Gateway to the Classics: In Story-land by Elizabeth Harrison
In Story-land by  Elizabeth Harrison

The Fair White City; or, A Story of the Past, Present and Future

MANY of you will remember the story I told you of Little Blessed-Eyes and the wonderful power his fairy god-mother gave him of seeing instantly the best that was in everybody. To-day I want to tell you of some of the remarkable things which happened after Blessed-Eyes had become chief counsellor to the King, for, of course, the King was glad to keep near him a man with such power as that.

Long years have passed since our last story said Blessed-Eyes had been the King's Chief Counsellor for ten years, or more, and the capital had become the most renowned city on earth. One day Blessed-Eyes was walking through its streets when he heard a deep sigh as of some one in great trouble. He turned, and looking around saw a poor laboring man with his head bent forward upon his hands, as he sat on the doorstep of a house near by.

"What is the matter?" said Blessed-Eyes gently, stopping in front of the man.

"Ah," replied the poor man, "I can find nothing to do in this great city. All the places in the shops and stores are already taken and my children are starving for want of bread."

"What large, strong arms you have!" said Blessed-Eyes.

"Yes," replied the man, "but of what use are they to me. One can measure tape or weigh sugar with much smaller arms than mine."

"Why do you not seek the King?" continued Blessed-Eyes, "and offer to go to yonder mountain range and quarry the beautiful white marble which lies there. I have heard that it is the most beautiful marble in the whole world. Those great strong arms of yours could do a grand work in the King's quarry."

The man's face softened at once. "I will go," he said.

The King gladly accepted the strong man's offer and the next day started him out with crow-bars and drills to the mountain district, and soon there came a wagon load of beautiful white marble, and then another and then another. The King was so pleased with the marble that he sent ten men to help the strong man in his work, and then twenty and then a hundred, until the mountain tops rang with the sturdy blows of the quarrymen. And soon a vast pile of the glistening, white marble had been collected in the King's stoneyard, and the poor and discouraged man with the strong arms had become the most famous stonemason in the world.

Not long after this, Blessed-Eyes and the King walked one fine evening to look at the shining white marble and to plan how best it could be used to make beautiful the city. As they reached the tall white pile, they noticed a man standing beside it, evidently measuring it carefully with his eye.

"It is a fine sight," said Blessed-Eyes, "is it not?"

The man turned and looked sadly at him for a moment, then taking a tablet from his pocket he wrote on it: "I cannot hear a word that you say; I am totally deaf, and therefore I am the loneliest man in all the King's realm."

Blessed-Eyes' heart was stirred with pity for the lonely man. He took the pencil and wrote on the tablet: "You evidently have a very correct eye for measurements."

"Yes," replied the man, as soon as he had read these words, "I can tell the difference of a hair's breath in the height of any two lines, and I think I could estimate the weight of any one of these great stones within half an ounce."

At this Blessed-Eyes seized the tablet and wrote rapidly on it these words: "You have such good eyes for measurements and weights you would surely be a good builder. This is the King. Why do you not offer to make for him some beautiful buildings out of this white marble?"

The lonely man's face brightened; he turned to the King. A short consultation showed the King that he had found a treasure, and the new architect was set to work at once drawing plans for several buildings which were to surround a charming lake that was in the King's park.

In a few months the quiet park became the scene of busy activity. Scores of men were laying foundations; others were hewing the white marble into shapely blocks; others were polishing portions of it into tall and shining white pillars, and others still, were carving beautiful capitals for the same. All were working under the direction of the new architect whose wonderful designs had so inspired the King that he decided to build the grandest and handsomest group of buildings which the nations of the earth had ever seen. When all was done and the buildings stood in their full majestic beauty with their long colonnades shining in the sunlight and their graceful towers rising airily in the upper air and their beautiful gilded domes crowning all, the scene resembled fairyland. The people could hardly believe their eyes as they wandered through the place. They came from the farthest ends of the earth to enjoy its beauty, for the sad and lonely deaf man had now become the most famous architect in the whole world, and was surrounded by friends and admirers, who rejoiced in his power to create such bewildering scenes of beauty. His face lost its sad expression and each time that he met Blessed-Eyes there came a joyful smile upon it.

