The Beggar's Return
`YOUR Imperial Highnesses!' he began. `It's the old Beggar again! Shall we set the dogs at him?'
`Bring him here!' said the Emperor.
The Chancellor could scarcely believe his ears. `Here, your Imperial Highness? Did I rightly understand-- '
`Bring him here!' the Emperor thundered once more. The Chancellor tottered down the hall--and in another minute the crowd divided, and the poor old Beggar was seen entering the Banqueting-Hall.
He was indeed a pitiable object: the rags, that hung about him, were all splashed with mud: his white hair and his long beard were tossed about in wild disorder. Yet he walked upright, with a stately tread, as if used to command: and--strangest sight of all--Sylvie and Bruno came with him, clinging to his hands, and gazing at him with looks of silent love.
Men looked eagerly to see how the Emperor would recieve the bold intruder. Would he hurl him from the steps of the daïs? But no. To their utter astonishment, the Emperor knelt as the beggar approached, and with bowed head murmured `Forgive us!'
`Forgive us!' the Empress, kneeling at her husband's side, meekly repeated.
The Outcast smiled. `Rise up!' he said. `I forgive you!' And men saw with wonder that a change had passed over the old beggar, even as he spoke. What had seemed, but now, to be vile rags and splashes of mud, were seen to be in truth kingly trappings, broidered with gold, and sparkling with gems. All knew him now, and bent low before the Elder Brother, the true Warden.
`Brother mine, and Sister mine!' the Warden began, in a clear voice that was heard all through that vast hall. `I come not to disturb you. Rule on, as Emperor, and rule wisely. For I am chosen King of Elfland. To-morrow I return there, taking nought from thence, save only--save only--' his voice trembled, and with a look of ineffable tenderness, he laid his hands in silence on the heads of the two little ones who clung around him.
But he recovered himself in a moment, and beckoned to the Emperor to resume his place at the table. The company seated themselves again--room being found for the Elfin-King between his two children-- and the Lord Chancellor rose once more, to propose the next toast.
`The next toast--the hero of the day--why, he isn't here!' he broke off in wild confusion.
Good gracious! Everybody had forgotten Prince Uggug!
`He was told of the Banquet, of course?' said the Emperor.
`Undoubtedly!' replied the Chancellor. `That would be the duty of the Gold Stick in Waiting.'
`Let the Gold Stick come forwards!' the Emperor gravely said.
The Gold Stick came forwards. `I attended on His Imperial Fatness,' was the statement made by the trembling official. `I told him of the Lecture and the Banquet--.'
`What followed?' said the Emperor: for the unhappy man seemed almost too frightened to go on.
`His Imperial Fatness was graciously pleased to be sulky. His Imperial Fatness was graciously pleased to box my ears. His Imperial Fatness was graciously pleased to say "I don't care!" '
` "Don't-care" came to a bad end,' Sylvie whispered to Bruno. `I'm not sure, but I believe he was hanged.'
|Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.|