THE LAST GIANT
NCE upon a time there was a last Giant. How he escaped Jack the Giant Killer I have no idea, have you? But escape he did, that is certain. Oh, but he had a wretched life of it. 'Twas simply dreadful! 'Tis always dreadful being the last of anything. You see he had no one to walk with, or talk with, or to stay with or play with. Why, his huge giant heart was cracking with loneliness. Besides, Jack the Giant Killer's grand-nephews and nieces were continually on the lookout for him. All day he was forced to hide, and 'tis no easy task when one is as big as all outdoors.
Sometimes he stood in his dingy brown suit with his shaggy hair tumbled over his face, his two arms crooked like branches, pretending to be a tree. He did make a tremendously tall one, but it was mighty tiresome work being a tree, and the mischievous little birds would peck his nose, and tweak his ears and pull out his hair, for they knew he did not dare to cry out or shake them off because Sarah Ann Giant Killer was sure to be on hand with her spy glass and giant-killing hat pin. Other days he would wade out into the sea, standing stiff and tall as a lighthouse, but even here the crabs would pinch his heels and the other sea folk would steal his shoe buttons, and stick and prick him spitefully. If he rolled up on the ground to look like a brown hill, along would come the owner of the field and a score of workmen to shovel and pick-axe him out of the way, or blow him to bits with dynamite. It was all very unpleasant for the last Giant.
But at night time, after the giant-killing nephews and nieces were in bed (they retire very early), Tonto would fare forth boldly, striding over the hills and hollows he came to a great city; then, leaning over, until his giant back ached, he would peer in through the lighted windows at the old people gathered round the fires, and at the young ones dancing and singing, and the tears of loneliness would trickle off his nose and his gigantic heart would crinkle up like a persimmon for very sadness. When he could bear it no longer, he would snatch a dozen or more sheets from the yards, where the good dames had hung them to dry, and muffling his face in these stolen handkerchiefs would weep bitterly.
His gusty sighs often blew the roofs from the houses, and his tears fell in showers so that the people next day would shake their heads over the night's storm. On his way through the narrow streets he was constantly brushing off shutters and stumbling over lamp posts, catching his heels in park gates and fences. I hate to think that the small boys were blamed for much of this damage. He had many narrow escapes, but always managed to turn himself into a church steeple or an arch, before he was discovered.
So things went on and on in this fashion for a great while, 'til he had wandered in every city of the world excepting one. On the night that he came to the last city it happened,—yes siree, it happened then. Now this city chanced to be the King's city, and Tonto, in search of amusement, had gone directly to the stately palace. With his eye plastered tightly against one of the long windows he gazed enviously at the brilliant scene within. The King, who was fat and jolly, sat upon his golden throne tapping his foot to the fascinating tune of the royal fiddles. The Court Gentlemen were bobbing and bouncing about in tight breeches and lace coats, and the Ladies in cob-webby gowns and buckled slippers,—the Ladies, mind you, were bobbing and bouncing too. In fact I think that they must have been dancing. Periwigged lackies rushed hither and thither, with frosted cake and tinkling tumblers of pink lemonade, and altogether they were having a delightful time of it.
Then the music stopped, and all heads turned toward the marble stairway. "Here she comes! the Princess! the Princess!" whispered one and then another. "Ah-h-h." Down the steps tripped the merriest, plumpest, rosiest, little dimpled Princess you can imagine. Smiling a plump little dimpled smile, she bustled up to the King, a pair of red worsted slippers in one hand and a snuff box in the other.
"Charming, charming," murmured the Court Gentlemen, twirling their mustachios and rolling their eyes. The King, beaming with pride and affection, drew on the red worsted slippers, took a deep pinch of snuff and sank back with a grunt of pure happiness, while the Princess smoothed his forehead. "Such devotion!" exclaimed the Court Ladies, clasping their hands together in an ecstasy of emotion. The Gentlemen all sighed mightily, and each wished himself in the King's red slippers.
Closer and closer Tonto had pressed his eye to the window, and when he had beheld the charming Princess descending the stair, then—then it happened. Sweethearts, he fell—not down, nor up—nor out, but in—in love with the King's daughter. Think of it! His heart began to hammer away like forty steam engines, 'til it actually shook the palace, and the Courtiers began anxiously to consult the newspapers to see whether there was going to be an earthquake. As no earthquakes were mentioned, they dismissed the matter from their minds, and fell to dancing again. But Tonto looked, and looked, and looked, and the longer he looked, the more he loved the dimpled little Princess, and to tell the truth she was exactly the size of his heart, just a comfortable heartful I should say.
He could not bear to tear himself away from her, and he remained with his eye glued to the window the Courtiers went yawning off to bed, then he took to his giant heels and never stopped running till morning, for he felt strangely hilarious. Instead of hiding he walked about with his head in the air as if there were no Giant Killer nieces and nephews in the world. He could think of naught but the Princess, and his love, as you can well imagine, was a very gigantic thing.
