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The Fairy Tales of Joseph Jacobs

The Master-Maid

Return to European Folk and Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs

THERE was once a king and a queen and they had a bonny boy whom they loved beyond anything. Now when he was grown up into a fine young prince, the King, his father, went a-hunting one day and lost his way in the forest, and when he came through it he found a raging stream between him and his palace. He did not know how to get home, when suddenly a huge giant came out of the forest and said:

"What would you give if I carried you across?"

"Anything, anything," said the King.

"Will you give me the first thing that meets you as you come to the palace gate?"

The King thought for a while and then remembered that whenever he came to the gate of the palace his favourite deerhound Bevis always came to greet him. So, though he was sorry to lose him, he thought it was worth while, and agreed with the giant.

Thereupon the giant took the King upon his shoulders and wading across the raging stream landed him on the farther bank and saying to him, "Remember what you have promised," went back again to the other side.

The King soon found his way towards the palace, but as he came to the palace gate it happened that his son Prince Edgar was standing there, and before Bevis the hound could dash out to greet his master, Prince Edgar had rushed towards his father and caught him by the hand. The King was rather startled but thought to himself:

"Oh, how will the giant know who met me? After all I intended to give him Bevis, and that's what I'll do when he comes."

The next day the giant came to the castle gates and asked to see the King, and when he was admitted to his presence he said:

"I come for your promise."

"Bring Bevis the hound," said the King to his attendants.

But the giant said: "I want no hound; give me your Prince."

The King was alarmed at finding that the giant knew who had met him; but he told him that the Prince was away, but he would send and summon him. Then he called his High Steward and told him to dress up the herd-boy of the palace in some of the Prince's clothes. And when this was done he gave him to the giant, who hoisted him on his shoulder and strode off with him.

When they had gone a little way along the herd-boy in the Prince's suit called out:

"Stop, stop, I am hungry; this is the time the herd rests and I have my luncheon."

Then the giant knew that he had been deceived and went back to the King's palace and said to him:

"Take your herd-boy and give me the Prince."

The King was again startled to find that the giant had found out his trick, but thought to

"Well, he didn't find out at once; we'll have another try," and ordered his Steward to dress up the shepherd boy in the Prince's clothes and give him to the giant.

Again the giant strode off with the shepherd boy in Prince's clothes upon his shoulder, and they had not gone far when the boy called out:

"Stop, stop, it is time for lunch; this is when the sheep all rest."

Then again the giant knew that he had been tricked and rushed back in a rage to the King's palace and threw the shepherd boy to the ground and called out:

"Take your shepherd boy and give me the Prince you promised, or it will be worse for you."

This time the King dared not refuse and called Prince Edgar to him and gave him to the giant, who seized him as before and put him on his shoulder.

After they had gone a little way, the Prince called out:

"'Tis time to stop; this is the time I have always lunched with my father the King and my mother the Queen."

Then the giant knew that he had got the right Prince and took him home to his castle. When he got him there he gave him his supper and told him that he would have to work for him and that his first work would be next day to clean out the stable.

"That's not much," thought the Prince, and went to bed quite happy and comfortable.

Next day the giant took Edgar into the giant's stable, which was full of straw and dirt and all huddled up, and pointing to a pitchfork said:

"Clear all of this straw out of this stable by tonight," and left him to his task.

The Prince thought this was an easy thing to do, and before starting went to get a drink at the well, and there he saw a most beautiful maiden sitting by the well and knitting.

"Who are you?" said she.

And so he told her all had happened and said:

"At any rate I have an easy master; all he has given me to do is to clear out the stable."

"That is not so easy as you think," said the maid "How are you going to do it?"

"With a pitchfork."

"You will find that not so easy; if you try to use the pitchfork in the ordinary way, the more you shove the more there will be; but turn the pitch fork upside-down and push with the handle and all the straw and stuff will run away from it."

So Prince Edgar went back to the stable, and sure enough, when he tried to push the straw with the fork it only grew more and more, but if he turned the handle towards it the straw moved away from the fork and so he soon cleared it out of the stable.

