"In four weeks from now," said the Prime Minister's son, "you will have me with you again."
"And I shall have my new toy," said the Princess Petulant, sighing contentedly.
Now, Martin was one of the few children who can see the fairies. He knew how to coax the flower fairies to speak to him, and how to find the wood fairies when they hid among the ferns, and how to laugh back when the wymps made fun of him; and, above all, he knew how to find his way to Bobolink, the Purple Enchanter, who knows everything. And he found his way to Bobolink, on the evening of that very same day.
Bobolink, the Purple Enchanter, sat on his amethyst throne in the middle of a grove of deadly nightshade. He was the ugliest enchanter any one has ever seen; and on each side of him sat an enormous purple toad with an ugly purple smile on his face. Even the sun's rays shone purple in the home of the Purple Enchanter; and Martin stared at him for a whole minute without speaking. For, although Martin was two years older than the little Princess Petulant, he was not a very big boy for all that; and there was something that made him feel a little queer in the purple face, and the purple hands, and the purple expression of Bobolink.
"Why don't you say something?" growled Bobolink, in just the kind of voice one would expect such a very ugly person to have. "What are you thinking about, eh? If it's anything about me, you 'd better say so at once!"
"Well," said Martin, as bravely as he could, "I was thinking that it must be very odd to be so purple as you are. Of course," he added politely, "I don't suppose you can help it exactly, because even the sun is purple here, and perhaps you have got sunpurpled instead of sunburned."
"May I ask," said Bobolink, rolling his purple eyes about, "if you came all this way on purpose to make remarks about me?"
"No, I did n't," explained Martin, hurriedly. "I came to ask you the way to the Wonderful Toymaker, who makes all the toys for Fairyland. I am going to fetch a new toy for the Princess Petulant."
"And how do you think you are going to get it?" asked Bobolink, with a chuckle.
"That is exactly what I want you to tell me," said Martin, boldly.
Now, Bobolink, the Purple Enchanter, was used to being visited by people who wanted to get something out of him, because, as I said before, Bobolink knows everything. But he had never come across any one who did not begin by flattering him; and he took a fancy to Martin from the moment he told him he was sunpurpled. So he smiled as well as he could,—which was not very well, for he had never done such a thing before and his jaws were extremely stiff,—and for the moment he hardly looked ugly at all.
"I like you," he said, nodding at the small figure of the Prime Minister's son; "and I am going to help you. Of course, I know quite well where the Wonderful Toymaker lives; but I have promised the pine dwarfs not to tell, because it is the only secret they possess, and it would break their hearts if any one were to hear it from me instead of from them. You see, when a person knows everything he must keep some of it to himself, or else there would be nothing left for anybody else to say, and then there would be no more conversation. That is the worst of knowing everything. But I can show you the way to the pine dwarfs; and if you keep perfectly quiet and speak in a whisper to them, they'll tell you all you want to know."
"Why must I keep perfectly quiet and speak in a whisper?" asked Martin.
Bobolink scowled, and became as ugly as ever again.
"Now you want to know too much, and that is n't fair," he complained. "I 'll tell you the way to the pine dwarfs, and you must find out the rest for yourself. Go straight ahead and take the hundred and first turning to the right, and the fifty-second turning to the left, then turn round seventeen times; and if that is n't good enough for you I 'll never help you again. Now, off you go!"
Martin saw that he was no longer wanted and set off as fast as he could. It took him a whole week to reach the hundred and first turning on the right; and it was the most anxious week he had ever spent, for he had to keep counting the turnings all the time and was dreadfully afraid of losing count altogether. And the fifty-second turning on the left was almost as bad, for his way took him through a large town, and he dare not stay to speak to any one for fear of overlooking one of the little streets. He left the town behind him at last; and after walking for two days longer, he reached the fifty-second turning on his left, and it led him to the middle of a vast sandy plain.
"How queer!" thought Martin. "Not a single tree to be seen! Surely the pine dwarfs don't live in a place like this? Perhaps old Bobolink has only hoaxed me after all."
However, he turned round seventeen times just to see what would happen; and the first thing that happened was that he became remarkably giddy and had to sit down on the ground to recover himself. When he did recover he found he was in a beautiful thick pine wood, with the sunshine coming through the branches, and flickering here and there over the ground, and painting the great big pine trunks bright red. Over it all hung the most delicious silence, only broken by the soft passage of the wind through the pine leaves. Martin had almost forgotten the warning Bobolink had given him, but, even if he had quite forgotten it, nothing would have induced him to speak loudly in such a stillness as that.
"Are you there, little pine dwarfs?" he whispered, as he looked up through the pine trees at the blue sky on the other side. No sooner had his whisper travelled up through the hushed air than all the branches seemed to be filled with life and movement; and what Martin had believed to be brown pine cones suddenly moved, and ran about among the trees, and slid down the long red trunks. And then he saw they were dear little brown dwarfs, who surrounded him by hundreds and thousands, and travelled up and down his boots, and stared at him with looks full of curiosity.
"Who are you, little boy, and where do you come from?" they seemed to be saying; and as they spoke all together their voices sounded exactly like the wind as we hear it in the pine trees. They were so gentle and kind-looking that Martin was not a bit afraid and asked them at once to tell him the way to the Wonderful Toymaker who makes all the toys for Fairyland. They were delighted to tell him all they knew, for it was their one secret and they were very proud of it; and so few people ever came that way that they had very few opportunities of telling it. So their honest little brown faces were covered with good-nature and smiles, as they crooned out their information.
"You must walk straight through the wood," they said, "until you come to a waterfall at the beginning of a stream; and you must follow the stream down, down, down, until it brings you to a valley surrounded by high hills; and in that valley is the toyshop of the Wonderful Toymaker, who makes all the toys for Fairyland."
"That is simple enough, I 'm sure," said Martin.
"Ah," said the pine dwarfs, wisely, "but it is not so easy to get there as you think; for the stream leads you through the country of the people who make conversation, and they try to stop every stranger who passes by, so that they can make him into conversation; and that is why so few people ever reach the Wonderful Toymaker at all."
"Make conversation! How funny!" said Martin; and he almost laughed aloud at the idea.
"It is more sad than funny," said the pine dwarfs, sighing like a large gust of wind that for the moment made Martin feel quite chilly; "for it gives us so much to do. You see, they make conversation, and we make silence; and the more conversation they make the more silence we have to make to keep things even. They are always ahead of us, for all that!" They sighed again. Martin looked puzzled.
"Still, your silence is so full of sound," he said. The pine dwarfs laughed softly, so softly that most people would have called it only smiling.
"Real silence, the best kind, is always full of sound; and of course we only make the very best kind," they explained proudly. "Anybody can make the other kind of silence by taking the air and sifting out the noise in it. Now, we take the air, and when we have sifted out the noise we fill it with sound. That's a very different thing. The worst of it is," they added, sadly, "there is so little demand for real silence. We have layers of it piled up at the top, of those pine trees, and nobody ever wants it. The other silence is so much cheaper, you see, and most people don't know the difference."
"When I am grown up and have a house of my own," said Martin, "I shall come and ask you to fill it with the very best silence for me."
The pine dwarfs shook their little brown heads incredulously.
"Wait till you are grown up," they said; "and then, if you will let us fill one room for you, we shall be quite satisfied. Now, set off on your journey; and if you want to escape being made into conversation, you must not speak a single word until you reach the valley where the Wonderful Toymaker lives."
"Trust me!" laughed Martin. "It is only talking that is difficult; any one can keep silent."
"Very well; be careful, only be careful!" they sighed; and in another moment they had all gone back to their pine trees, and nothing was to be heard except the distant sounds with which they were filling the silence.
Then Martin walked on until he came to the rushing waterfall; and along by the side of the stream he trudged and thought it was the very noisiest stream he had ever come across, for it clattered over the stones, and splashed up in the air, and seemed bent on getting through life with as much fuss and excitement as it was possible to make. As he walked along by its side, he discovered that the noise it made was caused by millions of little voices, chattering and gossiping, quarrelling and laughing, as busily as they could.
"This must be the country where they make conversation," thought Martin. "Well, I must be pretty careful not to let them know I can talk." At the same time, the longer he walked by that talkative little stream the easier it was to forget the silence in the pine wood; and he began to think that, after all, one silent room would be quite enough in the house he was going to have some day. Presently, there were not only voices in the stream beside him but all around him as well, in the trees, and the flowers, and the grass, and the air; and they were not the pretty little voices of the fairies which he knew so well, but they were the harsh, shrill, unpleasant voices of unpleasant people, who must have spent their lives in chattering about things that did not concern them. Then the voices came closer and closer to him, and buzzed up round his head, and shrieked into his ears, asking him dozens and dozens of questions, until it was all he could do not to shout at them to leave him alone.
