the rain picked up again, as jeanette went to get the tea.
the comtesse continued to sleep on the sofa.
"does my aunt fall asleep often?", eugenie asked jeanette, when she returned.
jeanette set the tea tray down in front of eugenie and poured her a cup. "oh, yes, mademoiselle. she keeps no regular hours, and is liable to sleep at any time and in any position. and she is quite adamant that she not be awakened, lest some beautiful dream be interrupted."
"really? and suppose that she fell asleep on the floor?"
jeanette hesitated. "i have never known that to happen. madame is always comfortable when she falls asleep. madame is almost always comfortable."
"i am sure." eugenie took a sip of tea, which, as before, was good though a little too hot for her taste. "well, sit down, jeanette, and make yourself comfortable. are you enjoying my story so far?"
"oh, yes, mademoiselle, very much so! i would very much like to hear more, if mademoiselle is amenable to doing so."
eugenie smiled at jeanette. "i believe i heard you say you liked stories with bold heroines."
"yes indeed, mademoiselle, i think that is the most important thing. it is all very well if the princess in a story is beautiful and that she live happily ever after, but the important thing is that she be bold! boldness above all! " jeanette flushed slightly after this declaration.
"very well, then, let us continue…"
there comes a time in the life of all creatures when only an act of pure will can save them from the onrushing waters of reality…
such a moment had come … and i say come, for all moments come like thieves in the night … for the princess.
she had threatened to summon the guard to arrest the obsterpreperous new lord chamberlain, b-------, who had threatened to marry her off to a stranger.
lord b-------- had laughed and told her to summon the guard, expressing his confidence that they would obey him, not her, and arrest her…
there was nothing else for it.
there was a small bell on a table beside the door of lord b---------'s chamber.
the princess rose from her high chair and walked over to the table.
lord b------- smiled, a smile meant to convey weary amusement and a tolerant ruefulness.
the princess picked the bell up. she used such bells every day, as they were in every room of the castle, placed there to summon servants, guards or soldiers.
the bell did not feel right.
she shook it and it made no sound.
behind her lord b------ laughed.
suddenly the door opened and three guards entered, with three soldiers right behind them. the guards brandished long pikes, the soldiers had swords at their sides.
the princess pointed at the lord chamberlain. "i order you to arrest that man."
they stood motionless in the doorway.
the princess did not recognize any of their faces. this was surprising, as she was surrounded by guards day and night, and was often called upon to attend long, boring ceremonies attended by soldiers.
the princess looked right at them and repeated, "i order you to arrest that man."
the guards and soldiers made no response to her command and as the princess opened her mouth to command them a third time their faces dissolved, leaving them all featureless.
the princess turned to look at the lord chamberlain.
he had turned into an alligator, or a dragon.
but before she had time to decide exactly what sort of beast he was, he resumed his former shape, and smiled pleasantly at her.
"you see, my dear princess, what you are up against."
"yes," she replied, "i see you have enlisted against me the same powers which have for so long enslaved my poor mother."
lord b…….. spread his hands in a stage magician's gesture. "i would not put it that way exactly. but…..".
"if you are not yourself the iniquitous power which conspires against us."
"i! oh, dear no. i am only a servant, only a servant. as we all are."
"i see you are a philosopher, as well as a humble servant of malevolence."
lord b------ only smiled. "be as that it may, do you consent to marry the prince of w-----?
"i do not."
lord b------- sighed. "i thought as much. well, the negotiations with the kingdom of w----- have not been completed. we will discuss this later, if and when they are completed. perhaps tomorrow, perhaps " he picked a piece of paper up from the table in front of the divan. "you may go."
"i may go! it is not your place to dismiss me, sir, but mine to dismiss you if i please!"
this time lord b------- did not profess to laugh. "come, princess, must you be idiotic as well as obstinate? go. just go. what do you think this whole encounter has been about, if not to demonstrate that it is i who hold power over you, rather than the reverse. be thankful i do not have you whipped - though i may yet."
"oh!" the princess whirled and faced the guards.
they stared at her impassively.
they had faces again - the faces of dogs, cats, and insects.
"the guards will escort you back to your chamber," the lord chamberlain declared, from behind the princess's back.
eugenie paused in her recitation, and took a sip of the tea, which had cooled to a degree more to her liking.
"good heavens," cried jeanette, "this is a fine set of affairs indeed! i do hope everything turns out well."
"if it does not," eugenie answered with a smile, "it will not be for want of resolve on the part of our heroine."
"eh, what was that?" the comtesse had suddenly awakened.
"i was continuing the tale i had begun, aunt," eugenie answered. "would you like me to retrace the elements of it that you missed? i hope, by the way, that you had a pleasant dream while you were absent from our company?"
the comtesse looked out the window at the rain for about ten seconds before answering. "i am afraid i don't remember one thing about the story you were telling. as for my dream, it was most unpleasant but overflowing with possible significance. i insist upon telling it to you in minute detail."
"why, aunt, that sounds quite delightful, " eugenie answered.
"and am i, madame, to be privileged to hear of it also?" enquired jeanette with a hopeful smile. but whether she was hopeful of hearing it or not hearing it, eugenie could not determine.
"why, of course, of course, " the comtesse replied. "but first i will require some sustenance, to get my strength up. get me a strawberry crumpet, if you please, jeanette."
"but, madame, there is one on the tray right in front of you."
"oh, yes, yes, i see it now. but get me another, if you please. one can never have enough strawberry crumpets."