I DON'T know in what country, in which county, in which district, in which village, in which street, in which corner, there lived a poor widower, and not far from him a rich widow. The widower had a beautiful daughter. The widow had two who were not very pretty, and were rather advanced in years. The widower married the widow and they combined the two households and lived together. The husband was as fond of his wife's daughters as of his own; but the woman liked her own daughters better than her husband's child, and the two older girls loved their parents truly but disliked their pretty sister very much. The poor man was very sad at this, but could not help it.
Once upon a time there was a fair held in the town, which was not far from the village, and the husband had to go to the fair. The two elder girls and their loving mother asked for no end of pretty dresses they wished their father to bring them from the fair: but the pretty girl of the poor man did not dare to open her mouth to ask for anything. "Well, my daughter, what shall I bring for you?" asked the poor man, in a sad voice; "why don't you speak? You shall have something, too." "Don't bring me anything," replied the pretty little girl, "but three walnuts, and I shall be satisfied; a little girl does not want any pretty dresses as yet." The poor man went to the fair and brought home many showy dresses, red shoes, and bracelets. The two girls rummaged among the heaps of pretty things; they threw about the coloured ribbons, golden rings, and artificial flowers; they tried on their heads the various Turkish shawls, and tried the effect of paints on their faces; they skipped about and sang in their joy; they cheerfully embraced their mother and highly praised their father's choice. At last, having got tired of looking at the things, everyone put away her share into her closet. The pretty little girl placed the three walnuts in her bosom and felt very sad. The two elder girls could hardly wait for Sunday. They dressed up most showily; they painted their faces, and as soon as the bells began to ring ran to church and stuck themselves in the front pew. Before leaving home, however, they gave the pretty little girl some very dirty wheat and ordered her to clean it--about half a bushel full--by the time they came back from church. The little girl began to sort the wheat weeping, and her tears mingled with the wheat; but her complaining was heard in Heaven and the Lord sent her a flock of white pigeons who in a minute picked out the dirt and the tares from among the wheat, and in another minute flew back to where they had come from. The little girl gave thanks to Providence and cried no more. She fetched her three walnuts in order to eat them, but as she opened the first one a beautiful copper dress fell out of it; from the second a silver one; and from the third a glittering gold one. She was highly delighted, and at once locked the two walnuts in which the gold and silver dresses were, safely in a cupboard. She put on the copper dress, hurried off to church, and sat down in the last pew all among the old women: and lo! the whole congregation stood up to admire her, so that the clergyman was obliged to stop in his sermon: the two old maids looked back quite surprised and found that the new comer's dress was ever so much prettier than their own.
It happened that the king's son was also present in whose country the village was and in which village the poor man and his new wife lived. The beautiful girl dressed in the glittering copper dress was at once noticed by the king's son who was at that time looking for a wife all over the country. As soon as the pretty little girl noticed that the sermon was coming to an end she left her seat and ran home in order to get undressed before her step-mother and her two sisters got home. The king sent a flunkey after her and gave him orders to note the door where the pretty girl entered; but the swift girl ran much quicker than the king's servant, and he lost her. She undressed in a great hurry, and by the time that her two sisters got home in company with their young men she had her copper dress put away in the walnut and locked it in a cupboard and donned her ordinary every-day dress, which was very clean, and was found in the act of fanning the fire under a pot full of cabbage, and making herself busy about the kitchen in general. "Poor orphan, you have not seen any thing," exclaimed the two eldest sisters, who were in high spirits. "The king's son was at church, he sat just opposite, for a while he kept his eyes fixed on us as if enchanted. You did not see that, did you? At the beginning of the sermon, however, such a beautiful girl, dressed in such a gorgeous dress, came in the like of which no human eye has ever seen before." "I did see that pretty girl as she turned the corner of the street." "From where did you see her?" at once asked the envious sisters. "I got on the ladder and went up to the chimney and saw her from there." "Indeed, then you spent your time gaping about. You will catch it when father comes home and finds the wheat unpicked." And they rushed to the place where the wheat was kept, but lo! the wheat was as clean as washed gold, and the tares and the dirt had been removed from the house.
