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 3: The Prince's Kiss

Copyright Robin Gordon, 1996/2004

"Tell me, Dr Pimple," Prince Egbert said one day - he had a slight cold and the doctor had gone round to see him at the hunting lodge where he had been staying ever since the ball - "Tell me, what's all this I hear about a Sleeping Beauty?"

"Oh, quite true, Your Highness," said Dr Pimple. "Say Ah for me, would you? Mmh, well there's nothing much to worry about there. Couple of early nights and lots of fresh air during the day and you'll soon feel as fit as a fiddle - or a flea - whichever you prefer really."

"But about the Sleeping Beauty?"

"Oh yes, sad case really. Probably the only girl in the kingdom who didn't go to the ball. Fairies got to work on her they say."

"Oh, come on, Pimple, old bean," protested the Prince. "You surely don't believe there are still fairies in the world, do you?"

"Who knows? Girl all alone on Midsummer Eve. Making all sorts of foolish wishes. Obviously enchanted. She'll probably sleep for a hundred years. One of my own patients too.

"My friend Dandy says she's the sister of those two ugly old frights we had such fun with at the ball."

"Stepsister, actually," said the doctor. "Not related to them at all. Their mother married her father, poor old chap."

"Why didn't she come to the ball?"

"The ugly sisters wouldn't let her."

"By jove, the beastly old hags!"

"Now remember, Your Highness, early nights, lots of fresh air - and try not to eat and drink too much," said Dr Pimple, packing away his stethoscope.

"Is she pretty," demanded Prince Egbert.

"Is who pretty, Your Highness?"

"The girl?"

"What girl?"

"The Sleeping Beauty?"

"Oh, that girl. Well, yes, I suppose she is, really. I'm an old married man, and a doctor too, so don't really notice things like that, but I suppose you could call her pretty."

"Oh, come on, old bean, what? I mean, what? What?"

"She's beautiful, Your Highness."

"I must see her."

"I think it could be arranged."

"But what about the frights? We made such fun of them that night at the ball."

"My dear Prince, do you really suppose that a pair of snobs like that will bear a grudge when they're going to receive a visit from royalty? Besides, I think a little excursion is just what you need."

* * * * *

"A visit from the Prince?!" cried Bulkomia.

"Prince Egbert coming here?! shrieked Araxia.

"What shall we DO?" bellowed Bulkomia. "We must get all the people out! The whole place will have to be cleaned from top to bottom! Where are the servants?"

"Oh my insides, my insides!" wailed Araxia. "I can't stand it. I know I'm going to be ill. I know it."

"Calm, yourselves, ladies," said Dr Pimple. "I will inform the crowds outside that the exhibition is to be suspended for a few minutes for a visit from Prince Egbert. They will probably want to line up along the drive to watch him arrive and give him a cheer. Those who are inside will have left by the time he arrives. The house itself is perfect, and, even if there are one or two muddy footprints in the hall, do you suppose the Prince will notice things like that when he can feast his gaze upon you?"

"We must change!" cried Bulkomia.

"But I haven't a thing to wear," wept Araxia, who seemed to have forgotten that several large rooms on the first floor were filled with racks and racks of her clothes, most of them bought in the last few weeks.

"Dear ladies, Prince Egbert is making an informal visit. He wishes to see you as you appear every day," said Dr Pimple. "It is no flattery on my part to assure you that not even on the most formal state occasions at court can there be ladies so magnificently caparisoned or so ornately bejewelled as you. Hurry now. Put away the cashbox and call the servants to make some tea while I announce the good tidings."

* * * * *

When the Prince's car drew up a few minutes later, everything was in readiness. The people who had come to see the Sleeping Beauty were quite happy to wait a few minutes longer if they could see the Prince as well. Araxia and Bulkomia were so excited at receiving a royal personage in their own house that they had quite forgotten the slight they had received at the ball. They conducted Prince Egbert into the blue drawing room with so many curtsies and extravagant compliments that it was as much as he could do to keep a straight face. His friend Dandy had to fight so hard not to laugh that he was seized with a fit of coughing and had to go outside for a breath of fresh air.

