Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Solario the Tailor - His Tales of the Magic Doublet
Author: Bowen, William
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Solario the Tailor - His Tales of the Magic Doublet" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



SOLARIO THE TAILOR

[Illustration: Mortimer the Executioner]


[Illustration: “Then I will begin,” said Solario, the Tailor, “the
story of----”]



  SOLARIO THE TAILOR

  _HIS TALES OF THE MAGIC DOUBLET_


  BY
  WILLIAM BOWEN


  [Illustration]


  New York
  THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
  1922

  _All rights reserved_



  PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


  [Illustration]


  COPYRIGHT, 1922,
  BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.

  Set up and electrotyped. Published September, 1922.



[Illustration]



CONTENTS


  THE FIRST NIGHT

  STORY OF THE OLD MAN IN THE SPANGLED COAT

                                                                    PAGE

  _The doublet with the missing button--The dark mansion in the
  walled park--The tailor meets the tall black man and his fair
  daughter--The Black Prince tells his story--Eight tailors who
  could not sew on a single button--The tailor is visited by a
  hideous old woman--The jolly mule driver and his
  sing-song--Adventures in search of Alb the Unicorn--Solario
  encounters Alb the Unicorn--The button is sewed on with the
  unicorn’s hair--The Prince receives the tailor’s terms--The
  magic doublet is suddenly produced_                                  1


  THE SECOND NIGHT

  ALB THE UNICORN

  _Alb the Fortunate and the Princess Hyla--A tattered old beggar
  comes to the goldsmith’s shop--The old man proposes a strange
  bargain--The three black hairs in the yellow head--Alb wins the
  promise of the Princess’s hand--A trifling incident disturbs
  Alb’s mother--Unreasonable conduct of the goldsmith’s widow--The
  merrymakers are suddenly sobered by the goldsmith’s son--The
  Princess behaves in an amusing fashion--The Princess finds her
  husband bewitched--Alb and the Princess visit the One-Armed
  Sorcerer--The Old Man of Ice, The Laughing Nymph, and
  the Great Horned Owl--The burning glass, the brass pin, and the
  loop of thread--He hears thunder in a clear sky--He goes
  down into the cave in Thunder Mountain--He pursues the
  Man of Ice with the burning glass--He commences to make his
  escape from the cave--He sails across the Great Sea--He finds a
  child in a pool of the rock--The Laughing Nymph in the Three-Spire
  Rock--He remembers the brass pin in time--The second
  black hair is gone--The Great Horned Owl stands ready for the
  loop of thread--The wrong hand and a desperate fall--Alb sees
  in the river the reflection of a unicorn_                           31


  THE THIRD NIGHT

  THE SON OF THE TAILOR OF OOGH

  _The Prince receives the magic doublet--The Prince and his
  daughter set forth for Oogh--A strange encounter at the wayside
  well--The three blind ballad singers--The blind ballad singer
  displays the Shears of Sharpness--The strange conduct of the people
  of Oogh--The mansion in the ruined park--The solitary figure behind
  the spider’s web--The Prince watches the people’s behavior
  toward the boy--The man with the ball in the underground alley--The
  Prince sets out for his encounter with Babadag the Tailor--Babadag
  the Tailor, Goolk the Spider, and the eight tailors--The
  three blind ballad singers once more--The magic doublet
  protects the Prince against the Knitters of Eyebrows and against
  Goolk the Spider--The Prince’s daughter has beguiled the Shears
  of Sharpness from the ballad singers--A light flickers in the dark
  shop--The Prince’s daughter is gone, and the Prince makes a dash
  for liberty--Babadag the Tailor is conquered by his little son--The
  governor, being released, beholds the Prince’s daughter--The
  shearing of the Eyebrow--The skin of the Prince is black--The
  doom of the city of Oogh--The tailor’s son follows him into the
  burning city--The boy is found on the sill of his ruined home,
  alive--The eight tailors stand before them in a row--They meet
  the three blind ballad singers for the last time_                   73


  THE FOURTH NIGHT

  THE RAGPICKER AND THE PRINCESS

  _The Princess hears a voice from the waves beneath her window--The
  Princess sees the shadow of an old woman--A midnight visit from
  a one-armed old man--Alb, seeking the Princess, sits down by the
  seashore--An interview with a talking seal--A sea journey on the
  back of a seal--The village of storks--The feeding of the
  storks--The Ragpicker frightens the men away with her bag--He
  follows the Ragpicker down into the dark--She stirs a steaming
  mixture with her long, hooked forefinger--The shadows of the
  children--He loses his way in the dark--He hears the voice of the
  seal again--He peeps into the sorcerer’s workshop--He lies in wait
  with a bow and arrow--The Ragpicker releases the shadows in
  the street--A singular commotion on the housetops--The Princess
  is herself again, but--The King beholds his child and is
  grieved--The seal introduces his liniment, guaranteed to cure in
  all cases_                                                         126


  THE FIFTH NIGHT

  THE CITY OF DEAD LEAVES

  _The misfortunes of Tush the Apothecary--They find themselves
  on an unknown shore--The startling effect of making a ring of
  grass--They start upon a journey through the air--The orange tree
  and the panther--They come upon the King’s brother in rags--A
  dwarf clad in motley stands up to speak--Buffo the Fool leads
  them to the palace--They find the King in a terrible state--The
  Perfection Cream is rubbed into the itching palm--Tush the
  Apothecary takes the people in hand--Paravaine has made her
  choice--He finds himself rubbing his palms together--He cannot
  find the ingredients for making the salve--Tush and his sister
  are seized by the angry crowd--The genie in the whirlwind--The
  pulling off of the genie’s ring_                                   169


  THE SIXTH NIGHT

  THE ENCHANTED HIGHWAYMAN

  _A voice from nowhere bids the Prince stop--The Prince listens
  to a curious discourse--The Prince, alone in the forest, hears
  the bark of a dog--The prisoner inside the wasp’s nest--The dog
  leaps upon him to devour him--The Prince, sitting on the ground,
  looks up at a genie--The One-Armed Sorcerer appears from within
  the wasp’s nest--The Highwayman and nine of his daughters appear
  in proper person--He sees the Highwayman’s tenth daughter--The
  genie breathes fire upon the witch’s hut--The One-Armed
  Sorcerer performs upon a button--The genie flies away with the
  witch--The Prince leads his beloved home--The magic doublet is
  presented at the wedding_                                          206



[Illustration]



ILLUSTRATIONS


   1. “Then I will begin,” said Solario the Tailor, “the
      story of----”                                       _Frontispiece_

                                                             FACING PAGE

   2. Solario was sitting on his worktable busily plying the needle    4

   3. The Unicorn stamped and gave a piercing neigh                   20

   4. “There is something here,” said the old beggar, “which I wish
      to buy”                                                         36

   5. Mortimer the Executioner was being measured by Solario for
      a suit                                                          74

   6. “You are welcome, master peddler,” said Babadag                 98

   7. “Beauty in tatters!” said Babadag the Tailor                   110

   8. The shadow of a Ragpicker oozed in through the door            134

   9. The one-armed sorcerer plucked a feather from the stork        156

  10. The genie flew away with Tush and his sister                   178

  11. The genie swung him back and forth and tossed him out to sea   204

  12. “I held my trusty blade on high and took from him his money”   212



[Illustration]



TO BE READ FIRST


In the book called “The Enchanted Forest” it is related-- But I hope
that you have read that book, or at least that you sincerely intend to
do so as soon as you have time, but no matter; it is all about a Forest
Kingdom, and a Great Forest that was enchanted by a witch, an irritable
sort of person who-- Not that she was to be blamed altogether, in my
judgment, for she had been provoked to it by a page boy belonging to
the King of the Forest, and I am personally not surprised that this
young rogue was in consequence spirited away in the middle of the
night, no one knew whither.

Another boy (quite a different sort) named Bilbo, son of one Bodad a
woodchopper, managed to disenchant the forest and destroy the witch,
and for this he was given, when he was old enough, the hand of the
King’s daughter, the Princess Dorobel; and in course of time there came
to them a little son, by name Bojohn.

This Bojohn, with his friend Bodkin, a fisherman’s boy, afterward
discovered the lost page boy in a chamber beneath a forest pool, where
the witch had placed him for his punishment; and in this chamber, with
the page boy, was a company of enchanted men, also placed there by the
witch, at various times, each for some offense against her, and each
sitting there upright in a kind of cupboard in the wall, unable to
speak or move. These men, and the page boy too, Prince Bojohn and his
friend Bodkin set free, by means of a magical silver lamp.

In the audience room of the King’s dwelling, a noble castle in the
midst of the forest, the entire court assembled to welcome the rescued
men on the night of their arrival; and the King, after making a speech
(which no power on earth could have prevented his doing), created the
rescued men, without bothering to ask whether they wanted it or no, an
order of knighthood, to be known as the Order of the Silver Lamp. This
done, he addressed the new knights,--but here I may as well turn back
to the book itself, which thus relates what then occurred:

“We are all anxious,” said the King, “to hear your stories; they are,
I am sure, of the greatest interest. You, sir,” he said, addressing the
oldest of the Knights of the Silver Lamp, who wore a faded spangled
coat, of a period no one present could remember, “I beseech you to
recount to us the story of your life, and in particular the adventure
which brought you to so strange a pass.”

“Willingly, sire,” said the ancient man, so readily that it was
apparent he had been waiting for this opportunity; and thereupon, with
a considerable rustling and a good deal of whispering and nodding of
heads, the assemblage composed itself to hear the story of the Old Man
in the Spangled Coat.



[Illustration: Bojohn and Bodkin]



_The Teller of Tales_

SOLARIO THE TAILOR


_His Audience_

  PRINCE BOJOHN, _a boy, the King’s grandson_

  BODKIN, _a fisherman’s boy, his friend_

  THE PRINCESS DOROBEL, _Bojohn’s mother_

  PRINCE BILBO, _her husband, Bojohn’s father_

  THE KING and QUEEN _of the Great Forest, Bojohn’s
    grandfather and grandmother, and the Princess Dorobel’s parents_

  MORTIMER the EXECUTIONER

  THE ENCOURAGER of the INTERRUPTER



[Illustration]



THE FIRST NIGHT

STORY OF THE OLD MAN IN THE SPANGLED COAT


You must know (began the old man) that I am a tailor, by name Solario.
In the reign of the good King Fortmain the Ninth--

_“Ah!” interrupted the King. “That was my great-grandfather. Bless my
soul, master tailor, you must have been imprisoned under the forest
pool nearly a hundred years ago. Hum! I dare say you know what you’re
talking about, but--”_

_“My dear,” said the Queen, “I’m quite sure that the ninth Fortmain
was your great-great-grandfather, and not your great-grandfather,
though of course I may be mistaken; but it seems to me that it was the
tenth Fortmain who was your great-grandfather, because the ninth had
an oldest son who married into the Stiffish family, if I recollect the
name correctly, or perhaps it was Standish, and at any rate he died
without any children while his father was alive, and the younger son
came into the--”_

_“Never mind, never mind,” said the King. “You mustn’t interrupt. Let
the man go on with his story.”_

You must know (began the old man again) that in the reign of the good
King Fortmain the Ninth, I practised my art as a tailor in the city of
Vernicroft, a thriving and busy city, located in a corner of the Great
Forest remote from--

_“Vernicroft!” said the King. “I don’t understand it. There’s no such
busy city now. There’s nothing but a little ruined hamlet away over at
the other side of the--”_

_“Well,” said the Queen, “perhaps at that time--”_

_“Don’t interrupt,” said the King. “Let the man go on.”_

You must know (began the old man again) that I had risen to a
considerable eminence in my profession. I do not pretend to say that
I was the very best tailor in the kingdom, for I am far too modest to
speak of my own merit; but the--er--the spangled coat in which you now
see me was a creation of my own brain, and at the time it was thought
to be--er--however, it speaks for itself.

_“I think it’s a perfect sight,” whispered Bojohn to Bodkin._

It is true I was growing old, but I was very well satisfied; there
was no one dependent on me, my clients were numerous and rich, and I
enjoyed the respect due an artist and man of substance. I had saved a
good deal of money, for I had never squandered any in foolish gifts,
nor wasted any in ridiculous pleasures, nor--but I do not wish to boast.

_“That’s a wonderful thing to brag about,” whispered Bodkin to Bojohn._

One morning, a balmy morning in spring, I was sitting cross-legged on
my worktable at the rear of my shop, busily plying the needle, when a
stranger, richly dressed, entered my open door from the street, and
approached me, bowing courteously. He was a handsome man, wearing a
short beard; and I remarked with surprise, by contrast with his beard,
that he was utterly without eyebrows.

“Sir,” said he, “have I the pleasure of addressing the renowned
Solario, whose genius has caused our city to be envied wherever art is
prized?”

I confessed that I was the person.

“My master,” he went on, “is a nobleman, to whose ears the rumor of
your skill and taste has penetrated, although he lives in retirement
and hears not much of the outer world. I trust that you are at liberty
to undertake a piece of work for him?”

I assured him that I was.

“My master,” he proceeded, “is, I must warn you, unable to satisfy
himself, in the matter now in hand, with less than absolute perfection.
Already he has been disappointed in some eight other tailors, and he
has learned of your superlative excellence with much hope; and in order
that he may assure himself how well his report of you is justified, he
has commanded me to entrust to you a small commission; to wit, to sew
on this button.”

I was greatly mortified at this lame conclusion of so promising a
speech; I suspected that the stranger was making game of me; but his
manner was so respectful that I held my peace, and watched him without
a word while he took from under his short blue velvet cloak a package,
and depositing it before me on my table proceeded to undo it.

_“This old fellow talks like he was writing a composition,” whispered
Bodkin to Bojohn._

_“Oh, he’s a conceited pumpkin,” whispered Bojohn. “He loves to hear
himself talk, and I bet you he’s thinking we’re thinking we never heard
such fine language in our lives. That’s him, all over.”_


_The Doublet with the Missing Button_

The package contained a doublet, of a material I had never seen before,
very thin and glossy, of a texture like that of wasp’s nest but very
tough. The doublet contained ten buttonholes, but only nine buttons;
one button, and one only, was missing.

“I have here,” said my visitor coolly, “the missing button; and my
master will be obliged if you will sew it on.”

[Illustration: Solario was sitting on his worktable busily plying the
needle]

He produced the button, a large ivory one, which, with the garment, he
held up before me in his left hand.

“Please to hold out your left hand,” said he.

I did so, and with his own left hand he placed the garment and the
button in mine.

“This doublet,” said he, “must not pass from one to another but by
the left hand. Please to remember that. And now, adieu. I will return
to-morrow. Meantime--”

He laid on my table a small purse, and bowing with sober courtesy he
left the shop.

I turned up the purse, and a number of gold coins fell out, enough to
pay for sewing on five hundred buttons. “Ah!” thought I. “At this rate
I can well afford to gratify my new client’s whimsies.”

The next day the courteous stranger returned for the doublet. I
delivered it with my left hand into his own left hand, the button
being attached firmly in place. He thanked me, and departed; but on
the morning after, he reappeared, to my surprise, and as he came in he
smiled at me and shook his head at me waggishly.

“Fie! master Solario!” said he. “How could you have treated me so? And
a mere button, too! Really, my good Solario!”

He produced the doublet, and showed me that it lacked a button in the
same place as before. He held up in one hand the ivory button and in
the other a length of thread. I was perplexed. The thread had not
been cut, of that I was sure. It was the identical thread, and of the
identical length.

“You will not blame my master,” said the stranger, “if he finds himself
a little aggrieved. He had scarcely put on the doublet yesterday when
the button came off in his hand. I was commanded to leave it with you
once more, together with this trifling honorarium.”

So saying, he dropped a little purse on my table as before, and after
putting the garment and its button into my left hand with his own left
hand, bowed himself out. I turned up the purse in haste, and poured out
a number of gold coins, as before, but this time twice as many. I put
away the gold into my coffer, and sewed on the button once more, with
special care.

I whipped the thread around itself under the button, sewed it through
the goods, doubled it back through the button, wound it and knotted
it and doubled it back, and altogether made such a job of it (however
painful to me as an artist) as was perfect for security.

_“I don’t see,” interrupted the King, “what all this business about a
button has got to do with--”_

_“If your majesty will pardon me,” said the old tailor, “I have not yet
reached the end of my story.”_

_“I’m well aware of it,” said the King. “But still I don’t see--”_

_“My dear!” said the Queen, sweetly, and the old man went on with his
story._

Next morning the stranger returned for the doublet. I delivered it into
his left hand with my left, and he turned to go. At the door he looked
back at me smiling, and was about to bow himself out when he paused to
try the button with his fingers. A slight frown came over his face; he
pulled the button gently, and behold, there before my eyes,--I assure
you I saw it with these very eyes,--the button came off into his hand!

He sighed, looked at me gravely, and held out the button in one hand
and the doublet in the other.

“Alas, good master Solario!” said he. “You have not treated me very
well. The hopes I entertained for your profit are at an end. It remains
only for me to apologize for my intrusion, and for you to return to me
the money which I left with you.”

This was too much. The idea of returning money which had once been
locked safely in my coffer was more than I could bear. I sprang down
from my table. “One moment!” I cried. “I beg of you! That I should not
be able to sew on a miserable button--it is too ridiculous! Let me see
your master myself, and prove to him what I can do! Take me to him at
once! Let him assign me any task whatever, and I swear to you--”

“You wish to see my master?” said the stranger.

“At once!” I cried. “Do not carry back to him a report of me so unjust!
I must see him myself!”

“Be careful what you say,” said the stranger. “You may be sorry.”

“Impossible!” said I. “Take me to him at once!”

The stranger looked at me thoughtfully. “If I take you,” said he,
“swear that you will never blame me for what may happen.”

“I swear it!” I cried.

“You will remember that I warned you?”

“On my own head be it! Let us go at once!”

“Very well, then. The decision is yours, not mine; remember that. I
will return for you to-night, and you will then, if you are still of
the same mind, be ready to accompany me to my master.”

He tucked the doublet with its button under his cloak, and in another
moment he was gone.

That night, after dark, as I was putting up my shutters, a splendid
coach and pair, driven by a black man in a rich but somber livery,
stopped at my door, and the smiling stranger descended. I ran into the
shop and put on my best attire. Some time before, I had designed and
executed the coat in which you now see me; it had been much admired; I
put it on, and hastened out to the stranger, who bowed me politely into
the carriage.

During our journey, my companion exerted himself to be agreeable; and
I, on my part, fairly unloosed the rein of conversation,--an art in
which, I confess, I had always taken the greatest pleasure. On this
occasion I surpassed myself; I drew upon the mysteries of our noble
craft for his entertainment; I was by turns humorous and grave; I was
at my best; it would not be too much to say that I sparkled; and in
short, when the carriage stopped, I realized that I had taken no note
of our route.

We drew up in a street which was unfamiliar to me. As we alighted, I
observed before me a high wall, extending in either direction as far as
I could see; and immediately at hand a little door in the wall, toward
which my companion led me. He pulled a bell-rope, and we were at once
admitted by a second black man, in the livery I had already seen. I was
aware, in spite of the darkness, that we were in a garden, or rather
park, of immense dimensions.


_The Dark Mansion in the Walled Park_

I could see the dark outline of what appeared to be a great mansion.
There were no lights anywhere. The air was heavy with the perfume
of flowers, a cloying perfume, oppressively sweet. We came, after a
considerable walk, to the house. At my companion’s knock, a door was
opened by a servant, black like the other two.

We entered a narrow hall, and at the end of this hall we reached a
door, which was opened by a fourth man-servant, black like the others;
and after ascending a flight of stairs, and traversing several spacious
apartments, we came to a pause in a small but elegant room, where my
companion left me.

In a moment he returned, and beckoned me to come with him. He opened
a door, gently pushed me through, closed the door behind me, and left
me, as he advanced, blinking under the light of a hundred candles in
a room more superb than any I had ever seen. The colored tiles of the
floor, the thick rugs, the curious vases, the pictured tapestries on
the walls,--I took them all in at a glance; and I was aware at the
same time of an aroma like that of the flowers in the garden, but very
faint.


_The Tailor Meets the Tall Black Man and His Fair Daughter_

At one end of the apartment was a table, loaded with fruit and flowers
and wine. At the other end, on a divan, sat a tall and majestic man,
dressed in the most exquisite taste. His skin was ebony black. He
wore drooping black mustaches, and his hair was long and black; but
I observed that he was, like the Courteous Stranger, totally without
eyebrows.

At his feet, on a cushion, sat a lady, young and beautiful, a lady
divinely beautiful, more beautiful than any I had ever seen or dreamed
of. Her complexion! it was all cream and roses. Her eyes! they were
blue of the blueness of violets, and they were merry and soft together.
Her hair!--I swear I can see her at this moment. Her hair was of the--
But I must not allow myself to think of her. The black man and the
wonderful lady rose, and my companion presented me.

“You are welcome, Solario,” said the tall black man, smiling
graciously. “You have wished to see me, as I hear, and to give me proof
of your skill. But we can converse better while we refresh ourselves.
You observe that the table is set for four. My daughter has, as you
see, already counted upon your company. I hope you will consent to
accept our poor hospitality.”

We seated ourselves at the table. My host clapped his hands four times,
and four serving men entered, bearing the first course. They were
black, like the four I had already seen. They were without eyebrows,
and I seemed to remember the same defect in the other four. Eight men
servants, all black, and all without eyebrows! I was puzzled; and when
I looked from the fair face of the lady opposite me to the black face
of her father, I was completely mystified. As for my stranger, he
scarcely took his eyes from the damsel; and from the manner in which
she now and then returned his gaze, I could see that they were on a
footing of tenderness.

When we were at the end of our repast, and were trifling with our
grapes and wine, my black host addressed himself directly to me. I
was in a mellow mood; I felt that I could scarcely have denied him
anything; and as for his daughter, if she had bade me run for her sake
to the ends of the-- Well, the wine was excellent; I sniffed in it the
same aroma I had noticed twice before; and I was in consequence of it
in that state of peace which in other circumstances would have preceded
slumber. My host leaned toward me in the friendliest attitude.


_The Black Prince Tells His Story_

“My dear Solario,” said he, “you are asking yourself, all this while,
who I am. I am a Prince, heir to the throne of the distant kingdom of
Wen. My skin was formerly white, like my daughter’s. It was changed,
as you see it now, by the power of an enemy, and I am awaiting here,
in exile, with my daughter and my friend, the release which day and
night I dream of. If you are not too weary, I will relate to you the
adventure which brought me here and changed my skin.”

“With all my heart,” said I; whereupon, without further preamble, he
commenced


THE STORY OF THE BLACK PRINCE

“Know, most excellent Solario,” he began, “that my father the King of
Wen called me to him one day, and sitting down with me addressed me as
follows. ‘My son,’ said he--”

_“Is it a long story?” asked the King, yawning behind his hand._

_“It is very interesting,” said the old tailor._

_“Not what I asked,” said the King. “Is it long?”_

_“Well,--well--” said the old man._

_“Then we will hear it another time,” said the King. “Pray let us hear
what happened to you.”_

_The old man bowed, quite crestfallen, and proceeded with his story._

_“Oh, shucks,” said Bojohn to Bodkin._

When the Black Prince had concluded his own tale, he paused, and then
said to me:

“Now, Solario, as to those circumstances of my misfortune which precede
the tale I have just told you, I will, if you consent, call on my good
friend here, who was personally concerned in them, to relate them to
you.”

Whereupon he nodded to my companion, who at once commenced

THE STORY OF THE COURTEOUS STRANGER

“You must know,” he began, “that soon after my arrival at the city of--”

_“What has this got to do with your being enchanted by the witch?” said
the King._

_“Well,” said Solario, “its bearing on what afterward happened to me is
perhaps a little indirect, but I assure your majesty that--”_

_“No, no,” said the King. “I never sit up late, and it’s getting on
toward my bedtime.”_

_The old man sighed._

When the Courteous Stranger had finished his story, the Black Prince
gazed at me for a moment.

“Solario,” said he, “I will tell you the conclusion of the whole matter
in a word. To him who shall deliver me from this spell, I will give
five hundred thousand pieces of gold, of the money of your country.
And, Solario,” he said, bending toward me and pointing at me with his
finger, “I believe you are the man.”

Visions of Solario the tailor as the richest man in Vernicroft flashed
before my eyes, and left me dizzy.

“It is a matter of sewing on a button,” said the Prince. “I am allowed
nine tailors for the trial, on the principle that nine tailors are the
equivalent of one--ahem! I beg your pardon. Eight tailors have already
essayed it, and failed. You are the ninth.”

“And what has become of the other eight?” I asked, with some misgiving.

The Black Prince smiled. “You have already seen them,” said he.

“I?” I exclaimed in amazement.


_Eight Tailors Who Could not Sew on a Single Button_

“Four of them served our table here to-night, and the other four you
have met between your shop and this room.”

“The eight black servants?” I cried.

“Precisely,” said the Prince. “I must tell you, that he who fails comes
himself under the spell, his skin changes to black, and he remains
here with me in my retirement. If you deliver me, you deliver also
these other eight. If you fail, you condemn yourself and all of us to
everlasting misery. You are our final hope. What do you say?”

I was becoming almost lightheaded with the prospect of my reward.
Perhaps the wine had something to do with it; perhaps it was the
Prince’s daughter, who smiled upon me bewitchingly.

“You have already seen my doublet,” said the Prince. “So long as
it remained intact, no harm could touch me. But my enemy, as I have
related to you, succeeded in detaching from it a single button, and
taking away the thread. Instantly all its virtue was gone; I was
helpless. To this mischance I owe all my misery; my happiness hangs on
a button. Take the doublet, Solario, and find the thread which will
withstand sorcery. Three months are allowed you. Here are the doublet
and the button; guard them as you would your life; and may you return
to receive my thanks and the fortune which awaits you.”

With his left hand he placed the doublet and the button in my left
hand. The perfume of the wine seemed to grow heavier; I was very
drowsy; I tried to speak; I could not arouse myself; I was conscious of
the eager smile of the Prince’s daughter, and I knew no more.

When I came to myself, I was in my bed behind the shop, and it was
morning. My first thought was that I had had an unusual dream, but
there on the pillow beside me lay the identical doublet and button,
and I found myself wearing the spangled coat of the evening before. I
jumped up and prepared my breakfast, but I could not eat. A desperate
case I had gotten myself into, indeed! Where on earth should I obtain a
thread which would withstand sorcery? And if I should fail--! I pushed
aside my food and buried my face in my hands.

I heard the bell over my shop door tinkle, as if some customer were
coming in. I paid no attention. Why had I allowed this hopeless
enterprise to be thrust upon me? I was lost.


_The Tailor Is Visited by a Hideous Old Woman_

I heard a cackle of unpleasant laughter. I looked up quickly and saw,
sitting at the opposite side of my table, a little old woman, extremely
hideous of face, hook-nosed, toothless, and wrinkled, munching her gums
and watching me with little, malicious eyes.

The ancient hag did not leave me long in doubt about her business.

“Master tailor,” said she, “the fortune is yours if you will have it.”

Her voice was like nothing so much as the crackling of dry wood in a
brisk fire.

“Never mind what I know nor how I know it,” she went on, answering my
thought before I spoke. “What would you give to know where and how to
obtain the thread which will hold the button?”

“Anything!” I cried. “That is, almost anything.”

“Would you marry?”

I thought of the adorable young lady whom I had seen the night before.

“Willingly!” I said. “That is,--yes, I think--”

“Then I will tell you the condition on which you may have the thread.
You must marry me.”

I looked at the frightful old creature; then I laughed and laughed; I
could not help it. She arose in a great fury, grasped the crooked stick
which she bore with her, and hobbled toward the door.

“You shall never find it!” she said. “No, never! You shall be a black
and penniless outcast! You shall wish you had never been born! You are
lost, lost, lost!”

That terrible prospect sobered me. If this woman could by any chance
save me from such a fate, what price would be too great?

“Come back,” I said, “I will think it over.”

“Speak!” said she. “Will you, or will you not?”

I looked at her. She was very old. She could not live long, at best.
She might not live until the wedding day. And if she should, a man of
my wealth and power could afterward find the means of mitigating the
horrors of such a marriage.

“How do I know you can perform your promise?” I asked.

“You need not perform yours until I have performed mine. Come, master
tailor, will you or will you not?”

“I will,” said I. “On the day when I receive my fortune from the
Prince, I will marry you. Merciful powers!”

“Good,” said she. “Now listen to me. The thread which will hold the
button is the single black hair in the tail of the white unicorn, Alb,
who feeds in the half-moon pasture of Korbi, by the river Tarn. Listen
carefully while I tell you what you must do.”

She then gave me the most minute directions; and when she had finished,
she arose and hobbled to the door.

“Stop!” I said. “Tell me who you are, and where you live, and when I
shall see you again.”

She answered never a word; she was gone.


_The Jolly Mule Driver and His Sing-Song_

I wrote down all I could remember of her instructions, and went out
into the street to cool my burning head. As I stood before the door, I
heard a jingling of little bells, and a voice singing and shouting, and
saw, coming toward me down the street, a train of five or six mules,
driven by a short fellow in a leather jerkin, on foot, who was singing
raucously and shouting lustily to his animals. His face was gay and
humorous, and he cracked his whip merrily.

“Good mules for hire!” he sang. “Good mules for hire! We’ll bring you
to your heart’s desire! We laugh at rain and snow and mire! We never
lag and never tire! We _thread_ our way through ice and fire! Good
mules for hire! Good mules for hire!”

“Thread!” What did he mean by that word? I stared at him, and as he was
passing me he looked at me long and hard, and gave me a slow wink.

A little while later, as I was ironing a piece of goods within doors,
the mule driver himself appeared in the shop.

“At your service, master Solario!” he cried, gayly. “For a long journey
or a short one! If you’re thinking of going a journey, I’m your man!
Come, master Solario, the sun is shining, lock up the shop!”

It seemed a curious piece of good fortune that this fellow should have
appeared almost on the heels of the old woman herself, and the long and
short of it was that I hired him for my journey, at so much per week.
He agreed to provide the necessary outfit, and we would depart that
night.

My preparations were soon made. The notes I had made of the old
woman’s directions I sewed inside my vest. I placed in my strong box
the doublet and the button, and bestowed the box where it could not
be found during my absence. At midnight, my driver appeared. It was a
starry night. I locked the shop, and we mounted our mules. Preceded by
four other animals, packed with our outfit, we quietly moved down the
street, past the last houses, and into the forest. My search for the
white unicorn had begun.


_Adventures in Search of Alb the Unicorn_

From that night until we came in sight of the river Tarn, far beyond
the confines of the Forest Kingdom, the adventures we encountered were
numerous and fearful. We spent weeks on this perilous journey. In the
second week we came to a dark castle on the side of a mountain. We
crossed the drawbridge, which strangely happened to be down, though
it was late at night, and blew the horn which hung by the gate. But
perhaps it will be unnecessary to detail these adventures?

_“Totally unnecessary,” said the King. “I can scarcely restrain my
impatience to know how the story ends.”_

There are several, however, of extraordinary interest, which you might
perhaps be pleased to hear: the adventure of the Roving Griffin, the
adventure of the Blind Giant, the adventure of Montesango’s Cave--

_“Yes, yes,” said Bojohn and Bodkin, in a loud whisper._

_“No,” said the King. “I must beg you to reserve these pleasures for
another occasion. I can’t sit up all night.”_

We reached at last, on a sunshiny morning, the top of a little hill,
from which we looked down on a narrow and shallow river, curved at this
point outward in a crescent, and beyond it we saw a meadow of some
two miles in depth, bounded at the rear by a high cliff, curved also
outward like a crescent, and reaching the river at the right hand and
the left of the meadow. The meadow thus enclosed resembled in shape a
half-moon.

“Ah!” I cried. “The river Tarn and the half-moon pasture of Korbi!”

I left my mule driver, and descended alone to the river. I found a
ford, and though the water reached my shoulders, I had no difficulty in
wading to the other side. I came there upon the pasture I had seen from
the hill. It was green with tall grass, and sprinkled with flowers.
I looked about fearfully, but the unicorn was not in sight. Creeping
cautiously, I made toward the high cliff at the further side of the
meadow. Just before I reached it, I stopped to consult my notes:

“A circle of white stones on the side of the cliff, higher than a man’s
reach. In the center of the circle, a blood-red flower growing on a
long stem.”


_Solario Encounters Alb the Unicorn_

I walked along at the foot of the cliff, and after some ten minutes
descried above me the circle of white stones. The wall was perfectly
upright, but its surface was rugged enough to give promise of a
foothold. I turned my head, and at that instant saw, a short distance
away, farther down the line of the cliff, standing knee-deep in the
grass and flowers, a small horse, pure white, with a pure white mane
and tail, and a sharp-pointed horn in the middle of his forehead.

[Illustration: The unicorn stamped and gave a piercing neigh]

As he saw me, he stamped his hoof and threw his head high. I started
for the cliff; he made for the same point, as if to intercept me. I
knew that against that sharp horn I should be helpless; it was now a
matter of life and death. I ran with all my might; the unicorn came on
at a gallop; we approached the foot of the cliff together; his head was
down, and I could already in imagination feel his horn in my side; I
doubled my exertions; I reached the cliff, and leaped up on the rocks
just out of his reach, as he swept by me; I was safe.

I clung to my perch panting, and then painfully climbed to the circle
of white stones. There, in its center, was the blood-red flower. The
unicorn was standing below, watching me. When he saw me bend toward the
flower, he stamped, shook his mane, and gave a long piercing neigh,
as a horse will when he is in pain. I plucked the flower at the root.
The unicorn’s excitement was extraordinary. He pranced and bounded,
shrieking in a manner almost human. I shivered at the thought of going
down to him, but it had to be done. I descended carefully, holding the
flower out in the unicorn’s view. His shrieks subsided into a moaning
cry. He shook his head up and down, as if under some strong command. I
reached the ground.

I paused there for a moment, for I confess I was desperately afraid.
Little by little I advanced to him, holding out the flower. He pranced
and whined. I came within arm’s length of his head, and held the flower
before his mouth. With a quiver which shook his whole body, he seized
it in his teeth. I quickly ran to his tail, and searched there for the
single black hair, keeping well away from his heels. Covered by the
brush of white hair I found it. I seized it and gave it a mighty jerk.
Out it came into my hand.

The unicorn trembled and tottered; and there in his place before my
eyes stood a handsome young man, clad in a suit of soft and exquisite
white leather. He fell on his knees before me and kissed my hand.

“Thanks, brave deliverer!” he cried. “The enchantment is broken! I am
myself again! How glorious to be free!”

I raised him from the ground, and led him to a convenient place, where
we sat down and conversed. I placed the precious black hair securely
in the lining of my vest. If I on my part was overjoyed, the young man
was positively beside himself. He laughed and cried by turns. I was of
course intensely curious as to the circumstances of his enchantment.
He willingly consented to relate them to me, and as soon as he had
composed himself a little he began

THE STORY OF THE WHITE UNICORN

“I was born,” said the young man, “in the Island Kingdom, far out in
the Great Sea, the only son of a rich--”

_“Never mind, never mind,” interrupted the King; “not now, some other
time. It’s my bedtime. Get on with your own story. We’ve no time now to
listen to--”_

_“My dear,” said the Queen, sweetly, “perhaps if you’d--”_

_“Some other time,” said the King. “Not now, not now.”_

_“Oh, botheration,” said Bojohn to Bodkin. “He won’t let us hear
anything.”_

_“I think it’s too bad,” said Bodkin to Bojohn._

_The old man in the spangled coat sighed profoundly._

When the young man had finished his tale, the day was far advanced. I
wished to take him back with me to Vernicroft, but he was anxious to
return to the Island Kingdom without losing a moment; we crossed the
river together, and parted. I have never seen him since.

