The Princess and the Pea

A Very Short Tale

DIANE SETTERFIELD

EMILY BESTLER BOOKS
ATRIA

New York London Toronto Sydney New Delhi

Emily Bestler Books/Atria Books A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1230 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY 10020 This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real places are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Copyright © 2013 by Diane Setterfield All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address Atria Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Designed by Leydiana Rodríguez-Ovalles First Emily Bestler Books/Atria ebook edition October 2013 Emily Bestler Books/Atria Books and colophons are trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc. The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau can bring authors to your live event. For more information or to book an event, contact the Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau at 1-866-248-3049 or visit our website at www.simonspeakers.com. ISBN 978-1-4767-7300-1

ALSO BY DIANE SETTERFIELD Bellman & Black The Thirteenth Tale

Contents
The Princess and the Pea About Emily Bestler Books About Atria Books

T

here once was a giant bed, a mile high, with so many mattresses that a ladder had to be placed

at one end to allow the sleeper to reach the top. Mattress upon mattress upon mattress, and of every color under the sun, all stuffed full with down and feathers. They must have massacred a hundred thousand geese to make such a bed. Then, the princesses forming a queue outside the palace. Blondes, brunettes, redheads, tall and short, Eskimo princesses, Japanese princesses, African princesses— you name it, every kind of princess imaginable was there. And together with the princesses were the princesses’ hairdressers, and the princesses’ ladies-in-waiting, and the princesses’ pages, and the princesses’ laundry maids, and the princesses’ shoeshiners, errand boys, handkerchief holders, and corset lacers. Night after night, one of the beauties would be admit1

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ted to the palace and would climb up the ladder to sleep on the great bed. The next morning she would climb down the ladder, hair prettily disheveled, complexion radiant, and profess herself to be gloriously rested after a peaceful night’s sleep. And morning after morning the door would open and an unhappy princess would be expelled from the palace. At nightfall, the next in line was called in, and the whole experiment began again. What was the test in which these princesses were failing? Underneath the bottom mattress there had been placed by the chief minister of the court, in a secret ceremony from which all but the prince, king, and queen were excluded, a pea. A simple dried pea. Several peas had been tested, and the one that was finally chosen was more gray than green, had six or seven dimples on its surface, and was very hard. This last quality had been tested by the chief minister in person. He had placed it between his incisor and his bottom teeth, and had then applied pressure with his jaw. The pea had not given way, and the minister had suffered from a toothache for several

The Princess and the Pea  3

days thereafter. In this fashion he had determined that this was to be the pea. With great solemnity he placed it on the floor and heaved the first mattress on top of it. Then other manservants were called in to complete the construction of the great bed. But now the hopes of that great day were fading. The queue of princesses had dwindled and whispers could be heard in the kingdom that the prince had his reasons for not wanting to marry, and that the king and queen might never have the grandchild they so longed for. Distant male relatives enquired discreetly after the prince’s health and started to weigh their chances, and the populace sighed and prepared itself for civil war. On the day the last princess was booted out of the palace for having slept too well, the footman noticed that the queue had mysteriously re-formed overnight. But it was a queue of only one. A girl—well, he supposed it was a girl—with a scruffy crop of ginger hair and black stuff under her fingernails. She was leaning against the palace porch, one hand resting on the bony hip that she

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stuck out jauntily, and looked at the footman with an even, insolent stare. “Who might you be?” he asked. “Princess Tuppence,” she replied, with a curl of the lip that said, believe that if you will. The footman scratched his head. “Daughter of King Candlestick Maker, down Smelly Alley?” She gave him a wink. “I don’t rightly know as that counts,” said the footman, suppressing a smile, but he presented her to the king and queen anyway. They looked at the girl. At each other. At the girl. At each other. “It’s out of the question,” said the queen. “It’s impossible,” said the king. “It wouldn’t do,” said she. “It goes against all the rules of social propriety,” said he. “What would our friends say?” said she. “What would the neighbors think?” said he. “It’s just not the done thing,” said she. “But on the other hand . . .” said he. “. . . what else are we to do?” said she. “Oh, all right then,” said the two of them together.

