"Here you all are," began the prince, "settling yourselves down to listen to me with so
much curiosity, that if I do not satisfy you you will probably be angry with me. No, no! I'm
only joking!" he added, hastily, with a smile.
"Well, then--they were all children there, and I was always among children and only with
children. They were the children of the village in which I lived, and they went to the
school there--all of them. I did not teach them, oh no; there was a master for that, one
Jules Thibaut. I may have taught them some things, but I was among them just as an
outsider, and I passed all four years of my life there among them. I wished for nothing
better; I used to tell them everything and hid nothing from them. Their fathers and
relations were very angry with me, because the children could do nothing without me at
last, and used to throng after me at all times. The schoolmaster was my greatest enemy
in the end! I had many enemies, and all because of the children. Even Schneider
reproached me. What were they afraid of? One can tell a child everything, anything. I
have often been struck by the fact that parents know their children so little. They should
not conceal so much from them. How well even little children understand that their
parents conceal things from them, because they consider them too young to
understand! Children are capable of giving advice in the most important matters. How
can one deceive these dear little birds, when they look at one so sweetly and
confidingly? I call them birds because there is nothing in the world better than birds!
"However, most of the people were angry with me about one and the same thing; but
Thibaut simply was jealous of me. At first he had wagged his head and wondered how it
was that the children understood what I told them so well, and could not learn from him;
and he laughed like anything when I replied that neither he nor I could teach them very
much, but that they might teach us a good deal.
"How he could hate me and tell scandalous stories about me, living among children as
he did, is what I cannot understand. Children soothe and heal the wounded heart. I
remember there was one poor fellow at our professor's who was being treated for
madness, and you have no idea what those children did for him, eventually. I don't think
he was mad, but only terribly unhappy. But I'll tell you all about him another day. Now I
must get on with this story.
"The children did not love me at first; I was such a sickly, awkward kind of a fellow then-
-and I know I am ugly. Besides, I was a foreigner. The children used to laugh at me, at
first; and they even went so far as to throw stones at me, when they saw me kiss Marie.
I only kissed her once in my life--no, no, don't laugh!" The prince hastened to suppress
the smiles of his audience at this point. "It was not a matter of love at all! If only you