MoboReader> Literature > Temporal Power: A Study in Supremacy

   Chapter 12 — A SEA PRINCESS

Temporal Power: A Study in Supremacy By Marie Corelli Characters: 29541

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Scarcely had she thus declared herself, when the Bismarckian head and shoulders of Von Glauben appeared above the protecting boulders; and moving with deliberate caution, the rest of his body came slowly after, till he stood fully declared in an attitude of military 'attention.' He showed neither alarm nor confusion at seeing the King; on the contrary, the fixed, wooden expression of his countenance betokened some deeply-seated mental obstinacy, and he faced his Royal master with the utmost composure, lifting the slouched hat he wore with his usual stiff and soldierly dignity, though carefully avoiding the amazed stare of his friend, Sir Roger de Launay.

The King glanced him up and down with a smiling air of amused curiosity.

"So this is how you pursue your scientific studies, Professor!" he said lightly; "Well!"-and he turned his eyes, full of admiration, on the beautiful creature who stood silently confronting him with all that perfect ease which expresses a well-balanced mind,-"Wisdom is often symbolised to us as a marble goddess,-but when Pallas Athene takes so fair a shape of flesh and blood as this, who shall blame even a veteran philosopher for sitting at her feet in worship!"

"Pardon me, Sir," returned Von Glauben calmly; "There is no goddess of Wisdom here, so please you, but only a very simple and unworldly young woman. She is-" Here he hesitated a moment, then went on-"She is merely the adopted child of a fisherman living on these Islands."

"I am aware of that!" said the King still smiling. "Réné Ronsard is his name. He is my host to-day; and he has told me something of her. But, certes, he did not mention that you had adopted her also!"

Von Glauben flushed vexedly.

"Sir," he stammered, "I could explain-"

"Another time!" interrupted the King, with a touch of asperity. "Meanwhile, present your-your pupil in the poesy of Heine,-to me!"

Thus commanded, the Professor, casting a vexed glance at De Launay, who did not in the least comprehend his distress, went to the girl, who during their brief conversation had stood quietly looking from one to the other with an expression of half-amused disdain on her lovely features.

"Gloria," he began reluctantly-then whispering in her ear, he muttered-"I told you your voice would do mischief, and it has done it!" Then aloud-"Gloria,-this-this is the King!"

She smiled, but did not change her erect and easy attitude.

"The King is welcome!" she said simply.

She had evidently no intention of saluting the monarch; and Sir Roger de Launay gazed at her in mingled surprise and admiration. She was certainly wonderfully beautiful. Her complexion had the soft clear transparency of a pink sea-shell-her eyes, large and lustrous, were as densely blue as the dark azure in the depths of a wave,-and her hair, of a warm bronze chestnut, caught back with a single band of red coral, seemed to have gathered in its rich curling clusters all the deepest tints of autumn leaves flecked with a golden touch of the sun. Her figure, clad in a straight garment of rough white homespun, was the model of perfect womanhood. She stood a little above the medium height, her fair head poised proudly on regal shoulders, while the curve of the full bosom would have baffled the sculptural genius of a Phidias. The whole exquisite outline of her person was the expressed essence of beauty, from the lightest wave of her hair, down to her slender ankles and small feet; and the look that irradiated her noble features was that of child-like happiness and repose,-the untired expression of one who had never known any other life than the innocent enjoyment bestowed upon her by God and divine Nature. Beautiful as his Queen-Consort was and always had been, the King was forced to admit to himself that here was a woman far more beautiful,-and as he looked upon her critically, he saw that there was a light and splendour about her which only the happiness of Love can give. Her whole aspect was as of one uplifted into a finer atmosphere than that of earth,-she seemed to exhale purity from herself, as a rose exhales perfume, and her undisturbed serenity and dignity, when made aware of the Royal presence, were evidently not the outcome of ill-breeding or discourtesy, but of mere self-respect and independence. He approached her with a strange hesitation, which for him was quite a new experience.

"I am glad I have been fortunate enough to meet you!" he said gently;-"Some kindly fate guided my steps down the path which brought me to this part of the shore, else I might have gone away without seeing you!"

"That would have been no loss to your Majesty," answered Gloria calmly;-"For to see me, is of no use to anyone!"

