The King had an Open Door policy, and no one took greater advantage of it than Bartle. In the Castle, there were several lobbies and halls that were open to the public at all times; and on any given day there were usually other galleries and salons open as well. Bartle was a frequent visitor. He made it his business to drop by the Castle almost every day. Over a few years, he became familiar with almost every corner of the first floor, a few corridors on the second, and most of the cellars. He was proud and pleased when the guards and staff began addressing him by name. By careful snooping, he, in turn, learned the names of the staff and sometimes dared address them familiarly. He took to following the petty servants a few steps into the private areas of the Castle. When he met with no reprimand, he became bold.
One evening, at a public reception, he scolded a servant for the inferior quality of a canapé, and followed him straight into the kitchens to carry his complaint to the Chef.
The kitchen threshold was a boundary not to be crossed. The Chef hurled a colander at Bartle’s head and screamed for the guards. Bartle was baffled, and then affronted, when the guards grabbed him and locked him in the mop closet. The guards sent for the Chief Steward.
Bartle was pleased to see the Chief Steward, and apparently did not register that the Chief Steward was not pleased to see him. The Steward explained he would have to bring this matter to the attention of the King Himself. Bartle was delighted, expressing the belief that when the King learned of the guards’ inappropriate conduct, His Majesty was sure to be merciful and just.
The Chief Steward found His Majesty in the Gaming Parlor, playing whist with the Royal Nephews. The Steward explained the situation, and His Royal Highness indicated he knew exactly to whom the Steward was referring. The King directed the Steward to expel Bartle and ban him from the grounds, with no further reprimand.
Bartle was escorted under guard to the Castle gates. He smiled and waved gaily to all whom he met. At the Gate, the Steward handed him a citation and explained that for his breach of the Royal Privacy, he was, by Royal Decree, herewith and forevermore banned from the precincts of the Castle; that no further punishment or penalty was due, but that any attempt to re-enter the Castle or its grounds would be cause for imprisonment. The Steward ordered the gate closed.
As the gate blongged shut, Bartle’s eyes were opened. He suddenly saw how ridiculous his conduct had been, and his ears burned hot with shame. He turned and fled down the darkest street.
Besides refraining from entering the Castle, Bartle was ashamed to go anywhere near it. He kept as far from the neighborhood as possible to avoid encountering by chance even the royal scullery maids. If his business took him near the Castle grounds, he traveled in disguise, or through the sewers.
He continued this way for some weeks until it occurred to him that this self-abasement was similar to his previous self-aggrandizement: both were self-serving. It took considerable courage, but now when his business took him near the Castle, he took the most direct route, looked straight ahead and attempted to comport himself with some dignity.
A year passed. Bartle still cringed when he thought of his behavior in the Castle, but was otherwise reconciled to himself, if not to the King. And then one day a messenger appeared at his door bearing a Royal Invitation. The King was to put on public display his renowned and cherished corkscrew collection; there was to be a public reception, and Bartle was invited.
As the weight of his shame lifted, Bartle felt so light of heart, he had to touch the wall to keep his balance. He thought of what he would wear to the reception, how fine he would look, how warmly he would be received. He expected the legendary Platinum Corkscrew would be on display, the one he had seen carried into the Royal Quarters years ago, that time he had followed a servant into the private wing. His heart raced. He thought of the reception hall, its furnishings and tapestries, the secret passage to the wine cellar —
Bartle startled. He looked at the invitation a long while, then carefully placed it in the little chest he kept for his most cherished keepsakes — but he did not go to the reception.