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



N ow when Girl-go-with-the-Goats came back from the stepping-stones with a shining star on her forehead (and how that star came to be there will be told to you afterwards), when she came back to the house of her step-mother, lo and behold! A surprising thing was coming to happen.

For the King's son, no less! Had come as far as the garden fornenst that house, and sitting upon his white jennet, he was looking across the ditch into the Garden. And there was Buttercup and Berry-bright standing on the doorstep and making curtseys to him. Girl-go-with-the-Goats stood one side of the garden ditch, letting a bush hide her from the King's son and from her two step-sisters.

"Give me berries out of your garden, fair maids," said the King's son to Berry-bright and to Buttercup. One came towards him, and one went back into the house. To the one who came to him, he handed a cup of silver. "Take it into your hand, damsel," he said, "and fill it with berries."


It was Buttercup who had come towards him. She took the silver cup from the King's son and went into the garden. Berry-bright had gone into the house for a vessel, and she came back with an earthenware cup in her hands. When she saw her sister holding the silver cup in her hands she bit her lips in rage.

Buttercup went into the garden. She went to the raspberry bush to pick the berries. But as soon as she came near it, a flock of birds flew at her; sparrows and starlings they were, and they pecked at her eyes and her arms and drove her back to the door of the house.

"Unlucky wench," cried the King's son. "Let the other maid come now and gather me berries in her earthenware cup."

Berry-bright ran towards the red-currant bush to pick from it the full of her earthenware cup of berries. But the swallows of the air darted down upon her. With their fierce eyes and wicked mouths they drove Berry-bright out of the garden.

"Unlucky wenches, both," cried the King's son. "Will I not be able to get from your garden a cup full of berries?"

Then Girl-go-with-the-Goats slipped from behind the bush and darted into the garden. She took up an old shoe that lay on the ground. She went towards the black-currant bush, and no bird darted in anger at her. Instead two starlings flew down and lighting, one on each shoulder, sang to her. Then Girl-go-with-the-Goats gathered the black currants into the old shoe and brought them to the King's son.

"Oh, to be served with black currants out of an old shoe and by a girl as ragged as this wench," cried the King's son. "Out of my sight," he cried when he ate the berries. He took up the old shoe and he struck Girl-go-with-the-Goats on the arm with it.

Still she did not move, but stood looking up at him, her mouth trembling, but her eyes steady, and the two starlings resting, on each shoulder.

"Gawk of a girl, out of my way," cried the King's son. Saying this, he rode his jennet forward and pushed Girl-go-with-the-Goats against the garden ditch.


Then he rode down the road, and the birds that had pecked at Berry-bright and Buttercup flew up into the air.

And there stood Buttercup on the step of the house with the silver cup in her hands, and there stood Berry-bright inside the garden gate with the earthenware cup in her hands, and each one saying to herself, "Who was it that put bad luck on me to-day?"

And there was Girl-go-with-the-Goats crouching against the garden ditch with the two starlings upon her shoulders, thinking that the very trees around her were singing and that their songs were like the light and like the darkness.

And there was her step-mother, Dame Dale, coming up the path from the stepping-stones.

But now we have to tell you how it was that Girl-go-with-the-Goats came to get that shining star upon her forehead:

A shining star

Like a lonely blossom.

It was the Old Woman in the Crow-feather Cloak who had placed it there for her. They had come together to the stepping-stones, the Old Woman, holding under her arm the cake that Girl-go-with-the-Goats had kneaded and made and given her. "There is not much I can do for you, Maid-alone," said the Old Woman (for the Girl had not called herself "Girl-go-with-the-Goats" but "Maid-alone"). "There is not much I can do for you," she said, "except let the world see what I see in you." And saying that, she took water from the stream and splashed it on the girl's forehead. And then came out the shining star. She told the Girl to bend down and look at herself in the water of the stream. The Girl-go-with-the-Goats bent down and saw the shining star on her forehead. Oh, long and in wonder did she look on it. And when she lifted her face from the flowing stream the Old Woman in the Crow-feather Cloak was not to be seen.

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