I don't know what the origins of this story are. It's not one of the classics, but I remember hearing it a long, long time ago. I either heard it in school or saw it on Captain Kangaroo. I seem to remember one of the illustrations. But who cares? Old or modern, it's still a neat story, and as I type this, I've decided to dedicate my version of it to the memory of Captain Kangaroo himself, the late Bob Keeshan. Rest in peace, Captain.
The Unhappy King
by Paul W. Marino
Once upon a time, there was a king named Sighes, and he was a very unhappy king! What—you may ask—was he unhappy about? Well! A lot of things, not least being that nothing he liked had been invented yet. Whenever he took his royal bath, it was a cold bath, because water heaters had not been invented yet. Whenever he wanted to ride in his royal limousine, he had to settle for riding in a coach, because cars had not been invented yet. Even worse was that he had a Royal Chastiser, whose job it was to make the king behave his royal self. She made him stand up straight (when he was standing) and sit up straight (when he was sitting); she made him watch his royal language and mind his royal manners. And whenever he did anything she considered naughty (which was almost anything he did), she’d rap his royal knuckles with a ruler!
And there were other things too, like when his Royal Orchestra played for him. They all played kazoos, because none of the usual instruments in an orchestra—cellos and violins, trumpets and tubas and clarinets and oboes and kettledrums and harmonicas —had been invented yet. But that wasn’t so bad, as that they always refused to play His Majesty’s favorite song.
"Your Majesty," the conductor would say. "Your Royal Orchestra stands ready to entertain you. What would you like to hear?" And the king always replied,
"The Radetsky March!" And the conductor (as well as everyone in the orchestra) would roll his eyes and say in an annoyed voice,
"Your Majesty, as much as we live to serve you, it will be impossible for us to play The Radetsky March."
"But it’s my favorite!" The king would whine.
"Be that as it may," the conductor would say. "It is completely, utterly and in all other ways impossible for us to play Your Majesty’s favorite piece."
"But why?!" And the conductor would shake with frustration and answer,
"Because it hasn’t been written yet!!! As I have explained to Your Majesty many, many times, Johann Strauss will not be born for another three hundred years, and once he is born, the world will have to wait until he grows up before he writes Your Majesty’s favorite song. So—until that happy day—Your Majesty will just have to settle for the few songs that exist today. Now which will it be? Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, The Alphabet Song, or Baa, Baa, Black Sheep?"
"Ohhhh.......Twinkle, Twinkle, I suppose," the king would mutter. And then the Royal Chastiser would swat him with her ruler and say,
Then there was dinnertime, though not just dinnertime, really. Every meal was a trial for poor King Sighes. The Royal Cook would enter pushing a big cart covered with steaming dishes under big silver lids.
"Look, Your Majesty!" He’d say, proudly uncovering one dish after another. "Tossed oatmeal salad with gruel dressing and oatmeal croutons, oatmeal soup with gruel broth, roast oatmeal with gruel gravy, mashed oatmeal, braised oatmeal, oatmeal rolls; and...... for dessert...........gruel custard with oatmeal sprinkles!!!!" At that point, the king would look sick to his stomach, and the Royal Cook would ask him what was wrong.
"Why don’t I ever get anything but oatmeal???" The king would whine. "I’m sick to death of oatmeal!!!"
"Your Majesty!!!" The Cook would reply in an offended tone. "Oatmeal is the Food of Kings! What sort of Royal Cook would I be if I cooked anything else?" Then the Royal Chastiser would slap the back of the king’s head and tell him,
"Stop insulting the Cook!!!"
Eventually, things got so bad that King Sighes hired a great sorceress to come and advise him. While he was waiting for her, the Royal Chastiser said,
"You ought to be ashamed of your royal self! If your royal mother knew you were bringing a sorceress into this palace, she’d roll over in her royal grave!"
"What grave?" King Sighes replied. "She’s retired and living in Palm Springs!"
"It’s the principle of the thing! I ought to make you stand in the corner."
"Oh, come on! What’s wrong with wanting to be happy?"
