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Contents > Author > Sara Cone Bryant > The Nightingale 1873- Unknown
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Sara Cone Bryant
The Nightingale
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[Adapted from Hans Christian Andersen.]

A long, long time ago, as long ago as when
there were fairies, there lived an emperor
in China, who had a most beautiful palace,
all made of crystal. Outside the palace
was the loveliest garden in the whole world,
and farther away was a forest where the
trees were taller than any other trees in the
world, and farther away, still, was a deep
wood. And in this wood lived a little
Nightingale. The Nightingale sang so
beautifully that everybody who heard her
remembered her song better than anything
else that he heard or saw. People came
from all over the world to see the crystal
palace and the wonderful garden and the
great forest; but when they went home
and wrote books about these things they
always wrote, "But the Nightingale is the
best of all."

At last it happened that the Emperor
came upon a book which said this, and he
at once sent for his Chamberlain.

"Who is this Nightingale?" said the
Emperor. "Why have I never heard him

The Chamberlain, who was a very
important person, said, "There cannot be
any such person; I have never heard his

"The book says there is a Nightingale,"
said the Emperor. "I command that the
Nightingale be brought here to sing for me
this evening."

The Chamberlain went out and asked
all the great lords and ladies and pages
where the Nightingale could be found, but
not one of them had ever heard of him.
So the Chamberlain went back to the Emperor
and said, "There is no such person."

"The book says there is a Nightingale,"
said the Emperor; "if the Nightingale is
not here to sing for me this evening I will
have the court trampled upon, immediately
after supper."

The Chamberlain did not want to be
trampled upon, so he ran out and asked
everybody in the palace about the Nightingale.
At last, a little girl who worked in
the kitchen to help the cook's helper, said,
"Oh, yes, I know the Nightingale very
well. Every night, when I go to carry
scraps from the kitchen to my mother,
who lives in the wood beyond the forest,
I hear the Nightingale sing."

The Chamberlain asked the little cook-
maid to take him to the Nightingale's
home, and many of the lords and ladies
followed after. When they had gone a
little way, they heard a cow moo.

"Ah!" said the lords and ladies, "that
must be the Nightingale; what a large
voice for so small a creature!"

"Oh, no," said the little girl, "that is
just a cow, mooing."

A little farther on they heard some bull-
frogs, in a swamp. "Surely that is the
Nightingale," said the courtiers; "it really
sounds like church-bells!"

"Oh, no," said the little girl, "those are
bullfrogs, croaking."

At last they came to the wood where the
Nightingale was. "Hush!" said the little
girl, "she is going to sing." And, sure
enough, the little Nightingale began to
sing. She sang so beautifully that you
have never in all your life heard anything
like it.

"Dear, dear," said the courtiers, "that
is very pleasant; does that little gray bird
really make all that noise? She is so pale
that I think she has lost her color for fear
of us."

The Chamberlain asked the little Nightingale
to come and sing for the Emperor.
The little Nightingale said she could sing
better in her own greenwood, but she was
so sweet and kind that she came with them.

That evening the palace was all trimmed
with the most beautiful flowers you can
imagine, and rows and rows of little silver
bells, that tinkled when the wind blew
in, and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds
of wax candles, that shone like tiny
stars. In the great hall there was a gold
perch for the Nightingale, beside the
Emperor's throne.

When all the people were there, the
Emperor asked the Nightingale to sing. Then
the little gray Nightingale filled her throat
full, and sang. And, my dears, she sang
so beautifully that the Emperor's eyes
filled up with tears! And, you know,
emperors do not cry at all easily. So he asked
her to sing again, and this time she sang
so marvelously that the tears came out of
his eyes and ran down his cheeks. That
was a great success. They asked the little
Nightingale to sing, over and over again,
and when they had listened enough the
Emperor said that she should be made
"Singer in Chief to the Court." She was
to have a golden perch near the Emperor's
bed, and a little gold cage, and was
to be allowed to go out twice every day.
But there were twelve servants appointed
to wait on her, and those twelve servants
went with her every time she went out, and
each of the twelve had hold of the end
of a silken string which was tied to the
little Nightingale's leg! It was not so very
much fun to go out that way!

For a long, long time the Nightingale
sang every evening to the Emperor and his
court, and they liked her so much that
the ladies all tried to sound like her; they
used to put water in their mouths and then
make little sounds like this: glu-glu-glug.
And when the courtiers met each other in
the halls, one would say "Night," and
the other would say "ingale," and that
was conversation.

At last, one day, there came a little package
to the Emperor, on the outside of which
was written, "The Nightingale." Inside
was an artificial bird, something like a
Nightingale, only it was made of gold, and
silver, and rubies, and emeralds, and
diamonds. When it was wound up it played
a waltz tune, and as it played it moved its
little tail up and down. Everybody in the
court was filled with delight at the music
of the new nightingale. They made it sing
that same tune thirty-three times, and still
they had not had enough. They would
have made it sing the tune thirty-four times,
but the Emperor said, "I should like to
hear the real Nightingale sing, now."

