The Unseen Bridegroom





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.





The Unlooked-for Prince The Vain Goldfinch Learns A Lesson facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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