"The Little Prince and the Faithful Bluebird!"
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Author of The Hungry Tiger of Oz, "The Artful Arab", King Kojo, etc.
Originally serialized in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, April 9 through April 28, 1916.
In that far country to the south, where flowers bloom all the year and the woods are still wild, free and unspoiled by the hand of man, live the bluebirds. Above the rush of the mighty Amazon, from the tops of the vine-covered trees, their songs drop like pearls, mingling with those of the humming birds till the whole forest thrills with gladness. The panther on his way to drink pauses to listen, the trembling doe in the thicket lifts its shy head, forgetting for one moment its many enemies. The crocodiles drag themselves out of the river mud and lie blinking in the sun listening. For the whole forest loves the birds.
But now the bluebirds have gathered for their northern flight, for the long journey to our own land, to bring to man their message of gladness and cheer. The king of the bluebirds is calling each by name and the rocks on the banks of the river are aflutter with color as each answers the call. "Ready!" he sings out at last. A flash of blue, a whirr of wings and a thousand have flung themselves into the air. "Good-by! Good-by!" call the creatures of the forest sadly. "Come back soon! Come back soon!" "We will!" cry the bluebirds. "We will!"
Over dense forests festooned with flowering vines, over sandy deserts and shimmering lakes, over cities and towns they fly, stopping each day for food and short rests and long enough to trill their happy songs to all people by the way. The third day of their flight brought them to the sea and before it grew quite dark they would reach a little island where they could spend the night. But the sky clouded and grew black. The wind rose with a dismal howl, the rain came in big pelting drops. "We must go back!" cried the king, "and must fly swiftly to reach the shore ahead of the storm!" Buffeted by the wind and blinded by the rain the bluebirds whirled back toward the land. In the darkness the king lost his way. Hither and thither they flew, this way and that, till suddenly they crashed against a sharp wall and fell panting, not into the sea, but upon sharp rocks. Where could they be? "It must be an island, a rocky island!" gasped the king. "Keep close to the wall, my poor birdlings"
The storm was short and violent and the moon coming from behind a rift in the clouds, shone on a tall and gloomy castle - was it a castle, though? What castle would have walls so thick and gray, windows so small and narrow; who would build a castle upon bleak rocks in the midst of a lonely sea? "It is a prison, a dungeon!" shuddered one. "See the barred gates and windows!" "Oh, that we might beat down its cruel walls with our wings!" sighed another. "Let us sing - it is all that we can do - and perhaps our song may cheer some weary heart within."
So. flying upon the walls and perching upon the window sills they sang of the beautiful forest where they lived, of the sunbeams dancing on the rippling waters, of the little white clouds drifting across the blue sky, of the wind sighing among the trees and kissing the flowers - oh, it was a beautiful song!
And in the dreary prison the men awakened. "What can it mean?" each thought to himself, for it was many a long year since they had heard the bluebirds - and bluebirds singing in the night - "what could it mean?" "It is a sign," whispered one. "I shall again be free!" murmured another. A pale and dark-haired boy pressed his white face eagerly against the bars. Even the stern jailer, counting his savings in the little sitting room in the tower, paused to listen and then to sigh. But the song ended, the night sped and the bluebirds with it. No, not all. Bruised by the cruel rocks and exhausted by the wind, one of the gentle little creatures lay in the courtyard of the dreary prison.
Next day when the prisoners were walking 'round the yard, the boy who had listened at the window the night before, saw it lying there. So quickly that the guard was not aware that he had moved, he picked it up and thrust it into his bosom.
Back again in his cell, he fed it part of his hard, black bread and made it a warm nest of straw in a corner hidden away from the jailer. And in a day or so the bird came to and he told it all his troubles. He was a prince, this dark-haired boy, kept prisoner by his stepmother, the false Queen of Bema, who made all believe that he was dead, so that her own son might rule his kingdom, and no man knew of the prison in the sea. The little bluebird listened sympathetically. "Set me free and I will help you!" she pleaded, but the boy could not bear to let her go. "You may never come back - you may forget!" he would say, shaking his head sadly.
The poor little creature, who had to be whisked out of sight every time the heavy tread of the guard sounded in the hall, and who could not sing for fear of being discovered, drooped and sickened, though she tried bravely not to show it. And at last the boy could stand it no longer.
