Harrison Rhodes was a novelist, travel book author, and noted playwright from Cleveland. His story “High Life” follows a European king caught up in a love square attempting to balance romance and diplomacy. When he declares his desire to marry an American, chaos erupts within the counsel. Writing of the story in his autobiography, Rhodes offered, “I ought to confess frankly at the very outset that I have lived astonishingly little in the society of royalty, in fact, not at all. I was, like the heroine of that story, born in Ohio, but that fact does not seem to have brought me the social advantages it procured her.”
The train from Geneva, due at Delices-les-Bains at two-thirty, arrived that day only three hours late. This was phenomenal; it was a good omen; it seemed to indicate an approaching return to antebellum conditions, when once or twice a year the train used to come in actually on time. Among the last to descend from a crowded compartment were the ancient Churak and the well-groomed ex-Majesty of Constantia-Felix.
“I hope,” said Georges, “that in time you can accommodate yourself to my democratic habits, Churak. If we had paid for the whole compartment as usual I should have missed the acquaintance of the two gentlemen from St. Gall who travel in underwear and lace goods. You shudder, Churak; so do I. But this is the new world.”
“I am going up to the Hotel de Russie while you get us rooms at the Beaurivage — or somewhere else. Let us not do things by halves. Why not go to some unspeakably cheap and filthy lodging? Our Majesty will dispense with a salon. Why indeed should I have even a bed? If we can only save money enough I intend to have a bottle of champagne for dinner at the Casino tonight. No, you think we oughtn’t to be so extravagant as to dine there? Well then, you at least shan’t. Churak, you’ve been talking economy and price of beefsteak so much lately that I’m determined to save. I think perhaps you had better have no dinner at all. Indeed, as the weather’s good, why shouldn’t you sleep on a bench in the park?”
Such speeches might be taken to indicate a fair degree of high spirits, even in a creature like Georges, who was very subject to cheerfulness. But after he had dismissed the unhappy and rebellious old count and was himself walking slowly up the Allee de Savoie he seemed invaded by some of the evening’s melancholy. He sat down once on a stone bench, took a telegram out of his pocket and read it, and after slowly putting it back traced with his cane a few aimless designs in the gravel of the path before he started on.
The telegram was from Miss Lydia Smith. It said, “Please come and take me home. I’m so unhappy.”
“Poor little Lydia!” he murmured, and yet he smiled, too, as if nothing could be wrong that a wise father could not set right with a word. And yet Georges was neither a fool nor fatuous, as men go.
At the hotel he discovered that Mrs. Hastings had gone out, but that Miss Lydia Smith was at home and would receive her father, Mr. Georges Smith, as he suddenly realized that he now must be. She stood tremulously expectant in the little drawing-room as he was ushered in. He paused a moment; it was in genuine admiration.
“How pretty you look, my dear!” he exclaimed. “And the waist! You couldn’t reasonably wish it to be any smaller. Come now, could you?”
This struck, one would have said, just the right note. Yet all the answer that the little Princess Lydia made was to run across the room and into her father’s arms, where, poor child, she had so rarely been. She took at its full value the promise he had made her only a little while ago, that his waistcoat would be the place where she could always lay that yellow head of hers and cry. The yellow head was more prettily coifed than ever before. And yet tears are always salt and bitter, even from the loveliest blue eyes.
“There, there, my dear!” he murmured, patting her a little awkwardly, just as any unroyal father might have done.
“I’m so glad you’re here, papa. The world isn’t as nice as I thought it was going to be.”
“Poor little modern girl!” he said with affectionate sarcasm. “Poor Miss Smith!”
“Don’t make fun of me, papa. I’m very unhappy.”
“Yes, I know,” he answered soothingly.
“You know? “She seemed a little surprised as she looked up at him through her tears.
“I am, my dear, a very wise fellow; so I know. Shall I tell you the story?”
She disengaged herself and dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief which — even in this emotional moment — was prettier than any she had ever had before.
“A certain small princess met a young man she liked.”
“How did you guess that, papa?”
“Just my wisdom, dear. And so the little princess let herself drift away with the tide, and the tide was setting toward the islands of romance.”
“Yes, papa.” She wiped away a tear.
“Of course,” Georges continued, “the girl couldn’t altogether forget that she was a princess in disguise and was away from her father’s court in a miserable furnished villa, in a way upon her parole of honor. She knew that the young man was only a bourgeois merchant’s son and that a marriage with him was out of the question, since it would displease the girl’s wonderful father, to whom she really wished to give all the obedience consistent with being quite modern and independent. So when she found the current setting toward those islands was too strong for her she grew frightened. She was still in love with the young man and he with her. But she was afraid of her father. Now suppose that her father can make it all right?”
“But you can’t, papa. You don’t understand at all. The story doesn’t go the way you’ve told it.”
“But aren’t you in love with the young man?”
“No, certainly not!” And she began afresh to cry.
“Isn’t he in love with you?”
“No,” Miss Smith managed to say. “Not a bit.”
“But he must be in love with somebody,” ejaculated Georges impatiently, “at his age.”
“He is,” agreed Miss Smith, and she flung herself down on the sofa and for an instant buried her face in its cushions.
Georges looked at first puzzled, then apprehensive, then frankly perturbed. Against a pale lemon-yellow twilight sky there came slowly up the little path to the pink terrace two figures, a young man and a lovely lady. The Majesty of Constantia Felix stepped to the door.
“Oh, sire,” cried Mrs. Hastings, very prettily sinking in a curtsy, “you surprise and honor us.”
