HotFreeBooks.com
In Brief Authority
by F. Anstey
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"I will thank you to remember, Clarence," she replied, "that they are my loyal subjects, and will be yours at some time to come."

"I can wait for 'em," he said; "and if they're so jolly loyal, why ain't they cheering more?"

Slowly the golden coach progressed through winding streets of gabled or step-roofed houses with toppling overhanging stories, then along one side of a great square, packed with people in costume, the women recalling to Mrs. Stimpson's mind, quite inappropriately, the waitresses at the Rigi Kulm hotel on a Sunday. Then, through more narrow streets, to a smaller square, where it stopped at some steps leading to the huge West portal of a magnificent buttressed Church.

"All change here—for the Coronation!" said Clarence. "I'd better nip out first, eh, Mater?"

"Your father and I get out first, naturally, Clarence," said Mrs. Wibberley-Stimpson, and descended majestically, Mr. Stimpson following with somewhat less effect owing to an attack of cramp in his left leg. Four small pages stepped forward in pairs to carry Mr. and Mrs. Stimpson's trains, which they found a distinct convenience, and, hand in hand, they passed through the great, elaborately niched and statued doorway into the nave. The interior was thronged by all the notables of Maerchenland, including the venerable President of the Council and his Councillors. Above, the light struck in shafts through the painted windows of the clerestory, tinging the haze of incense fumes with faint colours. On the high altar twinkled innumerable tapers. "Roman! as I suspected!" whispered Mrs. Wibberley-Stimpson on seeing them, and sniffing the scented atmosphere. (She had attended St. John's at Gablehurst, because the vicar, although Evangelical, was well-known to be of good family.) Under a crimson canopy in the choir were two golden chairs which they understood they were expected to sit upon, and occupied accordingly. A mitred and coped ecclesiastic, who appeared to be some kind of Bishop, then shepherded them benevolently through a series of mystic rites that, besides being hopelessly unintelligible, seemed unreasonably protracted. However, they reached the climax at last, and amidst the tumultuous acclamations of the spectators the previously anointed heads of King Sidney and Queen Selina, as they must henceforth be described, received their respective crowns.

"Ha, well," remarked King Sidney, when he and the rest of the Royal family were once more in the coach, and on their way towards the palace that was to be their future home, "we got through it most successfully on the whole. Perhaps the Bishop was a little too lavish with the anointing part of the ceremony. Still, taken altogether, it was—ah—a very solemnising affair."

"It would have been more so, Sidney," said the Queen, "if you hadn't kept on dropping your sceptre and tripping over your train. I don't wonder the Bishop got flustered. But I do wish we could have had it properly done by the dear Archbishop of Canterbury!"

"Bit out of his diocese, Maerchenland, what?" said the Crown Prince.

"I'm aware of that, Clarence; and, of course, we're legally crowned, whoever did it.... Sidney, it's only just struck me, but I'm sure we ought to be bowing. Bow, children, all of you—take the time from me. Sidney, why aren't you bowing?"

"I can't, my love. It's difficult enough to keep my crown on as it is!"

"You can hold it on with one hand, can't you? You simply must bow if you don't want to be unpopular! So must you, children. Keep on with it!"

"Give us a rest, Mater," said Prince Clarence, after they had been nodding like Chinese mandarins for some minutes. "My neck's beginning to wilt already!"

Queen Selina herself was not sorry to stop. "It's certainly very fatiguing at first," she admitted; "we must practise it together in private.... Was that old Mrs. Fogleplug's dove-chariot that passed us just now? I'm afraid I shall have to put her in her place. She's rather inclined to forget herself—not only addressed me as 'my dear,' but actually attempted to kiss me after the Coronation!"

"So she did me!" said the Princess Royal, "but I hope I showed that I thought she was taking a liberty."

"She's a very worthy, well-meaning old creature, no doubt," remarked the Queen; "still, a Fairy Godmother in these days is really rather—I shall have to get her to retire—on a pension."

"She'll stick on," said Prince Clarence, "you see if she don't. Means to boss the whole show."

"I shall soon let her see that I intend to be mistress in my own Kingdom," said the Queen. "I could wish, I must say, that it was just a little more up to date! Everything so dreadfully behind the times! I haven't seen a shop yet with a plate-glass front, and not a single pillar-box!"

"Poor sort of place for Suffragettes, what?" observed Clarence.

"Frivolity apart, Clarence," remarked the Queen, "I can see already that there is much to be done here before the country can be called really civilised. We must set ourselves to raise the standard by introducing modern ideas—enlighten people's minds, and all the rest of it. And you must do your share, Sidney, as I shall do mine."

"Certainly," said the King; "I'm agreeable. All for progress myself. Always have been.... I fancy that must be our Palace up there. A truly palatial residence—replete, I've no doubt, with every convenience we can require."

The State Coach, after making a leisurely circuit of the two sides of the principal square, was now beginning the ascent of the steep zigzag road to the Palace, which stood on the terraced height of the plateau that commanded the city. The party in the coach caught glimpses of its massive but ornate towers with fantastic spires and turrets, and its great arched and columned wings of rose-tinted marble. As it was rather larger than Windsor Castle, King Sidney's commendation was fairly justified.

But Queen Selina's mind was occupied in computing the probable number of rooms, and the maids that would be required to "do" them, while she wondered aloud whether they could possibly afford to keep such a place up.

"Depend upon it, my dear," said the King, "the—ah—State will provide an ample allowance for all our expenses. I must go into that as soon as an opportunity occurs, and find out exactly what our income will be."

Little more was said after this, as the great coach creaked and groaned slowly up the winding road, and then rolled through the golden gates into the courtyard of the Palace.

On the steps of the chief entrance were Marshal Federhelm, Baron von Eisenbaenden, and the Court Godmother, who, with the rest of the Royal household, had hastened on ahead to receive them. The Marshal ushered them into the Hall of Entrance, which was immense and cool. There they found the ladies and gentlemen-in-waiting drawn up in curtseying and bowing ranks. The colours of their gay costumes would have been dazzling, had they not been somewhat toned down by the subdued light from the windows, which were paned with transparent agate set in tracery of a flamboyant type. At the back rose a colossal staircase of jasper. On either side were lofty doors leading to vestibules, corridors, and reception halls.

Judged by Gablehurst standards, the general effect of the interior was hardly 'home-y' or cosy enough to be perfectly satisfactory, as Queen Selina seemed to feel, for the only comment she made was: "No china punch-bowl for visiting-cards, I see!"

"I say," the Crown Prince inquired of the Marshal, "who's the small sportsman in the extinguisher hat?" he referred to an unassuming little man with long, lint-coloured hair and pale, prominent eyes, whose shiftiness was only partly concealed by large horn spectacles. He wore black and crimson robes embroidered in gold with Zodiacal signs. "Looks like the Editor of Old Moore's Almanack."

"That, Sir," replied the Marshal, "is the learned Xuriel, our Astrologer Royal. Will your Majesties permit me to present him?" And, the Royal assent being given, he went across to fetch the sage.

"Xuriel, my friend," he said in his ear, with a slightly ironical intonation, "the august Sovereigns who owe their discovery to your learning and research are naturally anxious to express their acknowledgements. So come along and be presented, and perhaps you will produce a better impression if you can manage to look a little less like a hare with the ear-ache."

It was not, however, the prospect of being presented to Royalty that was disturbing the Astrologer Royal, but an unpleasant suspicion that the ex-Regent was, for some reason or other, a little annoyed with him.

"Your Majesties will be interested to hear," explained the Marshal, after making the presentation, "that Master Xuriel was at one time noted for his skill as a magician."

"My studies in Magic were never carried very far, your Majesties," protested the Astrologer, wriggling uncomfortably. "I—I did very little at it. And, even before it was decreed that all enchanters and sorcerers should either leave the Kingdom or take up some other profession, I had discovered that astrology was my true vocation."

"And you were right," said the Marshal heartily, "as results have shown. And doubtless there is no truth in the rumour that you still retain some proficiency in the Black Art."

"Absolutely none, your Majesties!" the Astrologer Royal declared. "What small skill I ever possessed, I have already forgotten; all my magic spells have long since been discarded."

"So I should hope," said Queen Selina severely. "Mr. Wibber—I mean, his Majesty and I are, of course, no believers in Magic, but we are determined not to allow any superstitions practices here in future—are we not, Sidney?"

"Certainly, my dear, certainly. Most undesirable. Of course, we don't object to ordinary conjuring—anything harmless of that sort. But take my advice, Sir, and stick to Astrology for the future—much more gentlemanly pursuit!"

The Astrologer Royal promised to observe this recommendation, and just then the Court Chamberlain announced that a meal had been prepared for the Royal Family in the King's Parlour, to which he offered to conduct them at once. And, as the lengthy business of the Coronation had given them all excellent appetites, they readily welcomed the proposal.

Princess Ruby, catching sight of Daphne in one of the groups, had begged that she might be included, which the Queen reluctantly granted as an exceptional indulgence.

Daphne would gladly have excused herself had that been possible; she was becoming painfully conscious of finding Mrs. Wibberley-Stimpson as a Queen irresistibly ludicrous. Once already that morning she had only just escaped detection, and she was horribly afraid now that something might happen which would lead her to betray herself by unseemly laughter. She could only pray inwardly that it would not, as she followed with Ruby to the King's Parlour.

