Prince Fickle And Fair Helena





There was once upon a time a beautiful girl called Helena. Her own

mother had died when she was quite a child, and her stepmother was

as cruel and unkind to her as she could be. Helena did all she

could to gain her love, and performed the heavy work given her to

do cheerfully and well; but her stepmother's heart wasn't in the

least touched, and the more the poor girl did the more she asked

her to do.



One day she gave Helena twelve pounds of mixed feathers and bade

her separate them all before evening, threatening her with heavy

punishment if she failed to do so.



The poor child sat down to her task with her eyes so full of tears

that she could hardly see to begin. And when she had made one

little heap of feathers, she sighed so deeply that they all blew

apart again. And so it went on, and the poor girl grew more and

more miserable. She bowed her head in her hands and cried, 'Is

there no one under heaven who will take pity on me?'



Suddenly a soft voice replied, 'Be comforted, my child: I have

come to help you.'



Terrified to death, Helena looked up and saw a Fairy standing in

front of her, who asked in the kindest way possible, 'Why are you

crying, my dear?'



Helena, who for long had heard no friendly voice, confided her sad

tale of woe to the Fairy, and told her what the new task she had

been given to do was, and how she despaired of ever accomplishing

it.



'Don't worry yourself about it any more,' said the kind Fairy;

'lie down and go to sleep, and I'll see that your work is done all

right.' So Helena lay down, and when she awoke all the feathers

were sorted into little bundles; but when she turned to thank the

good Fairy she had vanished.



In the evening her stepmother returned and was much amazed to find

Helena sitting quietly with her work all finished before her.



She praised her diligence, but at the same time racked her brain

as to what harder task she could set her to do.



The next day she told Helena to empty a pond near the house with a

spoon which was full of holes. Helena set to work at once, but she

very soon found that what her stepmother had told her to do was an

impossibility. Full of despair and misery, she was in the act of

throwing the spoon away, when suddenly the kind Fairy stood before

her again, and asked her why she was so unhappy?



When Helena told her of her stepmother's new demand she said,

'Trust to me and I will do your task for you. Lie down and have a

sleep in the meantime.'



Helena was comforted and lay down, and before you would have

believed it possible the Fairy roused her gently and told her the

pond was empty. Full of joy and gratitude, Helena hurried to her

stepmother, hoping that now at last her heart would be softened

towards her. But the wicked woman was furious at the frustration

of her own evil designs, and only thought of what harder thing she

could set the girl to do.



Next morning she ordered her to build before evening a beautiful

castle, and to furnish it all from garret to basement. Helena sat

down on the rocks which had been pointed out to her as the site of

the castle, feeling very depressed, but at the same time with the

lurking hope that the kind Fairy would come once more to her aid.



And so it turned out. The Fairy appeared, promised to build the

castle, and told Helena to lie down and go to sleep in the

meantime. At the word of the Fairy the rocks and stones rose and

built themselves into a beautiful castle, and before sunset it was

all furnished inside, and left nothing to be desired. You may

think how grateful Helena was when she awoke and found her task

all finished.



But her stepmother was anything but pleased, and went through the

whole castle from top to bottom, to see if she couldn't find some

fault for which she could punish Helena. At last she went down

into one of the cellars, but it was so dark that she fell down the

steep stairs and was killed on the spot.



So Helena was now mistress of the beautiful castle, and lived

there in peace and happiness. And soon the noise of her beauty

spread abroad, and many wooers came to try and gain her hand.



Among them came one Prince Fickle by name, who very quickly won

the love of fair Helena. One day, as they were sitting happily

together under a lime-tree in front of the castle, Prince Fickle

broke the sad news to Helena that he must return to his parents to

get their consent to his marriage. He promised faithfully to come

back to her as soon as he could and begged her to await his return

under the lime-tree where they had spent so many happy hours.



Helena kissed him tenderly at parting on his left cheek, and

begged him not to let anyone else kiss him there while they were

parted, and she promised to sit and wait for him under the lime-

tree, for she never doubted that the Prince would be faithful to

her and would return as quickly as he could.



