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The Dirty Shepherdess

from The Green Fairy Book





Once upon a time there lived a King who had two daughters, and he
loved them with all his heart. When they grew up, he was suddenly
seized with a wish to know if they, on their part, truly loved
him, and he made up his mind that he would give his kingdom to
whichever best proved her devotion.

So he called the elder Princess and said to her, 'How much do you
love me?'

'As the apple of my eye!' answered she.

'Ah!' exclaimed the King, kissing her tenderly as he spoke, 'you
are indeed a good daughter.'

Then he sent for the younger, and asked her how much she loved
him.

'I look upon you, my father,' she answered, 'as I look upon salt
in my food.'

But the King did not like her words, and ordered her to quit the
court, and never again to appear before him. The poor Princess
went sadly up to her room and began to cry, but when she was
reminded of her father's commands, she dried her eyes, and made a
bundle of her jewels and her best dresses and hurriedly left the
castle where she was born.

She walked straight along the road in front of her, without
knowing very well where she was going or what was to become of
her, for she had never been shown how to work, and all she had
learnt consisted of a few household rules, and receipts of dishes
which her mother had taught her long ago. And as she was afraid
that no housewife would want to engage a girl with such a pretty
face, she determined to make herself as ugly as she could.

She therefore took off the dress that she was wearing and put on
some horrible old rags belonging to a beggar, all torn and covered
with mud. After that she smeared mud all over her hands and face,
and shook her hair into a great tangle. Having thus changed her
appearance, she went about offering herself as a goose-girl or
shepherdess. But the farmers' wives would have nothing to say to
such a dirty maiden, and sent her away with a morsel of bread for
charity's sake.

After walking for a great many days without being able to find any
work, she came to a large farm where they were in want of a
shepherdess, and engaged her gladly.

One day when she was keeping her sheep in a lonely tract of land,
she suddenly felt a wish to dress herself in her robes of
splendour. She washed herself carefully in the stream, and as she
always carried her bundle with her, it was easy to shake off her
rags, and transform herself in a few moments into a great lady.

The King's son, who had lost his way out hunting, perceived this
lovely damsel a long way off, and wished to look at her closer.
But as soon as the girl saw what he was at, she fled into the wood
as swiftly as a bird. The Prince ran after her, but as he was
running he caught his foot in the root of a tree and fell, and
when he got up again, she was nowhere to be seen.

When she was quite safe, she put on her rags again, and smeared
over her face and hands. However the young Prince, who was both
hot and thirsty, found his way to the farm, to ask for a drink of
cider, and he inquired the name of the beautiful lady that kept
the sheep. At this everyone began to laugh, for they said that the
shepherdess was one of the ugliest and dirtiest creatures under
the sun.

The Prince thought some witchcraft must be at work, and he
hastened away before the return of the shepherdess, who became
that evening the butt of everybody's jests.

But the King's son thought often of the lovely maiden whom he had
only seen for a moment, though she seemed to him much more
fascinating than any lady of the Court. At last he dreamed of
nothing else, and grew thinner day by day till his parents
inquired what was the matter, promising to do all they could to
make him as happy as he once was. He dared not tell them the
truth, lest they should laugh at him, so he only said that he
should like some bread baked by the kitchen girl in the distant
farm.

Although the wish appeared rather odd, they hastened to fulfil it,
and the farmer was told the request of the King's son. The maiden
showed no surprise at receiving such an order, but merely asked
for some flour, salt, and water, and also that she might be left
alone in a little room adjoining the oven, where the kneading-
trough stood. Before beginning her work she washed herself
carefully, and even put on her rings; but, while she was baking,
one of her rings slid into the dough. When she had finished she
dirtied herself again, and let the lumps of the dough stick to her
fingers, so that she became as ugly as before.

The loaf, which was a very little one, was brought to the King's
son, who ate it with pleasure. But in cutting it he found the ring
of the Princess, and declared to his parents that he would marry
the girl whom that ring fitted.

So the King made a proclamation through his whole kingdom and
ladies came from afar to lay claim to the honour. But the ring was
so tiny that even those who had the smallest hands could only get
it on their little fingers. In a short time all the maidens of the
kingdom, including the peasant girls, had tried on the ring, and
the King was just about to announce that their efforts had been in
vain, when the Prince observed that he had not yet seen the
shepherdess.

They sent to fetch her, and she arrived covered with rags, but
with her hands cleaner than usual, so that she could easily slip
on the ring. The King's son declared that he would fulfil his
promise, and when his parents mildly remarked that the girl was
only a keeper of sheep, and a very ugly one too, the maiden boldly
said that she was born a princess, and that, if they would only
give her some water and leave her alone in a room for a few
minutes, she would show that she could look as well as anyone in
fine clothes.

They did what she asked, and when she entered in a magnificent
dress, she looked so beautiful that all saw she must be a princess
in disguise. The King's son recognized the charming damsel of whom
he had once caught a glimpse, and, flinging himself at her feet,
asked if she would marry him. The Princess then told her story,
and said that it would be necessary to send an ambassador to her
father to ask his consent and to invite him to the wedding.

The Princess's father, who had never ceased to repent his
harshness towards his daughter, had sought her through the land,
but as no one could tell him anything of her, he supposed her
dead. Therefore it was with great joy he heard that she was living
and that a king's son asked her in marriage, and he quitted his
kingdom with his elder daughter so as to be present at the
ceremony.

By the orders of the bride, they only served her father at the
wedding breakfast bread without salt, and meat without seasoning.
Seeing him make faces, and eat very little, his daughter, who sat
beside him, inquired if his dinner was not to his taste.

'No,' he replied, 'the dishes are carefully cooked and sent up,
but they are all so dreadfully tasteless.'

'Did not I tell you, my father, that salt was the best thing in
life? And yet, when I compared you to salt, to show how much I
loved you, you thought slightingly of me and you chased me from
your presence.'

The King embraced his daughter, and allowed that he had been wrong
to misinterpret her words. Then, for the rest of the wedding feast
they gave him bread made with salt, and dishes with seasoning, and
he said they were the very best he had ever eaten.





Next: The Enchanted Snake

Previous: The Magic Swan



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