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A Splendid Princess

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Sadie married the prince in the big cathedral, dressed in an ivory satin gown by Paquin - the kind with a full, gathered skirt and a long train. She'd really wanted something smarter, cut to just below the knee and not trimmed with so much lace or all those silk roses, but Queen Edith had set her head back and pointed out that while a frock like that might do for a banker's daughter, it was beneath the dignity of her new station. Very hot on dignity, was Queen Edith. Sadie wasn't anything like a flapper, but by the queen's standards of dignified behavior, she might as well start dancing on the tables in her step-in.

 

The tiara was something else, too. When the wedding planning was just gearing up, Sadie had assumed she'd get to wear antique jewelry that had been made for the prince's great-grandmother - but instead a representative from Cartier came up to her sitting room and had a long, yet inconsequential, conversation with her. Once it was done, the servants had swept up the piles of roses and diamonds and pearls and the man took them away in a sack. (Probably not the roses. Who knew what they'd done with them?) They would be made, she was promised, into a new parure for her that would henceforth be known as something like "the Princess Sarah jewels." It seemed more likely to her that they'd be called "the Princess Sarah's mouth jewels," but she kept that to herself.

 

After the wedding, there hadn't been a honeymoon.The king and queen had said no on the basis of, again, dignity, but by that point she'd been there long enough to have a good idea of what was really going on behind the scenes.

 

The crown was broke. Flat broke, and who ever heard of poor royalty? She and Prince Theodore couldn't afford to honeymoon, because a royal trip meant court appearances all over the continent, not sunning at Biarritz. And that was why Teddy had even been allowed to marry her in the first place, even though she was nothing but a domestic (a fact that'd been hushed up in the press): she was a golden goose. Every pearl or diamond that fell out of her mouth was carefully collected and sold for the benefit of the royal family's bank account.

 

This made things awkward in the morning, since the maids assigned to her rooms had to pick through her sheets for any stray stones that had fallen if she muttered in her sleep. Actually, things were always awkward, because valuable things were always falling out of her mouth. Sadie had been used to keeping quiet at home, because they didn't like it when she "flapped her gums," and it'd become a habit, but now everyone wanted to hear her talk. Except people didn't care what she said - they just gawked at her mouth while she said it.

 

"Did you enjoy the opera, your highness?" asked Lady Martleby, glittering in emeralds. (It was no longer de rigueur to wear either diamonds or pearls, out of respect for Princess Sarah. They made up for it by wearing twice as many of the other jewels.) "I believe it was … Tannhäuser ?"

 

Sadie made sure to finish chewing her mouthful of steak and swallow it before even thinking about trying to speak: it was considered inelegant to have a morsel of food pop out of your mouth along with a pearl. "I found it very lovely," she said at last, two roses, two pearls, and a diamond appearing in turn between her lips and falling. "The lead tenor's voice was …" She had to think again in order to get at a suitably refined adjective - neither swell nor air-tight was appropriate. "Simply marvelous." It'd become a habit for her to visit one or two of the performers after attending a show and chatting for a few minutes, letting stones and flowers fall where they might, as a kind of gift. It didn't cost her anything, which she didn't like, but judging by the notices in the gossip papers, it made people happy. They called it "a very pretty compliment," which was definitely something. "Have you seen it?"

 

A diamond and a few pearls managed to pop out with enough force to end up in Lady Martleby's lap. As had become the accepted behavior, Lady Martleby pretended not to notice, and when the women all got up to withdraw she'd surreptitiously scoop them into her glove.

 

"Oh, yes, at one point or another. It was sweet, for a German show."

 

For some time, the demanding social schedule had given her the creeps - every day, so many people to meet and names and titles to remember. The parties became more and more lavish; new jewels, new autos, bigger feasts with more courses, hundreds more servants were employed, and the crown acquired several large and historic properties. Life seemed to be whirling and whirling around her, happening on its own without any reference to what she preferred. Teddy was the only thing that kept her on track during those days.

 

"Just hold steady, old girl," he told her on more than one occasion, wrapping an arm about her shoulders. "Hold steady a bit longer. Sometimes it muddles me, and I've been living this way for years and years longer than you! You're a splendid princess."

 

Sadie never had to say anything to him, which was why she thought she loved him, sometimes. When he talked like that, she'd look up into his trusting blue eyes and beam her thoughts at him like radio waves.

 

"And look at it this way - at least there's always Dickie in line for the throne before me, so you'll never have to be queen. It's wretched being king and queen, Mother and Father would rather not be."

 

Even Queen Edith was a comfort, despite her deep-seated sense of royal dignity. (King Alfred was rarely to be seen - too busy with state functions and his stamp collection.) At first, she clearly only engaged Sadie in conversation in order to spend the proceeds, but as the proceeds increased and increased, the conversations became warmer and warmer. It had seemed that the queen could never quite forgive her son for marrying a Cinderella of no family, with a sister who could under no circumstances be allowed to speak in company and a mother who barely deserved the title … but common ground emerged at last, over unlikely shared interests in romantic literature and art.

 

When the crash finally came - as Sadie felt she had instinctively known must happen, mainly because everything had been going too well - the press changed their tune rapidly. "PRINCESS DESTROYS ECONOMY!" screamed the headlines. "RECKLESS SPENDING TANKS MARKET!" The pretty compliments and demure reticence the journalists had praised faded into the past: now she was a heartless, thoughtless flapper with a steely gaze and heaps of ambition. She stayed in bed for two days, refusing to engage with the outside world, until she was set upon by the whole royal family.

 

"Unless you are with child," said Queen Edith, "there is no excuse for sitting in your nightie this long. And even then, it's not quite done."

 

"I'm so sorry!" Sadie wailed. Such was the force of her distress that three roses appeared with no diamonds or pearls. "It's all my fault. By rights I should be sent back to my mother."

 

The king and queen exchanged a look. "Nobody is going to send you to your mother," said King Alfred with a slightly forced heartiness. "Come, come. This will all blow over."

 

"We all end up in the papers sometimes," said Princess Adeline, who certainly did end up in the papers more than a princess royal was supposed to. "It's not like you were at a party that got out of hand or anything like that. Or ran off from a country weekend in an airplane. Or were romantically linked to a chauffeur and a dope fiend at the same time. Or -"

 

"The point is ," said Dickie, "that this isn't even your fault. Silly of them to blame you for a magical blessing you didn't even ask for."

 

Sadie shook her head. "It's not that. I can't help but think of all the other people who could've lost everything over this - the ordinary people."

 

Teddy smiled and took her hand. "What a darling you are." His smile always made her go over goofy, and even in the mood she was in she couldn't help but smile back just a little.

 

"Well, we'll make sure the press knows your heart's with the people, my dear," said Queen Edith. "And in the meantime we'll have a new post created in the Ministry of Finance specifically to look after your … gift - both for proper liquidation of the stones, and to see that a good portion of the results goes back to those hurt in the panic. It'll all come out, you see." She pressed Sadie's other hand, and then they all tiptoed out of the room (perhaps a little ostentatiously) - all but Teddy, who drew her into an embrace. Her arms about him and her face pressed into his shoulder, Sadie seemed to be breathing properly for the first time since the news broke.

 

"I'm so glad your family's … your family," she said, half-mumbling into his shirt. "They're absolutely swell."

 

"Thanks, sweets," he said. "You know, I've been wondering. If you were pregnant, and you had a daughter, would it be odd if we called her Pearl? It's a very nice name. But do you think it's too much?"

 

And she did think they might live happily ever after.