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The Home Monthly

by Willa Cather.

From The Home Monthly, VI (August 1896):  20-21.

The Princess Baladina—Her Adventure.

THE Princess Baladina sat sullenly gazing out of her nursery window. There was no use in crying any more for there was no one there to see and pity her tears, and who ever cries unless there is some one to pity them? She had kicked at the golden door until it became evident that she was much more discomforted than the door, and then she gave it up and sat sullenly down and did nothing but watch the big bumble-bees buzzing about the honey-suckles outside the window. The Princess Baladina had been shut up in her nursery for being naughty. Indeed, she had been unusually naughty that day. In the first place she had scratched and bitten the nurse who had combed her golden hair in the morning. Later, while she was playing about the palace grounds, she had lost in the moat one of the three beautiful golden balls which her father had bought for her of an old Jewish magician from Bagdad who was staying at the court, and who bought up the queen's old dresses and loaned the courtiers money on their diamonds. Then she had been so rude to her fairy godmother who came to luncheon with them that her mother had reprimanded her twice. Finally, when she poured custard in her fairy god-mother's ear-trumpet, she was sent up to her nursery. Now she sat locked up there and thinking how cruelly her family had used her. She wondered what she could do to make them repent of their harsh behavior and wish they had been kinder to their little Princess Baladina. Perhaps if she should die they would realize how brutal they had been. O yes, if she were to die, then they would grieve and mourn and put flowers on her grave every day, and cry for their little Baladina who would never gather flowers any more. Baladina wept a little herself at the pathetic picture she had conjured up. But she decided not to die, that was such a very decisive thing to do; beside, then she could not see the remorse of her family, and what good is it to have your family repent if you cannot have the satisfaction of seeing them reduced to sackcloth and ashes? So the Princess cast about for another plan. She might cut off her beautiful golden hair, but then she had no scissors; besides, if a young Prince should happen to come that way it would be awkward not to have any golden hair. Princesses are taught to think of these things early. She began thinking over all the stories she had read about Princesses and their adventures, until suddenly she thought of the story of the Princess Alice, who had been enchanted by a wizard. Yes, that was it, that would be the best revenge of all, she would be enchanted by a wizard, and her family would be in despair; her father would offer his kingdom to the knight who should free her, and some young Prince would come and break the spell and bear her triumphantly off to his own realm, on his saddle bow. Then her unfeeling parents would never see her any more, and her sisters and brothers would have no dear sweet little Princess to wait on.

But the next question was where to find a wizard. The Princess went over all the gentlemen of her acquaintance, but could not think of one who belonged to that somewhat complicated profession. Never mind, she would find one, she had heard of Princesses wandering away from their palaces on strange missions before. She waited through all the hot afternoon, and when the nurse brought her tea she took two of the buns and a piece of raisin cake and did them up carefully in a handkerchief, and said her prayers and let them put her to bed. She lay awake for a time, half hoping that her mother would come up to see her and relieve her from the obvious necessity of running away. But there was a court ball that night and no one came, so listening to the tempting strains of music and feeling more aggrieved and forgotten than ever, the little Princess fell asleep.

As soon as she had breakfasted in the morning, she took the buns tied up in the handkerchief and went down into the yard.

She waited awhile until there was no one looking and then slipped out through one of the rear gates. Once fairly outside, she drew a long breath and looked about her; yes, there was the green meadow and the blue sky, just as they always were in the Princess books. She started off across the meadow, keeping a little under the shadow of the wild crab hedge to better screen herself from the palace windows. She saw some little peasant children down by the pool watching some white things that must be sheep. O yes, they were sheep and the boys were shepherds' sons, thought Baladina. She approached them and greeted them politely.

"Kind shepherds, why keep ye your sheep so near the town?"

"These are not sheep, but geese, Silly," replied the biggest boy surlily.

"That is not the way to speak to a Princess," said Baladina angrily.

"Princess, so that's what you call yourself, Miss Stuck Up?" cried the big boy, and with that he set the geese on her.

The Princess fled in the wildest alarm, with the squawking geese after her, while the little peasant children rolled over and over on the grass, screaming with merriment. The chase did not continue long, for the Princess' long silk gown tripped her and she fell, covering her eyes with her hands and screaming with fright, expecting to feel the sharp beaks of the geese in her face at any moment. But just then a chubby curly-headed boy rode up on a donkey. He chased the geese away with his staff, and sliding down from his beast picked up the little Princess and brushed the dust from her hair.

"Who are you, little girl?" he asked.

"I am the Princess Baladina, and those naughty boys set their geese on me because I corrected them for being rude. They don't believe I'm a Princess; you believe it, don't you?"

"If you say so, of course I do," returned the boy, looking wonderingly at her with his big blue eyes and then doubtfully at his bare feet and rough clothes. "But what are you doing out here?"

"I want to find a wizard, do you know of one?"

"O yes, there's Lean Jack, he lives back of the mill. If you'll get on my donkey I'll walk and lead him and we'll get there in no time."

The Princess accepted this homage as her due and was soon on the donkey, while the boy trotted along beside her.

"What do you want of a wizard anyway, a spell to cure something?" he asked curiously.

"No," said Baladina. "I wish to become enchanted because my family have been unkind to me. And then I want some Prince to come and free me. You are not a Prince in disguise, I suppose?" she added hopefully.

The boy shook his head regretfully. "No, I am only the miller's son."

When they came to Lean Jack's house, they found the old man out in his garden hoeing melon vines. They approached slowly and stood still for some time, Baladina expecting him to at once perceive her and cast his spell. But the old man worked on until the braying of the donkey attracted his attention.

"Well, youngsters, what is it?" he asked, leaning on his spade and wiping his brow.