And then: “May I be permitted to present — “
“I already have the honor,” said the king with cold formality.
Young Mr. Morpurgo was blushing heavily. But he pulled himself into some kind of a salute.
“I came, Your Majesty, you see,” he stammered.
“Yes,” replied Georges IV, still glacial, “you seem to have come pretty far, Prince Otto.”
“Prince Otto!” screamed both ladies.
“Of Hellenos?” added Mrs. Hastings.
The creature nodded his head in shame. The dragon took both men in with a glance of scorn.
“Oh, you — you two devils!” she half gasped. “Though that’s not half enough to call you. Oh, Lydia! Lydia!” she cried, turning to the girl. “My poor, deceived, tricked child! I can’t think whether they’ve treated me worse than you or you worse than me.”
“I can’t see,” said Lydia with some acerbity and a good deal of good sense, “that they have done you any harm.”
“Not done me harm?” exclaimed the lady in question. “They’ve played with me, made a fool of me. I shall cable to Washington — to the President. No, I won’t. I’ll make the American eagle scream all by myself far better than he could. You’d better go, Lydia dear. This will soon be no place for you. But remember that I love you, Lydia Smith, and everything’s a mistake. Men especially are a mistake. Royalties above all! You shall come to New York and marry a nice broker. Go, my dear,” she rattled on as she almost pushed Miss Smith out of the door, “and even if you hear them scream don’t come to their rescue. Oh!” she concluded, as alone now she turned with heightened color and snapping eyes to their royal highnesses.
They looked rather sheepishly at each other.
“Fire away!” at last said Georges IV.
“Call us whatever you like,” pleaded the late Mr. Morpurgo.
For just a quarter of an instant she still stood angrily. And then slowly seating herself, she merely smiled at them and shook her head commiseratingly. With an air of infinite leisure and detachment she adjusted the chiffon flounces of her skirt.
“You foolish creatures!” she murmured. And she lit a cigarette, while they watched her as fascinated and doomed white rabbits might a lovely serpent.
Georges IV was the first to pull himself into some semblance of royal dignity. “May I ask —” he began.
“I was told to save your daughter from undesirable young men. I did. But” — and she turned a radiant smile upon Prince Otto — “there was no one to save me from Mr. Morpurgo.”
“I am a fool,” remarked Georges almost bitterly. “Still let us get things clear.”
“By all means, Your Royal Highness. This other highness thinks he’s in love with me.”
“It’s intolerable!” began Constantia-Felix.
“He doesn’t find it so,” said the lady.
“I’ve asked her to be my wife,” said the young Prince Otto, standing very stiff.
“And of course now she refuses and the episode’s over, and better over.”
“I stand quite ready to refuse you, Otto, if I have your permission to do so. You’ve turned out to be the heir to the throne of Hellenos, if there is one. But you must believe me that I thought you were just Morpurgo. This is no trap laid to catch a prince.”
The boy strode across to the window and stood a moment with his back to them. Then he turned and broke out violently to the king.
“There is a trap laid for me, however, and by you, sir! You’re trying to turn me against her just because she did what was decent, brave and sporting. She was guardian of a princess and she guarded.”
“Ah, but this is nice of you, mon prince!” murmured the lady softly.
“What difference does it make to me how I met her, or why she made me fall in love with her? I have met her, I have fallen in love with her. Mrs. Hastings, I repeat my offer. Will you take me?”
“She’s far too intelligent a woman,” protested Georges, “not to know that it’s impossible. Even if it weren’t for your age — “
“Your Majesty is so unwise to rub in the difference in our ages,” from Mrs. Hastings with quite the air of disinterested advice.
“I beg your pardon if for a moment I thought of you as a more suitable bride for — for an older man.”
Prince Otto shot a sudden glance at the king as if an unpleasant suspicion crossed his mind. His shoulders straightened. He looked ready for combat.
Georges went on: “There is also to be considered — ”
“Please don’t say his position,” interrupted the lady. “I think Your Majesty made it quite clear to me in a previous — audience, ought I to say? — that you feel marriage quite out of the question between royalty and the likes of me. And of course I should insist on marriage. And there you are!”
“I have the honor again, madame, to ask your hand.” It was Prince Otto speaking.
“Oh, I wish I knew what to do!” said the lady very pathetically, but somehow with the air of knowing exactly what to do.
“I think —” she began, and then paused, observing delicately, but with satisfaction, the torment to which she was subjecting both gentlemen.
“May I beg,” finally broke forth the older of them, “five minutes alone with you before you come to any conclusion?”
“I object,” began the younger man.
“Oh,” said the lady, “he isn’t going to ask me to marry him! He doesn’t believe in that sort of thing.”
“May I suggest to you, my dear young man, that if it had been possible for a member of a European reigning house to marry Mrs. Hastings someone would have tried long before you?”
“Tried?” asked Otto with a note of sarcasm. “I’m wondering what they called trying.”
“It didn’t consist in asking me at any rate,” she said. “It’s but simple justice to you, Otto, to say that you’re the first to make a definite and legitimate proposal.” Her voice became more serious. “I shan’t forget that, dear boy. Your cause won’t suffer by anything that happens if you leave me alone a minute with an old friend. And whether I take you or refuse you in the end it will be because I believe that in that way lies greater happiness for you. You’ve won that much of my heart.”
She held out her hand to him and he kissed it.
“I shall wait on the terrace till you send for me if it’s all night,” he said, and rushed out with boyish swiftness as if he felt more emotion than he wanted anyone to see just then.