No-one was paying any attention to Dr Pimple as he waited patiently with his little brown bag beside the Sleeping Beauty's bed, holding her arm, checking her pulse, and preparing her for the royal visit.

At last the Prince was able to free himself from the ugly sisters and advance to the bed. There was something so still and so lovely about the sleeping girl that he couldn't help feeling a pang that might have been the first stirrings of love.

"Kiss her," murmured Dr Pimple.

"May I?" whispered the Prince.

"Of course. Quickly!" said the doctor.

Prince Egbert saw Cinderella's lips move. He bent and kissed them - and the sleeping girl opened her eyes, looked at him, and sat up.

Araxia and Bulkomia were so flabbergasted that Dr Pimple was able to lead them away without a word, leaving the Prince to talk to Cinderella alone.

* * * * *

For Prince Egbert and Cinderella the time of their talk passed in a flash. If you had asked them how long it had been they might have said five minutes. To the crowd outside it seemed like hours. They had come to see the Sleeping Beauty as advertised in all the papers and on television, and they had been made to wait. It was true they had seen the prince, which was an unexpected treat, but after that the doors had been closed. When Dandy came out they thought the Prince's visit was over, but, instead of telling them they could come in, all the fine gentleman in the fancy clothes had done was to slam the door and laugh.

As for Dandy, as soon as he recovered from his fit of laughter he began to wish he had not been so impetuous in rushing out and slamming the door behind him. Now he was marooned outside, with nothing between him and a hostile crowd who obviously though he had been sent out to guard the entrance, and that he had been laughing at them.

Inside the house the time seemed all too long to Dr Pimple, even though he had plenty to occupy him. Araxia and Bulkomia had descended abruptly from the heights of grandeur to the depths of despair. From successful business women, living in comfort, able to afford servants and luxuries, and even to entertain royalty, the Prince's kiss had plunged them into poverty.

Bulkomia strode up and down the hall, smacking her right fist into her left palm and snarling in her throat like a wild beast robbed of its cubs, while Araxia scampered and stumbled behind her wailing, "Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh ..."

"Do SHUT UP, Araxia!" shouted Bulkomia. "How can I think with all that noise going on?"

"But what shall we do, what shall we do, what shall we do?" moaned Araxia. "We shall have to let the servants go. Who is going to look after us? Oh dear, oh dear ..."

"Best thing for you is a nice hot cup of tea," said Dr Pimple.

"Tea?!" snarled Bulkomia.

"Tea??" wailed Araxia.

"After all," said Dr Pimple quietly to Bulkomia, "You don't want people to see that they can upset you. A nice cup of tea will fill you with new strength, ready for action."

"Ye...es!" growled Bulkomia.

"After all, Araxia," murmured Dr Pimple, "you have to think of your insides. It would never do if you were incapacitated just when you need all your strength and cleverness."

"Ye...es," whimpered Araxia.

Refreshments were brought. The doctor fussed around his patients, made them comfortable, passed them biscuits and poured them tea.

"Whatever happens," he said, "you've made enough money out of the Sleeping Beauty to keep you in comfort for the rest of your lives."

"We could always employ a girl to play the part of the Sleeping Beauty," rumbled Bulkomia.

"We'd need at least two," said Araxia. "One couldn't lie there all day."

"All right, two."

"Two the same," whined Araxia.

"Twins!" shouted Bulkomia.

"Or triplets," twittered Araxia. "You'll help us, won't you, Dr Pimple? You'll help us to find triplets?"

"NO!" bellowed Bulkomia. "YOU'LL PUT HER BACK TO SLEEP!"

"Oh yes, yes, do, dear Dr Pimple," moaned Araxia ecstatically. "You can do it, can't you? With drugs and things."

"Then we can keep the business going," cried Bulkomia. "We'll make a FORTUNE!"

Dr Pimple protested that he couldn't possibly do such a thing. Bulkomia offered him ten percent of the profits, raised her offer to thirty percent, and, when he still refused, went right up to fifty, much to Araxia's distress.

Dr Pimple was adamant. Gradually he made them listen to him. Gradually he made them realise just how wealthy they were.

"Dear ladies," he said, "you are in a very fortunate position. You can afford to turn your back on the sordid cares of finance that imprison all ordinary people, and devote yourselves to being - yourselves. Your lives can be works of the highest art, aesthetic creations of stunning proportions. The whole of mankind will contemplate you in bewildered wonderment."

