“Now, then,” she said, “have we got everything?”
“What about sardines?” said Woggs in her common way. (I don’t know what she’s doing in this scene at all, but Roger Scurvilegs insists on it.)
“I don’t think a Prince would like sardines,” said Wiggs.
“If I’d been on a long journey, I’d lovesardines. It is a very long journey from Araby, isn’t it?”
“Awful long. Why, it’s taken him nearly a week. Perhaps,” she added hopefully, “he’s had something on the way.”
“Perhaps he took some sandwiches with him,” said Woggs, thinking that this would be a good thing to do.
“What do you think he’ll be like, Woggs?”
Woggs though for a long time.
“Like the King,” she said. “Only different,” she added, as an afterthought.
Up came the Princess for the fifth time that afternoon, all excitement.
“Well,” she said, “is everything ready?”
“Yes, your Royal Highness. Except Woggs and me didn’t quite know about sardines.”
The Princess laughed happily.
“I think there will be enough there for him. It all looks very nice.”
She turned round and discovered behind her the last person she wanted to see just then.
The-last-person-she-wanted-to-see-just-then curtsied effectively.
“Forgive me, your Royal Highness,” she said profusely, “but I thought I had left Charlotte Patacake’s priceless manuscript up here. No; evidently I was mistaken, your Royal Highness. I will withdraw, your Royal Highness, as I know your Royal Highness would naturally wish to receive his Royal Highness alone.”
Listening to this speech one is impressed with Woggs’ method of calling everybody “Mum.”
“Not at all, Countess,” said Hyacinth coldly. “We would prefer you to stay and help us receive his Royal Highness. He is a little late, I think.”
Belvane looked unspeakably distressed.
“Oh, I do hope that nothing has happened to him on the way,” she exclaimed. “I’ve an uneasy feeling that something may have occurred.”
“What could have happened to him?” asked Hyacinth, not apparently very much alarmed.
“Oh, your Royal Highness, it’s just a sort of silly feeling of mine. There may be nothing in it.”
There was a noise of footsteps from below; a man’s voice was heard. The Princess and the Countess, both extremely nervous, but from entirely different reasons, arranged suitable smiles of greeting upon their faces; Wiggs and Woggs stood in attitudes of appropriate meekness by the table. The Court Painter could have made a beautiful picture of it.
“His Royal Highness Prince Udo of Araby,” announced the voice of an attendant.
“A nervous moment,” said Belvane to herself. “Can the ring have failed to act?”
Udo trotted in.
“It hasn’t,” said Belvane.
Princess Hyacinth gave a shriek, and faltered slowly backwards; Wiggs, who was familiar with these little accidents in the books which she dusted, and Woggs, who had a natural love for any kind of animal, stood their ground.
“Whatever is it?” murmured Hyacinth.
It was as well that Belvane was there.
“Allow me to present to your Royal Highness,” she said, stepping forward, “his Royal Highness Prince Udo of Araby.”
“Prince Udo?” said Hyacinth, all unwilling to believe it.
“I’m afraid so,” said Udo gloomily. He had thought over this meeting a good deal in the last two or three days, and he realised now that he had underestimated the difficulties of it.
Hyacinth remembered that she was a Princess and a woman.
“I’m delighted to welcome your Royal Highness to Euralia,” she said. “Won’t you sit down—I mean up—er, down.” (How did rabbits sit? Or whatever he was?)
Udo decided to sit up.
“Thank you. You’ve no idea how difficult it is to talk on four legs to somebody higher up. It strains the neck so.”
There was an awkward silence. Nobody quite knew what to say.
She turned to Udo with her most charming smile. “Did you have a pleasant journey?” she asked sweetly.
“No,” said Udo coldly.
“Oh, do tell us what happened to you?” cried Hyacinth. “Did you meet some terrible enchanter on the way? Oh, I am so dreadfully sorry.”
When one is not feeling very well there is a certain type of question which is always annoying.
“Can’t you see what’s happened to me?” said Udo crossly. “I don’t know how it happened. I had come two days’ journey from Araby, when——”
“Please, your Royal Highness,” said Wiggs, “is this your tail in the salt?” She took it out, gave it a shake, and handed it back to him.
“Oh, thank you, thank you—two days’ journey from Araby when I woke up one afternoon and found myself like this. I ask you to imagine my annoyance. My first thought naturally was to return home and hide myself; but I told myself, Princess, that you wanted me.”
The Princess could not help being touched by this, said as it was with a graceful movement of the ears and a caressing of the right whisker, but she wondered a little what she would do with him now that she had got him.
“Er—what are you?” put in Belvane kindly, knowing how men are always glad to talk about themselves.
Udo had caught sight of a well-covered table, and was looking at it with a curious mixture of hope and resignation.
“Very, very hungry,” he said, speaking with the air of one who knows.
The Princess, whose mind had been travelling, woke up suddenly.
“Oh, I was forgetting my manners,” she said with a smile for which the greediest would have forgiven her. “Let us sit down and refresh ourselves. May I present to your Royal Highness the Countess Belvane.”
“Do I shake hands or pat him?” murmured that mistress of Court etiquette, for once at a loss.
Udo placed a paw over his heart and bowed profoundly.
“Charmed,” he said gallantly, and coming from a cross between a lion, a rabbit, and a woolly lamb the merest suggestion of gallantry has a most pleasing effect.
They grouped themselves round the repast.
“A little sherbet, your Royal Highness?” said Hyacinth, who presided over the bowl.
Udo was evidently longing to say yes, but hesitated.
“I wonder if I dare.”
“It’s very good sherbet,” said Wiggs, to encourage him.
“I’m sure it is, my dear. But the question is, Do I like sherbet?”
“You can’t help knowing if you like sherbet.”
