THE GOOSE-GIRL AT THE WELL
The Old Witch
HERE was once upon a time, a very old woman, who
lived with her flock of geese in a waste place
among the mountains, and there had a little
house. The waste was surrounded by a large
forest, and every morning the Old Woman
took her crutch and hobbled into it.
There, however, the dame was quite active,
more so than any one would have thought,
considering her age, and collected grass
for her geese, picked all the wild fruit she
could reach, and carried everything home on
her back. Any one would have thought that
the heavy load would have weighed her to the
ground, but she always brought it safely home.
If any one met her, she greeted him quite
courteously. "Good day, dear Countryman,
it is a fine day. Ah! you wonder that I should
drag grass about, but every one must take
his burthen on his back."
Nevertheless, people did not like to meet her
if they could help it, and took by preference
a roundabout way. And when a father with
his boys passed her, he whispered to them
"Be-  ware of the Old Woman. She has claws beneath
her gloves. She is a Witch."
One morning, a handsome young man was
going through the forest. The sun shone
bright, the birds sang, a cool breeze crept
through the leaves, and he was full of joy
and gladness. He had as yet met no one,
when he suddenly perceived the old Witch
kneeling on the ground cutting grass with a
sickle. She had already thrust a whole load
into her cloth, and near it stood two baskets,
which were filled with wild apples and pears.
"But, good little Mother," said her, "how can
you carry all that away?"
"I must carry it, dear Sir," answered she; "rich
folk's children have no need to do such things,
but with the peasant folk the saying goes 'Don't
look behind you, you will only see how crooked
your back is!'
"Will you help me?" she said, as he remained
standing by her. "You have still a straight back
and young legs, it would be a trifle to you.
Besides, my house is not so very far from here.
It stands there on the heath behind the hill. How
soon you would bound up thither!"
The young man took compassion on the Old
Woman. "My father is certainly no peasant,"
replied her, "but a rich Count. Nevertheless,
that you may see it is not only peasants who
can carry things, I will take your bundle."
"If you will try it, " said she, "I shall be very
glad. You will certainly have to walk for an
hour, but will that signify to you? Only you
must carry the apples and pears as well."
It now seemed to the young man just a
little serious, when
 he heard of an hour's walk, but the Old Woman
would not let him off, packed the bundle on
his back, and hung the two baskets on his
arm. "See, it is quite ligtht," said she.
"No, it is not light," answered the Count, and
pulled a rueful face. "Verily, the bundle
weighs as heavily as if it were full of
cobblestones, and the apples and pears are
as heavy as lead! I can scarcely breathe"
He had a mind to put everything down again,
but the Old Woman would not allow it. "Just
look," said she mockingly, "the young gentleman
will not carry what I, an old woman, have so
often dragged along! You are ready with fine
words, but when it comes to being in earnest,
you want to take to your heels. Why are you
standing loitering there?" she continued.
"Step out. No one will take the bundle off
As long as he walked on level ground, it was
still bearable, but when they came to the hill
and had to climb, and the stones rolled down
under his feet as if they were alive, it was
beyond his strength. The drops of perspiration
stood on his forehead, and rand, hot and cold,
down his back.
"Dame," said he, "I can go no farther. I want to
rest a little."
"Not here," answered the Old Woman, "when
we have arrived at our journey's end, you can
rest. But now you must go forward. Who
knows what good it may do you?"
"Old woman, you are shameless!" said the
Count, and tried to throw off the bundle,
but he labored in vain. It stuck as fast to his
back, as if it grew there. He turned and
twisted, but he could not get rid of it.
The Old Woman laughed at this, and sprang
 delighted on her crutch. "Don't get angry,
dear Sir," said she, "you are growing as red
in the face as a turkey-cock! Carry your
bundle patiently. I will give you a good present
when we get home."
What could he do? He was obliged to submit
to his fate, and crawl along patiently behind the
Old Woman. She seemed to grow more and more
nimble, and his burden still heavier. All at once,
she made a spring, jumped on to the bundle and
seated herself on the top of it. And however
withered she might be, she was yet heavier than
the stoutest country lass.