"Who are you? Where do you come from? What do you want? Where are you going? What are you doing here? Why don't you answer? How did you get here? Whom did you meet on the way? Did they tell you anything interesting? What is your name? How old are you? Who is your father? What is your mother like? Does she give parties? Does she invite many people? Do you know the King? Have you been to court? Does the Queen dress well? Do you like jam or cake best? What is your favourite sweet? Don't you think we are very amusing?" etc., etc., etc.
These were only a few of the questions they asked Martin, but they quite cured him of any wish to speak; and, instead of telling them anything about himself, he just put his hands over his ears and ran as fast as he could until he dropped down, very much out of breath, some way further along the stream. As he sat there, delighted at having escaped from all those impertinent voices, a curious little fish with a bent back popped his head above the water and nodded to him.
"Good morning," said the fish. His tone was so friendly that Martin forgot all about the warning of the pine dwarfs, and entered into conversation with him.
"This is a strange country," said Martin.
"It's a very busy country," answered the fish. "None of us get left alone for long; and as for me, I never get any peace at all. If I could only get my tail into my mouth, things would be very different."
"You look as though you had been trying a good deal," observed Martin. "I suppose that is why your back is so bent."
"Bent?" cried the fish, angrily. "Nothing of the sort! On the contrary, it has a most elegant curve. It's not the shape I complain about, it's the difference in the work. You see, if I could only get my tail into my mouth I should be a Full-stop; and Full-stops have so little to do nowadays that I should be able to retire at once. Being a Comma is quite another matter; it's work, work, work, from year's end to year's end. Hullo! What is it now?"
His last remark was addressed to another fish, who seemed to have succeeded in getting his tail into his mouth, and who spoke very huskily in consequence.
"Come along," he said to the Comma-fish; "you 've got to help me to make a Semi-colon."
"Oh, dear, oh, dear!" replied the other. "I do wish Colons were more used; it would at least give me a rest and use up some of you Full-stops for a change."
Martin was just going to sympathise with the poor little overworked Comma-fish, when the storm of voices he had left behind suddenly managed to overtake him; and there they were once more, buzzing round his head and shrieking in his ears, until he was almost deafened by the noise; while dozens of invisible hands were lifting him from the ground and carrying him along at a terrific pace.
"He has spoken, he has spoken!" the voices were shouting triumphantly, as they bore him along. "He is ours to make conversation of!"
Then they took him into a magnificent glittering palace, made of glass of a thousand colours; and invisible voices told him it was all his and he should be king over it, if he would only make conversation for them. It was the most beautiful palace a king could possibly have wished for; and even the Prime Minister's son was dazzled by it for the moment. There was everything in it that a boy could want; if he pulled a golden cord, down fell a shower of chocolate creams; if he went to the strawberry ice room, there was a wooden spade for him to dig it out with, and a wheelbarrow in which to bring it away; if he wanted a present, he had only to turn on the present-tap and out came whatever he wished for. So he immediately wished for a six-bladed knife, a real pony, and a gold watch. For all that, he was not a bit happy. The incessant talking around him never ceased for a moment; the air seemed packed with people whom he never saw, but who asked him innumerable questions which he never attempted to answer. Besides this, all the furniture talked as well. When he opened the door it made remarks about the way he did it, which were not at all polite. If he sat on the arm of a chair, it pointed out to him in a hurt tone that chairs were not intended to be used in that way. When he cut his name on the mahogany dining-table, it shouted abuse at him until he had to paint over the letters to appease it. The windows chatted pleasantly about the weather when the wind blew, instead of rattling; and the fires gossiped when they were lighted, instead of crackling and smoking. He gave up riding his pony after it had told him the history of its childhood for the fifteenth time; and when he found that his gold watch was always telling stories instead of telling the time he had to get rid of that too. As for his six-bladed knife, it wearied him so much by telling him the same thing six times over that he threw it out of the window as far as he could. All this was excessively trying to a boy who had never talked much in the whole of his life; and the worst of it was that he was prevented by magic from running away; so the four weeks came to an end, and he had not found a new toy for the Princess Petulant.
Meanwhile, the little Princess had been waiting, and waiting, and waiting. In all the eight years of her life she had never waited so patiently for anything; and the affairs of the country went on quite smoothly in consequence. When, however, the four weeks were over and Martin did not return with her new toy, Princess Petulant grew tired of being good, and, once more, she lay on the nursery floor and sobbed; and, once more, there was consternation in the royal household. So the King called another council.
"Haven't you got any more sons?" he demanded crossly of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister shook his head, and owned sadly that he had only one son.
"Then why do you lose him?" said the King, still more crossly. "Does no one know where the Prime Minister's son has gone?"
The councillors looked helplessly at one another. One thought that Martin had gone to Fairyland; another said it was to Toyland; and a third declared he must be with the wymps at the back of the sun. But, as nobody knew how to get to any of these places, the suggestions of his councillors only made the King more annoyed than before. At last, he asked the Queen's advice; and the Queen proposed that the little Princess should attend the council and explain why she was crying. However, when they sent up to the royal nursery for the Princess Petulant, there was no Princess to be seen; and the royal nurses were rushing everywhere in great confusion, trying to find her.
"It is a most extraordinary thing," cried the King, "that we cannot keep anybody in the place! What is the use of children who do nothing but lose themselves? There must be wympcraft in this!"
The Queen only said "Poor children!" and set to work to have the country searched for the missing pair, and sat down to cry by herself until they could be found.
What had really happened was quite simple. While the Princess Petulant was sobbing on the nursery floor, something came through the open window and dropped with a thud just in front of her. This astonished her so much, that she stopped crying and looked up to see what it was. There stood a little pine dwarf, holding his hands to his ears.
"Dear, dear!" crooned the pine dwarf in his soft voice. "What are you making such a noise for?"
"I am crying because Martin has not come back," said the Princess, sorrowfully. "He promised to fetch me a new toy, and he has never broken his promise before. I do wish he would come back. Even if he does n't bring me a new toy, I wish he would come back."
"Ah," said the pine dwarf, smiling, "now I think I can help you. But you must not cry any more; it is almost as bad as the noise they are making in the country where Martin is imprisoned."
"Oh!" cried Princess Petulant, clapping her hands; "do you really know where Martin is?"
"Come along with me and see," said the pine dwarf. The next thing the Princess knew was that she was gliding through the air in the most delicious manner possible; and she never stopped until she found herself by the side of the waterfall, that stands at the edge of the country where they make conversation.
"I cannot take you any further," said the pine dwarf; "because there is so much noise down there that it would blow me into little pieces at once. Follow the stream along until it brings you to a glass palace, and there you will find Martin waiting for you. Whatever you do, though, you must not speak a word to any one until you find him. Do you think you can do this?"
The Princess was thoughtful for a whole minute.
"I can do it if I stop up my ears with cotton wool," she said. "I am quite certain I should speak if I heard any one talking to me."
The pine dwarf smiled again; and a linnet, who had overheard their conversation, kindly offered the Princess a piece of cotton wool from the nest he was making; and she thanked him as charmingly as a Princess should, and immediately stuffed it into her two little pink ears. Then she kissed her hand to the good little pine dwarf, and ran away along the stream; and she never stopped running until she reached the magnificent, glittering glass palace; and there she saw Martin right in the middle of it, sitting at the table with his head in his hands.
"I do believe he is crying!" thought Princess Petulant; and she very nearly cried too at the mere thought of it, for no one had ever seen the Prime Minister's son cry before. She picked up a stone instead, however, and sent it right through the glass wall of the palace,—for she was in far too great a hurry to go round to the door,—and she made a hole large enough to slip through; and into the room she bounded, where Martin sat thinking about her.
They kissed each other a great many times; and Martin pulled the cotton wool out of her two little pink ears, and told her all that had happened, and how miserable he had been because he could not keep his promise to her, and how dreadfully tired he was of conversation.
"Even now," he added, sadly, "I don't suppose they will let me go with you. Just listen to their stupid voices! I shall have to bear that for the rest of my life."
"Oh, no, you won't!" buzzed the voices in the air. "You can go away as soon as you like. It is quite hopeless to think of making you into conversation; you are the most unconversational prisoner we have ever captured. If the Princess had not put cotton wool in her ears we should have caught her directly; and what splendid conversation she would have made! Unfortunately, she is out of our power now, because she reached you without speaking a word; so you can go off together as soon as you like."
