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   Chapter 5 No.5

The Vizier of the Two-Horned Alexander By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 36211

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

"Now, my dear," said Mrs. Crowder, the moment we had finished dinner on the next evening, "I want thee to tell us immediately what thee did with the jewels. I have been thinking about that all day; and I believe, if I had been with thee, I could have given thee some good advice, so that the money thee received for these treasures would have lasted thee a long time."

"I have thought on that subject many times," said Mr. Crowder, "not only in regard to this case, but others, and have formed hundreds of plans for carrying my possessions into another set of social conditions; but the fact of being obliged to change my identity always made it impossible for me to avail myself of the advantages of commercial paper, legal deeds, and all titles to property."

"Thee might have put thy wealth into solid gold--great bars and lumps. Those would be available in any country and in any age, and they wouldn't have had anything to do with thy identity," said his wife.

"It was always difficult for me to carry about or even conceal such golden treasures, but I have sometimes done it. However, as you are in such a hurry to hear about the jewels, I will let all other subjects drop. When I reached my lodgings in Rome, I opened the box, and found everything perfect; the writing on the sheets of parchment was still black and perfectly legible, and the jewels looked just as they did when I put them into the box."

"I cannot imagine," interrupted Mrs. Crowder, "how thee remembered what they looked like after the lapse of three hundred years."

Mr. Crowder smiled. "You forget," he said, "that since I first reached the age of fifty-three there has been no radical change in me, physical or mental. My memory is just as good now as it was when I reached my fifty-third birthday, in the days of Abraham. It is impossible for me to forget anything of importance, and I remembered perfectly the appearance of those gems. But my knowledge of such things had been greatly improved by time and experience, and after I had spent an hour or two looking over my treasures, I felt sure that they were far more valuable than they were when they came into my possession. In fact, it was a remarkable collection of precious stones, considering it in regard to its historic as well as its intrinsic value.

"I shall not attempt to describe my various plans for disposing of my treasures; but I soon found that it would not be wise for me to try to sell them in Rome. I had picked out one of the least valuable engraved stones, and had taken it to a lapidary, who readily bought it at his own valuation, and paid me with great promptness; but after he had secured it he asked me so many questions about it, particularly how I had come into possession of it, that I was very sure that he had made a wonderful bargain, and was also convinced that it would not do for me to take any more of my gems to him. Those Roman experts knew too much about antique jewels.

"I went to Naples, where I had a similar experience. Then I found it would be well for me, if I did not wish to be arrested as a thief who had robbed a museum, to endeavor to sell my collection as a whole in some other country. As a professional dealer in gems from a foreign land I would be less liable to suspicion than if I endeavored to peddle my jewels one at a time. So I determined to go to Madrid and try to sell my collection there.

"When I reached Spain I found the country in a great turmoil. This was in 1808, when Napoleon was on the point of invading Spain; but as politicians, statesmen, and military men were not in the habit of buying ancient gems, I still hoped that I might be able to transact the business which had brought me to the country. My collection would be as valuable to a museum then as at any time; for it was not supposed that the French were coming into the country to ravage and destroy the great institutions of learning and art. I made acquaintances in Madrid, and before long I had an opportunity of exhibiting my collection to a well-known dealer and connoisseur, who was well acquainted with the officers of the Royal Museum. I thought it would be well to sell them through his agency, even though I paid him a high commission.

"If I should say that this man was astounded as well as delighted when he saw my collection, I should be using very feeble expressions; for, carried away by his enthusiasm, he did not hesitate to say to me that it was the most valuable collection he had ever seen. Even if the stones had been worthless in themselves, their historic value was very great. Of course he wanted to know where I had obtained these treasures, and I informed him truthfully that I had traveled far and wide in order to gather them together. I told him the history of many of them, but entirely omitted mentioning anything which would give a clue to the times and periods when I had come into possession of them.

"This dealer undertook the sale of my jewels. We arranged them in a handsome box lined with velvet and divided into compartments, and I made a catalogue of them, copied from my ancient parchments--which would have ruined me had I inadvertently allowed them to be seen. He put himself into communication with the officers of the museum, and I left the matter entirely in his hands.

