HE understood all this, and burst out laughing, which nearly frightened an old lady near him out of her wits. Ah! how he wished he was only in evening dress, that he might dance with the charming young lady. But there he was, dressed just as if he were going out to hunt, if anyone could have seen him. So, even if he took off his cap of darkness, and became visible, he was no figure for a ball. Once he would not have cared, but now he cared very much indeed.
But the prince was not clever for nothing. He thought for a moment, then went out of the room, and, in three steps of the seven-league boots, was at his empty, dark, cold palace again. He struck a light with a flint and steel, lit a torch, and ran upstairs to the garret. The flaring light of the torch fell on the pile of “rubbish,” as the queen would have called it, which he turned over with eager hands. Was there—yes, there was another cap! There it lay, a handsome green one with a red feather. The prince pulled off the cap of darkness, put on the other, and said:
“I wish I were dressed in my best suit of white and gold, with the royal Pantouflia diamonds!”
In one moment there he was in white and gold, the greatest and most magnificent dandy in the whole world, and the handsomest man!
“How about my boots, I wonder,” said the prince; for his seven-league boots were stout riding-boots, not good to dance in, whereas now he was in elegant shoes of silk and gold.
He threw down the wishing cap, put on the other—the cap of darkness—and made three strides in the direction of Gluckstein. But he was only three steps nearer it than he had been, and the seven-league boots were standing beside him on the floor!
“No,” said the prince; “no man can be in two different pairs of boots at one and the same time! That’s mathematics!”
He then hunted about in the lumber-room again till he found a small, shabby, old Persian carpet, the size of a hearthrug. He went to his own room, took a portmanteau in his hand, sat down on the carpet, and said:
“I wish I were in Gluckstein.”
In a moment there he found himself; for this was that famous carpet which Prince Hussein bought long ago, in the market at Bisnagar, and which the fairies had brought, with the other presents, to the christening of Prince Prigio.
When he arrived at the house where the ball was going on, he put the magical carpet in the portmanteau, and left it in the cloak-room, receiving a numbered ticket in exchange. Then he marched in all his glory (and, of course, without the cap of darkness) into the room where they were dancing. Everybody made place for him, bowing down to the ground, and the loyal band struck up The Prince’s March!
Heaven bless our Prince Prigio!
What is there he doesn’t know?
Greek, Swiss, German (High and Low),
And the names of the mountains in Mexico,
Heaven bless the prince!
He used to be very fond of this march, and the words—some people even said he had made them himself. But now, somehow, he didn’t much like it. He went straight to the Duke of Stumpfelbahn, the Hereditary Master of the Ceremonies, and asked to be introduced to the beautiful young lady. She was the daughter of the new English Ambassador, and her name was Lady Rosalind. But she nearly fainted when she heard who it was that wished to dance with her, for she was not at all particularly clever; and the prince had such a bad character for snubbing girls, and asking them difficult questions. However, it was impossible to refuse, and so she danced with the prince, and he danced very well. Then they sat out in the conservatory, among the flowers, where nobody came near them; and then they danced again, and then the Prince took her down to supper. And all the time he never once said, “Have you read this?” or “Have you read that?” or, “What! you never heard of Alexander the Great?” or Julius Caesar, or Michael Angelo, or whoever it might be—horrid, difficult questions he used to ask. That was the way he used to go on: but now he only talked to the young lady about herself; and she quite left off being shy or frightened, and asked him all about his own country, and about the Firedrake-shooting, and said how fond she was of hunting herself. And the prince said:
“Oh, if you wish it, you shall have the horns and tail of a Firedrake to hang up in your hall, to-morrow evening!”
Then she asked if it was not very dangerous work, Firedrake hunting; and he said it was nothing, when you knew the trick of it: and he asked her if she would but give him a rose out of her bouquet; and, in short, he made himself so agreeable and unaffected, that she thought him very nice indeed.
For, even a clever person can be nice when he likes—above all, when he is not thinking about himself. And now the prince was thinking of nothing in the world but the daughter of the English ambassador, and how to please her. He got introduced to her father too, and quite won his heart; and, at last, he was invited to dine next day at the Embassy.
In Pantouflia, it is the custom that a ball must not end while one of the royal family goes on dancing. This ball lasted till the light came in, and the birds were singing out of doors, and all the mothers present were sound asleep. Then nothing would satisfy the prince, but that they all should go home singing through the streets; in fact, there never had been so merry a dance in all Pantouflia. The prince had made a point of dancing with almost every girl there: and he had suddenly become the most beloved of the royal family. But everything must end at last; and the prince, putting on the cap of darkness and sitting on the famous carpet, flew back to his lonely castle.