"Suffering is good for the soul."
"Really? Then I must have the best soul in the world! You could make shoes out of me that would last a thousand years!"
"Don’t you get smart with me!" And she rapped his knuckles with her ruler. And even as he grimaced in pain the Royal Butler announced,
"The sorceress.....Madame Wutaryuzaying!!!"
And the sorceress entered with a flourish.
"Are you the sorceress?" King Sighes asked in an awed tone. The sorceress put her flourish on a nearby table and bowed grandly.
"I am!" She said, in a thick accent. "I am Madame Wutaryuzaying! I see all; I know all."
"Well," the king said. "I wanted to know if you’re the sorceress I sent for."
"I am!" She repeated. "I am Madame Wutaryuzaying! I see all; I—...." The king frowned.
"I said, I want to know if you’re the—........"
"No, no, no! That is my name! Madame Wut—ar—yu—zay—ing!"
"Ohh!" The king answered, greatly relieved.
"Now, Your Majesty! What can I do for you?"
"Well, Madame Wutaryuzaying, I—...."
"For what reason have you summoned me?"
"Well, Madame Wutaryuzaying, I—....." The sorceress frowned.
"What cat has been let out of the bag?!" She demanded. "What is rotten in the state of Denmark?! What—......"
"No, no, no, no!!!" The king said. "I—I—I was just saying your name! Madame Wut—ar—yu—zay—ing!"
"Ohhh!!! ..............I knewwwwww that!"
"Do you really see all and know all?" The Chastiser demanded.
"I do!" Madame Wutaryuzaying nodded.
"Then what do you need this jerk to tell what you came here for?"
"I—I don’t! I—I—I was.......just being polite!"
"Could we just get on with this, please?" The king moaned.
"Of course!" Madame Wutaryuzaying replied. "But first, I’se got to examine the patient!" She stepped up to the throne and looked King Sighes over carefully. She poked through his hair, pinched his nose and looked into his ear. Then she blinked and looked again, wiggling her fingers on the other side of his head. Turning away, she muttered, "Oooooh! Vurzt case I’ve ever zeen!!!" Then she put on a big smile. "Okay, Kingsy! I got your solution. Easy-peasy! When you hear how simple this is, you’re gonna kick yourself for not thinking of it sooner!"
"Oh," the king replied. "I never kick myself." He pointed at the Royal Chastiser and said, "I’ve got someone to do it for me." Madame Wutaryuzaying shrugged.
"Here’s what you gotta do: You wanna be happy? You spend the night sleeping in the coat of a happy man."
"That’s it! You wake up in the morning, and you’re one happy camper; that’ll be three gold pieces, please."
The king stood up and fished three gold pieces out of his wallet. As he handed them over he turned to the Chastiser and said,
"Well don’t just stand there! Kick me!!!" The Chastiser kicked him. "Good! You can stop now." And he turned back to Madame Wutaryuzaying. "One...." The Chastiser kicked him again. "OW!!! You can stop now! One....." The Chastiser kicked him again. "OW!!! I said—....OW!!!" And she kicked him again. And again. Finally, the king ran away, being chased by the Chastiser. As he ran, he told the Royal Butler to send messengers out all across the kingdom to find a happy man.
A month or so later, the first of the messengers—a man named Lord Frick— returned to the palace.
"Frick!" The king cried. "How are things in the north part of my kingdom? I’ll bet they’re as happy as clams up there!" Actually, this is just a figure of speech. I know a lot of clams personally, and none of them are particularly happy. But Frick shook his head sadly.
"I’m afraid not, Your Majesty. The people in the north are as blue as Your Majesty’s suede shoes." This was another figure of speech, because suede hadn’t been invented yet, either.
"Why is that?" The king asked.
"For one thing, it is that Your Majesty is so unhappy. For, if the king is unhappy, how can his subjects feel any joy? But even worse, they are forced to subsist upon the foulest of foods!"
"Oh, come on! It can’t be much worse than what I have to eat! What do they eat?"
Frick gripped the king’s royal arm in warning.
