I wish I were King or Harry’s Dream
W. T. Stead (Books for the Bairns, No. 76. 1902)
In a small cottage in the north of England a boy with bright blue eyes and gold-brown hair was sitting by the window this Midsummer, looking out into the garden. It was not a large garden, quite a small one. Most of the ground was filled with rows of potatoes and beds of cabbages. There were a few gooseberry bushes on the border, but all the gooseberries had gone. There was an apple tree on which were plenty of apples, but they were not ripe. Beside it was an old plum tree on which the plums were still green.
But Harry, for that was his name, was not thinking of the gooseberries, or the apples, or the plums.
Bright red geraniums were blooming on the window-sill. A lovely canary in its cage overhead was singing in the glad sunshine. On the littlegrass plot below the window a robin, which had built its nest in a hole in the wall, was hopping about, followed by two—the only two—little robins which it had hatched out. A bright red and black butterfly was sunning itself upon one of the white rose trees trained up by the side of the window.
But although Harry was very fond of butterflies and flowers, he did not seem to see or to hear them. His thoughts were far away. From time to time he drew a long, long breath and sighed. In the far corner of the garden he could see his rabbit hutch, and through the wire netting he might have seen his beautiful lop-eared pets munching their lettuce leaves, not in the least afraid of a tortoiseshell cat who was lazily stretching herself in the sun dose by.
But Harry thought as little of the rabbits and the cat as he thought of the fruit, or the flowers, or the butterflies, or the birds. His thoughts were far away. On a small shelf in front of him stood a Coronation cup, with portraits of the King and the Queen, and in his hand he held a Coronation medal. On the table before him lay the little pink-backed Book for the Bairns, telling “How the King and Queen wore crowned.” For it was the day after the Coronation, and Harry was thinking over all that he had seen and heard the day before.
It was a great day—a day so crowded with things he had never seen or heard in his life that his head was in a whirl. He was sitting there thinking, or rather, as it seemed to him, not so much as if he were thinking, but as if one picture after another kept passing before him; as if all that he had heard the previous day kept repeating itself in his ears.
No wonder that he did not hear the song of the canary just over his head, for the shrill notes of the little songster were drowned in the roll of the drums, the clash of the cymbals, and the roar of the guns. How could he see the robins, and the rabbits, and the cat, when his eyes were full of the dazzling splendour of the fireworks, the streaming glow of the rockets, and the great blaze of the bonfire on the hill?
What a day it had been! Never before had he lived through such another. And now it was all over and done. The long procession in which he had walked, carrying a flag, marching to the vast tent in the park where thay had all feasted, had passed. He had his cup, and his medal, and his little book, but the tent was being taken down, the flags were furled, and over there on the hill-top, where the great bonfire had sent up its mighty blaze to the midnight sky, there was only a little heap of smoking ashes. For one brief day it had seemed as if all the dry pages of the history which he had to learn at school had been real, and, strange to say, he had been taking part in it. Nay, in his small way he had been made to feel as if he also was making history. He felt tired, and somewhat sad, for he would have liked that glorious day to have lasted longer. It was all over so soon, and here he was just plain Harry Smith, a poor boy who was going to work, like his father, in the big factory on the other side of the hill.
Now Harry’s uncle was a Radical who, as he said, “had no use for Kings.” “What good,” he said, “did they do? Why did they not do something for the poor people? It was waste, nothing but waste, to spend so much money upon the Coronation. He would have nothing to do with it.” And he did not.
Harry was very sad when he had heard his uncle talk. He wondered why the King did not do something to shut up the public-houses, and to make the poor people in the workhouse happier. He asked his father, who said: “It’s easier to talk than to do. If your uncle were King, he would not find he could do so much as he thinks.”
To Harry this seemed very strange, and he wondered whether his uncle or his father was right. He thought they both were wrong. Puzzling over the question, he took up the little book from the table, and began to turn over its pages listlessly, looking at the pictures and trying to imagine to himself the scene in the Abbey when the King and the Queen were crowned. How his eyes glistened as he read of the golden sceptres and jewelled orb, and the flashing diamonds, the amethysts and sapphires and pearls, of the beauty of the Coronation robes, of the singing of the white-robed choir, and of the splendour of the crown!
“Why, Harry boy,” said a pleasant voice at his elbow, “so you are here? I have been seeking you everywhere.”
He looked up from his book. The eager look was still in his eyes, but it softened as he saw his sister Emily, who had entered the room without his hearing her footstep, so absorbed was he in the vision of the Abbey.
“Yes, Sis,” he said, with a smile, “I have been here quite a long time. Did you want me? ”
“Of course I wanted you,” she answered. ”And what have you been doing all this long time?”
“Thinking,” he replied. “Oh, Emily, wasn’t it splendid!”
“What was splendid?” she asked.
“Why, yesterday,” he said: “everything was splendid.”
The sad look came back into his eyes as he added: “If only we could have it all over again.”
“Nonsense!” said his sister; “you don’t want the poor King to die, do you? It can never come over again till there is another Coronation, and there can’t be another Coronation till he dies, you know!”
“Oh no,” said Harry, “the King die, and he only just crowned! What an awful idea! I never thought of that. But it all seemed so beautiful and so grand; and, oh, I cannot tell you how I felt! I never felt so before—and, Emily, wouldn’t it be grand to be the King!”
Emily stared at her brother. “Well, really,” she said, after a pause, “I suppose it would; but I never thought of that.”
“Haven’t you, though?” he answered. ” I have thought of nothing else.”
Emily was silent; she was younger than her brother, and often she was puzzled by things he said. For he was a dreamy boy, always thinking things that nobody else did, and always expecting her to share his thoughts, which being younger, and more matter-of-fact, very often did do. But she loved him the more for these fancies. He was older and wiser than she. He was always reading. He had finished school, and was going to work, and she was not yet through the third standard. They had always been playmates. He had never found any other boy’s sister half as nice as his own, and she simply worshipped him.
Harry said nothing. He had gone back to yesterday, and in his ears was ringing once more the roar of the cheers which hailed the crowning of the King.
Emily stared at him for a time, and then she said: “Why, Harry, why would it be grand to be the King?”
“What?” said her brother dreamily; “why, Emily, how can you ask such a question?— and after yesterday, too.”
“Why, Harry, yesterday was very jolly, although I do wish there had not been so much firing. I hate cannon. Why should they make such a horrid noise about things?”
“Emily, you ought to be ashamed of yourself! Not have a royal salute! It would not be a proper Coronation without cannon. For the big guns love to thunder in the ears of every one the great news, The King is crowned, Long live the King!”
“Never mind,” said Emily, “perhaps I am only a timid girl, but tell me why you think it so grand to be the King?”
“Grand—it is the grandest thing on earth! Just think of it! Think of all the things a King can do! What power he has. How rich he is. What millions and millions of people obey him. Oh, if only one could be the King!”
He paused, and Emily laughed. “You the King!” she said; “what an idea! What would you do if you were the King?”
“What would I do!” he cried. “Why, I would do everything I wanted. I would have no lessons to do; I need not work hard all day; I would have a crown to wear, and the greatest people in the world to do whatever I told them. I would have palaces to live in, and carriages to drive about in, and splendid horses to ride. And it is not only that,” he continued, “although all that is grand; but just think what good I could do. Think of all the horrid things in the world that you could stop if you were the King.”
“I never thought of that,” said Emily gravely. “But won’t the King—?”
“Perhaps he will,” broke in Harry, “perhaps he won’t. He has never been poor, like us. He does not know how horrid things are, as we do. He has never seen his uncle sent to the workhouse; he has never lived in a slum; he doesn’t know what it is to be out of work, or to have his rent raised, or to be sent to the hospital. We do, you know: that makes all the difference.”
“Yes,” said Emily, “it makes a great deal of difference, I see that. How clever you are, Harry, always thinking about such things.”
