The Pale Maiden

A. H. Wratislaw March 27, 2018
Polish
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5 min read
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    A peasant farmer in reduced circumstances had a beautiful daughter, whom an old knight, the proprietor of the village, wanted to marry, and that even by compulsion. But the damsel disliked him, and her parents also refused to consent to the marriage. So the proprietor persecuted them in every way in his power, and so oppressed them with forced labour and ordered them to be beaten on the slightest occasion, that the poor farmer could hold out no longer, but determined to remove from the village with his whole family. In the cottage in which the farmer dwelt there was something continually grating behind the stove, but though they searched several times, and turned the seat constructed at the side of the stove upside down, yet were they unable to discover aught. But when, on the day of their departure, they were removing the rest of their goods, they heard a more and more articulate grating, and whilst they were impatiently listening, as the grating and scraping went on, out of the stove sprang a thin pale form, like a buried maiden.

    ‘What the devil is this?’ cried the father. ‘For heaven’s sake!’ screamed the mother, and all the children after her. ‘I am no devil,’ said the thin pale maiden, ‘but I am your Poverty. You are now taking yourselves off hence, and you are bound to take me with you to your new abode.’

    The poor householder was no fool; he bethought himself a little, and neither seized nor throttled his Poverty, for she was so slight that he could have done nothing of any consequence to her, but he made the lowest possible reverence to her, and said: ‘Well, your gracious ladyship, if you are so well satisfied amongst us, then come with us; but, as you see, we are removing everything for ourselves, so help us to carry something, and we shall get off the quicker.’

    Poverty agreed to this, and wanted to take a couple of small vessels out of the house, but the householder distributed the small vessels among his children to remove, and said that there was still a block of wood in the yard which must also be taken away. Going out into the yard, he made a cut in the block from above with his axe. He then called Poverty, and politely requested her to help him remove the block. Poverty did not see on which side to lift the block, till, when the farmer pointed out the cleft to her, she put her long thin fingers in the chink. The farmer, pretending to lift the block on the other side, suddenly pulled his axe out of the cleft, and Poverty’s long thin fingers remained squeezed in the block, so that, being utterly unable to pull them out, she shrieked out immediately in what pain she was. But all in vain. The farmer removed all his goods as well as his children, quitted the cottage completely, and returned to the place no more.

    When the farmer settled in another village, things went with him so prosperously that ere long he was the richest man in the whole village; he married his daughter to a respectable and wealthy farmer’s son, twenty years old, and the whole family prospered. On the other hand, the proprietor of the first village, the oppressor of these poor people, having to assign vacant cottages to fresh tenants, came to inspect the cottage left vacant by the reduced farmer, who had refused to give him his daughter.

    Seeing Poverty beside the block complaining of the pain of her fingers, he took pity on the pale maiden, took her fingers out by means of a wedge, and set her completely free. From the time of her liberation the pale maiden never quitted the side of her liberator, and when, moreover, the devil lit a fire in the old stove, and the proprietor went dotty with love in his old age, he spent and spent, and ran through everything that he had.

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