Friday, December 30, 2011

Rip Van Winkle

This is one of the two stories Washington Irving is best known for. The other being “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” This one, however, is more often considered a “fairy tale” than the other, and I included it here partly because it’s a good story, but mostly because it was the only story from the TV series “Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre” which I haven’t done yet, and that was bothering me.

Many of the stories I have related here have come from far away places and far distant times. This story, however, is not really all that old and took place right here in the USA. Not that it was called the USA back then. It was just another part of the Great British Empire. And the people of the village at the foot of the Catskill Mountains near the Hudson River in New York were all just servants of the king.

Well, maybe not all.

It would be hard to describe Rip Van Winkle as a “servant” to anybody, because “servant” implies work and the only thing harder to do than describe Rip Van Winkle as a servant would be to catch him in the act of doing work.

Okay, I could’ve said that better. The point is he’s lazy.

Don’t get me wrong, Rip was a perfectly nice guy, descended from a noble family. He had many friends, was good-natured and well-liked within the community. He was always good to his wife. Kids loved him. His dog, Wolf, was the closest friend any man could hope for. He just had that one significant character flaw: a chronic aversion to manual labor in any form. In other words, he hated to work. Ever. For any reason.

If you needed to find Rip Van Winkle (which wasn’t terribly likely in and of itself), you could usually find him at the King George Inn having a drink, telling stories or just sleeping in one of the comfy chairs. You also might find him fishing in the Hudson where he would happily sit for hours without even the hint of a nibble (had he put in the extra effort to bait his hook, that might not have been the case). Any other time, you’d find him at home being shouted at by his wife for not doing any work, for wasting time at the inn, for that horrible mutt of his and when are you going to fix the roof like you said and look at me when I’m talking to you and…In fact, that’s probably the reason he was so happy when he was fishing for hours without even the hint of a nibble.

“I swear, Rip,” said Dame Van Winkle on more than one occasion. “You’ll sleep your whole life away at this rate.”

“Well, if life is nothing but work, I’d just as soon sleep through it,” was his usual response in these cases.

In short, with very few exceptions, Rip Van Winkle led a simple, easy, happy life, however unprofitable.

Then came that fateful day when Rip took his gun and his dog into the woods for a hunt. His wife insisted that he stay and help with the housework, but Rip felt strongly that today was the day for a hunt. He loaded his gun, packed his extra shots and powder, kissed his son and daughter goodbye and he and Wolf set off for the Catskills. It was a beautiful day for a trip to the mountains and Rip passed the day happily enjoying the scenery, talking to Wolf, not even making an attempt to appear like he was hunting and not just wasting time in the woods. He spent most of the day out there, and into the evening as the sun began to set.

Rip was about to head for home when he heard a strange sound. A kind of booming, crashing, echoing sound. Wolf tugged on Rip’s coat, whimpering to go home, but Rip was curious about the sound so he followed it deeper into the mountains. The skies got darker and darker as Rip wandered further and further from home. Soon he came to a large cavern in the hills where the sound was coming from. He entered a torch lit space and what he saw made his jaw drop.

Dwarfs. Many, many dwarfs. Little men with long beards and ragged clothes who were clearly having…a bowling party. They had set up a nine-pin bowling course and were taking turns knocking down the pins. Between turns, they drank ale from big wooden casks. Rip had never seen anything like this in his life. When the dwarfs saw him, he was frightened for a moment. As though he feared they would attack him like hairy little piranhas…instead they gave a hearty cheer and invited him to join their game.

Dwarfs are known for their hospitality, ya know. Plus they’re short.

Rip Van Winkle was always up for a game so he dropped his pack and set his gun against the wall. While a few dwarfs played with Wolf, Rip took his turn and bowled better than anyone else. And he drank better than anyone else. He drank and drank and drank. It was the sweetest ale he had ever tasted, like nectar. The party raged on all night and, eventually, even Wolf stopped worrying and joined in the fun. He even had a few bowls of ale himself. Rip and the dwarfs got a good laugh at the slightly drunk dog walking sideways into the pins and scoring nine points before falling down…

And that’s the last thing Rip remembered before he woke up.