But when they looked about for the real
little Nightingale, they could not find her
anywhere! She had taken the chance,
while everybody was listening to the waltz
tunes, to fly away through the window to
her own greenwood.

"What a very ungrateful bird!" said the
lords and ladies. "But it does not matter;
the new nightingale is just as good."

So the artificial nightingale was given
the real Nightingale's little gold perch, and
every night the Emperor wound her up,
and she sang waltz tunes to him. The
people in the court liked her even better
than the old Nightingale, because they
could all whistle her tunes,--which you
can't do with real nightingales.

About a year after the artificial nightingale
came, the Emperor was listening to
her waltz-tune, when there was a SNAP
and WHIR-R-R inside the bird, and the music
stopped. The Emperor ran to his doctor
but he could not do anything. Then he
ran to his clock-maker, but he could not
do much. Nobody could do much. The
best they could do was to patch the gold
nightingale up so that it could sing once
a year; even that was almost too much,
and the tune was pretty shaky. Still, the
Emperor kept the gold nightingale on the
perch in his own room.

A long time went by, and then, at last,
the Emperor grew very ill, and was about
to die. When it was sure that he could
not live much longer, the people chose a
new emperor and waited for the old one
to die. The poor Emperor lay, quite cold
and pale, in his great big bed, with velvet
curtains, and tall candlesticks all about.
He was quite alone, for all the courtiers
had gone to congratulate the new emperor,
and all the servants had gone to talk it

When the Emperor woke up, he felt a
terrible weight on his chest. He opened
his eyes, and there was Death, sitting on
his heart. Death had put on the Emperor's
gold crown, and he had the gold sceptre in
one hand, and the silken banner in the
other; and he looked at the Emperor with
his great hollow eyes. The room was full
of shadows, and the shadows were full of
faces. Everywhere the Emperor looked,
there were faces. Some were very, very
ugly, and some were sweet and lovely;
they were all the things the Emperor had
done in his life, good and bad. And as he
looked at them they began to whisper.
They whispered, "DO YOU REMEMBER THIS?"
remembered so much that he cried out loud,
"Oh, bring the great drum! Make music,
so that I may not hear these dreadful
whispers!" But there was nobody there
to bring the drum.

Then the Emperor cried, "You little
gold nightingale, can you not sing something
for me? I have given you gifts of
gold and jewels, and kept you always by
my side; will you not help me now?" But
there was nobody to wind the little gold
nightingale up, and of course it could not

The Emperor's heart grew colder and
colder where Death crouched upon it,
and the dreadful whispers grew louder and
louder, and the Emperor's life was almost
gone. Suddenly, through the open window,
there came a most lovely song. It was so
sweet and so loud that the whispers died
quite away. Presently the Emperor felt
his heart grow warm, then he felt the blood
flow through his limbs again; he listened
to the song until the tears ran down his
cheeks; he knew that it was the little real
Nightingale who had flown away from him
when the gold nightingale came.

Death was listening to the song, too;
and when it was done and the Emperor
begged for more, Death, too, said, "Please
sing again, little Nightingale!"

"Will you give me the Emperor's gold
crown for a song?" said the little Nightingale.

"Yes," said Death; and the little Nightingale
bought the Emperor's crown for a song.

"Oh, sing again, little Nightingale,"
begged Death.

"Will you give me the Emperor's sceptre
for another song?" said the little gray

"Yes," said Death; and the little Nightingale
bought the Emperor's sceptre for
another song.

Once more Death begged for a song,
and this time the little Nightingale got the
banner for her singing. Then she sang one
more song, so sweet and so sad that it
made Death think of his garden in the
churchyard, where he always liked best
to be. And he rose from the Emperor's
heart and floated away through the window.

When Death was gone, the Emperor
said to the little Nightingale, "Oh, dear
little Nightingale, you have saved me from
Death! Do not leave me again. Stay with
me on this little gold perch, and sing to me

"No, dear Emperor," said the little
Nightingale, "I sing best when I am free;
I cannot live in a palace. But every night
when you are quite alone, I will come
and sit in the window and sing to you, and
tell you everything that goes on in your
kingdom: I will tell you where the poor
people are who ought to be helped, and
where the wicked people are who ought
to be punished. Only, dear Emperor, be
sure that you never let anybody know that
you have a little bird who tells you everything."

After the little Nightingale had flown
away, the Emperor felt so well and strong
that he dressed himself in his royal robes
and took his gold sceptre in his hand.
And when the courtiers came in to see if he
were dead, there stood the Emperor with
his sword in one hand and his sceptre in
the other, and said, "Good-morning!"


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