The king of a great land died, and left his queen to take care of their only child. This child was a daughter, who was very beautiful, and her mother loved her dearly and was very kind to her. When she grew up, she was betrothed to a prince who lived a great way off; and as the time drew near for her to be married, she got ready to set off on her journey to his country. The queen, her mother, packed up a great many costly things—jewels, gold and silver trinkets, fine dresses, and, in short, everything that became a royal bride. She gave her a waiting-maid to ride with her and give her into the bridegroom's hands, and each had a horse for the journey. The princess' horse was called Falada, and could speak.
When the time came for them to set out, the aged mother went into the princess's bedchamber, took a knife, and having cut her finger till it bled, let three drops of the blood fall upon a handkerchief, and gave it to the princess, saying—
"Take care of it, dear child, for it is a charm that may be of use to you on the road."
They all took a sorrowful leave of the princess, and she put the handkerchief into her bosom, got upon her horse, and set off on her journey to her bridegroom's kingdom.
One day as they were riding along by a brook, the princess began to feel very thirsty, and said to her maid—
"Pray get down, and fetch me some water in my golden cup out of yonder brook, for I want to drink."
"Nay," said the maid, "if you are thirsty, get off yourself and stoop down by the water and drink. I shall not be your waiting-maid any longer."
The princess got down, and knelt over the brook and drank, for she was frightened, and dared not bring out her cup; and she wept, and said—
"Alas! what will become of me?"
The three drops of blood answered her, and said—
The princess was very gentle and meek, so she said nothing to her maid's ill-behaviour, but got upon her horse again.
They all rode further on their journey, till the day grew so warm and the sun so scorching that the bride began to feel very thirsty again; and at last, when they came to a river, she forgot her maid's rude speech, and said—
"Pray get down, and fetch me some water to drink in my cup."
But the maid answered her, and even spoke more haughtily than before—
"Drink if you will, but I shall not be your waiting-maid."
Then the princess got off her horse, and lay down, and held her head over the running stream, and cried and said—
"What will become of me?"
And the drops of blood answered her again as before. As the princess leaned down to drink, the handkerchief on which was the blood fell from her bosom and floated away on the water, but the princess was so frightened that she did not notice it. Her maid, however, saw it, and was very glad, for she knew the charm, and she saw that the poor bride would be in her power now that she had lost the drops of blood. So when the bride had done drinking, and would have got upon Falada again, the maid said—
"I will ride upon Falada, and you may have my horse instead;" so the princess was forced to give up her horse, and soon afterwards to take off her royal clothes and put on her maid's shabby ones.
At last, as they drew near the end of their journey, this treacherous servant threatened to kill her mistress if she ever told any one what had happened; but Falada saw it all, and marked it well.
Then the waiting-maid got upon Falada, while the real bride rode upon the other horse, and they went on in this way until they came at last to the royal court. There was great joy at their coming, and the prince flew to meet them, and lifted the maid from her horse, thinking she was the one who was to be his wife. She was led upstairs to the royal chamber, but the true princess was told to stay in the court below.
Now the old king happened just then to have nothing else to do, so he was amusing himself by sitting at his window looking at what was going on, and he saw her in the courtyard. As she looked very pretty, and too delicate for a waiting-maid, he went up into the royal chamber to ask the bride who it was she had brought with her that was thus left standing in the court below.
"I brought her with me for the sake of her company on the road," replied she. "Pray give the girl some work to do, that she may not be idle."
The king could not for some time think of any work for her to do, but at last he said—
"I have a lad who takes care of my geese, she may go and help him."
Now the name of this lad, whom the princess was to help in watching the king's geese, was Conrad.
The false bride said to the prince—
"Dear husband, pray do me one piece of kindness."
"That I will," said the prince.
"Then tell one of your knackers to cut off the head of the horse I rode upon, for it was very unruly, and plagued me sadly on the road."
In reality she was very much afraid lest Falada should some day or other speak, and tell all that she had done to the princess. She carried her point, and the faithful Falada was killed. When the true princess heard of it she wept, and begged the man to nail up Falada's head over a large dark gate of the city, through which she had to pass every morning and evening, that there she might see him sometimes. The slaughterer said he would do as she wished, and he cut off the head, and nailed it up under the dark gate.
