Adela Cathcart, Vol. 1
George MacDonald

Part 2 out of 4

"He has a depressing effect on her already. She is sure not to like
him. She was crying when I came into the room after dinner."

"Tears are not grief," I answered; "nor only the signs of grief, when
they do indicate its presence. They are a relief to it as well. But I
cannot help thinking there was some pleasure mingled with those tears,
for he had been playing very delightfully. He must be a very gifted

"I don't know anything about that. You know I have no ear for
music.--That won't cure my child anyhow."

"I don't know," I answered. "It may help."

"Do you mean to say he thinks to cure her by playing the piano to her?
If he thinks to come here and do that, he is mistaken."

"You forget, Cathcart, that I have had no more conversation with him
than yourself. But surely you have seen no reason to quarrel with him

"No, no, my dear fellow. I do believe I am getting a crusty old
curmudgeon. I can't bear to see Adela like this."

"Well, I confess, I have hopes from the new doctor; but we will see
what he says on Sunday."

"Why should we not have called to-morrow?"

"I can't answer that. I presume he wants time to think about the

"And meantime he may break his neck over some gate that he can't or
won't open."

"Well, I should be sorry."

"But what's to become of us then?"

"Ah! you allow that? Then you do expect something of him?"

"To be sure I do, only I am afraid of making a fool of myself, and
that sets me grumbling at him, I suppose."

Next day was Saturday; and Mrs. Cathcart, Percy's mother, was expected
in the evening. I had a long walk in the morning, and after that
remained in my own room till dinner time. I confess I was prejudiced
against her; and just because I was prejudiced, I resolved to do all I
could to like her, especially as it was Christmas-tide. Not that one
time is not as good as another for loving your neighbour, but if ever
one is reminded of the duty, it is then. I schooled myself all I
could, and went into the drawing-room like a boy trying to be good; as
a means to which end, I put on as pleasant a face as would come. But
my good resolutions were sorely tried.

* * * * *

These asterisks indicate the obliteration of the personal description
which I had given of her. Though true, it was ill-natured. And
besides, so indefinite is all description of this kind, that it is
quite possible it might be exactly like some woman to whom I am
utterly unworthy to hold a candle. So I won't tell what her features
were like. I will only say, that I am certain her late husband must
have considered her a very fine woman; and that I had an indescribable
sensation in the calves of my legs when I came near her. But then,
although I believe I am considered a good-natured man, I confess to
prejudices (which I commonly refuse to act upon), and to profound
dislikes, especially to certain sorts of women, which I can no more
help feeling, than I can help feeling the misery that permeates the
joints of my jaws when I chance to bite into a sour apple. So my
opinions about such women go for little or nothing.

When I entered the drawing-room, I saw at once that she had
established herself as protectress of Adela, and possibly as mistress
of the house. She leaned back in her chair at a considerable angle,
but without bending her spine, and her hands lay folded in her
lap. She made me a bow with her neck, without in the least altering
the angle of her position, while I made her one of my most profound
obeisances. A few common-places passed between us, and then her
brother-in-law leading her down to dinner, the evening passed by with
politeness on both sides. Adela did not appear to heed her presence
one way or the other. But then of late she had been very inexpressive.

Percy seemed to keep out of his mother's way as much as possible. How
he amused himself, I cannot imagine.

Next morning we went to call on the doctor, on our way to church.

"Well, Mr. Armstrong, what do you think of my daughter?" asked the

"I do not think she is in a very bad way. Has she had any
disappointment that you know of?"

"None whatever."

"Ah--I have seen such a case before. There are a good many of them
amongst girls at her age. It is as if, without any disease, life were
gradually withdrawn itself--ebbing back as it were to its source.
Whether this has a physical or a psychological cause, it is impossible
to tell. In her case, I think the later, if indeed it have not a
deeper cause; that is, if I'm right in my hypothesis. A few days will
show me this; and if I am wrong, I will then make a closer examination
of her case. At present it is desirable that I should not annoy her in
any such way. Now for the practical: my conviction is that the best
thing that can be done for her is, to interest her in something, if
possible--no matter what it is. Does she take pleasure in anything?"

"She used to be very fond of music. But of late I have not heard her
touch the piano."

"May I be allowed to speak?" I asked.

"Most certainly," said both at once.

"I have had a little talk with Miss Cathcart, and I am entirely of
Mr. Armstrong's opinion," I said. "And with his permission--I am
pretty sure of my old friend's concurrence--I will tell you a plan I
have been thinking of. You remember, colonel, how she was more
interested in the anecdotes our friend the Bloomfields told the other
evening, than she has been in anything else, since I came. It seems to
me that the interest she cannot find for herself, we might be able to
provide for her, by telling her stories; the course of which everyone
should be at liberty to interrupt, for the introduction of any remark
whatever. If we once got her interested in anything, it seems to me,
as Mr. Armstrong has already hinted, that the tide of life would begin
to flow again. She would eat better, and sleep better, and speculate
less, and think less about herself--not _of_ herself--I don't mean
that, colonel; for no one could well think less of herself than she
does. And if we could amuse her in that way for a week or two, I think
it would give a fair chance to any physical remedies Mr. Armstrong
might think proper to try, for they act most rapidly on a system in
movement. It would be beginning from the inside, would it not?"

"A capital plan," said the doctor, who had been listening with marked
approbation; "and I know one who I am sure would help. For my part, I
never told a story in my life, but I am willing to try--after awhile,
that is. My brother, however, would, I know, be delighted to lend his
aid to such a scheme, if colonel Cathcart would be so good as to
include him in the conspiracy. It is his duty as well as mine; for she
is one of his flock. And he can tell a tale, real or fictitious,
better than any one I know."

"There can be no harm in trying it, gentlemen--with kindest thanks to
you for your interest in my poor child," said the colonel. "I confess
I have not much hope from such a plan, but--"

"You must not let her know that the thing is got up for her,"
interrupted the doctor.

"Certainly not. You must all come and dine with us, any day you
like. I will call on your brother to-morrow."

"This Christmas-tide gives good opportunity for such a scheme," I
said. "It will fall in well with all the festivities; and I am quite
willing to open the entertainment with a funny kind of fairy-tale,
which has been growing in my brain for some time."

"Capital!" said Mr. Armstrong. "We must have all sorts."

"Then shall it be Monday at six--that is, to-morrow?" asked the
colonel. "Your brother won't mind a short invitation?"

"Certainly not. Ask him to-day. But I would suggest five, if I might,
to give us more time afterwards."

"Very well. Let it be five. And now we will go to church."

The ends of the old oak pews next the chancel were curiously
carved. One had a ladder and a hammer and nails on it. Another a
number of round flat things, and when you counted them you found that
there were thirty. Another had a curious thing--I could not tell what,
till one day I met an old woman carrying just such a bag. On another
was a sponge on the point of a spear. There were more of such
carvings; but these I could see from where I sat. And all the sermon
was a persuading of the people that God really loved them, without any
_if_ or _but_.

Adela was very attentive to the clergy man; but I could see her glance
wander now and then from his face to that of his brother, who was in
the same place he had occupied on Christmas-day. The expression of her
aunt's face was judicial.

When we came out of church, the doctor shook hands with me and said:

"Can I have a word with you, Mr. Smith?"

"Most gladly," I answered. "Your time is precious: I will walk your

"Thank you.--I like your plan heartily. But to tell the truth, I fancy
it is more a case for my brother than for me. But that may come about
all in good time, especially as she will now have an opportunity of
knowing him. He is the best fellow in the world. And his wife is as
good as he is. But--I feel I may say to you what I could not well say
to the colonel--I suspect the cause of her illness is rather a
spiritual one. She has evidently a strong mental constitution; and
this strong frame, so to speak, has been fed upon slops; and an
atrophy is the consequence. My hope in your plan is, partly, that it
may furnish a better mental table for her, for the time, and set her
foraging in new direction for the future."

"But how could you tell that from the very little conversation you had
with her?"

"It was not the conversation only--I watched everything about her; and
interpreted it by what I know about women. I believe that many of them
go into a consumption just from discontent--the righteous discontent
of a soul which is meant to sit at the Father's table, and so cannot
content itself with the husks which the swine eat. The theological
nourishment which is offered them is generally no better than husks.
They cannot live upon it, and so die and go home to their Father. And
without good spiritual food to keep the spiritual senses healthy and
true, they cannot see the thing's about them as they really are. They
cannot find interest in them, because they cannot find their _own_
place amoungst them. There was one thing though that confirmed me in
this idea about Miss Cathcart. I looked over her music on purpose, and
I did not find one song that rose above the level of the drawing-room,
or one piece of music that had any deep feeling or any thought in
it. Of course I judged by the composers."

"You astonish me by the truth and rapidity of your judgements. But how
did you, who like myself are a bachelor, come to know so much about
the minds of women?"

"I believe in part by reading Milton, and learning from him a certain
high notion about myself and my own duty. None but a pure man can
understand women--I mean the true womanhood that is in them. But more
than to Milton am I indebted to that brother of mine you heard preach
to-day. If ever God made a good man, he is one. He will tell you
himself that he knows what evil is. He drank of the cup, found it full
of thirst and bitterness; cast it from him, and turning to the
fountain of life, kneeled and drank, and rose up a gracious giant. I
say the last--not he. But this brother kept me out of the mire in
which he soiled his own garments, though, thank God! they are clean
enough now. Forgive my enthusiasm, Mr. Smith, about my brother. He is
worthy of it."

