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The Story Of The Sham Prince Or The Ambitious Tailor

from The Crimson Fairy Book





Once upon a time there lived a respectable young tailor called Labakan,
who worked for a clever master in Alexandria. No one could call
Labakan either stupid or lazy, for he could work extremely well and
quickly--when he chose; but there was something not altogether right
about him. Sometimes he would stitch away as fast as if he had a red-hot
needle and a burning thread, and at other times he would sit lost in
thought, and with such a queer look about him that his fellow-workmen
used to say, 'Labakan has got on his aristocratic face today.'

On Fridays he would put on his fine robe which he had bought with the
money he had managed to save up, and go to the mosque. As he came back,
after prayers, if he met any friend who said 'Good-day,' or 'How are
you, friend Labakan?' he would wave his hand graciously or nod in a
condescending way; and if his master happened to say to him, as he
sometimes did, 'Really, Labakan, you look like a prince,' he was
delighted, and would answer, 'Have you noticed it too?' or 'Well, so I
have long thought.'

Things went on like this for some time, and the master put up with
Labakan's absurdities because he was, on the whole, a good fellow and a
clever workman.

One day, the sultan's brother happened to be passing through Alexandria,
and wanted to have one of his state robes altered, so he sent for the
master tailor, who handed the robe over to Labakan as his best workman.

In the evening, when every one had left the workshop and gone home, a
great longing drove Labakan back to the place where the royal robe hung.
He stood a long time gazing at it, admiring the rich material and the
splendid embroidery in it. At last he could hold out no longer. He felt
he must try it on, and lo! and behold, it fitted as though it had been
made for him.

'Am not I as good a prince as any other?' he asked himself, as he
proudly paced up and down the room. 'Has not the master often said that
I seemed born to be a prince?'

It seemed to him that he must be the son of some unknown monarch, and at
last he determined to set out at once and travel in search of his proper
rank.

He felt as if the splendid robe had been sent him by some kind fairy,
and he took care not to neglect such a precious gift. He collected all
his savings, and, concealed by the darkness of the night, he passed
through the gates of Alexandria.

The new prince excited a good deal of curiosity where ever he went, for
his splendid robe and majestic manner did not seem quite suitable to a
person travelling on foot. If anyone asked questions, he only replied
with an important air of mystery that he had his own reasons for not
riding.

However, he soon found out that walking made him ridiculous, so at last
he bought a quiet, steady old horse, which he managed to get cheap.

One day, as he was ambling along upon Murva (that was the horse's name),
a horseman overtook him and asked leave to join him, so that they might
both beguile the journey with pleasant talk. The newcomer was a bright,
cheerful, good-looking young man, who soon plunged into conversation and
asked many questions. He told Labakan that his own name was Omar, that
he was a nephew of Elfi Bey, and was travelling in order to carry out a
command given him by his uncle on his death bed. Labakan was not quite
so open in his confidences, but hinted that he too was of noble birth
and was travelling for pleasure.

The two young men took a fancy to each other and rode on together. On
the second day of their journey Labakan questioned Omar as to the orders
he had to carry out, and to his surprise heard this tale.

Elfi Bey, Pacha of Cairo, had brought up Omar from his earliest
childhood, and the boy had never known his parents. On his deathbed Elfi
Bey called Omar to him, and then told him that he was not his nephew,
but the son of a great king, who, having been warned of coming dangers
by his astrologers, had sent the young prince away and made a vow not to
see him till his twenty-second birthday.

Elfi Bey did not tell Omar his father's name, but expressly desired him
to be at a great pillar four days' journey east of Alexandria on the
fourth day of the coming month, on which day he would be twenty-two
years old. Here he would meet some men, to whom he was to hand a dagger
which Elfi Bey gave him, and to say 'Here am I for whom you seek.'

If they answered: 'Praised be the Prophet who has preserved you,' he was
to follow them, and they would take him to his father.

Labakan was greatly surprised and interested by this story, but after
hearing it he could not help looking on Prince Omar with envious eyes,
angry that his friend should have the position he himself longed so much
for. He began to make comparisons between the prince and himself, and
was obliged to confess that he was a fine-looking young man with very
good manners and a pleasant expression.

