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The Bad Temper Of The Princess

from Boys And Girls Bookshelf - MODERN FAIRY TALES





By Marian Burton


1

Once upon a time, in a dainty little kingdom all parks and rivers
and cottages and flowers, there lived a jolly, red-faced king named
Rudolpho. Every one of his subjects loved him, the surrounding kings
were his loyal friends, and the neighboring kingdoms were on the best
of terms with him. Indeed, they had a happy way, these old kings, of
exchanging thrones for a week now and then, just as some preachers
nowadays exchange pulpits--to prove, I suppose, how very good their own
is, after all. This king about whom I am telling you was fat, of course,
and looked very like our good friend Santa Claus.

Yet, strange as it may seem, with all these blessings--a rich kingdom,
faithful subjects, and a loving wife--this good king was not happy.
There was one cloud, a very pretty silver-edged cloud, but yet a cloud,
which hung just in front of the sun of his happiness and cast a great
big shadow.

The king had a daughter, the Princess Madge, his only child; and though
she was obedient in everything else, she just wouldn't, wouldn't,
marry. Now the king was very anxious for her to marry and settle down on
the throne, because he was growing old. Every morning for three weeks,
just before breakfast, he had had three separate twinges of pain. The
queen said it was because of his rheumatism, but he knew better; he was
sure that it was old age, and it made him very eager to have the kingdom
in the hands of the new son-in-law king before he died.

Of course there were plenty of princes and dukes and barons and lords
who would gladly have wedded the pretty princess for her own sweet sake
alone, to say nothing of the prospect of being king some day, but she
wouldn't have one of them. There was not a man in the kingdom nor in any
of the surrounding kingdoms who suited her capricious fancy. Princes of
haughty mien, princes of gentle manner, handsome princes, ugly princes,
tall princes, short princes, fat princes, lean princes, had been
introduced at the court, had been encouraged by the king and queen, and
had sought to gain her favor. She had been showered with gifts of rare
flowers and precious stones, and had received thousands of little
letters smelling of perfume; but from prince, from jewels, and from
written vows of love she turned away with the same cheerful
determination.

A princess is a lonely little body, you know, and custom was so rigid in
the time of the Princess Madge that she had no one to talk to excepting
Pussy Willow, the royal kitten. She had no brother, no sister, no
cousin, and no dearest friend. She didn't even have a chance to speak
freely to her own father and mother. It is true, she took breakfast with
them every morning at eleven in the great breakfast-room, but the
butlers and waiters and pages and flunkies were always standing about,
with their ears pricked up and their eyes bulging out, so that no one
dared whisper a secret or have even the jolliest little family quarrel.
It is true her royal mama came at precisely ten o'clock to kiss her good
night every evening, but there were always a dozen maids and ladies in
waiting, and it was impossible to have a real good talk. But Pussy
Willow was her constant companion, and to Pussy she told everything.
That friendly cat was the only living thing in the whole kingdom that
really knew that the princess intended to marry sometime. That was what
worried the king and queen so much; Madge made them believe that she
would never marry any one, never, never, NEVER, but would live alone
to the end of her days and leave the kingdom to any one who wished for
it.



"Pussy, I wouldn't tell a story to the king and queen for the world, but
isn't it fun to see them take on so? If I really thought that papa was
ill and likely to die, I would be as good as gold; but those little
pains of his are only rheumatism, I am sure, so I don't mind teasing
him just a little. You know, Pussy, that when my ideal comes--oh, you
needn't look up and blink in such surprise, for I really have an ideal,
and I will tell you all about him!" Whereupon Pussy shook her head till
her gold-bell necklace tinkled loudly, then she yawned a little and
began to wash her face. She looked very wise as she sat there stroking
her whiskers and thumping thoughtfully on the floor with her bunchy
tail. After thinking thus seriously for a few minutes, she suddenly
began a sympathetic little purr-song which seemed to say:

"Go on, little mistress; I am all ready to listen, and I'll not tell a
soul." Then Princess Madge continued:

"I don't care whether he is prince or pauper, high or low, handsome or
plain; but he must in any case be contented. You know what contented
means, Pussy--satisfied with what he has until he deserves and can get
something better. If he is like that he will always be unselfish and
happy. Oh, yes, and I shall be happy, too. Now I am going to write a
letter to papa and tell him that I will marry if he will find me a
contented man."

Quick as thought, the princess opened her rose-wood and gold desk, drew
out some paper with her crest on it and a jeweled pen, and wrote
daintily and carefully. It took her a very long time, Pussy Willow
thought.

"Now, kitty, listen; I will read it to you:

"To his Majesty the King, from her Royal Highness, the Princess
Madge.

