The King's Mirror/Chapter 6
A STUDENT OF LOVE AFFAIRS.
The departure to Biarritz was carried through without further overt hostilities. It chanced to be holidays with me, all my tutors were on their vacation, my governor, Vohrenlorf, on a visit at Berlin. Hearing of my solitude, he insisted on making arrangements to return speedily; but for a few days I was left quite alone, saving for the presence of my French body-servant Baptiste. I liked Baptiste; he was by conviction an anarchist, by prejudice a free-thinker; one shrug of his shoulders disposed of the institutions of this world, another relegated the next to the limbo of delusions. He was always respectful, but possessed an unconquerably intimate manner; he could not forget that man spoke to man, although one might be putting on the other's boots for him. He regarded me with mingled affection and pity. I had overheard him speaking of le pauvre petit roi; the point of view was so much my own that from the instant my heart went out to Baptiste. Since he attributed to me no sacro-sanctity, he was not officious or persistent in his attendance while he was on duty; in fact he left me very much to my own devices. To my mother he was polite but cold; he adored Victoria, declaring that she was worthy of being French; his great hatred was for Hammerfeldt, whom he accused of embodying the devil of Teutonism. Hammerfeldt was aware of his feelings and played with them, while he trusted Baptiste more than anybody about me. He did not know how attached I was to the Frenchman, and I did not intend that he should learn. I had received a sharp lesson with regard to parading my preferences.
It was through Baptiste that I heard of Baron Fritz's side of the case, for Baptiste was friendly with Fritz's servants. The Baron, it appeared, was in despair. "They watch him when he walks by the river," declared Baptiste with a gesture in which dismay and satisfaction were curiously blended.
"Poor fellow!" said I, leaning back in the stern of the boat. To be in such a state on Victoria's account was odd and deplorable.
Baptiste laid down the sculls and leaned forward smiling.
"It is nothing, sire," said he. "It must happen now and again to all of us. M. le Baron will soon be well. Meanwhile he is—oh, miserable!"
"Is he all alone there?" I asked.
"Absolutely, sire. He will see nobody."
I looked up at Waldenweiter.
"He has not even his mother with him," said Baptiste; the remark, as Baptiste delivered it, was impertinent, and yet so intangibly impertinent as to afford no handle for reproof. He meant that the Baron was free from an aggravation; he said that he lacked a consolation.
"Shall I go and see him?" I asked. In truth I was rather curious about him; it was a pleasure to me to break out of my own surroundings.
"What would the Prince say?" said Baptiste.
"He need not know. Row ashore there."
"You must not go, sire. It would be known, and they would say——" Baptiste's shrug was eloquent.
"Do they always talk about everything one does?"
"Certainly, sire, it is your privilege," smiled my servant. "But I think he might come to you. That could be managed; not in the Schloss, but in the wood, quite privately. I can contrive it."
Baptiste did contrive it, and Baron Fritz came. I was now just too old to scorn love, just too young to sympathize fully with it. There is that age in a boy's life, but since he holds his tongue about it, it is apt to escape notice, and people jest on the sudden change in his attitude toward women. Nothing in nature is sudden; no more, then, is this transition. I looked curiously at Fritz; he was timid with me. I perceived that he was not an ordinary young nobleman, devoted only to sport and wine; he had something of Owen's romance, but in him it was self-centred, not open wide to embrace the universe of things beautiful and ugly. He thanked me for receiving him in a rather elaborate and artificial fashion. I wondered at once that he had caught Victoria's fancy; her temperament seemed too robust for him. He began to speak of her in some very poetical phrases; he quoted a line of poetry about Diana and Endymion. I had been made to turn it into Latin verses, and its sentiment fell cold on my soul. He spoke of his passion with desperation, and I thought with pride. He said that, happen what might, his whole life was the Princess's; but he did not mention Victoria's name, he said "her" with an air of mystery, as though spies lurked in the woods. There was nobody save Baptiste, standing sentry to guard this secret meeting. I gave the Baron a cigarette, and lit one myself; I had begun the habit, though still surreptitiously.
