The Cultured King and the Savage Sovereign

 

By: Shirley Goulden

Copyright Gavin Embry  -- 1956-2010

 

 

There lived a sovereign whose crown was made of sea-shells, and whose royal robe was the skin of an animal with a name you would not be able to pronounce, even if I wrote it down. This king only removed the shell crown and the animal skin to swim in the ocean, because, unlike most members of royal families, he had very little else to wear.

The kingdom was on an island, and the people in it were happy enough, perhaps because no one had yet taught them confusing things about Free Thinking and the Rights of Man. Besides, everybody was the same colour, and that colour was a pleasant chocolaty brown, which has a soothing effect on the nerves.

The king was crowned soon after his pleasant chocolaty person was four feet high, for that was the law in the island kingdom. As well as swimming magnificently in the ocean, he knew how to throw a boomerang, how to put his toes to the best use climbing trees, how to hunt with a long spear, and how not to get eaten by any of the wild animals with unpronounceable names.

Other kings may well have envied little brown Fearless, and of them all I think the little white king of the Cultured Country might have envied him the most.  But nobody in the Cultured Country had ever heard of Fearless and his chocolaty brown people, which was just a well, for they would probably have called them 'savages' and sent kind missionaries to teach them all the things they were managing very nicely without.

The little white king of the Cultured Country, whose name was Stephen Rex, knew none of those useful and interesting accomplishments which King Fearless had learned even before he was four feet tall.  The only lessons King Stephen was taught were dull bookish ones on 'Ruling Without Tears', 'How to Keep Your Head and Use Your Taxes', and 'Monarchy Made Easy'.  And he was kept inside the palace to learn them from nine-thirty to five every single day of the week except Sunday, when he was allowed to play by himself in the palace grounds.

Now Stephen Rex was a very sensible sort of boy for a king, and he hated having his ruling taught to him out of books.

"If things go on like this,' he warned darkly. 'I shall run away to sea' that's what I shall!"

And things did go on like that, from nine-thirty to five every day, except Sunday, which was when King Stephen really did run away to sea, leaving his crown behind with a note inside saying:

I'm running away to find out how to be a king off my own bat.  Whoever the crown fits can wear it until I get back, but mind they keep it clean

Stephen .R

Stephen Rex ran so hard and fast that, long before the coast came in sight, his royal robes were dusty and tattered.  None of the sailors at the dock gave him a second glance and certainly no one dreamed of saluting the ragged little boy who stopped to stare at them in open-mouthed admiration. For although Stephen Rex had often reviewed the Fleet through a telescope from the palace windows, he had never been able to do so far very long because of having to spend so much time learning how to be a king.  Nor had Stephen Rex ever run away to sea before, and now that he had reached his objective, was not at all sure how to go on.

 After thinking carefully for a while, the young king approached a gentleman in a very magnificent uniform, who might easily be an Admiral.

"Please, Sir, are you one?", he asked.

"One what, my lad?, the magnificent gentleman inquired.

"An Admiral, perhaps?" ventured Stephen Rex, hopefully.

"Not even Rear," was the reply, though, if Captain Hodges can do anything for a likely young lad such as yourself, then now's the time to speak up." and Captain Hodges smiled as only a magnificent gentle can smile at a small, tired, dirty little boy.

"Have you room for a stowaway on your ship?" asked Stephen Rex daringly.  I shouldn't be any trouble at all, truly not."

Captain Hodges threw back his magnificent head and laughed so loudly that several seamen stopped by to see what was happening.

"Did ye hear that men?" yelled the Captain, slapping his hip vigorously. "Have I room for a stowaway aboard, says the lad!"

The seamen went on strike at once and joined wholeheartedly in the merriment.  Stephen Rex looked down at his broken shoes in unhappy confusion.

Captain Hodges stopped laughing at once.

"Back to work, you lubbers," he told the seamen, and aside to Stephen Rex:

"Don't be downcast, my lad.  There is no room for a stowaway aboard the Lizzie May, but I shouldn't be after saying no to a fine young cabin-boy now."