We made good speed homeward; all our difficulties seemed to have
vanished. At first, I was saddened by the thought of my approaching
marriage to the hideous and hateful old hag; but a new thought began
to take possession of me, and grew stronger as we rode along from day
to day, and my heart soon became lighter. Master as I was of such a
key to power as lay secure within my vest, I could marry whom I chose.
Why should I marry the ugliest creature I had ever seen, when the most
beautiful might be mine for the asking? The more I thought of it, the
more indignant I became at the manner in which my easy good nature had
been imposed on at every hand; I had been grossly overreached; the
bargain was beyond measure unconscionable; the exquisite face of the
Prince’s daughter haunted me day and night-- And in short, when we
arrived at Vernicroft, my mind was made up; I would _not_ marry the old
woman, and I would exact from the Prince a reward far more suitable
than the one he had promised.

It was just on the stroke of midnight when we reached my shop. I left
my driver on the sill, and procuring the necessary gold within, paid
him off and dismissed him. He was a merry fellow, and had served me
well, though I must say that I had never learned to like his way of
cooking beans. He bade me a gay farewell, and as I turned back into the
shop I looked over my shoulder, expecting to see him with his mules
on his way down the street. To my astonishment, there was positively
nothing in sight; the street was empty; in that moment the driver and
his animals had vanished.

I entered the shop. The journey had cost me all the savings of my
lifetime. But what did it matter? I was about to become rich beyond all
my dreams. I lit my lamp and looked about me. There, beside my tailor’s
bench, sat the old woman herself. Her hands rested on the head of her
crooked stick, and her toothless jaws were working.

“Well,” she said, “you have it?”

“Yes,” said I, “I have it.”

“Good,” said she. “The Prince’s friend has been here many times. He
will come to-morrow. I will return to claim you afterward. Good.”

She rose, leaned on her stick, and nodding her head and grinning to
herself hobbled out of the shop. My resolution to save myself from this
outrageous creature became absolutely fixed.


_The Button Is Sewed on with the Unicorn’s Hair_

I drew out the black hair of the unicorn’s tail, and gave myself up to
the pleasant task of sewing on the button. It was soon done, and it was
well done. Nothing could be more secure. I placed the doublet under my
pillow and went to bed.

In the morning I arose with a light heart. In order that the doublet
might be near me, I put it on; and during the day three accidents
proved its quality. First, a hot iron with which I was pressing my
spangled coat slipped from my right hand and came down squarely on my
left, and I felt no pain whatever. Next, a needle pricked my finger,
and I was aware of no inconvenience. And last, as I was standing in the
doorway, some wicked boys, with whom I was never a favorite, hurled a
stone at me, striking me violently on the temple; but its effect was no
more than that of a soft cushion. Undoubtedly the unicorn’s hair was
the authentic thread.

At nightfall, after I had put up my shutters, I stored the doublet
secretly away, and was making ready to go to bed, when a knock sounded
at the door, and I admitted the Prince’s friend, smiling and gracious
as before. He looked inquiringly at me. I bowed and smiled.

“Yes,” I said, “the work is done.”

“The thread?” he cried.

“I have it, never fear! The work is done.”

He was in a state of great excitement.

“Come!” he cried. “The carriage is at the door. Bring it with you.
Hurry!”

In a moment I was in his carriage, with a bundle under my arm. We
stopped at the same place as before, and reached by the same route the
room where I had first seen the Prince and his daughter. They arose in
agitation as I came in, and at a joyful signal from my companion came
forward and grasped my hands. Truly the lady was more beautiful than I
had dreamed.

“You have succeeded?” said the Prince.

“I have!” said I. “Your deliverance is assured!” And I described the
accidents from which the doublet had protected me that day.

“Let us sit down,” said the Prince; and when we were all seated, with
fruit and wine before us, he begged me to tell my story.

I told as much as I thought fit, omitting any mention of the old woman.
The Prince desired to see the doublet. With my left hand I placed in
his left the package I had brought with me. He opened it and held up
the contents. Alas, it was not the doublet at all, but some indifferent
garment intended for another client!

He looked at me in amazement. I was covered with confusion, and begged
him to overlook my carelessness. He listened coldly.

“You will bring the doublet here to-morrow,” he said sternly.

“That is understood,” I said. “Meanwhile,” I went on, fortifying
myself with another glass of the perfumed wine, “we may as well discuss
the question of my reward.”

“That,” said the Prince, “is already settled.”

“The case is altered,” I said. “If I had known what lay before me,
I could have made more fitting terms; but I was in the dark; the
dangers and exertions of my existence since then have changed the case
completely. I am sure that you do not wish to deal with me unjustly.
Think what my service means to you! In your place, I should think
nothing too precious for my deliverer.”

A dark frown came over the Prince’s face.

“What is it you demand?” said he.


_The Prince Receives the Tailor’s Terms_

“I demand nothing,” said I. “But if you wish to have the doublet and
be restored to yourself, your country, and your people, I shall ask
only three things: one million pieces of gold, this house, and your
daughter’s hand in marriage.”

All three jumped to their feet. I sat calmly. At a look from the
Prince, his daughter and the Courteous Stranger sat down again. They
were both very pale.

“These are your terms?” said the Prince. “You are resolved on this?”

“Inflexibly,” I said.

“Then we must consider,” said he. “When you bring the doublet to-morrow
you shall have my answer. For the present, let us dismiss the subject.”

His command of himself was superb. He began to talk lightly on
indifferent subjects, and as he talked his voice became gradually more
distant, and I grew drowsy; I knew I was falling asleep. I remember
nothing more until I awoke the next morning in my own bed.

To my surprise, the old woman did not appear at all on that day. On
the whole, the time passed pleasantly. I had no doubt the Prince would
accept my terms. I reveled in the happiness which was so soon to be
mine.

At night, dressed in my spangled coat, and with a bundle under my arm,
I sat in the shop waiting for my stranger. I was too wise to take
with me the true doublet, and you may be sure the bundle contained a
substitute. It would be time enough to deliver the magic garment at the
wedding. It reposed meanwhile under lock and key, concealed beyond the
possibility of discovery.

It was late when the stranger appeared. He conducted me to the Prince
and his daughter in chilly silence. The Prince was standing, and his
daughter sat on the divan, her chin in her hand.

“You have brought the doublet?” said the Prince.

“First,” I said, “do you accept the terms?”

“I must see the doublet,” he said.

With my left hand I placed the bundle in his left hand. He opened it.
When he saw its contents, he turned on me with a face like a thunder
cloud.

“What!” said I. “Another accident? Well, it’s of no consequence. The
doublet is safe, perfectly safe. It will be placed in your hands--_at
the wedding_. Do you consent?”


_The Magic Doublet Is Suddenly Produced_

He clapped his hands. A door opened behind the divan, and--I could
scarcely believe my eyes--in hobbled, with her crooked stick, the
old woman whom I had pledged myself to marry. I was speechless with
astonishment. The Prince clapped his hands again. From other doors
entered the eight black tailors whom I had seen before. The ancient hag
approached the Prince, and drew forth from her dress the doublet which
I had left securely locked and hidden at home! I saw it closely; it
could be no other. With her left hand she laid it in the left hand of
the Prince.

In an instant he had put it on. When he had buttoned the last button, a
startling change came over him and the eight black tailors. All their
faces grew a mottled blue, then red, and then the natural color of
healthy white skin.

At the same time the room began to contract. The ceiling came slowly
down and stopped just above my head. The walls came slowly together,
and as they reached the Prince, his daughter, the Courteous Stranger,
and the eight tailors, gave way to them, so that all these persons
passed from view on the outer side, and I was left alone with the
hideous old woman, with the walls coming in upon us by degrees until I
thought we should be crushed.

I became dizzy; I sank in terror upon the chair which stood beside me.
The walls came on from all four sides until the place wherein I sat was
no bigger than a cupboard, and there they stopped. I breathed a sigh of
relief, and attempted to rise. To my horror, I could not move.

The old woman pointed a skinny finger at me and gave a loud and
angry laugh which sent a chill up and down my spine. She moved her
finger about in strange figures. She mumbled to herself a torrent of
meaningless words; and passing through the door which remained before
me in one wall of my cabinet, she left me, and closed the door behind
her. The closet began to rock; it seemed to rise, and in a moment I
knew that it was flying with me through space....

Thus, your majesty (said the old man in the spangled coat), I came to
be imprisoned in my cell beneath the Forest Pool. There I sat, unable
to move or speak, for nearly a hundred years, until the happy day when
I was delivered by the excellent Prince, your grandson; and for the
refuge which has been accorded me in your majesty’s castle I now tender
to your majesty my grateful thanks, and--

_“Eh? What? Did you say something?” exclaimed the King, waking up
from a sound slumber, and rubbing his eyes. “Oh, yes. I see. Very
interesting. Very interesting. Something about a button, wasn’t it?
Bless my soul, I’d no idea it was so late. It’s long past my bedtime.
I’m always late for breakfast when I stay up past my-- Mortimer, will
you see to it that the castle windows are locked for the night? My
dear, I think we will have bacon and eggs in the morning; and if it’s
at all possible, I’d like to have a piece of toast that isn’t burnt.
The audience is now over.”_



[Illustration]



THE SECOND NIGHT

ALB THE UNICORN


_Solario the Tailor was sitting at the open window of his room in the
northeast tower of the castle, looking out at the stars which glittered
in a clear sky over the Great Forest. He sighed, and rising wearily lit
the candles on his table; and at that moment there came a knock on his
door, and Bojohn and Bodkin entered, rather timidly._

_“If you please, sir--” said Bojohn._

_“Pray be seated,” said Solario, and they all sat down. “It’s a warm
evening,” said he._

_“We thought,” said Bojohn, “that you might perhaps be willing to tell
us one of the stories that you--”_

_“It’s very warm this evening, indeed,” said Solario. “Quite
oppressive.”_

_“If it wouldn’t be too much trouble,” said Bodkin, “we’d like you to
tell us about--”_

_“I don’t know when I’ve felt the heat so much,” said the old tailor.
“But then it’s the idleness. If there were only something to do, there
wouldn’t be so much time to think about the weather.”_

_“Last night, sir,” said Bojohn, “you were obliged to leave out some
parts of your story, and we thought--”_

_“If I only had a few good ells of cloth on my table, and a man
like--well, say like Mortimer the Executioner,--to exercise my art on,
I’d be the happiest man alive; but as it is, sitting here with nothing
to do--”_

_“There was one tale you mentioned,” said Bojohn, “about a--”_

_“It’s a very fine thing to be a Knight of the Silver Lamp,” said
Solario, “but there doesn’t seem to be much connected with it in the
nature of work. If I could only be employed in making a suit of clothes
for Mortimer the Executioner!_ There’s _a subject! The biggest man
I’ve ever seen in my life, and the hardest to fit! That would be an
undertaking worthy of my genius. Dear, dear!”_

_“I’ll speak to grandfather about it,” said Bojohn. “I’m sure he’ll let
you make a suit for Mortimer. But what we would like to know is--”_

_“We’d like to hear one of the stories,” began Bodkin again, “that the
King made you leave out last night when--”_

_“It made no difference to me, I assure you,” said Solario, stiffly.
“None whatever.”_

_“But if you would only tell us--” said Bodkin._

_“I do not wish to annoy any one with my dull tales,” said Solario.
“Far from it; far from it indeed, I assure you.”_

_“But there was one” said Bojohn, “about a griffin; what kind of a
griffin did you say it was?”_

_“I believe, if I remember correctly, it was a Roving Griffin; but his
majesty your grandfather--”_

_“Oh, never mind grandfather,” said Bojohn. “Tell us about the--”_

_“I’d rather hear the one about the giant,” said Bodkin._

_“You probably have reference to the Blind Giant,” said Solario.
“But--”_

_“Then there was one,” said Bojohn, “about some cave or other.”_

_“The Cave of Montesango,” said Solario. “I remember it only too well.
But I couldn’t tell you that; it would be too terrible. You wouldn’t be
able to sleep in your beds to-night.”_

_“Then tell us that one!” cried the two boys, together._

_“No,” said Solario. “The King would never approve if I--”_

_“Grandfather isn’t here now,” said Bojohn. “Please--”_

_“Perhaps,” said Solario, “I might tell you the story concerning the--
But I fear it would bore you.”_

_“No! no!” cried the boys._

_“Then I might perhaps tell you the story of Alb the Unicorn, only--”_

_“Yes! yes! Tell us about the unicorn!”_

_“You are sure it will not weary you?”_

_“Not a bit!” said Bojohn._

_“Would you mind, sir,” said Bodkin, “leaving out the big words?”_

_“I shall willingly endeavor to gratify your reasonable predilection
for lucidity,” said Solario._

_“Sir?” said Bodkin._

_“Never mind,” said Bojohn. “Let him go on.”_

_“Ahem!” said the old man, clearing his throat. “I will give you as
much of it as I can remember, as it was told me by the young man
in the white leather suit while we were sitting in the half-moon
pasture of Korbi by the river Tarn, after I had delivered him from his
enchantment. You are sure it will not weary you?”_

_“Go on! Go on!”_

_“Then I will begin,” said Solario, settling himself back at his ease,
and folding his hands across his stomach,_


“THE STORY OF ALB THE UNICORN.”

You must know (said the young man to me) that I am called Alb the
Fortunate. I was born in the Island Kingdom, far out in the Great Sea,
the only son of a rich goldsmith. I lived with my parents, by whom I
was tenderly loved, in the principal city of that kingdom, in which
city, on a height overlooking the island, stood the castle of the King.


_Alb the Fortunate and the Princess Hyla_

My father, whose skill in his art had caused him to be valued highly
by the King, was a familiar figure at the castle, and I had there,
in company with my mother, become acquainted with the young Princess
Hyla, the King’s only child, a beautiful and amiable girl some two
years younger than myself. We were even permitted to play together in
the gardens of the castle, for the King was in no wise proud, but on
the contrary made a point of treating his subjects with a friendliness
which endeared him to them all. I need hardly tell you that from the
earliest moment I knew that I loved the little Princess.

I grew thus in time to be twelve years old. Although my parents had
done for me all that love could devise and money could effect, I had
caused them much uneasiness. My disposition was unnaturally gloomy; I
scarcely ever smiled; my mind was filled with terrors, I knew not why;
I would sit for hours in moody silence; the games of other boys did not
amuse me; and I would find myself at times weeping bitterly, for no
reason whatever.

All that my parents could do to divert me availed nothing; I continued
to be a misery to myself and to them. They feared for my health;
their wealth no longer gave them any pleasure; and an atmosphere of
gloom settled down upon their house. Sometimes my mother would look
mournfully into my eyes while she smoothed back the yellow hair from my
forehead; and I knew that she would willingly have given all that she
had to make me happy.

On my twelfth birthday it chanced that I was in my father’s shop,
alone. My mother had gone into the back room, and my father was absent,
for the day, at the residence of a distant client. I had been trying
all that morning to find some occupation to amuse me, but without
success; I had finally given myself up to a restless and discontented
idleness; and at the moment I was examining in my hand, without
much interest, a long chain, of extremely fine gold and delicate
workmanship, which I had picked up from one of the cabinets in the
shop. I was in the act of placing it back in its case, wondering what I
should do next, when a strange figure entered the door from the street,
and approached me.


_A Tattered Old Beggar Comes to the Goldsmith’s Shop_

It was an old man, evidently a beggar, a huge man, fat and heavy, his
face covered by a gray beard which hung to his waist, and his eyes,
which were very bright, almost hidden by shaggy eyebrows,--the longest
eyebrows I had ever seen on any human being. A ragged tunic of brown,
belted around the middle, hung scantily to his knees; a battered felt
hat flapped over his forehead; and in his hand he carried, for a staff,
what seemed to be a yardstick, such as tailors use. From his belt hung
a pair of large shears, also of the sort used by tailors. A queer
tailor! thought I.

“Good morning, master Melancholy,” said he, “have you a mind for trade
this morning?”

The idea of this poor creature’s pretending to be a customer at such a
shop as ours was too absurd. I could not restrain a little toss of the
head.

[Illustration: “There is something here,” said the old beggar, “which I
wish to buy”]

“So?” said the old man. “Is that what you think? Nevertheless, there is
something here which I wish to buy.” He looked around the shop. “I wish
to buy a chain, a gold one; and I see none that pleases me so much as
the one you are holding behind your back. Will you sell it?”

I was astonished that he should have discovered the chain, which I
could have sworn was hidden from his eyes. I drew it forth and held it
up.

“Be so good as to let me see it,” said the old man; and at the same
time he took it from me, before I could snatch it away.

“What may the price be, my young merchant?” said he.

I was trembling with anxiety, but I thought it best to end the whole
matter by naming the price, which I found on the card which remained in
the cabinet.

While I hesitated, the horrid creature gazed at me with his glittering
eyes through his tangled eyebrows, and ran his fingers down his beard
like a comb.

“The price,” I said, “is four thousand gold florins. Now please give me
back the chain.”

“The price is high,” said the old man, “but I will take it.”

“Then give me the money,” said I.

“Money?” said he, with an air of great surprise. “Money? But I have no
money.”

“Then how are you going to buy the chain?” said I. “Give it back to me.”

“I will buy it, nevertheless,” said he. “I will give you what is better
than money.”

“What is that?” said I, suspiciously.

“I will give you,” said he, “whatever you would like best in the world.”

“Then give me back the chain.”

“Think!” said he. “What would you like best in all the world, for your
very self?”

“Nothing,” I said, ready to cry. “I want the chain back. If you don’t
give it to me,” I said, angrily, “I will call my mother.”

“With all the pleasure in the world,” said the impudent old rascal.

I was now ready to cry in good earnest.


_The Old Man Proposes a Strange Bargain_

“But I advise you to listen to me, my young friend,” went on the
dreadful creature. “You may make a wish, if you will; and if you don’t,
I will. If I keep the chain, you shall make the wish; if you keep the
chain, I will make it; but I warn you, if I make the wish, I shall wish
you harm! Such harm that you would rather be dead than alive! Come now,
will you sell me the chain for a wish?”

“I can’t,” I said, “I can’t.” And I began to cry.

“Then you would like to be crippled all your life? To find vipers in
your bed every night? To see the Princess run away from the sight of
you? To suffer a sharp pain in your ears, to have all your drink turn
to--”

“No, no!” I cried. “Please don’t, please don’t!”

“Then you had better sell me the chain. What would you like best in the
world?”

“Oh, I want to be happy! I want to be happy! I’m so miserable!”

“You really wish to be happy?”

“Oh, yes! If I could only be happy, always happy!”

“Think well. I can grant you that wish, if you really wish it.”

“I wish I could be happy, always happy!”

“The wish is granted. You shall be happy; after this day you shall be
nothing but happy, always. It is done. The chain is mine.”

“Oh, please! If you will only wait one moment! Just one! I must call my
mother!”

I ran to the door of the back room, and called my mother. She came at
once, alarmed by my outcry. Together we turned back into the shop,
toward the spot where I had left the old man. He was gone.

I dragged my mother to the shop door, and we looked up and down the
street. There was no sign of him. I ran from one corner to the other.
He was nowhere in sight. I returned to my mother and threw myself on
her breast and wept.

“The chain!” I sobbed. “It is gone!”

While she tried to comfort me I told her the story. She wrung her
hands. “What will your father say?”

That evening, when my father heard what had happened, he was very
angry. He was a kind man, but he scolded me so severely that I crept up
to bed weeping, without any supper. I had never been so miserable. I
cried myself to sleep.

When I awoke in the morning, sunshine was streaming in through the
window. I sprang out of bed. A fat sparrow was hopping on the window
sill, and when he saw me he cocked his head at me in the jolliest
manner possible. I whistled to him, and laughed after him as he flew
away.

While I was dressing, and humming a tune the while, I suddenly
remembered that I had gone to bed in tears for the loss of my father’s
golden chain; but I laughed as I thought of it, for the loss seemed
pitifully small, and my father’s anger over it was quite ridiculous. I
went on with my tune, and stood before the mirror with a hairbrush in
my hand. I began to brush my hair; and I cannot deny that as I looked
at its yellow and somewhat curly abundance I thought of the Princess
with complacency.

Now it happened that the most serious work of my life, on which I had
then been engaged for more than six months, had been the training of my
hair to lie in a flat sweep backward from my forehead. I had devoted
much patient labor to this work; it required that I should wear on my
head all day a tight skullcap, and I even suffered to the extent of
wearing it in bed at night, when I could do so without my mother’s
knowledge. I now shook my hair from my forehead with a quick backward
toss of the head, in a manner which always made my father look at me in
alarm, and proceeded to brush it straight back with vigorous strokes of
the brush.


_The Three Black Hairs in the Yellow Head_

I was in the act of applying a small quantity of dry soap, when I
looked at my yellow head in the mirror a trifle more attentively. My
gaze became fixed; and as I held my head close to the glass I was
astonished to see there, among the yellow strands, three coarse black
hairs, very distinct, one in the middle and one on either side.

They did not suit me very well, and I accordingly, with some trouble,
plucked each of them out by the root.

Before leaving the room, I gave a final glance of satisfaction at
myself in the mirror, and a final touch of the brush to my hair. I
stopped suddenly, fixed with astonishment; the three long, coarse black
hairs, which I had but a few moments before plucked away, lay there as
before, one in the middle of my head and one on either side.

I could not understand it in the least, but after all, what did it
matter? I could not allow myself to be bothered by such a trifle. I ran
downstairs singing merrily.

At breakfast, I found myself prattling of a thousand things, and I
was surprised to remark the confusion with which my parents received
my sallies. In the midst of my talk, my mother whispered with sudden
excitement into my father’s ear; I did not hear what she said, but I
saw his eyebrows rise and heard him blow out his lips in a long-drawn
“O-oh!” as if a light had dawned on him. And after that they responded
gayly to my chatter, and we had altogether the merriest meal we had
ever had in our lives.

After breakfast I accompanied my father to the castle, where I
sought out the Princess Hyla, and found her weeping beside one of the
fountains in the garden, because her ball had fallen into the water
which filled the wide marble basin. I laughed at her, for she did seem
comical enough. She stamped her foot angrily at me, but this only
made me laugh the more. I jumped into the pool and brought back the
ball. She looked at me as if in bewilderment, and cried, “What are you
laughing at? Are you crazy?” Far from being offended, I laughed more
merrily than before.

The King was much pleased with my little service to the Princess, and
after our departure my father assured me that I had advanced markedly
in the King’s regard. Everything, in short, was going well.

From that day, my unfailing spirits rejoiced my parents more and
more as time went by; their house rang with my merriment; my mother
became more youthful in appearance; and as I grew older I became known
throughout our city for the brightness of my face and the liveliness of
my talk, and I was everywhere in demand. It is true that the three long
black hairs continued in their places on my head, and my mother looked
at them at times, as it seemed to me, with uneasiness; but I laughed at
her; and although I sometimes plucked these hairs from my head, I did
so only for the amusement of seeing them reappear in their places as
before.


_Alb Wins the Promise of the Princess’s Hand_

When I was sixteen years of age, a circumstance befell which I was able
to turn to good account. The Princess Hyla one night unaccountably
disappeared. The King was strangely disturbed by this incident,
and though I could not quite understand the reason for so much
perturbation, I resolved to rescue the Princess and restore her to her
father’s arms, if I could. This I was able to do, in the course of a
very singular adventure, and in reward the King promised me her hand in
marriage. I will now relate to you, if you wish it, the adventure by
which I rescued the Princess from the strange fate which involved her;
it is the adventure, as I may call it, of


THE RAGPICKER AND THE PRINCESS

It happened (said Alb the Fortunate) that the King, with his daughter,
sojourned for a time at his castle of Ventamere, beside the Great Sea;
and my father and myself, being lodged in the town hard by,--

_“On second thoughts,” said Solario, interrupting himself, “I will not
relate this tale just now. It is too long. It will be better to go on
with--”_

_“But we’d like to hear it now,” said Bojohn._

_“No,” said Solario, firmly, “it will be much better to tell it some
other time.”_

Thus (said Alb, when he had finished the story of his adventure), I
restored the Princess, with the assistance of the One-Armed Sorcerer
whom I have mentioned, and in gratitude the King took the One-Armed
Sorcerer to dwell with him in his castle in our own city, and promised
to me the hand of the Princess in marriage when I should come of age.
Truly things were going well with me.


_A Trifling Incident Disturbs Alb’s Mother_

Some two years later, when I was just past my eighteenth birthday,
an incident occurred in our household which caused my mother much
disturbance. My father died. He had left the house on horseback in
the morning, for a journey to the country on a matter pertaining to
his business. In the evening, after the shop was closed, a loud knock
brought my mother and myself to the door in haste. A crowd was gathered
at the entrance, and on a litter carried by two men lay my father’s
body; and in this manner he was borne into the shop. His horse had
thrown him and his neck was broken.

My mother threw herself upon him and wailed. She tried to arouse him;
she talked to him as if he were alive; she even went so far as to try
to call him back to life. I was at first greatly astonished at her
behavior, and then it struck me as being excessively ridiculous. To
think of trying to call back the dead to life! It was highly amusing. I
felt a tide of merriment rising within me. I laughed.

I have never seen on any human being’s face the look of horror which my
mother turned on me when she heard my laugh. She crouched away from me
in fear. Her sobbing ceased, and her eyes remained fixed on me; they
grew wider and wider; I began to wonder how long they could stare so
without winking. I glanced at the others in the room, and was surprised
to see that no one else even so much as smiled. It was useless to
remain longer in a company so dead to the brighter things of life.
I controlled my good humor and composed my features, and patted my
mother affectionately on the shoulder; but she recoiled from my touch;
and without appearing to take her inconsiderate behavior in ill part in
the least, I left the room.


_Unreasonable Conduct of the Goldsmith’s Widow_

It astonished me afterward to observe that my mother met my customary
gayety with coldness, for she had always seemed to take great pleasure
in it. She grew very gloomy indeed. I could not discover any reason for
it, but I did what I could to cheer her by my own liveliness. For some
reason or other, my father’s death appeared to have a depressing effect
on her. I made my jokes and sang my songs as usual, but she reached
such a state in a few months that she would scarcely speak to me, but
on the contrary spent most of her time in her room, alone.

I noticed, in the course of time, a slight change in the manner of my
customers and friends. The former transacted their business briefly,
without an unnecessary word; and the latter appeared to avoid me, as if
they scarcely wished to know me any longer. It was very amusing.

In less than a year after my father’s death, my mother died. It was
thought by some that my father’s death had something to do with her
decline, but how that could be I never could understand.


_The Merrymakers Are Suddenly Sobered_

The night of the day on which she died was the night fixed for a feast
at the house of one of my friends. After looking for a moment into the
room where she lay, I dressed myself carefully for the occasion, and
found myself thrilled with pleasant anticipation.

A large and merry company met at table at my friend’s house; I talked
in my best manner; and whatever coldness I might have observed before
was dispelled in the general gayety. Toward the close of the banquet,
I chanced to remark across the table that my mother had that day died.
The effect of this remark was astonishing. As it passed from one to
another, silence fell upon the company.

I wondered if I had made some blunder. I endeavored in vain to relieve
the awkwardness of the moment by changing the subject and commencing
a story with which I had never failed to provoke a laugh; but in this
case it provoked not so much as a smile; I was absolutely perplexed.
The party soon broke up in what appeared to be confusion, and I went
home to enjoy in my own room the recollection of those lugubrious faces.

When I was twenty-one, I was married to the Princess, and thenceforth
the castle was my home. I sold the business which my father had left
me, and settled down to a life of unbounded bliss with my dear Hyla,
whom as a wife I found even more adorable than I had dreamed.

I became the life of the castle. The faces of my new acquaintances
always brightened in my company; I was the only one in that glittering
society who never knew a dull or uneasy moment; my presence was like a
ray of sunshine in the court.

I noticed after a while that the Princess, my wife, began to respond
to my constant gayety more carelessly; at times she would sit and look
at me wonderingly, I knew not why.

One day she asked me to accompany her on a little excursion in the
city. She did not tell me where she meant to go, but I asked nothing;
it was enough to be with her. I could not conceal my surprise, however,
when she stopped our carriage at the entrance to the city’s poorest
quarter; but I had no doubt she had planned some pleasant diversion,
and I followed her, talking in my liveliest manner all the while. She
herself was quite silent.

She led me from one hovel to another, for more than an hour. In one
we saw a sick child lying on a pallet of straw on a dirt floor, and
around him his mother and sisters and brothers, all weeping absurdly; I
rallied the mother on it in the pleasantest way possible, but she did
not take it in very good part. In another we found an old man, blind
and alone, without food and without wife or child, talking to himself
in a gibberish which was truly laughable; I tried, for sport, to talk
to him in the same sort of gibberish, but though it was excellent
sport, I saw that for some reason or other it did not amuse my wife,
so I led her away. In another place we saw a man who was evidently
overcome by wine, and who appeared to be in terror of certain vipers
and spiders which, as I ascertained, existed nowhere but in his own
imagination. This man was the prize of the whole collection; I amused
myself with him for a long time; and I was altogether so greatly
diverted that the Princess had some difficulty in dragging me away.

On the way home, I commented on what we had seen with a drollery which
I had thought sufficient to draw a smile from a stone; but the Princess
was unmoved; she sat in stony silence, and when we reached the castle
she went at once to her room, and I saw her no more that day.

Not long afterward, a beautiful boy was born to us; and in course of
time he grew to be the finest child of his age in the Island Kingdom;
there were many who said so, even to his mother.

He was two years of age, when on a certain day in summer his mother
sent him into the gardens with a nurse, while she remained with me in
conversation in her room. Some half hour later, I was telling her an
amusing story, which I had recently heard, when the door burst open,
and a man-servant rushed into the room carrying our boy, dripping
wet, in his arms, and laid him in his mother’s lap. The child was
dead. The nurse had left him beside the same fountain pool from which
years before I had rescued his mother’s ball, and in her absence he
had fallen into the water. The Princess turned pale and screamed; she
clasped the child to her breast and rocked him back and forth; she
spoke to him as if he were still alive, and even tried to call him back
to life.

I smiled at her delusion. I put my hand on her shoulder and shook her
gently. She looked up at me with streaming eyes, and saw the bright and
smiling look on my own face.

“Come, my dear,” I said kindly, laughing quietly as I spoke, “there
is no use talking to him like that, you know. You must be reasonable.
The dear little fellow is dead, that is all. Surely there is nothing in
that to disturb you? Look at me. I’m not disturbed. I can’t understand
what you find in this to bother you. Come, let the good man take him
away to another room, and I will go on with the story I was telling
when we were interrupted.”

She rose slowly, never taking her eyes from me, and hugging the child
closer backed away from me, and suddenly turned and fled from the room.
I smiled to myself at the whimsical nature of women.

It was a long time before she would speak to me; and although I did
not permit this to ruffle me, I waited with some impatience for her
explanation. I was of course reluctant to blame her too much without
giving her an opportunity of explaining her conduct. I was accordingly
pleased when she took me aside one day and asked to speak with me in
private. She sat down before me in her room and looked me steadily in
the eyes.


_The Princess Finds Her Husband Bewitched_

“Alb,” said she, “this can go on no longer. You are bewitched.”

I smiled indulgently. “I am not aware of it,” I said.

“Tell me,” she said, earnestly, “what are those three black hairs in
your head?”

“Oh, those! They are nothing. I found them there after the old beggar
had pretended to grant me a wish, long ago.”

“What old beggar? Now I am learning something! Tell me about the old
beggar and the wish!”

“What does it matter? He was a ragged old fellow, with shaggy eyebrows,
carrying a yardstick and tailor’s shears, and I sold him a fine gold
chain for a wish, and right angry my father was, too. But I was only
twelve years old, you know.”

“Why have you never told me this before? What was the wish?”

“The wish? Oh, I wished--I wished I might be perfectly happy,
always;--always happy;--a pretty good wish, I think.”

“A terrible wish! A frightful wish! Tell me--tell me--have you ever
wept since you were twelve years old?”

“Of course not. How absurd. There has never been anything for me to
weep about.”

“That’s it! That’s it! That’s the curse! You can’t weep! You’ve got to
be cured of happiness! Cured of happiness!”

This idea was so preposterous that I laughed loud and long; but while
I was still laughing she took me by the hand and led me into a distant
part of the castle, where I had never been before, until we came to the
foot of a narrow, winding stair in a tall tower.

We climbed the stairs, and stopped at last, panting, on a little
landing before a door. The Princess knocked, and without waiting for
an answer opened the door and drew me in after her. We were in a
small, circular room, evidently at the very top of the tower, from the
windows of which I could see far across the city and beyond the distant
mountains to the Great Sea.


_Alb and the Princess Visit the One-Armed Sorcerer_

In the center of this room was a spinning wheel, and before this
spinning wheel was the One-Armed Sorcerer whom I had met in the
adventure which had gained me the Princess for my wife; a spare old
man, with bright blue eyes in a rosy face and long white hair and
beard, and clothed in a blue gown spangled with silver stars. He rose,
smiling at us kindly, and motioning us with his only hand (his left) to
sit down; and when we were seated, the Princess told him the story of
the old vagabond who had granted me a wish.

He nodded understandingly, and the Princess said: “We have come to you
for help. Will you help him get rid of his curse?”

I laughed merrily. “I’m pretty well satisfied as I am,” I said. “I
don’t wish to be cured of anything.”

“And yet,” said the One-Armed Sorcerer, “you ought to want to be
cured. Your trouble is, that you can’t weep. Let me tell you something.
When people can weep, it’s because there’s some good in them. When they
can’t weep, it’s because all the good in them is frozen up hard. Nobody
can weep all the time, any more than anybody can be happy all the time,
unless it’s a bewitched creature like yourself. I’m not sure which
would be worse, to weep all the time or to be happy all the time; but
one thing I’m sure of, and that is that it’s best for us all to have a
little weeping and a little happiness, sometimes the one and sometimes
the other, woven together in all shades of light and dark; and if you
want to come out in a beautiful pattern at last, there’s no other way
to do it. Laugh and weep; weep and laugh; that’s the whole story, and a
fine story it is too, and well worth having a part in.”

“Oh!” cried the Princess, who was now weeping softly, “will you help
him to have a part in it like the rest of us?”

“I’m very comfortable as I am,” said I, smiling.

“Do you know,” said the Princess, “how to cure him?”

“I can tell him how to cure himself,” said the sorcerer.

“Then please tell us at once!” said the Princess.

“There is danger in it,” said the sorcerer.

“Danger doesn’t bother me,” said I, beginning to take an interest.

“Good,” said the sorcerer. “Then I will tell you. Have you ever heard
of the half-moon pasture of Korbi, by the river Tarn?”

Neither of us had ever heard of it.

“It lies far beyond the Great Sea. Would you like to make a journey
there?”

“That would be jolly!” I cried.

“The half-moon pasture of Korbi is the end of your journey, where you
will get rid of the third black hair, and be cured.”

“What?” I cried in astonishment.

“Yes, the third of the three black hairs in your head.”

I had forgotten all about them. Certainly this was a knowing old
sorcerer.


_The Old Man of Ice, the Laughing Nymph, and the Great Horned Owl_

“I will tell you,” he went on, “what those three black hairs are. The
one on the left side of your head is the Old Man of Ice, who lives in
the Great Cave near the top of Thunder Mountain, in this very island.
The one on the right side of your head is the Laughing Nymph who lives
in the Three-Spire Rock on the farther shore of the Great Sea. The one
in the middle of your head is the Great Horned Owl, whose feathers are
scales so hard that no spear can pierce them, and who lives at the top
of the cliff at the far side of the half-moon pasture of Korbi. You
must not touch the Old Man of Ice. You must not laugh with the Laughing
Nymph. And you must not speak when you see the Great Horned Owl.”

“I don’t like this very much,” said the Princess.

“Nonsense, my dear,” said I. “It sounds very exciting.”

“Do you know what a burning glass is?” went on the sorcerer.

“Yes,” said I.

He went to a chest beside the wall, and took from it a small, round,
thick piece of glass, and placed it in my left hand.

