NCE upon a time two poor Woodcutters
were making their way home through a great pine-forest. It was
winter, and a night of bitter cold. The snow lay thick upon the
ground, and upon the branches of the trees: the frost kept snapping
the little twigs on either side of them, as they passed: and
when they came to the Mountain-Torrent she was hanging motionless
in air, for the Ice-King had kissed her.
So cold was it that even the
animals and the birds did not know what to make of it.
'Ugh!' snarled the Wolf, as he
limped through the brushwood with his tail between his legs,
'this is perfectly monstrous weather. Why doesn't the Government
look to it?'
'Weet! weet! weet!' twittered
the green Linnets, 'the old Earth is dead and they have laid
her out in her white shroud.'
'The Earth is going to be married,
and this is her bridal dress,' whispered the Turtle-doves to
each other. Their little pink feet were quite frost-bitten, but
they felt that it was their duty to take a romantic view of the
'Nonsense!' growled the Wolf.
'I tell you that it is all the fault of the Government, and if
you don't believe me I shall eat you.' The Wolf had a thoroughly
practical mind, and was never at a loss for a good argument.
'Well, for my own part,' said
the Woodpecker, who was a born philosopher, 'I don't care an
atomic theory for explanations. If a thing is so, it is so, and
at present it is terribly cold.'
Terribly cold it certainly was.
The little Squirrels, who lived inside the tall fir-tree, kept
rubbing each other's noses to keep themselves warm, and the Rabbits
curled themselves up in their holes, and did not venture even
to look out of doors. The only people who seemed to enjoy it
were the great horned Owls. Their feathers were quite stiff with
rime, but they did not mind, and they rolled their large yellow
eyes, and called out to each other across the forest, 'Tu-whit!
Tu-whoo! Tu-whit! Tu-whoo! what delightful weather we are having!'
On and on went the two Woodcutters,
blowing lustily upon their fingers, and stamping with their huge
iron-shod boots upon the caked snow. Once they sank into a deep
drift, and came out as white as millers are, when the stones
are grinding; and once they slipped on the hard smooth ice where
the marsh-water was frozen, and their faggots fell out of their
bundles, and they had to pick them up and bind them together
again; and once they thought that they had lost their way, and
a great terror seized on them, for they knew that the Snow is
cruel to those who sleep in her arms. But they put their trust
in the good Saint Martin, who watches over all travellers, and
retraced their steps, and went warily, and at last they reached
the outskirts of the forest, and saw, far down in the valley
beneath them, the lights of the village in which they dwelt.
So overjoyed were they at their
deliverance that they laughed aloud, and the Earth seemed to
them like a flower of silver, and the Moon like a flower of gold.
Yet, after that they had laughed
they became sad, for they remembered their poverty, and one of
them said to the other, 'Why did we make merry, seeing that life
is for the rich, and not for such as we are? Better that we had
died of cold in the forest, or that some wild beast had fallen
upon us and slain us.'
'Truly,' answered his companion,
'much is given to some, and little is given to others. Injustice
has parcelled out the world, nor is there equal division of aught
save of sorrow.'
But as they were bewailing their
misery to each other this strange thing happened. There fell
from heaven a very bright and beautiful star. It slipped down
the side of the sky, passing by the other stars in its course,
and, as they watched it wondering, it seemed to them to sink
behind a clump of willow-trees that stood hard by a little sheepfold
no more than a stone's-throw away.
'Why! there is a crook of gold
for whoever finds it,' they cried, and they set to and ran, so
eager were they for the gold.
And one of them ran faster than
his mate, and outstripped him, and forced his way through the
willows, and came out on the other side, and lo! there was indeed
a thing of gold lying on the white snow. So he hastened towards
it, and stooping down placed his hands upon it, and it was a
cloak of golden tissue, curiously wrought with stars, and wrapped
in many folds. And he cried out to his comrade that he had found
the treasure that had fallen from the sky, and when his comrade
had come up, they sat them down in the snow, and loosened the
folds of the cloak that they might divide the pieces of gold.
But, alas! no gold was in it, nor silver, nor, indeed, treasure
of any kind, but only a little child who was asleep.
