"Miss," the chambermaid asked timidly, "may I go, please? It's close to suppertime and I want to be there to watch the pulley boy."
"The pulley boy. I suppose he's on your list of suitors?"
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"Oh, no, miss!"
"Only joking. Go on. I'll see you in the morning. Be here early. I was late for school today. I want to arrive on time tomorrow."
"Miss!" The chambermaid looked surprised. "You're going back?"
The princess propped herself up against the pillows. "Of course I am. My first day as a peasant was the loveliest day I've ever had. I was not bored for a minute."
"The schoolmaster's stern, though," the chambermaid pointed out.
"A little. But handsome."
The chambermaid wrinkled her face. "Handsome? No, miss. He ain't, not at all. He has a very fierce face."
"Perhaps. But it appealed to me. Do you know his name, Tess? I asked him but he said we should all just call him Schoolmaster."
Tess nodded. "It's a foreign name. Herr Gutmann. He's from far away. They say he come from a noble family."
"That's odd," said the princess. "He said he was a peasant."
"Not him, miss. Maybe he likes to pretend it."
"He did wear shoes, now that I think about it."
"Please, miss? It's time for me to go below-stairs."
The princess laughed. "To see your pulley boy. All right, Tess. Run along."
Tess closed the door to the bedchamber behind her. Through it, she heard the princess mutter, "Suitors, schmooters."
7. The Duke
A warthog has large upcurled tusks, and Duke Desmond, being human, had none. He did, however, have huge, crooked, brown-spotted teeth, and a tuft of coarse copper-colored hair; the two features combined to make him resemble such an animal, so the princess was not inaccurate in her description.
That his disposition was terrible was not surprising. In his defense, it must be said that any human who resembles a warthog is bound to be irritable and testy. His own parents had found it distasteful to look at Desmond when he was young, and when he was a child no other children had ever invited him to play. Such slights do affect one's personality.
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But Duke Desmond did have one attribute. He was immensely wealthy.
Both of his parents had by now passed away, and Duke Desmond ruled the opulent principality of Dyspepsia and owned all of its wealth: oil wells, gold mines, and huge vineyards. The income from all of these came to Desmond. He spent it and spent it on clothes and playthings and trinkets and baubles, but it continued to come. And with the money and the title came power. He was a very powerful man.
Such was his power that he had found a way to forget his own appearance. He had abolished not only all mirrors and looking glasses from Dyspepsia, but also any shiny object that might throw back a reflection. When he traveled, he did so accompanied by bodyguards and courtiers, some of whom went ahead to be certain that all such reflectors were removed from his presence.
So Duke Desmond had found a way to forget what he looked like. He had begun to think of his appearance as pleasing, and the servants he hired had been trained to address him as they might address a handsome man.
"How fine you look this morning, sir!" his manservant would proclaim upon drawing open the curtains of the sleeping chamber each day. Duke Desmond would yawn and stretch and then appear to smile. He never really smiled, but his huge protruding teeth made it impossible for him to close his lips.
Years before, a previous manservant had foolishly suggested to the duke that he brush his teeth, but that unfortunate servant had been confined in the dungeon ever since. By now the teeth were mottled with decay and encrusted with plaque. Perpetual toothache was a further reason for the duke's bad disposition.
No one dared suggest, either, that he comb his hair. Or cut it. The coarse red-brown tuft at the top of his head was long and snarled. When he tossed his head, as he frequently did in fits of anger, the hair moved like a thick whip from side to side, and those in its path were in danger from it. One small serving maid had been knocked to the floor by the hair and had her brain permanently addled. The duke's barrister had made a gift to the maid's family of a large sum of money to make up for it, and other servants had learned to stand clear in the future.
The most heinous of individuals (and Duke Desmond was certainly one of those) all seem to have a deeply hidden sorrow. For the duke, it was that he had no child.
Without a child, he had no heir. When he died, Duke Desmond knew, his wealth—his wells and mines and vineyards—would all go to the populace. Peasants would own it all, control it all, and the thought made him seethe with angry despair.
But that was not the whole of it. He wanted a child for another deeply human reason. He wanted someone to love him.
And so he needed a wife.
He had chosen Princess Patricia Priscilla.
It can be said, and has been said, often, that money cannot buy happiness. But Duke Desmond thought that it could, and that he had figured out the way to bring it about.
His spies had been sent to the domain where the princess lived with her parents in the castle. They went disguised as peddlers, carrying displays of hair products and encyclopedias. The queen, who began each day with a visit to her private beauty salon, welcomed the spy who proclaimed that he carried a line of amazing shampoos and curling lotions newly invented by cloistered nuns in a distant and holy place.
"Eh?" the queen said to the imposter peddler. "Blistered buns, you say?"
"No, ma'am, cloistered nuns!"
