the Seventeen Volumes Go Back Again

King Merriwig of Eastern Euralia sat at breakfast on his castle walls. He lifted the gold cover from the gold dish in front of him, selected a trout, and conveyed it carefully to his gold plate. When you have an aunt—— But I need not say that again.

King Coronel of Western Euralia sat at breakfast on his castle walls. He lifted the gold cover from the gold dish in front of him, selected a trout, and conveyed it carefully to his gold plate. When your wife’s father has an aunt——

Prince Udo of Araby sat at breakfast—— But one must draw the line somewhere. I refuse to follow Udo through any more meals. Indeed, I think there has been quite enough eating and drinking in this book already. Quite enough of everything in fact; but the time has nearly come to say good-bye.

Let us speed the Prince of Araby first. His departure from Euralia was sudden; five minutes’ conversation with Coronel convinced him that there had been a mistake about Belvane’s feelings for him, and that he could leave for Araby in perfect safety.

“You must come and see us again,” said Merriwig heartily, as he shook him by the hand.

“Yes, do,” said Hyacinth.

There are two ways of saying this sort of thing, and theirs was the second way. So was Udo’s, when he answered that he would be delighted.

It was just a week later that the famous double wedding was celebrated in Euralia. As an occasion for speech-making by King Merriwig and largesse-throwing by Queen Belvane it demanded and (got) a whole chapter to itself in Roger’s History. I have Roger on my side at last. The virtues he denied to the Countess he cannot but allow to the Queen.

Nor could Hyacinth resist her any longer. Belvane upon her palfrey, laughter in her eyes and roses in her cheeks, her lips slightly parted with eagerness as she flings her silver to the crowd, adorably conscious of her childishness and yet glorifying in it, could have no enemies that day.

“She is a dear,” said Hyacinth to Coronel. “She will make a wonderful Queen.”

“I know a Queen worth two of her,” said Coronel.

“But you do admire her, don’t you?”

“Not particularly.”

“Oh, Coronel, you must,” said Hyacinth, but she felt very happy all the same.

They rode off the next day to their kingdom. The Chancellor had had an exciting week; for seven successive evenings he had been extremely mysterious and reserved to his wife, but now his business was finished and King Merriwig reigned over Eastern Euralia and King Coronel over the West.

Let us just take a look at Belvane’s diary before we move on to the last scene.

Thursday, September 15th,” it says. “Became good.

Now for the last scene.

King Merriwig sat in Belvane’s garden. They had spent the morning revising their joint book of poetry for publication. The first set of verses was entirely Merriwig’s own. It went like this:

Bo, boll, bill, bole.
Wo, woll, will, wole.

A note by the authors called attention to the fact that it could be begun from either end. The rest of the poems were mainly by Belvane, Merriwig’s share in them consisting of a “Capital,” or an “I like that,” when they were read out to him; but an epic commonly attributed to Charlotte Patacake had crept in somehow.

“A person to see your Majesty,” said a flunkey, appearing suddenly.

“What sort of person?” asked Merriwig.

“A sort of person, your Majesty.”

“See him here, dear,” said Belvane, as she got up. “I have things to do in the Palace.”

She left him; and by and by the flunkey returned with the stranger. He was a pleasant-looking person with a round clean-shaven face; something in the agricultural way, to judge from his clothes.

“Well?” said Merriwig.

“I desire to be your Majesty’s swineherd,” said the other.

“What do you know of swineherding?”

“I have a sort of natural aptitude for it, your Majesty, although I have never actually been one.”

“My own case exactly. Now then, let me see—how would you——”

The stranger took out a large red handkerchief and wiped his forehead.

“You propose to ask me a few questions, your Majesty?”

“Well, naturally, I——”

“Let me beg of you not to. By all you hold sacred let me implore you not to confuse me with questions.” He drew himself up and thumped his chest with his fist. “I have a feeling for swineherding; it is enough.”

Merriwig began to like the man; it was just how he felt about the thing himself.

“I once carried on a long technical conversation with a swineherd,” he said reminiscently, “and we found we had much in common. It is an inspiring life.”

“It was in just that way,” said the stranger, “that I discovered my own natural bent towards it.”

“How very odd! Do you know, there’s something about your face that I seem to recognise?”

The stranger decided to be frank.

“I owe this face to you,” he said simply.

Merriwig looked startled.

“In short,” said the other, “I am the late King of Barodia.”

Merriwig gripped his hand.

“My dear fellow,” he said. “My very dear fellow, of course you are. Dear me, how it brings it all back. And—may I say—what an improvement. Really, I’m delighted to see you. You must tell me all about it. But first some refreshment.”