"Food that would turn the stomach of the bravest man, Your Majesty!"
"W-w-what is it?" King Sighes asked nervously. Frick sighed.
"My first night on the road, I was taken in by a humble peasant and his family. I had plenty of oatmeal in my bags, but they insisted upon sharing their humble fare with me."
"What did you have?" Lord Frick shuddered with disgust, and then said:
"Duck a l’Orange!" King Sighes’ eyes popped wide open in surprise and his mouth began to water. Lord Frick went on, "There was also a cream Mussel soup, a tossed green salad with a honey mustard vinaigrette, roast potatoes, and creamed spinach, followed by plum pudding and strawberry shortcake!" Lord Frick groaned and clutched his stomach in dismay. "Ohhh! My stomach still turns at the memory! Would Your Majesty care to join me in a cup of gruel tea?" Then it was the king’s turn to feel sick!
"Gee! I’d love to, but, ummm.......oh!!! I have too many other messengers to see!!!"
"Please excuse me then!" And Lord Frick left the room.
King Sighes sat and sighed in wonder.
"Duck a l’Orange!" He exclaimed. "Why don’t I ever get anything like that?" The Royal Butler answered,
"Your Majesty, I believe it has to do with oatmeal being the Food of K—......"
"Oh, don’t even mention oatmeal!!! You ask me, I think the Royal Cook got that from the Royal Chastiser!" Just then, a footman out in the passage called out,
"The Royal Messenger, Lord Frack!" And Lord Frack marched into the room, swept his hat off and bowed low before the king.
"Frack!" King Sighes cried happily. "How are things in the south of my kingdom?" Lord Frack shook his head sadly.
"Not good, Your Majesty, not good at all." King Sighes pouted.
"Mostly, it is because they know Your Majesty lives in misery, and they yearn for the day you will find joy. But more than this," and his voice took on an ominous tone. "They are forced to subsist upon the foulest of foods!"
"Really?" The king asked in a dreamy tone. "Like what?"
"Food that would—......"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah!" The king interrupted impatiently. "Food that would turn the stomach of the bravest man, get on with it! What do they eat, huh?" Lord Frack shuddered with disgust, then forced himself to answer,
"Roast beef, with mashed potatoes and gravy!" King Sighes gasped out loud, and Lord Frack continued, "Served with candied yams, green beans almondine and corn on the cob."
"With butter?" King Sighes whimpered.
"Yes, Your Majesty," Frack said, retching. "Melted butter! At other times they feed on Veal Scallopini and Oeufs a la Neige, washed down with champagne or twelve year old brandy!" Poor King Sighes was all but weeping with desire!
"Oh! The poor creatures!" He moaned. "Tell me more how they suffer!"
Other messengers came back with more bad news; no one, it seemed, in the entire kingdom was happy, and they all had to eat the most awful things! Eventually, King Sighes was so moved by despair that he said, "Oh, poop!!!", which caused the Royal Chastiser to rap his knuckles, take him by his royal ear and march him straight off to his royal room!
And so it came to pass that one day, King Sighes’ eldest son, Prince Bubba, was in the Royal Garden (trying to compose a love poem for his girlfriend, Lady Fingurz), when he met a strange man there. The strange man was very strange indeed, all dressed in dirty, raggedy clothes. His face was unshaved, his hair was long and unkempt, but strangest of all—as Prince Bubba observed—the corners of his mouth went up instead of down.
"Ods fish!" Prince Bubba muttered to himself. "What an odd way to frown is that! Methinks I must needs address yon stranger and see what aileth him!" And he approached the man.
"What ho, varlet!" He said. "What manner of man art thou, who frowneth upside down?"
"What???" The man asked. Prince Bubba rolled his eyes.
"I said, what manner of man art thou th—......"
"Oh, I heard you! I just didn’t understand it!"
"Oh! Umm.......I was wondering what’s wrong with your face. Your frown is going the wrong way."
"Ah! Well, let me put your mind at rest; it’s not a frown at all. I’m smiling!"
"You are??? Well, you’d better not smile around here!!!"
