|The Book of Legends|
|by Horace Elisha Scudder|
|Legends to supplement Fifty Famous Stories Retold. Includes the stories of St. George and the Dragon, William Tell, King Cophetua, St. Christopher, The Wandering Jew, and the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, retold in fine English prose. Ages 7-10 |
THE PROUD KING
 THERE was once a king who ruled over many lands; he went to
war, and added one country after another to his kingdom. At
last he came to be emperor, and that is as much as any man
can be. One night, after he was crowned emperor, he
lay awake and thought about himself.
"Surely," he said, "no one can be greater than I am, on
earth or in heaven."
The proud king fell asleep with these thoughts. When he
awoke, the day was fair, and he looked out on the pleasant
"Come," he said to the men about him; "to-day we will go
The horses were brought, the dogs came leaping, the horns
sounded, and the proud king with his courtiers rode off to
the sport. They had hunted all the morning, and were now in
a deep wood. In the fields the sun had beat upon
 their heads, and they were glad of the shade of the trees;
but the proud king wished for something more. He saw a lake
not far off, and he said to his men:—
"Bide ye here, while I bathe in the lake and cool myself."
Then he rode apart till he came to the shore of the lake.
There he got down from his horse, laid aside his clothes,
and plunged into the cool water. He swam about, and
sometimes dived beneath the surface, and so was once more
cool and fresh.
Now while the proud king was swimming away from the shore
and diving to the bottom, there came one who had the same
face and form as the king. He drew near the shore, dressed
himself in the king's clothes, mounted the king's horse and
rode away. So when the proud king was once more cool and
fresh, and came to the place where he had left his clothes
and his horse, there were no clothes to be seen, and no
The proud king looked about, but saw no man. He called, but
no one heard him. The air was mild, but the wood was dark,
and no sunshine came through to warm him after his cool bath.
He walked by the shore of the lake and cast about in his
mind what he should do.
 "I have it," he cried at last. "Not far from
here lives a knight. It was but a few days ago that I
made him a knight and gave him a castle. I will go to him,
and he will be glad enough to clothe his king."
The proud king wove some reeds into a mat and bound the mat
about him, and then he walked to the castle of the knight.
He beat loudly at the gate of the castle and called for the
porter. The porter came and stood behind
the gate. He did not draw the bolt at once, but
"Who is there?"
"Open the gate," said the proud king, "and you will see who
The porter opened the gate, and was amazed at what he saw.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"Wretch!" said the proud king; "I am the emperor. Go to
your master. Bid him come to me with clothes. I have lost
both clothes and horse."
"A pretty emperor!" the porter laughed. "The great emperor
was here not an hour ago. He came with his court from a
hunt. My master was with him and sat at meat with him. But
stay you here. I will call my master. Oh,
 yes! I will show him the emperor," and the porter wagged his
beard and laughed, and went within.
He came forth again with the knight and pointed at the
"There is the emperor!" he said. "Look at him! look
at the great emperor!"
"Draw near," said the proud king to the knight, "and kneel
to me. I gave thee this castle. I made thee knight. I give
a greater gift. I give thee the chance to clothe
thy emperor with clothes of thine own."
"You dog!" cried the knight. "You fool! I have just
ridden with the emperor, and have come back to my castle.
Here!" he shouted to his
servants, "beat this fellow and
drive him away from the gate."
The porter looked on and laughed.
"Lay on well," he said to the other servants. "It is not
every day that you can flog an emperor."
Then they beat the proud king, and drove him from the gate
of the castle.
"Base knight!" said the proud king. "I gave him all he has,
and this is how he repays me. I will punish him
when I sit on my throne again. I will go to the duke who
lives not far
 away. Him I have known all my days. He will
know me. He will know his emperor."
So he came to the gate of the duke's great hall, and
knocked three times. At the third knock the porter opened
the gate, and saw before him a man clad only in a mat of
reeds, and stained and bleeding.
"Go, I pray you, to the duke," said the proud king, "and bid
him come to me. Say to him that the emperor stands at the
gate. He has been robbed of his clothes and of his horse.
Go quickly to your master."
The porter closed the gate between them, and went within to
"Your Grace," said he, "there is a madman at the gate. He
is unclad and wild. He bade me come to you and tell you
that he was the emperor."
"Here is a strange thing indeed," said the duke; "I will
see it for myself."
