The princess bride, p.8
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       The Princess Bride, p.8

           William Goldman
 

  "Duhhhhhhh."

  That's what he would have said. That was the kind of thing Westley came out with when he was feeling really sharp. "Duhhhhhhh, tanks, Buttercup."

  Buttercup dried her tears and began to smile. She took a deep breath, heaved a sigh. It was all part of growing up. You got these little quick passions, you blinked, and they were gone. You forgave faults, found perfection, fell madly; then the next day the sun came up and it was over. Chalk it up to experience, old girl, and get on with the morning. Buttercup stood, made her bed, changed her clothes, combed her hair, smiled, and burst out again in a fit of weeping. Because there was a limit to just how much you could lie to yourself.

  Westley wasn't stupid.

  Oh, she could pretend he was. She could laugh about his difficulties with the language. She could chide herself for her silly infatuation with a dullard. The truth was simply this: he had a head on his shoulders. With a brain inside every bit as good as his teeth. There was a reason he hadn't spoken and it had nothing to do with gray cells working. He hadn't spoken because, really, there was nothing for him to say.

  He didn't love her back and that was that.

  The tears that kept Buttercup company the remainder of the day were not at all like those that had blinded her into the tree trunk. Those were noisy and hot; they pulsed. These were silent and steady and all they did was remind her that she wasn't good enough. She was seventeen, and every male she'd ever known had crumbled at her feet and it meant nothing. The one time it mattered, she wasn't good enough. All she knew really was riding, and how was that to interest a man when that man had been looked at by the Countess?

  It was dusk when she heard footsteps outside her door. Then a knock. Buttercup dried her eyes. Another knock. "Whoever is that?" Buttercup yawned finally.

  "Westley."

  Buttercup lounged across the bed. "Westley?" she said. "Do I know any West--oh, Farm Boy, it's you, how droll!" She went to her door, unlocked it, and said, in her fanciest tone, "I'm ever so glad you stopped by, I've been feeling just ever so slummy about the little joke I played on you this morning. Of course you knew I wasn't for a moment serious, or at least I thought you knew, but then, just when you started closing the door I thought for one dreary instant that perhaps I'd done my little jest a bit too convincingly and, poor dear thing, you might have thought I meant what I said when of course we both know the total impossibility of that ever happening."

  "I've come to say good-by."

  Buttercup's heart bucked, but she still held to fancy. "You're going to sleep, you mean, and you've come to say good night? How thoughtful of you, Farm Boy, showing me that you forgive me for my little morning's tease; I certainly appreciate your thoughtfulness and--"

  He cut her off. "I'm leaving."

  "Leaving?" The floor began to ripple. She held to the doorframe. "Now?"

  "Yes."

  "Because of what I said this morning?"

  "Yes."

  "I frightened you away, didn't I? I could kill my tongue." She shook her head and shook her head. "Well, it's done; you've made your decision. Just remember this: I won't take you back when she's done with you, I don't care if you beg."

  He just looked at her.

  Buttercup hurried on. "Just because you're beautiful and perfect, it's made you conceited. You think people can't get tired of you, well you're wrong, they can, and she will, besides you're too poor."

  "I'm going to America. To seek my fortune." (This was just after America but long after fortunes.) "A ship sails soon from London. There is great opportunity in America. I'm going to take advantage of it. I've been training myself. In my hovel. I've taught myself not to need sleep. A few hours only. I'll take a ten-hour-a-day job and then I'll take another ten-hour-a-day job and I'll save every penny from both except what I need to eat to keep strong, and when I have enough I'll buy a farm and build a house and make a bed big enough for two."

  "You're just crazy if you think she's going to be happy in some run-down farmhouse in America. Not with what she spends on clothes."

  "Stop talking about the Countess! As a special favor. Before you drive me maaaaaaaad."

  Buttercup looked at him.

  "Don't you understand anything that's going on?"

  Buttercup shook her head.

  Westley shook his too. "You never have been the brightest, I guess."

  "Do you love me, Westley? Is that it?"

