The Veteran of The Forest Entertains Two Very Young People

Do you remember the day when the Princess Hyacinth and Wiggs sat upon the castle walls and talked of Udo’s coming? The Princess thought he would be dark, and Wiggs thought he would be fair, and he was to have the Purple Room—or was it the Blue?—and anyhow he was to put the Countess in her place and bring happiness to Euralia. That seemed a long time ago to Hyacinth now, as once more she sat on the castle walls with Wiggs.

She was very lovely. She longed to get rid of that “outside help in our affairs” which she had summoned so recklessly. They were two against one now. Belvane actively against her was bad enough; but Belvane in the background with Udo as her mouthpiece—Udo specially asked in to give the benefit of his counsel—this was ten times worse.

“What do you do, Wiggs?” she asked, “when you are very lonely and nobody loves you?”

“Dance,” said Wiggs promptly.

“But if you don’t want to dance?”

Wiggs tried to remember those dark ages (about a week ago) when she couldn’t dance.

“I used to go into the forest,” she said, “and sit under my own tree, and by and by everybody loved you.”

“I wonder if they’d love me.”

“Of course they would. Shall I show you my special tree?”

“Yes, but don’t come with me; tell me where it is. I want to be unhappy alone.”

So Wiggs told her how you followed her special path, which went in at the corner of the forest, until by and by the trees thinned on either side, and it widened into a glade, and you went downhill and crossed the brook at the bottom and went up the other side until it was all trees again, and the first and the biggest and the oldest and the loveliest was hers. And you turned round and sat with your back against it, and looked across to where you’d come from, and then you knew that everything was all right.

“I shall find it,” said Hyacinth, as she got up. “Thank you, dear.”

She found it, she sat there, and her heart was very bitter at first against Udo and against Belvane, and even against her father for going away and leaving her; but by and by the peace of the place wrapped itself around her, and she felt that she would find a way out of her difficulties somehow. Only she wished that her father would come back, because he loved her, and she felt that it would be nice to be loved again.

“It is beautiful, isn’t it?” said a voice from behind her.

She turned suddenly, as a tall young man stepped out from among the trees.

“Oh, who are you, please?” she asked, amazed at his sudden appearance. His dress told her nothing, but his face told her things which she was glad to know.

“My name,” he said, “is Coronel.”

“It is a pretty name.”

“Yes, but don’t be lead away by it. It belongs to nobody very particular. Do you mind if I sit down? I generally sit down here about this time.”

“Oh, do you live in the forest?”

“I have lived here for the last week.” He gave her a friendly smile, and added, “You’re late, aren’t you?”

“Late?”

“Yes, I’ve been expecting you for the last seven days.”

“How did you know there was any me at all?” smiled Hyacinth.

With a movement of his hand Coronel indicated the scene in front of him.

“There had to be somebody for whom all this was made. It wanted somebody to say thank you to it now and then.”

“Haven’t you been doing that all this week?”

“Me? I wouldn’t presume. No, it’s your glade, and you’ve neglected it shamefully.”

“There’s a little girl who comes here,” said Hyacinth. “I wonder if you have seen her?”

Coronel turned away. There were secret places in his heart into which Hyacinth could not come—yet.

“She danced,” he said shortly.

There was silence between them for a little, but a comfortable silence, as if they were already old friends.

“You know,” said Hyacinth, looking down at him as he lay at her feet, “you ought not to be here at all, really.”

“I wish I could think that,” said Coronel. “I had a horrible feeling that duty called me here. I love those places where one really oughtn’t to be at all, don’t you?”

“I love being here,” sighed Hyacinth. “Wiggs was quite right.” Seeing him look up at her she added, “Wiggs is the little girl who dances, you know.”

“She would be right,” said Coronel, looking away from her.

Hyacinth felt strangely rested. It seemed that never again would anything trouble her; never again would she have only her own strength to depend upon. Who was he? But it did not matter. He might go away and she might never see him again, but she was no longer afraid of the world.

“I thought,” she said, “that all the men of Euralia were away fighting.”

“So did I,” said Coronel.

“What are you, then? A Prince from a distant country, an enchanter, a spy sent from Barodia, a travelling musician?—you see, I give you much to choose from.”

“You leave me nothing to be but what I am—Coronel.”

