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THE COURT CARDS

 

OH so many dainty things can be cut out of paste- board and pasted together In this fashion there was cutand pasted a castle so large that it took up a whole tabletop and it was painted so that it seemed to be built outof red brick It had a shining copper roof it had towersand a drawbridge the water in the canals looked likeplate glass which is just wtat it was and in the topmosttower there stood a watchman cut out of wood He had atrumpet but he didn' t blow it

All this belonged to a little boy named William Heraised and then lowered the drawbridge himself and madehis tin soldiers march over itHe opened the castle gateto peep into the spacious reception hall where all theface cards from a packHeartsDiamonds Clubs and Spadeshung in frames upon the wall like portraits in areal reception hallThe Kings each held a scepter and wore a crownThe Queens wore flowing veils over their shoulders and in their hands each held a flower or a fanThe Knaves had halberds and nodding plumes

One evening the little boy peered through the open gates of the castle to have a look at the Court Cards in thereception hallIt seemed to him that the Kings saluted him with their scepters the Queen of Spades waved the golden tulip she held the Queen of Hearts raised her fan and all four Queens graciously took notice of himAs he came a little closer to get a better view his headstruck against the castle and shook itThen the four Knaves of Hearts Diamonds Clubs and Spades liftedtheir halberds to warn him not to try to press his way through

The little boy understoodand gave them a friendly nodHe nodded againand then he said"Say some thing"but the Court Cards said not a wordHowever when he nodded a third time to the Knave of Hearts theKnave jumped out of his card and placed himself in the middle of the floor

"What's your name"he asked the youngster"You have bright eyes and good teeth but you don't wash yourhands often enough"This was not a very polite way to talk

"My name is william"said the youngster"This castle is mineand you are my Knave of Hearts"

"I'm my King's and my Queen's Knave not yours"said the Knave of Hearts"I can get off of the card and outof the frame too So can my gracious King and Queen even more easily than I We can march right out into the wide world but that' s such a tiresome journey and wehave grown weary of itIt's more convenientand more pleasant for us to be sitting in the cards just being our-selves"

"Were all of you really human beings once"asked the youngster

"Human beings" the Knave of Hearts said"Yes but we were not as good as we should have been Now please light a little wax candle for me I'd like a red onebest for red is the color of my King and QueenThen I shall tell our whole story to the lord of the castleI believe you said you were lord of the castle didn't youButdon't interrupt me If I speak there must not be theslightest interruption"

"Do you see my Kingthe King of HeartsOf these four kings he is the oldest the first-born He was born with a golden crown and a golden apple and he began to rule immediately His Queen was born with a golden fan

She still has it They had a wonderful time even inchildhood They did not have to go to school They couldamuse themselves all day long building up castles and knocking them downsetting up tin soldiersand playing with dollsIf they asked for a slice of bread and butter their bread was buttered on both sides and nicely sprin kled with brown sugar too This was in the good old days which were called the golden agebut they tired of it alland so did I Yes those were the good old days!—and then the King of Diamonds took over the government"

The Knave didn't say any moreThe little boy wait ed to hear something elsebut not a syllable was spoken so after a while he asked"What then"

The Knave of Hearts made him no answerHe stood erect and silent with his eyes fixed on the burning waxcandle[The youngster nodded and nodded again buthe got no response] He then turned to the Knave of Dia-

monds and when he had nodded to him three times theKnave leaped from the card to the center of the floorHe said only two words"Wax candle"

Understanding what he wanted little William atonce lighted a red candle and placed it before him The Knave of Diamonds presented arms with his halberd andsaid

"Then the King of Diamonds came to the thronea King with a pane of glass in his chestThe Queen also had a pane of glass in her chest so people could look right inside them though in all other respects they were shaped as normal human beingsThey were so pleasant that a monument was raised in their honor It stood with out falling for seven whole years but it was built to standforever"The Knave of Diamonds presented arms and stared at the red wax candle

Immediately without any nod of encouragement from little William the Knave of Clubs stepped down as seri ous as the stork that strides with such dignity across the meadow like a bird the black three-leafed clover in thecorner of the card flew past the Knave and back again tofit itself where it had fitted before Without waiting for his wax candleas the other knaves had donethe Knave of Clubs said

"Not everyone gets his bread buttered on both sides and powdered with sugarMy King and Queen had none of that They were compelled to go to school and learn what they had not learned beforeThey too had panes of glass in their chests but nobody looked through the glass except to see if something was wrong with their works inside[and if possible to find out some reason for scolding them] I know itI have served my King and Queen all my lile longI know all about them and I obey all their orders They commanded me to say nothing more tonight so I keep si lence and present arms"

But William lighted a candle for this Knave tooa candle white as snowQuickly[even more quickly than the candle was lighted]the Knave of Spades appeared [in the center of the hall] He hurried along yet helimped as if he had a lame leg[It creaked and cracked asif it had once been brokenYeshe had met with many ups and downs in his life]Now he spoke

"Yes you have each got a candle and I shall getone too I know that But if we Knaves are honored sohighlyour kings and Queens should have triple honors

[And it is right that My king and Queen should have four candles each Their story and trials are so sad and unhappy that they have good reason to dress in mourning and to wear a gravedigger's spade on their coat of arms] Poor Knave that I am in one game of cards I have been micknamed 'Black Peter' Yes But I have a name that isn't even fitto mention"So he whispered"In another game I am nicknamed'Dirty Mads'I who was once first cavalier to the King of SpadesNow I am lastThe history of my royal master and mistress I will not tell[for they do not wish me to do so] The little lord of the castle may imagine their story for himself if he willbut it is a most melan choly one They have sunk pretty low and their fate is not apt to change for the better until we all go riding on the red horse higher than there are clouds"

And little William proceeded to light three candles apiece for the Kings and three for the Queens[But for the King and Queen of Spades he lighted four candles apiece]and the whole reception hall became as dazzlinglybright as the wealthiest emperor's palace The four Kingsand Queens made each other serene bows and gracious curtsies The Queen of Hearts fluttered her golden fanand the Queen of Spades twirled her golden tulip in a wheel of fire The royal couples came down from their cards and frames to move in a graceful minuet across the floor[They were dancing in and out among the candle flames and the Knaves were dancing too ] [Suddenly the entire reception hall was ablazeThe fire roared up through the windows and the walls and ev erything was a curtain of flames that crackled and hissed] The whole castle was wrapped in fire and smokeWilliam was frightenedHe ran shouting to his father and mother"Firefire My castle's on fire" Itsparkled and blazed but from the flames it sang

"Now we are riding the red horse higher than the clouds This is the way it behooves Kings and Queens to goAnd this is the way it behooves their Knaves to fol low"

YesThat was the end of William's castleand of the Court Cards William is still alive and he washes hishands It was not his fault that the castle burned

 


 

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