Author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Woggle-Bug Book, The Woggle-Bug Sheet Music Book, etc.
Original publication unknown, circa 1901.
There once lived a King of Arol who possessed a most terrible temper, so that people spoke of him in whispers as "the Mad King." To his face they bowed low and fearfully, for he had a bad habit of ordering his executioner to cut off a head, now and then, upon the slightest provocation - or with no provocation at all. The least thing was liable to excite his anger, and when there was nothing to be angry about he was so annoyed that he invented something.
This fierce and unreasoning King of Arol held absolute sway over his people, and none in all his dominions dared cross his mood or interfere with his cruelties. So he grew more wicked as he grew older, and all the members of his court who were able to escape his executioner became thin and worn with worry and anxiety.
Now the one thing that most often aroused the king's anger was the sight of a child. He hated every one of them. Mothers would run to their doors with terrified faces when the king passed along, and drag their little ones into the houses until the wicked monarch was well out of sight. But as there is always a great number of children in every land, it was impossible that all should escape the sharp eyes of the king, and many a poor little innocent was severely beaten and bruised by the king's attendants when it chanced to get in the way of the royal train.
"I hate children!" his Majesty would growl; "I hate 'em! I hate 'em! Keep them out of my way!"
You may be sure the children - and all the fathers and mothers as well - hated him in return. But they feared him, too.
The king had a young and pretty wife, whom he abused and ill-treated, as he did every one else. And he had a little son, the heir to his throne, whom he had never seen more than twice, and only then to scowl upon and order out of his sight. The poor queen was so fearful on her darling boy's account that she kept him in a far-off wing of the palace, where he remained unnoticed and probably forgotten by his unnatural father.
This was a wise act, for the king's hatred of children seemed to grow more bitter every day, and finally, when a little girl happened to frighten his horse, the cruel monarch became so violently enraged that he ordered his executioner to throw every child that lived in the City of Arol over the wall into the sea. And he signed the order with his royal seal, and set the day of the execution the next Thursday.
"I shall never be able to do it alone," said the royal executioner, trembling at the enormity of the crime. "There are many hundreds of children in the city. Must all perish?"
"Not one shall remain alive!" answered the king, fiercely. "If you need help my royal guards shall assist you. And if one child escapes you and remains alive on Thursday night, I will have you and your men hanged by the neck!"
Now, this terrible command was given on Tuesday, just two days before the children were doomed to perish in the waters of the sea, and the news quickly spread to every part of the city. Parents began wailing and tearing their hair in bitter grief, and sobs and moans of anguish were heard on every side.
The queen, filled with horror, ran to her lord and king.
"Surely you will not drown your own and only child!" she exclaimed.
"Surely I will!" retorted the king.
"Oh, spare him! spare him!" cried the stricken queen, throwing herself upon her knees and raising her hands in supplication.
The king gave a cruel laugh and turned to his executioner:
"It is my command," said he, "that this woman's child be drowned the first of all!"
Then he spurned the half-fainting queen from his presence, and the guards carried her, weeping and nearly crazed with grief, to her own rooms.
But the beautiful queen did not long despair. She resolved to make every possible effort to save her child and thwart the king's murderous will. And after some thought she disguised herself in a long cloak, that no one might know her, and crept through the streets to the dwelling of a mysterious woman named Hallita, of whom she had determined to seek counsel.
Hallita had only recently come to live in the City of Arol, and no one knew her history; but the people regarded her with much awe and respect because of her stately manner and kindly countenance. The queen found her sitting in her simple dwelling and at once told Hallita of the king's cruel edict that all the children of the city should be thrown into the sea, and that his own little son should be sacrificed first of all. And then she asked the strange woman what she might do to save her darling from so dreadful a fate.