At the same time, he felt sure that had he been in the prince's place
any royal father might have been glad to own him.

These thoughts haunted him all day, and he dreamt them all night. He
woke very early, and as he saw Omar sleeping quietly, with a happy smile
on his face, a wish arose in his mind to take by force or by cunning the
things which an unkind fate had denied him.

The dagger which was to act as a passport was sticking in Omar's girdle.
Labakan drew it gently out, and hesitated for a moment whether or not to
plunge it into the heart of the sleeping prince. However, he shrank from
the idea of murder, so he contented himself with placing the dagger in
his own belt, and, saddling Omar's swift horse for himself, was many
miles away before the prince woke up to realise his losses.

For two days Labakan rode on steadily, fearing lest, after all, Omar
might reach the meeting place before him. At the end of the second day
he saw the great pillar at a distance. It stood on a little hill in
the middle of a plain, and could be seen a very long way off. Labakan's
heart beat fast at the sight. Though he had had some time in which to
think over the part he meant to play his conscience made him rather
uneasy. However, the thought that he must certainly have been born to be
a king supported him, and he bravely rode on.

The neighbourhood was quite bare and desert, and it was a good thing
that the new prince had brought food for some time with him, as two days
were still wanting till the appointed time.

Towards the middle of the next day he saw a long procession of horses
and camels coming towards him. It halted at the bottom of the hill, and
some splendid tents were pitched. Everything looked like the escort of
some great man. Labakan made a shrewd guess that all these people had
come here on his account; but he checked his impatience, knowing that
only on the fourth day could his wishes be fulfilled.

The first rays of the rising sun woke the happy tailor. As he began to
saddle his horse and prepare to ride to the pillar, he could not help
having some remorseful thoughts of the trick he had played and the
blighted hopes of the real prince. But the die was cast, and his vanity
whispered that he was as fine looking a young man as the proudest king
might wish his son to be, and that, moreover, what had happened had
happened.

With these thoughts he summoned up all his courage sprang on his horse,
and in less than a quarter of an hour was at the foot of the hill. Here
he dismounted, tied the horse to a bush, and, drawing out Prince Omar's
dagger climbed up the hill.

At the foot of the pillar stood six men round a tall and stately person.
His superb robe of cloth of gold was girt round him by a white cashmere
shawl, and his white, richly jewelled turban showed that he was a man of
wealth and high rank.

Labakan went straight up to him, and, bending low, handed him the
dagger, saying: 'Here am I whom you seek.'

'Praised be the Prophet who has preserved you! replied the old man with
tears of joy. 'Embrace me, my dear son Omar!'

The proud tailor was deeply moved by these solemn words, and with
mingled shame and joy sank into the old king's arms.

But his happiness was not long unclouded. As he raised his head he saw a
horseman who seemed trying to urge a tired or unwilling horse across the
plain.

Only too soon Labakan recognised his own old horse, Murva, and the real
Prince Omar, but having once told a lie he made up his mind not to own
his deceit.

At last the horseman reached the foot of the hill. Here he flung himself
from the saddle and hurried up to the pillar.

'Stop!' he cried, 'whoever you may be, and do not let a disgraceful
impostor take you in. My name is Omar, and let no one attempt to rob me
of it.'

This turn of affairs threw the standers-by into great surprise. The old
king in particular seemed much moved as he looked from one face to the
other. At last Labakan spoke with forced calmness, 'Most gracious lord
and father, do not let yourself be deceived by this man. As far as I
know, he is a half-crazy tailor's apprentice from Alexandria, called
Labakan, who really deserves more pity than anger.'

These words infuriated the prince. Foaming with rage, he tried to press
towards Labakan, but the attendants threw themselves upon him and held
him fast, whilst the king said, 'Truly, my dear son, the poor fellow is
quite mad. Let him be bound and placed on a dromedary. Perhaps we may be
able to get some help for him.'

The prince's first rage was over, and with tears he cried to the king,
'My heart tells me that you are my father, and in my mother's name I
entreat you to hear me.'

