T HE wife of a rich man fell sick, and as she felt that her end was drawing near, she called her only daughter to her bedside and said, "Dear Child, be good and pious, and then the dear God will always protect you, and I will look down on you from Heaven and be near you." Thereupon she closed her eyes and departed.
Every day, the maiden went out to her mother's grave and wept, and she remained pious and good. When winter came the snow spread a white sheet over the grave, and when the spring-sun had drawn it off again, the man had taken another wife.
The woman had brought two daughters into the house with her, who were beautiful and fair of face, but vile and black of heart. Now began a bad time for the poor child. "Is the stupid goose to sit in the parlor with us?" said they. "He who wants to eat bread, must earn it. Out with the kitchen-wench!"
They took her pretty clothes away from her, put an old gray bed gown on her and gave her wooden shoes. "Just look at the proud Princess, how decked out she is!" they cried, and laughed, and led her into the kitchen.
There she had to do hard work from morning till night, get up before daybreak, carry water, light fires, cook and wash. Besides this, the sisters did her every imaginable injury—they mocked her and emptied her peas and lentils into the ashes, so that she was forced to sit and pick them out again.
In the evening, when she had worked till she was weary, she had no bed to go to, but had to sleep by the fireside in the ashes. And as on that account she always looked dusty and dirty, they called her Ash-Maiden.
It happened once that the father was going to the Fair, and he asked the two daughters what he should bring back for them.
"Beautiful dresses," said one. "Pearls and jewels," said the second.
"And you, Ash-Maiden," said he, "what will you have?"
"Father, break off for me the first branch which knocks against your hat on your way home."
So he bought beautiful dresses, pearls and jewels for the two daughters, and on his way home, as he was riding through a green thicket, a hazel twig brushed against him and knocked off his hat. Then he broke off the branch and took it with him.
When he reached home he gave the two daughters the things which they had wished for, and to Ash-Maiden he gave the branch from the hazel-bush. Ash-Maiden thanked him, went to her mother's grave and planted the branch on it, and wept so much that the tears fell down on it and watered it.
It grew, however, and became a handsome tree. Thrice a day Ash-Maiden went and sat beneath it, and wept and prayed, and a little White Bird always came on the tree. And if Ash-Maiden expressed a wish, the bird threw down to her what she had wished for.
It happened that the King gave a feast, which was to last three days. To it all the beautiful young girls in the country were invited, in order that his son might choose himself a Bride. When the two sisters heard that they too were to appear among the number, they were delighted.
They called Ash-Maiden and said, "Comb our hair, brush our shoes, and fasten our buckles, for we are going to the feast at the King's palace."
Ash-Maiden obeyed, but wept, because she too would have liked to go with them to the dance, and she begged her mother to allow her to do so.
"You go, Ash-Maiden!" said she; "you are dusty and dirty, and would go the feast? You have no clothes and shoes, and yet would dance!"
As, however, Ash-Maiden went on asking, the mother at last said, "I have emptied a dish of lentils into the ashes for you. If you have picked them out again in two hours, you shall go with us."
The maiden went through the back-door into the garden, and called, "You tame Pigeons, you Turtledoves, and all you birds beneath the sky, come and help me to pick
Then two white pigeons came in by the kitchen-window, and afterward the turtledoves. And at last all the birds beneath the sky came whirring and crowding in, and alighted amongst the ashes. And the pigeons nodded with their heads and began pick, pick, pick, pick, and the rest began also pick, pick, pick, pick, and gathered all the good grains into the dish. Hardly had one hour passed before they had finished, and all flew out again.
Then the girl took the dish to the mother, and was glad, and believed that now she would be allowed to go with them to the feast.
But the mother said, "No, Ash-Maiden, you have no clothes and you cannot dance. You would only be laughed at."
And as Ash-Maiden wept at this, the mother said, "If you can pick two dishes of lentils out of the ashes for me in one hour, you shall go with us." And she thought to herself, "That she most certainly cannot do."
When the mother had emptied the two dishes of lentils amongst the ashes, the maiden went through the back-door into the garden and cried, ""You tame Pigeons, you Turtledoves, and all you birds under heaven, come and help me to pick
Then two white pigeons came in by the kitchen-window, and afterward the turtledoves. And at last all the birds beneath the sky came whirring and crowding in, and alighted amongst the ashes. And the doves nodded with their heads and began pick, pick, pick, pick, and the others began also pick, pick, pick, pick, and gathered all the good seeds into the dishes. 77 And before half an hour was over they had already finished, and all flew out again.
Then the maiden carried the dishes to the mother and was delighted, and believed that she might now go with them to the feast.
But the mother said, "All this will not help you. You go not with us, for you have no clothes and cannot dance. We should be ashamed of you!"
Then she turned her back on Ash-Maiden, and hurried away with her two proud daughters.
As no one was now at home, Ash-Maiden went to her mother's grave beneath the hazel-tree, and cried:
Then the bird threw a gold and silver dress down to her, and slippers embroidered with silk and silver. She put on the dress with all speed, and went to the feast.
Her sisters and the mother, however, did not know her, and thought she must be a foreign Princess, for she looked so beautiful in the golden dress. They never once thought of Ash-Maiden, and believed that she was sitting at home in the dirt, picking lentils out of the ashes.
The Prince went to meet her, took her by the hand, and he danced with her. He would dance with no other maiden, and never let go of her hand. And if any one else came to invite her, he said, "This is my partner."