The youth's knees trembled, but when he did not
go on, the Old Woman hit him about the legs with
a switch and with stinging-nettles. Groaning
continually, he climbed the mountain, and at length
reached the Old Woman's house, when he was
just about to drop.
When the geese perceived the Old Woman, they
flapped their wings, stretched out their necks,
ran to meet her, cackling all the while. Behind
the flock walked, stick in hand, an old wench,
strong and big, but ugly as night. "Good Mother,"
said she to the Old Woman, "has anything
happened to you, you have stayed away
"By no means, my dear Daugher," answered
she, "I have met with nothing bad, but, on
the contrary, with this kind gentleman, who
has carried my burthen for me. Only think,
he even took me on his back when I was
tired. They way, too, has not seemed long
to us. We have been merry, and have been
cracking jokes with each other all the time."
At last the Old Woman slid down, took the
bundle off the
 young man's back, and the baskets from his arm,
looked at him quite kindly, and said, "Now seat
yourself on the bench before the door, and
rest. You have fairly earned your wages, and
they shall not be wanting."
Then she said to the goose-girl, "Go into the
house, my little Daughter, it is not becoming
for you to be alone with a young gentleman.
One must not pour oil on to the fire, he
might fall in love with you."
The Count knew not whether to laugh or
to cry. "Such a sweetheart as that,"
thought he, "could not touch my heart,
even if she were thirty years younger."
In the meantime, the Old Woman stroked
and fondled her geese as if they were
children, and then went into the house
with her daughter. The youth lay down
on the bench, under a wild apple-tree.
The air was warm and mild. On all sides
stretched a green meadow, which was set
with cowslips, wild thyme and a thousand
other flowers. Through the midst of it
rippled a clear brook on which the sun
sparkled, and the white geese went
walking backward and forward, or paddled
in the water.
"It is quite delightful here," said he, "but
I am so tired that I cannot keep my eyes
open. I will sleep a little. If only a gust of
wind does not come and blow my legs off
my body, for they are as brittle as tinder."
When he had slept a little while, the Old
Woman came and shook him till he awoke.
"Sit up," said she, "you cannot stay here.
I have certainly treated you badly, still it
has not cost you your life. Of money and
land you have no need, here is something
else for you."
 Thereupon she thrust a little book into his hand, which
was cut out of a single emerald. "Take great care of
it", said she, "it will bring you good fortune."
The Count sprang up, and as he felt that he was
quite fresh, and had recovered his vigor, he thanked
the Old Woman for her present, and set off without
even once looking back at the beautiful daugher.
When he was already some way off, he still heard
in the distance the noisy cry of the geese.
For three days, the Count had to wander in the
wilderness before he could find his way out. He
then reached a large town. As no one knew him,
he was led into the royal palace, where the King
and Queen were sitting on their throne. The
Count fell on one knee, drew the emerald book
out of his pocket, and laid it at the Queen's feet.
She bade him rise and hand her the little book.
Hardly, however, had she opened it, and looked
therein, than she fell as if dead to the ground.
The Count was seized by the King's servants,
and was being led to prison, when the Queen
opened her eyes, and ordered them to release
him, and every one was to go out, as she
wished to speak with him in private.
When the Queen was alone, she began to weep
bitterly, and said, "Of what use to me are the
splendors and honors with which I am
surrounded! Every morning I awake in pain and
sorrow. I had three daughters, the youngest of
whom was so beautfiul, that the whole world
looked on her as a wonder. She was as white
as snow, as rosy as apple-blossoms, and her
hair as radient as sunbeams. When she cried,
not tears fell from her eyes, but pearls and jewels
"When she was fifteen years old, the King
 three sisters to come before his throne. You
should have seen how all the people gazed
when the youngest entered. It was just as
if the sun were rising! Then the King spoke,
'My Daughters, I know not when my last hour
may arrive. I will to day decide what each
shall receive at my death. You all love me,
but the one of you who loves me best, shall
fare the best.'
"Each of them said she loved him best. 'Can
you not express to me,' said the King, 'how much
you do love me and thus I shall see what
"The eldest spoke. ' I love my Father as dearly
as the sweetest sugar.' The second, ' I love my
Father as dearly as my prettiest dress.' But the
youngest was silent.
