The Goose Girl

There was once a beautiful young Princess who had been promised in marriage to the Prince of a far country.

When the time for the marriage came she made ready to journey to his country, for it was there that the wedding was to be celebrated, and not in her own land.

Her mother furnished her with all sorts of grand jewels and beautiful clothes to carry with her, and furniture and linens, and she also made her a present of a wonderful horse named Falada, that could talk.

Just before the Princess was ready to set out, her mother called her to her, and made a little cut in her finger, and allowed three drops of blood to fall upon a handkerchief.

"Here, my child, take this with you," said the Queen; "put it in the bosom of your dress, and guard it carefully. It is a charm, and as long as you have it no evil of any kind can have power over you."

The Princess thanked her mother, and put the handkerchief in the bosom of her dress as she was told. Then she kissed the Queen tenderly, and bade her farewell, and set out upon the journey with her waiting-maid riding beside her.

Now this waiting-maid, who rode with the Princess, had a very bad heart. She was both sly and deceitful. She pretended to the Queen that she loved the Princess dearly, but all the while she hated and envied her, and would have been glad enough to do her an ill turn.

She and the Princess journeyed on together for some time, and the sun shone bright and hot and the road was dusty, so the Princess became very thirsty. Presently they came to a stream, and there the Princess drew rein, and said to the waiting-maid, "Light down, I pray of you, and fill my little golden cup that I may drink, for I am thirsty."

But the waiting-maid scowled and answered rudely, "Light down yourself, and drink from the stream, if you are thirsty. I am tired of serving you."

The Princess was very much surprised at being answered in such a manner. However, she was young and timid, and without more words she slipped from her horse, and as she was afraid to ask for the cup, which the waiting-maid carried, she stooped over and drank from the brook as it rippled over its stones.

As she did so the drops of blood upon the handkerchief said to her:—

If thy mother knew thy fate
Then her heart would surely break

The Princess made no answer, but having quenched her thirst she mounted her horse again and rode forward, and presently forgot her maid's rudeness.

After awhile they reached another stream, and as the Princess was again thirsty, she said to the waiting-maid, "Light down, I pray you, and fill my cup with water, that I may drink."

But the waiting-maid answered even more rudely than before, "No, I will not; get down and get the water for yourself, for I will serve you no more."

The Princess slipped from her horse, sighing deeply, and as she bent over the stream the three drops of blood said to her:

If thy mother knew thy fate,
Then her heart would surely break

The Princess made no answer, but as she stooped still lower to drink the handkerchief slipped from her bosom and floated away on the stream, but the Princess did not notice this because her eyes were full of tears. The waiting-maid noticed it, however, and her heart was filled with joy, because now the Princess had nothing to protect her, and the wicked servant could do with her as she chose.

When the Princess arose and was about to mount Falada the waiting-maid said to her, "Wait a bit! I am tired of acting as your servant. Now, we will try it the other way around. Give me your fine clothes, and you can dress yourself in these common things I am wearing."

The Princess was afraid to refuse; she gave the waiting-maid her beautiful dress and her jewels, and dressed herself in the common clothes.

Again she was about to mount Falada, but again the waiting-maid bade her stay; "You shall ride my horse," said she, "and I will ride Falada." As she said so it was done. The waiting-maid also made the Princess swear that she would tell no living soul who she was. The Princess dared not refuse for fear of her life. But Falada made no such promise, and he had seen and heard all that had happened.

When they rode on again the waiting-maid was in front, dressed in the fine clothes and mounted on Falada, and the Princess came behind on the waiting-maid's horse, and she was dressed in the common clothes, but even so she was far more beautiful than the servant.

They reached the palace, and the Prince came out to meet his bride. He lifted down the waiting-maid from Falada, for he thought she was the Princess, and he led her up the grand stairway and into the room where the King sat, but the Princess was left below in the courtyard, and no one paid any attention to her.

The King was surprised when he saw the waiting-maid, for he supposed her to be the Princess, and he had expected her to be much more beautiful. However, he said nothing about it to anyone, but made her welcome. Presently he happened to look out of the window, and there he saw the true Princess down below. "Who is that standing in the courtyard?" he asked, for he saw at once that she was very beautiful, and he was curious about it.

"Oh, that is only my waiting-maid," answered the false bride carelessly. "I wish you would give her some work to do so that she may not be spoiled by idleness."

"I do not know what she can do except take care of the geese," answered the King. "Conrad, who is the goose-herd, is only a boy, and he would be glad of help in caring for them."

"Very well; then let her be a goose-herd," answered the false bride.

So the Princess went out in the field to help tend the geese, and the waiting-maid lived in the palace, and was treated to all that was best there. But the Prince was not happy, for his bride was rude and ill-tempered, and he could not love her.

One day the false bride said to the Prince, "I wish you would have Falada's head cut off. I am weary of him, and besides he stumbles when I ride him." But really she feared Falada might speak and tell all he had seen.

The Prince was shocked. "Why should you kill a horse that is so beautiful and gentle?" he asked.

"Because, as I tell you, I do not like him," answered the waiting-maid. "Besides the horse is mine, and I can do as I like with him. If you refuse to have this done I shall know very well that it is because you do not love me."

The Prince dared refuse no longer. He sent for a man and had Falada's head cut off.

When the true Princess heard this she wept bitterly. She sent for the man and offered him a piece of gold if he would bring Falada's head and nail it up over the gateway through which she passed every morning.

The man was anxious to have the gold. He took the money and nailed Falada's head up over the gateway where the Princess wished it put.

The next morning as the Princess and Conrad drove the geese out to pasture she looked up at Falada and said: "Ah, Falada, that thou shouldst hang there!"

