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The Children's Blue Bird
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CHAPTER I

THE WOODCUTTER'S COTTAGE

ONCE upon a time, a woodcutter and his wife lived in their cottage on the edge of a large and ancient forest. They had two dear little children who met with a most wonderful adventure

But, before telling you all about it, I must describe the children to you and let you know something of their character; for, if they had not been so sweet and brave and plucky, the curious story which you are about to hear would never have happened at all.

Tyltyl – that was our hero's name – was ten years old; and Mytyl, his little sister, was only six.

Tyltyl was a fine, tall little fellow, stout and well-setup, with curly black hair which was often in a tangle, for he was fond of a romp. He was a great favourite because of his smiling and good-tempered face and the bright look in his eyes; but, best of all, he had the ways of a bold and fearless little man, which showed the noble qualities of his heart. When, early in the morning, he trotted along the forest-road by the side of his daddy, Tyl the woodcutter, for all his shabby clothes he looked so proud and gallant that every beautiful thing on the earth and in the sky seemed to lie in wait for him to smile upon him as he passed.

His little sister was very different, but looked ever so sweet and pretty in her long frock, which Mummy Tyl kept neatly patched for her. She was as fair as her brother was dark; and her large timid eyes were blue as the forget-me-nots in the fields. Anything was enough to frighten her and she would cry at the least thing; but her little child's soul already held the highest womanly qualities: she was loving and gentle and so fondly devoted to her brother that, rather than abandon him, she did not hesitate to undertake a long and dangerous journey in his company.

What happened and how our little hero and heroine went off into the world one night in search of happiness: that is the subject of my story.

Daddy Tyl's cottage was the poorest of the countryside; and it seemed even more wretched because it stood opposite a splendid hall in which rich children lived. From the windows of the cottage you could see what went on inside the Hall when the dining-room and drawing-rooms were lit up in the evening. And, in the daytime, you saw the little children playing on the terraces, in the gardens and in the hot-houses which people came all the way from town to visit because they were always filled with the rarest flowers.

Now, one evening which was not like other evenings, for it was Christmas Eve, Mummy Tyl put her little ones to bed and kissed them even more lovingly than usual. She felt a little sad, because owing to the stormy weather, Daddy Tyl was not able to go to work in the forest; and so she had no money to buy presents with which to fill Tyltyl and Mytyl's stockings. The Children soon fell asleep, everything was still and silent and not a sound was heard but the purring of the cat, the snoring of the dog and the ticking of the great grandfather's clock. But suddenly a light as bright as day crept through the shutters, the lamp upon the table lit again of itself and the two Children awoke, yawned, rubbed their eyes, stretched out their arms in bed and Tyltyl, in a cautious voice called:

"Mytyl?''

"Yes, Tyltyl?'' was the answer. "Are you asleep?"

"Are you?'

"No," said Tyltyl. "How can I be asleep, when I'm talking to you?"

"I say, is this Christmas Day?" asked his sister.

"Not yet; not till to-morrow. But Father Christmas won't bring us anything this year."

"Why not?"

"I heard Mummy say that she couldn't go to town to tell him. But he will come next year."

"Is next year far off?"

"A good long while," said the boy. "But he will come to the rich children to-night."

"Really?"

"Hullo!" cried Tyltyl of a sudden. "Mummy's forgotten to put out the lamp!... I've an idea!"

"What?"

"Let's get up."

"But we mustn't," said Mytyl, who always remembered.

"Why, there's no one about!.... Do you see the shutters?"

"Oh, how bright they are!"

"It' s the lights of the party," said Tyltyl.

"What party?"

"The rich children opposite. It's the Christmas-tree. Let's open the shutters ...."

"Can we?" asked Mytyl, timidly.

"Of course we can; there's no one to stop us ....Do you hear the music?.... Let us get up."

The two Children jumped out of bed, ran to the window, climbed on the stool in front of it and threw back the shutters. A bright light filled the room; and the Children looked out eagerly:

"We can see everything!" said Tyltyl.

"I can't," said poor little Mytyl, who could hardly find room on the stool.

"It's snowing!" said Tyltyl. "There's two carriages, with six horses each!"

