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Popular Tales from the Norse by  George Webbe Dasent

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THE TWO STEP-SISTERS

ONCE on a time there was a couple, and each of them had a daughter by a former marriage. The woman's daughter was dull and lazy, and could never turn her hand to anything, and the man's daughter was brisk and ready; but somehow or other she could never do anything to her stepmother's liking, and both the woman and her daughter would have been glad to be rid of her.

[114] So it fell one day the two girls were to go out and spin by the side of the well, and the woman's daughter had flax to spin, but the man's daughter got nothing to spin but bristles. "I don't know how it is," said the woman's daughter, "you're always so quick and sharp, but still I'm not afraid to spin a match with you."

Well, they agreed that she whose thread first snapped should go down the well. So they span away; but just as they were hard at it, the man's daughter's thread broke, and she had to go down the well. But when she got to the bottom, she saw far and wide around her a fair green mead, and she hadn't hurt herself at all.

So she walked on a bit, till she came to a hedge which she had to cross.

"Ah! don't tread hard on me, pray don't, and I'll help you another time, that I will," said the Hedge.

Then the lassie made herself as light as she could, and trode so carefully she scarce touched a twig.

So she went on a bit farther, till she came to a brindled cow, which walked there with a milking-pail on her horns. 'Twas a large pretty cow, and her udder was so full and round.

"Ah! be so good as to milk me, pray," said the Cow; "I'm so full of milk. Drink as much as you please, and throw the rest over my hoofs, and see if I don't help you some day."

So the man's daughter did as the cow begged. As soon as she touched the teats, the milk spouted out into the pail. Then she drank till her thirst was slaked; and the rest she threw over the cow's hoofs, and the milking pail she hung on her horns again.

[115] So when she had gone a bit farther, a big wether met her, which had such thick long wool, it hung down and draggled after him on the ground, and on one of his horns hung a great pair of shears.

"Ah! please clip off my wool," said the sheep, "for here I go about with all this wool, and catch up everything I meet, and besides, it's so warm, I'm almost choked. Take as much of the fleece as you please, and twist the rest round my neck, and see if I don't help you some day."

Yes; she was willing enough, and the sheep lay down of himself on her lap, and kept quite still, and she clipped him so neatly, there wasn't a scratch on his skin. Then she took as much of the wool as she chose, and the rest she twisted round the neck of the sheep.

A little farther on, she came to an apple-tree, which was loaded with apples; all its branches were bowed to the ground, and leaning against the stem was a slender pole.

"Ah! do be so good as to pluck my apples off me," said the Tree, "so that my branches may straighten themselves again, for it's bad work to stand so crooked; but when you beat them down, don't strike me too hard. Then eat as many as you please, lay the rest round my root, and see if I don't help you some day or other."

Yes; she plucked all she could reach with her hands, and then she took the pole and knocked down the rest, and afterwards she ate her fill, and the rest she laid neatly round the root.

So she walked on a long, long way, and then she came to a great farm-house, where an old hag of the Trolls lived with her daughter. There she turned in to ask if she could get a place.

[116] "Oh!" said the old hag; "it's no use your trying. We've had ever so many maids, but none of them was worth her salt."

But she begged so prettily that they would just take her on trial, that at last they let her stay. So the old hag gave her a sieve, and bade her go and fetch water in it. She thought it strange to fetch water in a sieve, but still she went, and when see came to the well, the little birds began to sing—

"Daub in clay,

Stuff in straw;

Daub in clay,

Stuff in straw."

Yes, she did so, and found she could carry water in a sieve well enough; but when she got home with the water, and the old witch saw the sieve, she cried out,—

"This you haven't sucked out of your own breast."

So the old witch said, now she might go into the byre to pitch out dung and milk kine; but when she got there she found a pitchfork so long and heavy she couldn't stir it, much less work with it. She didn't know at all what to do, or what to make of it; but the little birds sang again that she should take the broomstick and toss out a little with that, and all the rest of the dung would fly after it. So she did that, and as soon as ever she began with the broomstick, the byre was as clean as if it had been swept and washed.

Now she had to milk the kine, but they were so restless that they kicked and frisked; there was no getting near them to milk them.

[117] But the little birds sang outside,—

"A little drop, a tiny sup,

For the little birds to drink it up."

Yes, she did that; she just milked a tiny drop, 'twas as much as she could, for the little birds outside; and then all the cows stood still and let her milk them. They neither kicked nor frisked; they didn't even lift a leg.

So when the old witch saw her coming in with the milk, she cried out,—

"This you haven't sucked out of your own breast. But now just take this black wool and wash it white."