I felt the wind cold to my weak eyes, and did not answer for some
time, lest he should draw unfair conclusions.

"You should get him to tell you his story. It is well worth hearing;
and as I see we shall be friends all, I would rather you heard it from
his own mouth."

"I sincerely hope I may call that man my friend, some day."

"You may do so already. He was greatly taken with you on the journey

"A mutual attraction then, I am happy to think. Good-bye, I am glad
you like my plan."

"I think it excellent. Anything hearty will do her good. Isn't there
any young man to fall in love with her?"

"I don't know of any at present."

"Only the _best_ thing will make her well; but all true things tend to

"But how is it that you have such notions--so different from those of
the mass of your professional brethren?"

"Oh!" said he, laughing, "if you really want an answer, be it known to
all men that I am a student of Van Helmont."

He turned away, laughing; and I, knowing nothing of Van Helmont, could
not tell whether he was in jest or in earnest.

At dinner some remark was made about the sermon, I think by our host.

"You don't call that the gospel!" said Mrs. Cathcart, with a smile.

"Why, what do you call it, Jane?"

"I don't know that I am bound to put a name upon it. I should,
however, call it pantheism."

"Might I ask you, madam, what you understand by _pantheism_?"

"Oh! neology, and all that sort of thing."

"And neology is--?"

"Really, Mr. Smith, a dinner-table is not the most suitable place in
the world for theological discussion."

"I quite agree with you, madam," I responded, astonished at my own
boldness.--I was not quite so much afraid of her after this, although
I had an instinctive sense that she did not at all like me. But Percy
was delighted to see his mother discomfited, and laughed into his
plate. She regarded him with lurid eyes for a moment, and then took
refuge in her plate in turn. The colonel was too polite to make any
remark at the time, but when he and I were alone, he said:

"Smith, I didn't expect it of you. Bravo, my boy!"

And I, John Smith, felt myself a hero.

Chapter V.

The light princess.

Five o'clock, anxiously expected by me, came, and with it the
announcement of dinner. I think those of us who were in the secret
would have hurried over it, but with Beeves hanging upon our wheels,
we could not. However, at length we were all in the drawing-room, the
ladies of the house evidently surprised that we had come up stairs so
soon. Besides the curate, with his wife and brother, our party
comprised our old friends, Mr. and Mrs. Bloomfield, whose previous
engagement had been advanced by a few days.

When we were all seated, I began, as if it were quite a private
suggestion of my own:

"Adela, if you and our friends have no objection, I will read you a
story I have just scribbled off."

"I shall be delighted, uncle."

This was a stronger expression of content than I had yet heard her
use, and I felt flattered accordingly.

"This is Christmas-time, you know, and that is just the time for
story-telling," I added.

"I trust it is a story suitable to the season," said Mrs. Cathcart,

"Yes, very," I said; "for it is a child's story--a fairy tale, namely;
though I confess I think it fitter for grown than for young children.
I hope it is funny, though. I think it is."

"So you approve of fairy-tales for children, Mr. Smith?"

"Not for children alone, madam; for everybody that can relish them."

"But not at a sacred time like this?"

And again she smiled an insinuating smile.

"If I thought God did not approve of fairy-tales, I would never read,
not to say write one, Sunday or Saturday. Would you, madam?"

"I never do."

"I feared not. But I must begin, notwithstanding."

The story, as I now give it, is not exactly as I read it then,
because, of course, I was more anxious that it should be correct when
I prepared it for the press, than when I merely read it before a few

"Once upon a time," I began; but I was unexpectedly interrupted by the
clergyman, who said, addressing our host:

"Will you allow me, Colonel Cathcart, to be Master of the Ceremonies
for the evening?"

"Certainly, Mr. Armstrong."

"Then I will alter the arrangement of the party. Here, Henry--don't
get up, Miss Cathcart--we'll just lift Miss Cathcart's couch to this
corner by the fire.--Lie still, please. Now, Mr. Smith, you sit here
in the middle. Now, Mrs. Cathcart, here is an easy chair for you. With
my commanding officer I will not interfere. But having such a jolly
fire it was a pity not to get the good of it. Mr. Bloomfield, here is
room for you and Mrs. Bloomfield."

"Excellently arranged," said our host. "I will sit by you, Mr.
Armstrong. Percy, won't you come and join the circle?"

"No, thank you, uncle," answered Percy from a couch, "I am more
comfortable here."

"Now, Lizzie," said the curate to his wife, "you sit on this stool by
me.--Too near the fire? No?--Very well.--Harry, put the bottle of
water near Mr. Smith. A fellow-feeling for another fellow--you see,
Mr. Smith. Now we're all right, I think; that is, if Mrs. Cathcart is

"Thanks. Quite."

"Then we may begin. Now, Mr. Smith.--One word more: anybody may speak
that likes. Now, then."

So I did begin--



"Author: JOHN SMITH, Gentleman.

"Motto:--'_Your Servant, Goody Gravity_.'


"I must be very stupid, I fear, Mr. Smith; but to tell the truth, _I_
can't make head or tail of it," said Mrs. Cathcart.

"Give me leave, madam," said I; "that is my office. Allow me, and I
hope to make both head and tail of it for you. But let me give you
first a mere general, and indeed a more applicable motto for my
story. It is this--from no worse authority than John Milton:

'Great bards beside
In sage and solemn times have sung
Of turneys and of trophies hung;
Of forests and enchantments drear,
Where more is meant than meets the ear.'

"Milton here refers to Spencer in particular, most likely. But what
distinguishes the true bard in such work is, that _more is meant than
meets the ear_; and although I am no bard, I should scorn to write
anything that only spoke to the _ear_, which signifies the surface

General silence followed, and I went on.



"Once upon a time, so long ago, that I have quite forgotten the date,
there lived a king and queen who had no children.

"And the king said to himself: 'All the queens of my acquaintance have
children, some three, some seven, an some as many as twelve; and my
queen has not one. I feel ill-used.' So he made up his mind to be
cross with his wife about it. But she bore it all like a good patient
queen as she was. Then the king grew very cross indeed. But the queen
pretended to take it all as a joke, and a very good one, too.

"'Why don't you have any daughters, at least?' said he, 'I don't say
sons; that might be too much to expect.'

"'I am sure, dear king, I am very sorry,' said the queen.

"'So you ought to be,' retorted the king; 'you are not going to make a
virtue of _that_, surely.'

"But he was not an ill-tempered king; and, in any matter of less
moment, he would have let the queen have her own way, with all his
heart. This, however, was an affair of state.

"The queen smiled.

"'You must have patience with a lady, you know, dear king,' said she.

"She was, indeed, a very nice queen, and heartily sorry that she could
not oblige the king immediately.

"The king tried to have patience, but he succeeded very badly. It was
more than he deserved, therefore, when, at last, the queen gave him a
daughter--as lovely a little princess as ever cried.

* * * * *


"The day drew near when the infant must be christened. The king wrote
all the invitations with his own hand. Of course somebody was

"Now, it does not generally matter if somebody is forgotten, but you
must mind who. Unfortunately, the king forgot without intending it;
and the chance fell upon the Princess Makemnoit, which was awkward.
For the Princess was the king's own sister; and he ought not to have
forgotten her. But she had made herself so disagreeable to the old
king, their father, that he had forgot her in making his will; and so
it was no wonder that her brother forgot her in writing his
invitations. But poor relations don't do anything to keep you in mind
of them. Why don't they? The king could not see into the garret she
lived in, could he? She was a sour, spiteful creature. The wrinkles of
contempt crossed the wrinkles of peevishness, and made her face as
full of wrinkles as a pat of butter. If ever a king could be justified
in forgetting anybody, this king was justified in forgetting his
sister, even at a christening. And then she was so disgracefully poor!
She looked very odd, too. Her forehead was as large as all the rest of
her face, and projected over it like a precipice. When she was angry,
her little eyes flashed blue. When she hated anybody, they shone
yellow and green. What they looked like when she loved anybody, I do
not know; for I never heard of her loving anybody but herself, and I
do not think she could have managed that, if she had not somehow got
used to herself. But what made it highly imprudent in the king to
forget her, was--that she was awfully clever. In fact, she was a
witch; and when she bewitched anybody, he very soon had enough of it;
for she beat all the wicked fairies in wickedness, and all the clever
ones in cleverness. She despised all the modes we read of in history,
in which offended fairies and witches have taken their revenges; and
therefore, after waiting and waiting in vain for an invitation, she
made up her mind at last to go without one, and make the whole family
miserable, like a princess and a philosopher.

"She put on her best gown, went to the palace, was kindly received by
the happy monarch, who forgot that he had forgotten her, and took her
place in the procession to the royal chapel. When they were all
gathered about the font, she contrived to get next to it, and throw
something into the water. She maintained then a very respectful
demeanour till the water was applied to the child's face. But at that
moment she turned round in her place three times, and muttered the
following words, loud enough for those beside her to hear:

'Light of spirit, by my charms,
Light of body, every part,
Never weary human arms--
Only crush thy parents' heart!'

"They all thought she had lost her wits, and was repeating some
foolish nursery rhyme; but a shudder went through the whole of them.
The baby, on the contrary, began to laugh and crow; while the nurse
gave a start and a smothered cry, for she thought she was struck with
paralysis: she could not feel the baby in her arms. But she clasped it
tight, and said nothing.

"The mischief was done."

Here I came to a pause, for I found the reading somewhat nervous work,
and had to make application to the water-bottle.

"Bravo! Mr. Smith," cried the clergyman. "A good beginning, I am sure;
for I cannot see what you are driving at."

