Long Live the King by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Chapter XIII. In the Park
At nine o'clock the next morning the Chancellor visited the Crown Prince. He came without ceremony. Lately he had been coming often. He liked to come in quietly, and sit for an hour in the schoolroom, saying nothing. Prince Ferdinand William Otto found these occasions rather trying.
"I should think," he protested once to his governess, "that he would have something else to do. He's the Chancellor, he?"
But on this occasion the Chancellor had an errand, the product of careful thought. Early as it was, already he had read his morning mail in his study, had dictated his replies, had eaten a frugal breakfast of fruit and sausage, and in the small inner room which had heard so many secrets, had listened to the reports of his agents, and of the King's physicians. Neither had been reassuring.
The King had passed a bad night, and Haeckel was still missing. The Chancellor's heart was heavy.
The Chancellor watched the Crown Prince, as he sat at the high desk, laboriously writing. It was the hour of English composition, and Prince Ferdinand William Otto was writing a theme.
"About dogs," he explained. "I've seen a great many, you know. I could do it better with a pencil. My pen sticks in the paper."
He wrote on, and Mettlich sat and watched. From the boy his gaze wandered over the room. He knew it well. Not so many years ago he had visited in this very room another bright-haired lad, whose pen had also stuck in the paper. The Chancellor looked up at the crossed swords, and something like a mist came into his keen old eyes.
He caught Miss Braithwaite's glance, and he knew what was in her mind. For nine years now had come, once a year, the painful anniversary, of the death of the late Crown Prince and his young wife. For nine years had the city mourned, with flags at half-mast and the bronze statue of the old queen draped in black. And for nine years had the day of grief passed unnoticed by the lad on whom hung the destinies of the kingdom.
Now they confronted a new situation. The next day but one was the anniversary again. The boy was older, and observant. It would not be possible to conceal from him the significance of the procession marching through the streets with muffled drums. Even the previous year he had demanded the reason for crape on his grandmother's statue, and had been put off, at the cost of Miss Braithwaite's strong feeling for the truth. Also he had not been allowed to see the morning paper, which was, on these anniversaries, bordered with black. This had annoyed him. The Crown Prince always read the morning paper - especially the weather forecast.
They could not continue to lie to the boy. Truthfulness had been one of the rules of his rigorous upbringing. And he was now of an age to remember. So the Chancellor sat and waited, and, fingered, his heavy watch-chain.
Suddenly the Crown Prince looked up. "Have you ever been on a scenic railway?", he inquired politely.
The Chancellor regretted that he had not.
"It's very remarkable," said Prince Ferdinand William Otto. "But unless you like excitement, perhaps you would not care for it."
The Chancellor observed that he had had his share of excitement, in his, time, and was now for the ways of quiet.
Prince Ferdinand William Otto had a great many things to say, but thought better of it. Miss Braithwaite disliked Americans, for instance, and it was quite possible that the Chancellor did also. It seemed strange about Americans. Either one liked them a great deal, or not at all. He put his attention to the theme, and finished it. Then, flushed with authorship, he looked up. "May I read you the last line of it?" he demanded of the Chancellor.
"I shall be honored, Highness." not often did the Chancellor say "Highness." Generally he said "Otto" or "my child."
Prince Ferdinand William Otto read aloud, with dancing eyes, his last line: "'I should like to own a dog.' I thought," he said wistfully, "that I might ask my grandfather for one."
"I see no reason why you should not have a dog," the Chancellor observed.
"Not one to be kept at the stables," Otto explained. "One to stay with me all the time. One to sleep on the foot of the bed."
But here the Chancellor threw up his hands. Instantly he visualized all the objections to dogs, from fleas to rabies. And he put the difficulties into words. No mean speaker was the Chancellor when so minded. He was a master of style, of arrangement, of logic and reasoning. He spoke at length, even, at the end, rising and pacing a few steps up and down the room. But when he had concluded, when the dog, so to speak, had fled yelping to the country of dead hopes, Prince Ferdinand William Otto merely gulped, and said:
"Well, I wish I could have a dog!"
The Chancellor changed his tactics by changing the subject. "I was wondering this morning, as I crossed the park, if you would enjoy an excursion soon. Could it be managed, Miss Braithwaite?"
"I dare say," said Miss Braithwaite dryly. "Although I must say, if there is no improvement in punctuation and capital letters - "
"What sort of excursion?" asked His Royal Highness, guardedly. He did not care for picture galleries.
"Out-of-doors, to see something interesting."
