Once upon a time, not in my time or your time, but a very long time ago, a young girl named Beatrix lived with her mother and father on a quiet farm in the country. Beatrix was a comely maiden with blonde curls and a buxom figure. However, Beatrix had three brothers, and their influence on her showed, for she was not very maiden-like. She preferred farming to housework and hunting to cooking. She had also insisted on learning to read and do sums, and her older brothers had helped her accomplish this. Sadly, her two older brothers had left the farm to find adventures, and her third brother, Robert, was so much younger than she was that he did not make a very good playmate. As such, she found that year to be a lonely one for her. The other farms nearby did not have young people, for it was an old and quiet part of the country. The younger generation had either left for the larger towns or moved to farm in new lands, much as her brothers had.
Once every few weeks, word came back to Beatrix's parents of the wonderful and exciting things that happened to their sons. Between those messages and the many books that Beatrix read, Beatrix longed for adventures of her own. Alas, instead she spent many evenings sitting in front of the fire, reading aloud astonishing tales to her young brother, but imagining herself as the heroine.
As time passed, Beatrix made plans about what she would do once she was old enough to leave home on a journey of her own. Perhaps she would fight dragons, or discover new lands, or rescue the helpless from danger. So convinced was Beatrix that she would be brave and true to her purpose, whatever it might turn out to be, that she felt no difficulty would be impossible to conquer.
Beatrix and Robert were making new lanterns for Saint Martin's Day, and again, naturally, Beatrix thought of her brothers, Brian and Martin. She decided that she simply must go out into the world to seek adventure. But Beatrix's parents were horrified when she told them.
"That is impossible!" Peter, Beatrix's father, exclaimed. "It is much too dangerous."
Peter's wife, Helen, agreed. "You need to stay here on the farm and help with the chores."
"But, Moms," Beatrix argued, "I shall simply die if I am not given leave to explore the world and see all that is out there for myself."
"May I go 'splorin', too?" Robert asked excitedly.
"Besides," Beatrix continued, ignoring Robert's interruption, "there are no eligible young men in this part of the country. I shall become an old spinster like Aunt Alicia if I am not allowed to travel and meet other people."
Helen coughed politely while Peter nearly choked on the piece of pheasant he had snatched from the leftovers on the table. Never before had their daughter shown any interest in being wed.
"That is nonsense," Peter finally responded. "There is always Tad or his brother."
"Oh, please, Father! Do you not recall that Spider and Tad are both simply bewitched animals? Their names alone should remind you of that fact. I will not be betrothed to a frog or a spider." Beatrix stomped her foot to emphasize the point.
Robert piped up, "That was so 'siting what that fairy did, making them human. And Tad is a lot of fun. Though he does get squeamish when I forget he wasn't always human and ask him to go hunting frogs with me."
"That's enough, Robert," Helen chided. "And, Peter, I must agree; I do not want Beatrix marrying either Tad or Spider. Who knows what our grandchildren would be? It would be for the best if she does meet a boy wholly of our own species. However, I will not tolerate you wandering around the countryside on your own either, young lady."
"Yes," Peter agreed, "it would be impossibly dangerous for you. Perhaps I could travel myself and see if I can find you a suitable suitor."
"You can always go out caroling with me and the other boys and girls tomorrow," Robert offered as a comfort. "We are sure to get many treats." Robert smiled blissfully as visions of sugar plums from Lord Lytell and windmill cookies from Lady Vanderpoel danced in his head. "Besides," he continued, "Father's letting me butcher the goose this year, but I've never done it before, so I could use your help. Now, tell me the story of Saint Martin again."
Beatrix smiled at him and gave up the fight for that evening. "On the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month," began Beatrix, reciting the ancient story.
But deep inside, Beatrix did not believe anything was impossible, and she continued to ask her parents permission to leave. She kept insisting until finally her parents gave in and agreed to let her go out on her own.
The day before Beatrix was going to depart, Helen set about making a good luck cake as a parting gift for her journey. However, the poor woman was so upset at the idea of her only daughter going into the world that she read the wrong recipe from the cookbook, (Yes, Helen sometimes referred to a cookbook. Shocking, I know!), and made a bad luck cake instead. Neither Beatrix nor her mother were any the wiser when Beatrix took the cake, and with many kisses, said good-bye.
Next, Beatrix went to say good-bye to her father. All the night before, he had thought about a gift for his daughter. Finally, he decided that she should have the little jewel box his grandmother had given him long ago. Kissing Beatrix good-bye, he said, "If you are ever in danger of death you must open the box, but not until then. It has been in our family for generations, but since we have lived quietly on our farm, we have never had the need to use it."
Beatrix thanked her father for the jewel box, gave Robert a kiss and a hug good-bye, mounted the little black mare her parents said she could take, and soon was on her way.
