Long Live the King! - Guy Boothby - ebook

Long Live the King! ebook

Guy Boothby

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Located in the imaginary country of Pannonia, the irresistible novel by Guy Newell Boothby „Long Live the King” gives readers a place in the front row of the hectic life of royalty. From decisions on the battlefield of life or death, which must be made in seconds, with thousands of soldiers hanging in the balance, to intense political negotiations in which every word and expression is important, and, of course, triumphs and trials of royal romance, this wide novel will surely capture the interest and attention of every reader.

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Liczba stron: 410

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Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 1

How strange it seems, after this long lapse of time, to look back upon those days, and after all that has come between. When I think of the child whose curious fancies, strange whims, and still stranger life, I am about to portray, I find myself inclining towards what is certainly a feeling of bewilderment, and one that might almost be said to be akin to physical pain. That the little fellow I see in my mind’s eye, playing so happily on the far side of that River of Years, can be myself, the man sitting in this chair, who, pen in hand, is trying so hard to arrange his thoughts, is to me scarcely believable. Between the two there looms so vast a difference, that it would appear as if no possible connecting link could serve to unite them with each other. Whether I am better or worse for the change must be left for more competent judges to declare.

Looking back, I can scarcely determine which is the first event in my life that I can recall. I have always declared that I have the very faintest recollection of being held up by my mother at a window to see my father present some new colours to his favourite regiment of Guards in the square below. But if, as they say, that occurrence happened exactly five-and-twenty years ago, and the records of the Regiment are there to prove it, my memory must be a more than ordinarily good one, seeing that, at the time, I could not have been more than three years of age. Imperfect though that recollection may be, however, it is quite certain that I can distinctly recall the day, two years later, when my brother, the Crown Prince Maximilian, being then a big boy of nine, led his regiment past my father on parade for the first time. I can also remember crying bitterly, because I was not permitted to accompany him, which eagerness on my part, so I have been informed since, was taken by my mother’s Ladies-in-Waiting to be a sign that a great military career awaited me. That I have never so far justified either their hopes or their good opinion of me must be set down by the charitably-minded as the result of a lack of opportunity. In a sense, however, I must confess it has proved almost true, but how it came about will be told in its proper place. In the meantime, having a long story to tell, and not much space to tell it in, it is necessary that I should to my earliest recollections with as much speed as possible.

To enter upon my story proper, it is only fit that I should commence with a brief description of the life of my poor father. Maximilian the Second, King of Pannonia, as all the world is aware, was a monarch foredoomed to trouble from his cradle. His succession to the throne was the result of an accident. But for a fatal shot, fired in the excitement of a wolf hunt, and which stretched the heir lifeless upon the snow, he would in all human probability never have been called upon to undertake the responsibilities for which he was, not only by nature, but also by inclination, so totally unfitted. A scholar of the finest type, essentially a recluse, more at his ease in his library than in the Council Chamber, happier when holding a pen than when carrying a sword, I must admit it is to me a matter of wonderment that he succeeded even as well as he did. A loveless marriage, thrust upon him by the exigencies of State, when his inclinations tended in another and very different direction, marked the next downward step in his career. My mother was the eldest daughter of Alexander the Tenth, King of Gothia, and was as ambitious as my father was the reverse. Where he was only too glad to find an opportunity of effacing himself, she, at first, boldly courted the admiration of the world. Among other things, she insisted upon all the extremes of court ceremonial being observed, and under her rule the sleepy old palace woke to new life. Neighbouring Sovereigns were repeatedly our guests, entertainment followed entertainment, each conducted on the most lavish scale, until the country, which at first had inclined towards applause, began to show unmistakable signs of disapproval. Things were said in the Reichsrath that should have enabled any one less absorbed in his own private affairs than my father, and less wilful than my mother, to have seen how foolish was the course each was pursuing. When, eventually, the Prime Minister of the day, the Count von Marquart, ventured upon a remonstrance, my mother cut him short with a hasty speech that was destined to rankle in his heart and to lay the foundation-stone of the misunderstanding that, for the rest of their lives, existed between them. Fortunately, however, for the affairs of men, Time is able to accomplish what argument and diplomacy cannot hope to achieve. The duties of motherhood, and a long and serious illness, which followed my advent into the world, put it out of her power to adhere to the dangerous course she had hitherto been running. Much to everyone’s surprise, when she was fully recovered, it was found that the craving for excitement, which she had formerly possessed, had completely left her. The change, however, as is so often the case, came too late; the mischief was already done. The Pannonians as a race are, so it has been said, amongst the most undemonstrative of the inhabitants of Europe. It is possible that this may be so. I am not going to admit or to combat the accusation. This much, however, is quite certain: if they are phlegmatic, they are also retentive; and, having once derived an impression, or allowed themselves to become prejudiced in any given direction, they seldom, if ever, to their original condition. For this reason, while the change in my mother was apparent to all who were brought into immediate contact with her, and by hearsay to many who were not, the greater proportion of the populace were of the opinion that every calamity that befell the nation for years to come was attributable, either directly or by inference, to her recklessness and her extravagance in the past. That the great ceremonials and festivities, balls, concerts, and hunting parties, were no longer to be witnessed by the public eye, was, in their minds, no sort of proof that they did not exist. With the strange perversity that so often characterises the actions of a nation, those who had been most dazzled and delighted when she had lifted the sombre old court life from its former stagnation into its then glittering effervescence now constituted themselves her most bitter accusers. Thus the inevitable drew nearer, while my mother attended to her nursery with as much devotion as could have been displayed by any bourgeoise parent, and my father pored over his books in the north-west tower of the palace, translating Ovid when he should have been pulling at the ropes of Government, and enjoying the selfish pleasures of the student when he should have been endeavouring to prevent the ship of State from foundering. The country, being delivered over to the mercy of party politics, rushed blindly on towards the maelstrom that was to engulf it, and with it our devoted family.