“Now,” said Harry, “if only I were King, I would mend all these things. Everybody should be happy—none of these terrible things should happen.”
“Would you stop all war, Harry?” asked Emily.
“I should just think I would,” said he proudly. “War is wrong. Cannon are all very well for royal salutes, but not to kill people with. I would have peace everywhere, and every one should have plenty to eat, and a nice house to live in, and there should be no hateful workhouses. Oh dear,” he said, as he heaved a great sigh, “I would give anything to be the King!”
“Emily!” cried her mother from the kitchen, “come here, sharp, take the baby while I hang out the washing. When you and Harry get together, there’s no separating you.”
Emily went into the kitchen, and Harry was once more alone. He was excited by his talk with his sister. He kept repeating to himself, “Yes, I would give anything to be the King. How stupid girls are to see things! King of England, and not of England only. To sit on the throne of the Lion Heart! To wear the crown of Victoria! To be Emperor of India, lord of the greatest Empire in the world! But what’s the use of talking like this? I might as well wish I was the sun!” He leaned on the window-sill and looked out at the sun as he spoke. It was late in the afternoon, and the sun was beginning to sink towards the hills in the west. He looked a minute or two at the sun, and the light dazzled his eyes. He turned away and sat down once more at the table. The room looked dark, he opened and closed his eyes several times before he could see things clearly.
When at last he got back his sight, he was startled to see before him a very small being, standing on the table, looking up into his face. It was not a fairy; it was not an angel; it was not a brownie. It was not much taller than his penholder, but it was shaped exactly like a boy. When he looked at it more closely he saw that it was a very, very small boy, with blue eyes and curly gold-brown hair just like his own. And, what was still more strange, he felt that the being was very like himself. It was differently dressed. For it seemed to be clothed in sunlight, and from its shoulders there sprang two wings like rainbows, and on its face there was a kind of mocking smile.
Harry pinched himself, to be sure that he was not dreaming. No, he was wide awake. He saw everything quite clearly. There was the canary, there were his Coronation cup and the little pink book. Out in the west the sun was bright, and there, standing on the pink book, was this pigmy with the rainbow wings, which shone like the sun and moved slowly to and fro like those of a butterfly on a rose.
“Who are you?” said Harry, in an awed whisper.
“Don’t you know?” replied a silvery voice. “I am your Wish.”
” My what?” cried Harry.
Your Wish!” replied the mannikin, laughing. “You wish to be the King, don’t you?”
“Yes, but I—” muttered Harry.
“Listen,” said the Wish. “You would give anything to be a King. Is it not so?”
“I—I said so just now,” he stammered.
“Well,” continued the strange and mysterious little man, “I have come to tell you that some day soon you will go to sleep in your own little bed, and in the morning when you wake up you will be his Royal Majesty King Edward VII.”
He spoke very quietly, just as though what he was saying was nothing strange or wonderful; in fact, as if he were saying that the day after tomorrow there would be a Sunday-school treat.
“You don’t mean it!” said Harry.
The Wish frowned. “Take care!” said he. “I begin to believe you don’t really wish to be the King.”
“Oh, but I do!” said Harry. “There’s nothing in the world I would like so much.”
“Are you quite sure,” said the Wish, spreading his wings— “are you quite sure that you will not wish to be poor Harry Smith once more?”
“What nonsense!” said Harry angrily. “Who would care to be a poor working boy like me if he could be a real King?”
“Well,” said his visitor, “remember your wish is granted; but if, after you are King, you want to be a boy again, take this,” and as he spoke he put upon Harry’s little finger a tiny ring, in which was set a beautiful diamond, which flashed brightly in the sunlight. “If, when you are King, you want to come back to your old home, all you have to do is to turn the ring three times round upon your finger, and after the third time round you will be back again just as you are. Good-bye.”
And as he said these words, he spread his rainbow wings in the air, and flew out of the window; and almost before Harry knew that he had gone, the stranger looked like a little insect flying westward towards the setting sun. Then Harry turned from the window, with a sigh.
“He has gone,” he said to himself. “It can’t be real.”
But even as he spoke his eye fell upon the tiny gold ring that his Wish had left upon his little finger. There was the ring, sure enough. His first thought was to take it off his finger and throw it away, but before he had got it over the middle joint he stopped.
“No,” he said, “I will keep the ring, but I don’t like it,” for he thought that this was the ring that would take him off the throne, take the crown from his head, and make him poor again. He put the ring back again. “What nonsense!” he said. “It’s like a fairy-story; but, at any rate, I’ve got the ring.”
That night Harry went to sleep and dreamed strange dreams of all the things that he had seen the day before; and in his dream he seemed to see a strange visitor clothed in sunbeams flitting on rainbow wings in and out of the room, and always saying, “You shall have your wish—you shall have your wish.”
When he woke up in the morning, everything was just the same as it had been the night before, and all through the day he kept wondering to himself whether it had been a dream, whether he had ever seen the little winged thing which called itself his Wish. Was it all fancy, or had he dreamt it? The next night, when he went to bed, the dreams came back again, but this time they were different. He seemed to feel that he was a King indeed, living in a splendid palace, with nobles eager to serve him, and armies waiting to do his bidding. His heart swelled high with pride at the thought of his glory; and ever in the midst of the splendour with which he was surrounded, he was attended by the rainbow-winged Wish, and his heart beat fast at the thought of his wealth. How foolish was the idea that he could ever use the ring to make all these glories vanish away! But when the Sunday morning dawned, he was still Harry Smith in his own cottage, just the same as if nothing had happened; only there was the ring, with the diamond gleaming bright upon the little finger of his left hand.
During the day he was careful to turn the diamond inside, that it might not attract attention. His sister Emily, indeed, saw the slender gold of the ring, as he passed a cup at breakfast, and asked him what he had got on his finger.
“Oh, nothing,” he said, blushing; “only a little ring I got the other day.”
Emily opened her eyes in surprise, for boys do not like wearing rings, and she wondered what fancy had taken her brother; but she did not venture to ask him, and no one else noticed the ring.
Harry was strangely absent-minded all day. When he was in church and heard the prayer for the King, it gave him a great start, as if some one had called him by his name; and during the sermon, instead of listening to what was said in the pulpit, he was recalling every word which his winged Wish had spoken to him the day after the Coronation. And always there came back to him the thought, “Oh, the King, the King, if I only could be the King!”
This went on for several days, until the memory of the Wish’s visit had become like the memory of a dream, and he felt rather ashamed of himself at thinking that it might be real. Still, there was the ring on his finger, and whenever he looked at it, he felt that some way or other— he did not know how—it would come true, after all. And it did!
On the Wednesday night he went to sleep as usual in his own bed. His clothes were folded neatly and laid upon a chair at the foot of the bed, so as to be ready for him in the morning, for on Thursday he had to begin work in the factory over the hill. He sighed as he thought of the dreams, and his vision, and the promise; but he was tired, and soon fell sound asleep.
In the morning, when he woke up, expecting to hear his father’s voice calling him to get up and dress and start for the mill, he opened his eyes and looked round. He shut them again almost immediately, for he thought he must be dreaming. He was no longer in his own bed. He was in a strange bed in a strange place, where he had never been before. His heart went thud, thud under his ribs, and he lay for a while with his eyes shut, not a little afraid. Suddenly he remembered his Wish, and the thought flashed into his mind that perhaps the promise had been fulfilled, and that he was indeed the King.
