Roy Norton--The unknown Mr Kent/Chapter 7
CAPTAIN PAULO, standing in one of the small reception rooms of Castle Hertz, and staring absently across the lawn on which the morning sun was shining, whistled softly a very gay tune, indicative of a well-contented spirit. A movement behind him caused him to turn quickly, and instantly he came to attention, then made a punctilious bow.
"Your Royal Highness———"
"Is up early. I know what you are going to say."
The princess spoke with something akin to petulance, and being adroit in danger signs, Captain Paulo held his tongue expectantly. The captain of a royal household guard has to be something of a diplomat if he wishes to continue in his billet. The princess walked across the room and looked absently out at the lawn for a moment, then, glancing over her shoulder to make certain that they were alone, asked him a question.
"What took place in the palace yesterday, after I left the room?"
"Mr. Kent pointed out to Provarsk's men the folly of resistance and made them surrender their arms, after delivering them a homily on the dangers of rebellion, and told them that he would then appear as their solicitor before the king."
"Well? Well?" she urged him when he paused. "What was done with them? Where are they now confined?"
"They are not confined anywhere, Your Royal Highness."
She gave a start of astonishment, as if incredulous.
"At Mr. Kent's suggestion, His Majesty granted them full amnesty, with the exception of the man called Ubaldo, who has been sent to prison on an indefinite sentence. After that, Mr. Kent selected a few of the most likely ones that he said he had use for, and suggested that the others be escorted across the border. He also suggested that each one's picture be taken. Said he thought this would serve two purposes, one to identify them for hanging if they ever returned, and the other because he thought Marken should start a rogues' gallery and this was an excellent opportunity to lay a foundation."
"Suggested! He suggested! And everything he suggested my brother did! I simply cannot understand this situation. How on earth it happened that my brother fell so suddenly and so completely under the influence of this money- lender is incomprehensible ! "
Her annoyance was unmistakable. Captain Paulo was secretly thankful that he was not her brother and was vastly relieved by the entry of that gentleman in person. By the troubled frown on the king's brows the young officer decided that every word of the princess' last and captious speech had been overheard.
"You may go, Captain Paulo," the king said, mgnificantly, and the young officer saluted and discreetly retired, glad that he was not in the king's shoes.
"Eloise," the king remonstrated, with an at- tempt at severity, "I am sorry to say that I heard what you said to the captain. Does it seem quite fitting that you should discuss our affairs with "
"Why not!" she retorted, coolly. "It's time it was discussed with some one on whom I can depend, isn't it? If I don't, I'm afraid this man Kent will be running the kingdom as he pleases before long."
The king winced and lost his air of admonish- ment. He knew, from past experience, that this sister of his dealt in very plain truths. Sometimes they were highly unpleasant. Anger at his own impotence caused him to rush to Kent's defence. Moreover, he was filled with great respect for his new ally's rough-and-ready method of doing things, that so far invariably had been successful.
"Why should you object?" he asked. "Has he not proved himself a stronger and a better advisor than I ever had before?"
"But there comes a time when advice assumes domination! It looks to me as if his suggestions were assuming the nature of orders."
"Well, what of it?" he retorted, goaded by the knowledge that she had put her finger on the truth. "You wouldn't have me decline to do as he suggests when I can see for myself that those suggestions are exactly the right course to fol- low?"
"But isn't it time that he were given to under- stand "
"My dear sister," he exclaimed, as another loophole presented itself offering escape from this unpleasant interview, "can't you see further than that? How do you suppose this dynasty is to maintain itself without financial support? Can't you fix it plainly in your mind that John Rhodes, whose agent Mr. Kent is, could practically ruin Marken if he chose?"
"Oh! Those bonds again? I thought so. Well, do you know what I would do if I were the king? I would calmly notify this fearsome Mr. John Bhodes that I wasn't ready to pay his bonds, and that he could wait until I did get well ready!" "Is that Her Royal Highness* conception of honour in financial undertakings?'* questioned a dry voice behind them, and they turned to observe Kent standing quietly in the doorway.
"I didn't hear any one announce you," she said, nettled by his unexpected interruption.
