Open main menu

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

JUST prior to the hour of the matutinal sausage in Marken, on the following morning, those who strolled sleepily out into the narrow streets and observed that the sun had been up several hours, found a topic for conversation. Notices had been posted in the night-time on the doorways of churches, lamp posts, and pillar boxes, and sometimes over the billboards where gay posters advised people to use Schmitt's soap; to feed their dogs on torox, or to drink that most soothing of all liqueurs, Ron Bacardi. Languidly these were read and a mild flutter ensued that caused many to forget—almost to forget—that the sausage hour was due.

The notices were printed in plain white, with plain type, and plainly stated that His Gracious and Benign Majesty, Karl II, King of Marken, by Divine Right, had, in the interests of the great kingdom, seen fit to exercise his august prerogative of forming a new ministry, in the confident belief that his subjects and the welfare of the state would thereby be benefited, Baron Matilda, etc., etc., Provarsk was now the chancellor of the realm, succeeding Baron, etc., etc., Von Glutz.

"Ha!" said those who read, gleefully. "The old pouter pigeon has got his wings clipped!" Or, "Baron Provarsk? What does this mean? Continually he has tried to make us believe that King Karl is a blunderer. Now he sides with the king and becomes chancellor. Ayya! Ahem! We shall see what kind of a chancellor this high and mighty baron makes!"

Baron Von Glutz now Minister of War!

At that they laughed a little and expressed pity for the few score men who formed the king's standing army. They hoped the new minister would not alter the uniforms, because those new scarlet tunics and white trousers, pricked out with profuse gold braidings, were very effective.

Captain Philidor Paulo to be Minister of the Treasury.

"Well! Well! Well! That's something. The common people are at last beginning to be recognised!" They were flattered. They remembered, some of them, what a merry lad he was when his widowed mother conducted the charcuterie in the Alley of the Capuchins. Pity she had not lived to see her son a cabinet minister! What a lot of money he would have to count. He always was good at counting, stoutly asserted some of the old dames who had watched his growth.

They discussed it vigorously while eating. They had placid disputes about it after the shops opened; but they forgot it by bed-time. Affairs couldn't be worse than they had been, they decided, with that remarkable phlegm which has ever been Marken's most distinguishing trait, and let it go at that.

On the following day the shops had nice pictures of the new chancellor for sale, all of which had been left by a giant, "on commission," who was voted a queer sort of chap, inasmuch as sometimes he failed to hear, or at least declined to answer. This gave them cause for gossip, it being an innovation to thus advertise the face of the chancellor. They did not know that a more mystified person was the chancellor himself, who speculated vainly on what the fertile-brained King's Remembrancer could have "up his sleeve" in this latest divertissement, and not in the least suspecting that it was for the purpose of making his features so widely known that he could never run away.

The Court Gazette, that highly aloof official organ whose smallest paragraph was read with awe, proved the next distraction. It intimated that great changes were about to take place in the administration of the kingdom, all of which would tend to the aggrandisement of Marken, and would probably bring it into the rank of First Powers of the world; whatever that might be. Elderly gentlemen wagged their heads sagely, and younger ones unconsciously swelled their chests as duly becomes citizens of one of the "Great Powers." The cautious ones hoped that Marken was not going to plunge the world into a war of conquest, and a village oracle who had once seen the Adriatic sea and declared that it was impossible to see across it because there was so much water, and who had for twenty years been discredited therefor as a notorious liar, arose again to prominence and sagely declared that he believed, after long deliberation, that Marken was about to have a navy of its own.

Then, after a week's excited argument, there appeared that memorable state announcement that it was the duty of all to support the state and that at the places named, on the dates named, all able-bodied citizens of both sexes would appear and register themselves; that failure to do so would be punished by fines, imprisonment, confiscation of property and various other humiliations. Also, God save the King! And this manifesto was signed by the new chancellor! This was carrying it too far! The idea of expecting people to do something for the state! Why, who ever heard of such a thing! Of course anything done for the state was wasted time. Didn't they pay taxes? Wasn't that enough? Things were coming to a pretty pass. Anyway, two weeks must elapse before the new conscription measures came effective, and this, they decided, was ample time to consider so startling an innovation.

And innovation had been made in the palace it- self, unknown to the placid, indolent citizens of the quaint old city that flowed in haphazard angles below the palace hill. The American, after effect- ing the organisation of the new cabinet, was the cause.

"Thank you for the invitation to make your palace my home, sir," he said to the king on His Majesty's formal re-entry into his ancestral home.

The king, astonished, inasmuch as he had never conceived, or voiced, any such invitation, answered with a whimsical smile not too unlike Kent's own, " Oh, it's nothing! Nothing at all, Mr. Kent. It was thoughtful of me, wasn't it?"

"Very," replied the new guest. "It was very kind of you, also, to suggest that inasmuch as a King's Remembrancer must be a mighty busy man, because a king has so much to think about, that I should select such rooms of the palace as would serve for business offices."

Thus he seized a reception room, overlooking the gardens, and a smaller room that was meta- morphosed into his private office, and in a third a staff of bookkeepers was installed.

