"The Singing Tailor of Nevermindwhere"
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Author of Speedy in Oz, "The Wizard of Pumperdink", "King, King! Double King!", etc.
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, December 2, 1917 - January 13, 1918.
Nevermindwhere is a Kingdom lying SO many miles east of Fancy and west of Facts, having a King, Queen, and all other public inconveniences including taxes. And ONCE, miles and miles ago, there came a tailor to Nevermindwhere. With such magnificence did he roll into the King's city that none had taken him for a tailor had he not immediately sent his servant to inquire for a shop fit for sewing and such.
The King, thinking from the elegant carriage and liveried outriders that some mighty potentate was about to visit him, had set out to welcome the stranger, but hearing JUST in time of the sewing shop, ordered the royal coach to turn, which it did with such abruptness that the Chief Prime Minister rolled into the dust.
Ah! 'twas ill luck to be a tailor in those days, and a more down-trodden, meek-mannered despised lot of men were not to be found upon the face of the earth--'twas the fashion to despise 'em. Indeed there was a pretty little custom among the gentry of collecting unpaid tailor bills--some even went so far as to have them made into books with comical verses noted upon them. So you can imagine the indignation of the King.
And "Such airs!" sniffed the Princess of Nevermindwhere who was riding beside her father. "But is he not HANDSOME?" she murmured to herself.
"A tailor, a rogue of a tailor!" fumed the King. "An arrogant knave who must be set in his place!"
"Quite right, your Majesty!" puffed the Prime Minister, climbing into the coach (royal etiquette forbade his mentioning his burises). " A MOST arrogant knave; whoever heard of a tailor riding in his own CARRIAGE? 'Tis an insult to your highness."
Well, dear knows WHAT it was not!
Back to the castle whirled the King's coach in a bluster of indignation and a whirl of dust, neither of which escaped the stranger. He sneezed violently, but said nothing excepting, "SHE is the one!" A wise fellow this tailor, one who could see beyond the point of his needle, I warrant!
That evening after he had got him a cheery house and garden, with cozy stables for his horses and tidy lodgings for his servants and a long, sunny parlor for his shop, he hung out his sign; "JERRY JAN, Tailor-man." Then, seating himself beneath it and tipping his chair against the wall, he began to sing:
"Thimbles and shears,
Beeswax and thread;
Oh, a tailor's a failure
Who can't earn his bread!
Sing HO for a tailor,
Sing Hey for his trade,
For the coats and the breeches
And men he has made!"
So fresh and clear was his voice, and so rollicking his song, that several folk who were passing stopped to listen. And a strange thing it was truly, a tailor singing, for if tailors did any singing or whistling in those days 'twas for their bills and naught else! The crowd increased and an elderly personage in a velvet cloak put on his spectacles and peered first up at the sign and then down at the merry lad who was trilling like a lark.
"Well, did one ever hear the like before!" laughed he in his cracked voice. "A TAILOR making a man! Ho, ho, haha! Know'st thou not, foolish one, that it takes NINE tailors to make a man!"
"Ho, ho, haha!" jeered the crowd. "Nine tailors to make a man!"
"HAH!" quoth Jerry Jan. Down came his chair with a thump, and the crowd, which dearly loved a controversy, grew silent to see what would happen. For a moment nothing happened. Then, in a voice so shrill that it fairly set one's teeth on edge, piped Jerry:
"It IS the tailor makes the man,
And MAN that makes the tailor,
Just as the canvas makes the sail,
And sailing makes the sailor."
Before they had recovered enough to close their mouths which had fallen open at such temerity in a tailor, Jerry rose and swept them a deep bow. "Good evening, Simpletons!" said Jerry, and turning his back upon them went into his shop and sat down.
"WELL given, by my iron hammer!" roared a brawny blacksmith in the crowd. "That lad's no spineless stitcher." There was such laughing and joking among the common folks that the cloaked gentleman took himself off in a huff. As for Jerry he got out some work and sang more gaily than ever--
"Thimbles and shears,
Beeswax and thread,
Oh a tailor's a failure
Who can't make his bread!"
But scarce had he started the second verse before three figures slunk into the shop. They whispered together for a minute, then the shortest and crookedest shuffled forward. "Sing ho for a tailor, sing HO for his trade! Ha, ha! good joke!" he wheezed scornfully.