"No," he replied, affably, "I don't suppose you did. As an admission, I will say that I'm so un- used to court affairs, and dwelling with royalty, and the presence of superiority, that I have not yet learned all that is expected of one under such, circumstances. In many ways I'm what we call, over home, a Rube. But now that I am here, I
don't remember that you answered my question." His eyes met hers unflinchingly, insistently. She wondered if there was not a little of scorn in them; tolerant, but, just the same, scorn such as one bestows upon those guilty of moral delin- quency. She was driven to defence.
"I feel no compulsion to answer the questions of one who is merely a financial agent," she re- torted, "but since you have wilfully tried to mis- construe my meaning, I will explain that there are occasions when, of necessity, one is forced to adopt measures that under other conditions would not be at all considered. This is one of them. The dignity of royalty must be maintained."
"The dignity of royalty—must be maintained, even by the repudiation of its honest debts! You are now quite explicit. I did not see your at- titude before."
Under this sirocco of sarcasm she withered; but still fighting for her standard replied, hotly, "You deliberately misapply my words."
"Motives," he corrected, unmoved.
It was too much ! She felt like a schoolgirl be- ing quietly admonished by a head master.
"Since you are so exact," she remarked, petu- lantly, "perhaps you will try to make me see that your motives in assisting us as you have, and we recognise that service, too, are entirely un- prejudiced? That you are here as a philanthro- pist giving service to our house, one that you have never known! That you are not here because you want to save that person Rhodes, for whom you work, his money."
"That last may be so," he declared, patiently. "I am here to save John Rhodes' money. Do you believe that a kingdom, any more than an indi- vidual, can advance itself without money?"
"Honour is better than money," she asserted.
"It seems to me that I've heard that before," he said, smiling. "I didn't know that was in your copy books, also. Since you are intent on fighting me, suppose you draw the line for me by telling where honour begins after one has practically abrogated one's debts. I am interested, Mademoi- selle. I would know the ideas of royalty in those matters. You see, as I have confessed, being an American, I have never before been a sort of mem- ber of a king's household."
A slow, patient smile spread over his ingenuous face as he looked at her, and she, more than ever angered at the strange sense of power that this man exhaled, felt herself again worsted in the tilt and in proportion hated herself for her weakness. She felt that it was unbecoming to her dignity of position, that had perforce commanded respect, to her beauty, that had brought leaders of her own class to her feet, to stand meekly and in a ridiculous light before this scoffer from an alien land. She had regarded America as a great blatant nation, without historical precedent, ruled by an official known as a president, who, while in power, must be tolerated and addressed patron- isingly, and promptly forgotten and ignored after his departure from office. Marken was, after all, its superior. It was a kingdom! Ruled by those whose ancestors had ruled it for hundreds of years ! A king, no matter what his personal habits or strength, must as a matter of course be far greater, and of an entirely superior mould to a mere accident of popularity thrust into power by an impossible people. Once some one had told her, laughingly, that the kingdom of Marken was not so important in the world's affairs as New York, and she, a school girl, had felt highly insuited and looked that place up in a geography to learn whether such a name was really on the map. She felt peculiarly powerless to express to this American her real estimation of him. She did as other royal personages have done before and will do again, affected a vast loftiness and supe- riority in lieu of other answer. She lifted her head and, with a gesture of indifference, walked toward the door. He did not seem at all overawed, or impressed. Indeed, it was more as if he were inwardly amused, yet desirous of parting friends for future needs. He dared to bar her way, and to stand in front of her with his hands holding the hangings on either side.
"Come," he said, "you are wrong. It is you who do not understand ; and understanding is nec- essary. I've come here to make good. I'm going to do it!"
A strange jargon this. And she found herself pondering its meaning and usage.
"You needn't trouble to answer," he continued when she hesitated in a bewildered study. "But I'll tell you something before you go. It is not yours to play the part of an obstructionist to your brother's hopes and ideals, if you love him as a sister should. I don't know it, but I presume that it is permitted for the sister of a king to love her brother and advance his interests—maybe not. If so, kings and princesses should never be brothers and sisters. Anyway, it's going to be a lot easier for me to—to get John Rhodes' money—" she could scarcely account for the strange sarcasm in his tone "and incidentally to help your brother, if we act as friends. Come, will you not act as our ally in this troublesome undertaking?"