"I think I do," said Henry. "Don't you, Lizzie?"

"No, I don't," answered Mrs. Armstrong.

"One thing," said Mrs. Cathcart with a smile, not a very sweet one,
but still a smile, "one thing, I must object to. That is, introducing
church ceremonies into a fairy-tale."

"Why, Mrs. Cathcart," answered the clergyman, taking up the cudgels
for me, "do you suppose the church to be such a cross-grained old
lady, that she will not allow her children to take a few gentle
liberties with their mother? She's able to stand that surely. They
won't love her the less for that."

"Besides," I ventured to say, "if both church and fairy-tale belong to
humanity, they may occasionally cross circles, without injury to
either. They must have something in common. There is the _Fairy
Queen_, and the _Pilgrim's Progress_, you know, Mrs. Cathcart. I can
fancy the pope even telling his nephews a fairy-tale."

"Ah, the pope! I daresay."

"And not the archbishop?"

"I don't think your reasoning quite correct, Mr. Smith," said the
clergyman; "and I think moreover there is a real objection to that
scene. It is, that no such charm could have had any effect where holy
water was employed as the medium. In fact I doubt if the wickedness
could have been wrought in a chapel at all."

"I submit," I said. "You are right. I hold up the four paws of my
mind, and crave indulgence."

"In the name of the church, having vindicated her power over evil
incantations, I permit you to proceed," said Mr. Armstrong, his black
eyes twinkling with fun.

Mrs. Cathcart smiled, and shook her head.

* * * * *


"Her atrocious aunt had deprived the child of all her gravity. If you
ask me how this was effected, I answer: In the easiest way in the
world. She had only to destroy gravitation. And the princess was a
philosopher, and knew all the _ins_ and _outs_ of the laws of
gravitation as well as the _ins_ and _outs_ of her boot-lace. And
being a witch as well, she could abrogate those laws in a moment; or
at least so clog their wheels and rust their bearings, that they would
not work at all. But we have more to do with what followed, than with
how it was done.

"The first awkwardness that resulted from this unhappy privation was,
that the moment the nurse began to float the baby up and down, she
flew from her arms towards the ceiling. Happily, the resistance of the
air brought her ascending career to a close within a foot of it. There
she remained, horizontal as when she left her nurse's arms, kicking
and laughing amazingly. The nurse in terror flew to the bell, and
begged the footman who answered it, to bring up the house-steps
directly. Trembling in every limb, she climbed upon the steps, and had
to stand upon the very top, and reach up, before she could catch the
floating tail of the baby's long clothes.

"When the strange fact came to be known, there was a terrible
commotion in the palace. The occasion of its discovery by the king was
naturally a repetition of the nurse's experience. Astonished that he
felt no weight when the child was laid in his arms, he began to wave
her up and--not down; for she slowly ascended to the ceiling as
before, and there remained floating in perfect comfort and
satisfaction, as was testified by her peals of tiny laughter. The king
stood staring up in speechless amazement, and trembled so that his
beard shook like grass in the wind. At last, turning to the queen, who
was just as horror-struck as himself, he said, gasping, staring, and

"'She _can't_ be ours, queen!'

"Now the queen was much cleverer than the king, and had begun already
to suspect that 'this effect defective came by cause.'

"'I am sure she is ours,' answered she. 'But we ought to have taken
better care of her at the christening. People who were never invited
ought not to have been present.'

"'Oh, ho!' said the king, tapping his forehead with his forefinger, 'I
have it all. I've found her out. Don't you see it, queen? Princess
Makemnoit has bewitched her.'

"'That's just what I say,' answered the queen.

"'I beg your pardon, my love; I did not hear you. John! bring the
steps I get on my throne with.'

"For he was a little king with a great throne, like many other kings.

"The throne-steps were brought, and set upon the dining-table, and
John got upon the top of them. But he could not reach the little
princess, who lay like a baby-laughter-cloud in the air, exploding

"'Take the tongs, John,' said his majesty; and getting up on the
table, he handed them to him.

"John could reach the baby now, and the little princess was handed
down by the tongs.

* * * * *


"One fine summer day, a month after these her first adventures, during
which time she had been very carefully watched, the princess was lying
on the bed in the queen's own chamber, fast asleep. One of the windows
was open, for it was noon, and the day so sultry that the little girl
was wrapped in nothing less etherial than slumber itself. The queen
came into the room, and not observing that the baby was on the bed,
opened another window. A frolicsome fairy wind which had been watching
for a chance of mischief, rushed in at the one window, and taking its
way over the bed where the child was lying, caught her up, and rolling
and floating her along like a piece of flue, or a dandelion-seed,
carried her with it through the opposite window, and away. The queen
went down stairs, quite ignorant of the loss she had herself
occasioned. When the nurse returned, she supposed that her majesty
had carried her off, and, dreading a scolding, delayed making inquiry
about her. But hearing nothing, she grew uneasy, and went at length to
the queen's boudoir, where she found her majesty.

"'Please your majesty, shall I take the baby?' said she.

"'Where is she?' asked the queen.

"'Please forgive me. I know it was wrong.'

"'What do you mean?' said the queen, looking grave.

"'Oh! don't frighten me, your majesty!' exclaimed the nurse, clapping
her hands.

"The queen saw that something was amiss, and fell down in a faint. The
nurse rushed about the palace, screaming, 'My baby! my baby!'

"Every one ran to the queen's room. But the queen could give no
orders. They soon found out, however, that the princess was missing,
and in a moment the palace was like a bee-hive in a garden. But in a
minute more the queen was brought to herself by a great shout and a
clapping of hands. They had found the princess fast asleep under a
rose-bush, to which the elvish little wind-puff had carried her,
finishing its mischief by shaking a shower of red rose-leaves all over
the little white sleeper. Startled by the noise the servants made, she
woke; and furious with glee, scattered the rose-leaves in all
directions, like a shower of spray in the sunset.

"She was watched more carefully after this, no doubt; yet it would be
endless to relate all the odd incidents resulting from this
peculiarity of the young princess. But there never was a baby in a
house, not to say a palace, that kept a household in such constant
good humour, at least below stairs. If it was not easy for her nurses
to hold her, certainly she did not make their arms ache. And she was
so nice to play at ball with! There was positively no danger of
letting her fall. You might throw her down, or knock her down, or push
her down, but you couldn't _let_ her down. It is true, you might let
her fly into the fire or the coal-hole, or through the window; but
none of these accidents had happened as yet. If you heard peals of
laughter resounding from some unknown region, you might be sure enough
of the cause. Going down into the kitchen, or _the room_, you would
find Jane and Thomas, and Robert and Susan, all and sum, playing at
ball with the little princess. She was the ball herself, and did not
enjoy it the less for that. Away she went, flying from one to another,
screeching with laughter. And the servants loved the ball itself
better even than the game. But they had to take care how they threw
her, for if she received an upward direction, she would never come
down without being fetched.

* * * * *


"But above stairs it was different. One day, for instance, after
breakfast, the king went into his counting-house, and counted out his
money. The operation gave him no pleasure.

"'To think,' said he to himself, 'that every one of these gold
sovereigns weighs a quarter of an ounce, and my real, live, flesh-
and-blood princess weighs nothing at all!'

"And he hated his gold sovereigns, as they lay with a broad smile of
self-satisfaction all over their yellow faces.

"The queen was in the parlour, eating bread and honey. But at the
second mouthful, she burst out crying, and could not swallow it. The
king heard her sobbing. Glad of anybody, but especially of his queen,
to quarrel with, he clashed his gold sovereigns into his money-box,
clapped his crown on his head, and rushed into the parlour.

"'What is all this about?' exclaimed he. 'What are you crying for,

"'I can't eat it,' said the queen, looking ruefully at the honey-pot.

"'No wonder!' retorted the king. 'You've just eaten your
breakfast--two turkey eggs, and three anchovies.'

"'Oh! that's not it!' sobbed her majesty. 'It's my child, my child!'

"'Well, what's the matter with your child? She's neither up the
chimney nor down the draw-well. Just hear her laughing.' Yet the king
could not help a sigh, which he tried to turn into a cough, saying,

"'It is a good thing to be light-hearted, I am sure, whether she be
ours or not.'

"'It is a bad thing to be light-headed,' answered the queen, looking
with prophetic soul, far into the future.

"''Tis a good thing to be light-handed,' said the king.

"''Tis a bad thing to be light-fingered,' answered the queen.

"''Tis a good thing to be light-footed,' said the king.

"''Tis a bad thing,' began the queen; but the king interrupted her.

"'In fact,' said he, with the tone of one who concludes an argument in
which he has had only imaginary opponents, and in which, therefore, he
has come off triumphant--'in fact, it is a good thing altogether to be

"'But it is a bad thing altogether to be light-minded,' retorted the
queen, who was beginning to lose her temper.

"This last answer quite discomfited his majesty, who turned on his
heel, and betook himself to his counting-house again. But he was not
halfway towards it, when the voice of his queen overtook him:

"'And it's a bad thing to be light-haired,' screamed she, determined
to have more last words, now that her spirit was roused.

"The queen's hair was black as night; and the king's had been, and his
daughter's was, golden as morning. But it was not this reflection on
his hair that troubled him; it was the double use of the word _light_.
For the king hated all witticisms, and punning especially. And
besides he could not tell whether the queen meant light-_haired_ or
light-_heired_; for why might she not aspirate her vowels when she was
ex-asperated herself?"

