In the days of Good King Carraway (dead now, poor fellow, but he had a pleasant time while he lasted) there lived a certain swineherd commonly called Hi-You. It was the duty of Hi-You to bring up one hundred and forty-one pigs for his master, and this he did with as much enthusiasm as the work permitted. But there were times when his profession failed him. In the blue days of summer Princes and Princesses, Lords and Ladies, Chamberlains and Enchanters would ride past him and leave him vaguely dissatisfied with his company, so that he would remove the straw from his mouth and gaze after them, wondering what it would be like to have as little regard for a swineherd as they. But when they were out of sight, he would replace the straw in his mouth and fall with great diligence to the counting of his herd and such other duties as are required of the expert pigtender, assuring himself that, if a man could not be lively with one hundred and forty-one companions, he must indeed be a poor-spirited sort of fellow.
Now there was one little black pig for whom Hi-You had a special tenderness. Just so, he often used to think, would he have felt towards a brother if this had been granted to him. It was not the colour of the little pig nor the curliness of his tail (endearing though this was), nor even the melting expression in his eyes which warmed the swineherd’s heart, but the feeling that intellectually this pig was as solitary among the hundred and forty others as Hi-You himself. Frederick (for this was the name which he had given to it) shared their food, their sleeping apartments, much indeed as did Hi-You, but he lived, or so it seemed to the other, an inner life of his own. In short, Frederick was a soulful pig.
There could be only one reason for this: Frederick was a Prince in disguise. Some enchanter–it was a common enough happening in those days–annoyed by Frederick’s father, or his uncle, or even by Frederick himself, had turned him into a small black pig until such time as the feeling between them had passed away. There was a Prince Frederick of Milvania who had disappeared suddenly; probably this was he. His complexion was darker now, his tail more curly, but the royal bearing was unmistakable.
It was natural then that, having little in common with his other hundred and forty charges, Hi-You should find himself drawn into ever closer companionship with Frederick. They would talk together in the intervals of acorn-hunting, Frederick’s share of the conversation limited to “Humphs,” unintelligible at first, but, as the days went on, seeming more and more charged with an inner meaning to Hi-You, until at last he could interpret every variation of grunt with which his small black friend responded. And indeed it was a pretty sight to see them sitting together on the top of a hill, the world at their feet, discussing at one time the political situation of Milvania, at another the latest ballad of the countryside, or even in their more hopeful moments planning what they should do when Frederick at last was restored to public life.
Now it chanced that one morning when Frederick and Hi-You were arguing together in a friendly manner over the new uniforms of the Town Guard (to the colours of which Frederick took exception) King Carraway himself passed that way, and being in a good humour stood for a moment listening to them.
“Well, well,” he said at last, “well, well, well.”
In great surprise Hi-You looked up, and then, seeing that it was the King, jumped to his feet and bowed several times.
“Pardon, Your Majesty,” he stammered, “I did not see Your Majesty. I was–I was talking.”
“To a pig,” laughed the King.
“To His Royal Highness Prince Frederick of Milvania,” said Hi-You proudly.
“I beg your pardon,” said the King; “could I trouble you to say that again?”
“His Royal Highness Prince Frederick of Milvania.”
“Yes, that was what it sounded like last time.”
“Frederick,” murmured Hi-You in his friend’s ear, “this is His Majesty King Carraway. He lets me call him Frederick,” he added to the King.
“You don’t mean to tell me,” said His Majesty, pointing to the pig, “that this is Prince Frederick?”
“It is indeed, Sire. Such distressing incidents must often have occurred within Your Majesty’s recollection.”
“They have, yes. Dear me, dear me.”
“Humph,” remarked Frederick, feeling it was time he said something.
“His Royal Highness says that he is very proud to meet so distinguished a monarch as Your Majesty.”
“Did he say that?” asked the King, surprised.
“Undoubtedly, Your Majesty.”
“Very good of him, I’m sure.”
“Humph,” said Frederick again.
“He adds,” explained Hi-You, “that Your Majesty’s great valour is only excelled by the distinction of Your Majesty’s appearance.”
“Dear me,” said the King, “I thought he was merely repeating himself. It seems to me very clever of you to understand so exactly what he is saying.”
“Humph,” said Frederick, feeling that it was about acorn time again.
“His Royal Highness is kind enough to say that we are very old friends.”
