NE DAY AN awkward accident happened. The princess had come out upon the lawn with one of her attendants, who held her by the hand. Spying her father at the other side of the lawn, she snatched her hand from the maid's, and sped across to him. Now when she wanted to run alone, her custom was to catch up a stone in each hand, so that she might come down again after a bound. Whatever she wore as part of her attire had no effect in this way. Even gold, when it thus became as it were a part of herself, lost all its weight for the time. But whatever she only held in her hands retained its downward tendency. On this occasion she could see nothing to catch up but a huge toad, that was walking across the lawn as if he had a hundred years to do it in. Not knowing what disgust meant, for this was one of her peculiarities, she snatched up the toad and bounded away. She had almost reached her father, and he was holding out his arms to receive her, and take from her lips the kiss which hovered on them like a butterfly on a rosebud, when a puff of wind blew her aside into the arms of a young page, who had just been receiving a message from his Majesty. Now it was no great peculiarity in the princess that, once she was set agoing, it always cost her time and trouble to check herself. On this occasion there was no time. She must kiss—and she kissed the page. She did not mind it much; for she had no shyness in her composition; and she knew, besides, that she could not help it. So she only laughed, like a musical box. The poor page fared the worst. For the princess, trying to correct the unfortunate tendency of the kiss, put out her hands to keep off the page; so that, along with the kiss, he received, on the other cheek, a slap with the huge black toad, which she poked right into his eye. He tried to laugh, too, but the attempt resulted in such an odd contortion of countenance, as showed that there was no danger of his pluming himself on the kiss. As for the king, his dignity was greatly hurt, and he did not speak to the page for a whole month.
I may here remark that it was very amusing to see her run, if her mode of progression could properly be called running. For first she would make a bound; then, having alighted, she would run a few steps, and make another bound. Sometimes she would fancy she had reached the ground before she actually had, and her feet would go backwards and forwards, running upon nothing at all, like those of a chicken on its back. Then she would laugh like the very spirit of fun; only in her laugh there was something missing. What it was, I find myself unable to describe. I think it was a certain tone, depending upon the possibility of sorrow—morbidezza, perhaps. She never smiled.
After a long avoidance of the painful subject, the king and queen resolved to hold a council of three upon it; and so they sent for the princess. In she came, sliding and flitting and gliding from one piece of furniture to another, and put herself at last in an arm-chair, in a sitting posture. Whether she could be said to sit, seeing she received no support from the seat of the chair, I do not pretend to determine.
"My dear child," said the king, "you must be aware by this time that you are not exactly like other people."
"Oh, you dear funny papa! I have got a nose, and two eyes, and all the rest. So have you. So has mamma."
"Now be serious, my dear, for once," said the queen.
"No, thank you, mamma; I had rather not."
"Would you not like to be able to walk like other people?" said the king.
"No indeed, I should think not. You only crawl. You are such slow coaches!"
"How do you feel, my child?" he resumed, after a pause of discomfiture.
"Quite well, thank you."
"I mean, what do you feel like?"
"Like nothing at all, that I know of."
"You must feel like something."
"I feel like a princess with such a funny papa, and such a dear pet of a queen-mamma!"
"Now really!" began the queen; but the princess interrupted her.
"Oh, yes," she added, "I remember. I have a curious feeling sometimes, as if I were the only person that had any sense in the whole world."
She had been trying to behave herself with dignity; but now she burst into a violent fit of laughter, threw herself backwards over the chair, and went rolling about the floor in an ecstasy of enjoyment. The king picked her up easier than one does a down quilt, and replaced her in her former relation to the chair. The exact preposition expressing this relation I do not happen to know.
"Is there nothing you wish for?" resumed the king, who had learned by this time that it was useless to be angry with her.
"Oh, you dear papa!—yes," answered she.
"What is it, my darling?"
"I have been longing for it—oh, such a time!—ever since last night."
"Tell me what it is."
"Will you promise to let me have it?"
The king was on the point of saying yes, but the wiser queen checked him with a single motion of her head.
"Tell me what it is first," said he.
"No, no. Promise first."
"I dare not. What is it?"
"Mind, I hold you to your promise. It is—to be tied to the end of a string—a very long string indeed, and be flown like a kite. Oh, such fun! I would rain rose-water, and hail sugar-plums, and snow whipped-cream, and—and—and—"