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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe King's Mirror - Chapter 7. Things Not To Be Noticed
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The King's Mirror - Chapter 7. Things Not To Be Noticed Post by :martindemadrid Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Hope Date :May 2012 Read :3051

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The King's Mirror - Chapter 7. Things Not To Be Noticed

CHAPTER VII. THINGS NOT TO BE NOTICED

I have not the heart to set down what passed between my sister and myself when I broke to her the news that I must be against her. Impulsive in all her moods, and ungoverned in her emotions, she displayed much bitterness and an anger that her disappointment may excuse. I have little doubt that I, on my part, was formal, priggish, perhaps absurd; all these faults she charged me with. You can not put great ideas in a boy's head without puffing him up; I was doing at cost to myself what I was convinced was my duty; it is only too likely that I gave myself some airs during the performance. Might I not be pardoned if I talked a little big about my position? The price I was paying for it was big enough. It touched me most nearly when she accused me of jealousy, but I set it down only to her present rage. I was tempted to soften her by dwelling on my own precarious health, but I am glad that an instinct for fair play made me leave that weapon unused. She grew calm at last, and rose to her feet with a pale face.

"I have tried to do right," said I.

"I shall not forget what you have done," she retorted as she walked out of the room.

I have been much alone in my life--alone in spirit, I mean, for that is the only loneliness that has power to hurt a man--but never so much as during the year that elapsed before Victoria's marriage was celebrated. Save for Hammerfeldt, whose engagements did not allow him to be much in my company, and to whom it was possible to open one's heart only rarely, I had nobody with whom I was in sympathy. For my mother, although she yielded more readily to the inevitable, was yet in secret on Victoria's side on the matter of marriage. Victoria had been for meeting the foreign representatives by renouncing her succession; my mother would not hear of that, but was for defying the protests. Nothing, she had declared, could really come of them. Hammerfeldt overbore her with his knowledge and experience, leaving her defeated, but only half convinced, sullen, and disappointed. She was careful not to take sides against me overtly, but neither did she seek to comfort or to aid me. She withdrew into a neutrality that favoured Victoria silently, although it refused openly to espouse her cause. The two ladies thus came closer together again, leaving me more to myself. The near prospect of independence reconciled Victoria to a temporary control; my mother was more gentle from her share in her daughter's disappointment. For my part I took refuge more and more in books and my sport.

Amusement is the one great consolation that life offers, and even in this dreary time it was not lacking. The love-lorn Baron had returned to Waldenweiter; he wrote to Hammerfeldt for permission; the Prince refused it; the Baron rejoined that he was about to be married; I can imagine the grim smile with which the old man withdrew his objection. The Baron came home with his wife. This event nearly broke the new alliance between my mother and my sister; it was so very difficult for my mother not to triumph, and Victoria detected a taunt even in silence. However, there was no rupture, the Baron was never mentioned; but I, seeking distraction, made it my business to pursue him as often as he ventured into his boat. I overtook him once and insisted on going up to Waldenweiter and being introduced to the pretty young Baroness. She knew nothing about the affair, and was rather hurt at not being invited to Artenberg. The Baron was on thorns during the whole interview--but not so much because he must be looking a fool in my eyes, as because he did not desire to seem light of love in his wife's. Unhappily, however, about this time a pamphlet was secretly printed and circulated, giving a tolerably accurate account of the whole affair. The wrath in "exalted quarters" may be imagined. I managed to procure (through Baptiste) a copy of this publication and read it with much entertainment. Victoria, in spite of her anger, borrowed it from me. It is within my knowledge that the Baroness received a copy from an unknown friend, and that the Baron, being thus driven into a corner, admitted that the Princess had at one time distinguished him by some attentions--and could he be rude? Now, curiously enough, the report that got about on our bank of the river was, that there was no foundation at all for the assertions of the pamphlet, except in a foolish and ill-mannered persecution to which the Princess had, during a short period, been subjected. After this there could be no question of any invitation passing from Artenberg to Waldenweiter. The subject dropped; the printer made some little scandal and a pocket full of money, and persons who, like myself, knew the facts and could appreciate the behaviour of the lovers gained considerable amusement.

My second source of diversion was found in my future brother-in-law, William Adolphus, of Alt-Gronenstahl. He was, in himself, a thoroughly heavy fellow, although admirably good-natured and, I believe, a practical and competent soldier. He was tall, dark, and even at this time inclining to stoutness; he became afterward exceedingly corpulent. He did not at first promise amusement, but a rather malicious humour found much in him, owing to the circumstance that the poor fellow was acquainted with the negotiations touching the marriage first suggested for Victoria, and was fully aware that he himself was in his lady's eyes only a _pis-aller_. His dignity might have refused such a situation; but in the first instance he had been hardly more of a free agent than Victoria herself, and later on, as though he were determined to deprive himself of all defence, he proceeded to fall genuinely in love with my capricious but very attractive sister. I was sorry for him, but I am not aware that sympathy with people excludes amusement at them. I hope not, for wide sympathies are a very desirable thing. William Adolphus, looking round for a friend, honoured me with his confidence, and during his visits to Artenberg used to consult me almost daily as to how he might best propitiate his deity and wean her thoughts from that other alliance which had so eclipsed his in its prospective brilliance.

