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From Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Age Rating 8 to 10.
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Start of Story
Some of you have heard, no doubt, of the wise King Ulysses, and how he
went to the siege of Troy, and how, after that famous city was taken and
burned, he spent ten long years in trying to get back again to his
own little kingdom of Ithaca. At one time in the course of this weary
voyage, he arrived at an island that looked very green and pleasant, but
the name of which was unknown to him. For, only a little while before
he came thither, he had met with a terrible hurricane, or rather a great
many hurricanes at once, which drove his fleet of vessels into a strange
part of the sea, where neither himself nor any of his mariners had ever
sailed. This misfortune was entirely owing to the foolish curiosity of
his shipmates, who, while Ulysses lay asleep, had untied some very
bulky leathern bags, in which they supposed a valuable treasure to be
concealed. But in each of these stout bags, King Aeolus, the ruler of
the winds, had tied up a tempest, and had given it to Ulysses to keep in
order that he might be sure of a favorable passage homeward to Ithaca;
and when the strings were loosened, forth rushed the whistling blasts,
like air out of a blown bladder, whitening the sea with foam, and
scattering the vessels nobody could tell whither.
Immediately after escaping from this peril, a still greater one had
befallen him. Scudding before the hurricane, he reached a place, which,
as he afterwards found, was called Laestrygonia, where some monstrous
giants had eaten up many of his companions, and had sunk every one of
his vessels, except that in which he himself sailed, by flinging great
masses of rock at them, from the cliffs along the shore. After going
through such troubles as these, you cannot wonder that King Ulysses
was glad to moor his tempest-beaten bark in a quiet cove of the green
island, which I began with telling you about. But he had encountered so
many dangers from giants, and one-eyed Cyclops, and monsters of the sea
and land, that he could not help dreading some mischief, even in this
pleasant and seemingly solitary spot. For two days, therefore, the poor
weather-worn voyagers kept quiet, and either staid on board of their
vessel, or merely crept along under the cliffs that bordered the shore;
and to keep themselves alive, they dug shellfish out of the sand, and
sought for any little rill of fresh water that might be running towards
Before the two days were spent, they grew very weary of this kind of
life; for the followers of King Ulysses, as you will find it important
to remember, were terrible gormandizers, and pretty sure to grumble
if they missed their regulars meals, and their irregular ones besides.
Their stock of provisions was quite exhausted, and even the shellfish
began to get scarce, so that they had now to choose between starving to
death or venturing into the interior of the island, where perhaps some
huge three-headed dragon, or other horrible monster, had his den. Such
misshapen creatures were very numerous in those days; and nobody ever
expected to make a voyage, or take a journey, without running more or
less risk of being devoured by them.
But King Ulysses was a bold man as well as a prudent one; and on the
third morning he determined to discover what sort of a place the island
was, and whether it were possible to obtain a supply of food for the
hungry mouths of his companions. So, taking a spear in his hand, he
clambered to the summit of a cliff, and gazed round about him. At a
distance, towards the center of the island, he beheld the stately towers
of what seemed to be a palace, built of snow-white marble, and rising in
the midst of a grove of lofty trees. The thick branches of these trees
stretched across the front of the edifice, and more than half concealed
it, although, from the portion which he saw, Ulysses judged it to be
spacious and exceedingly beautiful, and probably the residence of some
great nobleman or prince. A blue smoke went curling up from the chimney,
and was almost the pleasantest part of the spectacle to Ulysses. For,
from the abundance of this smoke, it was reasonable to conclude that
there was a good fire in the kitchen, and that, at dinner-time, a
plentiful banquet would be served up to the inhabitants of the palace,
and to whatever guests might happen to drop in.
With so agreeable a prospect before him, Ulysses fancied that he could
not do better than go straight to the palace gate, and tell the master
of it that there was a crew of poor shipwrecked mariners, not far off,
who had eaten nothing for a day or two, save a few clams and oysters,
and would therefore be thankful for a little food. And the prince or
nobleman must be a very stingy curmudgeon, to be sure, if, at least,
when his own dinner was over, he would not bid them welcome to the
broken victuals from the table.
