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Across the Zodiac by Percy Greg

Since he can never have an equal


"If you know them," he said, "you will render me no little service in bringing them to my knowledge."

"It is possible," I ventured to observe, "that their distinguishing excellences are connected with other distinctions which might render it a disservice to them to indicate their peculiar character, I will not say to yourself, but to those around you."

"I hardly understand you," he rejoined. "Take, however, my assurance that nothing you say here shall, without your own consent, be used elsewhere. It is no light gratification, no trifling advantage to me, to find one man who has neither fear nor interest that can induce him to lie to me; to whom I can speak, not as sovereign to subject, but as man to man, and of whose private conversation my courtiers and officials are not yet suspicious or jealous. You shall never repent any confidence you give to me."

My interest in and respect for the strange character so manifestly suited for, so intensely weary of, the grandest position that man could fill, increased with each successive interview. I never envied that greatness which seems to most men so enviable. The servitude of a constitutional King, so often a puppet in the hands of the worst and meanest of men--those who prostitute their powers as rulers of a State to their interests as chiefs of a faction--must seem pitiable to any rational manhood. But even the autocracy of the Sultan or the Czar seems ill to compensate the utter isolation of the throne; the lonely grandeur of one who can hardly have a friend, since he can never have an equal, among those around him. I do not wonder that a tinge of melancholo-mania is so often perceptible in the chiefs of that great House whose Oriental absolutism is only "tempered by assassination." But an Earthly sovereign may now and then meet his fellow-sovereigns, whether as friends or foes, on terms of frank hatred or loyal openness. His domestic relations, though never secure and simple as those of other men, may relieve him at times from the oppressive sense of his sublime solitude; and to his wife, at any rate, he may for a few minutes or hours be the husband and not the king. But the absolute Ruler of this lesser world had neither equal friends nor open foes, neither wife nor child. How natural then his weariness of his own life; how inevitable his impatient scorn of those to whom that life was devoted! A despot not even accountable to God--a Prince who, till he conversed with me, never knew that the universe contained his equal or his like--it spoke much, both for the natural strength and soundness of his intellect and for the excellence of his education, that he was so sane a man, so earnest, active, and just a ruler. His reign was signalised by a better police, a more even administration of justice, a greater efficiency, judgment, and energy in the execution of great works of public utility, than his realm had known for a thousand years; and his duty was done as diligently and conscientiously as if he had known that conscience was the voice of a supreme Sovereign, and duty the law of an unerring and unescapable Lawgiver. Alone among a race of utterly egotistical cowards, he had the courage of a soldier, and the principles, or at least the instincts, worthy of a Child of the Star. With him alone could I have felt a moment's security from savage attempts to extort by terror or by torture the secret I refused to sell; and I believe that his generous abstinence from such an attempt was as exasperating as it was incomprehensible to his advisers, and chiefly contributed to involve him in the vengeance which baffled greed and humbled personal pride had leagued to wreak upon myself, as on those with whose welfare and safety my own were inextricably intertwined. It was a fortunate, if not a providential, combination of circumstances that compelled the enemies of the Star, primarily on my account, to interweave with their scheme of murderous persecution and private revenge an equally ruthless and atrocious treason against the throne and person of their Monarch.


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