The Princess's King-Papa
The weather continued fine for weeks, and the little princess went
out every day. So long a period of fine weather had indeed never
been known upon that mountain. The only uncomfortable thing was
that her nurse was so nervous and particular about being in before
the sun was down that often she would take to her heels when
nothing worse than a fleecy cloud crossing the sun threw a shadow
on the hillside; and many an evening they were home a full hour
before the sunlight had left the weather-cock on the stables. If
it had not been for such odd behaviour Irene would by this time
have almost forgotten the goblins. She never forgot Curdie, but
him she remembered for his own sake, and indeed would have
remembered him if only because a princess never forgets her debts
until they are paid.
One splendid sunshiny day, about an hour after noon, Irene, who was
playing on a lawn in the garden, heard the distant blast of a
bugle. She jumped up with a cry of joy, for she knew by that
particular blast that her father was on his way to see her. This
part of the garden lay on the slope of the hill and allowed a full
view of the country below. So she shaded her eyes with her hand
and looked far away to catch the first glimpse of shining armour.
In a few moments a little troop came glittering round the shoulder
of a hill. Spears and helmets were sparkling and gleaming, banners
were flying, horses prancing, and again came the bugle-blast which
was to her like the voice of her father calling across the
distance: 'Irene, I'm coming.'
On and on they came until she could clearly distinguish the king.
He rode a white horse and was taller than any of the men with him.
He wore a narrow circle of gold set with jewels around his helmet,
and as he came still nearer Irene could discern the flashing of the
stones in the sun. It was a long time since he had been to see
her, and her little heart beat faster and faster as the shining
troop approached, for she loved her king-papa very dearly and was
nowhere so happy as in his arms. When they reached a certain
point, after which she could see them no more from the garden, she
ran to the gate, and there stood till up they came, clanging and
stamping, with one more bright bugle-blast which said: 'Irene, I am
By this time the people of the house were all gathered at the gate,
but Irene stood alone in front of them. When the horsemen pulled
up she ran to the side of the white horse and held up her arms.
The king stopped and took her hands. In an instant she was on the
saddle and clasped in his great strong arms.
I wish I could describe the king so that you could see him in your
mind. He had gentle, blue eyes, but a nose that made him look like
an eagle. A long dark beard, streaked with silvery lines, flowed
from his mouth almost to his waist, and as Irene sat on the saddle
and hid her glad face upon his bosom it mingled with the golden
hair which her mother had given her, and the two together were like
a cloud with streaks of the sun woven through it. After he had
held her to his heart for a minute he spoke to his white horse, and
the great beautiful creature, which had been prancing so proudly a
little while before, walked as gently as a lady - for he knew he
had a little lady on his back - through the gate and up to the door
of the house. Then the king set her on the ground and,
dismounting, took her hand and walked with her into the great hall,
which was hardly ever entered except when he came to see his little
princess. There he sat down, with two of his counsellors who had
accompanied him, to have some refreshment, and Irene sat on his
right hand and drank her milk out of a wooden bowl curiously
After the king had eaten and drunk he turned to the princess and
said, stroking her hair:
'Now, my child, what shall we do next?'
This was the question he almost always put to her first after their
meal together; and Irene had been waiting for it with some
impatience, for now, she thought, she should be able to settle a
question which constantly perplexed her.
'I should like you to take me to see my great old grandmother.'
The king looked grave And said:
'What does my little daughter mean?'
'I mean the Queen Irene that lives up in the tower - the very old
lady, you know, with the long hair of silver.'
The king only gazed at his little princess with a look which she
could not understand.
'She's got her crown in her bedroom,' she went on; 'but I've not
been in there yet. You know she's there, don't you?'
'No,' said the king, very quietly.
'Then it must all be a dream,' said Irene. 'I half thought it was;
but I couldn't be sure. Now I am sure of it. Besides, I couldn't
find her the next time I went up.'
At that moment a snow-white pigeon flew in at an open window and
settled upon Irene's head. She broke into a merry laugh, cowered
a little, and put up her hands to her head, saying:
'Dear dovey, don't peck me. You'll pull out my hair with your long
claws if you don't mind.'
The king stretched out his hand to take the pigeon, but it spread
its wings and flew again through the open window, when its
Whiteness made one flash in the sun and vanished. The king laid
his hand on his princess's head, held it back a little, gazed in
her face, smiled half a smile, and sighed half a sigh.
'Come, my child; we'll have a walk in the garden together,' he
'You won't come up and see my huge, great, beautiful grandmother,
then, king-papa?' said the princess.
'Not this time,' said the king very gently. 'She has not invited
me, you know, and great old ladies like her do not choose to be
visited without leave asked and given.'
The garden was a very lovely place. Being upon a Mountainside
there were parts in it where the rocks came through in great
masses, and all immediately about them remained quite wild. Tufts
of heather grew upon them, and other hardy mountain plants and
flowers, while near them would be lovely roses and lilies and all
pleasant garden flowers. This mingling of the wild mountain with
the civilized garden was very quaint, and it was impossible for any
number of gardeners to make such a garden look formal and stiff.
Against one of these rocks was a garden seat, shadowed from the
afternoon sun by the overhanging of the rock itself. There was a
little winding path up to the top of the rock, and on top another
seat; but they sat on the seat at its foot because the sun was hot;
and there they talked together of many things. At length the king
'You were out late one evening, Irene.'
'Yes, papa. It was my fault; and Lootie was very sorry.'
'I must talk to Lootie about it,' said the king.
'Don't speak loud to her, please, papa,' said Irene. 'She's been
so afraid of being late ever since! Indeed she has not been
naughty. It was only a mistake for once.'
'Once might be too often,' murmured the king to himself, as he
stroked his child's head.
I can't tell you how he had come to know. I am sure Curdie had not
told him. Someone about the palace must have seen them, after all.
He sat for a good while thinking. There was no sound to be heard
except that of a little stream which ran merrily out of an opening
in the rock by where they sat, and sped away down the hill through
the garden. Then he rose and, leaving Irene where she was, went
into the house and sent for Lootie, with whom he had a talk that
made her cry.
When in the evening he rode away upon his great white horse, he
left six of his attendants behind him, with orders that three of
them should watch outside the house every night, walking round and
round it from sunset to sunrise. It was clear he was not quite
comfortable about the princess.