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Ford Madox Ford
LONDON ∙ NEW YORK ∙ TORONTO ∙ SAO PAULO ∙ MOSCOW
PARIS ∙ MADRID ∙ BERLIN ∙ ROME ∙ MEXICO CITY ∙ MUMBAI ∙ SEOUL ∙ DOHA
TOKYO ∙ SYDNEY ∙ CAPE TOWN ∙ AUCKLAND ∙ BEIJING
Published by Sovereign Classic
First published in 2018
Copyright © 2018 Sovereign Classic
All rights reserved.
THE QUEEN WHO FLEW
THE QUEEN WHO FLEW
Once upon a time a Queen sat in her garden. She was quite a young, young Queen; but that was a long while ago, so she would be older now. But, for all she was Queen over a great and powerful country, she led a very quiet life, and sat a great deal alone in her garden watching the roses grow, and talking to a bat that hung, head downwards, with its wings folded, for all the world like an umbrella, beneath the shade of a rose tree overhanging her favourite marble seat. She did not know much about the bat, not even that it could fly, for her servants and nurses would never allow her to be out at dusk, and the bat was a great deal too weak-eyed to fly about in the broad daylight.
But, one summer day, it happened that there was a revolution in the land, and the Queen’s servants, not knowing who was likely to get the upper hand, left the Queen all alone, and went to look at the fight that was raging.
But you must understand that in those days a revolution was a thing very different from what it would be to-day.
Instead of trying to get rid of the Queen altogether, the great nobles of the kingdom merely fought violently with each other for possession of the Queen’s person. Then they would proclaim themselves Regents of the kingdom and would issue bills of attainder against all their rivals, saying they were traitors against the Queen’s Government.
In fact, a revolution in those days was like what is called a change of Ministry now, save for the fact that they were rather fond of indulging themselves by decapitating their rivals when they had the chance, which of course one would never think of doing nowadays.
The Queen and the bat had been talking a good deal that afternoon—about the weather and about the revolution and the colour of cats and the like.
“The raven will have a good time of it for a day or two,” the bat said.
But the Queen shuddered. “Don’t be horrid,” she said.
“I wonder who’ll get the upper hand?” the bat said.
“I’m sure I don’t care a bit,” the Queen retorted. “It doesn’t make any difference to me. They all give me things to sign, and they all say I’m very beautiful.”
“That’s because they want to marry you,” the bat said.
And the Queen answered, “I suppose it is; but I shan’t marry them. And I wish all my attendants weren’t deaf and dumb; it makes it so awfully dull for me.”
“That’s so that they shan’t abuse the Regent behind his back,” the bat said. “Well, I shall take a fly.” The truth was, he felt insulted that the Queen should say she was dull when she had him to talk to.
But the Queen was quite frightened when he whizzed past her head and out into the dusky evening, where she could see him flitting about jerkily, and squeaking shrilly to paralyze the flies with fright.
After a while he got over his fit of sulks, and came back again to hang in his accustomed bough.
“Why—you can fly!” the Queen said breathlessly. It gave her a new idea of the importance of the bat.
The bat said, “I can.” He was flattered by her admiration.
“I wish I could fly,” the Queen said. “It would be so much more exciting than being boxed up here.”
The bat said, “Why don’t you?”
“Because I haven’t got wings, I suppose,” the Queen said.
“You shouldn’t suppose,” the bat said sharply. “Half the evils in the world come from people supposing.”
“What are the ‘evils in the world’?” the Queen said.
And the bat answered, “What! don’t you even know that, you ignorant little thing? The evils in the world are ever so many—strong winds so that one can’t fly straight, and cold weather so that the flies die, and rheumatic pains in one’s wing-joints, and cats and swallows.”
“I like cats,” the Queen said; “and swallows are very pretty.”
“That’s what you think,” the bat said angrily. “But you’re nobody. Now, I hate cats because they always want to eat me; and I hate swallows because they always eat what I want to eat—flies. They are the real evils of the world.”
The Queen saw that he was angry, and she held her peace for a while.
“I’m not nobody, all the same,” she thought to herself, “I’m the Queen of the ‘most prosperous and contented nation in the world,’ though I don’t quite understand what it means. But it will never do to offend the bat, it is so dreadfully dull when he won’t talk;” so she said, “Would it be possible for me to fly?” for a great longing had come into her heart to be able to fly away out of the garden with the roses and the marble bench.
“Well, it certainly won’t be if you suppose you can’t,” the bat said. “Now, when I was a mouse, I used to suppose I couldn’t fly, and so, of course, I couldn’t. But, one day, I saved the life of a cockchafer that had got into a beetle-trap, and he told me how it was to be managed.”
“How?” the Queen said eagerly.
“Ah, you like cats,” the bat said, “and you’d tell them the secret; and then there’d be no peace for me. Ugh!—flying cats!” And the bat shuddered and wrapped his wings round his head.
“Oh, but I promise I won’t tell,” the Queen said eagerly; “indeed I do. Dear bat, you are so wise, and so good, and so handsome, do tell me.”
Now, the bat was rather susceptible to compliments, and so he unshrouded his head, pretending not to have heard, though he had.
