The Princess Who Was Cross Before Breakfast
A fairy story for children aged eight to eighty
ONCE upon a time, in the Kingdom of Thrack, there stood a lofty castle. On the north stretched fertile fields and waving forests, lying on either side of the broad highway. But on the east rose rocky cliffs and only a narrow, hard little path curled among the boulders. However, that did not matter because nobody ever followed it. It led only to the sea, and the sea was considered very bourgeois.
In the castle lived an Old King and his only daughter, the Princess. The Princess was, of course, very beautiful. Her hair was as black as midnight, and her eyebrows were dark and silky; a trifle thick, perhaps, but they ended in such delicate points, and the eyes beneath were so large and bright that nobody noticed that fact.’
In the main, she was a charming personage. She consented to ride in a golden carriage at a snail’s pace between lines of cheering people when she would much rather have been on her own mare in the pastures behind the castle. She played croquet with cabinet ministers and never once, though the mark as they bent over was often excellent, and though they were certainly dull enough to warrant such an action, did she deal them a blow, with her mallet.
And in the evenings she let herself be stepped on at the court balls without more than an occasional murmur of ‘Pshaw!’ And even when, if her partner happened to hear her and said ‘Pardon?’ she invariably replied that she was remarking on the excellence of the floor and his mastery of the dance. Whereupon the Duke or Earl or Count, with whom she happened to be, would say: “Yes, wasn’t it,” and tell his wife the next morning, that really, Her Royal Highness was as intelligent as she was beautiful, and why she hadn’t married before was a mystery to him. He might even add that, were he a little younger and not already married to the most charming of women, my dear, (with a courtly bow), by Heck (an ancient god whom all Dukes, Earls and Counts swore by) he might himself— In response the Countess, or whoever she might be, would say:“ Ah, but you have never seen her at breakfast,
my dear. And did you forget to apply your hair tonic this morning?”
And there lay the answer to the riddle as to why the Princess had never married, though how the ladies of the kingdom knew of it is a mystery. She was always in a bad temper at breakfast.
The Old King had endured it from the day she had left the Royal Nursery, but he was a strong man. Even so he had grown gray in the process. But countless Royal Princes, visiting at the castle—object matrimony—had left hurriedly after the third breakfast, saying that the scowls the Princess bent on them were endurable during a brief week-end but could not be stood for a life time. The Old King always sighed and said: “I know, I know, my boy. My golf game is not what it was before Her Royal Highness left the nursery. Good-bye. Come over to-morrow—to lunch.”
ONE morning the Old King summoned the Princess and said: “My dear, Prince Puffedup will arrive to-morrow with his retinue. He will come”—here the King coughed tactfully, “er—after breakfast. But he will stay several days. Do you think—of course, I understand you, my love—but don’t you think you could manage one smile during our morning meal?”
The Princess sighed deeply. “I know, father,” she said, “but I’m afraid I couldn’t until breakfast is over. I
want to be as horrid as possible before then. And they are very stupid,” she ended frankly.
“But, of course, my dear,” exclaimed the King in surprise; “what else could you expect?”
“No, nothing,” said the Princess sadly. Then she brightened. “If you like, father,” she said, “I will go ar.d see the Old Woman Who Lives in a Cave by the Sea. Perhaps she could suggest something. I’d better go at once, hadn’t I?”
She waited in some trepidation, for she knew well that that very day her aunt, the Duchess, was coming to lunch, and that she would be expected to wear her best frock, which was uncomfortable being stiff with pearls, and shriek at the Duchess who was deaf. And besides the sea was considered so very bourgeois.
But the King seemed to have forgotten all this. “Yes, do, my dear,” he said, and the Princess joyfully hurried off in case he might change his mind, or remember the luncheon.
It was a longish way to the sea, but the Princess did not mind that. And when they finally reached the beach, there on a rock sat the Old Woman. She listened attentively to the Princess’ tale, chewing sea-weed absentmindedly. At last she spoke. “The only thing for your Highness to do,” she said, “would be to wear a mask at breakfast. Do you go and play on the sand and I will see
what I can do.”
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So the Princess ran on to the sand, and took off her shoes and stockings and dug her toes into it and built very poor people’s houses, and laughed to think how her father would have to shriek at the Duchess, explaining how the Princess was away on such an occasion as the yearly visit of her only aunt.
