Princess Rosetta and the Pop-Corn Man
by Mary E. Wilkins
The Bee Festival was held on the sixteenth day of
May; all the court went. The court-ladies wore green
silk scarfs, long green floating plumes in their
bonnets, and green satin petticoats embroidered with
apple-blossoms. The court-gentlemen wore green velvet
tunics with nose-gays in their buttonholes, and green
silk hose. Their little pointed shoes were adorned with
knots of flowers instead of buckles.
As for the King himself, he wore a thick wreath of
cherry and peach-blossoms instead of his crown, and
carried a white thorn-branch instead of his scepter. His
green velvet robe was trimmed with a border of blue and
white violets instead of ermine. The Queen wore a
garland of violets around her golden head, and the hem
of her gown was thickly sown with primroses.
But the little Princess Rosetta surpassed all the
rest. Her little gown was completely woven of violets
and other fine flowers. There was a very skillful
seamstress in the court who knew how to do this kind of
work, although no one except the Princess Rosetta was
allowed to wear a flower-cloth gown to the Bee Festival.
She wore also a little white violet cap, and two of her
nurses carried her between them in a little basket lined
with rose and apple-leaves.
All the company, as they danced along, sang, or
played on flutes, or rang little glass and silver bells.
Nobody except the King and Queen rode. They rode
cream-colored ponies, with silken ropes wound with
flowers for bridle-reins.
The Bee Festival was held in a beautiful park a mile
distant from the city. The young grass there was green
and velvety, and spangled all over with fallen apple and
cherry and peach and plum and pear blossoms; for the
park was set with fruit-trees in even rows. The blue sky
showed between the pink and white branches, and the air
was very sweet and loud with the humming of bees. The
trees were all full of bees. There was something
peculiar about the bees of this country; none of them
When the court reached the park, they all tinkled
their bells in time, whistled on their flutes, and sang
a song which they always sang on these occasions. Then
they played games and enjoyed themselves. They played
hide-and-seek among the trees, and formed rings and
danced. The bees flew around them, and seemed to know
them. The little Princess, lying in her basket, crowed
and laughed, and caught at them when they came humming
over her face. Her nurses stood around her, and waved
great fans of peacock-feathers, but that did not
frighten the bees at all.
The court's lunch was spread on a damask-cloth, in an
open space between the trees. There were biscuits of
wheaten flour, plates of honey-comb, and cream in tall
glass ewers. That was the regulation lunch at the Bee
Festival. The Bee Festival was nearly as old as the
kingdom, and there was an ancient legend about it, which
the Poet Laureate had put into an epic poem. The King
had it in his royal library, printed in golden letters
and bound in old gold plush.
Centuries ago, so the legend ran, in the days of the
very first monarch of the royal family of which this
king was a member, there were no bees at all in the
kingdom. Not a child in the whole country, not even the
little princes and princesses in the palace, had ever
tasted a bit of bread and honey.
But, while there were no bees in this kingdom, one
just across the river was swarming with them. That
kingdom was governed by a king who was the tenth cousin
of the first, and not very well disposed toward him. He
had stationed lines of sentinels with ostrich-feather
brooms on his bank of the river to keep the bees from
flying over, and he would not export a single bee, nor
one ounce of honey, although he had been offered immense
However, the inhabitants of this second country were
so cruel and tormenting in their dispositions, and the
children so teased the bees, which were stingless and
could not defend themselves, that they rebelled. They
stopped making honey, and one day they swarmed, and flew
in a body across the river in spite of the frantic
waving of the ostrich-feather brooms.
The other King was overjoyed. He ordered beautiful
hives to be built for them, and instituted a national
festival in their honor, which ever since had been
observed regularly on the sixteenth day of May.
Up to this day there were no bees in the kingdom
across the river. Not one would return to where its
ancestors had been so hardly treated; here everybody was
kind to them, and even paid them honor. The present King
had established an order of the "Golden Bee." The
Knights of the Golden Bee wore ribbons studded with
golden bees on their breasts, and their watchword was a
sort of a "buzz-z-z," like the humming of a bee. When
they were in full regalia they wore also some curious
wings made of gold wire and lace. The Knights of the
Golden Bee comprised the finest nobles of the court.