And one of them said to the other:
'This is a bitter ending to our hope, nor have we any good fortune,
for what doth a child profit to a man? Let us leave it here,
and go our way, seeing that we are poor men, and have children
of our own whose bread we may not give to another.'
But his companion answered him:
'Nay, but it were an evil thing to leave the child to perish
here in the snow, and though I am as poor as thou art, and have
many mouths to feed, and but little in the pot, yet will I bring
it home with me, and my wife shall have care of it.'
So very tenderly he took up the
child, and wrapped the cloak around it to shield it from the
harsh cold, and made his way down the hill to the village, his
comrade marvelling much at his foolishness and softness of heart.
And when they came to the village,
his comrade said to him, 'Thou hast the child, therefore give
me the cloak, for it is meet that we should share.'
But he answered him: 'Nay, for
the cloak is neither mine nor thine, but the child's only,' and
he bade him Godspeed, and went to his own house and knocked.
And when his wife opened the
door and saw that her husband had returned safe to her, she put
her arms round his neck and kissed him, and took from his back
the bundle of faggots, and brushed the snow off his boots, and
bade him come in.
But he said to her, 'I have found
something in the forest, and I have brought it to thee to have
care of it,' and he stirred not from the threshold.
'What is it?' she cried. 'Show
it to me, for the house is bare, and we have need of many things.'
And he drew the cloak back, and showed her the sleeping child.
'Alack, goodman!' she murmured,
'have we not children of our own, that thou must needs bring
a changeling to sit by the hearth? And who knows if it will not
bring us bad fortune? And how shall we tend it?' And she was
wroth against him.
'Nay, but it is a Star-Child,'
he answered; and he told her the strange manner of the finding
But she would not be appeased,
but mocked at him, and spoke angrily, and cried: 'Our children
lack bread, and shall we feed the child of another? Who is there
who careth for us? And who giveth us food?'
'Nay, but God careth for the
sparrows even, and feedeth them,' he answered.
'Do not the sparrows die of hunger
in the winter?' she asked. 'And is it not winter now?'
And the man answered nothing,
but stirred not from the threshold.
And a bitter wind from the forest
came in through the open door, and made her tremble, and she
shivered, and said to him: 'Wilt thou not close the door? There
cometh a bitter wind into the house, and I am cold.'
'Into a house where a heart is
hard cometh there not always a bitter wind?' he asked. And the
woman answered him nothing, but crept closer to the fire.
And after a time she turned round
and looked at him, and her eyes were full of tears. And he came
in swiftly, and placed the child in her arms, and she kissed
it, and laid it in a little bed where the youngest of their own
children was lying. And on the morrow the Woodcutter took the
curious cloak of gold and placed it in a great chest, and a chain
of amber that was round the child's neck his wife took and set
it in the chest also.
So the Star-Child was brought
up with the children of the Woodcutter, and sat at the same board
with them, and was their playmate. And every year he became more
beautiful to look at, so that all those who dwelt in the village
were filled with wonder, for, while they were swarthy and black-haired,
he was white and delicate as sawn ivory, and his curls were like
the rings of the daffodil. His lips, also, were like the petals
of a red flower, and his eyes were like violets by a river of
pure water, and his body like the narcissus of a field where
the mower comes not.
Yet did his beauty work him evil.
For he grew proud, and cruel, and selfish. The children of the
Woodcutter, and the other children of the village, he despised,
saying that they were of mean parentage, while he was noble,
being sprang from a Star, and he made himself master over them,
and called them his servants. No pity had he for the poor, or
for those who were blind or maimed or in any way afflicted, but
would cast stones at them and drive them forth on to the highway,
and bid them beg their bread elsewhere, so that none save the
outlaws came twice to that village to ask for alms. Indeed, he
was as one enamoured of beauty, and would mock at the weakly
and ill-favoured, and make jest of them; and himself he loved,
and in summer, when the winds were still, he would lie by the
well in the priest's orchard and look down at the marvel of his
own face, and laugh for the pleasure he had in his fairness.
