Read CHAPTER III.  of Prince Ricardo of Pantouflia being the adventures of Prince Prigio's son , free online book, by Andrew Lang., on ReadCentral.com.

The Adventure of the Shopkeepers.

Dick went on with his breakfast.  He ate cold pastry, and poached eggs, and ham, and rolls, and raspberry jam, and hot cakes; and he drank two cups of coffee.  Meanwhile the king had joined the tradesmen who attended by his orders.  They were all met in the royal study, where the king made them a most splendid bow, and requested them to be seated.  But they declined to sit in his sacred presence, and the king observed that, in that case he must stand up.

“I have invited you here, gentlemen,” he said, “on a matter of merely private importance, but I must request that you will be entirely silent as to the nature of your duties.  It is difficult, I know, not to talk about one’s work, but in this instance I am sure you will oblige me.”

“Your Majesty has only to command,” said Herr Schnipp.  “There have been monarchs, in neighbouring kingdoms, who would have cut off all our heads after we had done a bit of secret business; but the merest word of your Majesty is law to your loving subjects.”

The other merchants murmured assent, for King Prigio was really liked by his people.  He was always good-tempered and polite.  He never went to war with anybody.  He spent most of the royal income on public objects, and of course there were scarcely any taxes to speak of.  Moreover, he had abolished what is called compulsory education, or making everybody go to school whether he likes it or not; a most mischievous and tyrannical measure!  “A fellow who can’t teach himself to read,” said the king, “is not worth teaching.”

For all these reasons, and because they were so fond of the queen, his subjects were ready to do anything in reason for King Prigio.

Only one tradesman, bowing very deep and blushing very much, said: 

“Your Majesty, will you hear me for one moment?”

“For an hour, with pleasure, Herr Schmidt,” said the monarch.

“It is an untradesman-like and an unusual thing to decline an order; and if your Majesty asked for my heart’s blood, I am ready to shed it, not to speak of anything in the line of my business ­namely, boot and shoe making.  But keep a secret from my wife, I fairly own to your Majesty that I can not.”

Herr Schmidt went down on his knees and wept.

{Herr Schmidt went down on his knees:  p52.jpg}

“Rise, Herr Schmidt,” said the king, taking him by the hand.  “A more honourable and chivalrous confession of an amiable weakness, if it is to be called a weakness, I never heard.  Sir, you have been true to your honour and your prince, in face of what few men can bear, the chance of ridicule.  There is no one here, I hope, but respects and will keep the secret of Herr Schmidt’s confession?”

The assembled shopkeepers could scarcely refrain from tears.

“Long live King Prigio the Good!” they exclaimed, and vowed that everything should be kept dark.

“Indeed, sire,” said the swordmaker, “all the rest of us are bachelors.”

“That is none the worse for my purpose gentlemen,” said his Majesty; “but I trust that you will not long deprive me of sons and subjects worthy to succeed to such fathers.  And now, if Herr Schmidt will kindly find his way to the buttery, where refreshments are ready, I shall have the pleasure of conducting you to the scene of your labours.”

Thus speaking, the king, with another magnificent bow, led the way upstairs to a little turret-room, in a deserted part of the palace.  Bidding the tradesmen enter, he showed them a large collection of miscellaneous things:  an old cap or two, a pair of boots of a sort long out of fashion, an old broadsword, a shabby old Persian rug, an ivory spy-glass, and other articles.  These were, in fact, the fairy presents, which had been given to the king at his christening, and by aid of which (and his natural acuteness) he had, in his youth, succeeded in many remarkable adventures.

The caps were the Wishing Cap and the Cap of Darkness.  The rug was the famous carpet which carried its owner through the air wherever he wished to go.  The sword was the Sword of Sharpness.  The ivory glass showed you anyone you wanted to see, however far off.  The boots were the Seven-league Boots, which Hop-o’-my-Thumb stole from the Ogre about 1697.  There were other valuable objects, but these were the most useful and celebrated.  Of course the king did not tell the tradesmen what they were.

“Now, gentlemen,” said his Majesty, “you see these old things.  For reasons which I must ask you to excuse me for keeping to myself, I wish you to provide me with objects exactly and precisely similar to these, with all the look of age.”

The tradesmen examined the objects, each choosing that in his own line of business.

“As to the sword, sire,” said the cutler, “it is an Andrea Ferrara, a fine old blade.  By a lucky accident, I happen to have one at home in a small collection of ancient weapons, exactly like it.  This evening it shall be at your Majesty’s disposal.”

“Perhaps, Herr Schnitzler, you will kindly write an order for it, as I wish no one of you to leave the palace, if you can conveniently stay, till your business is finished.”