"It looks," said the king to Paulo, whilst mak- ing a surreptitious visit, "like a bank. What on earth can so many bookkeepers do?" "Opening a new set of government books, Sire, under the direction of a London accountant to whom Mr. Kent telegraphed."

The king looked helpless and puzzled and said, "Weren't the old ones—Ummh!"

"Mr. Kent said all the old books were mere waste. Said he would put the accounts of Marken in such shape that he could tell each night exactly where the kingdom stood, or know the reason why."

"Incredible!" exclaimed the king. "No one ever heard of such a thing."

"That is what Baron Von Glutz told Mr. Kent."

The king grinned and his eyes lighted as he asked what Mr. Kent had replied.

"Mr. Kent asked the baron if he had ever heard that in America there were now large and thriving orchards of cheese trees, and when the baron answered that he had not, Mr. Kent said, 'There you are! You see there's a lot of things you never heard of. Every child in America knows as well about the cheese tree as every big corporation knows about the watermelon. Whenever possible, every big board of directors in America assembles in solemn conclave and cuts one."

The king looked as if he almost believed it; but did not disclose ignorance, having been carefully instructed on this point when a crown prince.

"Mr. Kent has retained one of the expert ac- countants sent him from London as his private secretary," Paulo added, as a further note of interest "He speaks our tongue. Also, Ivan has brought all their personal belongings from Stein- weg. Mr. Kent has also bought a strange sort of clock arrangement that he compels the chancellor and the Minister of War to punch in a curious fashion whenever they enter or leave their offices. Mr. Kent said he was thinking of getting one for Your Majesty. This curious device registers the time when one comes in or goes out, so that by referring to it, Mr. Kent says he can tell whether they are doing a full day's work."

His Majesty decided that it was time for him to retire to his own part of the palace. Mr. Kent seemed to be doing quite a lot of things. Among others, His Majesty learned a few days later, waa the reorganisation of the working plant of the mining concession, effected by a distinguished min- ing engineer who had not only arrived but had telegraphed for new machinery that was to be in- stalled. Also local engineers had been sent to make surveys and plans for electric power plants at several places where hitherto some noble water- falls had been permitted to flow as nature made them, untrammelled by harness. Quarries owned and long neglected by the crown were being pre- pared for reopening on large scales, and the king was further surprised when it was publicly an- nounced that His Majesty, Karl II, was heading a scheme for the utilisation of some mineral springs, and would from state funds establish a spa that it was hoped would be second to none in Europe, where gout, rheumatism, Bright 's disease and many other ailments would be promptly alle- viated, or cured, under the supervision of famous specialists. The king wasn't sure that he liked it. The best he could hope for was that Kent would not have a picture of the king and His Majesty's personal guarantee on every bottle of water exported. And in the meantime, Mr. Kent, cause of all the disturbance, was happier than he had ever been in his life. He was the first in his office in the morning, and the last to leave at night. The dignity of the staid old palace was being rudely shaken by constant streams of those who came on business, were received by the square- jawed man who always explained that he was merely the king's mouthpiece appointed to trans- act whatever was to be done in this particular case, etc., etc., and

"Sit down! Did you bring those plans? Well, skip all that! What's it going to cost? That's too much. Ought to be shaved by twenty per cent. Take those estimates back and go over them again. No use in your trying to fool the king, is there? You fellows around here have got to wake up. The king has been studying over this affair, and knows what it ought to cost just about as well as you do. Bring the new figures around to-morrow at seven minutes past three o'clock. Good day!"

Like a Gatling gun that voice snapped and boomed all day long, and a close observer might have discovered that in the cafes of Marken by night, and in the Market Place by day, men began to speak of the king with something more than stupefaction, something bordering on fear and respect. ' ' Who would have ever thought it ? " they muttered and wagged. "No one ever expected him to do any more than any other king does!" And, "Where on earth would he get workmen for eo many enterprises?" Pessimists opined that the king was mad and the kingdom going to the dogs.

The days of the registration passed with good- natured tolerance. It was fairly good sport, the Markenites thought, quite like some foolish festi- val season. But why was it that when they regis- tered themselves they were also given a physical examination and issued cards of different colours stating that they had been assigned to a certain class? It certainly did indicate that the king was preparing to go to war, and was therefore organising all his resources. The citizens of the toy capital of the toy kingdom were vastly per- plexed, but not quite alarmed.

Secretly the new chancellor speculated on what this bold alien expected of him, and suspected that the sole reason why he was compelled to keep office hours was that a watch might be kept over his activities. Secretly the new minister of war fussed and fumed. Secretly the king began to hope for the best, and secretly the Princess Eloise came to the conclusion that there were some characteristics of the redoubtable Mr. Kent that she could not understand. Fight as she would, she had to admit that he threatened to do things, exhibited no slovenliness of mind, and she could not help liking him for that.

And then, on a certain day, the curiosity of every one promised to be satisfied. Again the public announcements appeared, assembling all of classes A, B, C, and F, at certain central points, notably one in the Market Place of Marken, and now there would be but two weeks more of suspense.