While the little prince drooped sadly in his prison tower, the bluebird was flying off toward the south again. Over land and sea, over strange countries never visited before, she flew. And each night when she paused to rest she asked the creatures and birds if they knew where the Kingdom of Bema lay, and always they shook their heads "No!" Poor little bird, lonely and homesick, she traveled on - and on. When the picture of the pleasant orchards in the north, where she and her comrade birds were wont to spend the summer, became too strong she would bravely think of the cold damp prison cell and of the little prince who saved her life. And because no one can really try with all his heart without succeeding, one night she was rewarded. A gentle deer, attracted by her song, ventured out of the thicket, and when the bluebird asked her usual question he shook his head joyfully.
He himself lived in the palace parks of the Kingdom of Bema, which lay just the other side of the forest, and he told the bluebird of the little prince who had died and of the new prince who turned his dogs into the park to plague the rabbits and squirrels. And when the bluebird told him that the little prince was not dead but imprisoned by the wicked queen, the deer bounded into the air with joy. "Come," said he, "let us hasten back and spread the news!"
Next morning the queen was awakened by the singing of a bird. Over and over it sang the same song and muffle her ears in the silk bed clothes as she might she could not drown the song.
"The air is fragrant here and warm,
Oh, wicked queen what have you done?
In prison cold midst mice and mold,
He languishes -the king's OWN son!
The waves beat on his tower drear,
Whilst flowers bloom all joyous here.
And WHO has sent him there. Repent!
Oh, wicked queen, repent! repent!
It was the bluebird. Louder and more persistent grew the song. The queen fidgeted and tossed, and, finally, springing out of bed, summoned her lady in waiting. "Have the gardener choke that miserable bird!" she commanded. The lady in waiting went a-scurrying, the queen's slipper flying after her, and the gardener and the gardener's boy, the chief butler and cook and the footmen besides were soon climbing the tree in a vain attempt to execute her majesty's command. But the little bluebird merely hopped from branch to branch, going higher and higher and at last flew off toward the park.
Next day, before the sun had risen, she was back again, singing, and indeed every morning till the queen wept with rage. The ministers and courtiers had nothing but praise for the cheerful little bluebird. They began to listen attentively to her song and look suspiciously at the queen. "Perhaps the little prince is not dead," they said one to another.
But it was so slow and sometimes the bluebird grew discouraged. "If I could only do something besides sing!" she would mourn to the gentle forest folk. "Will no one ever help me?" Then one day as she sat singing a beautiful young girl paused to listen.
"He is not dead, but weak and weary;
He languishes in a prison dreary!"
trilled the bluebird in sorrowful tones. The girl looked up, then raised her arms imploringly. "Who is not dead; is it my king?"
"Of him, indeed, I tidings bring;
It is your king - of him I sing!"
Down flittered the bluebird and nestling on her shoulder told her of the prison tower in the midst of the sea. Then Teckla told the bluebird how she and the little prince had always played together in the forest, how he had crowned her with daisy wreaths and how they had played at king and queen together, how she had missed him and wept when she heard of his death. "I will help him!" she promised as she bade the bluebird farewell. "But we must be careful, for if the queen suspects aught I shall be put to death."
Every day after that the bluebird visited the maiden, who lived in a humble cottage in the forest with her ancient father, who was keeper of the park. And always she was spinning. Spinning, spinning, from the first streak of day until the sun sank down to bed, and the busier her wheel whirred the happier grew the song of the bird, who either perched upon her shoulder or darted hither and thither among the bright flowers of the garden. What was the maiden doing?
The summer was almost over and Teckla had ceased her spinning. Indeed, nothing had been seen of her for a fortnight. The little bluebird, too, had gone and the queen slept peacefully in the early mornings with no accusing song to vex her. Great preparations were afoot in the Kingdom of Bema - triumphal arches and platforms were being erected, all the court ladies and gentlemen spent most of their time with the tailors and costume makers, and such cooking and baking went on in the royal kitchen as you never before have heard of!
