His Majesty the King by Rudyard
"Where the word of a King is, there is power: And who may
say unto him—What doest thou?"
"Yeth! And Chimo to sleep at ve foot of ve bed, and ve pink pikky-book,
and ve bwead—'cause I will be hungwy in ve night—and vat's
all, Miss Biddums. And now give me one kiss and I'll go to
sleep.—So! Kite quiet. Ow! Ve pink pikky-book has slidded under ve
pillow and ve bwead is cwumbling! Miss Biddums! Miss Biddums! I'm
so uncomfy! Come and tuck me up, Miss Biddums."
His Majesty the King was going to bed; and poor, patient Miss Biddums,
who had advertised herself humbly as a "young person, European, accustomed
to the care of little children," was forced to wait upon his royal
caprices. The going to bed was always a lengthy process, because His
Majesty had a convenient knack of forgetting which of his many friends,
from the mehter's son to the Commissioner's daughter, he had prayed
for, and, lest the Deity should take offence, was used to toil through his
little prayers, in all reverence, five times in one evening. His Majesty
the King believed in the efficacy of prayer as devoutly as he believed in
Chimo the patient spaniel, or Miss Biddums, who could reach him down his
gun—"with cursuffun caps—reel ones"—from the
upper shelves of the big nursery cupboard.
At the door of the nursery his authority stopped. Beyond lay the empire
of his father and mother—two very terrible people who had no time to
waste upon His Majesty the King. His voice was lowered when he passed the
frontier of his own dominions, his actions were fettered, and his soul was
filled with awe because of the grim man who lived among a wilderness of
pigeon-holes and the most fascinating pieces of red tape, and the
wonderful woman who was always getting into or stepping out of the big
To the one belonged the mysteries of the "duftar-room"; to the
other the great, reflected wilderness of the "Memsahib's room" where the
shiny, scented dresses hung on pegs, miles and miles up in the air, and
the just-seen plateau of the toilet-table revealed an acreage of speckly
combs, broidered "hanafitch bags," and "white-headed" brushes.
There was no room for His Majesty the King either in official reserve
or mundane gorgeousness. He had discovered that, ages and ages
ago—before even Chimo came to the house, or Miss Biddums had ceased
grizzling over a packet of greasy letters which appeared to be her chief
treasure on earth. His Majesty the King, therefore, wisely confined
himself to his own territories, where only Miss Biddums, and she feebly,
disputed his sway.
From Miss Biddums he had picked up his simple theology and welded it to
the legends of gods and devils that he had learned in the servants'
To Miss Biddums he confided with equal trust his tattered garments and
his more serious griefs. She would make everything whole. She knew exactly
how the Earth had been born, and had reassured the trembling soul of His
Majesty the King that terrible time in July when it rained continuously
for seven days and seven nights, and—there was no Ark ready and all
the ravens had flown away! She was the most powerful person with whom he
was brought into contact—always excepting the two remote and silent
people beyond the nursery door.
How was His Majesty the King to know that, six years ago, in the summer
of his birth, Mrs. Austell, turning over her husband's papers, had come
upon the intemperate letter of a foolish woman who had been carried away
by the silent man's strength and personal beauty? How could he tell what
evil the overlooked slip of note-paper had wrought in the mind of a
desperately jealous wife? How could he, despite his wisdom, guess that his
mother had chosen to make of it excuse for a bar and a division between
herself and her husband, that strengthened and grew harder to break with
each year; that she, having unearthed this skeleton in the cupboard, had
trained it into a household God which should be about their path and about
their bed, and poison all their ways?
These things were beyond the province of His Majesty the King. He only
knew that his father was daily absorbed in some mysterious work for a
thing called the Sirkar and that his mother was the victim
alternately of the Nautch and the Burrakhana. To these
entertainments she was escorted by a Captain-Man for whom His Majesty the
King had no regard.
"He doesn't laugh," he argued with Miss Biddums, who would fain
have taught him charity. "He only makes faces wiv his mouf, and when he
wants to o-muse me I am not o-mused." And His Majesty the King
shook his head as one who knew the deceitfulness of this world.