He slowly opened his eyes, fearing that he would find himself back in his old bed, with the almanac hanging on the wall and his clothes folded on the chair. But, no, he saw none of those things. He was lying in a beautiful room in a very different bed from that in which he had gone to sleep. He looked round, and lay quite still, hardly venturing to move. He felt very strange and frightened. How had he got there? What was he doing there? Had he any right to be there? Might not policeman come and carry him off to the lock-up for getting into some one else’s bed? The pillow on which his head was resting was very soft, and he seemed to lie in the soft bed as if it were a nest. There was no one in the room; all was silent, and heavy blinds scarcely let a ray of sunlight stream in. In the dim light he could see the furniture, which was quite different from anything that he had ever seen before. It seemed beautiful and rich. He turned in the bed, and as he did so, he was suddenly
conscious of the fact that he was no longer wearing his old white nightgown. He seemed to have on something like a soft shirt and trousers, of some stuff, the name of which he did not know. This puzzled him a great deal. How had he got into these trousers? And as he was thinking, his eye fell upon the ring. Instantly, as in a flash, all that had passed after the Coronation week came before his mind, and with great awe he felt: “It has come true. I have got my wish. I am really the King.”
A strange feeling came into his throat, as if he would choke, and he shut his eyes, and murmured almost below his breath: “And I am the King! The Wish spoke the truth.”
Then the thought came to him immediately: “Where is my crown?” He opened his eyes again, and looked round, but could see no crown anywhere. “Perhaps they have locked it away in a cupboard,” he thought. “But who am I, if I am not the King?”
He looked round for his clothes. He knew where he had put them the night before; they were no longer there. He thought he would get but he was afraid. What would he do if he had no clothes?
While this thought was frightening him, suddenly the door opened, and what seemed to him a very fine gentleman entered, and, seeing that he was awake, came to the bedside, and placed a silver tray ona table close to the bed, on which was the most beautiful little tea service he had ever seen, even in a jeweller’s shop; and then, going to the window, he pulled up the blind, letting a flood of light into the room. Turning to Harry as he lay in bed, he advanced respectfully, and said:
“Will your Majesty be ready for your valet as usual?”
Now when he uttered the words “your Majesty,” Harry felt a cold chill run down his spine. He stared at the man with eyes wide open, feeling horribly uncomfortable. He tried to speak, but his tongue would not move. What did the man mean? What was a valet? How should he address him? The gentleman stood waiting his orders. Harry was bewildered. He tried to say, “If you please, sir,” but his tongue would not move. Then the gentleman said again: “What time does your Majesty want your valet?” But finding that Harry made no reply, he looked at him with some surprise. Harry felt as if he would like to pull the bed clothes over his head, or shrink away from this stranger, who, he feared, might find out who he was, and that he had no right to be there. Then the gentleman said again:
“I suppose if your Majesty has no orders he will attend at the usual time,” and, so saying, he left the room.
Poor Harry was in a panic. What was he to do? There was the tea at his bedside. Was he to drink it? It looked so fine and grand he was afraid to touch it, so he lay there and quaked, wishing with all his might that he were back in his own bed. When the curtains were drawn, the bright light enabled him to see clearly the beauty and magnificence of the room. He had never seen anything like it except in picture-books. He was very puzzled, and, like many other boys in a fix, put his hand up to his chin. But hardly had his fingers touched it, than he snatched his hand away in terror. For his fingers came upon a beard—a beard that was apparently growing on his chin. A shuddering horror came over him. Seeing a looking-glass on the side of the room, he threw off the clothes, and tried to jump out of bed, as he was accustomed to do, as lightly as a cricket. But even as he raised himself, he was conscious of a sense of weight and a lack of nimbleness. He tried to spring to the floor, but he was too heavy. He stepped down heavily upon the ground, and, stretching out his left hand, upset the tea-tray, which fell with a crash.
Harry was so much appalled by the unaccustomed sensation of the weight and size of his body and the horror of having a beard that he took no notice of the shattered tea-cup and the tea that was streaming over the costly rug, but went to the front of the looking-glass. Instead of seeing the familiar features which he knew so well — the smooth ruddy face, the bright blue eyes, and the thick mop of curly hair — a grave and bearded face looked out at him from the mirror. He stared at the vision which confronted him in the glass, hardly recognizing for the moment that he was looking at the reflection of his own countenance. Youth was gone; there were wrinkles on his brow, a beard on his chin, and all his curly mop had disappeared. Then, in a moment, it flashed upon him that he had given away his youth and nearly fifty years of his life to be a King. And as he realized for the first time what it meant, and how much nearer the grave he was than when he had gone to sleep the night before, he fell down on his knees, bowed his head in the cushions of an easy-chair, and cried as if his heart would break.
As he was crying, he suddenly remembered his ring. He had only to turn it three times round his little finger on his left hand. He clutched his finger with his right hand. To his horror the ring was gone. A sickening sense of despair filled his heart. Now there was no hope for him any more. He was already an man—sixty years old at least.
Oh, how he regretted that that fatal wish, which had robbed him of his youth! Then, suddenly, in a frenzy he began looking for the ring. He looked in the bed; it was not there. He looked on the floor; he could not find it anywhere. He went down on his hands and knees, and hunted among the broken china; but no trace of the precious ring was to be seen.
He was still engaged hunting for the ring when the valet entered the room, and stood looking in amazement at his Majesty on the floor amid the broken tea-things. Quickly recovering his self-possession, the valet said, “Your Majesty,” and paused. Harry looked up.
“Don’t Majesty me! I want my ring.” And he renewed his search.
“What ring, your Majesty?” said the valet.
“The ring I wore on the little finger of my left hand last night. I had it on when I went to bed, and this morning it is gone. Some one must have taken it Oh, where is my mother?”
Even the well-trained royal servant could not altogether repress a start, as the King turned upon him with this extraordinary question.
“Her gracious Majesty Queen Victoria—”
“I don’t want to hear about Queen Victoria. I want my mother. I want to tell her what has happened.”
“Your mother,” said the valet, “is dead.”
Harry rose to his feet, his face ashen pale.
“Dead!” he said. “My mother dead! Then where’s my father?”
The valet was speechless with amazement.
“Take me to my father instantly,” he said. “Why do you stand there staring like that?”
“Your Majesty’s father is dead also,” said the valet.
“You lie!” said Harry impatiently. “He was quite well last night; at any rate, just before I went to bed.”
“I am afraid your Majesty is unwell,” said the valet. “I will fetch the doctor.” And he turned and left the room, leaving Harry the picture of misery and despair.
“Father, mother, both dead! I wonder where is Emily? She used to sleep in the next room to mine.”
He went to the door that stood slightly ajar. It was a bath-room. The water looked beautifully clear and cool. The fittings were of silver, but Harry cared nothing for the grandeur. He tried another door. It opened into a dressing-room, but he could see no trace of Emily. Coming out again into his own room, he went back to bed, and presently there entered a grave and reverend-looking gentleman, who bowed and said:
“I am sorry to hear of your Majesty’s indisposition.”
“There’s nothing the matter with me,” said Harry impatiently. “Only I’ve lost my ring, and I don’t know where to find it. Where’s my sister? I want my sister. She always could find things when I couldn’t.”
A sad look came into the doctor’s eyes. He said, softly: “Your Majesty’s sister is dead.”
“Dead, all dead!” said Harry impatiently. “I don’t believe it. Why are you telling me these lies? Dead! my sister dead! Mother dead, father dead, and I’m an old man!”
The physician said: “Permit me to feel your Majesty’s pulse,” and he grasped Harry’s wrist with a firm, delicate hand.
All this time Harry was absolutely bewildered.
“Do you suffer any pain?” said the doctor.
As he spoke Harry was conscious of throbbing pains in his temples. He had once or twice had a headache when at school, but never anything like this.
“Pain!” said he, “my head is aching fit to split.”
“I thought so,” said the physician.” The strain of Coronation has been too muchi for your Majesty. Permit me to give you a sleeping draught.”
“What for?” said Harry. “I hate medicine.”
“If your Majesty will but take it, it will ease the pain in your head,” said the physician, and he poured a little water on to the sedative powder which he emptied out of a paper into a glass. “Take this, and sleep for an hour, and you will feel better.”
Harry hesitated, but there was a firm note of command in the doctor’s voice. So he took the glass and drank its contents. In a few minutes he began to feel very drowsy, and his last sensation was that of seeing the valet come into the room and speak softly to the doctor.