"Would your husband say so?" hazarded the King with a smile.

Her eyes flashed.

"My husband would say what is right," she replied. "He would know better how to talk to you than I do!"

He had insensibly drawn nearer to her as he spoke; meanwhile Von Glauben, with a disconsolate air, had joined Sir Roger de Launay, who, by an enquiring look and anxious uplifting of his eyebrows, dumbly asked what was to be the upshot of this affair,-only to receive a dismal shake of the head in reply.

"Possibly I know your husband," went on the King, anxious to continue conversation with so beautiful a creature. "If I do, and he is in my personal service, he shall not lack promotion! Will you tell me his name?"

A startled look came into the girl's eyes, and a deep blush swept over her fair cheeks.

"I dare not!" she said;-"He has forbidden me!"

"Forbidden you!" The King recoiled a step-a vague suspicion rankled in his mind. "Then, though your King asks you a friendly question, you refuse to answer it?"

Von Glauben here gripped Sir Roger so fiercely by the arm, that the latter nearly cried out with pain.

"She must not tell," he muttered-"She must not-she will not!"

But Gloria was looking straight at her Royal questioner.

"I have no King but my husband!" she said firmly. "I have sworn before God to obey him in all things, and I will not break my vow!"

"Good girl! Wise girl!" exclaimed Von Glauben. "Ach, if all the beautiful women so guarded their tongues and obeyed their husbands, what a happy world it would be!"

The King turned upon him.

"True! But you are not bound by the confidences of marriage, Professor,-so that while in our service our will must be your law! You, therefore, can perhaps tell me the name of the fortunate man who has wedded this fair lady?"

The Professor's countenance visibly reddened.

"Sir," he stammered-"With every respect for your Majesty, I would rather lose my much-to-be-appreciated post with you than betray my friends!"

The King suddenly lost patience.

"By Heaven!" he exclaimed, "Is my command to be slighted and set aside as if it were naught? Not while I am king of this country! What mystery is here that I am not to know?"

Gloria laughed outright, and the pretty ripple of mirth, so unforced and natural, diverted the monarch's irritation.

"Oh, you are angry!" she said, her lovely eyes twinkling and sparkling like diamonds:-"So! Then your Majesty is no more than a very common man who loses temper when he cannot have his own way!" She laughed again, and the King stared at her unoffended,-being spellbound, both by her regal beauty, and her complete indifference to himself. "I will speak like the prophets do in the Bible and say, 'Lo! there is no mystery, O King!' I am only poor Gloria, a sailor's wife,-and the sailor has a place on board your son the Crown Prince's yacht, and he does not want his master to know that he is married lest he lose that place! Is not that plain and clear, O King? And why should I disobey my beloved in such a simple matter?"

The King was still in something of a fume.

"There is no reason why you should disobey," he said more quietly, but still with vexation;-"But, equally, there is no reason why your husband should be dismissed from the Crown Prince's service, because he has chosen to marry. If you tell me his name, I will make all things easy for him, for you, and your future. Can you not trust me?"

With wonderful grace and quickness Gloria suddenly sprang forward, caught the King's hand, kissed it, and then threw it lightly away from her.

"No!" she said, with a pretty defiance; "I kiss the hand of the country's King-but I have my own King to serve!"

And pausing for no more words, she turned away, sprang lightly up the rocks as swiftly as a roe-deer, and disappeared. And from some hidden corner, clear and full and sweet, her voice rang out above the peaceful plashing of the waves:

"My King crown'd me!

And I and he

Are one till the world shall cease to be!"

Stricken dumb and confused by the suddenness of her action, and the swiftness of her departure, the King stood for a moment inert, gazing up the rocky height with the air of one who has seen a vision of heaven withdrawn again into its native element. Some darkening doubt troubled his mind, and it was with an altogether changed and stern countenance that he confronted Von Glauben.

"Last night, Professor, you were somewhat anxious for our health and safety," he said severely; "It is our turn now to be equally anxious for yours! We are of opinion that you, like ourselves, run some risk of danger by meddling in affairs which do not concern you! Silence!" This, as the Professor, deeply moved by his Royal master's evident displeasure, made an attempt to speak. "We will hear all you have to say to-morrow. Meanwhile-follow your fair charge!" And he pointed up in the direction whither Gloria had vanished. "Her husband"-and he emphasized the word,-"whoever he is, appears to have entrusted her safety to you;-see that you do not betray his trust, even though you have betrayed mine!"