After a moment's thought Hallita said:
"I will tell you my secret. Formerly I was one of the fairies that inhabit the Groves of Trom, and lived happily with my sisters for many years. But one day, being in a mischievous mood, I thoughtlessly broke one of the laws of the fairies, and as a punishment our queen commanded I should live among mortals, in mortal form, until I had saved a hundred mortal lives. This I have until now despaired of accomplishing; but if I can turn the king from his purpose and induce him to change his mind, I will have saved many more than a hundred mortal lives and can return to my beloved Groves of Trom and resume my life as a fairy. Therefore will I do my utmost to save your child and all the other little ones in this unhappy town. Bring the little prince here as soon as it is dark, and he shall be securely hidden."
The queen hurried back to the palace with a much lighter heart than when she had left it, and as soon as it grew dark she led the little Prince and a trusted governess to Hallita's dwelling, where the good woman concealed him in an underground chamber that was comfortably furnished and lighted by thousands of fireflies placed close together on festoons of flowers that hung from the ceiling. Here the child, with his governess to attend him, was left to enjoy himself, and the queen kissed her boy good by and returned quickly to the palace, as Hallita had bidden her.
On the morning of the next day, which was Wednesday, the king sat alone in his room, sullen and brooding. He had almost come to regret having condemned so many children to death; but he kept muttering that he hated children, and that he had never in his life changed his mind when once he had resolved to do a thing, however evil it might be.
Suddenly Hallita entered the room and stood before the king, who at once became enraged that any one should dare to interrupt his privacy.
"You shall die for this!" he cried out; but the woman looked fearlessly into his face and an-swered:
"You shall also die, unless you recall your wicked order to throw the children into the sea."
Something in her appearance or her words made the king uneasy, for he asked:
"Who are you that dares threaten me with death?"
"My name is Hallita," she replied, "and my powers are far greater than yours can ever be, king though you are. Spare the children and I will leave you unharmed; but if you dare slay one of the innocent little ones I will surely put you to death."
Never before in his lifetime had the king been spoken to in this manner, and the woman's words, instead of warning him, filled him with a furious anger.
"The children shall die - every one of them!" he cried out. "I never change my mind, and I dare you to oppose my will!"
Hallita saw it was useless to argue with so unreasonable a person. She raised her right hand and waved it thrice in the likeness of a circle.
Instantly the king's form shrank away and grew less until he because the same size as his little son, the Prince. Also his features changed into the likeness of his own child and his clothing was transformed from kingly raiment to the dress of a boy.
The astounded monarch then sprang from his throne with a shriek of terror, and stamped his little foot upon the floor.
"How dare you!" he shouted to Hallita, but so shrill and childlike was his voice that he stopped short in sudden fear, and presently burst into childish tears.
The king's guards now came hurrying into the room but were surprised to find only a strange woman and a child whom they thought to be the prince.
"Take the boy to his mother," Hallita said to them, "for the king will be angry if he finds him here."
So the guards dragged the king, yelling and struggling, into the apartments of the queen, where one of them said to him:
"Unless you remain quiet the king will not wait until tomorrow to kill you."
"I am the king myself, you fool!" cried the boy. But the guard only laughed at him.
"Prepare for death," the man continued, "and do not forget that tomorrow you will be the first child cast into the sea. It is the king's command, and his majesty never changes his mind."
When the guards had gone away the king asked of the queen:
"Who am I, madam?"
"You are my little son," said the queen, concealing her surprise at the transformation; "and you are condemned by your cruel father, the king, to be slain tomorrow morning."
"No, no, no!" shouted the king, as furiously as his little voice would allow; "you are all wrong. I am the king himself!"
For answer the queen brought to him a mirror, and when the king had looked upon it he became silent; for he saw that his form was the form of a child, and he began to realize that by his own decree he was in danger of being drowned on the morrow.
But when he tried to convince the queen that he was transformed she pretended not to believe he was other than her child. And when he continued to protest she called a nurse-maid and told her to take charge of the boy and make him obey.
This nurse-maid was by nature cross and short of temper, so that no sooner had she brought the king into the nursery than she soundly boxed his ears and threatened him with a switch unless he stopped talking nonsense.