At the word “refreshment” the late King of Barodia broke down altogether, and it was only Merriwig’s hummings and hawings and thumpings on the back and (later on) the refreshment itself which kept him from bursting into tears.

“My dear friend,” he said, as he wiped his mouth for the last time, “you have saved me.”

“But what does it all mean?” asked Merriwig in bewilderment.

“Listen and I will tell you,”

He told himself of the great resolution to which he had come on that famous morning when he awoke to find himself whiskerless. Barodia had no more use for him now as a King, and he on his side was eager to carve out for himself a new life as a swineherd.

“I had a natural gift,” he said plaintively, “an instinctive feeling for it. I know I had. Whatever they said about it afterwards—and they said many hard things—I was certain that I had that feeling. I had proved it, you know; there couldn’t be any mistake.”

“Well?”

“Ah, but they laughed at me. They asked me confusing questions; niggling little questions about the things swine ate and—and things like that. The great principles of swineherding, the—what I may call the art of herding swine, the whole theory of shepherding pigs in a broad-minded way, all this they ignored. They laughed at me and turned me out with jeers and blows—to starve.”

Merriwig patted him sympathetically, and pressed some more food on him.

“I ranged over the whole of Barodia. Nobody would take me in. It is a terrible thing, my dear Merriwig, to begin to lose faith in yourself. I had to tell myself at last that perhaps there was something about Barodian swine which made them different from those of any other country. As a last hope I came to Euralia; if here too I was spurned, then I should know that——”

“Just a moment,” said Merriwig, breaking in eagerly. “Who was this swineherd that you talked to——”

“I talked to so many,” said the other sadly. “They all scoffed at me.”

“No, but the first one; the one that showed you that you had a bent towards it. Didn’t you say that——”

“Oh, that one. That was at the beginning of our war. Do you remember telling me that your swineherd had an invisible cloak? It was he that——”

Merriwig looked at him sadly and shook his head.

“My poor friend,” he said, “it was me.”

They gazed at each other earnestly. Each of them was going over in his mind the exact details of that famous meeting.

“Yes,” they murmured together, “it was us.”

The King of Barodia’s mind raced on through all the bitter months that had followed; he shivered as he thought of the things he had said; the things that had been said to him seemed of small account now.

“Not even a swineherd!” he remarked.

“Come, come,” said Merriwig, “look on the bright side; you can always be a King again.”

The late King of Barodia shook his head.

“It’s a come down to a man with any pride,” he said. “No, I’ll stick to my own job. After all, I’ve been learning these last weeks; at any rate I know that what I do know isn’t worth knowing, and that’s something.”

“Then stay with me,” said Merriwig heartily. “My swineherd will teach you your work, and when he retires you can take it on.”

“Do you mean it?”

“Of course I do. I shall be glad to have you about the place. In the evening, when the pigs are asleep, you can come in and have a chat with us.”

“Bless you,” said the new apprentice; “bless you, your Majesty.”

They shook hands on it.

“My dear,” said Merriwig to Belvane that evening, “you haven’t married a very clever fellow. I discovered this afternoon that I’m not even as clever as I thought I was.”

“You don’t want cleverness in a King,” said Belvane, smiling lovingly at him, “or in a husband.”

“What do you want then?”

“Just dearness,” said Belvane.

And now my story is done. With a sigh I unload the seventeen volumes of Euralian History from my desk, carrying them one by one across the library and placing them carefully in the shelf which has been built for them. For some months they have stood a rampart between me and the world, behind which I have lived in far-off days with Merriwig and Hyacinth and my Lady Belvane. The rampart is gone, and in the bright light of to-day which streams on to my desk the vision slowly fades. Once on a time . .

Yet I see one figure clearly still. He is tall and thin, with a white peaked face of which the long inquisitive nose is the outstanding feature. His hair is lank and uncared for; his russet smock, tied in at the waist, wants brushing; his untidy cross-gartered hose shows up the meagerness of his legs. No knightly figure this, yet I look upon him very tenderly. For it is Roger Scurvilegs on his way to the Palace for news.

To Roger too I must say good-bye. I say it not without remorse, for I feel that I have been hard upon the man to whom I owe so much. Perhaps it will not be altogether good-bye; in his seventeen volumes there are many other tales to be found. Next time (if there be a next time) I owe it to Roger to stand aside and let him tell the story more in his own way. I think he would like that.

But it shall not be a story about Belvane. I saw Belvane (or some one like her) at a country house in Shropshire last summer, and I know that Roger can never do her justice.