‘Why, where can you have been, princess?’ asked the nurse, taking her in her arms. ‘It’s very unkind of you to hide away so long. I began to be afraid—’ Here she checked herself.
‘What were you afraid of, nursie?’ asked the princess.
‘Never mind,’ she answered. ‘Perhaps I will tell you another day. Now tell me where you have been.’
‘I’ve been up a long way to see my very great, huge, old grandmother,’ said the princess.
‘What do you mean by that?’ asked the nurse, who thought she was making fun.
‘I mean that I’ve been a long way up and up to see My GREAT grandmother. Ah, nursie, you don’t know what a beautiful mother of grandmothers I’ve got upstairs. She is such an old lady, with such lovely white hair—as white as my silver cup. Now, when I think of it, I think her hair must be silver.’
‘What nonsense you are talking, princess!’ said the nurse.
‘I’m not talking nonsense,’ returned Irene, rather offended. ‘I will tell you all about her. She’s much taller than you, and much prettier.’
‘Oh, I dare say!’ remarked the nurse.
‘And she lives upon pigeons’ eggs.’
‘Most likely,’ said the nurse.
‘And she sits in an empty room, spin-spinning all day long.’
‘Not a doubt of it,’ said the nurse.
‘And she keeps her crown in her bedroom.’
‘Of course—quite the proper place to keep her crown in. She wears it in bed, I’ll be bound.’
‘She didn’t say that. And I don’t think she does. That wouldn’t be comfortable—would it? I don’t think my papa wears his crown for a night-cap. Does he, nursie?’
‘I never asked him. I dare say he does.’
‘And she’s been there ever since I came here—ever so many years.’
‘Anybody could have told you that,’ said the nurse, who did not believe a word Irene was saying.
‘Why didn’t you tell me, then?’
‘There was no necessity. You could make it all up for yourself.’
‘You don’t believe me, then!’ exclaimed the princess, astonished and angry, as she well might be.
‘Did you expect me to believe you, princess?’ asked the nurse coldly. ‘I know princesses are in the habit of telling make-believes, but you are the first I ever heard of who expected to have them believed,’ she added, seeing that the child was strangely in earnest.
The princess burst into tears.
‘Well, I must say,’ remarked the nurse, now thoroughly vexed with her for crying, ‘it is not at all becoming in a princess to tell stories and expect to be believed just because she is a princess.’
‘But it’s quite true, I tell you.’
‘You’ve dreamt it, then, child.’
‘No, I didn’t dream it. I went upstairs, and I lost myself, and if I hadn’t found the beautiful lady, I should never have found myself.’
‘Oh, I dare say!’
‘Well, you just come up with me, and see if I’m not telling the truth.’
‘Indeed I have other work to do. It’s your dinnertime, and I won’t have any more such nonsense.’
The princess wiped her eyes, and her face grew so hot that they were soon quite dry. She sat down to her dinner, but ate next to nothing. Not to be believed does not at all agree with princesses: for a real princess cannot tell a lie. So all the afternoon she did not speak a word. Only when the nurse spoke to her, she answered her, for a real princess is never rude—even when she does well to be offended.
Of course the nurse was not comfortable in her mind—not that she suspected the least truth in Irene’s story, but that she loved her dearly, and was vexed with herself for having been cross to her. She thought her crossness was the cause of the princess’s unhappiness, and had no idea that she was really and deeply hurt at not being believed. But, as it became more and more plain during the evening in her every motion and look, that, although she tried to amuse herself with her toys, her heart was too vexed and troubled to enjoy them, her nurse’s discomfort grew and grew. When bedtime came, she undressed and laid her down, but the child, instead of holding up her little mouth to be kissed, turned away from her and lay still. Then nursie’s heart gave way altogether, and she began to cry. At the sound of her first sob the princess turned again, and held her face to kiss her as usual. But the nurse had her handkerchief to her eyes, and did not see the movement.
‘Nursie,’ said the princess, ‘why won’t you believe me?’
‘Because I can’t believe you,’ said the nurse, getting angry again.
‘Ah! then, you can’t help it,’ said Irene, ‘and I will not be vexed with you any more. I will give you a kiss and go to sleep.’
‘You little angel!’ cried the nurse, and caught her out of bed, and walked about the room with her in her arms, kissing and hugging her.
‘You will let me take you to see my dear old great big grandmother, won’t you?’ said the princess, as she laid her down again.
‘And you won’t say I’m ugly, any more—will you, princess?’ ‘Nursie, I never said you were ugly. What can you mean?’
‘Well, if you didn’t say it, you meant it.’
‘Indeed, I never did.’
‘You said I wasn’t so pretty as that—’
‘As my beautiful grandmother—yes, I did say that; and I say it again, for it’s quite true.’
‘Then I do think you are unkind!’ said the nurse, and put her handkerchief to her eyes again.
‘Nursie, dear, everybody can’t be as beautiful as every other body, you know. You are very nice-looking, but if you had been as beautiful as my grandmother—’
‘Bother your grandmother!’ said the nurse.
‘Nurse, that’s very rude. You are not fit to be spoken to till you can behave better.’
The princess turned away once more, and again the nurse was ashamed of herself.
‘I’m sure I beg your pardon, princess,’ she said, though still in an offended tone. But the princess let the tone pass, and heeded only the words.
‘You won’t say it again, I am sure,’ she answered, once more turning towards her nurse. ‘I was only going to say that if you had been twice as nice-looking as you are, some king or other would have married you, and then what would have become of me?’
‘You are an angel!’ repeated the nurse, again embracing her. ‘Now,’ insisted Irene, ‘you will come and see my grandmother—won’t you?’
‘I will go with you anywhere you like, my cherub,’ she answered; and in two minutes the weary little princess was fast asleep.