Often did the Woodcutter and
his wife chide him, and say: 'We did not deal with thee as thou
dealest with those who are left desolate, and have none to succour
them. Wherefore art thou so cruel to all who need pity?'
Often did the old priest send
for him, and seek to teach him the love of living things, saying
to him: 'The fly is thy brother. Do it no harm. The wild birds
that roam through the forest have their freedom. Snare them not
for thy pleasure. God made the blind-worm and the mole, and each
has its place. Who art thou to bring pain into God's world? Even
the cattle of the field praise Him."
But the Star-Child heeded not
their words, but would frown and flout, and go back to his companions,
and lead them. And his companions followed him, for he was fair,
and fleet of foot, and could dance, and pipe, and make music.
And wherever the Star-Child led them they followed, and whatever
the Star-Child bade them do, that did they. And when he pierced
with a sharp reed the dim eyes of the mole, they laughed, and
when he cast stones at the leper they laughed also. And in all
things he ruled them, and they became hard of heart even as he
Now there passed one day through
the village a poor beggar-woman. Her garments were torn and ragged,
and her feet were bleeding from the rough road on which she had
travelled, and she was in very evil plight. And being weary she
sat her down under a chestnut-tree to rest.
But when the Star-Child saw her,
he said to his companions, 'See! There sitteth a foul beggar-woman
under that fair and green-leaved tree. Come, let us drive her
hence, for she is ugly and ill-favoured.'
So he came near and threw stones
at her, and mocked her, and she looked at him with terror in
her eyes, nor did she move her gaze from him. And when the Woodcutter,
who was cleaving logs in a haggard hard by, saw what the Star-Child
was doing, he ran up and rebuked him, and said to him: 'Surely
thou art hard of heart and knowest not mercy, for what evil has
this poor woman done to thee that thou shouldst treat her in
And the Star-Child grew red with
anger, and stamped his foot upon the ground, and said, 'Who art
thou to question me what I do? I am no son of thine to do thy
'Thou speakest truly,' answered
the Wood-cutter, 'yet did I show thee pity when I found thee
in the forest.'
And when the woman heard these
words she gave a loud cry, and fell into a swoon. And the Woodcutter
carried her to his own house, and his wife had care of her, and
when she rose up from the swoon into which she had fallen, they
set meat and drink before her, and bade her have comfort.
But she would neither eat nor
drink, but said to the Woodcutter, 'Didst thou not say that the
child was found in the forest? And was it not ten years from
And the Woodcutter answered,
'Yea, it was in the forest that I found him, and it is ten years
from this day.'
'And what signs didst thou find
with him?' she cried. 'Bare he not upon his neck a chain of amber?
Was not round him a cloak of gold tissue broidered with stars?'
'Truly,' answered the Woodcutter,
'it was even as thou sayest.' And he took the cloak and the amber
chain from the chest where they lay, and showed them to her.
And when she saw them she wept
for joy, and said, 'He is my little son whom I lost in the forest.
I pray thee send for him quickly, for in search of him have I
wandered over the whole world.'
So the Woodcutter and his wife
went out and called to the Star-Child, and said to him, 'Go into
the house, and there shalt thou find thy mother, who is waiting
So he ran in, filled with wonder
and great gladness. But when he saw her who was waiting there,
he laughed scornfully and said, 'Why, where is my mother? For
I see none here but this vile beggar-woman.'
And the woman answered him, 'I
am thy mother.'
'Thou art mad to say so,' cried
the Star-Child angrily. 'I am no son of thine, for thou art a
beggar, and ugly, and in rags. Therefore get thee hence, and
let me see thy foul face no more.'
'Nay, but thou art indeed my
little son, whom I bare in the forest,' she cried, and she fell
on her knees, and held out her arms to him. 'The robbers stole
thee from me, and left thee to die,' she murmured, 'but I recognised
thee when I saw thee, and the signs also have I recognised, the
cloak of golden tissue and the amber chain. Therefore I pray
thee come with me, for over the whole world have I wandered in
search of thee. Come with me, my son, for I have need of thy
But the Star-Child stirred not
from his place, but shut the doors of his heart against her,
nor was there any sound heard save the sound of the woman weeping
And at last he spoke to her,
and his voice was hard and bitter. 'If in very truth thou art
my mother,' he said, 'it had been better hadst thou stayed away,
and not come here to bring me to shame, seeing that I thought
I was the child of some Star, and not a beggar's child, as thou
tellest me that I am. Therefore get thee hence, and let me see
thee no more.'
