Woven and Then Spun
'Come in, Irene,' said the silvery voice of her grandmother.
The princess opened the door and peeped in. But the room was quite
dark and there was no sound of the spinning-wheel. She grew
frightened once more, thinking that, although the room was there,
the old lady might be a dream after all. Every little girl knows
how dreadful it is to find a room empty where she thought somebody
was; but Irene had to fancy for a moment that the person she came
to find was nowhere at all. She remembered, however, that at night
she spun only in the moonlight, and concluded that must be why
there was no sweet, bee-like humming: the old lady might be
somewhere in the darkness. Before she had time to think another
thought, she heard her voice again, saying as before: 'Come in,
Irene.' From the sound, she understood at once that she was not in
the room beside her. Perhaps she was in her bedroom. She turned
across the passage, feeling her way to the other door. When her
hand fell on the lock, again the old lady spoke:
'Shut the other door behind you, Irene. I always close the door of
my workroom when I go to my chamber.'
Irene wondered to hear her voice so plainly through the door:
having shut the other, she opened it and went in. Oh, what a
lovely haven to reach from the darkness and fear through which she
had come! The soft light made her feel as if she were going into
the heart of the milkiest pearl; while the blue walls and their
silver stars for a moment perplexed her with the fancy that they
were in reality the sky which she had left outside a minute ago
covered with rainclouds.
'I've lighted a fire for you, Irene: you're cold and wet,' said her
Then Irene looked again, and saw that what she had taken for a huge
bouquet of red roses on a low stand against the wall was in fact a
fire which burned in the shapes of the loveliest and reddest roses,
glowing gorgeously between the heads and wings of two cherubs of
shining silver. And when she came nearer, she found that the smell
of roses with which the room was filled came from the fire-roses on
the hearth. Her grandmother was dressed in the loveliest pale blue
velvet, over which her hair, no longer white, but of a rich golden
colour, streamed like a cataract, here falling in dull gathered
heaps, there rushing away in smooth shining falls. And ever as she
looked, the hair seemed pouring down from her head and vanishing in
a golden mist ere it reached the floor. It flowed from under the
edge of a circle of shining silver, set with alternated pearls and
opals. On her dress was no ornament whatever, neither was there a
ring on her hand, or a necklace or carcanet about her neck. But
her slippers glimmered with the light of the Milky Way, for they
were covered with seed-pearls and opals in one mass. Her face was
that of a woman of three-and-twenty.
The princess was so bewildered with astonishment and admiration
that she could hardly thank her, and drew nigh with timidity,
feeling dirty and uncomfortable. The lady was seated on a low
chair by the side of the fire, with hands outstretched to take her,
but the princess hung back with a troubled smile.
'Why, what's the matter?' asked her grandmother. 'You haven't been
doing anything wrong - I know that by your face, though it is
rather miserable. What's the matter, my dear?'
And she still held out her arms.
'Dear grandmother,' said Irene, 'I'm not so sure that I haven't
done something wrong. I ought to have run up to you at once when
the long-legged cat came in at the window, instead of running out
on the mountain and making myself such a fright.'
'You were taken by surprise, my child, and you are not so likely to
do it again. It is when people do wrong things wilfully that they
are the more likely to do them again. Come.'
And still she held out her arms.
'But, grandmother, you're so beautiful and grand with your crown
on; and I am so dirty with mud and rain! I should quite spoil your
beautiful blue dress.'
With a merry little laugh the lady sprung from her chair, more
lightly far than Irene herself could, caught the child to her
bosom, and, kissing the tear-stained face over and over, sat down
with her in her lap.
'Oh, grandmother! You'll make yourself such a mess!' cried Irene,
clinging to her.
'You darling! do you think I care more for my dress than for my
little girl? Besides - look here.'
As she spoke she set her down, and Irene saw to her dismay that the
lovely dress was covered with the mud of her fall on the mountain
road. But the lady stooped to the fire, and taking from it, by the
stalk in her fingers, one of the burning roses, passed it once and
again and a third time over the front of her dress; and when Irene
looked, not a single stain was to be discovered.
'There!' said her grandmother, 'you won't mind coming to me now?'
But Irene again hung back, eying the flaming rose which the lady
held in her hand.
'You're not afraid of the rose - are you?' she said, about to throw
it on the hearth again.
'Oh! don't, please!' cried Irene. 'Won't you hold it to my frock
and my hands and my face? And I'm afraid my feet and my knees want
'No, answered her grandmother, smiling a little sadly, as she threw
the rose from her; 'it is too hot for you yet. It would set your
frock in a flame. Besides, I don't want to make you clean tonight.
