George MacDonald.

Adela Cathcart, Volume 1 online

. (page 6 of 12)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldAdela Cathcart, Volume 1 → online text (page 6 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

The passage, as it now stands, is not nearly so bad as it was then,
though, I confess, it is still bad enough.

"I think," said Mrs. Armstrong, "since criticism is the order of the
evening, and Mr. Smith is so kind as not to mind it, that he makes the
king and queen too silly. It takes away from the reality."

"Right too, my dear madam," I answered.

"The reality of a fairy-tale?" said Mrs. Cathcart, as if asking a
question of herself.

"But will you grant me the justice," said I, "to temper your judgments
of me, if not of my story, by remembering that this is the first thing
of the sort I ever attempted?"

"I tell you what," said the doctor, "it's very easy to criticise, but
none of you could have written it yourselves."

"Of course not, for my part," said the clergyman.

Silence followed; and I resumed.

"He turned upon his other heel, and rejoined her. She looked angry
still, because she knew that she was guilty, or, what was much the
same, knew that he thought so.

"'My dear queen,' said he, 'duplicity of any sort is exceedingly
objectionable between married people, of any rank, not to say kings
and queens; and the most objectionable form it can assume is that of

"'There!' said the queen, 'I never made a jest, but I broke it in the
making. I am the most unfortunate woman in the world!'

"She looked so rueful, that the king took her in his arms; and they
sat down to consult.

"'Can you bear this?' said the king.

"'No, I can't,' said the queen.

"'Well, what's to be done?' said the king.

"'I'm sure I don't know,' said the queen. 'But might you not try an

"'To my old sister, I suppose you mean?' said the king.

"'Yes,' said the queen.

"'Well, I don't mind,' said the king.

"So he went the next morning to the garret of the princess, and,
making a very humble apology, begged her to undo the spell. But the
princess declared, with a very grave face, that she knew nothing at
all about it. Her eyes, however, shone pink, which was a sign that she
was happy. She advised the king and queen to have patience, and to
mend their ways. The king returned disconsolate.

The queen tried to comfort him.

"'We will wait till she is older. She may then be able to suggest
something herself. She will know at least how she feels, and explain
things to us.'

"'But what if she should marry!' exclaimed the king, in sudden
consternation at the idea.

"'Well, what of that?' rejoined the queen.

"'Just think! If she were to have any children! In the course of a
hundred years, the air might be as full of floating children as of
gossamers in autumn.'

"'That is no business of ours,' replied the queen. 'Besides, by that
time, they will have learned to take care of themselves.'

"A sigh was the king's only answer.

"He would have consulted the court physicians; but he was afraid they
would try experiments upon her.

* * * * *


"Meantime, notwithstanding awkward occurrences, and griefs that she
brought her parents to, the little princess laughed and grew - not fat,
but plump and tall. She reached the age of seventeen, without having
fallen into, any worse scrape than a chimney; by rescuing her from
which, a little bird-nesting urchin got fame and a black face. Nor,
thoughtless as she was, had she committed anything worse than laughter
at everybody and everything, that came in her way. When she heard that
General Clanrunfort was cut to pieces with all his forces, she
laughed; when she heard that the enemy was on his way to besiege her
papa's capital, she laughed hugely; but when she heard that the city
would most likely be abandoned to the mercy of the enemy's
soldiery - why, then, she laughed immoderately. These were merely
reports invented for the sake of experiment. But she never could be
brought to see the serious side of anything. When her mother cried,
she said:

"'What queer faces mamma makes! And she squeezes water out of her
cheeks! Funny mama!'

"And when her papa stormed at her, she laughed, and danced round and
round him, clapping her hands, and crying:

"'Do it again, papa. Do it again! It's such fun! Dear, funny papa!'

"And if he tried to catch her, she glided from him in an instant, not
in the least afraid of him, but thinking, it part of the game not to
be caught. With one push of her foot, she would be floating in the air
above his head; or she would go dancing backwards and forwards and
sideways, like a great butterfly. It happened several times, when her
father and mother were holding a consultation about her in private,
that they were interrupted by vainly repressed outbursts of laughter
over their heads; and looking up with indignation, saw her floating at
full length in the air above them, whence she regarded them with the
most comical appreciation of the position.

