Long Live the King by Mary Roberts Rinehart - HTML preview
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The Day Of The Carnival
On the day of the Carnival, which was the last day before the beginning of Lent, Prince Ferdinand William Otto wakened early. The Palace still slept, and only the street- sweepers were about the streets. Prince Ferdinand William Otto sat up in bed and yawned. This was a special day, he knew, but at first he was too drowsy to remember.
Then he knew - the Carnival! A delightful day, with the Place full of people in strange costumes - peasants, imps, jesters, who cut capers on the grass in the Park, little girls in procession, wearing costumes of fairies with gauze wings, students who paraded and blew noisy horns, even horses decorated, and now and then a dog dressed as a dancer or a soldier.
He would have enjoyed dressing Toto in something or other. He decided to mention it to Nikky, and with a child's faith he felt that Nikky would, so to speak, come up to the scratch.
He yawned again, and began to feel hungry. He decided to get up and take his own bath. There was nothing like getting a good start for a gala day. And, since with the Crown Prince to decide was to do, which is not always a royal trait, he took his own bath, being very particular about his ears, and not at all particular about the rest of him. Then, no Oskar having yet appeared with fresh garments he ducked back into bed again, quite bare as to his small body, and snuggled down in the sheets.
Lying there, he planned the day. There were to be no lessons except fencing, which could hardly be called a lesson at all, and as he now knew the "Gettysburg Address," he meant to ask permission to recite it to his grandfather. To be quite sure of it, he repeated it to himself as he lay there: -
"'Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.'
"Free and equal," he said to himself. That rather puzzled him. Of course people were free, but they did not seem to be equal. In the summer, at the summer palace, he was only allowed to see a few children, because the others were what his Aunt Annunciata called "bourgeois." And there was in his mind also something Miss Braithwaite had said, after his escapade with the American boy.
"If you must have some child to play with," she had said severely, "you could at least choose some one approximately your equal."
"But he is my equal," he had protested from the outraged depths of his small democratic heart.
"In birth," explained Miss Braithwaite.
"His father has a fine business," he had said, still rather indignant. "It makes a great deal of money. Not everybody can build a scenic railway and get it going right. Bobby said so."
Miss Braithwaite had been silent and obviously unconvinced. Yet this Mr. Lincoln, the American, had certainly said that all men were free and equal. It was very puzzling.
But, as the morning advanced, as, clothed and fed, the Crown Prince faced the new day, he began to feel a restraint in the air. People came and went, his grandfather's Equerry, the Chancellor, the Lord Chamberlain, other gentlemen, connected with the vast and intricate machinery of the Court, and even Hedwig, in a black frock, all these people came, and talked together, and eyed him when he was not looking. When they left they all bowed rather more than usual, except Hedwig, who kissed him, much to his secret annoyance.
Every one looked grave, and spoke in a low tone. Also there was something wrong with Nikky, who appeared not only grave, but rather stern and white. Considering that it was the last day before Lent, and Carnival time, Prince Ferdinand William Otto felt vaguely defrauded, rather like the time he had seen "The Flying Dutchman," which had turned out to be only a make-believe ship and did not fly at all. To add to the complications, Miss Braithwaite had a headache.
Nikky Larisch had arrived just as Hedwig departed, and even the Crown Prince had recognized something wrong. Nikky had stopped just inside the doorway, with his eyes rather desperately and hungrily on Hedwig, and Hedwig, who should have been scolded, according to Prince Otto, had passed him with the haughtiest sort of nod.
The Crown Prince witnessed the nod with wonder and alarm.
"We are all rather worried," he explained afterward to Nikky, to soothe his wounded pride. "My grandfather is not so well to-day. Hedwig is very unhappy."
"Yes," said Nikky miserably, "she does look unhappy."
"Now, when are we going out?" briskly demanded Prince Ferdinand William Otto. "I can hardly wait. I've seen the funniest people already - and dogs. Nikky, I wonder if you could dress Toto, and let me see him somewhere."
"Out! You do not want to go out in that crowd, do you?" "Why - am I not to go?"
