This is the answer, by author Ilena Holder, to the challenge to take a well-known story and retell it from a different point of view. Enjoy!
The Princess and the Pea and Jeeves
(with apologies to Hans Christian Anderson)
Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I waddled through the dim corridor to the castle door. Ramming my toe into a suit of armor, I winced and cursed beneath my breath. If only the skinflint old queen would put out a few night-lights this wouldn’t happen.
“Eh, who’s there?” I squinted through the peephole into the darkness. Whoever was on the other side would probably know I couldn’t see them through the rain. It was just bluster on my part.
“It’s me, Princess Quatrina. I’ve been separated from my family and require food and lodging.”
She sounded royal enough, so I opened the door a crack. If she tried anything funny, I would unleash the wolfhounds.
She stood at the servants’ entrance with dripping hair and a wet cloak. Her thin leather slippers were smeared with mud. Her already pale English complexion was even whiter under my lantern glow. She didn’t look too regal but she had great posture even under the weight of her sodden cloak.
“Oh, all right. Please enter.” I stepped aside to let her dart in. As she stood next to me, I was skeptical of her lineage but still sensed she wasn’t dangerous.
“I know you’re probably cold. I’ll find you a bed in the maids’ quarters and they’ll provide you with some towels to dry with and some suitable sleepwear. I’ll notify the king and queen when they rise in the morning.”
I knew there was nothing else to do until sunrise. I rang a bell for the maid and as soon as she appeared, I handed off the young woman to her. Just to be careful, I got an empty cot from the maids’ quarters and maneuvered it to the doorway of their room. I would spend the rest of the night myself blocking them in so no one would wander around,
At the first crack of light, I woke the maid and whispered to her that I was going to awaken Prince Peachey and tell him about the visitor. He was always interested in local young maidens. The man was burdened with finding a suitable mate. He had traveled far and wide in Fredonia but all the eligible princesses either had bad manners or were too homely.
“What does she look like? What is her name?” He sat up in bed, suddenly intrigued. I apologized and said she was wet and dirty, so I had no clue as to her grooming. I did mention her name, and his brow furrowed as he thought about it. Prince Peachey wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.
“How soon can I see her?”
“I’ll get the maids to prepare a bath for her. They’ll wash her clothing and dry her shoes, but for the time being she’ll have to wear some loaned things.”
“Fine, I’ll tell the King and Queen about her at breakfast. Perhaps by lunch we can be introduced.” He smiled and rubbed his hands. “What color is her hair?”
“I don’t know Sir. It was wet and muddy. It could be any color.”
Returning to the maids’ quarters I left them instructions to get the young woman presentable by lunch. Next I trotted up the marble stairs to notify the Queen’s lady in waiting that we had a visitor, a possible royal. Prince Peachey’s idea of waiting until later in the morning didn’t sound too wise.
Then I scurried back to the ground floor to rustle up breakfast for myself. I had a feeling it would be a long day.
While I buttered my third piece of toast, I heard the queen’s roar. Within a minute, she tottered down the stairs in her embroidered slippers.
“Where is she?” Her eyes darted to and fro.
“In the maids’ quarters your Majesty.”
Bowling past me, she flung open the kitchen door and stormed off to the maids’ area. I could just imagine the scene inside. Wisely, I stayed where I was.
Soon the entire household was in an uproar. The king appeared, befuddled and with his hair sticking up at all angles. Prince Peachy was next; he had combed his hair and tossed on his around-the-house royal togs.
The red-faced queen emerged from the maids’ room and headed to the royal dining room. I could hear the cook scrambling around with pots and pans. Soon they were eating and I edged closer to the door to overhear their talk. Being a butler had its privileges.
Prince Peachy was all a-twitter. He commented how wonderful it would be if the girl was a keeper and wouldn’t you know it, all the government paid for trips he had gone on were useless. A suitable woman may have sauntered up to the castle unannounced! Glory be!
As was his wont, the King stayed neutral.
