The King Explains.

THE first who recovered his voice and presence of mind was Benson.

“Did your lordship ring for coffee?” he asked, quietly; and when he was told “Yes,” he bowed and withdrew, with majestic composure.

When he had gone, the prince threw himself at the king’s feet, crying:

“Pardon, pardon, my liege!”

“Don’t speak to me, sir!” answered the king, very angrily; and the poor prince threw himself at the feet of the queen.

But she took no notice of him whatever, no more than if he had been a fairy; and the prince heard her murmur, as she pinched her royal arms:

“I shall waken presently; this is nothing out of the way for a dream. Dr. Rumpfino ascribes it to imperfect nutrition.”

All this time, the Lady Rosalind, as pale as a marble statue, was leaning against the side of the open window. The prince thought he could do nothing wiser than go and comfort her, so he induced her to sit down on a chair in the balcony,—for he felt that he was not wanted in the drawing-room;—and soon they were talking happily about the stars, which had begun to appear in the summer night.

Meanwhile, the ambassador had induced the king to take a seat; but there was no use in talking to the queen.

“It would be a miracle,” she said to herself, “and miracles do not happen; therefore this has not happened. Presently, I shall wake up in my own bed at Falkenstein.”

Now, Benson, William, and Thomas brought in the coffee, but the queen took no notice. When they went away, the rest of the company slipped off quietly, and the king was left alone with the ambassador; for the queen could hardly be said to count.

“You want to know all about it, I suppose?” said his majesty, in a sulky voice. “Well, you have a right to it, and I shall tell you. We were just sitting down to dinner at Falkenstein, rather late,—hours get later every year, I think—when I heard a row in the premises, and the captain of the guard, Colonel McDougal, came and told us that a man had arrived with the horns and tail of the Firedrake, and was claiming the reward. Her majesty and I rose and went into the outer court, where we found, sitting on that carpet with a glass of beer in his hand, a respectable-looking upper servant, whom I recognised as your butler. He informed us that he had just killed the beast, and showed us the horns and tail, sure enough; there they are! The tail is like the iron handle of a pump, but the horns are genuine. A pair were thrown up by a volcano, in my great-grandfather’s time, Giglio I.* Excellent coffee this, of yours!”

a respectable-looking upper servant

The ambassador bowed.

“Well, we asked him where he killed the Firedrake, and he said in a garden near Gluckstein. Then he began to speak about the reward, and the ‘perkisits,’ as he called them, which it seems he had read about in my proclamation. Rather a neat thing; drew it up myself,” added his majesty.

“Very much to the point,” said the ambassador, wondering what the king was coming to.

“Glad you like it,” said the king, much pleased. “Well, where was I? Oh, yes; your man said he had killed the creature in a garden, quite near Gluckstein. I didn’t much like the whole affair: he is an alien, you see; and then there was my niece, Molinda—poor girl, she was certain to give trouble. Her heart is buried, if I may say so, with poor Alphonso. But the queen is a very remarkable woman—very remarkable— ”

“Very!” said the Ambassador, with perfect truth.

“‘Caitiff!’” she cries to your butler;” his majesty went on, “‘perjured knave, thou liest in thy throat! Gluckstein is a hundred leagues from here, and how sayest thou that thou slewest the monster, and earnest hither in a few hours’ space? ’ This had not occurred to me,—I am a plain king, but I at once saw the force of her majesty’s argument. ‘Yes,’ said I; ‘how did you manage it?’ But he—your man, I mean—was not a bit put out. ‘Why, your majesty,’ says he, ‘I just sat down on that there bit of carpet, wished I was here, and here I ham. And I’d be glad, having had the trouble,—and my time not being my own,—to see the colour of them perkisits, according to the proclamation.’ On this her majesty grew more indignant, if possible. ‘Nonsense!’ she cried; ‘a story out of the Arabian Nights is not suited for a modern public, and fails to win æsthetic credence.’ These were her very words.”

“Her majesty’s expressions are ever choice and appropriate,” said the Ambassador.

“‘Sit down there, on the carpet, knave,’ she went on; ‘ourself and consort’—meaning me—‘will take our places by thy side, and I shall wish us in Gluckstein, at thy master’s! When the experiment has failed, thy head shall from thy shoulders be shorn!’ So your man merely said, ‘Very well, mum,—your majesty, I mean,’ and sat down. The queen took her place at the edge of the carpet; I sat between her and the butler, and she said, ‘I wish we were in Gluckstein!’ Then we rose, flew through the air at an astonishing pace, and here we are! So I suppose the rest of the butler’s tale is true, which I regret; but a king’s word is sacred, and he shall take the place of that sneak, Prigio. But as we left home before dinner, and as yours is over, may I request your lordship to believe that I should be delighted to take something cold?”

The ambassador at once ordered a sumptuous collation, to which the king did full justice; and his majesty was shown to the royal chamber, as he complained of fatigue. The queen accompanied him, remarking that she was sound asleep, but would waken presently. Neither of them said “Good-night” to the prince. Indeed, they did not see him again, for he was on the balcony with Lady Rosalind. They found a great deal to say to each other, and at last the prince asked her to be his wife; and she said that if the king and her father gave their permission—why, then she would! After this she went to bed; and the prince, who had not slept at all the night before, felt very sleepy also. But he knew that first he had something that must be done. So he went into the drawing-room, took his carpet, and wished to be—now, where do you suppose? Beside the dead body of the Firedrake! There he was in a moment; and dreadful the body looked, lying stark and cold in the white moonshine. Then the prince cut off its four hoofs, put them in his wallet, and with these he flew back in a second, and met the ambassador just as he came from ushering the king to bed. Then the prince was shown his own room, where he locked up the hoofs, the carpet, the cap of darkness, and his other things in an iron box; and so he went to bed and dreamed of his Lady Rosalind.

* The History of this Prince may be read in a treatise called The Rose and the Ring, by M. A. TITMARSH. London, 1855.