"Why not? Oh! By the way, my name is Glad; Oliver Bertram Glad, though my friends just call me O.B. And what is your name, my good fellow?"
To Prince Bubba’s surprise, the man seized his hand and began shaking it vigorously.
"Ummm......" He answered, trying to pull his hand away. "I’m Prince Bubba."
"Prince Bubba? How pleased I am to make your acquaintance, Your Royal Highness! It’s not every day one meets a prince, you know!" Prince Bubba pulled harder, but the man was still shaking his hand.
"I meet them all the time!"
"Really? How wonderful for you! What a fascinating life you must lead!" And then he let go of Bubba’s hand, just as the prince was starting an extra hard pull. Prince Bubba staggered backwards and fell into the fountain. Mr. Glad rushed forward.
"Oh, Your Royal Highness!" He cried. "I didn’t realize it was time for your royal bath! Please excuse me!"
Prince Bubba came up sputtering.
"I’m not taking a bath!!!" He shouted. "I fell in the fountain!!!"
"Why???" Prince Bubba climbed out of the fountain angrily. "Because you let go of my hand, that’s why!!!"
"I’m sorry. I thought you wanted me to?"
"I did! Just not—......not......oh, phooey!!! Come with me!!!" And Prince Bubba led Mr. Glad into the palace.
Meanwhile, in the Throne Room, King Sighes was not merely unhappy; he was also very upset.
"You know," he complained to Lord Frick and Lord Frack. "I can take having a Royal Chastiser.....I can even take her rapping my knuckles every once in a while.....but does she really have to spank me???!!!!"
"It was your own fault, Your Majesty," Lord Frack said. "She told you three times to eat your royal oatmeal."
"Don’t remind me! It wouldn’t be so bad if she didn’t insist on doing it in front of everyone." Just then, Prince Bubba plodded in, followed by Mr. Glad. King Sighes glared angrily at them. "Bubba! Who is this?" And before Prince Bubba could open his mouth, Mr. Glad stepped forward and began shaking the king’s hand!
"Glad is the name! Oliver Bertram Glad, though my friends call me O.B. And you are?"
King Sighes—as you may well imagine—was not accustomed to shaking hands with anybody, so suddenly having to shake hands with a total stranger took him completely by surprise. Trying to pull his hand away, he answered,
"I’m King Sighes." Mr. Glad smiled in delight.
"So you’re Prince Bubba’s Papa, are you? I’m so pleased to meet you!!!" And he went on shaking the king’s hand for several seconds before turning to Lord Frick. "And who are you, my good fellow?" He seized Lord Frick’s hand and began shaking it vigorously, much to Frick’s discomfort. In the meantime, the king suddenly found himself shaking hands with Lord Frack!
"Umm.......I’m Lord Frick," Frick said, trying to pull his hand away from Mr. Glad.
"A lord!!!" Mr. Glad gasped. "How wonderful!!! I don’t think I’ve ever met a lord before!" He turned and began shaking Frack’s hand, while the King began shaking Frick’s.
"Bubba!!!" The king said angrily. "Who is this??!!!"
"I dunno," Prince Bubba answered. "Some guy. I met him in the garden."
"So what did you bring him in here for??!!!"
"And you?" Mr. Glad was asking.
"Umm......I’m Lord Frack," Frack said, trying to pull his hand away.
"Oho!!! Another lord!!! I certainly seem to be moving in higher circles these days!!"
Mr. Glad began shaking hands with the king again; Frick and Frack shook each other’s hands.
"I forget," Prince Bubba said.
"Well maybe you ought to remember!!!" The king shouted. They switched again, Mr. Glad shaking hands with Frick, and the king shaking hands with Frack.
"I’ll bet you meet lords all the time," Mr. Glad said. "But this is a new experience for me. I must say, though, you all seem quite genial!" The King was shaking with anger.
"CAN WE PLEASE STOP SHAKING HANDS ALREADY??!!!!" He bellowed.
