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For works with similar titles, see The Wicked World.

THE WICKED WORLD.

AN ALLEGORY.



CHAPTER I.

Here is a blank sheet of paper—several blank sheets of paper. What shall I put upon them? I declare I don't know. Shall it be a fashionable story of modern life? I know nothing of fashionable life. A mediæval romance? It would take too much cramming. A sea story? I know nothing about the sea, except that it makes me sick. A fairy tale then? Well, a fairy tale be it.

"But," says the acute reader, "if you decline to write a story about fashionable life because you know little of Fashion, how is it that you propose to write about fairies, of whom you must know still less?" Exactly. I know nothing at all about fairies—but then neither do you. If I attempt to depict fashionable life, and make his Lordship the Duke dance a double hornpipe in September, at a Buckingham Palace ball, with the Eight Honourable Lady Annabel Hicks, daughter of Sir Wickham Hicks, Puisne Judge, and Member for Birmingham-super-Mare, you may be down upon me for a group of solecisms; for no doubt you move in the distinguished circles I attempt to describe, and therefore know more about them than I do. But in Fairyland we meet on other terms, and there I am your lordship's equal. Habes. Let us get on.

The scene, then, is in Fairyland. Not the Fairyland of the pantomimes, but the Fairyland of My Own Vivid Imagination. A pleasant, dreamy land, with no bright colours in it—a land where it is always bright moon-light—a land with plenty of impalpable trees, through which you can walk, if you like, as easily as my pen can cleave the smoke that is curling from my cigar as I write—a land where there is nothing whatever to do but to sit and chat with good pleasant-looking people, who like a joke, and can make one, too—a land where there is no such thing as hunger, or sleep, or fatigue, or illness, or old age—a land where no collars or boots are worn—a land where there is no love-making, but plenty of innocent love ready made.

There are no men in this Fairyland. I can't have a man in my Paradise—at least, not at first. I know so much about men, being myself a man, that I would rather not think of them in connection with a place where all is calm, and gentle, and tranquil, and happy. I know so little about women, that I propose to people this happy, dreamy, peaceful place with none but women. There must be no envy, hatred, malice, or uncharitableness of any kind in my Fairyland. There must be nothing sordid, nothing worldly, nothing commonplace. Universal charity must reign in my Fairyland, and that, you see, is why I people it with women.

Well, they are all women, and all the women are supremely lovely. They wear long robes, high in the throat, falling loosely and gracefully to the very feet, and each fairy has a necklace of the very purest diamonds. They have wings—large soft downy wings—six feet high, like the wings of angels. And by some spiritual contrivance, which I will not detain you by enlarging upon here, these wings won't crumple and crackle under the fairies when they sit down. So you see, you theatrical managers, my Fairyland is not yours. When I conceive a Fairyland with creaky phenomena and indelicate inhabitants who take a pride in their baggy, bony knees, I will come to you for suggestions on the subject. But I have not yet conceived such a Paradise. Faugh!

My tale opens upon a group of fairies—beautiful, simple girls, with beautiful simple names. There were Mary, and Annie, and Janet, and Mattie, and Bessie, and Kate, and fifty others whose names you can select for yourselves. They were chatting pleasantly together—not talking all at once, as boisterous men will do—but listening cheerfully and patiently to one another; for all had something to say that was worth hearing, and each was ready to listen to the other. Mary was the Queen of the Fairies. I make Mary the Queen, because I like the name "Mary" better than any other name I know. People are made kings and queens on earth for no better reasons, and many of them turn out fairly well. The conversation turned on the wickedness of the world. Kate had once been a mortal, but she died, and on account of her surpassing purity was translated to Fairyland. She was the only mortal who had ever been so distinguished. Among the fairies she was an authority on the subject of the wickedness of the world (though in truth she knew very little indeed about it), and all questions that related to the world were referred to her for her decision, which was final. For I should have told you that although my fairies exercised an influence over the destinies of mortals, they did not mix with them. They kept themselves to themselves: they were not obliged to do so, but they hated wickedness, and the world was very wicked.

