The Little Persian Princess
by Mary E. Wilkins
"And you must spin faster, Dorothy, or you'll
go to bed without your supper," said Dame Betsy.
"Yes, ma'am," replied Dorothy. Then she
twirled the wheel so fast that the spokes were
Dorothy was a pretty little girl. She had a
small pink-and-white face; her hair was closely
cropped and looked like a little golden cap, and
her eyes were as blue as had been the flowers of
the flax which she was spinning. She wore an
indigo-blue frock, and she looked very short and
slight beside the wheel.
Dorothy spun, Dame Betsy tended a stew-kettle
that was hanging from the crane in the fire-place,
and the eldest of Dame Betsy's six daughters
sat on the bench beside the cottage door and
ate honey-cakes. The other daughters had arrayed
themselves in their best tuckers and
plumed hats and farthingales, spread their ruffled
parasols, and gone to walk.
Dame Betsy had wished the oldest daughter
to go with her sisters; but she was rather indolent,
so she dressed herself in her best, and sat
down on the bench beside the door, with a plate
of honey-cakes of which she was very fond. She
held up her parasol to shield her face, and also
to display the parasol. It was covered with very
bright green satin, and had a wreath of pink roses
for a border. The sun shone directly into the
cottage, and the row of pewter plates on the
dresser glittered; one could see them through
the doorway. The front yard of Dame Betsy's
cottage was like a little grove with lemon-color
and pink hollyhocks; one had to look directly
up the path to see the eldest daughter sitting on
the bench eating honey-cakes. She was a very
homely girl. All Dame Betsy's daughters were
so plain and ill-tempered that they had no suitors,
although they walked abroad every day.
Dame Betsy placed her whole dependence upon
the linen chests when she planned to marry her
daughters. At the right of her cottage stretched
a great field of flax that looked now like a blue
sea, and it rippled like a sea when the wind
struck it. Dame Betsy and Dorothy made the
flax into linen for the daughters' dowries. They
had already two great chests of linen apiece, and
they were to have chests filled until there were
enough to attract suitors. Every little while
Dame Betsy invited all the neighboring housewives
to tea; then she opened the chests and unrolled
the shining lengths of linen, perfumed with
lavender and rosemary. "My dear daughters
will have all this, and more also, when they
marry," she would remark. The housewives
would go home and mention it to their sons, for
they themselves were tempted by the beautiful
linen; but there it would end. The sons would
not go to woo Dame Betsy's homely, ill-natured
Dorothy spun as fast as she was able; Dame
Betsy kept a sharp watch upon her as she stirred
the stew. Dorothy wanted some of the stew for
her supper. It had a delicious odor, and she was
very faint and hungry. She did not have a great
deal to eat at any time, as she lived principally
upon the scraps from the table, and the daughters
were all large eaters. She also worked very
hard, and never had any time to play. She was
a poor child whom Dame Betsy had taken from
the almshouse, and she had no relatives but an
old grandmother. She had very few kind words
said to her during the day, and she used often to
cry herself to sleep at night.
Presently Dame Betsy went down to the store
to buy some pepper to put in the stew, but as
she went out of the door she spoke to the eldest
daughter, and told her to go into the house and
mend a rent in her apron. "Since you were too
lazy to go to walk with your sisters you must go
into the house and mend your apron," said she.
The eldest daughter pouted, but she made no reply.
Just as soon as her mother was out of hearing
she called Dorothy. "Dorothy, come here
a minute!" she cried, imperatively. Dorothy
left her wheel and went to the door. "Look
here," said the eldest daughter, "I have one
honey-cake left, and I have eaten all I want. I
will give you this if you will mend my apron
Dorothy eyed the honey-cake wistfully, but
she replied that she did not dare to leave her
spinning to mend the apron.
"Why can't you mend it in the night?" asked
the eldest daughter.
"I will do that," replied Dorothy, eagerly, and
she held out her hand for the honey-cake. Just
as she did so she saw the little boy that lived
next door peeping through his fence. His beautiful
little face, with his red cheeks and black
eyes, looked, through the pickets, like a damask-rose.