"Oh, I am sorry!" Mr. Glad said, and they all stopped shaking hands. The king drew a deep breath and turned to Mr. Glad.
"Okay! Who are you, why are you here and what in blazes are you so happy about?!!"
"Well, as I said, I’m Oliver Bertram Glad, O.B. to my friends, I’m not here for any particular reason—I guess you could say I just happened along—though I’m here in this room because your son apparently thought I ought to meet you, and I’m very glad he did! As for what I’m so happy about, well........it’s a beautiful day, the weather is mild, I’ve just met the king and two lords besides.....and I’m just a generally cheerful sort anyway!"
"Yes, I really am!"
"Wow! That’s really something, because I’ve been looking........"
Just then, the king noticed that Prince Bubba was sopping wet and dripping water all over the floor. He frowned disapprovingly.
"Bubba! You’re all wet!"
"Big deal," Bubba replied. "You say that to me all the time."
"Yes, but it’s literally true this time!"
"That’s my fault, I’m afraid," Mr. Glad said. "When I let go of his hand, he fell into the fountain."
"Then why did you let go of his hand???"
"He wanted me to."
"Then you shouldn’t have let go! But I’ll let it pass this time, ‘cause I need your help."
"Yes, I do. Now Bubba, go put on some dry clothes before you catch your death of cold...............though maybe............. no. Go put on some dry clothes."
"Okay, Pop." And Prince Bubba stomped out, dripping as he went.
"So how can I help you?" Mr. Glad asked.
"It’s this awful curse I’ve been living under," King Sighes explained. "I’ve been unhappy all my life, and have to stay that way until I spend the night sleeping in the coat of a happy man."
"I see........and you want to borrow mine?"
"Bingo! I borrow your coat and go get some shut-eye. In the morning I give you half my kingdom, and we all live happily ever after!"
"Umm......I think we have a bit of a problem," Mr. Glad said, wincing. The king glowered threateningly.
"Half a kingdom not good enough for you?"
"Oh, no! No, no, no, no, no! Half a kingdom is plenty! In fact, it’s more than plenty. The problem is, I, uhh........I don’t have a coat!" King Sighes threw his hands up in dismay.
"However..........if you were to give me a coat.......then I’d have one and could lend it to you."
"Brilliant!!!" The king gasped, and then he bellowed, "BUTLER!!!!!!" A moment later, the Royal Butler hurried in.
"Yes, Your Majesty?" He asked.
"We need a coat, Butler!"
"A coat, Your Majesty? What size?" The king looked Mr. Glad over critically.
"Ohhh......a thirty eight long, I should think."
"At once, Your Majesty!" And the Butler hurried out. A few minutes later, he came back carrying a velvet coat.
"Thirty eight long, Your Majesty!" He said.
"Try it on, O.B.!" The king said, and Mr. Glad put the coat on.
"It feels very nice, Your Majesty. It’s especially roomy in the shoulders."
"Excellent! Mind if I borrow it?"
"Please do!" And Mr. Glad slid out of the coat and handed it to the king, who put it on at once.
"Thank you!" The king replied. Then he turned to the Butler. "Give him whatever he wants. Good night!"
"Sleep tight, Your Majesty!" Lord Frick said.
"Don’t let the bedbugs bite!" Lord Frack said.
When the king had toddled off to bed, the Butler turned to Mr. Glad and said, in a sympathetic tone,
"Is there anything I can get for you, sir? Some.....food, perhaps?"
"Well......" Mr. Glad answered. "I must confess I do feel a bit peckish. I haven’t had anything to eat all day, except for two helpings of Lobster Thermidor, a can of Beluga caviar, and a bottle of Chateau la Fitte, 1497."
"Oh!!! You poor, poor man!!!" The Butler cried in horror. "Come this way at once!!!"
The next morning, King Sighes got up feeling happier than he’d ever felt before. He skipped to the Throne Room, chuckling with delight.
"Good morning everyone!!!" He shouted.
"Good morning, Your Majesty!" Replied Lord Frick, Lord Frack, the Royal Butler and Mr. Glad.
