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Adela Cathcart - vol. 1

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"Meantime, notwithstanding awkward occurrences, and griefs that she brought her parents to, 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 heard that General Clanrunfort was cut to pieces with all his forces, she laughed; when she heard that the enemy was on his way to besiege her papa's capital, she laughed hugely; but when she heard that the city would most likely be abandoned to the mercy of the enemy's soldiery--why, then, she laughed immoderately. These were merely reports invented for the sake of experiment. But 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 mama!'

"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 a-going, 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 it resulted in a very odd contortion of countenance, which showed that there was no danger of his pluming himself on the kiss. Indeed it is not safe to be kissed by princesses. 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."

"I am not sure about your physics, Mr. Smith," said the doctor. "If she had no gravity, no amount of muscular propulsion could have given her any momentum. And again, if she had no gravity, she must inevitably have ascended beyond the regions of the atmosphere."

"Bottle your philosophy, Harry, with the rest of your physics," said the clergyman, laughing. "Don't you see that she must have had some weight, only it wasn't worth mentioning, being no greater than the ordinary weight of the atmosphere. Besides, you know very well that a law of nature could not be destroyed. Therefore, it was only witchcraft, you know; and the laws of that remain to be discovered--at least so far as my knowledge goes.--Mr. Smith, you have gone in for a fairy-tale; and if I were you, I would claim the immunities of Fairyland."

"So I do," I responded fiercely, and went on.

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