His voice was suddenly quite shaky. He was, in a way, so inured to disappointments that he recognized the very tones in which they were usually announced. So he eyed Nikky with a searching glance, and saw there the thing he feared.
"Well," he said resignedly, " I suppose I can see something from the windows. Only - I should like to have a really good time occasionally." He was determined not to cry. "But there are usually a lot of people in the Place."
Then, remembering that his grandfather was very ill, he tried to forget his disappointment in a gift for him. Not burnt wood this time, but the drawing of a gun, which he explained as he worked, that he had invented. He drew behind the gun a sort of trestle, with little cars, not unlike the Scenic Railway, on which ammunition was delivered into the breech by something strongly resembling a coal-chute.
There was, after all, little to see from the windows. That part of the Place near the Palace remained empty and quiet, by order of the King's physicians. And although it was Carnival, and the streets were thronged with people, there was little of Carnival in the air. The city waited.
Some loyal subjects waited and grieved that the King lay dying. For, although the Palace had carefully repressed his condition, such things leak out, and there was the empty and silent Place to bear witness.
Others waited, too, but not in sorrow. And a certain percentage, the young and light- hearted, strutted the streets in fantastic costume, blew horns and threw confetti and fresh flowers, still dewy from the mountain slopes. The Scenic Railway was crowded with merry-makers, and long lines of people stood waiting their turn at the ticket-booth, where a surly old veteran, pinched with sleepless nights, sold them tickets and ignored their badinage. Family parties, carrying baskets and wheeling babies in perambulators, took possession of the Park and littered it with paper bags. And among them, committing horrible crimes, dispatching whole families with a wooden gun from behind near-by trees and taking innumerable prisoners, went a small pirate in a black mask and a sash of scarlet ribbon, from which hung various deadly weapons, including a bread-knife, a meat-cleaver, and a hatchet.
Attempts to make Tucker wear a mask having proved abortive, he was attired in a pirate flag of black, worn as a blanket, and having on it, in white muslin, what purported to be a skull and cross-bones but which looked like the word "ox" with the "O" superimposed over the "X."
Prince Ferdinand William Otto stood at his window and looked out. Something of resentment showed itself in the lines of his figure. There was, indeed, rebellion in his heart. This was a real day, a day of days, and no one seemed to care that he was missing it. Miss Braithwaite looked drawn about the eyes, and considered carnivals rather common, and certainly silly. And Nikky looked drawn about the mouth, and did not care to play.
Rebellion was dawning in the soul of the Crown Prince, not the impassive revolt of the "Flying Dutchman" and things which only pretended to be, like the imitation ship and the women who were not really spinning. The same rebellion, indeed, which had set old Adelbert against the King and turned him traitor, a rebellion against needless disappointment, a protest for happiness.
Old Adelbert, forbidden to march in his new uniform, the Crown Prince, forbidden his liberty and shut in a gloomy palace, were blood-brothers in revolt.
Not that Prince Ferdinand William Otto knew he was in revolt. At first it consisted only of a consideration of his promise to the Chancellor. But while there had been an understanding, there had been no actual promise, had there?
Late in the morning Nikky took him to the roof. "We can't go out, old man," Nikky said to him, rather startled to discover the unhappiness in the boy's face, "but I've found a place where we can see more than we can here. Suppose we try it."
"Why can't we go out? I've always gone before."
"Well," Nikky temporized, "they've made a rule. They make a good many rules, you know. But they said nothing about the roof."
"The roof. The thing that covers us and keeps out the weather. The roof, Highness." Nikky alternated between formality and the other extreme with the boy.
"It slants, doesn't it?" observed his Highness doubtfully.
"Part of it is quite flat. We can take a ball up there, and get some exercise while we're about it."
As a matter of fact, Nikky was not altogether unselfish. He would visit the roof again, where for terrible, wonderful moments he had held Hedwig in his arms. On a pilgrimage, indeed, like that of the Crown Prince to Etzel, Nikky would visit his shrine.