  He couldn't believe it. "Do I love you? My God, if your love were a grain of sand, mine would be a universe of beaches. If your love were--"

  "I don't understand that first one yet," Buttercup interrupted. She was starting to get very excited now. "Let me get this straight. Are you saying my love is the size of a grain of sand and yours is this other thing? Images just confuse me so--is this universal business of yours bigger than my sand? Help me, Westley. I have the feeling we're on the verge of something just terribly important."

  "I have stayed these years in my hovel because of you. I have taught myself languages because of you. I have made my body strong because I thought you might be pleased by a strong body. I have lived my life with only the prayer that some sudden dawn you might glance in my direction. I have not known a moment in years when the sight of you did not send my heart careening against my rib cage. I have not known a night when your visage did not accompany me to sleep. There has not been a morning when you did not flutter behind my waking eyelids....Is any of this getting through to you, Buttercup, or do you want me to go on for a while?"

  "Never stop."

  "There has not been--"

  "If you're teasing me, Westley, I'm just going to kill you."

  "How can you even dream I might be teasing?"

  "Well, you haven't once said you loved me."

  "That's all you need? Easy. I love you. Okay? Want it louder? I love you. Spell it out, should I? I ell-oh-vee-ee why-oh-you. Want it backward? You love I."

  "You are teasing now; aren't you?"

  "A little maybe; I've been saying it so long to you, you just wouldn't listen. Every time you said 'Farm Boy do this' you thought I was answering 'As you wish' but that's only because you were hearing wrong. 'I love you' was what it was, but you never heard, and you never heard."

  "I hear you now, and I promise you this: I will never love anyone else. Only Westley. Until I die."

  He nodded, took a step away. "I'll send for you soon. Believe me."

  "Would my Westley ever lie?"

  He took another step. "I'm late. I must go. I hate it but I must. The ship sails soon and London is far."

  "I understand."

  He reached out with his right hand.

  Buttercup found it very hard to breathe.

  "Good-by."

  She managed to raise her right hand to his. They shook.

  "Good-by," he said again.

  She made a little nod.

  He took a third step, not turning.

  She watched him.

  He turned.

  And the words ripped out of her: "Without one kiss?"

  They fell into each other's arms.

  ***

  THERE HAVE BEEN five great kisses since 1642 B.C., when Saul and Delilah Korn's inadvertent discovery swept across Western civilization. (Before then couples hooked thumbs.) And the precise rating of kisses is a terribly difficult thing, often leading to great controversy, because although everyone agrees with the formula of affection times purity times intensity times duration, no one has ever been completely satisfied with how much weight each element should receive. But on any system, there are five that everyone agrees deserve full marks.

  Well, this one left them all behind.

  THE FIRST MORNING after Westley's departure, Buttercup thought she was entitled to do nothing more than sit around moping and feeling sorry for herself. After all, the love of her life had fled, life had no meaning, how could you face the future, et cetera, et cetera.

  But after about two seconds of that she realized that Westley wa
s out in the world now, getting nearer and nearer to London, and what if a beautiful city girl caught his fancy while she was just back here moldering? Or, worse, what if he got to America and worked his jobs and built his farm and made their bed and sent for her and when she got there he would look at her and say, "I'm sending you back, the moping has destroyed your eyes, the self-pity has taken your skin; you're a slobby-looking creature, I'm marrying an Indian girl who lives in a teepee nearby and is always in the peak of condition."

  Buttercup ran to her bedroom mirror. "Oh, Westley," she said, "I must never disappoint you," and she hurried downstairs to where her parents were squabbling. (Sixteen to thirteen, and not past breakfast yet.) "I need your advice," she interrupted. "What can I do to improve my personal appearance?"

  "Start by bathing," her father said.

  "And do something with your hair while you're at it," her mother said.

  "Unearth the territory behind your ears."

  "Neglect not your knees."

  "That will do nicely for starters," Buttercup said. She shook her head. "Gracious, but it isn't easy being tidy." Undaunted, she set to work.

