The One-handed Girl

: The Lilac Fairy Book

An old couple once lived in a hut under a grove of palm trees,

and they had one son and one daughter. They were all very happy

together for many years, and then the father became very ill, and

felt he was going to die. He called his children to the place

where he lay on the floor--for no one had any beds in that

country-- and said to his son, 'I have no herds of cattle to

leave you--only the few things there are in the
house--for I am a

poor man, as you know. But choose: will you have my blessing or

my property?'

'Your property, certainly,' answered the son, and his father


'And you?' asked the old man of the girl, who stood by her


'I will have blessing,' she answered, and her father gave her

much blessing.

That night he died, and his wife and son and daughter mourned for

him seven days, and gave him a burial according to the custom of

his people. But hardly was the time of mourning over, than the

mother was attacked by a disease which was common in that


'I am going away from you,' she said to her children, in a faint

voice; 'but first, my son, choose which you will have: blessing

or property.'

'Property, certainly,' answered the son.

'And you, my daughter?'

'I will have blessing,' said the girl; and her mother gave her

much blessing, and that night she died.

When the days of mourning were ended, the brother bade his sister

put outside the hut all that belonged to his father and his

mother. So the girl put them out, and he took them away, save

only a small pot and a vessel in which she could clean her corn.

But she had no corn to clean.

She sat at home, sad and hungry, when a neighbour knocked at the


'My pot has cracked in the fire, lend me yours to cook my supper

in, and I will give you a handful of corn in return.'

And the girl was glad, and that night she was able to have supper

herself, and next day another woman borrowed her pot, and then

another and another, for never were known so many accidents as

befell the village pots at that time. She soon grew quite fat

with all the corn she earned with the help of her pot, and then

one evening she picked up a pumpkin seed in a corner, and planted

it near her well, and it sprang up, and gave her many pumpkins.

At last it happened that a youth from her village passed through

the place where the girl's brother was, and the two met and


'What news is there of my sister?' asked the young man, with whom

things had gone badly, for he was idle.

'She is fat and well-liking,' replied the youth, 'for the women

borrow her mortar to clean their corn, and borrow her pot to cook

it in, and for al this they give her more food than she can eat.'

And he went his way.

Now the brother was filled with envy at the words of the man, and

he set out at once, and before dawn he had reached the hut, and

saw the pot and the mortar were standing outside. He slung them

over his shoulders and departed, pleased with his own cleverness;

but when his sister awoke and sought for the pot to cook her corn

for breakfast, she could find it nowhere. At length she said to


'Well, some thief must have stolen them while I slept. I will go

and see if any of my pumpkins are ripe.' And indeed they were,

and so many that the tree was almost broken by the weight of

them. So she ate what she wanted and took the others to the

village, and gave them in exchange for corn, and the women said

that no pumpkins were as sweet as these, and that she was to

bring every day all that she had. In this way she earned more

than she needed for herself, and soon was able to get another

mortar and cooking pot in exchange for her corn. Then she thought

she was quite rich.

Unluckily someone else thought so too, and this was her brother's

wife, who had heard all about the pumpkin tree, and sent her

slave with a handful of grain to buy her a pumpkin. At first the

girl told him that so few were left that she could not spare any;

but when she found that he belonged to her brother, she changed

her mind, and went out to the tree and gathered the largest and

the ripest that was there.

'Take this one,' she said to the slave, 'and carry it back to

your mistress, but tell her to keep the corn, as the pumpkin is a


The brother's wife was overjoyed at the sight of the fruit, and

when she tasted it, she declared it was the nicest she had ever

eaten. Indeed, all night she thought of nothing else, and early

in the morning she called another slave (for she was a rich

woman) and bade him go and ask for another pumpkin. But the girl,

who had just been out to look at her tree, told him that they

were all eaten, so he went back empty-handed to his mistress.

In the evening her husband returned from hunting a long way off,

and found his wife in tears.

'What is the matter?' asked he.

'I sent a slave with some grain to your sister to buy some

pumpkins, but she would not sell me any, and told me there were

none, though I know she lets other people buy them.'

'Well, never mind now--go to sleep,' said he, 'and to-morrow I

will go and pull up the pumpkin tree, and that will punish her

for treating you so badly.'

So before sunrise he got up and set out for his sister's house,

and found her cleaning some corn.

'Why did you refuse to sell my wife a pumpkin yesterday when she

wanted one?' he asked.

'The old ones are finished, and the new ones are not yet come,'

answered the girl. 'When her slave arrived two days ago, there

were only four left; but I gave him one, and would take no corn

for it.'