“Yes, of course, that must make a difference. One soon picks it up, no doubt. But we must not be inhospitable to so distinguished a visitor. Certainly he must stay with us at the Palace. And you had better come along too, my man, for it may well be that without your aid some of His Royal Highness’s conversation would escape us. Prince Frederick of Milvania–dear me, dear me. This will be news for Her Royal Highness.”
So, leaving the rest of the herd to look after itself, as it was quite capable of doing, Frederick and Hi-You went to the Palace.
Now Her Royal Highness Princess Amaril was of an age to be married. Many Princes had sought her hand, but in vain, for she was as proud as she was beautiful. Indeed, her beauty was so great that those who looked upon it were blinded, as if they had gazed upon the sun at noonday–or so the Court Poet said, and he would not be likely to exaggerate. Wherefore Hi-You was filled with a great apprehension as he walked to the Palace, and Frederick, to whom the matter had been explained, was, it may be presumed, equally stirred within, although outwardly impassive. And, as they went, Hi-You murmured to his companion that it was quite all right, for that in any event she could not eat them, the which assurance Frederick, no doubt, was peculiarly glad to receive.
“Ah,” said the King, as they were shown into the Royal Library, “that’s right.” He turned to the Princess. “My dear, prepare for a surprise.”
“Yes, Father,” said Amaril dutifully.
“This,” said His Majesty dramatically, throwing out a hand, “is a Prince in disguise.”
“Which one, Father?” said Amaril.
“The small black one, of course,” said the King crossly; “the other is merely his attendant. Hi, you, what’s your name?”
The swineherd hastened to explain that His Majesty, with His Majesty’s unfailing memory for names, had graciously mentioned it.
“You don’t say anything,” said the King to his daughter.
Princess Amaril sighed.
“He is very handsome, Father,” she said, looking at Hi-You.
“Y-yes,” said the King, regarding Frederick (who was combing himself thoughtfully behind the left ear) with considerable doubt. “But the real beauty of Prince Frederick’s character does not lie upon the surface, or anyhow–er–not at the moment.”
“No, Father,” sighed Amaril, and she looked at Hi-You again.
Now the swineherd, who with instinctive good breeding had taken the straw from his mouth on entering the Palace, was a well-set-up young fellow, such as might please even a Princess.
For a little while there was silence in the Royal Library, until Frederick realized that it was his turn to speak.
“Humph!” said Frederick.
“There!” said the King in great good humour. “Now, my dear, let me tell you what that means. That means that His Royal Highness is delighted to meet so beautiful and distinguished a Princess.” He turned to Hi-You. “Isn’t that right, my man?”
“Perfectly correct, Your Majesty.”
“You see, my dear,” said the King complacently, “one soon picks it up. Now in a few days–“
“Humph!” said Frederick again.
“What did that one mean, Father?” asked Amaril.
“That meant–er–that meant–well, it’s a little hard to put it colloquially, but roughly it means”–he made a gesture with his hand–“that we have–er–been having very charming weather lately.” He frowned vigorously at the swineherd.
“Exactly, Your Majesty,” said Hi-You.
“Charming weather for the time of year.”
“For the time of year, of course,” said the King hastily. “One naturally assumes that. Well, my dear,” he went on to his daughter, “I’m sure you will be glad to know that Prince Frederick has consented to stay with us for a little. You will give orders that suitable apartments are to be prepared.”
“Yes, Father. What are suitable apartments?”
The King pulled at his beard and regarded Frederick doubtfully.
“Perhaps it would be better,” the Princess went on, looking at Hi-You, “if this gentleman–“
“Of course, my dear, of course. Naturally His Royal Highness would wish to retain his suite.”
“Humph!” said Frederick, meaning, I imagine, that things were looking up.
Of all the Princes who from time to time had visited the Court none endeared himself so rapidly to the people as did Frederick of Milvania. His complete lack of vanity, his thoughtfulness, the intense reserve which so obviously indicated a strong character, his power of listening placidly to even the most tedious of local dignitaries, all these were virtues of which previous royal visitors had given no sign. Moreover on set occasions Prince Frederick could make a very pretty speech. True, this was read for him, owing to a slight affection of the throat from which, as the Chancellor pointed out, His Royal Highness was temporarily suffering, but it would be couched in the most perfect taste and seasoned at suitable functions (such, for instance, as the opening of the first Public Baths) with a pleasantly restrained humour. Nor was there any doubt that the words were indeed the Prince’s own, as dictated to Hi-You and by him put on paper for the Chancellor. But Hi-You himself never left the Palace.