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And so the tomboy with the short ginger hair who had no nightgown to speak of, but slept in her knickers and her boots, got to spend a night on silken sheets, satin pillows, and feather mattresses. In the morning, the prince watched the skinny ankles in their black, holey boots descend the ladder, and his heart, if it did not exactly skip a beat, certainly felt the first stirrings of curiosity. The king and queen were waiting, hopelessly it must be said, to go through with the ritual one last time. “How did you sleep?” “Sleep? You’re asking me how I slept? On that?” The regents were startled into paying attention. It was true: she did not look rested. The purple shadows under the dark eyes did not tell of a reposeful night. The pale cheeks had none of the bloom of morning. And the eyes, red rimmed and sore, implied nothing more than that the princess had not slept a wink. To put it in a nutshell, she looked a wreck. A scruffy, skinny, interesting-looking wreck. The curiosity that was toying with

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the prince’s heart began to make itself felt in other parts of his princely anatomy. The princess spoke. “I haven’t closed my eyes all night. Tossin’ and turnin’ I was from dusk till dawn. I have heard the church clock strike every hour of the night. I don’t mind tellin’ you, I’ve never had a worse night’s sleep. I’ve slept better on a bale of hay, that’s for sure.” The king turned to the queen and the queen turned to the king, and their expressions were poised exactly halfway between horror and joy. The prince’s emotion was by no means so divided: he took the daughter of King Candlestick Maker by the hand, and planted an inexperienced but unmistakably enthusiastic kiss on her lips. And the band, who had been present (just in case) at every one of these occasions, a specially composed “Anthem to Joy” open on their music stands, were taken by surprise; those who had been watching the regents found themselves a bar and a half behind those who had taken their cue from the prince. So one half of the orchestra had to toot at double speed to catch up, whilst the other

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half slowed down in an attempt to meet them halfway. There were great jumbles of sound where the notes fell over each other and squabbled, but then the oboe found itself on the brink of silence and filled the abyss with the most perfect C minor the world had ever heard. The white-haired court composer just happened to be passing at the time. He pricked up his ears, frowned, and then an intense excitement wiped the wrinkles from his face. He raced home like a man of twenty to write the concerto which was to become the pinnacle of his career and which changed the course of music forever. But that’s all by the by. The prince took advantage of the sudden burst of noise to lean and eagerly whisper into his fiancée’s ear, “But how did you know about the pea?” “The pea?” “The pea! You know, the one under the pile of mattresses that made you black and blue and kept you from sleeping?” “I don’t know nothin’ about no pea,” she said, “I’m

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allergic to feathers.” Over the prince’s shoulder the princess caught sight of the footman trying to keep a straight face as he stood in position by the door. He winked at her. She winked back. The prince and the princess got married and lived happily ever after—well, as happy as most of us are, and for as long as most of us do, which is the best anyone can hope for. The princess had her own separate room on account of preferring to sleep on a bale of hay, and they had a hundred and one children, some of whom looked rather like the prince and others not a jot. But they all had ginger hair.

The End

About Emily Bestler Books

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emember the first time you fell in love with a  book? We hope to recapture that feeling

for you over and over. Emily Bestler Books was founded with one guiding principle in mind: to find the very best reads available and to put them into the hands of as many readers as possible. We are passionate about this mission and in pursuit of it have decided to give ourselves as much leeway as possible and open the imprint up to a number of different categories. After all, books are as varied as their readers. On our shelves you will find fiction and nonfiction, pulse-pounding thrillers, delectable cookbooks, distinctive memoirs, international crime fiction, and smart, deeply felt novels with a literary flair. In short, we have a book for everyone.

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Atria. Where great books come to light.

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tria, defined as “a central living space open to the air and sky,” perfectly describes the vision

of its publisher, Judith Curr, and her team. In her words, “When we launched Atria Books in 2002, we hoped to create an environment where new ideas could flourish, the best writers of fiction and nonfiction could thrive and connect with an ever-widening readership, and the best practices of traditional publishing could be integrated with cutting-edge developments in the digital world. In short, a place where great books could come to light.” In the decade plus that has followed, the Atria Publishing Group has realized this vision, its creative and motivated staff acquiring, publishing, and marketing a list of successful and highly acclaimed books, many of them award winners and bestsellers. Under the Atria banner, beloved brand-name authors soar to new heights
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while the finest new voices—the bestsellers of tomorrow—are discovered and nurtured with an eye toward a limitless future. The Atria Publishing Group is proud to publish books for readers of all tastes and interests under these imprints: Atria Books, Atria Paperback, Atria Español, Atria Unbound, Washington Square Press, Emily Best­ ler Books/Atria, Atria/Beyond Words, Cash Money Content, Howard Books, Marble Arch Press, Strebor Books, and 37 Ink.

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