When the giant came home the first thing he did was to go to the stable; and when he saw it had all been cleared out he said to the Prince:

"Ah, you've been talking to my Master-Maid. Well, tomorrow you'll have to cut down that clump of trees."

"Very well, Master," said Prince Edgar, and thought that would not be difficult.

But next morning the giant gave him an axe made of glass and told him that he must cut down every one of the trees before nightfall.

When he had gone away, the Prince went to the Master-Maid and told her what his task was.

"You cannot do that with such an axe, but never mind, I can help you. Sleep here in peace and when you wake up you will see what you will see."

So Prince Edgar trusted the Master-Maid and lay down and slept till late in the afternoon, when he woke up and looked, and there were the trees all felled and the Master-Maid was smiling by his side.

"How did you do it?" he said.

"That I may not say, but done it is, and that is all that you need care for."

When the giant came home, the first thing he did was to go to the clump of trees and found, to his surprise, that they had all been felled.

"Ah, you've spoken to my Master-Maid," he said once more.

"Who is she?" said the Prince.

"You know well enough," said the giant. "But for her you could not have cut down those trees with that glass axe."

"I do not know what you mean," said the Prince. "But at any rate, there you have your trees cut down, what more do you want?"

"Well, well," grumbled the giant, "we'll see to morrow whether you can do what I tell you then," and would not say what his task should be next day.

When the morning came, the giant pointed to the tallest tree in the forest near them, and said:

"Do you see that birds' nest in the top of that tree? In it are six eggs; you must climb up there and get all those eggs for me before nightfall, and if one is broken woe betide you!"

At that Prince Edgar did not feel so happy, for there were no branches to the tree till very near the top, and it was as smooth, as smooth as it could be, and he did not see how possibly he could reach the birds' nest. But when the giant had gone out for the day he went at once to the Master-Maid and told her of his new task.

"That is the hardest of all," said the Master- Maid. "There is only one w to do the task. You must cut me up into small pieces and take out my bones, and out of the bones you must make a ladder, and with that ladder you can reach the top."

"That I will never do," said the Prince. You've been so good to me, shall I do you harm? Before that, I should suffer whatever punishment the giant will give me for not carrying out the task."

"But all will be well," said the Master-Maid. "As soon as you have brought down the nest, all that you will have to do is to put the bones together and sprinkle on them the water from this flask, and then I shall be whole again just as before."

After much persuasion the Prince agreed to do what the Master-Maid had told him, and made a ladder out of her bones and climbed up to the top of the tree and took the birds' nest with the six eggs in it, and then he put the bones together, but forgot to put one little bone in its proper place.

So when he had sprinkled the water over the bones the Master-Maid stood up before him just as before, but the little finger of her left hand was not there. She cried and said:

"Ah, why did you not do what I told you-put all my bones together in their place? You forgot my little finger; I shall never have one all the days of my life."

When the giant came home, he asked the Prince:

"Where is the birds' nest?"

And the Prince brought it to him with the eggs all safe within it. And then the giant said:

"Ah, you have spoken to my Master-Maid."

"Whom do you mean by your Master-Maid?" said the Prince. "There are your eggs, what more do you want?"

But the giant said: "Well, as the Master-Maid has helped you so far she can help you always. You shall marry her today and sleep in my own four-poster."

The Prince was well content with that arrangement and went and sought the Master-Maid and told her what the giant had said.

The Master-Maid wept and said: "You know not what he means. His four-poster rolls up and would crush us and we would be dead before the morning. Let me think, let me think."

So the Master-Maid took an apple and divided it into six parts and put two at the foot of the bed and two at the door of the room and two at the foot of the stairs.

When night came, the Master-Maid and her Prince went up into the room with the four-poster, but as soon as it was dark crept down the stairs and went out to the stable and chose two of the swiftest horses there and rode away as quickly as they could.

The giant waited for some time after they had gone upstairs and then called out:

"Are you asleep?"

And the two apple shares near the bed called out:

"Not yet, not yet!"

So after waiting some time he called out again:

"Are you asleep?"