'Alas! my son,' she cried, 'wilt
thou not kiss me before I go? For I have suffered much to find
'Nay,' said the Star-Child, 'but
thou art too foul to look at, and rather would I kiss the adder
or the toad than thee.'
So the woman rose up, and went
away into the forest weeping bitterly, and when the Star-Child
saw that she had gone, he was glad, and ran back to his playmates
that he might play with them.
But when they beheld him coming,
they mocked him and said, 'Why, thou art as foul as the toad,
and as loathsome as the adder. Get thee hence, for we will not
suffer thee to play with us,' and they drave him out of the garden.
And the Star-Child frowned and
said to himself, 'What is this that they say to me? I will go
to the well of water and look into it, and it shall tell me of
So he went to the well of water
and looked into it, and lo! his face was as the face of a toad,
and his body was sealed like an adder. And he flung himself down
on the grass and wept, and said to himself, 'Surely this has
come upon me by reason of my sin. For I have denied my mother,
and driven her away, and been proud, and cruel to her. Wherefore
I will go and seek her through the whole world, nor will I rest
till I have found her.'
And there came to him the little
daughter of the Woodcutter, and she put her hand upon his shoulder
and said, 'What doth it matter if thou hast lost thy comeliness?
Stay with us, and I will not mock at thee.'
And he said to her, 'Nay, but
I have been cruel to my mother, and as a punishment has this
evil been sent to me. Wherefore I must go hence, and wander through
the world till I find her, and she give me her forgiveness.'
So he ran away into the forest
and called out to his mother to come to him, but there was no
answer. All day long he called to her, and, when the sun set
he lay down to sleep on a bed of leaves, and the birds and the
animals fled from him, for they remembered his cruelty, and he
was alone save for the toad that watched him, and the slow adder
that crawled past.
And in the morning he rose up,
and plucked some bitter berries from the trees and ate them,
and took his way through the great wood, weeping sorely. And
of everything that he met he made inquiry if perchance they had
seen his mother.
He said to the Mole, 'Thou canst
go beneath the earth. Tell me, is my mother there?'
And the Mole answered, 'Thou
hast blinded mine eyes. How should I know?'
He said to the Linnet, 'Thou
canst fly over the tops of the tall trees, and canst see the
whole world. Tell me, canst thou see my mother?'
And the Linnet answered, 'Thou
hast clipt my wings for thy pleasure. How should I fly?'
And to the little Squirrel who
lived in the fir-tree, and was lonely, he said, 'Where is my
And the Squirrel answered, 'Thou
hast slain mine. Dost thou seek to slay thine also?'
And the Star-Child wept and bowed
his head, and prayed forgiveness of God's things, and went on
through the forest, seeking for the beggar-woman. And on the
third day he came to the other side of the forest and went down
into the plain.
And when he passed through the
villages the children mocked him, and threw stones at him, and
the carlots would not suffer him even to sleep in the byres lest
he might bring mildew on the stored corn, so foul was he to look
at, and their hired men drave him away, and there was none who
had pity on him. Nor could he hear anywhere of the beggar-woman
who was his mother, though for the space of three years he wandered
over the world, and often seemed to see her on the road in front
of him, and would call to her, and run after her till the sharp
flints made his feet to bleed. But overtake her he could not,
and those who dwelt by the way did ever deny that they had seen
her, or any like to her, and they made sport of his sorrow.
For the space of three years
he wandered over the world, and in the world there was neither
love nor loving-kindness nor charity for him, but it was even
such a world as he had made for himself in the days of his great
And one evening he came to the
gate of a strong-walled city that stood by a river, and, weary
and footsore though he was, he made to enter in. But the soldiers
who stood on guard dropped their halberts across the entrance,
and said roughly to him, 'What is thy business in the city?'
