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Nursery Rhymes . . . for children.

Once upon a time . . . . .  from our fabulous collection of Fairy Tales for children . . .  they lived happily ever after . . .

The Nightingale

IN China, you know, the emperor is a Chinese, and all
those about him are Chinamen also. The story I am going to
tell you happened a great many years ago, so it is well to
hear it now before it is forgotten. The emperor's palace was
the most beautiful in the world. It was built entirely of
porcelain, and very costly, but so delicate and brittle that
whoever touched it was obliged to be careful. In the garden
could be seen the most singular flowers, with pretty silver
bells tied to them, which tinkled so that every one who passed
could not help noticing the flowers. Indeed, everything in the
emperor's garden was remarkable, and it extended so far that
the gardener himself did not know where it ended. Those who
travelled beyond its limits knew that there was a noble
forest, with lofty trees, sloping down to the deep blue sea,
and the great ships sailed under the shadow of its branches.
In one of these trees lived a nightingale, who sang so
beautifully that even the poor fishermen, who had so many
other things to do, would stop and listen. Sometimes, when
they went at night to spread their nets, they would hear her
sing, and say, 'Oh, is not that beautiful?' But when they
returned to their fishing, they forgot the bird until the next
night. Then they would hear it again, and exclaim 'Oh, how
beautiful is the nightingale's song!'

Travellers from every country in the world came to the
city of the emperor, which they admired very much, as well as
the palace and gardens; but when they heard the nightingale,
they all declared it to be the best of all. And the
travellers, on their return home, related what they had seen;
and learned men wrote books, containing descriptions of the
town, the palace, and the gardens; but they did not forget the
nightingale, which was really the greatest wonder. And those
who could write poetry composed beautiful verses about the
nightingale, who lived in a forest near the deep sea. The
books travelled all over the world, and some of them came into
the hands of the emperor; and he sat in his golden chair, and,
as he read, he nodded his approval every moment, for it
pleased him to find such a beautiful description of his city,
his palace, and his gardens. But when he came to the words,
'the nightingale is the most beautiful of all,' he exclaimed,
'What is this? I know nothing of any nightingale. Is there
such a bird in my empire? and even in my garden? I have never
heard of it. Something, it appears, may be learnt from books.'

Then he called one of his lords-in-waiting, who was so
high-bred, that when any in an inferior rank to himself spoke
to him, or asked him a question, he would answer, 'Pooh,'
which means nothing.

'There is a very wonderful bird mentioned here, called a
nightingale,' said the emperor; 'they say it is the best thing
in my large kingdom. Why have I not been told of it?'

'I have never heard the name,' replied the cavalier; 'she
has not been presented at court.'

'It is my pleasure that she shall appear this evening.'
said the emperor; the whole world knows what I possess better
than I do myself.'

'I have never heard of her,' said the cavalier; 'yet I
will endeavor to find her.'

But where was the nightingale to be found? The nobleman
went up stairs and down, through halls and passages; yet none
of those whom he met had heard of the bird. So he returned to
the emperor, and said that it must be a fable, invented by
those who had written the book. 'Your imperial majesty,' said
he, 'cannot believe everything contained in books; sometimes
they are only fiction, or what is called the black art.'

'But the book in which I have read this account,' said the
emperor, 'was sent to me by the great and mighty emperor of
Japan, and therefore it cannot contain a falsehood. I will
hear the nightingale, she must be here this evening; she has
my highest favor; and if she does not come, the whole court
shall be trampled upon after supper is ended.'

'Tsing-pe!' cried the lord-in-waiting, and again he ran up
and down stairs, through all the halls and corridors; and half
the court ran with him, for they did not like the idea of
being trampled upon. There was a great inquiry about this
wonderful nightingale, whom all the world knew, but who was
unknown to the court.

At last they met with a poor little girl in the kitchen,
who said, 'Oh, yes, I know the nightingale quite well; indeed,
she can sing. Every evening I have permission to take home to
my poor sick mother the scraps from the table; she lives down
by the sea-shore, and as I come back I feel tired, and I sit
down in the wood to rest, and listen to the nightingale's
song. Then the tears come into my eyes, and it is just as if
my mother kissed me.'

