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“Oh, what is that to me?” moaned the little peasant maiden. « Don't
know?” said the old gentleman, mysteriously. “Three sneezes on a Friday break the enchantment which keeps us all here, and to-night at twelve o'clock we will
and pay your little Prince a visit.”
The clock was striking twelve when the little peasant girl, waking from an uneasy dream, felt herself tapped on the shoulder.
“Come, my dear, jump," said the old gentleman, holding out his hand, and leaving the indignant Laura to scramble down by herself as best she could.
This she did, showing two long thin legs, cased in blue silk stockings, and reached the ground at last, naturally very sulky, and greatly offended by this want of attention.
• Is this the way I am to be treated ?” said she, shaking out her train, and brushing past them into the passage.
There she met several ladies and gentlemen hurrying up from the dining-room, and the little Prince, in the blue coat, rushing towards the drawing-room door.
“You will find your love quite taken up with the gentleman from the chimney-piece,” said Laura, stopping him spitefully. “Don't you see them coming hand-inhand ? He seems quite to have consoled her for
And alas ! at that instant the poor little maiden, in
an impulse of gratitude, had flung her arms round her kind old protector.
Will you really take me to him ?” she cried; "oh, how good, how noble you are.”
· Didn't I tell you so ?” said Laura, with a laugh.
The fiery little Prince flashed up with rage and jealousy. He dashed his hand to his forehead, and then, when the little peasant maid came up suddenly, all trembling with shy happiness, he made her a very low and sarcastic bow and turned upon his heel.
. Ah, me! Here was a tragedy. The poor little girl sank down in a heap on the stairs all insensible. The little Prince, never looking once behind, walked up very stately straight into the study again, where he began to make love to Sir Joshua's little lady with the big bonnet and the big round eyes.
There was quite a hum of conversation going on in the room. Figures coming and going and saluting one another in a courtly old-fashioned way. Sir Joshua, with his trumpet, was walking up and down arm-in-arm with Dr. Johnson; the doctor scowling every, now and then over his shoulder at Mr. Washington's bust, who took not the slightest notice. “Ha! ten minutes past midnight,” observed the General, looking at the clock. “It is, I believe, well ascertained that there exists some considerable difference between the hour here and in America. I know not exactly what that difference is. If I did I could calculate the time at home.”
“Sir,” said Doctor Johnson, “any fool could do as much.”
The bust met this sally with a blank and haughty stare, and went on talking to the French lady who was leaning against the cabinet.
In the meantime the members of the Royal Academy had all come clambering down from their places, leaving the model alone in the lamp-lighted hall where they had been assembled. He remained to put on his clothes and to extinguish the lights which had now been burning for some hundred years. At night, when we are all lying stretched out on our beds, how rarely we think of the companies gathering and awakening in our darkened rooms below. Mr. H. C. Andersen was one of the first to note these midnight assemblies, and to call our attention to them. In a very wise and interesting book called The Nutcracker of Nuremberg (written by some learned German many years ago) there is a curious account of one of these meetings, witnessed by a little wakeful girl. On this night, alas! no one was waking; the house was dim with silence and obscurity, and the sad story of my little peasant maiden told on with no lucky interruption. Poor, poor little maiden ! There she lay a little soft round heap upon the stairs. The people coming and going scarcely noticed her, so busy were they making the most of their brief hour of life and liberty. The kind old gentleman from over the chimney-piece stood rubbing her little cold hands in his, and supporting her drooping head upon his knee. Through the window the black night trees shivered and the moon rose in the drifting sky. The church steeple
struck the half-hour, and the people hurried faster and faster.
Tira, lira, lira,” sung a strange little figure dressed in motley clothes, suddenly stopping on its way. “ What have we here? What have we here? A little peasant maid fainting in the moonlight—an old gentleman trying to bring her to! Is she your daughter, friend? Is she dead, or sick, or shamming ? Why do you waste your precious moments ? Chuck her out of window, Toby. Throw the babby out of window. I am Mr. Punch off the inkstand ;” and with another horrible v chuckle the little figure seemed to be skipping away.
Stop, sir,” said the old gentleman, very sternly. “Listen to what I have to tell you. If you see a little Prince upstairs in a blue velvet coat tell him from me that he is a villain and a false heart; and if this young lady dies of grief it is he who has killed her; she was seeking him when he spurned her. Tell him this, if you please, and ask him when and where he will be pleased to meet me, and what weapons he will choose.”
“I'll tell him," said Mr. Punch, and he was off in a minute. Presently he came back (somewhat to the old gentleman's surprise). “ I have seen your little Prince," said he, “and given him your message ; but I did not wait for an answer. 'T were a pity to kill him, you cruelhearted old gentleman. What would the little girl say when she came to life ? ” And Punchinello, who was really kind-hearted, although flighty at first and odd in
manner, knelt down and took the little pale girl into
Her head fell heavily on his shoulder.
Meantime the little Prince upstairs had been
Laura had made friends with the great-grandfather,
“See what a pretty little pair,” said
“A couple of silly little chits,” said she, “what can