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THE LIGHT PRINCESS


by

GEORGE MACDONALD



Contents

1. What! No Children?
2. Won't I, Just?
3. She Can't Be Ours.
4. Where Is She?
5. What Is to Be Done?
6. She Laughs Too Much.
7. Try Metaphysics.
8. Try a Drop of Water.
9. Put Me in Again.
10. Look at the Moon.
11. Hiss!
12. Where Is the Prince?
13. Here I Am.
14. This Is Very Kind of You.
15. Look at the Rain!




1. What! No Children?


Once upon a time, so long ago that I have quite forgotten the date,
there lived a king and queen who had no children.

And the king said to himself, "All the queens of my acquaintance have
children, some three, some seven, and some as many as twelve; and my
queen has not one. I feel ill-used." So he made up his mind to be
cross with his wife about it. But she bore it all like a good patient
queen as she was. Then the king grew very cross indeed. But the queen
pretended to take it all as a joke, and a very good one too.

"Why don't you have any daughters, at least?" said he. "I don't say
sons; that might be too much to expect."

"I am sure, dear king, I am very sorry," said the queen.

"So you ought to be," retorted the king; "you are not going to make a
virtue of that, surely."

But he was not an ill-tempered king, and in any matter of less moment
would have let the queen have her own way with all his heart. This,
however, was an affair of state.

The queen smiled.

"You must have patience with a lady, you know, dear king," said she.

She was, indeed, a very nice queen, and heartily sorry that she could
not oblige the king immediately.



2. Won't I, Just?

The king tried to have patience, but he succeeded very badly. It was
more than he deserved, therefore, when, at last, the queen gave him a
daughter - as lovely a little princess as ever cried.

The day drew near when the infant must be christened. The king wrote
all the invitations with his own hand. Of course somebody was
forgotten. Now it does not generally matter if somebody is forgotten,
only you must mind who. Unfortunately, the king forgot without
intending to forget; and so the chance fell upon the Princess
Makemnoit, which was awkward. For the princess was the king's own
sister; and he ought not to have forgotten her. But she had made
herself so disagreeable to the old king, their father, that he had
forgotten her in making his will; and so it was no wonder that her
brother forgot her in writing his invitations. But poor relations
don't do anything to keep you in mind of them. Why don't they? The
king could not see into the garret she lived in, could he?

She was a sour, spiteful creature. The wrinkles of contempt crossed
the wrinkles of peevishness, and made her face as full of wrinkles as a
pat of butter. If ever a king could be justified in forgetting
anybody, this king was justified in forgetting his sister, even at a
christening. She looked very odd, too. Her forehead was as large as
all the rest of her face, and projected over it like a precipice. When
she was angry, her little eyes flashed blue. When she hated anybody,
they shone yellow and green. What they looked like when she loved
anybody, I do not know; for I never heard of her loving anybody but
herself, and I do not think she could have managed that if she had not
somehow got used to herself. But what made it highly imprudent in the
king to forget her was that she was awfully clever. In fact, she was a
witch; and when she bewitched anybody, he very soon had enough of it;
for she beat all the wicked fairies in wickedness, and all the clever
ones in cleverness. She despised all the modes we read of in history,
in which offended fairies and witches have taken their revenges; and
therefore, after waiting and waiting in vain for an invitation, she
made up her mind at last to go without one, and make the whole family
miserable, like a princess as she was.

So she put on her best gown, went to the palace, was kindly received by
the happy monarch, who forgot that he had forgotten her, and took her
place in the procession to the royal chapel. When they were all
gathered about the font, she contrived to get next to it, and throw
something into the water; after which she maintained a very respectful
demeanour till the water was applied to the child's face. But at that
moment she turned round in her place three times, and muttered the
following words, loud enough for those beside her to hear: -

"Light of spirit, by my charms,
Light of body, every part,
Never weary human arms -
Only crush thy parents' heart!"


They all thought she had lost her wits, and was repeating some foolish
nursery rhyme; but a shudder went through the whole of them
notwithstanding. The baby, on the contrary, began to laugh and crow;
while the nurse gave a start and a smothered cry, for she thought she
was struck with paralysis: she could not feel the baby in her arms.
But she clasped it tight and said nothing. The mischief was done.