Having thus formally introduced my father and mother to your notice, it is necessary that I should now perform the same ceremony for my brother and myself. Surely two lads were never more different. Max, the Crown Prince, was, as I have already remarked, my senior by four years, and the incarnation, so far as I was concerned, of all that was manly and heroic. At the time of which I am about to tell you, and which was the turning point of our fortunes, he was twelve years old, advanced for his age, and showing promise of development into a tall and powerful man. In face he resembled our mother more than our father; he had her dark, piercing eyes, and, if the truth must be told, he was also gifted with a very large amount of her imperiousness and love of power. It was said that he was a born ruler of men, and some went even so far as to predict that when he ascended the throne, Pannonia, under his influence, would resume her proper place as the leading nation of the earth. But, alas! how strangely things fall out. That which we count a certainty seldom comes to pass, while it has become a commonplace amongst us that the unexpected nearly, if not always, happens. As an example, I must put on record an incident as strange as, at the time, it was disconcerting.

One day Max and I, accompanied by our tutor, were riding on the road that leads from the city towards the village of Schartzvam, at the foot of the mountains. Five miles from home, the pony Max was riding cast a shoe, and it became necessary for us to call a halt at a blacksmith’s shop, in order that the defect might be remedied. We had dismounted, and were standing at the door watching the work in hand, when a party of gipsies made their appearance in the street. The majority had passed us and turned the corner; only a withered beldame, hobbling along with the assistance of a stick, remained behind. On seeing us she paused, and, addressing Max, asked for charity. Upon his giving her a coin she inquired whether he would like his fortune told in return. Doctor Liechardt, feeling a certain responsibility in the matter, was about to order her away, but Max, who had always a touch of the mystical and romantic in his character, begged him to allow her to remain.

“She shall tell my fortune,” he said, taking some money from his pocket and handing it to the old woman. “Who knows but that she may be able to give me a hint which may some day be of use to me?”

The worthy doctor, who never willingly thwarted Max in anything, was perforce compelled to agree. Accordingly he held out his hand, and the old crone took it. For a few moments she studied its lines attentively.

“You have started on good terms with the world,” she began at last. “Fortune favours you now, but the time will come when she will not, and you will be obliged to go on your way alone. You have a proud heart, and desire great things. When the time is ripe, you will walk rough paths, and will travel to a far country. Your dreams will go with you, but, when you return, it will be too late. Your heart’s desire will have passed from you. I can say no more.”