"You must have known there'd be a row?" I suggested.
"Tell me of her!" he cried. "Is she in great grief?"
I did not want to tell him about Victoria; I wanted him to tell me about himself. As soon as he understood this, I am bound to say that he gratified me at once. I sat looking at him while he described his feelings; all at once he turned and discovered my gaze on him.
"Go on," said I.
The Baron appeared uncomfortable. His eyes fell to the ground, and he tried to puff at his cigarette which he had allowed to go out. I daresay he thought me a strange boy; but he could not very well say so.
"You don't understand it?" he asked.
"Partly," I answered.
"We never had any hope," said he, almost luxuriously.
"But you enjoyed it very much?" I suggested; I was quite grave about it in my mind, as well as in my face.
"Ah!" sighed he softly.
"And now it's all over!"
"I see her no more. I think of her. She thinks of me."
"Perhaps," said I meditatively. I was wondering whether they did not think more about themselves. "Didn't you think you might manage it?"
"Alas, no. Sorrow was always in our joy."
"What are you going to do now?"
"What is there for me to do?" he asked despairingly. "Sometimes I think that I can not endure to live."
"Baptiste told me that they watched you when you walked by the river."
He turned to me with a very interested expression of face.
"Do they really?" he asked.
"So Baptiste said."
"I promised her that, whatever happened, I would do nothing rash," said he. "What would her feelings be?"
"We should all be very much distressed," said I, in my best court manner.
"Ah, the world, the world!" sighed Baron Fritz. Then with an air of great courage he went on. "Yet, how am I so different from her?"
"I think you are very much alike," said I.
"But she is—a Princess!"
I felt that he was laying a sort of responsibility on me. I could not help Victoria being a Princess. He laughed bitterly; I seemed to be put on my defence.
"I think it just as absurd as you do," I hastened to say.
"Absurd!" he echoed. "I didn't say that I thought it absurd. Would not your Majesty rather say tragic? There must be kings, princes, princesses—our hearts pay the price."
I was growing rather weary of this Baron, and wondering more and more what Victoria had discovered in him. But my lack of knowledge led me into an error ; I attributed what wearied me in no degree to the Baron himself, but altogether to his condition. "This, then, is what it is to be in love," I was saying to myself; I summoned up the relics of my scorn once so abundant and vigorous. The Baron perhaps detected the beginnings of ennui; he rose to his feet.
"Forgive me, if I say that your Majesty will understand my feelings better in two or three years," he observed.
"I suppose I shall," I answered, rather uneasily.
"Meanwhile I must live it down; I must master it."
"It's the only thing to do."
"Oh, she'll get over it," I assured him, nodding my head.
I am inclined sometimes to count it among my misfortunes, that the first love affair with which I was brought into intimate connection and confronted at an age still so impressionable, should have been of the shallow and somewhat artificial character betrayed by the romance of my sister and Baron Fritz. She was a headstrong girl; longing to exercise power over men, surprised when a temporary gust of feeling carried her into an emotion unexpectedly strong; he was a self-conscious fellow, hugging his woes and delighting in the picturesqueness of his misfortune. The notion left on my mind was that there was a great deal of nonsense about the matter. Baptiste strengthened my opinion.
"I ask your pardon, sire," he said with a shrug, "but we know the sentimentality of the Germans. What is it? Sighs and then beer, more sighs and more beer, a deluge of sighs and a deluge of beer. A Frenchman is not like that in his little affairs."
"What does a Frenchman do, Baptiste?" I had the curiosity to ask.
"Ah," laughed Baptiste, "if I told your Majesty now, you would not care to visit Paris; and I long to go to Paris with your Majesty."
