"The princess burst into a passion of tears, and fell on the floor. There she lay for an hour, and her tears never ceased. All the pent-up crying of her life was spent now. And a rain came on, such as had never been seen in that country. The sun shone all the time, and the great drops, which fell straight to the earth, shone likewise. The palace was in the heart of a rainbow. It was a rain of rubies, and sapphires, and emeralds, and topazes. The torrents poured from the mountains like molten gold; and if it had not been for its subterraneous outlet, the lake would have overflowed and inundated the country. It was full from shore to shore.
"But the princess did not heed the lake. She lay on the floor and wept. And this rain within doors was far more wonderful than the rain out of doors. For when it abated a little, and she proceeded to rise, she found, to her astonishment, that she could not. At length, after many efforts, she succeeded in getting upon her feet. But she tumbled down again directly. Hearing her fall, her old nurse uttered a yell of delight, and ran to her, screaming:
"'My darling child! She's found her gravity!'
"'Oh! that's it, is it?' said the princess, rubbing her shoulder and her knee alternately. 'I consider it very unpleasant. I feel as if I should be crushed to pieces.'
"'Hurrah!' cried the prince, from the bed. 'If you're all right, princess, so am I. How's the lake?'
"'Brimful,' answered the nurse.
"'Then we're all jolly.'
"'That we are, indeed!' answered the princess, sobbing.
"And there was rejoicing all over the country that rainy day. Even the babies forgot their past troubles, and danced and crowed amazingly. And the king told stories, and the queen listened to them. And he divided the money in his box, and she the honey in her pot, to all the children. And there was such jubilation as was never heard of before.
"Of course the prince and princess were betrothed at once. But the princess had to learn to walk, before they could be married with any propriety. And this was not so easy, at her time of life, for she could walk no more than a baby. She was always falling down and hurting herself.
"'Is this the gravity you used to make so much of?' said she, one day, to the prince. 'For my part, I was a great deal more comfortable without it.'
"'No, no; that's not it. This is it,' replied the prince, as he took her up, and carried her about like a baby, kissing her all the time. 'This is gravity.'
"'That's better,' said she. 'I don't mind that so much.'
"And she smiled the sweetest, loveliest smile in the prince's face. And she gave him one little kiss, in return for all his; and he thought them overpaid, for he was beside himself with delight. I fear she complained of her gravity more than once after this, notwithstanding.
"It was a long time before she got reconciled to walking. But the pain of learning it, was quite counterbalanced by two things, either of which would have been sufficient consolation. The first was, that the prince himself was her teacher; and the second, that she could tumble into the lake as often as she pleased. Still, she preferred to have the prince jump in with her; and the splash they made before, was nothing to the splash they made now.
"The lake never sank again. In process of time, it wore the roof of the cavern quite through, and was twice as deep as before.
"The only revenge the princess took upon her aunt, was to tread pretty hard on her gouty toe, the next time she saw her. But she was sorry for it the very next day, when she heard that the water had undermined her house, and that it had fallen in the night, burying her in its ruins; whence no one ever ventured to dig up her body. There she lies to this day.
"So the prince and princess lived and were happy; and had crowns of gold, and clothes of cloth, and shoes of leather, and children of boys and girls, not one of whom was ever known, on the most critical occasion, to lose the smallest atom of his or her due proportion of gravity."
* * * * *
"Very good indeed!"
"Quite a success!"
cried my complimentary friends.
"I don't think the princess could have rowed, though--without gravity, you know," said the schoolmaster.
"But she did," said Adela. "I won't have my uncle found fault with. It is a very funny, and a very pretty story."
"What is the moral of it?" drawled Mrs. Cathcart, with the first syllable of moral very long and very gentle.
"That you need not be afraid of ill-natured aunts, though they are witches," said Adela.
"No, my dear; that's not it," I said. "It is, that you need not mind forgetting your poor relations. No harm will come of it in the end."
"I think the moral is," said the doctor, "that no girl is worth anything till she has cried a little."
Adela gave him a quick glance, and then cast her eyes down. Whether he had looked at her I don't know. But I should think not.--Neither the clergyman nor his wife had made any remark. I turned to them.
"I am afraid you do not approve of my poor story," I said.
"On the contrary," replied Mr. Armstrong, "I think there is a great deal of meaning in it, to those who can see through its fairy-gates. What do you think of it, my dear?"
"I was so pleased with the earnest parts of it, that the fun jarred upon me a little, I confess," said Mrs. Armstrong. "But I daresay that was silly."
"I think it was, my dear. But you can afford to be silly sometimes, in a good cause."
"You might have given us the wedding." said Mrs. Bloomfield.
"I am an old bachelor, you see. I fear I don't give weddings their due," I answered. "I don't care for them--in stories, I mean."
"When will you dine with us again?" asked the colonel.
"When you please," answered the curate.
"Rather too soon that, is it not? Who is to read the next story?"
"Why, you, of course," answered his brother.
"I am at your service," rejoined Mr. Armstrong. "But to-morrow!"
"Don't you think, Ralph," said his wife, "you could read better if you followed your usual custom of dining early?"
"I am sure I should, Lizzie. Don't you think, Colonel Cathcart, it would be better to come in the evening, just after your dinner? I like to dine early, and I am a great tea-drinker. If we might have a huge tea-kettle on the fire, and tea-pot to correspond on the table, and I, as I read my story, and the rest of the company, as they listen, might help ourselves, I think it would be very jolly, and very homely."
To this the colonel readily agreed. I heard the ladies whispering a little, and the words--"Very considerate indeed!" from Mrs. Bloomfield, reached my ears. Indeed I had thought that the colonel's hospitality was making him forget his servants. And I could not help laughing to think what Beeves's face would have been like, if he had heard us all invited to dinner again, the next day.
Whether Adela suspected us now, I do not know. She said nothing to show it.
Just before the doctor left, with his brother and sister, he went up to her, and said, in a by-the-bye sort of way:
"I am sorry to hear that you have not been quite well of late, Miss Cathcart. You have been catching cold, I am afraid. Let me feel your pulse."
She gave him her wrist directly, saying:
"I feel much better to-night, thank you."
He stood--listening to the pulse, you would have said--his whole attitude was so entirely that of one listening, with his eyes doing nothing at all. He stood thus for a while, without consulting his watch, looking as if the pulse had brought him into immediate communication with the troubled heart itself, and he could feel every flutter and effort which it made. Then he took out his watch and counted.
Now that his eyes were quite safe, I saw Adela's eyes steal up to his face, and rest there for a half a minute with a reposeful expression. I felt that there was something healing in the very presence and touch of the man--so full was he of health and humanity; and I thought Adela felt that he was a good man, and one to be trusted in.
He gave her back her hand, as it were, so gently did he let it go, and said:
"I will send you something as soon as I get home, to take at once. I presume you will go to bed soon?"
"I will, if you think it best."
And so Mr. Henry Armstrong was, without more ado, tacitly installed as physician to Miss Adela Cathcart; and she seemed quite content with the new arrangement.