“There is only one thing that can destroy the Old Man of Ice, and that
is a hot beam from the sun. Before you go into his cave, hold this
burning glass with your left hand up to the sun. The rays it catches
will remain in it for seven minutes, and no longer; and if you can then
within those seven minutes, holding the glass in your left hand, fix
those rays on the Old Man of Ice, he will be destroyed, and you will
get rid of the black hair on the left side of your head.”

He went to his chest again, and returning put into my left hand a sharp
brass pin, some three inches in length.

“With this pin,” he said, “you must make the Laughing Nymph weep. You
must plunge it, with your left hand, deep into her left arm, and while
she is weeping you must flee away; and thus you will get rid of the
black hair on the right side of your head. But if you laugh with her,
or remain until she stops weeping, you will never return.”

He took from his spinning wheel a thread some yard and a half long,
and holding it in his teeth made fast a large loop at one end. He then
placed the thread in my left hand.

“This loop,” he said, “you must throw over the head of the Great Horned
Owl with your left hand. When you have done so, he will follow you; you
must lead him into the river Tarn, and hold him there until he drowns;
and thus you will get rid of the black hair in the middle of your head,
and be cured forever. But the owl, though he is blind by day, has very
sharp ears. You must not let him hear your voice.”


_The Burning Glass, the Brass Pin, and the Loop of Thread_

He then gave me the most minute directions how to reach the Great
Cave, the Three-Spire Rock, and the half-moon pasture of Korbi; and
I thereupon placed in my pocket the burning glass, the pin, and the
thread, and drew the Princess after me to the door and down to my room,
where I immediately began my preparations for departure.

That night I left. The Princess wept on my shoulder, but I laughed
gayly, and ridiculed her fears.

“Don’t you feel sorry,” she said, “to leave me?”

“Come, dearest,” I said, “you mustn’t begrudge me a little adventure.
Don’t be selfish.”

She straightened herself up. “Yes,” she said, “I think you had better
go.”

I did not understand this sudden change, but I kissed her and said:

“Did you pack my white leather suit?”

“Yes, it is in the saddlebag, and extra shoes. Be sure to change if you
get your feet wet.”

I kissed my hand to her from the saddle and gave my horse the rein. I
was off upon my adventure.

At the end of two days I came to the village which lies at the foot
of Thunder Mountain. It was a bright day, and the sun was hot. As I
trotted briskly through the village street, a child of three or four
years ran from the door of a house directly to the front of my horse
and under its feet; and in an instant the horse had knocked him down
and trampled over his body. I looked round, and heard the child cry out
in pain; but I was intent on what lay before me, and too happy in my
new career to be bothered with trifles, and I sped on rapidly, and was
soon well up the mountainside.

I came to a place among the rocks and bushes where there was no longer
any trail, and there I tied my horse and left him. I kept in view, as I
climbed higher and higher, a great, gray rock, shaped like a dome and
as big as a house, which projected from the very top of the mountain.
Under this rock, as I knew, lay the cave of the Man of Ice.

The higher I climbed, the steeper grew the ascent; trees became
fewer and at length there were none; I looked abroad and saw, beyond
the intervening mountains, the Great Sea afar off, wrinkling in the
sunshine. I came at last to a point so high that I was quite dizzy when
I looked down. Around me were only bowlders; there were not even any
bushes, nor birds nor squirrels; nothing but rocks and sunshine.


_He Hears Thunder in a Clear Sky_

I stopped suddenly and listened. A distant rumble of thunder came from
the top of the mountain. I was, as I may say, thunderstruck; for there
was not a cloud in the sky. As I mounted higher, the rolling of thunder
became louder and louder; and when I reached, as I did at last after
hours of toil, the dome-shaped rock at the top, thunder crashed all
about me with a deafening roar, although the sky remained as clear as
before.

I halted at the foot of the great rock, and commenced the task of
finding the entrance to the cave. The surface of the rock seemed quite
unbroken; but I found at length, near the ground, a single crack, about
an inch in width. I inserted my fingers, but I could not budge it; and
remembering the directions given me by the sorcerer, I cried out, “In
the name of the sun! I command you, open!”

The rock beneath the crack began to move, and before my astonished eyes
it fell slowly inward, leaving a gaping hole, just wide enough to admit
my body.

I did not delay. I took the burning glass from my pocket and held it
up in my left hand to the sun, and when I thought it well filled with
the sun’s rays I crawled in through the hole. When I was inside, the
opening closed behind me, and I was in utter darkness. It was very
cold, and the noise of thunder was louder than before. I was surprised
to see at a little distance a single spot of light, which flickered
here and there as I crept on; but I soon observed that it came from the
burning glass which I was still holding in my left hand.


_He Goes Down into the Cave in Thunder Mountain_

I was aware that I was going downward. The farther I went, the louder
became the thunder. I must have descended thus for a minute or two,
when a gust of cold air swept my face, and, finding the floor level, I
stood up. The sound of thunder was now deafening, beyond anything I had
yet heard.

As I stood there, a great mass of what appeared to be ice, larger than
my body, rolled past me and disappeared in the darkness. I jumped
aside, and walked on. In another moment a mass of ice like the first
fell at my side and rolled away; a rush of the bitterest cold air
accompanied it; and as it struck the ground a crash of thunder shook
the place, and its sound, as it rolled away into the dark, was the
sound of thunder rumbling afar off among the mountains.

I now understood the origin of the thunder I had heard in the clear
sunlight outside. I pointed my burning glass upward, and I was able to
make out dimly, in the ceiling, great numbers of these bodies of ice,
hanging there like stalactites, but rounded at the bottom and very
slender at the top, so that they appeared to hang by little more than
a thread. As I stumbled on, one after another of these fell to the
ground with a crash and rolled away with a decreasing rumble. There
was no telling when one of them might fall on me, and I could only
trust to luck. There was nothing to do but to get forward as quickly as
possible; time was flying, and even if I should escape these thunder
stones, I had only three or four minutes of my seven left. I darted
blindly on, and the ice came crashing about me faster and faster, until
I thought my head would split with the noise. Once or twice I was
nearly struck. How I escaped I do not know, for it became certain that
the thunder stones were dropping closer and closer around me, as if
they were trying to halt me. And all the time the cold was becoming so
bitter that my feet and legs were already numb.

I suddenly found myself walking on a slippery film of ice, and at that
moment I knew that I had cleared the chamber of thunder, and had left
that danger behind me; the noise abated to a distant rumbling.

The ice on which I walked was very thin, and at every step it crackled
under me; and I could just make out the sound of the rushing beneath
it of a torrent of water. I stepped lightly and quickly, seeing
nothing but the blackness of night before me. I ran. The ice swayed
and crackled and ripped; and just as it gave way under me and my foot
plunged in the freezing water, I found myself again on the solid floor
of the cavern, and ran with all my might. I could see nothing of walls
or ceiling. I was lost in the dark.

In another moment I was aware of a kind of vague paleness afar off
before me, and I ran in that direction. As I did so, the paleness,
whatever it was, moved swiftly to the right, and I changed my course
accordingly. It then moved to the left, and as fast as I changed my
course it moved also; evidently it was trying to avoid me. I gained
on it, and it seemed then to try to pass me on one side and get in my
rear; but I was too quick for it, and came up with it before it had
quite passed me. I came within ten feet of it, and saw what it was.


_He Pursues the Man of Ice with the Burning Glass_

It was the Man of Ice. He was running about like a cornered rat: a
perfectly formed old man, his face and head hairless, and his whole
body of solid ice. He ran jerkily; I could hear his joints crackle
as he ran; and he was almost transparent, and of a pale, greenish
brightness. His fingers were stiff and pointed, like icicles; and his
eyes were like little white marbles.

When he found that he could not pass me, he ran back into the cave; but
we were evidently near its rear wall, and in a moment he was darting
back and forth against this wall, for all the world like a cornered
rat. I kept after him, and flashing the burning glass constantly in his
direction forced him at last into a corner. He turned upon me there,
and stretched out his long stiff fingers and made as if to spring upon
me. I knew that if he should touch me I should be lost; it must be now
or never; I turned the burning glass full upon him, and before he could
spring its little spot of light flickered upon the center of his breast.

The change which came over him nearly caused me to drop the glass.
The top of his head melted away before my eyes and dripped down over
his ears; his eyes, his nose, his cheeks, his chin, turned one after
another to water and flowed down over his shoulders, and as I moved the
beam of sunlight lower and lower he slowly melted away from shoulder to
foot, and was no more than a wet spot on the floor.


_He Commences to Make His Escape from the Cave_

I turned swiftly to make my way out of the cave. As I did so the light
from my burning glass went out, and the cave was suddenly flooded with
pure sunlight, from what source I could not make out. I was in a vast,
vaulted chamber, which I did not remain to examine. I sped to a wide
opening which I saw before me, and passing through it came to the side
of a little brook bordered with golden-yellow flowers. I waded across
the brook; its water was as warm as milk. On the other side I entered
the thunder chamber, now well lit with sunshine, and there I paused in
amazement. It was in perfect silence. The air was mild and balmy. In
place of the terrible stones of ice, thick green vines clung to the
ceiling. I gave a shout of joy, and ran to a little opening which I
saw on the farther side. Through this I crawled, and on my hands and
knees ascended the passage down which I had first come, and arrived at
the entrance to the cave, now closed. “Open!” I shouted. “In the name
of the sun, I command you, open!” The rock fell outward, and I crawled
through into the light of day.

I had gone quite a mile down the mountainside before I realized that
there was no sound of thunder; I looked up at the top of the mountain
and paused to listen; all was silent, sunny, and peaceful. I had
accomplished my first adventure with complete success.

When I reached the village at the foot of the mountain, my first
thought was of the child whom my horse had injured earlier in the day.
I dismounted, and after a few moments’ inquiry found where he lived. I
was admitted to the house by his mother, who led me to an inner room,
where I beheld on a chair by a window an unusually charming little
fellow, with his left arm in a splint. I sat down before him and took
him on my lap and held him carefully in my arms. He took to me at once;
and I was pleased to feel, as his warm little body pressed close to me,
a decided warmth creep slowly and gently into my own heart. I forced
the mother, who was poor, to accept from me the only amends I could
make: a purse of gold from my belt, bestowed with a warm shake of the
hand. As I said good-by, I glanced at the mirror which hung upon the
wall. I went up to it, and looked more intently. The black hair which
had been on the left side of my head was gone.

I pressed on the same night, and arrived in due time at the town of
Ventamere, on the shore of the Great Sea. I bought a boat, not too
large to be handled by a single man, and rigged with a single sail of a
charming orange color, somewhat patched with blue.

Like all the islanders, I knew well how to manage a boat, and I could
see that my little bark was entirely sea-worthy. I provisioned her for
a long voyage, being mindful, of course, of the return. With a light
and favorable wind above and an ebbing tide, I set sail.


_He Sails Across the Great Sea_

As I cleared the bay and encountered the long, smooth roll of the
Great Sea, I thought, sitting with my hand on the tiller, of the dear
Princess whom I had left behind me. I remembered that I had charged her
with selfishness, and I began to doubt whether I had been altogether
just. For the first time within my memory, I felt a little uneasy on
the subject of my own conduct. However, this shadow lasted only a
moment. I sang as I sailed.

The weather was superb, and the sea, under moderate winds, never rose
above a long and quiet swell. During the entire voyage there was
nothing more exciting than an occasional gull on easy wing circling
about the peak of my mast, and the flying fish now and then skimming
low across the surface of the sea.

As I neared the far shore of the Great Sea, the green of the water
became a deep indigo, and I could not but rejoice in the lovely effect
amidst that expanse of rich color of the orange of my sail. I had held
the course prescribed by the sorcerer, and I knew that I should pick up
the Three-Spire Rock on sighting land.

It came to pass as I expected. My faithful boat slipped, early of a
luminous evening, into the placid waters of a little bay. On either
hand a promontory of noble height jutted out into the sea, and from the
shallow water near the shore, against the inmost curve of the beach,
rose in three pinnacles a great, black rock, washed by a gentle and
surfless tide, and towering above as tall as the masts of a ship: the
Three-Spire Rock, beyond a doubt.

I ran my boat almost up to the beach, the tide being at flood, and
anchored there. I put on my fine white leather suit, as being suitable
for the visit I had now to make, and waded ashore with a line which for
further security I made fast to a log partly imbedded in the sand. I
then climbed upon the shoreward side of the Three-Spire Rock, and began
my search for the Laughing Nymph.

I examined every inch of that side of the rock as far as I could climb,
without finding any sign of an opening. I made my way slowly around
the rock to the seaward side, examining it carefully as I went, still
without success. I reached the outer side of the rock in despair.

The light of day was fast waning, and I would soon be forced to give
up my search for the night. The water, which swelled and receded
noiselessly about the rock, became black and unfriendly. It was very
lonesome. Not a gull nor curlew nor sandpiper could be seen anywhere.
The place was too silent altogether. I pressed along the seaward face
of the rock.

Before me, at a little distance, the tide had filled to the brim a sort
of bowl in the rock, open toward the bay, in which the water stood some
five or six feet deep. I came to this bowl and paused to select the
best way for clambering round it. I looked down into the still water
which filled it, and saw there a sight which almost made my heart stop
beating.


_He Finds a Child in a Pool of the Rock_

Floating there was the body of a drowned child. I gave a cry of pity
and stooped down to look at him. It was a naked boy of some two years,
exceedingly beautiful. I stooped lower and gazed into his upturned
face. It was the face of my own child.

It could not be; I had myself seen him, with my own eyes, far from
here, in his mother’s arms, many months ago,--and yet, the longer I
gazed upon him, the more certainly I knew that it was my own child. I
could not be deceived. I leaned down closer and put my arms under him
and drew him up and folded him to my breast. He was cold and wet, but
beautiful beyond anything I had ever dreamed of him. I stood up, and
held his cheek against my own. It seemed to me I had never known until
this moment how dear he had been to me. I leaned, almost fainting,
against the face of the rock, and rested his fair round body in my arm
for a moment against a smooth shelf in the wall. His little shoulder
lightly touched the rock; and where it touched, a slight depression
seemed to appear, as if the rock had been a cushion. As I looked, the
depression grew deeper and wider; it deepened and widened until it
became a hollow vault, in which I could see nothing but darkness.

Holding the fair boy close to my breast, I stepped into the dark vault,
and walked carefully forward toward the interior of the rock. In a
moment the passage made a turn to the right, and I found myself in a
brightly lighted room with a peaked ceiling, very lofty, whose floor
and walls were all of mother-of-pearl. In sconces on the walls were
hundreds of burning candles, and divans and chairs covered with the
richest silks were ranged beneath them. A door in the opposite wall
stood open, and I entered through this another room of the same kind,
with peaked ceiling, candles, mother-of-pearl, and all. As I stood in
this room I heard the tinkling of a musical instrument and the singing
of a voice. A door stood open opposite me as before, and through
this I entered a third room, precisely like the others, and stopped
in amazement. There, on a divan against the wall, under a blaze of
candles, sat my wife.


_The Laughing Nymph in the Three-Spired Rock_

She was singing gayly and accompanying her song upon a lute. When
she saw me she laughed merrily and bade me sit down beside her. I
remained standing where I was, doubting whether I had lost my senses,
and hugging the beautiful child to my breast. There was no mistake.
It was my wife indeed. I forgot for the moment the strangeness of the
encounter, and went to her and held out the child.

“See!” I cried. “Have done with laughing! Your child! He is drowned! I
have brought him to you! See!”

She looked at me with such merriment in her face as I had never seen
there before. She laughed again and again. I thought she would never
have done laughing. I was petrified with horror.

“Stop!” I cried. “I must make you understand me! It is your child! Do
you understand? Can you look at him and laugh? For shame, for shame!”

She calmed her laughter somewhat.

“Why, what is there in that,” she said, “to make me weep? If you only
knew how ridiculous you look! Oh, dear!” And she went off into a peal
of laughter gayer than before.

“Take him!” I said. “Look down at that little face, and smile again if
you dare!” And I laid him in her lap.

She took him up carelessly and placed him out of her way on the divan.

“Really,” she said, “you mustn’t expect to disturb me with these
things. I was singing a lovely new song when you came in. Listen!” And
she took the lute in her hands and began to sing a stave of her song.

I felt a wave of anger rise within me. I rushed upon her blindly and
tore the lute from her hands and dashed it on the floor. I seized her
shoulders and shook her violently; and the more violently I shook her
the more she laughed. I bethought me of the pin which lay in my pocket,
and at the same time there flashed into my mind what the sorcerer had
said about the Laughing Nymph; I had quite forgotten them both. I
snatched the pin forth from my pocket with my left hand, and closing my
eyes plunged it deep into the left arm of the Laughing Nymph.

She did not scream with pain, but her laughter instantly ceased. She
looked at me with surprise, as if she were now seeing me for the first
time. An expression of reproachful sorrow came over her face; tears
started into her eyes and rolled down her cheeks; and suddenly she
buried her face in her hands and wept bitterly. She arose, and threw
herself on her knees beside the child and called to him wildly, sobbing
as if her heart would break.

I looked on for a moment with my brain in a whirl. A strong impulse of
love and pity moved me to put my arm around her and comfort her; but I
restrained myself, and in that moment I saw what it all meant; I left
the Laughing Nymph still weeping beside the child, and fled.


_The Second Black Hair Is Gone_

Outside, on the beach, under the stars, I collected my disordered wits.
I went to the little cabin in my boat, and gazed at myself in the
mirror which hung upon its wall. My eyes were unnaturally large and
hollow; my cheeks were pale; and the black hair which had been on the
right side of my head was gone.

I gathered together such provisions as I could carry, and seeing that
the boat was well secured, I departed upon my third and last adventure.

Many days I traveled. The sorcerer had given me my course with much
particularity, and there was no question of losing my way. My thoughts
were sad company, and yet I felt a kind of elation. I began to look
back on myself with horror, and to remember the sweetness of my
Princess with admiration and love.

One morning I ascended a long wooded hill and stood upon its top. Below
me, at no great distance, lay a river, curved at this point outward
like a crescent. On its farther side stretched a field some two miles
deep, grown high with grass and flowers, and bounded at its rear by a
high cliff whose walls at either end met the river, enclosing the field
so that its shape, between them and the river, was roughly that of a
half-moon. It was, without a doubt, the pasture of Korbi, beside the
river Tarn. The time for my last adventure had arrived.

I descended rapidly to the river, first leaving my pack in a safe
place, and waded across the stream; it came to my shoulders, but I had
no difficulty in reaching the other side. I pressed forward through the
tall grass to the foot of the cliff. I walked along its base until I
found above me on its face, somewhat higher than my reach, a circle of
white stones; and by this I knew that it was at this point that I must
climb.

The ascent was excessively difficult. I mounted, with great pain, to
a point so high that I no longer dared look below; I fixed my eyes on
each crevice and cranny as they appeared above me, and tried to think
of nothing but my next step upward. I was nearing the top. I looked up,
and saw directly overhead a great bowlder which projected from the face
of the cliff, evidently at its very summit. This was the bowlder of
which the sorcerer had spoken as the abode of the Great Horned Owl. A
dozen more painful steps brought me to the under side of the bowlder. I
clung to the cliff with both hands, and without a sound crept along its
face until I was out from under the bowlder on its left side, and then
climbed noiselessly upward until I stood beside the bowlder so as to
look across its top. There I saw, at my right, the object of my search.


_The Great Horned Owl Stands Ready for the Loop of Thread_

The Great Horned Owl was standing motionless, his wide eyes staring
across the valley of the Tarn. I was thankful that in that bright light
of the sun he was blind. He did not turn his head in my direction, and
he was evidently unaware of my presence. His feathers, as I could see,
were flakes or scales of some shining metal. He looked harmless enough,
and I felt myself full of confidence.

The hand which was nearest him was my right. Holding on to the cliff
with my left, I took from my pocket, with my right, the thread which
the sorcerer had given me, and cleared the loop so that I could drop it
over the creature’s head without tangling. I leaned across the bowlder
toward him, keeping very quiet, and brought my right hand with the loop
so close to him that I could have touched him. With that hand I held
the loop above his head and began to lower it. It came down closer and
closer; it reached the top of his head; I held my breath; my eyes were
fixed on his; I lowered the loop another inch or two, until it came
to his curved beak, without touching him; and I was about to drop it
over his neck,--when suddenly he flapped his wings and fluttered his
feathers all together; and all the little metal plates on his body
striking one another gave off a rattling discharge of sharp reports, so
violent that I thought the cliff was being blown to pieces. I jumped
with fright, and scarcely refrained from uttering a cry; but I held my
tongue, and dropped the loop around his neck.

Instantly the metal feathers were still and the noise ceased, and the
owl turned his head slowly toward me and stared straight into my face;
and as he gazed at me, all at once it came to me that I had dropped
the noose with my right hand instead of my left. I was aghast at my
mistake. I tugged at the thread frantically, but the owl did not
budge. I began to grow dizzy. My arm tingled and grew numb. Everything
turned black before my eyes. I could not remember where I was. I
swayed and lost my balance; I felt myself falling; I clutched wildly
for support, but touched nothing; I felt myself falling through space,
falling, falling, as a person falls in a dream, for hours as it seemed,
sick and dizzy. Only once did I touch anything, and then I felt in my
knee a sharp pain, and was conscious that I was bleeding from a cut;
and then I knew no more.

When I came to myself, I was standing at the foot of the cliff, where I
had commenced my ascent. I looked upward, and wondered that I was alive
after such a fall. As my eye traveled downward and rested on the circle
of white stones above me I noticed in their center a little splotch of
blood, evidently from my knee where it had been cut in my fall; and as
I continued to look, the splotch grew into a blood-red flower, waving
on a long stem. I felt a strange desire to take the flower in my teeth
and tear it.


_Alb Sees in the River the Reflection of a Unicorn_

I wondered whether anything had happened to the hair in the middle of
my head. I went to the river, and looked down at myself in a clear
pool near the bank. I was surprised to see there the reflection of a
small white horse’s head. I turned round, to see the animal which must
have been looking over my shoulder. No animal was there. I could not
understand it. I looked again at the surface of the water; the same
head met my gaze; a small white horse’s head, and in the center of it a
sharp, white horn. I looked behind me again, and again into the river.
I stood in the water, and saw there the full image of the little white
horse. It was myself.

Thus (said the young man, sitting in the half-moon pasture of Korbi, by
the river Tarn), you know my story. I have kept count of the days since
my enchantment, and they now amount to two years; the age of my little
son when he was drowned. You have taken from me the third black hair,
and I shall now fly back to my beloved Princess, cured of the curse
of perpetual happiness, to spend with her the remainder of my days in
blessed light and shadow, peace and storm, laughter and tears.

       *       *       *       *       *

_“I wonder,” said Bojohn thoughtfully, after a moment’s silence, “who
the old man was who gave him the curse in the first place.”_

_“Did Alb tell you,” said Bodkin, “who the old man was?”_

_“No,” said Solario; “I don’t believe he ever knew. But I happen to
know, myself, because it was revealed to me in the course of the story
which was told me by--”_

_“Tell us! Tell us!” cried the two boys._

_“No,” said Solario, “it is much too late, and I must now, if you will
permit me, bid you good night.”_



[Illustration]



THE THIRD NIGHT

THE SON OF THE TAILOR OF OOGH


_The King was engaged with the Master of the Wardrobe in a game
of chess in the throne room, and the Princess Dorobel (the King’s
daughter) and her husband Prince Bilbo were looking on._

_In the next room the Queen was at dominoes with the Second Lady in
Waiting, and Prince Bojohn (her grandson) and his friend Bodkin came
and stood behind their chairs._

_“Grandmother,” said Bojohn, “wouldn’t you like to hear a story?”_

_“Not now, my dear,” said the Queen, and she put down a double five,
smiling at the Lady in Waiting._

_“Come along, then,” said Bojohn to Bodkin. They went into the throne
room, and stood behind the King’s chair._

_“Grandfather,” said Bojohn, “wouldn’t you like to hear a story?”_

_“You made a fatal mistake in moving your knight,” said The King. “I
will now move my bishop and put you in check. So!”_

_“Grandfather!” said Bojohn. “Wouldn’t you like to--”_

_“Take your time, take your time,” said the King. “If you move out of
check, I’ll have you in three moves. See if I don’t!”_

_“Grandfather!” said Bojohn._

_“Ah!” said the King. “That’s different. Hum. Ha. I didn’t think you’d
do that. Plague take it, now I’ve got to think up something else.”_

_The Princess Dorobel placed her arm around the shoulder of Bojohn her
son. She was radiant in a white evening gown, and she wore pearls in
her hair._

_“Never mind, my dear,” said she,_ “I’d _like to hear a story.”_

_“And father too!” said Bojohn. “Come along, both of you!”_

_The Princess Dorobel put her arm in her husband’s, and hurried him
away after the two boys, who were already going out at the door._

_They followed the boys through dark halls and up a staircase into the
northeast tower, and stopped, all four, before the door of Solario’s
room. Prince Bojohn knocked, and a voice from within bade them enter._

[Illustration: Mortimer the Executioner was being measured by Solario
for a suit]

_Mortimer the Executioner, seven feet tall and vast as a hogshead
around the middle, was standing in his shirt sleeves beside the table,
and before him stood Solario on a chair, measuring him with a tape. On
the table lay a pile of cloth, with shears, chalk, needles, thread, and
wax._

_Solario jumped down from his chair and bowed. He was plainly in high
good humor._

_“Be seated, be seated, I pray you,” he cried, bringing up chairs in a
hurry. “This is a great honor; a very great honor indeed. You see me
in the midst of my-- Pray be seated. Will you excuse me while I note
down the shoulder measurement?” He bent over the table, and jotted down
some figures in a book. “Mortimer,” said he, “you may go now. We will
continue our labors in the morning.”_

_Mortimer, in confusion, hastily put on his coat, which caused a couple
of white mice to jump from his pockets and run up his sleeves._

_“Don’t go,” said the Princess Dorobel. “We are about to ask our good
friend Solario for a story, and I am sure you would like to hear it.”_

_“Yes,” said Prince Bilbo, “we have come to hear another story, if you
will be good enough to--”_

_“The story of Montesango’s Cave!” cried both boys, together._

_“Or the Roving Griffin!” cried Bojohn._

_“Or the Blind Giant!” cried Bodkin._

_“If you will pardon me,” said Solario, “I think that it would please
Prince Bilbo and the Princess better, perhaps, to hear the story told
me by the Black Prince on the memorable night when--”_

_“Don’t forget,” said Bodkin, “we want to hear about the old man with
the shaggy eyebrows, who got the golden chain away from the goldsmith’s
son.”_

_“I will tell you,” said Solario, “about the old man and about the
Black Prince at the same time.”_

_“We know nothing,” said Prince Bilbo, “about any old man with shaggy
eyebrows.”_

_“I’ll tell you, father!” said Bojohn; and he told what he knew. “Now
then!” he said to Solario. “Please go on!”_

_Solario the tailor seated himself cross-legged on his table, and the
others drew up their chairs before him in a row._

_“Has the old man with the shaggy eyebrows,” said Prince Bilbo,
“something to do with the Black Prince?”_

_“Precisely, sir,” said Solario. “If you are ready, I will relate to
you the story which the Black Prince told me on the memorable night
when-- However. Are you ready?”_

_“Dear me!” said the Princess Dorobel. “This is very cozy, indeed.”_

_“Go on!” cried Bojohn; and Solario, picking up his shears and gazing
at them thoughtfully for a moment, began, in the following words,_


THE STORY OF THE BLACK PRINCE

You must know, most excellent Solario (said the Black Prince) that my
father, the King of Wen, called me to him one morning, and taking me
into his private cabinet, spoke to me as follows.

“My son,” said he, “you are aware what anxiety I have suffered,
throughout my reign, regarding my city of Oogh, by reason of its
remoteness from my castle. I have, as you know, been unable to visit it
since my early youth. It is now some four years since I sent to that
city, to govern it in my stead, our friend Urban, so well-beloved among
us for his unfailing courtesy.”

       *       *       *       *       *

_“Oh!” said Bojohn. “That must be the Courteous Stranger.” Solario
said, “Precisely.”_

“For many months,” continued my father, the King of Wen, “I have had
no word from him, and I fear that some misfortune has befallen him. I
design therefore, my son, to send you to the city of Oogh, to find out
what is wrong, and if necessary to lend him aid. It will be best for
you to enter the city without making yourself known. Your mission may
be dangerous, and I accordingly wish you to wear this doublet, which
will protect you against all harm so long as it remains intact. I know
of no power which can remove it from your person, or detach from it
even a single button; but I warn you to be careful, for any injury to
it will deprive it of all virtue, and the consequences to you in that
case might be serious. Take the doublet from me with your left hand,
and I will tell you how I came into possession of it.”

Thereupon my father with his left hand placed the doublet in my left
hand, and commenced


THE STORY OF THE MAGIC DOUBLET

“When I was a young man,” said my father,--

_“Please excuse me, Solario,” said Prince Bilbo; “don’t you think it
might be better to go on with the main story, without stopping to--”_

_“Really, I think it would,” said the Princess Dorobel._

_“Oh, mother!” said Bojohn._

_“If it is your pleasure,” said Solario, “I will omit the story of the
magic doublet for the present.”_

_“I really think it would be better,” said the Princess Dorobel._

_“Oh, shucks,” said Bojohn to Bodkin, in a whisper._

“This is the doublet,” said my father when he had finished his story,
“which, as I have told you, was made by the One-Armed Sorcerer with
his left hand. Prepare now for your journey, my son, and good fortune
attend you.”

All that day I spent in preparation, and early on the next morning I
set forth for the city of Oogh. My daughter, the Princess Amadore,
implored me to take her with me. She was ever of an ardent and
adventurous spirit, and she would not listen to my objections on the
score of danger. She usually had her way with me, and I knew from the
first that there was no use in resisting her entreaties; and the upshot
of it was that I yielded, though much against my judgment.


_The Prince and His Daughter Set Forth for Oogh_

In due time we made our way to the city of Fadz on the seacoast, where
we took ship for Oogh; and for some two weeks we sailed the Great Sea
with favorable winds. At the end of that time we were blown out of our
course by storms, and took shelter in the Island Kingdom, at a port
called Ventamere, whence we visited the kingdom’s capital city, and
arrived there in time to witness, as the King’s guests, the marriage of
his daughter the Princess Hyla to one Alb, a goldsmith’s son, a youth
of exceedingly cheerful and engaging manners. This ceremony over, we
returned to Ventamere, and there took ship once more for Oogh.

No further accident delayed us, and after a week we sighted that part
of the mainland which my father had described to me. At my direction we
were put ashore, my daughter and myself, at a point where, as I knew, I
should find the road to Oogh.

Leaving orders for the ship to ride at a safe distance from shore
against our return, we turned our faces inland; but before going
further, I darkened my face, neck, and hands with walnut juice,
and dressed myself in patched and threadbare clothing. I put on my
magic doublet, but concealed it beneath a rude blue smock. I tried
to persuade my daughter to darken her face also, but she positively
refused to ruin her complexion, as she expressed it, and I now
regretted bitterly that I had brought her with me. I was able to
persuade her, however, to put on a coarse and tattered gown, but she
did it very unwillingly. I had provided myself with some trinkets of
silver, odds and ends of lace and silk, and children’s toys, and these
I now slung on my back in a pack. Thus, in the character of a peddler
and his daughter, we set forth upon the road to Oogh.


_A Strange Encounter at a Wayside Well_

Late in the afternoon we saw before us the roofs of the city, and
at the end of the road a gate in the city wall. At the same time we
perceived, in a clump of trees, a wayside well, and we were hastening
toward it, being tired and thirsty, when we heard a voice in that
direction, which was exclaiming angrily:

“There! Take that! I hate you, I hate you! Oh, if I could never see you
again!”

Hearing no reply to this outburst, and wondering who it was that could
take such language in silence, we hurried forward, and saw, standing
beside the well, under the trees, a boy and no one else; a boy of some
twelve years of age, dressed in a gorgeous robe of pale yellow silk;
a singularly beautiful boy, with great dark eyes and curly dark hair,
but a face extremely pallid and stained with tears; a face, in fact,
the saddest I had ever seen in a child. He was picking up from the wet
ground beside the well handfuls of mud, and spattering his silk robe
with it; and as we arrived he tore from his head a cap of spotless
white velvet and stamped it into the mud, crying out, “I won’t wear you
any more, I won’t! I hate you!” And then he burst into tears and flung
himself full length on his face in the mud, beating the ground with his
hands and muttering brokenly to himself.

We paused in astonishment, but my daughter, recovering herself quickly,
ran to him and put her hand on his shoulder. He sat up, startled. He
rose to his feet timidly, and gazed at us with big round eyes, trying
to choke back his sobs. He was mud from head to foot, and his gorgeous
robe was ruined.

My daughter coaxed him to tell her what was the matter, but he made no
answer; instead, he pulled off the ruined robe and flung it in the mud,
and standing in his shirt and breeches stamped upon it and burst into
tears again, and cried, “I won’t wear it! I want to be poor! I want to
be like the others! Oh, the wicked Eyebrow! Why can’t he be good like
the others? Oh, if I could only cut off the Eyebrow and make him poor
and good like the others!”

My daughter took his hand and begged him to tell her his trouble, but
all he would say was, “He’s wicked, and I want him to be good like the
others! And to-night he’s going to give the Blind Bowler to Goolk the
Spider, and I can’t stop him, I can’t stop him!” And he broke into a
fresh storm of sobbing.

My daughter shook her head at me pityingly.

“We are very sorry, my lad,” said I, “and I ask you to trust us. We are
going into the city, and perhaps when you know us better you will tell
us all about it. We should like to help you. Will you come with us?”

“What can a peddler do against the Eyebrow?” said the boy,--but he
dried his tears, and allowed my daughter to lead him forth by the hand
into the road.

We could make nothing of the boy’s wild talk, but we went onward
without questioning him further, and drew near to the city in silence.
Beside the city gate, under the wall, a crowd of idle people were
gathered, and from the center of the group we could hear voices
singing together hoarsely. In a few minutes we were in the midst of the
crowd, and saw what it was the idlers were looking at.


_The Three Blind Ballad Singers_

Three blind men were singing a comic ballad in loud voices, and
prancing up and down in time, with such antics that the crowd
roared with delight. Each of the three held in his hand a sheaf of
papers,--ballads, undoubtedly, intended for sale to the onlookers.
Suddenly they stopped, each with a hand at his ear, and looked up at
the sky as if listening.

“Is there a stranger here?” cried one of them.

“A peddler and a maid!” shouted one of the crowd. “All tattered and
torn!”

“With eyebrows?” cried the ballad singer.

“Yes! yes!” said several of the crowd together.

I did not like this sort of attention very well, and I was about to
draw my daughter away, when the ballad singers faced with one accord in
my direction and began to cry, “Buy our ballads! Ho, master Eyebrows!
Buy our ballads! Welcome to Oogh, master Eyebrows!”

The faces and heads of these three fellows were covered with black
hair; but I now noticed that not one of them had the vestige of an
eyebrow; and I observed further that there was not an eyebrow amongst
all the crowd, with the exception only of the boy at my side; and as to
him, the people, when they saw him, suddenly fell silent, and backed
away from him with something like fear in their eyes. The boy observed
it, as I could see, and looked as if he were going to cry again.

“What do we say, brothers,” shouted one of the ballad singers, “what do
we say to the damsel in the tattered gown? Shall one of us marry the
tattered damsel? Oh, yes, oh, yes! Tra la, tra la,--”

He paused, as if waiting for a laugh; but the crowd did not laugh any
more, and my daughter was herself in fact the only one who seemed to be
amused. As for myself, I was beginning to be angry.

