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

Prince Harweda and the Magic Prison

LITTLE Harweda was born a prince. His father was King over all the land and his mother was the most beautiful Queen the world had ever seen and Prince Harweda was their only child. From the day of his birth everything that love or money could do for him had been done. The very wind of heaven was made to fan over an æolian harp that it might enter his room, not as a strong fresh breeze, but as a breath of music. Reflectors were so arranged in the windows that twice as much moonlight fell on his crib as on that of any ordinary child. The pillow on which his head rested was made out of the down from humming birds breasts and the water in which his face and hands were washed was always steeped in rose leaves before being brought to the nursery. Everything that could be done was done, and nothing which could add to his ease or comfort was left undone.

But his parents, although they were King and Queen, were not very wise, for they never thought of making the young prince think of anybody but himself and he had never in all his life given up any one of his comforts, that somebody else might have a pleasure. So, of course, he grew to be selfish and peevish, and by the time he was five years old he was so disagreeable that nobody loved him. "Dear, dear! what shall we do?" said the poor Queen mother and the King only sighed and answered, "Ah, what indeed!" They were both very much grieved at heart for they well knew that little Harweda, although he was a prince, would never grow up to be a really great King unless he could make his people love him.

At last they decided to send for his fairy god-mother and see if she could suggest anything which would cure Prince Harweda of always thinking about himself. "Well, well, well!" exclaimed the god-mother when they had laid the case before her—"This is a pretty state of affairs! and I his god-mother too! Why wasn't I called in sooner?" She then told them that she would have to think a day and a night and a day again before she could offer them any assistance. "But," added she, "if I take the child in charge you must promise not to interfere for a whole year." The King and Queen gladly promised that they would not speak to or even see their son for the required time if the fairy god-mother would only cure him of his selfishness. "We'll see about that," said the god-mother, "Humph, expecting to be a King some day and not caring for anybody but himself—a fine King he'll make!" With that off she flew and the King and Queen saw nothing more of her for a day and a night and another day. Then back she came in a great hurry. "Give me the Prince," said she; "I have his house all ready for him. One month from to-day I'll bring him back to you. Perhaps he'll be cured and perhaps he won't. If he is not cured then we shall try two months next time. We'll see, we'll see." Without any more ado she picked up the astonished young prince and flew away with him as lightly as if he were nothing but a feather or a straw. In vain the poor queen wept and begged for a last kiss. Before she had wiped her eyes, the fairy god-mother and Prince Harweda were out of sight.

They flew a long distance until they reached a great forest. When they had come to the middle of it, down flew the fairy, and in a minute more the young prince was standing on the green grass beside a beautiful pink marble palace that looked something like a good sized summer house.

"This is your home," said the god-mother, "in it you will find everything you need and you can do just as you choose with your time." Little Harweda was delighted at this for there was nothing in the world he liked better than to do as he pleased, so he tossed his cap up into the air and ran into the lovely little house without so much as saying "Thank you" to his god-mother. "Humph," said she as he disappeared, "you'll have enough of it before you are through with it, my fine prince." With that off she flew.

Prince Harweda had no sooner set his foot inside the small rose-colored palace than the iron door shut with a bang and locked itself. For you must know by this time that it was an enchanted house, as of course, all houses are that are built by fairies.

Prince Harweda did not mind being locked in, as he cared very little for the great beautiful outside world, and the new home which was to be all his own  was very fine, and he was eager and impatient to examine it. Then too he thought that when he was tired of it, all he would have to do would be to kick on the door and a servant from somewhere would come and open it,—he had always had a servant ready to obey his slightest command.

His fairy god-mother had told him that it was his  house, therefore he was interested in looking at everything in it.

The floor was made of a beautiful red copper that shone in the sunlight like burnished gold and seemed almost a dark red in the shadow. He had never seen anything half so fine before. The ceiling was of mother-of-pearl and showed a constant changing of tints of red and blue and yellow and green, all blending into the gleaming white, as only mother-of-pearl can. From the middle of this handsome ceiling hung a large gilded bird cage containing a beautiful bird, which just at this moment was singing a glad song of welcome to the Prince. Harweda, however, cared very little about birds, so he took no notice of the songster.

Around on every side were costly divans with richly embroidered coverings and on which were many sizes of soft down pillows. "Ah," thought the Prince, "here I can lounge at my ease with no one to call me to stupid lessons!" Wonderfully carved jars and vases of wrought gold and silver stood about on the floor and each was filled with a different kind of perfume. "This is delicious," said Prince Harweda. "Now I can have all the sweet odors I want without the trouble of going out into the garden for roses or lilies."

In the center of the room was a fountain of sparkling water which leaped up and fell back into its marble basin with a kind of rythmical sound that made a faint, dreamy music very pleasant to listen to.

