A DOUBLE STORY
A DOUBLE STORY
There was a certain country where things used to go rather oddly.
For instance you could never tell whether it was going to rain or
hail or whether or not the milk was going to turn sour. It was
impossible to say whether the next baby would be a boy or a girl
or even after he was a week old whether he would wake
sweet-tempered or cross.
In strict accordance with the peculiar nature of this country of
uncertainties it came to pass one day that in the midst of a
shower of rain that might well be called golden seeing the sun
shining as it fell turned all its drops into molten topazes and
every drop was good for a grain of golden corn or a yellow cowslip
or a buttercup or a dandelion at least;--while this splendid rain
was falling I say with a musical patter upon the great leaves of
the horse-chestnuts which hung like Vandyke collars about the necks
of the creamy red-spotted blossoms and on the leaves of the
sycamores looking as if they had blood in their veins and on a
multitude of flowers of which some stood up and boldly held out
their cups to catch their share while others cowered down
laughing under the soft patting blows of the heavy warm drops;--
while this lovely rain was washing all the air clean from the motes
and the bad odors and the poison-seeds that had escaped from their
prisons during the long drought;--while it fell splashing and
sparkling with a hum and a rush and a soft clashing--but stop! I
am stealing I find and not that only but with clumsy hands
spoiling what I steal:--
"O Rain! with your dull twofold sound
The clash hard by and the murmur all round:"
--there! take it Mr. Coleridge;--while as I was saying the lovely
little rivers whose fountains are the clouds and which cut their
own channels through the air and make sweet noises rubbing against
their banks as they hurry down and down until at length they are
pulled up on a sudden with a musical plash in the very heart of an
odorous flower that first gasps and then sighs up a blissful scent
or on the bald head of a stone that never says Thank you;--while
the very sheep felt it blessing them though it could never reach
their skins through the depth of their long wool and the veriest
hedgehog--I mean the one with the longest spikes--came and spiked
himself out to impale as many of the drops as he could;--while the
rain was thus falling and the leaves and the flowers and the
sheep and the cattle and the hedgehog were all busily receiving
the golden rain something happened. It was not a great battle nor
an earthquake nor a coronation but something more important than
all those put together. A BABY-GIRL WAS BORN; and her father was a
king; and her mother was a queen; and her uncles and aunts were
princes and princesses; and her first-cousins were dukes and
duchesses; and not one of her second-cousins was less than a marquis
or marchioness or of their third-cousins less than an earl or
countess: and below a countess they did not care to count. So the
little girl was Somebody; and yet for all that strange to say the
first thing she did was to cry. I told you it was a strange country.
As she grew up everybody about her did his best to convince her
that she was Somebody; and the girl herself was so easily persuaded
of it that she quite forgot that anybody had ever told her so and
took it for a fundamental innate primary first-born self-
evident necessary and incontrovertible idea and principle that SHE
WAS SOMEBODY. And far be it from me to deny it. I will even go so
far as to assert that in this odd country there was a huge number of
Somebodies. Indeed it was one of its oddities that every boy and
girl in it was rather too ready to think he or she was Somebody;
and the worst of it was that the princess never thought of there
being more than one Somebody--and that was herself.
Far away to the north in the same country on the side of a bleak
hill where a horse-chestnut or a sycamore was never seen where
were no meadows rich with buttercups only steep rough breezy
slopes covered with dry prickly furze and its flowers of red gold
or moister softer broom with its flowers of yellow gold and great
sweeps of purple heather mixed with bilberries and crowberries
and cranberries--no I am all wrong: there was nothing out yet but a
few furze-blossoms; the rest were all waiting behind their doors
till they were called; and no full slow-gliding river with
meadow-sweet along its oozy banks only a little brook here and
there that dashed past without a moment to say "How do you
do?"--there (would you believe it?) while the same cloud that was
dropping down golden rain all about the queen's new baby was dashing
huge fierce handfuls of hail upon the hills with such force that
they flew spinning off the rocks and stones went burrowing in the
sheep's wool stung the cheeks and chin of the shepherd with their
sharp spiteful little blows and made his dog wink and whine as they
bounded off his hard wise head and long sagacious nose; only when
they dropped plump down the chimney and fell hissing in the little
fire they caught it then for the clever little fire soon sent them
up the chimney again a good deal swollen and harmless enough for a
while there (what do you think?) among the hailstones and the
heather and the cold mountain air another little girl was born
whom the shepherd her father and the shepherdess her mother and a
good many of her kindred too thought Somebody. She had not an uncle
or an aunt that was less than a shepherd or dairymaid not a cousin
that was less than a farm-laborer not a second-cousin that was less
than a grocer and they did not count farther. And yet (would you
believe it?) she too cried the very first thing. It WAS an odd
country! And what is still more surprising the shepherd and
shepherdess and the dairymaids and the laborers were not a bit wiser
than the king and the queen and the dukes and the marquises and the
earls; for they too one and all so constantly taught the little
woman that she was Somebody that she also forgot that there were a
great many more Somebodies besides herself in the world.