In the afternoon the ladder was taken away from the front of the house, so that the orphan girl should not be able to get on it any more. In the afternoon the church bells were again heard ringing. The two elder girls dressed up even more showily than before and went to church. The prince also put in his appearance. The little orphan girl had twice as much wheat meted out to her, and they threatened that if it was not cleaned by the time they came home they would maltreat her. The little girl set to work in great sorrow, but white pigeons came, twice as many as in the morning. The wheat got cleaned like gold in one minute. The little girl at once opened the second walnut, and the silver dress, shining like moonbeams, unfolded itself. She went to church and sat in the same seat where she sat in the morning. The prince took out his eyeglass and eyed the pretty girl in the silver dress. He nearly devoured her with his eyes. The girl did not stay long in her place, and at a moment when nobody was looking she stole out of the church and ran home. The king's flunkey again was unable to find out her abode. When the two sisters came home the little girl was filling the cleaned wheat into bags ready to be carried up into the loft. "Don't carry it up yet--wait a moment," said the two sisters to her. "You have never seen and will never behold in all your life what we saw to-day. The fairy girl of this morning came this afternoon to church dressed in pure silver; she gleamed like moonlight." "I've seen her," said the orphan girl, with a meek smile; "I got on the hoarding and stood on the top rail and saw her as she slipped out of church." "And how about the wheat; let's have a look at it. We suppose you spent all your time gaping again. Father will give it to you," said the two wicked girls. But the wheat was all clean, and would have been so if it had been as much more. They drove a lot of sharp nails into the top of the hoarding, in order to prevent the orphan girl getting on to it.
The two elder girls anxiously waited for the coming Sunday, as they were eager to show off some of their new dresses they had never had on before. Sunday at last arrived, and the two elder girls dressed up ever so much more gorgeously than before. They put on their rings; tied on many coloured bows; put on red shoes; and rouged their faces. They went off in great hurry as soon as the bells began. The prince again was present, and some of his friends with him. The two elder girls tried their best to look charming: they screwed up their mouths to make them look small; they piously bent their heads on one side, and kept on adjusting their ribbons and bows. Whenever the prince, or any of his friends looked at them they coyly cast down their eyes and played with their nosegays. The little girl was again left at home; they gave her three times as much dirty wheat to pick as on the first occasion, and threatened her that if by the time they came home she did not get it picked her father would give her a sound thrashing. The pigeons again came to assist the pretty child, there were three times as many as at first, and her wheat was again picked in a minute. The little girl opened the third nut, and, dressed in the golden dress, went to church, and sat down in her usual place. The congregation was more astounded than ever; the women and girls jumped up from their seats. They did not listen to the sermon, but kept staring at the fairy little girl, and whispered to each other. The prince was determined that the girl must become his wife, whatever happened; but the fairy-like girl again slipped away, and the king's servant followed her, until he saw her run into a house, whereupon he marked it by sticking a gold rose into the gate-post. The little girl did not notice this. The elder girls came running home. "If you lived for another thousand years you would not see such a beauty as we saw to-day. We saw a pretty creature dressed in pure gold; we don't think there is another in the whole world like her." "I saw her," said the little girl, laughing; "I climbed on the mulberry tree and followed her with my eyes from the street corner all the way to church." "And how about the wheat; is it picked?" "The Lord has helped me," said the good little child, "as He always will help orphans." The mulberry tree was cut down the very same afternoon.