She traveled all that day and the next day. At twilight on the third evening, she again stopped to rest. As she was eating the cake her mother had made her, she saw a light from a window in the distance and decided to go there to ask for lodging.
A handsome and supple young man with rich red hair and deep green eyes opened the door.
"Lord, may I please have shelter for the evening?" Beatrix asked politely.
"Most certainly, lady," the young man replied. "And I will see that your horse is comfortable in our stables as well."
Beatrix blushed, for she had never been called 'lady' before by anyone other than her parents. "Thank you kindly," she managed.
The young man quickly led Beatrix to the fire and excused himself. He returned shortly with hot tea for the both of them, and they sat and talked. After talking for quite some time, they had become so comfortable with each other that they felt they had known each other all their lives. James decided Beatrix was quite the most interesting person he had ever met. Here was a girl who was brave, outspoken, and intelligent besides. He felt certain he had fallen in love with her already.
James immediately went to the master of the house and announced that he intended to marry Beatrix. But the master did not like this at all. He thought, "Why should this boy, whose care has been thrust upon me, marry a perfect stranger, and apparently a poor stranger at that, when there are so many wealthy girls nearby who would love to have him?" However, he did not wish to make the young James too angry, as the boy had proven to be a loyal and hard-working servant.
Beatrix was startled as the stoop-shouldered man entered the room, his yellowed teeth grinning maliciously at her. "What work can you do to earn your keep, child?" Jonas asked bluntly.
"Anything at all," answered Beatrix happily. She was only too glad to work for her lodging, though she certainly hoped they would not ask her to dust. Besides, it would give her a chance to get to know James better, for she found that she liked him very much indeed.
Unfortunately, Beatrix's bad luck cake had already begun to do its work. Suddenly, Master Jonas saw a way of appearing to grant James' wish, but get rid of Beatrix instead.
"Well, my girl," he said quickly, "if you can do anything at all, then do this: By seven o'clock tomorrow morning, you must dig up the barren field behind my house. There you must create a magnificent garden with beautiful, fragrant flowers in every color of the rainbow. Let us also have exotic birds, with songs lovely enough to wake young James, who always oversleeps."
James was indignant. "It is not I who oversleeps; it is you, Master Jonas! And how can you expect this fair and lovely maiden to make a garden of that field overnight? Such a task is impossible!"
"The lass said she could do any work at all. This is her task," the old man said calmly, turning to Beatrix herself to finish his sentence, "if you cannot do this, you must forfeit your life."
"Why are you being so harsh?" James demanded.
"I do not want this peasant here in my house. If she cannot do the work, she must die," he answered cruelly, as he walked out of the room.
"Beatrix, I am ashamed of my master. I beg you, leave this house and find shelter elsewhere. I will find you again someday, and we can be wed without his blessing."
"Wed?" Beatrix asked in alarm. "I have no intention of being wed so soon. We have just met, and, while I admit I find you appealing, I certainly cannot promise myself to you after just a couple hours of conversation."
"Then go, anyway, and spare your life. I can only hope that I will meet you again, and I will win your heart," James declared dramatically, as he daringly reached over and twined one of her curls gently around his finger, the back of his hand accidentally brushing against her cheek.
Beatrix was shocked at his boldness, yet another feeling overcame her as well. Surely other young men besides her brothers had accidentally (or purposefully) brushed against her, but never had she felt such a tingle that reached all the way to her toes. Collecting her wits, Beatrix decided she was flattered, but she really felt she did not know James well enough to decide if she would ever want to marry him. She begged James to leave her alone while she thought about what she should do. Once she was alone, she walked to the window and looked out at the barren fields, trying to think. She could leave now, and be far away from the strange guardian of this handsome youth, but she felt certain that, if she left, she would never see James again, and that thought was hard to bear. Perchance she should stay and try to think of a solution to the master's demands? Beatrix became so tired that, at last, her shoulders slumped, her eyelids closed of their own accord, and she fell asleep there at the window.
In the morning, the rays of the sun filtered through the dust and cobwebs on the window, waking Beatrix. At first, she couldn't remember where she was, but, as she looked at the barren field, she suddenly remembered. Not one flower bloomed, not one bird sang, no miracle had occurred in the night. Deciding to take her leave, she looked at the clock tower and saw that it was just seconds before seven o'clock and the clock had already begun to strike. One, two, three ... "I can't be caught here. Mean old Master Jonas will certainly make good on his threat." All at once, Beatrix remembered the little jewel box her father had given her. "I suppose I'm near enough death to open it," she thought.
No sooner had she lifted the lid when out popped three extraordinary little men in blue-and-white striped nightshirts with matching nightcaps, rubbing their eyes and yawning loudly.
