The Light Princess and Other Fairy Stories
by George MacDonald
THE LIGHT PRINCESS
THE GIANT'S HEART
THE GOLDEN KEY
I. WHAT! NO CHILDREN?
Once upon a time, so long ago that I have quite forgotten the date,
there lived a king and queen who had no children.
And the king said to himself, "All the queens of my acquaintance have
children, some three, some seven, and some as many as twelve; and my
queen has not one. I feel ill-used." So he made up his mind to be cross
with his wife about it. But she bore it all like a good patient queen
as she was. Then the king grew very cross indeed. But the queen
pretended to take it all as a joke, and a very good one too.
"Why don't you have any daughters, at least?" said he. "I don't say
sons; that might be too much to expect."
"I am sure, dear king, I am very sorry," said the queen.
"So you ought to be," retorted the king; "you are not going to make a
virtue of that, surely."
But he was not an ill-tempered king, and in any matter of less moment
would have let the queen have her own way with all his heart. This,
however, was an affair of state.
The queen smiled.
"You must have patience with a lady, you know, dear king," said she.
She was, indeed, a very nice queen, and heartily sorry that she could
not oblige the king immediately.
The king tried to have patience, but he succeeded very badly. It was
more than he deserved, therefore, when, at last, the queen gave him a
daughter—as lovely a little princess as ever cried.
II. WON'T I, JUST?
The day drew near when the infant must be christened. The king wrote
all the invitations with his own hand. Of course somebody was
Now it does not generally matter if somebody is forgotten, only you
must mind who. Unfortunately, the king forgot without intending to
forget; and so the chance fell upon the Princess Makemnoit, which was
awkward. For the princess was the king's own sister; and he ought not
to have forgotten her. But she had made herself so disagreeable to the
old king, their father, that he had forgotten her in making his will;
and so it was no wonder that her brother forgot her in writing his
invitations. But poor relations don't do anything to keep you in mind
of them. Why don't they? The king could not see into the garret she
lived in, could he?
She was a sour, spiteful creature. The wrinkles of contempt crossed the
wrinkles of peevishness, and made her face as full of wrinkles as a pat
of butter. If ever a king could be justified in forgetting anybody,
this king was justified in forgetting his sister, even at a
christening. She looked very odd, too. Her forehead was as large as all
the rest of her face, and projected over it like a precipice. When she
was angry her little eyes flashed blue. When she hated anybody, they
shone yellow and green. What they looked like when she loved anybody, I
do not know; for I never heard of her loving anybody but herself, and I
do not think she could have managed that if she had not somehow got
used to herself. But what made it highly imprudent in the king to
forget her was—that she was awfully clever. In fact, she was a witch;
and when she bewitched anybody, he very soon had enough of it; for she
beat all the wicked fairies in wickedness, and all the clever ones in
cleverness. She despised all the modes we read of in history, in which
offended fairies and witches have taken their revenges; and therefore,
after waiting and waiting in vain for an invitation, she made up her
mind at last to go without one, and make the whole family miserable,
like a princess as she was.
So she put on her best gown, went to the palace, was kindly received by
the happy monarch, who forgot that he had forgotten her, and took her
place in the procession to the royal chapel. When they were all
gathered about the font, she contrived to get next to it, and throw
something into the water; after which she maintained a very respectful
demeanour till the water was applied to the child's face. But at that
moment she turned round in her place three times, and muttered the
following words, loud enough for those beside her to hear:—
"Light of spirit, by my charms,
Light of body, every part,
Never weary human arms—
Only crush thy parents' heart!"
They all thought she had lost her wits, and was repeating some foolish
nursery rhyme; but a shudder went through the whole of them
notwithstanding. The baby, on the contrary, began to laugh and crow;
while the nurse gave a start and a smothered cry, for she thought she
was struck with paralysis: she could not feel the baby in her arms. But
she clasped it tight and said nothing.
The mischief was done.
III. SHE CAN'T BE OURS
Her atrocious aunt had deprived the child of all her gravity. If you
ask me how this was effected, I answer, "In the easiest way in the
world. She had only to destroy gravitation." For the princess was a
philosopher, and knew all the ins and outs of the laws of
gravitation as well as the ins and outs of her boot-lace. And being
a witch as well, she could abrogate those laws in a moment; or at least
so clog their wheels and rust their bearings, that they would not work
at all. But we have more to do with what followed than with how it was
The first awkwardness that resulted from this unhappy privation was,
that the moment the nurse began to float the baby up and down, she flew
from her arms towards the ceiling. Happily, the resistance of the air
brought her ascending career to a close within a foot of it. There she
remained, horizontal as when she left her nurse's arms, kicking and
laughing amazingly. The nurse in terror flew to the bell, and begged
the footman, who answered it, to bring up the house-steps directly.
Trembling in every limb, she climbed upon the steps, and had to stand
upon the very top, and reach up, before she could catch the floating
tail of the baby's long clothes.
When the strange fact came to be known, there was a terrible commotion
in the palace. The occasion of its discovery by the king was naturally
a repetition of the nurse's experience. Astonished that he felt no
weight when the child was laid in his arms, he began to wave her up
and—not down, for she slowly ascended to the ceiling as before, and
there remained floating in perfect comfort and satisfaction, as was
testified by her peals of tiny laughter. The king stood staring up in
speechless amazement, and trembled so that his beard shook like grass
in the wind. At last, turning to the queen, who was just as
horror-struck as himself, he said, gasping, staring, and stammering,—
"She can't be ours, queen!"
Now the queen was much cleverer than the king, and had begun already to
suspect that "this effect defective came by cause."
"I am sure she is ours," answered she. "But we ought to have taken
better care of her at the christening. People who were never invited
ought not to have been present."
"Oh, ho!" said the king, tapping his forehead with his forefinger, "I
have it all. I've found her out. Don't you see it, queen? Princess
Makemnoit has bewitched her."
"That's just what I say," answered the queen.
"I beg your pardon, my love; I did not hear you.—John! bring the steps
I get on my throne with."
For he was a little king with a great throne, like many other kings.
The throne-steps were brought, and set upon the dining-table, and John
got upon the top of them. But he could not reach the little princess,
who lay like a baby-laughter-cloud in the air, exploding continuously.
"Take the tongs, John," said his Majesty; and getting up on the table,
he handed them to him.
John could reach the baby now, and the little princess was handed down
by the tongs.
IV. WHERE IS SHE?
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 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
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
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 elvish 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 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
V. WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
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
"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.
"'Tis a good thing to be light-handed," said the king.
"'Tis a bad thing to be light-fingered," answered the queen.
"'Tis a good thing to be light-footed," said the king.
"'Tis 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
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!"
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 autumn."
"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.
VI. SHE LAUGHS TOO MUCH.
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 papa'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? Funny mamma!"
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 her 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.
VII. TRY METAPHYSICS.
After a long avoidance of the painful subject, the king and queen
resolved to hold a council of three upon it; and so they sent for the
princess. In she came, sliding and flitting and gliding from one piece
of furniture to another, and put herself at last in an armchair, in a
sitting posture. Whether she could be said to sit, seeing she
received no support from the seat of the chair, I do not pretend to
"My dear child," said the king, "you must be aware by this time that
you are not exactly like other people."
"Oh, you dear funny papa! I have got a nose, and two eyes, and all the
rest. So have you. So has mamma."
"Now be serious, my dear, for once," said the queen.
"No, thank you, mamma; I had rather not."
"Would you not like to be able to walk like other people?" said the
king. "No indeed, I should think not. You only crawl. You are such slow
"How do you feel, my child?" he resumed, after a pause of discomfiture.
"Quite well, thank you."
"I mean, what do you feel like?"
"Like nothing at all, that I know of."
"You must feel like something."
"I feel like a princess with such a funny papa, and such a dear pet of
"Now really!" began the queen; but the princess interrupted her.
"Oh yes," she added, "I remember. I have a curious feeling sometimes,
as if I were the only person that had any sense in the whole world."
She had been trying to behave herself with dignity; but now she burst
into a violent fit of laughter, threw herself backwards over the chair,
and went rolling about the floor in an ecstasy of enjoyment. The king
picked her up easier than one does a down quilt, and replaced her in
her former relation to the chair. The exact preposition expressing this
relation I do not happen to know.
"Is there nothing you wish for?" resumed the king, who had learned by
this time that it was quite useless to be angry with her.
"Oh, you dear papa!—yes," answered she.
"What is it, my darling?"
"I have been longing for it—oh, such a time! Ever since last night."
"Tell me what it is."
"Will you promise to let me have it?"
The king was on the point of saying Yes, but the wiser queen checked
him with a single motion of her head.
"Tell me what it is first," said he.
"No no. Promise first."
"I dare not. What is it?"
"Mind, I hold you to your promise.—It is—to be tied to the end of a
string—a very long string indeed, and be flown like a kite. Oh, such
fun! I would rain rose-water, and hail sugar-plums, and snow
A fit of laughing checked her; and she would have been off again over
the floor, had not the king started up and caught her just in time.
Seeing nothing but talk could be got out of her, he rang the bell, and
sent her away with two of her ladies-in-waiting.
"Now, queen," he said, turning to her Majesty, "what is to be done?"
"There is but one thing left," answered she. "Let us consult the
college of Metaphysicians."
"Bravo!" cried the king; "we will."
Now at the head of this college were two very wise Chinese
philosophers—by name, Hum-Drum and Kopy-Keck. For them the king sent;
and straightway they came. In a long speech he communicated to them
what they knew very well already—as who did not?—namely, the peculiar
condition of his daughter in relation to the globe on which she dwelt;
and requested them to consult together as to what might be the cause
and probable cure of her infirmity. The king laid stress upon the
word, but failed to discover his own pun. The queen laughed; but
Hum-Drum and Kopy-Keck heard with humility and retired in silence.
The consultation consisted chiefly in propounding and supporting, for
the thousandth time, each his favourite theories. For the condition of
the princess afforded delightful scope for the discussion of every
question arising from the division of thought—in fact, of all the
Metaphysics of the Chinese Empire. But it is only justice to say that
they did not altogether neglect the discussion of the practical
question, what was to be done.
Hum-Drum was a Materialist, and Kopy-Keck was a spiritualist. The
former was slow and sententious; the latter was quick and flighty: the
latter had generally the first word; the former the last.
"I reassert my former assertion," began Kopy-Keck, with a plunge.
"There is not a fault in the princess, body or soul; only they are
wrong put together. Listen to me now, Hum-Drum, and I will tell you in
brief what I think. Don't speak. Don't answer me. I won't hear you
till I have done.— At that decisive moment, when souls seek their
appointed habitations, two eager souls met, struck, rebounded, lost
their way, and arrived each at the wrong place. The soul of the
princess was one of those, and she went far astray. She does not belong
by rights to this world at all, but to some other planet, probably
Mercury. Her proclivity to her true sphere destroys all the natural
influence which this orb would otherwise possess over her corporeal
frame. She cares for nothing here. There is no relation between her and
"She must therefore be taught, by the sternest compulsion, to take an
interest in the earth as the earth. She must study every department of
its history—its animal history; its vegetable history; its mineral
history; its social history; its moral history; its political history;
its scientific history; its literary history; its musical history; its
artistical history; above all, its metaphysical history. She must begin
with the Chinese dynasty and end with Japan. But first of all she must
study geology, and especially the history of the extinct races of
animals—their natures, their habits, their loves, their hates, their
revenges. She must—"
"Hold, h-o-o-old!" roared Hum-Drum. "It is certainly my turn now. My
rooted and insubvertible conviction is, that the causes of the
anomalies evident in the princess's condition are strictly and solely
physical. But that is only tantamount to acknowledging that they exist.
Hear my opinion.—From some cause or other, of no importance to our
inquiry, the motion of her heart has been reversed. That remarkable
combination of the suction and the force-pump works the wrong way—I
mean in the case of the princess: it draws in where it should force
out, and forces out where it should draw in. The offices of the
auricles and the ventricles are subverted. The blood is sent forth by
the veins, and returns by the arteries. Consequently it is running the
wrong way through all her corporeal organism—lungs and all. Is it then
at all mysterious, seeing that such is the case, that on the other
particular of gravitation as well, she should differ from normal
humanity? My proposal for the cure is this:—
"Phlebotomize until she is reduced to the last point of safety. Let it
be affected, 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.
VIII. TRY A DROP OF WATER.
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 shore 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 recognize 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 follows:—
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 delightful laughter she disappeared in 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 till 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 someone from the
"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 out without a cort�ge,
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.
And so remarkable were its effects upon her, especially in restoring
her for the time to the ordinary human gravity, that Hum-Drum and
Kopy-Keck agreed in recommending the king to bury her alive for three
years; in the hope that, as the water did her so much good, the earth
would do her yet more. But the king had some vulgar prejudices against
the experiment, and would not give his consent. Foiled in this, they
yet agreed in another recommendation; which, seeing that the one
imported his opinions from China and the other from Thibet, was very
remarkable indeed. They argued that, if water of external origin and
application could be so efficacious, water from a deeper source might
work a perfect cure; in short, that if the poor afflicted princess
could by any means be made to cry, she might recover her lost gravity.
But how was this to be brought about? Therein lay all the
difficulty—to meet which the philosophers were not wise enough. To
make the princess cry was as impossible as to make her weigh. They sent
for a professional beggar; commanded him to prepare his most touching
oracle of woe; helped him, out of the court charade-box, to whatever he
wanted for dressing up, and promised great rewards in the event of his
success. But it was all in vain. She listened to the mendicant artist's
story, and gazed at his marvellous make-up, till she could contain
herself no longer, and went into the most undignified contortions for
relief, shrieking, positively screeching with laughter.
When she had a little recovered herself, she ordered her attendants to
drive him away, and not give him a single copper; whereupon his look of
mortified discomfiture wrought her punishment and his revenge, for it
sent her into violent hysterics, from which she was with difficulty
But so anxious was the king that the suggestion should have a fair
trial, that he put himself in a rage one day, and, rushing up to her
room, gave her an awful whipping. Yet not a tear would flow. She looked
grave, and her laughing sounded uncommonly like screaming—that was
all. The good old tyrant, though he put on his best gold spectacles to
look, could not discover the smallest cloud in the serene blue of her
IX. PUT ME IN AGAIN.
It must have been about this time that the son of a king, who lived a
thousand miles from Lagobel, set out to look for the daughter of a
queen. He travelled far and wide, but as sure as he found a princess,
he found some fault in her. Of course he could not marry a mere woman,
however beautiful; and there was no princess to be found worthy of him.
Whether the prince was so near perfection that he had a right to demand
perfection itself, I cannot pretend to say. All I know is, that he was
a fine, handsome, brave, generous, well-bred, and well-behaved youth,
as all princes are.
In his wanderings he had come across some reports about our princess;
but as everybody said she was bewitched, he never dreamed that she
could bewitch him. For what indeed could a prince do with a princess
that had lost her gravity? Who could tell what she might not lose next?
She might lose her visibility, or her tangibility; or, in short, the
power of making impressions upon the radical sensorium; so that he
should never be able to tell whether she was dead or alive. Of course
he made no further inquiries about her.
One day he lost sight of his retinue in a great forest. These forests
are very useful in delivering princes from their courtiers, like a
sieve that keeps back the bran. Then the princes get away to follow
their fortunes. In this they have the advantage of the princesses, who
are forced to marry before they have had a bit of fun. I wish our
princesses got lost in a forest sometimes.
One lovely evening, after wandering about for many days, he found that
he was approaching the outskirts of this forest; for the trees had got
so thin that he could see the sunset through them; and he soon came
upon a kind of heath. Next he came upon signs of human neighbourhood;
but by this time it was getting late, and there was nobody in the
fields to direct him.
After travelling for another hour, his horse, quite worn out with long
labour and lack of food, fell, and was unable to rise again. So he
continued his journey on foot. At length he entered another wood—not a
wild forest, but a civilized wood, through which a footpath led him to
the side of a lake. Along this path the prince pursued his way through
the gathering darkness. Suddenly he paused, and listened. Strange
sounds came across the water. It was, in fact, the princess laughing.