Morning and evening it was his duty to salute his father and
mother—the former with a grave shake of the hand, and the latter
with an equally grave kiss. Once, indeed, he had put his arms round his
mother's neck, in the fashion he used toward Miss Biddums. The openwork of
his sleeve-edge caught in an earring, and the last stage of His Majesty's
little overture was a suppressed scream and summary dismissal to the
"It's w'ong," thought His Majesty the King, "to hug Memsahibs wiv fings
in veir ears. I will amember." He never repeated the experiment.
Miss Biddums, it must be confessed, spoiled him as much as his nature
admitted, in some sort of recompense for what she called "the hard ways of
his Papa and Mamma." She, like her charge, knew nothing of the trouble
between man and wife—the savage contempt for a woman's stupidity on
the one side, or the dull, rankling anger on the other. Miss Biddums had
looked after many little children in her time, and served in many
establishments. Being a discreet woman, she observed little and said less,
and, when her pupils went over the sea to the Great Unknown which she,
with touching confidence in her hearers, called "Home," packed up her
slender belongings and sought for employment afresh, lavishing all her
love on each successive batch of ingrates. Only His Majesty the King had
repaid her affection with interest; and in his uncomprehending ears she
had told the tale of nearly all her hopes, her aspirations, the hopes that
were dead, and the dazzling glories of her ancestral home in
"Calcutta, close to Wellington Square."
Everything above the average was in the eyes of His Majesty the King
"Calcutta good." When Miss Biddums had crossed his royal will, he reversed
the epithet to vex that estimable lady, and all things evil were, until
the tears of repentance swept away spite, "Calcutta bad."
Now and again Miss Biddums begged for him the rare pleasure of a day in
the society of the Commissioner's child—the wilful four-year-old
Patsie, who, to the intense amazement of His Majesty the King, was
idolized by her parents. On thinking the question out at length, by roads
unknown to those who have left childhood behind, he came to the conclusion
that Patsie was petted because she wore a big blue sash and yellow
This precious discovery he kept to himself. The yellow hair was
absolutely beyond his power, his own tousled wig being potato-brown; but
something might be done toward the blue sash. He tied a large knot in his
mosquito-curtains in order to remember to consult Patsie on their next
meeting. She was the only child he had ever spoken to, and almost the only
one that he had ever seen. The little memory and the very large and ragged
knot held good.
"Patsie, lend me your blue wiband," said His Majesty the King.
"You'll bewy it," said Patsie, doubtfully, mindful of certain fearful
atrocities committed on her doll.
"No, I won't—twoofanhonor. It's for me to wear."
"Pooh!" said Patsie. "Boys don't wear sa-ashes. Zey's only for
"I didn't know." The face of His Majesty the King fell.
"Who wants ribands? Are you playing horses, chickabiddies?" said the
Commissioner's wife, stepping into the veranda.
"Toby wanted my sash," explained Patsie.
"I don't now," said His Majesty the King, hastily, feeling that with
one of these terrible "grown-ups" his poor little secret would be
shamelessly wrenched from him, and perhaps—most burning desecration
of all—laughed at.
"I'll give you a cracker-cap," said the Commissioner's wife. "Come
along with me, Toby, and we'll choose it."
The cracker-cap was a stiff, three-pointed vermilion-and-tinsel
splendor. His Majesty the King fitted it on his royal brow. The
Commissioner's wife had a face that children instinctively trusted, and
her action, as she adjusted the toppling middle spike, was tender.
"Will it do as well?" stammered His Majesty the King.
"As what, little one?"
"As ve wiban?"
"Oh, quite. Go and look at yourself in the glass."
The words were spoken in all sincerity and to help forward any absurd
"dressing-up" amusement that the children might take into their minds. But
the young savage has a keen sense of the ludicrous. His Majesty the King
swung the great cheval-glass down, and saw his head crowned with the
staring horror of a fool's cap—a thing which his father would rend
to pieces if it ever came into his office. He plucked it off, and burst
"Toby," said the Commissioner's wife, gravely, "you shouldn't give way
to temper. I am very sorry to see it. It's wrong."
