George MacDonald.

Adela Cathcart, Volume 1 online

. (page 8 of 12)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldAdela Cathcart, Volume 1 → online text (page 8 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

would not come because the lake had begun to sink. But he resolved to
know so much at least.

"He disguised himself, and, going to the palace, requested to see the
lord chamberlain. His appearance at once gained his request; and the
lord chamberlain being a man of some insight, perceived that there was
more in the prince's solicitation than met the ear. He felt likewise
that no one could tell whence a solution of the present difficulties
might arise. So he granted the prince's prayer to be made shoe-black
to the princess. It was rather knowing in the prince to request such
an easy post; for the princess could not possibly soil as many shoes
as other princesses.

"He soon learned all that could be told about the princess. He went
nearly distracted; but, after roaming about the lake for days, and
diving in every depth that remained, all that he could do was to put
an extra-polish on the dainty pair of boots that was never called for.

"For the princess kept her room, with the curtains drawn to shut out
the dying lake. But she could not shut it out of her mind for a
moment. It haunted her imagination so that she felt as if her lake
were her soul, drying up within her, first to become mud, and then
madness and death. She brooded over the change, with all its dreadful
accompaniments, till she was nearly out of her mind. As for the
prince, she had forgotten him. However much she had enjoyed his
company in the water, she did not care for him without it. But she
seemed to have forgotten her father and mother too.

"The lake went on sinking. Small slimy spots began to appear, which
glittered steadily amidst the changeful shine of the water. These grew
to broad patches of mud, which widened and spread, with rocks here and
there, and floundering fishes and crawling eels swarming about. The
people went everywhere catching these, and looking for anything that
might have been dropped into the water.

"At length the lake was all but gone; only a few of the deepest pools
remaining unexhausted.

"It happened one day that a party of youngsters found themselves on
the brink of one of these pools, in the very centre of the lake. It
was a rocky basin of considerable depth. Looking in, they saw at the
bottom something that shone yellow in the sun. A little boy jumped in
and dived for it. It was a plate of gold, covered with writing. They
carried it to the king.

"On one side of it stood these words:

'Death alone from death can save.
Love is death, and so is brave.
Love can fill the deepest grave.
Love loves on beneath the wave.'

"Now this was enigmatical enough to the king and courtiers. But the
reverse of the plate explained it a little. Its contents amounted to

"_If the lake should disappear, they must find the hole through which
the water ran. But it would be useless to try to stop it by any
ordinary means. There was but one effectual mode. - The body of a
living man could alone stanch the flow. The man must give himself of
his own will; and the lake must take his life as it filled. Otherwise
the offering would be of no avail. If the nation could not provide one
hero, it was time it should perish._

* * * * *


"This was a very disheartening revelation to the king. Not that he was
unwilling to sacrifice a subject, but that he was hopeless of finding
a man willing to sacrifice himself. No time could be lost, however;
for the princess was lying motionless on her bed, and taking no
nourishment but lake-water, which was now none of the best. Therefore
the king caused the contents of the wonderful plate of gold to be
published throughout the country.

"No one, however, came forward.

"The prince, having gone several days' journey into the forest, to
consult a hermit whom he had met there on his way to Lagobel, knew
nothing of the oracle till his return.

"When he had acquainted himself with all the particulars, he sat down
and thought.

"'She would die, if I didn't do it; and life would be nothing to me
without her: so I shall lose nothing by doing it. And life will be as
pleasant to her as ever, for she will soon forget me, and there will
be so much more beauty and happiness in the world. To be sure I shall
not see it.' - Here the poor prince gave a sigh. - 'How lovely the lake
will be in the moonlight, with that glorious creature sporting in it
like a wild goddess! It is rather hard to be drowned by inches,
though. Let me see - that will be seventy inches of me to drown.' - Here
he tried to laugh, but could not. - 'The longer the better, however,'
he resumed; 'for can I not bargain that the princess shall be beside
me all the time? So I shall see her once more, kiss her perhaps, who
knows? - and die looking in her eyes. It will be no death. At least I
shall not feel it. And to see the lake filling for the beauty
again! - All right! I am ready.'

