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Beauty and The Beast(Chapter4)

2006-08-22 23:01

  Chapter IV.

  Before following the young Prince and his fortunes, in the capital, we must relate two incidents which somewhat disturbed the ordered course of life in the castle of Kinesma, during the first month or two after his departure.

  It must be stated, as one favorable trait in the character of Prince Alexis, that, however brutally he treated his serfs, he allowed no other man to oppress them. All they had and were——their services, bodies, lives——belonged to him; hence injustice towards them was disrespect towards their lord. Under the fear which his barbarity inspired lurked a brute-like attachment, kept alive by the recognition of this quality.

  One day it was reported to him that Gregor, a merchant in the bazaar at Kinesma, had cheated the wife of one of his serfs in the purchase of a piece of cloth. Mounting his horse, he rode at once to Gregor's booth, called for the cloth, and sent the entire piece to the woman, in the merchant's name, as a confessed act of reparation.

  "Now, Gregor, my child," said he, as he turned his horse's head, "have a care in future, and play me no more dishonest tricks. Do you hear? I shall come and take your business in hand myself, if the like happens again."

  Not ten days passed before the like——or something fully as bad—— did happen. Gregor must have been a new comer in Kinesma, or he would not have tried the experiment. In an hour from the time it was announced, Prince Alexis appeared in the bazaar with a short whip under his arm.

  He dismounted at the booth with an ironical smile on his face, which chilled the very marrow in the merchant's bones.

  "Ah, Gregor, my child," he shouted, "you have already forgotten my commands. Holy St. Nicholas, what a bad memory the boy has! Why, he can't be trusted to do business: I must attend to the shop myself. Out of the way! march!"

  He swung his terrible whip; and Gregor, with his two assistants, darted under the counter, and made their escape. The Prince then entered the booth, took up a yard-stick, and cried out in a voice which could be heard from one end of the town to the other,—— "Ladies and gentlemen, have the kindness to come and examine our stock of goods! We have silks and satins, and all kinds of ladies' wear; also velvet, cloth, cotton, and linen for the gentlemen. Will your Lordships deign to choose? Here are stockings and handkerchiefs of the finest. We understand how to measure, your Lordships, and we sell cheap. We give no change, and take no small money. Whoever has no cash may have credit. Every thing sold below cost, on account of closing up the establishment. Ladies and gentlemen, give us a call?"

  Everybody in Kinesma flocked to the booth, and for three hours Prince Alexis measured and sold, either for scant cash or long credit, until the last article had been disposed of and the shelves were empty. There was great rejoicing in the community over the bargains made that day. When all was over, Gregor was summoned, and the cash received paid into his hands.

  "It won't take you long to count it," said the Prince; but here is a list of debts to be collected, which will furnish you with pleasant occupation, and enable you to exercise your memory. Would your Worship condescend to take dinner to-day with your humble assistant? He would esteem it a favor to be permitted to wait upon you with whatever his poor house can supply."

  Gregor gave a glance at the whip under the Prince's arm, and begged to be excused. But the latter would take no denial, and carried out the comedy to the end by giving the merchant the place of honor at his table, and dismissing him with the present of a fine pup of his favorite breed. Perhaps the animal acted as a mnemonic symbol, for Gregor was never afterwards accused of forgetfulness.

  If this trick put the Prince in a good humor, some thing presently occurred which carried him to the opposite extreme. While taking his customary siesta one afternoon, a wild young fellow——one of his noble poor relations, who "sponged" at the castle——happened to pass along a corridor outside of the very hall where his Highness was snoring. Two ladies in waiting looked down from an upper window. The young fellow perceived them, and made signs to attract their attention. Having succeeded in this, he attempted, by all sorts of antics and grimaces, to make them laugh or speak; but he failed, for the slumber-flag waved over them, and its fear was upon them. Then, in a freak of incredible rashness, he sang, in a loud voice, the first line of a popular ditty, and took to his heels.

  No one had ever before dared to insult the sacred quiet. The Prince was on his feet in a moment, and rushed into the corridor, (dropping his mantle of sables by the way,) shouting.——

  "Bring me the wretch who sang!"

  The domestics scattered before him, for his face was terrible to look upon. Some of them had heard the voice, indeed, but not one of them had seen the culprit, who al ready lay upon a heap of hay in one of the stables, and appeared to be sunk in innocent sleep.

  "Who was it? who was it?" yelled the Prince, foaming at the mouth with rage, as he rushed from chamber to chamber.

  At last he halted at the top of the great flight of steps leading into the court-yard, and repeated his demand in a voice of thunder.

  The servants, trembling, kept at a safe distance, and some of them ventured to state that the offender could not be discovered. The Prince turned and entered one of the state apartments, whence came the sound of porcelain smashed on the floor, and mirrors shivered on the walls. Whenever they heard that sound, the immates of the castle knew that a hurricane was let loose.

  They deliberated hurriedly and anxiously. What was to be done? In his fits of blind animal rage, there was nothing of which the Prince was not capable, and the fit could be allayed only by finding a victim. No one, however, was willing to be a Curtius for the others, and meanwhile the storm was increasing from minute to minute. Some of the more active and shrewd of the household pitched upon the leader of the band, a simple-minded, good-natured serf, named Waska. They entreated him to take upon himself the crime of having sung, offering to have his punishment mitigated in every possible way. He was proof against their tears, but not against the money which they finally offered, in order to avert the storm. The agreement was made, although Waska both scratched his head and shook it, as he reflected upon the probable result.

  The Prince, after his work of destruction, again appeared upon the steps, and with hoarse voice and flashing eyes, began to announce that every soul in the castle should receive a hundred lashes, when a noise was heard in the court, and amid cries of "Here he is!" "We've got him, Highness!" the poor Waska, bound hand and foot, was brought forward. They placed him at the bottom of the steps. The Prince descended until the two stood face to face. The others looked on from courtyard, door, and window. A pause ensued, during which no one dared to breathe.

  At last Prince Alexis spoke, in a loud and terrible voice——

  "It was you who sang it?"

  "Yes, your Highness, it was I," Waska replied, in a scarcely audible tone, dropping his head and mechanically drawing his shoulders together, as if shrinking from the coming blow.

  It was full three minutes before the Prince again spoke. He still held the whip in his hand, his eyes fixed and the muscles of his face rigid. All at once the spell seemed to dissolve: his hand fell, and he said in his ordinary voice——

  "You sing remarkably well. Go, now: you shall have ten rubles and an embroidered caftan for your singing."

  But any one would have made a great mistake who dared to awaken Prince Alexis a second time in the same manner.

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