A PRINCESS OF THE OLD TIME BEFORE US
IS DUE AND DEDICATED
Over the leas the Princess came,
On the sward of the cliffs that breast the sea,
With her cheeks aglow and her hair aflame,
That snared the eyes and blinded them,
And now is but a memory.
Over the leas, the wind-tossed dream,
Over the leas above the sea,
Passed and went to reign supreme.
—No need of a crown or diadem
In the kingdom of misty Memory.
ONCE UPON A TIME A QUEEN SAT IN HER GARDEN.
She was quite a young, young Queen; but that was a long while ago, so she would
be older now. But, for all she was Queen over a great and powerful country, she
led a very quiet life, and sat a great deal alone in her garden watching the roses
grow, and talking to a bat that hung, head downwards, with its wings folded,
for all the world like an umbrella, beneath the shade of a rose tree overhanging
her favourite marble seat. She did not know much about the bat, not even that
it could fly, for her servants and nurses would never allow her to be out at dusk,
and the bat was a great deal too weak-eyed to fly about in the broad daylight.
But, one summer day, it happened that there was a revolution in the land, and
the Queen's servants, not knowing who was likely to get the upper hand, left
the Queen alone, and went to look at the fight that was raging.
But you must understand that in those days a revolution was a thing very different
from what it would be today. Instead of trying to get rid of the Queen altogether,
the great nobles of the kingdom merely fought violently with each other for
possession of the Queen’s person. Then they would proclaim themselves Regents
of the kingdom and would issue bills of attainder against all their rivals, saying
they were traitors against the Queen’s Government.
In fact, a revolution in those days was like what is called a change of Ministry
now, save for the fact that they were rather fond of indulging themselves by
decapitating their rivals when they had the chance, which of course one would
never think of doing nowadays.
The Queen and the bat had been talking a good deal that afternoon— about
the weather and about the revolution and the colour of cats and the like.
“The raven will have a good time of it for a day or two,” the bat said.
But the Queen shuddered. “Don’t be horrid,” she said.
“I wonder who’ll get the upper hand?” the bat said.
“I’m sure I don’t care a bit,” the Queen retorted. “It doesn’t make any difference
to me. They all give me things to sign, and they all say I’m very beautiful.”
“That’s because they want to marry you,” the bat said.
And the Queen answered, “I suppose it is; but I shan’t marry them. And I wish
all my attendants weren’t deaf and dumb; it makes it so awfully dull for me.”
“That’s so that they shan’t abuse the Regent behind his back,” the bat said.
“Well, I shall take a fly.” The truth was, he felt insulted that the Queen should
say she was dull when she had him to talk to.
But the Queen was quite frightened when he whizzed past her head and out into
the dusky evening, where she could see him flitting about jerkily, and squeaking
shrilly to paralyze the flies with fright.
After a while he got over his fit of sulks, and came back again to hang in his
“Why—you can fly!” the Queen said breathlessly. It gave her a new idea of the
importance of the bat.
The bat said, “I can.” He was flattered by her admiration.
The bat said, “Why don’t you?”
“Because I haven’t got wings, I suppose,” the Queen said.
“You shouldn’t suppose,” the bat said sharply. “Half the evils in the world come
from people supposing.”
“What are the ‘evils in the world’ ?” the Queen said.
And the bat answered, “What! don’t you even know that, you ignorant little
thing? The evils in the world are ever so many—strong winds so that one can’t
fly straight, and cold weather so that the flies die, and rheumatic pains in one’s
wing-joints, and cats and swallows.”
“I like cats,” the Queen said; “and swallows are very pretty.”
“That’s what you think,” the bat said angrily. “But you’re nobody. Now, I
hate cats because they always want to eat me; and I hate swallows because they
always eat what I want to eat— flies. They are the real evils of the world.”
The Queen saw that he was angry, and she held her peace for a while.
“I’m not nobody, all the same,” she thought to herself. “I’m the Queen of
the ‘most prosperous and contented nation in the world,’ though I don’t quite
understand what it means. But it will never do to offend the bat, it is so
dreadfully dull when he won’t talk;” so she said, “Would it be possible for me
to fly?” for a great longing had come into her heart to be able to fly away out
of the garden with the roses and the marble bench.
“Well, it certainly won’t be if you suppose you can’t,” the bat said. “Now, when
I was a mouse, I used to suppose I couldn’t fly, and so, of course, I couldn’t.
But, one day, I saved the life of a cockchafer that had got into a beetle-trap,
and he told me how it was to be managed.”
“How?” the Queen said eagerly.
“Ah, you like cats,” the bat said, “and you’d tell them the secret; and then
there’d be no peace for me. Ugh!— flying cats!” And the bat shuddered and
wrapped his wings round his head.
“Oh, but I promise I won’t tell.” the Queen said eagerly; “indeed I do. Dear
bat, you are so wise, and so good. and so handsome, do tell me.”
“What did you say?” he said.
And the Queen repeated her words.
That pleased him and he answered. “Well, there’s a certain flower that has
two remarkable properties—one, that people who carry it about with them can
always fly, and the other, that it will restore the blind to sight.”
“Yes: but I shall have to travel over ever so many mountains and rivers and
things before I can find it.” the Queen said dismally.
“How do you know that?” the bat asked sharply.
“I don’t know it, I only supposed it; at least I’ve read it in books.”
“Well, of course, if you go supposing things and reading them in books, I can’t
do anything for you,” the bat said. “The only good I can see in books is that
they breed bookworms, and the worms turn into flies; but even they aren’t very
good to eat. When I was a mouse, though, I used to nibble books to pieces.
and the bits made rare good nests. So there is some good in the most useless
of things. But I don’t need a nest now that I can fly.”
“How did you come to be able to fly?” the Queen asked.
“Well, after what the cockchafer told me, I just ran out into the garden, and
when I found the flower, as I hadn’t any pocket to put it in so as to have it
always by me, I just ate it up, and from that time forward I have been able to
fly ever so well.”
The Queen said, “Oh, how nice! And is the flower actually here in the garden?
Tell me which it is, please do.”
“Well, I’ll tell you if you’ll bring me a nice piece of raw meat, and a little red
flannel for my rheumatism.”
Just at that moment the sound of a great bell sounded out into the garden.
“Oh, how annoying!” the Queen said. “Just as it was beginning to be interesting!
Now I shall have to go in to dinner. But I’ll bring you the meat and the flannel
tomorrow, and then you’ll tell me, won’t you?”
The bat said, “We’ll see about it,” and so the Queen arose from her seat, and,
stooping to avoid the roses that caught at her, went out towards the palace and
up the marble steps into it.
The dining room itself was a vast hall, as long as an ordinary street, with a
table as long and as broad as the roadway thereof, so that the poor little Queen
felt rather lonely, sitting at one end of it, with the enormous vessels all of gold,
and the great gold candlesticks, and the long line of deaf and dumb domestics
that stood and looked on, or presented their dishes kneeling.
Generally the Regent’s wife, or, if he hadn’t one, his sister or mother, acted as
the Queen’s governess, and stood behind her chair. But that evening there was
no one at all.
“I suppose they’ve cut her head off,” the Queen said resignedly. “I wonder what
the next one will be like. But I shan’t be bothered with her long, if the bat
tells me how to fly. I shall just go right off somewhere, and see mountains, and
valleys, and rivers, and seas; and hundreds and hundreds of wonderful things
out of books. Oh, it will be lovely! And as to the Regents, they can just cut
each other’s heads off as much as they like.”
And so, having dined, she went to bed, and lay a long time awake thinking how
delightful it would be to fly.
The next morning, at breakfast, she found a note to say that the Lord Blackjowl
desired an early audience with her on the subject of the Regency.
“I suppose I must go,” the Queen said. “I do hope he won’t be much wounded,
it’s so nasty to look at, and I did want to go into the garden to see the bat.”
However, she went down into the audience chamber at once, to get it over. The
guard drew back the curtain in the doorway and she went in. A great man with
a black beard was awaiting her, and at her entrance sank down on one knee.
“Oh, get up, please,” she said. “I don’t like talking to men when they kneel, it
looks so stupid. What is it you want? I suppose it’s about the Regency.”
The Lord Blackjowl arose. His eyes were little and sharp; they seemed to look
right through the Queen.
“Your Majesty is correct, as so peerless a lady must be,” he said. “The nobles
and people were groaning under the yoke of the late traitor and tyrant who
called himself Regent, and so we took the liberty, the great liberty, of—-”
“Oh yes, I know what you want,” the Queen interrupted him. “You want to be
pardoned for the unconstitutionality of it. So I suppose I shall have to pardon
The Lord Blackjowl handed her one of many papers that he held in his hand.
“If your Majesty will be graciously pleased to sign it here.”
So the Queen sat clown at a table and signed the crackling paper “Eldrida—
“I never sign it ‘Eldrida R.,’” she said. “It’s ridiculous to sign it in a language
that isn’t one’s own. Now I suppose you want me to sign a paper appointing
The Lord Blackjowl looked at her from under his shaggy eyebrows.
“That was included in the paper your Majesty has been graciously pleased to
“But I didn’t know anything about it,” the Queen said hotly. “Now that’s
deceiving, and I shall never be able to trust anything you give me to sign without
reading it. I’ve a good mind to take it back again.”
“I assure your Majesty,” the lord answered, with a low bow, “I merely wished to
save your Majesty the trouble of twice appending your gracious signature when
once would sufffice.”
“But why didn’t you tell me what was in it?” she asked, a little mollified.
“Merely because your Majesty took the words out of my mouth, if I may so
The Queen said, “Well, and what else do you want me to do?”
“There are sundry traitorous persons of the faction of the late Regent, whose
existence is dangerous to the peace of the realm, and against whom I wish to
issue writs of attainder if your Majesty will consent.”
“Yes, I thought so,” the Queen said. “How many are there?”
“Three thousand nine hundred and forty,” the Regent said, looking at a great
“Good gracious!” the Queen said. “Why, that’s five times as many as ever there
The Regent stroked his beard. “There is a great deal of disaffection in the land,”
“Why, the last Regent said the people were ever so contented,” the Queen
“The last Regent has deceived your Majesty.”
“That’s what they all say about the last Regent. Why, it was only the other
day that he told me that you were deceitful—and you are—and he said that you
had thrown your wife into a yard full of hungry dogs, in order that you might
“Your Majesty,” the Regent said, flushing with heavy anger, “the late Regent
was a tyrant, and all tyrants are untruthful, as your Majesty’s wisdom must tell
you. My wife had the misfortune to fall into a bear pit, and, as for my daring
to raise my eyes as high as your Majesty—-”
“Why, you’re looking at me now,” the Queen said. “However, it doesn’t matter.
You can’t marry me till I’m twenty-one, and I shan’t be that for some time.
By-the-by, who’s going to be my next governess?”
“Your Majesty is now of an age to need no governess. I think a tutor would be
more suitable—with your Majesty’s consent.”
“Well, who’s to be my tutor, then?” the Queen said.
“I had purposed according that inestimable honour to myself: the Regent an-
“Oh I say! You’ll never do!” the Queen remarked. “You could never darn a pair
of stockings, or comb my hair. You’d be so awfully clumsy.”