And the apple shares at the door called out:

"Not yet, not yet!"

And still a third time the giant called out:

"Are you asleep?"

And the apple shares on the stairs replied:

"Not yet, not yet!"

Then the giant knew that the voice was outside the bedroom, and rushed up to find Edgar and his bride, but found they were gone. He rushed to the stable and chose his great horse Dapplegrim and rode after Prince Edgar and the Master-Maid.

They had gone on a good way in front; but after a time they heard the trampling of the hoofs of the great horse Dapplegrim, and the Master-Maid said to Prince Edgar:

"That is the giant; he will soon overtake us if we do not do something." And she jumped off her horse and bade Prince Edgar do the same.

Then the Master-Maid took three twigs and threw them behind her with magic spells; and they grew and they grew and they grew, till they became a huge thick forest. And the Master-Maid and Edgar jumped upon their horses again and rode away as fast as they could.

But the giant, as soon as he came to the forest, had to take his axe from his side and hew his way through the thick trees, so that Edgar and the Master-Maid got far ahead. But soon they heard once more the trampling of Dapplegrim close behind them; and the Master-Maid took the glass axe that the giant had given Edgar on the second day, and threw it behind her with magic spells. And a huge glass mountain rose behind them, so that the giant had to stop and split his way through the glass mountain.

Edgar and the Master-Maid rode on at full speed, but once again they heard Dapplegrim trampling behind them, and the Master-Maid took the flask of water from her side and cast it down back of her, and out of it gushed a huge stream.

When the giant came up to the stream and tried to make Dapplegrim swim through it he would not; and then he lay down on the bank of the stream and commenced to drink up as much of it as he could. And he drank and he drank and he drank, till at last he swallowed so much that he burst; and that was the end of the giant.

Meanwhile Edgar and the Master-Maid had ridden on fast and furious till they came near where the palace of the King, Edgar's father, could be seen in the far distance. And Edgar said:

"Let me go on first and tell my father and mother all that you have done for me, and they will welcome you as their daughter."

The Master-Maid shook her head sadly and said:

"Do as you will, but beware lest any one kiss you before you see me again."

"I want no kisses from any one but you," said Prince Edgar, and leaving her in a hut by the roadside he went on to greet the King and Queen.

When he got to the palace gate everybody was astonished to see him, as they had all thought he had been destroyed by the giant. And when they took him to the Queen, his mother, she rushed to him and kissed him before he could say nay.

No sooner had his mother kissed him than all memory of the Master-Maid disappeared from his mind. And when he told his mother and his father what he had done in the giant's castle and how he had escaped, he said nothing of the help given him by the Master-Maid.

Soon afterwards the King and the Queen arranged for the marriage of Prince Edgar with a great Princess from a neighbouring country. And she was brought home with great pomp and ceremony to the King's palace. And one day after her marriage, when she was out, she passed by the hut in which the Master-Maid was dwelling.

Now the Master-Maid had put on that day a beautiful dress of rich silk, and when the Prince's Wife saw it she went to the Master-Maid and said:

"I should like that dress. Will you not sell it to me?"

"Yes," said the Master-Maid, "but at a price you are not likely to give."

"What do you want for it?" said the Princess.

"I want to spend one night in the room of your bridegroom, Prince Edgar."

At first the Princess would not think of such a thing; but after thinking the matter over she thought of a plan, and said:

"Well, you shall have your wish," and took away with her the silken dress.

But at night, when the Master-Maid came to the palace and claimed her promise, the Princess put a sleep-giving drug in Edgar's cup.

When the Master-Maid came into Edgar's room she bent over his bed and cried:

"I cleaned the byre for thee,
I swung the axe for thee,
And now thou'lt not speak to me."

But still Edgar slept on, and in the morning the Master-Maid had to leave without speaking to him.

Next day, when the Princess went out to see what the Master-Maid had been doing, she found her dressed in a rich silver dress, and said to her:

"Will you sell that dress to me?"

And the Master-Maid said, "Yes, at a price."

Then the Princess said, "What price?"

"One night in Edgar's room," replied the Master-Maid.