"Best take thaself back from where tha came from!" croaked the second stepping forward. "Rob us of the bread we eat, would ye? With your fine shop and pert ways! We heard---we heard all about YOU!"
"A NICE mess you've made of it!" choked the third, thrusting his head close to Jerry. "Like as not we'll all go to prison for your impudence; like as not!" Whe-w, how they scolded, these crooked little men, their voices growing shriller and shriller and Jerry Jan working away all the while, as calm as a hitching post in a storm. Well, when they had said all they could think of, and a good bit tyhat they hadn't thought they could think of, Jerry yawned and stretched, then went and rang a bell. In bobbed a little serving maid. Without so much as a nod from her master she took the visitors' hats and shabby cloaks, drew up a table and in just no time at all had brought cake and wine and all manner of good things to eat.
"Ha-h!" chuckled Jerry, rubbing his hands, and next (to this day those tailors cannot imagine how it happened) they were seated about the table chatting away as pleasantly as friends at a birthday feast. And not until the town clock struck ten, did Jerry refer to his guest's unpleasant entrance and only then to inquire the name of the fine gentleman whom he had offended. Immediately the three tailors grew fidgety. Exchanging uneasy glances they explained how they had come to warn him against the wrath of My Lord of Toppertush.
"Just as one man to another, now, tha should'na have spoken so!" protested the second tailor, shaking his head solemnly.
"A TERRIBLE fellow, with power enough at court to make a man smart!" asserted the third.
"Did'st see his velvet cloak?--the price has been owing me this twelve month, and NOW, NOW he'll never pay it!" whimpered the first, growing excited again. Whereupon Jerry lost his temper and harangued them fiercely for their cravenness. Yes--he had seen the cloak--and to his way of thinking his Lordship had more velvet on his back than on his tongue, which he'd a mind to tell him next time they met.
"Why, there's a s much art in a needle as in a painter's brush, as much skill in handling a tape measure as in handling a violin bow. Exalt your trade!" cried Jerry Jan. He shook his finger under their astonished noses. Were they MEN, he would like to know, or mice. "Put starch in your collars and yardsticks down your backs and buckram in your knees if need be and ye'll pass for men yet!" Taken aback by such violence of speech and views the three tailors made for the door, which, as they leaned upon for support, burst open and tumbled them into the street. "Best break your backs working than bowing!" called Jerry Jan, appearing in the doorway with a lantern. Much shaken the three arose, much mystified, and pondering upon these words they departed.
Meanwhile My Lord of Toppertush had returned to Court tingling with resentment at what he was pleased to call a tailor's impudence. With eloquent little shrugs and raisings of the eyebrow he told his story, and the court ladies and gentlemen, the King and Queen and the Princess listened breathlessly, throwing up their hands in horror and emitting little cries of astonishment at the boldness of that wretched tailor. They talked of his arrival, his servants, his shop--indeed the evening was spent in discussion of him. And the curiosity of those who had not witnessed his arrival was aroused to such a pitch that they could scarcely contain themselves until morning. As for My Lord of Toppertush, striding up and down, he vowed to show the creature his place, while the King, applauding these sentiments, resolved to have a closer look at the fellow.
So it happened that next day a perfect stream of silk and satin-clad visitors passed in and out of the new tailor's shop. The street was so crowded with coaches, carriages, high stepping mounts, with grooms and footmen, that the tradesmen could not get through at all and were obliged to leave their carts in another street and come on foot with their wares. Seated at a low table Jerry went on with his stitching, nodding pleasantly to his guests and choosing not to notice the rudeness of their remarks nor the impertinence of their stares. Suddenly trumpets sounded, there was a great commotion in the doorway and the KING--the King himself--had entered the shop. After him minced My Lord of Toppertush supporting the Princess. Immediately a hush fell upon the company, every one curtseying and stepping aside. Staring from left to right, and secretly much impressed by the magnificence of the shop, his Majesty approached. Jerry arose, and bowing--though not TOO low--wished his Highness good morning!