'I do not believe you; you have sold them all to other people. I

shall go and cut down the pumpkin,' cried her brother in a rage.

'If you cut down the pumpkin you shall cut off my hand with it,'

exclaimed the girl, running up to her tree and catching hold of

it. But her brother followed, and with one blow cut off the

pumpkin and her hand too.

Then he went into the house and took away everything he could

find, and sold the house to a friend of his who had long wished

to have it, and his sister had no home to go to.

Meanwhile she had bathed her arm carefully, and bound on it some

healing leaves that grew near by, and wrapped a cloth round the

leaves, and went to hide in the forest, that her brother might

not find her again.

For seven days she wandered about, eating only the fruit that

hung from the trees above her, and every night she climbed up and

tucked herself safely among the creepers which bound together the

big branches, so that neither lions nor tigers nor panthers might

get at her.

When she woke up on the seventh morning she saw from her perch

smoke coming up from a little town on the edge of the forest. The

sight of the huts made her feel more lonely and helpless than

before. She longed desperately for a draught of milk from a

gourd, for there were no streams in that part, and she was very

thirsty, but how was she to earn anything with only one hand? And

at this thought her courage failed, and she began to cry


It happened that the king's son had come out from the town very

early to shoot birds, and when the sun grew hot he left tired.

'I will lie here and rest under this tree,' he said to his

attendants. 'You can go and shoot instead, and I will just have

this slave to stay with me!' Away they went, and the young man

fell asleep, and slept long. Suddenly he was awakened by

something wet and salt falling on his face.

'What is that? Is it raining?' he said to his slave. 'Go and


'No, master, it is not raining,' answered the slave.

'Then climb up the tree and see what it is,' and the slave

climbed up, and came back and told his master that a beautiful

girl was sitting up there, and that it must have been her tears

which had fallen on the face of the king's son.

'Why was she crying?' inquired the prince.

'I cannot tell--I did not dare to ask her; but perhaps she would

tell you.' And the master, greatly wondering, climbed up the


'What is the matter with you?' said he gently, and, as she only

sobbed louder, he continued:

'Are you a woman, or a spirit of the woods?'

'I am a woman,' she answered slowly, wiping her eyes with a leaf

of the creeper that hung about her.

'Then why do you cry?' he persisted.

'I have many things to cry for,' she replied, 'more than you

could ever guess.'

'Come home with me,' said the prince; 'it is not very far. Come

home to my father and mother. I am a king's son.'

'Then why are you here?' she said, opening her eyes and staring

at him.

'Once every month I and my friends shoot birds in the forest,' he

answered, 'but I was tired and bade them leave me to rest. And

you--what are you doing up in this tree?'

At that she began to cry again, and told the king's son all that

had befallen her since the death of her mother.

'I cannot come down with you, for I do not like anyone to see

me,' she ended with a sob.

'Oh! I will manage all that,' said the king's son, and swinging

himself to a lower branch, he bade his slave go quickly into the

town, and bring back with him four strong men and a curtained

litter. When the man was gone, the girl climbed down, and hid

herself on the ground in some bushes. Very soon the slave

returned with the litter, which was placed on the ground close to

the bushes where the girl lay.

'Now go, all of you, and call my attendants, for I do not wish to

say here any longer,' he said to the men, and as soon as they

were out of sight he bade the girl get into the litter, and

fasten the curtains tightly. Then he got in on the other side,

and waited till his attendants came up.

'What is the matter, O son of a king?' asked they, breathless

with running.

'I think I am ill; I am cold,' he said, and signing to the

bearers, he drew the curtains, and was carried through the forest

right inside his own house.

'Tell my father and mother that I have a fever, and want some

gruel,' said he, 'and bid them send it quickly.'

So the slave hastened to the king's palace and gave his message,

which troubled both the king and the queen greatly. A pot of hot

gruel was instantly prepared, and carried over to the sick man,

and as soon as the council which was sitting was over, the king

and his ministers went to pay him a visit, bearing a message from

the queen that she would follow a little later.

Now the prince had pretended to be ill in order to soften his

parent's hearts, and the next day he declared he felt better,

and, getting into his litter, was carried to the palace in state,

drums being beaten all along the road.

He dismounted at the foot of the steps and walked up, a great

parasol being held over his head by a slave. Then he entered the

cool, dark room where his father and mother were sitting, and

said to them:

'I saw a girl yesterday in the forest whom I wish to marry, and,

unknown to my attendants, I brought her back to my house in a

litter. Give me your consent, I beg, for no other woman pleases

me as well, even though she has but one hand!'

