A Mummer’s Throne - Fred M. White - ebook

A Mummer’s Throne ebook

Fred M White



Fritz, a wandering man. He came to the west with the generally accepted goal of finding a wife. This adventure in search of a wife, it promises to be interesting. It would not be the story of Fred M. White, if he had not added mysticism here.

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A Royal Mouse

“A Mere Player”

Le roi s’amuse

“I Crown Thee Queen”

The Masque Of The Comus

The Ways Of Diplomacy

“Whom God Hath Joined…”

The Fierce Light Of The Throne

A Plot Within A Plot

“All The World’s A Stage—”

The Real Throne


The Asturian Ambassador had been giving a garden party, and most of the guests were still there. The great majority of those present had come to meet the young King of Montenana. Taking it as a whole, the monarch in question had come up to their expectations.

There is always a certain flavour of romance hanging like a purple mist upon a palace, and there was an added perfume in the case of Fritz of Montenana because he had come westward with the avowed purpose of seeking a wife. As everybody knows, Montenana is a pocket kingdom, lying between Russia and Turkey. For the rest, it is mountainous and picturesque, somewhat poverty- stricken, and given over at times to the spirit of revolution.

Nevertheless, a wise administration contrived to rule the country fairly well and replenish the king’s privy purse annually to the extent of some two hundred and fifty thousand pounds. Seeing that his Majesty boasted an army of twenty thousand men, and a navy of three dubious cruisers, and a brace of obsolete gunboats, he was a fairly eligible ‘parti’ as things go in these hard times. As to the rest, he was handsome in a clean-shaven, boyish way, which was more suggestive of Oxford and Cambridge and the Outer Bar than of the romantic possessor of a Crown and the last representative of a set of picturesque and undeniably cut-throat ancestors. Many fair breasts had fluttered when King Fritz’s mission first became known, and most of the Chancelleries of Europe were mildly agitated. For, after all is said and done, the State of Montenana had its interests, and it has been a bone of contention at more than one International Conference.

In accordance with the eternal fitness of things, the king had not come alone. His watch dog was not far off in the shape of General Count Rutzstin. Every student of history knows the name of that distinguished warrior, and the important part he has played in the past in the story of the Balkan Peninsula. He stood now talking to a distinguished personage, and the subject of their conversation was the future of Montenana and its ruler.

“A grave responsibility, your Excellency,” the count said thoughtfully. “A most charming young man, certainly. But, of course, young men will be young men, you know. And–er–well, it is rather dull in our capital.”

“The prince is a great sportsman, General?” the personage murmured. “At least, so I have heard.”

“Oh, dear, yes. I am afraid his English education is responsible for that. Of course, you know the boy was at Harrow. He was accompanied there by Prince Florizel Arcana, his cousin. But, no doubt, years will bring a sense of responsibility. Apart from that, his Majesty has been most carefully brought up, and in many respects he is little more than a child.”

The great personage smiled blandly.

“As a constitutional monarch should be,” he said. “Content, no doubt to leave everything to the wise heads of his ministers. That is as it should be, seeing that his father–”

The general coughed discreetly, and the personage hastened to change the subject of conversation, for without risk of less ‘majeste’ the less about the past of King Fritz’s immediate progenitor the better. The old soldier’s face was grave and stern now. His great gray moustache bristled. For, if report speaks truly, Count Rutzstin had anything but a rosy time during the late reign. And if the count had any ambitions of his own, he kept them entirely to himself. He stood there erect and upright on the grass, his face half in the shadow of the budding trees. It seemed to the personage that a greyer pallor was creeping over the old man’s features.

“You are not well, count,” he said anxiously.

“The old trouble, your Excellency,” the count replied. “I have never recovered from that cut over the head I got at Sarspruit. A slight pressure on the brain, you know. What the doctors call a compression. I only hope and pray–”

What plea was in the old man’s mind was never uttered, for he suddenly collapsed on the grass and lay there a huddled heap of scarlet and gold lace, his gray eyes turned up to the sky. There was a shudder and confusion amongst the guests, and immediately a score of them clustered round the unconscious figure. There were gay summer frocks amongst the mass of gray coats and uniforms, and a lady on the edge of the crowd turned away and shivered.

“How dreadful,” she exclaimed, “how very dreadful!”

“How confoundedly lucky!” the man by her side muttered.

She turned upon him with reproach in her gray eyes.

“Does your Majesty really mean that?” she asked.Fritz, King of Montenana, blushed to the roots of his fair hair. It was well, perhaps that no society paragraphist was present.

