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PRINCE AND PRINCESS

from Hans Andersen






She has read all the newspapers in the world, and
forgotten them again, so clever is she.






Gerda was soon obliged to rest again. A big crow hopped on to the snow,
just in front of her. It had been sitting looking at her for a long time
and wagging its head. Now it said, 'Caw, caw; good-day, good-day,' as
well as it could; it meant to be kind to the little girl, and asked her
where she was going, alone in the wide world.

Gerda understood the word 'alone' and knew how much there was in it, and
she told the crow the whole story of her life and adventures, and asked
if it had seen Kay.

The crow nodded its head gravely and said, 'May be I have, may be I
have.'

'What, do you really think you have?' cried the little girl, nearly
smothering him with her kisses.

'Gently, gently!' said the crow. 'I believe it may have been Kay, but he
has forgotten you by this time, I expect, for the Princess.'

'Does he live with a Princess?' asked Gerda.

'Yes, listen,' said the crow; 'but it is so difficult to speak your
language. If you understand "crow's language,"[1] I can tell you about
it much better.'

'No, I have never learnt it,' said Gerda; 'but grandmother knew it, and
used to speak it. If only I had learnt it!'

'It doesn't matter,' said the crow. 'I will tell you as well as I can,
although I may do it rather badly.'

Then he told her what he had heard.

'In this kingdom where we are now,' said he, 'there lives a Princess who
is very clever. She has read all the newspapers in the world, and
forgotten them again, so clever is she. One day she was sitting on her
throne, which is not such an amusing thing to do either, they say; and
she began humming a tune, which happened to be

"Why should I not be married, oh why?"

"Why not indeed?" said she. And she made up her mind to marry, if she
could find a husband who had an answer ready when a question was put to
him. She called all the court ladies together, and when they heard what
she wanted they were delighted.

'"I like that now," they said. "I was thinking the same thing myself the
other day."

'Every word I say is true,' said the crow, 'for I have a tame
sweetheart who goes about the palace whenever she likes. She told me the
whole story.'

Of course his sweetheart was a crow, for 'birds of a feather flock
together,' and one crow always chooses another. The newspapers all came
out immediately with borders of hearts and the Princess's initials. They
gave notice that any young man who was handsome enough might go up to
the Palace to speak to the Princess. The one who spoke as if he were
quite at home, and spoke well, would be chosen by the Princess as her
husband. Yes, yes, you may believe me, it's as true as I sit here,' said
the crow. 'The people came crowding in; there was such running, and
crushing, but no one was fortunate enough to be chosen, either on the
first day, or on the second. They could all of them talk well enough in
the street, but when they entered the castle gates, and saw the guard in
silver uniforms, and when they went up the stairs through rows of
lackeys in gold embroidered liveries, their courage forsook them. When
they reached the brilliantly lighted reception-rooms, and stood in front
of the throne where the Princess was seated, they could think of nothing
to say, they only echoed her last words, and of course that was not what
she wanted.

'It was just as if they had all taken some kind of sleeping-powder,
which made them lethargic; they did not recover themselves until they
got out into the street again, and then they had plenty to say. There
was quite a long line of them, reaching from the town gates up to the
Palace.

'I went to see them myself,' said the crow. 'They were hungry and
thirsty, but they got nothing at the Palace, not even as much as a glass
of tepid water. Some of the wise ones had taken sandwiches with them,
but they did not share them with their neighbours; they thought if the
others went in to the Princess looking hungry, that there would be more
chance for themselves.'

'But Kay, little Kay!' asked Gerda; 'when did he come? was he amongst
the crowd?'

'Give me time, give me time! we are just coming to him. It was on the
third day that a little personage came marching cheerfully along,
without either carriage or horse. His eyes sparkled like yours, and he
had beautiful long hair, but his clothes were very shabby.'

'Oh, that was Kay!' said Gerda gleefully; 'then I have found him!' and
she clapped her hands.

'He had a little knapsack on his back!' said the crow.

'No, it must have been his sledge; he had it with him when he went
away!' said Gerda.

'It may be so,' said the crow; 'I did not look very particularly; but I
know from my sweetheart, that when he entered the Palace gates, and saw
the life-guards in their silver uniforms, and the lackeys on the stairs
in their gold-laced liveries, he was not the least bit abashed. He just
nodded to them and said, "It must be very tiresome to stand upon the
stairs. I am going inside!" The rooms were blazing with lights. Privy
councillors and excellencies without number were walking about barefoot
carrying golden vessels; it was enough to make you solemn! His boots
creaked fearfully too, but he wasn't a bit upset.'

'Oh, I am sure that was Kay!' said Gerda; 'I know he had a pair of new
boots, I heard them creaking in grandmother's room.'

'Yes, indeed they did creak!' said the crow. 'But nothing daunted, he
went straight up to the Princess, who was sitting on a pearl as big as a
spinning-wheel. Poor, simple boy! all the court ladies and their
attendants; the courtiers, and their gentlemen, each attended by a page,
were standing round. The nearer the door they stood, so much the greater
was their haughtiness; till the footman's boy, who always wore slippers
and stood in the doorway, was almost too proud even to be looked at.'

'It must be awful!' said little Gerda, 'and yet Kay has won the
Princess!'

'If I had not been a crow, I should have taken her myself,
notwithstanding that I am engaged. They say he spoke as well as I could
have done myself, when I speak crow-language; at least so my sweetheart
says. He was a picture of good looks and gallantry, and then, he had not
come with any idea of wooing the Princess, but simply to hear her
wisdom. He admired her just as much as she admired him!'

'Indeed it was Kay then,' said Gerda; 'he was so clever he could do
mental arithmetic up to fractions. Oh, won't you take me to the Palace?'