 One day while Stephen Rex was being a cabin-boy in his own Navy, little brown King Fearless took off the sea-shell crown and the animal skin, and went for his morning swim in the sea.  When he had swum quite a long way from the shore, something happened which surprised Fearless very much indeed, although you and I would not think it at all unusual.  The sun which had been shining on his island for so many years, and whose fault it was that the people were chocolaty brown, became hidden by a thick mist.  Fearless, floating on his back, saw that the sky had turned from deep blue to muddy grey, and the great blobs of rain were spattering the surface of the water, which had suddenly became unnaturally still.  And although the sun was no longer shining, Fearless felt stickily hot.

There came a rumble of thunder, and a jagged flash of lightning lit up the heavens.  Fearless rolled over in the water hastily, and began to swim hard for the shore.  He only reached it in the very nick of time, before the deluge of rain came streaming downwards, beating hard at the sand, and making the seas heave and swell and froth and foam turbulently.

That night King Fearless lay on his shaking bed, inside the bamboo hut which was his palace, listing to the high dry of the raging storm wind wandering if all his kingdom might not be blown away by the morning.  But luckily the island architects were all Boy Scouts and had thoughtfully prepared the house against bad weather, so that everybody was quite safe and dry. 

The storm died as suddenly as it had started, and first outside was King Fearless.  When had shaken hands with all the architects and pinned shell medals to their animal-skin morning suits, one of the islanders came running to report that a huge sea-monster had washed up on the south beach.

Fearless grabbed his spear, and followed by some of his faithful courtiers, went to investigate.

There, with her stern buried deep in the sand, lay the Lizzie May, run aground by the storm.

Fearless had never seen a ship before, but then he had never seen a sea-monster either, and instead of being the least bit frightened, he was most anxious to find out all about it. 

The lookout-watch aboard the Lizzie May was most anxious to find out about him too, as it happened, and at that moment he was calling the Captain, in tones not altogether unconcerned.

"There's some cannibals wading out towards us, Sir," he said.

"Cannibals!" exclaimed Captain Hodges, holding on to the bridge (which was rather higher in the air than it should have been, owing to the unusual position of the Lizzie May).  "How do you know they are cannibals?"

"Well, they look sort of hungry, Sir," explained the look-out nervously.

"Of course they look hungry.  It's breakfast time!" snapped the Captain. "Tell the cabin-boy to hurry up with the eggs and bacon. We're expecting guests."

The cabin-boy was, of course, Stephen Rex, and a very useful one he had turned out to be, because the best kings can do everything well.

All during the storm Stephen Rex had kept the crew supplied with hot rum and ginger biscuits, and only broke four cups and a plate doing it, to that he was a hero to every sailor on the ship.

Now that the Lizzie May was grounded, the kitchen sloped at an alarming  angle, which made standing upright very hard indeed, and cooking bacon and eggs even harder.  But somehow Stephen Rex managed both, and arriving on deck with the Captain's breakfast piping hot, he was greeted with cheers.

Meanwhile, Fearless and his islanders had reached the wreck and were climbing on board by way of the anchor-chain. 

"Stand ready, men," warned the Captain, picking up his knife and fork.

The sailors were muttering uneasily.

"Ave a dekko at them sharp spears," whispered the lookout man, trying to hide behind the mast.

The brown islanders dropped one by one on to the deck and stood silently fingering their weapons.

Fearless, as the head, stepped forward boldly, and said something in his own language to Captain Hodges, who did not understand a single word. 

But Stephen Rex, who had learned all the languages there are to know in those hours from nine-thirty to five, said: "He wants to be friends, And they aren't cannibals. Try him with the bacon."

The captain passed his plate to Fearless, and Fearless hesitantly ate a piece of bacon.  Then his dusky face broke into a wide grin.

"I say, that was good," he told Stephen Rex in his island language. "Please will you all do me the honour of eating with us on our land?"

Stephen Rex speedily translated this to the Captain, who gave orders for immediate disembarkation

Breakfast on the island was luscious fruit, eaten as it tastes best -- with fingers -- then Fearless conducted the whole ships company courteously round his kingdom in bamboo carriages, drawn by tame zebras.  Stephen Rex noticed how happy the chocolaty brown people seemed to be. 

"I expect they know all about Free Thinking and the Rights of Man?" he asked Fearless.

"They never heard of either." was the island King's reply. "There's nothing to think about here, except hunting and shooting and fishing, you see, and everybody has the right to do those."

"I know good ruling with a jolly sight easier than those old tutors tied to make out." Stephen Rex explained joyfully. "My people are going to be made as happy as yours, Fearless old boy, just the second I get home!"

