The king sat in his private garden in the shade of a potted orange tree, th_eaves of which were splashed with brilliant yellow. It was high noon of on_f those last warm sighs of passing summer which now and then lovingly stea_n between the chill breaths of September. The velvet hush of the mid-day hou_ad fallen.
There was an endless horizon of turquoise blue, a zenith pellucid as glass.
The trees stood motionless; not a shadow stirred, save that which was cast b_he tremulous wings of a black and purple butterfly, which, near to hi_ajesty, fell, rose and sank again. From a drove of wild bees, swimming hithe_nd thither in quest of the final sweets of the year, came a low murmurou_um, such as a man sometimes fancies he hears while standing alone in the vas_uditorium of a cathedral.
The king, from where he sat, could see the ivy-clad towers of the archbishop'_alace, where, in and about the narrow windows, gray and white doves fluttere_nd plumed themselves. The garden sloped gently downward till it merged into _eautiful lake called the Werter See, which, stretching out several miles t_he west, in the heart of the thick-wooded hills, trembled like a thin shee_f silver.
Toward the south, far away, lay the dim, uneven blue line of the Thalian Alps, which separated the kingdom that was from the duchy that is, and the duke fro_is desires. More than once the king leveled his gaze in that direction, as i_o fathom what lay behind those lordly rugged hills.
There was in the air the delicate odor of the deciduous leaves which, ever_ittle while, the king inhaled, his eyes half-closed and his nostril_istended. Save for these brief moments, however, there rested on hi_ountenance an expression of disenchantment which came of the knowledge of _art ill-played, an expression which described a consciousness of hi_nfitness and inutility, of lethargy and weariness and distaste.
To be weary is the lot of kings, it is a part of their royal prerogative; bu_t is only a great king who can be weary gracefully. And Leopold was not _reat king; indeed, he was many inches short of the ideal; but he wa_hilosophical, and by the process of reason he escaped the pitfalls which lur_n the path of peevishness.
To know the smallness of the human atom, the limit of desire, the existence o_ther lives as precious as their own, is not the philosophy which makes grea_ings. Philosophy engenders pity; and one who possesses that can not rid_oughshod over men, and that is the business of kings.
As for Leopold, he would rather have wandered the byways of Kant than studie_oyal etiquette. A crown had been thrust on his head and a scepter into hi_and, and, willy-nilly, he must wear the one and wield the other. Th_onfederation had determined the matter shortly before the Franco-Prussia_ar.
The kingdom that was, an admixture of old France and newer Austria, was _ateway which opened the road to the Orient, and a gateman must be place_here who would be obedient to the will of the great travelers, were the_inded to pass that way. That is to say, the confederation wanted a puppet, and in Leopold they found a dreamer, which served as well. That glitterin_ait, a crown, had lured him from his peaceful Osian hills and valleys, an_ow he found that his crown was of straw and his scepter a stick.
He longed to turn back, for his heart lay in a tomb close to his castle keep, but the way back was closed. He had sold his birthright. So he permitted hi_inisters to rule his kingdom how they would, and gave himself up to dreams.
He had been but a cousin of the late king, whereas the duke of the duchy tha_s had been a brother. But cousin Josef was possessed of red hair and a tempe_hich was redder still, and, moreover, a superlative will, bending to none, and laughing at those who tried to bend him.
He would have been a king to the tip of his fiery hair; and it was for thi_ery reason that his subsequent appeals for justice and his rights fell o_nheeding ears. The confederation feared Josef; therefore they dispossesse_im. Thus Leopold sat on the throne, while his Highness bit his nails an_wore, impotent to all appearances.
Leopold leaned forward from his seat. In his hand he held a riding stick wit_hich he drew shapeless pictures in the yellow gravel of the path. His brow_ere drawn over contemplative eyes, and the hint of a sour smile lifted th_orners of his lips. Presently the brows relaxed, and his gaze traveled to th_pposite side of the path, where the British minister sat in the full glare o_he sun.
In the middle of the path, as rigid as a block of white marble, reposed _oung bulldog, his moist black nose quivering under the repeated attacks of _ersistent insect. It occurred to the king that there was a resemblanc_etween the dog and his master, the Englishman. The same heavy jaws wer_here, the same fearless eyes, the same indomitable courage for th_rosecution of a purpose.
A momentary regret passed through him that he had not been turned from a lik_old. Next his gaze shifted to the end of the path, where a young Lieutenan_tood idly kicking pebbles, his cuirass flaming in the dazzling sunshine. Soo_he drawing in the gravel was resumed.
The British minister made little of the three-score years which were closin_n on him, after the manner of an army besieging a citadel. He was full o_nimal exuberance, and his eyes, a trifle faded, it must be admitted, wer_till keenly alive and observant. He was big of bone, florid of skin, and hi_air—what remained of it—was wiry and bleached. His clothes, possibly cut fro_n old measure, hung loosely about the girth—a sign that time had taken it_ithe. For thirty-five years he had served his country by cunning speeches an_ursts of fine oratory; he had wandered over the globe, lulling suspicion_ere and arousing them there, a prince of the art of diplomacy.
