The Strand Magazine, May 1921
AFTER we had sent in our card and waited for a few hours in the marbled ante-room, a bell rang and the major-domo, parting the priceless curtains, ushered us in to where the editor sat writing at his desk. We advanced on all fours, knocking our head reverently on the Aubusson carpet.
“Well?” he said at length, laying down his jewelled pen.
“We just looked in,” we said, humbly, “to ask if it would be all right if we sent you an historical story.”
“The public does not want historical stories,” he said, frowning coldly.
“Ah, but the public hasn’t seen one of ours!” we replied.
The editor placed a cigarette in a holder presented to him by a reigning monarch, and lit it with a match from a golden box, the gift of the millionaire president of the Amalgamated League of Working Plumbers.
“What this magazine requires,” he said, “is red-blooded, one-hundred-per-cent. dynamic stuff, palpitating with warm human interest and containing a strong, poignant love-motive.”
“That,” we replied, is us all over, Mabel.”
“What I need at the moment, however, is a golf story.”
“By a singular coincidence, ours is a golf story.”
“Ha! say you so?” said the editor, a flicker of interest passing over his finely-chiselled features. “Then you may let me see it.”
He kicked us in the face, and we withdrew.
ON the broad terrace outside his palace, overlooking the fair expanse of the Royal gardens, King Merolchazzar of Oom stood leaning on the low parapet, his chin in his hand and a frown on his noble face. The day was fine, and a light breeze bore up to him from the garden below a fragrant scent of flowers. But, for all the pleasure it seemed to give him, it might have been bone-fertilizer.
The fact is, King Merolchazzar was in love, and his suit was not prospering. Enough to upset any man.
Royal love affairs in those days were conducted on the correspondence system. A monarch, hearing good reports of a neighbouring princess, would dispatch messengers with gifts to her Court, beseeching an interview. The Princess would name a date, and a formal meeting would take place: after which everything usually buzzed along pretty smoothly. But in the case of King Merolchazzar’s courtship of the Princess of the Outer Isles there had been a regrettable hitch. She had acknowledged the gifts, saying that they were just what she had wanted and how had he guessed, and had added that, as regarded a meeting, she would let him know later. Since that day no word had come from her, and a gloomy spirit prevailed in the capital. At the Courtiers’ Club, the meeting-place of the aristocracy of Oom, five to one in pazazas was freely offered against Merolchazzar’s chances, but found no takers; while in the taverns of the common people, where less conservative odds were always to be had, you could get a snappy hundred to eight. “For in good sooth,” writes a chronicler of the time on a half-brick and a couple of paving-stones which have survived to this day, “it did indeed begin to appear as though our beloved monarch, the son of the sun and the nephew of the moon, had been handed the bitter fruit of the citron.”
The quaint old idiom is almost untranslatable, but one sees what he means.
AS the King stood sombrely surveying the garden, his attention was attracted by a small, bearded man with bushy eyebrows and a face like a walnut, who stood not far away on a gravelled path flanked by rose bushes. For some minutes he eyed this man in silence, then he called to the Grand Vizier, who was standing in the little group of courtiers and officials at the other end of the terrace. The bearded man, apparently unconscious of the Royal scrutiny, had placed a rounded stone on the gravel, and was standing beside it making curious passes over it with his hoe. It was this singular behaviour that had attracted the King’s attention. Superficially it seemed silly, and yet Merolchazzar had a curious feeling that there was a deep, even a holy, meaning behind the action.
“Who,” he inquired, “is that?”
“He is one of your Majesty’s gardeners,” replied the Vizier.
“I don’t remember seeing him before. Who is he?”
The Vizier was a kind-hearted man, and he hesitated for a moment.
“It seems a hard thing to say of anyone, your Majesty,” he replied, “but he is a Scotchman. One of your Majesty’s invincible admirals recently made a raid on the inhospitable coast of that country at a spot known to the natives as S’nandrews, and brought away this man.”
“What does he think he’s doing?” asked the King, as the bearded one slowly raised the hoe above his right shoulder, slightly bending the left knee as he did so.
“It is some species of savage religious ceremony, your Majesty. According to the admiral, the dunes by the seashore where he landed were covered with a multitude of men behaving just as this man is doing. They had sticks in their hands, and they struck with these at small round objects. And every now and again——”
“Fo-o-ore!” called a gruff voice from below.
