Authors: Ann Hood
Prince of Air
by Ann Hood
Grosset & Dunlap
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Text Â© 2012 by Ann Hood. Illustrations Â© 2012 by Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Published by Grosset & Dunlap, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014. GROSSET & DUNLAP is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Cover illustration by Scott Altmann. Map illustration by Meagan Bennett.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2011046306
For Gloria-Jean, who believes in magic
Maisie Robbins opened her eyes, and like she had every morning for the past three months, blinked several times to be sure she wasn't dreaming. No, she thought on this gray first day of spring, she was really awake. And she was really in the Princess Room, named by her great-great-grandfather Phinneas Pickworth in honor of Princess Annabelle of Nanuh, who had been a guest at Elm Medona one long ago summer. Nanuh wasn't even a country anymore. It had been absorbed by India in some war that Maisie had never heard of.
But the room remained, with the four-poster bed where Maisie slept every night, each post carved out of mahogany into the shapes of different animals: giraffe, zebra, elephant, and jaguar. The canopy that stretched across the top was made of handmade, saffron-colored silk. A mural painted by the famous nineteenth-century muralist Leopold Gregg depicted a vibrant jungle scene. Sometimes Maisie thought she might actually be able to grab one of the vines painted there and swing across the room or pluck a coffee bean or mango from one of the trees.
Maisie stretched, tugging the deep-green blankets tighter around her. Ever since Great-Uncle Thorne had arrived on Christmas Eve, Maisie's and her twin brother Felix's lives had been turned upside down. Great-Uncle Thorne had moved them and their mother out of the servants' quarters on the third floor where they had been living and into the mansion. He put his twin sister, Great-Aunt Maisie, back into her old bedroom, and he'd settled into his own. “The Pickworths,” he'd announced on Christmas morning, “belong in Elm Medona.” The local preservation society had not been very pleased with all the changes Great-Uncle Thorne had brought on, but they had no choice other than to allow the family to take up residence in the house. As a conciliatory gesture, Great-Uncle Thorne agreed to let them give tours of the mansion on the last Saturday of every month.
A timid knock came on the bedroom door.
“Hello, miss?” a small voice called.
Maisie sat up in bed. “Excuse me?” she said. “This isÂ .Â .Â . uhÂ .Â .Â . my room.” It still felt weird to call the Princess Room hers.
“Yes, miss,” the voice answered. “I'm Aiofe. Your personal maid.”
?” Maisie said.
“Miss? May I enter?”
Maisie blinked again. Several times. She must be dreaming. Not only was she ensconced in the Princess Room, but now she had a maid?
The door creaked open, and a girl who looked only a few years older than Maisie came in carrying a large silver tray. The girl had dark hair tucked under a puffy, white bonnet with a black ribbon around the edge, a full, round face with pale skin and bright-blue eyes, and she wore an honest-to-goodness real maid's uniform, black with a white apron. On the tray sat a bud vase with a white rose, a silver teapot, and something steaming beneath a silver cover. All of this was on Pickworth linen, a white cloth with interlocking blue
s embroidered onto it.
Aiofe put the silver tray down on the bedside table with a soft thud and big sigh.
“Heavy,” she muttered.
Then, as if remembering her duties, she stood taller and smoothed her apron.
“Breakfast,” she announced, lifting the silver lid to reveal two perfectly poached eggs, just the way Maisie liked them, sitting on white bread toasted to the exact color of beige that Maisie preferred, two red ripe strawberries nestled beside that, and everything on Pickworth china.
“Wow,” Maisie managed to say.
“Is it all right?” Aiofe said nervously.
“All right? It's absolutely perfect,” Maisie said.
Relief washed over Aiofe's face.
Maisie and Aiofe looked at each other, neither of them sure what to do next.
“Oh,” Aiofe said finally, remembering.
She lifted the silver teapot and poured rich, thick hot chocolate into the cup.
