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The Ickabog – Chapter 4: The Quiet House

Index ID: ICKB4 — Publication date: May 27th, 2020

Mrs Dovetail was buried in the graveyard in the City-Within-The-City, where generations of royal servants lay. Daisy and her father stood hand-in-hand, looking down at the grave, for a long time. Bert kept looking back at Daisy as his tearful mother and grim-faced father led him slowly away. Bert wanted to say something to his best friend, but what had happened was too enormous and dreadful for words. Bert could hardly bear to imagine how he’d feel if his mother had disappeared forever into the cold, hard earth.

When all their friends had gone, Mr Dovetail moved the purple wreath sent by the king away from Mrs Dovetail’s headstone, and put in its place the small bunch of snowdrops that Daisy had collected that morning. Then the two Dovetails walked slowly home to a house they knew would never be the same again.

A week after the funeral, the king rode out of the palace with the Royal Guard to go hunting. As usual, everyone along his route came rushing out into their gardens to bow, curtsy, and cheer. As the king bowed and waved back, he noticed that the front garden of one cottage remained empty. It had black drapes at the windows and the front door.

‘Who lives there?’ he asked Major Beamish.

‘That – that’s the Dovetail house, Your Majesty,’ said Beamish.

‘Dovetail, Dovetail,’ said the king, frowning. ‘I’ve heard that name, haven’t I?’

‘Er… yes, sire,’ said Major Beamish. ‘Mr Dovetail is Your Majesty’s carpenter and Mrs Dovetail is – was – Your Majesty’s Head Seamstress.’

‘Ah, yes,’ said King Fred hurriedly, ‘I – I remember.’

And spurring his milk-white charger into a canter, he rode swiftly past the black-draped windows of the Dovetail cottage, trying to think of nothing but the day’s hunting that lay ahead.

But every time the king rode out after that, he couldn’t help but fix his eyes on the empty garden and the black-draped door of the Dovetail residence, and every time he saw the cottage, the image of the dead seamstress clutching that amethyst button came back to him. Finally, he could bear it no longer, and summoned the Chief Advisor to him.

‘Herringbone,’ he said, not looking the old man in the eye, ‘there’s a house on the corner, on the way to the park. Rather a nice cottage. Large-ish garden.’

‘The Dovetail house, Your Majesty?’

‘Oh, that’s who lives there, is it?’ said King Fred airily. ‘Well, it occurs to me that it’s rather a big place for a small family. I think I’ve heard there are only two of them, is that correct?’

‘Perfectly correct, Your Majesty. Just two, since the mother—’

‘It doesn’t really seem fair, Herringbone,’ King Fred said loudly, ‘for that nice, spacious cottage to be given to only two people, when there are families of five or six, I believe, who’d be happy with a little more room.’

‘You’d like me to move the Dovetails, Your Majesty?’

‘Yes, I think so,’ said King Fred, pretending to be very interested in the tip of his satin shoe.
‘Very well, Your Majesty,’ said the Chief Advisor, with a deep bow. ‘I shall ask them to swap with Roach’s family, who I’m sure would be glad of more space, and I shall put the Dovetails in the Roaches’ house.’

‘And where is that, exactly?’ asked the king nervously, for the last thing he wanted was to see those black drapes even nearer the palace gates.

‘Right on the edge of the City-Within-The-City,’ said the Chief Advisor. ‘Very close to the graveyard, in f—’

‘That sounds suitable,’ interrupted King Fred, leaping to his feet. ‘I have no need of details. Just make it happen, Herringbone, there’s a good chap.’

And so, Daisy and her father were instructed to swap houses with the family of Captain Roach, who, like Bert’s father, was a member of the king’s Royal Guard. The next time King Fred rode out, the black drapes had vanished from the door and the Roach children – four strapping brothers, the ones who’d first christened Bert Beamish ‘Butterball’ – came running into the front garden and jumped up and down, cheering and waving Cornucopian flags. King Fred beamed and waved back at the boys. Weeks passed, and King Fred forgot all about the Dovetails, and was happy again.

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