While he slept, the valet silently gathered up the broken china. As he lifted the silver cream jug, he heard something tinkle. Looking inside, he saw the ring which Harry had lost. Turning to the doctor, who was still by the bedside, he said, in a whisper: “Did not the King say something about a ring? Do you think it can be this?”
So saying, he held out the ring to the doctor, and silently left the room.
“Thank God!” said the doctor. “I thought he was going mad. But it seems he really had lost a ring. I will keep it for him till he wakes.”
Harry Smith, who had become King Edward VII., lay still. The curtains had been drawn again, and there was no one in the room but himself. No; there was some one in the room, for no sooner had the valet and the doctor closed the door behind them than the little sun-coloured Wish suddenly appeared and seated himself on the pillow close to the sleeper’s head. Bending over to his ear, he whispered something, and as he whispered the boy who had become King heard what he said as if in a dream.
And this is what he dreamed. He dreamed that he was King in real truth, and that he saw his Wish; but instead of being pleased, he was very angry.
“You hateful, horrible thing!” he said. “What is this that you have done to me?”
“I have given you your wish,” said the little sprite. “What more could you have? I asked you again and again, and gave you several days to think it over, and still you persisted you would give anything to be a King. Now you are a King.”
“Yes,” said Harry, “worse luck, I am—and my father is dead, and my mother and my sister, and I’m an elderly man with a grey heard.”
“You should have thought of that before,” said the Wish. “You cannot both eat your cake and have it.”
“Well, but I never thought,” said Harry angrily—”I never thought that if I were the King I would have to be an old man, and lose all the people I loved best in the world. I hate being the King!”
“Then why not use your ring?” said the Wish.
Harry in his dream blushed scarlet, and muttered: “I have lost it.”
“Then,” said the Wish sternly, “you will have to remain King till you die.”
There was silence for a time. Presently the Wish spoke to him in a severe voice, and said: “As you are the King, you must act like a King. You will never be a boy any more, unless you find the ring. Make the best of the few years you have to live. Remember all that you wished to do when you thought about being a King. Don’t let any one guess that you are other than Edward VII. You have his body; you have his crown; you have his throne. You are the King. When the servants come, don’t be afraid; let them help you to dress; and when you go down to breakfast you will find a very nice gentleman who is your private secretary. He will help you to do everything that you want to do. Only remember, you must do everything that he tells you.”
“But,” said Harry, “that’s all very well. If I have to do everything he tells me, it seems to me that he is the King and I am only the King’s man.”
The Wish laughed.
“No, he is your man. You are the King, only you don’t know what to do, and he does. That makes all the difference.”
So the Wish went away, and the dream passed, and Harry opened his eyes to find the doctor standing by his bedside with his finger on his pulse.
“Is your Majesty rested?” said the doctor. “I think you are rather better.”
“I’m quite well,” said Harry. “I want to get up.”
“I will send the valet,” said the doctor. “How is the pain in your Majesty’s head?”
“It has gone,” said Harry. “But where are my clothes?”
“I will send your valet,” said the doctor again.
He left the room, and a valet came in, who helped Harry out of bed and showed him into the bath-room. Harry enjoyed his bath, and then, going into the dressing-room, he allowed himself to be dressed by his valet. He would have much preferred to have dressed himself, but as he did not know where to find his clothes, or what article to put on first, or how they were fastened, he thought he had better surrender himself to be dressed as if —in his own phrase—he were only a great big doll.
He apologized to the valet, saying: “I am sorry, sir, to give you so much trouble, but I am not very well this morning, you see.”
The valet said nothing, but when he left the room, he remarked to his fellow-servants! that he did not know what had I come over the King; he had never seen him like this before.
“Quite talked to me,” he said, “as if I were the King and he were only the valet.”
When Harry was fully dressed, he was conducted downstairs to the breakfast-room, and there, sure enough, was a very pleasant-spoken gentleman, who he supposed; was the private secretary.
“I am sorry, sir, you have not been so well this morning,” said the secretary.
“Only a headache,” said Harry, who now began to enter into the spirit of the thing. ” The doctor gave me some medicine. It has made me feel queer in my head. I don’t remember anything.”
“Really?” said the secretary.
“The Coronation I remember,” said the King; “but I have forgotten where my crown is. I would like to wear it.”
The secretary smiled. “Not at breakfast, sir.”
“Why not,” said Harry. The sooner the better. I don’t feel as if I were a King unless I am wearing my crown.”
“You will find it a great bore, sir; and as there is no one here but your Majesty and myself, it is hardly worth while.”
“Well.” said Harry, “I am very hungry anyhow, and will let my crown wait.”
So he enjoyed his breakfast. It was daintily served and nicely cooked, and there were such a variety of dishes that it made Harry sigh as he thought of the bowl of porridge on which he had breakfasted the day before. “I am glad to see, sir, that you have some appetite for your breakfast.” said the secretary.
“Who wouldn’t,” said Harry, “with such fine tuck going? I say, I must have some of that ham.”
He had already eaten a couple of eggs, a piece of fish, and a cutlet.
“Now,” said he, as he drank his last cup of coffee, “what a glorious morning!”
As he spoke, he sauntered to the window and looked out upon the lawn.
“Wouldn’t it be fine,” said he to the secretary, “if we could have a game of cricket!”
The private secretary, who had been vainly trying to hide his astonishment, only said: “Certainly, sir, a charming day for cricket.”
“And why should we not go out and have a game?” said Harry.
“But, sir,” said the secretary, “you have not played cricket for years.”
“What a lie!” said he. “Why, I made top score in the match only last week.” Then, suddenly remembering who he was, he said: “But why could we not play cricket now?”
“Sir,” said the private secretary, producing his appointment book, “your indisposition has made you late for your appointments, and it will take you all your time to overtake them.”
“What appointments?” said he. “I told you I had forgotten everything. But it seems a sin not to play cricket to-day. What are these stupid appointments?”
“The Comptroller of the Household, sir, will be here with the accounts,” said the secretary, “which must be submitted to you.”
“Bother the accounts! I hate arithmetic,” said Harry.
The private secretary looked somewhat alarmed, but he went on: “Well, that will not take your Majesty very long. After the Comptroller, you will have to see Lord Scrope, who is here to explain the plans for the alterations that are being I made at Windsor.”
“Lord Scrope? Who’s Lord Scrope?” said the King. “I dare say he knows a great deal more about the plans than I. Can’t he go and carry them out without bothering me?”
“There are two or three points that must be submitted to your Majesty,” said the secretary, somewhat stiffly.
“And then the Prime Minister has to see you upon very urgent business, after which you will have to prepare for the visit to the City.”
“What are we to do in the City?” said Harry.
“Your Majesty’s memory,” said the secretary, with a bow, “seems to be strangely impaired.”
“Didn’t I tell you I had forgotten everything?” said Harry. “Come now,” said he, putting his arm through his secretary’s, “I’ll make a bargain. I’ll do every mortal thing you tell me. You know the ropes. I have forgotten everything. My mind is a blank. But mind,” he said, “you won’t make a fool of me, now?”
“Certainly not, sir,” said the secretary.
“Honour bright?” said he. “You can rely upon me, sir,” said the secretary, “loyally to perform my duty to your Majesty.”
“All right, then,” said Harry, “go ahead with your Comptroller!”
“Will your Majesty go to your office?” said the secretary.
“You go ahead, and I’ll follow,” said Harry.
“It is not for me to go before your Majesty,” said the secretary.
“Well,” said Harry, “if you don’t go in front I’ll stop here, for I don’t know where to go. You will have to go in front. It’s a case of follow my leader, but if you won’t go, I’m in no hurry. I can sit here all day.”
