When he first saw his friend, having abandoned his chauffeur and carriage to the mercies of a grape-faced stableman, and shown into the palace by a grim butler and a jittery maid, Hemnen mentally knocked the ‘half-’ from the latter adjective his thoughts had employed in describing the King. He settled his wits for what promised to be an awkward interview.
“My dear Hemnen!” cried the King as soon as his Lord was ushered into the library. The King, pebble-cheeked and pebble-minded, had been pacing the room, past the long many-paned windows which stood erect and to attention across the length of the East wall. “I am glad to see you, my dear friend!”
“And I to see you, Your Highness,” bowed Lord Hemnen, mettled by the rapturous familiarity of the King’s greeting. It had been years since Lord Hemnen had played a part in any gesture of romance or affection, and he was perhaps the hardened for it.
“Oh, do away with these unnecessary formalities!” pleaded the King. “They are so ridiculous, and I do so want to speak to you!”
Lord Hemnen nodded coldly as he indicated the two spacious armchairs cradling the fireplace.
The King’s eyes followed his friend’s arm, and he shook his head quickly with a small shudder.
“No, no,” he said huskily. “This place will not do. Not do at all. Let us remove to this alcove here. There is a pretty view out to the East, don’t you agree?”
“Of course,” said Lord Hemnen as they sauntered in the general direction of the alcove, “but none so pretty as the West.”
“I beg to disagree,” replied the King. “Don’t you love the sight of that long winding moor road, and the canal with its slow barges and mossy waters, and the Traders’ Bridge across the rough river, and then the great snow-capped peaks away in the distance, masked by the mist like a distant wedding veil of tears?” His voice rose on the last note, and Lord Hemnen frowned.
“Are you not agreeing, in that one view is as like another as mirror from mirror? Why, both views have the river and the bridge, and the hills and the mountains. They are not so very different as you say.”
“Why, no, no,” murmured the King. “They both have the river and the bridge, and the hills and the mountains—but the view to the West is the best of all.”
“You are contradicting yourself, Your Highness.”
“Am I?” There was a nervous laugh. “Maybe I am. Now, please take a seat. I have a most important matter to discuss with you.”