- THE BROWN OWL.
- A CHINA CUP, and other Stories.
- STORIES FROM FAIRYLAND.
- TALES FROM THE MABINOGION.
- THE STORY OF A PUPPET.
- THE LITTLE PRINCESS.
- IRISH FAIRY TALES.
- AN ENCHANTED GARDEN.
- LA BELLE NIVERNAISE.
- THE FEATHER.
(Others in the Press.)
WITH FRONTISPIECE BY
F. MADOX BROWN
T. FISHER UNWIN
ONCE upon a time therewas a King who reignedover a country as yet,for a reason you maylearn later on, undiscovered—a mostlovely country, full of green dales andgroves of oak, a land of dappledmeadows and sweet rivers, a greencup in a circlet of mountains, inwhose shadow the grass was greenest;and the only road to enter the countrylay up steep, boiling waterfalls, andthereafter through rugged passes, thechannels that the rivers had cut forthemselves. Therefore, as you mayimagine, the dwellers in the land werelittle troubled by inroads of hostilenations; and they lived peaceful lives,managing their own affairs, and troublinglittle about the rest of the world.
Now this King, like many kingsbefore and after him, had a daughterwho, while very young, had, I amsorry to say, been very self-willed;and the King, on the death of hiswife, finding himself utterly unable tomanage the Princess, handed her overto the care of an aged nurse, who, however,was not much more successful—butthat is neither here nor there.
For years everything went onsmoothly, and it seemed as if everythingintended to go on smoothlyuntil doomsday, in which case thishistory would probably never havebeen written. But one evening insummer the Princess and her nurse,who had by this time become lessable than ever to manage her charge,sat on a terrace facing the west. ThePrincess had been amusing herself bypelting the swans swimming in theriver with rose-leaves, which the indignantswans snapped up as theyfluttered down on the air or floatedby on the river.
But after a time she began to tireof this pastime, and sitting down,looked at the sun that was just setting,a blinding glare of orange flamebehind the black hills. Suddenly sheturned to the nurse and said:
‘What’s on the other side of thehills?’
‘Lawk-a-mussy-me, miss!’ answeredthe nurse, ‘I’m sure I don’t know.What a question to ask!’
‘Then why don’t you ask someone who has been there?’
‘Because no one ever has, miss.’
‘But why not?’
‘Because there’s a fiery serpentthat eats every one who comes nearthe hills; and if you’re not eatenup, you’re bound to tumble down aprecipice that’s nearly three milesdeep, before you can get over thehills.’
‘Oh, what fun! Let’s go,’ said thePrincess, by no means awed. Butthe nurse shook her head.
‘No, miss, I won’t go; and I’msure your pa won’t let you go.’
‘Oh yes, he will; let’s go and askhim.’
But at that moment a black shadowcame across the sun, and the swans,with a terrified ‘honk, honk,’ dartedacross the water to hide themselvesin the reeds on the other side of theriver, churning dark tracks in thepurple of the sunlit water’s glassycalmness.
‘Oh dear! oh dear! it’s a boggles,and it’s coming this way,’ cried thenurse.
‘But what is a boggles, nurse?’
‘Oh dear, it’s coming! Come intothe house and I’ll tell you—come.’
‘Not until you tell me what aboggles is.’
The nurse perforce gave in.
‘A boggles is a thing with a hookedbeak and a squeaky voice, with hairlike snakes in corkscrews; and ithaunts houses and carries off things;and when it once gets in it neverleaves again—oh dear, it’s on us!Oh-h-h!’
Her cries only made the thing seethem sooner. It was only an eagle,not a boggles; but it was on thelook-out for food, and the sun shiningon the Princess’s hair had caught itseyes, and in spite of the cries of thenurse it swooped down, and, seizingthe Princess in its claws, began tocarry her off. The nurse, however,held on to her valiantly, screamingall the while for help; but the eaglehad the best of it after all, for itcarried up, not only the Princess, butthe nurse also.
The nurse held on to her chargefor some seconds, but finding theattempt useless she let go her hold;and since it happened that at themoment they were over the river, shefell into it with a great splash, andwas drifted on shore by the current.
Thus the Princess was carried off;and although the land far and widewas searched, no traces of her werediscoverable. You may imagine foryourself what sorrow and rage theKing indulged in. He turned thenurse off without warning, and even,in a paroxysm of rage, kicked oneof his pages downstairs; neverthelessthat did not bring back thePrincess.
As a last resource he consulteda wise woman (ill-natured peoplecalled her a witch) who lived nearthe palace. But the witch could onlysay that the Princess would returnsome day, but she couldn’t or wouldn’tsay when, even though the Kingthreatened to burn her. So it wasall of no use, and the King was,and remained, in despair. But,since his Majesty is not the importantpersonage in the story, we may aswell leave him and return to thePrincess.
She, as you can think, was notparticularly happy or comfortable, forthe claws of the eagle pinched her,and besides, she was very frightened;for, you see, she didn’t know that itwasn’t a boggles, as the nurse hadcalled it, and a boggles is a greatdeal worse than the worst eagle everinvented.