Looking through Jerry as though he had been a window pane, the King said he was minded to have a new cloak. "Well enough!" thought Jerry to himself, and scarce had the words left his Majesty's lips before he had whipped off his cloak, then his crown, pulled out his measure and had begun measuring away for dear life jerking the King this way and that. And there stood the King, uncrowned and uncoated, just as he was, a rather fat old man, presenting such a comical appearance that several of the Courtiers tittered openly, instantly recovering themselves however. Before his Majesty, fairly puffing with indignation, had time to speak a word, Jerry had finished, jotted the measurements in his book, whisked the King's robe about his shoulders, set the crown (a little to one side it must be admitted) upon his head, and was actually bowing the royal party toward the door.
The Princess' eyes grew round as saucers. She gasped, dropped her handkerchief, and tripped over her train. My Lord of Toppertush was purple with fury. Matters were not progressing at all as he had planned. Determined not to be outdone by the fellow's cleverness he pulled off his cloak and, with a glance of such hatred that 'tis a wonder Jerry did not crinkle up upon the spot, strode forward saying that HE also would have a cloak. In less time and with even less ceremony Jerry took his measurements, snapped his book shut, gave a curt bow and returned to his stitching. The strange tailor had proved more curious even than they had imagined. With little clucks of astonishment, with whispers and shrugs, the courtiers followed the royal party from the shop.
The three tailors had witnessed the whole proceeding, for unable to overcome their curiosity they had peeped in the window. Shaking their heads dubiously, but not altogether disapproving, they returned to their benches.
Now came a wonderfully busy season for Jerry Jan. From morning till night his shop was a-bustle. He and all his helpers worked away for dear life and still had a time to keep up with the orders that came pouring in. Crooks, Stitchem and Rowley, the three other tailors of Nevermindwhere, were kept hustling with orders passed over to them. For you see, all the courtiers, following the King's example, had come to be fitted out in new cloaks and breeches, and from the nods and winks and knowing glances they exchanged whenever they met, I cannot help thinking that all was not well. But, be that as it may, the work went forward.
Honest trade folk, attracted by Jerry's prices, came too; the blacksmith himself ordered a Sunday coat with iron buttons. The busier he grew, the cheerier waxed the new tailor of Nevermindwhere. Above the snipping and whirring in the shop rose his merry voice, and so popular did his songs become that they spread from one end of the Kingdom to the other.
"We need the merchants and the sailors,
But more than all we need the tailors!"
hummed the housewives over their work, and even the courtiers whistled the air of "A tailor's a failure who can't earn his bread," though when it came to the King's ears 'twas promptly hushed up. If it were clear, the neighbors fell into the habit of dropping over to sit on Jerry's step in the evenings, and if it were stormy Jerry kindled a fire in his shop and entertained them there, and his stories were so interesting, his refreshments so bountiful and his advice so good that he became a great favorite among them.
As for Crooks, Stitchem and Rowley, they were new men, copying Jerry in everything and acquiring a dignity that sat upon them as oddly as peacocks' tails upon hens. But WHY, considering the insolence of those wretched courtiers, did Jerry when he was alone keep fingering a certain little handkerchief that he always carried next to his heart? And WHY, considering the insolence of that wretched tailor, did the Princess discover so many errands in the neighborhood of Jerry's shop? Indeed, scarce a day passed that the royal carriage did not rattle down the street, at which times she was careful to bestow one of her most scornful glances upon that miserable tailor.
Well, well, however that may be, it chanced that the King's cloak, My Lord of Toppertush's cloak, the breeches, vests, satin waistcoats, and such, ordered by the courtiers were finished upon the same day. Accordingly Jerry's footman buttoned up his purple coat, mounted the box of Jerry's handsome carriage, and drove off to the palace. Having delivered each gay box to its still gayer owner the footman bowed, again mounted his box, folded the tails of his coat under and drove clippety, clop, clop, CLOP back again.
But hardly had he unharnessed the horses before a great procession began to wind into the street--why, one would have thought 'twas a pageant or a carnival day from its length and brilliance. The King's coach led off and after it came all the other court equipages. And surely something wonderfully comical had happened, for the silken-clad Ladies and Gentlemen lay back on their pillows, convulsed with merriment. The loud "ha-ha"s and general confusion brought Jerry to the window and, seeing they were headed in his direction, he bade his footman open the doors, after which he returned to the blacksmith whom he chanced to be fitting.
What next occurred you will scarce believe, but upon my word 'tis true. Tumbling from their carriages in most unroyal fashion the King and the courtiers rushed into Jerry's shop each waving the pink paper bills they had received from Jerry. Knocking over chairs and jostling the workers they pushed forward, and at a signal from My Lord of Toppertush, who stood on a chair the better to be seen, each tore his pink bill into a thousand bits so that the pieces came fluttering down upon Jerry in a regular pink snowstorm.