'I am seeking for my mother,'
he answered, 'and I pray ye to suffer me to pass, for it may
be that she is in this city.'
But they mocked at him, and one
of them wagged a black beard, and set down his shield and cried,
'Of a truth, thy mother will not be merry when she sees thee,
for thou art more ill-favoured than the toad of the marsh, or
the adder that crawls in the fen. Get thee gone. Get thee gone.
Thy mother dwells not in this city.'
And another, who held a yellow
banner in his hand, said to him, 'Who is thy mother, and wherefore
art thou seeking for her?'
And he answered, 'My mother is
a beggar even as I am, and I have treated her evilly, and I pray
ye to suffer me to pass that she may give me her forgiveness,
if it be that she tarrieth in this city.' But they would not,
and pricked him with their spears.
And, as he turned away weeping,
one whose armour was inlaid with gilt flowers, and on whose helmet
couched a lion that had wings, came up and made inquiry of the
soldiers who it was who had sought entrance. And they said to
him, 'It is a beggar and the child of a beggar, and we have driven
'Nay,' he cried, laughing, 'but
we will sell the foul thing for a slave, and his price shall
be the price of a bowl of sweet wine.'
And an old and evil-visaged man
who was passing by called out, and said, 'I will buy him for
that price,' and, when he had paid the price, he took the Star-Child
by the hand and led him into the city.
And after that they had gone
through many streets they came to a little door that was set
in a wall that was covered with a pomegranate tree. And the old
man touched the door with a ring of graved jasper and it opened,
and they went down five steps of brass into a garden filled with
black poppies and green jars of burnt clay. And the old man took
then from his turban a scarf of figured silk, and bound with
it the eyes of the Star-Child, and drave him in front of him.
And when the scarf was taken off his eyes, the Star-Child found
himself in a dungeon, that was lit by a lantern of horn.
And the old man set before him
some mouldy bread on a trencher and said, 'Eat,' and some brackish
water in a cup and said, 'Drink,' and when he had eaten and drunk,
the old man went out, locking the door behind him and fastening
it with an iron chain.
And on the morrow the old man,
who was indeed the subtlest of the magicians of Libya and had
learned his art from one who dwelt in the tombs of the Nile,
came in to him and frowned at him, and said, 'In a wood that
is nigh to the gate of this city of Giaours there are three pieces
of gold. One is of white gold, and another is of yellow gold,
and the gold of the third one is red. To-day thou shalt bring
me the piece of white gold, and if thou bringest it not back,
I will beat thee with a hundred stripes. Get thee away quickly,
and at sunset I will be waiting for thee at the door of the garden.
See that thou bringest the white gold, or it shall go ill with
thee, for thou art my slave, and I have bought thee for the price
of a bowl of sweet wine.' And he bound the eyes of the Star-Child
with the scarf of figured silk, and led him through the house,
and through the garden of poppies, and up the five steps of brass.
And having opened the little door with his ring he set him in
And the Star-Child went out of
the gate of the city, and came to the wood of which the Magician
had spoken to him.
Now this wood was very fair to
look at from without, and seemed full of singing birds and of
sweet-scented flowers, and the Star-Child entered it gladly.
Yet did its beauty profit him little, for wherever he went harsh
briars and thorns shot up from the ground and encompassed him,
and evil nettles stung him, and the thistle pierced him with
her daggers, so that he was in sore distress. Nor could he anywhere
find the piece of white gold of which the Magician had spoken,
though he sought for it from morn to noon, and from noon to sunset.
And at sunset he set his face towards home, weeping bitterly,
for he knew what fate was in store for him.
But when he had reached the outskirts
of the wood, he heard from a thicket a cry as of some one in
pain. And forgetting his own sorrow he ran back to the place,
and saw there a little Hare caught in a trap that some hunter
had set for it.
And the Star-Child had pity on
it, and released it, and said to it, 'I am myself but a slave,
yet may I give thee thy freedom.'
And the Hare answered him, and
said: 'Surely thou hast given me freedom, and what shall I give
thee in return?'
