There was once a wonderful country in which everything was beautiful. All the trees, and the flowers, and the birds, and the animals were just as beautiful as could be imagined; and the shops, and the houses, and the palaces were the same. Of course all the little girls and boys were beautiful, too; but that is the same everywhere. Now, whether it was because of the beauty of his kingdom, or whether it was merely on account of his royal birth, it is impossible to say, but the King was so extremely nervous that his life was no pleasure to him.
"I cannot bear anything noisy," he said. "Noise is so very alarming." So when the baby Princess cried, he sent her away to another King's country, to be brought up in a village nobody had ever heard of, so that her royal father should not be disturbed. And when he heard that the Queen, his wife, had gone after her, he hardly raised his royal eyebrows. "She laughed too much," he observed, thoughtfully.
The palace grew quieter day by day. The ladies in waiting were forbidden to wear high heels because they made such a clatter on the marble floors; so everybody knew for the first time how short everybody else was. Every courtier whose boots creaked was instantly banished, and if he had a cough into the bargain he was beheaded as well; but the climate was so delightful that this very rarely happened. In time, everybody at court took to speaking in a whisper, in order to spare the King's nerves; and it even became the fashion to talk as little as possible. The King was immensely pleased at this. "Anybody can talk," he said; "but it is a sign of great refinement to be silent." After that, even the ladies in waiting were sometimes silent for quite half an hour. It is true that the King talked whenever he felt inclined, but that, of course, was necessary.
The silence of the court soon spread over the country. Laws were made to forbid the people to keep chickens, or pigs, or cows, or anything that was noisy; and the children were ordered, by royal proclamation, never to laugh, and never to cry, and never to quarrel, so that when the King rode out from his palace not a sound should meet his ears. But this was not all; for the birds were so frightened by the stillness of everything that they stopped singing altogether, and the leaves on the trees ceased to rustle when the wind blew; and even the frogs and the toads were startled at the hoarseness of their own voices and did not croak any more, which was the most remarkable thing that ever happened, for it takes a very great deal to persuade a frog or a toad that his voice is not charming. The only sound that broke the silence was the occasional humming of bees, for the King still allowed the people to keep bees if they liked. "Bees are not noisy," he said. "They do not grunt, or bark, or croak. I can bear to listen to the humming of bees." Even the bees did not hum so much as bees generally do; for the sun soon found that nobody laughed when he was shining his very best, so he went behind a cloud in a temper and stayed there for years and years and years; and the bees could not do without sunshine, even if the King could. So the country grew less beautiful and more gloomy every year.
But the village without a name in the other King's country, where the little Princess was being brought up, was a very different kind of place. It was full of happy people, who made as much noise as they pleased, and laughed when they were glad, and cried when they were sad, and never bothered about anything at all. And the chickens ran in and out of the cottages with the children, and the birds sang all the year round, and the sun had never been known to stop shining for a single minute. It was the jolliest country imaginable, for nobody interfered with anybody else, and the King never made any laws at all, and the only punishment that existed was for grumbling. It is true that there was hardly any conversation, for everybody talked at once and nobody heard what anybody else said; but as it was not often worth hearing, that did not matter in the least. Everybody was happy and jolly, and that was the great thing.
Little Sunny the Princess grew up without knowing that she was a Princess at all; and nobody else knew that she was a Princess either; and even the Queen had almost forgotten that she was a King's wife. That was nobody's concern though; and they lived in the tiniest cottage of all, and Sunny romped with every girl and boy in the place and was loved by them all. They had called her Sunny because she could look straight at the sun without blinking, which was more than the boldest of them could do; and it was such a good name for her that she was never called anything else. Besides, nobody knew her real name, and as it is much too long to be mentioned here, and as the Queen had forgotten it long ago, it really is of no consequence at all.
One fine day, Sunny sat up in the chocolate tree, listening to one of the stories that Honey the gardener's son was so fond of telling her; and Honey the gardener's son lay on the grass below, and tried to catch the chocolate drops with which she was pelting him.
"Why are all your stories so much alike, Honey?" asked Sunny the Princess. "Why does the Prince always go out into the world to find a Princess? Why should n't the Princess go and find the Prince, for a change? I wish I was a Princess; I would start to-morrow. What fun!"
She laughed her very happiest laugh and found an extra large chocolate drop and threw it into his mouth. Honey laughed as well as any one could laugh with a chocolate drop in his mouth, and tried to think of an answer to her question. Honey was not his real name either, but it was the one they had given him because he knew the language of the bees, as, indeed, every true son of a gardener should.
