SHE THREW OFF THE CLOAK AND RAN TO THE CRYSTAL SPRING

When the soldiers of Queen Zixi ran away, they fled in so many different
directions that the bewildered queen could not keep track of them. Her
horse, taking fright, dashed up the mountain-side and tossed Zixi into a
lilac-bush, after which he ran off and left her.

One would think such a chain of misfortunes could not fail to daunt the
bravest. But Zixi had lived too many years to allow such trifles as
defeat and flight to ruin her nerves; so she calmly disentangled herself
from the lilac-bush and looked around to see where she was.

It was very quiet and peaceful on this part of the mountain-side. Her
glittering army had disappeared to the last man.

In the far distance she could see the spires and turreted palaces of the
city of Nole, and behind her was a thick grove of lilac-trees bearing
flowers in full bloom.

This lilac-grove gave Zixi an idea. She pushed aside some of the
branches and entered the cool, shadowy avenues between the trees.

The air was heavy with the scent of the violet flowers, and tiny
humming-birds were darting here and there to thrust their long bills
into the blossoms and draw out the honey for food. Butterflies there
were, too, and a few chipmunks perched high among the branches. But Zixi
walked on through the trees in deep thought, and presently she had laid
new plans.

For since the magic cloak was so hard to get she wanted it more than
ever.

By and by she gathered some bits of the lilac-bark, and dug some roots
from the ground. Next she caught six spotted butterflies, from the wings
of which she brushed off all the round, purple spots. Then she wandered
on until she came upon a little spring of water bubbling from the
ground, and filling a cup-shaped leaf of the tatti-plant from the
spring, she mixed her bark and roots and butterfly spots in the liquid
and boiled it carefully over a fire of twigs; for tatti-leaves will not
burn so long as there is water inside them.

When her magical compound was ready, Zixi muttered an incantation and
drank it in a single draught.

A few moments later the witch-queen had disappeared, and in her place
stood the likeness of a pretty young girl dressed in a simple white gown
with pink ribbons at the shoulders and a pink sash around her waist. Her
light-brown hair was gathered into two long braids that hung down her
back, and she had two big blue eyes that looked very innocent and sweet.
Besides these changes, both the nose and the mouth of the girl differed
in shape from those of Zixi; so that no one would have seen the
slightest resemblance between the two people, or between Miss Trust and
the girl who stood in the lilac-grove.

The transformed witch-queen gave a sweet, rippling laugh, and glanced at
her reflection in the still waters of the spring. And then the girlish
face frowned, for the image glaring up at her was that of a wrinkled,
toothless old hag.

“I really must have that cloak,” sighed the girl; and then she turned
and walked out of the lilac-grove and down the mountain-side toward the
city of Nole.

The Princess Fluff was playing tennis with her maids in a courtyard of
the royal palace, when Jikki came to say that a girl wished to speak
with her Highness.

“Send her here,” said Fluff.

So the witch-queen came to her, in the guise of the fair young girl; and
bowing in a humble manner before the princess, she said: “Please, your
Highness, may I be one of your maids?”

“Why, I have eight already!” answered Fluff, laughing.

“But my father and mother are both dead; and I have come all the way
from my castle to beg you to let me wait upon you,” said the girl,
looking at the little princess with a pleading expression in her blue
eyes.

“Who are you?” asked Fluff.

“I am daughter of the Lord Hurrydole, and my name is Adlena,” replied
the girl, which was not altogether a falsehood, because one of her
ancestors had borne the name Hurrydole, and Adlena was one of her own
names.

“Then, Adlena,” said Fluff, brightly, “you shall certainly be one of my
maids; for there is plenty of room in the palace, and the more girls I
have around me the happier I shall be.”

So Queen Zixi, under the name of Adlena, became an inmate of the king’s
palace; and it was not many days before she learned where the magic
cloak was kept. For the princess gave her a key to a drawer and told her
to get from it a blue silk scarf she wished to wear, and directly under
the scarf lay the fairy garment.