"Then the father said, 'And you, my dearest
Child, how much do you love me?' 'I do not know,
and can compare my love with nothing.' But her
father insisted that she should name something.
So she said at last, 'The best food does not please
me without salt, therefore I love my Father like
"When the King heard that, he fell into a passion
and said, 'If you love me like salt, your love shall
also be repaid with salt.'
"Then he divided the kingdom between the two
elder, but caused a sack of salt to be bound
on the back of the youngest, and two servants
had to lead her forth into the wild forest.
"We all begged and prayed for her," said the
Queen, "but the King's anger was not to be
appeased. How she cried when she had to
leave us! The whole road was strewn with
the pearls which flowed from her eyes.
"The King soon afterward repented of his
 and had the whole forest searched for the poor
child, but no one could find her. When I think
that the wild beasts have devoured her, I know
not how to contain myself for sorrow. Many a
time I console myself with the hope that she is
still alive, and may have hidden herself in a
cave, or has found shelter with compassionate
"But picture to yourself, when I opened your
little emerald book, a pearl lay therein, of
exactly the same kind as those which used
to fall from my daughter's eyes. And they you
can also imagine how the sight of it stirred my
heart! You must tell me how you came by
The Count told her that he had received it from
the Old Woman in the forest, who had appeared
very strange to him, and must be a Witch. But he
had neither seen nor heard anything of the
Queen's child. The King and Queen resolved to
seek out the Old Woman. They thought that
there where the pearl had been, they would
obtain news of their daughter.
The Gray Mask
The Old Woman was sitting in that lonely place
at her spinning-wheel, spinning. It was already
dusk, and a log which was burning on the hearth
gave a scanty light. All at once, there was a noise
outside, the geese were coming home from the
pasture, and uttering their hoarse cries. Soon
afterward the daughter entered. But the Old Woman
scarcely thanked her, and only shook her head a
little. The daughter sat down beside her, took
her spinning-wheel, and twisted the threads as
nimbly as a young girl. Thus they both sat for
two hours, and exchanged never a word.
 At last, something rustled at the window, and
two fiery eyes peered in. It was an old
night-owl, which cried, "Uhu!" three
The Old Woman looked up just a little, then
she said, "Now, my little Daughter, it is time
for you to go out and do your work."
She rose and went out, and where did she
go? Over the meadows ever onward into
the valley. At last, she came to a well, with
three old oak-trees standing beside it.
Meanwhile the moon had risen large and
round over the mountain, and it was so light
that one could have found a needle.
She removed a skin which covered her face,
then bent down to the well, and began to
wash herself. When she had finished, she
dipped the skin also into the water, and laid
it on the meadow, so that it should bleach in
the moonlight, and dry again.
But how the maiden was changed! Such a
change as that was never seen before! When
the gray mask fell off, her golden hair broke
forth like sunbeams, and spread about like a
mantle over her whole form. Her eyes shone
out as brightly as the stars in heaven, and her
cheeks bloomed a soft red like apple-blossoms.
But the fair maiden was sad. She sat down and
wept bitterly. One tear after another forced
itself out of her eyes, and rolled through her
long hair to the ground. There she sat, and
would have remained sitting a long time, if
there had not been a ruslting and cracking
in the boughs of the neighboring tree. She
sprang up like a roe which has been overtaken
by the shot of the hunter.
 Just then the moon was obscured by a dark
cloud, and in an instant the maiden had slipped
on the old skin and vanished, as does a light
blown out by the wind.
She ran back home, trembling like an aspen-leaf.
The Old Woman was standing on the threshold,
and the maiden was about to relate what had
befallen her, but the Old Woman laughed kindly,
and said, "I already know it."
She led her into the room and lighted a new log.
She did not, however sit down to her spinning
again, but fetched a broom and began to sweep
and scour. "All must be clean and sweet," she
said to the maiden.
"But, Mother," said the maiden, "why do you begin
work at so late an hour? What do you expect?"
"Do you know then what time it is?" asked the
"Not yet midnight," answered the maiden, "but
already past eleven o'clock."
"Do you not remember," continued the Old
Woman, "that it is three years to-day since you
came to me? Your time is up, we can no
longer remain together."
