THE PRINCESS HELENE
“What devil’s work is this?” he said, frowning at her severely.
And I confess that I trembled, but not so the little maid.
“Do not be afraid, mannie,” she said, laying down the axe on the stock of the couch, against which its broad red blade and glass-clear cutting edge made an irregular patch of light. “Come and sit down beside me on your bed. I shall not hurt you indeed, mannie, and I want to talk to you. There is nothing but a little boy down-stairs. And I like best to talk with men.”
“I declare it is the dead man’s brat I saved last night for Hugo’s sake!” I heard my father mutter, “the maid with the girdle of golden letters.”
Presently a smile of amusement struggled about his mouth at her bairnly imperiousness, but he came obediently enough and sat down. Nevertheless he took away the heavy axe from her and said, “Put this down, then, or give it to me. It is not a pretty plaything for little girls!”
The small figure in white put up a tiny fat hand, and solemnly withdrew the red patch of mask from before the wide-open baby eyes.
“I am not a little girl, remember, mannie,” she said, “I am a Princess and a great lady.”
My father bowed without rising.
“I shall not forget,” he said.
“You should stand up and bow when I tell you that,” said she. “I declare you have no more manners than the little boy in the brown blanket down-stairs.”
“Princess,” said my father, gravely, “during my life I have met a great many distinguished people of your rank; and, do you know, not one of them has ever complained of my manners before.”
“Ah,” cried the little maid, “then you have never met my father, the Prince. He is terribly particular. You must go so” (she imitated the mincing walk of a court chamberlain), “you must hold your tails thus” (wagging her white nightrail and twisting about her head to watch the effect), “and you must retire—so!” With that she came bowing backward towards the well of the staircase, so far that I was almost afraid she would fall plump into my arms. But she checked herself in time, and without looking round or seeing me she tripped back to my father’s bedside and sat down quite confidingly beside him.
“Now you see,” cried she, “what you would have had to put up with if you had met my father. Be thankful then that it is only the little Princess Helene that is sitting here.”
“I think I had the honor to meet your father,” said Gottfried Gottfried, gravely, again removing the restless baby fingers from the Red Axe and laying it on the far side of the couch beyond him.
“Then, if you met him, did he not make you bow and bend and walk backward?” asked the Playmate, looking up very sharply.
“Well, you see, Princess,” explained my father, “it was for such a very short time that I had the honor of converse with him.”