Gateway to the Classics: Overheard in Fairyland by Madge A. Bigham
Overheard in Fairyland by  Madge A. Bigham

Why Pine Trees Have Needles

Away up on the high hill, above the fairies' magic pool, there stood a beautiful marble castle, and in this castle lived the little Princess Olga.

She was a dear, sweet little girl, and one that everyone loved. Often and often the old nurse carried her down the winding path to play near the magic pool, and the little princess never grew weary of looking into its still waters.

Not so much to see her own sweet face did she do this, as to watch for the angels, which she said she could always see, beckoning and smiling at her from the white, sandy bottom of the pool.

"No angel is sweeter than thou, my princess," the old nurse would say, and it seemed that this was true, for everyone in the great castle, from the Lord High Chamberlain to the cook in the kitchen, loved the little princess, because she was always doing something kind for somebody—and somebody—and was just as glad to do it for the stable boy as for the king himself, you see,—which is the only way to be a real princess.

And so, of course, little Princess Olga saw nothing ugly when she looked into the fairies' magic pool, but instead, a rosy face, fair and pure like an angel's, framed in a mist of golden curls.

Her beautiful blue eyes often looked with wonderment up to the tops of the tall, bare pine trees, which stood so close to the fairies' pool, casting fantastic shadows across its smooth surface.

I wish I could tell you that the little princess was always as sweet and kind as she was when a little girl. But unless we are very careful, kind little girls sometimes grow into unkind big girls, and that is the way it happened with Princess Olga.

It was very sad, but everyone noticed as she grew older that a change came over her, and she was no longer kind and good as she once had been.

Instead of doing kind things for others she was proud and cross, and her words were so sharp that the stable boy and the cook and the Lord High Chamberlain said they stung like sharp needles, and even the king did not like to have his little daughter near him, because of her ugly, sharp words.

I cannot tell you why this change had come. Some said it was because the people in the castle had told Princess Olga so many times that none was more beautiful than she, none so smart, and that none could dance so well, that the little princess really believed it.

Others said, and the dear old nurse thought so too, that a piece of the black glass from the Giant Evil had somehow got into her eye, and made the little princess see things crooked as she grew older. I do not know; but somehow,—yes, somehow, little Princess Olga did not like to look into the clear, still waters of the pool any more, and that was a bad sign.

One night there was to be a great ball at the castle, quite as fine as the one Cinderella had gone to—and, like Cinderella, the prince was to be there, and everybody wanted to dance with him, especially Princess Olga.

All day long she had thought of nothing else but the ball and the prince—who, she said, would of course dance with no one but her.

There was a beautiful dress of soft, white silk spangled all over with jewels for her to wear, and jewelled slippers, and a wreath of roses for her hair.

The patient old nurse was kept busy trotting here and there and everywhere trying to help her dress. But, though she did her best, nothing would please Princess Olga, and she fretted and fumed and fussed, and even called the dear old nurse, who had always loved her, ugly names.

She even forgot to say "thank you," when at last she was quite ready, and the music was beginning to play in the grand ball-room of the castle.

"You are so beautiful, my princess," said the old nurse, "you make me think of the fair little angel face that used to smile back at you from the fairies' pool when once we used to play there."

This pleased Princess Olga, because she liked to be told she looked like an angel—I think she even believed it.

Anyway, all at once she decided she must see herself in the clear waters of the magic pool once more. If she was beautiful in her own mirror, how much more beautiful she would look in the mirror of the fairies, she thought.

So, throwing a lace shawl over her shoulders, she quickly ran down the winding path, in the bright moonlight, and stood on the edge of the magic pool.

But as she gazed into the truthful waters of the clear pool, expecting to see the fair angel face that once had smiled at her there,—what do you think?

With a scream Princess Olga threw her hands up over her face and fled to the castle, locking herself within her room.

Instead of the beautiful face she thought she would see in the pool, there was one that was ugly and pinched and cross.

Needles, the sharpest you ever saw, rusty and brown, were growing out from her body like spikes,—from her cheeks, her eyes, her ears, her nose, her limbs,—everywhere she saw only the sharp, pricking needles, until she looked more like a porcupine covered with brown bristles than a beautiful princess with whom a prince would like to dance.