I want your nurse and the rest of the people to see you as you are,
for you will have to tell them how you ran away for fear of the
long-legged cat. I should like to wash you, but they would not
believe you then. Do you see that bath behind you?'
The princess looked, and saw a large oval tub of silver, shining
brilliantly in the light of the wonderful lamp.
'Go and look into it,' said the lady.
Irene went, and came back very silent with her eyes shining.
'What did you see?' asked her grandmother.
'The sky, and the moon and the stars,' she answered. 'It looked as
if there was no bottom to it.'
The lady smiled a pleased satisfied smile, and was silent also for
a few moments. Then she said:
'Any time you want a bath, come to me. I know YOU have a bath
every morning, but sometimes you want one at night, too.'
'Thank you, grandmother; I will - I will indeed,' answered Irene,
and was again silent for some moments thinking. Then she said:
'How was it, grandmother, that I saw your beautiful lamp - not the
light of it only - but the great round silvery lamp itself, hanging
alone in the great open air, high up? It was your lamp I saw -
'Yes, my child - it was my lamp.'
'Then how was it? I don't see a window all round.'
'When I please I can make the lamp shine through the walls - shine
so strong that it melts them away from before the sight, and shows
itself as you saw it. But, as I told you, it is not everybody can
'How is it that I can, then? I'm sure I don't know.'
'It is a gift born with you. And one day I hope everybody will
'But how do you make it shine through the walls?'
'Ah! that you would not understand if I were to try ever so much to
make you - not yet - not yet. But,' added the lady, rising, 'you
must sit in my chair while I get you the present I have been
preparing for you. I told you my spinning was for you. It is
finished now, and I am going to fetch it. I have been keeping it
warm under one of my brooding pigeons.'
Irene sat down in the low chair, and her grandmother left her,
shutting the door behind her. The child sat gazing, now at the
rose fire, now at the starry walls, now at the silver light; and a
great quietness grew in her heart. If all the long-legged cats in
the world had come rushing at her then she would not have been
afraid of them for a moment. How this was she could not tell - she
only knew there was no fear in her, and everything was so right and
safe that it could not get in.
She had been gazing at the lovely lamp for some minutes fixedly:
turning her eyes, she found the wall had vanished, for she was
looking out on the dark cloudy night. But though she heard the
wind blowing, none of it blew upon her. In a moment more the
clouds themselves parted, or rather vanished like the wall, and she
looked straight into the starry herds, flashing gloriously in the
dark blue. It was but for a moment. The clouds gathered again and
shut out the stars; the wall gathered again and shut out the
clouds; and there stood the lady beside her with the loveliest
smile on her face, and a shimmering ball in her hand, about the
size of a pigeon's egg.
'There, Irene; there is my work for you!' she said, holding out the
ball to the princess.
She took it in her hand, and looked at it all over. It sparkled a
little, and shone here and there, but not much. It was of a sort
of grey-whiteness, something like spun glass.
'Is this all your spinning, grandmother?' she asked.
'All since you came to the house. There is more there than you
'How pretty it is! What am I to do with it, please?'
'That I will now explain to you,' answered the lady, turning from
her and going to her cabinet. She came back with a small ring in
her hand. Then she took the ball from Irene's, and did something
with the ring - Irene could not tell what.
'Give me your hand,' she said. Irene held up her right hand.
'Yes, that is the hand I want,' said the lady, and put the ring on
the forefinger of it.
'What a beautiful ring!' said Irene. 'What is the stone called?'
'It is a fire-opal.'
'Please, am I to keep it?'
'Oh, thank you, grandmother! It's prettier than anything I ever
saw, except those - of all colours-in your - Please, is that your
'Yes, it is my crown. The stone in your ring is of the same sort
- only not so good. It has only red, but mine have all colours,
'Yes, grandmother. I will take such care of it! But -' she added,
'But what?' asked her grandmother.
'What am I to say when Lootie asks me where I got it?'
'You will ask her where you got it,' answered the lady smiling.
'I don't see how I can do that.'
'You will, though.'
'Of course I will, if you say so. But, you know, I can't pretend
not to know.'
'Of course not. But don't trouble yourself about it. You will see
when the time comes.'
So saying, the lady turned, and threw the little ball into the rose
'Oh, grandmother!' exclaimed Irene; 'I thought you had spun it for
'So I did, my child. And you've got it.'
'No; it's burnt in the fire!'
The lady put her hand in the fire, brought out the ball, glimmering
as before, and held it towards her. Irene stretched out her hand
to take it, but the lady turned and, going to her cabinet, opened
a drawer, and laid the ball in it.