“You have not said very much,” replied Max, with what I could not help noticing was not his usual laugh. “Nor is what you have told me encouraging. However, I suppose it will prove as true as most of your prophecies. And now, Paul, you must have your fortune told. Perhaps you can find something better in your lucky bag for my brother.”

At first I would have drawn back, being at that time rather a timid boy, but Max’s orders were always law to me. I accordingly held out my hand, at the same time giving the old woman the necessary money wherewith to cross it. As before, she bent over and studied the palm attentively. I can see her wrinkled face now, peeping out, with its raven tresses, from beneath her coloured hood. As soon became apparent, the prophecy in my case was to be infinitely happier than that she had offered Max. I was to retain the love of my friends, to enjoy long life, to possess a beautiful wife, and to see many happy children clustering round my knee. She had got this far when she looked into my face. What she saw there appeared to startle her.

“I read it on his hand,” she resumed, as though speaking to herself. Then, looking fixedly at me once more, she continued, but with greater respect than she had hitherto shown: “Go on and prosper, child; though they know it not, the people’s heart goes with you.”

Then, in a strange sing-song voice, and still looking steadfastly at my face, she repeated the old distich, which has been popular in the country for many hundreds of years. Translated roughly into English, it runs somewhat as follows:

“Pannonia’s King shall firmly sit,

So long as Michael’s Cross doth fit.”

After bidding me remember what the gipsy had said, and before we could stop her, or question her further, she had left us and was hobbling after her party. Even now I can feel the awkwardness of the next few moments. It had all been so sudden and so unexpected, that it had taken us completely by surprise. I was only a child, and I knew I was not to blame; nevertheless, I looked appealingly at Max as if for forgiveness. His handsome face was black with passion. Placing my hand upon his arm, I asked him to forgive me, begging him not to be angry at a gipsy’s idle words, but he threw my hand off, saying that he was scarcely likely to allow himself to be made angry by an old fool. Be that as it may, however, for the rest of the ride he held himself aloof from us, only speaking when he was spoken to, and then with a bitterness that was older than his years, and, if possible, more uncomfortable than his silence. In my own mind I believe it was from that day that the estrangement which afterwards existed for some years between us might be said to have dated; yet the mere fact that I happened to possess–though at that time very faintly–the peculiar cross-like indentation between the brows, that, tradition says, was bequeathed to us by Duke Michael, the founder of our House, and which it is maintained none but those destined to rule the kingdom ever possess, should not have made any difference in our feelings towards each other.

One more digression from the direct path of my narrative, and I shall be at liberty to proceed at my best pace.

Among certain nobles of the kingdom, and one who commanded an influence in some quarters, second only to that of the King himself, was Prince Ferdinand of Lilienhöhe, a brilliant man in every way, but a bitter enemy of the Ramonyi family. It was his misfortune that he was never able to allow himself to forget that, more than a hundred years ago, one of his family had, for a brief period, sat upon the throne of Pannonia, and this knowledge had proved the evil factor of his life. Out of it he had permitted an idea to take root and grow, until it had passed beyond his control. Being well thought of by a certain section of the community, particularly in the northern portion of the kingdom, where he had large estates, he did not despair, even now, of accomplishing his desires. Plotting and scheming were integral parts of his nature, and it seemed out of his power to check them. It is not of the Prince himself, however, that I am going to speak, but of his only child, his daughter, who was destined in the future to play a most important part in the drama of my life.

