Menella Bute Smedley

The King's Beard

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It is very tiresome when
Fairies take dislike to kings.
I have known it now and then
Lead to most unpleasant things.
I have even heard it said
Kings have wish'd that they were dead,
And I fancy it was so
With the King of Waggabo.

In the Waggabonian court
There is worry and dismay,
For the king is growing short—
Shorter—shorter—ev'ry day.
And it is a great distress
When a king grows less and less,
Lest the process should not stop
Till at last he goes off, pop.
Such a stately king was he,
Very stout and very strong,
In his stockings six feet three,
With a beard twelve inches long.
And the strangest part of all
Is, as he becomes less tall,
That the beard beneath his nose
Longer and yet longer grows.

Razors could not check or trim
This strange growth, as it appear'd
Ev'ry inch that went from him
Seem'd to settle in his beard.
Monday he was measured, when
His full height was five feet ten,
And on Friday, sad, but true,
He was barely three feet two.
And the courtiers soon begin
Grumbling that no more he can
Seem a man with bearded chin,
But a beard that has a man.
And they say they did not swear
Fealty to a tuft of hair.
Dreadful words are mutter'd low.
Treason broods in Waggabo.

The Archbishop cries, “I'm off!”
And the Premier disappear'd:
Neither cared to serve a dwarf,
Or to bow before a beard.
All the generals-in-chief
Ran away in gloomy grief,
And the admirals retreat
Fleetly with the frighten'd fleet.
But the barber cried, “Forbear!
Ev'ry evil brings its good;
Such a king is very rare,
Let us prize him as we should.
Such a lovely beard doth not
Fall to ev'ry monarch's lot,
Nor can ev'ry barber's hand
Such delightful work command.”

Then the brave king knock'd him down
(Barbers cannot hold their own),
Seized his sceptre and his crown,
Wearily climb'd up his throne.
And with sounding gong did call
His good Commons, one and all,
And his noble house of peers
(Who can hardly speak for tears).
He addrest them with a chirp
(Of his manly voice bereft),
“No usurper shall usurp
While an inch of me is left.
While an inch of me remains
Still this hand shall hold the reins.
Still this head shall wear the crown,
Though this beard may drag me down.

“I may dwindle—I may shrink—
Yes—I see—I feel I do;
But i' faith I do not think
That my courage dwindles too!
Giants may believe I fear,
Beardless boys may jest and jeer,
But methinks I'll let them know
Who is king in Waggabo.
“And if barbers dare to speak”
(Here he glanced behind the throne,
Where the barber pale and meek
Held his head with painful moan),
“And if barbers dare to say
But one word by night or day,
Why I think this arm has still
Strength to work its master's will.”

Then the weeping barber crept
Very sadly to the door.
But an aged marquis stept
Foremost on the marble floor,
With sublimest dignity
Cried, “The trembling traitor, see
Shall the crouching caitiff go?
Is that law in Waggabo?”
All the nobles of the land
With a noble ardour flush'd,
Foot to foot and hand to hand
Down upon the barber rush'd,
Frighten'd him to mortal fits,
Crying, “Tear him into bits,
Fling the pieces, base and foul,
To the dogs that howl and prowl.”

The king tried to nod his head,
But could only wag his beard,
For above its flaming red
Scarce a bit of face appear'd.
And he shrivell'd more and more
Than he ever had before,
Till there's nothing left of him
But a beard within a rim.
And the nobles stand at bay,
Ready at a word to leap
Where the wretched barber lay
Coil'd in a repugnant heap.
Gallant are their souls and true;
Bright the eyes those souls shine through.
Types of a majestic race,—
Emblem he of all that's base.

Out spake little Septimus
(One of seven earls was he):
“Shall our king be bearded thus,
Unavenged by you and me?
I will smash the barber's bones,
You shall crush him between stones;
They shall tear him limb from limb,
And we all will bury him!”
Then the barber stood upright,
(Worms can turn and barbers too,)
Telling them it was not right
Things like that to plan to do!
They might smash him if they could,
They might crush him if they would,
They might tear him limb from limb,
But they should not bury him!

Here the barber took his stand,
(At some point all creatures do,)
And his gesture of command
Show'd them that he meant it too.
Then the nobles asked apart,
“Who will eat this barber's heart
Some one must, to save defeat:
Who the barber's heart will eat?”
The old marquis show'd his tongue;
“Indigestion is my bane;
Little Septimus is young,
He might cut and come again.”
When they turn'd to urge him on,
Little Septimus was gone;
He had vanish'd through the door,
And was never heard of more.

Dire confusion's everywhere!
Terrible are sight and sound!
Eyes are fix'd in ghastly stare,
And wild words ring wildly round!
Sentences are heard in part,
“Who will eat the barber's heart?”
Or in accents firm and free,
“They shall never bury me!”
From the hapless monarch's throne
Came a sort of twittering:—
“Take this beard, it is your own,—
All that's left you of your king!
Take me as a sacrifice
To appease the angry skies.
Burn me, and, for aught we know,
Peace will reign in Waggabo!”

He has spoken! words of awe!
But the barber is inspired,
And pronounces it a law
To do all the king desired.
Lest the lovely thing should spoil,
He anointeth it with oil,
And in tender solemn hush
Dresseth it with comb and brush.
Lays it out upon the ground,—
What a laying out is that!
While the nobles kneel around,
Every one without his hat.
From a box that's called Dispatch,
The old marquis takes a match;
To the barber, on the sly,
Hands it with averted eye.

And the match went phizzy phiz,
As it makes its lurid glare,
And the beard goes phizzy phiz,
With a smell of burning hair.
Playfully the bright flame whirls
Round those royal auburn curls—
Curls that deck'd a monarch's chin
Burning for a barber's sin.
Fairies softly whisp'ring are
Close together in a rose:—
“If we carry this too far,
What will happen no one knows!
Shall we end this foolish strife?
Shall we save this monarch's life?
Shall we change—of course we can,
Burning beard to living man?”

'Tis no sooner said than done,
(Words are many, acts are few),
Fairies like a bit of fun,
But they are good-natured too!
From the ashes of the beard
That good king his form uprear'd;
Stately fellow, stout and strong,
With a beard twelve inches long!
Cheers ascended to the roof,
Echoed back from ev'ry nook,
But the barber stood aloof,
With a sort of hangdog look;
When the king said, with a start,
“Have they ate the barber's heart?”
Off he sneak'd (as cowards can),
Let us hope a better man!

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Menella Bute Smedley