were playing the first act of a grand opera plot, on their fragile thrones in Mexico. King Leopold was to die before he could envisage more: the shooting of Maximilian at Querétaro, and his mad daughter, tapping her fingers on a window in a chateau outside Laeken until she was a withered old woman of eighty-six. She was to live long enough to see the German soldiers of the 1914-1918 war marching past the chateau, quietly, because there was a sign on the gate telling them that the Empress of Mexico lived within.
There was something gallant, yet crazy, about the closing months of King Leopold's life. He went to shoot in the Ardennes, with his feet so swollen that he could not leave his carriage. He mused,
"I grow old. I can say with truth I have been a successful king."He listened to his favourite tunes being played by a pianist, hidden behind curtains. For five years he had enjoyed this strange scene in his bedroom, always refusing to meet the obedient musician. No stranger was to see the fantastic painted face, the disintegrating figure clinging to the trappings of life, until the moment when he died, whispering, "Charlotte," perhaps the only name he had ever loved more than his own.
QUEEN VICTORIA was at last induced to open Parliament, in February, 1866. The mass of people poured over from Lambeth and the East End of London, past the place in Westminster where Cromwell's head had been impaled on a pike. The people from the west of London drove along Whitehall, past the statue of Charles the First, and the window through which he stepped to his execution. If there was any lesson to be learned, any warning in the story of more than two centuries before, Londoners were too intent upon the promise of a show to heed it. Their Queen was to appear from the dungeons of her bereavement and perform her duty. She came up from Windsor, "much exhausted," and drove through the streets. From the pavements and windows, and even the branches of the trees, she was watched by a new generation. This was before the day of the press photographer and there were many young people who did not know what their Queen looked like. She was a dim, secret oracle, suddenly come to life as a grave figure, a royal automaton sitting forward in her carriage and