Kit started out on his travels once more; and no sooner did he get outside the city gates than he began to whistle his wonderful tune, and down swept all the birds of the air in hundreds, and they flew in front of him as before and led him to the very edge of the enchanted forest. There they left him, for no one can help anybody to go through an enchanted forest, and Kit knew quickly enough that he must find the Princess by himself. He was not a bit afraid, though, and he plunged straight into the wood without looking back.
He had not taken two steps before he had completely lost himself. The trees were Soso thick overhead that not a streak of sunshine was able to get through, and the forest was so full of wild beasts that it was impossible to walk five yards without tumbling over a lion or a bear. But this did not frighten Kit at all, for he had learned to talk the language of the woods all the time that the other boys were knocking one another on the head; and so he soon made friends with every animal in the forest, and they told him the best places to find apples and nuts and blackberries, and the bees brought him the very best honey they could make, and he grew so happy and so contented that he quite forgot he was enchanted and could not escape if he wanted to.
But it is impossible to be happy for long when one is bewitched; and, one day, Kit found himself in a part of the forest that was more horrible than any dark passage that was ever invented. It was not only dark, but it was strangely silent as well; and a curious feeling of gloom and unhappiness suddenly crept over Kit. If it had been a nice sort of silence, the sort we find when we get away from the other boys and girls into a place where it is quiet enough to hear the real sounds of the air, Kit would still have been quite happy; but here there was nothing to be heard at all, not even the brushing of the leaves, nor the blooming of the flowers, nor the growing of the grass. But the most frightening thing of all was when he clapped his hands together and stamped as hard as he could on the ground, he didn’t make a sound; and when he tried to speak, he found he could only whisper; and when he burst out laughing, he made no more noise than if he had been smiling. Still, he kept his wits about him, for, of course, there was the Princess to be rescued, and at last he thought of trying to whistle. At first he could not make a note sound in the stillness, but he went on trying until the wonderful tune he had learned long ago from the birds themselves began to echo once more through the silent forest.
He did not get an answer at once, for really nice birds cannot be expected to go out of their way to a place where there is no sunshine and the flowers cannot enter into conversation with them; but after a while a very fat blackbird, who certainly had arrogance enough for anything, came hopping along from branch to branch until he landed on Kit’s shoulder, and with him came sunshine and sound and merriment into the very heart of the melancholy forest, for none of these things are ever far off when a blackbird is near. Kit gave a shout of joy and followed after the blackbird, who was hopping along the ground in front of him; and the next minute he found himself standing in a blaze of sunlight in front of a high stone wall. Beyond the wall he could see the tall towers of a great castle; but he did not trouble himself much about the other side of the wall, for on the top of it, with the sunshine pouring all over her, sat the most charming little girl he had ever seen.
She had lost one of her shoes, and there was the faintest sign of a scratch on her round, dimpled chin, and her long black hair flowed around her shoulders in a way that some people might have called untidy; but Kit was sure that she had come straight out of Fairyland, and he was too amazed even to make a bow in front of her.
“Dear me! What are you doing here?” asked the girl, in a tone of great surprise.
Kit took a step nearer the wall, and pulled off his cap. Her voice reminded him that, although she belonged to Fairyland, she was still a little girl and would expect him to remember his manners. “I have come to rescue the Princess,” he said. “Can you tell me where she is?”
“She lives in the castle over there,” answered the girl. “What are you going to do when you have rescued her?”
“Well, I suppose I shall ask her to marry me,” said Kit. “Do you think she will?”
“Ah,” she replied gravely, “that depends on whether you have my permission. Tell me who you are, to begin with.”
“I am Kit and I am not very brave,” he said simply; and he stared when she broke into the merriest peal of laughter imaginable.
“What nonsense!” she cried. “If you were not brave, you would never have gotten here at all.”
“Is that true?” asked Kit eagerly. “Then do you think the Princess will marry me?”
The girl looked down at him for a moment, with her untidy little head on one side. Then she bent and held out her two hands to him. “I think, perhaps, the Princess will,” she said softly. “If you will help me down from this enormous high wall, we will go and ask her.”
So Kit lifted her down from the wall, which was quite an easy matter, for it was in reality no higher than he was and the little girl was certainly the lightest weight he had ever held in his arms. “What are you looking for?” he asked, when he had set her on the ground, for she was kneeling down and turning over the dry leaves in a most distressed manner.
“I am looking for my crown, of course,” she said with a pout; “it tumbled off my head just before you came, and I was too frightened to jump all that long way to find it.”
“Here it is,” said Kit; and he picked up the little glittering crown and set it gently on the top of her beautiful, rumpled hair. Then he started back in surprise. “You are the Princess!” he shouted.