"In less than a week I became aware that I was an object of suspicion. I called on the dealer, but he was not to be seen. I found that I was shadowed by officers of the law. I wrote to the dealer, but received no answer. One evening, when I returned to my lodgings, I found that they had been thoroughly searched. I became alarmed, and the conviction forced itself upon me that the sooner I should escape from Madrid, the better for me."

"What!" exclaimed Mrs. Crowder, "and leave thy jewels behind? Thee certainly did not do that!"

"Ah, my dear," replied her husband, "you do not comprehend the situation. It was very plain that the authorities of the museum did not believe that a private individual, a stranger, was likely to be the legitimate owner of these treasures. Had my case been an ordinary one I should have courted investigation; but how could I prove that I had been an honest man three hundred years before? A legal examination, not so much on account of the jewels, but because of the necessary assertion of my age, would have been a terrible ordeal.

"I hurried to the dealer's shop, but found it closed. Inquiring of a woman in a neighboring door-step, I was informed that the dealer had been arrested. I asked no more. I did not return to my lodgings, and that night I left Madrid."

I could not repress an exclamation of distress, and Mrs. Crowder cried: "Did thee really go away and leave thy jewels? Such a thing is too dreadful to think of. But perhaps thee got them again?"

"No," said Mr. Crowder; "I never saw them again, nor ever heard of them. But now that it is impossible for any one to be living who might recognize me, I hope to go to Madrid and see those gems. I have no doubt that they are in the museum."

"And I," exclaimed Mrs. Crowder--"I shall go with thee; I shall see them."

"Indeed you shall," said her husband, taking her affectionately by the hand. And then he turned to me. "You may think," said he, "that I was too timid, that I was too ready to run away from danger; but it is hard for any one but myself readily to appreciate my horror of a sentence to imprisonment or convict labor for life."

"Oh, horrible!" said his wife, with tears in her eyes. "Then thee would have despaired indeed."

"No," said he; "I should not even have had that consolation. Despair is a welcome to death. A man who cannot die cannot truly despair. But do not let us talk upon such a melancholy subject."

"No, no," cried Mrs. Crowder; "I am glad thee left those wretched jewels behind thee. And thee got away safely?"

"Oh, yes; I had some money left. I traveled by night and concealed myself by day, and so got out of Spain. Soon after I crossed the Pyrenees I found myself penniless, and was obliged to work my way."

"Poverty again!" exclaimed Mrs. Crowder. "It is dreadful to hear so much of it. If thee could only have carried away with thee one of thy diamonds, thee might have cracked it up into little pieces, and thee might have sold these, one at a time, without suspicion."

"I never thought of being a vender of broken diamonds, and there is nothing suspicious about honest labor. The object of my present endeavors was to reach England, and I journeyed northward. It was nearly a month after I had entered France that I was at a little village on the Garonne, repairing a stone wall which divided a field from the road, and I assure you I was very glad to get this job.

"It was here that I heard of the near approach of Napoleon's army on its march into Spain; that the news was true was quickly proved, for very soon after I had begun my work on the wall the country to the north seemed to be filled with cavalry, infantry, artillery, baggage-wagons, and everything that pertained to an army. About noon there was a general halt, and in the field the wall of which I was repairing a body of officers made a temporary encampment.

"I paid as little apparent attention as possible to what was going on around me, but proceeded steadily with my work, although I assure you I had my eyes wide open all the time. I was thinking of stopping work in order to eat my dinner, which I had with me, when a party of officers approached me on their way to a little hill in the field. One of them stopped and spoke to me, and as he did so the others halted and stood together a little way off. The moment I looked at the person who addressed me I knew him. It was Napoleon Bonaparte."

"Then thee has seen the great Napoleon," almost whispered Mrs. Crowder.

