- chapter: THE PRINCESS HILDA.
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THE PRINCESS HILDA.
PRINCESS HILDEGARDE sat at an open window, looking out upon her garden of flowers. She was very beautiful, with a face as fair and sweet as a rose. Not far off sat, watching her, her young cousin Zora, with a frown on her brow.
There was bitter hatred in Zora's heart because Hildegarde was rich and she was poor; because Hildegarde would, in time, be a queen, and she one of her subjects. Moreover, Hildegarde was so beautiful and good that the fame of her loveliness had spread far and wide; and it was for her beauty that Zora hated her more than for any thing else.| | 138
In childhood Zora had been very fair; and the courtiers had petted her, and pronounced her even fairer than the princess; but her beauty had never meant any thing but bright eyes and cherry cheeks: so it could not last. If she had only cherished pure thoughts and kind wishes, she might still have been as lovely as Hilda; but who does not know that evil feelings write themselves on the face?
Jealousy had pulled her mouth down at the corners; deceit had given it a foolish smirk; spite had plowed an ugly frown in her brow; while she had tried so many arts to make her rich brown skin as delicately white as Hilda's, that it was changed to the tint of chrome yellow.
It was said in those days, that Zora was in the power of wicked fairies, who twisted her features into the shape that pleased them best.| | 139
At any rate, how the amiable Princess Hilda was to blame for all these deformities it would be hard to say; and she little dreamed of the malice in her cousin's heart.
But, while Hilda was looking out of the window, a noble knight passed that way; and so delighted was he with the rare sweetness of her face, that he forgot himself, and paused a moment to gaze at her. The princess blushed, and let fall the silken curtain; but Zora had seen the knight, and knew he was the royal Prince Reginald. She ground her teeth in rage; for she had determined that the prince should never see her beautiful cousin.
"They shall not meet," said she to herself: "no, not if there are bad fairies enough to prevent it."
But, when the princess looked up, Zora was smiling very sweetly. Who could have | | 140 dreamed that she was thinking of nothing but how to ruin the peace of her gentle cousin?
Zora could hardly wait for nightfall, so eager was she to do her wicked work. When it was dark, and all was quiet, she stole out of the castle, wearing a black mantle which hid her face.
"Now," thought she, "no one' can recognize me, and I will seek the fairy Gerula."
You must know that Gerula was one of the most wicked and hideous sprites that ever existed. She dwelt in a cave far from the abodes of men. It was hidden by huge trees through which the wind never ceased howling. At evening owls hooted overhead, and many creeping things wound their length along the ground. The more toads and snakes she could see about her, the better was she pleased; for fairies, as well as | | 141 mortals, are attracted by what is akin to themselves.
She was descended from a race called kobolds or goblins; and she loved all the metals which lie under the earth as well as the living things which crawl up out of its bosom.
So acute were her ears, that she heard Zora's steps from a great distance. She brushed back her elf-locks, and gave a low grunt like some wild beast. It pleased her that the Lady Zora should find need of her counsel; but, when Zora had reached the cave, the cunning fairy pretended to be sleeping, and started up in seeming surprise.
"What brings a body here at this time of night?" said she.
"I am Lady Zora. I have come, sweet fairy, to beg a favor. The Princess Hilda is hateful to me: work one of your charms on her, and let me see her face no more."| | 142
The old fairy pricked up her ears and said to herself, "Ha! ha! I will have nice sport out o' this" then said aloud, "Say, what harm has the princess done to my rosebud, my lily, my pride?"
Zora's eyes flashed. "Prince Reginald has seen her; and to see her is to love her. My heart is set on wedding Prince Reginald. Take her out of his way!"
Just then a broad gleam of moonlight fell on the treacherous maiden. It was strange how much she looked like the cruel fairy; and Gerula gazed on her with delight.
"My beautiful viper!" said she, using the sweetest pet-name she could think of, "I will do your bidding. But first say what you will give me if I put Hildegarde out of your way."
Then she chuckled, and rubbed her hands in great glee. Zora started back in alarm.| | 143
"I did not know you sold your charms for gold; but I would give you half my fortune if need be, any thing, to be rid of Hilda."
The fairy chuckled again. "Just the damsel for me," thought she.
"I will give you a diamond necklace," said Zora: "it is worth a small kingdom, and was given me by my cousin Hilda. You can surely ask no more?"
"Diamonds!" said the goblin, snapping her fingers. "What think you I care for them? Do I not tire of stooping to pick them up? for they are given me by my cousins, the gnomes, any day. No diamonds for me! Keep them and your gold. I ask but one thing, my dear."
Here she spoke in low hissing tones, more terrible than her loudest croakings.
"Promise me, if you do not marry Prince | | 144 Reginald, you will let me change you into a charming green snake."
"Alas!" cried Zora, turning pale, "who ever heard of such a cruel request?"
"Cruel, am I?" said the goblin in delight. "Oh, I must seem cruel to one who is so gentle and lovely as Hilda!"
"Alas," cried Zora, "I may fail to win Prince Reginald."
