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The King's Lesson Post by :JLangrehr Category :Short Stories Author :W.h.d. Rouse Date :November 2011 Read :1875

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The King's Lesson

Once upon a time there lived a very good King, whose name was Godfrey. Of course, when a man is King, everybody is ready to call him good; but this King really was good. He used to hold courts of justice for people to come to when they had a quarrel; and he decided all the cases so wisely that nobody durst bring an unjust cause before him. So after a while the result was, that the courts became empty; all the rustle and bustle was quiet, the wigs and gowns were hung up on pegs, and as dusty as dusty could be; and nobody had any quarrels at all.

"What a blessing!" thought King Godfrey to himself. "Now we have a little peace. And they say it's all my doing! I wonder if I am really as good as people make me out. Suppose I try to see?" No sooner said than done with this King. He asked one and he asked another; he begged and prayed them to tell him of his faults, so that he might mend them; but no, they said they really could not tell him of his faults, when he had none to tell of. He tried in the palace, he tried in the city; high and low, to and fro, it was just the same: all praise and no blame.

"Well, upon my word," thought the King, "I had no idea I was such a good fellow. Still, who knows what they say behind my back? Happy thought! I'll disguise myself, and that will soon show me the truth." So he dressed himself like a traveller, and got a carriage and pair, and drove all over the country, asking everybody what they thought of the King. Wonder of wonders! they said the same behind his back as they did to his face! That must have been a very nice country to live in, but I am sure I cannot tell where it is.

Now in such a strange country as that, strange things will happen; and so it turned out that, as our King was driving along, he came to a narrow lane sunk between two steep banks, with only just room for the carriage; and right in the middle of this lane another carriage met him. There they stood, both of them, and neither would budge. Our King did not know who was in that carriage, but I will tell you who it was. This was the King of the next country, who was also a good king as kings go, though not so good as the first; and he had got the same idea into his head, that he would wander about in disguise, and find out what people thought of him. Everybody had a good word for him too, it seems; but if he found no one to pick faults in him before, here was one now, as you shall see.

"Get out of the way!" said the driver of the other carriage.

"Get out of the way yourself!" said King Godfrey's man. "I have a King inside," said he; you see, he knew who the disguised traveller was, and he thought there was no need to hide it now, when it might save him trouble.

"If you have one King, I have another!" said the other man; and imagine how astonished King Godfrey's coachman was to hear that.

"Oh dear, oh dear," he said, "what is to be done? Both Kings! How old is your King?" he added suddenly, hoping, you see, that the younger might be willing to give way.

"Fifty."

"Fifty! So is mine! And how rich is he? "

But it turned out they were just the same in that point; and though he cudgelled his brains to find out some difference, there seemed to be none; their kingdoms were exactly the same size, with exactly the same number of people in them, and their ancestors had been just as brave and glorious in peace or war. In fact, they were as like as two peas in a pod.

All this time the horses were champing their bits and pawing the ground, as if they would like to jump over each other's heads; and I daresay the Kings were getting impatient too, though they were much too dignified to say anything. And there they might have stayed till doomsday, but that King Godfrey's coachman hit on a fine idea. He suggested that perhaps one of them was a better King than the other; what were his master's virtues, would the other coachman kindly tell him?

The other coachman had his answer all ready, in poetry too, and this it was:


"Rough to the rough, my mighty King the mild with mildness sways,
Masters the good by goodness, and the bad with badness pays:
Give place, give place, O driver! such are this monarch's ways!"


"H'm," said King Godfrey's driver, "tit for tat is all very well, but I shouldn't call it virtue to pay out a bad man in his own coin."

"Oh, well," says the other in a huff, "you can call it vice if you like; and I should be very glad to hear all your King's virtues, if you laugh at mine!"

"Certainly," said King Godfrey's coachman; and, not to be beaten, he did his answer into poetry, like the other:


"He conquers wrath by mildness, the bad with goodness sways,
By gifts the miser vanquishes and lies with truth repays.
Give place, give place, O driver! such are this monarch's ways!"


Then the other man felt he had met his match. "I can't cap that," said he; "your master is better than mine." And the new King, who had not said a word all this time, thought it was time to be moving; perhaps he had been asleep; anyhow, he was not at all angry with his coachman, but out he got, and they let the horses loose, and pulled the carriage up on the slope to let King Godfrey pass by. But King Godfrey, before he went on, gave the other King a little good advice, which the King promised to take; for in that strange country people used to follow good advice sometimes. And then they said "Good-bye," and both went back home again, and both of them ruled their countries well until they died. The other King, we may be sure, was all the better for that lesson; and I hope Godfrey did not become conceited in that strange country, as he would have been if he lived here with us.


(The end)
W.H.D. Rouse's short story: King's Lesson

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