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Adela Cathcart - vol. 1

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"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, but you must mind who. Unfortunately, the king forgot without intending it; and 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 forgot 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. And then she was so disgracefully poor! 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 and a philosopher.

"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. She maintained then 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. 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."

Here I came to a pause, for I found the reading somewhat nervous work, and had to make application to the water-bottle.

"Bravo! Mr. Smith," cried the clergyman. "A good beginning, I am sure; for I cannot see what you are driving at."

"I think I do," said Henry. "Don't you, Lizzie?"

"No, I don't," answered Mrs. Armstrong.

"One thing," said Mrs. Cathcart with a smile, not a very sweet one, but still a smile, "one thing, I must object to. That is, introducing church ceremonies into a fairy-tale."

"Why, Mrs. Cathcart," answered the clergyman, taking up the cudgels for me, "do you suppose the church to be such a cross-grained old lady, that she will not allow her children to take a few gentle liberties with their mother? She's able to stand that surely. They won't love her the less for that."

"Besides," I ventured to say, "if both church and fairy-tale belong to humanity, they may occasionally cross circles, without injury to either. They must have something in common. There is the Fairy Queen, and the Pilgrim's Progress, you know, Mrs. Cathcart. I can fancy the pope even telling his nephews a fairy-tale."

"Ah, the pope! I daresay."

"And not the archbishop?"

"I don't think your reasoning quite correct, Mr. Smith," said the clergyman; "and I think moreover there is a real objection to that scene. It is, that no such charm could have had any effect where holy water was employed as the medium. In fact I doubt if the wickedness could have been wrought in a chapel at all."

"I submit," I said. "You are right. I hold up the four paws of my mind, and crave indulgence."

"In the name of the church, having vindicated her power over evil incantations, I permit you to proceed," said Mr. Armstrong, his black eyes twinkling with fun.

Mrs. Cathcart smiled, and shook her head.

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