They did not wait to be told twice, but set off at once, hand in hand, and walked straight on until they reached the top of the hill that slopes down into the valley where the Wonderful Toymaker lives. Then they ran a race down the side of the hill; and of course Martin allowed the Princess to win, so she was the first, after all, to see the most wonderful toyshop in the world. It was so wonderful that she actually remained speechless with astonishment, until Martin caught her up; and then they stood side by side and stared at it.
To begin with, it was not a toyshop at all. The whole of the valley was strewn with toys: they lay on the ground in heaps, they were piled high up on the rocks, they hung from the trees and made them look like huge Christmas trees, and they covered the bushes like blossoms: wherever the children looked, they saw toys, toys, toys. And such toys, too! People who have never been to Fairyland can have no idea of the toys that are made by the Wonderful Toymaker; even Martin, who was a friend of the fairies, had never seen anything like them before. As for the Princess Petulant—her large blue eyes were open, and her little round mouth was open, and she could not have spoken a word to please anybody.
Then, suddenly, into the middle of it all stepped the Wonderful Toymaker. Any one who has lived for thousands and thousands of years might reasonably be expected to look old, but the Wonderful Toymaker looked young enough to play with his own toys; when he laughed, the children felt that they should never feel unhappy again; and when he came running towards them, turning coach-wheels on the way, they felt certain that he was only a very little older than themselves. For that is what happens when a man has been making toys for thousands and thousands of years.
"My dear children, how pleased I am to see you!" he cried joyfully. "At last, I shall have some one to play with! Come and look at my two new tops."
He took them by the hands and raced them across the valley to his workshop, which was strewn with gold and silver tools with handles made of rubies; and he took up a gaily painted top and set it spinning by blowing gently upon it three times. As it spun it began to hum a tune, and in the tune they could hear every sound that the world contains,—birds singing and wind whistling, children laughing and children crying, people talking and people quarrelling, pretty sounds and ugly sounds, one after another, until the children were spellbound with astonishment.
"Oh, oh!" cried Princess Petulant, as the top rolled over on its side. "I never heard anything so beautiful before."
"The top is yours, since you like it," said the Wonderful Toymaker, handing it to her with a bow. "Now listen to my other new top."
Then he took up another one, made of burnished copper, and gave it a twist with his fingers, and it began to spin with all its might; and as it spun round, the song it sang was one that could never be described, for it was full of the sounds that do not exist at all, the sounds that are only to be heard in Fairyland when we are lucky enough to go there. It made the Princess Petulant feel sleepy; but Martin gave a shout of pleasure when it stopped spinning.
"I like that one much better," he said.
"It is the finest toy I have ever made," said the Wonderful Toymaker; "and it is yours because you know how to appreciate it. Now, we will play games!"
They had never played such games in their lives before, nor had they ever had such a delightful playfellow. He put such feelings of joy and happiness into their hearts that the little Princess wondered how she could ever have felt discontented, and Martin never once wanted to stop and dream. They played with toys that would not break, however badly they were treated; they chased one another over the rocks and through the bushes, without getting out of breath at all; and when they could not think of anything else to do, they laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed. Then they sat down on the grass to rest; and the Wonderful Toymaker sat between them and smiled at them both.
"Now, we will refresh ourselves by eating unwholesome sweets," he said, and he gave a long low whistle. Immediately, they were pelted from all sides by the most delicious, unwholesome sweets that were ever made; but, although they were ever so unwholesome, and although the children ate quantities and quantities of them, they were not in the least bit the worse for it; and when they had eaten all they could, the Wonderful Toymaker filled their pockets for them, and laughed again.
"Won't you stop here always?" he asked them.
The children shook their heads.
"I must go back to mother," said the Princess Petulant. "She must be wondering where I am, now."
"And I have got to be Prime Minister, some day," said Martin, with a sigh.
"You will never be Prime Minister," said the Toymaker, just as his father was always saying. "Why can't you both stay with me? Only think of all the games we can have, and the toys we can make, and the unwholesome sweets we can eat! Won't you really stay and play with me?"
However, when he saw that they were quite determined to go home, he made the best of it and asked them whether they would like to go by sea, or by sky, or by land. Martin wanted to go by sky, but when the Princess said she would much prefer to go by land as she had come most of the way by sky, the Prime Minister's son gave in at once and said that he had meant to choose the land road all the time. So the Toymaker fetched two beautiful rocking-horses and helped the children to mount them, and said he should never forget their visit for the rest of his life. He could not have said more than that, for of course he has been living ever since.
So they rode out of the valley and up the hill-side, and they waved their hands to the Wonderful Toymaker who stood looking disconsolately after them, and they wished they could have played with him just a little longer. They had very little time even to wish, however, for the rocking-horses rushed over the ground at such a pace that they could see nothing they were passing; so, after all, they would have been none the wiser if they had come by sky as Martin had wished. Then the townspeople came out of their houses and stared with amazement, as they saw their King's daughter and their Prime Minister's son racing past them on wooden horses; but they had no time, either, to make remarks on the matter before the children were out of sight again, for the wooden horses never stopped until they brought their riders to the palace gates; and then they disappeared and left Martin and the Princess Petulant knocking for admission.
Then there was a hullabaloo! The Queen dried her tears and hugged them both, one after another; and the King dismissed the council which had not helped him in the least; and the Prime Minister was more convinced than ever that his son would never be Prime Minister; and the two children span their tops before the whole court and told the story of their adventures. And it was at once written down, word for word, by the Royal Historian, and that is how it has got inside this book.
The two children never visited the Wonderful Toymaker again; and Martin never became Prime Minister. One day he became King instead; and it was all because he married the Princess Petulant the moment he was grown up. They thoroughly enjoyed life for the rest of their days, and so did everybody else in the kingdom, down to the Prime Minister and the Royal Historian; and this was all because they never lost the wonderful tops which had been given them by the Wonderful Toymaker.
The Professor of Practical Jokes
Years and years and years ago, in a country that has been long forgotten, there lived a king called Grumbelo. In spite of his extremely ugly name, which was certainly no fault of his, he was young, handsome, and talented; and this made it all the more remarkable that he had never thought of seeking a wife. He ruled his country so well that not a single poor or ill-treated person was to be found in the whole of it; and yet, it was the dullest country that has ever existed. The reason for this was plain; the King was all very well in his way, and to be well-governed no doubt has its advantages, but the people were unreasonable and they wanted more than this. They wanted court balls, and court banquets, and royal processions through the streets, with bands playing and flags flying; they wanted more play, and more holidays, and more fun; and all these things, as every one knows well, are only to be had when there is a Queen at court. The King, however, was so well satisfied with himself that it never occurred to him how dreadfully dull his kingdom was growing; and he was exceedingly surprised when a number of the courtiers, headed by the Royal Comptroller of Whole Holidays and the learned Professor of Practical Jokes,—who had been positively out of work ever since his serious young Majesty came to the throne,—waited upon him one morning, with the humble request that he should begin to think about finding a Queen.
"What more can you want?" asked the young King in astonishment. "Surely a King, or at least a King such as I am, is enough for my subjects! I am quite satisfied with myself: is it possible that the country is not equally satisfied?"
"The country is more than satisfied with your excellent Majesty," explained the Comptroller of Whole Holidays. "The country has never been so admirably governed before. It feels, however, that certain other things are almost as important, your Majesty, as wise laws and honest toil; such as—such as whole holidays, for instance."
"And practical jokes," murmured the learned Professor at his side.
His Majesty was silent. It seemed incredible that the country should want anything more than the excellent government of King Grumbelo; but he was fond of his people at heart,—in spite of the dulness to which he had brought them, and so he consented in the end to give them a Queen.
"Go and find me the most beautiful, the most silent, and the most foolish Princess in the world," he said to them. "She must be the most beautiful because I shall have to look at her, and the most silent because I am able to talk for both of us, and the most foolish because I can be wise for her as well as for myself. If you find me a Princess like this I will make her my Queen."
Not long after, the King held a reception for all the beautiful Princesses who could be collected at such a very short notice. There were a hundred and fifty altogether; but although they were without doubt both beautiful and foolish, they never stopped talking for an instant, and not one of them would King Grumbelo have for his Queen. So the Royal Comptroller of Whole Holidays and the learned Professor of Practical Jokes put their heads together once more, and in a few days' time they came again to the King.