'Little maiden,' said the lord-in-waiting, 'I will obtain
for you constant employment in the kitchen, and you shall have
permission to see the emperor dine, if you will lead us to the
nightingale; for she is invited for this evening to the
palace.' So she went into the wood where the nightingale sang,
and half the court followed her. As they went along, a cow
began lowing.

'Oh,' said a young courtier, 'now we have found her; what
wonderful power for such a small creature; I have certainly
heard it before.'

'No, that is only a cow lowing,' said the little girl; 'we
are a long way from the place yet.'

Then some frogs began to croak in the marsh.

'Beautiful,' said the young courtier again. 'Now I hear
it, tinkling like little church bells.'

'No, those are frogs,' said the little maiden; 'but I
think we shall soon hear her now:' and presently the
nightingale began to sing.

'Hark, hark! there she is,' said the girl, 'and there she
sits,' she added, pointing to a little gray bird who was
perched on a bough.

'Is it possible?' said the lord-in-waiting, 'I never
imagined it would be a little, plain, simple thing like that.
She has certainly changed color at seeing so many grand people
around her.'

'Little nightingale,' cried the girl, raising her voice,
'our most gracious emperor wishes you to sing before him.'

'With the greatest pleasure,' said the nightingale, and
began to sing most delightfully.

'It sounds like tiny glass bells,' said the
lord-in-waiting, 'and see how her little throat works. It is
surprising that we have never heard this before; she will be a
great success at court.'

'Shall I sing once more before the emperor?' asked the
nightingale, who thought he was present.

'My excellent little nightingale,' said the courtier, 'I
have the great pleasure of inviting you to a court festival
this evening, where you will gain imperial favor by your
charming song.'

'My song sounds best in the green wood,' said the bird;
but still she came willingly when she heard the emperor's

The palace was elegantly decorated for the occasion. The
walls and floors of porcelain glittered in the light of a
thousand lamps. Beautiful flowers, round which little bells
were tied, stood in the corridors: what with the running to
and fro and the draught, these bells tinkled so loudly that no
one could speak to be heard. In the centre of the great hall,
a golden perch had been fixed for the nightingale to sit on.
The whole court was present, and the little kitchen-maid had
received permission to stand by the door. She was not
installed as a real court cook. All were in full dress, and
every eye was turned to the little gray bird when the emperor
nodded to her to begin. The nightingale sang so sweetly that
the tears came into the emperor's eyes, and then rolled down
his cheeks, as her song became still more touching and went to
every one's heart. The emperor was so delighted that he
declared the nightingale should have his gold slipper to wear
round her neck, but she declined the honor with thanks: she
had been sufficiently rewarded already. 'I have seen tears in
an emperor's eyes,' she said, 'that is my richest reward. An
emperor's tears have wonderful power, and are quite sufficient
honor for me;' and then she sang again more enchantingly than

'That singing is a lovely gift;' said the ladies of the
court to each other; and then they took water in their mouths
to make them utter the gurgling sounds of the nightingale when
they spoke to any one, so thay they might fancy themselves
nightingales. And the footmen and chambermaids also expressed
their satisfaction, which is saying a great deal, for they are
very difficult to please. In fact the nightingale's visit was
most successful. She was now to remain at court, to have her
own cage, with liberty to go out twice a day, and once during
the night. Twelve servants were appointed to attend her on
these occasions, who each held her by a silken string fastened
to her leg. There was certainly not much pleasure in this kind
of flying.

The whole city spoke of the wonderful bird, and when two
people met, one said 'nightin,' and the other said 'gale,' and
they understood what was meant, for nothing else was talked
of. Eleven peddlers' children were named after her, but not of
them could sing a note.

One day the emperor received a large packet on which was
written 'The Nightingale.' 'Here is no doubt a new book about
our celebrated bird,' said the emperor. But instead of a book,
it was a work of art contained in a casket, an artificial
nightingale made to look like a living one, and covered all
over with diamonds, rubies, and sapphires. As soon as the
artificial bird was wound up, it could sing like the real one,
and could move its tail up and down, which sparkled with
silver and gold. Round its neck hung a piece of ribbon, on
which was written 'The Emperor of China's nightingale is poor
compared with that of the Emperor of Japan's.'