At this remark Von Glauben was visibly overcome.

"Sir, you have never had reason to complain of any lack of loyalty in me to you and to your service," he said with an earnest dignity which became him well;-"In the matter of the poor child yonder, whose beauty would surely be a fatal snare to any man, there is much to be told,-which if told truly, will prove that I am merely the slave of circumstances which were not created by me,-and which it is possible for a faithful servant of your Majesty to regret! But a betrayer of trust I have never been, and I beseech your Majesty to believe me when I say that the acuteness of that undeserved reproach cuts me to the heart! I yield to no man in the respect and affection I entertain for your Royal person, not even to De Launay here-who knows-who knows-"

He broke off, unable through strong emotion to proceed.

"'Who knows'-What?" enquired the King, turning his steadfast eyes on Sir Roger.

"Nothing, Sir! Absolutely nothing!" replied the equerry, opening his eyes as widely as their habitual langour would permit; "I am absolutely ignorant of everything concerning Von Glauben except that he is an honest man! That I certainly do know!"

A slight smile cleared away something of the doubt and displeasure on the King's face. Approaching the disconsolate Professor, he laid one hand on his shoulder and looked him steadily in the eyes.

"By my faith, Von Glauben, if I thought positively that you could play me false in any matter, I would never believe a man again! Come! Forgive my hasty speech, and do not look so downcast! Honest I have always known you to be,-and that you will prove your honesty, I do not doubt! But-there is something in this affair which awakens grave suspicion in my mind. For to-day I press no questions-but to-morrow I must know all! You understand? All! Say this to the girl, Gloria,-say it to her husband also-as, of course, you know who her husband is. If he serves on Prince Humphry's yacht, that is enough to say that Humphry himself has probably seen her. Under all the circumstances, I confess, my dear Von Glauben, that your presence here is a riddle which needs explanation!"

"It shall be explained, Sir-" murmured the Professor.

"Naturally! It must, of course be explained. But I hope you give me credit for not being altogether a fool; and I have an idea that my son's frequent mysterious visits to The Islands have something to do with this fair Gloria of Glorias!" Von Glauben started involuntarily. "You perhaps think it too? Or know it? Well, if it is so, I can hardly blame him overmuch,-though I am sorry he should have selected a poor sailor's wife as a subject for his secret amours! I should have thought him possessed of more honour. However-to-morrow I shall look to you for a full account of the matter. For the present, I excuse your attendance, and permit you to remain with her whom you call 'princess'!"

He stepped back, and, taking De Launay's arm, turned round at once, and walked away back to Ronsard's house by the path he had followed with such eagerness and care.

Von Glauben watched the two tall figures disappear, and then with a troubled look, began to climb slowly up the rocks in the direction where Gloria had gone. His reflections were not altogether as philosophical as usual, because as he said to himself-"One can never tell how a woman is going to meet misfortune! Sometimes she takes it well; and then the men who have ruthlessly destroyed her happiness go on their way rejoicing; but more often she takes it ill, and there is the devil to pay! Yet-Gloria is not like any ordinary woman-she is a carefully selected specimen of her sex, which a kindly Nature has produced as an example of what women were intended to be when they were first created. I wonder where she has hidden herself?"

Arriving at the summit of the ascent, he peered down towards the sea. Slopes of rank grass and sea-daisies tufted the rocks on this side, divided by certain deep hollows which the action of the waves had honeycombed here and there; and below the grass was the shore, powdered thickly with sand, of a fine, light, and sparkling colour, like gold dust. Here in the full light of the sinking sun lay Gloria, her head pillowed against a rough stone, on the top of which a tall cluster of daisies, sometimes called moon-flowers, waved like white plumes.

"Gloria!" called Von Glauben.

She looked up, smiling.

"Has Majesty gone?" she asked.

"Gone for the present," replied the Professor, beginning to put one foot cautiously before the other down a roughly hewn stairway in the otherwise almost inaccessible cliff. "But, like the sun which is setting to-night, he will rise again to-morrow!"

