Once there was a woman who longed for a little child of her own, but she didn’t know how to get one. So she went to an old witch and asked her, “Can you tell me where I can find a little child? I would so love one.”
“That’s easy,” said the witch. “Take this barleycorn—but mind, it’s not the sort that grows in the fields, or that you feed to the chickens. Put it in a flower pot, and you shall see what you shall see.”
There was once a prince who didn’t have any money. But he had a kingdom, and though it was only small, it was enough for two. So he decided to get married.
Still it was daring of him to say to the emperor’s daughter, bold as brass. “Will you have me?” But he did, for his name was famous far and wide, and there were hundreds of princesses who would have answered, “Yes, thank you.”
Listen, and you shall hear what this one said.
The Wild Swans
Far away, where the swallows fly in winter, lived a king who had eleven sons, and one daugter, Elise. The eleven brothers went to school with stars on their breasts and swords at their sides. They wrote on golden slates with diamond pencils, and learned all their lessons off by heart; you could tell they were princes. Their sister Elise used to sit on a shining glass stool, reading a picture book that cost half a kingdom. The children had all they could want; but it didn’t last.
Their father the king married a wicked queen, who disliked the poor children—they found that out on the very first day. There was a big party at the palace, and the children played their old game of pretending to be visitors. But the queen did not give them any cakes or baked apples, as usual. She just handed them a teacup full of sand, and told them to feed their imaginations on that.
You know that in China the emperor is Chinese, and all the people around him are Chinese too. This story happened there a long time ago, which is all the more reason I should tell it to you now, before it is forgotten.
The emperor’s palace was the finest in the world, made entirely of the most delicate porcelain, so precious and so fragile that you had to be very careful about touching anything. The garden was full of rare flowers, and the loveliest had little silver bells tied to them that tinkled to attract the attention of passers-by.
Yes, everything in the emperor’s garden was very well thought out, and it stretched so far that even the gardener had no idea where it ended.
There was once a proud teapot—proud of her porcelain, proud of her long spout, proud of her wide handle. She had something to boast about at the front and the back. She never talked about her lid, because the lid had been broken and glued back together. We don’t like to talk about our shortcomings—other people will do that for us. The rest of the tea set—the cups, the cream jug, the sugar basin—preferred to gossip about the broken lid rather than praise the fine handle and the excellent spout. The teapot was well aware of that.
The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep
Have you ever seen a really old carved-wood cupboard, quite black with age? There was once one just like that in a sitting room; it had been in the family for generations. It was carved from top to bottom with roses and tulips, and little stags’ heads with branching antlers peeping out from the twining leaves. And on the central panel was carved a funny man. He had a long beard and little horns on his forehead, and the legs of a billygoat, and he had a grin on his face—you couldn’t call it a smile. The children of the house called him ‘Brigadier-General Private Sergeant-Major Goatlegs’, because it was hard to say, and there aren’t many—living or carved—who can boast a title like that.
Anyhow, there he was…
She Was No Good
The Mayor stood by the open window. He was in his shirt-sleeves and feeling very pleased with himself, even though he had cut himself shaving. He had stuck a bit of newspaper on the cut to stop it bleeding.