Dorothy ran swiftly over to him with her
honey-cake. "You shall have half of it," said
she, and she quickly broke the cake in halves,
and gave one of them to the little boy. He
lived with his old grandmother, and they were
very poor; it was hard for them to get the
coarsest porridge to eat. The little boy often
stood looking through the fence and smiling at
Dorothy, and the old grandmother spoke kindly
to her whenever she had an opportunity.
The little boy stood on one side of the fence
and Dorothy on the other, and they ate the
honey-cake. Then Dorothy ran back to the
house and fell to spinning again. She spun so
fast, to make up for the lost time, that one could
not see the wheel-spokes at all, and the room
hummed like a hive of bees. But, fast as she
spun, Dame Betsy, when she returned, discovered
that she had been idling, and said that she must
go without her supper. Poor Dorothy could not
help weeping as she twirled the wheel, she was
so hungry, and the honey-cake had been very
Dame Betsy dished up the stew and put the
spoons and bowls on the table, and soon the five
absent daughters came home, rustling their
flounces and flirting their parasols.
They all sat down to the table and began to
eat, while Dorothy stood at her wheel and sadly
They had eaten all the stew except a little,
just about enough for a cat, when a little shadow
fell across the floor.
"Why, who's coming?" whispered Dame Betsy,
and directly all the daughters began to smooth
their front hair; each thought it might be a
But everything that they could see entering
the door was a beautiful gray cat. She came stepping
across the floor with a dainty, velvet tread.
She had a tail like a plume, and she trailed it
on the floor as she walked; her fur was very soft
and long, and caught the light like silver; she
had delicate tufted ears, and her shining eyes
were like yellow jewels.
"It's nothing but a cat!" cried the daughters
in disgust, and Dame Betsy arose to get the
broom; she hated cats. That decided the daughters;
they also hated cats, but they liked to oppose
their mother. So they insisted on keeping
There was much wrangling, but the daughters
were too much for Dame Betsy; the beautiful
cat was allowed to remain on the hearth, and the
remnant of the stew was set down there for her.
But, to every one's amazement, she refused to
touch it. She sat purring, with her little silvery
paws folded, her plumy tail swept gracefully
around her, and quite ignored the stew.
"I will take it up and give it to the pig," said
"No, no!" cried the daughters; "leave it, and
perhaps she will eat it by-and-by."
So the stew was left upon the hearth. In the
excitement Dorothy had stopped spinning, and
nobody had observed it. Suddenly Dame Betsy
noticed that the wheel was silent.
"Why are you not spinning, miss?" she asked,
sharply. "Are you stopping work to look at a
But Dorothy made no reply; she paid no attention
whatever: she continued to stare at the
cat; she was quite pale, and her blue eyes were
very large. And no wonder, for she saw, instead
of a cat, a beautiful little princess, with eyes like
stars, in a trailing robe of gray velvet covered
with silver embroidery, and instead of a purr she
heard a softly-hummed song. Dame Betsy seized
Dorothy by the arm.
"To your work!" she cried.
And Dorothy began to spin; but she was trembling
from head to foot, and every now and then
she glanced at the princess on the hearth.
The daughters, in their best gowns, sat with
their mother around the hearth until nine o'clock;
then Dorothy was ordered to leave her wheel, the
cottage was locked up, and everybody went to bed.
Dorothy's bed was a little bundle of straw up
in the garret under the eaves. She was very
tired when she lay down, but did not dare to
sleep, for she remembered her promise to mend
the eldest daughter's apron. So she waited until
the house was still; then she arose and crept softly
The fire on the hearth was still burning, and
there sat the princess, and the sweet hum of her
singing filled the room. But Dorothy could not
understand a word of the song, because it was in
the Persian language. She stood in the doorway
and trembled; she did not know what to do. It
seemed to her that she must be losing her wits
to see a princess where every one else saw a cat.
Still she could not doubt the evidence of her own
eyes. Finally she advanced a little way and
courtesied very low. The princess stopped
singing at once. She arose in a stately fashion,
and fastened her bright eyes upon Dorothy.
