The Girl Who Sat by the Ashes  by Padraic Colum



I n the morning early she rose up, opened wide the door and let the Goats go through. She milked a little from the brown Goat and drank the milk for her breakfast. Then she let the seven Goats go by themselves off to the high places and the rocky places.

She went down to the stream and she washed her face and her hands. Then she stood on the bank and the two starlings flew down, lighting one on each shoulder, and they began to sing to her. The song they sang was of the Little Brown Jug that she washed every day and left in the center place on the dresser:

Little Brown Jug,

Don't I love thee?

Bright and brown

Like a kept penny!

I'll fill thee with honey,

I'll fill thee with spice,

I'll border thee with flowers

Of every device.

I'll not let befall thee

A chip or a crack;

I'll leave pewter below thee,

And delph at thy back.

I'll fill thee with spice,

And I'll fill thee with honey,

And I'd not part with thee

For a kettle-full of money.

Little Brown Jug,

Don't I love thee?

Bright and brown

Like a kept penny.

And when the starlings had sung to her, Girl-go-with-the-Goats was not as heavy at heart as she had been before.


Her next stint of work was to take a clappers in her hands and go to the field and frighten the crows from her step-mother's crop. She did this until mid-day, and then hearing a call for her she went to the house. Dame Dale was at the door. She told Girl-go-with-the-Goats to eat her dinner off the board at the gable end of the house and then go and bring back the seven Goats from the high places and the rocky places.

She at her dinner of bread and milk and an egg. Then she brought the Goats home. Her step-mother told her she need not milk them as she had to go to a certain place before the dark of the night came down.

And where had she to go to? To the Forge in the Forest. And what had she to go for? For a pot of fire, no less.

For all that morning Buttercup and Berry-bright, after washing their hands with new milk, sat dizening themselves as before. And Dame Dale, being wearied from her journey, stayed in bed. The consequence of it all was that the fire on the hearth had gone out, and there was no way now of kindling a fire.

And the only place to get fire was at the Forge in the Forest. It wasn't in a forest at all, for the trees had long since been cut down, and where the Forge stood was more of a moorland than a forest. But still it was called the Forge in the forest, and from all the houses around people went to it for fire when their own hearths were quenched.

And now Girl-go-with-the-Goats was bidden take a pot in her hands and go to the Forge in the Forest for fire for her step-mother's hearth. She started off, and no sooner had she turned the loaning when the starlings again flew down on her shoulders. And as she went along the path through the wood the two starlings sang to her; whatever she thought of, that they sang to her. She came out on the moorland and when she went a furlong she saw the black forge. Two Dwarfs with earrings in their ears were within. They took two pieces of glowing wood out of their fire and put them in her pot.

Back she went, hurrying now across the moorland because dark clouds were gathering. As she went along the path through the wood the starlings on her shoulders twittered their nesting song. The wood was dark around her and she hurried, hurried on.

And on the outskirts of the wood she saw a youth gathering kindlings and fagots for a fire. She came face to face with him and she knew him, He was the King's son.

She put down the pot and at once she began gathering kindlings and fagots with him. She brought them where he was bringing his. She laid hers down and built up a fire for him.

"This the night when, according to my father's councillors, I have to sleep on the moorland," said the King's son. He searched in his wallet. "I had flint and steel," he said, "but I have lost the flint and steel that was to make my fire."

"I have embers," said Girl-go-with-the-Goats. She took the burning embers out of the pot and put them under the wood. A fire began to crackle.

"Leave me now," said the King's son.

"Would you not give me an ember out of the fire I have kindled?" said Girl-go-with-the-Goats.

"I will give you an ember, but not two embers," said the King's son.

She took an ember from the fire. It was not a weighty ember like one of the two the Dwarfs had given her. It was a light and a waning ember. She took it and put it in the pot, thinking she would find fagots on the wayside to kindle beside it.

She went on and on but she found no fagots. And when she looked into her pot again the ember had died out. What was she to do? She walked back, and she saw the fire she had lighted blazing up. She saw the King's son standing beside the fire. She went nearer, but she could hear his voice as he said to her, "I will give you an ember, but not two embers." She was afraid to go near him and have him speak to her again.

She went past the fire and she came to the wood. It was darker and darker. But she put her feet on the path and she went on towards the moorland where the Dwarfs were at work in their forge.

At last she came out of the wood and she went across the moorland, but the forge seemed far and far away. On and on she went, with nothing to sing to her now, and no living thing nearer to her than the bats that flew here and there. And then when she knew she was lost she heard the clank of metal struck. The forge was that way. Now filled with the hope that the Dwarfs would giver her embers again and set her upon her way she went on more quickly.

The forge was far away, but at last she was near it. It seemed different from the forge where the Dwarfs worked, higher and wider. She went to the door of the forge. Then, instead of seeing two Dwarfs with earrings in their ears she saw but one person hammering out the links of a chain on the anvil and that person was a red-faced, grisly-bearded Giant.

The Giant saw her. When he looked at her out of his red eyes she dropped the pot and turned and ran. She ran and ran and ran and then she took breath and told herself that no one was chasing her. And then she heard feet scrunching up the ground behind her. She ran on until she fell down. She crept along on her hands and knees and hid behind a bush, thinking he might go scrunching by her. But she heard him snorting and sniffing to smell her out as he came near. She rose up to run again and then she felt his big hands all over her. He wrenched her arms as he picked her up; he slung her across his back and then he went on with her through the black wood.