"Girls are rather difficult to manage," he used to say to me ruefully. "You'll know more about them in a few years, Augustin."

I knew much more about them than he did already. I am not boasting; but people who learn only from experience do not allow for intuition.

"But I think she's beginning to get fonder of me," he would end, with an uphill cheerfulness.

She was not beginning to get the least fonder of him; she was beginning to be interested and excited in the stir of the marriage. There were so many things to do and talk about, and so much desirable prominence and publicity attaching to the affair, that she had less time for nursing her dislike. The shock of him was passing over; he was falling into focus with the rest of it; but she was not becoming in the least fonder of him. I knew all this without the few words; with them he knew none of it. It seems to be a mere accident who chances to be previous to truth, who impervious.

In loneliness for me, in perturbation for poor William Adolphus, in I know not what for Victoria the time passed on. There is but one incident that stands out, naming against the gray of that monotony. The full meaning of it I did not understand then, but now I know it better.

I was sitting alone in my dressing-room. I had sent Baptiste to bed, and was reading a book with interest. Suddenly the door was opened violently. Before I could even rise to my feet, Victoria--the door slammed behind her--had thrown herself on her knees before me. She was in her nightdress, barefooted, her hair loose and tumbled on her shoulders; it seemed as though she had sprung up from her bed and run to me. She caught my arms in her hands, and laid her face on my knees; she said nothing, but sobbed violently with a terrible gasping rapidity.

"My God, what's the matter?" said I.

For a moment there was no answer; then her voice came, interrupted and half-choked by constant sobs.

"I can't do it, I can't do it. For God's sake, don't make me do it.

"Do what?" I asked.

Her sobs alone answered me, and their answer was enough. I sat there helpless and still, the nervous tight clutching of her hands pinning my arms to my side.

"You're the king, you're the king," she moaned.

Yes, I was the king; even then I smiled.

"You don't know," she went on, and now she raised her face streaming with tears. "You don't know--how can you know what it is? Help me, help me, Augustin."

The thing had come on me with utter suddenness, the tranquillity of my quiet room had been rudely rent by the invasion. I was, in an instant, face to face with a strange dim tragedy, the like of which I had never known, the stress of which I could never fully know. But all the tenderness that I had for her, my love for her beauty, and the yearning for comradeship that she herself had choked rose in me; I bent my head till my lips rested on her hair, crying, "Don't, darling, don't."

She sprang up, throwing her arm about my neck, and looking round the room as though there were something that she feared; then she sat on my knee and nestled close to me. She had ceased to sob now, but it was worse to me to see her face strained in silent agony and her eyes wept dry of tears.

"Let me stay here, do let me stay here a little," she said as I passed my arm round her and her head fell on my shoulder. "Don't send me away yet, Augustin," she whispered, "I don't want to be alone."

"Stay here, dearest, nobody shall hurt you," said I, as I kissed her. My heart broke for her trouble, but it was sweet to me to think that she had fled from it to my arms. After all, the old bond held between us; the tug of trouble revealed it. She lay a while quite still with closed eyes; then she opened her eyes and looked up at me.

"Must I?" she asked.

"No," I answered. "If you will not, you shall not."

Her arm coiled closer round my neck and she closed her eyes again, sighing and moving restlessly. Presently she lay very quiet, her exhaustion seeming like sleep. How long had she tormented herself before she came to me?

My brain was busy, but my heart outran it. Now, now if ever, I would assert myself, my power, my position. She should not call to me in vain. What I would do, I did not know; but the thing she dreaded should not be. But although I was in this fever, I did not stir; she was resting in peace; let her rest as long as she would. For more than an hour she lay there in my arms; I grew stiff and very weary, but I did not move. At last I believe that in very truth she slept.

The clock in the tower struck midnight, and the quarter, and the half-hour. I had rehearsed what I should say to my mother and what to Hammerfeldt. I had dreamed how this night should knit her and me so closely that we could never again drift apart, that now we knew one another and for each of us what was superficial in the other existed no more, but was swept away by the flood of full sympathy. She and I against the world if need be!

