The Magic Tears, by Anna McClure Sholl

Fairy Tales of Weir

There was once a king named Theophile who lived in a dim castle on the edge of the ocean, but so far above the water that the flying spray never reached its lowest terrace; and only the strongest-winged seagulls could circle its towers and turrets. It was a strange, melancholy, beautiful place, where the light shimmered on the walls like the ripple of water, and in the shadows of the massive walls the flowers waved all day in the sea-wind like little princesses who would dance before they died.

King Theophile had led many armies to victory, driving his golden white-sailed boats upon far-off coasts, but from each conquest he returned the sadder because he had made many people hate him, and had won no one's love. Nor could he find a woman who would wed him, because of the sorrows of his line, which were great.

When he was not at war he would labor for his kingdom until sunset, and at that hour he would leave his Council Chamber to pace the terraces and gaze seaward over the rocking blue-green waves, while his minstrels sang to him. Only music could drive away his care, so always a page with a golden harp followed him. Sometimes he would bid everyone be gone but this boy, and the two would glide like shadows through the long galleries where the bluish tapestries hung; or brood together by the roaring fire when the sleet rattled on the casements.

One spring day when it seemed as if even the ocean air wafted the fragrance of little pale flowers and the sun shone warmly on the old gray walls of the castle, the King and the boy wandered into the garden of the white lilacs; where, on a marble bench, King Theophile seated himself, and listened while the boy sang:

"My love came out of an old dream,
  And took away my peace;
And now I dare not sleep again,
  Until this heartache cease."

"Did he ever know slumber again, I wonder," said the King. "O boy, of what use are your love-songs!"

"To arouse love in your heart, Sire!"

"What good is that when I have no maiden to love!"

"Listen, Sire," said the boy. "You are going to war with King Mace who has a most beautiful daughter, the Princess Elene. When you have overthrown him, bring her to your kingdom and wed her."

"A strange way to win the love of a woman," said the King, "by invading her father's kingdom. Nevertheless, I will have regard to the maiden."

"I have heard," said the page, "that they who once behold her are restless ever afterwards from the wound of her beauty."

The King nodded wearily. "There are women like that—gleams from lost stars; faces seen at sunset; or where the light is lifting after a storm. I have never cast eyes on such a maid."

"When you see the Princess Elene you will behold her," said the page.

"I will set forth to war immediately," announced the King.

Soon thereafter he sailed away, and over the rocking billows went the golden boats until they drove upon the coasts of King Mace's land, where bitter battles were fought and many men laid asleep with the sword. Then came a day when all was quiet, and even King Mace pillowed his royal head on his dead horse, and woke no more.

Then King Theophile entered the little sunny palace where all was so silent, and strode through the echoing corridors to the throne room. There alone, beneath a canopy of azure satin, on the great throne sat a woman whose face was like a gleam from a lost star. She had proud lips, and hair that was like cloth of gold about her, and eyes that were wells of sorrow. When he beheld her, King Theophile's limbs became as weak as a new-born child's, and he heard the sound of a far-off wind that had traveled from the Kingdom of Lost Hope. He knew that henceforth for him there must be either love or death.

"O Princess," he cried, "they are all asleep. But thou and I are awake."

"Nay," she replied, "they are awake. Their spirits crowd this hall to wring my heart with pity; but thou art asleep."

Her words were like a sword in his breast, and kneeling before her, he cried: "Come with me to my Kingdom. Thou art my only Love."

"Thou mayst force me to wed thee," she replied, "but the sword which can slay, can never wake love to life. Thou hast come to the end of thy conquests."

Then King Theophile tasted the bitterness of death as the men who slept from the stroke of his sword could never taste it. And because he was not a man to put his soul into the keeping of his tongue, he made no answer, but in his secret heart he resolved to win her love, though the adventure cost him years of pain.

So while he lingered in her kingdom, building costly monuments to the dead, and showering gold on the wounded, and sending into fine houses the homeless whose hearts ached for vanished humble hearths; while he worked to draw life out of death, he spared no effort to bring a smile to the lips of the Princess Elene.