"There are twelve little boys getting out!" said Mytyl, who was doing her best to peep out of the window.

"Don't be silly!... They're little girls..."

"They've got knickerbockers on... "

"Do be quiet! . . And look!..."

"What are those gold things there, hanging from the branches?"

"Why, toys, to be sure!" said Tyltyl. "Swords, guns, soldiers, cannons ...."

"And what's that, all round the table?"

"Cakes and fruit and cream-tarts."

"Oh, how pretty the children are!" cried Mytyl, clapping her hands.

"And how they're laughing and laughing!" answered Tyltyl, rapturously.

"And the little ones dancing!..."

"Yes, yes; let's dance too!" shouted Tyltyl.

And the two Children began to stamp their feet for joy on the stool"

"Oh, what fun!" said Mytyl.

"They're getting the cakes!" cried Tyltyl. "They can touch them!... They're eating, they're eating, they're eating!... Oh, how lovely, how lovely!..."

Mytyl began to count imaginary cakes:

"I have twelve!..."

"And I four times twelve!" said Tyltyl. "But I'll give you some .... "

And our little friends, dancing, laughing and shrieking with delight, rejoiced so prettily in the other children's happiness that they forgot their own poverty and want. They were soon to have their reward. Suddenly, there came a loud knocking at the door. The startled Children ceased their romp and dared not move a limb. Then the big wooden latch lifted of itself, with a loud creak; the door opened slowly; and in crept a little old woman, dressed all in green, with a red hood over her head. She was hump-backed and lame and had only one eye; her nose and chin almost touched; and she walked leaning on a stick. She was obviously a fairy.

She hobbled up to the Children and asked, in a snuffling voice:

"Have you the grass here that sings or the bird that is blue?"

"We have some grass," replied Tyltyl, trembling all over his body, "but it can't sing…"

"Tyltyl has a bird," said Mytyl.

"But I can't give it away, because it's mine," the little fellow added, quickly.

Now wasn't that a capital reason?

The Fairy put on her big, round glasses and looked at the bird:

"He's not blue enough," she exclaimed. "I must absolutely have the Blue Bird. It's for my little girl, who is very ill... Do you know what the Blue Bird stands for? No? I thought you didn't; and, as you are good children, I will tell you."

The Fairy raised her crooked finger to her long, pointed nose, and whispered, in a mysterious tone:

"The Blue Bird stands for happiness; and I want you to understand that my little girl must be happy in order to get well. That is why I now command you to go out into the world and find the Blue Bird for her. You will have to start at once . . Do you know who I am?"

The Children exchanged puzzled glances. The fact was that they had never seen a fairy before; and they felt a little scared in her presence. However, Tyltyl soon said politely:

"You are rather like our neighbour, Madame Berlingot..."

Tyltyl thought that, in saying this, he was paying the Fairy a compliment; for Madame Berlingot's shop, which was next door to their cottage, was a very pleasant place. It was stocked with sweets, marbles, chocolate cigars and sugar cocks-and-hens; and, at fair-time, there were big gingerbread dolls covered all over with gilt paper. Goody Berlingot had a nose that was quite as ugly as the Fairy's; she was old also; and, like the Fairy, she walked doubled up in two; but she was very kind and she had a dear little girl who used to play on Sundays with the woodcutter's Children. Unfortunately, the poor little pretty, fair-haired thing was always suffering from some unknown complaint, which often kept her in bed. When this happened, she used to beg and pray for Tyltyl's dove to play with; but Tyltyl was so fond of the bird that he would not give it to her. All this, thought the little boy, was very like that what the Fairy told him; and that was why he called her Berlingot.


She herself helped Mytyl

Much to his surprise, the Fairy turned crimson with rage. It was a hobby of hers to be like nobody, because she was a fairy and able to change her appearance, from one moment to the next, as she pleased. That evening, she happened to be ugly and old and hump-backed; she had lost one of her eyes; and two lean wisps of grey hair hung over her shoulders.

"What do I look like?" she asked Tyltyl. "Am I pretty or ugly? Old or young?"

Her reason for asking these questions was to try the kindness of the little boy. He turned away his head and dared not say what he thought of her looks. Then she cried: "I am the Fairy Bérylune!"