She danced till it was evening, and then she wanted to go home. But the King's Son said, "I will go with you and bear you company," for he wished to see to whom the beautiful maiden belonged."
She escaped from him, however, and sprang into the pigeon-house. The King's Son waited until her father came, and then he told him that the stranger maiden had leapt into the pigeon-house. The old man thought, "Can it be Ash-Maiden?" and they had to bring him an axe and a pickaxe that he might hew the pigeon-house to pieces, but no one was inside it.
And when they got home, Ash-Maiden lay in her dirty clothes among the ashes, and a dim little oil-lamp was burning on the mantelpiece. For Ash-Maiden had jumped quickly down from the back of the pigeon-house, and had run to the little hazel-tree. There she had taken off her beautiful clothes and laid them on the grave, and the bird had taken them away again. Then she had placed herself in the kitchen amongst the ashes, in her gray gown.
Next day, when the feast began afresh, and her parents and the sisters had gone once more, Ash-Maiden went to the hazel-tree, and said:
Then the bird threw down a much more beautiful dress than on the preceding day. And when Ash-Maiden appeared at the feast in this dress, every one was astonished at her beauty.
The King's Son had waited until she came, and instantly took her by the hand and danced with no one but her. When others came and invited her, he said, "She is my partner."
When the evening arrived, she wished to leave, and the King's Son followed her, and wanted to see into which house she went. But she sprang away from him, and into the garden behind the house. Therein stood a beautiful tall tree on which hung the most magnificent pears. She clambered, like a squirrel, so nimbly between the branches, that the King's Son did not know where she was gone.
He waited until her father came, and said to him, "The stranger-maiden has escaped from me, and I believe she has climbed up the pear-tree."
The father thought, "Can it be Ash-Maiden?" and had an axe brought and cut the tree down, but no one was on it.
And when they got into the kitchen, Ash-Maiden lay there amongst the ashes, as usual, for she had jumped down on the other side of the tree, had taken the beautiful dress to the bird on the little hazel-tree, and had put on her gray gown.
On the third day, when the parents and sisters had gone away, Ash-Maiden went once more to her mother's grave, and said to the little tree:
And now the bird threw down to her a dress which was more splendid and magnificent than any she had yet had, and the slippers were golden.
And when she went to the feast in the dress, no one knew how to speak for astonishment. The King's Son danced with her only, and if any one invited her to dance, he said, "She is my partner."
When evening came, Ash-Maiden wished to leave, and the King's Son was anxious to go with her; but she escaped from him so quickly that he could not follow her. The King's Son, however, had caused the whole staircase to be smeared with pitch, and there, when she ran down, had the maiden's left slipper remained sticking. The King's Son picked it up, and it was small and dainty, and all golden.
Next morning, he went with it to the father, and said to him, "No one shall be my wife, but she whose foot this golden slipper fits."
Then were the two sisters glad, for they had pretty feet. The eldest went with the shoe into her room and wanted to try it on, and her mother stood by. But she could not get her big toe into it, for the shoe was too small for her.
Then her mother gave her a knife, and said, "Cut the toe off. When you are Queen you will have no more need to go on foot."
The maiden cut the toe off, forced the foot into the shoe, swallowed the pain, and went out to the King's Son. Then he took her on his horse as his Bride, and rode away with her. They were, however, obliged to pass the grave, and there, on the hazel-tree, sat the two pigeons and cried:
Then he looked at her foot, and saw how the blood was streaming from it. He turned his horse round and took the false Bride home again, and said she was not the true one, and that the other sister was to put the shoe on.
Then this one went into her chamber and got her toes safely into the shoe, but her heel was too large.
So her mother gave her a knife, and said, "Cut a bit off your heel. When you are Queen you will have no more need to go on foot."
The maiden cut a bit off her heel, forced her foot into the shoe, swallowed the pain, and went out to the King's Son. He took her on his horse as his Bride, and rode away with her. But when they passed by the hazel-tree, two little pigeons sat on it, and cried:
He looked down at her foot, and saw how the blood as running out of her shoe, and how it had stained her white stocking. Then he turned his horse and took the false Bride home again. "This also is not the right one," said he. "Have you no other daughter?"
"No," said the man; "there is only a little stunted kitchen-girl which my late wife left behind her, but she cannot possibly be the Bride."
The King's Son said he was to send her up to him; but the mother answered, "Oh, no, she is much too dirty, she cannot show herself!"
He insisted on it, and Ash-Maiden had to be called. She first washed her hands and face clean, and then went and bowed down before the King's Son, who gave her the golden shoe. Then she seated herself on a stool, drew her foot out of the heavy wooden shoe, and put it into the slipper, which fitted like a glove.
And when she rose up and the King's Son looked at her face he recognized the beautiful maiden who had danced with him, and cried, "That is the true Bride!"
The mother and the two sisters were terrified and became pale with rage. He, however, took Ash-Maiden on his horse and rode away with her. As they passed by the hazel-tree, the two white doves cried:
and when they had cried that, the two came flying down and placed themselves on Ash-Maiden's shoulders, one on the right, the other on the left, and remained sitting there.
When the wedding with the King's Son had to be celebrated, the two false sisters came and wanted to get into favor with Ash-Maiden and share her good fortune. When the betrothed couple went to church, the elder was at the right side and the younger at the left, and the pigeons pecked out one eye of each of them. Afterward as they came back, the elder was at the left, and the younger at the right, and then the pigeons pecked out the other eye of each. And thus, for their wickedness and falsehood, they were punished with blindness as long as they lived.