Rip Van Winkle woke to the sound of birds singing and the feel of the sun on his face. He blinked his eyes a few times until he could see clearly. But even after this, he wasn’t sure he was seeing clearly. He distinctly remembered that he came to the mountains on a crisp, autumn morning. Now there were blossoms on the trees as though it were spring. Instinctively, Rip stroked his chin as he thought about this, which led him to his second shock of the last two minutes: A beard. Quite a long one, in fact. Now, when a man falls asleep, he can usually expect to wake up with a little bit more fuzz than he had before bed, but not a beard that hung all the way down to his feet! His hands, too, seemed wrinkled and gnarled, as though they belonged to a man much older than he. He looked around for Wolf, but he was nowhere to be found.

He saw that he was lying under a tree that was growing just at the entrance to the cavern where he and the dwarfs had bowled the night before. In his mind, Rip imagined that the tree had been much, much smaller. Surely it hadn’t grown this tall overnight? He ran inside the cavern crying out “Wolf! Here boy!” but no one answered. There were no dwarfs, no pins, no ale. Not only that, but in the exact spot where he had left his brand-new, well oiled rifle, he found an old, rusty relic, though it was clearly the same make and model of his own. It even had his initials, RVW, carved into the handle.

“This is definitely my gun,” said Rip, noticing at last that his voice was somewhat raspier. “But how did it get so rusty so quickly? And where is my dog?” He searched around the cavern and retraced his whole route along the mountains until he was almost back to his home village. He hadn’t seen any trace of Wolf, but reasoned that he must’ve gone home in the night by himself.

He was more concerned with the town when he saw it. Everything had changed. He met a number of people he didn’t recognize who were wearing bizarre clothing. Rip thought he knew everyone in town, so this struck him as odd, even without the strange clothes. The strangers stared at Rip with the same confusion, though this might have been his beard just as much as his costume. When he reached the town proper, everything was a different color, the buildings all looked rebuilt, and the streets were full to bursting of people he’d never seen before.

Then he made his way home, expecting to be chewed out by his wife for being gone all night...but his house was falling apart. It was an old ruin. And to make matters worse, the only one in residence was a mangy, half-starved dog who looked like it might have been Wolf’s ancestor. “Wolf? Boy, is that you?” asked Rip, and he put out a hand to stroke him. But the dog barked and snapped at the hand, which Rip was only just able to pull away before he was bitten. “Don’t you remember me, boy? It’s Rip! Your old friend! We went to the mountains and played bowls with the dwarfs. Don’t you know me?”  The dog snarled and ran away when Rip made another move to pet him. Rip went all through the house calling out for wife and children, but to no avail. They were nowhere to be found.

Confused, bewildered, and beginning to feel fatigued, Rip Van Winkle decided to get some answers. He went at once to his old tavern, where he expected to find his usual friends chatting away about anything and everything. But not only were none of the people there ones he recognized, but the sign above the door had been changed from “King George Inn” to the “George Washington.” Who the heck is George Washington? asked Rip to himself. An overweight man was standing outside handing out fliers with words printed on them that Rip didn’t recognize: “Bunker Hill,” “Heroes of 76,” “Continental Congress.”

This man noticed Rip and approached him, asking, “I beg your pardon, sir, but which side will you be voting?”

“Voting?” asked a bewildered Rip.

“In the election. Are you a federalist or a democrat?”

“I’m nothing of the kind! I’m a citizen of the Great British Empire! Long live the king!”

This man, and all others who were within earshot, reacted with nothing short of abject shock at hearing this. As though admitting loyalty to one’s king was something shameful and wicked. The silent shock (unfortunately) soon gave way to shouting.

“He’s a tory!”

“He’s a spy!”

“Look! He’s even carrying a gun!”

The man with the fliers was, with some difficulty, able to restore order and he spoke softly to the others, saying, “This poor old man must be confused and disoriented. We must be patient with him.” Then he turned to Rip and said, in a kind voice, “My good man, how can we help you?”

“Well, I’m just looking for my friends.”

“Fine, fine. If we know them we’ll help you find them. What are their names?”

“All right…what about Nicholas Veder?”

“Vedder?” said one of the men. “He died eighteen years ago.”

“Eighteen years? What about Brom Dutcher?”

“I knew him,” said another man. “He joined the army when the war started. He never came back.”

“Army? War? What war? What are you talking about?”

“Er, another friend, perhaps?” said the man with the fliers, trying to keep things calm.

“Van Bummel? The schoolmaster. You must know him, he’s been here for—”

“Yes, he joined up, too,” said one of the men. “He got promoted to General. I think he’s in congress now.”


This bizarre interview went on for some time, with Rip rattling off names and being told that each one had died years ago or had moved away or had fought in some war. The questions kept running through Rip’s mind. How could any of this be? I only left last night…didn’t I? He thought about his rusty gun and his malnourished dog and his long beard and his dillapitated house and…how long had he been away?

