: English Fairy Tales

In a great Palace by the sea there once dwelt a very rich old lord, who

had neither wife nor children living, only one little granddaughter,

whose face he had never seen in all her life. He hated her bitterly,

because at her birth his favourite daughter died; and when the old nurse

brought him the baby he swore that it might live or die as it liked, but

he would never look on its face as long as it lived.

So he turned his back, and sat by his window looking out over the sea,

and weeping great tears for his lost daughter, till his white hair and

beard grew down over his shoulders and twined round his chair and crept

into the chinks of the floor, and his tears, dropping on to the

window-ledge, wore a channel through the stone, and ran away in a little

river to the great sea. Meanwhile, his granddaughter grew up with no one

to care for her, or clothe her; only the old nurse, when no one was by,

would sometimes give her a dish of scraps from the kitchen, or a torn

petticoat from the rag-bag; while the other servants of the palace would

drive her from the house with blows and mocking words, calling her

"Tattercoats," and pointing to her bare feet and shoulders, till she ran

away, crying, to hide among the bushes.

So she grew up, with little to eat or to wear, spending her days out of

doors, her only companion a crippled gooseherd, who fed his flock of

geese on the common. And this gooseherd was a queer, merry little chap,

and when she was hungry, or cold, or tired, he would play to her so

gaily on his little pipe, that she forgot all her troubles, and would

fall to dancing with his flock of noisy geese for partners.

Now one day people told each other that the King was travelling through

the land, and was to give a great ball to all the lords and ladies of

the country in the town near by, and that the Prince, his only son, was

to choose a wife from amongst the maidens in the company. In due time

one of the royal invitations to the ball was brought to the Palace by

the sea, and the servants carried it up to the old lord, who still sat

by his window, wrapped in his long white hair and weeping into the

little river that was fed by his tears.

But when he heard the King's command, he dried his eyes and bade them

bring shears to cut him loose, for his hair had bound him a fast

prisoner, and he could not move. And then he sent them for rich clothes,

and jewels, which he put on; and he ordered them to saddle the white

horse, with gold and silk, that he might ride to meet the King; but he

quite forgot he had a granddaughter to take to the ball.

Meanwhile Tattercoats sat by the kitchen-door weeping, because she could

not go to see the grand doings. And when the old nurse heard her crying

she went to the Lord of the Palace, and begged him to take his

granddaughter with him to the King's ball.

But he only frowned and told her to be silent; while the servants

laughed and said, "Tattercoats is happy in her rags, playing with the

gooseherd! Let her be--it is all she is fit for."

A second, and then a third time, the old nurse begged him to let the

girl go with him, but she was answered only by black looks and fierce

words, till she was driven from the room by the jeering servants, with

blows and mocking words.

Weeping over her ill-success, the old nurse went to look for

Tattercoats; but the girl had been turned from the door by the cook, and

had run away to tell her friend the gooseherd how unhappy she was

because she could not go to the King's ball.

Now when the gooseherd had listened to her story, he bade her cheer up,

and proposed that they should go together into the town to see the King,

and all the fine things; and when she looked sorrowfully down at her

rags and bare feet he played a note or two upon his pipe, so gay and

merry, that she forgot all about her tears and her troubles, and before

she well knew, the gooseherd had taken her by the hand, and she and he,

and the geese before them, were dancing down the road towards the town.

"Even cripples can dance when they choose," said the gooseherd.

Before they had gone very far a handsome young man, splendidly dressed,

riding up, stopped to ask the way to the castle where the King was

staying, and when he found that they too were going thither, he got off

his horse and walked beside them along the road.

"You seem merry folk," he said, "and will be good company."

"Good company, indeed," said the gooseherd, and played a new tune that

was not a dance.

It was a curious tune, and it made the strange young man stare and stare

and stare at Tattercoats till he couldn't see her rags--till he

couldn't, to tell the truth, see anything but her beautiful face.

Then he said, "You are the most beautiful maiden in the world. Will you

marry me?"

Then the gooseherd smiled to himself, and played sweeter than ever.

But Tattercoats laughed. "Not I," said she; "you would be finely put to

shame, and so would I be, if you took a goose-girl for your wife! Go and

ask one of the great ladies you will see to-night at the King's ball,

and do not flout poor Tattercoats."

But the more she refused him the sweeter the pipe played, and the deeper

the young man fell in love; till at last he begged her to come that

night at twelve to the King's ball, just as she was, with the gooseherd

and his geese, in her torn petticoat and bare feet, and see if he

wouldn't dance with her before the King and the lords and ladies, and

present her to them all, as his dear and honoured bride.

[Illustration: Tattercoats dancing while the gooseherd pipes]

Now at first Tattercoats said she would not; but the gooseherd said,

"Take fortune when it comes, little one."

So when night came, and the hall in the castle was full of light and

music, and the lords and ladies were dancing before the King, just as

the clock struck twelve, Tattercoats and the gooseherd, followed by his

flock of noisy geese, hissing and swaying their heads, entered at the

great doors, and walked straight up the ball-room, while on either side

the ladies whispered, the lords laughed, and the King seated at the far

end stared in amazement.

But as they came in front of the throne Tattercoats' lover rose from

beside the King, and came to meet her. Taking her by the hand, he kissed

her thrice before them all, and turned to the King.

"Father!" he said--for it was the Prince himself--"I have made my

choice, and here is my bride, the loveliest girl in all the land, and

the sweetest as well!"

Before he had finished speaking, the gooseherd had put his pipe to his

lips and played a few notes that sounded like a bird singing far off in

the woods; and as he played Tattercoats' rags were changed to shining

robes sewn with glittering jewels, a golden crown lay upon her golden

hair, and the flock of geese behind her became a crowd of dainty pages,

bearing her long train.

And as the King rose to greet her as his daughter the trumpets sounded

loudly in honour of the new Princess, and the people outside in the

street said to each other:

"Ah! now the Prince has chosen for his wife the loveliest girl in all

the land!"

But the gooseherd was never seen again, and no one knew what became of

him; while the old lord went home once more to his Palace by the sea,

for he could not stay at Court, when he had sworn never to look on his

granddaughter's face.

So there he still sits by his window,--if you could only see him, as you

may some day--weeping more bitterly than ever. And his white hair has

bound him to the stones, and the river of his tears runs away to the

great sea.