It was indeed a peculiar country very different from ours--so
different that my reader must not be too much surprised when I add
the amazing fact that most of its inhabitants instead of enjoying
the things they had were always wanting the things they had not
often even the things it was least likely they ever could have. The
grown men and women being like this there is no reason to be
further astonished that the Princess Rosamond--the name her parents
gave her because it means Rose of the World--should grow up like
them wanting every thing she could and every thing she couldn't
have. The things she could have were a great many too many for her
foolish parents always gave her what they could; but still there
remained a few things they couldn't give her for they were only a
common king and queen. They could and did give her a lighted candle
when she cried for it and managed by much care that she should not
burn her fingers or set her frock on fire; but when she cried for
the moon that they could not give her. They did the worst thing
possible instead however; for they pretended to do what they could
not. They got her a thin disc of brilliantly polished silver as
near the size of the moon as they could agree upon; and for a time
she was delighted.
But unfortunately one evening she made the discovery that her moon
was a little peculiar inasmuch as she could not shine in the dark.
Her nurse happened to snuff out the candles as she was playing with
it; and instantly came a shriek of rage for her moon had vanished.
Presently through the opening of the curtains she caught sight of
the real moon far away in the sky and shining quite calmly as if
she had been there all the time; and her rage increased to such a
degree that if it had not passed off in a fit I do not know what
might have come of it.
As she grew up it was still the same with this difference that not
only must she have every thing but she got tired of every thing
almost as soon as she had it. There was an accumulation of things in
her nursery and schoolroom and bedroom that was perfectly appalling.
Her mother's wardrobes were almost useless to her so packed were
they with things of which she never took any notice. When she was
five years old they gave her a splendid gold repeater so close set
with diamonds and rubies that the back was just one crust of gems.
In one of her little tempers as they called her hideously ugly
rages she dashed it against the back of the chimney after which it
never gave a single tick; and some of the diamonds went to the
ash-pit. As she grew older still she became fond of animals not in
a way that brought them much pleasure or herself much satisfaction.
When angry she would beat them and try to pull them to pieces and
as soon as she became a little used to them would neglect them
altogether. Then if they could they would run away and she was
furious. Some white mice which she had ceased feeding altogether
did so; and soon the palace was swarming with white mice. Their red
eyes might be seen glowing and their white skins gleaming in every
dark corner; but when it came to the king's finding a nest of them
in his second-best crown he was angry and ordered them to be
drowned. The princess heard of it however and raised such a
clamor that there they were left until they should run away of
themselves; and the poor king had to wear his best crown every day
till then. Nothing that was the princess's property whether she
cared for it or not was to be meddled with.
Of course as she grew she grew worse; for she never tried to grow
better. She became more and more peevish and fretful every
day--dissatisfied not only with what she had but with all that was
around her and constantly wishing things in general to be
different. She found fault with every thing and everybody and all
that happened and grew more and more disagreeable to every one who
had to do with her. At last when she had nearly killed her nurse
and had all but succeeded in hanging herself and was miserable from
morning to night her parents thought it time to do something.
A long way from the palace in the heart of a deep wood of
pine-trees lived a wise woman. In some countries she would have
been called a witch; but that would have been a mistake for she
never did any thing wicked and had more power than any witch could
have. As her fame was spread through all the country the king heard
of her; and thinking she might perhaps be able to suggest
something sent for her. In the dead of the night lest the princess
should know it the king's messenger brought into the palace a tall
woman muffled from head to foot in a cloak of black cloth. In the
presence of both their Majesties the king to do her honor
requested her to sit; but she declined and stood waiting to hear
what they had to say. Nor had she to wait long for almost instantly
they began to tell her the dreadful trouble they were in with their
only child; first the king talking then the queen interposing with
some yet more dreadful fact and at times both letting out a torrent
of words together so anxious were they to show the wise woman that
their perplexity was real and their daughter a very terrible one.