  Every morning she awoke, if possible by dawn, and got the farm chores finished immediately. There was much to be done now, with Westley gone, and more than that, ever since the Count had visited, everyone in the area had increased his milk order. So there was no time for self-improvement until well into the afternoon.

  But then she really set to work. First a good cold bath. Then, while her hair was drying, she would slave after fixing her figure faults (one of her elbows was just too bony, the opposite wrist not bony enough). And exercise what remained of her baby fat (little left now; she was nearly eighteen). And brush and brush her hair.

  Her hair was the color of autumn, and it had never been cut, so a thousand strokes took time, but she didn't mind, because Westley had never seen it clean like this and wouldn't he be surprised when she stepped off the boat in America. Her skin was the color of wintry cream, and she scrubbed her every inch well past glistening, and that wasn't much fun really, but wouldn't Westley be pleased with how clean she was as she stepped off the boat in America.

  And very quickly now, her potential began to be realized. From twentieth, she jumped within two weeks to fifteenth, an unheard-of change in such a time. But three weeks after that she was already ninth and moving. The competition was tremendous now, but the day after she was ninth a three-page letter arrived from Westley in London and just reading it over put her up to eighth. That was really what was doing it for her more than anything--her love for Westley would not stop growing, and people were dazzled when she delivered milk in the morning. Some people were only able to gape at her, but many talked and those that did found her warmer and gentler than she had ever been before. Even the village girls would nod and smile now, and some of them would ask after Westley, which was a mistake unless you happened to have a lot of spare time, because when someone asked Buttercup how Westley was--well, she told them. He was supreme as usual; he was spectacular; he was singularly fabulous. Oh, she could go on for hours. Sometimes it got a little tough for the listeners to maintain strict attention, but they did their best, since Buttercup loved him so completely.

  Which was why Westley's death hit her the way it did.

  He had written to her just before he sailed for America. The Queens Pride was his ship, and he loved her. (That was the way his sentences always went: It is raining today and I love you. My cold is better and I love you. Say hello to Horse and I love you. Like that.) Then there were no letters, but that was natural; he was at sea. Then she heard. She came home from delivering the milk and her parents were wooden. "Off the Carolina coast," her father whispered.

  Her mother whispered, "Without warning. At night."

  "What?" from Buttercup.

  "Pirates," said her father.

  Buttercup thought she'd better sit down.

  Quiet in the room.

  "He's been taken prisoner then?" Buttercup managed.

  Her mother made a "no."

  "It was Roberts," her father said. "The Dread Pirate Roberts."

  "Oh," Buttercup said. "The one who never leaves survivors."

  "Yes," her father said.

  Quiet in the room.

  Suddenly Buttercup was talking very fast: "Was he stabbed?...Did he drown?...Did they cut his throat asleep?...Did they wake him, do you suppose?...Perhaps they whipped him dead...." She stood up then. "I'm getting silly, forgive me." She shook her head. "As if the way they got him mattered. Excuse me, please." With that she hurried to her room.

  She stayed there many days. At first her parents tried to lure her, but she would not have it. They took to leaving food outside her room, and she took bits and shreds, enough to stay alive. There was never noise inside, no wailing, no bitter sounds.

  And when she at last came out, her eyes were dry. Her parents stared up from their silent breakfast at her. They both started to rise but she put a hand out, stopped them. "I can care for myself, please," and she set about getting some food. They watched her closely.

  In point of fact, she had never looked as well. She had entered her room as just an impossibly lovely girl. The woman who emerged was a trifle thinner, a great deal wiser, an ocean sadder. This one understood the nature of pain, and beneath the glory of her features, there was character, and a sure knowledge of suffering.

  She was eighteen. She was the most beautiful woman in a hundred years. She didn't seem to care.

  "You're all right?" her mother asked.

  Buttercup sipped her cocoa. "Fine," she said.

  "You're sure?" her father wondered.

  "Yes," Buttercup replied. There was a very long pause. "But I must never love again."

  She never did.

