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But a low voice spoke quite close beside me; it must speak to me, for its words are English, and they are very sweet, though I believe very strange to itself, so that it could not utter many more in that same speech. It says—“There is no one to present you; but I make not ceremony with you, for I know you very well; I have seen you on the promenades.”
I see indistinctly a glitter of white satin, spangled with gold, and a crown of diamonds. I start into an upright position, standing at ease most. awkwardly, close packed in between the wall and the King and the Queen, who are as close before me as they well can be.
“ And this is—" I verily believe her most gracious Majesty might have said “Our Oscar," as she extended her hand to her royal partner; but His Majesty cut short the presentation by saying something in French, concluding with a smile sweeter than his words—"Je parle Anglaisveree leetle.”
“Is it possible,” I said to myself afterwards, “that my presentation at Court is over ?” I had not made a single reverence; I had not displayed a bit of my train: I verily do believe their Majesties to this day do not know that I had one. But
what was I to do? The only reverence I could make was more like that of an Irish peasant than of a graceful Swede—a perpendicular dip; and as for letting my train drop, as I had been taught, it was just as well tucked under my arm; for unless a wall has eyes, there were no others to see it. My poor old Countess, what trouble she had for nothing !
And before I could move from the wall and the slab arid the door, there flocked up a charming group of young Princes and a Princess, and formed a semicircle round all—a perfect enclosure, of a very charming and most amiable aspect. Their smiling faces looked as if they bore a greeting to a friend, instead of a formal salutation to a stranger. Sweet and happy family! The stranger you welcomed that night has often thought of you—yes, has given to your griefs a tear, more sincere, perhaps, than the smile she once gave to your joys! One of that happy group has gone; one link in that fair fresh circle has dropped away. The first break in a happy family is caused by the death of the really lovely and most beloved Prince Gustaf, who that night looked so sweet and talked so pleasantly. That mother's heart has felt its first mother's grief; and that
amiable king has wept a father's tears——the first, and may they be the last !
Those pleasant and simple young persons surrounded me, talking English so well and so affably; they all had something to tell me about myself, and of course their knowledge of me was a wonder. But while I was talking to them, a general move took place; they left me, and the little old Queen-dowager came up, smiling and nodding, and asking how I amused myself in Stockholm; if I found it dull, and seemingly disposed, if I said, Yes, to propose a “distraction.” But putting up her eye-glass, and nodding her head, she too went off. And when I looked up was alone-quite alone, in that royal chamber. The whole company had followed the royal hosts to the grand saloon, and I was left to meditate or to ramble about as I pleased, at discretion. I chose the latter, and set off on a peregrination through the Palace. A chamberlain found me before I had gone far; to him I was forced to explain my position -namely, as a stray sheep who had no shepherd. He very kindly offered to act in that capacity, and said if I would do him the honour to take his arm, he would conduct me
to the grand saloon. We went through many chambers, came into a gallery adorned with pictures and hot-house plants, and additionally lined with officers of the household, and some persons who had come to look on; and then we entered an immense room, the aspect of which, if the perspective were not interrupted by the ill-placed pillars, would be really magnificent. There I was placed among the ladies-in-waiting, and there I sat, looking on at what his Majesty asked me if I did not think was “a furious dance," until eleven o'clock, the usual supper hour of Sweden, when we went to supper; on which occasion I should have been lost again, if the kind and excellent Baron Bonde had not taken me under his protection.
This royal supper was a regular Swedish one. Fish in every form, a sort of rather coarse-looking mutton-chops, pease, which are excellently preserved in this country for winter use, and all sorts of game, are the chief dishes; ices, it may be supposed, are plentiful, and they are excellent. In the heated rooms, nothing can be more delightful, and I never thought it possible to eat so many with impunity as I have done here.
Beside me at table—for at the royal table we
sat down, though at supper generally the most tiresome fashion of standing exist—there sat a gentleman in civil uniform, with a very long nose, whom I fancied I had the honour of being acquainted with. I spoke to him, and met a look very like one of legal inquiry when I did
Unfortunately, I adopted, too, the Swedish mode of carrying on a conversation by a series of questions. One sometimes meets a curious compound of character exemplified in this society: the greatest amount of curiosity, with the greatest amount of cautiousness; the greatest facility in talking of others, with the greatest reserve in talking of oneself; a power of questioning copiously, and of answering scantily: characteristics which appeared to have an effect on some British visitors who came here, and actually gave us · the idea of being under the surveillance of police, so apprehensive did they appear of a question being made as to their movements, and so fearfully did they seem to guard the least approach to any knowledge of their proceedings. It would be almost a comic scene to hear the Swedes questioning, and the Scotch answering, or parrying answers.
I opened my Swedish conversation by asking