Adlena would have seized it at that moment had she dared; but Fluff was
in the same room, so she only said: “Please, princess, may I look at
that pretty cloak?”

“Of course,” answered Fluff; “but handle it carefully, for it was given
me by the fairies.”

So Adlena unfolded the cloak and looked at it very carefully, noting
exactly the manner in which it was woven. Then she folded it again,
arranged it in the drawer, and turned the key, which the princess
immediately attached to a chain which she always wore around her neck.

That night, when the witch-queen was safely locked in her own room and
could not be disturbed, she called about her a great many of those
invisible imps that serve the most skilful witches, commanding them to
weave for her a cloak in the exact likeness of the one given Princess
Fluff by the fairies.

Of course the imps had never seen the magic cloak; but Zixi described it
to them accurately, and before morning they had woven a garment so
closely resembling the original that the imitation was likely to deceive
any one.

Only one thing was missing, and that was the golden thread woven by
Queen Lulea herself, and which gave the cloak its magic powers.

Of course the imps of Zixi could not get this golden thread, nor could
they give any magical properties to the garment they had made at the
witch’s command; but they managed to give the cloak all of the many
brilliant colors of the original, and Zixi was quite satisfied.

The next day Adlena wore this cloak while she walked in the garden. Very
soon Princess Fluff saw her and ran after the girl, crying indignantly:
“See here! What do you mean by wearing my cloak? Take it off instantly!”

[Illustration: “‘WHICH IS MINE?’ SHE FINALLY ASKED, IN A STARTLED
VOICE.”]

“It isn’t your cloak. It is one of my own,” replied the girl, calmly.

“Nonsense! There can’t be two such cloaks in the world,” retorted Fluff.

“But there are,” persisted Adlena. “How could I get the one in your
drawer when the key is around your own neck?”

“I’m not sure I don’t know,” admitted the princess, beginning to be
puzzled. “But come with me into my rooms. If my fairy cloak is indeed in
the drawer, then I will believe you.”

So they went to the drawer, and of course found the magic cloak, as the
cunning Zixi had planned. Fluff pulled it out and held the two up
together to compare them; and they seemed to be exactly alike.

“I think yours is a little the longer,” said Adlena, and threw it over
the shoulders of the princess. “No, I think mine is the longer,” she
continued; and removing the magic cloak, put her own upon Fluff. They
seemed to be about the same length, but Adlena kept putting first one
and then the other upon the princess, until they were completely mixed,
and the child could not have told one from the other.

“Which is mine?” she finally asked, in a startled voice.

“This, of course,” answered Adlena, folding up the imitation cloak which
the imps had made, and putting it away in the drawer.

Fluff never suspected the trick, so Zixi carried away the magic cloak
she had thus cleverly stolen; and she was so delighted with the success
of her stratagem that she could have screamed aloud for pure joy.

As soon as she was alone and unobserved, the witch-queen slipped out of
the palace, and, carrying the magic cloak in a bundle under her arm, ran
down the streets of Nole and out through the gate in the wall and away
toward the mountain where the lilac-grove lay.

“At last!” she kept saying to herself. “At last I shall see my own
beautiful reflection in a mirror, instead of that horrid old hag!”

When she was safe in the grove she succeeded, by means of her
witchcraft, in transforming the girl Adlena back into the beautiful
woman known throughout the kingdom of Ix as Queen Zixi. And then she
lost no time in throwing the magic cloak over her shoulders.

“I wish,” she cried in a loud voice, “that my reflection in every mirror
will hereafter show the same face and form as that in which I appear to
exist in the sight of all mortals!”

Then she threw off the cloak and ran to the crystal spring, saying:
“Now, indeed, I shall at last see the lovely Queen Zixi!”

But as she bent over the spring, she gave a sudden shriek of
disappointed rage; for glaring up at her from the glassy surface of the
water was the same fearful hag she had always seen as the reflection of
her likeness!

The magic cloak would grant no wish to a person who had stolen it.