"Oh, that's all right!" answered Tyltyl, who, by this time, was shaking in every limb.

This mollified the Fairy; and, as the Children were still in their night-shirts, she told them to get dressed. She herself helped Mytyl and, while she did so, asked:

"Where are your Father and Mother?"

"In there," said Tyltyl, pointing to the door on the right. "They're asleep."

"And your Grandad and Granny?'

"They're dead .... "

"And your little brothers and sisters... Have you any?..."

"Oh, yes, three little brothers!" said Tyltyl. "And four little sisters," added Mytyl.

"Where are they?" asked the Fairy.

"They are dead, too," answered Tyltyl.

"Would you like to see them again?'

"Oh, yes!... At once!... Show them to us!..."

"I haven't got them in my pocket," said the Fairy. "But this is very lucky; you will see them when you go through the Land of Memory. It's on the way to the Blue Bird, just on the left, past the third turning... What were you doing when I knocked?''

"We were playing at eating cakes," said Tyltyl.

"Have you any cakes?.... Where are they?..."

"In the house of the rich children... Come and look, it's so lovely!"

And Tyltyl dragged the Fairy to the window.

"But it's the others who are eating them!" said she.

"Yes, but we can see them eat," said Tyltyl.

"Aren't you cross with them?"

"What for?"

"For eating all the cakes. I think it's very wrong of them not to give you any."

"Not at all; they're rich!... I say, isn't it beautiful over there?"

"It's just the same here, only you can't see ...."

"Yes, I can," said Tyltyl. "I have very good eyes. I can see the time on the church clock; and Daddy can't!"

The Fairy suddenly grew angry:

"I tell you that you can't see!" she said.

And she grew angrier and angrier. As though it mattered about seeing the time on the church clock!

Of course, the little boy was not blind; but, as he was kind-hearted and deserved to be happy, she wanted to teach him to see what is good and beautiful in all things. It was not an easy task, for she well knew that most people live and die without enjoying the happiness that lies all around them. Still, as she was a fairy, she was all-powerful; and so she decided to give him a little hat adorned with a magic diamond that would possess the extraordinary property of always showing him the truth, which would help him to see the inside of Things and thus reach him that each of them has a life and an existence of its own, created to match and gladden ours.

The Fairy took the little hat from a great bag hanging by her side. It was green and had a white cockade, with the big diamond shining in the middle of it. Tyltyl was beside himself with delight. The Fairy explained to him how the diamond worked. By pressing the top, you saw the soul of Things; if you gave it a little turn to the right, you discovered the Past; and, when you turned it to the left, you beheld the Future.

Tyltyl beamed all over his face and danced for joy; and then he at once became afraid of losing the little hat: "Daddy will take it from me!" he cried.

"No," said the Fairy, "for no one can see it as long as it's on your head... Will you try it?"

"Yes, yes!" cried the Children, clapping their hands. The hat was no sooner on the little boy's head than a magic change came over everything. The old Fairy turned into a young and beautiful princess, dressed all in silk and covered with sparkling jewels; the walls of the cottage became transparent and gleamed like precious stones; the humble deal furniture shone like marble. The two children ran from right to left clapping their hands and shouting with delight.

"Oh, how lovely, how lovely!" exclaimed Tyltyl.

And Mytyl, like the vain little thing she was, stood spellbound before the beauty of the fair princess' dress.

But further and much greater surprises were in store for them. Had not the Fairy said that the Things and the Animals would come to life, talk and behave like everybody else? Lo and behold, suddenly the door of the grandfather's clock opened, the silence was filled with the sweetest music and twelve little daintily-dressed and laughing dancers began to skip and spin all around the Children.

"They are the Hours of your life," said the Fairy.

"May I dance with them?' asked Tyltyl, gazing with admiration at those pretty creatures, who seemed to skim over the floor like birds.

