Princess Rosetta and the Pop-corn Man

Mary E. Wilkins

From The Pot Of Gold (D. Lothrop Company; Boston: 1892)

The Princess Rosetta.

The Bee Festival was held on the sixteenth day of May; all the court went. The court-ladies wore green silk scarfs, long green floating plumes in their bonnets, and green satin petticoats embroidered with apple-blossoms. The court-gentlemen wore green velvet tunics with nose-gays in their buttonholes, and green silk hose. Their little pointed shoes were adorned with knots of flowers instead of buckles.

As for the King himself, he wore a thick wreath of cherry and peach-blossoms instead of his crown, and carried a white thorn-branch instead of his scepter. His green velvet robe was trimmed with a border of blue and white violets instead of ermine. The Queen wore a garland of violets around her golden head, and the hem of her gown was thickly sown with primroses.

But the little Princess Rosetta surpassed all the rest. Her little gown was completely woven of violets and other fine flowers. There was a very skillful seamstress in the court who knew how to do this kind of work, although no one except the Princess Rosetta was allowed to wear a flower-cloth gown to the Bee Festival. She wore also a little white violet cap, and two of her nurses carried her between them in a little basket lined with rose and apple-leaves.

All the company, as they danced along, sang, or played on flutes, or rang little glass and silver bells. Nobody except the King and Queen rode. They rode cream-colored ponies, with silken ropes wound with flowers for bridle-reins.

The Bee Festival was held in a beautiful park a mile distant from the city. The young grass there was green and velvety, and spangled all over with fallen apple and cherry and peach and plum and pear-blossoms; for the park was set with fruit-trees in even rows. The blue sky showed between the pink and white branches, and the air was very sweet and loud with the humming of bees. The trees were all full of bees. There was something peculiar about the bees of this country; none of them had stings.

When the court reached the park, they all tinkled their bells in time, whistled on their flutes, and sang a song which they always sang on these occasions. Then they played games and enjoyed themselves. They played hide-and-seek among the trees, and formed rings and danced. The bees flew around them, and seemed to know them. The little Princess, lying in her basket, crowed and laughed, and caught at them when they came humming over her face. Her nurses stood around her, and waved great fans of peacock-feathers, but that did not frighten the bees at all.

The court's lunch was spread on a damask-cloth, in an open space between the trees. There were biscuits of wheaten flour, plates of honey-comb, and cream in tall glass ewers. That was the regulation lunch at the Bee Festival. The Bee Festival was nearly as old as the kingdom, and there was an ancient legend about it, which the Poet Laureate had put into an epic poem. The King had it in his royal library, printed in golden letters and bound in old gold plush.

Centuries ago, so the legend ran, in the days of the very first monarch of the royal family of which this king was a member, there were no bees at all in the kingdom. Not a child in the whole country, not even the little princes and princesses in the palace, had ever tasted a bit of bread and honey.

But, while there were no bees in this kingdom, one just across the river was swarming with them. That kingdom was governed by a king who was the tenth cousin of the first, and not very well disposed toward him. He had stationed lines of sentinels with ostrich-feather brooms on his bank of the river to keep the bees from flying over, and he would not export a single bee, nor one ounce of honey, although he had been offered immense sums.

However, the inhabitants of this second country were so cruel and tormenting in their dispositions, and the children so teased the bees, which were stingless and could not defend themselves, that they rebelled. They stopped making honey, and one day they swarmed, and flew in a body across the river in spite of the frantic waving of the ostrich-feather brooms.

The other King was overjoyed. He ordered beautiful hives to be built for them, and instituted a national festival in their honor, which ever since had been observed regularly on the sixteenth day of May.

Up to this day there were no bees in the kingdom across the river. Not one would return to where its ancestors had been so hardly treated; here everybody was kind to them, and even paid them honor. The present King had established an order of the “Golden Bee.” The Knights of the Golden Bee wore ribbons studded with golden bees on their breasts, and their watchword was a sort of a “buzz-z-z,” like the humming of a bee. When they were in full regalia they wore also some curious wings made of gold wire and lace. The Knights of the Golden Bee comprised the finest nobles of the court.