One morning, just as we were preparing to leave the palace for our daily ride, we were the witnesses of what promised to be, and might very easily have become, a terrible catastrophe. A carriage, drawn by a pair of handsome horses, had just turned from the Jungferngasse into the Michael Platz, when something caused them to take fright, and they dashed off at terrific speed in the direction of the palace. In vain the coachman, assisted by the groom beside him, endeavoured to restrain the frightened animals. They had become unmanageable, and it looked as if nothing could save the carriage, and any one who might be in it, from annihilation. Even now I can feel the terror that possessed me as I watched them come dashing headlong across the square, making straight for the iron gates of the palace. Instinctively I put up my hand to shut out the sight from my eyes. Then I heard a crash, succeeded by a short silence which in its turn was broken by the screams of the injured horses. When I looked again, the guards had turned out, and some of the men were assisting the coachman, who fortunately was not hurt, with the animals, while the officer of the day was removing a little girl from the carriage to the guard-room beside the gates. It was miraculous that she had not been hurt, for, as it was afterwards discovered, she had only fainted from the shock she had received. My mother, who had witnessed all that had transpired from one of the windows, immediately sent a servant with instructions that the child was to be brought to the palace, where she could be properly attended to. This was done, and presently the little one, who had been examined by our own surgeon, was in my mother’s boudoir, recovering from the effects of the fright she had received. Side by side, unconscious of the part she was one day to play in our several destinies, Max and I stood and watched her. For myself, I can say that never in my life before had I seen so dainty and bewitching a little creature. Beautiful as she is now–the loveliest woman in Europe, they say, and I believe they speak the truth–she was even more beautiful then. There was a spirituality about her–a frailness, if I may so express it–that was almost fairylike.

“You have nothing to fear now, little one,” said my mother, who held her in her arms. “You have had a wonderful escape, and you must thank the good God for your preservation.”

Then, turning to one of the servants, she asked whether he had discovered whose carriage it was. The man paused for a moment before he replied.

“Why do you not answer?” my mother inquired. “Surely you must know?”

“I have been given to understand, your Majesty,” the man answered respectfully, “that the carriage was the property of His Highness the Prince of Lilienhöhe, and that this young lady is his daughter, the Princess Ottilie.”

It was well known in the city that the Prince of Lilienhöhe had at last reached the end of his treasonable tether, and that, only that day, to save him further disgrace, he had been given a stated time in which to quit the country. You may, therefore, imagine the effect the man’s words produced upon us, and my mother in particular. Being a child, I could not of course understand what it meant, but the name of Lilienhöhe had of late been of such ominous report in my ears, that I could scarcely fail to be struck by the importance of the incident. The very title of the Prince who was to go into exile had an ogreish ring about it for me; and, though I had been told on good authority that he was a man of remarkably handsome appearance, possessing the most pleasant manners, and was devoted to little children, I was very far from crediting the statement. In my youthful mind a man who was notoriously inimical to my own family, and who had publicly called my mother the Enemy of Pannonia, and had stated his wish to have us turned neck and crop out of the country, could never be anything but a fiend in human shape. To see this beautiful creature before me, however, and to have it on reliable evidence that she was his daughter, somewhat disconcerted me. I looked at the little maid seated in my mother’s lap with a fresh curiosity, and endeavoured to take soundings of the position. It was beyond me, however. Could she be a second Gerda (I was busy with Hans Andersen at the time); and would she turn out to be a robber maiden who tickled reindeers’ throats with a sharp knife, and laughed to see their fear? I was in the midst of my cogitations, and was vaguely wondering what the Count von Marquart would say if he knew that his enemy’s daughter was in the palace, when the little maid, yearning for younger sympathy, I suppose, slipped from my mother’s knee, and, crossing the room to where I stood, took possession of my hand.

“I like you,” she said, looking up into my face with her beautiful eyes; and from that moment the pressure of her tiny fingers, and the remembrance of the look she gave me then, have been among my most cherished memories.

By my mother’s orders, a carriage had been brought for her, and one of the ladies-in-waiting had been deputed to take her back to her father’s house. While the necessary preparations were being made, we passed out, still hand-in-hand, into the great vestibule.

It was the first time for more than a hundred years that a Ramonyi and a Lilienhöhe had walked together, and there were some who looked upon it as an augury.

It was quite certain that she had not yet altogether recovered from the shock the accident had given her, for her face was still pale, and her hand trembled in mine.

“What is your name?” she asked in childish accents, as we stood before the statue of the Great Founder, the same who had bequeathed to me the Michael Cross of famous memory.

“Paul,” I answered: “Paul Michael George.” I gave it in full in order that the fact might be more clearly impressed upon her memory.

“I shall “member,” she returned gravely; and for the second time she added–“I like you.”