But just then he burst into a wild fit of laughter! Who was that funny fat fellow, all out of breath and covered with flour, who came struggling out of the bread-pan and bowing to the children'. It was Bread! Bread himself, taking advantage of the reign of liberty to go for a little walk on earth! He looked like a stout, comical old gentleman; his face was puffed out with dough; and his large hands, at the end of his thick arms, were not able to meet, when he laid them on his great, round stomach. He was dressed in a tight-fitting crust-coloured suit, with stripes across the chest like those on the nice buttered rolls which we have for breakfast in the morning. On his head – just think of it! – he wore an enormous bun, which made a funny sort of turban.

He had hardly tumbled out of his pan, when other loaves just like him, but smaller, followed after and began to frisk about with the Hours, without giving a thought to the flour which they scattered over those pretty ladies and which wrapped them in great white clouds.

It was a queer and charming dance; and the Children were delighted. The Hours waltzed with the loaves; the plates, joining in the fun, hopped up and down on the dresser, at the risk of falling off and smashing to pieces; the glasses in the cupboard clinked together, to drink the health of one and all. As to the forks, they chattered so loudly with the knives that you could not hear yourself speak for the noise...

There is no knowing what would have happened if the din had lasted much longer. Daddy and Mummy Tyl would certainly have woke up. Fortunately, when the romp was at its height, an enormous flame darted out of the chimney and filled the room with a great red glow, as though the house were on fire. Everybody bolted into the corners in dismay, while Tyltyl and Mytyl, sobbing with fright, hid their heads under the good Fairy's cloak.

"Don't be afraid," she said. "It's only Fire, who has come to join in your fun. He is a good sort, but you had better not touch him, for he has a nasty temper."

Peeping anxiously through the beautiful gold lace that edged the Fairy's cloak, the Children saw a tall, red fellow looking at them and laughing at their fears. He was dressed in scarlet tights and spangles; from his shoulders hung silk scarves that were just like flames when he waved them with his long arms; and his hair stood up on his head in straight, flaring locks. He started flinging out his arms and legs and jumping round the room like a madman.

Tyltyl, though feeling a little easier, dared not yet leave his refuge. Then the Fairy Bérylune had a capital idea: she pointed her wand at the tap; and at once there appeared a young girl who wept like a regular fountain. It was Water. She was very pretty, but she looked extremely sad; and she sang so sweetly that it was like the rippling of a spring. Her long hair, which fell to her feet, might have been made of sea-weed. She had nothing on but her bed-gown; but the water that streamed over her clothed her in shimmering colours. She hesitated at first and gave a glance around her; then, catching sight of Fire still whirling about like a great madcap, she made an angry and indignant rush at him, spraying his face, splashing and wetting him with all her might. Fire flew into a rage and began to smoke. Nevertheless, as he found himself suddenly thwarted by his hereditary enemy, he thought it wiser to retire to a corner. Water also beat a retreat; and it seemed as though peace would be restored once more.

The two Children, at last recovering from their alarm, were asking the Fairy what was going to happen next, when a startling noise of breaking crockery made them look round towards the table. What a surprise! The milk-jug lay on the floor, smashed into a thousand fragments, and from the pieces rose a charming lady, who gave little screams of terror and clasped her hands and turned up her eyes with a beseeching glance.

Tyltyl hastened to console her, for he at once knew that she was Milk; and, as he was very fond of her, he gave her a good kiss. She was as fresh and pretty as a little dairy-maid; and a delicious scent of hay came from her white frock all covered with cream.

Meanwhile, Mytyl was watching the sugar-loaf, which also seemed to be coming to life. Packed in its blue paper wrapper, on a shelf near the door, it was swaying from left to right and from right to left without any result. But at last a long thin arm was seen to come out, followed by a peaked head, which split the paper, and by another arm and two long legs that seemed never to end!... Oh, you should have seen how funny Sugar looked: so funny, indeed, that the Children could not help laughing in his face! And yet they would have liked to be civil to him, for they heard the Fairy introducing him in these words:

"This, Tyltyl, is the soul of Sugar. His pockets are crammed with sugar and each of his fingers is a sugar-stick."

How wonderful to have a friend all made of sugar, off whom you can bite a piece whenever you feel inclined!

"Bow, wow, wow! ... Good-morning! Good-morning, my little god! . . At last, at last we can talk! . . Bark and wag my tail as I might, you never understood!... I love you! I love you!"