“There’s one more name I would ask after,” said Rip, bracing himself. “Who here knows…Rip Van Winkle?”

“Rip? Why he’s right inside the tavern.”

“Fast asleep if I know him!” This comment was met with howls of laughter which Rip barely heard. He walked like a ghost into the inn and there, in his usual chair, he saw…himself? So if that’s me, Rip thought, who am I? Is this me? Or is that? Or is that someone else?

Rip Van Winkle stood there gaping at Rip Van Winkle for several minutes and the bystanders began to get worried that this old stranger might cause harm. Finally, for no apparent reason, the young man sleeping in the chair woke up and looked around. “Oh, hello, old timer. Can I help?”

“What…what is your name, son?”

“Rip, sir. Rip Van Winkle.”

“Your name is Rip Van Winkle?”

“Well, Rip Van Winkle, Jr. in fact. I was named after my father.”

“You were? And, whatever became of him?”

“My father left on a hunting trip and never came back. His dog came back without him, but no one ever saw father again. Poor mother was devastated. She didn’t last much longer after he disappeared.”

“How…how long ago was this?”

“Oh, I’d say it was about…twenty years ago. Isn’t that right, sister?”

This last was addressed over Rip, Sr.’s shoulder at the pretty young woman who had just entered. The old man noticed she was carrying a baby in her arms. “Twenty years, that’s right. Hello,” she said to this elderly stranger. “My name is Judith Gardenier. Rip Van Winkle was my father, too.”

“Did you know our father, mister?”

“Well…yes. I think I did…please, may I ask…what is the child’s name?”

“This is my son. His name is Rip, too.” She looked up at the old man and was surprised to see tears running down his cheeks. Then she looked into his eyes more closely…and, at last, she saw it. “Father? Father, is it you?”

Rip, Jr. could hardly believe his ears. He sprang to his feet and stared into the old man’s eyes. “It is! It’s our father! Judith, it’s father! Come home at last!” And he threw his arms around his father’s shoulders, and Judith did the same, and Rip Van Winkle, Sr. embraced his children and grandson as though he would never let them go.

That very day, Rip moved in with his daughter and her husband where he spent the rest of his days very much as he had done before his strange adventure had begun. He got to know both his children and his grandson and became a pillar of the small, American town. He was never able to fully understand what had happened to him in that cavern in the mountain, and once or twice he had considered going back to investigate. But he always decided against it, and chose instead to just make the most of the time he had left…of course he always had his daughter or son-in-law wake him up every morning. Just to make sure.


If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  • Faerie Tale Theatre (TV) This episode starred Harry Dean Stanton as Rip and Tim Conway and Ed Begley, Jr. played his friends. Also starred Chris Penn and Talia Shire.
  • The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo (TV) In this series, Magoo played a new role every week. Including the famous sleeper in this story.
  • Rip Van Winkle (1978) This short film from the creator of the California Raisins, Will Vinton, was nominated for an Academy Award for best animated short.




Friday, December 23, 2011

Do Turtles Have Christmas?

This is a story I wrote last Christmas instead of focusing on my actual job. At the time, I already had the Christmas story for the blog planned out (you may recall, those of you who were there, that it was during a month-long tribute to Hans Christian Andersen) so I had to save this one for a year.

There's no way of saying this without coming off as egotistical, but I very much like this story. When I started writing it, it was just a cute little idea about turtles and Christmas, but I've grown very fond of it since that time. My hope is to one day have it published as a children's book with better illustrations than I can provide. Who knows? Maybe someday it'll be a holiday staple...well, a man can dream.

Greg got up that morning the same as always. He looked around his room with its tall, clear walls and went to get a drink from his dish. As he shook off the last bits of sleep he looked out his walls to see what the people were doing. They were putting decorations all over the house. Big red and green things that Greg didn't understand. In particular, a lot of them seemed to show a big fat guy in red pajamas and a white beard. Molly was asking her big sister, Mabel, a lot of questions.

“Is he really gonna come tomorrow night?”

“Of course he is. You wrote him a letter, didn't you?”

“Yes, but are you sure he read it?”

“I told you, Molly. Santa visits everyone who sends him a letter.”

“But how does he do it all in one night?”

“Magic, of course. I don't know exactly how it works, but I think he can freeze time or something.”


