The Tale of the Blue Glove, by Anna McClure Sholl

Fairy Tales of Weir

The King of the South country was not as happy as a king ought to be whose subjects are both peaceful and industrious. Every night when the moths were flying and the tall candles were lit in the hall, when the soft air was musical with the strumming of harps, and the sweet complaint of violins, he would walk out on the great parapet with one hand under his chin and his head drooping; then the courtiers would say, "The King is sad."

If he looked out he could see town after town, like strings of pearls and corals, with blue smoke coming from the chimneys of red-roofed houses, and beyond the towns the sea like a green bowl. If he looked straight down he could see a rush of color, as if the flowers were coming up to him in billowy waves.

But the King was not happy, for the reason that he wanted to marry his three sons, and he didn't know of any princesses who would, so to speak, fill the bill. He had journeyed over the mountains to inspect several little ladies who were brought to him, in their stiff satin gowns to make their curtsey and smile their prettiest, but none of them seemed desirable for a daughter. The King knew, indeed, very much what he wanted. She mustn't chatter and she mustn't be too fond of chocolates in gold and enameled boxes; and she mustn't have likes and dislikes; and she must be patient, for all really royal people know how to wait; and she must possess the beautiful art of smiling. The King had seen her in the frames of old paintings, still and sweet and jeweled, but never alive and lovely.

On the evening when this tale begins the King was watching the three princes play at ball. The ball was of scented Spanish leather covered with crimson silk on which was stamped the sporting dolphin of the royal house. Sometimes it would drop to the green turf where the parrots would peck at it, thinking it a gorgeous apple. The hooded falcon on the jester's arm knew better, for the jester fed him real apples.

Prince Hugh, Prince Merlin, and Prince Richard were as supple as willows, as straight as pines, as graceful as silver birches. Their blond hair hung thick and straight against their necks and was cut square above their level brows. Their manners were so good that their father didn't quite know their characters; and that made the problem of their marriages more difficult.

All at once, as on a stage, they stopped playing ball and began to look at something or someone. The King followed their eyes, and saw a strange sight. A young girl with a great dog at her side was coming slowly over the grass, her hands clasped above her breast, her long golden hair hanging nearly to the hem of her gown which was of coarse brown wool. She had no stockings, and on her feet she wore wooden shoes.

That a peasant girl should walk across the royal gardens was enough to make the princes stare. Then the King saw that they were looking at the girl's hands, of which one was bare. On the other was a glove of blue cut-velvet, heavily embroidered with a design of flowers which circled themselves about a tiny mirror set exactly on the wrist; no glove for a peasant!

She came slowly up the great stairs of the terrace as if she were expected. By this time the court-lackeys had rushed out, full of officiousness, to stop the outrage; but the King, at the end of a puzzled day, was in no mood to hinder the least diversion. He advanced to meet the visitor, who raised to him a pair of beautiful blue eyes and smiled.

"Where did she learn to smile?" thought the King, conscious that the gaze of the three princes was still upon the girl.

She held out the gloved hand. "King Cuthbert, I am sent to your court by
King Luke. Will you be pleased to look in my mirror?"

Her wrist was raised to the level of his eyes. "What do you see?" she asked in a soft, solicitous voice.

"Myself, maiden," he replied.

She sighed, and the tears came in her eyes.

"Who else could I see?" he exclaimed.

She smiled and shook her head, then she nodded towards the three straight boys on the lawn. "Those are your sons?"

"Mine, indeed, maiden."

"I am sent to make their acquaintance. I am the niece of King Luke, the
Princess Myrtle."

King Cuthbert could not believe his ears, nor trust his eyes, for the Princess Myrtle had great vaults of gold under the thousand-year-old turrets of her castle; and pearls like pigeon eggs in the renowned diadem with which the generations of her royal race were crowned kings or queens.

"My uncle sends me as a beggar-maid so that I can make a true marriage. I desire to be loved for myself alone. Speak not of me to the court, but deal with me as I appear to be."

King Cuthbert gazed in admiration at her, for she had the voice of one who thinks more than she speaks and feels more than she thinks, which is the proper order for great and little ladies. "Here," thought he, "is the child I have been seeking. I will not tell the three straight-limbed lads so beautifully mannered who or what she is, but I will say that a friend hath sent an orphaned girl to be protected by me; then I will watch how they treat her, and learn at last what my sons are."

"Princess Myrtle," he said, "I will henceforth treat you as an orphaned and poor girl. Is that to your liking?"

