SIGHED THE LITTLE GIR

Nearly two days’ journey from the city of Nole, yet still within the
borders of the great kingdom of Noland, was a little village lying at
the edge of a broad river. It consisted of a cluster of houses of the
humblest description, for the people of this village were all poor and
lived in simple fashion. Yet one house appeared to be somewhat better
than the others, for it stood on the river-bank and had been built by
the ferryman whose business it was to carry all travelers across the
river. And, as many traveled that way, the ferryman was able in time to
erect a very comfortable cottage, and to buy good furniture for it, and
to clothe warmly and neatly his two children.

One of these children was a little girl named Margaret, who was called
“Meg” by the villagers and “Fluff” by the ferryman her father, because
her hair was so soft and fluffy.

Her brother, who was two years younger, was named Timothy; but Margaret
had always called him “Bud,” because she could not say “brother” more
plainly when first she began to talk; so nearly every one who knew
Timothy called him Bud, as little Meg did.

These children had lost their mother when very young, and the big
ferryman had tried to be both mother and father to them, and had reared
them very gently and lovingly. They were good children, and were liked
by every one in the village.

But one day a terrible misfortune befell them. The ferryman tried to
cross the river for a passenger one very stormy night; but he never
reached the other shore. When the storm subsided and morning came they
found his body lying on the river-bank, and the two children were left
alone in the world.

The news was carried by travelers to the city of Nole, where the
ferryman’s only sister lived; and a few days afterward the woman came to
the village and took charge of her orphaned niece and nephew.

She was not a bad-hearted woman, this Aunt Rivette; but she had worked
hard all her life, and had a stern face and a stern voice. She thought
the only way to make children behave was to box their ears every now and
then; so poor Meg, who had been well-nigh heart-broken at her dear
father’s loss, had still more occasion for tears after Aunt Rivette came
to the village.

As for Bud, he was so impudent and ill-mannered to the old lady that she
felt obliged to switch him; and afterward the boy became surly and
silent, and neither wept nor answered his aunt a single word. It hurt
Margaret dreadfully to see her little brother whipped, and she soon
became so unhappy at the sorrowful circumstances in which she and her
brother found themselves that she sobbed from morning till night and
knew no comfort.

Aunt Rivette, who was a laundress in the city of Nole, decided she would
take Meg and Bud back home with her.

“The boy can carry water for my tubs, and the girl can help me with the
ironing,” she said.

So she sold all the heavier articles of furniture that the cottage
contained, as well as the cottage itself; and all the remainder of her
dead brother’s belongings she loaded upon the back of the little donkey
she had ridden on her journey from Nole. It made such a pile of packages
that the load seemed bigger than the donkey himself; but he was a strong
little animal, and made no complaint of his burden.

All this being accomplished, they set out one morning for Nole, Aunt
Rivette leading the donkey by the bridle with one hand and little Bud
with the other, while Margaret followed behind, weeping anew at this sad
parting with her old home and all she had so long loved.

It was a hard journey. The old woman soon became cross and fretful, and
scolded the little ones at almost every step. When Bud stumbled, as he
often did, for he was unused to walking very far, Aunt Rivette would box
his ears or shake him violently by the arm or tell him he was “a
good-for-nothing little beggar.” And Bud would turn upon her with a
revengeful look in his big eyes, but say not a word. The woman paid no
attention to Meg, who continued to follow the donkey with tearful eyes
and drooping head.

[Illustration: “IT WAS A HARD JOURNEY.”]

The first night they obtained shelter at a farm-house. But in the
morning it was found that the boy’s feet were so swollen and sore from
the long walk of the day before that he could not stand upon them. So
Aunt Rivette, scolding fretfully at his weakness, perched Bud among the
bundles atop the donkey’s back, and in this way they journeyed the
second day, the woman walking ahead and leading the donkey, and Margaret
following behind.

The laundress had hoped to reach the city of Nole at the close of this
day; but the overburdened donkey would not walk very fast, so nightfall
found them still a two-hours’ journey from the city gates, and they were
forced to stop at a small inn.

But this inn was already overflowing with travelers, and the landlord
could give them no beds, nor even a room.

“You can sleep in the stable if you like,” said he. “There is plenty of
hay to lie down upon.”

So they were obliged to content themselves with this poor accommodation.

The old woman aroused them at the first streaks of daybreak the next
morning, and while she fastened the packages to the donkey’s back
Margaret stood in the stable yard and shivered in the cold morning air.

The little girl felt that she had never been more unhappy than at that
moment, and when she thought of her kind father and the happy home she
had once known, her sobs broke out afresh, and she leaned against the
stable door and wept as if her little heart would break.

[Illustration: “OVER THE YOUTH’S ARM LAY FOLDED THE MAGIC CLOAK.”]

Suddenly some one touched her arm, and she looked up to see a tall and
handsome youth standing before her. It was none other than Ereol the
fairy, who had assumed this form for her appearance among mortals; and
over the youth’s arm lay folded the magic cloak that had been woven the
evening before in the fairy circle of Burzee.