“It’s turned cold,” said the lady after a little pause. “Would you put a match to the fire?”
For a fleeting instant of royal pride he seemed to meditate ringing for a servant, then under her little mocking smile he knelt to the humble task.
“Two old people by the fire, eh?”
“Rubbish!” retorted Georges. “We’re neither of us forty.”
“He’s not thirty and she’s not twenty.”
The wood crackled as it caught, and he rose.
“You are not in love with him, are you?”
“I’m touched by him, pleased by him. Why shouldn’t I be in love with him? Or why should I? In any case, from your point of view he’s an admirable match, isn’t he?”
“Haven’t you a heart?” asked Georges.
“A heart?” she answered. “Yes. But a man must try to find it. Have you a right to know?”
He slumped into a big bechintzed and becushioned chair by the small fire, quite regardless of nice manners, and for a silent moment gazed at it while she stood and gazed at him.
“No,” he said finally, and he looked up at her with a smile not quite so gay as was generally his smile. “Kings have no right to any knowledge of the human heart. Perhaps they couldn’t go on with their poor little métier of being kings if they had. I’ve felt that I must consider the tradition of my race rather than the feelings of my own heart. I’ve felt, even now — now perhaps more than ever — that I must play the farce out. Now more than ever I feel disinclined to. More than ever I want to try my chances against that nice, decent boy, who’s fallen in love with you, as of course he should, and of whom I’m jealous.”
He rose. Again the fire crackled in the soft silence.
“Am I a fool?” he asked at last.
“Not quite,” she said.
“I’m afraid I am. I’m afraid I’m going to be — quite.”
Perhaps he would have been — quite. There was a determined reckless look in his eyes that contrasted oddly with the usual lazy smile. Again he took a step toward her. We shall never know just how many steps he might have taken, nor how far he might have gone. At that moment there was almost a clatter outside. Prince Otto pulled the door upon the terrace open, and the old Count Churak almost staggered into the room. He was winded, he was breathing heavily, yet somehow he was not quite the comic figure that he had seemed by the Lac des Alpes. Something had happened which again ranged the great centuries behind him.
“Your Majesty,” he began, “it has come. Thank God it’s come!”
The air in the snug soft sitting room grew electric, tense.
“What, Churak?” asked Georges; yet, as if already he knew, he unconsciously stood straighter, more like a king.
“There was a telegram at the Hotel Beaurivage. Our friends have risen at last. They are in possession of Lichtenmont and five provinces have declared for you. And the representatives of the new government are already on their way now to the Lac des Alpes to offer you your crown. We must be there tomorrow morning.”
“Can we be?” asked Georges.
“I have a motor at the door. We can be if we drive all night. And they say that the Great Pass is clear of snow.”
“Then we will start at once.” His Majesty of Constantia-Felix put his hand on his servant’s shoulder. “You have done well, old Churak. But will not the all-night run be too hard for you?”
“I will go, sire, if it kills me. I must be with you when justice is done.”
“There, there, you shall,” promised the king.
And his arm went — unroyally perhaps — round both shoulders of his ancient chamberlain. The result was unexpected, for the old man suddenly broke down, and though he fought hard, for a few seconds his half-stifled sobs were the only sound in the small firelit room. And during that little period the little Princess of Constantia-Felix stole in and stood, wide-eyed, watching.
His Majesty turned to his old friend from across the seas.
“You see,” he said lightly, “Fate is perhaps deciding for me — that I am to be quite a fool. Lydia,” he went on to his child. “Will you, if Mrs. Hastings will bring you, start tomorrow for the Lac des Alpes? We are perhaps to go home to Lichtenmont. You think you do not want to go, but perhaps somehow, after all, I can make you happy there, my child. Not that your happiness or mine has much importance, dear. Just now and forever afterward, whatever happens, what matters is our country’s happiness.”
It was perhaps a historic moment which was passing thus in this suite of the Hotel de Russie.
We have, however, already recorded all the strictly historic words there spoken. They were somewhat enigmatic in that they seemed to give no clue as to any project in His Majesty of Constantia-Felix’s mind as regards the matrimonial chances of his offspring.
“I’ll bring her on to Geneva,” said Mrs. Hastings. “And probably neither she nor I will be marrying anyone for the next day or two. At any rate, I think I owe this to Lydia, that she should be married first.”
Both Georges and Otto considered this statement, but to them it seemed to lead nowhere.
Otto again threw open the door and the men went out. The motor whirred away in the darkness and the women knew that Georges was on the road. Was it the road to Lichtenmont?
All through the night the motor whirred toward the Lac des Alpes. A crescent new moon scudded through scattering clouds. Georges IV eyed it warily. Did it, he asked himself, mean hope? Somehow now that the thing he had longed for ever since that night at Lichtenmont had happened — but a new moon is in any case a pretty thing. Clouds too.
They stopped toward midnight at the little Auberge des Grisons, where it was a real pleasure to rout out the innkeeper and make him give them jugs filled with boiling water to pack about poor old Churak in the car. The Great Pass was clear of snow, it was true, but the night air was very bitter. It was almost as great a pleasure to drink a generous cup of a kind of pear brandy native to that canton and not to be neglected by thoughtful drinkers. But soon the motor was again eating up the long empty road. They crossed the pass and slid down the valley that leads finally to the lake.