“And every now and again,” went on the Vizier, “they would utter the strange, melancholy cry which you have just heard. It is a species of chant.”
The Vizier broke off. The hoe had descended on the stone, and the stone, rising in a graceful arc, had sailed through the air and fallen within a foot of where the King stood.
“Hi!” exclaimed the Vizier.
The man looked up.
“You mustn’t do that! You nearly hit his serene graciousness the King!”
“Mphm!” said the bearded man, nonchalantly, and began to wave his hoe mystically over another stone.
Into the King’s careworn face there had crept a look of interest, almost of excitement.
“What god does he hope to propitiate by these rites?” he asked.
“The deity, I learn from your Majesty’s admiral, is called Gowf.”
“Gowf? Gowf?” King Merolchazzar ran over in his mind the muster-roll of the gods of Oom. There were sixty-seven of them, but Gowf was not of their number. “It is a strange religion,” he murmured. “A strange religion, indeed. But, by Belus, distinctly attractive. I have an idea that Oom could do with a religion like that. It has a zip to it. A sort of fascination, if you know what I mean. It looks to me extraordinarily like what the Court physician ordered. I will talk to this fellow and learn more of these holy ceremonies.”
And, followed by the Vizier, the King made his way into the garden. The Vizier was now in a state of some apprehension. He was exercised in his mind as to the effect which the embracing of a new religion by the King might have on the formidable Church party. It would be certain to cause displeasure among the priesthood: and in those days it was a ticklish business to offend the priesthood, even for a monarch. And, if Merolchazzar had a fault, it was a tendency to be a little tactless in his dealings with that powerful body. Only a few mornings back the High Priest of Hec had taken the Vizier aside to complain about the quality of the meat which the King had been using lately for his sacrifices. He might be a child in worldly matters, said the High Priest, but if the King supposed that he did not know the difference between home-grown domestic and frozen imported foreign, it was time his Majesty was disabused of the idea. If, on top of this little unpleasantness, King Merolchazzar were to become an adherent of this new Gowf, the Vizier did not know what might not happen.
The King stood beside the bearded foreigner, watching him closely. The second stone soared neatly on to the terrace. Merolchazzar uttered an excited cry. His eyes were glowing, and he breathed quickly.
“It doesn’t look difficult,” he muttered.
“Hoots!” said the bearded man.
“I believe I could do it,” went on the King, feverishly. “By the eight green gods of the mountain, I believe I could! By the holy fire that burns night and day before the altar of Belus, I’m sure I could! By Hec, I’m going to do it now! Gimme that hoe!”
“Toots!” said the bearded man.
It seemed to the King that the fellow spoke derisively, and his blood boiled angrily. He seized the hoe and raised it above his shoulder, bracing himself solidly on widely-parted feet. His pose was an exact reproduction of the one in which the Court sculptor had depicted him when working on the life-size statue (“Our Athletic King”) which stood in the principal square of the city; but it did not impress the stranger. He uttered a discordant laugh.
“Ye puir gonuph!” he cried, “whit kin’ o’ a staunce is that?”
The king was hurt. Hitherto the attitude had been generally admired.
“It’s the way I always stand when killing lions,” he said. “ ‘In killing lions,’ ” he added, quoting from the well-known treatise of Nimrod, the recognized text-book on the sport, “ ‘the weight at the top of the swing should be evenly balanced on both feet.’ ”
“Ah, weel, ye’re no killing lions the noo. Ye’re gowfing.”
A sudden humility descended upon the King. He felt, as so many men were to feel in similar circumstances in ages to come, as though he were a child looking eagerly for guidance to an all-wise master—a child, moreover, handicapped by water on the brain, feet three sizes too large for him, and hands consisting mainly of thumbs.
“O thou of noble ancestors and agreeable disposition!” he said, humbly. “Teach me the true way.”
“Use the interlocking grup and keep the staunce a wee bit open and slow back, and dinna press or sway the heid and keep yer e’e on the ba’.”
“My which on the what?” said the King, bewildered.
“I fancy, your Majesty,” hazarded the Vizier, “that he is respectfully suggesting that your serene graciousness should deign to keep your eye on the ball.”
“Oh ah!” said the King. The first golf lesson ever seen in the kingdom of Oom had begun.
