The Three Spinners

Sacred Texts  Household Tales Index  Previous: The Three Little Men In The Wood  Next: Hansel And Grethel 

The Three Spinners

     There was once a girl who was idle and would not spin, and let her mother
say what she would, she could not bring her to it. At last the mother was once
so overcome with anger and impatience, that she beat her, on which the girl
began to weep loudly. Now at this very moment the Queen drove by, and when she
heard the weeping she stopped her carriage, went into the house and asked the
mother why she was beating her daughter so that the cries could be heard out
on the road? Then the woman was ashamed to reveal the laziness of her daughter
and said, "I cannot get her to leave off spinning. She insists on spinning for
ever and ever, and I am poor, and cannot procure the flax." Then answered the
Queen, "There is nothing that I like better to hear than spinning, and I am
never happier than when the wheels are humming. Let me have your daughter with
me in the palace, I have flax enough, and there she shall spin as much as she
likes." The mother was heartily satisfied with this, and the Queen took the
girl with her. When they had arrived at the palace, she led her up into three
rooms which were filled from the bottom to the top with the finest flax. "Now
spin me this flax," said she, "and when thou has done it, thou shalt have my
eldest son for a husband, even if thou art poor. I care not for that, thy
indefatigable industry is dowry enough." The girl was secretly terrified, for
she could not have spun the flax, no, not if she had lived till she was three
hundred years old, and had sat at it every day from morning till night. When
therefore she was alone, she began to weep, and sat thus for three days
without moving a finger. On the third day came the Queen, and when she saw
that nothing had been spun yet, she was surprised; but the girl excused
herself by saying that she had not been able to begin because of her great
distress at leaving her mother's house. The Queen was satisfied with this, but
said when she was going away, "To-morrow thou must begin to work."

     When the girl was alone again, she did not know what to do, and in her
distress went to the window. Then she saw three women coming towards her, the
first of whom had a broad flat foot, the second had such a great underlip that
it hung down over her chin, and the third had a broad thumb. They remained
standing before the window, looked up, and asked the girl what was amiss with
her? She complained of her trouble, and then they offered her their help and
said, "If thou wilt invite us to the wedding, not be ashamed of us, and wilt
call us thine aunts, and likewise wilt place us at thy table, we will spin up
the flax for thee, and that in a very short time." "With all my heart," she
replied, "do but come in and begin the work at once." Then she let in the
three strange women, and cleared a place in the first room, where they seated
themselves and began their spinning. The one drew the thread and trod the
wheel, the other wetted the thread, the third twisted it, and struck the table
with her finger, and as often as she struck it, a skein of thread fell to the
ground that was spun in the finest manner possible. The girl concealed the
three spinners from the Queen, and showed her whenever she came the great
quantity of spun thread, until the latter could not praise her enough. When
the first room was empty she went to the second, and at last to the third, and
that too was quickly cleared. Then the three women took leave and said to the
girl, "Do not forget what thou has promised us, - it will make thy fortune."

     When the maiden showed the Queen the empty rooms, and the great heap of
yarn, she gave orders for the wedding, and the bridegroom[1] rejoiced that he
was to have such a clever and industrious wife, and praised her mightily. "I
have three aunts," said the girl, "and as they have been very kind to me, I
should not like to forget them in my good fortune; allow me to invite them to
the wedding, and let them sit with us at table." The Queen and the bridegroom
said, "Why should we not allow that?" Therefore when the feast began, the
three women entered in strange apparel, and the bride said, "Welcome, dear
aunts." "Ah," said the bridegroom, "how comest thou by these odious friends?"
Thereupon he went to the one with the broad flat foot and said, "How do you
come by such a broad foot?" "By treading," she answered, "by treading." Then
the bridegroom went to the second, and said, "How do you come by your falling
lip?" "By licking," she answered, "by licking." Then he asked the third, "How
do you come by your broad thumb?" "By twisting the thread," she answered, "by
twisting the thread. On this the King's son was alarmed and said, "Neither now
nor ever shall my beautiful bride touch a spinning-wheel." And thus she got
rid of the hateful flax-spinning.

[1: Brautigam, betrothed. The old English brydguma had the same
signification, and was only applied to a betrothed man, just as bryd, bride,
was only applied to a betrothed woman. - Tr.]