So the private secretary led Harry into the room in the Palace in which the King transacted business. Harry was now beginning to realize that he was a King, and he thought if the secretary would only give him a few hints he could manage to play the part very well. Presently the Comptroller came with the accounts and with a report to which he listened, making no remarks; and after hearing a great number of figures which he did not in the least understand, he said:
“All right. I will pass them. Do you want me to sign them?”
“It is not necessary, sir,” said the Comptroller, and, gathering up his books, he departed.
Next came Lord Scrope, with the plans of changes to be made in Windsor Castle. Harry was much interested. There were diagrams, and his visitor did not bother him with details. He explained quite simply and clearly what was to be done, and while placing before the King the questions to be decided, he left the King in no doubt as to what was the right decision. Harry was grateful accordingly, and promptly decided in every case in accordance with Lord Scrope’s lead.
When Lord Scrope left, he turned to his private secretary and said:
“Nice chap, that! He made everything quite plain, and so interesting too, and so simple. I shouldn’t have thought he was a lord. If every one were like him I would never be bored. Oh, dear ” said he, “who’s coming now?”
“Don’t you know?” said the secretary, as he whispered to him. “Why, this is the Prime Minister. He’s an old man, and you must ask him to sit down.”
Harry was much awed. Despite his pleasant experience with Lord Scrope, he had a holy terror of a peer, and when the peer was none other than the Prime Minister himself, he felt very quaky. However, with a hold effort, he rose from his chair and said:
“May it please my noble lord to he seated.”
The Premier raised his heavy eyebrows and cast an astonished look at the face of his Sovereign, who was addressing him as if he were his butler instead of his King, and took the seat as requested. There were several questions of great importance which he had to explain to the King. Harry listened with great attention. The Prime Minister was explaining the nature of a decision at which the Cabinet had arrived. The sanction of the King was necessary to give effect to it. Harry listened. At first he did not understand, then he was very much interested, and at last it dawned upon him that his assent was needed to issue a proclamation which would give the magistrates in Ireland a right to put a great number of poor men in gaol, without giving them any trial. Now Harry was very fond of the Irish. For the first time he had ever fallen in love was at school, when he had quite lost his heart to a little black-eyed beauty of an Irish girl, called Bridget, and with the fervid enthusiasm of thirteen years old he had longed for nothing in the world so much as for an opportunity of showing his devotion to Bridget by doing something for Ireland.
When the Prime Minister had finished his explanations, Harry felt for the first time that he was glad that he was a King. He had a very dim idea as to what it was that the Cabinet had decided to do, but he felt that it was something against the Irish. “Now,” he thought, “my chance has come.”
So when the Prime Minister had finished with a declaration, “We desire the approval of your Majesty for this proclamation,” Harry bit his lip. His heart was beating hard, and he became very white and cold. But he felt that “now or never” was the time to show that he was a real King. So he said to the Prime Minister: “My Lord, I am very sorry, but I cannot give my assent to what you propose.”
The Minister stared at him. “Sir,” he said, “I don’t think I understood what your Majesty said.”
Harry, having gained courage by the sound of his own voice, repeated:
” I am sorry, my Lord, but I am unable to assent to the measure which you have placed before me.”
“But the Cabinet has decided it,” said the Premier.
“But I have not,” said he. “I will do nothing against Ireland.”
The private secretary looked aghast, and whispered in his ear: ” But you must, you know.”
“Don’t say ‘must’ to the King,” said Harry, turning round. “I won’t have it! No, not for the Prime Minister and all the Cabinet put together! Am I the King of Great Britain or am I not? Was I not crowned only the other day? and now you come to me with your ‘musts.’ I tell you, I won’t! Take your papers away, if you have nothing better to say to me. I don’t warn to see you again.”
The Prime Minister, seeing that there was something strange in the King’s manner, bowed and left the room without a word.
Harry, in high spirits, turned to his secretary.
“There,” said he, “that’s one piece of good work done.”
“But, your Majesty,” said his secretary, “this is impossible.”
“What is impossible?” said Harry.
“That you should set the advice of your Prime Minister and of all your Cabinet at defiance in this way.”
“Do you mean to tell me,” said Harry, “that I, me, Edward VII., crowned King of Great Britain and Ireland, must be dictated to by people who call themselves my servants and my Ministers? I tell you, I won’t have it! That reminds me,” he said, “why didn’t I have my crown on when the Prime Minister came in? He wouldn’t have dared to have spoken to me like that if I had! Go and fetch my crown this instant!”
The poor secretary almost fainted. He feared now that the King had gone mad.
“Your Majesty,” he said, I am sorry, but we must begin to get ready to go to the City. Her Majesty the Queen was to have been ready to join you in ten minutes.”
Must I go into the, City?” said Harry.
“Certainly, sir, you must,” said the secretary.
“I don’t like hearing that word ‘must,'” said Harry. “It’s bad enough when you are a boy at school, but to be ‘musted’ this and ‘musted’ that all day long is not what I bargained for when I wished be King.”
However, despite his protest, he was induced to be dressed for the excursion to the City. He surrendered himself to all attendants, who marvelled somewhat at his clumsiness, but thought it was because the King was not very well. He was thinking all the time about the Queen—his wife, he presumed? It seemed so funny to have a wife. He wondered whether when he met her he should kiss her in the same way his father used to kiss his mother, or whether he should wait until she kissed him. He was very shy, and was greatly relieved when he was hurried into the carriage where the Queen was already sitting, without even an opportunity of settling what to do under the circumstances.
“I hope, sir,” said the secretary, as he was driving away, “that your memory has returned.”
“Not a bit of it,” said Harry, “I don’t remember anything.”
“Not your speech?” said the dismayed secretary.
“What speech?” said he.
“Why, the speech that you have to deliver at the lunch in the Guildhall.”
“Never made a speech in my life,” said Harry dolefully, as he drove away, leaving the private secretary standing at the gate in dismay.
The appearance of the supposed King in the carriage was greeted with loud cheering on the part of those of the crowd who had assembled to see his departure. The bright sun, the fresh air, the motion of the carriage, the gay escort of splendidly mounted soldiers, revived his spirits. “Now this,” he thought, “is something like being a King.”
As they drove through the cheering crowds, the Queen noticed that he was sitting quite still in the carriage.
She whispered to him: “Are you ill?”
“No,” he said. “Why?”
“Because,” she said, “you don’t bow.”
“Why should I bow?” he asked.
The Queen did not hear his whispered question, but bowed pleasantly to right and left. At last it dawned upon him that he was expected to do something, and when they came to Charing Cross, and the cheering grew louder than ever, he took his hat from his head, waved it in the air, and began cheering himself at the top of his voice.
The Queen was aghast. “What is the matter?” she said.
“Matter!” he replied. “Why shouldn’t I cheer? They are all cheering. I like a good shout. Hip, hip, hurrah!” and he cried again; while the crowd, seeing the King cheering, looked in amazement to see what had aroused such an outburst of unwonted enthusiasm. As for the Queen, she was indeed alarmed, and believed that her husband had suddenly gone mad. She pulled him down into his seat.
“Don’t,” she said—”don’t! What can be the matter?”
“Well, what am I to do,” he said, “when they are all cheering?”
“Take off your hat,” she replied, “and bow, and do as you always do.”
Whereupon he took off his hat and bowed and smiled until his head was tired with bowing to the right and the left.
“Must I keep this up always?” he said to the Queen; but as she said nothing, and kept on smiling and bowing, he thought he could not do better than follow her example. Down the Strand they went. All the buildings were gay with flags, all the streets crowded with his loyal subjects. “They are cheering me,” he said to himself, with pride, “cheering me, their King. To think of that stupid old Prime Minister, who dared to tell me I must! Who is he, I wonder? I am a King,” he thought to himself, “yes, every inch a King.”
And as they passed the place where Temple Bar once stood, and entered Fleet Street, he felt as if he were the direct descendant of William the Conqueror, and Richard Coeur de Lion, and Henry VIII., and all the great Kings of whom he had read in his history book.