“Your Majesty has no need to have your royal stockings darned; you can always
have a new pair.”
“But that would be so fearfully wasteful!” the Queen said.
“Your Majesty might give the other pairs to the poor.”
“But what are ‘the poor’ ?”
“The poor are wicked, idle people—too wicked to work and earn money, and
too dirty to wear stockings,” the Regent said.
“But what would be the good of my stockings to them?” the Queen asked.
The Queen said, “Oh yes, I’ll sign them, if you’ll just go down into the kitchen
and ask for a piece of raw meat, about the size of my hand, and a piece of red
flannel about large enough to go round a bat. Oh, and what’s a good thing for
The Regent looked a little surprised. “I—your Majesty, I really don’t exactly
“Oh, well, ask the cook or somebody.”
“Well, but—couldn’t I send a servant, your Majesty?” the Regent said.
“No, that wouldn’t be any good,” the Queen said. “If you’re to take the place
of my governess you’ll have to do that sort of thing, you know.”
The Regent bowed. “Of course I shall be only too grateful for your Majesty’s
commands. I merely thought that your Majesty might need some assistance in
signing the papers.”
But the Queen answered, “Oh no, I can manage that sort of thing well enough
myself. I’m quite used to it; so be quick, and remember, a nice juicy piece of
raw meat and some red flannel, and—oh, opodeldoc; that’s just the thing. Be
quick! I don’t want to keep the bat waiting.”
The Regent went backwards out of the room, bowing at every three steps, and,
as he was clad in armour from top to toe, he made a clanking noise—quite like
a tinker’s cart, if you’ve ever heard one.
So, left to herself, the Queen signed the papers one after the other. They all
“BY THE QUEEN, A PROCLAMATION, E.R.
“Whereas by Our Proclamation given this 1st day of May—”
But the Queen never read any further than that, because she could never quite
understand what it all meant. At the last signature she happened to make a
little blot, and somehow or other the ink happened to get into one of her nails,
and that annoyed her. It is so difficult to get ink out of one’s nails.
“I don’t care if I never sign another Proclamation,” she said; “and I hope I
never shall. Now, look here,” she continued to the Regent, who at that moment
entered. “If you were a governess I should be able to make you get this ink out;
“I will make the attempt, if your Majesty pleases,” the Regent said.
“Well, but you haven’t got any nail scissors,” the Queen replied.
“I might use my sword,” the Regent suggested.
But the Queen shivered. “Ugh! fancy having a great ugly thing like that for it!”
she said. “Oh, well, you’ve brought the things! Here are your papers. They’re
all signed; and, if you want anything else, you’ll have to come into the garden.”
And she took up the meat and the flannel and the opodeldoc and went into
the garden, leaving the Regent with the idea that he had made rather a bad
business by becoming the Queen’s attendant. But he was a very determined
man, and merely set his teeth the firmer.
Under the overhanging rose tree the Queen sat awaiting the bat’s awakening.
“It never does to wake him up,” she said. “It makes him so bad tempered.”
So she sat patiently and watched the rose petals that every now and then flut-
tered down on the wind.
It was well on towards the afternoon, after the Queen had had her dinner, before
“Oh, you’re there?” he said. He had made the same remark every day for the
last two years—which made seven hundred and thirty-one times, one of the
years having been leap year.
The Queen said, “Yes, here I am!”
The bat yawned. “What’s the weather like?” he asked.
The Queen answered, “Oh, it’s very nice, and you promised to tell me the flower
that would make me fly.”
“I shan’t,” the bat said. “You’d eat up all the flies—a great thing like you.”
The Queen’s eyes filled with tears, it was so disappointing.
“Oh, I promise I won’t eat any flies,” she said; “and I’ll go right away and leave
you in peace.”
The bat said, “Um! there’s something in that.”
The bat’s eyes twinkled with delight. “Well, I’ll tell you,” he said. “Only you
must promise, first, that you won’t tell any one the secret; and secondly, that
you won’t eat any flies.”
“Oh yes, I’ll promise that willingly enough.”
“Well, put the things up here on the top of the seat and I’ll tell you.”
The Queen did as she was bidden, and the bat continued—
“The flower you want is at this moment being trodden on by your foot.”
The Queen felt a little startled, but, looking down, saw a delicate white flower
that had trailed from a border and was being crushed beneath her small green
“What! the wind flower?” she said. “I always thought it was only a weed.”
“You shouldn’t think,” the bat said. “It’s as bad as supposing.”
“Well, and how am I to set about flying?” the Queen asked.
And the bat answered sharply, “Why, fly. Put the flower somewhere about you,
and then go off. Only be careful not to knock against things.”
The Queen thought for a moment, and then plucked a handful and a handful
and yet a handful of the wind flowers; and, having twined them into a carcanet,
wound them into her soft gold-brown hair, beneath her small crown royal.
“Good-bye, dear bat,” she said. She had grown to like the bat, for all his strange
appearance and surly speeches.
The bat remarked, “Good riddance.” He was always a little irritable just after
So the Queen went out from under the arbour, and made a first essay at flying.
“I’ll make just a short flight at first,” she said, and gave a little jump, and in
a moment she flew right over a rose bush and came down softly on the turf on
its further side, quite like a not too timid pigeon that has to make a little flight
from before a horse’s feet.
“Oh, come, that was a success,” she said to herself. “And it really is true. Well,
So she flew over several trees, gradually going higher and higher, until at last
she caught a glimpse of the red town roofs, and then, in a swift moment’s rush,
she flew over the high white wall and alighted in the road that bordered it.
“Hullo!” a voice said before she had got used to the new sensation of being out
in the world. “Hullo! where did you drop from?”
“I didn’t drop—I flew,” the Queen said severely; and she looked at the man.
He was stretched on the ground, leaning his back against the wall, and basking
in the hot sunlight that fell on him. He was very ragged and very dirty, and he
had neither shoes nor stockings. By his side was a basket in which, over white
paper frills, nodded the heads of young ferns.
“Why, who are you?” the Queen said. And then her eyes fell on his bare feet.
They reminded her of what the Regent had said that morning. “Oh, you must
be the poor,” she said, “and you want my stockings.”
“I don’t know about your stockings, lady,” the man said; “but if you’ve got any
old clothes to spare, I could give you some nice pots of flowers for them.” The
Queen said, “Why, what good would that do you?”
And the man answered, “I should sell them and get some money. I’m fearfully
“Why don’t you have something to eat, then?” the Queen said.
And the man replied, “Because I haven’t got any money to buy it with.”
“Why don’t you take it, then?”
“Because it would be stealing, and stealing’s wicked; besides, I should be sent
to prison for it.”
“I don’t understand quite what you mean,” the Queen said. “But come with
me somewhere where we can get some food, and you shall have as much as you
The fern seller arose with alacrity. “There’s a shop near here where they sell
some delicious honey cakes.”
“I can’t make it out,” the Queen said to herself. “If he’s hungry he can’t be
contented; and yet the Regent said every one was contented in the land, because
of his being Regent. He must have been mistaken, or else this man must be one
And aloud she said, “Is there a bill of attainder out against you?”
The beggar shook his head. “I guess not,” he said. “Tradesmen won’t let the
likes of me run up bills.”
It was a remark the Queen could not understand at all. They crossed the market
place that lay before the palace door.
“There’s no market today because the people are all afraid the revolution isn’t
“Oh, but it is,” the Queen said; “I made the Lord Blackjowl Regent today.”
The beggar looked at her with a strange expression; but the Queen continued—
“I don’t see what harm the revolution could do to the market.”
“Why, don’t you see,” the beggar said, “when they get to fighting the arrows
fly about all over the place, and the horses would knock the stalls over. Be-
sides, the soldiers steal everything, or set fire to it. Look, there’s a house still
And, indeed, one of the market houses was a heap of charred ruins.
“But what was the good of it?” the Queen asked.
And the beggar answered, “Well, you see, it belonged to one of the opposite
party, and he wouldn’t surrender and have his head chopped off.”
“I should think not,” the Queen said.
The streets were quite empty, and all the shutters were closed. Here and there
an arrow was sticking into the walls or the doors.
“Do people never walk about the streets?” the Queen asked.
“It wouldn’t be safe when there’s a revolution on,” the beggar answered.
Just at that moment they arrived before the door of a house that, like all the
rest, was closely shut up. Over the door was written—
The sound of the blows echoed along the streets,—and then from within came
dismal shouts of “Murder!” “Police!” “fire!”
But the beggar called back, “Nonsense, James Grubb; it’s only a lady come for
some honey cakes.”
Then, after a long while, there was a clatter of chains behind the door, and it
was opened just an inch, so that the Queen could see an old man’s face peeping
cautiously out at her. The sight seemed to reassure him, for he opened the door
and bobbed nervously. At other times he would have bowed suavely.
“Will your ladyship be pleased to enter?” he said. “I want to shut the door; it
is so dangerous to have it open with all these revolutions about.”
The Queen complied with his request, and found herself in a little dark shop,
only lighted dimly through the round air holes in the shutters.
“Give this man some honey cakes,” she said; and the honey-cake maker seemed
only too delighted.
“How many shall I give him, madam?” he said.
“As many as he wants, of course,” the Queen answered sharply.
The beggar proceeded to help himself, and made a clean sweep of all the cakes
that were on the counter. There was a big hole in his coat, and into that he
thrust them, so that the lining at last was quite full.
The honey-cake maker was extremely pleased at the sight, for he had not ex-
pected to sell any cakes that day.
When the cakes had all disappeared there was an awkward pause.
“Now I’ll go on again,” the Queen said.
“But you haven’t paid,” the honey-cake maker said in some alarm.
“Pay!” said the Queen. “What do you mean?”
“Paid for the cakes, I mean,” the honey-cake maker said.
“I don’t understand you,” she answered. “I am the Queen; I never pay for what
The honey-cake maker jumped back so suddenly that he sat down in a tub of
honey and stuck there doubled up with his knees to his chin.
”0 Lord! 0 Lord!” he said. “What shall I do? What shall I do?—all my cakes
gone, and never to be paid!”
“You won’t want to be paid if your head’s cut off,” the beggar said.
But the Queen answered, “Nonsense. No one’s going to cut your head off; and
I dare say, if you ask them at the palace, they’ll pay you, whatever it means.
Just pull him out of the tub,” she continued to the beggar, for the unfortunate
honey baker, not being able to move, remained gasping in the tub.
So the beggar pulled him out, and, for all his fright, his business spirit did not
“Will your Majesty deign to sign an order for payment?” he said.
And the Queen answered, “Good gracious, no, I won’t; the ink always gets into
The honey-cake maker bowed lower still. “At least, your Majesty, deign to give
me your signet ring as a token.”
“Oh, I’ll give you that,” the Queen said; and she drew it from her finger.
The honey-cake maker suddenly smote his forehead with his hand, as though
an idea had struck him.
“You might carry the ladder out for me,” he said to the beggar, indicating a
ladder that lay along the passage wall.
The beggar did as he was asked, and placed it against the house.