"Holstered guns!" she said. "Amazing. I'll take three hundred of each."
The king summoned the other spy to the counting house. He examined the encyclopedia and ordered several to be delivered to the royal library. The imposter peddler wrote down the order meticulously, but in truth his interest was not on the order but on what about the encyclopedia had most interested the king.
It was Volume B.
It was, specifically, butterflies.
Of course the spy had noticed the elaborate shelves that housed the king's butterfly collection and where the mounted winged creatures were on display, with special lighting. They were arranged two ways: one by color, so that the lengthy shelf began with pale yellow and made its way through each gradation and hue—oranges, reds, blues, greens—so that the wall seemed a rainbow. But the opposite wall held the same collection, duplicates, arranged by scientific names: In the section marked nympkingidae, the spy saw the amazing
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multicolored Prepona praeneste praenestina; nearby, under ORNITHOPTERA, was the semitranslucent Papuana; and in the PAPILIONIDAE section he marveled at the huge deep orange Papiio antimachus.
Yet on each wall, the spy noticed, there was an empty spot. A label was attached—he could read Charaxes acraeoides. But there was no such mounted butterfly.
Stealthily, in his little notebook, he wrote the name of the missing butterfly.
"I notice that one of your specimens is out for cleaning, sir," he commented.
The king looked up from Volume B of the encyclopedia. He saw that the spy was referring to the empty places on the shelves. His face fell.
"Missing. Rare," the king explained. "Hard to acquire. Working on it."
And so the spy went back to Duke Desmond's principality with the knowledge of how money could, indeed, buy happiness, at least when happiness took the form of a rare butterfly. His fellow spy was glum, having acquired nothing but an order for three hundred bottles of shampoo and three hundred bottles of curling lotion. "Funnels," he muttered. "I'll have to do it with funnels."
"Do what?" They were riding their horses side by side behind the cart that carried their samples.
"Fill six hundred bottles with soapy water."
"You could just forget it. Often people order things that never arrive."
The hair product spy considered that. Then he sighed. "Have you ever visited the dungeon?"
"Oh. Yes. I see what you mean."
"Filled with people who did not fulfill promises."
"Dark and cold and lonely."
"I'll use funnels. And you?"
"I got lucky. I'll tell the duke he has to send someone to find and buy that butterfly"—he took out his notepad and read the name of the missing specimen—"whatever the cost."
Back in his bedchamber, Duke Desmond was examining his clothing and deciding what to wear to the Birthday Ball. Green was good on him, he thought. Seductive. Maybe Spandex, which would outline his rounded stomach in an attractive way. Tights, probably. And pointed shoes. Yes, definitely: pointed shoes.
8. The Schoolhouse
Her second day of school was less strange than the first, because the princess was part of the class now—she was the pupil Pat—and the other students accepted her as one of them.
They were all ages. She was probably the oldest, though two of the boys were as tall and had deepening voices. Most of the girls were middle-size, the age at which girls played with dolls and jump ropes (she had watched them at recess, and had held the frayed rope at one end when they asked her to help turn it), and one girl, Liz, the tiniest in the school, was no more than five, with large blue eyes, an infectious giggle, and a runny nose.
Liz's desk was next to Pat's. The little girl held her tongue between her lips in concentration, and she was practicing making letters on her paper. Her bare feet dangled, her legs too short to reach the floor, and she frequently pulled her skirt up to scratch a mosquito bite on her leg.
"You should put some lotion on that bite," Pat whispered to her.
The child wrinkled her nose and thought about it. "Dunno what lotion is," she said. "Never heared of such a thing."
In the castle an entire room was devoted to remedies, everything from headache potions to snakebite salves. A gray-haired apothecary was always there to dispense what one might need, and he could also apply leeches and pull teeth if necessary.
But of course, the princess realized, a poor peasant had no room of remedies, no apothecary, no lotions.
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"Oh, dear," she replied to the little girl. "I happen to have some, though I am a very humble and needy peasant myself. Tell your ma I'll bring something for you tomorrow, and you won't have to scratch so frequently."
Liz looked up from her misshapen As and Bs. "Got no ma," she said matter-of-factly.
"Oh, my! Pity! Well, your pa, then. Tell him."
"Got no pa neither."
"I be a norphan," Liz explained.
An orphan! The princess knew of such people—she had heard stories about them. They frequently appeared in fairy tales. But here was one in person!
"But where do you live? Who takes care of you?" The princess couldn't imagine being so small and having no one.
"Oh," the little girl explained matter-of-factly, "I stay wif whoever wants me, 'cause they fink mebbe I can help out. Then, when they don't want me no more, I go live wif sumbody else."
"You must be very forsaken and pathetic," the princess said sympathetically. "I'm actually quite interested in orphans, and—"
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