'It's easy enough to talk,' said the crow; 'but how are we to manage it?
I will talk to my tame sweetheart about it; she will have some advice to
give us I daresay, but I am bound to tell you that a little girl like
you will never be admitted!'

'Oh, indeed I shall,' said Gerda; 'when Kay hears that I am here, he
will come out at once to fetch me.'

'Wait here for me by the stile,' said the crow, then he wagged his head
and flew off.

The evening had darkened in before he came back. 'Caw, caw,' he said,
'she sends you greeting. And here is a little roll for you; she got it
out of the kitchen where there is bread enough, and I daresay you are
hungry! It is not possible for you to get into the Palace; you have bare
feet; the guards in silver and the lackeys in gold would never allow you
to pass. But don't cry, we shall get you in somehow; my sweetheart knows
a little back staircase which leads up to the bedroom, and she knows
where the key is kept.'

Then they went into the garden, into the great avenue where the leaves
were dropping, softly one by one; and when the Palace lights went out,
one after the other, the crow led little Gerda to the back door, which
was ajar.

Oh, how Gerda's heart beat with fear and longing! It was just as if she
was about to do something wrong, and yet she only wanted to know if this
really was little Kay. Oh, it must be him, she thought, picturing to
herself his clever eyes and his long hair. She could see his very smile
when they used to sit under the rose-trees at home. She thought he would
be very glad to see her, and to hear what a long way she had come to
find him, and to hear how sad they had all been at home when he did not
come back. Oh, it was joy mingled with fear.

They had now reached the stairs, where a little lamp was burning on a
shelf. There stood the tame sweetheart, twisting and turning her head to
look at Gerda, who made a curtsy, as grandmother had taught her.

'My betrothed has spoken so charmingly to me about you, my little miss!'
she said; 'your life, "_Vita_," as it is called, is most touching! If
you will take the lamp, I will go on in front. We shall take the
straight road here, and we shall meet no one.'

'It seems to me that some one is coming behind us,' said Gerda, as she
fancied something rushed past her, throwing a shadow on the walls;
horses with flowing manes and slender legs; huntsmen, ladies and
gentlemen on horseback.

'Oh, those are only the dreams!' said the crow; 'they come to take the
thoughts of the noble ladies and gentlemen out hunting. That's a good
thing, for you will be able to see them all the better in bed. But don't
forget, when you are taken into favour, to show a grateful spirit.'

'Now, there's no need to talk about that,' said the crow from the woods.

They came now into the first apartment; it was hung with rose-coloured
satin embroidered with flowers. Here again the dreams overtook them, but
they flitted by so quickly that Gerda could not distinguish them. The
apartments became one more beautiful than the other; they were enough to
bewilder anybody. They now reached the bedroom. The ceiling was like a
great palm with crystal leaves, and in the middle of the room two beds,
each like a lily hung from a golden stem. One was white, and in it lay
the Princess; the other was red, and there lay he whom Gerda had come to
seek--little Kay! She bent aside one of the crimson leaves, and she saw
a little brown neck. It was Kay. She called his name aloud, and held the
lamp close to him. Again the dreams rushed through the room on
horseback--he awoke, turned his head--and it was not little Kay.

It was only the Prince's neck which was like his; but he was young and
handsome. The Princess peeped out of her lily-white bed, and asked what
was the matter. Then little Gerda cried and told them all her story, and
what the crows had done to help her.

'You poor little thing!' said the Prince and Princess. And they praised
the crows, and said that they were not at all angry with them, but they
must not do it again. Then they gave them a reward.

'Would you like your liberty?' said the Princess, 'or would you prefer
permanent posts about the court as court crows, with perquisites from
the kitchen?'

Both crows curtsied and begged for the permanent posts, for they thought
of their old age, and said 'it was so good to have something for the old
man,' as they called it.

The Prince got up and allowed Gerda to sleep in his bed, and he could
not have done more. She folded her little hands, and thought 'how good
the people and the animals are'; then she shut her eyes and fell fast
asleep. All the dreams came flying back again; this time they looked
like angels, and they were dragging a little sledge with Kay sitting on
it, and he nodded. But it was only a dream; so it all vanished when she
woke.

Next day she was dressed in silk and velvet from head to foot; they
asked her to stay at the Palace and have a good time, but she only
begged them to give her a little carriage and horse, and a little pair
of boots, so that she might drive out into the wide world to look for
Kay.

They gave her a pair of boots and a muff. She was beautifully dressed,
and when she was ready to start, there before the door stood a new
chariot of pure gold. The Prince's and Princess's coat of arms were
emblazoned on it, and shone like a star. Coachman, footman, and
outrider, for there was even an outrider, all wore golden crowns. The
Prince and Princess themselves helped her into the carriage and wished
her joy. The wood crow, who was now married, accompanied her for the
first three miles; he sat beside Gerda, for he could not ride with his
back to the horses. The other crow stood at the door and flapped her
wings; she did not go with them, for she suffered from headache since
she had become a kitchen pensioner--the consequence of eating too much.
The chariot was stored with sugar biscuits, and there were fruit and
ginger nuts under the seat. 'Good-bye, good-bye,' cried the Prince and
Princess; little Gerda wept, and the crow wept too. At the end of the
first few miles the crow said good-bye, and this was the hardest parting
of all. It flew up into a tree and flapped its big black wings as long
as it could see the chariot, which shone like the brightest sunshine.


letters or syllables to every word, which is called 'crow's language.'





Next: THE LITTLE ROBBER GIRL

Previous: THE GARDEN OF THE WOMAN LEARNED IN MAGIC



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