"And very much disappointed I was when I beheld him," remarked her husband. "I had seen portraits of him, I had read and heard of his great achievements, and I had pictured to myself a hero. Perhaps my experience should have taught me that heroes seldom look like heroes, but for all that I had had my ideal, and in appearance this man fell below it. His face was of an olive color which was unequally distributed over his features; he was inclined to be pudgy, and his clothes did not appear to fit him; but for all that he had the air of a man who with piercing eyes saw his way before him and did not flinch from taking it, rough as it might be. 'You seem an old man for such work,' said he, 'but if you are strong enough to lift those stones why are you not in the army?' As he spoke I noticed that he had not the intonation of a true Frenchman. He had the accent of the foreigner that he was.

"'Sire,' said I, 'I am too old for the army, but in spite of my age I must earn my bread.' I may state here that my hair and beard had been growing since I left Madrid. For a moment the emperor regarded me in silence. 'Are you a Frenchman?' said he. 'You speak too well for a stone-mason, and, moreover, your speech is that of a foreigner who has studied French.' It was odd that each of us should have remarked the accent of the other, but I was not amused at this; I was becoming very nervous. 'Sire,' said I, 'I come from Italy.' 'Were you born there?' asked he. My nervousness increased. This man was too keen a questioner. 'Sire,' I replied, 'I was born in the country southeast of Rome.' This was true enough, but it was a long way southeast. 'Do you speak Spanish?' he abruptly asked.

"At this question my blood ran cold. I had had enough of speaking Spanish. I was trying to get away from Spain and everything that belonged to that country; but I thought it safest to speak the truth, and I answered that I understood the language. The emperor now beckoned to one of his officers, and ordered him to talk with me in Spanish. I had been in Spain in the early part of the preceding century, and I had there learned to speak the pure Castilian tongue, so that when the officer talked with me I could see that he was surprised, and presently he told the emperor that he had never heard any one who spoke such excellent Spanish. The emperor fixed his eyes upon me. 'You must have traveled a great deal,' he said. 'You should not be wasting your time with stones and mortar.' Then, turning to the officer who had spoken to me, he said, 'He understands Spanish so well that we may make him useful.' He was about to address me again, but was interrupted by the arrival of an orderly with a despatch. This he read hastily, and walked toward the officers who were waiting for him; but before he left me he ordered me to report myself at his tent, which was not far off in the field. He then walked away, evidently discussing the despatch, which he still held open in his hand.

"Now I was again plunged into the deepest apprehension and fear. I did not want to go back to Spain, not knowing what might happen to me there. Every evil thing was possible. I might be recognized, and the emperor might not care to shield any one claimed by the law as an escaped thief. In an instant I saw all sorts of dreadful possibilities. I determined to take no chances. The moment the emperor's back was turned upon me I got over the broken part of the wall and, interfered with by no one, passed quietly along the road to the house of the man who had employed me to do his mason-work, and seeing no one there,--for every window and door was tightly closed,--I walked into the yard and went to the well, which was concealed from the road by some shrubbery. I looked quickly about, and perceiving that I was not in sight of any one, I got into the well and went down to the bottom, assisting my descent by the well-rope. The water was about five feet deep, and when I first entered it, it chilled me; but nothing could chill me so much as the thought that I might be taken back into Spain, no matter by whom or for what. I must admit that I was doing then, and often had done, that which seemed very much like cowardice; but people who can die cannot understand the fear which may come upon a person who has not that refuge from misfortune.

"For the rest of the day I remained in the well, and when people came to draw water--and this happened many times in the course of the afternoon --I crouched down as much as I could; but at such times I would have been concealed by the descending bucket, even if any one had chosen to look down the well. This bucket was a heavy one with iron hoops, and I had a great deal of trouble sometimes to shield my head from it."

"I should think thee would have taken thy death of cold," said Mrs. Crowder, "staying in that cold well the whole afternoon."

"No," said her husband, with a smile; "I was not afraid of that. If I should have taken cold I knew it would not be fatal, and although the water chilled me at first, I became used to it. An hour or two after nightfall I clambered up the well-rope,--and it was not an easy thing, for although not stout, I am a heavy man,--and I got away over the fields with all the rapidity possible. I did not look back to see if the army were still on the road, nor did I ever know whether I had been searched for or had been forgotten.

