Rated: ASR · Short Story · Fantasy · #1095756
A twist on "The Frog Prince," this short story is set in Regency England.
|Sir Frog Goes Courting|
I thought I was dead…but it turned out to be much worse. Never drink with relatives who are plotting to steal your fortune, your title and your fiancée. Well, intended fiancée, actually. It all started when my cousin Gerald – my jealous, greedy, scheming cousin Gerald, and I were on our way to a house party we’d been invited to attend. It was there that I meant to offer for the delectable Miss Cherish Bliss. We stopped at a charming rural inn for the night. As there was not much else to do that evening, Gerald and I decided to order a couple of bottles of port and we had made definite progress on them when Gerald began to smirk at me. About the same time I started to feel rather funny – as if my insides were trying to wring themselves out like the barmaid’s towel. The next thing I knew…
Well, there really is no delicate way to say this. The next thing I knew I was a frog., a frog looking up at that big, sneering, idiot cousin of mine. I had always known, even as a boy that Gerald was jealous of me. I didn’t regard it though, because I didn’t think there was anything he could do about it.
He was laughing at me. Standing over me, laughing till the tears ran down his face. “So how do you like it, Nigel? How do you like being an ugly toad? I was going to kill you, but I found a real, live fairy woman to make me this potion for your wine. And I’m glad. This is so much more amusing than death.”
“But what will be best of all, will be the day that I marry Miss Bliss. I’ll be Lord Sommers then, not you. You’ll be missing. Presumed dead by then. This is the perfect crime, Nigel. I’m going to steal your life…and there’s nothing you can do about it.” This speech was followed by lots of maniacal laughing. When he had finally finished Gerald scooped me up and threw me into a basket. I tried to get away, but I wasn’t used to my frog legs and I was still rather tipsy. He had his man throw me in the stream that ran by the inn. I was doomed to life as a frog.
The next morning I was in a clearer but no more optimistic frame of mind. I huddled miserably under the little bridge that crossed the stream. I was hungry, but could not yet reconcile myself to catching and eating insects. I blew bubbles into the water and squelched in the mud. What was really depressing about this was that it felt so pleasant- the warm sun above and the cool water all around. Very pleasant indeed, until a shadow blocked out the sun. Looking up I beheld the form of a young woman leaning over the railing of the bridge. Though the sun was at her back, I would know that enticing figure anywhere. It was Cherish Bliss.
Even as I was realizing this I saw the pendant that she was wearing around her neck slip and fall into the water with a splash. She cried out in dismay. Without thinking I spoke aloud. “Dear lady, allow me to assist you.” Then I slid beneath the water and descended to the depths of the stream where I soon found the lady’s bauble. Clutching it in my mouth I dragged it back to the surface. Miss Bliss met me at the bank.
“Oh, you are marvelous, Sir Frog. Thank-you ever so much.”
She was even more beautiful than I remembered. The sun turned her golden hair into a halo about her head. Blue eyes, ruby lips, dimples, and curves in all the right places. Suddenly my despair turned to resolve. I could not let Gerald have her. Quickly I began to sketch a plan in my head. While I was thinking, Cherish talked on.
“This necklace is a family heirloom that my aunt bestowed on me. The clasp sticks a bit-oh!” She was looking down at the necklace and my eyes followed. The jewel of the necklace, a simply set ruby, glowed faintly, but surely. Hurriedly Miss Bliss shoved it into her reticule. “I must have it repaired,” she finished lamely.
I didn’t take the time to ponder this mystery, but went ahead with my plan. “If you are truly thankful to me, you’ll take me with you. A frog as special as I am should not be left to dwell in a common stream.”
Miss Bliss cocked her head and looked at me sharply. “You do talk, don’t you? As frogs don’t talk, I conclude that you must be enchanted. Are you human or fairy?”
The reference to fairies again. What had I been missing? Did everyone know about fairies but me? “Human,” I quickly replied. I didn’t want her to know who I was, but I didn’t think I could masquerade as a fairy.
“What is your name? Do I know you? Something about you seems almost familiar.”
