A MAN'S CHOICE Edit
By Louise Beecher Edit
Originally published in Short Stories in 1892
The prince was to choose a wife.
In the Rose-Garden were forty maidens, the noblest daughters of the kingdom. Some posed on the raised marble brim of the fountain ; some walked, with regal tread, among the blossoms, in and out of the winding paths; and some, overcome by .the perfume of the flowers, the excitement of the hour, dreading, yet longing, for the approach of the prince, sank upon the soft moss, and cooled their feverish cheeks on the dewy rose-petals.
Suddenly a murmur stole through the garden, borne on the wings of the bees and the breath of the wind ! In the farthest corner it was known that the prince had come.
Quietly he entered, and his eyes, wandering from one fair face to another, ever pictured some fairer face, hidden from sight in the winding paths. Yet for each and all the prince had a graceful word, though one by one he passed them by. This lady knew nothing of music; that lady knew nothing of art; this one was too retiring, that one too forward; one too serious, another too light — and the prince* s choice must be perfection ! He was modest, and did not consider himself in any way perfect; but naturally a man, however frail he be, expects perfection in the woman who surrenders her life to his. Granting this, surely the prince, who was to confer great honor upon his wife, was justified in a careful search.
As he turned away from the fountain, the fluttering of a dainty dress, green, the color of the pale new shoots on the rose-trees, caught his eye. 'Twas only a momentary glimpse, for, whatever it was, it vanished so quickly that he fancied a waving branch must have deceived him.
A beautiful girl stood near; he spoke to her. She answered with easy grace. Yes, she played ; her guitar was by the fountain. She could sing; the prince would hear her later. Just then agleam of gold through the trees dazzled him ; he could not tell whether it was the sunlight playing in fair hair or in the heart of a rose, and, though he turned quickly into the next path again, there was nothing to be seen. As he passed on, a languid brunette paused at his approach — he stopped to speak with the dark-eyed beauty ; but while the prince talked with her, he saw through the branches a slender figure clad in pale green, the color of the new shoots on the rose-trees. The neck and shoulders were daintier than any rose, and the pretty head glistened with a mass of golden hair. Instead of following the path, the prince parted the hedge and came suddenly upon this lady, who had until now so successfully eluded him. She was poised ready for flight, and the prince, who felt no inclination to seek further, caught her hand as if to detain her.
Such a slippery little hand! It stayed not a moment in his grasp, but the lady paused and looked up with some suggestion of mutiny in her deep eyes.
" I wish to speak with you, " said the prince.
The lady bowed.
" I wish to put ray ring on your little hand."
The lady's little hands slipped behind her.
“ But I must talk with you first," said the prince. He had become quite pale. "You know," he continued nervously, " my father has given me a great and unusual privilege in this choice. He seeks my happiness and trusts my discretion. I must give him good and sufficient reason for the selection I make. Tell me of yourself ! What are you besides the most enchanting of women ? You sing ? I have not heard your voice ; it must be purest melody. "
No, she did not sing, but loved to hear the nightingales.
" Then you are fond of music ? You play, of course? "
No, the lady did not play. She liked to hear the music of the wind and the water, but she had no patience with her guitar. No, she was not wise; the prince was mistaken. No, she was not noted for benevolence and charity. She was happy herself, and wanted her friends always to share in her happiness. But no ! She was not wonderful in any way.
" But shall your lover be less to you than your friend ? " cried the prince. "I am unhappy! Give me peace by telling me why I should choose you. You deny yourself every virtue and every grace. What are you ? What can you do ? " '"I am your choice, and I can love you, Is it enough ?" she answered, smiling up at him.
And the prince put the ring upon her finger and kissed her.