He had not been sent here to watch this kingdom. He was touching a deepe_ndercurrent, which began at St. Petersburg and moved toward Central Asia, Turkey and India, sullenly and irresistibly. And now his task was done, an_nother was to take his place, to be a puppet among puppets. He feared no ma_ave his valet, who knew his one weakness, the love of a son on whom he ha_hut his door, which pride forbade him to open. This son had chosen the army, when a fine diplomatic career had been planned—a small thing, but it sufficed.
Even now a word from an humbled pride would have reunited father and son, bu_oth refused to speak this word.
The diplomat in turn watched the king as he engaged in the aimless drawing.
His meditation grew retrospective, and his thoughts ran back to the days whe_e first befriended this lonely prince, who had come to England to learn th_anguage and manners of the chill islanders. He had been handsome enough i_hose days, this Leopold of Osia, gay and eager, possessing an indefinabl_harm which endeared him to women and made him respected of men. To have know_im then, the wildest stretch of fancy would never have placed him on thi_uppet throne, surrounded by enemies, menaced by his adopted people, rudderless and ignorant of statecraft.
"Fate is the cup," the diplomat mused, "and the human life the ball, and it'_oss, toss, toss, till the ball slips and falls into eternity." Aloud he said,
"Your Majesty seems to be well occupied."
"Yes," replied the king, smiling. "I am making crowns and scratching them ou_gain—usurping the gentle pastime of their most Christian Majesties, th_onfederation. A pretty bauble is a crown, indeed—at a distance. It is a fin_hing to wear one—in a dream. But to possess one in the real, and to wear i_ay by day with the eternal fear of laying it down and forgetting where yo_ut it, or that others plot to steal it, or that you wear it dishonestly—Well, well, there are worse things than a beggar's crust."
"No one is honest in this world, save the brute," said the diplomat, touchin_he dog with his foot. "Honesty is instinctive with him, for he knows n_ritten laws. The gold we use is stamped with dishonesty, notwithstanding th_eautiful mottoes; and so long as we barter and sell for it, just so long w_emain dishonest. Yes, you wear your crown dishonestly but lawfully, which i_ nice distinction. But is any crown worn honestly? If it is not bought wit_old, it is bought with lies and blood. Sire, your great fault, if I ma_peak, is that you haven't continued to be dishonest. You should have fille_our private coffers, but you have not done so, which is a strange preceden_o establish. You should have increased taxation, but you have diminished it; you should have forced your enemy's hand four years ago, when you ascended th_hrone, but you did not; and now, for all you know, his hand may be to_trong. Poor, dishonest king! When you accepted this throne, which belongs t_nother, you fell as far as possible from moral ethics. And now you would b_onest and be called dull, and dream, while your ministers profit and smil_ehind your back. I beg your Majesty's pardon, but you have always requeste_hat I should speak plainly."
The king laughed; he enjoyed this frank friend. There was an essence of trut_nd sincerity in all he said that encouraged confidence.
"Indeed, I shall be sorry to have you go tomorrow," he said, "for I believe i_ou stayed here long enough you would truly make a king of me. Be frank, m_riend, be always frank; for it is only on the base of frankness that tru_riendship can rear itself."
"You are only forty-eight," said the Englishman; "you are young."
"Ah, my friend," replied the king with a tinge of sadness, "it is not th_ears that age us; it is how we live them. In the last four years I have live_en. To-day I feel so very old! I am weary of being a king. I am weary o_eing weary, and for such there is no remedy. Truly I was not cut from th_attern of kings; no, no. I am handier with a book than with a scepter; I'_iever be a man than a puppet, and a puppet I am—a figurehead on the prow o_he ship, but I do not guide it. Who care for me save those who have thei_nds to gain? None, save the archbishop, who yet dreams of making a king o_e. And these are not my people who surround me; when I die, small care. _hall have left in the passing scarce a finger mark in the dust of time."
"Ah, Sire, if only you would be cold, unfriendly, avaricious. Be stone an_ule with a rod of iron. Make the people fear you, since they refuse to lov_ou; be stone."
"You can mold lead, but you can not sculpture it; and I am lead."
"Yes; not only the metal, but the verb intransitive. Ah, could the fires o_mbition light your soul!"
"My soul is a blackened grate of burnt-out fires, of which only a coa_emains."
And the king turned in his seat and looked across the crisp green lawns to th_eds of flowers, where, followed by a maid at a respectful distance, a sli_oung girl in white was cutting the hardy geraniums, dahlias and seed poppies.
"God knows what her legacy will be!"
"It is for you to make it, Sire."
Both men continued to remark the girl. At length she came toward them, he_rms laden with flowers. She was at the age of ten, with a beautiful, seriou_ace, which some might have called prophetic. Her hair was dark, shining lik_oal and purple, and gossamer in its fineness; her skin had the blue-whitenes_f milk; while from under long black lashes two luminous brown eyes looke_houghtfully at the world. She smiled at the king, who eyed her fondly, an_ave her unengaged hand to the Englishman, who kissed it.
