The Nightingale

: The Yellow Fairy Book

In China, as I daresay you know, the Emperor is a Chinaman, and

all his courtiers are also Chinamen. The story I am going to

tell you happened many years ago, but it is worth while for you

to listen to it, before it is forgotten.

The Emperor's Palace was the most splendid in the world, all made

of priceless porcelain, but so brittle and delicate that you had

to take great care how you touched it. In the
garden were the

most beautiful flowers, and on the loveliest of them were tied

silver bells which tinkled, so that if you passed you could not

help looking at the flowers. Everything in the Emperor's garden

was admirably arranged with a view to effect; and the garden was

so large that even the gardener himself did not know where it

ended. If you ever got beyond it, you came to a stately forest

with great trees and deep lakes in it. The forest sloped down to

the sea, which was a clear blue. Large ships could sail under

the boughs of the trees, and in these trees there lived a

Nightingale. She sang so beautifully that even the poor

fisherman who had so much to do stood and listened when he came

at night to cast his nets. 'How beautiful it is!' he said; but

he had to attend to his work, and forgot about the bird. But

when she sang the next night and the fisherman came there again,

he said the same thing, 'How beautiful it is!'

From all the countries round came travellers to the Emperor's

town, who were astonished at the Palace and the garden. But when

they heard the Nightingale they all said, 'This is the finest

thing after all!'

The travellers told all about it when they went home, and learned

scholars wrote many books upon the town, the Palace, and the

garden. But they did not forget the Nightingale; she was praised

the most, and all the poets composed splendid verses on the

Nightingale in the forest by the deep sea.

The books were circulated throughout the world, and some of them

reached the Emperor. He sat in his golden chair, and read and

read. He nodded his head every moment, for he liked reading the

brilliant accounts of the town, the Palace, and the garden. 'But

the Nightingale is better than all,' he saw written.

'What is that?' said the Emperor. 'I don't know anything about

the Nightingale! Is there such a bird in my empire, and so near

as in my garden? I have never heard it! Fancy reading for the

first time about it in a book!'

And he called his First Lord to him. He was so proud that if

anyone of lower rank than his own ventured to speak to him or ask

him anything, he would say nothing but 'P!' and that does not

mean anything.

'Here is a most remarkable bird which is called a Nightingale!'

said the Emperor. 'They say it is the most glorious thing in my

kingdom. Why has no one ever said anything to me about it?'

'I have never before heard it mentioned!' said the First Lord.

'I will look for it and find it!'

But where was it to be found? The First Lord ran up and down

stairs, through the halls and corridors; but none of those he met

had ever heard of the Nightingale. And the First Lord ran again

to the Emperor, and told him that it must be an invention on the

part of those who had written the books.

'Your Irmperial Majesty cannot really believe all that is

written! There are some inventions called the Black Art!'

'But the book in which I read this,' said the Emperor, 'is sent

me by His Great Majesty the Emperor of Japan; so it cannot be

untrue, and I will hear the Nightingale! She must be here this

evening! She has my gracious permission to appear, and if she

does not, the whole Court shall be trampled under foot after


'Tsing pe!' said the First Lord; and he ran up and down stairs,

through the halls and corridors, and half the Court ran with him,

for they did not want to be trampled under foot. Everyone was

asking after the wonderful Nightingale which all the world knew

of, except those at Court.

At last they met a poor little girl in the kitchen, who said,

'Oh! I know the Nightingale well. How she sings! I have

permission to carry the scraps over from the Court meals to my

poor sick mother, and when I am going home at night, tired and

weary, and rest for a little in the wood, then I hear the

Nightingale singing! It brings tears to my eyes, and I feel as

if my mother were kissing me!'

'Little kitchenmaid!' said the First Lord, 'I will give you a

place in the kitchen, and you shall have leave to see the Emperor

at dinner, if you can lead us to the Nightingale, for she is

invited to come to Court this evening.'

And so they all went into the wood where the Nightingale was wont

to sing, and half the Court went too.

When they were on the way there they heard a cow mooing.

'Oh!' said the Courtiers, 'now we have found her! What a

wonderful power for such a small beast to have! I am sure we

have heard her before!'

'No; that is a cow mooing!' said the little kitchenmaid. 'We

are still a long way off!'

Then the frogs began to croak in the marsh. 'Splendid!' said the

Chinese chaplain. 'Now we hear her; it sounds like a little


'No, no; those are frogs!' said the little kitchenmaid. 'But I

think we shall soon hear her now!'

Then the Nightingale began to sing.

'There she is!' cried the little girl. 'Listen! She is sitting

there!' And she pointed to a little dark-grey bird up in the


'Is it possible!' said the First Lord. 'I should never have

thought it! How ordinary she looks! She must surely have lost

her feathers because she sees so many distinguished men round


'Little Nightingale,' called out the little kitchenmaid, 'our

Gracious Emperor wants you to sing before him!'