In the afternoon the girls did not bring home any more news from church; they did not inquire any more whether the wheat had been cleaned, because they noticed that their step-father was very angry with them for their having shown so much envy against their sister. The poor father led his little girl to the cottage of a widow who lived at the end of the village, and who herself had no children. There she was kept for several weeks on rather scanty food. The prince had not come to church for several Sundays; but, after the lapse of three months, three weeks, and three days, at three in the afternoon, three quarters, and three minutes, he came on foot into the village, where he had seen the pretty girl. He had only his servant with him. They examined every gate-post, and at last found the golden rose which the servant had stuck there. They entered the cottage, wherein they found an old woman seated reading her prayers. "Is there a girl in this cot?" inquired the prince. "Yes, your highness," replied the old woman, "there are two, and either of them is well worthy of a prince's love." "Call them, my old mother, call them both; my heart will then recognise its choice."
"Here they are my lord and prince," said the mother with a joyful face, having in about half an hour got her two daughters dressed up as well as she could. "The choice of my heart is not among them;" said the prince, sadly, "have you no more daughters, good woman? call also the third if you value my happiness." "The Lord has not given me any more, these two are quite enough, you cannot find any prettier or better in the whole village." "Haven't you got a husband and hasn't he got a daughter?" asked the prince, in great sorrow. "My husband is dead," said the old hag, "it is three years since he was put into his grave." "Let us go on then, my lord and prince," said the servant, "and we shall find her if it please the Lord." As they passed through the gate the servant took the golden rose from the crack in the gate-post and threw it to the winds. The golden rose thereupon quietly floated in the air above the heads of the prince and his servant. The fortune-seekers followed the rose, mumbling prayers, till at the end of the village it dropped on the ground in front of the gate of the last cot. "Let's go in here, my lord and prince, as our prayer has brought us here." "If the Lord call us, let us enter, my faithful servant," replied the prince. A cock crowed just as they stepped across the threshold, and a very poor old woman greeted the guests. "Have you a daughter, my old mother?" inquired the prince graciously. "No, my lord; I never had one," said the old woman sadly. "If not, don't you keep an orphan? The Lord will preserve the good mother who takes care of the orphan, as well as the orphan." "Yes, my lord, but she has no dress fit to appear in, and she is not a bit worthy of your looking at her; she is naughty and does not like work, and for this reason her step-mother has cast her off. Her father supplies in secret her daily food." "The Lord will provide for him who is in need," said the prince. "Call her; never mind how ugly she is, or how badly she is clad. I like to make orphans happy." After much pressing the wretch of an old woman at last produced the little girl, who looked very poor, but was very cleanly dressed; her face was as soft as dew. The prince recognised at the first glance the beautiful figure and the charming features.
"I'm not sorry for the trouble I have taken," said the prince, and embraced the pretty girl. He gave rich presents to the poor woman, and took his long-sought-for sweetheart with him. On his way home the servant reminded his master that it would not be the proper thing to bring the prince's bride home in such a sorry plight. The prince found his servant's remark correct. They had only to walk about three miles to reach the frontier of land where the prince's father reigned. They came to a round lake where they halted, and on its bank stood a large weeping willow, so they made the girl sit among the branches and advised her not to leave her place until they returned with the golden dresses and the royal carriage. Thereupon they left. The little girl had hidden the three walnuts in her bosom and in order to surprise her bridegroom she put on her golden dress and thus dressed awaited his return. No sooner had she finished her toilet than a whole troop of gipsy women arrived under the tree on which she sat in her golden dress. The gipsy women at once questioned her, why she sat there? whom she expected? and where she was going! She, in her innocence, was not afraid of them, and told them of her descent, narrated them her past vicissitudes, her present good fortune, and also confided to them that she was preparing a joke for her royal bridegroom, and showed her walnuts and her glittering dresses in them. The prettiest of the gipsy women climbed on the tree and commenced to flatter her. She asked her to be allowed to see her walnuts, and in one moment, when the girl was off her guard, pushed her from the tree down into the lake. To the great amazement of the gipsies the girl transformed herself