On a table near at hand were various baskets of the most tempting pears and grapes and peaches, and near them were dishes of all kinds of sweetmeats. "Good," said the greedy young prince, "that is what I like best of all," and therewith he fell to eating the fruit and sweetmeats as fast as he could cram them into his mouth. He ate so much he had a pain in his stomach, but strange to say, the table was just as full as when he began, for no sooner did he reach his hand out and take a soft mellow pear or a rich, juicy peach than another pear or peach took its place in the basket. The same thing occurred when he helped himself to chocolate drops or marsh-mallows or any of the other confectionery upon the table. For, of course, if the little palace was enchanted, everything in it was enchanted also.

When Prince Harweda had eaten until he could eat no more he threw himself down upon one of the couches and an invisible hand gently stroked his hair until he fell asleep. When he awoke he noticed for the first time the walls which, by the way, were really the strangest part of his new home. They had in them twelve long, checkered windows which reached from the ceiling to the floor. The spaces between the windows were filled in with mirrors exactly the same size as the windows, so that the whole room was walled in with windows and looking glasses. Through the three windows that looked to the north could be seen the far distant mountains Beautiful, as they were called, towering high above the surrounding country; sometimes their snow-covered tops were pink or creamy yellow as they caught the rays of the sunrise; sometimes they were dark purple or blue as they reflected the storm cloud. From the three windows that faced the south could be seen the great ocean, tossing and moving, constantly catching a thousand gleams of silver from the moonlight. Again and again, each little wave would be capped with white from its romp with the wind. Yet, as the huge mountains seemed to reach higher than man could climb, so the vast ocean seemed to stretch out farther than any ship could possibly carry him. The eastern windows gave each morning a glorious vision of sky as the darkness of the night slowly melted into the still gray dawn, and that thawed into a golden glow and that in turn became a tender pink. It was really the most beautiful as well as the most mysterious sight on earth if one watched it closely. The windows on the west looked out upon a great forest of tall fir trees and at the time of sunset the glorious colors of the sunset sky could be seen between the dark green branches.

But little Prince Harweda cared for none of these beautiful views. In fact, he scarcely glanced out of the windows at all, he was so taken up with the broad handsome mirrors, for in each of them he could see himself reflected and he was very fond of looking at himself in a looking glass. He was much pleased when he noticed that the mirrors were so arranged that each one not only reflected his whole body, head, arms, feet and all, but that it also reflected his image as seen in several of the other mirrors. He could thus see his front and back and each side, all at the same time. As he was a handsome boy he enjoyed these many views of himself immensely, and would stand and sit and lie down just for the fun of seeing the many images of himself do the same thing.

He spent so much time looking at and admiring himself in the wonderful looking-glasses that he had very little time for the books and games which had been provided for his amusement. Hours were spent each day first before one mirror and then another, and he did not notice that the windows were growing narrower and the mirrors wider until the former had become so small that they hardly admitted light enough for him to see himself in the looking-glass. Still, this did not alarm him very much as he cared nothing whatever for the outside world. It only made him spend more time before the mirror, as it was now getting quite difficult for him to see himself at all. The windows at last became mere slits in the wall and the mirrors grew so large that they not only reflected little Harweda but all of the room besides in a dim, indistinct kind of a way.

Finally, however, Prince Harweda awoke one morning and found himself in total darkness. Not a ray of light came from the outside and of course, not an object in the room could be seen. He rubbed his eyes and sat up to make sure that he was not dreaming. Then he called loudly for some one to come open a window for him, but no one came. He got up and groped his way to the iron door and tried to open it, but it was, as you know, locked. He kicked it and beat upon it, but he only bruised his fists and hurt his toes. He grew quite angry now. How dare any one shut him, a prince, up in a dark prison like this! He abused his fairy god-mother, calling her all sorts of horrid names. Then he upbraided his father and mother, the King and Queen, for letting him go away with such a god-mother. In fact, he blamed everybody and everything but himself for his present condition, but it was of no use. The sound of his own voice was his only answer. The whole of the outside world seemed to have forgotten him.

As he felt his way back to his couch he knocked over one of the golden jars which had held the liquid perfume, but the perfume was all gone now and only an empty jar rolled over the floor. He laid himself down on the divan but its soft pillows had been removed and a hard iron frame-work received him. He was dismayed and lay for a long time thinking of what he had best do with himself. All before him was blank darkness, as black as the darkest night you ever saw. He reached out his hand to get some fruit to eat, but only one or two withered apples remained on the table—was he to starve to death? Suddenly he noticed that the tinkling music of the fountain had ceased. He hastily groped his way over to it and he found in place of the dancing, running stream stood a silent pool of water. A hush had fallen upon everything about him, a dead silence was in the room. He threw himself down upon the floor and wished that he were dead also. He lay there for a long, long time.

