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The Castle Of Gems

from Boys And Girls Bookshelf - STORIES BY FAVORITE AMERICAN WRITERS





BY SOPHIE MAY


Once upon a time, though I cannot tell when, and in what country I do
not now remember, there lived a maiden as fair as a lily, as gentle as a
dewdrop, and as modest as a violet. A pure, sweet name she had: It was
Blanche.

She stood one evening, with her friend Victor, by the shore of a lake.
Never had the youth or maiden seen the moonlight so enchanting; but they
did not know--

"It was midsummer day,
When all the fairy people
From elf-land came away."

Presently, while they gazed at the lake, which shone like liquid emerald
and sapphire and topaz, a boat, laden with strangely beautiful beings,
glided toward them across the waters. The fair voyagers were clad in
robes of misty blue, with white mantles about their waists, and on
their heads wreaths of valley-lilies.

They were all as fair as need be; but fairest of all was the
helms-woman, the Queen of the Fairies. Her face was soft and clear like
moonlight; and she wore a crown of nine large diamonds, which refracted
the evening rays, and formed nine lunar rainbows.

The fairies were singing a roundelay; and, as the melody floated over
the water, Victor and Blanche listened with throbbing hearts. Fairy
music has almost passed away from the earth; but those who hear it are
strangely moved, and have dreams of beautiful things which have been,
and may be again.

"It makes me think of the days of long ago when there was no sin,"
whispered Blanche.

"It makes me long to be a hero," answered Victor with a sparkling eye.

All the while the pearly boat was drifting toward the youth and maiden;
and, when it had touched the shore the Queen stepped out upon the land
as lightly as if she had been made entirely of dewdrops.

"I am Fontana," said she: "and is this Blanche?"

She laid her soft hand upon the maiden's shoulder; and Blanche thought
she would like to die then and there, so full was she of joy.

"I have heard of thy good heart, my maiden: now what would please thee
most?" inquired the Queen.

Blanche bowed her head, and dared not speak.

Queen Fontana smiled. When she smiled it was as if a soft cloud had slid
away from the moon, revealing a beautiful light.

"Say pearls and diamonds," said Victor in her ear.

"I don't know," whispered Blanche; "they are not the best things."

"No," said the Queen kindly; "pearls and diamonds are not the best
things."

Then Blanche knew that her whisper had been overheard, and she hid her
face in her hands for shame. But the Queen only smiled down on her, and
without speaking dropped into the ground a little seed. Right at the
feet of Blanche it fell; and in a moment two green leaves shot upward,
and between them a spotless lily, which hung its head with modest grace.

Victor gazed at the perfect flower in wonder, and before he knew it said
aloud: "Ah, how like Blanche!"

The Queen herself broke it from the stem, and gave it to the maiden,
saying:

"Take it! It is my choicest gift. Till it fades (which will never be),
love will be thine; and in time to come it will have power to open the
strongest locks, and swing back the heaviest doors.

"'Gates of brass cannot withstand
One touch of this magic wand.'"

Blanche looked up to thank the Queen; but no words came--only tears.

"I see a wish in thine eyes," said Fontana.

"It is for Victor," faltered Blanche, at last; "he wishes to be rich and
great."

The Queen looked grave.

"Shall I make him one of the great men of the earth, little Blanche?
Then he may one day go to the ends of the world, and forget thee."

Blanche only smiled, and Victor's cheek flushed.

"I shall be a great man," said he--"perhaps a prince; but where I go
Blanche shall go: she will be my wife."

"That is well," said the Queen. "Never forget Blanche, for her love will
be your dearest blessing."

Then, removing from her girdle a pair of spectacles, she placed them in
the youth's hand. He drew back in surprise. "Does she take me for an old
man?" thought he. He had expected a casket of gems at least; perhaps a
crown.

"Wait," said Fontana; "they are the eyes of Wisdom. When you have
learned their use, you will not despise my gift. Keep a pure heart, and
always remember Blanche. And now farewell!"

So saying, she moved on to the boat, floating over the ground as softly
as a creeping mist.

When Blanche awoke next morning, her first thought was, "Happy are the
maidens who have sweet dreams!" for she believed she had only been
wandering in a midsummer's night's dream; so, when she saw her lily in
the broken pitcher where she had placed it, great was her delight. But a
change had come over it during the night. It was no longer a common
lily; its petals were now large pearls, and the green leaves were green
emeralds. This strange thing had happened to the flower, that it might
never fade.

After this, people looked at Blanche and said: "How is it? She grows
fairer every day!" And every one loved her; for the human heart has no
choice but to love what is good and gentle.

As for Victor, he at first put on his spectacles with a scornful smile;
but, when he had worn them a moment, he found them very wonderful
things. When he looked through them, he could see people's thoughts
written out on their faces; he could easily decipher the fine writing
which you see traced on green leaves; and found there were long stories
written on pebbles in little black and gray dots.

When he wore the spectacles, he looked so wise that Blanche hardly dared
speak to him. She saw that one day he was to become great.

At last Victor said he must leave his home, and sail across the seas.
Tears filled the eyes of Blanche; but the youth whispered:

"I am going away to find a home for you and me. So adieu, dearest
Blanche!"