3. She Can't Be Ours.

Her atrocious aunt had deprived the child of all her gravity. If you
ask me how this was effected, I answer, "In the easiest way in the
world. She had only to destroy gravitation." For the princess was a
philosopher, and knew all the ins and outs of the laws of gravitation
as well as the ins and outs of her boot-lace. And being a witch as
well, she could abrogate those laws in a moment; or at least so clog
their wheels and rust their bearings, that they would not work at all.
But we have more to do with what followed than with how it was done.

The first awkwardness that resulted from this unhappy privation was,
that the moment the nurse began to float the baby up and down, she flew
from her arms towards the ceiling. Happily, the resistance of the air
brought her ascending career to a close within a foot of it. There she
remained, horizontal as when she left her nurse's arms, kicking and
laughing amazingly. The nurse in terror flew to the bell, and begged
the footman, who answered it, to bring up the house-steps directly.
Trembling in every limb, she climbed upon the steps, and had to stand
upon the very top, and reach up, before she could catch the floating
tail of the baby's long clothes.

When the strange fact came to be known, there was a terrible commotion
in the palace. The occasion of its discovery by the king was naturally
a repetition of the nurse's experience. Astonished that he felt no
weight when the child was laid in his arms, he began to wave her up and
not down, for she slowly ascended to the ceiling as before, and there
remained floating in perfect comfort and satisfaction, as was testified
by her peals of tiny laughter. The king stood staring up in speechless
amazement, and trembled so that his beard shook like grass in the wind.
At last, turning to the queen, who was just as horror-struck as
himself, he said, gasping, staring, and stammering, -

"She can't be ours, queen!"

Now the queen was much cleverer than the king, and had begun already to
suspect that "this effect defective came by cause."

"I am sure she is ours," answered she. "But we ought to have taken
better care of her at the christening. People who were never invited
ought not to have been present."

"Oh, ho!" said the king, tapping his forehead with his forefinger, "I
have it all. I've found her out. Don't you see it, queen? Princess
Makemnoit has bewitched her." "That's just what I say," answered the
queen.

"I beg your pardon, my love; I did not hear you. - John! bring the steps
I get on my throne with."

For he was a little king with a great throne, like many other kings.

The throne-steps were brought, and set upon the dining-table, and John
got upon the top of them. But he could not reach the little princess,
who lay like a baby-laughter-cloud in the air, exploding continuously.
"Take the tongs, John," said his Majesty; and getting up on the table,
he handed them to him.

John could reach the baby now, and the little princess was handed down
by the tongs.



4. Where Is She?

One fine summer day, a month after these her first adventures, during
which time she had been very carefully watched, the princess was lying
on the bed in the queen's own chamber, fast asleep. One of the windows
was open, for it was noon, and the day was so sultry that the little
girl was wrapped in nothing less ethereal than slumber itself. The
queen came into the room, and not observing that the baby was on the
bed, opened another window. A frolicsome fairy wind, which had been
watching for a chance of mischief, rushed in at the one window, and
taking its way over the bed where the child was lying, caught her up,
and rolling and floating her along like a piece of flue, or a dandelion
seed, carried her with it through the opposite window, and away. The
queen went down-stairs, quite ignorant of the loss she had herself
occasioned.

When the nurse returned, she supposed that her Majesty had carried her
off, and, dreading a scolding, delayed making inquiry about her. But
hearing nothing, she grew uneasy, and went at length to the queen's
boudoir, where she found her Majesty.

"Please, your Majesty, shall I take the baby?" said she.

"Where is she?" asked the queen.

"Please forgive me. I know it was wrong."

"What do you mean?" said the queen, looking grave.

"Oh! don't frighten me, your Majesty!" exclaimed the nurse, clasping
her hands.

The queen saw that something was amiss, and fell down in a faint. The
nurse rushed about the palace, screaming, "My baby! my baby!"

Every one ran to the queen's room. But the queen could give no orders.
They soon found out, however, that the princess was missing, and in a
moment the palace was like a beehive in a garden; and in one minute
more the queen was brought to herself by a great shout and a clapping
of hands. They had found the princess fast asleep under a rose-bush,
to which the elvish little wind-puff had carried her, finishing its
mischief by shaking a shower of red rose-leaves all over the little
white sleeper. Startled by the noise the servants made, she woke, and,
furious with glee, scattered the rose-leaves in all directions, like a
shower of spray in the sunset.