Well, the Fairy Kate was relating some of her experiences, and the other fairies were affected almost to tears at the revelations she made. Not that the Fairy Kate's revelations would have shocked you and me very desperately, but the other fairies had no idea of the wickedness of which the world is capable, and listened aghast to matters which we gross mortals look upon with little or no disfavour. Indeed, the Fairy Kate did not enter very deeply into the subject of her remarks, for she had only an amiable, half-instructed good girl's knowledge of them, and she spoke according to her twilight.

She said, for instance, that whole nations devoted themselves to each other's annihilation for reasons which would not operate to produce a coolness between two private individuals. But then she forgot that a nation consists, perhaps, of fifty million private individuals, and that an affront offered to such a nation is fifty million times as great as the same affront would be if directed against an individual member of it. She also said that when people gave alms they required that the fact should be advertised in the public prints through the length and breadth of the land. But she forgot that as example is better than precept (which is also very good in its way), it follows that, although it is good to exhort people to acts of charity, it is still better to let them see that you are actively charitable yourself; and if an example is good it cannot be too widely diffused. I mention the statements of the Fairy Kate to show that her knowledge of the world was, after all, very superficial, and not at all to be relied upon.

The effect of the Fairy Kate's remarks was that the other fairies were so dreadfully shocked at her picture of the wickedness of the world, that they came to consider whether some steps might not be taken to improve its condition, and bring its inhabitants generally to a proper sense of their duties to one another.

It was proposed that, with a view to ascertaining the present state of the world, a Woman should be summoned to Fairyland, and interrogated on the subject. For, after all, the Fairy Kate's information was of no recent date, and matters might have improved since she left the earth. So the Fairy Bessie suggested that a Mortal Woman should be summoned forthwith. The suggestion was received with high favour by all the fairies, and Fairy Janet suggested, as an amendment, that the word "Man" should be substituted for "Woman." A man, she argued, is naturally in a position to see much more of the world than a woman, and his information would, therefore, be more valuable. (Amendment carried unanimously.)

So a cloud was sent down to earth with instructions to envelop and carry up into Fairyland the first mortal it happened to see. These instructions had to be repeated several times, for the cloud was rather foggy, but eventually it was made to understand them, and it started on its mission.

The time that elapsed between the departure of the cloud and the arrival of a real live man appeared interminable to the fairies, but, at length, after many hours' absence, it did return with a magnificent young Prince. The stupid cloud, instead of bringing up the first man it saw (a very ragged drunken old beggar, who would have answered the fairies' purpose as well as anybody else), looked out for a young and handsome man, in the absurd belief that the presence of such an one in Fairyland would give greater pleasure to his beautiful employers. The idea was ridiculous, but the cloud meant well, and the fairies did not scold it.




CHAPTER II.

Prince Paeagon was a very brave and handsome youth, the son of a powerful King, whose dominions were situated in what, many thousand years afterwards, proved to be the (soi-disant) United States of America. He had many weaknesses, and a few vices, but they were not such vices as the world has ever dealt very hardly with. He was a generous young man, and had a profound respect for womankind.

His cousin, Prince Snob, was a handsome, boastful, courageous, reckless, unscrupulous young scamp. He was in the habit of boasting of his successful love affairs, which were, in truth, very numerous. One day, in the presence of Prince Paragon, Prince Snob told a long story how for a wager he had undertaken to break the heart of a young, beautiful, and innocent girl, and how he had succeeded in doing so—for she died of her love for him. Prince Paragon, who made love quite as successfully as Prince Snob, but who never broke hearts intentionally, was very indignant with Prince Snob, and challenged him to fight. The challenge was accepted ; and it was as Prince Paragon was on his way to the meeting that the cloud enveloped him, and took him up into the skies. It will be easily understood that Prince Paragon was furious at this occurrence, for he felt sure that his disappearance would be attributed by his enemy to rank cowardice. When he arrived in Fairyland he was extremely sulky.