"Now, really," interrupted the clergyman, "I must protest. Mr. Smith,
you bury us under an avalanche of puns, and, I must say, not very good
ones. Now, the story, though humorous, is not of the kind to admit of
such fanciful embellishment. It reminds one rather of a burlesque at a
theatre--the lowest thing, from a literary point of view, to be

"I submit," was all I could answer; for I feared that he was right.
The passage, as it now stands, is not nearly so bad as it was then,
though, I confess, it is still bad enough.

"I think," said Mrs. Armstrong, "since criticism is the order of the
evening, and Mr. Smith is so kind as not to mind it, that he makes the
king and queen too silly. It takes away from the reality."

"Right too, my dear madam," I answered.

"The reality of a fairy-tale?" said Mrs. Cathcart, as if asking a
question of herself.

"But will you grant me the justice," said I, "to temper your judgments
of me, if not of my story, by remembering that this is the first thing
of the sort I ever attempted?"

"I tell you what," said the doctor, "it's very easy to criticise, but
none of you could have written it yourselves."

"Of course not, for my part," said the clergyman.

Silence followed; and I resumed.

"He turned upon his other heel, and rejoined her. She looked angry
still, because she knew that she was guilty, or, what was much the
same, knew that he thought so.

"'My dear queen,' said he, 'duplicity of any sort is exceedingly
objectionable between married people, of any rank, not to say kings
and queens; and the most objectionable form it can assume is that of

"'There!' said the queen, 'I never made a jest, but I broke it in the
making. I am the most unfortunate woman in the world!'

"She looked so rueful, that the king took her in his arms; and they
sat down to consult.

"'Can you bear this?' said the king.

"'No, I can't,' said the queen.

"'Well, what's to be done?' said the king.

"'I'm sure I don't know,' said the queen. 'But might you not try an

"'To my old sister, I suppose you mean?' said the king.

"'Yes,' said the queen.

"'Well, I don't mind,' said the king.

"So he went the next morning to the garret of the princess, and,
making a very humble apology, begged her to undo the spell. But the
princess declared, with a very grave face, that she knew nothing at
all about it. Her eyes, however, shone pink, which was a sign that she
was happy. She advised the king and queen to have patience, and to
mend their ways. The king returned disconsolate.

The queen tried to comfort him.

"'We will wait till she is older. She may then be able to suggest
something herself. She will know at least how she feels, and explain
things to us.'

"'But what if she should marry!' exclaimed the king, in sudden
consternation at the idea.

"'Well, what of that?' rejoined the queen.

"'Just think! If she were to have any children! In the course of a
hundred years, the air might be as full of floating children as of
gossamers in autumn.'

"'That is no business of ours,' replied the queen. 'Besides, by that
time, they will have learned to take care of themselves.'

"A sigh was the king's only answer.

"He would have consulted the court physicians; but he was afraid they
would try experiments upon her.

* * * * *


"Meantime, notwithstanding awkward occurrences, and griefs that she
brought her parents to, the little princess laughed and grew--not fat,
but plump and tall. She reached the age of seventeen, without having
fallen into, any worse scrape than a chimney; by rescuing her from
which, a little bird-nesting urchin got fame and a black face. Nor,
thoughtless as she was, had she committed anything worse than laughter
at everybody and everything, that came in her way. When she heard that
General Clanrunfort was cut to pieces with all his forces, she
laughed; when she heard that the enemy was on his way to besiege her
papa's capital, she laughed hugely; but when she heard that the city
would most likely be abandoned to the mercy of the enemy's
soldiery--why, then, she laughed immoderately. These were merely
reports invented for the sake of experiment. But she never could be
brought to see the serious side of anything. When her mother cried,
she said:

"'What queer faces mamma makes! And she squeezes water out of her
cheeks! Funny mama!'

"And when her papa stormed at her, she laughed, and danced round and
round him, clapping her hands, and crying:

"'Do it again, papa. Do it again! It's such fun! Dear, funny papa!'

"And if he tried to catch her, she glided from him in an instant, not
in the least afraid of him, but thinking, it part of the game not to
be caught. With one push of her foot, she would be floating in the air
above his head; or she would go dancing backwards and forwards and
sideways, like a great butterfly. It happened several times, when her
father and mother were holding a consultation about her in private,
that they were interrupted by vainly repressed outbursts of laughter
over their heads; and looking up with indignation, saw her floating at
full length in the air above them, whence she regarded them with the
most comical appreciation of the position.

"One day an awkward accident happened. The princess had come out upon
the lawn with one of her attendants, who held her by the hand. Spying
her father at the other side of the lawn, she snatched her hand from
the maid's, and sped across to him. Now, when she wanted to run alone,
her custom was to catch up a stone in each hand, so that she might
come down again after a bound. Whatever she wore as part of her attire
had no effect in this way: even gold, when it thus became as it were a
part of herself, lost all its weight for the time. But whatever she
only held in her hands, retained its downward tendency. On this
occasion she could see nothing to catch up, but a huge toad, that was
walking across the lawn as if he had a hundred years to do it in. Not
knowing what disgust meant, for this was one of her peculiarities, she
snatched up the toad, and bounded away. She had almost reached her
father, and he was holding out his arms to receive her, and take from
her lips the kiss which hovered on them like a butterfly on a rosebud,
when a puff of wind blew her aside into the arms of a young page, who
had just been receiving a message from his majesty. Now it was no
great peculiarity in the princess that, once she was set a-going, it
always cost her time and trouble to check herself. On this occasion
there was no time. She _must_ kiss--and she kissed the page. She did
not mind it much; for she had no shyness in her composition; and she
knew, besides, that she could not help it. So she only laughed, like a
musical-box. The poor page fared the worst. For the princess, trying
to correct the unfortunate tendency of the kiss, put out her hands to
keep her off the page; so that, along with the kiss, he received, on
the other cheek, a slap with the huge black toad, which she poked
right into his eye. He tried to laugh, too, but it resulted in a very
odd contortion of countenance, which showed that there was no danger
of his pluming himself on the kiss. Indeed it is not safe to be kissed
by princesses. As for the king, his dignity was greatly hurt, and he
did not speak to the page for a whole month.

"I may here remark that it was very amusing to see her run, if her
mode of progression could properly be called running. For first she
would make a bound; then, having alighted, she would run a few steps,
and make another bound. Sometimes she would fancy she had reached the
ground before she actually had, and her feet would go backwards and
forwards, running upon nothing at all, like those of a chicken on its
back. Then she would laugh like the very spirit of fun; only in her
laugh there was something missing. What it was, I find myself unable
to describe. I think it was a certain tone, depending upon the
possibility of sorrow--_morbidezza_, perhaps. She never smiled."

"I am not sure about your physics, Mr. Smith," said the doctor. "If
she had no gravity, no amount of muscular propulsion could have given
her any momentum. And again, if she had no gravity, she must
inevitably have ascended beyond the regions of the atmosphere."

"Bottle your philosophy, Harry, with the rest of your physics," said
the clergyman, laughing. "Don't you see that she must have had some
weight, only it wasn't worth mentioning, being no greater than the
ordinary weight of the atmosphere. Besides, you know very well that a
law of nature could not be destroyed. Therefore, it was only
witchcraft, you know; and the laws of that remain to be discovered--at
least so far as my knowledge goes.--Mr. Smith, you have gone in for a
fairy-tale; and if I were you, I would claim the immunities of

"So I do," I responded fiercely, and went on.

* * * * *


"After a long avoidance of the painful subject, the king and queen
resolved to hold a counsel of three upon it; and so they sent for the
princess. In she came, sliding and flitting and gliding from one piece
of furniture to another, and put herself at last in an armchair, in a
sitting posture. Whether she could be said _to sit_, seeing she
received no support from the seat of the chair, I do not pretend to

"'My dear child,' said the king, 'you must be aware that you are not
exactly like other people.'

"'Oh, you dear funny papa! I have got a nose and two eyes and all the
rest. So have you. So has mamma.'

"'Now be serious, my dear, for once,' said the queen.

"'No, thank you, mamma; I had rather not.'

"'Would you not like to be able to walk like other people?' said the

"'No indeed, I should think not. You only crawl. You are such slow

"'How do you feel, my child?' he resumed, after a pause of

"'Quite well, thank you.'

"'I mean, what do you feel like?'

"'Like nothing at all, that I know of.'

"'You must feel like something.'

"'I feel like a princess with such a funny papa, and such a dear pet
of a queen-mamma!'

"'Now really!' began the queen; but the princess interrupted her.

"'Oh! yes,' she added, 'I remember. I have a curious feeling
sometimes, as if I were the only person that had any sense in the
whole world.'

"She had been trying to behave herself with dignity; but now she burst
into a violent fit of laughter, threw herself backwards over the
chair, and went rolling about the floor in an ecstasy of enjoyment.
The king picked her up easier than one does a down quilt, and replaced
her in her former relation to the chair. The exact preposition
expressing the relation I do not happen to know.

"'Is there nothing you wish for?' resumed the king, who had learned by
this time that it was quite useless to be angry with her.

"'O you dear papa!--yes,' answered she.

"'What is it, my darling?'

"'I have been longing for it--oh, such a time! Ever since last night.'

"'Tell me what it is.'

"'Will you promise to let me have it?'

"The king was on the point of saying _yes_; but the wiser queen
checked him with a single motion of her head.

"'Tell me what it is first,' said he.

"'No, no. Promise first.'

"'I dare not. What is it?'