They were quite startled to be called upon, for it had been years and years since anyone had needed them. Between elaborate yawns, they asked, "What do you wish, mistress?"
Beatrix quickly explained the situation to them. Without another word, the three little men flew from the window. The clock struck ... six, seven. Suddenly, there was a great symphony of birds. Beatrix looked out the window and saw the most beautiful garden imaginable. Flowers of every color were blooming, and songbirds sang in the trees. Their music was so sweet that both Jonas and James immediately awoke and came to their respective windows.
Beatrix was so transfixed by the sight of the wonderful garden that she jumped when the three little men returned. They flew past her in a flurry and scrambled into the jewel box. "Miss, give us a bit more notice should you be so unfortunate as to need us again, please!" they grumbled, as they pulled the lid down with a bang. Beatrix could hear them yawning inside the box as they settled down to rest.
Jonas was not so pleased by his morning's awakening, though he admitted to himself that the garden was spectacular and everything he had asked for. He wondered briefly how the young maiden had managed to fulfill the difficult task, and decided he needed to keep her around to discover if she had some magical abilities he could exploit.
At breakfast, James smiled winningly at Beatrix and marveled at the wonderful garden.
"Hmph," Jonas muttered, "the garden is decent, I suppose." He still wanted to know how she had done it. His devious mind came up with another plan. "Do you wish to stay another day? I am sure young James would enjoy your company."
Beatrix again admitted to herself that she was quite enamored with James, and she did want to stay. During their talks the day before, she had learned of the hard life James had under Jonas's care, and she thought perhaps she could talk him into traveling with her, as unseemly as many might find that. She knew they could always pose as brother and sister, and she certainly wouldn't share a room with him. Then she blushed, wondering why her thoughts had even led her there. Shaking her head, she forced herself to think of some way of convincing James to leave his master. However, she knew that his sense of duty to his guardian was strong, and he would not leave easily.
"Please do stay," James broke into her thoughts. "Perchance I will have some time later in the day to ride with you into the village. I think you will like it there."
Won over by the thought of spending more time with James, she replied that she would very much like to stay.
"Indeed," said Jonas with a frown. "Then you need a new job to do. You may have noticed that we do not exactly have any spare rooms here. If you wish to stay, we need more room. Therefore, by seven o'clock tomorrow morning, there must be a large castle standing in the new garden. It must have at least three turrets, marble floors, and be completely staffed with servants and guards. The bedrooms must have the finest linens, the wardrobes need to be filled with new garments of the finest cloth, and the kitchen shall have the finest china. This house here may be turned into a stable filled with only the best steeds and," with a smirk, "of course your pitiful little mare as well."
"Jonas!" James shouted. "That is too much!"
"Silence!" boomed Jonas. "If all this is not done, I will not only ask that Beatrix forfeit her life, but, James, you as well, shall forfeit your life. And if Beatrix chooses to leave like a coward," Jonas turned to her at this point, "rest assured that James shall live the rest of his life in my dungeon."
Beatrix was truly stunned this time. There was no way she was going to let this cruel man get away with this.
"Beatrix, please don't worry about me. Again, I beg you to save yourself. I would not be able to live if anything should happen to you," James told her when they were alone again.
"If that mean old Jonas has his way, then I shouldn't worry about that. He said he would kill us both." Beatrix worriedly twirled an errant blonde curl.
As grave as the situation was, James could not help but smile at how stunning Beatrix looked when she was worried. He longed to twirl that curl himself. He must not let anything happen to this beautiful maiden. "Not if you leave," James reminded her gently.
"And let him lock you up in a dungeon? No, I would rather build his castle."
"How did you manage the garden?" James suddenly asked.
"I, uh, well, I, um, had some help."
James looked at her askance.
"It is a family secret. I really do not feel comfortable revealing it to you."
"I see." James suddenly turned cold. How can she keep secrets from me when I've revealed everything about my life and my family to her? He started to see that she was right that they were not quite ready to be man and wife. Quickly forgiving her, and more determined than ever to win her heart, he replaced his scowl with a genuine smile. Perhaps a few more hours of conversation, with some fond glances thrown in, might help.
Beatrix sincerely wanted to give the three little men in the jewel box more time to carry out this new task, but James managed to distract her, or rather, her thoughts about how handsome and supple James was, especially as she watched him work, had distracted her. They had had the opportunity to ride together, and Beatrix could not help but think that James looked rather like a centaur when he was riding the large black gelding. Therefore, she quite completely forgot to call on the three little men. In the morning, she awoke as the hands on the clock were almost at seven. She leapt quickly from her bed and ran to the jewel box. With her heart pounding, she opened the box quickly and gave her order.
