The King Who Went Out Governing
THERE was once a king whose kingdom was so small that it annoyed him. for he had magnificent ideas as to what a king should be and do, but no room, he said, in which to carry them out. Being a king, he was obliged, of course, to live in a palace, which he had inherited from his father, and which was so fully and luxuriously furnished that he gave up the idea which he had entertained before he came into possession of it: this was, to send everything in it to auction, and refurnish it from garret to cellar. On one account, it was a pity he did not carry out his plan. In the King’s counting-house, where he transacted all the governing business that could be done at home, was a large mirror, set in as a panel, and this, although he did not know it, was a powerful magnifying-glass. He sat in front of it every day, and the consequence was that he believed himself, his wife, and his baby to be much larger than they really were. Finding all other mirrors, as he imagined, to be defective, he ceased to use any but the one in the counting-house.
He had talked so much about the smallness of his kingdom, and the wastefulness of fate in putting a king of his capabilities in a corner, with his face to the wall, so to speak, that his wife, although she was sincerely fond of him (or perhaps because she was), was beginning to grow very tired of the subject, especially as, quite at the bottom of her heart, where he never saw it, she had a conviction that, small as the kingdom was, it might be far better governed if she, for instance, were king. She was much too polite to yawn at the King, even behind her hand, or to tell him that it did not really prove a thing to say it forty times a day ; so she became expert in changing the subject, and for a good while he had no idea that she did it on purpose. He would begin: —
“I do believe I could drive all round this ridiculous little kingdom of mine ” — he never said “ ours ” — “ in a day or two, like that king in the story ; but he was such a dolt that he was quite satisfied to have it so, which I shall never be ! I wonder how it would do, Guinevere, to have a war with somebody, and conquer a little more territory, just by way of beginning ? ”
“ I should think it would be expensive,” the Queen replied, thoughtfully. “ Beside, you might n’t be the one who conquered, you know. Talking of driving, are you aware that one of the new carriage horses has begun to go lame, and they can’t find out what ails him ? Suppose you were to go and see. I think grooms are always such stupid creatures.”
Now this made the King say to himself, pleasantly, “ That means that she knows I am not stupid. What a nice, sensible little woman she is, if she is a queen ! ”
He rose immediately, quite cheerfully, and went to see about the horse, and did not say another word about his kingdom all day. But a few days afterward he began again with, “ I don’t see why in the world my father did n’t conquer some more territory ” —
“ Did you know baby had another tooth, dear ? ” broke in the Queen.
It struck him that there was something more than a coincidence in these interruptions, and he replied, quite sharply for him, —
“ Yes, and I know that there are milestones on the Camelot road, too ! ”
“ No,” said the Queen, with a perfectly innocent face, “ you only meant to have them put there; it has n’t been done yet. I noticed, as I was driving yesterday, that they have not even dug the holes for them.”
“ Are you sure you went a mile ? ” asked the King.
“ Quite sure,” replied the Queen, tranquilly ; “ in fact, we went all the way to Camelot, and I kept looking out to see if the mile-stones had been put up.’
“ It’s extremely provoking,” said the King, looking a little foolish. “ I m quite certain I gave the order about those milestones ; at least, I am very nearly certain. for I know I meant to; yes, I remember now, I wrote it, to make sure.”
The Queen was silent for several minutes, and appeared to be searching in her pocket for something which she did not find ; then she said to the King, —
“ Have you an envelope or anything in your pocket, on which I could make a memorandum, dear ? There’s something I am afraid of forgetting.”
The King good-naturedly began to rummage his pockets, and he very soon found an envelope; it was sealed, and was addressed, in a business-like hand, to “ The Superintendent of Highways.” “ Good gracious ! ” he said, before he thought.
“ What’s the matter ? ” asked the Queen, sympathetically. “ Did that tooth hurt you again ? ”
“ No,” he said, as indifferently as he could manage to speak. “ I found a letter in my pocket which I thought I had mailed, that’s all. It is n’t one of yours, my dear, it’s — it’s a business-letter of my own. Here, I’ll give you a leaf from my note-book. What was the memorandum you wished to make ? ” And he looked at her sharply.
“Only that I had told you about baby’s new tooth,” she said, quite seriously. “ It’s so stupid to keep telling anybody the same thing over and over, you know, and I was so pleased about the tooth that I was afraid I might forget I had mentioned it, and tell you of it again.”
