The Princess Loses Herself
I have said the Princess Irene was about eight years old when my
story begins. And this is how it begins.
One very wet day, when the mountain was covered with mist which was
constantly gathering itself together into raindrops, and pouring
down on the roofs of the great old house, whence it fell in a
fringe of water from the eaves all round about it, the princess
could not of course go out. She got very tired, so tired that even
her toys could no longer amuse her. You would wonder at that if I
had time to describe to you one half of the toys she had. But
then, you wouldn't have the toys themselves, and that makes all the
difference: you can't get tired of a thing before you have it. It
was a picture, though, worth seeing - the princess sitting in the
nursery with the sky ceiling over her head, at a great table
covered with her toys. If the artist would like to draw this, I
should advise him not to meddle with the toys. I am afraid of
attempting to describe them, and I think he had better not try to
draw them. He had better not. He can do a thousand things I
can't, but I don't think he could draw those toys. No man could
better make the princess herself than he could, though - leaning
with her back bowed into the back of the chair, her head hanging
down, and her hands in her lap, very miserable as she would say
herself, not even knowing what she would like, except it were to go
out and get thoroughly wet, and catch a particularly nice cold, and
have to go to bed and take gruel. The next moment after you see
her sitting there, her nurse goes out of the room.
Even that is a change, and the princess wakes up a little, and
looks about her. Then she tumbles off her chair and runs out of
the door, not the same door the nurse went out of, but one which
opened at the foot of a curious old stair of worm-eaten oak, which
looked as if never anyone had set foot upon it. She had once
before been up six steps, and that was sufficient reason, in such
a day, for trying to find out what was at the top of it.
Up and up she ran - such a long way it seemed to her! - until she
came to the top of the third flight. There she found the landing
was the end of a long passage. Into this she ran. It was full of
doors on each side. There were so many that she did not care to
open any, but ran on to the end, where she turned into another
passage, also full of doors. When she had turned twice more, and
still saw doors and only doors about her, she began to get
frightened. It was so silent! And all those doors must hide rooms
with nobody in them! That was dreadful. Also the rain made a
great trampling noise on the roof. She turned and started at full
speed, her little footsteps echoing through the sounds of the rain
- back for the stairs and her safe nursery. So she thought, but
she had lost herself long ago. It doesn't follow that she was
lost, because she had lost herself, though.
She ran for some distance, turned several times, and then began to
be afraid. Very soon she was sure that she had lost the way back.
Rooms everywhere, and no stair! Her little heart beat as fast as
her little feet ran, and a lump of tears was growing in her throat.
But she was too eager and perhaps too frightened to cry for some
time. At last her hope failed her. Nothing but passages and doors
everywhere! She threw herself on the floor, and burst into a
wailing cry broken by sobs.
She did not cry long, however, for she was as brave as could be
expected of a princess of her age. After a good cry, she got up,
and brushed the dust from her frock. Oh, what old dust it was!
Then she wiped her eyes with her hands, for princesses don't always
have their handkerchiefs in their pockets, any more than some other
little girls I know of. Next, like a true princess, she resolved
on going wisely to work to find her way back: she would walk
through the passages, and look in every direction for the stair.
This she did, but without success. She went over the same ground
again an again without knowing it, for the passages and doors were
all alike. At last, in a corner, through a half-open door, she did
see a stair. But alas! it went the wrong way: instead of going
down, it went up. Frightened as she was, however, she could not
help wishing to see where yet further the stair could lead. It was
very narrow, and so steep that she went on like a four-legged
creature on her hands and feet.