“We’ll marry the Lady Tatters!” cried the blind man. “O-o-oh!” And
he burst into a loud song, in which the other two joined, all three
prancing up and down meanwhile in a ridiculous dance. So far as I can
recollect it, their song went something like this:

      “O Lady Tatters! O Lady Tatters!
  We scorn the fellow who basely flatters,
  But we can’t help saying that nobody matters
    But you, fair lady, but you, but you!
    Tra la, tra la, tra la, tra la,
  We know that it’s generally customary
  In cases like these to be shy and wary,
  For often enough in matrimony
  There’s plenty of gall mixed in with the honey,
    How true that is! how true! how true!
    Tra la, tra la, tra la, tra la,
  But under existing circumstances
  Every fellow must take some chances,
  Refusing to bother concerning expenses
  And other deplorable consequences,
  Cheerfully scorning each friendly warning,--
    How few regard it! how few! how few!
    Tra la, tra la, tra la, tra la,
      O Lady Tatters! O Lady Tatters!
  We’ve duly considered these difficult matters,
  And now, without any reservation,
  We’re ready to enter the marriage relation!
  You’ve only to view our reliable faces
  And gaze on our truly superlative graces,
  To note that the suitors by whom you’re attended
  Come really remarkably well recommended,--
    Buy it’s all in the point of view! How true!
      It’s all in the point of view!
    Tra la, tra la, tra la, tra la,--”

“Silence, rogues!” I cried, out of all patience at their impudence, but
my daughter burst out laughing. It was ever her way to be amused rather
than annoyed.

“Master Eyebrows!” shouted the first ballad singer. “Choose one of us
for the tattered damsel! What will you take for her? Speak.”

“You shall have the Shears!” shouted the second ballad singer.

“The Shears of Sharpness!” shouted the third.

“See, Eyebrows!” cried the first. “The Shears of Sharpness!”


_The Blind Ballad Singer Displays the Shears of Sharpness_

He drew from under his gown a pair of tailor’s shears, and as he did so
the crowd fell back as if in alarm. He stepped toward the city wall,
and placed his hand on a flat iron bar, some two or three inches in
width, supporting an awning over a booth; and applying his shears to
it, he cut it through and through as if it had been paper. I gasped in
amazement; never had I seen a pair of shears like those.

“The Shears for the lady!” cried the blind man. “Come, Eyebrows,
choose!”

“Impudent rascal,” said I, “the lady is my daughter, and I foresee that
a good scourging is awaiting you. Come, Amadore!”

“But buy our ballads!” cried the second ballad singer. “Buy our
ballads!” cried the others, and each of the three thrust toward me one
of his papers.

I took them, and paying over a few coppers, moved on toward the city
gate. “Father!” said Amadore in my ear. “The boy is gone!”

It was true. The boy had slipped away, and was gone. The idlers began
to laugh again, and I drew my daughter after me into the city.

In a moment we were standing in a street of shops, and my daughter,
laughing again, begged me to read my ballads. I glanced at the sheets,
still angry, and was about to toss them away, when I observed that they
were blank, or nearly so, and I looked at them more closely.

On the first were written these words, and nothing more: “Hurry. Hurry.”

On the second I found these words only: “The Cobweb Room in the
Governor’s Palace.”

On the third were these words only: “The Eyebrows of Babadag the
Tailor.”

I stared at my daughter in perplexity; but she urged that these could
be no other than messages on behalf of our friend Urban, and that we
must find him without a moment’s delay. We walked on briskly, intending
to inquire our way to the governor’s palace.


_The Strange Conduct of the People of Oogh_

As we went on, we became aware of a general and oppressive stillness.
A few people were in the street, and some could be seen inside the
shops; but they conversed in low tones, and they seemed to be idle,
indifferent, and listless. Here and there a shopkeeper sat in a chair
before his shop, gazing blankly at the opposite wall.

Of the first of these shopkeepers I inquired the direction of the
governor’s palace. The man started from his reverie, as if frightened,
rose from his chair, stared at me curiously, and without a word went
into his shop and closed the door. “Did you see?” said my daughter. “He
had no eyebrows.”

At the next corner we came to an open market of stalls, and there
I repeated my inquiry. Instead of the usual bustle and clamor of a
market, there was the same silence, though the place was thronged
with people. I nudged my daughter in surprise, for among all these
people there was not an eyebrow. The venders were making no effort,
apparently, to sell their wares, and the customers were buying with an
air of indifference, as if the business bored them. I began to feel
depressed, and even my daughter was sober.

The market man of whom I asked my direction looked anxiously about him
before answering, and then whispered hurriedly, “I’ve nothing to do
with it. Nothing. How do you come to be wearing eyebrows here?”

Without answering him, I applied at two or three other stalls, but the
only result was a shaking of heads and a curious, wide gaze, as of
mild alarm. There was nothing to do but to search out unaided the most
pretentious house in the city; for such a house, undoubtedly, would be
the governor’s residence.

We walked the streets for more than an hour; and everywhere was
the same silence, the same listlessness, the same apathy. “I don’t
believe,” said my daughter, “that these people have any wills of their
own at all.”

“Certainly,” said I, “they have no eyebrows of their own, at least.
Except for the boy who ran away from us, I haven’t seen an eyebrow in
the city. It seems strange.”


_The Mansion in the Ruined Park_

We ascended a hill, and came to a park gate, at a point from which we
could see the entire city below us. Through the gate, across the park,
we saw a residence more imposing than any we had yet seen. The gate
hung wide open on broken hinges, and the park within was in a state of
ruin.

“This must be it,” said my daughter.

“It seems unlikely,” said I, “but we will soon know.”

We made our way across the park, through tall weeds and tangled
brambles, and stood before a splendid but gloomy mansion. The door was
swinging open, and we entered.

All was silent within. A sense of calamity seemed to pervade the place;
plainly it was deserted. We walked on through spacious apartments, and
everywhere was furniture of the richest description, but covered with
dust and hung with cobwebs. We stopped finally, far within, before a
door which appeared to lead outside.

“It is no use,” said I. “Our friend is gone, if he was ever here, and
we must seek him elsewhere.”

“No, no,” said my daughter. “We must find the Cobweb Room.”

She led the way out into an open court green with moss and weeds,
in the center of which was a fountain with a dry and littered basin
beneath it. I stopped suddenly, and listened. “Hark!” said I. From a
distance came, or seemed to come, the voices of the three blind ballad
singers, shouting out some ribald ballad. My daughter smiled, and I
called out, “Urban!” The singing ceased, and there was no response to
my cry. “Come,” said my daughter, and led me around the dry fountain to
an alley of cypress trees which opened toward a section of the mansion
beyond the court.

An open door at the end of this alley admitted us to a circular
chamber, very lofty, evidently an audience room, deserted like the
rest, on one side of which, on a daïs, stood a marble seat with arms,
covered with cobwebs.

“Ah! Look!” said my daughter, and pointed to an open doorway on the
opposite side of the room.


_The Solitary Figure Behind the Spider’s Web_

The doorway was barred from top to bottom and from side to side with a
single monstrous spider’s web. We stood before it and looked through.
Seated beside a table in a little room with a high window barred
likewise with a cobweb was the figure of our friend, the governor of
Oogh.

His head was resting mournfully on his hand, and he was staring
vacantly at the floor. His hair was long and powdered with dust; his
beard had grown to a great length; but he had no eyebrows. His hands
and clothing were white with dust, and there was around his neck,
in striking contrast, a gold chain, of very fine gold and delicate
workmanship.

“Urban!” I cried. “We are here!”

He did not move. I called his name again, but he seemed not to hear.
He did not move nor speak. I pushed briskly against the cobweb, but it
held like wire; I could not break through, though I dashed against it
with all my strength. I tried to cut it with a sharp knife which I wore
under my smock, but it was no use; the cobweb held, and the blade was
broken.

We remained for a moment, peering in at our friend, uncertain what to
do. Who could have been the author of this witchery? I remembered the
name which had occurred on one of the ballad singers’ sheets. I gave
a last look at the silent and motionless figure within, and led my
daughter back to the court of the dry fountain. There she sat down on
the rim of the empty basin, and looked up at the sky as if listening.
A faint sound, as of singing at a distance, seemed to float down to us.

“Just as I thought,” said my daughter. “It will be best for me to
remain here. I think some information will come to me here, if I wait.
Do you go down into the city, father, and seek what you may find there.
I will wait here until you return. Don’t be uneasy, father; I shall not
be lonesome.” And she laughed, as if at some joke.

I did not understand her purpose, and I refused to leave her; but she
insisted, and I gave in at last. She always had her way.

I left her, and set forth alone to obtain such information as I could.
I was passing out through the ruinous gateway into the street, when I
heard, or fancied I heard, from the direction of the house, the voices
of the three blind ballad singers, in one of their songs; but when I
stopped to listen I could hear them no longer, and I concluded that I
had been mistaken.

I reached the market place, and stood for a moment behind an awning,
debating whether I might put a question regarding Babadag the Tailor.
I was still uncertain what to do, when a slight commotion among the
people attracted my notice. I looked out from my concealment, and saw,
approaching from the next corner, the boy whom I had found beside the
wayside well.


_The Prince Watches the People’s Behavior Toward the Boy_

His face was dark with a sort of settled gloom. He walked slowly, and
as he came on the people made way for him and stood whispering in
groups and glancing at him furtively over their shoulders. He paused
at one of the stalls and picking up some dates looked at the vender,
timidly and appealingly, as if about to speak; but the vender sidled
away from him toward the nearest group, and the boy put down the fruit,
sighed, and went on.

He passed the place of my concealment, and by this time tears were
beginning to trickle down his cheeks. But he held his head proudly, and
looking neither to right nor to left passed out of sight around the
next corner.

I followed him, hoping for some light upon the general mystery. I
followed him across the city, through many streets, wondering why
it was that a boy so gentle and so beautiful should seem to inspire
everywhere a kind of mild and listless aversion. At one place a child
ran up to him and tugged at his garments, and the boy’s face lighted
up with pleasure; but the child’s mother pulled her infant away in a
hurry, and the boy went on, more sadly than before.

He came to a street in which, for the space of a single block, the
shops and houses were evidently deserted; and in the middle of this
block, before a shop with broken windows, deserted apparently like the
rest, the boy stopped, and pushing open the front door, went in.

I came up quickly, and peeping in at the same door saw a vacant room
within, in which remnants of old merchandise were lying about in
disorder, and dirt and refuse lay everywhere on the floor. I went in
quietly and crossed the room to a door at the rear, and opening it on
a crack saw the boy stooping down in a paved yard. I heard the boy
speak, without hearing what he said, and saw him descend by some means
into the ground and disappear.

I ran to the spot and knelt down beside an iron grating, some three
feet square, which I found there in the pavement. I heard from below a
rumble, succeeded by a clatter, and then there was silence. Laying down
my pack on the ground I pulled at the grating, and found that it rose
on hinges, like a trapdoor. I opened it, and saw beneath it a ladder. I
stepped on the top rung, and went down.


_The Man with the Ball in the Underground Alley_

At the bottom I found myself at one end of a dimly lighted room, very
long and very narrow, like an enclosed alley; and near by was the boy,
and beside him a grown man, both intent on something at the other end
of the room. The man was swinging in his right hand a large wooden
ball, and as I watched him he cried out, laughing cheerily:

“Never mind, Figli! This time I’ll make a strike! Only forty-seven more
to make! Now watch!”

He hurled the ball from him along the floor, and it rolled swiftly to
the far end of the room, where it crashed in among ten large wooden
bottles, standing upright on the floor. He was playing tenpins.

“Oh!” cried the boy called Figli. “Only seven!”

“Never mind, never mind,” said the Bowler, cheerfully, and ran up the
alley and set up the pins, and then ran back with the ball, in great
haste. As he came back, he appeared to look directly at me, but gave no
sign of having seen me. I scanned his face closely. He was blind. His
hair and beard were black, and he had no eyebrows.

The boy flung out his hands as if in despair, and cried:

“It’s no use! You can’t do it! Forty-seven strikes to make by midnight!
Oh, he’ll give you to Goolk the Spider! What shall I do? What shall I
do?”

“Perhaps I can help you,” said I, coming forward.

The boy sprang up, and the Blind Bowler wheeled round toward me.

“Oh! it’s you,” said the boy named Figli. “What can a peddler do
against the Eyebrow?”

“Who is it?” said the Blind Bowler.

“It’s a stranger with eyebrows,” said Figli, “who was kind to me
to-day.”

The Blind Bowler sent a ball spinning up the alley, and all the ten
pins fell down with a clatter.

“A strike!” cried Figli, joyfully.

“We’ll do it yet!” said the Bowler. “Only forty-six more! Never give
up! Keep everlastingly at it, that’s my motto!” And he ran after the
ball, set up the pins, and ran back, ready to throw again.

“If he has eyebrows,” said he, panting and wiping his forehead, “he
must have a will of his own; and it must be a good will, or else he
wouldn’t have been kind to you.”

He rolled the ball again, knocking down only six.

“Better luck next time!” he cried, and darted up the alley. “Never say
die, and keep everlastingly at it, that’s the motto!”

“My boy,” said I, “I beg you to trust me, and to tell me who you are,
and why--”

“A strike!” cried the Blind Bowler. “Only forty-five to make by
midnight! Trust him, Figli! His voice is honest. I think he is the one
we have been waiting for. Trust him!”

“It’s hard for me to tell you,” said the boy, “it’s too--”

“I’ll tell you!” cried the Blind Bowler, running down the alley. “His
name is Figli Babadag. Does that tell you everything?”

“No, nothing,” said I.

“Eight down that time!” cried the Bowler. “Never say die! He’s the son
of Babadag the Tailor. Now do you know?”

“No,” said I.

“Then I must tell you,” said the Blind Bowler. “It is Babadag who rules
the city; don’t you know that? Master of black secrets is Babadag, and
lord of the Eyebrow; and his anger is terrible. He has put the golden
chain about the Governor’s neck and shut him up in the Cobweb Room.
He has drawn the wills from out of the brains of all our people, by
plucking out their eyebrows, so that in all the city there are but two
wills only, one bad and one good: the will of Babadag and the will of
his little son. Nine down that time! Never give up!”

“Oh!” cried Figli. “I want my father to be good! I want him to be poor
and good like the others! If I could only make him good!”

“Only one way to do that!” said the Blind Bowler, halfway down the
alley. “He is lord of the Eyebrow, and in the Eyebrow lies his power.
But the hairs of his eyebrows are no ordinary hairs; they are of the
family of gray snakes that live in the lake Siskratoum, and there is no
one to cut them, even if there were a blade sharp enough; and they must
be cut by the hand of love, and there is no one here that loves him,
but his son. There is not one but trembles at his name, and even at the
name of Figli his son;--there is scarcely one who dares brush against
the boy in the street, for fear of what power may lie in the eyebrows
of the boy, and for fear of his father’s malice.”

“They won’t speak to me!” cried Figli. “They’re afraid of me! And I’ve
done them no harm! I only want to be friends with them!”

“You see he’s all alone. He hates his riches; he wants to be poor and
simple, like the others.”

“And what about yourself?” said I.

“Ah!” cried the Blind Bowler. “Only six down that time! Not so easy,
when you’ve no eyes to see with! But keep everlastingly at it, that’s
the word! What did you say?”

“What about yourself?” said I.

“Oh, me! I helped the governor fight this Babadag, and we lost; and
for that the powerful one put out my eyes, and the eyes of my three
brothers as well, for nothing but because they were my brothers; three
ballad singers--”

“Yes!” said I. “I have seen them.”

“Ridiculous fellows, but no harm in them! And because it was my
pleasure in former times to play at bowling, old Babadag placed me
here, under my shop, to bowl a thousand strikes, if I could, by
midnight of this very day; and if not, to take my place in the web with
Goolk the Spider. Those ballad singers, my brothers, they would like
to help me if they could, and perhaps they will yet, who knows? Aha!
Another strike! I’ll do it yet!”

“It’s no use,” said Figli. “The time’s too short. And I can’t save him.
Oh, if you could help us, peddler! But you mustn’t do my father any
harm!”

“My boy,” said I, “I am a friend of the enchanted governor, and I will
do my best to help you. And perhaps the three blind ballad singers mean
to help too. I think they do. Will you take me to your father?”

The boy started in alarm. “You are very brave, peddler,” said he. “What
do you say?” he asked of the Blind Bowler.

“I say yes!” cried the Bowler. “There is hope in this stranger. I think
he’s the one we’ve been waiting for. My brothers have been on the
lookout for him. They’ll help too. Trust him!”

“Do you know any stories?” said the boy.

I smiled. “A few, I dare say,” said I.

“My father is a lover of tales. It’s his one weakness. It will be safer
for you if you can amuse him with tales, and the longer they are the
better.”

“The wine, if he offers you any,” said the Blind Bowler, “will be
drugged; that much is sure. Take care. And do not let yourself be
touched by Goolk the Spider.”

“Come,” said I. “There is not a moment to be lost.”


_The Prince Sets Out for His Encounter with Babadag the Tailor_

I hastened to the ladder, followed by the boy, and we began to go up.
The tenpins fell down with a clatter, and as I reached the grating
overhead I heard the voice of the Blind Bowler from below, crying out
cheerily, “Four down! Never mind! Keep everlastingly at it!”

In the paved yard I slung my pack on my back again, and followed the
boy into the street. It was beginning to grow dark, and I thought
anxiously of my daughter; but I could not go back to her yet. During
our walk the boy spoke only once, and then he said:

“You must not do my father any harm. I love my father. I want him to be
good, like the others, but I should die--I should die!--if he came to
any harm.”

I did not reply, but followed for half an hour through streets which
were now almost empty of people. We entered at last a street narrower
than the others, paved with cobblestones and without a sidewalk,
and stopped before a shop over whose door, by way of a sign, hung a
yardstick and a pair of shears. It seemed a mean enough abode for the
ruler of the city, but Figli, without hesitating, opened the door and
went in. The room inside was dark, but I could see a tailor’s bench and
implements, and a disorderly array of half-finished garments, covered
with dust. The boy opened a door at the rear, and I followed him along
a dark passage to another door, which Figli threw open to a flood of
light.


_Babadag the Tailor, Goolk the Spider, and the Eight Tailors_

We were standing in a magnificent apartment, paved with colored marble,
hung and spread with soft rugs, and lit with hundreds of tapers. At
the left, near the wall, was sitting an old man, and behind his chair,
from ceiling to floor, was a gigantic spider’s web, which glistened
like silver in the candlelight. In the center of this web was a great
green spider, with five or six small black spiders about him. Against
the opposite wall, on a tailor’s bench, eight men, totally without
eyebrows, were sitting cross-legged, each bending over a bowl held on
his knees, filled with what looked like shreds of hair, and engaged in
some kind of work with tiny knitting needles.

The old man’s gross and heavy body was clothed in a gorgeous robe of
pale yellow silk, like that which the boy had thrown in the mud, but
embroidered with spider’s webs of spun gold, and studded with rubies
and amethysts. His face, a rather jovial face, was covered with gray
hair, which hung over his breast, and his eyes shone like sparks behind
a pair of the shaggiest eyebrows I had ever seen. He gazed at me
calmly, and held out a hand to his son.

The boy went to him, and Babadag the Tailor put an arm about him and
said, with very obvious tenderness:

“My boy, you are late. And your robe and hat! Where are they?”

The boy threw himself on his knees beside his father, and cried,
“Oh, father! I couldn’t wear them any longer. I couldn’t! They’re
hateful! I don’t want to be dressed in silk! I want to be poor like the
others! I can’t wear them any longer, I can’t, I can’t!”

[Illustration: “You are welcome, master peddler,” said Babadag]

The old man smiled kindly. “Never mind, my son, never mind. I’ll not
scold you. We’ll think no more about it. Who is the visitor you have
brought with you?”

“It’s a peddler,” said Figli, standing up. “I don’t know his name; a
peddler I met by chance, and I’d like you to buy me something from his
pack.”

I stepped forward, made my bow, and dropped my pack to the floor.

“You are welcome, master peddler,” said Babadag.

The green spider gave a sharp twitch, which set the whole web quivering.

“Quiet, Goolk!” said Babadag.

The eight men on the tailor’s bench stopped their work, and said:
“Welcome, master peddler!”

“Knit your brows!” said Babadag, angrily, and the eight men hurriedly
resumed their knitting.

I opened my pack and began to take out some toys.

“Presently, presently, peddler,” said Babadag, stopping me. “Your face
is dark, stranger. A little more, and it would have been black.”

“Yes, very dark,” said the eight men, stopping their work again.

“Knit your brows!” thundered Babadag. “Accursed dogs, be silent!--A
dark stranger, who wears eyebrows in the city of Oogh! A thing of
interest! I would gladly know who you are and what brings you here.”

I was prepared with my story, and I answered promptly.

“Magnificence,” said I, “I am a peddler, and my name is Nobbud
Bald-er-Dash. If the ear of graciousness will incline to me, I will
tell an amusing tale concerning myself, and at some length.”

“A tale!” cried Babadag. “You must know, honest Bald-er-Dash, that I am
a lover of tales. A weakness! I confess it. Come! We will make a night
of it. Goolk,” said he, rising, “come hither!”

The green spider sped down the web to the floor, and ran up the old
man’s yellow silk robe, and came to a stop on his breast, beside his
beard.

“It is the hour of the evening repast,” continued Babadag, stroking the
spider with his finger, “and I invite you to sit down with me. A guest
who has a tale to tell! It is good fortune, no less! Come, Figli, my
son, we will listen to the excellent Bald-er-Dash while we dine.”


_The Prince Dines with Babadag the Tailor_

He pulled aside a curtain in the wall, and leaving the eight men at
their work, we passed, all three, into an open court, hung about with
lanterns of colored glass, and odorous with flowers. Under an awning
was a small table, set for two. It was now dark, and the lanterns shed
a soft glow on the silver and glass of the table. Servants appeared and
laid a place for myself, and the meal commenced.

“You are wondering, Bald-er-Dash,” said Babadag, “who the eight men
are whom we have just left. They are tailors, known among us as the
Knitters of Eyebrows. They are knitting for me, out of the eyebrows
which my good people have been so kind as to give me, a garment known
as the Cloak of Wills, which will, when finished, complete the mastery
of the fortunate person who wears it. Try a little of this wine, my
good Bald-er-Dash; you will find it excellent.”

I pretended to drink the wine, but I was able, while Babadag’s
attention was fixed on his plate, to spill a good deal of it on the
floor.

“I am anxious to hear your story,” said the old man. “The singers who
sometimes entertain me at my meals are late to-day, and we will not
wait for them. Bald-er-Dash, my good fellow, let me hear your tale.”

At this moment voices were heard from the shadows, and three men came
running toward the table, crying out boisterously.

“Good news!” they were shouting. “We’re going to marry! She’s promised!
She’ll marry the one you choose, tra la! She’ll marry the one you
choose!”


_The Three Blind Ballad Singers Once More_

They began to sing, at the top of their voices. I started in surprise.
It was the three blind ballad singers. “O-o-oh!” they sang:

  “She wanted to marry us all, she said,
    But that wouldn’t do, no never,
      No never, no never, no, no!
        From suitors a dozen,
        Not counting a cousin
      And two or three uncles or so,
  She’d freely and frankly, firmly and fairly,
        Flatly and finally fled!
    For never a one could sing, not one,
    Not a line, not a note, not a thing, not one,
  And she, she said, if she must be wed,
    A singer she’d have, or she’d have none,
  For really she’d almost rather be dead
  If she couldn’t be uninterruptedly fed
        On an endless tonic
        Of scales harmonic
      In every possible key,
        An infinite series, never finished,
      Of chords with all the sevenths diminished,
      And all the intervals less than minor,--
      Surely nothing could be diviner,
    Nothing! nothing at all, said she:
      And after breakfast a quaver hemi,
      And after dinner a quaver demi,
      And after supper a quaver semi,
    And in between, for ever and ever,
      Every possible kind of shake!
    The fact of the matter is, you see,
        She’d made up her mind, beyond mistake,
    To offer her hand to one of we!
          But which should it be?
          Which one of the three?
  And what of the two who would have to go?
    What about them? she said; that’s it!
    She didn’t approve the idea a bit.
  Those other two she could never forget,--
  Just think of them out in the cold and wet!
  Just think of their terrible, terrible woe!
  She wanted to marry, and yet, and yet,
    She’d never be happy, no never,
      No never, no never, no, no!”

“Silence, fools,” said Babadag, laughing. “We are about to listen to
a tale,--a tale from Bald-er-Dash the peddler. Will you proceed now,
excellent peddler?”

“Willingly,” said I.

At the sound of my voice, the three blind men cried out “Aha!” and
broke into a fresh song:

  “The peddler and the peddler’s maid, oh fair as milk was she,
  And she promised on her honor she would marry one of three,--”

“Silence, rascals!” said Babadag.

I was becoming, all this while, more and more restless, for I had no
doubt that all this talk of marriage had reference to my own daughter.
I wondered bitterly what mischief she had been up to during my absence.

“These rascals,” said Babadag, still laughing, “sometimes I am minded
to put them to death. I don’t know really why I let them live. Now
then, excellent one, let us hear the tale.”

I bowed, and while the repast proceeded, and the three ballad singers
remained standing behind our chairs, I related to Babadag, as follows,


THE STORY OF NOBBUD BALD-ER-DASH THE PEDDLER

“In the course of my wanderings,” I began, “I arrived one day at a
spring in the wilderness, beside which were encamped a company of--”

_“I think,” said Solario, interrupting himself, “that I cannot
conscientiously repeat this story, because--”_

_“Oh, please!” said Bojohn. “We’d like to hear it.”_

_“No,” said. Solario, “I couldn’t, conscientiously, because there is
not a word of truth in the story, and I do not wish to tell anything
which is not strictly true.”_

During my tale (said the Prince) I pretended now and then to take a
sip of wine, and to grow drowsy, so that toward the end I seemed to
have difficulty in keeping awake. When I had concluded, Babadag laughed
and said, “I thank you, peddler. Never in my life have I heard such a
tissue of--er--amusing facts. Some more wine, peddler.”

I pretended to sip the wine again, and let my head fall forward on my
breast, and roused myself as if with a great effort.

“I am something,” said Babadag, appearing to take no notice of my
drowsiness, “of a teller of tales myself. I will tell you in return a
story, and when I have finished you shall tell me another, if you know
any, as you undoubtedly do.”

Thereupon he commenced a long and detailed story; and I could see that
as he proceeded he was watching me from the corner of his eye. He had
not spun out his tale very far when my eyes closed and my head nodded;
and after an apparent effort to arouse myself I let my head fall
forward on the table and lie there motionless.

Babadag instantly stopped, raised my head gently, and laying it back
against my chair shook me roughly, but with no effect.

“Send in the accursed dogs,” said he in a fierce whisper.

I was aware, in a moment, that the eight tailors were standing around
me.

“The eyebrows!” said Babadag, and the tailors bent over me and began to
pluck at my eyebrows with instruments of some sort.

“Oh, father, father,” said Figli, “please don’t!”

“Be still, my son,” said Babadag.


_The Magic Doublet Protects the Prince Against the Knitters of Eyebrows
and Against Goolk the Spider_

I laughed inwardly, for I was sure that, under the protection of my
doublet, my eyebrows would reappear as fast as they could be plucked
out. And indeed, from the snort of rage given by Babadag, I soon knew
that my eyebrows were safe. I could hear the eight tailors whispering
together, as if in dismay.

“Goolk!” said Babadag, in the same angry whisper, “sting me this false
peddler!”

“No, no, father,” said Figli. “Not that, oh, please!”

I shivered a little, for I confess that the thought of the spider was
horrifying to me. I waited anxiously, not daring to open my eyelids
even a trifle. I assure you it was all I could do to remain still.
There was silence, and in the midst of it I felt a tickling on my left
cheek, and then a kind of pin-prick there, and I knew that the spider
had stung me.

“Back, Goolk!” said Babadag. “Now, false peddler that you are, be
no longer either a prince or a peddler, but a spider,--a black
spider!--and take your place with Goolk in the web! Change!”

I felt no change, and I heard another snort of rage from Babadag. “Some
charm!” he muttered. “Some charm protects him! Let us see what charm
this lying stranger carries upon him.”

I felt that my smock was being lifted from my breast, and I heard a
kind of gasp from Babadag. “The doublet!” he said. “It is plain! Off
with the doublet!” And immediately fingers were at my breast, trying to
unbutton the doublet.

But they could not unbutton it. Not a button would come through its
hole.

“Fetch me a pair of shears, rascals,” said Babadag, and in a moment I
knew that shears were snapping away at my doublet. But it was no use;
the blade would not cut, neither the thread of the buttons nor the
cloth; they held like iron at every point. I heard the shears drop to
the floor.

“The Shears of Sharpness! Bring me the Shears of Sharpness!” said
Babadag. “Nothing else will cut this doublet.”

I heard a chuckle, and the voice of one of the ballad singers said,
“The Shears of Sharpness, brothers!” And there was another chuckle.

“What!” said Babadag. “You laugh, rascals? You dare to laugh?”

“The Shears of Sharpness!” said the voice of one of the ballad singers.
“Where are the Shears of Sharpness, brothers?” And at this there was a
very considerable tittering.

“Ask the fair lady, brother,” said the voice of another of the ballad
singers.

“She knows! The wonderful lady!” said the voice of the third.

“Ineffable scoundrels!” said Babadag. “Have you stolen my Shears?”

“No, no! Only borrowed them! What harm in that?” said the ballad
singers.

“Return them to me at once!” said Babadag.

I could hear the ballad singers chuckling together again. “We would, we
would,” said one of them, “we meant to, but--”

“But what, beast?”

“She has them,” said one of the three.

“The most wonderful of women,” said another.

“She who swore she would marry one of us,” said the third.


_The Prince’s Daughter Has Beguiled the Shears of Sharpness from the
Ballad Singers_

My daughter! My own daughter! She had beguiled the Shears from these
foolish vagabonds! Or had they let her have the Shears for some purpose
of their own--to help their brother, say? I was quite bewildered.

“Oh, that I should let such scoundrels live!” said Babadag, fiercely.
“Where is this woman?”

“But she wouldn’t marry us unless we gave her the Shears,” said one of
the ballad singers. “No harm in that!”

“No harm in that, surely!” said the other two.

“Where is this woman?” said Babadag again.

“We left her,” said one of the others, “by the dry fountain at the
governor’s palace.”

“Accursed,” said Babadag, evidently addressing the eight tailors, “pick
up this peddler and follow me. We must find the Shears. You, imbeciles
that you are, I will deal with you afterward. Goolk, back to your web!”

I could not see what became of Goolk, but I knew that the eight tailors
were lifting me from my chair, and I felt myself being borne away.

“Oh, father!” cried Figli. “You mustn’t! Please let the poor man go, oh
please!”

“My son,” said Babadag, in the voice of tenderness with which he always
addressed his son, “he is my enemy. I must have him in my power.
Accursed doublet!”


_A Light Flickers in the Dark Shop_

In a moment I was aware that we were in the street, and I opened my
eyelids a trifle. The moon was shining. I saw Babadag starting on
before, with the three ballad singers at his back. Behind, the eight
tailors were holding me in a sitting posture between them. I could
see the shop door, without moving my head, and as we started I beheld
Figli, coming from the door, in the act of stowing away something, I
could not see what, in the bosom of his shirt. The shop was dark, but
as Figli closed the door behind him I noticed, flickering from within,
a tiny flame of light which had not been there before. I remarked that
the boy’s face was very pale in the moonlight.

We came, after a long journey through deserted streets, to the little
hill which led up to the governor’s palace. We entered the ruined park,
and crossed it to the mansion. Babadag opened the door, and the company
paused inside, listening. All was silent. I had an impulse to shout,
in order to warn my daughter; but I knew that that would be fatal, and
I continued to lie inert and speechless in the arms of the tailors. I
risked opening my eyes from time to time, and I saw that Babadag was
leading the way from room to room, all dark except for moonlight here
and there upon the floors, and that he came at last, followed by all
the others, into the court of the dry fountain; and there the eight
tailors laid me down on the ground. My heart almost stopped beating,
for fear that my daughter should be there.

“Vile rascals,” said Babadag, “you have deceived me! There is no woman
here.”

“Astonishing!” said one of the ballad singers. “Not here! Who would
have thought it?”

“I doubt that she was ever here,” said Babadag. “Wait!”

I saw him go off down the alley of cypress trees toward the Cobweb
Room, no doubt to assure himself that his prisoner was safe, or else
to seek the woman there. As soon as he was gone, I felt a hand on my
arm, and the voice of Figli whispered in my ear, “Are you awake?” and I
pressed his hand in answer.


_The Prince’s Daughter Is Gone, and the Prince Makes a Dash for Liberty_

The eight tailors were sitting on the rim of the fountain’s basin,
mopping their foreheads and panting, and the blind men were standing
near them. I measured with my eye the distance to the door from which
I had come, and gave a sudden spring toward it which carried me nearly
there; and I was off and away, before the eight tailors realized what
had happened.

I scoured swiftly and silently through the dark rooms in all
directions, listening now and then for sounds of pursuit. But I heard
nothing, and I began to whisper my daughter’s name from time to time.
In a room far distant from the court, to which I presently came, I
found the door at the opposite side closed, which in that house of open
doors struck me as being odd. A broad band of moonlight lay across the
floor, and in the dim light I could see the furnishings of a kitchen.
I approached the opposite door and opened it cautiously, thinking to
go through; but I looked into a cupboard, hung with pots and pans, and
there on the floor of the cupboard was sitting my daughter, calmly
eating a fig.

She looked up at me with a merry laugh, and sprang to her feet.

“There are very good fig trees in the park,” said she. “Will you have
one of these? No? You’ve been gone a long time. I heard some people
going through the house, and I thought I had better wait in here. I’m
going to be married!”

“Come,” said I, “we’ve no time for jesting.”

“But it’s the best joke!” said my daughter. “When I think how I
played on those half-wits! I’ve never had such sport in my life! I
promised to marry one of them, if they’d choose which--do you remember
the three ballad singers?”

[Illustration: “Beauty in tatters!” said Babadag the Tailor]

“And you have the Shears of Sharpness,” said I.

“How do you know that?” said she. “They’re simply mad! And I wouldn’t
promise them anything unless they gave me the Shears. And they did!
And I promised! And now you’ve got to get me out of it. Here are the
Shears. Take them.”

“I suspect, my dear,” said I, taking the Shears from her, “that these
three imbeciles meant that you should have the Shears all the time, and
they’ve been making a bit of a fool of you. But there’s no time for
talking. Hurry!”

I stepped quickly toward the door, and as I reached it it was blocked
by a huge dark figure. It was Babadag.

“Not so fast, peddler,” said he; and then he saw my daughter, who was
standing in the band of moonlight, most fairylike and beautiful. He
brushed past me and stopped before her, gazing at her in astonishment
and admiration.

“Beauty in tatters!” he said. “No wonder that even blind men are
conquered. You make me forget the Shears. Surely there is no woman in
Oogh so beautiful. Will you look on me kindly? I am powerful, and I
offer you a share of my power. It is Babadag who speaks.”

He held out his hand to her, and she shrank away in horror. “No, no!”
she screamed. “Father!”

Babadag turned swiftly, and at that moment I sprang upon him; but the
old man snatched forth a knife, and as I caught and held the arm which
was lifted to strike, a small dark figure darted in from the doorway
and flung something over the old man’s neck from behind.


_Babadag the Tailor Is Conquered by His Little Son_

The knife dropped from Babadag’s hand. He swayed, tottered, collapsed,
and fell full length on the floor, and lay motionless on his back in
the strip of moonlight. The little dark figure knelt beside him. It was
Figli.

“Oh, father! Oh, father!” he cried. “I’m sorry, sorry! I had to do it!
I couldn’t let you kill him! It can’t go on any longer! The eyebrows
must be cut, father! It’s only to make you like the others! We’ll both
be happier, oh, indeed we will! It’s only because I love you, father!”

“I didn’t think you would have done this, Figli, my son,” said the old
man, gently. “You have put me in the power of my enemy. Ah, Figli, my
son, my son!”

“I know it, I know it,” sobbed the boy, “but the lady will give the
Shears to me, and I will cut the eyebrows myself, with my own hand. The
peddler will do you no harm. You’ll be glad, father, afterward, indeed
you will.”