“Are you very unhappy, my dear?” asked Ereol, in kindly tones.

“I am the most unhappy person in all the world!” replied the girl,
beginning to sob afresh.

“Then,” said Ereol, “I will present you with this magic cloak, which has
been woven by the fairies. And while you wear it you may have your first
wish granted; and if you give it freely to any other mortal, that person
may also have one wish granted. So use the cloak wisely, and guard it as
a great treasure.”

Saying this the fairy messenger spread the folds of the cloak and threw
the brilliant-hued garment over the shoulders of the girl.

[Illustration: “‘WHAT! PUNISH ME, YOU RASCALLY FELLOW! WE’LL SEE ABOUT
THAT.’”]

Just then Aunt Rivette led the donkey from the stable, and seeing the
beautiful cloak which the child wore, she stopped short and demanded:

“Where did you get that?”

“This stranger gave it to me,” answered Meg, pointing to the youth.

“Take it off! Take it off this minute and give it me—or I will whip you
soundly!” cried the woman.

“Stop!” said Ereol, sternly. “The cloak belongs to this child alone, and
if you dare take it from her I will punish you severely.”

“What! Punish me! Punish me, you rascally fellow! We’ll see about that.”

“We will, indeed,” returned Ereol, more calmly. “The cloak is a gift
from the fairies; and you dare not anger them, for your punishment would
be swift and terrible.”

Now no one feared to provoke the mysterious fairies more than Aunt
Rivette; but she suspected the youth was not telling her the truth, so
she rushed upon Ereol and struck at him with her upraised cane. But, to
her amazement, the form of the youth vanished quickly into air, and
then, indeed, she knew it was a fairy that had spoken to her.

“You may keep your cloak,” she said to Margaret, with a little shiver of
fear. “I would not touch it for the world!”

The girl was very proud of her glittering garment, and when Bud was
perched upon the donkey’s back and the old woman began trudging along
the road to the city, Meg followed after with much lighter steps than
before.

Presently the sun rose over the horizon, and its splendid rays shone
upon the cloak and made it glisten gorgeously.

“Ah, me!” sighed the little girl, half aloud. “I wish I could be happy
again!”

Then her childish heart gave a bound of delight, and she laughed aloud
and brushed from her eyes the last tear she was destined to shed for
many a day. For, though she spoke thoughtlessly, the magic cloak quickly
granted to its first wearer the fulfilment of her wish.

Aunt Rivette turned upon her in surprise.

“What’s the matter with you?” she asked suspiciously, for she had not
heard the girl laugh since her father’s death.

“Why, the sun is shining,” answered Meg, laughing again. “And the air is
sweet and fresh, and the trees are green and beautiful, and the whole
world is very pleasant and delightful.” And then she danced lightly
along the dusty road and broke into a verse of a pretty song she had
learned at her father’s knee.

The old woman scowled and trudged on again; Bud looked down at his merry
sister and grinned from pure sympathy with her high spirits; and the
donkey stopped and turned his head to look solemnly at the laughing girl
behind him.

“Come along!” cried the laundress, jerking at the bridle; “every one is
passing us upon the road, and we must hurry to get home before noon.”

It was true. A good many travelers, some on horseback and some on foot,
had passed them by since the sun rose; and although the east gate of the
city of Nole was now in sight, they were obliged to take their places in
the long line that sought entrance at the gate.

The five high counselors of the kingdom of Noland were both eager and
anxious upon this important morning. Long before sunrise Tollydob, the
lord high general, had assembled his army at the east gate of the city;
and the soldiers stood in two long lines beside the entrance, looking
very impressive in their uniforms. And all the people, noting this
unusual display, gathered around at the gate to see what was going to
happen.

Of course no one knew what was going to happen; not even the chief
counselor nor his brother counselors. They could only obey the law and
abide by the results.

Finally the sun arose and the east gate of the city was thrown open.
There were a few people waiting outside, and they promptly entered.

“One, two, three, four, five, six!” counted the chief counselor, in a
loud voice.

The people were much surprised at hearing this, and began to question
one another with perplexed looks. Even the soldiers were mystified.

[Illustration: “A RAGGED, LIMPING PEDDLER ENTERED THE GATE.”]

“Seven, eight, nine!” continued the chief counselor, still counting
those who came in.

A breathless hush fell upon the assemblage.

Something very important and mysterious was going on; that was evident.
But what?

They could only wait and find out.

“Ten, eleven!” counted Tullydub, and then heaved a deep sigh. For a
famous nobleman had just entered the gate, and the chief counselor could
not help wishing he had been number forty-seven.

So the counting went on, and the people became more and more interested
and excited.

When the number had reached thirty-one a strange thing happened. A loud
“boom!” sounded through the stillness, and then another, and another.
Some one was tolling the great bell in the palace bell-tower, and people
began saying to one another in awed whispers that the old king must be
dead.

