T HERE was once an unhappy boy, who thought that this world was not a very nice place. He was not a poor boy, for he lived with his father in a large house, and had a great many toys, and a fine garden in which to play, and all that he wanted to eat. But, of course, as he was not thankful for all these things, they could not make him happy.
The thing about this world that the boy particularly disliked was that it was so stupidly regular. You always knew when the sun would rise, and when it would set; and you knew that when it set—and sometimes even sooner—nurse would come and tell you that you must eat your supper and get ready for bed. The boy had never yet seen the time when he wanted to go to bed at the time nurse wanted him to. And it was just so about getting up, and being ready for breakfast, and being ready for school, and coming in to wash your hands in time for dinner: everything went round and round in the same way, and you could hardly ever do what you wanted to, because it was time for something else. The boy thought that on this account it was probably the worst world ever made.
Sometimes the trouble was of the opposite kind. If you wanted the sun to rise a little earlier than usual, it would never do it, and if you wanted Christmas to come in the middle of November, there was no way to manage it. So you had to wait for a great many things, and this made you impatient. It was particularly bad to have to wait to be ten years old, for the boy had been told by his father of a good many fine things he could have, and a good many other fine things that he could do, when he should be ten years old. Nothing had ever been so slow in coming as that tenth birthday, and the nearer it came—according to the calendar—the slower it was about it. The decent thing for a birthday to do would have been to come a little faster all the time, and finally, when it was only a week away, to hurry so fast that it would be there before you knew it. But it did nothing of the kind. So a week before it was to be there, the boy asked his father if he would please hurry up his birthday in some way, or, if he could not do that, would he please buy him another one that could be delivered at once. But his father shook his head, and showed the boy the calendar again, and told him that birthdays could not only not be hurried, but that they actually came more slowly the more you tried to make them hurry. So that was only another proof of what a poor world this is to live in.
At last, three nights before his birthday was really to come, the boy made up his mind that he could not stand it any longer. When his nurse thought he had gone to sleep, he was out of his bed and standing at the window ledge, looking up at the stars. They shone so brightly that it seemed as if you could reach out and touch them, and the boy, remembering that each of them was a great world like this, made up his mind that if he could only get to one of them, he could certainly live there more happily than on the earth. He had never thought before that it might be possible to do this, and he was not sure now how to go about it; but he believed that his father's secretary could tell him. His father had a remarkably wise secretary, who knew a great many things that he never told, and as he studied the stars a great deal, it seemed likely that he might know how to get to them. He was not particularly fond of the boy, but he was very fond of the boy's dog; and the boy thought that if he should offer to give him the dog, the secretary would tell him anything he wanted to know.
So he went very quietly through the long hall, and knocked at the secretary's door.
"Come in," said the secretary.
"I want to see you about something very important," said the boy. "I am so tired of this world that I have decided to go to some other world, if I possibly can, and I thought perhaps you could show me how to get to one of the stars. If you will, you can have my dog, and anything else of mine you want, for of course I should not have any more use for them." The secretary did not say anything for a long time. Then he said:
"I suppose I could let you have my Light Magnet."
"And what is that?" asked the boy.
"It is a very strong Magnet," said the secretary, "that works with light. If you take it in your hand and hold it where a lamp can shine on it, you will be drawn across the room to the light so quickly that you hardly know what has happened, but so gently that you are not hurt at all. I have always thought that I could draw myself up to the moon or a star, if I should try; but as I never wanted to leave the earth, I have not found out surely."
"That would be fine!" cried the boy, clapping his hands; and when the secretary was sure that he meant what he said, he went to his desk and took out the Light Magnet. It looked very much like a round stone, about the size of a large paper-weight or ink-stand, and in the center of it was a spot like a mirror, which reflected brilliantly any light that shone on it, and made it look as if it had a heart of fire.
The boy took the precious thing back to his room, and, having first put on his warm clothing and his overcoat, so that he would not be cold while traveling, he threw open the window, and sat down on the ledge with his feet hanging outside. Then he turned the Magnet straight toward the star that seemed nearest and brightest, and waited impatiently to see what would happen. At first nothing happened, and the boy was afraid the secretary was mistaken in thinking that the Magnet would work with a light so far away; but in another minute he felt it giving a little tug in his hands, and when he held on to it tightly, the tug pulled at his arms and then at his whole body, and before he really knew what was happening, he had been drawn off the window ledge, and was moving through the air like a bird.