Now there was something odd in her laugh, as I have already hinted, for
the hatching of a real hearty laugh requires the incubation of gravity;
and perhaps this was how the prince mistook the laughter for screaming.
Looking over the lake, he saw something white in the water; and, in an
instant, he had torn off his tunic, kicked off his sandals, and plunged
in. He soon reached the white object, and found that it was a woman.
There was not light enough to show that she was a princess, but quite
enough to show that she was a lady, for it does not want much light to
Now I cannot tell how it came about,—whether she pretended to be
drowning, or whether he frightened her, or caught her so as to
embarrass her,—but certainly he brought her to shore in a fashion
ignominious to a swimmer, and more nearly drowned than she had ever
expected to be; for the water had got into her throat as often as she
had tried to speak.
At the place to which he bore her, the bank was only a foot or two
above the water, so he gave her a strong lift out of the water, to lay
her on the bank. But, her gravitation ceasing the moment she left the
water, away she went up into the air, scolding and screaming.
"You naughty, naughty, NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY man!" she cried.
No one had ever succeeded in putting her into a passion before.—When
the prince saw her ascend, he thought he must have been bewitched, and
have mistaken a great swan for a lady. But the princess caught hold of
the topmost cone upon a lofty fir. This came off; but she caught at
another, and, in fact, stopped herself by gathering cones, dropping
them as the stocks gave way. The prince, meantime, stood in the water,
staring, and forgetting to get out. But the princess disappearing, he
scrambled on shore, and went in the direction of the tree. There he
found her climbing down one of the branches towards the stem. But in
the darkness of the wood, the prince continued in some bewilderment as
to what the phenomenon could be; until, reaching the ground, and seeing
him standing there, she caught hold of him, and said,—
"I'll tell papa."
"Oh no, you won't!" returned the prince.
"Yes, I will," she persisted. "What business had you to pull me down
out of the water, and throw me to the bottom of the air? I never did
you any harm."
"Pardon me. I did not mean to hurt you."
"I don't believe you have any brains; and that is a worse loss that
your wretched gravity. I pity you."
The prince now saw that he had come upon the bewitched princess, and
had already offended her. But before he could think what to say next,
she burst out angrily, giving a stamp with her foot that would have
sent her aloft again but for the hold she had of his arm,—
"Put me up directly."
"Put you up where, you beauty?" asked the prince.
He had fallen in love with her almost, already; for her anger made her
more charming than any one else had ever beheld her; and, as far as he
could see, which certainly was not far, she had not a single fault
about her, except, of course, that she had not any gravity. No prince,
however, would judge of a princess by weight. The loveliness of her
foot he would hardly estimate by the depth of the impression it could
make in the mud.
"Put you up where, you beauty?" asked the prince.
"In the water, you stupid!" answered the princess.
"Come, then," said the prince.
The condition of her dress, increasing her usual difficulty in walking,
compelled her to cling to him; and he could hardly persuade himself
that he was not in a delightful dream, notwithstanding the torrent of
musical abuse with which she overwhelmed him. The prince being
therefore in no hurry, they came upon the lake at quite another part,
where the bank was twenty-five feet high at least; and when they had
reached the edge, he turned towards the princess, and said,—
"How am I to put you in?"
"That is your business," she answered, quite snappishly. "You took me
out—put me in again."
"Very well," said the prince; and, catching her up in his arms, he
sprang with her from the rock. The princess had just time to give one
delighted shriek of laughter before the water closed over them. When
they came to the surface, she found that, for a moment or two, she
could not even laugh, for she had gone down with such a rush, that it
was with difficulty she recovered her breath. The instant they reached
"How do you like falling in?" said the prince.
After some effort the princess panted out,—
"Is that what you call falling in?"
"Yes," answered the prince, "I should think it a very tolerable
"It seemed to me like going up," rejoined she.
"My feeling was certainly one of elevation too," the prince conceded.
The princess did not appear to understand him, for she retorted his
"How do you like falling in?" said the princess.
"Beyond everything," answered he; "for I have fallen in with the only
perfect creature I ever saw."
"No more of that: I am tired of it," said the princess.
Perhaps she shared her father's aversion to punning.
"Don't you like falling in, then?" said the prince.
"It is the most delightful fun I ever had in my life," answered she. "I
never fell before. I wish I could learn. To think I am the only person
in my father's kingdom that can't fall!"
Here the poor princess looked almost sad.
"I shall be most happy to fall in with you any time you like," said the
"Thank you. I don't know. Perhaps it would not be proper. But I don't
care. At all events, as we have fallen in, let us have a swim
"With all my heart," responded the prince.
And away they went, swimming, and diving, and floating, until at last
they heard cries along the shore, and saw lights glancing in all
directions. It was now quite late, and there was no moon.
"I must go home," said the princess. "I am very sorry, for this is
"So am I," returned the prince. "But I am glad I haven't a home to go
to—at least, I don't exactly know where it is."
"I wish I hadn't one either," rejoined the princess; "it is so stupid!
I have a great mind," she continued, "to play them all a trick. Why
couldn't they leave me alone? They won't trust me in the lake for a
single night!—You see where that green light is burning? That is the
window of my room. Now if you would just swim there with me very
quietly, and when we are all but under the balcony, give me such a
push—up you call it—as you did a little while ago, I should be able
to catch hold of the balcony, and get in at the window; and then they
may look for me till to-morrow morning!"
"With more obedience than pleasure," said the prince, gallantly; and
away they swam, very gently.
"Will you be in the lake to-morrow night?" the prince ventured to ask.
"To be sure I will. I don't think so. Perhaps," was the princess's
somewhat strange answer.
But the prince was intelligent enough not to press her further; and
merely whispered, as he gave her the parting lift, "Don't tell." The
only answer the princess returned was a roguish look. She was already a
yard above his head. The look seemed to say, "Never fear. It is too
good fun to spoil that way."
So perfectly like other people had she been in the water, that even yet
the prince could scarcely believe his eyes when he saw her ascend
slowly, grasp the balcony, and disappear through the window. He turned,
almost expecting to see her still by his side. But he was alone in the
water. So he swam away quietly, and watched the lights roving about the
shore for hours after the princess was safe in her chamber. As soon as
they disappeared, he landed in search of his tunic and sword, and,
after some trouble, found them again. Then he made the best of his way
round the lake to the other side. There the wood was wilder, and the
shore steeper—rising more immediately towards the mountains which
surrounded the lake on all sides, and kept sending it messages of
silvery streams from morning to night, and all night long. He soon
found a spot whence he could see the green light in the princess's
room, and where, even in the broad daylight, he would be in no danger
of being discovered from the opposite shore. It was a sort of cave in
the rock, where he provided himself a bed of withered leaves, and lay
down too tired for hunger to keep him awake. All night long he dreamed
that he was swimming with the princess.
X. LOOK AT THE MOON.
Early the next morning the prince set out to look for something to eat,
which he soon found at a forester's hut, where for many following days
he was supplied with all that a brave prince could consider necessary.
And having plenty to keep him alive for the present, he would not think
of wants not yet in existence. Whenever Care intruded, this prince
always bowed him out in the most princely manner.
When he returned from his breakfast to his watch-cave, he saw the
princess already floating about in the lake, attended by the king or
queen—whom he knew by their crowns—and a great company in lovely
little boats, with canopies of all the colours of the rainbow, and
flags and streamers of a great many more. It was a very bright day, and
soon the prince, burned up with the heat, began to long for the cold
water and the cool princess. But he had to endure till twilight; for
the boats had provisions on board, and it was not till the sun went
down that the gay party began to vanish. Boat after boat drew away to
the shore, following that of the king and queen, till only one,
apparently the princess's own boat, remained. But she did not want to
go home even yet, and the prince thought he saw her order the boat to
the shore without her. At all events, it rowed away; and now, of all
the radiant company, only one white speck remained. Then the prince
began to sing.
And this is what he sang:—
Lift thine eyes
By the might
Of thine eyes.
Oars of snow,
Oar her hither,
Soft and slow,
Oar her hither.
Stream behind her
O'er the lake,
In her wake
Following, following for her sake,
Cling about her,
Part not from her,
Cold and true
Kisses round her.
Lap me round,
That have left her;
Make me glad,
For ye had
Kissed her ere ye left her."
Before he had finished his song, the princess was just under the place
where he sat, and looking up to find him. Her ears had led her truly.
"Would you like a fall, princess?" said the prince, looking down.
"Ah! there you are! Yes, if you please, prince," said the princess,
"How do you know I am a prince, princess?" said the prince.
"Because you are a very nice young man, prince," said the princess.
"Come up then, princess."
"Fetch me, prince."
The prince took off his scarf, then his sword-belt, then his tunic, and
tied them all together, and let them down. But the line was far too
short. He unwound his turban, and added it to the rest, when it was all
but long enough; and his purse completed it. The princess just managed
to lay hold of the knot of money, and was beside him in a moment. This
rock was much higher than the other, and the splash and the dive were
tremendous. The princess was in ecstasies of delight, and their swim
Night after night they met, and swam about in the dark clear lake;
where such was the prince's gladness, that (whether the princess's way
of looking at things infected him, or he was actually getting
light-headed) he often fancied that he was swimming in the sky instead
of the lake. But when he talked about being in heaven, the princess
laughed at him dreadfully.
When the moon came, she brought them fresh pleasure. Everything looked
strange and new in her light, with an old, withered, yet unfading
newness. When the moon was nearly full, one of their great delights
was, to dive deep in the water, and then, turning round, look up
through it at the great blot of light close above them, shimmering and
trembling and wavering, spreading and contracting, seeming to melt
away, and again grow solid. Then they would shoot up through the blot;
and lo! there was the moon, far off, clear and steady and cold, and
very lovely, at the bottom of a deeper and bluer lake than theirs, as
the princess said.
The prince soon found out that while in the water the princess was very
like other people. And besides this, she was not so forward in her
questions or pert in her replies at sea as on shore. Neither did she
laugh so much; and when she did laugh, it was more gently. She seemed
altogether more modest and maidenly in the water than out of it. But
when the prince, who had really fallen in love when he fell in the
lake, began to talk to her about love, she always turned her head
towards him and laughed. After a while she began to look puzzled, as if
she were trying to understand what he meant, but could not—revealing a
notion that he meant something. But as soon as ever she left the lake,
she was so altered, that the prince said to himself, "If I marry her, I
see no help for it: we must turn merman and mermaid, and go out to sea
The princess's pleasure in the lake had grown to a passion, and she
could scarcely bear to be out of it for an hour. Imagine then her
consternation, when, diving with the prince one night, a sudden
suspicion seized her that the lake was not so deep as it used to be.
The prince could not imagine what had happened. She shot to the
surface, and, without a word, swam at full speed towards the higher
side of the lake. He followed, begging to know if she was ill, or what
was the matter. She never turned her head, or took the smallest notice
of his question. Arrived at the shore, she coasted the rocks with
minute inspection. But she was not able to come to a conclusion, for
the moon was very small, and so she could not see well. She turned
therefore and swam home, without saying a word to explain her conduct
to the prince, of whose presence she seemed no longer conscious. He
withdrew to his cave, in great perplexity and distress.
Next day she made many observations, which, alas! strengthened her
fears. She saw that the banks were too dry; and that the grass on the
shore, and the trailing plants on the rocks, were withering away. She
caused marks to be made along the borders, and examined them, day after
day, in all directions of the wind; till at last the horrible idea
became a certain fact—that the surface of the lake was slowly sinking.
The poor princess nearly went out of the little mind she had. It was
awful to her to see the lake, which she loved more than any living
thing, lie dying before her eyes. It sank away, slowly vanishing. The
tops of rocks that had never been seen till now, began to appear far
down in the clear water. Before long they were dry in the sun. It was
fearful to think of the mud that would soon lie there baking and
festering, full of lovely creatures dying, and ugly creatures coming to
life, like the unmaking of a world. And how hot the sun would be
without any lake! She could not bear to swim in it any more, and began
to pine away. Her life seemed bound up with it; and ever as the lake
sank, she pined. People said she would not live an hour after the lake
But she never cried.
Proclamation was made to all the kingdom, that whosoever should
discover the cause of the lake's decrease, would be rewarded after a
princely fashion. Hum-Drum and Kopy-Keck applied themselves to their
physics and metaphysics; but in vain. Not even they could suggest a
Now the fact was that the old princess was at the root of the mischief.
When she heard that her niece found more pleasure in the water than
anyone else out of it, she went into a rage, and cursed herself for her
want of foresight.
"But," said she, "I will soon set all right. The king and the people
shall die of thirst; their brains shall boil and frizzle in their
skulls before I will lose my revenge."
And she laughed a ferocious laugh, that made the hairs on the back of
her black cat stand erect with terror.
Then she went to an old chest in the room, and opening it, took out
what looked like a piece of dried seaweed. This she threw into a tub of
water. Then she threw some powder into the water, and stirred it with
her bare arm, muttering over it words of hideous sound, and yet more
hideous import. Then she set the tub aside, and took from the chest a
huge bunch of a hundred rusty keys, that clattered in her shaking
hands. Then she sat down and proceeded to oil them all. Before she had
finished, out from the tub, the water of which had kept on a slow
motion ever since she had ceased stirring it, came the head and half
the body of a huge gray snake. But the witch did not look round. It
grew out of the tub, waving itself backwards and forwards with a slow
horizontal motion, till it reached the princess, when it laid its head
upon her shoulder, and gave a low hiss in her ear. She started—but
with joy; and seeing the head resting on her shoulder, drew it towards
her and kissed it. Then she drew it all out of the tub, and wound it
round her body. It was one of those dreadful creatures which few have
ever beheld—the White Snakes of Darkness.
Then she took the keys and went down to her cellar; and as she unlocked
the door she said to herself,—
"This is worth living for!"
Locking the door behind her, she descended a few steps into the cellar,
and crossing it, unlocked another door into a dark, narrow passage. She
locked this also behind her, and descended a few more steps. If anyone
had followed the witch-princess, he would have heard her unlock exactly
one hundred doors, and descend a few steps after unlocking each. When
she had unlocked the last, she entered a vast cave, the roof of which
was supported by huge natural pillars of rock. Now this roof was the
under side of the bottom of the lake.
She then untwined the snake from her body, and held it by the tail high
above her. The hideous creature stretched up its head towards the roof
of the cavern, which it was just able to reach. It then began to move
its head backwards and forwards, with a slow oscillating motion, as if
looking for something. At the same moment the witch began to walk round
and round the cavern, coming nearer to the centre every circuit; while
the head of the snake described the same path over the roof that she
did over the floor, for she kept holding it up. And still it kept
slowly oscillating. Round and round the cavern they went, ever
lessening the circuit, till at last the snake made a sudden dart, and
clung to the roof with its mouth.
"That's right, my beauty!" cried the princess; "drain it dry."
She let it go, left it hanging, and sat down on a great stone, with her
black cat, which had followed her all round the cave, by her side. Then
she began to knit and mutter awful words. The snake hung like a huge
leech, sucking at the stone; the cat stood with his back arched, and
his tail like a piece of cable, looking up at the snake; and the old
woman sat and knitted and muttered. Seven days and seven nights they
remained thus; when suddenly the serpent dropped from the roof as if
exhausted, and shrivelled up till it was again like a piece of dried
seaweed. The witch started to her feet, picked it up, put it in her
pocket, and looked up at the roof. One drop of water was trembling on
the spot where the snake had been sucking. As soon as she saw that, she
turned and fled, followed by her cat. Shutting the door in a terrible
hurry, she locked it, and having muttered some frightful words, sped to
the next, which also she locked and muttered over; and so with all the
hundred doors, till she arrived in her own cellar. There she sat down
on the floor ready to faint, but listening with malicious delight to
the rushing of the water, which she could hear distinctly through all
the hundred doors.