In addition to them were the “Bee Guards.” They were the King's own body-guards. Their uniform was white with green cuffs and collar and facings. On the green were swarms of embroidered bees. They carried a banner of green silk worked with bees and roses.

So the bee might fairly have been considered the national emblem of Romalia, for that was the name of the country. The first word which the children learned to spell in school was “b-e-e, bee,” instead of “b-o-y, boy.” The poorest citizen had a bush of roses and a bee-hive in his yard, and the people were very forlorn who could not have a bit of honey-comb at least once a day. The court preferred it to any other food. Indeed it was this particular Queen who was in the kitchen eating bread and honey, in the song.

But to return to the Bee Festival, on this especial sixteenth of May. At sunset when the bees flew back to their hives for the last time with their loads of honey, the court also went home. They danced along in a splendid merry procession. The cream-colored ponies the King and Queen rode pranced lightly in advance, their slender hoofs keeping time to the flutes and the bells; and the gallants, leading the ladies by the tips of their dainty fingers, came after them with gay waltzing steps. The nurses who carried the Princess Rosetta held their heads high, and danced along as bravely as the others, waving their peacock-feather fans in their unoccupied hands. They bore the little princess in her basket between them as lightly as a feather. Up and down she swung. When they first started she laughed and crowed; then she became very quiet. The nurses thought she was asleep. They had laid a little satin coverlet over her, and put a soft thick veil over her face, that the damp evening-air might not give her the croup. The Princess Rosetta was quite apt to have the croup.

The nurses cast a glance down at the veil and satin coverlet which were so motionless. “Her Royal Highness is asleep,” they whispered to each other with nods. The nurses were handsome young women, and they wore white lace caps, and beautiful long darned lace aprons. They swung the Princess's basket along so easily that finally one of them remarked upon it.

“How very light her Royal Highness is,” said she.

“She weighs absolutely nothing at all,” replied the other nurse who was carrying the Princess, “absolutely nothing at all.”

“Well, that is apt to be the case with such high-born infants,” said the first nurse. And they all waved their fans again in time to the music.

When they reached the palace, the massive doors were thrown open, and the court passed in. The nurses bore the Princess Rosetta's basket up the grand marble stair, and carried it into the nursery.

“We will lift her Royal Highness out very carefully, and possibly we can put her to bed without waking her,” said the Head-nurse.

But her Royal Highness's ladies-of-the-bed-chamber who were in waiting set up such screams of horror at her remark, that it was a wonder that the Princess did not awake directly.

“O-h!” cried a lady-of-the-bed-chamber, “put her Royal Highness to bed, in defiance of all etiquette, before the Prima Donna of the court has sung her lullaby! Preposterous! Lift her out without waking her, indeed! This nurse should be dismissed from the court!”

“O-h!” cried another lady, tossing her lovely head scornfully, and giving her silken train an indignant swish; “the idea of putting her Royal Highness to bed without the silver cup of posset, which I have here for her!”

“And without taking her rose-water bath!” cried another, who was dabbling her lily fingers in a little ivory bath filled with rose-water.

“And without being anointed with this Cream of Lilies!” cried one with a little ivory jar in her hand.

“And without having every single one of her golden ringlets dressed with this pomade scented with violets and almonds!” cried one with a round porcelain box.

“Or even having her curls brushed!” cried a lady as if she were fainting, and she brandished an ivory hair-brush set with turquoises.

“I suppose,” remarked a lady who was very tall and majestic in her carriage, “that this nurse would not object to her Royal Highness being put to bed without — her nightgown, even!”

And she held out the Princess's little embroidered nightgown, and gazed at the Head-nurse with an awful air.

“I beg your pardon humbly, my Ladies,” responded the Head-nurse meekly. Then she bent over the basket to lift out the Princess.