There were a lot of words that Greg had never heard before. Santa. Rudolph. Some King or other called Nat. It was all very confusing to Greg. Luckily, later that day, Molly reached into Greg's room and picked him up to show him something. “Look how beautiful our tree is, Greg.” Greg looked and saw a large evergreen tree inside the house covered in colored lights and other ornaments. He had to admit it was beautiful but he didn't exactly know what it was for. “And tomorrow night, Santa's going to come and leave us presents for Christmas. And I asked him to bring something for you, too. Even though I don't know what turtles want for Christmas. Well, I'd better put you back. I have to go help Mommy in the kitchen.”

It was a very confused turtle whom Molly returned to his room a moment later. Christmas? What's Christmas? And who is this Santa who's supposed to bring me something? It was very overwhelming. But many of his questions were answered that very day. His room happened to be in such a place that it faced the TV so when the girls watched a movie called “A Christmas Carol” he learned a lot about this Christmas business.

Evidently, Greg concluded, it's a holiday that happens in the winter where everyone gets together and eats and drinks and has lots of fun and gives each other presents. It sounded nice, but it still left Greg with one burning question:

Do turtles have Christmas?

The holiday, it seemed, had something to do with a little baby called...something with a “J”, he couldn't remember. But the impression that Greg got was that this “Christmas” was this baby's birthday. Did you have to know the baby to celebrate? Are turtles allowed to celebrate? It seemed to have a lot to do with presents. Was it still Christmas if you didn’t get a present? Or give one?

According to Molly, the following day was called “Christmas Eve” and she and her sister watched a few more TV shows which told Greg a little more about the holiday. This Santa fellow lives at the North Pole and on Christmas Eve (that's tonight! he thought with some excitement) he flies in a magic sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer (or nine, depending on the weather) and delivers gifts to all the good little boys and girls and...

His heart sank. Boys and girls. Not turtles. He was a boy turtle, sure, but he had the clear impression that this is not what they meant. Oh well, he thought, as he watched another show about a snowman with a special hat. No Christmas for me.

That night, Greg was awakened by a strange sound. A sort of “THUD” as if something had landed on the roof. Greg was frightened. If it was burglars, he was ill-equipped to do anything about it except hope and pray that turtles were not valuable on the black market. But then he heard another sound: Bells! Very small bells. Jingling bells. He remembered from his TV research that Santa's sleigh had bells on and often landed on rooftops. Am I going to get to see Santa Claus?

He did! Santa came down the chimney and set about his work. Putting packages under the tree, eating cookies, drinking milk, filling the stockings. Greg watched him, transfixed. The bright smile, the red suit, the white beard. He's just the way I thought he'd be, said Greg to himself. I may not get any presents, but it's enough to get to see him!

And then, just as Santa was about to leave, he turned his head in the direction of Greg's room. He looked at the turtle and smiled. “Well, hello there, Greg!” he said as he walked over to him. “You don't remember me, do you? Well, you wouldn't, I guess. You were so very small when I brought you here. You see, you were Molly's Christmas present last year. And she asked me to make sure you got a present this year. Don’t look so surprised,” said Santa, kindly at Greg’s reaction. “Didn’t you know? Christmas is for everyone. And you’ll get a present, too...but only if you go right to sleep! Now, now, rules are rules. If you want your present, you'll just have to wait till morning.”

Greg shut his eyes obediently and tried to fall asleep. “That's better. Now don't open them till tomorrow. And Merry Christmas, Greg.” He heard Santa place something inside his room and creep away. In another moment he heard the sleighbells, the muffled cry of Santa and then...nothing. Santa was gone. It was tempting to sneak a peek at his present, but, showing a level of self-restraint seldom seen in turtles, Greg succeeded in keeping his eyes shut until he fell asleep.

“Merry Christmas!” Greg woke to the joyous cry of Molly and Mabel as they ran downstairs for their presents. Their parents followed, somewhat less enthusiastically, but still all smiles. Greg watched through the walls of his room as the girls opened their presents and showed them off for their parents. It was a wonderful scene and Greg was very happy to have seen it.

“Look,” said Molly, suddenly. “Santa left something for Greg, too.” Greg had almost forgotten. With the great effort that it took for him to move at all, Greg turned around and saw...a great big head of lettuce! And it was all for him. As Greg began to munch on the crisp green leaves he thought of what Santa had said to him before he left. “Merry Christmas, Santa,” he thought. “And thank you for the best Christmas I ever had.”

Merry Christmas!