“And I am Hyacinth.”

He knew, of course, but he made no sign.

“Hyacinth,” he said, and he held out his hand.

“Coronel,” she answered as she took it.

The brook chuckled to itself as it hurried past below them.

Hyacinth got up with a little sigh of contentment.

“Well, I must be going,” she said.

“Must you really be going?” asked Coronel. “I wasn’t saying good-bye, you know.”

“I really must.”

“It’s a surprising thing about the view from here,” said Coronel, “that it looks just as nice to-morrow. To-morrow about the same time.”

“That’s a very extraordinary thing,” smiled Hyacinth.

“Yes, but it’s one of those things that you don’t want to take another person’s word for.”

“You think I ought to see for myself? Well, perhaps I will.”

“Give me a whistle if I happen to be passing,” said Coronel casually, “and tell me what you think. Good-bye, Hyacinth.”

“Good-bye, Coronel.”

She nodded her head confidently at him, and then turned round and went off daintily down the hill.

Coronel stared after her.

“What is Udo doing?” he murmured to himself. “But perhaps she doesn’t like animals. A whole day to wait. How endless!”

If he had known that Udo, now on two legs again, was at that moment in Belvane’s garden, trying to tell her, for the fifth time that week, about his early life in Araby, he would have been still more surprised.

We left Coronel, if you remember, in Araby. For three or four days he remained there, wondering how Udo was getting on, and feeling more and more that he ought to do something about it. On the fourth day he got on to his horse and rode off again. He simply must see what was happening. If Udo wanted to help, then he would be there to give it; if Udo was all right again, then he could go comfortably back to Araby.

To tell the truth, Coronel was a little jealous of his friend. A certain Prince Perivale, who had stayed at his uncle’s court, had once been a suitor for Hyacinth’s hand; but losing a competition with the famous seven-headed bull of Euralia, which Merriwig had arranged for him, had made no further headway with his suit. This Prince had had a portrait of Hyacinth specially done for him by his own Court Painter, a portrait which Coronel had seen. It was for this reason that he had at first objected to accompanying Udo to Euralia, and it was for this reason that he persuaded himself very readily that the claims of friendship called him there now.

For the last week he had been waiting in the forest. Now that he was there, he was not quite sure how to carry out his mission. So far there had been no sign of Udo, either on four legs or on two; it seemed probable that unless Coronel went to the Palace and asked for him, there would be no sign. And if he went to the Palace, and Udo was all right, and the Princess Hyacinth was in love with him, then the worst would have happened. He would have to stay there and help admire Udo—an unsatisfying prospect to a man in love. For he told himself by this time that he was in love with Hyacinth, although he had never seen her.

So he had waited in the forest, hoping for something to turn up; and first Wiggs had come . . . and now at last Hyacinth. He was very glad that he had waited.

She was there on the morrow.

“I knew you’d come,” said Coronel. “It looks just as beautiful, doesn’t it?”

“I think it’s even more beautiful,” said Hyacinth.

“You mean those little white clouds? That was my idea putting those in. I thought you’d like them.”

“I wondered what you did all day. Does it keep you very busy?”

“Oh,” said Coronel, “I have time for singing.”

“Why do you sing?”

“Because I am young and the forest is beautiful.”

“I have been singing this morning, too.”

“Why?” asked Coronel eagerly.

“Because the war with Barodia is over.”

“Oh!” said Coronel, rather taken aback.

“That doesn’t interest you. Yet if you were a Euralian——”

“But it interests me extremely. Let us admire the scene for a moment, while I think. Look, there is another of my little clouds.”

Coronel wondered what would happen now. If the King were coming back, then Udo would be wanted no longer save as a suitor for Hyacinth’s hand. If, then, he returned, it would show that—— But suppose he was still an animal? It was doubtful if he would go back to Araby as an animal. And then there was another possibility: perhaps he had never come to Euralia at all. Here were a lot of questions to be answered, and here next to him was one who could answer them. But he must go carefully.

“Ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine, a hundred,” he said aloud. “There, I’ve finished my thinking and you’ve finished your looking.”

“And what have you decided?” smiled Hyacinth.

“Decided?” said Coronel, rather startled. “Oh, no, I wasn’t deciding anything, I was just thinking. I was thinking about animals.”

