By Mrs. E. M. Field
"Once upon a time," began Uncle Jack, "since we know no fairy stories are worth hearing unless they begin with 'once upon a time.'
"Once upon a time there was a country ruled over by a king and queen who had no children. Having no children of their own, these sovereigns thought other people's children a nuisance. I am afraid they were like the fox, who said the grapes were sour because he could not reach them, for it was well-known that they wanted some of these 'torments'
very badly themselves."
"Don't call us torments, Uncle Jack," interrupted his little niece.
"Well, you see, madam, historians must be truthful. I am bound to say that the king and queen passed a law in which the children were described as 'pickles, torments, plagues, bothers, nuisances, worries,' and by twenty-four other titles of respect which I have forgotten. This law enacted:
"First--That the children were to be seen and not heard. Wherefore all children under the age of sixteen were to speak in a whisper and laugh in a whisper."
"They couldn't, Uncle Jack," broke in Bryda, "they could only smile!"
"Or grin," said Uncle Jack. "So you think that a cruel law, Bryda?
"Secondly--As the sight of a child set the royal teeth on edge, no child was to be allowed to set foot out of doors, unless between the hours of twelve and one on any night when there was neither moon or stars."
"At that rate they would _never_ go out" said Bryda.
"Well, you see this was a law for the abolition of children; so they were to be suppressed as much as possible, of course.
"Then thirdly, the law declared--That, as little pitchers have long ears, no child should ever hear the conversation of grown-up people.
Therefore children were never to be admitted into any sitting-room used by the elders of the family, nor into any kitchen or room occupied by servants."
"O-o-oh!" said Bryda; "did they keep them in the coal-cellar?"
"In some houses, perhaps.
"Fourthly--Forasmuch as play was not a profitable occupation, and led to noise and laughter, all play-time and holidays should at once be abolished."
"That was a very bad law," said Bryda warmly.
"Well, the law was passed, and was soon carried out; and any one coming to the city would have thought there were no children, so carefully were they kept out of sight. All the toy-shops were closed, and confectioners were ordered, under pain of death, neither to make nor sell goodies. But one thing the king had forgotten, and that was that, after all, there were _more_ children than grown people in the country. One family had nine children, another six, and so on; so that, counting the boarding-schools, there were just three times as many children as grown people in the capital. Well, after about a week of this treatment (for the parents were compelled under threat of instant execution to carry it out), it happened that there came a night when at twelve o'clock, though it was not raining, there was neither moon nor star to be seen. So all the children in the city rushed forth into the park with Chinese lanterns in their hands, making quite a fairy gathering under the trees. Ob, how delicious it was! They ran and shouted, and played games and laughed, till suddenly one o'clock struck; and all the king's horses, and all the king's men, came to drive them to their homes again. But there were hundreds and hundreds of children, and only a few soldiers with wooden swords; for this was a very peaceable nation, and armed even its police with only birch rods. So one of the biggest boys blew a tin trumpet, and called all the children to him.
"'I vote we rebel,' he said. 'We will not stand this any more; let us drive away all the grown-ups, and have the town altogether to ourselves.'
"Now it so happened that a fairy had been watching all that went on in the town, and was not at all pleased. So when she heard this bold boy speak she thought it would be a good thing to let this rebellion be carried out. 'Serve 'em right,' she said; 'young and old shall all learn a lesson.'
"So she collected a few thousand fairies, and they flew to all the king's men, and whispered in their left ears dreadful things, which frightened them terribly and made them believe an immense army, instead of the troops of children, was coming to crush them all. Then the fairies whispered in their right ears that it would be wise to fly to a neighboring mountain where there was a large old fort, and there take refuge. So they galloped off as fast as the king's horses would carry them. Then the fairies flew all over the town and whispered the same things to all the grown-up people--fathers and mothers, old maids and old bachelors--till they, too, tumbled out of bed, dressed in a terrible hurry, and fled to the mountain. Even the king jumped out of bed, tied up his crown in his pocket-handkerchief, and ran for his life in his dressing-gown, while two lords in waiting, or gentlemen of the bedchamber, rushed after him with the royal mantle of ermine, and the scepter and golden ball. The lord chancellor filled his pockets with new sovereigns from the mint (for he slept there to look after the money) and then he too ran, but rather slowly, for he had the woolsack on his back, and it was pretty heavy. When they asked him why he took the trouble he answered that he thought the ground might be damp, and he already had a cold in his head.
"Well, all the elders being gone, the children were left in possession of the city, at which you may well suppose they were greatly astonished. They went on with their games for a while; but then the lanterns began to go out, and one after another they grew very sleepy.
