The Twelve Dancing Princesses

: Boys And Girls Bookshelf

Once upon a time there was a King who had twelve daughters, each more

beautiful than the other. The twelve princesses slept in a large hall,

each in a little bed of her own. After they were snugly settled for the

night, their father, the King, used to bolt the door on the outside. He

then felt sure that his daughters would be safe until he withdrew the

bolt next morning.

But one day when the King unbolted
the hall door, and peeped in as

usual, he saw twelve worn-out pairs of little slippers lying about the


"What! shoes wanted again," he exclaimed, and after breakfast a

messenger was sent to order a new pair for each of the princesses.

But the next morning the new shoes were worn out, how no one knew.

This went on and on until the King made up his mind to put an end to the

mystery. The shoes, he felt sure, were danced to pieces, and he sent a

herald to offer a reward to any one who should discover where the

princesses held their night-frolic.

"He who succeeds, shall choose one of my daughters to be his wife," said

the King, "and he shall reign after my death; but he who fails, after

three nights' trial, shall be put to death."

Soon a prince arrived at the palace, and said he was willing to risk his

life in the attempt to win one of the beautiful princesses.

When night came, he was given a bedroom next the hall in which the royal

sisters slept. His door was left ajar and his bed placed so that from it

he could watch the door of the hall. The escape of the princesses he

would also watch, and he would follow them in their flight, discover

their secret haunt, and marry the fairest.

This is what the prince meant to do, but before long he was fast asleep.

And while he slept, the princesses danced and danced, for, in the

morning, the soles of their slippers were once more riddled with holes.

The next night the prince made up his mind that stay awake he would, but

again he must have fallen fast asleep, for in the morning twelve pairs

of little worn-out slippers lay scattered about the floor of the hall.

The third night, in fear and trembling, the prince began his night

watch. But try as he might, he could not keep his eyes open, and when in

the morning the little slippers were as usual found riddled with holes,

the King had no mercy on the prince who could not keep awake, and his

head was at once cut off.

After his death, many princes came from far and near, each willing to

risk everything in the attempt to win the fairest of these fair

princesses. But each failed, and each in his turn was beheaded.

Now a poor soldier, who had been wounded in the wars, was on his way

home to the town where the twelve princesses lived. One morning he met

an old witch.

"You can no longer serve your country," she said. "What will you do?"

"With your help, good mother, I mean to rule it," replied the soldier;

for he had heard of the mystery at the palace, and of the reward the

King offered to him who should solve it.

"That need not be difficult," said the witch. "Listen to me. Go

straightway to the palace. There you will be led before the throne. Tell

the King that you would win the fairest of his fair daughters for your

wife. His Majesty will welcome you gladly, and when night falls, you

will be shown to a little bedroom. From the time you enter it, remember

these three things. Firstly, refuse to drink the wine which will be

offered you; secondly, pretend to fall fast asleep; thirdly, wear this

when you wish to be invisible." So saying, the old dame gave him a cloak

and disappeared.

Straightway, the soldier went to the palace, and was led before the

throne. "I would win the fairest of your fair daughters for my wife,"

said he, bowing low before the King.

So anxious was his Majesty to discover the secret haunt of his

daughters, that he gladly welcomed the poor soldier, and ordered that he

should be dressed in scarlet and gold.

When bedtime came, the soldier was shown his little room, from which he

could see the door of the sleeping-hall. No sooner had he been left

alone than in glided a fair princess bearing in her hand a silver


"I bring you sweet wine. Drink," she said. The soldier took the cup and

pretended to swallow, but he really let the wine trickle down into a

sponge which he had fastened beneath his chin.

The princess then left him, and he went to bed and pretended to fall

asleep. So well did he pretend, that before long his snores were heard

by the princesses in their sleeping-hall.

"Listen," said the eldest, and they all sat up in bed and laughed and

laughed till the room shook.

"If ever we were safe, we are safe to-night," they thought, as they

sprang from their little white beds, and ran to and fro, opening

cupboards, boxes, and cases, and taking from them dainty dresses, and

ribbons, and laces and jewels.

Gaily they decked themselves before the mirror, bubbling over with

mischief and merriment at the thought that once more they should enjoy

their night-frolic. Only the youngest sister was quiet.

"I don't know why," she said, "but I feel so strange--as if something

were going to happen."

"You are a little goose," answered the eldest, "you are always afraid.

Why! I need not have put a sleeping powder in the soldier's wine. He

would have slept without it. Now, are you all ready?"

The twelve princesses then stood on tiptoe at the hall door, and peered

into the little room where the soldier lay, seemingly sound asleep.

Yes, they were quite safe once more.

Back they went into the hall. The eldest princess tapped upon her bed.

