"The Princess Who Could Not Dance"
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Author of Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz, "The Wizard of Pumperdink", "King, King! Double King!", etc.
From The Princess of Cozytown, 1922. Originally published in St. Nicholas.
Oh, once - oh, once, dears and ducks, there was a beautiful Princess who could not dance! Think of it! All the dancing masters in the kingdom and in all the kingdoms for miles round could do nothing with her. They came singly and doubly and then all together, and counted one, two, one, two, three, and twirled, and bobbed, and bowed, and stamped, and swayed in and out, and whirled round like tops; and the Court Musicians twanged and banged and thumped, tum-tum, tiddy-um-tum, tum-tum, tiddy-um-tum, until their ruffled collars wilted, and their cheeks puffed out like red balloons, - but still she couldn't dance.
The King tore his hair out by the handful - he didn't have much either; and the Queen wept into her flowered handkerchief, while the dancing masters explained this and then that, but the Princess sadly shook her head instead of her foot, and there was an end of it. So in all the land there could be no dancing, no Court balls or frolics, nor any music even, because music made the other folks dance and the Prin-cess appear ridiculous.
And oh, my dears, that kingdom grew pokier than snuff! Faces grew long and dour, and visitors to the realm most mighty scarce. And yet this Princess was really bewitchingly enchanting, her hair all tumbling golden curls, and her eyes, sweethearts, as blue as the darkest part of the sky, and her cheeks as pink as the little clouds at sunset, while her feet and hands were the tiniest ever. Oh, you would have loved her to pieces! Even her name was a dancy sort of name, for it was Dianidra.
Well, poor Dianidra grew every day more thin and sad, because all the Court Ladies who could dance were exceedingly unkind to her. I shouldn't be surprised if they pinched her now and then. And the King was so vexed that a real Princess couldn't dance, that quite often he boxed her ears. Oh, he was a crab of a King! When Dianidra went near her mother, the Queen covered her face with her handkerchief and shrieked for her smelling-salts, and moaned: "A Princess who cannot dance will never marry. How disgraceful! How terrible! Unhappy me!" and a good bit more that I have not time to tell you.
So Dianidra used to wander off into the garden by herself and try to puzzle it out. She used to work it out with a paper and pencil like this: 2 steps plus 2 steps, and 1 bow plus 1 dip = the minuet. And 4 times 3 steps plus 1 turn, and 2 swings plus 1 slide = the Court glide. Then - then, because she never could put the puzzle together, she would throw herself down on the ground and weep, until the flowers thought surely that spring had come. And, dear hearts, have you guessed why? Don't think she was bewitched. Not a bit. Let me tell you the way of it. The proud old King and the weepy old Queen and the stupid old dancing-masters had been so busy telling the Princess how to dance that they all completely forgot to tell her what dancing was. So Dianidra had it all mixed up with her arithmetic and spelling lessons. And of course she couldn't dance, because the wisest person in the world couldn't dance with his head.
Things grew worse and worse, and pretty bad, I can tell you. And one day, after the King had been unusually crabbish, and the Queen most awfully weepish, and the Court Ladies outrageously crossish, Dianidra decided to run away. She waited until the gate-keeper was snoring, then she stood on her tippy-toes, turned the great golden key, and slipped out into the world. She ran and ran, down the King's highway, of course, crying all the time so hard that she couldn't see where she was going. And first thing you know, plump-p-p! bump-p-p! she had run into an old lady and tumbled her head over heels in the road.
"Sugar and molasses, my dear!" cried the old lady pleasantly. "I was just hoping something would happen."
At this, Dianidra, who had expected nothing less than a box on the ears, stopped crying and looked at the old lady curiously. Her eyes were brown and dancy, and her cheeks, 'though withered and old, were red as apples. In her shabby bonnet and dress she looked younger than Dianidra herself.
"Well, well!" she chuckled, picking up her things. "Who are you, my pretty?"
"I'm Dianidra, the Princess who cannot dance," the Princess answered, hanging her head.