"'Mind I hold you to your promise.--It is--to be tied to the end of a
string--a very long string indeed, and be flown like a kite. Oh, such
fun! I would rain rose-water, and hail sugar-plums, and snow
whipt-cream, and, and, and--'

"A fit of laughing checked her; and she would have been off again,
over the floor, had not the king started up and caught her just in
time. Seeing that nothing but talk could be got out of her, he rang
the bell, and sent her away with two of her ladies-in-waiting.

"'Now, queen,' he said, turning to her majesty, 'what _is_ to be

"'There is but one thing left,' answered she. 'Let us consult the
college of Metaphysicians.'

"'Bravo!' cried the king; 'we will.'

"Now at the head of this college were two very wise Chinese
philosophers--by name, Hum-Drum, and Kopy-Keck. For them the king
sent; and straightway they came. In a long speech, he communicated to
them what they knew very well already--as who did not?--namely, the
peculiar condition of his daughter in relation to the globe on which
she dwelt; and requested them to consult together as to what might be
the cause and probable cure of her _infirmity_. The king laid stress
upon the word, but failed to discover his own pun. The queen laughed;
but Hum-Drum and Kopy-Keck heard with humility and retired in silence.
Their consultation consisted chiefly in propounding and supporting,
for the thousandth time, each his favourite theories. For the
condition of the princess afforded delightful scope for the discussion
of every question arising from the division of thought--in fact of all
the Metaphysics of the Chinese Empire. But it is only justice to say
that they did not altogether neglect the discussion of the practical
question, _what was to be done_.

"Hum-Drum was a Materialist, and Kopy-Keck was a Spiritualist. The
former was slow and sententious; the latter was quick and flighty; the
latter had generally the first word; the former the last.

"'I assert my former assertion,' began Kopy-Keck, with a plunge.
'There is not a fault in the princess, body or soul; only they are
wrong put together. Listen to me now, Hum-Drum, and I will tell you in
brief what I think. Don't speak. Don't answer me. I won't hear you
till I have done.--At that decisive moment, when souls seek their
appointed habitations, two eager souls met, struck, rebounded, lost
their way, and arrived each at the wrong place. The soul of the
princess was one of those, and she went far astray. She does not
belong by rights to this world at all, but to some other planet,
probably Mercury. Her proclivity to her true sphere destroys all the
natural influence which this orb would otherwise possess over her
corporeal frame. She cares for nothing here. There is no relation
between her and this world.

"'She must therefore be taught, by the sternest compulsion, to
take an interest in the earth as the earth. She must study every
department of its history--its animal history; its vegetable history;
its mineral history; its social history; its moral history; its
political history; its scientific history; its literary history; its
musical history; its artistical history; above all, its metaphysical
history. She must begin with the Chinese Dynasty, and end with
Japan. But first of all she must study Geology, and especially the
history of the extinct races of animals--their natures, their habits,
their loves, their hates, their revenges. She must----'

"'Hold, h-o-o-old!' roared Hum-Drum. 'It is certainly my turn now. My
rooted and insubvertible conviction is that the causes of the
anomalies evident in the princess's condition are strictly and solely
physical. But that is only tantamount to acknowledging that they
exist. Hear my opinion.--From some cause or other, of no importance to
our inquiry, the motion of her heart has been reversed. That
remarkable combination of the suction and the force pump, works the
wrong way--I mean in the case of the unfortunate princess: it draws in
where it should force out, and forces out where it should draw in. The
offices of the auricles and the ventricles are subverted. The blood is
sent forth by the veins, and returns by the arteries. Consequently it
is running the wrong way through all her corporeal organism--lungs and
all. Is it then all mysterious, seeing that such is the case, that on
the other particular of gravitation as well, she should differ from
normal humanity? My proposal for the cure is this:

"Phlebotomize until she is reduced to the last point of safety. Let it
be effected, if necessary, in a warm bath. When she is reduced to a
state of perfect asphyxy, apply a ligature to the left ancle, drawing
it as tight as the bone will bear. Apply, at the same moment, another
of equal tension around the right wrist. By means of plates
constructed for the purpose, place the other foot and hand under the
receivers of two air-pumps. Exhaust the receivers. Exhibit a pint of
French brandy, and await the result.'

"'Which would presently arrive in the form of grim Death,' said

"'If it should, she would yet die in doing our duty,' retorted

"But their Majesties had too much tenderness for their volatile
offspring to subject her to either of the schemes of the equally
unscrupulous philosophers. Indeed the most complete knowledge of the
laws of nature would have been unserviceable in her case; for it was
impossible to classify her. She was a fifth imponderable body, sharing
all the other properties of the ponderable.

* * * * *


"Perhaps the best thing for the princess would have been falling in
love. But how a princess who had no gravity at all, could fall into
anything, is a difficulty--perhaps _the_ difficulty. As for her own
feelings on the subject, she did not even know that there was such a
bee-hive of honey and stings to be fallen into. And now I come to
mention another curious fact about her.

"The palace was built on the shore of the loveliest lake in the world;
and the princess loved this lake more than father or mother. The root
of this preference no doubt, although the princess did not recognize
it as such--was, that, the moment she got into it, she recovered the
natural right of which she had been so wickedly deprived--namely,
gravity. Whether this was owing to the fact that water had been
employed as the means of conveying the injury, I do not know. But it
is certain that she could swim and dive like the duck that her old
nurse said she was. The way that this alleviation of her misfortune
was discovered, was as follows. One summer evening, during the
carnival of the country, she had been taken upon the lake, by the king
and queen, in the royal barge. They were accompanied by many of the
courtiers in a fleet of little boats. In the middle of the lake she
wanted to get into the lord chancellor's barge, for his daughter, who
was a great favourite with her, was in it with her father. The old
king rarely condescended to make light of his misfortune; but on this
occasion he happened to be in a particularly good humour; and, as the
barges approached each other, he caught up the princess to throw her
into the chancellor's barge. He lost his balance, however, and,
dropping into the bottom of the barge, lost his hold of his daughter;
not however before imparting to her the downward tendency of his own
person, though in a somewhat different direction; for, as the king
fell into the boat, she fell into the water. With a burst of delighted
laughter, she disappeared in the lake. A cry of horror ascended from
the boats. They had never seen the princess go down before. Half the
men were under water in a moment; but they had all, one after another,
come up to the surface again for breath, when--tinkle, tinkle, babble
and gush! came the princess's laugh over the water from far
away. There she was, swimming like a swan. Nor would she come out for
king or queen, chancellor or daughter. But though she was obstinate,
she seemed more sedate than usual. Perhaps that was because a great
pleasure spoils laughing. After this, the passion of her life was to
get into the water, and she was always the better behaved and the more
beautiful the more she had of it. Summer and winter it was all the
same; only she could not stay quite so long in the water, when they
had to break the ice to let her in. Any day, from morning till
evening, she might be descried--a streak of white in the blue
water--lying as still as the shadow of a cloud, or shooting along like
a dolphin; disappearing, and coming up again far off, just where one
did not expect her. She would have been in the lake of a night too, if
she could have had her way; for the balcony of her window overhung a
deep pool in it; and through a shallow reedy passage she could have
swum out into the wide wet water, and no one would have been any the
wiser. Indeed when she happened to wake in the moonlight, she could
hardly resist the temptation. But there was the sad difficulty of
getting into it. She had as great a dread of the air as some children
have of the water. For the slightest gust of wind would blow her away;
and a gust might arise in the stillest moment. And if she gave herself
a push towards the water and just failed of reaching it, her situation
would be dreadfully awkward, irrespective of the wind; for at best
there she would have to remain, suspended in her nightgown, till she
was seen and angled for by somebody from the window.

"'Oh! if I had my gravity,' thought she contemplating the water, 'I
would flash off this balcony like a long white sea-bird, head-long
into the darling wetness. Heigh-ho!'

"This was the only consideration that made her wish to be like other

"Another reason for being fond of the water was that in it alone she
enjoyed any freedom. For she could not walk out without a cortege,
consisting in part of a troop of light horse, for fear of the
liberties which the wind might take with her. And the king grew more
apprehensive with increasing years, till at last he would not allow
her to walk abroad without some twenty silken cords fastened to as
many parts of her dress, and held by twenty noble-men. Of course
horseback was out of the question. But she bade good-bye to all this
ceremony when she got into the water. So remarkable were its effects
upon her, especially in restoring her for the time to the ordinary
human gravity, that, strange to say, Hum-Drum and Kopy-Keck agreed in
recommending the king to bury her alive for three years; in the hope
that, as the water did her so much good, the earth would do her yet
more. But the king had some vulgar prejudices against the experiment,
and would not give his consent. Foiled in this, they yet agreed in
another recommendation; which, seeing that the one imported his
opinions from China and the other from Thibet, was very remarkable
indeed. They said that, if water of external origin and application
could be so efficacious, water from a deeper source might work a
perfect cure; in short, that, if the poor afflicted princess could by
any means be made to cry, she might recover her lost gravity.

"But how was this to be brought about? Therein lay all the difficulty.
The philosophers were not wise enough for this. To make the princess
cry was as impossible as to make her weigh. They sent for a
professional beggar; commanded him to prepare his most touching oracle
of woe; helped him, out of the court charade-box, to whatever he
wanted for dressing up, and promised great rewards in the event of his
success. But it was all in vain. She listened to the mendicant
artist's story, and gazed at his marvellous make-up, till she could
contain herself no longer, and went into the most undignified
contortions for relief, shrieking, positively screeching with

"When she had a little recovered herself, she ordered her attendants
to drive him away, and not give him a single copper; whereupon his
look of mortified discomfiture wrought her punishment and his revenge,
for it sent her into violent hysterics, from which she was with
difficulty recovered.

