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The Unseen Bridegroom

from Europa's Fairy Book





Once upon a time there was a king and queen, as many a one has been,
and they had three daughters, all of them beautiful; but the most
beautiful of all was the youngest whose name was Anima. Now it
happened one day that all three sisters were playing in the meadows,
and Anima saw a bush with lovely flowers. As she wished to carry it
home to plant in her own garden she plucked at the root and plucked
and plucked again. At last it gave way, and she saw beneath it a
stairway going down farther into the earth. Being a brave girl and
very curious as to where this could lead to, without calling her
sisters, she crept down the stairs for a long, long way, till at last
she came out into the open air again in a country which she had never
seen before, and not far away, in front of her, she saw a magnificent
palace.

Anima ran towards it, and when she came to the door she knocked at the
knocker and it opened without anybody being there. So she went in and
found all inside richly bedecked with marble walls and rich trappings;
and, as she went along, lovely music broke out and came with her
wherever she went. At last she came to a room with cosy couches, and
she threw herself into one because she was tired with her searching.
Scarcely had she done so, when there appeared a table coming towards
her on wheels, without anybody moving it, and upon the table were
delightful fruits and cakes and cool drinks of all kinds. So Anima
took as much as she needed and fell into slumber and did not awake
till it was getting dark. And then appeared through the air two large
candlesticks, each with three candles in them; and they swam through
the air and settled upon the tables near her, so that she had plenty
of light. But she cried out: "Oh, I must go back to my father and
mother; how shall I go? How shall I go?"

Then a sweet voice near her spoke out and said: "Abide with me and be
my bride, and thou shalt have all thy heart desires."

But Anima cried out in fear and trembling: "But who art thou? Who art
thou? Come forth and let me see thee."

But the voice replied: "Nay, nay, that is forbidden. Never must thou
look upon my face or we must part, for my mother, the Queen, wishes
not that I should wed."

So sweet was his voice and so lonely did Anima feel, that she
consented to become his bride, and they lived happily together, though
he never came near her till all was dark, so that she could not see
him. But after a time Anima became weary even with all these
splendours and happiness, and wished to see her own people again, and
said to her husband:

"Please may I go home and see my father and my mother and my dear
sisters?"

"Nay, nay, child," said the voice of her husband, "ill will come of it
if thou seest them again, and thou and I must part."

But she kept on begging him to let her return to her people for a
visit, or at least to let them come and see her, till at last he
consented and sent a message to her father and mother and sisters,
asking them to come and spend some days with her, at a time when he
himself would have to be absent.

So the King and Queen and Anima's two sisters came and wondered at
the splendours of her new home, and, above all, was surprised to find
that they were waited on by invisible hands, who did all for them that
they could wish for. But Anima's sisters soon became both curious and
envious; they could not guess who or what her husband was, and envied
her having so wonderful a household.

So one of them said to her: "But Anima, how marry a man without ever
seeing him? There must be some reason why he will not show himself;
perhaps he is deformed, or maybe he is some beast transformed."

But Anima laughed and said: "He is no beast, that I am sure; and see
how kind he is to me. I do not care if he is not as handsome as he
does."

Still the sisters kept on insisting that there must be something wrong
where there was something concealed, and at last they got their mother
the Queen to say to her as she was leaving: "Now, Anima, I think it
right to know who and what thy husband is. Wait till he is asleep and
light a lamp, and then see what he is."

Soon after this they all departed. And the same night her husband came
to Anima again, but she had already prepared a lamp of oil with a
spark of fire ready to kindle it. And when she heard him sleeping by
her side she lit the candle and looked at him. She was delighted to
find that he was most handsome, with a strong and well-made body. But
as she was looking at him her hand trembled with delight and three
drops of oil fell upon his cheek from the lamp she was holding. Then
he woke up and saw her, and knew that she had broken her promise, and
said:

"Oh, Anima, oh, Anima, why hast thou done this? Here we part until
thou canst persuade my mother the Queen to let thee see me again."



With that came a rumbling of thunder and her lamp went out, and Anima
fell to the ground in a swoon. And when she awoke the palace had
disappeared and she was on a bleak, bleak moor. She walked and she
walked till she came to a house by the wayside where an old woman
received her and gave her something to eat and drink, and then asked
Anima how she came there. So Anima told all that had happened to her,
and the old woman said:

"Thou hast married my nephew, my sister's son, and I fear she will
never forgive thee. But pluck up courage, go to her and demand thy
husband, and she'll have to give him up to thee if thou canst do all
that she demands from thee. Take this twig; if she asks what I think
she will ask, strike it on the ground thrice and help will come to
thee."

Then she told Anima the way to her husband's mother, and, as it was
far distant, gave her directions where she could find another sister
of hers who might help her. So she came to another house along the way
where she saw another old woman, to whom she told her story, and this
old woman, the Queen's sister, gave her a raven's feather and told
her how to use it.

