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The light princess.
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"Phlebotomise 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 Hum-Drum.
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.
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
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 into 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 to 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 night-gown, till she was seen
and angled for by somebody 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 without a cortège ,
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-bye to all this ceremony when she got
into the water.