Count Churak, so cozily jugged — if one may correctly employ that phrase — did not speak. And Georges of Constantia-Felix, peering at the road and at the night without seeming to see them, fell deeper and deeper into his own thoughts. It is quite possible that he had never thought so much before. But even stories must not intrude too far upon a hero’s privacy. Sometimes the mountains reminded him of the Garpentian range in the eastern provinces that were no longer his. Sometimes a pine against the sky made him think of Christmases at Lichtenmont when his grandfather, old Charles X, was still alive. Then jumped the years to that last night of goodbye and to this new night of welcome, when Constantia-Felix was — so it seemed — to take him back. What would she take back — unhappy, racked, yet lovely land? What manner of king could Georges IV ever hope to be? There are moments when the thoughts of kings are long, long thoughts. We will instead merely follow the longish road that leads down from the Great Pass to the sapphire lake. The cold moderated as the motor descended to pleasant lower levels, to vineyards, to sunrise and to coffee and rolls at the little capital, on the terrace of a café by the lakeside, where a sleepy waiter lazily and unwillingly wiped off a tin table, little realizing that it was for the petit dejeuner of a king.
By ten they were at the Château de Branchazay, which instead of sitting peacefully as usual in the sun was already humming with the emissaries of all the dethroned gentlemen of the lake district. Events in Constantia were, it was hoped, a torch lit which would start fires of royalism in all the countries now oppressed — so these exiles phrased it — by democracy. It was the decision of the Council of Montresor — hastily called together the night before — a little earlier than when His Majesty of Constantia-Felix had been drinking pear brandy at the Auberge des Grisons, to request George IV to receive the delegation from Lichtenmont at the Island of Montresor itself, instead of his own modest château of Branchazay, and in the company of his fellow sovereigns, who, it was hoped, would — glittering with gems and orders and gold lace — thus lend to the first restoration all the éclat of a first rate historic event. It was hoped obviously that the repercussion — a charming European word, too little used by us in America — of such a party would enormously aid their own publicity and propaganda at home. Indeed, it urgently and rather pathetically put to the Constantian Georges that since they had all fallen together he should do all in his power to enable them to rise together. It was the opinion of Count Churak, whose importance now almost surpassed that of any unseated monarch, that this procedure would be quite contrary to tradition.
“I point out to you, Churak, that tradition landed us where we are. No, I’ll do what they want. I’ve certain things to say to the Constantian delegation which it might do them all good to hear. Fix the show for nine o’clock tonight, and for the love of heaven let me have some champagne for dinner!”
There were quaint minor events which, much more than the action of the Council of Montresor, made the possible return to Lichtenmont seem real. The local butcher at Larentonville sent up his bill to date, though it was only the twentieth of the month. And the real-estate agent telephoned from Geneva asking when Branchazay was likely to be free. There had been the evening before, it appeared, a little revolutionary trouble in Styrditzia and the grand duke needed a Swiss place in rather a hurry and there was nothing on the lake but the gardener’s cottage on Prince Cezar of Illyria’s place. Now, unfortunately, Hazelinda of Cromatzi, the grand duke’s somewhat plain sister, had been slightly married to Cezar before he became so interested in the Parisian stage and she returned — to the great distress of everyone except her husband — to live with her brother in the family palace at Prymzichoval. So this hut, the real-estate agent judged, was, on account of these family complications, out of the question; and he welcomed the news from Constantia-Felix which seemed to point to a fresh tenant and a fresh commission.
The new Triest-Constantinople express de luxe — though there is precious little luxe about it — arrived at Lausanne at seven-thirty and the Constantian committee was almost at once transferred to a launch belonging to Stefan of Illyria — the one with the cook wife — who thus courteously indicated how happy Constantia could be with Illyria if she could but induce the latter country to call him back.
The twilight still lingered over the Lac des Alpes and a moon still young hung in the western sky. The air was soft and the little island of Montresor with its fairylike palace of white marble seemed fantastically almost to float upon the lake’s placid waters. From various points along the green shores little launches — royal puff-puffs — darted forth, converging upon the isle of counsel, small ill-smelling petrol craft, but heavily freighted with hopes, worthy and unworthy. The concert of Europe tuned up, though the hero of the evening, Georges IV, looked oddly pale and nervous, not elated and triumphant as might a king homeward bound.
Yet the paleness and the look in his face consorted better perhaps than his habitual gayety might have with the solemnity of the moment. The grand salon of the empress was lit by hundreds of candles, an extravagance that had not been indulged in there since Her Majesty’s ball to King Exon early in that fateful summer of 1914. Again kings glittered as of old, and when the doors were flung open and the delegation of humble Constantian subjects advanced toward their monarch, who detached himself from the waiting group, brightest of bright stars, for an instant it seemed that in its flight time had indeed turned back.
There was something in the air, some faint fragrance of the loyalties of an earlier time. One old gentleman broke down and sobbed as he fell on his knees to kiss the hand of his royal master. Even the stout, stubborn young man with a red beard, who represented the new Democratic Law and Order Party in Constantia, bent his head as if even for him there was some transitory romantic magic in the summer night, though the acceptance of royalty by him and his party was only a temporary compromise made necessary by the breakdown of communistic government at Lichtenmont.
The candles flickered gayly in the soft warm breeze that occasionally stole into the empress’ grand salon from off the lake. And Georges IV of Constantia spoke.
“There are some small things,” he began, “I want to say, from the old regime to the new. For since I left so hurriedly my capital — your capital, I should say — of Lichtenmont I have had many long days to meditate in — dull days, sad days, most of them, but excellent for thought. If I go back, as you seem to ask of me, I shall go back to the new regime, not the old. I do not approve of the old regime. It produced bad kings. We were all —” and he turned with an almost intolerable suave politeness to his fellow monarchs — “I make the statement deliberately — we were all bad kings.”