'This is very beautiful,' exclaimed all who saw it, and he
who had brought the artificial bird received the title of
'Imperial nightingale-bringer-in-chief.'

'Now they must sing together,' said the court, 'and what a
duet it will be.' But they did not get on well, for the real
nightingale sang in its own natural way, but the artificial
bird sang only waltzes.

'That is not a fault,' said the music-master, 'it is quite
perfect to my taste,' so then it had to sing alone, and was as
successful as the real bird; besides, it was so much prettier
to look at, for it sparkled like bracelets and breast-pins.
Three and thirty times did it sing the same tunes without
being tired; the people would gladly have heard it again, but
the emperor said the living nightingale ought to sing
something. But where was she? No one had noticed her when she
flew out at the open window, back to her own green woods.

'What strange conduct,' said the emperor, when her flight
had been discovered; and all the courtiers blamed her, and
said she was a very ungrateful creature.

'But we have the best bird after all,' said one, and then
they would have the bird sing again, although it was the
thirty-fourth time they had listened to the same piece, and
even then they had not learnt it, for it was rather difficult.
But the music-master praised the bird in the highest degree,
and even asserted that it was better than a real nightingale,
not only in its dress and the beautiful diamonds, but also in
its musical power. 'For you must perceive, my chief lord and
emperor, that with a real nightingale we can never tell what
is going to be sung, but with this bird everything is settled.
It can be opened and explained, so that people may understand
how the waltzes are formed, and why one note follows upon

'This is exactly what we think,' they all replied, and
then the music-master received permission to exhibit the bird
to the people on the following Sunday, and the emperor
commanded that they should be present to hear it sing. When
they heard it they were like people intoxicated; however it
must have been with drinking tea, which is quite a Chinese
custom. They all said 'Oh!' and held up their forefingers and
nodded, but a poor fisherman, who had heard the real
nightingale, said, 'it sounds prettily enough, and the
melodies are all alike; yet there seems something wanting, I
cannot exactly tell what.'

And after this the real nightingale was banished from the
empire, and the artificial bird placed on a silk cushion close
to the emperor's bed. The presents of gold and precious stones
which had been received with it were round the bird, and it
was now advanced to the title of 'Little Imperial Toilet
Singer,' and to the rank of No. 1 on the left hand; for the
emperor considered the left side, on which the heart lies, as
the most noble, and the heart of an emperor is in the same
place as that of other people.

The music-master wrote a work, in twenty-five volumes,
about the artificial bird, which was very learned and very
long, and full of the most difficult Chinese words; yet all
the people said they had read it, and understood it, for fear
of being thought stupid and having their bodies trampled upon.

So a year passed, and the emperor, the court, and all the
other Chinese knew every little turn in the artificial bird's
song; and for that same reason it pleased them better. They
could sing with the bird, which they often did. The
street-boys sang, 'Zi-zi-zi, cluck, cluck, cluck,' and the
emperor himself could sing it also. It was really most

One evening, when the artificial bird was singing its
best, and the emperor lay in bed listening to it, something
inside the bird sounded 'whizz.' Then a spring cracked.
'Whir-r-r-r' went all the wheels, running round, and then the
music stopped. The emperor immediately sprang out of bed, and
called for his physician; but what could he do? Then they sent
for a watchmaker; and, after a great deal of talking and
examination, the bird was put into something like order; but
he said that it must be used very carefully, as the barrels
were worn, and it would be impossible to put in new ones
without injuring the music. Now there was great sorrow, as the
bird could only be allowed to play once a year; and even that
was dangerous for the works inside it. Then the music-master
made a little speech, full of hard words, and declared that
the bird was as good as ever; and, of course no one
contradicted him.

Five years passed, and then a real grief came upon the
land. The Chinese really were fond of their emperor, and he
now lay so ill that he was not expected to live. Already a new
emperor had been chosen and the people who stood in the street
asked the lord-in-waiting how the old emperor was; but he only
said, 'Pooh!' and shook his head.

