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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Wrath of a Queen
By Alphonse Daudet (1840–1897)
 
From ‘Kings in Exile’: Translation of Laura Ensor and E. Bartow

ALL the magic beauty of that June night poured in through the wide-open casement in the great hall. A single lighted candelabrum scarcely disturbed the mystery of the moonlight, which streamed in like a “milky way.” On the table, across some dusty old papers, lay a crucifix of oxydized silver. By the side of the crucifix was a thick broad sheet of parchment, covered with a big and tremulous writing. It was the death-warrant of royalty, wanting nothing but the signature, one stroke of the pen, and a strong and violent effort of will to give this; and that was the reason why this weak King hesitated, sitting motionless, his elbows resting on the table, by the lighted candles prepared for the royal seal.  1
  Near him, anxious, prying, yet soft and smooth, like a night-moth or the black bat that haunts ruins, Lebeau, the confidential valet, watched him and silently encouraged him; for they had arrived at the decisive moment that the gang had for months expected, with alternate hopes and fears, with all the trepidation, all the uncertainty attending a business dependent upon such a puppet as this King. Notwithstanding the magnetism of this overpowering desire, Christian, pen in hand, could not bring himself to sign. Sunk down in his arm-chair, he gazed at the parchment, and was lost in thought. It was not that he cared for that crown, which he had neither wished for nor loved, which as a child he had found too heavy, and that later in life had bowed him down and crushed him by its terrible responsibilities. He had felt no scruple in laying it aside, leaving it in the corner of a room which he never entered, forgetting it as much as possible when he was out; but he was scared at the sudden determination, the irrevocable step he was about to take. However, there was no other way of procuring money for his new existence, no other means of meeting the hundred and twenty thousand pounds’ worth of bills he had signed, on which payment would soon be due, and which the usurer, a certain Pichery, picture-dealer, refused to renew. Could he allow an execution to be put in at Saint-Mandé? And the Queen, the royal child; what would become of them in that case? If he must have a scene—for he foresaw the terrible clamor his cowardice must rouse—was it not better to have it now, and brave once for all anger and recriminations? And then—all this was not really the determining reason.  2
  He had promised the Comtesse to sign this renunciation; and on the faith of this promise, Séphora had consented to let her husband start alone for London, and had accepted the mansion Avenue de Messine, and the title and name that published her to the world as the king’s mistress, reserving, however, anything further till the day when Christian himself would bring her the deed, signed by his own hand. She assigned for this conduct the reasons of a woman in love: he might, later on, return to Illyria, abandon her for the throne and power; she would not be the first person whom these terrible State reasons have made tremble and weep. D’Axel, Wattelet, all the gommeux of the Grand Club little guessed when the king, quitting the Avenue de Messine, rejoined them at the club with heavy fevered eyes, that he had spent the evening on a divan, by turns repulsed or encouraged, his feelings played upon, his nerves unstrung by the constant resistance; rolling himself at the feet of an immovable, determined woman, who with a supple opposition abandoned to his impassioned embrace only the cold little Parisian hands, so skillful in defense and evasion, while she imprinted on his lips the scorching flame of the enrapturing words:—“Oh! when you have ceased to be king, I shall be all yours—all yours!” She made him pass through all the dangerous phases of passion and coldness; and often at the theatre, after an icy greeting and a rapid smile, would slowly draw off her gloves and cast him a tender glance; then, putting her bare hand in his, she would seem to offer it up to his ardent kiss.  3
  “Then you say, Lebeau, that Pichery will not renew?”  4
  “He will not, sire. If the bills are not paid, the bailiffs will be put in.”  5
  How well he emphasized with a despairing moan the word “bailiffs,” so as to convey the feeling of all the sinister formalities that would follow: bills protested, an execution, the royal hearth desecrated, the family turned out of doors. Christian saw nothing of all this. His imagination carried him far away to the Avenue de Messine: he saw himself arriving there in the middle of the night, eager and quivering; ascending with stealthy and hurried step the heavily carpeted stairs, entering the room where the night-light burned, mysteriously veiled under lace:—“It is done—I am no longer king. You are mine, mine.” And the loved one held out her hand.  6