She was strangely and unreasonably moved by his appeal; for appeal it was, his mellow voice hastening to his will, and his thoughtful, searching eyes fixing themselves questioningly upon her face.
" Unity of action is necessary to success," he added, while she stood before him, waiting for him to stand aside.
For quite a time they confronted each other, he with his hand outstretched, as if inviting her compact, and then slowly his look shifted and lost all its warmth, and veiled itself, and his lips straightened to a harsh, obdurate line. He bowed and stepped to one side, beckoning with uncon- scious grace toward the open door. She knew that he was wounded by her refusal, and she was no longer aggressive. She fought an impulse to put her hand in his and become, after this relinquish- ment, his faithful partner in the enterprise; but that meant, she knew, that she must become, as her brother threatened to become, his subordinate, a position against which, by training and heredity, she rebelled. Without looking back, neither disdainful, haughty, nor yet subdued, she passed through the door and away. For an instant his face was grave and hurt, and then, as if arousing himself to his task, an inexorable master of him- self as well as of others, his face again hardened and he walked toward the king, who, throughout the interview, had stood with his back toward the room, as if politely leaving the situation to adjust itself.
Kent put his hands in his pockets, frowned re- flectively, and said as brusquely as if addressing an office boy, "Please summon Von Glutz and have Captain Paulo and Ivan brought here at once."
And like an office boy the king obeyed. He stepped to an electric button and pressed it, after which he stared at Kent, who stood lost in thought. Von Glutz was the first to enter. He bowed deeply to the king and with marked respect to the American.
"Sit down, Baron. Make yourself at home," Kent said, careless of royal etiquette, and the chancellor, disturbed by this invitation, looked at the king beseechingly.
"Certainly, Baron. Sit down," said the king, smiling a little at the strangeness of their posi- tions.
Captain Paulo appeared and at him Kent smiled and nodded, and immediately afterward the giant stood in the doorway with his eyes fixed on Kent's lips.
"Ivan, did yon serve the Baron Provarsk in person, this morning ?" the financier asked.
"Ah! How did the baron appear? Resigned? Cheerful ? Or grumpy and discomfited ? "
Ivan grinned widely.
"I am not certain, sir, but I think that when I entered he was whistling. Eesigned? Perhaps. Discomfited? Not at all. Certainly he did not seem out of spirits. Indeed, he was rather gay. He asked me if I had ever seen a blindfolded dog with a wooden leg playing football with a one- eyed pig, and when I said 'No,' declared that he was rather astonished, because he understood one could see almost anything in America.
" Good ! He'll do, all right ! " Kent exclaimed. His lips opened as if to give a command, and then, observing Captain Paulo, he turned toward the king respectfully and said, "If it meets with your approval, sir, can we not have the insurgent brought here?"
The king, appreciating Kent's constant care to avoid humiliating him in the presence of any of his people, gave Captain Paulo the order, and the latter disappeared with alacrity. The chan- cellor, who, plainly ill at ease, had shifted and rolled himself restlessly from one side to the other, seized the opportunity to stand up, looking an apology at the king; but the king, evidently good humoured and curious, was watching the American. He could not repress a scowl, however, when Provarsk was ushered in with two sentries in front, two behind, and Captain Paulo bringing up the rear. The sentries saluted the king and stepped to one side.
"You will stand guard outside with your men," the king directed Paulo.
Kent gestured Ivan to guard the door from the inside. "Good morning, Cousin, and everybody else, Americans included," blithely saluted Provarsk. "Nice weather, isn't it—ah—after the storm! "
Kent was the only one who seemed to enjoy his humour. The king turned his back, walked to a chair and seated himself. For nearly a minute, in the silence of the room, Kent studied Provarsk 's face.
"Well, Provarsk," he said, genially, "my bluff seems the best of the lot, doesn't it?"
"Evidently!" quite freely agreed Provarsk. "Only, of course, I don't as yet know just how badly I am let in."
"You'll find that out, soon enough. One usually does, you know," was Kent's response. "I be- lieve His Majesty gives you permission to sit."
"I do," said the king, carelessly, and Provarsk smiled and seated himself after an ostentatious and exasperating grin at the chancellor, who promptly turned purple with rage.
