THE WHITE SLIPPER
(From Capullos de Rosa, por D. Enrique Ceballos Quintana.)
Once upon a time there lived a king who had a daughter
just fifteen years old. And what a daughter!
Even the mothers who had daughters of their own
could not help allowing that the princess was much
more beautiful and graceful than any of them; and
as for the fathers, if one of them ever beheld her by
accident he could talk of nothing else for a whole day
Of course the king, whose name was Balancin, was
the complete slave of his little girl from the moment he
lifted her from the arms of her dead mother; indeed, he
did not seem to know that there was anyone else in the
world to love.
Now Diamantina, for that was her name, did not
reach her fifteenth birthday without proposals of marriage
from every country under heaven; but be the suitor who
he might, the king always said him nay.
Behind the palace a large garden stretched away to
the foot of some hills, and more than one river flowed
through. Hither the princess would come each evening
towards sunset, attended by her ladies, and gather herself
the flowers that were to adorn her rooms. She also brought
with her a pair of scissors to cut off the dead blooms, and
a basket to put them in, so that when the sun rose next
morning he might see nothing unsightly. When she had
finished this task she would take a walk through the town,
so that the poor people might have a chance of speaking
with her, and telling her of their troubles; and then she
would seek out her father, and together they would consult
over the best means of giving help to those who needed
But what has all this to do with the White Slipper?
my readers will ask.
Have patience, and you will see.
Next to his daughter, Balancin loved hunting, and it
was his custom to spend several mornings every week
chasing the boars which abounded in the mountains a
few miles from the city. One day, rushing downhill as
fast as he could go, he put his foot into a hole and fell,
rolling into a rocky pit full of brambles. The king’s
wounds were not very severe, but his face and hands were
cut and torn, while his feet were in a worse plight still, for,
instead of proper hunting boots, he only wore sandals, to
enable him to run more swiftly.
In a few days the king was as well as ever, and the
signs of the scratches were almost gone; but one foot still
remained very sore, where a thorn had pierced deeply
and had festered. The best doctors in the kingdom
treated it with all their skill; they bathed, and poulticed,
and bandaged, but it was in vain. The foot only grew
worse and worse, and became daily more swollen and
After everyone had tried his own particular cure, and
found it fail, there came news of a wonderful doctor in
some distant land who had healed the most astonishing
diseases. On inquiring, it was found that he never left the
walls of his own city, and expected his patients to come to
see him; but, by dint of offering a large sum of money,
the king persuaded the famous physician to undertake the
journey to his own court.
On his arrival the doctor was led at once into the
king’s presence, and made a careful examination of his
‘Alas! your majesty,’ he said, when he had finished,
‘the wound is beyond the power of man to heal; but
though I cannot cure it, I can at least deaden the pain,
and enable you to walk without so much suffering.’
‘Oh, if you can only do that,’ cried the king, ‘I shall
be grateful to you for life! Give your own orders; they
shall be obeyed.’
‘Then let your majesty bid the royal shoemaker
make you a shoe of goat-skin very loose and comfortable,
while I prepare a varnish to paint over it of which I alone
have the secret!’ So saying, the doctor bowed himself
out, leaving the king more cheerful and hopeful than he
had been for long.
The days passed very slowly with him during the
making of the shoe and the preparation of the varnish,
but on the eighth morning the physician appeared,
bringing with him the shoe in a case. He drew it out to
slip it on the king’s foot, and over the goat-skin he had
rubbed a polish so white that the snow itself was not more
‘While you wear this shoe you will not feel the slightest
pain,’ said the doctor. ‘For the balsam with which I
have rubbed it inside and out has, besides its healing balm,
the quality of strengthening the material it touches, so that,
even were your majesty to live a thousand years, you would
find the slipper just as fresh at the end of that time as it is
The king was so eager to put it on that he hardly gave
the physician time to finish. He snatched it from the case
and thrust his foot into it, nearly weeping for joy when
he found he could walk and run as easily as any beggar
‘What can I give you?’ he cried, holding out both
hands to the man who had worked this wonder.
‘Stay with me, and I will heap on you riches greater than
ever you dreamed of.’ But the doctor said he would accept
nothing more than had been agreed on, and must
return at once to his own country, where many sick
people were awaiting him. So king Balancin had to
content himself with ordering the physician to be treated
with royal honours, and desiring that an escort should
attend him on his journey home.
For two years everything went smoothly at court,
and to king Balancin and his daughter the sun no
sooner rose than it seemed time for it to set. Now, the
king’s birthday fell in the month of June, and as the
weather happened to be unusually fine, he told the
princess to celebrate it in any way that pleased her.
Diamantina was very fond of being on the river, and
she was delighted at this chance of indulging her tastes.
She would have a merry-making such as never had been
seen before, and in the evening, when they were tired of
sailing and rowing, there should be music and dancing, plays
and fireworks. At the very end, before the people went
home, every poor person should be given a loaf of bread,
and every girl who was to be married within the year a
The great day appeared to Diamantina to be long in
coming, but, like other days, it came at last. Before
the sun was fairly up in the heavens the princess, too full
of excitement to stay in the palace, was walking about
the streets so covered with precious stones that you
had to shade your eyes before you could look at
her. By-and-by a trumpet sounded, and she hurried
home, only to appear again in a few moments walking
by the side of her father down to the river. Here a
splendid barge was waiting for them, and from it they
watched all sorts of races and feats of swimming and
diving. When these were over the barge proceeded up
the river to the field where the dancing and concerts were
to take place, and after the prizes had been given away to
the winners, and the loaves and the dresses had been distributed
by the princess, they bade farewell to their guests,
and turned to step into the barge which was to carry them
back to the palace.
Then a dreadful thing happened. As the king
stepped on board the boat one of the sandals of the white
slipper, which had got loose, caught in a nail that was
sticking out, and caused the king to tumble. The pain
was great, and unconsciously he turned and shook his foot,
so that the sandals gave way, and in a moment the precious
shoe was in the river.
It had all occurred so quickly that nobody had noticed
the loss of the slipper, not even the princess, whom the
king’s cries speedily brought to his side.
‘What is the matter, dear father?’ asked she. But
the king could not tell her; and only managed to gasp
out: ‘My shoe! my shoe!’ While the sailors stood round
staring, thinking that his majesty had suddenly gone
Seeing her father’s eyes fixed on the stream, Diamantina
looked hastily in that direction. There, dancing on
the current, was the point of something white, which
became more and more distant the longer they watched
it. The king could bear the sight no more, and, besides,
now that the healing ointment in the shoe had been
removed the pain in his foot was as bad as ever; he gave
a sudden cry, staggered, and fell over the bulwarks into
In an instant the river was covered with bobbing
heads all swimming their fastest towards the king, who
had been carried far down by the swift current. At length
one swimmer, stronger than the rest, seized hold of his
tunic, and drew him to the bank, where a thousand eager
hands were ready to haul him out. He was carried, unconscious,
to the side of his daughter, who had fainted with
terror on seeing her father disappear below the surface,
and together they were placed in a coach and driven to
the palace, where the best doctors in the city were awaiting
In a few hours the princess was as well as ever; but
the pain, the wetting, and the shock of the accident, all
told severely on the king, and for three days he lay in
a high fever. Meanwhile, his daughter, herself nearly
mad with grief, gave orders that the white slipper should
be sought for far and wide; and so it was, but even the
cleverest divers could find no trace of it at the bottom of the
When it became clear that the slipper must have been
carried out to sea by the current, Diamantina turned her
thoughts elsewhere, and sent messengers in search of
the doctor who had brought relief to her father, begging
him to make another slipper as fast as possible, to supply
the place of the one which was lost. But the messengers
returned with the sad news that the doctor had died some
weeks before, and, what was worse, his secret had died
In his weakness this intelligence had such an effect
on the king that the physicians feared he would become
as ill as before. He could hardly be persuaded to touch
food, and all night long he lay moaning, partly with pain,
and partly over his own folly in not having begged the
doctor to make him several dozens of white slippers, so
that in case of accidents he might always have one to put
on. However, by-and-by he saw that it was no use weeping
and wailing, and commanded that they should search
for his lost treasure more diligently than ever.
What a sight the river banks presented in those days!
It seemed as if all the people in the country were
gathered on them. But this second search was no more
fortunate than the first, and at last the king issued a
proclamation that whoever found the missing slipper
should be made heir to the crown, and should marry the
Now many daughters would have rebelled at being
disposed of in this manner; and it must be admitted that
Diamantina’s heart sank when she heard what the king
had done. Still, she loved her father so much that she
desired his comfort more than anything else in the world,
so she said nothing, and only bowed her head.
Of course the result of the proclamation was that the
river banks became more crowded than before; for
all the princess’s suitors from distant lands flocked to
the spot, each hoping that he might be the lucky finder.
Many times a shining stone at the bottom of the
stream was taken for the slipper itself, and every evening
saw a band of dripping downcast men returning homewards.
But one youth always lingered longer than the
rest, and night would still see him engaged in the search,
though his clothes stuck to his skin and his teeth
One day, when the king was lying on his bed racked
with pain, he heard the noise of a scuffle going on in his
antechamber, and rang a golden bell that stood by his
side to summon one of his servants.
‘Sire,’ answered the attendant, when the king inquired
what was the matter, ‘the noise you heard was caused
by a young man from the town, who has had the
impudence to come here to ask if he may measure your
majesty’s foot, so as to make you another slipper in place
of the lost one.’
‘And what have you done to the youth?’ said the
‘The servants pushed him out of the palace, and
added a few blows to teach him not to be insolent,’
replied the man.
‘Then they did very ill,’ answered the king, with a frown.
‘He came here from kindness, and there was no reason
to maltreat him.’
‘Oh, my lord, he had the audacity to wish to touch
your majesty’s sacred person—he, good-for-nothing boy,
a mere shoemaker’s apprentice, perhaps! And even if
he could make shoes to perfection they would be no use
without the healing balsam.’
The king remained silent for a few moments, then he
‘Never mind. Go and fetch the youth and bring him
to me. I would gladly try any remedy that may relieve
So, soon afterwards, the youth, who had not gone far
from the palace, was caught and ushered into the king’s
He was tall and handsome and, though he professed
to make shoes, his manners were good and modest, and
he bowed low as he begged the king not only to allow
him to take the measure of his foot, but also to suffer him
to place a healing plaster over the wound.
Balancin was pleased with the young man’s voice and
appearance, and thought that he looked as if he knew
what he was doing. So he stretched out his bad foot
which the youth examined with great attention, and then
gently laid on the plaster.
Very shortly the ointment began to soothe the sharp
pain, and the king, whose confidence increased every
moment, begged the young man to tell him his name.
‘I have no parents; they died when I was six, sire,’
replied the youth, modestly. ‘Everyone in the town calls
me Gilguerillo, because, when I was little, I went singing
through the world in spite of my misfortunes. Luckily
for me I was born happy.’
‘And you really think you can cure me?’ asked the
‘Completely, my lord,’ answered Gilguerillo.
‘And how long do you think it will take?’
‘It is not an easy task; but I will try to finish it in a
fortnight,’ replied the youth.
A fortnight seemed to the king a long time to make one
slipper. But he only said:
‘Do you need anything to help you?’
‘Only a good horse, if your majesty will be kind enough
to give me one,’ answered Gilguerillo. And the reply was
so unexpected that the courtiers could hardly restrain
their smiles, while the king stared silently.
‘You shall have the horse,’ he said at last, ‘and I shall
expect you back in a fortnight. If you fulfil your promise
you know your reward; if not, I will have you flogged
for your impudence.’
Gilguerillo bowed, and turned to leave the palace, followed
by the jeers and scoffs of everyone he met. But
he paid no heed, for he had got what he wanted.
He waited in front of the gates till a magnificent horse
was led up to him, and vaulting into the saddle with an
ease which rather surprised the attendant, rode quickly
out of the town amidst the jests of the assembled crowd,
who had heard of his audacious proposal. And while he
is on his way let us pause for a moment and tell who he
Both father and mother had died before the boy was
six years old; and he had lived for many years with his
uncle, whose life had been passed in the study of chemistry.
He could leave no money to his nephew, as he
had a son of his own; but he taught him all he knew,
and at his death Gilguerillo entered an office, where he
worked for many hours daily. In his spare time, instead
of playing with the other boys, he passed hours poring
over books, and because he was timid and liked to be alone
he was held by every one to be a little mad. Therefore,
when it became known that he had promised to cure
the king’s foot, and had ridden away—no one knew
where—a roar of laughter and mockery rang through
the town, and jeers and scoffing words were sent after
But if they had only known what were Gilguerillo’s
thoughts they would have thought him madder than
The real truth was that, on the morning when the princess
had walked through the streets before making holiday
on the river, Gilguerillo had seen her from his window,
and had straightway fallen in love with her. Of course
he felt quite hopeless. It was absurd to imagine that the
apothecary’s nephew could ever marry the king’s daughter;
so he did his best to forget her, and study harder than
before, till the royal proclamation suddenly filled him with
hope. When he was free he no longer spent the precious
moments poring over books, but, like the rest, he might
have been seen wandering along the banks of the river,
or diving into the stream after something that lay glistening
in the clear water, but which turned out to be a white
pebble or a bit of glass.
And at the end he understood that it was not by the
river that he would win the princess; and, turning to his
books for comfort, he studied harder than ever.
There is an old proverb which says: ‘Everything
comes to him who knows how to wait.’ It is not all men
who know how to wait, any more than it is all men who
can learn by experience; but Gilguerillo was one of the
few, and instead of thinking his life wasted because he
could not have the thing he wanted most, he tried to busy
himself in other directions. So, one day, when he expected
it least, his reward came to him.
He happened to be reading a book many hundreds of
years old, which told of remedies for all kinds of diseases.
Most of them, he knew, were merely invented by old women,
who sought to prove themselves wiser than other people;
but at length he came to something which caused him
to sit up straight in his chair, and made his eyes brighten.
This was a description of a balsam—which would cure
every kind of a sore or wound—distilled from a
plant only to be found in a country so distant that it
would take a man on foot two months to go and
come back again.
When I say that the book declared that the balsam
could heal every sort of sore or wound, there were a few
against which it was powerless, and it gave certain signs
by which these might be known. This was the reason
why Gilguerillo demanded to see the king’s foot before he
would undertake to cure it; and to obtain admittance
he gave out that he was a shoemaker. However, the
dreaded signs were absent, and his heart bounded
at the thought that the princess was within his
Perhaps she was; but a great deal had to be accomplished
yet, and he had allowed himself a very short time
in which to do it.
He spared his horse only so much as was needful,
yet it took him six days to reach the spot where the
plant grew. A thick wood lay in front of him, and,
fastening the bridle tightly to a tree, he flung himself on
his hands and knees and began to hunt for the treasure.
Many times he fancied it was close to him, and many
times it turned out to be something else; but, at last,
when light was fading, and he had almost given up hope,
he came upon a large bed of the plant, right under his
feet! Trembling with joy, he picked every scrap he could
see, and placed it in his wallet. Then, mounting his horse,
he galloped quickly back towards the city.
It was night when he entered the gates, and the
fifteen days allotted were not up till the next day. His
eyes were heavy with sleep, and his body ached with the
long strain, but, without pausing to rest, he kindled a fire
on his hearth, and quickly filling a pot with water, threw in
the herbs and left them to boil. After that he lay down
and slept soundly.
The sun was shining when he awoke, and he jumped
up and ran to the pot. The plant had disappeared and in
its stead was a thick syrup, just as the book had said that
there would be. He lifted the syrup out with a spoon, and
after spreading it in the sun till it was partly dry, poured
it into a small flask of crystal. He next washed himself
thoroughly, and dressed himself in his best clothes, and
putting the flask in his pocket, set out for the palace, and
begged to see the king without delay.
Now Balancin, whose foot had been much less painful
since Gilguerillo had wrapped it in the plaster, was counting
the days to the young man’s return; and when he was told
Gilguerillo was there, ordered him to be admitted at once.
As he entered, the king raised himself eagerly on his pillows,
but his face fell when he saw no signs of a slipper.
‘You have failed, then?’ he said, throwing up his hands
‘I hope not, your majesty; I think not,’ answered the
youth. And drawing the flask from his pocket, he poured
two or three drops on the wound.
‘Repeat this for three nights, and you will find yourself
cured,’ said he. And before the king had time to thank
him he had bowed himself out.
Of course the news soon spread through the city, and
men and women never tired of calling Gilguerillo an
impostor, and prophesying that the end of the three days
would see him in prison, if not on the scaffold. But Gilguerillo
paid no heed to their hard words, and no more
did the king, who took care that no hand but his own
should put on the healing balsam.
On the fourth morning the king awoke and instantly
stretched out his wounded foot that he might prove the
truth or falsehood of Gilguerillo’s remedy. The wound
was certainly cured on that side, but how about the
other? Yes, that was cured also; and not even a scar
was left to show where it had been!
Was ever any king so happy as Balancin when he satisfied
himself of this?
Lightly as a deer he jumped from his bed, and began
to turn head over heels, and to perform all sorts of antics,
so as to make sure that his foot was in truth as well as it
looked. And when he was quite tired he sent for his
daughter, and bade the courtiers bring the lucky young
man to his room.
‘He is really young and handsome,’ said the princess
to herself, heaving a sigh of relief that it was not some
dreadful old man who had healed her father; and while
the king was announcing to his courtiers the wonderful
cure that had been made, Diamantina was thinking that if
Gilguerillo looked so well in his common dress, how
much he would be improved by the splendid garments of
a king’s son. However, she held her peace, and only
watched with amusement when the courtiers, knowing
there was no help for it, did homage and obeisance to the
Then they brought to Gilguerillo a magnificent tunic
of green velvet bordered with gold, and a cap with three
white plumes stuck in it; and at the sight of him so arrayed,
the princess fell in love with him in a moment.
The wedding was fixed to take place in eight days, and
at the ball afterwards nobody danced so long or so
lightly as king Balancin.