THE STORY OF THE COUNTRY AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL

Isabel Wyatt, in the Seven-Year-Old Wonder Book.

The King of the shining Land of the Sun had three sons. Two of them worked hard, learning how to become kings themselves. But the Youngest Prince said to his father: “Father, I do not want to learn how to become a king. I only want to wander about the kingdom, seeing new sights and people.”

And the King replied: “My son, you shall be free to wander for a year and a day. At the end of that time, return to the palace, and we will speak further on these matters.” And he gave the Youngest Prince five animals to be his friends and companions on his wanderings — an elephant, a giraffe, a stork, a monkey and a stoat. And the King said to the five animals:

“Whatever the Youngest Prince does, you must do. And wherever the Youngest Prince goes, you must go.”

And to the Youngest Prince, he gave this warning: “Everything in the shining Land of the Sun is beautiful, and everything there except one thing is good. That is the silver cherry-tree. If you should come upon it, beware that you do not pick and eat any of its cherries, or they will lead you to disaster.”

Then the Youngest Prince set out with his friends, the five animals. And each new thing he saw in the shining Land of the Sun was more beautiful than the last, until, in a hidden valley far away from anywhere, he came upon the silver cherry-tree, laden with glittering silver cherries. And he thought that this was the most beautiful thing of all.

When the Youngest Prince and the five animals came close to the silver cherry-tree, to admire it, they found that at its roots there was a well. And as they leaned over it and gazed down into its dark depths, the Youngest Prince remarked: “I can see no water. I wonder what is at the bottom?”

And at once a voice replied, a hollow voice from a long, long distance down:

“My kingdom lies at the bottom of the well.” And the Youngest Prince exclaimed in surprise: “How I should love to see a country at the bottom of a well!”

And the hollow voice replied: “That is quite easy. All you have to do is to eat

a silver cherry!” Then the Youngest Prince sighed and said: “But the King my father has forbidden me to do that.” And the hollow voice replied: “There is no other way.”

Now the Youngest Prince longed to see the Country at the Bottom of the Well, for he loved seeing all new things. So he pushed away the memory of  his father’s  warning, and he said to the five animals: “I am going to eat a silver cherry. Will you eat one with me?”

And the elephant and the giraffe and the stork and the monkey and the stoat answered together: “ Whatever the Youngest Prince does, we will do. Wherever the Youngest Prince goes, we will go.”

So the Youngest Prince reached up to the silver cherry-tree, and he picked a bunch of six silver cherries, and he gave one to each of the animals and kept one for himself. And each ate his silver cherry, and the six cherry-stones they placed in a ring at the foot of the tree.

And at once a wind arose, and caught them up, and whirled them — prince, elephant, giraffe, stork, monkey, stoat — down, down, down into the darkness, and set them on their feet in the Country at the Bottom of the Well.

After the brightness and the beauty of the shining Land of the Sun, the Country at the Bottom of the Well seemed to them dark and wild and ugly. The light was gray, for here there shone no sun; there were no flowers, but everywhere there were marshes and old mine-shafts and gaunt cliffs and chasms.

And as the Youngest Prince and the five animals looked about them in dismay, they heard mocking laughter behind them; and turning, they saw the King of that country coming towards them in a crown of lead, his courtiers close behind him. And the King was a black imp. And all his courtiers were black imps, too. And the King of the Black Imps shouted:

“Welcome, Prince Long-Nose!” And all the black imps laughed mockingly.

Then the King of the Black Imps shouted again: “Welcome, Elephant Finger-Face, Giraffe Head-in-Air, Stork Spindle-Shanks, Monkey Flapping-Sleeves, Stoat Snake-Body!” And all the black imps laughed mockingly again.

Now every person and every animal up in the shining Land of the Sun was beautiful. So now the youngest Prince and the five animals looked in surprise at one another, wondering what the King of the Black Imps could mean. And they found that it was quite true. The beautiful young prince had grown a long, long nose; the elephant had grown a long finger on his face; the giraffe’s neck had shot up until his head was lifted far away; the stork’s legs had lengthened into two bony stilts; the monkey’s arms hung to the ground like sleeves that needed shortening; and the stoat’s body had stretched lengthways till he looked rather like a snake on legs. And the Youngest Prince and the five animals all began to ache all over with their new ugliness.

Then the Youngest Prince cried in dismay “What can have made us all so ugly — so ugly that we ache all over with it?”