"He kissed the princess's boot, laid it down, and hurried to the
king's apartment. But feeling, as he went, that anything sentimental
would be disagreeable, he resolved to carry off the whole affair with
burlesque. So he knocked at the door of the king's counting-house,
where it was all but a capital crime to disturb him. When the king
heard the knock, he started up, and opened the door in a rage. Seeing
only the shoe-black, he drew his sword. This, I am sorry to say, was
his usual mode of asserting his regality, when he thought his dignity
was in danger. But the prince was not in the least alarmed.

"'Please your majesty, I'm your butler,' said he.

"'My butler! you lying rascal? What do you mean?'

"'I mean, I will cork your big bottle.'

"'Is the fellow mad?' bawled the king, raising the point of his sword.

"'I will put a stopper - plug - what you call it, in your leaky lake,
grand monarch,' said the prince.

"The king was in such a rage, that before he could speak he had time
to cool, and to reflect that it would be great waste to kill the only
man who was willing to be useful in the present emergency, seeing that
in the end the insolent fellow would be as dead as if he had died by
his majesty's own hand.

"'Oh!' said he at last, putting up his sword with difficulty - it was
so long; 'I am obliged to you, you young fool! Take a glass of wine?'

"'No, thank you,' replied the prince.

"'Very well,' said the king. 'Would you like to run and see your
parents before you make your experiment?'

"'No, thank you,' said the prince.

"'Then we will go and look for the hole at once,' said his majesty,
and proceeded to call some attendants.

"'Stop, please your majesty; I have a condition to make,' interposed
the prince.

"'What!' exclaimed the king; 'a condition! and with me! How dare you?'

"'As you please,' said the prince coolly. 'I wish your majesty good

"'You wretch! I will have you put in a sack, and stuck in the hole.'

"'Very well, your majesty,' replied the prince, becoming a little more
respectful, lest the wrath of the king should deprive him of the
pleasure of dying for the princess. 'But what good will that do your
majesty? Please to remember that the oracle says the victim must offer

"'Well, you _have_ offered yourself,' retorted the king.

"'Yes, upon one condition.'

"'Condition again!' roared the king, once more drawing his sword.
'Begone! Somebody else will be glad enough to take the honour off your

"'Your majesty knows it will not be easy to get one to take my place.'

"'Well, what is your condition?' growled the king, feeling that the
prince was right.

"'Only this,' replied the prince: 'that, as I must on no account die
before I am fairly drowned, and the waiting will be rather wearisome,
the princess, your daughter, shall go with me, feed me with her own
hands, and look at me now and then, to comfort me; for you must
confess it is rather hard. As soon as the water is up to my eyes, she
may go and be happy, and forget her poor shoe-black.'

"Here the prince's voice faltered, and he very nearly grew
sentimental, in spite of his resolutions.

"'Why didn't you tell me before what your condition was? Such a fuss
about nothing!' exclaimed the king.

"'Do you grant it?' persisted the prince.

"'I do,' replied the king.

"'Very well. I am ready.'

"'Go and have some dinner, then, while I set my people to find the

"The king ordered out his guards, and gave directions to the officers
to find the hole in the lake at once. So the bed of the lake was
marked out in divisions, and thoroughly examined; and in an hour or
so, the hole was discovered. It was in the middle of a stone, near the
centre of the lake, in the very pool where the golden plate had been
found. It was a three-cornered hole, of no great size. There was water
all round the stone, but none was flowing through the hole.

* * * * *


"The prince went to dress for the occasion, for he was resolved to die
like a prince.

"When the princess heard that a man had offered to die for her, she
was so transported that she jumped off the bed, feeble as she was, and
danced about the room for joy. She did not care who the man was; that
was nothing to her. The hole wanted stopping; and if only a man would
do, why, take one. In an hour or two more, everything was ready. Her
maid dressed her in haste, and they carried her to the side of the
lake. When she saw it, she shrieked, and covered her face with her
hands. They bore her across to the stone, where they had already
placed a little boat for her. The water was not deep enough to float
it, but they hoped it would be, before long. They laid her on
cushions, placed in the boat wines and fruits and other nice things,
and stretched a canopy over all.

"In a few minutes, the prince appeared. The princess recognized him at
once; but did not think it worth while to acknowledge him.

"'Here I am,' said the prince. 'Put me in.'