Maisie stared at the cup of hot chocolate and the eggs and the toast and the strawberries.
“Um,” Aiofe said, “
Then she actually curtsied. The curtsy was followed by a blush that spread from her neck straight up both cheeks.
“Just ring when you finish,” she said, indicating a silver bell very much like the one Great-Aunt Maisie had used to call the nurses when she was in assisted living.
Maisie picked up the bell and gave it a gentle shake.
Aiofe was scurrying toward the door.
“Wait!” Maisie called.
The girl stopped and turned to face Maisie.
“Who are you? And where did you come from?”
“Sit down and tell me,” Maisie said.
She pointed to her favorite thing in the Princess Room, a seat that Maisie called the poufe. It was bright pink and tufted, a round footstool kind-of-thing that really did seem made for a princess. Aiofe sat on it almost primly and folded her hands.
“So?” Maisie said, finally digging into her eggs. The yolk ran exactly how she liked it to, giving the perfect ratio of yolk, egg white, and toast.
“My great-great-great,” Aiofe began, counting off the greats on her fingers, “great-grandmother Roisin O'Malley was the head maid for your great-greatâ”
“Phinneas Pickworth,” Maisie interrupted.
“Yes,” Aiofe said. “And our family served the Pickworths for generations until your great-aunt Maisie suffered her stroke last year.”
“You mean even when she moved out of Elm Medona and upstairs, she had servants?”
Aiofe nodded. “A reduced staff,” she said.
Aiofe grimaced. “We prefer the word
“Your great-uncle Thorne contacted my mother and brought us all back to work here.”
Maisie chewed on a strawberry. “All?” she asked.
“Well, my mother will run the household. Her sister, my aunt Emma, will be your mother's personal maid, and my sister Aine will be your brother's personal maid,” Aiofe explained.
Maisie tried to keep all the names straight. Four maids!
“And of course my aunt Sarah and aunt Megan will be with Mr. and Miss Pickworth.”
“Of course,” Maisie said, shaking her head at this latest turn of events. What would Great-Uncle Thorne do next?
“Miss?” Aiofe said. “If you don't mind, Mr. Pickworth has called a staff meeting, and I can't be late. The butlers and chauffeurs are all assembling.”
Aiofe got up from the poufe and once again smoothed her apron.
“Sure,” Maisie said.
She watched as Aiofe hurried out. Once she'd closed the door firmly behind her, Maisie said out loud, “I have my very own maid.”
Then she laughed.
She wished she had a friend she could call and tell the news. But even after six months at Anne Hutchinson Elementary School, Maisie had not acquired a single friend. Felix, on the other hand, practically had a girlfriend, Lily Goldberg. And he had a best friend, Jim Duncan. And he had about a million other friends who he was always hanging out with. Some afternoons Maisie would come downstairs and find half a dozen kids playing pool in the Billiard Room with Felix. Their faces looked vaguely familiar from school, but she didn't know any of their names except for Jim's. And she didn't like Jim Duncan, with his short blond hair and turned-up nose. In fact, Jim Duncan was maybe her least favorite person in all of Newport.
Thinking about her lack of friends almost ruined her good mood. Almost. But Maisie reminded herself that even though her parents had gotten divorced and her father had moved halfway around the world to Qatar and her mother had yanked her out of New York City where she'd lived her entire life and forced her to live in crummy Newport, Rhode Islandâdespite all of thatâshe was now out of that upstairs apartment in the servants' quarters and living in a real mansion, sleeping in a bed made for a real princess, with her very own maid.
Maisie sighed and ate her last bite of toast with the right amount of yolk and white on it. Of course, she thought as she savored the taste combination in her mouth, high on her list of good things that had happened since they'd moved here was The Treasure Chest. She and Felix had not visited that room since Great-Aunt Maisie and Great-Uncle Thorne moved themselves and Maisie's family into Elm Medona. But Maisie knew the room was right down the hall, hidden behind that wall, up the secret staircase. Already, she and Felix had gone there, touched a scroll of paper, a silver coin, and last time a jade box, and time traveled. They'd met Clara Barton, Alexander Hamilton, and Pearl Buck. Who knew whom they might meet next?
