This story is about a young prince named Basil, who, though only twelve years of age, was very rich and lived in a palace with many servants. Because he had everything he wanted, he became selfish and spoilt, and terribly unhappy. Sometimes he would call for cream cakes, and would eat too many and be sick; then he would be angry with his cooks, and they would bow their heads and say: "We are sorry. The fault was ours."
In the mornings, he was supposed to have his lessons; but usually he ran away from the school-house into the garden, and sat about moodily under the trees. But one day there was a great storm, and he was frightened. He ran to his old nurse, and clung to her, and said: "Please look after me and don't let any harm come to me."
She was delighted, and took him on her knee and hugged him close. "Of course not, my pet. Look, the clouds are clearing, and there is a rainbow. See what a beautiful arch! And it ends in your peach-orchard, just this side of the wall. You can see the peach trees through it!"
Basil was breathless with interest. "Isn't there a pot of gold at the foot of a rainbow?" he asked. "Yes, my darling; sure there is."
Basil was cross again. "I've got plenty of pots of gold. They are no use. I want something different."
The old nurse looked mysterious. "The gold at the foot of a rainbow is different. It is hard to find; but if you do find it, they say it fills you with a happiness that nothing else can do. But there, there! It's no use talking about it to you, my chicken; you'll never find it."
Basil went scarlet with anger and hit out at her with his fists. "How dare you say that?" he screamed. "I will find it!"
He ran out into the damp, scented garden. The rainbow was still in the sky, sloping gracefully over the wall into the peach orchard. But, as he ran towards it, it melted away; and there it was across the next field, dipping down in front of the hedge. Basil climbed over the wall, and chased across the field. The rainbow melted through the hedge, and appeared ahead of him. By this time he was out of breath, and sat down on a tree-stump to rest. Soon an old man approached. Basil called out to him: "Old man, come over here! Don't you know who I am? Take off your cap when you are talking to me! Tell me how I can get hold of that rainbow."
The old man looked at him strangely. "You will have to learn manners first."
Basil gasped with astonishment and anger. Should he have him whipped for impertinence? Should he, or should he not? He looked into the old man's face, expecting to see fear, but instead there was nothing but wisdom and love. Perhaps the young boy should have been more respectful of age. "I'm sorry!" he said.
The old man sat down on the log by his side, and told him about Rainbow Land; and as Basil listened, his eyes filled with tears, and a great longing came over him to find that heavenly country, where the men are wise and the women are gracious, and no one thinks of himself but only of the good of others. "Their dresses are of many colors," said the stranger, "and over all there is a golden shower. Those on whom the gold-dust falls, become so happy that their hearts nearly burst with thankfulness to God and to their fellow men. They work as they have never worked before, and are glad."
Basil's own heart was beating quickly. "Tell me how to find Rainbow Land and I will go."
The old man shook his head sadly. "It is a long way, and difficult to find. You will soon tire and give up the search."
Yesterday the Prince would have been furious with anyone who addressed him like that, but somehow today he felt differently. "I'm sick to death of my palace and my servants and everything. I want to start again in a new way," he said. "How can I get to Rainbow Land?"
The stranger looked searchingly into his eyes, then nodded and smiled. "Yes, I think you will do it!" he said. "Just follow the rainbow. Keep it straight before your face. Turn neither to the right hand nor to the left. In the end you will find Rainbow Land right in front of you. May God bless you on your journey."
Basil thanked the old man (a thing he had never done before!) and set off cheerfully along the way. He even sang. The storm had cleared, and the rainbow stood in the sky like an arch of enamel, its foot dipping just ahead of him, leading him on across fields, through woods, over hills and down valleys. Always he kept it directly in front of him, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left. Sometimes he grew tired, and wished he had never set out on the quest. It did not seem so desirable, then, as when the old man had been speaking. But always he plunged on, feeling that it would be wrong to turn back.
One day he came upon a field full of people. It was a fair-ground, with swings and roundabouts and a scenic railway and much jolly music and laughter. What luck! He hadn't been on a roundabout for months! There was nothing he would like better. His journey could wait; he would spend a day here. But the moment he left the way, the rainbow vanished ! That frightened him. Perhaps it was foolish to lose sight of it, after it had led him so far. The words of the old man sounded in his ears. He would go on. And, with his first step in the right direction, the rainbow reappeared.
But he wasn't free yet. The fair seemed to close in upon him. Jolly-looking children danced around him; swing-boats sprang up on every side and water-chutes and carousels of exciting colors and designs. The music rose high; everyone was calling him. He covered his ears with his hands and strode firmly forward, until the noises faded into the distance and he was alone.
After that, he didn't feel so interested in fairs; and when he passed through the next one, he scarcely troubled to watch the fun. The third fair seemed to him to be merely a waste of time, and he hurried on, glad to be done with it. He saw no more fairs!
I cannot tell you all his adventures, but in one meadow a gang of rough boys walked by his side, shouting rude names at him, one of them even trying to trip him up. He had never received such treatment before, and he itched to chase the cowards and show them what was what; but he dared not to do so, for fear of losing the rainbow. After a while, these boys ceased to trouble him. Other meadows were full of butterflies and rabbits to be caught and killed; others full of cream cakes and bottles of fizzy drink; but never once did he turn aside. Finally he ceased to notice whether these things were there or not.
Evidently his old greed and selfishness and bad temper and love of pleasure were leaving him. In their place he was developing a stronger and stronger desire for Rainbow Land. No longer did he wish to turn to the right hand or to the left. No longer did he need to rest, let alone to turn back. As his eagerness increased, the rainbow itself grew brighter, until somehow he knew he was near to the end of the world.
There was a last big climb over a ridge of hills, from the top of which he could see below him what looked like a great pool of fire into which the rainbow plunged. Drops of pure color were dripping off it into the pool - red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.
Basil leapt forward, for he knew that this was the Pot of Gold. It was a big pot indeed, and it became bigger and bigger as he approached it, until the air seemed full of glistening golden vapor, so that his head began to swim, and he sat down on a rock to steady himself. When his mind cleared, he heard beautiful singing, and around him were bright little houses with their doors and windows wide open, people coming in and out in gaily colored clothes, talking and laughing happily together. Seeing Basil, they gathered around him and welcomed him earnestly to their Land.
One asked him what he would like to do, in order to occupy himself while he was there. He replied, "I want nothing better than to serve God and my fellow man."
"Good," they all cried joyously. "We will find you a house, and get you some useful employment. See, it's work-time now, and people are shutting their windows and doors. That is why they are so happy, because they know they are going to be useful to one another."
As Basil watched, the colors of the rainbow began to glow in the sky and in the trees and flower gardens. A golden shower fell softly over all. He found himself in a glistening robe of brilliant green, and knew that a rainbow was around his head.