But Prince Ferdinand William Otto was cautious with the caution of one who, by hoping little, may be agreeably disappointed. "A corner-stone, I suppose," he said.
"Not a corner-stone," said the Chancellor, with eyes that began to twinkle under ferocious brows. "No, Otto. A real excursion, up the river."
"To the fort? I do want to see the new fort."
As a matter of truth, the Chancellor had not thought of the fort. But like many another before him, he accepted the suggestion and made it his own. "To the fort, of course," said he.
"And take luncheon along, and eat it there, and have Hedwig and Nikky? And see the guns?"
But this was going too fast. Nikky, of course, would go, and if the Princess cared to, she too. But luncheon! It was necessary to remind the Crown Prince that the officers at the fort would expect to have him join their mess. There was a short parley over this, and it was finally settled that the officers should serve luncheon, but that there should be no speeches. The Crown Prince had already learned that his presence was a sort of rod of Aaron, to unloose floods of speeches. Through what outpourings of oratory he had sat or stood, in his almost ten years!
"Then that's settled," he said at last. "I'm very happy. This morning I shall apologize to M. Puaux."
During the remainder of the morning the Crown Prince made various excursions to the window to see if the weather was holding good. Also he asked, during his half-hour's intermission, for the great box of lead soldiers that was locked away in the cabinet. "I shall pretend that the desk is a fort, Miss Braithwaite," he said. "Do you mind being the enemy, and pretending to be shot now and then?"
But Miss Braithwaite was correcting papers. She was willing to be a passive enemy and be potted at, but she drew the line at falling over. Prince Ferdinand William Otto did not persist. He was far too polite. But he wished in all his soul that Nikky would come. Nikky, he felt, would die often and hard.
But Nikky did not come.
Came German and French, mathematics and music and no Nikky. Came at last the riding-hour - and still no Nikky.
At twelve o'clock, Prince Ferdinand William Otto, clad in his riding-garments of tweed knickers, puttees, and a belted jacket, stood by the schoolroom window and looked out. The inner windows of his suite faced the courtyard, but the schoolroom opened over the Place - a bad arrangement surely, seeing what distractions to lessons may take place in a public square, what pigeons feeding in the sun, what bands with drums and drum-majors, what children flying kites.
"I don't understand it," the Crown Prince said plaintively. "He is generally very punctual. Perhaps - "
But he loyally refused to finish the sentence. The "perhaps" was a grievous thought, nothing less than that Nikky and Hedwig were at that moment riding in the ring together, and had both forgotten him. He was rather used to being forgotten. With the exception of Miss Braithwaite, he was nobody's business, really. His aunt forgot him frequently. On Wednesdays it was his privilege - or not; as you think of it - to take luncheon with the Archduchess; and once in so often she would forget and go out. Or be in, and not expecting him, which was as bad.
"Bless us, I forgot the child," she would say on these occasions.
But until now, Nikky had never forgotten. He had been the soul of remembering, indeed, and rather more than punctual. Prince Ferdinand William Otto consulted his watch. It was of gold, and on the inside was engraved:
"To Ferdinand William Otto from his grandfather, on the occasion of his taking his first communion."
"It's getting rather late," he observed.
Miss Braithwaite looked troubled. "No doubt something has detained him," she said, with unusual gentleness. "You might work at the frame for your Cousin Hedwig. Then, if Captain Larisch comes, you can still have a part of your lesson."
Prince Ferdinand William Otto brightened. The burntwood photograph frame for Hedwig was his delight. And yesterday, as a punishment for the escapade of the day before, it had been put away with an alarming air of finality. He had traced the design himself, from a Christmas card, and it had originally consisted of a ring and small Cupids, alternating with hearts. He liked it very much. The Cupids were engagingly fat. However, Miss Braithwaite had not approved of their state of nature, and it had been necessary to drape them with sashes tied in neat bows.
The pyrography outfit was produced, and for fifteen minutes Prince Ferdinand William Otto labored, his head on one side, his royal tongue slightly protruded. But, above the thin blue smoke of burning, his face remained wistful. He was afraid, terribly afraid, that he had been forgotten again.
"I hope Nikky is not ill," he said once. "He smokes a great many cigarettes. He says he knows they are bad for him."
"Certainly they are bad for him," said Miss Braithwaite. "They contain nicotine, which is a violent poison. A drop of nicotine on the tongue of a dog will kill it."
The reference was unfortunate.
"I wish I might have a dog," observed Prince Ferdinand William Otto.