But this was not enough. Now that she had tasted revenge, she lost her
patience. Without further measures, the lake would be too long in
disappearing. So the next night, with the last shred of the dying old
moon rising, she took some of the water in which she had revived the
snake, put it in a bottle, and set out, accompanied by her cat. Before
morning she had made the entire circuit of the lake, muttering fearful
words as she crossed every stream, and casting into it some of the
water out of her bottle. When she had finished the circuit she muttered
yet again, and flung a handful of water towards the moon. Thereupon
every spring in the country ceased to throb and bubble, dying away like
the pulse of a dying man. The next day there was no sound of falling
water to be heard along the borders of the lake. The very courses were
dry; and the mountains showed no silvery streaks down their dark sides.
And not alone had the fountains of mother Earth ceased to flow; for all
the babies throughout the country were crying dreadfully—only without
XII. WHERE IS THE PRINCE?
Never since the night when the princess left him so abruptly had the
prince had a single interview with her. He had seen her once or twice
in the lake; but as far as he could discover, she had not been in it
any more at night. He had sat and sung, and looked in vain for his
Nereid; while she, like a true Nereid, was wasting away with her lake,
sinking as it sank, withering as it dried. When at length he discovered
the change that was taking place in the level of the water, he was in
great alarm and perplexity. He could not tell whether the lake was
dying because the lady had forsaken it; or whether the lady would not
come because the lake had begun to sink. But he resolved to know so
much at least.
He disguised himself, and, going to the palace, requested to see the
lord chamberlain. His appearance at once gained his request; and the
lord chamberlain, being a man of some insight, perceived that there was
more in the prince's solicitation than met the ear. He felt likewise
that no one could tell whence a solution of the present difficulties
might arise. So he granted the prince's prayer to be made shoe-black to
the princess. It was rather cunning in the prince to request such an
easy post, for the princess could not possibly soil as many shoes as
other princesses. He soon learned all that could be learned about the
princess. He went nearly distracted; but after roaming about the lake
for days, and diving in every depth that remained, all that he could do
was to put an extra polish on the dainty pair of boots that was never
For the princess kept her room, with the curtains drawn to shut out the
dying lake. But she could not shut it out of her mind for a moment. It
haunted her imagination so that she felt as if the lake were her soul,
drying up within her, first to mud, then to madness and death. She thus
brooded over the change, with all its dreadful accompaniments, till she
was nearly distracted. As for the prince, she had forgotten him.
However much she had enjoyed his company in the water, she did not care
for him without it. But she seemed to have forgotten her father and
mother too. The lake went on sinking. Small slimy spots began to
appear, which glittered steadily amidst the changeful shine of the
water. These grew to broad patches of mud, which widened and spread,
with rocks here and there, and floundering fishes and crawling eels
swarming. The people went everywhere catching these, and looking for
anything that might have dropped from the royal boats.
At length the lake was all but gone, only a few of the deepest pools
It happened one day that a party of youngsters found themselves on the
brink of one of these pools in the very centre of the lake. It was a
rocky basin of considerable depth. Looking in, they saw at the bottom
something that shone yellow in the sun. A little boy jumped in and
dived for it. It was a plate of gold covered with writing. They carried
it to the king.
On one side of it stood these words:—
"Death alone from death can save.
Love is death, and so is brave.
Love can fill the deepest grave.
Love loves on beneath the wave."
Now this was enigmatical enough to the king and courtiers. But the
reverse of the plate explained it a little. Its writing amounted to
"If the lake should disappear, they must find the hole through which
the water ran. But it would be useless to try to stop it by any
ordinary means. There was but one effectual mode.—The body of a living
man could alone stanch the flow. The man must give himself of his own
will; and the lake must take his life as it filled. Otherwise the
offering would be of no avail. If the nation could not provide one
hero, it was time it should perish."
XIII. HERE I AM.
This was a very disheartening revelation to the king—not that he was
unwilling to sacrifice a subject, but that he was hopeless of finding a
man willing to sacrifice himself. No time was to be lost, however, for
the princess was lying motionless on her bed, and taking no nourishment
but lake-water, which was now none of the best. Therefore the king
caused the contents of the wonderful plate of gold to be published
throughout the country.
No one, however, came forward.
The prince, having gone several days' journey into the forest, to
consult a hermit whom he had met there on his way to Lagobel, knew
nothing of the oracle till his return.
When he had acquainted himself with all the particulars, he sat down
"She will die if I don't do it, and life would be nothing to me without
her; so I shall lose nothing by doing it. And life will be as pleasant
to her as ever, for she will soon forget me. And there will be so much
more beauty and happiness in the world!—To be sure, I shall not see
it." (Here the poor prince gave a sigh.) "How lovely the lake will be
in the moonlight, with that glorious creature sporting in it like a
wild goddess!—It is rather hard to be drowned by inches, though. Let
me see—that will be seventy inches of me to drown." (Here he tried to
laugh, but could not.) "The longer the better, however," he resumed,
"for can I not bargain that the princess shall be beside me all the
time? So I shall see her once more, kiss her, perhaps,—who knows? and
die looking in her eyes. It will be no death. At least, I shall not
feel it. And to see the lake filling for the beauty again!—All right!
I am ready."
He kissed the princess's boot, laid it down, and hurried to the king's
apartment. But feeling, as he went, that anything sentimental would be
disagreeable, he resolved to carry off the whole affair with
nonchalance. So he knocked at the door of the king's counting-house,
where it was all but a capital crime to disturb him.
When the king heard the knock he started up, and opened the door in a
rage. Seeing only the shoeblack, he drew his sword. This, I am sorry to
say, was his usual mode of asserting his regality, when he thought his
dignity was in danger. But the prince was not in the least alarmed.
"Please your majesty, I'm your butler," said he.
"My butler! you lying rascal? What do you mean?"
"I mean, I will cork your big bottle."
"Is the fellow mad?" bawled the king, raising the point of his sword.
"I will put a stopper—plug—what you call it, in your leaky lake,
grand monarch," said the prince.
The king was in such a rage that before he could speak he had time to
cool, and to reflect that it would be great waste to kill the only man
who was willing to be useful in the present emergency, seeing that in
the end the insolent fellow would be as dead as if he had died by his
majesty's own hand. "Oh!" said he at last, putting up his sword with
difficulty, it was so long; "I am obliged to you, you young fool! Take
a glass of wine?"
"No, thank you," replied the prince.
"Very well," said the king. "Would you like to run and see your parents
before you make your experiment?"
"No, thank you," said the prince.
"Then we will go and look for the hole at once," said his majesty, and
proceeded to call some attendants.
"Stop, please your majesty; I have a condition to make," interposed the
"What!" exclaimed the king, "a condition! and with me! How dare you?"
"As you please," returned the prince coolly. "I wish your majesty a
"You wretch! I will have you put in a sack, and stuck in the hole."
"Very well, your majesty," replied the prince, becoming a little more
respectful, lest the wrath of the king should deprive him of the
pleasure of dying for the princess. "But what good will that do your
majesty? Please to remember that the oracle says the victim must offer
"Well, you have offered yourself," retorted the king.
"Yes, upon one condition."
"Condition again!" roared the king, once more drawing his sword.
"Begone! Somebody else will be glad enough to take the honour off your
"Your majesty knows it will not be easy to get another to take my
"Well, what is your condition?" growled the king, feeling that the
prince was right.
"Only this," replied the prince: "that, as I must on no account die
before I am fairly drowned, and the waiting will be rather wearisome,
the princess, your daughter, shall go with me, feed me with her own
hands, and look at me now and then, to comfort me; for you must confess
it is rather hard. As soon as the water is up to my eyes, she may go
and be happy, and forget her poor shoeblack."
Here the prince's voice faltered, and he very nearly grew sentimental,
in spite of his resolution.
"Why didn't you tell me before what your condition was? Such a fuss
about nothing!" exclaimed the king.
"Do you grant it?" persisted the prince.
"Of course I do," replied the king.
"Very well. I am ready."
"Go and have some dinner, then, while I set my people to find the
The king ordered out his guards, and gave directions to the officers to
find the hole in the lake at once. So the bed of the lake was marked
out in divisions and thoroughly examined, and in an hour or so the hole
was discovered. It was in the middle of a stone, near the centre of the
lake, in the very pool where the golden plate had been found. It was a
three-cornered hole of no great size. There was water all round the
stone, but very little was flowing through the hole.
XIV. THIS IS VERY KIND OF YOU.
The prince went to dress for the occasion, for he was resolved to die
like a prince.
When the princess heard that a man had offered to die for her, she was
so transported that she jumped off the bed, feeble as she was, and
danced about the room for joy. She did not care who the man was; that
was nothing to her. The hole wanted stopping; and if only a man would
do, why, take one. In an hour or two more everything was ready. Her
maid dressed her in haste, and they carried her to the side of the
lake. When she saw it she shrieked, and covered her face with her
hands. They bore her across to the stone, where they had already placed
a little boat for her. The water was not deep enough to float it, but
they hoped it would be, before long. They laid her on cushions, placed
in the boat wines and fruits and other nice things, and stretched a
canopy over all.
In a few minutes the prince appeared. The princess recognized him at
once, but did not think it worth while to acknowledge him.
"Here I am," said the prince. "Put me in."
"They told me it was a shoeblack," said the princess.
"So I am," said the prince. "I blacked your little boots three times a
day, because they were all I could get of you. Put me in."
The courtiers did not resent his bluntness, except by saying to each
other that he was taking it out in impudence.
But how was he to be put in? The golden plate contained no instructions
on this point. The prince looked at the hole, and saw but one way. He
put both his legs into it, sitting on the stone, and, stooping forward,
covered the corner that remained open with his two hands. In this
uncomfortable position he resolved to abide his fate, and turning to
the people, said,—
"Now you can go."
The king had already gone home to dinner.
"Now you can go," repeated the princess after him, like a parrot.
The people obeyed her and went.
Presently a little wave flowed over the stone, and wetted one of the
prince's knees. But he did not mind it much. He began to sing, and the
song he sung was this:—
"As a world that has no well,
Darkly bright in forest dell;
As a world without the gleam
Of the downward-going stream;
As a world without the glance
Of the ocean's fair expanse;
As a world where never rain
Glittered on the sunny plain;—
Such, my heart, thy world would be,
If no love did flow in thee.
"As a world without the sound
Of the rivulets underground;
Or the bubbling of the spring
Out of darkness wandering;
Or the mighty rush and flowing
Of the river's downward going;
Or the music-showers that drop
On the outspread beech's top;
Or the ocean's mighty voice,
When his lifted waves rejoice;—
Such, my soul, thy world would be,
If no love did sing in thee.
"Lady, keep thy world's delight;
Keep the waters in thy sight.
Love hath made me strong to go,
For thy sake, to realms below,
Where the water's shine and hum
Through the darkness never come:
Let, I pray, one thought of me
Spring, a little well, in thee;
Lest thy loveless soul be found
Like a dry and thirsty ground."
"Sing again, prince. It makes it less tedious," said the princess.
But the prince was too much overcome to sing any more, and a long pause
"This is very kind of you, prince," said the princess at last, quite
coolly, as she lay in the boat with her eyes shut.
"I am sorry I can't return the compliment," thought the prince; "but
you are worth dying for, after all."
Again a wavelet, and another, and another flowed over the stone, and
wetted both the prince's knees; but he did not speak or move.
Two—three—four hours passed in this way, the princess apparently
asleep, and the prince very patient. But he was much disappointed in
his position, for he had none of the consolation he had hoped for.
At last he could bear it no longer.
"Princess!" said he.
But at the moment up started the princess, crying,—
"I'm afloat! I'm afloat!"
And the little boat bumped against the stone.
"Princess!" repeated the prince, encouraged by seeing her wide awake
and looking eagerly at the water.
"Well?" said she, without looking round.
"Your papa promised that you should look at me, and you haven't looked
at me once."
"Did he? Then I suppose I must. But I am so sleepy!"
"Sleep then, darling, and don't mind me," said the poor prince.
"Really, you are very good," replied the princess. "I think I will go
to sleep again."
"Just give me a glass of wine and a biscuit first," said the prince,
"With all my heart," said the princess, and gaped as she said it.
She got the wine and the biscuit, however, and leaning over the side of
the boat towards him, was compelled to look at him.
"Why, prince," she said, "you don't look well! Are you sure you don't
"Not a bit," answered he, feeling very faint in deed. "Only I shall die
before it is of any use to you, unless I have something to eat."
"There, then," said she, holding out the wine to him.
"Ah! you must feed me. I dare not move my hands. The water would run
"Good gracious!" said the princess; and she began at once to feed him
with bits of biscuit and sips of wine.
As she fed him, he contrived to kiss the tips of her fingers now and
then. She did not seem to mind it, one way or the other. But the prince
"Now for your own sake, princess," said he, "I cannot let you go to
sleep. You must sit and look at me, else I shall not be able to keep
"Well, I will do anything I can to oblige you," answered she, with
condescension; and, sitting down, she did look at him, and kept looking
at him with wonderful steadiness, considering all things.
The sun went down, and the moon rose, and, gush after gush, the waters
were rising up the prince's body. They were up to his waist now.
"Why can't we go and have a swim?" said the princess. "There seems to
be water enough just about here."
"I shall never swim more," said the prince.
"Oh, I forgot," said the princess, and was silent.
So the water grew and grew, and rose up and up on the prince. And the
princess sat and looked at him. She fed him now and then. The night
wore on. The waters rose and rose. The moon rose likewise higher and
higher, and shone full on the face of the dying prince. The water was
up to his neck.
"Will you kiss me, princess?" said he, feebly. The nonchalance was all
"Yes, I will," answered the princess, and kissed him with a long,
sweet, cold kiss.
"Now," said he, with a sigh of content, "I die happy."
He did not speak again. The princess gave him some wine for the last
time: he was past eating. Then she sat down again, and looked at him.
The water rose and rose. It touched his chin. It touched his lower lip.
It touched between his lips. He shut them hard to keep it out. The
princess began to feel strange. It touched his upper lip. He breathed
through his nostrils. The princess looked wild. It covered his
nostrils. Her eyes looked scared, and shone strange in the moonlight.
His head fell back; the water closed over it, and the bubbles of his
last breath bubbled up through the water. The princess gave a shriek,
and sprang into the lake.
She laid hold first of one leg, and then of the other, and pulled and
tugged, but she could not move either. She stopped to take breath, and
that made her think that he could not get any breath. She was frantic.
She got hold of him, and held his head above the water, which was
possible now his hands were no longer on the hole. But it was of no
use, for he was past breathing.
Love and water brought back all her strength. She got under the water,
and pulled and pulled with her whole might, till at last she got one
leg out. The other easily followed. How she got him into the boat she
never could tell; but when she did, she fainted away. Coming to
herself, she seized the oars, kept herself steady as best she could,
and rowed and rowed, though she had never rowed before. Round rocks,
and over shallows, and through mud she rowed, till she got to the
landing-stairs of the palace. By this time her people were on the
shore, for they had heard her shriek. She made them carry the prince to
her own room, and lay him in her bed, and light a fire, and send for
"But the lake, your highness!" said the chamberlain, who, roused by the
noise, came in, in his nightcap.
"Go and drown yourself in it!" she said.
This was the last rudeness of which the princess was ever guilty; and
one must allow that she had good cause to feel provoked with the lord
Had it been the king himself, he would have fared no better. But both
he and the queen were fast asleep. And the chamberlain went back to his
bed. Somehow, the doctors never came. So the princess and her old nurse
were left with the prince. But the old nurse was a wise woman, and knew
what to do.
They tried everything for a long time without success. The princess was
nearly distracted between hope and fear, but she tried on and on, one
thing after another, and everything over and over again.
At last, when they had all but given it up, just as the sun rose, the
prince opened his eyes.
XV. LOOK AT THE RAIN!
The princess burst into a passion of tears, and fell on the floor.
There she lay for an hour and her tears never ceased. All the pent-up
crying of her life was spent now. And a rain came on, such as had never
been seen in that country. The sun shone all the time, and the great
drops, which fell straight to the earth, shone likewise. The palace was
in the heart of a rainbow. It was a rain of rubies, and sapphires, and
emeralds, and topazes. The torrents poured from the mountains like
molten gold; and if it had not been for its subterraneous outlet, the
lake would have overflowed and inundated the country. It was full from
shore to shore.
