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THE LAST HAMLET: or The Readiness Is All. - 6. NOT ALL DOOM AND GLOOM.


When I was small, the sun shone brightly all day long in summer; in autumn the leaves were ever golden, and shiny brown conquerors lay on the ground beneath every horse chestnut tree, just waiting to be collected, pierced, and strung ready for battle; the pure white snow glistened dazzlingly for ever on fields, hedges and rooftops in winter; there were rich carpets of cheese cups and maisies, and dozens of species of chirruping birds for my delight in springtime; and as I had to go to bed only once a day, there was little to mar the perfection of my life.

My mother was beautiful, my father handsome; they were both kind, and were never ever cross with me. That is how it was.

Well, not quite perhaps. But I want to dispel the idea that life in the old days was nothing but doom and gloom. It wasn't like that, for most of the people, for most of the time. We had had more than a century of losing parents at eight, nine, or ten, and dying at twenty nine or thirty, by the time I was born, so you might say we had had time to get used to it.

The population had remained fairly constant. Most partnerships produced one or two children, some three, and some none at all: please, once and for all, let us knock on the head all that nonsense about couples who refused to have children ending up in cells at Draxy Palace! Archdraxites could be restrictive, and even at times repressive; but they were not - until the latter days - malicious, wicked, or just plain silly!

The function of the royal court, from the time of Hamlet the Second onwards, was to provide a social and cermonial framework for archdraxite rule. The Royal Tea was a forum of acceptability; if one was worthy, one might make it to the weekly ballot; but the names of undesirables never entered the hat. One may read in the Chronicles of the Year of 'subversive elements' being removed from the Royal Tea lists!

My father had always been good at figures, and after studying Applied Economics at the university he entered the service of Hamlet the Nineteenth and Penultimate. By virtue of his abilities, and the mole on his left heel, he became, at twenty one, Deputy Contoller of the Royal Purse. The post of Auditor was held by the Archdraxite, but only nominally, so my father had effective control of the annual Royal Grant.

My parents held Archdraxite Paulina in the highest regard, and as a young boy I got the impression that she was genuinely liked, even loved, by the population at large, though her stock was probably rather lower amonst the crustier elements of the Draxy Palace establishment.

Phoebe was a big sports fan, and she used to organise massed fun runs through the City. There were special races for the younger orphans, with prizes for everybody. At times of festival, such as the Week of Dedication, Her Grace would ride through the streets in an open carriage, acknowledging with honest delight the cheers of the crowds. Accompanied only by one or two members of her personal staff, she would make informal visits to places of education and work, and even to private houses, for cups of tea! Once, she threw open the gates of Draxy Palace for a City picnic and games. In great tents there were exhibitions of Draxite paintings and sculptures, performances of Draxite plays, and book signings by Draxite novellists. There were unlimlited quantities of food and drink. This was a popular day put on by a popular person.

Paulina began to weaken just before her twenty ninth birthday. The search for her successor was to produce a very different sort of archdraxite indeed!