In addition to them were the "Bee Guards." They were
the King's own body-guards. Their uniform was white with
green cuffs and collar and facings. On the green were
swarms of embroidered bees. They carried a banner of
green silk worked with bees and roses.
So the bee might fairly have been considered the
national emblem of Romalia, for that was the name of the
country. The first word which the children learned to
spell in school was "b-e-e, bee," instead of "b-o-y,
boy." The poorest citizen had a bush of roses and a
bee-hive in his yard, and the people were very forlorn
who could not have a bit of honey-comb at least once a
day. The court preferred it to any other food. Indeed it
was this particular Queen who was in the kitchen eating
bread and honey, in the song.
But to return to the Bee Festival, on this especial
sixteenth of May. At sunset when the bees flew back to
their hives for the last time with their loads of honey,
the court also went home. They danced along in a
splendid merry procession. The cream-colored ponies the
King and Queen rode pranced lightly in advance, their
slender hoofs keeping time to the flutes and the bells;
and the gallants, leading the ladies by the tips of
their dainty fingers, came after them with gay waltzing
steps. The nurses who carried the Princess Rosetta held
their heads high, and danced along as bravely as the
others, waving their peacock-feather fans in their
unoccupied hands. They bore the little Princess in her
basket between them as lightly as a feather. Up and down
she swung. When they first started she laughed and
crowed; then she became very quiet. The nurses thought
she was asleep. They had laid a little satin coverlet
over her, and put a soft thick veil over her face, that
the damp evening-air might not give her the croup. The
Princess Rosetta was quite apt to have the croup.
The nurses cast a glance down at the veil and satin
coverlet which were so motionless. "Her Royal Highness
is asleep," they whispered to each other with nods. The
nurses were handsome young women, and they wore white
lace caps, and beautiful long darned lace aprons. They
swung the Princess's basket along so easily that finally
one of them remarked upon it.
"How very light her Royal Highness is," said she.
"She weighs absolutely nothing at all," replied the
other nurse who was carrying the Princess, "absolutely
nothing at all."
"Well, that is apt to be the case with such high-born
infants," said the first nurse. And they all waved their
fans again in time to the music.
When they reached the palace, the massive doors were
thrown open, and the court passed in. The nurses bore
the Princess Rosetta's basket up the grand marble stair,
and carried it into the nursery.
"We will lift her Royal Highness out very carefully,
and possibly we can put her to bed without waking her,"
said the Head-nurse.
But her Royal Highness's ladies-of-the-bed-chamber
who were in waiting set up such screams of horror at her
remark, that it was a wonder that the Princess did not
"O-h!" cried a lady-of-the-bed-chamber, "put her
Royal Highness to bed, in defiance of all etiquette,
before the Prima Donna of the court has sung her
lullaby! Preposterous! Lift her out without waking her,
indeed! This nurse should be dismissed from the court!"
"O-h!" cried another lady, tossing her lovely head
scornfully, and giving her silken train an indignant
swish; "the idea of putting her Royal Highness to bed
without the silver cup of posset, which I have here for
"And without taking her rose-water bath!" cried
another, who was dabbling her lily fingers in a little
ivory bath filled with rose-water.
"And without being anointed with this Cream of
Lilies!" cried one with a little ivory jar in her hand.
"And without having every single one of her golden
ringlets dressed with this pomade scented with violets
and almonds!" cried one with a round porcelain box.
"Or even having her curls brushed!" cried a lady as
if she were fainting, and she brandished an ivory
hair-brush set with turquoises.
"I suppose," remarked a lady who was very tall and
majestic in her carriage, "that this nurse would not
object to her Royal Highness being put to bed
without—her nightgown, even!"
And she held out the Princess's little embroidered
nightgown, and gazed at the Head-nurse with an awful
"I beg your pardon humbly, my Ladies," responded the
Head-nurse meekly. Then she bent over the basket to lift
out the Princess.