The King could not think of an appropriate reply to this statement, and so he remained silent. They had been married three years, but there were times, even yet, when he was not quite sure that he understood the Queen. But it was several days before he said anything more about the smallness of the kingdom, and this respite gave the Queen time to think up something to say to him when he should speak of it again. This happened to be during a northeast storm which had lasted two days, turning the tennis-court into a swamp, and making the roads, which were all in need of repairs, too muddy for riding. As tennis and riding were the King’s two favorite amusements, he was in a very bad way indeed, and at last he said fretfully, to the Queen of course,
“ Now if I had a kingdom worth the name, there would be plenty of business to attend to. even on rainy days: there ’d be telegrams coming in, and envoys and consuls and such things arriving and going away, and perhaps a war to see to, or a treaty of peace, anyhow; but I’ve only had one letter since yesterday morning, if you ‘ll believe me !”
“ To be sure I will believe you,” replied the Queen, cheerfully. “ I always do. What was the letter about ? ”
“ Oh,” said the King, growing rather red in the face, and wondering how it was that he made it so easy for the Queen to catch him, “ it was that bothering road business again. They say they want some new roads opened, and the old ones repaired. I’m sure I don’t see what they want with more roads, in such a little bit of a kingdom as this is ! ”
“ Why, no,” said the Queen, in her sympathizing voice, which was very sweet indeed, “I don’t see, either. I should think it would be easier just to drive across a field, or a common, than on such a road, for instance, as the one to Camelot. It’s so full of stones and ruts that I was really afraid baby’s head would be jerked off, the last time I took him out for a drive.”
“I’m going to have it thoroughly graded and remade,” said the King, hastily ; “ that’s what I ve been waiting for. There’s no use in tinkering a wretched road like that; it must be completely made over, and I thought I might as well wait a little, and have them all done at once. There’s no sense in making two bites of a cherry. Now of course, in a large kingdom, it would be very different. I should have the roads repaired as they needed it. I tell you what it is, Guinevere, if I ever do get hold of a kingdom worth the name, I think even you wall be surprised ! ”
“I have no doubt I shall.” replied the Queen, with sweet seriousness, “ and I’ve had an idea lately. It may not please you, dear; it is n’t exactly the same thing, of course, but I thought perhaps it would be better than nothing.”
“Well, let’s have it,” said the King, graciously. “ Your ideas are quite bright, sometimes; and even if I don’t see fit to utilize it, it will amuse me to hear it. I shall be glad of anything new, in this perfectly wretched weather.”
Thus encouraged, the Queen proceeded to unfold her idea.
“ You know,” she said, “ that several of our neighboring kingdoms are peculiarly situated : one is under a regency; another has a poor old king who is beginning to be childish, but they ’re all so fond of him they don’t like to ask him to retire; and another is under the rule of that gay little queen, who openly pronounces it a bother. Now I thought that perhaps a carefully worded advertisement might induce them to let you help them govern their kingdoms, and that would give you plenty to do. It might even, in some ways, be more entertaining than governing a large kingdom of your own. What do you think about it, dear ? ”
“ It is n’t half a bad idea,” said the King, musingly, “ and it might lead, in the end, to their ceding me part of their territory ; but it would be rather difficult, I ’m afraid, to write a suitable advertisement, — to make them understand just what I mean. Besides, I don’t believe there is any one newspaper that they all take.”
“ You might send a marked copy to each of them,” answered the Queen ; “ and as for the form of the advertisement, I thought I would see how it looked, and so I wrote this. Of course it’s only an experiment, but perhaps you can use it for a sort of foundation for yours.”
She handed him a slip of paper, on which was written, —
“ A King, of unusual administrative and executive abilities, whose kingdom is too small to occupy more than half of his time and thoughts, would like to assist any king or queen, who may find his or her duties too onerous, in governing his or her kingdom. The King will either do this at home, by means of correspondence, or go out by the day or week, if desired to do so. There will be no charge, but the King will require his expenses paid, whether of traveling, board and lodging, or postage and stationery. Address, stating particulars, A. R., Camelot, P. O.”
“ I thought I ’d better say Camelot,” added the Queen, “ it would be such a bother to have them coming here ; and we can tell the postmaster not to give them the real address.”