"You will pardon me," said Kent, drily, as he pulled a chair into a position where he could di- rectly face Provarsk, "if in our conversation I seem to be assuming; but His Majesty has gra- ciously granted me certain privileges of speech and action which he will sanction. Is that not true, Sire?"
The king, reverting to that strange, curious look of expectancy, said it was, and Provarsk shielded his mouth with his finger tips as if to conceal a smile.
"Provarsk," said Kent, decisively, "you're whipped; all the way down the line."
"For the moment, yes, I suppose," the usurper admitted, gracefully. He smiled at the American in rather an amused, friendly way.
"The king has decided," continued Kent, pla- cidly, "that you are a man of some talent, and has therefore concluded to make none other than you chancellor of his kingdom."
For once Provarsk was so completely surprised that his looks betrayed him. He leaned forward in his chair and stared at the American, doubt- fully. Baron Von Glutz cleared his throat ex- plosively, and was nearly speechless with wrath.
"This is going too far!" he exclaimed; but was silenced by Kent, who turned toward him and said, " Steady! Steady, Baron. You needn't worry. You will be cared for later in this this- reconstruction."
"But—but—" hesitated the king, vastly dis- tressed, "Baron Von Glutz has been my mentor since my boyhood, and was the chancellor of Marken under my father ! "
"Doubtless his administrative excellence ac- counts for Marken's present peaceful condition; and also for our unexpected meeting across the border, then!" Kent said, suavely. "But as I understood you, sir "
Provarsk interrupted with a sneering laugh and exclaimed, "Pshaw! I might have known it. It is you who ask me to be chancellor, Eh? All right! I accept. Under you ; but not under His Majesty.. But pray tell me why I am thus honoured?"
"Honoured? Well, for several reasons. One that it's not so messy as to have you taken out and hanged. Another that you still represent to me a sporting proposition and I like fearless men who go out after a thing when they want it. It's been a long time since I have met such an interest- ing sort of a personage as you seem to be, and, in- asmuch as His Majesty wants me to remain with him for a time as an advisor, I'd like to see what you can do whether you can get the best of us." "I promise to do the very best I can to get the best of you," Provarsk asserted. " I like that, too, " Kent said, heartily. "You 're welcome to get away with all you can; with this understanding, that you must agree to accept and honestly carry out all orders given you. Other- wise "
"Otherwise what?" queried the baron, when the American hesitated.
- l Otherwise we '11 have you promptly shot. Also,
you are 'honoured,' as you put it, because I be- lieve you are a good enough gamester, once having given your word, to obey orders."
Provarsk studied Kent, wonderingly, while the latter, without a change of expression, stared back at him.
"You don't want to be bothered hanging or shooting me, now; you think I'm too dangerous to exile ; and you therefore prefer to keep me directly under your eye. So you appoint me chancellor! Bather clever, it strikes me."
Kent nodded and smiled.
"You have it," he said.
"All right, Mr. Richard Kent, I accept this chancellorship, and agree to obey all of your or- ders—or should I say His Majesty's?—with just one provision, which is that after one year 's serv- ice I have the privilege of resigning and walking away, scot free, whenever I choose to do so." "Quite a nice agreement! A very pleasant agreement, indeed!" Kent assented. "We will now have an interview with Captain Paulo. "
He gave Ivan the order, speaking loudly, as though to impress on the new chancellor that his man was a trifle hard of hearing, and in a moment Captain Paulo stood before them.
"Captain Paulo," said Kent, "His Majesty, the king, has graciously delegated me to reorganise the cabinet of Marken, and, because of your fidelity, you are now appointed Minister of the Treasury."
Paulo stood with a look of astonishment on his face. It was an advancement that he had never thought of. Truly there must have been some foundation for the Arabian Nights. For once the king was not disturbed by the American's plans, and began ta wonder if, after all, there was not some method in this new form of madness,
"Those are my wishes, Captain Paulo," said he. Kent bowed his head gravely to the new Min- ister of the Treasury.
"Permit me to introduce the new Chancellor of the realm, Baron Provarsk."
