JOHN AND THE GHOSTS.
In the kingdom of Illyria there lived, not long ago, a poor wood-cutter with three sons, who in time went forth to seek their fortunes. At the end of three years they returned by agreement, to compare their progress in the world. The eldest had become a lawyer, and the second a merchant, and each of these had won riches and friends; but John, the youngest, who had enlisted in the army, could only show a cork leg and a medal.
“You have made a bad business of it,” said his brothers. “Your medal is worthless except to a collector of such things, and your leg a positive disadvantage. Fortunately we have influence, and since you are our brother we must see what we can do for you.”
Now the King of Illyria lived at that time in his capital, in a brick palace at the end of the great park. He kept this park open to all, and allowed no one to build in it. But the richest citizens, who were so fond of their ruler that they could not live out of his sight, had their houses just beyond the park, in the rear of the Palace, on a piece of ground which they called Palace Gardens. The name was a little misleading, for the true gardens lay in front of the Palace, where children of all classes played among the trees and flower-beds and artificial ponds, and the King sat and watched them, because he took delight in children, and because the sight of them cheered his only daughter, who had fallen into a deep melancholy. But the rich citizens clung to it, for it gave a pleasant neighbourly air to their roadway, and showed what friendliness there was between the monarch of Illyria and his people.
At either end you entered the roadway (if you were allowed) by an iron gate, and each gate had a sentry-box beside it, and a tall beadle, and a notice-board to save him the trouble of explanation. The notice ran—
PRIVATE.—The Beadle has orders to refuse admittance to all Waggons, Tradesmen’s Carts, Hackney Coaches, Donkeys, Beggars, Disorderly Characters, or Persons carrying Burdens.
A sedentary life had told so severely upon one of the two beadles that he could no longer enter his box with dignity or read his newspaper there with any comfort. He resigned, and John obtained the post by his brothers’ interest, in spite of his cork leg.
He had now a bright green suit with scarlet pipings, a gold-laced hat, a fashionable address, and very little to do. But the army had taught him to be active, and for lack of anything better he fell into deep thinking. This came near to bringing him into trouble. One evening he looked out of his sentry-box and saw a mild and somewhat sad-featured old gentleman approaching the gate.
“No admittance,” said John.
“Tut, tut!” said the old gentleman. “I’m the King.”
John looked at the face on his medal, and sure enough there was a resemblance. “But, all the same, your Majesty carries a burden,”—here he pointed to the notice-board,—“and the folks along this road are mighty particular.”