"We have heard at last of the Princess who would suit you," they said to him. "She is so beautiful that the trees stop gossiping and the flowers stop breathing when she passes by; and she is so silent that if it were not for the wonderful expression in her eyes it would be impossible to hold any conversation with her at all."
"Ah," said King Grumbelo, nodding his royal head approvingly; "and is she very foolish as well?"
"That she must be, your Majesty," said the Comptroller of Whole Holidays, looking nervously towards the Professor of Practical Jokes, "because, your Majesty,—well, because—"
"Because she has refused to have anything to do with your Majesty," boldly interrupted the Professor.
"What?" cried the King, astounded. "She does not wish to be my Queen?"
"Not exactly that, your Majesty," stammered the Comptroller of Whole Holidays; "but she declares she could never marry any one who—who—"
"Who has so ridiculous a name as your Majesty!" said the Professor of Practical Jokes without a moment's hesitation.
King Grumbelo stepped down from his throne and merely smiled.
"That is of no consequence," he observed. "Evidently she knows nothing about me except my unfortunate name, and that I certainly did not give myself. Tell me at once where this wonderful Princess is to be found."
"That is exactly what we do not know, your Majesty," they confessed, reluctantly. "As soon as the Princess heard that your Majesty wished to make her a Queen she fled from the country, and we have not been able to discover where she has hidden herself!"
"No matter," said King Grumbelo, actually omitting to scold them for their stupidity; "it is never difficult to find the most beautiful Princess in the world! Bring me my horse at once; you can make ready for the royal wedding as soon as you please."
The country was very badly governed while the King was away; but it was certainly not dull. Every person in the kingdom was occupied in making preparations for the royal wedding, and it was going to be such a particularly grand royal wedding that the people were kept thoroughly amused by looking forward to it alone. When, however, the last touch had been put to the preparations, and there was positively nothing left for any one to do, the people began to grumble. It was clear that there could not be a marriage if nobody was there to be married, and no tidings had been received of King Grumbelo since he rode away to fetch his bride. There is no doubt that the discontent of the people would have ended in a revolution if the Professor of Practical Jokes had not hit upon a happy idea. "It is true that we cannot have a royal wedding," said the Professor of Practical Jokes; "but we can pretend to have one."
The Comptroller of Whole Holidays was only too delighted to fall in with the idea, and at once issued a proclamation to the effect that the country should take a whole holiday until further notice. After that, the people could not think of grumbling; they gave themselves up to general rejoicing, and pretended, day after day, that the King was being married, until they almost forgot that there was not even a king in the country.
Meanwhile, King Grumbelo was riding by night and by day in search of his beautiful, silent Princess. He rode for many months without discovering a trace of her; but instead of growing tired of his search he only became the more anxious to find her. One day, as he was riding through a wood, he came upon a sweet-smelling hedge, all made of honeysuckle and sweet-briar, so high that he could not climb it, and so thick that he could not see through it.
"Dear me!" thought King Grumbelo, "something charming must be hidden behind so pretty a hedge as this!" He rode along it with his mind full of curiosity until he came to two slender, pink-and-white gates, made entirely of apple-blossom; and through these he could see a fresh-looking garden with green lawns and gravel paths and bright flower-beds, and in the middle of it all a dainty little house made of nothing but rose leaves. The King was so impatient to know who was the owner of such a delightful little dwelling that he knocked at once on the gates for admission; and a dragon with a singularly mild and harmless expression appeared inside, and asked him gently what he wanted. The King looked at him in surprise; for, although he was decidedly small for a dragon, he was certainly much too large and too clumsy to live in a house made entirely of rose leaves.
"Can you tell me who lives here?" asked King Grumbelo, politely; for, as every one knows, it is always wise to be polite to a dragon however small he may be.
"Oh, yes," answered the dragon, with a wave of his tail towards the house and the garden; "I live here."
"Nonsense!" said the King, forgetting in his surprise to be polite. "You could not possibly live in so small a house as that!"
"If you want to know who lives inside the house you should say so," answered the dragon, in an injured tone. "It is n't likely that a well-bred dragon would live inside anything. You should be more careful in the way you express yourself."
"Well, well," said the King, impatiently, "perhaps you can tell me to whom the house belongs?"
"No, I can't," answered the dragon, with a smile; "because it does n't belong to anybody, you see. It is here because it is wanted, and when it is n't wanted any longer it will cease to be here."
"What a curious house!" exclaimed the King.
"Curious? Not at all!" said the dragon, looking injured again. "It would be much more curious if it were to remain here when it was n't wanted. You should n't make needless remarks."
If King Grumbelo had not been so anxious to find out who did live inside the house he would certainly have ridden away, there and then; but the more he looked at the beautiful garden and the charming little dwelling of rose leaves, the more he longed for an answer to his question. So he kept his temper with difficulty, and turned once more to the aggravating dragon.
"Does anybody live inside the house?" he asked.
"Of course," answered the dragon. "Do they build houses in your country to be looked at? I suppose you can't help it, but I have never been asked so many senseless questions before."
"Answer me one more and I will go away," said King Grumbelo. "Does a beautiful Princess, the most beautiful you have ever seen, live inside the house over there?"
"There is no Princess in the place, be assured of that," answered the dragon, emphatically. "I should not be here if there were; it is a thankless task to keep guard over a Princess; it means nothing but spells and fighting and unpleasantness, and in the end the Princess complains that you have kept the right people away. Oh, no, nothing would induce me to take another place with a Princess. We 've nothing of that kind here."
"Then I 'll bid you good-day," said King Grumbelo, for he did not mean to waste any more time. Just as he was going to ride away, however, the door of the little house opened, and out of it stepped the sweetest-looking little lady the world has ever contained. She was so beautiful that as she walked down the path the flowers stopped breathing and the trees stopped gossiping; and she had such wonderful eyes that to look at them was to know everything she was thinking about. She glanced once at the King as he stood outside the gates of apple-blossom, and then she turned aside without speaking a word and passed out of sight among the flower-beds. Then the King knew that his search was over; she was beautiful and silent enough to please him, whether she were foolish or not; and he made up his mind on the spot not to search any more for the disdainful Princess who had run away from him.
"Who is she?" he asked the dragon, eagerly.
"The Lady Whimsical, to be sure," answered the dragon. "What a lot of questions you ask!"
"Then go and tell the Lady Whimsical that if she pleases I would like to speak with her," said King Grumbelo.
The dragon did not move.
"The Lady Whimsical never speaks," he observed. "It would really be much wiser if you were to go away."
"I am not going away," shouted the King, growing angry. "Go and ask her at once if she will receive me, or I will put you out of the way for good and all!"
"Very well," said the dragon, sighing; "I suppose I must. What name?"
"King Grumbelo," answered the King, proudly.
He fully expected that the dragon would fall flat on the ground at the mention of such an important name as his; but the dragon did nothing of the kind.
"It is not a bit of use expecting to come in here with a name like that," he complained. "The Lady Whimsical cannot bear anything ugly, and she has a particular horror of ugly names. I have strict orders never to mention an ugly name in her presence. You had really better go away."
"I am not going away," shouted the King once more. "Go and tell the Lady Whimsical that a great King, who has heard how charming and how gracious she is, would like to make himself known to her."
The dragon consented unwillingly to take this message, and ambled clumsily away among the flower-beds. When he came back, he found the King pacing restlessly up and down.
"Can't you keep still?" growled the dragon. "Your ridiculous name is enough to make any one giddy without—"
"What did the Lady Whimsical say?" interrupted King Grumbelo, impatiently.
"The Lady Whimsical never says," answered the dragon drowsily, as he curled himself up in the sun and closed his eyes; "but she will allow you to look at her for five minutes every morning, at two hours after sunrise."
Two hours after sunrise on the following morning, King Grumbelo was accordingly admitted into the garden beyond the pink-and-white gates of apple-blossom. There sat the Lady Whimsical on the doorstep of her rose-leaf dwelling, and in front of her stood the King.
"You are the most charming person I have ever seen," declared the King.
The Lady Whimsical smiled.
"I never thought I should find any one so charming as you are," said the King.
The Lady Whimsical smiled again.
"Nor so silent," continued the King.
The Lady Whimsical smiled for the third time.
"Nor so—" began the King, and then he paused, for he thought she might possibly object to being called foolish, though foolish she undoubtedly was if she did not wish him to stay longer than five minutes. As he hesitated, the Lady Whimsical burst out laughing and ran inside her little house of rose leaves, and banged the door in his face.
"Time's up," said the dragon, and King Grumbelo went away puzzled. He came back again, however, at the same time on the following morning; and there sat Lady Whimsical on the doorstep of her rose-leaf dwelling, just as though she were expecting him.