“With pleasure, your Majesty,” says the cutler.

“As to the old rug,” said the upholsterer, “I have a Persian one quite identical with it at home, at your Majesty’s service.”

“Then you can do like Herr Schnitzler,” who was the cutler.

“And I,” said the hatter, “have two old caps just like these, part of a bankrupt theatrical stock.”

“We are most fortunate,” said the king.

“The boots, now I come to think of it, are unimportant, at least for the present.  Perhaps we can borrow a pair from the theatre.”

“As for the glass,” said the optician, “if your Majesty will allow me to take it home with me ­”

“I am afraid I cannot part with it,” said the king; “but that, too, is unimportant, or not very pressing.”

Then he called for a servant, to order luncheon for the shopkeepers, and paper for them to write their orders on.  But no one was within hearing, and in that very old part of the palace there were no bells.

“Just pardon me for an instant, while I run downstairs,” said his Majesty; “and, it seems a strange thing to ask, but may I advise you not to sit down on that carpet?  I have a reason for it.”

In fact, he was afraid that someone might sit down on it, and wish he was somewhere else, and be carried away, as was the nature of the carpet.

King Prigio was not absent a minute, for he met William on the stairs; but when he came back, there was not one single person in the turret-room!

“Where on earth are they?” cried the king, rushing through all the rooms in that part of the castle.  He shouted for them, and looked everywhere; but there was not a trace of tailor, hatter, optician, swordmaker, upholsterer.

The king hastened to a window over the gate, and saw the sentinels on duty.

“Hi!” he called.

And the sentinels turned round, looked up, and saluted.

“Have you seen anyone go out?” he cried.

“No one, sire,” answered the soldiers.

The king, who began to guess what had happened, hurried back to the turret-room.

There were all the tradesmen with parcels under their arms.

“What means this, gentlemen?” said his Majesty, severely.  “For what reason did you leave the room without my permission?”

They all knelt down, humbly imploring his compassion.

“Get up, you donkeys!” said the king, forgetting his politeness.  “Get up, and tell me where you have been hiding yourselves.”

The hatter came forward, and said: 

“Sire, you will not believe me; indeed, I can scarcely believe it myself!”

“Nor none of us can’t,” said the swordmaker.  “We have been home, and brought the articles.  All orders executed with punctuality and dispatch,” he added, quoting his own advertisement without thinking of it.

On this the swordmaker took out and exhibited the Andrea Ferrara blade, which was exactly like the Sword of Sharpness.

The upholsterer undid his parcel, and there was a Persian rug, which no one could tell from the magical carpet.

The hatter was fumbling with the string of his parcel, when he suddenly remembered, what the king in his astonishment had not noticed, that he had a cap on himself.  He pulled it off in a hurry, and the king at once saw that it was his Wishing Cap, and understood all about the affair.  The hatter, in his absence, had tried on the Wishing Cap, and had wished that he himself and his friends were all at home and back again with their wares at the palace.  And what he wished happened, of course, as was natural.  In a moment the king saw how much talk this business would produce in the country, and he decided on the best way to stop it.

Seizing the Wishing Cap, he put it on, wished all the tradesmen, including the shoemaker, back in the town at their shops, and also wished that none of them should remember anything about the whole affair.

In a moment he was alone in the turret-room.  As for the shopkeepers, they had a kind of idea that they had dreamed something odd; but, as it went no further, of course they did not talk about it, and nobody was any the wiser.

“Owl that I am!” said King Prigio to himself.  “I might have better wished for a complete set of sham fairy things which would not work.  It would have saved a great deal of trouble; but I am so much out of the habit of using the cap, that I never thought of it.  However, what I have got will do very well.”

Then, putting on the Cap of Darkness, that nobody might see him, he carried all the real fairy articles away, except the Seven-league Boots, to his own room, where he locked them up, leaving in their place the sham Wishing Cap, the sham Cap of Darkness, the sham Sword of Sharpness, and the carpet which was not a magic carpet at all.

His idea was, of course, that Ricardo would start on an expedition confiding in his fairy things, and he would find that they did not act.  Then he would be left to his own cleverness and courage to get him out of the scrape.  That would teach him, thought the king, to depend on himself, and to set a proper value on cleverness and learning, and minding his book.

Of course he might have locked the things up, and forbidden Ricardo to touch them, but that might have seemed harsh.  And, as you may easily imagine, with all the powers at his command, the king fancied he could easily rescue Ricardo from any very serious danger at the hands of giants or magicians or monsters.  He only wanted to give him a fright or two, and make him respect the judgment of older and wiser people than himself.