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Chapter 10

"WHAT WAS WRITTEN IN A KING'S HAND"


When Benedict returned to his hotel he was met by Kaulbach's servant, sent by his master to learn what had happened. In the good town of Hanover it had speedily become known that in answer to Benedict's letter in the "Gazette" two challenges had been received that very morning, and that he, his challengers, and seconds, had all gone to Eilenriede, the usual place for settling affairs of this description. Benedict desired him to assure his master that all was well, adding that he would have come in person to acknowledge his courtesy, had he not feared to rouse the curiosity of the whole town.

Colonel Anderson had made an excuse for leaving Benedict as soon as they returned. Being an officer of the Royal Ordnance he had probably some report to make to the king.

The news of the result of this double combat spread as rapidly as had that of the challenges. Such an event as two duels successfully fought without a scratch being received was quite unheard of, and was considered so extraordinary that the young men of the town, who also had no love for the Prussians, sent a deputation to congratulate Benedict on his success. He received the deputies and replied in such excellent German that they retired marvelling more than ever.

The doors had scarcely closed on them when Stephen appeared, and announced that all his guests were so interested in the events of the day that they begged Benedict would honour them by dining at the table d'hôte, in order that they might all have the pleasure of personally congratulating him.

Benedict replied that he did not in the least understand so much admiration for his perfectly natural conduct, but that he was quite willing to do anything which might be agreeable to his fellow guests.

Stephen had time to let the news circulate in the town that the young Frenchman of whom every one was talking, would, for once only, consent to dine at the table d'hôte. Instead of twenty-five only, he had covers laid for two hundred guests. Every place was occupied.

The police feared disorder of some kind, and came to investigate. They were assured that it was only a family affair, a demonstration such as had been made three days before under the windows of Count von Bismarck—only it was the other way about! Now the Hanoverian police was an excellent body, which highly approved of family fêtes and patriotic demonstrations. Therefore, instead of objecting to this one they encouraged it with all their power, thanks to which all passed off in perfect order.

At midnight, Benedict was at length allowed to retire, but his admirers organized a serenade beneath his windows which lasted till two o'clock in the morning.

At nine Kaulbach entered his room. The Crown Prince invited Benedict to breakfast at the Palace of Herrenhausen, and requested him to bring his sketches. Kaulbach was commissioned to bring him back. The breakfast was at eleven, but the prince would be obliged if Benedict would come at ten in order to have some time for conversation both before and after.

Benedict lost no time in dressing, and although Kaulbach, intimate at the palace, assured him he could go in ordinary costume, he preferred to wear the naval uniform in which he had made the Chinese campaign. On his breast was the Cross of the Legion d'Honneur, of which the simple red ribbon means much more when worn by some than do the various grand crosses worn by others. He added a sabre, the gift of Said Pasha, took his sketches, and got into the carriage with Kaulbach.

Lenhart had a whole day's holiday.

Twenty-five minutes brought them to Herrenhausen, which is about a league from Hanover, and, the carriage being open, Benedict could see the young prince watching for him eagerly at a window. He was accompanied only by his aide-de-camp, an officer of Engineers, and consequently well able to draw. Also, which is more unusual, he did not disdain the picturesque.

The prince enquired courteously after Benedict's health, without making the smallest allusion to the duels of the day before. It was evident nevertheless that he knew all about them. Had there been any doubts on the subject they would have been dispelled by the appearance of Colonel Anderson as another invited guest.

But the prince's chief interest centred in the portfolio which Benedict carried under his arm.

Anticipating his wishes, Benedict observed;

"Your Highness wished to see some of my sketches. I have brought some representing hunting incidents, thinking that they might interest you most."

"Oh! let me see, let me see!" exclaimed the prince, extending his hand, and placing the portfolio on the piano, he began eagerly to examine the contents. After having turned over several, "Ah," said he, "but they are beautiful. Will you not tell me something of the adventures which I am sure they illustrate? They must be so interesting."

Benedict endeavoured to gratify the prince, and the time both before and after the breakfast passed rapidly in listening to accounts of elephant hunting, of encounters with pirates in the Straits of Malacca, of adventures in the Caucasus, and he had just finished an especially thrilling anecdote relating to the poisonous snakes of India when the king was seen approaching from the gallery. He held the arm of his aide-de-camp with whom he was conversing and walked firmly as if able to see. He entered the dining-room without being announced. The four guests rose immediately, but:

"Do not let me disturb you, gentlemen," said the king. "I merely came to visit the prince, to ask if he has all he wants, and if not, to convey his wishes to the persons concerned."

"No! thanks to Your Majesty's kindness, nothing is wanting here except yourself. Your knowledge of men has not deceived you, and Monsieur Benedict is the most delightful companion I ever met."