Paulo found it difficult to bow; but by desperate effort did so. Provarsk acknowledged this def- erence to his position by an airy, "That's all right, Paulo. Never can tell what your luck may be. Perhaps I'll make you a field marshal yet," a piece of pleasantry that Kent appreciated with a slight smile, and which the king plainly resented.
"And the Baron Provarsk is therefore now at liberty?" queried Paulo, evidently unable to grasp the extraordinary changes that had taken place.
"My goodness, man! Your Excellency, the Minister of the Treasury, does not suggest that so exalted and important official as the chancellor of the realm should be pinched, do you?" Kent asked, with unsmiling lips.
"Why, I should say not ! " exclaimed Provarsk, with a great assumption of dignity. "I couldn't think of such a thing! I've a mind to ask my cousin to instantly remove you from office!"
"If I am to act as cabinet minister " began Paulo.
"I would suggest that you and the chancellor retire to the anteroom, and come to an amicable agreement to leave each other alone," Kent in- terrupted. "His Majesty expects you to do so. It must be understood that all previous differ- ences have, from the moment of His Majesty's ap- pointments, been obliterated."
Provarsk arose with an air of relief, bowed deeply to the king, eyed Kent quizzically, and led the way. Paulo, still bewildered, made his salutes and followed after, leaving the American with his eyes fixed on Von Glutz, who had steadily drooped and wilted into an effigy of injured innocence, not unlike a wilted turnip.
" Baron," Kent began, "all this may appear a trifle strange to you; but I have reasons."
"Does it not seem to you, Mr. Kent, that you are in a measure taking advantage of our some- what singular position?" the king asked. "I am still striving to keep my share of our agreement; but I can not quite grasp "
"You aren't supposed to grasp anything, owing to that agreement," was the concise retort. "You were, and still are, in a passive position. It's my job to pull you out. I'm probably upsetting a lot of precedents; but I take the responsibility for running this board of directors—pardon ! I mean this kingdom in my own way."
Rebuffed, the king met Kent's look, and then, reassured by the intelligence he saw there, said, "I am sorry to have interfered. I am doing the best I can to learn. It requires some patience, under the circumstances, to "
He stopped, the confession itself being difficult ; but the American liked him for his outburst. In- deed, he decided there might be some hope for the king, properly handled.
"Our ways are different," he said, less aggres- sively. "Your way has been tried and failed. Therefore mine can be no worse."
He faced Von Glutz again, and was about to speak, when, as if it were her particular mission in life to interfere, the Princess Eloise came hur- riedly into the room, again with full danger sig- nals flying.
"Karl," she asked, "is it true, as Provarsk just now informed me, in the ante-room, that you have appointed him chancellor of Marken?"
"It is true," the king replied.
"Then," she declared stormily, "I suppose this outrage is also due to the sage advice of your new friend, Mr. Kent? Are you still the king of Marken, may I ask? Or are you a marionette pulled by a string? Have you gone mad? Have you no spirit left?"
Exasperated by her return as well as by the contempt that had so deftly conveyed itself in th selection of her words, the king forgot his promise of secrecy to the American.
"Eloise," he replied, desperately, "sheer force of circumstances have for the time being drawn me into a pact with Mr. Kent, by which he is to have the controlling voice in the affairs of the kingdom. You forget that without his efforts we should scarcely be here now. So far he has proven "
"Why doesn't he have himself crowned?"
The king did not answer. Kent was amused. She stared at him as he sat noiselessly drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair, entirely selfpossessed, and apparently indifferent to anything she might say.
"I suppose it was you, then, who appointed our enemy Provarsk to the position of chancellor?" she said.
"The king appoints. I merely advise," he re- plied, with a smile in the corners of his eyes that stretched slowly downward until it created circum- flex wrinkles around his firm lips.
"What is to become of Baron Von Glutz?" she demanded, directly to the point.
The American slowly moved his head in the baron's direction and assumed a deep study of that person that caused the latter to squirm, puff his cheeks, and adopt the habitual recourse of tugging at his moustache.
