Charlotte’s heart sank as she watched her brother disappear down the lane. She knew his destination could only be the public house.
For an instant, she contemplated pursuing him, but she realized the vast unseemliness of such an undertaking. Her pride rose, too, and told her: let him go! Let him pursue his new-found passion for spirits! She would pursue her old passion, the one that had possessed both brother and sister for so long, the imaginary world that beckoned like a light on a lonely road, and which, indeed, had been the origin of all the uncertainty and strangeness of the past few days.
She climbed the steep stairs to her own room and sat down to finish the speech that the Duke of Zamorna would deliver upon being appointed King of Angria. She poured her bruised heart into the words: must even the greatest nations fall into ruin? Must the brightest flames burn out the soonest? Must so much promise inevitably fade to rust?
The Duke, meanwhile, was in search of the hair of the dog that bit him, a favorite remedy of his new friend Luke as well. But Zamorna’s reception at the Black Bull Inn was not what it had been the night before. There were more snickers than smiles; he had outworn his novelty, and become just another inmate. Nonplussed, he called for drinks, for which the barman promptly requested payment, whereupon Zamorna found he had but a few coins in his pockets. He was forced to drink plain farm ale as he pondered vaguely, in his narcotized state, his strange journey thither. He was pleased to discover in Luke an able discourser on metaphysical subjects, strange to the ears of the other imbibers.
A nearby villager leered at them in a way that irritated Zamorna’s overwrought — and, reader, we must admit, intoxicated — humor. “Do you find my visage so uncongenial, my good lad?” he demanded.
“I an’t no lad o’ yourn,” the surly villager replied.
Zamorna returned to his conversation with Luke, but I am sorry to say that in some of the less enlightened parts of the countryside, phrases like “rotation of the spheres” and “transection of the material plane” are as good as any other fighting words.
Soon Zamorna found himself laid out and bleeding in the half-frozen mud of a sordid Haworth village gutter. At last, the true enormity of his situation dawned upon him. He arose from the mire, hell-bent on finding a way back to Glass Town.
From the masquerade ball, Branwell was carried to the brilliantly lit drawing-room of a courtesan’s costly mansion. Crystal chandeliers, deeply piled Persian carpets, and polished mahogany panels swirled before his inebriated vision. Indeed, he could barely stand when Lucien gave him a draught of something that caused utter darkness to descend.
His indispensable valet, Rosier, woke him next day at noon.
“Sir, you are due in Parliament in one hour and a half. I advise that you to commence getting dressed.”
Here a word of explanation is in order. The Parliament consisted of all the kings and heads of state of the Federation, which convened in Glass Town. The kingdom of Angria was not, as yet, officially part of the Federation. The land had only recently been conquered by the colonial forces, with the Duke of Zamorna as their top military leader. His appointment as King of Angria had the support of the majority, but not all, and rumors had been circulating that his warrior temperament and excessive indulgence in gay parties were driving him into a state of mental instability.
The gentle rolling motion of his elegant and finely-sprung equipage sent waves of nausea through his complaining body.
It is sad to say that the great hero and leader, standing before the assembled heads of state in the amphitheater of the stately hall, and hearing himself anointed a king, could think of nothing but how to hold down his ever-rising bile.
Lucien had plotted this from the first glass of champagne that he had handed Zamorna the evening before. He knew from long experience that Zamorna, in this weakened and harrowed state, would not be able to counteract the treacherous ambush that his enemies, with Lucien’s secret complicity, had arranged.
“Here, here!” cried the Earl of Northangerland, rising from his seat, and claiming his right to be first to congratulate the new royalty — but then he continued to speak. He proposed a motion in which Parliament would appoint Lucien de Rubempre as Regent of Angria, with powers to check and control the political and financial movements of a king who was prone, perhaps, to impetuousness.
All eyes turned intently to the king, who remained standing on the dais at the bottom of the oval room, ringed by concentric galleries.
Zamorna would have recoiled. He would have responded disdainfully, sourly, insulted all the assembled heads of state, to his own detriment, and then gone home to bed.
But this was not Zamorna; this was Branwell, who, from childhood, had suffered from a severe shyness before strangers, a horror of public attention bordering on abject terror.
Reader, I hope you may never be wracked by wine-sickness, or seized in the paralyzing grip of stage fright. But if they should afflict you, pray that they do so concurrently. For it is a strange fact of nature that the effluvium of excessive drink and the ichor of fear are strongly reactive chemicals, and when brought into sudden contact, they effervesce into a soaring elation that, while it lasts, is like an inspiration.
From the pit, Branwell called out bravely: “Before we move on to secondary business” (with a sneer at Lucien and Northangerland) “I would like to address the assembled lords on the occasion of their honoring me with so high and generous a title.”
He reached into his pocket, where he had hurriedly crammed a few scribbled notes from his desk. But when he removed the papers, they were transformed. He held in his hand the pages of a very fine and noble speech, indeed, a work of passionate genius: a brilliant discourse on the great leaders of history; the rise and fall of nations; and the glorious future that was within Angria’s grasp. Declaimed in ringing tones, his address contained everything that could please an audience: extended metaphors based on obscure Biblical passages; a lofty, edifying moral tone; moving evocations of picturesque and sublime scenery; and a wondrous wealth of semi-colons, that could not fail to win the hearts of all whole harkened to the refined drama of their delicate half-pauses.
A resounding cheer filled the hall.
Northangerland hastily moved that all further parliamentary business be deferred, and the noblemen swarmed around Branwell, raising him on their shoulders and carrying him out into the street, where the assembled populace was celebrating.
What should Branwell’s first act as King of Angria be?
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