Once upon a time there lived a man who had seven daughters. For a long time they dwelt quite happily at home together, then one morning the father called them all before him and said:
‘Your mother and I are going on a journey, and as we do not know how long we may be away, you will find enough provisions in the house to last you three years. But see you do not open the door to anyone till we come home again.’
‘Very well, dear father,’ replied the girls.
For two years they never left the house or unlocked the door; but one day, when they had washed their clothes, and were spreading them out on the roof to dry, the girls looked down into the street where people were walking to and fro, and across to the market, with its stalls of fresh meat, vegetables, and other nice things.
‘Come here,’ cried one. ‘It makes me quite hungry! Why should not we have our share? Let one of us go to the market, and buy meat and vegetables.’
‘Oh, we mustn’t do that!’ said the youngest. ‘You know our father forbade us to open the door till he came home again.’
Then the eldest sister sprang at her and struck her, the second spit at her, the third abused her, the fourth pushed her, the fifth flung her to the ground, and the sixth tore her clothes. Then they left her lying on the floor, and went out with a basket.
In about an hour they came back with the basket full of meat and vegetables, which they put in a pot, and set on the fire, quite forgetting that the house door stood wide open. The youngest sister, however, took no part in all this, and when dinner was ready and the table laid, she stole softly out to the entrance hall, and hid herself behind a great cask which stood in one corner.
Now, while the other sisters were enjoying their feast, a witch passed by, and catching sight of the open door, she walked in. She went up to the eldest girl, and said: ‘Where shall I begin on you, you fat bolster?’
‘You must begin,’ answered she, ‘with the hand which struck my little sister.’
So the witch gobbled her up, and when the last scrap had disappeared, she came to the second and asked: ‘Where shall I begin on you, my fat bolster?’
And the second answered, ‘You must begin on my mouth, which spat on my sister.’
And so on to the rest; and very soon the whole six had disappeared. And as the witch was eating the last mouthful of the last sister, the youngest, who had been crouching, frozen with horror, behind the barrel, ran out through the open door into the street. Without looking behind her, she hastened on and on, as fast as her feet would carry her, till she saw an ogre’s castle standing in front of her. In a corner near the door she spied a large pot, and she crept softly up to it and pulled the cover over it, and went to sleep.
By-and-by the ogre came home. ‘Fee, Fo, Fum,’ cried he, ‘I smell the smell of a man. What ill fate has brought him here?’ And he looked through all the rooms, and found nobody. ‘Where are you?’ he called. ‘Do not be afraid, I will do you no harm.’
But the girl was still silent.
‘Come out, I tell you,’ repeated the ogre. ‘Your life is quite safe. If you are an old man, you shall be my father. If you are a boy, you shall be my son. If your years are as many as mine, you shall be my brother. If you are an old woman, you shall be my mother. If you are a young one, you shall be my daughter. If you are middle-aged, you shall be my wife. So come out, and fear nothing.’
Then the maiden came out of her hiding-place, and stood before him.
‘Fear nothing,’ said the ogre again; and when he went away to hunt he left her to look after the house. In the evening he returned, bringing with him hares, partridges, and gazelles, for the girl’s supper; for himself he only cared for the flesh of men, which she cooked for him. He also gave into her charge the keys of six rooms, but the key of the seventh he kept himself.
And time passed on, and the girl and the ogre still lived together.
She called him ‘Father,’ and he called her ‘Daughter,’ and never once did he speak roughly to her.
One day the maiden said to him, ‘Father, give me the key of the upper chamber.’
‘No, my daughter,’ replied the ogre. ‘There is nothing there that is any use to you.’
‘But I want the key,’ she repeated again.
However the ogre took no notice, and pretended not to hear. The girl began to cry, and said to herself: ‘To-night, when he thinks I am asleep, I will watch and see where he hides it;’ and after she and the ogre had supped, she bade him good-night, and left the room. In a few minutes she stole quietly back, and watched from behind a curtain. In a little while she saw the ogre take the key from his pocket, and hide it in a hole in the ground before he went to bed. And when all was still she took out the key, and went back to the house.
The next morning the ogre awoke with the first ray of light, and the first thing he did was to look for the key. It was gone, and he guessed at once what had become of it.
But instead of getting into a great rage, as most ogres would have done, he said to himself, ‘If I wake the maiden up I shall only frighten her. For to-day she shall keep the key, and when I return to-night it will be time enough to take it from her.’ So he went off to hunt.
The moment he was safe out of the way, the girl ran upstairs and opened the door of the room, which was quite bare. The one window was closed, and she threw back the lattice and looked out. Beneath lay a garden which belonged to the prince, and in the garden was an ox, who was drawing up water from the well all by himself—for there was nobody to be seen anywhere. The ox raised his head at the noise the girl made in opening the lattice, and said to her, ‘Good morning, O daughter of Buk Ettemsuch! Your father is feeding you up till you are nice and fat, and then he will put you on a spit and cook you.’
These words so frightened the maiden that she burst into tears and ran out of the room. All day she wept, and when the ogre came home at night, no supper was ready for him.