"Shall I come and help you down?" enquired the girl, turning on her elbow as she lay, and lifting her lovely face, radiant as a flower, towards him.

"Whether d

own or up, you shall never help me, my princess!" he replied. "When I can neither climb nor fall without the assistance of a woman's hand, I shall take a pistol and tell it to whisper in my ear-'Good-bye, Heinrich Von Glauben! You are all up-finish-gone!'"

Here, with a somewhat elephantine jump, he alighted beside her and threw himself on the warm sand with a deep sigh of mingled exhaustion and relief.

"You would be very wicked to put a pistol to your ear," said Gloria severely;-"It is only a coward who shoots himself!"

"Ach so! And it is a brave man who shoots others! That is curious, is it not, princess? It is a little bit of man's morality; but we have no time to discuss it now. We have something more serious to consider,-your husband!"

She looked at him wonderingly.

"My husband? Do you really think he will be very angry that the King saw me?"

The Professor appeared to be considering the question; but in reality he was studying the exquisite delicacy of the face turned so wistfully upon him, and the lovely lines of the slim throat and rounded chin-"So beautiful a creature"-he was saying within himself-"And must she also suffer pain and disillusion like all the rest of her unfortunate sex!" Aloud he replied.

"My princess, it is not for me to say he will be 'angry,'-for how could he be angry with the one he loves to such adoration! He will be sorry and troubled-it will put him into a great difficulty! Ach!-a whole nest of difficulties!"

"Why?" And Gloria's eyes filled with sudden tears. "I would not grieve him for the world! I cannot understand why it should matter at all, even if the King does find out that he is married. Are the rules so strict for all the men who serve on board the Royal vessels?"

Von Glauben bit his lips to hide an involuntary smile. But he answered her with quite a martinet air.

"Yes, they are strict-very strict! Particularly so in the case of your husband. You see, my child-you do not perhaps quite understand-but he is a sort of superior officer on board; and in close personal attendance on the Crown Prince."

"He did not tell me that!" said the girl a little anxiously; "Yet surely it would not matter if he loses one place; can he not easily get another?"

Von Glauben was looking at her with a grave, almost melancholy intentness.

"Listen, my princess,-listen to your poor old friend, who means you so much good, and no harm at all! Your husband-and I too, for that matter,-wished much to prevent the King from seeing you-for-for many reasons. When I heard he was coming to The Islands, I resolved to arrive here before him, and so I did. I said nothing to Ronsard, not even to warn him of the King's impending visit. I took you just quietly, as I have often done, for a walk, with a book to read and to explain to you, because you tell me you want to study; though in my opinion you know quite enough-for a woman. I gave you a letter from your husband, and you know he asked you in that letter to avoid all possibility of meeting with the King. Good! Well, now, what happens? You sing-and lo! his Majesty, like a fish on a hook, is drawn up open-mouthed to your feet! Now, who is to blame? You or I?"

A little perplexed line appeared on the girl's fair brows. "I am, I suppose!" she said somewhat plaintively,-"But yet, even now, I do not understand. What is the King? He is nothing! He does nothing for anybody! People make petitions to him, and he never answers them-they try to point out errors and abuses, and he takes no trouble to remedy them-he is no better than a wooden idol! He is not a real man, though he looks like one."

"Oh, you think he looks like one?" murmured Von Glauben; "That is to say you are not altogether displeased with his appearance?"

Gloria's eyes darkened a moment with thought,-then flashed with laughter.

"No," she said frankly-"He is more kingly than I thought a king could be. But he should not lose temper. That spoils all dignity!"

Von Glauben smiled.

"Kings are but mortal," he said, "and never to lose temper would be impossible to any man."

"It is such a waste of time!" declared Gloria-"Why should anyone lose self-control? It is like giving up a sword to an enemy."

"That is one of Réné Ronsard's teachings,"-said the Professor-"It is excellent in theory! But in practice I have seen Réné give way to temper himself, with considerable enjoyment of his own mental thunderstorm. As for the King, he is generally a very equable personage; and he has one great virtue-that is courage. He is brave as a lion-perhaps braver than many lions!"

She raised her eyes enquiringly.

"Has he proved it?"

