The Dumb Bakers
A wealthy old man died and left his fortunes to his two sons. Because they had never wanted for money, the brothers had never bothered to learn a trade. They lived well for many years, but the day finally came when
their inheritance was nearly gone.
“What should we do, brother?” said the younger one. “In a week we'll be penniless and have to go begging in the marketplace for food.”
“Ah,” said the older one, “don’t worry about that, for the villagers are right generous people and we’ll be eating cakes and pies for breakfast soon enough.”
“Johnny,” said the younger, “you have given me an idea and it goes like this: Let us put our money together and find our trade in baking. We like cakes and pies enough.”
“Who doesn’t?” answered Johnny.
“Sure, we can bake ‘em ourselves and sell ‘em in the marketplace,” said the younger one, whose name was Joseph.
“I have an ever better idea, brother Joseph, and you can’t top it.”
“What is it, Johnny?”
“Why should we go slaving over a hot oven all day? Let’s take our money and buy up all the cakes and pies we can afford, then we shall go to market with our own cart and sell them for a penny a piece. Surely, everyone will want to come to us instead of the others.”
“Johnny, you’re a genius—a pure genius! Put them right out of business we will! Let’s start right away.”
And so they did. Johnny and Joseph took their last pennies and bought a cart, some cakes and pies, and took them all to market.
“Cakes for sale! Pies for sale!” cried Joseph.
“A penny a cake! A penny a pie!” cried Johnny. When the villagers heard this, they came rushing to the cart, waving their pennies and fighting over the cakes and pies.
It just happened that the King rode by that very moment. “What is all the fuss about over there?” he asked his servants, and sent them to find out. When they returned and told him that two bakers were selling cakes and pies for a penny a piece, the King insisted on having one.
The servants returned with a cake and the greedy King devoured it in two bites.
“Delicious!” he declared. “Why, I must have another.” Straightaway went the servants, rushing back with a second cake.
Well, the King was so pleased with the cakes – which tasted especially good since they were but a penny a piece – that he immediately Knighted the bakers and insisted that they come to the castle to be the Official Bakers of His Royal Majesty the King. Of course, they could not refuse.
Johnny and Joseph were taken to the castle and dressed in fine clothes and given a most wonderful supper, for the Official Cook of His Royal Majesty the King was the finest in all the kingdom. But when the feast was over, the King turned to the bakers and said, “Now for dessert!” and put such a look upon Joseph that he began to shake.
“Go!” bellowed the King. Up jumped Joseph from his chair, racing from table to kitchen door. Up jumped Johnny, tripping along behind.
Joseph looked around the kitchen nervously. “What bad luck, Johnny. Now what can we do?”
“What can we do?” answered Johnny, brushing away his brother's worry with a wave of his hand. “What is baking but a lot of flour and sugar?” His eyes twinkled. "Look at us Joseph. Here we are – Johnny and Joseph – in the service of the King, dressed in fine clothes with bellies full of the most delicious food anyone can ask for. Now, surely such fortunate fellows as we can whip up a simple cake.”
Johnny’s words were music to his brother’s ears and his voice so sweet and full of cheer that Joseph’s mind was put quite at ease. Soon the bakers were elbow deep in batter. They sifted flour, beat the eggs and poured sugar in heaps. When they were done, although the Royal Kitchen was splattered from floor to ceiling, the batter was in truth not bad. In fact it was so good that the two bakers could not stop dipping their fingers and popping the raw batter straight into their mouths.
Presently the King’s servant entered the kitchen and what did he see? Not only were the walls powdered with flour and sugar and eggshells strewn across the floor, but the bakers themselves, the bakers’ very faces, were smeared thick with batter.
“What is this!” cried the King's servant. “What is this mess? And where is the cake? Oh, you Dumb Bakers! You have eaten the whole of it, haven’t you? Why, it’s all over your faces! You have eaten the King’s cake straight out of the bowl! How can two men be such fools?”
“Please! Please!” cried the bakers, and they promised to make another cake, twice as good. They even promised to make an extra one for the servant if only he would spare them and tell the King nothing of their foolishness. This the servant promised, but left the kitchen muttering to himself, “and what am I to tell the King?” wringing his hands and wiping his brow.
Johnny and Joseph set themselves baking once more and, because they had promised the servant an extra cake and, because they had promised to make the cake twice as good, they poured in all the sugar they could find. The mess they made was twice as big, too. When they were done, Johnny stuck his finger in the batter to taste it. He grimaced and declared it “not half as good” as the last.
“Ah, well! Perhaps they will taste better after they are baked,” said Johnny, popping the two cakes into the oven.
The bakers tried to clean up the mess as best they could while the cakes were in the oven. Presently a sweet smell wafted through the kitchen.
“You see,” said Johnny, “it smells delicious.” He opened the oven and looked at the cakes, but they were still quite raw.
And then the servant entered.
“The King has smelled your wonderful cake and demands it to be served,” he said.
“Oh, but it isn’t finished!” Joseph clasped his hands together. Flour burst into puffy white clouds and sprinkled the servant's shoes.
“The King demands it to be served immediately,” the servant repeated. He angrily dusted off his shoes. “Do what you must, but hurry!”
When he left, Joseph began to pace the floor and said, “Whatever can we do, Johnny?”
But Johnny, the older of the two, just smiled and said, “Oh, you worry too much, Joseph. We’ll just make the oven hotter.” In a moment, the fire beneath the cake grew higher. “Now it will be done in no time at all,” he said.
And wasn’t it!
“What’s that new smell?” asked Joseph. Johnny opened the oven door and found the cake...burned!
Joseph was in a terrible state, pulling at his hair and making white sticky tracks on floor.
“Now, now, don’t worry, Joseph,” his brother soothed. “We’ll just cover this cake with some pretty icing and it will be good as new. It’s just a little dark from the extra sugar is all. It will be fine. You’ll see.”
The two bakers set about slathering the cakes with icing when, just as they were finishing, who should walk in but the King himself.
“I demand my cake and I demand it now!” he cried. “You two bakers have been in here long enough! Too long, I say, and for what?”
“Your Majesty is just in time,” said Johnny, and placed the cake before the King. It was a terrible looking cake, lopsided and dripping with thick, sloppy icing.
“What! This is all? This puny little, teensy-weensy, crooked crumb of a cake! This is what you serve the King!” The King was in such a fit and a fury that the bakers began to tremble in their new satin shoes.
“Please, your majesty,” said Johnny presently. “We have taken great care to make this cake just right. Surely a King’s cake cannot be so quickly baked, but takes extra time. Besides, knowing your Majesty’s fine taste, we have made this cake sweeter than any other you have tasted.”
When the King heard this, his heart momentarily softened. He ordered a slice cut for him. The bakers waited silently as he took his first bite. The King’s put the cake daintily in his mouth and licked the frosting from his lips. He blinked. His mouth twitched. His forehead wrinkled and his nostrils flared. He puffed up his chest, opened his mouth, and his voice rumbled and crackled as it thundered out:
“You Dumb BAKERS!!!”
Johnny and Joseph fell back a few steps as the King let loose a torrential hailstorm of words and gestures that told the bakers he was quite unhappy with them. And these words were full of venom and included such horrible language as “You will pay for this” and “’I’ll have your heads.”
By the time the words “seize them” fell upon the King’s lips, Joseph’s foot was halfway through the door with Johnny at his heels, and you can bet it was very fortunate that they could run much better than they could bake.