Zixi, more wretched than she had ever been before in her life, threw
herself down upon her face in the lilac-grove and wept for more than an
hour, which is an exceedingly long time for tears to run from one’s
eyes. And when she finally arose, two tiny brooks flowed from the spot
and wound through the lilac-trees—one to the right and one to the left.

Then, leaving the magic cloak—to possess which she had struggled so hard
and sinfully—lying unheeded upon the ground, the disappointed
witch-queen walked slowly away, and finally reached the bank of the
great river.

Here she found a rugged old alligator who lay upon the bank, weeping
with such bitterness that the sight reminded Zixi of her own recent
outburst of sorrow.

“Why do you weep, friend?” she asked, for her experience as a witch had
long since taught her the language of the beasts and birds and reptiles.

“Because I cannot climb a tree,” answered the alligator.

“But why do you wish to climb a tree?” she questioned, surprised.

“Because I can’t,” returned the alligator, squeezing two more tears from
his eyes.

“But that is very foolish!” exclaimed the witch-queen, scornfully.

“Oh, I don’t know,” said the alligator. “It doesn’t strike me that it’s
much more foolish than the fancies some other people have.”

“Perhaps not,” replied Zixi, more gently, and walked away in deep
thought.

While she followed the river-bank, to find a ferry across, the dusk
fell, and presently a gray owl came out of a hollow in a tall tree and
sat upon a limb, wailing dismally.

Zixi stopped and looked at the bird.

“Why do you wail so loudly?” she asked.

“Because I cannot swim in the river like a fish,” answered the owl, and
it screeched so sadly that it made the queen shiver.

“Why do you wish to swim?” she inquired.

“Because I can’t,” said the owl, and buried its head under its wing with
a groan.

“But that is absurd!” cried Zixi, with impatience.

The owl had an ear out, and heard her. So it withdrew its head long
enough to retort:

“I don’t think it’s any more absurd than the longings of some other
folks.”

“Perhaps you are right,” said the queen, and hung her head as she walked
on.

By and by she found a ferryman with a boat, and he agreed to row her
across the river. In one end of the boat crouched a little girl, the
ferryman’s daughter, and she sobbed continually, so that the sound of
the child’s grief finally attracted Zixi’s attention.

“Why do you sob?” questioned the queen.

“Because I want to be a man,” replied the child, trying to stifle her
sobs.

“Why do you want to be a man?” asked Zixi, curiously.

“Because I’m a little girl,” was the reply.

This made Zixi angry.

“You’re a little fool!” she exclaimed loudly.

“There are other fools in the world,” said the child, and renewed her
sobs.

[Illustration: “‘WHY DO YOU SOB?’ QUESTIONED THE QUEEN.”]

Zixi did not reply, but she thought to herself:

“We are all alike—the alligator, the owl, the girl, and the powerful
Queen of Ix. We long for what we cannot have, yet desire it not so much
because it would benefit us, as because it is beyond our reach. If I
call the others fools, I must also call myself a fool for wishing to see
the reflection of a beautiful girl in my mirror when I know it is
impossible. So hereafter I shall strive to be contented with my lot.”

This was a wise resolution, and the witch-queen abided by it for many
years. She was not very bad, this Zixi; for it must be admitted that few
have the courage to acknowledge their faults and strive to correct them,
as she did.

I have already mentioned how high the mountains were between Noland and
the land of Ix; but at the north of the city of Nole were mountains much
higher—so high, indeed, that they seemed to pierce the clouds, and it
was said the moon often stopped on the highest peak to rest. It was not
one single slope up from the lowlands; but first there was a high
mountain, with a level plain at the top; and then another high mountain,
rising from the level and capped with a second plain; and then another
mountain, and so on; which made them somewhat resemble a pair of stairs.
So that the people of Nole, who looked upon the North Mountains with
much pride, used to point them out as “The Giant’s Stairway,” forgetting
that no giant was ever big enough to use such an immense flight of
stairs.

