King Padella made very similar proposals to Rosalba to those which she had received from the various princes who, as we have seen, had fallen in love with her. His Majesty was a widower, and offered to marry his fair captive that instant, but she declined his invitation in her usual polite gentle manner, stating that Prince Giglio was her love, and that any other union was out of the question. Having tried tears and supplications in vain, this violent-tempered monarch menaced her with threats and tortures; but she declared she would rather suffer all these than accept the hand of her father’s murderer, who left her finally, uttering the most awful imprecations, and bidding her prepare for death on the following morning.
All night long the King spent in advising how he should get rid of this obdurate young creature. Cutting off her head was much too easy a death for her; hanging was so common in his Majesty’s dominions that it no longer afforded him any sport; finally, he bethought himself of a pair of fierce lions which had lately been sent to him as presents, and he determined, with these ferocious brutes, to hunt poor Rosalba down. Adjoining his castle was an amphitheatre where the Prince indulged in bull-baiting, rat-hunting, and other ferocious sports. The two lions were kept in a cage under this place; their roaring might be heard over the whole city, the inhabitants of which, I am sorry to say, thronged in numbers to see a poor young lady gobbled up by two wild beasts.
The King took his place in the royal box, having the officers of his Court around and the Count Hogginarmo by his side, upon whom his Majesty was observed to look very fiercely: the fact is, royal spies had told the monarch of Hogginarmo’s behavior, his proposals to Rosalba, and his offer to fight for the crown. Black as thunder looked King Padella at this proud noble, as they sat in the front seats of the theatre waiting to see the tragedy whereof poor Rosalba was to be the heroine.
At length that Princess was brought out in her nightgown, with all her beautiful hair falling down her back, and looking so pretty that even the beef-eaters and keepers of the wild animals wept plentifully at seeing her. And she walked with her poor little feet (only luckily the arena was covered with sawdust), and went and leaned up against a great stone in the centre of the amphitheatre, round which the Court and the people were seated in boxes, with bars before them, for fear of the great, fierce, red-maned, black-throated, long-tailed, roaring, bellowing, rushing lions.
And now the gates were opened, and with a “Wurrawarrurawarar!” two great lean, hungry, roaring lions rushed out of their den, where they had been kept for three weeks on nothing but a little toast-and-water, and dashed straight up to the stone where poor Rosalba was waiting. Commend her to your patron saints, all you kind people, for she is in a dreadful state!
There was a hum and a buzz all through the circus, and the fierce King Padella even felt a little compassion. But Count Hogginarmo, seated by his Majesty, roared out “Hurray! Now for it! Soo-soo-soo!” that nobleman being uncommonly angry still at Rosalba’s refusal of him.
But, O strange event! O remarkable circumstance! O extraordinary coincidence, which I am sure none of you could BY ANY POSSIBILITY have divined! When the lions came to Rosalba, instead of devouring her with their great teeth, it was with kisses they gobbled her up! They licked her pretty feet, they nuzzled their noses in her lap, they moo’d, they seemed to say, “Dear, dear sister don’t you recollect your brothers in the forest?” And she put her pretty white arms round their tawny necks, and kissed them.
King Padella was immensely astonished. The Count Hogginarmo was extremely disgusted. “Pooh!” the Count cried. “Gammon!” exclaimed his Lordship. “These lions are tame beasts come from Wombwell’s or Astley’s. It is a shame to put people off in this way. I believe they are little boys dressed up in door-mats. They are no lions at all.”
“Ha!” said the King, “you dare to say ‘Gammon!’ to your Sovereign, do you? These lions are no lions at all, aren’t they? Ho! my beef-eaters! Ho! my bodyguard! Take this Count Hogginarmo and fling him into the circus! Give him a sword and buckler, let him keep his armor on, and his weather-eye out, and fight these lions.”
The haughty Hogginarmo laid down his opera-glass, and looked scowling round at the King and his attendants. “Touch me not, dogs!” he said, “or by St. Nicholas the Elder, I will gore you! Your Majesty thinks Hogginarmo is afraid? No, not of a hundred thousand lions! Follow me down into the circus, King Padella, and match thyself against one of yon brutes. Thou darest not. Let them both come on, then!” And opening a grating of the box, he jumped lightly down into the circus.
WURRA WURRA WURRA WUR-AW-AW-AW!!!
In about two minutes
The Count Hogginarmo was
bones, boots, and all,
There was an
End of him.
At this, the King said, “Serve him right, the rebellious ruffian! And now, as those lions won’t eat that young woman —”
“Let her off! — let her off!” cried the crowd.