NEXT WEEK: "Rip Van Winkle"

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Matchmaker

This story was either inspired by a TV show plot or a dream I had after watching said TV show. It’s kind of blurry, but either way I woke up and thought about a matchmaker holding a grand ball full of eligible women for her client to choose from. Then I hung the rest of the story on that like ornaments on a Chrsitmas tree and this is what I came up with. The names are all taken from the Danny Kaye movie The Court Jester which is wonderful.

A while back I came up with an idea for a TV show about professional matchmakers (though not in a fairy tale setting, of course) and the main dating tip given on that show is the same as the lesson of today’s story.

A very clever man once said repeatedly, “It’s good to be da king.” And, yes, in many ways it is. Roderick, for example, had just about everything a man could wish for. He had a beautiful castle to live in, hundreds of servants at his beck and call, a lush prosperous kingdom to rule over and more money than he could spend if he lived to be three hundred and four. He had horses and silks and gold and precious jewels and even a bust of himself made of solid platinum, which not many people have, don’tcha know.

Of course, no man has everything but there is one thing that every man (woman, child, animal, trees even) has: Problems. Yes, kids and people, even King Roderick ruler of the kingdom of Pimpernel (named for the beautiful and medicinal flower that grew there), had his allotment of problems. For one thing, he had to act like a king all the time, which meant being regal and important and speaking with a booming sort of voice and enacting laws and levying taxes and doing other kingly stuff which is all very well if you’re fifty or so with a big beard and a belly to match, but Roderick was twenty-four and had taken over the kingdom quite suddenly when his father had abdicated the throne the previous year in order to spend some quality time with his cows.

Yeah, he liked cows. So? What’s wrong with cows?

In other words, Roderick never really wanted to be king. At least not while he was so young. When you’re a young, handsomish prince, you can do what you like. Go off on adventures, rescue damsels, ride white chargers, or just hang out with the knights and do guy stuff like hunting or fishing or watching The Big Lebowski…or, ya know, whatever guys watched before the Cohen Brothers started making movies…murals, maybe? About rugs, bowling and missing toes?

I feel like I’m digressing a little bit. Let’s try again.

The other thing about being a king is getting married. See, the tricky thing about a monarchy is that it requires constant maintenance. There always has to be a prince or princess to take over the throne from the king and/or queen, depending on how patriarchal the kingdom in question is (kids, this is all complex political stuff that your parents can tell you more about. In the meantime: Kings have to get married and make babies). Now, Roderick had taken over from his father, but if Roderick died or became interested in cattle, there was no one to take over.

“You must get married, sire,” insisted Lord Ravenhurst, who had one of those pointy goatees that bad guys usually have.

“But who am I supposed to marry?” was the king’s answer. “I don’t know any girls. And it’s not like I can go to a bar and meet someone like common folk do. I’m a king. The rules say I have to marry a princess or a countess or a duchess or a waitress or…no, not that last one. But she has to be nobility. And I don’t like the nobility. How am I going to be happy with someone who just cares about fancy clothes and precious jewels?”

“I’m sorry, sire, I think we’re talking at cross purposes, here. I was discussing marriage. You seem to be talking about happiness. I’m afraid I can’t see the connection.”

As unromantic as that sounds, that’s kind of how marriage worked for royalty in them days. Love didn’t matter quite so much as breeding, fortunes and social standing. Left to his own devices, the king would’ve married for true love, which is better than any of those other things, but there were rules to follow and, as Ravenhurst had told him at his coronation: “You’re King Roderick, not Roderick King. That means you are a king first and yourself second."

So Roderick relutctantly agreed to let Ravenhurst call a meeting of the Royal Council. These were the king’s closest advisors who were known for advising him the closest. There was Lord Hubert, and Sir Griswold and Ravenhurst, of course, and many other important men with ridiculous names. They all came together to discuss possibilities for the king’s new wife:

“What about Lady Glynis?” said one. “She is said to be more beautiful than Aphrodite.”

“I knew her when we were kids,” said the king. “She used to kick me mercilessly.”

“Then what about Princess Angela?” said another. “Word is she is in want of a husband.”

“Ugh! No thank you. She’s the biggest bore in the world. Talks about nothing but herself.”

“Mildred of Natwick?”

“No, she won’t do?”

“Why not?” bellowed Ravenhurst. “With all possible respect, majesty, you are far too picky. You should just pick a bride and have done with it.”

“Not Mildred of Natwick.”

“And why not? What’s wrong with her? Too vain? Too selfish? What petty little personality problem has sprung into your royal mind to cause you to take issue with Mildred of Natwick?!?”