"All the better," chuckled the fairy. "When you become a snake, you and I shall enjoy each other's society, I assure you."
"But it's all one to me," added the goblin, beginning to yawn. "On the whole, I think you may as well go home."
Zora wrung her hands, and groaned.
"Yes," said the gnome: "go back to the castle. Ugh! I would sooner trust one of my winking owls to do a daring deed than | | 145 you! Fie upon you! Creep back to your bed, and let Hilda marry the prince: a lovely pair they will make. Off with you, for I have to make up my sleep I have lost."
But Zora was thinking.
"I am silly indeed!" she said to herself. "Why do I fear that I shall not win the love of Prince Reginald? Only Hilda stands in my way." Then she said aloud,--
"Lovely being! sweetest of all the race! Great as is my horror, I will consent to your will."
Just then was heard a crackling in the dry leaves.
"Only a snake," said the goblin. Zora trembled.
"Will you promise me that Hilda will never trouble me again?"
"I promise," said the goblin, with one of | | 146 her merriest laughs, as loud and hoarse as the song of a frog.
Just then a sigh was heard not far from the place where Zora stood. "There is some one here: we are watched," she whispered. But Gerula thought it the howling of the wind; for she was busily musing over the charm she was about to obtain of her cousins, the gnomes, and her eyes and ears were not as sharp as usual.
She took from the ground her crooked staff.
"Hush," said she; "if the sky were to fall on your head, you are not to speak; for now begins the charm."
Then she drew a circle three times on the ground, with her staff, and said in low tones,--
The princess is young and fair;
Mix me a charm that shall bring her to woe
Spin me your vilest snare."
A mist arose, in which Zora could see dim figures, one after another. Zora held her breath. Gerula muttered again in low tones,--
The little gnomes sit and weep;
'Make her,--if must be,--a snowy wee lamb,
In the fold with her father's sheep.'"
Zora clapped her hands in delight. But just then, a faint sound was heard, as of some one talking between the teeth. Then Zora spoke, and the charm was broken. She did not intend to speak; but asked, "What noise was that?" before she thought.
"You have broken the charm," said the fairy. "The soft-hearted gnomes are unwilling to punish Hilda; but I hoped, by my craft, I could force them to keep her a lamb forever; or, at most, to let her grow to a sheep, and die by the knife.| | 148
"I will now weave a new charm; but I fear me they will repent; and Hilda will not be got out of the way, after all. Not a word more, I warn you."
So saying, the goblin made another circle three times, on the ground, and again muttered,--
The little gnomes cry, 'We fear
Till comes a brave lion so tender and true,
She lives by his side a year.'"
Zora clapped her hands again. "That is well," said she, "for never was a lion seen who could let a little helpless lamb pass his way without tearing it in pieces."
"True," said the gnome, well pleased, "it has worked well. Hilda will never trouble you again: so creep home softly, and go to your rest: dream of bats and creeping | | 149 snakes; and to-morrow, at sunrise, ask your cousin to walk with you in the park. Now adieu!"
"Adieu, sweetest and best of fairies!" said Zora, drawing her silken mantle closely about her face. As she left the hideous cave, snakes hissed after her, and a bat flew in her face; but she had sold herself to evil, and walked on without fear of the creatures she so strongly resembled.
Next morning, at the first peep of the sun, she cried, "Awake, dearest Hilda, joy of my life, and walk with me in the park. I have lost my diamond necklace; and last night I dreamed it was lying in the grass."
So Princess Hildegarde opened her eyes, and hastened to follow her cousin; for her heart was quickly moved to any act of kindness.
"What a fine flock of sheep!" cried Hilda, | | 150 as they were walking in the park. "Such innocent"--
She would have said more, but the words on her tongue were suddenly changed to tender bleatings; and even as Zora stood looking at her, she crouched down on all fours, dwindled in size, was enveloped in white fleece, and became a dumb lamb.
Overwhelmed with horror and surprise, she raised her pleading, tearful eyes to the face of her cousin. But Zora gave a mocking laugh, and said, pointing her finger at her,--
"Who now is the heir of the throne? Will they set the royal crown on a sheep's head, think you? Bravo, sweet creature! You may stand now between me and Prince Reginald as much as you please. It's all my work. I tell you once for all, I hate you, Hildegarde."| | 151
Was this Zora's return for her cousin's love? The princess would fain have expressed her grief and amazement.
"Pray don't try to talk, my bonny wee thing! It is not one of your gifts, at present. Your voice has ceased to be musical. I can sing now as well as you. Go to nibbling grass, deary, and a long life to you!"
Then the treacherous Zora turned on her heel, and left her poor cousin to her mute despair.
A search was made far and wide for the missing princess. Forests were hunted, rivers were dragged; but without avail. Deep gloom fell on the people, and the queen nearly died of sorrow. They all believed Hilda dead, all but Zora, who knew too well her cruel fate.