Of course the king and queen would have preferred a daughter-in-

law with two hands, and one who could have brought riches with

her, but they could not bear to say 'No' to their son, so they

told him it should be as he chose, and that the wedding feast

should be prepared immediately.

The girl could scarcely believe her good fortune, and, in

gratitude for all the kindness shown her, was so useful and

pleasant to her husband's parents that they soon loved her.

By and bye a baby was born to her, and soon after that the prince

was sent on a journey by his father to visit some of the distant

towns of the kingdom, and to set right things that had gone


No sooner had he started than the girl's brother, who had wasted

all the riches his wife had brought him in recklessness and

folly, and was now very poor, chanced to come into the town, and

as he passed he heard a man say, 'Do you know that the king's son

has married a woman who has lost one of her hands?' On hearing

these words the brother stopped and asked, 'Where did he find

such a woman?'

'In the forest,' answered the man, and the cruel brother guessed

at once it must be his sister.

A great rage took possession of his soul as he thought of the

girl whom he had tried to ruin being after all so much better off

than himself, and he vowed that he would work her ill. Therefore

that very afternoon he made his way to the palace and asked to

see the king.

When he was admitted to his presence, he knelt down and touched

the ground with his forehead, and the king bade him stand up and

tell wherefore he had come.

'By the kindness of your heart have you been deceived, O king,'

said he. 'Your son has married a girl who has lost a hand. Do you

know why she had lost it? She was a witch, and has wedded three

husbands, and each husband she has put to death with her arts.

Then the people of the town cut off her hand, and turned her into

the forest. And what I say is true, for her town is my town


The king listened, and his face grew dark. Unluckily he had a

hasty temper, and did not stop to reason, and, instead of sending

to the town, and discovering people who knew his daughter-in-law

and could have told him how hard she had worked and how poor she

had been, he believed all the brother's lying words, and made the

queen believe them too. Together they took counsel what they

should do, and in the end they decided that they also would put

her out of the town. But this did not content the brother.

'Kill her,' he said. 'It is no more than she deserves for daring

to marry the king's son. Then she can do no more hurt to anyone.'

'We cannot kill her,' answered they; 'if we did, our son would

assuredly kill us. Let us do as the others did, and put her out

of the town. And with this the envious brother was forced to be


The poor girl loved her husband very much, but just then the baby

was more to her than all else in the world, and as long as she

had him with her, she did not very much mind anything. So, taking

her son on her arm, and hanging a little earthen pot for cooking

round her neck, she left her house with its great peacock fans

and slaves and seats of ivory, and plunged into the forest.

For a while she walked, not knowing whither she went, then by and

bye she grew tired, and sat under a tree to rest and to hush her

baby to sleep. Suddenly she raised her eyes, and saw a snake

wriggling from under the bushes towards her.

'I am a dead woman,' she said to herself, and stayed quite still,

for indeed she was too frightened to move. In another minute the

snake had reached her side, and to her surprise he spoke.

'Open your earthen pot, and let me go in. Save me from sun, and I

will save you from rain,' and she opened the pot, and when the

snake had slipped in, she put on the cover. Soon she beheld

another snake coming after the other one, and when it had reached

her it stopped and said, 'Did you see a small grey snake pass

this way just now?'

'Yes,' she answered, 'it was going very quickly.'

'Ah, I must hurry and catch it up,' replied the second snake, and

it hastened on.

When it was out of sight, a voice from the pot said:

'Uncover me,' and she lifted the lid, and the little grey snake

slid rapidly to the ground.

'I am safe now,' he said. 'But tell me, where are you going?'

'I cannot tell you, for I do not know,' she answered. 'I am just

wandering in the wood.'

'Follow me, and let us go home together,' said the snake, and the

girl followed his through the forest and along the green paths,

till they came to a great lake, where they stopped to rest.

'The sun is hot,' said the snake, 'and you have walked far. Take

your baby and bathe in that cool place where the boughs of the

tree stretch far over the water.'

'Yes, I will,' answered she, and they went in. The baby splashed

and crowed with delight, and then he gave a spring and fell right

in, down, down, down, and his mother could not find him, though

she searched all among the reeds.

Full of terror, she made her way back to the bank, and called to

the snake, 'My baby is gone!--he is drowned, and never shall I

see him again.'

'Go in once more,' said the snake, 'and feel everywhere, even

among the trees that have their roots in the water, lest perhaps

he may be held fast there.'