"How did you sleep, Your Majesty?" The Butler asked.
"The same way I always do: With my eyes closed!" The king laughed heartily. Frick and Frack chuckled dutifully, and the Butler smiled. "Actually, I slept great! O.B., thanks for the loan!" And he took off the coat and handed it to Mr. Glad.
"It was my pleasure, Your Majesty."
"No, it was mine!" And the king laughed again, forcing Frick and Frack to laugh too. Kings are like that. Just then the Royal Cook marched in, pushing a cart laden with steaming dishes with huge silver covers.
"Good morning, Your Majesty!" He said, though not like he really meant it, but the King smiled anyway.
"Good morning, Cook! I have someone I’d like you to meet. This is my new chief advisor, Lord Glad. O.B., this is my Royal Cook, who serves me nothing but oatmeal."
"Really?" Mr. Glad—now Lord Glad—answered. "And why is that?"
"Because oatmeal is the Food of Kings," the Cook replied.
"But if the king doesn’t like it......?" The Cook rolled his eyes.
"His Majesty would prefer to eat.........peasant food!"
"Bacon," the king said in a dreamy tone. "Eggs, sausage......pancakes......"
"Well.......if the Royal Cook can only cook royal food, why not pass a law making oatmeal peasant food, and everything else royal food?" The Cook’s eyes popped wide open.
"No!!!" He gasped.
"Yes!!!" The king answered, grinning. The Cook sighed unhappily.
"What would Your Majesty like for breakfast, then?"
"Two eggs, over easy, bacon crisp, sausage, toast buttered and pancakes."
"With syrup," Lord Glad said. The king nodded.
"Yes. With syrup." The Cook sighed again, more unhappily than before.
"Yes, Your Majesty." And he departed, pushing his cart.
And then the Royal Chastiser marched in.
"What’s this?!!" She demanded angrily. "Refusing your royal breakfast?! Upsetting the Royal Cook?! You’ll stand in your royal corner for this!!!"
"Fine," the king answered, smiling. "But before I do, I want you to meet someone. This is Lord Glad. O.B., this is my Royal Chastiser."
"Are you really???" Lord Glad cried, stepping forward and seizing the very surprised Chastiser’s hand. He began shaking it vigorously. "And what is it that you do?"
"I-eeeeeee, umm......." The Chastiser tried to pull her hand away. "I make the king behave his royal self."
"Do you? He seems quite well-behaved to me!" The Chastiser squirmed, still trying to pull her hand away, but Lord Glad kept on shaking it.
"Well, if you don’t mind my saying so, I think you’d be much better used chastising other people.....like prisoners." He turned to the king. "Do you have any prisoners?"
"Oh, yes!" The King answered. "I have fourteen thieves, five murderers, three traitors and one fellow who pulled that little tag off his mattress." That made the Chastiser smile.
"Yee-essss! I’ve been meaning to pay him another visit!"
"Well, off you go, then!" Lord Glad released the Chastiser’s hand and off she went, grinning in anticipation. And in marched the Royal Orchestra.
"I can’t wait to see what you do with this!" King Sighes laughed. "This is my Royal Orchestra. They play only three songs, and none of them are my favorite."
"What are the three songs? Lord Glad asked.
"Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," The Conductor answered proudly. "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, and The Alphabet Song."
"But......aren’t they all the same song?"
"Goodness, no!!!" The Conductor gasped. "The melody is the same, but the lyrics are completely different!" Lord Glad shrugged.
"So why don’t you play the king’s favorite song?" Lord Glad asked. "If it’s what he wants to hear?" The Conductor sighed in resignation.
"Because it hasn’t been written yet."
"Well......why don’t you just play it the way it’s going to be written?" The Conductor —and all his kazoo players—gasped out loud.
"Pure genius!" The Conductor exclaimed, and raised his baton.
And so it was that King Sighes became a happy king. Lord Glad remained his chief Royal Advisor. Lord Frick and Lord Frack went into business together, building shelves that they called Frick-Frack shelves, but it was a failure; at least until they changed their names to Knick and Knack.