This was a lofty hall with windows opening on to the terrace; the walls were composed of great slabs of malachite, and twisted columns of the same supported a ceiling of elaborately carved pink jade. At one end was a dais, where a table was spread with what King Sidney referred to somewhat disappointedly as "a cold snack," though he did it ample justice nevertheless.

The Marshal sat on his right hand; at his back stood the Court Chamberlain, while chubby-faced little pages served cakes of bread on bended knee, and filled the golden goblets with Maerchenland's choicest wines, which the King considered "a trifle on the sour side." The Royal Household looked on from a distance—to the exquisite discomfort of the Queen.

"I really can't enjoy my food, Sidney," she complained in an undertone, "with every mouthful I take watched by all those members of the nobility!"

Suddenly she coloured with annoyance as she found she was being addressed in a gruff, strangled voice from a quarter it was difficult at first to locate. "Mr. Troitz," she demanded, "who is that ill-mannered person who seems to be trying to talk to Me with his mouth full?"

"The voice, your Majesty," he replied in the most matter-of-fact tone, "appears to proceed from the boar's head."

"How dare you try to impose on me by such a story? It's that wretched little astrologer man. Ventriloquism and Conjuring always go together, and I'll be bound he's underneath the table now!... Well," she said, after she had satisfied herself by looking, "if he's not there, he's somewhere in the room!"

The Court Chamberlain assured her that the Astrologer Royal was not only absent, but incapable of such a liberty; it really was the boar's head that had spoken, as animals in Maerchenland would on rare occasions—even after suffering decapitation.

"There was Falada, Mummy," cried Ruby eagerly. "Don't you remember? The horse that talked poetry after its head had been cut off and nailed over the arch! Miss Heritage can tell you all about it."

But Miss Heritage could not—she was far too deeply engaged in wrestling with an inward demon of unholy mirth that threatened at any moment to gain the mastery.

The head began again. But whatever felicitations, predictions, or warning it was striving to utter were rendered practically inarticulate by a large lemon that had been unfeelingly inserted between its jaws.

"Have the boar's head removed at once, Mr. Troitz," ordered Queen Selina. "I cannot and will not have it interrupting the conversation like this. It couldn't happen at all in any civilised country. Why, we shall have the cold tongue beginning next, I suppose!..."

It was here that poor Daphne's demon got the upper hand.

"You seem slightly hysterical, Miss Heritage," remarked the Queen. "Horse-exercise evidently has a very bad effect on your nerves, and I must forbid you to ride in future."

Thus was Daphne punished for her breach of etiquette. But Queen Selina had no suspicion, even then, of its real extent. She was incapable of conceiving that she could possibly seem ridiculous to one so infinitely her inferior.



CHAPTER V

DIGNITY UNDER DIFFICULTIES

The luncheon, after the removal of the too loquacious boar's head, proceeded, to Daphne's intense relief, without any further incident, and at its conclusion Queen Selina suggested a move to the terrace. One side of it faced the City far below; another the slope of the road leading immediately to the Courtyard, while from the third side steps descended by lower terraces to the Palace Gardens, which were apparently boundless. Beyond them, however, was a neglected region of groves and thickets, a sort of Wilderness, which stretched from the Garden boundaries to the edge of a plateau below which lay a wild valley, with a chain of wilder peaks and crags forming the horizon. But none of the Court had ever cared to explore the Wilderness, if they were even aware of its existence, so no more need be said of it at present.

The Royal Family leaned upon the parapet of the terrace, whence they had a bird's-eye view of the big square immediately below, and the picturesquely irregular buildings, above whose gabled red roofs grim watch-towers and quaint spires or cupolas rose here and there. Down in the square swarms of tiny figures were clustering round the public fountains, which spouted jets that, as they flashed in the afternoon sun, were seen to be of a purple hue.

"Must be wine," remarked the Crown Prince. "If it's the same tap we had at lunch, the poor devils have my sympathy!"

"I think, Sidney," said the Queen, "that we ought all to go for a drive presently—just round the principal streets. I'm sure the—a—populace would appreciate it."

"If you think it's expected of us, my love," he said. "Otherwise—well, I should have rather liked to see a little more of the Palace; we don't even know where our own bedrooms are to be yet."

"The Guv'nor's right there, Mater!" said Prince Clarence. "We'd better get settled down before we do anything else."

"Perhaps we had," Queen Selina allowed. "I'll get that good old Mrs. Fogleplug to take us round the house." And after sending for the Court Godmother, she started, accompanied by the family and several of her ladies-in-waiting, on a tour of inspection.

Possibly the suites of halls, each more magnificent than the last, the endless galleries and corridors, the walls decorated with sumptuous but bizarre hangings, the floors inlaid with marble and precious stones which were probably priceless and certainly slippery—possibly all these contributed towards the upsetting of Queen Selina's equanimity, but her manner was deplorably lacking in dignity and repose. She treated her ladies, for instance, with a politeness that came nearer subservience than ever. It was: "Pray go first, dear Princess Rapunzelhauser! After you, Baroness!... Please, Countess, I really couldn't think of preceding you!" at every doorway, till Daphne, as she noted the elevated eyebrows and covert smiles of the others, felt too much shame for her Sovereign for any thought of amusement.

However, the Queen showed more self-assertion in her treatment of the Court Godmother, which was characterised by some hauteur.

"And now, I suppose, Mrs. Fogleplug, we have seen all the Reception Rooms. We shall probably have to entertain on rather a large scale, but they appear to be fairly suitable. What I have not yet seen is a room where I could receive ordinary callers. I have always made a practice since I was first married of being 'at Home' on the first and third Fridays, and though circumstances have altered, I intend to continue it."

The Fairy, though she was rather at a loss to understand either the reason or the necessity for this, said that there was a chamber called "The Queen's Bower" which would probably meet Her Majesty's requirements, and led the way to it accordingly.

It was about sixty feet square, with a high vaulted roof of lapis-lazuli set with large diamond stars; the walls were decorated with huge frescoes representing legends, many of which Princess Ruby recognised as familiar.

"This will do, Mrs. Fogleplug," pronounced the Queen. "At least it can be made to do, with a little re-arrangement. As it is, there are none of the ordinary refinements, such as art-cushions, cake-and-bread-and-butter stand, occasional tables, and little silver knick-knacks, which a lady's boudoir of any pretensions to elegance should have. Just the trifles that express the owner, and—er—constitute Home. I must have all these provided before I can use this as a sanctum. I should certainly have expected a Palace like this to be furnished with more regard to comfort!"

"I should have expected a billiard-room or two," said Prince Clarence; "but these Courtier chaps tell me they don't even know what billiards are! Pretty sort of Palace this!"

"I think it's a perfectly lovely Palace!" Princess Ruby declared. "It hasn't got a single piano in it anywhere! I know, because I've asked."

"I'm sorry to hear it, my dear," said her Mother, "because I particularly wished Miss Heritage to get you on with your music; and, if that is impossible, I shall have to consider whether I can keep her at all."

"Oh, Mummy, you won't send her away? When you know I've never been good with anybody before, and never shall be, either!"

Queen Selina was quite alive to the advantages of retaining Daphne's services.

"Well, Ruby," she said, "I shall allow Miss Heritage to stay on, as your companion" (she had already seen her way to proposing a reduction of salary), "and she can make herself generally useful to me as well."

Ruby went dancing back to Daphne. "You're not to be my governess any more, Miss Heritage, dear," she announced, "because I shan't require one now. But I've got Mummy to let you stay on as companion. Aren't you glad?"

Daphne answered that she was—and she would certainly have been sorry to leave Maerchenland quite so soon.

"And now tell me, Mr. Chamberlain—Baron Troitz, I mean," the Queen was saying. "What time do you dine here?"

"Whenever your Majesties please," was the reply.

"All the same to us," said the King affably. "No wish to put you out at all."

"Then with your permission, Sire, the Banquet will be served an hour hence in the Banqueting Hall."

"A banquet!" cried the Queen. "I would rather we dined quietly, without any fuss, on our first night here."

"It is the night of your Majesties' Coronation," the Court Chamberlain reminded her. "The Court would be deeply disappointed if so auspicious an event were not celebrated in a befitting manner."

"Oh," said the Queen. "Then it will be full dress, I suppose—with crowns?"

"I hope—not crowns," put in King Sidney, who had taken the earliest opportunity of leaving his own in a corner. "A crown is such an uncomfortable thing to eat in. At least mine is."

The Court Chamberlain gave it as his decision that crowns should certainly be worn—at least through the earlier courses of the meal.

"All you've got to do, Guv'nor," said Clarence, "is to keep yours from splashing into the soup. A bit of elastic round your chin would do that all right."

"And I presume," said the Queen, "we shall wear these robes we have on?... Oh, we shall find a change of costume upstairs? Then, as there is not too much time for dressing, I should like to see my room at once, Mrs. Fogleplug."

"Sidney," she panted a little later as, escorted by the Marshal and Baron, and followed by the Court Godmother and the ladies and lords-in-waiting, they were making the ascent of the grand staircase, "one of the first things we must do here is to put in a lift. I really can't be expected to climb all these stairs several times a day!"