This the lassie was at her wit's end to know how to do, for she had never seen or heard of any one who could wash black wool white. Still she said nothing, but took the wool and went down with it to the well. There the little birds sang again, and told her to take the wool and dip it into the great butt that stood there; and she did so, and out it came as white as snow.

"Well, I never!" said the old witch, when she came in with the wool, "it's no good keeping you. You can do everything, and at last you'll be the plague of my life. We'd best part, so take your wages and be off."

Then the old hag drew out three caskets, one red, one green, and one blue, and of these the lassie was to choose one as wages for her service. Now she didn't know at all which to choose, but the little birds sang,—

"Don't take the red, don't take the green,

But take the blue, where may be seen

Three little crosses all in a row;

We saw the marks, and so we know."

[118] So she took the blue casket, as the birds sang.

"Bad luck to you, then," said the old witch; "see if I don't make you pay for this!"

So when the man's daughter was just setting off, the old witch shot a red-hot bar of iron after her, but she sprang behind the door and hid herself, so that it missed her, for her friends, the little birds, had told her beforehand how to behave. Then she walked on and on as fast as ever she could; but when she got to the apple-tree, she heard an awful clatter behind her on the road, and that was the old witch and her daughter coming after her.

So the lassie was so frightened and scared, she didn't know what to do.

"Come hither to me, lassie, do you hear," said the Apple-tree, "I'll help you; get under my branches and hide, for if they catch you they'll tear you to death, and take the casket from you."

Yes; she did so, and she had hardly hidden herself before up came the old witch and her daughter.

"Have you seen any lassie pass this way, you apple-tree?" said the old hag.

"Yes, Yes," said the Apple-tree; "one ran by here an hour ago; but now she's got so far ahead you'll never catch her up."

So the old witch turned back and went home again.

Then the lassie walked on a bit, but when she came just about where the sheep was, she heard an awful clatter beginning on the road behind her, and she didn't know what to do, she was so scared and frightened; for she knew well enough it was the old witch, who had thought better of it.

[119] "Come hither to me, lassie," said the Wether, "and I'll help you. Hide yourself under my fleece, and then they'll not see you; else they'll take away the casket, and tear you to death."

Just then up came the old witch, tearing along.

"Have you seen any lassie pass here, you sheep?" she cried to the wether.

"Oh Yes," said the Wether, "I saw one an hour ago, but she ran so fast you'll never catch her."

So the old witch turned round and went home.

But when the lassie had come to where she met the cow, she heard another awful clatter behind her.

"Come hither to me, lassie," said the Cow, "and I'll help you to hide yourself under my udder, else the old hag will come and take away your casket, and tear you to death."

True enough, it wasn't long before she came up.

"Have you seen any lassie pass here, you cow?" said the old hag.

"Yes, I saw one an hour ago," said the Cow, "but she's far away now, for she ran so fast I don't think you'll ever catch her up."

So the old hag turned round, and went back home again.

When the lassie had walked a long, long way farther on, and was not far from the hedge, she heard again that awful clatter on the road behind her, and she got scared and frightened, for she knew well enough it was the old hag and her daughter, who had changed their minds.

"Come hither to me, lassie," said the Hedge, "and I'll help you. Creep under my twigs, so that they can't see [120] you; else they'll take the casket from you, and tear you to death."

Yes; she made all the haste she could to get under the twigs of the hedge.

"Have you seen any lassie pass this way, you hedge?" said the old hag to the hedge.

"No, I haven't seen any lassie," answered the Hedge, and was as smooth-tongued as if he had got melted butter in his mouth; but all the while he spread himself out, and made himself so big and tall, one had to think twice before crossing him. And so the old witch had no help for it but to turn round and go home again.

So when the man's daughter got home, her step-mother and her step-sister were more spiteful against her than ever; for now she was much neater, and so smart, it was a joy to look at her. Still she couldn't get leave to live with them, but they drove her out into a pig-sty. That was to be her house. So she scrubbed it out so neat and clean, and then she opened her casket, just to see what she had got for her wages. But as soon as ever she unlocked it, she saw inside so much gold and silver, and lovely things, which came streaming out till all the walls were hung with them, and at last the pig-sty was far grander than the grandest king's palace. And when the step-mother and her daughter came to see this, they almost jumped out of their skin, and began to ask what kind of a place she had down there?

"Oh," said the lassie, "can't you see, when I have got such good wages. 'Twas such a family and such a mistress to serve, you couldn't find their like anywhere."