And the King of the Black Imps answered gloatingly: “Eating the silver cherries has done that.” Then the Youngest Prince said haughtily: “I have seen enough of this Country at the Bottom of the Well. I wish to return now to the shining Land of the Sun.”

But the King the Black Imps again laughed mockingly and told him: “You will never see the sun again, Prince Long-Nose. For the only way to climb to the top of the well is by a secret stair, and to that secret stair, nothing except the golden pear can lead you. But the golden pear is so cunningly hidden that you could never find it; and even if you did, my black imps would steal it from you.”

So now all Prince Long-Nose longed for was to find the golden pear, and he and the five animals began to wander all over the Country at the Bottom of the Well in search of it. They wandered through marshy regions, and they wandered through regions of old mine-shafts, and they wandered through regions of cliffs and chasms, but nowhere could they find the golden pear.

Now the prince’s ugly long nose was aware of scents which his beautiful short one would never have noticed. And one day, as he and the five animals were passing the mouth of a small cave, his long nose twitched, and he paused and twitched it again, then cried in excitement: “I can smell pears!”

So, following the pear-scent, he led the five animals into the cave and further and further in along a narrow rocky passage. And after a while, they saw ahead of them light brighter than any light they had yet seen in this dark country. And when they reached the end of the passage, they stepped out into a desolate plain, on which nothing grew except one solitary tree in the middle. And the gleaming of this tree lit up all that desolate plain.

Then Prince Long-Nose and the five animals rushed across that desolate, plain to this gleaming tree. And they found it was indeed the golden pear-tree, for on it hung one solitary gleaming, golden pear.

Then, with thankfulness and joy, Prince Long-Nose picked the golden pear. And it slipped through his fingers to the ground and began to move as if drawn by an unseen thread, leading them back by the shortest way to the bottom of the well. Over rough hills they followed it, till they came into a region of old mine-shafts. And suddenly, out of nowhere, a black imp pounced upon the golden pear, and darted with it to the nearest mine-shaft, and flung it into it with all his might. Then Prince Long-Nose stopped short in dismay; and so did Elephant Finger-Face, Giraffe Head-in-Air, Stork Spindle-Shanks, and Monkey Flapping-Sleeves.

But Stoat Snake-Body bowed and said: “By your leave, Youngest Prince!” And into the mine-shaft he went, his long body burrowing; and the others held their breath as they waited. And presently out he came again, and in his mouth was the golden pear.

Then again the golden pear slipped to the ground and began to move as if drawn by an unseen thread, leading them back by the shortest way to the bottom pf the well.

Through thorny thickets, they followed it until they came into a region of narrow passes winding between steep chasms. And suddenly, out of nowhere, a second black imp pounced upon the golden pear, and darted with it to the nearest chasm, and flung it over with all his might. And when the prince and the animals looked over the edge, they could see the golden pear gleaming far, far below like a fallen star. Then Prince Long- Nose stared down at it in dismay; and so did Elephant Finger-Face, Giraffe Head-in-Air, Stork Spindle-Shanks and Stoat Snake-Body.

But Monkey Flapping-Sleeves bowed and said: “By your leave, Youngest Prince!”

And over the edge he went, and down the steep face of the precipice, clinging with his long arms to every piece of jutting rock and every trailing creeper, and the others held their breath as they waited. And presently up and over the edge he came again, and in his mouth was the golden pear.

Then again the golden pear slipped to the ground and began to move as if drawn by an unseen thread, leading them back by the shortest way to the bottom of the well.

Across bleak moors they followed it, till they came into a region of treacherous marshes. And suddenly, out of nowhere, a third black imp pounced upon the golden pear, and darted with it to the brink of the nearest marsh, and flung it into it with all his might. And the deep mud closed right over the golden pear, leaving nothing to mark the spot where it had disappeared. Then Prince Long-Nose stared at the marsh in dismay; and so did Elephant Finger-Face, Giraffe Head-in-Air, Monkey Flapping-Sleeves and Stoat Snake-Body.

But Stork Spindle-Shanks bowed and said: “By your leave, Youngest Prince!”

And into the marsh he waded, his long, bony stilts of legs carrying him safely through the deep mud, which his long beak stabbed here, there, and everywhere; and the others held their breath as they waited. And presently back he came, and in his beak was the golden pear. Then again the golden pear slipped to the ground and began to move as if drawn by an unseen thread, leading them back by the shortest way to the bottom of the well.