"And how is your Royal Highness this fine day? he asked, patting the han_efore letting it go.
"Will you have a dahlia, Monsieur?" With a grave air she selected a flower an_lipped it through his button-hole.
"Does your Highness know the language of the flowers?" the Englishman asked.
"Dahlias signify dignity and elegance; you are dignified, Monsieur, an_ignity is elegance."
"Well!" cried the Englishman, smiling with pleasure; "that is turned a_droitly as a woman of thirty."
"And am I not to have one?" asked the king, his eyes full of paternal love an_ride.
"They are for your Majesty's table," she answered.
"Your Majesty!" cried the king in mimic despair. "Was ever a father treate_hus? Your Majesty! Do you not know, my dear, that to me 'father' is th_randest title in the world?"
Suddenly she crossed over and kissed the king on the cheek, and he held her t_im for a moment.
The bulldog had risen, and was wagging his tail the best he knew how. If ther_as any young woman who could claim his unreserved admiration, it was th_rincess Alexia. She never talked nonsense to him in their rambles together, but treated him as he should be treated, as an animal of enlightenment.
"And here is Bull," said the princess, tickling the dog's nose with a scarle_eranium.
"Your Highness thinks a deal of Bull?" said the dog's master.
"Yes, Monsieur, he doesn't bark, and he seems to understand all I say to him."
The dog looked up at his master as if to say: "There now, what do you think o_hat?"
"To-morrow I am going away," said the diplomat, "and as I can not very wel_ake Bull with me, I give him to you."
The girl's eyes sparkled. "Thank you, Monsieur, shall I take him now?"
"No, but when I leave your father. You see, he was sent to me by my son who i_n India. I wish to keep him near me as long as possible. My son, you_ighness, was a bad fellow. He ran away and joined the army against my wishes, and somehow we have never got together again. Still, I've a sneaking regar_or him, and I believe he hasn't lost all his filial devotion. Bull is, in _ay, a connecting link."
The king turned again to the gravel pictures. These Englishmen were beyond hi_n the matter of analysis. Her Royal Highness smiled vaguely, and wondere_hat this son was like. Once more she smiled, then moved away toward th_alace. The dog, seeing that she did not beckon, lay down again. An interva_f silence followed her departure. The thought of the Englishman had travele_o India, the thought of the king to Osia, where the girl's mother slept. Th_ormer was first to rouse.
"Well, Sire, let us come to the business at hand, the subject of my las_nformal audience. It is true, then, that the consols for the loan of fiv_illions of crowns are issued to-day, or have been, since the morning i_assed?"
"Yes, it is true. I am well pleased. Jacobi and Brother have agreed to plac_hem at face value. I intend to lay out a park for the public at the foot o_he lake. That will demolish two millions and a half. The remainder is to b_sed in city improvements and the reconstruction of the apartments in th_alace, which are too small. If only you knew what a pleasure this affords me!
I wish to make my good city of Bleiberg a thing of beauty—parks, fountains, broad and well paved streets."
"The Diet was unanimous in regard to this loan?"
"In fact they suggested it, and I was much in favor."
"You have many friends there, then?"
"Friends?" The king's face grew puzzled, and its animation faded away. "Non_hat I know. This is positively the first time we ever agreed about anything."
"And did not that strike you as rather singular?"
"Of course, the people are enthusiastic, considering the old rate of taxatio_ill be renewed?" The diplomat reached over and pulled the dog's ears.
"So far as I can see," answered the king, who could make nothing of thi_nterrogatory.
"Which, if your Majesty will pardon me, is not very far beyond your books."
"I have ministers."
"Who can see farther than your Majesty has any idea."
"Come, come, my friend," cried the king good-naturedly; "but a moment gone yo_ere chiding me because I did nothing. I may not fill my coffers as yo_uggested, but I shall please my eye, which is something. Come; you hav_omething to tell me."
"Will your Majesty listen?"
"And to hear?"
"I promise not only to listen, but to hear," laughing; "not only to hear, bu_o think. Is that sufficient?"
"For three years," began the Englishman, "I have been England's representativ_ere. As a representative I could not meddle with your affairs, though it wa_ossible to observe them. To-day I am an unfettered agent of self, and wit_our permission I shall talk to you as I have never talked before and neve_hall again."
The diplomat rose from his seat and walked up and down the path, his hand_lasped behind his back, his chin in his collar. The bulldog yawned, stretche_imself, and followed his master, soberly and thoughtfully. After a while th_nglishman returned to his chair and sat down. The dog gravely imitated him.
He understood, perhaps better than the king, his master's mood. This pacin_ackward and forward was always the forerunner of something of grea_mportance.
During the past year he had been the repository of many a secret. Well, h_new how to keep one. Did not he carry a secret which his master would hav_iven much to know? Some one in far away India, after putting him into th_hip steward's care, had whispered: "You tell the governor that I think jus_s much of him as ever." He had made a desperate effort to tell it the momen_e was liberated from the box, but he had not yet mastered that particula_anguage which characterized his master's race.
"To begin with," said the diplomat, "what would your Majesty say if I shoul_sk permission to purchase the entire loan?"