The Bird Cage Maker
IN a town of the ancient kingdom of Castile there lived,
in former ages, a youth called Bartolo, who tried to
eke out a living by making cages for birds, and taking
them round to sell at the neighboring villages. But his trade
was a poor one, and he judged himself in luck if he sold
one cage in the day, and as may be supposed, he knew what
sorrow and privation were.
One day as he was proceeding to a village he heard sounds
of revelry, the buzz of many people, and the strains of a
band of music. This merrymaking was a procession of
children dressed in white, carrying in their midst a beautiful
child crowned with roses, in a chariot covered with white
satin, and ornamented with acacia and myrtle. This procession
was in honor of Maya, the personification of Spring,
and took place to announce the entry of Spring. In front
of the little chariot some children danced, and held in their
hands tin platters for contributions; and, as may be imagined,
all, or nearly all, the spectators dropped their coins into
Bartolo moved away in a desponding mood, saying to
himself as he walked on: "Is this the justice of the world?
There they are, flinging their money into these platters just
because these children come in procession to announce to them
that it is the month of May, as though they could not know
it by looking in an almanac. They barter and grind me down
to the lowest price for my cages, even when I chance to sell
Full of these bitter thoughts he walked on sadly, for the
voices of two importunate enemies were making themselves
heard within him—these were hunger and thirst: the one
clamored for food and the other for drink. Bartolo had
nothing in his wallet but his clasp knife, and had had nought
for his breakfast but hopes, and these made him sharp and
He had reached a plantation when he perceived a well-dressed
individual coming toward him. Pressed by hunger
Bartolo, taking his cap off respectfully, approached and
said: "Excuse me, sir, but could you kindly give me a
trifle? I promise I will return it as soon as I earn some
"Don't you think that it is a shameful thing for a man
like you, young and with a good, healthy appearance, to be
demanding charity of people? Does it not strike you that
you have a duty to earn your living by working at your
"Yes, sir, certainly, but my trade does not fulfill its own
duty. Most people like to see the birds flying about free
rather than in cages, and, therefore, day by day I find
myself poorer than before."
At first the stranger doubted what he heard, but the bird-cage
maker gave him so detailed an account of his work and
the small profits he derived, that he became interested and
sympathized with his ill fortune. Bartolo was a man who
always knew how to excite great interest in himself.
"Come, come," the stranger said, smiling, "I will do
something for you. As I cannot find customers for your
cages, I will afford you a powerful means by which you shall
never more be in want."
He then blew a whistle, and Bartolo saw flying before him
a bird blue as the sky, which came and perched on one of
"See here," added the stranger, "what will compensate for
all your past misery. From this day forward you have only
to formulate a wish and say slowly and distinctly, 'Bluest of
blue birds, do your duty!' and your wish will be granted to
"By my faith!" cried the bird-cage maker, "but I will
try it at once. For the last twenty years I have wished
to kill hunger: 'Bluest of blue birds, do your duty!'"
Scarcely were the words out of his mouth than he saw
suddenly spread before him on the grass a breakfast fit for
a prince, laid on a service of exquisite silver and glass and
the whitest of cloths. Bartolo, astonished, flung himself on
his knees before his benefactor to thank him, but he raised
him up saying:
"I am the good genius of the honest workingmen of
Castile. Sit down and eat without fear. Take advantage of
your lucky star," and then suddenly disappeared.
Bartolo reverently bent down and kissed the spot upon
which he had stood, unable to find adequate expression of his
gratitude. He then sat down and ate his breakfast. After
his meal, Bartolo judged that a man who had feasted in such
an elegant manner ought to have other, better clothing than
his well-worn working suit; and, lifting his staff, he cried
to the bird: "Bluest of blue birds, do your duty!" In an
instant his old suit became transformed into one of richest
velvet, embroidered in gold and silver, and his rough staff
into a splendid horse fully caparisoned, and having round its
neck a collar of silver bells.