Meanwhile the eagle continuedflying straight towards the sun, whichwas getting lower and lower, so thatby the time they reached the mountainsit was dark altogether. But theeagle didn’t seem at all afraid of thedarkness, and just went on flying asif nothing had happened, until suddenlyit let the Princess down on arock—at least, that was what it seemedto her to be. Not knowing what elseto do, she sat where the eagle had lether fall, for she remembered somethingabout the precipice three miles deep,and she did not at all wish to tumbledown that.
She expected that the eagle wouldset to and make a meal off her atonce. But somehow or other, eitherit had had enough to eat during theday, or else did not like to begin tohave supper so late for fear of nightmare;at any rate, it abstained, andthat was the most interesting matterto her. Everything was so quietaround that at last, in spite of herself,she fell asleep. She slept quiteeasily until daylight, although thehardness of the rock was certainlysomewhat unpleasant. When sheopened her eyes it was already light,and the sun at her back was dartingblack shadows of the jagged mountainson to the shimmering gray sea of mistthat veiled the land below. Her firstthought was naturally of the eagle,and she did not need to look veryfar for him, since he was washinghimself in a little pool close by, keepingan eye on her the while.
As soon as he saw her move hegave himself a final shake, so thatthe water flew all around, sparklingin the sunlight; after which he cametowards her by hops until he wasquite close—rather too close, shethought. Nevertheless she did notmove, having heard somewhere that,under the circumstances, that is theworst thing to do; she also rememberedanimals cannot stand beinglooked at steadily by the human eye,therefore she looked very steadfastlyat the eyes of the eagle. But theremedy did not seem to work wellin this case, for the glassy yelloweyes of the bird looked bad-tempered,and it winked angrily, seeming to say,‘Whom are you staring at?’ Andthen it began to stretch out its billtowards her until it was within afew inches of her face. This wasmore than she could stand, and shesaid sharply, ‘Take your head away.’
The eagle, however, took no noticewhatever of this; and seeing nothingbetter to do, she lifted up her handand gave it a smart box on the ear,or rather on the place where its earshould have been. The eagle drewback its beak in a hurry and scratchedits head with one claw as if it werepuzzled. After a moment’s reflectionit put out its head again, and oncemore the Princess lifted up her hand;but when the eagle saw that it jumpedbackwards in a hurry, as if it did notcare to receive a second box on theear, and began to stride sulkily awayas if it thought it better to wait awhile. When it reached the edge ofthe rock—for I have forgotten to tellyou that they were on a flat rock atthe top of a mountain—it sat preeningits feathers in a sulky manner,as if it imagined itself a very ill-usedbird; moreover, although it seemedinclined to remain there a long time,I need not tell you that the Princesshad no objections. However, aftera time even the waiting began togrow unpleasant; but suddenly apeculiar sound, as of something shootingthrough the air, came from below,and the eagle gave a leap and felldown a mass of tumbled featherswith an arrow quivering in theircentre, and, with hardly a shudder,it was dead.
The Princess, as you may imagine,was a good deal startled by this suddenoccurrence, but I cannot say she wasvery sorry for the eagle; on the contrary,she was rather glad to be ridof him, and it suddenly came intoher head that the man who had shotthe arrow might possibly be somewherebelow, and in that case mightcome up and save her if she calledto him. So she tried to get up, butshe was so stiff that she could hardlymove, and when she did stand upshe had pins and needles in one ofher feet, and had to stamp hard onthe ground before it would go away.So that it was some time before shegot to the edge and looked over.Now it happened that, just as shebent carefully forward to look downthe side, the head of a man appearedover the edge, and his hands wereso near her that he almost caughthold of her foot as he put them upto help himself. As she drew backa little to let him have room, hesuddenly noticed her, and almost letgo his hold in astonishment.
‘Hullo, little girl,’ he said; ‘howdid you come here? It’s rather earlyin the morning for you to be up. Butwho are you when you’re at home?’
‘I’m the daughter of King Caret.’
‘King how much?’
‘King Caret, I said; and I shouldbe glad if you would help me downfrom this height, and show me theway back.’
‘How on earth can I show youthe way back when I don’t know whoKing Caret is?’
‘But surely you must know whohe is?’
‘Never heard of him. What’s helike, and what’s he king of?’
‘He’s the King of Aoland.’
‘And where’s Aoland?’
‘I don’t know—it’s somewhere overthose mountains—the eagle broughtme here, you know.’
‘Ah! the eagle brought you here,did he? It’s a little habit he’s got;he’s carried off no end of my kidsand young sheep, so I suppose hethought he’d try a change and carryoff one of King Turnip—I meanCaret’s. But if he brought youfrom over the mountains you won’tget back in a hurry, I can tellyou; you’d have to jump up aprecipice three miles high, and thenyou’d be eaten by old Kinchof thedragon.’
‘Oh dear! then I shall never getback!’
‘No, I’m afraid you won’t. Butdon’t begin to cry now—there, there—andI’ll take you to King Mumkie;he’s the king of this country, youknow.’
‘What an awful name—Mumkie!’
‘Yes, it is rather unpleasant, isn’t it?And then, he’s a usurper—he drovethe last king out and made himselfking instead. He used to be acat’s-meat man, but he got up anarmy and drove the