By Frank Neilson
Daily Story Publishing Company, July 3, 1903.
The queen, gazing from an open window of the palace, looked not upon the myriads of gorgeous flowers in the royal gardens beneath, heard not the warblings of bright-plumaged birds, the tinkling lullabies of flowing fountains—she saw only her subjects gathering sullenly in the silent streets—she heard only the rattle of the distant drums, the rumble of hurrying artillery, the ominous tread of marching men. Amazed and anxious, she turned to meet the patriarchal man whose faltering steps had scarce announced his entrance.
“Your excellency,” she exclaimed “I have sent for you that you may explain why the preparations for the marriage are discontinued, why our troops are assembling, why the people have ceased to shout ‘Long Live Prince Ludovic,’ and scowl and mutter as they pass this way.”
The gray-haired minister bowed low. “Is it possible, your majesty, that the princess has not informed you—”
“The princess has informed me of nothing,” interrupted the queen, impatiently. “It seems that the queen must beg for information possessed by her meanest subject.”
“Learn, then, your majesty,” said, the old minister, bluntly, “that a crisis is upon us. Late last night your daughter dismissed Prince Ludovic and renounced the intended marriage. At two o’clock this morning the prince, raging and furious, departed for his father’s kingdom, taking his entire suite.”
The queen sunk upon a couch.
“Her reasons?” she gasped. “The princess’ reasons?”
“None know, your majesty. I suspect—strongly suspect—but am not sure.”
“Your majesty has yet to learn the worst,” continued the minister. “At eight o’clock this morning I received an ultimatum from the king of Montegramo. Unless within 24 hours the prince is recalled, an apology tendered and the marriage consummated, the king will declare war and begin hostilities.”
“War?” cried the terrified queen. “War with Montegramo? Impossible! Our troops need arms, our treasury is exhausted, our people taxed to the verge of revolution. The princess shall retract—she shall apologize—the marriage shall be consummated. You will so inform the king immediately.”
“One moment, your majesty. If l obey and you, after hearing the princess’ explanation, should determine to sustain her and defy the king, his majesty’s wrath would be intensified—”
“Have no fear, my lord. There can be no reasons sufficient to justify this outrageous conduct. I shall hear my daughter's explanation, but her foolish fancies shall not plunge us into a war that must result in the loss of our kingdom and the subjugation of our people.”
“Then your majesty must not listen to the princess—”
The queen arose haughtily.
“My lord, it appears to me that you are dictating to your sovereign. Am I not the queen? Do you doubt my sincerity, my sanity?”
With trembling fingers the venerable minister unclasped the fastenings of his robe of state and allowed It to fall to the floor. He lifted the jeweled collar from his bent shoulder and cast it aside.
“See, your majesty," he said, his voice shaking with emotion, “it is not now the minister who speaks to his queen—it is the old servant who rejoiced at your birth, who held you in his arms at the christening, who has faithfully and loyally guided you through many perils of the throne. "My queen, for many years you and your royal spouse of loving-memory cherished the hope of uniting this kingdom with that of Montegramo, that you might found an empire and rear an impassable barrier against the encroachments of your mutual foes. The king of Montegramo wisely agreed, and the concurrent births of Ludovic and Alicia marked the approval of Providence. In all things fate favored your design, and the time has now arrived when your ambition may be reached and the prosperity of both nations be assured.”
“My sovereign, I doubt not your sincerity, but I have grown old and gray in plot and intrigue, in the study of men and of women. Do not, I entreat you, listen to the princess. You are the queen, but you are a woman, and, your majesty—there are some things a woman never forgives.”
The silken curtains of an archway stirred, parted, and enframed the princess. The queen turned and regarded her sternly.
'‘Princess Alicia, without cause you have endangered my greatest ambition; you have invited a ruinous and suicidal war; you have invoked calamity and disaster upon the nation and our throne. I had intended to demand of you an explanation of your conduct. I have changed my mind. Your reasons are not material. Prince Ludovic shall return this day, and you will immediately prepare for the marriage.”
Over the wan face of the princess crept an expression of inflexible determination. Tears sprang to her dark eyes—tears of indignation rather than of grief.
“Listen, your majesty, but for one moment. Last night—”
The queen made a gesture of impatience. ‘‘Explanations and entreaties are useless. Only prompt and implicit obedience can atone for your conduct.”
The princess turned to depart, hesitated, and back.
“Your majesty,” she said, softly, “I obey. But before I go I ask one favor, not of the queen, but of the mother.”
The queen smiled an assent.
“Recall, then, my mother, my situation when you departed from the Countess of Cannento’s party last night.”
The old minister cast a glance of warning and alarm toward the queen, but she, pondering curiously saw it not.
“I recall,” she mused, “that the last games were being played—that you and Prince Ludovic were partners, opposing the Duke and Duchess of Formonia—that you and the duchess were tied for the prize—and that you and the prince held winning hands. By the way, my child, I congratulate you. It is the first prize you have won this season.”
“But—we lost!” wailed the princess, extending her beautiful arms toward her mother.
“Lost!” cried the queen, incredulously, starting forward. “Again? And you have tried so hard!”
“Lost!” reiterated the princess, casting herself into her mother’s encircling arms and sobbing piteously. “The prince—trum—trumped—my ace!”
“All is lost!” exclaimed the old minister, turning away despairingly.
From over her daughter’s quivering shoulder the queen flashed her indignant and tearful eyes upon the dejected old man.
“My lord,” she ejaculated, hoarsely, “you were right—there are some things a woman never forgives! You understand! Go!”
In a few moments the two women, sobbing in each other’s arms, heard through the open window the tramp of armed squadrons rushing to defend the frontier.