More astonished than ever, Bartolo suspended to the
saddle the cage with the blue bird, leaped on the horse, and
went his way, as proud of his dress as a donkey of its
Setting spurs to his horse, he soon reached the gates of a
splendid castle. Some feast was taking place within. The
guests were all seated under a shady bower, deploring that
they had been disappointed of the minstrels who were to have
Bartolo, on learning this, advanced to the bower, and, after
elegantly saluting the lord and lady of the castle, in a most
refined voice said:
"If it be right for a simple knight to offer his services
to such a distinguished company of rank and beauty, I think
I could promise to provide what you are requiring."
"Oh, do! at once, please!" cried all the ladies, who were
longing to dance.
"Bluest of blue birds, do your duty!" said Bartolo.
Suddenly, in the distance, was heard the noise of many
feet, and a troop of musicians with their instruments appeared,
to the great delight of the company.
The lord of the castle thanked the stranger, and desired
him to open the ball with his eldest daughter, a maiden fair
and lovely, like a snowbird.
When the ball was at its height, the bird-cage maker ordered
an elegant banquet to be served, during which the bluest
of blue birds was commanded to sing some songs, which were
very much admired. Games of chance followed, and Bartolo,
taking advantage of his good fortune, distributed among the
ladies pearls, bracelets, and rings of precious stones. All
those present were surprised beyond measure, because the
lord of the castle was known to be extremely niggardly and
The lord of the castle, who knew how all this had been
done through the agency of the bird, and being himself of
an inordinately avaricious nature, thought he might do a fine
stroke of business were he to buy the creature. Hence, calling
his unknown guest away to his study, he proposed to him
to purchase the bird for what price he should quote.
"You would never give me my price," replied Bartolo.
"For it I would give my castle with its nine forests," said
the lord of the castle.
"It is not enough!"
"Very well, I will add my olive plantations and vineyards."
"That is still insufficient!" cried Bartolo.
"I will add the orchards, gardens, and houses."
"I want something else!"
"What, still more? Why, man, you must want paradise
"Not so; I want what you can give me this very moment.
I want your daughter with whom I danced just now! Let her
be my bride."
"What, my daughter!" cried the old miser, in an ecstasy
of joy; "by my faith, we shall soon conclude the bargain.
Why did you not say so before?"
He went to seek the girl, and told her of the engagement
he had entered into. But his daughter, in utter amazement,
"But what if he be a wicked elf, and all he does be witchcraft?"
"You have an amulet of coral hanging from your neck;
it is an antidote against all witchery."
"And what if he be Satan himself?"
"I will give you a piece of blessed candle, and he will
have no power over you," replied the unrelenting father.
Taking her hand, he led her to the stranger, who was
already on his horse, and assisted her to mount behind her
future husband. Taking the cage with the bluest of birds,
he watched the retreating forms of the pair as the horse
carried them away swifter than the wind, and when out of
sight, he proceeded to join his guests. The company were
all gathered in knots discussing the extraordinary powers of
the bird and all the events which had taken place.
"Peace! peace!" cried the lord of the castle, as he entered;
"I will perform more marvelous things than ever he did. I
have given him my daughter to wed in exchange for the bird,
and this blue bird will render me more wealthy than the
King of Aragon. Approach, and see the wonders I will work
He took the cage, and lifting it up to look at the bird,
was astonished to find that it was not blue at all, but a
large gray bird, which turned to stare at him in an insolent
manner, gave a fierce peck at the door of the cage with
its beak, flung it open, and flew out of the window uttering
a terrible screech.
The lord of the castle stood with open mouth, not knowing
what to do or say. His guests broke out in peals of
laughter at his discomfiture and the well-deserved punishment
for his unseemly avarice in exchanging his beautiful daughter
for a worthless bird.
Meanwhile, Bartolo was galloping on with his bride to
the nearest town to be married, and when he arrived at
the first hostelry, he wished to dismount and engage the
most splendid suite of apartments for his intended wife,
but he found himself utterly penniless. He had not calculated
that in parting with the bird he had parted with
his luck, and therefore as soon as he dismounted the horse
disappeared and his elegant dress became changed for the
shabby one he had worn before he met the kind individual
who had wished to befriend him. When the beautiful
daughter of the lord of the castle beheld the transformation
which had taken place she ran back to her father as fast
as she could, fright lending wings to her feet.
Bartolo had to return to his old life of making cages
and to his miserable existence.