A faint murmur of varying significance and quality ran over the room.
“Shall we make good kings?” he asked, and his voice cut into the growing babble and there was silence again.
“I do not venture to answer for you, my brothers. You may do that if delegations like this should ever come to you.”
Was there a touch of pride here that he should be the first asked home? Yet Georges was in this moment of his humility more pleasingly, more romantically royal than ever before.
“For myself,” he went on, “I cannot say that I am very sure to make the king I ought. If my daughter, if someone else not even of my family, is likely to make a better sovereign I would beg Constantia-Felix so to choose. No one with a sense of humor,” he said, and his eye ranged mockingly over the concert, “can still think kings divine — we least of all who know them best. But” — and again he grew serious — “perhaps kingship is divine — the right to lead a people to happiness. That I have come to see during the hours when I was bored. And it is perhaps too great a strain upon my credulity to believe that I can carry kingship as it should be carried upon my unworthy shoulders.”
Again the murmur ran through the empress’ grand salon, and a little puff of wind suddenly intruding upon these sacred and royal presences blew out some of the candles. In a gloomier light and an eve/flower voice Georges of Constantia went on:
“I will be even more honest. It is an odd sensation for a king — I wonder if any of you has ever tried it? I am thinking of myself. You cannot learn to think about the rights of subjects without thinking about your own rights. Are we not in this new world subjects — subjects of the people? A pretty idea, hein? Perhaps being a king is not my metier. Perhaps I want to be happy too.
“I will tell you what I want, friends from Constantia, and then it will be for you to say whether or not you still want to call me back.
“I am going tomorrow to Geneva to ask a lady to be my wife. She is not eligible by the old rules to be a queen. She is only a citizen of the great democracy of the West — of America. She is, to my taste, more like what a queen should be than are most queens. But the chief thing is — and I apologize for bringing forward such a vulgar reason — I am much attached to her and have been for years. I should dislike to seem grandiloquent, but I think I want my happiness, even at the cost of my throne.”
Disguise it as he might with light phrases, it was an abdication. Describe it as inadequately as we may, it was yet a historic moment, a milestone on the European road toward the future.
There was a silence first; then a faint buzzing such as might grow into a storm. By the doorway, below the startled angry kings, the Constantian delegation put their heads together, and there was almost a half minute’s confused discussion. Then the young man with a red beard pushed his way angrily through his companions and strode toward Georges, who once had been his king, but was now just a man like another and at his mercy. His Majesty — let us for a moment still call him that — turned, pale but still smiling, to meet Redbeard.
“Well?” he asked quite simply.
The young man with the red beard spoke with all the firmness which his countenance indicated. “I don’t know what the others think, Your Majesty, I consider it very chic. Your decision puts Constantia-Felix in the front rank of modern democratic states. I am glad you have chosen a woman of the people. I would welcome her if she were a red Indian or a simple cowgirl of the Far West.”
Georges meditated a moment in surprise. He thought of his inamorata’s costumes from the Rue de la Paix.
“She is scarcely as you so optimistically describe her,” he admitted. “The lady is more — shall I say? — an international.”
“International is good,” said the young man with the red beard. “That will please the radicals.”
“I fear,” said Georges, “and I beg you to believe that it is a matter which does not interest me and has not been investigated by me, but I fear she is something of a capitalist.”
Human nature is of course not what it should be. His Majesty’s phrase seemed to galvanize the whole assemblage to new vitality. At the sound of it the Constantian delegation came forward nearer their king; now suddenly they were warmed, so it seemed, by a more intimate personal feeling for him.
As for the ex-sovereigns of Europe, they moved as one man, as if some spell drew them magically, as if already the melodious clink of American dollars was making lovely music in their ears. A servant was closing some of the windows and relighting the candles; already the world seemed more cheerful.
“This is important, Your Majesty,” began the ancient count, who represented the extreme right, the reactionary royalist party of Constantia-Felix. “The Constantian Treasury —”
“Pardon me,” interrupted Georges, “I am giving thought to the matter for the first time, but I already see that if the lady marries she will be marrying me, not the Constantian Treasury.”
“Obviously,” said another of the delegation — the head of the Black Sea Bank at Lichtenmont — “but the Constantian Treasury might be relieved of your personal allowance — ”
“I am not at all sure that the lady will take me,” suggested Georges.
At first the Constantians seemed perturbed at this thought. Perhaps they saw in the background Miguel of Elzenia, only twenty-five, twist confidently a minute black mustache. Perhaps they heard Heinrich Albert mutter darkly, “Most likely she won’t.”
For an instant the fair bedollared American may have seemed to elude them. Then the sight of Georges, erect, slight, handsome, with the gay, gallant air which had always so far attracted ladies, gave them courage. Forty though he might be, they felt ready to pit him against all royal corners for this unknown American lady’s hand. With a murmur of deprecation and wavings of the hands they expressed their confidence in him.
“How rich is she?” asked one of the princes of Illyria, all children of Nature.
The assemblage was hushed. Yet Georges IV only answered in a very bored voice, “I have so little idea. She keeps the wolf from the door.”
“It will not be difficult to know,” said the ex-King of Romalia sharply, “if you care to go so far as to give us her name. We have always in Romalia kept excellent track of all the marriageable American fortunes. We have always encouraged our younger nobility to go out there after wives. When they left for New York they had very carefully revised lists, and our minister at Washington was always instructed to aid them.