"Do you know," replied Kent slowly, "that is the question which has bothered me a whole lot. I've given considerable thought to him and —er—I hardly know what to do with him. At first I thought of appointing him the king's dog- catcher. Then, observing something faintly sug- gesting a military character, a regular fighting general behind the lines—a long way behind—I concluded that he might make a good minister of war. That is one of the most important places in every kingdom of this kind. The smaller the army, the more important the position. There is such a billet as that in Marken, isn't there?" he concluded in a bland tone of inquiry.
Von Glutz was the first to recover from this attack.
"When one has been a chancellor, it is rather difficult to step back to a portfolio," he protested.
"Then why not step out into private life?" retorted Kent, and added with great enthusiasm : "It would be such a change for you! By Jove! That's the very thing! Become a plain citizen! All sorts of things to do. Opportunities to criti- cise the government. Tell admiring friends what you would have done if you had been chancellor. Point out the incumbent's mistakes. Get a lot of figures together to show wasteful extravagance in expenditures. Tariff reform. Income tax. Workingman's friend. Poor girls' benefactor. Be a Cromwell, and get the power of a king by having His Majesty's head cut off. Or a Bismarck, freely lieing, breaking all covenants, and have yourself made a prince. Sort of fellow-citizen, friend-of- the-people, Napoleon, and clap the crown on your bald head. You might even Cookize, and discover a new North pole. Say! If you've been a good chancellor, why did the hen cross the road! Why was Provarsk?"
He paused with mock earnestness, waiting def- erentially for a reply.
"You don't answer," he continued, and again that subtle change that distinguished him was ap- parent. "Baron Von Glutz, I respect you for be- ing an honest man, and a faithful one. But there has been a task that you could not grasp. There are many different kinds of brains in this world. Yours was not the kind for the place. This one requires a callosity that you don't possess. You can't cheat, or dissimulate. You can't bluff. You were not a good chancellor. So I've made you Minister of War. Do you want the place?"
The baron gave a heavy sigh, and looked doubt- ful. Apprehensive lest he decline the proffered portfolio, the princess hastened to urge his accept- ance.
"Since there seems no way of disregarding our new advisor 's wishes, Baron Von Glutz, I ask you in my own behalf to accept. If you should retire to private life you would leave me with one less friend in whom I can confide. There is none left, now, save Paulo."
The American did not dispute her ; but the king looked at her strangely and said, "That is unfair, Eloise."
She paid no attention to him but walked across until she stood by the baron's side.
"For my sake, old friend," she appealed, and Von Glutz, for whom Kent was secretly rather sorry, lifted his head and said, "Very well. I accept. " "Good!" said Kent, bluntly.
He waited, as if expecting the princess to leave the room; but she, divining his wish, stubbornly made her way to a chair and seated herself with the evident intention of remaining indefinitely. Observing this, Kent smiled slightly, and an- nounced himself.
"Having thus come so easily through our re- organisation, and now being on such nice, friendly terms of amity and unity, " he said, "we may as well get down to business and understand what we propose to do. I have studied the situation pretty thoroughly. First, we have army enough now to do police duty. That is what it shall do. Next, we shall have conscription. "
His hearers gave a gasp of dismay.
"The trouble with a large majority of Marken- ites," he went on, "is that they are lazy. They don't produce enough. Therefore we will have conscription for labour, and compel them to work whether they want to or not. If they don't obey, we confiscate their property and throw them out of the kingdom. I'm going to compel every man in Marken to earn more money than he ever has hitherto!"
His voice was now hard and emphatic, and he punctuated his declaration by rapping the table with his knuckles.
"I'm going to make them rich, and the kingdom rich, whether they like it or not. When a country is in such distress as this kingdom is, it needs an autocrat and, by Heavens! it has one now! Those mines shall work full tilt, and this government is going to force the building of factories and encourage industries. The kingdom of Marken shall not only pay its debts, but while doing it, shall learn how to keep out of debt."
The king could not entirely repress a look of enthusiasm; but the princess was still rebellious.
"And may I ask what role the modest Mr. Kent proposes to play in all this miraculous work?" she inquired.
"I've thought of that, too," cheerfully replied Mr. Kent, ignoring the inference that he had been boasting. "Some kings have officials known as 'The King's Remembrancer,' whose job it is to stand at the king's elbow and remind him of what he has to do. I shall be the King's Remembrancer in Marken, Your Royal Highness."