"But so anxious was the king that the suggestion should have a fair
trial, that he put himself in a rage one day, and, rushing up to her
room, gave her an awful whipping. But not a tear would flow. She
looked grave, and her laughing sounded uncommonly like screaming--that
was all. The good old tyrant, though he put on his best gold
spectacles to look, could not discover the smallest cloud in the
serene blue of her eyes.

* * * * *


"It must have been about this time that the son of a king, who lived a
thousand miles from Lagobel, set out to look for the daughter of a
queen. He travelled far and wide, but as sure as he found a princess,
he found some fault with her. Of course he could not marry a mere
woman, however beautiful, and there was no princess to be found worthy
of him. Whether the prince was so near perfection that he had a right
to demand perfection itself, I cannot pretend to say. All I know is
that he was a fine, handsome, brave, generous, well-bred and well-
behaved youth, as all princes are.

"In his wanderings he had come across some reports about our princess;
but as everybody said she was bewitched, he never dreamed that she
could bewitch him. For what indeed could a prince do with a princess
that had lost her gravity? Who could tell what she might not lose
next? She might lose her visibility; or her tangibility; or, in short,
the power of making impressions upon the radical sensorium; so that he
should never be able to tell whether she was dead or alive. Of course
he made no further inquiries about her.

"One day he lost sight of his retinue in a great forest. These forests
are very useful in delivering princes from their courtiers, like a
sieve that keeps back the bran. Then the princes get away to follow
their fortunes. In this they have the advantage of the princesses, who
are forced to marry before they have had a bit of fun. I wish our
princesses got lost in a forest sometimes.

"One lovely evening, after wandering about for many days, he found
that he was approaching the outskirts of this forest; for the trees
had got so thin that he could see the sunset through them; and he soon
came upon a kind of heath. Next he came upon signs of human
neighbourhood; but by this time it was getting late, and there was
nobody in the fields to direct him.

"After travelling for another hour, his horse, quite worn out with
long labour and lack of food, fell, and was unable to rise again. So
he continued his journey on foot. At length he entered another
wood--not a wild forest, but a civilized wood, through which a
footpath led him to the side of a lake. Along this path the prince
pursued his way through the gathering darkness. Suddenly he paused,
and listened. Strange sounds came across the water. It was, in fact,
the princess laughing. Now, there was something odd in her laugh, as I
have already hinted; for the hatching of a real hearty laugh, requires
the incubation of gravity; and, perhaps, this was how the prince
mistook the laughter for screaming. Looking over the lake, he saw
something white in the water; and, in an instant, he had torn off his
tunic, kicked off his sandals, and plunged in. He soon reached the
white object, and found that it was a woman. There was not light
enough to show that she was a princess, but quite enough to show that
she was a lady, for it does not want much light to see that.

"Now, I cannot tell how it came about;--whether she pretended to be
drowning, or whether he frightened her, or caught her so as to
embarrass her; but certainly he brought her to shore in a fashion
ignominious to a swimmer, and more nearly drowned than she had ever
expected to be; for the water had got into her throat as often as she
had tried to speak.

"At the place to which he bore her, the bank was only a foot or two
above the water; so he gave her a strong lift out of the water, to lay
her on the bank. But, her gravitation ceasing the moment she left the
water, away she went, up into the air, scolding and screaming:

"'You naughty, _naughty_, NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY man!'

"No one had ever succeeded in putting her into a passion before.--When
the prince saw her ascend, he thought he must have been bewitched, and
have mistaken a great swan for a lady. But the princess caught hold of
the topmost cone upon a lofty fir. This came off; but she caught at
another; and, in fact, stopped herself by gathering cones, dropping
them as the stalks gave way. The prince, meantime, stood in the water,
forgetting to get out. But the princess disappearing, he scrambled on
shore, and went in the direction of the tree. He found her climbing
down one of the branches, towards the stem. But in the darkness of the
wood, the prince continued in some bewilderment as to what the
phenomenon could be; until, reaching the ground, and seeing him
standing there, she caught hold of him, and said:

"I'll tell papa.'

"'Oh, no, you won't!' rejoined the prince.

"'Yes, I will,' she persisted. 'What business had you to pull me down
out of the water, and throw me to the bottom of the air? I never did
you any harm.'

"'I am sure I did not mean to hurt you.'

"'I don't believe you have any brains; and that is a worse loss than
your wretched gravity. I pity you.'

"The prince now saw that he had come upon the bewitched princess, and
had already offended her. Before he could think what to say next, the
princess, giving a stamp with her foot that would have sent her aloft
again, but for the hold she had of his arm, said angrily:

"'Put me up directly.'

"'Put you up where, you beauty?' asked the prince. "He had fallen in
love with her, almost, already; for her anger made her more charming
than anyone else had ever beheld her; and, as far as he could see,
which certainly was not far, she had not a single fault about her,
except, of course, that she had no gravity. A prince, however, must be
incapable of judging of a princess by weight. The loveliness of a
foot, for instance, is hardly to be estimated by the depth of the
impression it can make in mud!

"'Put you up where, you beauty?' said the prince.

"'In the water, you stupid!' answered the princess.

"'Come, then,' said the prince.

"The condition of her dress, increasing her usual difficulty in
walking, compelled her to cling to him; and he could hardly persuade
himself that he was not in a delightful dream, notwithstanding the
torrent of musical abuse with which she overwhelmed him. The prince
being in no hurry, they reached the lake at quite another part, where
the bank was twenty-five feet high at least. When they stood at the
edge, the prince, turning towards the princess, said:

"'How am I to put you in?'

"'That is your business,' she answered, quite snappishly. 'You took me
out--put me in again.'

"'Very well,' said the prince; and, catching her up in his arms, he
sprang with her from the rock. The princess had just time to give one
delighted shriek of laughter before the water closed over them. When
they came to the surface, the princess, for a moment or two, could not
even laugh, for she had gone down with such a rush, that it was with
difficulty that she recovered her breath. The moment they reached the

"'How do you like falling in?' said the prince.

"After a few efforts, the princess panted out:

"'Is that what you call _falling in_?'

"'Yes,' answered the prince, 'I should think it a very tolerable

"'It seemed to me like going up,' rejoined she.

"'My feeling was certainly one of elevation, too,' the prince

"The princess did not appear to understand him, for she retorted his
first question:

'"How do _you_ like falling in?'

"'Beyond everything,' answered he; 'for I have fallen in with the only
perfect creature I ever saw.'

"'No more of that: I am tired of it,' said the princess.

"Perhaps she shared her father's aversion to punning.

"'Don't you like falling in, then?' said the prince.

"'It is the most delightful fun I ever had in my life,' answered
she. 'I never fell before. I wish I could learn. To think I am the
only person in my father's kingdom that can't fall!'

"Here the poor princess looked almost sad.

"'I shall be most happy to fall in with you any time you like.' said
the prince, devotedly.

"'Thank you. I don't know. Perhaps it would not be proper. But I don't
care. At all events, as we have fallen in, let us have a swim

"'With all my heart,' said the prince.

"And away they went, swimming, and diving, and floating, until at last
they heard cries along the shore, and saw lights glancing in all
directions. It was now quite late, and there was no moon.

"'I must go home,' said the princess. 'I am very sorry, for this is

"'So am I,' responded the prince. 'But I am glad I haven't a home to
go to--at least, I don't exactly know where it is.'

"'I wish I hadn't one either,' rejoined the princess; 'it is so
stupid! I have a great mind,' she continued, 'to play them all a
trick. Why couldn't they leave me alone? They won't trust me in the
lake for a single night! You see where that green light is burning?
That is the window of my room. Now if you would just swim there with
me very quietly, and when we are all but under the balcony, give me
such a push--_up_ you call it--as you did a little while ago, I should
be able to catch hold of the balcony, and get in at the window; and
then they may look for me till to-morrow morning!'

"'With more obedience than pleasure,' said the prince, gallantly; and
away they swam, very gently.

"'Will you be in the lake to-morrow-night?' the prince ventured to

"'To be sure I will. I don't think so. Perhaps,'--was the princess's
somewhat strange answer.

"But the prince was intelligent enough not to press her further; and
merely whispered, as he gave her the parting lift: 'Don't tell.' The
only answer the princess returned was a roguish look. She was already
a yard above his head. The look seemed to say: 'Never fear. It is too
good fun to spoil that way.'

"So perfectly like other people had she been in the water, that even
yet the prince could scarcely believe his eyes when he saw her ascend
slowly, grasp the balcony, and disappear through the window. He
turned, almost expecting to see her still by his side. But he was
alone in the water. So he swam away quietly, and watched the lights
roving about the shore for hours after the princess was safe in her
chamber. As soon as they disappeared, he landed in search of his tunic
and sword, and, after some trouble, found them again. Then he made the
best of his way round the lake to the other side. There the wood was
wilder, and the shore steeper--rising more immediately towards the
mountains which surrounded the lake on all sides, and kept sending it
messages of silvery streams from morning to night, and all night
long. He soon found a spot whence he could see the green light in the
princess's room, and where, even in the broad daylight, he would be in
no danger of being discovered from the opposite shore. It was a sort
of cave in the rock, where he provided himself a bed of withered
leaves, and lay down too tired for hunger to keep him awake. All night
long he dreamed that he was swimming with the princess."

"All that is very improper--to my mind," said Mrs. Cathcart. And she
glanced towards the place where Percy had deposited himself, as if she
were afraid of her boy's morals.

