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From Snowdrop and Other Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.
Age Rating 4 to 8.

Start of Story

There was once a merry young Huntsman, who went into the forest to hunt. He was gay and light-hearted, and whistled a tune upon a leaf as he went along. Suddenly an ugly old Crone spoke to him, and said: 'Good morning, dear Huntsman; you are merry and happy enough, while I am hungry and thirsty. Pray give me an alms.' The Huntsman pitied the poor Old Woman, put his hand in his pocket, and made her a present according to his means. Then he wanted to go on. But the Old Woman held him back, and said: 'Hark ye, dear Huntsman, I will make you a present because of your good heart. Go on your way, and you will come to a tree, on which nine birds are sitting. They will have a cloak in their claws, over which they are fighting. Take aim with your gun, and shoot into the middle of them. They will drop the cloak, and one of the birds will fall down dead. Take the cloak with you, it is a wishing-cloak. When you throw it round your shoulders you only have to wish yourself at a place to be there at once. Take the heart out of the dead bird and swallow it whole, then you will find a gold coin under your pillow every single morning when you wake.' The Huntsman thanked the Wise Woman, and thought: 'She promises fine things, if only they turn out as well.' When he had gone about a hundred paces, he heard above him, in the branches of a tree, such a chattering and screaming that he looked up. There he saw a flock of birds tearing a garment with their beaks and claws; snatching and tearing at it as if each one wanted to have it for himself.

'Well,' said the Huntsman, 'this is extraordinary, it is exactly what the Old Woman said.' He put his gun to his shoulder, took aim and fired right into the middle of them, making the feathers fly about. The birds took flight with a great noise, all except one, which fell down dead, and the cloak dropped at his feet. He did as the Old Woman had told him, cut the heart out of the bird and swallowed it whole. Then he took the cloak home with him. When he woke in the morning, he remembered the Old Woman's promise, and looked under his pillow to see if it was true. There, sure enough, lay the golden coin shining before him, and the next morning he found another, and the same every morning when he got up. He collected quite a heap of gold, and at last he thought: 'What is the good of all my gold if I stay at home here? I will go and look about me in the world.' So he took leave of his parents, shouldered his gun, and started off into the world. [Illustration: But the Old Woman was a witch.]

It so happened that one day he came to a thick forest, and when he got through it, he saw a fine castle lying in the plain beyond. He saw an Old Woman standing in one of the windows looking out, with a beautiful Maiden beside her. But the Old Woman was a witch, and she said to the Maiden: 'Here comes some one out of the forest. He has a wonderful treasure inside him; we must try to get it from him, my darling, it will suit us better than him. He has a bird's heart about him, and therefore he finds a gold coin every morning under his pillow when he wakes.' She told the girl how he had got it, and at last said: 'If you don't get it from him, it will be the worse for you.' When the Huntsman got nearer, he saw the Maiden, and said: 'I have been wandering about for a long time, I will go into this castle and take a rest. I have plenty of money.' But the real reason was that he had caught sight of the pretty picture at the window. He went in, and he was kindly received and hospitably treated. Before long, he was so enamoured of the Witch-Maiden that he thought of nothing else, and cared for nothing but pleasing her. The Old Woman said to the Maiden: 'Now we must get the bird's heart, he will never miss it.' They concocted a potion, and when it was ready they put it into a goblet.

And the Maiden took it to him, and said: 'Now, my beloved, you must drink to me.' He took the cup and drank the potion, and when he was overpowered by it the bird's heart came out of his mouth. The Maiden took it away secretly and swallowed it herself, for the Old Woman wanted to have it. From this time the Huntsman found no more gold under his pillow; but the coin was always under the Maiden's instead, and the Old Woman used to fetch it away every morning. But he was so much in love, that he thought of nothing but enjoying himself in the Maiden's company. Then the Old Woman said: 'We have got the bird's heart, but we must have his wishing-cloak too.' The Maiden said: 'Let us leave him that; we have taken away his wealth.' The Old Woman was very angry, and said: 'A cloak like that is a very wonderful thing, and not often to be got. Have it I must, and will!' So she obeyed the Witch's orders, placed herself at the window, and looked sadly out at the distant hills.

The Huntsman said: 'Why are you so sad?' 'Alas! my love,' was her answer, 'over there are the garnet mountains, where the precious stones are found. I long for them so much that I grow sad whenever I think of them. But who could ever get them? The birds which fly, perhaps; no mortal could ever reach them.' 'If that is all your trouble,' said the Huntsman, 'I can soon lift that load from your heart.' Then he drew her under his cloak, and in a moment they were both sitting on the mountain. The precious stones were glittering around them; their hearts rejoiced at the sight of them, and they soon gathered together some of the finest and largest. Now the Witch had so managed that the Huntsman began to feel his eyes grow very heavy. So he said to the Maiden: 'We will sit down to rest a while, I am so tired I can hardly stand.' So they sat down, and he laid his head on her lap and was soon fast asleep. As soon as he was asleep, the Maiden slipped the cloak from his shoulders and put it on her own, loaded herself with the precious garnets, and wished herself at home.