“Don’t bother him, Wiggs,” said Hyacinth, “a venison sandwich, dear Prince?”
“The question is, Do I like venison sandwiches?”
“I do,” announced Woggs to any one who was interested.
“You see,” explained Udo, “I really don’t know what I like.”
They were all surprised at this, particularly Woggs. Belvane, who was enjoying herself too much to wish to do anything but listen, said nothing, and it was the Princess who obliged Udo by asking him what he meant. It was a subject upon which he was longing to let himself go to somebody.
“Well,” he said, expanding himself a little, so that Wiggs had to remove his tail this time from the custard, “what am I?”
Nobody ventured to offer an opinion.
“Am I a hare? Then put me next to the red currant jelly, or whatever it is that hares like.”
The anxious eye of the hostess wandered over the table.
“Am I a lion?” went on Udo, developing his theme. “Then pass me Wiggs.”
“Oh, please don’t be a lion,” said Wiggs gently, as she stroked his mane.
“But haven’t you a feeling for anything?” asked Hyacinth.
“I have a great feeling of emptiness. I yearn for something, only I don’t quite know what.”
“I hope it isn’t sardines,” whispered Wiggs to Woggs.
“But what have you been eating on the way?” asked the Princess.
“Oh, grass and things chiefly. I thought I should be safe with grass.”
“And were you—er—safe?” asked Belvane, with a great show of anxiety.
Udo coughed and said nothing.
“I know it’s silly of me,” said Hyacinth, “but I still don’t quite understand. I should have thought that if you were a—a——”
“Quite so,” said Udo.
“—then you would have known by instinct what a—a——”
“Exactly,” said Udo.
“Likes to eat.”
“Ah, I thought you’d think that. That’s just what I thought when this—when I began to feel unwell. But I’ve worked it out since, and it’s all wrong.”
“This is interesting,” said Belvane, settling herself more comfortably. “Do go on.”
“Well, when——” He coughed and looked round at them coyly. “This is really rather a delicate subject.”
“Not at all,” murmured Hyacinth.
“Well, it’s like this. When an enchanter wants to annoy you he generally turns you into an animal of some kind.”
Belvane achieved her first blush since she was seventeen.
“It is a humorous way they have,” she said.
“But suppose you really were an animal altogether, it wouldn’t annoy you at all. An elephant isn’t annoyed at being an elephant; he just tries to be a good elephant, and he’d be miserable if he couldn’t do things with his trunk. The annoying thing is to look like an elephant, to have the very complicated—er—inside of an elephant, and yet all the time really to be a man.”
They were all intensely interested. Woggs thought that it was going to lead up to a revelation of what sort of animal Prince Udo really was, but in this she was destined to be disappointed. After all there were advantages in Udo’s present position. As a man he had never been listened to so attentively.
“Now suppose for a moment I am a lion. I have the—er—delicate apparatus of a lion, but the beautiful thoughts and aspirations of a Prince. Thus there is one—er—side of me which craves for raw beef, but none the less there is a higher side of me” (he brought his paw up towards his heart), “which—well, you know how you’d feel about it yourself.”
The Princess shuddered.
“I should,” she said, with conviction.
Belvane was interested, but thought it all a little crude.
“You see the point,” went on Udo. “A baby left to itself doesn’t know what is good for it. Left to itself it would eat anything. Now turn a man suddenly into an animal and he is in exactly the same state as that baby.”
“I hadn’t thought of it like that,” said Hyacinth.
“I’ve had to think of it! Now let us proceed further with the matter.” Udo was thoroughly enjoying himself. He had not had such a time since he had given an address on Beetles to all the leading citizens of Araby at his coming-of-age. “Suppose again that I am a lion. I know from what I have read or seen that raw meat agrees best with the lion’s—er—organisation, and however objectionable it might look I should be foolish not to turn to it for sustenance. But if you don’t quite know what animal you’re supposed to be, see how difficult the problem becomes. It’s a question of trying all sorts of horrible things in order to find out what agrees with you.” His eyes took on a faraway look, a look in which the most poignant memories seem to be reflected. “I’ve been experimenting,” he said, “for the last three days.”
They all gazed sadly and sympathetically at him. Except Belvane. She of course wouldn’t.
“What went best?” she asked brightly.
“Oddly enough,” said Udo, cheering up a little, “banana fritters. Have you ever kept any animal who lived entirely on banana fritters?”
“Never,” smiled the Princess.
“Well, that’s the animal I probably am.” He sighed and added, “There were one or two animals I wasn’t.” For a little while he seemed to be revolving bitter memories, and then went on, “I don’t suppose any of you here have any idea how very prickly thistles are when they are going down. Er—may I try a watercress sandwich? It doesn’t suit the tail, but it seems to go with the ears.” He took a large bite and added through the leaves, “I hope I don’t bore you, Princess, with my little troubles.”
Hyacinth clasped his paw impulsively.
“My dear Prince Udo, I’m only longing to help. We must think of some way of getting this horrible enchantment off you. There are so many wise books in the library, and my father has composed a spell which—oh, I’m sure we shall soon have you all right again.”
Udo took another sandwich.
“Very good of you, Princess, to say so. You understand how annoying a little indisposition of this kind is to a man of my temperament.” He beckoned to Wiggs. “How do you make these?” he asked in an undertone.
Gracefully undulating, Belvane rose from her seat.
“Well,” she said, “I must go and see that the stable——” she broke off in a pretty confusion—”How silly of me, I mean the Royal Apartment is prepared. Have I your Royal Highness’s leave to withdraw?”
“And, Wiggs, dear, you too had better run along and see if you can help. You may leave the watercress sandwiches,” she added, as Wiggs hesitated for a moment.
With a grateful look at her Royal Highness Udo helped himself to another one.