‘What are you crying for?’ said he. ‘Where is my supper, and is it you who have opened the upper chamber?’
‘Yes, I opened it,’ answered she.
‘And what did the ox say to you?’
‘He said, “Good morning, O daughter of Buk Ettemsuch. Your father is feeding you up till you are nice and fat, and then he will put you on a spit and cook you.”’
‘Well, to-morrow you can go to the window and say, “My father is feeding me up till I am nice and fat, but he does not mean to eat me. If I had one of your eyes I would use it for a mirror, and look at myself before and behind; and your girths should be loosened, and you should be blind—seven days and seven nights.”’
‘All right,’ replied the girl, and the next morning, when the ox spoke to her, she answered him as she had been told, and he fell down straight upon the ground, and lay there seven days and seven nights. But the flowers in the garden withered, for there was no one to water them.
When the prince came into his garden he found nothing but yellow stalks; in the midst of them the ox was lying. With a blow from his sword he killed the animal, and, turning to his attendants, he said, ‘Go and fetch another ox!’ And they brought in a great beast, and he drew the water out of the well, and the flowers revived, and the grass grew green again. Then the prince called his attendants and went away.
The next morning the girl heard the noise of the waterwheel, and she opened the lattice and looked out of the window.
‘Good morning, O daughter of Buk Ettemsuch!’ said the new ox. ‘Your father is feeding you up till you are nice and fat, and then he will put you on a spit and cook you.’
And the maiden answered: ‘My father is feeding me up till I am nice and fat, but he does not mean to eat me. If I had one of your eyes I would use it for a mirror, and look at myself before and behind; and your girths should be loosened, and you should be blind—seven days and seven nights.’
Directly she uttered these words the ox fell to the ground and lay there, seven days and seven nights. Then he arose and began to draw the water from the well. He had only turned the wheel once or twice, when the prince took it into his head to visit his garden and see how the new ox was getting on. When he entered the ox was working busily; but in spite of that the flowers and grass were dried up. And the prince drew his sword, and rushed at the ox to slay him, as he had done the other. But the ox fell on his knees and said:
‘My lord, only spare my life, and let me tell you how it happened.’
‘How what happened?’ asked the prince.
‘My lord, a girl looked out of that window and spoke a few words to me, and I fell to the ground. For seven days and seven nights I lay there, unable to move. But, O my lord, it is not given to us twice to behold beauty such as hers.’
‘It is a lie,’ said the prince. ‘An ogre dwells there. Is it likely that he keeps a maiden in his upper chamber?’
‘Why not?’ replied the ox. ‘But if you come here at dawn to-morrow, and hide behind that tree, you will see for yourself.’
‘So I will,’ said the prince; ‘and if I find that you have not spoken truth, I will kill you.’
The prince left the garden, and the ox went on with his work. Next morning the prince came early to the garden, and found the ox busy with the waterwheel.
‘Has the girl appeared yet?’ he asked.
‘Not yet; but she will not be long. Hide yourself in the branches of that tree, and you will soon see her.’
The prince did as he was told, and scarcely was he seated when the maiden threw open the lattice.
‘Good morning, O daughter of Buk Ettemsuch!’ said the ox. ‘Your father is feeding you up till you are nice and fat, and then he will put you on a spit and cook you.’
‘My father is feeding me up till I am nice and fat, but he does not mean to eat me. If I had one of your eyes I would use it for a mirror, and look at myself before and behind; and your girths should be loosened, and you should be blind—seven days and seven nights.’ And hardly had she spoken when the ox fell on the ground, and the maiden shut the lattice and went away. But the prince knew that what the ox had said was true, and that she had not her equal in the whole world. And he came down from the tree, his heart burning with love.
‘Why has the ogre not eaten her?’ thought he. ‘This night I will invite him to supper in my palace and question him about the maiden, and find out if she is his wife.’
So the prince ordered a great ox to be slain and roasted whole, and two huge tanks to be made, one filled with water and the other with wine. And towards evening he called his attendants and went to the ogre’s house to wait in the courtyard till he came back from hunting. The ogre was surprised to see so many people assembled in front of his house; but he bowed politely and said, ‘Good morning, dear neighbours! To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit? I have not offended you, I hope?’
‘Oh, certainly not!’ answered the prince.
‘Then,’ continued the ogre, ‘What has brought you to my house to-day for the first time?’
‘We should like to have supper with you,’ said the prince.
‘Well, supper is ready, and you are welcome,’ replied the ogre, leading the way into the house, for he had had a good day, and there was plenty of game in the bag over his shoulder.
A table was quickly prepared, and the prince had already taken his place, when he suddenly exclaimed, ‘After all, Buk Ettemsuch, suppose you come to supper with me?’
‘Where?’ asked the ogre.
‘In my house. I know it is all ready.’
‘But it is so far off—why not stay here?’
‘Oh, I will come another day; but this evening I must be your host.’
So the ogre accompanied the prince and his attendants back to the palace. After a while the prince turned to the ogre and said:
‘It is as a wooer that I appear before you. I seek a wife from an honourable family.’
‘But I have no daughter,’ replied the ogre.