So they passed through Fleet Street, and when they came to Ludgate Circus, and he saw the great crowd stretched out on either side behind the lines of soldiers and police, the thought suddenly struck him of all that he meant to do for these people. Not for the rich—he did not care for them, but for the poor, the people who were out of work, or were old, with nothing but the workhouse to look forward to. And he felt again a great glow of pride that he was King. Now he would show them what a King could do. He would see that there were no more poor people starving in the land, no more wretched children, no little girls without shoes or stockings on their feet. He would make every one happy. Was he not a King? Was that not why he had been made King? And he was so busy thinking of this that he forgot to bow all the way up Ludgate Hill, until the Queen, noticing that he had fallen into a brown study, pulled his arm and begged him not to look so strange, but to acknowledge the cheers of the crowd.
Presently they reached St. Paul’s Cathedral. An immense multitude filled all the space that was not guarded by the long lines of soldiers and police. “What are we going to do now?” he said.
“My dear, you must be ill,” said the Queen. “Do you not remember that we go to service in St. Paul’s?”
“No,” he said, “I do not. What are we to do there?”
The Queen looked at him in amazement. What had come I over him? The carriage had stopped, and he remained sitting, looking round on the scene with the puzzled air of a country cousin. The Queen seeing that something was wrong, and that it was necessary for her to come to the rescue, induced him to alight and to enter the Cathedral.
Harry had never been in such a big church before. The great Cathedral was crowded to the door. Singing more beautiful than he had ever heard came from the white-robed choir as they walked slowly down the nave to the choir. Once in their seats, he felt more at ease, but he could not help noticing the anxious look which the Queen cast at him from time to time. When the service began, however, the peal of the great organ and the sweet sound of the boys’ voices thrilled him with joy. He followed the prayers, but it was with a strange feeling of awe that he heard them offer the prayers for him, and on his knees he prayed with all his heart that he might be a good King, and do good to all the poor people of the realm.
When the service was over, Harry, accompanied by the Queen and all their courtiers, left the Cathedral and proceeded to the Guildhall, where a splendid luncheon was spread. He was not hungry in the least. The few hours that had passed since breakfast had been so crowded with excitement that he turned to the Queen and said: “Why are we going to dinner so soon? I am not in the least hungry. It’s such a short time since I had breakfast.”
“Hush!” said the Queen; “that does not matter.”
So, with a flourish of trumpets at the door, they were ushered into the great hall, where the Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs and all the Aldermen and Common Councillors received them with every sign of respect. When they had taken their seats the luncheon began. Harry was bewildered. When they asked him with what wine they should fill his glass, he replied:
“None; I never drink wine.”
“But what would your Majesty drink?”
“Ginger beer,” he said; “but I am not thirsty, and don’t want to drink anything.”
As the lunch proceeded, and one dish after another was brought, he did his best to eat it, but soon began to feel rather ill; he had never eaten so much in his life.
“Don’t bring me anything more,” he said, when the waiter was taking away his plate.
Every one looked very uncomfortable, and Harry felt more uncomfortable than they all. The meal went on, however. One course after another was served; glasses were emptied and refilled and emptied again, and Harry wondered whether everybody would be drunk. He knew he would have been. He thought he had never seen such eating and drinking before in his life, and as he sat there, silent and uneasy, and wishing heartily he was out of it all, he thought to himself, “If I had only not lost that ring!”
He could not help noticing the anxious looks that were cast in his direction from time to time, and the rumour spread from table to table that the King was ill.
“Is your Majesty indisposed?” said the Lady Mayoress.
“No,” he said, “I have only had too much to eat.”
“Would you not have a glass of champagne?” she said. “It would do your Majesty good.”
“No,” he said, “I am a member of the Band of Hope; at least “—suddenly recollecting himself—”I was yesterday. I suppose I am still, but it is all so strange.”
After lunch was over, the Lord Mayor proposed the health of the King. All the company stood up, and, with great cheering, they emptied their glasses and drank the health of the King. Then, when they sat down, his private secretary came to him, and said: “Now is the time for your speech.”
Every one was looking towards Harry, and hardly knowing what he was doing, he rose to his feet. The room swam before his eyes, and he felt as if he were going to fall. He held on to the table, however, and began:—
“My Lord Mayor, ladies and gentlemen: Thank you —thank you all very much. It is very good of you to drink my health, but it would be much better if you drank it in water.”
Vague recollections of meetings of the Band of Hope crowded upon him, and he went on: “Just think how wretched are thousands in this land who have been brought to ruin and disgrace by strong drink. Who that has ever seen a drunkard’s home could bear to look upon the wine-cup?”
Here he paused. Only those immediately near him heard what he was saying.
“But that is not all,” he continued. “Why do you eat so much, when so many people have nothing to eat at all? Is it right? I do not think it is right. I am your King, and you must listen to my words,” he said, realizing his dignity. “Yes, I am your King, and I tell you you ought not to do these things. It is waste to eat so much when little children are starving for want of food. When I was crowned as King you promised to obey me, to be my loyal subjects, and I mean to be obeyed. It makes me miserable to think of the difference between the rich and the poor in this land over which I reign. Think of the grey-haired old men, worn out with work, driven to the workhouse. Think of little children made to work when they ought to be at school. Think of all these things, and then ask how can I feel that I am a King if nothing is done to mend matters. I did not want to be a King to eat and to drink, but to make good laws to help poor people, and to make this England Merry England once more.”
Harry felt he had a great deal more to say, but his voice was failing him, and his knees were trembling with excitement, and suddenly he sat down amid a confused murmur that spread all through the hall. What did it mean? The King had never spoken before in such a way. His secretary was in despair; the Queen was in tears; and the Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs and the Aldermen and all the great lords and ladies could hardly believe their ears.
Presently the Lord Mayor rose: “I am sorry to inform you,” said he, “that his Majesty is very much indisposed. The strain of the Coronation, and the arduous duties which have followed that great event, have rendered it necessary for his Majesty to retire at once.”
The band struck up “God save the King,” the banqueters rose to their feet, and the King, supported on either side by the Queen and the Prince of Wales, was led out to his carriage.
“What do they mean?” said he angrily. ” I am not ill. What do they mean by saying that I am ill? But I am glad to be out of it, all the same.”
The procession was re-formed. The effort which Harry had made to make a public speech had excited him like wine. He talked freely, and smiled graciously upon the crowds. He was in high spirits. The Queen, although very much alarmed, acknowledged, almost mechanically, the cheers of the crowd. At one place on the route the pressure of the crowd broke through the line of soldiers and police, and there was a short delay, during which the crowd pressed close round the royal carriage.
“What fun!” said Harry. “I wonder if we shall ever get through?”
The crowd cheered and cheered again, while the people cried, “God save the King!”
“Thank you,” said Harry. “Thank you, thank you very much.”
They drove on through a mile of cheering crowds, and the cheering never ceased. It was a bright, beautiful day. The crowds were cheering for him, and the soldiers were guarding him, and everybody seemed to be pleased with him, so he bowed and smiled and thoroughly enjoyed himself. And as the carriage drove through the gates of Buckingham Palace, he said: “Here we are again. I wonder what will happen next.”
The Queen alighted, and officers and servants escorted them to their rooms. A liveried servant took his hat and gloves, and a moment later his private secretary came in, accompanied by the doctor whom he had seen in the morning.
“Well,” said Harry cheerfully, “wasn’t it splendid?”
“I think your Majesty had better rest,” said the doctor.
“Rest!” said he. “I’m not a bit tired. What is there to do next?”
The secretary and the doctor looked at each other. Presently the private secretary slipped out, and returned in a moment, saying that the Queen desired to see the King.
“All right!” said Harry. “Where is she?” And having been conducted to the Queen, she greeted him with a face full of alarm, saying: “Oh, what is the matter with you? Have you taken anything?”
“Taken anything?” said Harry. “I should think I have. Why, these people stuff you as if you were a prize pig. But what is the trouble?” he said, looking at her.
