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