ASHPUTTEL

 

Once upon a time the wife of a rich man became very ill, and when she felt that her end was near, she called her only daughter to her bed-side, and said, ‘Always be a good girl, and I will look down from heaven and watch over you.’
And with that, the mother shut her eyes and died.
The child and her father mourned for their loss, the young girl went every day to her grave and wept, and was always good and kind to those around her. The snow spread a beautiful white covering over the grave; but by the time the sun had melted it away again, her father had married another wife. This new wife had two daughters of her own. Although the new stepmother and her daughters spoke in polite tones, and smiled like ladies, they were foul at heart, and it became a very sorry time for the poor little girl. ‘What does the good-for-nothing want in the parlour?’ said they; ‘they who would eat bread should first earn it; away with the kitchen maid!’ Then they took away her fine clothes, and gave her an old grey frock to put on, and laughed at her, turning her into the kitchen.
Ashputtel’s father seemed not to notice how cruel these three women were towards his daughter. She was made to work hard; to rise before daylight, to bring the water, to make the fire, to cook and to wash. Her goodness and sufferance of this harsh treatment seemed only to increase their hatred of her, and they made her sleep by the hearth amongst the ashes. As she was always dusty and dirty, they called her Ashputtel.

It happened once that the father was going to the fair, and asked his wife’s daughters what he should bring them. ‘Fine clothes,’ said the first: ‘Pearls and diamonds,’ cried the second. ‘Now child,’ said he to his own daughter, ‘What will you have?’ ‘The first sprig, dear father, that rubs against your hat on your way home,’ said she.
He bought for the first two the fine clothes and pearls and diamonds they had asked for: and on his way home as he rode through a green copse, a sprig of hazel brushed against him, and almost pushed off his hat: so he broke it off and bought it away; and when he got home he gave it to his daughter.
She took it straight away to her mother’s grave and planted it there, and cried so much that it was watered with her tears; and there it grew and became a fine tree. Three times a day she went to it and wept; and soon a little bird came and built its nest upon the tree, and talked with her, and watched over her, and bought her whatever she wished for.

Now it happened that the king of the land held a feast which was to last three days, and out of those that came to it, his son was to choose a bride for himself: and Ashputtel’s two sisters were asked to come. So they called her up, and said, ‘Now comb our hair, brush our shoes, and tie our sashes for us, for we are going to dance at the king’s feast.’ Then she did as she was told, but when all was done she could not help crying, for she thought to herself, she should have liked to go to the dance too; and at last she begged her mother very hard to let her go. ‘You!…Ashputtel?’ said she; ‘you who have nothing to wear, no clothes at all, and who cannot even dance - you want to go to the ball?’ And when she kept on begging, - to get rid of her, she said at last, ‘I will throw this basin-full of peas into the ash heap, and if you have picked them all out in two hours’ time you shall go to the feast too.’ She threw the whole tray of peas into the ashes and left the kitchen. The little maiden ran out the back door into the garden, and cried out -

‘Hither, hither, through the sky,
Turtle-doves and linnets, fly!
Blackbird, thrush, and chaffinch gay,
Hither, hither, haste away!
One and all, come help me quick,
Haste ye, haste ye, - pick, pick, pick!’

First came two white doves flying in through the kitchen window. Next came two turtle-doves and after them all the little birds in heaven came chirping and fluttering in. They flew down into the ashes, and the little doves stooped their heads down and set to work, pick, pick, pick; and picked out all the good grain and put it in a dish, and left the ashes. At the end of one hour the work was done, and all flew out again at the windows. Then she bought the dish to her mother, overjoyed at the thought that now she should go to the wedding. But then she said, ‘No, no! you slut, you have no clothes and cannot dance, you shall not go.’ Ashputtel then begged very hard to go, so the stepmother then said, ‘If you can in one hour’s time pick two of those dishes of grain out of the ashes, you shall go too.’ And thus she thought she should at last get rid of her. So she shook two dishes of grain into the ashes; but the little maiden went out into the garden at the back of the house, and cried out as before-

‘Hither, hither, through the sky,
Turtle-doves and linnets, fly!
Blackbird, thrush, and chaffinch gay,
Hither, hither, haste away!
One and all, come and help me quick,
Haste ye, haste ye, - pick, pick, pick!’

The same happened again, the two white doves came first and soon all the little birds under heaven came chirping and hopping about. They put their heads down and set to work…pick, pick, pick; and they put all the good grain into the dishes and left all the ashes. Before half an hour’s time was all done, and out they flew again. Ashputtel took the dishes to her mother, rejoicing to think that now she would go to the ball. But her mother said, ‘It is all of no use, you cannot go; you have no clothes and cannot dance, and you would only put us to shame.’ And with that, off she went with her two daughters to the feast.

Now when all were gone, and nobody left at home, Ashputtel sorrowfully went and sat down under the hazel tree and cried out-

‘Shake, shake, hazel-tree,
Gold and silver over me!’

Then her friend the bird flew out of the tree and brought a gold and silver dress for her, and slippers of spangled silk: and she put them on, and followed her sisters to the feast. But they did not know her, and thought it must be some strange princess, she looked so fine and beautiful in her rich clothes. They never once thought of Ashputtel, but took it for granted that she was safe at home in the dirt.

