The Story Of The Sham Prince Or The Ambitious Tailor

: 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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


'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


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


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,


'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.'