New Zephyria
by Robin Gordon

Auksford crest: a great auk displaying an open book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"

-  Auksford  -

Part I: Dr Pimple and the Sleeping Beauty

Chapter 2: The Sleeping Beauty

©  Copyright Robin Gordon, 1996/2004

King Arthur was furious. Prince Egbert was very silent as he listened to his father over breakfast. The King himself was very silent later as the Prime Minister told him his opinion of grand balls that nearly bankrupted the Treasury but achieved nothing.

After the Prime Minister had gone the King told the Queen that he was going to send for Dr Pimple.

"Can't think what possessed him to suggest a ball," he growled. "Deuced fella must have taken leave of his senses."

"I could have told you that, Arthur," said the Queen, "in fact I believe I did. The idea that the Heir to the Throne of New Zephyria should find himself a wife by dancing with ordinary gels at a ball to which any Tom, Dick or Harry could come - it's preposterous."

"We didn't invite Tom, Dick and Harry," snapped the King irritably, "only the gels. Do keep to the point."

"Arthur, my darling. I did not say that we invited Tom, Dick and Harry," said the Queen. "Tom Dick and Harry means just anyone."

"Only the gels," replied the King. "Do listen to what I'm sayin' ..."

"It's all Dr Pimple's fault," the Queen said icily. "You ought to send for him and tell him so."

"That's just what I said I was goin' to do," grumbled the King. "I wish you would stop bickering'."

"I am not bickering," said the Queen. "I only said you should send for Dr Pimple."

Kings and Queens have to be exceptionally good at keeping their tempers, or before they know where they are they find they've started a war. In the old days they might have annoyed a giant and had their palace knocked down round their ears, or offended one of the nastier fairies and had a curse put on them. Those days are long past of course, so all King Arthur and Queen Elizabeth did was to make themselves unhappy for a while.

When they got over their little quarrel they sent a footman to ask the Royal Butler to telephone Dr Pimple. His wife said that he had gone out on his rounds and she did not know when he would be back. Quite a lot of his patients must have got over-excited at the ball, she thought. He was usually back much earlier. If it was an emergency perhaps His Majesty could get one of the doctors from the hospital.

The butler thanked her with imperturbable politeness and assured her that there was no urgency. The King was far from pleased, but there was nothing he could do about it.

* * * * *

Dr Pimple had gone round his regular patients quite quickly that morning, then driven out to the splendid residence of Cinderella's two stepsisters. He drove cheerfully up the drive, (noting the confusion of tyre marks in the gravel), swished to a stop, climbed the broad steps to the front door, and rang.

There was a long pause. He rang again. After a while the door opened a little way, and Bulkomia poked her head out, glowering suspiciously.

"Who is it? Who is it?" came an anxious wail from behind her, then Araxia's face appeared, ducking under her elbows and peering up at the doctor.

"Good morning, ladies," said he politely. "I thought that after last night I should really come out and see my favourite patient again."

The door was flung wide open. Bulkomia's mouth opened with it in a smile of welcome, while Araxia, hunching her shoulders and waving her hands, ushered him into the hall.

"To tell you the truth, Doctor," said Bulkomia, "I am not quite myself this morning."

Araxia was talking at the same time. "It's my insides, you see, Doctor. I should have known the excitement would be too much for me."

"We were treated," said Bulkomia in a louder voice, "most discourteously."

"There's no-one," said Araxia at the same time, "who understands my insides like you, Doctor."

"And," shouted Bulkomia, "I have had a severe shock which may prove too much even for me."

"And if there's no-one to look after me," Araxia was whimpering, "I don't know what I shall do. I... I... I shall die."

"Do be QUIET, Araxia!" bellowed Bulkomia. "I'm talking to Dr Pimple."

"Oh it's so unfair," bleated Araxia. "First them, then her, and now you."

"I think," said Dr Pimple, "that we ought to go inside. I can see that you both need me - both Bulkomia, who, I always say, has the strongest constitution of all my patients, and Araxia, whose ailments never fail to fascinate. But tell me, where is the third sister? Is she quite well?"

Araxia and Bulkomia were totally bewildered.

"Third sister?" muttered Bulkomia.