“Ah, my son, my son! I wouldn’t have thought it of you,” said the old
man, still gently.

I knelt beside him, and found around his neck a noose of the slenderest
thread, extremely tough; and the end of this thread the boy was holding
in his hand. I took it from him and looked at him inquiringly.

“Yes,” said the boy, “it was spun by Goolk the Spider, and there is no
will can stand against it, not even my father’s. It’s the thing that
made him first able to pluck out the eyebrows of the people. I stole it
as we left the shop to-night. You won’t do him any harm, will you?”

I stood up, keeping the end of the thread in my hand. A patter of
running feet sounded from the next room, and the eight tailors crowded
in at the doorway. They rushed to their master, and wailed and wrung
their hands. One of them drew a pair of shears, and began to snip
away at the thread, but it was plain that no ordinary blade would cut
it, and the tailor gave it up, and the other seven wailed louder than
before.

“Lift up this knave,” I said, “and follow me.”

The eight tailors obeyed instantly, and our party started back to the
court of the dry fountain. I walked beside the body of Babadag, keeping
close hold of the thread. When we reached the court, the three ballad
singers were sitting calmly on the rim of the basin, singing softly to
themselves. My daughter, ever incorrigible, greeted them with an amused
laugh, and they crowded around her, each trying to elbow the others out
of the way. At my command, the eight tailors laid Babadag down on his
back in the dry basin. I then gave the end of the thread into the hand
of my daughter, and left them.

I ran down the cypress alley to the deserted audience chamber. I looked
through the cobweb at Urban, and by the dim light of the high window
saw him sitting there motionless as stone, in the same attitude as
before.

“I am here!” I cried, but he neither moved nor spoke. I applied the
Shears, and in a moment the cobweb was hanging in shreds, and I was
standing beside my friend. I tried to pull him up, but I could not
budge him. I lifted the golden chain from around his neck, and dropped
it to the floor. Immediately he raised his head, stretched his arms,
looked up at me as if awaking from a dream, and sprang to his feet.

“Prince!” he cried, and threw his arms about me in a transport of joy.

I calmed him, and when he had recovered himself he said, “What of
Babadag?”

“He is in the court at this moment,” said I, “bound fast.”

“Good news indeed!” he cried. “Let us go!”


_The Governor, Being Released, Beholds the Prince’s Daughter_

We sped back to the court, and when Urban beheld my daughter he
scattered the blind men right and left and clasped her hand in his. I
took from her the end of the thread and knelt in the basin beside the
huge body of Babadag, and gazed down into his eyes, glittering up at me
in the moonlight through their tangle of hair. I drew the Shears.

“No, no!” cried the boy. “You must not! Give me the Shears! I must do
it, for you do not love him, and I do! Only the hand of love! Give me
the Shears!”

“No time for talking!” I cried. “This is no child’s play. Work for
a man! And I trust no one but myself! Now for the shearing of the
Eyebrow!”

The boy shrieked, as if in despair, and with a mighty snap of the
Shears I cut in among the hairs of Babadag’s left eyebrow.


_The Shearing of the Eyebrow_

A spout of yellow smoke shot upward from his eyebrow, and whirled and
spread outward in a cloud, thick, sickening, blinding, pierced with
wriggling pencils of light, as if tiny snakes had been set riotously
free. It covered us both, so that he was suddenly hidden from my sight.
I gasped and choked. My eyes smarted with pain. I snapped blindly away
at him through the smoke with my Shears, resolved not to be foiled.
There was a sharp crack, as of the snapping of a whip; the Shears had
cut,--alas, alas!--not the Eyebrow, but the thread around Babadag’s
neck! Instantly the Shears were wrenched from my hand, I did not know
how; and I felt them ripping through my smock, and I knew that some
injury had been done to my doublet. A terrible voice bellowed, “Hither,
accursed dogs, and bind me this peddler!” And the next moment I was
lying on my back, with the thread fastened securely about my neck; and
my strength was suddenly gone, and the smoke began to clear away.

I saw the old man put his arm tenderly about his son, and heard him
say, “It’s all right now, my boy. I am not angry. You have put your
father in great danger, but not from malice; I know it well. Don’t be
grieved; we’ll laugh about it together, hereafter. All’s well again.
Come, Figli, my son. Rascals, follow me!”

He stalked away with his son down the cypress alley, and the eight
tailors lifted me and bore me after, followed by my daughter and my
friend. I looked for the three blind ballad singers, but they were
gone. I was in terrible danger, and I bitterly regretted my haste in
refusing the Shears to the boy.


_The Prince before the Seat of Judgment_

In the circular audience chamber they laid me down upon the floor.
Babadag, grotesque and somber in the darkness, seated himself in the
marble armchair on the daïs; and at the same time I heard, or fancied
I heard, the voices of the ballad singers, afar off somewhere in the
palace, singing away at one of their songs.

“Pluck out the hairs!” said Babadag.

“No, no!” said Figli, lying on the step of the daïs at his father’s
feet.

“Quick, scoundrels!” said Babadag; and the eight tailors, kneeling
around me, plucked out with tiny instruments all the hairs of my
eyebrows, by the roots. Then, at a sign from their master, they stood
me on my feet and removed the spider’s thread from around my neck. My
strength returned, and I found myself able to stand alone.

“Gone is your power, maker of fables!” said Babadag. “The doublet is
worthless. See!” And he held up what appeared to be the thread of a
button. My smock was in strips, and the doublet was exposed to view.
One button was missing. What had become of it? Babadag exhibited only
the thread.

“Dog of a peddler,” said he, “it is your due that I give you to Goolk
the Spider for his web.”

“Spare him! Spare him!” said Figli, in a kind of moan, rocking himself
back and forth on the step of the daïs.

“But Babadag is merciful,” went on the old man, “and loves a tale;
and never have I heard so amusing a tissue of lies as that tale of
Bald-er-Dash the Peddler. For that, and for the pleasure I shall have
in repeating that tale hereafter, I spare you. You are harmless. Go!
and as you have chosen to darken your skin with juices, let it be
darker still. Go! and be you henceforth as black as night. I will lead
you to the palace gate, and speed you, with your daughter and your
friend, on your journey away from Oogh. Return no more, peddler, for
the web awaits you, and Goolk the Spider longs for a brother.”

He stepped down from his seat, and we others followed him in silence.
I was conscious of no will to resist him further. We came to the court
of the dry fountain, and there my daughter looked into my face in the
moonlight. She screamed.

We followed mournfully through the dark rooms, and came out on the
steps before the palace; and there we saw a sight both terrible and
beautiful.


_The Doom of the City of Oogh_

The city was in flames. From every roof, as far as we could see, rose
sheets of fire, and sparks showered upward into a pall of black smoke;
and as we watched, new tongues of flame blazed up from quarters dark
before. The city was doomed.

“Ah!” said Babadag with a groan. “My city, my city!”

“What have I done? What have I done?” cried Figli, wringing his hands
in anguish.

“You, my son? What have you to do with this?” said his father, never
taking his eyes from the burning city.

“It’s my work!” cried the boy. “But I never dreamed of this! I set fire
to the shop, our shop, before I left,--to burn up all the black secrets
in my father’s house, and to kill Goolk the Spider, to kill him, kill
him, so that he would never get the Blind Bowler, nor any one else! So
that all the old riches and wickedness might be burned up forever! And
now, and now, I haven’t destroyed the Eyebrow, and I’ve burned up the
city! Oh, what shall I do? What shall I do?”

“My son, my son,” said Babadag, quietly, never taking his eyes from the
burning city.

I recalled now the spark of fire I had seen through the window as we
had left the tailor’s shop that night.

The flames of the furnace below us shot higher and higher, and spread
wider and wider in every direction.

“The Book of the Shavian Magic,” said Babadag, as if to himself. “That
must be saved.”

He ran down the steps and started across the park.

“Father! father! where are you going?” cried Figli, but his father paid
no attention. The boy sped after him, and we others followed.


_The Tailor’s Son Follows Him into the Burning City_

Out at the park gate and down the hill ran Babadag, and straight into
the blazing ruin which was once his city. Nothing could stop him.
Flames roared on both sides of him; sparks showered around him; walls
toppled behind him; smoke swallowed him; but he kept on. We paused in
terror; only his little boy continued to follow him, calling to him to
come back.

A wall of flame shot out behind the running boy, and a house fell
crashing behind him into the street; and father and boy were no longer
to be seen.

I turned away, and leaving the eight tailors wailing, I made my way
with my daughter and my friend back to the palace; and there, on the
palace steps, we sat all night long, watching the great fire burn
itself out.

The sun rose on a city of smoking ruins; and with its first rays there
came plodding in through the park gate a blind man, who called aloud as
he reached the steps. It was the Blind Bowler.

“I am here,” said I, “Figli’s friend; and my daughter too, and the
governor whom once you tried to help. What news?”

“Ten strikes still lacking!” said the Blind Bowler. “But it makes no
difference now. Figli has saved me, and all the rest of us too. Come
with me.”

He led us out into the street and down into the city, where the
homeless people were standing as if bewildered. We came into the street
where once had been the shop of Babadag the Tailor. It was there no
longer; but by some chance there yet remained the wall which held the
doorway, and above it the yardstick and the shears; and across the sill
lay Figli, on his face.


_The Boy Is Found on the Sill of His Ruined Home, Alive_

My daughter ran to him and put her arm about him. He was alive, and he
shook his head and moaned, “I want my father. I want my father.”

“Yes,” said she, “your father. Is he--?”

“In there,” he whispered.

“Ah! He is--”

“Under the wall. I saw it fall on him. He is in there.”

“Oh, my poor boy!”

“I killed him. And all I wanted was to make him good.”

She put her arm under him and raised him, and he stood up.

“Come with me, dear boy,” said she.

“I can’t go away. I can’t leave him in there. Can’t you help me to see
him?”

“Not now, but later, perhaps. Come with me now, and we will talk of him
together.”

“He loved me, too. He did, didn’t he? And I killed him.”

“Yes, he did, he did. But you mustn’t say that you--”

“It wasn’t because I meant to harm him, was it? I wouldn’t have harmed
him, would I?”

“No, no. It was just because you loved him, that was all.”

“Yes, that was it. That was all it was.”

He suffered her to lead him away, and he said nothing more, but
repeated to himself, once or twice, “That was all it was.”

On my part, I spoke at length to the Blind Bowler, and gave him many
directions; and he, having received at my hands a purse of gold, for
use as I had instructed him, went his way; and we others then walked
slowly back to the palace, where we rested on the steps, waiting, and
Figli fell asleep with his head on my daughter’s shoulder.

When the sun was high in the east, people began to come in at the park
gate, and the Blind Bowler, his first duty done, joined us on the
palace steps. More people came, and the park began to be filled with
them; they came before long in a steady stream, and at length the park
was crowded with a great multitude, from the steps to the gate.

At a signal from myself, my party on the steps arose, and I addressed
the people of Oogh. I told them who I was, and how my skin had come to
be black; I told them that I was going away, and that their governor
was resolved to go with me; that I meant to leave a governor who would
help them rebuild their city, and lead them in the ways of goodness and
mercy; that the person whom I had selected for that office was the boy
known as Figli Babadag, whose soundness of heart was worth to them more
than the wisdom of years; and that such wisdom as was necessary would
be supplied by him who was called the Blind Bowler, a man who had known
how to be cheerful under affliction. And I asked them to say whether
they would have the boy Figli for their governor, and the Blind Bowler
for his aide.

A shout of approval went up from the multitude.

“And will you,” said I, turning to Figli, “lead these people in the
ways of goodness and mercy, and help them to forget?”

“If you think I can,” said Figli, standing up very straight, “I will
try.”

“And will you,” said I to the Blind Bowler, “keep faithfully at his
right hand, and never fail him?”

“That I will!” said the Blind Bowler. “Keep everlastingly at it, that’s
the motto!”

“The great King, my father,” said I, turning again to the people,
“will build your city ten times fairer than it was. I have given
directions for your help already, and food and shelter will soon be at
hand. Farewell! I leave you in the care of a blind man and a child! A
sound heart and a cheerful mind, my friends, are better than an army.
Farewell!”

The multitude shouted back farewell, and my friend Urban and myself
each kissed Figli on the cheek; but my daughter kissed him on both
cheeks and hugged him to her heart; and then we went down the steps,
leaving the pale and beautiful boy and the blind man alone, and passed
out across the park through a lane opened in the crowd, down into the
city toward the city gate.


_The Eight Tailors Stand Before Them in a Row_

As we came to the last street corner before reaching the city wall, my
daughter pulled forth a handful of figs from her pocket and divided
them laughingly with Urban and myself; and at that moment a party of
eight men filed solemnly from around the corner, and came to a stop
before us in a row. It was the eight tailors. They bowed gravely, and
the first one of them said:

“Excellency, we implore you to take pity upon us. Our master is gone,
our occupation is gone, we are friendless and alone; we can live no
longer in the city of Oogh.”

“What do you wish me to do?” said I.

“We beseech you to take us with you, to be your servants, your slaves,
anything. We can sew, we can knit, we can--”

“But I am going into exile,” said I. “I am going to hide my hideous
face from the eyes of the world.”

“Listen, most merciful one! It is known to us that the missing button
needs only to be sewn on the doublet by a tailor, with the proper
thread, in order that your skin may be white again. Nine tailors are
allowed for the trial, and here are eight!”

“But I have neither the button nor the thread.”

“No matter! We will search until we find them, or else turn black
ourselves in the trial. Have pity upon us, Prince!”

“Oh, father,” said my daughter, “do let the poor things come along with
us.”

“Very well,” said I, whereupon we walked on, and the eight tailors gave
a faint cheer and fell into line behind us.


_They Meet the Three Blind Ballad Singers for the Last Time_

As we passed through the city gate, a loud singing struck up just
outside the wall, and we beheld the three blind ballad singers, in
the midst of a dozen idlers, prancing up and down in their ridiculous
dance. They were shouting out one of their ballads, as follows:

  “The peddler came, the peddler went, the peddler lost his pack,
  He came in honest walnut brown, he went away in black,
    And ‘Oh!’ said the peddler, ‘I cannot come again,
    For out of buttons ten, oh! only nine remain,
                    Only nine remain,’--”

My daughter laughed aloud, and at the sound of her voice one of the
ballad singers cried out, “Ho! master blackface! Ballads or buttons,
what will you buy?”

The idlers laughed, and the other two vagabonds sang out:

“Ballads or buttons! Buy, master blackface! Ballads or buttons!”

“What will you give for a button?” shouted the first, and he held up in
my view a large ivory button, the identical one, beyond a doubt, which
was missing from the doublet.

“A fig for a button!” I said, and held out one of the figs in my hand.

“A button for a fig! A bargain!” cried the first ballad singer, and
taking the fig from me placed the button in my hand.

The idlers laughed at this nonsense, and we turned to go.

“Farewell, farewell!” cried the first ballad singer. “What do we say to
the breaker of hearts who forgets her promise to marry?” The other two
laughed, and began to sing.

We moved on down the road, followed by the tailors marching by fours,
and as we departed we heard behind us the voices of the blind ballad
singers for the last time, shouting out a song in this wise:

  “She said that she wanted to marry all three,
          Fiddle-de-dee! Fiddle-de-dee!
  And it broke her heart that it could not be,
  But ‘Oh!’ said she, ‘you must all agree
  On one who shall be the fortunate he,
          For only one can I marry!’
  But oh! she would not wait to see,
          And oh! she would not tarry,
  For all that she said to the artless three
          Was nothing but fiddle-de-dee,
                  Ah me!
          Was nothing but fiddle-de-dee!”



[Illustration]



THE FOURTH NIGHT

THE RAGPICKER AND THE PRINCESS


_The Queen said, “Domino!” very sweetly, and smiled at the Second Lady
in Waiting, who was much chagrined._

_“I don’t see how I could have been so stupid,” said the Second Lady in
Waiting._

_“Indeed, my dear,” said the Queen, kindly, “I don’t think you were
nearly so stupid as usual.”_

_At this moment the Princess Dorobel, with Prince Bilbo and their son
Bojohn, and the latter’s friend Bodkin, came in from the throne room,
and the Princess Dorobel, standing behind the Queen’s chair, said:_

_“Mother, we are going to hear a story, and Bojohn insists that you--”_

_“Yes, grandmother!” said Bojohn. “We are going to ask Solario for
another story, and you must come along too.”_

_“Dear me,” said the Queen. “I must put away the dominoes first.”_

_She stacked them neatly in the box, one by one, and when this was done
she rose, and Bojohn took her arm and led her through the throne room
where the King was engaged at chess with the Lord Chamberlain._

_“My dear,” said the Queen to the King, “you had better come with us.
We are going to--”_

_“It makes no difference to me,” said the King. “You can have the
bishop if you want him. But I’ve got your queen! How do you like that?
It’s your move! Go on, why don’t you move?”_

_“It’s no use, grandmother,” said Bojohn. “Come along.”_

_They left the King at his game, and proceeded to the room of Solario
the Tailor in the tower. They were admitted by Solario himself._

_In the center of the room stood Mortimer the Executioner. He was
wearing an unfinished garment without any sleeves, fastened together
with pins, and basted with white thread along the seams. He looked
extremely foolish._

_“Oh!” said Solario, covered with confusion. “Pray come in, come in!
Her majesty herself! This is indeed an honor! I will find more chairs
in the next room. I am overpowered by this honor. Pray be seated, your
majesty. Mortimer, the fitting is postponed. Pray be seated, your
majesty. I do not know when I have received the honor of such a visit.
Pray be seated. Mortimer, bring in some chairs. I beg your majesty to
take the other chair; it is far more comfortable. Mortimer, divest
yourself; divest yourself.”_

_Mortimer, red with embarrassment, took off the unfinished garment and
put on his old one. Solario ran from chair to chair, assisting each of
the party to a seat._

_“We have come for a story,” said Prince Bilbo, “and I hope that you
will be so good as to--”_

_“We want to hear about Montesango’s Cave!” cried Bojohn._

_“Or the Blind Giant!” said Bodkin._

_“I beg your pardon,” said Solario, “perhaps her majesty would deign
to--”_

_“Ask him for Montesango’s Cave, grandmother!” cried Bojohn._

_“Dear me,” said the Queen, “I hardly know what to-- It’s a very
pleasant room you have here, Solario; do you ever play dominoes here?
Dear me!”_

_“I’ll tell you what I should like,” said the Princess Dorobel. “I
should like to hear how the goldsmith’s son won the Princess. Bojohn
has been telling us about Alb and the Princess Hyla, and I understand
there is a story, a love story--you know I dearly like love stories.”_

_“It isn’t precisely a love story,” said Solario, “but if her majesty
will permit me, I will--”_

_“Dear me, yes,” said the Queen. “A very comfortable room it is, to be
sure.”_

_Solario, after receiving the Queen’s permission to be seated, sat
himself cross-legged on his table, and all of the others, Mortimer the
Executioner, Bodkin, Prince Bilbo, Bojohn, the Princess Dorobel, and
the Queen, drew up their chairs before him in a row._

_“I will relate to you, seeing that you wish it,” said Solario, “the
story told me by Alb, the goldsmith’s son, regarding the winning of the
Princess Hyla. Shall I proceed?”_

_“I wish I had brought my knitting,” said the Queen, “but never mind.”_

_Solario picked up his shears, and gazing at them thoughtfully for a
moment, cleared his throat._

_“This, then,” said he, “is the story told me by Alb, regarding_


“THE RAGPICKER AND THE PRINCESS.”

When I was sixteen years old (said Alb the Fortunate) and my dear
Princess Hyla fourteen, the King, her father, sojourned for a time at
his castle of Ventamere, beside the sea; and you may be sure that the
Princess was with him there, for he could never bear to be parted from
her for a single day.

My father followed in the King’s train, and I, on my part, was not to
be left behind; and we lodged together, my father and myself, in the
town hard by the castle, where I saw the Princess every day, and daily
grew in favor with her father.

The windows of the King’s castle looked out across the Great Sea, and
beneath the windows of the Princess’s room the tide washed up and down
against the wall.

One evening, as it was growing dusk, and the moon was beginning to
tinge a wave here and there with silver, the Princess was leaning out
from her window and looking across the sea-- But what I am now to tell
you I did not know at the time, as you will understand, but only later.

Night fell, and still the Princess leaned upon her hand and gazed
out across the sea. I do not know whether she was thinking of me,
but--However. In the town of Ventamere near by, where the shore curved
inward in a bay, lights began to glimmer, but the castle was dark, for
the King, intending to commence at daybreak his journey back to his
capital, was already a-bed.


_The Princess Hears a Voice from the Waves Beneath Her Window_

The Princess, beginning to be drowsy, reached out her hand to close
the casement of her window; and as she did so she heard a voice, a
melancholy voice, not loud, as of a young man singing to himself,
directly beneath her window. She started in astonishment and looked
down, but she could see no one. The moonlight glittered on the sea
to the very base of her wall; there was no foothold anywhere for a
human foot; but the voice rose nevertheless from just below her in the
restless waters, and it was singing a kind of lament, pausing once to
put in a few spoken words, in this wise:

  “O quivering seas that sever,
    O quivering severing sea!
  And I would I could sing forever
    The sorrows that sleep in me,--
      The soundless sundering sorrows,
      The shuddering secret sorrows,
      The sorrows secret and soundless,
    That sleep in the soul of me.
  And O! the vain endeavor!
    The silence and the pain!
  The silence that now shall never
    Sink into the sea again!
  (That’s a very good line, though,
  about silence sinking into the sea.
  It sounds a good deal like real
  poetry. Anyway--)
  Of such would I sing forever,
    And sighing forever sing,
  But alas, I never was clever
    At all that sort of thing,
  And though I would chant forever
  By quivering seas that sever
  And severing seas that quiver
    A ceaseless sorrowing song,
  I cannot sing forever,
    For that would be too long.”

The Princess waited, and the voice began again. It seemed farther out
on the water now, as if the singer were moving out to sea. The words
appeared to her to be so strange that she never forgot them, and I am
able to repeat them to you precisely as she gave them to me afterward.

  “O weary the sea’s commotion,
    And weary the sea tides’ fret,
  The fretful tides of the ocean
    How weary and how wet!
      The humid hateful ocean
      The hideous heedless ocean,
      The ocean huge and humid,
    That always will be wet!
  (If I could only once get thoroughly
  dry, just for a single day! It makes
  me weary, the way they go on about a
  life on the ocean wave. I only wish
  _they_ had to live in it all the time.)
  And O! for a seat on the settle
    Beside the ingle nook!
  And O! for the steaming kettle!
    And O! for a human cook!
  I hear, on the soft breeze sighing,
  The sorrowful soft breeze dying,
    I hear, as it sighs and rustles,
  The music of bacon frying,
    And O, I long to be free!
  (If I could only get ashore on two
  feet, for just one hour, I know where
  I’d go. I know a good warm tavern
  where--)
    O dear! could I only be free!
  For a diet of fish and mussels,
  Of cold raw fish and mussels,
    Did never agree with me.”

The voice moved off across the sea, and died away in the distance.

_“Dear me!” said the Queen. “What an extraordinary song! And so sad,
too.”_

_“Never mind, grandmother,” said Bojohn. “Please let him go on with his
story.”_

_“Yes, yes, of course,” said the Queen, “let the poor man go on with
his story. I wonder how he remembers all those words. I’m sure I never
could have remembered them. I’ve a very poor memory for songs, myself.
It’s different with the King; I declare he never forgets anything. I
remember there was a minstrel came to the castle once, and after he was
gone the King repeated word for word--_”

_“Please, grandmother,” said Bojohn._

_“What is it, my dear?”_

_“Solario is waiting to go on with his story.”_

_“So he is,” said the Queen. “I think it’s a very pretty story indeed.
I wonder how it ends!”_

_“Go on!” cried Bojohn, and Solario proceeded._

The Princess lingered, hoping to hear the voice again, but it came no
more. She turned back into her room and lit the lamp which hung from
the center of the ceiling. She stood before her mirror, with the lamp
at her back, and as she raised her hand to unfasten the pearl necklace
which she wore, she glanced at the wall beside the mirror. Her shadow,
thrown by the lamp, stood upright against the wall. And at that moment
she saw something which caused her to stiffen with terror.


_The Princess Sees the Shadow of an Old Woman_

Through the crack of her closed door at the right of her shadow,
another shadow was oozing in and spreading itself out across the wall
toward her own. It took shape, and paused for a moment; it was the
shadow of a bent old woman, stooping under a heavy bag, and holding out
in one hand a kind of poker with a hook at the end.

The Princess held her breath. The stooping shadow stole slowly along
the wall, and touched the Princess’s shadow with its poker. Instantly
the Princess’s shadow began to move toward the other, and the other
began to back away. The strange shadow reached the door and slipped
into the crack; the Princess’s shadow followed, and slipped into the
crack after it. They were gone, and only the blank surface of the wall
remained.

The Princess tried to move, but she could not stir; she tried to cry
out, but she could not speak. She stood there in the lamplight before
her mirror, with one hand upraised as if to unfasten her necklace; the
minutes passed, and she did not move. She heard the splashing of the
tide outside; a clock struck the hour; there was no other sound. Hours
passed, and still she stood with hand raised to her neck, before the
mirror. She heard the clock strike twelve; and on the twelfth stroke
her door swung slowly open.


_A Midnight Visit from a One-Armed Old Man_

In the doorway stood an old man; a spare old man, with long white hair
and beard, and bright blue eyes in a rosy face. His blue gown,
spangled with silver stars, lacked one sleeve, the right; he had only
one arm, and that the left. The Princess felt somehow that she was glad
he had come.

[Illustration: The shadow of a Ragpicker oozed in through the door]

He stepped quickly to her side and smiling kindly took down her hand
from her neck. She felt a pleasant warmth at his touch, and she sighed
with relief. He kept her hand in his, and drew her toward the door.
She had no wish to resist him. She followed quietly, and together they
passed out of the room into the dark hall....

At daybreak, when the King was ready to depart, there was a great
to-do. The Princess was nowhere to be found. Her lamp was still
burning, and her bed had not been slept in. The King was beside
himself, and the castle was in a turmoil. Searchers were sent in every
direction, all the bells in the town were set to ringing, and cryers
went about the streets proclaiming a reward.

My father and myself hastened to the castle, and I knelt before the
King and begged his special leave to seek the Princess on my own
account. I knew nothing, save that she had vanished in the night, but I
resolved that I would find her, and I did not doubt of my success.

“Go,” said the King, “and good fortune attend you. If you bring her
back, no reward will I refuse you, even to the hand of my dear child
herself. Make haste, and do not return alone.”


_Alb, Seeking the Princess, Sits Down by the Seashore_

All that morning I ran about the town, seeking her in every quarter;
but nowhere was any trace of her to be found. I came back in the
afternoon to the seashore near the castle, there to ponder what I had
best do next. Trudging along a strip of sand under a bluff beside the
sea, I came to a large rock which rose up out of the water at the
beach’s edge, and climbing up on it I seated myself on a narrow shelf
and bared my head to the breeze.

I had sat thus only a moment when I heard a voice from the other side
of the rock, a melancholy voice, not loud, as of a young man singing to
himself; and it was singing a mournful song, pausing now and then to
speak in ordinary tones. I remember the words very well, and they were
these.

  “I dream in my deep-sea cavern
    Of many a bosky copse,
  I dream of a cosy tavern
    And a couple of mutton chops,--
  For even the storks have gruel,
    And even the sheep have corn,
  But me!--it is too, too cruel!
    Alas, that I ever was born.
  (It’s too cruel, that’s what it is. It isn’t
  right. There’s no justice in it, and I’m
  sick of it, that’s what I am.)
  O sorrow too deep to utter!
    O midnight hour of the soul!
  If there only were bread and butter,
    Or something warm in a bowl,--
  (I don’t care what. I’m so sick of raw
  fish, I believe I could even stand stewed
  rhubarb.)
  O sea, so ceaselessly sloshing,
    O emblem of peace and hope!--
  But it’s utterly useless for washing,
    And O! how I yearn for soap.
  I seek, in my cavern’s enclosure,
    To talk with the fishes, but they,
  Maintaining the strictest composure,
    Have simply nothing to say.
  Proud heart, you are left unheeded
    Alone with your grief and your ache,
  When all that is really needed
    Is just a mere trifle of cake.
  (Not fish cake. Not that. Chocolate
  cake, three layers, with walnuts on top
  and in between.)
  Sing on, proud heart, though breaking
    With every harmonious strain,
  And physic be not worth the taking
    For your description of pain,
  Sing on, though it be not forever,
    Forever and a day,--
  (Not that there’s any sense in adding
  on a day to forever. It’s long enough,
  in all conscience, without that. However--)
  I wish I could sing forever
    To pass the dull time away;
  And could I be endlessly clever
    And make me an endless song,
  I would sing of my sorrow forever,
    I would,--were it not so long.”

The voice gave a great sigh, and the singing ceased.

_“I used to make up little rhymes when I was a girl,” said the
Queen, “and very pretty little rhymes they were, too, or at least
your grandmother, Dorobel, used to say so. But dear me; I never could
remember verses, no matter how hard I tried; never.”_

_“Yes, yes, grandmother,” said Bojohn. “Go on, Solario.”_

_“Now the King was different; he could remember them, but he couldn’t
make them up; and I could make them up, but I couldn’t remember them!
Tee-hee-hee! Dear, dear! When I think of it!”_

_“Grandmother,” said Bojohn, “Solario is waiting to go on.”_

_“So he is,” said the Queen. “I never liked sad stories when I was a
girl, for they_ always _made me cry. But this one may turn out
better than I expect. I really think you’re doing very nicely, Solario.
I always say, that no matter how poorly one makes out, he ought to be
praised if he is doing his best.”_

_“Go on!” cried Bojohn; and Solario proceeded._

When the singing ceased (said Alb) I climbed noiselessly around the
rock to the other side, and looked down.


_An Interview with a Talking Seal_

A fat seal was lying below me on a ledge of the rock, just out of the
water. The creature raised his head, and gazed up at me with his big
soft eyes.

“I could have sworn the voice was here,” said I, half aloud.

“Are you speaking to me?” said the seal.

I assure you I jumped in amazement. “What!” said I. “Was it you?”

“Well,” said the seal, “there’s nobody else here, is there?”

“Of all things!” said I. “A talking seal! I never heard of such a--”

“I suppose I haven’t any right to talk. Just because I haven’t any
legs, and have to live in a horrible sealskin, I suppose I’m not even
to utter a word. Is that it? Oh, yes, I dare say; I suppose so.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend--”

“I suppose not. Anyway, you’d better not stand there quarreling with me
all day if you ever expect to find the Princess.”

“Oh! Do you know anything about her? Tell me, quick!”

“Yes, I do. I know a little about her. I know where she is. The
Ragpicker’s shadow came last night and fetched away the Princess’s
shadow, because the Ragpicker needed the Princess’s shadow to protect
her against the people. Everybody is afraid of shadows,--I suppose you
know that. And then the One-Armed Sorcerer took away the Princess, and
what he’s going to do with her I don’t know. But you’d better find out.
Are you ready to go?”

“Yes, yes! I’m ready! I’ll go anywhere! Tell me where!”

“You talk brave enough. The question is, do you act as brave as you
talk? Do you mind getting half-drowned?”

“No, no! I mind nothing! Tell me what I must do!”

“Sounds very brave, indeed. Are you afraid of shadows?”

“Of course not!”

“Then you’re the only person in these parts who isn’t. Where you’re
going, they’re all afraid of shadows, and that’s how the Ragpicker
protects herself against the people; with shadows. And so you’re not
afraid of them. Well, well!”

“I’m not afraid of anything! Tell me what to do!”

“So! Pretty brave! All right, I’ll take you there myself. Take off your
coat and shoes.”

I took off my shoes, stockings, and coat.

The seal hunched himself down into the water, and lay there with his
head resting on the rock.

“Now,” said he, “come down here and lie on my back, and hold on tight;
and don’t get in the way of my flippers.”

I hesitated for a moment at the idea of lying down in the water on the
back of a seal, but I came down the rock and stretched myself out on
his back and clung to him with my arms and legs as well as I could.


_A Sea Journey on the Back of a Seal_

“Hold on tight,” said the seal, and darted off across the sea so
suddenly that I lost my grip and fell off into the water; but he swam
under me, and I was soon on his back once more, none the worse.

“What’s the matter?” said the seal. “Haven’t you any strength? I
suppose I’ll have to go slower.”

He glided slowly and smoothly over the long swells, and as soon as I
got used to it I found that it was really wonderful sport. We followed
the shore line quite around the island to its opposite side, and then
the seal made straight for the open sea. The shore faded away behind
us, and at last it was gone.

Hours passed, and I grew stiff and cold. I slipped off the seal’s
back now and then, for the exercise of swimming. It was excessively
difficult to hold on to his slippery skin, and I ached so painfully
with the strain that I feared at last that I should have to let go for
good; and I was about to give up, when I saw afar off on the horizon
what looked like land. The seal swam faster. I took new courage, and
clung to him tighter.

It was indeed land,--evidently an island; and as we came close to it I
could make out in its side a deep cove, backed with dark, woody hills
and flanked on either side by rocky cliffs. Fishing boats of all sizes
were moored in the cove, and a large village straggled up the hillside
behind.

The seal glided into the smooth water between the cliffs, and slid up
against the sand of the beach at the foot of the village. It was just
twilight.

I jumped to my feet and stretched my numb and aching limbs, gazing with
curiosity at the near-by houses. I turned round at the sound of the
seal’s voice.

“Can you get me a custard pie?” said the seal.

“What?” said I, in astonishment.

“There’s a pastry cook in the village. I’ll wait for you here. Mince
pie’ll do, if they’re out of custard.”

I hastened away into the village, without saying anything more.


_The Village of Storks_

It was a large village, and there were a good many streets; and
before I found the pastry cook’s shop I paused to look at the strange
collection of birds which adorned the housetops. On nearly every
chimney or ridgepole stood a stork, and on some were two or three, and
even more; young storks all of them, judging by their size.

I noticed, as I passed the villagers in the street, that their faces
were very sad; and I thought it singular that although I saw many grown
people, I met no children, and heard no children’s voices.

The pastry cook, when I found him, proved to have the saddest face of
all, and his wife looked as if she had been weeping; and there were
on the pastry cook’s housetop no less than five small storks. When
I mentioned that I wanted a custard pie for a seal, the pastry cook
handed over the pie to me without any appearance of surprise, and
without accepting any payment.

I hurried back to the beach, and sat down before the seal and held the
custard pie while the hungry creature ate it.

“Did you ever eat raw fish?” said he.

“I should say not,” said I.

“It’s awful,” said the seal. “It’s positively petrifying. You know I
wasn’t always a seal. Custard pie always used to do me more good than
anything else.”

“Tell me who you are,” said I, “and who the Ragpicker is.”

“There’s no time now,” said the seal. “You’d better be going. The
people here would like to kill the Ragpicker if they could, but they’re
afraid of the shadows; she’s afraid of the people, and the people are
afraid of the shadows; and she’s more afraid of the One-Armed Sorcerer
than anybody else, though between you and me I think she’s wrong about
it, because he seems to be a pretty decent sort of old chap, and I
rather believe he’d like to help her if she wasn’t afraid of him; but
of course you can’t help a person who’s afraid of you. All mixed up,
isn’t it?”

“I don’t understand a word of it,” said I.

“Brave people are always stupid,” said the seal, and with this he
wriggled himself off into the water, and I saw his head going back and
forth slowly from side to side across the cove.

I turned and went into the village. It was now nearly dark.

As I came toward the pastry cook’s shop again, the village cryer came
walking down the street, ringing a bell, and calling out, over and over
again, “Seven o’clock, and time for supper! Seven o’clock, and time for
supper!”

