Stories for Children
The Unhappy Princess
One of several stories written many years ago for my daughters
A long time ago
A long time ago in a land no longer remembered, there was a kingdom in which lived the saddest princess in all the world.
Why was she so unhappy? I'll tell you, but you may be surprised to hear it, for her sadness did not concern the things that make most unhappy. After all, she had all that a person might ever want; lived in the grandest palace to have ever been built; had servants to do all the things she didn’t like to do herself (like the dishes, making the bed, sweeping the floor). She had friends who cared for her and parents who loved her, and on top of all this she was healthy, well educated, and every month went on a holiday somewhere different.
But let us see if you can guess the root of her sadness as I tell her story.
Not all the story, mind you, for that would take far too long. So I will begin with the day that changed her life. It was the day before she was to turn sixteen.
Marigold, as normal, was sad. Sitting at her bedroom window, she looked out upon the magnificent city below; although she didn’t think it magnificent at all; she thought it quite a bore. Still in her dressing gown, because she couldn’t be bothered getting dressed, Marigold sat and waited for her breakfast to be brought to her, because she couldn’t be bothered going to the breakfast room to eat (Yes, they had a room just for breakfast in this palace).
When the knock came on her door, she whispered 'Enter' in a soft, sad voice.
The maid who entered was a cheerful young girl by the name of Bess. Walking across the room with a big happy smile, and placed the tray of hot porridge, peaches, jam, toast and fresh cherry juice on the small table beside the princess
With a practised curtsy she said, ‘Good morning your highness. Isn’t it a wonderful day. And such a beautiful view of it from your window’, she said this while glancing appreciatively past the princesses shoulder.
The princess looked at Bess with envy, wondering again at the maid's incessant cheerfulness. A glimpse of her troubled reflection in the silver of the breakfast tray further reminded her of the difference between them. She, always so sad, while Bess, a servant with none of the fine things the princess enjoyed, constantly smiling. Why?
‘Oh it’s alright I suppose.’ Marigold replied with a shrug, not thinking it very fine at all.
Bess looked at the princess, and possibly because she was young and ignorant of how best to speak to royalty, said, ‘Princess Marigold, you are always so sad, and you have nothing to be sad about. You have so much of everything. What is it that makes you so glum? My Mum says she knows, but she won’t tell me.’
At first, Marigold was cross, angered at being spoken to in such a way by a simple servant girl. Yet on hearing that Bess’s mother knew why she was sad, she became intrigued; longing to be happier but never knowing the how of it.
‘Go to your mother and tell her to come to me at once. Go quickly’, Marigold commanded the now unsmiling Bess.
Bess curtsied briskly and hurried off, afraid that she may have got her mother into trouble.
She found her Ma in the castle kitchens where she worked as chief cook. Her job was to ensure a smooth-running kitchen and servants that did their jobs well. She was a large lady with a rosy face that always smiled and a caring manner that helped bring the best out on people. Nevertheless, when Bess came up to share what Princess Marigold had said, her smile fell away. Yet she did not scold Bess for her loose lips, but replied with a sigh, ‘Oh well, maybe good can come of this.’ And together Bess and her mother Rosy (for that was her name, as well as the colour of her cheeks), went to see the princess.
Princess Marigold, though higher born, felt awkward before Bess’s mother, finding difficultly in her presence to speak all that was on her mind. So Rosy, ever an intuitive woman and well understanding of people, said, ‘Your highness wants to ask me why you are so sad, yes?’
The princess nodded, becoming self-conscious as a tear formed in her eye.
Ignoring the tear, Rosy said, ‘Well Princess, to tell you the truth, telling you won’t help at all. Sometimes the only way to find the truth of something is to do something and not just hear of it. So if you want to understand your sadness, you must do what I suggest. Can you accept this?’
Bemused, the princess paused, unsure if she agreed or not. However, finally, she nodded, her tear falling to the floor.
‘Very well then’, said Rosy, ‘You must come and work with me in the kitchens for three weeks. You must work as a servant mind you, not a princess, doing what I say without argument and fulfilling all the chores of a kitchen maid. By the end of this time, I believe you will know why you are sad, and will also have learnt an important secret to happiness.
At first, the princess was shocked. ‘Me, a servant!’ she said. Yet after reflection, she agreed (for this secret she much wanted to know).
At Rosie’s suggestion, she got dressed in some work clothes that once belonging to Bess’s older sister. So different she looked in the old clothes, that Rosy was sure none of the palace servants would recognise her. Then, together, they went to the kitchens.
The first of Marigold's tasks was to collect all the dirty breakfast dishes from all the rooms in the large palace, Forty-seven in all. Bess helped her in this, and still, it took them several hours. However, this did not make Marigold happy, for she chipped one of her long fine fingernails and immediately began to complain. Until that is, Bess revealed her fingernails, all of which were chipped and dirty from hard work.
For her next job, Marigold was told to wash all the dishes. Again Bess helped her, but it still took them a whole hour. This definitely didn’t make Marigold happy, for her hands looked like raisins by the end, all wrinkled after being in the water for so long. Again she complained until Bess showed her own hands which were covered in hard, rough calluses from constant hard work.
After this, Marigold had lunch. All the servants gathered together to eat around the large kitchen table. Marigold couldn’t wait, she had never been so hungry in all her life (hard work gives you an appetite), and, being a Tuesday, she was looking forward to the pancakes with cranberry sauce, crab salad, and plum tart dessert (that being what she normally had on Tuesdays). Therefore she was not happy at all when on the table was placed a large tray containing only sliced and buttered bread, apples and a jug of water.
The princess complained until Bess hushed her, whispering in her ear that this is what they had every day for lunch, and that to complain about ones food would result in going without; by her mothers rule. Marigold suppressed annoyance by biting her lip.