The three little men flew from the window, dropping their nightcaps, retrieving them, yawning, stretching, and bumping into each other. Four, five, six ... chimed the clock. This time, Beatrix thought they would never be able to complete the task. Oh, I should have just left. James being locked in a dungeon would certainly be better than both of us dead.
But, just as the clock struck seven, Beatrix dared to look out the window. There, in the middle of the garden, stood a splendid castle with not three, but seven brass towers. Suddenly, the floor around her changed as the little men worked in a flurry. She blinked, turned, and found herself staring into the side of a large black stallion, the smell of hay invading her senses.
Beatrix wanted to congratulate and thank the three little men when they returned, but they flew past her without even a "pardon me." They mumbled and grumbled so much about the difficulty she had put them through, that Beatrix was very relieved when they finally settled into the jewel box, shut the lid with a bang, and began to snore.
Carefully, she tiptoed past the large stallion and out of the stall she was now in. James and Jonas were standing there, bewildered.
"I see you've turned my house into stables. Where is my castle?" Jonas grumbled.
Beatrix led the two men to the stable doors, and they all peered at the large castle that stood there. Jonas was more certain than ever that Beatrix possessed some magical abilities and thought it might be better if he were nicer to her so she would do more favors for him. For now, he marched grandly in his nightclothes to the castle entrance. A guard bowed and opened the door for him, as Beatrix and James, still in awe, followed.
Beatrix certainly had every cause to consider herself lucky, but the bad luck from her mother's unfortunate cake had not actually worn itself out yet, as you shall see.
Jonas quickly inspected the castle and all its rooms. After changing into a fine new costume he had procured from the wardrobe in his new room, Jonas called for Beatrix and James to join him upstairs. He opened a door to a bedchamber and told Beatrix she would be allowed to stay as long as she liked. Without thinking about it, Beatrix put her belongings in the room, including the jewel box.
The next day, while Beatrix took her mare and rode to town to purchase items for her room, and Jonas was in the stable admiring the other horses, and James was in the house arranging his room to his liking, a servant girl started cleaning the rooms. The girl's name was Laurentia, and she had already heard rumors about the magical Beatrix. She had also noticed how handsome James was. As she was cleaning Beatrix's room, she daydreamed about how she could possibly get James to ignore Beatrix and pay attention to her instead. Laurentia was a rather clumsy servant, and, as she dusted the nightstand by Beatrix's bed, the jewel box fell to the floor. The box opened upon landing, and out jumped the three little men, stretching and yawning. When they learned they had been summoned only by accident and that there was no danger of death, they became very indignant. "We have a good mind to fly away with this castle, brass towers and all!" they said, fuming.
Laurentia opened her eyes very wide. "Could you actually do that?" she asked.
"Why, of course!" they exclaimed, laughing mischievously. "We can do anything!"
"Fine. Then move me and this castle to a place far away," ordered the servant girl.
Now there was no real reason for the three little men to obey, since the possessor of the jewel box was not near death, but they were still annoyed with Beatrix. Laurentia had hardly finished speaking when the beautiful garden, the grand castle, and everything in it, including James, vanished without a trace.
When Beatrix returned from her errands in town, she was horrified. The castle, and, more importantly, James and the jewel box that could have helped her were all gone. Jonas, who had just come back from a ride himself, was furious. He ranted and raved and called her a sorceress and threatened to execute her once again.
"Give me three months to make everything right," Beatrix said boldly. "If I fail, I give you my solemn oath I will return and willingly forfeit my life." Beatrix was determined to find James, for she had realized in just these few short days that life without him was not worth living.
"Very well then," Jonas grudgingly agreed. "You have three months, but not a day longer or a minute past seven at night."
Having no time to lose, Beatrix mounted her horse and set out immediately. She traveled north and south, east and west, she looked right and left, up and down, but she never found even the slightest trace of either James or the castle.
Laurentia felt a sudden jolt as the castle landed neatly on top of a hill. Holding on to the jewel box, she quickly made her way to the front doors of the castle and stepped outside. A curious hare hopped out of a bush to see whom his new neighbors might be. He looked around, puzzled, but the garden was certainly intriguing, and he hopped in to explore it.
Pleased as punch, Laurentia noted that the only neighbors were the flora and fauna that regularly inhabited hilltops, and she couldn't see anything resembling a village in any direction.
James, shaken by the moving castle and the sudden jolt, had also run outside. Noticing the servant girl, he asked, quite naturally, "Have you any idea what has just happened?"
"It seems we've moved," Laurentia answered vaguely. Knowing James would be mad at her if the truth were revealed, she continued on with false tears in her eyes, "I don't know whatever we shall do. It seems we have no neighbors in any direction, unless you count that hare that just hopped into the garden."
James comforted her, or so he thought, saying, "Everything will be all right. Let's see what other servants are here, and what supplies we have in the kitchen. If need be, I can trap that hare and hunt for other food."