At first the boy was almost frightened, when he looked down and saw the lights of his father's house and of the whole city growing dimmer underneath him; but when he looked up, and saw the star seeming already to come nearer, he was glad that he was leaving the earth, and shouted "Hurrah!" to himself, as he moved swiftly along.
Of course he had no way to measure time, so he could not tell how long it was before his journey ended; but it was certainly a wonderfully short time when the star stopped looking like a big light, and instead showed like a world, with the sun shining on it, and with hills and valleys and cities, like the earth he had left. Then in a few minutes more the boy alighted on the ground. "Hurrah!" he said again. "Now I am in another world."
He now walked some distance before he met any one, for it was in the open country that he had arrived. At last a man appeared coming toward him, and when they came near each other both of them politely took off their hats.
"You seem to be a stranger," said the man.
"Yes," said the boy, "I have just come from the world, and landed on your star. Did you ever meet any one from the world before?"
"Why, this is the world," said the man. "I guess you must mean that you have come from one of the stars."
The boy did not want to be rude, so he said, "Well, I suppose it depends on how you look at it."
"And why did you come away from your star?" asked the man.
"Oh, I did not like it at all," said the boy. "For one thing, the sun rises and sets every day at about the same time, and you have to go to bed when it sets and get up when it rises; and I thought I should like to go to a world where the sun shines all the time. So I'm very glad to find it shining here, although it is night."
"But it isn't night at all," said the man. "It is the middle of the day with us. After a while the sun will set, just as it does with you."
"Bless me!" said the boy. "I'm sorry to hear that. I had no idea that it would be so in any world but ours. But there were other reasons why I didn't like our world. The years were so very long, and you couldn't have a Christmas or a birthday until just the day for it came round."
"How long were your years?" asked the man.
"Three hundred and sixty-five days," said the boy. "Don't you think that is a pretty long time?"
"Well, I don't know," said the man. "Our years are four hundred and seventy days long."
"My goodness!" said the boy. "And do you have only one birthday in a year?"
"Of course," said the man. "How could you have more?"
"I don't know," said the boy, "but I thought perhaps up here you could have a birthday whenever you wanted it to come."
"Why, we go around the sun just the way you do," said the man, "and that is what makes years."
"And do you have to wait a long time for winter to come when you want the snow, and then another long time for the summer when you want the green grass and the flowers? I thought perhaps up here you could have summer one day, and winter the next, if you happened to want it so."
The man shook his head. "I don't know just where you would find a world like that," he said. "But surely you will not find it here."
By this time the boy felt pretty much discouraged.
"Well," he said, "I think I shall have to try another world, for this one seems to be even worse than the one I came from."
So he thanked the man for all he had told him, and walked about a little more, eating, as he walked, from fruit trees that grew by the roadside. Then when he was tired he lay down and went to sleep.
When he awoke it was dark, and the stars were shining. "Now is my time," he said, "to try another world." He brought out his Light Magnet and pointed it at the star that seemed brightest, and presently he was traveling toward it as fast as he had the night before.
This second star proved to be a rather better-looking world than the first one, and the boy was pleased to find cold weather there, for it had been summer in the other world, and he thought it very pleasant to have winter come in the middle of summer in this way. But when he began to ask questions of the first man he met, he was disappointed again. "This is very pleasant winter weather," he said politely, "but I suppose you will soon get tired of it and have something warmer?"
"It would not do us any good to get tired of it," said the man of the second star, "for we shall not have any warm weather for about three hundred days."
"Three hundred days!" said the boy. "Why, that is almost a year."
"Oh, no, I beg your pardon," said the man of the second star, "a year is six hundred days with us."
"And you can't possibly have any summer until the time for it comes?"
"Why, how could we?"
"And you can have a birthday only once in six hundred days?"
"That is true."