“My dear,” said the King to his daughter one day, “have you ever thought of marriage?”
“Often, Father,” said Amaril.
“I understand from the Chancellor that the people are expecting an announcement on the subject shortly.”
“We haven’t got anything to announce, have we?”
“It’s a pity that you were so hasty with your other suitors,” said the King thoughtfully. “There is hardly a Prince left who is in any way eligible.”
“Except Prince Frederick,” said Amaril gently.
The King looked at her suspiciously and then looked away again, pulling at his beard.
“Of course,” went on Amaril, “I don’t know what your loving subjects would say about it.”
“My loving subjects,” said the King grimly, “have been properly brought up. They believe–they have my authority for believing–that they are suffering from a disability of the eyesight laid upon them by a wicked enchanter, under which they see Princes as–er–pigs. That, if you remember, was this fellow Hi-You’s suggestion. And a very sensible one.”
“But do you want Frederick as a son-in-law?”
“Well, that’s the question. In his present shape he is perhaps not quite–not quite–well, how shall I put it?”
“Not quite,” suggested Amaril.
“Exactly. At the same time I think that there could be no harm in the announcement of a betrothal. The marriage, of course, would not be announced until–“
“Until the enchanter had removed his spell from the eyes of the people?”
“Quite so. You have no objection to that, my dear?”
“I am His Majesty’s subject,” said Amaril dutifully.
“That’s a good girl.” He patted the top of her head and dismissed her.
So the betrothal of His Royal Highness Frederick of Milvania to the Princess Amaril was announced, to the great joy of the people. And in the depths of the Palace Hi-You the swineherd was hard at work compounding a potion which, he assured the King, would restore Frederick to his own princely form. And sometimes the Princess Amaril would help him at his work.
A month went by, and then Hi-You came to the King with news. He had compounded the magic potion. A few drops sprinkled discriminately on Frederick would restore him to his earlier shape, and the wedding could then be announced.
“Well, my man,” said His Majesty genially, “this is indeed pleasant hearing. We will sprinkle Frederick to-morrow. Really, I am very much in your debt; remind me after the ceremony to speak to the Lord Treasurer about the matter.”
“Say no more,” begged Hi-You. “All I ask is to be allowed to depart in peace. Let me have a few hours alone with His Royal Highness in the form in which I have known him so long, and then, when he is himself again, let me go. For it is not meet that I should remain here as a perpetual reminder to His Royal Highness of what he would fain forget.”
“Well, that’s very handsome of you, very handsome indeed. I see your point. Yes, it is better that you should go. But, before you go, there is just one thing. The people are under the impression that–er–an enchanter has–er–well, you remember what you yourself suggested.”
“I have thought of that,” said Hi-You, who seemed to have thought of everything. “And I venture to propose that Your Majesty should announce that a great alchemist has been compounding a potion to relieve their blindness. A few drops of this will be introduced into the water of the Public Baths, and all those bathing therein will be healed.”
“A striking notion,” said the King. “Indeed it was just about to occur to me. I will proclaim to-morrow a public holiday, and give orders that it be celebrated in the baths. Then in the evening, when they are all clean–I should say ‘cured’–we will present their Prince to them.”
So it happened even as Hi-You had said, and in the evening the Prince, a model now of manly beauty, was presented to them, and they acclaimed him with cheers. And all noticed how lovingly the Princess regarded him, and how he smiled upon her.
But the King gazed upon the Prince as one fascinated. Seven times he cleared his throat and seven times he failed to speak. And the eighth time he said, “Your face is strangely familiar to me.”
“Perchance we met in Milvania,” said the Prince pleasantly.
Now the King had never been in Milvania. Wherefore he still gazed at the Prince, and at length he said, “What has happened to that Hi-You fellow?”
“You will never hear of him again,” said the Prince pleasantly.
“Oh!” said the King. And after that they feasted.
And some say that they feasted upon roast pig, but I say not. And some say that Hi-You had planned it all from the beginning, but I say not. And some say that it was the Princess Amaril who planned it, from the day when first she saw Hi-You, and with them I agree. For indeed I am very sure that when Hi-You was a swineherd upon the hills he believed truly that the little black pig with the curly tail was a Prince. And, though events in the end were too much for him, I like to think that Hi-You remained loyal to his friend, and that in his plush-lined sty in a quiet corner of the Palace grounds Frederick passed a gentle old age, cheered from time to time by the visits of Amaril’s children.