Every one stood listening for her Royal Highness's
pitiful scream when she should awake. The lady with the
cup of posset held it in readiness, and the ladies with
the Cream of Lilies, the violet and almond pomade and
the ivory hair-brush looked anxious to begin their
duties. The Prima Donna stood with her song in hand, and
the first court fiddler had his bow raised all ready to
play the accompaniment for her. Writing a fresh lullaby
for the Princess every day, and setting it to music,
were among the regular duties of the Poet Laureate and
the first musical composer of the court.
The Head-nurse with her eyes full of tears because of
the reproaches she had received, reached down her arms
and attempted to lift the Princess Rosetta—suddenly she
turned very white, and tossed aside the veil and the
satin coverlet. Then she gave a loud scream, and fell
down in a faint.
The ladies stared at one another.
"What is the matter with the Head-nurse?" they asked.
Then the second nurse stepped up to the basket and
reached down to clasp the Princess Rosetta. Then she
gave a loud scream, and fell down in a faint.
The third nurse, trembling so she could scarcely
stand, came next. After she had stooped over the basket,
she also gave a loud scream and fainted. Then the fourth
nurse stepped up, bent over the basket, and fainted. So
all the Princess Rosetta's nurses lay fainting on the
floor beside her basket.
It was contrary to the rules of etiquette for any one
except the nurses to approach nearer than five yards to
her Royal Highness before she was taken from her basket.
So they crowded together at that distance and craned
"What can ail the nurses?" they whispered in
terrified tones. They could not go near enough to the
basket to see what the trouble was, and still it seemed
very necessary that they should.
"I wish I had a telescope," said the lady with the
But there was none in the room, and it was contrary
to the rules of etiquette for any person to leave it
until the Princess was taken from the basket.
There seemed to be no proper way out of the
difficulty. Finally the first fiddler stood up with an
air of resolution, and began unwinding the green silk
sash from his waist. It was eleven yards long. He
doubled it, and launched it at the basket, like a lasso.
"There is nothing in the code of etiquette to prevent
the Princess approaching us before she is taken from her
basket," he said bravely. All the ladies applauded.
He threw the lasso very successfully. It went quite
around the basket. Then he drew it gently over the five
yards. They all crowded around, and looked into it.
The Princess was not in the basket!
THE PRINCESS WAS NOT IN THE BASKET.
That night the whole kingdom was in a turmoil. The
Bee Guards were called out, and patrolled the city,
alarm-bells rung, signal fires burned, and everybody was
out with a lantern. They searched every inch of the road
to the park where the Bee Festival had been held, for it
did seem at first as if the Princess had possibly been
spilled out of the basket, although the nurses were
confident that it was not so. So they searched
carefully, and the nurses were in the meantime placed in
custody. But nothing was found. The people held their
lanterns low, and looked under every bush, and even
poked aside the grasses, but they could not find the
Princess on the road to the park.
Then a regular force of detectives was organized, and
the search continued day after day. Every house in the
country was examined in every nook and corner. The
cupboards even were all ransacked, and the bureau
drawers. The King had a favorite book of philosophy, and
one motto which he had learned in his youth recurred to
him. It was this:
"When a-seeking, seek in the unlikely places, as well
as the likely; for no man can tell the road that lost
things may prefer."
So he ordered search to be made in unlikely as well
as likely places, for the Princess; and it was carried
so far that the people had all to turn their pockets
inside out, and shake their shawls and table-cloths. But
it was all of no use. Six months went by, and the
Princess Rosetta had not been found. The King and Queen
were broken-hearted. The Queen wept all day long, and
her tears fell into her honey, until it was no longer
sweet, and she could not eat it. The King sat by himself
and had no heart for anything.
But the four nurses were in nearly as much distress.
Not only had they been very fond of the little Princess,
and were grieving bitterly for her loss, but they had
also a punishment to endure. They had been released from
custody, because there was really no evidence against
them, but in view of their possible carelessness, and in
perpetual reminder of the loss of the Princess, a
sentence had been passed upon them. They had been
condemned to wear their bonnets the wrong way around,
indoors and out, until the Princess should be found. So
the poor nurses wept into the crowns of their bonnets.