The maiden was terrifed, and said, "Alas!
dear Mother, will you cast me off? Where
shall I go? I have no friends and no home
to which I can go. I have always done
as you bade me, and you have always been
satisfied with me. Do not send me away."
The Old Woman would not tell the maiden
what lay before her. "My stay here is over,"
she said to her, "but when I depart, house
and parlour must be clean: therefore do not
hinder me in my work. Have no care for
yourself. You shall
 find a roof to shelter you, and the wages which
I will give you shall also content you."
"But tell me what is about to happen," the
maiden continued to entreat.
"I tell you again, do not hinder me in my
work. Do not say a word more, go to your
chamber, take the skin off your face, and
put on the silken gown which you had on
when you came to me, and then wait in
your chamber until I call you."
But I must once more tell of the King and
Queen, who had journeyed forth with the
Count in order to seek out the Old Woman
in the wilderness. The Count had strayed
away from them in the wood by night, and
had to walk onward alone.
Next day, it seemed to him that he was on
the right track. He still went forward, until
darkness came on, then he climbed a tree,
intending to pass the night there, for he
feared that he might lose his way. When
the moon illumined the surrounding
country, he perceived a figure coming down
the mountain. She had no stick in her hand,
yet he could see that it was the goose-girl,
whom he had seen before in the house of
the Old Woman.
"Oho," cried he, "there she comes, and if I
once get hold of one of the Witches, the
other shall not escape me!"
But how astonished he was, when she went
to the well, took off the skin and washed
herself. Her golden hair fell down all about
her, and she was more beautiful than any one
whom he had ever seen in the whole world.
He hardly dared to breathe, but stretched
his head as far forward through the leaves
as he dared, and stared at her. Either he bent
over too far, or
what-  ever the cause might be, the bough suddenly
cracked, and that very moment the maiden
slipped into the skin, sprang away like a roe,
and as the moon was suddenly covered,
disappeared from his eyes.
Hardly had she disappeared, before the Count
descended from the tree, and hastened after
her with nimble steps. He had not gone far
before he saw, in the twilight, two figures
coming over the meadow. It was the King
and Queen, who had perceived from a distance
the light shining in the Old Woman's little house,
and were going to it.
The Count told them what wonderful thing he
had seen by the well, and they did not doubt
but that she was their lost daughter. They
walked onward full of joy, and soon came to
the little house. The geese were sitting all
round it, and had thrust their heads under
their wings and were sleeping, and not one
of them moved.
The King and Queen looked in at the window.
The Old Woman was sitting there quietly spinning,
nodding her head and never looking round. The
room was perfectly clean, as if the little Mist
Men, who carry no dust on their feet, lived
there. Their daughter, however, they did not
see. They gazed at all this for a long time. At
last they took heart, and knocked softly at the
The Old Woman appeared to have been
expecting them. She rose, and called out quite
kindly, "Come in,—I know you already."
When they had entered the room, the Old Woman
said, "You might have spared yourself the long
walk, if you had not three years ago unjustly
driven away your child, who is
 so good and lovable. No harm has come to her.
For three years she has had to tend the geese.
With them she has learnt no evil, but has
preserved her purity of heart. You, however,
have been sufficiently punished by the misery
in which you have lived."
Then she went to the chamber and called,
"Come out, my little Daughter."
Thereupon the door opened, and the Princess
stepped out in her silken garments, with her
golden hair and her shining eyes, and it was
as if an Angel from Heaven had entered.
She went up to her father and mother, fell
on their necks and kissed them. There was
no help for it, they all had to weep for joy.
The young Count stood near them; and when
she perceived him, she became as red in the
face as a moss-rose, she herself did not
The King said, "My dear Child, I have given
away my kingdom, what shall I give thee?"
"She needs nothing," said the Old Woman.
"I give her the tears that she has wept on your
account. They are precious pearls, finer than
those that are found in the sea, and worth
more than your whole kingdom, and I give
her my little house as payment for her
When the Old Woman had said that, she
disappeared from their sight. The walls
rattled a little, and when the King and Queen
looked round, the little house had changed into
a splendid palace, a royal table had been spread,
and the servants were running hither and thither.