The Blue Robin.

Mary E. Wilkins

From The Blue Robin and Other Stories (Alpha Publishing Company; Boston: 1896)

The country over which King Chrysanthemum reigned was very far inland, so there was very little talk about the sea-serpent, but everybody was agitated over the question whether there was, or was not, a Blue Robin.

The whole kingdom was divided about it. The members of parliament were “F. B. R.,” for Blue Robin or “A. B. R.,” against Blue Robin. The ladies formed clubs to discuss the question, and sometimes talked whole afternoons about it, and the children even laid down their dolls, and their tops, to search for the Blue Robin. Indeed, many children had to be kept tied to their mother's apron-strings all the time to prevent them from running away to a Blue Robin hunt. It was a very common thing to see ladies going to a Blue Robin club, with a child at each apron-string, pulling back and crying, “I want to go hunting the Blue Robin! I want to go hunting the Blue Robin!”

The country was agitated over this question for many years, then finally there were riots about it.

People had to lock themselves in their houses, and when the Blue Robin party was uppermost, paint blue robins on their front doors, and when it was not, wash them off. After the riots commenced, it was really almost all the people could do, to paint blue robins on and wash them off, their front doors.

At last King Chrysanthemum had to take extreme measures. He decided to consult the Wise Man. A committee was chosen of eight F. B. R's., and eight A. B. R's., and a chairman, and they set out at once, marching four abreast, the chairman with his chair leading the way, to consult the Wise Man. He had to be found before he could be consulted, however, and that was a very difficult matter. The Wise Man considered it the height of folly to live like other people in a house immovably fixed upon one spot of ground, and therefore he always carried his house about with him, as a turtle carries his shell.

He had fashioned a little dwelling of cloth and steel ribs, something like an umbrella, which he strapped to himself, and lived in, traveling all over the country in pursuit of wisdom.

The Committee marched a whole week, before they came upon the Wise Man one afternoon in a pasture where huckleberries grew. He was standing quite still when they approached and made their obeisances. The chairman of the committee placed his chair, a rocking-chair with a red plush cushion, before the Wise Man, seated himself, and spoke. “All Hail, Wise Man!” said he in a loud voice.

The Wise Man's house had a little door in front like a coach door, and two tiny windows. One of the windows had the curtains drawn, but out of the other looked the Wise Man's calm blue right eye. There was so much wisdom in his two eyes that he knew people could not comprehend it, so he always curtained one window. The house was about one foot higher than his head, and reached to his ankles. They could see his feet in their leather sandals below it.

The Wise Man said not one word in response to the Chairman's salutation, only looked at him with his blue right eye. Then the Chairman laid the matter before the Wise Man and besought his aid in the terrible situation of the country. After the Chairman had ceased speaking there was a silence for half an hour. Not a sound was to be heard except the creaking of the Chairman's rocking-chair. Then the Wise Man cleared his throat. The Committee leaned forward expectantly, but they had to wait another half hour before he spoke, and then it was not very satisfactory. “Ideas are not as thick as huckleberries in this pasture,” was all he said.

The Committee looked at one another, and nodded ruefully. It was quite true, but it did not help them in their dilemma. They waited another half hour, then the Wise Man began moving off across the pasture in his house.

“Oh, stop, stop!” cried the Chairman. “Stop, stop!” cried the Committee. They all ran after him, and begged him not to go away until he had given them some useful advice.

“Offer a reward!” called out the Wise Man, as he scudded away.

“For what, for what?” cried the Committee.

“For finding the Blue Robin,” called out the Wise Man, and then a puff of wind caught his umbrella-like house, and he was lifted quite off his feet, and bobbed away out of sight over the huckleberry-bushes.

The Committee hastened back to the city, and reported. Another special parliament was called, and the reward for finding the Blue Robin was offered. That was really a difficult matter, because the Princess Honey was only five years old, and the customary reward — her hand in marriage — could hardly be offered. However, it was stated that if the finder of the Blue Robin was of suitable age when the Princess was grown, she should be his bride; and furthermore that he and all his relatives should be pensioned for life and that he should be appointed Poet Laureate, and given a regiment, a steam yacht, a special train, and a pound of candy every day from the national candy-mills. The offer was printed in blue letters on yellow paper, and pasted up all over the country, and then the search began in good earnest. Business all over the kingdom was at a standstill. Nobody did anything but hunt the Blue Robin.

People ate nothing in those days but corn-meal pudding, hastily mixed and boiled. There was no bread baked, because all the bakers and all the housewives were out hunting the Blue Robin. The mothers untied the children from their apron-strings, and the schools were all closed, because it was agreed that finding the Blue Robin and establishing peace in the kingdom, was of more importance than books, and all the children who were old enough were out hunting — that is all the children except Poppy.

It should be stated here that everybody in this country, with the exception of the Princess, had a flower-name. The Princess was so much sweeter, that only the inmost sweetness of all flowers was good enough for her name, and she was called Honey.

Poppy was about ten years old, and his father was an editor of a newspaper, and very poor. He could scarcely support his five children. His wife had died the year before, and he could not afford to hire a housekeeper.

So Poppy had to stay at home, and keep the house, and take care of his four young brothers and sisters, while his father was away editing, and he could not hunt the Blue Robin. It was a great cross to him, but he loved his little brothers and sisters, and he made the best of it.

