The House in the Wood
This story can be found in Andrew Lang’s Pink Fairy Book.
Hello, and welcome to Family Folktales from the Nashville Public Library. I’m Susan Poulter, a Librarian at the Main Library. Today’s story is The House in the Wood, a German tale found in Andrew Lang’s Pink Fairy Book.
A poor woodcutter lived with his wife and three daughters in a little hut on the borders of a great forest.
One morning as he was going to his work, he said to his wife, 'Let our eldest daughter bring me my lunch into the wood; and so that she shall not lose her way, I will take a bag of millet with me, and sprinkle the seed on the path.'
When the sun had risen high over the forest, the girl set out with a basin of soup. But the field and wood sparrows, the larks and finches, blackbirds and green finches had picked up the millet long ago, and the girl could not find her way.
She went on and on, till the sun set and night came on. The trees rustled in the darkness, the owls hooted, and she began to be very much frightened. Then she saw in the distance a light that twinkled between the trees. 'There must be people living yonder,' she thought, 'who will take me in for the night,' and she began walking towards it.
Not long afterwards she came to a house with lights in the windows.
She knocked at the door, and a gruff voice called, 'Come in!'
The girl stepped into the dark entrance, and tapped at the door of the room.
'Just walk in,' cried the voice, and when she opened the door there sat an old gray-haired man at the table. His face was resting on his hands, and his white beard flowed over the table almost down to the ground.
By the stove lay three beasts, a hen, a cock, and a brindled cow. The girl told the old man her story, and asked for a night's lodging.
The man said: Pretty cock, Pretty hen, And you, pretty brindled cow, What do you say now?
'Duks,' answered the beasts; and that must have meant, 'We are quite willing,' for the old man went on, 'Here is abundance; go into the back kitchen and cook us a supper.'
The girl found plenty of everything in the kitchen, and cooked a good meal, but she did not think of the beasts.
She placed the full dishes on the table, sat down opposite the gray-haired man, and ate till her hunger was appeased.
When she was satisfied, she said, 'But now I am so tired, where is a bed in which I can sleep? '
The beasts answered: You have eaten with him, You have drunk with him, Of us you have not thought, Sleep then as you ought!
Then the old man said, 'Go upstairs, and there you will find a bedroom; shake the bed, and put clean sheets on, and go to sleep.'
The maiden went upstairs, and when she had made the bed, she lay down.
After some time the gray-haired man came, looked at her by the light of his candle, and shook his head. And when he saw that she was sound asleep, he opened a trapdoor and let her fall into the cellar.
The woodcutter came home late in the evening, and reproached his wife for leaving him all day without food.
'No, I did not,' she answered; 'the girl went off with your dinner. She must have lost her way, but will no doubt come back to-morrow.'
But at daybreak the woodcutter started off into the wood, and this time asked his second daughter to bring his food. 'I will take a bag of lentils,' said he; 'they are larger than millet, and the girl will see them better and be sure to find her way.'
At midday the maiden took the food, but the lentils had all gone; as on the previous day, the wood birds had eaten them all.
The maiden wandered about the wood till nightfall, when she came in the same way to the old man's house, and asked for food and a night's lodging.
The man with the white hair again asked the beasts: Pretty cock, Pretty hen, And you, pretty brindled cow, What do you say now?
The beasts answered, 'Duks,' and everything happened as on the former day.
The girl cooked a good meal, ate and drank with the old man, and did not trouble herself about the animals.
And when she asked for a bed, they replied: You have eaten with him You have drunk with him, Of us you have not thought, Now sleep as you ought!
And when she was asleep, the old man shook his head over her, and let her fall into the cellar.
On the third morning the woodcutter said to his wife, 'Send our youngest child to-day with my dinner. She is always good and obedient, and will keep to the right path, and not wander away like her sisters, idle drones!'
But the mother said, 'Must I lose my dearest child too?'
'Do not fear,' he answered; 'she is too clever and intelligent to lose her way. I will take plenty of peas with me and strew them along; they are even larger than lentils, and will show her the way.'
But when the maiden started off with the basket on her arm, the wood pigeons had eaten up the peas, and she did not know which way to go. She was much distressed, and thought constantly of her poor hungry father and her anxious mother. At last, when it grew dark, she saw the little light, and came to the house in the wood. She asked prettily if she might stay there for the night, and the man with the white beard asked his beasts again: Pretty cock, Pretty hen, And you, pretty brindled cow, What do you say now?
'Duks,' they said. Then the maiden stepped up to the stove where the animals were lying, and stroked the cock and the hen, and scratched the brindled cow between its horns.
And when at the bidding of the old man she had prepared a good supper, and the dishes were standing on the table, she said, 'Shall I have plenty while the good beasts have nothing? There is food to spare outside; I will attend to them first.'
Then she went out and fetched barley and strewed it before the cock and hen, and brought the cow an armful of sweet-smelling hay.
'Eat that, dear beasts,' she said,' and when you are thirsty you shall have a good drink.'
Then she fetched a bowl of water, and the cock and hen flew on to the edge, put their beaks in, and then held up their heads as birds do when they drink, and the brindled cow also drank her fill. When the beasts were satisfied, the maiden sat down beside the old man at the table and ate what was left for her. Soon the cock and hen began to tuck their heads under their wings, and the brindled cow blinked its eyes, so the maiden said, 'Shall we not go to rest now?'
Pretty cock, Pretty hen, And you, pretty brindled cow, What do you say now?
The animals said, 'Duks. You have eaten with us, You have drunk with us, You have tended us right, So we wish you good night.'
The maiden therefore went upstairs, made the bed and put on clean sheets and fell asleep. She slept peacefully till midnight, when there was such a noise in the house that she awoke.
Everything trembled and shook; the animals sprang up and dashed themselves in terror against the wall; the beams swayed as if they would be torn from their foundations, it seemed as if the stairs were tumbling down, and then the roof fell in with a crash. Then all became still, and as no harm came to the maiden she lay down again and fell asleep. But when she awoke again in broad daylight, what a sight met her eyes! She was lying in a splendid room furnished with royal splendour; the walls were covered with golden flowers on a green ground; the bed was of ivory and the counterpane of velvet, and on a stool near by lay a pair of slippers studded with pearls. The maiden thought she must be dreaming, but in came three servants richly dressed, who asked what were her commands. 'Go,' said the maiden, 'I will get up at once and cook the old man's supper for him, and then I will feed the pretty cock and hen and the brindled cow.'
But the door opened and in came a handsome young man, who said, 'I am a king's son, and was condemned by a wicked witch to live as an old man in this wood with no company but that of my three servants, who were transformed into a cock, a hen, and a brindled cow. The spell could only be broken by the arrival of a maiden who should show herself kind not only to men but to beasts. You are that maiden, and last night at midnight we were freed, and this poor house was again transformed into my royal palace.
As they stood there the king's son told his three servants to go and fetch the maiden's parents to be present at the wedding feast.
'But where are my two sisters?' asked the maid.
'I shut them up in the cellar, but in the morning they shall be led forth into the forest and shall serve a charcoal burner until they have improved, and will never again suffer poor animals to go hungry.'
That was The House in the Wood from Andrew Lang’s Pink Fairy Book. Special thanks to Ginger Sands for our theme music; you can find more of Ginger’s music at iTunes or on her website at www.gingersands.com. And if you’d like to comment on today’s story, send me an email. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listening.