Every one stood listening for her Royal Highness's pitiful scream when she should awake. The lady with the cup of posset held it in readiness, and the ladies with the Cream of Lilies, the violet and almond pomade and the ivory hair-brush looked anxious to begin their duties. The Prima Donna stood with her song in hand, and the first court fiddler had his bow raised all ready to play the accompaniment for her. Writing a fresh lullaby for the Princess every day, and setting it to music, were among the regular duties of the Poet Laureate and the first musical composer of the court.

The Head-nurse with her eyes full of tears because of the reproaches she had received, reached down her arms and attempted to lift the Princess Rosetta — suddenly she turned very white, and tossed aside the veil and the satin coverlet. Then she gave a loud scream, and fell down in a faint.

The ladies stared at one another.

“What is the matter with the Head-nurse?” they asked. Then the second nurse stepped up to the basket and reached down to clasp the Princess Rosetta. Then she gave a loud scream, and fell down in a faint.

The third nurse, trembling so she could scarcely stand, came next. After she had stooped over the basket, she also gave a loud scream and fainted. Then the fourth nurse stepped up, bent over the basket, and fainted. So all the Princess Rosetta's nurses lay fainting on the floor beside her basket.

It was contrary to the rules of etiquette for any one except the nurses to approach nearer than five yards to her Royal Highness before she was taken from her basket. So they crowded together at that distance and craned their necks.

“What can ail the nurses?” they whispered in terrified tones. They could not go near enough to the basket to see what the trouble was, and still it seemed very necessary that they should.

“I wish I had a telescope,” said the lady with the hair-brush.

But there was none in the room, and it was contrary to the rules of etiquette for any person to leave it until the Princess was taken from the basket.

There seemed to be no proper way out of the difficulty. Finally the first fiddler stood up with an air of resolution, and began unwinding the green silk sash from his waist. It was eleven yards long. He doubled it, and launched it at the basket, like a lasso.

“There is nothing in the code of etiquette to prevent the Princess approaching us before she is taken from her basket,” he said bravely. All the ladies applauded.

He threw the lasso very successfully. It went quite around the basket. Then he drew it gently over the five yards. They all crowded around, and looked into it.

The Princess was not in the basket!

The Pop-corn Man.

That night the whole kingdom was in a turmoil. The Bee Guards were called out, and patrolled the city, alarm-bells rung, signal fires burned, and everybody was out with a lantern. They searched every inch of the road to the park where the Bee Festival had been held, for it did seem at first as if the Princess had possibly been spilled out of the basket, although the nurses were confident that it was not so. So they searched carefully, and the nurses were in the meantime placed in custody. But nothing was found. The people held their lanterns low, and looked under every bush, and even poked aside the grasses, but they could not find the Princess on the road to the park.

Then a regular force of detectives was organized, and the search continued day after day. Every house in the country was examined in every nook and corner. The cupboards even were all ransacked, and the bureau drawers. The King had a favorite book of philosophy, and one motto which he had learned in his youth recurred to him. It was this:

“When a-seeking, seek in the unlikely places, as well as the likely; for no man can tell the road that lost things may prefer.”

So he ordered search to be made in unlikely as well as likely places, for the Princess; and it was carried so far that the people had all to turn their pockets inside out, and shake their shawls and table-cloths. But it was all of no use. Six months went by, and the Princess Rosetta had not been found. The King and Queen were broken-hearted. The Queen wept all day long, and her tears fell into her honey, until it was no longer sweet, and she could not eat it. The King sat by himself and had no heart for anything.

But the four nurses were in nearly as much distress. Not only had they been very fond of the little Princess, and were grieving bitterly for her loss, but they had also a punishment to endure. They had been released from custody, because there was really no evidence against them, but in view of their possible carelessness, and in perpetual reminder of the loss of the Princess, a sentence had been passed upon them. They had been condemned to wear their bonnets the wrong way around, indoors and out, until the Princess should be found. So the poor nurses wept into the crowns of their bonnets. They had little peep-holes in the straw that they might see to get about, and they lifted up the capes in order to eat; but it was very trying. The nurses were all pretty young women too, and the Head-nurse who came of quite a distinguished family was to have been married soon. But how could she be a bride and wear a veil with her face in the crown of her bonnet?