"I have thought only of you since yesterday morning," sighed King Grumbelo.
The Lady Whimsical smiled as before.
"I shall think only of you for the rest of my days," declared the King.
The Lady Whimsical smiled even more than before.
"Do you know why I have come all this way to find you?" demanded the King, growing bolder.
The Lady Whimsical shook her head at him, burst out laughing, and ran inside her rose-leaf house as she had done the day before.
Two hours after sunrise on the following morning, the Lady Whimsical was once more seated on her doorstep, and King Grumbelo was once more standing in front of her.
"You are so beautiful that I shall never tire of looking at you," said the King.
Again, the Lady Whimsical only smiled.
"You are so silent that you will always allow me to talk enough for both of us," continued the King.
The Lady Whimsical smiled once more.
"And since you are so foolish as to send me away every morning," said the King, "you must surely be foolish enough to be the Queen of so wise a King as myself."
The Lady Whimsical had never laughed so heartily at anything as she did at these words of King Grumbelo; and even after she had banged the door in his face, he could still hear her laughter as it floated out from the windows of the dainty little house of rose leaves. Now, all this was very amusing for the Lady Whimsical, who was quite happy as long as she had something to make her smile; but King Grumbelo was not so well satisfied.
It was not amusing to carry on a conversation entirely alone, and he even began to wish secretly that the Lady Whimsical would not answer all his questions by laughing at them. However, the Lady Whimsical showed no signs of answering them in any other way, and at last the King determined that he would make her speak to him just once, and after that she might be as silent as she pleased. So, one morning, when the dragon opened the apple-blossom gates to him as usual, he strode up to Lady Whimsical with a resolute air.
"Lady Whimsical, I want you to come away with me and be my Queen," he said.
She shook her head and smiled.
"Why not?" demanded King Grumbelo.
She smiled again.
"Why not?" shouted King Grumbelo at the very top of his voice.
When the Lady Whimsical shrugged her shoulders and merely smiled again, the King lost his patience completely, which of course was an absurd thing to do, considering that he had come all this way on purpose to find some one who knew how to be silent.
"Will nothing induce you to speak just one word to me?" he exclaimed; and then he ran right away from her mocking laughter, and did not even wait to have the rose-leaf door banged in his face.
It was a very crestfallen King Grumbelo who knocked at the gates of apple-blossom on the following morning. But no one was sitting on the doorstep of the dainty little house of rose leaves; and King Grumbelo's heart gave a great jump.
"Where is she?" he demanded of the dragon, who had followed him along the path and was looking at him with his aggravating smile.
The dragon became reproachful.
"It is your fault," he complained. "I told you she never spoke; why did n't you listen to me? You have driven her away now by your endless questions; she has gone into her house of rose leaves, and the Wise Woman of the Wood alone knows what will bring her out again."
King Grumbelo looked up at the dainty little house of rose leaves, and thought he heard the sound of muffled laughter floating through the open windows. He turned once more to the dragon.
"Where does the Wise Woman of the Wood live?" he asked. But the dragon had curled himself up in the sun and was already half asleep.
"Don't ask so many questions," he mumbled sleepily; and King Grumbelo strode angrily out of the garden. He mounted his horse and allowed it to take him wherever it would, for he had no idea where the Wise Woman of the Wood lived, and one way was as good as another. Towards sundown, a blackbird hopped on to his horse's head and sang to him, and something in its song so reminded the King of Lady Whimsical's laughter that he put out his hand to caress it. No sooner did he touch it, however, than it turned into a squirrel, and scampered away from him so mischievously that he was again reminded of Lady Whimsical and of the way she, too, had run away from him. He put spurs to his horse and chased the squirrel until he overtook it, when it immediately turned into a field mouse and sprang into a large hole in the root of an old elm tree; and after it went King Grumbelo without a moment's hesitation. He left his horse outside, and threw his crown on the ground, and crept into the hole as humbly as though he had not been a King at all. The hole opened into a long, dark passage which grew smaller and smaller as it wound deeper into the earth, so that King Grumbelo could scarcely drag himself along on his hands and knees. It came to an end at last, however, and he crawled into a cavern lighted dimly by glow-worms. The field mouse was just ahead of him, but before he could catch it he found that it was no longer there, and in its place stood a tall witch woman, with a voice like a blackbird's, and eyes like a squirrel's, and hair the colour of a field mouse.
"Tell me," said King Grumbelo, eagerly, "are you the Wise Woman of the Wood?"
"Of course I am," said the witch woman. "Do you think any one else would have been so much trouble to catch? And now that you have caught me, what can I do for you?"
"I want you to remove the spell from the Lady Whimsical, so that she may be able to speak to me," said King Grumbelo. The witch woman laughed outright.
"There is no spell over the Lady Whimsical," she said. "She can talk as much as she pleases."
"Then why has she never spoken to me?" asked the King in astonishment.
"You wished for the most silent woman in the world," said the Wise Woman of the Wood. "Now that you have found her, why do you complain?"
For the first time in his life King Grumbelo felt distinctly foolish.
"I made a mistake," he owned. "I don't want a silent Queen at all."
"Then go back and tell her so," said the witch woman, promptly.
"Do you think that will make her come out from her house of rose leaves?" asked King Grumbelo.
"I should n't wonder," said the Wise Woman of the Wood; "but go and see for yourself. There is no need to thank me, for any one who takes the trouble to follow the Wise Woman of the Wood to her home is welcome to what he may find when he gets there."
Indeed, before he had time to thank her he found himself once more outside the tree, with his crown lying at his feet and his horse standing at his side. He was in such a hurry to get back to the Lady Whimsical, however, that he did not stay to pick up his crown, but rode bareheaded all through the night and reached the hedge of sweet-briar and honeysuckle precisely at two hours after sunrise.
"Dear, dear," complained the dragon; "do you mean to say you 've come back again?"
"I have some good news for you," said King Grumbelo, jovially. "There is no spell over the Lady Whimsical after all!"
"Of course there is n't," said the dragon, as he slowly unfastened the gates of apple-blossom. "Did n't I tell you she was n't a Princess?"
King Grumbelo did not stay to argue the point with him, but walked quickly up the path and stopped in front of the dainty little house all made of rose leaves.
"Lady Whimsical," he said, very gently and humbly, "will it please you to smile on me once more? I have discovered that you are the wisest person in the world, and that I am by far the most foolish."
When the Lady Whimsical looked out of her window and saw the King standing there so humbly without his crown, the tears came right into her wonderful eyes and stayed there.
"Oh!" she cried, "I am so glad you have come back! I was afraid you were never coming back any more."
She held out her two little hands, and the King kissed them. Then she came running down the stairs as fast as she could; and they sat on the doorstep side by side, and talked.
"I feel as though I should never stop talking again! Do you mind?" asked Lady Whimsical.
"I should like nothing better," said King Grumbelo. "But first of all I must confess to you that I have an extremely ugly name. Do you think you can bear to hear it?"
"I know it already!" laughed the Lady Whimsical. "Do you suppose I have n't coaxed it out of my dragon long ago? But I, too, have something to confess to you. Do you think it will make you angry?"
"I am quite sure I shall never be angry again," declared the King.
"Then," said Lady Whimsical, looking extremely solemn, "to begin with, I am not a Princess at all."
"As if I did n't know that!" laughed the King. "The dragon told me, ever so long ago!"
"He did n't tell you the rest, so stop laughing and listen to me," said Lady Whimsical, with severity. "I knew all the while who you were and what you wanted, and I pretended to be under a spell just to tease you."
"I know that, too," said the King, triumphantly. "The Wise Woman of the Wood told me."
"Did she tell you that I came and hid myself here on purpose, because I heard you were looking for a Princess and I wanted you to find me?" asked the Lady Whimsical, softly.
"Nobody told me that," answered King Grumbelo; "I guessed it for myself."
"What will the Professor of Practical Jokes say, when you come home without the Princess you went out to find?" she asked mischievously.
The King had no time to answer, for at that moment the Professor of Practical Jokes—whose profession always required him to arrive unexpectedly in places where he was not wanted—appeared at the apple-blossom gates and answered Lady Whimsical's question himself.
"There is nothing to say," he observed. "There never was a Princess for your Majesty to find, so of course your Majesty has n't found her."
"There never was anybody for you to find except me," added Lady Whimsical, who was nodding at the Professor as though she had known him all her life. "The other Princess was a practical joke, don't you see. Do you mean to say my dragon did not tell you that, too?"
