“The Prince is ill, or at least he has been.”
Bonnie took a long sip of her tea and continued to warm her hands by the cottage fire.
“Oh Bonnie, Prince Theodore of course!”
“Oh him! Goodness, that happened all of a sudden didn’t it?”
“As far as I have heard dear.”
“Would you like a drop more tea Mother?”
“Yes please dear.”
Bonnie grabbed a cloth, wrapping it around the corner of the teapot handle and proceeded to pour her Mother Maira, some more tea.
“So what happened to this Prince Theodore then? I thought he was to be engaged, at least that is the last I heard of it.”
“He was very briefly. But some little birds tell me that he is no longer.”
“My! That was quick, I wonder what happened? Who was the girl?”
“Miss Jane Mallis.”
“What dear, you know of her?”
“Well do tell me Bonnie, what makes you speak of her in such a sullen manner?”
“Where do I begin? I will never forget the day when she laughed in some unfortunate woman’s face.”
“Was she alone?”
“Oh no! Prince Theodore was at her side.”
“My goodness, whatever did he say to her?”
“Nothing, he looked embarrassed I think, but then just let her get away with it. The poor woman almost cried out of embarrassment! Oh it does not matter, I’m sorry to hear that the wee prince is ill and broken hearted.”
Maira wandered through the small town, purchasing a small selection of fruit and vegetables from one of the many stalls. She turned to walk home, where Bonnie was making supper and as she did so, something caught her eye.
‘Wanted: A local reader is required for HRH Prince Theodore. Someone aged 15-30 years is preferable. Auditions are to be held on Saturday at Noon. Please meet at the castle wall by the watchman’s hut to be escorted to your destination.”
Maira gasped,snatching a copy of it and running home, banging on the front door. “Bonnie! Bonita!”
Bonnie placed down the chopping knife. “Mother! I nearly cut my fingers off! Why are you wailing like a wee banshee?”
“A wee banshee indeed! Look here Bonnie, you must read this.”
“Oh, very well then! Oh I see, it’s an advertisement and it’s for the Palace.”
“Yes dear, I dare say that it will pay well and we need the money, badly.”
“I despise money! Have you lost your marbles Mother? I cannot read to a Prince, this is very silly!”
“Will you listen to yourself Bonnie! You have given up before you have even begun my dear!”
“Mother, we are practically paupers.”
“I think you have given up before you have even begun.”
“Oh for goodness sake! Let me see this advertisement properly then!”
Bonnie snatched the piece of paper from her Mother’s grasp and scanned over it.
“Hmmm, I don’t know. What do you know of this Prince Theodore?”
“Very little dear.”
“Nothing at all? I don’t think I have ever seen him.”
“Well, his health has been poor.”
“Is he the young man with the auburn hair?”
“Yes dear, that is him.”
“He is lucky, mine is far more gingery and I hate it. I would love auburn hair, it is such a beautiful colour. I wonder what he looks like now.”
“Audition and you shall see.”
“Mother sit down at the table, the soup is ready. I have eaten so much soup lately, that I am afraid that it might spill out of my wee ears!”
“Well if you are a reader then perhaps we shall be afford to have a pig and then we will be able to have smoked meat this winter.”
Bonnie stood up abruptly, gazing out of the window.
“Oh heavens! What is Andrew doing? That boy!” Bonnie flung open the front door, pulled on her hobnail boots and marched outside .
“Bonnie! Oh Bonnie I am so happy to see you.”
“What have you been up to you wee ragamuffin?”
“Nothing. I was just walking home from school.”
“Hmm, do you have much homework?”
“Ah, is that all? I dare say that I could make you some more.”
“No! Oh Bonnie, you are so lucky! Why don’t you go to school?”
“Andrew, I am a lady now.”
“Now you are grown up you are so…. Boring!”
“Boring! I’ll box your ears my boy. Now go inside!”
Maira held open the door for them both, shaking her head.
“What are you both like! Goodness Bonita, you wouldn’t really box your brother’s ears now, would you?”
“Now, I don’t know. Oh no of course I wouldn’t spud! Now eat your soup like a good little boy!”
“It is like having two mothers.” Andrew grumbled, chewing on a chunk of carrot.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full!” Bonnie scolded. Andrew sighed, eating the rest of his meal in complete silence.
“Your Grace, you have had more colour in your cheeks today. It is lovely to see.”
“Howard, what time is it?”
“Oh, do I really?”
“Yes. Will you dine t with your parents this evening? They plan to eat in another half an hour.”
“I’d rather not.”
“Your Father insists upon it.”
“My Father? Why, I have barely spoken to him of late, he always seems so keen to remove himself from my company.”
“Your Grace, he is a busy man.”
“What a useless excuse!”