"DEAR OLD PAPA: I have at last decided to be married if you can
find a man to suit me. Now read, my dear papa, and remember
that this decision is final. I will marry the first contented
man you can find, no matter who he is. Read this little poem;
it is my guiding star at this very serious time:

"'There is a jewel which no Indian mine can buy,
No chemic art can counterfeit.
It makes men rich in greatest poverty,
Makes water wine, turns wooden cups to gold.
Seldom it comes, to few from heaven sent,
That much in little, all in naught--content.'

"What I have written, I have written.

"Your own MADGE.


"That sounds very well, doesn't it, Pussy? I am going to fold it so, and
so, then cut off a strand of my hair--see, Pussy, it is nearly a yard
long, and it will go around and around this letter and tie in a great
golden knot. When the king sees that he will know it is very important.
Now I will go to the door and tell the page to run with this to papa,
and then--oh, I wonder what he will say!"

She ran to the door, spoke a few words to the page who stood just
outside, then returned to the great cushioned chair by the window. Pussy
climbed into her lap. They both winked a few times and blinked a few
times and then fell fast asleep.


II

Half an hour later the king, with his crown comfortably pushed back on
his head, and a smile very much all over his ruddy face, burst into the
queen's sitting-room. He held a tangle of golden hair in one hand and a
sheet of blue note-paper in the other.

"My dear, my dear, what do you think has happened? Here, written by her
own hand, the hand of the Princess Madge, are the happy words which
drive away all our fears. She will marry, my dear, she will marry; and
listen: she cares not what may be his rank or age or condition--he must
be a contented man, that is all. Oh, what a child, what a child!"

"Oh, Rudolpho, my love, is it true? Why, why, I am so happy! Is it
really true? Do give me my fan. Yes, thank you. Fan me, dear; a little
faster. It quite took my breath away. Just to think of that! Now go at
once and issue a royal edict summoning every contented man in this
kingdom and in all the surrounding kingdoms to a grand feast here in the
palace. After the feast we will hold a trial, and the Princess Madge
shall be the judge."

Away rushed the king, the pages in waiting outside the door vainly
trying to catch the end of his fluttering robe.

The next day a cavalcade of heralds set out from the palace gates,
bearing posters which were hung in the market-place of every village for
leagues about. In blue letters on a gold ground were these words:

Ho, ye! Hear, ye! Ho, ye!

On the twenty-third day of the month now present, every
contented man throughout the universe is summoned to the
court of King Rudolpho for a feast and a trial for the hand
of the Princess Madge. He among you all who is absolutely
contented shall have the princess's hand in marriage, together
with half the kingdom. Every man will be tried by the princess
herself. Every man who falls short and stands not the test
shall never again enter King Rudolpho's court.

My hand + My seal +.
RUDOLPHO, Rex.


The day dawned, brilliant and glorious. How the contented men jostled
each other, and frowned at each other, and scolded each other as
they thronged through the palace gates! They all gathered in the
banquet-hall, where a wonderful feast was spread--a roasted ox, with
wild boar and lamb and turkey and peacock, and a hundred kinds of
fruit, and fifty kinds of ice-water; but as a dinner-party it was not a
success. Conversation was dull, each man glowered at his neighbor, and
all seemed eager to finish the feast and begin the trial.

Finally it was over, and five hundred and fifty contented men assembled
in the royal court-room. The king and queen were seated on their
thrones, but the princess was nowhere to be seen. There was a moment of
breathless waiting--then suddenly a door at the side of the court-room
opened and the Princess Madge, carrying Pussy Willow, entered and was
followed by her train-bearers and maids of honor. She wore a wonderful
gown all white and gold down the front, with the foamiest of sea-foam
green trains hanging from her shoulders away out behind her. Slowly,
majestically, she walked across the room, and stopped before a table on
which lay a golden gavel. A quick tap of the gavel silenced the little
murmur that had arisen at her entrance. The king glanced at the queen,
and they both smiled with pride in their stately daughter. The princess
tapped again and began:

"Princes, baronets, honorables, commons of this kingdom and our
neighboring kingdoms, I bid you welcome. You have come to sue for my
hand and my fortune. I know full well, my noble men, that if I asked
it you would gladly give me some great proof of your bravery and
goodness--but I ask you to take no risk and make no sacrifice. I merely
wish to know whether I can find in any of you that secret of all true
courage and happiness--contentment. Now let every man of you who is
contented, thoroughly contented, rise. Remember, there are no degrees
in contentment; it is absolute."

The black-robed throng arose--some eagerly, some impatiently, some
disdainfully, some few slowly and thoughtfully, but they all stood and
waited in utter silence.