Fortunately, at that moment, Hedwig came in. She came in a trifle defiantly, although that passed unnoticed, and she also came unannounced, as was her cousinly privilege. And she stood inside the door and stared at the Prince. "Well!" she said.
Prince Ferdinand William Otto was equal to the occasion. He hastily drew out his pocket-handkerchief and spread it over the frame. But his face was rather red. A palace is a most difficult place to have a secret in.
"Well?" she repeated; with a rising inflection. It was clear that she had not noticed the handkerchief incident. "Is there to be no riding-lesson to-day?"
"I don't know. Nikky has not come."
"Where is he?"
Here the drop of nicotine got in its deadly work. "I'm afraid he is ill," said Prince Ferdinand William Otto. "He said he smoked too many cigarettes, and - "
"Is Captain Larisch ill?" Hedwig looked at the governess, and lost some of her bright color.
Miss Braithwaite did not know, and said so. "At the very least," she went on, "he should have sent some word. I do not know what things are coming to. Since His Majesty's illness, no one seems to have any responsibility, or to take any."
"But of course he would have sent word," said Hedwig, frowning: "I don't understand it. He has never been so late before, has he?"
"He has never been late at all," Prince Ferdinand William Otto spoke up quickly.
After a time Hedwig went away, and the Crown Prince took off his riding-clothes. He ate a very small luncheon, swallowing mostly a glass of milk and a lump in his throat. And afterward he worked at the frame, for an hour, shading the hearts carefully. At three o'clock he went for his drive.
There were two variations to the daily drive: One day they went up the river - almost as far as the monastery; the next day they went through the park. There was always an excitement about the park drive, because the people who spied the gold- wheeled carriage always came as close as possible, to see if it was really the Crown Prince. And when, as sometimes happened, it was only Hedwig, or Hilda, and Ferdinand William Otto had been kept at home by a cold, they always looked disappointed.
This was the park day. The horses moved sedately. Beppo looked severe and haughty. A strange man, in the place of Hans, beside Beppo, watched the crowd with keen and vigilant eyes. On the box between them, under his hand, the new footman had placed a revolver. Beppo sat as far away from it as he dared. The crowd lined up, and smiled and cheered. And Prince Ferdinand William Otto sat very straight; and bowed right and left, smiling.
Old Adelbert, limping across the park to, the Opera, paused and looked. Then he shook his head. The country was indeed come to a strange pass, with only that boy and the feeble old King to stand between it and the things of which men whispered behind their hands. He went on, with his head down. A strange pass indeed, with revolution abroad in quiet places, and a cabal among the governors of the Opera to sell the opera-glass privilege to the highest bidder.
He went on, full of trouble.
Olga, the wardrobe woman, was also on her way to the Opera, which faced the park. She also saw the carriage, and at first her eyes twinkled. It was he, of course. The daring of him! But, as the carriage drew nearer, she bent forward. He looked pale, and there was a wistful droop to his mouth. "They have punished him for the, little prank," she muttered. "That tight-faced Englishwoman, of course. The English are a hard race." She, too, went on.
As they drew near the end of the park, where the Land of Desire towered, Prince Ferdinand William Otto searched it with eager eyes. How wonderful it was! How steep and high, and alluring! He glanced sideways at Miss Braithwaite, but it was clear that to her it was only a monstrous heap of sheet-iron and steel, adorned with dejected greenery that had manifestly been out too soon in the chill air of very early spring,
A wonderful possibility presented itself. "If I see Bobby," he asked, "may I stop the carriage and speak to him?"
"Well, may I call to him?"
"Think it over," suggested Miss Braithwaite. "Would your grandfather like to know that you had done anything so undignified?"
He turned to her a rather desperate pair of eyes. "But I could explain to him," he said. "I was in such a hurry when I left, that I'm afraid I forgot to thank him. I ought to thank him, really. He was very polite to me."
Miss Braithwaite sat still in her seat and said nothing. The novelty of riding in a royal carriage had long since passed away, but she was aware that her position was most unusual. Not often did a governess, even of good family, as she was, ride daily in the park with a crown prince. In a way, on these occasions, she was more royal than royalty. She had, now and then, an inclination to bow right and left herself. And she guarded the dignity of these occasions with a watchful eye. So she said nothing just then. But later on something occurred to her. "You must remember, Otto," she said, "that this American child dislikes kings, and our sort of government." Shades of Mr. Gladstone - our sort of government! "It is possible, isn't it, that he would resent your being of the ruling family? Why not let things be as they are?"