He could scarcely wait for the next evening, so anxious was he to see the Princess again. And when it did come, at last, he set off at top speed for the palace.
Again he glued his giant eye to the window and looked and looked. Things were even more lively than on the previous evening. The Court Ladies and Gentlemen were bobbing and ducking about in a mad and merry dance. The fiddlers were wildly sawing the air with their bows as they played a jiggeldy jig. The King, in a pair of violet worsted slippers, beamed upon the assemblage, his snuff box on one side and his dimpled daughter on the other. It was all that Tonto could do to keep from reaching in the window and snatching the Princess. But he loved her too deeply to frighten her. Then suddenly the King, taking an unusually large pinch of snuff, arose, and the Court Ladies and Gentlemen stopped bobbing and bowing straightway to hear the royal mandate.
Now he took off his royal spectacles and, folding his hands upon his ample stomach, began, "My honored subjects, it pleases me to inform you that every Lord of the realm wishes to marry my daughter." Here all the hundred or more Lords of the realm adjusted their monocles and glared at each other haughtily. "This is er—flattering, and er—embarrassing," continued the King, at which the Princess clicked her heels together and dutifully nodded her head. "Loving you all so well," chuckled the King, with a mischievous wink, "we find it impossible to choose among you. So I have decided that the man who proves himself capable of handling my daughter's fortune shall have my daughter herself."
Hereat each Lord straightened his crown and complacently smoothed down his shirt front, for each felt quite sure of winning the Princess. But Tonto, standing without, at the mere thought of her marrying any one of them groaned a giant groan. "Oooohhh," shuddered the Lords of the realm shaking till their golden crowns fell clattering to the floor. "What was that?" faltered the King, as the horrid sound died away. "'Twas the wind singing to the chimney," quoth the secretary promptly and with a low bow. "His song is most unpleasant," said the King rubbing his head, "pray bid him cease," and off went the secretary to argue with the wind.
"Now," said the King, having disposed of the affair, "let us see who shall marry my daughter." So saying he banged loudly with his golden sceptre upon the marble floor. Into the room came a hundred black slaves staggering under the weight of a huge iron chest. Slowly and painfully they set it down before the throne and retired backwards from the room. The eyes of the hundred Lords fastened upon it greedily. They began shoving and pushing each other rudely to get a better view. "Well," said the King, "will the Lord who thinks that he can handle my daughter's fortune kindly step forward." At this the whole hundred or more of them made a spirited dash for the chest, tumbling over one another's shins and landing in a confused heap at the Princess's feet. "Ho, ho!" roared the King, "one at a time, one at a time, if
you please." Forthwith the Lords of the realm untangled their shins and arranged themselves in a long line according to their rank.
Then the first one strode up to the chest. "Remember," warned the King, "I said the man who could handle my daughter's fortune, and I mean exactly what I say." The first Lord looked rather puzzled, in fact he did not know just what was expected of him. Slowly he drew off his gloves and fumbled with his watch chain. "Well," smiled the King, "why don't you begin. Can you handle my daughter's fortune or not. Come, be quick. There is the ring." The Lord put in his monocle and looked at the huge chest. Sure enough, in the lid was a stout iron ring. "Handle your daughter's fortune," mused he, stroking his chin, "errrr—er—surely your Majesty cannot mean that I, er—lift that chest?" "What else could I mean?" blustered the King, pretending to look greatly surprised.
At this the other Lords of the realm got out their silk pocket-handkerchiefs and began mopping their heads nervously, while the first Lord, taking off his lace jacket, set his jeweled crown carefully on top of it, and stepped up to the chest. Seizing the iron ring he tugged away mightily till his lordly face was a royal turkey-cock purple, but not an inch could he budge it. The King shook his head sadly, "I see very plainly that you are not the man," quoth he. One after another the greedy Lords tried to lift the chest, while the Princess sat by demurely. But puff and pull and tug and strain as they might the chest never stirred.
Imagine how exciting this all was to the Giant, peering in through the window! And as each lord took himself sulkily off, the smile upon the King's broad face grew broader. The truth of the matter was he did not want his daughter to marry at all, and we cannot much blame him for that. Each day she crocheted him a new pair of slippers, and mixed his snuff by a wonderfully secret recipe known only to herself. He had a whole castle turned solely over to the accommodation of his slippers, and so accustomed had he grown to the Princess's delicate attentions that life without her and them seemed intolerable. He therefore arose, and chuckling till his double chins quivered and danced with merriment called loudly, "What, is there no man who can handle my daughter's fortune?" Sweethearts, he was sure that his trick had been successful and that his daughter would go on crocheting him slippers to the end of his days.
