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The Good King Wamba
by [?]

Long had the Goths been lords of Spain. Chief after chief had they chosen, king after king had they served; and, though it was young in time, Gothic Spain was growing old in years. It reached its golden age in the time of “Good King Wamba,” a king of fancy as much as of fact, under whom Spain became a land of Arcady, everybody was happy, all things prospered, and the tide of evil events for a space ceased to flow.

In those days, when a king died and left no son, the Goths elected a new one, seeking their best and worthiest, and holding the election in the place where the old king had passed away. It was in the little village of Gerticos, some eight miles from the city of Valladolid, that King Recesuinto had sought health and found death. Hither came the electors,–the great nobles, the bishops, and the generals,–and here they debated who should be king, finally settling on a venerable Goth named Wamba, the one man of note in all the kingdom who throughout his life had declined to accept rank and station.

The story goes that their choice was aided by miracle. In those days miracles were “as plentiful as blackberries,” but many of these seem to have been what we may speak of as “miracles made to order,” designed by shrewd individuals to gain some personal or other advantage. St. Leo is said to have told the electors to seek a husbandman named Wamba, whose lands lay somewhere in the west, asserting that he did this under direction of the heavenly powers. However that be, scouts were sent through the land in search of Wamba, whom they found at length in his fields, driving his plough through the soil and asking for no higher lot. He was like Cincinnatus, the famous Roman, who was called from the plough to the sceptre.

“Leave your plough in the furrow,” they said to him; “nobler work awaits you. You have been elected king of Spain.”

“There is no nobler work,” answered Wamba. “Seek elsewhere your monarch. I prefer to rule over my fields.”

The astonished heralds knew not what to make of this. To them the man who would not be king must be a saint–or an idiot. They reasoned, begged, implored, until Wamba, anxious to get rid of them, said,–

“I will accept the crown when the dry rod in my hand grows green again,–and not till then.”

The good old husbandman fancied that he had fairly settled the question, but miracle defeated his purpose. To his utter surprise and their deep astonishment the dry stick which he thrust into the ground at once became a green plant, fresh leaves breaking out on its upper end. What was the old man fond of his plough to do in such a case? He had appealed to Heaven, and here was Heaven’s reply. He went with the heralds to the electoral congress, but there, in spite of the green branch, he again refused to be king. He knew what it meant to try and govern men like those around him, and preferred not to undertake the task. But one of the chiefs sprang up, drew his sword, and advanced to the old man.

“If you are still obstinate in refusing the position we offer you,” he sternly said, “you shall lose your head as well as your crown.”

His fierce eyes and brandished sword gave weight to his words, and Wamba, concluding that he would rather be a king than a corpse, accepted the trust. He was then escorted by the council and the army to Toledo, feeling more like a captive than a monarch. There he was anointed and crowned, and, from being lord of his fields, the wise old husbandman became king of Spain.

Such a king as Wamba proved to be the Goths had never known. Age had brought him wisdom, but it had not robbed him of energy. He knew what he had to expect and showed himself master of the situation. Revolts broke out, conspiracies threatened the throne, but one after another he put them down. Yet he was as merciful as he was prompt. His enemies were set free and bidden to behave themselves better in the future. One ambitious noble named Paul, who thought it would be an easy thing to take the throne from an old man who had shown so plainly that he did not want it, rose in rebellion. He soon learned his mistake. Wamba met him in battle, routed his army, and took him prisoner. Paul expected nothing less than to have his head stricken off, but Wamba simply ordered that it should be shaved.