I did not pursue the subject. I was conscious of a disenchantment, begun by Victoria, continued by the Baron. The reaction made in favour of my mother. I acknowledged the wisdom of her firmness and an excuse for her anger. I realized her causes for annoyance and shame, and saw the hollowness of the lovers' pleas. I had thought the Princess very hard; I was now inclined to think that she had shown as much self-control as could be expected from her. Rather to my own surprise I found myself extending this more favourable judgment of her to other matters, entering with a new sympathy into her disposition, and even forgiving some harsh thing which I had never pardoned. The idea suggested itself to my mind, that even the rigours of the Styrian discipline had a rational relation to the position which the victims of it were destined to fill. She might be right in supposing that we could not be allowed the indulgence accorded to the common run of children. We were destined for a special purpose, and, if we were not made of a special clay, yet we must be fashioned into a special shape. It is hard to disentangle the influence of one event from that exerted by another. Perhaps the loss of Owen, and the consequently increased influence of Hammerfeldt over my life and thoughts, had as much to do with my new feelings as Victoria's love affair; but in any case I date from this time a fresh development of myself. I was growing into my kingship, beginning to realize the conception of it, and to fill up that conception in my own mind. This moment was of importance to me; for it marked the beginning of a period during which this idea of my position was very dominant and coloured all I did or thought. I did not change my opinion as to the discomfort of the post; but its importance, its sacredness, and its paramount claims grew larger and larger in my eyes. It seems curious, but had Baron Fritz been a different sort of lover, I think that I should have been in some respects a different sort of a king. It needs a constant intellectual effort to believe that there is anything except accident in the course of the world.
Hammerfeldt's persistent pressure drove the lovelorn Baron, still undrowned (had the watchers been too vigilant?), on a long foreign tour, and in three months the Princess and Victoria returned. I saw at once that the new relations were permanently established between them; my mother displayed an almost ostentatious abdication of authority; her whole air declared that since Victoria chose to walk alone, alone in good truth she should walk. It was the attitude of a proud and domineering nature that answers any objection to its sway by a wholesale disclaimer at once of power and responsibility. Victoria accepted her mother's resolution, but rather with resentment than gratitude. They had managed the affair badly; my mother had lost influence without gaining affection; my sister had forfeited guidance but not achieved a true liberty. She was hardly more her own mistress than before; Hammerfeldt, screened behind me, now trammelled her, and she had a statesman to deal with instead of a mother. Only once she spoke to me concerning the Baron and his affair; the three months had wrought some change here also.
"I was very silly," she said impatiently. "I know that well enough."
"Then why don't you make it up with mother?" I ventured to suggest.
"Mother behaved odiously," she declared. "I can never forgive her the way she treated me."
The grievance then had shifted its ground; not what the Princess had done, but the manner in which she had done it was now the head and front of her offence. It needed little acquaintance with the world to recognise that matters were not improved by this change; one may come to recognise that common sense was with the enemy; vanity at once takes refuge in the conviction that his awkwardness, rudeness, or cruelty in advancing his case was responsible for all the trouble.
"If she had been kind, I should have seen it all directly," said Victoria. And in this it may very well be that Victoria was not altogether wrong.
The position was, however, inconsistent with even moderate comfort. There was a way of ending it, obvious, I suppose, to everybody save myself, but seeming rather startling to my youthful mind. In six months now Victoria would be eighteen, and eighteen is a marriageable age. Victoria must be married; my mother and Hammerfeldt went husband-hunting. As soon as I heard of the scheme I was ready with brotherly sympathy, and even cherished the idea of interposing a hitherto untried royal veto on such premature haste and cruel forcing of a girl's inclination. Victoria received my advances with visible surprise. Did I suppose, she asked, that she was so happy at home as to shrink from marriage? Would not such a step be rather an emancipation than a banishment? (I paraphrase and condense her observation.) Did I not perceive that she must hail the prospect with relief? I was to know that her mother and herself were at one on this matter; she was obliged for my kindness, but thought that I need not concern myself in the matter. Considerably relieved, not less puzzled, with a picture of Victoria sobbing and the Baron walking (well watched) by the river's brink, I withdrew from my sister's presence. It occurred to me that to take a husband in order to escape from a mother was a peculiar step; I have since seen reason to suppose that it is more common than I imagined.
