Now when the new king had entered the palace with his sister, the chief counselor stood upon a golden balcony with the great book in his hand and read aloud to all the people who were gathered below the law in regard to choosing a new king, and the severe penalty in case any refused to obey his slightest wish. And the people were glad enough to have a change of rulers and pleased that so young a king had been given them. So they accepted both the law and the new king cheerfully, and soon dispersed to their homes to talk over the wonderful events of the day.
Bud and Meg were ushered into beautifully furnished rooms on the second floor of the palace, and old Jikki, finding that he had a new master to serve, flew about in his usual nervous manner and brought the children the most delicious breakfast they had ever eaten in their lives. Bud had been so surprised at his reception at the gate and the sudden change in his condition that as yet he had not been able to collect his thoughts. His principal idea was that he was in a dream, and he kept waiting until he should wake up. But the breakfast was very real and entirely satisfying, and he began to wonder if he could be dreaming after all.
The old servant, when he carried away the dishes, bowed low to Bud and said, "Beg pardon, your Majesty! But the lord high counselor desires to know the king's will."
Bud stared at him a moment thoughtfully. "Tell him I want to be left alone to talk with my sister Fluff," he replied. Jikki again bowed low and withdrew, closing the door behind him, and then the children looked at each other solemnly until Meg burst into a merry laugh.
"Oh Bud!" she cried. "Think of it! I'm the royal Princess Fluff and you're the King of all Noland! Isn't it funny!" And they she danced about the room in great delight.
Bud answered her seriously. "What does it all mean, Fluff?" he said. "We're only poor children, you know, so I can't really be a king. And I wouldn't be surprised if Aunt Rivette came in any minute and boxed my ears."
"Nonsense!" laughed Margaret. "Didn't you hear what that fat, periwigged man said about the law? The old king is dead, and someone else had to be king, you know, and the forty-seventh person who entered the east gate was you, Bud, and so by law you are the king of all this great country. Don't you see?"
Bud shook his head and looked at his sister. "No I don't see," he said. "But if you say it's all right, Fluff, why, it must be all right."
"Of course it's all right," declared the girl, throwing off her pretty cloak and placing it on a chair. "You're the rightful king and can do whatever you please, and I'm the rightful princess because I'm your sister, so I can do whatever I please. Don't you see, Bud?"
"But look here, Fluff," returned her brother. "If you're a princess, why do you wear that old gray dress and those patched-up shoes? Father used to tell us that princesses always wore the loveliest dresses."
Meg looked at herself and sighed. "I really ought to have some new dresses, Bud. And I suppose if you order them, they will be ready in no time. And you must have some new clothes, too, for your jacket is ragged and soiled."
"Do you really think it's true, Fluff?" he asked anxiously.
"Of course it's true. Look at your kingly robe, and your golden crown, and that stick with all those jewels in it!" -- meaning the scepter. "They're true enough, aren't they?"
Bud nodded. "Call in that old man," he said. "I'll order something and see if he obeys me. If he does, then I'll believe I'm really a king."
"But now listen, Bud," said Meg gravely. "Don't you let these folks see you're afraid or that you're not sure whether you're a king or not. Order them around and make them afraid of YOU. That's what the kings do in all the stories I ever read."
"I will," replied Bud. "I'll order them around. So you call in that old donkey with the silver buttons all over him."
"Here's a bell rope," said Meg. "I'll pull it."
Instantly Jikki entered and bowed low to each of the children.
"What's your name?" asked Bud.
"Jikki, your gracious Majesty."
"Who are you?"
"Your Majesty's valet, if you please," answered Jikki.
"Oh!" said Bud. He didn't know what a valet was, but he wasn't going to tell Jikki so. "I want some new clothes, and so does my sister," Bud announced as boldly as possible.
"Certainly, your Majesty. I'll send the lord high steward here at once." With this he bowed and rushed away, and presently Tallydab, the lord high steward, entered the room and with a low bow presented himself respectfully before the children.
"I beg your Majesty to command me," said Tallydab gravely.
Bud was a little awed by his appearance, but he resolved to be brave. "We want some new clothes," he said.
"They are already ordered, your Majesty, and will be here presently."
"Oh!" said Bud, and stopped short.
"I have ordered twenty suits for your Majesty and forty gowns for the princess," continued Tallydab, "and I hope these will content your Majesty and the princess until you have time to select a larger assortment."
"Oh!" said Bud, greatly amazed.
"I have also selected seven maidens, the most noble in all the land, to wait upon the princess. They are even now awaiting her Highness in her own apartments."
Meg clapped her hands delightedly. "I'll go to them at once," she cried.
"Has your Majesty any further commands?" asked Tallydab. "If not, your five high counselors would like to confer with you in regard to your new duties and responsibilities."
"Send 'em in," said Bud promptly. And while Margaret went to meet her new maids, the king held his first conference with his high counselors. In answer to Tallydab's summons, the other four periwigs, pompous and solemn, filed into the room and stood in a row before Bud, who looked upon them with a sensation of awe.
"Your Majesty," began the venerable Tullydub in a grave voice. "We are here to instruct you, with your gracious consent, in your new and important duties."
Bud shifted uneasily in his chair. It all seemed so unreal and absurd -- this kingly title and polite deference bestowed upon a poor boy by five dignified and periwigged men -- that it was hard for Bud to curb his suspicion that all was not right. "See here, all of you," said he suddenly. "Is this thing a joke? Tell me, is it a joke?"
"A joke?" echoed all of the five counselors in several degrees of shocked and horrified tones, and Tellydeb, the lord high executioner, added reproachfully, "Could we, by any chance, have the temerity to joke with your mighty and glorious Majesty?"
"That's just it," answered the boy. "I am not a mighty and glorious Majesty. I'm just Bud, the ferryman's son, and you know it."
"You are Bud, the ferryman's son, to be sure," agreed the chief counselor, bowing courteously. "But by the decree of fate and the just and unalterable laws of the land you are now become absolute ruler of the great kingdom of Noland, therefore all that dwell therein are your loyal and obedient servants."
Bud thought this over. "Are you sure there's no mistake?" he asked with hesitation.
"There CAN be no mistake," returned old Tullydub firmly, "for we, the five high counselors of the kingdom, have ourselves interpreted and carried out the laws of the land, and the people, your subjects, have approved our action."
"Then," said Bud, "I suppose I'll have to be king whether I want to or not."
"Your Majesty speaks but the truth," returned the chief counselor with a sigh. "With or without your consent, you are the king. It is the law." And all the others chanted in a chorus, "It is the law."
Bud felt much relieved. He had no notion whatever of refusing to be a king. If there was no mistake and he was really the powerful monarch of Noland, then there ought to be no end of fun and freedom for him during the rest of his life. To be his own master; to have plenty of money; to live in a palace and order people around as he pleased -- all this seemed to the poor and friendless boy of yesterday to be quite the most delightful fate that could possibly overtake one.
So lost did he become in thoughts of the marvelous existence opening before him that he paid scant attention to the droning speeches of the five aged counselors who were endeavoring to acquaint him with the condition of affairs in his new kingdom and to instruct him in his many and difficult duties as its future ruler.
For a full hour he sat quiet and motionless, and they thought he was listening to these dreary affairs of state, but suddenly he jumped up and astonished the dignitaries by exclaiming, "See here, you just fix things to suit yourselves. I'm going to find Fluff." And with no heed to protests, the new king ran from the room and slammed the door behind him.