"'They told me it was a shoe-black,' said the princess.

"'So I am,' said the prince. 'I blacked your little boots three times
a day, because they were all I could get of you. Put me in.'

"The courtiers did not resent his bluntness, except by saying to each
other, that he was taking it out in impudence.

"But how was he to be put in? The golden plate contained no
instructions on this point. The prince looked at the hole, and saw but
one way. He put both his legs into it, sitting on the stone, and,
stooping forward, covered the two corners that remained open, with his
two hands. In this uncomfortable position he resolved to abide his
fate, and, turning to the people, said:

"'Now you can go.'

"The king had already gone home to dinner.

"'Now you can go,' repeated the princess after him, like a parrot.

"The people obeyed her, and went.

"Presently a little wave flowed over the stone, and wetted one of the
prince's knees. But he did not mind it much. He began to sing, and the
song he sang was this:

"'As a world that has no well,
Darkly bright in forest-dell;
As a world without the gleam
Of the downward-going stream;
As a world without the glance
Of the ocean's fair expanse;
As a world where never rain
Glittered on the sunny plain;
Such, my heart, thy world would be,
If no love did flow in thee.

"'As a world without the sound
Of the rivulets under ground;
Or the bubbling of the spring
Out of darkness wandering;
Or the mighty rush and flowing
Of the river's downward going;
Or the music-showers that drop
On the outspread beech's top;
Or the ocean's mighty voice,
When his lifted waves rejoice;
Such, my soul, thy world would be,
If no love did sing in thee.

"'Lady, keep thy world's delight;
Keep the waters in thy sight.
Love hath made me strong to go,
For thy sake, to realms below,
Where the water's shine and hum
Through the darkness never come:
Let, I pray, one thought of me
Spring, a little well, in thee;
Lest thy loveless soul be found
Like a dry and thirsty ground.'

"'Sing again, prince. It makes it less tedious,' said the princess.

"But the prince was too much overcome to sing any more. And a long
pause followed.

"'This is very kind of you, prince,' said the princess at last, quite
coolly, as she lay in the boat with her eyes shut.

"'I am sorry I can't return the compliment,' thought the prince; 'but
you are worth dying for after all.'

"Again a wavelet, and another, and another, flowed over the stone, and
wetted both the prince's knees thoroughly; but he did not speak or
move. Two - three - four hours passed in this way, the princess
apparently fast asleep, and the prince very patient. But he was much
disappointed in his position, for he had none of the consolation he
had hoped for.

"At last he could bear it no longer.

"'Princess!' said he.

"But at the moment, up started the princess, crying,

"'I'm afloat! I'm afloat!'

"And the little boat bumped against the stone.

"'Princess!' repeated the prince, encouraged by seeing her wide awake,
and looking eagerly at the water.

"'Well?' said she, without once looking round.

"'Your papa promised that you should look at me; and you haven't
looked at me once.'

"'Did he? Then I suppose I must. But I am so sleepy!'

"'Sleep then, darling, and don't mind me,' said the poor prince.

"'Really, you are very good,' replied the princess. 'I think I will go
to sleep again.'

"'Just give me a glass of wine and a biscuit, first,' said the prince
very humbly.

"'With all my heart,' said the princess, and gaped as she said it.

"She got the wine and the biscuit, however; and, coming nearer with

"'Why, prince,' she said, 'you don't look well! Are you sure you don't
mind it?'

"'Not a bit,' answered he, feeling very faint indeed. 'Only, I shall
die before it is of any use to you, unless I have something to eat.'

"'There, then!' said she, holding out the wine to him.

"'Ah! you must feed me. I dare not move my hands. The water would run
away directly.'

"'Good gracious!' said the princess; and she began at once to feed him
with bits of biscuit, and sips of wine.

"As she fed him, he contrived to kiss the tips of her fingers now and
then. She did not seem to mind it, one way or the other. But the
prince felt better.

"'Now, for your own sake, princess,' said he, 'I cannot let you go to
sleep. You must sit and look at me, else I shall not be able to keep

"'Well, I will do anything I can to oblige you,' answered she, with
condescension; and, sitting down, she did look at him, and kept
looking at him with wonderful steadiness, considering all things.

