THE BLUE MOON
By Laurence Housman
Nillywill and Hands-pansy were the most unimportant and happy pair of
lovers the world has ever gained or lost.
With them it had been a case of love at first blindness since the day when
they had tumbled into each other's arms in the same cradle. And
Hands-pansy, when he first saw her, did not discover that Nillywill was a
real princess hiding her birthright in the home of a poor peasant; nor did
Nillywill, when she first saw Hands, see in him the baby-beginnings of the
most honest and good heart that ever sprang out of poverty and humble
parentage. So from her end of their little crib she kicked him with her
royal rosy toes, and he from his kicked back and laughed: and thus, as you
hear, at first blindness they fell head over ears in love with one
Nothing could undo that; for day by day earth and sun and wind came to rub
it in deeper, and water could not wash it off. So when they had been seven
years together there could be no doubt that they felt as if they had been
made for each other in heaven. And then something very big and sad came to
pass; for one day Nillywill had to leave off being a peasant child and
become a princess once more. People very grand and grown-up came to the
woodside where she flowered so gaily, and caught her by the golden hair of
her head and pulled her up by her dear little roots, and carried her quite
away from Hands-pansy to a place she had never been in before. They put
her into a large palace, with woods and terraces and landscape gardens on
all sides of it; and there she sat crying and pale, saying that she wanted
to be taken back to Hands-pansy and grow up and marry him, though he was
but the poor peasant boy he had always been.
Those that had charge of Nillywill in her high station talked wisely,
telling her to forget him. "For," said they, "such a thing as a princess
marrying a peasant boy can only happen once in a blue moon!"
When she heard that, Nillywill began every night to watch the moon rise,
hoping some evening to see it grow up like a blue flower against the dusk
and shake down her wish to her like a bee out of its deep bosom.
But night by night, silver, or ruddy, or primrose, it lit a place for
itself in the heavens; and years went by, bringing the Princess no nearer
to her desire to find room for Hands-pansy amid the splendours of her
She knew that he was five thousand miles away and had only wooden peasant
shoes to walk in; and when she begged that she might once more have sight
of him, her whole court, with the greatest utterable politeness, cried
The Princess's memory sang to her of him in a thousand tunes, like
woodland birds carolling; but it was within the cage which men call a
crown that her thoughts moved, fluttering to be out of it and free.
So time went on, and Nillywill had entered gently into sweet womanhood—the
comeliest princess that ever dropped a tear; and all she could do for love
was to fill her garden with dark-eyed pansies, and walk among their humble
upturned faces which reminded her so well of her dear Hands—Hands
who was a long five thousand miles away. "And, oh!" she sighed, watching
for the blue moon to rise, "when will it come and make me at one with all
Looking up, she used to wonder what went on there. She and Hands had
stolen into the woods, when children together, and watched the small
earth-fairies at play, and had seen them, when the moon was full, lift up
their arms to it, making, perhaps, signals of greeting to far-off
moon-brothers. So she thought to herself, "What kind are the fairies up
there, and who is the greatest moon-fairy of all who makes the blue moon
rise and bring good-will to the sad wishers of the human race? Is it,"
thought Nillywill, "the moon-fairy who then opens its heart and brings
down healing therefrom to lovers upon earth?"
And now, as happens to all those who are captives of a crown, Nillywill
learned that she must wed with one of her own rank who was a stranger to
her save for his name and his renown as the lord of a neighbouring
country; there was no help for her, since she was a princess, but she must
wed according to the claims of her station. When she heard of it, she went
at nightfall to her pansies, all lying in their beds, and told them of her
grief. They, awakened by her tears, lifted up their grave eyes and looked
"Do you not hear?" said they.
"Hear what?" asked the Princess.
"We are low in the ground: we hear!" said the pansies. "Stoop down your
head and listen!"
The Princess let her head go to the ground; and "click, click," she heard
wooden shoes coming along the road. She ran to the gate, and there was
Hands, tall and lean, dressed as a poor peasant, with a bundle tied up in
a blue cotton handkerchief across his shoulder, and five thousand miles
trodden to nothing by the faithful tramping of his old wooden shoes.
"Oh, the blue moon, the blue moon!" cried the Princess; and running down
the road, she threw herself into his arms.
How happy and proud they were of each other! He, because she remembered
him and knew him so well by the sight of his face and the sound of his
feet after all these years; and she, because he had come all that way in a
pair of wooden shoes, just as he was, and had not been afraid that she
would be ashamed to know him again.
"I am so hungry!" said Hands, when he and Nillywill had done kissing each
other. And when Nillywill heard that, she brought him into the palace
through the pansies by her own private way; then with her own hands she
set food before him, and made him eat. Hands, looking at her, said, "You
are quite as beautiful as I thought you would be!"
"And you—so are you!" she answered, laughing and clapping her hands.