The Head-nurse was quite clever, and she thought about the Princess's disappearance, until finally her thoughts took shape. One day she put on her shawl — her bonnet was always on — and set out to call on the Baron Greenleaf. The Baron was an old man who was said to be versed in white magic, and lived in a stone tower with his servants and his house-keeper.

When the Head-nurse came into the tower-yard, the dog began to bark; he was not used to seeing a woman with her face in the crown of her bonnet. He thought that her head must be on the wrong way, and that she was a monster, and had designs upon his master's property. So he barked and growled, and caught hold of her dress, and the Head-nurse screamed. The Baron himself came running downstairs, and opened the door. “Who is there?” cried he.

But when he saw the woman with her bonnet on wrong he knew at once that she must be one of the Princess's nurses. So he ordered off the dog, and ushered the nurse into the tower. He led her into his study, and asked her to sit down. “Now, madam, what can I do for you?” he inquired quite politely.

“Oh, my lord!” cried the Head-nurse in her muffled voice, “help me to find the Princess.”

The Baron, who was a tall lean old man and wore a very large-figured dressing-gown trimmed with fur, frowned, and struck his fist down upon the table. “Help you to find the Princess!” he exclaimed; “don't you suppose I should find her on my own account if I could? I should have found her long before this if the idiots had not broken all my bottles, and crystals, and retorts, and mirrors, and spilled all the magic fluids, so that I cannot practice any white magic at all. The idea of looking for a princess in a bottle — that comes of pinning one's faith upon philosophy!”

“Then you cannot find the Princess by white magic?” the Head-nurse asked timidly.

The Baron pounded the table again. “Of course I cannot,” he replied, “with all my magical utensils smashed in the search for her.”

The Head-nurse sighed pitifully.

“I suppose that you do not like to go about with your face in the crown of your bonnet?” the Baron remarked in a harsh voice.

The Head-nurse replied sadly that she did not.

“It doesn't seem to me that I should mind it much,” said the Baron.

The Head-nurse looked at his grim old face through the peep-holes in her bonnet-crown, and thought to herself that if she were no prettier than he, she should not mind much either, but she said nothing.

Suddenly there was a knock at the tower-door.

“Excuse me a moment,” said the Baron; “my housekeeper is deaf, and my other servants have gone out.” And he ran down the tower-stair, his dressing-gown sweeping after him.

Presently he returned, and there was a young man with him. This young man was as pretty as a girl, and he looked very young. His blue eyes were very sharp and bright, and he had rosy cheeks and fair curly hair. He was dressed very poorly, and around his shoulders were festooned strings of something that looked like fine white flowers, but it was in reality pop-corn. He carried a great basket of pop-corn, and bore a corn-popper over his shoulder.

When he entered he bowed low to the Head-nurse; her bonnet did not seem to surprise him at all. “Would you like to buy some of my nice pop-corn, madam?” he asked.

She curtesied. “Not to-day,” she replied.

But in reality she did not know what pop-corn was. She had never seen any, and neither had the Baron. That indeed was the reason why he had admitted the man — he was curious to see what he was carrying. “Is it good to eat?” he inquired.

“Try it, my lord,” answered the man. So the Baron put a pop-corn in his mouth and chewed it critically. “It is very good indeed,” he declared.

The man passed the basket to the Head-nurse, and she lifted the cape of her bonnet and put a pop-corn in her mouth, and nibbled it delicately. She also thought it very good.

“But there is no use in discussing new articles of food when the kingdom is under the cloud that it is at present, and my retorts and crystals all smashed,” said the Baron.

