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The light princess.

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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 elfish 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 they 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.



But above-stairs it was different. One day, for instance, after breakfast, the king went into his counting-house, and counted out his money. The operation gave him no pleasure. "To think," said he to himself, "that every one of these gold sovereigns weighs a quarter of an ounce, and my real, live, flesh-and-blood princess weighs nothing at all!" And he hated his gold sovereigns, as they lay with a broad smile of self-satisfaction all over their yellow faces. The queen was in the parlour, eating bread and honey. But at the second mouthful she burst out crying, and could not swallow it. The king heard her sobbing. Glad of anybody, but especially of his queen, to quarrel with, he clashed his gold sovereigns into his money-box, clapped his crown on his head, and rushed into the parlour. "What is all this about?" exclaimed he. "What are you crying for, queen?" "I can't eat it," said the queen, looking ruefully at the honey-pot. "No wonder!" retorted the king. "You've just eaten your breakfast--two turkey eggs, and three anchovies." "Oh, that's not it!" sobbed her Majesty. "It's my child, my child!" "Well, what's the matter with your child? She's neither up the chimney nor down the draw-well. Just hear her laughing." Yet the king could not help a sigh, which he tried to turn into a cough, saying: "It is a good thing to be light-hearted, I am sure, whether she be ours or not." "It is a bad thing to be light-headed," answered the queen, looking with prophetic soul far into the future. "'T is a good thing to be light-handed," said the king. "'T is a bad thing to be light-fingered," answered the queen. "'T is a good thing to be light-footed," said the king. "'T is 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!"

       



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