Famous Stories from Foreign Countries/The King's Clothes

Kálmán Mikszáth4025409Famous Stories From Foreign Countries — The King's Clothes1921Edna Worthley Underwood




A Volume of short stories by Koloman Mikszáth—one of the most original and talented writers of modern Hungary—was published a few years ago in English. The story we give in translation—“The King’s Clothes,” was printed some fifteen years ago, and we think it was this Hungarian story teller’s first appearance in print in the United States.

This story illustrates well his peculiar talent and his ironical, witty, satirical manner. Two novels by him—most unusual in both subject and treatment, are The Magic Cloak and The Village That Had No Men (Szelistye).


Chroniclers are sometimes mistaken. They tell us the story of King Morus but they forget to state over what land he ruled. Yet this does not have anything to do with the subject, because who believes believes. I will relate it truthfully.

One afternoon King Morus escaped from the duties of kingship, which means that he signed some seventy documents, which the Minister read to him in a sing song voice. His Majesty closed his eyes and was kind enough to listen to the unavoidable documents from end to end. There were some appointments to make, a few death sentences, and other similar trifles. He yawned only occasionally at the reading. “We have finished,” declared at length the Minister, putting the huge book of papers under his arm and sticking the seal of the realm in his pocket.

“Wait a moment, Narciz,” commanded the King. “Give me that little piece of iron from your pocket, and stamp it upon one of these empty death sentences, then hand it over and I will sign it.”

“An empty death sentence, Your Majesty?” questioned the Minister astonished.

“I’d like to know if you have anything against it? Perhaps it may occur to you that you are my constitutional Minister and it is your business to know what the seal is to be put upon. Narciz you are becoming childish.”

“O Your Majesty!—Your Majesty—what can you be thinking of? I am the humble servent of the best of kings.”

King Morus graciously patted old Narciz on the shoulders, then took the paper and placed it in the inner pocket of his coat of gold.

“Now, Old Man, I have the genuine, constitutional feeling within me. By Heaven, I have it, and I don’t mind telling you—in confidence—what I am about to do with this death sentence.”

“Most glorious King!” murmured Narciz.

“I am trying to win the favor of a very beautiful lady—and she asked me for this trifle. You see of course I couldn’t refuse her a little thing like this.”

“Your Majesty is too gracious!”

“I am wise, Narciz! The pity is the poor woman has no power, but she has a husband. I give her the power and she gets rid of the husband. Sh—sh—Narciz—Not a word to any one—”

“It is sweeter to kiss than to kill,” flattered Narciz.

“Right you are, Old Man! I am going to carry this little piece of paper to her now, because the favor of the King is a fruitful seed. Write that sentence down in the Golden Book of the realm. Have you already written down what I said yesterday about the reckoning of the ground-rent?”

“Certainly, Your Majesty.”

“Let me hear how it sounds.”

The Minister opened the Golden Book and read the last lines: “A good king is like a gardener who trims the trees often.”

“Very well said,” opined the king, putting on his fez. He walked to the private garden by the shore of the sacred Nile, the garden which no one was permitted to enter.

The servants and courtiers whom he met on the way bowed to the ground as he passed. “We greet you, great King Morus.”

His glowing, golden garments dazzled all eyes, and beneath his proud step the earth trembled. The nightingale in the garden sang of love, as if it divined the King’s thoughts. The white lilies bowed their heads. The roses strewed fragrant leaves across his path, and the azaleas whispered a name—not the name of the king—but instead the name Florilla, the enchanting woman who was step-daughter of Narciz. Within the palace all were wondering where the King was going. The Minister whispered to his son: “He is carrying someone’s head in his pocket.”

Rogus, frightened, felt for his own head. He found it just where it always was, upon his neck, between his two shoulders.

He spoke at once to the watchman who stood by the garden gate:

“Here is a purse of gold. Exchange clothes with me, and let me into the garden.”

The watchman refused. “I can not. The King would cut my head off when he returns.”

“You are an ass,” replied Rogus. “The King can not kill you until he comes back. I will kill you upon the instant if you do not obey me. So you can see you can win both time and money.”

