The Princess and the Republican
THE PRINCESS AND THE REPUBLICAN
By Anthony Hope
IT was very rarely that the Princess could contrive it, but to-day her tricks had triumphed. The equerry was seeking in one direction, the lady-in-waiting in another, the pages in a third, the footmen in a fourth; and the Princess, merrily smiling, walked alone through the wood which fringed the edge of the stream. And there—because it was so pre-ordained—she found the Republican, lying full-length on the grass, preparing a speech in attack on the policy of the king. Just as he mouthed out a fine passage, the Princess came to a stand opposite him, and the Princess laughed.
The Republican sprang to his feet and bowed very low.
"I thought, sir," observed the Princess, "that you accorded no deference to rank."
"Nor do I," said the Republican, bowing again very low.
"It is, then, because I am a woman?"
The Republican pushed his thick hair from his forehead, hesitated a moment, and fixed a glance on the Princess's eyes.
"Merely that," said he; and the Princess blushed.
"Sit down," said the Princess, seating herself on the grassy bank. The Republican obeyed her.
"Why do you say such hard things of my father?" asked she.
"Because he is a king."
"Does that hurt you?"
"Does it not hurt you, madame?"
The Princess looked at him inquiringly.
"I have seen you often of late in the city," said the Republican. "Perhaps you have seen me?"
"I saw you being led to prison the other day," smiled the Princess.
"One sees strange things in the city," remarked the Republican, composedly. "Only to-day I saw a strange thing."
"Pray, what was that, sir?"
"The photograph of an ugly dolt," said the Republican. "It is in all the shop-windows."
"I would be angry if you were not so foolish," said the Princess.
"And I would be just if he were not——"
"A Prince?" interposed the Princess, hastily.
"Let us say that," agreed the Republican. "In cold truth, he is but a fool, as most men are, and no uglier than some."
The Princess rose, courtesied, and sat down again. The Republican drew himself a little nearer to her.
"It is a marriage of affection—so they say," said he.
The Princess took no notice of this remark.
"When you were a boy," she said, "you were not angry with me for being a Princess."
"I would not be angry, if I were still a boy," said he.
The Princess assumed an air of sedate wisdom.
"You should reflect," she remarked, "whither your wild theories lead."
"I will gladly so reflect, if you will join me in the meditation."
"Shall I tell you whither they lead?" she asked.
"With your leave, I will tell you," said he.
"And then I will point out the folly of it."
"It is very likely," said he.
There was a pause. The birds sang and the river twinkled as it ran. The Princess looked on the river; the Republican raised himself on his elbow, and looked on the Princess.
"I see," he began, "the Throne upset, the King discrowned, Liberty triumphant."
"What nonsense!" said the Princess.
"I see," he went on, "a marriage broken off and a maiden-Princess, I cannot see what the maiden does. Does she weep, madame?"
"You were to tell, not I," said the Princess.
"Ah! and I see the maiden again. And now, by heaven, she does not weep! She comes smiling through the wood; and there is one whom she meets. They do not call one another 'sir' and 'madame.’"
"What do they call one another?" asked the Princess.
"I think it is 'sweetheart' and 'sweet love,’" whispered the Republican. "Why should they not? She is not a Princess now. And then they talk together."
"Do you hear anything of what they say?" asked the Princess, twirling a wild flower in her hands.
"But little, for they speak very low. They need not speak loud."
"Need they not?"
"No, for they are very close to one another; his lips are at her ear."
"Then, indeed, they need not."
"But his lips do not always rest at her ear."
"Whither go they?" she asked, very low.
"To her lips—and hers to his. And then "
The Republican, interrupting himself, sprang suddenly to his feet.
"What is the matter?" asked the Princess, with a start.
He put out his hand to her; for an instant she looked at him. Then she took his hand and rose.
"And then," continued the Republican, "they begin to walk. They seem to have made a plan; they walk briskly, quickly. She clings to his arm——"
"Well, the path is rough," pleaded the Princess.
"And he supports her. He talks eagerly as he goes, but she says little, yet she looks at him, and bends her head to listen to him——"
"The water rippling over the stones makes such a noise," said the Princess.
"And farther still they go. Yet she does not seem weary, or to notice the distance."
"Oh, no," said the Princess.
"They leave the side of the stream and plunge into the woods; and once they stop and he kisses her——"
"Oh, go on again—quick!" cried the Princess.
"And then they hasten on, because, delightful as the kiss was, there is that ahead which calls them on. On and on they go, far from the stream, far from the city. Yet again they stop——"
"But for a moment only!" urged the Princess.
"Till, at last, the wood ends and they see before them a little ivy-clad church; it is there that they are to be wed. Who hinders them now? She is not a Princess now. Love is all in all now. On they press towards the church——"
"Yes, yes, quick!" cried the Princess.
"They pass through the churchyard gate, up the little path, to the porch of the church; and a priest comes forth and——"
"I do not see the priest," said the Princess.
The Republican started. They came to a sudden stop. His eyes were eager, his face flushed. The Princess was now red, now white, and she panted, and held a hand to her side. The gate of the porch was locked; and none came to open it.
"I do not see the priest, either, now," said the Republican.
"He is not there," whispered the Princess.
"And the way in is barred," said the Republican.
The Princess loosed her hold of the Republican's arm and sank, still breathing quickly, on a flat tombstone hard by. The Republican stood opposite to her, his arms folded. For a while neither spoke.
"I did not know that we had so much as moved," said the Princess at last.
The Republican made no reply.
"Nor did I know," pursued the Princess, "anything else that we did!" And, as she spoke, a reluctant smile curved on her lips. "You spoke so eloquently," she complained; "you carried me away with you."
The Republican took a step towards her.
"My theories!" said he. "It was all theory."
"Yes, it was all theory," acquiesced the Princess.
"Wild theory," said the Republican.
"Very wild," said the Princess, shaking her head.
"Not to be spoken of in public."
"By no means," said the Princess.
Again they were silent for a time. Then the Princess sighed.
"We must get back to Fact," she said. "Is it far?"
"A mile or two," said the Republican, "to where we came from."
"And another to the town?"
"With the shop-windows?"
"Yes," said the Princess, sighing again.
"Shall I come back with you to Fact?" asked the Republican.
"I think," said the Princess, glancing up at him, "that I had rather you stayed here—in Theory."
"And you will go back alone—to Fact?"
"Yes; but now and then I may think of you—in Theory, How strange the difference is"
"It is but this," said the Republican, and he knelt on one knee, and with deep respect raised the hand of the Princess to his lips, and rose again, and drew back, bowing thrice.
"That is Fact," said he.
The Princess's lips curved again.
"And Theory?" she asked, looking away from the Republican.
"This," said the Republican, springing forward, "is Theory."
"And whither leads it?" asked the Princess, a moment later; and her tone was sad.
"To a barred door," he answered, sorrowfully.
"Yet," she mused, "it has its own delights. No—no more of it!"
She rose and courtesied to the Republican; he bowed very low.
"Sir," she said, "farewell."
"Madame," said he, "farewell."
She turned away, but, as she went, she looked over her shoulder.
"Madame," said he, "I fancy you think indulgently of my poor Theory."
"Sir," said she, "I will judge it by my heart."
"I pray an easy judgment."
"It is such," said the Princess, "as a fellow-sinner gives."
The sun sank—it seemed suddenly. And the Princess went, slowly, alone, back through the wood, back to the town and the shop-windows. And when the King spoke of "pestilent theories" that night in the Palace, once more her lips curved. For they knew about the theories—more than the King knew.
And the poor Republican also is wedded—but to Theory!
A selection from "The National Observer."