The Lad and the Lion

Chapter Twenty-One

Edgar Rice Burroughs

SEVEN MEN were gathered in the back room of the little inn with which we are familiar. There were two former officers of The Guards Regiment, who had just been transferred to a frontier regiment; there were two officers of the Seventh Regiment of Infantry, and two from the Tenth Cavalry Regiment; the seventh man was Andresy.

“The people are ripe for revolt,” said Andresy. “Increased taxation has fallen heavily on all classes. If the money were to be spent for the public good, they might forgive it; but it is to be spent for a new palace, a private train, a yacht, and the extravagant private life of the King and his—associates.” A lieutenant of the 10th Cavalry flushed and looked straight ahead. “The situation is intolerable, and the people are furious.”

“The restlessness had spread to the army also,” said one of the officers. “He has transferred many officers of The Guards to regiments stationed on the frontier, replacing them by his friends and those of Lomsk. He has raised the pay of The Guards and cut that of every other branch of the service, rank and file as well as officers. I think that we can now work together.”

“Our interests are mutual,” said Andresy. “We do not ask much—merely the formation of a republic and the adoption of the new liberal constitution. We wouldn’t even ask for a republic, if there were any member of the royal family acceptable to the people for accession to the throne; but there is not. In the new government, it has been suggested that General Count Sarnya represent the army; and I, the people. Is that satisfactory to you gentlemen?” His eyes searched the faces of the six.

“It is,” said he who spoke for the officers. “Sarnya is loved by the army. He holds it in the hollow of his hand. There could be no better man than he.”

“Will he work with us?” asked Andresy. “He has been a staunch monarchist all his life, you know.”

“I have spoken to him within the week,” replied the officer. “He will support any move to rid the country of Ferdinand.”

“Good,” said Andresy. “The details of the coup I shall leave to you gentlemen. I am sure that you are far more capable of handling it than I; but please keep me informed—I should like to know the exact day and hour that you intend to strike.”

“General Sarnya has applied for leave, which has been granted; and he will arrive in the capital next Thursday,” said the officer.

“The next day is Friday the thirteenth,” said Lieutenant Hans de Groot.

“An excellent date,” commented Andresy; “one that will always be easy to remember. Do you know the hour?”

“Three o’clock in the morning,” replied Lieutenant de Groot.

.     .     .     .     .

“They started pouring the foundations for the palace this morning,” said the King. “I am having a little silver casket made to place beneath the corner stone when I lay it; it will contain nothing but a lock of your hair.”

“‘Casket’!” repeated Hilda, with a shudder. “I do not like the word.”

Ferdinand laughed. “Well, we shall call it a box, then.”

Hilda did not laugh. “When I drove today, some people hissed me; when I passed the cemetery, I saw a man digging a grave. Oh, Ferdinand, send for Maria; and let me go back to my apartment. We were so happy before, and nobody seemed really to mind—nobody but Hans. Poor Hans!”

“I am going to make him a general,” said Ferdinand, “and then he will be happy; and I have a surprise for you, too, my dear.”

“What is it? No more jewels, I hope. There is always some nasty little squib in the Paris papers every time you give me anything.”

“I am going to create you a countess,” said Ferdinand. “Then they cannot say that I married a commoner after divorce Maria.”

Hilda shook her head. “You are very sweet, Ferdinand; but you are also very blind and foolish. Even if I were Queen, I should always be a gardener’s daughter to them. I wish you would not do it.”

“I shall, though,” he said, stubbornly. “I am king, and I shall do as I please.”

.     .     .     .     .

The cobbler’s pretty daughter arrived at the frontier on Wednesday, the eleventh. She had enjoyed the trip by train very much indeed, because she had never been on a train before and because this was the farthest she had ever been from home. She felt quite traveled and cosmopolitan. She also enjoyed the trip because of the smart, new clothes she had bought with the money Captain Carlyn had sent her—the kind and generous Captain Carlyn. She knew how to dress, because she had worked in a swank modiste’s shop in the capital before she and William had married; and she could wear clothes, because—well, just because she could wear them. It is a knack that one is born with, or isn’t—most people are not.

When Captain Carlyn met her at the train, he was very proud of her, indeed. He thought that she was quite the loveliest thing he had ever seen; and in that he was, perhaps, quite right. He congratulated himself upon his good taste and his good fortune. He took her to a hotel, where she registered; and then he took her to lunch. He was very attentive—very much the enamored lover. That afternoon he paraded her through the little frontier town, eliciting envious glances from fellow officers. They dined together late that night; and then they went to her room. After they entered it, Captain Carlyn turned and locked the door leading into the corridor.

.     .     .     .     .

On that same Wednesday, Hans de Groot went to see his mother and father. They talked of the army and of politics and the nursery business, of everything except that which was on their minds, for Hans had not spoken Hilda’s name to his parents for years. Finally Martin de Groot had to leave to look over a job his men were working on. After he had gone, Hans knelt on the floor and buried his head in his mother’s lap. She ran her fingers through his hair and stroked his head. Finally he turned his face so that he could speak. “I have been thinking of Michael so much of late,” he said. “What good times we used to have—Michael and Hilda and I.” He had spoken her name at last. After that it was easier. He recalled little incidents of their childhood. Now he could talk of nothing else but Hilda. But he never spoke of Ferdinand or any other unpleasant thing. When it came time for him to go, he held his mother very tight and kissed her many times. She felt his tears on her face.

The Lad and the Lion - Contents    |     Chapter Twenty-Two

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