But if she was anxious on that score, her fears must have been
dispersed the same moment by an indubitable snore from the youth, who
was in his favourite position--lying at full length on a couch.

"You must remember all this is in Fairyland, aunt," said Adela, with a
smile. "Nobody does what papa and mamma would not like here. We must
not judge the people in fairy tales by precisely the same
conventionalities we have. They must be good after their own fashion."

"Conventionalities! Humph!" said Mrs. Cathcart.

"Besides, I don't think the princess was quite accountable," said I.

"You should have made her so, then," rejoined my critic.

"Oh! wait a little, madam," I replied.

"I think," said the clergyman, "that Miss Cathcart's defence is very
tolerably sufficient; and, in my character of Master of the
Ceremonies, I order Mr. Smith to proceed."

I made haste to do so, before Mrs. Cathcart should open a new battery.

* * * * *


"Early the next morning, the prince set out to look for something to
eat, which he soon found at a forester's hut, where for many following
days he was supplied with all that a brave prince could consider
necessary. And having plenty to keep him alive for the present, he
would not think of wants not yet in existence. Whenever Care intruded,
this prince always bowed him out in the most princely manner.

"When he returned from his breakfast to his watch-cave, he saw the
princess already floating about in the lake, attended by the king and
queen--whom he knew by their crowns--and a great company in lovely
little boats, with canopies of all the colours of the rainbow, and
flags and streamers of a great many more. It was a very bright day,
and soon the prince, burned up with the heat, began to long for the
water and the cool princess. But he had to endure till the twilight;
for the boats had provisions on board, and it was not till the sun
went down, that the gay party began to vanish. Boat after boat drew
away to the shore, following that of the king and queen, till only
one, apparently the princess's own boat, remained. But she did not
want to go home even yet, and the prince thought he saw her order the
boat to the shore without her. At all events, it rowed away; and now,
of all the radiant company, only one white speck remained. Then the
prince began to sing.

"And this was what he sang:

"'Lady fair,
Lift thine eyes,
Banish night
By the might
Of thine eyes.

Snowy arms,
Oars of snow,
Oar her hither,
Plashing low
Soft and slow,
Oar her hither.

Stream behind her
O'er the lake,
Radiant whiteness!
In her wake
Following, following for her sake,
Radiant whiteness!

Cling about her,
Waters blue;
Part not from her,
But renew
Cold and true
Kisses round her.

Lap me round,
Waters sad
That have left her;
Make me glad,
For ye had
Kissed her ere ye left her.'

"Before he had finished his song, the princess was just under the
place where he sat, and looking up to find him. Her ears had led her

"'Would you like a fall, princess?' said the prince, looking down.

"'Ah! there you are! Yes, if you please, prince,' said the princess,
looking up.

"'How do you know I am a prince, princess?' said the prince.

"'Because you are a very nice young man, prince,' said the princess.

"'Come up then, princess.'

"'Fetch me, prince.'

"The prince took off his scarf, then his sword-belt, then his tunic,
and tied them all together, and let them down. But the line was far
too short. He unwound his turban, and added it to the rest, when it
was all but long enough; and his purse completed it. The princess just
managed to lay hold of the knot of money, and was beside him in a
moment. This rock was much higher than the other, and the splash and
the dive were tremendous. The princess was in ecstasies of delight,
and their swim was delicious.

"Night after night they met, and swam about in the dark clear lake;
where such was the prince's delight, that (whether the princess's way
of looking at things infected him, or he was actually getting
light-headed,) he often fancied that he was swimming in the sky
instead of the lake. But when he talked about being in heaven, the
princess laughed at him dreadfully.

"When the moon came, she brought them fresh pleasure. Everything
looked strange and new in her light, with an old, withered, yet
unfading newness. When the moon was nearly full, one of their great
delights was, to dive deep in the water, and then, turning round, look
up through it at the great blot of light close above them, shimmering
and trembling and wavering, spreading and contracting, seeming to melt
away, and again grow solid. Then they would shoot up through it; and
lo! there was the moon, far off, clear and steady and cold, and very
lovely, at the bottom of a deeper and bluer lake than theirs, as the
princess said.

"The prince soon found out that while in the water the princess was
very like other people. And besides this, she was not so forward in
her questions, or pert in her replies at sea as on shore. Neither did
she laugh so much; and when she did laugh, it was more gently. She
seemed altogether more modest and maidenly in the water than out of
it. But when the prince, who had really fallen in love when he fell in
the lake, began to talk to her about love, she always turned her head
towards him and laughed. After a while she began to look puzzled, as
if she were trying to understand what he meant, but could
not--revealing a notion that he meant something. But as soon as ever
she left the lake, she was so altered, that the prince said to
himself: 'If I marry her, I see no help for it; we must turn merman
and mermaid, and go out to sea at once.'

* * * * *


"The princess's pleasure in the lake had grown to a passion, and she
could scarcely bear to be out of it for an hour. Imagine then her
consternation, when, diving with the prince one night, a sudden
suspicion seized her, that the lake was not so deep as it used to
be. The prince could not imagine what had happened. She shot to the
surface, and, without a word, swam at full speed towards the higher
side of the lake. He followed, begging to know if she was ill, or what
was the matter. She never turned her head, or took the smallest notice
of his question. Arrived at the shore, she coasted the rocks, with
minute inspection. But she was not able to come to a conclusion, for
the moon was very small, and so she could not see well. She turned
therefore and swam home, without saying a word to explain her conduct
to the prince, of whose presence she seemed no longer conscious. He
withdrew to his cave, in great perplexity and distress.

"Next day she made many observations, which, alas! strengthened her
fears. She saw that the banks were too dry; and that the grass on the
shore, and the trailing plants on the rocks, were withering away. She
caused marks to be made along the borders, and examined them, day
after day, in all directions of the wind; till at last the horrible
idea became a certain fact--that the surface of the lake was slowly

"The poor princess nearly went out of the little mind she had. It was
awful to her, to see the lake which she loved more than any living
thing, lie dying before her eyes. It sank away, slowly vanishing. The
tops of rocks that had never been seen before, began to appear far
down in the clear water. Before long, they were dry in the sun. It was
fearful to think of the mud that would lie baking and festering, full
of lovely creatures dying, and ugly creatures coming to life, like the
unmaking of a world. And how hot the sun would be without any lake!
She could not bear to swim in it, and began to pine away. Her life
seemed bound up with it; and ever as the lake sank, she pined. People
said she would not live an hour after the lake was gone.--But she
never cried.

"Proclamation was made to all the kingdom, that whosoever should
discover the cause of the lake's decrease, would be rewarded after a
princely fashion. Hum-Drum and Kopy-Keck applied themselves to their
physics and metaphysics; but in vain. No one came forward to suggest a

"Now the fact was, that the old princess was at the root of the
mischief. When she heard that her niece found more pleasure in the
water, than any one else had out of it, she went into a rage, and
cursed herself for her want of foresight.

"'But,' said she, 'I will soon set all right. The king and the people
shall die of thirst; their brains shall boil and frizzle in their
skulls, before I shall lose my revenge.'

"And she laughed a ferocious laugh, that made the hairs on the back of
her black cat stand erect with terror.

"Then she went to an old chest in the room, and opening it, took out
what looked like a piece of dried sea-weed. This she threw into a tub
of water. Then she threw some powder into the water, and stirred it
with her bare arm, muttering over it words of hideous sound, and yet
more hideous import. Then she set the tub aside, and took from the
chest a huge bunch of a hundred rusty keys, that clattered in her
shaking hands. Then she sat down and proceeded to oil them all. Before
she had finished, out from the tub, the water of which had kept on a
slow motion ever since she had ceased stirring it, came the head and
half the body of a huge grey snake. But the witch did not look
round. It grew out of the tub, waving itself backwards and forwards
with a slow horizontal motion, till it reached the princess, when it
laid its head upon her shoulder, and gave a low hiss in her ear. She
started--but with joy; and seeing the head resting on her shoulder,
drew it towards her and kissed it. Then she drew it all out of the
tub, and wound it round her body. It was one of those dreadful
creatures which few have ever beheld--the White Snakes of Darkness.

"Then she took the keys and went down into her cellar; and as she
unlocked the door, she said to herself,

"'This _is_ worth living for!'

"Locking the door behind her, she descended a few steps into the
cellar, and crossing it, unlocked another door into a dark, narrow
passage. This also she locked behind her, and descended a few more
steps. If any one had followed the witch-princess, he would have heard
her unlock exactly one hundred doors, and descend a few steps after
unlocking each. When she had unlocked the last, she entered a vast
cave, the roof of which was supported by huge natural pillars of
rock. Now this roof was the underside of the bottom of the lake.

"She then untwined the snake from her body, and held it by the tail,
high above her. The hideous creature stretched up its head towards the
roof of the cavern, which it was just able to reach. It then began to
move its head backwards and forwards, with a slow oscillating motion,
as if looking for something. At the same moment, the witch began to
walk round and round the cavern, coming nearer to the centre every
circuit; while the head of the snake described the same path over the
roof that she did over the floor, for she held it up still. And still
it kept slowly oscillating. Round and round the cavern they went thus,
ever lessening the circuit, till, at last, the snake made a sudden
dart, and clung fast to the roof with its mouth. 'That's right, my
beauty!' cried the princess; 'drain it dry.'

