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Picciola

PICCIOLA

Long, long ago a good man was thrown into prison by a great king. The
prison was dark and cold and still; for the gray stone walls and the
stone roof and floor shut out the sunlight and all the beautiful sights
and sounds of the world. There was no one for the man to talk to, and
there was no work for him to do. There was one little window to let in
the air, but it was so high up beyond his reach that he could not even
get a glimpse of the blue sky. Here he was kept for weeks and months
and years, and was not allowed to know anything about his family,
friends or home. At last a door was opened into another part of the
prison. The walls of this part were high and strong, and the floor was
paved with the same great, gray stones, but there was no roof overhead.
Here the wind could come in and the rain and the sunlight. He was
allowed to walk here just for one short hour each day, and then he had
to go back to his dark cell and the door was shut upon him.

Once while walking here the prisoner saw a little mound of earth rising
between two of the great stones of the floor. At first he thought that
some tiny worm or insect was trying to build a house for itself.
Looking closer he saw that it was only the home of a little plant. The
stray seed had been brought by the wind, and it was now sending its
roots down into the crevice between the stones. “Poor little plant!”
said the prisoner, “what a sad home you have found! Shall I not crush
you? No! Perhaps you have come to comfort me in this terrible place.”
Hurrying to his cell, he brought his cup of precious water. “Drink!
little one,” he cried, as he poured the water out around it. “Drink!
and lift up your head.”

The next day he watched it again and watered it, and the next day, and
the next. How bravely it seemed to struggle to push its head up and
its roots down, to open its leaves and to catch, the dull light. At
last the little plant became a dear friend and companion to the man.
He would bend over it the whole hour each day and talk softly to it.
He called it Picciola,–his Picciola,–his little one, and as the plant
grew and put on new beauty he forgot his wrongs and his heart was
filled with love and gentleness.

Once there was a storm, and great hailstones beat down upon Picciola.
“Ah, my poor little one will be killed!” cried the prisoner. And he
bent over her and sheltered her and the cruel hail fell upon his own
head until the storm was past. Fearing that other storms might come
when he was shut away from her, he built a little house around her with
the wood that was given him to keep him warm, and made a roof over her
with a mat which he wove from the straw of his own bed. This made him
happy; for, though he could be with his Picciola for but one short hour
each day, he felt that she was safe. So the little plant grew and
grew, and opened her flowers and sent out her perfume to make glad the
heart of her lonely friend.

But, alas! the day came when Picciola began to droop and wither. She
seemed about to die. The poor prisoner was frantic with grief and
cried, “Is my little one, my joy, my hope, the only thing for which I
live, to be taken from me?” Searching, he found that as Picciola had
grown taller her stem had had grown larger, and now there was not room
enough for it in the crevice between the stones. Her sap,–her life
blood,–was running away, as the rough edges of the stones cut into her
delicate stem. Nothing could save her but to lift those cruel stones.
The prisoner tore at them with his weak hands. Weeping, he begged the
jailer to raise them, but the jailer could do nothing. No one but the
king could cause them to be lifted. But how could the prisoner ask the
king? The king was far away. The prisoner must send a letter to him,
but he had no pen, ink or paper; so he wrote on his handkerchief with a
bit of charred wood and begged, not for his own life, but for the life
of Picciola,–that the king would cause the stones that were killing
her to be raised.

When the king read the prisoner’s letter he said, “No man who is really
wicked could care so much for a little, simple flower. I will not only
have the stones raised that are killing his Picciola, but I will pardon
him. He shall be free because of the love he bears his plant.”

So the prisoner left his lonely cell carrying with him his
Picciola,–his little one whom he had saved and who in turn had set him
free.