"It is my wish, Sir," she answered, and suddenly a rising wind blew all the strands of her hair into a cloud of gold, so that her coarse wool dress appeared brocaded; and while she was thus sumptuously clothed a great peacock in iridescent array strutted by her, and she placed her gloved hand for a moment on his shining feathers, looking, indeed, a princess. Back of her the courtiers stared and rubbed their eyes. The three slim boys on the lawn were smiling.

Prince Hugh tossed the scarlet ball to her and she caught it lightly as if she were making a curtsey.

"Take the ball back to him," said the King, "and tell him I sent you."

As she went down through the parterres of flowers she was as straight as a delphinium and fresh-colored as a rose. Where the great trees clouded into the sky she looked as little as a floating petal; but when she stepped upon the sward, she seemed to grow tall like an upward soaring flame.

Though she walked with such courage towards the three slim lads her heart was beating fast, because she was afraid they would not be as noble as they looked. For at court nearly everyone looks noble, and the Princess Myrtle had learned how easy it is to keep your eyes level, and your head high, and your bearing proud; and how hard it is to preserve a sweet heart like a rose, within the shadow of this grandeur.

So she went to meet the princes with a shy, hopeful manner, the scarlet ball in her hand, and her blue eyes addressed to theirs.

"I am commanded by your royal father to return to you this ball," she said.

"I pray you tell me," said Prince Hugh, "how you, being a beggar-maid, walk as if possessed of wealth?"

She smiled. "All people are rich. Some know it. Some do not."

The princeling gave a royal whistle, and smiled at his brother Richard, who picked a white carnation and began to pull its petals. "Tell me, maid, why you wear the blue glove?" he asked.

"To cover a hand still my own," she returned proudly.

Merlin said nothing at all. He took the scarlet ball, bowed, and turned from her. She raised her eyes to the heights where the turrets cut the sky, black against gold, and the whirling sea-birds beat down the seaward rushing wind. Then stepping softly, she followed Merlin, who walked on to a place where the arching trees made a green cave, and in the depths of the cave was a fountain of marble sunk into a round of ferns. At the edge the prince paused, then he dropped the ball into the water, and it sank, for it was solid and heavy.

[Illustration: MERLIN DROPS THE BALL INTO THE FOUNTAIN]

"Why did you do that?" cried the Princess.

He wheeled about, and looked upon her coldly. "Why have you followed me?" he asked.

"To pick up the ball, should you drop it."

"The ball is drowned," he said.

"Why did you put it in the water?" she asked.

"Because you touched it," he replied.

She was very sad then. "You scorn to touch what a beggar-maid has handled?" she asked.

To this he made no reply, but strolled away into the green wood, while wearily she turned back. The stag-hounds, with their collars of jade, came to meet her, and the three enormous Persian cats whose tails were like long plumes. She stooped to caress them, and to hide her tears, for Prince Hugh and Prince Richard were coming towards her, and she did not wish them to know she was sad.

They stood like twin trees regarding her, then Prince Richard spoke. "Will you sell your glove, beggar-maid?" and he drew a piece of gold from his purse.

She replied: "I have more need of my glove than of your gold."

"If you were a court lady," said Prince Hugh, "you would know that one glove is of no use to anyone."

"If you were a beggar, Sir," she replied, "you would be glad to have one hand warm."

"I shall never be a beggar," returned the Prince proudly.

"Yet you begged your father for a cloth-of-silver falcon hood this morning."

Prince Richard laughed and his brother stared. "Are you a witch?" asked the latter.

"No, I am not a witch. I lost my way in the gardens before I found the right path. You were talking in the arbor by the edge of the lake, and you implored your father, the King, like a beggar on the street corner."

Prince Hugh's cheeks were red as peonies. "Your words are too bold, beggar-maid. If you will not sell your glove, I will take it."

She stretched out her arm. "You will not be able to take what is not yours!"

"Will I not!" and he rushed at her and began to tug at the glove. His face grew redder and redder, but he could not strip off the glove, which seemed to have grown to the maid's arm. Suddenly he caught sight of his fiery countenance in the little round mirror, and he left off pulling at the glove, but his failure aroused emulation in the heart of Prince Richard, who now began to tug at the glove as if it were heavy armor.

The Princess Myrtle grew as white as a snow-drop in pale wintry sunshine, for it seemed to her that all three of the princes were of base metal beneath their noble bearing. "Look in the mirror," she said pitifully, "and tell me what you see!"

"His own red face, I warrant, as I saw mine," cried Prince Hugh; then Prince Richard seeing how flushed his face was, drew away sulkily; and the Princess walked from them up and up through the parterres of flowers to the terrace where the King stood in the evening light, his cloak blown out, so that the satin lining showed like a great magnolia petal. His long fingers rested on the marble balustrade, and the royal rings winked wickedly at the Princess.