"Perhaps the stories are wrong," he said. "I only tell them to you as I have them from the bees. Or perhaps none of those particular Princesses ever wanted to go out into the world to find anybody."
"Or perhaps," added Sunny, "they were just found before they had time to look for a Prince themselves. Do you think that was it? Anyhow, I don't want to wait for a Prince, for Princes never come this way at all; so I am going out into the world to seek my own fortune, and I shall start this very moment!"
She jumped down from the chocolate tree as she spoke, and danced round Honey, clapping her hands with excitement. Honey was not surprised, for nobody was ever surprised at anything in that country, but he was just a little bit sad.
"And I shall ask the first Prince I meet if he will come back with me," continued Sunny; "just as the Princes always ask the Princesses in the stories. He won't know I am not a Princess, will he? And you won't tell him, will you, Honey dear?"
"I shall not be there," said Honey the gardener's son. "I don't think I want to look for a Princess; and I certainly cannot leave my garden."
"Oh," said Sunny, and she was almost grave for an instant. "But I will come back some day, when I have found my Prince, and then you shall be my gardener," she went on consolingly. "And you don't mind my going without you, do you, Honey dear?"
"The Princes in the stories always went alone," answered Honey.
So that was how Sunny the Princess went out into the world, without knowing that she was a Princess. And of course everybody in the village missed her; but the Queen, her mother, and Honey, the gardener's son, missed her most of all. Before she went, however, Honey taught her a song which she was to sing if she ever found herself in trouble; and this was the song:—
"Friends of Honey,
Come to Sunny;
Friends of Honey,
Fly to Sunny!"
and this she learned by heart before she started.
Now, she travelled a great many days without meeting with any adventures at all. It was such a delightful country that everybody was pleased to see her, and she never had any difficulty in getting enough to eat, for she had only to smile and that was all the payment that anybody wanted. But one day, as she was walking through a wood, a great change suddenly came over everything. Every sound was hushed, and the birds stopped singing, and the wind stopped playing with the leaves; there was not a rustle or a movement anywhere, and the sun had gone behind a cloud. In the whole of her short life the little Princess had never seen the sun go behind a cloud, and she felt extremely inclined to cry. The further she went, the darker and gloomier it grew, and at last she could not bear it another minute; so down she sat by the side of the road and wept heartily.
"Hullo! you must stop that noise or else you will be banished," said a voice, not very far on. Sunny was so astonished that she stopped crying at once and looked up to see a little old man with a white beard staring at her. He was a very sad-looking little man, and his mouth was drawn down at the corners as though he had been on the point of crying all his life and had never quite broken down.
"Why must I stop?" asked Sunny. "If you feel unhappy you must cry, must n't you?"
"Dear me, no," said the sad little man, in a tone of deep gloom. "I am always unhappy, but I never cry. The whole country is unhappy, but nobody is allowed to cry. If you cry, you must go away."
"What a funny country!" cried Sunny, and she at once began to laugh at the absurdity of it.
"Don't do that," said the little man, in a tone of still greater alarm. "If you go on making any fresh noises, you will get beheaded. Why can't you be quiet? You can do anything you like, as long as you do it quietly."
"May n't I laugh?" exclaimed Sunny. "What is the use of feeling happy if you may n't laugh?"
"It is n't any use," said the sad little man. "Nobody ever is happy in this country. Nobody ever has been happy since the King was bewitched and the sun went away in a temper, and that was sixteen years ago. Nobody ever will be happy again, unless the spell is broken; and the spell cannot be broken until a Princess of the royal blood comes this way, without knowing that she is a Princess."
"How absurd!" said Sunny. "As if a Princess could be a Princess without knowing she is a Princess!"
"Why not?" asked the sad little man, crossly. He had lived alone in the dark, silent wood for such a long time that he began to find the conversation tiring.
"Oh, because there are bands and flags and balls and banquets and cheers and Princes and lots of fun, wherever there is a Princess," replied Sunny.
The sad little man looked more sad than before.
"Then the spell will never be broken," he said, miserably; "because all that noise would be stopped at once. If you have done talking you had better go, or else we shall both be banished; and I advise you to take off those wooden shoes of yours, unless you want to be clapped into prison. But, first of all, tell me if you can look straight at the sun without blinking."