So the boy with the tin trumpet blew it again, and commanded that every one should now go to bed, and that a meeting should be held at twelve o'clock next day in the park, at which every child should appear.
"Appear they did, in their Sunday clothes, those of them at least who cared for finery; there were no mothers or nurses to object. All were in great delight at having no one to rule them.
"'I shall never go to bed at eight!' said one.
"'I shall never eat rice pudding-horrid stuff!'
"'I shall never take any more doses!'
"'I shall never do any more lessons!'
"'Nor I! nor I! nor I!' shouted one after another; 'we shall all do only what we like! How happy we shall be!'
"Only one little maid whispered, with a tear trembling on the long lashes of her blue eyes, 'Dottie wants mother!' But Dottie was soon comforted, and ran about as merrily as ever.
"Meantime the elder boys and girls held a very noisy parliament, in which there were never less than five speaking at once. After a great deal of chatter they determined to set up a queen; and a very pretty little girl called May was chosen, and crowned with a crown of flowers.
"Next, Queen May and her council of six, three boys and three girls, ordered that a big bonfire should be made of all lesson-books and pinafores, for they thought pinafores were signs of an inferior state, of being under command, as servants sometimes think their caps are.
"The next law was that all the raspberry jam in the city should be set aside for the use of the queen and her court, and for those who were invited to the royal tea parties. There was a little grumbling about this, but finally the grumblers gave in. All this time troops of children came pouring in from the neighboring villages with pinafores on the end of broomsticks as flags of rebellion. Being pretty hungry, they dispersed for dinner, which in most of the houses was a very curious meal, as, of course, no one could cook, so they had to forage in the kitchens and storerooms, while bands of hungry young folks stormed the confectioners' shops, and dined off ices and wedding-cakes.
"Then they opened the toy-shops and put them in charge of parties of children and gradually the other shops were treated in the same way, for buying and selling is always a game children like, and it was such a treat to have real things to sell. Only money was such a trouble: they were always forgetting to bring any, and the young shopkeepers never were sure if a shilling or a sovereign was the right price for a thing. Therefore they concluded to do without it; and costly things were bought for kisses, while cheap ones were to be had for saying, 'If you please,' or, if they were very small, as a penny bun, for instance, then 'please' was enough."
"How nice!" said Bryda.
"Well, for a whole week there never was such happiness as the children enjoyed. Games from morning to night, bread and jam three times a day, no lessons, no forbidden things, and a queen of their own age in place of the tyrant king.
"But when a week was over some little murmurs began to arise. Every morning, I ought to say, the queen sat on her throne in the royal palace, to receive any of her subjects who liked playing at being courtiers, and she and her council then settled any difficulty that arose about rules of games, about the way to make the best toffee and any other important question.
"On this particular morning, then, rather more than a week after the establishment of the Children's Kingdom, a very large throng entered the queen's presence. Foremost came a troop of boys and girls, who led in a pale, serious-looking boy as a prisoner, and brought him to Queen May's feet.
"'What is the charge against this prisoner?' asked the queen, with dignity. 'Don't all speak at once,' she added, so hastily that several courtiers giggled.
"'Please your majesty,' said a boy, stepping forward, 'we caught him in the act--the very act--of learning lessons!'
"'Lessons!' cried the whole court, in every tone of disgust, anger, grief and dismay.
"'Lessons!' screamed the queen, and at once fainted away."
"She didn't!" said Bryda indignantly.
"Don't you think the shock was great enough?" asked Uncle Jack.
"Besides, she felt it part of her royal duty, perhaps.
"Anyhow, they tickled her with feathers, and put burned cork to her nose till she had a black mustache; and one boy brought a red-hot poker, which he said he had heard was a good thing, though he did not quite know how it was applied.
"It was the best remedy, certainly, for on its appearance the queen jumped up shrieking, and declared she was perfectly well.
"Then the queen proceeded to try the prisoner, and requested the whole court to act as jury. It was a very sad case of youthful depravity--the criminal had carefully kept this one book, 'Somebody's Arithmetic,' or 'Mangnall's Questions,' to gloat over in secret; and even now was not at all penitent, but declared, when asked what he had to say for himself, that it was 'stupid, and a bore,' to play games all day long, and he was sick of them.
"The jury could not agree as to what was to be done with such an offender, and so he was allowed to go, and bidden 'not to do it again,' and the queen went on to the next difficulty. Here the throne-room became quite full of children, all in great perplexity; for the matter was this, that the food supply was running short. The confectioners' shops were nearly empty; there was plenty of jam, but very little bread; and one or two boys, who had breakfasted on jam out of a pot, eaten with a spoon, said. 'They didn't know how it could be, but somehow they thought it did not quite agree with them.'
"This was really very serious. Could no one cook?