But she never smiled, and though her heart was breaking, she could not weep. Often she said to her women, "Pray that I may have the gift of tears," but always her eyes remained dry, like the vision of those who have gazed too long on fire.

To King Theophile she seemed the very Beauty of the World, as in her black robes she sat in her garden at her tapestry frame, or listened with veiled eyes to the singing of his minstrels. And in his heart was a battle greater than any he had ever waged in desolated lands, for his nobler self told him he had no right to wed her. But his wild love drove like a tempest across these whispers.

[Illustration: KING THEOPHILE AND QUEEN ELENE]

So at last he married her in the dim cathedral church of her dead father's kingdom, with pomp of flowers and lights and nuptial music, and she was as pale as those who live long underground.

Then the golden boats drove home across the rocking billows, and one day the Queen Elene, as she was now titled, lifted her eyes and beheld the gaunt castle of King Theophile cutting the sky. A mist seemed to hang all its turrets with fog and vapor. Elene remembered the shining happy little castle of her vanished kingdom, and her heart was bitter with tears, but she could not shed them.

King Theophile, gazing upon her face, read her thoughts, for he had the second-sight of lovers; and his heart was as lead in his breast. He was jealous of the very years when he had not known her. Her beauty troubled him like a half remembered name, and when he was in her presence he had the trembling of illness upon him, and when away from her he was as restless as a fallen leaf that the wind blows.

Through many days and weeks he wooed her to bring the smile to her lips, but always she grew whiter and more desolate; so that when she walked the terraces above the boiling surf, she seemed like a white flower torn of its petals and tossed up by the bitter waves.

At the end of a year there came a daughter from the Kingdom of the Little Souls, and lay like a white bud on the Queen's bosom. Then at last Elene smiled and wept, but her strength was gone; and soon afterwards she closed her eyes and went to sleep.

King Theophile's heart was broken, for the baby, and not he, himself, had made Elene smile and weep. When the days of the court mourning were over the little daughter was christened, and to her christening came all the wise women of the kingdom. Each told what this child would be. One said, "She will have the beauty of shimmering rainbows"; another, "She will be as wise as she is good." But the Wisest Woman of all said, "Every person will read his future in her tears."

Now this prophecy troubled King Theophile and awoke love in his heart for his little daughter, who was already showing how beautiful she would be some day. So he watched over her, and made one of his echoing rooms into the royal nursery.

Now the nurses knew what the Wisest Woman had said—that the tears of this Princess would be a magic mirror of the future; and one day when the child was two years old, the head nurse, who had a sweetheart and wished to know whether she would marry him, resolved to make the little girl cry.

Now she was puzzled how to do this, for the royal maid was sweet-tempered and obedient; but the nurse knew that Elene loved most dearly a beautiful doll as big as herself, so one afternoon, when the Princess was clasping this treasure to her little breast, the nurse making sure first that no one was looking, snatched it from her and threw it into the sea.

[Illustration: THE NURSE SEES HER WEDDING IN THE PRINCESS'S TEARS]

The baby-princess when she saw her darling doll falling into the water began to wail, and tears came into her eyes. Then her nurse knelt before her, and saw in those tears her own wedding. So happy was she over this sight that she jumped up and began to caper about, heeding not the sobs of the poor little Princess.

But King Theophile heard them and came out with a face of thunder.
"Woman," he cried, "why do you dance when a princess weeps?"

Then the nurse came to her senses and grew gray with fear. She tried to mutter some excuse, but King Theophile dismissed her on the spot and gathering up his baby into his arms, took her into the nursery, and wiped away her tears. Yet her sobs did not cease and she was too little to tell him of her woe.

The nurse, though she left the King's service, did marry immediately; and began to whisper how she had seen her wedding in the tears of the Princess Elene, which word was to work out cruelly for the royal child. From that day on those about her, though they loved her dearly, could not refrain from trying their fortune in her tears. As she grew older and more understanding it was a difficult matter to know how to make her cry without incurring suspicion.

But even a wrong will finds its way, and little Elene grew up wondering why people were so unkind to her; and why there was so much sadness in the world, for when all else failed the minstrels could make her weep by singing of "old, unhappy far-off things, and battles long-ago."