Then Zora was treated like the king's daughter. Wherever she went, there were ser- | | 152 vants to follow her; yet none loved her, and behind her back they made wry faces, and said she looked like one who was tormented by evil fairies.
But, alas for Zora, nothing more was seen of Prince Reginald. She watched the windows day after day, hoping to see him ride by on his coal-black steed; but he never came. Then she grew crosser than ever, and the frown on her brow ploughed deeper still. She dreamed every night of horrible goblins and slender green snakes.
All the while, poor Hildegarde roamed about the park. The other lambs were content to nip the sweet grass, and frisk in the sun; but the princess remembered something better, for her soul did not sleep.
The king himself, in his walks, was struck with the beauty of the lamb; its fleece was far softer, finer, and whiter than was common. | | 153 He said to his chief shepherd, "Watch well yonder snow-white lamb, and give it particular care."
For there was something in its soft dark eyes, as they were raised to his face, which stirred the king's heart, though he knew not why.
One day the city was thrown into a great tumult. A lion had been seen in the thicket which bordered the park. The huntsmen, hearing of it, stole out privately to waylay him in a snare. He was caught alive by the king's favorite huntsman. It was agreed that such a fine lion had never been seen before; and the king ordered a strong iron cage for the beast, and made his favorite huntsman his keeper.
Now the cage was in the midst of the park; and such was the terror of the sheep and deer, that none of them went near it.| | 154
"I will go," thought poor Hildegarde; "let the lion tear me in pieces. Sooner would I perish, than live on, a poor wee lamb all my days."
So she went up to the cage, though with a faint heart; but the lion put his paw out of the bars, and stroked her face, as if he would bid her welcome. The keeper reported the fact with great surprise.
It may be that the beautiful brown eyes of the lamb tamed the fierce spirit of the lion; for they were human eyes, full of Hildegarde's own soul. Be that as it may, the lamb went every day to the cage, till the lion learned to watch for her, and gave a low growl of joy when he saw her coming. At last the keeper ventured to drop her carefully into the cage. The lion was beside himself with joy; and, after that, the lamb was placed in the cage every morning, and only taken out at night.| | 155
Then the king invited all the noblemen into his park, to see the strange sight of a lion and a lamb living together in peace. And all the while Hildegarde loved her shaggy companion, and asked herself every day how it could be that a lion should have such speaking eyes and such a tender heart. But she almost believed that he was a human being, shut up, like herself, in a cruel disguise.
At last, when a whole year had gone by, the time came for Hilda to be disenchanted; for the good little gnomes had declared that if she could live for a twelvemonth in peace with a lion, the charm would then be at an end.
Hilda did not know this; but awoke at sunrise, and, going to drink, saw the image of her old self in the fountain; and faint voices repeated in chorus these lines:-- | | 156
At sunrise their charms shall end;
So go to the lion, and open the cage;
The prince is your own true friend."
This was so sudden and unexpected that the happy Hilda could hardly believe her senses. She gazed at her jewelled fingers; she touched her velvet robe. "It is Hildegarde," said she dreamily; "where has she stayed so long?"
She went to the cage; and, finding the key hanging on the outside, would fain have freed the poor lion, but thought of the terror it would cause the sheep and deer, and dared not do it.
She put her soft white arms within the bars, saying,--
"You have been a true friend to the little white lamb. She has found her tongue again, and can say so. Kind old lion, gentle prisoner, Hildegarde will not forget you."| | 157
The noble beast looked at the disenchanted princess, and the next instant was changed to his true form; and, in place of a tawny lion, it was the brave Prince Reginald. Hilda blushed with joyful surprise, and would have taken down the key to unlock the cage, but the prince said,--
"Loveliest Hildegarde, will you be my bride? Speak before you unlock the cage; for, if you say nay, Reginald must again become a dumb beast, and, as he has been for a year, so will he be for the rest of his days."
Hildegarde cast down her eyes, and answered, "If so be the lion and the lamb could live side by side for a year, may not Reginald and Hilda dwell together in peace?"
"Then," said the joyful Prince Reginald, "I pray thee unlock the cage."
Now, as they walked together in the park | | 158 the prince told Hildegarde, that he had loved her for a twelvemonth and a day.
He described Hilda's visit to the cruel goblin. He said that he himself had overheard the two talking together, had ground his teeth, and sighed. Then the gnomes, seeing his grief, had come asking him if he would be changed for a year, and maybe for life, into a lion; and for Hildegarde's sake he had gladly consented.
Hearing all these things, the grateful princess wept, and said,--
"Now I know that Prince Reginald is my own true friend."
The prince led Hilda to the palace, and presented her to the king and queen. Great was the wonder, and loud the rejoicing throughout the land.
The treacherous Zora was seen no more, but was changed into a slender green snake; | | 159 and the king said she deserved her fate; "for, mark you," cried he, "there is no crime worse than to play false to those whom we pretend to love."
But Prince Reginald and Hildegarde were married, and lived in peace all the rest of their lives.
|<< chapter THE ELF OF LIGHT||< chapter Introduction||chapter GOLDILOCKS >|