“ Yes,” said the King, “ that would be better, certainly. We can’t have them coming here, and I’d rather they should not know who it is, unless they give me something to do. I like this very well, so far as the sense goes, Guinevere, but it’s badly worded. I do wish they’d settle on that pronoun which is to mean either him or her. They’ve been talking about it for years, but nothing seems to come of it. Where’s your pencil ? Thank you. I ’ll just straighten this up a little, and then I think it will do. I really believe I will try it.”
The King scribbled, and frowned, and rubbed out, and put in, for at least fifteen minutes ; then he said, triumphantly, —
44 There, my dear, 4 comment est cela pour haut ? ’ as the French minister said the other day, when he showed me his new uniform.”
He read aloud: —
‘“A King, of unusual administrative and executive ability, whose time is not fully occupied, would like to assist in the government of two or three other kingdoms. The King will go out by the day or week, as may be desired. No charge will be made save for the payment of needful expenses. Address, stating particulars, A. R., Camelot, P. O.’
“ You see,” he continued, “ I thought it would look better not to put in about the smallness of my kingdom, which really has nothing to do with it, so far as they are concerned; and I’ve managed to do without all that his or her business, and to make the part about expenses seem less like haggling; and I would n’t care to take the work in: so that, saving your presence, my dear, I think mine is a good deal neater. Don’t you ? ”
“ Yes,” said the Queen, “ I do ; and then it’s so much shorter that they will be more likely to read it, and it will cost less to put it in, too. I do wonder if you ’ll have any applications. It will be great fun, if you do.”
“ I am nearly sure I shall,” said the King, confidently. 44 But, however you may regard the matter, Guinevere, I shall not look upon it as a joke, for it may lead to very wide results. I declare, it’s actually clearing up. Suppose you just make me a fair copy of this, dear ? I must go and see if I can’t have the tennis-court drained in some way. I think a ditch across the lower part, just for the present, would answer.”
The King was gone before the Queen could answer, whatever the ditch might do about it, and so he did not see the little smile which was on her face as she made a fair copy of the advertisement, and addressed it to the principal newspaper in the kingdom.
Within a week he actually did receive an answer. It was from the flighty little Queen who considered her kingdom a bother, and it ran thus : —
“ If A. R. will send his real name and address to the Queen of -, he will hear of something to his advantage. A reliable reference must accompany the name and address.”
“I don’t like that at all,” said the King, after reading it aloud. 44 The idea of that little flibbertigibbet asking me for a reference ! I shall take no notice of this answer, — none what ever! ”
“ But, dear,” said the Queen, as soon as she could find a chance to speak, " don’t you see that she had n’t the least idea whom she was addressing ? In a matter so serious as allowing any one to help her with the government, she is necessarily obliged to be careful. I am agreeably surprised to find that she has so much common sense. Now suppose you just write a civil note, giving your name and address, and saying nothing about the reference ; for of course, as soon as she knows who you are, it will be all right. If she offers to pay you, as I judge, from the wording of her answer, that she means to, don’t fly out at her, but just take it; there are so many lovely public things that you could do with the money.”
“ Such as what ? ” asked the King, still a little sulkily.
“ Oh, drinking-fountains, and readingrooms, and temperance saloons, where they could have really nice drinks, and as much gilding and as many chandeliers and things as the liquor saloons have,” replied the Queen, who, although she never breathed it, even to the baby, often thought what she would do if she might be King just for one little week.
“ Well, we ’ll see, dear,” said the King, quite pleasantly, for, to do him justice, he never long stayed sulky. “ I ’ll give her my name and address, and see what comes of it, anyhow.”
What came of it was an urgent invitation to the King to come at once, for a week, and attend to some business about which the flighty little Queen said she was being fairly bored to death.
“ It’s nothing in the least interesting,” she wrote, “ but I do hope you will come, for I really have not time to attend to it, and they are making the most ridiculous fuss. It would be fairer, I suppose, just to tell you at once what it is: it’s roads ! They ’ve gone so far as to say that there is n’t a road in my whole kingdom worthy of the name, and I ’m inclined, from what I see, to believe them. I always ride, myself. I detest driving, but I can imagine what it must be for people who like it. I have a very vivid imagination, — it ’s hereditary, — and so I am quite willing the poor souls should have better roads, if only I need not be worried about it; and what I wish is, to have the affair conducted in the most thorough and skillful manner, to have the sort of load — whatever that may be — that lasts longest and requires least mending. So please say when you will arrive, and I will have the very best suite of rooms — after my own, of course — in the palace put in order for you. By the way, I wish you would present my compliments to your wife, and ask her to come with you, and bring the baby. I have an idea that I should find the baby amusing, and, at any rate, I could photograph him; for I hear he is very pretty, and that he looks very much like you. Come as soon as you can, please, for they are really giving me no peace of my life.”