The Princess knew what had happened the night before, so she agreed to let the Master-Maid pass still another night with her bridegroom. But all happened as before; and when the Master-Maid came into the room she bent over Edgar, lying upon the bed, and called out:

"I gave my bones for thee,
I shared the apples for thee,
And yet thou'lt not speak to me";

and had to leave him as before, without his waking up.

But this time Prince Edgar had heard something of what she said in his sleep. And when he woke up he asked his chamberlain what had happened during the night. And he told the Prince that for two nights running a maiden had been in his room and sung to him, but he had not answered.

Next day the Princess sought out the Master- Maid as before. And this time she was dressed in a dress of shining gold; and for that the Princess agreed to let her spend one more night in the Prince's room.

But this time the Prince, guessing what had happened, threw away the wine-cup, in which the Princess had placed the sleeping draught, and lay awake on his bed when the Master-Maid came in. She bent over him and cried:

"I grew the forest for thee,
I made the glass mount for thee,
For thee a stream flowed from my magic flask,
And yet thou'lt not wake and speak to me."

But this time Prince Edgar rose up in bed and recognized the Master-Maid, and called in his father and his mother and told them all that had happened, which had now come back to him.

So the Princess was sent back to her home, and Edgar married the Master-Maid and lived happy ever afterward.

Jacobs' Notes and References

This is one of the oldest and widest spread tales of the world, and the resultant formula was, therefore, more than usually difficult to reconstruct. The essence of the tale consists in the Menial Hero Three Tasks Master-Maid Help Obstacles to Pursuit Oblivion Kiss False Bride Sale of Bed Happy Marriage. In essentials this is the story of Jason and Medea, where we have the Tasks, the Pursuit, and the False Bride, though the dramatic genius of the Greeks has given a tragic ending to the tale. Lang, in his Custom and Myth, pp. 87-102, has pointed out parallels, not alone in modern folk-tales, like Grimm 92, Campbell 2, Dasent n, and Basile n, but even in Madagascar (Folk-Lore Journal, Aug., 1883), and Samoa (Turner 102) while the Flight and Obstacles are found in Japan and Zululand. Even in America there is the Algonquin form of the Tasks (School-craft, Algic Researches ii., 94-104), and the Flight is given in an interesting article in the Century Magazine, 1884. According to Lang's general views, he seems to regard these incidents as being universally human and having no affiliation with one another, though he entitles his essay, "A Far Travelled Tale."

The modern Folk-Tales, however, make it practically impossible that these at least could have arisen independently. Many of them have an introductory set of incidents, Jephtha-Vow, Herd-Boy, Shepherd-Boy, Prince; this I have adopted in my version. But besides this the Tasks are often identical, Cleaning Stable (Dasent, Campbell), Finger-Ladder (Campbell, trace in Cosquin 32), Building Castle (Grimm 113, Hahn 54); the Oblivion Kiss occurs in Scotland, Germany, Spain, Tyrol, Tuscany, Sicily, and Rome, all in connection with similar stories.

The tale has been especially popular in Celtdom. I have enumerated no less than fourteen versions in my notes on the "Battle of the Birds" (Celtic Fairy Tales, p. 265). There we have the Obstacles to Pursuit mainly in the form of forest, mountain, and river, which the late Mr. Alfred Nutt pointed out to be the natural boundaries of the Netherworld in Teutonic Paganism. It is, therefore, possible that our story has been "contaminated" or influenced by the notion of the "Descent to Hell. "

Here, as in the parallel case of Cupid and Psyche, we find a classical story, with many of the incidents clearly reproduced in modern Folk-Tales, while others have been inserted to make the tale longer or more of the folk-tale character.

At the same time the story as a whole is found spread from America to Samoa, from India to Scotland, with indubitable signs of being the same story dressed up according to local requirements. The Master-Maid is, accordingly, one of the most instructive of all folk-tales, from the point of view of the problem of diffusion.

Jacobs, Joseph, ed. European Folk and Fairy Tales. New York: G. P Putnam's Sons, 1916.

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