'Oh! heaven forbid!' was the reply. 'He is talking nonsense again. How
can the poor man have got such notions into his head?'

With these words the king took Labakan's arm to support him down the
hill. They both mounted richly caparisoned horses and rode across the
plain at the head of their followers.

The unlucky prince was tied hand and foot, and fastened on a dromedary,
a guard riding on either side and keeping a sharp look-out on him.

The old king was Sached, Sultan of the Wachabites. For many years he
had had no children, but at length the son he had so long wished for
was born. But the sooth-sayers and magicians whom he consulted as to the
child's future all said that until he was twenty-two years old he stood
in danger of being injured by an enemy. So, to make all safe, the sultan
had confided the prince to his trusty friend Elfi Bey, and deprived
himself of the happiness of seeing him for twenty-two years. All this
the sultan told Labakan, and was much pleased by his appearance and
dignified manner.

When they reached their own country they were received with every
sign of joy, for the news of the prince's safe return had spread
like wildfire, and every town and village was decorated, whilst the
inhabitants thronged to greet them with cries of joy and thankfulness.
All this filled Labakan's proud heart with rapture, whilst the
unfortunate Omar followed in silent rage and despair.

At length they arrived in the capital, where the public rejoicings were
grander and more brilliant than anywhere else. The queen awaited them
in the great hall of the palace, surrounded by her entire court. It was
getting dark, and hundreds of coloured hanging lamps were lit to turn
night into day.

The brightest hung round the throne on which the queen sat, and which
stood above four steps of pure gold inlaid with great amethysts. The
four greatest nobles in the kingdom held a canopy of crimson silk over
the queen, and the Sheik of Medina fanned her with a peacock-feather
fan.

In this state she awaited her husband and her son. She, too, had not
seen Omar since his birth, but so many dreams had shown her what he
would look like that she felt she would know him among a thousand.

And now the sound of trumpets and drums and of shouts and cheers outside
announced the long looked for moment. The doors flew open, and between
rows of low-bending courtiers and servants the king approached the
throne, leading his pretended son by the hand.

'Here,' said he, 'is he for whom you have been longing so many years.'

But the queen interrupted him, 'That is not my son!' she cried. 'That is
not the face the Prophet has shown me in my dreams!'

Just as the king was about to reason with her, the door was thrown
violently open, and Prince Omar rushed in, followed by his keepers,
whom he had managed to get away from. He flung himself down before the
throne, panting out, 'Here will I die; kill me at once, cruel father,
for I cannot bear this shame any longer.'

Everyone pressed round the unhappy man, and the guards were about to
seize him, when the queen, who at first was dumb with surprise, sprang
up from her throne.

'Hold!' cried she. 'This and no other is the right one; this is the one
whom my eyes have never yet seen, but whom my heart recognises.'

The guards had stepped back, but the king called to them in a furious
voice to secure the madman.

'It is I who must judge,' he said in tones of command; 'and this matter
cannot be decided by women's dreams, but by certain unmistakable signs.
This one' (pointing to Labakan) 'is my son, for it was he who brought me
the token from my friend Elfi--the dagger.'

'He stole it from me,' shrieked Omar; 'he betrayed my unsuspicious
confidence.'

But the king would not listen to his son's voice, for he had always been
accustomed to depend on his own judgment. He let the unhappy Omar be
dragged from the hall, whilst he himself retired with Labakan to his
own rooms, full of anger with the queen his wife, in spite of their many
years of happy life together.

The queen, on her side, was plunged in grief, for she felt certain that
an impostor had won her husband's heart and taken the place of her real
son.

When the first shock was over she began to think how she could manage
to convince the king of his mistake. Of course it would be a difficult
matter, as the man who declared he was Omar had produced the dagger as a
token, besides talking of all sorts of things which happened when he
was a child. She called her oldest and wisest ladies about her and asked
their advice, but none of them had any to give. At last one very clever
old woman said: 'Did not the young man who brought the dagger call him
whom your majesty believes to be your son Labakan, and say he was a
crazy tailor?'

'Yes,' replied the queen; 'but what of that?'