"They do take it out of one, my dear," he admitted. "And a lift would certainly be a great improvement."

At the head of the staircase was a long tapestry-hung gallery in which were the doors opening into the suites of rooms prepared for Royalty.

Queen Selina, on reaching hers, could not bring herself to allow her ladies of the Bedchamber to assist at her toilet. "So very kind of you, Princess, and you, too, my dear Baroness," she protested, "but I couldn't think of troubling you—I couldn't indeed! I should feel quite ashamed to let you! I can manage perfectly well by myself—that is, Miss Heritage will come in after she has attended to Princess Ruby, and do all I require, and then she can go on and help you, Edna."

"Thank you, Mother," said Edna, "but I should prefer having some one who is more accustomed to dressing hair."

After putting Ruby into a robe of golden tissue and silken stockings and satin shoes, which, being quite as splendid as those she had just laid aside, afforded the child intense satisfaction, Daphne went to Queen Selina's Tiring Chamber—a spacious apartment with hangings of strange colours embroidered with Royal emblems. It was separated by a curtained arch, through which a glimpse could be caught of the Royal Bedchamber, with the colossal and gorgeously canopied State bed.

She found the Queen still in an early stage of her toilette and in a highly fractious state of mind.

"I expected you to be here before this, Miss Heritage," she said. "I've been waiting all this time for you to fasten me up the back, which I couldn't possibly ask any of my Court ladies to do.... I'm sure I don't know what goes on next!... Oh, do you think the—er—stomacher before the ruff?... Very well.... It's impossible to judge the effect in such a wretched light" (the chamber, it should be said, was illuminated by a number of perfumed flambeaux stuck in elaborately wrought silver sconces). "Even at 'Inglegarth' I had a pair of electric lights over my dressing-table! And how on earth any Queen can be expected to dress at a shabby tarnished old cheval-glass like this is more than I can conceive!"

Upon which a thin but silvery voice immediately responded:

"As dimly can I understand How you are Queen of Maerchenland!"

"Upon my word, Miss Heritage!" exclaimed Queen Selina, with an angry flush on her oatmeal-hued cheeks, "I am surprised at such impertinence—from you!"

"It—it wasn't me, Ma'am," said Daphne, with an heroic effort to keep her countenance.

"As it was certainly not myself, and you are the only other person in the room, Miss Heritage, your denial is impudent as well as useless!"

Daphne could only point speechlessly to the mirror.

"Really, Miss Heritage! This goes beyond all—what next!"

"Reflected here there should have been A younger and far fairer Queen."

continued the voice in a doggerel as devoid of polish as the mirror itself.

"It does appear to come from—but whoever heard of a looking-glass talking?" said the mystified Queen.

"Little Snow-white's Stepmother had a mirror that answered her, Ma'am," said Daphne, "and she was a queen in Maerchenland, I believe. Perhaps this is the very one!"

It would, no doubt, have proceeded to make some even more unflattering comments if Daphne had not, with much presence of mind, turned its face to the wall. How she knew that this would silence it she could not have said herself. But it certainly did.

"I have no reason for believing that any such person as Little Snow-white ever existed," said Queen Selina; "but whoever that glass belonged to, I will not have it here. I would have it smashed, if it wasn't unlucky. But it must be removed to the attics before I come up here to undress. Really, I never knew such a country as this is! Boar's heads trying to speak at luncheon, and mirrors making personal remarks, and everything so strange and unnatural! But you take it all as a matter of course, Miss Heritage; nothing seems to surprise you."

"I think, Ma'am," said Daphne, "because I've always known that, if I ever did get to Maerchenland, it would be very much like this."

"Considering that you had no better means of knowing what it would be like than I had myself," replied the Queen, "I can only ascribe that to affectation.... Surely there must be more of the Crown jewellery than I have been given as yet?... Yes, there may be something in that chest.... Good gracious me! What diamonds! I don't think the dear Duchess of Gleneagles herself can have anything to approach them!... Yes, you can put me on a riviere, and two of the biggest ropes of pearls.... It won't do to go down looking dowdy. Dear me," she added, as she took up the pendant she had bought from Daphne twenty-four hours before, "to think of my giving so much money for this paltry thing! If I had known then what I do now, I should never have—but, of course, I don't mean that I should think of going back on it."

"I'm afraid, Ma'am," said Daphne, "I couldn't pay it back now; I sent the cheque last night."

"I am quite content to bear the loss, Miss Heritage. And, by the way, you may not be aware of it, but it is hardly correct or usual, in speaking to me, to call me 'Ma'am.'"

"I've always understood, Ma'am," said Daphne, "that our own Queen—in England, I mean——"

"How the Queen of England may allow herself to be addressed is entirely her own affair," said Queen Selina handsomely; "I have nothing whatever to do with that. But I am Queen of Maerchenland, Miss Heritage, and I shall be obliged by your addressing me as 'Your Majesty' on all occasions."

"Certainly, your Majesty," said Daphne, executing a profound curtsey with a little smile that she was quite unable to repress. "I assure your Majesty that your Majesty may rely on my addressing your Majesty as 'Your Majesty' for the future, your Majesty."

"That is better, Miss Heritage, much better—a little overdone, but still—And now," she added, "you had better go and see if Princess Edna wants any assistance. You need not trouble to change your own dress, as, of course, you will not sit down to dinner with us."

"She's too priceless!" thought Daphne, when she was outside on the gallery, and could indulge her sense of humour in safety. "Still, I don't think I could stand her very long if it weren't for Ruby!"

"I say, Mater," the Crown Prince called out a few minutes afterwards outside his Mother's door, "how much longer are you and the Guv'nor going to be? All night?"

"You can come in, Clarence," she said. "How soon your Father will be ready, I can't say. I finished my dressing hours ago."

King Sidney, following her example, had declined the good offices of his gentlemen, and there were sounds from his dressing-room on the farther side of the Bedchamber which indicated that he was in some difficulties in consequence.

"My aunt!" exclaimed Clarence as he saw his Mother fully arrayed. "You've got 'em all on this time, Mater, and no mistake! So've you, Guv'nor," he added, as King Sidney joined them with rather a sheepish air. "Only—are you sure you've got yours on right? I mean to say—that ruff looks a bit cock-eyed."

"It's given me more trouble than any white tie, my boy—but it must do as it is."

"Ah, I got that bristly-haired chap—what's his name—Hansmeinigel—to put on mine for me. Didn't any of yours give you a hand?"

"They offered to—most kindly," said King Sidney, "but—well, I didn't altogether relish letting them dress me."

"They'd have made a jolly sight neater job of it than you have—keep still a jiff till I've tucked this tape in. There—that's more like it. And I say, you and the Mater had better hurry—you're keeping the whole Court waiting for you!"

"Why didn't you tell us before?" said the Queen in a violent flurry. "Where—where are the Court?"

"All drawn up in the Hall at the foot of the big staircase. They can't make a move till you come down, and lead the way in to dinner, you know!"

"I—I'd rather not descend all those steps in public," objected the King. "Confoundedly slippery. Er—couldn't we go by the backstairs, my love?"

"And find ourselves in our own kitchen!" said the Queen. "Certainly not, Sidney! The grand staircase is the only dignified way down, and you had better give me your arm at once."

"Very well, my dear, very well. But I'm pretty sure I shall slip."

"You must not slip, Sidney! Neither of us must slip. If we did, it would produce a very bad impression. Still, it will be safer if we go down one by one, and hold on to the banisters."

"No, I say," cried the Crown Prince, "you can't do that—might as well crawl down on all fours! Buck up, both of you. Try and throw a little swank into it!"

Their Majesties accomplished the descent amidst the congratulatory blare of the silver trumpets without actual mishap. But there was nothing in the bearing of either Sovereign that could justly be described by the term "swank," and indeed, if any fault could be found, it would have been in quite the opposite direction.

Of the banquet itself little need be said here. The numerous courses were appetising and admirably served, while, to the Queen's relief, none of the dishes showed any desire to take part in the conversation.

The members of the Court did more than look on this time, being entertained, with other guests, amongst whom were the President and Council, at cross tables below the principal one on the dais.

Clarence, seated with his family, the Ex-Regent, and the Court Godmother at the high table, wished more than once that he could have sat by Daphne, whom he could see at no great distance. He noted her perfect ease, and the pretty graciousness with which she received the attentions which her neighbours seemed only too anxious to press upon her.

"Anyone would think she'd lived with swells all her life," he thought. "She may have, for anything I know!" But, of course, even if she had, the fact did not make her his equal now.

Towards the close of the feast King Sidney, who had long since disposed of his crown underneath his chair, considered that the occasion demanded a speech. His effort might have been a greater success if he had abstained from jocularity, which was not by any means his forte. It is possible that a far happier sample of British humour would have failed to set Maerchenland tables in a roar, but his hearers were either unaware that he intended to be humorous, or sensible that his purpose had not been achieved, for they listened in puzzled but depressed silence, while the effect of his facetiousness on Daphne was to render her hot and cold by turns.

The banquet over, the Court Chamberlain deferentially informed the Royal Party that they were expected to lead the procession to the Ball Room.

