Gateway to the Classics: The Girl Who Sat by the Ashes by Padraic Colum
The Girl Who Sat by the Ashes by  Padraic Colum



S HE saw no more of her white and grey goose-flock, no more of the green meadows they went marching through, no more of the great clouds that were above her when she stood in the marsh. She heard no more the nuthatches calling to each other in the bushes and the ash-trees around. Always she was going from one kitchen to the other, carrying her tub of ashes, and the outlandish servants who were there never spoke to her. And at night, when she sat by one of the fires, there wasn't a cat there to keep her company. There were crickets there to be sure, crickets a-plenty, but she didn't like them, for they got in her hair when she slept by the fire at night.

The Ratcatcher was the only one who spoke to her. Once he showed her a Salamander that lived in the fire, and he told her what to say when one sees a Salamander:

Little Lizard of the Fire,

Will you stay and look at me?

No, you will not; you will go

Like a word that's said.

Only Dust of Diamonds flung

On your tail,

Little Lizard that breathes flame,

Makes you stay.

Often and often she looked into that fire, but she never saw the Salamander again.

Away down a long passage there was a draw-well that was covered over by a great stone. When all the outlandish servants had gone out of the great kitchens, Maid-alone would go down to the end of that passage, clear off the stone, and draw a pail of water from the depths. Maid-alone could not see to the water. But she would let a pail down and draw it up filled. Then she would wash herself clear of the soot and the ashes, and she would comb her hair with a comb she had made, bristles stuck in a piece of wood. Then for an hour she would be clean and fair, and the star upon her forehead was to be seen. But no one ever saw her at that hour.

Then a great stroke would go through all the Castle. It was the Tower clock striking one. The outlandish servants would troop in to make ready for the baking of the bread and the meats for the morning meal. Maid-alone would then have to clear the ashes from the seven hearths. Her Crow-feather Cloak would become grayer with the ashes, her hands and her face would be spotted with the soot from the chimneys, and the ashy crickets of the hearth would be in her hair.

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