“Whatever is he going to do now?” the Queen thought to herself, and, being in
the street, awaited the turn of events.
Presently the honey-cake maker came out, carrying a pail of black paint and a
large brush, and, thus equipped, ascended the ladder and began to paint, under
“to Her Majesty the Queen and the R—-
But he had got no further than that, when, with tumultuous shouts, a body of
soldiers came rushing round a corner, and, seeing the honey-cake maker on the
ladder and his door open, they at once tumbled pell-mell into the shop.
No sooner did the unfortunate maker of cakes see this, than, in his haste to
descend the ladder, his foot slipped, and he came to the ground, with the paint
out of the pot running dismally all over his head.
“Oh dear! Oh dear!” the Queen said, and went to pick him up, when, at that
moment, the soldiers, having found nothing in the shop but a tub of honey
and a tub of flour, came out again, not quite as fast as they had entered, until
they saw the Queen, when they at once rushed to surround her, and one of
them caught at her crown, and another at her bracelets, and another at her lace
The Queen said, “Leave me alone, do you hear?”
But the soldiers answered, “In the Queen’s name, surrender.”
“Well, I shouldn’t surrender in any name but my own, and I shan’t surrender
at all. I am the Queen.”
Whereupon the leader of the soldiers, who had not had the fortune to get at
any of the Queen’s jewelry, said, “Release the lady;” and, rather crestfallen, the
soldiers obeyed him.
“Oh, your Majesty,” the leader said, kneeling, “we have had such a trouble to
find you. The Regent, discovering that your Majesty had left the palace, told
us to follow you with all haste to provide for your safety.”
“So, you provided for it by trying to rob people’s houses,” the Queen said.
And the leader answered, “Oh no, your Majesty. We feared, knowing that
James Grubb is a noted rebel, that he had kidnapped your Majesty, and so
were making a domiciliary search.”
“I’m not a noted rebel,” the honey-cake maker gasped. “I’m only noted for my
But no one had noticed his little puff.
The Queen said to the soldiers, “Well, I don’t want you. You can go; and don’t
The leader, however, answered, “Oh, but, your Majesty, domiciliary searches
are most necessary in the present state of the kingdom.”
“I don’t care,” the Queen said; “I forbid you to make them. So now go away.”
“But, your Majesty,” the leader answered, “the Regent gave us orders to conduct
your Majesty back to the palace. It is not constitutional.”
“I’m sure I don’t care,” the Queen answered; “I’m not going back. Good-bye.”
And she suddenly flew straight up into the air and away over the house tops,
and the last sight she had of them showed them, with their faces upturned
towards her, gazing in dumb astonishment, the leader still on his knees and the
honey-cake maker on his back in the street.
The beggar had long since slunk round a corner and disappeared.
So the Queen rose to quite a great height in the air.
“I shall go right away from the town,” she said. “The smoke is so choking up
here above the roofs. However people can live down there I can’t make out.”
So she went right up into the blue sky and made her way towards where, at the
skirts of the town, the mountains rose steep and frowning.
Up there, standing on the mountain’s crest, she had a glorious view of sea and
sky and town and country.
The sea threw back the deep blue of the sky above, and the white wave horses
flecked its surface, and the ships passed silently far out at sea; down below her
feet, it beat against the rocky base of the cliff, and in and out amongst the spray
the sea gulls flew like a white cloud.
The town lay in a narrow valley, broad at the sea face, and running inwards
into narrowness between gray, grand hills, right to where it disappeared in the
windings of the pass. Down below, in the harbour, she could see the boats
getting ready for sea.
“Oh, how wonderful!” the Queen said; “and it all belongs to me—at least,
so they say—though I can’t quite see what good it does me, for I can’t be
everywhere at once. And I can’t even make the hills move or the sea heave its
breast; so that I can’t see that it does me any more good than any one else,
because it isn’t even constitutional for me to be here. I ought to be down there
in the palace garden, seeing nothing at all. However, it’s very lovely here, so I
So for a while she stayed, looking down at the town. Into the streets she could
not see, for the houses stood in the way, but she could see the market place
plainly enough and the palace steps.
Presently a number of soldiers came running into the market place, and up into
the palace. and the Queen knew they had come to announce her flight.
And then. a few minutes after, she saw them coming rapidly out of the doors.
“Goodness me!” the Queen said, “the Regent is kicking them down the steps. I
shan’t go back there again, or he might take to kicking me.”
So she set out along the hill tops, sometimes walking and sometimes flying over
the valleys, so that, by the time the sun was near setting, she found herself in
a great stretch of dreary uplands, with nothing like a house for miles around.
“Now, whatever shall I do?’ she said. “It’s coming on quite dark, and I don’t
know where I am. I’ve a good mind to lie down and go to sleep on the heather;
only there might be some sort of wild animals about, and it wouldn’t be safe.”
Then the sun sank lower and lower, and the Queen began to feel a little lonely
and very nervous. There was not a sound to be heard, save the roar of a brook
that ran, gleaming white, among the boulders in the gloom of the valley at her
“If I fly right up in the air again I shall be safe, at any rate,” the Queen said.
“I shan’t go tumbling over precipices or getting eaten up by wolves.”
So she flew right up into the upper air where she could see the sun again, and
she tried to catch him up, flying fast, fast westwards. But she found that the
sun went a great deal faster than she could go—for, you know, the sun goes a
great deal more quickly than a train—and gradually he sank below the horizon,
and the Queen was left alone with nothing but the stars to keep her company.
As you may imagine, it was not the pleasantest of feelings, that flying through
the pitch-dark night, and the Queen felt continually afraid of running against
something, though she was really far too high to do any such thing.
But, for all that, she had the dread constantly in her mind, until at last the
moon crept silently into being above a hill, seeming like an old friend, and soon
all the land below was bathed in white light. The Queen glided on; like a black
cloud, she could see her shadow running along the fields below her. She watched
till she grew sleepier and sleepier, and found herself nodding, to wake with a
start and then fall off to sleep again; till, at last, she fell asleep for good and
But the Queen slept softly on; and, indeed, never bed was softer than the air of
the summer night.
The sun had been up some little while when she was awakened by just touching
on the top of a lofty mountain, that reached up into the sky and stopped her
progress; so that, when she was fully awakened, she found herself seated on its
She rubbed her eyes, and in a moment remembered all that had happened before
she had dropped off to sleep.
“Goodness me! I feel awfully hungry,” she said to herself, and, standing up,
looked around her.
On the one side, the mountain towered above the uplands over which she had
passed in the night, but they looked dreary and uninviting; on the other, in a
fair plain, stood a town—she could see the smoke rising from the chimneys and
the weathercocks gleaming in the morning sunlight as they veered about in the
breeze. So she flew gently down towards it, and the shepherds in the fields and
the women at the cottage doors stared in amazement, and came rushing after
her as she swept past through the air.
So, by the time she arrived in the town, quite a great crowd had followed her.
At last she alighted just before the town gates, and, as there was no guard to
stop her, entered boldly enough, and walked on for a little way until she came
to a shop that seemed to be a cake shop, for one half of its window was full
of cakes, and the other of boots and shoes. And, indeed, the owner, an old
man with spectacles on, was seated on his doorstep busily working away at his
The Queen said, “I want some cakes, please.”
And the cobbler, looking up from his work, said, “Then you’ve come to the right
The crowd stood round in a ring and whispered.
“Will you give me them, please?” the Queen continued.
And the old cobbler answered, “I’ll sell them to you.”
“Then you’ve come to the wrong shop,” the cobbler said determinedly, and
looked down again at his work.
“But I’m the Queen,” she said, remembering her former experience.
The cobbler said, “Nonsense!” and took a little brass nail from his mouth.
“But I am the Queen,” the Queen said angrily.
The cobbler knocked the nail into the shoe. “King Mark’s a widower,” was all
And the crowd laughed until the Queen felt quite uncomfortable. She was not
used to being stared at.
“Why, I most have got into another country,” she said to herself; “and, I suppose,
the best thing to do will be to see the King. I dare say he’ll give me enough to
eat, for he’ll tremble at my name.”
So she said aloud, “Take me to the King.”
And so the crowd showed her the way, some going in front and some following;
but all so anxious to see her that they stumbled over each other’s legs.
But at last they came to the palace, and the crowd opened to make way for her.
To tell the truth, they seemed rather afraid to enter, but the Queen marched in
boldly enough till she came to a great hall. Long before she had time to make
out what it was like, an enormous voice shouted—-
“Who the dickens are you?”
And, looking at the throne, she could make out an enormous, black-bearded
man seated thereon. He was a great deal more ugly than the Regent at home
had been, and his red eyes twinkled underneath black, shaggy brows, like rubies
in a cavern.
“Who are you?” he shouted.
And whilst his fearful voice echoed down the great dark hall, the Queen answered—
-“If you won’t tremble, I’ll tell you.”
The King gave a tremendous roar of laughter. “Ho, what a joke!” he said,
and, to enforce it, he punched in the ribs of the chamberlain who stood at his
right hand, and that so violently that the wretched man rolled down the throne
And all the courtiers laughed so loud and long at the King’s sarcasm, that the
Queen had some difficulty in making herself heard.
Then she said, “I am Eldrida, by the grace of God Queen of the Narrowlands
and all the Isles.”
The King really did seem a little startled. “What in the world do you want
here, then?” he said, and his red eyes glowed again.
“I want something to eat,” the Queen said.
The King seemed lost in thought. “Your Majesty shall have something if—”
“If what?” the Queen asked.
“If you will marry me,” the King said in a tone that was meant to be sweet; but
it rather reminded the Queen of a bull she had once heard grumbling angrily.
She answered decidedly, “I shan’t do anything of the sort.”
The King said, “Why not?”
“Because you’re a great deal too cruel and ugly,” the Queen answered. “What
did you knock that poor man down for? I can’t bear that sort of wickedness.
And as for ugliness, why, you’re worse than the Regent himself, and he’s the
ugliest man I ever saw.”
The King immediately became so convulsed with rage that he could only roar
till the windows shook out of their frames and shattered on the ground; and the
Queen stopped her ears with her fingers, perfectly aghast at the storm she had
At last the King regained his powers of speech. If you don’t marry me this very
day,” he said, “I’ll have you beheaded, I’ll have you hanged, I’ll have you thrown
from the top of the highest tower in the town and smash you to pieces.”
“You couldn’t do anything of the sort,” the Queen said calmly.
Thereupon the King’s rage became quite frightening to see, especially for the
courtiers who were nearest him, for he rushed among them and began to kick
them so that they flew into the air; indeed, it seemed as if the air was full of
“I’ll show you if I can’t slash you to pieces,” he said, and in a minute he had
seized her and rushed out into the open air, carrying her like a kitten.
Up to the little door at the foot of the palace tower he went and kicked it open
so violently that it banged against the wall and quivered again with the shock,
and then round and round and round, and up and up and up, a little dark
winding stair, until a sudden burst of light showed that they were at the top.
“Now I’ll show you,” he muttered, and shaking her violently he threw her over
But she only dropped softly a short way, and then hovered up again till she
played in the air around the tower.
The astonishment of the King was now even greater than his former rage.