“He has many royal engagements to attend and…”
“Engagements…” Theodore parroted, growing very pale. Howard swallowed. Oh Lord, he had put his foot in it this time. Theodore said nothing, reaching for the couch, he sat upon it, running his fingers over the arm.
“I-I am sorry your Grace, what a foolish thing to say, please accept my humble apology.”
“Oh for goodness sake! It does not matter, go away and tell my blasted parents that I shall join them in 5 minutes I wouldn’t want to keep the King and Queen waiting any longer would I?”
“And stop stuttering like a fool.” Howard swallowed, bowed and backed out of the door. Theodore sighed. ‘Oh what a horrid thing to say.’
“Howard? Are you still there? Oh I am sorry.” Silence, blast! He was not there to accept, or even hear his apology.
Theodore crept into the bathroom, washed again and returned to his bedroom. He reached forwards for the banister, holding onto it with both hands and slowly made his way down the staircase.
“Here, this must be him.” He overheard his Mother say and felt a soft, reassuring hand upon his back.
“We are both delighted that you have joined us. Here sit down and I shall hand you your napkin”
“And then what shall you do? Cut up my food for me? I am no longer 5 years of age!”
Queen Evangeline said nothing, while Theodore successfully placed a forkful of soup into his mouth.
“Here is the butter for your bread roll.”
He bit into it and chewed, the dry carbohydrate catching in his throat and scratching it. He took a small sip of tea, feeling full already. He placed the bread down.
“Now my boy, how goes life?” King Rupert asked heartily. Queen Evangeline shook her head, tapping his foot with hers.
“Life?” Theodore parroted, half-dazed. “If you can call it that.” He said no more, shaking his head. Queen Evangeline glared at her husband. King Rupert shrugged.
“So erm, the weather has not been so great of late has it?” King Rupert suggested.
“The hailstones came down quite violently before.” Queen Evangeline added.
“Well, I wouldn’t know would I? So I barely feel like I can contribute.”
“Did you hear them dear, out of your window?”
“Yes, I suppose I did.”
“Perhaps you should go outside, Howard was saying earlier that he would very much like to take a stroll with you tomorrow, of course.”
“Stop telling me what to do Mother!” Theodore screwed up his napkin and placing it upon the table.
“I have eaten all I can! I am excusing myself, enjoy your romantic Dinner together!” Theodore reached for the door handle, opening it and closing it behind him.
“That did NOT go well!” Queen Evangeline hissed.
“Yes, I gathered.”
“Well, what shall we do?”
“This is your doing woman! If you didn’t try and molly coddle him so much, none of this would have happened. He is becoming a perfectly horrid human being and we need to put a stop to it. Yes he is blind and I feel for him, but that is not an excuse for him to behave in the way that he does. He is 20 years old for heavens sake, he is a gentleman and it’s high time that he started behaving like one.”
“What are you saying?”
“He is becoming a self centred and bitter human being! He is lucky to be alive, he received the best care throughout his illness, you know how much Mr Dickinson costs! Yes he is one of the best Physicians in the country, but our son is ungrateful and he is selfish!”
“Darling! Theodore is heart broken, can you not see what Miss Mallis has done to him? She has broken his heart and now he we are left with the damaged product that she has left behind! I hope that this reader is a good one, one who can actually cope with him. I hope that he does not frighten them away! Oh where has he gone?”
“Don’t go after him!”
“No, I hadn’t planned to. I just hope that he will come to his senses. You must remember, he is still not well my dear, Give him time to heal.”
“Now what about this homework of yours?”
“Oh Bonnie, I don’t want to! Must I?”
“Yes Andrew, come along and do it. It will only take half an hour or so and then I shall read to you. Does that sound like a plan?”
“I suppose so.”
“Very well then, have you your slate?”
“Good. Ah there are only 10 sums, we shall fly through them in no time. Now then, what is three times twelve?”
“Ummm; three, six, nine….”
“You’d be best doing your twelve times table, it would be much easier.”
“But it is so hard!”
“I shall help you; twelve, what’s next?”
“Umm, twenty four?”
“Yes, so add another twelve.”
Andrew looked at her blankly. “Add ten.”
“Right, now add another two.”
“Thirty six! Oh that is the answer and you knew it all along. You are clever Bonnie!” Bonnie beamed with pride.
“Now then, that only took about two minutes, let’s answer these other questions. You are doing very well indeed. Here Andrew, it is cold, keep persevering with your work and I shall make us all a cup of tea.”
Maira smiled, glancing up from the stocking she was darning. “Lovely dear and Andrew, you are doing well, your sister is going to make a fine teacher one day.”
“Bonnie hurry up and make that tea will you!”
“Ha! You funny boy, hold your horses, I am in the process of brewing it now.”