Clarence, who had unfortunately come away from "Inglegarth" without his cigarette-case, was longing to smoke, and hung behind for that purpose. But on applying to the Marshal, he was told that only common soldiers ever smoked in Maerchenland. With some trouble a highly flavoured pipe, a tinder-box, and a pouch containing a dried herb that appeared to be the local substitute for tobacco were procured for him. However, a very short experience convinced him that duty required him to put in an appearance at the State Ball.

The Ball Room was a long, lofty hall, lit by thousands of candles set in great golden hoops; the light they gave being multiplied almost to infinity by the fact that the walls and ceiling were lined with elaborately engraved looking-glass, which, fortunately perhaps for the Queen, was dumb. When he entered, the musicians were already fiddling, piping, and fluting in a gallery high up at one end facing a raised platform, where his father and mother, looking extremely hot and uncomfortable, were seated on gorgeous chairs. A stately measure was being performed, which might have been a gavotte or minuet or pavane for anything he could say; all he knew was that the figures were quite unfamiliar to him.

But Daphne seemed to have learnt them—or had they come to her by instinct?—for she was dancing in one of the sets. He watched her lissome form as she moved through the intricate evolutions till he began to envy the Count von Daumerlingstamm, her elegant but undersized partner. However, he flattered himself that he would have no difficulty in cutting out little Daumerlingstamm.

It seemed to him that that dance would never be over, but the moment it was, he made his way to Daphne with an air that showed he was fully aware of the distinction he was conferring. "Enjoying yourself, Miss Heritage?" he said. "Don't know what that last dance was—but not much 'vim' about it, if you ask me. Tell you what—I'll get those fiddler fellows up there to play something a bit livelier, and you and I'll show this crowd a two-step, what?"

"This is a great honour, your Royal Highness," said Daphne, after sinking demurely in the regulation curtsey. "But I must not accept it until I have her Majesty's permission." ("Which I'm quite sure she won't give!" she thought to herself with much satisfaction.)

"Oh, I say—what rot! The Mater won't mind! And if she does——!"

"It would be very disagreeable for me, your Royal Highness!"

"Oh, well," he said, "I'll go and ask her."

As Daphne had anticipated, Queen Selina's refusal was most emphatic. "You ought to know, Clarence, that it's utterly out of the question!" she said. "And I'm surprised at Miss Heritage having the presumption to expect it."

"She didn't, Mater. She said I'd better ask you first."

"Then it seems she has a better sense of her position than you have of yours, Clarence. I'm told you have been seen walking about with a disgusting pipe in your mouth, and that several people were remarking on it. Now you are actually proposing to make yourself conspicuous by dancing at a State Ball with your sister's companion! I have always credited you with being a man of the world—but if this is the way you are going on——!"

He felt the sting of so unwonted a rebuke. "I daresay you're right, Mater," he acknowledged. "I'll be more careful after this."

"I hope you will, I'm sure. As Crown Prince you mustn't think of any partner under the rank of Baroness. Ask one of the Princesses first, or you'll give more offence."

"Right-oh!" was all he said, and, feeling that it would be awkward to make any explanation or excuses to Daphne, he solved the difficulty by avoiding her for the rest of the evening.

Princess Goldernenfingerleinigen, a prepossessing but not very forthcoming damsel, enjoyed the distinction of being commanded by the Crown Prince as his first partner.

He had had no experience in conversing with Princesses, and she did not exert herself either to put him more at his ease or prevent him from losing himself frequently in the mazes of the dance. Once or twice he was oppressed by a painful suspicion that he had seen her making a little grimace of self-pity at the Countess Gaensehirtin. But elaborately engraved mirrors are not very trustworthy, and he might have been mistaken. Still, he was thankful when the dance, in which he was conscious of having done himself so little credit, came to an end.

"Edna, old girl," he remarked subsequently to the Princess Royal, "I call this a rotten ball. Can't stick dancing with any more of these Princesses!"

Princess Edna, it appeared, had been no more favourably impressed by the Courtiers.

"They've simply no conversation," she complained, "and no ideas about any serious subjects!"

"No, I've noticed that," he said; "and they think they're the only people who can dance! I tell you what—you and I'll show 'em how we do the Tango. That'll make 'em open their eyes!"

It did. As has already been said, both he and Edna, as persons who could not afford to be out of the movement, had taken lessons that winter in the recent importation from dubious Argentine dancing-saloons. They danced it now with conscientious care, Prince Clarence exhibiting as much abandon as a man could who was dancing with his sister.

But the Court were not sufficiently enlightened to appreciate the performance. They evidently considered it not only uncouth and undignified, but more than a little improper, and their general attitude conveyed that the couple were committing one of those temporary indiscretions which it was not only etiquette but charity to pass over in silence.

"Capital!" said King Sidney, clapping his hands at the conclusion. "Uncommonly well they dance together, eh, my dear—never seen them do it before."

"And you will never see them do it again, Sidney," replied the Queen; "for I'm much mistaken if they haven't broken up the Ball!"

She was not very far wrong, for although, after some minutes of awestruck silence, dancing was resumed, it was carried on with a restraint and gloom that soon decided the Royal Family to retire from the Ball Room.

The Queen forbore from expressing her sentiments just then either to her son or daughter, with the latter of whom, indeed, she seldom, if ever, ventured to find fault. But she felt that her first evening in the Palace had not been a brilliant success.

This feeling impelled her to be more ingratiating than ever to her ladies of the Bedchamber, whose services in disrobing her she was compelled to accept, though under protest.

"So much obliged!" she said, as they finally withdrew with glacial ceremony. "Quite ashamed to have troubled you, really! Good-night, dear Princess, good-night. We shall breakfast at 8.30. But en famille, you know—quite en famille—so don't dream of coming down!"

"I hope, Sidney," she began later, as he joined her in the Royal Bedchamber, "I hope you have treated the gentlemen who undressed you with proper consideration. It is so important.... Good gracious! What's that you've got on? A night-cap?"

"Those—er—noblemen seemed to consider it the correct thing, my love, and they've put me on this night-gown, too."

"I see they have. Embroidered all over with impossible animals. You look a perfect sight in it!"

"I'm told they're—er—hippogriffs, my dear, the—ah—Royal Crest or emblem or something. I should have much preferred pyjamas myself. But it seems they are not procurable here."

"Everything in this country is in a disgracefully backward state!" declared the Queen; "and I can see I shall have hard work to bring it up to my ideas of what is proper. I shall begin by putting that old Mrs. Fogleplug in her proper place."

"I should be careful, my dear," advised King Sidney. "After all, you know, she's by way of being a Fairy."

"So she says! But, Fairy or no Fairy, she's much too familiar. And if she cannot conform to my rules, she will have to go, that's all."

"Well, my dear, I daresay when you put it to her like that," began the King, who had by this time succeeded in clambering into the immense bed, and whose head was already buried in an enormous pillow. "As I was saying," he continued hazily, "put it to her in—in that way, and—and—no doubt ... very probably ... no reason to suppose ... any...." But here his voice sank into an unintelligible murmur, until it rose presently into his first, but not by any means last, snore in the character of monarch.



CHAPTER VI

CARES OF STATE

Queen Selina was as good as her word. The first thing after breakfast the next morning she retired to her Bower, and sent a summons to the Court Godmother, desiring her immediate attendance. King Sidney was engaged in interviewing the Lord Treasurer on the subject of the Royal revenue. The Crown Prince and Princess Edna were strolling on the terrace, and Daphne had discovered the board and pieces of a game something between Chess and Halma, the rules of which she and Princess Ruby were learning under the instruction of the Countess von Haulemaennerschen. So that the Queen, having taken care not to disturb any of her ladies-in-waiting, could count upon being able to deal faithfully with the obnoxious old Fairy without fear of interruption.

"Well, my dear," began the latter, as soon as she appeared, "I hope you passed a comfortable night?"

"I don't know when I passed a more uncomfortable one, Mrs. Fogleplug. That is one of the things I wished to speak to you about. After being accustomed as I have to a spring mattress, all those great feather beds made it simply impossible to get a wink of sleep!"

"That," said the Fairy, "is one of the penalties of being of the blood Royal. An ancestress of yours slept in that very bed, my dear, ages ago, before even I can remember—or I should rather say she tried to sleep, but could not, owing to a pea that had somehow got under the lowest feather-bed of all. It was certainly very careless if the pea has never been removed."

"It would also show, Mrs. Fogleplug, that during all those ages the bed can never have been properly aired. I should have thought it would have been your business to see to that."

"Then you would be entirely mistaken, my dear, for it is not. And, as I notice that you find a difficulty in pronouncing my name correctly, I may suggest that it would be simpler in future to call me by my proper title, which is, 'High Court Godmother,' or 'Court Godmother,' if you prefer it."

"And while we are on the subject of titles," said Queen Selina, "I may mention that it is customary to address a Queen as 'Your Majesty,' and not as 'my dear.'"

"It has always been my habit with Sovereigns, and I have never heard it objected to till now."

"Well, I object to it. But—and this is what I sent for you about—there are other matters I object to even more. I intend to regulate my household on a thoroughly modern and English system, and I cannot have any member of it careering about in the air in outlandish cars drawn by birds. If you must have a conveyance you must be content with a brougham or a victoria, for I shall insist on your putting down both those bird-cars."

"You seem to forget that, but for one of them, you would never have come into your Kingdom!"

