Once upon a time, long, long ago, there lived a good King and a lovely Queen, who ruled over several provinces, which they visited once a year. It was announced by the King's messenger that time King and Queen would visit a certain province on a certain day, and that the one who gave the Queen the best gift would be rewarded by her in a suitable manner.
Plans were immediately made for a place to receive the honored guests, and great preparations were begun by the people, each trying to outdo the others in preparing a gift for the Queen. The coming of the royal couple was the talk of the province. The people were in a high state of excitement when the day arrived.
In this province lived Celestia with her Granny. Celestia's mother had passed into the invisible world at Celestia 's birth, leaving the tiny mite to the care of old Granny. Granny named the little bit of humanity "Celestia," because, she said, she was like a little star from heaven come to brighten her old age. They were very poor, and when they heard the wonderful news about the coming of the King and Queen, Granny shook her grey head and wondered what they could give.
Celestia in all her nine years had never seen the King and Queen; but she longed with a child's intensity to see these distinguished people and to give a worthy gift. The day before the great occasion she came running to Granny. "I have it," she cried in excitement; "my dove! my beautiful white dove Granny, I will give the Queen my dove!"
But Granny shook her head. "No, my bright star, your dove would not stay with the Queen. He would fly back to you. You must think of something else."
Celestia was disappointed and looked sad. She sat down on a low stool by the window, put her head on the window sill, and tried to think. Presently she was fast asleep, her yellow curls gleaming like gold in the sunlight. Granny rocked in her chair and fell asleep also. It was mid- afternoon, and Granny always took a nap at that time. She was awakened by Celestia tugging at her apron and gently patting her cheek.
"Granny," said Celestia softly, "I had the wonderfullest dream! I saw a beautiful angel in shining white. Her face looked like Mother's picture. She came and stood in front of me. I felt so happy! Then she said: 'Give the Queen your love, my child.' I blinked my eyes and she was gone, and I woke up. Wasn't that a lovely dream, Granny?"
Granny stroked Celestia's sunny locks thoughtfully before she answered: "Yes, child, give the Queen your love, for the gift without the giver is bare; but you will save a little for old Granny, eh?"
"Granny, I love you best of all; but I must write and tell the Queen how much I love her, for that is all I have to give. She is beautiful, is she not, Granny?" Celestia skipped to her treasure box, where she kept some small pieces of paper, which were very scarce, and which she had treasured for a long time. With a goose quill she wrote in rhyme her love and adoration for the beautiful Queen. Having filled several small pages she sought her treasure box again and found a bit of blue ribbon given her by Granny, who said it had adorned her first baby dress. With the blue ribbon she tied the sheets together. "Tomorrow we will go to see the Queen," she told Granny, showing her the written pages.
Sunrise found them up and ready to start, Celestia in her scarlet dress with black patches (for Granny had no other material with which to patch) and heavy wooden shoes, but with face rosy and shining and curls neatly brushed. Granny threw her shawl over her bent shoulders, took her cane, and they started. Not far from home they were overtaken by an old friend, who helped Granny to a seat beside himself in the cart and put Celestia on the back of one of the big red oxen that pulled it. Presently Celestia was startled by a flutter of wings, and her pet dove perched upon her shoulder and settled down for the journey.
Near the middle of the province was a village where the people had built a large granary. This granary also served as a community house, where the farmers sometimes gathered to have a festival. On this occasion the people had chosen the granary as the best place to receive the King and Queen, and the day found them coming from all parts of the province bringing their gifts.
The sun was high in the heavens, when there was suddenly a blare of trumpets, and two horsemen rode into sight followed by a golden coach drawn by six prancing white horses. The horses' heads were decorated with black plumes and golden tassels.
The King and Queen alighted from the golden coach, followed by two small pages who held the Queen's train. The royal party walked into the granary, and were seated upon a throne like platform where the people brought their gifts and placed them for inspection.
"Surely," thought the richest man in the province, "I shall get the reward, for who can give as good a gift as I?" And he walked, straight and proud, to put a beautiful oriental rug at the feet of the Queen. The value of this rug was immense and the colors gorgeous. The Queen acknowledged the gift with a smile and a blessing.
"Surely," thought one happy farmer's wife, "I shall get the reward, for who can bake finer loaves of bread than these." And indeed they were baked to a fine golden brown, round and perfect in shape. The Queen acknowledged the gift with a smile and a blessing.
"Surely, I shall get the reward," thought a prosperous farmer, "for there is no finer corn in the country than this"; and he carried an armful of long yellow ears and placed them next to the bread. The Queen acknowledged the gift with a smile and a blessing.
So each in turn gave of his or her finest goods. Some brought fine needle work. One man brought a shock of golden grain higher than a man's head. Another brought a fat young pig. One farmer brought his prize rooster. A woman brought a choice flower that she had grown. An artist brought his master painting. All the arts and crafts were fully represented. Each giver was certain that his gift was the greatest. To each the Queen gave a smile and a blessing.
Celestia in awe and trembling had watched the people go forward with their offerings. In her hand she held the pet dove and the booklet of verses. She watched with eager eyes the strange array of gifts and the costumes of the givers. They were all dressed in their best, their holiday attire, as was she: yet she knew she was the poorest dressed of all. And her gift? Ah, what a small gift compared with the rest, she thought.
The last gift had been presented to the Queen. Celestia stood far back by the front entrance, undecided. She was timid, ill-dressed, and her gift was so small! But oh, how she wanted to tell the Queen how she loved her! She closed her eyes and tried to gain courage. Instantly she saw the angel and remembered her dream. The dove made a movement in her hands. Celestia looked into his pink eyes and whispered in his ear. She placed the booklet in his bill and opened her hand.
Straightway the dove flew to the Queen and perched on her hand so gently that she was not even startled. The Queen took the booklet, read the verses, and looked back to where the dove had flown to its mistress.
"Will you come here, little girl?" she asked. Her voice sounded like a silver bell, and her smile was so welcoming that Celestia lost all fear and walked up and stood in front of her. The Queen stroked her golden curls and said: "Let it be announced by the King's herald that the greatest gift, which is lore, has just been given, and the Queen will bestow her reward upon the giver. Let the people come and witness the award."
When the people had crowded within the walls of the building, the Queen stood up and placing her hand upon Celestia's head declared in a clear silver voice : "This child will I take to the palace of the King, where she shall become a Princess."
Celestia heard these words as if in a dream, but she remembered Granny and hastened to explain to the Queen: "I cannot go, lovely Queen, for Granny would be lonesome without me. Granny needs me."
"Ah, my child, you have a loving heart. Never fear, Granny shall go also," announced the Queen.
After the people had been given a feast, Celestia rode away in the golden coach behind the prancing white horses, and the Queen sat on one side of her and Granny oil the other. When they arrived at the King's palace, Celestia was taken to a magnificent bed chamber, where she was arrayed in a shimmering satin gown, and golden slippers were fitted on her feet -- just like Cinderella! And like Cinderella she grew up and married a charming Prince.