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The Little Soldier
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The King's daughter was sitting before a table counting the money that she emptied from the inexhaustible purse.
'Eight hundred and fifty, nine hundred, nine hundred and fifty--'
'A thousand,' finished John. 'Good evening everybody!'
The Princess jumped and gave a little cry. 'You here! What business have you to do it? Leave at once, or I shall call--'
'I have come,' said the Kinglet, 'to remind you of your promise. The day after to-morrow is Easter Day, and it is high time to think of our marriage.'
Ludovine burst out into a fit of laughter. 'Our marriage! Have you really been foolish enough to believe that the daughter of the King of the Low Countries would ever marry the son of a boatman?'
'Then give me back the purse,' said John.
'Never,' said the Princess, and put it calmly in her pocket.
'As you like,' said the little soldier. 'He laughs best who laughs the last;' and he took the Princess in his arms. 'I wish,' he cried, 'that we were at the ends of the earth;' and in one second he was there, still clasping the Princess tightly in his arms.
'Ouf,' said John, laying her gently at the foot of a tree. 'I never took such a long journey before. What do you say, madam?' The Princess understood that it was no time for jesting, and did not answer. Besides she was still feeling giddy from her rapid flight, and had not yet collected her senses.
The King of the Low Countries was not a very scrupulous person, and his daughter took after him. This was why she had been changed into a serpent. It had been prophesied that she should be delivered by a little soldier, and that she must marry him, unless he failed to appear at the meeting-place three times running. The cunning Princess then laid her plans accordingly.
The wine that she had given to John in the castle of the goblins, the bouquet of immortelles, and the scarf, all had the power of producing sleep like death. And we know how they had acted on John.