At last Anima came to the palace of the Queen, the mother of her
invisible husband, and when she came into her presence demanded to see
him.

"What, thou low-born mortal," cried the Queen; "how didst thou dare to
wed my son?"

"It was his choice," said Anima, "and I am now his wife. Surely you
will let me see him once more."

"Well," said the Queen, "if thou canst do what I demand of thee thou
shalt see my son again. And first go into that barn where my stupid
stewards have poured together all the wheat and oats and rice into one
great heap. If by nightfall thou canst separate them into three heaps
perhaps I may grant thy request."

So Anima was led to the great barn of the Queen and there was a huge
heap of grain all mixed together, and she was left alone, and the barn
was closed upon her. Then she bethought herself of the twig that the
Queen's sister had given her, and she struck it thrice upon the
ground, whereupon thousands of ants came out of the ground and began
to work upon the heap of grain, some of them taking the wheat to one
corner, some the oats to another, and the rest carrying off the grains
of rice to a third. By nightfall all the grain had been separated, and
when the Queen came to let out Anima she found the task had been
done.

"Thou hast had help," she cried; "we'll see to-morrow if thou canst do
something by thyself."

Next day the Queen took her into a large loft at the top of the palace
almost filled with feathers of geese, of eider ducks, and of swans,
and from her cupboard she took twelve mattresses and said:

"See these mattresses; by the end of the day thou must fill four of
them with swans' feathers, four of them with eider-down, and the rest
with feathers of geese. Do that and then we will see."

With that she left Anima and closed and locked the door behind her.
And Anima remembered what the other Queen's sister had given her, and
took out the raven's feather and waved it thrice. Immediately birds,
and birds, and birds came flying through the windows, and each of them
picked out different kinds of feathers and placed them in the
mattresses, so that long before night the twelve mattresses were
filled as the Queen had ordered.

Again at nightfall the Queen came in, and as soon as she saw that the
second task had been carried out, she said:

"Again thou hast had help; to-morrow thou shalt have something to do
which thou alone canst carry out."

Next day the Queen summoned her and gave her a small flask and a
letter and said to her:

"Take these to my sister, the Queen of the Nether-World, and bring
back what she will give to thee safely, and then I may let thee see my
son."

"How can I find your sister?" said Anima.

"That thou must find for thyself," and left her.

Poor Anima did not know which way to go, but as she walked along the
voice of some one invisible to her said softly:

"Take with thee a copper coin and a loaf of bread and go down that
deep defile there till thou comest to a deep river and there thou wilt
see an old man ferrying people across the river. Put the coin between
your teeth and let him take it from you, and he will carry you across,
but speak not to him. Then, on the other side, thou wilt come to a
dark cave, and at the entrance is a savage dog; give him the loaf of
bread and he will let thee pass and thou wilt soon come to the Queen
of the Nether-World. Take what she gives thee, but beware lest thou
eat anything or sit down while thou art within the cave."

Anima recognized the voice of her husband and did all that he had told
her, till she came to the Queen of the Nether-World, who read the
letter she had handed to her. Then she offered Anima cake and wine,
but she refused, shaking her head, but saying nothing. Then the Queen
of the Nether-World gave her a curiously wrought box and said to her:

"Take this, I pray thee, to my sister, but beware lest thou open it on
the way or ill may befall thee," and then dismissed her.



Anima went back past the great dog and crossed the dark river. When
she got into the forest beyond she could not resist the temptation to
open the box, and when she did so out jumped a number of little dolls,
which commenced dancing about in front of her and around her and
amused her much by their playful antics. But soon the night was coming
on, and she wanted to put them into the box, and they ran away and hid
behind the trees, and Anima knew that she could not get them back. So
she sat down upon the ground and wept, and wept, and wept. But at last
she heard the voice of her husband once more, who said:



"See what thy curiosity has again brought upon thee; thou canst not
bring back the box to my mother just as my aunt the Queen of the
Nether-World has given it to you, and so we shall not see one another
again."

But at this Anima burst out into weeping and wailing so piteously that
he took compassion on her and said:

"See that golden bough on yonder tree; pluck it and strike the ground
three times with it and see what thou wilt see."

Anima did as she had been told, and soon the little dolls came running
from behind the trees and jumped of their own accord into the box; and
she closed it quickly and took it back to the Queen, her husband's
mother.

The Queen opened the box, and when she found all the little dolls were
in it laughed aloud and said:

"I know who has helped thee; I cannot help myself; I suppose thou must
have my son."

And as soon as she had said this Anima's husband appeared and took her
to him, and they lived happy ever afterwards.





Next: The Master-maid

Previous: The Master Thief



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