“Oh no, no. We’ve…um…never met.” Surely that one small lie was forgivable. Who would want his love to know him in this regrettable condition? “You can just call me Sir Frog. It has a nice ring to it.”
“Thank you, Sir Frog. And you may call me Cherish. I see no reason for formality with amphibians.”
“We’re not a very formal sort,” I agreed, pleased to have so easily gained the privilege of her Christian name. That was something I’d not yet received in human form. “Will you take me with you?” I did my best to look imploringly at her. This look often got me farther than eloquent words with women, but I feared the expression would have a somewhat different effect coming from bulging, froggy eyes.
She sighed. “I suppose I must. I’m sure I don’t know what to do with you, but my Aunt LouElla will. She is a very knowledgeable woman.”
I was well acquainted with her aunt. There is no one I liked less as a chaperone than this lady, but I must admit that she was a very capable woman. I almost began to have hope.
Before I knew it I was being introduced to Aunt LouElla, Lady Fernlace, who after hearing my story and my request to accompany them tucked me into a covered basket lined with wet rushes. Not exactly the style that I was accustomed to traveling in, but I must admit quite comfortable for a frog.
“What must we do for Sir Frog?” Asked Miss Bliss once we were on our way.
“I believe I have a solution to his predicament, but it won’t be ready for a time.”
“How do you know such things?” I wondered.
Lady Fernlace smiled. “Old family connections.”
We were silent for some time after that. It gave me opportunity to reflect. When I first decided to look for a wife I did the usual things that a man of my station does. I joined in the London season, went to Almack’s and looked over the crop of debutantes. To a man of 32 they all seemed terribly young and insipid. Miss Cherish Bliss was 24 years old, an age at which most women would be in danger of being left on the shelf. Not so for Miss Bliss. Her beauty did not fade with the first blush of youth. She was also of a fine old family and plump in the pocket to boot. I was not so foolish as to fall for beauty alone. Cherish was also kind and intelligent. I didn’t need money or family connections and if I had there was many a hopeful debutante who would have supplied them. I first focused on Miss Bliss because her family was said to possess something in abundance that my family did not – luck. It was said that the Bliss family was the luckiest in England. Their estates and business dealings prospered. Their marriages flourished and never went sour. Their women didn’t die in childbirth and no children’s graves were in their cemeteries. Their children were always beautiful and intelligent.
When I began to ask about this extraordinary luck no one seemed to know anything about it. But finally one elderly lady who knew everything about all the finest families from the present back a hundred years, told me that their luck came from intermarrying with the fairies. Every third generation or so a solemn pact was made with the fair folk and a fairy bride was taken by a human groom to seal the agreement. I had a good laugh over this story, not believing in fairies at the time. I was in a position to be much more credulous now.
The ladies smuggled me into the Witherspoon’s immense manor house. It was the usual thing: long drafty hallways, too many stairs, cold rooms and smoking fireplaces. I have several of these places myself. In the following days my hope began to wane and boredom set in. I spent my time soaking in Miss Bliss’s washbasin with no one but myself for company. The days were long and tedious. Soon I began to live for bedtime.
At night Cherish and I – I had soon stopped thinking of her as Miss Bliss-would converse and I found myself becoming her confidant. The first night she told me that I was missing from the party.
“His cousin Gerald says that they parted at an inn and Lord Sommers promised to come on in a day or so.”
“Oh really. And what did he say detained me…umm, Lord Sommers?”
“He said that Lord Sommers went to visit some nearby friends.”
So that was how Gerald had explained my absence. No doubt in a fortnight he’d have it out that I’d been set on by highwaymen and murdered for my gold.
“Will you miss this Lord Sommers very much?” I couldn’t resist asking. I had been on the point of proposing, after all.
She shrugged. “Not especially. But Gerald said that highwaymen frequented the way Lord Sommers was going. I hope no accident befalls him.”
Aha, so I was right. “Do you hold a tendre for this Lord Sommers?”
Cherish started. “Oh no. But I do believe he was courting me.”
She was being modest. I know she had feelings for me. I was a marvelous catch.