He always asked that of every little girl who came his way, in case she should happen to be a Princess; for he was really a very wise little man in spite of his sadness, and he knew that only eagles, and Princesses who did not know they were Princesses, could look straight at the sun without blinking. And he was so tired of feeling sad without being allowed to cry, that he longed to have the spell removed from the country, so that he need not keep back his tears any longer.
"Why, of course I can, if there is a sun," laughed Sunny. And to her astonishment the sad little man dropped straight on the ground, and put his fists in his eyes, and began to cry at the very top of his voice, just like any child in any nursery.
"Whatever is the matter?" exclaimed Sunny.
"Matter?" shouted the little man, who was shaken with sobs from head to foot. "I was never so happy in my life! I have been longing to cry for sixteen years."
There had certainly not been so much noise in that wood for sixteen years. For no sooner did the old man begin to weep, than the trees began to rustle, and the birds began to sing, and the frogs began to croak; and over it all came a faint glimmering of white light, as though the sun were beginning to stretch himself behind the cloud.
"What does it all mean?" demanded Sunny.
"Go on to the palace and see," sobbed the sad little man, and he pointed out the way to her between his tears. And Sunny set off running in her wooden shoes as fast as she could go, and there never was such a clatter as she made when she reached the town and ran straight through the gates and all along the streets; and on either side of her the people fell down in heaps, from sheer amazement at hearing such a noise after sixteen years of silence. So nobody tried to stop her; and she ran faster and faster and faster, and the light grew brighter and brighter and brighter, till at last she stood in the courtyard of the King's palace. There she saw beautiful ladies in magnificent court dresses creeping about on their bare feet, and handsome courtiers in elegant costumes walking on tiptoe in carpet slippers; and there was the Captain of the King's guard drilling the soldiers in whispers, and there were the soldiers pretending to fire with guns that had no gunpowder in them; and there was the head coachman making faces at the stable boy because he could not shout at him, and there was the stable boy standing on his head because he was not allowed to whistle. And into the middle of it all came the clatter of Sunny's wooden shoes, as she ran across the courtyard, and up the steps, and into the palace; and down dropped the ladies in waiting in graceful groups, and down dropped the courtiers just anyhow; and all the soldiers fell down in neat little rows, and the Captain of the King's guard sat down and looked at them; and the head coachman shouted as he had wanted to shout at all his stable boys for the last sixteen years, and the stable boy waved his cap and cried "Hurrah!" And Sunny went clattering along the great hall, past the page boys who were playing marbles with india-rubber marbles, and past the kitchen where the fires burned without crackling and the kettles never boiled over, and up the wide marble staircase, and along all the passages, until the sound of her coming even reached the King's ears.
Now the King sat on his throne with cotton wool stuffed in his ears, in case there should by accident be the least sound in the palace. But, in spite of that, he heard the clatter of Sunny's shoes coming closer and closer, and he began to feel terribly nervous lest there really was going to be a noise at last.
"What is that noise? Take it away and behead it at once!" he said to the Prime Minister, in his most distinct whisper. But the noise outside was now so great that the Prime Minister could not hear a word; and the next moment the door was flung open, and Sunny the Princess ran into the room. And the King looked so funny as he tried to make the Prime Minister hear his whispers, and the Prime Minister looked so funny as he tried to hear the King's whispers, that Sunny was obliged to laugh; and when she had once begun she found she could not stop, so she laughed and laughed and laughed; and when the poor, nervous old King turned again to the Prime Minister to tell him to behead some one at once, he found that the Prime Minister was laughing too; and immediately all the pages in the hall, and the courtiers in the courtyard, and the cooks in the kitchen, and the townspeople in the streets, and the children in the nurseries, were all laughing as heartily as they could. And when the sun heard all this laughter, he finished making up his mind immediately, and came out from behind the cloud and shone his very best once more. So there was the sunshine again, and there was everybody laughing, except the King.
Now, when the King found that no one was paying any attention to his royal whispers, he began to grow angry, and without thinking any more about it he shouted at the very top of his royal voice. And this was so remarkable, after sixteen years of whispering, that the laughter was instantly hushed; and even Sunny the Princess became grave, because she wanted to see what was going to happen next.
"Who are you?" demanded the King, pointing at her with his sceptre.
"I am Sunny, of course," she said, stepping up to the throne in quite a friendly manner. All the courtiers looked at one another and nodded.
"She is Sunny, of course," they said, just as though there could be no doubt about it whatever.
