Sunday, August 02, 2015

Grandmother Irene

"I've lighted a fire for you, Irene: you're cold and wet," said her grandmother.

Then Irene looked again, and saw that what she had taken for a huge bouquet of red roses on a low stand against the wall was in fact a fire which burned in the shapes of the loveliest and reddest roses, glowing gorgeously between the heads and wings of two cherubs of shining silver. And when she came nearer, she found that the smell of roses with which the room was filled came from the fire-roses on the hearth.

Her grandmother was dressed in the loveliest pale blue velvet, over which her hair, no longer white, but of a rich golden colour, streamed like a cataract, here falling in dull gathered heaps, there rushing away in smooth shining falls. And ever as she looked, the hair seemed pouring down from her head and vanishing in a golden mist ere it reached the floor. It flowed from under the edge of a circle of shining silver, set with alternated pearls and opals. On her dress was no ornament whatever, neither was there a ring on her hand, or a necklace or carcanet about her neck. But her slippers glimmered with the light of the Milky Way, for they were covered with seed-pearls and opals in one mass. Her face was that of a woman of three-and-twenty.

The princess was so bewildered with astonishment and admiration that she could hardly thank her, and drew nigh with timidity, feeling dirty and uncomfortable. The lady was seated on a low chair by the side of the fire, with hands outstretched to take her, but the princess hung back with a troubled smile.

"Why, what's the matter?" asked her grandmother. "You haven't been doing anything wrong—I know that by your face, though it is rather miserable. What's the matter, my dear?"
And she still held out her arms.

"Dear grandmother," said Irene, "I'm not so sure that I haven't done something wrong. I ought to have run up to you at once when the long-legged cat came in at the window, instead of running out on the mountain and making myself such a fright."

"You were taken by surprise, my child, and you are not so likely to do it again. It is when people do wrong things wilfully that they are the more likely to do them again. Come."
And still she held out her arms.

"But, grandmother, you're so beautiful and grand with your crown on; and I am so dirty with mud and rain!—I should quite spoil your beautiful blue dress."

With a merry little laugh the lady sprung from her chair, more lightly far than Irene herself could, caught the child to her bosom, and, kissing the tear-stained face over and over, sat down with her in her lap.

"Oh, grandmother! You'll make yourself such a mess!" cried Irene, clinging to her.

"You darling! do you think I care more for my dress than for my little girl? Beside—look here."

As she spoke she set her down, and Irene saw to her dismay that the lovely dress was covered with the mud of her fall on the mountain road. But the lady stooped to the fire, and taking from it, by the stalk in her fingers, one of the burning roses, passed it once and again and a third time over the front of her dress; and when Irene looked, not a single stain was to be discovered.

"There!" said her grandmother, "you won't mind coming to me now?"

But Irene again hung back, eyeing the flaming rose which the lady held in her hand.

"You're not afraid of the rose—are you?" she said, about to throw it on the hearth again.

"Oh! don't, please!" cried Irene. "Won't you hold it to my frock and my hands and my face? And I'm afraid my feet and my knees want it too."

"No, answered her grandmother, smiling a little sadly, as she threw the rose from her; "it is too hot for you yet. It would set your frock in a flame. Besides, I don't want to make you clean tonight. I want your nurse and the rest of the people to see you as you are, for you will have to tell them how you ran away for fear of the long-legged cat. I should like to wash you, but they would not believe you then. Do you see that bath behind you?"

The princess looked, and saw a large oval tub of silver, shining brilliantly in the light of the wonderful lamp.

"Go and look into it," said the lady.

Irene went, and came back very silent with her eyes shining.

"What did you see?" asked her grandmother.

"The sky, and the moon and the stars," she answered. "It looked as if there was no bottom to it."

The lady smiled a pleased satisfied smile, and was silent also for a few moments. Then she said—
"Any time you want a bath, come to me. I know YOU have a bath every morning, but sometimes you want one at night, too."

"Thank you, grandmother; I will—I will indeed," answered Irene, and was again silent for some moments thinking. Then she said: "How was it, grandmother, that I saw your beautiful lamp—not the light of it only—but the great round silvery lamp itself, hanging alone in the [151] great open air, high up? It was your lamp I saw—wasn't it?"

"Yes, my child—it was my lamp."

"Then how was it? I don't see a window all round."

"When I please I can make the lamp shine through the walls—shine so strong that it melts them away from before the sight, and shows itself as you saw it. But, as I told you, it is not everybody can see it."

"How is it that I can, then? I'm sure I don't know."

"It is a gift born with you. And one day I hope everybody will have it."

(from The Princess and the Goblin, written by George MacDonald)

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