The Lad and the Lion

Chapter Thirteen

Edgar Rice Burroughs

THE PRINCESS MARIA’S father was one of the richest monarchs in Europe, in his own right. His kingdom was prosperous, too; but his people were not particularly warlike. They seemed to prefer hoes in their hands to bayonets in their bellies. Some people are like that, and it is always a matter of embarrassment to their rulers. Ferdinand’s father, on the other hand, was poor; and his country in debt. His people were overtaxed; but they liked to goosestep and salute; and while they didn’t particularly relish having bayonets poked into them, they were willing to take a chance for the sake of having an opportunity of poking their bayonets into other people. An alliance of the two houses, therefore, would give each what it lacked and wished.

In the capital of the Princess Maria’s father, Ferdinand was wined and dined and banqueted and feted for a week. His entertainment was lavish and expensive. Nothing was left undone that might impress upon him the prosperity and wealth of his host and his host’s country, and Ferdinand was impressed. For the first time he commenced to see the possibilities of the alliance. There were royal yachts and royal trains and royal other things that were far more royal than anything Ferdinand had ever seen before. He tried to forget that Maria was horse-faced and bucktoothed. He also tried to forget a certain promise he had made to Hilda de Groot.

The night before he was to leave for home, he found himself alone with Maria on a moon-bathed terrace. She didn’t look quite so badly by moonlight, but he couldn’t help thinking that she would have looked less badly had there been no moon. She was a difficult person to whom to make love—she was rather ugly, she was three years older than he, and she was all bones. However, it had to be done. Ferdinand took a deep breath and steeled himself, as one who is about to dive into very cold water. Finally he took the plunge.

“I have the honor,” he said, “to ask your hand in marriage.”

.     .     .     .     .

King Otto was far more contented than he had been for years. His son was to marry the daughter of his very rich neighbor. Otto was almost happy, for the world looked quite bright.

“The treaty,” he said to Sarnya; “it should be signed at once.”

“They will not sign it until after the marriage has taken place,” replied Sarnya.

“And the loan?” asked Otto.

“That must wait, too.”

“But why?” demanded the King.

“If they made the loan, it would strengthen us materially, for they know that most of it is to be spent on armament. They want Maria’s influence with Ferdinand as assurance that we won’t use that armament against them. Their attitude is quite correct. We should do the same under like circumstances. You must remember that in the last one hundred years we have made war on them twenty times and broken every treaty that we have signed. You can’t blame them. They are banking heavily on Maria.”

“Too heavily, I am afraid,” said Otto.

“Why do you say that?” asked Sarnya.

“She will exercise no influence over Ferdinand. The chances are that she won’t see him much more than once a month after they are married. There is still the Dutch girl.”

“She can be gotten rid of,” suggested Sarnya. “Give her a little money and send her out of the country.”

“It wouldn’t work,” said Otto. “The fool is in love with her. He’d follow her. Why, he even wanted to marry her.”

“There are other ways of getting rid of her—permanently,” said Sarnya.

Otto shook his head. “Only as a last resort,” he said. “It will be better if Ferdinand has her for diversion. I can imagine that a man might get rather desperate if he had to depend solely on Maria for entertainment.”

.     .     .     .     .

“You have been back three whole days, and this is the first time you have come to see me.”

“I have been very busy,” explained Ferdinand.

“That is not the reason. You did not come to see me because you are ashamed. The papers say that you are to marry Maria next month. I know now that you are; otherwise you would not have been ashamed to come and see me.”

“It is not my fault, Hilda. If I were king, it would be different; but I am not king.”

“You went there, and you found that you loved her. If you didn’t love her, you wouldn’t be in such a hurry to marry her.”

“I am in no hurry to marry her. I do not want to marry her at all. You do not understand. The marriage is a matter of State. There is a treaty to be signed that will be very advantageous to our country, but it will not be signed until after I have married Maria.”

“Then you are going to marry her?” “I can’t help it. I have to.” “You told me you would never marry anyone but me.” “I don’t want to marry anyone but you, Hilda. I am doing this for my country. Later, I can divorce her and marry you.” “Another one of your promises. I shall go away and enter a convent. You shall never see me again.” Hilda began to cry.

“Don’t do that,” he snapped, irritably. “How much do you think I can stand? It is bad enough to have to marry a clotheshorse with buckteeth, without having you reproach me and make a scene.”

“I am not making a scene. When one’s heart is broken, can one help crying? I shall probably die. I want to die.”