"Then if I lived here," said the boy sadly, "I should not be anywhere near ten years old. Can you not tell me of any star that doesn't behave in so stupidly regular a way?"
"I don't think I can," said the man of the second star. "But you might try a comet. They do not behave in quite the same way that the stars do. I saw one last night that you might try if you care to."
The boy thanked him, and once more lay down to rest until nightfall. Then he saw the comet, riding in the sky with a very long tail, and turned his Light Magnet on it. Pretty soon he was going toward the comet as fast as he had gone toward the stars.
The comet did not look like the other worlds. Part of it was on fire, and the boy was frightened when he saw this; but the part on which he alighted was cool, though it seemed to be made of cinders from fires that had been burning not long before. There were no fields or cities, so far as he could see, and it did not look like a pleasant place to live in. At first, indeed, it seemed that there were no people on it, but after he had walked a long way the boy found a hermit, and the hermit asked him—as the men in the stars had done—where he had come from. Then the boy explained that he had come to the comet because he had not been able to find any other kind of world that did not go regularly around the sun, and have long, stupid seasons and years.
He found a hermit
"Well," said the old hermit, when he had heard what the boy had to say, "I'm afraid you have come to the wrong place again."
"Oh, dear!" said the boy. "You don't mean to tell me that a comet is as regular as a star. I have always heard that you never could tell when one would come in sight, or how long it would be before it would come again."
"That," said the hermit, "is only because you could not see very far. It is true that comets travel very differently from stars, and have different seasons, and all that sort of thing. But you can be pretty sure about them if you know their habits. For instance, this comet can now be seen on the earth where you came from. But according to your way of counting time, it will be two hundred and seventy years before it has gone around its course and come back to the place where your people can see it again."
The boy's eyes grew as big as saucers, so surprised was he to hear this.
"Then your years," he said "must be two hundred and seventy times as long as ours!"
"Yes," said the hermit. "We go through a great many different parts of the sky, and we have all kinds of seasons that you do not know anything about, and it is all very interesting. Perhaps you would like to stay on and see things for fifty or a hundred years or so. But, after all, we go just as steadily and faithfully along our own course as your world or any of the others."
"And in all the parts of the sky that you have been through," asked the boy, "have you never seen any kind of world that went where it pleased, and had no regular course of its own that it had to keep to?"
The wise hermit thought for a minute, then he shook his head. "Only broken pieces of worlds," he said, "and they soon burn up or explode."
The boy was almost ready to cry with disappointment, but he would not do so before the hermit.
"I think I will go back to my own world," he said. "It seems to be as good as any I can find. Do you think you could show me where it is, when night comes, so that I shall not make a mistake and go to one of the stars?"
"Yes," said the hermit, "I can show you
"Then I will start the first minute I can," said the boy, "for if I waited all that time, there would be no one left at home to know me, and besides I should be so old that I don't think I could make the journey."
So the moment it grew dark enough on the comet to see the stars come out in the sky, the wise hermit pointed to one of them that was low on the edge of the horizon, and told the boy that that star was really his own world; and the boy, after thanking him for his kindness, turned his Magnet toward it, and was soon setting out on his journey home. As he went, he thought for the first time that it was fortunate that his world did go about so regularly, otherwise he could never have told where to find it, and might have had to wander from star to star all the rest of his life.
The boy now felt some fear that he might alight at another part of the world from that in which his father lived. For all he knew, it might be the opposite side of the earth that was facing the comet. But fortunately it was not. It happened to be the very town in which he lived that he saw lying beneath him as he came dropping down out of the sky; and in fifteen minutes after he alighted, he was walking into the yard of his father's house.
The secretary came to the door to meet him.
"So you have come back?" he said.
"Yes," said the boy. "Your Magnet is a very nice thing, and I am much obliged for it; but as I could not find any other world that suited me any better than this, I have come back, and shall return your Magnet if you will give me back my dog."
"Certainly," said the secretary. "And it is very
fortunate that you returned just when you did. For your
birthday supper is all ready for you, as everybody thought
you would surely come home in time for that. If you had not
been in the world before twelve o'clock
"How queer!" said the boy. "I never thought of that." And, as he could now smell the birthday supper, he went directly in to eat it.