Between barren mountains they followed it, till they came to a region of tall cliffs and deep gorges.  And suddenly, out of nowhere, a fourth black imp pounced upon the golden pear and darted with it up the face of the nearest tall cliff, and tossed it into the nest of a bird of prey on one of the cliff’s high, ledges. The fledglings in the nest began to scream, and the angry parent birds came circling threateningly round the prince and his animals below, ready to attack if they tried to climb the cliff. And Prince Long-Nose stared at them in dismay; and so did Elephant Finger-Face, Stork Spindle-Shanks, Monkey Flapping-Sleeves and Stoat Snake-Body. But Giraffe Head-in-Air bowed and said: “By your leave, Youngest Prince!”

And high above the circling birds of prey he lifted his long neck, and into the nest and between the screaming fledglings he darted his head; and the others held their breath as they waited. And presently he bent his long neck again, and between his lips was the golden pear.

Then again the golden pear slipped to the ground and began to move as if drawn by an unseen thread, leading them back by the shortest way to the bottom of the well.

Across a dreary desert they followed it; and already they were within sight of the bottom of the well when suddenly, out of nowhere, a fifth black imp pounced upon the golden pear and darted with it into a crevice between rocks which was far to small for anyone but a black imp to enter. Then Prince Long-Nose stared at the crevice in dismay; and so did Giraffe Head-in-Air, Stork Spindle- Shanks, Monkey Flapping-Sleeves and Stoat Snake-Body.

But Elephant Finger-Face bowed and said: “By your leave, Youngest Prince!”

And he marched forward, trumpeting loudly, and brandished his long trunk; and with it, he tore rock from rock, and with it, he searched beyond them; and the others held their breath as they waited. And presently back he came, and tucked safely into the end of his trunk was the golden pear.

Then again the golden pear slipped to the ground and began to move as if drawn by an unseen thread. And it moved to the bottom of the well; and the rock parted before it, revealing a secret stair inside the wall of the well. And the golden pear began to move up the secret stair, and Prince Long-Nose and Elephant Finger-Face and Giraffe Head-in-Air and Stork Spindle-Shanks and Monkey Flapping-Sleeves and Stoat Snake-Body followed it. And the rock closed again behind them, shutting the black imps out.

And at the top of the well, they came out into the warmth and the golden light and the green grass and the beauty of the shining Land of the Sun. And there, under the silver cherry-tree, stood the prince’s father in his golden crown and his royal robes, gazing sadly at the ring of six cherry-stones. For the year and a day set for the prince’s wanderings were long over, and the King had been searching throughout his kingdom for him; and when he had found the six cherry-stones under the silver cherry-tree, he had feared that his youngest son was lost to him forever.

So now he took Prince Long-Nose joyfully in his arms; and when he saw the prince’s long nose, and the elephant’s long trunk, and the giraffe’s long neck, and the stork’s long legs, and the monkey’s long arms, and the stoat’s long body, he set the golden pear upright in the middle of the ring of cherry stones; and the golden pear fell into six- pieces  as  cleanly as if you had cut it with a knife; and each piece lay over a cherry-stone. And to Prince Long-Nose and to each of the five animals the King gave a piece of the golden pear to eat. And after they had eaten it, they were no longer Prince Long-Nose and Elephant Finger-Face, and Giraffe Head-in-Air and Stork Spindle-Shanks land Monkey Flapping-Sleeves and Stoat Snake-Body, but they once more became as beautiful as they had been before they ate the silver cherries. And in the same moment, they all ceased to ache all over.

And the Youngest Prince exclaimed, “Father, I am cured of wandering. Let me start at once learning how to be a king!”

Then they all went back to the palace, where a rich banquet was prepared for them. And the King and the three young princes and the five beautiful animals all sat down to the banquet, and in great joy feasted together.

THE POEM OF THE SILVER CHERRY AND THE GOLDEN PEAR

O Youngest Prince!

This silver cherry in your hand:

Will lay on you a hideous spell,

And drive you from the sun to dwell

In the wild, ugly, sunless land,

At the black bottom of the well.

O Youngest Prince!

Follow the gracious golden pear,

That lights up all this desolate plain;

And it shall heal you of your pain,

And lead you up the secret stair

Back to your shining home again.