"The prince is imaginative, sire," said Benedict laughing. "He attributes to some very simple anecdotes and hasty sketches an excellence which they do not possess."

But the king replied as if answering his own thought, the thought which had led him to visit the young man.

"Yesterday," he said, addressing Benedict and turning towards him, as he always did in conversation, "you said something about a science which interested me in former days, namely, chiromancy. My thoughts carry me on towards the mysterious unexplored regions of the human mind, of nature, of creation. I should like to know they are based upon logic, on physiology, for instance."

"I know, sire," replied Benedict, smiling, "that is why I ventured yesterday to mention the occult sciences to Your Majesty."

"You know. But how?" demanded the king.

"I should be a poor student, sire, if I had limited my enquiries to the hands only, and had not united the study of Lavater and Gall to that of Arpentigny. I saw at once in the form of your hands and head those precious aptitudes which are shown in phrenology by the well-developed organs of the poetic faculty and of the love of harmony, which betoken the student of natural science. The protection accorded by Your Majesty to the poor herbalist, Lampe, arose not from benevolence only, but from the conviction that certain men are empowered to receive a revelation, and that it is not always the highly placed ones of earth to whom truth is thus manifested."

"It is true," said the king. "Other men may see the stars shining in the midnight silence, but it seems to me that I actually hear that 'music of the spheres' spoken of by Pythagoras. And I am proud to think that while I stand on the summit of earthly society, there are, immediately above me, intermediate angelic influences which carry on a boundless electric chain, linking us not merely with our own little planetary system, but with others—with the whole universe."

"I do not venture," the king continued with a smile, "to discourse openly on these beliefs. I should get the reputation of 'a king of dreams,' about the worst a king can have. But to you, who are a dreamer like myself, I do say—yes, I believe in these celestial influences, and I believe that each mortal has, in that precious casket which he calls his skull, the signs of his destiny. He may strive to alter or delay its course, but it will bear him on irresistibly to fortune, success, or misery, as the case may be.

"And I speak with conviction because I have had proofs. In early youth I once met a gipsy woman in the course of a solitary walk. She examined my hand and told me certain things which came to pass. I wish to believe you, but I must have proofs. Can you read the past in my hand even as the gipsy read the future. Can you, do you, sincerely believe you have this power?"

"I do, sire. And I think actual science will tell you what has before been perhaps merely guessed at by intuition or tradition."

"Well then," said the king, extending his hand, "now tell me what you read."

"Sire," replied Benedict, "I do not know how far I dare—"

"Dare what?" enquired the king.

"What if I read only a threatening future?"

"We live in days when no predictions, however terrible, can exceed the reality of the convulsions which are taking place around us. What can you predict for me that can be so terrible? Is it the loss of my kingdom? I lost more than a kingdom when I lost the vision of sun and sky, of earth and sea. Take my hand, and tell me what is written."

"Everything?"

"Everything. As for misfortunes, is it not better to know of them than to encounter them unforeseen?"

Benedict bowed so deeply over King George's hand that he almost touched it with his lips.

"A truly royal hand," he said, after having glanced over it, "a beneficent hand; an artistic hand."

"I did not ask for compliments, sir," said the king, smiling.

"See, my dear master," said Benedict, addressing Kaulbach, "how well the Mount of Apollo, there, under the ring-finger, is developed! Apollo bestows love of the arts; he is the giver of intelligence, of all that is brilliant and creates brilliance. It is he who gives the hope of an immortal name, calm of the soul, the sympathy that creates love. Look at the Mount of Mars, represented by the part opposite the thumb. This is what gives courage, both civil and military, calm, coolness in danger, resignation, pride, devotion, resolution, and the strength of resistance. Unfortunately, Saturn is against us. Saturn threatens. You know, sire, Saturn is Fate. Now, I ought to tell you, the lines of Saturn are not only unfavourable; they are calamitous."

And here Benedict raised his head and looking at the king with the utmost respect and sympathy:

"I might continue more intimately yet, sire," he said, "and reveal your whole character in its most secret recesses. I might sketch your inclinations one by one to you to their lightest shades; but I should prefer to pass at once to graver facts. At twelve years old, Your Majesty had a serious illness."

"It is true," said the king.

"At nineteen, a line extends both towards the brain and towards the Mount of the Sun—a nervous seizure on one side; on the other, something resembling death, but which is not death—an eclipse! And worse than that, an eclipse is momentary one night!"

"The gipsy told me literally the same as you—something that resembles death, but is not death! The fact is that at the age of nineteen I passed through great trouble."

"Stay! Here, sire, on Jupiter there is a marvellous gleam; one of the highest seats of human fortune—about the age of thirty-nine."

"Again the words of the gipsy. At thirty-nine I became king."

