WHAT! NO CHILDREN?
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, and 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, clear 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."
WON'T I, JUST?
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 made herself so disagreeable to the old king, their
father, that he had forgotten 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 around the font, she contrived to get next to it, and throw
something into the water. She maintained a very respectful demeanor
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 parent's 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
"The mischief was done."
SHE CAN'T BE OURS.
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 could not work
at all. But we have more to do with what followed than with how it was
"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 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 stammering:—
"'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 continuously.
"'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."
WHERE IS SHE.
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 ethereal 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 long like a piece of flue, or a dandelion-seed,
carried her with it through the opposite window, and away. The queen
went downstairs, 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, clasping
"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 beehive in a garden. But in a minute more,
the queen was brought to herself by a great shout and clapping of
hands. They had found the princess fast sleep under a rosebush to which
the 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
"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-humor, 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 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 with out
WHAT IS TO BE DONE.
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 parlor, 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 dashed his gold sovereigns into his money-box, clapped
his crown on his head, and rushed into the parlor.
"'What is all this about?' exclaimed he. 'What are you crying for,
"'I can't eat it,' said the queen, looking ruefully it 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
half-way 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 doubled 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
"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 is 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 not
happy. She advised the king and queen to have patience, and to mend
their ways. The king returned disconsolate. The queen tried to comfort
"'We will wait till she is older. She may then be able to suggest
something. She will know at least how she feels, and explain things to
"'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."
SHE LAUGHS TOO MUCH.
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 any thing 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 her cheeks?
"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; 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 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 on his 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 a 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 him 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."
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 arm chair, 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.'
"'O 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
"'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 on
her former relation to the chair. The exact preposition expressing this
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 done?'
"'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 went,
and straight-way 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 favorite theories. For
the condition of the princess afforded delightful scope for the
discussion of every question arising from the 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 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, 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 cause of the anomalies
evident in the princess' 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 at 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 asphyxia, apply a ligature to the left ankle, 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 Kopy-
"'If it should, she would yet die in doing our duty,' retorted Hum-
"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."
TRY A DROP OF WATER.
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
beehive 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 fate 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
favorite with her, was in 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-humor, 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 directions 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' 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 water. For the slightest gush 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, headlong 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 noblemen. Of course horseback was out of
the question. But she bade good by to all this ceremony, when she got
into the water. So remarkable were its effects upon her, especialy, 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 had done 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 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 efficatious, 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 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 charity-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 laughter.
"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
"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
PUT ME IN AGAIN.
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 neighborhood;
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
labor 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 embarass
her; but certainly he brought her to shore in a fashion ignominious to
a swimmer, and more nearly drowned than she 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 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
delightful 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 conceded.
"The princess did not appear to understand him, for she retorted his
"'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 I 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 tomorrow night?' the prince ventured to ask.
"'To be sure I will. I don't think so. Perhaps,'—was the princess'
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' 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."
LOOK AT THE MOON.
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 colors 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' 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:
Lift thine eyes,
By the might
Of thine eyes.
Oars of snow,
Oar her hither.
Soft and slow,
Oar her hither
"Stream behind her
O'er the lake,
In her wake
Following, following for her sake,
"Cling about her,
Part not from her,
Cold and true
Kisses round her.
Lap me round,
That have left her;
Make me glad,
For he 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
"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.'
"Then 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' 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
"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
"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 once."
The princess' 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, at last the horrible idea became a
certain fact,—that the surface of the lake was slowly sinking.
"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
"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, '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 apiece 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 her 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 a slow motion
ever since she had ceased stirring it, came the head and half the body
of a huge gray 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 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 around 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
WHERE IS THE PRINCE?
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 princess 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 shoeblack 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
"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
"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.'"
HERE I AM.
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
"'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 can see her once more,—kiss her perhaps, who knows?—and
die looking into 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
I am ready.'
"He kissed the princess' 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
shoeblack, 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
"'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, least 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 that the victim must
"'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 honor 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 shoeblack.'
"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."
THIS IS VERY KIND OF YOU.
The prince went to dress for the occasion, for he was resolved to die
like a prince. "When the princess heard that a man had offered to die
for her, she was so transported that she jumped off the bed, feeble as
she was, and danced about the room for joy. She did not care who the
man was; that was nothing to her. The hole wanted stopping; and if only
a man would do, why, take one. In an hour or two more, everything was
ready. Her maid dressed her in haste, and they carried her to the side
of the lake. When she saw it, she shrieked, and covered her face with
her hands. They bore her across to the stone, where they had already
placed a little boat for her. The water was not deep enough to float
it, but they hoped it would be, before long. They laid her on cushions,
placed in the boat wines and fruits and other nice things, and
stretched a canopy over all.
"In a few minutes, the prince appeared. The princess recognized him at
once; but did not think it worth while to acknowledge him.
"'Here I am,' said the prince. 'Put me in.
"'They told me it was a shoeblack,' said the princess.
"'So I am,' said the prince. 'I blacked your little boots three times a
day, because they were all I could get of you. Put me in.'
"The courtiers did not resent his bluntness, except by saying to each
other that he was taking it out in impudence.