Late in the afternoon the Old Woman Who Lived In a Cave by the Sea called her and gave her a little parcel. “Try putting this on to-morrow, my dear,” she said. “We’ll see, we’ll see. I don’t promise anything.”
THE Princess danced home and discovered that Prince Puffedup had already arrived. He was a tall youth with wavy golden hair and arrogant eyes. During the evening he and the Princess were seen in frequent tete-a-tetes, and the Chancellor and all the cabinet ministers whispered behind their hands andchu ckled and their ladies raised meaning eyebrows and wondered what they should wear to the wedding. But in reality it was the Prince who was doing all the talking. During the first dance he told the Princess how well he rode; during the second, how brave he was; and during the third—for it was a long one—how many different ladies had fallen in love with him. While at supper he confided what dishes agreed with him and what did not.
But the Princess, who was still thinking of how cool the sand had felt on her toes, continued to smile and look unutterably beautiful. Her eyebrows seemed hardly thick at all.
But the next morning she knew she had never felt crosser. She would not have her bath turned off, with the result that it overflowed and dripped through the floor on to the Old King’s bed below. She threw sponges at her maids and forbade them to dodge. And finally she refused to put on the mask at all.
“But, Your Highness, you must,” begged one.
“Shan’t,” said the Princess.
“Think how disappointed His Royal Highness will be,” said a second. “Shan’t,” said the Princess.
“And Prince Puffedup, so handsome and all, what will he think?” said a third who was inclined to be romantic.
“Shan’t, Shan’t, SHAN’T,” shrieked the Princess. “Conceited ass,” she added vindictively, and kicked her shoe off into the air.
Finally the last of the maidens spoke, the one who had gone the day before to the sea with the Princess. “If Your Highness wears it,” she said, “then you could go again to-day and tell the Old Woman Who Lives In a Cave By the Sea how it worked. Of course, the Archbishop will be here for luncheon, but such an important errand—” Her voice trailed away suggestively.
The Princess made a face so successfully that, catching sight of herself in the mirror, she repeated it several times. Then she picked up the mask. “Here,” she said, “put it on.”
The mask was very pretty. The Princess’ dark curls fell across the white brow and nestled about the delicately pink cheeks. The mouth was smiling serenely and the lips half-parted. The Princess was glad of this as she was hungry. And the eyebrows were very fine and very smooth, and not in the least scowling.
The Old King was delighted when she appeared, and the Prince bowed gallantly.
“How charming you look,” he said pleasantly. “In my poor way I am a poet and you bring to my mind one of my attempts. It was thought highly of in our Kingdom. It has only three cantos. I will begin to recite the first now, and
perhaps by noon we will have finished the second.”
His voice was running on smoothly after the manner of one who, of all sounds, enjoys that the most, when, there came a sudden crash. He looked around startled, and found the Princess was jumping up and down on a dish containing sausages. Now sausages were a favorite dish of the Prince, but the Princess’ face was so sunny and serene that he decided this must be a morning ceremony in Thrack. Perhaps a kind of Daily Dozen. So he merely observed indulgently: “Such high spirits! Such grace and energy! Charming! Even when the Princess threw an egg, very soft, and hit him on the lapel of his best bottlegreen coat he did not lose his temper. But when she proceeded to tell him with great vehemence and no little flow orf oratory exactly what she thought of him, his kingdom, and his accomplishments, he left the Castle hurriedly. Even the Old King, who should have been used to it, was a little upset.
The Princess ate a lark’s wing viciously and smeared honey on a piece of toast. Then, having finished her rose-scented coffee, she took off the mask and began to cry.
“Well, well, my dear, never mind,” said the Old King. “Prince Dumbell comes to-day. Perhaps it will go off better tomorrow morning.”
“No, father,” sobbed the Princess, “I must go and see The Old Woman Who Lives In a Cave by the Sea again.”
SO SHE went off, only hiding in the bushes for a moment when the carriage containing the Archbishop drove through the gates. When it had disappeared she scrambled out and bade her maiden find the caterpillar that had crawled down her neck. “At any rate,” she said cheerfully, as they set out once more “His Reverence won’t be able to ask me my Catechism. And I do feel so silly saying ‘M’ or ‘N’ when he wants to know who my godparents are. And besides I think he must be very stupid, because he knows very well. My Aunt, the Dowager Duchess, was at the christening, and I should think no one could forget that.”
