GENTLEMEN, THE KING!
When I was a child and knelt on a big hassock in the rectory pewof a Suffolk church, I used to wonder, while flies droned againstthe green-tinted diamond-paned windows, and the crowing of roosterscame with drowsy sunshine through the open door, whether the dear,sadfaced lady in a widow’s cap, whose picture hung in our nurseryabove the gray rocking-horse, knew that my father was praying forher good health.
I used to wonder, too, whether she ever reflected how at thatparticular moment, from one end of England to the other, men werebreathing her woman’s name into the hearing of the King of Kings,Lord of Lords, the only Ruler of princes. How wonderful for thatlittle lady to think of this universal supplication-how humbling,how uplifting! Did she bow her head very, very low, I wondered, asthe choric prayer of England rose in the hush of those Sabbathmorns from city to town, from village and hamlet-the voice of hergreat little England approaching the confidence of God on herbehalf.
“Most heartily we beseech Thee with Thy favour to behold our mostgracious Sovereign Lady, Queen Victoria, and so replenish her withthe grace of Thy Holy Spirit, that she may alway incline to Thywill, and walk in Thy way. Endue her plenteously with heavenlygifts; grant her in health and wealth long to live; strengthen herthat she may vanquish and overcome all her enemies; and finally,after this life, she may attain everlasting joy andfelicity.”
The innocent wonder of childhood lies far behind me on the dustyroad of life. He who prayed and she for whom he prayed have bothout-soared the shadow of our night. Other children play in thatSuffolk glebe, a different voice wakes the Sabbath echoes in thatvillage church, and another inhabits the majestic splendour of thethrone of England.
Here in Canada, far away in the West, with the croon of thePacific Ocean in my ears and the scents of a deep, cool, pineforest stealing into the candles through the opening of a tent, Ifind my wonderment following the ancient trail of a far-awaychildhood. Does Edward the Seventh, I asked myself, ever reflectthat in all the zones of the world, night after night, year in,year out, at the old familiar call, “Gentlemen, the King!”-men ofShakespeare’s blood and Alfreds lineage spring to their feet, as atthe sound of a trumpet, and the local welkin rings with the anthemof the British? Is he conscious, wheresoever he be at this moment,of the low, strong, rumbling Amen of our anthem, which rollsthrough the tent as we set down our glasses and resume our chairs-“The King! -God bless him.” Every night, in every quarter of theglobe, as constant as the stars, as strong as the mountains, thispledge of loyalty, this profession of faith by the clean-heartedBritish-” The King! -God bless him.”
Presently the chairman rises to propose another toast, but mythoughts cling to the ancient trail. I see a vision of WindsorCastle, with the Royal Standard streaming out against the sky ofsummer turquoise, exactly as it shone for my boyish eyes in a boxof bricks. The fragrance of England’s May-breathing hedgerows andthe deep, earthy scents of her glimmering woods of oak and elm,come to me from the fields of memory. All that makes Englanddemi-Paradise-her rose-hung hedges, her green woods, her creepingrivers, her April orchards, and her March-blown hills-all thisgracious pageantry rises in a green and tender mirage to the eyesof my musing. And as I feel the spell and magic of “this otherEden” I feel also the pomp and splendour of the British throne, Iunderstand how it is that whithersoever I go in Canada, men standup like soldiers at the toast of the King, and, though but a momenthence they were laughing over a light story, sing with exaltationthe anthem of the British: “The King! -God bless him.” He is tothese dwellers in a far land, these English Esaus, who “tramp freehills and sleep beneath blue sky,” the magic name which opens forthem the gates of the past, and shows again the pleasant vision ofchildhood. At the name of the King rises the vision of England,Windsor Castle, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey-all thecrowded historic greatness of free and glorious England-thismemory, with childhood’s picture of Yeomen of the Guard, Lord Mayorprocessions, and the swirl of craft under the Thames bridges, leapsin one fond, yearning affection to the exiled heart at the toast ofthe King. All that men learned of England at the knees of theirmothers comes like a vision at the call of the King. At that nameEsau dreams his dream of home.
How great and good a thing to be the head and fountain of aworld-wandering people! What a sublime reflection for a singleindividual that men and women, scattered across the great globe,and sundered from each other by every sea that rolls beneath thestars, regard his name as a band binding them in a great communion.To be the captain of the British people-is there higher office onthe earth? To feel oneself the symbol and the sigil of a great racemarching to wider freedom-is there nobler inspiration underheaven?