  Two

  The Groom

  THIS IS my first major excision. Chapter One, The Bride, is almost in its entirety about the bride. Chapter Two, The Groom, only picks up Prince Humperdinck in the last few pages.

  This chapter is where my son Jason stopped reading, and there is simply no way of blaming him. For what Morgenstern has done is open this chapter with sixty-six pages of Florinese history. More accurately, it is the history of the Florinese crown.

  Dreary? Not to be believed.

  Why would a master of narrative stop his narrative dead before it has much chance to begin generating? No known answer. All I can guess is that for Morgenstern, the real narrative was not Buttercup and the remarkable things she endures, but, rather, the history of the monarchy and other such stuff. When this version comes out, I expect every Florinese scholar alive to slaughter me. (Columbia University has not only the leading Florinese experts in America, but also direct ties to the New York Times Book Review. I can't help that, and I only hope they understand my intentions here are in no way meant to be destructive of Morgenstern's vision.)

  ***

  PRINCE HUMPERDINCK WAS shaped like a barrel. His chest was a great barrel chest, his thighs mighty barrel thighs. He was not tall but he weighed close to 250 pounds, brick hard. He walked like a crab, side to side, and probably if he had wanted to be a ballet dancer, he would have been doomed to a miserable life of endless frustration. But he didn't want to be a ballet dancer. He wasn't in that much of a hurry to be king either. Even war, at which he excelled, took second place in his affections. Everything took second place in his affections.

  Hunting was his love.

  He made it a practice never to let a day go by without killing something. It didn't much matter what. When he first grew dedicated, he killed only big things: elephants or pythons. But then, as his skills increased, he began to enjoy the suffering of little beasts too. He could happily spend an afternoon tracking a flying squirrel across forests or a rainbow trout down rivers. Once he was determined, once he had focused on an object, the Prince was relentless. He never tired, never wavered, neither ate nor slept. It was death chess and he was international grand master.

  In the beginning,
he traversed the world for opposition. But travel consumed time, ships and horses being what they were, and the time away from Florin was worrying. There always had to be a male heir to the throne, and as long as his father was alive, there was no problem. But someday his father would die and then the Prince would be the king and he would have to select a queen to supply an heir for the day of his own death.

  So to avoid the problem of absence, Prince Humperdinck built the Zoo of Death. He designed it himself with Count Rugen's help, and he sent his hirelings across the world to stock it for him. It was kept brimming with things that he could hunt, and it really wasn't like any other animal sanctuary anywhere. In the first place, there were never any visitors. Only the albino keeper, to make sure the beasts were properly fed, and that there was never any sickness or weakness inside.

  The other thing about the Zoo was that it was underground. The Prince picked the spot himself, in the quietest, remotest corner of the castle grounds. And he decreed there were to be five levels, all with the proper needs for his individual enemies. On the first level, he put enemies of speed: wild dogs, cheetahs, hummingbirds. On the second level belonged the enemies of strength: anacondas and rhinos and crocodiles of over twenty feet. The third level was for poisoners: spitting cobras, jumping spiders, death bats galore. The fourth level was the kingdom of the most dangerous, the enemies of fear: the shrieking tarantula (the only spider capable of sound), the blood eagle (the only bird that thrived on human flesh), plus, in its own black pool, the sucking squid. Even the albino shivered during feeding time on the fourth level.

  The fifth level was empty.

  The Prince constructed it in the hopes of someday finding something worthy, something as dangerous and fierce and powerful as he was.

  Unlikely. Still, he was an eternal optimist, so he kept the great cage of the fifth level always in readiness.

  And there was really more than enough that was lethal on the other four levels to keep a man happy. The Prince would sometimes choose his prey by luck--he had a great wheel with a spinner and on the outside of the wheel was a picture of every animal in the Zoo and he would twirl the spinner at breakfast, and wherever it stopped, the albino would ready that breed. Sometimes he would choose by mood: "I feel quick today; fetch me a cheetah" or "I feel strong today, release a rhino." And whatever he requested, of course, was done.

 
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