And "Oh, the blue moon," she cried—"surely the blue moon must rise
Low down in the west the new moon, leaning on its side, rocked and turned
softly in its sleep; and there, facing the earth through the cleared
night, the blue moon hung like a burning grape against the sky. Like the
heart of a sapphire laid open, the air flushed and purpled to a deeper
shade. The wind drew in its breath close and hushed, till not a leaf
quaked in the boughs; and the sea that lay out west gathered its waves
together softly to its heart, and let the heave of its tide fall wholly to
slumber. Round-eyed, the stars looked at themselves in the charmed water,
while in a luminous azure flood the light of the blue moon flowed abroad.
Under the light of many tapers within drawn curtains of tapestry, and
feasting her eyes upon the happiness of Hands, the Princess felt the
change that had entranced the outer world. "I feel," she said, "I do not
know how—as if the palace were standing siege. Come out where we can
breathe the fresh air!"
The light of the tapers grew ghostly and dim, as, parting the thick
hangings of the window, they stepped into the night.
"The blue moon!" cried Nillywill to her heart; "oh, Hands, it is the blue
All the world seemed carved out of blue stone; trees with stems
dark-veined as marble rose up to give rest to boughs which drooped the
altered hues of their foliage like the feathers of peacocks at roost.
Jewel within jewel they burned through every shade from blue to onyx. The
white blossoms of a cherry-tree had become changed into turquoise, and the
tossing spray of a fountain as it drifted and swung was like a column of
blue fire. Where a long inlet of sea reached in and touched the feet of
the hanging gardens the stars showed like glow-worms, emerald in a floor
There was no motion abroad, nor sound: even the voice of the nightingale
was stilled, because the passion of his desire had become visible before
"Once in a blue moon!" said Nilly-will, waiting for her dream to become
altogether true. "Let us go now," she said, "where I can put away my
crown! To-night has brought you to me, and the blue moon has come for us:
let us go!"
"Where shall we go?" asked Hands.
"As far as we can," cried Nillywill. "Suppose to the blue moon! To-night
it seems as if one might tread on water or air. Yonder across the sea,
with the stars for stepping-stones, we might get to the blue moon as it
sets into the waves."
But as they went through the deep alleys of the garden that led down to
the shore they came to a sight more wonderful than anything they had yet
Before them, facing toward the sea, stood two great reindeer, their high
horns reaching to the overhead boughs; and behind them lay a sledge, long
and with deep sides like the sides of a ship. All blue they seemed in that
There too, but nearer to hand, was the moon-fay himself waiting—a
great figure of lofty stature, clad in furs of blue fox-skin, and with
heron's wings fastened above the flaps of his hood; and these lifted
themselves and clapped as Hands and the Princess drew near.
"Are you coming to the blue moon?" called the fay, and his voice whistled
and shrewed to them like the voice of a wind.
Hands-pansy gave back answer stoutly: "Yes, yes, we are coming!" And
indeed what better could he say?
"But," cried Nillywill, holding back for a moment, "what will the blue
moon do for us?"
"Once you are there," answered the moon-fay, "you can have your wish and
your heart's desire; but only once in a blue moon can you have it. Are you
"We are coming!" cried Nillywill. "Oh, let us make haste!"
"Tread softly," whispered the moon-fay, "and stoop well under these
boughs, for if anything awakes to behold the blue moon, the memory of it
can never die. On earth only the nightingale of all living things has
beheld a blue moon; and the triumph and pain of that memory wakens him
ever since to sing all night long. Tread softly, lest others waken and
learn to cry after us; for we in the blue moon have our sleep troubled by
those who cry for a blue moon to return." He looked towards Nillywill, and
smiled with friendly eyes. "Come!" he said again, and all at once they had
leapt upon the sledge, and the reindeer were running fast down toward the
The blue moon was resting with its lower rim upon the waters. At that
sight, before they were clear of the avenues of the garden, one of the
reindeer tossed up his great branching horns and snorted aloud for joy.
With a soft stir in the thick boughs overhead, a bird with a great trail
of feathers moved upon its perch.
The sledge, gliding from land, passed out over the smoothed waters,
running swiftly as upon ice; and the reflection of the stars shone up like
glow-worms as Nillywill and Hands-pansy, in the moon-fay's company, sped
away along its bright surface.
The still air whistled through the reindeers' horns; so fast they went
that the trees and the hanging gardens and the palace walls melted away
from view like wreaths of smoke. Sky and sea became one magic sapphire
drawing them in towards the centre of its life, to the heart of the blue
When the blue moon had set below the sea, then far behind upon the land
they had left the leaves rustled and drew themselves sharply together,
shuddering to get rid of the stony stillness, and the magic hues in which
they had been dyed; and again the nightingale broke out into passionate
triumph and complaint.
Then also from the bough which the reindeer had brushed with its horns a
peacock threw back its head and cried in harsh lamentation, having no
sweet voice wherewith to acclaim its prize. And so ever since it cries, as
it goes up into the boughs to roost, because it shares with the
nightingale its grief for the memory of departed beauty which never
returns to earth save once in a blue moon.
But Nillywill and Hands-pansy, living together in the blue moon, look back
upon the world, if now and then they choose to remember, without any
longing for it or sorrow.