The Princess and the Pea
"Sensitive". It's one of those vogue words. There are sensitive issues, and sensitive areas, and sensitive situations. Critics praise sensitive playing by musicians, and chemists mix formulas to protect sensitive skins.
Are you a sensitive person? I hope so . . . though not as sensitive as the beautiful young girl who knocked one night on a palace door.
The rain was falling in sheets, and the wind blew like a banshee. Her clothes were in tatters, and her long hair dripped and ran with water. She looked a wreck, standing there shivering with cold. At least, that's what the Important Personage who opened the door thought. What was her business, he demanded. She'd come in answer to an advertisement for a one hundred percent genuine princess. Unlimited opportunities for the right royal person. Salary for satisfactory performance of the usual duties, to be negotiated.
The Important Personage frowned. He'd ushered off the premises a great number of applicants for the post. And how could this tattered, miserable waif hope to qualify where so many had failed? He was just about to shut the door when he noticed that the rain was running down into the toes of her shoes and out again at the heels. Something about the face of the shivering girl touched him, and he drew her inside.
An hour later, warmer, drier, and altogether more comfortable, she was standing in front of the Queen Mother, for that lady would trust nobody else with the business of selecting her son's bride, and her own successor.
But how do you tell a genuine princess, from someone pretending to have royal blood in her veins? Well, the wily old Queen knew a trick or two. She offered the girl a bed for the night. And while she was in the bathroom brushing her teeth, the bedding was lifted off the bed and the Queen laid one pea on the mattress. Then twenty mattresses were piled, one above the other, over the pea. Then twenty eider-down beds were set on top of the mattresses. With the help of a ladder, the princess (if that's what she really was) climbed to the top of her mountainous bed, and a servant blew out the candles.
In the morning, the girl was asked how she had slept. Her eyes were red and puffy, and the bed-clothes were twisted into knots. "Terribly!" she said. "I hardly closed my eyes all night. Heaven knows what was in the bed, but I was lying on something so hard I'm black and blue all over." And she was.
And then everyone knew she was a real princess. Because only a genuine princess could feel one pea through twenty mattresses, and twenty eider-down beds. . . .
Actually these days, what with shrinking overseas markets, a depressed economy, the invention of the microchip, and all that new computer technology, there isn't much demand for true-blue-tender princesses. And nobody, not even Queen Mothers, can afford to own twenty mattresses, and twenty eider-down beds. Let alone servants to blow out the candles.
But oh, how we need Important Personages who are sensitive enough not to turn away a shivering girl. Who can see the rain water running down into the toes of someone's shoes, and out again at the heels. Who will open their doors to vagrants and victims, the oppressed, the lonely, the unemployed, the helpless. Who will imitate that other Important Person, who once sensed the mere touch of a desperate woman in the press and throng of a crowd, and turned at once to identify, to comfort, and to heal her.
© Colin Gibson