“Why, what is the cloud, my lord?” inquired the Pop-corn man. Then the Baron told him the whole story.

“Of course it is necromancy,” remarked the Pop-corn man thoughtfully, when the Baron had finished.

The Baron pounded on the table until it danced. “Necromancy!” he cried, “of course it's necromancy! Who but a necromancer could have made a child invisible, and stolen her away in the face and eyes of the whole court?”

“Have you any idea where she is?” asked the Pop-corn man.

The Baron stared at him in amazement.

“Idea where she is?” he repeated scornfully. “You are just of a piece with the idiots who broke my mirrors to see if the Princess was not behind them! How should we have any idea where she is if she is lost, pray?”

The Pop-corn man blushed, and looked frightened, but the Head-nurse spoke up quite bravely, although her voice was so muffled, and said that she really did have some idea of the Princess's whereabouts. She propounded her views which were quite plausible. It was her opinion that only an enemy of the King would have caused the Princess to be stolen, and as the King had only one enemy of whom anybody knew, and he was the King across the river, she thought the Princess must be there.

“It seems very likely,” said the Baron after she had finished, “but if she is there it is hopeless. Our King could never conquer the other one, who has a much stronger army.”

“Do you know,” asked the Pop-corn man, “if they have ever had any pop-corn on the other side of the river?”

“I don't think they have,” replied the Baron.

“Then,” said the Pop-corn man, “I think I can free the Princess.”

“You!” cried the Baron scornfully.

But the Pop-corn man said nothing more. He bowed low to the Baron and the Head-nurse, and left the tower.

“The idea of his talking as he did,” said the Baron. But the nurse was pinning her shawl, and she hurried out of the tower and overtook the Pop-corn man.

“How are you going to manage it?” whispered she, touching his sleeve.

The Pop-corn man started. “Oh, it's you?” he said. “Well, you wait a little, and you will see. Do you suppose you could find six little boys who would be willing to go over the river with me to-morrow?”

“Would it be quite safe?”

“Quite safe.”

“I have six little brothers who would go,” said the Head-nurse.

So it was arranged that the six little brothers should go across the river with the Pop-corn man; and the next morning they set out. They were all decorated with strings of Pop-corn, they carried baskets of pop-corn, and bore corn-poppers over their shoulders, and they crossed the river in a row boat.

Once over the river they went about peddling pop-corn. The man sent the boys all over the city, but he himself went straight to the palace.

He knocked at the palace-door, and the maid-servant came. “Is the King at home?” asked the Pop-corn man.

The maid said he was, and the Pop-corn man asked to see him. Just then a baby cried.

“What baby is that crying?” asked he.

“A baby that was brought here at sunset, several months ago,” replied the maid; and he knew at once that he had found the Princess.

“Will you find out if I can see the King?” he said.

“I'll see,” answered the maid. And she went in to find the King. Pretty soon she returned and asked the Pop-corn man to step into the parlor, which he did, and soon the King came downstairs.

The Pop-corn man displayed his wares, and the King tasted. He had never seen any pop-corn before, and he was both an epicure and a man of hobbies. “It is the nicest food that ever I tasted,” he declared, and he bought all the man's stock.

“I can buy corn for you for seed, and I can order poppers enough to supply the city,” suggested the Pop-corn man.

“So do,” cried the King. And he gave orders for seven ships' cargoes of seed corn and fifty of poppers. “My people shall eat nothing else,” said the King, “and the whole kingdom shall be planted with it. I am satisfied that it is the best national food.”

That day the court dined on pop-corn, and as it was very light and unsatisfying, they had to eat a long time. They were all the afternoon dining. Right after dinner the King wrote out his royal decree that all the inhabitants should that year plant pop-corn instead of any other grain or any vegetable, and that as soon as the ships arrived they should make it their only article of food. For the King, when he had learned from the Pop-corn man that the corn needed to be not only ripe but well dried before it would pop, could not wait, but had ordered five hundred cargoes of pop-corn for immediate use.