"Hoity-toity!" exclaimed the old lady. "Is that why you're crying on the King's highway?"
"Oh," sobbed Dianidra, "if I could only learn to dance!"
"Come here, child," said the old lady; and putting her head to Dianidra's heart, she listened long and knowingly.
"Yes, it's there," she muttered to herself. "It's there." All of which was very puzzling to the Princess. "Now, what do you know about dancing?"
"Let me see," said Dianidra, puckering up her brow and counting on her fingers. "Two turns, plus five slides, plus six steps, plus two swings, divided by a curtsey equals - Oh, dear, what does that equal? What does it equal?"
At that, what do you suppose happened? The old lady burst into laughter - and I mean it, really. Her bonnet tumbled off, and she laughed and laughed; and her hair tumbled down, and she laughed and laughed; her cape flew away, and still she kept laughing; till finally, in an awful chuckle, she just disappeared; and out of the laughter stepped the most beautiful fairy that you can imagine - with shimmery wings and smiley eyes. Dianidra was so surprised that she laughed a little bit, herself.
"That's right!" said the fairy. "Before you can learn to dance, you must learn to laugh! You must laugh with your lips, and then with your heart, and then with your feet, Dianidra, for that's what dancing is. And I'm going to send you to the most wonderful dancing masters in the world. Walk straight ahead between these tall trees till you come to yonder gray stone, and on the other side you will see your first dancing-master. He will tell you where to find the others. Good-bye, little Princess. Before the next sunrise you will be the most beautiful dancer in all the ten kingdoms."
Then, sweethearts, the fairy kissed Dianidra and flew up, up, out of sight. And I might tell you that the fairy's name was Happiness, if you have not already guessed it.
Something about the fairy kiss kept the Princess laughing softly all the way along between the tall trees until she came to the gray stone. She peeked 'round it curiously, and there, sure enough, was her first dancing master, a rippling, racing, merry little brook.
"Lean down, Dianidra," called the brook. And Dianidra, obeying, was drawn gently into its arms, and danced away with her over the stones, singing:
"Run, don't slip, glide, don't trip!
Merrily, gay, that's the way.
Dianidra, dancing's play."
You never could guess how pleasant it was dancing with the brook. The sunbeams came, too, and joined in. But finally the brook whispered to the Princess that on the top of the next hill another dancing master was waiting. So Dianidra sprang gaily up the bank, shaking the diamond drops of water out of her sunny locks and wringing out her dress.
And straightway she began running and gliding as easily as the brook, singing all the time the bit of a song he had taught her. When she had come to the top of the hill, there, sure enough, was her second dancing master. 'Twas the south wind. He seized Dianidra's hands and spun her 'round in a hundred gay circles; and she bowed and swayed as gracefully as you have seen the flowers do when the south wind dances with them.
"Oh, off with a rush, now sway, now stay,
Now bend and bow, and again away!"
whispered the south wind in her ear. And away and away they danced, and Dianidra thought she would never weary of it. Over the flower-splashed hill they swept, down and down to the edge of the sea. And there the south wind left her to learn something from this, her last dancing master.
The sea rushed toward Dianidra with his hundred dancing waves, and, catching her up in his mighty arms, drew her out to where the swells rose and fell with majestic rhythm. The dance of the sea, dear hearts, was the most beautiful of all. First he held her curled in the hollow of a giant swell, then tossed her lightly as foam on the rising crest, where she floated gently to and fro. Now with a rush a great wave ran with her merrily up the sand, teaching her the most wonderful curtsey, the curtsey the waves have been dropping to the shore for years and hundreds of years.
After she had been dancing with the sea for a long, long time, he brought up from his treasure-chest a wonderful coral chain, and clasped it round her neck; and he wove her a crown of sea-weed and pearly sea-flowers, and, with a last caress, set her high upon the beach. So happy had Dianidra been, dancing with these wonderful dancing masters, that she hadn't noticed that the sun had slipped down behind the hill. It was night, and the moon came up out of the sea, and smiled at the runaway Princess dancing over the sands. Her satin dress was torn and dripping, but she was more beautiful now than ever before, because her eyes were laughing, her lips were laughing, her heart was laughing; but more than all else, her flying feet were laughing!
