King Bibbs by James Albery

"It's all through that Liberal Government."

These were the words uttered by King Bibbs as he stood in the rain without an umbrella; and it was not the first time he had uttered them.

Think of it! There stood King Bibbs in the rain without an umbrella.

Once upon a time King Bibbs had a beautiful palace; but there came a Liberal Government, and they promised the nation economy.

Their policy was to save and censure, to cut down everything they did pay for, and to cut up everything they did not.

They contracted that every soldier in the army should have one nail less in his boots, and they blamed the last Government for not having soldiers who required no boots at all. They arranged that the royal charwomen should clean the floors of the Government offices with soap without sand or with sand without soap; and they censured the late Government for having floors that wanted any cleaning. They cut down the amount and the quality of the cheese required for the royal mousetraps, and they pointed out to a plundered people that the last Government were entirely to blame for there being any mice. They voted that the royal weather-cock on the national stable should be re-gilt only once in six years, instead of once in five, and they made it clear, at least to their own party, that it was entirely owing to the tactics of the late Government that weather-cocks were required at all; and it must be admitted that upon this point the late Government were a little bit with them.

It was a fine time, and the nation that King Bibbs reigned over might well feel proud.

They did.

But you know that if you keep the stove going by what you can spare from your household furniture, the time will come when you will be a little at a loss for firewood.

What would you do? You cannot part with the comfortable chair you sit in, and your friends must have their little places; so very likely, if you had no respect for time-honoured things, you would break up some grand old cabinet that your forefathers loved, but that to you appeared useless, and so you'd keep the stove going. And as long as the fire lasted, you and your friends would be warm and snug in your places.

That's just what our Government did—not ours, of course—but the one I am talking of.

They turned their eyes on the king's palace, and they said the nation cannot be saddled with this expense.

They had already saved the nation about a farthing per head per annum, and this new sacrifice would save about an eighth as much more. But you must understand that every man looked at the amount saved in the lump; he never thought of the farthing that was put in his pocket in return for the time he wasted in attending public meetings, but had a vague idea that the golden thousands talked of were in some remote way his rescued property.

What a splendid show of justice, wasn't it now, when bills were plastered all over King Bibbs's palace, to say those desirable premises would be sold by public auction on such a date?

It touched the people to the core; they gave up half a day to flock round the palace, and read the bills; they lost another half-day's work to see the palace sold; they spent a day's wages to get drunk to celebrate this crowning stroke of economy, and in their wild delight at the justice done them, they quite forgot to bank the one-eighth of a farthing which the generous Government had put into their pockets.

How common it is to say, we go from bad to worse, and on that principle I suppose it was that this Liberal Government went from good to better.

If it was good that the poor king should give up his palace and live like a private gentleman, would it not be better that he should go a grade lower, and live like a retired tradesman?

The odd fact was, that the more they stripped poor King Bibbs of the sacred paraphernalia that once adorned his life, the more useless he appeared in the eyes of his subjects; and he was cut down from a palace to a mansion, and from a mansion to a villa; from having one hundred horses to ten; and from ten to none. And so it was that King Bibbs came to be walking in the rain without an umbrella; and so it was, as he reflected on the past he exclaimed,—

"It's all through that Liberal Government."

His most gracious Majesty had been to the reading-rooms to look at the morning papers, and see what his Government were doing. It may seem wrong that he should thus waste a penny; but remember, it was his duty to see how his people were getting on. As he left the rooms there was a quiet, sad smile on the king's face.

"Ah," he muttered, "my prime minister is very clever, but he is all ambition and vanity; he tries to sail the ship with nothing but flags. I do wish he would take in the bunting and put out some canvas, so that we might have a little real progress instead of so much show."

At this time he was just turning the corner of Daisy Road on his way home, when suddenly it began to rain.

"Bless me," said his Majesty, "it's going to pour, and I've forgotten my umbrella, I shall have my crown quite spoilt. Dear! dear! dear!"

The rain fell faster, and the poor king had yet two miles to go. His ermine was getting quite damp.

"What am I to do?" he exclaimed. "I shall be wet through. Dear! dear! I shall be obliged to take a cab."

The king looked along the road, and saw one coming. "Hi! hi!" shouted his most gracious Majesty, and he waved his sceptre till it almost flew out of his hand.

"Going home to change," said the cabman, with a careless air.

"Don't you know I'm the king?" said poor Bibbs.

"Oh, yes, you're know'd well enough," sneered the cabman; "give my love to the old woman."

"There, there!" said the poor monarch, appealing plaintively to the empty street; "there, that comes of having a Liberal Government; as soon as I get a change I'll be a despot."