“You don’t understand, marquise,” he stammered. “Honestly, I am very fond of old Rutzstin, but he is a regular old martinet all the same. On the whole, I was better off when I was at school. And, really, there is very little the matter with the old man. He gets these queer attacks every now and then, which absolutely prostrate him for the time being. But they never last more than a day or two. Ah, you can see for yourself that he is better already.”

The little gaudy group separated, and Rutzstin staggered into the Embassy in the arms of his host. The old warrior looked very pale and ghastly now in the light of the sun. His cunning, clever face was a mass of tiny wrinkles like the rind of a melon. Yet, there was no suggestion of anxiety on the face of his sovereign; indeed, a close observer might have said that he appeared to be pleased about something. One of the Embassy’s secretaries came up to King Fritz at the same moment.

“This is a dreadful thing, your Majesty,” he murmured. “His Excellency, the doctor, is now with the general. Will you kindly command us what to do?”

“Take him home and put him to bed,” the King of Montenana said promptly. “All he wants is a nurse, and some crushed ice at the back of his head. Give him a couple of days in bed and he will be as well as ever again. That is all.”

The secretary turned away, and the king strolled off in the direction of one of the little tea-tables as if the whole thing were a matter of everyday occurrence. There was a certain look of expectation on his keen, boyish face. He twisted his slight moustache joyously. He looked less like a king now than a smart, well set up young Englishman turned out by a complacent and conscientious Bond-street tailor. Seated at one of the little tables was his alter ego sipping coffee and smoking an Egyptian cigarette. The other young man rose and bowed profoundly as the King came up to his table.

Republicans and people of that kind who have no reverence for royalty would have declared that the king so far forgot himself as to wink at his companion.

“Here is a joke, Florizel,” he murmured. “Old Rutzstin is knocked up. Got one of his old attacks, as far as I can judge.”

“A serious matter, your Majesty,” Prince Florizel murmured.

“Oh, Majesty be hanged!” the king said. “What is the good of keeping it up when there is no one about to hear? Don’t you understand what this thing means to us?”

Prince Florizel so far forgot himself as to smile.

“Possibly a breaking off of diplomatic relations,” he observed. “Negotiations with the Princess of Austinburg–”

“If you mention her again, I’ll land you one in the eye,” the king exclaimed. “I don’t care a rap what Rutzstin says. What is the good of an impregnable frontier to me so long as I am tied to a wife who weighs twelve stone and has a complexion like a decayed orange. No, my boy, when I marry I am going to please myself.”

“What is the good of being king if you can’t pick and choose? Now let us trot along and see that the old chap is comfortable, and then we will proceed to enjoy ourselves. I am sick of all this bowing and scraping and being dragged about as if I were some puppet in a show. Here am I, at the age of twenty-five, knowing no more of life and with little or no more experience than I had when I left school. I used to say that our Harrow experiences were the happiest in our days, and upon my word, I believe I was right.”

“You won’t do anything rash,” the prince said anxiously. “You see, with our aged general laid up–”

“My dear Florizel, this is our opportunity. The old man will be incapable of doing anything for the next two or three days, and we could not have a better excuse for putting off all the functions that these good people have arranged for us. Besides, look how it will add to our popularity. Picture us giving up all the joys of life to sit by the bedside of the man who made Montenana what it is. Think of the reams of gush in the papers, when all the while, my dear Florizel, we shall be sipping the delights of this queen of cities. Florizel, I am going to go it!”

The prince was wise in his day and generation, but he was young. Moreover, he was not entirely averse to going it himself. But, still, the sense of responsibility was upon him now, and the knowledge of it clouded his youthful ingenuous features.

“You won’t rub it in too thick?” he said anxiously.

“No more than royal purple,” the king laughed. “Or, perhaps, a deep vermillion. But now come along and make your excuses. As for the rest, is it not on the knees of the gods?”


The physicians’ account of the condition of General Rutzstin was not in the least disturbing. The aged warrior was suffering from a compression which was merely a matter of time. He had to be kept perfectly quiet for a day or two, during which period it would be indiscreet to worry him with the affairs of state. And, indeed, the count was on the happy borderland when nothing matters, and even the dinning clash of nations comes dull and muffled to the ear. To all this the young king listened with resignation. Besides, he had seen his beloved chancellor in similar case many times before. That war-scarred old body was by no means exhausted yet, and, doubtless, Count Rutzstin would live to weather many a plot and storm yet.

With his mind easy and his brain full of eager expectation, his Majesty returned to his private apartments to dine. He was dressed now even as an ordinary gentleman should be. He had considerately dismissed his staff to their own devices, preferring to dine alone with Prince Florizel. Even his own pampered valet had been accorded a holiday, for the king had given a hint to the effect that he intended to retire early after an evening spent with affairs of the State. Altogether an exemplary monarch.

