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hill princess.

From The suns babies by Edith Howes.
Age Rating 2 to 4.

Start of Story

It was when Roy and Charlie were out rabbiting that they met the Hill Princess. They had gone much farther than they usually did, and that is how they found her. It was in a long gully at the foot of the tallest hill of all, and she had come down the side of the hill to meet them. She was tall and beautiful, and her robes were as green as the grass in the gully, while her crown was all of starry white clematis flowers. "Have you had a good time?" she asked. The boys were too shy to speak at first--she was so grand and wonderful. But they knew it was polite to answer when you are spoken to, so Charlie plucked up courage and said: "Yes, thank you." "That is right," she said kindly. Then she stood and looked at them for quite a long time, while the boys grew shyer and shyer under her searching eyes. At last she spoke. "I am trying to feel your hearts," she said. "I can feel those of my own people at once, but yours are hard to understand."

The boys did not know what she meant, but they were too shy to ask. She went on: "I should like to show you my Palace, but I must first know whether it is safe to trust you. Can you keep your word?" "I can!" cried both boys at once. The thought of seeing the Palace took away their shyness. "Well," said the Princess, "if I take you to the Palace, you must first promise not to tell anybody about it--not even your mothers. No mortal has ever before seen it, and I do not wish others to come to look for it; so you must not tell them about it. Do you promise?" The boys promised at once, and the Princess said: "I shall always hold you to that. See that you keep your word. Now come." They followed her a few steps up the side of the hill. Here she stopped, and tapped with her foot on the ground. Instantly a door flew open in the hillside, and they entered. The door swung to behind them, and they found themselves in the Princess's throne-room.

It was a magnificent room, wide and lofty. The walls and roof and floor were all of glittering limestone, lit up by magic star-shaped lights of brilliant colours. In the centre stood a throne of solid gold, with a rug made of crimson flower-petals thrown half over it. "Don't the petals fade?" asked Roy as they admired the beautiful rug. "Nothing fades in my Palace," answered the Princess. She led them from room to room, talking kindly to them, and showing them quite proudly all the beauties of her home. It was indeed a wonderful Palace. Each room was different from all the others. In one the walls were made of gold, in another of silver, in another of opal, and in others of emerald or ruby or diamond, until one's eyes almost tired of the brilliance. The furniture was as beautiful as the walls, but the boys noticed that the chairs and tables and sofas and beds were all made very low, except those for the Princess herself. Indeed, so close to the ground were they that Charlie asked the Princess: "Are your people very little, Hill Princess?"

The Princess laughed. "Come and see them," she said, and she led the way out to the back of the hill. Here they found themselves in an open space covered with grass and flowers and little bushes. On every side rose a high straight bank, covered with bush creepers, and behind the bank rose tall bush trees to hide the place from view. "This is our playground," said the Princess, "and here are my people." The boys looked round eagerly. All they could see were rabbits and hares and birds and insects--rabbits and hares and birds and insects everywhere--hundreds of them playing on the grass, amongst the flowers, in the bushes. The boys were puzzled. "Where are the people?" asked Charlie. The Princess laughed again. "The hill creatures are my people," she said. "There, the animals can talk and work and play just as you can. The hares and rabbits do the work of the Palace; the birds fly in with our food from the surrounding country; and the insects take our messages. So work is provided for all. For their play they come here, and here they are so much at peace with one another that everyone is safe. To hurt anything is impossible here."

Now all this time Charlie had been thinking: "What a grand place for rabbiting!" So he looked up with rather a red face at the Princess's words. She knew what he was thinking, for she said: "See if you can touch Little Hoppy." She pointed, as she spoke, to a wise-looking rabbit who sat close to her feet, looking up at her with loving eyes. Roy and Charlie both bent down to catch Little Hoppy, but they found to their astonishment that, although he sat quite still, they could not touch him. Again and again they tried, but every time something seemed to push away their hands. It was not the rabbit--he never moved. Neither was it the Princess. She stood smiling beside them. "It's magic," said the Princess. "Come and play marbles," said Little Hoppy. The boys jumped. So the rabbits could talk in this strange place, could they? And play marbles, too? Why, yes, there were several marble rings in the playground, with bunnies and birds all playing together and chattering as fast as any crowd of boys. And hares were playing leap-frog. And groups of bush-robins were nursing tiny dolls. "Well, this is a comical place," said Roy. "May we go and have a game?" he asked the Princess.

The Princess shook her head. "It is too late to-day," she said. "You must leave us now, or it will be dark before you reach your homes. But keep your promise to me, and I will give you a stone that will guide you to the Palace another time. Then you may come earlier and so have time for a game." The boys were overjoyed. "That will be first-rate," they said. "When may we come again?" "The moon was full last night," answered the Princess. "Come always on the day after the full moon. See--these will guide you." She picked two small stones off the ground and gave them one each. As she touched them they gleamed and shone like opals; but when the boys took them they lost their light. "Do not lose these," she said. "If you keep your promise these stones will guide you to the Palace and open the door for you." She took them back through the Palace and out on to the hillside again. The boys thanked her and said good-bye, and she went in, shutting the door behind her with a word. When it was shut, you could not tell it was there, for the grass and tussocks grew over it.

Roy and Charlie went straight home, talking all the way about the wonderful things they had seen and heard. "We must watch carefully for the next full moon," said Roy at his gate, as they stood for a moment to say good-night. "Yes, indeed," said Charlie, "what a time we shall have!" Then he hurried home. "Have you had a good time, Charlie?" asked his mother at tea-time. "Rather!" said Charlie. "I don't believe anybody ever saw so many wonderful things as we saw to-day." And then he grew so excited at the thought of it all that he forgot about his promise, and told his mother and father about the Princess and the Palace. He knew before he had finished that he had done wrong, but that did not stop him. And the worst of it was that neither his father nor his mother believed him. His mother at first looked very grave, and asked him if he had been in the sun without his hat, but his father said: "Nonsense! the sun was not hot to-day. See that he doesn't read too much, Mary. We don't want him to learn to spin yarns like this." Then he was sent to bed.

Roy did not break his promise. He told his father and mother about his rabbiting, and about things he saw on the hills and in the gullies, but he said nothing at all about the Princess and the Palace. It was hard to keep silent when it was such a wonderful secret, but he remembered his promise. And that is how Roy found the Palace again and Charlie did not. When the day after the full moon came, they both started out, but Roy's stone led him straight to the Palace, while Charlie's led him all the afternoon away from it. They were magic stones, and had power to punish and reward. So Roy was led to the Princess, and had all sorts of wonderful games with Little Hoppy, while Charlie, because he had not kept his word, was led astray and not allowed to follow Roy or find the Palace for himself. And he has never found it yet.


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