King Theophile did not know of these troubles of his little daughter, for she had learned early that her tears hurt him, so she concealed them from him. All his joy was now in her, for she was the very image of her dead mother, and beautiful as a dawn of May day. When she danced she was like the light that ripples over the flowers; when she sang the souls of all young birds seemed to float on her voice.

The fame of her beauty went through many kingdoms, and with the legend of her loveliness was told the strange tale of her magic tears.

Now three young princes from three great States, fell ardently in love with Elene from the mere breath of the rumor of her charms. The first was Prince Tristan, the second Prince Martin, the third Prince Lorenzo; and both Prince Tristan and Prince Martin were sure of winning.

But Prince Lorenzo was not at all sure, because he had lost much in his short life, and knew that love is like the wind that comes and goes; like the fire that leaps into the night and is seen no more; like the star that flashes across the dark zenith and then vanishes.

One May morning the three Princes arrived to try their fortunes and to sue for the hand of the Princess Elene. Prince Tristan, who was straight and handsome, put on his best white satin doublet and stuck a rose behind his ear. Prince Martin put on glittering armor like a knight going to battle; but Prince Lorenzo was so consumed with love that he thought not at all of what he wore.

King Theophile himself led them into the presence of the Princess Elene, who was clad in a silk robe that shimmered like a rainbow, and who looked so beautiful that for an instant Prince Lorenzo put his hand before his eyes. The two other princes gazed straight at the lady; then made grand sweeping bows.

"May I tell you," said Prince Tristan, holding out his rose, "that you are the most beautiful princess I have ever seen?"

"May I tell you," said Prince Martin, "that your eyes are like stars?"

Prince Lorenzo remained mute because his heart was too full for speech, and King Theophile looked coldly upon him; but the Princess Elene gazed at him until he blushed. Then she seated herself on her throne and bade the princes speak to her of what pleased them best.

Prince Tristan began at once to tell her of his hunting exploits, and what joy he took in the chase. But the Princess's face grew colder and colder as she listened, for she loved all living things, and could not bear to see any of them hurt. Tristan did not observe this, for like all vain people, he was thinking of his own charms, and so was unaware of the effect he was producing.

He finished with a flourish, and Prince Martin stumbled in on the last words, so eager was he to render in his turn a glowing account of all his fine deeds. These were not few, for he was a brave lad, so for an hour he discoursed upon tourneys and battles; nor did he observe that the Princess Elene grew pale—and trembled, for her mother's sorrow over war lived again in her heart.

To her relief he came at last to the end of his recital; then with a sigh Elene turned her beautiful eyes upon Prince Lorenzo. "And what have you to tell me, my Prince?"

For answer he said to a page, "Give me thy harp"; and when it was delivered to him he struck the strings and sang:

"In the hour of the white moths flying
   Beneath the great gray moon,
My sad heart was a-sighing
   Lest love should come too soon.

"In the hour of the dawn-birds flying
   Each to his feathery mate,
 My sad heart was a-sighing
   Lest love should come too late.

"Thy spirit heard my voicing,
   And bade me cease from fears,
 And follow thee, rejoicing,
   Beyond all time and tears."

"It is a beautiful song," said the Princess. "And it would be sweet to follow someone beyond time and tears."

Then Prince Tristan and Prince Martin looked enviously at Prince Lorenzo; and Prince Martin said contemptuously, "I did not know that thou wert a minstrel."

"Thou mayst yet discover that I am a shoemaker," returned Lorenzo. "Also, if there were no carpenters in the world we should all be houseless. A carpenter may, indeed, be of more use than a princeling."

Tristan looked at Elene to see how she bore the shock of hearing such people mentioned as carpenters and shoemakers; but she was smiling as if Lorenzo's words pleased her.

The three princes stayed on at the Castle, and the court was very gay. Only King Theophile's heart was heavy, for he knew that he must lose his most beautiful daughter. She was equally kind to all her suitors, and he could not discover which prince she favored. So one evening he came to her in her octagon room, which was of white ivory and whose windows were hung with coral silk; and he found her spinning with her maidens. Her robe of lace rippled about her little feet, and the band of sapphires which held back her yellow hair were not as blue as her eyes.