For a long while there appeared no sign of approaching pause. But
the wise woman stood patiently folded in her black cloak and
listened without word or motion. At length silence fell; for they
had talked themselves tired and could not think of any thing more
to add to the list of their child's enormities.
After a minute the wise woman unfolded her arms; and her cloak
dropping open in front disclosed a garment made of a strange stuff
which an old poet who knew her well has thus described:--
"All lilly white withoutten spot or pride
That seemd like silke and silver woven neare;
But neither silke nor silver therein did appeare."
"How very badly you have treated her!" said the wise woman. "Poor
"Treated her badly?" gasped the king.
"She is a very wicked child" said the queen; and both glared with
"Yes indeed!" returned the wise woman. "She is very naughty indeed
and that she must be made to feel; but it is half your fault too."
"What!" stammered the king. "Haven't we given her every mortal thing
"Surely" said the wise woman: "what else could have all but killed
her? You should have given her a few things of the other sort. But
you are far too dull to understand me."
"You are very polite" remarked the king with royal sarcasm on his
thin straight lips.
The wise woman made no answer beyond a deep sigh; and the king and
queen sat silent also in their anger glaring at the wise woman. The
silence lasted again for a minute and then the wise woman folded
her cloak around her and her shining garment vanished like the moon
when a great cloud comes over her. Yet another minute passed and the
silence endured for the smouldering wrath of the king and queen
choked the channels of their speech. Then the wise woman turned her
back on them and so stood. At this the rage of the king broke
forth; and he cried to the queen stammering in his fierceness--
"How should such an old hag as that teach Rosamond good manners? She
knows nothing of them herself! Look how she stands!--actually with
her back to us."
At the word the wise woman walked from the room. The great folding
doors fell to behind her; and the same moment the king and queen
were quarrelling like apes as to which of them was to blame for her
departure. Before their altercation was over for it lasted till the
early morning in rushed Rosamond clutching in her hand a poor
little white rabbit of which she was very fond and from which
only because it would not come to her when she called it she was
pulling handfuls of fur in the attempt to tear the squealing
pink-eared red-eyed thing to pieces.
"Rosa RosaMOND!" cried the queen; whereupon Rosamond threw the
rabbit in her mother's face. The king started up in a fury and ran
to seize her. She darted shrieking from the room. The king rushed
after her; but to his amazement she was nowhere to be seen: the
huge hall was empty.--No: just outside the door close to the
threshold with her back to it sat the figure of the wise woman
muffled in her dark cloak with her head bowed over her knees. As
the king stood looking at her she rose slowly crossed the hall
and walked away down the marble staircase. The king called to her;
but she never turned her head or gave the least sign that she heard
him. So quietly did she pass down the wide marble stair that the
king was all but persuaded he had seen only a shadow gliding across
the white steps.
For the princess she was nowhere to be found. The queen went into
hysterics; and the rabbit ran away. The king sent out messengers in
every direction but in vain.
In a short time the palace was quiet--as quiet as it used to be
before the princess was born. The king and queen cried a little now
and then for the hearts of parents were in that country strangely
fashioned; and yet I am afraid the first movement of those very
hearts would have been a jump of terror if the ears above them had
heard the voice of Rosamond in one of the corridors. As for the rest
of the household they could not have made up a single tear amongst
them. They thought whatever it might be for the princess it was
for every one else the best thing that could have happened; and as
to what had become of her if their heads were puzzled their hearts
took no interest in the question. The lord-chancellor alone had an
idea about it but he was far too wise to utter it.
