The King’s son was going to be married, so there was general rejoicing. The bride was a Russian Princess, and had driven all the way from Finland in a sledge drawn by six reindeer. The sledge was shaped like a great golden swan. and between the swan’s wings lay the little Princess herself.
At the gate of the Castle, the Prince was waiting to receive her. He had dreamy violet eyes, and hair like fine gold.
The marriage was a magnificent ceremony, and the bride and bridegroom walked hand in hand under a canopy of purple velvet embroidered with little pearls.
After the banquet there was to be a ball. The bride and bridegroom were to dance the Rose-Dance together, and the King had promised to play the flute. He played very badly, but no one had ever dared to tell him so, because he was the King.
The last item on the program was a grand display of fireworks, to be let off exactly at midnight. The little Princess had never seen a firework in her life, so the King had given orders that the Royal Pyrotechnist should be in attendance on the day of her marriage.
So at the end of the King’s garden great stand had been set up, and as soon as the Royal Pyrotechnist had put everything in its proper place, the fireworks began to talk to each other.
“The world is certainly very beautiful” cried a little Squib. “Just look at those yellow tulips. Why! If they were real crackers they could not be lovelier. I am very glad I have travelled. Travel improves the mind wonderfully, and does away with all one,s prejudices.” The king’s garden is not the world, you foolish squib” said a big roman candle; “the world is an enormous place, and it would take you three days to see it thoroughly.”
Suddenly, a sharp dry cough was heard, and they all looked round.
It came from a tall, supercilious looking Rocket, who was tied to the end of a long stick. He always coughed before he made any observation, so as to attract attention.
”Ahem! Ahem!” he said, and everybody listened.
”Order! order!” cried out a Cracker. He was something of a politician, and had always taken a prominent part in the local election, so he knew the proper Parliamentary expressions to use.
As soon as there was perfect silent, the Rocket coughed a third time and begin. He spoke with a very slow, distinct voice, as if he was dictating his memoirs, and always looked over the shoulder of the person to whom he was talking. In fact, he had a most distinguished manner.
”How fortunate it is for the King’s son,” he remarked,” that he is to be married on the very day on which I am to be let off.”
”Dear me!” said the little Squib, “I thought it was quite the other way and that we were to be let off in the Prince’s honour.”
“It may be so with you,” he answered; “Indeed, I have no doubt that it is, but with me it is different. I am a very remarkable Rocket, and come of remarkable parents. My father was a Rocket like myself, and of French extraction. He flew so high that the people were afraid that he would never come down again.”
“I hate rudeness and bad manners of every kind, for I am extremely sensitive,” continued the Rocket.
”What is a sensitive person?” said the Cracker to the Roman Candle.
”A person who, because he has corns himself, always treads on other person’s toes,” answered the Roman Candle in a low whisper; and the Cracker nearly exploded with laughter.
“Pray, what are you laughing at?” inquired the Rocket; “I am not laughing.” “I am laughing because I am happy,” replied the Cracker.
“That is a very selfish reason,” said the Rocket angrily. “What right have you to be happy? Really, when I begin to reflect on the importance of my position, I am almost moved to tears.”
”You had really better keep yourself dry,” said the Fire-balloon. ”That is the important thing.”
”Very important for you, I have no doubt,” answered the Rocket, ”but I shall weep if I choose;” and he actually burst into real tears, which flowed down his stick like raindrops, and nearly drowned two little beetles, who were just thinking of setting up house together, and were looking for a nice dry spot to live in.
”He must have a truly romantic nature,” said the Catherine Wheel, ”for he weeps when there is nothing at all to weep about.” But the Roman Candle and the Bengal Light were quite indignant, and kept saying, ”Humbug! humbug!” at the top of their voices.
Then the moon rose like a wonderful silver shield; and the stars began to shine, and a sound of music came from the palace.The Prince and Princess were leading the dance. They danced so beautifully that the tall white lilies peeped in at the window and watched them, and the great red poppies nodded their hands and beaten ten 0’clock struck, and then eleven, and then twelve, and at the last stroke of midnight every one came out on the terrace, and the King sent for the Royal Pyrotechnist.
”Let the fireworks begin,” said the King; and the Royal Pyrotechnist made a low bow, and marched down to the end of the garden. He had six attendants with him, each of whom carried a lighted torch at the end of a long pole.It was certainly a magnificent display. Whizz! Whizz! went the Catherine Wheel, as she spun round and round. Boom! Boom! went the Roman Candle. Then the Squibs danced all over the place, and the Bengal Lights made everything looks scarlet.