The Old Woman Who Lived In A Cave by the Sea listened to the Princess patiently, and then said: “Well, well, we’ll see, we’ll see. Do you go off on to the sands. We’ll see.”
So all that day the Princess lay on the sand and ran races with the waves and played with a baby crab. And when twilight began to gather the Old Woman called her and gave her a little box.
“Do you wear the mask,” she said, “and you must not speak at all. When any remark is called for, turn this little button at the back and a voice will come out. I think I have provided for anything that may be said, and anyhow it doesn’t matter s’long as its pleasant,” she added sagely.
The Princess said : “Thank you,” kissed the little crab goodbye, and started home quite hopefully.
Prince Dumbell met her in the Castle hall. He was as dark as the Princess, with melancholy eyes and an extremely low forehead.
He sat in silence during dinner, and the courtiers whispered: “He is so entranced he is speechless! What a beautiful thing love is!” For they were a hopeful people.
The evening wore on. Prince Dumbell, except for occasionally clearing his throat as if meaning to say something very important, and then apparently thinking better of it, remained silent. While the Princess gazed ahead of her and thought how much nicer crabs were than men,
and how the Chancellor’s waistcoat bulged.
' I 'HE next morning it was raining, and until the Princess had donned her mask her eyebrows met in a heavier scowl than ever. However, she descended holding the little box and the Old King heaved a sigh of relief.
“Good morning, my dear,” he said.
The Princess turned the button violently.
“Good morning, Father, dear,” answered a honeyed voice, albeit rather quickly owing to the rough treatment it had received.
The Old King was so startled he upset his coffee and the Princess, infuriated at the sight of Prince Dumbell’s expression, which by daylight was extraordinarily vacuous, turned the button again viciously.
“Isn’t this a lovely day? I’m sure you’ll like a stroll in the rose garden later,” the sweet voice went on.
As the Princess was still looking at Prince Dumbell and thinking how unattractive he was, and how probably he had been pimpled in his youth, he, naturally enough, decided this remark was addressed to him.
“Oh, quite, quite,” he said hastily. “Oh by all means, a walk in the rose garden.”
The Princess ceased to turn the button.
“If you want to walk in the rose garden on a day like this,” she said, in her natural voice, “you’re a fool.”
“W—what?” stammered the poor prince, and wiped his damp brow.
But here the sweet voice broke in. “I hope you slept well last night,” it said, “and that mind and body are refreshed.”
“Oh, y-yes, thank y-you,” said the Prince, twisting one ankle about the other.
“It couldn’t be, because you haven’t one,” snapped the Princess crossly. “Mind, I mean,” she added, in case it hadn’tífoeen quite plain.
“W-what?” said Prince Dumbell, for the second time. And now he both mopped his brow and twisted his legs at the same time.
“You are a fool,” said the Princess. “I know a crab who far outranks you in intelligence. Idiot,” she went on, and without finishing her breakfast she left the room, kicking the Head Butler in the stomach as she passed out.
The Old King found her some minutes later, sitting on the stairs, her chin cupped in her hands, while a very damp handkerchief lay at her feet.
“Oh,” he said, “You are here, ár« you? I’m afraid I have rather bad news.” He paused indecisively. Sometimes the Princess’ bad temper passed almost immediately, but sometimes it lingered perhaps an hour after breakfast. However the King was a brave man. He went on: “In fact, Prince Dumbell has had to return home. He does not know when he can come again. And—I fear he made no mention of your hand in marriage.”
The Princess sighed deeply, and stared sombrely past the Old King. “I know,” she said sadly. “It’s my beastly temper. I expect I’d better go and see the Old Woman again.” And she slipped away up the staircase, leaving the Old King to shout “Mackintosh!” and “Rubbers!” and “Don’t forget to change your stockings!” after her.
rTHE Old Woman Who Lived in a Cave -L by the Sea listened to her carefully and then said: “Yes, I was afraidit would be useless, Highness. I have been delving into records and I find you are under an enchantment.”
