Monday, October 1, 2018

THE CORONATION

By Jack Snow
Author of The Magical Mimics of Oz, Spectral Snow, Who's Who in Oz, etc. 
 
Originally published in Dark Music and Other Spectral Tales, 1947.



At eleven o’clock, exactly, the doors of the palace opened and a tiny old lady, supported by a stalwart young man, advanced slowly between the ranks of gaudily uniformed guardsmen, standing at stiff and erect attention. In an instant the air quivered and vibrated with the mighty shout of the thousands who had assembled there in the great square to await this moment. “The Queen”—“Long Live the Queen”—Over and again the cry was repeated, floating upward to mingle with the deep throated tolling of the massive bell in the palace belfry.

Now the old lady was descending the steps to a magnificent carriage that awaited her. Attired in a black satin dress, covered with old fashioned white lace on which was worked repeatedly the great seal of her kingdom, the aged queen wore a coronet of diamonds, and a lace veil of woven gold studded with tiny diamonds depended from her widow's cap. As she neared the carriage, the Queen was seen to pause for an instant—to glance before her in surprise and wonder. That little child—that little girl—what an exquisite thing she was as she skipped along beside the carriage. But how could she have managed to get past the guard that surrounded the massive vehicle? It was strange. Still looking at the child, and smiling, the Queen permitted herself to be helped into the carriage.

Slowly the carriage rumbled down the street between living aisles of cheering humans. In the cool depths of the carriage, the Queen sat alone. She was thinking of that day so many years ago when all this had happened for the first time. How many years had it been? Seventy-five? Incredible it seemed—and yet it was true—this was her diamond jubilee—for 75 years she had reigned. And she had done her best to be a good Queen—to give her people what was good for them. Today the world was paying tribute to her. All nations were her friends today. They were joining her own loyal subjects in saying that she had indeed been a good Queen. Her country had prospered during that three-quarters of a century—her armies had gone far abroad and righted wrongs, fed suffering people, created new colonies and new dominions. Many great statesmen and public servants had come forth to serve her and she had used them all for the benefit of her people. Today she was being honored as few women have lived to be honored. She was re-enacting her coronation that had taken place on this day 75 years ago. In this same carriage at this same hour she had ridden through the streets of this great city—filled then as now with crowds of cheering people. Before and behind her carriage had ridden royalty from many lands just as they rode today—many of these the sons and grandsons of those who had ridden on that earlier June 28th.

The same brilliant sunlight had shone then. Behind the sparkle of the diamonds that studded the lace gold veil, still brighter diamonds of tears sparkled in the faded grey eyes of the little old Queen. Smiling, she peered from the window of the carriage and nodded and waved to the vast crowds that lined the streets and overflowed from the windows and rooftops of the stores and houses. The Queen started—that little girl—there she was again—running merrily along beside the slowly moving carriage! She didn't seem to walk—she danced—danced as the lightest thistledown in a summer breeze, and her golden hair tossed and tumbled about her head like a spritely halo. Who was she? A working man’s child—the daughter of someone who had journeyed hundreds of miles for the occasion? Perhaps her parents were even now worrying about her. She must speak to the guards about the child at the nearest opportunity. In the meantime the Queen feasted her eyes on the lively little figure as it skipped along beside the carriage. Her own children had long since grown up but she had never stopped loving children—their fresh sweetness—it was a loveliness like a breath of mountain air perfumed with wild thyme.

The carriage rolled on and on—and now it had nearly completed its circuitous route through the great city. There were the spires of the mighty cathedral where she had been crowned Queen of a great nation those long years ago. Now the carriage had halted before the cathedral steps. The Queen was being assisted from the vehicle and up the steps. A few seconds later she felt the grey coolness of the cathedral’s ageless rock settling about her like a mantle of serene peace. But even the Queen wasn’t prepared for the spectacle that greeted her dim old eyes. Marvelously glowing with the lights of many hundreds of tapers, the vast vault of the cathedral seemed to be a living flame—a flame that lighted such a spectacle as the world had seldom seen—the magnificent vision of thousands of beautiful women and handsome men—lords and ladies—courtiers and visiting rulers and noblemen from a score of distant lands—all arrayed in their finest garments of state. The hundreds and hundreds of flickering tapers found their leaping flames multiplied a hundred more times in the countless jewels that flashed iridescent all the hues of the rainbow, transforming the cathedral into one vast living jewel of glorious light.

And yet, in spite of the marvel and wonder of the scene, the old Queen found her eyes fastened on the smiling face of a little girl as she slipped, unheeded, down the aisle of the cathedral. What a child she was the Queen marveled—unafraid—unabashed by even so much regal splendor and finery! Perhaps she thought it was all quite natural—perhaps she had read of such things in her fairy books and to her child mind this was nothing unusual—just the world as she had dreamed it out of the pages of her books.