"Be a good child tonight," she said at last, coaxingly, "for tomorrow you are to die, and then you will be sorry you did not behave when you had the chance."
When she had left him alone, the king, who had taken the serving-woman's rebukes with astonishing meekness, sat himself down and became exceedingly thoughtful. He had never in his life imagined anything one-half so dreadful as the position in which he was now placed. No one seemed to have a doubt but that he was the child he appeared, and another day was likely to see him perish miserably by his own command.
The more he thought about it the more unjust this murderous command seemed to him to be, and he earnestly wished he might find a way to prevent his executioner from carrying it out.
Thought is a very good thing for one who has been naughty or wicked, and the king thought deeply all through the rest of the day, with most excellent results. For one thing, he decided that killing children because they annoyed him was absolutely cruel and not to be allowed, and he also decided that it is a wise thing for a king to change his mind once in a while, just as other folk do. And he came to believe that children who had cross nurse-maids were as much to be pitied as he had formerly blamed them, and he determined that if he could escape his unhappy fate he would always thereafter treat his own child with kindness and consideration.
And in the end he thought out a clever plan to save his life.
When it grew dark the cross nurse-maid brought him a supper of bread and milk and then put him to bed. But the king did not sleep. He lay awake until everything was quiet and then crept out of bed and felt his way in the darkness through all the rooms and passages until he reached the royal council chamber. This he entered, and, standing on tiptoe, reached a candle from the table and lighted it. Then he pushed a chair up to his desk, and, climbing upon the seat, managed to open a drawer and find a sheet of paper and the royal seal. This seal was made of virgin gold and set with precious jewels.
Very slowly, for his fingers were small to hold a pen, he wrote upon the paper as follows:
"The edict of death to the children of the City of Arol is hereby revoked by the order of the king."
This he signed and sealed with the royal seal, and then he carried it to the chamber where the royal executioner slept and pinned it fast to the door, as high up as he could manage to reach.
After doing this the king felt greatly relieved. He blew out the candle and went back to bed again, for he well knew that his orders would be obeyed and that no children would suffer death on Thursday morning.
There was great joy throughout the City of Arol next morning when the executioner publicly declared that the king had changed his mind, for once in his life, and decided to spare the little children.
The fairy who had called herself Hallita came to the palace and restored the king to his former manly shape; and then she went joyfully away to the Groves of Trom, having earned her freedom by saving so many human lives.
And the first thing the king did was to send for his little son, the prince, whom he treated with much tenderness, and he earnestly implored the queen to forgive him for his former wickedness and neglect. And because she was a good woman she forgave him readily and never had cause to regret it in after years.
For when the king discovered how much real happiness he could find in the society of his queen and his pretty child, he would frequently say to himself: "How glad I am that the fairy made me think, and that having thought, I resolved to change my mind!"
THE FORGETFUL POET
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, March 11, 1917.
Mr. G. Ography's Puzzle Corner
Mr. G. Ography is a regular Columbus for discovering things. He says that he found a domestic animal in a city of Russia, that he stabled it in a place where a battle of the Revolution took place and fed it with a small republic, which sounds uncommonly odd to me. What do you think?
He also says that he could make a man, or nearly so, from different places in the world. Without any trouble at all he found a heart, a liver, a chest, two eyes, a mouth and knees, a vein and several toes. Where did he find them? Some are in cities, some in States, bodies of water, and one in a mountain range. How many more parts of a man can you find? For the longest list there will be a special reward.
Last week's answers were Hungary, Lyons and Rome, Derby, Ulster and New Jersy, Georgia, Balkan, Berne.
Send in your answers to Mr. G. Ography, care of the Boys and Girls' Department Public Ledger. The boy or girl having the best record for the month will be president of the Puzzle Club and will receive the grand prize.
[Answers next time. No presidency will be offered--this is a historical presentation of Thompson's writings.]
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