"Oh, what an ugly pout!" said Queen Mary. "I hope our society does not displease you?"

"I don't know who you are, ma'am," said the Prince, "or how I came here; but I have an important engagement which I am now quite unable to keep."

"Business?" said Fairy Kate—sober, thoughtful Kate.

"Um —m—m!" said the Prince considering.

"Pleasure?" said Fairy Bessie—light-hearted little

"Um—m—m said the Prince. "Both."

"Well," said Queen Mary, "we are fairies." The Prince bowed. "We want to know all about the wickedness of the world, and we have sent for you that you may give us some information on the subject."

"Ah," said the Prince. "Exactly. Do you want to know everything?"

"Everything!" they all exclaimed.

"Do you insist on my telling you everything?"

"Most decidedly."

"What shall I begin with? Love?"

"Sir!" exclaimed the Queen of the Fairies, "you forget that you are addressing ladies."

"Pardon me," said the Prince, "but if the bare mention of love shocks you, I think I would rather leave the selection of the matters on which you wish to be instructed in your hands."

"What was the nature of the business on which you were proceeding when we interrupted you?" said Queen Mary.

"I was going to fight a duel. I was going to kill a man if I could, and he was going to kill me if he could."

"A duel!" exclaimed the Queen. "Horrible! And why were you going to fight this duel?"

"Well," said the Prince, "there was a lady in the case."

"Stop!" said the Queen, much shocked. " Go onto something else. Are you in debt? You don't mind my speaking openly?"

"Not at all—Oh, yes; I'm in debt."

"You owe more than you can pay?"

"I'm afraid I do."

"Well!" said the Queen. "Upon my word! And how did that come to pass?"

"Why, there was a lady in that case, too"—

"Stop!" said the Queen.

"I was in love with her, and gave her some handsome presents."

"Will you stop when I tell you?" said the Queen. "Your conversation is shocking."

"Shall I go?" said the Prince.

"No—let me see. Do you ever tell stories?"

"I'm afraid I do, sometimes. I did yesterday."

"Tell us all about it," said the fairies eagerly, for they were dreadfully shocked.

"Well," said the Prince, "there was a lady in that case."

"There seems to be a lady in every case," said the Queen.

"There generally is," said the Prince. "There is no complication of human events in which a woman is not implicated. Such, at least, is my experience."

"How old are you?" said the Queen.

"Twenty-two. How old are you?"

"Never mind," said the Queen. "Where were you born?"

"I was born in Bulgaria. There was a lady in that case, too."

"Of course, you absurd creature! Do you love your fellow-creatures as you are taught to do?"

"About half of them."

"Which half?—Stop, I know. I'm ashamed of you."

And the fairies were so horrified that they could not take their eyes off his wicked handsome face.

"I think you are hard on me, and hard on the world," said the Prince. "I am not an anchorite, but I am not a scamp. I would not knowingly do an unhandsome thing. I never fight except in defence of my honour, or of the honour of some one who is dear to me. I only run into debt because I am liberally disposed. I only tell stories to prevent innocent people from getting into undeserved trouble. I only love women in an honourable—"

"Will you hold your tongue?" said the Queen. "Go on," she added, rather unreasonably,

"Really," said the Prince, "the world isn't such a bad world after all. I wish one of you would come down to earth with me, and judge for herself."

"Yes," said the Queen, considering; "that's not a bad idea. But who would go?"

"I would go with him, dear Queen," said all the fairies in a breath. They feared not the Wicked World, for they were strong in their own excellence.

"No," said the Queen. "The perils of the journey are great. It is fitting that I, your Queen, should set an example of intrepidity and unselfishness when such an example is necessary. At all risks I will go to earth: I will go for one year, and at the expiration of the year I will return and tell you all about it." And Queen Mary and the Prince got into a cloud, and descended to the Wicked World.




