rather hoped, this morning, that Hedwig would not be there. There was a difference in Nikky when Hedwi_as around. When she was not there he would do all sorts of things, lik_umping on his horse while it was going, and riding backward in the saddle, and so on. He had once even tried jumping on his horse as it galloped pas_im, and missed, and had been awfully ashamed about it. But when Hedwig wa_here, there was no skylarking. They rode around, and the riding-master put u_umps and they took them. And finally Hedwig would get tired, and ask Nikk_lease to be amusing while she rested. And he would not be amusing at all. Th_rown Prince felt that she never really saw Nikky at his best.
Hedwig was there. She had on a new habit, and a gardenia in her buttonhole, and she gave Nikky her hand to kiss, but only nodded to the Crown Prince.
"Hello, Otto!" she said. "I thought you'd have a ball and chain on your le_o-day."
"There's nothing wrong with my legs," said Prince Ferdinand William Otto, staring at the nets habit. "But yours look rather queer."
Hedwig flushed. The truth was that she was wearing, for the first time, _ross-saddle habit of coat and trousers. And coat and trousers were forbidde_o the royal women. She eyed Otto with defiance, and turned an appealin_lance to Nikky. But her voice was very dignified.
"I bought them myself," she said. "I consider it a perfectly modest costume, and much safer than the other."
"It is quite lovely—on you, Highness," said Nikky.
In a stiff chair at the edge of the ring Hedwig's lady in waiting sa_esignedly. She was an elderly woman, and did not ride. Just now she wa_bsorbed in wondering what would happen to her when the Archduchess discovere_his new freak of Hedwig's. Perhaps she would better ask permission to go int_etreat for a time. The Archduchess, who had no religion herself, approved o_t in others. She took a soft rubber from her pocket, and tried to erase _pot from her white kid gloves.
The discovery that Hedwig had two perfectly good legs rather astounded Princ_erdinand William Otto. He felt something like consternation.
"I've never seen any one else dressed like that," he observed, as the horse_ere brought up.
Hedwig colored again. She looked like an absurdly pretty boy. "Don't be _illy," she replied, rather sharply. "Every one does it, except here, wher_ld fossils refuse to think that anything new can be proper. If you're goin_o be that sort of a king when you grow up, I'll go somewhere else to live."
Nikky looked gloomy. The prospect, although remote, was dreary. But, as th_orses were led out, and he helped Hedwig to her saddle, he brightened. Afte_ll, the future was the future, and now was now.
"Catch me!" said Hedwig, and dug her royal heels into her horse's flanks. Th_rown Prince climbed into his saddle and followed. They were off.
The riding-school had been built for officers of the army, but was now used b_he Court only. Here the King had ridden as a lad with young Mettlich, hi_lose friend even then. The favorite mare of his later years, now old an_lmost blind, still had a stall in the adjacent royal stables. One of th_ing's last excursions abroad had been to visit her.
Overhead, up a great runway, were the state chariots, gilt coaches o_nconceivable weight, traveling carriages of the post-chaise periods, sleigh_n which four horses drove abreast, their panels painted by the great artist_f the time; and one plain little vehicle, very shabby, in which the roya_hildren of long ago had fled from a Karnian invasion.
In one corner, black and gold and forbidding, was the imposing hearse in whic_he dead sovereigns of the country were taken to their long sleep in th_aults under the cathedral. Good, bad, and indifferent, one after the other, as their hour came, they had taken this last journey in the old catafalque, and had joined their forbears. Many they had been: men of iron, men of blood, men of flesh, men of water. And now they lay in stone crypts, and of all th_ine only two remained.
One and all, the royal vehicles were shrouded in sheets, except on one day o_ach month when the sheets were removed and the public admitted. But on tha_orning the great hearse was uncovered, and two men were working, one at th_pholstery, which he was brushing. The other was carefully oiling the wood o_he body. Save for them, the wide and dusky loft was empty.
One was a boy, newly come from the country. The other was an elderly man. I_as he who oiled.
"Many a king has this carried," said the man. "My father, who was here befor_e, oiled it for the last one."
"May it be long before it carries another!" commented the boy fervently.
"It will not be long. The old King fails hourly. And this happening o_esterday—"
"What happened yesterday?" queried the boy.
"It was a matter of the Crown Prince."
"Was he ill?"
"He ran away," said the man shortly.
"Ran away?" The boy stopped his dusting, and stared, open-mouthed.
"Aye, ran away. Grew weary of back-bending, perhaps. I do not know. I do no_elieve in kings."
"Not believe in kings?" The boy stopped his brushing.
"You do, of course," sneered the man. "Because a thing is, it is right. But _hink. I use my brains. I reason. And I do not believe in kings."
Up the runway came sounds from the ring, the thudding of hoofs, followed by _hild's shrill, joyous laughter. The man scowled.
"Listen!" he said. "We labor and they play."
"It has always been so. I do not begrudge happiness."