Snigsby And The King

So fatuous, Snigsby, preening in his periwig and epaulettes. Fatuous, too, his fat friend the king, standing on the pier, beckoning gulls. His royal hand is raised, palm upwards, and on the palm a scattering of millet. When the gulls swoop, the fatuous fat king will chuckle and call to Snigsby to execute a hurried pencil sketch which can later be worked up into a huge oil painting for the king’s gallery.

But no gulls swoop, today, for it is one of those birdless days in the kingdom. The sky is empty of birds, as happens on the birdless days, which alas the king’s prognosticators can never predict with any accuracy. Where the birds go, on these days, has not yet been ascertained, though several philosophers are hard at work in the king’s tower trying to account for the circumstance.

The philosophers’ previous task was to explain the workings of railway timetables, a job they performed so well that the king presented every man jack of them with periwigs and epaulettes and special coins to keep in their pockets. They were toy coins, not legal tender, but they glistened brightly and pleased the philosophers, who were easily pleased by kingly gifts.

Snigsby was too fatuous to be a philosopher or prognosticator and to be frank he was something of a butterfingers with his sketching pencil. But so fatuous was the fat king that he thought Snigsby’s cack-handed scribbles were surpassing in loveliness.

When the king called him, Snigsby scampered forwards along the pier, but he tripped and toppled and plunged into the sea. Mermaids snatched away his pencil and his sketchpad, his periwig and his epaulettes, and poor poor Snigsby, flailing in the water under a birdless sky, was dragged below the surface by the mermaids’ pet scavenger fish. They fixed him with limpets to a seabed rock, there to perish.

The king, who had not noticed Snigsby’s fall, grew tired of calling, grew tired of holding out his upturned millet-scattered palm at the end of the pier on a birdless day. He tossed the millet into the sea and turned on his heel and minced back to the promenade where his horse waited with the immense patience of a horse. The king mounted his steed and galloped along the coast to an ice cream kiosk.

Would tomorrow be birdless too?

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