THE LIGHT PRINCESS
1. 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
"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 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 was, indeed, a very nice queen, and heartily sorry that she
could not oblige the king immediately.
2. Won't I, Just?
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, only you
must mind who. Unfortunately, the king forgot without intending to
forget; and so 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 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. 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 as she was.
So 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; after which she maintained
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
notwithstanding. 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.
3. 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." For 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 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
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.
4. 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 was 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
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,
clasping 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 beehive in a garden;
and in one 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 the household in such
constant good humour, at least below- stairs. If it was not easy
for her nurses to hold her, at least she made neither their arms
nor their hearts ache. And she was so nice to play at ball with!
There was positively no danger of letting her fall. They might
throw her down, or knock her down, or push her down, but couldn't
let her down. It is true, they 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 some care how they threw her,
for if she received an upward direction, she would never come down
again without being fetched.
5. 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 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
"What is all this about?" exclaimed he. "What are you crying for,
"I can't eat it," said the queen, looking ruefully at the
"-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
"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
"'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 light-bodied."
"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 arrested 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 exasperated herself?
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 duplicity can assume is
that of punning."
"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 house of the princess, and,
making a very humble apology, begged her to undo the spell. But the
princess declared, with a 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
"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 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.
6. She Laughs Too Much.
Meantime, notwithstanding awkward occurrences, and griefs that she
brought upon her parents, 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
was told, for the sake of experiment, that General Clanrunfort was
cut to pieces with all his troops, she laughed; when she heard that
the enemy was on his way to besiege her papa's capital, she laughed
hugely; but when she was told that the city would certainly be
abandoned to the mercy of the enemy's soldiery--why, then she
laughed immoderately. 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 mamma!"
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
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 agoing, 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 the attempt resulted in such an odd contortion of countenance,
as showed that there was no danger of his pluming himself on the
kiss. 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
7. Try Metaphysics.
After a long avoidance of the painful subject, the king and queen
resolved to hold a council 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 determine.
"My dear child," said the king, "you must be aware by this time
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
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 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 useless to be angry with her.
"Oh, you dear papa!--yes," answered she.
"What is it, my darling?"
"I have been longing for it--oh, such a time!--ever since last
"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
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 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.
The 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 reassert 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
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 asphyxy, 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
"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.
8. Try a Drop of Water.
Perhaps the best thing for the princess would have been to fall in
love. But how a princess who had no gravity 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. But
now I come to mention another curious fact about her.
The palace was built on the shores 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
recognise 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 manner in which 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. Now though the old king rarely
condescended to make light of his misfortune, yet, Happening on
this occasion to be in a particularly good humour, 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.
She was perfectly obstinate.
But at the same time she seemed more sedate than usual. Perhaps
that was because a great pleasure spoils laughing. At all events,
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 quite the same; only she
could not stay so long in the water when they had to break the ice
to let her in. Any day, from morning till evening in summer, 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 someone 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 her 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 at all 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.
And so remarkable were its effects upon her, especially in
restoring her for the time to the ordinary human gravity, that
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 one imported his opinions from China and the
other from Thibet, was very remarkable indeed. They argued 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--to meet which the philosophers were not wise enough. 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 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 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. Yet 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.
9. 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 in 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 way 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
"You naughty, naughty, NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY man!" she cried.
No one had ever succeeded in putting her into a passion before.-
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, staring, and forgetting to
get out. But the princess disappearing, he scrambled on shore, and
went in the direction of the tree. There 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!" returned 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."
"Pardon me. 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. But before he could think what to say
next, she burst out angrily, giving a stamp with her foot that
would have sent her aloft again but for the hold she had of his
"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 any one 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 not any
gravity. No prince, however, would judge of a princess by weight.
The loveliness of her foot he would hardly estimate by the depth of
the impression it could make in mud.
"Put you up where, you beauty?" asked 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 therefore in no hurry, they came
upon the lake at quite another part, where the bank was twenty-five
feet high at least; and when they had reached the edge, he turned
towards the princess, and 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, she found that, for a moment or two,
she could not even laugh, for she had gone down with such a rush,
that it was with difficulty she recovered her breath. The instant
they reached the surface--
"How do you like falling in?" said the prince.
After some effort 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
"How do YOU like falling in?" said the princess.
"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," responded 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," returned 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
"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.
10. 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
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 cold water and the cool princess. But he had
to endure till 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 is what he sung:--
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 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
"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."
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 gladness, 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 the blot; 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
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 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 till now,
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 soon
lie there 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 any more, 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.
A 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. Not even they could
suggest a cause.
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 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 will 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 seaweed. 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 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 to 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. She locked this also 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 under side of the bottom of
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
kept holding it up. And still it kept slowly oscillating. Round and
round the cavern they went, ever lessening the circuit, till at
last the snake made a sudden dart, and clung to the roof with its
"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, which 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 remained thus; when suddenly the serpent
dropped from the roof as if exhausted, and shrivelled up till it
was again like a piece of dried seaweed. 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. Shutting the door in a terrible hurry, she
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. Then 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. Before morning 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
water towards the moon. Thereupon 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
12. 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 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 shoeblack to the princess. It was rather cunning 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
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 the lake
were her soul, drying up within her, first to mud, then to madness
and death. She thus brooded over the change, with all its dreadful
accompaniments, till she was nearly distracted. 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. The people went
everywhere catching these, and looking for anything that might have
dropped from the royal boats.
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
"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 writing 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."
13. 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 was to 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 will die if I don'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 nonchalance. So he knocked at the door of the
king's counting-house, where it was all but a capital crime to
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
"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
"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
"As you please," returned the prince, coolly. "I wish your Majesty
a good morning."
"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 himself."
"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 Majesty knows it will not be easy to get another to take my
"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 resolution.
"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.
"Of course 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 very little
was flowing through the hole.
14.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
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 corner 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,
Darting 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 underground;
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 outspread 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 a 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; but he did not speak or move.
Two--three--four hours passed in this way, the princess apparently
asleep, and the prince very patient. But he was much disappointed
in his position, for he had none of the consolation he had hoped
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 looking round.
"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, very humbly.
"With all my heart," said the princess, and gaped as she said it.
She got the wine and the biscuit, however, and leaning over the
side of the boat towards him, was compelled to look at him.
"Why, prince," she said, "you don't look well! Are you sure you
don't mind it?"
"Not a bit," answered he, feeling very faint in deed. "Only I shall
die before it is of any use to you, unless I have something to
"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 away directly."
"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 felt better.
"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
"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 rose, and, gush after gush, the
waters were rising up the prince's body. They were up to his 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.
The nonchalance was all gone 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, and 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 easily 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 doctors.
"But the lake, your Highness!" said the chamberlain, who, roused by
the noise, came in, in his nightcap.
"Go and drown yourself in it!" she said.
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 chamberlain.
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 his bed. Somehow, the doctors never came. So the princess
and her old nurse were left with the prince. But the old nurse was
a wise woman, and knew what to do.
They tried everything for a long time without success. The princess
was 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.
15. 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've come round,
princess, so have I. How's the lake?"
"Brimful," answered the nurse.
"Then we're all happy."
"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, among 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 propriety. 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
"Is this the gravity you used to make so much of?" said she one day
to the prince, as he raised her from the floor. "For my part, I was
a great deal more comfortable without it."
"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,
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, that 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 day.
So the prince and princess lived and were happy; and had crowns of
gold, and clothes of cloth, and 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.