Here the prince’s voice faltered, and he very nearly grew sentimental, in spite of his resolution.
“Why didn’t you tell me before what your condition was? Such a fuss about nothing!” exclaimed the king.
“Do you grant it?” persisted the prince.
“Of course I do,” replied the king.
“Very well. I am ready.”
“Go and have some dinner, then, while I set my people to find the place.”
The king ordered out his guards, and gave directions to the officers to find the hole in the lake at once. So the bed of the lake was marked out in divisions and thoroughly examined, and in an hour or so the hole was discovered. It was in the middle of a stone, near the centre of the lake, in the very pool where the golden plate had been found. It was a three-cornered hole of no great size. There was water all round the stone, but very little was flowing through the hole.
This Is Very Kind of You
The prince went to dress for the occasion, for he was resolved to die like a prince.
When the princess heard that a man had offered to die for her, she was so transported that she jumped off the bed, feeble as she was, and danced about the room for joy. She did not care who the man was; that was nothing to her. The hole wanted stopping; and if only a man would do, why, take one. In an hour or two more everything was ready. Her maid dressed her in haste, and they carried her to the side of the lake. When she saw it she shrieked, and covered her face with her hands. They bore her across to the stone, where they had already placed a little boat for her. The water was not deep enough to float in, but they hoped it would be, before long. They laid her on cushions, placed in the boat wines and fruits and other nice things, and stretched a canopy over all.
In a few minutes the prince appeared. The princess recognised him at once, but did not think it worth while to acknowledge him.
“Here I am,” said the prince. “Put me in.”
“They told me it was a shoeblack,” said the princess.
“So I am,” said the prince. “I blacked your little boots three times a day, because they were all I could get of you. Put me in.”
The courtiers did not resent his bluntness, except by saying to each other that he was taking it out in impudence.
But how was he to be put in? The golden plate contained no instructions on this point. The prince looked at the hole, and saw but one way. He put both his legs into it, sitting on the stone, and, stooping forward, covered the corner that remained open with his two hands. In this uncomfortable position he resolved to abide his fate, and turning to the people, said:
“Now you can go.”
The king had already gone home to dinner.
“Now you can go,” repeated the princess after him, like a parrot.