UP on the terrace, meanwhile, in the little group of courtiers and officials, a whispered consultation was in progress. Officially, the King’s unfortunate love affair was supposed to be a strict secret. But you know how it is. These things get about. The Grand Vizier tells the Lord High Chamberlain; the Lord High Chamberlain whispers it in confidence to the Supreme Hereditary Custodian of the Royal Pet Dog; the Supreme Hereditary Custodian hands it on to the Exalted Overseer of the King’s Wardrobe on the understanding that it is to go no farther; and, before you know where you are, the varlets and scurvy knaves are gossiping about it in the kitchens, and the Society journalists have started to carve it out on bricks for the next issue of Palace Prattlings.
“The long and short of it is,” said the Exalted Overseer of the King’s Wardrobe, “we must cheer him up.”
There was a murmur of approval. In those days of easy executions it was no light matter that a monarch should be a prey to gloom.
“But how?” queried the Lord High Chamberlain.
“I know,” said the Supreme Hereditary Custodian of the Royal Pet Dog. “Try him with the minstrels.”
“Here! Why us?” protested the leader of the minstrels.
“Don’t be silly!” said the Lord High Chamberlain. “It’s for your good just as much as ours. He was asking only last night why he never got any music nowadays. He told me to find out whether you supposed he paid you simply to eat and sleep, because if so he knew what to do about it.”
“Oh, in that case!” The leader of the minstrels started nervously. Collecting his assistants and tip-toeing down the garden, he took up his stand a few feet in Merolchazzar’s rear, just as that much-enduring monarch, after twenty-five futile attempts, was once more addressing his stone.
Lyric writers in those days had not reached the supreme pitch of excellence which has been produced by modern musical comedy. The art was in its infancy then, and the best the minstrels could do was this—and they did it just as Merolchazzar, raising the hoe with painful care, reached the top of his swing and started down:—
“Oh, tune the string and let us sing
Our godlike, great, and glorious King!
He’s a bear! He’s a bear! He’s a bear!”
There were sixteen more verses, touching on their ruler’s prowess in the realms of sport and war, but they were not destined to be sung on that circuit. King Merolchazzar jumped like a stung bullock, lifted his head, and missed the globe for the twenty-sixth time. He spun around on the minstrels, who were working pluckily through the song of praise:—
“Oh, may his triumphs never cease!
He has the strength of ten!
First in war, first in peace,
First in the hearts of his countrymen!”
“Get out!” roared the King.
“Your Majesty?” quavered the leader of the minstrels.
“Make a noise like an egg and beat it!” (Again one finds the chronicler’s idiom impossible to reproduce in modern speech, and must be content with a literal translation.) “By the bones of my ancestors, it’s a little hard! By the beard of the Sacred Goat, it’s tough! What in the name of Belus and Hec do you mean, you yowling misfits, by starting that sort of stuff when a man’s swinging? I was just shaping to hit it right that time when you butted in, you——”
The minstrels melted away. The bearded man patted the fermenting monarch paternally on the shoulder.
“Ma mannie,” he said, “ye may no’ be a gowfer yet, but hoots! ye’re learning the language fine!”
King Merolchazzar’s fury died away. He simpered modestly at these words of commendation, the first his bearded preceptor had uttered. With exemplary patience he turned to address the stone for the twenty-seventh time.
That night it was all over the city that the King had gone crazy over a new religion, and the orthodox shook their heads.
WE of the present day, living in the midst of a million marvels of a complex civilization, have learned to adjust ourselves to conditions and to take for granted phenomena which in an earlier and less advanced age would have caused the profoundest excitement and even alarm. We accept without comment the telephone, the automobile, and the wireless telegraph, and we are unmoved by the spectacle of our fellow human beings in the grip of the first stages of golf fever. Far otherwise was it with the courtiers and officials about the Palace of Oom. The obsession of the King was the sole topic of conversation.
Every day now, starting forth at dawn and returning only with the falling of darkness, Merolchazzar was out on the Linx, as the outdoor temple of the new god was called. In a luxurious house adjoining this expanse the bearded Scotchman had been installed, and there he could be found at almost any hour of the day fashioning out of holy wood the weird implements indispensable to the new religion. As a recognition of his services, the King had bestowed upon him a large pension, innumerable kaddiz or slaves, and the title of Promoter of the King’s Happiness, which for the sake of convenience was generally shortened to The Pro.