“What did you say?” he said.
And the Queen repeated her words.
That pleased him, and he answered, “Well, there’s a certain flower that has two remarkable properties—one, that people who carry it about with them can always fly, and the other, that it will restore the blind to sight.”
“Yes; but I shall have to travel over ever so many mountains and rivers and things before I can find it,” the Queen said dismally.
“How do you know that?” the bat asked sharply.
“I don’t know it, I only supposed it; at least I’ve read it in books.”
“Well, of course, if you go supposing things and reading them in books, I can’t do anything for you,” the bat said. “The only good I can see in books is that they breed bookworms, and the worms turn into flies; but even they aren’t very good to eat. When I was a mouse, though, I used to nibble books to pieces, and the bits made rare good nests. So there is some good in the most useless of things. But I don’t need a nest now that I can fly.”
“How did you come to be able to fly?” the Queen asked.
“Well, after what the cockchafer told me, I just ran out into the garden, and when I found the flower, as I hadn’t any pocket to put it in so as to have it always by me, I just ate it up, and from that time forward I have been able to fly ever so well.”
The Queen said, “Oh, how nice! And is the flower actually here in the garden? Tell me which it is, please do.”
“Well, I’ll tell you if you’ll bring me a nice piece of raw meat, and a little red flannel for my rheumatism.”
Just at that moment the sound of a great bell sounded out into the garden.
“Oh, how annoying!” the Queen said. “Just as it was beginning to be interesting! Now I shall have to go in to dinner. But I’ll bring you the meat and the flannel to-morrow, and then you’ll tell me, won’t you?”
The bat said, “We’ll see about it,” and so the Queen arose from her seat, and, stooping to avoid the roses that caught at her, went out towards the palace and up the marble steps into it.
The palace was an enormous hall, all of marble, and very, very cold.
The dining-room itself was a vast hall, as long as an ordinary street, with a table as long and as broad as the roadway thereof, so that the poor little Queen felt rather lonely, sitting at one end of it, with the enormous vessels all of gold, and the great gold candlesticks, and the long line of deaf and dumb domestics that stood and looked on, or presented their dishes kneeling.
Generally the Regent’s wife, or, if he hadn’t one, his sister or mother, acted as the Queen’s governess, and stood behind her chair. But that evening there was no one at all.
“I suppose they’ve cut her head off,” the Queen said resignedly. “I wonder what the next one will be like. But I shan’t be bothered with her long, if the bat tells me how to fly. I shall just go right off somewhere, and see mountains, and valleys, and rivers, and seas; and hundreds and hundreds of wonderful things out of books. Oh, it will be lovely! And as to the Regents, they can just cut each other’s heads off as much as they like.”
And so, having dined, she went to bed, and lay a long time awake thinking how delightful it would be to fly.
The next morning, at breakfast, she found a note to say that the Lord Blackjowl desired an early audience with her on the subject of the Regency.
“I suppose I must go,” the Queen said. “I do hope he won’t be much wounded, it’s so nasty to look at, and I did want to go into the garden to see the bat.”
However, she went down into the audience chamber at once, to get it over. The guard drew back the curtain in the doorway and she went in. A great man with a black beard was awaiting her, and at her entrance sank down on one knee.
“Oh, get up, please,” she said. “I don’t like talking to men when they kneel, it looks so stupid. What is it you want? I suppose it’s about the Regency.”
The Lord Blackjowl arose. His eyes were little and sharp; they seemed to look right through the Queen.
“Your Majesty is correct, as so peerless a lady must be,” he said “The nobles and people were groaning under the yoke of the late traitor and tyrant who called himself Regent, and so we took the liberty, the great liberty, of——”
“Oh yes, I know what you want,” the Queen interrupted him. “You want to be pardoned for the unconstitutionality of it. So I suppose I shall have to pardon you. If you give me the paper I’ll sign it.”
The Lord Blackjowl handed her one of many papers that he held in his hand.
“If your Majesty will be graciously pleased to sign it here.”
So the Queen sat down at a table and signed the crackling paper “Eldrida—Queen.”
“I never sign it ‘Eldrida R.,’” she said. “It’s ridiculous to sign it in a language that isn’t one’s own. Now I suppose you want me to sign a paper appointing you Regent?”
The Lord Blackjowl looked at her from under his shaggy eyebrows.
“That was included in the paper your Majesty has been graciously pleased to sign.”
“But I didn’t know anything about it,” the Queen said hotly. “Now that’s deceiving, and I shall never be able to trust anything you give me to sign without reading it. I’ve a good mind to take it back again.”
“I assure your Majesty,” the lord answered, with a low bow, “I merely wished to save your Majesty the trouble of twice appending your gracious signature when once would suffice.”
“But why didn’t you tell me what was in it?” she asked, a little mollified.
“Merely because your Majesty took the words out of my mouth, if I may so say.”
The Queen said, “Well, and what else do you want me to do?”
“There are sundry traitorous persons of the faction of the late Regent, whose existence is dangerous to the peace of the realm, and against whom I wish to issue writs of attainder if your Majesty will consent.”