“I told you how it would be,” the Queen said. “And, if you’ll take my advice,
you won’t lose your temper so fearfully again. It might really make you ill.”
But the King said nothing at all, being a little out of breath at having come so
quickly up the tower steps. So the Queen flew gaily off again without saying
But down at the base of the tower the courtiers, discovering that the King was
nicely trapped, quietly shut the door and locked it. Then they gave a sigh of
relief, and left him till he died. They had been long looking out for such an
The Queen, however, knew nothing of that. She flew on for a time, being far too
excited to remember her hunger; but at last it came back to her with redoubled
force, and she determined to descend at the first house she came to and try to
get some food somehow. But, by that time, the country had become sandy and
dry, with only a few reeds bristling out over it here and there, and no signs of
cultivation or even of houses.
“Now, whatever shall I do?” she said to herself, as she flew along so close to
the ground that the wind of her flight made the sand flit about in little clouds.
“I’m so awfully hungry and—Why, there is some sort of building!—at least it
looks like one.”
And there, in a hollow among the sand dunes, stood a funny little black erection,
such as you might see upon a beach.
So the Queen stopped and looked at the cat, and the cat sat and looked at the
The black pupils of its yellow eyes dilated and diminished in a most composed
“Poor pussy!” the Queen said, and bent to scratch its neck.
But the cat took no kind of notice, so the Queen lifted the cat in her arms,
whereupon it gave vent to an awe-inspiring yell.
The door flew violently open, and the Queen, in alarm, let the cat go, and it
dashed into the house behind an old woman, but such an ugly old woman that
the Queen was quite startled.
“Well, what do you want?” the old woman said.
“Oh, I want something to eat,” the Queen said.
The old woman gave a cunning leer. “Something to eat, my dear young lady,”
she said. “Why, whatever made you expect to find anything to eat fit for the
likes of you in such a place?”
“Oh, I’m not particular,” the Queen said; “only I’m very hungry.”
“And what will you pay me?” the old woman said.
“I—I can’t pay you anything,” the Queen said. “You see, I haven’t got any
The old woman smiled again, in a nasty way. “Oh well,” she said, “I’ll give you
some food, if you’ll do a day’s work for it.”
“What sort of work?” the Queen said. “I’m not very clever at work, you know.”
“Oh, quite easy work—just goose-herding.”
The Queen said, “Oh, I dare say I could do that.”
And the Queen followed her into a dirty little room, with only a table and a
long bench in it.
But there was a fine wood fire crackling on the hearth, and before it a goose was
slowly turning on the spit, so that it did not look quite as dismal as otherwise
it might have done.
The Queen sat herself down at the table, and the old woman and the cat were
engaged in sitting on the hearth watching the fire.
They did not seem at all talkative, and so the Queen held her peace.
At last the old woman gave a grunt, for the goose was done, and so she got up
and found a plate and knife and fork, and put them before the Queen, with the
goose on a dish and a large hunk of bread.
“There,” she said, “that’s all I can give you.”
And so, although the food was by no means as dainty as what she would have
had at home in the palace, the Queen was so remarkably hungry that she made
a much larger meal than she ever remembered to have made.
And all the while the cat sat and stared at her, and seemed to grow positively
bigger with staring so much, though when the Queen held out a piece of the goose
to it, it merely sniffed contemptuously so that the Queen felt quite humiliated.
“Your cat doesn’t seem to be very sociable,” she said to the old woman.
And the old woman answered, “Why should he be?” and took up a large twig
broom to sweep the hearth with.
That done, she leant upon it and regarded the Queen malevolently.
“Aren’t you ever going to finish?” she said.
The Queen answered, “Well, I was rather hungry, you see; but I’ve finished now.
There’s no great hurry, is there?”
“I want my dinner,” the old woman said, with such an emphasis on the ”my”
that the Queen was quite amused.
“Why, the goose is there; at least, there’s some of it left.”
“But I don’t like goose,” the old woman said. Her manner was growing more
“Any one would think you were going to eat me,” the Queen said; and the cat
licked its jaws.
“So I am,” the old woman said, and her eyes gleamed.
But the Queen said, “Nonsense!”
“But it’s not nonsense,” the old woman said; and the cat began to grow visibly.
“Well, but you didn’t say anything about it before,” the Queen said. “I only
agreed to herd your geese.”
“But you won’t be able to,” the old woman said.
The Queen said, “Why not?”
“Because they’re wild ones.”
The cat was growing larger and larger, till the Queen grew positively afraid.
“Well, at any rate, I’ll have a try,” she said.
And the old woman answered, “You may as well save yourself the trouble.”
But the Queen insisted, and so they went outside, the old woman carrying her
broom, for all the world like a crossing sweeper.
The great cat rubbed against her skirt and licked its jaws. It was about the size
of a lion now.
They came to the back of the house, and there the pen was—a cage covered
completely over, and filled with a multitude of geese. The old woman undid the
door and threw it wide, and immediately, with a mighty rustle of wings filling
the air, the geese swept out of the pen away into the sky.
The old woman chuckled, and the cat crouched itself down as if preparing to
spring, lashing its sides with its long tail. But the Queen only smiled, and
started off straight into the air, faster even than the geese had gone.
The old woman gave a shriek, and the cat a horrible yell, and then the Queen
saw the one mounted upon her broom, and the other without any sort of steed
at all, come flying after her.
Then ensued a terrific race. The Queen put up one hand to hold her crown on,
Right through the startled geese she went, and the old woman and the cat
followed after; but, fast as she went, they gained upon her, and at last the cat
was almost upon her. In despair, she doubled back and almost ran into the old
woman, who aimed a furious blow at her with her broom; but the Queen just
dodged it, and it lighted full in the face of the cat, and, locked fast together,
the cat and the old woman whirled to the ground.
They were both of them too enraged to inquire who was who, and such a furious
battle raged that the sand they threw up completely hid the earth from view
for miles around.
The Queen, however, after she had recovered her breath, hovered over the spot
to see what would happen.
All of a sudden there was a loud explosion, and a column of blue flame shot up.
“Now what has happened?” the Queen thought to herself, and prepared to fly
off at full speed. But the cloud of sand sailed quietly off down the wind, and,
save for a deep hole, there remained no trace of the old woman and her cat.
Just at that moment the Queen heard a mighty rustling of wings, and, looking
up, saw the great herd of wild geese swirling round and round her head.
“Dear me!” the Queen said to herself, “I wonder if I could talk to them. Perhaps
they will understand bat’s language.”
Now, it is a rather difficult thing to give you a good idea of what the bat’s
language is like, because, although one may produce a fairly good imitation by
rubbing two corks together, or by blowing through a double button, it doesn’t
mean any more in bat’s language than “Huckery hickyhoo” would in ours, if
any one were foolish enough to produce such sounds.
Sufffi it, then, to say that the Queen said in the bat’s language, “Oh, come,
that’s a good thing!”
And the geese answered, “Yes, isn’t it scrumptious?”
You see, geese are rather vulgar kinds of fowls, and so they speak a vulgar
language—about as different from the aristocratic bat’s as a London coster-
monger’s is from that of a well brought-up young person. So that, if you can
imagine a gander and a bat proposing each to the lady of his choice, the goose
would say, “Lizer, be my disy;” whereas the bat would lay one claw upon its
velvet coat over its heart and begin, “Miss Elizabeth,” or “Miss Vespertilio,”—
At any rate, the geese understood the Queen, and the Queen understood the
geese, which is the main thing.
“Now what shall I do?” the Queen said.
And the geese consulted among themselves. Then an elderly gander spoke up
for the rest.
“Ma’am,” he said, or rather hissed, “you have saved our lives.”
The Queen said, “I’m sure I’m very glad.”
The poor gander blushed, not being used to speaking in public; but he began
“Ma’am, seeing as how you’ve saved our lives, we’ve made up our minds to be
your faithful servants, and to go where you go, and do what you do.”
“I’m sure it’s very good of you,” the Queen said, not knowing exactly whether
to be glad or sorry. “But I don’t quite know where I am going; though, as it’s
getting late in the day, I think I’d better be moving on.”
“Why don’t you go back to the cottage?” the old gander said. “There’ll be no
one there to bother you now.”
“It’s rather a good idea,” the Queen said. “I’ve a good mind to.”
“Do,” the geese said. “There’s a nice river near by.”
And, although the latter inducement was inconsiderable, the Queen did as she
was asked. In their mad career they had come so great a distance that it was
close on nightfall before they reached the cottage again.
There everything was quiet and as they had left it, only the fire had almost died
away on the hearth.
So the Queen, who rather disliked the darkness, threw one or two turfs on it and
blew it up well with the bellows, so that the light glowed and danced cheerfully
on the farthest wall of the cottage.
So the Queen sat and looked at the leaping flames, and her shadow danced large
upon the walls. But outside, on the dunes before the door, the geese were all
asleep, with their heads under their wings. Their shadows did not move in the
So, when a fit of nervousness came over the Queen, and she went to look out
at the door for fear the old woman and her cat should return, she felt quite
“It was we who saved the capitol,” the old gander said; “so you’re quite safe.”
And the remembrance soothed the Queen, so that she went and lay down on
the couch of dried fern that served for a bed, and soon was fast asleep.
After all, the geese were some companionship, and it was better to sleep quietly
on the bracken couch than to glide along in a ghostly way under the moon, with
no company but one’s shadow on the fields far, far down below.
So the Queen slept until morning, and the first sound that awakened her was
the quacking of the geese; a really tremendous noise. The sun was just up. The
Queen sprang up, too, and dressed herself. There was a pail in the hut, and,
at no great distance, a well. So thither she went, and, drawing a pail of water,
washed herself well in it. It was delightfully cold and refreshing.
The geese saluted her with a general chorus of good mornings and good wishes,
for which the Queen thanked them.
So, having made herself comfortable, she began to feel not a little hungry, as
did the geese. After looking about in the hut, she discovered the cellar door
and, opening it, she went down, not without being a little afraid that it might
be full of old women and black cats. She found no trace of either, but merely
quite a lot of bread and cheese, and hard biscuits, and a sack of corn, which was
evidently intended for the geese.
So she filled a measure with it and threw it to them, and gave them a great pan
of water from the well, after which she made a frugal breakfast off a biscuit and
an egg which one of the geese laid.
Then the geese wanted to set forth for the river, and asked the Queen to come
with them, which she did willingly enough, after she had tidied the house a little
and had made up the fire so that it might not quite go out.
Then gaily they trooped off over the sand dunes towards the river, the geese
marching gravely in line; only the old gray gander went beside the Queen and
talked to her.
Just where the river ran was a green meadow with several pools of water in it.
And the meadow was perfectly alive with birds; everywhere their wings seemed
They eyed the Queen with something like alarm, but the old gray gander made
a speech in which he referred to the Queen as their preserver and friend; and
the Queen said that, far from wishing to do them harm, she was very fond of
And so the flapping of wings went on again, and the sun shone down upon the
gay meadow. But the geese led the Queen to the river’s edge, and there she sat
down on the bank beneath a willow tree, whilst they jumped in and revelled in
the clear water.