"She is the little Princess your daughter," said a fresh voice from the doorway. And there stood the Queen, who had not been able to stay by herself any longer and had just come after Sunny as fast as she could. When the King saw her, he quite forgot that she used to laugh too much, and he came down from his throne in a terrific hurry and he kissed her several times before the whole court; and Sunny kissed them both there and then; and all the ladies in waiting in the room kissed all the pages that were to be seen; and the courtiers stood in rows along the wall and never got kissed at all.
So that was how Sunny found out she was a Princess; and there were bands and flags and balls and banquets and cheers and Princes and lots of fun. For that evening the King gave a magnificent ball, to celebrate the return of his daughter Sunny; and all the Princes in the kingdom were invited to it.
"Now," said the Queen, as she carefully put on Sunny's beautiful new crown, "you will be able to find your Prince, as you said you would."
But Sunny shook her head and wondered why she felt so sad when everything seemed to be going so well; and when the Queen had gone downstairs to look after the supper, she went to the open window and looked out into the garden. As she did so, there came a faint buzzing and humming close at hand, and three beautiful brown bees flew down and settled on her round white arm. And Sunny gave a cry of joy and knew all at once why she had been feeling so lonely; and she began to sing the song Honey the gardener's son had taught her:—
"Friends of Honey
Come to Sunny;
Friends of Honey,
Fly to Sunny!"
She had not nearly finished singing it before there came a distant murmur in the still, warm air, and the murmur grew louder and louder until it would almost have deafened any one if there had been any one there to deafen. But the people in the palace were so occupied in dressing for the ball that a thunderstorm would not have made any difference to them; and as for Sunny, the sound only reminded her of the village without a name, where she had been so happy with Honey. So she leaned out of the window as far as she could, and waited until she saw a dense cloud coming gradually towards her, so large that it covered the whole of the setting sun. When it reached the palace it hung just above it, and she could see quite plainly that it was made of millions and millions of bees. Then the three bees which had dropped on her round white arm floated up into the air and flew round her head three times and went away to join the cloud of bees overhead. Sunny knew then that they were going to do what she wanted; and she clapped her hands and laughed, as the humming and buzzing began all over again, and the cloud moved away as quickly as it had come. "Hurry, hurry, dear little bees!" she cried from the palace window; and the next moment there was not a bee left in the whole kingdom, for they had all gone to the village without a name, in the other King's country.
Everybody wondered why the Princess was so disdainful to all the Princes who danced with her, that night. But nobody wondered any more when Honey the gardener's son arrived; and this really happened, only three days later. And he came, all in his gardener's clothes; and he walked straight into the palace, just as Sunny had done; and she met him in the great hall, where the King and the Queen and the whole court were having a reception to receive one another. And they both shouted with happiness and ran straight into each other's arms; and they kissed and kissed and kissed, and then they fell to talking as fast as they could; and they both talked at once for three quarters of an hour, before either of them heard a word. Then they sat down on the steps of the King's throne, just because it happened to be there, and Sunny told him everything that had happened to her. Nobody interfered, not even the Prime Minister, for Sunny had done so many curious things since her arrival that one more or less made very little difference.
"It is very dull being a Princess," said Sunny. "And I don't like palaces much, after all; they are such stuffy places! The people who live in them are rather stuffy, too. And there is n't a chocolate tree in the whole of the garden; did you ever know such a stupid garden? Oh, I am so glad you have come, Honey dear!"
"Have you found your Prince?" was all that Honey said.
"Princes are not a bit amusing," said Sunny. "There were fifty-two Princes at the ball, the other night, but I did n't like any of them. I am dreadfully tired of being a Princess. It is ever so much nicer in the village, under the chocolate tree."
"Of course it is," said Honey. "We 'll go back, shall we?" And nothing the King could say would make them see any other side to the question. Indeed, as the Queen pointed out to him, if he had not allowed the people to keep so many bees it might never have happened at all. So the end of it was, that the Queen stayed with the King; and Honey and Sunny were married that very same day and went back to live in the village without a name. And there they built a very small house in a very big garden, and they planted it with rows of chocolate trees, and rows of acid-drop bushes, and lots of almond rockeries; and the fairies came and filled it with flowers from Fairyland that had no names at all, but were the most beautiful flowers that any one has ever seen, for they never faded or died but just changed into something else when they were tired of being the same flower.
So no wonder that Honey and Sunny were happy for ever and ever!