  “Come,” he exclaimed, starting out of his fleeting dream.  7
  And he signed.  8
  The door opened and the Queen appeared. Her presence in Christian’s rooms at such an hour was so unforeseen, so unexpected, they had lived so long apart, that neither the King in the act of signing his infamy, nor Lebeau, who stood watching him, turned round at the slight noise she made. They thought it was Boscovich coming up from the garden. Gliding lightly like a shadow, she was already near the table, and had reached the two accomplices, when Lebeau saw her. With her finger on her lips she motioned him to be silent, and continued to advance, wishing to convict the king in the very act of his treachery, and avoid all evasion, subterfuge, or useless dissimulation; but the valet set her order at defiance and gave the alarm, “The Queen, sire!”  9
  The Dalmatian, furious, struck straight in the face of this malevolent caitiff with the powerful hand of a woman accustomed to handle the reins; and drawing herself up erect, waited till the wretch had disappeared before she addressed the king.  10
  “What has happened, my dear Frédérique? and to what am I indebted for—?”  11
  Standing bent over the table that he strove to hide, in a graceful attitude that showed off his silk jacket embroidered in pink, he smiled, and although his lips were rather pale, his voice remained calm, his speech easy, with that polished elegance which never left him when addressing his wife, and which placed a barrier between them like a hard lacquer screen adorned with flowery and intricate arabesques. With one word, one gesture, she put aside the barrier behind which he would fain have sheltered himself.  12
  “Oh! no phrases, no grimacing—if you please. I know what you were writing there. Do not try to give me the lie.”  13
  Then drawing nearer, overwhelming his timorous objection by her haughty bearing:—  14
  “Listen to me, Christian,” and there was something in her tone that gave an impression of solemnity to her words; “listen to me: you have made me suffer cruelly since I became your wife. I have never said anything but once—the first time, you remember. After that, when I saw that you had ceased to love me, I left you to yourself. Not that I was ignorant of anything you did—not one of your infidelities, not one of your follies remained unknown to me. For you must indeed be mad, mad like your father, who died of exhaustion, mad with love for Lola; mad like your grandfather John, who died in a shameful delirium, foaming and framing kisses with the death-rattle in his throat, and uttering words that made the Sisters of Charity grow pale. Yes, it is the same fevered blood, the same hellish passion that devours you. At Ragusa, on the nights of the sortie, it was at Fœdora’s that they sought you. I knew it, I knew that she had left her theatre to follow you. I never uttered a single reproach. The honor of your name was saved. And when the King was absent from the ramparts, I took care his place should not be empty. But here in Paris—”  15
  Till now she had spoken slowly, coldly, in a tone of pity and maternal reproof, as though inspired thereto by the downcast eyes and pouting mouth of the King, who looked like a vicious child receiving a scolding. But the name of Paris exasperated her. A city without faith, a city cynical and accursed, its blood-stained stones ever ready for sedition and barricades! What possessed these poor fallen kings, that they came to take refuge in this Sodom! It was Paris, it was its atmosphere tainted by carnage and vice that completed the ruin of the historical houses; it was this that had made Christian lose what the maddest of his ancestors had always known how to preserve—the respect and pride of their race. Oh! When on the very day of their arrival, the first night of their exile, she had seen him so excited, so gay, while all around him were secretly weeping, Frédérique had guessed the humiliation and shame she would have to undergo. Then in one breath, without pausing, with cutting words that lashed the pallid face of the royal rake, and striped it red as with a whip, she recalled one after the other all his follies, his rapid descent from pleasure to vice, and vice to crime.  16
  “You have deceived me under my very eyes, in my own house; adultery has sat at my table, it has brushed against my dress. When you were tired of that dollish little face who had not even the grace to conceal her tears, you went to the gutter, wallowing shamelessly in the slime and mud of the streets, and bringing back the dregs of your orgies, of your sickly remorse, all the pollution of the mire. Remember how I saw you totter and stammer on that morning, when for the second time you lost your throne. What have you not done! Holy Mother of angels! What have you not done! You have traded with the royal seal, you have sold crosses and titles.”  17