A quick inventory was taken, and those servants that were in the castle were rounded up. They had all naturally wandered into the great hall, anyway, having been equally startled by the sudden sensation of movement and the thud at landing. James was very disappointed after searching the castle; his lovely Beatrix was not there with them. If she had been there, he would have been just as happy as Laurentia to find himself moved far away from the cruel hands of Master Jonas.
Finding the pantry stocked well enough to feed them for at least a fortnight, the other servants also felt less panicky. As they had been magicked into being, they had no family left behind to miss them.
As the days went by, Laurentia made herself more and more the mistress of the castle. She had a presence about her that commanded the other servants into listening to her, and even James was charmed by her ability to handle the situation.
When the food in the kitchen ran out, she told the three sleepy men to make sure James was able to catch enough food, leading James to believe he was a master huntsman. The men grumbled and complained, yelling at her not to bother them until she was near death. When she pointed out that they would all starve if James caught nothing, they had to do her bidding. Little did Laurentia know that the wish was not really necessary, as James was already an excellent huntsman and would have easily caught the hares and foxes that fed them without any help.
When James was around, Laurentia acted as nice and sweet as possible, but with the other servants, she quickly earned a reputation as a shrew. They dared not complain to Master James, for they had seen that Laurentia possessed some magical box, and feared she would use it against them.
Even after many weeks, James did not give Laurentia the kind of attention she wanted. He was nice to her, he made sure she was comfortable, but he was nice to all the servants, and made sure they were all comfortable. In his heart, he still pined for the lovely Beatrix. If only she would have married me, thought James. If only she were here with me, far away from that villain, Jonas. I hope she is boding well. He made up his mind to leave and find Beatrix.
"Good morning, Laurentia," he said the next day at breakfast.
"Good morning, James," she replied. She had started out calling him "Master James", but James was not used to the title and insisted she drop it. "I've had the cook prepare your favorite breakfast this morning."
"Uh, thank you," James replied. Again? It won't be my favorite breakfast if I end up eating it every day! "Laurentia, I have decided that I must go search for Beatrix. She is my one and only true love; my heart yearns for her. I must find her before it is too late. I shall pack a saddlebag and leave right after breakfast."
Laurentia panicked. Everything had been going well, even if he was not yet falling at her feet. "But I shall be all alone. It will be much too frightening. You must stay."
"You would not be alone," James pointed out. "There are plenty of other servants here to keep you company. I am sure you will not perish."
Realizing that tactic would not work, Laurentia waited until James turned away from her, and quickly and firmly hit him in the head with an iron skillet. James slumped to the ground, and when he awoke, he found himself tied to his bed.
Eventually, after traveling many days, Beatrix happened upon a peculiar mouse. He was wearing a thimble on his head and holding a straight pin in the air. Being somewhat used to mystical creatures, she stooped down and talked to the mouse. "Pardon me," she asked the mouse politely, "but I have lost something and wonder if you might be able to help me find it?"
"Certainly," replied the kind mouse. "My eyes being closer to the ground, perhaps I shall see it better. What have you lost?"
"A castle and its gardens, and more importantly the young man inside it," Beatrix answered seriously.
"A castle?" squeaked the stunned mouse. "How do you misplace a castle? Or perhaps you mean you are lost and cannot find your way?"
"No, I am not lost. It is the castle that is lost. In the morning, it was there, and when I returned, it was gone. The owner is quite furious with me, as he has blamed me for its disappearance."
"Well, I cannot wander far from my post, but perhaps my king will help you. Please wait here." The mouse scurried into a hole, and after some minutes had passed, he returned with another mouse, this one wearing a small crown.
"My sentry mouse tells me you have lost a castle," the King of All Mice squeaked skeptically.
"Yes, your Majesty." Beatrix twirled one of her curls nervously. He may just be a mouse, but he was definitely a king, and she was not accustomed to royalty. "The castle has simply disappeared, along with the gardens, and with James. It is a rather large and gaudy castle, and it has seven brass towers."
"I have heard nothing whatsoever of this castle, but perchance one of my subjects has. Can you find shelter for the evening and return to me in two days' time? I will let you know what I have found out," the King said graciously.
Beatrix thanked him and found shelter for herself and her mare. Accordingly, the King of All Mice summoned every mouse, rat, and gerbil in his vast domain, but they, too, knew nothing. When Beatrix returned in two days, the king told her his sad news. "Maybe my friend, the King of All Frogs, will know something more."
As Beatrix left the palace gates, she thanked the sentry and gave him some cheese. The mouse was so touched by her kindness that he insisted on coming along. When Beatrix agreed, he scurried inside to get the king's permission and a replacement for his post. Then, he ran up the horse's tail and hid in her right pocket.
