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The royal adventure There are halting-places in the lives of most men when for a period the individual desire must give place to some great national need. We each live our little story through, but at times we find ourselves dragged from the narrow way into the great high road, where the history of the world blunders to an end which cannot even yet be dimly discerned.
When Marcos rode into Saragossa after nightfall he found the streets filled by groups of anxious men. The nerves of civilisation were at a great tension at this time. Sedan was past. Paris was already besieged. All the French-speaking people thought that the end of the world must needs be at hand. The Pope had been deprived of his temporal power. The great foundations of the world seemed to tremble beneath the onward tread of inexorable history.
In Spain itself, no man knew what might happen next. There seemed no depth to which the land of ancient glory might not be doomed to descend. Cuba was in wild revolt. Thousands of lives had been uselessly thrown away. Already the pride of the proudest nation since Rome, had been humbled by the just interference of the United States. A kingdom without a king, Spain had hawked her crown round Europe. For a throne, as for humbler posts, it is easy enough to find second-rate men who have no special groove, nor any capacity to delve one, but the first-rate men are, one discovers, nearly always occupied elsewhere. They are never waiting for something to turn up.
Spain, with her three crowns in her hand, had called at every Court in Europe. She had thrown two nations into the greatest war of civilised ages. She was still looking for a king, still calling hopelessly to the second-rate royalties. Leopold of Hohenzollern would have accepted had not France arisen to object, only to receive a sound thrashing for her pains. Thus, for the second time in the world’s history, Spain was the means of bringing a French empire to the dust.
Ferdinand of Portugal, a cousin to the Queen of England, himself a Coburg, finally declined the honour. And Spain could not wait. There was a certain picturesqueness in Prim, the usual ornamental General through whose hands Spain has passed and repassed during the last century. He was a hard man, and the men of Spain, unlike the French, understand a martinet. But Spain could not wait. She must have a king; for the regency was wearisome. It was weary of itself, like an old man ready to die. There was no money in the public coffers. The Cortes was a house of words. Here eloquence reigned supreme; and eloquence never yet made an empire.
Half a dozen different parties made speeches at each other, but Spain, owing to a blessed immunity from the cheap newspaper, was spared these speeches. She was told that Castelar was the eloquent orator of the age.