THE WHITE PEBBLE *
ONCE upon a time there was a princess who was going to have a birthday party. The king and the queen had sent out a great many invitations. The princess was to have the largest birthday cake anyone had ever seen. It was to be covered with pink icing, and it was to have seven pink candles on each slice.
Everyone was talking of the party. "What are you going to wear?" they asked. "What are you going to carry for a present?"
"I suppose we must take her a birthday present," they sighed, "but it is foolish to take the princess anything. She has more now than she knows what to do with why, she has everything!" However, they went on buying boxes of candy, flowers, dressed dolls, picture books, games, boxes of letter-paper, hair ribbons, handkerchiefs, folderols and gloves. Everyone tried to spend as much or as little money as possible to make the gifts seem great.
There was one guest who had no money with which to buy a present and that was a little brown elf. He did not think about what he should wear to the princess's party. All he thought was, "Oh, what can I give the dear princess? I want to give her something so much! I want to give her the loveliest thing in all the wide, wide world and I have no money! I don't want to go empty-handed."
He thought, and he thought. "Perhaps I could earn some money," he said. "I will try."
So when Mr. Bee of the garden came a-buzzing by, the little brown elf called out, "Hoo-oo! Mr. Bee! Hoo-oo! I'll go very fast to all your flowers for you and I'll get the honey, if you will let me. Then you can take a rest!"
Mr. Bee looked rather surprised.
"I just want enough money to buy the princess a birthday present," the little brown elf started to explain but Mr. Busy Bee had buzzed busily by and paid no attention! Mr. Busy Bee was not used to being spoken to when he was so busy! He was not used to sitting down to rest. He never thought of anything but work. Why, it is even to be doubted whether he knew that the princess was to have a party. Certainly he took no time to consider it.
So the little brown elf walked on. Presently, he came to Mrs. Lilly-flower's garden patch. It was looking rather dry. "Oh, Mrs. Lilly-flower," said the little brown elf, "I will draw you bucketfuls of dew this evening if you will just give me a bit of your gold! I want to buy a present for the princess."
But Mrs. Lilly-flower shook her head. "I'm sorry," she said, "but I'm sure it is going to rain soon."
So the little brown elf walked on. It was the same everywhere. He ran from one place to another. He tried everything that he could think of, but no one wanted an errand boy or a general helper.
The time passed quickly. By and by the very day of the party arrived. Everyone was beautifully dressed; everyone had presents wrapped up in tissue paper and tied with gay ribbons; but there was one person who had nothing, and that was the little brown elf.
"What can I carry to the princess? What, oh! what can I carry to the princess for a birthday present?" the little brown elf asked himself sadly.
He had nothing of his own nothing at all of his own to give. He would not let himself grow discouraged, even in the face of great difficulty. "I will go and seek about in the woods and fields," he decided. "There are always lovely treasures to be picked up, if one can but find them there."
So he set forth.
He had not gone very far when he saw a dainty bird's nest swinging in a tree. "Oh," thought he, "surely no one will carry such a pretty thing as this to the princess! How she would like to see it!" Yet the nest belonged to a little gray bird and the little brown elf did not take it. It was not his to take. He never so much as thought of disturbing the four speckled eggs that lay there so cosily.
He went on his way, and whistled to keep himself merry.
Presently, he came to a strawberry patch. In it were large juicy berries. "Oh, how I should like to gather some for the princess," thought the little brown elf but he hurried on and whistled to keep up his courage. " I am afraid that I have nothing and that I can find nothing to give the princess," he sighed. While he sighed, he rubbed his eyes. When he rubbed his eyes, he stubbed his toe! Down in the dust went the little brown elf all in a little brown heap!
But he picked himself up and dusted his clothes. Then he looked down to see what had made him stumble. There, lying in the path was a round, white pebble. It was so white and so round that the little brown elf picked it up at once. Indeed, it was a lovely smooth stone, and it would have gone happily into the little elf's pocket as a treasure of his very own, had he not thought at once, "Why, this is pretty enough to give to the princess!"
Now he whistled because he was truly happy. He began to polish his pebble till its smooth, white surface shone. With the pebble in his hand, he set forth to the birthday party.
When at last he reached the palace he found that everyone was beautifully dressed. Everyone carried packages wrapped up in tissue paper and tied with ribbons. In the packages were wonderful birthday presents candy, flowers, dolls, picture books, games, boxes of letter-paper, hair ribbons, handkerchiefs, and gloves.
But the little brown elf went with the rest. He held the white pebble fast in his hand. It was not tied up in tissue paper and there was no gay ribbon on it.
Everyone pushed and tried to be first, but the little brown elf waited patiently for his turn at the end of the line. The princess had been wished "Happy Birthday" many, many times before it came the little brown elf's turn. She had opened all the wonderful parcels, wrapped in tissue paper, and had seen all the big boxes of candy, the lovely ribbons, the beautiful dolls that could open and shut their eyes, the lacy beribboned folderols. She had looked at the fine picture books, and the jolly games. She had admired the letter-paper in its pretty boxes. She had admired the dainty handkerchiefs and the handsome gloves. She was very tired.
When she saw the little brown elf at the end of the line, she looked at him with friendly eyes. "Have you a present, too?" she asked.
He nodded. "I wish that it was ever so much more than it is," he explained. "It is only a white pebble but I think it is beautiful."
Then the little brown elf presented his gift. The princess smiled. "Oh, oh!" she exclaimed, "how lovely! How wonderful!" She danced about and clapped her hands. Everyone came running to see what the princess's last birthday gift might be it seemed to please her more than anything else she had received!
"A lucky stone! A lucky stone!" all cried. "Now, the princess will always be happy forever and ever!"
Whether or not the princess believed in lucky stones I do not know, but she loved the little brown elf's present more than all the boxes of candy, the flowers, the dolls, the picture books, the games, the boxes of letter-paper, the hair ribbons, the handkerchiefs, and the gloves that she had received.
And there was someone else that day who was happy; it was the little brown elf, who had given the best that he had to the princess, and who, because he had made his gift in the right spirit, had made the very best gift of all.