ONCE upon a time there was a poor old woman who had a niece she had brought up very strictly; the girl was very good and devout, but a timid little thing. The poor old woman knew this, and thinking how badly off the girl would be when she died, fancied the best thing would be to find a good husband for her.
One day she visited the house of a. friend of hers, and among the guests there was a wealthy Indian, who took an opportunity of saying that he would marry if he could find a skilful, domestic, modest girl for a wife. The old woman listened to this, and when she had a chance told him that he would find what he sought in her niece, who was a prize, a grain of gold, and so skilful that she could do anything.
The gentleman said that he should like to know her, and that he would call the following day. The old woman ran home and told her niece to tidy the house, and that the following day she should dress herself in her best, because they were going to have a visitor.
When the gentleman came, on the following day, he asked the girl if she could spin.
“What cannot she do?” said the aunt, “the skeins fly through her fingers like water.”
“What have you done, madam?” said the niece, when the gentleman had departed, leaving with her three spools of flax to be spun. “What have you done? For I don’t know how to spin.”
“Nonsense, girl,” said the aunt, “you will do very well. Don’t trouble yourself, but see what Heaven will do for you.’’
“But in what a predicament you have put me,” said the niece, crying.
“You must see what you can devise,” replied the aunt; “but you have to spin those three skeins, for on that depends your fate.”
At night the girl retired to her room in great grief, and placed herself in the protecting hands of the blessed spirits, for she was very devout Whilst she was praying there appeared to her three very beautiful spirits, clothed in white. They told her not to grieve, and they would help her in return for her many fervent prayers. Each one then took a skein of the flax and wound it off into a thread as fine as a hair.
On the following day, when the Indian came, he was astounded at seeing such dexterity united with so much diligence.
“Did I not tell you so, sir?” said the old woman, almost beside herself with delight.
The gentleman inquired if the girl knew how to sew.
“What cannot she do?” said the aunt with ardour, “pieces of needlework go through her hands as quickly as cherries through a greedy mouth.”
Then the gentleman left linen for three shirts to be made, and the same thing happened as on the previous night; and again on the following, when the Indian left a satin waistcoat to be embroidered. Only on the third night, when the girl was praying with much fervour and many tears, the guardian spirits appeared, and one of them said to her:—
“Do not fret yourself, we are come to embroider this waistcoat for you, but it must be on one condition.”
“What is that?” inquired the girl anxiously. “That you invite us to your wedding.”
“But am I going to be married?” asked the girl.
“Yes,” answered the spirits, “to that wealthy Indian.”
And so it came to pass; for on the following day, when the gentleman saw the waistcoat so delicately embroidered that it looked as if hands had never touched it, and so beautiful that it ravished the eyesight, he told the aunt that he would like to marry her niece.
The aunt could have danced for joy, but not so the niece, who said:—
“But, madam, what will become of me when my husband discovers that I can do nothing?” “Nonsense,” replied the aunt, “the guardian spirits, who have rescued you from such difficulties, will not cease from assisting you.”
The marriage then was arranged, and on the evening previous to the wedding the bride went to the altar of her guardian spirits and invited them to the ceremony.
On the wedding day, when the feasting was at its height, three old women entered the room; they were so fearfully ugly that the bridegroom was dumbfounded, and could only stare at them. One of them had one arm very short and the other so long that it trailed on the ground; the second was humpbacked and had her body all crooked, whilst the third had goggle eyes more inflamed than a tomato.
“Good heavens!” said the gentleman at last to his perturbed bride, “who are these three hobgoblins?”
“They are my father’s aunts,” responded the bride, “whom I have invited to the wedding.” The gentleman, who was well mannered, went to speak to them and offer them seats.
“Tell me,” he said to the one that entered first, “how it is that you have one arm so short and one so long.”
“My son,” said the old woman, “it is because I have done so much spinning.”
The Indian got up and went to his bride, and said to her:—
“Break your spindle and distaff, and mind that you never spin any more.”
Afterwards he asked the second old woman how it was that she was so humpbacked and crooked.
“My son,” she responded, “I am so because I have done so much embroidery.”
In three steps the Indian reached his bride and said to her:—
“My own one! break your embroidery frame, and beware of ever again attempting to embroider!”
Then he went to the third old woman, and asked her how it was that her eyes were so projecting and inflamed.
“My son,” replied she as she goggled them about, “it is through so much sewing and bending my head over the needlework.”
No sooner had she uttered the words than the Indian was at his wife’s side, saying to her:—
“Seize your needles and thread and fling them into the well; and, understand me thoroughly, the day on which I see you sew I will apply for a divorce! A wise head profits by other folk’s experience!”