King Theophile dismissed the maidens, and seating himself beside his daughter he took her hand and said:

"O ray of sunlight out of a great sorrow, tell me in the name of thy dead mother, to whom thou hast given thine heart?"

But the Princess veiled her eyes and drooped her head, for a burden was upon her soul. "My father," she said, "a prince can not easily be a lover, for love has but one object, and in the life of a prince are many objects. I would be loved, but fine words are no proof of a heart."

"Prince Tristan is a noble youth."

"He is too fond of killing," replied Elene.

King Theophile's cheeks grew pale, for he thought of the long-ago wars and men asleep in crimson meadows that had once been green.

"Prince Martin is a gallant lad."

"He would rather contend with others than with himself," said the
Princess.

"As for Prince Lorenzo, he dreams too much."

"Dreamers oft know more than those who are awake," replied Elene.

King Theophile sighed, for when his Princess spoke in this wise she seemed to pass from his arms into the arms of her dead mother. Now when Elene heard him sigh her heart was touched, for she loved him dearly.

"King-Father, do not sigh. I will make my choice, and this will be the manner of my choosing. Thou knowst my tears can show the future."

Then the King grew pale, for he thought of the mother who could not weep until the little daughter was laid upon her breast.

"My three suitors may try their fortunes through my tears one week from, this night; that is—" she added, "if they have power to make me weep. He who beholds me weep, him will I wed."

The King was sad when he heard this, but he saw it was her will and refrained from protest. Next day he announced to the court and to the three suitors through what means the Princess Elene would make her decision.

From that day on Elene saw little of the three princes, for Prince Lorenzo was wandering off in the forests alone and Prince Martin and Prince Tristan were trying pathos on the maids of honor, each vying with the other to tell the saddest tales. They succeeded so well that the noble maidens nearly cried their eyes out. King Theophile was much embarrassed to come, in his walks, upon a little maid of honor weeping into her handkerchief, while a Prince discoursed at her feet.

At last the week wore away, and the court assembled for what someone called the Trial of Tears. A thousand wax candles were lit in the glittering throne room. King Theophile sat upon his throne, and on his right hand was the Princess Elene, crowned with white roses, and robed in white silk which had a shimmer of gold in its folds. At the foot of the throne sat the three princes.

When all were assembled the King arose and announced the intention of the Princess to give her hand to him who should behold in her tears her wedding.

Prince Tristan was the first to try his fortune. He had chosen the tale of a young girl cruelly turned adrift in a forest and left there to die, and he related it with every circumstance that could render it more piteous. Soon every lady in the court was weeping, but to the eyes of the Princess Elene came no tears, which made Prince Tristan angry, so that he finished his tale in a sullen muttering voice.

Then Prince Martin rose and told a story of little children who had climbed into a boat which the rising tide seized and carried out to sea. They were too little to be afraid, and only when starvation seized them did they begin to wail for their mothers.

This story, related in a soft, melancholy voice, touched all hearts, and through the court there was the sound of weeping, but the Princess gazed straight before her, and her eyes were dry.

Prince Martin ended his tale with real sadness, for he saw that the Princess Elene was unmoved by his narrative, and with drooping head he returned to his seat.

Then rose Prince Lorenzo and bowed low before the Princess. "Even to win you," he said, "I would not have you shed tears, for you have been made to shed too many in your short life."

He had scarcely uttered these words when the Princess's lip quivered like that of a little child and sudden tears welled up in her eyes. As they fell Lorenzo went quickly to her, and gazing upon her face, gave a cry of joy. "O my Love!" he exclaimed. "I see thee all in a white veil and I am by thy side!"

Then smiling through her tears, she arose and held out her hand to him, and the court knew that he was the chosen one. He knelt before her and kissed her hand, while the heralds proclaimed him the victor.

So they were married and lived happily ever afterwards, for she was a true Princess and he was a true Prince.