'Have I done anything to vex you, grandmother?' said Irene
'No, my darling. But you must understand that no one ever gives
anything to another properly and really without keeping it. That
ball is yours.'
'Oh! I'm not to take it with me! You are going to keep it for me!'
'You are to take it with you. I've fastened the end of it to the
ring on your finger.'
Irene looked at the ring.
'I can't see it there, grandmother,' she said.
'Feel - a little way from the ring - towards the cabinet,' said the
'Oh! I do feel it!' exclaimed the princess. 'But I can't see it,'
she added, looking close to her outstretched hand.
'No. The thread is too fine for you to see it. You can only feel
it. Now you can fancy how much spinning that took, although it
does seem such a little ball.'
'But what use can I make of it, if it lies in your cabinet?'
'That is what I will explain to you. It would be of no use to you
- it wouldn't be yours at all if it did not lie in my cabinet. Now
listen. If ever you find yourself in any danger - such, for
example, as you were in this same evening - you must take off your
ring and put it under the pillow of your bed. Then you must lay
your finger, the same that wore the ring, upon the thread, and
follow the thread wherever it leads you.'
'Oh, how delightful! It will lead me to you, grandmother, I know!'
'Yes. But, remember, it may seem to you a very roundabout way
indeed, and you must not doubt the thread. Of one thing you may be
sure, that while you hold it, I hold it too.'
'It is very wonderful!' said Irene thoughtfully. Then suddenly
becoming aware, she jumped up, crying:
'Oh, grandmother! here have I been sitting all this time in your
chair, and you standing! I beg your pardon.'
The lady laid her hand on her shoulder, and said:
'Sit down again, Irene. Nothing pleases me better than to see
anyone sit in my chair. I am only too glad to stand so long as
anyone will sit in it.'
'How kind of you!' said the princess, and sat down again.
'It makes me happy,' said the lady.
'But,' said Irene, still puzzled, 'won't the thread get in
somebody's way and be broken, if the one end is fast to my ring,
and the other laid in your cabinet?'
'You will find all that arrange itself. I am afraid it is time for
you to go.'
'Mightn't I stay and sleep with you tonight, grandmother?'
'No, not tonight. If I had meant you to stay tonight, I should
have given you a bath; but you know everybody in the house is
miserable about you, and it would be cruel to keep them so all
night. You must go downstairs.'
'I'm so glad, grandmother, you didn't say "Go home," for this is my
home. Mayn't I call this my home?'
'You may, my child. And I trust you will always think it your
home. Now come. I must take you back without anyone seeing you.'
'Please, I want to ask you one question more,' said Irene. 'Is it
because you have your crown on that you look so young?'
'No, child,' answered her grandmother; 'it is because I felt so
young this evening that I put my crown on. And I thought you would
like to see your old grandmother in her best.'
'Why do you call yourself old? You're not old, grandmother.'
'I am very old indeed. It is so silly of people - I don't mean
you, for you are such a tiny, and couldn't know better - but it is
so silly of people to fancy that old age means crookedness and
witheredness and feebleness and sticks and spectacles and
rheumatism and forgetfulness! It is so silly! Old age has nothing
whatever to do with all that. The right old age means strength and
beauty and mirth and courage and clear eyes and strong painless
limbs. I am older than you are able to think, and -'
'And look at you, grandmother!' cried Irene, jumping up and
flinging her arms about her neck. 'I won't be so silly again, I
promise you. At least - I'm rather afraid to promise - but if I
am, I promise to be sorry for it - I do. I wish I were as old as
you, grandmother. I don't think you are ever afraid of anything.'
'Not for long, at least, my child. Perhaps by the time I am two
thousand years of age, I shall, indeed, never be afraid of
anything. But I confess I have sometimes been afraid about my
children - sometimes about you, Irene.'
'Oh, I'm so sorry, grandmother! Tonight, I suppose, you mean.'
'Yes - a little tonight; but a good deal when you had all but made
up your mind that I was a dream, and no real
great-great-grandmother. You must not suppose I am blaming you for
that. I dare say you could not help it.'
'I don't know, grandmother,' said the princess, beginning to cry.
'I can't always do myself as I should like. And I don't always
try. I'm very sorry anyhow.'
The lady stooped, lifted her in her arms, and sat down with her in
her chair, holding her close to her bosom. In a few minutes the
princess had sobbed herself to sleep. How long she slept I do not
know. When she came to herself she was sitting in her own high
chair at the nursery table, with her doll's house before her.