As the King approached them, it was easy to see that he was indeed a very important person; for all the people fell down upon their faces before him and made a slow deep salutation, much as though you should say “Ah-h-h!” in this way, with a very deep breath. To this respectful greeting the Monarch made no return whatever. The Widow Pickle noticed this.
“I see that you are not fully acquainted with Monarchs,” said the Private Secretary, “or at least I should say with Monarchs such as ours. At times he is even more absent-minded than he now appears. I have known him to order half a dozen of his best friends to be banished for some slight offense, and then to forget it before luncheon of that same day, and ask for them again, just as though nothing had happened.”
“That,” said the Widow Pickle, “seems to me a very unusual sort of thing to do. I should like to see him banish me if I did not feel like being banished at the time!”
“You will pardon me,” said the Private Secretary, “but it appears to me that you must be an extraordinarily ignorant person, for banishing persons, or even cutting off their heads, in a fit of absent-mindedness, is a part of the daily routine of any truly royal king, and his loyal subjects are very fond of both. If they were not, they could not be called truly loyal subjects; and what is the use of being a subject unless one is a truly loyal subject, madam?”
“That,” said the Widow Pickle, “is a very difficult question.”
“I thought you would find it such,” replied the Private Secretary. “But tell me, is not our King a very royal person? And I may add that he is as kindly a king as ever sat on a throne. Once in a while, he does something which indicates a slight loss of temper; but how could you blame him, with his poor stomach, and with his love affair with the Fairy Queen, as well, to trouble him? It is quite enough to upset any king in the world, I am sure.”
“His stomach?” said the Widow Pickle. “And the Fairy Queen? Well, the poor King, after all, may be quite like other men. I remember that my poor dear husband, Aurelius Pickle, used to have just such times with his stomach. Why, at times, he could eat nothing in the world but some of my Waffles.”
“Your Waffles? What are those?” asked the Private Secretary. “Are they anything new?”
“Well, I can’t say as to that,” replied the Widow Pickle, “for my grandmother taught me how to make them. But I may say with some pride that the Governor of our State once ate of my Waffles and asked for two more, and in my family that was considered very high praise, indeed. I should like to try one on your King, if he is troubled with his stomach.”
“That might be quite a fine idea,” said the Private Secretary, “and if you don’t object, I shall place the matter before his Royal Highness. I have never seen this that you call a Waffle, but if it will make the King forget his royal trouble it may be very much better for him and for all the rest of us.”
“But, hush!” whispered the Private Secretary. “He is coming this way. May I suggest that just as he steps across that white line which you see marked upon the ground, you make him a deep reverence? I think you call it a courtesy in your country.”
“Very well,” said the Widow Pickle, “but I shall do no more than courtesy, and shall not make it too deep even in that case, for I myself come of a very proud family.”
“Hush!” whispered the Private Secretary again. And now the King came forward, fixing upon them the keen glance of his royal eye. Seeing this, Lulu and Zuzu grasped their mother’s gown in their hands and shrank back behind her, much frightened. The Private Secretary bowed flat upon the ground and began to say “Ah-h-h!” very fast.
The Widow courtesied as she was bid, looking up at the King. Indeed, she was willing to declare the King most extraordinary in appearance. He was about six feet or more in height, and very dark in complexion, almost coffee-brown in color, indeed. His hair, which was of a bright brick-dust red, was profuse, and stuck out around his head in a sort of fringe to the extent of two or three feet on each side. In his nose he wore a large ring, and his teeth shone as he opened his mouth, for in each tooth was set a fine large diamond. On his fingers were rings of highly-shining precious stones, like emeralds and diamonds and rubies, with others whose names the Widow could not guess. The King wore a garland of flowers about his neck, and carried in his hand a war club or heavy cane made of dark wood, with a large gold knob at the end, and set thickly with shining stones about the handle. His feet were clad in bright-red slippers, whose points turned up nearly to his knees. A rich cloak of spotted fur hung across his shoulders, although the climate was so warm that he really was in small need of fur; so he allowed it to fall back carelessly, confining it with a cord, which latter passed around his chest and shoulders. Around his neck also was hung a broad collar of cloth or leather, which was set as thick as it could hold with all manner of brilliant, shining stones. It was plainly to be seen that the Island of Gee-Whiz was a land very rich indeed in precious metals and gems, for the like of this display of gold and gems was never before seen in any country. As the Widow Pickle looked, she wondered where all these rich stones and all this gold came from; and mentally she made a resolution to discover this before very many days had passed.