THERE was once, I shan't tell you where, it is enough if I tell you that there was somewhere a tumble-down oven, which was in first-rate condition barring the sides, and there were some cakes baking in it; this person (the narrator points to some one present) has eaten some of them. Well then, on the mountains of Komárom, on the glass bridges, on the beautiful golden chandelier, there was once a Debreczen cloak which had ninety-nine tucks, and in the ninety-ninth I found the following tale.
There was once a king with three daughters, but the king was so poor that he could hardly keep his family; his wife, who was the girls' stepmother, therefore told her husband one night, that in the morning she would take the girls into the wood and leave them in the thicket so that they might not find again their way home. The youngest overheard this, and as soon as the king and queen fell asleep she hurried off to her godmother, who was a magic woman, to ask her advice: her godmother's little pony (tátos) was waiting at the front gate, and taking her on its back ran straight to the magic woman. She knew well what the girl needed and gave her at once a reel of cotton which she could unwind in the wood and so find her way back, but she gave it to her on the condition that she would not take her two elder sisters home with her, because they were very bad and proud. As arranged next morning the girls were led out by their stepmother into the wood to gather chips as she said, and, having wandered about a long time, she told them to rest; so they sat down under a tree and soon all three went to sleep; seeing this, the stepmother hurried home.
On waking up, two of the girls, not being able to find their mother, began to cry, but the youngest was quiet, saying that she knew her way home, and that she would go, but could not take them with her; whereupon the two elder girls began to flatter her, and implored her so much that she gave in at last. Arriving at home their father received them with open arms; their stepmother feigned delight. Next night she again told the king that she would lead them deeper still into the wood: the youngest again overheard the conversation, and, as on the night before, went on her little pony to her godmother, who scolded her for having taken home her bad sisters, and on condition that this time she would not do so, she gave her a bag full of ashes, which she had to strew over the road as they went on, in order to know her way back; so the girls were led into the wood again and left there, but the youngest again took her sisters home, finding her way by the ashes, having been talked over by many promises and implorings. At home, they were received, as on the first occasion; on the third night their stepmother once more undertook to lead them away; the youngest overheard them as before, but this time, she had not courage to go to her godmother, moreover she thought that she could help herself, and for this purpose she took a bag full of peas with her, which she strewed about as they went. Left by their mother, the two again began to cry, whereas the youngest said laughing, that she was able to go home on this occasion also; and having again yielded to her sisters she started on her way back, but to her astonishment could not find a single pea, as the birds had eaten them all. Now there was a general cry, and the three outcasts wandered about the whole day in the wood, and did not find a spring till sunset, to quench their thirst; they also found an acorn under an oak under which they had lain down to rest; they set the acorn, and carried water in their mouths to water it; by next morning it had grown into a tree as tall as a tower, and the youngest climbed up it to see whether she could not discover some habitation in the neighbourhood; not being able to see anything, they spent the whole day crying and wandering about. The following morning, the tree was as big as two towers, but on this occasion too the youngest girl looked in vain from its summit: but at last, by the end of the third day, the tree was as tall as three towers, and this time the youngest girl was more successful, because she discovered far away a lighted window, and, having come down, she led her sisters in the direction of the light. Her sisters, however, treated her most shamefully, they took away all her best clothes, which she thoughtfully had brought with her, tied up in a bundle, and she had to be satisfied with the shabbiest; whenever she dared to contradict them they at once began to beat her; they gave her orders that wherever they came she had to represent them as daughters of rich people, she being their servant. Thus, they went on for three days and three nights until at last they came to an immense, beautiful castle.
They felt now in safety, and entered the beautiful palace with great hopes, but how frightened were they when they discovered a giantess inside who was as tall as a tower, and who had an eye in the middle of her forehead as big as a dish, and who gnashed her teeth, which were a span long. "Welcome, girls!" thus spoke the giantess, "What a splendid roast you will make!" They all three were terrified at these words, but the youngest shewed herself amiable, and promised the giantess that they would make all kind of beautiful millinery for her if she did them no harm; the woman with the big teeth listened, and agreed, and hid the girls in a cupboard so that her husband might not see them when he came home; the giant, who was even taller than his wife, however, at once began to sniff about, and demanded human flesh of his wife, threatening to swallow her if she did not produce it. The girls were fetched out, but were again spared, having promised to cook very savoury food for the grumbling husband.