So they went to the roof. They went through silent corridors, past quiet rooms where the suite waited and spoke in whispers, past the very door of the chamber where the Council sat in session, and where reports were coming in, hour by hour, as to the condition of things outside. Past the apartment of the Archduchess Annunciata, where Hilda, released from lessons, was trying the effect of jet earrings against her white skin, and the Archduchess herself was sitting by her fire, and contemplating the necessity for flight. In her closet was a small bag, already packed in case of necessity. Indeed, more persons than the Archduchess Annunciata had so prepared. Miss Braithwaite, for instance, had spent a part of the night over a traveling-case containing a small boy's outfit, and had wept as she worked, which was the reason for her headache.
The roof proved quite wonderful. One could see the streets crowded with people, could hear the soft blare of distant horns.
"The Scenic Railway is in that direction," observed the Crown Prince, leaning on the balustrade. "If there were no buildings we could see it."
"Right here," Nikky was saying to himself. "At this very spot. She held out her arms, and I- "
"It looks very interesting," said Prince Ferdinand William Otto. "Of course we can't see the costumes, but it is better than nothing."
"I kissed her," Nikky was thinking, his heart swelling under his very best tunic. "Her head was on my breast, and I kissed her. Last of. all, I kissed her eyes - her lovely eyes."
"If I fell off here," observed the Crown Prince in a meditative voice, " I would be smashed to a jelly, like the child at the Crystal Palace."
"But now she hates me," said Nikky's heart, and dropped about the distance of three buttons. "She hates me. I saw it in her eyes this morning. God!"
"We might as well play ball now."
Prince Ferdinand William Otto turned away from the parapet with a sigh. This strange quiet that filled the Palace seemed to have attacked Nikky too. Otto hated quiet.
They played ball, and the Crown Prince took a lesson in curves. But on his third attempt, he described such a compound- curve that the ball disappeared over an adjacent part of the roof, and although Nikky did some blood-curdling climbing along gutters, it could not be found.
It was then that the Majordomo, always a marvelous figure in crimson and gold, and never seen without white gloves - the Majordomo bowed in a window, and observed that if His Royal Highness pleased, His Royal Highness's luncheon was served.
In the shrouded room inside the windows, however, His Royal Highness paused and looked around.
"I've been here before," he observed. "These were my father's rooms. My mother lived here, too. When I am older, perhaps I can have them. It would be convenient on account of my practicing curves on the roof. But I should need a number of balls."
He was rather silent on his way back to the schoolroom. But once he looked up rather wistfully at Nikky.
"If they were living," he said, "I am pretty sure they would take me out to-day."
Olga Loschek had found the day one of terror. Annunciata had demanded her attendance all morning, had weakened strangely and demanded fretfully to be comforted.
"I have been a bad daughter," she would say. "It was my nature. I was warped and soured by wretchedness."
"But you have not been a bad daughter," the Countess would protest, for the thousandth time. "You have done your duty faithfully. You have stayed here when many another would have been traveling on the Riviera, or - "
"It was no sacrifice," said Annunciata, in her peevish voice. "I loathe traveling. And now I am being made to suffer for all I have done. He will die, and the rest of us - what will happen to us?" She shivered.
The Countess would take the cue, would enlarge on the precautions for safety, on the uselessness of fear, on the popularity of the Crown Prince. And Annunciata, for a time at least, would relax. In her new remorse she made frequent visits to the sickroom, passing, a long, thin figure, clad in black, through lines of bowing gentlemen, to stand by the bed and wring her hands. But the old King did not even know she was there.
The failure of her plan as to Nikky and Hedwig was known to the Countess the night before. Hedwig had sent for her and faced her in her boudoir, very white and calm.
"He refuses," she said. "There is nothing more to do." "Refuses!"
"He has promised not to leave Otto."
Olga Loschek had been incredulous, at first. It was not possible. Men in love did not do these things. It was not possible, that, after all, she had failed. When she realized it, she would have broken out in bitter protest, but Hedwig's face warned her. "He is right, of course," Hedwig had said. "You and I were wrong, Countess. There is nothing to do - or say."