Pleasing himself with this idea, King Ulysses had made a few steps
in the direction of the palace, when there was a great twittering and
chirping from the branch of a neighboring tree. A moment afterwards, a
bird came flying towards him, and hovered in the air, so as almost to
brush his face with its wings. It was a very pretty little bird, with
purple wings and body, and yellow legs, and a circle of golden feathers
round its neck, and on its head a golden tuft, which looked like a
king's crown in miniature. Ulysses tried to catch the bird. But it
fluttered nimbly out of his reach, still chirping in a piteous tone, as
if it could have told a lamentable story, had it only been gifted with
human language. And when he attempted to drive it away, the bird flew no
farther than the bough of the next tree, and again came fluttering about
his head, with its doleful chirp, as soon as he showed a purpose of
"Have you anything to tell me, little bird?" asked Ulysses.
"Have you anything to tell me, little bird?" asked Ulysses.
And he was ready to listen attentively to whatever the bird might
communicate; for, at the siege of Troy, and elsewhere, he had known such
odd things to happen, that he would not have considered it much out of
the common run had this little feathered creature talked as plainly as
"Peep!" said the bird, "peep, peep, pe--weep!" And nothing else would it
say, but only, "Peep, peep, pe--weep!" in a melancholy cadence, and over
and over and over again. As often as Ulysses moved forward, however, the
bird showed the greatest alarm, and did its best to drive him back, with
the anxious flutter of its purple wings. Its unaccountable behavior made
him conclude, at last, that the bird knew of some danger that awaited
him, and which must needs be very terrible, beyond all question, since
it moved even a little fowl to feel compassion for a human being. So
he resolved, for the present, to return to the vessel, and tell his
companions what he had seen.
This appeared to satisfy the bird. As soon as Ulysses turned back, it
ran up the trunk of a tree, and began to pick insects out of the bark
with its long, sharp bill; for it was a kind of woodpecker, you must
know, and had to get its living in the same manner as other birds of
that species. But every little while, as it pecked at the bark of
the tree, the purple bird bethought itself of some secret sorrow, and
repeated its plaintive note of "Peep, peep, pe--weep!"
On his way to the shore, Ulysses had the good luck to kill a large stag
by thrusting his spear into his back. Taking it on his shoulders (for he
was a remarkably strong man), he lugged it along with him, and flung
it down before his hungry companions. I have already hinted to you what
gormandizers some of the comrades of King Ulysses were. From what is
related of them, I reckon that their favorite diet was pork, and that
they had lived upon it until a good part of their physical substance was
swine's flesh, and their tempers and dispositions were very much akin to
the hog. A dish of venison, however, was no unacceptable meal to them,
especially after feeding so long on oysters and clams. So, beholding the
dead stag, they felt of its ribs, in a knowing way, and lost no time in
kindling a fire of driftwood, to cook it. The rest of the day was spent
in feasting; and if these enormous eaters got up from table at sunset,
it was only because they could not scrape another morsel off the poor
The next morning, their appetites were as sharp as ever. They looked at
Ulysses, as if they expected him to clamber up the cliff again, and come
back with another fat deer upon his shoulders. Instead of setting out,
however, he summoned the whole crew together, and told them it was in
vain to hope that he could kill a stag every day for their dinner, and
therefore it was advisable to think of some other mode of satisfying
"Now," said he, "when I was on the cliff, yesterday, I discovered that
this island is inhabited. At a considerable distance from the shore
stood a marble palace, which appeared to be very spacious, and had a
great deal of smoke curling out of one of its chimneys."
"Aha!" muttered some of his companions, smacking their lips. "That smoke
must have come from the kitchen fire. There was a good dinner on the
spit; and no doubt there will be as good a one to-day."
"But," continued the wise Ulysses, "you must remember, my good friends,
our misadventure in the cavern of one-eyed Polyphemus, the Cyclops!
Instead of his ordinary milk diet, did he not eat up two of our comrades
for his supper, and a couple more for breakfast, and two at his supper
again? Methinks I see him yet, the hideous monster, scanning us with
that great red eye, in the middle of his forehead, to single out the
fattest. And then, again, only a few days ago, did we not fall into the
hands of the king of the Laestrygons, and those other horrible giants,
his subjects, who devoured a great many more of us than are now left? To
tell you the truth, if we go to yonder palace, there can be no question
that we shall make our appearance at the dinner table; but whether
seated as guests, or served up as food, is a point to be seriously
"Either way," murmured some of the hungriest of the crew; "it will be
better than starvation; particularly if one could be sure of being well
fattened beforehand, and daintily cooked afterwards."