They traveled day and night, Beatrix following the mouse's directions. Finally, they happened on a frog wearing tin armor. The mouse scurried down from the horse and approached the frog, who did not move even a muscle. Beatrix dismounted as well and approached the frog. The mouse shouted, "We have been sent by my king, his Majesty, the King of All Mice, to seek audience with your king, his Majesty, the King of All Frogs."
The frog finally appeared to take notice of them, and, with a quick bob of his head, he hopped into the nearby pond. Moments later, he returned with another frog wearing a crown, presumably the King of All Frogs.
The frog king was very attentive and courteous, but he had heard nothing of the castle. He asked that Beatrix return in two days' time, while he summoned every frog, toad, salamander, and newt in his domain. Again, when Beatrix returned, there was not one subject of the King of All Frogs who knew anything more.
"You must go to my friend, the King of All Birds. Perhaps he will be of more help," croaked the king.
Beatrix thanked the king and set out again. Before parting, she gave the frog wearing tin armor one of her apples. The frog was so grateful that he begged to come along. When Beatrix agreed, he asked his king's permission, then returned and hopped to the horse's bridle, then to the reins, and, at last, leapt into her left pocket.
It was not long before they arrived at an extremely tall tree. In front of this tree, two chickadees marched back and forth. The frog and the mouse together called out, "We've been sent by our kings, his Majesty, the King of All Mice, and his Majesty, the King of All Frogs. We seek audience with his Majesty, the King of All Birds."
When they had first arrived, the chickadees ruffled their feathers and shook their beaks. But upon hearing the mouse and frog, they bowed and fluttered, and one flew up, beyond where Beatrix could see, to the top of the tree. A very fine old eagle flew down, and he welcomed Beatrix with much ceremony, but, like the others, he knew nothing about the missing castle. "I will summon every bird in my kingdom. Return in two days' time, and I will tell you if there has been any news."
Beatrix left, but she was frustrated. She wished she could stomp her feet or throw a temper tantrum like her young brother, but she did not want to alarm her new friends, the mouse and the frog. So, she bided her time, and, in two days, returned to the tree.
The eagle swooped down and told her sadly that none of his birds had seen a castle with seven brass towers. All at once, Beatrix burst into tears. She had not found her beloved James, her time was running out, and soon she would have to return as she had promised to forfeit her life. But then, a hawk flew into the clearing. He was out of breath from his long journey, and his handsome feathers were in disarray.
"I apologize for my tardiness, Your Highness," said the hawk, bowing to his king.
The eagle smiled kindly. "No matter now. Tell us, have you seen a castle with seven brass towers? This young lady seems to have misplaced it."
"Why, yes, indeed, Your Highness," the hawk answered excitedly. "I have just come from the top of a large hill, very far away. That is why it took me so long to answer your summons. But there was a castle with seven brass towers sitting on top of that hill, and I am quite sure it had not been there three months ago."
"You've seen it?" demanded Beatrix excitedly. "Where exactly is this hill? How do I get there?"
The hawk looked at her with some surprise. He had not noticed the human and her strange companions before. But the eagle nodded, indicating he should answer the girl, and so he did. "It is very far from here, high in the mountains." Glancing at his king, he added, "I will take you there if you wish, for it would take you very many days to reach it on foot."
The mouse, the frog, and Beatrix rejoiced at this news. Beatrix, in way of thanks, opened her pouch and gave the hawk some small biscuits her mother had called "fig newtons". She had never figured out why her mother gave them the strange name, but the little fig cakes were delicious. The hawk had never heard of "fig newtons", but he knew that the chickadees liked both figs and shortbread. The hawk carefully inspected the biscuit Beatrix held out to him. It looked like shortbread surrounded the sticky middle, and the sticky middle part did smell like figs. Perhaps these little biscuits would taste good, and her thoughtfulness is very much appreciated, though I think I would much rather eat that little mouse, he thought. He tried one of the treats Beatrix held out to him. Deciding they were good, he ate a few more. His strength was restored by the delicious fig treats, and his appetite for the mouse was temporarily abated.
Meanwhile, Beatrix asked the eagle if he could watch out for her mare, for she did not think the hawk could carry her horse as well. The King of All Birds agreed and sent some finches out to find a nearby stable. Once he was sure the little black mare had been taken care of, the hawk spread his wings to carry Beatrix, the mouse, and the frog to the castle.
They flew over land and sea until they came to the far-off spot where the castle stood. The sun shone on the beautiful brass turrets, making them glitter more brilliantly than Beatrix remembered. She and her new friends approached the castle carefully.
The castle looked to be closed up and uninhabited. The door was barred and all the curtains in the windows were drawn shut. Beatrix and her companions sat down to consider what to do next.