"Then, who are you?" asked King Grumbelo in bewilderment. The Lady Whimsical laughed, as she had laughed every day for a month when she banged the door in the King's face.
"Can't you guess?" she exclaimed. "Why, I am just the daughter of the Professor of Practical Jokes!"
And the King only wondered that he had not guessed it long ago.
As they went out through the apple-blossom gates, the dainty little house of rose leaves vanished away because it was no longer wanted, and so did the beautiful flower-garden, and the hedge of sweet-briar and honeysuckle, and the sleepy good-natured dragon. They had no trouble in getting home, for the Wise Woman of the Wood had a hand in the matter, and the road came racing towards them as fast as an express train; all they had to do was to stand quite still and wait until King Grumbelo's country came hurrying along, which was the most convenient way of travelling any one could possibly invent. When the city reached them they found they were just in time to be married, for the people were on the point of celebrating their wedding for the hundred and first time; so the King and Queen were married almost before they knew it themselves, and certainly before the people discovered that somebody was really being married at last. This, however, was not at all surprising, for the real wedding was very much the same as all the make-believe ones, except that it took a little longer because the King and Queen were not so used to being married as the people were to marrying them.
After that, every one was as happy as it was possible to be. The country had grown so accustomed to being frivolous that it never became serious again; and the King never made another law, because the people were so fond of Lady Whimsical that they did everything she told them, and therefore no laws were needed. The result of all this happiness was that nobody in the kingdom ever grew old; and the Lady Whimsical who sits and laughs on her throne at this very moment is the same Lady Whimsical who sat and laughed on the doorstep of her rose-leaf house, years and years and years ago.
The Doll that came straight from Fairyland
The country was celebrating the tenth birthday of the Prince Perfection. That particular country always celebrated the tenth birthday of its princes and princesses, but never before had it gone so completely wild with joy. The fireworks began punctually at sunrise, and so did everything else that was worth beginning; and the happy shouts of the people made conversation quite impossible, except in the royal family, which was fully accustomed to being shouted at whenever the country had a whole holiday. The Prince had five hundred and fifty-four birthday presents, and his Secretaries spent all their summer holidays in writing letters to acknowledge them; and every child in the kingdom who was of the same age as the Prince was allowed to come to the palace gates and receive a royal smile and a large box of barley sugar from Prince Perfection himself. In the afternoon, the Prince drove through the streets over a carpet of flowers and smiled without stopping; and by his side sat the little Princess Pansy, who was not smiling at all, for she had no birthday and no presents, and two years was a long time to wait before she, too, should be ten years old. Still, she was so fond of the Prince Perfection that she would not have let him guess for a moment that she felt envious of him, although this he was in no danger of doing, for he was so brimful of happiness that he had no time to think about his sister at all. Truly, it is worth while to be ten years old if one is a Prince! In the evening there was a banquet of a hundred and twenty courses, which was the exact number of months in the Prince's life; and the two children sat at the head of the table between their royal parents, and managed to keep awake until the moment arrived to cut the birthday cake.
That was when the catastrophe occurred. At the moment nobody suspected that it was going to be a catastrophe at all. It seemed the most fortunate thing in the world that the Prince's godmother, the Fairy Zigzag, should manage to arrive just in time to drink her godson's health. Most people would think that a catastrophe was far more likely to have occurred if the King and Queen had forgotten to invite the Fairy Zigzag. That only shows how little most of us know about fairy godmothers. The truth is that the Fairy Zigzag was not like other godmothers at all. She did not like banquets and she did not like noise; and she would much sooner have sent her present by post. It would never have done, however, to refuse the Queen's invitation, for that is what no fairy godmother has ever been known to do; so she came at the very last minute with a very bad grace, and she meant to go away again as soon as she could.
Bang! What a noise she made as she came down the chimney in a cloud of blue smoke! If she had not been quite so cross she would have arrived through the window in her best chariot drawn by sea-gulls; but she was determined to take as little trouble as possible over the matter, and no one could take less trouble over anything than to come straight down the chimney.
"Oh!" said every one with a little scream; and the Prince was so startled that he cut an extremely crooked slice of cake. As soon as the blue smoke cleared away, however, and he saw that it was his fairy godmother, he recovered his good manners without any difficulty, and walked across the room to greet her.
"I am delighted to see you, dear godmother," said Prince Perfection with his best birthday smile, which he had been saving up all day on purpose. "Would you like to have a piece of cake?"
His parents beamed with pleasure at the charming manners of Prince Perfection; and the little Princess rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, and wondered how long it would take to live through two whole years, so that she might have a birthday party and a birthday cake, and a visit from her fairy godmother. The Fairy Zigzag, however, did not seem at all impressed by the charming manners of her godson.
"I never eat cake," she said, without giving so much as a look at the crooked slice of cake which the Prince was handing her on a real gold plate. Her godson put down the cake immediately, and took up a silver goblet filled to the brim with sparkling ginger-beer.
"You have come just in time, dear godmother, to drink my health," he said, just as politely as ever.
"I never drink healths," said the Fairy Zigzag, frowning. "I have plenty of my own, thank you. What's the matter with your health that you want every one to drink it up? You 'd better keep it: it may come in useful, later on."
This was such an entirely new view of the matter that a complete silence fell on every one in the room; and all the guests put down their glasses of ginger beer, and stared into them to see if the Prince's health was floating about on the top. In the midst of the pause, the Fairy Zigzag stalked to the table, nodded to the royal parents, and took the seat that had been reserved for her at the Queen's right hand.
"So good of you to come," murmured the Queen, nervously. "We never thought you would give us so great a pleasure."
"Oh, didn't you? Then, why did you invite me?" snapped the fairy godmother. The Queen said nothing, for she did not know what to say. The King did his best to put matters right.
"The Prince has been looking forward to your visit all day," he hastened to say. "The dear boy has hardly known how to wait until this evening."
"Rubbish," said the Fairy Zigzag, laughing most unpleasantly. "It is quite time for the dear boy to be in bed. What is that other child doing, over there?"
She pointed with her wand at the little Princess Pansy, whose eyes were now so full of sleep that she could hardly keep them open. When, however, she saw the Fairy Zigzag pointing at her, she instantly became wide awake, and grew quite pink with pleasure at being noticed. It was the first time any one had noticed her all that day; but of course, one must expect to be forgotten when it is somebody else's birthday.
"Oh!" cried Princess Pansy, holding out both her hands to the cross old Fairy Zigzag. "Are you really a fairy godmother? I have never seen a real fairy before, and I am so glad you have come!"
The King and Queen were horrified at the familiar way in which the little Princess was speaking to such an important guest as the fairy godmother. It was true that she was only eight years old, but it was quite time she learnt some of the charming manners for which her brother the Prince was so remarkable. If the Fairy Zigzag had turned her into a toad, or a marble statue, or something chilly like that, they would not have been in the least surprised. But the Fairy Zigzag did nothing of the sort. She just took the two hands the Princess Pansy held out to her, and looked her full in the face; and directly she did that all the crossness faded out of her own, and instead of being just a disagreeable old fairy she suddenly appeared quite good-natured and pleasant. This, indeed, was no wonder; for it would have been difficult to look at the little Princess without feeling happier for it. The King and Queen, however, mistook her silence for anger.
"Pray forgive her," they said, tremblingly. "She is so young, and she doesn't know any better. We have tried in vain to teach her good manners. Doubtless, when she is as old as the Prince Perfection she will have learnt to be as polite as he is."
"It is to be hoped not," said the Fairy Zigzag, turning once more to the royal parents. "And if I know anything about it, she will never be as polite as the Prince Perfection. That child is a real child, and none of us will ever make her anything else. Now, I don't mean to waste any more time; so come here, godson, and tell me what you would like for a birthday present."
The Prince Perfection did not know what to say. He longed to ask for a steamboat that went by real steam, or a cannon that would fire real gunpowder, or a balloon that would take him wherever he wished to go; but he felt that only an ordinary boy would have asked for such things as these, and Prince Perfection had always been told by his nurses that he was not an ordinary boy.
"Please give me whatever you like, dear godmother," he said, and hoped very much that it would be a steamboat with real steam.
"The dear boy does not like to appear greedy," said the Queen.
"Fiddlesticks!" said the Fairy Zigzag, and then she pointed again at the little Princess Pansy. "If I were to give you a present, do you think you would know what to choose?" she asked her, smiling.
"Oh, how beautiful!" exclaimed Princess Pansy, clapping her hands. To have a present without a birthday was more than she had ever believed possible.
"What will you have?" asked the Fairy, raising her wand. The Princess did not stop to think.