"I shall not describe the rest of my journey. There is nothing remarkable about it except that it was beset with many hardships. I made my way into Switzerland and so on down the Rhine, and it was nearly seven months after I left Madrid before I reached England.

"I remained many years in Great Britain, living here and there, and was greatly interested in the changes and improvements I saw around me. You can easily understand this when I tell you it was in 1512, twenty years after the discovery of America, that I had last been in England. I do not believe that in any other part of the world the changes in three hundred years could have been more marked and impressive.

"I had never visited Ireland, and as I had a great desire to see that country, I made my way there as soon as possible, and after visiting the most noted spots of the island I settled down to work as a gardener."

"Always poor," ejaculated Mrs. Crowder, with a sigh.

"No, not always," answered her husband. "But wandering sight-seers cannot be expected to make much money. At this time I was very glad indeed to cease from roving and enjoy the comforts of a home, even though it were a humble one. The family with whom I took service was that of Maria Edgeworth, who lived with her father in Edgeworthstown."

"What!" cried Mrs. Crowder, "'Lazy Lawrence,' 'Simple Susan,' and all the rest of them? Was it that Miss Edgeworth?"

"Certainly," said he; "there never was but one Maria Edgeworth, and I don't think there ever will be another. I soon became very well acquainted with Miss Edgeworth. Her father was a studious man and a magistrate. He paid very little attention to the house and garden, the latter of which was almost entirely under the charge of his daughter Maria. She used to come out among the flower-beds and talk to me, and as my varied experience enabled me to tell her a great deal about fruits, flowers, and vegetables, she became more and more interested in what I had to tell her. She was a plain, sensible woman, anxious for information, and she lived in a very quiet neighborhood where she did not often have opportunities of meeting persons of intelligence and information. But when she found out that I could tell her so many things, not only about plants but about the countries where I had known them, she would sometimes spend an hour or two with me, taking notes of what I said.

"During the time that I was her gardener she wrote the story of 'The Little Merchants,' and as she did not know very much about Italy and Naples, I gave her most of the points for that highly moral story. She told me, in fact, that she did not believe she could have written it had it not been for my assistance. She thought well to begin the story by giving some explanatory 'Extracts from a Traveler's Journal' relative to Italian customs, but afterward

she depended entirely on me for all points concerning distinctive national characteristics and the general Italian atmosphere. As she became aware that I was an educated man and had traveled in many countries, she was curious about my antecedents, but of course my remarks in that direction were very guarded.

"One day, as she was standing looking at me as I was pruning a rose-bush, she made a remark which startled me. I perfectly remember her words. 'It seems to me,' she said, 'that one who is so constantly engaged in observing and encouraging the growth and development of plants should himself grow and develop. Roses of one year are generally better than those of the year before. Then why is not the gardener better?' To these words she immediately added, being a woman of kind impulses, 'But in the case of a good gardener, such as you are, I've no doubt he does grow better, year by year.'"

"What was there startling in that little speech?" asked Mrs. Crowder. "I don't think she could have said anything less."

"I will tell you why I was startled," said her husband. "Almost those very words--mark me, almost those very words--had been said to me when I was working in the wonderful gardens of Nebuchadnezzar, and he was standing by me watching me prune a rose-bush. That Maria Edgeworth and the great Nebuchadnezzar should have said the same thing to me was enough to startle me."

To this astounding statement Mrs. Crowder and I listened with wide-open eyes.

"Yes," said Mr. Crowder; "you may think it amazing that a very ordinary remark should connect 'The Parents' Assistant' with the city of Babylon, but so it was. In the course of my life I have noticed coincidences quite as strange.

"I spent many years in the city of Babylon, but the wonderful Hanging Gardens interested me more than anything else the great city contained. At the time of which I have just spoken I was one of Nebuchadnezzar's gardeners, but not in the humble position which I afterward filled in Ireland. I had under my orders fifteen slaves, and my principal duty was to direct the labors of these poor men. These charming gardens, resting upon arches high above the surface of the ground, watered by means of pipes from the river Euphrates, and filled with the choicest flowers, shrubs, and plants known to the civilization of the time, were a ceaseless source of delight to me. Often, when I had finished the daily work assigned to me and my men, I would wander over other parts of the garden and enjoy its rare beauties.

