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The King’s Sons
by [?]

“Tell me a story,” said Margery.

“What sort of a story?”

“A fairy story, because it’s Christmas-time.”

“But you know all the fairy stories.”

“Then tell me a new fairy story.”

“Right,” I said.

Once upon a time there was a King who had three sons. The eldest son was a very thoughtful youth. He always had a reason for everything he did, and sometimes he would say things like “Economically it is to the advantage of the State that—-” or “The civic interests of the community demand that—-” before doing something specially horrid. He didn’t want to be unkind to anybody, but he took what he called a “large view” of things; and if you happened to ask for a third help of plum-pudding he took the large view that you would be sorry about it next morning–and so you didn’t have your plum-pudding. He was called Prince Proper.

The second son was a very wise youth. You couldn’t catch him anyhow. If you asked him whether he knew the story of the three wells, or “Why does a chicken cross the road?” or anything really amusing like that, he would always say, “Oh, I heard that years ago!”–and whenever you began “Adam and Eve and Pinchme” he would pinch you at once without waiting like a gentleman until you had got to the end of the verse. He was called Prince Clever.

And the third son was just wonderfully beautiful. He had the most marvellously pink cheeks and long golden hair that you have ever seen. I don’t much care for that style myself, but in the country in which he lived it was admired more than I can tell you. He was called Prince Goldenlocks. I’ll give you three guesses why.

Now the King had reigned a long time, so long that he was tired of being king, and he often used to wonder which of his sons ought to succeed him. Of course, nowadays they never wonder, and the eldest son becomes king at once, and quite right too; but in those days it was generally left to the sons to prove which among themselves was the most worthy. Sometimes they would all be sent out to find the magic Dragon’s Tooth, and only one would come back alive, which would save a lot of trouble; or else, after a lot of discussion, they would be told to go and find beautiful Princesses for themselves, and the one which brought back the most beautiful Princess–but very often that would lead to another discussion. The best way of all was to call in a Fairy to help. A Fairy has all sorts of tricks for finding out about you, and her favourite plan is to pretend to be something else and see what you do.

So the King called in a Fairy and said, “To-morrow I am sending out my three sons into the world to seek their fortune. I want you to test them for me and find out which is the most fitted to succeed to my throne. If it should happen to be Prince Goldenlocks–but, of course, I don’t want to influence you in any way.”

“Leave it to me,” said the Fairy. “You agree, no doubt, that the quality most desirable in a king is love and kindliness—-“

“Y-yes,” said the King doubtfully.

“I was sure of it. Well, I have a way of putting this quality to the test which has never yet failed.” And with that she vanished. She could have gone out at the door quite easily, but she preferred to vanish.

I expect you know what her way was. You have read about it often in your fairy books. On the next day, as Prince Proper was coming along the road, she appeared suddenly in front of him in the shape of a poor old woman.

“Please give me something to buy a crust of bread, pretty gentleman,” she pleaded. “I’m starving.”