The King said to her, "What did my sons say and do to you?"

Then she related everything.

The King frowned. "But how do I know whether you are really the Princess
Myrtle? You may for all that be but a goose-girl or a beggar-maid."

She replied, "Let me remain in your court three days as a beggar-maid. If at the end of that time you are not sure, turn me out. I, too, will be sure of something at the end of three days."

"Of what will you be sure?" asked the King.

"Which of you is the real king here."

Then King Cuthbert grew red like old leather, and laughed and sighed and frowned. "God knows, I should myself like that knowledge." Then he signed to a court lady, who was looking on with proud eyes. "Come, Dame Caecilia, take this beggar-maid to one of the suites in the palace, and put fair clothes on her, and conduct her to the dining-hall when the hour strikes."

The court lady smiled to hide her anger, for she dared not disobey, and she beckoned the Princess Myrtle to follow her. They went through a vast door into a corridor that ran beneath heavy arches, and the walls of this passage moved as if alive, but it was only the draught swaying the tapestries with their gray trees and knights who rode among the trees like heavy shadows, and long-haired women who watched the knights ride while they wove flower-wreaths.

Then the proud court lady took the Princess up a winding stair, like the twisted ways of life, down more corridors, then into a room, through whose windows high cypresses looked, and upon whose ceiling little cupids flew about.

"Now, beggar," she said angrily, throwing open the door of a wardrobe where hung silken things, "make the most of your luck. What will you wear? Here is mallow satin sewn with pearls, and with a running border of jasmine flowers done in sweet embroidery silks. Will it please you? Here is a silver cloth, studded with little coral beads over a petticoat of ancient lace. Here is black velvet softly lined with apricot brocade!"

"Nay, none of these will I wear, but my gown of good wool, and in my bundle are changes of linen, for I want no lace on my limbs. Send me fresh flowers for my hair, I entreat you, and I will bathe and so prepare myself for the court dinner."

Dame Caecilia stared at her, and moved the golden combs and mirrors about angrily on the dressing-table. "You will lose me my place at court," she cried.

"Perhaps it is already lost," answered the Princess.

"You speak not at all like a beggar."

"You never took the trouble to learn what a beggar really says," the
Princess replied as she stripped the blue glove from her hand.

Curiosity got the better of the court lady's anger. "What person gave you that glove in place of alms?" she asked.

"My godmother out of faery land!"

"Nonsense!" cried the Dame, and she departed for the flowers with a face like a withered leaf.

The little Princess leaned against the sill of the window and sighed, and looked into the blue sphere of the night and wondered on what altar the high stars were lit. She thought of Merlin who had drowned his ball because her touch was on it, and her heart throbbed as if a hand were drawing it from her breast to place it out of her reach. She had seen little maids among the golden shadows of her own court with their white hands outstretched towards a heart someone had taken. Now the thrilling touch of that theft was upon her own spirit. Her thoughts followed Merlin as if her substance had been changed into his shadow.

All the court had assembled for dinner, when she entered the banquet hall behind the shame-faced Dame Caecilia, who made a curtsey to the floor as she explained to the King that the beggar-maid, being lacking in art, refused the silken clothes. "She would wear only this crown of wood violets."

Then the Princess curtsied, and all the courtiers laughed, but the King gravely bowed to her; and called, "Prince Hugh."

Prince Hugh came forward, looking noble as was his wont in the presence of his father. "What is your will, Sire?"

"I desire you to lead this maiden to the banquet."

"Sire, I have already asked the Lady Diana," he said and blushed a little, for he was lying.

The King then asked a lackey to summon Prince Richard, who came looking noble as was his custom, also, in the presence of his father.

"I desire you to lead this maiden to the banquet."

Prince Richard still endeavored to look noble. "Sire," he replied, "I am not dining to-night. I have a headache."

Then King Cuthbert sent for Prince Merlin. Now when the Princess Myrtle heard his name, it seemed to her as if musicians had begun to play in a far-off room. She drooped her head a little lest she should show tears in her eyes when he, too, refused her. He came up white and grave with a look that was not patient. When his father made the request of him that he made of his other sons, Prince Merlin bowed and extended his arm to the beggar-girl, but he was as silent as a wood before a storm. Only the Princess quivered like a leaf that expects a great wind to pass.

"Did you obey your father because you are sorry for me?" she whispered.

"No, I obeyed him because he is the King, not I. I am sorry for myself rather than you."