"I frequently met Nebuchadnezzar, who for the time enjoyed his gardens almost as much as I did. When relieved from the cares of state and his ambitious plans, and while walking in the winding paths among sparkling fountains and the fragrant flowerbeds, he seemed like a very ordinary man, quiet and reflective, with very good ideas concerning nature and architecture. The latter I learned from his frequent remarks to me. I suppose it was because I appeared to be so much older and more experienced than most of those who composed his little army of gardeners that he often addressed me, asking questions and making suggestions; and it was one afternoon, standing by me as I was at work in a rose-bed, that he said the words which were spoken to me about twenty-four centuries afterward by Maria Edgeworth. Now, wasn't that enough to startle a man?"

"Startle!" exclaimed Mrs. Crowder, "I should have screamed. I should have thought that some one had come from the dead to speak to me. But I suppose there was nothing about Maria Edgeworth which reminded thee of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon."

"Yes, there was," replied her husband: "there was the same meditative expression of the eyes; the same reflective mood as each one began to speak, as if he and she were merely thinking aloud; the same quick, kind reference to me, as if the speaker feared that my feelings might have been hurt by a presumption that I myself had not developed and improved.

"I had good reason to remember those words of Nebuchadnezzar, for they were the last I ever heard him speak. A few days afterward I was informed by the chief gardener that the king was about to make a journey across the mountains into Media, and that he intended to establish there what would now be called an experimental garden of horticulture, which was to be devoted to growing and improving certain ornamental trees which did not flourish in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. His expedition was not to be undertaken entirely for this purpose, but he was a man who did a great many things at once, and the establishment of these experimental grounds was only one of the objects of his journey.

"The chief gardener then went on to say that the king had spoken to him about me and had said that he would take me with him and perhaps put me in charge of the new gardens.

"This mark of royal favor did not please me at all. I had hoped that I might ultimately become the chief of the Babylonian gardens, and this would have suited me admirably. It was a position of profit and some honor, and when I thought that I had lived long enough in that part of the world it would have been easy for me to make a journey into the surrounding country on some errand connected with the business of the gardens, and then quietly to disappear? But if I were to be taken into Media it might not be easy for me to get away. Therefore I did not wait to see Nebuchadnezzar again and receive embarrassing royal commands, but I went to my home that night, and returned no more to the wonderful Hanging Gardens of Babylon."

"I think thee was a great deal better off in the gardens of Maria Edgeworth," said Mrs. Crowder, "for there thee could come and go as thee pleased, and it almost makes my flesh creep when I think of thee living in company with the bloody tyrants of the past. And always in poverty and suffering, as if thee had been one of the common people, and not the superior of every man around thee! I don't want to hear anything more about the wicked Nebuchadnezzar. How long did thee stay with Maria Edgeworth?"

"About four years," he replied; "and I might have remained much longer, for in that quiet life the advance of one's years was not likely to be noticed. I am sure Miss Edgeworth looked no older to me when I left her than when I first saw her. But she was obliged to go into England to nurse her sick stepmother, and after her departure the place had no attractions for me, and I left Ireland."

"I wonder," said Mrs. Crowder, a little maliciously, "that thee did not marry her."

Her husband laughed.

"Englishwomen of her rank in society do not marry their gardeners, and, besides, in any case, she would not have suited me for a wife. For one reason, she was too homely."

"Oh," exclaimed Mrs. Crowder, and she might have said more, but her husband did not give her a chance.

"I know I have talked a great deal about my days of poverty and misery, and now I will tell you something different. For a time I was the ruler of all the Russias."

"Ruler!" exclaimed Mrs. Crowder and I, almost in the same breath.