So he went to the gate, followed by his servants, and
when the porter opened it there stood the proud king. The
proud king knew the duke, but the duke saw only a bruised
and beaten madman.
"Do you not know me?" cried the proud king. "I am your
emperor. Only this
morn-  ing you were on the hunt with me. I left you
that I might bathe in the lake. While I was in the water,
some wretch took both my clothes and my horse, and I—I have
been beaten by a base knight."
"Put him in chains," said the duke to his servants. "It
is not safe to have such a man free. Give him some straw
to lie on, and some bread and water."
The duke turned away and went back to his hall, where his
friends sat at table.
"That was a strange thing," he said. "There was a madman at
the gate, he must have been in the wood this morning, for
he told me that I was on the hunt with the emperor, and so
I was; and he told me that the emperor went apart to bathe
in the lake, and so he did. But he said that some one
stole the clothes and the horse of the emperor, yet the
emperor rode back to us cool and fresh, and clothed and on
his horse. And he said"—And the duke looked around on his
"What did he say?"
"He said that he was the emperor."
Then the guests
fell to talking and laughing, and soon forgot the strange
thing. But the proud king lay in a dark prison, far even
 the servants of the duke. He lay on straw, and chains
bound his feet.
"What is this that has come upon me?" he said. "Am I
brought so low? Am I so changed that even the duke does not
know me? At least there is one who will know me, let me wear
what I may."
Then, by much labor, he loosed the chains that bound him,
and fled in the night from the duke's prison. When the
morning came, he stood at the door of his own palace. He
stood there awhile; perhaps some one would open the door and
let him in. But no one came, and the proud king lifted
his hand and knocked; he knocked at the door of his own
palace. The porter came at last and looked at him.
"Who are you?" he asked, "and what do you want?"
"Do you not know me?" cried the proud king. "I am your
master. I am the king. I am the emperor. Let me
pass;" and he would have thrust him aside. But the porter
was a strong man; he stood in the doorway, and would not
let the proud king enter.
"You my master! you the emperor! poor fool, look here!"
and he held the proud king by the arm while he pointed to a
 There sat the emperor on his throne, and by his side was the
"Let me go to her! she will know me," cried the proud king,
and he tried to break away from the porter. The noise
without was heard in the hall. The nobles came out, and
last of all came
the emperor and the queen. When the proud king saw
these two, he could not speak. He was choked with rage and
fear, and he knew not what.
"You know me!" at last he cried. "I am your lord and
The queen shrank back.
"Friends," said the man who stood by her, "what shall be
done to this wretch?"
"Kill him," said one.
"Put out his eyes," said another.
"Beat him," said a third.
Then they all hustled the proud king out of the palace
court. Each one gave him a blow, and so he was thrust out,
and the door was shut behind him.
The proud king fled, he knew not whither. He wished he
were dead. By and by he came to the lake where he
had bathed. He sat down
on the shore. It was like a dream, but he knew he was
awake, for he was cold and hungry and
 faint. Then he knelt on the ground and beat his breast,
"I am no emperor. I am no king. I am a poor, sinful
man. Once I thought there was no one greater than I, on
earth or in heaven. Now I know that I am nothing, and
there is no one so poor and so mean. God forgive me for
As he said this, tears stood in his eyes. He wiped
them away and rose to his feet. Close by him he saw the
clothes which he had once laid aside. Near at hand was his
horse, eating the soft grass. The king put on his clothes;
he mounted his horse and rode to his palace.
As he drew near, the door opened and servants came forth. One
held his horse; another helped him dismount. The porter
"I marvel I did not see thee pass out, my lord," he said.
The king entered, and again saw the nobles in the great
hall. There stood the queen also, and by her side was the
man who called himself emperor. But the queen and the nobles
did not look at him; they looked at the king, and came
forward to meet him.
This man also came forward, but he was clad in shining
white, and not in the robes of the
 emperor. The king bowed his head before him.
"I am thy angel," said the man. "Thou wert proud,
and made thyself to be set on high. Therefore thou hast been
brought low. I have watched over thy kingdom. Now
I give it back to thee, for thou art once again humble, and
the humble only are fit to rule."
Then the angel disappeared. No one else heard his voice,
and the nobles thought the king had bowed to them. So the
king once more sat on the throne, and ruled wisely and
humbly ever after.
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