Poor Princess Olga, no wonder she wanted to hide herself away from everybody's sight on this beautiful night of the ball!

Bitter tears fell from her eyes as she sat alone in her room. She thought of the fair little angel face, with its golden hair and pure, blue eyes that used to smile at her from the pool, and then she remembered all the cross, ugly, sharp words she had been saying to everyone since then, even to the kind old nurse who loved her best of all.

No wonder needles sharp and brown had grown from her body when she was so ugly inside.

"Oh, I wish, I wish I could be once more as I was when the little angel face smiled back at me from the pool!" she sobbed. "How hard I would try to stay that way! Oh, why did I ever let myself grow cross and mean and ugly, until no one love's me any more?"

And then Princess Olga bowed her head in her hands and sobbed and sobbed again.

But I have tried to tell you all along that the fairy queen is always kind and good, and is always ready to help those in trouble who are really anxious to live better lives.

So now there came the soft tinkle of silver bells close by the side of Princess Olga, and someone touched her gently on the head. "Dry your tears, Princess Olga," said a sweet voice. "I have heard your wish, and have come to help you,—if you will first help yourself. Listen:

"The sharp, brown needles you see growing from your body are but the sharp, cross words you have let live within your heart so long. They prick you now as you so often have pricked others,—even those who loved you best.

"But, because you are sorry for your ugly deeds, I have come to help you get rid of the sharp, brown needles, and if you will do as I tell you, you shall be pure and fair again once more.

"First, try to undo what you have done—go to all—your old nurse, the cook, the stable boy, the servants, the Lord High Chamberlain, and the king himself,—go to all that your sharp words have ever pierced. Tell them you are sorry and ask them to forgive you.

"When you have done this hurry quickly to the magic pool and bathe within its pure, sweet waters, and your body shall be fair and beautiful again." In a moment the fairy queen was gone, and the princess saw the first rays of the early morning sun sift through her closed shutters as if to bid her speed on her better way.

In deep thought she sat and wondered over the fairy's visit. The thing she had been told to do was very hard for Princess Olga.

None of us like to say, "I am sorry. Please forgive me." And then, too, the princess feared the deep waters of the pool. Suppose she should drown?

"Anyway, I am going," she said at last. "I long to be good and beautiful again, that everyone may love me as before."

So, unlocking her bedroom door, Princess Olga ran quickly down the long halls and broad stairways until she had found her father, the king, and the Lord High Chamberlain and her old nurse and the cook and the stable boy and every servant in the old castle.

And when she told them how sorry she was for all the sharp, cross words, and asked to be forgiven, her eyes were full of tears and smiles all mixed up together,—like the rain and sunshine on an April day.

Somehow it did not seem so very hard after all, because everyone seemed so glad to forgive her,—and no one mentioned the ugly spikes that were growing from her body.

But, best of all, when she hastened to the magic pool and stepped into its deep, cool waters she did not feel in the least afraid, but oh, so very happy!

And she smiled to see the ugly, sharp needles, one by one, drop from her body and float away for ever on the clear waters of the pool.

It was then, just as Princess Olga stepped to the bank of the pool, pure and beautiful again, that she heard soft, sweet music, like the singing of summer wind, come from the top of the tall, bare trees near the pool.

And when she looked up, behold! The trees were all covered with the slender green needles you see on the pines to-day,—but the brown ones seemed to be dropping away, one by one,—even as the evil deeds of the princess had done.

A song the tall trees sang, as the princess listened beneath their shade, and it was this:

"Thy needles, Princess Olga,

Now we gladly bear,

But changed are they from evil,

Into beauty sweet and rare.

"Glad are we to serve thee,

And hold thy needles tight,—

Brave art thou, Princess Olga,

To dare to do the right."

And so it is that we have the ever-fragrant pine needles which keep the tall pines always green.

The brown ones drop, one by one, as a rustic carpet for the ground, and as the fresh, new ones take their places on the spreading limbs, they bid you remember the Princess Olga and put away your evil deeds for those that are good.

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