The watchman agreed. Rogus, who had long suspected something, put on the watchman’s clothes and followed the King. Before him, too, the lilies bent their heads. The roses strewed fragrant leaves, and the azaleas whispered the name, Florilla. But Rogus stepped upon them and crushed them. A secret gate, to which King Morus had the key, led from the garden to the shore of the Nile, along which were pleasure palaces. Among these palaces stood the villa of Rogus, which the King had built just the summer before and presented to his faithful servant. Likewise, just a year before, the Minister had written in the Grolden Book, that the favor of the King was a fruitful seed.

Rogus kept following the King, an easy thing now, because the King had forgotten to lock the garden gate.

Profound quiet reigned by the river, even the voice of the ripples was subdued. The twilight was beginning to color the Nile steel blue so that it resembled the curving blade of an executioner’s giant sword.

When the King reached the dwelling of Rogus, he blew three times on a silver whistle. At this sign a young woman appeared upon the balcony. I only say this about her, that the artists of that day could not find a finer head to preserve for posterity.

“Florilla,” whispered the King.

Rogus hid behind some shrubbery and listened. To be sure he knew all about it, because he had suspected it long.

“Yes, my King,” replied Florilla.

“May I be permitted to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?”

“Why ask? A King commands.”

“I have left your husband busy at court, so he can not surprise us. Perhaps, too, the end has come for him. Here is the death sentence.”

“With the seal of the Minister?”

“Of course.”

“A shabby trick in my father,” thought Rogus.

“Bring it up to me in an hour,” whispered Florilla.

“Within the hour I will put all my serving women to sleep.”

An hour was a long time for a King who was in love to wait. The evening was hot. An odor of heat arose from the earth. There was no breeze and the Nile was smooth as a mirror. A conceited bee swam boldly upon a rose leaf, without fear of shipwreck. The King looked long at the enticing water, until a desire arose in him. And what a King desires— He seated himself beside some shrubbery near Rogus and took off the yellow shoes with the golden spurs. He laid aside his purple cloak and the gold colored vest with the diamond buttons. He took the silver whistle from his neck, and then took off all his costly royal clothes, and placed them upon the soft grass. The mighty ruler looked about. No one was to be seen. Who indeed would dare to intrude upon this forbidden shore of the sacred Nile!

The mirroring water alone was shameless enough to look at him and reflect him. Morus jumped into the water which kissed flatteringly his heated body. He enjoyed himself greatly. The trees covered with trailing vines built a fragrant sheltering wall and he walked upon shining pebbles which tickled his feet.

When he had bathed long enough and the hour of the love tryst drew near, he came out of the water and hastened to the place where he had left his clothes. But evidently he had mistaken the piece of shrubbery and hastened to the next one. He went back. There was no trace of the royal garments. He walked—his teeth chattering—from bush to bush. He ran up and down the shore, looking behind all the bushes.

“Where are my clothes? Who has stolen them? It could not have been a man. Do you hear, Earth? If you have swallowed them, I will tear up all the trees and grass in my realm.”

He threw himself upon the ground and began to sob. Then he jumped up and began to revile the moon.

“Shine better, you miserable old night-light! If you don’t I’ll smash your temple.”

But the moon did not seem to hear. The moon acted like a timid girl and hid behind a veil of cloud. It began to rain. The dirt and water from the trees disfigured his face. In despair he determined to return to the palace and procure fresh clothes. The great disgrace of being seen by the watchmen was unavoidable, but he knew how to get even. He would have their heads chopped off. He would make it impossible for them to laugh about it.

He hastened to the secret gate. The gate was locked. Then he remembered he had left the key in it. There was nothing to do but to walk along the shore to the south gate, and from there through many streets to the palace. What ridiculous songs they would write about him—his subjects, when they saw him like this. But fortunately no one saw him. The streets through which he went were empty. There was only a beggar sleeping by the door of a temple. The King awoke him. “Give me that sack that covers you,” he commanded. The frightened beggar struck at him with his cane.

“Get out! If you don’t I’ll knock you down.”

The King saw that he was the weaker and hurried on. A pack of hungry dogs began to follow him howling. The watchman was sleeping at the gate when someone slapped him on the back.

“Oh! Oh! Who are you? What do you want?”

“Let me in—and give me your cloak.”

The watchman thought it was a joke. He made up a face and then laughed.