Who can this extraordinary person be, who jostles everybody and fills the house with his noisy gaiety? We know him at once. It is Tylô, the good Dog who tries his hardest to understand mankind, the good-natured Animal who goes with the Children to the forest, the faithful guardian who protects the door, the staunch friend who is ever true and ever loyal! Here he comes walking on his hindpaws, as on a pair of legs too short for him, and beating the air with the two others, making gestures like a clumsy little man. He has not changed: he still has his smooth, mustard-coloured coat and his jolly bull-dog head, with the black muzzle, but he is much bigger and then he talks! He talks as fast as he can, as though he wanted in one moment to avenge his whole race, which has been doomed to silence for centuries. He talks of everything, now that he is at last able to unbosom himself; and it is a pretty sight to see him kissing his little master and mistress and calling them "his little gods!" He sits up, he jumps about the room, knocking against the furniture, upsetting Mytyl with his big soft paws, lolling his tongue, wagging his tail and puffing and panting as though he were out hunting. We at once see his simple, generous nature. Persuaded of his own importance, he fancies that he alone is indispensable in the new world of Things.

After making all the fuss he wanted of the Children, he started going the round of the company, distributing the attentions which he thought that none could do without. His joy, now set free, found vent without restraint; and, because he was the most loving of creatures, he would also have been the happiest, if, in becoming human, he had not, unfortunately, retained his little doggy failings. He was jealous! He was terribly jealous; and his heart felt a pang when he saw Tylette, the Cat, coming to life in her turn and being petted and kissed by the Children, just as he had been! Oh, how he hated the Cat! To bear the sight of her beside him, to see her always sharing in the affection of the family: that was the great sacrifice which fate demanded of him. He accepted it, however, without a word, because it pleased his little gods; and he went so far as to leave her alone. But he had had many a crime on his conscience because of her! Had he not, one evening, crept stealthily into Goody Berlingot's kitchen in order to throttle her old tom-cat, who had never done him any harm? Had he not broken the back of the Persian cat at the Hall opposite? Did he not sometimes go to town on purpose to hunt cats and put an end to them, all to wreak his spite? And now Tylette was going to talk, just like himself! Tylette would be his equal in the new world that was opening before him!

"Oh, there is no justice left on earth!" was his bitter thought. "There is no justice left!"

In the meantime, the Cat, who had begun by washing herself and polishing her claws, calmly put out her paw to the little girl.

She really was a very pretty cat; and, if our friend Tylô's jealousy had not been such an ugly feeling, we might almost have overlooked it for once! How could you fail to be attracted by Tylette's eyes, which were like topaz set in emeralds? How could you resist the pleasure of stroking the wonderful black velvet back? How could you not love her grace, her gentleness and the dignity of her poses?

Smiling amiably and speaking in well-chosen language, she said to Mytyl:

"Good-morning, miss!... How well you look this morning!..."

And the Children patted her like anything.

Tylô kept watching the Cat from the other end of the room:

"Now that she's standing on her hind-legs like a man," he muttered, "she looks just like the Devil, with her pointed ears, her long tail and her dress as black as ink!" And he could not help growling between his teeth. "She's also like the village chimney-sweep," he went on, "whom I loathe and detest and whom I shall never take for a real man, whatever my little gods may say... It's lucky," he added, with a sigh, "that I know more about a good many things than they do!"

But suddenly, no longer able to master himself, he flew at the Cat and shouted, with a loud laugh that was more like a roar:

"I'm going to frighten Tylette! Bow, wow, wow!"


They all looked at her with a bewildered air. They understood that it was a solemn moment

But the Cat, who was dignified even when still an animal, now thought herself called to the loftiest destinies. She considered that the time had come to raise an insuperable barrier between herself and the Dog, who had never been more than an ill-bred person in her eyes; and, stepping back in disdain, she just said:

"Sir, I don't know you."

Tylô gave a bound under the insult, whereupon the Cat bristled up, twisting her whiskers under her little pink nose (for she was very proud of those two pale blotches which gave a special touch to her dark beauty); and then, arching her back and sticking up her tail, she hissed out, "Fft! Fft!" and stood stock-still on the chest of drawers, like a dragon on the lid of a Chinese vase.