And the Star-Child said to it,
'I am seeking for a piece of white gold, nor can I anywhere find
it, and if I bring it not to my master he will beat me.'
'Come thou with me,' said the
Hare, 'and I will lead thee to it, for I know where it is hidden,
and for what purpose.'
So the Star-Child went with the
Hare, and lo! in the cleft of a great oak-tree he saw the piece
of white gold that he was seeking. And he was filled with joy,
and seized it, and said to the Hare, 'The service that I did
to thee thou hast rendered back again many times over, and the
kindness that I showed thee thou hast repaid a hundred-fold.'
'Nay,' answered the Hare, 'but
as thou dealt with me, so I did deal with thee,' and it ran away
swiftly, and the Star-Child went towards the city.
Now at the gate of the city there
was seated one who was a leper. Over his face hung a cowl of
grey linen, and through the eyelets his eyes gleamed like red
coals. And when he saw the Star-Child coming, he struck upon
a wooden bowl, and clattered his bell, and called out to him,
and said, 'Give me a piece of money, or I must die of hunger.
For they have thrust me out of the city, and there is no one
who has pity on me.'
'Alas!' cried the Star-Child,
'I have but one piece of money in my wallet, and if I bring it
not to my master he will beat me, for I am his slave.'
But the leper entreated him,
and prayed of him, till the Star-Child had pity, and gave him
the piece of white gold.
And when he came to the Magician's
house, the Magician opened to him, and brought him in, and said
to him, 'Hast thou the piece of white gold?' And the Star-Child
answered, 'I have it not.' So the Magician fell upon him, and
beat him, and set before him an empty trencher, and said, 'Eat,'
and an empty cup, and said, 'Drink,' and flung him again into
And on the morrow the Magician
came to him, and said, 'If to-day thou bringest me not the piece
of yellow gold, I will surely keep thee as my slave, and give
thee three hundred stripes.'
So the Star-Child went to the
wood, and all day long he searched for the piece of yellow gold,
but nowhere could he find it. And at sunset he sat him down and
began to weep, and as he was weeping there came to him the little
Hare that he had rescued from the trap,
And the Hare said to him, 'Why
art thou weeping? And what dost thou seek in the wood?'
And the Star-Child answered,
'I am seeking for a piece of yellow gold that is hidden here,
and if I find it not my master will beat me, and keep me as a
'Follow me,' cried the Hare,
and it ran through the wood till it came to a pool of water.
And at the bottom of the pool the piece of yellow gold was lying.
'How shall I thank thee?' said
the Star-Child, 'for lo! this is the second time that you have
'Nay, but thou hadst pity on
me first,' said the Hare, and it ran away swiftly.
And the Star-Child took the piece
of yellow gold, and put it in his wallet, and hurried to the
city. But the leper saw him coming, and ran to meet him, and
knelt down and cried, 'Give me a piece of money or I shall die
And the Star-Child said to him,
'I have in my wallet but one piece of yellow gold, and if I bring
it not to my master he will beat me and keep me as his slave.'
But the leper entreated him sore,
so that the Star-Child had pity on him, and gave him the piece
of yellow gold.
And when he came to the Magician's
house, the Magician opened to him, and brought him in, and said
to him, 'Hast thou the piece of yellow gold?' And the Star-Child
said to him, 'I have it not.' So the Magician fell upon him,
and beat him, and loaded him with chains, and cast him again
into the dungeon.
And on the morrow the Magician
came to him, and said, 'If to-day thou bringest me the piece
of red gold I will set thee free, but if thou bringest it not
I will surely slay thee.'
So the Star-Child went to the
wood, and all day long he searched for the piece of red gold,
but nowhere could he find it. And at evening he sat him down
and wept, and as he was weeping there came to him the little
And the Hare said to him, 'The
piece of red gold that thou seekest is in the cavern that is
behind thee. Therefore weep no more but be glad.'
'How shall I reward thee?' cried
the Star-Child, 'for lo! this is the third time thou hast succoured
'Nay, but thou hadst pity on
me first,' said the Hare, and it ran away swiftly.