Swiftly she went back and felt everywhere with her whole hand,

even putting her fingers into the tiniest crannies, where a crab

could hardly have taken shelter.

'No, he is not here,' she cried. 'How am I to live without him?'

But the snake took no notice, and only answered, 'Put in your

other arm too.'

'What is the use of that?' she asked, 'when it has no hand to

feel with?' but all the same she did as she was bid, and in an

instant the wounded arm touched something round and soft, lying

between two stones in a clump of reeds.

'My baby, my baby!' she shouted, and lifted him up, merry and

laughing, and not a bit hurt or frightened.

'Have you found him this time?' asked the snake.

'Yes, oh, yes!' she answered, 'and, why--why--I have got my hand

back again!' and from sheer joy she burst into tears.

The snake let her weep for a little while, and then he said--

'Now we will journey on to my family, and we will all repay you

for the kindness you showed to me.'

'You have done more than enough in giving me back my hand,'

replied the girl; but the snake only smiled.

'Be quick, lest the sun should set,' he answered, and began to

wriggle along so fast that the girl could hardly follow him.

By and bye they arrived at the house in a tree where the snake

lived, when he was not travelling with his father and mother. And

he told them all his adventures, and how he had escaped from his

enemy. The father and mother snake could not do enough to show

their gratitude. They made their guest lie down on a hammock

woven of the strong creepers which hung from bough to bough, till

she was quite rested after her wanderings, while they watched the

baby and gave him milk to drink from the cocoa-nuts which they

persuaded their friends the monkeys to crack for them. They even

managed to carry small fruit tied up in their tails for the

baby's mother, who felt at last that she was safe and at peace.

Not that she forgot her husband, for she often thought of him and

longed to show him her son, and in the night she would sometimes

lie awake and wonder where he was.

In this manner many weeks passed by.

And what was the prince doing?

Well, he had fallen very ill when he was on the furthest border

of the kingdom, and he was nursed by some kind people who did not

know who he was, so that the king and queen heard nothing about

him. When he was better he made his way home again, and into his

father's palace, where he found a strange man standing behind the

throne with the peacock's feathers. This was his wife's brother,

whom the king had taken into high favour, though, of course, the

prince was quite ignorant of what had happened.

For a moment the king and queen stared at their son, as if he had

been unknown to them; he had grown so thin and weak during his

illness that his shoulders were bowed like those of an old man.

'Have you forgotten me so soon?' he asked.

At the sound of his voice they gave a cry and ran towards him,

and poured out questions as to what had happened, and why he

looked like that. But the prince did not answer any of them.

'How is my wife?' he said. There was a pause.

Then the queen replied:

'She is dead.'

'Dead!' he repeated, stepping a little backwards. 'And my child?'

'He is dead too.'

The young man stood silent. Then he said, 'Show me their graves.'

At these words the king, who had been feeling rather

uncomfortable, took heart again, for had he not prepared two

beautiful tombs for his son to see, so that he might never, never

guess what had been done to his wife? All these months the king

and queen had been telling each other how good and merciful they

had been not to take her brother's advice and to put her to

death. But now, this somehow did not seem so certain.

Then the king led the way to the courtyard just behind the

palace, and through the gate into a beautiful garden where stood

two splendid tombs in a green space under the trees. The prince

advanced alone, and, resting his head against the stone, he burst

into tears. His father and mother stood silently behind with a

curious pang in their souls which they did not quite understand.

Could it be that they were ashamed of themselves?

But after a while the prince turned round, and walking past them

in to the palace he bade the slaves bring him mourning. For seven

days no one saw him, but at the end of them he went out hunting,

and helped his father rule his people. Only no one dared to speak

to him of his wife and son.

At last one morning, after the girl had been lying awake all

night thinking of her husband, she said to her friend the snake:

'You have all shown me much kindness, but now I am well again,

and want to go home and hear some news of my husband, and if he

still mourns for me!' Now the heart of the snake was sad at her

words, but he only said:

'Yes, thus it must be; go and bid farewell to my father and

mother, but if they offer you a present, see that you take

nothing but my father's ring and my mother's casket.'

So she went to the parent snakes, who wept bitterly at the

thought of losing her, and offered her gold and jewels as much as

she could carry in remembrance of them. But the girl shook her

head and pushed the shining heap away from her.

'I shall never forget you, never,' she said in a broken voice,

'but the only tokens I will accept from you are that little ring

and this old casket.'

The two snakes looked at each other in dismay. The ring and the

casket were the only things they did not want her to have. Then

after a short pause they spoke.