So as soon as the ships arrived the people began at once to pop corn and eat it. There was a sound of popping corn all over the city, and the people popped all day long. It was necessary that they should, because it took such a quantity to satisfy hunger, and when they were not popping they had to eat. People shook the poppers until their arms were tired, then gave them to others, and sat down to eat. Men, women and children popped. It was all that they could do, with the exception of planting the seed-corn, and then they were faint with hunger as they worked. The stores and schools were closed. In the palace the King and Queen themselves were obliged to pop in order to secure enough to eat, and the nobles and the court-ladies toiled and ate, day and night. But the little stolen Princess and the King's son, the little Prince, could not pop corn, for they were only babies.

When the people across the river had been popping corn for about a month, the Pop-corn man went to the King of Romalia's palace, and sought an audience. He told him how he had discovered his daughter in the palace of the King across the river.

The King of Romalia clasped his hands in despair. “I must make war,” said he, “but my army is nothing to his.”

However, he at once went about making war. He ordered the swords to be cleaned with sand-paper until they shone, and new bullets to be cast. The Bee Guards were drilled every day, and the people could not sleep for the drums and the fifes.

When everything was ready the King of Romalia and his army crossed the river and laid siege to the city. They had expected to have the passage of the river opposed, but not a foeman was stationed on the opposite bank. All the spears they could see were the waving green ones of pop-corn fields. They marched straight up to the city walls and laid siege. The inhabitants fought on the walls and in the gate-towers, but not very many could fight at a time, because they would have to stop and pop corn and eat.

The defenders grew fewer and fewer, some were killed, and all of them were growing too tired and weak to fight. They could not eat enough pop-corn to give them strength and have any time left to fight. They filled their pockets and tried to eat pop-corn as they fought, but they could not manage that very well.

On the third day the city surrendered with very little loss of life on either side, and the little Princess Rosetta was restored to her parents. There was great rejoicing all through Romalia; in the evening there was an illumination and a torch-light procession. The nurses marched with their bonnets on the right way, and the Knights of the Golden Bee were out in full regalia.

The next day the Head-nurse was married, and the King gave her a farm and a dozen bee-hives for a wedding present, and the Queen a beautiful bridal bonnet trimmed with white plumes and hollyhocks.

All the court, the Baron and the Pop-corn man went to the wedding, and wedding-cake and corn-balls were passed around.

After the wedding the Pop-corn man went home. He lived in another country on the other side of a mountain. The King pressed him to take some reward. “I am puzzled,” he said to the Pop-corn man, “to know what to offer you. The usual reward in such cases is the hand of the Princess in marriage, but Rosetta is not a year old. If there is anything else you can think of” —

The Pop-corn man kissed the King's hand and replied that there was nothing that he could think of except a little honey-comb. He should like to carry some to his mother. So the King gave him a great piece of honey-comb in a silver dish, and the Pop-corn man departed.

He never came to Romalia again, but the Poet Laureate celebrated him in an epic poem, describing the loss of the Princess and the war for her rescue. The Princess was never stolen again — indeed the necromancer across the river who had kidnapped her was imprisoned for life on a diet of pop-corn which he popped himself.

The King across the river became tired of pop-corn, as it had caused his defeat, and forbade his people to eat it. He paid tribute to the King of Romalia as long as he lived; but after his death, when his son, the young prince, came to reign, affairs were on a very pleasant footing between the two kingdoms. The new King was very different from his father, being generous and amiable, and beloved by every one. Indeed Rosetta, when she had grown to be a beautiful maiden, married him and went to live as a Queen where she had been a captive.

And when Rosetta went across the river to live, the King, her father, gave her some bee-hives for a wedding present, and the bees thrived equally in both countries. All the difference in the honey was this: in Romalia the bees fed more on clover, and the honey tasted of clover; and in the country across the river on peppermint, and that honey tasted of peppermint. They always had both kinds at their Bee Festivals.