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The Dark King1
When she peeped down into it timidly she was further surprised to find it was no dark cave below as she had apprehended, but a bright apartment handsomely furnished, and a most appetising meal spread out on the table, there was, moreover, a commodious staircase reaching to the soil on which she stood, to descend by.
All fear was quickly overcome by the pleasant sight, and the girl at once prepared to descend, and, as no one appeared, to raise any objection, she sat down quite boldly and partook of the good food. As soon as she had finished eating, the tables were cleared away by invisible hands, and, as she had nothing else to do she wandered about the place looking at everything. After she had passed through several brilliant rooms she came to a passage, out of which led several store-chambers, where was laid up a good supply of everything that could serve in a house. In some there were provisions of all sorts, in some stuffs both for clothes and furniture.
'There seems to be no one to own all these fine things,' said the girl. 'What a boon they would be at home!' and she put together all that would be most useful to her mother. But what was her dismay when she went back to the dining-hall to find that the staircase by which she had descended was no longer there!
At this sight she sat down and had a good cry, but by-and-by, supper-time came, and with it an excellent supper, served in as mysterious a way as the dinner; and as a good supper was a rare enjoyment for her, she almost forgot her grief while discussing it. After that, invisible hands led her into a bedroom, where she was gently undressed and put to bed without seeing anyone. In the morning she was put in a bath and dressed by invisible hands, but dressed like a princess all in beautiful clothes.
So it all went on for at least three months; every luxury she could wish was provided without stint, but as she never saw anyone she began to get weary, and at last so weary that she could do nothing but cry. At the sound of her crying there came into the room a great black King.2 Though he was so dark and so big that she was frightened at the sight of him, he spoke very kindly, and asked her why she cried so bitterly, and whether she was not provided with everything she could desire. As she hardly knew herself why she cried, she did not know what to answer him, but only went on whimpering. Then he said, 'You have not seen half the extent of this palace yet or you would not be so weary; here are the keys of all the locked rooms which you have not been into yet. Amuse yourself as much as you like in going through them; they are all just like your own. Only into the room of which the key is not among these do not try to enter. In all the rest do what you like.'
1 'Il Rè Moro.'
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