The House in the Wood
T HERE was, once upon a time, a very poor woodcutter who lived with his three little girls in a hut near the forest. Now, the oldest girl was lazy, and did not like to work; the second little girl was careless and untidy; but the youngest little girl was obedient and good and kind.
One morning, very early, the woodcutter set out to work, and he said to the oldest child: "Fetch me my dinner at noon. I will strew oats through the forest to show you the path."
So the oldest child, when the sun was high, started out through the forest with a jug of soup and a loaf of bread; but the hedge sparrows, and the larks, and the finches had eaten all the oats, and she lost her way. On and on she went until it was dark, and the trees rustled, and the night-owl screeched, and she was afraid. But at last she came to a house in the wood with a light twinkling at the window. She rapped at the door and a gruff voice called from the inside: "Come in."
When she opened the door she saw a very old man sitting at a table. Near him stood a cock, a hen and a speckled cow.
"May I stop here all night?" asked the oldest child.
The old man turned to the three animals.
he asked of them. The animals crowed and cackled and mooed "yes." So the oldest child set about laying the table for tea. She cooked a bowl of good food and she ate all that she wished herself, but she never remembered the poor animals. When she had finished she heard a voice saying:
Suddenly the oldest child found herself alone in the forest again, and she had to find her way home as best she could through the dark.
Next morning the woodcutter told the second child to bring his dinner, and he strewed peas all the way through the forest to show her the way. When the sun was at high noon the second child started out, but the brown hares had eaten all the peas, and she, also, lost her way. She wandered about, and when night came she reached the little house in the wood, as the oldest child had done.
"May I stop here all night?" asked the second child.
asked the old man. The animals again crowed and cackled and mooed "yes"; and the second child set about getting tea. But after she had eaten all that she wished, without feeding the animals, she, too, heard a voice saying:
So the second child found herself in the woods alone and she had to find her way home as best she could.
The next morning the woodcutter strewed corn along his path, that the youngest child might find him at noon. But when the youngest child started out with her father's dinner the wood pigeons had eaten all the corn, and she, too, lost her way. As she wandered about after dark she saw the twinkling light and came upon the house in the wood. She went in and asked very gently if she might stay all night.
asked the old man, and the three said "yes."
Then the youngest child went over to the animals and stroked them softly. She cooked a bowl of food for the old man, but before she ate any herself she brought some barley for the cock, some corn for the hen, and an armful of sweet hay for the spotted cow.
"Eat this, dear animals," she said, "and then I will bring you some water."
asked the old man of the three, and they crowed and clucked and mooed:
Just then the youngest child heard strange noises. The corners of the house creaked and cracked. The doors sprang open and struck the wall; the rafters groaned, and the stairs seemed to be turning upside down. At last there was a loud crash, and then all was still. The youngest child covered her eyes with her hands in fright, but when she uncovered them again, oh! The wonderful thing that had happened!
The bright sun was shining, and the little house in the wood had changed to a great castle—all marble, and gold, and silver. The walls were hung with silk and the floors were strewn with flowers. The three animals had changed to three servants, ready to wait on the child, and the old man was gone. In his place stood a prince, who took the hand of the youngest child and said:
"This is your castle, because you were kind and good to my animals."
So the youngest child brought her father and her sisters to the castle, and they all lived happily together.