The little mouse spoke up first. "There has not been a castle built that a mouse cannot sneak into," he said proudly. "What shall I do once I am inside?"
"Look around and see if anyone else is there. If no one is in the castle, come back out, and we will simply break our way in," Beatrix suggested.
"And if there are people in the castle?" asked the mouse.
"Try to find a small jewel box, about yea big (she indicated with her hands). If you can find it and carry it, please bring it back to me."
The mouse agreed and headed toward the castle. After he scurried away, the hawk cleaned his feathers nervously, the frog hopped anxiously from one webbed foot to the other, and Beatrix hummed a song out of tune.
The mouse scampered around the castle walls, looking for a crack he would fit into. Soon he was working his way through the walls and came out into a grand ballroom. Some servants were dusting the rich wooden furniture, but the mouse noticed immediately that they seemed nervous and upset about something.
"It is that little box, I tell you," he overheard one servant say. "Whatever is in that little box is giving that wench her power."
"Perchance we could snitch it from her?" the other servant whispered.
"She always has it locked up in her room. There is no way we can find our way in. She is the only one with a key."
The mouse took this bit of information and figured the bedchambers were all upstairs. He darted to and fro and made his way to the hall, looking for doors that were locked. Only two of them were. He snuck his way through the walls into the first room and decided luck was definitely with him. There was a box about the same color, shape, and size as Mistress Beatrix had described, and it was just sitting there on the side table. He quickly scampered up the table legs and found, to his relief, that the box was not too heavy. He pushed it off the table and jumped down after it. The lid did not open this time. The mouse continued to push the small box in front of him; indeed it was a little bit smaller than he himself. He found a good-sized crack in the wall and made his way back to the garden outside.
Soon, the others saw him and saw that he was carrying something. Beatrix breathed a sigh of relief. She took the box from him, lifted up the mouse, and gave him a kiss on his fuzzy cheek. "Thank you!" she exclaimed. "Let us head back to Master Jonas now."
"But what of the castle?" croaked the frog.
"And what of your Prince?" squawked the hawk.
"I do not know how we could possibly carry the castle back to Master Jonas, and I would really like to get James back, though he is not a prince as far as I know, however, with this box, I will be able to do both. Just trust me on this. Hurry, please, as my time is almost up." Beatrix looked anxiously at the three animals. She did not want to take the time to explain all about the magic jewel box and the three little men. She knew she must wait to open the box at the point that she was truly in danger of death, or she might run the risk of having the three little men refuse her. So, putting it safely in her pocket, the small company started back to Jonas.
"I found the castle, I flew us there, and now I am flying us home!" The hawk looked over his wing at the mouse, thinking again it was a shame he couldn't eat him. "If it were not for me, Beatrix would never have been able to recover the box she so desperately needed."
"But who actually found the box?" the mouse peeped in protest. "I am the one who was able to get into the castle, find the box, and bring the box to Beatrix. I helped her the most!"
"Mouse! Hawk!" the frog croaked forcefully. "You were both a big help to Beatrix. Now stop that arguing and enjoy the view. Does not that big lake just below us look like a little pond from up here?"
Beatrix had been holding the jewel box, but when she looked down at the lake as the frog had suggested, she suddenly became dizzy. The jewel box slipped from her fingers and fell down, down, down, until it disappeared under the blue, blue water. They could not hear the splash or see the ripples as it fell.
Beatrix shrieked in despair, the mouse twittered nervously, and the hawk nearly spun in a circle, but the frog laughed and said, "I thought I should be needed sooner or later. Please descend, Sir Hawk, so I can jump in and retrieve the jewel box."
The hawk did as asked, and the frog jumped into the lake and disappeared. As the others waited desperately, minutes turned to hours.
At nightfall, the frog finally popped his head from the water.
"Do you have it?" they asked.
"No," he gasped. "I just came up for some air." Then, he sank back into the lake.
Still more time passed, and Beatrix actually managed to doze off. She had a dream of orchids from the beautiful garden by the castle, and James was on his knees, proposing to her again, this time in a much more romantic way. At dawn, the hawk gently nudged her wide awake. The frog had come back up, holding the jewel box in his mouth. Congratulating him happily, the four flew off together once again. Beatrix thanked them all and reminded them they each had an equal part in helping and begged them please not to bicker over it again. She tucked the jewel box safely into her pocket to avoid any more mishaps.
That evening, they arrived at the stables where Jonas's house had once stood. He was not in a welcoming mood. He saw that Beatrix had come with a mouse, a frog, and a hawk, but without his castle and garden. He hadn't even noticed that James was not with them. Checking the clock (which still stood as it had before, not having been part of the new castle and its gardens), he realized that exactly three months had passed. The hands of the clock indicated it was just minutes before seven in the evening. Jonas rubbed his hands gleefully. If he could not have his riches, at least he would have the pleasure of taking the life of this peasant witch.