  And in a lower tone, as though she feared lest the stillness and silence of the night might hear, she added:—  18
  “You have stolen, yes, stolen! Those diamonds, those stones torn from the crown—it was you who did it, and I allowed my faithful Greb to be suspected and dismissed. The theft being known, it was necessary to find a sham culprit to prevent the real one ever being discovered. For this has been my one, my constant preoccupation: to uphold the King, to keep him untouched; to accept everything for that purpose, even the shame which in the eyes of the world will end by sullying me. I had adopted a watchword that sustained me, and encouraged me in my hours of trial: ‘All for the crown!’ And now you want to sell it—that crown that has cost me such anguish and such tears; you want to barter it for gold, for the lifeless mask of that Jewess, whom you had the indecency to bring face to face with me to-day.”  19
  Crushed, bending low his head, he had hitherto listened without a word, but the insult directed against the woman he loved roused him. Looking fixedly at the queen, his face bearing the traces of her cutting words, he said politely, but very firmly:—  20
  “Well, no, you are mistaken. The woman you mention has had nothing to do with the determination I have taken. What I am doing is done for you, for me, for our common happiness. Tell me, are you not weary of this life of privations and expedients? Do you think that I am ignorant of what is going on here; that I do not suffer when I see you harassed by a pack of tradespeople and duns? The other day when that man was shouting in the yard I was coming in and heard him. Had it not been for Rosen I would have crushed him under the wheels of my phaeton. And you—you were watching his departure behind the curtains of your window. A nice position for a Queen. We owe money to every one. There is a universal outcry against us. Half the servants are unpaid. The tutor even has received nothing for the last ten months. Madame de Silvis pays herself by majestically wearing your old dresses. And there are days when my councilor, the keeper of the royal seals, borrows from my valet the wherewithal to buy snuff. You see I am well acquainted with the state of things. And you do not know my debts yet. I am over head and ears in debt. Everything is giving way around us. A pretty state of things, indeed; you will see that diadem of yours sold one day at the corner of a street with old knives and forks.”  21
  Little by little, gradually carried away by his own scoffing nature and the jesting habits of his set, he dropped the moderate tone he commenced with, and in his insolent little snuffling voice began to dwell upon the ludicrous side of the situation, with jeers and mockery, borrowed no doubt from Séphora, who never lost an opportunity of demolishing by her sneering observations the few remaining scruples of her lover.  22
  “You will accuse me of making phrases, but it is you who deafen yourself with words. What, after all, is that crown of Illyria that you are always talking about? It is worth nothing except on a king’s head; elsewhere it is obstruction, a useless thing, which for flight is carried hidden away in a bonnet-box or exposed under a glass shade like the laurels of an actor or the blossoms of a concierge’s bridal wreath. You must be convinced of one thing, Frédérique. A king is truly king only on the throne, with power to rule; fallen, he is nothing, less than nothing, a rag. Vainly do we cling to etiquette, to our titles, always bringing forward our Majesty, on the panels of our carriages, on the studs of our cuffs, hampering ourselves with an empty ceremonial. It is all hypocrisy on our part, and mere politeness and pity on the part of those who surround us—our friends and our servants. Here I am King Christian II. for you, for Rosen, for a few faithful ones. Outside I become a man like the rest, M. Christian Two. Not even a surname, only ‘Christian,’ like an actor of the Gaété.”  23