"That is a matter of taste," said King Ulysses, "and, for my own part,
neither the most careful fattening nor the daintiest of cookery would
reconcile me to being dished at last. My proposal is, therefore, that we
divide ourselves into two equal parties, and ascertain, by drawing
lots, which of the two shall go to the palace, and beg for food and
assistance. If these can be obtained, all is well. If not, and if the
inhabitants prove as inhospitable as Polyphemus, or the Laestrygons,
then there will but half of us perish, and the remainder may set sail
As nobody objected to this scheme, Ulysses proceeded to count the whole
band, and found that there were forty-six men, including himself. He
then numbered off twenty-two of them, and put Eurylochus (who was one
of his chief officers, and second only to himself in sagacity) at their
head. Ulysses took command of the remaining twenty-two men, in person.
Then, taking off his helmet, he put two shells into it, on one of which
was written, "Go," and on the other "Stay." Another person now held the
helmet, while Ulysses and Eurylochus drew out each a shell; and the
word "Go" was found written on that which Eurylochus had drawn. In
this manner, it was decided that Ulysses and his twenty-two men were to
remain at the seaside until the other party should have found out what
sort of treatment they might expect at the mysterious palace. As there
was no help for it, Eurylochus immediately set forth at the head of his
twenty-two followers, who went off in a very melancholy state of mind,
leaving their friends in hardly better spirits than themselves.
No sooner had they clambered up the cliff, than they discerned the tall
marble towers of the palace, ascending, as white as snow, out of the
lovely green shadow of the trees which surrounded it. A gush of smoke
came from a chimney in the rear of the edifice. This vapor rose high
in the air, and, meeting with a breeze, was wafted seaward, and made to
pass over the heads of the hungry mariners. When people's appetites are
keen, they have a very quick scent for anything savory in the wind.
"That smoke comes from the kitchen!" cried one of them, turning up his
nose as high as he could, and snuffing eagerly. "And, as sure as I'm a
half-starved vagabond, I smell roast meat in it."
"Pig, roast pig!" said another. "Ah, the dainty little porker. My mouth
waters for him."
"Let us make haste," cried the others, "or we shall be too late for the
But scarcely had they made half a dozen steps from the edge of the
cliff, when a bird came fluttering to meet them. It was the same pretty
little bird, with the purple wings and body, the yellow legs, the golden
collar round its neck, and the crown-like tuft upon its head, whose
behavior had so much surprised Ulysses. It hovered about Eurylochus, and
almost brushed his face with its wings.
"Peep, peep, pe--weep!" chirped the bird.
So plaintively intelligent was the sound, that it seemed as if the
little creature were going to break its heart with some mighty secret
that it had to tell, and only this one poor note to tell it with.
"My pretty bird," said Eurylochus--for he was a wary person, and let no
token of harm escape his notice--"my pretty bird, who sent you hither?
And what is the message which you bring?"
"Peep, peep, pe--weep!" replied the bird, very sorrowfully.
Then it flew towards the edge of the cliff, and looked around at them,
as if exceedingly anxious that they should return whence they came.
Eurylochus and a few of the others were inclined to turn back. They
could not help suspecting that the purple bird must be aware of
something mischievous that would befall them at the palace, and the
knowledge of which affected its airy spirit with a human sympathy and
sorrow. But the rest of the voyagers, snuffing up the smoke from the
palace kitchen, ridiculed the idea of returning to the vessel. One of
them (more brutal than his fellows, and the most notorious gormandizer
in the crew) said such a cruel and wicked thing, that I wonder the mere
thought did not turn him into a wild beast, in shape, as he already was
in his nature.
"This troublesome and impertinent little fowl," said he, "would make
a delicate titbit to begin dinner with. Just one plump morsel, melting
away between the teeth. If he comes within my reach, I'll catch him, and
give him to the palace cook to be roasted on a skewer."
The words were hardly out of his mouth, before the purple bird flew
away, crying, "Peep, peep, pe--weep," more dolorously than ever.
"That bird," remarked Eurylochus, "knows more than we do about what
awaits us at the palace."
"Come on, then," cried his comrades, "and we'll soon know as much as he
The party, accordingly, went onward through the green and pleasant wood.