You see the true royal spirit in him was not quite crushed.

The rain fell faster, and King Bibbs took off his crown and was looking at the great wet spots on the red cotton velvet when a loud voice exclaimed:—"Does your most gracious Majesty want a cab?"

The king was about to enter the cab without a word, when a ragged boy officiously stood by the wheel.

"What do you want?" said the boy's sovereign.

"To keep your most gracious Majesty's royal robe from touching the wheel," said the boy.

"I can do it myself," said the king, in quite an angry tone.

Now in the ordinary way a monarch would look upon such an attention as simply his due, but he knew this ragged young subject was looking for patronage; he wanted a copper, and the king felt he could not afford it. All who have studied the workings of the human heart know how we conceal our motives even from ourselves. To look at King Bibbs you would have thought he simply resented the boy's officiousness. He tried to persuade himself so, but the underlying feeling was his annoyance at not having a copper to spare. How he would have blushed if any of the Great Powers of Europe could have seen him at that moment!

"Go to the devil," said the king to his subject. "Go away! go away!"

"Blow'd if I pay my income tax next week!" said the young traitor as he made a very wicked face at the back of the cab.

"That's a bad boy," muttered Bibbs, as the cab drove off.

Now Bibbs, like many another proud spirit, had enjoyed the noble pleasure of refusing, which is only felt when you have full power to comply. When you are forced to refuse through weakness, it is very galling to a monarch, or even to one of us.

"A d—d bad boy!" he exclaimed, and as if the truth would out in spite of him he muttered: "It's all thro' that Liberal Government."

The house to which King Bibbs had directed the cabman to drive him, was what is now called a villa. It was one of a row, and was certainly not at all suggestive of a palace. Still it had a nice breakfast-parlour underground, and a handsome little drawing-room, with folding doors, upstairs. The rent was low, and the neighbourhood was considered, by those who lived there, fashionable.

At first poor Bibbs was treated with some respect, but after a time he fell into contempt, for kings, like other people, must keep their places.

On arriving at his house the king stepped from the cab and took out his purse. It would have done any Liberal Government good to see a constitutional monarch like Bibbs rubbing the edges of certain light coins to see if they were threepennies or fourpennies. But it would not have done any one good to see the look on the cabman's face as he received his fare. The king turned to go indoors.

"Here, hi!" shouted the cabman.

"What's the matter?" asked the king.

"What's the matter? As if your most gracious Majesty did not know! I want another sixpence."

"You've got your fare," said the king.

"Got my fare!" retorted the cabman; "you're a pretty gracious Majesty, you are. You go about rolling in luxury and wealth out of the hard earnings of sich as me, and that's the way you use the money. Bah! The sooner you're done away with altogether the better. What good are you? Why you ain't worth the crown on your head."

The cabman drove away to swear, and the king paused to reflect. It took the king some time to calculate, but he found he cost that cabman, at his present rate of expenditure—he cost that cabman about an eighth of a farthing every ten years.

The king's lips moved, though he breathed no word; but any one who had watched the kind mouth would have seen that he was muttering something about that Liberal Government.

He took out his latch-key and let himself in; he paused in the passage, gently wiped his crown on the sleeve of his robe, and hung it on a hat-peg, and, placing his sceptre in the stand beside his forgotten umbrella—forgetfulness that had cost him a shilling—walked slowly into the parlour.

He sat down to meditate. You have only to read your Shakespeare to know this is the way of kings. He soliloquised somewhat in this fashion:

"It's quite clear the cheaper I get the more useless I appear. While I was surrounded with pomp, the people ran after and applauded me; now I get abused by a low cabman. I was like a grand ruin: while the columns stand, and the broken entablatures lie about in picturesque profusion, it is visited, made pictures of, and admired. But take away the old adornments, clear away the ground, and leave only a little pile of useless earth to mark the spot, and Admiration and Wonder, as they turn their backs on it, will soon find Respect at their heels—I see my fate."

The king grew reckless, and ordered an egg for his tea.

You have only to read your poets, and you will see that these sudden desperate acts foreshadow impending doom.

At the moment that Bibbs was wiping a small spot of egg from his beard, his ministers were holding a cabinet council to determine what should be their next move to keep up their popularity.

There was nothing to cut down but the places of themselves and their friends and relations. That was out of the question. The labourer is worthy of his hire, and they had laboured hard to get into their present position.

How would it be if they determined that the king should no longer receive any help from the State, but earn his own living? A little hard work would be good for the king's constitution.

The idea was a popular one. It was carried out. But poor King Bibbs was too old to work, so it occurred to one of the ministers, who knew a City gentleman who had an ugly daughter that he wanted to marry to a person of rank, that by his influence the poor king might be got into an almshouse.

