The Twelve Dancing Princesses

They emerged from a dozen boudoirs; their rooms as sweet as sugar cubes, frosted with lace, dusted with petit point and iced with glass.

They had chosen carefully from tiny pots of scented rouge, arsenic powders and lip paints the colors of summer fruit:  peach, plum, nectarine.  The collections of chemical persuasions were patient as the undecided fingers hovered above them.

Patch boxes with pastel landscapes and encrusted jewels that startled delicate fingers were opened.  The tiny shapes were whimsical communiques:  stars to hang on the cheekbones of chaste galaxies; diamonds to draw attention to a curved mouth – an unattainable treasure; tears to convey a message of unrequited passion. 

The princesses had taken off their tiaras of twisted gold and placed them on their dressing tables.  Their crinoline petticoats bobbed underneath architectural skirts that were garlanded with ribbons, knotted with flowers and stifffened with trellis-works of ruched satin.

And then they left.

The forest met them at once; it would be a long, chilly walk.  Branches draped against bare shoulders questioningly.  "Stay – a question, please" they requested.  Perhaps they wondered at the princesses' agile roots, clad in exotic slippers of silver and sapphire linen, and green silk with heels of crimson enamel.

Darkness fell upon them, but the princesses' joy was like a light and it dazzled the shadows.  Their laughter rose into thte twilight and splintered into stars that glowed in the cobalt sky.  So, out of gratitude, they received the evening's promise:  that every twelve hours it would return to release them from the cares of the day and warm them with dreams, just as their laughter had warmed the night's cold heart.

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13 responses to “The Twelve Dancing Princesses

  1. I absolutely love that picture – it is an illustration in one of the books I had as a child, but I've not seen it for ages. Thank you.

  2. I love that picture as well. My son sent me an email saying he was in Prague and had spent a night eating, drinking and dancing in a forest there.

  3. I love this story! It's been one of my favourites from childhood.

  4. very good classical writing Aubrey! Descent into the underworld is a recurring theme. It looks as if they are going through underground caverns. Favorite line: "The collections of chemical persuasions were patient as the undecided fingers hovered above them."

  5. I'm with Brown Suga' – this has been one of my favorite stories since childhood.

  6. Jando – I always consider this my favorite Neilsen drawing…until I see the next one. I used to wonder which costume I liked best, and inevitably it would be the one featuring the black cloak.
    Cat – sounds very mysterious and druid-like. There should be more celebrations in forests, I think.
    Suga'/eliz. s – when I was writing this, I was desparately looking for a quote from the story – but could find none! If you read this story, please tell me what happens! (I've decided that my new goal was to get a first edition of this book: prices seem to average about $2,000. It can be done!)
    Lucy – when I was still mulling this topic about in my head, the words 'chemical persuasions' were the first ones that rang true, they became the anchor for the essay. 'Underworld' is an accurate term – I enjoyed escaping into the writing of this.
    Lavender – thanks so much, my dear!

  7. the picture with prose … quite … intoxicating.

  8. Me too and me too.

  9. Ohh. I love the story. And the picture. Powder and crinoline..perfect.

  10. "…stars to hang on the cheekbones of chaste galaxies; diamonds to draw
    attention to a curved mouth – an unattainable treasure; tears to convey
    a message of unrequited passion." Beautiful. Sigh.

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