“Is Prince Theodore very handsome? If you are chosen to read to him, will you fall in love with him and then live happily ever after?”
“My goodness ! I don’t think so!”
“Bonnie, I think I am finished.”
“Oh good, shall I check it for you before you put it in your bag?”
“Ah you have done very well and so quickly too. Yes they are all correct! Well done my dear, now off you go to bed. Don’t forget to wash behind your ears.”
“You are so bossy Bonnie!”
“Good!” She laughed. “Bed.”
“You are so good with him my dear, I don’t think he could have done that homework without you.”
“Ah well, I am always glad to be of help.”
“Bonnie, promise me that you will audition on Saturday.”
“Oh yes! Of course I will Mother. I wont let you down!”
“I know. Oh will you pick up Aggie, she is not to climb on the table, I have already told you that!”
“Oh heavens! Aggie you little monkey, come here!” Bonnie grasped the tortoise shell cat and placed her on the floor. “Oh dear pet, I think you are hungry, here, I will get you a saucer of milk and crumble some bread into it.”
Theodore inhaled deeply. He rubbed his chest with his right hand, how tight it felt still. He undid another button on his shirt, sitting alone in the tranquillity of his bedroom at his dresser. ‘How ugly I must look’, he thought, placing his head upon the oak table, a tear running down his cheek. He wiped it away and took a deep breath, running a comb through his hair. The truth was, Theodore wanted very much to venture outside. He hated the vastness of the palace, longing to smell the outdoor smells, but he was too afraid to do it alone. He heard a knock on the door.
“Sir, I know that you did not much like your Mother’s suggestion of taking a walk, but I wondered if you might change your mind if I were to go with you tomorrow.”
“No, Howard, tomorrow is your afternoon off, you must go home and see your family.”
“It will not matter if I arrive at my Sister’s an hour later than usual.”
“Thank you Howard, it was a nice thing of you to suggest, but I shall decline your offer.”
“Ah, I see you are tired.”
“I am a little.”
“I am not the best of readers but I know some poetry. I write Limericks too.”
“You do? I have never heard it. Pray recite some.”
“Very well, it isn’t particularly good but…”
“I shall decide Howard.”
“Yes your Grace, although you might think them foolish.”
“No please, go on.”
“There once was a king of Brazil who ate more than his fill, he ate and ate and cleared his plate and befriended a daffodil.”
Theodore smiled a little. “Ha! That was one of the most random things I have ever heard. Howard, you have a way with words. Do you write them down at all?”
“No your Grace.”
“Well, then you should.”
“What shall I wear to this reading audition?”
“Oh just your nice Sunday dress.”
“I shall look like a common beggar compared to the other girls!”
“Nonsense! But darling, don’t forget to practice the passage you intend to read.”
“Polish your boots too.”
“Mother, the audition is on Saturday! It is two days away. I will spruce them up tomorrow night I promise.”
“Oh and let me put your hair in rags.”
“I hate it that way.”
“I know dear, but it’s just for one day.”
“Very well then, if you think that it will improve this unruly red mop of mine.”
“Well pet, if you brushed it every night, 100 times like I tell you to, it would be in better condition.”
“Oh Mum , it makes my hair feel so awful. No, 15 times is quite enough for my hair!”
“Mother I shall be so embarrassed, I don’t think he’ll be able to understand my accent!”
“Well read slowly then and annunciate your vowels.”
“You should maybe rethink the pace at which you read.”
“Hmm, yes I agree.”
“Don’t be scared my love! The royal family wont bite you! Just think, soon you shall be reading before a real Prince.”
“That’s enough of that. Look what a lovely day it is. When you go, you should pick him some flowers. No one can resist a beautiful bouquet of sweet pea.”
“Mother, he is blind!”
“Yes, but his sense of smell will be stronger than ever.”
“I suppose so. Yes he might like that, it is worth a try.”
“Where is Theodore, Howard?”
“In his room.”
“He is in bed early, it is only 9pm.”
“As far as I am aware, he is fully dressed, or he was the last time I saw him.”
“Oh good. What was he doing?”
“He told me that he’d like to hear some poetry earlier.”
“Ah, now that is a step forward. Thank you Howard, my goodness is that the time? You are excused immediately and you must return home to your family, I insist and you must take Theodore’s horse as he has not been ridden for so long.”
“Thank you ma’am for your kindness. I hope that he does not mind.”
“No,no. He will be pleased.”
Howard fetched his coat from his servants quarters and paced to the stables. He approached the horse, stroking her fine mane.
“I don’t know when your master shall ride you again. You need exercise don’t you? Well, if his majesty does not object, I will ride you from time to time.” He placed his small bundle of clothes in front of him and rode, homeward bound.
To be continued…
©Sophie Bowns 2011-2014