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The Tale Of Punchinello

from The Green Forest Fairy Book,





There lived once long ago, in days of jesters and court fools and

harlequins, a certain clown called Punchinello. This Punchinello, like

all others of his trade, whitened his face and painted it in grotesque

fashion. He wore gay satin robes of many colors all hung with silver

bells that jingled when he danced, and pom-pom slippers turned up at the

toes. This Punchinello was a clown of clowns, and his droll dances and

his merry tricks and songs had made thousands laugh.



Punchinello traveled around the world in company with a circus. Whenever

this circus reached a city, it formed a great parade before it entered.

Then would the people throng the streets and highways, eager for the

show. They clapped their hands when lions roaring in their cages and

elephants led by their keepers passed along; but when this famous

Punchinello, prancing and twirling, came in view, the crowds cheered

wildly with applause.



"Oh, welcome! Welcome, Punchinello!" they would shout.



The ladies threw him flowers and children blew him kisses. Kings and

queens had often hailed him thus, for Punchinello pleased all folk.

Those who were sad and those who sorrowed often sent for Punchinello

when the circus show was done, and he would dance and sing to cheer

them. But for this service he would take no gold or present. So though

he grew to fame, this Punchinello grew not rich.



"It is enough that I can make sad faces glad," said Punchinello, and

wrapping his great cloak about him, he would steal away, leaving

happiness behind him.



"My store of wealth lies in the golden smiles my antics bring," he often

said, "and when my merry songs and dances please the world no more, I

shall be poor indeed." But with his light, fantastic dancing, and his

songs and jests, with his twirlings and his leapings,--was it likely

that the world would ever cease to smile on Punchinello? The world is

always fond of fun and laughter.



"Punchinello is the greatest man in all the world," some folk said when

they had seen him dance and heard him sing.



"That is not right," said others. "He would be emperor if that were

true; but Punchinello is the greatest man in all the circus."



"But neither is that right," still others said. "For if he were, he

would be owner of the circus. But Punchinello is the greatest clown in

all the world." And on this all folk agreed.



Now on its way about the world, the circus chanced to journey to a city

where a king and queen held court. These royal folk and all their court

watched the gay procession from their balconies and were delighted. The

king and queen sent heralds, saying on a certain night that they would

grace the show and to be sure that Master Punchinello played before the

royal box. Then as the pageant wound upon its way, with banners flying

and with music of the fife and drum, they passed a building where the

sick were tended. It was a hospital. No eager faces gave them welcome

here, and lest they should disturb the sick, the fife and drum ceased

playing. Punchinello fell to walking soberly along. Suddenly he chanced

to spy a tiny, wistful face pressed to the window pane. Then Punchinello

bounded lightly up the ladder, and leaping into the room, began to dance

and twirl about to please this little child.



"And does my dancing please you, little one?" asked Punchinello when he

paused.



"Oh, yes, sir!" cried the child. His name was Beppo. "Please dance again

for me. It makes my pain grow better."



"Alas! I cannot, little one," said Punchinello, pointing to the circus

that was passing. "I must make haste to join my friends again."



"Then would you come to-night when it is dark and dance for me?" begged

little Beppo. "The pain is always worse when it is dark, you know."



"Indeed, I'll come, my little one," said kindly Punchinello, and his

gayly painted face grew sad. "Just leave your window open, little one,

and I'll steal in and dance for you and sing you to the land of happy

dreams."



And that night, when the circus show was done and all the lights were

out, while other tired players slept, this kindly Punchinello wrapped

his cloak about him and stole out underneath the stars to visit little

Beppo. The little lame child was delighted with his songs and dances, so

kindly Punchinello vowed that he would come each night and do the same,

while the circus remained in the city. Each night the child lay waiting

for him eagerly, and how he hugged and kissed this Punchinello when at

last he came!



"Last night I dreamed of running through the woods," cried little Beppo

to him one night. "I saw tall trees that seemed to touch the sky and

heard the birds sing in their nests. I never had a dream like this

before, and your sweet songs did give it to me, Punchinello. Come, dance

and sing for me."



Then Punchinello danced his best. His slippered feet like lightning

flew; the bells upon his robes rang out, and he would twirl upon his

toes until his many-colored baggy robes stood out and he seemed like a

brilliant human top. He jumped, he twirled, he leaped high in the air

and bowed before the little cot as though it were a royal throne. When

he at last grew weary, he would stop, but then the child would beg for

more.



"Oh, please, dear Punchinello," he would say, "just once again. It makes

my pain grow less to see you whirl." Then Punchinello could not refuse,

and he would whirl and twirl again until he was too weary to do more.

