The King of Macronia, who was experiencing the best years of his life, had just gotten out of bed and was sitting,
still undressed, on a chair beside it. Before him stood his butler handing him his stockings, one of which had a
gaping hole in the heel. But although the stocking was turned in such a way that the king should not see it, and
although the king had more concern for smart boots than for intact stockings, the king could not help but notice
the hole. In his amazement he took the stocking from the butler's hand, pushed his finger the whole way through
so that one could see his knuckle, and said with a sigh:
"What good is it to be a king if I am without a queen! How would it be if I took a wife?"
"Your Majesty", answered the Minister, "that is a grand idea; an idea that would certainly have come from my
humble person had I not felt for sure that Your Majesty would have proposed it anyway today!"
"Well and good!" replied the king, "but do you think that I will have a have a hard time to find a wife who suits
"Pshaw!" said the Minister. "Ten to one!"
"Do not forget that I am very demanding. If a princess is to find my favor she must be beautiful and intelligent!
And there is still another requirement that has great meaning for me: you know how I like gingerbread biscuits. In
all my kingdom there is no one who knows how to make them, that is, to bake them the right way, not too hard
and not too soft, but just crispy enough: she must be fully capable of baking gingerbread biscuits just like that!"
When the minister heard these conditions he was shocked. But he pulled himself together quickly and answered:
"A king like yourself will certainly be able to find a princess who knows how to bake gingerbread biscuits."
"And now let us start looking!" added the king. And on that same day he set out on his rounds accompanied by
his minister to visit his many neighbors whom he knew had marriageable princesses. But they found only three
who were at the same time beautiful and intelligent enough to please the king, but of these there was not one
who could bake gingerbread biscuits.
"I cannot bake gingerbread biscuits," said the first princess when the king asked, "but I can make nice little almond
cakes. Would you be satisfied with them?
"No!" answered the king, "It has to be gingerbread biscuits and nothing other!"
"The second princess, when asked, clicked her tongue and answered angrily: "Stay away with your silly demands!
You will not find a princess who can bake gingerbread biscuits."
It was even worse when the king asked the third one, even though she was the most beautiful and most
intelligent of all. For she would not even allow him to pose his question for before he had the chance to, she
herself asked him if he knew how to play the Jew's harp. And when he answered in the negative she rejected his
proposal and said how sorry she was. In all other respects she liked him very much; but she loved to hear the
Jew's harp and resolved not to marry a man who could not play it.
On arriving back at the castle when the king together with his minister and was getting out of his carriage he said
right dejectedly: "What a waste of time!"
But, without question, a king must have a wife, so after waiting for a while he called for his minister once again
and told him that he had given up his attempts to find a wife who could bake gingerbread biscuits and agreed to
marry the princess they had visited first. "She is the one who knows how to make little almond cakes," he added.
"Go and ask her if she would like to be my wife."
The next day the minister came back and reported that the princess was no longer available. She had married the
king from the land where the caper buds grow.
"Then go to the second princess!" And again the minister came back empty-handed: Her father, the old king, had
said that he regretted it to no end, but his daughter had died and so he could not present her.
After the king had given the matter much thought, and because he was intent on marrying a queen, he ordered
the minister to go to the third princess. Perhaps she had changed her mind. And the minister had to obey, even
though he did not care to go. And his own wife had said that nothing would come of it. The king awaited his
return with trepidation. For he could not forget her question about the Jew's harp, and he was annoyed every
time he thought of that.
However, the third princess received the minister cordially and told him that it was her set intention to marry a
man who could play the Jew's harp. But dreams are like foam, and especially the dreams of a young girl! She came
to realize that her wish could not be fulfilled, and since the king had thoroughly pleased her in every other respect,
she would deign to take him as her husband.
The minister galloped back to the castle at full speed where the king received him and conferred on him the Royal
Medal of Honor with various other privileges for what he had achieved. Colorful flags were hung throughout the
town, festoons were draped from house to house and stretched across the streets, and the wedding was
celebrated with such opulence that the townsfolk spoke of nothing else for a fortnight.
After that the king and the young queen lived the high life for a full year. The king had completely forgotten the
gingerbread biscuits and the queen the Jew's harp.
One day however the king arose early, getting out of bed on the wrong foot, and everything went awry. It rained
all that day; the symbol of the globe fell to the ground and the little cross atop it broke off. Then the court painter
came and brought the new map of the kingdom and when the king looked at it he saw the land was painted red
instead of blue as he had ordered; and to make things worse, the queen had a headache.
It so it happened for the first time that the royal couple quarreled. On the following morning they did not know
why they were so upset, and if they did, they did not want to talk about it. In short, the king was cranky and the
queen was saucy and she always had the final say. After they had both battled back and forth for a long time the
queen finally shrugged her shoulders contemptuously and said:
"I thought you would finally calm down and stopped criticizing everything that comes before your eyes! You
yourself can't even play the Jew's harp."
"But hardly had she said this when the king interrupted her and answered spitefully: And you can't even bake
"Now the queen was at a loss for words and said nothing, and both parted, each to their own quarters without
exchanging a word. There the queen sat in the corner of the sofa and cried and thought: What a foolish woman
you are! You did not use your head at all. You could not have gone at it in a more stupid way!
But the king paced back and forth in his room, rubbed his hands together and said: "It is really a stroke of luck
that my wife cannot bake gingerbread biscuits! What else could I have answered when she accused me of not
being able to play the Jew's harp?!"
After he had repeated that at least three or four times he felt himself becoming more cheerful. He began to whistle
his favorite tune, then he looked at the large picture of the queen hanging in his room, climbed up on a chair and
with his handkerchief brushed away a cobweb that hung over the queen's nose and said finally: "She had a right
to be angered with me, my good little wife! Now I want to know, what she will do!"
Then he opened the door and walked along the long corridor to the queen's chambers. But because everything
was going wrong on that day, the butler had forgotten to lite the lamps, and now it was already eight o'clock in
the evening and pitch dark.
For that reason the king reached his hands out in front of him so as not to trip, and carefully felt his way along
the wall. Suddenly he felt something soft. "Who is there?" he asked.
"It is I," answered the queen.
"What are you looking for, my dear?"
"I wanted to ask your pardon," answered the queen, "for having hurt your feelings so badly."
"You need not do that!" said the king and put his arms around her neck. "I am more to blame than you, and have
already forgotten everything. But, listen, there are two words that we want to forbid in our kingdom under pain of
death: Jew's harp and— "
"And gingerbread biscuits," added the queen smiling, as she tried to wipe few tears from her eyes without his
noticing— and with that the story ends.—
|Jew's Harp and Gingerbread Biscuits
Richard von Volkmann-Leander
Illustration: Hans von Volkmann (Son)
|Reveries at French Firesides