The Rescue of My Lady Primrose
Fairy Story for Holiday Reading

Mary E. Wilkins

From The Illustrated Buffalo Express December 23, 1894

Everybody in the village wondered about My Lady Primrose. She lived with an old woman who had green eyes like a cat and was reported to be a witch, in a little peaked-roof cottage, on the edge of the willow woods. A brook ran in front of the cottage, indeed the brook was really the front yard, and there was a little bridge across it to the front door.

My Lady Primrose with her old nurse had lived in the village about three years, and no one knew whence she had come nor anything about her past life. All anybody knew was that one morning in December, about Christmas time, smoke had been seen curling out of the cottage chimney, a little later a girl's beautiful fair head had appeared at a window, and then the old woman had crossed the bridge with a basket on her arm, and gone to the village store for milk, and eggs, and butter, and honey. People questioned her but she only said in reply, “It is a fair day,” and that was all she would ever say. People suspected that that was all the English she knew. Whether that was so or not, she never made them any wiser and the mystery thickened.

The wonderful girl was never seen abroad, except occasionally on a cloudy day, never when the sun shone, and nobody knew her name even, but people called her “My Lady Primrose.” They fancied an odor of primroses came from her garments when she passed by; then, too, she wore silk gowns of primrose yellow and pink, and white, ruffled soft around her feet, and a scalloped green hood that looked just like a primrose leaf.

She never walked, but rode a beautiful little white donkey with silver bells on his bridle and green ribbons for reins, and she carried a green whip that looked like a spear of tall marsh grass. It was said in the village that My Lady Primrose never could set on the ground her delicate feet which had been seen to be clad in a little green pointed shoe when she mounted her donkey on the bridge, unless some awful fate would befall her.

Nobody in the village had ever heard My Lady Primrose speak at all. If anyone accosted her when she was abroad she smiled gently and rode past on her white donkey with a tinkle of silver bells; and if ladies went to her house to call, in their best bonnets, with their parasols and card cases, the nurse opened the front door a crack, said with a bow, “It is a fair day,” then shut it again, and shot the bolt, and the callers went away in a pet.

However, although the village people did not know it, the old nurse did sometimes speak a little, even at length, to a caller. Now and then a traveler would pass along the brookside and catch a glimpse of My Lady's sweet face at the window, and all his heart would go out in love toward her.

Then he would dismount and cross the bridge and knock at the door and the nurse would open the door. But in addition to, “It is a fair day,” she would say, “Do primroses grow in your country?” And when he replied, “Yes,” as they all had for three years, she would sigh, and shake her head, and shut the door, and the lover would ride away with a sore heart.

However, one spring, in the third year, a handsome young man was riding by very fast on a great black horse, when he saw My Lady Primrose at the window and stopped short. “She is as beautiful as my mother,” said he, “and if I cannot have her for my wife, I will never wed.”

So he dismounted and crossed the bridge and knocked and My Lady Primrose ran away from the window.

When the old nurse opened the door she bowed and said, “It is a fair day. Do primroses grow in your country?”

The young man looked at her with surprise. “No,” said he, “they never grow in my country; the gardeners cannot raise them there.”

“Come in, then,” said the nurse, and she led the young man into the parlor where My Lady Primrose sat. She wore a ruffled yellow silk gown, and her little round face was all pink with blushes. She trembled when the young man went down on his knees and asked her to marry him, and go away with him to his country. “I am a prince,” said he, “and you shall be a princess and live in a white palace and dine on stuffed peacocks and wear pearls as big as robin's eggs and diamonds like stars. But more than all that, you shall have my true heart to keep for your own all your life.”

“'Tis the gift of a king, and the gift of a man, and primroses grow not in his country,” said the old nurse, and her green eyes shone.

My Lady Primrose smiled at the prince and the fragrance of a primrose came in his face. “I care nothing about the white palace nor the stuffed peacocks nor the pearls nor the diamonds,” said she, “but I would like your true heart to keep for my own all my life.”

Then she stood up and called for her green hood, but the nurse cried out in horror. “The sun shines!” she shrieked: “You cannot go today.”

“I must go today,” said the prince, “for I rode for my life when I saw you at the window. The king of this country has declared war with my father and I am two days' journey from home.”

“She cannot go out when the sun shines,” cried the nurse.

“Give me my green hood,” said My Lady Primrose, and the nurse got it and tied it on her mistress's beautiful head, with trembling hands.

My Lady Primrose rode behind the prince on his great black horse, and the nurse followed on the little white donkey. She kept looking back with terrified eyes, but the others did not seem to fear anything, and looked only at each other. So they traveled on the first day and came to a shepherd's hut, where they lodged for the night. All night long the old nurse sat by her mistress's bed and watched with her green eyes shining in the dark like a cat's, and the prince marched like a sentinel up and down before the door. He was in danger himself from his enemies, and a terror of something else that he could not explain had come over him.