"There's nothing to it," Fearless assured him modestly, "Now let's start healing the wounds in that sea-monster, so you that can be back for diner."

Everyone then set to, hewing down trees, sawing planks and hammering nails into the Lizzie May.  When all the damage had been mended, six great elephants were harnessed to the good ship's stern, and sent for a walk in the opposite direction. The Lizzie May was dragged off of her sandy berth and on to the log causeway which had been built for her. The elephants were unharnessed, and brown shoulder to white, ever man heaved, until the rolled over the crest of a wave, and remained proudly and splendidly afloat.

Amid much applause the crew climbed on board, and Captain set sail for home.

Stephen Rex and Fearless waved until each was to the other no more than a tiny speck on the horizon.

The Lizzie May did bring them back in time for dinner, though not of course on the same day, and Stephen Rex, still disguised as a cabin-boy, wrote his address on a post-card and gave it to Captain Hodges, with an invitation to the palace that very night.

"The palace, eh?" queried Captain Hodges, surprised. "Then you must be a runaway kitchen boy. I'll come round and put in a good word with the head footman. Don't you worry, lad.  Perhaps he'll take you back, if you're really tired of the sea."

"Not likely, but I have a job to do on land now," explained Stephen Rex. "don't forget I'm expecting you tonight, though, Captain."

"Never fear, I'll be there," promised the kindly man.

Then Stephen Rex bade farewell to the crew, and fired a taxi, to which his cabin-boy wages only just stretched.

It wa sa well that he remembered to take the key of the palace door when running away, for no respectable footman would ever have recognized the ragged looking cabin-boy that Stephen Rex had become.

Once inside the palace, he made straight for the throne-room, and found the Prime Minister wearing his crown, at quite the wrong angle.  \It was tilted so far over the eyes that Stephen Rex was able to approach unnoticed.

"I'm back," he announced in the ministerial ear, and the P.M. knew at once that this was the case, for however changed was the king's appearance, his voice had remained the same.

"Your Majesty!" he exclaimed.

"Himself," Stephen Rex agreed, "only you may not think so, when you take the crown off your nose and really see me."

"I should know that voice anywhere." said the P. M. trustingly.

"Then off with it-- my crown, silly, not your head, though you deserve to lose that too for keeping the gems so dirty," said Stephen Rex sternly.

News soon reached the learned ears of the tutors that the King had returned, and they marched into the throne-room, armed with lesson books an extra home-work.

"There's no me going on," King Stephen told them firmly, upending an ink spot on the nearest learned head.  I've found out how to rule on my own, and starting from now, I'm going to."

With that he told the Prime Minster to stop making Laws and Taxes instantly, and to ask the people what they would rather have instead.

The Prime minister took a great deal of time to do this, but at last he came back, with a list as long as the highest mast on the Lizzie May.

"Trouble was," he explained, apologetically, "they all wanted something different."

"No odds," said Stephen Rex cheerfully. "Is shall have a good long reign, and we can start on the list directly".

King Stephen never did reach the end of the list, for as one request was granted, others were demanded in its place.  But the people were grateful, and worked hard, so that the country prospered and grew rich.  And Stephen Rex was rewarded by the happiness he saw everywhere on the faces of his subjects, just as he had seen it on the chocolaty coloured faces of the island people.

Once every year, in the hunting season, Stephen Rex visited his friend King Fearless, and learned how to throw a boomerang as well as anybody.

As for the tutors, Stephen Rex had taught them a lesson for once, for they never again presumed to advise their king how to rule.  I don't believe the ink ever did quite come off that unfortunate learned head.

It was Captain Hodges who had the biggest surprise of all, when he presented himself at the palace back-door, on the night of the king's return.  Stephen Rex answered it himself, wearing his newly polished crown and a welcoming grin.

"Stop playing the goat, lad and put that crown back where it belongs." advised the Captain, aghast.

"It is where belongs -- on the king's head," said Stephen, and winked knowingly.

"Well, I'm an---" began the Captain.

"You're an Admiral," Stephen Rex announced "I here-by make you Lord High Admiral of the Fleet.

With a huge effort Captain Hodges hid his astonishment, and saluted the ex-cabin boy smartly.

"Aye-aye Sir." he said and smiled as only a magnificent gentleman could.

 


 

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