“Is that all you want? I’m sorry the imbecile asylum is so far away.”

“I command you to obey,” repeated the King in wrath.

“Get out!” pointing his spear at the ridiculous figure, with tousled hair and bleeding feet.

“Don’t you know me?”


“I am the King.”

“Or a fool. Get out! You are lucky that I am not too sleepy to give you a good beating in the name of the King.”

King Morus then began to speak gently. He recalled that this was the way to get on with underlings.

“Listen—my noble Hero! To-night I bathed in the Nile. Some one stole my clothes. I swear to you that I am King Morus.”

“You fool,” declared the soldier.

Crawling along the wall, weak and dejected, he made his way to the palace of his adored one. He decided to knock and ask for clothes. He also made up his mind to reduce the entire city to ashes—just as soon—just as soon—as he procured clothes.

Clothes? Is this all there is to a King? Then he saw the beggar. The old good-for-nothing was up and awake and waiting for the wine shops to be opened.

“Give me that covering of yours,” said the King. The beggar threw him a look of scorn.

“You don’t feel quite so high and mighty, do you? Where did you pawn your clothes? It’s a shame the way the wine merchants carry on. If I were the King I’d hang them all.”

“That’s just what I’ll do,” whispered Morus— “if you’ll only give me your covering.”

“You’d like to trick me, would you, you rascal?”

“I’m the king.”

The beggar looked amazed.

“Haven’t you seen my face on the gold pieces?”

“I? I never had any gold pieces!” giving the king his covering.

Now he could go boldly to the castle of Rogus. Despite the early hour, there was a crowd waiting at the gate. They were whispering. The King recognized his servile courtiers. They avoided him. They did not want his dirty covering to touch their fine clothes. The King struck the door with his fist.

“Open! I command in the name of the King!”

The watchman by the door laughed. “Poor fool!” Morus began to implore. “Don’t you recognize me? My well beloved subjects, look at me! I am your ruler.”

Laughter was his answer.

“Kabul, you to whom last week I gave a fortune, why are you silent? And you—Niles—whom I lifted from poverty, can you deny me?”

Neither Kabul nor Niles knew the King.

“Ungrateful men!” he raged. “Where is the mistress? Where is Florilla? She will recognize me.”

At this moment the herald of the King came out. Upon his lifted spear he bore a head—the head of Florilla.

She could recognize him no more. She was silent forever. The golden hair fluttered about the beautiful head, and covered part of the long spear. The people shouted with joy. The King sorrowfully demanded who had done this. No one answered, but he soon found out. The herald read a proclamation, then nailed it to the door, so that all could see that it had the seal of the Minister. King Morus pressed his hands to his temples and murmured: “Perhaps I am not king Morus.”

The crowd increased. Knights and ladies came to see the beautiful head, which from now on could cause neither envy nor love. The beggar came, too. The only one who spoke to the King was the beggar who gave him the covering.

“Get out of here! The great lords will beat you and take away the covering I gave you.” The beggar took him by the hand and led him away. He felt limp and weak and had no will of his own.

On the great square his eyes again brightened. He saw Narciz. The Minister was hurrying to the royal presence, a package under his arm. He ran after him. He fell upon his neck.

“Narciz! Narciz! You dear old man! Lucky for me to find you!”

The Minister, in anger, freed himself.

“What sort of shameless creature are you?”

“Don’t you recognize me? I am the King.”

“Of course not!” replied the Minister, laughing.

“You resemble him a little, if you were not so hoarse.”

He tapped him gently on the back with the gold headed cane which the King had given him on his fiftieth birthday.

In the merriest mood the Minister entered the royal dwelling. Servants ran ahead to open doors for him, until he came to the room of the royal presence—where the King—Rogus—awaited him.

Rogus told the story to him; how he had overheard the conversation between Florilla and the King, how he had put on the King’s clothes, and written Florilla’s name upon the empty death sentence. What happened after this chroniclers relate, to be sure, but I am not going to repeat it to you, because I do not believe the ending of the affair myself.

  1. I published this story some fifteen years ago in a magazine devoted to translations. It was, I believe, the first appearance by Mikszath in English.—E. W. Underwood.

 This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.


This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1961, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 62 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse