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The Princess and the Goblin
WHY THE PRINCESS HAS A STORY ABOUT HER
THERE was once a little princess who—
"But, Mr. Author, why do you always write about princesses?"
"Because every little girl is a princess."
"You will make them vain if you tell them that."
"Not if they understand what I mean."
"Then what do you mean?"
"What do you mean by a princess?"
"The daughter of a king."
"Very well, then every little girl is a princess, and there would be no need to say anything about it, except that she is always in danger of forgetting her rank, and behaving as if she had grown out of the mud. I have seen little princesses behave like the children of thieves and lying beggars, and that is why they need to be told they are princesses. And that is why, when I tell a story of this kind, I like to tell it about a princess. Then I can say better what I mean, because I can then give her every beautiful thing I want her to have."
"Please go on."
There was once a little princess whose father was king over a great country full of mountains and valleys. His palace was built upon one of the mountains, and was very grand and beautiful. The princess, whose name was Irene, was born there, but she was sent soon after her birth, because her mother was not very strong, to be brought up by country people in a large house, half castle, half farm-house, on the side of another mountain, about halfway between its base and its peak.
The princess was a sweet little creature, and at the time my story begins was about eight years old. I think, but she got older very fast. Her face was fair and pretty, with eyes like two bits of night-sky, each with a star dissolved in the blue. Those eyes you would have thought must have known they came from there, so often were they turned up in that direction. The ceiling of her nursery was blue, with stars in it, as like the sky as they could make it. But I doubt if ever she saw the real sky with the stars in it, for a reason which I had better mention at once.
These mountains were full of hollow places underneath; huge caverns, and winding ways, some with water running through them, and some shining with all colors of the rainbow when a light was taken in. There would not have been much known about them, had there not been mines there, great deep pits, with long galleries and passages running off from them, which had been dug to get at the ore of which the mountains were full. In the course of digging, the miners came upon many of these natural caverns. A few of them had far-off openings out on the side of a mountain, or into a ravine.
Now in these subterranean caverns lived a strange race of beings, called by some gnomes, by some kobolds, by some goblins. There was a legend current in the country that at one time they lived above ground, and were very like other people. But for some reason or other, concerning which there were different legendary theories, the king had laid what they thought too severe taxes upon them, or had required observances of them they did not like, or had begun to treat them with more severity in some way or other, and impose stricter laws; and the consequence was that they had all disappeared from the face of the country. According to the legend, however, instead of going to some other country, they had all taken refuge in the subterranean caverns, whence they never came out but at night, and then seldom showed themselves in any numbers, and never to many people at once. It was only in the least frequented and most difficult parts of the mountains that they were said to gather even at night in the open air. Those who had caught sight of any of them said that they had greatly altered in the course of generations; and no wonder, seeing they lived away from the sun, in cold and wet and dark places. They were now, not ordinarily ugly, but either absolutely hideous, or ludicrously grotesque both in face and form. There was no invention, they said, of the most lawless imagination expressed by pen or pencil, that could surpass the extravagance of their appearance. And as they grew mis-shapen in body, they had grown in knowledge and cleverness, and now were able to do things no mortal could see the possibility of. But as they grew in cunning, they grew in mischief, and their great delight was in every way they could think of to annoy the people who lived in the open-air-story above them. They had enough of affection left for each other, to preserve them from being absolutely cruel for cruelty's sake to those that came in their way; but still they so heartily cherished the ancestral grudge against those who occupied their former possession, and especially against the descendants of the king who had caused their expulsion, that they sought every opportunity of tormenting them in ways that were as odd as their inventors; and although dwarfed and mis-shapen, they had strength equal to their cunning. In the process of time they had got a king, and a government of their own, whose chief business, beyond their own simple affairs, was to devise trouble for their neighbors. It will now be pretty evident why the little princess had never seen the sky at night. They were much too afraid of the goblins to let her out of the house then, even in company with ever so many attendants; and they had good reason, as we shall see by-and-by.
THE PRINCESS LOSES HERSELF
I HAVE said the Princess Irene was about eight years old when my story begins. And this is how it begins.
One very wet day, when the mountain was covered with mist which was constantly gathering itself together into rain-drops, and pouring down on the roofs of the great old house, whence it fell in a fringe of water from the eaves all round about it, the princess could not of course go out. She got very tired, so tired that even her toys could no longer amuse her. You would wonder at that if I had time to describe to you one half of the toys she had. But then you wouldn't have the toys themselves, and that makes all the difference: you can't get tired of a thing before you have it. It was a picture, though, worth seeing—the princess sitting in the nursery with the sky-ceiling over her head, at a great table covered with her toys. If the artist would like to draw this, I should advise him not to meddle with the toys. I am afraid of attempting to describe them, and I think he had better not try to draw them. He had better not. He can do a thousand things I can't, but I don't think he could draw those toys. No man could better make the princess herself than he could, though—leaning with her back bowed into the back of the chair, her head hanging down, and her hands in her lap, very miserable as she would say herself, not even knowing what she would like, except to go out and get very wet, catch a particularly nice cold, and have to go to bed and take gruel. The next moment after you see her sitting there, her nurse goes out of the room.
She ran for some distance, turned several times, and then began to be afraid. She ran for some distance, turned several times, and then began to be afraid.
Even that is a change, and the princess wakes up a little, and looks about her. Then she tumbles off her chair, and runs out of the door, not the same door the nurse went out of, but one which opened at the foot of a curious old stair of worm-eaten oak, which looked as if never any one had set foot upon it. She had once before been up six steps, and that was sufficient reason, in such a day, for trying to find out what was at the top of it.
Up and up she ran—such a long way it seemed to her! until she came to the top of the third flight. There she found the landing was the end of a long passage. Into this she ran. It was full of doors on each side. There were so many that she did not care to open any, but ran on to the end, where she turned into another passage, also full of doors. When she had turned twice more, and still saw doors and only doors about her, she began to get frightened. It was so silent! And all those doors must hide rooms with nobody in them! That was dreadful. Also the rain made a great trampling noise on the roof. She turned and started at full speed, her little footsteps echoing through the sounds of the rain—back for the stairs and her safe nursery. So she thought, but she had lost herself long ago. It doesn't follow that she was lost, because she had lost herself though.
She ran for some distance, turned several times, and then began to be afraid. Very soon she was sure that she had lost the way back. Rooms everywhere, and no stair! Her little heart beat as fast as her little feet ran, and a lump of tears was growing in her throat. But she was too eager and perhaps too frightened to cry for some time. At last her hope failed her. Nothing but passages and doors everywhere! She threw herself on the floor, and began to wail and cry.
She did not cry long, however, for she was as brave as could be expected of a princess of her age. After a good cry, she got up, and brushed the dust from her frock. Oh what old dust it was! Then she wiped her eyes with her hands, for princesses don't always have their handkerchiefs in their pockets any more than some other little girls I know of. Next, like a true princess, she resolved on going wisely to work to find her way back: she would walk through the passages, and look in every direction for the stair. This she did, but without success. She went over the same ground again and again without knowing it, for the passages and doors were all alike. At last, in a corner, through a half-open door, she did see a stair. But alas! it went the wrong way: instead of going down, it went up. Frightened as she was, however, she could not help wishing to see where yet further the stair could lead. It was very narrow, and so steep that she went up like a four-legged creature on her hands and feet.
THE PRINCESS AND—WE SHALL SEE WHO
WHEN she came to the top, she found herself in a little square place, with three doors, two opposite each other, and one opposite the top of the stair. She stood for a moment, without an idea in her little head what to do next. But as she stood, she began to hear a curious humming sound. Could it be the rain? No. It was much more gentle, and even monotonous than the sound of the rain, which now she scarcely heard. The low sweet humming sound went on, sometimes stopping for a little while and then beginning again. It was more like the hum of a very happy bee that had found a rich well of honey in some globular flower, than anything else I can think of at this moment. Where could it come from? She laid her ear first to one of the doors to hearken if it was there—then to another. When she laid her ear against the third door, there could be no doubt where it came from: it must be from something in that room. What could it be? She was rather afraid, but her curiosity was stronger than her fear, and she opened the door very gently and peeped in. What do you think she saw? A very old lady who sat spinning.
"Oh, Mr. Editor! I know the story you are going to tell: it's The Sleeping Beauty; only you're spinning too, and making it longer."
"No, indeed, it is not that story. Why should I tell one that every properly educated child knows already? More old ladies than one have sat spinning in a garret. Besides, the old lady in that story was only spinning with a spindle, and this one was spinning with a spinning wheel, else how could the princess have heard the sweet noise through the door? Do you know the difference? Did you ever see a spindle or a spinning wheel? I daresay you never did. Well, ask your mamma to explain to you the difference. Between ourselves, however, I shouldn't wonder if she didn't know much better than you. Another thing is, that this is not a fairy story; but a goblin story. And one thing more, this old lady spinning was not an old nurse—but—you shall see who. I think I have now made it quite plain that this is not that lovely story of The Sleeping Beauty. It is quite a new one, I assure you, and I will try to tell it as prettily as I can."
Perhaps you will wonder how the princess could tell that the old lady was an old lady, when I inform you that not only was she beautiful, but her skin was smooth and white. I will tell you more. Her hair was combed back from her forehead and face, and hung loose far down and all over her back. That is not much like an old lady—is it? Ah! but it was white almost as snow. And although her face was so smooth, her eyes looked so wise that you could not have helped seeing she must be old. The princess, though she could not have told you why, did think her very old indeed—quite fifty—she said to herself. But she was rather older than that, as you shall hear.
While the princess stared bewildered, with her head just inside the door, the old lady lifted hers, and said in a sweet, but old and rather shaky voice, which mingled very pleasantly with the continued hum of her wheel:
"Come in, my dear; come in. I am glad to see you."
That the princess was a real princess, you might see now quite plainly; for she didn't hang on to the handle of the door, and stare without moving, as I have known some do who ought to have been princesses, but were only rather vulgar little girls. She did as she was told, stepped inside the door at once, and shut it gently behind her.
"Come to me, my dear," said the old lady.
And again the princess did as she was told. She approached the old lady—rather slowly, I confess, but did not stop until she stood by her side, and looked up in her face with her blue eyes and the two melted stars in them.
"Why, what have you been doing with your eyes, child?" asked the old lady.
"Crying," answered the princess.
"Because I couldn't find my way down again."
"But you could find your way up."
"Not at first—not for a long time."
"But your face is streaked like the back of a zebra. Hadn't you a handkerchief to wipe your eyes with?"
"Then why didn't you come to me to wipe them for you?"
"Please I didn't know you were here. I will next time."
"There's a good child!" said the old lady.
Then she stopped her wheel, and rose, and, going out of the room, returned with a little silver basin and a soft white towel, with which she washed and wiped the bright little face. And the princess thought her hands were so smooth and nice!
When she carried away the basin and towel, the little princess wondered to see how straight and tall she was, for, although she was so old, she didn't stoop a bit. She was dressed in black velvet with thick white heavy-looking lace about it; and on the black dress her hair shone like silver. There was hardly any more furniture in the room than there might have been in that of the poorest old woman who made her bread by her spinning. There was no carpet on the floor—no table anywhere—nothing but the spinning-wheel and the chair beside it. When she came back, she sat down again, and without a word began her spinning once more, while Irene, who had never seen a spinning-wheel, stood by her side and looked on. When the old lady had succeeded in getting her thread fairly in operation again, she said to the princess, but without looking at her:
"Do you know my name, child?"
"No, I don't know it," answered the princess.
"My name is Irene."
"That's my name!" cried the princess.
"I know that. I let you have mine. I haven't got your name. You've got mine."
"How can that be?" asked the princess, bewildered. "I've always had my name."
"Your papa, the king, asked me if I had any objection to your having it; and of course I hadn't. I let you have it with pleasure."
"It was very kind of you to give me your name—and such a pretty one," said the princess.
"Oh, not so very kind!" said the old lady. "A name is one of those things one can give away and keep all the same. I have a good many such things. Wouldn't you like to know who I am, child?"
"Yes, that I should—very much."
"I'm your great-great-grandmother," said the lady.
"What's that?" asked the princess.
"I'm your father's mother's father's mother."
"Oh, dear! I can't understand that," said the princess.
"I daresay not. I didn't expect you would. But that's no reason why I shouldn't say it."
"Oh no!" answered the princess.
"I will explain it all to you when you are older," the lady went on. "But you will be able to understand this much now: I came here to take care of you."
"Is it long since you came? Was it yesterday? Or was it to-day, because it was so wet that I couldn't get out?"
"I've been here ever since you came yourself."
"What a long time!" said the princess. "I don't remember it at all."
"No. I suppose not."
"But I never saw you before."
"No. But you shall see me again."
"Do you live in this room always?"
"I don't sleep in it. I sleep on the opposite side of the landing. I sit here most of the day."
"I shouldn't like it. My nursery is much prettier. You must be a queen too, if you are my great big grandmother."
"Yes, I am a queen."
"Where is your crown then?"
"In my bedroom."
"I should like to see it."
"You shall some day—not to-day."
"I wonder why nursie never told me."
"Nursie doesn't know. She never saw me."
"But somebody knows that you are in the house?"
"How do you get your dinner then?"
"I keep poultry—of a sort."
"Where do you keep them?"
"I will show you."
"And who makes the chicken broth for you?"
"I never kill any of my chickens."
"Then I can't understand."
"What did you have for breakfast this morning?"
"Oh! I had bread and milk, and an egg.—I daresay you eat their eggs."
"Yes, that's it. I eat their eggs."
"Is that what makes your hair so white?"
"No, my dear. It's old age. I am very old."
"I thought so. Are you fifty?"
"Yes—more than that."
"Are you a hundred?"
"Yes—more than that. I am too old for you to guess. Come and see my chickens."
She clapped her hands with delight, and up rose such a flapping of wings. She clapped her hands with delight, and up rose such a flapping of wings.
Again she stopped her spinning. She rose, took the princess by the hand, led her out of the room, and opened the door opposite the stair. The princess expected to see a lot of hens and chickens, but instead of that, she saw the blue sky first, and then the roofs of the house, with a multitude of the loveliest pigeons, mostly white, but of all colors, walking about, making bows to each other, and talking a language she could not understand. She clapped her hands with delight, and up rose such a flapping of wings, that she in her turn was startled.
"You've frightened my poultry," said the old lady, smiling.
"And they've frightened me," said the princess, smiling too. "But what very nice poultry! Are the eggs nice?"
"Yes, very nice."
"What a small egg-spoon you must have! Wouldn't it be better to keep hens, and get bigger eggs?"
"How should I feed them, though?"
"I see," said the princess. "The pigeons feed themselves. They've got wings."
"Just so. If they couldn't fly, I couldn't eat their eggs."
"But how do you get at the eggs? Where are their nests?"
The lady took hold of a little loop of string in the wall at the side of the door, and lifting a shutter showed a great many pigeon-holes with nests, some with young ones and some with eggs in them. The birds came in at the other side, and she took out the eggs on this side. She closed it again quickly, lest the young ones should be frightened.
"Oh what a nice way!" cried the princess. "Will you give me an egg to eat? I'm rather hungry."
"I will some day, but now you must go back, or nursie will be miserable about you. I daresay she's looking for you everywhere."
"Except here," answered the princess. "Oh how surprised she will be when I tell her about my great big grand-grandmother!"
"Yes, that she will!" said the old lady with a curious smile. "Mind you tell her all about it exactly."
"That I will. Please will you take me back to her?"
"I can't go all the way, but I will take you to the top of the stair, and then you must run down quite fast into your own room."
The little princess put her hand in the old lady's, who, looking this way and that, brought her to the top of the first stair, and thence to the bottom of the second, and did not leave her till she saw her half way down the third. When she heard the cry of her nurse's pleasure at finding her, she turned and walked up the stairs again, very fast indeed for such a very great grandmother, and sat down to her spinning with another strange smile on her sweet old face.
About this spinning of hers I will tell you more next time.
Guess what she was spinning.
WHAT THE NURSE THOUGHT OF IT
"WHY, where can you have been, princess?" asked the nurse, taking her in her arms. "It's very unkind of you to hide away so long. I began to be afraid—"
Here she checked herself.
"What were you afraid of, nursie?" asked the princess.
"Never mind," she answered. "Perhaps I will tell you another day. Now tell me where you have been?"
"I've been up a long way to see my very great, huge, old grandmother," said the princess.
"What do you mean by that?" asked the nurse, who thought she was making fun.
"I mean that I've been a long way up and up to see my great grandmother. Ah, nursie, you don't know what a beautiful mother of grandmothers I've got upstairs. She is such an old lady! with such lovely white hair!—as white as my silver cup. Now, when I think of it, I think her hair must be silver."
"What nonsense you are talking, princess!" said the nurse.
"I'm not talking nonsense," returned Irene, rather offended. "I will tell you all about her. She's much taller than you, and much prettier."
"Oh, I daresay!" remarked the nurse.
"And she lives upon pigeon's eggs."
"Most likely," said the nurse.
"And she sits in an empty room, spin-spinning all day long."
"Not a doubt of it," said the nurse.
"And she keeps her crown in her bedroom."
"Of course—quite the proper place to keep her crown in. She wears it in bed, I'll be bound."
"She didn't say that. And I don't think she does. That wouldn't be comfortable—would it? I don't think my papa wears his crown for a night-cap. Does he, nursie?"
"I never asked him. I daresay he does."
"And she's been there ever since I came here—ever so many years."
"Anybody could have told you that," said the nurse, who did not believe a word Irene was saying.
"Why didn't you tell me then?"
"There was no necessity. You could make it all up for yourself."
"You don't believe me then!" exclaimed the princess, astonished and angry, as well she might be.
"Did you expect me to believe you, princess?" asked the nurse coldly. "I know princesses are in the habit of telling make-believes, but you are the first I ever heard of who expected to have them believed," she added, seeing that the child was strangely in earnest.
The princess burst into tears.
"Well, I must say," remarked the nurse, now thoroughly vexed with her for crying, "it is not at all becoming in a princess to tell stories and expect to be believed just because she is a princess."
"But it's quite true, I tell you, nursie."
"You've dreamt it, then, child."
"No, I didn't dream it. I went up-stairs, and I lost myself, and if I hadn't found the beautiful lady, I should never have found myself."
"Oh, I daresay!"
"Well, you just come up with me, and see if I'm not telling the truth."
"Indeed I have other work to do. It's your dinner-time, and I won't have any more such nonsense."
The princess wiped her eyes, and her face grew so hot that they were soon quite dry. She sat down to her dinner, but ate next to nothing. Not to be believed does not at all agree with princesses; for a real princess cannot tell a lie. So all the afternoon she did not speak a word. Only when the nurse spoke to her, she answered her, for a real princess is never rude—even when she does well to be offended.
Of course the nurse was not comfortable in her mind—not that she suspected the least truth in Irene's story, but that she loved her dearly, and was vexed with herself for having been cross to her. She thought her crossness was the cause of the princess' unhappiness, and had no idea that she was really and deeply hurt at not being believed. But, as it became more and more plain during the evening in every motion and look, that, although she tried to amuse herself with her toys, her heart was too vexed and troubled to enjoy them, her nurse's discomfort grew and grew. When bedtime came, she undressed and laid her down, but the child, instead of holding up her little mouth to be kissed, turned away from her and lay still. Then nursie's heart gave way altogether, and she began to cry. At the sound of her first sob, the princess turned again, and held her face to kiss her as usual. But the nurse had her handkerchief to her eyes, and did not see the movement.
"Nursie," said the princess, "why won't you believe me?"
"Because I can't believe you," said the nurse, getting angry again.
"Ah! then you can't help it," said Irene, "and I will not be vexed with you any more. I will give you a kiss and go to sleep."
"You little angel!" cried the nurse, and caught her out of bed, and walked about the room with her in her arms, kissing and hugging her.
"You will let me take you to see my dear old great big grandmother, won't you?" said the princess, as she laid her down again.
"And you won't say I'm ugly, any more—will you, princess?"
"Nursie! I never said you were ugly. What can you mean?"
"Well, if you didn't say it, you meant it."
"Indeed, I never did."
"You said I wasn't so pretty as that—"
"As my beautiful grandmother—yes, I did say that; and I say it again, for it's quite true."
"Then I do think you are unkind!" said the nurse, and put her handkerchief to her eyes again.
"Nursie, dear, everybody can't be as beautiful as every other body, you know. You are very nice-looking, but if you had been as beautiful as my grandmother—"
"Bother your grandmother!" said the nurse.
"Nurse, that's very rude. You are not fit to be spoken to—till you can behave better."
The princess turned away once more, and again the nurse was ashamed of herself.
"I'm sure I beg your pardon, princess," she said, though still in an offended tone. But the princess let the tone pass, and heeded only the words.
"You won't say it again, I am sure," she answered, once more turning toward her nurse. "I was only going to say that if you had been twice as nice-looking as you are, some king or other would have married you, and then what would have become of me?"
"You are an angel!" repeated the nurse, again embracing her.
"Now," insisted Irene, "you will come and see my grandmother—won't you?"
"I will go with you anywhere you like, my cherub," she answered; and in two minutes the weary little princess was fast asleep.
THE PRINCESS LETS WELL ALONE
WHEN she woke the next morning, the first thing she heard was the rain still falling. Indeed, this day was so like the last, that it would have been difficult to tell where was the use of it. The first thing she thought of, however, was not the rain, but the lady in the tower; and the first question that occupied her thoughts was whether she should not ask the nurse to fulfill her promise this very morning, and go with her to find her grandmother as soon as she had had her breakfast. But she came to the conclusion that perhaps the lady would not be pleased if she took anyone to see her without first asking leave; especially as it was pretty evident, seeing she lived on pigeons' eggs, and cooked them herself, that she did not want the household to know she was there. So the princess resolved to take the first opportunity of running up alone and asking whether she might bring her nurse. She believed the fact that she could not otherwise convince her she was telling the truth, would have much weight with her grandmother.
The princess and her nurse were the best of friends all dressing time, and the princess in consequence ate an enormous little breakfast.
"I wonder, Lootie"—that was her pet-name for her nurse—"what pigeons' eggs taste like?" she said, as she was eating her egg—not quite a common one, for they always picked out the pinky ones for her.
"We'll get you a pigeon's egg, and you shall judge for yourself," said the nurse.
"Oh, no, no!" returned Irene, suddenly reflecting they might disturb the old lady in getting it, and that even if they did not, she would have one less in consequence.