The history of my private life is (to speak broadly) the record of the reaction of my public capacity on my personal position; the effect of this reaction has been almost uniformly unfortunate. The case of Victoria's marriage affords a good instance. It might have been that here at least I should be suffered to play a fraternal and grateful part. My fate and Hammerfeldt ruled otherwise. There were two persons who suggested themselves as suitable mates for my sister; one was the reigning king of a country which I need not name, the other was Prince William Adolphus of Alt-Gronenstahl, a prince of considerable wealth and unexceptionable descent but not in the direct succession to a throne, not likely to occupy a prominent position in Europe. Victoria had never quite forgiven fortune (or perhaps me either) for not making her a queen in the first instance; she was eager to repair the error. She came to me and begged me to exert my influence in behalf of the king, who was understood through his advisers to favour the suggestion. I was most happy to second her wishes, although entirely sceptical as to the value of my assistance. I recollect very well the interview that followed between Hammerfeldt and myself; throughout the Prince treated me en roi, speaking with absolute candour, disclosing to me the whole question, and assuming in me an elevation of spirit superior to merely personal feelings.
"After your Majesty," said he, "the Princess is heir to the throne. We have received representations that the union of the two countries in one hand could not be contemplated by the Powers. Now you, sire, are young; you are and must be for some years unmarried; life is uncertain and" (here he looked at me steadily) "your physicians are of opinion that certain seeds of weakness, sown by your severe illness, have not yet been eradicated from your constitution. It is necessary for me to offer these observations to your Majesty."
The old man's eyes were very kind.
"It's all right, sir," said I. "Go on."
"We all trust that you may live through a long reign, and that your son may reign after you. It is, indeed, the only strong wish that I have left in a world which I have well-nigh done with. But the other possibility has been set before us and we can not ignore it."
From that moment I myself never ignored it.
"It was suggested that Princess Victoria should renounce her rights of succession. I need not remind your Majesty that the result would be to make your cousin Prince Ferdinand heir-presumptive. I desire to speak with all respect of the Prince, but his succession would be an unmixed calamity." The Prince took a pinch of snuff.
Ferdinand was very liberal in his theories; and equally so, in a rather different sense, in his mode of life.
I thought for a moment.
"I shouldn't like the succession to go out of our branch," said I.
"I was sure of it, sire," he said, bowing. "It would break your mother's heart and mine."
I was greatly troubled. What of my ready inconsiderate promise to Victoria? And apart from the promise I would most eagerly have helped her to her way. I had felt severely the lack of confidence and affection that had recently come about between us; I was hungry for her love, and hoped to buy it of her gratitude. I believe old Hammerfeldt's keen eyes saw all that passed in my thoughts. The Styrian teaching had left its mark on my mind, as had the Styrian discipline on my soul. "God did not make you king for your own pleasure," Krak used to say with that instinctive knowledge of the Deity which marks those who train the young. No, nor for my sister's, nor even that I might conciliate my sister's love. Nay, again, nor even that I might make my sister happy. For none of these ends did I sit where I sat. But I felt very forlorn and sad as I looked at the old Prince.
"Victoria will be very angry," said I. "I wanted to please her so much."
"The Princess has her duties, and will recognise yours," he answered.
"Of course, if I die it'll be all right. But if I live she'll say I did it just out of ill-nature."
The old man rose from his chair, laying his snuff-box on the table by him. He came up to me and held out both his hands; I put mine into them, and looked up into his face. It was moved by a most rare emotion. I had never seen him like this before.
"Sire," said he in a low tone, "do not think that nobody loves you; for from that mood it may come that a man will love nobody. There is an old man that loves you, as he loved your father and your grandfather; and your people shall love you." He bent down and kissed me on either cheek. Then he released my hands and stood before me. There was a long silence. Then he said:
"Have I your Majesty's authority and support in acting for the good of the kingdom?"
"Yes," said I.
But, alas! for Victoria's hopes, ambitions, and vanity for her crown, and her crowned husband. Alas, poor sister! And, alas, poor brother, hungry to be friends again!