“Good-bye, cried balloons he soared away dropping tiny blue sparks. Bang! Bang! answered the Crackers, who were everything themselves immensely. Every one was a great success except the remarkable Rocket. He was so damp with crying that he could not go off at all. All his poor relations, to whom he would never speak, except with a sneer, shot up into the sky like wonderful golden flowers with blossoms of fire. Huzza! Huzza! cried the court; and the little Princess laughed the pleasure.
“I suppose they are reserving me for some grand occasion,” said the Rocket; “no doubt that is what it means,” and he looked more supercilious than ever. The next day the workmen came to put everything tidy. “This is evidently a deputation,” said the Rocket; ” I will receive them with becoming dignity:” so he put his nose in the air, and began to frown severely as if he were thinking about some very important subject. But they took no notice of him at all till they were just going away. Then one of them caught sight of him. “Hello! he cried,” What a bad Rocket!” and he threw him over the wall into the ditch.
“Bad Rocket? Bad Rocket?” he said as he whirled through the air; “Impossible! Grand Rocket, that is what the man said. Bad and Grand sound very much the same,” and he fell into the mud. “It is not comfortable here,” he remarked “but no doubt it is some fashionable watering-place, and they have sent me away to recruit my health.” After some time a large White Duck swam up to him. She had yellow legs, and webbed feet, and was considered a great beauty on account of her waddle. Quack, quack,” she said, “What a curious shape you are! May I ask were you born like that, or is it the result of an accident?”
“It is quite evident that you always lived in the country,” answered the Rocket, “otherwise you would know who I am. However, I excuse your ignorance. You will no doubt be surprised to hear that I can fly up into the sky, and come down in a shower of golden rain.” “I don’t think much of that,” said the Duck, “as I cannot see what use it is to any one. Now, if you could plough the fields like the ox, or draw a cart like the horse, or look after the sheep like the coolie-dog, that would be something.
“My good creature,” cried the Rocket in a very haughty tone of voice, “I see that you belong to the lower orders. A person of my position is never useful. We have certain accomplishments, and that is more than sufficient.”
“Well, well,” said the Duck, who was of a very peaceful disposition, and never quarrelled with any one, ”everybody has different tastes. I hope, at any rate, that you are going to take up your residence here.”
”Oh! dear no,” cried the Rocket. ”I am merely a visitor, a distinguished visitor. I am made for public life and so are all my relations, even the humblest of them.”
”Ah! the higher things of life, how fine they are!” said the Duck; ”and that reminds me how hungry I feel,” and she swam away down the stream, saying ”Quack, quack, quack.”
”Come back! come back!” screamed the Rocket, ”I have a great deal to say to you;” but the Duck paid no attention to him. ”I am glad that she has gone,” he said to himself, ”she has a decidedly middle-class mind;” and he sank a little deeper still into the mud, and began to think about the loneliness of genius, when suddenly two little boys in white smocks came running down the bank, with a kettle and some faggots.
”Hello!” cried one of the boys, ”look at this old stick! I wonder how it came here;” and he picked the out of the ditch.
”OLD Stick!” said the Rocket, ”impossible! Gold stick, that is what he said. Gold stick is very complimentary.”
”Let us put it into the fire!” said the other boy,” it will help to boil the kettle.” So they piled the faggots together, and put the Rocket on top, and lit the fire. ”This is magnificent,” cried the Rocket, ”they are going to let me off in broad daylight, so that everyone can see me.”
”We will go to sleep now,” they said, ”and when we wake up the kettle will be boiled;” and they lay down on the grass, and shut their eyes.
The Rocket was very damp, so he took a long time to burn. At last, however, the fire caught him.
”Now I am going off!” he cried, and he made himself very stuff
and straight. ”I know I shall go much higher than the stars, much higher than the moon, much higher than the sun. In fact, I shall go so high that….”
Fizz! Fizz! Fizz! and he went straight up into the air.
”Now I am going to explode,” he cried. And he certainly did explode. Bang! Bang! Bang! went the gunpowder. There was no doubt about it.
But nobody heard him, not even the two little boys, for they were sound asleep.
Then all that was left of him as the stick, and this fell down on the back of a Goose who was taking a walk by the side of the ditch.
”Good heavens” cried the Goose. ”It is going to rain stick;” and she rushed into the water.
”I knew I should create a great sensation,” gasped the Rocket, and he went out.