Immediately it sank into the earth, and, through the opening it had

made, the princesses went down one by one.

The soldier who, peeping, had seen twelve little heads peer out of the

hall door, at once threw his invisible cloak around him, and followed

the princesses into the hall, unseen. He was just in time to reach the

youngest, as she disappeared through the opening in the floor. Halfway

down he trod upon her frock.

"Oh, what was that?" screamed the little princess, terrified. "Some one

is tramping on my dress."

"Nonsense, be quiet," said the eldest, "it must have caught on a hook."

Then they all went down, down, until they reached a beautiful avenue of

silver trees.

Thought the soldier, "I must take away a remembrance of the place to

show the King," and he broke off a twig.

"Oh, did you hear that crackling sound?" cried the youngest princess. "I

told you something was going to happen."

"Baby!" replied the eldest. "The sound was a salute."

Next they came to an avenue where the trees were golden. Here the

soldier again broke off a twig, and again was heard the crackling sound.

"A salute, I told you," said the eldest princess to her terrified little


Further on they reached an avenue of trees that glittered with diamonds.

When the soldier once more broke off a twig, the youngest princess

screamed with fright, but her sisters only went on faster and faster,

and she had to follow in fear and trembling.

At last they came to a great lake. Close to the shore lay twelve little

boats, and in each boat stood a handsome prince, one hand upon an oar,

the other outstretched to welcome a princess.

Soon the little boats rowed off, a prince and a princess in each, the

soldier, still wearing his invisible cloak, sitting by the youngest


"I wonder," said the prince who rowed her, "why the boat is so heavy

to-day. I have to pull with all my strength, and yet can hardly get


"I am sure I do not know," answered the princess. "I dare say it is the

hot weather."

On the opposite shore of the lake stood a castle. Its bright lights

beckoned to the twelve little boats that rowed toward it. Drums beat,

and trumpets sounded a welcome. Very merrily did the sisters reach the

little pier. They sprang from the boats, and ran up the castle steps and

into the gay ballroom. And there they danced and danced, but never saw

or guessed that the soldier with the invisible cloak danced among them.

When a princess lifted a wine-cup to her lips and found it empty, she

felt frightened, but she little thought that the unseen soldier had

drained it. On and on they danced, until three o'clock, but then the

sisters had to stop, for all their little slippers were riddled with

holes. And in the early gray morning the princes rowed them back across

the lake, while the soldier seated himself this time beside the eldest


When they reached the bank, the sisters wandered up the sloping shore,

while the princes called after them, "Good-by, fair daughters of the

King, to-night once more shall we await you here."

And all the princesses turned, and, waving their white hands, cried

sleepily, "Farewell, farewell."

Little did the sisters dream as they loitered homeward, that the soldier

ran past them, reached the castle, and climbed the staircase that led to

his little bedroom. When, slowly and wearily, they reached the door of

the hall where they slept, they heard loud snores coming from his room.

"Ah, safe once more!" they exclaimed, and they undid their silk gowns,

and their ribbons and jewels, and kicked off their little worn-out

shoes. Then each went to her white bed, and in less than a minute was

sound asleep.

The next morning the soldier told nothing of his wonderful adventure,

for he thought he would like again to follow the princesses in their

wanderings. And this he did a second and a third time, and each night

the twelve sisters danced until their slippers were riddled with holes.

The third night the soldier carried off a goblet, as a sign that he had

visited the castle across the lake.

When next day he was brought before the King, to tell where the twelve

dancing princesses held their night-frolic, the soldier took with him

the twig with its silver leaves, the twig with its leaves of gold, and

the twig whose leaves were of diamonds. He took, too, the goblet.

"If you would live, young man," said the King, "answer me this: How

comes it that my daughters' slippers, morning after morning are danced

into holes? Tell me, where have the princesses spent the three last


"With twelve princes in an underground castle," was the unexpected


And when the soldier told his story, and held up the three twigs and the

goblet to prove the truth of what he said, the King sent for his


In the twelve sisters tripped, with no pity in their hearts for "the old

snorer," as they called the soldier; but when their eyes fell upon the

twigs and the goblet they all turned white as lilies, for they knew that

their secret night-frolics were now at an end for ever.

"Tell your tale," said the King to the soldier. But before he could

speak, the princesses wrung their hands, crying, "Alack! alack!" and

their father knew that at last he had discovered their secret.

Then turning to the soldier, the King said: "You have indeed won your

prize. Which of my daughters do you choose as your wife?"

"I am no longer young," replied the soldier. "Let me marry the eldest


So that very day the wedding bells pealed loud and far, and a few years

later the old soldier and his bride were proclaimed King and Queen.