“NO!” roared the King. “Let the beef-eaters go down and chop her into small pieces. If the lions defend her, let the archers shoot them to death. That hussy shall die in tortures!”
“A-a-ah!” cried the crowd. “Shame! shame!”
“Who dares cry out ‘Shame?’” cried the furious potentate (so little can tyrants command their passions). “Fling any scoundrel who says a word down among the lions!” I warrant you there was a dead silence then, which was broken by a “Pang arang pang pangkarangpang!” and a Knight and a Herald rode in at the further end of the circus; the Knight, in full armor, with his vizor up, and bearing a letter on the point of his lance.
“Ha!” exclaimed the King, “by my fay, ’tis Elephant and Castle, pursuivant of my brother of Paflagonia; and the Knight, an my memory serves me, is the gallant Captain Hedzoff! What news from Paflagonia, gallant Hedzoff? Elephant and Castle, beshrew me, thy trumpeting must have made thee thirsty. What will my trusty herald like to drink?”
“Bespeaking first safe conduct from your Lordship,” said Captain Hedzoff, “before we take a drink of anything, permit us to deliver our King’s message.”
“My Lordship, ha!” said Crim Tartary, frowning terrifically. “That title soundeth strange in the anointed ears of a crowned King. Straightway speak out your message, Knight and Herald!”
Reining up his charger in a most elegant manner close under the King’s balcony, Hedzoff turned to the Herald, and bade him begin.
Elephant and Castle, dropping his trumpet over his shoulder, took a large sheet of paper out of his hat, and began to read:—
“O Yes! O Yes! O Yes! Know all men by these presents, that we, Giglio, King of Paflagonia, Grand Duke of Cappadocia, Sovereign Prince of Turkey and the Sausage Islands, having assumed our rightful throne and title, long time falsely borne by our usurping Uncle, styling himself King of Paflagonia —”
“Ha!” growled Padella.
“Hereby summon the false traitor, Padella, calling himself King of Crim Tartary —”
The King’s curses were dreadful. “Go on, Elephant and Castle!” said the intrepid Hedzoff.
“— To release from cowardly imprisonment his liege lady and rightful Sovereign, ROSALBA, Queen of Crim Tartary, and restore her to her royal throne: in default of which, I, Giglio, proclaim the said Padella sneak, traitor, humbug, usurper, and coward. I challenge him to meet me, with fists or with pistols, with battle-axe or sword, with blunderbuss or single-stick, alone or at the head of his army, on foot or on horseback; and will prove my words upon his wicked ugly body!”
“God save the King!” said Captain Hedzoff, executing a demivolte, two semilunes, and three caracols.
“Is that all?” said Padella, with the terrific calm of concentrated fury.
“That, sir, is all my royal master’s message. Here is his Majesty’s letter in autograph, and here is his glove, and if any gentleman of Crim Tartary chooses to find fault with his Majesty’s expressions, I, Kustasoff Hedzoff, Captain of the Guard, am very much at his service,” and he waved his lance, and looked at the assembly all round.
“And what says my good brother of Paflagonia, my dear son’s father-inlaw, to this rubbish?” asked the King.
“The King’s uncle hath been deprived of the crown he unjustly wore,” said Hedzoff gravely. “He and his ex-minister, Glumboso, are now in prison waiting the sentence of my royal master. After the battle of Bombardaro —”
“Of what?” asked the surprised Padella.
“— Of Bombardaro, where my liege, his present Majesty, would have performed prodigies of valor, but that the whole of his uncle’s army came over to our side, with the exception of Prince Bulbo —”
“Ah! my boy, my boy, my Bulbo was no traitor!” cried Padella.
“Prince Bulbo, far from coming over to us, ran away, sir; but I caught him. The Prince is a prisoner in our army, and the most terrific tortures await him if a hair of the Princess Rosalba’s head is injured.”
“Do they?” exclaimed the furious Padella, who was now perfectly LIVID with rage. “Do they indeed? So much the worse for Bulbo. I’ve twenty sons as lovely each as Bulbo. Not one but is as fit to reign as Bulbo. Whip, whack, flog, starve, rack, punish, torture Bulbo — break all his bones — roast him or flay him alive — pull all his pretty teeth out one by one! But justly dear as Bulbo is to me — joy of my eyes, fond treasure of my soul! — Ha, ha, ha, ha! revenge is dearer still. Ho! tortures, rack-men, executioners — light up the fires and make the pincers hot! get lots of boiling lead! — Bring out ROSALBA!”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00