The fact as is plain was that the princess had disappeared in the
folds of the wise woman's cloak. When she rushed from the room the
wise woman caught her to her bosom and flung the black garment
around her. The princess struggled wildly for she was in fierce
terror and screamed as loud as choking fright would permit her; but
her father standing in the door and looking down upon the wise
woman saw never a movement of the cloak so tight was she held by
her captor. He was indeed aware of a most angry crying which
reminded him of his daughter; but it sounded to him so far away
that he took it for the passion of some child in the street outside
the palace-gates. Hence unchallenged the wise woman carried the
princess down the marble stairs out at the palace-door down a
great flight of steps outside across a paved court through the
brazen gates along half-roused streets where people were opening
their shops through the huge gates of the city and out into the
wide road vanishing northwards; the princess struggling and
screaming all the time and the wise woman holding her tight. When
at length she was too tired to struggle or scream any more the wise
woman unfolded her cloak and set her down; and the princess saw the
light and opened her swollen eyelids. There was nothing in sight
that she had ever seen before. City and palace had disappeared. They
were upon a wide road going straight on with a ditch on each side
of it that behind them widened into the great moat surrounding the
city. She cast up a terrified look into the wise woman's face that
gazed down upon her gravely and kindly. Now the princess did not in
the least understand kindness. She always took it for a sign either
of partiality or fear. So when the wise woman looked kindly upon
her she rushed at her butting with her head like a ram: but the
folds of the cloak had closed around the wise woman; and when the
princess ran against it she found it hard as the cloak of a bronze
statue and fell back upon the road with a great bruise on her head.
The wise woman lifted her again and put her once more under the
cloak where she fell asleep and where she awoke again only to find
that she was still being carried on and on.
When at length the wise woman again stopped and set her down she
saw around her a bright moonlit night on a wide heath solitary and
houseless. Here she felt more frightened than before; nor was her
terror assuaged when looking up she saw a stern immovable
countenance with cold eyes fixedly regarding her. All she knew of
the world being derived from nursery-tales she concluded that the
wise woman was an ogress carrying her home to eat her.
I have already said that the princess was at this time of her life
such a low-minded creature that severity had greater influence over
her than kindness. She understood terror better far than tenderness.
When the wise woman looked at her thus she fell on her knees and
held up her hands to her crying--
"Oh don't eat me! don't eat me!"
Now this being the best SHE could do it was a sign she was a low
creature. Think of it--to kick at kindness and kneel from terror.
But the sternness on the face of the wise woman came from the same
heart and the same feeling as the kindness that had shone from it
before. The only thing that could save the princess from her
hatefulness was that she should be made to mind somebody else than
her own miserable Somebody.
Without saying a word the wise woman reached down her hand took
one of Rosamond's and lifting her to her feet led her along
through the moonlight. Every now and then a gush of obstinacy would
well up in the heart of the princess and she would give a great
ill-tempered tug and pull her hand away; but then the wise woman
would gaze down upon her with such a look that she instantly sought
again the hand she had rejected in pure terror lest she should be
eaten upon the spot. And so they would walk on again; and when the
wind blew the folds of the cloak against the princess she found
them soft as her mother's camel-hair shawl.
After a little while the wise woman began to sing to her and the
princess could not help listening; for the soft wind amongst the low
dry bushes of the heath the rustle of their own steps and the
trailing of the wise woman's cloak were the only sounds beside.
And this is the song she sang:--
Out in the cold
With a thin-worn fold
Of withered gold
Around her rolled
Hangs in the air the weary moon.
She is old old old;
And her bones all cold
And her tales all told
And her things all sold
And she has no breath to croon.
Like a castaway clout
She is quite shut out!
She might call and shout
But no one about
Would ever call back "Who's there?"
There is never a hut
Not a door to shut
Not a footpath or rut
Long road or short cut
Leading to anywhere!
She is all alone
Like a dog-picked bone
The poor old crone!
She fain would groan
But she cannot find the breath.
She once had a fire;
But she built it no higher
And only sat nigher
Till she saw it expire;
And now she is cold as death.
She never will smile
All the lonesome while.
Oh the mile after mile
And never a stile!
And never a tree or a stone!
She has not a tear:
Afar and anear
It is all so drear
But she does not care
Her heart is as dry as a bone.
None to come near her!
No one to cheer her!
No one to jeer her!
No one to hear her!
Not a thing to lift and hold!
She is always awake
But her heart will not break:
She can only quake
Shiver and shake:
The old woman is very cold.
As strange as the song was the crooning wailing tune that the wise
woman sung. At the first note almost you would have thought she
wanted to frighten the princess; and so indeed she did. For when
people WILL be naughty they have to be frightened and they are not
expected to like it. The princess grew angry pulled her hand away
"YOU are the ugly old woman. I hate you!"