"He means... he must mean..." stuttered Araxia.

"Pah!" snarled Bulkomia. "That girl! There's nothing wrong with HER! Lazy, idle, good-for-nothing..."

"Perhaps," suggested Dr Pimple, "perhaps she could bring us all some tea?"

"But that's just it," wailed Araxia. "She's asleep and we can't wake her up and I've had nothing to eat since yesterday teatime except a few little snacks at the ball and they upset me dreadfully and she knows I have to have my meals on time or I get fearfully sick and all this has upset me so terribly that I know I'm going to be terribly ill ..."

"Be quiet, Araxia!" snapped Bulkomia. "You think of no-one but yourself."

"Well it's all right for you, Bulkomia. You were stuffing yourself with goodies at the ball, enough to feed an army for a week, but you know I... I..."

Her voice died away and she shrank back under Bulkomia's glare.

"I," said Bulkomia, majestic even in her suffering, "have been laced into my corsets for over seventeen hours. No-one can CONCEIVE of the agony. And that fool of a girl is snoring her head off without a thought for anyone else."

"Couldn't your sister help to unlace you?" Dr Pimple asked.

"HAH!" snorted Bulkomia, and Araxia shrank into her chair as if withered by her sister's contempt.

"Well," said the doctor, "I hesitate to suggest it, but I am a medical man, which makes it quite proper ..."

"Oh WOULD you, Doctor?" boomed Bulkomia.

So Dr Pimple unlaced Bulkomia's corsets, and, while she expanded in a way that would probably have alarmed a less experienced GP, he popped through to the kitchen and made them all a nice pot of tea.

As they sipped the refreshing beverage Araxia and Bulkomia poured out their story.

"We arrived back tired and hungry after dancing all night ..."

"And with my insides ..."

"And my corsets ..."

"And the rudeness ..."

"Rudeness?" inquired Dr Pimple.

"Of the cabdriver," said Bulkomia hastily.

"Yes, yes, the cabdriver," repeated Araxia.

"No-one was rude at the ball," said Bulkomia.

"We had a splendid time," said Araxia dismally, "at least Bulkomia did. I was so miserable with my insides that I couldn't have danced ..."

We were the belles of the ball. Everyone admired us," declared Bulkomia. "But that's not what we're talking about."

"... not what we're talking about" echoed Araxia.

"We called for Cinderella," said Bulkomia.

"... called and called ..."

"But she never came."

"... never came ..."

"We looked in the kitchen ..."

"... in the kitchen ..."

"... but she wasn't there."

"... wasn't there ..."

"Be quiet, Araxia! I'm talking to Dr Pimple!"

"... talking to Dr Pimple ..."

"Araxia!!"

"Oh! I... I... I'm sorry, I'm sorry," whimpered Araxia.

"Then we found her at last, asleep on the sofa in the drawing room, snoring her head off, and we couldn't wake her up."

"Bulkomia wanted to throw a bucket of water over her," whined Araxia, "but I said, You mustn't do it Bulkomia, I said. It'll ruin the furniture, I said, and we paid good money for that sofa."

"Be quiet, Araxia!"

"I think I see the problem," said Dr Pimple. "Cinderella is fast asleep and you can't wake her."

"And there's no-one to look after us!" wailed Araxia.

* * * * *

Dr Pimple listened to Cinderella's heart and felt her pulse. He looked into her mouth and he opened one of her eyelids and peered at her eye. Then he turned to Bulkomia and Araxia with a grave expression.

"This is very serious," he said.

"It's not catching, is it?" moaned Araxia, retreating nervously towards the door.

"No, no. Calm yourselves, dear ladies. There is no danger," replied Dr Pimple. "I blame myself. I should have realised that she wouldn't go to the ball. You see, ladies, Midsummer Eve. Fairies and sprites about. Royal Ball. Just the time for magic and mischief. Young girl in the house all alone, state of depression. Very probably wishing for a fairy godmother to turn her into a princess and send her to the ball. Probably called on the fairies. Impatient perhaps. Well, they won't stand for that, will they? I should think not! Put a spell on her. She's been enchanted. Got her wish in a way, I suppose. Probably dreaming she's at a fairy ball, dancing with the fairy prince. Poor thing, she'll probably sleep for a hundred years."