And Falada answered:

Ah, Princess, that thou shouldst pass here!
If thy mother knew thy fate,
Then her heart would surely break!"

The little goose-herd stared and wondered to hear this talk between the goose-girl and the horse's head, but he said nothing. He and the Princess went on out to the meadows driving the geese before them, and when they were far off in the meadows where no one could see, the Princess sat down and unbound her golden hair, so that it fell all about her in a shower, and began to comb it.

Conrad had never seen anything so beautiful in all his life before, for her hair shone and glittered in the sunshine until it was enough to dazzle one. He longed to have just one thread of it to keep, so he crept up behind the Princess, meaning to steal one. But the Princess knew what he was about. Just as he reached out his hand she sang:

Blow, wind, blow!
Blow Conrad's hat away
It is rolling! Do not stay
Till I have combed my hair
And tied it up again

At once the wind caught Conrad's hat from his head and sent it flying and rolling across the meadows, and Conrad was obliged to run after it or he would have lost it.

By the time he came back again with the hat the Princess had combed her hair and fastened it up under her cap so that not a thread of it could be seen.

Conrad was very cross when he went home with the Princess that evening. He would not speak a word to her.

The next morning when they started out with the geese they passed under the gateway as usual, and the Princess looked up and said: "Ah, Falada, that thou shouldst hang there!"

And the head answered:

Ah, Princess, that thou shouldst pass here!
If thy mother knew thy fate,
Then her heart would surely break

Conrad listened and wondered, but said nothing.

When they reached the meadow the Princess let down her hair as before and began to comb it. It looked so beautiful and glittering and bright that Conrad felt he must have a hair of it. He crept up behind her and then, just as he was about to seize it, the Princess sang:

Blow, wind, blow!
Blow Conrad's hat away
It is rolling! Do not stay
Till I have combed my hair
And tied it up again

At once the wind whirled Conrad's hat away across the meadows, and he had to run after it to catch it.

When he came back he was so sulky that he would not even look at the Princess, but already she had her hair combed and fastened up under her cap.

That evening the goose-herd went to the King and said, "I do not wish that girl to go out to the meadows with me any more. I would rather take care of the geese by myself."

"Why?" asked the King. "What is the matter with her?"

"Oh, she vexes me, and she has strange ways that I cannot understand."

"What ways?" asked the King.

Then Conrad told him how every day as he and the girl passed through the gateway she would look up at the horse's head and say: "Ah, Falada, that thou shouldst hang there!"

And how the head would answer:

Ah, Princess that thou shouldst pass here!
If thy mother knew thy fate,
Then her heart would surely break

"I do not like such strange ways," said Conrad.

The King looked thoughtful and stroked his beard. Then he told Conrad not to say anything about this matter to anyone. "I myself," said he, "will watch by the gateway to-morrow morning, for I wish to hear for myself exactly what passes between the girl and Falada."

So the next morning very early the King hid himself in the shadow beside the gateway, and presently the Princess and Conrad came along driving the geese before them.

As they reached the gateway the Princess looked up and sighed: "Ah, Falada, that thou shouldst hang there!"

And the head answered:

Ah, Princess, that thou shouldst pass here!
If thy mother knew thy fate,
Then her heart would surely break

After they had spoken thus the King stepped out from the shadow and called to the Princess. "What is the meaning of these words?" asked he. "Who are you, and what is your story?"

The Princess began to weep. "Alas, I cannot answer," said she, "for I have sworn that I would not tell a single living soul."

"Very well," said the King, "if you have sworn, then you must keep your oath; but to-night, after all the servants have left the bakehouse go and tell your story to the great oven that is there."

This the Princess promised she would do. So that night, when she came home, she went into the bakehouse and looked about her. She saw no one, and she thought she was alone there, but the King had hidden himself inside the oven, though she did not know it.

Then the Princess began to tell her story to the oven. She told how she had left home with her false-hearted waiting-maid. She told of how she had lost the kerchief with the drops of blood upon it, and how the waiting-maid had made her exchange clothing with her and dress herself as a servant; and she told how she had been forced to swear that she would not tell all this to a living soul. All, the whole story, she told to the bake-oven, and the King sat inside of it and listened and understood.

When she had made an end of speaking the King came out and took her by the hand. "You have been very cruelly treated," said he, "but now your sorrows are over."

He then led the Princess into the palace, and she was dressed in the richest clothes that were there, and when this was done she was as beautiful as the moon when the clouds drift over it.

The King sent for the Prince, and when he saw the Princess he was filled with joy and love, and he knew at once that this must be his true bride.

He and the King planned together as to how the false bride should be punished. And this is what was done:

A grand feast and entertainment were arranged. The Prince sat upon a high seat with the false bride upon one hand and the true bride upon the other. But the false bride was so dazzled by all the splendor, and by her own pride that she did not even see the Princess.

Everyone ate and drank to his heart's content, and then the King began asking riddles. After the riddles he said he would tell the guests a story, and the story he told was that of the Princess and the waiting-maid, and still the false bride was too dazzled by her own splendor to understand the story.

When he had finished the story the King asked, "What should be the punishment of such a false servant as that?"

Then the false bride cried boldly, "She should be taken to a high cliff and thrown over into the sea."

"So shall it be," cried the King sternly, "for you yourself are that false servant, and here sits the true bride whom you have wronged."

Then the waiting-maid understood what she had done, and she was filled with terror. But the Princess had pity on her, and begged for mercy for her. So the waiting-maid was not thrown into the sea, but her fine clothes were stripped from her, and she was driven out to beg her way through the world.

Then the Prince and Princess were married and lived happily ever after, and Falada's head was taken down and placed upon his body and he came to life again and lived for many years in the castle stable, and the Princess loved him dearly.