"One day an awkward accident happened. The princess had come out upon
the lawn with one of her attendants, who held her by the hand. Spying
her father at the other side of the lawn, she snatched her hand from
the maid's, and sped across to him. Now, when she wanted to run alone,
her custom was to catch up a stone in each hand, so that she might
come down again after a bound. Whatever she wore as part of her attire
had no effect in this way: even gold, when it thus became as it were a
part of herself, lost all its weight for the time. But whatever she
only held in her hands, retained its downward tendency. On this
occasion she could see nothing to catch up, but a huge toad, that was
walking across the lawn as if he had a hundred years to do it in. Not
knowing what disgust meant, for this was one of her peculiarities, she
snatched up the toad, and bounded away. She had almost reached her
father, and he was holding out his arms to receive her, and take from
her lips the kiss which hovered on them like a butterfly on a rosebud,
when a puff of wind blew her aside into the arms of a young page, who
had just been receiving a message from his majesty. Now it was no
great peculiarity in the princess that, once she was set a-going, it
always cost her time and trouble to check herself. On this occasion
there was no time. She _must_ kiss - and she kissed the page. She did
not mind it much; for she had no shyness in her composition; and she
knew, besides, that she could not help it. So she only laughed, like a
musical-box. The poor page fared the worst. For the princess, trying
to correct the unfortunate tendency of the kiss, put out her hands to
keep her off the page; so that, along with the kiss, he received, on
the other cheek, a slap with the huge black toad, which she poked
right into his eye. He tried to laugh, too, but it resulted in a very
odd contortion of countenance, which showed that there was no danger
of his pluming himself on the kiss. Indeed it is not safe to be kissed
by princesses. 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."

"I am not sure about your physics, Mr. Smith," said the doctor. "If
she had no gravity, no amount of muscular propulsion could have given
her any momentum. And again, if she had no gravity, she must
inevitably have ascended beyond the regions of the atmosphere."

"Bottle your philosophy, Harry, with the rest of your physics," said
the clergyman, laughing. "Don't you see that she must have had some
weight, only it wasn't worth mentioning, being no greater than the
ordinary weight of the atmosphere. Besides, you know very well that a
law of nature could not be destroyed. Therefore, it was only
witchcraft, you know; and the laws of that remain to be discovered - at
least so far as my knowledge goes. - Mr. Smith, you have gone in for a
fairy-tale; and if I were you, I would claim the immunities of

"So I do," I responded fiercely, and went on.

* * * * *


"After a long avoidance of the painful subject, the king and queen
resolved to hold a counsel of three upon it; and so they sent for the
princess. In she came, sliding and flitting and gliding from one piece
of furniture to another, and put herself at last in an armchair, in a
sitting posture. Whether she could be said _to sit_, seeing she
received no support from the seat of the chair, I do not pretend to

"'My dear child,' said the king, 'you must be aware 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

"'No indeed, I should think not. You only crawl. You are such slow

"'How do you feel, my child?' he resumed, after a pause of

"'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 the relation I do not happen to know.

"'Is there nothing you wish for?' resumed the king, who had learned by
this time that it was quite useless to be angry with her.

"'O 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
whipt-cream, and, and, and - '

"A fit of laughing checked her; and she would have been off again,
over the floor, had not the king started up and caught her just in
time. Seeing that nothing but talk could be got out of her, he rang
the bell, and sent her away with two of her ladies-in-waiting.

"'Now, queen,' he said, turning to her majesty, 'what _is_ to be

"'There is but one thing left,' answered she. 'Let us consult the
college of Metaphysicians.'

"'Bravo!' cried the king; 'we will.'

"Now at the head of this college were two very wise Chinese
philosophers - by name, Hum-Drum, and Kopy-Keck. For them the king
sent; and straightway they came. In a long speech, he communicated to
them what they knew very well already - as who did not? - namely, the
peculiar condition of his daughter in relation to the globe on which
she dwelt; and requested them to consult together as to what might be
the cause and probable cure of her _infirmity_. The king laid stress
upon the word, but failed to discover his own pun. The queen laughed;
but Hum-Drum and Kopy-Keck heard with humility and retired in silence.
Their consultation consisted chiefly in propounding and supporting,
for the thousandth time, each his favourite theories. For the
condition of the princess afforded delightful scope for the discussion
of every question arising from the division of thought - in fact of all
the Metaphysics of the Chinese Empire. But it is only justice to say
that they did not altogether neglect the discussion of the practical
question, _what was to be done_.

"Hum-Drum was a Materialist, and Kopy-Keck was a Spiritualist. The
former was slow and sententious; the latter was quick and flighty; the
latter had generally the first word; the former the last.