"I will have a wax doll, please, with blue eyes and yellow hair and pink cheeks, dressed in a white silk frock with lots of little frills," she said, rapidly. "And, if you could manage it," she added, glancing sideways at the Prince, her brother, "I think I should like one that doesn't melt when you put it near the fire."
"I think I can manage it," said the Fairy Zigzag, and down came her wand with a sharp tap on the table. Princess Pansy gave a cry of delight. In front of her lay the most beautiful wax doll any little girl of eight years old has ever possessed. She had blue eyes and yellow curls and pink cheeks; she was dressed in a white silk frock with rows and rows of little frills; she had a gold crown perched on her head, and she wore high-heeled shoes on her dainty feet; she had a real pocket with a real lace handkerchief sticking out of it; she carried a fan in one hand and a scent bottle in the other; and she actually possessed real six-buttoned gloves, which could be drawn on and off her little hands. Princess Pansy was breathless. She had never seen anything so beautiful before.
"You must thank the Fairy Zigzag," whispered the King and Queen. The little Princess gave a sigh and looked up; it seemed so stupid to say "Thank you" for such a superb dolly as hers. After all, she had to say nothing whatever, for the Fairy Zigzag was no longer there; she had gone away without a chariot, or a cloud of blue smoke, or even a bang!
"She has given nothing to her godson," said the courtiers to one another; and they fully expected that Prince Perfection would fly into a passion. However, Prince Perfection did not fly into a passion. He looked at the little Princess as she laughed with joy over her beautiful new doll; he thought just once of the steamboat that would have gone by real steam, and the cannon that would have fired real gunpowder, and the balloon that would have taken him wherever he wished to go; and then he remembered that he was ten years old and a Prince, and he flung back his head and began to whistle.
"It doesn't matter," he said, indifferently. "I have five hundred and fifty-four presents upstairs, and I don't care for dolls."
Little Princess Pansy had never been so contented in the whole of her life. The palace seemed a different place to her, now that it contained the doll that had come from Fairyland; and she immediately named her the Lady Emmelina, which was the most important name she could remember on the spur of the moment. From that day the Princess and her doll were never separated. When the Prince and Princess went for a drive, the Lady Emmelina sat up stiffly between them; when the Professors came to give the children their lessons, they found that they had to give them also to a little lady in a white silk frock with rows and rows of little frills, who stared at them solemnly with her large, impassive blue eyes, and never answered a word to any of their questions. Princess Pansy no longer wished to be ten years old; she no longer wished for anything: she had everything she wanted in the unchangeable Lady Emmelina. For the Lady Emmelina never varied; the Princess might have as many moods as she pleased, but the Lady Emmelina merely smiled. For a constant companion, it would have been difficult to find any one more delightful than the Lady Emmelina. The Prince Perfection, however, took a very different view of the matter. Thanks to the Lady Emmelina, he had no one to play with. He had never been left so much to himself in his life, and in spite of his excellent opinion of himself he found himself extremely dull. He could no longer play cricket, since the Princess was not there to bowl for him; it was no fun to play at soldiers if the Princess was not there to be on the losing side; he could not pretend to be the Royal Executioner if the Princess was not there to be executed. To be sure, he had five hundred and fifty-four birthday presents; but what consolation could they afford him when he was still without a steamboat that went by real steam? The Lady Emmelina was the cause of all his misfortunes, and he could not bear the Lady Emmelina. It was the Lady Emmelina who had come in the place of his real steamboat and his real cannon and his real balloon; it was the Lady Emmelina who had bewitched the little Princess, his sister, and robbed him of his best playfellow. And the Prince Perfection, whatever his faults were, was extremely fond of the little Princess.
"If you will come and play cricket with me, I will let you have the first innings," he said to her in despair one sunny afternoon.
"It is far too rough a game for the Lady Emmelina," answered Princess Pansy, shaking her head.
"Then choose any game you like, only do come and play with me," begged the Prince. He had never had to beg so hard for anything before, for the little Princess had been his willing slave as long as he could remember.
"We cannot possibly come this afternoon," answered Princess Pansy. "The Lady Emmelina is going to have a tea-party. I will ask her to invite you if you like."
The Prince, however, would have nothing to do with Lady Emmelina's tea-party. He went and sat by the pond instead, and thought how fine his steamboat would have looked if it had gone puffing across the water with real smoke coming out of the funnel. The mere thought of it made him dislike the Lady Emmelina so much more than before that he made up his mind to be revenged on her. Now, this was an extremely bold thing even to think about, for she had come straight from Fairyland, and it is never safe to meddle with toys that have come straight from Fairyland. For all that, the Prince crept into the nursery that very same night, when everyone in the palace was asleep, and prepared to have his revenge on the waxen Lady Emmelina. There she sat in all her magnificence on the nursery table, with both her gloves tightly buttoned, and both her pointed toes turned upwards. The very sight of her annoyed the jealous little Prince. He pattered across the floor on his bare feet, and seized the Lady Emmelina by the arm. She greeted him with a shrill and angry shriek.
"How dare you? Let me go at once!" she screamed. The Prince was so surprised that he dropped her on the table again. The Lady Emmelina, shaking all over with fury, began smoothing out her rows of crumpled frills.
"The idea of such a thing!" she gasped. "I declare, you have actually pushed my crown on one side, and there is no looking-glass in the room. I have a great mind to report you to Fairyland."
"You may do what you like," answered the Prince, who was no coward and had recovered from his astonishment. "You have bewitched the Princess Pansy, and I mean to hide you where no one will be able to find you."
No sooner had he uttered these words than the Lady Emmelina turned extremely pale. If he had tried to melt her at the fire or to cut off her head with the scissors, which was the kind of thing he usually did to his sister's dolls, she knew that she would have been safe; but he had threatened to do the one thing that even the fairies who protected her could not prevent him from doing. Her only hope was that he would hide her somewhere so that she should have time to escape before sunrise; for after sunrise all her powers of moving or speaking would desert her and she would be nothing but a wax doll again. She need not have been afraid, for the Prince did not mean to waste any more time than he could help; and the next moment she was being carried swiftly out of the room under his arm. Downstairs ran the little Prince, with his hand over the Lady Emmelina's mouth to prevent her from screaming; and along the marble passages he hastened, until he came to a little door that led into the garden, and this he unlocked with the diamond key that usually hung on the nail on the nursery wall. It is not pleasant to run without shoes along a gravel path, and Prince Perfection soon turned aside on to the lawn, and trotted over the grass in search of a hiding place for the Lady Emmelina. A large white stone lay in the middle of the lawn and gleamed in the moonlight. The Prince did not remember having seen it there before; indeed, it was not likely that the royal gardeners would have allowed it to remain in such a place for a moment. He stooped down and rolled it on one side, and found that it covered a neat round hole lined with green moss. It was the very place for the Lady Emmelina; and he laid her gently in the very middle of it.
"I hope you will not be very cramped," said Prince Perfection, politely.
Lady Emmelina lay motionless on the mossy ground, and stared at the moon. No one would have thought that she was the same dolly who had screamed so angrily in the nursery ten minutes ago.
"It is the nicest place I could have found in the whole garden," continued Prince Perfection a little anxiously. After all, she was a very beautiful doll, and she had come straight from Fairyland.
Still the Lady Emmelina stared intently at the moon, with her large blue eyes.
"I should never have thought of putting you anywhere if you had not bewitched the Princess," declared Prince Perfection, feeling still more uncomfortable. It was not easy to go on apologising to some one who persisted in staring at the moon just as though no one was speaking to her.
"Why did you bewitch the Princess Pansy?" cried the little Prince. "If you will promise not to bewitch her any more, I will take you straight back to the nursery."
But although he waited eagerly for her answer, not a word came from the Lady Emmelina; and the Prince ceased to feel sorry for her, and gave up apologising.
"It is your own fault, and I don't care a bit," he said, impatiently; and he rolled the large white stone over the hole, until the doll from Fairyland was completely hidden. It is a wonder the fairies did not interfere; but perhaps they had their reasons.