"That may or may not be. At any rate there is no further necessity for them, and—well, it just comes to this, Madam, either they go or you do."

The old Fairy's eyes smouldered with anger, and her nut-cracker mouth and chin champed for a few seconds before she replied.

"I have occupied rooms in this Palace—when not at the Palace of Clairdelune—for over a century and a half, and I have no intention of giving them up. I shall also continue to use the vehicles which I find most convenient."

"Oh?" said the Queen, "will you? We shall see about that!"

"We shall," the Court Godmother retorted. "I don't think you quite realise yet whom you have to deal with. I may be getting on in years, but both here and at Clairdelune I am accustomed to being treated with more deference and respect than you seem disposed to pay me. You see, they know that, although I have not used the full powers I possess as a Fairy for many years past, I have not lost them altogether. I might see fit to employ them once more—on any person who was rash enough to incur my displeasure. And ingratitude and pride are the failings which I always made it my particular business to correct. You would find it more to your advantage to be on good terms with me." There was no mistaking the veiled threat, and Queen Selina no longer doubted the Fairy's abilities to carry it out. She was worsted, and her only course was to give in gracefully.

"My dear Court Godmother!" she cried, "you quite misunderstood me! I'd no wish to interfere with any of your habits—not in the very slightest degree. All I meant was that, perhaps, at your age, a more ordinary carriage than your present ones might be—er—safer, you know!"

"I am quite capable of looking after my own safety, thank you. But, though you are our beloved Prince's daughter, you have been brought up in ignorance of the ways of this country, so I am the more willing to overlook treatment to which I feel sure I shall not have to draw your attention again. And now, as we quite understand one another, my dear, we will say no more about it. By the way, I hear you haven't sent for any of your ladies-in-waiting this morning. How is that?"

"I—I didn't quite like to, Court Godmother. We're—well, hardly intimate as yet. They are so reserved and distant—especially that Princess Rapunzelhauser. But, of course, she comes of a very high family."

"She is descended from the famous Rapunzel, whose story is no doubt familiar to you.... No? Well, her father was a poor cottager who was caught by an old witch stealing radishes from her garden. She let him off on condition that he gave up to her the child his wife was expecting. Rapunzel was the child, and in due time was claimed by the witch, who shut her up in a lofty tower. However, she had the most wonderful hair, so long that when she let it down from the top window it touched the ground, and so thick that the Prince whom she subsequently married was able to climb up by it, and make love to her."

"Now you mention it, I have some faint recollection—and so Princess Rapunzelhauser is descended from her! Well, that would account for—but Princess Goldenenfinger—something, now, she does look as if she had some good blood in her veins."

"The best in Maerchenland. An ancestor of hers was King of one of the smaller Kingdoms into which the country was divided in those days. One day when out hunting he found a woodcutter's daughter living all alone in a hollow tree, and fell violently in love with her."

"A woodcutter's daughter? Dear me! Then, of course, marriage was out of the question."

"Not at all! they were married and had children. Unfortunately there was an estrangement between the King and Queen later as she was accused of having murdered them, and condemned to be burnt to death."

"It only shows what a mistake it is to marry beneath one."

"This marriage ended happily. It was discovered, just in time, that the children were alive after all."

"Still," said the Queen, "it is not a pleasant thing to have happened in any family. I should like to hear something about the pedigrees of my other ladies-in-waiting."

The Court Godmother was quite ready to give her all the information she could. Princess Flachspinnenlosburg, it appeared, traced her descent from the incorrigibly lazy daughter of a poor and not over scrupulous mother; Baroness Belohnte von Haulemaennerschen from similarly humble folk, whose daughter was servant of all work to seven dwarfs, and afterwards married the King of one of the petty states before mentioned; Baroness von Bauerngrosstochterheimer's ancestor was a peasant; Countess Gaensehirten am Brunnen's ancestress a goose-girl—and so on through the entire list. Queen Selina then became curious as to the origin of the gentlemen of her Court, and found that many of their forbears were sullied by the taint of Trade. The founders of both Prince Tapfer von Schneiderleinberg's and Count Daumerlingenstamm's houses were tailors; Baron von Bohnenranken derived his title from a speculator who, after a remarkably unsuccessful venture in cattle, had made a colossal coup in beans. As for Prince Hansmeinigel, his pretensions to high descent were even more questionable—at least, if it was actually the fact, as the Fairy stated, that the first of his progenitors was not only the son of a poor father, but also suffered the additional social disadvantage of being a hedgehog from the waist upwards; added to which he seemed to have cherished an eccentric passion for playing the bagpipes while riding on a cock. It is true that, after his marriage with a Princess, he became a less impossible member of Society—still, as the Queen very rightly felt, there are some things which can never be altogether lived down.

"I'm much obliged to you for telling me all this, Court Godmother," she said, at the end; "most interesting, I'm sure. And so useful to know who everybody really is!"

It was something of a disillusion to find that her Court was so largely composed of parvenus, but, on the other hand, it enabled her to face her ladies-in-waiting in future without any distressing sense of inferiority.

She was on the point of summoning them when the King suddenly burst into her bower. "Selina, my love," he began, with suppressed excitement, "if you'll tell this good woman to go, I've something to say to you."

"Oblige me, Sidney," replied the Queen, "by not alluding to the High Court Godmother again as a good woman; we may consider ourselves very fortunate that she is doing us the honour of residing under our roof, and you will be good enough to show her proper respect."

"Oh, sorry, I'm sure; I thought you said—but if that's how it is, I apologise for interrupting you."

"I have said all I have to say," said the Court Godmother, "so there is no need for me to remain any longer." And with that she hobbled out of the room.

"I suppose you got your way about those—ah—bird-chariots, my dear?" he asked, "as you don't seem to have sacked her!"

"She seemed so upset at the idea of giving them up that I said she might keep them. I shall certainly not 'sack' her, as you call it. Now I've come to know her better, I find she is a good, faithful old soul who is much too useful to part with, and you must be very careful to be civil to her in future. What was it you wanted to say to me?"

"The Lord Treasurer and I have been going into our private resources," he said. "I thought perhaps you might like to come with me to my Counting-house and—and have a look at 'em, my dear."

She was only too eager to do so. "Tell me, Sidney," she gasped, as they hurried through various corridors to the wing in which the King's Counting-house was situated. "Shall we—shall we have enough to live on decently?"

"I don't know what you will think," he replied, with an irrepressible chuckle, "but I should call it affluence myself—positive affluence, my love!"

They arrived at a heavily clamped door, where the Marshal, the Treasurer, and Prince Clarence and Princess Edna were waiting for them. "Two steps down," said King Sidney after unlocking the door.

"And here we are!" he cried triumphantly, as they entered.

The Counting-house was a huge barrel-roofed chamber lighted from windows protected by elaborate scroll-work bars. Upon shelves all round the walls, and piled in heaps on the floor, were sacks, "Every blessed one," explained the King, "chock full of gold ducats! What do you think of that, eh, my love?"

"I think, Sidney," she replied, "that I am the person who should have the key."

"There's one for each of us," he said. "Here's yours. And on that table there you'll find purses laid out, and a little gold shovel to fill them with. I've filled mine. Whenever our funds are running low, you see, we've only to come down here and help ourselves."

"Good biz!" said the Crown Prince, beginning to fill one of the purses. "I shall fill my pockets as well—save another journey, what?"

"Some of us do not possess pockets, Clarence," said his mother. "And I must make it a rule that no one is to take out more than a purseful at a time, and only after satisfying me that the money is required for some legitimate purpose."

"I don't think such precautions are at all necessary, my dear," said King Sidney. "Marshal Federhelm seems to have put by a good deal while he was Regent. And besides, there's plenty more where this comes from, you know!"

"And where does it come from?" inquired the Queen.

"Why, the Treasurer tells me, we've a mine of our own in the Golden Mountains a few miles from here—a mine that is practically—ah—inexhaustible. I rather thought of driving over to see it some day."

"Let's all go!" said the Crown Prince. "Why not this afternoon? It'll be something to do!"

Queen Selina was pleased to approve the suggestion. "We certainly ought to show that we are interested in industrial concerns," she said. "All the best Sovereigns do. I can't help wishing, though, that poor dear Papa could have come with us. He knew so much about gold mines."

"Just as well for us he can't," said Clarence, "because he'd be the Boss, then! I say, I've got an idea. Why not take one of those sacks in the coach with us and chuck money out of the window to the crowd, what?"

"Look too much as if we were out for a beanfeast, my boy," objected his father.

"And what's the matter with a beanfeast? Believe me, it will make us jolly popular and be a lot better fun than just bowing to the blighters."

"And far less fatiguing," said Edna.

"There's something in what Clarence says," said the Queen. "It would increase our popularity—and that is so important. Of course we shouldn't make a practice of it, but we can quite afford it, just for once—what do you think, Mr. Marshal?"

The Marshal thought it was an excellent notion.

The Golden Mountains were not much more than a couple of leagues from Eswareinmal, and the roads being tolerably good, a lighter vehicle than the State Coach and six sturdy horses accomplished the journey in very good time. In the streets they passed through and at various villages along the valley, crowds had collected, and the enthusiasm with which they scrambled for the coins that were showered from the carriage windows proved how fully they appreciated the benefits of an established Monarchy.