But the princess did not heed the lake. She lay on the floor and wept.
And this rain within doors was far more wonderful than the rain out of
doors. For when it abated a little, and she proceeded to rise, she
found, to her astonishment, that she could not. At length, after many
efforts, she succeeded in getting upon her feet. But she tumbled down
again directly. Hearing her fall, her old nurse uttered a yell of
delight, and ran to her, screaming,—
"My darling child! she's found her gravity!"
"Oh, that's it! is it?" said the princess, rubbing her shoulder and her
knee alternately. "I consider it very unpleasant. I feel as if I should
be crushed to pieces."
"Hurrah!" cried the prince from the bed. "If you've come round,
princess, so have I. How's the lake?"
"Brimful," answered the nurse.
"Then we're all happy."
"That we are indeed!" answered the princess, sobbing.
And there was rejoicing all over the country that rainy day. Even the
babies forgot their past troubles, and danced and crowed amazingly. And
the king told stories, and the queen listened to them. And he divided
the money in his box, and she the honey in her pot, to all the
children. And there was such jubilation as was never heard of before.
Of course the prince and princess were betrothed at once. But the
princess had to learn to walk, before they could be married with any
propriety. And this was not so easy at her time of life, for she could
walk no more than a baby. She was always falling down and hurting
"Is this the gravity you used to make so much of?" said she one day to
the prince, as he raised her from the floor. "For my part, I was a
great deal more comfortable without it."
"No, no, that's not it. This is it," replied the prince, as he took her
up, and carried her about like a baby, kissing her all the time. "This
"That's better," said she. "I don't mind that so much."
And she smiled the sweetest, loveliest smile in the prince's face. And
she gave him one little kiss in return for all his; and he thought them
overpaid, for he was beside himself with delight. I fear she complained
of her gravity more than once after this, notwithstanding.
It was a long time before she got reconciled to walking. But the pain
of learning it was quite counterbalanced by two things, either of which
would have been sufficient consolation. The first was, that the prince
himself was her teacher; and the second, that she could tumble into the
lake as often as she pleased. Still, she preferred to have the prince
jump in with her; and the splash they made before was nothing to the
splash they made now.
The lake never sank again. In process of time, it wore the roof of the
cavern quite through, and was twice as deep as before.
The only revenge the princess took upon her aunt was to tread pretty
hard on her gouty toe the next time she saw her. But she was sorry for
it the very next day, when she heard that the water had undermined her
house, and that it had fallen in the night, burying her in its ruins;
whence no one ever ventured to dig up her body. There she lies to this
So the prince and princess lived and were happy; and had crowns of
gold, and clothes of cloth, and shoes of leather, and children of boys
and girls, not one of whom was ever known, on the most critical
occasion, to lose the smallest atom of his or her due proportion of
THE GIANT'S HEART.
There was once a giant who lived on the borders of Giantland where it
touched on the country of common people.
Everything in Giantland was so big that the common people saw only a
mass of awful mountains and clouds; and no living man had ever come
from it, as far as anybody knew, to tell what he had seen in it.
Somewhere near these borders, on the other side, by the edge of a great
forest, lived a labourer with his wife and a great many children. One
day Tricksey-Wee, as they called her, teased her brother Buffy-Bob,
till he could not bear it any longer, and gave her a box on the ear.
Tricksey-Wee cried; and Buffy-Bob was so sorry and so ashamed of
himself that he cried too, and ran off into the wood. He was so long
gone that Tricksey-Wee began to be frightened, for she was very fond of
her brother; and she was so distressed that she had first teased him
and then cried, that at last she ran into the wood to look for him,
though there was more chance of losing herself than of finding him.
And, indeed, so it seemed likely to turn out; for, running on without
looking, she at length found herself in a valley she knew nothing
about. And no wonder; for what she thought was a valley with round,
rocky sides, was no other than the space between two of the roots of a
great tree that grew on the borders of Giantland. She climbed over the
side of it, and went towards what she took for a black, round-topped
mountain, far away; but which she soon discovered to be close to her,
and to be a hollow place so great that she could not tell what it was
hollowed out of. Staring at it, she found that it was a doorway; and
going nearer and staring harder, she saw the door, far in, with a
knocker of iron upon it, a great many yards above her head, and as
large as the anchor of a big ship. Now, nobody had ever been unkind to
Tricksey-Wee, and therefore she was not afraid of anybody. For
Buffy-Bob's box on the ear she did not think worth considering. So
spying a little hole at the bottom of the door which had been nibbled
by some giant mouse, she crept through it, and found herself in an
enormous hall. She could not have seen the other end of it at all,
except for the great fire that was burning there, diminished to a spark
in the distance. Towards this fire she ran as fast as she could, and
was not far from it when something fell before her with a great
clatter, over which she tumbled, and went rolling on the floor. She was
not much hurt however, and got up in a moment. Then she saw that what
she had fallen over was not unlike a great iron bucket. When she
examined it more closely, she discovered that it was a thimble; and
looking up to see who had dropped it, beheld a huge face, with
spectacles as big as the round windows in a church, bending over her,
and looking everywhere for the thimble. Tricksey-Wee immediately laid
hold of it in both her arms, and lifted it about an inch nearer to the
nose of the peering giantess. This movement made the old lady see where
it was, and, her finger popping into it, it vanished from the eyes of
Tricksey-Wee, buried in the folds of a white stocking like a cloud in
the sky, which Mrs. Giant was busy darning. For it was Saturday night,
and her husband would wear nothing but white stockings on Sunday. To be
sure he did eat little children, but only very little ones; and if
ever it crossed his mind that it was wrong to do so, he always said to
himself that he wore whiter stockings on Sunday than any other giant in
At the same instant Tricksey-Wee heard a sound like the wind in a tree
full of leaves, and could not think what it could be; till, looking up,
she found that it was the giantess whispering to her; and when she
tried very hard she could hear what she said well enough.
"Run away, dear little girl," she said, "as fast as you can; for my
husband will be home in a few minutes."
"But I've never been naughty to your husband," said Tricksey-Wee,
looking up in the giantess's face.
"That doesn't matter. You had better go. He is fond of little children,
particularly little girls."
"Oh, then he won't hurt me."
"I am not sure of that. He is so fond of them that he eats them up; and
I am afraid he couldn't help hurting you a little. He's a very good man
"Oh! then—" began Tricksey-Wee, feeling rather frightened; but before
she could finish her sentence she heard the sound of footsteps very far
apart and very heavy. The next moment, who should come running towards
her, full speed, and as pale as death, but Buffy-Bob. She held out her
arms, and he ran into them. But when she tried to kiss him, she only
kissed the back of his head; for his white face and round eyes were
turned to the door.
"Run, children; run and hide!" said the giantess.
"Come, Buffy," said Tricksey; "yonder's a great brake; we'll hide in
The brake was a big broom; and they had just got into the bristles of
it when they heard the door open with a sound of thunder, and in
stalked the giant. You would have thought you saw the whole earth
through the door when he opened it, so wide was it; and when he closed
it, it was like nightfall.
"Where is that little boy?" he cried, with a voice like the bellowing
of a cannon. "He looked a very nice boy indeed. I am almost sure he
crept through the mousehole at the bottom of the door. Where is he, my
"I don't know," answered the giantess.
"But you know it is wicked to tell lies; don't you, my dear?" retorted
"Now, you ridiculous old Thunderthump!" said his wife, with a smile as
broad as the sea in the sun, "how can I mend your white stockings and
look after little boys? You have got plenty to last you over Sunday, I
am sure. Just look what good little boys they are!"
Tricksey-Wee and Buffy-Bob peered through the bristles, and discovered
a row of little boys, about a dozen, with very fat faces and goggle
eyes, sitting before the fire, and looking stupidly into it.
Thunderthump intended the most of these for pickling, and was feeding
them well before salting them. Now and then, however, he could not keep
his teeth off them, and would eat one by the bye, without salt.
He strode up to the wretched children. Now, what made them very
wretched indeed was, that they knew if they could only keep from
eating, and grow thin, the giant would dislike them, and turn them out
to find their way home; but notwithstanding this, so greedy were they,
that they ate as much as ever they could hold. The giantess, who fed
them, comforted herself with thinking that they were not real boys and
girls, but only little pigs pretending to be boys and girls.
"Now tell me the truth," cried the giant, bending his face down over
them. They shook with terror, and every one hoped it was somebody else
the giant liked best. "Where is the little boy that ran into the hall
just now? Whoever tells me a lie shall be instantly boiled."
"He's in the broom," cried one dough-faced boy. "He's in there, and a
little girl with him."
"The naughty children," cried the giant, "to hide from me!" And he
made a stride towards the broom.
"Catch hold of the bristles, Bobby. Get right into a tuft, and hold
on," cried Tricksey-Wee, just in time.
The giant caught up the broom, and seeing nothing under it, set it down
again with a force that threw them both on the floor. He then made two
strides to the boys, caught the dough-faced one by the neck, took the
lid off a great pot that was boiling on the fire, popped him in as if
he had been a trussed chicken, put the lid on again, and saying,
"There, boys! See what comes of lying!" asked no more questions; for,
as he always kept his word, he was afraid he might have to do the same
to them all; and he did not like boiled boys. He like to eat them
crisp, as radishes, whether forked or not, ought to be eaten. He then
sat down, and asked his wife if his supper was ready. She looked into
the pot, and throwing the boy out with the ladle, as if he had been a
black beetle that had tumbled in and had had the worst of it, answered
that she thought it was. Whereupon he rose to help her; and taking the
pot from the fire, poured the whole contents, bubbling and splashing,
into a dish like a vat. Then they sat down to supper. The children in
the broom could not see what they had; but it seemed to agree with
them, for the giant talked like thunder, and the giantess answered like
the sea, and they grew chattier and chattier. At length the giant
"I don't feel quite comfortable about that heart of mine." And as he
spoke, instead of laying his hand on his bosom, he waved it away
towards the corner where the children were peeping from the
broom-bristles, like frightened little mice.
"Well, you know, my darling Thunderthump," answered his wife, "I always
thought it ought to be nearer home. But you know best, of course."
"Ha! ha! You don't know where it is, wife. I moved it a month ago."
"What a man you are, Thunderthump! You trust any creature alive rather
than your wife."
Here the giantess gave a sob which sounded exactly like a wave going
flop into the mouth of a cave up to the roof.
"Where have you got it now?" she resumed, checking her emotion.
"Well, Doodlem, I don't mind telling you," answered the giant,
soothingly. "The great she-eagle has got it for a nest egg. She sits on
it night and day, and thinks she will bring the greatest eagle out of
it that ever sharpened his beak on the rocks of Mount Skycrack. I can
warrant no one else will touch it while she has got it. But she is
rather capricious, and I confess I am not easy about it; for the least
scratch of one of her claws would do for me at once. And she
I refer anyone who doubts this part of my story to certain chronicles
of Giantland preserved among the Celtic nations. It was quite a common
thing for a giant to put his heart out to nurse, because he did not
like the trouble and responsibility of doing it himself; although I
must confess it was a dangerous sort of plan to take, especially with
such a delicate viscus as the heart.
All this time Buffy-Bob and Tricksey-Wee were listening with long ears.
"Oh!" thought Tricksey-Wee, "if I could but find the giant's cruel
heart, wouldn't I give it a squeeze!"
The giant and giantess went on talking for a long time. The giantess
kept advising the giant to hide his heart somewhere in the house; but
he seemed afraid of the advantage it would give her over him.
"You could hide it at the bottom of the flour-barrel," said she.
"That would make me feel chokey," answered he.
"Well, in the coal-cellar. Or in the dust-hole—that's the place! No
one would think of looking for your heart in the dust-hole."
"Worse and worse!" cried the giant.
"Well, the water-butt," suggested she.
"No, no; it would grow spongy there," said he.
"Well, what will you do with it?"
"I will leave it a month longer where it is, and then I will give it to
the Queen of the Kangaroos, and she will carry it in her pouch for me.
It is best to change its place, you know, lest my enemies should scent
it out. But, dear Doodlem, it's a fretting care to have a heart of
one's own to look after. The responsibility is too much for me. If it
were not for a bite of a radish now and then, I never could bear it."
Here the giant looked lovingly towards the row of little boys by the
fire, all of whom were nodding, or asleep on the floor.
"Why don't you trust it to me, dear Thunderthump?" said his wife. "I
would take the best possible care of it."
"I don't doubt it, my love. But the responsibility would be too much
for you. You would no longer be my darling, light-hearted, airy,
laughing Doodlem. It would transform you into a heavy, oppressed woman,
weary of life—as I am."
The giant closed his eyes and pretended to go to sleep. His wife got
his stockings, and went on with her darning. Soon the giant's pretence
became reality, and the giantess began to nod over her work.
"Now, Buffy," whispered Tricksey-Wee, "now's our time. I think it's
moonlight, and we had better be off. There's a door with a hole for the
cat just behind us."
"All right," said Bob; "I'm ready."
So they got out of the broom-brake and crept to the door. But to their
great disappointment, when they got through it, they found themselves
in a sort of shed. It was full of tubs and things, and, though it was
built of wood only, they could not find a crack.
"Let us try this hole," said Tricksey; for the giant and giantess were
sleeping behind them, and they dared not go back.
"All right," said Bob.
He seldom said anything else than All right.
Now this hole was in a mound that came in through the wall of the shed,
and went along the floor for some distance. They crawled into it, and
found it very dark. But groping their way along, they soon came to a
small crack, through which they saw grass, pale in the moonshine. As
they crept on, they found the hole began to get wider and lead upwards.
"What is that noise of rushing?" said Buffy-Bob.
"I can't tell," replied Tricksey; "for, you see, I don't know what we
The fact was, they were creeping along a channel in the heart of a
giant tree; and the noise they heard was the noise of the sap rushing
along in its wooden pipes. When they laid their ears to the wall, they
heard it gurgling along with a pleasant noise.
"It sounds kind and good," said Tricksey. "It is water running. Now it
must be running from somewhere to somewhere. I think we had better go
on, and we shall come somewhere."
It was now rather difficult to go on, for they had to climb as if they
were climbing a hill; and now the passage was wide. Nearly worn out,
they saw light overhead at last, and creeping through a crack into the
open air, found themselves on the fork of a huge tree. A great, broad,
uneven space lay around them, out of which spread boughs in every
direction, the smallest of them as big as the biggest tree in the
country of common people. Overhead were leaves enough to supply all the
trees they had ever seen. Not much moonlight could come through, but
the leaves would glimmer white in the wind at times. The tree was full
of giant birds. Every now and then, one would sweep through, with a
great noise. But, except an occasional chirp, sounding like a shrill
pipe in a great organ, they made no noise. All at once an owl began to
hoot. He thought he was singing. As soon as he began, other birds
replied, making rare game of him. To their astonishment, the children
found they could understand every word they sang. And what they sang
was something like this:—
"I will sing a song.
I'm the Owl."
"Sing a song, you Sing-song
What will you sing about,
Night in and Day out?"
"Sing about the night;
I'm the Owl."
"You could not see for the light,
"Oh! the Moon! and the Dew!
And the Shadows!—tu-whoo!"
The owl spread out his silent, soft, sly wings, and lighting between
Tricksey-Wee and Buffy-Bob, nearly smothered them, closing up one under
each wing. It was like being buried in a down bed. But the owl did not
like anything between his sides and his wings, so he opened his wings
again, and the children made haste to get out. Tricksey-Wee immediately
went in front of the bird, and looking up into his huge face, which was
as round as the eyes of the giantess's spectacles, and much bigger,
dropped a pretty courtesy, and said,—"Please, Mr. Owl, I want to
whisper to you."
"Very well, small child," answered the owl, looking important, and
stooping his ear towards her. "What is it?"
"Please tell me where the eagle lives that sits on the giant's heart."
"Oh, you naughty child! That's a secret. For shame!"
And with a great hiss that terrified them, the owl flew into the tree.
All birds are fond of secrets; but not many of them can keep them so
well as the owl.
So the children went on because they did not know what else to do. They
found the way very rough and difficult, the tree was so full of humps
and hollows. Now and then they plashed into a pool of rain; now and
then they came upon twigs growing out of the trunk where they had no
business, and they were as large as full-grown poplars. Sometimes they
came upon great cushions of soft moss, and on one of them they lay down
and rested. But they had not lain long before they spied a large
nightingale sitting on a branch, with its bright eyes looking up at the
moon. In a moment more he began to sing, and the birds about him began
to reply, but in a different tone from that in which they had replied
to the owl. Oh, the birds did call the nightingale such pretty names!
The nightingale sang, and the birds replied like this:—
"I will sing a song.
I'm the nightingale."
"Sing a song, long, long,
What will you sing about,
Light in or light out?"
"Sing about the light
Down, away, and out of sight—
Poor lost Day!
Mourning for the Day dead,
O'er his dim bed."
The nightingale sang so sweetly, that the children would have fallen
asleep but for fear of losing any of the song. When the nightingale
stopped they got up and wandered on. They did not know where they were
going, but they thought it best to keep going on, because then they
might come upon something or other. They were very sorry they had
forgotten to ask the nightingale about the eagle's nest, but his music
had put everything else out of their heads. They resolved, however, not
to forget the next time they had a chance. So they went on and on, till
they were both tired, and Tricksey-Wee said at last, trying to laugh,—
"I declare my legs feel just like a Dutch doll's."
"Then here's the place to go to bed in," said Buffy-Bob.
They stood at the edge of a last year's nest, and looked down with
delight into the round, mossy cave. Then they crept gently in, and,
lying down in each other's arms, found it so deep, and warm, and
comfortable, and soft, that they were soon fast asleep.
Now, close beside them, in a hollow, was another nest, in which lay a
lark and his wife; and the children were awakened, very early in the
morning, by a dispute between Mr. and Mrs. Lark.
"Let me up," said the lark.
"It is not time," said the lark's wife.
"It is," said the lark, rather rudely. "The darkness is quite thin. I
can almost see my own beak."
"Nonsense!" said the lark's wife. "You know you came home yesterday
morning quite worn out—you had to fly so very high before you saw him.
I am sure he would not mind if you took it a little easier. Do be quiet
and go to sleep again."
"That's not it at all," said the lark. "He doesn't want me. I want him.
Let me up, I say."
He began to sing; and Tricksey-Wee and Buffy-Bob, having now learned
the way, answered him:—
"I will sing a song.
I'm the Lark."
"Sing, sing, Throat-strong,
What will you sing about,
Now the night is out?"
"I can only call;
I can't think.
Let me up—that's all.
Let me drink!
Thirsting all the long night
For a drink of light."
By this time the lark was standing on the edge of his nest and looking
at the children.
"Poor little things! You can't fly," said the lark.
"No; but we can look up," said Tricksey.
"Ah, you don't know what it is to see the very first of the sun."
"But we know what it is to wait till he comes. He's no worse for your
seeing him first, is he?"
"Oh no, certainly not," answered the lark, with condescension, and
then, bursting into his Jubilate, he sprang aloft, clapping his wings
like a clock running down.
"Tell us where—" began Buffy-Bob.
But the lark was out of sight. His song was all that was left of him.
That was everywhere, and he was nowhere.
"Selfish bird!" said Buffy. "It's all very well for larks to go hunting
the sun, but they have no business to despise their neighbours, for all
"Can I be of any use to you?" said a sweet bird-voice out of the nest.
This was the lark's wife, who stayed at home with the young larks while
her husband went to church.
"Oh! thank you. If you please," answered Tricksey-Wee.
And up popped a pretty brown head; and then up came a brown feathery
body; and last of all came the slender legs on to the edge of the nest.
There she turned, and, looking down into the nest, from which came a
whole litany of chirpings for breakfast, said, "Lie still, little
ones." Then she turned to the children.
"My husband is King of the Larks," she said.
Buffy-Bob took off his cap, and Tricksey-Wee courtesied very low.
"Oh, it's not me," said the bird, looking very shy. "I am only his
wife. It's my husband." And she looked up after him into the sky,
whence his song was still falling like a shower of musical hailstones.
Perhaps she could see him.
"He's a splendid bird," said Buffy-Bob; "only you know he will get up
a little too early."
"Oh, no! he doesn't. It's only his way, you know. But tell me what I
can do for you."
"Tell us, please, Lady Lark, where the she-eagle lives that sits on
Giant Thunderthump's heart."
"Oh! that is a secret."
"Did you promise not to tell?"
"No; but larks ought to be discreet. They see more than other birds."
"But you don't fly up high like your husband, do you?"
"Not often. But it's no matter. I come to know things for all that."
"Do tell me, and I will sing you a song," said Tricksey-Wee.
"Can you sing too?—You have got no wings!"
"Yes. And I will sing you a song I learned the other day about a lark
and his wife."
"Please do," said the lark's wife. "Be quiet, children, and listen."
Tricksey-Wee was very glad she happened to know a song which would
please the lark's wife, at least, whatever the lark himself might have
thought of it, if he had heard it. So she sang,—
"'Good morrow, my lord!' in the sky alone,
Sang the lark, as the sun ascended his throne.
'Shine on me, my lord; I only am come,
Of all your servants, to welcome you home.
I have flown a whole hour, right up, I swear,
To catch the first shine of your golden hair!'
"'Must I thank you, then,' said the king, 'Sir Lark,
For flying so high, and hating the dark?
You ask a full cup for half a thirst:
Half is love of me, and half love to be first.
There's many a bird that makes no haste,
But waits till I come. That's as much to my taste.
"And the king hid his head in a turban of cloud;
And the lark stopped singing, quite vexed and cowed.
But he flew up higher, and thought, 'Anon,
The wrath of the king will be over and gone,
And his crown, shining out of its cloudy fold,
Will change my brown feathers to a glory of gold.'
"So he flew, with the strength of a lark he flew.
But as he rose, the cloud rose too;
And not a gleam of the golden hair
Came through the depth of the misty air;
Till, weary with flying, with sighing sore,
The strong sun-seeker could do no more.
"His wings had had no chrism of gold,
And his feathers felt withered and worn and old;
So he quivered and sank, and dropped like a stone.
And there on his nest, where he left her, alone,
Sat his little wife on her little eggs,
Keeping them warm with wings and legs.
"Did I say alone? Ah, no such thing!
Full in her face was shining the king.
'Welcome, Sir Lark! You look tired,' said he.
'Up is not always the best way to me.
While you have been singing so high and away,
I've been shining to your little wife all day.'
"He had set his crown all about the nest,
And out of the midst shone her little brown breast;
And so glorious was she in russet gold,
That for wonder and awe Sir Lark grew cold.
He popped his head under her wing, and lay
As still as a stone, till the king was away."
As soon as Tricksey-Wee had finished her song, the lark's wife began a
low, sweet, modest little song of her own; and after she had piped away
for two or three minutes, she said,—
"You dear children, what can I do for you?"
"Tell us where the she-eagle lives, please," said Tricksey-Wee.
"Well, I don't think there can be much harm in telling such wise, good
children," said Lady Lark; "I am sure you don't want to do any
"Oh, no; quite the contrary," said Buffy-Bob.
"Then I'll tell you. She lives on the very topmost peak of Mount
Skycrack; and the only way to get up is to climb on the spiders' webs
that cover it from top to bottom."
"That's rather serious," said Tricksey-Wee.
"But you don't want to go up, you foolish little thing! You can't go.
And what do you want to go up for?"
"That is a secret," said Tricksey-Wee.
"Well, it's no business of mine," rejoined Lady Lark, a little
offended, and quite vexed that she had told them. So she flew away to
find some breakfast for her little ones, who by this time were chirping
very impatiently. The children looked at each other, joined hands, and
In a minute more the sun was up, and they soon reached the outside of
the tree. The bark was so knobby and rough, and full of twigs, that
they managed to get down, though not without great difficulty. Then,
far away to the north, they saw a huge peak, like the spire of a
church, going right up into the sky. They thought this must be Mount
Skycrack, and turned their faces towards it. As they went on, they saw
a giant or two, now and then, striding about the fields or through the
woods, but they kept out of their way. Nor were they in much danger;
for it was only one or two of the border giants that were so very fond
At last they came to the foot of Mount Skycrack. It stood in a plain
alone, and shot right up, I don't know how many thousand feet, into the
air, a long, narrow, spearlike mountain. The whole face of it, from top
to bottom, was covered with a network of spiders' webs, with threads of
various sizes, from that of silk to that of whipcord. The webs shook
and quivered, and waved in the sun, glittering like silver. All about
ran huge greedy spiders, catching huge silly flies, and devouring them.
Here they sat down to consider what could be done. The spiders did not
heed them, but ate away at the flies.—Now, at the foot of the
mountain, and all round it, was a ring of water, not very broad, but
very deep. As they sat watching them, one of the spiders, whose web was
woven across this water, somehow or other lost his hold, and fell in on
his back. Tricksey-Wee and Buffy-Bob ran to his assistance, and laying
hold each of one of his legs, succeeded, with the help of the other
legs, which struggled spiderfully, in getting him out upon dry land. As
soon as he had shaken himself, and dried himself a little, the spider
turned to the children, saying,—
"And now, what can I do for you?"
"Tell us, please," said they, "how we can get up the mountain to the
"Nothing is easier," answered the spider. "Just run up there, and tell
them all I sent you, and nobody will mind you."
"But we haven't got claws like you, Mr. Spider," said Buffy.
"Ah! no more you have, poor unprovided creatures! Still, I think we can
manage it. Come home with me."
"You won't eat us, will you?" said Buffy.
"My dear child," answered the spider, in a tone of injured dignity, "I
eat nothing but what is mischievous or useless. You have helped me, and
now I will help you."
The children rose at once, and climbing as well as they could, reached
the spider's nest in the centre of the web. Nor did they find it very
difficult; for whenever too great a gap came, the spider spinning a
strong cord stretched it just where they would have chosen to put their
feet next. He left them in his nest, after bringing them two enormous
honey-bags, taken from bees that he had caught; but presently about six
of the wisest of the spiders came back with him. It was rather horrible
to look up and see them all round the mouth of the nest, looking down
on them in contemplation, as if wondering whether they would be nice
eating. At length one of them said,—"Tell us truly what you want with
the eagle, and we will try to help you."
Then Tricksey-Wee told them that there was a giant on the borders who
treated little children no better than radishes, and that they had
narrowly escaped being eaten by him; that they had found out that the
great she-eagle of Mount Skycrack was at present sitting on his heart;
and that, if they could only get hold of the heart, they would soon
teach the giant better behaviour.
"But," said their host, "if you get at the heart of the giant, you will
find it as large as one of your elephants. What can you do with it?"
"The least scratch will kill it," replied Buffy-Bob.
"Ah! but you might do better than that," said the spider.—"Now we have
resolved to help you. Here is a little bag of spider-juice. The giants
cannot bear spiders, and this juice is dreadful poison to them. We are
all ready to go up with you, and drive the eagle away. Then you must
put the heart into this other bag, and bring it down with you; for then
the giant will be in your power."
"But how can we do that?" said Buffy. "The bag is not much bigger than
"But it is as large as you will be able to carry."
"Yes; but what are we to do with the heart?"
"Put it in the bag, to be sure. Only, first, you must squeeze a drop
out of the other bag upon it. You will see what will happen."
"Very well; we will do as you tell us," said Tricksey-Wee. "And now, if
you please, how shall we go?"
"Oh, that's our business," said the first spider. "You come with me,
and my grandfather will take your brother. Get up."
So Tricksey-Wee mounted on the narrow part of the spider's back, and
held fast. And Buffy-Bob got on the grandfather's back. And up they
scrambled, over one web after another, up and up—so fast! And every
spider followed; so that, when Tricksey-Wee looked back, she saw a
whole army of spiders scrambling after them.
"What can we want with so many?" she thought; but she said nothing.
The moon was now up, and it was a splendid sight below and around them.
All Giantland was spread out under them, with its great hills, lakes,
trees, and animals. And all above them was the clear heaven, and Mount
Skycrack rising into it, with its endless ladders of spider-webs,
glittering like cords made of moonbeams. And up the moonbeams went,
crawling, and scrambling, and racing, a huge army of huge spiders.
At length they reached all but the very summit, where they stopped.
Tricksey-Wee and Buffy-Bob could see above them a great globe of
feathers, that finished off the mountain like an ornamental knob.
"But how shall we drive her off?" said Buffy.
"We'll soon manage that," answered the grandfather-spider. "Come on
you, down there."
Up rushed the whole army, past the children, over the edge of the nest,
on to the she-eagle, and buried themselves in her feathers. In a moment
she became very restless, and went pecking about with her beak. All at
once she spread out her wings, with a sound like a whirlwind, and flew
off to bathe in the sea; and then the spiders began to drop from her in
all directions on their gossamer wings. The children had to hold fast
to keep the wind of the eagle's flight from blowing them off. As soon
as it was over, they looked into the nest, and there lay the giant's
heart—an awful and ugly thing.
"Make haste, child!" said Tricksey's spider.
So Tricksey took her bag, and squeezed a drop out of it upon the heart.
She thought she heard the giant give a far-off roar of pain, and she
nearly fell from her seat with terror. The heart instantly began to
shrink. It shrunk and shrivelled till it was nearly gone; and Buffy-Bob
caught it up and put it into his bag. Then the two spiders turned and
went down again as fast as they could. Before they got to the bottom,
they heard the shrieks of the she-eagle over the loss of her egg; but
the spiders told them not to be alarmed, for her eyes were too big to
see them.—By the time they reached the foot of the mountain, all the
spiders had got home, and were busy again catching flies, as if nothing
After renewed thanks to their friends, the children set off, carrying
the giant's heart with them.
"If you should find it at all troublesome, just give it a little more
spider-juice directly," said the grandfather, as they took their leave.
Now, the giant had given an awful roar of pain the moment they anointed
his heart, and had fallen down in a fit, in which he lay so long that
all the boys might have escaped if they had not been so fat. One did,
and got home in safety. For days the giant was unable to speak. The
first words he uttered were,—
"Oh, my heart! my heart!"
"Your heart is safe enough, dear Thunderstump," said his wife. "Really,
a man of your size ought not to be so nervous and apprehensive. I am
ashamed of you."
"You have no heart, Doodlem," answered he. "I assure you that at this
moment mine is in the greatest danger. It has fallen into the hands of
foes, though who they are I cannot tell."
Here he fainted again; for Tricksey-Wee, finding the heart begin to
swell a little, had given it the least touch of spider-juice.
Again he recovered, and said,—
"Dear Doodlem, my heart is coming back to me. It is coming nearer and
After lying silent for hours, he exclaimed,—
"It is in the house, I know!"
And he jumped up and walked about, looking in every corner.
As he rose, Tricksey-Wee and Buffy-Bob came out of the hole in the
tree-root, and through the cat-hole in the door, and walked boldly
towards the giant. Both kept their eyes busy watching him. Led by the
love of his own heart, the giant soon spied them, and staggered
furiously towards them.
"I will eat you, you vermin!" he cried. "Here with my heart!"
Tricksey gave the heart a sharp pinch. Down fell the giant on his
knees, blubbering, and crying, and begging for his heart.
"You shall have it, if you behave yourself properly," said Tricksey.
"How shall I behave myself properly?" asked he, whimpering.
"Take all those boys and girls, and carry them home at once."
"I'm not able; I'm too ill. I should fall down."
"Take them up directly."
"I can't, till you give me my heart."
"Very well!" said Tricksey; and she gave the heart another pinch.
The giant jumped to his feet, and catching up all the children, thrust
some into his waistcoat pockets, some into his breast pocket, put two
or three into his hat, and took a bundle of them under each arm. Then
he staggered to the door.
All this time poor Doodlem was sitting in her arm-chair, crying, and
mending a white stocking.
The giant led the way to the borders. He could not go so fast but that
Buffy and Tricksey managed to keep up with him. When they reached the
borders, they thought it would be safer to let the children find their
own way home. So they told him to set them down. He obeyed.
"Have you put them all down, Mr. Thunderthump?" asked Tricksey-Wee.
"Yes," said the giant.
"That's a lie!" squeaked a little voice; and out came a head from his
Tricksey-Wee pinched the heart till the giant roared with pain.
"You're not a gentleman. You tell stories," she said.
"He was the thinnest of the lot," said Thunderthump, crying.
"Are you all there now, children?" asked Tricksey.
"Yes, ma'am," returned they, after counting themselves very carefully,
and with some difficulty; for they were all stupid children.
"Now," said Tricksey-Wee to the giant, "will you promise to carry off
no more children, and never to eat a child again all you life?"
"Yes, yes! I promise," answered Thunderthump, sobbing.
"And you will never cross the borders of Giantland?"
"And you shall never again wear white stockings on a Sunday, all your
life long.—Do you promise?"
The giant hesitated at this, and began to expostulate; but
Tricksey-Wee, believing it would be good for his morals, insisted;
and the giant promised.
Then she required of him, that, when she gave him back his heart, he
should give it to his wife to take care of for him for ever after.
The poor giant fell on his knees, and began again to beg. But
Tricksey-Wee giving the heart a slight pinch, he bawled out,—
"Yes, yes! Doodlem shall have it, I swear. Only she must not put it in
the flour-barrel, or in the dust-hole."
"Certainly not. Make your own bargain with her.—And you promise not to
interfere with my brother and me, or to take any revenge for what we
"Yes, yes, my dear children; I promise everything. Do, pray, make haste
and give me back my poor heart."
"Wait there, then, till I bring it to you."
"Yes, yes. Only make haste, for I feel very faint."
Tricksey-Wee began to undo the mouth of the bag. But Buffy-Bob, who had
got very knowing on his travels, took out his knife with the pretence
of cutting the string; but, in reality, to be prepared for any
No sooner was the heart out of the bag, than it expanded to the size of
a bullock; and the giant, with a yell of rage and vengeance, rushed on
the two children, who had stepped sideways from the terrible heart. But
Buffy-Bob was too quick for Thunderthump. He sprang to the heart, and
buried his knife in it, up to the hilt. A fountain of blood spouted
from it; and with a dreadful groan the giant fell dead at the feet of
little Tricksey-Wee, who could not help being sorry for him after all.
THE GOLDEN KEY.
There was a boy who used to sit in the twilight and listen to his
She told him that if he could reach the place where the end of the
rainbow stands he would find there a golden key.
"And what is the key for?" the boy would ask. "What is it the key of?
What will it open?"
"That nobody knows," his aunt would reply. "He has to find that out."
"I suppose, being gold," the boy once said, thoughtfully, "that I could
get a good deal of money for it if I sold it."
"Better never find it than sell it," returned his aunt. And then the
boy went to bed and dreamed about the golden key.
Now, all that his great-aunt told the boy about the golden key would
have been nonsense, had it not been that their little house stood on
the borders of Fairyland. For it is perfectly well known that out of
Fairyland nobody ever can find where the rainbow stands. The creature
takes such good care of its golden key, always flitting from place to
place, lest anyone should find it! But in Fairyland it is quite
different. Things that look real in this country look very thin indeed
in Fairyland, while some of the things that here cannot stand still for
a moment, will not move there. So it was not in the least absurd of the
old lady to tell her nephew such things about the golden key.
"Did you ever know anybody find it?" he asked one evening.
"Yes. Your father, I believe, found it."
"And what did he do with it, can you tell me?"
"He never told me."
"What was it like?"
"He never showed it to me."
"How does a new key come there always?"
"I don't know. There it is."
"Perhaps it is the rainbow's egg."
"Perhaps it is. You will be a happy boy if you find the nest."
"Perhaps it comes tumbling down the rainbow from the sky."
"Perhaps it does."
One evening, in summer, he went into his own room, and stood at the
lattice-window, and gazed into the forest which fringed the outskirts
of Fairyland. It came close up to his great-aunt's garden, and, indeed,
sent some straggling trees into it. The forest lay to the east, and the
sun, which was setting behind the cottage, looked straight into the
dark wood with his level red eye. The trees were all old, and had few
branches below, so that the sun could see a great way into the forest;
and the boy, being keen-sighted, could see almost as far as the sun.
The trunks stood like rows of red columns in the shine of the red sun,
and he could see down aisle after aisle in the vanishing distance. And
as he gazed into the forest he began to feel as if the trees were all
waiting for him, and had something they could not go on with till he
came to them. But he was hungry, and wanted his supper. So he lingered.
Suddenly, far among the trees, as far as the sun could shine, he saw a
glorious thing. It was the end of a rainbow, large and brilliant. He
could count all the seven colours, and could see shade after shade
beyond the violet; while before the red stood a colour more gorgeous
and mysterious still. It was a colour he had never seen before. Only
the spring of the rainbow-arch was visible. He could see nothing of it
above the trees.
"The golden key!" he said to himself, and darted out of the house, and
into the wood.
He had not gone far before the sun set. But the rainbow only glowed the
brighter: for the rainbow of Fairyland is not dependent upon the sun as
ours is. The trees welcomed him. The bushes made way for him. The
rainbow grew larger and brighter; and at length he found himself within
two trees of it.
It was a grand sight, burning away there in silence, with its gorgeous,
its lovely, its delicate colours, each distinct, all combining. He
could now see a great deal more of it. It rose high into the blue
heavens, but bent so little that he could not tell how high the crown
of the arch must reach. It was still only a small portion of a huge
He stood gazing at it till he forgot himself with delight—even forgot
the key which he had come to seek. And as he stood it grew more
wonderful still. For in each of the colours, which was as large as the
column of a church, he could faintly see beautiful forms slowly
ascending as if by the steps of a winding stair. The forms appeared
irregularly—now one, now many, now several, now none—men and women
and children—all different, all beautiful.
He drew nearer to the rainbow. It vanished. He started back a step in
dismay. It was there again, as beautiful as ever. So he contented
himself with standing as near it as he might, and watching the forms
that ascended the glorious colours towards the unknown height of the
arch, which did not end abruptly, but faded away in the blue air, so
gradually that he could not say where it ceased.
When the thought of the golden key returned, the boy very wisely
proceeded to mark out in his mind the space covered by the foundation
of the rainbow, in order that he might know where to search, should the
rainbow disappear. It was based chiefly upon a bed of moss.
Meantime it had grown quite dark in the wood. The rainbow alone was
visible by its own light. But the moment the moon rose the rainbow
vanished. Nor could any change of place restore the vision to the boy's
eyes. So he threw himself down upon the mossy bed, to wait till the
sunlight would give him a chance of finding the key. There he fell fast
When he woke in the morning the sun was looking straight into his eyes.
He turned away from it, and the same moment saw a brilliant little
thing lying on the moss within a foot of his face. It was the golden
key. The pipe of it was of plain gold, as bright as gold could be. The
handle was curiously wrought and set with sapphires. In a terror of
delight he put out his hand and took it, and had it.
He lay for a while, turning it over and over, and feeding his eyes upon
its beauty. Then he jumped to his feet, remembering that the pretty
thing was of no use to him yet. Where was the lock to which the key
belonged? It must be somewhere, for how could anybody be so silly as
make a key for which there was no lock? Where should he go to look for
it? He gazed about him, up into the air, down to the earth, but saw no
keyhole in the clouds, in the grass, or in the trees.
Just as he began to grow disconsolate, however, he saw something
glimmering in the wood. It was a mere glimmer that he saw, but he took
it for a glimmer of rainbow, and went towards it.—And now I will go
back to the borders of the forest.
Not far from the house where the boy had lived there was another house,
the owner of which was a merchant, who was much away from home. He had
lost his wife some years before, and had only one child, a little girl,
whom he left to the charge of two servants, who were very idle and
careless. So she was neglected and left untidy, and was sometimes
Now, it is well known that the little creatures commonly called
fairies, though there are many different kinds of fairies in Fairyland,
have an exceeding dislike to untidiness. Indeed, they are quite
spiteful to slovenly people. Being used to all the lovely ways of the
trees and flowers, and to the neatness of the birds and all woodland
creatures, it makes them feel miserable, even in their deep woods and
on their grassy carpets, to think that within the same moonlight lies a
dirty, uncomfortable, slovenly house. And this makes them angry with
the people that live in it, and they would gladly drive them out of the
world if they could. They want the whole earth nice and clean. So they
pinch the maids black and blue, and play them all manner of
But this house was quite a shame, and the fairies in the forest could
not endure it. They tried everything on the maids without effect, and
at last resolved upon making a clean riddance, beginning with the
child. They ought to have known that it was not her fault, but they
have little principle and much mischief in them, and they thought that
if they got rid of her the maids would be sure to be turned away.
So one evening, the poor little girl having been put to bed early,
before the sun was down, the servants went off to the village, locking
the door behind them. The child did not know she was alone, and lay
contentedly looking out of her window towards the forest, of which,
however, she could not see much, because of the ivy and other creeping
plants which had straggled across her window. All at once she saw an
ape making faces at her out of the mirror, and the heads carved upon a
great old wardrobe grinning fearfully. Then two old spider-legged
chairs came forward into the middle of the room, and began to dance a
queer, old-fashioned dance. This set her laughing, and she forgot the
ape and the grinning heads. So the fairies saw they had made a mistake,
and sent the chairs back to their places. But they knew that she had
been reading the story of Silverhair all day. So the next moment she
heard the voices of the three bears upon the stair, big voice, middle
voice, and little voice, and she heard their soft, heavy tread, as if
they had had stockings over their boots, coming nearer and nearer to
the door of her room, till she could bear it no longer. She did just as
Silverhair did, and as the fairies wanted her to do: she darted to the
window, pulled it open, got upon the ivy, and so scrambled to the
ground. She then fled to the forest as fast as she could run.
Now, although she did not know it, this was the very best way she could
have gone; for nothing is ever so mischievous in its own place as it is
out of it; and, besides, these mischievous creatures were only the
children of Fairyland, as it were, and there are many other beings
there as well; and if a wanderer gets in among them, the good ones will
always help him more than the evil ones will be able to hurt him.
The sun was now set, and the darkness coming on, but the child thought
of no danger but the bears behind her. If she had looked round,
however, she would have seen that she was followed by a very different
creature from a bear. It was a curious creature, made like a fish, but
covered, instead of scales, with feathers of all colours, sparkling
like those of a humming-bird. It had fins, not wings, and swam through
the air as a fish does through the water. Its head was like the head of
a small owl.
After running a long way, and as the last of the light was
disappearing, she passed under a tree with drooping branches. It
dropped its branches to the ground all about her, and caught her as in
a trap. She struggled to get out, but the branches pressed her closer
and closer to the trunk. She was in great terror and distress, when the
air-fish, swimming into the thicket of branches, began tearing them
with its beak. They loosened their hold at once, and the creature went
on attacking them, till at length they let the child go. Then the
air-fish came from behind her, and swam on in front, glittering and
sparkling all lovely colours; and she followed.
It led her gently along till all at once it swam in at a cottage-door.
The child followed still. There was a bright fire in the middle of the
floor, upon which stood a pot without a lid, full of water that boiled
and bubbled furiously. The air-fish swam straight to the pot and into
the boiling water, where it lay quiet. A beautiful woman rose from the
opposite side of the fire and came to meet the girl. She took her up in
her arms, and said,—
"Ah, you are come at last! I have been looking for you a long time."
She sat down with her on her lap, and there the girl sat staring at
her. She had never seen anything so beautiful. She was tall and strong,
with white arms and neck, and a delicate flush on her face. The child
could not tell what was the colour of her hair, but could not help
thinking it had a tinge of dark green. She had not one ornament upon
her, but she looked as if she had just put off quantities of diamonds
and emeralds. Yet here she was in the simplest, poorest little cottage,
where she was evidently at home. She was dressed in shining green.
The girl looked at the lady, and the lady looked at the girl.
"What is your name?" asked the lady.
"The servants always call me Tangle."
"Ah, that was because your hair was so untidy. But that was their
fault, the naughty women! Still it is a pretty name, and I will call
you Tangle too. You must not mind my asking you questions, for you may
ask me the same questions, every one of them, and any others that you
like. How old are you?"
"Ten," answered Tangle.
"You don't look like it," said the lady.
"How old are you, please?" returned Tangle.
"Thousands of years old," answered the lady.
"You don't look like it," said Tangle.
"Don't I? I think I do. Don't you see how beautiful I am?"
And her great blue eyes looked down on the little Tangle, as if all the
stars in the sky were melted in them to make their brightness.
"Ah! but," said Tangle, "when people live long they grow old. At least
I always thought so."
"I have no time to grow old," said the lady. "I am too busy for that.
It is very idle to grow old.—But I cannot have my little girl so
untidy. Do you know I can't find a clean spot on your face to kiss?"
"Perhaps," suggested Tangle, feeling ashamed, but not too much so to
say a word for herself—"perhaps that is because the tree made me cry
"My poor darling!" said the lady, looking now as if the moon were
melted in her eyes, and kissing her little face, dirty as it was, "the
naughty tree must suffer for making a girl cry."
"And what is your name, please?" asked Tangle.
"Grandmother," answered the lady.
"Is it really?"
"Yes, indeed. I never tell stories, even in fun."
"How good of you!"
"I couldn't if I tried. It would come true if I said it, and then I
should be punished enough." And she smiled like the sun through a
"But now," she went on, "I must get you washed and dressed, and then we
shall have some supper."
"Oh! I had supper long ago," said Tangle.
"Yes, indeed you had," answered the lady—"three years ago. You don't
know that it is three years since you ran away from the bears. You are
thirteen and more now."
Tangle could only stare. She felt quite sure it was true.
"You will not be afraid of anything I do with you—will you?" said the
"I will try very hard not to be; but I can't be certain, you know,"
"I like your saying so, and I shall be quite satisfied," answered the
She took off the girl's night-gown, rose with her in her arms, and
going to the wall of the cottage, opened a door. Then Tangle saw a deep
tank, the sides of which were filled with green plants, which had
flowers of all colours. There was a roof over it like the roof of the
cottage. It was filled with beautiful clear water, in which swam a
multitude of such fishes as the one that had led her to the cottage. It
was the light their colours gave that showed the place in which they
The lady spoke some words Tangle could not understand, and threw her
into the tank.
The fishes came crowding about her. Two or three of them got under her
head and kept it up. The rest of them rubbed themselves all over her,
and with their wet feathers washed her quite clean. Then the lady, who
had been looking on all the time, spoke again; whereupon some thirty or
forty of the fishes rose out of the water underneath Tangle, and so
bore her up to the arms the lady held out to take her. She carried her
back to the fire, and, having dried her well, opened a chest, and
taking out the finest linen garments, smelling of grass and lavender,
put them upon her, and over all a green dress, just like her own,
shining like hers, and soft like hers, and going into just such lovely
folds from the waist, where it was tied with a brown cord, to her bare
"Won't you give me a pair of shoes too, Grandmother?" said Tangle.
"No, my dear; no shoes. Look here. I wear no shoes."
So saying she lifted her dress a little, and there were the loveliest
white feet, but no shoes. Then Tangle was content to go without shoes
too. And the lady sat down with her again, and combed her hair, and
brushed it, and then left it to dry while she got the supper.
First she got bread out of one hole in the wall; then milk out of
another; then several kinds of fruit out of a third; and then she went
to the pot on the fire, and took out the fish, now nicely cooked, and,
as soon as she had pulled off its feathered skin, ready to be eaten.
"But," exclaimed Tangle. And she stared at the fish, and could say no
"I know what you mean," returned the lady. "You do not like to eat the
messenger that brought you home. But it is the kindest return you can
make. The creature was afraid to go until it saw me put the pot on, and
heard me promise it should be boiled the moment it returned with you.
Then it darted out of the door at once. You saw it go into the pot of
itself the moment it entered, did you not?"
