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The light princess.
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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 comfort him.
"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
"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.
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 father'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!
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 position.
One day an awkward accident happened. The princess had come out upon the
lawn with one of her attendants, who held her by the hand. Spying her
father at the other side of the lawn, she snatched her hand from the
maid's, and sped across to him. Now when she wanted to run alone, her
custom was to catch up a stone in each hand, so that she might come down
again after a bound. Whatever she wore as part of her attire had no
effect in this way. Even gold, when it thus became as it were a part of
herself, lost all its weight for the time. But whatever she only held in
her hands retained its downward tendency. On this occasion she could see
nothing to catch up but a huge toad, that was walking across the lawn as
if he had a hundred years to do it in. Not knowing what disgust meant,
for this was one of her peculiarities, she snatched up the toad and
bounded away. She had almost reached her father, and he was holding out
his arms to receive her, and take from her lips the kiss which hovered
on them like 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 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 never smiled.