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Oscar Wilde "The Happy Prince"

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     High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was covered with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby shone brightly on his sword-hilt.
     He was very much admired indeed. "He is as beautiful as a weathercock," said one of the Town Councillors, who wished to gain a reputation for having artistic tastes. "Only not quite so useful," he added because he was afraid that people may think him unpractical, which he really was not.
     "Why can't you be like the Happy Prince?" asked a sensible mother of her little boy who was crying for the moon. "The Happy Prince never dreams of crying for anything."
     "I am glad there is someone in the world who is quite happy," said a disappointed man as he looked at the wonderful statue.
     "He looks just like an angel," said the Charity Children as they came out of the cathedral.
     "How do you know?" said the Mathematical Master. "You have never seen one."
     "Ah! But we have, in our dreams," answered the children; and the Mathematical Master frowned and looked at them angrily, because he did not approve of children dreaming.
     One night there flew over the city a little Swallow. His friends went away to Egypt six weeks before. But he stayed behind, because he was in love with the most beautiful Reed. He saw her early in the spring as he was flying down the river after a big yellow moth. He was so attracted by her slender waist that he stopped to talk to her.
     "Shall I love you?" asked the Swallow, who liked to come to the point at once, and the Reed made him a low bow. So he flew round and round her, touching the water with his wings. This was his courtship, and it lasted all through the summer.
     "It is a ridiculous attachment," twittered the other Swallows, "she has no money and far too many relations;" and, indeed, the river was quite full of Reeds. Then, when the autumn came, they all flew away.
     After they had gone, the Swallow felt lonely and began to think of his lady-love. "She has no conversation," he said, "and I am afraid that she is a coquette, for she is always flirting with the wind." And certainly, whenever the wind blew, the Reed made the most graceful curtseys. "I admit that she is domestic," he continued, "but I love traveling, and my wife should also love traveling."
     "Will you come away with me?" he said finally to her, but the Reed shook her head, she was so attached to her home.
     "You have been trifling with me," he cried. "I am off to the Pyramids. Good-bye!" and he flew away.
     All day long he flew, and at night-time he arrived at the city. "Where shall I stay?" he thought. "I hope the town has made preparations."
     Then he saw the statue on the tall column.
     "I will stay there," he cried, "it is a fine position, with plenty of fresh air." So he settled just between the feet of the Happy Prince.
     "I have a golden bedroom," he said softly to himself as he looked round, and he prepared to go to sleep. But just as he was putting his head under his wing, a large drop of water fell on him. "What a curious thing!" he cried. "There is not a single cloud in the sky, the stars are quite clear and bright, and yet it is raining. The climate in the north of Europe is really dreadful. The Reed used to like the rain, but there was only her selfishness."
     Then another drop fell.
     "What is the use of a statue if it cannot keep the rain off?" he said. "I must look for a good chimney-cap," and he decided to fly away.
     But before he had spread his wings, a third drop fell, he looked up, and saw - Ah! What did he see?
     The eyes of the Happy Prince were filled with tears, and the tears were running down his golden cheeks. His face was so beautiful in the moonlight that the little Swallow was filled with pity. "Who are you?" he said. "I am the Happy Prince."
     "Why are you weeping then?" asked the Swallow. "You have made me thoroughly wet."
     "When I was alive and had a human heart," answered the statue, "I did not know what tears were, for I lived in the Palace of Sans-Souci, where sorrow is not allowed to enter. In the daytime I played with my companions in the garden, and in the evening I led the dance in the Great Hall. Round the garden ran a very high wall, but I never cared to ask what lay beyond it. Everything about me was so beautiful. My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy, indeed, I was, if pleasure be happiness. So I lived, and so I died. And now that I am dead, they have put me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city. Though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot choose but weep."
     "What! Is he not solid gold?"7 said the Swallow to himself. He was too polite to make any personal remarks out loud.
     "Far away," continued the statue in a low musical voice, " far away in a little street there is a poor house. One of the windows is open, and through it I can see a woman seated at a table. Her face is thin and worn. She has coarse, red hands, all pricked by the needle, for she is a seamstress. She is embroidering passionflowers on a satin gown for the loveliest of the Queen's maids-of-honor to wear at the next Court-ball. In a bed in the corner of the room her little boy is lying ill. He has a fever, and is asking for oranges. His mother has nothing to give him but river water, so he is crying. Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow, will you not bring her the ruby out of my sword-hilt? My feet are fixed to this pedestal and I cannot move."
     "I am waited for in Egypt," said the Swallow. "My friends are flying up and down the Nile, and talking to the large lotus-flowers. Soon they will go to sleep in the tomb of the great King. The King is there himself in his painted coffin."
     "Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow," said the Prince, "can't you stay with me for one night, and be my messenger? The boy is so thirsty, and the mother is so sad."