CHAPTER III.

The Queen of the Fairies and Prince Paragon arrived safely on earth, and proceeded by train to his father's Court. But before getting into the train she unhooked her wings and left them at the cloak-room of the station "to be called for," so as not to attract attention. The Prince introduced her to his father as a lady of high rank. The old King received her very graciously, but his mother the Queen and his sisters thought she looked a great deal too demure and quiet.

The Queen of the Fairies was regularly installed in Court quarters, and—solely with a view of ascertaining what the wickedness of the world really was—entered into all the Court festivities. Her extraordinary beauty, her modesty, her simple grace, and her unaffected disposition enchanted everybody except the old Queen and her daughters, who saw through all this, and called it slyness.

Prince Paragon fell in love with the beautiful Queen Mary, and so did Prince Snob. But Queen Mary had been so horrified at Prince Paragon's reckless confessions in Fairyland that she could not bring herself to like him at all. Prince Snob, however, gave her to understand, in so many words, that he, Prince Snob, was a good man, who had only committed one fault in his whole life (when he was only six years old, he had made use of the bad word "D—v—l" on strong provocation). As he was a very good-looking man, she allowed herself to think leniently of his early error, and on the strength of his sincere repentance she eventually bestowed her heart upon him. For the Fairy Mary, when she came down to the world, invested herself with human attributes and instincts, and so fell in love, as other good girls have done, and will do, until the whole system of things undergoes a radical change.

For the present I must dismiss Prince Paragon (who, at first, appeared likely to become the hero of my fairy tale), for I have to occupy myself with the Fairy Queen's love for Prince Snob.

The poor lady became quite infatuated with the hypocritical scamp. In course of time she saw through his hypocrisy, but her love for him had taken so fixed a possession of her that she could not shake it off. She also learnt that Prince Paragon was really a very good young fellow—with certain human weaknesses, no doubt—but still a very good young fellow, as young fellows go. But she had a simple old-fashioned notion that a woman should only love one man in the course of her life-time, and she had made her choice and intended to keep to it. Still, although she loved Prince Snob devotedly, she resolved not to marry him until he reformed; for she had another old-fashioned idea, which was—that one ought not to marry a man one can't respect. So she went on loving him in her innocent way without respecting him a bit, hoping by her devotion to him, and by her good example and precept, to make a respectable man of him.

Prince Snob's affection for the Fairy Queen was born partly of his admiration for her beauty, but mainly of his admiration for her magnificent diamonds. He was dreadfully in debt, and he was mean enough to ask her, time after time, for jewels, which he sold, and so these jewels disappeared one by one, until at last there was none left. Prince Snob was very indignant when he found that the Fairy Queen had no more diamonds, and plainly told her that unless she could borrow some jewels or some money (he wasn't particular which), and by so doing prove that she did possess some mortal weaknesses, a sense of what was due to a Fairy Queen would compel him to feel wholly unworthy to possess her.

Terrified at this dreadful threat (for she had had to part with all her fairy attributes on descending to earth), she called upon Prince Paragon, who still loved her devotedly, and begged him to advance her some money. He gave her at once all that she required, and she returned with her pockets and her two hands full of gold, to Prince Snob, and poured the money into that disgraceful fellow's hat. Prince Snob embraced her, telling her that he was quite reassured now that he found she was not absolutely perfect—that she really was open to the influence of some mortal weakness (as if he had not already had proof of that!)—and he assured her that he began to think himself once more really worthy of her.

