Edmund Dulac's picture-book for the French Red Cross/The Real Princess

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Once upon a time there was a prince, and, as he knew very well that he was a real prince and could never forget it for a single moment, he very naturally wanted to marry a real princess. He sought one after another, and, after talking about the weather and the health of the emperor, he found in each case that there was something about them he didn't like—something artificial and unprincess-like. When he spoke gently they smiled; when he spoke roughly to hurt them, they still smiled—the same smile. They were not a success. None of them was what he wanted. His princess must be so sensitive that she would wither at a reproachful glance; so delicately dainty that a spot of dust would make her scream, and the draught of a fly's wings cause her a severe cold. He would have the real thing, or nothing.

When this exacting prince had duly considered all the princesses in his own country, and found them wanting, he set out to travel all over the world, forever saying to himself, 'I am a real prince: there must be a real princess somewhere.'

He found plenty of princesses on his travels, but when he spoke to them about the weather he soon found that they were not what he called real princesses. They were the daughters of kings and queens, yes, but——

Sad and weary he returned home with an empty heart. He had not found what he set out to seek, yet he was firmly convinced that the world did contain such a thing as a real princess. He wanted her so badly, and that was how he knew that she must be there—somewhere.

And he was right.

One evening as he was sitting in his father's palace, studying books of far-off lands where princesses might be found, there came a fearful thunderstorm. The lightning grasped at the earth, spreading its roots down the walls of heaven; the thunder split and roared and rattled as if the ceiling was coming down; and, when the cloud-man unsealed his can and tipped it up, swish came the rain in torrents. Indeed, it was a fearful night.

When the storm had risen to the height of its fury a messenger came running to the king crying, 'Your Majesty gave orders that all gates be locked and barred, and opened to none; but some one without knocks and knocks and knocks, and will not go away.'

'I will go myself,' said the king, 'and see who it is that craves admittance in this fearful storm.'

So the king went down and opened the palace gates. What was his astonishment to see standing there a lovely maiden all forlorn, her long hair drenched with the rain, her beautiful clothes saturated and clinging to her form, while the water, trickling from them, ran out at her heels. She was in a terrible plight, but she was beautiful, and she said she was a princess—a real princess. Her mind was distracted: she could not remember how or whence she came, but, being a princess, and seeing the palace gates, she had run through the storm and knocked hard.

'A real princess,' said the king, looking her up and down 'Hm! I believe you, though the queen mightn't. Come in!'

The old queen received the visitor coldly and with a critical eye.

'We shall soon see if she is what she says she is,' thought she, but she said nothing. Then she went into the spare bedroom, and took off all the bed-clothes, and laid a pea on the bedstead. On top of this she piled mattress after mattress to the number of twenty, and then twenty feather beds on top of that. 'Now,' she said to herself, 'here she shall sleep, and we shall soon see in the morning whether she is a real princess or not.'


So they put the princess to bed on the top of the twenty feather beds and as many mattresses, and said good-night.

In the morning they asked her how she had slept.

'Not at all,' replied she wearily; 'not a wink the whole night long. Heaven knows what there was in the bed. Whichever way I turned I still seemed to be lying upon some hard thing, and, I assure you, this morning my whole body's black and blue. It's terrible!'

Then the old queen told what she had done, and they all saw plainly that this was indeed a real princess when she could feel the pea through twenty feather beds and twenty mattresses. None but a real princess could possibly have such a delicate skin.

So the prince married her, quite satisfied that he had now found his real princess.

Now this is a true story, and if you don't believe it you have only to go and look at the pea itself, which is still carefully preserved in the museum—unless some one has stolen it.