The five high counselors of the kingdom of Noland were both eager and anxious upon this important morning. Long before sunrise Tollydob, the lord high general, had assembled his army at the east gate of the city; and the soldiers stood in two long lines beside the entrance, looking very impressive in their uniforms. And all the people, noting this unusual display, gathered around at the gate to see what was going to happen.
Of course no one knew what was going to happen, not even the chief counselor nor his brother counselors. They could only obey the law and abide by the results. Finally the sun arose and the east gate of the city was thrown open. There were a few people waiting outside, and they promptly entered. "One, two, three, four, five, six!" counted the chief counselor in a loud voice.
The people were much surprised at hearing this and began to question one another with perplexed looks. Even the soldiers were mystified. "Seven, eight, nine!" continued the chief counselor, still counting those who came in. A breathless hush fell upon the assemblage. Something very important and mysterious was going on, that was evident. But what? They could only wait and find out.
"Ten, eleven!" counted Tullydub, and then heaved a deep sigh. For a famous nobleman had just entered the gate, and the chief counselor could not help wishing he had been number forty-seven. So the counting went on, and the people became more and more interested and excited.
When the number had reached thirty-one, a strange thing happened. A loud "boom!" sounded through the stillness, and then another, and another. Someone was tolling the great bell in the palace bell tower, and people began saying to one another in awed whispers that the old king must be dead. The five high counselors, filled with furious anger but absolutely helpless, as they could not leave the gate, lifted up their five chubby fists and shook them violently in the direction of the bell tower.
Poor Jikki, finding himself left alone in the palace, could no longer resist the temptation to toll the bell, and it continued to peal out its dull, solemn tones while the chief counselor stood by the gate and shouted, "Thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four!"
Only the mystery of this action could have kept the people quiet when they learned from the bell that their old king was dead. But now they began to guess that the scene at the east gate promised more of interest than anything they might learn at the palace, so they stood very quiet, and Jikki's disobedience of orders did no great harm to the plans of the five high counselors.
When Tullydub had counted up to forty, the excitement redoubled, for everyone could see big drops of perspiration standing upon the chief counselor's brow, and all the other high counselors, who stood just behind him, were trembling violently with nervousness. A ragged, limping peddler entered the gate. "Forty-five!" shouted Tullydub.
Then came Aunt Rivette, dragging at the bridle of the donkey. "Forty-six!" screamed Tullydub. And now Bud rode through the gates, perched among the bundles on the donkey's back and looking composedly upon the throng of anxious faces that greeted him. "FORTY-SEVEN!" cried the chief counselor; and then in his loudest voice he continued, "Long live the new King of Noland!"
All the high counselors prostrated themselves in the dusty road before the donkey. The old woman was thrust back in the crowd by a soldier, where she stood staring in amazement, and Margaret, clothed in her beautiful cloak, stepped to the donkey's side and looked first at her brother and then at the group of periwigged men who bobbed their heads in the dust before him and shouted, "Long live the king!"
Then, while the crowd still wondered, the lord high counselor arose and took from a soldier a golden crown set with brilliants, a jeweled scepter, and a robe of ermine. Advancing to Bud, he placed the crown upon the boy's head and the scepter in his hand, while over his shoulders he threw the ermine robe. The crown fell over Bud's ears, but he pushed it back upon his head so it would stay there, and as the kingly robe spread over all the bundles on the donkey's back and quite covered them, the boy really presented a very imposing appearance.
The people quickly rose to the spirit of the occasion. What mattered if the old king was dead now that a new king was already before them? They broke into sudden cheer and, joyously waving their hats and bonnets above their heads, joined eagerly in the cry, "Long live the King of Noland!"
Aunt Rivette was fairly stupified. Such a thing was too wonderful to be believed. A man in the crowd snatched the bonnet from the old woman's head and said to her brusquely, "Why don't you greet the new king? Are you a traitor to your country?"
So she also waved her bonnet and screamed "Long live the king!" But she hardly knew what she was doing or why she did it. Meantime the high counselors had risen from their knees and now stood around the donkey.
"May it please your Serene Majesty to condescend to tell us who this young lady is?" asked Tullydub, bowing respectfully.
"That's my sister Fluff," said Bud, who was enjoying his new position very much. All the counselors, at this, bowed low to Margaret. "A horse for the Princess Fluff!" cried the lord high general. And the next moment she was mounted upon a handsome white palfrey, where, with her fluffy golden hair and smiling face and the magnificent cloak flowing from her shoulders, she looked every inch a princess. The people cheered her, too, for it was long since any girl or woman had occupied the palace of the King of Noland, and she was so pretty and sweet that everyone loved her immediately.
And now the king's chariot drove up, with its six prancing steeds, and Bud was lifted from the back of the donkey and placed in the high seat of the chariot. Again the people shouted joyful greetings; the band struck up a gay march tune, and then the royal procession started for the palace.
First came Tollydob and his officers; then the king's chariot, surrounded by soldiers; then the four high counselors upon black horses, riding two on each side of Princess Fluff; and finally the band of musicians and the remainder of the royal army. It was an imposing sight, and the people followed after with cheers and rejoicings, while the lord high pursebearer tossed silver coins from his pouch for anyone to catch who could.
A message had been sent to warn Jikki that the new king was coming, so he stopped tolling the death knell and instead rang out a glorious chime of welcome. As for old Rivette, finding herself and the donkey alike deserted, she once more seized the bridle and led the patient beast to her humble dwelling; and it was just as she reached her door that King Bud of Noland, amid the cheers and shouts of thousands, entered for the first time the royal palace of Nole.