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The book of beasts.

From The Book of Dragons by Edith Nesbit.

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He happened to be building a Palace when the news came, and he left all the bricks kicking about the floor for Nurse to clear up--but then the news was rather remarkable news. You see, there was a knock at the front door and voices talking downstairs, and Lionel thought it was the man come to see about the gas, which had not been allowed to be lighted since the day when Lionel made a swing by tying his skipping rope to the gas bracket. And then, quite suddenly, Nurse came in and said, "Master Lionel, dear, they've come to fetch you to go and be King." Then she made haste to change his smock and to wash his face and hands and brush his hair, and all the time she was doing it Lionel kept wriggling and fidgeting and saying, "Oh, don't, Nurse," and, "I'm sure my ears are quite clean," or, "Never mind my hair, it's all right," and, "That'll do." "You're going on as if you was going to be an eel instead of a King," said Nurse. The minute Nurse let go for a moment Lionel bolted off without waiting for his clean handkerchief, and in the drawing room there were two very grave-looking gentlemen in red robes with fur, and gold coronets with velvet sticking up out of the middle like the cream in the very expensive jam tarts. They bowed low to Lionel, and the gravest one said: "Sire, your great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, the King of this country, is dead, and now you have got to come and be King." "Yes, please, sir," said Lionel, "when does it begin?" "You will be crowned this afternoon," said the grave gentleman who was not quite so grave-looking as the other.



"Would you like me to bring Nurse, or what time would you like me to be fetched, and hadn't I better put on my velvet suit with the lace collar?" said Lionel, who had often been out to tea. "Your Nurse will be removed to the Palace later. No, never mind about changing your suit; the Royal robes will cover all that up." The grave gentlemen led the way to a coach with eight white horses, which was drawn up in front of the house where Lionel lived. It was No. 7, on the left-hand side of the street as you go up. Lionel ran upstairs at the last minute, and he kissed Nurse and said: "Thank you for washing me. I wish I'd let you do the other ear. No--there's no time now. Give me the hanky. Good-bye, Nurse." "Good-bye, ducky," said Nurse. "Be a good little King now, and say 'please' and 'thank you,' and remember to pass the cake to the little girls, and don't have more than two helps of anything." So off went Lionel to be made a King. He had never expected to be a King any more than you have, so it was all quite new to him--so new that he had never even thought of it. And as the coach went through the town he had to bite his tongue to be quite sure it was real, because if his tongue was real it showed he wasn't dreaming. Half an hour before he had been building with bricks in the nursery; and now--the streets were all fluttering with flags; every window was crowded with people waving handkerchiefs and scattering flowers; there were scarlet soldiers everywhere along the pavements, and all the bells of all the churches were ringing like mad, and like a great song to the music of their ringing he heard thousands of people shouting, "Long live Lionel! Long live our little King!"



He was a little sorry at first that he had not put on his best clothes, but he soon forgot to think about that. If he had been a girl he would very likely have bothered about it the whole time. As they went along, the grave gentlemen, who were the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, explained the things which Lionel did not understand. "I thought we were a Republic," said Lionel. "I'm sure there hasn't been a King for some time." "Sire, your great-great-great-great-great-grandfather's death happened when my grandfather was a little boy," said the Prime Minister, "and since then your loyal people have been saving up to buy you a crown--so much a week, you know, according to people's means--sixpence a week from those who have first-rate pocket money, down to a halfpenny a week from those who haven't so much. You know it's the rule that the crown must be paid for by the people." "But hadn't my great-great-however-much-it-is-grandfather a crown?" "Yes, but he sent it to be tinned over, for fear of vanity, and he had had all the jewels taken out, and sold them to buy books. He was a strange man; a very good King he was, but he had his faults--he was fond of books. Almost with his last breath he sent the crown to be tinned--and he never lived to pay the tinsmith's bill."



Here the Prime Minister wiped away a tear, and just then the carriage stopped and Lionel was taken out of the carriage to be crowned. Being crowned is much more tiring work than you would suppose, and by the time it was over, and Lionel had worn the Royal robes for an hour or two and had had his hand kissed by everybody whose business it was to do it, he was quite worn out, and was very glad to get into the Palace nursery. Nurse was there, and tea was ready: seedy cake and plummy cake, and jam and hot buttered toast, and the prettiest china with red and gold and blue flowers on it, and real tea, and as many cups of it as you liked. After tea Lionel said: "I think I should like a book. Will you get me one, Nurse?" "Bless the child," said Nurse. "You don't suppose you've lost the use of your legs with just being a King? Run along, do, and get your books yourself." So Lionel went down into the library. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor were there, and when Lionel came in they bowed very low, and were beginning to ask Lionel most politely what on earth he was coming bothering for now--when Lionel cried out: "Oh, what a worldful of books! Are they yours?" "They are yours, Your Majesty," answered the Chancellor. "They were the property of the late King, your great-great--" "Yes, I know," Lionel interrupted. "Well, I shall read them all. I love to read. I am so glad I learned to read." "If I might venture to advise Your Majesty," said the Prime Minister, "I should not read these books. Your great--" "Yes?" said Lionel, quickly. "He was a very good King--oh, yes, really a very superior King in his way, but he was a little--well, strange." "Mad?" asked Lionel, cheerfully. "No, no"--both the gentlemen were sincerely shocked. "Not mad; but if I may express it so, he was--er--too clever by half. And I should not like a little King of mine to have anything to do with his books."

       



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