Descending from the throne with tottering steps, for the King had grown a feeble old man, he led the way from the great hall. Behind him came the doctor and the Hermit. John followed, with the animals in his arms and close about his heels.
So they came to the door of a room in one wing of the palace.
THE PRINCE’S CHAMBER
At the door the King paused and turned back to the little company which followed him.
“You may enter,” he said, “and try your skill on the Prince, who is near to death. If you cure him, I will give you whatsoever reward you may demand. But see that you do not fail!” The King’s voice was full of menace. “Enter, in the name of whatever magic you use.”
“In the name of love we come,” said the Hermit gently; “and in the name of love we shall do our best for your son, O King. Enter softly, John. You must do without me now. Leave our larger, clumsier friends outside with me.”
Softly John tiptoed over the sill, carrying the kittens in his arms, with the dove on his shoulder, and the white cat following behind.
In the centre of the room was a couch, hung with a splendid canopy of purple and gold. Beneath a purple coverlet fringed with gold lay the Prince, white as the lace of the pillow on which his black curls rested. His eyes were closed, and he looked still and lifeless. The hand which lay outside on the purple velvet was as white and transparent as the hand of a marble statue.
On one side of his bed sat a doctor in a black velvet gown, and several attendants stood about with long faces and tired eyes. On the other side of the couch a little girl crouched on a low stool. She was a pale, pretty little thing, younger than John, and her dress of brilliant red made her sad, dark eyes look all the more sorrowful as she gazed at John wistfully. It was Clare, the Prince’s only sister.
As they entered the room the King made a sign to the doctor, who shook his head sadly. The King crossed to the bed and bent down over his son, touching the cold face. But it did not change. Neither the lips nor eyelids trembled, and John could see no sign of life in that still body. How different, he thought suddenly, from the vigorous figure which had wrestled with him in the forest. How different that face from the one which had looked back at him triumphantly after the arrow had struck the poor deer!
“He does not hear nor see,” said the King gloomily. “He scarcely breathes. What will you do?”
John hesitated. He had made no plan; he hardly knew with what hope the Hermit had summoned him and his pets thither. It seemed a hopeless task.
The King frowned at his daughter. “Why is this girl allowed here?” he said gruffly. “Leave the room.”
“Oh, Sire,” pleaded the little Princess, with tears in her eyes, “please let me stay! When my brother is so ill, surely my place is at his side. I will be quite still, indeed I will. Only do not send me away!”