But it never does to be too sure. Goodness, no!!! For scarcely had the King finished speaking before a thundering knock shook the palace, and the next instant a giant hand came splintering through the wall, reached down, seized the iron ring and lifted the huge chest into the air as lightly as though it were a match box. Up, up, up before the terrified eyes of the Courtiers went the Princess's fortune, and the chest and the hand were withdrawn through the yawing hole in the wall. "In one month I will return for your daughter," roared the giant voice of Tonto. At this the excitement was terrific. The King fell flat upon his back. The Princess fell prone upon her face—prone, flat and slantwise tumbled everyone!
But Tonto, with the chest upon his back, hurried off to the deep woods and buried the chest under an oak tree, then, standing beside the oak tree, pretending to be its cousin, he thought and thought and thought how he could marry the Princess. For ten whole days and nights he thought and, at the end of the tenth night, he had come to the conclusion that he could only marry her by ceasing to be a giant. For nineteen days more he pondered upon this puzzling question, but on the night of the nineteenth day he strode quickly over the hills and dales until he had come down to the sea. He waded in, and when the water rose higher than his head he began swimming with all his might. On and on he plowed, faster than the fastest steamboat in the world till he came to the very centre of the sea.
In the centre of the sea, you know, is a tiny island where the last witch in the world with her forty cats lives safe from the heartless witch-burning folks of today. When Tonto reached this island, he raised his giant head out of the water and called, "Come out, good mother, I beg," and the witch who had not had a visitor for one hundred years, stuck her black head out of her little hut to see what it all might mean. Tonto in great excitement began to tell her all about the dimpled Princess, but so lusty was his voice that at the first word the little old woman was blown into the sea. Now a witch likes water just about as much as a cat, and when Tonto set her on dry land again she scolded him roundly. Swimming off a few strokes he began in his gentlest giant voice all over again, ending with the statement that he no longer wished to be a giant.
Then the old witch began shaking her head from side to side and pulling her hat down over her nose, which is the way all witches think, I am told. Finally she called shrilly, "It can be done, it can be done!! But what will you give me," and coming down to the water's edge she fixed her red eyes greedily on the last giant. "Anything—anything at all," whispered Tonto, for fear of blowing her away again. "A lock of your hair," screamed the witch, "a lock of your hair," and hobbling into the hut she returned with a pair of witch's shears.
Tonto swam close to the shore and she cut off one of his curly locks, and croaking with joy hobbled back to her hut. She was going to make herself a switch, I fancy. Soon from the chimney of the house smoke began to curl upward and the forty cats set up a terrible howling and yowling. Soon after this the witch came down to Tonto and handed him a huge green sponge. "When you come to the shore," said she, "swallow this sponge. You will immediately shrink. But let me warn you that while it will shrink your body it cannot shrink your gigantic strength nor your gigantic temper. The first time that you lose your temper you will shoot up into a giant; so beware!"
Tonto took the evil-looking sponge, thanked the old witch, and swam joyfully back to land. The witch's warning did not bother him in the least, for he did not see how he could possibly lose his temper when he had married the Princess. The next night he dug up the treasure chest, and then—then he swallowed the witch's sponge. Ugh!! what a bitter mouthful! Bah! it nearly choked him. No sooner had he swallowed it than he began to shrink. Shorter and shorter and thinner and thinner he grew, 'til he was just exactly the right size for a princess to fall in love with. I tell you he was a handsome fellow, but not stopping to think of such a small matter as his looks he took the huge chest upon his back (he still had the strength of the giant, remember), and started on a run for the King's city.
When he arrived at the palace carrying the terrible load unconcernedly upon his back, the Courtiers gasped and stared with astonishment, but the King pulled out his violet silk handkerchief and wept kingly tears upon it. The King's word is a King's word, however; so he handed his daughter over to Tonto, and they were married upon the spot, with splendor and magnificence. Next day the two went to housekeeping with a great many silver teaspoons and coffee pots, and the Princess immediately began crocheting her husband a pair of green worsted slippers.
That was the beginning of the trouble, for Tonto was color blind,—most giants are. When the dimpled Princess presented him with the slippers he said, "Ah, my dear little wife, what beautiful blue slippers."
"They are green, my love," said the Princess softly. "I think not, my dear," said Tonto gently but firmly, "they are blue."
"Green," said the Princess a little more firmly still. "Blue," said Tonto.
"Green," said the Princess. "I say that they are blue," said Tonto sullenly.
"I say they are green," cried the Princess stamping her foot. "Blue," "Green," "Blue," "Green," they shouted at each other till they both grew as hoarse as crows. It was disgraceful!
Next a frightful thing happened. Looking at Tonto, the Princess saw that his eyes were as large as saucers. Now his mouth began to widen. Now his head began to swell and swell until it almost filled the room. Shrieking with terror the Princess flung herself out of the window. Just in time, too, for the next minute Tonto shot up into a giant again, and the house, with all the silver teaspoons and coffee pots, hung round his neck like a dog collar. Off rushed the Princess to her father's palace, and the last I heard of her she had just begun work on the thirty-nine thousand three hundred and forty-third pair of worsted slippers. They were blue.