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Something Completely Different

Posted by acdtest on September 19, 2003

And Now For Something Completely Different

The Goose Girl At The Spring

A New But Unmodern Translation of The Tale
From The Collection of The Brothers Grimm

very long time ago there lived a king and queen who dwelled together contentedly, and they had two beautiful daughters.

One day it happened that the queen was delivered of a third daughter, and on the very day of her birth there appeared, uninvited, a crinkled and bent old woman who blessed the child, and said, “I give you a gift, most beautiful child. Whenever you weep, you shall weep tears of purest pearl, for princess though you may be, you will surely suffer much hardship and sorrow,” and with that, the old woman vanished as suddenly as she’d come. And thereafter, true to the old woman’s word, whenever the princess wept it was not tears that dropped from her eyes, but tiny tear-shaped pearls of matchless purity.

With each passing year the princess grew ever more beautiful, and she filled with delight all who beheld her. Her limbs were white as snow, her cheeks rosy as apple-blossom, and the radiance of her golden hair made even the very sun itself envious. Moreover, she was gentle of spirit and good of heart and the favorite of her father the king.

One day, when the princess had turned twelve, the king summoned his three daughters to come before his throne, and he said to them, “I know not when my last day will come; therefore I will today decide what each of you shall receive at my death. That all three of you love me I know full well, but by your own words, the one who loves me most shall receive most.”

The eldest princess said, “I love my father more than sweetest sugar.” And the second eldest said, “I love my father more than richest honey.” But the youngest said nothing, for her love for her father was so great she could think of nothing to which to compare it.

The king said to her, “Come, my dearest child, and tell me how much you love me,” and she replied, “I know not how to say it, and can compare my love to nothing.” But her father the king insisted she name something, and so she said at last, “The finest food does not please me without salt, therefore I love my father like salt.”

When the king heard this he was greatly angered, and said, “As you love me like salt, your love shall be repaid with salt.”

He then divided the kingdom between the two elder daughters, but ordered that a sack of salt be bound to the back of the youngest, and that she be led into the depths of the great forest, and there left to survive as best she could.

The queen, pale with horror, begged her husband the king to reconsider, but his anger was so great that he was deaf to her pleas. And so that night the young princess, a sack of salt bound to her back, was led into the great forest and there abandoned, and she wept so bitterly and abundantly that her path through the woods was strewn with a river of tiny tear-shaped pearls that shimmered in the moonlight like a ribbon of quicksilver.

A short time afterwards the king’s anger cooled, and he at last understood how deep was his youngest daughter’s love for him, and he repented the harsh sentence he’d pronounced on her. He ordered the great forest searched from border to border, but the young princess was nowhere to be found, and the king and queen, now both sick with grief, finally despaired of her life and mourned for her, and for themselves as well.

* * *

Three years passed, and it happened one day that a young nobleman was walking through the great forest. The sun shone brightly, the birds sang sweetly, and a gentle, cool breeze whispered through the leaves, and he was filled with the joy of his youth.

As he walked along, he came upon an old woman with a crooked cane who was tying together a great bundle of grass and kindling.

“Little old mother,” he said, “how do you expect to carry that away with you?”

“But I must carry it, good sir, for I’ve no one to carry it for me. But perhaps you will be so good as to help me, for your back is straight and your legs young, and it would be but a trifle for you. My little house is on the heath just beyond that little hill, and we can be there in no time at all.”

The young nobleman, who was good of heart, took compassion on the old woman, and said, “I will help you with your burden old mother,” and he allowed her to pack the bundle on his back, and they trudged along toward the little hill and the old woman’s little house on the heath beyond.

As long as they walked on level ground the burden was bearable for the nobleman, but when they came to the hill and began to climb, the stones rolled from under his feet, and the burden felt beyond his strength to carry it, and he said, “Old mother, let us rest a bit, for I’m weary.”

“Not yet,” said the old woman. “When we’ve reached our destination there will be time enough for rest. But for now, you must go on, and when we reach my house I shall give you a gift that will be well worth your trouble.”

“Well worth my trouble, indeed!” thought the young nobleman, “for what could this old crone have that I would want.” But he thought further to humor her, and continued on.

As they climbed the hill the old woman seemed to grow more nimble as his burden grew heavier, and all at once she leapt from the ground, jumped onto the bundle on his back, and seated herself on top of it. And however frail her body may have been, she seemed to the nobleman heavier than the stoutest country maid. The young man’s knees trembled, but whenever he wanted to stop to rest she would not let him, and instead urged him sharply onward.

At last, just as the nobleman’s legs were about to give way, they reached the little house on the heath. A flock of geese ran cackling to greet them, and behind the flock came a goose-girl, healthy and strong, but old and ugly as darkest night.

“Mother, has anything happened to you,” said the old goose-girl, “you’ve been away so long?”