So the sun rose higher and higher, and the shade of the tree grew more and
more grateful to the Queen, and the geese came out of the river and arranged
themselves for a nap on the grass around her.
During the sun’s height, too, all the other birds were more silent; it was too hot
for violent exercise.
So the river gurgled among the rushes, and they rustled and bent their heads,
and the willow leaves forgot to tremble for want of a breeze. And the great,
placid flow of the river was without a dimple on its face, save when a fish sprang
gleaming out after a low- flying midge.
So the Queen felt happy and contented, and she, too, dozed off into a little nap,
whilst the woolly clouds slowly sailed across the blue heaven.
But towards evening the birds all woke up; the peewits flew off in a flock to the
marshy flats down the river, and the snipe whirred away to the mud banks, and
the geese arose and cropped the greensward with their bills.
And then, towards sunset, they all rose in the air, and the Queen with them,
and went whirling round in great clouds of rustling pinions, dyed red in the
sunset, geese and peewits, and snipe and herons, all wheeling about in sheer
delight of life; until, when the sun was almost down, the geese, with a great cry
of farewell, flew off through the gloaming with the Queen towards the hut.
And there she once more blew up the fire for company, whilst the geese outside
slept calmly. And so she went to bed again.
Thus it fell about that the Queen remained quite a long time in the but with
the geese for her companions.
The days she spent down where the river whispered to the rushes. When the
sun was very hot, she would bathe in the stream and lie among the rushes; and,
having cut a pipe, she played upon it in tune with the gurgle of the river.
Then when she had finished, the herons snapped their bills; and the gulls cried,
“Kee-ah;” and the peewits, “Peewit;” and the geese hissed, with their necks
stretched out—but that too signified applause.
As for the frogs, they made haste to spring with a plop into the rushes, without
any applause at all; but that was because the herons had opened their eyes and
were stalking toward them.
So the Queen was very much beloved in the bird meadow, and the gulls would
come out of the shining pools to greet her when she came in the freshness of
the morning, and the herons would lay fish at her feet, and the peewits would
perch upon her shoulder and fly round her head, and the whirr of wings was
everywhere. But the geese were her guard of honour.
One morning before they set out for the bird meadow, whilst the Queen was
engaged in tidying up the hut, the geese suddenly set up a most terrible hissing
“Dear me!” the Queen said, “there’ll be a terrible rain storm soon.”
But at that moment the old gray gander came running excitedly into the hut.
“There’s a man—two men—three men coming,” he said, quite out of breath.
The Queen said, “Good gracious, and my hair in such a state!”
But she went to the door all the same.
There, sure enough, she saw three men coming one after the other. The first two
were quite near, but the third was a great way off, though he appeared to hop
along over the dunes in a most remarkable manner. He seemed to be habited
in a suit of black, and carried a black bag; but he was still a great way off, and
the Queen turned her attention to the other two, who were now quite close to
The first one was a handsome, very bronzed young man, in a suit of shining
armour, that, to the Queen’s critical eye, did not seem to fit him to perfection;
whilst the second, a delicate-looking, haughty youth, with a very fair skin, was
The man in armour bowed a clumsy sort of bow and said—
“Good morning;” whilst the shepherd bowed in a most courteous and elegant
“Good morning, fair madam. Is Mrs. Hexer at home?”
The Queen said, “No, there’s no one of that name living here.”
“Dear me,” the man in armour said, “how annoying! I am the—the Prince of
Kamschkatka, and this is a shepherd of Pendleton.” He said it in a great hurry,
just as you might say a newly learned lesson.
But the shepherd of Pendleton said, “Ah, perhaps Mrs. Hexer does not live
The Queen said, “No, she doesn’t; I live here.”
“What, alone!” they both said.
And the Queen answered, “No, I live with my geese.”
The shepherd said, “Oh, then perhaps you could tell us where Mrs. Hexer does
“I’ve never heard of her,” the Queen said.
”What! never heard of Mrs. Hexer?” they both said.
“The famous witch who has the well of the Elixir of Life,” the prince said.
But the shepherd said, “Of love.”
The mention of “witch” brought something to the Queen’s mind.
“There used to be a horrible old woman who lived here with a great black cat,”
she said. “Perhaps she was Mrs. Hexer; but she disappeared some time ago.”
“That must have been her,” the prince said.
And the shepherd continued, “Ah, if you would let us sit for a while on the
coping of your well, or even give us a draught of its water, we should be infinitely
obliged to you.”
She rubbed her eyes in surprise, and when she looked again there was only a
gentleman, clad in an elegant suit of black, with his coal-black hair carefully
parted in the middle and falling in sinuous lines on either side of his forehead.
He held his hat in one hand, and in the other a black bag and long narrow book.
“Oh, goal morning, Mrs. Hexer,” he said. “You will excuse my liberty; but I
saw you were agreeably engaged, and so I took the opportunity of slipping in
by the back way.”
“I didn’t know there was a back way,” the Queen said.
“The chimney, I should have said, Mrs. Hexer,” the gentleman said.
“But I’m not Mrs. Hexer,” the Queen replied.
“No, indeed,” the gentleman answered. “The elixir has had a most remarkable
success in your case. A photograph of you now would be a most valuable
advertisement—before taking and after. I suppose you haven’t got one of your
“But I tell you I’m not Mrs. Hexer,” the Queen said.
Whereupon the gentleman became a shade more serious.
“You have exactly five minutes more life,” he said, after having consulted one
of those keyless watches that never seem to have had enough winding. He laid
down his hat and bag, and looked carefully in his book. “Is this not your
The Queen said. “Good gracious, no; and I’m not going to sign anything more.”
“You’ve signed quite enough in this,” the gentleman said.
“But I tell you I never signed it,” the Queen replied.
“Oh, nonsense. Mrs. Hexer.” the gentleman said. “Come, your time is nearly
“It’s nothing of the sort.” the Queen said.
And the gentleman bowed. “You know best, Mrs. Hexer,” he said. “There’s
one more minute.”
The seconds passed by. and the Queen’s heart beat. Then the gentleman tore
the page out of the book, at the dotted line, and put the book in the bag.
“By-the-bye,” he said, “what’s become of the cat?
The Queen said, “It disappeared with the witch.”
The gentleman looked at his watch. “Time’s up. Mrs. Hexer,” he said, as he
put it back in his pocket. “By virtue of this document, signed by your blood—”
“It isn’t my blood,” the Queen said, when, all of a sudden, the hut vanished
away over her head, and she found herself standing in the open air among the
sand dunes, amid a large crowd of people; whilst the two men, shepherd and
prince, were lying tumbled on the sand, for the well on which they had been
seated had disappeared.
But the most astonishing thing was what happened to the gentleman in black,
for he suddenly changed into a black demon and advanced roaring towards her,
until something seemed to stop him, and he changed just as suddenly back into
the gentleman that he had been before.
“I see there has been some mistake,” he said, bowing and placing his hand
upon his heart. Then he knelt upon the ground. “Be mine! be mine!” he said.
“Oh, most adorable maiden, be mine; marry me, and I will reform; I’ll give up
smoking; I’ll never swear; I’ll—I’ll go to church—only marry me.”
“I can’t,” the Queen said. “Don’t he ridiculous and kneel; I never let the Regents
“You can marry me—you can,” the gentleman said. “I can marry while I’m on
earth. Of course, down below it’s different. But I’ll keep regular hours; I’ll be
most respectable—I will, if you’ll only marry me.”
“I tell you I can’t,” the Queen said; “I don’t know what I’ve done to make you
go on in this ridiculous way.”
“It’s the elixir. You’ve been drinking it, you know,” the demon gentleman said;
“and so I can’t help it. But if you won’t marry me, madam, perhaps we can do
a little business in my line. I pride myself that my system is the very best—the
seven years’ purchase system, you know.”
“I don’t understand you at all,” the Queen said.
“Why, it’s very simple. You give me what I want, and I will re-erect for you
“Yes, but what do I have to do for it?” the Queen said.
And he answered, “Oh, a mere tri fle—only a formality.”
“But what is it?”
“Oh, you only give me your soul—it’s nothing at all.”
”My soul !” the Queen said. “Certainly not.”
“But I’ll make you rich,” the gentleman said.
“I’m quite rich enough already,” the Queen answered.
“I’ll make you powerful—make you a great queen.”
“I’m one already, thanks,” the Queen said.
“I’ll give you a broom that you can fly on,” the gentleman remarked.
“I can fly without a broom,” the Queen said.
“I’ll let you drink the elixir,” he went on.
“I’ve had quite enough already,” the Queen said.
The demon gnashed his teeth. “Then you won’t trade?” he said.
“Certainly not,” the Queen answered.
“And you won’t marry me?”
”Certainly not!” the Queen said.
There was blue flame, and a great pillar of sand shot up into the air. The wind
carried it slowly away—the gentleman in black had disappeared.
“Come, that’s something!” the Queen said, with a sigh of relief, when her eye
fell suddenly on the crowd of people that were standing looking at her. They
were mostly standing on one leg. “Why, whoever are you?” she said.
And a gray-haired man answered, “We are—that is, we were—the geese. I am
But a perfect storm of voices went up. “No; marry me! I’m—
But the Queen held up her hand to command silence.
“Don’t make such a fearful noise. I can’t even hear myself think. I’m not going
to marry any of you, though you were very nice, dear geese, and I was very fond
“No; the lady is going to marry me!” a voice said, and the man in shepherd’s
clothes stept forth.
“No, marry me!” the man in armour said.
“I’m a prince. I will make you a princess,” the man in shepherd’s clothes said.
“I’m a shepherd,” the man dressed like a prince said. “A shepherd is a far better
match for a goose-girl than a prince is.”
“But why were either of you so deceitful?” the Queen said. “Because it’s so
ridiculous. You don’t look like a shepherd, prince—your skin is much too fair;
and you are much too brawny to be a prince, shepherd.”
“Well, I thought it was not quite respectable for a prince to be seen visiting a
witch, and so I changed clothes with the shepherd here.”
“And I changed clothes with the prince because I had seen you from afar, and
had loved you; and because I thought a prince would have seemed more splendid
than a common shepherd.”
“But you were both wrong to try to deceive me,” the Queen said. “As for you,
prince, I will not marry you to be made a princess, for I am a Queen already;
and as for you, shepherd, I will not marry you to become a shepherdess, for I
am a goose-girl already, though my flock has turned back from its goose- shape
again. But how did you become geese, anyhow?”
And he who had been the old gray gander answered, “The witch turned us into
it when we came to ask for the Elixir of Love.”
“Dear me!” the Queen said. “Does love make such geese of people?”
And the shepherd in prince’s clothing said, “I’m afraid it does.”
“You see, it was as I said,” the old gray gander said; “those young men are all
He had no sooner said the words than a perfect whirlwind of shouts arose.
“Marry me!” “No, marry me!” “Me!” “Me!” “Me!”
The Queen put her fingers to her ears. “If you don’t be quiet I’ll fly away
altogether,” she said.
But it produced no effect at all; the sound of voices went on just like the sound
of surf on a pebbly shore.