'Why do you want the ring and casket so much? Who has told you of


'Oh, nobody; it is just my fancy,' answered she. But the old

snakes shook their heads and replied:

'Not so; it is our son who told you, and, as he said, so it must

be. If you need food, or clothes, or a house, tell the ring and

it will find them for you. And if you are unhappy or in danger,

tell the casket and it will set things right.' Then they both

gave her their blessing, and she picked up her baby and went her


She walked for a long time, till at length she came near the town

where her husband and his father dwelt. Here she stopped under a

grove of palm trees, and told the ring that she wanted a house.

'It is ready, mistress,' whispered a queer little voice which

made her jump, and, looking behind her, she saw a lovely palace

made of the finest woods, and a row of slaves with tall fans

bowing before the door. Glad indeed was she to enter, for she was

very tired, and, after eating a good supper of fruit and milk

which she found in one of the rooms, she flung herself down on a

pile of cushions and went to sleep with her baby beside her.

Here she stayed quietly, and every day the baby grew taller and

stronger, and very soon he could run about and even talk. Of

course the neighbours had a great deal to say about the house

which had been built so quickly--so very quickly--on the

outskirts of the town, and invented all kinds of stories about

the rich lady who lived in it. And by and bye, when the king

returned with his son from the wars, some of these tales reached

his ears.

'It is really very odd about that house under the palms,' he said

to the queen; 'I must find out something of the lady whom no one

ever sees. I daresay it is not a lady at all, but a gang of

conspirators who want to get possession of my throne. To-morrow I

shall take my son and my chief ministers and insist on getting


Soon after sunrise next day the prince's wife was standing on a

little hill behind the house, when she saw a cloud of dust coming

through the town. A moment afterwards she heard faintly the roll

of the drums that announced the king's presence, and saw a crowd

of people approaching the grove of palms. Her heart beat fast.

Could her husband be among them? In any case they must not

discover her there; so just bidding the ring prepare some food

for them, she ran inside, and bound a veil of golden gauze round

her head and face. Then, taking the child's hand, she went to the

door and waited.

In a few minutes the whole procession came up, and she stepped

forward and begged them to come in and rest.

'Willingly,' answered the king; 'go first, and we will follow


They followed her into a long dark room, in which was a table

covered with gold cups and baskets filled with dates and cocoa-

nuts and all kinds of ripe yellow fruits, and the king and the

prince sat upon cushions and were served by slaves, while the

ministers, among whom she recognised her own brother, stood


'Ah, I owe all my misery to him,' she said to herself. 'From the

first he has hated me,' but outwardly she showed nothing. And

when the king asked her what news there was in the town she only


'You have ridden far; eat first, and drink, for you must be

hungry and thirsty, and then I will tell you my news.'

'You speak sense,' answered the king, and silence prevailed for

some time longer. Then he said:

'Now, lady, I have finished, and am refreshed, therefore tell me,

I pray you, who you are, and whence you come? But, first, be


She bowed her head and sat down on a big scarlet cushion, drawing

her little boy, who was asleep in a corner, on to her knee, and

began to tell the story of her life. As her brother listened, he

would fain have left the house and hidden himself in the forest,

but it was his duty to wave the fan of peacock's feathers over

the king's head to keep off the flies, and he knew he would be

seized by the royal guards if he tried to desert his post. He

must stay where he was, there was no help for it, and luckily for

him the king was too much interested in the tale to notice that

the fan had ceased moving, and that flies were dancing right on

the top of his thick curly hair.

The story went on, but the story-teller never once looked at the

prince, even through her veil, though he on his side never moved

his eyes from her. When she reached the part where she had sat

weeping in the tree, the king's son could restrain himself no


'It is my wife,' he cried, springing to where she sat with the

sleeping child in her lap. 'They have lied to me, and you are not

dead after all, nor the boy either.! But what has happened? Why

did they lie to me? and why did you leave my house where you were

safe?' And he turned and looked fiercely at his father.

'Let me finish my tale first, and then you will know,' answered

she, throwing back her veil, and she told how her brother had

come to the palace and accused her of being a witch, and had

tried to persuade the king to slay her. 'But he would not do

that,' she continued softly, 'and after all, if I had stayed on

in your house, I should never have met the snake, nor have got my

hand back again. So let us forget all about it, and be happy once

more, for see! our son is growing quite a big boy.'

'And what shall be done to your brother?' asked the king, who was

glad to think that someone had acted in this matter worse than


'Put him out of the town,' answered she.

From 'Swaheli Tales,' by E. Steere.