"We were very friendly," said Ferdinand William Otto in a small voice. "I don't think it would make any difference."
But the seed was sown in the fertile ground of his young mind, to bear quick fruit.
It was the Crown Prince who saw Bobby first.
He was standing on a bench, peering over the shoulders of the crowd. Prince Ferdinand William Otto saw him, and bent forward. "There he is!" he said, in a tense tone. "There on the - "
"Sit up straight," commanded Miss Braithwaite.
"May I just wave once? I - "
"Otto!" said Miss Braithwaite, in a terrible voice.
But a dreadful thing was happening. Bobby was looking directly at him, and making no sign. His mouth was a trifle open, but that was all. Otto had a momentary glimpse of him, of the small cap set far back, of the white sweater, of two coolly critical eyes. Then the crowd closed up, and the carriage moved on.
Prince Ferdinand William Otto sat back in his seat, very pale. Clearly Bobby was through with him. First Nikky had forgotten him, and now the American boy had learned his unfortunate position as one of the detested order, and would have none of him.
"You see," said Miss Braithwaite, with an air of relief, "he did not know you."
Up on the box the man beside Beppo kept his hand on the revolver. The carriage turned back toward the Palace.
Late that afternoon the Chancellor had a visitor. Old Mathilde, his servant and housekeeper, showed some curiosity but little excitement over it. 'She was, in fact, faintly resentful. The Chancellor had eaten little all day, and now, when she had an omelet ready to turn smoking out of the pan, must come the Princess Hedwig on foot like the common people, and demand to see him.
Mathilde admitted her, and surveyed her uncompromisingly. Royalties were quite as much in her line as they were in the Crown Prince's.
"He is about to have supper, Highness."
"Please, Mathilde," begged Hedwig. "It is very important."
Mathilde sighed. "As Your Highness wishes," she agreed, and went grumblingly back to the study overlooking the walled garden.
"You may bring his supper when it is ready," Hedwig called to her.
Mathilde was mollified, but she knew what was fitting, if the Princess did not. The omelet spoiled in the pan.
The Chancellor was in his old smoking-coat and slippers. He made an effort to don his tunic, but Hedwig, on Mathilde's heels, caught him in the act. And, after a glance at her face, he relinquished the idea, bowed over her hand, and drew up a chair for her.
And that was how the Chancellor of the kingdom learned that Captain Larisch, aide-de-camp to His Royal Highness the Crown Prince, had disappeared.
"I am afraid it is serious," she said, watching him with wide, terrified eyes. "I know more than you think I do. I - we hear things, even in the Palace."
Irony here, but unconscious. "I know that there is trouble. And it is not like Captain Larisch to desert his post."
"A boyish escapade, Highness," said the Chancellor. But, in the twilight, he gripped hard at the arms of his chair. "He will turn up, very much ashamed of himself, to-night or to-morrow."
"That is what you want to believe. You know better."
He leaned back in his chair and considered her from under his heavy brows. So this was how things were; another, and an unlooked-for complication. Outside he could hear Mathilde's heavy footstep as she waited impatiently for the Princess to go. The odor of a fresh omelet filled the little house. Nikky gone, perhaps to join the others who, one by one, had felt the steel of the Terrorists. And this girl, on whom so much hung, sitting there, a figure of young tragedy.
"Highness," he said at last, "if the worst has happened, - and that I do not believe, - it will be because there is trouble, as you have said. Sooner or later, we who love our country must make sacrifices for it. Most of all, those in high places will be called upon. And among them you may be asked to help."
"I? What can I do?" But she knew, and the Chancellor saw that she knew.
"It is Karl, then?"
"It may be King Karl, Hedwig."
Hedwig rose, and the Chancellor got heavily to his feet. She was fighting for calmness, and she succeeded very well. After all, if Nikky were gone, what did it matter? Only -
"There are so many of you," she said, rather pitifully. "And you are all so powerful. And against you there is only - me."
"Why against us, Highness?"
"Because," said Hedwig, "because I care for some one else, and I shall care for him all the rest of my life, even if he never comes back. You may marry me to whom you please, but I shall go on caring. I shall never forget. And I shall make Karl the worst wife in the world, because I hate him."
She opened the door and went out without ceremony, because she was hard-driven and on the edge of tears. In the corridor she almost ran over the irritated Mathilde, and she wept all the way back to the Palace, much to the dismay of her lady in waiting, who had disapproved of the excursion anyhow.
That night, the city was searched for Nikky Larisch, but without result.