THE TWELVE DANCING PRINCESSES
put on before their mirrors, and when they had finished, turned themselves all round to admire their appearances.
Michael could see nothing from his hiding-place, but he could hear everything, and he listened to the princesses laughing and jumping with pleasure. At last the eldest said, ' Be quick, my sisters, our partners will be impatient.' At the end of an hour, when the Star Gazer heard no more noise, he peeped out and saw the twelve sisters in splendid garments, with their satin shoes on their feet, and in their hands the bouquets he had brought them.
' Are you ready ? ' asked the eldest.
' Yes,' replied the other eleven in chorus, and they took their places one by one behind her.
Then the eldest Princess clapped her hands three times and a trap door opened. All the princesses disappeared down a secret staircase, and Michael hastily followed them.
As he was following on the steps of the Princess Lina, he carelessly trod on her dress.
' There is somebody behind me,' cried the Princess ; ' they are holding my dress.'
' You foolish thing,' said her eldest sister,' you are always afraid of something. It is only a nail which caught you.'
They went down, down, down, till at last they came to a passage with a door at one end, which was only fastened with a latch. The eldest Princess opened it, and they found themselves immediately in a lovely little wood, where the leaves were spangled with drops of silver which shone in the brilliant light of the moon.
They next crossed another wood where the leaves were sprinkled with gold, and after that another still, where the leaves glittered with diamonds.
At last the Star Gazer perceived a large lake, and on the shores of the lake twelve little boats with awnings, in which were seated twelve princes, who, grasping their oars, awaited the princesses.
Each princess entered one of the boats, and Michael slipped into that which held the youngest. The boats glided along rapidly, but Lina's, from being heavier, was always behind the rest. ' We never went so slowly before,' said the Princess; ' what can be the reason ?'
' I don't know,' answered the Prince. ' I assure you I am rowing as hard as I can.'