As the cryer passed by, the storks flapped their wings and flew down
from the housetops, and took their stand in a row before their houses,
along the curbs; and wherever a stork stood before a house a woman came
out with a bowl in her hand. When I reached the pastry cook’s shop, the
pastry cook’s wife was kneeling on the sidewalk before the five little
storks, feeding them gruel out of a bowl with a long spoon. I observed
that all along the street women were feeding the storks in the same
way; but again I noticed that there were no children.

I walked on, watching in every street the feeding of the storks, and
looking out for some sign of the Princess. I observed at last a gilded
wooden arm and hand holding a lantern, projecting from the front wall
of a house a little in advance; and before this house, at the curb, a
single stork was standing, and an old man, one-armed, wearing white
hair and beard and dressed in a blue gown with silver stars, was
sitting before the stork, feeding it with a long spoon from a bowl in
his lap. Around the stork’s neck hung a pearl necklace.

Wondering whether I had ever seen that necklace before, I passed behind
the old man, and as I did so the stork fixed its eye on me and ruffled
its feathers in agitation. I had no sooner gone by than there was a
great fluttering among all the storks, and I observed, coming toward
me down the street, a bent old woman, stooping under a bulging bag and
holding out what appeared to be a poker with a hook at the end. She was
ragged and decrepit, and there was a gleam in her eye which seemed to
me to be more of terror than anything.

She gazed intently at the stork with the necklace, and then passed on
down the street. All the storks, at sight of her, suddenly flew up on
to the housetops, and all the people, or nearly all, went hurriedly
indoors. As I turned to follow her with my eyes, I saw that the stork
with the necklace was perched up on the ridgepole, and that the old
one-armed man was gone.


_The Ragpicker Frightens the Men Away with Her Bag_

The Ragpicker had reached the next corner, and was about to turn into
the street at her right, when a dozen men came hurrying toward her in
a group, and she stopped and faced them. They were burly men, and they
were plainly angry; they carried cudgels, and one of them carried a
rope; they meant to do her harm, without a doubt. They advanced on her,
muttering dangerously together, and she stood stock still, waiting.
One of the men gave a shout, and they rushed upon her in a body; but
quick as a wink the old woman whisked her bag from her shoulder to the
ground, and began to open it; and at this the men fell back against
each other as if afraid; and as the old woman made again as if to open
the bag, the men hesitated, turned about, and actually took to their
heels and fled.

The Ragpicker slung her bag upon her back again, turned the corner, and
disappeared.

What could be in that bag, I wondered, to make those burly men afraid?

I hurried to the corner, and saw the old woman plodding away toward
the end of the street. She did not look around, and I followed her
cautiously. She passed beyond the village houses and began to climb a
path which wound up the hillside among the rocks.

Keeping carefully out of sight behind her, I saw her stop at last
beside a hut which leaned against the side of the hill, and go in at
its door. I stole up quietly. There were no windows in the hut, but I
thought I might be able to see inside through the roof, which was only
a thatch of straw. I could easily reach it from the side of the hill.
In a moment I was lying on the roof, and digging away the straw with my
fingers.

I worked slowly and noiselessly, and after a time made a hole through
which I could look down into the hut. It was dark below, but I could
see the old woman stooping down over an opening in the floor, from
which she was just raising a trapdoor. She stepped down into the
opening and closed the door over her head.

I lost no time in making a hole in the thatch big enough to admit
my body; and when I had done so I dropped to the floor, and stood
beside the trapdoor. I raised it cautiously and peered down. All was
dark below, but I could make out a flight of stone steps. I went down
without a sound.


_He Follows the Ragpicker Down Into the Dark_

At the bottom I got down on my hands and knees and crawled along,
touching the side of a wall at my right. The wall ended abruptly, and
feeling the ground before me I found that I was on the edge of open
space, and I could hear the rushing of water far below. My hand touched
the top of a ladder, and I went down it carefully; but after a moment
my foot dangled in space, and I nearly fell off; the ladder stopped
short, and I clung on desperately. I then climbed to the top again
and crawled along toward my left, feeling the edge with my hand until
I shortly touched the top of another ladder; and down this ladder,
fastened securely against the wall, I went more cautiously than before.

The ladder was long, but I finally found myself on solid ground.
Following the wall to the left, I passed around a corner, and as I did
so I saw a light.

It was a square patch of light, like the light of a small window,
afar off in the darkness. I went down on my hands and knees again
and crawled toward it. The ground was unbroken here, and I could now
scarcely hear the sound of water. I stopped at last directly beneath
the light, and touched a wall. I felt with my left hand what seemed to
be a closed door, and I got up slowly on my feet. I was looking into a
lighted room through a small square window, without glass, and crossed
with iron bars.

A lamp was burning brightly in a bracket on a wall of the room. On the
earthen floor, near the center, the old Ragpicker was kneeling before a
brazier containing a brisk fire, over which hung an iron pot. Her bag
lay on the floor beside her, flat and limp; it was evidently empty.


_She Stirs a Steaming Mixture with Her Long Hooked Forefinger_

As I watched her, she arose from her knees and went to a door at the
rear, and made sure that it was closed tight. She then went to a great
heap of rubbish which was piled in one corner, and scratching with her
poker amongst the rags, bones, and old iron there, picked out carefully
a handful of bones, examining each one minutely. She then took from a
shelf a large bottle of some dark liquid, and with this and the bones
she returned to the fire. She poured the liquid into the iron pot and
dropped in the bones, one by one; and as she did so I observed a thing
which I had not discerned before, that what I had thought was a poker
held in her hand was in fact a long, black, stiff forefinger, hooked at
the end. There was no doubt about it; it was the first finger of her
right hand, as stiff as an iron rod, and about a foot and a half long.
She stuck it into the steaming pot and stirred the mixture with it,
muttering to herself words which I could not understand.

Presently she stopped stirring, and sniffing the contents of the pot
nodded her head as if satisfied. She picked up from the ground an iron
ladle and a pewter bowl, and ladling the steaming liquid from the pot
into the bowl, drank it down, every drop.

She put down the ladle and the bowl, and stood motionless, as if
waiting. A change began to come over her. Her back straightened; she
grew taller; the wrinkles left her face; her skin became fairer, her
eyes larger, her hair longer; and there before my eyes stood a young
and beautiful damsel, tall and erect, with dark eyes in a pale face,
and two thick braids of brown hair hanging to her waist.

She held up her right hand and looked at it. The long black stiff
finger with the hook was still there. She screamed, and burying her
face on her left arm shook with sobs. In a moment she raised her head
and put away her hideous right hand behind her where she could not see
it. Her left hand she placed over her eyes, with a gesture of despair,
and as she remained standing in that attitude the hand over her eyes
grew old and withered; she began to shrink and stoop, and she moaned
to herself. It was plain that the effect of what she had drunk was
beginning to wear off. She shuddered, and gave a mournful cry; and in
another instant she was the old, bent Ragpicker again.

I drew a long breath. I stood back, for fear that I might be seen, and
when I looked again the old woman was standing with her back toward
me, facing the closed door at the rear. I noticed now, what I had not
noticed before, that she cast no shadow in the lamplight on the floor.

“Skag!” she cried. “Come hither!”

A shadow oozed into the room through the crack of the door, and moved
upright across the floor toward the Ragpicker. It was the shadow of
a bent old woman, stooping under a bulky bag, and holding out what
appeared to be a poker, hooked at the end; the shadow of the old
Ragpicker herself. It stood still, not far from the door.

“It’s no use, Skag,” said the old woman to her shadow. “I haven’t found
the right bone; but I _will_ find it, yet! I’ll find it yet! Bring in
the Princess’s shadow.”

Her own shadow disappeared through the crack in the door, and returned
immediately, followed by another. I started, and almost cried out. It
was the shadow of a young girl, undoubtedly the Princess, and it stood
upright on the floor beside the other.

“Ah!” said the old woman. “Now my shadows are complete. This one is
the best and most fearsome of all. Ah, how they fear the shadows! Lucky
for me, lucky for me! They’re not afraid of me, but they’re afraid of
shadows! This day they would have killed me, but for my bag of shadows.
We mustn’t lose them, Skag, we mustn’t lose them.”

She paced about, growing more and more excited, and went on talking as
she walked.

“We’re in danger, Skag, we’re in danger. The One-Armed Sorcerer is
working against us. He has brought the Princess herself here, to help
him against me. What can he mean to do? He means to take away my
shadows from me, Skag, it must be that. And he has brought the Princess
to help him. And what then? Death, Skag, death; a quick death, for
what will the people be afraid of then? We must stop it, Skag, we must
stop the sorcerer, and there is only one way. The Princess must be
destroyed! To-morrow morning, when the sun shines and the shadows can
be seen, I will seek her out and destroy her; and the shadows shall go
with me and protect me. Bring in the shadows, Skag.”


_The Shadows of the Children_

The old woman’s shadow disappeared through the crack again, and
immediately returned; and behind it came a shadow, and another, and
another; many shadows, all of children, and they moved upright across
the floor and stood before the Ragpicker. They were flat as paper and
black as ink; and the lamplight did not shine through them. They kept
on coming, and the room was soon full of them; hundreds, as it seemed,
hundreds of shadows of little children, some so small that they were
just beginning to walk. And the shadow of the Princess was the tallest
of all.

The Ragpicker pointed at the Princess’s shadow with her long, black rod
of a finger, and said, “Into the bag!”

She stooped to her bag and held it open at the floor, and the shadow of
the Princess moved to it, crouched, and went in.

“In, all of you!” cried the old woman.

All the shadows crowded around the mouth of the bag, and one after
another stooped and went in. There was none left but the shadow of the
old woman herself. She closed the bag, now bulging, and flinging it
over her shoulder she said to her own shadow, “Hither, Skag, and lie
down!”

Her shadow moved close to her, and spread itself out on the ground with
its feet to hers, growing longer as it did so, so that it became no
more than an ordinary shadow cast by the lamplight on the floor.

The old woman went to the lamp and blew out the light, and the room was
in darkness, except for the glimmer of the dying fire.

I flattened myself on the ground as the door opened and the old woman
came forth with her bag on her back. I could scarcely see her, and in
an instant she had disappeared in the darkness.


_He Loses His Way in the Dark_

I waited a moment or two, and then crawled cautiously in the direction
I thought she had taken; but there was nothing but the blackness of
deep night all round me, and I could not be sure of my direction. I
looked behind me, and I could not see any longer the window I had just
left. I had come from the ladder easily enough, but it was plainly a
different matter to get back. I crawled on uncertainly, and stopped now
and then; I had gone by this time farther than I had come at first, but
I found no wall. I must have lost my way. I went on, and found myself
going down a slope. I knew that this could not be right, and I changed
my course a little; but I was still going down the slope, and I was
afraid that I would be utterly lost if I turned back.

The sound of rushing water came to my ears now. The slope grew steeper,
and I crawled more cautiously. The sound of water became more distinct.
The ground was suddenly slimy, and before I knew it I was slipping down
a steep descent, unable to stop myself. I slid and slid, faster and
faster, clutching the slimy ground and rolling over and over; and as I
was fainting with dizziness I shot off into space, and came down with a
splash into a torrent of deep water.

The stream hurled me away. I struggled against it, but it was too
swift. It was impossible to swim. I could do no more than keep my head
above water, and let the current fling me along into the darkness.
Tossed like a leaf, hurled against the walls of the stream, scratched
by the edges of rocks, bruised, bleeding, and half-drowned, I almost
lost consciousness, and scarcely knew anything more until I felt myself
lying on soft sand in shallow water. I looked up, and saw above me a
clear sky; the open sea was rolling toward me on a beach, and the moon
was glittering on the waves.

I tottered to my feet. I was so weak and sore that I could hardly
stand. When I was able to move, I walked forward toward the ocean. The
stream which had brought me spread out and lost itself in the sand.
At my feet the breakers came rushing up, and a strip of beach lay at
my right hand and my left, enclosed at the back and sides by a high
cliff. There was no way out except by climbing the cliff. I shouted,
hoping that the seal might be out there in the water, but there was no
response. I made up my mind that I would have to climb the cliff.

It was a cruel task, for the cliff was steep, and there was scarcely
any foothold but an occasional rock and bush; but I never once thought
of discouragement, and I stuck to it with all my might. My bare feet
and my hands were torn by the rocks, but I kept on, up and up, and in
time I stood on the top. I hastened away along the edge of the cliff,
and came after a long walk to a place where the cliff turned back
shoreward; and there I looked down, and saw the roofs of the village
straggling up its hillside behind the cove.


_He Hears the Voice of the Seal Again_

I lay down and put my head out over the edge of the cliff, and at that
moment there came to me from the still water of the cove a faint, sad
voice, singing:

  “O wonderful pancake batter!
    O table and fork and plate!
  I wonder whatever’s the matter,
    That he keeps me waiting so late?
  He said he was willing to serve us
    Regardless of danger or pelf,
  But I’m getting so dreadfully nervous
    I really am scarcely myself.
  O why does he loiter and linger
    While I wait so sorry and sick?
  Let him sever the Ragpicker’s finger
    And do it almightily quick.
  For then I shall sit at a table,
    My napkin over my knees,
  And tipple as long as I’m able,
    And gobble as long as I please,
  With plenty of good hot curry,
    And plenty of custard pie,--
  If he only would hurry, hurry!
    O why does he linger, why?”

The voice stopped, and I rose to my feet and made off across the
moonlit fields.

_“There used to be a baker at the castle,” said the Queen, “shortly
after I was married, who made up a great many very pretty songs. The
King used to say that he sang better than he baked. For my part, I was
very sorry to lose him. His niece was going to be married in one of our
villages, I forget which,--no, I believe it was a cousin; I am almost
sure it was his cousin, and I think it was the niece who was looking
after his mother while he was here, and she had to go and keep house
for the cousin after she was married, and that left his mother all
alone; so that he had to go back to his mother, and I always thought he
was such a good son to give up his place here at the castle in order
to take care of his poor old mother, and I’m sure very few would have
done it in his place; but I must say that the next baker was very much
better at gingerbread, though he never made up any songs, and I think
the King himself missed the first one a good deal afterward, though he
never would say so.”_

_“Go on!” cried Bojohn; and Solario proceeded._

I rose to my feet (said Alb) and made off across the fields. I found
a path which wound down to the village, and I was presently standing
in the street. All the storks were gone, probably within doors for the
night.

I set forth briskly to find the house of the One-Armed Sorcerer. I
realized that the stork with the necklace was the Princess herself,
and I knew that if she was to be saved from the Ragpicker I must act
quickly.

I remembered the gilded wooden arm and hand, holding a lantern, which
stood out from the one-armed man’s house, and it was only a matter of
time to find it. I found it sooner than I expected. A light was burning
dimly in the lantern, but the house was dark. There was no stork
upon the housetop. I tried the handle of the door quietly, and to my
surprise the door gave before me, and I pushed it open.


_He Peeps into the Sorcerer’s Workshop_

I found myself in a dark room, which I crossed quickly to a door at
the other side. This door I opened on a crack, and through the crack
I looked into a lighted room; a small room, evidently a workshop,
cluttered about with glass vessels of strange shapes, metal machines of
various sorts, wooden hoops curiously interlaced, charts of the skies,
and great, brass-bound books; and at one side of the room was a forge
and in the center a table.

Before this table was standing the one-armed man whom I had already
seen. On the table, the stork with the necklace was lying on its side,
perfectly still, and as I looked the old man plucked a feather from
the stork’s wing and examined it carefully. He then cast it aside and
plucked another, this time from the back. This also he tossed away,
after examining it, and he then plucked a feather from the shoulder,
and holding it up to the light gave a cry of pleasure, and without
turning said, “Come in, Alb, I have been expecting you.”

I stepped into the room, and the old man greeted me with a friendly
smile, and held up the feather.

“Do you see this?” said he.

I looked at it closely. At the point of the quill hung a single drop of
blood.

The stork on the table stirred uneasily. The sorcerer stroked it gently
and said, “Sleep!” and the stork lay perfectly still again.

“Wait a minute,” said the old man. “We must keep this drop from falling
off, and we must harden the point of the quill.”

He produced from a closet a metal box, and out of this he took a small
glass tube, covered with frost. He held the drop of blood for a moment
inside the tube, and then put the tube away in its box.

“Now,” said he, “the drop will not fall off.”

He went to the forge, and blowing up the coals with a pair of bellows,
he held the point of the quill for a moment in the fire.

“Now,” said he, “it is as hard as a pin.”

[Illustration: The One-Armed Sorcerer plucked a feather from the
stork]

“Sir,” said I, “will you tell me what this is for?”

“To save the Ragpicker from herself,” said the sorcerer.

“But it’s the Princess I have come to save,” said I.

“It is the same thing,” said the old man. “If the Ragpicker is saved
from herself, everybody else is saved too. And this drop of blood from
the Princess’s heart will do it, and nothing else.”

“I have seen the Ragpicker to-night, sir,” said I, “and I will tell you
about it.”

“Sit down, my son,” said the old man, and when we were seated I told
him all that I had seen and heard in the Ragpicker’s cavern.

The sorcerer shook his head and smiled. “And so she thinks I wish to
take away her shadows and let the people kill her! Well, well, it’s the
way of wickedness to see nothing but evil. Why should I wish her harm?
What I seek to do is to save her, not to destroy her; but she’ll never
believe that, because she can’t think straight. Anyway, in trying to do
evil she has provided me with the means of making her good.”

“How has she done that?” said I.

“If she hadn’t stolen the Princess’s shadow, I shouldn’t have brought
the Princess here; and if I hadn’t brought the Princess here, she
wouldn’t now be a stork; and if she hadn’t been turned to a stork I
couldn’t have gotten the drop of blood from her heart.”

“Is it true,” said I, “that the Ragpicker protects herself with
shadows?”

“Of course! What could protect her better? What else is there to fear,
but shadows? I confess I’m more than half afraid of them myself. We
all know we shouldn’t be, but we are, just the same. They’re perfectly
harmless, but they’re terrible. There’s nothing so real as shadows.”

“But tell me,” said I, “how we are to save the Princess.”

“All in good time,” said the sorcerer; “in the meantime, you must get a
little rest, for you have an important task to do in the morning.”

I was tired out, in fact. The sorcerer left me, and I sat beside the
sleeping stork, watching it in silence for a long while, and then I
surrendered myself to drowsiness, and fell asleep.

When I awoke, it was morning. The stork was gone, and the sorcerer’s
hand was on my shoulder.

“Come,” said he, and placed in my hand a tiny bow of thin metal, with a
string of fine hair, and showed me how to use the stork’s feather as an
arrow to the bow. He then instructed me in what I had to do, and led me
out into the street.

The stork which had been a Princess was standing on the curb before the
door, and all the other storks were in their places on the housetops.
The street was already busy; shops and houses were being opened for the
day and many people were outdoors.


_He Lies in Wait with a Bow and Arrow_

Carrying the stork’s feather and the bow, I went to the next corner,
round which on the evening before I had seen the Ragpicker turn up
toward her home. I passed this corner, and concealed myself in a
doorway just beyond.

I had not long to wait. I had drawn my head back into the doorway for
a moment, and when I looked again the Ragpicker was standing at the
street crossing with her back toward me, gazing in the direction of
the stork which stood before the sorcerer’s door. On her back was her
bag, and in her left hand she carried a knife. The people in the street
stopped to watch her, muttering together.

“Skag!” said she, “come in!” And she turned sidewise to her shadow,
which lay at a great length on the ground before her. It began to
shorten toward her, and kept shortening until it was no longer than
herself. “Stand up!” said she, and the shadow stood upright beside her,
a black, flat image of herself in outline, looking as if it had been
cut from stiff, black paper.

The Ragpicker let down the bag from her shoulder and opened it on the
ground and said “Come out!” And at this all the people gave a cry of
terror and fled into their houses and shut the doors, and all the
storks on the housetops fluttered their feathers and flapped their
wings.


_The Ragpicker Releases the Shadows in the Street_

Out of the bag poured shadows; hundreds of them; all the shadows of
little children which I had seen go into the bag the night before; and
as they poured out, they ran about in the street as if bewildered.

“Skag!” said the Ragpicker. “To the fore!”

The old woman’s shadow hastened to the front of all the others and
raised its long poker finger, beckoning them to follow. They crowded
behind, and moved noiselessly up the street toward the stork at the
sorcerer’s door. The Ragpicker followed close behind, holding her knife
up in her left hand. The stork which was the Princess stood motionless
on the curb before the door. The sorcerer was not to be seen.

Now was my time for action. I crept silently after the old woman, and
came up just behind her. I fitted the feather with its drop of blood to
the little bow, and as I approached the old woman so close that I might
have touched her, I aimed quickly at her back and let the arrow fly.
Straight into her back it darted, and stuck there fast.

“Skag!” she screamed, but she said no more.

Quick as a wink I plucked the feather from her back, and as I did so
she turned upon me with her knife uplifted. But she stood suddenly
still, her hand relaxed, and the knife fell to the ground. A change
came slowly over her. Her back straightened; she grew taller; the
wrinkles left her face; her skin became fairer, her eyes larger, her
hair longer; and there was standing before me in her place a beautiful
young damsel, tall and erect, with dark eyes in a pale face, and two
thick braids of brown hair hanging to her waist.

She held up her right hand and looked at it, and gave a cry of joy. The
long, black, hooked finger was gone. Her two hands were the shapely
white hands of a young woman, without blemish.

“Free!” she cried. “The enchantment is over! I am myself at last! Oh,
thanks, young man!” And she threw her arms around me and kissed me
soundly on the cheek.

I released myself, awkwardly enough, and as I did so I saw all the
shadows up the street fall flat to the ground, as if they had been
knocked over by a ball; and they began to slip swiftly away in every
direction across the pavement. In an instant Skag, the old Ragpicker’s
shadow, lay at the young woman’s feet. She screamed and shrank away,
but in another instant the shadow’s shape was changed, and in its place
on the ground was the shadow of the young woman herself. She clapped
her hands with joy.


_A Singular Commotion on the Housetops_

The shadows of the children were climbing the walls of the houses;
and all of a sudden I heard a great clamor from the housetops, as of
hundreds of children crying out together.

“We can’t get down! Oh, I’m falling! Help! I can’t hold on! Oh, Mother!
We can’t get down! I’m slipping! I’m going to fall! Hurry! Mother! Come
quick!”

I looked up, and there on the housetops, where the storks had been,
children were clinging to the chimney pots, straddling the ridgepoles,
hanging on to the gables, big children and little children, boys and
girls, shrieking out at the top of their voices, and struggling to keep
from toppling off into the street. One tiny boy suddenly disappeared
down a chimney; a big girl lost her hold and rolled down the roof into
a wide leaden gutter, where she hung, half on and half off. Dozens of
boys and girls sat astride the ridgepoles, as if riding cockhorses.
The big boys began to shout with glee, but the little ones were crying
with fright; and at the hubbub all the doors flew open and all the
fathers and mothers ran out, and when they saw what it was, a mighty
shout went up, and it wasn’t a minute before a ladder stood against
every wall, and not more than two minutes before all the children were
safe on the ground, hugged up in their mothers’ and fathers’ arms, with
such laughing and weeping and cheering as never were, I am sure, in
this world before.

“Oh, isn’t it wonderful!” cried the beautiful young woman. “I’m so
glad, so glad!”

“The Princess!” I cried. “Look at the Princess!”


_The Princess Is Herself Again, but--_

She was her own lovely self again, and she was standing at the same
place on the curb before the sorcerer’s house, and the sorcerer himself
was standing beside her. The young woman and myself ran swiftly to her,
and I shouted a joyous greeting as I approached; but to my surprise,
she did not reply.

She was standing perfectly motionless, with her eyes wide open, and one
hand raised to her neck as if about to unfasten her necklace. On her
shoulder, shown by the open neck of her dress, was a tiny spot of blood.

The young woman kissed the sorcerer’s hand and thanked him.

“But the Princess!” I cried. “What is the matter with the Princess?”

The sorcerer shook his head sadly. “Somebody always has to pay for
these benefits,” said he, “and I’m afraid that when we plucked the
feather we took away something we cannot replace. She cannot move nor
speak. But I will set to work, and in time I will--”

“Come!” said the young woman. “I will help her! We must take her home!
Come at once!”

The sorcerer and myself lifted the Princess between us and carried her
down the street toward the cove. The village people and their children
followed us, and stood in a throng on the beach as we got into a boat
and hoisted a sail.

“Good-bye!” shouted the people, and the sorcerer and myself waved our
hands, none too cheerfully; and at that moment we heard a kind of bark
from the water beside the boat, and a voice cried, “Sister!” It was the
seal. The young woman leaned down toward him and cried, “Brother!”

“Is everything all right now?” said the seal. “What are you going to do
about me?”

His sister raised the Princess and showed him the red mark on the
Princess’s shoulder, and told him about the plucking of the stork’s
feather. Then the seal’s sister said:

“For once you have done a good deed, brother; and if you’ll do
another--you know the promise!--two good deeds!--you will be free too.
Go! and do not return until you have brought that which will cure the
Princess. The milk of the White Walrus who lives in the Far-Alone
Grotto on the Twelfth Ice Floe! Do you understand?”

“It’s a pretty good trip,” said the seal, “and I’ll probably have to
fight the walruses. But if you say so, why I suppose-- When do you
think I’d better start?”

“This instant!” cried his sister. “Off with you! And return to us at
the King’s castle at Ventamere.”

“Oh, very well,” said the seal, and dived. He came up again at the
mouth of the cove, making off at a great rate for the open sea....

We reached the King’s castle at Ventamere in the evening, and pressed
straightway into the Grand Refectory, where the King was at supper with
his court. As we entered, the whole company sprang up, and my father
ran toward me.


_The King Beholds His Child and Is Grieved_

The sorcerer and myself, carrying the Princess, stood her on her feet
and supported her thus between us, and the seal’s sister stood beside
us.

“My daughter!” cried the King, and rushing toward the Princess with
outstretched arms, stopped in amazement as she remained between us as
speechless and motionless as a statue.

I whispered rapidly into my father’s ear, and the sorcerer, kneeling
before the King, began to explain.

The King paid no attention to him, but placed a hand upon his
daughter’s arm and wept.

“My poor child!” he said. “What shall we do now?”

There was a movement at the door. A crowd of the castle people poured
into the room, and parting, opened a lane for a young man, a stranger,
who advanced rapidly from the door; a very fat young man, with a round,
pink face and round, blue eyes, who wore hanging from his shoulders
the skin and head of a seal.

“Brother!” cried the seal’s sister.

“Yes,” said the fat young man, “it’s me; and a pretty little time I’ve
had among the walruses, I can tell you;” and he bowed low at the same
time to the King.

“Have you some business with us, young sir?” said the King.

“Venison steak and hasty pudding,” said the fat young man, with his eye
on the supper table. “Oh; I beg your pardon. I am the milk man.”

“Milk? We want no milk here,” said the King.

“It’s for the Princess,” said the fat young man. “To be taken
externally. Good for lumbago, rheumatism, sprains, chilblains,
strawberry rash--”

“What is this fellow talking about?” said the King, in exasperation.

“Brother!” said the young woman, his sister, fixing him sternly with
her eye.

“Rub a little on her shoulder,” said her brother. “Direct from the
White Walrus on the Twelfth Ice Floe, and the walruses nearly ate me
alive before I got it; but here it is. Excellent for all sorts of skin
and blood diseases, as well as--”

“Brother!” said the young woman, sternly.

“I beg your pardon,” said the fat young man; and with a very grand
manner he took out of his pocket an oyster shell, and pried it open
with a knife from the table. On the lower half of the shell was a
spoonful of white liquid.


_The Seal Introduces His Liniment, Guaranteed to Cure in All Cases_

“Very convenient milk bottle,” said he; and waving the King aside he
stepped up to the Princess and went on pompously, as if he were making
a speech:

“I will now,” said he, “in the presence of the entire company, and
openly before you all, so that you may see that no deception is
practised upon you, apply a modicum of my liniment to the shoulder of
the young lady, at the point where I perceive a stain of red, rubbing
the same in gently thus, with a downward motion of the first two
fingers of the right hand, thus, and thus, and thus.”

He poured the white liquid from the shell on to the red spot on the
Princess’s shoulder, and rubbed it in gently, talking all the while.

“Now, ladies and gentlemen,” he went on, “I call your attention to the
effects of this lotion when properly applied. It is warranted to be
very efficacious in all cases of-- But see; she lowers her hand; she
moves her foot; she speaks; she--”

“Father!” cried the Princess, and threw herself into her father’s arms.

“Hurrah!” I shouted, and all the company cheered, until the rafters
rang again.

“Let the castle people retire,” said the King, and he led the Princess
to the table, where he seated her at his right hand, wiping his eyes
and blowing his nose. When we were all at table, the sorcerer told
his tale, and not until he had heard it to the end would the King
permit the meal to proceed. I observed that the son of the assistant
carol singer was very attentive to the seal’s sister; and as for the
fat young man her brother,--during the repast, which lasted a full two
hours, he spoke not a word.

At the end the King begged him to relate the story of his enchantment
and his sister’s, and he readily consented; whereupon he commenced,
without being asked a second time,


THE STORY OF THE TALKING SEAL AND HIS SISTER

“You must know,” he began--

_“I am very sorry,” said the Princess Dorobel, interrupting, “but it is
Bojohn’s bedtime, and I fear we shall have to hear this story another
time.”_

_“Oh, mother!” said Bojohn. “I couldn’t go to sleep if I tried. Please
don’t--”_

_“No, my dear,” said the Princess Dorobel, “not to-night. Pray go on
with Alb’s story, Solario.”_

When the seal’s story was finished (said Alb), the King begged the
One-Armed Sorcerer to remain with him as his friend and adviser; and
this the sorcerer consented to do.

“And now,” said the King, turning to me, “what reward shall be yours? I
will deny you nothing.”

I knelt before him, and made my request boldly. I knew that my whole
future hung upon that moment.

“The hand of my lady Princess,” said I, “if she is willing.”

“What do you say, my dear?” said the King.

The Princess said nothing, but turned red as a rose, and buried her
head on her father’s shoulder. She was mine! I took her hand in mine
and kissed it.

“_That’s_ settled,” said the King. “And you, sir,” said he to the fat
young man, “what gift shall I bestow upon you?”

“A little more of the custard pie, if you please,” said the fat young
man.



[Illustration]



THE FIFTH NIGHT

THE CITY OF DEAD LEAVES


_Solario was sitting cross-legged on his worktable, and before him, in
a row, sat the Executioner, Bodkin, Bojohn, Prince Bilbo, the Princess
Dorobel, and the Queen._

_“This _time,” said Bojohn, “we want to hear the story of
Montesango’s Cave.”_

_Solario shook his head. “The story is too dreadful altogether,” said
he. “I fear you would lie awake all night if--”_

_“Then tell us about the Roving Griffin,” said Bodkin._

_“Or the Blind Giant,” said Bojohn._

_“I am very curious myself,” said the Princess Dorobel, “to hear the
story of the seal and his sister. What do you say, mother?”_

_“I remember very well,” said the Queen, dropping her knitting in her
lap, “I saw a seal once when I was a young girl, and a very curious
creature it was, too, I’m sure. I’ve never forgotten it, because I
was on my way to be married to your father,--of course he wasn’t
your father then, you know,--and I think the day I saw the seal was
the day your father was expected to meet us, or the day before, I
can’t be quite certain now, it’s so long ago; and we were waiting for
him by the seashore,--but no, we weren’t expecting him on that day,
because he had sent a messenger to say that he couldn’t start until
all the horses were shod, and the blacksmith was just getting over the
measles. I remember that messenger very well; a small, dark man with a
beard, by the name of--what was his name? Something like Manniko, or
Finnikin,--no, it was Tallboy. That was it. Tallboy. He didn’t stay
with the King very long after we were married, because his sister’s
youngest boy was taken down with the--”_

_“Grandmother!” said Bojohn. “Solario is waiting to go on.”_

_“Dear me,” said the Queen, “so he is. I’m glad I brought my knitting
with me to-night.”_

_“I am sure,” said Prince Bilbo, “we would all be glad to hear about
the seal and his sister.”_

_“Your will is my pleasure,” said Solario, very prettily, “and I will
therefore now commence the story of--”_

_Here there was a sharp cry from outside the room door._

_“Let me in!” piped up a voice, loud and sharp as a whistle._

_Mortimer the Executioner opened the door, and at first glance
there appeared to be no one there. But Bojohn cried out, “It’s the
Encourager!” And there, on the sill, was in fact the tiny figure of
the Encourager, no taller than a sparrow, carrying his umbrella folded
under his arm. He opened the umbrella, and leaping into the air floated
up with it to the Executioner’s shoulder, where, folding the umbrella
again, he stood bowing to the company._

_“Dear me,” said the Queen, “I believe it’s the Encourager of the
Interrupter.”_

_“If there’s anything going on,” piped up the Encourager, in his shrill
voice, “I don’t want to be left out!”_

_“Then sit down, Mortimer,” said Prince Bilbo, “and let the Encourager
hear the story too.”_

_The Executioner seated himself, and the Encourager sat down on the
Executioner’s shoulder and gazed solemnly at Solario with his beady
black eyes._

_“Ahem!” said Solario, clearing his throat and picking up his shears.
“I will now, with your majesty’s gracious permission, proceed with the
story as it was related to the assembled company at Ventamere by the
seal, and by Alb the Fortunate to myself. This, then, is_


“THE STORY OF TUSH THE APOTHECARY, AND OF PARAVAINE HIS SISTER.”

I must tell you (said the fat young man), that I am an apothecary, and
my name is Tush.

_“We had a Lord Treasurer once,” interrupted the Queen, “whose name was
Filch. It seemed so odd.”_

My name is Tush; and this damsel, my sister, who was lately a
Ragpicker, is known as Paravaine. So much for that. I now proceed to
the catastrophe which begins my tale, and I hope you will pardon me if
I pause at times to wipe away a tear.

We were left alone at an early age, my sister and myself, without kith
or kin, and we dwelt together in the city of our birth, the city of
Fadz--you have heard of Fadz? A seaport of the Kingdom of Wen, a city
of ships and conversation; and in that city we dwelt quietly together,
and there I kept my shop.

My sister, as you may see by looking at her, was beautiful in the
highest degree; and I am bound to admit to you that she was not a
little vain of her beauty, and prized admiration above all things in
the world. Regarding myself, I may say that I was considered to be
quite handsome, though a trifle fat.

In the art of inventing remedies I greatly excelled; and I would beyond
a doubt have succeeded in my profession, but that I was much given
to the making of songs and the tasting of rare dishes, and these two
occupations consumed the greater part of my days. My sister, on her
part, applied herself so diligently to the adornment of her lovely
person before the mirror, that she had scarcely time for anything else.
In consequence, my business and my house fell into neglect; and another
apothecary, a tuneless fellow in a neighboring street, who knew not
beef from mutton, took away all my trade. But such is the fate of your
true artist, the world over.

I forgot, in the application necessary for the composition of songs,
the foolish moneys which I chanced to owe here and there, and at
length (so dead to the finer things of life is the coarse mind of
trade), I could find no one who was willing to trust us any longer,
even for the meanest knuckle of the least respectable portion of a pig.
I burn with indignation when I think of it,--but I proceed.


_The Misfortunes of Tush the Apothecary_

I soon found out what monsters in the shape of men--However. Certain
churls, men of no character, no elevation, no refinement,--forgive me;
I am not quite myself; these men, if I may call them men, to whom I
owed, I believe, some trifling sums of no account, came to my shop one
morning in a body, fifteen or so; and if you can believe a thing so
monstrous, they seized, they tore away, they loaded into oxcarts in the
street, in the broad light of day, all the goods of my shop and all the
furnishings of my house. I wept, I threatened, I raved; but all to no
purpose. They answered never so much as a word; they departed, and left
my sister and myself without so much as a chair to sit on, or one coin
to jingle against another.

