Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Yellow Jar

Once, a girl was walking across a corn field when she came upon a yellow jar.  At first she thought the jar was a skylark's nest, then when it caught the light she thought it must be gold.  Only when the sun had gone behind a cloud did she realise it was just a yellow jar, though it was very pretty and decorated with chrysanthemums and yellow birds.  She took it home to the little one-roomed hut where she lived and put it on the table.

Soon she came to love the yellow jar.  Every morning when she awoke she would look at it because it was so fresh and bright in the morning sun.  Likewise every evening she would take it down and turn it around in her hands to admire it in the firelight.  She had the feeling the jar liked living with her too: ever since she had brought it home it had glowed a contended buttery yellow.

One day a travelling salesman came to the door.  He was known in all the surrounding villages as a particularly vain and untrustworthy man, who wore a coat of red ribbons with which he dazzled the ladies, but the girl had led an isolated life and salesmen rarely bothered to visit her home because it was too small and shabby, so she had neither met him nor heard talk of him.

The salesman took one look at the girl's home and decided that the only thing worth having was the yellow jar on the table and he hatched a plan to steal it.  With many a whirl and a swoosh of his red-ribboned coat he dazzled the girl until her head spun and her legs shook and she fell in a heap on the floor. 

The girl slept till sunset, long after the salesman had left.  When she woke up she rubbed her eyes and looked to the table.  She rubbed her eyes again.  She scrambled to her feet and searched the room, but the jar had gone. 

The next few weeks were the worst of the girl's life.  She cried every morning and evening and sometimes in the afternoons too.  She asked everywhere: the neighbouring villages had all had a visit from the travelling salesman, but he was long gone by the time she reached them.  She searched further and further afield  until she came to a town far from her home.  She went into a shop and asked the shop keeper if he had seen the salesman.

'Yes, I have,' he said, 'only two minutes ago.  He took the road to the sea.'

She followed the shopkeeper's directions and soon saw the salesman in the road ahead, his red-ribboned coat billowing out behind him as he strode along.  She ran, caught hold of one of his ribbons and stopped him in his tracks.

'I want my yellow jar back,' she said.

'You can't have it,' said the salesman.  'I've sold it to the king's courtiers.  They've taken it to the castle and now I'm going to sail to a nice sunny country and never come back.'

The girl kicked the salesman in the shins and hurried off to the castle.

She crossed the moat and banged on the gates.

'Who's there?' said a voice from within.

'I'm the rightful owner of the yellow jar,' said the girl. 'I've come to claim it back.'

'Nonsense,' said the voice. 'Go away.'  

The girl sighed.  Her shoulders drooped.  She was just turning to retrace her steps along the path when from behind the gates she heard a cough, and then another cough, and then a sneeze.  There was a flutter of wings and the hiss of locks being drawn back and the creak of rusty hinges and she saw that the gates were opening before her and from between the gates flew a yellow bird.  It flew over her head and away across the fields.

The girl walked through the gate and found herself in a courtyard.  There, sitting on the ground was the gatekeeper.  He held his hands to his mouth and stared before him.

'Well I never,' he said, still spitting feathers.  'I must have swallowed a bird with my lunch.' 

The girl left him opening and closing his mouth to see if anything else would fly out.  Soon she came to a golden staircase that rose to a golden door.  Two guards stood at the foot of the stairs.

'Who are you?' they asked in unison.

'I'm the rightful owner of the yellow jar, ' said the girl.  'I've come to claim it back.'

'Nonsense,' said one of the guards.

'Go away,' said the other.

But no sooner had they said that than they began to cough.  They coughed and they coughed again, and then they sneezed, and out of their mouths fell flowers, chrysanthemums, bloom after bloom tumbled onto the floor.  The guards fell to their knees, their hands to their mouths, their eyes wide open. 

'Well I never,' said one, spitting petals. 

'I must have swallowed a flower bed with my lunch,' said the other.

The girl gave them both a pat on the back to make sure they were alright and then she climbed the stairs.  At the top she opened the golden door and found herself in the throne room.  There on a golden throne was the king with his queen on a slightly smaller throne beside him (though she'd put lots of cushions on the seat to make herself look as tall and important as her husband) and all around him on golden chairs sat the king's courtiers.  Everyone stared at the girl.  The king frowned.

'Who on earth are you?' he asked and he banged his sceptre on the floor for added gravitas. 

'I'm the rightful owner of the yellow jar,' said the girl.  'I've come to claim it back.'

'Nonsense,' said the king.  'Seize her and throw her in the dungeon.'

The courtiers jumped to their feet and ran towards the girl.  Even the queen shifted a little on her cushions.  Just as the closest courtier was about to touch the girl they were all struck with a fit of coughing.  They coughed, and they coughed, and the king coughed the loudest of all.  Then they sneezed and the room filled with the sound of wing beats and everywhere there were yellow birds, flapping and swooping, and the floor was a mass of chrysanthemums.  It was bedlam, no one knew what to do or who to blame, so between splutters they shouted at one another.  No one paid the girl any further attention and when she saw the yellow jar, rocking precariously on a plinth behind the king's throne, she knew her task would be easy.  She took a step forward and then another step.  She reached out and the jar jumped into her hands.  She left through the golden door, descended the golden staircase, ran through the gates, along the road to the town and from the town all the way back home.  It was evening when she got home, so she put the jar back on the table and went to bed.  

Now, you may be wondering what happened to the travelling salesman.  Well, the money the courtiers gave him for the jar disappeared faster than he expected and before long he was forced to return to the kingdom in search of work.  Soon he heard what had happened at the palace, how there had been some sort of rumpus because a girl magician had enchanted the court with a bird show and then stolen the king's precious yellow jar.  The salesman thought to himself, She's no magician, she's just a girl.  If I could get my hands on that jar again I could present it to the king and earn myself a reward.

So the salesman went to the girl's hut.  He saw her pegging out the washing in her garden.  He tip-toed up to the open door.  There on the table was the yellow jar.  He crept through the doorway, looking all the while to make sure the girl hadn't noticed.  He took a step over the threshold.  He took another step.  He reached out - and then he coughed, and he coughed a second time, and then he sneezed.  It was a very noisy sneeze and it brought the girl running in from the garden.

Flap, flap, flap. 

There was no sign of the salesman, but the ground was strewn with red ribbons and there were some particularly long and beautiful ribbons dangling from the beaks of the plump-bellied yellow birds that flew around the ceiling, out of the door and away across the fields. 

No comments:

Post a Comment