"But how was he to be put in? The golden plate contained no
instructions on this point. The prince looked at the hole, and saw but
one way. He put both his legs into it, sitting on the stone, and,
stooping forward, covered the two corners that remained open with his
two hands. In this uncomfortable position he resolved to abide his
fate, and, turning to the people, said:—
"'Now you can go.'
"The king had already gone home to dinner.
"'Now you can go,' repeated the princess after him, like a parrot.
"The people obeyed her, and went.
"Presently a little wave flowed over the stone, and wetted one of the
prince's knees. But he did not mind it much. He began to sing, and the
song he sang was this:—
"'As a world that has no well,
Darkly bright in forest-dell:
As a world without the gleam
Of the downward-going stream;
As a world without the glance
Of the ocean's fair expanse;
As a world where never rain
Glittered on the sunny plain,—
Such, my heart, thy world would be,
If no love did flow in thee.
"'As a world without the sound
Of the rivulets under ground;
Or the bubbling of the spring
Out of darkness wandering;
Or the mighty rush and flowing
Of the river's downward going;
Or the music-showers that drop
On the out-spread beech's top;
Or the ocean's mighty voice,
When his lifted waves rejoice,—
Such my soul, thy world would be,
If no love did sing in thee.
"'Lady, keep thy world's delight;
Keep the waters in thy sight;
Love hath made me strong to go,
For thy sake, to realms below,
Where the water's shine and hum
Through the darkness never come
Let, I pray, one thought of me
Spring, a little well, in thee;
Lest thy loveless soul be found
Like the dry and thirsty ground.'
"'Sing again, prince. It makes it less tedious,' said the princess.
"But the prince was too much overcome to sing any more. And a long
"'This is very kind of you, prince,' said the princess at last, quite
coolly, as she lay in the boat with her eyes shut.
"' I am sorry I can't return the compliment,' thought the prince; 'but
you are worth dying for, after all.'
"Again a wavelet, and another, and another, flowed over the stone, and
wetted both the prince's knees thoroughly; but he did not speak or
move. Two—three—four hours passed in this way, the princess
apparently fast asleep, and the prince very patient. But he was much
disappointed in his position, for he had none of the consolation he had
"At last he could bear it no longer.
"'Princess!' said he.
"But at the moment, up started the princess, crying:—
"'I'm afloat! I'm afloat!'
"'And the little boat bumped against the stone.
"'Princess!' repeated the prince, encouraged by seeing her wide awake,
and looking eagerly at the water.
"'Well?' said she, without once looking around.
"'Your papa promised that you should look at me; and you haven't looked
at me once.'
"'Did he? Then I suppose I must. But I am so sleepy!'
"'Sleep, then, darling, and don't mind me,' said the poor prince.
"'Really, you are very good,' replied the princess. 'I think I will go
to sleep again.'
"'Just give me a glass of wine and a biscuit, first,' said the prince
"'With all my heart,' said the princess, and gaped as she said it.
"She got the wine and the biscuit, however, and coming nearer with
"'Why, prince,' she said, 'you don't look well? Are you sure you don't
"'Not a bit,' answered he, feeling very faint indeed. 'Only, I shall
die before it is of any use to you, unless I have something to eat.'
"'There, then!' said she, holding out the wine to him.
"'Ah! you must feed me. I dare not move my hands. The water would run
"'Good gracious!' said the princess, and she began at once to feed him
with bits of biscuit, and sips of wine.
"As she fed him, he contrived to kiss the tips of her fingers now and
then. She did not seem to mind it, one way or the other. But the prince
"'Now for your own sake, princess,' said he, 'I cannot let you go to
sleep. You must sit and look at me, else I shall not be able to keep
"'Well, I will do anything I can to oblige you,' answered she, with
condescension, and, sitting down, she did look at him, and kept looking
at him, with wonderful steadiness, considering all things.
"The sun went down, and the moon came up, and gush after gush the
waters were flowing over the rock. They were up to the prince's waist,
"'Why can't we go and have a swim?' said the princess. 'There seems to
be water enough just about here.'
"'I shall never swim more,' said the prince.
"'Oh! I forgot,' said the princess, and was silent.
"So the water grew and grew, and rose up and up on the prince. And the
princess sat and looked at him. She fed him now and then. The night
wore on. The waters rose and rose. The moon rose likewise, higher and
higher, and shone full on the face of the dying prince. The water was
up to his neck.
"'Will you kiss me, princess?' said he, feebly, at last, for the fun
was all out of him now.
"'Yes, I will,' answered the princess, and kissed him with a long,
sweet, cold kiss.
"'Now,' said he, with a sigh of content, 'I die happy.'
"He did not speak again. The princess gave him some wine for the last
time: he was past eating. Then she sat down again, and looked at him.
The water rose and rose. It touched his chin. It touched his lower lip.
It touched between his lips. He shut them hard to keep it out. The
princess began to feel strange. It touched his upper lip. He breathed
through his nostrils. The princess looked wild. It covered his
nostrils. Her eyes looked scared, and shone strange in the moonlight.