“Don’t you think you had bettor see the doctor? Let me take you to your room,” and, so saying, she laid her hand upon his arm and led him to his room, where the doctor, the Prime Minister, and the Home Secretary were waiting for him.
“Ah! you here again?” said the King to the Prime Minister. “Were you in the City?”
“I was sitting close to your Majesty,” said the Prime Minister, bowing, “and heard with some surprise the speech with which you favoured us.”
“You see,” said Harry, “I’m not accustomed to public speaking. It was the first time I had ever spoken to such a crowd, and I just had to say what first came into my head. But,” he exclaimed suddenly, “when am I going to make the new laws?” The Home Secretary looked at the Prime Minister and was silent. The doctor said: “Do you not think your Majesty had better retire to rest?”
“Fiddlesticks! At five o’clock in the afternoon and with so much to do! I am not going to bed till I please! I am the King! Tell me, you are sure I am the King?”
“Certainly,” said the Prime Minister. “Why should you doubt it?”
“Well, I suppose I am the King; but where’s my crown? What is a King without a crown? When a King makes laws, does he not wear his crown? I want to make laws. Bring me my crown! ”
The doctor whispered to the Prime Minister: “You had better humour him. He seems quite out of his wits, and if we cross him the consequences may be serious.”
“Bring me my crown!” said Harry; “and where is my throne, and where are my counsellors?”
“If your Majesty will come to the Council Room,” said the Prime Minister, “we will see what can be done.”
So Harry proceeded to the Throne Room; the crown was placed upon his head, and he seated himself on the throne.
“Now,” he said, “where are my counsellors? You are my Prime Minister, but where are the others?”
“I am the Home Secretary,” said that Minister, bowing. “What is your Majesty’s will?”
“If you are my Home Secretary,” said Harry, ” take a pen and write. I don’t like writing myself. Except in exercise-books I never write if I can help it. Take a pen and write. But are there no others?”
“We are sufficient for your first Council,” said the Prime Minister.
“Then,” said Harry, “write: ‘I, King Edward VII ‘—you are sure that I am the King ?” he said again to the Prime Minister.
“Certainly, your Majesty.” “And you have sworn to obey me?”
“Yes,” said both Ministers.”
“And to be my loyal subjects, and to do my will? Then listen to my will. Write: ‘I, Edward VII., hereby order and decree that everybody in England shall have enough to eat; that no one shall be out of work who is willing to work; that no old people shall have to go to the workhouse if they don’t want to go there; that all my subjects shall have good houses to live in’—have you got all that down?”
“Yes,” said the Home Secretary.
“Then add also that all the public-houses shall be closed during my reign. Now,” said he, as the Home Secretary finished writing, “I will sign it, and you will publish it, and see that every one obeys it.”
“But, your Majesty,” said the Prime Minister, “who is to pay for all this?”
“Pay for this?” said Harry. “Why, what do you mean?”
“Who is to pay,” said the Prime Minister, “for giving all the poor people enough to eat and giving every one a good house to live in?”
“I will pay for it,” said Harry. “I am rich enough; and if I am not, I will make a law to compel all these rich people who eat and drink too much to pay the rest of the bill.”
“Are you aware,” said the Prime Minister, “that the King has no power to make any one pay any money until it has been ordered by Parliament?”
“Is Parliament King in this land,” said Harry, “or am I King?”
“You are King, your Majesty,” said the Prime Minister, “certainly; but the law of the land is higher even than the King; and, although you have a crown on your head, you have no more power to order any one of your subjects to pay sixpence than any tramp in the street.”
“But I thought you said I was the King!”
“Certainly, your Majesty; but when you were crowned you swore to obey the law of the land equally with all your subjects, and the law says that you can make no new laws until your subjects in Parliament assembled have agreed to them.”
“Then call Parliament together at once, and I will order Parliament to agree to them.”
“Your Majesty,” said the Prime Minister, “the Parliament is not accustomed to receive orders from the King. All that your Majesty can do is, with the consent of your Ministers, to ask Parliament to pass the laws that you desire.”
“But they will do what I ask them!” said Harry angrily.
“You must get the consent of your Cabinet,” said the Prime Minister.
“What!” said Harry, “can a King not ask Parliament to do what is right until he has got permission? It seems as if I have very little more power than when I was a boy at school.”
“Your Majesty,” said the Prime Minister, “as you seem to have forgotten, let me explain to you the position of a King in England. A crown is placed upon your head, and a sceptre is placed in your hand, when you are placed on the throne. But they are only ornaments. The King has no power in England to make new laws, to alter old laws, or to collect new taxes. You are allowed to reign only on condition that you do not rule.”
“Precious little use then in being a King!” said Harry. “I was always told the King could do no wrong. It seems to me, from what you say, that the King can do nothing, either right or wrong, except sit on the throne and wear his crown.”
“The King,” said the Prime Minister, “can act on the advice of his Ministers. Only with the advice of his Ministers can he do anything, and he can do very little even then, unless he can get the consent of Parliament.”
“Who makes Parliament?” said Harry.
“The electors, who choose their members at a General Election,” said the Home Secretary. “And it is members so chosen who alone can make laws, but your Majesty’s assent is necessary before they can become the law of the land.”
“Then I can propose nothing of myself?” said the King.
“You can propose nothing,” said the Prime Minister, “without the advice of your Ministers.”
“Then all I can do is to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a new law?” said Harry.
“Your Majesty may say ‘yes,’ but you may not say ‘no,'” said the Prime Minister.
“What!” said Harry. “Do you mean to tell me I can’t even refuse my assent to a new law? I must always say ‘yes’?”
“You must always say ‘yes’ when the law is passed.”
“Then I don’t see what’s the use of my having to say it at all,” said Harry; “you might as well take it for granted.”
The Ministers were silent.
Harry lost his temper. “What a farce it is, this miserable crown!” He took it off his head and sent it flying to the far corner of the room.” What a farce it is to call me a King! I don’t want to be a King only to stick a crown on my head and then be able to do nothing for the people! I thought when you crowned me, and asked God to give me grace to be able to rule this people righteously, I had some power, and now you tell me I have none. I tell you, I won’t be King any longer! It’s too silly for anything! You pray, for me and cheer me and swear to obey me, and then whenever I try to do anything you tell me that it is I who have to obey you, not you who have to obey me. I don’t understand such kind of kingship! I wish to ask you once again, are you quite sure that I am your lawful King?”
They bowed. “But,” said the Prime Minister, “in all affairs of State you must follow the advice of statesmen.”
“But if I don’t like your advice?”
“Then,” said the Prime Minister, “you can dismiss us, and appoint others in our stead.”
“Can I, though?” said Harry.
“Certainly,” said the Ministers.
“Then I dismiss you this moment, every one of you. Off with you, and never let me see you again!”
“But your Majesty—”
“Well?” said Harry.
“Whom are you going to appoint in our places?”
“I don’t know yet.” But it will be somebody who will do what I tell them, and won’t refuse to make good laws for helping the poor people of this country.”
The Ministers withdrew for a little time, and conversed together. Presently they called forth the King’s private secretary, and after some words with him they bowed towards the throne and retired.
“He’s very strange,” said the Prime Minister, as he went out.
“Better humour him,” said the doctor, “for a bit. Let him send for some one else.”
Meantime Harry was listening to his private secretary.
“For whom will your Majesty send?” said the secretary.
“Why should I send for anybody?” said Harry. “I don’t want any of these bothering Ministers. Why can’t you be my Minister? —that is to say,” said he, looking at him, “if you will do what I ask you.”
“But,” said his secretary, “that would be impossible, because I have no supporters in the House of Commons.”
“Supporters in the House of Commons!” said Harry. “I will support you.”
The secretary shook his head. “That is not enough, your Majesty.”
“Not good enough,” said Harry, “the support of a King?”
