The Nightingale

The Nightingale cover

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”
Hans Christian Andersen

            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.”

 

           

             “Tsing-pe!” cried the lord-in-waiting, and again he ran up and down stairs, through all the halls and corridors; and half the court ran with him, for they did not like the idea of being trampled upon. There was a great inquiry about this wonderful nightingale, which all the world knew, but who was unknown to the court.

            At last they met with a poor little girl in the kitchen, who said, “Oh, yes, I know the nightingale quite well; indeed, she can sing. Every evening I have permission to take home to my poor sick mother the scraps from the table; she lives down by the seashore and as I come back I feel tired, and listen to the nightingale’s song. Then the tears come into my eyes, and it is just as if my mother kissed me.”

            “Little maiden,” said the lord-in-waiting, “I will obtain for you constant employment in the kitchen, and you shall have permission to see the emperor dine, if you will lead us to the nightingale; for she is invited for this evening to the palace.”

            So she went into the wood where the nightingale sang, and half the court followed her. As they went along, a cow began lowing.

            “Oh,” said a young courtier, “now we have found her; what wonderful power for such a small creature; I have certainly heard it before.”

            ‘”No, that is only a cow lowing,” said the little girl; “we are a long way from the place yet.”

            Then some frogs began to croak in the marsh.

            “Beautiful,” said the young courtier again. “Now I hear it, tinkling like little church bells.”

            “No those are frogs,” said the little maiden, “but I think we shall soon hear her now:” and presently the nightingale began to sing.

            “Hark, hark! There she is” said the girl, “and there she sits, she added, pointing to a little gray bird who was perched on a bough.

            “Is it possible?” said the lord-in-waiting, “I never imagined it would be a little, plain, simple thing like that. She has certainly changed color at seeing so many grand people around her.”

            “Little nightingale,” cried the girl, raising her voice, “our most gracious emperor wishes you to sing before him.”

            “With the greatest pleasure,” said the nightingale, and began to sing most delightfully.

            “It sounds like tiny glass bells,” said the lord-in-waiting, “and see how her little throat works. It is surprising that we have never heard this before; she will be a great success at court.”

            “Shall I sing once more before the emperor?” asked the nightingale, who thought he was present.

            “My excellent little nightingale, said the courtier, “I have the great pleasure of inviting you to a court festival this evening, where you will gain imperial favor by your charming song.”

            “My song sounds best in the green wood,” said the bird; but still she came willingly when she heard the emperor’s wish.

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