There was no peace for any one in the palace when the Princess discovered that the Lady Emmelina was gone; and she discovered it before breakfast the very next morning. It was in vain that the Prince offered to give her his five hundred and fifty-four birthday presents if she would only stop crying: the Princess wanted her doll from Fairyland, and nothing but her doll from Fairyland would console her. Every one who loved the little Princess—and that was every one in the palace—began looking for the Lady Emmelina; but no one succeeded in finding a trace of her. This, however, was by no means so surprising as it sounds, for the large white stone was no longer in the middle of the lawn, and the neat round hole lined with green moss had disappeared just as completely. The Prince was no less unhappy than his sister. Nothing was turning out as he had expected; for, instead of being ready to play with him again, the little Princess was far too miserable to think of playing at all. He tried all day long to coax her into a good humour; but bedtime came, and he had not won a single smile from her. It was then that he made up his mind to go out into the world and find the Lady Emmelina. So that night the Prince once more unhooked the diamond key from the nail on the nursery wall, and stole into the garden in the moonlight. This time, however, he had not forgotten to put on his shoes and stockings and his second-best court suit, for when a prince goes out into the world he must at least do his best to look like a prince. When he came to the lawn he stopped and stared with amazement; for there, in the moonlight, lay the large white stone under which he had hidden the doll from Fairyland. Overjoyed at reaching the end of his journey so soon, he ran forward and rolled the stone on one side. There, to be sure, was the neat round hole lined with green moss; but in the middle of it sat a large grasshopper, and not a sign of the Lady Emmelina was to be seen.
The Prince was so disappointed that he had the greatest difficulty in remembering that he was ten years old, and that crying was therefore out of the question. The grasshopper was winking at him as though he understood how he felt.
"I guessed you would come," he said, in a kind voice. "I just waited on purpose."
"Where has she gone?" asked Prince Perfection, dolefully.
"Ask me something easier than that," answered the grasshopper. "I didn't see her go. I happened to look in as I was passing; and when I found she was gone I thought I'd just wait and tell you she was gone, don't you see?"
"What is the good of waiting to tell me something I could have found out for myself?" asked Prince Perfection. "If you can't help me to find her, you might just as well not be there."
"I didn't say I couldn't help you to find her," said the grasshopper, looking hurt; "though if you are going to be cross about it I don't know that I will."
"Oh," cried Prince Perfection, "I will never be cross again, if you will help me to find the Lady Emmelina."
"Then why did you hide her in the first place?" asked the grasshopper. The Prince looked foolish.
"Because I had no one to play with," he said.
"If you do find her," continued the grasshopper, "do you think the Princess will play with you again?"
"Oh, no," sighed the Prince. "She will only want to play with the Lady Emmelina."
"Then don't try to find the Lady Emmelina," said the grasshopper, promptly.
"I must," said Prince Perfection. "Anything is better than seeing the Princess cry. I took her doll away, you see, and it is my fault that Pansy is so unhappy. I don't mean to go home again until I have found the Lady Emmelina."
"Right you are," said the grasshopper. "You're the man for me. I'll help you as far as I can, but you must come down here first; I can't go on shouting like this."
"Down there?" said the Prince. "The hole is much too small."
"Nonsense! Come and try," said the grasshopper, and indeed, before he tried at all, the Prince found himself inside the neat round hole, with the mossy walls reaching far above his head, and the grasshopper shaking hands with him.
"Feel all right?" asked the grasshopper. "Sit down and get your breath. These sudden changes are apt to be exhausting if you are not used to them."
"Are you used to them?" asked the Prince, when he had recovered enough breath to speak.
"Dear me, yes!" said the grasshopper with a chuckle. "When I get up in the morning I never know how many changes I may not have to go through before the day is over. Don't think I am complaining though, for of course it is part of my profession."
"What is your profession?" asked the Prince.
"Chief Spy in Particular to the Fairy Queen," answered the grasshopper. "It's very hard work, I can tell you; some days I haven't a moment to myself. Of course, I find out a great deal that nobody else knows, which is always amusing. Yesterday, for instance, if I hadn't been a cockchafer, a doll's teapot, a garden seat, a rose tree and a nursery table, I shouldn't know as much as I do about you and the Lady Emmelina."
"Then please tell me what I must do in order to find the Lady Emmelina," begged the Prince.
"By all means," said the grasshopper, cheerfully. "Go straight on without turning to the right or the left; and whenever some one greets you, ask him politely to give you what he is thinking about, and then you will be able to find the Lady Emmelina."
It seemed rather a roundabout way of finding anything; but, as the grasshopper disappeared directly he had finished speaking, there was nothing to do but to follow his advice. The first part was easy enough, for just in front of him the Prince noticed a little door in the green mossy wall, which he was quite sure had not been there before; and through this he straightway walked. He immediately found himself in a blaze of sunshine on the sea-shore, with green waves stretching before him as far as he could see, and nothing on either side of him except the flat stony beach. "It's all very well to tell any one to go straight on, but how am I to get across the sea?" thought the Prince. He had never been afraid of anything in his life, however, so he ran down the beach and put one foot into the white foam at the edge.
"Good-day to you!" said a voice. "Who are you, and what do you want?"
"I am Prince Perfection, and I want what you are thinking about," answered the Prince, boldly, although he could not see who was speaking.
"That is a strange thing to want," said the voice; "for I was just thinking about a little steamboat that would go by real steam; and how you can possibly want such a thing as that is more than I can understand."
At that moment there was a faint puffing sound in the distance, which came nearer and nearer; and presently over the waves rode a most perfect little steamboat, with real smoke coming out of the funnel. It was just large enough for the Prince, and he stepped on board directly it came near enough, and put his hand on the little brass wheel.
"Thank you very much," he said as loudly as he could, in the hope that the owner of the mysterious voice would hear him. Nobody answered him; but he wondered why an old crab, who was shuffling along the beach, chose that particular moment to wink at him.
Certainly, no one has ever reached the shore on the opposite side of the sea so quickly as Prince Perfection in his real steamboat. It was a pleasure to hear it puff as it cut through the big green waves; and he stood like a real captain with his hand on the little brass wheel, and steered it right into a bay that seemed waiting on purpose for it. It was very sad that it should disappear directly he stepped out of it; but as it had come from nowhere at all because he wanted it, he could not complain because it went back to nowhere at all when he had done with it. So he sighed twice, and then walked straight ahead as before, up the beach and over a flat grassy plain, covered with yellow poppies and gorse bushes and purple heather. Nothing could have been easier than this; and Prince Perfection had not the slightest wish to turn to the right or the left, until he came suddenly upon a thick clump of gorse bushes which lay in the very middle of his path. He made two attempts to clamber over it; but, each time, he was caught in the gorse bushes and was scratched all over; and even if one is ten years old and a prince, it is hard to bear being scratched all over by a gorse bush. Prince Perfection began to wonder if it would be very wrong to follow the path to the right until he should come to an opening, but before he had time to decide such a difficult question a shrill voice broke the silence once more.
"Good-day to you," it said. "Who are you, and what do you want?"
"I am Prince Perfection, and I want what you are thinking about," answered the Prince, boldly.
"How ridiculous!" laughed the voice. "Why, I am thinking about a cannon, a real cannon that will fire real gunpowder. Surely, you can want nothing so useless as that?"
"Indeed, I do," said the Prince; and there stood the most perfect little real cannon, loaded with real shot, and in his hand was a lighted match ready to fire it with. He lost no time in pointing it straight at the clump of furze bushes, and the real gunpowder made a flash and a splutter, and the shot went right into the middle of the yellow gorse and blew it all away so completely that not a trace of it was left, except one small bush that the Prince had no difficulty in jumping over. The cannon went back to nowhere at all, just as the steamboat had done.
"Thank you very much," said the Prince Perfection as loudly as he could; and again no one answered him. He was much surprised, however, when he looked back and found that the gorse bush had disappeared as soon as he had jumped over it. After that he walked on for a long way; and just as he was beginning to feel tired, and the sun was beginning to think about setting, he tumbled right up against a big iceberg. It is not usual for icebergs to drop down suddenly in the middle of the road, but that is what this particular iceberg did, and that is why the Prince tumbled against it.
"Dear me," sighed Prince Perfection, for even a prince's legs are not very long when he is only ten years old, and it is not pleasant to have to climb an iceberg at the end of a long walk. There was no help for it, however, for there was the iceberg waiting to be climbed; so the little Prince went straight at it as bravely as he could. Any one who is accustomed to climbing icebergs will at once know how difficult Prince Perfection found it; and he tried seven times without being able to get up a single yard of it.
"Good-day to you," said a voice, which sounded as though it came from the very middle of the iceberg. "Who are you, and what do you want?"
"I am so glad you have come!" exclaimed the Prince; although, for that matter, no one had come at all. "I am Prince Perfection, and I want what you are thinking about."
"There certainly is no accounting for tastes," observed the voice. "I was just thinking about a real balloon that would take me wherever I wanted to go; and what use that would be to you I cannot imagine."