I N Upland, which is a part of Sweden, there once lived a good woman who had an only daughter. All the other girls of the village were clever with their hands, and could weave and spin and knit and sew; but the old woman's daughter would do none of these things, and liked much better to sit with folded hands, watching the clouds in summer, and in winter-time watching the logs sparkle on the hearth. For a long time the mother was patient, for she was proud of her daughter's beauty as well as being ashamed of her idleness. But at last she decided that something must be done. So she made the girl sit with her spinning-wheel on the roof of the cottage. "Now," said she, "spin, or the whole village will see how lazy you are."
It seemed, however, that the daughter did not care if the whole village should see how lazy she was. She found it more amusing to sit upon the roof than to sit indoors. She could see everything that was going on, not only in the village, but in the meadows which surrounded it.
One day, as she sat beside her silent spinning-wheel, she saw some horsemen in green cloaks trotting along the highroad. Foremost rode a young man whose array was richer than that of the rest, and who had a hunting-horn of ivory and gold slung around his shoulder. He was the King's only son, going to the chase.
As he rode through the village, the Prince raised his eyes and saw the girl sitting on the roof beside her spinning-wheel. Much puzzled, he reined up his prancing steed, and demanded to know why she should sit there to spin.
"My lord," answered the girl's mother, "it is so that all the world may see how clever she is. And she is very clever. She can spin gold out of clay and straw."
The Prince, of course, did not understand that the good dame was only joking. "If that be so," said he, "she shall come home to the palace with me, and be my bride. For she is far prettier than any of the Princesses whom my father and mother want me to marry, and I am sure that none of them is as clever."
So the girl came down from the roof, and combed her long hair, and put on her cleanest white smock and her brightest embroidered apron, and her best string of amber beads, and went home with the Prince to his father's palace.
The King and Queen were astonished to see her, and to hear from their son that he had chosen her for his bride. But they were still more astonished when they heard the reason for his choice.
"If," said the King, "this maiden can truly spin pure gold from clay and straw, I am willing to receive her as a daughter-in-law. But not otherwise!"
"We must make sure," added the Queen. "She had better be locked up in the highest tower of the palace, with a bucket of clay and a bundle of straw. Then, if she has spun them into gold to-morrow morning, she shall be our son's bride. But if she is an impostor, she shall die."
The Prince thought that these terms were somewhat severe, but the whole Court agreed with the Queen. And whatever her Majesty said, his Majesty usually said, too!
When the girl found herself all alone in the high tower with only a spinning-wheel, a bucket of clay and a bundle of straw for company, she sat and wept bitterly, for she felt sure that the next day would be her last.
As she sat weeping, she heard a light patter of footsteps on the floor; and a moment later a little, squeaky voice asked what was amiss that she should be so sad. The girl looked up, and saw a dwarf standing before her. Dwarfs, especially fairy dwarfs, are seldom handsome. But this was the ugliest dwarf in all the history of goblins, imps, and elves.
"I have much reason to be sad," returned the girl, "for unless I have spun this clay and straw into pure gold by to-morrow morning, I must die."
"Is that all?" said the dwarf. "Why, then, I can help you. Do you see this pair of gloves? When you have put them on you will be able to spin gold out of anything you please."
The girl was delighted at this unexpected kindness, and began to thank the dwarf very politely, but he held up one of his little shrivelled hands to cut short the thanks.
"You must not," said he, "you must not think that I want no reward. Before I agree to lend you these gloves you must promise that, unless you can tell me my name when I return at moonrise to-morrow, you will come with me to the forest, and be my bride!"
In her despair the girl agreed to these hard terms, and as soon as the dwarf had vanished she pulled on the magic gloves and began to spin. Long before sunrise all the clay and all the straw had been spun into great masses of glittering red gold.
When the King and Queen climbed up into the tower they were dazzled at the sight of so much wealth. And, as the spinner was fair to look upon, and good and gentle, they agreed that their son was fortunate to have found such a bride.
Preparations for the wedding were immediately begun. But the bride had tears in her eyes all the time. The Prince said many gallant and polite things to her, before he went out hunting, but he could not win a single flicker of a smile from her in reply.
When he returned from the chase toward sunset he found his bride as silent and as sorrowful as ever.
"Is it," he asked her, "because you do not wish to marry me that you are so sad?"
"Oh, no!" answered the girl. And, indeed, she already loved the Prince with all her heart. But she had not the courage to tell him about her promise to the dwarf.
"Well," said the Prince, "perhaps it may amuse you to hear about a little adventure which befell me when I was out hunting to-day."
The bride said that she would like very much to hear about it, and the Prince then began, "I was walking in a grove of junipers, all alone, with none of my companions anywhere near. I heard somebody singing, in a queer, squeaky voice. I tiptoed in the direction whence the voice came, and there I saw the quaintest little old man dancing round one of the juniper trees."
"What did he sing?" asked the girl, eagerly; for she guessed that the little old man was none other than the dwarf who had lent her the magic gloves the night before, and whom she dreaded so much to see again.
"To-morrow is my wedding-day,
But the maiden weeps, and well she may,
The maiden weeps, and is wan with woe,
For she does not know—and how could she
That my name is Titelli-Ture!"
To the astonishment of the Prince, all the sadness of his young bride vanished when she had heard the words of the dwarf's song. She wiped the tears from her eyes, and looked a hundred times prettier than before, and began to talk quite cheerfully to him and the King and Queen. But she did not think it necessary to tell the reason of her joy.
At moonrise that night, when the girl was alone in her room in the high tower, the dwarf suddenly appeared before her.
The moment she beheld him she took the gloves and tossed them toward him, saying, "Thank you, Titelli-Ture, thank you!"
When he heard his own name the dwarf uttered one loud roar of rage, and flew away, taking with him the whole roof of the palace! Luckily, it was fine weather, so no rain came through the ceiling and spoilt the wedding-banquet or the gay garb of the wedding-guests. And, of course, the gold that the bride had spun was more than enough to pay for a new roof far better than the old one which Titelli-Ture had carried away with him. He was never heard of in that part of Sweden again.