But Beatrix lifted the lid of the jewel box and out tumbled the three little men. They had gotten over their anger at her and were quite overjoyed to be back with their true mistress, since Laurentia was forever opening the jewel box and disturbing their sleep when there was no danger of death.
Beatrix hoped their good humor would last, for her time was very nearly up. Quickly, she told them what was needed. This made the three little men angry all over again. Between yawns and shouts, threats and scolding, they complained. "A fellow shouldn't try to sleep at all! Since we've met you, we've never had a moment's peace!"
In the midst of their tirade, the clock in the tower began to strike.
"Gentlemen!" yelled Beatrix, becoming really frightened. "Do as I ask. And if you want to be assured of not being bothered ever again, then do away with that evil Jonas. He is the one who has demanded all this."
"Hmmm," the three men said collectively.
"If we make him disappear, you will never bother us again?" one of the little men asked.
"Never again," Beatrix promised.
This was just what the three little men wanted to hear. "NEVER AGAIN, HA!" they shouted, stamping their feet. "We will not stay with a mistress who is forever getting into near-death scrapes."
Then, remembering a promise they had made long ago, one of the little men added, "However, you may pass the jewel box on to your first newborn, perhaps he or she will be a less reckless master." With that, they set their nightcaps squarely on their heads and flew out the window.
Beatrix watched them until they were out of sight. She was sure she would not live to see James again, for certainly the men had deserted her. The clock finished striking for the seventh time, and Jonas stood gleefully next to her. "Your little men have left you, and now, you are mine."
The dusky sky was streaked with pink, orange, and crimson, when the echo of the last stroke of the clock gave way to the sound of music as birds filled the air. Jonas looked out through the stable doors and there stood the castle, gleaming towers and all! The three little men came back, quickly grabbed Jonas, and then disappeared right before Beatrix's eyes. No one noticed a cockroach quickly skittering across the floor to hide in the hay.
Turning to the castle again, she saw the doors open, and Laurentia staggered out. "NOOOOOoooo!" she exclaimed. She was in a very sour mood, as her return to her bedchambers earlier revealed that the jewel box was missing.
Beatrix quickly realized what must have happened. "You did it, did you not?" she asked the servant girl harshly. "You pilfered my jewel box and the castle and everything. How dare you?"
"I did," Laurentia gloated. "It was by accident that I discovered the jewel box. Once I realized what you had, I wanted it all."
The hawk suddenly flew over and landed on Laurentia's head. The frog hopped over to her right leg, and the mouse scampered to her left. They pecked at the fine clothes and jeweled necklaces and bracelets she had stolen, until she was left wearing only rags. The hawk managed to find a ring of keys in her pocket and gave them to Beatrix. Laurentia broke down in tears.
"Leave," Beatrix said coldly. "Leave, and never bother us or anyone else again."
The servant girl ran blindly into the woods. Meanwhile, Beatrix, the hawk, the frog, and the mouse entered the castle. The other servants were overjoyed to have Beatrix as their mistress, but they looked nervously around for Jonas. "Jonas is gone, too," Beatrix said calmly. "But where is James?"
One of the senior servants, Harrison, answered her. "Is it true? The evil Jonas is gone? And that witch, Laurentia, too?"
Beatrix nodded glumly. "But where is James?"
Harrison led her upstairs to a locked door. "In here, Mistress. I believe Laurentia has him locked in here."
Beatrix tried all the keys until she found the one that fit. Upon opening the door, she saw James tied to the bed, but looking rather comfortable. "Beatrix? My fair Beatrix? Is it really you?"
Beatrix smiled as she reached over and unlocked the chains that kept him close to the bed. "What did that wench do to you?"
"She was actually very nice," James replied. "She made sure I was comfortable and well fed. She just wanted me to love her. But I had already given my heart to you." And now that he was free of his binds, he held Beatrix tightly in his arms.
The next morning, James asked Beatrix to accompany him for a stroll in the splendid gardens. He plucked a perfect white orchid from one of the exotic plants. Then, he bowed down before Beatrix. "Beatrix, you have come into my life and stolen my heart. You have saved me from my evil guardian, Jonas. You saved me from that demented fool, Laurentia. Even without that, I have loved you and will always love you. Please say you will be my bride now."
Instead of answering, Beatrix leaned over and kissed him passionately.
The kiss finally ended. "I assume that means yes."
"Yes, oh yes!" Beatrix replied happily.
And they lived happily ever after -- well, happily until Beatrix's next adventure, which made James not quite so happy, but still happy enough -- in the beautiful castle with seven gleaming brass towers.
Feel free to copy these graphics -- copy being the key word. Do not link to them from this page. And if you do use them, I'd be curious to know, please.