From outside came the sound of noisy car engines approaching. Maisie got out of bed and ran over to the window, parting the long, sheer curtains to peer down. She watched as a line of antique cars pulled up, one after the other. Each one looked as if it had just been polished, gleaming under the dim sun trying to peek through the layer of gray clouds. As if on cue, the driver's door of each carâtwelve! Maisie countedâopened, and from each car emerged a chauffeur dressed in a dark-blue uniform, complete with a stiff-brimmed hat. The men stood erect beside their cars as if waiting for something.
Maisie waited, too, holding her breath.
Just then, the sun did indeed break through the clouds, spilling bright light onto the scene below her. Into the sunlight strode Great-Uncle Thorne, waving one of his ornate walking sticks, its gold tip shining as the sunlight bounced off it.
Great-Uncle Thorne wore high-waisted, gray-and-white-striped pants, a white, high-collared shirt, and a red vest. His full head of white hair seemed extra wild, his face extra animated as he surveyed each car and each driver. When he finished, he lifted his walking stick high in the air. In unison the chauffeurs got back into the cars, and like a long snake, the cars drove around the circle of the driveway and off toward the garages where they had sat, neglected, for decades.
The large grandfather clock in the hallway outside Maisie's room chimed nine times. Great-Uncle Thorne had flown a clock maker in from Zurich, Switzerland, to get that clock back into working condition. It had taken him almost three weeks, but he'd fixed it. Every hour on the hour, chimes counted out the time, and a door opened at the top of the clock. From the door emerged a character from one of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales, a rotating roster of stories getting told every twelve hours. All one hundred and sixty-eight of them were represented in the clock. At noon and midnight, all the characters from one fairy tale made a final circle around the clock before disappearing inside and a new story began. Across the face of the clock, the words O
were written in fancy script.
Nine o'clock and already the day had been full of surprises.
Maisie's bedroom door burst open, and there stood her brother, Felix, his cowlick sticking up straight, his glasses perched on the tip of his nose, and his face red with anger.
“What in the world was he thinking?” Felix practically shouted.
He marched inside, his hands gesturing madly as if his anger had taken hold of them.
?” Felix sputtered. “We each have a
“Isn't it great?” Maisie said. “My eggs were cooked perfectly. The yolks were just right and the toastâ”
“Maisie!” Felix said, his eyes widening. “People shouldn't have servants. Do you know they're only nineteen years old? They should be in college or something, not working for two twelve-year-olds. This is awful.”
“It is?” Maisie said. She didn't think it was awful at all. In fact, she liked the idea of ringing that little silver bell and having someone come running.
“Of course it is,” Felix said. “We're twelve years old,” he said again as if she didn't remember how old they were. As if he hadn't just said it two seconds ago.
“I like mine,” Maisie said. She plopped down on the poufe. “I'm keeping her.”
“You sound like she's a new pet. She's a girl, you know. A nineteen-year-old girl.”
Maisie shrugged, unsure what the big deal was.
“She should be out somewhere doing nineteen-year-oldâtype things, not bringing you eggs,” Felix said. His hazel eyes blazed at his sister.
Maisie jutted her chin in defiance. Felix was not going to ruin her good day. She wouldn't let him.
“Why don't you go and play with Jim Duncan? The two of you can solve all the world's injustices.”
She got up and went over to her breakfast tray.
“Meanwhile, I'm going to call my maid.”
Maisie picked up the silver bell and rang it hard and long.
Almost immediately, they heard footsteps moving down the hallway.
“You're as bad as Great-Aunt Maisie,” Felix said.
Maisie froze, the bell still in her hand. Great-Aunt Maisie was demanding, impossible, a complete snob. How could Felix compare her to someone like that?