She leaned closer to where I was seated, on a cushion on her bed. Her scent was intoxicating, light and floral and warm. “Sir Frog,” she said, “May I tell you something in confidence?”
She was going to confess her love for me. Me in my pre-frog state of course. “Certainly, my dear.”
“I am a little relieved that Lord Sommers is not here.”
I think my mouth dropped open at this point, but she went on, not noticing. “I think he means to offer for me and I just couldn’t marry him.”
“Why not. He’s a marvelous catch. Handsome, wealthy, good family---uh, I hear.”
“In my family we only marry for love. And I am not in love with Lord Sommers.”
How could this be? I asked, “How could this be?”
“You must have guessed by now that my family is allied with the fairies. On our property is a wood that contains a rather important gateway to Faerie. Because of this gate, the fairies have found it needful to ally with my family to ensure the safety of the gate from this side. Part of our bargain with them is that we shall not marry except for love and that we shall always find our true love.”
“To make sure that we find our true love the fairies gave my family the necklace that you fished out of the stream for me. It glows whenever the wearer is in the presence of her true love.”
“Have you worn it in Lord Sommer’s presence?”
“Yes, and nary a sparkle from the necklace. But that didn’t surprise me. I have difficulty warming up to him.”
“What? I mean, why is that?”
Cherish flopped back on the bed, sending me tumbling onto the coverlet with her. “He is so self important! He’s always talking about himself, and what he owns and what he can do.”
“What! Um, what would you like him to talk about?” I demanded, crawling back onto my cushion.
“I don’t know. How he really feels about something. Maybe he could even ask me how I feel about something?”
“You think he doesn’t care about you?”
She smiled. “Not a fig. He just wants a nice docile wife of superior breeding to give him perfect children and keep out of his affairs.”
I stirred uncomfortably. How did she read me so well?
Cherish got up and wrapped a shawl about her slender frame.
“Where are you going?” I asked frantically kicking the air as she lifted me off the bed and placed me back in the washbasin.
“Mr. Gerald Frobisher has asked me to accompany him on an evening walk before bed.”
“Are you sure it’s quite proper to go?”
“I have my Aunt’s consent. Don’t worry dear Sir Froggy. I’ll be back soon.” She turned and looked at me over her shoulder. A quick smile and she was gone.
Well, I was worried. Gerald truly intended to steal my life. How dare he. When I got out of this mess I’d strangle him with my bare hands. And as for Miss Cherish Bliss, she could just forget about being Lady Sommers.
The trouble was that I couldn’t forget about her being Lady Sommers. In the days to come I realized that what she said about me was totally untrue. Actually it was true at first, but now that I really knew her, I wouldn’t be satisfied with a convenient marriage. I wanted a love match.
Over the following days I heard much about Gerald, the snake in the grass. He was so considerate, so polite, so intelligent, such sensitivity. I was in danger of losing my supper of goose pate. I never did reconcile myself to eating insects.
I felt so helpless. He was courting the girl I loved and I was steeping in a water basin, unable even to leave the room.
One evening Cherish confided in me that Gerald had made her an offer.
“Did you accept it,” I croaked.
“No,” Cherish said, almost a whisper.
“Because of the stone. It won’t light up. I’m beginning to think that it’s broken.” She pulled on the chain, causing the ruby pendant to pop from between her luscious breasts. And it glowed.
Cherish stared at the pendant and then at me. “You?”
I knew an opportunity when I saw one. “Cherish, I know that you like the way that Gerald treated you, being respectful and attentive and so forth. And I just wanted to say that if I’m ever in my own form again, I will treat you like that. Better than that, because—“
There was a knock at the door. “Cherish, my sweet,” a voice whispered. A voice I knew only too well. Cherish’s eyes widened. She blew out the candle and quickly hid me on top of the tall ornately carved headboard.
Then she flew to the door and opened it just the barest crack. “What do you want, Gerald?”
“Reconsider sweeting. You know I’m mad with passion for you. We’ll live a wonderful life together as Lord and Lady Sommers.”