'With the greatest of pleasure!' said the Nightingale; and she

sang so gloriously that it was a pleasure to listen.

'It sounds like glass bells!' said the First Lord. 'And look how

her little throat works! It is wonderful that we have never

heard her before! She will be a great success at Court.'

'Shall I sing once more for the Emperor?' asked the Nightingale,

thinking that the Emperor was there.

'My esteemed little Nightingale,' said the First Lord, 'I have

the great pleasure to invite you to Court this evening, where His

Gracious Imperial Highness will be enchanted with your charming


'It sounds best in the green wood,' said the Nightingale; but

still, she came gladly when she heard that the Emperor wished it.

At the Palace everything was splendidly prepared. The porcelain

walls and floors glittered in the light of many thousand gold

lamps; the most gorgeous flowers which tinkled out well were

placed in the corridors. There was such a hurrying and draught

that all the bells jingled so much that one could not hear

oneself speak. In the centre of the great hall where the Emperor

sat was a golden perch, on which the Nightingale sat. The whole

Court was there, and the little kitchenmaid was allowed to stand

behind the door, now that she was a Court-cook. Everyone was

dressed in his best, and everyone was looking towards the little

grey bird to whom the Emperor nodded.

The Nightingale sang so gloriously that the tears came into the

Emperor's eyes and ran down his cheeks. Then the Nightingale

sang even more beautifully; it went straight to all hearts. The

Emperor was so delighted that he said she should wear his gold

slipper round her neck. But the Nightingale thanked him, and

said she had had enough reward already. 'I have seen tears in

the Emperor's eyes--that is a great reward. An Emperor's tears

have such power!' Then she sang again with her gloriously sweet


'That is the most charming coquetry I have ever seen!' said all

the ladies round. And they all took to holding water in their

mouths that they might gurgle whenever anyone spoke to them.

Then they thought themselves nightingales. Yes, the lackeys and

chambermaids announced that they were pleased; which means a

great deal, for they are the most difficult people of all to

satisfy. In short, the Nightingale was a real success.

She had to stay at Court now; she had her own cage, and

permission to walk out twice in the day and once at night.

She was given twelve servants, who each held a silken string

which was fastened round her leg. There was little pleasure in

flying about like this.

The whole town was talking about the wonderful bird, and when two

people met each other one would say 'Nightin,' and the other

'Gale,' and then they would both sigh and understand one another.

Yes, and eleven grocer's children were called after her, but not

one of them could sing a note.

One day the Emperor received a large parcel on which was written

'The Nightingale.'

'Here is another new book about our famous bird!' said the


But it was not a book, but a little mechanical toy, which lay in

a box--an artificial nightingale which was like the real one,

only that it was set all over with diamonds, rubies, and

sapphires. When it was wound up, it could sing the piece the

real bird sang, and moved its tail up and down, and glittered

with silver and gold. Round its neck was a little collar on

which was written, 'The Nightingale of the Emperor of Japan is

nothing compared to that of the Emperor of China.'

'This is magnificent!' they all said, and the man who had

brought the clockwork bird received on the spot the title of

'Bringer of the Imperial First Nightingale.'

'Now they must sing together; what a duet we shall have!'

And so they sang together, but their voices did not blend, for

the real Nightingale sang in her way and the clockwork bird sang


'It is not its fault!' said the bandmaster; 'it keeps very good

time and is quite after my style!'

Then the artificial bird had to sing alone. It gave just as much

pleasure as the real one, and then it was so much prettier to

look at; it sparkled like bracelets and necklaces.

Three-and-thirty times it sang the same piece without being

tired. People would like to have heard it again, but the Emperor

thought that the living Nightingale should sing now--but where

was she? No one had noticed that she had flown out of the open

window away to her green woods.

'What SHALL we do!' said the Emperor.

And all the Court scolded, and said that the Nightingale was very

ungrateful. 'But we have still the best bird!' they said and the

artificial bird had to sing again, and that was the thirty-fourth

time they had heard the same piece. But they did not yet know it

by heart; it was much too difficult. And the bandmaster praised

the bird tremendously; yes, he assured them it was better than a

real nightingale, not only because of its beautiful plumage and

diamonds, but inside as well. 'For see, my Lords and Ladies and

your Imperial Majesty, with the real Nightingale one can never

tell what will come out, but all is known about the artificial

bird! You can explain it, you can open it and show people where

the waltzes lie, how they go, and how one follows the other!'

'That's just what we think!' said everyone; and the bandmaster

received permission to show the bird to the people the next

Sunday. They should hear it sing, commanded the Emperor. And

they heard it, and they were as pleased as if they had been

intoxicated with tea, after the Chinese fashion, and they all

said 'Oh!' and held up their forefingers and nodded time. But

the poor fishermen who had heard the real Nightingale said: 'This

one sings well enough, the tunes glide out; but there is

something wanting-- I don't know what!'