"So you know me?" said she.
Dorothy courtesied again.
"Are you positive that I am not a cat?"
"Well, I am not a cat," said the princess. "I
am a true princess from Persia, travelling incognita.
You are the first person who has
pierced my disguise. You must have very extraordinary
eyes. Aren't you hungry?"
"Come here and eat the stew," ordered the
princess, in a commanding tone. "Meantime I
will cook my own supper."
With that the princess gave a graceful leap
across the floor; her gray velvet robe fluttered
like a gray wing. Dorothy saw a little mouse
scud before her; then in an instant the princess
had him! But the moment the princess lifted
the mouse, he became a gray pigeon, all dressed
The princess sat down on the hearth and put
the pigeon on the coals to broil.
"You had better eat your stew," said she; "I
won't offer you any of this pigeon, because you
could not help suspecting it was mouse."
So Dorothy timidly took up the stew, and began
to eat it; she was in reality nearly starved.
"Now," said the Persian princess, when she
had finished, "you had better do that mending,
while I finish cooking and eat my own supper."
Dorothy obeyed. By the time the apron was
neatly mended, the princess had finished cooking
and eaten the pigeon. "Now, I wish to talk a
little to you," said she. "I feel as if you deserved
my confidence since you have penetrated my disguise.
I am a Persian princess, as I said before,
and I am travelling incognita to see the world
and improve my mind, and also to rescue my
brother, who is a Maltese prince and enchanted.
My brother, when very young, went on his travels,
was shipwrecked on the coast of Malta, and
became a prince of that island. But he had
enemies, and was enchanted. He is now a Maltese
cat. I disguise myself as a cat in order to find
him more readily. Now, for what do you most
Dorothy courtesied; she was really too impressed
"Answer," said the princess, imperiously.
"I—want," stammered Dorothy, "to—take
my grandmother out of—the almshouse, and have
her sit at the window in the sun in a cushioned
chair and knit a silk stocking all day."
"I should like to—have her wear a bombazine
gown and a—white lace cap with—lilac ribbons."
"You are a good girl," said the princess.
"Now, listen. I see that you are not very pleasantly
situated here, and I will teach you a way
to escape. Take your hood off that peg over
there, and come out with me. I want to find
my portmanteau that I left under the hedge, a
little way down the road."
Dorothy put on her hood and followed the
princess down the road. The little girl could
scarcely keep up with her; she seemed to fairly
fly through the moonlight, trailing her gray robe
"Here is my portmanteau," said the princess,
when they had reached the hedge. The hedge
was all white hawthorn and very sweet. The
portmanteau had lain well under it. All Dorothy
could see was a tiny leather wallet, that a
cat could carry in her mouth. But the princess
blew upon it three times, and suddenly a great
leather trunk stood on the grass. The princess
opened it, and Dorothy gave a little cry, her
eyes were so dazzled. It was like a blaze of gold
and silver and jewels. "Look at this," said the
princess. And she took out of the trunk the
splendid robe that was laid uppermost.
Dorothy looked; she could not say anything.
The robe was woven of silk, with gold and silver
threads, and embroidered with jewels.
"If you will give this to Dame Betsy for her
eldest daughter's bridal dress, she will let you
go," said the princess. She took a pair of silver
shears out of the trunk and cut off a bit of the
robe under a flounce. "Show that to Dame
Betsy," said the princess, "and tell her you will
give her the dress made of the same material,
and she will let you go. Now you had better
run home. I shall stay here and sleep under
the hedge. I do not like Dame Betsy's house.
Come here in the morning, when you have told
her about the dress."
The princess sat down on the trunk, and it
immediately shrunk into the little wallet; then
she curled herself up on the grass under the
flowery hedge. Dorothy ran home and crept
noiselessly up to her bed in the garret.
In the morning, when the daughters came down
to breakfast, they missed the cat. "Where is
the cat?" they inquired indignantly of their
mother. They suspected her of driving the cat
away with the broom. They had quite a wrangle
over it. Finally, the daughters all put on
finery and went out shopping for some needles
and pins; then Dorothy showed Dame Betsy the
scrap of the splendid robe, and said to her what
the princess had directed she should say.
