But the bishop of the beetles, who had been sneaking a little extra nectar at the refreshment table, now came forward. "I haven't given our gift to the little princess yet," he said. "On behalf of the beetles, I declare that you shan't blow yourself up when you bite down on a stray explosive. You'll just begin to cry, because it will hurt. You will wail, you will moan, you will splash yourself with tears. We will all call you Weeping Beauty. It will be dreadfully sad, but at least you'll still be alive."
"Curses!" shrieked the hornet. "Well, crying all the time, that's pretty bad too. I liked the exploding frog idea better, but you can't win them all. Ta ta, everybody. And next time," she hissed, "invite me to the party."
Recovering from her fit of vapors, the queen joined the king in saying good-bye to the bumblebees and butterflies and beetles. Then hired bedbugs came in to turn down the sheets so the king and queen could go to sleep. Worried to distraction, though, the frog parents couldn't sleep.
"Our Beauty will have a voice," said the king, trying to be consoling. "She'll have grace in motion."
"She'll weepthat's her fate!" said the queen, who began to weep herself, in sympathy.
The queen and king did their best to protect little Beauty. They watched over her night and day. Beauty seemed such a pretty little thing, gifted at singing and dancing. She was always happy. Everyone around her was cheered up by the crooning of her second contralto voice, by her impromptu tap dancing and soft-shoe routines.
But though show business was gratifying, Beauty longed to be alone from time to time. She didn't want always to be the solo act in frog society. She wanted a break.
So one evening a week or two later, Beauty slipped away through the grass when no one was looking.
She had never paddled in the river by herself, and she enjoyed what she saw: the beetles in their holes, the bees in their trees, the butterflies fluttering by in the wind.
Then she saw a metal box drifting in the strong current in the middle of the river. It looked a little bit like an iron sandwich, with cables and cords trailing out of the middle like stringy bits of raw onion.
Beauty felt a powerful hunger. She swam over and took a huge bite.
Ow! It felt like a volcano in her mouth. It tasted like lava lasagna. It seared the roof of her tongue and made her teeth ache.
Naturally enough, Beauty began to cry. Huge tears formed in her eyes and rolled down her nose. She was only barely able to make it to the riverbank. She tried to call out for her mother and father, but all she could do was weeploudly. Since her voice was strong from all that singing, her parents heard the racket, and they came hopping as quickly as their old quaking legs could propel them.
Now, her parents weren't king and queen of the frogs for nothing. They were intelligent frogs. They picked up their ailing, flailing, wailing baby Beauty and brought her to the base of the oak tree where Old Dame Hornet had a little nest.
There, Beauty cried. Morning, noon, and night. Her parents took turns feeding her, but she cried even when she was being fed. She was noisy, and she got noisier with practice. She made a sound like a fire engine going past, going past, going past, but never going away.
Old Dame Hornet was furious. She flew out of her nest and came down to yell at the baby to shut up. "Can't you rock that little pollywog to sleep or something?" she said.
"I'm afraid not," said the king frog. "She's crying so hard she can't fall asleep."
Old Dame Hornet liked her little nest too much to move. She had fixed it up just right, with a picture of her first-grade teacher on the wall and a braided rug on the floor. So she flew off to see the bishop of the beetles. The bishop's secretary saw her into the bishop's study.
The foregoing is the complete short story titled Leaping Beauty from the book of the same name by Gregory Maguire. Text copyright © 2004 by Gregory Maguire. Illustrations copyright © 2004 by Chris Demarest. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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