"'I assert my former assertion,' began Kopy-Keck, with a plunge.
'There is not a fault in the princess, body or soul; only they are
wrong put together. Listen to me now, Hum-Drum, and I will tell you in
brief what I think. Don't speak. Don't answer me. I won't hear you
till I have done. - At that decisive moment, when souls seek their
appointed habitations, two eager souls met, struck, rebounded, lost
their way, and arrived each at the wrong place. The soul of the
princess was one of those, and she went far astray. She does not
belong by rights to this world at all, but to some other planet,
probably Mercury. Her proclivity to her true sphere destroys all the
natural influence which this orb would otherwise possess over her
corporeal frame. She cares for nothing here. There is no relation
between her and this world.

"'She must therefore be taught, by the sternest compulsion, to
take an interest in the earth as the earth. She must study every
department of its history - its animal history; its vegetable history;
its mineral history; its social history; its moral history; its
political history; its scientific history; its literary history; its
musical history; its artistical history; above all, its metaphysical
history. She must begin with the Chinese Dynasty, and end with
Japan. But first of all she must study Geology, and especially the
history of the extinct races of animals - their natures, their habits,
their loves, their hates, their revenges. She must - - '

"'Hold, h-o-o-old!' roared Hum-Drum. 'It is certainly my turn now. My
rooted and insubvertible conviction is that the causes of the
anomalies evident in the princess's condition are strictly and solely
physical. But that is only tantamount to acknowledging that they
exist. Hear my opinion. - From some cause or other, of no importance to
our inquiry, the motion of her heart has been reversed. That
remarkable combination of the suction and the force pump, works the
wrong way - I mean in the case of the unfortunate princess: it draws in
where it should force out, and forces out where it should draw in. The
offices of the auricles and the ventricles are subverted. The blood is
sent forth by the veins, and returns by the arteries. Consequently it
is running the wrong way through all her corporeal organism - lungs and
all. Is it then all mysterious, seeing that such is the case, that on
the other particular of gravitation as well, she should differ from
normal humanity? My proposal for the cure is this:

"Phlebotomize until she is reduced to the last point of safety. Let it
be effected, if necessary, in a warm bath. When she is reduced to a
state of perfect asphyxy, apply a ligature to the left ancle, drawing
it as tight as the bone will bear. Apply, at the same moment, another
of equal tension around the right wrist. By means of plates
constructed for the purpose, place the other foot and hand under the
receivers of two air-pumps. Exhaust the receivers. Exhibit a pint of
French brandy, and await the result.'

"'Which would presently arrive in the form of grim Death,' said

"'If it should, she would yet die in doing our duty,' retorted

"But their Majesties had too much tenderness for their volatile
offspring to subject her to either of the schemes of the equally
unscrupulous philosophers. Indeed the most complete knowledge of the
laws of nature would have been unserviceable in her case; for it was
impossible to classify her. She was a fifth imponderable body, sharing
all the other properties of the ponderable.

* * * * *


"Perhaps the best thing for the princess would have been falling in
love. But how a princess who had no gravity at all, could fall into
anything, is a difficulty - perhaps _the_ difficulty. As for her own
feelings on the subject, she did not even know that there was such a
bee-hive of honey and stings to be fallen into. And now I come to
mention another curious fact about her.

"The palace was built on the shore of the loveliest lake in the world;
and the princess loved this lake more than father or mother. The root
of this preference no doubt, although the princess did not recognize
it as such - was, that, the moment she got into it, she recovered the
natural right of which she had been so wickedly deprived - namely,
gravity. Whether this was owing to the fact that water had been
employed as the means of conveying the injury, I do not know. But it
is certain that she could swim and dive like the duck that her old
nurse said she was. The way that this alleviation of her misfortune
was discovered, was as follows. One summer evening, during the
carnival of the country, she had been taken upon the lake, by the king
and queen, in the royal barge. They were accompanied by many of the
courtiers in a fleet of little boats. In the middle of the lake she
wanted to get into the lord chancellor's barge, for his daughter, who
was a great favourite with her, was in it with her father. The old
king rarely condescended to make light of his misfortune; but on this
occasion he happened to be in a particularly good humour; and, as the
barges approached each other, he caught up the princess to throw her
into the chancellor's barge. He lost his balance, however, and,
dropping into the bottom of the barge, lost his hold of his daughter;
not however before imparting to her the downward tendency of his own
person, though in a somewhat different direction; for, as the king
fell into the boat, she fell into the water. With a burst of delighted
laughter, she disappeared in the lake. A cry of horror ascended from
the boats. They had never seen the princess go down before. Half the
men were under water in a moment; but they had all, one after another,
come up to the surface again for breath, when - tinkle, tinkle, babble
and gush! came the princess's laugh over the water from far
away. There she was, swimming like a swan. Nor would she come out for
king or queen, chancellor or daughter. But though she was obstinate,
she seemed more sedate than usual. Perhaps that was because a great
pleasure spoils laughing. After this, the passion of her life was to
get into the water, and she was always the better behaved and the more
beautiful the more she had of it. Summer and winter it was all the
same; only she could not stay quite so long in the water, when they
had to break the ice to let her in. Any day, from morning till
evening, she might be descried - a streak of white in the blue
water - lying as still as the shadow of a cloud, or shooting along like
a dolphin; disappearing, and coming up again far off, just where one
did not expect her. She would have been in the lake of a night too, if
she could have had her way; for the balcony of her window overhung a
deep pool in it; and through a shallow reedy passage she could have
swum out into the wide wet water, and no one would have been any the
wiser. Indeed when she happened to wake in the moonlight, she could
hardly resist the temptation. But there was the sad difficulty of
getting into it. She had as great a dread of the air as some children
have of the water. For the slightest gust of wind would blow her away;
and a gust might arise in the stillest moment. And if she gave herself
a push towards the water and just failed of reaching it, her situation
would be dreadfully awkward, irrespective of the wind; for at best
there she would have to remain, suspended in her nightgown, till she
was seen and angled for by somebody from the window.