At present, Oom being a conservative country, the worship of the new god had not attracted the public in great numbers. In fact, except for the Grand Vizier, who, always a faithful follower of his sovereign’s fortunes, had taken to Gowf from the start, the courtiers held aloof to a man. But the Vizier had thrown himself into the new worship with such vigour and earnestness that it was not long before he won from the King the title of Supreme Splendiferous Maintainer of the Twenty-Four Handicap Except on Windy Days when It Goes Up to Thirty—a title which in ordinary conversation was usually abbreviated to The Dub.
All these new titles, it should be said, were, as far as the courtiers were concerned, a fruitful source of discontent. There were black looks and mutinous whispers. The laws of precedence were being disturbed, and the courtiers did not like it. It jars a man who for years has had his social position all cut and dried—a man, to take an instance at random, who, as Second Deputy Shiner of the Royal Hunting Boots, knows that his place is just below the Keeper of the Eel-Hounds and just above the Second Tenor of the Corps of Minstrels—it jars him, we say, to find suddenly that he has got to go down a step in favour of the Hereditary Bearer of the King’s Baffy.
But it was from the priesthood that the real, serious opposition was to be expected. And the priests of the sixty-seven gods of Oom were up in arms. As the white-bearded High Priest of Hec, who by virtue of his office was generally regarded as leader of the guild, remarked in a glowing speech at an extraordinary meeting of the Priests’ Equity Association, he had always set his face against the principle of the Closed Shop hitherto, but there were moments when every thinking man had to admit that enough was sufficient, and it was his opinion that such a moment had now arrived. The cheers which greeted the words showed how correctly he had voiced popular sentiment.
OF all those who had listened to the High Priest’s speech, none had listened more intently than the King’s half-brother, Ascobaruch. A sinister, disappointed man, this Ascobaruch, with mean eyes and a crafty smile. All his life he had been consumed with ambition, and until now it had looked as though he must go to his grave with this ambition unfulfilled. All his life he had wanted to be King of Oom, and now he began to see daylight. He was sufficiently versed in Court intrigues to be aware that the priests were the party that really counted, the source from which all successful revolutions sprang. And of all the priests the one that mattered most was the venerable High Priest of Hec.
It was to this prelate, therefore, that Ascobaruch made his way at the close of the proceedings. The meeting had dispersed after passing a unanimous vote of censure on King Merolchazzar, and the High Priest was refreshing himself in the vestry—for the meeting had taken place in the Temple of Hec—with a small milk and honey.
“Some speech!” began Ascobaruch in his unpleasant, crafty way. None knew better than he the art of appealing to human vanity.
The High Priest was plainly gratified.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said, modestly.
“Yessir!” said Ascobaruch. “Considerable oration! What I can never understand is how you think up all these things to say. I couldn’t do it if you paid me. The other night I had to propose the Visitors at the Old Alumni dinner of Oom University, and my mind seemed to go all blank. But you just stand up and the words come fluttering out of you like bees out of a barn. I simply cannot understand it. The thing gets past me.”
“Oh, it’s just a knack.”
“A divine gift, I should call it.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” said the High Priest, finishing his milk and honey. He was wondering why he had never realized before what a capital fellow Ascobaruch was.
“Of course,” went on Ascobaruch, “you had an excellent subject. I mean to say, inspiring and all that. Why, by Hec, even I—though, of course, I couldn’t have approached your level—even I could have done something with a subject like that. I mean, going off and worshipping a new god no one has ever heard of. I tell you, my blood fairly boiled. Nobody has a greater respect and esteem for Merolchazzar than I have, but I mean to say, what! Not right, I mean, going off worshipping gods no one has ever heard of! I’m a peaceable man, and I’ve made it a rule never to mix in politics, but if you happened to say to me as we were sitting here, just as one reasonable man to another—if you happened to say, ‘Ascobaruch, I think it’s time that definite steps were taken,’ I should reply frankly, ‘My dear old High Priest, I absolutely agree with you, and I’m with you all the way.’ You might even go so far as to suggest that the only way out of the muddle was to assassinate Merolchazzar and start with a clean slate.”
The High Priest stroked his beard thoughtfully.
