The Runaway Shadows

or

A Trick of Jack Frost

by L. Frank Baum

 

I.

    The Frost King came down to breakfast one morning in a merry mood.

    "Do you know what day it is?" said he to his son Jack.

    "No, your Majesty," answered Jack, who was busily eating fried icicles.

    The Frost King rubbed his hands briskly together and smiled.

    "It is my birthday," he said.

    "Ah!" cried Jack, springing to his feet.  "Then it is the Coldest Day of the Year."

    "Exactly!" replied his father.  "So to-day, my dear boy, you may mix with the Earth People and play your pranks upon them to your heart's content.  Many exposed noses and ears will be ready for you to nip, and many toes and fingers to pinch; so you will easily manage to keep busy."

    "I'll start at once exclaimed Jack; "for I do not wish to miss an hour of this merry day."  

II.

    Said the little prince of Thumbumbia:  "I want to go out any play."

    "It is extremely cold, your Highness, remonstrated the chief nurse, uneasily."

    "That does not matter," answered the Prince.  "I have furs.  So I will go out of doors to play; and my cousin, the Lady Lindeva, will go with me."

    "Our men-at-arms declare it is the Coldest Day of the Year," remarked the chief nurse; "and naughty Jack Frost will be abroad."

    The Prince of Thumbumbia stamped his small foot.

    "The furs!" he cried, imperiously.

    So the chief nurse sighed and summoned her maids, to whom she gave orders to fetch the furs.  The Prince and his dainty cousin, little Lady Lindeva were wrapped from head to foot in soft, rich furs, so when the maids were through with them, only their wyes and the tips of their noses were exposed.  Then a shivering guardsman opened the front door of the castle just wide enough for them  to get through, and they joined their mittened hands and walked out into the big courtyard.

    The sun shone brilliantly, but so intense was the cold that even the soldiers who guarded the walls had gone within their little turreted houses and none had dared brave the weather save the two self-willed children.

    As they toddled across the stone pavement the sun cast dark shadows behind them, which clung close to the children's heels whether they went fast or slow.

    The furs succeeded in keeping out the cold, but the Prince and Lady Lindeva found little to interest them in the courtyard, and began to realize the folly of venturing out.

    Then merry Jack Frost came that way, and upon seeing the youngsters decided to pinch their ears.  But these he found covered up.  Next he thought he would nip their noses; but at the first attempt the little ones withdrew them into their furs.  Jack Frost was really puzzled.  He couldn't get at them anywhere.

    Just at this time the prince and his cousin saw a snow-bird sitting upon the battlements and ran across the court to catch it.  When they moved, Jack Frost noticed the shadows following them, and a clever idea came into his head.

    "I'll freeze the shadows!" he said to himself, with a laugh.

    So, while the little ones stood still to watch the snow-bird, naughty Jack breathed softly upon the two shadows, whcih were holding hands exactly as the children did.  Soon they became solid and rounded out into form. for the only reason shadows are so flat and helpless is because they are not solid.  Being now frozen into shape they became greatly interested in themselves, and Jack Frost stopped long enough to put a mischievous notion into their heads.

    "Let's run away," whispered the prince's shadow to that of the Lady Lindeva.

    "All right; let's!" was the soft answer.

    They glanced over their shoulders and then gave a look at the prince and his cousin, to whom they knew very well they belonged.  But the children were intently watching the bird and had no thought for such trifling things as shadows.

    Noting this, the two shadows slowly glided away, leaped the great wall with ease and ran in the direction of the Forest of Burzee.  Jack Frost stood watching them as they moved swiftly over the snow, and he laughed joyously at the success of his stratagem.

    The runaway shadows never stopped till they had reached the forest and gone some distance among the trees.  Then, indeed, they paused to rest and recover their breaths; but each still held the other's hand and they kept close together.

    Kahtah, the great tiger of Burzee, lay upon the limb of a tree and sleepily opened his eyes from time to time to look about him.  Suddenly he pricked up his ears and began moving his long tail from side to side.

    "The Prince of Thumbumbia and the Lady Lindeva have come to the forest!" he growled, softly.  "I can see their shadows, so the children must be just behind that clump of bushes. Surely it was my good luck that brought them here, for I am hungry today, and they will do excellently for dinner."

    Thus he thrust his sharp claws from their sheaths, bared his big yellow teeth and gave a mighty. spring that landed him exactly behind the clump of bushes where the children, according to their shadows, ought to have been.

    But he struck the frozen ground and found no one there.  And the shadows laughed at him.

    "You were fooled that time, Kahtah!" they cried; and when the tiger turned upon them fiercely, they ran away through the trees and left him.

    Soon after they met with a ryl, which asked:

    "Why have you run away from your owners?"

