"Princess Pepperina." by Flora Annie Steel (1847-1929)
BULBUL once lived in a forest, and sang all day to her mate, till one morning she said, 'Oh, dearest husband! you sing beautifully, but I should so like some nice green pepper to eat!'
The obedient bulbul at once flew off to find some, but though he flew for miles, peeping into every garden by the way, he could not discover a single green pepper. Either there was no fruit at all on the bushes, but only tiny white star-flowers, or the peppers were all ripe, and crimson red.
At last, right out in the wilderness, he came upon a high-walled garden. Tall mango-trees shaded it on all sides, shutting out fierce sunshine and rough winds, and within grew innumerable flowers and fruits. But there was no sign of life within its walls–no birds, no butterflies, only silence and a perfume of flowers.
The bulbul alighted in the middle of the garden, and, lo! there grew a solitary pepper plant, and amid the polished leaves shone a single green fruit of immense size, gleaming like an emerald.
Greatly delighted, the bird flew home to his mate, and telling her he had found the most beautiful green pepper in the world, brought her back with him to the garden, where she at once began to eat the delicious morsel.
Now the Jinn to whom the garden belonged had all this time been asleep in a summer-house; and as he generally kept awake for twelve whole years, and then slept for another twelve years, he was of course very sound asleep, and knew nothing of the bulbul's coming and going. Nevertheless, as the time of his awaking was not far off, he had dreadful nightmares whilst the green pepper was being pecked to pieces, and, becoming restless, awoke just when the bulbul's wife, after laying one glittering emerald-green egg beneath the pepper plant, flew away with her husband.
As usual, the Jinn, after yawning and stretching, went to see how his pet pepper was getting on. Great was his sorrow and rage at finding it pecked to pieces. He could not imagine what had done the mischief, knowing as he did that neither bird, beast, nor insect lived in the garden.
'Some dreadful creeping thing from that horrid world outside must have stolen in, whilst I slept,' said the Jinn to himself, and immediately began to search for the intruder. He found nothing, however, but the glittering green egg, with which he was so much astonished that he took it to his summer-house, wrapped it up in cotton-wool, and put it away carefully in a carved niche in the wall. Every day he went and looked at it, sighing over the thought for his lost pepper, until one morning, lo and behold! the egg had disappeared, and it its place sat the loveliest little maiden, dressed from head to foot in emerald-green, while round her neck hung a single emerald of great size, shaped just like the green pepper.
The Jinn, who was a quiet, inoffensive creature, was delighted, for he loved children, and this one was the daintiest little morsel ever beheld. So he made it the business of his life to tend Princess Pepperina, for such the maiden informed him was her name.
Now, when twelve years had passed by in the flowery garden, it became time for the good-natured Jinn to go to sleep again; and it puzzled him very much to think what would become of his Princess when he was no longer able to take care of her. But it so happened that a great King and his Minister, while hunting in the forest, came upon the high-walled garden, and being curious to see what was inside, they climbed over the wall, and found the lovely Princess Pepperina seated by the pepper plant.
The King immediately fell in love with her, and in the most elegant language begged her to be his wife. But the Princess hung down her head modestly, saying, 'Not so!–you must ask the Jinn who owns this garden; only he has an unfortunate habit of eating men sometimes.'
Nevertheless, when she saw the young King kneeling before her, she could not help thinking him the handsomest and most splendid young man in the world, so her heart softened, and when she heard the Jinn's footstep, she cried, 'Hide yourself in the garden, and I will see if I can persuade my guardian to listen to you.'
Now, no sooner had the Jinn appeared, than he began to sniff about, and cry 'Fee! fa! fum! I smell the blood of a man!'
Then the Princess Pepperina soothed him, saying, 'Dear Jinn! you may eat me if you like, for there is no one else here.'
And the Jinn replied, kissing and caressing her the while, 'My dearest life! I would sooner eat bricks and mortar!'
After that the Princess cunningly led the conversation to the Jinn's approaching slumbers, and wondered tearfully what she should do alone in the walled garden. At this the good-hearted Jinn became greatly troubled, until at last he declared that the best plan would be to marry her to some young nobleman, but, he added, a worthy husband was hard to find, especially as it was necessary he should be as handsome, as a man, as Princess Pepperina was beautiful amongst women. Hearing this, the Princess seized her opportunity, and asked the Jinn if he would promise to let her marry any one who was as beautiful as she was. The Jinn promised faithfully, little thinking the Princess already had her eye on such a one, and was immensely astonished when she clapped her hands, and the splendid young King appeared from a thicket. Nevertheless, when the young couple stood together hand in hand, even the Jinn was obliged to own that such a handsome pair had never before been seen; so he gave his consent to their marriage, which was performed in ever so great a hurry, for already the Jinn had begun to nod and yawn. Still, when it came to saying good-bye to his dear little Princess, he wept so much that the tears kept him awake, and he followed her in his thoughts, until the desire to see her face once more became so strong that he changed himself into a dove, which flying after her, fluttered above her head. She seemed quite happy, talking and whispering to her handsome husband, so he flew home again to sleep. But the green mantle of his dear little princess kept floating before his eyes, so that he could not rest, and changing himself into a hawk, he sped after her, circling far above her head. She was smiling by her husband's side, so the Jinn flew home to his garden, yawning terribly. But the soft eyes of his dear little Pepperina seemed to look into his driving sleep far from them; so he changed into an eagle, and soaring far up into the blue sky, saw with his bright piercing gaze the Princess entering a King's palace far away on the horizon. Then the good Jinn was satisfied, and fell fast asleep.
