The Old Lady's Bedroom
Nothing more happened worth telling for some time. The autumn came
and went by. There were no more flowers in the garden. The wind
blew strong, and howled among the rocks. The rain fell, and
drenched the few yellow and red leaves that could not get off the
bare branches. Again and again there would be a glorious morning
followed by a pouring afternoon, and sometimes, for a week
together, there would be rain, nothing but rain, all day, and then
the most lovely cloudless night, with the sky all out in full-blown
stars - not one missing. But the princess could not see much of
them, for she went to bed early. The winter drew on, and she found
things growing dreary. When it was too stormy to go out, and she
had got tired of her toys, Lootie would take her about the house,
sometimes to the housekeeper's room, where the housekeeper, who was
a good, kind old woman, made much of her - sometimes to the
servants' hall or the kitchen, where she was not princess merely,
but absolute queen, and ran a great risk of being spoiled.
Sometimes she would run off herself to the room where the
men-at-arms whom the king had left sat, and they showed her their
arms and accoutrements and did what they could to amuse her. Still
at times she found it very dreary, and often and often wished that
her huge great grandmother had not been a dream.
One morning the nurse left her with the housekeeper for a while.
To amuse her she turned out the contents of an old cabinet upon the
table. The little princess found her treasures, queer ancient
ornaments, and many things the use of which she could not imagine,
far more interesting than her own toys, and sat playing with them
for two hours or more. But, at length, in handling a curious
old-fashioned brooch, she ran the pin of it into her thumb, and
gave a little scream with the sharpness of the pain, but would have
thought little more of it had not the pain increased and her thumb
begun to swell. This alarmed the housekeeper greatly. The nurse
was fetched; the doctor was sent for; her hand was poulticed, and
long before her usual time she was put to bed. The pain still
continued, and although she fell asleep and dreamed a good many
dreams, there was the pain always in every dream. At last it woke
The moon was shining brightly into the room. The poultice had
fallen off her hand and it was burning hot. She fancied if she
could hold it into the moonlight that would cool it. So she got
out of bed, without waking the nurse who lay at the other end of
the room, and went to the window. When she looked out she saw one
of the men-at-arms walking in the garden with the moonlight
glancing on his armour. She was just going to tap on the window
and call him, for she wanted to tell him all about it, when she
bethought herself that that might wake Lootie, and she would put
her into her bed again. So she resolved to go to the window of
another room, and call him from there. It was so much nicer to
have somebody to talk to than to lie awake in bed with the burning
pain in her hand. She opened the door very gently and went through
the nursery, which did not look into the garden, to go to the other
window. But when she came to the foot of the old staircase there
was the moon shining down from some window high up, and making the
worm-eaten oak look very strange and delicate and lovely. In a
moment she was putting her little feet one after the other in the
silvery path up the stair, looking behind as she went, to see the
shadow they made in the middle of the silver. Some little girls
would have been afraid to find themselves thus alone in the middle
of the night, but Irene was a princess.
As she went slowly up the stair, not quite sure that she was not
dreaming, suddenly a great longing woke up in her heart to try once
more whether she could not find the old lady with the silvery hair.
'If she is a dream,' she said to herself, 'then I am the likelier
to find her, if I am dreaming.'
So up and up she went, stair after stair, until she Came to the
many rooms - all just as she had seen them before. Through passage
after passage she softly sped, comforting herself that if she
should lose her way it would not matter much, because when she woke
she would find herself in her own bed with Lootie not far off.
But, as if she had known every step of the way, she walked straight
to the door at the foot of the narrow stair that led to the tower.
'What if I should realreality-really find my beautiful old
grandmother up there!' she said to herself as she crept up the
When she reached the top she stood a moment listening in the dark,
for there was no moon there. Yes! it was! it was the hum of the
spinning-wheel! What a diligent grandmother to work both day and
night! She tapped gently at the door.
'Come in, Irene,'said the sweet voice.
The princess opened the door and entered. There was the moonlight
streaming in at the window, and in the middle of the moonlight sat
the old lady in her black dress with the white lace, and her
silvery hair mingling with the moonlight, so that you could not
have told which was which. 'Come in, Irene,' she said again. 'Can
you tell me what I am spinning?'
'She speaks,' thought Irene, 'just as if she had seen me five
minutes ago, or yesterday at the farthest. - No,' she answered; 'I
don't know what you are spinning. Please, I thought you were a
dream. Why couldn't I find you before, great-great-grandmother?'
'That you are hardly old enough to understand. But you would have
found me sooner if you hadn't come to think I was a dream. I will
give you one reason though why you couldn't find me. I didn't want
you to find me.'
'Because I did not want Lootie to know I was here.'
'But you told me to tell Lootie.'
'Yes. But I knew Lootie would not believe you. If she were to see
me sitting spinning here, she wouldn't believe me, either.'
'Because she couldn't. She would rub her eyes, and go away and say
she felt queer, and forget half of it and more, and then say it had
been all a dream.'
'Just like me,' said Irene, feeling very much ashamed of herself.
'Yes, a good deal like you, but not just like you; for you've come
again; and Lootie wouldn't have come again. She would have said,
No, no - she had had enough of such nonsense.'
'Is it naughty of Lootie, then?'
'It would be naughty of you. I've never done anything for Lootie.'
'And you did wash my face and hands for me,' said Irene, beginning
The old lady smiled a sweet smile and said:
'I'm not vexed with you, my child - nor with Lootie either. But I
don't want you to say anything more to Lootie about me. If she
should ask you, you must just be silent. But I do not think she
will ask you.'
All the time they talked the old lady kept on spinning.
'You haven't told me yet what I am spinning,' she said.
'Because I don't know. It's very pretty stuff.'