“By no means, little daughter. On the contrary, I’ve met this fine young man who was kind enough to carry my burden for me, and — just think! — he was even kind enough to carry me on his back when I became tired.”

Then the old woman slid down, took the bundle from the nobleman’s back, looked at him kindly and said, “Sit down now and rest, for you’ve earned it,” and with that, she went with the old goose-girl into the little house.

Looking about him, the nobleman spied a wild apple tree, and lay down in its shade to rest. The air was warm and mild, and on all sides stretched a rolling green meadow luxuriant with cowslips, wild thyme, and a thousand other flowers, and the young man was delighted and comforted by the sight, and closed his eyes and slept.

He’d not been asleep very long when he was awakened by the old woman. “Sit up!” she cried, “for you cannot stay here and must be on your way. That you are a nobleman I can plainly see, and have need of neither money nor land. But I give you as gift for your trouble something more precious,” and she thrust into his hand a little green box which, by the way it sparkled in the light, appeared as if it had been cut from a single large emerald. “Take good care of it,” the old woman said, “for it’s of great value and will bring you much good fortune.”

The young nobleman, thinking the little green box of small value, placed it carelessly in his pocket, thanked the old woman, and went on his way down the hill and back into the great forest.

For three days he wandered there, until at last he came upon a castle and asked to be given shelter for the night. And the castle was none other than the castle of the king and queen whose youngest daughter, three years before, had been led into the great forest with a sack of salt bound to her back.

Now, as the young man was a nobleman he was led into the throne-room to be presented to the king and queen. He bowed before them, and remembering the sparkling little green box, pulled it from his pocket and laid it at the queen’s feet as a gift of greeting. She bade him rise and present it to her, but scarcely had she opened it and looked within than she fell to the ground as if dead.

The young nobleman was seized by the king’s guards, and was about to be thrown into the dungeons when the queen rose from her faint, and ordered him released at once. She then bade all the courtiers leave as she wished to speak with the young nobleman alone, but she signaled to the king that he should remain with her.

When all the courtiers had gone, she demanded of the nobleman that he reveal to her how he came into possession of the little emerald box. The young man then told her of his adventure with the old woman, and how she had given him the little box as gift.

Then the queen said, “And do you know what’s within?”

“I do not, noble queen,” replied the young man, “for when I tried to open it, I could not.”

“What is within this little emerald box,” said the queen, “is worth more than the whole kingdom,” and she again opened it so that the king and the young nobleman could see within. On seeing the little box’s contents, the king let out a gasp, for laying within the little emerald box was a tiny tear-shaped pearl of matchless purity.

The king, hardly believing his eyes, embraced the queen, and she him, and they both wept tears of joy. Then they told the young nobleman of all that had happened, and how they had finally given up hope that their youngest daughter might still be alive. “Even so,” the queen continued, “many were the days I consoled myself by dreaming that perhaps my child had found shelter in a cave, or with some kindly people somewhere; and just now, when I saw the tiny tear-shaped pearl within the little box, a pearl that could have dropped only from her eyes, it was as if all my dreams had not been dreams at all.”

Then the king said, “We must seek out the old woman, for if she had possession of the pearl she may have something to tell us of our daughter,” and that very night the three of them set out through the great forest with the young nobleman in the lead, the cold light of the moon showing them the way.

Now, at about that same time, on the other side of the great forest, in the little house on the heath beyond the little hill, the old woman was sitting at her spinning wheel, spinning. She heard the cackling of the geese as they came back from the meadow, and shortly thereafter the old goose-girl entered the house, took her place at her own spinning wheel beside her mother, and began to spin, twisting the threads as nimbly as a young girl.

There they sat for some time spinning, and exchanged not a word. Then came a rustling at the window, and two fierce eyes peered into the little house. It was an old hoot-owl, and when it cried, “Toowhittahoo”, the old woman looked up a little and said to her daughter, “It’s time, my child, for you to go to your work,” and without a word, the daughter rose and went out into the night.

Over the meadow and onward into the great forest she went, until finally she reached a running spring. Around the spring stood three old oak trees, their twisted limbs gleaming in the moonlight, and where the moonlight touched the swift-running water its surface glittered like a shifting field of purest diamonds.

The goose-girl knelt by the edge of the spring, removed the mask of skin that covered her face, and began to wash herself. When she’d finished, she dipped the skin into the water, then laid it on the ground to dry and bleach in the moonlight, which was so bright one could have found a needle by it.

And, Oh!, how the goose-girl was transformed!, for her limbs were white as snow, her cheeks rosy as apple-blossom; and when she lifted the gray covering from her head, her golden hair, which flowed down from under the gray covering like a cloak about her shoulders, glistened in the moonlight with such a brilliance that the very sun itself might have been envious.

Then the maid began to weep bitterly, and her tears, shimmering like quicksilver in the moonlight, rolled down her rosy cheeks and dropped to the ground.