     "I don't think I like boys," answered the Swallow. "Last summer, when I was staying on the river, there were two rude boys, the miller's sons, who were always throwing stones at me. They never hit me, of course; we, swallows, fly far too well for that, but still it was a mark of disrespect."
     But the Happy Prince looked so sad that the little Swallow was sorry. "It is very cold here," he said, "but I will stay with you for one night, and be your messenger."
     "Thank you, little Swallow," said the Prince. So the Swallow picked out the great ruby from the Prince's sword, and flew away with it over the roofs of the town.
     He passed by the cathedral tower, where the white marble angels were sculptured. He passed by the palace and heard the sound of dancing. A beautiful girl came out on the balcony with her lover. "How wonderful the stars are," he said to her, "and how wonderful is the power of love!"
     "I hope my dress will be ready in time for the Court-ball," she answered. "I have ordered passionflowers to be embroidered on it; but the seamstresses are so lazy."
     The Swallow passed over the river, and saw the lanterns hanging on the masts of the ships. He passed over the Ghetto, and saw the old Jews bargaining with each other, and weighing out money in copper scales. At last he reached the poor house and looked in. The boy was lying ill in bed. The mother was sleeping, she was so tired. The Swallow laid the great ruby on the table. Then he flew gently round the bed, fanning the boy's forehead with his wings. "How cool I feel!" said the boy. "I must be getting better," and he fell asleep.
     Then the Swallow flew, back to the Happy Prince, and told him what he had done. "It is curious," he said, "but I feel quite warm now, although it is so cold."
     "This is because you have done a good action," said the Prince. And the little Swallow began to think, and then he fell asleep. Thinking always made him sleepy.
     When day broke, he flew down to the river and had a bath. "What a remarkable phenomenon!" said the Professor of Ornithology, as he was passing over the bridge. "A swallow in winter!" And he wrote a long letter about it to the local newspaper. Every one quoted it, it was full of so many words that they could not understand.
     "Tonight I go to Egypt," said the Swallow, and he was in a good mood at the prospect. He visited all the public monuments, and sat a long time on the top of the church. Wherever he went, the Sparrows said to each other, "What a distinguished stranger!" So he enjoyed himself very much.
     When the moon rose, he flew back to the Happy Prince, "Have you any messages for Egypt?" he cried. "I am just starting."
     "Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow," said the Prince, "can't you stay with me one night longer?"
     "I am waited for in Egypt," answered the Swallow. "Tomorrow my friends will fly up to the Second Cataract. The river-horse sits there among the bulrushes, and on a great granite throne sits the God Memnon. All night long he watches the stars, and when the morning star shines, he utters one cry of joy, and then he is silent. At noon the yellow lions come down to the water's edge to drink. They have eyes like green beryls, and their roar is louder than the roar of the cataract."
     "Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow," said the Prince, "far away across the city I see a young man in a small room. He is leaning over a desk covered with papers, and by his side there is a bunch of violets. His hair is brown and crisp, and his lips are as red as a pomegranate, and he has large dreamy eyes. He is trying to finish a play for the Director of the Theatre, but he is too cold to write any more. There is no fire in the grate, and hunger has made him weak."
     "I will wait with you one night longer," agreed the Swallow, who really had a good heart. "Shall I take him another ruby?"
     "Alas! I have no ruby now," sighed the Prince, "my eyes are all that I have left. They are made of rare sapphires, which were brought out of India a thousand years ago. Pluck out one of them and take it to him. He will sell it to the jeweler and buy firewood, and finish his play."
     "Dear Prince," said the Swallow, "I cannot do that," and he began to weep.
     "Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow," said the Prince, "do as I command you."
     So the Swallow plucked out the Prince's eye, and flew away to the Student's small room. It was easy enough to get in, as there was a hole in the roof. Through this he quickly flew, and came into the room. The young man had his head buried in his hands, so he did not hear the flutter of the bird's wings. When he looked up, he found the beautiful sapphire lying on the faded violets.
     "I am beginning to be appreciated," he cried, "this is from some great admirer. Now I can finish my play," and he looked quite happy.
     The next day the Swallow flew down to the harbor. He sat and watched the sailors hauling big boxes out of the hold with ropes. "Heave a-hoy!" they shouted as each box came up. "I am going to Egypt!" cried the Swallow, but nobody paid much attention. When the moon rose, he flew back to the Happy Prince.
     "I have come to say good-bye to you," he cried.
     "Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow," pleaded the Prince, "can't you stay with me one night longer?"
     "It is winter," answered the Swallow, "and the chill snow will soon be here. In Egypt the sun is warm on the green palm-trees, and the crocodiles lie in the mud and look lazily about them. My companions are building a nest in the Temple of Baalbec, and the pink and white doves are watching them, and cooing to each other. Dear Prince, I must leave you, but I will never forget you. Next spring I will bring you back two beautiful jewels to replace those you have given away. The ruby shall be redder than a red rose, and the sapphire shall be as blue as the great sea."