For the coronation was at hand and the son of the wicked queen was to be crowned king. The bad prince himself spent most of his time counting the heads he would have cut off when he came to the throne, and under all the grand preparations there was an uneasiness among the people. " 'Tis the cruel king he'll be making!" the old women remarked over their garden fences. "Would that our good king had not died and his son with him!" mourned the old men gathered in the marketplaces. The king's second wife had never been popular with the people and her son and the king's stepson less so. But there seemed no help for matters, and shrugging their shoulders they resolved to make the best of it.
But what has become of our little bluebird? Fast as the wind, she is flying back to the dismal tower in the sea. In her beak is a tiny ball - and what do you think it is? A silken rope, fine and light as cobweb, but strong as iron wire, a rope spun by the forest maiden to save her king.
And while the little bird flies over the deep blue sea, Teckla is hurrying on her father's old mare to the king of the next realm. Day and night she rides and comes at last to his palace and tells him the whole story - how the queen had imprisoned the real king in the tower so that her own son may rule.
"Odds ostriches!" exclaims his majesty. "My ships and swords to the rescue!" Which was his way of saying that he would help.
That very night, with silken sails all spread, his fastest ship put out to sea, and two nights later it lay silently, at anchor under the prince's window.
The little prince had grown thinner and paler than ever during the sultry summer months, for he believed the bluebird had forgotten him. Imagine then his joy when one morning he heard her sweet song. Next minute she had blown through the bars of the window and perched on the stone sill. "Come - be quick - the ship is waiting below - bend open the bars and escape!" she twittered, hopping anxiously to and fro.
They waited till the guard had passed, then seizing the bars with all his strength, the prince forced them apart and tying the slender cord to the sill, he flung himself out, and hand over hand, lowered himself down the steep wall into the waiting ship. Then up went the sails and away sped the ship before the guards knew what was happening. And what a rejoicing, what a merry time there was there to be sure!
Meanwhile, the day of the coronation had arrived - the grand procession had started from the palace and was slowly wending its way toward the chapel, between lines of bowing peasants and amid such a trumpet blasting and drum beating that it's a wonder folks were not deafened. But heigh-ho! What is this? From the edges of the town sounds more music, trampling of horses and an even louder drum-beating accompaniment.
Everybody turned, even the queen, and as they did, around the corner galloped the grandest company you can imagine, five pages in gold rode first, then the little prince on a pitch-black horse with the little forest maiden on a snow-white one riding at his side, decked out all in silks and satins, then the king of the next realm in his purple and ermine robes, with 50 guardsmen in satin breeches, and after that so many lords and dukes and such that it gives me a headache even to think of them.
"Way! Give way! Give way to your king!" shrilled the five pages - and the queen's retinue was forced back, for this splendid company slowed down not a whit and like as not would have ridden right over them. At least, that is the way it looked. And soon the people began to recognize the prince and set up such a shouting that the confusion was worse than ever.
Things would have gone badly with the wicked queen and her son had not the real prince interfered. As it was, they were sent far away to an island where they could do no more harm and the real prince was crowned and ruled wisely and well over the Kingdom of Bema for many, many years, with the little forest maiden to help him, for he lost no time in making her queen The bluebird came every spring to visit them, and what do you think of that for a story?
THE FORGETFUL POET
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, March 18, 1917.
The Forgetful Poet's Puzzles
The Forgetful Poet says that Mr. G. Ography may think himself the only Columbus in the puzzle field, but he himself is a Balboa, and just to prove his claims he has sent us some of his own discoveries, which I admit, are odd enough:
'Tother day as I looked around,
All sorts of puzzling things I found,
A horn that never yet was blown,
A patch that patched not, though 'twas sown,
An ear that couldn't hear a thing,
A bell I've never known to ring,
A trunk that never yet was tagged,
A train that no man ever flagged,
Wings that flew not, trees that grew not,
Horses, too, that never do trot,
Feet that not a step could walk,
Tongues who're never known to talk.
All these things I saw--if you
Will look a bit you'll see them, too!
Send in a list of the things you find to the Forgetful Poet, care of the Boys and Girls' Department.
Last week's puzzle answers were: Moscow, Cowpens and Haiti. Hartford, Liverpool, Chester, Idaho, Iowa, Plymouth, Pyrenees, Pennsylvania, Toronto and Toledo, Erie--and did any of you find any other parts of a man as you glanced over your maps?
[Answers next time.]
Copyright © 2003 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.
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