At last he heard, or thought he heard, a faint sound. He listened eagerly. It seemed to be some tiny creature not far from him, trying to move about. For the first time for nearly a month he remembered the bird in its gilded cage. "Poor little thing," he cried as he sprang up, "You too are shut within this terrible prison. This thick darkness must be as hard for you to bear as it is for me." He went towards the cage and as he approached it the bird gave a sad little chirp.

"That's better than nothing," said the boy, "you must need some water to drink, poor thing," continued he as he filled its drinking cup. "This is all I have to give you."

Just then he heard a harsh, grating sound, as of rusty bolts sliding with difficulty out of their sockets, and then faint rays of light not wider than a hair began to shine between the heavy plate mirrors. Prince Harweda was filled with joy. "Perhaps, perhaps," said he softly, "I may yet see the light again. Ah, how beautiful the outside world would look to me now!"

The next day he was so hungry that he began to eat one of the old withered apples, and as he bit it he thought of the bird, his fellow-prisoner. "You must be hungry, too, poor little thing," said he as he divided his miserable food and put part of it into the bird's cage. Again came the harsh, grating sound, and the boy noticed that the cracks of light were growing larger. Still they were only cracks, nothing of the outside world could be seen. Still it was a comfort not to have to grope about in total darkness. Prince Harweda felt quite sure that the cracks of light were a little wider, and on going up to one and putting his eye close to it as he would to a pinhole in a paper, he was rejoiced to find that he could tell the greenness of the grass from the blue of the sky. "Ah, my pretty bird, my pretty bird!" he cried joyfully, "I have had a glimpse of the great beautiful outside world and you shall have it too."

With these words he climbed up into a chair and loosening the cage from the golden chain by which it hung, he carried it carefully to the nearest crack of light and placed it close to the narrow opening. Again was heard the harsh, grating sound and the walls moved a bit and the windows were now at least an inch wide. At this the poor Prince clasped his hands with delight. He sat himself down near the bird cage and gazed out of the narrow opening. Never before had the trees looked so tall and stately, or the white clouds floating through the sky so lovely. The next day as he was carefully cleaning the bird's cage so that the little creature might be somewhat more comfortable, the walls again creaked and groaned and the mirrors grew narrower by just so many inches as the windows widened. But Prince Harweda saw only the flood of sunshine that poured in, and the added beauty of the larger landscape. He cared nothing whatever now for the stupid mirrors which could only reflect what was placed before them. Each day he found something new and beautiful in the view from the narrow windows. Now it was a squirrel frisking about and running up some tall tree trunk so rapidly that Prince Harweda could not follow it with his eyes; again it was a mother bird feeding her young. By this time the windows were a foot wide or more. One day as two white doves suddenly soared aloft in the blue sky the poor little canary who had now become the tenderly cared for comrade of the young Prince, gave a pitiful little trill. "Dear little fellow," cried Prince Harweda, "do you also long for your freedom? You shall at least be as free as I am." So saying, he opened the cage door and the bird flew out. The Prince laughed as he watched it flutter about from chair to table and back to chair again. He was so much occupied with the bird that he did not notice that the walls had again shaken and the windows were now their full size, until the added light caused him to look around. He turned and saw the room looking almost exactly as it did the day he entered it with so much pride because it was all his own. Now it seemed close and stuffy and he would gladly have exchanged it for the humblest home in his father's kingdom where he could meet people and hear them talk and see them smile at each other, even if they should take no notice of him. One day soon after this the little bird fluttered up against the window pane and beat his wings against it in a vain effort to get out. A new idea seized the young Prince, and taking up one of the golden jars he went to the window and struck on one of its checkered panes of glass with all his force. "You shall be free, even if I can not," said he to the bird. Two or three strong blows slivered the small pane and the bird swept out into the free open air beyond. "Ah, my pretty one, how glad I am that you are free at last," exclaimed the prince as he stood watching the flight of his fellow-prisoner. His face was bright with the glad, unselfish joy over the bird's liberty. The small, pink marble palace shook from top to bottom, the iron door flew open and the fresh wind from the sea rushed in and seemed to catch the boy in its invisible arms. Prince Harweda could hardly believe his eyes as he sprang to the door. There stood his fairy god-mother, smiling and with her hand reached out toward him. "Come, my god-child," said she gently, "we shall now go back to your father and mother, the King and Queen, and they will rejoice with us that you have been cured of your terrible disease of selfishness."

Great indeed was the rejoicing in the palace when Prince Harweda was returned to them a sweet, loving boy, kind and thoughtful to all about him. Many a struggle he had with himself and many a conquest over the old habit of selfishness, but as time passed by he grew to be a great and wise king, loving and tenderly caring for all his people and loved by them in return.

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