     "In the square below," said the Happy Prince, "there stands a little girl who sells matches. She has let her matches fall in the gutter, and they are all spoiled. Her father will beat her, if she does not bring home some money, and she is crying. She has no shoes or stockings, and her little head is bare. Pluck out my other eye, and her father will not beat her."
     "I will stay with you one night longer," whispered the Swallow, "but I cannot pluck out your eye. You would be completely blind then."
     "Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow," said the Prince, "do as I command you."
     So he plucked out the Prince's other eye, and flew with it. He found the match-girl, and slipped the jewel into her hand. "What a lovely bit of glass!" cried the little girl, and she ran home, laughing.
     Then the Swallow came back to the Prince. "You are blind now," he said, "so I will stay with you always."
     "No, little Swallow," answered the Poor Prince, " you must go away to Egypt."
     "I will stay with you always," said the Swallow, and he slept at the Prince's feet.
     All the next day he sat on the Prince's shoulder, and told him stories of what he had seen in strange lands. He told him of the red ibises who stand in long rows on the banks of the Nile, and catch goldfish; of the Sphinx who is as old as the world itself, and lives in the desert, and knows everything; of the merchants who walk slowly by the side of their camels and carry amber beads in their hands; of the King of the Mountains of the Moon who is as black as ebony, and worships a large crystal; of the great green snake that sleeps in a palm-tree, and has twenty priests to feed it with honey cakes; and of the pigmies who sail over a big lake on large flat leaves, and are always at war with the butterflies.
     "Dear little Swallow," said the Prince, "you tell me of marvelous things, but the most marvelous thing of all is the suffering of men and women. There is no Mystery so great as Misery. Fly over my city, little Swallow, and tell me what you see there."
     So the Swallow flew over the great city, and saw the rich making merry in their beautiful houses, while the beggars were sitting at the gates. He flew into dark lanes, and saw the white faces of starving children looking out at the black streets. Under a bridge two little boys were lying in one another's arms to try and keep themselves warm. "How hungry we are!" they said. "You must not lie here," shouted the watchman, and they went out into the rain.
     Then he flew back and told the Prince what he had seen.
     "I am covered with fine gold," said the Prince, " you must take it off, leaf by leaf, and give it to the poor; people always think that gold can make them happy.""
     So the Swallow took off leaf after leaf of the fine gold, till the Happy Prince looked quite dull and grey. He brought leaf after leaf of the fine gold to the poor, and the children's faces grew rosier, and they laughed and played games in the street. "We have bread now!" they cried.
     Then the snow came, and after the snow was the frost. The streets looked as if they were made of silver, they were so bright and glistening; everybody walked about in furs, and the little boys wore scarlet caps and skated on the ice.
     The poor little Swallow grew colder and colder, but he would not leave the Prince, he loved him too much. He picked up crumbs outside the baker's door, when the baker was not looking, and tried to keep himself warm by flapping his wings.
     But at last he knew that he was going to die. He had just enough strength to fly up to the Prince's shoulder once more. "Good-bye, dear Prince!" he said. "Will you let me kiss your hand?"
     "I am glad that you are going to Egypt at last, little Swallow," said the Prince. "You have stayed too long here; but you must kiss me on the lips, for I love you."
     "It is not to Egypt that I am going," said the Swallow. "I am going to the House of Death. Death is the brother of Sleep, is he not?"
     And he kissed the Happy Prince on the lips and fell down dead at his feet.
     At that moment a curious crack sounded inside the statue as if something had broken. The fact was that the leaden heart had broken in two. It certainly was a dreadfully hard frost.
     Early the next morning the Mayor was walking in the square below with the Town Councilors. As they passed the column, he looked up at the statue: "Dear me! How shabby the Happy Prince looks!" he said.
     "How shabby, indeed!" cried the Town Councilors who always agreed with the Mayor, and they went up to look at it.
     "The ruby has fallen out of his sword, his eyes are gone, and he is golden no longer," said the Mayor, "in fact, he is little better than a beggar!"
     "Little better than a beggar," echoed the Town Councilors.
     "And here is actually a dead bird at his feet!" continued the Mayor. "We must issue a proclamation that birds are not to be allowed to die here." And the Town Clerk made a note of the suggestion.
     So they pulled down the statue of the Happy Prince.
     "As he is no longer beautiful, he is no longer useful," said the Art Professor at the University.
     Then they melted the statue in a furnace, and the Mayor held a meeting of the Corporation to decide what was to be done with the metal. "We must have another statue, of course," he said, "and it shall be a statue of myself."
     "Of myself," repeated each of the Town Councilors, and they quarreled. When I last heard of them, they were still quarrelling.
     "What a strange thing!" said the supervisor of the workmen. "This broken lead heart will not melt in the furnace. We must throw it away." So they threw it in a pile of dust where the dead Swallow was also lying.
     "Bring me the two most precious things in the city," said God to one of His Angels, and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird.
     "You have rightly chosen," said God, "for in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me."


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