The Girl Who Sat by the Ashes  by Padraic Colum



G irl-go-with-the-goats remembered on the moment what she had to do to make the house well-ordered for her step-mother's return. She ran to the door and pushed past her step-sisters, and taking the besom out of the corner, she started to sweep the floor up towards the hearth.

And then she heard Buttercup and Berry-bright talking to her mother as they came up the loaning, "Oh, Mother," said Buttercup, "I am as glad to see you as if you had brought a Roc's Egg to me."

"Oh, what will I say to Dame Dale so that she will know I am as glad as Buttercup is to see her back?" said Girl-go-with-the-Goats. "A Roc's Egg! I could never think of anything as magnificent as that!"

"Oh, Mother," said Berry-bright, "I am as glad to see you as if you had brought a Phœnix Feather to me."

"A Phœnix Feather!" said Girl-go-with-the-Goats. "I could never think of anything as magnificent as that."

And then Dame Dale was at the door-way. Girl-go-with-the-Goats turned round to Dame Dale, the besom in her hands and her face all red with blushes. "I am more pleased to see you," said she, "than if you had brought salt to the house when it was lacking it."

"The idea!" said Buttercup.

"The idea!" said Berry-bright.

But Girl-go-with-the-Goats knew what it was for the house to be without salt for the bread, and salt for the porridge, and salt for the egg. And if the house had been without it there would have been nothing more welcome than salt coming in. But Dame Dale was angry when instead of hearing of a Roc's Egg and a Phœnix Feather she heard of salt.

"You are more pleased to see me than if I had brought salt to a house licking it," she said. "That's to say nothing at all in welcome of me. And it is you who should have given me the welcome from the hearth."

Girl-go-with-the-Goats turned round and swept up the floor and tidied the ashes round the hearth. "She can only think of what goes on her tongue," said Buttercup. "How could fine words or fine thoughts come into her head?"

"It would have been better," said Berry-bright, "if one of your own daughters had stayed within the house to give you a welcome from the hearth."

"How is it," said Dame Dale to Girl-go-with-the-Goats, "how is it that although I have given you good food and good shelter, you never have a good word to say to me?"

Girl-go-with-the-Goats did not answer because she could not think of a word to say.

"It was bad enough," said Buttercup, "for her to treat the King's son the way she did."

"Lord!" said Dame Dale, "was the King's son near this?"

"He was at the garden fornenst the door," said Berry-bright. "He wanted berries off our bushes. And we would have brought him the berries in his own silver cup or in one of our best earthenware ones, only nothing would do her except bring him the berries on an old shoe she found in the garden."

"So the King's son rode away from the place in high dudgeon, taking hardly any notice of us," said Buttercup.

"How could such a thing have been let happen?" said Dame Dale.

"Indeed we would not have let it happen if we had known she was there," said Buttercup, "but she hid behind the hedges—we know her way—and we did not see her at all until she was standing before the King's son with the berries in the old shoe."

"The idea of such a thing!" said Dame Dale. "The very idea of it makes me shake with shame."

"Well, she turned the Prince away—and oh, how princely and fine he was looking!—and that ought to be a satisfaction to her," said Berry-bright.

"And I know he would have noticed me," said Berry-bright.

"He certainly would have noticed my hands when I held them up with the cup in them," said Buttercup.

Girl-go-with-the-Goats had now tidied up the ashes around the fire, and there was nothing else for her to do but put the besom in the corner and turn round to them. Her face was still red, but on her forehead, like an apple-blossom in color, there was a star.

And when she saw the star on the forehead of Girl-go-with-the-Goats Dame Dale had to look from one to the other of her daughters. Neither had a star on her forehead. And Dame Dale saw that the face of Berry-bright was too high-colored and that the face of Buttercup was too pinched. And when she looked back to the star on the forehead of Girl-go-with-the-Goats she got very angry.

"So," said she, "it is that mark on your forehead that makes you too proud to talk to the people and too proud to give them a fitting welcome! I suppose you put herbs or blossoms on your forehead to bring that out. But there's no one here who wants to see it. Put your hand in the ashes now and smear that mark across. And keep the smear of ashes on it until the mark has gone away."

Girl-go-with-the-Goats bent down to the ashes and took some on her hand and smeared it across the star on her forehead. But Dame Dale was not pleased either when she turned to her with the star smeared over. Girl-go-with-the-Goats looked like one she should be sorry for. But Dame Dale could not be sorry for her on account of her not giving her a fitting welcome when she came in, and also on account of her having approached the King's son, and having on her forehead a star that made her so different from Buttercup and Berry-bright. So instead of being sorry for her when she turned round with the smear of ashes across her forehead, Dame Dale took a more settled dislike to her. "I wish you out of my sight," she said, "and as you are called 'Go-with-the-Goats,' go now and live with the goats. There's the Goat-shed for you to rest in and sleep in. Come to this hearth no more unless you are sent for. Your supper and your dinner sill be left for you on the doorstep, and as for breakfast, you can get that for yourself by taking some of the milk from the goats in the morning. But although you'll be outside of it, there will be the work of the house that you will still have to do. Go now," said she, "and may all bad temper go with you."


Girl-go-with-the-Goats went outside, but she thought she could not bear to go away from the house. So she stood there with her hand against the porch, and with her heart heavy within her and her eyes flowing over with tears.