S NOWFLOWER was delighted at the promise of feasting with those noble lords and ladies, whose wonderful stories she had heard from the chair. Her courtesy was twice as low as usual, and she thanked King Winwealth from the bottom of her heart. All the company were glad to make room for her, and when her golden girdle was put on, little Snowflower looked as fine as the best of them.
"Mamma," whispered the Princess Greedalind, while she looked ready to cry for spite, "only see that low little girl who came here in a coarse frock and barefooted, what finery and favour she has gained by her story-telling chair! All the court are praising her and overlooking me, though the feast was made in honour of my birthday. Mamma, I must have that chair from her. What business has a common little girl with anything so amusing?"
"So you shall, my daughter," said Queen Wantall—for by this time she saw that King Winwealth had, according to custom, fallen asleep on his throne. So calling two of her pages, Screw and Hardhands, she ordered them to bring the chair from the other end of the hall where Snowflower sat, and directly made it a present to Princess Greedalind.
Nobody in that court ever thought of disputing Queen Wantall's commands, and poor Snowflower sat down to cry in a corner; while Princess Greedalind, putting on what she thought a very grand air, laid down her head on the cushion, saying:
"Chair of my grandmother, tell me a story."
"Where did you get a grandmother?" cried the clear voice from under the cushion; and up went the chair with such force as to throw Princess Greedalind off on the floor, where she lay screaming, a good deal more angry than hurt.
All the courtiers tried in vain to comfort her. But Queen Wantall, whose temper was still worse, vowed that she would punish the impudent thing, and sent for Sturdy, her chief woodman, to chop it up with his ax.
At the first stroke the cushion was cut open, and, to the astonishment of everybody, a bird, whose snow-white feathers were tipped with purple, darted out and flew away through an open window.
"Catch it! catch it!" cried the queen and the princess; and all but King Winwealth, who still slept on his throne, rushed out after the bird. It flew over the palace garden and into a wild common, where houses had been before Queen Wantall pulled them down to search for a gold mine, which her majesty never found, though three deep pits were dug to come at it. To make the place look smart at the feast time these pits had been covered over with loose boughs and turf. All the rest of the company remembered this but Queen Wantall and Princess Greedalind. They were nearest to the bird, and poor Snowflower, by running hard, came close behind them but Fairfortune, the king's first page, drew her back by the purple mantle, when, coming to the covered pit, boughs and turf gave way, and down went the queen and the princess.
Everybody looked for the bird, but it was nowhere to be seen; but on the common where they saw it alight, there stood a fair and royal prince, clad in a robe of purple and a crown of changing colours, for sometimes it seemed of gold and sometimes of forest leaves.
Most of the courtiers stood not knowing what to think, but all the fairy people and all the lords and ladies of the chair's stories, knew him, and cried, "Welcome to Prince Wisewit!"
King Winwealth heard that sound where he slept, and came out glad of heart to welcome back his brother. When the lord high chamberlain and her own pages came out with ropes and lanthorns to search for Queen Wantall and Princess Greedalind, they found them safe and well at the bottom of the pit, having fallen on a heap of loose sand. The pit was of great depth, but some daylight shone down, and whatever were the yellow grains they saw glittering among the sand, the queen and the princess believed it was full of gold.
They called the miners false knaves, lazy rogues, and a score of bad names beside, for leaving so much wealth behind them, and utterly refused to come out of the pit; saying, that since Prince Wisewit was come, they could find no pleasure in the palace, but would stay there and dig for gold, and buy the world with it for themselves. King Winwealth thought the plan was a good one for keeping peace in his palace. He commanded shovels and picks to be lowered to the queen and the princess. The two pages, Screw and Hardhands, went down to help them in hopes of halving the profits, and there they stayed, digging for gold. Some of the courtiers said they would find it; others believed they never could; and the gold was not found when this story was written.
As for Prince Wisewit, he went home with the rest of the company, leading Snowflower by the hand, and telling them all how he had been turned into a bird by the cunning fairy Fortunetta, who found him off his guard in the forest; how she had shut him up under the cushion of that curious chair, and given it to old Dame Frostyface; and how all his comfort had been in little Snowflower, to whom he told so many stories.
King Winwealth was so rejoiced to find his brother again, that he commanded another feast to be held for seven days. All that time the gates of the palace stood open; all comers were welcome, all complaints heard. The houses and lands which Queen Wantall had taken away were restored to their rightful owners. Everybody got what they most wanted. There were no more clamours without, nor discontents within the palace; and on the seventh day of the feast who should arrive but Dame Frostyface, in her grey hood and mantle.
Snowflower was right glad to see her grandmother—so were the king and prince, for they had known the dame in her youth. They kept the feast for seven days more; and when it was ended everything was right in the kingdom. King Winwealth and Prince Wisewit reigned once more together; and because Snowflower was the best girl in all that country, they chose her to be their heiress, instead of Princess Greedalind. From that day forward she wore white velvet and satin; she had seven pages, and lived in the grandest part of the palace. Dame Frostyface, too, was made a great lady. They put a new velvet cushion on her chair, and she sat in a gown of grey cloth, edged with gold, spinning on an ivory wheel in a fine painted parlour. Prince Wisewit built a great summer-house, covered with vines and roses, on the spot where her old cottage stood. He also made a highway through the forest, that all good people might come and go there at their leisure; and the cunning fairy Fortunetta, finding that her reign was over in those parts, set off on a journey round the world, and did not return in the time of this story. Good boys and girls, who may chance to read it, that time is long ago. Great wars, work, and learning, have passed over the world since then, and altered all its fashions. Kings make no seven-day feasts for all comers now. Queens and princesses, however greedy, do not mine for gold. Chairs tell no tales. Wells work no wonders; and there are no such doings on hills and forests, for the fairies dance no more. Some say it was the hum of schools—some think it was the din of factories that frightened them; but nobody has been known to have seen them for many a year, except, it is said, one Hans Christian Andersen, in Denmark, whose tales of the fairies are so good that they must have been heard from the fairies themselves.
It is certain that no living man knows the subsequent history of King Winwealth's country, nor what became of all the notable characters who lived and visited at his palace. Yet there are people who believe that the monarch still falls asleep on his throne, and into low spirits after supper; that Queen Wantall and Princess Greedalind have found the gold, and begun to buy; that Dame Frostyface yet spins—they cannot tell where; that Snowflower may still be seen at the new year's time in her dress of white velvet, looking out for the early spring; that Prince Wisewit has somehow fallen under a stronger spell and a thicker cushion, that he still tells stories to Snowflower and her friends, and when both cushion and spell are broken by another stroke of Sturdy's hatchet—which they expect will happen some time—the prince will make all things right again, and bring back the fairy times to the world.