The House in the Wood
T HERE was once a poor Woodcutter who lived with his Wife and three Daughters in a little hut on the edge of a large forest. One morning, when he went out to his usual work, he said to his Wife: "Let my dinner be brought by our eldest Daughter, I shall not be ready to come home; and that she may not lose her way, I will take with me a bag of seeds and strew them on my path."
So when the sun was risen to the center of the heavens the Maiden set out on her way, carrying a jug of soup. But, the field and wood sparrows, the larks, blackbirds, goldfinches, and greenfinches, had many hours ago picked up the seeds, so that the Maiden could find no trace of the way. So she walked on, trusting to fortune, till the sun set and night came on. The trees soon began to rustle in the darkness, the owls to hoot, and the girl began to feel frightened. All at once she perceived a light shining at a distance among the trees. "People must dwell there," she thought, "who will keep me during the night"; and she walked toward the light. In a short time she came to a cottage where the windows were all lighted up, and when she knocked at the door a hoarse voice called from within, "Come in." The girl opened the door and perceived a hoary Old Man sitting at a table with his face buried in his hands, and his white beard flowing down over the table on to the ground. On the hearth lay three animals—a hen, a cock, and a brindled cow. The girl told the Old Man her adventures, and begged for a night's lodging. The Man said:
"Cluck!" said the animals, and as that meant they were satisfied, the Old Man said to the Maiden: "Here is abundance, and to spare; go now into the kitchen and cook some supper for us."
The girl found plenty of everything in the kitchen, and cooked a good meal, but thought nothing about the animals. When she had finished she carried a full dish into the room, and, sitting down opposite the Old Man, ate till she had satisfied her hunger. When she had done she said: "I am very tired; where is my bed, where I shall lie down and sleep?" The animals replied:
Thereupon the Old Man said: "Step down yon stair, and you will come to a room containing two beds, shake them up and cover them with white sheets, and then I will come and lie down to sleep myself." The Maiden stepped down the stair, and as soon as she had shaken up the beds and covered them afresh, she laid herself down in one bed, without waiting for the Old Man. But after some time the Old Man came, and, after looking at the girl with the light, shook his head when he saw she was fast asleep; and then, opening a trap-door, dropped her down into the cellar below.
Late in the evening the Woodcutter arrived at home, and scolded his Wife because she had let him hunger all day long. "It is not my fault," she replied; "the girl was sent out with your dinner; she must have lost her way; but to-morrow she will return, no doubt." At daybreak the Woodcutter got up to go into the forest, and desired that the second Daughter should bring him his meal this time. "I will take a bag of peas," he said; "they are larger than corn seed, and the girl will therefore see them better and not lose my track." At noonday, accordingly, the girl set out with her father's dinner; but the peas had all disappeared, for the wood birds had picked them all up as they had on the day before, and not one was left. So the poor girl wandered about in the forest till it was quite dark, and then she also arrived at the Old Man's hut, was invited in, and begged food and a night's lodging. The Man of the white beard asked his animals again:
They answered again, "Cluck!" and everything thereupon occurred the same as on the previous day. The girl cooked a good meal, ate and drank with the Old Man, but never thought of the animals; and when she asked for her bed, they made answer:
As soon as she was gone to sleep the Old Man came, and after looking at her and shaking his head as before, dropped her into the cellar below.
Meanwhile the third morning arrived, and the Woodcutter told his Wife to send their youngest child with his dinner: "For," said he, "she is always obedient and good; she will keep in the right path and not run about like those idle hussies, her sisters!"
But the Mother refused, and said: "Shall I lose my youngest child too?"
"Be not afraid of that," said her husband; "the girl will not miss her way, she is too steady and prudent; but for more precaution I will take beans to strew, they are larger still than peas, and will show her the way better."
But by and by, when the girl went out with her basket on her arm, the wood pigeons had eaten up all the beans, and she knew not which way to turn. She was full of trouble, thought with grief how her Father would want his dinner and how her dear Mother would grieve when she did not return. At length, when it became quite dark, she also perceived the lighted cottage, and entering it, begged very politely to be allowed to pass the night there. The Old Man asked the animals a third time in the same words:
"Cluck, cluck!" said they. Thereupon the Maiden stepped up to the fire, near which they lay, and fondled the pretty Hen and Cock, smoothing their plumage down with her hands, while she stroked the Cow between her horns. Afterwards, when she had got ready a good supper at the Old Man's request, and had placed the dishes on the table, she thought to herself: "I must not appease my hunger till I have fed these good creatures. There is an abundance in the kitchen, I will serve them first." Thus thinking she went and fetched some corn and strewed it before the fowls, and then she brought an armful of hay and gave it to the Cow. "Now eat away, you good creatures," said she to them, "and when you are thirsty you shall have a nice fresh draught." So saying she brought in a pailful of water; and the Hen and Cock perched themselves on its edge, put their beaks in, and then drew their heads up as birds do when drinking; the Cow also took a hearty draught. When the animals were thus fed, the Maiden sat down at table with the Old Man and ate what was left for her. In a short while the Hen and Cock began to fold their wings over their heads, and the brindled Cow blinked with both eyes. Then the Maiden asked: "Shall we not also take our rest?" The Old Man replied as before:
"Cluck, cluck!" replied the animals, meaning:
So the Maiden went down the stairs, and shook up the feather beds and laid on clean sheets, and when they were ready the Old Man came and lay down in one, with his white beard stretching down to his feet. The girl then lay down in the other bed, first saying her prayers before she went to sleep.
She slept quietly till midnight, and at that hour there began such a tumult in the house that it awakened her. Presently it began to crack and rumble in every corner of the room, and the doors were slammed back against the wall, and then the beams groaned as if they were being riven away from their fastenings, and the stairs fell down, and at last it seemed as if the whole roof fell in. Soon after that all was quiet, but the Maiden took no harm, and went quietly off again to sleep. When, however the bright light of the morning sun awoke her, what a sight met her eyes! She found herself lying in a large chamber, with everything around belonging to regal pomp. On the walls were represented gold flowers growing on a green silk ground; the bed was of ivory, and the curtains of red velvet, and on a stool close by was placed a pair of slippers ornamented with pearls. The Maiden thoughts it was all a dream; but presently in came three servants dressed in rich liveries, who asked her what were her commands. "Leave me," replied the Maiden; "I will get up at once and cook some breakfast for the Old Man, and also feed the pretty Hen, the pretty Cock, and the brindled Cow." She spoke thus because she thought the Old Man was already up; but when she looked round at his bed, she saw a stranger to her lying asleep in it. While she was looking at him, and saw that he was both young and handsome, he awoke, and starting up, said to the Maiden: "I am a king's son, who was long ago changed by a wicked old witch into the form of an old man, and condemned to live alone in the wood, with nobody to bear me company but my three servants in the form of a hen, a cock, and a brindled cow. And the enchantment was not to end until a maiden should come so kind-hearted that she should behave as well to my animals as she did to me; and such a one you have been; and, therefore, this last midnight we were saved through you and the old wooden hut has again become my royal palace."
When he had thus spoken the girl and he arose, and the Prince told his three servants to fetch to the palace the Father and Mother of the Maiden, that they might witness her marriage.
"But where are my two Sisters?" she asked. "I have put them in the cellar," replied the Prince, "and there they must remain till to-morrow morning, when they shall be led into forest, and bound as servants to a collier, until they have reformed their tempers, and learned not to let poor animals suffer hunger."