“Gerald, your cousin is Lord Sommers.”
“He’s been missing for days now. I believe he was killed by highwaymen. I’m next in line to inherit. Think what I can give you Cherish.”
“I’m sorry Gerald,” Cherish hissed. “But the answer is still no. Go away before anyone sees you.”
Without warning Gerald flung the door open, sending Cherish reeling back onto the bed. Gerald smiled. It wasn’t a nice smile. He carefully closed the door behind him. “Then I’ll have to take matters into my own hands. You’ll thank me later, my dear.”
“Have you lost your mind? Leave now! At once!”
“I’ll leave when you are thoroughly compromised. Then you’ll have no choice but to marry me. All my life I’ve watched Nigel take the best of everything, with only scraps left over for me. But no more. I will have it all now. I will have his title, his estates, everything.”
“He wanted you Cherish, but I’ll have you.”
He fell on her then, on the bed and a furious wrestling match ensued. Cherish was no match for him physically. The woman I loved was in danger and I was a tiny insignificant reptile. What could I do?
I jumped - smack onto Gerald’s head. Now I know frogs are not terribly big or frightening, but an unidentified, clammy creature landing on your head in the dark can cause quite a shock.
Gerald reeled back. I went flying. Cherish screamed. Before everything stopped spinning I heard footsteps in the hall. When I looked up Aunt LouElla standing in the doorway.
One look at the expression on her face and even I was scared. “Mr. Frobisher,” she said in freezing tones. “You forget yourself.” She grabbed his ear and hauled him to his feet. “Before you forget yourself again, you will take yourself back to your room, where you will instruct your valet to pack your things. You will be leaving before morning so there will be no need to call in the constable. Is that clear?”
Gerald had always been a coward. Before this formidable force he whimpered and cringed like a disobedient mutt. Aunt LouElla dragged him, still pinching his ear down the hall. “I’ll just escort you to your room, Mr. Frobisher. I wouldn’t want you to get lost again.”
Cherish scrambled up and closed the door behind them. Then she rushed to me and scooped me up from the floor. “Oh, Sir Frog you saved me!” And then she kissed me.
I felt a strange sensation in my stomach. A tingling started in my extremities. I was changing. I was changing back to my old self.
When I stood in front of Cherish, a man again, I was afraid.
“Oh,” she cried. “It’s you Lord Sommers.” Then she remembered. “And I said…”
Remembering Gerald’s miserable example I chose the course of bravery. I took Cherish in my arms. “What you said was true. All true. I’m sorry I was an arrogant bore. Only one thing you were wrong about. At first I did want the kind of wife you described. But not anymore. Cherish, I want you the way you are and I don’t want you to be docile and stay out of my affairs, but I do want you to be my friend, my lover - and the mother of my “perfect” children.”
Cherish blushed and looked down. She gave a little gasp. The pendant she wore was glowing brighter than before, lighting the room like a candle.
She looked back up at me, resolution in her face. “You did behave very badly. I think being a frog improved you though. And Aunt LouElla informs me that the pendant has never been wrong. I will take a chance on you my Lord.”
“Being a frog did improve him,” LouElla said. We looked around and there she was standing in the doorway again. How long had she been there? “That’s why I sold Gerald the potion.”
“You what?” we both cried at once.
“I sold the potion to Mr. Frobisher. With all due respect, Lord Sommers, your finer qualities needed a little bringing out. Nothing does that like adversity.”
“But, but a frog…”
“Don’t complain. The pendant never glowed until you were a frog, did it.”
“That’s true Aunt. It didn’t,” Cherish chimed in.
“There now. You see. Lord Sommers, I shall send you on you way, so that you may inform our hostess of your tardy arrival. You may of course see Cherish tomorrow and we will work out the details of the engagement.”
I lowered my head to Cherish’s, thinking Lady Ferndale couldn’t begrudge me one little goodnight kiss…
And found myself standing at the front door. I scowled, silently cursing Cherish’s meddling Aunt. But then I thought of all that I owed her and I silently blessed her, too. I would see Cherish tomorrow…and every day for the rest of my life.