"Do we tax the poor?" he demanded.
"All are taxed, sire," returned the Treasurer, who was pale from anxiety, for never before had the King so questioned him, "but from the rich we take much, from the poor very little."
"But a little from the poor man may distress him, while the rich subject would never feel the loss. Why do we tax the poor at all?"
"Because, Your Majesty, should we declare the poor free from taxation all your subjects would at once claim to be poor, and the royal treasury would remain empty. And as none are so rich but there are those richer, how should we, in justice, determine which are the rich and which are the poor?"
Again the King was silent while he pondered upon the words of the Royal Treasurer. Then, with a wave of his hand, he dismissed them, and turned to the Prince, saying,
"You have heard the wise words of my councilors, Prince. What have you to say in reply?"
"If you will pardon me, Your Majesty, I think you are wrong to leave the affairs of the people to others to direct. If you knew them as well as I do, you would distrust the words of your councilors, who naturally fear your anger more than they do that of your subjects."
"If they fear my anger they will be careful to do no injustice to my people. Surely you cannot expect me to attend to levying the taxes myself," continued the King, with growing annoyance. "What are my officers for, but to serve me?"
"They should serve you, it is true," replied the Prince, thoughtfully, "but they should serve the people as well."
"Nonsense!" answered the King; "you are too young as yet to properly understand such matters. And it is a way youth has to imagine it is wiser than age and experience combined. Still, I will investigate the subject further, and see that justice is done the poor."
"In the meantime," said the Prince, "many will starve to death. Can you not assist these poor beggars at once?"
"In what way?" demanded the King.
"By giving them money from your full coffers."
"Nonsense!" again cried the King, this time with real anger; "you have heard what the Chamberlain said: we always have beggars, and none, as yet, have starved to death. Besides, I must use the money for the grand ball and tourney next month, as I have promised the ladies of the court a carnival of unusual magnificence."
The Prince did not reply to this, but remained in silent thought, wondering what he might do to ease the suffering he feared existed on every hand amongst the poor of the kingdom. He had hoped to persuade the King to assist these beggars, but since the interview with the officers of the court he had lost heart and despaired of influencing his royal father in any way.
Suddenly the King spoke.
"Let us dismiss this subject, Lilimond, for it only serves to distress us both, and no good can come of it. You have nearly made me forget it is your birthday. Now listen, my son: I am much pleased with you, and thank God that he has given me such a successor for my crown, for I perceive your mind is as beautiful as your person, and that you will in time be fitted to rule the land with wisdom and justice. Therefore I promise, in honor of your birthday, to grant any desire you may express, provided it lies within my power. Nor will I make any further condition, since I rely upon your judgment to select some gift I may be glad to bestow."
As the King spoke, Lilimond suddenly became impressed with an idea through which he might succor the poor, and therefore he answered,
"Call in the ladies and gentlemen of the court, my father, and before them all will I claim your promise."
"Good!" exclaimed the King, who looked for some amusement in his son's request; and at once he ordered the court to assemble.
The ladies and gentlemen, as they filed into the audience chamber, were astonished to see the Prince seated upon the throne beside his sire, but being too well bred to betray their surprise they only wondered what amusement His Majesty had in store for them.
When all were assembled, the Prince rose to his feet and addressed them.