His head fell back; the water closed over it; and the bubbles of his
last breath bubbled up through the water. The princess gave a shriek,
and sprang into the lake.
"She laid hold first of one leg, then of the other, and pulled and
tugged, but she could not move either. She stopped to take breath, and
that made her think that he could not get any breath. She was frantic.
She got hold of him, and held his head above the water, which was
possible, now his hands were no longer on the hole. But it was of no
use, for he was past breathing.
"Love and water brought back all her strength. She got under the water,
and pulled and pulled with her whole might, till, at last, she got one
leg out. The other hastily followed. How she got him into the boat she
never could tell; but when she did she fainted away. Coming to herself,
she seized the oars, kept herself steady as best she could, and rowed
and rowed, though she had never rowed before. Round rocks, and over
shallows, and through mud, she rowed, till she got to the landing
stairs of the palace. By this time, her people were on the shore, for
they had heard her shriek. She made them carry the prince to her own
room, and lay him in her bed, and light a fire, and send for the
"'But the lake, your Highness,' said the chamberlain, who, roused by
the noise, came in, in his nightcap.
"'Go and drown yourself in it,' said she.
"This was the last rudeness of which the princess was ever guilty, and
one must allow that she had good cause to feel provoked with the lord
"Had it been the king himself, he would have fared no better. But both
he and the queen were fast asleep. And the chamberlain went back to
bed. So the princess and her old nurse were left with the prince.
Somehow, the doctors never came. But the old nurse was a wise woman,
and knew what to do.
"They tried everything for a long time without success. The princess
vas nearly distracted between hope and fear, but she tried on and on,
one thing after another, and everything over and over again.
"At last, when they had all but given it up, just as the sun rose, the
prince opened his eyes."
LOOK AT THE RAIN!
The princess burst into a passion of tears, and fell on the floor.
There she lay for an hour, and her tears never ceased. All the pent-up
crying of her life was spent now. And a rain came on, such as had never
been seen in that country. The sun shone all the time, and the great
drops, which fell straight to the earth, shone likewise. The palace was
in the heart of a rainbow. It was a rain of rubies, and sapphires, and
emeralds, and topazes. The torrents poured from the mountains like
molten gold, and if it had not been for its subterraneous outlet, the
lake would have overflowed and inundated the country. It was full from
shore to shore.
"But the princess did not heed the lake. She lay on the floor and wept.
And this rain within doors was far more wonderful than the rain out of
doors. For when it abated a little, and she proceeded to rise, she
found, to her astonishment, that she could not. At length, after many
efforts, she succeeded in getting upon her feet. But she tumbled down
again directly. Hearing her fall, her old nurse uttered a yell of
delight, and ran to her, screaming:—
"'My darling child! She's found her gravity!'
"'Oh! that's it, is it?' said the princess rubbing her shoulder and her
knee alternately. 'I consider it very unpleasant. I feel as if I should
be crushed to pieces.'
"'Hurrah!' cried the prince, from the bed. 'If you're all right,
princess, so am I. How's the lake?'
"'Brimful! answered the nurse.
"'Then we're all jolly.'
"'That we are indeed!' answered the princess, sobbing.
"And there was rejoicing all over the country that rainy day. Even the
babies forgot their past troubles, and danced and crowed amazingly. And
the king told stories, and the queen listened to them. And he divided
the money in his box, and she the honey in her pot, to all the
children. And there was such jubilation as was never heard of before.
"Of course the prince and princess were betrothed at once. But the
princess had to learn to walk, before they could be married with any
And this was not so easy, at her time of life, for she could walk no
more than a baby. She was always falling down and hurting herself.
"'Is this the gravity you used to make so much of?' said she one day to
the prince. 'For my part, I was a great deal more comfortable without
"' No, no; that's not it. This is it,' replied the prince, as he took
her up, and carried her about like a baby, kissing her all the time.
'This is gravity.'
"'That's better,' said she. 'I don't mind that so much.'
"And she smiled the sweetest, loveliest smile in the prince's face. And
she gave him one little kiss, in return for all his, and he thought
them overpaid, for he was beside himself with delight. I fear she
complained of her gravity more than once after this, notwithstanding.
"It was a long time before she got reconciled to walking. But the pain
of learning it was quite counterbalanced by two things, either of which
would have been sufficient consolation. The first was, that the prince
himself was her teacher; and the second, hat she could tumble into the
lake as often as she pleased. Still, she preferred to have the prince
jump in with her, and the splash they made before was nothing to the
splash they made now.
"The lake never sank again. In process of time it wore the roof of the
cavern quite through, and was twice as deep as before.
"The only revenge the princess took upon her aunt was to tread pretty
hard on her gouty toe the next time she saw her. But she was sorry for
it the very next day, when she heard that the water had undermined her
house, and that it had fallen in the night, burying her in its ruins;
whence no one ever ventured to dig up her body. There she lies to this
"So the prince and princess lived and were happy, and had crowns of
gold, clothes of cloth, shoes of leather, and children of boys and
girls, not one of whom was ever known, on the most critical occasion,
to lose the smallest atom of his or her due proportion of gravity."