The Northern Way

Popular Tales From the Norse

The Two Step-Sisters - Cont'd

"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 p. 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. p. 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 p. 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 p. 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,--

p. 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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