  He stopped, out of breath; he did not remember having ever spoken so long standing. The shrill notes of the night-birds, the prolonged trills of the nightingales, broke the silence of the night. A big moth that had singed its wings at the lights flew about, thumping against the walls. This fluttering distress and the smothered sobs of the Queen were the only sounds to be heard; she knew how to meet rage and violence, but was powerless before this scoffing banter, so foreign to her sincere nature; it found her unarmed, like the valiant soldier who expects straight blows and feels only the harassing stings of insects. Seeing her break down, Christian thought her vanquished, and to complete his victory he put the finishing touch to the burlesque picture he had drawn of kings in exile. “What a pitiful figure they cut, all these poor princes in partibus, figurants of royalty, who drape themselves in the frippery of the principal characters, and declaim before the empty benches without a farthing of receipts! Would they not be wiser if they held their peace and returned to the obscurity of common life? For those who have money there is some excuse. Their riches give them some right to cling to these grandeurs. But the others, the poor cousins of Palermo for instance, crowded together in a tiny house with their horrid Italian cookery. It smells of onions when the door is opened. Worthy folk certainly, but what an existence! And those are not the worst off. The other day a Bourbon, a real Bourbon, ran after an omnibus. ‘Full, sir,’ said the conductor. But he kept on running. ‘Don’t I tell you it is full, my good man?’ He got angry; he would have wished to be called ‘Monseigneur’—as if that should be known by the tie of his cravat! Operetta kings, I tell you, Frédérique. It is to escape from this ridiculous position, to insure a dignified and decent existence, that I have made up my mind to sign this.”  24
  And he added, suddenly revealing the tortuous Slavonic nature molded by the Jesuits:—“Moreover, this signature is really a mere farce. Our own property is returned to us, that is all, and I shall not consider myself in the slightest degree bound by this. Who knows?—these very thousands of pounds may help us to recover the throne.”  25
  The Queen impetuously raised her head, looked him straight in the eyes for a moment, then shrugged her shoulders, saying:  26
  “Do not make yourself out viler than you are. You know that when once you have signed—but no. The truth is, you lack strength and fortitude; you desert your kingly post at the most perilous moment, when a new society, that will acknowledge neither God nor master, pursues with its hatred the representatives of Divine right, makes the heavens tremble over their heads and the earth under their steps. The assassin’s knife, bombs, bullets, all serve their purpose. Treachery and murder are on every side. In the midst of our pageantry or our festivities, the best of us as well as the worst, not one of us does not start if only a man steps forward out of the crowd. Hardly a petition that does not conceal a dagger. On leaving his palace what king is certain of returning alive? And this is the hour you choose to leave the field!”  27
  “Ah! if fighting could do it!” eagerly said Christian II. “But to struggle as we do against ridicule, against poverty, against all the petty meannesses of life, and feel that we only sink deeper every day—”  28
  A ray of hope lit up her eyes:—“Is it true? would you fight? Then listen.”  29
  Breathlessly she related, in a few rapid words, the expedition she and Elysée had been preparing for the last three months by letters, proclamations, and dispatches, which Father Alphée, ever on the move, carried from one mountain village to the other. This time it was not to the nobility they appealed, but to the people; the muleteers, the porters of Ragusa, the market-gardeners of Breno, of La Brazza, the islanders who go to market in their feluccas, the nation which had remained faithful to the monarchical tradition, which was ready to rise and die for its king, on condition that he should lead them. Companies were forming, the watchword was already circulating, only the signal now remained to be given.  30
  The Queen, hurling her words at Christian to rout his weakness by a vigorous charge, had a cruel pang when she saw him shake his head, showing an indifference which was even greater than his discouragement. Perhaps at the bottom of his heart he was annoyed that the expedition should have been so far organized without his knowledge. But he did not believe in the feasibility of the plan. It would not be possible to advance into the country; they would be compelled to hold the islands, and devastate a beautiful country with very little chance of success: a second edition of the Duc de Palma’s adventure, a useless effusion of blood.  31
  “No, really, my dear Frédérique, you are led away by the fanaticism of your chaplain and the wild enthusiasm of that hot-headed Gascon. I also have my sources of information, far more reliable than yours. The truth is, that in Dalmatia, as in many other countries, monarchy has had its day. They are tired of it, they will have no more of it.”  32
