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A Robe For The King Post by :swinnie Category :Essays Author :Heywood Broun Date :November 2011 Read :3482

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A Robe For The King

Hans Christian Andersen once wrote a story about the tailors who made a suit for a King out of a magic cloth. The quality of the cloth was such, so the tailors said, that it could be seen by nobody who was not worthy of the position he held. And so all the people at court declared that they could see the cloth and admired it greatly, but when the King went out to walk a little boy cried: "Why, he hasn't got anything on." Then everybody took up the cry, and the King rushed back to his palace, and the two tailors were banished in disgrace. Information has recently been discovered which casts new light on the story. According to this information there was only one tailor, and his adventure with the King was about as follows:

AN IMPERIAL FOOTMAN--There's a man at the gate who says he's a tailor and that he wants to see your majesty.

THE KING--Explain our constitution to him. Tell him that all bills for revenue originate in the lower House, and point out that on account of a vicious bipartisan alliance of all the traitors in the kingdom I'm kept so short of money that I can't possibly afford any new clothes.

THE IMPERIAL FOOTMAN--He didn't say anything about money, your majesty.

THE KING--Well, I won't give him a bealo down and a bealo a week either. Tell him to wait until I've got a clear title to the pianola.

THE IMPERIAL FOOTMAN--What he said was that he had a valuable gift for the most enlightened ruler in the world.

THE KING--Well, why didn't you say so in the first place? What was the use of keeping me waiting? Send him up right away. (Exit the Footman.)

THE KING (speaking in the general direction of the Leading Republican)--Fortunately, my fame rises above petty slanders. The common people, they know me and they love me.

THE LEADING REPUBLICAN--They love your simplicity, your majesty, your lack of ostentation, your tractability. (Enter the Tailor.)

THE TAILOR--I have come a far journey to see your majesty.

THE KING--I am honored.

THE TAILOR--For a long time I have been journeying to find an enlightened sovereign, a sovereign who was fitted in all respects for his high office. I stopped in Ruritania; he was not there. He was not in Pannonia or in Gamar. You are my hope, majesty.

THE KING--I trust this may indeed be the end of your journey. I think I may say that Marma is a model kingdom. As you doubtless know, the capital city is Grenoble, with a population of 145,000, according to the last census. We have modern waterworks, a library with more than 10,000 volumes, an art museum, a tannery, three cathedrals, two opera houses and numerous moving picture theaters. The principal industries, as you may recall, are salt fish, woolen blankets, pottery, dried raisins and shrapnel.

THE TAILOR--Your majesty will pardon me if I say that I don't give a fig for your raisins or your dried fish or the cathedrals, or even the library with the 10,000 volumes. What I am seeking is a man with eyes to see.

THE KING--No one has better eyes than myself, I'm sure. I have shot as many as a hundred pheasants in an afternoon, and, if you will pardon the allegorical allusion, I can see loyalty and virtue though they reside in the breast of the most distant and humble subject in my kingdom.

THE TAILOR--Perhaps, then, you can see my cloth. It is a marvelous cloth. It was one of the gifts the wise men brought to the Child. It lay across his feet in the manger. But in order that its richness should not attract the attention of Herod, the wise men decreed that the cloth should be invisible to every one who was not worthy of his station in the world. See, your majesty, and judge for yourself. (He puts his hand into the bag and brings it forth, apparently empty, although he seems to be holding up something for the King and the courtiers to admire.) Is it not a brave and gallant robe, gentlemen?

(All look intently at the hand of the tailor. There is a long silence, in which many sly glances are cast from one to another to ascertain if it is possible that somebody else sees this thing which is invisible to him. The King looks slowly to the right and slowly to the left to scan the faces of his subjects, and then he gazes straight at the Tailor in high perplexity. Of a sudden the Leading Republican pulls himself together and speaks in an assured and certain tone.)

THE LEADING REPUBLICAN--It is a magnificent robe. It is a robe for a King. It is so fine a robe that no king should wear it but our beloved monarch, Timothy the Third.

THE LEADING DEMOCRAT (very hastily)--Oh, I say, that is nice. So shiny and bright, and good serviceable stuff, too. That would make a mighty good raincoat. (Briskly) Say, now, Mr. Tailor, how would you like to form the Wonder Cloth Limited Company? You'd be president, of course, and hold thirty-three and one-third per cent of the stock, the same amount for the King, and the rest to be divided equally among my friends of the opposition here and myself.