The five high counselors, filled with furious anger but absolutely
helpless, as they could not leave the gate, lifted up their five chubby
fists and shook them violently in the direction of the bell-tower.

Poor Jikki, finding himself left alone in the palace, could no longer
resist the temptation to toll the bell; and it continued to peal out its
dull, solemn tones while the chief counselor stood by the gate and
shouted:

“Thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four!”

Only the mystery of this action could have kept the people quiet when
they learned from the bell that their old king was dead.

But now they began to guess that the scene at the east gate promised
more of interest than anything they might learn at the palace; so they
stood very quiet, and Jikki’s disobedience of orders did no great harm
to the plans of the five high counselors.

When Tullydub had counted up to forty the excitement redoubled, for
every one could see big drops of perspiration standing upon the chief
counselor’s brow, and all the other high counselors, who stood just
behind him, were trembling violently with nervousness.

A ragged, limping peddler entered the gate.

“Forty-five!” shouted Tullydub.

Then came Aunt Rivette, dragging at the bridle of the donkey.

“Forty-six!” screamed Tullydub.

And now Bud rode through the gate, perched among the bundles on the
donkey’s back and looking composedly upon the throng of anxious faces
that greeted him.

[Illustration: “‘FORTY-SEVEN!’ CRIED THE CHIEF COUNSELOR. ‘LONG LIVE THE
NEW KING OF NOLAND!’”]

“_Forty-seven!_” cried the chief counselor; and then in his loudest
voice he continued:

“Long live the new King of Noland!”

All the high counselors prostrated themselves in the dusty road before
the donkey. The old woman was thrust back in the crowd by a soldier,
where she stood staring in amazement, and Margaret, clothed in her
beautiful cloak, stepped to the donkey’s side and looked first at her
brother and then at the group of periwigged men, who bobbed their heads
in the dust before him and shouted:

“Long live the king!”

Then, while the crowd still wondered, the lord high counselor arose and
took from a soldier a golden crown set with brilliants, a jeweled
scepter, and a robe of ermine. Advancing to Bud, he placed the crown
upon the boy’s head and the scepter in his hand, while over his
shoulders he threw the ermine robe.

The crown fell over Bud’s ears, but he pushed it back upon his head, so
it would stay there; and as the kingly robe spread over all the bundles
on the donkey’s back and quite covered them, the boy really presented a
very imposing appearance.

The people quickly rose to the spirit of the occasion. What mattered it
if the old king was dead, now that a new king was already before them?
They broke into a sudden cheer, and, joyously waving their hats and
bonnets above their heads, joined eagerly in the cry:

“Long live the King of Noland!”

Aunt Rivette was fairly stupefied. Such a thing was too wonderful to be
believed. A man in the crowd snatched the bonnet from the old woman’s
head, and said to her brusquely:

“Why don’t you greet the new king? Are you a traitor to your country?”

So she also waved her bonnet and screamed: “Long live the king!” But she
hardly knew what she was doing or why she did it.

Meantime the high counselors had risen from their knees and now stood
around the donkey.

“May it please your Serene Majesty to condescend to tell us who this
young lady is?” asked Tullydub, bowing respectfully.

“That’s my sister Fluff,” said Bud, who was enjoying his new position
very much. All the counselors, at this, bowed low to Margaret.

[Illustration: “SO SHE ALSO WAVED HER BONNET AND SCREAMED: ‘LONG LIVE
THE KING!’”]

“A horse for the Princess Fluff!” cried the lord high general; and the
next moment she was mounted upon a handsome white palfrey, where, with
her fluffy golden hair and smiling face and the magnificent cloak
flowing from her shoulders, she looked every inch a princess. The people
cheered her, too; for it was long since any girl or woman had occupied
the palace of the King of Noland, and she was so pretty and sweet that
every one loved her immediately.

[Illustration: “‘MAY IT PLEASE YOUR SERENE MAJESTY TO TELL US WHO THIS
YOUNG LADY IS?’ ASKED TULLYDUB, RESPECTFULLY.”]

And now the king’s chariot drove up, with its six prancing steeds, and
Bud was lifted from the back of the donkey and placed in the high seat
of the chariot.

Again the people shouted joyful greetings; the band struck up a gay
march tune, and then the royal procession started for the palace.

First came Tollydob and the officers; then the king’s chariot,
surrounded by soldiers; then the four high counselors upon black horses,
riding two on each side of Princess Fluff; and, finally, the band of
musicians and the remainder of the royal army.

It was an imposing sight, and the people followed after with cheers and
rejoicings, while the lord high purse-bearer tossed silver coins from
his pouch for any one to catch who could.

A message had been sent to warn Jikki that the new king was coming, so
he stopped tolling the death knell, and instead rang out a glorious
chime of welcome.

As for old Rivette finding herself and the donkey alike deserted, she
once more seized the bridle and led the patient beast to her humble
dwelling; and it was just as she reached her door that King Bud of
Noland, amid the cheers and shouts of thousands, entered for the first
time the royal palace of Nole.