“The results were excellent. Almost eighty-seven percent of those who went out brought back excellent financial results.”
“This is most painful — ” began Georges.
“But important,” interrupted the young man with the red beard. “Would Your Majesty favor us with her name?”
“Under the circumstances,” hesitated our king, “I almost dislike giving it. But no,” he went on with a sudden energy and a quick standing erect proudly, “I am glad to give it. The lady is Florence Hastings, née Denison, widow of the late Alfred Hastings of New York.”
The Constantian delegation, it was evident, did not know Mrs. Hastings. But her name was like a bomb thrown among the monarchs. It blew up first the King of Hellenos — old Gregorius, as his son somewhat disrespectfully termed him. Fairly sputtering with excitement he pushed his way toward Georges.
“What makes you think she will take you — you old Georges?” he called out in an angry raucous voice.
Georges smiled, shrugged his shoulders and bowed from the waist. What else could a gentleman do?
“I understand my son Otto has a pretty good chance,” went on the older man. Georges stared in amazement at him.
“You don’t suppose for a moment that I allow my son to go rampaging round Europe without someone to keep an eye on him? I had a complete report on the affair of Delices-les-Bains. My son is a good bet for place in this race, let me tell you, if he is only an heir apparent. He’s a younger man than you, my boy.”
“He is, as I have every reason to know,” confessed His Majesty of Constantia. “You will note that I admitted I was not sure Mrs. Hastings would accept me. Prince Otto of Hellenos has the honor to be the chief reason why I was not sure.”
“I am glad you admit that,” said old Gregorius, still sputtering. And then he turned to his fellow monarchs and continued in a shrill angry, old voice. “My friends,” he cried, “the Council of Montresor is asked to break the sacred obligation we all entered into to uphold the tradition in our marriages. And we are asked to break it in order that Constantia-Felix, instead of Hellenos, may carry away one of the biggest American fortunes!”
“Have you the figures?” asked the King of Romalia.
“Naturally I have,” said old Gregorius, fumbling in, the breast pocket of his coat.
“I am not a fool. Here we are. These are what was laid before my privy council at a vermuth meeting at the Café du Nord yesterday. The Hastings money is extremely well invested, though there is perhaps a shade too large a proportion in Lehigh Valley and Public Utilities. I should say it is one of the best American fortunes.”
“Tut, tut!” said the old Archduke of Wallankia. “Give us the sum total.”
Old Gregorius tantalizingly delayed to adjust a pair of spectacles. In this pause readers are invited to note the lack of vulgarity in this narrative which has so far dictated that nothing should have been said about our American heroine’s money. The moment, however, cannot longer be postponed. The moment, furthermore, was one which perhaps changed the course of history in all Southeastern Europe.
“The amount is forty-eight millions — about four hundred and sixty-eight thousand dollars — and a few hundreds — that our advices are not quite accurate about. Of this in fluid assets there are — ”
“Ach, Himmel!” groaned Karl of Saxreich. “The injustice this war has inflicted on Germany! To think it will be years before a German can again marry an American dollar princess!”
“Oh, heavens above,” cried one of the princes of Illyria, “she is worth two hundred and eighty million konitskis in Illyrian money, or three billion eight hundred million konitskis at the present rate of exchange!”
“I wonder how she would feel about my morganatic marriage? Of course it is really no bar to my taking a princess,” mused Stefan, “but I am told these Americans are very prudish about extra wives.”
“You say that, trying to bar me,” retorted the Sultan of Zambifor. “I am not a Christian. In my country the position of twenty-third wife is considered very chic.”
“I have the honor to demand of the most noble and royal Council of Montresor” — it was old Ludpvicz of Romalia speaking — “the permission for my son, Claude-Ergone, to seek the hand of this lady in marriage.”
This roused the Constantians. The young man with the red heard bellowed angrily: “This is a matter in which the people must be consulted. We get this money. Our man saw her first.”
“Very good!” yelled old Gregorius in reply.
The barriers between sovereigns and people were certainly broken down at last. The grand salon of the Empress had now the tone of a village market place when a group of excited peasants bargain over a live, squealing pig.
“You say your man saw her first —” and the ex-King of Hellenos shook his fist almost in the beard of the young man. “Yes, he saw her first,” he continued in fury, “but who proposed to her first? Was it not my son?”
Here Georges IV, pale with rage, cut into the discussion, speaking in a low cutting voice.
“Gregorius,” he said, “you are intolerably ill-bred. And besides,” he added, “what do you know of whether your precious Otto has or has not proposed?”
“I know enough,” was the reply. “I had two special agents with field glasses behind a hedge.”
“Did you install a listening-in device in the lady’s sitting room?”
“No, but I wish I had!” said Gregorius.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen —” began the old Archduke of Wallankia.
“There are no gentlemen here,” shouted Redbeard — “only kings and proletarians!”
The archduke gazed at the young man in silence for a moment, then he went on:
“You are treating this as if it were a personal matter, Georges.”
“It is intensely personal to me,” protested Georges.
The old archduke smiled paternally.
“Be a statesman!” he said. “Remember that this is an international question. Remember that it involves the relations of our countries to America. Whichever country first accepts an American queen will probably be very well thought of by the American people. Whichever of us first has an American wife will probably get back on his throne first. As the concert of Europe this council cannot permit one of its number to get ahead of the others like this. No no!”
“Do you mean,” asked Georges, “that she must marry all or none of us? I must warn you that on these terms she’s quite likely to marry none. Great heavens!” he went on. “I suppose that there are probably five million unmarried women, in America!”