“She’s eighty-two!”

“Oh…oh, yes…I see.” Ravenhurst didn’t say anything for the rest of the meeting.

“Look, I appreciate all the work you guys are doing,” said King Roderick. “But you’ve got to at least find me somebody I’ll like. I don’t think that’s asking too much, is it?”

“Too much? No. Not enough? Perhaps,” came a voice who was definitely not invited to this top secret meeting.

“Giacamo,” said Lord Hubert to the owner of the voice, “this meeting is for royal council only.”

“Scratch the surface of a fool and you will often find a wiseman,” said Giacamo the court jester. “That’s true the other way around, as well.”

“Giacamo,” began the king, as Lord Hubert took offense, “has been a loyal friend and servant since my father was my age and we shall hear what he has to say.” Turning to his fool, he asked, “What do you suggest be done about this marriage situation?”

“My advice in this matter, as in all matters, is that you should make like the hunter chasing a stag through the woods.”


“Follow your hart!” This fairly awful pun was met with groans from the council, but King Roderick chuckled in spite of himself. “However,” the jester continued, “if majesty is insistent on marrying regardless of love, I suggest you call upon my sister, Gwendolyn., the world’s greatest matchmaker!”

“You fool!” cried Sir Griswold. “How are matches going to help? The king doesn’t need to start a fire, he needs to—”

“That’s not the kind of matchmaker he meant!” interrupted the king and Griswold joined Ravenhurst in silence for the rest of the meeting. The king turned back to his trusty fool. “A matchmaker, you say. Is she any good?”

“Is she any good? Is she any good?” cried Giacamo. “My liege, she is known throughout the land. She is called Cupid’s Servant. She has made over one hundred perfect matches. There is no one for whom she has failed to find a bride or groom! There is no matchmaker in all the universe who can match her skill and talent.”

“So she’s good?”

“Yeah, she’s all right.”

Gwendolyn was sent for and appeared before King Roderick. “I am told,” said the king, “that you can find a perfect match for anybody.”

“That I can, sire,” said Gwendolyn.

“Mine is, of course, a special case.”

“Rule #2,” said Gwendolyn, “No matter how different they are, everyone in the world is exactly the same.”

“Well said,” replied the king. “So, what will you need?”

“First and foremost, sire, your complete cooperation or all my skills will be useless. You must trust me implicitly. Rule #3: There can be no true love without complete trust. You must answer any question I put to you entirely honestly. Rule #4: Honesty is the best policy. You must be willing to do things that do not come naturally to you. Rule #5: No one ever achieved greatness by doing what they do every day.”

“How many of these rules do you have?”

“Only six. Rule #1, however, is the last you will learn.”

“And what’s Rule #6?”

Gwendolyn smiled. “All rules are made to be broken…including this one, because by following Rules 1 through 5, you will be breaking Rule 6. Do you see?”

“No…no, not really.”

“That’s not important. Do you agree to my rules?”

“All that I am and all that I have is at your disposal if you can find me a bride.”

“Groovy! Let’s get started.”

The first part of the process was a questionaire, which had only just recently been invented (by Gwendolyn, coincidentally) so the king was a little confused by it. He got the idea soon enough, however. The following is an extract from the finished questionaire (questions relating to popular culture of Ancient Pimpernel have been removed for clarity’s sake):

25. How do you like to spend Sunday mornings?
I like to sort of take it easy. Stay in bed for a bit, read a book. Of course, I’d rather have someone to talk to.

29. What is your position on Dragon Rights?
Anyone who still believes that dragons are evil in this day and age is just plain ignorant.

31. If you had to choose, would you rather be blind or deaf?
Blind. I don’t really know why.

38. How important is honesty to you?
Very important. I don’t see how anyone can have any kind of relationship that isn’t based on mutual trust, and that can’t exist without honesty.

42. When you were five, what did you want to be when you grew up?
            I seem to remember wanting to be a horse.

43. What about when you were ten?
            All I knew is that I didn’t want my father’s job. We all know how that turned out.

And so on in that fashion. When he was finished filling in his answers, he handed the paper back to Gwendolyn who looked over it carefully.

“Hmmm,” was all she said at first. “Interesting.”

“Interesting? Is that good or bad?”

“Interesting is only bad when one is discussing odors.”

“Does that mean you can help me?”

“Sire, there was never any doubt that I would be of help to you. The question was only ever how long it would take.” As she said this, there was a faint knock on the door and a chambermaid called Jean entered.