And the Star-Child entered the
cavern, and in its farthest corner he found the piece of red
gold. So he put it in his wallet, and hurried to the city. And
the leper seeing him coming, stood in the centre of the road,
and cried out, and said to him, 'Give me the piece of red money,
or I must die,' and the Star-Child had pity on him again, and
gave him the piece of red gold, saying, 'Thy need is greater
than mine.' Yet was his heart heavy, for he knew what evil fate
But lo! as he passed through
the gate of the city, the guards bowed down and made obeisance
to him, saying, 'How beautiful is our lord!' and a crowd of citizens
followed him, and cried out, 'Surely there is none so beautiful
in the whole world!' so that the Star-Child wept, and said to
himself, 'They are mocking me, and making light of my misery.'
And so large was the concourse of the people, that he lost the
threads of his way, and found himself at last in a great square,
in which there was a palace of a King.
And the gate of the palace opened,
and the priests and the high officers of the city ran forth to
meet him, and they abased themselves before him, and said, 'Thou
art our lord for whom we have been waiting, and the son of our
And the Star-Child answered them
and said, 'I am no king's son, but the child of a poor beggar-woman.
And how say ye that I am beautiful, for I know that I am evil
to look at?'
Then he, whose armour was inlaid
with gilt flowers, and on whose helmet crouched a lion that had
wings, held up a shield, and cried, 'How saith my lord that he
is not beautiful?'
And the Star-Child looked, and
lo! his face was even as it had been, and his comeliness had
come back to him, and he saw that in his eyes which he had not
seen there before.
And the priests and the high
officers knelt down and said to him, 'It was prophesied of old
that on this day should come he who was to rule over us. Therefore,
let our lord take this crown and this sceptre, and be in his
justice and mercy our King over us.'
But he said to them, 'I am not
worthy, for I have denied the mother who bare me, nor may I rest
till I have found her, and known her forgiveness. Therefore,
let me go, for I must wander again over the world, and may not
tarry here, though ye bring me the crown and the sceptre.' And
as he spake he turned his face from them towards the street that
led to the gate of the city, and lo! amongst the crowd that pressed
round the soldiers, he saw the beggar-woman who was his mother,
and at her side stood the leper, who had sat by the road.
And a cry of joy broke from his
lips, and he ran over, and kneeling down he kissed the wounds
on his mother's feet, and wet them with his tears. He bowed his
head in the dust, and sobbing, as one whose heart might break,
he said to her: 'Mother, I denied thee in the hour of my pride.
Accept me in the hour of my humility. Mother, I gave thee hatred.
Do thou give me love. Mother, I rejected thee. Receive thy child
now.' But the beggar-woman answered him not a word.
And he reached out his hands,
and clasped the white feet of the leper, and said to him: 'Thrice
did I give thee of my mercy. Bid my mother speak to me once.'
But the leper answered him not a word.
And he sobbed again and said:
'Mother, my suffering is greater than I can bear. Give me thy
forgiveness, and let me go back to the forest.' And the beggar-woman
put her hand on his head, and said to him, 'Rise,' and the leper
put his hand on his head, and said to him, 'Rise,' also.
And he rose up from his feet,
and looked at them, and lo! they were a King and a Queen.
And the Queen said to him, 'This
is thy father whom thou hast succoured.'
And the King said, 'This is thy
mother whose feet thou hast washed with thy tears.' And they
fell on his neck and kissed him, and brought him into the palace
and clothed him in fair raiment, and set the crown upon his head,
and the sceptre in his hand, and over the city that stood by
the river he ruled, and was its lord. Much justice and mercy
did he show to all, and the evil Magician he banished, and to
the Woodcutter and his wife he sent many rich gifts, and to their
children he gave high honour. Nor would he suffer any to be cruel
to bird or beast, but taught love and loving-kindness and charity,
and to the poor he gave bread, and to the naked he gave raiment,
and there was peace and plenty in the land.
Yet ruled he not long, so great
had been his suffering, and so bitter the fire of his testing,
for after the space of three years he died. And he who came after
him ruled evilly.
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Oscar Wilde Collection