into a gold duck, and flew to the centre of the lake, and, alighting on the water, began to swim. Thereupon the gipsy women began to throw stones at her, which, however, she evaded by diving under water. The women at last got tired of throwing stones, and left the gold duck in the lake, and the gipsy woman among the branches of the weeping willow. The prince arrived at sunset at the tree where he had left his pretty fiancée. When lo! he discovered the woman in the golden dress. He admired her golden raiment, and begged her to tell him where she had got her golden dress. The gipsy told him what the girl had related to her, and asked him his forgiveness for not having mentioned it when she first saw him at the widow's cot, and made the prince believe that she had kept silence about it solely because she wished to find out whether he loved her in her poor dress. The prince believed every word the gipsy said, and begged her to come down and sit in his carriage, and to drive home with him to his royal father's palace. As the prince assisted the gipsy woman down from the willow, the tanned face of his fiancée looked to him as something most extraordinary. "You were not so sunburnt, my dear, when I left you; what made your skin get so discoloured?" "My tender skin got discoloured from the broiling rays of the sun," replied the wicked soul; "let me get into the shade and in a few days I shall become pale again." The prince believed it and bade her sit in his carriage. "I can't leave here until you shoot that gold duck, I should like to have a bit of it at my wedding feast," said the false one. The bridegroom and his servants tried for a long time to hit the golden bird, they wasted a vast amount of powder and shot; but still the golden duck was unhurt because it always dived under the water.
The dusky woman looked very much disheartened when she took her seat in the prince's coach, but he soon revived her spirits by sweet and kind words, and in a short time they arrived at home. The old king did not at all like the looks of his future daughter-in-law, but on his son assuring him that in a few days she would regain her fairy-like beauty his mind was set at ease. They lived together for several months and the young wife was still sunburnt, and so the prince gradually got cool towards her. The gipsy woman noticed this, and in order to revive the spirits of her royal husband she announced it all over the town and in the adjacent villages that there would be a great feather-picking, held henceforth three times a week in the royal palace, and everybody rich and poor was invited, the queen being glad to see anyone. The golden duck had flown after the coach when the queen was driven home, and, having regained her girl-form, entered service not far from the royal mansion and worked diligently. She too went to the first feather-picking meeting, and, not saying a word to anyone, sat at the end of the table and made herself busy. "Well, my dear queen and wife," said the prince, "tell the good work-people here the pretty story which happened to you when your envious sisters would not let you go to church. Tell them also who helped you to clean the wheat." The gipsy did not know anything about these events; but still commenced to chatter away whatever came into her head first. She told them, among other things, that she had crept through the keyhole in the gate, and collected all the girls in the neighbourhood, with whose help she finished her wheat-cleaning. "That wasn't so, most gracious queen," said a girl, with a pretty voice, who was very shabbily dressed but looked very clean; "it was from the chimney stack, and from the top of the hoarding, and from among the branches of the mulberry tree, from where the orphan girl did her peeping. But the poor orphan girl only told an innocent fib. It was the same girl with whom the prince fell in love, whom her half-sisters had cast off, for whom the prince searched with his servant, whom he seated in the willow tree, and whom you pushed into the lake, whom your husband tried to shoot. That orphan girl is nobody else but myself." The prince at once recognised his sweetheart. His wife thereupon fainted away. She soon recovered however.
The king made an example of the gipsy woman for her wicked deed: he had her quartered, and burnt, and then married the little orphan girl. He had her stepmother cast into prison, and her two daughters' hair cut, which he ordered to be burnt and cast to the winds: he also took the orphan girl's father to his court, and married him to the widow at whose cot he had found his wife. The poor little orphan girl's and her father's wedding were celebrated together. There was plenty to eat and drink, so that even the orphan children had rice to eat. Behind the door there stood a sack in which the Danube and the Theiss were kept. I too was among the dancing guests, and had a long spur made of straw on my boot; somebody pushed me by accident, and my spur knocked a hole in the sack in which the Danube and Theiss were kept; so the water all ran out and engulphed me, and washed me ashore, not far from here. If you don't believe my story, here I am!