King Thrushbeard (cont.)
"Wife," said the man, "this will not do, stopping here and earning nothing; you must make baskets."
So he went out, and cut willows, and brought them home, and she began to weave them, but the hard twigs wounded her tender hands.
"I see this will not do," said the man; "you had better try spinning."
So she sat her down and tried to spin, but the harsh thread cut her soft fingers, so that the blood flowed.
"Look now!" said the man; "you are no good at any sort of work; I made a bad bargain when I took you. I must see what I can do to make a trade of pots and earthen vessels; you can sit in the market and offer them for sale."
"Oh dear!" thought she, "suppose while I am selling in the market people belonging to my father's kingdom should see me — how they would mock at me!"
But there was no help for it; she had to submit, or else die of hunger.
The first day all went well; the people bought her wares eagerly because she was so beautiful, and gave her whatever she asked, and some of them gave her the money and left the pots after all behind them. And they lived on these earnings as long as they lasted, and then the man bought a number of new pots.
So she seated herself in a corner of the market and stood the wares before her for sale. All at once a drunken horse-soldier came plunging by and rode straight into the midst of her pots, breaking them into a thousand pieces. She could do nothing for weeping.
"Oh dear, what will become of me," cried she; "what will my husband say?" and she hastened home and told him her misfortune.
"Who ever heard of such a thing as sitting in the corner of the market with earthenware pots!" said the man. "Now leave off crying; I see you are not fit for any regular work. I have been asking at your father's castle if they want a kitchen-maid, and they say they don't mind taking you; at any rate, you will get your victuals free."
And the king's daughter became a kitchen-maid, to be at the cook's beck and call and to do the hardest work. In each of her pockets she fastened a little pot and brought home in them whatever was left, and upon that she and her husband were fed.
It happened one day, when the wedding of the eldest prince was celebrated, the poor woman went upstairs and stood by the parlour door to see what was going on. And when the place was lighted up, and the company arrived, each person handsomer than the one before, and all was brilliancy and splendour, she thought on her own fate with a sad heart and bewailed her former pride and haughtiness which had brought her so low, and plunged her in so great poverty. And as the rich and delicate dishes, smelling so good, were carried to and fro every now and then, the servants would throw her a few fragments, which she put in her pockets, intending to take home.
And then the prince himself passed, clothed in silk and velvet with a gold chain round his neck. And when he saw the beautiful woman standing in the doorway, he seized her hand and urged her to dance with him, but she refused, all trembling, for she saw it was King Thrushbeard, who had come to court her and whom she had turned away with mocking.
It was of no use her resisting; he drew her into the room, and all at once the band to which her pockets were fastened broke, and the pots fell out, and the soup ran about, and the fragments were scattered all round. And when the people saw that, there was great laughter and mocking, and she felt so ashamed that she wished herself a thousand fathoms underground.
She rushed to the door to fly from the place when a man caught her just on the steps, and when she looked at him, it was King Thrushbeard again.
He said to her in a kind tone, "Do not be afraid. I and the beggar-man with whom you lived in the wretched little hut are one. For love of you I disguised myself, and it was I who broke your pots in the guise of a horse-soldier. I did all that to bring down your proud heart and to punish your haughtiness, which caused you to mock at me."
Then she wept bitterly, and said, "I have done great wrong and am not worthy to be your wife."
But he said, "Take courage: the evil days are gone over; now let us keep our wedding-day."
Then came the ladies-in-waiting and put on her splendid clothing, and her father came and the whole court, and wished her joy on her marriage with King Thrushbeard, and then the merry-making began in good earnest. I cannot help wishing that you and I could have been there too.
Next: The Three Spinsters