Chapter 8:
Continuation of the Tale of the Hard Nut

"Now you well know," the judge told the children the next evening, "why the queen was keeping their beautiful princess so carefully guarded. How could she help but worry that Lady Mouserinks would return and make good on her threat to bite the princess to death? Drosselmeier's contraptions were of no use against the clever and shrewd Lady Mouserinks, and the court astronomer, who was also the royal family's private astrologer, had said that Mr. Purr and his family would be able to keep Lady Mouserinks away from the cradle. Therefore it happened that every attendant was ordered to hold a tomcat on her lap and stroke his back to make his job a little less tedious.

One night at midnight, one of the attendants woke from a deep sleep. The room was as silent as death; there was not a purr to be heard. One could have heard the woodworms nibbling at the timbers.

Then she saw a large, ugly mouse standing on its hind feet near the princess's face. With a frightened cry that woke everyone else, the attendant jumped to her feet. Lady Mouserinks (for it was none other) ran into a corner. The cats ran after her, but they were too late - she disappeared into a crack in the floor. Just then, Pirlipat woke up from the noise and began crying pitifully.

"Thank Heavens, she's alive!" they said.

But what horror awaited them! Instead of an angelic little face and a perfect little body, a hideous and huge head was attached to a shrunken and shriveled body. Her sparkling little azure eyes had become staring green eyes that almost looked as if they'd pop out of her head, and her sweet little mouth now stretched from ear to ear.

The queen shut herself away in mourning, and the the walls of the king's study had to be padded because he would very often bang his head against the walls and cry most pitifully, "Oh, what an unhappy monarch am I!"

One might think that he might have realized that it may have been better to go on eating his sausages without fat and leave Lady Mouserinks and her family in peace under the stove, but he didn't. Instead, he put all the blame on the court clockmaker and wizard, Christian Elias Drosselmeier of Nuremberg, and issued him an order: restore the princess to her former self within four weeks or find a cure that was certain to work, or suffer the disgraceful death of beheading.

Drosselmeier was in no small state of terror, but he trusted in his craft and in luck and set to the first thing that seemed useful to him. He carefully took the little princess apart without harming her and examined her internal structure, but all he could discover was that the larger the princess grew, the worse her condition would become. He put the princess back together again and sat down by her cradle in despair, which he was not allowed to leave.

It was into the fourth week - Wednesday, in fact - when the king looked at Drosselmeier with eyes flashing in rage and cried, "Christian Elias Drosselmeier, cure the princess - or die!"

Drosselmeier began to cry bitterly, but Princess Pirlipat happily cracked nuts. For the first time, Drosselmeier took note of the princess's unusual appetite for nuts, which she cracked with the very teeth she had been born with. In fact, the princess had cried for hours after her transformation until a nut chanced to roll by. She promptly snatched it up, cracked it open, ate the core, and immediately quieted down. Since then, all attendants were advised to bring nuts whenever they came in.

"Oh, holy and unfathomable instinct of nature, present in all things!" Christian Elias Drosselmeier cried, "you now show me the door to the answer to this mystery; I will knock, and it will open!"

He immediately requested to speak with the court astronomer, and was lead by guards to him. Both men tearfully embraced each other, for they were close friends. Then they went together into a secret room where they consulted many books concerning instincts, sympathies, antipathies, and other such mysteries.

When night fell, the astronomer looked to the stars, and with the help of Drosselmeier (who was also quite familiar with astrology) took the princess's horoscope. It was no easy task, for the lines of the stars were so crossed and tangled. But at last, it became clear that in order to break the curse and restore the princess's beauty, all she would have to do is eat the sweet core of the nut Crackatook.

Now, the nut Crackatook had such a hard shell that you could run the wheel of a cannon over it without breaking it. This nut had to be given to a young man who had neither yet shaven nor worn boots, and he would have to bite it open before the princess and give the core to her with his eyes closed. What's more, he could not open his eyes until he had taken seven steps backward without tripping or stumbling.

Drosselmeier and the astronomer worked for three days and three nights. That Saturday, the king had sat down for his midday meal when Drosselmeier (who was scheduled to be executed the following Sunday) joyously rushed into the room and announced that he had found the means to restore the princess's lost beauty. The king gave Drosselmeier a fierce bear hug and promised him a diamond sword, four medals, and two new Sunday suits.

"After lunch, I expect you'll get to work on this," the king added amiably. "And I trust, excellent wizard, that you'll make sure that this young man with the nut Crackatook in hand hasn't had any wine to drink so he doesn't trip when he goes walking seven steps backward like a crab. Afterward, he can drink all he wants."

Drosselmeier was dismayed at this and with trembling and fear informed the king that they neither begun to search for the nut or the boy to crack it, and it was uncertain whether nut or nutcracker would ever be found.

The king waved his scepter high above his head in a rage and roared, "then the beheading shall proceed as scheduled!"

Fortunately for Drosselmeier, the food had tasted particularly good that day and the king was in a better mood than usual. This made him more open when the queen, who was touched by Drosselmeier's distress, and asked that he reconsider. Drosselmeier gathered his courage and explained that he had indeed found out how to cure the princess, and had therefore rightfully won his life back. The king decided that Drosselmeier was stalling with silly excuses, but after taking a tonic for his stomach he announced that both the clockmaker and astronomer should set off on foot and not return until they had the nut Crackatook in their possession. The queen suggested that they could find the man to do the cracking by regularly placing advertisements in local and foreign newspapers.

And here the judge broke off again, and promised to tell the rest of the story the next evening.

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