“I am bound to say I never thought of going quite so far as that.”
“Merely a suggestion, of course,” said Ascobaruch. “Take it or leave it. I sha’n’t be offended. If you know a superior excavation, go to it. But, as a sensible man—and I’ve always maintained that you are the most sensible man in the country—you must see that it would be a solution. Merolchazzar has been a pretty good king, of course. No one denies that. A fair general, no doubt, and a plus-man at lion-hunting. But, after all—look at it fairly—is life all battles and lion-hunting? Isn’t there a deeper side? Wouldn’t it be better for the country to have some good orthodox fellow who has worshipped Hec all his life, and could be relied on to maintain the old beliefs—wouldn’t the fact that a man like that was on the throne be likely to lead to more general prosperity? There are dozens of men of that kind, simply waiting to be asked. Let us say, purely for purposes of argument, that you approached me. I should reply, ‘Unworthy though I know myself to be of such an honour, I can tell you this. If you put me on the throne, you can bet your bottom pazaza that there’s one thing that won’t suffer, and that is the worship of Hec!’ That’s the way I feel about it.”
The High Priest pondered.
“O thou of unshuffled features but amiable disposition!” he said, “thy discourse soundeth good to me. Could it be done?”
“Could it!” Ascobaruch uttered a hideous laugh. “Could it! Arouse me in the night-watches and ask me! Question me on the matter, having stopped me for that purpose on the public highway! Why, it’s as simple as falling from the upper surface of a felled tree-trunk. What I would suggest—I’m not dictating, mind you: merely trying to help you out—what I would suggest is that you took that long, sharp knife of yours, the one you use for the sacrifices, and toddled out to the Linx—you’re sure to find the King there; and just when he’s raising that sacrilegious stick of his over his shoulder——”
“O man of infinite wisdom,” cried the High Priest, warmly, “verily hast thou spoken a fullness of the mouth!”
“Is it a wager?” said Ascobaruch.
“It is a wager!” said the High Priest.
“That’s that, then,” said Ascobaruch. “Now, I don’t want to be mixed up in any unpleasantness, so what I think I’ll do while what you might call the preliminaries are being arranged is to go and take a little trip abroad somewhere. The Middle Lakes are pleasant at this time of year. When I come back, it’s possible that all the formalities will have been completed, yes?”
“Rely on me, by Hec!” said the High Priest, grimly, as he fingered his weapon.
THE High Priest was as good as his word. Early on the morrow he made his way to the Linx, and found the King holing-out on the second green. Merolchazzar was in high good humour.
“Greetings, O venerable one!” he cried, jovially. “Hadst thou come a moment sooner, thou wouldst have seen me lay my ball dead—aye, dead as mutton, with the sweetest little half-mashie-niblick chip-shot ever seen outside the sacred domain of S’nandrew, on whom”—he bared his head reverently—“be peace! In one under bogey did I do the hole—yea, and that despite the fact that, slicing my drive, I became ensnared in yonder undergrowth.”
The High Priest had not the advantage of understanding one word of what the King was talking about, but he gathered with satisfaction that Merolchazzar was pleased and wholly without suspicion. He clasped an unseen hand more firmly about the handle of his knife, and accompanied the monarch to the next altar. Merolchazzar stooped, and placed a small round white object on a little mound of sand. In spite of his austere views, the High Priest, always a keen student of ritual, became interested.
“Why does your Majesty do that?”
“I tee it up that it may fly the fairer. If I did not, then would it be apt to run along the ground like a beetle instead of soaring like a bird, and mayhap, for thou seest how rough and tangled is the grass before us, I should have to use a niblick for my second.”
The High Priest groped for his meaning.
“It is a ceremony to propitiate the god and bring good luck?”
“You might call it that.”
The High Priest shook his head.
“I may be old-fashioned,” he said, “but I should have thought that, to propitiate a god, it would have been better to have sacrificed one of these kaddiz on his altar.”
“I confess,” replied the King, thoughtfully, “that I have often felt that it would be a relief to one’s feelings to sacrifice one or two kaddiz, but The Pro for some reason or other has set his face against it.” He swung at the ball, and sent it forcefully down the fairway. “By Abe, the son of Mitchell,” he cried, shading his eyes, “a bird of a drive! How truly is it written in the book of the prophet Vâdun, ‘The left hand applieth the force, the right doth but guide. Grip not therefore, too closely with the right hand!’ Yesterday I was pulling all the time.”