Araxia and Bulkomia were soothed by this vision and just beginning to contemplate their future with some pleasure, when the Prince came in.

"Pimple!" he cried, beaming all over his face. "I want you to be the first to know. Little Cinderella is to be my wife!"

"My heartiest congratulations, Your Highness," said Dr Pimple. "You must telephone the King and Queen immediately. Then after that we must make a public announcement to reward the people outside for their patience."

Bulkomia toppled slowly backwards and crashed onto a settee. It collapsed beneath her weight, and she lay amid the ruins, gasping. Araxia clutched a table and emitted a long, shrill scream.

"Oh dear," sighed Dr Pimple. "Here we go again. Leave them to me, Your Highness."

"Yes, of course," gabbled Prince Egbert and went off with Cinderella to find a telephone.

* * * * *

Outside, the crowd had grown more and more impatient and Dandy more apprehensive. After a while they started muttering and looking at him threateningly. Dandy began to remember all the silly tricks Prince Egbert and his friends had played: overturning dustbins, lifting garden gates off their hinges and swopping them around, stealing garden gnomes and arranging them in tableaux in the parks, tying front doors together and ringing the doorbells, catching girls in the street and holding them to ransom for a kiss, jostling young men to pick a quarrel and then pitching them into fountains or leaving them tied to lamp-posts or railings in their underclothes, phoning respectable citizens at three o'clock in the morning to ask what time it was, and ordering loads of manure or ready-mixed concrete to be delivered to the houses of people who complained. The Prince might be forgiven his pranks, but his companions were far from popular.

As the crowd pressed towards him Dandy was sure he recognised people who had suffered from their japes.

"I'm on your side, really," he gabbled, and then turned and banged on the door to prove it.

That was a mistake. The crowd saw that he had lost his nerve and began to laugh at him. A gang of young men pushed forward and came up the steps. Dandy turned again and began hammering on the door and shrieking for someone to open it. The lads gave a cheer, and there was no escape for Dandy. His hat went tumbling down the steps. His boots were flung into the shrubbery. His well-cut coat was stripped from his back and trampled underfoot, and his elegant trousers were pulled off and thrown to the cheering crowd.

"To the pond!" someone yelled, and Dandy was hustled down the steps and pushed, shoved, jostled, kicked and dragged to the shallow pool beneath the trees. Willing hands seized his wrists and ankles, he swung once, twice, three times, and splashed into the muddy water.

Just then a piercing scream rang out from the house. The crowd surged back, now in high good humour, to see what the matter was.

Nothing happened for a few minutes more, then Prince Egbert appeared on a first-floor balcony and announced that the Sleeping Beauty had awakened and that he was going to marry her.

Cinderella appeared beside him, and the crowd went wild with joy. When Dr Pimple asked them to move back from the path to let the prince's car through, they gladly complied. They cheered Prince Egbert and Cinderella when they came out to their car, and they cheered them again as they drove off. They cheered Dr Pimple when he came out to find his own car, and they cheered Dandy when he squelched out of the pond to ask the doctor for a lift back to town - they even gave him back as many of his clothes as they could find.

They were still cheering when Bulkomia and Araxia appeared on the balcony. Dr Pimple had reconciled them completely to the idea that Cinderella was to marry the Prince - or at least he had reconciled Bulkomia: Araxia had been feeling a little unwell and had not quite grasped the situation.

"Wave, Araxia!" commanded Bulkomia. "They are cheering for US!"

"Are they?" faltered Araxia.

"Of course!" boomed Bulkomia. "WE are the next Queen's sisters!"

"Are we?"

"WE," announced Bulkomia, "are persons of rank and importance."

"Because of Cinderella?" queried Araxia.

"That sweet girl," breathed Bulkomia. "She will tell them how we adored her! How we pampered her! How we loved and cherished her!"

"Will she?" said Araxia doubtfully.

"Of course she will!" bellowed Bulkomia. "We shall always be welcome at Court. Wave, Araxia! Don't stand there like a dead fish! Wave to the crowd! How they love us! They always love royalty!"

* * * * *

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