Dame Betsy was very much surprised and disturbed.
She did not wish to lose Dorothy, who
was a great help to her; still, she had no doubt
that a suitor would soon appear for her eldest
daughter, if arrayed in so beautiful a bridal gown
as that. She reflected how she might have a
tea-party and invite all the neighbors, and display
the robe, and how all the sons would come
flocking to the door. Finally she consented, and
Dorothy, as soon as her mistress's back was
turned, ran out and away to the hedge, under
which she knew the Persian princess to be concealed.
The princess looked up and rubbed her eyes.
She had slept late, although the birds were singing
loudly all around her. Dorothy courtesied
and said that she had come for the robe. "Very
well," replied the princess, "I will give it to you;
then you must carry it and hang it over Dame
Betsy's gate, and run back to me as fast as you
Then the princess blew on the wallet until it
became a trunk, and she took out the splendid
robe and gave it to Dorothy, who carried it and
hung it over Dame Betsy's gate just as she had
been bidden. But as she was about to run away,
she saw the little boy who lived next door peeping
through his fence, so she stopped to bid him
good-bye. He felt so sad that he wept, and
Dorothy herself had tears in her eyes when she
ran to join the princess.
Dorothy and the princess then set off on their
travels; but nobody except Dorothy herself knew
that there was a princess. Every one who met
them saw simply a little girl and a beautiful
gray cat. Finally they stopped at a pretty little
village. "Here," said the princess, "we will rent
They looked about until they found a charming
cottage with a grape-vine over the door, and
roses and marigolds in the yard; then Dorothy,
at the princess's direction, went to the landlord
and bargained for it.
Then they went to live in the cottage, and the
princess taught Dorothy how to make lovely
tidies and cushions and aprons out of the beautiful
dresses in her trunk. She had a great store
of them, but they were all made in the Persian
fashion and were of no use in this country.
When Dorothy had made the pretty articles
out of the rich dresses, she went out and sold
them to wealthy ladies for high prices. She soon
earned quite a sum of money, which she placed
at interest in the bank, and she was then able to
take her grandmother out of the almshouse. She
bought a beautiful chair with a canary-colored
velvet cushion, and she placed it at the window
in the sun. She bought a bombazine dress and
a white cap with lilac ribbons, and she had the
silk stocking with the needles all ready.
But the day before the old grandmother came
the princess bade Dorothy good-bye. "I am going
out again on my travels," said she; "I wish
to see more of the country, and I must continue
my search for my brother, the Maltese
So the princess kissed Dorothy, who wept;
then she set forth on her travels. Dorothy gazed
sorrowfully after her as she went. She saw a
dainty little princess, trailing her gray velvets;
but everybody else saw only a lovely gray cat
hurrying down the road.
Dorothy's grandmother came to live with her.
She sat in her cushioned chair, in the sunny
window and knitted her silk stocking, and was
a very happy old woman. Dorothy continued to
make beautiful things out of the princess's dresses.
It seemed as if there would never be any end
to them. She had cut up many dresses, but there
were apparently as many now as when she began.
She saw no more of the princess, although
she thought of her daily, until she was quite
grown up and was a beautiful maiden with many
suitors. Then, one day, she went to the city to
deliver a beautiful cushion that she had made for
some wealthy ladies, and there, in the drawing-room,
she saw the Persian princess.
Dorothy was left in the room until the ladies
came down, and as she sat there holding her
cushion, she heard a little velvet rustle and a
softly-hummed song in the Persian language.
She looked, and there was the princess stepping
across the floor, trailing her gray velvets.
"So you have come, dear Dorothy," said the
Dorothy arose and courtesied, but the princess
came close and kissed her. "What have you
there?" she inquired.
Dorothy displayed the cushion; the princess
"It is quite a joke, is it not?" said she. "That
cushion is for me to sleep on, and it is made
out of one of my own dresses. The ladies have
bought it for me. I have heard them talking
about it. How do you fare, Dorothy, and how
is your grandmother?"