THE TAILOR--There will never be any more of the cloth. Only a little is left. Much has been lost. It lies in lonely places, in forests, at the bottom of the sea, in city streets. I have searched the world for this cloth, and I have found no more than I could carry in this bag, a robe for the King (he holds his hand up), this square piece you see, and this long twisted piece that might be a rope. Yes, it might be a rope, for it is stronger than hemp.

THE LEADING DEMOCRAT--That robe there, as near as I can judge, should be pretty much of a fit for his majesty. He might wear it for his regular afternoon walk through the city to-day.

THE KING--Oh, I don't think I'll take my exercise to-day. There's rather a nasty bite to the air.

THE LEADING DEMOCRAT--Don't forget, you're a constitutional monarch.

THE TAILOR--If the King will wear my robe to-day I can go on with my journey to find the cloth the world has lost. Already I have found a King who can see, and it only remains to discover whether there is vision in his people, too.

THE KING (musing)--Hum! If the people can see it, hey? That's a bit of a risk now, isn't it? When I wear that robe of your magic cloth it might be a good idea to have something warm and substantial underneath. It wouldn't do to have any mistakes, you know. After all, I don't want a lot of stupid louts thinking I'm parading around in my B. V. D.'s.

THE LEADING DEMOCRAT--Does your majesty mean to suggest that the common people of Marma, from whom he derives all his just powers, are not to be trusted?

THE KING--You know I didn't mean that. Of course I trust the people. I realize perfectly well that they'd die for me and all that, but, after all, you can't be sure of everybody in a big crowd. There'll be fishwives, you know, and Socialists and highwaymen and plumbers and reporters and everything.

THE LEADING DEMOCRAT--It all gets down to this, your majesty: do you trust the people, or don't you?

THE KING--I trust them as much as you do, but I don't go to excess. I don't see any good reason why I shouldn't wear an ordinary business suit under this magic royal robe. A King can't take chances, you know. He must play it safe.

THE TAILOR--Don't say that, your majesty. You're a King, your majesty. Think of that. You mustn't tap in front of you, like a blind man with a stick. You mustn't fear to bump your head. If you hold it high, you know, there'd be nothing to fear but the stars.

THE KING--You are eloquent, O stranger from a far country, and what do you mean?

THE TAILOR--Only this: if you wear my robe you must cast off compromise and expediency.

THE KING--Oh, that's all right. I was only thinking about trousers.

THE TAILOR--They were a compromise of Adam's, your majesty.

THE KING--Quite true, but I hope you wouldn't go so far as to object to essentials. It's mesh stuff, you know, and very thin. Practically nothing at all. Just one piece. Somehow or other I don't believe I'd feel easy without it. Sort of a habit with me.

THE TAILOR--If you wear my robe you must put aside every other garment.

THE KING--But this is December.

THE TAILOR--Your majesty, the man who wears this cloth will never fear cold.

THE LEADING DEMOCRAT--It seems to me that the only question is, Does his majesty trust the people fully and completely?

THE KING--Of course I trust the people.

THE LEADING DEMOCRAT--Then why are you afraid to show yourself before them in this magnificent new robe? Is there any reason to believe that they who are the real rulers of Marma cannot see this cloth which the Tailor sees, which I see and admire so much and (pointedly) which your majesty, Timothy the Third, cannot conceivably fail to see? It would be unfortunate if it became a matter of news that your majesty did not believe in the capabilities and worthiness of the people.

THE KING--- Oh, I believe all right.

THE LEADING DEMOCRAT--Then why are you afraid?

THE KING--Give me the robe. I am not afraid. (The Tailor stoops and seems to take something out of a bag. He extends the invisible object to the King, who clumsily pretends to hang it over his arm.)

THE TAILOR--Oh, not that way, your majesty. It will wrinkle. (Painstakingly he smooths out a little air and returns it to the astonished monarch.)

THE KING (to the Leading Republican, the Leading Democrat and the two Courtiers)--You will meet me at the great gate of the palace in three minutes and accompany me on my promenade through the city. (Exit the King. The Leading Republican draws close to the first Courtier.)

LEADING REPUBLICAN--Wonderful fabric that, was it not?

FIRST COURTIER--Much the finest I have ever seen.

LEADING REPUBLICAN--Now, what shade should you say it was? It's hard to tell shades in this light, isn't it?

FIRST COURTIER--I had no trouble, sir. The robe is a bright scarlet.

