IN the Royal Palace Bumpo and I had a beautiful suite of rooms of our very own—which Polynesia, Jip and Chee-Chee shared with us. Officially Bumpo was Minister of the Interior; while I was First Lord of the Treasury. Long Arrow also had quarters there; but at present he was absent, traveling abroad.
One night after supper when the Doctor was away in the town somewhere visiting a new-born baby, we were all sitting round the big table in Bumpo’s reception-room. This we did every evening, to talk over the plans for the following day and various affairs of state. It was a kind of Cabinet Meeting.
To-night however we were talking about England—and also about things to eat. We had got a little tired of Indian food. You see, none of the natives knew how to cook; and we had the most discouraging time training a chef for the Royal Kitchen. Most of them were champions at spoiling good food. Often we got so hungry that the Doctor would sneak downstairs with us into the palace basement, after all the cooks were safe in bed, and fry pancakes secretly over the dying embers of the fire. The Doctor himself was the finest cook that ever lived. But he used to make a terrible mess of the kitchen; and of course we had to be awfully careful that we didn’t get caught.
Well, as I was saying, to-night food was the subject of discussion at the Cabinet Meeting; and I had just been reminding Bumpo of the nice dishes we had had at the bed-maker’s house in Monteverde.
“I tell you what I would like now,” said Bumpo: “a large cup of cocoa with whipped cream on the top of it. In Oxford we used to be able to get the most wonderful cocoa. It is really too bad they haven’t any cocoa-trees in this island, or cows to give cream.”
“When do you suppose,” asked Jip, “the Doctor intends to move on from here?”
“I was talking to him about that only yesterday,” said Polynesia. “But I couldn’t get any satisfactory answer out of him. He didn’t seem to want to speak about it.”
There was a pause in the conversation.
“Do you know what I believe?” she added presently. “I believe the Doctor has given up even thinking of going home.”
“Good Lord!” cried Bumpo. “You don’t say!”
“Sh!” said Polynesia. “What’s that noise?”
We listened; and away off in the distant corridors of the palace we heard the sentries crying,
“The King!—Make way!—The King!”
“It’s he—at last,” whispered Polynesia—“late, as usual. Poor man, how he does work!—Chee-Chee, get the pipe and tobacco out of the cupboard and lay the dressing-gown ready on his chair.”
When the Doctor came into the room he looked serious and thoughtful. Wearily he took off his crown and hung it on a peg behind the door. Then he exchanged the royal cloak for the dressing-gown, dropped into his chair at the head of the table with a deep sigh and started to fill his pipe.
“Well,” asked Polynesia quietly, “how did you find the baby?”
“The baby?” he murmured—his thoughts still seemed to be very far away—“Ah yes. The baby was much better, thank you—It has cut its second tooth.”
Then he was silent again, staring dreamily at the ceiling through a cloud of tobacco-smoke; while we all sat round quite still, waiting.
“We were wondering, Doctor,” said I at last,—“just before you came in—when you would be starting home again. We will have been on this island seven months to-morrow.”
The Doctor sat forward in his chair looking rather uncomfortable.
“Well, as a matter of fact,” said he after a moment, “I meant to speak to you myself this evening on that very subject. But it’s—er—a little hard to make any one exactly understand the situation. I am afraid that it would be impossible for me to leave the work I am now engaged on.... You remember, when they first insisted on making me king, I told you it was not easy to shake off responsibilities, once you had taken them up. These people have come to rely on me for a great number of things. We found them ignorant of much that white people enjoy. And we have, one might say, changed the current of their lives considerably. Now it is a very ticklish business, to change the lives of other people. And whether the changes we have made will be, in the end, for good or for bad, is our lookout.”
He thought a moment—then went on in a quieter, sadder voice:
“I would like to continue my voyages and my natural history work; and I would like to go back to Puddleby—as much as any of you. This is March, and the crocuses will be showing in the lawn.... But that which I feared has come true: I cannot close my eyes to what might happen if I should leave these people and run away. They would probably go back to their old habits and customs: wars, superstitions, devil-worship and what not; and many of the new things we have taught them might be put to improper use and make their condition, then, worse by far than that in which we found them.... They like me; they trust me; they have come to look to me for help in all their problems and troubles. And no man wants to do unfair things to them who trust him.... And then again, I like them. They are, as it were, my children—I never had any children of my own—and I am terribly interested in how they will grow up. Don’t you see what I mean?—How can I possibly run away and leave them in the lurch?... No. I have thought it over a good deal and tried to decide what was best. And I am afraid that the work I took up when I assumed the crown I must stick to. I’m afraid—I’ve got to stay.”
“For good—for your whole life?” asked Bumpo in a low voice.
For some moments the Doctor, frowning, made no answer.
“I don’t know,” he said at last—“Anyhow for the present there is certainly no hope of my leaving. It wouldn’t be right.”
The sad silence that followed was broken finally by a knock upon the door.
With a patient sigh the Doctor got up and put on his crown and cloak again.
“Come in,” he called, sitting down in his chair once more.
The door opened and a footman—one of the hundred and forty-three who were always on night duty—stood bowing in the entrance.
“Oh, Kindly One,” said he, “there is a traveler at the palace-gate who would have speech with Your Majesty.”
“Another baby’s been born, I’ll bet a shilling,” muttered Polynesia.
“Did you ask the traveler’s name?” enquired the Doctor.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” said the footman. “It is Long Arrow, the son of Golden Arrow.”