Now Victor thought the ship in which he sailed moved very slowly; for
he longed to reach the land which he could see through his magic
spectacles. It was a beautiful kingdom, rich with mines of gold and
silver.

When the ship touched shore, the streets were lined with people who
walked to and fro with sad faces. The King's daughter, a beautiful
young maiden, was very ill, and it was feared she must die.

Victor asked one of the people if there was no hope.

It so happened that this man was the greatest physician in the kingdom
and he answered:

"Alas, there is no hope!"

Then Victor went to a distant forest where he knew a healing spring was
to be found. Very few remembered it was there; and those who had seen it
did not know of its power to heal disease.

Victor filled a crystal goblet with the precious water and carried it to
the palace. The old King shook his head sadly, but consented to let the
attendants moisten the parched lips of the Princess with the water, as
it could do no harm. Far from doing harm, it wrought a great good; and
in time the royal maiden was restored to health.

Then, for gratitude, the King would have given his daughter to Victor
for a wife; but Victor remembered Blanche, and knew that no other maiden
must be bride of his.

Not long after this the King was lost overboard at sea during a storm.
Now the people must have a new ruler. They determined to choose a wise
and brave man; and, young as he was, no man could be found braver and
wiser than Victor; so the people elected him for their King. Thus
Fontana's gift of the eyes of Wisdom had made him truly "one of the
great men of earth."

In her humble home Blanche dreamed every night of Victor, and hoped he
would grow good, if he did not become great; and Victor remembered
Blanche, and knew that her love was his dearest blessing.

"This old palace," thought he, "will never do for my beautiful bride."

So he called together his people, and told them he must have a castle of
gems. Some of the walls were to be of rubies, some of emeralds, some of
pearls. There was to be any amount of beaten gold for doors and pillars;
and the ceilings were to be of milk-white opals, with a rosy light which
comes and goes.

All was done as he desired; and when the castle of gems was finished it
would need a pen of jasponyx dipped in rainbows to describe it.

Victor thought he would not have a guard of soldiers for his castle, but
would lock the four golden gates with a magic key, so that no one could
enter unless the gates should swing back of their own accord.

When the castle of gems was just completed, and not a soul was in it,
Victor locked the gates with a magic key, and then dropped the key into
the ocean.

"Now," thought he, "I have done a wise thing. None but the good and true
can enter my castle of gems. The gates will not swing open for men with
base thoughts or proud hearts!"

Then he hid himself under the shadow of a tree, and watched the people
trying to enter. But they were proud men, and so the gates would not
open.

King Victor laughed, and said to himself:

"I have done a wise thing with my magic key. How safe I shall be in my
castle of gems!"

So he stepped out of his hiding place, and said to the people:

"None but the good and true can get in."

Then he tried to go in himself; but the gates would not move.

The King bowed his head in shame, and walked back to his old palace.

"Alas!" said he to himself, "wise and great as I am, I thought I could
go in. I see it must be because I am filled with pride. Let me hide my
face; for what would Blanche say if she knew, that, because my heart is
proud, I am shut out of my own castle? I am not worthy that she should
love me; but I hope I shall learn of her to be humble and good."

The next day he sailed for the home of his childhood. When Blanche saw
him she blushed and cast down her eyes; but Victor knew they were full
of tears of joy. He held her hand, and whispered:


"Will you go with me and be my bride, beautiful Blanche?"

"I will go with you," she answered softly; and Victor's heart rejoiced.

All the while Blanche never dreamed that he was a great Prince, and that
the men who came with him were his courtiers.

When they reached Victor's kingdom, and the people shouted "Long live
the Queen!" Blanche veiled her face and trembled; for Victor whispered
in her ear that the shouts were for her. And as the people saw her
beautiful face through her gossamer veil, they cried all the more
loudly:

"Long live Queen Blanche! Thrice welcome, fair lady!"

The sun was sinking in the west, and his rays fell with dazzling
splendor upon the castle of gems. When Blanche saw the silent, closed
castle and its golden gates she remembered the words of Queen Fontana,
who had said that her lily should have power to "open the strongest
locks, and swing back the heaviest doors."

Like one walking in a dream, she led Victor toward the resplendent
castle. She touched with her lily the lock which fastened one of the
gates.

"Gates of gold could not withstand
One touch of that magic wand."

In an instant, the hinges trembled; and the massive door swung open so
far that forty people could walk in side by side. Then it slowly closed,
and locked itself without noise.

One of the people who passed in was the King, whose heart was no longer
proud. The others, who had entered unwittingly, could not speak for
wonder. Some of them were poor, and some were lame or blind; but all
were good and true.

At the rising of the moon a wonderful thing came to pass. The people
entered the castle of gems and became beautiful. This was through the
power of the magic lily.

Now there were no more crooked backs, and lame feet, and sightless eyes;
and the King looked at these people, who were beautiful as well as good,
and declared he would have them live in the castle; and the gentlemen
should be knights; and the ladies maids of honor.

To this day Victor and Blanche rule the kingdom; and such is the charm
of the lily--so like the pure heart of the Queen--that the people are
becoming gentle and good.

Until Queen Fontana shall call for the magic spectacles and the lily of
pearl, it is believed that Victor and Blanche will live in the castle of
gems, though the time should be a hundred years.





Next: The Hen That Hatched Ducks

Previous: The Snow-image



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