Close to the altar stood the same gold-encrusted throne upon which the old Queen had sat on this day many years before—the coronation throne. Now she was seated on it again—how it all came back to her—how the old Priest—so like the one who performed the rite today—had chanted the very same rites that she was re-hearing now like an echo, almost forgotten, but returning quick and living from the land of memory. How the Lord High Chamberlain had placed these very same robes about her and invested her with the scepter and presented her with the sacred great seal of her nation. And her own oath—she repeated it slowly, distinctly in a voice that quavered only slightly—repeated it from memory—those words that she had uttered once, little dreaming that she would voice them again. It was all the same—ending with the coronation and the prayer of the good Priest. But even as she bowed her head in prayer, the Queen caught a glimpse of the little girl, standing on one foot like a bird, close to the wall of the cathedral—and this time the child was looking directly at her. The Queen smiled—and the little girl smiled back, all the sunshine in the world rayed in that one glance.

The services over, the Queen was hurried back to the palace. It was necessary to conserve her strength—it would not do to tire her too greatly. Her age must be considered, as there were guests to be received in the afternoon and a ball in the evening which the Queen would attend. And so after the coronation the little Queen was discreetly whisked away from the cathedral, into her carriage and back to the castle that she might rest until the afternoon hour when she would be called upon to receive her royal visitors from foreign lands. All along the route back to the palace, the Queen did not fail to notice the merrily dancing figure of the strange little girl, and as she ascended the steps and entered the palace, she caught her breath as the child slipped past her, actually brushing her robes. No one had noticed her but the Queen. She was so tiny—so quick—she moved like a ray of light—she came scarcely to the knees of the shortest of the palace guards. Every-one's eyes were blinded to her by the pomp and circumstance of the occasion. The Queen smiled to herself, if the child would only follow her to her room, she would insist on being left alone and she would have a talk with the little one. She would find out who her parents were—she would order cookies and sweets for her—and then she would send her back in a royal carriage with a palace guard to her parents. She would make this a day the little girl would long remember. The Queen smiled with pleasure. It was so seldom that children were not awed and frightened into silence by her presence. Usually they were stuffed so full of silly stories of her importance that the poor little ones found it impossible to be happy, carefree children in her presence. Here, thought the old Queen, was one who was different. As she proceeded down  the  corridor, the Queen perceived that the door of her chamber was open, and there—flashing out of a shadow, cast by a pillar—darted the little girl into her room. She moved so fleetingly that not one of her ladies in waiting saw her. The Queen sighed with relief. Outside her door, she bid her attendants leave her. She wanted nothing save to be alone—to rest—they were to come for her at four in the afternoon—that would give them time to prepare her for the reception at 8. As the Queen closed the door of her chamber behind her, one of the ladies in waiting turned and stared at the door in perplexity. Was it the Queen who had laughed like that—like the rippling of silver water? Who else could it have been? And yet in all the four years she had served the Queen, the lady couldn’t remember hearing her majesty laugh. She smiled often, sometimes sadly, sometimes happily. But then—this day was different—even the Queen might have laughed on this day, and it certainly had been a beautiful laugh. As she rushed away to join her sisters, the lady in waiting felt happier that she had heard it.


At four o'clock exactly, the air about the palace again reverberated with the metal voice of the great bell in the steeple as it tolled out the hour. And at that same moment, the Queen’s ladies in waiting opened the door of the royal chamber, and entered. They walked a few steps into the room, and then stood frozen. It was almost a minute before they could break the shackles of surprise and dismay that held them. The Queen sat in a great chair by a window. She was very quiet. A smile lay on her lips. She was not sleeping. She was dead. The afternoon sun-light fell in a slanting ray across the room to a wall opposite where it bathed with a golden flood of luminance the portrait of a little girl with a halo of aureate hair—a tiny little sprite of a girl, whose youth and vivacity the artist had caught so successfully that the little figure seemed about to go dancing and skipping out of the frame. It was a picture of the Queen painted a few weeks after her coronation when she was a child 5 years old.



THE FORGETFUL POET
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, April 10, 1921


The Forgetful Poet and His Puzzling Verses

The Forgetful Poet’s verse was a little blank last week, and the first word he left out was sing, the next eaves and the last spring. Then he mixed up fields and trees in his third verse and said he wanted to gard a planten instead of plant a garden.

Today he has one of his exactly opposite spells and has written the funniest poem ever!

A Walk in the Woods

With wakesap on my back I sought
The season’s first tame flowers
And trudged light-hearted through the sky,
So green from April’s showers,

While overhead the woods so blue
Did smile with wondrous grace,
And on each bush and hedge the spiders
Hung their fairy lace.

I sang along and trudged a song,
For all the world’s so gay.
Though fully grown, I only own
To seven years -----.


[Answers next time.]

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