His Majesty the King sobbed inconsolably, and the heart of Patsie's
mother was touched. She drew the child on to her knee. Clearly it was not
"What is it, Toby? Won't you tell me? Aren't you well?"
The torrent of sobs and speech met, and fought for a time, with
chokings and gulpings and gasps. Then, in a sudden rush, His Majesty the
King was delivered of a few inarticulate sounds, followed by the
words:—"Go a—way you—dirty—little debbil!"
"Toby! What do you mean?"
"It's what he'd say. I know it is! He said vat when vere was
only a little, little eggy mess, on my t-t-unic; and he'd say it again,
and laugh, if I went in wif vat on my head."
"Who would say that?"
"M-m-my Papa! And I fought if I had ve blue wiban, he'd let me play in
ve waste-paper basket under ve table."
"What blue riband, childie?"
"Ve same vat Patsie had—ve big blue wiban w-w-wound my
"What is it, Toby? There's something on your mind. Tell me all about
it, and perhaps I can help."
"Isn't anyfing," sniffed His Majesty, mindful of his manhood, and
raising his head from the motherly bosom upon which it was resting. "I
only fought vat you—you petted Patsie 'cause she had ve blue wiban,
and—and if I'd had ve blue wiban too, m-my Papa w-would pet me."
The secret was out, and His Majesty the King sobbed bitterly in spite
of the arms round him, and the murmur of comfort on his heated little
Enter Patsie tumultuously, embarrassed by several lengths of the
Commissioner's pet mahseer-rod. "Tum along, Toby! Zere's a
chu-chu lizard in ze chick, and I've told Chimo to watch him
till we turn. If we poke him wiz zis his tail will go wiggle-wiggle
and fall off. Tum along! I can't weach."
"I'm comin'," said His Majesty the King, climbing down from the
Commissioner's wife's knee after a hasty kiss.
Two minutes later, the chu-chu lizard's tail was wriggling on
the matting of the veranda, and the children were gravely poking it with
splinters from the chick, to urge its exhausted vitality into "just
one wiggle more, 'cause it doesn't hurt chu-chu."
The Commissioner's wife stood in the doorway and watched:—"Poor
little mite! A blue sash ... and my own precious Patsie! I wonder if the
best of us, or we who love them best, ever understand what goes on in
their topsy-turvy little heads."
A big tear splashed on the Commissioner's wife's wedding-ring, and she
went indoors to devise a tea for the benefit of His Majesty the King.
"Their souls aren't in their tummies at that age in this climate," said
the Commissioner's wife, "but they are not far off. I wonder if I could
make Mrs. Austell understand. Poor little fellow!"
With simple craft, the Commissioner's wife called on Mrs. Austell and
spoke long and lovingly about children; inquiring specially for His
Majesty the King.
"He's with his governess," said Mrs. Austell, and the tone intimated
that she was not interested.
The Commissioner's wife, unskilled in the art of war, continued her
questionings. "I don't know," said Mrs. Austell. "These things are left to
Miss Biddums, and, of course, she does not ill-treat the child."
The Commissioner's wife left hastily. The last sentence jarred upon her
nerves. "Doesn't ill-treat the child! As if that were all! I wonder
what Tom would say if I only 'didn't ill-treat' Patsie!"
Thenceforward, His Majesty the King was an honored guest at the
Commissioner's house, and the chosen friend of Patsie, with whom he
blundered into as many scrapes as the compound and the servants' quarters
afforded. Patsie's Mamma was always ready to give counsel, help, and
sympathy, and, if need were and callers few, to enter into their games
with an abandon that would have shocked the sleek-haired subalterns
who squirmed painfully in their chairs when they came to call on her whom
they profanely nicknamed "Mother Bunch."