They had little peep-holes in the straw that they might
see to get about, and they lifted up the capes in order
to eat; but it was very trying. The nurses were all
pretty young women too, and the Head-nurse who came of
quite a distinguished family was to have been married
soon. But how could she be a bride and wear a veil with
her face in the crown of her bonnet?
The Head-nurse was quite clever, and she thought
about the Princess's disappearance, until finally her
thoughts took shape. One day she put on her shawl—her
bonnet was always on—and set out to call on the Baron
Greenleaf. The Baron was an old man who was said to be
versed in white magic, and lived in a stone tower with
his servants and his house-keeper.
When the Head-nurse came into the tower-yard, the dog
began to bark; he was not used to seeing a woman with
her face in the crown of her bonnet. He thought that her
head must be on the wrong way, and that she was a
monster, and had designs upon his master's property. So
he barked and growled, and caught hold of her dress, and
the Head-nurse screamed. The Baron himself came running
downstairs, and opened the door. "Who is there?" cried
But when he saw the woman with her bonnet on wrong he
knew at once that she must be one of the Princess's
nurses. So he ordered off the dog, and ushered the nurse
into the tower. He led her into his study, and asked her
to sit down. "Now, madam, what can I do for you?" he
inquired quite politely.
"Oh, my lord!" cried the Head-nurse in her muffled
voice, "help me to find the Princess."
The Baron, who was a tall lean old man and wore a
very large-figured dressing-gown trimmed with fur,
frowned, and struck his fist down upon the table. "Help
you to find the Princess!" he exclaimed; "don't you
suppose I should find her on my own account if I could?
I should have found her long before this if the idiots
had not broken all my bottles, and crystals, and
retorts, and mirrors, and spilled all the magic fluids,
so that I cannot practice any white magic at all. The
idea of looking for a princess in a bottle—that comes of
pinning one's faith upon philosophy!"
"Then you cannot find the Princess by white magic?"
the Head-nurse asked timidly.
The Baron pounded the table again. "Of course I
cannot," he replied, "with all my magical utensils
smashed in the search for her."
The Head-nurse sighed pitifully.
"I suppose that you do not like to go about with your
face in the crown of your bonnet?" the Baron remarked in
a harsh voice.
The Head-nurse replied sadly that she did not.
"It doesn't seem to me that I should mind it much,"
said the Baron.
The Head-nurse looked at his grim old face through
the peep-holes in her bonnet-crown, and thought to
herself that if she were no prettier than he, she should
not mind much either, but she said nothing.
Suddenly there was a knock at the tower-door.
"Excuse me a moment," said the Baron; "my housekeeper
is deaf, and my other servants have gone out." And he
ran down the tower-stair, his dressing-gown sweeping
Presently he returned, and there was a young man with
him. This young man was as pretty as a girl, and he
looked very young. His blue eyes were very sharp and
bright, and he had rosy cheeks and fair curly hair. He
was dressed very poorly, and around his shoulders were
festooned strings of something that looked like fine
white flowers, but it was in reality pop-corn. He
carried a great basket of pop-corn, and bore a
corn-popper over his shoulder.
When he entered he bowed low to the Head-nurse; her
bonnet did not seem to surprise him at all. "Would you
like to buy some of my nice pop-corn, madam?" he asked.
She curtesied. "Not to-day," she replied.
But in reality she did not know what pop-corn was.
She had never seen any, and neither had the Baron. That
indeed was the reason why he had admitted the man—he was
curious to see what he was carrying. "Is it good to
eat?" he inquired.
"Try it, my lord," answered the man. So the Baron put
a pop-corn in his mouth and chewed it critically. "It is
very good indeed," he declared.
The man passed the basket to the Head-nurse, and she
lifted the cape of her bonnet and put a pop-corn in her
mouth, and nibbled it delicately. She also thought it
"But there is no use in discussing new articles of
food when the kingdom is under the cloud that it is at
present, and my retorts and crystals all smashed," said
"Why, what is the cloud, my lord?" inquired the
Pop-corn man. Then the Baron told him the whole story.