The chief reason of their life having been spared, however, was because the husband wanted to eat them himself during the absence of his wife, and the woman had a similar plan in her mind. The girls now commenced to bake and roast, the two eldest kneaded the dough, the youngest making the fire in the oven, which was as big as hell, and when it got red hot, the cunning young girl called the giant, and having placed a pot full of lard into the oven, asked him to taste it with his tongue to see whether the lard was hot enough, and if the oven had reached its proper heat. The tower of flesh tried it, but the moment he put his head inside the oven, the girl gave him a push and he was a dead man in the fiery oven; seeing this, the giantess got in a rage, and was about to swallow them up, but, before doing so, the youngest induced her to let herself be beautified, to which she consented; a ladder was brought, so that the young girl might get on to her head to comb the monster's hair; instead of combing, however, the nimble little girl knocked the giantess on the head with the huge iron comb, so that she dropped down dead on the spot. The girls had the bodies carted away with twenty-four pair of oxen, and became the sole owners of the immense castle. Next Sunday, the two eldest dressed up in their best, and went for a walk, and to a dance in the royal town.
After their departure their youngest sister, who remained at home to do servants' work, examined all the rooms, passages, and closets in the castle. During her search she accidentally found something shining in a flue. She knocked it off with a stone, and found that it was a most beautiful golden key. She tried it in every door and cupboard, but only succeeded, after a long search, in opening a small wardrobe with it; and, how great was her surprise to find that it was full of ladies' dresses and millinery, and that every thing seemed made to fit her. She put on a silver dress in great haste, and went to the dance. The well-known little pony was outside waiting for her, and galloped away with her like a hurricane. The moment she entered the dancing hall all eyes were fixed on her, and the men and youths of the highest dignity vied with each other as to who should dance with her. Her sisters who, till her arrival, were the heroines of the evening and the belles of the ball, were quite set aside now. After a few hours' enjoyment the young lady suddenly disappeared; and, later on, received her sisters on their return in her servant's clothes. They told her that they had enjoyed themselves very well at first, but that later on some impudent female put them in the back-ground. The little girl laughed and said, "Supposing that I was that lady;" and she was beaten by her sisters, and called some not very polite names for her remark. Next Sunday the same thing happened again, only this time the young girl was dressed in gold. Everything happened the same, and she was again beaten at home.
The third Sunday the little girl appeared in a diamond dress. At the dance, again, she was the soul of the evening; but this time the young men wanted her to stay to the end of the ball, and watched her very closely, so that she might not escape. When, therefore, she tried to get away, she was in such a hurry that she had no time to pick up a shoe she accidentally dropped in the corridor; she was just in time to receive her sisters. The shoe came into the possession of the prince, who hid it carefully. After a few days the prince fell very ill, and the best physicians could not find a cure for him; his father was very nearly in despair about his only son's health, when a foreign doctor maintained that the patient could only be cured by marrying, because he was love-sick. His father, therefore, implored him to make him a full confession of his love, and, whoever the person whom he wished might be, he should have her. The prince produced the shoe, and declared that he wanted the young lady to whom the shoe belonged. So it was announced throughout the whole realm, that all the ladies of the country should appear next Sunday to try on the shoe, and whosoever's foot it fitted she should become the prince's wife. On Sunday the ladies swarmed in crowds to the capital. Nor were the two eldest of the three sisters missing, who had had their feet previously scraped with a knife by their youngest sister, so that they might be smaller. The youngest sister also got ready after their departure, and, having wrapped the mate of the lost shoe in a handkerchief, she jumped on the pony's back in her best dress, and rode to the appointed place. She overtook her sisters on the road, and, jumping the pony into a puddle, splashed them all over with mud. The moment she was seen approaching 100 cannons were fired off, and all the bells were rung; but she wouldn't acknowledge the shoe as her own without a trial, and, therefore, tried it on. The shoe fitted her exactly, and when she produced its mate, 300 cannons greeted her as the future queen. She accepted the honour upon one condition, namely, that the king should restore her father's conquered realm. Her wish was granted, and she became the prince's wife. Her sisters were conducted back to their royal father, who was now rich and powerful once more; where they live still, if they have not died since.