But the door of the cabinet was closed now, and the two were discussing their dinner together, assisted by an ordinary hotel waiter who knew nothing of the language which obtains in the mountains of Montenana. Therefore, the young men could discuss their plans openly, and without the fear of voracious halfpenny newspapers before their eyes. They had dined and wined discreetly. Their young blood was judiciously warm with the vintage of champagne, and all the world lay rosy fair before them. Imagination is not one of the gifts of youth, and the pair seated there could not guess at the tremendous consequences which sooner or later might arise as the fruit of their innocent adventures. The night was fading now to darkness. The lights of the fair city lay at their feet twinkling invitingly like sirens, luring them on to the land of excitement and adventure which lay outside the rims of electric stars.

“Have you made up your mind?” Florizel asked.

“Oh, I have thought it all out,” the king exclaimed. “I don’t think anybody is likely to recognise us. We are going to the Oderon Theatre in the first instance to see Nita Reinhardt. I have been reading all about her in the papers. She is a young actress who has taken the whole city by storm. She is playing in a piece called ‘The Mummer’s Throne.’ They say she is absolutely perfect and plays the queen to the life.”

“I have read the book,” Florizel said, “the book on which the play was founded. It is the story of a simple, beautiful country girl who finds her way to the throne. It is a charming story, and the way in which the girl’s character is developed is wonderfully done. On the whole, we might do much more harm.”

“We might,” the king said half regretfully. “When I think of the opportunity that Providence has put at my disposal, I marvel at my discretion. Still, we ought to see some fun later on when we come to sup at one of the cafes. I have locked my bedroom door and made an arrangement with one of the waiters so that I can get in by the window. For the first time since we left Harrow, Florizel, we are really going to enjoy ourselves. Can’t you hear the city calling? Can’t you hear the voice of the siren? I can.”

On the whole, Prince Florizel rather thought he could. They set out, presently, on foot, and made their way in the direction of the Oderon Theatre. In their simple evening dress of black and white they passed unnoticed. They found themselves presently seated in the first row of the stalls just as the curtain was drawing up on the play which had set a whole nation talking, and which was drawing crowded houses nightly. It was a romantic play, fantastic, and, in places, decidedly unconvincing. For it rarely happens in real life that a daughter of the soil, however beautiful and however romantic, finds her way till her feet rest upon the footsteps of a throne. But here was a girl, little more than a child, whose native genius swept all those barriers away. By one of the freaks of Fate which appear to be almost peculiar to the stage Nita Reinhardt had had her chance quite unexpectedly. She had made the most of it almost from the first moment when she stood dazed and trembling in the flare of the footlights she had appealed irresistibly to her audience. In the first act she was shown in her simple country home, an imaginative child educated beyond her years and her station, and anxious to try a world which lay beyond the simple hollyhocks and primroses that bounded her father’s garden. Then, gradually, the story developed till the one chance of a century came and a throne was placed at the girl’s disposal. It was at this point that the young actress rose to the occasion and stamped herself as the one great emotional expert of her generation. Could she carry it through? Would she be worthy of the honour which had been thrust upon her? Wasn’t it her duty to stay at home, or was this a call from Providence to save her suffering nation? The whole house hung on every word. The silence was tense and painful. Seated there with his hands gripped tight on the arms of his stall, the King of Montenana watched the play of the emotions with breathless interest. He had never seen a girl so bewitching and beautiful. She was fair and tall and queenly enough, and she was absolutely devoid of make-up. She seemed to grow more regal, and her mind appeared to expand as gradually she yielded to Fate and took up what she deemed to be the Heavenly mandate. And then Fritz of Montenana saw before him not an actress playing a part, but a real queen who feels the mantle of responsibility heavy upon her shoulders. The curtain came down on the third act and the whole house rocked with applause. The place shimmered with diamonds and pearls, the perfumed breath of the house seemed to creep into the young king’s veins and intoxicated him. He turned eagerly to his companion.

“I am glad we did not miss this,” he exclaimed. “Did you ever see anything like it before? And to think that I have been losing all this kind of thing merely to please old Rutzstin! Now, isn’t she a queen? With our experience of courts, we ought to know the real article when we see it. How different she is to the dressed-up blue-eyed dolls that one sees hanging round the royal palaces on the look out for husbands! Florizel, I must know that girl.”

“Better not,” Prince Florizel said, fumbling feebly in the direction of prudence. “I wouldn’t if I were you. For all she looks so young and innocent on the stage, I daresay, when she is washed she is forty and probably has a husband and a house full of children in the background.”

But he of Montenana laughed the idea to scorn.

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