“No, your Majesty,” said the secretary; “the support of the King is but the beginning of the matter. Without a majority in the House of Commons no Minister can hold office.”
“What!” said Harry— “what is this you tell me? First that I can dismiss my Ministers, and then you tell me I cannot appoint whom I please. What is the use of dismissing them?”
“Not very much, your Majesty,” said the Secretary, “as you will discover if you try to choose other Ministers.”
“Well, let us try,” said Harry. “Who knows what may not happen? Whom do you think we should send for?” he asked. “I don’t know any of these people.”
“You had better send for the Leader of the Opposition,” said the Secretary.
“The Opposition!” said Harry. “What is that?”
“The party that opposes the Ministers whom you have just dismissed.”
“Good!” said Harry. “That sounds better. There must be some good in them if they oppose those old fellows who have just gone out. Send for their Leader at once.”
In a short time the Leader of the Opposition arrived, in considerable amazement, which was increased when he learned from the lips of the King that the Ministers had been dismissed, and that he was summoned to form a new Government.
“But,” said he, “it is impossible.”
Harry frowned. “Am I your King?” said he.
“Certainly, your Majesty,” said the statesman, bowing.
“Who was crowned in the Abbey, and whom you swore to obey?”
“Certainly, that is true,” said the Liberal Leader.
“Then,” said he, “I command you to form a Government, to take the place of the Ministers whom I have just dismissed.”
“But, your Majesty—” Began the Leader.
“Don’t say ‘but,'” said the King. “But do as you are told. And stay,” said he, “I want you to be my Ministor, to do my will, to make new laws which I will draw up, and to do all the good things which I have in my mind.”
The Leader of the Opposition looked at the King.
“Your Majesty,” he said, “appears to have forgotten one thing.”
“Perhaps I never knew it,” said Harry wearily. “There are so many things which people say I have forgotten, and which I never heard of before in my life.”
“Your Majesty,” said the statesman, “forgets that my followers in the House of Commons are fewer in number than those who support the Minister whom you have just dismissed. Further, they don’t agree among themselves, but are at sixes and sevens, and if I accepted your Majesty’s commission my Government would be thrown out of office in a week, perhaps even in a day.”
“Thrown out of the office,” said Harry, “in which I have placed you?”
“Even so, your Majesty,” said the other.
“But who would dare to throw you out?”
“The majority in the House of Commons,” was the reply.
“Then the House of Commons is King over the King?”
“It is King over the King’s Ministers,” said the Liberal Leader.
“Can I do nothing to make the House of Commons do my will? “asked Harry.
“You can dissolve Parliament,” said the statesman, “as you can dismiss your Ministers.”
“Can I?” said Harry. “Certainly, your Majesty.”
“Then go and dissolve it this moment,” said he.
“But,” said the statesman, “you have forgotten one thing. You can only dissolve Parliament on the advice of your Ministers.”
“Well then,” said Harry, “advise me first, and do it afterwards.”
“With all due deference to your Majesty,” said the Liberal Leader, bowing, “I cannot take the responsibility of dissolving Parliament.”
“What excuse for disobedience, sir?” said Harry angrily.
“It is the usage of this land,” said the Liberal Leader, “that Parliament is never dissolved before its time unless there is reason to think that the electors have changed their minds, and will change the minority into a majority.”
“Well,” said Harry, “how do you know they won’t do so now? You never can tell till you try.”
“No, your Majesty,” said the Statesman, “I beg you to excuse me from undertaking a task which could only result in disaster, and expose your Majesty’s throne to danger.”
“What’s the use of a throne,” said Harry bitterly, “if you are stopped, and checked at every turn?”
“The King,” said the statesman, “has many things to do in the constitution, but to make laws is not one of them. He must obey the laws and play his proper part in the pageantry of the State, and with that I beg your Majesty to give me permission to leave.”
“Out with you!” said Harry. “You’re just as bad as the others!”
As the statesman left the room he was accosted by the Prime Minister, who said: “How did you find the King?”
“Yery strange,” said he. “I cannot understand it. Asked me to form a Ministry and dissolve Parliament, and when I refused ordered me out of the room as if I had been a flunkey. He seems to be wrong in the head.”
“Quite so,” said the Prime Minister. “I am glad you are here, for the situation is somewhat strange; no living man has had any experience in dealing with such a King.”
“What is he doing now?” said the Lord Chancellor.
“He was walking up and down with the crown on his head,” said the Liberal Leader, “very angry—so angry I should not be surprised if he threw the crown out of the window.”
“He must be put under restraint,” said the Prime Minister, “and that at once; and if he does not promptly recover, preparations must be made to appoint the Prince of Wales Regent in his stead. Meanwhile the doctor had better see what he can do with him.”
On entering the room, the doctor, attended by a couple of stalwart men-servants, found Harry walking about with the crown in his hands.
“What a bauble you are!” he was saying. “What a mockery to wear a crown, and have no power! It is a pretty toy, and I am only a figure in a pageant. That is all. I have palaces to live in, and soldiers to ride by my side, and people to cheer me, but they won’t do what I tell them—none of them. I can do nothing that I wanted to do. What a fool I was to wish to be a King! If I had only known! Now I am an old man. What would I not give to be a boy again!”
He was saying this with a deep sigh, when the doctor approached him.
“Your Majesty is unwell,” said the doctor.
“No,” said Harry wearily, “but I would like to know if you are quite sure that I am the King.”
“Certainly, your Majesty.”
“Would you swear it?” said Harry.
“I have known your Majesty for many years, and there is no question. You are rather out of sorts to-day, but there can be no doubt that you are the King.”
“Well,” said Harry, “I am glad you say so, because I am not the King at all.”
The doctor looked at him sadly, and said: “Then who do you think you are?”
“Why,” said Harry, “I am only Harry Smith, a North country boy of fourteen, who ought to have started in the mill to-day, but I woke up here. I am really not the King, and, what is more, I don’t want to be; but I can’t get back again. Oh how I wish—”
“Sir,” said the doctor firmly, “you must permit me to conduct you to your bed-room.”
Harry sighed. It was evident that no one would believe him, so he allowed himself to be led away by the doctor.
“I think,” said the doctor, “I had better give you another soothing draught.”
Harry glanced towards the dressing table, and something glittering caught his eye. He moved towards it. Oh, joy of joys! There was his ring lying on a little silver tray.
“Oh, my ring, my ring, at last!” he said.
“Yes,” said the doctor, measuring out the medicine; “we found it in the cream jug this morning.”
Harry was busy thrusting the little finger of his left hand into the ring.
“Now, doctor,” said he, “I won’t have any of your medicine. I’m all right now I have got my ring. Oh, what a relief! You think I am the King,” said he. “I tell you, you are mistaken; and, what’s more, I’m not going to be the King, not more than two minutes. Goodbye. I was a great fool to want to be King, and I am now well cured of my folly.”
With that Harry turned his ring three times round his little finger, and at the third twist he suddenly found himself Harry Smith once more, a blue-eyed, golden-haired, curly-headed boy of fourteen, standing in his own room by the side of his own bed.
Everything was just as he had left it.
And then, my dear Bairns, do you know what Harry did? His eyes filled with tears at the thought of having escaped being King all his life. He looked at his finger, and the ring was no longer there. But he did not mind now. He said: “Oh, it’s done its work; I shall never need it again.” And then he knelt down and thanked God that He had saved him from being King. How happy he was to be back once more with his father and his mother and his sister, to know that they were not dead, and that he was not old and grey, and compelled to pretend to govern every one, while all the time he was made to do what somebody else told him.
“I would rather be a free English boy, a poor boy in a mill, a thousand times rather than be his Majesty King Edward VII.”
And when they used to talk in the mill at home about the grandeur of Kings, and how splendid it would be to live in a palace, and wear a crown, Harry used to say nothing, but deep in his heart he felt: “If they only knew! If they only knew how much better off they are! As for me, I would not be the King again for all the world and all that it contains.”