After the search for the Blue Robin begun, his father was much busier, and had often to be away all night, so Poppy had to rock and trot the twin babies, Pink and Phlox, and go without sleep, after working hard cooking and washing dishes and sewing all day. Poppy had to mend the children's clothes, and he was even trying to make some little frocks for Petunia and Portulacca. They were twins also, five years old.

As Poppy sat in the window and sewed, with his right foot rocking Pink's cradle, and his left foot rocking Phlox's, with Petunia and Portulacca sitting beside him on their little stools, he told them all he had ever heard about the wonderful Blue Robin.

“Nobody is ever quite certain he has seen it, himself,” said Poppy, “but he knows somebody else, who knows somebody else, and go back farther than you can count, who has; and if you ever could find the first somebody, why he could tell where the Blue Robin was.”

“Can't they find the first somebody?” asked Portulacca.

“I guess he died before people were born,” said Poppy. Then he went on and told Petunia and Portulacca how there was a wonderful blue stone in the King's crown, which was unlike all other precious stones, and said to be the Blue Robin's egg; and how there was a little Blue Book in the King's library which had a strange verse in it about the Blue Robin.

Then Poppy repeated the verse. He had learned it at school. It ran in this way:

“He who loveth me alone,
Can tell me not from stick or stone;
He who loveth more than me,
Shall me in fullest glory see.”

“What does that mean?” asked Petunia and Portulacca.

“I don't know,” replied Poppy. Then he mended faster than ever. Many children ran past the window, hunting the Blue Robin, but he did not complain, even to himself.

That night his father did not come home, and Pink and Phlox cried as usual, and he had to rock them, and trot them. About midnight, however, they both fell asleep in their cradles, and Poppy begun to think he might get a little rest himself. He could scarcely keep his eyes open. Petunia and Portulacca had been sound asleep in their cribs ever since seven o'clock. Everything was very still, and he was just dozing, when he heard a sound which made him start up wide awake at once, although the children never stirred. He heard a single sweet bird-pipe, sweeter than anything he had ever heard in his life, and it seemed to be right in the room at his elbow. When the babies fell asleep Poppy had blown out the candle, the hearth-fire had gone out, and the room had been very dark, but now something was shining on the table like a lamp, which gave out a wonderful blue light. The sweet pipe came again. Poppy stared at the blue light on the table, which grew brighter and brighter, until he saw what it was. The Blue Robin shone on his table like a living sapphire, its blue wings seeming to fan the blue light into flames, its blue breast brighter than anything he had ever seen.

While all the world was out searching for the Blue Robin, it had come of its own accord to the poor little faithful boy in his poor little home.

The children all slept soundly, and did not stir. Poppy stood up trembling, and went over to the table, and immediately the Blue Robin flew to his hand, and clung there.

Then Poppy went out of the house, and down the road to the King's palace with the Blue Robin on his hand. Although it was so late, scarcely anybody had gone to bed. They were all out with lanterns, hunting for the Blue Robin.

When Poppy with the Blue Robin on his hand came in sight, all the lanterns went out.

“What is that?” the people cried, “what is that wonderful blue light?”

They crowded around Poppy.

Then all of a sudden they shouted, “Poppy has found the Blue Robin! Poppy has found the Blue Robin!” and followed him to the King's Palace.

The shouts were heard in the newspaper office where Poppy's father was hard at work, and he ran to the window. When he saw his son with the Blue Robin, he was overwhelmed with joy. He stuck his pen behind his ear and came down on the fire-escape, and also went to the Palace. The King had not gone to bed, though it was so late, neither had the Queen. They were talking about the Blue Robin and the perilous state of the country with the Prime Minister, on the front door-step.

When they saw Poppy and the Blue Robin, and all the people, and heard the shouts of joy, the King tossed his crown in the air, the Prime Minister swung his hat, and the Queen ran in and wrapped up the Princess Honey in a little yellow silk gown, and brought her to see the wonderful sight.

It was wonderful — the Blue Robin on Poppy's hand seemed to light the whole city. Poppy, by the King's order, stood on the top door-step, and everybody could see the bird on his hand. Then the Blue Robin begun to sing, and sang an hour without ceasing, so loud that everybody could hear.

When the bird stopped singing, the King advanced. “You shall now receive your reward,” he said to Poppy, “and I will take the Blue Robin, and put him in a golden cage, and have him guarded by a regiment of picked soldiers.”

The King extended his hand and Poppy his, but just as the King touched the Blue Robin, he disappeared. There came a faint song from far above the city roofs, and people tipped back their heads, and strained their eyes, but they could not see the Blue Robin; they never saw him again, as long as they lived.

However, he had been seen by many witnesses, and the object of the search was attained. There were no longer two parties in parliament, and the country was in a state of perfect peace. Indeed, parliament only met afterward to agree, and eat cake and ice cream, and shake hands.

Poppy had his reward at once — that is, everything but the hand of the Princess Honey — and he and his father, and his little brothers and sisters, were very rich and happy, until he grew to be a man. Then the Princess Honey had grown to be a beautiful maiden, and he married her with great pomp, and the King gave them the Blue Robin's egg for a wedding-present.