Folding little Beppo in his arms, he sang him lullabies until the child

fell fast asleep. And so the nights went on.



The nurses noticed that little Beppo's cheeks grew plump and that his

eyes grew bright. He said his pain was better, and they thought it was

the medicine. They knew nothing of this Punchinello. He entered each

night through the window and departed the same way. The circus folk said

Punchinello was not well and told him he must rest.



"Our show would be as nothing if it were not for you, Punchinello," they

declared. "To-morrow the king and queen will come to see us play, so

rest you well to-night that you may dance your gayest for them." Though

Punchinello promised, late that night, when all the world lay sleeping,

he stole away to dance for little Beppo.



"Oh, Punchinello!" cried the little lame child. "I'll tell you of my

dream. I dreamed I wore a spotted satin robe like yours and pom-pom

slippers turned up at the toes. I dreamed I danced and twirled as

lightly as you do yourself. Now is that not a pleasant dream for one who

cannot even walk?"



"It is, my little one," said Punchinello. "Come sit upon my knee and

wind your arms about my neck. Now tell me, has your pain been less

to-day?"



"Much less, much less, good Punchinello," said the child. "Indeed, I

think your dances and your songs have charmed it all away. I think about

my lovely dreams by day, and lie and wait for you by night, and have no

time for pain, it seems. Come dance for me, my Punchinello."



"To-night I'll sing instead, my little Beppo," answered Punchinello. He

was weary, and when he whirled his head grew dizzy. "I'll sing you a

song of ships that sail through seas of clouds; and trees as sing the

world to slow sleep when winds do blow."



But little Beppo wished to see him dance. "See, Punchinello," said he

softly, "around your neck I tie my locket. It is my only treasure. They

say my mother placed it on me when she died. It has a bluebird painted

on it which is the only bird I've ever seen. Now wilt thou dance for me,

dear Punchinello?" He kissed the clown's queer painted face, and

Punchinello danced.



And never had he danced so well before. As though he heard afar the

music that the fairies make at midnight, he waltzed and twirled faster

and yet faster, pausing not at all. He pranced, he leaped and spun upon

his toe as though he were a dancing doll wound up to dance so long. The

little lame child watched him eagerly, and as he watched, as though he

too heard magic strains from fairyland, he sprung up from his cot and

straightway danced and whirled about in Punchinello's footsteps.



"Look, look, dear Punchinello!" little Beppo cried. "I am no longer lame

but dance as well as you yourself."

But Punchinello, whirling like a leaf, made no reply. He sang his gayest

songs and leaped so lightly in the air, there seemed to be a thousand

harlequins, and little Beppo followed lightly after. Suddenly the child

stopped, for Punchinello was no longer dancing.



"Oh, my good Punchinello!" he exclaimed. "Why did you run away? I'll

follow after you," and down the ladder he swiftly sped. He saw the white

tents shining in the moonlight. "Indeed, I'll join the circus with my

Punchinello," said he to himself, "and travel around the world with

him."



But alas! Poor Punchinello had not stolen off, as little Beppo thought.

For while in his wild dance that charmed the lame child's pain away,

poor Punchinello felt himself grow ill. His head grew giddy, and at last

he fell upon the floor, and there the nurses found him in the morning.

They placed poor Punchinello on the bed where little Beppo had lain for

so many years, and wondered whence the clown had come.



And so it was the king and queen who went next day to see the show were

displeased because the famous Punchinello was not there to dance and

jest for them. No other clowns or harlequins would please their royal

majesties, and so they left in anger. They bade the circus owner strip

his tents and in that very hour depart, and when another morning came,

our little Beppo found himself in a strange city with the circus folk.

At first these circus folk were puzzled what to do with him, but as the

child could dance and cut droll capers, they made for him a spotted

satin suit and gave him pom-pom slippers turned up at the toes. They

would have called him Little Punchinello, but this the child would not

allow.



"Good Punchinello was my friend," said little Beppo. "And 'twas from him

I learned to dance before I ever walked. I will not take his name, but I

will seek him everywhere until I find him."



Some circus folk thought Punchinello had run off to join a show of

traveling jugglers, and others thought perhaps he had grown tired of

dancing and grimacing. Then by and by they ceased to talk of him, and

all forgot him, save little Beppo.



Meanwhile poor Punchinello lay in a raging fever. The nurses thought

that he would die, for he was very ill. But after a long time the fever

left him, and then they knew he would grow better. He asked one day for

little Beppo, but they could tell him nothing of the child.