“But have they all three billion eight hundred million konitskis at the present rate of exchange?” asked one of the princes of Illyria.
King Gregorius again consulted his paper.
“There were, in the spring of 1914,” he said, “only fifteen thousand six hundred and eighty-nine heiresses in the United States who brought with them over four hundred thousand dollars.”
“I am old” — it was the ancient archduke placidly pursuing his train of thought, unperturbed by interruption — “that is, I am seventy. I have not been married for years. And yet in the interests of my Wallankian people I stand ready to marry this — this — what did you say her name was, Georges?”
There was an instant turmoil in which it became evident that there were several more candidates proposing their names. Then suddenly someone thumped on the table with a gavel and a voice was heard above the din, that of M. Theophile Braun, the representative appointed by the government at Bern to be present at the meetings of the Council of Montresor so that these gatherings should not involve the Swiss Republic in any European difficulties.
“Your Majesties,” yelled Monsieur Theophile, “I must protest against Switzerland being excluded from this opportunity. You must not trample on the rights of neutrals. We have fine, upstanding young Swiss, any one of whom would make an admirable husband for a rich Americaness. I demand that this lady be permitted to consider one of them!”
“Holland will protest, too,” began someone.
“And what will America say?” asked very pertinently the King of Romalia.
“We can always cable to Wilson,” suggested someone else.
The turmoil rose higher. It was evident that the concert of Europe produced the most modern of music, with many discords. It was obvious that it would soon be necessary to separate the second prince of Illyria and the young man with the red beard, who seemed inclined to settle matters by the simple method of la boxe anglaise. At last somehow Georges of Constantia rose above the storm.
“Gentlemen,” he cried, “there is but one person who can settle this! The lady herself!”
“Where is she?” asked His Majesty of Romalia.
“At the Beaurivage in Geneva.”
“Let her be sent for at once.”
The turmoil rose again. Georges IV consulted his watch.
“Why not?” he asked. “It is nine-thirty. She will have finished dinner.”
“Meanwhile,” said Heinrich Albert, “I feel a need of food. I have had nothing for two hours. There are, I am told, the usual sandwiches in the dining salon. And —” he paused at the climax — is it not almost the climax of our tale? — “I have today had sent here a barrel of echi Miinchener just from over the border.”
About a half hour later two ladies sat alone, concluding a conversation, at the prow of the little launch of the Prince of Illyria, which sped through the warm soft night toward the lovely fabled Island of Montresor. Farther aft the heir of Hellenos — if he could get Hellenos back — smoked a cheap American cigarette. For a day neither of the ladies had had much to say to him.
He had indeed been almost tempted to bare his heart to Miss Bidgerton, who, though bedewed with tears, still exists in our story. Now he meditated in a chastened spirit on life and its uncertainties.
“Lydia,” said the elder lady, “I hope you understand now.”
“I understand,” was the reply, “and I truly forgive you.”
“I wish things were as if we’d never gone to Delices-les-Bains.”
The girl made no comment at first. She seemed to watch the twinkling tiny Swiss towns on the dark shore of the Lac des Alpes.
“No,” she said, “I don’t think so. Miss Lydia Smith was rather silly, as young girls are. The Princess Lydia, if I must be that again, is grown up. And I shall be happy somehow — you’ll see.”
Yes, she looked older in the crescent moon’s faint light.
The older woman leaned forward and took the girl’s hand and said, perhaps unexpectedly, “You know, dear, you’re lovely at last. Is it tears I wonder that make so wonderful a lotion?”
And the little Princess Lydia replied quite frankly, “I’m glad, whatever happens, that I’m prettier and that my waist is not quite so large.”
They were nearing the little Isle de Montresor and the unknown future and the odd, unexplained conference to which they had been hurriedly summoned. At the stern Prince Otto’s glowing cigarette had disappeared; he was coming toward them. But before he came there was between the ladies a final interchange.
“I’ve told you everything, Lydia. And you understand that I love him.”
“I understand,” said the little princess. “I love him too.”
At Geneva no explanations had been given or asked. But now as the old Count Churak, who was waiting at the dock, led Mrs. Hastings ceremoniously up the white marble steps that led to the terrace of the villa her conversational tone was not at all what he considered suitable for the future — Well, for the future what?
“Why am I summoned before the council?” she asked. “I can only think of — wasn’t it Phryne before the Tribunal? I’ve seen the picture. And her costume — well, even now when one doesn’t exactly balk at décolletage, she went lengths that are out of the question. Though of course if I were to — ”
The King of Romalia made the formal speech. And the scene was no longer the indecorous village market place it had been.
“The present occasion, madam, has no historical parallel, but then history is no longer what it was. We are — or we were — Europe. We hope to be Europe again. You, madam, are America. Now that I see you, I may add America at its best. Europe wishes to ally itself with the West. You are already aware that two countries, Hellenos and Constantia-Felix, wish to marry you.”
A faint smile flitted over her face, her color seemed to heighten a little.
“Oh,” she murmured, “does Constantia wish to marry me? I hadn’t quite understood.”
“But we wish you to know before you come to any conclusion that there are other countries which honorably sue for your favor. I speak for my son, but in honor bound I speak for many others here. We ask the privilege of your acquaintance. We ask your consideration.”
Suddenly she looked confused, frightened, very young.
“Your Majesty, this isn’t a joke you are playing upon me?”
“On my honor as a gentleman,” he answered.
