WHEN the ladies left, and the prince and the other gentlemen were alone, the ambassador appeared more gloomy than ever. At last he took the prince into a corner, on pretence of showing him a rare statue.
“Does your royal highness not know,” he asked, “that you are in considerable danger?”
“Still?” said the prince, thinking of the Firedrake.
The ambassador did not know what he meant, for he had never heard of the fight, but he answered gravely:
“Never more than now.”
Then he showed the prince two proclamations, which had been posted all about the town.
Here is the first:
TO ALL LOYAL SUBJECTS.Whereas,
Our eldest son, Prince Prigio, hath of late been guilty of several high crimes and misdemeanours.
First: By abandoning the post of danger against the Firedrake, whereby our beloved sons, Prince Alphonso and Prince Enrico, have perished, and been overdone by that monster.
Secondly: By attending an unseemly revel in the town of Gluckstein, where he brawled in the streets.
Thirdly: By trying to seduce away the hearts of our loyal subjects in that city, and to blow up a party against our crown and our peace.
This is to give warning,
That whoever consorts with, comforts, aids, or abets the said Prince Prigio, is thereby a partner in his treason; and
That a reward of FIVE THOUSAND PURSES will be given to whomsoever brings the said prince, alive, to our Castle of Falkenstein.
And here is the second proclamation:
Our dominions have lately been devastated by a Firedrake (the Salamander Furiosus of Buffon);
This is to advise all,
That whosoever brings the horns and tail of the said Firedrake to our Castle of Falkenstein, shall receive FIVE THOUSAND PURSES, the position of Crown Prince, with the usual perquisites, and the hand of the king’s niece, the Lady Molinda.
“H’m,” said the prince; “I did not think his majesty wrote so well;” and he would have liked to say, “Don’t you think we might join the ladies.”
“But, sir,” said the ambassador, “the streets are lined with soldiers; and I know not how you have escaped them. Here, under my roof, you are safe for the moment; but a prolonged stay—excuse my inhospitality—could not but strain the harmonious relations which prevail between the Government of Pantouflia and that which I have the honour to represent.”
“We don’t want to fight; and no more, I think, do you,” said the prince, smiling.
“Then how does your royal highness mean to treat the proclamations?”
“Why, by winning these ten thousand purses. I can tell you £1,000,000 is worth having,” said the prince. “I’ll deliver up the said prince, alive, at Falkenstein this very night; also the horns and tail of the said Firedrake. But I don’t want to marry my Cousin Molly.”
“May I remind your royal highness that Falkenstein is three hundred miles away? Moreover, my head butler, Benson, disappeared from the house before dinner, and I fear he went to warn Captain Kopzoffski that you are here!”
“That is nothing,” said the prince; “but, my dear Lord Kelso, may I not have the pleasure of presenting Lady Rosalind with a little gift, a Philippine which I lost to her last night, merely the head and tail of a Firedrake which I stalked this morning?”
The ambassador was so astonished that he ran straight upstairs, forgetting his manners, and crying:
“Linda! Linda! come down at once; here’s a surprise for you!”
Lady Rosalind came sweeping down, with a smile on her kind face. She guessed what it was, though the prince had said nothing about it at dinner.
“Lead the way, your royal highness!” cried the ambassador; and the prince, offering Lady Rosalind his arm, went out into the hall, where he saw neither his carpet nor the horns and tail of the Firedrake!
He turned quite pale, and said:
“Will you kindly ask the servants where the little Persian prayer-rug and the parcel which I brought with me have been placed?”
Lord Kelso rang the bell, and in came all the servants, with William, the under-butler, at their head.
“William,” said his lordship, “where have you put his royal highness’s parcel and his carpet?”
“Please, your lordship,” said William, “we think Benson have took them away with him.”
“And where is Benson?”
“We don’t know, your lordship. We think he have been come for!”
“Come for—by whom?”
William stammered, and seemed at a loss for a reply.
“Quick! answer! what do you know about it?”
William said at last, rather as if he were making a speech:
“Your royaliness, and my lords and ladies, it was like this. His royaliness comed in with a rug over his arm, and summat under it. And he lays it down on that there seat, and Thomas shows him into the droring-room. Then Benson says: ‘Dinner’ll be ready in five minutes; how tired I do feel!’ Then he takes the libbuty of sitting hisself down on his royaliness’s rug, and he says, asking your pardon, ‘I ’ve had about enough of service here. I’m about tired, and I thinks of bettering myself. I wish I was at the king’s court, and butler.’
But before the words was out of his mouth, off he flies like a shot through the open door, and his royaliness’s parcel with him. I run to the door, and there he was, flying right hover the town, in a northerly direction. And that’s all I know; for I would not tell a lie, not if it was hever so. And me, and Thomas—as didn’t see it,—and cook, we thinks as how Benson was come for. And cook says as she don’t wonder at it, neither; for a grumblinger, more ill-conditioneder—”
“Thank you, William,” said Lord Kelso; “that will do; you can go, for the present.”