Now you must know that in the land of Long Ago, when the earth was young, there were no mammas, no papas, no brothers. All the people on earth were little girls, and very sweet little girls they were, too.
They slept on soft couches made of twigs and branches. They ate nuts and fruits from the lower branches of the trees. The fruit of the upper branches was given to the birds, and the children never touched it, for fear of offending them. The children drank pure water from the forest streams, and wore wonderful garments that Mother Nature had made for them.
Every little girl had her clothes born with her, just as the birds and beasts have their clothes given to them now. These dresses were of marvelous beauty -- all the colors of the rainbow and several others besides, colors that haven't been seen in so long that people have forgotten them altogether.
The children played the most delightful games that were different from anything we have now. The one they liked best, I think, was a sort of mixture of blind man's bluff and hide-and-seek.
And so they lived very happily.
One day one of these little girls -- Elberta was her name -- wandered through the forest to a still, clear pool of water where she went very often. She would sit on the grass at the water's edge and talk and play for hours with the little girl in the pool. Of course, it was only a picture of herself, but she did not know that, and went on talking with her pretty companion, until a fluttering noise in a nearby tree caused her to look up.
She saw a strange little bird, with a short, round, body, a flaming red top knot, and feathers awry, as if the wind had been blowing very hard indeed and ruffled them. This remarkable creature seemed somewhat peevish and bedraggled, too, just as if the rain had given his feathers a wetting. Yet it had not rained, and the wind had not blown hard for days and days -- not since the last time the children had been very naughty. The twigs and leaves about the bird stirred restlessly, so that Elberta thought that the little bird must carry his own storm about with him.
But Elberta did not wish to be rude, and so to start a conversation, she said, "The little girl in the pool is beautiful isn't she? I wish I were like her."
The little bird looked first at Elberta and then at the little girl in the pool, and tossed his head as if to say that neither of them was very beautiful. Now this was a very bad little bird, indeed. He is called Little-Bird-That-Always-Tells. Some time you may be naughty, and think that nobody knows of it. But that little bird always sees, and flies straightway to tell someone. A very bad, tattle-tale bird he is.
"You can be very much more beautiful than that, if you wish," replied the little bird, with a sneer in his tone.
"How can I?" asked Elberta, wondering.
"Just kiss your elbow, and you'll be a boy. Being a boy is much nicer than being a girl."
"A boy? What is that? Are you a boy?" asked Alberta. For, you must remember, there were only little girls in the world up to this time, and so nobody knew what the word "boy" meant.
"No, I am not a boy. I am a bird," said the little creature as he puffed himself up with a rather superior air. "But if you really wish to know what a boy is, just kiss your elbow, and then you'll be one, and that ought to tell you better than I could."
And of course the thoughtless little girl did it. She kissed her elbow, and then, what a change! Her long curls shrunk up into short cropped hair, her face changed expression, and her very garment was altered. Her name, too, was changed, for now it was Albert.
"How do you like it?" asked the little bird, laughing.
"Bully," said the new boy.
"Do you want to change back?"
"What? Be a girl and a 'fraid cat? I should say not," replied little Albert, stoutly.
"Well, you couldn't change back anyhow, so there's no danger. If you kissed your elbow now, you would become a little Kim, and that is something much nicer and very different from being either a boy or a girl."
"Don't want to," said the boy.
And as all boys are too proud of being just boys to risk a change, no boy has ever become a Kim. And so I suppose that we shall never know what Kims are like, on that account. It seems a shame, when all the little girls are just eaten up with curiosity to know, now doesn't it?
The boy gave a whoop -- the first whoop in the world -- and such a whoop it was that the little bird was quite frightened and flew away. The boy, however, paid no attention to the bird, but raced off to the garden, where he climbed into the biggest fruit tree, frightening the birds away with his noise. He began to eat all the fruit on the tree, commencing at the top and working down. He had a prodigious appetite, that boy.
The birds he had frightened away returned after a time, bringing with them all the other birds of the forest, among them the little bird that we mentioned before.
"We have come to demand that you cease your depredations, and that you exercise your predatory proclivities in some manner which will be less culpable," said an old owl, his voice sounding big and solemn.
"Oh, fiddle-dee-dee!" said the boy. "Why don't you talk so I can understand you?"
"He means," said a sparrow, "why don't you let our fruit, that is in the top of the tree, alone? Can't you be satisfied with what grows on the lower branches?"
Meanwhile all the little girls had come to see what the trouble was and they made a very sad company. The birds were angry, and the girls ashamed that one of their number should be so naughty.
"See what you have done!" screamed an old parrot at the children.
"Somebody please go and ask her to come down," begged one of the little girls. "She'll do it, I'm sure."
"But I'm not so sure," retorted the boy. "I'll not come down until I get ready, and I'm not she any more, I'm he. So there!"
At this all the birds flew at him at once, and beat him with their wings, and scratched him with their claws, and pecked him with their beaks, so that the poor boy was glad to scramble down as best he could, and ran off crying.
And that is why birds are sometimes suspicious of boys, even now.
Well, the other little girls soon learned the secret of turning into boys, and so many of them began doing it that the Good Spirit had to put all little girls under a special enchantment to keep them from kissing their elbows. And so when a little girl reads a story of an enchanted princess, she ought to know how to sympathize with the poor thing, being an enchanted child herself. If any little girl does not believe that she is enchanted, let her try to kiss her elbow and see.
Back from whence ye came