This is a painful chapter for me to write. Mercifully it is to be a short one. Later on I shall become used to the situation; inclined, even, to dwell upon its humorous side; but for the moment I cannot see beyond the sadness of it. That to a Prince of the Royal House of Araby, and such an estimable young man as Udo, those things should happen. Roger Scurvilegs frankly breaks down over it. “That abominable woman,” he says (meaning, of course, Belvane), and he has hysterics for more than a page.
Let us describe it calmly.
Coronel came back from his stroll in the same casual way in which he had started and dropped down lazily upon the grass to wait until Udo was ready to mount. He was not thinking of Udo. He was wondering if Princess Hyacinth had an attendant of surpassing beauty, or a dragon of surpassing malevolence—if, in fact, there were any adventures in Euralia for a humble fellow like himself.
“Coronel!” said a small voice behind him.
He turned round indifferently.
“Hullo, Udo, where are you?” he said. “Isn’t it time we were starting?”
“We aren’t starting,” said the voice.
“What’s the matter? What are you hiding in the bushes for? Whatever’s the matter, Udo?”
“I’m not very well.”
“My poor Udo, what’s happened?” He jumped up and made towards him.
“Stop!” shrieked the voice. “I command you!”
“Your Royal Highness’s commands,” he began rather coldly——
There was an ominous sniffing from the bushes.
“Coronel,” said an unhappy voice at last, “I think I’m coming out.”
Wondering what it all meant, Coronel waited in silence.
“Yes, I am coming out, Coronel,” said the voice. “But you mustn’t be surprised if I don’t look very well. I’m—I’m—Coronel, here I am,” said Udo pathetically and he stepped out.
Coronel didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.
Poor Prince Udo!
He had the head and the long ears of a rabbit, and in some unfortunate way a look of the real Prince Udo in spite of it. He had the mane and the tail of a lion. In between the tail and the mane it is difficult to say what he was, save that there was an impression of magnificence about his person—such magnificence, anyhow, as is given by an astrakhan-trimmed fur coat.
Coronel decided that it was an occasion for tact.
“Ah, here you are,” he said cheerfully. “Shall we get along?”
“Don’t be a fool, Coronel,” said Udo, almost crying. “Don’t pretend that you can’t see that I’ve got a tail.”
“Why, bless my soul, so you have. A tail! Well, think of that!”
Udo showed what he thought of it by waving it peevishly.
“This is not a time for tact,” he said. “Tell me what I look like.”
Coronel considered for a moment.
“Really frankly?” he asked.
“Y—yes,” said Udo nervously.
“Then, frankly, your Royal Highness looks—funny.”
“Very funny?” said Udo wistfully.
“Very funny,” said Coronel.
His Highness sighed.
“I was afraid so,” he said. “That’s the cruel part about it. Had I been a lion there would have been a certain pathetic splendour about my position. Isolated—cut off—suffering in regal silence.” He waved an explanatory paw. “Even in the most hideous of beasts there might be a dignity.” He meditated for a moment. “Have you ever seen a yak, Coronel?” he asked.
“I saw one once in Barodia. It is not a beautiful animal, Coronel; but as a yak I should not have been entirely unlovable. One does not laugh at a yak, Coronel, and where one does not laugh one may come to love. . . . What does my head look like?”
“I haven’t seen it, you see.”
“To one who didn’t know your Royal Highness it would convey the impression of a rabbit.”
Udo laid his head between his paws and wept.
“A r—rabbit!” he sobbed. So undignified, so lacking in true pathos, so—— And not even a whole rabbit,” he added bitterly.
“How did it happen?”
“I don’t know, Coronel. I just went to sleep, and woke up feeling rather funny, and——” He sat up suddenly and stared at Coronel. “It was that old woman did it. You mark my words, Coronel; she did it.”
“Why should she?”
“I don’t know. I was very polite to her. Don’t you remember my saying to you, ‘Be polite to her, because she’s probably a fairy!’ You see, I saw through her disguise at once. Coronel, what shall we do? Let’s hold a council of war and think it over.”
So they held a council of war.
Prince Udo put forward two suggestions.
The first was that Coronel should go back on the morrow and kill the old woman.
The second was that Coronel should go back that afternoon and kill the old woman.
Coronel pointed out that as she had turned Prince Udo into—into a—a—(“Quite so,” said Udo)—it was likely that she alone could turn him back again, and that in that case he had better only threaten her.
“I want somebody killed,” said Udo, rather naturally.
“Suppose,” said Coronel, “you stay here for two days while I go back and see the old witch, and make her tell me what she knows. She knows something, I’m certain. Then we shall see better what to do.”
Udo mused for a space.
“Why didn’t they turn you into anything?” he asked.
“Really, I don’t know. Perhaps because I’m too unimportant.”
“Yes, that must be it.” He began to feel a little brighter. “Obviously, that’s it.” He caressed a whisker with one of his paws. “They were afraid of me.”
He began to look so much happier that Coronel thought it was a favourable moment in which to withdraw.
“Shall I go now, your Royal Highness?”
“Yes, yes, you may leave me.”
“And shall I find you here when I come back?”
“You may or you may not, Coronel; you may or you may not. . . . Afraid of me,” he murmured to himself. “Obviously.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then return to the Palace.”
“Good-bye, your Royal Highness.”
Udo waved a paw at him.
Coronel got on his horse and rode away. As soon as he was out of earshot he began to laugh. Spasm after spasm shook him. No sooner had he composed himself to gravity than a remembrance of Udo’s appearance started him off again.
“I couldn’t have stayed with him a moment longer,” he thought. “I should have burst. Poor Udo! However, we’ll soon get him all right.”
That evening he reached the place where the cottage had stood, but it was gone. Next morning he rode back to the wood. Udo was gone too. He returned to the Palace, and began to think it out.
* * * * *
Left to himself Udo very soon made up his mind. There were three courses open to him.
He might stay where he was till he was restored to health.
This he rejected at once. When you have the head of a rabbit, the tail of a lion, and the middle of a woolly lamb, the need for action of some kind is imperative. All the blood of your diverse ancestors calls to you to be up and doing.
He might go back to Araby.
To Araby, where he was so well-known, so respected, so popular? To Araby, where he rode daily among his father’s subjects that they might have the pleasure of cheering him? How awkward for everybody!
On to Euralia then?
Why not? The Princess Hyacinth had called for him. What devotion it showed if he came to her even now—in his present state of bad health! She was in trouble: enchanters, wizards, what-nots. Already, then, he had suffered in her service—so at least he would say, and so possibly it might be. Coronel had thought him—funny; but women had not much sense of humour as a rule. Probably as a child Hyacinth had kept rabbits . . . or lambs. She would find him—strokable. . . . And the lion in him . . . in his tail, his fierce mane . . . she would find that inspiring. Women like to feel that there is something fierce, untamable in the man they love; well, there it was.
It was not as if he had Coronel with him. Coronel and he (in his present health) could never have gone into Euralia together; the contrast was too striking; but he alone, Hyacinth’s only help! Surely she would appreciate his magnanimity.
Also, as he had told himself a moment ago, there was quite a chance that it was a Euralian enchanter who had put this upon him—to prevent him helping Hyacinth. If so, he had better go to Euralia in order to deal with that enchanter. For the moment, he did not see exactly how to deal with him, but no doubt he would think of some tremendously cunning device later on.
To Euralia then with all dispatch.
He trotted off. As Coronel had said, they were evidently afraid of him.