"Don't throw any more now, children," counselled Queen Selina as they neared the mine. "We must keep some for the dear miners. Sidney, be sure to ask some questions about the machinery, and whether they're all happy and comfortable. And do it tactfully, because I've always heard miners are such a very independent and intelligent class."

Perhaps even so short a residence in Maerchenland as theirs might have prepared the Royal party for the unusual. But it was an undeniable shock to them all to find, on arrival at the mine, not only that the method of working was primitive to the last degree, but that it was entirely conducted by diminutive beings who were unmistakable Yellow Gnomes. The interior of the mine resounded with the blows of pickaxes, but the inevitable trumpeters had no sooner announced that the Sovereigns had left their coach than all work was suspended. The miners swarmed up from their tunnellings, literally tumbling over one another in their haste to behold the countenances of Royalty.

"They seem—ah—a remarkable lively lot," observed King Sidney as some of the Gnomes turned somersaults and Catherine wheels around their visitors, while the more retiring stood unassumingly in the background on their heads. "A bit undersized, and, judging from their complexions, I should say the work had affected their livers. But it may only be due to the gold-dust."

"They don't seem to realise a bit who we are!" complained Queen Selina. "Sidney, did you see that? One of the little wretches has just taken a flying leap over my very head!"

The Baron, who had followed in another coach, explained that these demonstrations were merely intended to express loyal delight.

"Oh, if you say so, Baron," she said. "But anyone might easily mistake it for impertinence. If it was not hopeless to expect an intelligent answer from people who seem unable to stay right side up for a single moment, I should like to know what wages they receive and what they live on."

The Court Chamberlain informed her that the Gnomes got no wages and required little in the way of food, their favourite diet, he believed, being earth.

"Revolting!" was her comment. "No wonder they look so unwell! Still, their living cannot cost much, so I should think, Sidney, if we gave the—er—foreman a gold piece to be divided amongst them, that would be amply sufficient."

King Sidney thereupon presented a ducat to the most important-looking Gnome, who immediately let it drop indifferently.

"Wonder why he did that?" said the King. "Doesn't he think it's enough?"

"Knows too much about how it's made, I expect," said Clarence. "Like the chap at the Marmalade factory."

"Well, it's a pity to waste it," said his father, picking up the coin. "I should like to see them at work before we go."

His wish having been conveyed to the Head Gnome, the whole band rushed, yelping and screeching, back into the galleries, seized their picks, and began hacking at the gold which gleamed in veins of incredible richness through the rocky walls and roof of the caves. But perhaps their efforts would have been more effective if they had not been quite so apt to get in one another's way.

The visitors then inspected the furnace where the ore was melted, and the Mint where it was stamped into big fat coins. These were put up in sacks for transmission to the Royal Treasury, but, as a fresh batch had been delivered only recently, the supply in hand at the Mint was not very large just then.

"I did like those Gnomes!" said Princess Ruby on the way home. "Didn't you, Mummy?"

"I should have liked them better, my dear, if they had been more like fellow-Christians. Sidney, I shall insist on their wearing some civilised costume."

"By all means, my love, if we continue to employ them. But I rather think it would be better to get rid of them altogether."

"Get rid of them, Sidney? What in the world for?"

"Well, you see, my dear, at the last General Election I took a somewhat prominent part in denouncing the Conservatives for employing Chinese labour in the South African mines. It would be very awkward if people at Gablehurst found out that our entire income was derived from—er—'Yellow Slavery.'"

"Stuff and nonsense, Sidney! Who do you suppose is likely to tell them?"

"You never know how things get about," he said uneasily. "And, as a consistent Radical, it—it goes against my conscience."

"Conscience, indeed! My dear good Sidney, if you go and get rid of those Gnomes, who seem perfectly happy and contented, there'll be no one to dig the gold!"

"We could hire full-grown white labourers, my dear. Of course at a living wage, but, as they would work more systematically, they would obtain a far larger output, so we should make a handsome profit by the change."

"Ah, when you put it like that, Sidney, it makes all the difference. I could see for myself that those hideous little horrors weren't taking their work seriously."

"There's to be a State Council to-morrow morning," said the King. "It would be a good opportunity to inform them that we do not intend to countenance slavery any longer."

"That ought to have an excellent effect," Queen Selina replied. "I shouldn't wonder if it made us more popular than ever.... Why, we're back in the city already!... How delighted the dear people seem to see us!... Yes, Children, you can empty the sack. The love of one's subjects is well worth the money—and it's not as if we were ever likely to miss it!"

The next morning after breakfast the King and Queen held their first State Council, Prince Clarence, of whose business capacity both his parents had a great opinion, being given a seat at the board. There were, it appeared, various measures on the agenda which, as the President explained, were of the highest political importance, being concerned with the settlement of such matters as the precise number of cherries that were to be strung on a stick and sold for a groschen at old women's fruit-stalls; the dimensions of the piece of jam that a huckster should be permitted to put in his porridge; whether the watchmen's horns really needed new mouthpieces, and, if so, whether these should be of ivory or bone. Questions which had to be given the fullest consideration and debated at prodigious length before the Sovereigns could be asked to affix their signatures and seals to the decrees.

Clarence fidgeted with undisguised impatience, and King Sidney was more than once under the necessity of raising the golden hand at the end of his sceptre to his lips in order to conceal an irrepressible yawn. But at last the state business was disposed of, and the King was able to introduce his own. It was clear from the vehement wagging of the Councillors' white beards while he was announcing the Royal intention to emancipate all Gnomes at present in the Gold mine, that they regarded the new departure with no great favour. The President himself, although he admitted that it concerned the Sovereigns more closely than any other person, pointed out certain objections which he begged their Majesties to ponder. And Councillor after Councillor rose and protested against the scheme with the utmost solemnity and prolixity.

Queen Selina, who was now far more eager than the King to have the mine reorganised on a more paying principle, would have answered the critics herself, if Clarence had not induced her to leave the reply in his hands.

"Well," he said, rising, "have you all done? No other gentleman wish to hear himself talk?... All right then. Now I'll have my little say. Of course, what the venerable old Father Christmas in the chair told you was perfectly correct. If we choose to set these little beggars free, it's no business of anybody but ourselves. The Guv'nor—that is to say, his Majesty—was merely telling you about it—not asking what you thought about it. Sorry if you don't approve, but we shall get over it in time. And really, your objections, if you won't mind my saying so, are absolutely footling. All they amount to is—because Gold Mines here always have been worked by gangs of Yellow Gnomes, therefore they must be for all time. Now that's just the kind of fine old crusted pig-headed Conservativism that's kept this the stick-in-the-mud Country it is! Look at the sort of business you've been wasting our time in jawing about to-day—why, in the country We came from, a Rural District Council would have settled it all in five minutes if they thought it worth bothering about at all. Street lanterns and watchmen's horns and old women's sweet-stalls indeed! If you could only walk through—I won't say one of our Cities, that might be too much of a shock for you—but through an ordinary suburb such as we lived in, and saw how things were done there, it would open your eyes a bit, I can tell you! You've been marking time all these centuries while other Kingdoms have been making progress. I'll tell you about some of the things we've learnt to do and use, just as an ordinary matter of course—and you haven't so much as heard of."

Here he gave them a vivid description of the chief inventions and discoveries of the last eighty years, from the steam-engine to the aeroplane, which latter, he declared, put their sixty-stork-power car completely in the shade.

"If it is the fact," said the President, "that the inhabitants of your Royal Highness's Country can work such marvels, you must be even mightier magicians than were they whom our late King so wisely suppressed."

"You're wrong there, old bird!" said Clarence cheerfully; "no Magic about it whatever. All done by brains and enterprise, but—and this is what I am trying to knock into your heads—if we'd been governed by a set of stuffy old fossils like yourselves—if you'll allow me the expression—we should never have got a blessed thing so much as started!"

Many, if not most of the Council were sceptical as to the possibility of such inventions as Clarence had described, but the good old Baron assured them that, even during the short time he was in England, and although it was night, he had witnessed many of them with his own eyes, thanks to the powerful illuminants which made darkness almost as light as day. He exhorted his hearers to count themselves fortunate in having gained Sovereigns who possessed such wondrous powers, since their faithful subjects would assuredly now enjoy the benefits of them.

"Aye," said the ex-Regent—though possibly not in such good faith as the Baron. "We shall indeed have reason to congratulate ourselves if his Royal Highness will graciously teach us how to construct one of these fire-and-smoke-breathing engines that draw a line of waggons along roads of iron, or even a mast that will send messages through a thousand leagues of air."

"You don't want much, do you, dear old boy?" said Clarence. "You don't suppose I can show you how to build a railway train when you haven't got any of the bally materials or appliances, do you?"

"Your Royal Highness has but to name them, and they shall be procured."

"They're not to be got here," replied Clarence. "If I tried to tell you what they were, you wouldn't be any the wiser!" He spoke nothing but the truth, for he had but the sketchiest acquaintance with the composition of any kind of machinery.

"Perhaps His Majesty," suggested the Marshal, who had long ago taken King Sidney's measure, "is better able to instruct us in these mighty secrets?"

"H'm, well, to tell you the truth," confessed the King, "although I've been in the habit of using railways, motors, electric light, telephones, and so forth constantly, I can't pretend to more than a general notion of how they work. Couldn't make any of 'em, you know. Not my line of business!"

