"One of the horses has stepped upon Coutchie-Coulou," he said; "and now she is dead, and I have no friend in all the world."

The girl laughed.

"Do not grieve," she said, "for eggs are but short-lived creatures at best, and Coutchie-Coulou has at least died an honorable death and saved herself from being fried in a pan or boiled in her own shell. So cheer up, little egg, and I will be your friend--at least so long as you remain fresh. A stale egg I never could abide."

"I was laid only this morning," said Humpty, drying his tears, "so you need have no fear. But do not call me 'little egg,' for I am quite large, as eggs go, and I have a name of my own."

"What is your name?" asked the Princess.

"It is Humpty Dumpty," he answered, proudly. "And now, if you will really be my friend, pray show me about the grounds, and through the palace; and take care I am not crushed."

So the Princess took Humpty in her arms and walked with him all through the grounds, letting him see the fountains and the golden fish that swam in their waters, the beds of lilies and roses, and the pools where the swans floated. Then she took him into the palace, and showed him all the gorgeous rooms, including the King's own bed-chamber and the room where stood the great ivory throne.

Humpty sighed with pleasure.

"After this," he said, "I am content to accept any fate that may befall me, for surely no egg before me ever saw so many beautiful sights."

"That is true," answered the Princess; "but now I have one more sight to show you which will be grander than all the others; for the King will be riding home shortly with all his horses and men at his back, and I will take you to the gates and let you see them pass by."

"Thank you," said Humpty.

So she carried him to the gates, and while they awaited the coming of the King the egg said,

"Put me upon the wall, Princess, for then I be able to see much better than in your arms."

"That is a good idea," she answered; "but you must be careful not to fall."

Then she sat the egg gently upon the top of the stone wall, where there was a little hollow; and Humpty was delighted, for from his elevated perch he could see much better than the Princess herself.

"Here they come!" he cried; and, sure enough, the King came riding along the road with many courtiers and soldiers and vassals following in his wake, all mounted upon the finest horses the kingdom could afford.

As they came to the gate and entered at a brisk trot, Humpty, forgetting his dangerous position, leaned eagerly over to look at them. The next instant the Princess heard a sharp crash at her side, and, looking downward, perceived poor Humpty Dumpty, who lay crushed and mangled among the sharp stones where he had fallen.

The Princess sighed, for she had taken quite a fancy to the egg; but she knew it was impossible to gather it up again or mend the matter in any way, and therefore she returned thoughtfully to the palace.

Now it happened that upon this evening several young men of the kingdom, who were all of high rank, had determined to ask the King for the hand of the Princess; so they assembled in the throne room and demanded that the King choose which of them was most worthy to marry his daughter.

The King was in a quandary, for all the suitors were wealthy and powerful, and he feared that all but the one chosen would become his enemies. Therefore he thought long upon the matter, and at last said,

"Where all are worthy it is difficult to decide which most deserves the hand of the Princess. Therefore I propose to test your wit. The one who shall ask me a riddle I cannot guess, can marry my daughter."

At this the young men looked thoughtful, and began to devise riddles that his Majesty should be unable to guess. But the King was a shrewd monarch, and each one of the riddles presented to him he guessed with ease.

Now there was one amongst the suitors whom the Princess herself favored, as was but natural. He was a slender, fair-haired youth, with dreamy blue eyes and a rosy complexion, and although he loved the Princess dearly he despaired of finding a riddle that the King could not guess.

Mother Goose in Prose Page 49

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