"As I put the test question, if there is any one who cannot answer it,
let him go quietly out through yonder door and never again show his
discontented face in this court. You say you are contented--happy,
unselfish, and satisfied with what the gods have given you. Answer me
this! Why, then, do you scowl and jostle one another? Why do you want to
marry any one--least of all, a princess with half the riches of a great
kingdom as a dowry, to spoil your happiness? Greedy fortune-hunters! Do
you call that contentment?"

The contented men stood a moment in baffled silence, then turned, one
and all, and slowly marched out of the room. As the door closed upon the
last one of the disappointed suitors, the princess picked up her pretty
kitten and, turning to her father and mother, said:

"Would you have me marry one of those? Why, they aren't half so
contented as a common, everyday pussy-cat. Good-by!" And she laughed a
merry laugh, threw a kiss at the astonished king and queen, and ran from
the room.


III

At luncheon one day many months after the dismissal of the discontented
suitors, the prime minister entered the dining-room and announced to the
king that a man had been found within the palace gates without a royal
permit, and had been immediately put in the dungeon. He was a handsome
fellow, the prime minister said, but very poorly clad. He made no
resistance when he was taken prisoner, but earnestly requested that his
trial might come off as soon as possible, as he rather wanted to make a
sketch of the palace and gardens, and he couldn't see very well from the
slit in the top of the dungeon; but he begged them not to put themselves
nor the king to any inconvenience, as he could just as well remain where
he was and write poems.

"In sooth, your Majesty," said the prime minister, in conclusion, "from
all we have heard and seen, it seemeth that at last we have found a
contented man."

As soon as the king finished his royal repast he disguised himself in
the long cloak and hat of a soldier and went with the prime minister and
the turnkey to catch a glimpse of the prisoner. As they approached the
dungeon they heard a rich bass voice singing:

"Let the world slide, let the world go!
A fig for care, and a fig for woe.
If I must stay, why, I can't go,
And love makes equal the high and low."

The king drew nearer, stooped, and peeped through the keyhole. Just
opposite the door, on a three-legged stool, sat the prisoner. His head
was thrown back and he was looking at the sky through the bars in the
top of his cell. The song had ceased and he was talking softly to
himself. The king, in a whisper, told the prime minister to bring the
princess and have her remain hidden just outside the door. Then he
motioned to the turnkey to throw back the bolts, and he entered the
dungeon alone.

"Why are you talking to yourself, man?" he asked. The man answered:

"Because, soldier, I like to talk to a sensible man, and I like to hear
a sensible man talk."

"Ha, ha!" laughed the king. "Pretty good, pret-ty good! They tell me
that all things please you. Is it true?"

"I think I can safely say yes, soldier."

"But why are you so poorly clad?"

"The care of fine clothes is too much of a burden--I have long ago
refused to be fashion's slave."

"But where are your friends?"

"Of those that I have had, the good are dead, and happier so than here;
the evil ones have left me and are befriending some one else, for which
I say, 'Joy go with them.'"

"And is there nothing that you want?" As the king asked this question he
looked at the man in a peculiarly eager way, nor did the answer
disappoint him.

"I have all of the necessities of life and many of the luxuries. I am
perfectly content. I know I have neither land nor money, but is not the
whole world mine? Can even the king himself take from me my delight in
the green trees and the greener fields, in that dainty little cloud
flecking heaven's blue up yonder like a bit of foam on a sunlit sea? Oh,
no! I am rich enough, for all nature is mine--"

"And I am yours," said a sweet young voice. The man looked up in
surprise, and there before him, holding out her pretty hands toward him,
stood the Princess Madge, who had slipped into the cell unnoticed.

The man sprang to his feet, clasped the little hands in his, and said:

"I know not what you mean, sweet lady, when you say that you are mine;
but oh, you are passing beautiful!"

"Papa," called the princess, "this is quite dreadful. Quick, take off
that ugly soldier's coat and tell him who we are and all about it!"

The king, starting as if from a dream, threw off the rough coat and hat
and stepped forth into the beam of sunlight, resplendent in gold and
ermine.

"Thou dost not know me, my man? I am the king. Hast thou not read our
last proclamation?"

"No, your Majesty; I never do read proclamations."



"Then thou didst not know that the hand of the princess is offered to
the first contented man who enters the palace?"

"No, your Majesty; I knew it not."

"Then know it now, and know, too, that thou art the man. To thee I give
my daughter, together with half my kingdom. No, no--not a word. Thou
deservest her. May you be happy!"

The prisoner, almost dumb with astonishment, almost dazed with joy,
knelt and kissed the princess's white hands, then looked into her eyes
and said:

"Ah, well it is for me that I saw you not until now, for I should have
been miserably discontented until you were mine!"





Next: The Flying Ship

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