"'Oh! if I had my gravity,' thought she contemplating the water, 'I
would flash off this balcony like a long white sea-bird, head-long
into the darling wetness. Heigh-ho!'

"This was the only consideration that made her wish to be like other

"Another reason for being fond of the water was that in it alone she
enjoyed any freedom. For she could not walk out without a cortege,
consisting in part of a troop of light horse, for fear of the
liberties which the wind might take with her. And the king grew more
apprehensive with increasing years, till at last he would not allow
her to walk abroad without some twenty silken cords fastened to as
many parts of her dress, and held by twenty noble-men. Of course
horseback was out of the question. But she bade good-bye to all this
ceremony when she got into the water. So remarkable were its effects
upon her, especially in restoring her for the time to the ordinary
human gravity, that, strange to say, Hum-Drum and Kopy-Keck agreed in
recommending the king to bury her alive for three years; in the hope
that, as the water did her so much good, the earth would do her yet
more. But the king had some vulgar prejudices against the experiment,
and would not give his consent. Foiled in this, they yet agreed in
another recommendation; which, seeing that the one imported his
opinions from China and the other from Thibet, was very remarkable
indeed. They said that, if water of external origin and application
could be so efficacious, water from a deeper source might work a
perfect cure; in short, that, if the poor afflicted princess could by
any means be made to cry, she might recover her lost gravity.

"But how was this to be brought about? Therein lay all the difficulty.
The philosophers were not wise enough for this. To make the princess
cry was as impossible as to make her weigh. They sent for a
professional beggar; commanded him to prepare his most touching oracle
of woe; helped him, out of the court charade-box, to whatever he
wanted for dressing up, and promised great rewards in the event of his
success. But it was all in vain. She listened to the mendicant
artist's story, and gazed at his marvellous make-up, till she could
contain herself no longer, and went into the most undignified
contortions for relief, shrieking, positively screeching with

"When she had a little recovered herself, she ordered her attendants
to drive him away, and not give him a single copper; whereupon his
look of mortified discomfiture wrought her punishment and his revenge,
for it sent her into violent hysterics, from which she was with
difficulty recovered.

"But so anxious was the king that the suggestion should have a fair
trial, that he put himself in a rage one day, and, rushing up to her
room, gave her an awful whipping. But not a tear would flow. She
looked grave, and her laughing sounded uncommonly like screaming - that
was all. The good old tyrant, though he put on his best gold
spectacles to look, could not discover the smallest cloud in the
serene blue of her eyes.

* * * * *


"It must have been about this time that the son of a king, who lived a
thousand miles from Lagobel, set out to look for the daughter of a
queen. He travelled far and wide, but as sure as he found a princess,
he found some fault with her. Of course he could not marry a mere
woman, however beautiful, and there was no princess to be found worthy
of him. Whether the prince was so near perfection that he had a right
to demand perfection itself, I cannot pretend to say. All I know is
that he was a fine, handsome, brave, generous, well-bred and
well-behaved youth, as all princes are.

"In his wanderings he had come across some reports about our princess;
but as everybody said she was bewitched, he never dreamed that she
could bewitch him. For what indeed could a prince do with a princess
that had lost her gravity? Who could tell what she might not lose
next? She might lose her visibility; or her tangibility; or, in short,
the power of making impressions upon the radical sensorium; so that he

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldAdela Cathcart, Volume 1 → online text (page 6 of 12)