THERE was once on a time a stepmother who hated her step-daughter exceedingly, because she was more beautiful than her own daughter whom she had brought with her into the house. By-and-by, the father learned also to hate his own child: he scolded her, and beat her, in order to please his wife. One day his wife said to him, 'Let us send your daughter away! Let her look out for herself in the world!' Upon this the man asked, 'Where can we send her? Where can the poor girl go alone?' To this the wife answered, 'If you will not do this, husband, I will no longer live with you. You had better take her to-morrow out of the house. You can lead her into the forest, and then steal away from her and hurry home!' She repeated this so often that at length he consented, but said, 'At least prepare the girl something for her journey, that she may not die the first day of hunger.'
The stepmother thereupon made a cake, and, the next morning early, the father led the girl far away into the very heart of the forest, and there left her and went back home.
The poor girl, thus left alone, wandered all day about the wood seeking for a path, but could find no way out of it. When it grew dark she got up into a tree to pass the night, fearing lest some wild beasts would eat her if she remained on the ground. And, indeed, all night long the wolves were howling under the tree, so that the poor girl trembled so much that she could hardly keep her herself from falling. When day dawned she descended from the tree and walked on again, hoping to find some way out of the forest. But the wood grew thicker and thicker, and seemed to have no end. In the evening whilst she was looking for a tree in which she might remain safely over the night, all at once she saw something shining in the forest. So she went on, hoping to find some shelter, and at length came to a fine large house. The gates were open, so she went in, and walked through a great many rooms, each one more beautiful than the other. On a table in one room she found a candle burning. She thought this must be the house of some robbers; but she was not afraid, for she reasoned with herself, 'Rich men have reason to fear robbers, but I have none--I will tell them that I will serve them gladly for a piece of bread.'
She then took the cake from her bag, said grace, and began to eat. Just as she had begun to eat a cock came into the room, and sprung upon the table to reach the cake, so the girl crumbled some of it for him. Then a little dog came in and jumped quite friendly upon her, so she broke a piece from her cake for the little dog, and took him on her knee, and petted and fed him. After that came in a cat also, and the girl fed her too.
At length the girl heard a loud noise as if some great beast was coming, and was greatly frightened when a lion came into the room. But the lion moved his tail in such a friendly way, and looked so very kindly, that she took heart, and offered him a piece of her cake. The lion took it and began to lick her hand, and the girl had no longer any fear of him, so she stroked him gently and fed him with the rest of the cake. Suddenly she heard a great noise of weapons, and almost swooned as a creature in a bear-skin entered the room. The cock, the dog, the cat, and the lion, all ran to it, and jumped about it affectionately, showing in all possible ways their great joy. The poor girl thought it a very strange beast, and expected it would jump upon her and kill her. But the fearful thing threw the bear-skin from its head and shoulders, and all the room shone and glittered with its golden garments. The poor girl almost lost her senses when she saw before her a handsome man, beautifully dressed. But he came up to her and said, 'Don't be afraid, my dear! I am not a bad man, I am the son of the king, and when I wish to hunt I come here and use this bear-skin as a disguise lest the people should recognise me. Those who see me believe that I am a ghost and run away from me. No one dares to come into this house, knowing that I often come here. You are the only person who has ventured in. How did you know that I am not a ghost?'
Then she told him she had never heard of him nor of the house, but that her stepmother had driven her away from home, and she told him all that had happened to her. When he heard this, he was very sorry, and said, 'Your stepmother hated you, but God has been kind to you. I will marry you if you are willing to be my wife--will you consent?' 'Yes!' she replied. Next day he took her to his father's palace and married her. After some time she begged to be allowed to go to see her father. So her husband allowed her to go, and she dressed herself all in gold and went to her father's house. The father happened to be away from home, and the stepmother, seeing her coming, was afraid lest she had come to revenge herself. So she hurried to meet her and said, 'You see that it was I who sent you on the road to happiness.' The step-daughter kissed her, and embraced her step-sister. Then the girl said she was very sorry that she had not found her father at home, and, on her going away, she gave plenty of money to her stepmother. When, however, she had gone away the stepmother shook her fist after her and cried, 'Wait a little, you shall not be the only one so dressed out; to-morrow I will send my own daughter after you the same way!'
When her husband came home at night she told him all that had happened, and said, 'What do you think, husband? would it not be a good thing to send my girl also into the wood to try her fortune; for your girl, whom we sent there, never came back until now, and now she has come glittering in gold?'
The man sighed and agreed to the proposal. Next day the stepmother prepared for her daughter plenty of cakes and roasted meats, and then sent her with the father into the forest. The man led her deep into the forest, as he had done his own daughter, and there left her. Finding the father did not return, she began to seek a way to get home, and soon came in sight of the house in the forest. She entered it, and seeing no one, fastened the door inside, saying as she did so, 'If God himself comes I will not open to Him.' Then she took out of her bag the baked meats and cakes and began to eat. Whilst she was eating, the cock, the dog, and the cat came in suddenly, and began to play about her affectionately, hoping she would give them something; but she became quite angry, and exclaimed, 'The devil take you! I have hardly enough for myself: do you think I will give any to you?' Then she began to beat them; whereat the dog howled, and the lion hearing it rushed in furiously, caught the girl and killed her.
Next day the king's son came with his wife to hunt. She immediately recognised her sister's dress, and gathered together the fragments of the body, which she took to her stepmother. She found her father at home this time, and he was greatly pleased to hear that his daughter was married to the king's son. When, however, he heard what had happened with the daughter of his wife, he was very sorry, but said, 'Her mother has deserved this from the hand of God, because she hated you without a cause. There she is at the well, I will go and tell her.'
When the stepmother heard what had happened to her daughter, she said to her husband, 'I cannot bear your daughter! I cannot bear to look at her! Let us kill her and her husband. If you will not consent, I will jump down into this well!' 'I cannot kill my own child,' returned he. 'Well, then,' cried she, 'if you will not kill her, I cannot endure her!' and so she jumped down into the well.