At this moment the carriage made its appearance, and the Baroness Rabovsdin, to whom my mother had entrusted the responsibility of conveying the child back to her father’s house, went down the steps and entered it. With a gravity beyond my years, I led Princess Ottilie down to it, and helped her to her seat beside the Baroness. Then the carriage drove away, and that was the last I saw of the daughter of the Prince of Lilienhöhe for many years to come.

Chapter 2

Although my father, acting on the advice of his Ministers, had taken the decisive step of banishing the Prince of Lilienhöhe from the country, he had not been able altogether to rid himself of the trouble the latter had occasioned. The Ogre had been growing larger and uglier for years, and, on looking back upon it now, I am of the opinion that it was his last, and I cannot help thinking his greatest, imprudence, that brought about the disastrous end. Be that as it may, however, the result was quickly apparent. The contempt the populace felt for us was to be observed in every direction. My father, who seldom left the palace, was not brought into actual contact with it, but I remember on one occasion my mother and I being hooted while driving in the Graben. What we had done to deserve it I cannot say, but the incident was sufficient to show me a side of my mother’s character that I had never encountered before. In her home life she had, as I have observed already, developed into a quiet and loving woman. Now, in the face of danger, her old spirit reasserted itself, and I can recall the flash that lighted her eyes, and the contemptuous curl of her lips, as she faced the crowd that surged about the carriage. Turning to me she took my hand and bade me not be frightened; then, looking at the Baroness Niedervald, who was sitting opposite, and who appeared as if she were about to collapse, added sternly, “I am sure you are not afraid, Madame, so I beg you will not permit them to think so.”

The Baroness, who stood in greater awe of my mother than a thousand street ruffians, pulled herself together, and immediately repaid their jeers with looks of scorn.

Ten minutes later we were back at the Palace once more, and my father had been made acquainted with what had occurred. A curious smile flickered over his sphinx-like face as he heard the news.

“You fed your hounds too well at first, my dear,” he said, with that cynicism that always characterised him. “They are grumbling now because the supply of bones is finished, and they are compelled to fall back on stones.”

I did not realise the force of this allusion then, but it has become more plain to me since. One thing is quite certain–it angered my mother beyond measure, and from that time she carried no more complaints to him. Even had she done so, it is doubtful whether it would have been of any use. “Go to von Marquart, your Majesty,” he would have said. “He is the real king; I am only the figurehead–the puppet, if you like.”

As a matter of fact the time had gone by for active interference, and all that could now be done was to wait, and to endeavour, as far as possible, to hold the rabble in check, until some new sensation should arise to divert their attention. To make matters worse, the country was split up into factions; thus for every step gained in one place we lost ground elsewhere, and, by propitiating one, we enraged another. Some were for deposing my father outright, and inviting Prince Ferdinand to mount the throne; while others went even so far as to contemplate doing away with Royalty and nobles altogether, and establishing a Republic, in which every man was to be the equal of his fellow, and caste should be swept away entirely. They could not realise the fact that their present ruler, if he had done nothing else, had at least permitted them to enjoy the benefits of peace. He was not ambitious like his neighbour on the north, nor aggressive like his fellow on the south, and in consequence the country flourished as it could not otherwise have hoped to have done. It has often struck me since that a nation is not unlike a defective dam. So long as it holds together it is solid and watertight, but let even the faintest trickle of moisture percolate through its massive sides and more will surely follow; later, a gaping rent will show itself, where first the dampness appeared; then, in one brief instant, before man can prevent it, the mighty flood bursts its bonds, dashes forth and sweeps all the old order away before it.

Being at this time only nine years old, I could not, of course, appreciate the gravity of the situation. But I was quite aware that those I loved were in trouble. It was brought home to me more convincingly by one little incident than by anything else.

It was nine o’clock on a winter’s night. Snow was falling, and the palace courtyard was covered with a white mantle. According to custom, Max and I had been to our mother’s room to bid her good-night, and had crossed the great hall on our way to our own apartments, when, at the top of the grand staircase, we met the Prime Minister, Count von Marquart, ascending. As a rule we were afraid of him; his manner was harsh and overbearing, and it had been wittily observed that there were only two persons in the world, the Count von Marquart and himself, with whom he was on terms of anything approaching intimacy. To-night, however, we noticed that he was disturbed about something. On seeing us, he paused and bade us a polite good-evening. Then, gazing into our faces with those cold, piercing eyes of his, which seemed to look one through, he patted us on the shoulders, heaved a heavy sigh, and muttering “Poor lads, poor lads!” followed the servant along the corridor in the direction of my father’s study.

