Chronicles of Clovis
The Story Of St. Vespaluus
"Tell me a story," said the Baroness, staring out despairingly at the rain; it was that light,
apologetic sort of rain that looks as if it was going to leave off every minute and goes on
for the greater part of the afternoon.
"What sort of story?" asked Clovis, giving his croquet mallet a valedictory shove into
"One just true enough to be interesting and not true enough to be tiresome," said the
Clovis rearranged several cushions to his personal solace and satisfaction; he knew that
the Baroness liked her guests to he comfortable, and he thought it right to respect her
wishes in that particular.
"Have I ever told you the story of Saint Vespaluus?" he asked.
"You've told me stories about grand-dukes and lion-tamers and financiers' widows and a
postmaster in Herzegovina," said the Baroness, "and about an Italian jockey and an
amateur governess who went to Warsaw, and several about your mother, but certainly
never anything about a saint."
"This story happened a long while ago," he said, "in those uncomfortable piebald times
when a third of the people were Pagan, and a third Christian, and the biggest third of all
just followed whichever religion the Court happened to profess. There was a certain king
called Hkrikros, who had a fearful temper and no immediate successor in his own family;
his married sister, however, had provided him with a large stock of nephews from which
to select his heir. And the most eligible and royally-approved of all these nephews was
the sixteen-year-old Vespaluus. He was the best looking, and the best horseman and
javelin-thrower, and had that priceless princely gift of being able to walk past a
supplicant with an air of not having seen him, but would certainly have given something
if he had. My mother has that gift to a certain extent; she can go smilingly and financially
unscathed through a charity bazaar, and meet the organizers next day with a solicitous
'had I but known you were in need of funds' air that is really rather a triumph in audacity.
Now Hkrikros was a Pagan of the first water, and kept the worship of the sacred serpents,
who lived in a hallowed grove on a hill near the royal palace, up to a high pitch of
enthusiasm. The common people were allowed to please themselves, within certain
discreet limits, in the matter of private religion, but any official in the service of the Court
who went over to the new cult was looked down on, literally as well as metaphorically,
the looking down being done from the gallery that ran round the royal bear-pit.