This is the fifth section of my story “The Rose in Twelve Petals.” If you would like to see the previous sections, look below!
What is the girl doing? Playing at tug-of-war, evidently, and far too close to the stream. She’ll tear her dress on the rosebushes. Careless, these young people, thinks the Queen Dowager. And who is she playing with? Young Lord Harry, who will one day be Count of Edinburgh. The Queen Dowager is proud of her keen eyesight and will not wear spectacles, although she is almost sixty-three.
What a pity the girl is so plain. The Queen Dowager jabs her needle into a black velvet slipper. Eyes like boiled gooseberries that always seem to be staring at you, and no discipline. Now in her day, thinks the Queen Dowager, remembering backboards and nuns who rapped your fingers with canes, in her day girls had discipline. Just look at the Queen: no discipline. Two miscarriages in ten years, and dead before her thirtieth birthday. Of course linen is so much cheaper now that the kingdoms are united. But if only her Jims (which is how she thinks of the King) could have married that nice German princess.
She jabs the needle again, pulls it out, jabs, knots. She holds up the slipper and then its pair, comparing the roses embroidered on each toe in stitches so even they seem to have been made by a machine. Quite perfect for her Jims, to keep his feet warm on the drafty palace floors.
A tearing sound, and a splash. The girl, of course, as the Queen Dowager could have warned you. Just look at her, with her skirt ripped up one side and her petticoat muddy to the knees.
“I do apologize, Madam. I assure you it’s entirely my fault,” says Lord Harry, bowing with the superfluous grace of a dancing master.
“It is all your fault,” says the girl, trying to kick him.
“Alice!” says the Queen Dowager. Imagine the Queen wanting to name the girl Elaine. What a name, for a Princess of Britannia.
“But he took my book of poems and said he was going to throw it into the stream!”
“I’m perfectly sure he did no such thing. Go to your room at once. This is the sort of behavior I would expect from a chimney sweep.”
“Then tell him to give my book back!”
Lord Harry bows again and holds out the battered volume. “It was always yours for the asking, your Highness.”
Alice turns away, and you see what the Queen Dowager cannot, despite her keen vision: Alice’s eyes, slightly prominent, with irises that are indeed the color of gooseberries, have turned red at the corners, and her nose has begun to drip.
(Illustration by Margaret Tarrant.)