Every little while they caught new glimpses of the marble palace, which
looked more and more beautiful the nearer they approached it. They soon
entered a broad pathway, which seemed to be very neatly kept, and which
went winding along, with streaks of sunshine falling across it and
specks of light quivering among the deepest shadows that fell from the
lofty trees. It was bordered, too, with a great many sweet-smelling
flowers, such as the mariners had never seen before. So rich and
beautiful they were, that, if the shrubs grew wild here, and were native
in the soil, then this island was surely the flower garden of the whole
earth; or, if transplanted from some other clime, it must have been from
the Happy Islands that lay towards the golden sunset.
"There has been a great deal of pains foolishly wasted on these
flowers," observed one of the company; and I tell you what he said, that
you may keep in mind what gormandizers they were. "For my part, if I
were the owner of the palace, I would bid my gardener cultivate nothing
but savory pot herbs to make a stuffing for roast meat, or to flavor a
"Well said!" cried the others. "But I'll warrant you there's a kitchen
garden in the rear of the palace."
At one place they came to a crystal spring, and paused to drink at it
for want of liquor which they liked better. Looking into its bosom, they
beheld their own faces dimly reflected, but so extravagantly distorted
by the gush and motion of the water, that each one of them appeared to
be laughing at himself and all his companions. So ridiculous were these
images of themselves, indeed, that they did really laugh aloud, and
could hardly be grave again as soon as they wished. And after they had
drank, they grew still merrier than before.
"It has a twang of the wine cask in it," said one, smacking his lips.
"Make haste!" cried his fellows: "we'll find the wine cask itself at the
palace, and that will be better than a hundred crystal fountains."
Then they quickened their pace, and capered for joy at the thought of
the savory banquet at which they hoped to be guests. But Eurylochus told
them that he felt as if he were walking in a dream.
"If I am really awake," continued he, "then, in my opinion, we are on
the point of meeting with some stranger adventure than any that
befell us in the cave of Polyphemus, or among the gigantic man-eating
Laestrygons, or in the windy palace of King Aeolus, which stands on a
brazen-walled island. This kind of dreamy feeling always comes over me
before any wonderful occurrence. If you take my advice, you will turn
"No, no," answered his comrades, snuffing the air, in which the scent
from the palace kitchen was now very perceptible. "We would not turn
back, though we were certain that the king of the Laestrygons, as big as
a mountain, would sit at the head of the table, and huge Polyphemus, the
one-eyed Cyclops, at its foot."
At length they came within full sight of the palace, which proved to
be very large and lofty, with a great number of airy pinnacles upon its
roof. Though it was midday, and the sun shone brightly over the marble
front, yet its snowy whiteness, and its fantastic style of architecture,
made it look unreal, like the frost work on a window pane, or like the
shapes of castles which one sees among the clouds by moonlight. But,
just then, a puff of wind brought down the smoke of the kitchen chimney
among them, and caused each man to smell the odor of the dish that
he liked best; and, after scenting it, they thought everything else
moonshine, and nothing real save this palace, and save the banquet that
was evidently ready to be served up in it.
So they hastened their steps towards the portal, but had not got half
way across the wide lawn, when a pack of lions, tigers, and wolves came
bounding to meet them. The terrified mariners started back, expecting
no better fate than to be torn to pieces and devoured. To their surprise
and joy, however, these wild beasts merely capered around them, wagging
their tails, offering their heads to be stroked and patted, and behaving
just like so many well-bred house dogs, when they wish to express their
delight at meeting their master, or their master's friends. The biggest
lion licked the feet of Eurylochus; and every other lion, and every wolf
and tiger, singled out one of his two and twenty followers, whom the
beast fondled as if he loved him better than a beef bone.
But, for all that, Eurylochus imagined that he saw something fierce and
savage in their eyes; nor would he have been surprised, at any moment,
to feel the big lion's terrible claws, or to see each of the tigers make
a deadly spring, or each wolf leap at the throat of the man whom he
had fondled. Their mildness seemed unreal, and a mere freak; but their
savage nature was as true as their teeth and claws.
Nevertheless, the men went safely across the lawn with the wild beasts
frisking about them, and doing no manner of harm; although, as they
mounted the steps of the palace, you might possibly have heard a low
growl, particularly from the wolves; as if they thought it a pity, after
all, to let the strangers pass without so much as tasting what they were
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