“Of course I am,” laughed Princess Winsome, putting her hand in his; “I knew that, all the time! Shall we go home now?”
Kit did not reply immediately, for no one can do two things at once, and it took him quite a long time to kiss the small soft hand that lay in his own big one. And as for going home, when they did start they did not get very far; for it must not be forgotten that they were still in an enchanted forest, and it is easier to get into an enchanted forest than to get out of it again. However, as they had everything in the world to talk about, they would probably have been most annoyed if they had found their way instead of losing it; so they just went on losing it as happily as possible, until they could not walk another step because an immense giant was occupying the whole of the roadway. There he sat, smoking a great pipe that looked like a chimney-pot that wanted sweeping; and when the Princess saw him, she was so frightened that she hid herself behind Kit and peeped under his arm to see what was going to happen.
“Hullo!” said the giant, in a huge voice that made the grass stand on end with fright, just as it does after a hoar-frost; “what’s this? You’re running away with the Princess!”
“To be sure I am,” said Kit; “and if you don’t let me pass, I shall have to fight you.”
“Oh, dear,” sighed the giant, raising a wind that made the trees shiver for miles round. “They all say that, and there’s no peace for a poor giant now-a-days. When I was a boy, the Prince was always put under a spell as well as the Princess. However, I suppose I must make an end of you, if you are determined to fight.”
And he laid down his pipe and rose most unwillingly to his feet.
Kit laughed out loud with gladness, for at last he had found a good reason for a fight, and no one would be able to say he was not brave any more. But before there was time to strike a single blow, the giant gave a loud howl of alarm, took to his heels, and in another moment was completely out of sight. Kit turned in amazement to his little Princess; and then he saw what had frightened the giant, for all the animals of the forest, all the lions and the tigers and the bears and the wolves, stood there in rows, waiting to help him. So there is no doubt that that giant would have fought with somebody if he had not run away.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” said the little Princess, in a whisper.
But Kit covered his face with his hands. “It is no use,” he said in a disappointed tone; “the other boys will never believe that I am brave.”
Princess Winsome came and pulled his hands away and laughed softly. “I think you are the bravest boy in the world,” she said.
“Of course he is!” chuckled a voice somewhere near. “How silly some people are, to be sure!” And there sat the Weird Witch under a tree, all in her pink and green gown, with her great eyes brimful of fun and nonsense. And as the boy and girl stood hand in hand before her and caught the glance of her beautiful witch’s eyes, all sorts of muddles fell out of their heads, and they began to understand everything that had been puzzling them for years and years and years. That only shows what a witch can do when she is the right sort of witch!
“Dear little Princess,” cried Kit, “it doesn’t matter whether the other boys believe me or not, so long as you know I am brave.”
“Besides,” added Princess Winsome, “we are not going to try to make anybody believe anything. I think we’ll stay here, instead, for ever and ever and always.”
“A very good idea,” smiled the Weird Witch of the Willow-Herb, as she nodded at them both. “Always remain enchanted if you can.”
So they had the nicest and the funniest wedding possible, on the spot; and there was no time wasted in sending out invitations, for all the guests were already waiting there in rows—with the exception of the singing-birds; and Kit very soon summoned them by whistling a few notes of his wonderful tune. The Princess laid her own wedding-breakfast under the trees, and the wedding-guests helped her by bringing her everything that was nice to eat in the forest, such as roasted chestnuts and preserved fruits and truffles and barley-sugar-cane, and lots of dewdrops and honey-drops and pear-drops; and the Weird Witch completed the feast by turning a piece of rock that nobody wanted into a wedding-cake, and everyone will agree that it is better for a rock to turn into a wedding-cake than for a wedding-cake to turn into a rock. And all the flowers came of their own accord and arranged themselves on the table, which they certainly did much more prettily than anybody else could have done it for them; and when the wedding was over they just walked away again instead of stopping until they were no longer okay, which of course is what they would have done at any other wedding.
And although the bride had lost her other shoe by the time she was ready to be married, and although her beautiful hair was more untidy than ever and her crown had tumbled off again and had to be brought to her by an obliging lion, Kit never noticed any of these things and only felt quite certain that he was marrying somebody who had come right out of Fairyland and was not an ordinary Princess at all. No doubt, it was because he was in an enchanted forest that he made such a mistake.
As for the Weird Witch of the Willow-Herb, she went back to her pink cottage on the top of the hill, so as to be ready to make the next person happy who came up the white winding path. But before she went, she took care that all the singing-birds should fly back to Kit’s home and tell the other boys how brave he had been, which they did with the greatest pleasure imaginable. It is said that the story became slightly exaggerated; but when we know how much one little bird can tell, it is not difficult to imagine the kind of story that could be told by hundreds and hundreds of little birds.