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The Talking Stones.
ONCE there was a great queen, who had everything she desired to make her happy, except love. Thinking it easy to gain love she sent costly presents to all in her vast kingdom.
To her surprise, however, the rich gifts did not win the love of her people.
"Why is it," she then asked the court fool, "that my people do not love me when I have sent them beautiful gifts?"
The fool snapped his fingers, answering thus:
"A fig for your fine presents! Fill your golden goblets with Love, for Love begets Love! But perhaps, your Majesty, the advice of a fool is not worth taking, and you had best ask counsel of your wise men."
So the queen sent for the three wise men and asked them to explain what the fool had said.
"Indeed, your Majesty," said they, bowing till the tops of their bald heads scraped the floor, "our business is to know about wisdom, and we cannot tell you anything about Love."
"Begone!" cried the queen, and so angry was she, finding that her wealth could not buy what she wanted most, that she gave commands for all who did not love her to be east into prison.
When the dungeons of the castle were filled, and the queen had found neither love nor happiness, she set the prisoners free. Then she sent the fool out on the highway, to fetch in any passer-by who might know about Love.
The fool sat on the highway; but he did not stop the first who passed, nor the next nor the next.
By and by a man came along singing gaily, though he carried a heavy sack on his back.
"Hold!" cried the fool, "her Majesty, the queen, would speak with you."
"What can she wish of such as I?" thought the poor man; but he followed the fool into the castle, and was led into the presence of the great queen.
"Do you know about Love?" asked the queen.
"Indeed!" replied the man, "it is builded into my house with every stone in the walls! "
"Then," said the queen, "I would have you tear down your house and bring me the stones." However that may have surprised the man, he trudged home and told his wife what they must do. "Well," said she with a merry laugh, "let us begin at once, for the sooner the queen finds that this is the wrong way to find love, the better for her. As for us, – what are a few stones?"
So they set about tearing down their house, as merrily as if they were to exchange it for a castle as fine as the queen's. And next morning a load of stones was brought to the palace and dumped into the courtyard.
The queen came out and poked about among the stones with her golden sceptre; but finding nothing that she thought looked like love, she ran into the castle shedding tears of anger.
"They have cheated me!" she cried. "They have brought the stones and kept the love!"
"Love cannot be kept!" declared the fool, "for it is free as air! And only as we give it and receive it, can we realize it is love!"
This puzzled the queen, but she would ask no more questions of the fool, so she sent again for the three wise men.
"What is it," she asked, "that cannot be kept, but is free as air; and we only know it for what it is as we give it and receive it?"
"That," answered the first wise man, "is the most difficult riddle I have ever heard! There cannot he any such thing; for if we cannot keep a thing, how can we give it! "
The second and the third thought the same as the first; and none of the three was wise enough to see that what we give we cannot keep. So they backed out of the queen's presence, and left her wondering if they were not right, and if there was perhaps no such thing as love.
Not knowing then what to do, she went out into the courtyard and sat on the pile of stones, thinking maybe she would find a wee bit of love sticking to them, in spite of what the wise men had said.
As she sat she heard whispering voices, and bending over, she found that the stones were talking to one another.
"Do you know," said one, "that the poor man will have a much finer house than the one of which we were built? He will have a castle as fine as the queen's, and finer, for hers has no love in it, though it is so rich and beautiful."
"Hist!" said another, "the queen sits near by!" and the stones talked no more, though the queen listened to hear if they would tell where the poor man got his love.
Next day the queen, dressed as a serving maid, again sat upon the pile of stones; and not recognising her, the stones talked freely.
"Listen," said one, "I will tell you a story."
THE STONE'S STORY
There was once a king who envied the possessions of others, and had little scruple about getting what he wanted, no matter to whom it belonged.
One day, with his great army, he marched to a neighbouring kingdom, thinking it better than his own, and putting the king to flight, took possession of it.
"Now," thought he, "I will be happy in this great castle. And he went from room to room admiring the rich hangings and beautiful golden ornaments.
There was, however, always something displeasing: here was too much or there was too little; here was green when there should have been yellow. "Indeed," thought he, "these rooms are not to my liking, for the colours are not harmonious."
He then ordered a great feast prepared, and sat at the head of the table, where the fine ladies and gentlemen of the court, in their silken robes and glittering jewels, paid homage to him, for they were afraid of his great army.
The king felt quite pleased and important, till the feast was brought in, when he began making wry faces, for nothing tasted to suit him: this was too hot and that was too cold; what wasn’t burned was not cooked enough; till the king, indignant, seized the tablecloth and was about to drag everything onto the floor.
"Oh, stay! your Majesty," cried a sweet little maid, running up and curtseying prettily, "if you will but bow your head, so I can whisper in your ear; I will tell you the trouble."
"Ha, ha!" guffawed the king, "what a wise little miss we have here!" Nevertheless he bowed his head, and quick as a wink the little maid snatched a pair of huge spectacles off his nose!
"See!" she cried, holding them up, "these are the spectacles of envy! they make the possessions of others seem finer than one's own!" And at that she threw them on the stone floor and smashed them into a thousand bits!
The king rubbed his eyes and looked about: then he rushed out of the castle, jumped on his horse, and galloped home, followed by his great army, wondering why their king was in such a hurry.
"Indeed!" cried he, when he reached home, "I am well paid for my trouble, by getting rid of those specs that have itched my nose for so long! The good king may come back to his castle, for now that I see what a beautiful kingdom I have, I will waste no time seeking happiness elsewhere!"
As the story was finished the queen arose and walked away.
"It is a bad thing to be envious," she thought. "I am glad I do not see the world through such spectacles!"
As she was musing thus, a gorgeous chariot, carrying beautiful Queen Hermione, of the neighboring kingdom, passed along the highway.
When the queen saw her she frowned, and hastening to the castle, called the fool.
"Is Queen Hermione more beautiful than I?" she asked.
"Your Majesty." answered the fool, "you might be the most beautiful queen in the world! "
"Why do you say 'might be'?" cried the queen. "Because, your Majesty, those big spectacles you are wearing make you the ugliest queen I have ever seen!"
Putting her hand to her eyes, she found, sure enough, a pair of spectacles. The unhappy queen ran to her room, threw herself on the bed and cried as if she were a little girl.
Presently she stopped and dried her eyes, as well as she could under the big spectacles; then she went into the garden and plucked a beautiful red rose. With her eyes now twinkling she went into the strong-room where she kept her chests of silver and gold, and took out the most beautiful golden goblet she could find. Putting the red rose into it, she sent it by her swiftest courier to Queen Hermione.
A reply was not long coming, and what do you think it was? – another golden goblet, as beautiful as the one the queen had sent, and in it a lovely, sweet-smelling red rose!
The queen clapped her hands for joy; then looked into the mirror. The ugly spectacles had disappeared, leaving never a trace of having been there!
"I have found Love!" she cried. And indeed it was so, for people came flocking from all over the kingdom, to tell the queen how they loved her. And she was so happy that she forgot that there had ever been a time when she did not know about Love.
From that day to this the stones have been in the courtyard; and more than once, the queen has slipped down to listen to the stories they told.
Your eyes would open wide, little children, if you could hear those stories; and indeed, if you are patient, you will hear them all sometime.