The Emperor shook his head dejectedly, and answered bitterly:
“Such things should not be trifled with; besides, you would lose your wager. Joyous courage, Querida, was buried long ago, and too many cares insure its having no resurrection. The good gifts which Heaven formerly permitted me to enjoy have lost their zest; instead of bread, it now gives me stones. The best enjoyment it still grants me—I am honest and not ungrateful in saying so—is a well-prepared meal. Laugh, if you choose! If moralists and philosophers heard me, they would frown. But the consumption of good things affords them pleasure too. It’s a pity that satiety so speedily ends it.”
While speaking, he again descended a few steps, but the Queen, supporting him with the utmost solicitude, answered cheerily:
“The baser senses, with taste at their head, and the higher ones of sight and hearing, I know, are all placed by your Majesty in the same regiment, with equal rank; your obedient servant, on the contrary, bestows the commissions of officers only on the higher ones. That seems to me the correct way, and I don’t relinquish the hope of winning for it the approval of the greatest general and most tasteful connoisseur of life.”
“If the new cook keeps his promise, certainly not,” replied Charles, entering into his sister’s tone. “De Rye asserts that he is peerless. We shall see. As to the senses, they all have an equal share in enabling us to receive our impressions and form an opinion from them. Why should the tongue and the palate—But stay! Who the devil can philosophize with such twinges in the foot?”
“Besides, that can be done much better,” replied the Queen, patting the sufferer’s arm affectionately, “while the five unequal brothers are performing the duties of their offices. The saints be praised! Here we are at the bottom. No, Carlos, no! Not through the chapel! The stone flags there are so hard and cold.”
As she spoke she guided him around it into the dining-room, where a large table stood ready for the monarch’s personal suite and a smaller one for his sister and himself.
The tortured sovereign, still under the influence of the suffering which he had endured, crossed himself and sat down. Quijada and young Count Tassis, the Emperor’s favourite page, placed the gouty foot in the most comfortable position, and Count Buren, the chamberlain, presented the menu. Charles instantly scanned the list of dishes, and his face clouded still more as he missed the highly seasoned game pasty which the culinary artist had proposed and he had approved. Queen Mary had ordered that it should be omitted, because Dr. Mathys had pronounced it poison for the gouty patient, and she confessed the offence.