“Oh, pardon me, your majesty. I thought you were alone,” said Jean, timidly.

“Quite all right, Jean,” said King Roderick. Gwendolyn reacted to this, because it was fairly uncommon for kings to be on first name terms with the cleaning staff. “This is Gwendolyn, the matchmaker.”

“Oh!” said Jean with an odd tone to her voice that Gwendolyn recognized but didn’t understand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am.” Then she curtsied.

“No need of that, child,” said Gwendolyn. “I’m no better than you. We are both servants of the king.”

“I don’t really like that word,” said Roderick. “It makes me uncomfortable.”

“It’s accurate. The girl is employed by you to serve you, is she not?”

“She was employed by my late father to serve him. She’s only serving me because I—”

“Inherited her?”

“Something like that.”

“I only came to see if you had any washing,” said Jean. “But if this is a bad time…”

“No!” said the king much more forcefully than he meant to. “I mean…yes, I do have some things for you to wash. Wait here.” With that, the king drifted off into the next chamber. Gwendolyn kept her eyes on Jean as the king left and noticed that the maid’s eyes followed the king’s path even after he was out of sight.

“That answers that question!” said Gwendolyn with a grin.

“Excuse me?” asked Jean.

“Nothing, dear, nothing. Tell me, how long have you worked in the palace.”

“Practically all my life. My mother worked in the kitchens and I was born two years after the king. We used to play together when we were small.”

“How and when did you stop playing?”

“He would have been…ten years old,” said Jean, wondering why the matchmaker was so interested in her life story, but wanting to be polite. “I was eight. We were outside, playing at Gamby,” (a sport popular at this time in history, though it’s unclear how the two children played it when it is unique among sporting events for requiring three sides to play), “when Lord Ravenhurst yelled at him, ‘Prince Roderick! Come away from that filthy child and come inside for your lessons.’ We never played after that.”

“That must’ve hurt your feelings.”

“It did. I asked my mother about it when I was helping her prepare supper that night. She said it’s just the way things are.”

“Ugh! The way things are! How I hate that phrase. It’s thinking like that which forces our beloved king to marry for politics instead of love. Take a lesson from me, child, and don’t live based on the way things are, but rather on the way they should be.”

Jean didn’t understand, but it didn’t matter because the king returned with some hose and tunics at this point and handed them to Jean. “I mean, there’s no hurry,” he said, stupidly. “Just, whenever you get a chance to—”

“Of course, sire. Thank you, sire. Ma’am.” With another curtsie, the girl was gone.

“Now then,” said the king, after he was quite done looking at the spot where Jean was before she shut the door. “Where were we?”

“I was wondering how long it would take to help you, but now I am certain that it will take me no time to unite you with your perfect match.”

“Really? That’s sensational news!”

“Yes, it is, isn’t it?” said the sly old lady. Gwendolyn then asked the king for some gold for a journey she would have to go on. The king gave it to her, and Gwendolyn left, promising to return in a few days with results. After a week, Roderick was a nervous wreck. Where was she? When would she be back? His council, still miffed at him for brining in Gwendolyn at the advice of a jester, were not terribly helpful, so he found that the only person he could talk to was Jean. As the days wore on, their conversations got longer, so that by the time Gwendolyn had been gone a fortnight (that’s a fancy way of saying “two weeks.” Go ahead, use it in a conversation, you’ll love it) Jean was speaking very candidly to her king and old friend, much to the shock and outrage of the other servants.

“You are a servant, he is a king,” they would say. “You have no business speaking to him like that.”

“He’s okay with it,” said Jean, defiantly. “So what difference does it make to you?” Indeed, the two were becoming good friends, almost as good as they were when they were children. But their most common topic of discussion was, of course, the matchmaker.

“I’m sure she’ll be back soon, sire,” said Jean as she gathered up some of the king’s laundry.

“I don’t know,” said Roderick, slightly embarrassed at Jean’s picking up after him. “What if she comes back and couldn’t find anyone? I knew I should’ve picked deaf instead of blind!”

“In the first place, I would’ve said blind, too. Secondly, your majesty is being ridiculous. You’re worrying about nothing. My father used to say worry is just a waste of imagination. Besides, I’m sure there are hundreds of princesses and duchesses and countesses out there who would love to be your queen.”

“You really think there’s someone out there for me?”

“Of course, your majesty.” As she was leaving for the laundry room she added, softer than the king could hear, “And if not out there…maybe in here.”