"Yes," said he, "absolute ruler. And this was the way of it:

"I was in Russia in the latter part of the seventeenth century, at a time when there was great excitement in royal and political circles. The young czar Feodor had recently died, and he had named as his successor his half-brother Peter, a boy ten years of age, who afterward became Peter the Great. The late czar's young brother Ivan should have succeeded him, but he was almost an idiot. In this complicated state of things, the half-sister of Peter, the Princess Sophia, a young woman of wonderful ambition and really great abilities, rose to the occasion. She fomented a revolution; there was fighting, with all sorts of cruelties and horrors, and when affairs had quieted down she was princess regent, while the two boys, Ivan and Peter, were waiting to see what would happen next.

"She was really a woman admirably adapted to her position. She was well educated, wrote poetry, and knew how to play her part in public affairs. She presided in the councils, and her authority was without control; but she was just as bloody-minded and cruel as anybody else in Russia.

"Now, it so happened when the Princess Sophia was at the height of her power, that I was her secretary. For five or six years I had been a teacher of languages in Moscow, and at one time I had given lessons to the princess. In this way she had become well acquainted with me, and having frequently called upon me for information of one sort or another, she concluded to make me her secretary. Thus I was established at the court of Russia. I had charge of all Sophia's public papers, and I often had a good deal to do with her private correspondence, but she signed and sealed all papers of importance.

"The Prince Galitzin, who had been her father's minister and was now Sophia's main supporter in all her autocratic designs and actions, found himself obliged to leave Moscow to attend to his private affairs on his great estates, and to be absent for more than a month; and after his departure the princess depended on me more than ever. Like many women in high positions, it was absolutely necessary for her to have a man on whom she could lean with one hand while she directed her affairs with the other."

"I do not think that is always necessary," said Mrs. Crowder, "at least, in these days."

"Perhaps not," said her husband, with a smile, "but it was then. But I must get on with my story. One morning soon after Galitzin's departure, the horses attached to the royal sledge ran away just outside of Moscow. The princess was thrown out upon the hard ground, and badly dislocated her right wrist. By the time she had been taken back to the palace her arm and hand were dreadfully swollen, and it was difficult for her surgeons to do anything for her.

"I was called into the princess's room just after the three surgeons had been sent to prison. I found her in great trouble, mental as well as physical, and her principal anxiety was that she was afraid it would be a long time before she would be able to use her hand and sign and seal the royal acts and decrees. She had a certain superstition about this which greatly agitated her. If she could not sign and seal, she did not believe she would be able to rule. Any one who understood the nature of the political factions in Russia well knew that an uprising among the nobles might occur upon any pretext, and no pretext could be so powerful as the suspicion of incompetency in the sovereign. The seat of a ruler who did not rule was extremely uncertain.

"At that moment a paper of no great importance, which had been sent in to her before she went out in her sledge that morning, was lying on the table near her couch, and she was greatly worried because she could not sign it. I assured her she need not trouble herself about it, for I could attend to it. I had often affixed her initials and seal to unimportant papers.

"The princess did not object to my proposition, but this was not enough for her. She had a deep mind, and she quickly concocted a scheme by which her public business should be attended to, while at the same time it should not be known that she did not attend to it. She caused it to be given out that it was her ankle which had been injured, and not her wrist. She sent for another surgeon, and had him locked up in the palace when he was not attending to her, so that he should tell no tales. Her ladies were informed that it would be very well for them to keep silent, and they understood her. Then she arranged with me that all public business should be brought to her; that I should sign and seal in her place, and should be her agent of communication with the court.

"When this plan had been settled upon, the princess regained something of her usual good spirits. 'As I never sign my name with my toes,' she said to me, 'there is no reason why a sprained ankle should interfere with my royal functions, and, for the present, you can be my right hand.'

"This was a very fine plan, but it did not work as she expected it would. Her wrist became more and more painful, and fever set in, and on the second day, when I called upon her, I found she was in no condition to attend to business. She was irritable and drowsy. 'Don't annoy me with that paper,' she said. 'If the wool-dealers ought to have their taxes increased, increase them. You should not bring these trifles to me; but' --and now she regained for a moment her old acuteness--'remember this: don't let my administration stop.'

