Princess Pepperina by Flora Annie Steel
A 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
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
'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 of his lost pepper, until one
morning, lo and behold! the egg had disappeared, and in 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
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
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
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
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.