"If that is indeed the case," said the President, "we find it the more difficult to understand why his Royal Highness should have reproached us for an ignorance which is no greater than either his own or your Majesty's."

"I wasn't reproaching you," said the Crown Prince, a little awkwardly, "I was only telling you how differently things are managed where we come from. But after all, that isn't the point, so we'll say no more about it. Let's get back to the Gnomes. One of you—I think it was the gentleman with the grey topknot—objected that there was no other useful way of employing them, except in the mine. Well, of course, we've thought all that out," he declared, though, as a matter of fact, the idea had only just struck him. "We intend to set 'em to work at laying out a golf links, and when they've done that, we shall keep 'em on as caddies. They're such nippy little devils that they ought to be jolly useful.... Ah, naturally, you wouldn't know what Golf is. Well, Golf happens to be a thing I do know something about. I can teach you that right enough. It's simply the greatest game going, and you'll be grateful to me for introducing it. Don't worry," he added, as some of the Council expressed dissent, "nobody's asking you to learn unless you like. I shouldn't say myself that any of you—except perhaps the Marshal—was very likely to shape into a 'plus' man. I fancy he's got the makings of a golfer in him, though, and, once I've got the course laid out and given him a lesson or two, I bet you'll see he'll be as keen as mustard."

Before the Council broke up, the ex-Regent undertook that, as soon as Clarence had selected the ground, the Gnomes should be removed from their present quarters, and placed under the Crown Prince's directions.

"Never again, Sidney," declared the Queen afterwards, "will you and I sit through one of those tiresome councils! We'll leave them to manage their own silly business, and if there's anything that requires our signatures, they can bring the papers to us, and we'll sign them in our own rooms. If there should be any difficulty, we can always ask the Marshal—he's so very sympathetic and helpful."

"Very," said the King, "oh, very—that is, I half fancied now and then—but I believe he means us well. Yes, on the whole, my dear, I think he's a person we can trust."

"You needn't think about it, Sidney," she replied; "you can feel absolutely certain that there's nothing that man wouldn't do for us!"



CHAPTER VII

A GAME THEY DID NOT UNDERSTAND

With regard to the Royal visit to the Gold Mine, it should be mentioned that, on returning to the Palace, the Queen and Princess Ruby had met Daphne in one of the galleries. Ruby ran to her impulsively: "Oh, Miss Heritage!" she cried, "we've had a ripping afternoon. Such fun throwing money to the people, and seeing them scramble for it! We saw the Gold Mine. And all the darling little Gnomes! You would have loved them! I do wish you had come with us!"

"I fully intended to have arranged for you to do so, Miss Heritage," said Queen Selina, with unwonted graciousness. "But with so much to think of——! Do you happen to know where my other ladies-in-waiting are?... In the Tapestry Chamber? Then I must get you to show me to it, for I don't know my way yet about this immense house.... Through here? Yes, you will accompany me—in fact, I particularly desire you to be present."

At her entrance the Maids of Honour all rose from their seats and made obeisances which, but for the Court Godmother's revelations of their ancestries, would have occasioned their Sovereign agonies of embarrassment. But she felt she could face them now without mauvaise honte, and indeed with all the assurance of superiority.

"You may sit down, girls," she said, and although they found it hard to believe at first that they could be the persons thus addressed, they sat down.

"And what are you all about?" she inquired. "Embroidery, is it? The pattern seems rather large.... Oh, tapestry? I see. I prefer a bright, cheerful paper on the walls to any tapestry myself. Only collects dust. Now if you were to knit some warm woollen jerseys for those wretched little Gnomes, who are really in want of them, you would be doing something useful. But that wasn't what I—ah, to be sure, I remember now. I looked in to tell you, girls, that I have appointed Miss Heritage here as my First Lady-in-waiting. You will be careful to address her in future as 'Lady Daphne,' and treat her in all respects as your equal in rank.... I don't know why you should look so surprised." (If they did, it was merely that any such recommendation should be thought necessary.) "Miss Heritage's parentage may, it is true, be obscure—but not more so, from all I have been told, than that of most of your own ancestresses. Indeed, I am much mistaken if she has not a better claim to be considered a lady than any of them. Not that I think mere birth of any importance myself, but I object to people giving themselves airs without some real ground for it. I am not alluding to Lady Daphne, whom I have always found perfectly well-behaved and unpretentious."

This was not perhaps the surest way of endearing Daphne to her new companions, but then Queen Selina was less concerned to effect that than to make them pay for the excessive deference she had so mistakenly shown them in the past.

However, in their simplicity it had never occurred to them that they had any cause to be ashamed of their descent, and so they never imagined that their Royal Mistress could insult them with it, and her shafts missed the target.

Fortunately for Daphne, too, she was already the object of a secret schwaermerei that left no room in their sentimental bosoms for jealousy or ill-feeling.

But, not being aware of this as yet, she was rendered only unhappy by this sudden rise in the Royal favour. Her one consolation was the certainty that it would not be very long before she was again in disgrace.

On the afternoon of the day on which the State Council had been held, the Crown Prince explored the surrounding country with a view to selecting a golf course.

He found a district which was in every way suitable for his purpose—a stretch of undulating land in a valley behind the plateau on which the Palace stood, abounding in natural hazards, and affording great facilities for artificial ones—in short, an ideal site for any links. He began laying it out the next morning. The Gnomes were brought out of the mine and conducted to the spot. The general idea was conveyed to a Gnome who seemed, on the whole, less devoid of intelligence than his fellows, and they all set to work with more activity than immediate result. However, they seemed to take kindly to their new industry, and Clarence was very well pleased with them. He had had no experience in golf-architecture himself, but the nature of the ground was such that it required but little to turn it into a very sporting course indeed, and, if the Gnomes did not do much else, they constructed some remarkably cunning bunkers.

While they were thus engaged he ordered several sets of clubs to be made from rough designs of his own by a master artificer in Eswareinmal, who carried them out with considerable skill and fidelity. The implements he produced may not have been quite according to Club standards, but they were fairly serviceable. The balls seemed at first likely to be the main difficulty, but some were discovered on the toy-stalls in the market square which, though not of rubber, were composed of a substance that proved an admirable substitute. They were certainly open to one objection that, in ordinary circumstances, might have disqualified them—they cost considerably under a farthing each. But Clarence got over that by paying a ducat apiece for them. And then, as the work progressed but slowly, he was forced to wait with what patience he could until the links were ready for practising on.

It does not take long for most people to get accustomed to any surroundings, no matter how novel, and Queen Selina and her family soon became acclimatised. Now that her household had lost their terrors for her, she began to enjoy the sensation of being a Queen and inspiring reverence and awe wherever she went, though she could have wished to be the ruler of a Kingdom that was not quite so outre as Maerchenland. However, she felt she must take it as it was, and in a short time she had almost forgotten that there ever had been a period when she had not occupied a throne.

Princess Edna, though she frequently protested that her rank had no charms for her, was ready enough to assert it on all occasions, and exercised authority over the unfortunate ladies-in-waiting to a degree that might have rendered their lives a burden to them if they had been able to take her as seriously as she did herself, which they were not.

"Mother," she remarked one day, "I've been quite shocked to find how appallingly ignorant our Maids of Honour are. Fancy, they've never heard of Shakespeare, or Ibsen, or Bernard Shaw, or—well, anybody!"

"My dear," said the Queen, "what can you expect from such a set of giggling, empty-headed minxes?"

"I know. Still, I feel it a duty to do what I can to improve their minds. I shall bring down my note-book this afternoon. It's got all my notes on those lectures on English Literature I attended last Autumn. I thought I'd read them aloud to them. It would give them a very good general idea of the subject. Enough, at least, to enable them to talk about it without exposing themselves."

"I'm sure, Edna dear, it's most sweet of you to trouble about them."

"Oh, since I have to live with a Court, I must try and raise it to a more intellectual level."

And so that afternoon, while the ladies of the Court were engaged, under the Queen's supervision, in knitting little woollen garments of shattering hues for the unsuspecting Gnomes, the Princess Royal produced her note-book and read aloud extracts which gave an impressionist bird's-eye view of English Literature from the fourteenth to the close of the nineteenth Century.

No doubt the lecturer had given his audience credit for some previous acquaintance with the subject, and it may be that Princess Edna's method of note-taking had been a trifle desultory; it was certain that the ladies-in-waiting found a difficulty in assimilating the scraps of literary pemmican she dispensed to them.

They received with polite but languid attention such items as that: "Shakespeare stands supreme among dramatists for consummate knowledge of the human heart"; that: "as Ralph Roister Doister is the first pure comedy, so The Vicar of Wakefield may be termed the first idyllic English novel"; that: "while Byron possessed more intellect than imagination, Shelley, on the contrary, was rather imaginative than intellectual"; and even the statement that: "Browning's 'Ring and the Book' contains upwards of twenty-one thousand lines" left them unmoved.

It is true they were more interested in hearing that it was: "after he had come under the spell of Petrarch and Boccaccio that Chaucer produced his wondrous Tales," but it appeared their interest was due to some slight misapprehension. Daphne felt the fearful joy of suppressed mirth combined with the danger of detection as she heard Edna explaining with laborious patience that she had not intended to convey that the Poet had been afflicted by a pair of enchanters with any caudal appendages whatever.