The king’s son soon came up to her, and took her by the hand and danced with her and no-one else; he never left her hand, but when anyone else came to ask her to dance, he said ‘This lady is dancing with me.’ Thus they danced till a late hour of the night, and then she wanted to go home, and the king’s son said, ‘I shall go and take care of you to your home,’ for he wanted to see where the young maid lived, but she slipped away from him unawares, and ran off towards home, and the prince followed her; but she jumped into the pigeon-house and shut the door. Then he waited until her father came home, and told him that the unknown maiden who had been at the feast had hid herself in the pigeon-house. But when they broke open the door, they found no one within; and they came back into the house, Ashputtel lay, as she always did, in her dirty frock by the ashes, and her dim little lamp burnt in the chimney ; for she had run as quickly as she could through the pigeon-house and on to the hazel tree, and had there taken off her beautiful clothes, and laid them beneath the tree, that the bird might carry them away. Then she had seated herself amid the ashes again in in her little grey frock.

The next day when the feast was again held, and her father, mother and sisters were gone, Ashputtel went to the hazel-tree and said -

‘Shake, shake, hazel-tree,
Gold and silver over me!’

And the bird came down and bought a still finer dress than the one she had worn the day before. And when she came in it to the ball, everyone wondered at her beauty. The king’s son was waiting for her, he took her by the hand and they danced; and when anyone asked her to dance, he said as before, ‘This lady is dancing with me.’ When night came, she wanted to go home, and the king’s son followed her as before, that he might see into what house she went: but she sprung away from him all at once into the garden behind her father’s house. In this garden stood a fine large pear-tree full of ripe fruit; and Ashputtel not knowing where to hide herself jumped up into it without being seen. The king’s son could not see where she had gone, and so waited till her father came home, and said to him, ‘The unknown lady who danced with me has slipt away, and I think she must have sprung into the pear-tree.’ The father thought to himself, ‘Can it be Ashputtel?’ So he ordered an axe to be brought, and they cut down the tree, but found no-one upon it. And when they came back into the kitchen, there lay Ashputtel in the ashes as usual. She had slipped down on the other side of the tree, and carried her beautiful clothes back to the bird at the hazel-tree, and put on her little grey frock.

The third day, when her father, mother and sisters were gone, she went again into the garden, and said-

‘Shake, shake, hazel-tree,
Gold and silver over me!’

Then her kind friend the bird brought a dress still finer than the former one, and slippers which were of all gold, so that when she came to the feast no one knew what to say for wonder at her beauty. The king’s son danced only with her, and when anyone else asked her to dance, he said, ‘This lady is my partner.’ Now when night came she said she wanted to go home; and the king’s son would go with her, and said to himself, ‘I will not loose her this time.’ She still however managed to slip away from him, though in such a hurry that she dropped her left golden slipper upon the stairs.

So the prince took the shoe, and went the next day to the king his father, and said, ‘I will take for my wife the lady that this golden slipper fits.’ Then both the sisters were overjoyed to hear this; for they had beautiful feet, and had no doubt that they could wear the golden slipper. The eldest went first into the room where the slipper was and wanted to try it on, and the mother stood by. But her great toe could not go into it, and the shoe was altogether too much too small for her. Then her mother gave her a knife, and said, ‘Never mind, cut it off; when you are queen you will not care about toes, you will not want to go on foot.’ So the silly girl cut her great toe off, and squeezed the shoe on, and went to the king’s son. He took her for his bride and set her beside him on his horse and rode away with her.

But on their way home they had to pass by the hazel-tree that Ashputtel had planted, and there sat the little dove on the branch singing -

‘Back again! back again! look to the shoe!
The shoe is too small and not made for you!
Prince! prince! look again for thy bride,
For she’s not the true one that sits by thy side.’

Then the prince got down and looked at her foot, and saw the blood that streamed from it; what a trick she had played on him. So he turned his horse round and brought the false bride back to her home, and said, ‘This is not the right bride; let the other sister try and put on the slipper.’ So she went into the room and got her foot into the shoe, all but the heel, which was too large. But her mother squeezed and squashed it in till the blood came, and took her to the king’s son. He set her as his bride by his side on his horse, and rode away with her.

But when they came to the hazel-tree, the little dove sat there and sang -

‘Back again! back again! look to the shoe!
The shoe is too small and not made for you!
Prince! prince! look again for thy bride,
For she’s not the true one that sits by thy side.’

Then he looked down and saw that the blood streamed so from the shoe that her white stockings were quite red. So he turned his horse and bought her back again also. ‘This is not the true bride,’ said he to the father; ‘have you no other daughters?’ ‘No,’ said he; ‘there is only a dirty little Ashputtel here, the child of my first wife, I am sure she cannot be the bride.’ However, the prince told him to send her. But the mother said ‘No, no, she is much too dirty, she will not dare to show herself.’ However, the prince would have her come. She first washed her face and hands, and went in and curtsied to him. He reached her the golden slipper. Then she took her clumsy shoe off her left foot and put on the golden slipper. It fitted her as if it had been made for her. And when he drew near and looked at her face he knew her, and said, ‘This is the right bride.’ But the mother and both the sisters were frightened and turned pale with anger as he took Ashputtel on his horse, and rode away with her. And when they came to the hazel-tree, the white dove sang -

‘Home! home! look at the shoe!
Princess! the shoe was made for you!
Prince! prince! take home thy bride,
For she is the true one that sits by thy side!’

And when the dove had done its song, it came flying and perched upon her right shoulder, and so went home with her.

THE END