Handsome and attractive as were the outsides of these buildings, within they were cold and bare, and Blessed-Eyes and the King often consulted as to how the inner walls might be made as beautiful as were the outer ones. It chanced one day that as Blessed-Eyes was walking alone through the "Court of Honor," (this was the name now given to that part of the lake which was surrounded by the white marble buildings), he observed a group of boys and young men, evidently having great sport with some object in their midst. When he came near he saw it was an embarrassed and harassed looking stranger whom they were tormenting.

With a feeling of indignation he pressed forward into their midst.

"What is your difficulty, sir?" he said quietly and respectfully.

The stranger blushed and faltered, then he stammeringly said:—

"I-I-I ca-ca-canno-no-not sp-speak your language wi-wi-withou-ou-out st-st-stammer-ing."

At this the men roared with laughter. Again Blessed-Eyes turned an angry look upon them, and quietly slipping his arm through the stranger's he said: "Will you walk with me? I have something to say to you." And the two walked off together, leaving the crowd rather abashed and ashamed of its rudeness. When they had gone some distance in silence, Blessed-Eyes said: "As soon as I saw you I noticed you had strong, shapely and artistic hands. Surely you must be able to draw and paint." The stranger's face lighted up with a radiant smile.

"How very odd," he stammered, "th-th-that you should see I was an artist, I had hoped to get work here."

Blessed-Eyes took him at once to the King, and soon the three were deep in plans for decorating and making beautiful the inner walls of the wonderful white buildings which surrounded the "Court of Honor." It was not long before the stammering stranger had proved that he was not only an artist but a master artist. Lesser artists and new pupils flocked to him from all parts of the land and soon the interior of the handsome buildings presented scenes as busy as the outside had before shown. In less than a year the walls of all the buildings had been decorated in soft, beautiful colors, and on many of them were wonderful pictures of far-away landscapes; of beautiful sunset clouds; of fair, floating angel forms, and, best of all, true and lifelike portraits of the noblest men and women of the nation. Long before this was accomplished the stammering stranger had become recognized as the greatest artist of the age.

The next question which arose in the mind of the King and his ever faithful counsellor, Blessed-Eyes, was as to the best way to use the now truly magnificent buildings, so that all the people might enjoy them. While still full of these thoughts, Blessed-Eyes one day noticed a man wearily pacing up and down the court with bowed head, and hands clasped behind his body. On coming nearer Blessed-Eyes saw that he was blind. At the sound of his approaching footsteps the man stopped and said:—

"Ah! that is the step of Blessed-Eyes! Much as he has been able to help his fellow men, there is nothing that he can do for me!"

"Indeed," said Blessed-Eyes, cheerily, "I am not so sure of that. If you can tell a man by his step you must certainly have very good hearing."

"Ah!" said the man, "I can hear a leaf fall to the ground a block away."

"Indeed!" exclaimed Blessed-Eyes gladly, "You are just the man for whom I have been looking. Surely a man whose hearing is so acute must be a good musician."

"Yes, yes!" said the man impatiently, "I am the finest conductor of an orchestra in the whole world, but that avails me but little in these days. Nobody cares for good music now!" With these words he shrugged his shoulders and was about to pass on.

"Come with me to the King," cried Blessed-Eyes, "I think he has need of you."

After a long talk with the King, and some experiments by which they tested the man's fine sense of hearing, the King felt quite sure that he was exactly the man needed as leader for the great orchestra which he generously supported that the people might learn to love good music, so he was at once put in charge of the same. The new musician proved to be such a wonderful leader that no man in the whole orchestra dared play a false note, and soon their music under this remarkable director, was famed throughout the land, until thousands upon thousands came to hear the afternoon concerts which were given each day in the largest of the beautiful, white marble buildings.