She was watched more carefully after this, no doubt; yet it would be
endless to relate all the odd incidents resulting from this peculiarity
of the young princess. But there never was a baby in a house, not to
say a palace, that kept the household in such constant good humour, at
least below-stairs. If it was not easy for her nurses to hold her, at
least she made neither their arms nor their hearts ache. And she was
so nice to play at ball with! There was positively no danger of
letting her fall. They might throw her down, or knock her down, or
push her down, but couldn't let her down. It is true, they might let
her fly into the fire or the coal-hole, or through the window; but none
of these accidents had happened as yet. If you heard peals of laughter
resounding from some unknown region, you might be sure enough of the
cause. Going down into the kitchen, or the room, you would find Jane
and Thomas, and Robert and Susan, all and sum, playing at ball with the
little princess. She was the ball herself, and did not enjoy it the
less for that. Away she went, flying from one to another, screeching
with laughter. And the servants loved the ball itself better even than
the game. But they had to take some care how they threw her, for if
she received an upward direction, she would never come down again
without being fetched.



5. What Is to Be Done?

But above-stairs it was different. One day, for instance, after
breakfast, the king went into his counting-house, and counted out his
money. The operation gave him no pleasure.

"To think," said he to himself, "that every one of these gold
sovereigns weighs a quarter of an ounce, and my real, live,
flesh-and-blood princess weighs nothing at all!"

And he hated his gold sovereigns, as they lay with a broad smile of
self-satisfaction all over their yellow faces.

The queen was in the parlour, eating bread and honey. But at the
second mouthful she burst out crying, and could not swallow it.

The king heard her sobbing. Glad of anybody, but especially of his
queen, to quarrel with, he clashed his gold sovereigns into his
money-box, clapped his crown on his head, and rushed into the parlour.

"What is all this about?" exclaimed he. "What are you crying for,
queen?"

"I can't eat it," said the queen, looking ruefully at the honey-pot.

"No wonder!" retorted the king. "You've just eaten your breakfast - two
turkey eggs, and three anchovies."

"Oh, that's not it!" sobbed her Majesty. "It's my child, my child!"

"Well, what's the matter with your child? She's neither up the chimney
nor down the draw-well. Just hear her laughing."

Yet the king could not help a sigh, which he tried to turn into a
cough, saying -

"It is a good thing to be light-hearted, I am sure, whether she be ours
or not."

"It is a bad thing to be light-headed," answered the queen, looking
with prophetic soul far into the future.

"'Tis a good thing to be light-handed," said the king.

"'Tis a bad thing to be light-fingered," answered the queen.

"'Tis a good thing to be light-footed," said the king.

"'Tis a bad thing - " began the queen; but the king interrupted her.

"In fact," said he, with the tone of one who concludes an argument in
which he has had only imaginary opponents, and in which, therefore, he
has come off triumphant - "in fact, it is a good thing altogether to be
light-bodied."

"But it is a bad thing altogether to be light-minded," retorted the
queen, who was beginning to lose her temper.

This last answer quite discomfited his Majesty, who turned on his heel,
and betook himself to his counting-house again. But he was not
half-way towards it, when the voice of his queen overtook him.

"And it's a bad thing to be light-haired," screamed she, determined to
have more last words, now that her spirit was roused.

The queen's hair was black as night; and the king's had been, and his
daughter's was, golden as morning. But it was not this reflection on
his hair that arrested him; it was the double use of the word light.
For the king hated all witticisms, and punning especially. And
besides, he could not tell whether the queen meant light-haired or
light-heired; for why might she not aspirate her vowels when she was
exasperated herself?

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 duplicity can assume is that of
punning."

"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
apology?"

"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 house of the princess, and, making a
very humble apology, begged her to undo the spell. But the princess
declared, with a 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 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.



6. She Laughs Too Much.

Meantime, notwithstanding awkward occurrences, and griefs that she
brought upon her parents, 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
was told, for the sake of experiment, that General Clanrunfort was cut
to pieces with all his troops, she laughed; when she heard that the
enemy was on his way to besiege her papa's capital, she laughed hugely;
but when she was told that the city would certainly be abandoned to the
mercy of the enemy's soldiery - why, then she laughed immoderately. 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 mamma!"

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 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 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 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.



7. Try Metaphysics.

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 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 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 - "

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 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 done?"

"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


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