The High Priest frowned.
“It is written in the sacred book of Hec, your Majesty, ‘Thou shalt not follow after strange gods.’ ”
“Take thou this stick, O venerable one,” said the King, paying no attention to the remark, “and have a shot thyself. True, thou art well stricken in years, but many a man has so wrought that he was able to give his grandchildren a stroke a hole. It is never too late to begin.”
The High Priest shrank back, horrified. The King frowned.
“It is our Royal wish,” he said, coldly.
The High Priest was forced to comply. Had they been alone, it is possible that he might have risked all on one swift stroke with his knife, but by this time a group of kaddiz had drifted up, and were watching the proceedings with that supercilious detachment so characteristic of them. He took the stick and arranged his limbs as the king directed.
“Now,” said Merolchazzar, “slow back and keep your e’e on the ba’!”
A MONTH later, Ascobaruch returned from his trip. He had received no word from the High Priest announcing the success of the revolution, but there might be many reasons for that. It was with unruffled contentment that he bade his charioteer drive him to the palace. He was glad to get back, for after all a holiday is hardly a holiday if you have your left business affairs unsettled.
As he drove, the chariot passed a fair open space on the outskirts of the city. A sudden chill froze the serenity of Ascobaruch’s mood. He prodded the charioteer sharply in the small of the back.
“What is that?” he demanded, catching his breath.
All over the green expanse could be seen men in strange robes, moving to and fro in couples and bearing in their hands mystic wands. Some searched restlessly in the bushes, others were walking briskly in the direction of small red flags. A sickening foreboding of disaster fell upon Ascobaruch.
The charioteer seemed surprised at the question.
“Yon’s the muneecipal linx,” he replied.
“The muneecipal linx.”
“Tell me, fellow, why do you talk that way?”
“Why, like that. The way you’re talking.”
“Hoots, mon!” said the charioteer. “His Majesty King Merolchazzar—may his handicap decrease!—hae passit a law that a’ his soobjects shall do it. Aiblins, ’tis the language spooken by The Pro, on whom be peace! Mphm!”
Ascobaruch sat back limply, his head swimming. The chariot drove on, till now it took the road adjoining the royal Linx. A wall lined a portion of this road, and suddenly, from behind this wall, there rent the air a great shout of laughter.
“Pull up!” cried Ascobaruch to the charioteer.
He had recognized that laugh. It was the laugh of Merolchazzar.
Ascobaruch crept to the wall and cautiously poked his head over it. The sight he saw drove the blood from his face and left him white and haggard.
The King and the Grand Vizier were playing a foursome against The Pro and the High Priest of Hec, and the Vizier had just laid the High Priest a dead stymie.
Ascobaruch tottered to the chariot.
“Take me back,” he muttered, pallidly. “I’ve forgotten something!”
AND so golf came to Oom, and with it prosperity unequalled in the whole history of the land. Everybody was happy. There was no more unemployment. Crime ceased. The chronicler repeatedly refers to it in his memoirs as the Golden Age. And yet there remained one man on whom complete felicity had not descended. It was all right while he was actually on the Linx, but there were blank, dreary stretches of the night when King Merolchazzar lay sleepless on his couch and mourned that he had nobody to love him.
Of course, his subjects loved him in a way. A new statue had been erected in the palace square, showing him in the act of getting out of casual water. The minstrels had composed a whole cycle of up-to-date songs, commemorating his prowess with the mashie. His handicap was down to twelve. But these things are not all. A golfer needs a loving wife, to whom he can describe the day’s play through the long evenings. And this was just where Merolchazzar’s life was empty. No word had come from the Princess of the Outer Isles, and, as he refused to be put off with just-as-good substitutes, he remained a lonely man.
But one morning, in the early hours of a summer day, as he lay sleeping after a disturbed night, Merolchazzar was awakened by the eager hand of the Lord High Chamberlain, shaking his shoulder.
“Now what?” said the King.
“Hoots, your Majesty! Glorious news! The Princess of the Outer Isles waits without—I mean wi’oot!”
The King sprang from his couch.
“A messenger from the Princess at last!”