Then the Princess felt her soul sink into a gulf, but she smiled and ate the food that was offered her, and made no attempt to speak to Prince Merlin.

All the next day she wandered in the rose-alleys, through marvelous terraces, and under the great trees, but no one spoke to her, nor could she see anything but vanishing forms; and so it was until evening, when wearied, she sat down on a bench and gazed into her mirror and gave a cry of joy. "Now," said she, "I love truly. By this sign I know I love truly, for I see Merlin's face in the mirror and not my own."

Then she went alone to her rooms through the vast corridors, and stood before the long mirrors which were not magic, but only meant to reflect earthly vanities; and from the shining marble floor came up a kind of radiance about her. She opened the cedar doors of the wardrobes, and there issued a scent as of costly silk that has been perfumed with iris root.

The temptation was heavy upon her to clothe herself delicately that she might please Merlin; and never before had beautiful clothes seemed so wonderful to her. She ran her long white fingers through the folds of silk, and let the laces cascade over her arms; but in the end she changed only her wooden shoes for little dancing slippers of violet velvet, and again she put fresh violets in her hair.

When she entered the banquet hall, she found the King on the dais, and on one side of him stood Prince Hugh in a rose-satin dancing dress; and on the other Prince Richard in a garb of yellow velvet. Both wore jeweled girdles to which were attached little shining swords with opals in the hilts. About the throne were grouped the courtiers; and beyond the courtiers were the knights and ladies of the frescoed walls which bore the history of King Cuthbert's ancestors; girls like drifting blossoms, matrons like sweet fruit, and knights like strong trees.

The white velvet curtains before the tall casements shut out the stars, but all the heavens seemed recorded by the glowing wax-candles. Down the center of the room ran the banquet-table with dishes of gold; and plumage of rare birds nesting strange viands; and the sweet cheeks of summer fruits showing through the heaped blossoms of rose, gardenia, and honeysuckle. There were sweetmeats on dishes of pierced silver and between these played into broad glass bowls jets of scented water, making a lake where tiny swans swam.

But all this beauty was nothing to Princess Myrtle, because she did not see Prince Merlin in the room; nor at the banquet did he appear. So she could eat but a little fruit, and that was without taste to her.

After the banquet the court repaired to the dancing-hall, where already the musicians were strumming upon their instruments, so that everyone's feet began to move rhythmically. Then King Cuthbert beckoned the Princess Myrtle to him and said: "I see that you have put on dancing-slippers. With whom will you dance?"

"With myself, Sire, should I have no partner," she replied smiling.

At that moment Prince Merlin approached the throne clothed all in black silk, more appropriate for a scene of mourning than of festivity; and the King said to him: "Wilt thou lead this beggar-maid in the dance?"

The Prince's face grew as white for a moment as the lace of his collar, but he replied proudly, "At a ball a man chooses his own partners."

Then the Princess Myrtle's heart felt as weary as feet on a long road; but she awaited patiently the King's next word, which was spoken to Prince Richard and Prince Hugh, inviting them to dance with the beggar-maid. Each made an excuse. Then King Cuthbert addressed her. "Dance with yourself, beggar-girl," and he had the heralds proclaim that this stranger who wore brown wool in court would go on the floor alone. Everyone laughed and clapped their hands, only Prince Merlin bit his lip and looked prouder than ever, which, when she saw, the Princess Myrtle thought, "I will dance so beautifully that he will ask me to be his partner."

Then she let down her hair from beneath her crown of flowers, and went into the center of the circle that the court had formed, and began to sway a little like a flower in the breeze. Soon the court found itself swaying with her, so that it was like a garden when the wind rises. But when all were moving, the Princess saw that Prince Merlin stood like a pine-tree that will not bend its head unless the tempest comes out of the North. So she changed from a flower to a butterfly and began a fluttering, glancing motion, and threw back her golden locks like wings. Everyone watching her became very still, only Prince Merlin moved restlessly, and once he put his hand across his eyes as if the sun were in them.

When she had finished the King cried "Bravo," and then the court crowded about her, and Prince Hugh and Prince Richard asked her to dance with them; but Prince Merlin did not ask her, though he led out many ladies; and because of that it was as if she were dancing in the snow and rain, or on sharp stones.

The pain in her heart grew violent, and drove her at last to the orange-tree near which he stood. On the edge of its marble tub she sat down to rest, and all at once a golden orange dropped in her lap. She held it out to him. "You have drowned your scarlet ball, take this."

"Nay, for it is perishable," he said.

Then tears like pearls came slowly from her eyes and she was driven to say: "You alone have not asked me to dance. Did not my dancing please you?"

