Long Live the King
The Little Door
Hedwig had given up. She went through her days with a set face, white and drawn, but
she knew now that the thing she was to do must be done. The King, in that stormy scene
when the Sister prayed in the next room, had been sufficiently explicit. They had come
on bad times, and could no longer trust to their own strength. Proud Livonia must ask for
help, and that from beyond her border.
"We are rotten at the core," he said bitterly. "An old rot that has eaten deep. God knows,
we have tried to cut it away, but it has gone too far. Times are, indeed, changed when we
must ask a woman to save us!"
She had thrown her arms over the bed and buried her face in them. "And I am to be
sacrificed," she had said, in a flat voice. "I am to go through my life like mother, soured
and unhappy. Without any love at all."
The King was stirred. His thin, old body had sunk in the bed until it seemed no body at
all. "Why without love?" he asked, almost gently. "Karl knows our condition - not all of
it, but he is well aware that things are unstable here. Yet he is eager for the marriage. I am
inclined to believe that he follows his inclinations, rather than a political policy."
The thought that Karl might love her had not entered her mind. That made things worse,
if anything - a situation unfair to him and horrible to herself. In the silence of her own
room, afterward, she pondered over that. If it were true, then a certain hope she had must
be relinquished - none other than to throw herself on his mercy, and beg for a nominal
marriage, one that would satisfy the political alliance, but leave both of them free. Horror
filled her. She sat for long periods, dry-eyed and rigid.
The bronze statue of the late Queen, in the Place, fascinated her in those days. She, too,
had been only a pawn in the game of empires; but her face, as Hedwig remembered it,
had been calm and without bitterness. The King had mourned her sincerely. What lay
behind that placid, rather austere old face? Dead dreams? Or were the others right, that
after a time it made no difference, that one marriage was the same as another?
She had not seen Nikky save once or twice, and that in the presence of others. On these
occasions he had bowed low, and passed on. But once she had caught his eyes on her, and
had glowed for hours at what she saw in them. It braced her somewhat for the impending
ordeal of a visit from Karl.
The days went on. Dressmakers came and went. In the mountains lace-makers were
already working on the veil, and the brocade of white and gold for her wedding-gown
was on the loom. She was the pale center of a riot of finery. Dressmakers stood back and
raised delighted hands as, one by one; their models were adjusted to her listless figure.