Well, this money was soon squandered, and again the Prince urged her to borrow more, and again she resorted to Prince Paragon, who again supplied her. This occurred so often that at length Prince Paragon asked her what she did with her money, and I am sorry to say that her regard for Prince Snob led her to tell Prince Paragon a story. So she told him that she had lost the money at play. Prince Paragon spoke to her very kindly and very sorrowfully, and represented to her how unladylike it was to gamble for such high stakes. The good Prince still loved her, and was dreadfully distressed to see her going, not step by step, but staircase by staircase (if I may so express myself), to her ruin. At length, actuated by his sincere regard for her, he refused to advance her any more money, and the miserable Fairy Queen was in utter despair.

A scene ensued with Prince Snob which is almost too terrible for description. However, here it is.

"Ma'am," said the Prince, when he heard that she could supply him with no more money, " I am terribly disappointed in you."

"Dear Snob," said the Fairy Queen, "don't be hard on me. I've done my best—indeed I have."

"Ma'am," said the Prince, "you have done nothing of the kind."

"Indeed, I have borrowed money for you, until I can't induce anyone to lend me any more."

"Yes, you have borrowed money—but you have not yet stolen money. Steal!"

"Oh, Snob, you are joking."

"Do I look as if I were joking? "And indeed he did not. "Steal immediately, or I have done with you."

The Fairy Queen was at last aroused to a sense of her position.

"Prince Snob, you require of me that which is not ordinarily required of ladies by their lovers, and I decline to obey you."

"Very good, ma'am; then you will understand that our association is' at an end. I thought that, Fairy Queen as you are, you had, nevertheless, some mortal failings—some pardonable blemishes, which would serve to bring you down to the level of a human being. You are much too good for me: you are a Fairy Queen; I am an erring mortal,—for I know I have my faults"

"No, no!" said the Queen, in an agony.

"Yes, indeed I have," rejoined the Prince. "I am an erring mortal, and I am wholly unworthy of you. Good morning, ma'am."

And he left her abruptly.

The Fairy Queen was utterly miserable. She went to good Prince Paragon, and told him all about Prince Snob's treatment of her. Prince Paragon was furious. He sought out Prince Snob, and immediately challenged him to mortal combat.

"All right!" said Prince Snob, who had plenty of pluck. "But no clouds this time."

Prince Paragon was stung by the taunt. "Come on!" said he.

And Prince Snob came on. They fought valiantly, but Prince Snob was eventually overpowered. He fell, and as Prince Paragon was about to pass his sword through the calf of Prince Snob's left leg (for Prince Paragon did not want to kill his adversary outright), the Fairy Queen rushed in and implored Prince Paragon to spare his rival.

"I won't hurt him seriously, ma'am," said the Prince. I am only going to pass my sword through a fleshy part."

He said this sarcastically, for Prince Snob's calves were notoriously insignificant.

"Spare him even that," said the Queen. "My year has just expired, and I must return to Fairyland. Let me take him with me. If I cannot bring myself down to his level, I can at all events raise him to mine."

"Oh!" said Prince Paragon. "Then I wish you good morning."

"Stay," said the Queen. "Won't you come, too?"

"But I should be in the way."

"You goose! I'm not going to marry him. I want to make a fairy of him; and I'll do the same for you, too."

And a cloud descended and took them all up into Fairyland as soon as the Queen had redeemed her wings from the custody of the woman at the railway cloak-room.


CHAPTER IV.

(I think this will be a very short chapter.)

The Fairy Queen arrived in due time at Fairyland with Prince Paragon and Prince Snob. They had not had a comfortable journey in the cloud, for they were crowded (it was only a cloud for one), and Prince Snob kept trying to push Prince Paragon out of it.

"Well," said the Fairy Queen to the other fairies, "here I am, safe and sound. Why, how cross you all look!"

"If we had known that we were to have had the pleasure of the society of these two gentlemen we would have prepared a larger cloud," said Fairy Bessie, rather spitefully.

"Fairy Bessie," said the Fairy Queen, "I don't like innuendoes. Speak openly, I command you."

"You—I beg pardon—you do what?" said Bessie, as if she had not understood the Queen.

"I command you!" said the Fairy Queen, with great dignity.