Yes; the woman's daughter made up her mind to go out to serve too, that she might get just such another gold casket. [121] So they sat down to spin again, and now the woman's daughter was to spin bristles, and the man's daughter flax, and she whose thread first snapped was to go down the well. It wasn't long, as you may fancy, before the woman's daughter's thread snapped, and so they threw her down the well.

So the same thing happened. She fell to the bottom, but met with no harm, and found herself on a lovely green meadow. When she had walked a bit she came to the hedge.

"Don't tread hard on me, pray, lassie, and I'll help you again," said the Hedge.

"Oh!" said she, "what should I care for a bundle of twigs!" and tramped and stamped over the hedge till it cracked and groaned again.

A little farther on she came to the cow, which walked about ready to burst for want of milking.

"Be so good as to milk me, lassie," said the Cow, "and I'll help you again. Drink as much as you please, but throw the rest over my hoofs."

Yes, she did that; she milked the cow, and drank till she could drink no more; but when she left off, there was none left to throw over the cow's hoofs, and as for the pail, she tossed it down the hill and walked on.

When she had gone a bit farther, she came to the sheep, which walked along with his wool dragging after him.

"Oh, be so good as to clip me, lassie," said the Sheep, "and I'll serve you again. Take as much of the wool as you will, but twist the rest round my neck."

Well, she did that; but she went so carelessly to [122] work, that she cut great pieces out of the poor sheep, and as for the wool, she carried it all away with her.

A little while after she came to the apple-tree, which stood there quite crooked with fruit again.

"Be so good as to pluck the apples off me that my limbs may grow straight, for it's weary work to stand all awry," said the Apple-tree. "But please take care not to beat me too hard. Eat as many as you will, but lay the rest neatly round my root, and I'll help you again."

Well, she plucked those nearest to her, and thrashed down those she couldn't reach with the pole; but she didn't care how she did it, and broke off and tore down great boughs, and ate till she was as full as full could be, and then she threw down the rest under the tree.

So when she had gone a good bit farther, she came to the farm where the old witch lived. There she asked for a place, but the old hag said she wouldn't have any more maids, for they were either worth nothing, or were too clever, and cheated her out of her goods. But the woman's daughter was not to be put off, she would have a place, so the old witch said she'd give her a trial, if she was fit for anything.

The first thing she had to do was to fetch water in a sieve. Well, off she went to the well, and drew water in a sieve, but as fast as she got it in it ran out again. So the little birds sang,

"Daub In Clay,

Put in straw

Daub in clay,

Put in straw."

But she didn't care to listen to the birds' song, and [123] pelted them with clay, till they flew off far away. And so she had to go home with the empty sieve, and got well scolded by the old witch.

Then she was to go into the byre to clean it, and milk the kine. But she was too good for such dirty work, she thought. Still, she went out into the byre, but when she got there, she couldn't get on at all with the pitchfork, it was so big. The birds said the same to her as they had said to her step-sister, and told her to take the broomstick, and toss out a little dung, and then all the rest would fly after it; but all she did with the broomstick was to throw it at the birds. When she came to milk, the kine were so unruly, they kicked and pushed, and every time she got a little milk in the pail, over they kicked it. Then the birds sang again,—

"A little drop, and a tiny sup,

For the little birds to drink it up."

But she beat and banged the cows about, and threw and pelted at the birds everything she could lay hold of, and made such a to do, 'twas awful to see. So she didn't make much either of her pitching or milking and when she came in-doors she got blows as well as hard words from the old witch, who sent her off to wash the black wool white; but that, too, she did no better.

Then the old witch thought this really too bad, so she set out the three caskets, one red, one green, and one blue, and said she'd no longer any need of her services, for she wasn't worth keeping, but for wages she should have leave to choose whichever casket she pleased.

Then sang the little birds,—

[124]

"Don't take the red, don't take the green,

But choose the blue, where may be seen

Three little crosses all in a row;

We saw the marks, and so we know."

She didn't care a pin for what the birds sang, but took the red, which caught her eye most. And so she set out on her road home, and she went along quietly and easily enough; there was no one who came after her.

So when she got home, her mother was ready to jump with joy, and the two went at once into the ingle, and put the casket up there, for they made up their minds there could be nothing in it but pure silver and gold, and they thought to have all the walls and roof gilded like the pig-sty. But lo! when they opened the casket there came tumbling out nothing but toads, and frogs, and snakes; and worse than that, whenever the woman's daughter opened her mouth, out popped a toad or a snake, and all the vermin one ever thought of, so that at last there was no living in the house with her.

That was all the wages she got for going out to service with the old witch.


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