_“Now that,” said the Queen, “was going entirely too far. However did
they expect the poor man to sit down?”_

One thing I entreated them to spare me, my Perfection Cream, a salve
or ointment of my own invention, warranted to relieve in all cases of
affliction of the skin; a remedy which I had compounded many years
before, and had tried once or twice on myself with good results.
Of this, having never sold any, I had on hand, in little jars, a
quite considerable quantity. They left me this, with contempt; and
my sister, observing it, begged them to spare to her of her own
possessions one thing only, her mirror, a handglass backed with blue
enamel, with a long handle of the same; and this also they granted, not
without a jeer.

We sat for a long time upon the barren floor; and then we rose, and
shaking the dust of the place from our feet, we departed, never to
return. In a pouch at my side I carried my Perfection Cream, and in her
hand my sister carried her blue mirror; and thus we went forth, to try
our fortunes in the world.

We sought the wharves, designing to take ship for some distant clime;
and we found, in fact, a vessel loading for a voyage. The ship’s master
was sitting on a bale, directing the porters, and I addressed him
politely, explaining our case. He shrugged his shoulders and shook his
head; but he happened to turn around and catch sight of my sister, and
his manner changed. He jumped to his feet, bowed, and begged us to come
aboard.

In effect, we sailed away. My heart was light again. The city faded
behind us, the sunlight sparkled on the waves; and I was none the less
happy because I had not the least idea where we were going. I composed
a song regarding life on the ocean wave, and sang it with ecstasy,
until my sister begged me to stop.

The master of the ship treated us with distinguished courtesy; I could
not help contrasting his conduct with that of the cold-blooded men who
had-- But I resolved to think of them no more. I gave myself up to the
pleasures of the voyage.


_They Find Themselves on an Unknown Shore_

On the third day, when we were sailing offshore in a light breeze, my
sister came to me in tears. The master of the ship had demanded that
she marry him, as the price of our passage. I went to him at once,
and remonstrated with him patiently. It was no use. He was set upon
marrying my sister. We left the matter to Paravaine herself, and she
rejected the proposal with scorn. “You see!” said I, throwing up my
hands in despair. “Yes, I see,” said the mariner. “You wish to go
ashore. I will not detain you any longer.” The ship was brought in
closer to the shore, a boat was lowered, and my sister and myself (I
assure you the black-hearted scoundrel bowed to us politely to the
last)--my sister and myself were landed on a sandy beach, and the ship
sailed away.

_“Now isn’t that a perfect shame,” said the Queen. “And such a nice
young man, too.”_

We stood for a time in silence, petrified with despair. A vast,
treeless plain stretched away beyond the beach, far as the eye could
see; there was no human habitation anywhere. Not an ounce of food nor
a copper coin did we have between us,--nothing but my Perfection Cream
and my sister’s blue mirror. We were at our wits’ end.

“Let us sit down and think what we had better do,” said I, and I led
my sister to a brown rock embedded in the sand at no great distance.
It was a large rock, round and smooth, and we sat down with our backs
against it, gazing mournfully at the Great Sea, where it sparkled in
the sunlight. It was a beautiful sight, and I began to think up a new
song.

_“I always used to say,” said the Queen, “that the sea was a very
pretty thing, but the King never could abide it. He used to get_ so
_sick! And he finally declared he would never put his foot on a boat as
long as he-- Dear me! I remember a sailor on one of our trips who had
a parrot that used to talk--Oh, dear! Such things as he did say! Oh,
dear! Oh, dear! When I think of them!”_

_“All right, grandmother,” said Bojohn. “Go on, Solario.”_

As we sat there (said the fat young man) with our backs against the
brown rock, I amused myself by plucking away idly certain blades of
long brown grass which fringed the lower portion of the rock near my
hand; and these blades I twined, scarce thinking what I did, into a
ring of a size to fit a finger. Instead of putting it on my own finger,
I took my sister’s hand and placed the ring, jestingly, on the first
finger of her right hand.


_The Startling Effect of Making a Ring of Grass_

No sooner was this done than a kind of groan came from the rock. The
sand on which we sat heaved and shuddered. It rose beneath us, and we
were lifted slowly into the air; and when we were higher than a man’s
height above the ground we were thrown off on to the beach, and we were
looking up at a monstrous creature in the shape of a man, who had risen
up under us from beneath the sand. He was chocolate brown in color,
and he towered above us full seven yards or more. The rock against
which we had been sitting was, as we now perceived, his head; he had
been lying, no doubt asleep, on his stomach under the sand, completely
covered except for his head. We had been sitting above his buried
shoulders, and leaning against the back of his head; and from this
head, all bald but for a fringe of hair at the bottom, I had plucked
the hairs which I had thought were grass.

“A genie!” I cried, and pulled my sister to her feet in fright.

The genie opened his mouth in a great yawn, and stretched his mighty
arms; and as he breathed out again, jets of flame shot from his
nostrils. He was bare, except for a wide cloth twisted around his
middle from waist to thigh, and in the waistband he wore a long, curved
scimitar, which flashed in the sun. He spread his hands out before him
and bowed low.

“Were you asleep in the sand?” said my sister, recovering her wits
first.

He bowed again.

“What do you want with us?” said my sister, becoming bolder.

“I await your commands,” said the genie, in a voice like the roaring of
a waterfall.

“Oh!” said my sister. “Is it the ring of hair on my finger? Is that it?”

He bowed again, extending his hands.

“Then please! please! take us away from here!” cried my sister.

“What is it you seek?” said the genie.

“We seek the best thing in the world!” cried my sister. “Take us where
we may find it!”

“What do you mean by the best thing in the world?” said I to my sister.

“I don’t know,” said she; “but the genie ought to know, and he’ll take
us where we may find it. Won’t you?” said she, looking up at him.

“Hearing is obedience!” said the genie, and little jets of fire spurted
from his nostrils.

“Where will you take us?” said I.

“I will take you where you may find the best thing in the world,” said
the genie. “And if you find it, it will be the best thing in the world
for me too, because it will release me from the power of the One-Armed
Sorcerer, who dwells in an island far out in the Great Sea. If you
don’t find it, it will be your own fault, and in that case,--beware!”

“This sounds pretty doubtful,” said I.

“No matter!” cried my sister. “We will find it. Take us there at once!”


_They Start Upon a Journey Through the Air_

The genie stooped down over us, and under his right arm he gathered me
up, and under his left arm he gathered up my sister. He stamped upon
the earth so that it shook, and leaped into the air; and in an instant
we were soaring over the treeless plain, and I was sick with dizziness.
Higher and higher we mounted, with the speed of an arrow; we seemed to
be flying straight into the face of the sun; I could no longer tell
which was sea and which was plain below. I closed my eyes.

[Illustration: The genie flew away with Tush and his sister]

It was a long time before I opened them again. We were lower, and I
could see the plain, flat and grassy, without a tree. The sun declined,
and still we kept our course; I thought we should soon be at the end of
the world; and still there were no trees anywhere on the plain below us.

I ached in every limb; I cried out, but the genie did not hear me; and
when I was ready to faint with exhaustion his speed suddenly relaxed,
and I saw, at the edge of the horizon before me, what was, or seemed to
be, a city. And still there were no trees.

Scarcely a moment passed before the city rose in plain view; and with
a swoop the genie descended upon the earth, and we were standing,
all three of us, before a gate in the city wall, and my sister was
arranging her hair before her mirror.

A tall and muscular man stood beside the gate, as if on guard. He was
chocolate brown in color, and he was bare except for a wide cloth
twisted about his middle from waist to thigh, and in his right hand he
carried a scimitar, which flashed in the sunlight. I looked around for
the genie, but he was gone.

“What city is this?” said I to the Guardian of the Gate.

“It is the City of Dead Leaves,” said the man. “What do you seek in the
city?”

“We are seeking,” said my sister, “the best thing in the world. We were
told that we would find it here.”

“Ah!” said the Guardian, looking at my sister. “You are she who has
come to save the King’s brother. Come with me.”

He led the way through the gate, and we found ourselves in an alley
of high walls, along which we followed him for some distance, coming
out upon an open plot of grass, surrounded by the same high walls in
a circle. As we approached it, I smelled a familiar fragrance, the
fragrance of orange blossoms; and I thought with some regret of the
groves upon our slopes at home.


_The Orange Tree and the Panther_

In the center of this plot was an orange tree. It was green with
foliage and white with blossoms; the odor was delicious. Under the
tree, prowling stealthily around it, was a panther. I drew back in
alarm. “Do not go too close,” said our guide. “It is death to touch the
tree.”

I had no desire to approach that terrible beast, and we gave him a wide
berth as we proceeded around the rim of the grassplot to an opening in
the opposite wall. We passed through that opening into a city street;
a street of glass, as it seemed, for the front wall of every house was
made of glass; and within, in every case, was a kind of storeroom,
piled up with something which looked like dead leaves. In the greater
houses these rooms were piled quite full; in the meaner there were only
little mounds; but much or little, they appeared to be on exhibition,
as if in pride.

“The treasures of our people,” said the Guardian of the Gate. “Dead
orange leaves. Our most precious possession. The wealth and station of
each citizen are gauged by his store of dead leaves. It is of course
only proper to put them where they may be seen. But come; the King’s
brother awaits us.”

I nudged my sister. “The King’s brother!” I whispered. “Here is a
chance for you!” She smiled, and glanced into her mirror.

We wound through many streets of glass, and I observed that besides
glass the houses contained no material but stone and metal; the absence
of wood was very noticeable. We turned down a mean street toward the
city wall, and came out upon a common, strewn with refuse of all kinds,
and bounded on the further side by the wall. A shelter of canvas leaned
against the wall, and beneath this shelter, on a pallet of straw, lay a
man in rags. He raised himself on his elbow and looked up at us.

“The King’s brother,” said our guide, and I started back in surprise.


_They Come Upon the King’s Brother in Rags_

He was a young man, and very ugly, but not unpleasant to look at;
indeed, his ugliness had something honest and winning in it; and if he
had not been so ragged, he might have made a passable appearance. As it
was, I laughed to myself at the thought of such a fellow in connection
with my beautiful sister.

The ugly young man stood up and bowed politely.

“Is it the first stranger?” said he to the Guardian of the Gate.

“It is,” said the Guardian.

“I am content,” said the young man, casting on my sister a look of
admiration.

“Fair lady,” he went on, dropping on one knee and taking her hand, “if
you are not pledged elsewhere, I beseech you to accept me as a suitor
for your hand. Stay; do not repulse me at my first word, but hear me
further, and take time to consider. I am the King’s younger brother;
and because I would not marry a lady of his choosing, he has cast me
out, swearing that I shall remain in this misery unless I shall marry
the first stranger who shall come to our gates. Oh, fortunate hour that
brought you here the first of all! I am poor; I do not possess a single
leaf; but I will devote myself to you loyally, and I do not think you
will regret it. I know, having seen you, that I cannot live without
you. Do not refuse me now, but at the end of a week give me your
answer.”

He kissed her hand fervently, and arose. I confess that I liked this
young man, but of course I could not think of marrying my sister to one
so utterly forlorn. I answered for her.

“In a week I will let you know,” said I, and drew my sister away.

“Before you go,” said he, “let me give you a warning. Look at my hands.”

He held out his palms, and I saw that they were covered with a rash,
red and angry-looking. He rubbed his palms together, as if to soothe an
irritation.

“The itching palms!” said he. “I have handled the dead leaves all my
life; and because I have handled them my palms itch, itch, all day and
night, without ever a moment’s peace. I warn you not to touch the dead
leaves. The dead leaves of the orange tree; do not touch them.”

“Very well,” said I, and with these words we left him.

The Guardian of the Gate, leading us back into the city streets, turned
and said:

“You have just had your first chance to gain the best thing in the
world. I will now give you your second. Be careful how you choose.”

We entered a street of shops; and I now noticed that the people
were, each of them, rubbing their palms together, as if to soothe an
intolerable itching.

I paused to look into one of the shops as we passed. The customers
within were handing over to the dealer, in return for his goods,
leaves, dead leaves, of the sort we had seen in the glass showrooms;
and whenever these dead leaves passed from hand to hand, I remarked
that the itching of the palm they touched became more exasperating, so
that the people were quite beside themselves, and could not keep quiet
on their feet; but the dealer nevertheless received the dead leaves
eagerly, and the others gave them up with reluctance.

“These people are mad,” said I.

We joined a great rout of people, all rubbing their hands, who were
pouring down a street in the direction of an open square; and when we
reached it, we saw in the center, on a platform above the heads of the
crowd, a man in a robe, who was evidently about to read from a paper
held in his hand.

“Your second chance,” said the Guardian of the Gate. “I will leave you
to your choice. Be careful how you choose.”

He turned away, and disappeared in the crowd.

“Hear ye! Hear ye!” cried the man on the platform. “A message from
the King! Whereas the affliction of the itching palm has now become
so grievous that it can no longer be endured, the King now offers, to
such person as shall cure him, one-half of all the dead leaves in his
treasury! And to him also he promises one-half of all the dead leaves
belonging to each person whom he shall cure! The offer is open to all!
Be diligent! Thus saith the King!”

The messenger got down, and immediately there arose near the platform a
commotion, with much laughter, and those in that neighborhood began to
cry out:

“Way for the Lord Buffo! Make way for the wise Lord Buffo!”


_A Dwarf Clad in Motley Stands up to Speak_

A singular figure now mounted the platform, facing in our direction.
He was a dwarf, hunchbacked and thickset, with a very large head set
deep in his shoulders, and arms which hung to his knees. His clothing
was of squares of yellow and blue and green and orange, and on his head
he wore a paper crown, rimmed around at the top with little bells.
With his right hand he pulled up by a cord a small monkey, dressed in
all respects like himself; and in his other hand he held the long tail
feather of a cock.

“The King’s Fool,” said one of the bystanders in my ear.

The Fool waved the feather, and the crowd settled itself to listen.

“Hear ye! Hear ye!” he cried, in a loud, harsh voice.

At this the people shouted, “Go on, go on!”

The monkey leaped up on to the dwarf’s shoulder, and the dwarf
proceeded, with the greatest gravity.

“I, Buffo, chief counselor to his most gracious majesty, King Fatchaps,
do call upon you to hearken to the voice of Wisdom!”

“Wisdom! That’s good!” laughed the crowd,--never ceasing to rub their
palms and dance up and down the while.

“First I must tell you, my loyal subjects, that you are all mad. Do you
believe it?”

“Yes! yes! Of course!” shouted the crowd, still laughing.

“Give ear, and I will prove it to you! Thus! Answer me! Isn’t there
enough in our city for all, to feed you and clothe you and shelter you
and amuse you? Answer!”

“True!” cried many persons in the throng.

“Then why are there some among you who starve, and others who cast out
of their abundance to the dogs? Tell me that!”

No one replied.

“Because you are mad! With the itching palm! Look at you! You can’t
stand still on your feet! Rub, rub! Want in the midst of plenty!
Scratch, scratch! Some with too little and some with too much! Rub,
rub! And enough for everybody in reason! Scratch, scratch! All mad, all
mad! Rub, rub! Look at me--have I itching palms?” He held up his hands,
palms outward.

“No!” exclaimed several in the crowd.

“Tell me why! Tell me why! Because I touch not the dead leaves! Isn’t
it so?”

No one answered.

“Give ear, madmen, and I will reveal to you how to cure the itching
palm! Bring the dead orange leaves here to the square! Pile them up!
Burn them, burn them, burn them, every one! That’s it! Will you give up
the dead leaves?”

“No!” roared the people as if with one voice.

“Then farewell, madmen!” cried the Fool, and he jerked the monkey from
his shoulder and descended from the platform.

The people, still rubbing their hands together and dancing, but
laughing withal, rapidly left the square, and my sister and myself
started to go; and as we started, the dwarf appeared before us with his
monkey, and cocked his eye up at us waggishly.

“What, ho!” said the Fool. “Strangers, by the ears of a donkey!
Greeting, strangers, what do you among my mad subjects?”

“To tell you the truth, my lord,” said I, making up my mind on the spur
of the moment, “I have come here with my sister from a distant land, to
cure the people and their King of the itching palm.”

“How so?” said the hunchback, sharply.

“With a little remedy of my own,” said I, tapping my pouch.

“Bah!” said the Fool, jerking the monkey’s cord. “Go home, madman, you
are wasting your time.”

“One moment!” I said. “Conduct me to the King, I beg you. You shall see
me prove my boast.”

He looked up at me sidewise. “Pouf!” said he, snapping his fingers.
“Old Fatchaps is as big a fool as you are. Here; I’ll give you a
chance; there’s nobody here to help me. I ask you, will you help me? I
have a plan to gather the leaves together and burn them. With your help
I can do it, and we will save the people together. Will you help?”

“Not I,” said I, laughing again. “The people would tear us both to
pieces.”

“What does that matter?” said the Fool.

“It matters to me,” said I.

“Is that your choice?” said the Fool. “You have made your choice? Done,
then. Come with me. I will take you to the King; and you will wish that
I hadn’t. Oh, these fools! The time is coming when I must take the case
in hand myself, all alone; for I will tell you a secret; lend me your
ear.” He pulled my head down, and whispered fiercely in my ear. “I love
this people, and I will save them; whether they will or no. D’ye hear?
They are my people, and they must be saved! Whether they will or no!
And then what a bonfire! What a bonfire!”

He jerked the monkey’s cord again, and made off swiftly. We followed
him, and my sister said to me, in a low voice, “Do you think he is mad?”

“That,” said I, “is precisely what I do not know.”


_Buffo the Fool Leads Them to the Palace_

In a few moments we entered and crossed the grounds of an immense
palace, and Buffo the Fool opened the palace door without ceremony and
preceded us into a great hall, where he stopped and said:

“I must have a good look at you first. Buffino, my mirror!”

The monkey darted off down the hall and up the staircase. While he was
gone the Fool said to me:

“You have seen the orange tree and the panther?”

“Yes,” said I.

“Do they worship the orange tree in your country?”

“No, no,” said I. “Orange trees are the commonest of our possessions.
We have them by thousands. Their leaves are of no account.”

“So?” said he, with a look which said that he did not believe it. “We
have no tree in all this city, nor anywhere in all this land, but a
single orange tree. No one knows how the seed came here. We worship
that tree; nothing else.”

“A very pretty sentiment,” said I. “Nothing could be prettier.”

“Hideous!” said he. “The leaves that drop from that tree and die are
the cause of all our evil. We fight over them, we steal them, we waste
our lives in getting them, and we suffer the agony of the itching palm
when they are ours. Will you help me destroy the panther that guards
the tree?”

“Certainly not,” said I with a shiver.

“You have made your choice,” said the Fool. “Buffino, give me the
mirror.”

The monkey, who had now returned, handed to the dwarf a large mirror,
and the Fool held it up before my sister.

Instead of the beautiful person of my sister appeared in the glass the
face and figure of an old woman, bent, ugly, and wrinkled. My sister
started back in dismay, and the dwarf held up the mirror before myself.
It showed me a gross, puffy face with three chins and pig’s eyes,
horribly repulsive. I shuddered.

“Just as I thought,” said the Fool. “Tell me now, have you seen the
King’s brother?”

“Yes,” said I.

“Will you marry him?” said he to my sister.

“Oh!” said she. “How could I? I can’t say. I’m--”

“Just as I thought,” said the dwarf. “And you won’t help me cure my
people. What is it you came here to seek?”

“We are seeking the best thing in the world,” said I.

“And what is that?”

“I don’t know; but we’ll certainly recognize it when we find it.”

“Not you,” said the dwarf; “not until my mirror shows you fair and
comely; _then_ you’ll know it.”

“How are we to get it to show us fair and comely?” said I.

“One of you by saving a miserable outcast, and the other by saving a
whole people; then you’ll be fair and comely, inside and out, but not
until then.”

“You talk in riddles, master Buffo,” said I. “Let us go to the King.”

“Madman!” said the dwarf, and gave the mirror back to the monkey, who
scampered off with it and disappeared.

We followed the Fool up the great staircase and into a distant wing
of the palace, and stopped at a door, on which the hunchback knocked.
Receiving no answer, he opened the door and led us in. “Your majesty!”
he cried.


_They Find the King in a Terrible State_

The King was pacing the floor, grinding and scratching his palms
together, and muttering angrily to himself. He was an enormous man with
a puffy, red face, a snub nose, and three chins, and he wheezed as he
walked. His hair stood up on end all over his head as if it was trying
to fly off. His fat legs went back and forth in a kind of tripping run,
and his fat hands rubbed and scratched and slapped each other in a
perfect frenzy.

“What, what!” he cried, never halting for an instant. “What’s the
matter, what’s the matter?”

“Stop a minute, King Fatchaps!” said the Fool. “Here’s a madman come to
cure your itching palms! Ha, ha!”

“What do you say? What do you say?” said the King, dancing along, back
and forth.

“It is true, your majesty,” said I.

“You can cure me? What do you say? You’re an impostor! They’re all
impostors! Can you cure me? Why don’t you do it then?”

“I understand,” said I, “that a reward is offered--”

“Well, well? What of it?” said the King, wheezing and puffing. “Half of
my dead leaves! What of it?”

“The fact is,” said I, “we should prefer gold or silver.”

“Impudence!” cried the King. “Gold? Silver? What do you mean? I never
heard of them.”

“He’ll take the leaves, never fear,” said the dwarf. “Oh, yes.”

“Take ’em!” cried the King. “Who is the beautiful lady? Take ’em? Dead
leaves or nothing! Take ’em or leave ’em!”

It was plain that a fortune of dead leaves was as good as any other,
if you only thought it so, and if these people thought it so, as they
evidently did, I might as well take it.

“I am satisfied, your majesty,” said I, “and if you will hold out your
palm, I will work the cure.”


_The Perfection Cream Is Rubbed into the Itching Palm_

The King held out his left hand as he passed, and I trotted along
beside him, and drawing from my pouch one of my little jars, I applied
to the King’s palm, with my fingers, a small portion of my salve,
rubbing it in as well as I could; and then I ran around to his other
side, and did the same for his other hand. It was rather difficult,
considering that I had to trot along beside him as he tripped back and
forth across the carpet.

“What, what, what! Bless my soul!” cried the King, stopping suddenly.
“It feels better!”

I bowed and smiled, and Buffo the Fool said, “Mad, old Fatchaps! Both
of you mad!”

“Speak when you’re spoken to!” said the King. “Who asked your opinion?
Pfoo! pfoo! I haven’t any breath left! Not another word out of you,
sir! I know when I’m cured! I’m no fool, I’m no fool!”

“Oh, no, not at all!” said the Fool.

“Here, you!” said the King. “Take this young man and his wife and feed
’em, and let ’em sleep in the palace. I’ll settle with ’em in the
morning, if the itching’s gone. I’m no fool.”

“Not my wife,--my sister,” said I, bowing.

“What do you say?” cried the King. “Oh, that’s different!”

He bowed before my sister, and kissed her hand very respectfully.

“Bless my soul! Beautiful as a moonbeam! What do you say? Where do you
come from, eh? The itching’s gone. But I’ll wait till morning. I’m no
fool. Be off with you, clown, and let ’em eat and sleep in the palace.
What do you say? He shall cure the whole city, and I’ll make ’em
give up half of all their dead leaves to him! In the morning, in the
morning! What do you say? Be off with you!”

We hastily left him, and as we passed down the hall we saw him poke his
head out of the door and heard him call:

“Ho! I’m cured! Where’s that confounded chamberlain? Send me the
chamberlain! What do you say? I’m cured!” And he banged the door shut
again.

That night we dined sumptuously and slept in gorgeous apartments in the
palace. In the morning, being once more conducted by Buffo to the King,
we found him in a transport of happiness. The cure was perfect. He
kissed my sister’s hand, and threw his arms about me, and cried:

“It’s yours! Half of my dead leaves, and I’ll make a Prince out of you!
Not a word! What do you say? Never woke up once last night! Get to work
and cure all my people. Where’s that confounded chamberlain? Get to
work, get to work!”


_Tush the Apothecary Takes the People in Hand_

The arrangements were soon made. I took my stand on the palace steps,
and all day long the people filed before me, and into each palm I
rubbed a little of my salve. It was a work of days, and all business
stopped until my task was done. At the end, the city was cured; never
were there in this world a people so beside themselves with joy.

In the square where I had first met the King’s Fool the King caused
to be thrown up, with five hundred pairs of willing hands, a vat of
hardened mud in blocks, and into this vat his servants poured for me
a good full half of all the dead orange leaves in his treasury, and
on top of these, from each of those whom I had cured, one-half of his
store of leaves; so that when all was done the vat was just half full.
I was rich; richer than the King himself; and my Perfection Cream was
all gone.

I hinted to the King that some kind of covering should be provided for
the vat, to protect my riches from the weather.

“What, what?” said he, his face growing a trifle purple. “There’s no
rain at this time of year! What do you say? All in good time! I can’t
do everything in a minute!”

Now it came to pass, as you may guess, that the King grew daily more
smitten with my sister’s beauty. Scarcely a day passed on which he did
not visit us in the splendid apartments in his palace which he had
given us for our own. His favors became more lavish as time went on;
they could have only one meaning. “You shall be Queen!” said I to my
sister, and she smiled knowingly.

We were expecting, one evening, a visit from the King, when the Fool
entered our apartment, and behind him came, instead of the King, the
King’s ugly brother. I was startled, for I had forgotten him completely.

He knelt beside my sister, and took her hand tenderly in his.

“Dear lady,” he said, “I do not blame you that you have neglected
your promise. I have stolen here at great risk to lay myself again at
your feet. Surely a loyal heart must weigh with you more than rank or
riches. Ah, dear lady, say that you will be mine!”

I confess that there was something about this young man which made me
like him better than before; but of course a match such as he proposed
was out of the question.

My sister shook her head and drew away her hand. “I cannot, I cannot,”
she said.

“Tell me,” he said, “do you think well of me--do you care for me a
little--do you think you can say you love me, ever so little?”

“I do! I do!” cried my sister, to my amazement, hiding her face in her
hands. “I loved you on the first day I saw you! I can’t help it! I do!”

“Ah, then,” said the young man, rising, while I on my part remained
speechless with astonishment, “what’s to hinder? You are mine!”

“No, no,” said my sister, weeping, “it can never be.”

“Is it because I am poor and friendless?”

My sister said never a word.

“Is it because you prize rank and wealth more than love?”

Still my sister said nothing.

The young man hesitated, and stooping to kiss her hand, he said, “I
have received my answer;” and with these words he strode mournfully to
the door. But she did not look up at him, and with a sigh of deep grief
he left us.


_Paravaine Has Made Her Choice_

“The wrong choice once more,” said the Fool, and he, too, went his way.

My sister had hardly dried her eyes when there came a knock upon the
door behind her, and the King entered. She did not turn round, and the
King tripped in silently on his toes, putting a finger roguishly to
his lips and shaking all over with mirth; and coming up behind her he
placed his two fat hands over her eyes, wagging his eyebrows up and
down at me.

“Guess who it is!” he cried, wheezing. “What do you say? It’s somebody
come a-wooing! Never mind who! Ha, ha, ha! Guess who it is, and
to-morrow you’ll be Queen! What do you say? Pouf! Pah! I’m all out of
breath. It’s somebody that wants you to be his Queen. Guess! The most
beautiful Queen in the whole--”

He stopped suddenly. The King’s Fool and his monkey had slipped into
the room behind him and were standing before my sister, and the dwarf
was holding up his mirror before my sister’s face.

“What, what, what!” cried the King in a rage, taking away his hands
from my sister’s eyes. “What do you mean? Out of my sight, Fool! Away!
Begone!”

The dwarf held the mirror higher, shaking with laughter the while, and
my sister gazed into it. I saw her shudder and turn pale, and then she
screamed and buried her face in her hands.

The King, staring likewise into the mirror, turned purple and remained
as if frozen with horror. He shook himself, and gave a choking gasp.

“What’s this?” he cried. “It’s the--what a-- Take it away. She’s an old
woman! She’s a witch! What a-- I’m no fool, it’s a trick, I knew it
all the time! Take her away! She’s an old woman. You can’t play tricks
on me, I won’t have it, I won’t stand it. She’s a witch! I’m going. I
won’t stay. It’s a trick. I’m no fool!”

With these words, puffing and wheezing, he trotted on his fat legs out
of the room.

“No marriage yet,” said the Fool, looking at me queerly, and he ran
after the King, pulling his monkey along with him.


_He Finds Himself Rubbing His Palms Together_

That night, as I stood before my mirror, undressing, and comforting
myself with the thought of all the magnificence I had acquired and
would acquire with my dead orange leaves, I found myself rubbing the
palm of my right hand with the fingers of my left. I was aware of a
slight itching in the palm.

At breakfast in the morning, I noticed that my sister, who was very
sober, would now and then scratch the palm of her right hand; but I
said nothing, and in the afternoon, without questioning her on the
subject of her love for the King’s brother, I prepared to visit the
King, to try if I could not bring him back to reason. I was ready to
leave, when my sister broke into my room, crying out frantically:

“I can’t stand it, I can’t stand it! The itching in my palms! It won’t
stop for a moment! I can’t sit still! It’s growing worse and worse! Oh,
brother, cure it, cure it, or I shall go mad!”

She walked up and down the room in a frenzy, rubbing her palms
together. I tried in vain to pacify her, and at length I left her and
betook myself to the King.

On my way the itching of the night before returned, and this time I
felt it in both my hands. I knew that my sister and myself, in common
with the King and all his subjects, had been handling the dead leaves
freely since I had worked the cure, and I began to be uneasy.

When I knocked at the King’s door the voice of the Fool said “Come in,”
and I found the King running with his tripping step up and down the
room, rubbing his hands, and beside him trotted the Fool and the monkey.

“Imbecile!” cried the King, without stopping for an instant. “You
shall die the death! A trick, a trick! And half of my dead leaves gone
for nothing! A death in boiling oil! What do you say? Don’t answer me!
My hands, my hands! Worse than before! You shall suffer, you shall
suffer! A slow death! Why don’t you speak? What are you going to do?”

“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed the Fool. “He’s been handling the dead leaves
again, and so have you all. It’ll be my turn soon! My turn soon!”

“Patience, your majesty,” said I, rubbing my hands. “I will go to work
at once and prepare more of my salve. Have no fear. I will cure you
instantly. I am off to my work.”


_He Cannot Find the Ingredients for Making the Salve_

“Pouf! Pah!” said the King, angrily, and I ran from the room, to find
the ingredients necessary for my salve. But alas, they were not to be
found. I sent everywhere; the city was scoured; but it was no use; I
was in despair. Such simples as could be found I gathered together, and
of these I made a new remedy,--far different from my old, but it was
the best I could do. I tried it on myself, and felt an almost instant
relief. I shouted with joy.

I returned to the King, and as I passed an open window in the great
hall I heard the muttering of many voices outside, and I saw a great
concourse of people in the palace grounds, all talking angrily, and all
rubbing their hands and dancing on their toes in anguish. They began
to shout my name, and I knew that if I should fall among them in their
present temper I should be lost.

The King was trotting up and down as before, and the dwarf and the
monkey were running along beside him.

“What, what?” he cried. “What now? No tricks! I’m no fool. What’s the
matter?”

“If I cure you,” said I, holding up my box of ointment, “I must have
the rest of your leaves; and from every one I cure I must have the rest
of his; it is only just.”

“Anything!” cried the King. “You can’t do it! It’s another trick! I’ll
give all the dead leaves in the city to anyone who can save me and my
people! It’s a trick! You can’t do it. What are you waiting for? Try
it! Oh, these hands! It’s no use! Hurry up!”

I seized his hand, and running beside him I rubbed into his palm a
little of my new ointment; and running around to his other side I did
the same for his other hand.

“See the madmen!” cried the Fool, clapping his hands in glee.

“By the beard of my uncle!” cried the King. “I feel better! It’s going!
It’s gone! It’s all over! I’m cured! Oh, wonderful young man, come to
my arms! What do you say? I knew you could do it all the time. I’m
cured!”

He grasped my arm and pulled me from the room, and down the stairway to
the front door. A great throng filled the grounds, from the door to the
gate; and commanding silence, the King announced in a loud voice that I
was ready with my cure, and that whoever wished to be cured should give
up the remainder of his dead leaves.

There was a moment’s hesitation, but the anguish of their affliction
was too great; the people whispered together, doubtless remarking that
they would soon get back their leaves in trade; and at any rate they
began to file before me, and my healing work commenced; but not before
I had applied my salve, in sight of all, to my sister’s palms, and
given her immediate relief.

All that day and the next and for several days the work continued, and
in each case the itching vanished at once; the city was cured again,
and my vat in the public square was filled to the brim, with all the
dead orange leaves that the people owned. The glory of my future was
beyond calculation; my sister, I resolved, should yet be Queen; and I
planned for myself such offices in the state as should give me power
even greater than the King’s.

When I awoke in my bed on the following morning, I found that I was
rubbing my hands.

I dressed hurriedly, and my sister came to me in tears. She was rubbing
her hands.

We hurried to the King. He was running up and down, rubbing his hands.

We fled from him and ran out upon the palace steps, not knowing where
next to go; and as we stood there, hesitating, the King’s brother
appeared before us, and spoke with excitement.

“Beloved!” he cried. “We love each other--what more is needed? Quick,
it is not yet too late! Say that you love me--let me hear it again!”

“Ah, yes, I do,” said my sister, and he threw his arm about her and
clasped her to his breast.

“Come! I will save you!” he cried. “There is time, if we hurry. Will
you come with me now?”

My sister drew back a little, still struggling within herself; and
while she hesitated, a commotion arose at the gate, and the young man
cried out, in a voice full of despair:

“It is too late, too late!”


_Tush and His Sister are Seized by the Angry Crowd_

At the gate a throng of people were pressing in with angry shouts. They
made toward us, dancing and rubbing their hands. They surrounded us;
they crowded upon us to suffocation; the young man and myself tried
in vain to shield my sister; angry hands were laid upon her and upon
myself, and we were hustled away toward the gate.

“Give us back our leaves! Kill them both! To the square!” shouted the
mob; and thrusting the King’s brother aside they pulled and pushed us
to the public square, and halted us beneath the vat which contained all
my wealth.

A sudden outcry, followed by silence, drew my attention upward. There
above us, on the rim of the vat, stood the King’s Fool. He held a
lighted torch aloft in his hand.

“Madmen!” he cried. “I am ready to cure you! All alone! Speak! Shall I
destroy the leaves?”

“No, no!” shouted the crowd. “Stop him! Stop him!”

“If you fire the leaves, we will kill these two!” shouted one of our
captors.

“Oh!” said my sister at my side, pale with terror. “What shall we do?
Stop him! If the genie would only come and help us! I wish the genie
were here to help us!”

“The time has come!” cried the Fool. “I must save you! Why will you all
be mad? I must save you from your madness! In with the torch!”

He faced about toward the center of the vat, and swung his torch as
if about to toss it in; but at that instant a great wind swept across
the square with a roar, such a blast as I had never in my life known
before, and the King’s Fool tottered in it for a moment, and his torch
went out; and then, clutching at the air, he was blown headlong to the
ground in a heap.

“The whirlwind! The whirlwind!” shouted the crowd in terror. “Fly! Fly
for your lives!”

Far off across the housetops appeared a yellow cloud, and a saffron
gloom overspread the city. From the cloud to the ground revolved a
yellow funnel, as of dust-laden wind; and it was coming toward us with
the speed of lightning.

The crowd dispersed madly, trampling one another, shrieking and
cursing, and in a twinkling they were gone. I seized my sister and
dragged her to the street corner, where I opened one half of a cellar
door and plunged down with her, closing the door over us, but peeping
out through a crack. We were just in time.


_The Genie in the Whirlwind_

The whirling funnel of wind and dust swept over the square; and in the
forefront of it, at a great height, flew the genie, his great mouth
open, and darts of fire flickering around his face.

The square was empty, save for the crumpled body of the King’s Fool,
lying motionless beside the vat of dead leaves; and as I gazed at him
where he lay, I saw, moving toward him across the bare pavement, the
humped figure of his little monkey.