    "For sport," replied the prince's shadow.

    "And because we are tired of tagging after someone else," added the Lady Lindeva's shadow.

    "Ah, I see," remarked the ryl, looking at them with a wise expression; "you are forzen solid now, and think you amount to something.  But you don't.  When the weather changes and you thaw out you will fade into the air and become lost forever.  That will be bad.  And the children will have no shadows ever after.  That will be bad, too.  Can't you see you are acting foolishly?"

    The shadows hung their heads and looked ashamed.

    "My advice to you," continued the ryl, "is to return to the castle as quickly as possible and join yourselves to the prince and the little girl as you were before  It is far better to tag after those high-born children than to become nothing at all.  And in truth you are only shadows, who can not expect to become anything better, although you will grow big as your masters grow."

    For a moment there was silence; then the Lady. Lindeva's shadow whispered to her companion:

    "The ryl is right.  Let us return at once!"

    "Very well," replied the prince's shadow. "We have had a good run and been independent for once in our lives.  But do not care to fade into the air and become nothing at all!"

    So they turned around and went back to the castle.

III.

    After the shadows had left them the little prince and his cousin decided it was too cold to remain outdoors, and the snow-bird had flown away; so they returned to the big entrance of the castle and the guard let them in.  But scarcely had they reached the hall and allowed the maid to remove their furs, when a loud shout was heard and a cavalcade of horsemen rode up to the castle and dismounted in the courtyard.  With them was a splendid carriage, drawn by four milk-white steeds.

    The leader of these men, who were all noblemen and courtiers, entered the hall of the castle, and having bowed low before the prince, he said: 

    "I am grieved to announce that his majesty, the king, has just died.  His nearest of kin are yourself, prince, and your cousin, the Lady Lindeva.  But since you are a boy, and she is a girl, we have decided to offer to you the rule of this mighty kingdom.  If you will graciously ride with us to the city you shall be crowned before sunset." Then he kneeled before the prince and awaited his answer.

    "I am sorry the king, my good uncle, is dead," said the boy. "But often I have thought I should like to be a king myself.  So I thank you all and shall return with you to the city."

    The chief nurse then replaced his soft furs and he walked out to enter the carriage which stood in waiting.

    But when he stood in the bright sunshine one of the courtiers exclaimed:

    "Why, the prince has no shadow!"

    At this all eyes were turned upon the boy, and they saw that he alone of them all cast no shadow upon the pavement.

    Silence then fell upon them, till one, more bold than the rest, said:

    "It will never do to make him king; for when it is known he has no shadow the people will lose all respect for him and consider him less than human."

    "That is true," said another. "No one would obey a king so poor that he has no shadow."

    "For this reason," declared the leader of the party, "we must make Lady Lindeva queen, and set her to reign over the kingdom in place of the unfortunate prince."

    To this all were agreed, though many expressed regret.  So the prince, who had been fully as much astonished at the loss of his shadow as any of the others, was led back into the castle and the Lady Lindeva brought forth in his stead.

    But when the girl came into the sunshine the courtiers were shocked to discover that she had no more shadow than the prince.  Whereupon they were puzzled how to act, and finally decided to return to the city and report the matter to Earl Highlough, who was chief man in all the kingdom.

    When this great and wise statesman heard that neither the prince nor his cousin cast a shadow in the sunlight he refused to believe the report, and announced that he would himself go to the Castle of Thumbumbia and investigate the matter.

    And while he was upon the way the runaway shadows stole hack to the castle and sought out the boy and girl, resolving never to leave them again.  The warmth of the room soon drew the frost from the shadows, and rendered them so limp and flat that they were really glad to stick close to the heels of their owners.

    The Earl of Highlough presently arrived with a great train of courtiers and attendants, and at once requested the Prince of Thumbumbia to step out into the sunshine of the courtyard. This the prince did, feeling sadly the humiliation of having no shadow.

    But, behold! no sooner came he into the sun than he cast a long, black shadow behind him:  and the courtiers applauded his triumph, and with loud shouts hailed him as their king.  

IV.

    The records state that for many years the new king walked daily within the gardens of his palace in order to make sure be had not again lost his shadow.  Even after he grew to manhood, and by wise rule gained the love and respect of his subjects, whenever he happened to walk out with the Lady Lindeva--now his queen--they were both accustomed to glance over their shoulders with anxious looks.

    But the shadows, having learned wisdom from the ryl, never deserted them again, and Jack Frost, having new tricks to play, forgot all about the annoyance he had once caused His Royal Highness the King.


Text transcribed and edited by Scott Andrew Hutchins
Based on the text in The Best of the Baum Bugle 1961-1962.
Afterword Forthcoming.