For the next few days Council followed Council, and from each the Ministers drove away with gloomier faces. I have since learnt that the failure of the crops in the northern provinces, and the consequent dearness and scarcity of bread, had precipitated matters, and forced the hands of those who were really at the bottom of the mischief. Somehow I do not fancy that my father even at this, the gravest crisis of his life, properly realised what the near future had in store for us. Having devoted his attention to other matters for so long, he had lost his grip of the public pulse, and in consequence was unable to realise the deadliness of the disease that was taking possession of his country. Like the dipsomaniac, who, in his own heart, is quite aware that to indulge his craving is to court a certain and most terrible death, my father persisted in his former line of action–or shall I say inaction?–finding, it would seem, a recondite pleasure in contemplating the approach of ruin. With my mother it was entirely different. Wayward and impetuous as she had once been, she now proved herself, by the feminine rule of contrary, I suppose, the best wife he could have had under the circumstances. Where he was weak, she was strong; she threw herself into the breach, and with counsel and encouragement, and with an insight that marked her as a daughter of a race of rulers, endeavoured, so far as lay in her power, to beat back and outwit the foes who were hemming us in on every side. Upon one person only, and then always excepting on one memorable occasion, the peril in which we stood seemed to produce no outward effect. I allude to Count von Marquart, the man whose personality stands out in that terrible period, clear cut, impressive, and invariably heroic. The waves of discord might dash and break at his feet, the winds of hatred shriek about his devoted head, but, like a lighthouse in a storm, he stood immovable–a guiding light to the end.

Though we did not think so at the time, and flattered ourselves that everything would soon be set right, we were nearer the end than we supposed. It was on the sixteenth of December, a date engraved in letters of fire upon my brain, that the climax came. For several days the city had been in an uproar, crowds had paraded the streets, and had even clamoured at the palace gates. So violent did they at last become, that it was necessary that the military should be called out in order to disperse them. But–and it was here that the shoe pinched–it was unmistakably borne in upon those at the head of affairs, that the army itself was in sympathy with the rioters. For upwards of a week Max and I had not been permitted to leave the palace, the streets being considered unsafe for us at such a time. During the afternoon of the sixteenth a council meeting was held, after attending which the members had been compelled to disperse secretly, and by different doors, for fear the mob should get hold of them. By chance I happened to be near my mother’s boudoir when von Marquart acquainted her with the result of their deliberations. They had never been friends, but at such a time they felt they must cease to be enemies.

“If you will give me warning when it will be necessary for us to start, I will take care to be ready,” I heard my mother say, in answer to a speech of his.

“You may count upon me,” Marquart replied gravely. “I will allow your Majesty as much time as possible.”

Then, having kissed her hand, he withdrew without another word. When he had gone, my mother crossed to the window, and drawing back the curtain, looked out upon the snow-covered Platz. Presently a convulsive sob reached my ears. Proud woman though she was, in the face of this new trouble, her fortitude for the moment deserted her. I emerged from my hiding place and went over to her, slipping my hand into hers. Sinking down upon the window-seat she drew me to her and kissed me passionately.

“Paul, Paul, my little son,” she cried, her voice breaking with tears, “this is my work. It is your mother who has brought about this ruin. And yet God knows I am innocent of any evil intention.”

“Those who say that it is your fault lie, mother,” I began, with an indignation that at any other time would have been ludicrous in one so young. “Max says it is a lie, and when he is king he will punish them. He told me this morning. Don’t cry, mother dear; Max and I will take care of you.”

The unintentional irony of my remark must have occurred to her, for she rose from her seat and walked a few paces away. How bitter her thoughts must have been at that moment! Her husband was alive, and yet her honour was to wait for vengeance until her sons should be come to man’s estate. My little speech, spoken in all good faith, strikes me now as the most cruel indictment yet urged against my father’s memory.

That night, when Max and I were in bed, I told him what I had heard and seen.

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