When the Huntsman had had his sleep out, he woke up and saw that his beloved had betrayed him, and left him alone on the wild mountain. 'Oh, what treachery there is in the world!' he exclaimed, as he sat down in grief, and did not know what to do. Now the mountain belonged to some wild and savage Giants who lived on it, and before long he saw three of them striding along. He quickly lay down again and pretended to be fast asleep. The first one, as he came along, stumbled against him, and said: 'What kind of earthworm is this?' The second said: 'Tread on him and kill him.' But the third said: 'It isn't worth the trouble. Let him alone,--he can't live here; and when he climbs higher up the mountain, the clouds will roll down and carry him off.' Then they passed on, and as soon as they were gone, the Huntsman, who had heard all they said, got up and climbed up to the top of the mountain. After he had sat there for a time, a cloud floated over him, and carried him away.

At first he was swept through the air, but then he was gently lowered and deposited within a large walled garden, upon a soft bed of lettuces and other herbs. He looked around him and said: 'If only I had something to eat; I am so hungry. And it will be difficult to get away from here. I see neither apples nor pears, nor any other fruit, nothing but salad and herbs.' At last, however, he thought: 'At the worst, I can eat some of this salad; it does not taste very good, but it will, at least, be refreshing.' He picked out a fine head of lettuce, and began eating it. But he had hardly swallowed a little piece, when he began to feel very odd, and quite changed. He felt four legs growing, a big head, and two long ears, and he saw to his horror that he was changed into an ass. As he at the same time felt as hungry as ever, and the juicy salad was now very much to his taste, he went on eating greedily. At last he reached another kind of salad, which he had hardly tasted when he felt a new change taking place, and found himself back in his human shape. After this he lay down and slept off his fatigue.

When he woke next morning he broke off a head of the bad salad, and a head of the good, and thought: 'These will help me to regain my own, and also to punish the traitors.' He put the salad into his wallet, climbed over the wall, and went off to find the castle of his beloved. After wandering about for a few days, he was fortunate enough to find it. Then he stained his face, and disguised himself so that his own mother would not have known him, and went to the castle to ask for shelter. 'I am so tired,' he said; 'I cannot go any further.' The Witch said: 'Who are you, countryman, and what do you want?' He answered: 'I am a messenger from the King. He sent me to find the rarest salad which grows under the sun. I have been lucky enough to find it, and I carry it with me. But the sun is so burning, that I am afraid the tender plant will be withered, and I don't know if I shall be able to take it any further.' When the Old Witch heard about the rare salad, she felt a great desire to have some, and said: 'Good countryman, let me try the wonderful salad!' 'By all means,' he answered. 'I have two heads with me, and you shall have one.' So saying, he opened his sack, and handed her the bad one.

The Witch had no suspicions, and her mouth so watered for the new dish, that she went to the kitchen herself to prepare it. When it was ready, she could not wait till it was put upon the table, but put a few leaves into her mouth at once. Hardly had she swallowed them, when she lost her human shape, and ran out into the courtyard, as an old she-ass. Then the Maid came into the kitchen, saw the salad standing ready, and was about to put it on the table. But on the way the fancy seized her to taste it, according to her usual habit, and she ate a few leaves. The power of the salad at once became apparent, because she also turned into an ass, and ran out into the yard to join the Old Witch, while the dish of salad fell to the ground. In the meantime the messenger was sitting with the beautiful Maiden, and as no one appeared with the salad, she also was seized with a desire to taste it, and said: 'I don't know what has become of the salad.' But the Huntsman thought: 'The plant must have done its work,' and said: 'I will go into the kitchen and see.' As soon as he got downstairs he saw the two asses running about, and the salad lying on the ground. 'This is all right!' he said; 'two of them are done for.' Then he picked up the leaves, put them on a dish, and took them to the Maiden. 'I am bringing the precious food to you myself,' said he, 'so that you may not have to wait any longer.' She ate some, and, like the others, was immediately changed into an ass, and ran out to them in the yard. [Illustration: He tied them all together and drove them along till he came to a mill.] When the Huntsman had washed his face so that the transformed creatures might know him, he went into the courtyard, and said: 'Now, you shall be paid for your treachery.'

He tied them all together with a rope, and drove them along till he came to a mill. He tapped at the window, and the Miller put his head out and asked what he wanted. 'I have three bad animals here,' he said, 'that I want to get rid of. If you will take them and feed them, and treat them as I wish, I will pay you what you like to ask.' 'Why not?' said the Miller. 'How do you want them treated?' The Huntsman said he wanted the old she-ass (the Witch) to be well beaten three times a day and fed once. The younger one, which was the Maid, beaten once and fed three times. The youngest of all, who was the beautiful Maiden, was to be fed three times, and not beaten at all; he could not find it in his heart to have her beaten. Then he went back to the castle and found everything he wanted in it. A few days later the Miller came and told him that the old ass which was to be beaten three times and fed once, was dead. 'The other two,' he said, 'which are to be fed three times, are not dead, but they are pining away, and won't last long.' The Huntsman's heart was stirred with pity, and he told the Miller to bring them back to him.

When they came he gave them some of the other salad to eat, so that they took their human shapes again. The beautiful Maiden fell on her knees before him, and said: 'O my beloved, forgive me all the wrong I have done you. My mother forced me to do it. It was against my own will, for I love you dearly. Your wishing-cloak is hanging in the cupboard, and you shall have the bird's heart back too.' But he said: 'Keep it; it will be all the same, as I will take you to be my own true wife.' Their marriage was soon after celebrated, and they lived happily together till they died.



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