“Certainly a remarkable phase,” Mr. Clarkson observed, “although I concluded that, in regard to beauty, the voice of the people is not necessarily identical with the voice of God.”
“Coachman!” said the big man, calling down to the driver, and imitating the voice of a duchess. “Coachman! drive slowly twice round the Park, and then ’ome.”
“No nasty shells here, Sire! No more screaming shells, and we are both alive!” said the jester, lying on the ground at his master’s feet.
It was in May 1909, and the large room was littered with bundles and various kinds of luggage. Several women, covered from head to foot in long cloaks and veils, lay about the floor or on the divans round the walls, hardly distinguishable from the bundles except that now and then they moaned or uttered some brief lamentation. From other parts of the house came sounds of hammering and the hurried swish of cleaning walls. From the long windows a deep and quiet harbour could be seen, and a few orange lights were beginning to glimmer from the quay and anchored boats. Across the purple of the water rose the blue mass of Olympus, its craggy edges sharp against the sunset sky, and over Olympus a filmy cloud was blown at intervals across the crescent moon.
“No more shells, Sire!” the jester kept repeating, and at the word “shells” the women groaned. But the man whom he addressed was silent. Since dawn he had said nothing.
“Last night no one thought we should be alive this evening, Sire,” said the jester. “We have gained a day of life. Who could have given us a finer present?”
The half-moon disappeared behind Olympus, and out of the gathering darkness in the chamber a voice was at last heard: “They have killed other Sultans,” it said. “They will kill me too.”
At the sound of the voice the women stirred and whispered. One cried, “I am hungry;” another said, “Water, O give me water!” but no one answered her.
“Death is coming,” the voice went on. “Every minute for thirty years I have escaped death, and to-night it will come. What is so terrible as death?”
“One thing is more terrible,” said the jester, “it is death’s brother, fear.”
“When death is quick, they say you feel nothing,” said the voice, “but they lie. The shock that stops life—the crash of the bullet into the brain, the stab of the long, cold dagger piercing the heart between the ribs, the slice of the axe through the neck, the stifling of breath when someone kicks away the stool and the noose runs tight—do you not feel that? To think of life ending! One moment I am alive, I am well, I can talk and eat; next moment life is going—going—and it is no use to struggle. Thought stops, breath stops, I can see and hear no more. One second, and I am nothing for ever.”
“Your Majesty is pleased to overlook Paradise,” said the jester.