Well, it turned out that the king’s fears about Gwendolyn not being able to find someone were not well-founded as she returned with close on to fifty beautiful damsels. It was decided that a great ball would be held so that the king could get to know them all. It was the grandest ball in all the land. The guests all looked gorgeous, the foremost musicians (and even one or two of the fivemost) were on hand to entertain and the finest food and wine from all over the world was served. It was, in short, THE social event of this or any other season. In fact, the name given to the ball was derived from an old word meaning “great gathering of people with food, drink and music” which was pronounced “Party.”

Yeah. That’s where that comes from. Yeah. Really. Not really.

Basically, it was the best celebration ever and there was only one thing missing: The king. The king was hiding in the kitchen where he surprised Jean, who had come in to get more punch to serve to the guests. “Sire, what are you doing in here? Shouldn’t you be out enjoying your Bride-Finding Ball?”

“I know, but I can’t stand it out there. All those strange women throwing themselves at me.”

“Yeah, I can see where that might get annoying.” Sarcasm, like the questionaire, was a recent invention, so the king didn’t quite understand. “Sire, the whole point of this ball was for you to find the woman you want to marry.”

“I know, I know. It’s just…All these women are wearing these fancy gowns and shiny jewels and acting regal and they expect me to do the same. They’re all here to dance with the king, not me. They care more about my crown than I do. I’m sure these are all perfectly nice and interesting women,” (he was wrong, by the way, only about four of them were nice and/or interesting, the other forty-two being just as vapid and shallow as they seemed), “but I can’t imagine spending a Sunday morning with any one of them. I can’t even have a conversation with them because all they want to talk about is how many acres their fathers own or how many knights have died in their name.”

“They brag about that?”

“Yeah, it’s messed up. They’re all beautiful and rich elegant but none of them are…well, real. Maybe this whole thing was a mistake.”

“Sire, can I tell you what my father told my brother on the day he left home to find his own bride?”

“What’s that?”

“He said, ‘the best advice I can give you regarding love is the only advice anyone really needs: Be yourself.’ That’s true of peasants as well as kings, sire. It doesn’t matter if you don’t marry a single one of those vapid, dolled-up, overstuffed, overdressed peanhens out there who wouldn’t look a serving girl in the eye if her hair was on fire.”

“That sounded a little personal toward the end there.”

“Regardless! What matters is that you’re honest with yourself and others. What matters is that you just be yourself.”

Eventually, Roderick did return to the party, put on a brave face and even danced with a few of the girls, but the whole time he didn’t act like “King Roderick” he just acted like…Roderick. He talked about things that made him happy and didn’t even mention his wealth and power. This made the guests a little unhappy because his wealth and power were the things about him they were most interested in. To make a long, awkward story short, the party ended with all of the glamorous guests leaving unengaged.

“Well, Gwendolyn,” said the king the following morning. “It seems you’ve finally failed.”

“No, I didn’t, sire,” said Gwendolyn. “I’m just here to collect the remainder of my fee and then I’ll move on.”

“What? But none of the women you invited were right for me.”

“I know. That’s why I invited them.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Sire, I looked at your questionaire and despaired of ever finding you a princess who would be right for you. Then, your maid, Jean came in the room, and I realized what I had to do. I went out and invited all those princesses and duchesses and countesses to force you to confront how phoney and pointless all this is and get you to be yourself for once. As I knew you would, you went straight where your heart led you: to your best friend and closest confidant, Jean the maid.”


“Haven’t you figured it out, sire? I gave you almost fifty gorgeous, wealthy, powerful young women to choose from, and the only one you wanted to talk to was your chambermaid. Doesn’t that tell you anything? Haven’t you figured out Rule #1 yet?”

It did and he had. Roderick paid Gwendolyn the remainder of her fee and she departed to find matches for the forty-six women who came to the party. She made a mint off of them and retired early to live out the rest of her days in luxury and comfort.

That very same day, Roderick summoned up every last ounce of his courage and asked Jean if she would have dinner with him. She accepted, of course, and thus began a wonderful romance which led, as we all knew it would, to marriage and family. Of course, it was a terrific scandal, a king marrying an (ugh!) commoner and a servant at that. Lord Ravenhurst and the council were shocked and tried desperately to talk him out of it, but failed. The servants despised Jean (thought that was probably more jealousy than anything else) but she let them. Neither Roderick nor Jean cared what anyone else said. They were done living to please others. And they lived very happily ever after, as we are all sure to if we only remember Rule #1: Be yourself!


NEXT WEEK: "The Three Sillies"