The real Nightingale was banished from the kingdom.

The artificial bird was put on silken cushions by the Emperor's

bed, all the presents which it received, gold and precious

stones, lay round it, and it was given the title of Imperial

Night-singer, First from the left. For the Emperor counted that

side as the more distinguished, being the side on which the heart

is; the Emperor's heart is also on the left.

And the bandmaster wrote a work of twenty-five volumes about the

artificial bird. It was so learned, long, and so full of the

hardest Chinese words that everyone said they had read it and

understood it; for once they had been very stupid about a book,

and had been trampled under foot in consequence. So a whole year

passed. The Emperor, the Court, and all the Chinese knew every

note of the artificial bird's song by heart. Bat they liked it

all the better for this; they could even sing with it, and they

did. The street boys sang 'Tra-la-la-la-la, and the Emperor sang

too sometimes. It was indeed delightful.

But one evening, when the artificial bird was singing its best,

and the Emperor lay in bed listening to it, something in the bird

went crack. Something snapped! Whir-r-r! all the wheels ran

down and then the music ceased. The Emperor sprang up, and had

his physician summoned, but what could HE do! Then the

clockmaker came, and, after a great deal of talking and

examining, he put the bird somewhat in order, but he said that it

must be very seldom used as the works were nearly worn out, and

it was impossible to put in new ones. Here was a calamity! Only

once a year was the artificial bird allowed to sing, and even

that was almost too much for it. But then the bandmaster made a

little speech full of hard words, saying that it was just as good

as before. And so, of course, it WAS just as good as before. So

five years passed, and then a great sorrow came to the nation.

The Chinese look upon their Emperor as everything, and now he was

ill, and not likely to live it was said.

Already a new Emperor had been chosen, and the people stood

outside in the street and asked the First Lord how the old

Emperor was. 'P!' said he, and shook his head.

Cold and pale lay the Emperor in his splendid great bed; the

whole Court believed him dead, and one after the other left him

to pay their respects to the new Emperor. Everywhere in the

halls and corridors cloth was laid down so that no footstep could

be heard, and everything was still--very, very still. And

nothing came to break the silence.

The Emperor longed for something to come and relieve the monotony

of this deathlike stillness. If only someone would speak to him!

If only someone would sing to him. Music would carry his

thoughts away, and would break the spell lying on him. The moon

was streaming in at the open window; but that, too, was silent,

quite silent.

'Music! music!' cried the Emperor. 'You little bright golden

bird, sing! do sing! I gave you gold and jewels; I have hung my

gold slipper round your neck with my own hand--sing! do sing!'

But the bird was silent. There was no one to wind it up, and so

it could not sing. And all was silent, so terribly silent!

All at once there came in at the window the most glorious burst

of song. It was the little living Nightingale, who, sitting

outside on a bough, had heard the need of her Emperor and had

come to sing to him of comfort and hope. And as she sang the

blood flowed quicker and quicker in the Emperor's weak limbs, and

life began to return.

'Thank you, thank you!' said the Emperor. 'You divine little

bird! I know you. I chased you from my kingdom, and you have

given me life again! How can I reward you?'

'You have done that already!' said the Nightingale. 'I brought

tears to your eyes the first time I sang. I shall never forget

that. They are jewels that rejoice a singer's heart. But now

sleep and get strong again; I will sing you a lullaby.' And the

Emperor fell into a deep, calm sleep as she sang.

The sun was shining through the window when he awoke, strong and

well. None of his servants had come back yet, for they thought

he was dead. But the Nightingale sat and sang to him.

'You must always stay with me!' said the Emperor. 'You shall

sing whenever you like, and I will break the artificial bird into

a thousand pieces.'

'Don't do that!' said the Nightingale. 'He did his work as long

as he could. Keep him as you have done! I cannot build my nest

in the Palace and live here; but let me come whenever I like. I

will sit in the evening on the bough outside the window, and I

will sing you something that will make you feel happy and

grateful. I will sing of joy, and of sorrow; I will sing of the

evil and the good which lies hidden from you. The little

singing-bird flies all around, to the poor fisherman's hut, to

the farmer's cottage, to all those who are far away from you and

your Court. I love your heart more than your crown, though that

has about it a brightness as of something holy. Now I will sing

to you again; but you must promise me one thing----'

'Anything!' said the Emperor, standing up in his Imperial robes,

which he had himself put on, and fastening on his sword richly

embossed with gold.

'One thing I beg of you! Don't tell anyone that you have a

little bird who tells you everything. It will be much better not

to!' Then the Nightingale flew away.

The servants came in to look at their dead Emperor.

The Emperor said, 'Good-morning!'