One bright, spring morning Blessed-Eyes started out to enjoy the sunshine and the perfume of the flowers and the glad song of the birds. "Ah," thought he, as he walked along, drinking in great draughts of the fine, fresh air, "no human being can possibly be sad on such a morning as this." But while he was yet speaking, his eyes fell upon the tear-stained face of a woman. As it was impossible for Blessed-Eyes to pass any one who was in trouble, he stopped and said gently, "Dear Madam, is there anything I can do for you?"

"Alas, alas!" said the poor woman, "What can you, or anyone else, do for a broken-hearted mother whose four little children have been taken by death from her arms. Unless I have children to love, life has no brightness for me."

"Surely," said Blessed-Eyes softly and compassionately, "there are yet many children who need your love. Will you not come with me to the palace of the King?"

The woman looked puzzled and perplexed, but so sweet and gentle had been the tone of his voice that she instinctively followed him. I do not know just what happened in the consultation with the King, but this I do know, that only a few days elapsed before the "Court of Honor" rang each day with the voices of happy children as they followed the no longer sad-faced woman around to the concert hall to hear the sweet music, or off to the buildings whose walls were covered with beautiful pictures, or back again to their own handsome building, set apart for their particular use by the King.

Here she told them stories and taught them songs and led them in charming games and plays, and trained their little hands into skillful work until throughout the kingdom there was no happier band of children than those who had once been the waifs of the city, wandering through its streets. So full of motherly love was the woman's work with her new children that other beautiful and noble women came, in time, and joined her in it, until at last there was no child in the whole city who had not learned how to use his hands skillfully, how to love sweet music, how to enjoy beautiful pictures and how to be kind and thoughtful towards others.

In time many of these children grew into manhood and womanhood and became musicians, artists, authors, physicians, clergymen, and wonderfully skilled workmen of all sorts. Many of the women married and became loving and wise mothers because of the training they had received from the pale-faced, childless woman in the King's "Court of Honor."

At last the good King died, and the question arose, "Who shall be our next King?" The counsellors of the nation met together to decide the matter. They sent to the stonemasons far away in the back country and the great master-mason cried, "Let Blessed-Eyes be our King! Did he not teach me how to use my strong arms? Has he not furnished bread for us and our families?" And the hundreds of stone-cutters and miners and diggers round about shouted aloud, "Long live King Blessed-Eyes!"

Then they sent to the various villages and towns of the Kingdom and the architects said, "Let Blessed-Eyes be King! Has he not created the great Court of Honor from which we have all learned to make beautiful whatever we build!" And the carpenters and joiners and plasterers and painters all cried out, "Long live King Blessed-Eyes!"

Then they sent to the mills and the factories of the great cities and the masterworkmen and designers answered and said, "Why not make Blessed-Eyes our King? It was he who first introduced Art into our land and showed us how to make as beautiful as pictures our carpets and curtains and walls. Have not these things made our merchandise sought for all over the world." Then the spinners and weavers and dyers all shouted aloud, "Long live King Blessed-Eyes!"

Then they sent to all the colleges and schools in the land and the grave presidents and superintendents said, "We know of no better man than Blessed-Eyes. He first taught us that a love of the beautiful should be part of each child's education." Then the youths and the maidens, the boys and the girls, and even the little children shouted until they were hoarse, "Long live King Blessed-Eyes!"

Then the whole nation seemed to cry out, "Blessed-Eyes, Blessed-Eyes, Long live King Blessed-Eyes!" There is none among us whom he has not helped. When the news was brought to Blessed-Eyes that all the people desired him to rule over them, he smiled gently and said, "I had hoped to rest now, but if I can serve my country I must do it." So he was made King and the nation became wise and great and powerful under his reign. For the little children grew up learning to love the beautiful and to see it everywhere until at last there was a whole nation of blessed-eyes, and every city in the land became as beautiful as was the White City by the Lake.

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