"I was ignorant of the precise dates," said Benedict, "but it might be supposed that I knew them. Let me look for a fact that I could not have known. Ah, I see it. Yes, it is certainly here. An agony of terror, an accident due to water. What is it? A boat in danger? A tempest watched from the shore? The imminent wreck of a vessel containing some one beloved? There is fearful terror, but terror only; for there is a rescue traced close to the line of fate. Your Majesty undoubtedly experienced terrible anxiety for the life of some one greatly beloved.'

"Do you hear this, Ernest?" said the king addressing his son.

"Oh, my father!" said the young prince, throwing his arms around his father's neck. Then, to Benedict: "Yes, indeed, my poor father was in terrible fear. I was bathing in the sea at Nordeney. I can swim fairly well; but without perceiving it I let myself be carried away on a current; and, upon my word, I was on the point of sinking when I grasped the arm of an honest fisherman who had come to my assistance. One second more, and all would have been over with me."

"And I was there," said the king. "I could hear his cries, I stretched my arms towards him—it was all I could do. Gloucester offered his kingdom for a horse: and I would gladly have given mine for a ray of light. Do not let us think of it. All the misfortunes of the future together are not more terrible than the shadow of that misfortune which did not happen."

"And so, sire?" said Benedict.

"And so I am convinced," said the king. "I have no need of further proofs. Let us pass on to the future."

Benedict looked with great attention at the king's hand. He hesitated a moment and asked for a magnifying glass, to see more distinctly. It was brought.

"Sire," he said, "you are about to be drawn into a great war. One of your nearest neighbours will not only betray, but will despoil you; and notwithstanding—look, monseigneur!" he said to the prince, "the line of the Sun shows victory: but an empty victory, useless, without fruit."

"And then?" asked the king.

"Oh, sire, what do I read in this hand!"

"Good tidings, or bad?"

"You told me to keep nothing from you, sire."

"And I repeat it. Tell me then; this victory—"

"This victory, as I have told Your Majesty, leads to nothing. Here is the Line of the Sun broken off above the Line of the Head by a line starting from Mars which also cuts the Mount of Jupiter."

"And that foretells?"

"A defeat. But however—No," said Benedict, seeking to read the most mysterious secrets from the royal hand; "moreover, it is not the last word of your destiny. Here is the Line of the Sun after its breakage starting afresh, reaching the ring-finger and stopping at its base. And there see further, above this line traversing Jupiter, a straight line like a furrow crowned with a star, as a sceptre is crowned with a diamond."

"And that prophesies?"

"Restoration."

"Then according to you, I shall lose the throne and reconquer it?"

Benedict turned towards the prince.

"Your hand, if you please, monseigneur."

The prince gave him his hand.

"After the age of forty, monseigneur, the Line of Life sends a branch towards the Line of the Sun. At that period you will ascend the throne. This is all that I can tell you. Now, if you ascend the throne, prince, it can only mean that your father has either recovered or has never lost it."

The king remained silent for a moment, resting his head on his left hand. He seemed gazing fixedly before him as if absorbed in some great idea. The most profound silence reigned in the apartment.

"I cannot tell you," he said at length, "how much this unknown science interests me. Does Providence permit each of us to recognize his destiny in advance, just as the wrestler of ancient Greece might calculate the strength of his adversary in the circus, and consider how best to avoid his grip and obtain the victory?"

He remained silent for a few moments, then continued:

"After all, it would seem only just, only reasonable, that Providence which announces a storm by gathering clouds and muttering thunder, should allow to man and especially to man placed on the highest point of earthly grandeur, some indication of the approach of the storms of life. Yes, this science should be true, if only for the reason that it is necessary, and has hitherto been a missing link—unknown as it was—in the harmony of creation and in the logic of the Divine Mercy."

At this moment an usher appeared and informed the king that the Minister of Foreign Affairs desired an audience on account of important business.

The king turned to Benedict:

"Sir," said he, "though your predictions are gloomy, you will always be welcome in the home of him to whom you have made them. You have foretold a victory; well, I to-day commission you to depict it. And if you remain with us, it only rests with you to share it. Ernest, give your Guelphic Cross to M. Benedict Turpin. I will tell my Minister of Foreign Affairs to have the patent ready for signature to-morrow."

The king embraced his son, gave his hand to Kaulbach, graciously saluted Anderson and Benedict, and taking the arm of his aide-de-camp left the apartment as he had entered it.

The young prince detached the cross and ribbon of the Guelphic Order which decorated his uniform, and fastened them on Benedict's coat with signs of the most livery pleasure. The latter thanked him and expressed his gratitude with evidently heartfelt warmth. Said the prince:

"Only promise me one thing, M. Benedict. If your predictions should be verified, and you should have nothing better to do, we will go on our travels together, and you will show me how to kill lions and elephants in these wonderful forests I have heard of to-day."

Alexandre Dumas pere