Yet, in spite of Patsie and Patsie's Mamma, and the love that these two
lavished upon him, His Majesty the King fell grievously from grace, and
committed no less a sin than that of theft—unknown, it is true, but
There came a man to the door one day, when His Majesty was playing in
the hall and the bearer had gone to dinner, with a packet for his
Majesty's Mamma. And he put it upon the hall-table, said that there was no
answer, and departed.
Presently, the pattern of the dado ceased to interest His Majesty,
while the packet, a white, neatly wrapped one of fascinating shape,
interested him very much indeed. His Mamma was out, so was Miss Biddums,
and there was pink string round the packet. He greatly desired pink
string. It would help him in many of his little businesses—the
haulage across the floor of his small cane-chair, the torturing of Chimo,
who could never understand harness—and so forth. If he took the
string it would be his own, and nobody would be any the wiser. He
certainly could not pluck up sufficient courage to ask Mamma for it.
Wherefore, mounting upon a chair, he carefully untied the string and,
behold, the stiff white paper spread out in four directions, and revealed
a beautiful little leather box with gold lines upon it! He tried to
replace the string, but that was a failure. So he opened the box to get
full satisfaction for his iniquity, and saw a most beautiful Star that
shone and winked, and was altogether lovely and desirable.
"Vat," said His Majesty, meditatively, "is a 'parkle cwown, like what I
will wear when I go to heaven. I will wear it on my head—Miss
Biddums says so. I would like to wear it now. I would like to play
wiv it. I will take it away and play wiv it, very careful, until Mamma
asks for it. I fink it was bought for me to play wiv—same as my
His Majesty the King was arguing against his conscience, and he knew
it, for he thought immediately after: "Never mind. I will keep it to play
wiv until Mamma says where is it, and then I will say:—'I tookt it
and I am sorry.' I will not hurt it because it is a 'parkle cwown. But
Miss Biddums will tell me to put it back. I will not show it to Miss
If Mamma had come in at that moment all would have gone well. She did
not, and His Majesty the King stuffed paper, case, and jewel into the
breast of his blouse and marched to the nursery.
"When Mamma asks I will tell," was the salve that he laid upon his
conscience. But Mamma never asked, and for three whole days His Majesty
the King gloated over his treasure. It was of no earthly use to him, but
it was splendid, and, for aught he knew, something dropped from the
heavens themselves. Still Mamma made no inquiries, and it seemed to him,
in his furtive peeps, as though the shiny stones grew dim. What was the
use of a 'parkle cwown if it made a little boy feel all bad in his inside?
He had the pink string as well as the other treasure, but greatly he
wished that he had not gone beyond the string. It was his first experience
of iniquity, and it pained him after the flush of possession and secret
delight in the "'parkle cwown" had died away.
Each day that he delayed rendered confession to the people beyond the
nursery doors more impossible. Now and again he determined to put himself
in the path of the beautifully attired lady as she was going out, and
explain that he and no one else was the possessor of a "'parkle cwown,"
most beautiful and quite uninquired for. But she passed hurriedly to her
carriage, and the opportunity was gone before His Majesty the King could
draw the deep breath which clinches noble resolve. The dread secret cut
him off from Miss Biddums, Patsie, and the Commissioner's wife,
and—doubly hard fate—when he brooded over it Patsie said, and
told her mother, that he was cross.
The days were very long to His Majesty the King, and the nights longer
still. Miss Biddums had informed him, more than once, what was the
ultimate destiny of "fieves," and when he passed the interminable mud
flanks of the Central Jail, he shook in his little strapped shoes.
But release came after an afternoon spent in playing boats by the edge
of the tank at the bottom of the garden. His Majesty the King went to tea,
and, for the first time in his memory, the meal revolted him. His nose was
very cold, and his cheeks were burning hot. There was a weight about his
feet, and he pressed his head several times to make sure that it was not
swelling as he sat.
"I feel vevy funny," said His Majesty the King, rubbing his nose.
"Vere's a buzz-buzz in my head."