"We came to waken him one morning, but the child was gone and you were

lying ill," said they. "We could not see how this could be, for little

Beppo was too lame to walk; but though we searched the city, he could

not be found."



Another day poor Punchinello asked about the circus, and again the

nurses shook their heads.



"The circus folk have gone long since," said they. "The king was angry

with them and bade them go in haste, 'tis said. We cannot say which way

they went."



When Punchinello was all well at last; he rose and donned his

many-colored robes that jingled when he walked. He had grown thin and

pale, and they became him poorly, but he had not money to buy others. He

wrapped his great cloak all about him and started out to earn his bread.

Poor Punchinello was too weak to dance; he could not plow or dig; he

had not been so trained. And so at last this famous Punchinello stood

upon the highways and sang for pennies that good-natured people threw to

him.



"I am the famous Punchinello," he would sometimes say. "Have you not

heard of famous Punchinello of the circus?"



But those who heard him laughed in scorn. "If you be famous Punchinello

of the circus," they would say, "why sing you then for coppers like a

beggar, and where is the circus? You are not Punchinello, but a fraud."



Thus poor and friendless, Punchinello started out to seek the circus.

His wanderings led him into many lands, and often he met folk who told

him that the circus had passed there. But Punchinello, journeying afoot,

could never travel fast enough to overtake the circus. His pom-pom

slippers soon were torn by stones along the highway, and he went

barefoot. His satin robe of many colors faded and grew worn. Punchinello

patched here with yarn and there with bits of leather cloth or sacking,

until the colors had all fled, and it was naught but rags sewn all

together. Poor Punchinello danced no more, for ragged robes and dancing

do not fit; but even so, his voice was sweet and clear as ever.



"So I am not yet poor, despite my rags," he would say bravely to

himself. "For yesterday I caught a golden smile from one who flung a

copper; and who knows? Perhaps to-day I may again be favored."



Then one day in his wanderings Punchinello awakened to the music of the

fife and drum. He saw gay banners flying and hurried to the highway with

the crowds. It was the circus he had sought so long, and as he saw his

old friends marching by, poor Punchinello's eyes filled with tears of

joy. The lion tamers with their roaring beasts strode by, the elephants

in scarlet blankets decked, the jugglers next, and then a little dancing

clown who stepped and pranced in drollest fashion.



"Oh, welcome, Beppo! Welcome!" cried the crowds, and Punchinello saw it

was the lame child he had known.



He darted from the crowd and cried, "Oh, little Beppo, dost remember me?

I am good Punchinello."



But here the circus folk protested. "Be off! Be off! You bunch of

rags!" cried they. "Our Punchinello was no beggar, and you are not he."



"I swear I am!" cried Punchinello. "Do you not know me, little Beppo?"



"When I was ill and could not walk," the child replied, "a clown called

Punchinello cured me of my lameness by his merry songs and ways; but his

face I know not. He came always in the night. When he danced, he danced

so swiftly that a million harlequins there seemed to be about me: and

when he held me in his arms, I hid my head against his shoulder, because

I loved him dearly."



"Do you remember this, then, little one?" asked poor Punchinello, and

showed the bluebird locket, "the only treasure you did own, and which

you gave to me?"



"I do, and you are my good Punchinello!" little Beppo cried, and flung

his arms about him. He kissed the shabby creature and wrapped him in his

own fine scarlet cloak to hide the rags. "How I have sought the world

for you, dear Punchinello, to tell you of my gratitude; but I could

never find you."



The circus folk went running and crowded round the pair. "Oh, welcome!

Welcome, Punchinello!" they exclaimed and shook his hand. "A thousand

welcomes. We have missed you sadly and now you will be our clown again."



"But little Beppo is your clown. What of him?" asked Punchinello.



"Oh, we shall both be clowns!" declared the child, "like father and like

son. Together we shall dance those dances that you taught me and sing

those songs with which you charmed the world."



And so this Punchinello found himself once more in satin robes of many

colors, all jingling merrily with bells, and pom-pom slippers turned up

at the toes. His face he whitened and then painted it in grotesque

fashion, and with his little Beppo he danced that night and made his

old-time capers and grimaces.



"Well done! Well done! Good Punchinello!" cried the people. "We have

missed you sorely, but enjoy you all the more for missing you." They

laughed and cheered him wildly until the show was done.



"And now," said Punchinello, as he laid him down to rest that night, "I

am the richest man in all the world. A thousand golden smiles were mine

to-night, and better still I have the love and gratitude of little Beppo

whom I dearly love. What more than that could Punchinello ask? And so

good night!"





Next: The Strange Tale Of Brown Bear

Previous: The Little Tree That Never Grew Up



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