“Oh!” cried the Princess, delighted. “By a wicked fairy who wasn’t invited to the Royal Christening?”
“Of course!” snapped the Old Woman. “How else, stupid?”
She seemed so annoyed that the Princess was afraid she wouldn’t go on.
“Can it never be broken?” she asked timidly.
“Yes,” said the Old Woman, “yes, it can, but that don’t say ’s it will. To break the spell you must, of your own free will and without thinking it out aforehand, say something pleasant before you eat your breakfast. But I must say it don’t seem likely. Taking words out of a person’s mouth,” she ended grumpily.
“ Well, it does seem unlikely,” admitted the Princess cheerfully. “However, now that I’m here I might as well play on the sand for a bit.”
So all that day the Princess played on the sand. At first she watched the raindrops popping in the pools among the rocks. And when it cleared up and the sun came out she jumped back and forth over one end of the rainbow and made friends with the sea-gulls. But at twilight she returned to the Castle.
In front of the door stood a group of of attendants, none of whom she had ever seen before. “Oh, dear,” said the Princess another Prince.” Then she said “What an optimist my father is!” And finally she said, “I wonder if he will talk or won’t talk. Both are worse than the other.” The third Prince was neither dark nor fair. He had very red hair and a very brown face and very blue eyes, and a straight, tall, strong body. “Oh, well,” said the Princess, “variety is the spice of life.”
Dinner that night was very ceremonious. Throughout the first three courses the Prince and the Princess sat in comparative silence, and the courtiers, who by now had almost given up hope of a royal wedding, ate with gusto. But when the entrée was set in front of her, the Princess gave a little scream.
“What’s the matter?” asked the Prince. “Oh,” said the Princess, pointing, “is that, I mean that isn’t crab, is it?”
The Prince tasted it quickly, he being very fond of crab. “No,” he said, at last regretfully, “no, it’s not. Why?”
“Because,” said the Princess, “I know a very delightful crab. And how could I be sure this wasn’t him. Or ‘her’, as the case may be. Or even ‘it’. Are crabs ‘its’?” “No,” said the Prince, “crabs are never ‘its’—not in this land.”
“Really?” said the Princess, much impressed. Then she added carelessly, “I know a sea-gull, too.”
“So do I,” said the Prince.
Deeply disappointed, the Princess played her last card. “But I suppose you’ve never been to the seashore?” she remarked.
But even this was destined to fail.
“Yes, I have,” said the Prince, “and what’s more I’ve been in the sea.”
The Princess, of course, was too well brought up—at dinner—to say she didn’t believe a guest, but she raised her eyebrows and looked it as hard as possible. “Yes I have,” insisted the Prince. “It’s very pleasant, though rather cold. And then you swim.”
“Oh-h-h-h,” breathed the Princess. Really this was a wonderful person. She could hardly believe he was a prince. “How?” she said.
The Prince glanced across at the Lord High Chamberlain opposite and around at the fat Dowager at his left. “I can’t show you here,” he whispered, “But there’s a fountain in the garden. Slip out there during the ball, and I’ll demonstrate.”
So all evening the Prince and the Princess sat on the edge of the fountain while the Prince waved his arms over his head, showing the Australian Crawl, and splashed the Princess, showing how cold water felt when suddenly applied.
The Princess finally retired to her bed, very wet and excited. All that night she dreamed of sea-gulls and red-haired Princes and Australian Crawls. And in the morning she woke up with such a splendid idea that she jumped out of bed in great haste and began to dress herself. Her maidens rushed in, however, and ! insisted on beginning all over. The ! Princess was still so excited that she submitted quite meekly. When at last she was finished, she flew down the staircase and into the breakfast room. There stood her father, the King, and there also stood the Prince, his hair even redder in the morning light.
The Princess rushed across to him. “Please,” she cried eagerly, “will you come to the beach with me this morning and teach me to swim, too?”
And just then the Chief Butler, looking very aloof and disdainful—because he had never been kicked in the stomach before, and it was a very sensitive organ anyway—announced that breakfast was served.
So the charm was broken, and the Prince married the Princess. There was a huge celebration and all the courtiers brought their wives and made merry for seventy days and seventy nights. But long before that the Prince and Princess had slipped away to visit the Old Woman Who Lived by the Sea and to play in the sand.