"I understood her very well, and when I left her I saw my course plain before me. It was absolutely necessary that the exercise of royal functions by the Princess Sophia should appear to go on in its usual way; any stoppage would be a signal for a revolution. In order that this plan should be carried out, I must act for the princess regent; I must do what I thought right, and it must be done in her name, exactly as if she had ordered it. I assumed the responsibilities without hesitation. While it was supposed I was merely the private secretary of the princess, acting as her agent and mouthpiece, I was in fact the ruler of all the Russias."

Mrs. Crowder opened her mouth as if she would gasp for breath, but she did not say anything.

"You can scarcely imagine, my dear," said he, "the delight with which I assumed the powers so suddenly thrust upon me. I set myself to work without delay, and, as I knew all about the wool-dealers' business, I issued a royal decree decreasing their taxes. Poor creatures! they were suffering enough already."

"Good for thee!" exclaimed Mrs. Crowder.

"I cannot tell you of all the reforms I devised, or even those which I carried out. I knew that the fever of the princess, aggravated by the inflammation of her dislocated wrist, would continue for some time, and I bent all my energies to the work of doing as much good as I could in the vast empire under my control while I had the opportunity. And it was a great opportunity, indeed! I did not want to do anything so radical as to arouse the opposition of the court, and therefore I directed my principal efforts to the amelioration of the condition of the people in the provinces. It would be a long time before word could get back to the capital of what I had done in those distant regions. By night and by day my couriers were galloping in every direction, carrying good news to the peasants of Russia. It was remarked by some of the councilors, when they spoke of the municipal reforms I instituted, that the princess seemed to be in a very humane state of mind; but none of them cared to interfere with what they supposed to be the sick-bed workings of her conscience. So I ruled with a high hand, astonishing the provincial officials, and causing thousands of downtrodden subjects to begin to believe that perhaps they were really human beings, with some claim on royal justice and kindness.

"I fairly reveled in my imperial power, but I never forgot to be prudent. I lessened the duties and slightly increased the pay of the military regiments stationed in and about Moscow, and thus the Princess Sophia became very popular with the army, and I felt safe. I went in to see the princess every day, and several times when she was in her right mind she asked me if everything was going on well, and once when I assured her that all was progressing quietly and satisfactorily, she actually thanked me. This was a good deal for a Russian princess. If she had known how the people were thanking her, I do not know what would have happened.

"For twenty-one days I reigned over Russia. If I had been able to do it, I should have made each day a year; I felt that I was in my proper place."

"And thee was right," said Mrs. Crowder, her eyes sparkling. "I believe that at that time thee was the only monarch in the world who was worthy to reign." And with a loyal pride, as if he had just stepped from a throne, she put her hand upon his arm.

"Yes," said Mr. Crowder, "I honestly believe that I was a good monarch, and I will admit that in those days such personages were extremely scarce. So my imperial sway proceeded with no obstruction until I was informed that Prince Galitzin was hastening to Moscow, on his return from his estates, and was then within three days' journey of the capital. Now I prepared to lay down the tremendous power which I had wielded with such immense satisfaction to myself, and with such benefit, I do not hesitate to say, to the people of Russia. The effects of my rule are still to be perceived in some of the provinces of Russia, and decrees I made more than two hundred years ago are in force in many villages along the eastern side of the Volga.

"The day before Prince Galitzin was expected, I visited Sophia for the last time. She was a great deal better, and much pleased by the expected arrival of her minister. She even gave me some commands, but when I left her I did not execute them. I would not have my reign sullied by any of her mandates. That afternoon, in a royal sledge, with the royal permission, given by myself, to travel where and how I pleased, I left Moscow. Frequent relays of horses carried me rapidly beyond danger of pursuit, and so, in course of time, I passed the boundaries of the empire of Russia, over which for three weeks I had ruled, an absolute autocrat."

"Does thee know," said Mrs. Crowder, "that two or three times I expected thee to say that thee married Sophia?"

Mr. Crowder laughed. "That is truly a wild notion," said he.

"I don't think it is wild at all," she replied. "In the course of thy life thee has married a great many plain persons. In some ways that princess would have suited thee as a wife, and if thee had really married her and had become her royal consort, like Prince Albert, thee might have made a great change in her. But, after all, it would have been a pity to interfere with the reign of Peter the Great."

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