“Oh, I can’t stand it,” the Queen said. “And to think that it is to go on like
this for ever and ever, and all because of this horrible elixir! I shall fly right
away from it.”
And she quietly rose and sailed away in the air, and the last she saw of the geese
was that they were feebly trying to fly after her, waving their arms frantically
as if they had been wings.
The Queen flew straight up into the air, and she had reached a dizzy height
before she thought of what she was doing.
To tell the truth, she was a little sorrowful at the thought of leaving the geese;
for, with the exception of the old bat, they had been almost her only friends.
“I wish they could have flown with me,” she said to herself. “But, good gracious,
how high I an; getting! I shall be losing my way. Why, the earth looks quite
small anal quite like a map.”
And so it did. Then an idea struck the Queen.
“Suppose I were to fly right up to the sun; what fun it would be!”
And, since the idea had come into her head, she determined to make the attempt.
Up, up she flew, higher and ever higher, till all the air around was full of strange
harmonies, as though ten thousand Aeolian harps were being breathed upon in
accord by a great wind. And all around her, too, the planets whirred and spun
and the stars gleamed, and now and again she would pass through mists of
luminousness and of gleaming hail.
Up, up she went till she came where there was a great bow of iridescent colours,
and rising from it a great array of white steps, that ran up, up, so high that it
took away her breath to look upon them. At the top was a great glare of light.
Upon the many-coloured road she stood and looked up the great white way. A
voice spoke to her like a great rushing of wind.
“Maiden,” it said, “so far and no further.”
And a feeling akin to fear came over her; but not fear, for she knew not what
And the voice spoke again. “Go down this bow back to the earth, and do the
work that is to be done by you. Be of use to your fellows.”
And the Queen turned and went her way down the great road. The air was full
of voices, glad voices, such that the Queen had never heard before—full of a joy
that made her heart leap to hear.
But she could see no one.
Till at last she came back to the green earth, late in the afternoon.
For a moment, above her, she could see the great span of the rainbow, and then
it vanished into the clear air, and the Queen was alone in the little valley. There
it was already dusk, though the sky above the long down before her was still
golden with the rays of the sun that had sunk behind it.
There was a little rill running along the valley, and the Queen knelt down and
drank of its brimfulness, taking the water up in her hand. It was very sweet
and cool, and the Queen felt happy to be back on the earth again.
“After all,” she said to herself, as she sat herself down in the soft, cool grass,
that tickled her hands—“after all, it’s something to have firm ground under
one; one feels just a little lonely up there, quite away from everything except
shooting stars, and the world is a dear old place in the twilight like this.”
Up above the hill top she saw a man’s head appear, together with a pair of
horses and a plough. Quite plainly she could hear the bridle trappings rattle
and click, and the heavy breathing of the horses in the evening stillness.
It was all so quiet and natural that she did not feel at all surprised.
Just at the brow of the hill, standing out black against the light, the man halted,
and, lifting the plough, turned his team of horses round and set off down the
“I wonder, now, if it will be safe for me to speak to him, if he’ll fall in love with
me as soon as he sees me? because it really too much of a nuisance.”
However, she went lightly across the stubble towards him. He was just turning
the plough as she approached, and he did not seem to notice her. “Now, lads,”
he said to the horses, the last lap for this evening.”
And the horses whinnied softly and set their necks to the collar.
“Can I be of any use to you?” the Queen said.
The man stopped his team for a moment, and looked towards her. Against the
glow of the sky she could not make out his face; but he seemed to smile.
“No, friend,” he said. “I have all but finished my day’s work but, if you will
lead the horses up the furrow, they may go straighter than I can drive them.”
So the Queen went to the horses’ heads, and took one of them by the bridle,
and the great beasts stretched to the work. And the Queen felt a new happiness
come over her, at the thought that she was of use in the world.
The sun set as they came to the edge of the field. The plougher stretched his
arms abroad, and then came to the horses’ heads.
“Thank you, friend,” he said to the Queen. He did not look at her, but kept
his eyes downcast on the ground with a strangely distant appearance in them.
“Will you not come home and sup with us? It is hardly a hundred yards to the
farm, and the nearest place to here is several miles onwards.”
The Queen said, “Thank you. I should be very glad; but— but—” as the
thought struck her, “I shan’t be able to pay you, you know.”
The ploughman laughed. “Now I see you are a stranger,” he said. “But yet I
have seldom had strangers pass here that offered to help me.”
The Queen said, “Yes, but it is so nice to be of use to any one;” and seeing that
he was engaged in unbuckling the horse from the plough on the right side, she
did as much for the one on the left.
“Well, I’ve never tried, but I dare say I could if they didn’t go too fast.”
“No, I don’t think they’ll go fast,” he said. “Here let me lift you on. There,
catch hold of the horns of the collar.”
And in a moment the Queen was seated sideways on the great horse. The
ploughman made his way to the horse’s head and led it down the valley again.
The other horse went quietly along by the side of them.
How delicious everything looks in the owl-light!” the Queen said.
And the ploughman sighed. “I—I can’t see it,” he said. “I can’t see anything.
The Queen said, “Blind! Why, I should never have known it. You are as skillful
as any one else.”
The ploughman answered, “Oh, yes, I can manage pretty well because I’m used
to it, and there are many ways of managing things; but it is an aff fltion.”
The horses went carefully down the hill, and in a little space they had reached
the valley whence the Queen had started. It was now quite dark there, and the
harvest moon had not yet arisen, but at no great distance from them the Queen
could see a light winking.
So the horses plodded along, stopping now and again to crop a mouthful of grass
or drink a draught from the tinkling rill, whose sound had grown loud in the
twilight silence. In a very short while they had come to where a little farmhouse
lay in the bottom of the valley among trees that looked black in the starlight.
The ploughman called, “Mother, I’m bringing a visitor.”
And a little old woman came to the door. “Welcome!” she said, and added,
“My dear,” when the Queen came into sight in the light that fell through the
The Queen slipped down from the horse and went into the door with the little
old woman; whilst the ploughman disappeared with the horses.
“She really is a dear little old woman,” the Queen said to herself—“very different
from old Mrs. Hexer.”
And so indeed she was—quite a little woman in comparison with her stalwart
son, with white hair and a rosy face and eyes not at all age-dimmed, but blue
She put a chair ready for the Queen by the fireside, and then, on the white
wood table, set out forks and knives for her.
“You must be tired,” she said kindly; “but we go to bed soon after supper, and
so you will have a good rest.”
The Queen said, “Yes, I am a little tired; and it is very kind of you to let me
The little old woman looked at her with an odd, amused look in her gentle eyes.
“Now I see you are a stranger,” she said.
“Yes, I come from a long way off,” the Queen said. “At least I suppose it is a
great way off, for it has taken me a long time to get here.”
At that moment the ploughman came in, with the heavy step of a tired man.
“Mother, mother!” he said gaily; “I’m hungry.”
“Son, son,” she answered, “I am glad to hear it. There will be plenty.”
And so the supper was made ready, and heartily glad the Queen was, for she
was as hungry as the ploughman.
And they had the whitest of floury potatoes, in the whitest of white wooden
bowls, and the sweetest of new milk, and the clearest of honey overrunning the
comb, and junket laid on rushes, and plums, and apples, and apricots. And be
certain that the Queen enjoyed it.
And, when it was finished, they drew their chairs round the fire, and the plough-
man said, addressing the Queen—
“Now, friend, since you have travelled far, tell us something of what may have
befallen you on the way, for we are such stay-at-home folk here, that we know
little of the world around. But perhaps you are tired and would rather go to
But the Queen said, “Oh no, I am very well rested now, and I will gladly tell
you my story—only first tell me where I am.”
“This is the farm of Woodward, from which we take our names, my mother and
I, and we are some ten miles from the Narrow Seas.”
The ploughman laughed. “Why, it is called the land of the Happy Folk; and as
for who rules it, why, just nobody, because it gets along very well as it is.”
The Queen leant back in the great chair they had given her. She rubbed her
chin re flectively and looked at the fire.
“The Regent told me that a country couldn’t possibly exist without a King or
Queen,” she said.
“Who is the Regent?” the ploughman said. He too kept his face to the fire that
he could not see.
“Oh well, he’s just the Regent of my kingdom. But I forgot you didn’t know. I
am Eldrida, Queen of the Narrowlands and all the Isles.”
The little old woman looked at her interestedly.
And the ploughman said, “After all, you’re not so very far from your home;
because one can see the coast of it quite plainly on a clear day from our shore,
so they say.”
“Why, then you must have quite a number of people from there?” the Queen
But the ploughman answered, “No, hardly ever any one, because the seas run
so swiftly through the straits that no boat can live in them—so people would
have to come a long way round by land. Besides, they’ve got everything that
we’ve got, so what could they want here?” the ploughman said, and added slyly,
“all except one thing, that is.”
“Why, what is that?” the Queen asked.
And the ploughman answered, “Why, the Queen, of course: because we have
But the little old woman held her hand to shield her eyes from the fire’s blaze,
and looked across at the Queen.
“I shouldn’t think it was a very nice country to live in,” she said.
The Queen asked, “Why?”
“Well, one evening when we were down by the sea, we saw the whole sky lit up
over there, and, later, we heard from a traveller, that the people had set fire to
“Yes, I’m afraid they are rather fond of doing that; but I didn’t know anything
“How was that?” the ploughman said.
And in reply, the Queen told them her story, to which they listened very atten-
tively, and hardly interrupted at all to ask questions.
And so, it being finished, the little old woman took the Queen up to bed in a
little room under the eaves, and bidding her a kind good night, left her.
The Queen’s window looked out down the valley, and she could, as she un-
dressed, see the moon shining placidly along it, gleaming on the dew mist, and
glancing here and there on the waters of the little stream where its zigzag course
caught the light.
There was never a sound save the tinkle of the brook or the dull noise of a horse
that moved its feet in the stable.
So the Queen fell asleep, and did not awaken till the sill was high in the sky.
She rubbed her eyes and could not quite make out where she was at first. She
missed the noise of the geese, to which she had been used to awaken. But
gradually it all came back to her, and for a while she lay and watched the roses
that were peeping in at the window and nodding in the morning breeze.
“Come, this will never do!” the Queen said to herself. “Whatever will they
think of me?” So she arose from between the warm, clean sheets, and, having
dressed herself, went downstairs. There she found the little old woman busy in
“Good morning, my dear,” she said.
And the Queen answered, “Good morning, mother.”
And the little old woman’s eyes smiled her pleasure. “I didn’t wish to wake
you,” she said, “you seemed so tired last night. My son has gone off to his
ploughing; but you will see him as you pass the hill, and he will guide you a
little on your way, if you have to go further.” The little old woman’s eyes looked
quite wistful. “We wish you would stay a little while with us; we should like it
“Why, of course I will,” the Queen said; “that is, if I can be of any use to you.”
“It is wonderful how your son manages to work as he does,” the Queen said.
And the little old woman’s eyes looked proud and happy.
“He has lived all his life here, you see. When he was quite a baby a flash of
lightning blinded him; but now he knows his way everywhere about, and he can
do almost all the farm work. Sometimes he has a boy to help him; but just
now, they’re harvesting at our neighbour’s, and the boy has gone down to help.