"The sun went down, and the moon came up; and, gush after gush, the
waters were flowing over the rock. They were up to the prince's waist

"'Why can't we go and have a swim?' said the princess. 'There seems to
be water enough just about here.'

"'I shall never swim more,' said the prince.

"'Oh! I forgot,' said the princess, and was silent.

"So the water grew and grew, and rose up and up on the prince. And the
princess sat and looked at him. She fed him now and then. The night
wore on. The waters rose and rose. The moon rose likewise, higher and
higher, and shone full on the face of the dying prince. The water was
up to his neck.

"'Will you kiss me, princess?' said he feebly at last; for the fun was
all out of him now.

"'Yes, I will,' answered the princess; and kissed him with a long,
sweet, cold kiss.

"'Now,' said he, with a sigh of content, 'I die happy.'

"He did not speak again. The princess gave him some wine for the last
time: he was past eating. Then she sat down again, and looked at
him. The water rose and rose. It touched his chin. It touched his
lower lip. It touched between his lips. He shut them hard to keep it
out. The princess began to feel strange. It touched his upper lip. He
breathed through his nostrils. The princess looked wild. It covered
his nostrils. Her eyes looked scared, and shone strange in the
moonlight. His head fell back; the water closed over it; and the
bubbles of his last breath bubbled up through the water. The princess
gave a shriek, and sprang into the lake.

"She laid hold first of one leg, then of the other, and pulled and
tugged, but she could not move either. She stopped to take breath, and
that made her think that he could not get any breath. She was frantic.
She got hold of him, and held his head above the water, which was
possible now his hands were no longer on the hole. But it was of no
use, for he was past breathing.

"Love and water brought back all her strength. She got under the
water, and pulled and pulled with her whole might, till, at last, she
got one leg out. The other easily followed. How she got him into the
boat she never could tell; but when she did, she fainted away. Coming
to herself, she seized the oars, kept herself steady as best she
could; and rowed and rowed, though she had never rowed before. Round
rocks, and over shallows, and through mud, she rowed, till she got to
the landing-stairs of the palace. By this time her people were on the
shore, for they had heard her shriek. She made them carry the prince
to her own room, and lay him in her bed, and light a fire, and send
for the doctors.

"'But the lake, your Highness!' said the Chamberlain, who, roused by
the noise, came in, in his night-cap.

"'Go and drown yourself in it!' said she.

"This was the last rudeness of which the princess was ever guilty; and
one must allow that she had good cause to feel provoked with the lord

"Had it been the king himself, he would have fared no better. But both
he and the queen were fast asleep. And the chamberlain went back to
his bed. So the princess and her old nurse were left with the prince.
Somehow, the doctors never came. But the old nurse was a wise woman,
and knew what to do.

"They tried everything for a long time without success. The princess
was nearly distracted between hope and fear, but she tried on and on,
one thing after another, and everything over and over again.

"At last, when they had all but given it up, just as the sun rose, the
prince opened his eyes.

* * * * *


"The princess burst into a passion of tears, and _fell_ on the floor.
There she lay for an hour, and her tears never ceased. All the pent-up
crying of her life was spent now. And a rain came on, such as had
never been seen in that country. The sun shone all the time, and the
great drops, which fell straight to the earth, shone likewise. The
palace was in the heart of a rainbow. It was a rain of rubies, and
sapphires, and emeralds, and topazes. The torrents poured from the
mountains like molten gold; and if it had not been for its
subterraneous outlet, the lake would have overflowed and inundated the
country. It was full from shore to shore.

"But the princess did not heed the lake. She lay on the floor and
wept. And this rain within doors was far more wonderful than the rain
out of doors. For when it abated a little, and she proceeded to rise,
she found, to her astonishment, that she could not. At length, after
many efforts, she succeeded in getting upon her feet. But she tumbled
down again directly. Hearing her fall, her old nurse uttered a yell of
delight, and ran to her, screaming:

"'My darling child! She's found her gravity!'

"'Oh! that's it, is it?' said the princess, rubbing her shoulder and
her knee alternately. 'I consider it very unpleasant. I feel as if I
should be crushed to pieces.'

"'Hurrah!' cried the prince, from the bed. 'If you're all right,
princess, so am I. How's the lake?'