'Might it not be,' said the old lady, 'that the impostor has called
your real son by his own name? If this should be the case, I know of a
capital way to find out the truth.'

And she whispered some words to the queen, who seemed much pleased, and
went off at once to see the king.

Now the queen was a very wise woman, so she pretended to think she might
have made a mistake, and only begged to be allowed to put a test to the
two young men to prove which was the real prince.

The king, who was feeling much ashamed of the rage he had been in with
his dear wife, consented at once, and she said: 'No doubt others would
make them ride or shoot, or something of that sort, but every one learns
these things. I wish to set them a task which requires sharp wits and
clever hands, and I want them to try which of them can best make a
kaftan and pair of trousers.'

The king laughed. 'No, no, that will never do. Do you suppose my son
would compete with that crazy tailor as to which could make the best
clothes? Oh, dear, no, that won't do at all.'

But the queen claimed his promise, and as he was a man of his word the
king gave in at last. He went to his son and begged that he would humour
his mother, who had set her heart on his making a kaftan.

The worthy Labakan laughed to himself. 'If that is all she wants,'
thought he, 'her majesty will soon be pleased to own me.'

Two rooms were prepared, with pieces of material, scissors, needles and
threads, and each young man was shut up in one of them.

The king felt rather curious as to what sort of garment his son would
make, and the queen, too, was very anxious as to the result of her
experiment.

On the third day they sent for the two young men and their work. Labakan
came first and spread out his kaftan before the eyes of the astonished
king. 'See, father,' he said; 'see, my honoured mother, if this is not a
masterpiece of work. I'll bet the court tailor himself cannot do better.

The queen smiled and turned to Omar: 'And what have you done, my son?'

Impatiently he threw the stuff and scissors down on the floor. 'I have
been taught how to manage a horse, to draw a sword, and to throw a lance
some sixty paces, but I never learnt to sew, and such a thing would have
been thought beneath the notice of the pupil of Elfi Bey, the ruler of
Cairo.'

'Ah, true son of your father,' cried the queen; 'if only I might embrace
you and call you son! Forgive me, my lord and husband,' she added,
turning to the king, 'for trying to find out the truth in this way.
Do you not see yourself now which is the prince and which the tailor?
Certainly this kaftan is a very fine one, but I should like to know what
master taught this young man how to make clothes.'

The king sat deep in thought, looking now at his wife and now at
Labakan, who was doing his best to hide his vexation at his own
stupidity. At last the king said: 'Even this trial does not satisfy me;
but happily I know of a sure way to discover whether or not I have been
deceived.'

He ordered his swiftest horse to be saddled, mounted, and rode off alone
into a forest at some little distance. Here lived a kindly fairy called
Adolzaide, who had often helped the kings of his race with her good
advice, and to her he betook himself.

In the middle of the forest was a wide open space surrounded by great
cedar trees, and this was supposed to be the fairy's favourite spot.
When the king reached this place he dismounted, tied his horse to the
tree, and standing in the middle of the open place said: 'If it is true
that you have helped my ancestors in their time of need, do not despise
their descendant, but give me counsel, for that of men has failed me.'

He had hardly finished speaking when one of the cedar trees opened, and
a veiled figure all dressed in white stepped from it.

'I know your errand, King Sached,' she said; 'it is an honest one, and
I will give you my help. Take these two little boxes and let the two
men who claim to be your son choose between them. I know that the real
prince will make no mistake.'

She then handed him two little boxes made of ivory set with gold and
pearls. On the lid of each (which the king vainly tried to open) was an
inscription in diamonds. On one stood the words 'Honour and Glory,' and
on the other 'Wealth and Happiness.'

'It would be a hard choice,' thought the king as he rode home.

He lost no time in sending for the queen and for all his court, and when
all were assembled he made a sign, and Labakan was led in. With a proud
air he walked up to the throne, and kneeling down, asked:

'What does my lord and father command?'

The king replied: 'My son, doubts have been thrown on your claim to that
name. One of these boxes contains the proofs of your birth. Choose for
yourself. No doubt you will choose right.'

He then pointed to the ivory boxes, which were placed on two little
tables near the throne.

