T HE same moment her nurse came into the room, sobbing. When she saw her sitting there, she started back with a loud cry of amazement and joy. Then running to her, she caught her in her arms and covered her dear little face with kisses.
"My precious darling princess! where have you been? What has happened to you! We've all been crying our eyes out, and searching the house from top to bottom for you."
"Not quite from the top," thought Irene to herself; and she might have added—"not quite to the bottom," perhaps, if she had known all. But the one she would not, and the other she could not say.
"Oh, Lootie! I've had such a dreadful adventure!" she replied, and told her all about the cat with the long legs, and how she ran out upon the mountain, and came back again. But she said nothing of her grandmother or her lamp.
"And there we've been searching for you all over the house for more than an hour and a half!" exclaimed the nurse. "But that's no matter, now we've got you! Only, princess, I must say," she added, her mood changing, "what you ought to have done was to call for your own Lootie to come and help you, instead of running out of the house, and up the mountain, in that wild—I must say, foolish fashion."
"Well, Lootie," said Irene quietly, "perhaps if you had a big cat, all legs, running at you, you mightn't exactly know which was the wisest thing to do at the moment."
"I wouldn't run up the mountain, anyhow," returned Lootie.
"Not if you had time to think about it. But when those creatures came at you that night on the mountain, you were so frightened yourself that you lost your way home."
This put a stop to Lootie's reproaches. She had been on the point of saying that the long-legged cat must have been a twilight fancy of the princess's, but the memory of the horrors of that night, and of the talking-to which the king had given her in consequence, prevented her from saying what after all she did not half believe—having a strong suspicion that the cat was a goblin; for the fact was that she knew nothing of the difference between the goblins and their creatures: she counted them all just goblins.
Without another word she went and got some fresh tea and bread and butter for the princess. Before she returned, the whole household, headed by the housekeeper, burst into the nursery to exult over their darling. The gentlemen-at-arms followed, and were ready enough to believe all she told them about the long-legged cat. Indeed, though wise enough to say nothing about it, they remembered, with no little horror, just such a creature amongst those they had surprised at their gambols upon the princess's lawn. In their own hearts they blamed themselves for not having kept better watch. And their captain gave order that from this night the front door and all the windows on the ground floor should be locked immediately the sun set, and opened after upon no pretence whatever. The men-at-arms redoubled their vigilance, and for some time there was no further cause of alarm.
When the princess woke the next morning, her nurse was bending over her.
"How your ring does glow this morning, princess!—just like a fiery rose!" she said.
"Does it, Lootie?" returned Irene. "Who gave me the ring, Lootie? I know I've had it a long time, but where did I get it? I don't remember."
"I think it must have been your mother gave it you, princess; but really, for as long as you have worn it, I don't remember that ever I heard," answered her nurse.
"I will ask my king-papa the next time he comes," said Irene.