"Of course it is necromancy," remarked the Pop-corn
man thoughtfully, when the Baron had finished.
The Baron pounded on the table until it danced.
"Necromancy!" he cried, "of course it's necromancy! Who
but a necromancer could have made a child invisible, and
stolen her away in the face and eyes of the whole
"Have you any idea where she is?" ask the Pop-corn
The Baron stared at him in amazement.
"Idea where she is?" he repeated scornfully. "You are
just of a piece with the idiots who broke my mirrors to
see if the Princess was not behind them! How should we
have any idea where she is if she is lost, pray?"
The Pop-corn man blushed, and looked frightened, but
the Head-nurse spoke up quite bravely, although her
voice was so muffled, and said that she really did have
some idea of the Princess's whereabouts. She propounded
her views which were quite plausible. It was her opinion
that only an enemy of the King would have caused the
Princess to be stolen, and as the King had only one
enemy of whom anybody knew, and he was the King across
the river, she thought the Princess must be there.
"It seems very likely," said the Baron after she had
finished, "but if she is there it is hopeless. Our King
could never conquer the other one, who has a much
"Do you know," asked the Pop-corn man, "if they have
ever had any pop-corn on the other side of the river?"
"I don't think they have," replied the Baron.
"Then," said the Pop-corn man, "I think I can free
"You!" cried the Baron scornfully.
'YOU!' CRIED THE BARON SCORNFULLY.
But the Pop-corn man said nothing more. He bowed low
to the Baron and the Head-nurse, and left the tower.
"The idea of his talking as he did," said the Baron.
But the nurse was pinning her shawl, and she hurried out
of the tower and overtook the Pop-corn man.
"How are you going to manage it?" whispered she,
touching his sleeve.
The Pop-corn man started. "Oh, it's you?" he said.
"Well, you wait a little, and you will see. Do you
suppose you could find six little boys who would be
willing to go over the river with me to-morrow?"
"Would it be quite safe?"
"I have six little brothers who would go," said the
So it was arranged that the six little brothers
should go across the river with the Pop-corn man; and
the next morning they set out. They were all decorated
with strings of Pop-corn, they carried baskets of
pop-corn, and bore corn-poppers over their shoulders,
and they crossed the river in a row boat.
Once over the river they went about peddling
pop-corn. The man sent the boys all over the city, but
he himself went straight to the palace.
He knocked at the palace-door, and the maid-servant
came. "Is the King at home?" asked the Pop-corn man.
The maid said he was, and the Pop-corn man asked to
see him. Just then a baby cried.
"What baby is that crying?" asked he.
"A baby that was brought here at sunset, several
months ago," replied the maid; and he knew at once that
he had found the Princess.
"Will you find out if I can see the King?" he said.
"I'll see," answered the maid. And she went in to
find the King. Pretty soon she returned and asked the
Pop-corn man to step into the parlor, which he did, and
soon the King came downstairs.
The Pop-corn man displayed his wares, and the King
tasted. He had never seen any pop-corn before, and he
was both an epicure and a man of hobbies. "It is the
nicest food that ever I tasted," he declared, and he
bought all the man's stock.
"I can buy corn for you for seed, and I can order
poppers enough to supply the city," suggested the
"So do," cried the King. And he gave orders for seven
ships' cargoes of seed corn and fifty of poppers. "My
people shall eat nothing else," said the King, "and the
whole kingdom shall be planted with it. I am satisfied
that it is the best national food."