"Scissors and shears,
Ruffles and frills,
A fig for all tailors,
A FIG for their bills!"
crackled old Toppertush delightedly, and before Jerry could raise a finger they had swept out of the shop.
The blacksmith, who had witnessed this proceeding open-mouthd, was the first to recover. Swinging his iron hammer, which he never left behind him, he was for putting after them and breaking a few royal heads, which Jerry only prevented by clinging to his coattails. Crooks, Stitchem and Rowley, who had run in at the first excitement, now set up a piteous whining, declaring that NOW Jerry had INDEED ruined them and himself besides. The blacksmith, cheated out of his first revenge, seized the three little men and shook them till their teeth chattered, whereat his feelings, in a measure relieved, he flung out of the shop muttering darkly of silk-coated scalawags.
By this time Jerry had recovered and began calling orders in such a rate that everyone was on the jump to keep up with them. And all the while he was working he was saying over and over, "Did she come to mock me, or did she not? Did she come to mock me, or did she not?"
And the Princess, who had gone as she declared to her Ladies, to put that wretched tailor in his place, was walking up and down her golden salon wringing her hands. "Oh, WHY did I go! Why did I go!" she moaned over and over. All of which is a pretty how-de-do, if I may be permitted to say so.
That night, when the courtiers were sleeping soundly on their silken couches, a masked band crept through the palace, went tiptoeing through the halls and chambers, so lightly that not one wakened. Laden with many gay boxes the band made its way back to town. Jerry Jan was up even earlier than usual next day, singing as merrily as ever as he stitched up the sleeves of the blacksmith's long coat. If the workers in the shop seemed nervous and exchanged anxious glances now and then, he appeared not to notice it, and when, without warning, six guardsmen appeared in the doorway he did not even look up.
"I arrest you in the name of the KING!" boomed the first guard, striding in and placing a heavy hand on Jerry's shoulder. "Do you fetch those three other rascals!" he called over his shoulder, at which the five remaining guards disappeared, returning presently with Crooks, Stitchem and Rowley, and followed by the blacksmith waving his hammer menacingly, and by a crowd of Jerry's friends and neighbors.
And now the first guard proceeded to read a long paper accusing Jerry of all crimes in general and of being a ROGUE OF A TAILOR; in particular, of stealing one hundred and seven fine garments, which were to be immediately returned--and haling one Jerry Jan before the Grand Court of the Kingdom for trial. At this the howls of the three tailors became louder than ever. But as for Jerry himself he made no objection. Indeed, he said he was most anxious for conversation with his Majesty and the sooner he was haled the better pleased would he be. Speaking a few words aside to the blacksmith, lighting anew his long-hooked pipe, he declared hinself ready. And away they went to the palace with nigh the whole populace at their heels. All but the blacksmith. Hurrying upstairs he threw all the gay boxes out of the window into the back court. Then piling the whole upon his back he was off to his forge and soon a thick smoke began to curl upward and presently the blacksmith was himself off to the palace.
Now, according to the ancient laws of Nevermindwhere all prisoners were tried in the great stone court before the palace in the presence of all the people. By the time Jerry and the three other tailors had been thrust upon the little platform before the King, the Queen, the Princess and all the other high functionaries, the court was jammed. People stood upon the walls and climbed the trees in the garden beyond, for the story of the new tailor's misfortune had spread far and near. THUMP! went the hammer of the Lord High Accusationer and up he rose, pointing his skinny finger at Jerry. "Whereas," he wheezed, addressing the crowds, "one Jerry Jan has perpetrated villainy in every form, including insolence, arrogance, anarchy and robbery, he has been haled before this court to answer for his crimes!"
My Lord of Toppertush, who sat next to the King, rubbed his hands and chuckled in anticipation, the Princess leaned forward to get a better view of that obstinate tailor, and several titters went up from the court as Jerry, none too gently, was shoved forward by the guards.
"When he is properly humbled I will visit him in prison," murmured the Princess to herself.
"When she is properly humbled I will marry her," resolved Jerry with a sidelong glance in her direction.