“ What a frank, artless little soul she seems to be! ” said the King, with an indulgent smile, as he handed the letter to his wife. “ You’ll go, will you not, dear? ”
“ Why, yes,” said the Queen, when she had finished reading the letter, “ I think I will. We can leave the Prime Minister in charge for a week, I should imagine. We ’ll be sure to find everything just as we left it, when we come back. When shall we go ? ”
Now, to tell the truth, the King had hoped and expected that the Queen would say they ought not both to be away at once for a whole week, and so would decline; not from any want of affection for her, for he was really very fond of her, and of the baby too. but he thought he would like to make his first attempt at governing for somebody else quite alone. It was so difficult to tell, sometimes, just what the Queen was thinking, and whether she really did approve of him or not! But he would not for the world have hurt her feelings knowingly, and so he assumed a contented expression, or thought he did, and said as cheerfully as he could, “ I think I shall say next Thursday week, — today is Monday; that will give me ten days, you know.”
“ But why do you want ten days before you go ? ” asked the Queen, who had thought he would probably fix the next day but one, and had been wondering how she could get the baby and herself ready in so short a time ; for she had fully made up her mind to go, even if she should have to have a new bonnet sent after her.
“Well,” said the King, fidgeting with the shovel and tongs, and feeling his face turn red, which always annoyed him, “ you see she’s anxious to have it done in the best and most lasting manner. There have probably been improvements since I looked into the matter ; so I think I ‘ll read up about it, and sort of practice on my own roads first. It will be quite a card for me if I give satisfaction, as of course I shall; for she talks so much that every one will hear of it, and no doubt it will lead to some more important undertaking.”
“ I think that is a capital idea,” said the Queen, “ a capital idea ; but you’ve no time to lose. Suppose you advertise for workmen to-morrow morning, so that you may set things going at once.”
“ Don’t be so precipitate, my love,” said the King.
“ There are times,” said the Queen, calmly, “ when it becomes necessary to be precipitate, and this is one of them. We have all the afternoon and evening ; for I shall help you to consult your authorities and take notes, of course. We can draw up written instructions for the more distant roads ; those near at hand you will wish to superintend personally, just for the sake of the practice. I don’t see why we cannot be ready by to-morrow morning, if we go right at it.”
“ Perhaps we can,” said the King, starting up. " I ‘ll go straight off and see what books I need, and bring them back myself.”
They had a really delightful afternoon and evening ; the King grew more and more animated and interested, and the Queen helped him with such intelligence and judgment that by bedtime everything was in readiness. The next morning the King was so impatient to be out and setting things going in his department that he would hardly wait to eat his breakfast, although, by his own request, it was two hours earlier than usual.
At the end of the week, there was not a road, nor even a lane, in the whole kingdom, which was not in apple-pie order : some were turnpiked, some were macadamized, some were paved, but all were thoroughly well done; and as the chariot bowled along, without jolt or jar, on its way to the neighboring kingdom, three days later, the King said in his most satisfied manner, “ I really shall not regret this business, even if nothing more comes of it than the knowledge and experience I have acquired, and the improvement to my own kingdom.”
Something more did come, however. The flighty little Queen was so delighted with the masterly manner in which the King went to work at her roads, and finished them, too, that she sounded his praises every time she showed the photographs she had taken of the baby ; and as this was every time she had a shadow of a chance at anybody who had not seen them, his fame spread far and wide. The only unpleasant thing about it was that the little Queen was too apt to add to her unqualified praise of the King, —
“ And it’s such a pity, my dear, that he did n’t make a more congenial marriage. His wife is a good, quiet little body, and I must own that they seem very fond of each other; but, intellectually, there’s no comparison ! ” — which was quite true.
The King had not been at home quite a week, when he received a letter from the Prime Minister who took chief charge of the childish old king and his kingdom. “I write to ask your services” he began, “ concerning a matter which must not even be mentioned in the presence of our King ; he might consider it personal. I have reason to think that the lunatic asylums, both public and private, are very much mismanaged, and, judging from what I have heard of you, you are the very man we want to reform this abuse. For an undertaking so difficult and of such magnitude, you will not, I hope, refuse a suitable compensation. An early answer will oblige.”