Cold and pale lay the emperor in his royal bed; the whole
court thought he was dead, and every one ran away to pay
homage to his successor. The chamberlains went out to have a
talk on the matter, and the ladies'-maids invited company to
take coffee. Cloth had been laid down on the halls and
passages, so that not a footstep should be heard, and all was
silent and still. But the emperor was not yet dead, although
he lay white and stiff on his gorgeous bed, with the long
velvet curtains and heavy gold tassels. A window stood open,
and the moon shone in upon the emperor and the artificial
bird. The poor emperor, finding he could scarcely breathe with
a strange weight on his chest, opened his eyes, and saw Death
sitting there. He had put on the emperor's golden crown, and
held in one hand his sword of state, and in the other his
beautiful banner. All around the bed and peeping through the
long velvet curtains, were a number of strange heads, some
very ugly, and others lovely and gentle-looking. These were
the emperor's good and bad deeds, which stared him in the face
now Death sat at his heart.

'Do you remember this?' 'Do you recollect that?' they
asked one after another, thus bringing to his remembrance
circumstances that made the perspiration stand on his brow.

'I know nothing about it,' said the emperor. 'Music!
music!' he cried; 'the large Chinese drum! that I may not hear
what they say.' But they still went on, and Death nodded like
a Chinaman to all they said. 'Music! music!' shouted the
emperor. 'You little precious golden bird, sing, pray sing! I
have given you gold and costly presents; I have even hung my
golden slipper round your neck. Sing! sing!' But the bird
remained silent. There was no one to wind it up, and therefore
it could not sing a note.

Death continued to stare at the emperor with his cold,
hollow eyes, and the room was fearfully still. Suddenly there
came through the open window the sound of sweet music.
Outside, on the bough of a tree, sat the living nightingale.
She had heard of the emperor's illness, and was therefore come
to sing to him of hope and trust. And as she sung, the shadows
grew paler and paler; the blood in the emperor's veins flowed
more rapidly, and gave life to his weak limbs; and even Death
himself listened, and said, 'Go on, little nightingale, go

'Then will you give me the beautiful golden sword and that
rich banner? and will you give me the emperor's crown?' said
the bird.

So Death gave up each of these treasures for a song; and
the nightingale continued her singing. She sung of the quiet
churchyard, where the white roses grow, where the elder-tree
wafts its perfume on the breeze, and the fresh, sweet grass is
moistened by the mourners' tears. Then Death longed to go and
see his garden, and floated out through the window in the form
of a cold, white mist.

'Thanks, thanks, you heavenly little bird. I know you
well. I banished you from my kingdom once, and yet you have
charmed away the evil faces from my bed, and banished Death
from my heart, with your sweet song. How can I reward you?'

'You have already rewarded me,' said the nightingale. 'I
shall never forget that I drew tears from your eyes the first
time I sang to you. These are the jewels that rejoice a
singer's heart. But now sleep, and grow strong and well again.
I will sing to you again.'

And as she sung, the emperor fell into a sweet sleep; and
how mild and refreshing that slumber was! When he awoke,
strengthened and restored, the sun shone brightly through the
window; but not one of his servants had returned- they all
believed he was dead; only the nightingale still sat beside
him, and sang.

'You must always remain with me,' said the emperor. 'You
shall sing only when it pleases you; and I will break the
artificial bird into a thousand pieces.'

'No; do not do that,' replied the nightingale; 'the bird
did very well as long as it could. Keep it here still. I
cannot live in the palace, and build my nest; but let me come
when I like. I will sit on a bough outside your window, in the
evening, and sing to you, so that you may be happy, and have
thoughts full of joy. I will sing to you of those who are
happy, and those who suffer; of the good and the evil, who are
hidden around you. The little singing bird flies far from you
and your court to the home of the fisherman and the peasant's
cot. I love your heart better than your crown; and yet
something holy lingers round that also. I will come, I will
sing to you; but you must promise me one thing.'

'Everything,' said the emperor, who, having dressed
himself in his imperial robes, stood with the hand that held
the heavy golden sword pressed to his heart.

'I only ask one thing,' she replied; 'let no one know that
you have a little bird who tells you everything. It will be
best to conceal it.' So saying, the nightingale flew away.

The servants now came in to look after the dead emperor;
when, lo! there he stood, and, to their astonishment, said,
'Good morning.'

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