  “Oh! I know the coward who will have no more of it,” said the Queen. And she went out hurriedly, leaving Christian much surprised that the scene should have ended so abruptly. He hastily thrust the deed into his pocket, and prepared to go out in his turn, when Frédérique reappeared, accompanied this time by the little prince.  33
  Roused out of his sleep and hurriedly dressed, Zara, who had passed from the hands of his nurse to those of the Queen without a word having been uttered, opened wide his bewildered eyes under his auburn curls, but asked no questions; he remembered confusedly in his poor little dizzy head similar awakenings for hasty flights, in the midst of pallid faces and breathless exclamations. It was thus that he had acquired the habit of passive obedience; that he allowed himself to be led anywhere, provided the Queen called him in her grave and resolute voice, and held ready for his childish weakness the shelter of her tender arms and the support of her strong shoulder. She had said: “Come!” and he had come with confidence, surprised only at the surrounding silence, so different from those other stormy nights, with their visions of blood and flames, roar of cannon, and rattle of musketry.  34
  He saw the King standing, no longer the careless good-natured father who at times surprised him in his bed or crossed the schoolroom with an encouraging smile, but a stern father, whose expression of annoyance became more accentuated as he saw them enter. Frédérique, without uttering one word, led the child to the feet of Christian II. and abruptly kneeling, placed him before her, crossing his little fingers in her joined hands:—  35
  “The king will not listen to me, perhaps he will listen to you, Zara. Come, say with me, ‘Father.’” The timid voice repeated, “Father.”  36
  “‘My father! my king! I implore! do not despoil your child. Do not deprive him of the crown he is to wear one day. Remember that it is not yours alone; it comes from afar, from God himself, who gave it six hundred years ago to the house of Illyria. God has chosen me to be a king, father. It is my inheritance, my treasure; you have no right to take it from me.’”  37
  The little prince accompanied his fervent murmur with the imploring looks of a supplicant; but Christian turned away his head, shrugged his shoulders, and furious though still polite, he muttered a few words between his teeth: “Exaggeration! most improper; turn the child’s head.” Then he tried to withdraw and gain the door. With one bound the Queen was on her feet, caught sight of the table from which the parchment had disappeared, and comprehending at once that the infamous deed was signed, that the king had it in his possession, gave a despairing shriek:—  38
  “Christian!”  39
  He continued to advance towards the door.  40
  She made a step forward, picking up her dress as if to pursue him; then suddenly said:—  41
  “Well, be it so.”  42
  He stopped short and turned round. She was standing before the open window, her foot upon the narrow stone balcony, with one arm clasping her son ready to bear him into death, the other extended menacingly towards the cowardly deserter. The moon lit up from without this dramatic group.  43
  “To an operetta King, a Queen of tragedy,” she said, stern and terrible. “If you do not burn this instant what you have just signed, and swear on the cross that it will never be repeated, your race is ended, crushed, wife and child, there on the stones.”  44
  Such earnestness seemed to inspire her vibrating tone, her splendid figure bent towards the emptiness of space as though to spring, that the King, terrified, dashed forward to stop her.  45
  “Frédérique!”  46
  At the cry of his father, at the quiver of the arm that held him, the child—who was entirely out of the window—thought that all was finished, that they were about to die. He never uttered a word nor a moan; was he not going with his mother? Only, his tiny hands clutched the queen’s neck convulsively, and throwing back his head with his fair hair hanging down, the little victim closed his eyes before the appalling horror of the fall.  47
  Christian could no longer resist. The resignation, the courage of this child, who of his future kingly duties already knew the first—to die well—overcame him. His heart was bursting. He threw upon the table the crumpled parchment which for a moment he had been nervously holding in his hand, and fell sobbing in an arm-chair. Frédérique, still suspicious, read the deed through from the first line to the very signature, then going up to a candle, she burned it till the flame scorched her fingers, shaking the ashes upon the table; she then left the room, carrying off her son, who was already falling asleep in her arms in his heroically tragic attitude.  48
 
 
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