When the King had read this aloud to the Queen, he exclaimed, “ Oh, thunder ! ” a phrase he never used unless he was very much annoyed indeed. They were extremely busy drawing plans for the drinking-fountains which were to be erected with the money which the flighty little Queen had insisted upon the King’s accepting: each fountain was to be different from all the rest, and there were to be two dozen, so there was some little excuse for the King.
“ It is vexatious,” said the Queen, soothingly, “ but then, just consider what a compliment it is ! They must have a very high regard for your abilities, dear, to entrust such a matter as that to you. When shall you go ? For of course you can’t refuse, since they would naturally ask you why you advertised for more governing to do.”
Now the King had thought very strongly of refusing, but when the Queen said this he suddenly changed his mind. " I can’t go for at least two weeks,” he said, gloomily. “ I’m not going to do a thing, even here at home, until this drinking-fountain business is settled, and — and — I shall want a week or ten days to study the matter up. The fact is, Guinevere, they’ve been saying unpleasant things to me, lately, about our own asylums, and I think I ’ll do as I did about the roads, since it seemed to work so well. We ’ll have to hurry with these plans now. I can write to the Prime Minister this evening.”
They worked with such energy that the plans were finished, and given out to the artisans, two days later. Then the King began his inspection of the lunatic asylums. He had spoken of appointing inspectors, and having their reports submitted to him ; but from this the Queen had succeeded in dissuading him in such a manner that he imagined he had dissuaded himself. Upon one point, however, he stood firm : he would not let her go with him.
He came back one evening with a pale, shocked, guilty face. She did not ask him what he had seen. But during the week that followed, while he worked early and late with frantic energy,—for he had a very warm heart, when he let it assert itself, — she kept from him every disagreeable thing that occurred in the household. She never asked him a question, and she told him so many pleasant bits of gossip that he was driven to conclude that, outside of lunatic asylums, this world is really quite an agreeable place.
It was with shuddering reluctance that he set out upon his mission to the kingdom of the childish old King, but his face had never showed such determination in all his life before, and his wife kissed him good-by with a tender pride which went far to sustain him through this second ordeal. And now, indeed, his fame began to spread. He performed his duties so thoroughly, and yet with such moderation and good sense, that his services instantly became in great demand. On his return home two or three invitations awaited him.
“ You ’ll accept this one, I suppose, dear ? ” said his wife, holding up the one from the Regent, in which the King was asked to come and institute a reform in the management of the prisons. “ Those other two are almost insulting, and I would decline very frigidly, if I were you.”
Now of these other two, one was to assist at the reception of a great foreign potentate, and the other was to take a prominent part in an international tennis match ; and the King, who really had been a good deal used up by his recent exertions, was just thinking that he owed it to himself to take a little recreation, and that the tennis match was quite opportune.
“ I don’t know,” he said, doubtfully. “ I ’d have to inspect our own prisons first, Guinevere, just to get my hand in, and I was thinking — well, I ’ll see.”
The Queen said nothing more, just then ; she left him to think. That evening he accepted the Regent’s invitation. The result was not quite so painful in the bringing about as it had been with the lunatic asylums, but it was pretty bad; and when the King returned, pale and worn, and with the gay, untroubled look of a year ago gone forever from his blue eyes, the Queen hugged him, and cried and laughed, and made the baby hug him, until he smiled once more, after a fashion. Then they left the Prime Minister in charge, and went for a week to a fishing village, about which none of the nobility and gentry knew anything at all, and had a most delightful time. The King fished every day and all day, and came near catching the largest fish of the season; and the Queen and the baby sat in holes in the beach sand, and watched him, until they were all three as brown as a bun. But in the evenings, those long, light, lovely evenings on the beach, they talked as they had never talked before. This was what the King said, the last evening before they went home: “I may not receive any more invitations, Guinevere, but if I do I shall decline them. I shall have to keep a sharp lookout on those things I’ve already reformed, for it would be worse than ever for them to slip back to where they were; so for the present, at least, I shall confine my attention entirely to my own kingdom. It is larger than I thought it was.”
The Queen was gazing far, far out to sea; he was not certain that she heard him, until he saw a faint, moonlight sort of smile steal over her face, and she said, in an absent-minded way, —
“ Size is a relative thing, dear.”
He had an uncomfortable feeling that he knew what she meant, and yet he was not sure. It was nearly four years, now, that they had been married, but she puzzled him even yet, sometimes.