Grace was given and then everyone ate, and Marigold was surprised to find that, though simple, the food was exceptionally tasty; in fact, she was so hungry she enjoyed it more than any meal she could remember eating.
After lunch, Marigold went to find a place to lay down to rest as she normally did. But as you might have guessed by now, this was not allowed of a servant. Rosy even scolded her for it; for servants have no time to rest after lunch. Instead, she was told to go and help Bess prepare the potatoes for dinner.
For the next two hours, she sat with the cheerful Bess and peeled potatoes. But this did not make her happy. She achieved cutting herself three times with the sharp knife and her fingers ached from all the peeling. She complained about this until Bess showed all the little scars on her own hands, and told her how her mother could no longer peel potatoes because her hands were too painful and weak from having peeled so many.
For all that day the young princess was kept busy working hard. That night she returned to her bedroom exhausted, having never done any work in her life before. She would have complained, but there was nobody to complain to and she was so sleepy, her eyes quickly closed and she slept.
She was gently awoken by Bess the next morning before the sun had risen.
‘Princess Marigold, we have to start preparing breakfast for the palace.’
Marigold was annoyed at being woken hours before normal and was just about to complain. Instead, however, she looked at Bess and asked, ‘Do you have to get up at this time every morning?’
‘Yes Miss.’ Bess cheerfully replied, ‘But I’ve come to like it. It’s so peaceful in the morning, and the air so crisp. Then there are the birds, they sing such a pretty tune to greet the sun.’
Marigold said nothing, but she promised herself not to complain anymore in front of Bess. For in truth the poor maid had it much harder than the princess, yet she never complained.
That day was harder than the first for the young princess, her body still sore and tired from the previous day. However, she kept her promise and did not complain.
By the end of the first week, Marigold found it easier to get up early. She no longer cut herself while peeling potatoes (not often anyway), and could now do most of the tasks given her without help. She had even begun to look forward to mealtimes. The other servants were always very kind and talked about such interesting things, which was a pleasant change for Marigold; her noble friends talked only of clothes, court gossip, and of course themselves.
In the second week, Rosy taught Marigold how to make soup with croutons, how to whip cream and make butter, and how to bake an apple & walnut loaf. However, it was also time to scrub down the kitchen floor, which was by far the hardest job she’s had to do; so hard, that she even broke her promise and complained, until Bess pulled up her skirts to reveal her calloused knees, thickened from many sessions at cleaning the floor. Marigold felt ashamed. Ashamed that her life had been so easy while others had it so hard. Yet, like Bess, Marigold noticed all the servants seemed content. She pondered over this.
By the third week, the princess no longer required waking, once even getting up before all the other servants. On that day, she went outside and listened to the birds sing their greeting to the sun, breathing in the crisp air while enjoying a silence only interrupted by the bird's wondrous chorus. It was there, for the first time in three weeks, she realised she didn’t feel sad. In fact, she felt quite good. However, she didn’t know why, though she sat there thinking about it until Rosy called her to begin her chores.
That week, Marigold learnt how to prepare roast duck, how to make chocolate mousse and salad dressing. She had made some very good friends by this time and chatted quite easily with them about all sorts of things. She was no longer sore from the hard work, feeling, in fact, very well. She still hated some of the jobs, but discovered that if one didn’t think about how hard they were, but instead just got stuck in and did them, they seemed to get done quicker. She also learnt Bess’s trick of doing the hardest jobs first, leaving the rest of the day with only the easy things.
Finally, the three weeks were over and it was time to go back to being a princess. That night she gave all her new friends a hug and went to bed. Sitting in bed she thought about all the things she’d learnt, how different life had been in the past weeks; and with these thoughts, she went to sleep.
While she slept the princess had a dream. In her dream stood two girls, one was Bess and the other herself. She was surrounded by all the things that a girl might desire; beautiful clothes, jewellery, cute baby animals and perfumed flowers; a king’s treasures, gifts, & finery. Bess, on the other hand, had very little; only that which was needed and no more. Yet in the dream the more Marigold had the more she wanted, the more she wanted, the less satisfied she became, and all the time she received all these things, she just sat and did nothing, sad and miserable. Bess, while with much less, was smiling, treasuring every item that was hers, while at the same time always busy doing something, and most often it was for others.
Marigold suddenly woke up from the dream and sprang to her feet. ‘I know the secret she shouted’, and quickly putting on her dressing gown ran to Rosy & Bess’s bedroom. Waking them up she smiled and said, ‘I know the secret, I know the secret.’
Rosy smiled back while Bess lit a fire in the hearth. ‘That is good my dear, now tell me what you learnt.’ Rosy said
‘I learnt that two of the secrets to happiness are, firstly: Being content with what you have, and second: Living a productive life. For happiness does not come to the one who has an abundance of things, but to the one who is satisfied with what he has. And happiness does not come to the one who only relies on others to meet his needs, but to him who contributes to his and others lives also.’
At this, Rosy gave the princess a tremendous hug and said, ‘You have truly learnt an important lesson, one learnt well because it was experienced. You were a sad young princess because you had never been denied what you wanted, getting everything given to you at your whim. This only spoils a child, just as too much sugar does spoil the cake. And having been given everything, you never learnt the joy that can come from work and earning one's way in life. In seeing others with less but still happy, you discovered that life is not about things, but people. And in working with them, you discovered the joy to be found in working together.
Marigold never forget the lessons learnt in Rosie's kitchen, and many years later, when she was all grown and then queen of her country, it was agreed that she was the best, wisest and happiest ruler any in the country could remember having, a servant to her subjects, and they to her.