The Queen pounced on a plan. She had no need of the royal advisors on this one, she dreamed it up herself.
“I’ll get the butler to fix a bed for her tonight. If she passes my test she can stay. This is foolproof!”
I let out a low groan. Oh no, more work for the butler. I was looking forward to a day off; all the royals had been planning to go off grouse hunting. Now it looked like they would all the hanging around the castle.
Brushing off the crumbs and wiping the orange marmalade from my mustache, I readied myself in case any of them entered the kitchen.
Princess Quatrina curtsied to the queen. The emerald gown they gave her went so well with her long Titian hair. So far so good, she knew her etiquette. They all watched her with hooded eyes.
Soon the questions started.
Where are your parents? Kidnapped, I managed to escape.
What country were they from? Frostland, to the north.
How old are you? Twenty.
The queen had the cook prepare soup and some other messy foods so she could observe the young woman’s table manners. And on and on it went until almost four o’clock. One of the maids told me I had to prepare a guest bedroom. Quatrina wouldn’t sleep with the maids tonight. The first rule was to select a room with an extra sturdy bedframe. Yes, yes, the one we always used for porcine heads of state.
She gave me a dried black eye pea to place on the bedsprings. I was to place five mattresses one by one on top of each other. Grunting and sweating, I enlisted the help of Rolf, the stable boy to help me drag them from the storage room. Wiping sweat from our brows, we stood aside as the queen’s lady-in-waiting came to inspect everything. Sniffing, she took out her yardstick and placed it next to top mattress.
“Not high enough. The Queen wants ten of ‘em, pronto! Then on top of them, you’re to place ten duvets. Get hopping!” She turned and flounced out.
“Rolf, let’s get working again!” The young man’s mouth gaped open.
“Jeeves, do you have to do this every day? I’d rather shovel manure!”
I slapped him and brought him to his senses.
“This is a privilege, working in the castle, you dolt!”
Back to the storage room we went. Rolf beat a hasty retreat when we finished, muttering something about being back in time for the evening feeding of the horses.
I propped up a ladder next to the now towering bed. Returning to my duties, I awaited ten o’clock.
The maiden was escorted to the room by the senior maid. While the elderly woman wandered off to the restroom, I whispered to Quatrina. When she heard my words, her eyes widened in surprise.
She nodded and kept silent. The maid returned from her tour, satisfied that there was no exit from the room and there were no bottles of liquor hidden in the corners.
The silly woman always kept an eye on me.
I left the room while the maid helped Quatrina climb the ladder. Then she shut the door behind her and locked it.
“There, that’ll keep ‘er. We’ll see what happens in the mornin’,” she said.
By six a.m. Quatrina and I had boarded a sailing ship bound for Frostland. We had scurried up the gangplank before daybreak, dressed in black cloaks and hats. We carried little luggage, we would make do, buying things on the way.
“We’ll have to stay below decks until we leave the port my dear,” I hung my cloak on a peg, along with the spare bedroom key I had. One always needs spare keys around a palace.
“I understand. It is good that the captain owed you a favor Jeeves. You were absolutely right last night. My plan was weak. They would have found out I was really a gypsy and thrown me in the tower.”
I helped myself to a few stale scones.
“I had a feeling when I saw you that you were really a traveler. I’ve been biding my time, saving my money until I could leave the place.”
“What about Rolf? What will they do to him?”
I thought about Rolf and how we snuck him in the palace at dusk. I hid him in a hallway closet until everyone had gone to bed. Dressing him in a long white night shirt and placing a wig made of horse hair on him did the trick. As high as the bed was, nobody would notice at first when the maids entered the room. I had paid him a good sum and when he got out of the tower, he could start a new life himself.
“What will we do in Frostland?” Quatrina unbraided her long hair.
“I’ve got an idea for a business. I want to call it Mattress King and you can be my model.”
The ship pulled out of port and we laughed and ate our stale scones.
Life was good.