“So was I.”

“How very curious, and also how wrong of you. You were supposed to be admiring my clouds. What sort of animals were you thinking about?”

“Oh—all sorts.”

“I was thinking about rabbits. Do you care for rabbits at all?”

“Not very much.”

“Neither do I. They’re so loppity. Do you like lions?”

“I think their tails are rather silly,” said Hyacinth.

“Yes, perhaps they are. Now—a woolly lamb.”

“I am not very fond of woolly lambs just now.”

“No? Well, they’re not very interesting. It’s a funny thing,” he went on casually, trying to steal a glance at her, “that we should be talking about those three animals, because I once met somebody who was a mixture of all three together at the same time.”

“So did I,” said Hyacinth gravely.

But he saw her mouth trembling, and suddenly she turned round and caught his eye, and then they burst out laughing together.

“Poor Udo,” said Coronel; “and how is he looking now?”

“He is all right again now.”

“All right again? Then why isn’t he—— But I’m very glad he isn’t.”

“I didn’t like him,” said Hyacinth, blushing a little. And then she went on bravely, “But I think he found he didn’t like me first.”

“He wants humouring,” said Coronel. “It’s my business to humour him, it isn’t yours.”

Hyacinth looked at him with a new interest.

“Now I know who you are,” she said. “He talked about you once.”

“What did he say?” asked Coronel, obviously dying to know.

“He said you were good at poetry.”

Coronel was a little disappointed. He would have preferred Hyacinth to have been told that he was good at dragons. However, they had met now and it did not matter.

“Princess,” he said suddenly, “I expect you wonder what I am doing here. I came to see if Prince Udo was in need of help, and also to see if you were in need of help. Prince Udo was my friend, but if he has not been a friend of yours, then he is no longer a friend of mine. Tell me what has been happening here, and then tell me if in any way I can help you.”

“You called me Hyacinth yesterday,” she said, “and it is still my name.”

“Hyacinth,” said Coronel, taking her hand, “tell me if you want me at all.”

“Thank you, Coronel. You see, Coronel, it’s like this.” And sitting beneath Wiggs’s veteran of the forest, with Coronel lying at her feet, she told him everything.

“It seems easy enough,” he said when she had finished. “You want Udo pushed out and the Countess put in her place. I can do the one while you do the other.”

“Yes, but how do I push Prince Udo out?”

“That’s what I’m going to do.”

“Yes, but, Coronel dear, if I could put the Countess in her place, shouldn’t I have done it a long time ago? I don’t think you quite know the sort of person she is. And I don’t quite know what her place is either, which makes it rather had to put her into it. You see, I don’t think I told you that—that Father is rather fond of her.”

“I thought you said Udo was.”

“They both are.”

“Then how simple. We simply kill Udo, and—and—well, anyhow, there’s one part of it done.”

“Yes, but what about the other part?”

Coronel thought for a moment.

“Would it be simpler if we did it the other way around?” he said. “Killed the Countess and put Udo in his place.”

“Father wouldn’t like that at all, and he’s coming back to-morrow.”

Coronel didn’t quite see the difficulty. If the King was in love with the Countess, he would marry her whatever Hyacinth did. And what was the good of putting her in her place for one day if her next place was to be on the throne.

Hyacinth guessed what he was thinking.

“Oh, don’t you see,” she cried, “she doesn’t know that the King is coming back to-morrow. And if I can only just show her—I don’t mind if it’s only for an hour—that I am not afraid of her, and that she has got to take her orders from me, then I shan’t mind so much all that has happened these last weeks. But if she is to have disregarded me all the time, if she is to have plotted against me from the very moment my father went away, and if nothing is to come to her for it but that she marries my father and becomes Queen of Euralia, then I can have no pride left, and I will be a Princess no longer.”

“I must see this Belvane,” said Coronel thoughtfully.

“Oh, Coronel, Coronel,” cried Hyacinth, “if you fall in love with her, too, I think I shall die of shame!”

“With her, Hyacinth?” he said, turning to her in amazement.

“Yes, you—I didn’t—you never—I——” Her voice trailed away; she could not meet his gaze any longer; she dropped her eyes, and the next moment his arms were round her, and she knew that she would never be alone again.