"But what have you to say for yourself?" roared the King at this juncture, and Jerry, bowing politely, turned to face his Majesty stating that as the goods had not been paid for they had not been stolen, which caused no end of merriment among the Courtiers. Half rising, My Lord of Toppertush asked had one ever heard the like--a TAILOR expecting to be paid. "Why," said he, "a tailor's bill is like a bird's, which no one could collect."
"And like your own, which no one would care to," chuckled Jerry, not in the slightest perturbed.
"Oh, ha! ha! ha!" roared the King, covering his mouth (Toppertush did have a nose, though), "Ha! ha! ha!" Then, suddenly recollecting himself, he started sternly at the prisoner. "Have you no respect for the crown?" he thundered. "For the crown and what it stands for!"
As to that, said Jerry, he didn't see how it stood at all considering what was under it, which set the crowd in the court in such an uproar of laughter that it took all the guards to restore order. And before the King had recovered from his astonishment Jerry snapped his scissors in the air declaring he was a King of his trade, a King and a Maker of Kings. "Why, there's as much power in a pair of shears as in a scepter," quoth Jerry, "seeing that everything depends on the cut of a man's coat." Tilting his head on one side he caroled:
"Would you know a KING
Without his crown?
Lord High Judge
Without his gown?"
"I'd know YOU anywhere for a low, sneaking tailor," screeched My Lord of Toppertush, bouncing to his feet.
"I demand my rights as a man," cried Jerry, paying no attention to this.
"But you're NOT a man, you're a TAILOR!" jeered his Majesty, still smarting from Jerry's pun. "A tailor!"
"Both," cried Jerry, waving his shears. "A man and a tailor, and a tailor is more than a man; he is the maker of men I tell you! As important as a Doctor, a lawyer, a merchant, an artist, a very King, for he is the maker of them all!"
"Nonsense!" blustered the King.
"Treason, murder and anarchy!" screamed the Court Accusationer, pale with fury.
"Reason, justice and honesty!" cried Jerry defiantly. And what with the courtiers crying this and that and the populace below cheering and stamping there was like to be a riot. So at a word from his Highness, Jerry and the three other tailors, who had stood shivering by, were seized by the guards and dragged away to prison. At first the crowds were for interfering, but a wink from Jerry settled that, so instead they fell in behind. A trumpeter and drummer, special friends of Jerry's, forthwith set up such a tooting and banging that 'twas more like a triumphal procession than a hanging (which the guards hinted darkly 'twould come to yet).
But as his Majesty remarked shrewdly to his advisors 'twould be a waste to hang so great a rogue and so good a tailor. "A taste of prison will show him what's what," declared the King, taking a pinch of snuff. But in prison Jerry sang as gaily as a bird in a cage and was so agreeable that the turnkey and keeper of the jail could not bring themselves to be rough with him. He said the fare was excellent and the service quite satisfactory, and was so bubbling over with songs and jokes that the whole place took on a festive air. Even Crooks, Stitchem and Rowley bore up under their trials. The trumpeter and drummer marched every day to the prison and gave a concert beneath Jerry's window, and the good wives of his friends fairly showered him with delicacies, which, as he divided them with the jailors, they were in no hurry to mention to the officials.
And just about this time the Princess took to visiting a one-legged robber in the cell next to Jerry's. What delicate attentions she lavished upon the old rogue. Books and flowers and fruit appeared and the Princess read to him for hours at a time, paying of course no attention to "that wretched tailor" in the next cell. And about this time Jerry called for a needle and shears, a thimble and some thread, "for," quoth he, " 'tis a real crime to be idle." 'Twould please him therefore to undertake such tailoring as the officials of the prison might desire. The keeper of the prison, remarking to himself that there could be no harm in this and with an eye to his own interest, ordered Jerry's materials fetched, keeping a still tongue about the matter. Thus several months slipped past and away, Jerry working so steadily that soon every jailor and official in the prison had a new turn-out. And what turnouts they were! As Jerry had furnished the material, and as they had naught to say about the style, he had fashioned them after ideas of his own.