And acquiescence was voiced from a score of throats. Her color surged back into her cheek. She sank in a low curtsy.
“It is,” she said, “even for America, almost too great an honor. As to its being for me, it is unbelievable. The world is indeed changed.”
“For the better, we hope,” said His Majesty of Romalia, “if you accept any of us.”
“I marry so rarely,” murmured the lady. “In fact, it has only happened to me once, and then for love. This is all very confusing. The thought of marrying a total stranger is for the moment almost frightening to me.”
“Will you think it horribly discourteous of me if I incline at this moment to someone I already know? May I, in fact, ask that the Council of Montresor permit me to be alone for a few minutes with — ”
She hesitated — out of pure mischievousness, no one could doubt it.
“With Prince Otto of Hellenos?” she said at last.
For an instant one might have thought that the late King of Constantia-Felix had not heard. He stood very erect and very pale. Perhaps it was in his family to improve with age; like his daughter, he had never looked better than now. Are unshed tears as well a magic lotion? He did not seem to see anything but the candles and dark Lac des Alpes beyond. Yet the lady, oddly enough, was staring at him rather than at the heir of Hellenos, who nearby, flushed and handsomely boyish, was poised almost as the young Mercury about to fly.
At last they were alone, and for at least a quarter of a minute silent.
“Do you still want to marry me, Otto?” she asked slowly.
“Did I not ask you?” He flushed a deeper red.
“That is, as you quite well know, not an accurate answer to my question. But I shall not press you. You saw me this afternoon after a hard day’s motoring beginning at an intolerable hour. My appearance may well have led you to suspect the worst.”
“I suspect nothing of you that is not beautiful and kind and good,” he answered.
“Oh, dear, dear young Otto!” she cried softly. “I hope — I so hope you’re right about me! I so hope that what I’m doing now is the best thing for you. You — you must not marry me!”
“Must I not?” he asked gravely, though his eyes were suspiciously, boyishly wet. “Why not?” “
First, because I am so much older than you.”
He protested, but she went on:
“I don’t, of course, mean that I shall actually grow old. That’s absurd nowadays. There are creams and lotions and massage. And modern surgery will lift the skin of your face and take out the wrinkles and the puffiness. It can carve down your hips, they say too. And your neck, with wax injected under the skin — “
“Oh, don’t!” he protested afresh. “It sounds horrible!”
“It is horrible,” she admitted.
“You could never grow old.”
“Well, perhaps I wouldn’t. But I might — yes, at seventy-five or eighty I might begin to fade ever so slightly.”
“You don’t really think all that matters, do you?”
She paused a moment before she answered him and then she said slowly: “No, I don’t think all that matters. Ah, you force me to give you my best reason! I’m really in love — in love with Georges of Constantia-Felix. I think I have been for fifteen years. But until now, when — so it appears — he’s asking me to marry him, I haven’t allowed myself to think of it. Is that being puritanical? I’m afraid I am.”
“I’m glad you are.”
“That’s nice of you, Otto. That’s why besides being young and handsome and a prince you were a temptation to me. But I love him, and it’s better I should. For there’s another good reason for my doing what I am: You’re really in love with Lydia.”
“Oh, you make me out a thing with no mind of my own!” he cried.
“No, I don’t. I make you out just young and natural. You and she love the new world. You love freedom. Don’t you see how wonderful all this is in a prince and a princess?”
“She does look prettier than ever before, doesn’t she?” he said, and then he grew shy again.
“That isn’t what I was talking about,” said Mrs. Hastings with a gay small laugh. “But yes, she does.”
“Ah, but I wouldn’t dare now — “
“Wouldn’t dare, because for a time you’d been led astray by a good woman. Oh, she’ll forgive that! She loves you!”
“Oh, does she?” His eyes shone.
“Yes, she’ll tell you so herself if you’ll give her a chance. And, Otto, she’s a splendid girl.”
He suddenly began to laugh.
“Why, you’ll be my mother.”
“Even that doesn’t discourage me,” she cried.
“If the Council will permit, I’ve made my choice,” she said. “I’ll take ConstantiaFelix.”
And in the empress’ grand salon Georges IV kissed her before them all. Within half an hour on the terrace Otto and the Princess Lydia, too, sealed a bargain in this way.
There is not much more to tell — just a pretty incident.
The Constantian delegation opened a box they had brought along, and lo, there was in it a crown — diamonds and emeralds — and the great ruby of Azanoff. The young man with a red beard, already a hopeless victim to his future queen, dropped on his knees before her, offering it. She took it and lifted it to her head. “Of course,” she said in a low voice to Georges, “my hair’s not dressed for a crown, and besides I’ve a really lovely tiara of my own. Still — “
The glitter of the candlelight was on her, and the spell of the moment caught everyone there. It was a vision no one was ever to forget. Then slowly she lifted the bauble from her shining locks. She took a step forward.
“Listen, Constantians,” she said, “and try to understand: My great-grandfather was a farmer — in Ohio. My grandfather made his money buying and selling cheese. I’m not a queen in the old sense. There is no crown of Constantia which belongs or can belong to me. It is yours. It is the people’s.”
She came nearer them, and the great Azanoff ruby shone upon them all.
“Will you take it and keep it for me so long as you love me, so long as you think I am the queen that there should be in Constantia? Will you not take back the crown? From Ohio to Constantia-Felix, eh? I love your king. If you will let me, I mean to love you and Constantia too.”
It is in such episodes as this that the history of the King and Queen of Constantia is being made in Southeastern Europe.