A shiver ran through her; she opened her eyes wide and wider, looking round the room no longer in fear, but in a sort of wonder. Her gaze rested an instant on my face, she drew her arm from round my neck and rose to her feet, pushing away my arm. There she stood for a moment with a strange, fretful, ashamed look on her face. She tossed her head, flinging her hair back behind her shoulders. I had taken her hand and still held it; now she drew it also away.

"What must you think of me?" she said. "Good gracious, I'm in my nightgown."

She walked across to the looking-glass and stood opposite to it.

"What a fright I look!" she said. "How long have I been here?"

"I don't know; more than an hour."

"It was horrid in bed to-night," she said in a half-embarrassed yet half-absent way. "I got thinking about--about all sorts of things, and I was frightened."

The change in her mood sealed my lips.

"I hope mother hasn't noticed that my room's empty. No, of course not; she must be in bed long ago. Will you take me back to my room, Augustin?"

"Yes," said I.

She came up to me, looked at me for a moment, then bent down to me as I sat in my chair and kissed my forehead.

"You're a dear boy," she said. "Was I quite mad?"

"I meant what I said," I declared, as I stood up. "I mean it still."

"Ah," said she, flinging her hands out, "poor Augustin, you mean it still! Take me along the corridor, dear, I'm afraid to go alone."

Sometimes I blame myself that I submitted to the second mood as completely as I had responded to the first; but I was staggered by the change, and the old sense of distance scattered for an hour was enveloping me again.

One protest I made.

"Are we to do nothing, then?" I asked in a low whisper.

"We're to go to our beds like good children," said she with a mournful little smile. "Come, take me to mine."

"I must see you in the morning."

"In the morning? Well, we'll see. Come, come."

Now she was urgent, and I did as she bade me. But first she made me bring her a pair of my slippers; her feet were very cold, she said, and they felt like ice against my hand as I touched them in putting on the slippers for her. She passed her hand through my arm and we went together. The door of her room stood wide open; we went in; I saw the bed in confusion.

"Fancy if any one had come by and seen!" she whispered. "Now, good-night, dear."

I opened my lips to speak to her again.

"No, no; go, please go. Good-night, dear." I left her standing in the middle of her room. Outside the door I waited many minutes; I heard her moving about and getting into bed; then all was quiet; I returned to my own room.

I was up early the next morning, for I had been able to sleep but little. I wanted above all things to see Victoria again. But even while I was dressing Baptiste brought me a note. I opened it hurriedly, for it was from her. I read:

"Forget all about last night; I was tired and ill. I rely on your honour to say nothing to anybody. I am all right this morning."

She was entitled to ask the pledge of my honour, if she chose. I tore the note in fragments and burned them.

It was about eleven o'clock in the morning when I went out into the garden. There was a group on the terrace--my mother, Victoria, and William Adolphus. They were laughing and talking and seemed very merry. As a rule I should have waved a "good morning" and passed on for my solitary walk. To-day I went up to them. My mother appeared to be in an excellent temper, the Prince looked quite easy and happy. Victoria was a little pale but very vivacious. She darted a quick look at me, and cried out the moment I had kissed my mother:

"We're settling the bridesmaids! You're just in time to help, Augustin."

We "settled" the bridesmaids. I hardly knew whether to laugh or to cry during this important operation. Victoria was very kind to her _fiancé_, receiving his suggestions with positive graciousness: he became radiant under this treatment. When our task was done, Victoria passed her arm through his, declaring that she wanted a stroll in the woods; as they went by me she laid her hand lightly and affectionately on my arm, looking me full in the face the while. I understood; for good or evil my lips were sealed.

My mother looked after the betrothed couple as they walked away; I looked at my mother's fine high-bred resolute face.

"I'm so glad," said she at last, "to see Victoria so happy. I was afraid at one time that she'd never take to it. Of course we had other hopes."

The last words were a hit at me. I ignored them; that battle had been fought, the victory won, and paid for by me in handsome fashion.

"Has she taken to it?" I asked as carelessly as I could. But my mother's eyes turned keenly on me.

"Have you any reason for thinking she hasn't?" came in quick question.

"No," I answered.

The sun was shining and Princess Heinrich opened her parasol very leisurely. She rose to her feet and stood there for a moment. Then in a smooth, even, and what I may call reasonable voice, she remarked:

"My dear Augustin, from time to time all girls have fancies. We mothers know that it doesn't do to pay any attention to them. They soon go if they're let alone. We shall meet at lunch, I hope?"

I bowed respectfully, but perhaps I looked a little doubtful.

"It really doesn't do to take any notice of them," said my mother over her shoulder.

So we took no notice of them; my sister's midnight flight to my room and to my arms was between her and me, and for all the world as though it has never been, save that it left behind it a little legacy of renewed kindliness and trust. For that much I was thankful; but I could not forget the rest.

A month later she was married to William Adolphus at Forstadt.

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