After some difficulty it was done, and his most gracious Majesty found himself in possession of two small rooms and ten shillings a week.

Any reasonable old monarch, you would think, might have been very comfortable under these circumstances, but wherever he turned he met unfriendly glances. People said almshouses were meant for industrious but unfortunate tradesmen and their wives, and not for bloated old emperors and kings. Here was a monarch not only grinding them down with taxation, but actually taking from them the just reward of virtuous old age.

At last it happened that a shopkeeper died insolvent, and his aged widow was destitute. There was nothing for it but to put her on the parish, which would be an expense, or get her into an almshouse.

The matter touched the pockets of the parishioners, and you may be pretty sure that soon a fine clamour was raised. What had the king done to deserve charity? Nothing. Meetings were held, bundles of letters were sent to the newspapers, and at last the influential City gentleman, who meant to stand for the borough at the next election, was forced to turn out King Bibbs or lose his popularity.

The influential gentleman assured his most gracious Majesty that he turned him out with great reluctance.

What was to be done now? It was pretty clear that the king must go on the parish. But what parish?

It mattered not where he had lived, he had never paid his rates, and not a parish would have him. Vestries met and discussed the matter. It was referred to committees, minutes were brought up and referred back again; meantime poor Bibbs, who would not go in as a casual, was left, like old Lear, to perish.

It is true that on the first night an old Chartist, who was once imprisoned for treason, took pity on him, and gave him a bed, but when the king found out who his benefactor was, his old pride arose within him, and he turned away.

His most gracious Majesty might have been seen feeling with his thumb-nail the edge of his last coin. It was smooth; King Bibbs had but threepence in the world.

At this moment he saw some men with advertising boards on their backs. He looked at them; they were old and feeble. Ah! thought the king, I think I am strong enough to carry boards. He went up to one of the men, and asked him most respectfully where he got his employment.

The man turned round and sneered out,—

"Oh, you want to rob us now, do you? You want to take the crust out of our mouths. You ain't content with grinding us poor working men down with taxes—you ain't content with having every luxury down to almhouses, but you must interfere with us. If I catch your most gracious Majesty with half a board on your back, I'll just smash you. There!"

It will be observed that the people had lost nothing of the outward show of respect, and always addressed the king in the proper way.

Poor Bibbs bought a penny biscuit, and with the remaining twopence a piece of card and a bit of string. He wrote on the card,


And with his crown in his hand to get whatever charity would give, he went into the bitter world to beg his way down to the grave.

Things went on merrily with the ministry for years. They filled all the old places and invented new. They put the king's head on the coin, and put the coin in their pockets.

But one fine day a certain Eastern despot with whom they had been intriguing, thought it a politic thing to pay King Bibbs a visit in state. Here was a pretty kettle of fish! What were they to do for a king?

It would never do to tell the Eastern despot they didn't know where their king was, and they did not care; he would have broken with them at once.

They sent in all directions to inquire for the king, but he was not to be found.

They then tried an advertisement:—

he is requested to return to his disconsolate ministers, and all shall be forgiven.

But poor Bibbs had not seen a newspaper for years, and his ministers were left disconsolate.

Then appeared another advertisement:—

If any one will take him to the Treasury he will be liberally rewarded.

Now it so happened that a quiet man of business, as he was passing along a country highway, saw a poor old half crazy man eating a few dry crusts. By his side was a bent sceptre, and on his head an old and battered crown, while his robe of royal purple was torn and soiled, and the ermine on it worn nearly bare and black.

As the stranger approached him, the old man took off his crown, and in a feeble voice said, "Pray pity a poor constitutional monarch."

The stranger looked in his face and exclaimed, "Good heaven, poor soul, what has brought you to this?"

The old man brushed a tear away from his sunken eye, and muttered—

"It was all through that Liberal Government!"

A week after a great city was all aglare with flags, and ablare with trumpets. The streets were lined with people, and a procession passed, at the head of which was a grand carriage drawn by eight horses. In the carriage sat a feeble old man in a splendid robe, and with a new crown that he kept taking off as he bowed to the multitude. At his side was the splendid Eastern despot, who bowed too, for the people not only said "Long live King Bibbs!" but they wished the splendid Eastern despot long life as well. Near the palace gates as they returned, the king left off bowing, and some were shocked at his pride and some at his pallor.

A few days after there was a grand and solemn procession.

And again, a few days after that, a grand and glorious procession.

The Government were true to their policy, and the wording of their advertisement. The stranger who had found King Bibbs, after wasting years in applications, received a note to say his affair was under consideration.