LEADING REPUBLICAN--Scarlet, eh? (He moves over close to the second Courtier.)

LEADING REPUBLICAN--Wonderful fabric that we saw just now, wasn't it?

SECOND COURTIER--It was like a lake under the moonlight.


SECOND COURTIER--Yes, it was easy to see that it was a miraculous fabric. Man could never have achieved that silver green.

LEADING REPUBLICAN--Yes, it was a mighty fine color. (Raising his voice.) I think we had better join his majesty now, gentlemen, and I believe we shall have an interesting promenade. Good-by until later, Mr. Tailor.

ALL--Good-by, Mr. Tailor!

(The Tailor moves to a great window at the back of the stage and opens it. He leans out. He bows low to some one who is passing by underneath. The rattle of wagons may be heard distinctly, and the rumble of cars, with occasionally the honk of an automobile horn. Suddenly there is a noise much louder and shriller than any of these. It is the voice of a child, and it cries: "He hasn't got anything on!" Voice after voice takes up the shout. Seemingly thousands of people are shouting, "He hasn't got anything on!" Finally the shouting loses all coherence; it is just a great, ugly, angry noise. A shot breaks the glass of the window just above the Tailor's head. Quickly he protects himself from further attack in that direction by swinging two iron shutters together and fastening them. Then he locks the great door through which the King and the Courtiers have just passed.)

THE TAILOR (in sorrow and anger)--More blind men. (He moves to his bag and, dipping his hands in, raises them again to fondle an invisible something. As he is so engaged a little door at the right opens and a meanly dressed girl of about eighteen enters.)

THE TAILOR--Keep your distance. I won't be taken alive. Not until I can find some one to care for my cloth.

THE GIRL FROM THE KITCHEN--Oh, please, don't hurt me, mister. I just ran up here because there were soldiers down in the garden, and shooting and things.

THE TAILOR--Who are you?

THE GIRL FROM THE KITCHEN--I'm the sixth assistant helper of the cook.

THE TAILOR--The sixth?

THE GIRL FROM THE KITCHEN--Yes, I clean the butter plates.

THE TAILOR--And that's all you do? Just clean butter plates? How terrible!

THE GIRL FROM THE KITCHEN--But it isn't. The cook says I'm the best butter dish cleaner in the world. I like butter. I like to touch it. There's no color in the world so beautiful. It's like that bit of cloth you have in your hands.

THE TAILOR--You see the cloth?

THE GIRL FROM THE KITCHEN--Of course I see it. Why, it's right there in your hands. And it's yellow like the butter.

THE TAILOR--Or gold. (He reaches into the bag again.) And what's this? (He holds his right hand high above his head.)

THE GIRL FROM THE KITCHEN--Why, it's a yellow rope.

THE TAILOR--Yes, that's it, a rope. I'm going to give you the other piece of cloth now, and later the rope, too. You must guard it as carefully, as carefully as you would watch one of your butter dishes. Do you understand?

THE GIRL--I wouldn't lose it. It's pretty.

THE TAILOR--Yes, it's pretty and the world mustn't lose it. You will find that most people can't see. I know only two, you and I, but there must be others. That's your task now, finding people who can see the cloth and cleaning butter plates, of course. (There is a loud pounding on the great door and a shout of "Open, in the King's name!" The knocking increases in violence and the command is repeated. Then men begin to swing against the door with heavy bars and hatchets.)

THE TAILOR--Here (he makes a gesture toward the girl), take the cloth. Go quickly to the kitchen. Then come back in a moment and save the rope, too.

THE GIRL FROM THE KITCHEN--But what do they want?

THE TAILOR--They want to kill me.


THE TAILOR--They won't if you get out and leave me alone. Here, hurry. (He half pushes her out the little door. Then he returns to the bag and seems to pull out something. He looks to the ceiling and finds a hook fairly in the middle of it. He moves his hand upward as if tossing something, and goes through the motions of tying a knot around his neck. Then the Tailor takes a chair and moves it to the center of the room. He stands upon it. The violent assault upon the door begins with renewed vigor. Some of the axes bite through the wood. The Tailor steps off the chair and dangles in the air. He floats in space, like a man in a magic trick, but one or two in the audience, dramatic critics, perhaps, or scullery maids, may see that round his neck and fastened to the hook in the ceiling is a yellow rope.)


(The end)
Heywood Broun's essay: Robe For The King

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