"A HUNDRED YEARS?!" yelled Bulkomia. "A HUNDRED YEARS???!!!"

"But what shall we do?" wailed Araxia. "Who'll cook our breakfast? Oh, I'm so-o-o-o-o hungry!"

"You'll have to get a servant," said Dr Pimple, "or do it yourself. Now, you don't want Cinderella sleeping in your sitting room, so we'd better get her back to her bedroom."

"Pah!" snorted Bulkomia.

"I beg your pardon?" said the doctor.

"Out to the stable with her," snarled Bulkomia. "The servant will have to sleep in the little room behind the kitchen."

"Then we'd better take Cinderella upstairs," said the doctor. "There must be several spare bedrooms."

"My sister and I," said Bulkomia with dignity, "keep our dresses and our private belongings in the bedrooms. There is no room for Cinderella upstairs. Her selfishness is going to cost us a great deal of money. Servants are not cheap. You can hardly expect us to keep her in the house."

"Yes, I quite see," said Dr Pimple. "It will be an expensive business, but I have an idea! A way to make money out of Cinderella. I think she'll more than pay for a servant to do her work. Have you ever heard of the Sleeping Beauty? She had a sleeping spell put on her, just like your stepsister, and princes came from all over the world to try and win her. Well, suppose we advertise in the papers. Tell people all about Cinderella having a spell put on her on Midsummer Eve, the night of the Royal Ball. You know what people are like these days. They'll come flocking to see for themselves - and all you have to do is charge them an entrance fee."

"No-one," sniffed Bulkomia, "could ever take Cinderella for a sleeping BEAUTY."

"Oh, I think I could make her look presentable," said the doctor. "Clean nightdress, plain bedclothes, hair spread out on the pillow, dim light perhaps - but it really doesn't matter what she looks like. When people hear that she's the sister of two such famous beauties as yourselves they're sure to want to see her. She'll be accepted as a beauty in no time - and the contrast between her, so pale and still, and the strong vibrant personalities of her guardians, that will be what they remember - to their dying day!"

"And do you think they'll pay?" bleated Araxia.

"I'm sure of it."

"WE'LL DO IT!" bellowed Bulkomia.

* * * * *

The fame of the Sleeping Beauty spread throughout the land. So many people came to see her that the sisters were able to employ a personal maid each, as well as a cook-housekeeper and a handyman-gardener. They had the front garden cleared of its tangled jungle and made into a car-park, and each day they stood at the front door and took the money as the people came in.

Cinderella had been moved to the drawing room next to the front door so that the sisters did not have to have strangers trampling all over the house. Dr Pimple had had it restored to its original plainness, with pale blue walls and a white ceiling. It was empty of furniture except for a simple bedstead that stood on a plain, blue carpet. The curtains were partly closed so that the room was always dim, but on sunny days a bright shaft of sunlight shone on the face of the sleeping girl. On gloomy days a standard lamp near the head of the bed was switched on. An ordinary cord strung between posts prevented people from touching the Sleeping Beauty, but they could walk up close to her and see that she was breathing.

Bulkomia and Araxia had objected at first to the plainness and dullness of the room, but Dr Pimple had said: "Why spend a lot of money on interior decoration when all you need is a coat of emulsion paint?"

"Besides," he said, "when you ladies enter the room, the contrast between its plainness and your magnificence will draw all eyes at once to you."

The sisters found this to be so true that they had some of their private reception rooms done out in plain colours too. They could afford to employ decorators because they were making so much money. Hundreds of people came to see the Sleeping Beauty, and, having seen her once, they came to see her again, just to make sure it really was the same girl in the bed all the time. A few blew trumpets and made other loud noises, and Araxia thought it would be a good idea to charge extra and allow people to pinch Cinderella or stick pins into her.

Dr Pimple objected. "It would never do," he said, if the Sleeping Beauty were covered in bruises and pin-pricks. People would stop coming to see her. Besides, you never know with these spells. Sticking pins in her might be the way to end the enchantment - and if she woke up that would be the end of the money.

* * * * *

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