Good King Wenceslas looked out of his castle window. It was a dark and stormy night, but he could see that the snow lay deep – it had near enough covered the barberry shrubs – and seemed fairly even. He took a small sip of his B and S, then a larger one, and rang the bell. Vlad, his man, shimmered in.
“Bally cold out there, what?” observed Wenceslas.
“Indeed, Sire. Will there be anything else? Sire?”
Vlad had this trick of leaving a little pause between two otherwise innocent words and so conveying a universe of meaning, in this case that his master’s voice was perhaps being unnecessarily exercised. Wenceslas ignored him.
“Lots of snow, Vlad. Deep, even. Even, even.” He took another sip, more of a slurp really, and went on. “What I was wondering, though, Vlad, was: is it crisp?”
“Crisp, Vlad. You know, the sort you can’t make snowballs out of. I was just wondering.”
Vlad had accidently acquired the reputation of knowing, or being able to find out, everything. In his heart of hearts, he regretted this, but it was too late to back off now.
“I shall endeavour to ascertain the crispness of the snow, Sire.” He approached the window. “Ah. I believe, Sire, that I discern a human figure, who might be of assistance.”
“A human figure? What in the name of St Agatha would a human be doing out in this?”
“It appears to be a poor man, gathering winter fuel, Sire,” said Vlad.
Wenceslas pondered and inspected his empty goblet. “Winter fuel, eh? Nicking my twigs, you mean? Fetch him in here, Vlad, if you would. I’m sure we can persuade him to solve this crispness problem for us.”
“As you wish, Sire.”
If it’s possible to shimmer and slouch at the same time, Vlad accomplished it as he exited the chamber.
Vlad ushered in the Poor Man, with much faux-obsequiousness.
“Ah, the peasant who’s been nicking my twigs,” said Wenceslas. “Please, make yourself at home. Feel free to stand over there. Now, we have an important issue to resolve.”
The Poor Man bowed. “Aaaar, Zurr,” he said in his rich Bohemian burr.
“The thing is, it’s about that bally snow out there. Beastly stuff, what?”
“What?” said the Poor Man.
Vlad hovered a bit closer to the theatre of action.
“If one might suggest, Sire – ”
“Ah, yes, of course. Vlad, give this man a B and S. Or perhaps – ” Wenceslas frowned. “Perhaps something more … familiar? Mead, is it, you fellows like? Vlad, there might be a bottle in the cupboard over there from a couple of Christmasses ago …”
Vlad sidled over to the cocktail cabinet, pulled out several bottles and took a surreptitious swig from each.
“And a morsel of nosh for this poor man,” cried Wenceslas. “I was having a sliver of fois gras on some toast, but he probably prefers … what is it these people eat? Gruel, that’s it! Vlad, get cook to rustle up a bucket of gruel – oh, that’s rather clever, what? Rhymes with fuel …”
“And cruel. Oi’d a bin happy with the brandy,” muttered the Poor Man.
“Now,” said Wenceslas, once the comestibles had been shipped in. “We have an important issue to resolve. (Do feel free to park your bowl on the mantelpiece, by the way.) As you know, they call me ‘Good’ King Wenceslas, can’t think why, ha ha – ”
“They talks about nothing else down th tavern,” said the Poor Man. “Nobuddy knows.”
“ – so I am prepared to overlook the matter of the twigs, and indeed permit you to gather several more, if you can just answer this vexing question. As well as being deep and even, is that snow crisp?”
There was one of those pauses that someone with only a rudimentary knowledge of human biology might have called pregnant.
“Zearch me,” said the Poor Man at last. “Uz’d ave to go an ave a snowball fight to found that out.”
“What a dashed Good idea!” shouted King Wenceslas. “Vlad – ”
But Vlad was crouched behind the door, gibbering.
So Wenceslas and the Poor Man linked arms and faded off into the snowy night, singing “God bless us every one…” as they went.