Then Dorothy told the princess how the grandmother
sat in the cushioned chair in the sunny
window and knitted the silk stocking, and how
she herself was to be married the next week to
the little boy who had lived next door, but was
now grown up and come a-wooing.
"Where is his grandmother?" asked the
Dorothy replied that she was to live with them,
and that there was already another cushioned
chair in a sunny window, another bombazine
dress and lace cap, and a silk stocking, in readiness,
and that both grandmothers were to
sit and knit in peace during the rest of their
"Ah, well," said the princess, with a sigh, "if
I were only back in Persia I would buy you a
wedding present, but I do not know when that
will be—the ladies are so kind."
Dorothy ventured to inquire if the princess
had found her brother, the Maltese prince.
"Dear me, yes," replied the princess. "Why,
he lives in this very house. He is out in the
back parlor asleep on the sofa, this minute.
Brother, dear brother, come here a second, I
With that a Maltese prince, with a long, aristocratic
face, and beautiful, serious eyes, entered
with a slow and stately tread. He was dressed
in gray velvet, like his sister, and he wore white
velvet mittens. Dorothy courtesied very low.
"Yes, I found my brother here, some time
ago," said the princess; "but I have very little
hope of freeing him from his enchantment. You
see, there is only one thing that can break the
spell: one of his mistresses must drive him out
of the house with the broom, and I do not believe
that either of them ever will—they are so
exceedingly gracious and kind. I have tried to
induce my brother to commit some little sin—to
steal some cream or some meat, or to fly around
the room as if he were in a fit (I myself have
shown him how to do that), but he will not consent.
He has too much dignity, and he is too
fond of these ladies. And, if he should, I doubt
if he would be driven out with the broom—they
are so kind."
The princess sighed. The prince stood looking
in a grave and stately manner at Dorothy,
but he did not speak. "However," the princess
continued, cheerfully, "we do very well here, and
in some respects this is a more enlightened country
than either Persia or Malta, and it is a privilege
to live here. The ladies are very kind to
us, and we are very fond of them; then, too, we
see very fine company. And there are also Persian
hangings and rugs which make it seem
home-like. We are very well contented. I don't
know, on the whole, that we are in any hurry to
go away. But should either of the ladies ever
take it into her head to drive my brother out of
the house with the broom, we shall at once leave
the country for Persia and Malta; for, after all,
one's native land is dear."
The princess stopped talking, and began to
hum her Persian song, and then the ladies entered
the room. They greeted Dorothy kindly;
then they began to call, "Vashti, Vashti, come
here, pretty Vashti," and, "Muff, Muff, come
here, pretty Muff." For they did not see the
Persian princess and the Maltese prince, but two
beautiful cats, whose names were Vashti and Muff.
"Just hear Vashti purr," said one of the ladies.
"Come here, pretty Vashti, and try your new
And the ladies saw a cat sitting on the rich
cushion, and another cat looking at her gravely,
while Dorothy saw a Persian princess and a
However, the ladies knew that there was
something uncommon about their cats, and they
sometimes suspected the truth themselves, but
they thought it must be a fancy.
Dorothy left her cushion and went away, and
that was the last time she ever saw the Persian
princess. As she went out the door the princess
pressed close to her. The ladies thought she
mewed, but in reality she was talking.
"Good-bye, Dorothy," said she, "I hope you
will live happily ever after. And as for my
brother and I, we really enjoy ourselves; we are
seeing the country and improving our minds, and
we love the ladies. If one of them should drive
him out with the broom, he will become a prince
again, and we shall leave; but I do not know
that it is desirable. A cat has a more peaceful
life than a prince. Good-bye, dear Dorothy."
The princess was going closer to embrace
Dorothy, but the ladies became alarmed; they
thought that their beautiful cat was going to
steal out of the house. So they called, and a
maid with a white cap ran and caught the Persian
princess, and carried her back to the drawing-room.
The ladies thought she mewed as she
was being carried in, but in reality she was calling
back merrily, "Good-bye, and live happily
ever after, dear Dorothy!"