Presently the bird gave a queer screech, and began to imitate John’s own laughter so exactly that the Prince shook with mirth. At this the raven stood upon one leg gravely, and began to sidle along the footboard of the bed. Presently he spied some fruit carved on the wooden uprights, and making a dart began to peck at the pears and peaches. Then, discovering his mistake, once more he began to chuckle, this time so heartily that he seemed ready to have a fit. And as he listened the Prince’s mouth widened and he burst into roars of laughter.
“Hush, you foolish bird!” said John reprovingly. “Be not so noisy in a Prince’s chamber. It is not good manners!” and he threw his handkerchief over the raven’s head.
But the Prince protested. “Let him do his pleasure,” he said, laughing. “I have not seen anything so funny for many a day. I shall teach him many tricks.”
So the raven stayed with the Prince, and learned many tricks. And the carrier pigeon stayed. And the others stayed,—all but the wolf, who would never leave John,—making themselves quite at home on the Prince’s velvet couch. And the little Princess played with them, enjoying the happiest hours of her life.
One only of the animals the Prince had not seen. The Hermit and John agreed that until he was stronger he must not see the bear whom he had once tried to kill. For they knew that now it would make the Prince sad and ashamed to remember that day in the forest. Such a change had come upon the young man! He was no longer hard and cruel, but tender and affectionate.
The King felt the change, and it made him angry.
Daily, as the Prince grew stronger, he became more and more devoted to the animals, to John and the good Hermit. He could scarcely bear them out of his sight. When they were with him his face lighted with smiles, and he seemed to blossom as a flower does in sunshine. Only in the presence of the King he grew silent and sad once more. The light passed from his eyes as he looked at the grim old man. A visit from the King was almost enough to undo the good effects of a whole day of happiness.
The King knew this, and it made him furious. He did not see that it was his own fault; that it was the badness in him which made the Prince shrink. He thought it was the doing of some one else. He grew to hate the Hermit and John and the animals, of whom his son and daughter were so fond. In his heart he cared little for any one. He had never loved the Princess Clare, and the Prince was dear only because one day he would be king. Yet Robert hated to see them love any one else.
The King was resolved to put an end to this state of things as soon as might be. But he dared not do anything yet for fear of causing his son to fall ill again. He sat and brooded and planned in his wicked heart what he would do when the Prince should be well once more. And for him the time went slowly which others found so happy.