"'Brimful,' answered the nurse.

"'Then we're all jolly.'

"'That we are, indeed!' answered the princess, sobbing.

"And there was rejoicing all over the country that rainy day. Even the
babies forgot their past troubles, and danced and crowed amazingly.
And the king told stories, and the queen listened to them. And he
divided the money in his box, and she the honey in her pot, to all the
children. And there was such jubilation as was never heard of before.

"Of course the prince and princess were betrothed at once. But the
princess had to learn to walk, before they could be married with any
propriety. And this was not so easy, at her time of life, for she
could walk no more than a baby. She was always falling down and
hurting herself.

"'Is this the gravity you used to make so much of?' said she, one day,
to the prince. 'For my part, I was a great deal more comfortable
without it.'

"'No, no; that's not it. This is it,' replied the prince, as he took
her up, and carried her about like a baby, kissing her all the time.
'This is gravity.'

"'That's better,' said she. 'I don't mind that so much.'

"And she smiled the sweetest, loveliest smile in the prince's face.
And she gave him one little kiss, in return for all his; and he
thought them overpaid, for he was beside himself with delight. I fear
she complained of her gravity more than once after this,

"It was a long time before she got reconciled to walking. But the pain
of learning it, was quite counterbalanced by two things, either of
which would have been sufficient consolation. The first was, that the
prince himself was her teacher; and the second, that she could tumble
into the lake as often as she pleased. Still, she preferred to have
the prince jump in with her; and the splash they made before, was
nothing to the splash they made now.

"The lake never sank again. In process of time, it wore the roof of
the cavern quite through, and was twice as deep as before.

"The only revenge the princess took upon her aunt, was to tread pretty
hard on her gouty toe, the next time she saw her. But she was sorry
for it the very next day, when she heard that the water had undermined
her house, and that it had fallen in the night, burying her in its
ruins; whence no one ever ventured to dig up her body. There she lies
to this day.

"So the prince and princess lived and were happy; and had crowns of
gold, and clothes of cloth, and shoes of leather, and children of boys
and girls, not one of whom was ever known, on the most critical
occasion, to lose the smallest atom of his or her due proportion of

* * * * *



"Very good indeed!"

"Quite a success!"

cried my complimentary friends.

"I don't think the princess could have rowed, though - without gravity,
you know," said the schoolmaster.

"But she did," said Adela. "I won't have my uncle found fault with. It
is a very funny, and a very pretty story."

"What is the moral of it?" drawled Mrs. Cathcart, with the first
syllable of _moral_ very long and very gentle.

"That you need not be afraid of ill-natured aunts, though they are
witches," said Adela.

"No, my dear; that's not it," I said. "It is, that you need not mind
forgetting your poor relations. No harm will come of it in the end."

"I think the moral is," said the doctor, "that no girl is worth
anything till she has cried a little."

Adela gave him a quick glance, and then cast her eyes down. Whether he
had looked at her I don't know. But I should think not. - Neither the
clergyman nor his wife had made any remark. I turned to them.

"I am afraid you do not approve of my poor story," I said.

"On the contrary," replied Mr. Armstrong, "I think there is a great
deal of meaning in it, to those who can see through its fairy-gates.
What do you think of it, my dear?"

"I was so pleased with the earnest parts of it, that the fun jarred
upon me a little, I confess," said Mrs. Armstrong. "But I daresay that
was silly."

"I think it was, my dear. But you can afford to be silly sometimes, in
a good cause."

"You might have given us the wedding." said Mrs. Bloomfield.

"I am an old bachelor, you see. I fear I don't give weddings their
due," I answered. "I don't care for them - in stories, I mean."

"When will you dine with us again?" asked the colonel.

"When you please," answered the curate.

"To-morrow, then?"

"Rather too soon that, is it not? Who is to read the next story?"

"Why, you, of course," answered his brother.

"I am at your service," rejoined Mr. Armstrong. "But to-morrow!"

"Don't you think, Ralph," said his wife, "you could read better if you
followed your usual custom of dining early?"

"I am sure I should, Lizzie. Don't you think, Colonel Cathcart, it
would be better to come in the evening, just after your dinner? I like

1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldAdela Cathcart, Volume 1 → online text (page 8 of 12)