"Only the Queen commands me," said Bessie.

"I am the Queen, miss!"

"Oh, dear, no! You are deposed. You would go to earth, you know, alone with that gentleman, and we all thought it bold, so we deposed you. Fairy Mattie is our Queen now."

"Is this so?" said Mary to Fairy Lizzie.

"Certainly," said Lizzie. " We don't think your conduct respectable."

"Will you tell your Queen that I am here, and would like to speak to her?"

"I can't. The Queen and I are not on speaking terms."

"Will you tell some one else to tell the Queen?" said the poor ex-monarch.

"I can't even do that. In fact, we are none of us on speaking terms with one another."

The poor ex-Queen went about from fairy to fairy, but from all she received the same answer: "We are not on speaking terms with each other."

At length the Fairy Kate came up. (I think it was the Fairy Kate who I said had once been on earth? Let me look back. Yes, the Fairy Kate.) Well, the Fairy Kate came up, and she alone of all the fairies seemed glad to see the ex-Queen.

"What in the world is the reason of this extraordinary demoralization among my late subjects?" said poor Mary.

"I think I can explain," said Kate. "The presence of the mortal whom we summoned into Fairyland a year ago has contaminated us. We were all good and happy till he came, but since that unfortunate event we have fallen into all kinds of uncharitable ways of thinking. We quarrelled dreadfully, talked at one another, and said the most unkind things about each other's hair. We can't get on at all. He brought a worldly atmosphere with him (I recognized it directly), and this has worked its evil effect upon us. We are as so many women!" And the Fairy Kate burst into tears.

All the other fairies exclaimed, "Yes that's the secret of it!" and they burst into tears.

"But," said Fairy Bessie, "independently of this, we have really heard such things of you! We hear that you fell in love with a man, and that you ran into debt, and that you borrowed money, and that you told stories, and that you actually were the cause of a duel between two of your admirers. All this is very, very dreadful!"

How they knew all this I cannot for the life of me imagine, as they had held no communication whatever with the world during the ex-Queen's absence.

"It is all true," said the Queen, "and, as you say, it is very dreadful. But make some allowance for me. See what evil effect the presence among you of one mortal, and that one a very good one, has worked! The mere fact of your having breathed an atmosphere in common with him has robbed you of those social excellences for which you were all so remarkable; you have become vain, tetchy, jealous, and morose. If this is the legitimate and necessary effect of the presence of one good mortal among you for half an hour, think what I have had to undergo, who have been compelled to associate for a whole twelvemonth with men and women of all descriptions! Believe me, fairies, we are too vainglorious, too proud of our excellence, too unmindful of the fact that we were good because we had no temptation to do wrong. We despised the world because it was wicked, forgetting that the wickedness of the world is born of the temptations to which only the inhabitants of the world are exposed. Let us forgive one another, and endeavour to think more charitably of the errors of those who are subjected to temptations from which we are happily removed."

The fairies were much affected by the ex-Queen's remarks, and Queen Mattie resigned on the spot. The Fairy Kate approached Prince Paragon and Prince Snob (who were standing rather awkwardly apart during the scene I have just described), and welcomed them. She shook hands with Prince Paragon, but when she looked at Prince Snob she gave a shriek, and fell fainting into his arms. Prince Snob was the villain who had broken her heart when she was a mortal on earth.

Prince Snob was so much moved that he retired into a corner and reformed upon the spot. He offered to marry the Fairy Kate, then and there, but that, of course, could not be. So the Fairy Kate was sent down to earth as a mortal, with instructions to allow Prince Snob to marry her, and to return to Fairyland immediately upon his first act of unkindness; and Queen Mary received the same permission with respect to Prince Paragon. Neither the Queen nor the Fairy Kate returned until they were widows, when they resumed their fairy attributes for good and all. Their weeds were so much admired that widows' caps became the fashion in Fairyland, and are universally worn to this day.

This chapter is not so very short, after all.