"She let it go, left it hanging, and sat down on a great stone, with
her black cat, who had followed her all round the cave, by her
side. Then she began to knit, and mutter awful words. The snake hung
like a huge leech, sucking at the stone; the cat stood with his back
arched, and his tail like a piece of cable, looking up at the snake;
and the old woman sat and knitted and muttered. Seven days and seven
nights they sat thus; when suddenly the serpent dropped from the roof,
as if exhausted, and shrivelled up like a piece of dried sea-weed on
the floor. The witch started to her feet, picked it up, put it in her
pocket, and looked up at the roof. One drop of water was trembling on
the spot where the snake had been sucking. As soon as she saw that,
she turned and fled, followed by her cat. She shut the door in a
terrible hurry, locked it, and having muttered some frightful words,
sped to the next, which also she locked and muttered over; and so with
all the hundred doors, till she arrived in her own cellar. There she
sat down on the floor ready to faint, but listening with malicious
delight to the rushing of the water, which she could hear distinctly
through all the hundred doors.

"But this was not enough. Now that she had tasted revenge, she lost
her patience. Without further measures, the lake would be too long in
disappearing. So the next night, with the last shred of the dying old
moon rising, she took some of the water in which she had revived the
snake, put it in a bottle, and set out, accompanied by her cat. Ere
she returned, she had made the entire circuit of the lake, muttering
fearful words as she crossed every stream, and casting into it some of
the water out of her bottle. When she had finished the circuit, she
muttered yet again, and flung a handful of the water towards the
moon. Every spring in the country ceased to throb and bubble, dying
away like the pulse of a dying man. The next day there was no sound of
falling water to be heard along the borders of the lake. The very
courses were dry; and the mountains showed no silvery streaks down
their dark sides. And not alone had the fountains of mother Earth
ceased to flow; for all the babies throughout the country were crying
dreadfully--only without tears.

* * * * *


"Never since the night when the princess left him so abruptly, had the
prince had a single interview with her. He had seen her once or twice
in the lake; but as far as he could discover, she had not been in it
any more at night. He had sat and sung, and looked in vain for his
Nereid; while she, like a true Nereid, was wasting away with her lake,
sinking as it sank, withering as it dried. When at length he
discovered the change that was taking place in the level of the water,
he was in great alarm and perplexity. He could not tell whether the
lake was dying because the lady had forsaken it; or whether the lady
would not come because the lake had begun to sink. But he resolved to
know so much at least.

"He disguised himself, and, going to the palace, requested to see the
lord chamberlain. His appearance at once gained his request; and the
lord chamberlain being a man of some insight, perceived that there was
more in the prince's solicitation than met the ear. He felt likewise
that no one could tell whence a solution of the present difficulties
might arise. So he granted the prince's prayer to be made shoe-black
to the princess. It was rather knowing in the prince to request such
an easy post; for the princess could not possibly soil as many shoes
as other princesses.

"He soon learned all that could be told about the princess. He went
nearly distracted; but, after roaming about the lake for days, and
diving in every depth that remained, all that he could do was to put
an extra-polish on the dainty pair of boots that was never called for.

"For the princess kept her room, with the curtains drawn to shut out
the dying lake. But she could not shut it out of her mind for a
moment. It haunted her imagination so that she felt as if her lake
were her soul, drying up within her, first to become mud, and then
madness and death. She brooded over the change, with all its dreadful
accompaniments, till she was nearly out of her mind. As for the
prince, she had forgotten him. However much she had enjoyed his
company in the water, she did not care for him without it. But she
seemed to have forgotten her father and mother too.

"The lake went on sinking. Small slimy spots began to appear, which
glittered steadily amidst the changeful shine of the water. These grew
to broad patches of mud, which widened and spread, with rocks here and
there, and floundering fishes and crawling eels swarming about. The
people went everywhere catching these, and looking for anything that
might have been dropped into the water.

"At length the lake was all but gone; only a few of the deepest pools
remaining unexhausted.

"It happened one day that a party of youngsters found themselves on
the brink of one of these pools, in the very centre of the lake. It
was a rocky basin of considerable depth. Looking in, they saw at the
bottom something that shone yellow in the sun. A little boy jumped in
and dived for it. It was a plate of gold, covered with writing. They
carried it to the king.

"On one side of it stood these words:

'Death alone from death can save.
Love is death, and so is brave.
Love can fill the deepest grave.
Love loves on beneath the wave.'

"Now this was enigmatical enough to the king and courtiers. But the
reverse of the plate explained it a little. Its contents amounted to

"_If the lake should disappear, they must find the hole through which
the water ran. But it would be useless to try to stop it by any
ordinary means. There was but one effectual mode.--The body of a
living man could alone stanch the flow. The man must give himself of
his own will; and the lake must take his life as it filled. Otherwise
the offering would be of no avail. If the nation could not provide one
hero, it was time it should perish._

* * * * *


"This was a very disheartening revelation to the king. Not that he was
unwilling to sacrifice a subject, but that he was hopeless of finding
a man willing to sacrifice himself. No time could be lost, however;
for the princess was lying motionless on her bed, and taking no
nourishment but lake-water, which was now none of the best. Therefore
the king caused the contents of the wonderful plate of gold to be
published throughout the country.

"No one, however, came forward.

"The prince, having gone several days' journey into the forest, to
consult a hermit whom he had met there on his way to Lagobel, knew
nothing of the oracle till his return.

"When he had acquainted himself with all the particulars, he sat down
and thought.

"'She would die, if I didn't do it; and life would be nothing to me
without her: so I shall lose nothing by doing it. And life will be as
pleasant to her as ever, for she will soon forget me, and there will
be so much more beauty and happiness in the world. To be sure I shall
not see it.'--Here the poor prince gave a sigh.--'How lovely the lake
will be in the moonlight, with that glorious creature sporting in it
like a wild goddess! It is rather hard to be drowned by inches,
though. Let me see--that will be seventy inches of me to drown.'--Here
he tried to laugh, but could not.--'The longer the better, however,'
he resumed; 'for can I not bargain that the princess shall be beside
me all the time? So I shall see her once more, kiss her perhaps, who
knows?--and die looking in her eyes. It will be no death. At least I
shall not feel it. And to see the lake filling for the beauty
again!--All right! I am ready.'

"He kissed the princess's boot, laid it down, and hurried to the
king's apartment. But feeling, as he went, that anything sentimental
would be disagreeable, he resolved to carry off the whole affair with
burlesque. So he knocked at the door of the king's counting-house,
where it was all but a capital crime to disturb him. When the king
heard the knock, he started up, and opened the door in a rage. Seeing
only the shoe-black, he drew his sword. This, I am sorry to say, was
his usual mode of asserting his regality, when he thought his dignity
was in danger. But the prince was not in the least alarmed.

"'Please your majesty, I'm your butler,' said he.

"'My butler! you lying rascal? What do you mean?'

"'I mean, I will cork your big bottle.'

"'Is the fellow mad?' bawled the king, raising the point of his sword.

"'I will put a stopper--plug--what you call it, in your leaky lake,
grand monarch,' said the prince.

"The king was in such a rage, that before he could speak he had time
to cool, and to reflect that it would be great waste to kill the only
man who was willing to be useful in the present emergency, seeing that
in the end the insolent fellow would be as dead as if he had died by
his majesty's own hand.

"'Oh!' said he at last, putting up his sword with difficulty--it was
so long; 'I am obliged to you, you young fool! Take a glass of wine?'

"'No, thank you,' replied the prince.

"'Very well,' said the king. 'Would you like to run and see your
parents before you make your experiment?'

"'No, thank you,' said the prince.

"'Then we will go and look for the hole at once,' said his majesty,
and proceeded to call some attendants.

"'Stop, please your majesty; I have a condition to make,' interposed
the prince.

"'What!' exclaimed the king; 'a condition! and with me! How dare you?'

"'As you please,' said the prince coolly. 'I wish your majesty good

"'You wretch! I will have you put in a sack, and stuck in the hole.'

"'Very well, your majesty,' replied the prince, becoming a little more
respectful, lest the wrath of the king should deprive him of the
pleasure of dying for the princess. 'But what good will that do your
majesty? Please to remember that the oracle says the victim must offer

"'Well, you _have_ offered yourself,' retorted the king.

"'Yes, upon one condition.'

"'Condition again!' roared the king, once more drawing his sword.
'Begone! Somebody else will be glad enough to take the honour off your

"'Your majesty knows it will not be easy to get one to take my place.'

"'Well, what is your condition?' growled the king, feeling that the
prince was right.

"'Only this,' replied the prince: 'that, as I must on no account die
before I am fairly drowned, and the waiting will be rather wearisome,
the princess, your daughter, shall go with me, feed me with her own
hands, and look at me now and then, to comfort me; for you must
confess it is rather hard. As soon as the water is up to my eyes, she
may go and be happy, and forget her poor shoe-black.'

"Here the prince's voice faltered, and he very nearly grew
sentimental, in spite of his resolutions.

"'Why didn't you tell me before what your condition was? Such a fuss
about nothing!' exclaimed the king.

"'Do you grant it?' persisted the prince.

"'I do,' replied the king.

"'Very well. I am ready.'

"'Go and have some dinner, then, while I set my people to find the

"The king ordered out his guards, and gave directions to the officers
to find the hole in the lake at once. So the bed of the lake was
marked out in divisions, and thoroughly examined; and in an hour or
so, the hole was discovered. It was in the middle of a stone, near the
centre of the lake, in the very pool where the golden plate had been
found. It was a three-cornered hole, of no great size. There was water
all round the stone, but none was flowing through the hole.

* * * * *


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