One festival day (the King's birthday) it was, when all but a few of the prison officials were off for the festivities in their new suits, the crowds awaiting the arrival of the royal party were astounded to see the King and Judges and other big-wigs strolling carelessly down the street. "The KING!" cried the little boys. "There goes the KING." Straightway the crowd fell in behind with cheers and birthday wishes. The little girls strewed their roses, and the Lord Mayor burst forthwith into his birthday speech with many brave gestures. But horrors! After the last straggler had disappeared, 'round the corner came another King! Then where was the speech of welcome, the cheering crowds, the flowers and the populace? Where indeed? Why, gone after the warden of the prison, the turnkeys and other officials, who, decked out in court attire by mischievous Jerry, might have fooled wiser men than they. And what could the King say? Had he not scouted the notion of clothes making the man? Well, well! 'twas easily remedied; the fellow should be released, for he, the King, needed some new clothes.
So next day Jerry and the three other tailors were set at liberty, and shortly the King appeared to order a robe. But, hoity toity! here was another how-de-do, for Jerry and the three other tailors said they were minded not to work for the King or any of his court. And when the King attempted to send Jerry back to prison such a howl went up from the people that he shook in his buckled shoes and decided that he'd best ignore the "impudent rascal." So posthaste a messenger was dispatched to the neighboring Kingdom of Dingby Dump and in a fortnight returned, his horse in a lather and with a thin wisp of a man bouncing up and down behind him. But they got no further than the blacksmith's, for that worthy, catching sight of a tape measure round the fellow's neck, pulled both down and administered such a drubbing to the strange tailor that, once released, he sprang upon the horse and was off at a gallop.
And so were all the tailors the King smuggled into the kingdom served. The whole populace stood shoulder to shoulder behind Jerry. They hustled the guards about roundly, and set a watch upon the borders of the kingdom so that none could leave nor enter without their consent. And worse still, the butchers and burghers and other tradesfolk began to go about their affairs dressed in Jerry's velvets and satins, till there was no telling the notables from the nobodys and there were so many in judge's gowns and courtier's cloaks that one knew not when to bow, so ended by bowing not at all; indeed the kingdom seemed suddenly gone quite mad.
The King, at his wits' end, could do nothing to remedy matters, for at the slightest hint of harm to this wretched tailor the whole populace would advance upon the castle, ready for a revolution if need be. So the King fumed and the courtiers sulked and the Princess said she was very angry with that wicked tailor. As time went on the courtiers grew shabbier and shabbier, while the common folk were fine as peacocks, for Jerry's prices were so low that anyone could afford a silk robe and flowered waistcoats. At the end of a year the court was as dull as a prison, for without new clothes what was the pleasure in festivities, pray? The court ladies did their best to keep their lords in trim, and several of the nobility tried their hand at tailoring, but with such comical results that the common folk tee-heed when they passed.
"It takes nine tailors to make a man,
The song grows stale and staler,
For how many men, aye, HOW many men
Will it take to make a tailor?"
chortled the mischievous street boys at every opportunity.
At the end of two years times were dismal indeed. The royal ladies got out their needles in earnest and, with puckered brows and pricked fingers, settled down to serious tailoring. What odd looking costumes the poor ladies achieved and what sour looking nobles were in them! Small wonder for often they ripped up if one sat down too suddenly.
And Jerry, shameless fellow, sent the Princess a gold thimble--a thimble mind you!--which she had done well to return, all things considered. But no, she must needs throw it out of the window and spend the rest of the day searching for it, and when 'twas found set it gravely upon her thumb and do remarkable things with a needle and thread upon her royal parent's court robe. She said she was sewing. And the thimble was followed by the tiniest gold shears imaginable and by a little gold work-box fitted out with tiny spools with every color silk one could think of, all of which this perverse young Princess set upon her dressing table. Just why, I cannot imagine, can you?
Not only were the poor courtiers shabby, they were lost, for, thanks to Jerry, the commonfolk dressed so richly and royally that strangers invariably did business with the wrong parties, and ended by declaring the whole kingdom quite, quite mad. Which was quite, quite true. My Lord of Toppertush slunk about wrapped in a faded blue cloak, vowing to kill that Jerry Jan, but never in Jerry's hearing.
The blacksmith strode blithely through the town clad in a royal green hunting suit, surely the handsomest creature alive, and not a few eyes followed him, mark you. For the royal maidens began to cast kindly glances upon the richly clad burghers' sons, quite ignoring the shabby dukes and lords. Was there ever such a topsy-turvy kingdom as Nevermindwhere, I wonder?