Thus she sat weeping, and would have remained so a long time, but a rustling and cracking sound came from the wood, and she sprang up like a frightened deer. And just at that moment, a cloud covered the moon’s face, and in that instant the maid put on the gray head-covering and the old skin mask, and vanished into the darkness like candlelight blown out by the wind.

She ran back through the great forest and over the meadow, trembling like an aspen leaf, and when she finally reached the little house, breathless, the old woman was waiting for her on the threshold. “I know all, my child,” she said, and led her into the house.

The old woman then took hold of a broom, and began sweeping. “All must be clean tonight,” she said, “for tonight is the last of many nights”.

“But, Mother,” said the maid, “why do you begin work at so late an hour?”

“Do you not know, then, what time it is?”

“Not yet midnight, Mother, but well past eleven o’clock,” said the bewildered girl.

“Have you forgotten, my child, that it’s three years to the day since you came to me? Your time here is up, and we can no longer remain together.”

The maid was terrified, and said, “Will you, too, cast me out? I’ve no place to go, no friends and no home but here with you. I’ve always done what you’ve asked of me. I beg you, don’t cast me out.”

“Have no fear, my child,” said the old woman, “for you will have all you need and more. My stay here is finished as well, and when I depart, the house must be clean, so do not hinder me in my work.”

“But what’s to happen?” asked the frightened maid.

“I tell you again, do not hinder me in my work,” replied the old woman sharply, “and do not say another word, but take the old skin from your face, the gray covering from your head, and put on the silken gown you wore the day you came to me.”

And, as always, the girl did what the old woman required of her.

Meanwhile, not far off, just at the edge of the great forest, stood the king and queen. They’d been standing there looking about for some time as they’d lost sight of the young nobleman who’d gone on ahead thinking he’d recognized some landmark or two which seemed to tell him they were nearing their goal.

Presently, the nobleman came running toward them greatly excited. “I’ve seen the most wonderful thing,” he cried. “I climbed a tree nearby a spring to get a better look around, and I at once saw the old woman’s ugly old daughter coming toward the water. ‘What luck!’ thought I, ‘for if I can catch the one, I will surely catch the other.’

“I watched a little, biding my time, but then — Oh!, wondrous to behold — she removed an old skin mask from her face and the gray covering from her head, and there sat the most beautiful maid I ever beheld. Her limbs were white as snow, her cheeks rosy as apple-blossom, and her golden hair glistened in the moonlight so brilliantly that the very sun itself might have been envious. And then she began to weep bitter tears, and they rolled down her rosy cheeks and dropped to the ground and shimmered there like quicksilver in the moonlight. In my excitement I fell from the tree, and the sound startled her so, that she sprang up like a frightened deer, and just then a cloud covered the moon and I could see nothing. When the cloud passed I looked again, but the maid had vanished.”

On hearing this the king and queen again wept for joy and embraced each other, for the maid which the young man had seen could be none other than the daughter they had long ago given up for dead.

They all ran forward out of the great forrest toward the little hill and over the meadow, and were soon at the little house on the heath. The king knocked at the door, and the voice of the old woman called out, “Enter, for I’ve been expecting you.”

When the king and queen entered the little house the old woman was quietly spinning. But of their daughter there was no sign.

Then the old woman looked up from her spinning, and said, “You might have spared yourself this long journey had you not been so unjustly cruel to your daughter this very day three years ago. You will be pleased to learn that she’s unharmed, for she has been with me these three years tending geese, and from them she’s learned no evil, and has preserved the purity of her heart though she has suffered much hardship and sorrow, and wept rivers of bitter tears on your account.”

Then the old woman called out, “Come!, my child, come from your chamber!” whereupon the chamber door opened, and the young princess stepped into the room in her silken garments, and she was more lovely than ever she had been. She ran to her mother the queen and her father the king, threw her arms about their necks, kissed and embraced them, and they all wept with joy. The young nobleman was standing off to one side, and when the young princess saw him standing there she blushed until her face glowed like a moss-rose, but even she herself did not know why.

Then the king said, “My most beloved child, I’ve greatly wronged you, and, further, I now have no part of my kingdom to give to you, for I’ve divided it between your two sisters.”

“She is in no need of any part of your kingdom,” snapped the old woman, “for I’ve gathered and saved for her the rivers of pearls she wept on your account these three years, and their worth is more than ten kingdoms. I further give to her this little house, for she has served it well during her stay here,” and with that, the old woman simply vanished. And it was at that moment the queen knew that the uninvited guest who had blessed the young princess at birth, and given her the gift of weeping tears of purest pearl, was none other than the old woman herself.

No sooner had the old woman vanished than there was a great rumbling and shaking, and in the blink of an eye the little house was transformed into a splendid palace, and the flock of geese into a throng of waiting-maids and attendants, and all were amazed at the transformation.

And soon thereafter the young princess was wed to the young nobleman, and they lived together in the splendid palace, happily and contentedly, for the rest of their days.


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