Tyltyl and Mytyl screamed with laughter; but the quarrel would certainly have had a bad ending if, at that moment, a great thing had not happened. At eleven o'clock in the evening, in the middle of that winter's night, a great light, the light of the noon-day sun, glowing and dazzling, burst into the cottage.

"Hullo, there's daylight!" said the little boy, who no longer knew what to make of things. "What will Daddy say?'

But, before the Fairy had time to set him right, Tyltyl understood; and, full of wonderment, he knelt before the latest apparition that bewitched his eyes.

At the window, in the centre of a great halo of sunshine, there rose slowly, like a tall golden sheaf, a maiden of surpassing loveliness! Gleaming veils covered her figure without hiding its beauty; her bare arms, stretched in the attitude of giving, seemed transparent; and her great clear eyes wrapped all upon whom they fell in a fond embrace.

"It's the Queen!" said Tyltyl.

"It's the Blessed Virgin!" cried Mytyl, kneeling beside her brother.

"No, my Children," said the Fairy. "It is Light!"

Smiling, Light stepped towards the two little ones. She, the Light of Heaven, the strength and beauty of the Earth, was proud of the humble mission entrusted to her; she, never before held captive, living in space and lavishing her bounty upon all alike, consented to be confined, for a brief spell, within a human shape, so as to lead the Children out into the world and teach them to know that other Light, the Light of the Mind, which we never see, but which helps us to see all things that are.

"It is Light!" exclaimed the Things and the Animals; and, as they all loved her, they began to dance around her with cries of pleasure.

Tyltyl and Mytyl capered with joy. Never had they pictured so amusing and so pretty a party; and they shouted louder than all the rest.

Then what was bound to happen came. Suddenly, three knocks were heard against the wall, loud enough to throw the house down! It was Daddy Tyl, who had been woke up by the din and who was now threatening to come and put a stop to it.

"Turn the diamond!" cried the Fairy to Tyltyl.

Our hero hastened to obey, but he had not the knack of it yet; besides, his hand shook at the thought that his father was coming. In fact, he was so awkward that he nearly broke the works.

"Not so quick, not so quick!" said the Fairy. "Oh dear, you've turned it too briskly: they will not have time to resume their places and we shall have a lot of bother!"

There was a general stampede. The walls of the cottage lost their splendour. All ran hither and thither, to return to their proper shape: Fire could not find his chimney; Water ran about looking for her tap; Sugar stood moaning in front of his torn wrapper; and Bread, the biggest of the loaves, was unable to squeeze into his pan, in which the other loaves had jumped higgledy-piggledy, taking up all the room. As for the Dog: he had grown too large for the hole in his kennel; and the Cat also could not get into her basket. The Hours alone, who were accustomed always to run faster than Man wished, had slipped back into the clock without delay.

Light stood motionless and unruffled, vainly setting an example of calmness to the others, who were all weeping and wailing around the Fairy:

"What is going to happen?' they asked. "Is there any danger?"

"Well," said the Fairy, "I am bound to tell you the truth: all those who accompany the two Children will die at the end of the journey."

They began to cry like anything, all except the Dog, who was delighted at remaining human as long as possible and who had already taken his stand next to Light, so as to be sure of going in front of his little master and mistress.

At that moment, there came a knocking even more dreadful than before.

"There's Daddy again!" said Tyltyl. "He's getting up, this time; I can hear him walking…"

"You see," said the Fairy, "you have no choice now; it is too late; you must all start with us... But you, Fire, don't come near anybody; you, Dog, don't tease the Cat; you, Water, try not to run all over the place; and you, Sugar, stop crying, unless you want to melt. Bread shall carry the cage in which to put the Blue Bird; and you shall all come to my house, where I will dress the Animals and the Things properly... Let us go out this way!"

As she spoke, she pointed her wand at the window, which lengthened magically downwards, like a door. They all went out on tip-toe, after which the window resumed its usual shape. And so it came about that, on Christmas Night, in the clear light of the moon, while the bells rang out lustily, proclaiming the birth of Jesus, Tyltyl and Mytyl went in search of the Blue Bird that was to bring them happiness.


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