‘Oh, yes you have, I saw her at the window.’
‘Well, you can marry her if you wish,’ said he.
So the prince’s heart was glad as he and his attendants rode back with the ogre to his house. And as they parted, the prince said to his guest, ‘You will not forget the bargain we have made?’
‘I am not a young man, and never break my promises,’ said the ogre, and went in and shut the door.
Upstairs he found the maiden, waiting till he returned to have her supper, for she did not like eating by herself.
‘I have had my supper,’ said the ogre, ‘for I have been spending the evening with the prince.’
‘Where did you meet him?’ asked the girl.
‘Oh, we are neighbours, and grew up together, and to-night I promised that you should be his wife.’
‘I don’t want to be any man’s wife,’ answered she; but this was only pretence, for her heart too was glad.
Next morning early came the prince, bringing with him bridal gifts, and splendid wedding garments, to carry the maiden back to his palace.
But before he let her go the ogre called her to him, and said, ‘Be careful, girl, never to speak to the prince; and when he speaks to you, you must be dumb, unless he swears “by the head of Buk Ettemsuch.” Then you may speak.’
‘Very well,’ answered the girl.
They set out; and when they reached the palace, the prince led his bride to the room he had prepared for her, and said ‘Speak to me, my wife,’ but she was silent; and by-and-by he left her, thinking that perhaps she was shy. The next day the same thing happened, and the next.
At last he said, ‘Well, if you won’t speak, I shall go and get another wife who will.’ And he did.
Now when the new wife was brought to the palace the daughter of Buk Ettemsuch rose, and spoke to the ladies who had come to attend on the second bride. ‘Go and sit down. I will make ready the feast.’ And the ladies sat down as they were told, and waited.
The maiden sat down too, and called out, ‘Come here, firewood,’ and the firewood came. ‘Come here, fire,’ and the fire came and kindled the wood. ‘Come here, pot.’ ‘Come here, oil;’ and the pot and the oil came. ‘Get into the pot, oil!’ said she, and the oil did it. When the oil was boiling, the maiden dipped all her fingers in it, and they became ten fried fishes. ‘Come here, oven,’ she cried next, and the oven came. ‘Fire, heat the oven.’ And the fire heated it. When it was hot enough, the maiden jumped in, just as she was, with her beautiful silver and gold dress, and all her jewels. In a minute or two she had turned into a snow-white loaf, that made your mouth water.
Said the loaf to the ladies, ‘You can eat now; do not stand so far off;’ but they only stared at each other, speechless with surprise.
‘What are you staring at?’ asked the new bride.
‘At all these wonders,’ replied the ladies.
‘Do you call these wonders?’ said she scornfully; ‘I can do that too,’ and she jumped straight into the oven, and was burnt up in a moment.
Then they ran to the prince and said: ‘Come quickly, your wife is dead!’
‘Bury her, then!’ returned he. ‘But why did she do it? I am sure I said nothing to make her throw herself into the oven.’
Accordingly the burnt woman was buried, but the prince would not go to the funeral as all his thoughts were still with the wife who would not speak to him. The next night he said to her, ‘Dear wife, are you afraid that something dreadful will happen if you speak to me? If you still persist in being dumb, I shall be forced to get another wife.’ The poor girl longed to speak, but dread of the ogre kept her silent, and the prince did as he had said, and brought a fresh bride into the palace. And when she and her ladies were seated in state, the maiden planted a sharp stake in the ground, and sat herself down comfortably on it, and began to spin.
‘What are you staring at so?’ said the new bride to her ladies. ‘Do you think that is anything wonderful? Why, I can do as much myself!’
‘I am sure you can’t,’ said they, much too surprised to be polite.
Then the maid sprang off the stake and left the room, and instantly the new wife took her place. But the sharp stake ran through, and she was dead in a moment. So they sent to the prince and said, ‘Come quickly, and bury your wife.’
‘Bury her yourselves,’ he answered. ‘What did she do it for? It was not by my orders that she impaled herself on the stake.’
So they buried her; and in the evening the prince came to the daughter of Buk Ettemsuch, and said to her, ‘Speak to me, or I shall have to take another wife.’ But she was afraid to speak to him.
The following day the prince hid himself in the room and watched. And soon the maiden woke, and said to the pitcher and to the water-jug, ‘Quick! go down to the spring and bring me some water; I am thirsty.’
And they went. But as they were filling themselves at the spring, the water-jug knocked against the pitcher and broke off its spout. And the pitcher burst into tears, and ran to the maiden, and said: ‘Mistress, beat the water-jug, for he has broken my spout!’
‘By the head of Buk Ettemsuch, I implore you not to beat me!’
‘Ah,’ she replied, ‘if only my husband had sworn by that oath, I could have spoken to him from the beginning, and he need never have taken another wife. But now he will never say it, and he will have to go on marrying fresh ones.’
And the prince, from his hiding-place, heard her words, and he jumped up and ran to her and said, ‘By the head of Buk Ettemsuch, speak to me.’
So she spoke to him, and they lived happily to the end of their days, because the girl kept the promise she had made to the ogre.