The Girl Who Sat by the Ashes  by Padraic Colum



A nd that is how the King's son came to hear of the beauty of the maiden who had no name.

His Muime—that is, his ancient foster-mother—had a dormer-room above the goose-fold. She wakened up before the skriek of day and she heard the geese tell of the beauty of the maiden who had on a gleaming dress, with a glittering veil and gleaming shoes. The King's son's ancient foster-mother listened to it all. She was a wise woman, and she knew that the geese had seen what they were speaking of; for the token was that they had eaten next to nothing in the marsh.

She went to the King's son, and she said to him: "Make no hasty choice, son of King Daniel. The Maiden you wed should be one that the moon would bow down to. And I want to tell you that the geese in the goose-fold are telling of one who has such beauty. You would be lucky if you could find her, and my advice to you is that you mount on your horse and ride to all places where the geese have been."

So his Muime said to the King's son. Now the first company of maidens had come that very day and they were being lodged in the fifty-five new chambers in the King's Castle. They had invited the King's son to play Blind Man's Buff up and down the stairs with them; but he listened to what his ancient foster-mother told him, and although he had on the knee-breeches that best showed his legs he sent a message asking to be excused from the game, and he mounted his horse and rode off to find the maiden that the geese made such a clamour about.

Maid-alone came to the goose-fold that morning wearing her Crow-feather Cloak. She drove the geese to the marsh, but knowing they would not feed if she had on any of her fine dresses she made no change in her garb.

The King's son went riding by on his high-mettled horse. He saw the white geese and the grey geese feeding in the great contentment with one of the ganders a little way off keeping watch and ward. A girl was standing there herding the goose-flock, and her bare feet were in the marsh-water. The King's son rode by.

And the next morning, though she came to her dormer-window to listen, the King's son's ancient foster-mother heard no talk of a maiden that was as beautiful as a poplar tree, or a shining water-lily, or as that queen in Greece that one's grandmother remembered. The light-minded geese had forgotten what they had talked about.

But they came to clamour again. The next day, Maid-alone left the flock feeding in the marsh with a gander to keep watch and ward, and she went to the hollow tree and took out the second of her fine dresses. All in silver was she clad now, with a shimmering veil and glimmering shoes.

And what befell before befell again. No goose fed that day and no gander kept watch and ward. With their necks stretched out they told each other of her beauty. They said the same things as they said before. But this time they made twice as much clamour.

When it was near sunset Maid-alone turned to go to the hollow tree. The goose-flock followed her. She ran ahead, and she had the silver dress off and the Crow-feather Cloak on before they came to where she was standing.

But they kept up the clamour in the goose-fold. They wakened up the King's son's ancient foster-mother before the stars had waned in the sky. She heard about the beauty of the maiden who was all clad in silver, and who was more lovely than a poplar tree, or a shining water-lily, or that queen in Greece that one's grandmother remembered.

"What a loss it will be," said his Muime to the King's son, "if you miss marrying the beauty that the geese go hungry from thinking about."

He was sitting in the King's Council Chamber with the King's Councillors around him. And what they were trying to decide was whether it was the first or the second company of maidens—the second company had just come—that had the right to entertain him to the game of Throwing the Apple.

"A loss it would be indeed," said the King's son, "if such a one were near and I missed fixing my choice on her." He went out of the Council Chamber and he mounted his horse and he rode to the marsh where Maid-alone was minding her goose-flock. If she had on then her bronze or her silver dress he would have been sure to notice her.

But there she was standing with her Crow-feather Cloak on and her bare feet in the marsh-water. The King's son looked at her and rode on to his father's Castle.

That day the geese fed in great contentment, and the ganders kept watch and ward in their regular order, for there was nothing for a goose-flock to stretch up necks to. But the next day Maid-alone put on the third of her fine dresses, her dress of gold, with her shining veil and her golden shoes. She went back to the marsh in that attire.

No goose fed and no gander kept watch. The goose-flock told each other the things they had told when she had on her bronze dress and when she had on her silver dress. This time they made three times the clamour they made before. The King's son's ancient foster-mother was kept awake all night. When the morning came she went to the King's son, and she told him that he would never have any luck in his life if he did not go off at once and search for the beauty that gave two-score geese cause for such clamour.

He was then standing on the steps of his father's Castle, ready to receive the third company of maidens that was coming that very day. But he mounted his horse and rode off again. And he saw a girl with a Crow-feather Cloak upon her and with grey geese and white geese standing around her. And when he saw that sight he rode back to his father's Castle and he told his Muime that that was the last time he would ride out to seek the Maiden that was without a name.