THE YELLOW DWARF 35
But when she got as far as the same fatal orange tree, and saw it covered with flowers and fruit, she stopped and began to gather some of the oranges—and then, putting down her basket, she sat down to eat them. But when it was time to go on again the basket had disappeared, and, though she looked everywhere, not a trace of it could she find. The more she hunted for it the more frightened she got, and at last she began to cry. Then all at once she saw before her the Yellow Dwarf.
' What's the matter with you, my pretty one ? ' said he. ' "What are you crjdng about ? '
' Alas !' she answered ; ' no wonder that I am crying, seeing that I have lost the basket of cake that was to help me to get safely to the cave of the Fairy of the Desert.'
' And what do you want with her, pretty one ? ' said the little monster, ' for I am a friend of hers, and, for the matter of that, I am quite as clever as she is.'
' The Queen, my mother,' replied the Princess, ' has lately fallen into such deep sadness that I fear that she will die ; and I am afraid that perhaps I am the cause of it, for she very much wishes me to be married, and I must tell you truly that as yet I have not found anyone I consider worthy to be my husband. So for all these reasons I wished to talk to the Fairy.'
' Do not give yourself any further trouble, Princess,' answered the Dwarf. ' I can tell you all you want to know better than she could. The Queen, your mother, has promised you in marriage-----'
' Has promised me ! ' interrupted the Princess. ' Oh ! no. I'm sure she has not. She would have told me if she had. I am too much interested in the matter for her to promise anything without my consent—you must be mistaken.'
' Beautiful Princess,' cried the Dwarf suddenly, throwing himself on his knees before her, ' I flatter myself that you will not be displeased at her choice when I tell you that it is to me she has promised the happiness of marrying you.'
' You !' cried Bellissima, starting back. ' My mother wishes me to marry you ! How can you be so silly as to think of such a thing ? '
' Oh ! it isn't that I care much to have that honour,' cried the Dwarf angrily ; ' but here are the lions coming ; they'll eat you up in three mouthfuls, and there will be an end of you and your pride.'
And, indeed, at that moment the poor Princess heard their dreadful howls coming nearer and nearer.