The night was passed in safety and they started early the next morning and rode along through a beautiful green country; but all three rode in terror, and kept looking over their shoulders. Suddenly My Lady Primrose shuddered and clung more strongly to the prince. “Ride faster, ride faster,” she moaned.

The prince glanced back and saw a great figure of misty green like a tree, which seemed moreover to be foaming with blossoms, with wide outreaching arms like branches advancing upon them. At the same time he heard strange sounds like the rustling of new leaves and the twittering of angry birds.

“It is the spring giant!” shrieked the nurse. She whipped up the little white donkey, which was of a rare breed and as fleet as a horse, and as they flew along she told the prince breathlessly how My Lady Primrose had been born on a Christmas Day and spoken her first word when the first primrose blossomed, and that had exposed her to great danger from the spring giant in all countries where primroses grew, and especially on sunshiny days.

“I don't understand it,” panted the nurse, “but 'tis in her family, poor dear.”

“Ride faster, ride faster!” moaned My Lady Primrose, and the prince spurred on the black horse.

“Only a husband who can take her away to live in a country where the primroses cannot blossom can save her,” said the nurse. “The minister and the doctor and the man that wrote the encyclopedia all said so.”

“Ride faster,” sobbed My Lady Primrose.

“There is one comfort,” panted the nurse. “My Lady has got a piece of the north pole in her pocket, and that may keep him back a little. The north pole is made out of ice that can't melt. My Lady's great-grandfather discovered it, and he knocked a piece off with his jack-knife and brought it home in his carpet-bag. It has been in the family ever since. It is a heirloom. The spring giant is afraid of it. He thinks it will give him a chill. It may keep him back.”

“Ride faster,” urged My Lady Primrose, but the giant gained on them. His arms, like waving branches, seemed almost to touch them; he cast a shadow over them, and the sounds of rustling leaves and angry birds were in their very ears.

“Oh, My Lady,” shrieked the nurse, “feel in your pocket and see if the piece of the north pole is safe.”

My Lady Primrose put her hand in her pocket, then she gave a cry of dismay. The piece of the north pole was not there.

“Oh,” she sobbed, “I have left it in the hut where we slept. It was so cold it froze me, and I took it out of my pocket and put it on the window sill, and I forgot it. I am lost, I am lost!”

The nurse wheeled her little white donkey around. “I will go back across lots for it,” said she. “Should the giant drag her from the saddle, sir prince, wrestle with him, and keep her feet from the ground until I return.” So saying, she struck off across lots.

“Ride faster,” moaned My Lady Primrose, and the prince spurred his great black horse; but it was of no use, the spring giant was upon them.

Suddenly they seemed to be caught among furious lashing branches, their ears were deafened with cries of angry birds, and My Lady Primrose was swept shrieking from the saddle. The prince promptly leaped off after her and attacked the spring giant with his sword. The giant buffeted him with one great woody arm and held My Lady Primrose with the other, and the prince hacked at him until the splinters flew, but he seemed to make little impression, the giant was so large. Suddenly My Lady Primrose gave a shriek of despair. “Oh, I am turning into a primrose,” she cried. “I am, I am! It is all over. Good-by, my dear lover,” and she hung limply like a newly-planted flower over the giant's arm, and the prince saw that her yellow gown seemed to curl around her just like primrose petals and her green bonnet curled over her round pink face like a primrose leaf; moreover, the fragrance of primroses was all about them. The prince caught hold of her and tried to tear her from the giant's clasp, and he found to his horror that her little green-shod feet seemed to be growing fast to the ground, but he pulled her loose with an effort and struck at the giant's arm again and again to make him loose his hold; that he could not do. He succeeded only in keeping My Lady's feet from the ground, and that with a terrible effort. At last he was almost overcome, he was fainting, bruised and breathless from the blows of the giant's woody arm; leaves seemed to fly in his face and sting him and blind him, and his brain reeled with the chatter of angry birds. The giant was forcing My Lady's feet to the ground again and the prince could not help it, but just then there was a tinkle of silver bells, and the nurse came dashing upon her little white donkey. She pulled the piece of the north pole out of her pocket and clapped it to the giant's arm, and straightway a great shiver shot over him and he let My Lady Primrose go. “Lift her quick to the saddle,” cried the nurse to the prince, and she clapped the piece of the north pole close to the spring giant's heart. Then he trembled so that he shook the ground, a shower of green leaves fell, and he turned and fled away so fast that in a second the multitude of rustling leaves and angry birds that went with him died away in the distance.

Then the nurse got on her little white donkey. “We are safe now,” said she. “He has a terrible cold, and he won't rest until he gets some warm apple sap to drink up in Vermont. We shall have plenty of time to get over the border.”

Then they rode on until they reached the country where the prince lived and where primroses would not grow. Then they crossed the border and were safe. Even had the spring giant come up with them he could not have changed My Lady Primrose into a flower. She shed tears of joy as they rode along to the king's palace. “I am so happy,” said she. “It would have been so sad to have been a primrose instead of a princess with your true heart to keep all my life.”