"I did," answered Tangle, "and I thought it very strange; but then I
saw you, and forgot all about the fish."
"In Fairyland," resumed the lady, as they sat down to the table, "the
ambition of the animals is to be eaten by the people; for that is their
highest end in that condition. But they are not therefore destroyed.
Out of that pot comes something more than the dead fish, you will see."
Tangle now remarked that the lid was on the pot. But the lady took no
further notice of it till they had eaten the fish, which Tangle found
nicer than any fish she had ever tasted before. It was as white as
snow, and as delicate as cream. And the moment she had swallowed a
mouthful of it, a change she could not describe began to take place in
her. She heard a murmuring all about her, which became more and more
articulate, and at length, as she went on eating, grew intelligible. By
the time she had finished her share, the sounds of all the animals in
the forest came crowding through the door to her ears; for the door
still stood wide open, though it was pitch dark outside; and they were
no longer sounds only; they were speech, and speech that she could
understand. She could tell what the insects in the cottage were saying
to each other too. She had even a suspicion that the trees and flowers
all about the cottage were holding midnight communications with each
other; but what they said she could not hear.
As soon as the fish was eaten, the lady went to the fire and took the
lid off the pot. A lovely little creature in human shape, with large
white wings, rose out of it, and flew round and round the roof of the
cottage; then dropped, fluttering, and nestled in the lap of the lady.
She spoke to it some strange words, carried it to the door, and threw
it out into the darkness. Tangle heard the flapping of its wings die
away in the distance.
"Now have we done the fish any harm?" she said, returning.
"No," answered Tangle, "I do not think we have. I should not mind
eating one every day."
"They must wait their time, like you and me too, my little Tangle."
And she smiled a smile which the sadness in it made more lovely.
"But," she continued, "I think we may have one for supper to-morrow."
So saying she went to the door of the tank, and spoke; and now Tangle
understood her perfectly.
"I want one of you," she said,—"the wisest."
Thereupon the fishes got together in the middle of the tank, with their
heads forming a circle above the water, and their tails a larger circle
beneath it. They were holding a council, in which their relative wisdom
should be determined. At length one of them flew up into the lady's
hand, looking lively and ready.
"You know where the rainbow stands?" she asked.
"Yes, Mother, quite well," answered the fish.
"Bring home a young man you will find there, who does not know where to
The fish was out of the door in a moment. Then the lady told Tangle it
was time to go to bed; and, opening another door in the side of the
cottage, showed her a little arbour, cool and green, with a bed of
purple heath growing in it, upon which she threw a large wrapper made
of the feathered skins of the wise fishes, shining gorgeous in the
Tangle was soon lost in the strangest, loveliest dreams. And the
beautiful lady was in every one of her dreams.
In the morning she woke to the rustling of leaves over her head, and
the sound of running water. But, to her surprise, she could find no
door—nothing but the moss-grown wall of the cottage. So she crept
through an opening in the arbour, and stood in the forest. Then she
bathed in a stream that ran merrily through the trees, and felt
happier; for having once been in her grandmother's pond, she must be
clean and tidy ever after; and, having put on her green dress, felt
like a lady.
She spent that day in the wood, listening to the birds and beasts and
creeping things. She understood all that they said, though she could
not repeat a word of it; and every kind had a different language, while
there was a common though more limited understanding between all the
inhabitants of the forest. She saw nothing of the beautiful lady, but
she felt that she was near her all the time; and she took care not to
go out of sight of the cottage. It was round, like a snow-hut or a
wigwam; and she could see neither door nor window in it. The fact was,
it had no windows; and though it was full of doors, they all opened
from the inside, and could not even be seen from the outside.
She was standing at the foot of a tree in the twilight, listening to a
quarrel between a mole and a squirrel, in which the mole told the
squirrel that the tail was the best of him, and the squirrel called the
mole Spade-fists, when, the darkness having deepened around her, she
became aware of something shining in her face, and looking round, saw
that the door of the cottage was open, and the red light of the fire
flowing from it like a river through the darkness. She left Mole and
Squirrel to settle matters as they might, and darted off to the
cottage. Entering, she found the pot boiling on the fire, and the
grand, lovely lady sitting on the other side of it.
"I've been watching you all day," said the lady. "You shall have
something to eat by and by, but we must wait till our supper comes
She took Tangle on her knee, and began to sing to her—such songs as
made her wish she could listen to them for ever. But at length in
rushed the shining fish, and snuggled down in the pot. It was followed
by a youth who had outgrown his worn garments. His face was ruddy with
health, and in his hand he carried a little jewel, which sparkled in
The first words the lady said were,—
"What is that in your hand, Mossy?"
Now Mossy was the name his companions had given him, because he had a
favourite stone covered with moss, on which he used to sit whole days
reading; and they said the moss had begun to grow upon him too.
Mossy held out his hand. The moment the lady saw that it was the golden
key, she rose from her chair, kissed Mossy on the forehead, made him
sit down on her seat, and stood before him like a servant. Mossy could
not bear this, and rose at once. But the lady begged him, with tears in
her beautiful eyes, to sit, and let her wait on him.
"But you are a great, splendid, beautiful lady," said Mossy.
"Yes, I am. But I work all day long—that is my pleasure; and you will
have to leave me so soon!"
"How do you know that, if you please, madam?" asked Mossy.
"Because you have got the golden key."
"But I don't know what it is for. I can't find the key-hole. Will you
tell me what to do?"
"You must look for the key-hole. That is your work. I cannot help you.
I can only tell you that if you look for it you will find it."
"What kind of box will it open? What is there inside?"
"I do not know. I dream about it, but I know nothing."
"Must I go at once?"
"You may stop here to-night, and have some of my supper. But you must
go in the morning. All I can do for you is to give you clothes. Here is
a girl called Tangle, whom you must take with you."
"That will be nice," said Mossy.
"No, no!" said Tangle. "I don't want to leave you, please,
"You must go with him, Tangle. I am sorry to lose you, but it will be
the best thing for you. Even the fishes, you see, have to go into the
pot, and then out into the dark. If you fall in with the Old Man of the
Sea, mind you ask him whether he has not got some more fishes ready for
me. My tank is getting thin."
So saying, she took the fish from the pot, and put the lid on as
before. They sat down and ate the fish, and then the winged creature
rose from the pot, circled the roof, and settled on the lady's lap. She
talked to it, carried it to the door, and threw it out into the dark.
They heard the flap of its wings die away in the distance.
The lady then showed Mossy into just such another chamber as that of
Tangle; and in the morning he found a suit of clothes laid beside him.
He looked very handsome in them. But the wearer of Grandmother's
clothes never thinks about how he or she looks, but thinks always how
handsome other people are.
Tangle was very unwilling to go.
"Why should I leave you? I don't know the young man," she said to the
"I am never allowed to keep my children long. You need not go with him
except you please, but you must go some day; and I should like you to
go with him, for he has the golden key. No girl need be afraid to go
with a youth that has the golden key. You will take care of her, Mossy,
will you not?"
"That I will," said Mossy.
And Tangle cast a glance at him, and thought she should like to go with
"And," said the lady, "if you should lose each other as you go through
the—the—I never can remember the name of that country,—do not be
afraid, but go on and on."
She kissed Tangle on the mouth and Mossy on the forehead, led them to
the door, and waved her hand eastward. Mossy and Tangle took each
other's hand and walked away into the depth of the forest. In his right
hand Mossy held the golden key.
They wandered thus a long way, with endless amusement from the talk of
the animals. They soon learned enough of their language to ask them
necessary questions. The squirrels were always friendly, and gave them
nuts out of their own hoards; but the bees were selfish and rude,
justifying themselves on the ground that Tangle and Mossy were not
subjects of their queen, and charity must begin at home, though indeed
they had not one drone in their poorhouse at the time. Even the
blinking moles would fetch them an earth-nut or a truffle now and then,
talking as if their mouths, as well as their eyes and ears, were full
of cotton wool, or their own velvety fur. By the time they got out of
the forest they were very fond of each other, and Tangle was not in the
least sorry that her grandmother had sent her away with Mossy.
At length the trees grew smaller, and stood farther apart, and the
ground began to rise, and it got more and more steep, till the trees
were all left behind, and the two were climbing a narrow path with
rocks on each side. Suddenly they came upon a rude doorway, by which
they entered a narrow gallery cut in the rock. It grew darker and
darker, till it was pitch-dark, and they had to feel their way. At
length the light began to return, and at last they came out upon a
narrow path on the face of a lofty precipice. This path went winding
down the rock to a wide plain, circular in shape, and surrounded on all
sides by mountains. Those opposite to them were a great way off, and
towered to an awful height, shooting up sharp, blue, ice-enamelled
pinnacles. An utter silence reigned where they stood. Not even the
sound of water reached them.
Looking down, they could not tell whether the valley below was a grassy
plain or a great still lake. They had never seen any space look like
it. The way to it was difficult and dangerous, but down the narrow path
they went, and reached the bottom in safety. They found it composed of
smooth, light-coloured sandstone, undulating in parts, but mostly
level. It was no wonder to them now that they had not been able to tell
what it was, for this surface was everywhere crowded with shadows. The
mass was chiefly made up of the shadows of leaves innumerable, of all
lovely and imaginative forms, waving to and fro, floating and quivering
in the breath of a breeze whose motion was unfelt, whose sound was
unheard. No forests clothed the mountain-sides, no trees were anywhere
to be seen, and yet the shadows of the leaves, branches, and stems of
all various trees covered the valley as far as their eyes could reach.
They soon spied the shadows of flowers mingled with those of the
leaves, and now and then the shadow of a bird with open beak, and
throat distended with song. At times would appear the forms of strange,
graceful creatures, running up and down the shadow-boles and along the
branches, to disappear in the wind-tossed foliage. As they walked they
waded knee-deep in the lovely lake. For the shadows were not merely
lying on the surface of the ground, but heaped up above it like
substantial forms of darkness, as if they had been cast upon a thousand
different planes of the air. Tangle and Mossy often lifted their heads
and gazed upwards to discry whence the shadows came; but they could see
nothing more than a bright mist spread above them, higher than the tops
of the mountains, which stood clear against it. No forests, no leaves,
no birds were visible.
After a while, they reached more open spaces, where the shadows were
thinner; and came even to portions over which shadows only flitted,
leaving them clear for such as might follow. Now a wonderful form, half
bird-like half human, would float across on outspread sailing pinions.
Anon an exquisite shadow group of gambolling children would be followed
by the loveliest female form, and that again by the grand stride of a
Titanic shape, each disappearing in the surrounding press of shadowy
foliage. Sometimes a profile of unspeakable beauty or grandeur would
appear for a moment and vanish. Sometimes they seemed lovers that
passed linked arm in arm, sometimes father and son, sometimes brothers
in loving contest, sometimes sisters entwined in gracefullest community
of complex form. Sometimes wild horses would tear across, free, or
bestrode by noble shadows of ruling men. But some of the things which
pleased them most they never knew how to describe.
About the middle of the plain they sat down to rest in the heart of a
heap of shadows. After sitting for a while, each, looking up, saw the
other in tears: they were each longing after the country whence the
"We must find the country from which the shadows come," said Mossy.
"We must, dear Mossy," responded Tangle. "What if your golden key
should be the key to it?"
"Ah! that would be grand," returned Mossy.—"But we must rest here for
a little, and then we shall be able to cross the plain before night."
So he lay down on the ground, and about him on every side, and over his
head, was the constant play of the wonderful shadows. He could look
through them, and see the one behind the other, till they mixed in a
mass of darkness. Tangle, too, lay admiring, and wondering, and longing
after the country whence the shadows came. When they were rested they
rose and pursued their journey.
How long they were in crossing this plain I cannot tell; but before
night Mossy's hair was streaked with gray, and Tangle had got wrinkles
on her forehead.
As evening grew on, the shadows fell deeper and rose higher. At length
they reached a place where they rose above their heads, and made all
dark around them. Then they took hold of each other's hand, and walked
on in silence and in some dismay. They felt the gathering darkness, and
something strangely solemn besides, and the beauty of the shadows
ceased to delight them. All at once Tangle found that she had not a
hold of Mossy's hand, though when she lost it she could not tell.
"Mossy, Mossy!" she cried aloud in terror.
But no Mossy replied.
A moment after, the shadows sank to her feet, and down under her feet,
and the mountains rose before her. She turned towards the gloomy region
she had left, and called once more upon Mossy. There the gloom lay
tossing and heaving, a dark, stormy, foamless sea of shadows, but no
Mossy rose out of it, or came climbing up the hill on which she stood.
She threw herself down and wept in despair.
Suddenly she remembered that the beautiful lady had told them, if they
lost each other in a country of which she could not remember the name,
they were not to be afraid, but to go straight on.
"And besides," she said to herself, "Mossy has the golden key, and so
no harm will come to him, I do believe."
She rose from the ground, and went on.
Before long she arrived at a precipice, in the face of which a stair
was cut. When she had ascended half-way, the stair ceased, and the path
led straight into the mountain. She was afraid to enter, and turning
again towards the stair, grew giddy at sight of the depth beneath her,
and was forced to throw herself down in the mouth of the cave.
When she opened her eyes, she saw a beautiful little figure with wings
standing beside her, waiting.
"I know you," said Tangle. "You are my fish."
"Yes. But I am a fish no longer. I am an a�ranth now."
"What is that?" asked Tangle.
"What you see I am," answered the shape. "And I am come to lead you
through the mountain."
"Oh! thank you, dear fish—a�ranth, I mean," returned Tangle, rising.
Thereupon the a�ranth took to his wings, and flew on through the long,
narrow passage, reminding Tangle very much of the way he had swum on
before her when he was a fish. And the moment his white wings moved,
they began to throw off a continuous shower of sparks of all colours,
which lighted up the passage before them.—All at once he vanished, and
Tangle heard a low, sweet sound, quite different from the rush and
crackle of his wings. Before her was an open arch, and through it came
light, mixed with the sound of sea-waves.
She hurried out, and fell, tired and happy, upon the yellow sand of the
shore. There she lay, half asleep with weariness and rest, listening to
the low plash and retreat of the tiny waves, which seemed ever enticing
the land to leave off being land, and become sea. And as she lay, her
eyes were fixed upon the foot of a great rainbow standing far away
against the sky on the other side of the sea. At length she fell fast
When she awoke, she saw an old man with long white hair down to his
shoulders, leaning upon a stick covered with green buds, and so bending
"What do you want here, beautiful woman?" he said.
"Am I beautiful? I am so glad!" said Tangle, rising. "My grandmother is
"Yes. But what do you want?" he repeated, kindly.
"I think I want you. Are not you the Old Man of the Sea?"
"Then Grandmother says, have you any more fishes ready for her?"
"We will go and see, my dear," answered the old man, speaking yet more
kindly than before. "And I can do something for you, can I not?"
"Yes—show me the way up to the country from which the shadows fall,"
For there she hoped to find Mossy again.
"Ah! indeed, that would be worth doing," said the old man. "But I
cannot, for I do not know the way myself. But I will send you to the
Old Man of the Earth. Perhaps he can tell you. He is much older than I
Leaning on his staff, he conducted her along the shore to a steep rock,
that looked like a petrified ship turned upside down. The door of it
was the rudder of a great vessel, ages ago at the bottom of the sea.
Immediately within the door was a stair in the rock, down which the old
man went, and Tangle followed. At the bottom the old man had his house,
and there he lived.
As soon as she entered it, Tangle heard a strange noise, unlike
anything she had ever heard before. She soon found that it was the
fishes talking. She tried to understand what they said; but their
speech was so old-fashioned, and rude, and undefined, that she could
not make much of it.
"I will go and see about those fishes for my daughter," said the Old
Man of the Sea.
And moving a slide in the wall of his house, he first looked out, and
then tapped upon a thick piece of crystal that filled the round
opening. Tangle came up behind him, and peeping through the window into
the heart of the great deep green ocean, saw the most curious
creatures, some very ugly, all very odd, and with especially queer
mouths, swimming about everywhere, above and below, but all coming
towards the window in answer to the tap of the Old Man of the Sea. Only
a few could get their mouths against the glass; but those who were
floating miles away yet turned their heads towards it. The old man
looked through the whole flock carefully for some minutes, and then
turning to Tangle, said,—
"I am sorry I have not got one ready yet. I want more time than she
does. But I will send some as soon as I can."
He then shut the slide.
Presently a great noise arose in the sea. The old man opened the slide
again, and tapped on the glass, whereupon the fishes were all as still
"They were only talking about you," he said. "And they do speak such
nonsense!—To-morrow," he continued, "I must show you the way to the
Old Man of the Earth. He lives a long way from here."
"Do let me go at once," said Tangle.
"No. That is not possible. You must come this way first."
He led her to a hole in the wall, which she had not observed before. It
was covered with the green leaves and white blossoms of a creeping
"Only white-blossoming plants can grow under the sea," said the old
man. "In there you will find a bath, in which you must lie till I call
Tangle went in, and found a smaller room or cave, in the further corner
of which was a great basin hollowed out of a rock, and half-full of the
clearest sea-water. Little streams were constantly running into it from
cracks in the wall of the cavern. It was polished quite smooth inside,
and had a carpet of yellow sand in the bottom of it. Large green leaves
and white flowers of various plants crowded up and over it, draping and
covering it almost entirely.
No sooner was she undressed and lying in the bath, than she began to
feel as if the water were sinking into her, and she were receiving all
the good of sleep without undergoing its forgetfulness. She felt the
good coming all the time. And she grew happier and more hopeful than
she had been since she lost Mossy. But she could not help thinking how
very sad it was for a poor old man to live there all alone, and have to
take care of a whole seaful of stupid and riotous fishes.
After about an hour, as she thought, she heard his voice calling her,
and rose out of the bath. All the fatigue and aching of her long
journey had vanished. She was as whole, and strong, and well as if she
had slept for seven days.
Returning to the opening that led into the other part of the house, she
started back with amazement, for through it she saw the form of a grand
man, with a majestic and beautiful face, waiting for her.
"Come," he said; "I see you are ready."
She entered with reverence.
"Where is the Old Man of the Sea?" she asked, humbly.
"There is no one here but me," he answered, smiling. "Some people call
me the Old Man of the Sea. Others have another name for me, and are
terribly frightened when they meet me taking a walk by the shore.
Therefore I avoid being seen by them, for they are so afraid, that they
never see what I really am. You see me now.—But I must show you the
way to the Old Man of the Earth."
He led her into the cave where the bath was, and there she saw, in the
opposite corner, a second opening in the rock.
"Go down that stair, and it will bring you to him," said the Old Man of
With humble thanks Tangle took her leave. She went down the winding
stair, till she began to fear there was no end to it. Still down and
down it went, rough and broken, with springs of water bursting out of
the rocks and running down the steps beside her. It was quite dark
about her, and yet she could see. For after being in that bath,
people's eyes always give out a light they can see by. There were no
creeping things in the way. All was safe and pleasant though so dark
and damp and deep.
At last there was not one step more, and she found herself in a
glimmering cave. On a stone in the middle of it sat a figure with its
back towards her—the figure of an old man bent double with age. From
behind she could see his white beard spread out on the rocky floor in
front of him. He did not move as she entered, so she passed round that
she might stand before him and speak to him.
The moment she looked in his face, she saw that he was a youth of
marvellous beauty. He sat entranced with the delight of what he beheld
in a mirror of something like silver, which lay on the floor at his
feet, and which from behind she had taken for his white beard. He sat
on, heedless of her presence, pale with the joy of his vision. She
stood and watched him. At length, all trembling, she spoke. But her
voice made no sound. Yet the youth lifted up his head. He showed no
surprise, however, at seeing her—only smiled a welcome.
"Are you the Old Man of the Earth?" Tangle had said.
And the youth answered, and Tangle heard him, though not with her
"I am. What can I do for you?"
"Tell me the way to the country whence the shadows fall."
"Ah! that I do not know. I only dream about it myself. I see its
shadows sometimes in my mirror: the way to it I do not know. But I
think the Old Man of the Fire must know. He is much older than I am. He
is the oldest man of all."
"Where does he live?"
"I will show you the way to his place. I never saw him myself."
So saying, the young man rose, and then stood for a while gazing at
"I wish I could see that country too," he said. "But I must mind my
He led her to the side of the cave, and told her to lay her ear against
"What do you hear?" he asked.
"I hear," answered Tangle, "the sound of a great water running inside
"That river runs down to the dwelling of the oldest man of all—the Old
Man of the Fire. I wish I could go to see him. But I must mind my work.
That river is the only way to him."
Then the Old Man of the Earth stooped over the floor of the cave,
raised a huge stone from it, and left it leaning. It disclosed a great
hole that went plumb-down.
"That is the way," he said.
"But there are no stairs."
"You must throw yourself in. There is no other way."
She turned and looked him full in the face—stood so for a whole
minute, as she thought: it was a whole year—then threw herself
headlong into the hole.
When she came to herself, she found herself gliding down fast and deep.
Her head was under water, but that did not signify, for, when she
thought about it, she could not remember that she had breathed once
since her bath in the cave of the Old Man of the Sea. When she lifted
up her head a sudden and fierce heat struck her, and she sank it again
instantly, and went sweeping on.
Gradually the stream grew shallower. At length she could hardly keep
her head under. Then the water could carry her no farther. She rose
from the channel, and went step for step down the burning descent. The
water ceased altogether. The heat was terrible. She felt scorched to
the bone, but it did not touch her strength. It grew hotter and hotter.
She said, "I can bear it no longer." Yet she went on.
At the long last, the stair ended at a rude archway in an all but
glowing rock. Through this archway Tangle fell exhausted into a cool
mossy cave. The floor and walls were covered with moss—green, soft,
and damp. A little stream spouted from a rent in the rock and fell into
a basin of moss. She plunged her face into it and drank. Then she
lifted her head and looked around. Then she rose and looked again. She
saw no one in the cave. But the moment she stood upright she had a
marvellous sense that she was in the secret of the earth and all its
ways. Everything she had seen, or learned from books; all that her
grandmother had said or sung to her; all the talk of the beasts, birds,
and fishes; all that had happened to her on her journey with Mossy, and
since then in the heart of the earth with the Old man and the Older
man—all was plain: she understood it all, and saw that everything
meant the same thing, though she could not have put it into words
The next moment she descried, in a corner of the cave, a little naked
child sitting on the moss. He was playing with balls of various colours
and sizes, which he disposed in strange figures upon the floor beside
him. And now Tangle felt that there was something in her knowledge
which was not in her understanding. For she knew there must be an
infinite meaning in the change and sequence and individual forms of the
figures into which the child arranged the balls, as well as in the
varied harmonies of their colours, but what it all meant she could not
tell.* He went on busily, tirelessly, playing his solitary game,
without looking up, or seeming to know that there was a stranger in his
deep-withdrawn cell. Diligently as a lace-maker shifts her bobbins, he
shifted and arranged his balls. Flashes of meaning would now pass from
them to Tangle, and now again all would be not merely obscure, but
utterly dark. She stood looking for a long time, for there was
fascination in the sight; and the longer she looked the more an
indescribable vague intelligence went on rousing itself in her mind.
For seven years she had stood there watching the naked child with his
coloured balls, and it seemed to her like seven hours, when all at once
the shape the balls took, she knew not why, reminded her of the Valley
of Shadows, and she spoke:—
"Where is the Old Man of the Fire?" she said.
* I think I must be indebted to Novalis for these geometrical figures.
"Here I am," answered the child, rising and leaving his balls on the
moss. "What can I do for you?"
There was such an awfulness of absolute repose on the face of the child
that Tangle stood dumb before him. He had no smile, but the love in his
large gray eyes was deep as the centre. And with the repose there lay
on his face a shimmer as of moonlight, which seemed as if any moment it
might break into such a ravishing smile as would cause the beholder to
weep himself to death. But the smile never came, and the moonlight lay
there unbroken. For the heart of the child was too deep for any smile
to reach from it to his face.
"Are you the oldest man of all?" Tangle at length, although filled with
awe, ventured to ask.
"Yes, I am. I am very, very old. I am able to help you, I know. I can
help everybody." And the child drew near and looked up in her face so
that she burst into tears.
"Can you tell me the way to the country the shadows fall from?" she
"Yes. I know the way quite well. I go there myself sometimes. But you
could not go my way; you are not old enough. I will show you how you
"Do not send me out into the great heat again," prayed Tangle.
"I will not," answered the child.
And he reached up, and put his little cool hand on her heart.
"Now," he said, "you can go. The fire will not burn you. Come."
He led her from the cave, and following him through another archway,
she found herself in a vast desert of sand and rock. The sky of it was
of rock, lowering over them like solid thunderclouds; and the whole
place was so hot that she saw, in bright rivulets, the yellow gold and
white silver and red copper trickling molten from the rocks. But the
heat never came near her.
When they had gone some distance, the child turned up a great stone,
and took something like an egg from under it. He next drew a long
curved line in the sand with his finger, and laid the egg in it. He
then spoke something Tangle could not understand. The egg broke, a
small snake came out, and, lying in the line in the sand, grew and grew
till he filled it. The moment he was thus full-grown, he began to glide
away, undulating like a sea-wave.
"Follow that serpent," said the child. "He will lead you the right
Tangle followed the serpent. But she could not go far without looking
back at the marvellous child. He stood alone in the midst of the
glowing desert, beside a fountain of red flame that had burst forth at
his feet, his naked whiteness glimmering a pale rosy red in the torrid
fire. There he stood, looking after her, till, from the lengthening
distance, she could see him no more. The serpent went straight on,
turning neither to the right nor left.
Meantime Mossy had got out of the Lake of Shadows, and, following his
mournful, lonely way, had reached the sea-shore. It was a dark, stormy
evening. The sun had set. The wind was blowing from the sea. The waves
had surrounded the rock within which lay the old man's house. A deep
water rolled between it and the shore, upon which a majestic figure was
Mossy went up to him and said,—
"Will you tell me where to find the Old Man of the Sea?"
"I am the Old Man of the Sea," the figure answered.
"I see a strong kingly man of middle age," returned Mossy.
Then the old man looked at him more intently, and said,—
"Your sight, young man, is better than that of most who take this way.
The night is stormy: come to my house and tell me what I can do for
Mossy followed him. The waves flew from before the footsteps of the Old
Man of the Sea, and Mossy followed upon dry sand.
When they had reached the cave, they sat down and gazed at each other.
Now Mossy was an old man by this time. He looked much older than the
Old Man of the Sea, and his feet were very weary.
After looking at him for a moment, the old man took him by the hand and
led him into his inner cave. There he helped him to undress, and laid
him in the bath. And he saw that one of his hands Mossy did not open.
"What have you in that hand?" he asked.
Mossy opened his hand, and there lay the golden key.
"Ah!" said the old man, "that accounts for your knowing me. And I know
the way you have to go."
"I want to find the country whence the shadows fall," said Mossy.
"I dare say you do. So do I. But meantime, one thing is certain.—What
is that key for, do you think?"
"For a key-hole somewhere. But I don't know why I keep it. I never
could find the key-hole. And I have lived a good while, I believe,"
said Mossy, sadly. "I'm not sure that I'm not old. I know my feet
"Do they?" said the old man, as if he really meant to ask the question;
and Mossy, who was still lying in the bath, watched his feet for a
moment before he replied,—"No, they do not. Perhaps I am not old
"Get up and look at yourself in the water."
He rose and looked at himself in the water, and there was not a gray
hair on his head or a wrinkle on his skin.
"You have tasted of death now," said the old man. "Is it good?"
"It is good," said Mossy. "It is better than life."
"No, said the old man: it is only more life.—Your feet will make no
holes in the water now."
"What do you mean?"
"I will show you that presently."
They returned to the outer cave, and sat and talked together for a long
time. At length the Old Man of the Sea rose, and said to Mossy,—
He led him up the stair again, and opened another door. They stood on
the level of the raging sea, looking towards the east. Across the waste
of waters, against the bosom of a fierce black cloud, stood the foot of
a rainbow, glowing in the dark.
"This indeed is my way," said Mossy, as soon as he saw the rainbow, and
stepped out upon the sea. His feet made no holes in the water. He
fought the wind, and clomb the waves, and went on towards the rainbow.
The storm died away. A lovely day and a lovelier night followed. A cool
wind blew over the wide plain of the quiet ocean. And still Mossy
journeyed eastward. But the rainbow had vanished with the storm.
Day after day he held on, and he thought he had no guide. He did not
see how a shining fish under the water directed his steps. He crossed
the sea, and came to a great precipice of rock, up which he could
discover but one path. Nor did this lead him farther than half-way up
the rock, where it ended on a platform. Here he stood and pondered.—It
could not be that the way stopped here, else what was the path for? It
was a rough path, not very plain, yet certainly a path.—He examined
the face of the rock. It was smooth as glass. But as his eyes kept
roving hopelessly over it, something glittered, and he caught sight of
a row of small sapphires. They bordered a little hole in the rock.
"The key-hole!" he cried.
He tried the key. It fitted. It turned. A great clang and clash, as of
iron bolts on huge brazen caldrons, echoed thunderously within. He drew
out the key. The rock in front of him began to fall. He retreated from
it as far as the breadth of the platform would allow. A great slab fell
at his feet. In front was still the solid rock, with this one slab
fallen forward out of it. But the moment he stepped upon it, a second
fell, just short of the edge of the first, making the next step of a
stair, which thus kept dropping itself before him as he ascended into
the heart of the precipice. It led him into a hall fit for such an
approach—irregular and rude in formation, but floor, sides, pillars,
and vaulted roof, all one mass of shining stones of every colour that
light can show. In the centre stood seven columns, ranged from red to
violet. And on the pedestal of one of them sat a woman, motionless,
with her face bowed upon her knees. Seven years had she sat there
waiting. She lifted her head as Mossy drew near. It was Tangle. Her
hair had grown to her feet, and was rippled like the windless sea on
broad sands. Her face was beautiful, like her grandmother's, and as
still and peaceful as that of the Old Man of the Fire. Her form was
tall and noble. Yet Mossy knew her at once.
"How beautiful you are, Tangle!" he said, in delight and astonishment.
"Am I?" she returned. "Oh, I have waited for you so long! But you, you
are like the Old Man of the Sea. No. You are like the Old Man of the
Earth. No, no. You are like the oldest man of all. You are like them
all. And yet you are my own old Mossy! How did you come here? What did
you do after I lost you? Did you find the key-hole? Have you got the
She had a hundred questions to ask him, and he a hundred more to ask
her. They told each other all their adventures, and were as happy as
man and woman could be. For they were younger and better, and stronger
and wiser, than they had ever been before.
It began to grow dark. And they wanted more than ever to reach the
country whence the shadows fall. So they looked about them for a way
out of the cave. The door by which Mossy entered had closed again, and
there was half a mile of rock between them and the sea. Neither could
Tangle find the opening in the floor by which the serpent had led her
thither. They searched till it grew so dark that they could see
nothing, and gave it up.
After a while, however, the cave began to glimmer again. The light came
from the moon, but it did not look like moonlight, for it gleamed
through those seven pillars in the middle, and filled the place with
all colours. And now Mossy saw that there was a pillar beside the red
one, which he had not observed before. And it was of the same new
colour that he had seen in the rainbow when he saw it first in the
fairy forest. And on it he saw a sparkle of blue. It was the sapphires
round the key-hole.
He took his key. It turned in the lock to the sound of Aeolian music. A
door opened upon slow hinges, and disclosed a winding stair within. The
key vanished from his fingers. Tangle went up. Mossy followed. The door
closed behind them. They climbed out of the earth; and, still climbing,
rose above it. They were in the rainbow. Far abroad, over ocean and
land, they could see through its transparent walls the earth beneath
their feet. Stairs beside stairs wound up together, and beautiful
beings of all ages climbed along with them.
They knew that they were going up to the country whence the shadows
And by this time I think they must have got there.