But it makes my son rather slow in his ploughing, for he has to guide himself
by feeling with his feet the last furrow he has made.”
“Oh, I could lead the horses for him,” the Queen said. And the mother answered,
“Yes, do, my dear; and you can take your dinner out with you. His dog always
fetches his for him.” So the Queen finished her breakfast, and then set out along
the valley towards the ploughing place. By daylight she could see better how
pleasant a place the valley was, very green in the bottom, with here and there a
pollard willow by the stream, and here and there linen laid out to bleach on the
grass. But the steep hills that shut it in were purple with heather, and brown
with bracken, and, now and then, a lonely thorn tree. Behind her was the little
white cottage, with a cluster of trees drawn down around it, and with the ducks
and turkeys and chickens crowding the valley in front of it. Indeed, every now
and then along the valley a lily-white duck would pop its golden-billed head out
of the reeds and meadow-sweet of the stream to look at her as she passed along.
So she came to the hill where the valley made a sharp turn, and on the top of
which she could see the ploughman. Up it she climbed through the heather,
and speedily reached him.
“I’ve come to lead the horses for you,” she said.
And he looked towards her and smiled.
“That’s right,” he said. “Then you’re not going away just yet. It’s better here
than being shut up in a palace garden, with no one but a bat to talk to.”
“It is,” the Queen said simply.
So, through the autumn day, she led the horses up and down the furrows, whilst
he drove the share deep into the ground.
“Further down the hill,” he said, “the wheat would catch the north wind. So
that’s enough for today, Queen Eldrida.”
“Don’t call me Queen Eldrida, because, if I am a queen, I’m not your queen.
Just call me Eldrida.”
“One name’s as good as another,” he said, as he slipped on his coat. “Now let’s
go home, and I’ll show you a little of the valley behind the house.”
So the Queen stayed for a while with them, and did as they did. And the blind
man led her up the hills, and on the hill tops called the sheep, and from all sides
they came to his call.
And the Queen halved his work for him, and did those things which his want of
sight prevented his doing.
Sometimes she stayed to help the little mother indoors, but, on the whole, she
preferred being out in the open air with the blind man.
Then came the beginning of winter, and she went with him up the hillsides, and
in among the storms to fold the sheep, and drive the cattle home to the byres.
And then midwinter, when, in the morning, they had to set to work by lanthorn
light that cast a luminous yellow circle round them upon the snow, and made
their great shadows dance strangely.
Then the snows swept down into the valley and covered everything up beneath
the soft white waves, so that, when they wanted to go out, they had to get
through one of the roof windows, for the door was all covered up. Then indeed
it was very cold work getting about, and the Queen had always to guide the
blind man, because the snow had covered all his familiar landmarks. The snow
made it very hard walking, too, and put the Queen quite out of breath, but he
sang quite lustily a song—
”’Cold hands, warm heart,’ Then let the wind blow cold On our clasped hands
who fare across the wold.
”’Hard lot, hot love,’ Then let our pathway go Through lone, gray lands; knee-
deep amid the snow.”
But the Queen was generally too out of breath to be able to sing at all.
Said the little old woman, “I will tell you a tale that I had from my grandmother,
and she had it from hers, and so on, a great way back.
“Once upon a time, upon the earth there were no people at all, no men and
women, but only little goblin things that covered the whole earth and made it
a beautiful green colour. But the sun was a bright flame colour, and the moon
very, very white. So the Sun and the Earth took to quarrelling as to which was
the more beautiful of the two.
“Said the Earth. ’I am the more beautiful; such a lovely green as mine was
surely never seen.’
“Said the Sun, ’But just look at my mantle of flame.’
“So, as they could not possibly agree, they submitted the matter to the Moon.
Now, the Moon was horribly jealous of the Sun, because he so terribly outshone
her; so she gave her verdict for the Earth.
“Then, indeed, the Earth was proud, and gave itself such air, and graces that
not only the Sun, but the Moon and all the Stars declared war against it.
“So early one morning the Sun peeped up over the edge the sea, and sent a
great trail of golden warriors over it to attack the Earth spirits.
“They, for their part, were armed and ready, and all day long they fought and
fought, and at last the Sun’s warriors had to depart in a long trail over the sea
to the Sun again. Then the Earth was more triumphant than ever. But, just as
they were lying down to rest, slowly, slowly, the Moon came up and sent a great
trail of its warriors over the sea, and the Stars poured down showers of little,
little warriors, and the poor Earth spirits had to begin and fight all through the
night. And, although they killed hundreds and hundreds and beat the rest off,
no sooner was it done than they had to begin all over again against the Sun.
“This went on—day in, day out; night in, night out—for a long, long time, until
the poor Earth spirits grew wearier and wearier, and their lovely green colour
changed into a sickly yellow hue.
“Then in despair they prayed to the spirits of the air and of the great waters to
assist them. And the waters arose and covered in the Earth, and the winds of the
air brought a mantle of clouds, so that the Earth was shielded from the fury of
the Sun and the constellations; but, alas! when the waters receded and the skies
“So these few, having such a lot to eat, gradually grew and grew till they became
men. And the dead bodies of the green Earth spirits grew out of the Earth, too,
and became the fruits of the Earth; but the dead bodies of the Sun and Moon
warriors became gold and silver, and men dig them out of the Earth.
“But still the quarrel goes on; for gold and silver are man’s greatest curse, and
the fruits of the Earth his one blessing.”
And so with tales and work they beguiled the time of the waiting for the snow’s
melting, and at last it came. The valley was filled with the roaring of the brook,
grown large with the melting of the snows, and the robin sang from the copses.
So the spring came on, and the earth grew green, and it was the time of sowing,
and the Queen had almost forgotten that she was able to fly—indeed, she mostly
left her wind-flower crown at home.
But one day her eye fell upon it, and the thought suddenly struck her that the
bat had said that the wind flowers had the power of curing blindness.
“Now, if only I knew how it was to be done, or if I had a few more of them I’d
cure him. Now, it’s not really so very far from here to there. I might just fly
over to the palace garden and ask the bat, and be back this very evening”—for
it was then the early morning. “And I won’t tell them anything about it, and
it’ll be delightful.”
And so, without any more hesitation, she just opened the little window and was
up among the dawn clouds that were sweeping up from over the sea. It was a
little chilly and very lonely up there, and the silent flights of sea gulls that she
caught up and overpassed seemed too alarmed to talk to her. The Queen felt a
little lost, as if there were something missing.
“Somehow, it doesn’t seem half as nice as it used to do,” she said to herself. “I
wonder why it is? I don’t think, after I get home—I mean back here—I shall
ever go flying again.”
But she folded her hands in her cloak and went silently on over the gray shim-
mering sea. The sun grew higher and higher, and it was about eight in the
morning before she was hovering over the city.
She alighted in a street that seemed somewhat empty, because she disliked the
attention that her mode of progression usually excited.
Just in front of her, under a shed formed by the pushing up of the shutters of his
“Good morning!” the Queen said. “Can I be of any use you?”
The tailor peered up at her through a great pair of horn spectacles.
“Eh?” he said.
“I said, ’Can I be of any use to you?’” the Queen replied.
And the tailor regarded her in a dazed way. Suddenly he said—
“Oh yes; marry me, marry me, only marry me!”
The Queen said, “Oh, nonsense,” because she had just remembered the elixir.
But the tailor answered, “It isn’t nonsense—it really isn’t. It’s true I’m married
already; but I’ll knock my wife on the head, And then I’ll be free.”
But before the Queen could answer anything at all there began a sudden growl-
ing sound that resolved itself into a succession of footsteps coming rapidly down
wooden steps, and, in a moment, a door burst open just behind the tailor’s
back. There was an old woman with a great broom just behind it.
“Ah, would ye now! murder your wife, a respectable married woman, for the
sake of a hussy that comes dropping down out of the chimney tops. I’ll teach
And with one sweep of her broom she knocked the poor little tailor off his board,
and made a dash at the Queen.
But the Queen took to her heels and ran off.
“Why, she’s worse than Mrs. Hexer,” she said to herself. “But really this elixir
is a great nuisance. It makes it impossible to have any peace. But I wonder
what all the flags and decorations are about.”
Just at that moment two people, who appeared to be a servant girl and her
mother, came out of the neighbouring house. They were very gay in holiday
“What is to happen today?” the Queen asked.
And the mother answered, “Why, don’t you know? The Queen is twenty-one
today, and she’s going to marry the Regent, Lord Blackjowl.”
“Everybody knows it,” the mother answered.
“But how did everybody get to know it?” the Queen asked.
And the mother answered, “The Regent told them, I suppose.”
And the girl said, “It’s up among the Royal proclamations, on the notice board
at the palace.”
The Queen said, “Oh! Will you show me the way to the palace?” she continued.
“Why, certainly,” the girl said. “We were just going that way to see the proces-
So they set off through the gay streets. As they went along the Queen could see
the young men on every side falling in love with her; but she paid no attention
“Are you glad the Queen’s going to be married?” she asked her guides.
And the girl answered, “Oh yes; we get a holiday to go and see the procession.”
“Why, then I suppose you’d be just as glad if the Queen died, and you could go
and see her funeral?”
And the old woman said, “Of course!”
By that time they had come to the market place. It was crowded with those
who had come to see the sights, and the fountains were running wine instead of
water; so, of course, there was rather a scramble to get at the fountains. That
left the ground clear for the Queen to get to the notice board where the Royal
There she saw, sure enough, the Regent’s proclamation, saying that the Queen
would marry him that day. At the end of it there was the signature, “Eldrida,
“Why, it isn’t my signature at all,” the Queen said. And the mother and
daughter looked at her askance.
“Have any of you ever seen the Queen?” she asked.
And the mother answered, “No; no one has ever seen the Queen but the Regent;
but there was a story that a beggar told about a year ago, that she had flown
Now the Queen grew really angry with the Regent Blackjowl.
But she said, “Thank you,” and “Good-bye,” to the mother and daughter, and
slipped away through the crowd to the side wall of the palace, where, in the
road, she had first commenced her travels.
Here there were very few people about, because there was little chance of seeing
the procession from there. She waited until the street was almost empty, and
then flew quietly over the palace wall and down into the familiar garden.
There it was, a little more neglected and a little more weed overgrown than
ever, but otherwise just the same. Only it seemed to have grown a great deal
smaller in the Queen’s eyes; but that was because she had grown accustomed
to great prospects and wide expanses of country.
The long, thorny arms of the roses had grown so much, that it was quite difficult
to get under them into the little seat.
“Now I shall have ever so much trouble to wake him, and he’ll be fearfully surly,”
the Queen said to herself.
But it is always the unexpected that happens—as you will one day learn—and
the Queen found that the rustling that the leaves made at her entrance had
awakened the bat.
“Hullo!” he said, “you there! Glad to see you. Heard from a nightingale that
you’d been seen in disreputable company, going about with geese. Well, and
what did you think of the world?”
“Oh, it’s a very nice place when you’re used to it.”
“That’s what you think,” the bat said. “Wait till you come to be my age. But
now, tell me your adventures.”