Labakan rose and looked at the boxes. He thought for some minutes, and
then said: 'My honoured father, what can be better than the happiness of
being your son, and what nobler than the riches of your love. I choose
the box with the words "Wealth and Happiness."'

'We shall see presently if you have chosen the right one. For the
present take a seat there beside the Pacha of Medina,' replied the king.

Omar was next led in, looking sad and sorrowful. He threw himself down
before the throne and asked what was the king's pleasure. The king
pointed out the two boxes to him, and he rose and went to the tables. He
carefully read the two mottoes and said: 'The last few days have shown
me how uncertain is happiness and how easily riches vanish away. Should
I lose a crown by it I make my choice of "Honour and Glory."'

He laid his hand on the box as he spoke, but the king signed to him to
wait, and ordered Labakan to come to the other table and lay his hand on
the box he had chosen.

Then the king rose from his throne, and in solemn silence all present
rose too, whilst he said: 'Open the boxes, and may Allah show us the
truth.'

The boxes were opened with the greatest ease. In the one Omar had chosen
lay a little gold crown and sceptre on a velvet cushion. In Labakan's
box was found--a large needle with some thread!

The king told the two young men to bring him their boxes. They did so.
He took the crown in his hand, and as he held it, it grew bigger and
bigger, till it was as large as a real crown. He placed it on the head
of his son Omar, kissed him on the forehead, and placed him on his right
hand. Then, turning to Labakan, he said: 'There is an old proverb, "The
cobbler sticks to his last." It seems as though you were to stick to
your needle. You have not deserved any mercy, but I cannot be harsh on
this day. I give you your life, but I advise you to leave this country
as fast as you can.'

Full of shame, the unlucky tailor could not answer. He flung himself
down before Omar, and with tears in his eyes asked: 'Can you forgive me,
prince?'

'Go in peace,' said Omar as he raised him.

'Oh, my true son!' cried the king as he clasped the prince in his arms,
whilst all the pachas and emirs shouted, 'Long live Prince Omar!'

In the midst of all the noise and rejoicing Labakan slipped off with his
little box under his arm. He went to the stables, saddled his old horse,
Murva, and rode out of the gate towards Alexandria. Nothing but the
ivory box with its diamond motto was left to show him that the last few
weeks had not been a dream.

When he reached Alexandria he rode up to his old master's door. When he
entered the shop, his master came forward to ask what was his pleasure,
but as soon as he saw who it was he called his workmen, and they all
fell on Labakan with blows and angry words, till at last he fell, half
fainting, on a heap of old clothes.

The master then scolded him soundly about the stolen robe, but in vain
Labakan told him he had come to pay for it and offered three times its
price. They only fell to beating him again, and at last pushed him out
of the house more dead than alive.

He could do nothing but remount his horse and ride to an inn. Here he
found a quiet place in which to rest his bruised and battered limbs and
to think over his many misfortunes. He fell asleep fully determined to
give up trying to be great, but to lead the life of an honest workman.

Next morning he set to work to fulfil his good resolutions. He sold his
little box to a jeweller for a good price, bought a house and opened a
workshop. Then he hung up a sign with, 'Labakan, Tailor,' over his door,
and sat down to mend his own torn clothes with the very needle which had
been in the ivory box.

After a while he was called away, and when he went back to his work he
found a wonderful thing had happened! The needle was sewing away all by
itself and making the neatest little stitches, such as Labakan had never
been able to make even at his best.

Certainly even the smallest gift of a kind fairy is of great value, and
this one had yet another advantage, for the thread never came to an end,
however much the needle sewed.

Labakan soon got plenty of customers. He used to cut out the clothes,
make the first stitch with the magic needle, and then leave it to do the
rest. Before long the whole town went to him, for his work was both so
good and so cheap. The only puzzle was how he could do so much, working
all alone, and also why he worked with closed doors.

And so the promise on the ivory box of 'Wealth and Happiness' came true
for him, and when he heard of all the brave doings of Prince Omar, who
was the pride and darling of his people and the terror of his enemies,
the ex-prince thought to himself, 'After all, I am better off as a
tailor, for "Honour and Glory" are apt to be very dangerous things.'





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