Early the next morning, as the princess and Conrad went through the gate, she said sorrowfully—
The head answered—
Then they went out of the city, and drove the geese on. When they were come to a meadow she sat down upon a bank there, and let down her waving locks of hair, which were like pure gold; and when Conrad saw it he ran up, and would have pulled some of the locks out, but the princess cried—
Then there came a wind so strong that it blew off Conrad's hat. Away it flew over the hills, and he was forced to turn and run after it, so that when he came back she had done combing and curling her hair, and had put it up again safely, and he could not get any of it. He was very angry and sulky, and would not speak to her; but they watched the geese until it grew dark, and then drove them homewards.
The next morning, as they were going through the dark gate, the poor girl looked up at Falada's head, and cried—
Then she drove on the geese, and sat down again in the meadow, and began to comb out her hair as before, and Conrad ran up to her, and wanted to take hold of it. The princess repeated the words she had used the day before, when the wind came and blew away his hat, and off it flew a great way, over the hills and far away, so that he had to run after it. When he returned, she had bound up her hair again, and all was safe. So they watched the geese until it grew dark.
In the evening, after they came home, Conrad went to the old king and said—
"I won't have that strange girl to help me to keep the geese any longer."
"Why?" said the king.
"Because instead of doing any good she does nothing but tease me all day long."
Then the king made him tell what had happened, and Conrad said—
"When we go in the morning through the dark gate with our flock of geese, she cries and talks with the head of a horse that hangs upon the wall, and the head answers her."
And Conrad went on telling the king what had happened in the meadow where the geese fed; how his hat was blown away, and how he was forced to run after it and leave his flock of geese to themselves. The old king told the boy to go out again the next day, and when morning came he placed himself behind the dark gate, and heard how the princess spoke to Falada, and how Falada answered. Then he went into the field and hid himself in a bush by the meadow's side, and he soon saw with his own eyes how they drove the flock of geese, and how, after a little time, she let down her hair that glittered in the sun. Then he heard her call the wind, and soon there came a gust that carried away Conrad's hat, and away he went after it, while the girl went on combing and curling her hair. All this the old king saw; so he went home without having been observed, and when the goose-girl came back in the evening, he called her aside and asked her why she did so. She burst into tears, and said—
"That I must not tell you nor any man, or I shall lose my life."
The old king begged hard, but she would tell him nothing. Then he said—
"If you will not tell me thy story, tell thy grief to the iron stove there," and then he went away.
Then the princess crept into the stove, and, weeping and lamenting, she poured forth her whole heart, saying—
"I am alone in the whole world, though I am a king's daughter. A treacherous waiting-maid has taken my place and compelled me to put off my royal dress, and even taken my place with my bridegroom, while I have to work as a goose-girl. If my mother knew it, it would break her heart."
The old king, however, was standing by the stove, listening to what the princess said, and overheard it all. He ordered royal clothes to be put upon her, and gazed at her in wonder, she was so beautiful. Then he called his son, and told him that he had only a false bride, for that she was merely the waiting-maid, while the true bride stood by. The young prince rejoiced when he saw the princess's beauty, and heard how meek and patient she had been, and the king ordered a great feast to be got ready for all his court. The bridegroom sat at the top of the table, with the false princess on one side and the true one on the other; but the waiting-maid did not recognise the princess, for her beauty was quite dazzling.
When they had eaten and drunk, and were very merry, the old king said he would tell them a tale. So he began, and told all the story of the princess, as if it were a tale he had heard, and he asked the waiting-woman what she thought ought to be done to any one who behaved so badly as the servant in the story.
"Nothing better," said the false bride, "than that she should be thrown into a cask stuck round with sharp nails, and that two white horses should be put to it, and should drag it from street to street till she were dead."
"Thou art she," said the old king, "and as thou hast judged thyself, so it shall be done to thee."
Then the young prince was married to his true wife, and they reigned over the kingdom in peace and happiness all their lives.
Notes: Contains 30 German folktales.
Author: Charles John Tibbitts
Publisher: W. W. Gibbings, London