“I’d better humour him,” the Queen said to herself, and so she plunged into the
When she had finished the bat said, “H’m! and so you’re going to marry the
“I’m not going to do anything of the sort,” the Queen said.
And the bat said, “Just so.”
And the Queen replied, “Don’t be stupid. Oh, and tell me how one can cure
blindness with wind flowers.”
The bat said, “Do you know how to make tea?”
“Of course I do,” the Queen answered.
“Well, you make an infusion of dried wind flowers just like tea, and then you
give it to the young scamp to drink.”
“He’s not a scamp,” the Queen said; “but you’re a dear good old bat all the
The bat said, “H’m!”
The Queen rose to her feet. “Well, I must be off,” she said. “I’ve got a lot to
The bat said, “Wait a minute; I’m coming too;” and he dropped down and hung
on to the Queen’s shoulder. He was rather a weight, but the Queen suffered it.
“Why, there aren’t any wind flowers left!” the Queen said, surveying the spot
where they had grown.
The bat said, “No; the weeds have choked them all.”
The Queen rubbed her chin and said nothing.
And the bat merely ejaculated, “H’m!”
So the Queen entered the palace.
All the great halls were silent, and empty of people, and she passed through one
after the other, shivering a little at their vastness.
At last she came before the curtain that separated her from the Throne Hall.
It was large enough to contain the whole nation.
She pushed the curtain aside and found herself standing behind the great throne.
Through the interstices of the carved back she she could see everything that was
going on. The great hall was thronged full of people from end to end. On the
The Queen stopped and peeped; there was a great flourish of trumpets that
echoed and echoed along the hall, and the Regent began.
“Ladies noble, my lords, dames commoner, and gentlemen!” His great voice
sounded clearly through the silence. “As you are well aware, our gracious and
high-mighty sovereign, the Queen Eldrida, has deigned to favour my unworthy
self with the priceless honour of her hand, and that on this auspicious day. Her
hand and seal afffid to the weighty document you have seen in the market
The Queen walked round the opposite side of the throne into the view of the
people, who set up a tumultuous cheer. The Regent, however, thought they
were cheering him, and went on with his speech.
“I had also announced that it was her Majesty’s royal pleasure to reveal herself
to her loyal people’s eyes on this day.”
The Queen slowly ascended the steps of the throne and seated herself thereon.
The great gold crown—it was six feet high, and so heavy that no head could
bear its weight—hung above her head by a great gold chain.
The people cheered again, and still the Regent, whose back was to the throne,
deemed that they were applauding his speech. He ran his fingers through his
black beard and continued—
“It is, however, my painful duty to apprise you that her Majesty has been
pleased to alter her design. We shall, therefore, be married in private in the
Queen’s apartments. The Queen’s maiden modesty will not allow her to reveal
her charms to the vulgar multitude.”
He paused and watched the effect of his speech, nervously fingering his beard and
blinking with his little eyes. The people whispered among themselves, evidently
unable to understand what it meant.
Suddenly the Queen’s voice rang through the hall.
“My people,” she said, “it is an infamous lie! I am here.”
The Regent started and turned round; his face grew as pale as death. But from
the people a great shout went up at the discomfiture of the hated Regent. It
echoed and reverberated through the great hall, and then silence fell again.
The Regent fell on his knees. “Oh, your Majesty,” he said, “marry me! marry
me! marry me! I adore you! oh, only marry me!”
Once again the people cheered to see the Regent led off by the guards.
Then one of the nobles spoke. “Your Majesty,” he said, “it is for the good of
the nation that you should marry. The late Regent was a tyrant, and, as such,
unfitted for the inestimable honour; but I am the first noble in the realm. I
am beloved by the people; therefore, your Majesty, adding to it the fact that I
respectfully adore your Majesty, I beg your Majesty to let these things weigh
down the balance of your mind, and marry me.”
But hardly were the words out of his mouth when a tumult arose, the like of
which was never heard in any land, for every man of the nation was shouting,
“Marry me! marry me!” till the whole building quivered.
The Queen held up her hand for silence. “Listen!” she said. “I shall marry no
one of you; and I will not even remain your Queen. For I am quite unfitted for
a ruler, and I don’t in the least want to be one. Therefore, choose a ruler for
But the people with one voice shouted, “Be you our ruler!”
The Queen, however, said, “No; I cannot and will not. It wouldn’t he any good
at all; besides, all the men would love me a great deal too much, and all the
women would hate me a great deal too much, because of their husbands and
sweethearts and all. So you must choose a king for yourselves.”
But confusion became doubly confounded, for every man in that vast assembly
voted for himself as king.
“Oh, this will never do,” the Queen said; “because at this rate, you’ll all go
on quarrelling for ever, and the kingdom had better have remained under the
Regent. Shall I choose a king for you?”
And with one voice the people answered, “Yes.”
So the Queen said, “The King I choose is very fit in one way, for he is not likely
to be partial, since he is in this vast assembly the only one that is not in love
with me. He will be very economical, because he neither needs much food, nor
cares for rich robes. Therefore, the taxes will not be heavy; and, even if he is a
little weak-eyed, he will not be a bit more blind to your interests, perhaps, than
you are yourselves.”
So saying, the Queen arose from the throne and, taking the bat from her shoul-
“Now, you’re the King,” the Queen said to him.
“H’m!” he said. “Will they give me some raw meat?”
The Queen said, “Oh yes; and anything else you like to ask for.”
The bat said, “H’m! this seat isn’t very comfortable. What’s that thing up
“That’s the crown,” the Queen said.
And the King remarked, “H’m!” and in a moment he was hanging upside down
from the bottom of the crown.
And the people cheered their King.
But the Queen just said, “Good-bye, your Majesty.”
“Good-bye,” the bat said. “I suppose you won’t marry me?”
“Don’t be silly,” the late Queen said; and she slipped behind the curtain and
ran through the deserted halls again, and once more out into the garden. And
once again she watered her favourite plants, for the last time, and then flew
right up into the air and away, away over the troubled seas, to the land that lay
low in the horizon.
“How delightful it feels not to be a Queen any longer!” she said to herself. “I
always used to feel afraid, when I sat under that great crown, that it might fall
on my head and squash me altogether. But I wonder how the bat got on.”
That the Queen never knew; but this was what happened. The bat took to
kingship quite as easily as a duck takes to water, and, for reasons that the
Queen gave, made a most popular ruler—even though he was strictly just.
True, there were only three people in the kingdom who understood him, and
they were mouse-trap makers who had learnt the bat language from mice. But,
as the King always superintended the carrying out of his own edicts, they did
not care to play tricks. And the bat language was taught in all the schools,
so that it became the state tongue. And all the ladies took to wearing brown
sealskin cloaks with great puffed sleeves and capes, so as to look as much like
bats as possible, and they all pretended to be very weak-sighted and turned
night into day, in imitation of the King.
So that altogether the King was a great success from every point of view, as he
But the Narrowlands is very far away from here, so that news does not often
reach us from it; there is even no talk of opening the country up, which alone
shows how difficult it must be to reach.
In the meanwhile the Queen had come to the other shore. She flew straight to
the little cottage in the valley, and the cock who was standing on the doorsill
greeted her with a lusty crow, being glad to see her again.
In the house there was no one to be found.
“The little mother must have gone to her bleaching,” the Queen said to herself,
“and he—oh, he told me he was going to work in the wood today, so now I’ll see
about making the infusion. The kettle’s on the boil, and it won’t take long.”
She took off the faded wind-flower crown, and looked at it for a moment.
“You poor thing!” she said, “it seems a shame, but still it can’t be helped,” and
in a moment she had dropped it into the boiling water, which rapidly assumed
the golden straw-colour of a weak cup of tea. This she poured into a drinking-
horn, and then set off with it into the wood at the back of the house. It was
rather a ticklish task, walking through the low, dusky wood with the horn in
her hand, for it was getting on in the day and the light was bad, and the small
trees of which the wood was composed were difficult to walk among.
By her side, the stream rushed and rustled over its rocky bottom, and her feet
crackled too on the flooring of last year’s fallen leaves, but the sound that she
paused every now and then to listen for she could not hear. There came no
sharp ringing of the axe down the valley among the trees.
“He must be binding the faggots together,” she said to herself, and went on
until she came to the clearing where he should have been at work; but there he
The light came down the valley duskily through the mist; it gleamed upon the
stream and glimmered on the white ends of the newly chopped faggots that were
neatly bound altogether with withies.
“He must have gone further on,” she said to herself, and ran quite swiftly up
Up and up the rocky path went, whilst the stream foamed down beside it, and
at last she saw him in a slant of light that came down a west-facing valley. He
was crossing the stream just above where it thundered over a great boulder.
There was a bridge across the torrent, but it was only a tree-trunk, and he
preferred, in his blindness, to cross on the stream bottom, over the boulders
with the aid of a good staff. The water foamed up to his knees.
She came as close to the water’s edge as she could, and called—
“Why, where are you going to?”
In spite of the roaring of the waters he heard her and turned.
“Who are you?” he asked.
And she answered, “I am Eldrida.”
And in a moment, with a great splashing of the black water, he was at her side.
“I thought you had gone for good,” he said. “And so I worked as long as I felt
able to; but just now it was all so silent and so dreadfully lonely, that I could
not stand it, and I was about to set out to search for you through the world.”
“What all alone, and blind?” she said.
And he answered, “Yes, since you were gone I was alone and blind; but if I had
found you I should not have been alone, and hardly blind at all.”
She put the horn into his hand, and said, “Drink this.”
“Why, what is it?” he asked.
“It is what I went to fetch,” she said; “drink it and see.”
The light was shining on his face as he raised it to his mouth and drank it off,
and suddenly there came into his eyes a look of great joy.
“Why,” he said, “I can see!” and in a moment he had thrown his arms round
her and drew her tightly to him. “I love you more than all the world!” he said.
“Do you love me?”
She seemed to have forgotten all about the elixir, for instead of saying, “Don’t
And the stream roared on over the great boulders and whirled back over the
rocky shallows, and the shadows in the valleys grew darker and darker; but they
had a great deal to say, though, as a matter of fact, it might most of it have
been said with three words and a kiss.
But, you see, they preferred to do it in another way; at least, as far as the
speaking went—in my experience, there is only one way of kissing.
“So you see, I shan’t be able to fly away any more,” she said, after she had
related her story, “because the poor wind-flower crown is all boiled.”
“Oh, well,” he said, ”1 dare say you won’t want it again, unless you get very
tired of me.”
And she said, “Don’t be ridiculous!” but even that had nothing to do with the
And so they went home down the dark valley to the cottage.
The little mother smiled to see Eldrida.
“I knew you would come back,” she said; “but my son was in a dreadful state—
weren’t you son, son?”
And he only answered, “Mother, mother, I was. And I am very hungry; and I
can see again!”
So there was great rejoicing in the cottage that night, and the little old woman’s
eyes grew bright with joy tears.
But next day Eldrida and her love were married, and, from that time forth, they
worked together, and went hand in hand up the tranquil valley or in among the
storms on the hill crests, and so lived happily ever after.
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