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(c) 2002 by Rosemary Lake, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, in Once Upon a Time When the Princess Rescued the Prince (13 Fairy Tales) available in paperback and ebook from http://www.rosemarylake.com

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The Girl Who Could Not Shudder

    Once a rich merchant had two daughters, whom he loved dearly. The older sister always wore fancy clothes and minded her dignity; but the younger sister, Portia, wore old clothes, played in the mud, and carried bugs and snakes out of the house in her bare hands. “They never bite me,” she told her big sister, “because they know I mean them no harm, poor things.”

    “You will never get on in the world that way,” sniffed the older, who was named Priscilla, and who was getting ready for her first ball.

    Their father agreed. “Men do not want a girl who is braver than they are. You are supposed to shriek and toss your hair around ineffectually.”

    “And shudder in a ladylike way,” said Priscilla. “And call for smelling salts, and be prissy and quaint.”

    Portia sighed. “I ain't the kind.”

    “Ooh, such language! But can't you at least shudder occasionally?”

    Portia wasn’t quite sure what that meant. “I can wiggle my ears,” she said. “Would that do?”

    Priscilla thought about it. “No, that wouldn't work as well. I don't think.”

    Their father thought it over, then agreed. “Suitable husbands are not found by wiggling ears. I shall hire you a Governess at once.”

    So next week the Governess arrived: a very nice lady who wore lots of beads and shawls pinned together by cameo brooches. She set up a school-room on the top floor of their house, in a turret with bay windows all around, most of which were held closed by the branches and leaves of a beautiful green elm tree (for the shutters had fallen into disrepair long ago). The room was like a tree house, and both girls fell in love with it and with their Governess immediately.

    One day when they were all in the schoolroom happily studying (in the dancing shadows of the elm leaves) a chapter in the Etiquette Manual on Polite Subterfuges for Declining Unwanted Invitations, Portia asked, “Why not just tell the truth?”

    “Because it would be quite improper,” the Governess sighed. “What will happen when you go out in Society, I shudder to think–”

    “What does ‘shudder’ mean?” asked Priscilla.

    The Governess gasped. “You don't even know that?”

    “Well, no,” said Portia. “I know about window shutters, of course.” She pointed to the wooden shutter outside the window, which had begun knocking back and forth in the wind, letting distracting amounts of sun and air into the schoolroom.

    The Governess sighed and took up her mantle of instruction, pinning it on carefully with two brooches. “No, this is S H U D D E R, with two D's.” She wrote the word on the blackboard and demonstrated a shudder (though not very well).

    Portia tried to imitate the shudder, but all that happened was she sneezed.

    “No, no!” The Governess demonstrated again.

    Portia tried again, but all that happened was she yawned.

    “Well, if you are getting bored, we can stop for today,” the Governess said, offended.

    “I’m not bored,” said Portia. “I just can’t shudder right.”

    The Governess demonstrated again.

    Portia tried again, but all that happened was her ears wiggled.

    The Governess gave a heartfelt sigh. “Never mind, enough for today. I feel a spell of the vapours coming on. Doubtless it will last all week, with any luck….”

    So the Governess took to her bed with the vapours, and with many cold compresses and smelling salts. The vapours soon became a head cold, so that she was continually calling to the nurse, or to Portia, or to whoever else might be passing, to bring her “hod buddered toast” or a “hod wader boddle” or occasionally “liddle greed apbles.”

    Finally the Governess fell into a feverish sleep which lasted for days. The girls were overcome with pity, and often visited and tried to help the doctor. But when the doctor gave the old woman a medicine which made her open her eyes for a moment, she just stared at the girls without recognizing them, then went back to her feverish raving.

    Now one day it happened that the shutter on the Governess’ bedroom window came loose, and began rattling in the wind. So along with raving about a “whiddling tea-keddle” and “here kiddy kiddy kiddy”, the old woman also kept murmuring in her sleep, “Shudder, shudder … please, please…”

    “Oh, poor Governess,” said Portia, bending over the bed. “But why do you want me to shudder?”