And the Countess had taken her defeat quietly, with burning eyes and a throat dry with excitement. "I am sorry, Highness," she said from the doorway. "I had only hoped to save you from unhappiness. That is all. And, as you say, there is nothing to be done." So she had gone away and faced the night, and the day which was to follow.
The plot was arranged, to the smallest detail. The King, living now only so long as it was decreed he should live; would, in mid-afternoon, commence to sink. The entire Court would be gathered in anterooms and salons near his apartments. In his rooms the Crown Prince would be kept, awaiting the summons to the throne-room, where, on the King's death, the regency would be declared, and the Court would swear fealty to the new King, Otto the Ninth. By arrangement with the captain of the Palace guard, who was one of the Committee of Ten, the sentries before the Crown Prince's door were to be of the revolutionary party. Mettlich would undoubtedly be with the King. Remained then to be reckoned with only the Prince's personal servants, Miss Braithwaite, and Nikky Larisch.
The servants offered little difficulty. At that hour, four o'clock, probably only the valet Oskar would be on duty, and his station was at the end of a corridor, separated by two doors from the schoolroom. It was planned that the two men who were to secure the Crown Prince were to wear the Palace livery, and to come with a message that the Crown Prince was to accompany them. Then, instead of going to the wing where the Court was gathered, they would go up to Hubert's rooms, and from there to the roof and the secret passage.
Two obstacles were left for the Countess to cope with, and this was her part of the work. She had already a plan for Miss Braithwaite. But Nikky Larisch?
Over that problem, during the long night hours, Olga Loschek worked. It would be possible to overcome Nikky, of course. There would be four men, with the sentries, against him. But that would mean struggle and an alarm. It was the plan to achieve the abduction quietly, so quietly that for perhaps an hour - they hoped for an hour - there would be no alarm. Some time they must have, enough to make the long journey through the underground passage. Otherwise the opening at the gate would be closed, and the party caught like rats in a hole.
The necessity for planning served one purpose, at least. It kept her from thinking. Possibly it saved her reason, for there were times during that last night when Olga Loschek was not far from madness. At dawn, long after Hedwig had forgotten her unhappiness in sleep, the Countess went wearily to bed. She had dismissed Minna hours before, and as she stood before her mirror, loosening her heavy hair, she saw that all that was of youth and loveliness in her had died in the night. A determined, scornful, and hard-eyed woman, she went drearily to bed.
During the early afternoon the Chancellor visited the Crown Prince. Waiting and watching had made inroads on him, too, but he assumed a sort of heavy jocularity for the boy's benefit.
"No lessons, eh?" he said. "Then there have been no paper balls for the tutors' eyes, eh?" "I never did that but once, sir," said Prince Ferdinand William Otto gravely.
"So! Once only!"
"And I did that because he was always looking at Hedwig's picture."
The Chancellor eyed the picture. "I should be the last to condemn him for that," he said, and glanced at Nikky.
"We must get the lad out somewhere for some air," he observed. "It is not good to keep him shut up like this." He turned to the Crown Prince. "In a day or so," he said, "we shall all go to the summer palace. You would like that, eh?"
"Will my grandfather be able to go?"
The Chancellor sighed. "Yes," he said, "I - he will go to the country also. He has loved it very dearly."
He went, shortly after three o'clock. And, because he was restless and uneasy, he made a round of the Palace, and of the guards. Before he returned to his vigil outside the King's bedroom, he stood for a moment by a window and looked out. Evidently rumors of the King's condition had crept out, in spite of their caution. The Place, kept free of murmurs by the police, was filling slowly with people; people who took up positions on benches, under the trees, and even sitting on the curb of the street. An orderly and silent crowd it seemed, of the better class. Here and there he saw police agents in plain clothes, impassive but watchful, on the lookout for the first cry of treason.
An hour or two, or three - three at the most and the fate of the Palace would lie in the hands of that crowd. He could but lead the boy to the balcony, and await the result.