“Nay, sire, the Princess herself—that is to say,” said the Lord Chamberlain, who was an old man and had found it hard to accustom himself to the new tongue at his age, “her ain sel’! And believe me, or rather, mind ah’m tellin’ ye,” went on the honest man, joyfully, for he had been deeply exercised by his monarch’s troubles, “her Highness is the easiest thing to look at these eyes hae ever seen. And you can say I said it!”
“She is beautiful?”
“Your Majesty, she is, in the best and deepest sense of the word, a pippin!”
King Merolchazzar was groping wildly for his robes.
“Tell her to wait!” he cried. “Go and amuse her. Ask her riddles! Tell her anecdotes! Don’t let her go. Say I’ll be down in a moment. Where in the name of Zoroaster is our imperial mesh-knit underwear?”
A fair and pleasing sight was the Princess of the Outer Isles as she stood on the terrace in the clear sunshine of the summer morning, looking over the King’s gardens. With her delicate little nose she sniffed the fragrance of the flowers. Her blue eyes roamed over the rose bushes, and the breeze ruffled the golden curls about her temples. Presently a sound behind her caused her to turn, and she perceived a godlike man hurrying across the terrace pulling up a sock. And at the sight of him the Princess’s heart sang within her like the birds down in the garden.
“Hope I haven’t kept you waiting,” said Merolchazzar, apologetically. He, too, was conscious of a strange, wild exhilaration. Truly was this maiden, as his Chamberlain had said, noticeably easy on the eyes. Her beauty was as water in the desert, as fire on a frosty night, as diamonds, rubies, pearls, sapphires, and amethysts.
“Oh, no!” said the princess, “I’ve been enjoying myself. How passing beautiful are thy gardens, O King!”
“My gardens may be passing beautiful,” said Merolchazzar, earnestly, “but they aren’t half so passing beautiful as thy eyes. I have dreamed of thee by night and by day, and I will tell the world I was nowhere near it! My sluggish fancy came not within a hundred and fifty-seven miles of the reality. Now let the sun dim his face and the moon hide herself abashed. Now let the flowers bend their heads and the gazelle of the mountains confess itself a cripple. Princess, your slave!”
And King Merolchazzar, with that easy grace so characteristic of Royalty, took her hand in his and kissed it.
As he did so, he gave a start of surprise.
“By Hec!” he exclaimed. “What hast thou been doing to thyself? Thy hand is all over little rough places inside. Has some malignant wizard laid a spell upon thee, or what is it?”
The Princess blushed.
“If I make that clear to thee,” she said, “I shall also make clear why it was that I sent thee no message all this long while. My time was so occupied, verily I did not seem to have a moment. The fact is, these sorenesses are due to a strange, new religion to which I and my subjects have but recently become converted. And O that I might make thee also of the true faith! ’Tis a wondrous tale, my lord. Some two moons back there was brought to my Court by wandering pirates a captive of an uncouth race who dwell in the north. And this man has taught us——”
King Merolchazzar uttered a loud cry.
“By Tom, the son of Morris! can this truly be so? What is thy handicap?”
The Princess stared at him, wide-eyed.
“Truly this is a miracle! Art thou also a worshipper of the great Gowf?”
“Am I!” cried the King. “Am I!” He broke off. “Listen!”
FROM the minstrels’ room high up in the palace there came the sound of singing. The minstrels were practising a new pæan of praise—words by the Grand Vizier, music by the High Priest of Hec—which they were to render at the next full moon at the banquet of the worshippers of Gowf. The words came clear and distinct through the still air:—
“Oh, praises let us utter
To our most glorious King!
It fairly makes you stutter
To see him start his swing:
Success attend his putter!
And luck be with his drive!
And may he do each hole in two
Although the bogey’s five!”
The voices died away. There was a silence.
“If I hadn’t missed a two-foot putt, I’d have done the long fifteenth in four yesterday,” said the King.
“I won the Ladies’ Open Championship of the Outer Isles last week,” said the Princess.
They looked into each other’s eyes for a long moment. And then, hand in hand, they walked slowly into the palace.
“WELL?” we said, anxiously.
“I like it,” said the editor.
“Good egg!” we murmured.
The editor pressed a bell, a single ruby set in a fold of the tapestry upon the wall. The major-domo appeared.
“Give this man a purse of gold,” said the editor, “and throw him out.”