Rather taken aback by the question, he stared at her solemnly.

"Proved it? Well! He has had no chance. The country has been at peace for many years-but if there should ever be a war--"

"Would he go and fight for the country?" enquired Gloria.

"In person? No. He would not be allowed to do that. His life would be endangered--"

"Of course!" interrupted the girl with a touch of contempt; "But if he would allow himself to be ruled by others in such a matter, I do not call him brave!"

The Professor drew out his spectacles, and fixing them on his nose with much care, regarded her through them with bland and kindly interest.

"Very simple and primitive reasoning, my princess!" he said; "And from an early historic point of view, your idea is correct. In the olden times kings went themselves to battle, and led their soldiers on to victory in person. It was very fine; much finer than our modern ways of warfare. But it has perhaps never occurred to you that a king's life nowadays is always in danger? He can do nothing more completely courageous than to show himself in public!"

"Are kings then so hated?" she asked.

"They are not loved, it must be confessed," returned Von Glauben, taking off his spectacles again; "But that is quite their own fault. They seldom do anything to deserve the respect,-much less the affection of their subjects. But this king-this man you have just seen-certainly deserves both."

"Why, what has he done?" asked Gloria wonderingly. "I have heard people say he is very wicked-that he takes other men's wives away from them-"

The Professor coughed discreetly.

"My princess, let me suggest to you that he could scarcely take other men's wives away from them, unless those wives were perfectly willing to go!"

She gave an impatient gesture.

"Oh, there are weak women, no doubt; but then a king should know better than to put temptation in their way. If a man undertakes to be strong, he should also be honourable. Then,-what of the taxes the King imposes on the people? The sufferings of the poor over there on the mainland are terrible!-I know all about them! I have heard Sergius Thord!"

The Professor gave an uncomfortable start.

"You have heard Sergius Thord? Where?"

"Here!" And Gloria smiled at his expression of wonderment. "He has spoken often to our people, and he is father Réné's friend."

"And what does he talk about when he speaks here?" enquired Von Glauben. "When does he come, and how does he go?"

"Always at night," answered Gloria; "He has a sailing skiff of his own, and on many an evening when the wind sets in our quarter, he arrives quite suddenly, all alone, and in a moment, as if by magic, the Islanders all seem to know he is here. On the shore, or in the fields he assembles them round him, and tells them many things that are plain and true. I have heard him speak often of the shortness of life and its many sorrows, and he says we could all make each other happy for the little time we have to live, if we would. And I think he is right; it is only wicked and selfish people who make others unhappy!"

The Professor was silent. Gloria, watching him, wondered at his somewhat perturbed expression.

"Do you know the King very well?" she asked suddenly. "He seemed very cross with you!"

Von Glauben roused himself from a fit of momentary abstraction.

"Yes,-he was cross!" he rejoined. "I, like your husband, am in his service-and I ought to have been on duty to-day. It will be all right, however-all right! But-" He paused for a moment, then went on-"You say that only wicked and selfish people make others unhappy. Now suppose your husband were wicked and selfish enough to make you unhappy; what would you say?"

A sweet smile shone in her eyes.

"He could not make me unhappy!" she said. "He would not try! He loves me, and he will always love me!"

"But, suppose," persisted the Professor-"Just for the sake of argument-suppose he had deceived you?"

With a low cry she sprang up.

"Impossible!" she exclaimed; "He is truth itself! He could not deceive anyone!"

"Come and sit down again," said Von Glauben tranquilly; "It is disturbing to my mind to see you standing there pronouncing your faith in the integrity of man! No male creature deserves such implicit trust, and whenever a woman gives it, she invariably finds out her mistake!"

But Gloria stood still, The rich colour had faded from her cheeks-her eyes were dilated with alarm, and her breath came and went quickly.

"You must explain," she said hurriedly; "You must tell me what you mean by suggesting such a wicked thought to me as that my husband could deceive me! It is not right or kind of you,-it is cruel!"

The Professor scrambled up hastily out of his sandy nook, and approaching her, took her hand very gently and respectfully in his own and kissed it.

"My dear-my princess-I was wrong! Forgive me!" he murmured, and there was a little tremor in his voice; "But can you not understand the possibility of a man loving a woman very much, and yet deceiving her for her good?"