Now during the years which followed, the young King remained passionately in love with his beautiful bride, but the other women in the palace were very jealous of her, especially after she gave birth to the most lovely young Prince imaginable. They determined to compass her ruin, and spent hours in thinking how they might kill her, or lay a snare for her.
Every night they would come to the door of the Queen's room, and whisper, to see if she was awake, 'The Princess Pepperina is awake, but all the world is fast asleep.'
Now the emerald, which the young Queen still wore round her neck, was a real talisman, and always told the truth; if any one even whispered a story, it just up and out with the truth at once, and shamed the culprit without remorse. So the emerald on these occasions would answer, 'Not so! the Princess Pepperina is asleep. It is the world that wakes.'
Then the wicked women would shrink away, for they knew they had no power to harm the Princess while the talisman was round her neck.
At last it so happened that when the young Queen was bathing she took off the emerald talisman, and left it by mistake in the bathing-place. So that night, when the jealous women as usual came whispering round the door, 'The Princess Pepperina is awake, but all the world sleeps,' the truthful talisman called out from the bathing-place, 'Not so! the Princess Pepperina sleeps. It is the world that wakes.'
Knowing by the sound of the talisman's voice that it was not in its usual place, these wicked creatures stole into the room gently, killed the infant Prince, who was peacefully sleeping in his little crib, cut him into little bits, laid them in his mother's bed, and gently stained her lips with the blood.
Early next morning they flew to the King, weeping and wailing, bidding him come and see the horrible sight.
'Look!' said they, 'the beautiful wife you loved so much is an ogress! We warned you against her, and now she has killed her child in order to eat its flesh!'
The King was terribly grieved and wroth, for he loved his wife, and yet could not deny she was an ogress; so he ordered her to be whipped out of his kingdom and then slain.
So the lovely tender fair young Queen was scourged out of the land, and then cruelly murdered, whilst the wicked jealous women rejoiced at their evil success.
But when Princess Pepperina died, her body became a high white marble wall, her eyes turned into liquid pools of water, her green mantle changed into stretches of verdant grass, her long curling hair into lovely creepers and tendrils, while her scarlet mouth and white teeth became a beautiful bed of roses and narcissus. Then her soul took the form of a sheldrake and its mate–those loving birds which, like the turtle-dove, are always constant,–and floating on the liquid pools, they mourned all day long the sad fate of the Princess Pepperina.
Now, after many days, the young King, who, despite her supposed crime, could not help bewailing his beautiful bride, went out a-hunting, and finding no game, wandered far afield, until he came to the high white marble wall. Curious to see what it enclosed, he climbed over on to the verdant grass, where the tendrils waved softly, the roses and narcissus blossomed, and the loving birds, floated on the liquid pools mourning all day long.
The King, weary and sad, lay down to rest in the lovely spot, and listened to the cry of the birds, and as he listened, the meaning seemed to grow plain, so that he heard them tell the whole story of the wicked women's treachery.
Then the one bird said, weeping, to the other, 'Can she never become alive again?' And the other answered, 'If the King were to catch us, and hold us close, heart to heart, while he severed our heads from our bodies with one blow of his sword, so that neither of us should die before the other, the Princess Pepperina would become alive once more. But if one dies before the other, she will always remain as she is!'
Then the King, with a beating heart, called the birds to him, and they came quite readily, standing heart to heart while he cut off their heads with one blow of his sword, so that they fell dead at the self-same moment.
At the very same instant the Princess Pepperina appeared, smiling, more beautiful than ever; but, strange to say, the liquid pools, the grass, the climbing tendrils, and the flowers remained as they were.
Then the King besought her to return home with him, vowing he would never again distrust her, and would put all the wicked traitors to death; but she refused, saying she would prefer to live always within the high white marble walls, where no one could molest her.
'Just so!' cried the Jinn, who, having but that moment awakened from his twelve years' sleep, had flown straight to his dearest Princess. 'Here you shall live, and I will live with you!'
Then he built the King and Queen a magnificent palace, where they lived very happily ever after; and as no one knew anything about it, no one was jealous of the beautiful Princess Pepperina.
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