But the Princess Royal could not conceal her disgust when her final extract, which was to the effect that: "during the closing decade of the Nineteenth Century England became once more a 'nest of singing birds,' as was apparent from the stream of fresh and melodious strains issuing from, among other sources, 'The Bodley Head,'" was greeted with a ripple of girlish laughter from her hearers. It seemed that this incontrovertible statement of fact had somehow aroused reminiscences of another head which, if fresh, had not been precisely melodious on the luncheon board after the Coronation.

Princess Edna waited with cold dignity until the last giggle was no longer audible before announcing that she was willing to answer any questions they might wish to ask her. Upon which Baroness Kluge von Bauerngrosstochterheimer begged that they might be favoured with the outline of one of the romances written by the Poet Shakespeare, who they had been informed by her was so unsurpassed as a story-teller.

Now Edna was undoubtedly well versed in the Literature of her native land. She could not only have given with tolerable accuracy the names and dates of the principal authors of each century, but a list of their best-known works, and an estimate of the rank assigned to them by modern criticism. She had even, impelled by an almost morbid conscientiousness, consulted the works themselves, and could honestly assert that she had read every single play of Shakespeare's all through, though her private preference was for a more advanced and psychological form of drama.

And yet on this occasion she chose to parry the Baroness's very reasonable request. "Shakespeare," she said, in her most superior tone, "did not write romances. He wrote plays."

"Will your Royal Highness please," said the Baroness, "to tell us about one of them?"

For the life of her Edna could not just then summon up a clear recollection of the plot of any Shakespearian comedy or tragedy—and it is quite possible that there are many persons as highly educated as she who might be equally at a loss.

"With so prolific a writer as Shakespeare," she hedged, "it is difficult to single out any particular play."

She was so plainly embarrassed that Daphne felt impelled to come to the rescue.

"I think, Ma'am," she said, "they would like the story of The Merchant of Venice!"

"I should hardly call it suitable myself to such an audience as this," replied Edna, who was possibly confusing it with Othello. "No, Miss Heritage, I really think something less—less objectionable would be—There's As you like it, now, quite a pleasant play. I think I can remember the outline of that. Let me see. Yes, it's about a girl called "Rosalind," who dressed up as a boy and ran away into a forest, where she met Ferdinand—or was it Bassanio?—anyway, the name is of no consequence. Well, and he carved her name on all the trees, and so they fell in love, and in the end they were married, you know."

As drama this appeared to strike the ladies-in-waiting as lacking in incident, and the Baroness von Haulemaennerschen openly declared that an ancestress of hers who also ran away into a forest had the far more exciting experience of being poisoned by a jealous Queen and enclosed by dwarfs in a glass coffin.

"Oh, very well!" said Edna; "if you are going to compare your own silly traditions with works of genius, I give you up as hopeless!"

And this was the beginning and the end of the Princess Royal's attempt to infuse Culture into Court Circles.

She had certainly failed signally to inspire her ladies with any enthusiasm for English Literature, though, strangely enough, Daphne succeeded later in giving them a more favourable impression of its quality.

Edna was, of course, incomparably more widely read, but then Daphne knew such authors as she had read well enough to be able to give a very full and clear account of her favourite books, and to repeat many of her best loved poems from memory.

It is quite possible that much of the pleasure her companions took in hearing her do so was due to her own personality. They were not, it must be confessed, a highly intellectual or cultivated set of young women, but one and all regarded Daphne with a whole-hearted adoration which would have given Princess Edna, had she condescended to notice it, a lower opinion than ever of their intelligence.

The links were at last in a sufficiently advanced stage for practice at the first nine of the eighteen holes, and Clarence undertook to instruct the Marshal in the mysteries of the game. The Marshal, though slightly handicapped by insisting on playing in a breastplate and high boots, was so much encouraged by the success which most beginners at golf experience that he at once became an ardent votary. He tried to make converts of the Courtiers, but they preferred to keep an open mind and remain spectators for the present.

Prince Tapfer von Schneiderleinberg indeed went so far as to say that golf seemed to him to be without the element of danger which all genuine sport should possess. He modified that opinion, it is true, after incautiously standing close behind the Marshal when he was driving off from the tee, but it did not alter his prejudices against the game.

King Sidney practised most assiduously in private, and found he improved in his driving under Clarence's tuition. The Gnomes had been established in a kind of compound near the links, but their unfortunate tendency to bolt with the club-bags and purloin every ball they found rather impaired their usefulness as caddies. Marshal Federhelm treated his with regrettable inhumanity.

There was still a good deal of "ground under repair" on the course, but the day was drawing near when the links could be formally opened. The Marshal was anxious to celebrate the occasion by challenging his Royal Master to play him a single, a challenge which was conveyed through the Crown Prince.

"Well, what do you think, my boy," asked King Sidney. "Can I beat him?"

"I think you ought to, Guv'nor. He fancies himself at it—but he's pretty rotten."

"In that case, you can tell him I accept," said the King.

But on the morning before the day, Clarence, after watching his parent top and slice and foozle through a whole round without intermission, became less sanguine.

"I tell you what it is, Guv'nor," he said, frankly, "the Marshal's been shaping a bit better these last few days, and it's my belief he can give you a stroke a hole and win easy."

"After all," said the King, "I'm not sure there isn't a certain loss of dignity—playing with my own subject, don't you know."

"It won't do to let him lick you, certainly," agreed Clarence.

"Quite so, my boy, quite so. I was thinking—I might be prevented by sudden business—I could go and sit with the Council, you know."

"He'd only want you to fix another day for playing him. It's no use, Guv'nor, you can't get out of it now. Perhaps you'd do better if you played with a different sort of ball. I must see if I can't get you one or two."

And that evening he brought his father half a dozen. "They're specially marked," he said, "so you can't make a mistake over them, and I fancy you'll find they travel better than any of the Marshal's."

"You've got those golf balls I gave you?" he asked the King at breakfast next morning. "Mind you don't forget to take 'em."

"I shan't forget, my boy. But what I'm most troubled about is my swing—there's something wrong with it, only I can't find out what."

"I think it a great pity myself," said Queen Selina, "that you ever agreed to play this match at all. If you are beaten it will certainly lower your prestige. But I am sure the dear Marshal has too much tact not to let you win."

"Don't you worry, Mater," said Clarence. "The Guv'nor's going to win on his own, hands down!"

"I sincerely hope so. It will be a sad blow to the Throne if he does not."

These remarks did not help much to steady King Sidney's nerves when he met the Marshal on the links, where, as Monarch, he naturally had the honour. A large crowd of onlookers from the Court had collected, and the players had decided to dispense with caddies under the circumstances.

The first hole was only about a hundred and sixty yards; a deep gully lay between, and on either side of the approach were beds of tall rushes.

King Sidney addressed his ball for some time in agonising indecision before he finally drove off. A cloud of sand rose; the ball was nowhere to be seen, and, taught by experience, he looked behind for it.

"Jolly good shot!" cried Clarence. "Right on the green!"

"Is it, my boy?" said the King. "I can't see it there myself."

"No more can I," Clarence owned, "but I bet you what you like you're on the pretty, anyway. Your drive, Marshal."

The Marshal smote a mighty blow, and his ball likewise vanished. Clarence was of opinion that it had gone over the boundary, but the Marshal was so certain that it was on the green that he declined to search for it.

"Funny," said Clarence disappointedly, as they neared the pin, "I don't see your ball anywhere, Pater. Nor yet the Marshal's."

"I fancy mine isn't very far away, my boy," said the King hopefully.

One of the Courtiers who had gone to the hole, called out to say that he could see a ball marked with a Royal Crown wedged in by the pin.

"By George, Guv'nor!" cried Clarence, "you've holed it in one!"

"Ah," said King Sidney, "I thought I'd got the right direction."

But the next moment both of them were depressed by the announcement that the Marshal's ball had also landed in the hole. The Courtier had naturally mentioned his Sovereign's achievement first, but there could be no possible doubt that the Marshal had succeeded in equalling it.

To have holed out at a hundred and sixty yards is not by any means an unprecedented feat, but that two players should have done it in succession was at least a rather remarkable coincidence. It was a severe disappointment to the King, who had serious doubts of his own ability to repeat such a performance.

The next hole was a long one, some six hundred yards, over undulating land with patches of bog; the green was on a hillock protected by artfully devised bunkers, and the approach was full of difficulties.

The Marshal was given the honour, and, as before, none could follow the flight of his ball, though he declared with the greatest confidence that it was straight for the green. King Sidney's drive did not look very promising, but Clarence assured him that it was probably a longer one than he thought.

But neither player could locate his ball as they trudged on, and, though it seemed unlikely that either could have reached the green, they did not stop to search on the way to it. Still, when they arrived there each of them was obviously astonished by the discovery that the other had holed out once more. Even had the distance been less, it seemed to them that this was stretching the long arm of coincidence almost too far, but they did not say so; in fact, they both thought it wiser to abstain from any comment at all. The next hole was some three hundred and fifty yards, with several extremely tricky hazards, but, contrary to all reasonable expectations, both King Sidney and the Marshal distinguished themselves by doing it in one.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse