Archive for April, 2011

April 18, 2011

The Nightingale

            In China, you know, the emperor is a Chinese, and all those about him are Chinamen. The story I am going to tell you happened a great many years ago, so it is well to hear it now before it is forgotten. The emperor’s palace was the most beautiful in the world. It was built entirely of porcelain, and very costly, but so delicate and brittle that whoever touched it was obliged to be careful. In the garden could be seen the most singular flowers, with pretty silver bells tied to them, which tinkled so that every one who passed could not help noticing the flowers. Indeed, everything in the emperor’s garden was remarkable, and it extended so far that the gardener himself did not know where it ended. Those who traveled beyond its limits knew that there was a noble forest, with lofty trees, sloping down to the deep blue sea, and the great ships sailed under the shadow of its branches. In one of these trees lived a nightingale, which sang so beautifully that even the poor fishermen, who had so many other things to do, would stop and listen. Sometimes, when they went at night to spread their nets they would hear her sing and say, “ Oh, is not that beautiful?” But when they returned to their fishing, they forgot the bird until the next night. Then they would hear it again, and exclaim, “Oh, how beautiful is the nightingale’s song!”

            Travelers from every country in the world came to the city of the emperor, which they admired very much, as well as the palace and gardens; but when they heard the nightingale, they all declared it the best of all. And the travelers, on their return home, related what they had seen; and learned men wrote books, containing descriptions of the town, the palace, and the gardens; but they did not forget the nightingale, which was really the greatest wonder. And those who could write poetry composed beautiful verses about the nightingale, which lived in a forest near the deep sea. The books traveled all over the world, and some of them came into the hands of the emperor; and he sat in his golden chair, and, as he read, he nodded his approval every moment, for it pleased him to find such a beautiful description of his city, his palace, and his gardens. But when he came to the words, “the nightingale is the most beautiful of all,” he exclaimed, “What is this? I know nothing of any nightingale. Is there such a bird in my empire? And even in my garden? I have never heard of it. Something, it appears, may be learnt from books.”

            Then he called one of his lords-in-waiting, who was so highbred, that when any in an inferior rank to him spoke to him, or asked him a question, he would answer, “Pooh,” which means nothing.

            “There is a very wonderful bird mentioned here, called a nightingale,” said the emperor, “they say it is the best thing in my large kingdom. Why have I not been told of it?”

            “I have never heard the name,” replied the cavalier, “she has not been presented at court.”

            “It is my pleasure that she shall appear this evening,” said the emperor, “the whole world knows what I possess better than I do myself.”

            “I have never heard of her,” said the cavalier, “yet I will endeavor to find her.”

            But where was the nightingale to be found? The nobleman went up stairs and down, through halls and passages; yet none of those whom he met had heard of the bird. So he returned to the emperor, and said that it must be a fable, invented by those who had written the book. “Your imperial majesty,” said he, “cannot believe everything contained in books; sometimes they are only fiction, or what is called the black art.”

            “But the book in which I have read this account,” said the emperor, “was sent to me by the great and mighty emperor of Japan, an therefore it cannot contain a falsehood. I will hear the nightingale, she must be here this evening; she has my highest favor; and if she does not come, the whole court shall be trampled upon after supper is ended.”

April 11, 2011

The Princess and the Pea

One evening a terrible storm came on; there was thunder and lightning, and the rain poured down in torrents. Suddenly a knocking was heard at the city gate, and the old king went to open it.

It was a princess standing out there in front of the gate. But, good gracious! what a sight the rain and the wind had made her look. The water ran down from her clothes; it ran down into the toes of her shoes and out again at the heels. And yet she said that she was a real princess.

April 4, 2011

Thumbelina

 

There was once a woman who wished very much to have a little child, but she could not obtain her wish. At last she went to a witch, and said, “I should so very much like to have a little child; can you tell me where I can find one?”

“Oh, that can be easily managed,” said the witch. “Here is a barleycorn of a different kind to those which grow in the farmer’s fields, and which the chickens eat; put it into a flower-pot, and see what will happen.”

“Thank you,” said the woman, and she gave the witch twelve shillings, which was the price of the barleycorn.

Then she went home and planted it, and immediately there grew up a large handsome flower, something like a tulip in appearance, but with its leaves tightly closed as if it were still a bud. “It is a beautiful flower,” said the woman, and she kissed the red and golden colored leaves, and while she did so the flower opened, and she could see that it was a real tulip. Within the flower, upon the green velvet stamens, sat a very delicate and graceful little maiden. She was scarcely half as long as a thumb, and they gave her the name of “Thumbelina,” or Tiny, because she was so small.

A walnut shell, elegantly polished, served her for a cradle; her bed was formed of blue violet-leaves, with a roseleaf for a counterpane. Here she slept at night, but during the day she amused herself on a table, where the woman had placed a plateful of water. Round this plate were wreaths of flowers with their stems in the water, and upon it floated a large tulip-leaf, which served Tiny for a boat. Here the little maiden sat and rowed herself from side to side, with two oars made of white horsehair. It really was a very pretty sight. Tiny could, also, sing so softly and sweetly that nothing like her singing had ever before been heard.

One night, while she lay in her pretty bed, a large, ugly, wet toad crept through a broken pane of glass in the window, and leaped right upon the table where Tiny lay sleeping under her roseleaf quilt. “What a pretty little wife this would make for my son, said the toad, and she took up the walnut-shell in which little Tiny lay asleep, and jumped through the window with it into the garden.

In the swampy margin of a broad stream in the garden lived the toad, with her son. He was uglier even than his mother, and when he saw the pretty little maiden in her elegant bed, he could only cry, “Croak, croak, croak.”

“Don’t speak so loud, or she will wake,” said the toad, “and then she might run away, for she is as light as swan’s down. We will place her on one of the water-lily leaves out in the stream; it will be like an island to her, she is so light and small, and then she cannot escape; and, while she is away, we will make haste and prepare the state-room under the marsh, in which you are to live when you are married.”

Far out in the stream grew a number of water lilies, with broad green leaves, which seemed to float on the top of the water. The largest of these leaves appeared farther off than the rest, and the old toad swam out to it with the walnut-shell, in which little Tiny lay still asleep. The tiny little creature woke very early in the morning, and began to cry bitterly when she found where she was, for she could see nothing but water on every side of the large green leaf, and no way of reaching the land.