Chapter 5: What is to be Done?
But above stairs it was different. One day, for instance, after breakfast, the king was in 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 halfway 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 troubled 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?"
Now, really," interrupted the clergyman, "I must protest. Mr. Smith, you bury us under an avalanche of puns, and, I must say, not very good ones. Now, the story, though humorous, is not of the kind to admit of such fanciful embellishment. It reminds one rather of a burlesque at a theatre--the lowest thing, from a literary point of view, to be found."
I submit," was all I could answer; for I feared that he was right. 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 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 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.
next: Chapter 06: She Laughs too Much
previous: Chapter 04: Where is She?