The genie, far above, kept just ahead of the whirlwind; the yellow
funnel whirled after him directly across the vat and covered it and
passed; and as it passed, all the dead leaves surged up into it in a
furious gale, so that it was darkened with them; and the next moment
the whirlwind was gone, and the square lay quiet in the sunshine.

“Come, Paravaine!” said I, and pulled my sister forth across the square.

We came to the base of the vat, and on the ground beside it, left
there untouched by the storm, lay the King’s Fool on his side, graver
than he had ever been in his life; and huddled against his breast sat
his monkey, shivering, and looking up at us with eyes that seemed to
reproach us.

We hurried toward the city gate. Many houses were in ruins, and the
streets were strewn with rubbish. People were running busily about,
gazing intently at the ground, and now and then one would stoop and
pick up something. I saw what it was they were doing; they were
searching for dead leaves, scattered by the whirlwind.

“I can’t go!” said my sister, weeping. “I must see him first! Oh, my
love, my love!”

“Too late now!” I cried. “Too late, too late!”

I pulled her onward, knowing that death awaited us in that city; and
we came to the plot of grass where we had seen the sacred tree. It was
gone, and in the place where it had been was only a gaping hole. The
whirlwind had passed that way. On the ground beside the hole lay the
panther, its head on its paws. It watched us with sleepy eyes as we
fled by.

In a moment we had reached the city gate and passed out. The Guardian
was standing there, his face clouded with a frown, and his scimitar
raised.

“Why do you flee?” said he.

“From the wrath of the people!” I cried. “Let us pass!”

“You cannot pass,” said he. His scimitar glittered in the sun.

“But we repent! We repent!” cried my sister.

“Too late, too late!” said the Guardian. “See!”

He pointed upward, and afar off in the sky appeared a black speck,
speeding toward us.

“The genie!” I cried; and I had no sooner said it, than the earth
trembled, and before us on the ground towered the genie, breathing fire.

“Save us from him!” I cried, turning to the Guardian, but he was gone.
We were alone with the genie.


_The Pulling Off of the Genie’s Ring_

“Off with the ring! That will send him away!” I cried to my sister,
and she tugged at the ring on her forefinger, to pull it off; but it
came unwillingly; and as she pulled, her finger lengthened; she tugged
harder, and as the ring came her finger stretched out longer and
longer; and when the ring was off and dropped on the ground, the first
finger of her right hand was more than a foot long,--a black, stiff
rod, hooked at the end like a poker.

[Illustration: The genie swung him back and forth and tossed him out to
sea]

The genie stooped, and gathered me under his right arm and my sister
under his left; and giving a stamp upon the ground which shook the
earth he mounted into the air....

Far out over the Great Sea, as the sun was setting, the genie drew
downward toward an island; and on a bluff of this island, overlooking
a cove in which fishing boats lay moored, he alighted and set us on
our feet. Over my sister’s head and back he passed his hand, speaking
strange words in his throat. She shriveled before my eyes; her face
became old and wrinkled and her body bent; and before I could speak
she was the hideous creature I had seen in the Fool’s glass, with a
forefinger like the poker of a ragpicker.

“Paravaine!” I cried; but the genie turned her away toward a village
which showed itself at the back of the cove, and sent her off in that
direction; and when she had gone, he picked me up in his mighty hands,
and carrying me to the further edge of the bluff where it looked down
on the rolling surf, he swung me back and forth three or four times and
tossed me out to sea.

I sank into the depths; I rose to the surface; and as my head came up
I looked for the genie. Far up in the evening sky flew what seemed a
tiny, black arrow. I cried aloud; and instead of a shriek there came
from my throat a bark. It was the bark of a seal.



[Illustration]



THE SIXTH NIGHT

THE ENCHANTED HIGHWAYMAN


_Mortimer the Executioner, very grand and uncomfortable in his new
suit, placed a chair for the Queen before Solario’s worktable, and the
old tailor having seated himself cross-legged on the table, the entire
company sat down in a row, facing him._

_There were first the Executioner, with the tiny Encourager on his
shoulder; then Bodkin; then Bojohn; then his mother, the Princess
Dorobel, and his father, Prince Bilbo; and last, his grandmother, the
Queen._

_“Now then,” said Bojohn, “I hope we’re going to hear the story of
Montesango’s Cave at last.”_

_“If it please your majesty,” began Solario, addressing the
Queen,--but at this moment there came a loud knock at the door._

_Mortimer the Executioner hastened to open it, and there in the doorway
stood the King himself. Solario sprang down from his table, and all the
others rose._

_“Ah! your majesty!” cried Solario, bowing profoundly. “This is indeed
an honor!”_

_“I was told I would find you here,” said the King. “It seems that my
entire family deserts me in the evening, and I am obliged to climb the
worst stairs in the castle to-- But of course if you find my society
too--”_

_“My dear!” said the Queen. “We have been listening to Solario’s
stories, and you were so taken up with your chess that we thought you
wouldn’t care to--”_

_“Why not?” said the King. “But of course if you don’t want me to hear
the stories, I’ll--”_

_“Sit down, grandfather!” cried Bojohn. “He’s just going to begin.”_

_“Do sit down, my dear,” said the Queen. “Don’t you remember the story
he told us the first night?”_

_“Hum! Ha! I’m all out of breath with those plaguey stairs. Something
about a button, wasn’t it?”_

_“Perhaps,” said Prince Bilbo, “he’ll tell us to-night how the magic
doublet came to be--”_

_“Well,” said the King, “if it isn’t a long story-- Is it a long
story?”_

_“No, no, your majesty,” said Solario, bowing again, “it is quite
short.”_

_“Hum!” said the King. “If you’re sure it’s not a long story--Why
don’t you begin?” and he sat down in the Executioner’s chair._

_Solario took his place cross-legged on the table again, and the others
resumed their seats before him,--all except the Executioner, who stood,
with the Encourager on his shoulder, behind the King._

_“My dear,” said the Queen, “did you give the orders for locking the
castle for the night?”_

_“I believe I usually attend to that,” said the King. “Solario,
proceed.”_

_“If it is your pleasure,” said Solario, fingering his shears, “I will
now relate to you the story concerning the magic doublet, as it was
told to the Black Prince by his father the King of Wen, and by the
Black Prince to me. The King of Wen, having directed his son regarding
his mission to the City of Oogh, placed the doublet in his son’s left
hand, and thus commenced what I may call_


“THE STORY OF THE ENCHANTED HIGHWAYMAN.”

_“I thought,” interrupted Bojohn, “you were going to tell us the story
of the magic doublet.”_

_“I am about to do so,” said Solario. “As I was saying, the King of
Wen, placing the magic doublet in his son’s left hand, thus commenced_


“THE STORY OF THE ENCHANTED HIGHWAYMAN.”

When I was a young man (said the King of Wen), I left my father’s
castle one morning for a day’s hunting in the forest. Late in the
afternoon it chanced that I had wandered away from my attendants, and
being warm and weary I threw myself down upon the moss to rest. I had
lain there but a moment when I saw, not far off among the trees, a fine
buck, the only game I had come upon that day. I crept cautiously in his
direction, and soon came within easy bowshot of him; but just as I was
fitting my arrow to the string he tossed his head and trotted off into
the forest and disappeared.

I made off after him as fast as I could, marking his trail by a
broken branch here and there and an occasional hoof-print in the damp
earth, and presently I found myself deep in a considerable thicket of
underwood, and from this thicket I came out, to my surprise, upon a
forest road.


_A Voice from Nowhere Bids the Prince Stop_

I stood for a moment looking up and down curiously. The deer was
nowhere to be seen. The road was arched in a charming manner by the
branches of the trees, and at no great distance lost itself in the
shadowy forest. I wondered that I had never heard of this road before,
and after pondering this for a moment I began to cross the road,
looking carefully for the deer’s tracks in the dust. I saw no trace of
him, and I was about to push into the forest on the other side, when
suddenly a voice, a low but clear voice, said distinctly in my ear,
“Stop!”

I looked about me, but I could see no one. There was positively no
living creature near me,--unless I except a wasp which at the moment
was flying about my head, and which I struck away with my hand.

I walked down the road some twenty paces, peering about for the person
who had spoken, and becoming more and more perplexed; and as I was
about to enter the forest the same voice, still low but quite distinct,
spoke again close into my ear: “Stop!”

I stopped in bewilderment. The forest was silent as the sky; no
living creature, not even a bird, could I see anywhere; there was
nothing;--nothing, indeed, except the wasp which was still flying about
my head and which now began to annoy me exceedingly.

I went on again, striking out at the wasp, and in a moment (I assure
you I began to doubt my senses), the same voice spoke again, this time
close into my left ear.

“Stop! Just a moment!” it said. “Look, if you please! On your left
shoulder!”

I craned my neck about, and there was nothing on my left shoulder
except the wasp. The wasp was there, indeed, and I made as if to brush
him off; but the voice said, “Don’t, if you please!” and I stayed my
hand.

You may imagine that I was more astonished than ever. I gazed at the
wasp intently, and as I did so the voice began to murmur, in a kind of
rapid, buzzing drone, into my left ear.

“Mercy on us!” I cried. “It’s the wasp that’s talking!”

It was true, beyond a doubt. “Yes!” said the voice. “Please listen! If
you’d only be so good--I really wish you would!”


_The Prince Listens to a Curious Discourse_

I stood perfectly still in the roadway, and I know that my mouth hung
open as I listened. The wasp buzzed into my ear a kind of rapid,
droning song, so low that I had to strain my attention a little to
catch it all, and these were the words I heard:

  “I know it’s rude to speak to you, it’s something I but seldom do,
      to speak before I’m spoken to,
                        Or buttonhole a stranger;
  Excuse me if I do not pause to think just now of social laws, I can
      not spare the time, because
                        I’m in the gravest danger;
  In gravest danger, yes, it’s true, I’m sure I don’t know what I’ll
      do, I’ll positively die if you
                        Refuse me your assistance;
  Come, follow me without delay, I pray you do not say me nay,
      it’s life or death,--and anyway
                        It’s scarcely any distance.

  “My lot is sad in the extreme, I really am not what I seem,
      I once was held in high esteem
                        By every friend and neighbor:
  A man entirely free of guile, who lived but in his children’s smile,
      and kept them all in modest style
                        By hard and patient labor,
  A man of pleasing manners who, whatever other men might do,
      spoke seldom unless spoken to,
                        A practice much commended;
  My trade in such a way I plied upon the highway far and wide
      (I say it with a modest pride)
                        I scarcely once offended.

  “It used to be my pleasant way (it always made my work seem
      play) to take the air from day to day,--
                        Unless, of course,’twas raining,--
  Upon the road to watch and wait from early morn to rather late,
      but always coming home by eight
                        (Such was my early training),
  I used to watch and wait, I say, and when a trav’ler came my
      way, which happened every other day
                        Unless too cold or sunny,
  I never spoke a word, not I, I merely breathed a patient sigh,
      and held my trusty blade on high
                        And took from him his money.

  “’Twas thus I kept my children ten, a decent, worthy citizen,
      the happiest of mortal men
                        My humble sphere adorning,
  The father of ten daughters fair who needed tons of clothes to
      wear, and that was why I took the air
                        Upon the road each morning,
  But oh, alas for them and me, it’s over now, as you may see,
      and you are incontestably
                        Our only hope remaining;
  And all our truly dreadful plight is just because one rainy night
      I simply for a moment quite
                        Forgot my early training.

  “’Twas rainy and ’twas after eight, I knew that I was out too
      late, but when your trade’s in such a state
                        You hardly know what cash is,
  You cannot stop because you get your feet all muddy, cold and wet,
      I knew I should be ill, and yet,--
                        My children needed sashes.
  I shivered with the wet and cold, I counted twenty times all told
      I’d meant to have my shoes half-soled
                        And still they’d not been cobbled,
  ‘I’ll certainly,’ I thought, ‘be sick,’--and then from out the darkness
      thick an ancient woman with a stick
                        In fearsome silence hobbled.

[Illustration:

  “I held my trusty blade on high
  And took from him his money”]


  “She was an ancient, crooked crone, an ugly thing of skin and
      bone, she passed me silent as a stone
                        (I thought it rather funny),
  But I could hear my children cry, ‘Oh, buy us ribbons, father, buy,’
      and stopping her, my blade on high,
                        I shouted, ‘Stand! Your money!’
  Ah, that was just where I did make a most unfortunate mistake,
      for she with mirth began to shake
                        (It made my blood run colder),
  And up she raised her crooked staff, she gave a most unearthly
      laugh, a thing I did not like by half,
                        And touched me on the shoulder.

  “She stood, she looked me through and through, she said not even
      ‘How d’ye do,’ she merely gave a laugh or two,
                        And munched her gums together:
  A witch, a sorceress of the wood! I nearly fainted where I stood,
      I really truly think you could
                        Have felled me with a feather.
  A witch, as sure, as sure could be! You see what she has done to
      me! And all because I carelessly
                        Forgot my early training.
  From which you learn this lesson true, that it will never, never
      do to speak before you’re spoken to
                        Or stay out when it’s raining.”


The voice stopped, and the wasp flew off, directly before my nose, as
if leading me away.

_“Why, dear me!” interrupted the Queen. “I believe this wasp was
nothing more nor less than a Highwayman.”_

_“What I don’t understand is,” said the King, “how a Highwayman could
have learned to make up verses.”_

_“In the Forest of Wen, your majesty,” said Solario, “the Highwaymen
always talked in that fashion. It was their regular custom. I am told
that no Highwayman could get his certificate until he had passed an
examination in arithmetic, swordplay, and composition; and of course
composition included verse making.”_

_“Well,” said the King, “I don’t see what that had to do with making a
good Highwayman of him; but then I don’t pretend to understand these
notions about education. As far as I’m concerned, if I had to pass an
examination in arithmetic in order to be a King, I’d simply have to
look about for something else to do. I never could see the sense in
teaching a King arithmetic, and I don’t see the sense in teaching a
Highwayman how to make verses. I know it’s done in some places; it’s
gotten to be quite the thing, I understand that perfectly well; but I
don’t see any sense in it.”_

_“My dear,” said the Queen, “you mustn’t forget that a Highwayman has
to know a great deal more than a King. It’s so very much harder to be a
good Highwayman. But I don’t think I should like to be married to one.”_

_“This one was a widower, evidently,” said the King. “I know I
shouldn’t like to be a widower with ten daughters on my hands. I don’t
see how any human being could keep ten daughters in ribbons and--”_

_“When Dorobel was little,” said the Queen, “I always had the most
terrible time to make her remember that she mustn’t speak until she
was spoken to. I don’t wonder the poor man forgot it, when he was so
worried about sashes for his dear children,--and out so late at night,
and in the rain, too!”_

_“Why don’t you let the man go on with his story?” said the King.
“We’ll_ never _get to bed at this rate. Solario, be kind enough to
proceed.”_

The wasp flew off (said the King of Wen), directly before my nose, as
if leading me away; and I followed him down the road.

We had gone about a mile, when the wasp turned off into the forest. I
hesitated a moment, but I was curious to know what this unfortunate
Highwayman intended, and I pushed on after him into a portion of
the forest which was wilder and gloomier than any I had yet seen.
The branches of the trees hung low, and the ground was thick with
underbrush; I had to part the bushes and branches with my hands in
order to get through.

The wasp flew within a foot of my nose, and I kept on after him thus
for more than half an hour. He seemed to know the way, but for my part
I began to wonder whether I should ever be able to find my way back.
Suddenly he flew off, and I saw him no more.


_The Prince, Alone in the Forest, Hears the Bark of a Dog_

I was at this moment in an uncommonly thick part of the forest. The
trees were perhaps less close, but the underbrush was taller; so tall
that I could not see through. I stopped for a moment, and listened. All
was still. Not a bird twittered among the leaves overhead. I was vexed
that I had allowed myself to be drawn upon such a wild-goose chase, and
I decided that I had better begin to make my way back to the road; and
as I was considering this, I heard the bark of a dog.

It was a single, sharp bark, and it stopped abruptly, as if a hand
had been clapped over the animal’s mouth. I listened again, but it
came no more. “What should a dog be doing here?” I thought; and full
of curiosity I pushed on through the underbrush in the direction of
the sound. In a moment I had broken through the tanglewood, and I was
standing at the edge of a clearing, in the midst of which was a little
house.

It was a very tiny house indeed,--not much more, in fact, than a hut.
Its door was closed, and the window beside the door was barred with
shutters. I listened intently, thinking to hear again the bark of a
dog, but I heard nothing. Evidently the place was deserted.

I crossed the open space before the door, and as I did so I noticed,
clinging to the trunk and lower branches of a tree at the side of the
clearing, what appeared to be a wasp’s nest; but an enormous wasp’s
nest, big enough, in all conscience, to contain a man if need be; a
wasp’s nest greater than I should have thought could exist in the
world. I looked at it curiously, and coming nearer I saw, crawling over
it, a number of wasps. I counted them, and there were eleven.

They arose with one accord and flew in great agitation about my head;
and at the same time I heard a voice from inside the wasp’s nest,--the
voice of a human being, but not the one I had already heard; a voice
much stronger and louder. I put my ear against the wasp’s nest, and
from within came these words:

“Don’t speak before you’re spoken to!”

“Who is it?” I said. “Where are you?”

“Beware the dog!” said the voice again.

“But who--what--?” I began.


_The Prisoner Inside the Wasp’s Nest_

“I can’t get out! I’m imprisoned inside the wasp’s nest! Do as you’re
bid, and don’t speak before you’re spoken to. Beware the dog!”

At this moment I heard the click of a latch, and I turned round in time
to see the door of the hut open.

In the doorway was standing an old woman, and by her side a dog. She
was a hideous old crone, wrinkled and bent, with little, beady eyes
and a hooked nose and no teeth. She stood there munching her gums and
blinking her eyes at me, and I noticed that she wore about her neck a
string of what looked like ivory buttons, ten of them, white and flat.

With her left hand she leaned on a crooked stick, and with her right
hand she held, by a leather thong, the biggest and fiercest-looking dog
I had ever seen in my life. His head came nearly to the old woman’s
shoulder. He was chocolate brown in color, and his skin was entirely
naked of hair, except for a patch of long wiry hair which fringed
his neck. He bared his sharp, white teeth at me and growled. I felt
decidedly uneasy.

The eleven wasps were flying about my head in violent agitation. The
old woman said nothing, but continued to blink at me and munch her
gums. Suddenly the dog barked, and without a word the old woman flung
the thong from her hand. The dog gave a bound toward me and crouched
for a spring, growling and bristling. In another instant I knew that I
would be torn to pieces. I started back and cried out in alarm.

“Call him off!” I shouted. “Stop him! Call him off!”

At these words, a groan came from inside the wasps’ nest. At the same
time one of the eleven wasps, which were flying directly before my
face, dropped to the ground at my feet as if dead. I realized that I
had spoken before being spoken to, and one of the wasps--one of the
Highwayman’s daughters, in fact,--had suffered for my error. But the
worst consequence was now to come.

The old woman shook her stick and danced up and down in hideous glee.

“He’s spoken!” she cried. “Ha! ha! Spoken before he was spoken to!
He’s done for himself now! At him, dog, he’s helpless! Seize him, dog,
destroy him!”


_The Dog Leaps Upon Him to Devour Him_

Before I could turn, the dog was upon me. No man on earth could have
stood up under such an attack. With one leap he was upon my breast,
and bore me to the ground; and as I fell his sharp teeth sank into my
shoulder, and I nearly fainted with pain and terror.

“A hair of the dog that bit you!” It was the voice from within the
wasp’s nest, and it was crying: “A hair of the dog that bit you!”

My senses were slipping away, and I hardly knew what I did; but somehow
or other I put my hand on the beast’s neck, and plucked from it a long
hair; and as I did so the dog bounded away from me and stood cowering
and quivering, as if in fear.

“At him!” screamed the witch--for it was a witch, beyond a doubt; and
she rushed upon the dog and began to beat him violently with her stick.
“At him again!” she screamed, but to my amazement the dog turned upon
her, snarling; and at that moment the voice came again from the wasp’s
nest, and it cried:

“A ring of the hair! Make a ring of the hair for your finger!”

I sat up and quickly wound about my finger, in a ring, the hair which I
had plucked from the dog’s neck. The effect of this was startling. The
witch shrieked, plainly in terror, and sprang away from the dog; and
the brute came to me and cringed before me on the ground and whined;
and behold, all the pain was gone from my shoulder.

“Command him to be himself again!” cried the voice from the wasp’s nest.

“Be yourself again!” I cried, not knowing what I said.


_The Prince, Sitting on the Ground, Looks Up at a Genie_

Instantly, in the flash of an eye, the dog was gone; and in his place
stood, towering above me full seven yards or more, a monstrous creature
in the shape of a man, chocolate brown in color, baldheaded except for
a fringe of long hair at the base of his skull, and bare except for a
cloth twisted about his middle, in which hung a gleaming scimitar. It
was a genie. He was panting with anger or some other strong emotion,
and as he panted jets of fire shot forth from his nostrils. His mighty
chest heaved, and I shrank back in alarm; but he spread out his hands
and bowed low before me. I remembered the ring of hair on my finger,
and grew bolder.

The witch was creeping quietly away, stick in hand, toward the door of
her hut; but as she reached it the genie stooped and caught her in his
hand and held her fast. I sprang to my feet.

“Set free your victims!” I cried to her. “The wasps and the prisoner
inside the nest! Release them! or by the power of the genie’s hair, I
will command him to destroy you!”

She kicked and squirmed and shrieked, but all in vain. There was no
escaping from that terrible grasp. She grew quiet, and began to mutter
to herself. “I will count ten,” I cried, “and if at the tenth--” But
she did not wait for me to count. With one look up at the genie’s face
she waved her crooked stick in the air and began to pour out strange
words, and then, giving a despairing cry, she let the stick fall to
the ground; and as it touched the ground, there came from the wasp’s
nest--I assure you it was an extraordinary sight--I scarcely know how
to tell you, it all happened so quickly--


_The One-Armed Sorcerer Appears from Within the Wasp’s Nest_

Well, the wasp’s nest opened from top to bottom, and inside it was
sitting a young man, who leaped down with a laugh and stood before me,
bowing. I noticed that he had but one arm, the left; his eyes were
blue, and his skin was fair and rosy; and he wore a long blue gown
spangled with silver stars.

_The Highwayman and Nine of His Daughters Appear in Proper Person_

Almost at the same instant there were standing before me nine young
maidens, all of extraordinary beauty; and in their midst an elderly
man with a gray beard and a long thin face, and spindly legs. The
nine maidens were gazing at an object on the ground, and the elderly
man looked down at it also, and they all began to wring their hands
together and moan.

“Oh!” said the elderly man, sniffling,--

  “Just see what he has gone and done, he can’t deny it, he’s the
      one, he ought to hide his head where none
                        Could ever look upon it,
  He knew, he did, he surely knew, I told him it would never do
      to speak before you’re spoken to,
                        And now he’s gone and done it.”

“I warned him,” said the one-armed young man, “but he was frightened,
and he forgot.”

“Oh, yes,” said the elderly man, wiping his tears away with the back of
his hand,--

  “Oh, yes, it’s well enough to say it slipped his mind a bit to-day
      and in an absent sort of way
                        He slew my darling daughter;
  But that will hardly, hardly do, I really can’t agree with you, it’s
      simply from my point of view
                        A case of plain manslaughter.”

“Oh, sister! sister!” cried the nine maidens. “Isn’t it terrible? It’s
too terrible! It is terrible, isn’t it?”

“Let me go!” screamed the witch, struggling in the hand of the genie.


_He Sees the Highwayman’s Tenth Daughter_

I pushed into the group around the elderly Highwayman, and there at
his feet I saw what made my heart stand still with grief and remorse.
On the ground was lying a maiden, far lovelier than any of the others;
and she was dead. Her eyes were closed, her face was pale, she did not
breathe; and her hair lay about her like a shower of gold. Alas, that
my carelessness had brought her to this sorrowful end! If she had only
lived! How I should have rejoiced to be her friend, and in the course
of time, perhaps, persuade her to smile upon me--Alas! alas! At that
moment, if she could but have cast one look upon me, I would have laid
at her feet all that I--

I knelt beside her and took her cold hand in mine. I stooped over her,
and in an excess of pity, and of more, far more than pity, I kissed her
softly on the lips.

Oh, wonderful! Her eyelids quivered. A faint flush came into her
cheeks. Her eyes opened, and she looked straight into my own. She
smiled, and it was like the evening sky after rain. I put my arm
beneath her shoulder, and helped her to stand up. She rubbed her eyes
and swayed a little, and I kept my arm about her. We gazed at each
other, smiling.

“Is it--?” said she.

“It is, beloved!” I cried, and folded her, unresisting, to my heart.

“Oh, isn’t it just too perfectly sweet?” cried her nine sisters,
clapping their hands and laughing merrily, all together. “It is sweet,
isn’t it? It’s love at first sight! It’s just the sweetest thing ever!
_Isn’t_ it just too sweet for _anything_, though?”

But while they were still running on in this fashion, and the elderly
Highwayman was cheering faintly and the one-armed young man was
cheering lustily, a loud roar came from the genie, and we saw that the
witch had slipped from his grasp and was even now dashing in at the
door of the hut. She shut it behind her with a bang, and the one-armed
youth pounded against it in vain.

“The stolen hair!” he cried. “The genie’s hair which she stole from me!
I must get it back! Don’t let her get away!”


_The Genie Breathes Fire Upon the Witch’s Hut_

The genie opened his great mouth and roared with anger; then he stooped
down over the hut, and I saw that he was breathing fire upon the roof
from his nostrils; and as the sparks caught in the dry thatch, he began
to walk around the hut, bending and breathing fire upon its roof from
place to place. In a few moments it was ablaze from end to end; the
walls caught; and as I held my fair lady trembling close beside me,
the house arose in flames, crackling and roaring, and showering sparks
upward into the twilight sky.

“Oh!” said my fair one, clinging to my arm. “The poor witch! Save her!
She will be burned to death!” But the genie’s thunderous laugh was her
only answer.

We watched until the fire was out, and there remained only a heap of
smoking ashes; and the witch was gone.

“Oh, the poor thing!” said my beautiful lady.

“Isn’t it terrible?” said her nine sisters, among themselves. “It’s
just too terrible for anything! It _is_ terrible, isn’t it? It’s simply
terrible, it is, isn’t it?”

The one-armed youth stepped up to the ruin and appeared to be looking
among the ashes near what was once the door. He looked for a long time,
and then he suddenly straightened up and cried, “Ah!”

He came toward us, and he was holding up in his hand what seemed to be
a necklace.

“See!” he said, and I saw that it was a string of buttons, of large
flat buttons, eleven of them, threaded on what seemed to be a hair; the
same I had seen about the witch’s neck.

“It is the genie’s hair,” said the young man, “the same that she stole
from me; and it was this hair which gave her power to turn my genie to
a dog and imprison me in the wasp’s nest. Now let me see these buttons;
I must look at them with care.”

He examined each one minutely; and when he had examined them all, he
placed his finger on his lips and smiled knowingly; and while I held
the hair he broke it and slipped off the eleventh button, inviting
me to look at it closely. I looked and saw upon it, near the rim, a
crooked black line, much like the imprint of a tiny, crooked stick.


_The One-Armed Sorcerer Performs Upon a Button_

He threw the button upon the ground, laughing, and took from within
his gown a leather pouch, from which he sprinkled upon the button a
black powder; and then he began to speak, in a loud voice, words which
I could not understand, in the midst of which he picked up the button,
now crusted with black; and still repeating his strange words, he swung
his arm, and with a loud cry flung the button into the branches of the
nearest tree; and there, hanging on to a branch of the tree, trying
desperately to keep from toppling off, was the old witch herself.

Instantly the young man took the threaded buttons from me and slipped
them off the hair; he wound the hair about his finger and cried,--

“Off with her! Off with her to the Forest Kingdom, far from here,
and see that she never comes back again! Off with her, I say, to the
Kingdom of the Great Forest!”

At these words the genie strode over to the witch and--

_“Well, bless my soul,” interposed the King, “what business did he
have to send that witch here, I’d like to know? So_ that’s _how
she came to live in my Forest! A fine piece of work, I must say! A
pretty how-d’ye-do, to send their cast-off witches over here! What
business had he to--”_

_“Never mind, grandfather” said Bojohn, “do let him go on with his
story.”_

_“A fine piece of work!” said the King. “Of all the high-handed,
brazen-faced--”_

_“My dear!” said the Queen._

The genie strode over to the witch in three steps and plucked her down
with one hand. He then tucked her under his arm like a sack of corn,
and stood before the one-armed youth.

“Stoop down!” said the young man.

The genie bowed low, and the young man, to my surprise, reached up and
pulled from the back of his head, at the neck, ten long hairs, one by
one.

“Away!” cried the one-armed youth.


_The Genie Flies Away With the Witch_

The genie stood up, and opening his great mouth in a silent laugh,
stamped upon the earth so that it shook, and leaped straight up. He
rose in the air in a wide curve; and before we could blink again he was
gone like an arrow over the treetops, with the witch under his arm, and
was no more than a speck in the evening sky.

The young man tucked the ten hairs away inside his gown.

“Now,” said he, “_she’s_ gone. And good riddance, too, I should say.”

“Sir,” said I to him, “will you tell us who you are, and what brings
you here?”

“I am a sorcerer,” said he, “and I dwell in an island far out in the
Great Sea. I am known there as the One-Armed Sorcerer. I came here,
with the genie whom I command by virtue of a ring of his hair, in order
to prove my skill against the witch. I undertook to release our good
friend the Highwayman and his ten fair daughters, but I am bound to say
that I managed it badly; so badly that the witch got the genie’s hair
away from me, and by means of that hair turned him into a dog and shut
me up inside the wasp’s nest. And all because I didn’t know the rule,
that you mustn’t speak before you’re spoken to.”

“A pretty good rule,” said I, “but if everybody observed it, who would
ever talk?”

“Well, anyway,” said the One-Armed Sorcerer, “here I have ten buttons,
and here I have ten threads from the genie’s head. I propose to make
you a doublet, sir; a magic doublet; and for the cloth, the wasp’s
nest will be the very thing. It will be a doublet worth having; and
to you, sir, who have so nobly preserved us all, I will present it
on--er--ahem!--on your wedding day.”

“Hurrah!” piped up the elderly Highwayman, and the lady on my arm
blushed.

“Oh, isn’t that sweet of him?” cried her nine sisters. “Isn’t it just
too sweet for anything? It’s really the sweetest thing, now isn’t it?
Too perfectly sweet for words, it is, really!”

The One-Armed Sorcerer, stepping over to the wasp’s nest, pulled it
down from the tree without breaking it, and slung it on his back.

“Come with me!” I cried. “You shall all return with me to my father’s
castle. Will you consent to that?”

“Well,” said the elderly Highwayman,--

  “Though anxious to accommodate, I fear it’s growing rather late,
      I seldom stay out after eight--”

“Oh, father!” cried his daughters, nine of them, together, “it would be
perfectly jolly!”

“It would suit me to perfection,” said the One-Armed Sorcerer.

“Oh, _won’t_ it be jolly? It _will_ be jolly, won’t it? Wouldn’t it be
perfectly jolly?” cried the nine young damsels, clapping their hands.

“Will you come home with me?” I whispered to the fairest of the ten,
who had said nothing.

“If you wish it,” she whispered, blushing again.

“Oh, aren’t they just the dearest things?” cried her nine sisters.
“It’s love at first sight--oh, the dear things! Aren’t they just simply
too dear for anything? They _are_ perfectly dear, now, aren’t they?
Really now, aren’t they just too perfectly _dear_?”


_The Prince Leads His Beloved Home_

Well, the long and the short of it is, we reached my father’s castle
late that night, under a starry sky. The attendants whom I had left in
the forest had returned without me, and the castle was a-twitter with
anxiety. But when I led my fair lady into the great hall and presented
her to my father, the King, and her nine sisters and the elderly
Highwayman and the One-Armed Sorcerer stood bowing behind us, there was
joy, I can tell you, and the rafters rang again.

My father, after a long look at the beautiful damsel at my side, and
then at me, gave a long, slow whistle, without making a sound, and
stooped and kissed her on both cheeks, nudging me with his elbow at the
same time.

A cheer went up again, and my father took me aside and whispered in my
ear.

“You rascal,” said he, “I never thought you had it in you to-- Really!
You don’t say so! You astonish me! A Highwayman’s daughter! Well, well,
think of that! Very original of you, my son; I’m sure I never would
have thought of such a thing at your age. She’s got a fine eye, my boy;
there’s a look in it I’ve seen in your mother’s eye; a will of her own,
you can’t fool me about that look,--yes, yes, very beautiful,--but a
will of her own, remember I told you. A Highwayman’s daughter! That’s
good. Highly original. Well, well, it might have been the Hangman’s
daughter--but remember what I told you about that look in the eye, I’ve
seen it before,--your mother used to--but she’s certainly beautiful all
the same--when does the wedding come off?”


_The Magic Doublet Is Presented at the Wedding_

We were married on the morning of the third day. Such feasting, such
dancing, such merriment,--and gifts innumerable; but the best gift of
all was a doublet, made with his left hand by the One-Armed Sorcerer
from the skin of the witch’s wasp’s nest, fastened by the witch’s ten
buttons sewed on with the genie’s hair; a doublet to preserve the
wearer from all harm. And this, as the wedding dinner was nearing its
end, the One-Armed Sorcerer, rising in his place, presented to me with
a pretty speech, for which I thanked him.

“Sir,” said my father, addressing the One-Armed Sorcerer, “I invite
you to remain with me at my court, to instruct my son in the mystery
of handling a wife. Nobody but a sorcerer should undertake such a job.
Will you try it?”

“Alas, your majesty,” said the One-Armed Sorcerer, “it is far beyond
my powers. And besides, I must return to my island home, on pressing
business.”

“Very well, then,” said my father. He took my bride’s hand in his and
patted it, while she looked down in confusion. “My dear,” said he to
her, “you must persuade your sisters to remain here with us. And as for
your father, I design to appoint him Lord Treasurer of my kingdom. I
think a Highwayman ought to be a good man to take charge of my money.
Will you persuade him to accept that office?”

“Oh!” cried the nine sisters, without giving my bride a chance to
speak. “That _would_ be jolly! Oh, _wouldn’t_ it be jolly? It _will_
be just too perfectly jolly for anything, won’t it? But really, though,
_won’t_ it be jolly? Just too simply, perfectly, adorably _jolly_!”

“Your majesty,” said my father-in-law the Highwayman, rising up on his
elderly legs,--

  “Although I am not confident that I’m entirely competent, I thank
      you for the compliment,
                        I thank you most sincerely;
  I fear I am not very quick in matters of arithmetic, but often when
      the answers stick
                        I get them,--very nearly;
  And if at first I don’t succeed I try again, although indeed I
      cannot say I always heed
                        Each wretched little fraction;
  And anyway you must agree if one but knows his Rule of Three
      there’s hardly any need to be
                        Acquainted with subtraction.

  “I do not wish to seem to boast, of all things I detest it most,
      and yet I think I’d fill the post
                        Not very ill, not very:
  From early youth I did betray, I’ve often heard my mother say,
      a really rather taking way
                        In matters monetary;
  A simple little rule or two I always try to keep in view, to do
      what I am told to do,
                        And always speak politely,
  And never make a saucy joke behind the backs of other folk, a rule
      which I have seldom broke,
                        If I remember rightly.

  “My motto is a simple one, that happiness depends upon the consciousness
      of duty done
                        (Unless it’s too unpleasant),
  I value virtue more than wit, and as for riches, I admit I do not
      value them a bit
                        (At least, not just at present),
  I think, however, I should state, that though I don’t mind working
      late, I like to be at home by eight,
                        When supper’s on the table;
  And thus, in words of simple art, I thank you, Sir, with all my
      heart, and promise I will do my part
                        (At least, as far as able).”

[Illustration]



TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES:


  Italicized text is surrounded by underscores: _italics_.

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Solario the Tailor - His Tales of the Magic Doublet" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home