"It could never be for her good," said Gloria firmly; "It would not be for mine! No lie ever lasts!"

Von Glauben looked at her with a sense of reverence and something like awe. The after-glow of the sinking sun was burning low down upon the sea, and turning it to fiery crimson, and as she stood bathed in its splendour, the white rocks towering above her, and the golden sands sparkling at her feet, she appeared like some newly descended angel expressing the very truth of Heaven itself in her own presence on earth. As they stood thus, the sudden boom of a single cannon echoed clear across the waves.

"There goes the King!" said Von Glauben; "Majesty departs for the present, having so far satisfied his curiosity! That gun is the signal. Child!"-and turning towards her again, he took both her hands in his, and spoke with emphatic gravity and kindness-"Remember that I am your friend always! Whatever chances to you, do not forget that you may command my service and devotion till death! In this strange life, we never know from day to day what may happen to us, for constant change is the law of Nature and the universe,-but after all, there is something in the soul of a true man which does not change with the elements,-and that is-loyalty to a sworn faith! In my heart, I have sworn an oath of fealty to you, my beautiful little princess of the sea!-and it is a vow that shall never be broken! Do you understand? And will you remember?"

Her large dark blue eyes looked trustingly into his.

"Indeed, I will never forget!" she said, with a touch of wistfulness in her accents; "But I do not know why you should be anxious for me-there is nothing to fear for my happiness. I have all the love I care for in the world!"

"And long may you keep it!" said the Professor earnestly; "Come! It will soon be time for me to leave you, and I must see Réné before I go. If you follow my advice, you will say nothing to him of having met the King-not for the present, at any rate."

She agreed to this, though with some little hesitation,-then they ascended the cliff, and walking by way of the pine-wood through which the King had come, arrived at Ronsard's house, to find the old man quite alone, and peacefully engaged in tying up the roses and jessamine on the pillars of his verandah. His worn face lighted up with animation and tenderness as Gloria approached him and threw her arms around his neck, and to her he related the incident of the King and Queen's unexpected visit, as a sort of accidental, uninteresting, and wholly unimportant occurrence. The Queen, he said, was very beautiful; but too cold in her manner, though she had certainly taken much interest in seeing the house and garden.

"It was just as well you were absent, child," he added-"Royalty brings an atmosphere with it which is not wholesome. A king never knows what it is to be an honest man!"

"Those are your old, discarded theories, Ronsard!" said Von Glauben, shaking his head;-"You said you would never return to them!"

"Aye!" rejoined Ronsard;-"I have tried to put away all my old thoughts and dreams for her sake"-and his gaze rested lovingly on Gloria as, standing on tiptoe to reach a down-drooping rose, she gathered it and fastened it in her bosom. "There should only be peace and contentment where she dwells! But sometimes my life's long rebellion against sham and injustice stirs in my blood, and I long to pull down the ignorant people's idols of wood and straw, and set up men in place of dummies!"

"A Mumbo-Jumbo of some kind has always been necessary in the world, my friend," said the Professor calmly; "Either in the shape of a deity or a king. A wood and straw Nonentity is better than an incarnated fleshly Selfishness. Will you give me supper before I leave?"

Ronsard smiled a cheery assent, and Gloria preceding them, and singing in a low tone to herself as she went, they all entered the house together.

Meanwhile, the Royal yacht was scudding back to the mainland over crisp waters on the wings of a soft breeze, with a bright moon flying through fleecy clouds above, and silvering the foam-crests of the waves below. There was music on board,-the King and Queen dined with their guests,-and laughter and gay converse intermingled with the sound of song. They talked of their day's experience-of the beauty of The Islands-of Ronsard,-his quaint house and quainter self,-so different to the persons with whom they associated in their own exclusive and brilliant Court 'set,' and the pretty Countess Amabil flirting harmlessly with Sir Walter Langton, suggested that a 'Flower Feast' or Carnival should be held during the summer, for the surprise and benefit of the Islanders, who had never yet seen a Royal pageant of pleasure on their shores.

But Sir Roger de Launay, ever watching the Queen, saw that she was very pale, and more silent even than was her usual habit, and that her eyes every now and again rested on the King, with something of wonder, as well as fear.

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