“You will not die; and if you will be patient, maybe something will happen: so that I shall not have to marry Maria.”

“What could happen?” demanded Hilda.

“Oh, one never knows,” said Ferdinand.

.     .     .     .     .

The great day arrived, and nothing happened. Maria’s father had come and her mother and a horde of other relatives in addition to the King’s entourage. The capital was gay with flags and bunting, the avenues were lined with soldiers, the air was filled with military planes.

The escort included cavalry, infantry, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, armored cars, and even heavy field pieces; for Otto was trying to impress Ferdinand’s future father-in-law with his wealth of men and armament, just as the latter had sought to impress Ferdinand with his display of wealth.

Crowds lined the avenue to the cathedral. They waved flags and cheered dutifully. William Wesl and the cobbler’s pretty daughter were among them. William did not wave a flag or cheer. He wore a heavy scowl. That was because he was a revolutionary, and revolutionaries always scowl. The cobbler’s daughter, however, was very enthusiastic. She waved her little flag and shouted and clapped her little hands, which caused her to drop the flag; and when William stooped to retrieve it, someone bumped him in the seat, so that he nearly sprawled on his face, which did nothing toward improving William’s disposition. That was so bad this bright and sunny morning that William almost felt that he should like to be a Terrorist. He was trying to compute, roughly, what all this was going to cost the taxpayers; and that didn’t make him feel any better, either; for he could see that it was going to cost a great deal. Maria would cost them a lot, too; and then there would be children, and there would be further demands on the taxpayers. The future looked black to William.

Hilda de Groot did not watch the procession; she lay face down on her bed, sobbing.

Andresy watched the procession; but, notwithstanding the fact that he also was a revolutionary, he smiled; for he knew that The Day was approaching. A young lieutenant sitting on his horse in front of his troop, his sword at salute, watched Ferdinand roll past in a gilded coach. It was as well for Ferdinand’s peace of mind that he did not know what was in this young lieutenant’s mind. In Switzerland, Count Maximilian Lomsk listened to the broadcast of all the ceremonies attendant upon the marriage of a crown price to a princess. A little blonde from Germany sat beside him.

“When Ferdinand is king and recalls me from exile,” he told her, “I shall send for you. I shall be a very great man, then; and you shall live as befits the friend of a great man.” Once he had told the cobbler’s pretty daughter something along the same general line, but he had forgotten that, along with the cobbler’s pretty daughter.

Resplendent in his Guard uniform, Captain Carlyn watched King Otto pass; and licked his dry lips.

.     .     .     .     .

Hilda de Groot was writing in her diary a few days after the marriage of Ferdinand and Maria, when a man burst into her boudoir without being announced or without knocking. That is, he had not knocked on her door; but he had knocked her butler down, and had run upstairs so fast that he had almost knocked her maid off the landing as he brushed past her.

“Where is he?” he demanded, as he burst into the room, a drawn revolver in his hand.

“Hans!” cried Hilda. “What is the matter? Have you gone mad?”

“Where is he?” repeated Hans, looking about the boudoir.

“Where is who?”

“You know—that rat, that pig-Ferdinand.” “He is not here. I have not seen him since—since he was married.” She was staring at the revolver, horrified.

“Hans! What did you intend doing? You must have gone crazy even to think of such a thing. What good would it do? What is done, is done; and why should you want to kill the man I love? Do you think I am not unhappy enough as it is? Would you make it worse? They would shoot you, Hans; and I love you, too. Think what it would do to Mamma and Papa. It might kill them.”

He sank into a chair. “Yes,” he said, “I guess I have gone a little crazy. But who wouldn’t? I have thought of nothing else for more than five years. Every night of my life I have killed him—sometimes one way, sometimes another. We used to be so happy, Hilda, you and I and Michael; and then he came along, and everything was spoiled. Why shouldn’t I hate him? Why shouldn’t I want to kill him?”

“Because I love him.”

He shook his head, as though to clear something from his brain; then he rose slowly to his feet. “I am glad I did not find him here,” he said. “Perhaps you are right. I shall try to remember; but sometimes this hate engulfs me like a great wave, and then I can think only of one thing—to kill, to kill him and you.”

“Hans!” she cried, horrified.

“I cannot help it,” he said. “I do not want to kill you. I do not want to want to kill you. Oh, I wish that I were dead.”

He walked slowly from the room, then. Hilda noticed that he walked almost like an old man; then she threw herself face down upon the floor, and sobbed.

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