He went to bed quietly. Miss Biddums was out and the bearer undressed
The sin of the "'parkle cwown" was forgotten in the acuteness of the
discomfort to which he roused after a leaden sleep of some hours, He was
thirsty, and the bearer had forgotten to leave the drinking-water. "Miss
Biddums! Miss Biddums! I'm so kirsty!"
No answer, Miss Biddums had leave to attend the wedding of a Calcutta
schoolmate. His Majesty the King had forgotten that.
"I want a dwink of water!" he cried, but his voice was dried up in his
throat. "I want a dwink! Vere is ve glass?"
He sat up in bed and looked round. There was a murmur of voices from
the other side of the nursery door. It was better to face the terrible
unknown than to choke in the dark. He slipped out of bed, but his feet
were strangely wilful, and he reeled once or twice. Then he pushed the
door open and staggered—a puffed and purple-faced little
figure—into the brilliant light of the dining-room full of pretty
"I'm vevy hot! I'm vevy uncomfitivle," moaned His Majesty the King,
clinging to the portiére, "and vere's no water in ve glass, and I'm
so kirsty. Give me a dwink of water."
An apparition in black and white—His Majesty the King could
hardly see distinctly—lifted him up to the level of the table, and
felt his wrists and forehead. The water came, and he drank deeply, his
teeth chattering against the edge of the tumbler. Then every one seemed to
go away—every one except the huge man in black and white, who
carried him back to his bed; the mother and father following. And the sin
of the "'parkle cwown" rushed back and took possession of the terrified
"I'm a fief!" he gasped. "I want to tell Miss Biddums vat I'm a fief.
Vere is Miss Biddums?"
Miss Biddums had come and was bending over him. "I'm a fief," he
whispered. "A fief—like ve men in the pwison. But I'll tell now, I
tookt ... I tookt ve 'parkle cwown when the man that came left it in ve
hall. I bwoke ve paper and ve little bwown box, and it looked shiny, and I
tookt it to play wif, and I was afwaid. It's in ve dooly-box at ve bottom.
No one never asked for it, but I was afwaid. Oh, go an' get ve
Miss Biddums obediently stooped to the lowest shelf of the
almirah and unearthed the big paper box in which His Majesty the
King kept his dearest possessions. Under the tin soldiers, and a layer of
mud pellets for a pellet-bow, winked and blazed a diamond star, wrapped
roughly in a half-sheet of note-paper whereon were a few words.
Somebody was crying at the head of the bed, and a man's hand touched
the forehead of His Majesty the King, who grasped the packet and spread it
on the bed.
"Vat is ve 'parkle cwown," he said, and wept bitterly; for now that he
had made restitution he would fain have kept the shining splendor with
"It concerns you too," said a voice at the head of the bed. "Read the
note. This is not the time to keep back anything."
The note was curt, very much to the point, and signed by a single
initial. "If you wear this to-morrow night I shall know what to
expect." The date was three weeks old.
A whisper followed, and the deeper voice returned: "And you drifted as
far apart as that! I think it makes us quits now, doesn't it? Oh,
can't we drop this folly once and for all? Is it worth it, darling?"
"Kiss me too," said His Majesty the King, dreamily. "You isn't
vevy angwy, is you?"
The fever burned itself out, and His Majesty the King slept.
When he waked, it was in a new world—peopled by his father and
mother as well as Miss Biddums: and there was much love in that world and
no morsel of fear, and more petting than was good for several little boys.
His Majesty the King was too young to moralize on the uncertainty of
things human, or he would have been impressed with the singular advantages
of crime—ay, black sin. Behold, he had stolen the "'parkle cwown,"
and his reward was Love, and the right to play in the waste-paper basket
under the table "for always".
* * * * *
He trotted over to spend an afternoon with Patsie, and the
Commissioner's wife would have kissed him. "No, not vere," said His
Majesty the King, with superb insolence, fencing one corner of his mouth
with his hand, "Vat's my Mamma's place—vere she kisses
"Oh!" said the Commissioner's wife, briefly. Then to herself: "Well, I
suppose I ought to be glad for his sake. Children are selfish little grubs
and—I've got my Patsie."