And so she sat for three days and three nights under the tree

without moving. But when her lover never returned, she grew very

unhappy, and determined to set out to look for him. She took as

many of her jewels as she could carry, and three of her most

beautiful dresses, one embroidered with stars, one with moons, and

the third with suns, all of pure gold. Far and wide she wandered

through the world, but nowhere did she find any trace of her

bridegroom. At last she gave up the search in despair. She could

not bear to return to her own castle where she had been so happy

with her lover, but determined rather to endure her loneliness and

desolation in a strange land. She took a place as herd-girl with a

peasant, and buried her jewels and beautiful dresses in a safe and

hidden spot.



Every day she drove the cattle to pasture, and all the time she

thought of nothing but her faithless bridegroom. She was very

devoted to a certain little calf in the herd, and made a great pet

of it, feeding it out of her own hands. She taught it to kneel

before her, and then she whispered in its ear:



'Kneel, little calf, kneel; Be faithful and leal, Not like Prince

Fickle, Who once on a time Left his fair Helena Under the lime.'



After some years passed in this way, she heard that the daughter

of the king of the country she was living in was going to marry a

Prince called 'Fickle.' Everybody rejoiced at the news except poor

Helena, to whom it was a fearful blow, for at the bottom of her

heart she had always believed her lover to be true.



Now it chanced that the way to the capital led right past the

village where Helena was, and often when she was leading her

cattle forth to the meadows Prince Fickle rode past her, without

ever noticing the poor herd-girl, so engrossed was he in thoughts

of his new bride. Then it occurred to Helena to put his heart to

the test and to see if it weren't possible to recall herself to

him. So one day as Prince Fickle rode by she said to her little

calf:



'Kneel, little calf, kneel; Be faithful and leal, Not like

Prince Fickle, Who once on a time Left his poor Helena Under

the lime.'



When Prince Fickle heard her voice it seemed to him to remind him

of something, but of what he couldn't remember, for he hadn't

heard the words distinctly, as Helena had only spoken them very

low and with a shaky voice. Helena herself had been far too moved

to let her see what impression her words had made on the Prince,

and when she looked round he was already far away. But she noticed

how slowly he was riding, and how deeply sunk he was in thought,

so she didn't quite give herself up as lost.



In honour of the approaching wedding a feast lasting many nights

was to be given in the capital. Helena placed all her hopes on

this, and determined to go to the feast and there to seek out her

bridegroom.



When evening drew near she stole out of the peasant's cottage

secretly, and, going to her hiding-place, she put on her dress

embroidered with the gold suns, and all her jewels, and loosed her

beautiful golden hair, which up to now she had always worn under a

kerchief, and, adorned thus, she set out for the town.



When she entered the ball-room all eyes were turned on her, and

everyone marvelled at her beauty, but no one knew who she was.

Prince Fickle, too, was quite dazzled by the charms of the

beautiful maiden, and never guessed that she had once been his own

ladylove. He never left her side all night, and it was with great

difficulty that Helena escaped from him in the crowd when it was

time to return home. Prince Fickle searched for her everywhere,

and longed eagerly for the next night, when the beautiful lady had

promised to come again.



The following evening the fair Helena started early for the feast.



This time she wore her dress embroidered with silver moons, and in

her hair she placed a silver crescent. Prince Fickle was enchanted

to see her again, and she seemed to him even more beautiful than

she had been the night before. He never left her side, and refused

to dance with anyone else. He begged her to tell him who she was,

but this she refused to do. Then he implored her to return again

next evening, and this she promised him she would.



On the third evening Prince Fickle was so impatient to see his

fair enchantress again, that he arrived at the feast hours before

it began, and never took his eyes from the door. At last Helena

arrived in a dress all covered with gold and silver stars, and

with a girdle of stars round her waist, and a band of stars in her

hair. Prince Fickle was more in love with her than ever, and

begged her once again to tell him her name.



Then Helena kissed him silently on the left cheek, and in one

moment Prince Fickle recognized his old love. Full of remorse and

sorrow, he begged for her forgiveness, and Helena, only too

pleased to have got him back again, did not, you may be sure, keep

him waiting very long for her pardon, and so they were married and

returned to Helena's castle, where they are no doubt still sitting

happily together under the lime-tree.





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