He replied, "I am not like my brothers," and he bowed and left her.

That night she lay on her broad bed beneath silken covers and sobbed bitterly because her heart told her that Prince Merlin was noble; yet her memory stung her with his cold words and averted eyes. Soon the third day would be over, and she would have to leave the court; for even if King Cuthbert acknowledged that she was a princess, what did that matter if Merlin did not know that she was his queen?

All next day she sat on the terrace which looks seaward and counted the sails coming up over the horizon like white petals blown from an invisible garden; and she would say, "If five come within a space of half an hour there will be hope for me"; but she always lost count, in thinking of his face.

That night she took off her woolen dress and she clothed herself in laces and over the laces she put on a cream silk gown all woven with apple blossoms, and she placed flowers upon her hair; then flashed before the mirror and smiled to see herself so beautiful. "Surely," she thought, "he will not turn from me to-night."

Then she put on her dancing-slippers; and went down. When she entered the banquet hall there was a stir and a murmur; and even King Cuthbert was silent with amazement over her beauty. Prince Hugh and Prince Richard came forward to meet her, and they bowed low, and looked very noble, indeed.

"Our father has played a merry jest upon us," they said. "You are, indeed, a princess and no beggar-maid." Then they began to dispute which should take her in to dinner. But her eyes were all for Prince Merlin, who, when the courtiers crowded about her and proclaimed her a princess, looked straight away from her. This was as a little sword in her heart, but the grief that dimmed her eyes made her appear even more beautiful.

After the banquet all proceeded to the dancing-hall, and King Cuthbert gave his arm to her. "Now I know thou art the Princess Myrtle. Which of my sons hast thou chosen?"

"A woman is chosen; she does not choose," she replied, for her heart was heavy. "To-night I must leave your court."

"Wilt thou continue thy search, Princess Myrtle?" the King said anxiously.

"No, I will return to my Kingdom."

"And what wilt thou do there?"

"I will weep," she answered.

She danced a measure with Prince Hugh and a measure with Prince Richard; then she saw that though Prince Merlin was in white satin and gold he did not dance, but stood alone by the orange-tree.

When she was free she sent a herald to fetch him, for now she desired no longer to play a part, but to be herself. He came slowly to where she stood, and bowed before her in silence.

"Tell me, Prince Merlin," she said, "if you agree with these courtiers that to-night I am become a princess?"

"I do not agree with them," he answered. "Clothes do not make a princess."

Then they looked at each other. "Will you meet me," she said, "on the edge of the wild forest in half an hour's time?"

"I am your servant," he replied.

She stole away to her rooms, where the moonlight lay athwart the tessellated marble floor, and opened the casement and placed the lamp there, which was to be the signal for her attendants to have her horses ready on the edge of the wild forest. Then she put on the gown she had worn as a beggar-girl, and her wooden shoes, and let her hair down over her shoulders.

The way to the wild forest was haunted with shadows and little fleeing things; and the night-owls called, but she remembered the look in Merlin's eyes, and conquered her fears.

And there he was waiting, with the moonlight gleaming on his white satin; and his face turned to the path up which she came.

She held out her hand to him with the blue velvet glove upon it, and she said softly, "Will you look into my mirror, Prince Merlin?"

"I am your servant," he said again, then looked.

His eyes became full of light. "I see your face," he cried; and sank upon one knee. She gave him both her hands.

"What am I to you?" she asked. "A princess?"

"No," he whispered.

"A beggar-girl?"

"No," he whispered.

"What then?"

"Thou art my love."

Then all the birds in all the world sang in her heart. "Tell me," she said, "why, then, didst thou sink thy ball?"

"That no hands should ever touch it after thine."

"And why didst thou say when thou didst lead me in to dinner, that thou wast sorry not for me, but for thyself?"

"I feared that thou wouldst never love me."

Then she laughed joyfully and asked, "Why didst thou say 'I am not like my brothers' when I asked thee to dance?"

"I wanted thee for thyself, not for thy dancing."

And now the stars moved all to nuptial music. "One question more," she cried. "Why didst thou say 'Clothes do not make a princess'?"

"Because I knew thou wast a princess the first hour I saw thee."

"Rise up, my Prince," she said. "We have a long journey before us."

"I hear the neighing of horses," he said, "and the moving of feet."

"My attendants," she replied. "My foster-mother rides with them. She gave me the blue glove, and told me he should be my husband who should see not his own face in the mirror, but mine."

"I see thy face everywhere," cried Prince Merlin.

So he kissed her, and they rode away with all her train through the sighing night-wind and beneath the summer stars to the land of their joy.