    “Please … shudder … please…”

    Priscilla said, “It does seem odd to want someone else to shake all over.”

    “Yes,” said Portia. “But it does cheer people up when I wiggle my ears. Maybe wiggling all over would have even more effect. Shall we try?”

    “How would she see us do it?”

    “Well, she does open her eyes when the doctor gives her medicine. Maybe if we were standing next to him, we could shudder for her then.”

    So the girls tried Portia’s plan. When the doctor next visited, they stood just beside him as he gave the medicine. For a moment the Governess opened her eyes, and both girls did their best.

    Priscilla thought, I hope I am never so old and sick, and shuddered and shuddered.

    Portia thought, Poor Governess, I must try my best, and bravely tried her best; but hers was scarcely a shudder at all.

    The old woman stared for a moment; and in that moment the window shutter rattled again. So the Governess said, “Pordia, plead fid thad shudder.” Then her eyes closed and she fell asleep again.

    “Well, that settles it,” said Portia, after the girls had left the room. “I must learn to shudder properly. Where shall I go to learn it?”

    Priscilla thought a minute. “Well, there is a Gov-erness’ Supply Store in the town. We could ask there.”

    So the girls put on their best dresses and went to the Governess’ Supply Store. It was a neat little gray house with white zinnias growing in the window boxes. “How can I learn to shudder properly?” Portia asked the shopkeeper. “It is a surprise for my dear Governess.”

    The shopkeeper frowned. “Shuddering is supposed to Come Naturally to young ladies,” she said.

    “Unfortunately,” said Priscilla, “it has not. Do you have a remedy for difficult cases?”

    The shopkeeper thought for a while, then fetched a little golden Butler Doll, in a little black lacquer box just the right size for a pocket. “Perhaps the doll will know,” she said. “He is full of general knowledge: he was designed to accompany young persons on the Grand Tour, and knows protocols in three hundred languages.”

    Thinking of this, Portia almost shuddered acciden-tally, but unfortunately controlled herself.

    “That is very – many,” Priscilla said politely.

    “He can answer many questions, and can tell you about academies for learning all sorts of things.”

    So the girls bought the Butler Doll, and took him into the park and sat down on the cleanest bench they could find, and Portia opened the box.

    The Butler Doll said: “What would you like to learn to-day?”

    Portia asked: “Can you tell me where I can go to learn to shudder?”

    The Butler Doll said: “First, do not run a-way from home. That on-ly works in fair-y tales. It is sym-bol-ic of find-ing ones In-ner Re-sour-ces. Nev-er run a-way no mat-ter how man-y Im-poss-i-ble Tasks you are giv-en.”

    “I am not running away,” said Portia. “And shuddering is not impossible. Priscilla does it, our Governess does it, so why then oh why can’t I?”

    “It’s to make our Governess feel better,” Priscilla added helpfully.

    “Nev-er un-der-take an un-auth-or-iz-ed quest for a Med-i-cin-al Tok-en. Con-sult a li-censed phy-si-ci-an.”

    Portia sighed: “Could we get our money back?”

    “Do you have your re-ceipt?”

    Priscilla said, “I have an idea.” She put the Butler Doll back in his box and closed the lid for a minute. Then she took him out again.

    The Butler Doll said: “What would you like to learn to-day?”

    Priscilla said: “Are there any places with legends about shuddering?”

    The Butler Doll said: “Look up the Haunt-ed Cas-tle of Shud-ders in Up-per Ha-vi-sham. At-tached to it is an in-ter-est-ing so-lar myth–”

    Priscilla put him back in the box and took him out again.

    The Butler Doll said: “What would you like to learn to-day?”

    “What is the geography of Upper Havisham? Where is it?”

    “This small vil-lage lies in the foot-hills of the Moun-tains of Mad-ness, and its prin-ci-pal in-dus-try is min-ing sil-ver nug-gets…”

    Both girls took notes on what the Butler Doll said; then they thanked him politely and put him back in his box. The following morning Portia put on her traveling clothes (with the Butler Doll in her pocket), saddled her horse, and set out for Upper Havisham.

 

 

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