It was indeed very pretty stuff. There was a good bunch of it on
the distaff attached to the spinning-wheel, and in the moonlight it
shone like - what shall i say it was like? It was not white enough
for silver - yes, it was like silver, but shone grey rather than
white, and glittered only a little. And the thread the old lady
drew out from it was so fine that Irene could hardly see it.
'I am spinning this for you, my child.'
'For me! What am I to do with it, please?'
'I will tell you by and by. But first I will tell you what it is.
It is spider-web - of a particular kind. My pigeons bring it me
from over the great sea. There is only one forest where the
spiders live who make this particular kind - the finest and
strongest of any. I have nearly finished my present job. What is
on the rock now will be enough. I have a week's work there yet,
though,' she added, looking at the bunch.
'Do you work all day and all night, too, great-great-
great-great-grandmother?' said the princess, thinking to be very
polite with so many greats.
'I am not quite so great as all that,' she answered, smiling almost
merrily. 'If you call me grandmother, that will do. No, I don't
work every night - only moonlit nights, and then no longer than the
moon shines upon my wheel. I shan't work much longer tonight.'
'And what will you do next, grandmother?'
'Go to bed. Would you like to see my bedroom?'
'Yes, that I should.'
'Then I think I won't work any longer tonight. I shall be in good
The old lady rose, and left her wheel standing just as it was. You
see there was no good in putting it away, for where there was not
any furniture there was no danger of being untidy.
Then she took Irene by the hand, but it was her bad hand and Irene
gave a little cry of pain. 'My child!' said her grandmother, 'what
is the matter?'
Irene held her hand into the moonlight, that the old lady might see
it, and told her all about it, at which she looked grave. But she
only said: 'Give me your other hand'; and, having led her out upon
the little dark landing, opened the door on the opposite side of
it. What was Irene's surprise to see the loveliest room she had
ever seen in her life! It was large and lofty, and dome-shaped.
From the centre hung a lamp as round as a ball, shining as if with
the brightest moonlight, which made everything visible in the room,
though not so clearly that the princess could tell what many of the
things were. A large oval bed stood in the middle, with a coverlid
of rose colour, and velvet curtains all round it of a lovely pale
blue. The walls were also blue - spangled all over with what
looked like stars of silver.
The old lady left her and, going to a strange-looking cabinet,
opened it and took out a curious silver casket. Then she sat down
on a low chair and, calling Irene, made her kneel before her while
she looked at her hand. Having examined it, she opened the casket,
and took from it a little ointment. The sweetest odour filled the
room - like that of roses and lilies - as she rubbed the ointment
gently all over the hot swollen hand. Her touch was so pleasant
and cool that it seemed to drive away the pain and heat wherever it
'Oh, grandmother! it is so nice!' said Irene. 'Thank you; thank
Then the old lady went to a chest of drawers, and took out a large
handkerchief of gossamer-like cambric, which she tied round her
'I don't think I can let you go away tonight,' she said. 'Would
you like to sleep with me?'
'Oh, yes, yes, dear grandmother,' said Irene, and would have
clapped her hands, forgetting that she could not.
'You won't be afraid, then, to go to bed with such an old woman?'
'No. You are so beautiful, grandmother.'
'But I am very old.'
'And I suppose I am very young. You won't mind sleeping with such
a very young woman, grandmother?'
'You sweet little pertness!' said the old lady, and drew her
towards her, and kissed her on the forehead and the cheek and the
mouth. Then she got a large silver basin, and having poured some
water into it made Irene sit on the chair, and washed her feet.
This done, she was ready for bed. And oh, what a delicious bed it
was into which her grandmother laid her! She hardly could have
told she was lying upon anything: she felt nothing but the
The old lady having undressed herself lay down beside her.
'Why don't you put out your moon?' asked the princess.
'That never goes out, night or day,' she answered. 'In the darkest
night, if any of my pigeons are out on a message, they always see
my moon and know where to fly to.'
'But if somebody besides the pigeons were to see it - somebody
about the house, I mean - they would come to look what it was and
'The better for them, then,' said the old lady. 'But it does not
happen above five times in a hundred years that anyone does see it.
The greater part of those who do take it for a meteor, wink their
eyes, and forget it again. Besides, nobody could find the room
except I pleased. Besides, again - I will tell you a secret - if
that light were to go out you would fancy yourself lying in a bare
garret, on a heap of old straw, and would not see one of the
pleasant things round about you all the time.'
'I hope it will never go out,' said the princess.
'I hope not. But it is time we both went to sleep. Shall I take
you in my arms?'
The little princess nestled close up to the old lady, who took her
in both her arms and held her close to her bosom.
'Oh, dear! this is so nice!' said the princess. 'I didn't know
anything in the world could be so comfortable. I should like to
lie here for ever.'
'You may if you will,' said the old lady. 'But I must put you to
one trial-not a very hard one, I hope. This night week you must
come back to me. If you don't, I do not know when you may find me
again, and you Will soon want me very much.'
'Oh! please, don't let me forget.'
'You shall not forget. The only question is whether you will
believe I am anywhere - whether you will believe I am anything but
a dream. You may be sure I will do all I can to help you to come.
But it will rest with yourself, after all. On the night of next
Friday, you must come to me. Mind now.'
'I will try,' said the princess.
'Then good night,' said the old lady, and kissed the forehead which
lay in her bosom.
In a moment more the little princess was dreaming in the midst of
the loveliest dreams - of summer seas and moonlight and mossy
springs and great murmuring trees, and beds of wild flowers with
such odours as she had never smelled before. But, after all, no
dream could be more lovely than what she had left behind when she
In the morning she found herself in her own bed. There was no
handkerchief or anything else on her hand, only a sweet odour
lingered about it. The swelling had all gone down; the prick of
the brooch had vanished - in fact, her hand was perfectly well.