"I believe you are a wizard, sir?" inquired Baladina politely.

He nodded. "So they say, what can I do for you?"

"I have come," said Baladina, "to allow you to cast a spell upon me, as my family are very unkind to me and if I am enchanted some Prince will come and free me from your power and carry me off to his own country."

The wizard smiled grimly and returned to his hoeing. "Sorry I can't accommodate you, but I can't leave my melons. There is a fat wizard who lives in a little red house over the hill yonder, he may be able to give you what you want."

"Dear me," sighed Baladina as they turned away, "how very rude everyone is. Most wizards would be glad enough to get a chance to enchant a Princess."

"I wish you wouldn't be enchanted at all. It must be very uncomfortable, and I should'nt like to see you changed into an owl or a fox or anything," said the miller's boy as he trotted beside her.

"It must be;" said Baladina firmly, "all Princesses should be enchanted at least once."

When they reached the red house behind the hill they had considerable trouble in finding the wizard, and the miller's boy pounded on the door until his knuckles were quite blue. At last a big, jolly looking man with a red cap on his head came to the window. The Princess rode her donkey up quite close to the window and told him what she wanted. The fat wizard leaned up against the window sill and laughed until the tears came to his eyes, and the Princess again felt that her dignity was hurt.

"So you want to be enchanted, do you, so a Prince can come and release you? Who sent you here? It was that lean rascal of a Jack, I'll warrant, he's always putting up jokes on me. This is a little the best yet. Has it occurred to you that when your Prince comes he will certainly kill me? That's the way they always do, you know, they slay the cruel enchanter and then bear off the maiden."

The Princess looked puzzled. "Well," she said thoughtfully, "in this case, if you leave me the power of speech, I will request him not to. It's unusual, but I should hate to have him kill you."

"Thank you, my dear, now I call that considerate. But there is another point. Suppose your Prince should not hear of you, and should never come?"

"But they always do come," objected Baladina.

"Not always, I've known them to tarry a good many years. No, I positively cannot enchant you until you find your Prince."

Baladina turned her donkey and went slowly down to the road leaving the fat wizard still laughing in the window.

"How disobliging these wizards seem to be, but this one seems to mean well. I believe they are afraid to undertake it with a Princess. Do you know where we can find a Prince?"

The miller's boy shook his head. "No, I don't know of any at all."

"Then I suppose we must just hunt for one," said Baladina.

They asked several carters whom they met if they knew where a Prince was to be found, but they all laughed so that Baladina grew quite discouraged. She stopped one boy on horseback and asked if he were a Prince in disguise, but he indignantly denied the charge.

So they went up the road and down a country lane that ran under the willow trees, and when they were both very tired and hungry Baladina opened her handkerchief and gave the miller's boy a bun. He refused the raisin cake, although he looked longingly at it, for he saw there was scarcely enough for two. Baladina sat down and ate it in the shade while he pulled some grass for the donkey. After their lunch they went on again. Just at the top of a hill they met a young man riding a black horse with a pack of hounds running beside him. "I know he is a Prince out hunting. You must stop him," whispered Baladina. So the miller's boy ran on ahead and shouted to the horseman.

"Are you a Prince, sir?" asked Baladina as she approached.

"Yes, miss, I am," he replied curtly.

Nothing daunted Baladina told her story. The young man laughed and said impatiently.

"You foolish child, have you stopped me all this time to tell me a fairy tale? Go home to your parents and let me follow my dogs, I have no time to be playing with silly little girls," and rode away.

"How unkind of him to talk so," said the Princess, "besides, he is very little older than I."

"If he were here, I'd thrash him!" declared the miller's boy stoutly, clenching his fist.

They went on for a little while in a spiritless sort of way, but the boy hurt his toe on a stone until it bled and the Princess was hot and dusty and ached in every bone of her body. Suddenly she stopped the donkey and began to cry.

"There, there," said the miller's boy kindly, "don't do that. I'll find a Prince for you. You go home and rest and I'll hunt until I find one, if it takes for ever."

Baladina dried her tears and spoke with sudden determination.

"You shall be my Prince yourself. I know you are one, really. You must be a changeling left at the mill by some wicked fairy who stole you from your palace."

The boy shook his head stubbornly. "No, I wish I were, but I am only a miller's boy."

"Well, you are the only nice person I have met all day; you have walked till your feet are sore and have let me ride your donkey, and your face is all scratched by the briars and you have had no dinner, and if you are not a Prince, you ought to be one. You are Prince enough for me, anyway. But I am so tired and hungry now, we will go home to the palace to-night and I will be enchanted in the morning. Come, get on the donkey and take me in front of you."

In vain he protested that the donkey could not carry them both, the Princess said that a Prince could not walk.

"I wish you had on shoes and stockings, though," she said. "I think a Prince should always have those."

"I have some for Sunday," said the miller's boy, "if I had only known I would have brought them."

As they turned slowly out of the lane they met a party of horsemen who were hunting for the Princess, and the king himself was among them.

"Ha there, you precious run-away, so here you are, and who is this you have with you?"

"He is my Prince," said the Princess, "and he is to have half the kingdom."

"Oh-h, he is, is he? Who are you, my man?"

"Please, sir, I am only the miller's son, but the Princess was hunting for a Prince and could'nt find one, so she asked me to be one."

"Hear, gentlemen, the Princess is out Prince-hunting early. Come here you little baggage." He lifted her on the saddle in front of him.

"He must come too, for he is my Prince!" cried the wilful Princess.

But the king only laughed and gave the boy a gold piece, and rode away followed by his gentlemen, who were all laughing too. The miller's boy stood by his donkey, looking wistfully after them, and the Princess Baladina wept bitterly at the dearth of Princes.