Very fair and sweet was little Prince Lilimond, and few could resist his soft, pleading voice and gentle blue eyes. And as he stood in the presence of the King, his father, and bent his knee gracefully before His Majesty, the act was so courteous and dignified it would have honored the oldest noble man of the court.
The King was delighted, and for a time sat silently regarding his son and noting every detail of his appearance, from the dark velvet suit with its dainty ruffles and collar to the diamond buckles on the little shoes, and back again to the flowing curls that clustered thick about the bright, childish face.
Well might any father be proud of so manly and beautiful a child, and the King's heart swelled within him as he gazed upon his heir.
"Borland," he said to the tutor, who stood modestly behind the Prince, "you may retire. I wish to sneak privately with his royal highness."
The tutor bowed low and disappeared within the ante-room, and the King continued, kindly,
"Come here, Lilimond, and sit beside me. Methinks you seem over-grave this morning."
"It is my birthday, Your Majesty," replied the Prince, as he slowly obeyed his father and sat beside him upon the rich broidered cushions of the throne. "I am twelve years of age."
"So old!" said the King, smiling into the little face that was raised to his. "And is it the weight of years that makes you sad?"
"No, Your Majesty; I long for the years to pass, that I may become a man, and take my part in the world's affairs. It is the sad condition of my country which troubles me."
"Indeed!" exclaimed the King, casting a keen glance at his son. "Are you becoming interested in politics, then; or is there some grievous breach of court etiquette which has attracted your attention?"
"I know little of politics and less of the court, sire," replied Lilimond; "it is the distress of the people that worries me."
"The people? Of a surety, Prince, you are better posted than am I, since of the people and their affairs I know nothing at all. I have appointed officers to look after their interests, and therefore I have no cause to come into contact with them myself. But what is amiss?"
"They are starving," said the Prince, looking at his father very seriously; "the country is filled with beggars, who appeal for charity, since they are unable otherwise to procure food."
"Starving!" repeated the King; "surely you are misinformed. My Lord Chamberlain told me but this morning the people were loyal and contented, and my Lord of the Treasury reports that all taxes and tithes have been paid, and my coffers are running over."
"Your Lord Chamberlain is wrong, sire," returned the Prince; "my tutor, Borland, and I have talked with many of these beggars the past few days, and we find the tithes and taxes which have enriched you have taken the bread from their wives and children."
"So!" exclaimed the King. "We must examine into this matter." He touched a bell beside him, and when a retainer appeared directed his Chamberlain and his Treasurer to wait upon him at once.
The Prince rested his head upon his hand and waited patiently, but the King was very impatient indeed till the high officers of the court stood before him. Then said the King, addressing his Chamberlain,
"Sir, I am informed my people are murmuring at my injustice. Is it true?"
The officer cast an enquiring glance at the Prince, who met his eyes gravely, before he replied,
"The people always murmur, Your Majesty. They are many, and not all can be content, even when ruled by so wise and just a King. In every land and in every age there are those who rebel against the laws, and the protests of the few are ever heard above the contentment of the many."
"I am told," continued the King, severely, "that my country is overrun with beggars, who suffer for lack of the bread we have taken from them by our taxations. Is this true?"
"There are always beggars, Your Majesty, in every country," replied the Chamberlain, "and it is their custom to blame others for their own misfortunes."
The King thought deeply for a moment; then he turned to the Lord of the Treasury.