It chanced that a most royal palace stood on that beach, and the Princess, running and gliding like the brook, and swaying and bending as the south wind, and curtseying and dipping like the sea, danced up to the golden gates, which were open, straight into the gaily lighted ball-room! Gorgeous Princesses, and Queens, and Ladies of high degree were dancing with Princes, and Kings, and Gentlemen of high degree, for it was the royalest ball of the year, and from the east and west, from the north and south, from all the ten kingdoms in fact, this sprightly and gallant company had gathered.
When Dianidra swept lightly into their midst, dears and ducks, it was the most surprised company ever. The musicians all stopped thumping and banging, and, with their cheeks still puffed out and their hands upraised, stared and stared. And the gorgeous Princesses, and Queens, and the Ladies of high degree stopped right in the midst of a wonderful figure, and, with their satin slippers daintily pointed to take the next step, stared and stared. And the Princes, and Kings, and the Gentlemen of high degree, with their courtly backs bent for the deep bow, stopped and stared and stared; and my goody! they stared the hardest of all. But Dianidra danced merrily on.
Just about as long as you could count twenty they all stared, then - "CRASH!!!!" went the music, and started up the most marvelous booming, - quite like the roar of the sea, - and the most royal of the Princes unbent his back, and ran lightly up to Dianidra, and away they whirled down the center of the room. Then - then I am sure you would have laughed at what happened next - because all the Kings and Princes and Gentlemen of high degree were so anxious to dance with Dianidra that they trod upon each other's toes; and in the scramble they lost their crowns, and they shoved and pushed each other quite terribly, without ever once saying "Beg pardon," or anything like that, while the Princesses, and Queens, and the Ladies of high degree grew red and then white by turns, and stamped first one foot and then the other, and whispered behind their fans, and glared at the dancing Princess through their gold lorgnettes. No wonder! Dianidra, in her torn frock and seaweed crown and coral necklace, was more beautiful than all of them together; and who, after dancing with her, cared to dance with any one of them?
So she danced with each of the royal Gentlemen, but oftenest, as you are already supposing, with the most royal Prince; and pretty soon they danced out into the castle gardens, and perhaps she told him all about her strange dancing masters - but that I cannot say. But after a while the Prince ordered his most royal carriage, and the fifty white horses galloped over hill and dale to the palace of Dianidra's father.
There they found the crabbish King tearing out what little hair was left him, while the Queen, nearly smothered with smelling-salts, was weeping more bitterly than ever, and sobbing: "A Princess who could not dance was better than no Princess at all!" and a good bit more that I haven't time to tell you. But when they saw Dianidra, they ceased their crabbishness and weepishness straight off, and when the Prince on his bended knee asked for the hand of the Princess, they were overjoyed and delighted - which is the way of Kings and Queens.
So Dianidra and the Prince were married in a year and a day, and the wedding was the most gorgeous you could imagine. As the fairy had promised, Dianidra was the most wonderful dancer in all the ten kingdoms, for in her dancing was the ripple of the brook, the swaying of the trees and flowers in the south wind, and the mystery of the sea. All through the years she and the most royal Prince danced together merrily, and so lived happily ever after. That, sweethearts, was the way of it.
THE FORGETFUL POET
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, March 31, 1918.
The Puzzle Corner
The Forgetful Poet's verses as he intended to write them last week are given below. He got some of his words in the wrong places, didn't he?
With line and rod upon my back
And little worms in cans,
I started out to catch some fish,
I'd wisely laid my plans.
I threw my line into a stream--
It caught upon a branch,
The hook flew back and bit me -
Took two handkerchiefs to staunch
The blood--I now untangled all
The knots and cast again.
My foot slipped and somehow I've felt
Oh, far from well, since then!
Why is an egg like one of the English poets?
Why is it unwise to tell secrets in a cornfield?
Copyright © 2006 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.
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