And right into the midst of this topsy-turviness dropped the thunder bolt. At least the King said it was a thunderbolt and I quite agree with his Majesty, for if an announcement that King Cedric of Torrens, the wealthiest realm for leagues about, will in ten days visit the court with the intention of marrying one's daughter, is not a thunderbolt then I know nothing about them. The King chuckled and rubbed his hands, then his face grew long, for how was he to explain that his Kingdom was being run by a rogue of a tailor, and how was he to explain his shabby court. And when he told the Princess of her good fortune the obstinate young good-for-nothing cried, which so provoked his Highness that he boxed her ears soundly and then strode furiously up and down his marble hall. And after a precious day had been wasted thus the King decided that something must be done and, though every word took a painful bite out of his pride, he penned a note to Jerry Jan requesting him to come to the palace.
Looking wonderfully hearty and handsome Jerry arrived that evening and listened most courteously to the King's explanations about King Cedric and how important it was for them all to make a good impression, what with his daughter getting on in years (she being all of nineteen), she would not have such an opportunity again. "Your Majesty said clothes were nonsense and had naught to do with making a man," observed Jerry mischievously, continuing, with a sidelong glance at the Princess, that for his part he didn't want to be the means of depriving her of a husband, that he'd once had the notion of marrying her himself, an ill-favored lass though she was, who could neither sew, bake, nor even darn a man's socks but that he'd changed his mind, and if the King would agree to his terms they might strike a bargain.
At this two tears trickled down the Princess's cheek, though I doubt if any one saw them excepting the King, who patted her on the back and whispered a few words about "never minding that insolent fellow, she would soon be married to a real King and then they'd show him what was what"--which comforting assurance threw the Princess into a violent fit of weeping; indeed, she ran out of the room sobbing as if her heart were broken into a thousand bits.
And a strange bargain it was that they made: the King on his part to send the Princess to Jerry's shop, he being short of hands, and as his Majesty had plainly shown his belief that clothes counted nothing, he was to have the two ladies-in-waiting dressed in the same manner as the Princess, for certainly King Cedric would choose correctly.
Jerry on his part was to outfit the court suitably and persuade his friends and neighbors to dress in their usual fashion. So they parted and great preparations were immediately plunged into both at shop and castle.
Every morning the Princess and her maid went down to Jerry's shop and he kept her busy, I want to assure you. What with running errands, ripping out bastings, holding brocade to be cut, she had not a minute to breathe and, whew! how he scolded, for her Highness kept dropping the scissors and forgetting orders. And the more he stormed and stamped the more, well, the more she kept forgetting.
But at last the ten days were got through with. The courtiers, clad more elegantly than ever before, were drawn up in style to welcome King Cedric, Jerry dressed as fine as any among them. And with what a blowing of trumpets and fluttering of pennants and prancing of white steeds the King clattered into Nevermindwhere. And one could not deny but that he was handsome, though there were some who declared his nose a trifle large and his eyes a trifle small. King Cedric himself was duly impressed by the magnificence of his reception, but plainly impatient to see the Princess. So there was a word to a page, a little rustle of expectation, and down the golden steps swept her Highness with her two attendants. That the three were dressed exactly alike the King seemed to notice not at all. Striding forward he took the hand--the hand of--great swords and bucklers! the hand of the first Lady-in-Waiting!!
The King sprang forward with an exclamation of dismay, but Jerry gripped him by the arm and, whispering fiercely that he was to keep his bargain, drew him back. Out of the tail of his eye Jerry watched the Princess. Up went her hand to her heart, and with such an expression of relief that he was at some pains to keep from bounding into the air for joy. Pshaw, I believe the rascally fellow has been in love with her all along. As for King Cedric, so infatuated was he with his supposed Princess that he was aware of nothing amiss and naught would do but that they be married upon the spot and she accompany him straightway to his palace. The Lady-in-Waiting smiled and blushed and said for her part she was quite willing. So within an hour the whole thing was at an end, the wedding over, the King and his bride departed, the horrified court retired to discuss the calamity, the King sunk groaning on his throne like a man with the gout, Jerry staring out one window and the Princess out another. But one could not stare out a window forever and, first making sure that the King was quite occupied with his groaning. Jerry approached the Princess.