That day the court dined on pop-corn, and as it was
very light and unsatisfying, they had to eat a long
time. They were all the after-noon dining. Right after
dinner the King wrote out his royal decree that all the
inhabitants should that year plant pop-corn instead of
any other grain or any vegetable, and that as soon as
the ships arrived they should make it their only article
of food. For the King, when he had learned from the
Pop-corn man that the corn needed to be not only ripe
but well dried before it would pop, could not wait, but
had ordered five hundred cargoes of pop-corn for
So as soon as the ships arrived the people began at
once to pop corn and eat it. There was a sound of
popping corn all over the city, and the people popped
all day long. It was necessary that they should, because
it took such a quantity to satisfy hunger, and when they
were not popping they had to eat. People shook the
poppers until their arms were tired, then gave them to
others, and sat down to eat. Men, women and children
popped. It was all that they could do, with the
exception of planting the seed-corn, and then they were
faint with hunger as they worked. The stores and schools
were closed. In the palace the King and Queen themselves
were obliged to pop in order to secure enough to eat,
and the nobles and the court-ladies toiled and ate, day
and night. But the little stolen Princess and the King's
son, the little Prince, could not pop corn, for they
were only babies.
BOTH THE KING AND QUEEN WERE OBLIGED TO POP.
When the people across the river had been popping
corn for about a month, the Pop-corn man went to the
King of Romalia's palace, and sought an audience. He
told him how he had discovered his daughter in the
palace of the King across the river.
The King of Romalia clasped his hands in despair. "I
must make war," said he, "but my army is nothing to
However, he at once went about making war. He ordered
the swords to be cleaned with sand-paper until they
shone, and new bullets to be cast. The Bee Guards were
drilled every day, and the people could not sleep for
the drums and the fifes.
When everything was ready the King of Romalia and his
army crossed the river and laid siege to the city. They
had expected to have the passage of the river opposed,
but not a foeman was stationed on the opposite bank. All
the spears they could see were the waving green ones of
pop-corn fields. They marched straight up to the city
walls and laid siege. The inhabitants fought on the
walls and in the gate-towers, but not very many could
fight at a time, because they would have to stop and pop
corn and eat.
The defenders grew fewer and fewer, some were killed,
and all of them were growing too tired and weak to
fight. They could not eat enough pop-corn to give them
strength and have any time left to fight. They filled
their pockets and tried to eat pop-corn as they fought,
but they could not manage that very well.
On the third day the city surrendered with very
little loss of life on either side, and the little
Princess Rosetta was restored to her parents. There was
great rejoicing all through Romalia; in the evening
there was an illumination and a torch-light procession.
The nurses marched with their bonnets on the right way,
and the Knights of the Golden Bee were out in full
The next day the Head-nurse was married, and the King
gave her a farm and a dozen bee-hives for a wedding
present, and the Queen a beautiful bridal bonnet trimmed
with white plumes and hollyhocks.
All the court, the Baron and the Pop-corn man went to
the wedding, and wedding-cake and corn-balls were passed
After the wedding the Pop-corn man went home. He
lived in another country on the other side of a
mountain. The King pressed him to take some reward. "I
am puzzled," he said to the Pop-corn man, "to know what
to offer you. The usual reward in such cases is the hand
of the Princess in marriage, but Rosetta is not a year
old. If there is anything else you can think of"—
The Pop-corn man kissed the King's hand and replied
that there was nothing that he could think of except a
little honey-comb. He should like to carry some to his
mother. So the King gave him a great piece of honey-comb
in a silver dish, and the Pop-corn man departed.
He never came to Romalia again, but the Poet Laureate
celebrated him in an epic poem, describing the loss of
the Princess and the war for her rescue. The Princess
was never stolen again—indeed the necromancer across the
river who had kidnaped her was imprisoned for life on a
diet of pop-corn which he popped himself.
The King across the river became tired of pop-corn,
as it had caused his defeat, and forbade his people to
eat it. He paid tribute to the King of Romalia as long
as he lived; but after his death, when his son, the
young prince, came to reign, affairs were on a very
pleasant footing between the two kingdoms. The new King
was very different from his father, being generous and
amiable, and beloved by every one. Indeed Rosetta, when
she had grown to be a beautiful maiden, married him and
went to live as a Queen where she had been a captive.
And when Rosetta went across the river to live, the
King, her father, gave her some bee-hives for a wedding
present, and the bees thrived equally in both countries.
All the difference in the honey was this: in Romalia the
bees fed more on clover, and the honey tasted of clover:
and in the country across the river on peppermint, and
that honey tasted of peppermint. They always had both
kinds at their Bee Festivals.