The light princess.
Five o'clock, anxiously expected by me, came, and with it the announcement of dinner. I think those of us who were in the secret would have hurried over it, but with Beeves hanging upon our wheels, we could not. However, at length we were all in the drawing-room, the ladies of the house evidently surprised that we had come up stairs so soon. Besides the curate, with his wife and brother, our party comprised our old friends, Mr. and Mrs. Bloomfield, whose previous engagement had been advanced by a few days.
When we were all seated, I began, as if it were quite a private suggestion of my own:
"Adela, if you and our friends have no objection, I will read you a story I have just scribbled off."
"I shall be delighted, uncle."
This was a stronger expression of content than I had yet heard her use, and I felt flattered accordingly.
"This is Christmas-time, you know, and that is just the time for story-telling," I added.
"I trust it is a story suitable to the season," said Mrs. Cathcart, smiling.
"Yes, very," I said; "for it is a child's story--a fairy tale, namely; though I confess I think it fitter for grown than for young children. I hope it is funny, though. I think it is."
"So you approve of fairy-tales for children, Mr. Smith?"
"Not for children alone, madam; for everybody that can relish them."
"But not at a sacred time like this?"
And again she smiled an insinuating smile.
"If I thought God did not approve of fairy-tales, I would never read, not to say write one, Sunday or Saturday. Would you, madam?"
"I never do."
"I feared not. But I must begin, notwithstanding."
The story, as I now give it, is not exactly as I read it then, because, of course, I was more anxious that it should be correct when I prepared it for the press, than when I merely read it before a few friends.
"Once upon a time," I began; but I was unexpectedly interrupted by the clergyman, who said, addressing our host:
"Will you allow me, Colonel Cathcart, to be Master of the Ceremonies for the evening?"
"Certainly, Mr. Armstrong."
"Then I will alter the arrangement of the party. Here, Henry--don't get up, Miss Cathcart--we'll just lift Miss Cathcart's couch to this corner by the fire.--Lie still, please. Now, Mr. Smith, you sit here in the middle. Now, Mrs. Cathcart, here is an easy chair for you. With my commanding officer I will not interfere. But having such a jolly fire it was a pity not to get the good of it. Mr. Bloomfield, here is room for you and Mrs. Bloomfield."
"Excellently arranged," said our host. "I will sit by you, Mr. Armstrong. Percy, won't you come and join the circle?"
"No, thank you, uncle," answered Percy from a couch, "I am more comfortable here."
"Now, Lizzie," said the curate to his wife, "you sit on this stool by me.--Too near the fire? No?--Very well.--Harry, put the bottle of water near Mr. Smith. A fellow-feeling for another fellow--you see, Mr. Smith. Now we're all right, I think; that is, if Mrs. Cathcart is comfortable."
"Then we may begin. Now, Mr. Smith.--One word more: anybody may speak that likes. Now, then."
So I did begin--
"Title: THE LIGHT PRINCESS.
"Second Title: A FAIRY-TALE WITHOUT FAIRIES."
"Author: JOHN SMITH, Gentleman.
"Motto:--'_Your Servant, Goody Gravity_.'
"From--SIR CHARLES GRANDISON."
"I must be very stupid, I fear, Mr. Smith; but to tell the truth, I can't make head or tail of it," said Mrs. Cathcart.
"Give me leave, madam," said I; "that is my office. Allow me, and I hope to make both head and tail of it for you. But let me give you first a mere general, and indeed a more applicable motto for my story. It is this--from no worse authority than John Milton:
'Great bards beside In sage and solemn times have sung Of turneys and of trophies hung; Of forests and enchantments drear, Where more is meant than meets the ear.'
"Milton here refers to Spencer in particular, most likely. But what distinguishes the true bard in such work is, that more is meant than meets the ear; and although I am no bard, I should scorn to write anything that only spoke to the ear, which signifies the surface understanding."
General silence followed, and I went on.