He was sorry, he said, that things had gone so badly, he was sorry to have her so cut up about matters, and if she could ever forgive a rough, rude fellow like himself, he would try to make amends. And the Princess, assuring herself first that the King was still groaning, said, looking up with a merry twinkle, that if cutting was in a tailor's line so also was mending. And the merry twinkle kindled into something so very much kinder that Jerry, well, Jerry set about making amends at once, though not with a needle, I might mention. And how long the mending would have lasted I have no idea, had not the King stopped groaning. Whizz, whirr, went something through the air and the two dodged just in time his Majesty's crown. That seemed to bring the Princess to her senses. Walking proudly up to the King she announced crisply that she was minded to wed this tailor man, he being to her way mind a very King. If his Majesty had groaned before, he fairly roared now. What was the use of being a King, he would like to know, with an upstart tailor running his Kingdom and marrying his daughter? What good were kings anyway?
"Just what I thought myself a while back," said Jerry, taking his place beside the Princess, at the same time giving a loud whistle which had no sooner died away than a hundred feet clattered in the hallway.
Next minute in hurried a company of lords and ladies, an attendant in green rushed up and wrapped an ermine cloak about Jerry's shoulders and another set a crown upon his head. "His Majesty, King Cedric of Torrens!" announced a page in gold lace.
At the excitement all the courtiers of Nevermindwhere came flocking back. "What's this? Who's that? What's it all about?" they whispered in agitated voices, then all grew quiet, for the new King and their old tailor was speaking. "Your Majesty," said Jerry with a low bow to the King, "three years ago I entered your kingdom with the intention of marrying your daughter. Expecting to spend some months in Nevermindwhere, I brought my tailor along and had no sooner arrived than I inquired for a shop suitable for the fellow. Your reception and your insolent treatment of one whom you believed to be a tailor decided my course of action. I determined to see that justice was done all tailors and, having some knowledge of cutting and with the valuable assistance of my own tailor, succeeded, as you well know. The Princess alone was able to rise above prejudice and, in consenting to marry the unknown tailor of Nevermindwhere, has made me the happiest man alive."
"But King Cedric!" gasped the Lord Chief Justice. The King was too stupefied to utter a syllable.
"My brother Roland," explained Jerry. "Of course, from time to time I communicated to him the results of my experiment, and he, also believing that clothes were naught, swore he could pick out a real Princess no matter how she were clad, and as to that, what a joke I have played upon him."
Well, well, did one ever hear the like? The news spread from one end of the town to the other and soon the court was crowded with Jerry's old friends and neighbors. The blacksmith strode right into the courtroom and smote him a resounding whack between the shoulders, then raising his lusty voice roared:
"Thimbles and shears,
Beeswax and thread,
A tailor's a failure
Who can't earn his bread.
Sing ho for a tailor,
Sing hey for his trade;
For the coats and the breeches
And men he has made,"
the whole company joining in with a will. And all of them were invited to the wedding, nay, they had preference over the courtiers, even Crooks, Stitchem and Rowley, and if ever there was a finer feast, a happier groom or a lovelier bride, then I've never heard of them, that's all. And this was the beginning of better times for tailors in Nevermindwhere--and everywhere, for that matter.
THE FORGETFUL POET
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, December 23, 1917
A Stocking Full of Riddles
"And how are my pets?" said the Forgetful Poet, knocking the snow from his hat and standing his cane in the corner. "Do you mean the bowwows and ponies and cats in the Paws and Claws?" said I. "What nonsense!" he blustered. "I mean the lads and lassies--they are pets, aren't they?"
I hastened to agree with him, but he still rumbled crossly. "I'll have you know there are more pets that run on four legs, or two either, I'll have you know; there, I have made a puzzle without meaning to.
"How many pets are there in the dictionary?" And how many are there, my loves? Send your list to the Forgetful Poet and for the five longest there will be--?????
A country there is, sure,
That swims in the sea,
And part of the same
Is another contree!
Slapping this down upon the desk, the Forgetful Poet rushed out of the door, mumbling something about buying a stovepipe for his Uncle Jeremiah's Christmas. I must say he might have made us some more riddles, but dear knows, I suppose you're all so excited over Christmas you wouldn't have time to guess them anyway.
Last week's puzzle answers were: Limbs, lifeline, and the band of one's hat is musical, of course!
[Answers next time. This is a historical presentation of Ruth Plumly Thompson's writing. No prizes will be awarded, so don't send anything in.]
Copyright © 2005 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.
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