Many people had climbed the first mountain, and upon the plain at its
top flocks of sheep were fed; and two or three people boasted they had
climbed the second steep; but beyond that the mountains were all unknown
to the dwellers in the valley of Noland. As a matter of fact, no one
lived upon them; they were inhabited only by a few small animals and an
occasional vulture or eagle which nested in some rugged crag.

But at the top of all was an enormous plain that lay far above the
clouds, and here the Roly-Rogues dwelt in great numbers.

I must describe these Roly-Rogues to you, for they were unlike any other
people in all the world. Their bodies were as round as a ball—if you can
imagine a ball fully four feet in thickness at the middle. And their
muscles were as tough and elastic as india-rubber. They had heads and
arms resembling our own, and very short legs; and all these they could
withdraw into their ball-like bodies whenever they wished, very much as
a turtle withdraws its legs and head into its shell.

The Roly-Rogues lived all by themselves in their country among the
clouds, and there were thousands and thousands of them. They were
quarrelsome by nature, but could seldom hurt one another; because, if
they fought, they would withdraw their arms and legs and heads into
their bodies, and roll themselves at one another with much fierceness.
But when they collided they would bounce apart again, and little harm
was done.

In spite of their savage dispositions the Roly-Rogues had as yet done no
harm to any one but themselves, as they lived so high above the world
that other people knew nothing of their existence. Nor did they
themselves know, because of the clouds that floated between, of the
valleys which lay below them.

But, as ill luck would have it, a few days after King Bud’s army had
defeated the army of Ix, one of the Roly-Rogues, while fighting with
another, rolled too near the edge of the plain whereon they dwelt, and
bounded down the mountain-side that faced Noland. Wind had scattered the
clouds, so his fellows immediately rolled themselves to the edge and
watched the luckless Roly-Rogue fly down the mountain, bounce across the
plain, and thence speed down the next mountain. By and by he became a
dot to their eyes, and then a mere speck; but as the clouds had just
rolled away for a few moments the Roly-Rogues could see, by straining
their eyes, the city of Nole lying in the valley far below.

It seemed, from that distance, merely a toy city, but they knew it must
be a big place to show so far away; and since they had no cities of
their own, they became curious to visit the one they had just
discovered.

The ruler of the Roly-Rogues, who was more quarrelsome than any of the
rest, had a talk with his chief men about visiting the unknown city.

“We can roll down the mountain just as our brother did,” he argued.

“But how in the world could we ever get back again?” said one of the
chiefs, sticking his head up to look with astonishment at the ruler.

“We don’t want to get back,” said the other, excitedly. “Some one has
built many houses and palaces at the foot of the mountains, and we can
live in those, if they are big enough and if there are enough of them.”

[Illustration: “ALL THE HUNDREDS AND THOUSANDS OF ROLY-ROGUES THAT WERE
IN EXISTENCE ASSEMBLED UPON THE EDGE OF THEIR PLAIN, AND, AT THE WORD OF
THEIR RULER, HURLED THEMSELVES DOWN THE MOUNTAIN WITH TERRIBLE CRIES AND
WENT BOUNDING AWAY TOWARD THE PEACEFUL CITY OF NOLE.”]

“Perhaps the people won’t let us,” suggested another chief, who was not
in favor of the expedition.

“We will fight them and destroy them,” retorted the ruler, scowling at
the chief as if he would make him ashamed of his cowardice.

“Then we must all go together,” said a third chief; “for, if only a few
go, we may find ourselves many times outnumbered and at last be
overcome.”

“Every Roly-Rogue in the country shall go!” declared the ruler, who
brooked no opposition when once he had made up his mind to a thing.

On the plain grew a grove of big thorn-trees, bearing thorns as long and
sharp as swords; so the ruler commanded each of his people to cut two of
the thorns, one for each hand, with which to attack whatever foes they
might meet when they reached the unknown valley.

Then, on a certain day, all the hundreds and thousands of Roly-Rogues
that were in existence assembled upon the edge of their plain, and, at
the word of their ruler, hurled themselves down the mountain with
terrible cries and went bounding away toward the peaceful city of Nole.