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PAGE 4

Story Of St. Vespaluus
by [?]

“‘What is the meaning of this fiasco?’ he demanded.

“‘Your Majesty,’ said that official, ‘either there is something radically wrong with the bees–‘

“‘There is nothing wrong with my bees,’ said the king haughtily, ‘they are the best bees.’

“‘Or else,’ said the Librarian, ‘there is something irremediably right about Prince Vespaluus.’

“‘If Vespaluus is right I must be wrong,’ said the king.

“The Librarian was silent for a moment. Hasty speech has been the downfall of many; ill-considered silence was the undoing of the luckless Court functionary.

“Forgetting the restraint due to his dignity, and the golden rule which imposes repose of mind and body after a heavy meal, the king rushed upon the keeper of the royal books and hit him repeatedly and promiscuously over the head with an ivory chessboard, a pewter wine-flagon, and a brass candlestick; he knocked him violently and often against an iron torch sconce, and kicked him thrice round the banqueting chamber with rapid, energetic kicks. Finally, he dragged him down a long passage by the hair of his head and flung him out of a window into the courtyard below.”

“Was he much hurt?” asked the Baroness.

“More hurt than surprised,” said Clovis. You see, the king was notorious for his violent temper. However, this was the first time he had let himself go so unrestrainedly on the top of a heavy meal. The Librarian lingered for many days–in fact, for all I know, he may have ultimately recovered, but Hkrikros died that same evening. Vespaluus had hardly finished getting the honey stains off his body before a hurried deputation came to put the coronation oil on his head. And what with the publicly-witnessed miracle and the accession of a Christian sovereign, it was not surprising that there was a general scramble of converts to the new religion. A hastily consecrated bishop was overworked with a rush of baptisms in the hastily improvised Cathedral of St. Odilo. And the boy-martyr-that-might-have-been was transposed in the popular imagination into a royal boy-saint, whose fame attracted throngs of curious and devout sightseers to the capital. Vespaluus, who was busily engaged in organizing the games and athletic contests that were to mark the commencement of his reign, had no time to give heed to the religious fervour which was effervescing round his personality; the first indication he had of the existing state of affairs was when the Court Chamberlain (a recent and very ardent addition to the Christian community) brought for his approval the outlines of a projected ceremonial cutting-down of the idolatrous serpent-grove.

“‘Your Majesty will be graciously pleased to cut down the first tree with a specially consecrated axe,’ said the obsequious official.

“‘I’ll cut off your head first, with any axe that comes handy,’ said Vespaluus indignantly; ‘do you suppose that I’m going to begin my reign by mortally affronting the sacred serpents? It would be most unlucky.’

“‘But your Majesty’s Christian principles?’ exclaimed the bewildered Chamberlain.

“‘I never had, any,’ said Vespaluus; ‘ I used to pretend to he a Christian convert just to annoy Hkrikros. He used to fly into such delicious tempers. And it was rather fun being whipped and scolded and shut up in a tower all for nothing. But as to turning Christian in real earnest, like you people seem to do, I couldn’t think of such a thing. And the holy and esteemed serpents have always helped me when I’ve prayed to them for success in my running and wrestling and hunting, and it was through their distinguished intercession that the bees were not able to hurt me with their stings. It would he black ingratitude, to turn against their worship at the very outset of my reign. I hate you for suggesting it.’

“The Chamberlain wrung his hands despairingly.

“‘But, your Majesty,’ he wailed, ‘the people are reverencing you as a saint, and the nobles are being Christianized in batches, and neighbouring potentates of that Faith are sending special envoys to welcome you as a brother. There is some talk of making you the patron saint of beehives, and a certain shade of honey-yellow has been christened Vespaluusian gold at the Emperor’s Court. You can’t surely go back on all this.’