The Girl Without Hands

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The Girl Without Hands

     A certain miller had little by little fallen into poverty, and had
nothing left but his mill and a large apple-tree behind it. Once when he had
gone into the forest to fetch wood, an old man stepped up to him whom he had
never seen before, and said, "Why dost thou plague thyself with cutting wood,
I will make thee rich, if thou wilt promise me what is standing behind the
mill?" "What can that be but my apple-tree?" thought the miller, and said,
"Yes," and gave a written promise to the stranger. He, however, laughed
mockingly and said, "When three years have passed, I will come and carry away
what belongs to me," and then he went. When the miller got home, his wife came
to meet him and said, "Tell me, miller, from whence comes this sudden wealth
into our house? All at once every box and chest was filled; no one brought it
in, and I know not how it happened." He answered, "It comes from a stranger
who met me in the forest, and promised me great treasure. I, in return, have
promised him what stands behind the mill; we can very well give him the big
apple-tree for it." "Ah, husband," said the terrified wife, "that must have
been the devil! He did not mean the apple-tree, but our daughter, who was
standing behind the mill sweeping the yard."

     The miller's daughter was a beautiful, pious girl, and lived through the
three years in the fear of God and without sin. When therefore the time was
over, and the day came when the Evil-one was to fetch her, she washed
herself clean, and made a circle round herself with chalk. The devil appeared
quite early, but he could not come near to her. Angrily, he said to the
miller, "Take all water away from her, that she may no longer be able to wash
herself, for otherwise I have no power over her." The miller was afraid, and
did so. The next morning the devil came again, but she had wept on her hands,
and they were quite clean. Again he could not get near her, and furiously said
to the miller, "Cut her hands off, or else I cannot get the better of her."
The miller was shocked and answered, "How could I cut off my own child's
hands?" Then the Evil-one threatened him and said, "If thou dost not do it
thou art mine, and I will take thee thyself." The father became alarmed, and
promised to obey him. So he went to the girl and said, "My child, if I do not
cut off both thine hands, the devil will carry me away, and in my terror I
have promised to do it. Help me in my need, and forgive me the harm I do
thee." She replied, "Dear father, do with me what you will, I am your child."
Thereupon she laid down both her hands, and let them be cut off. The devil
came for the third time, but she had wept so long and so much on the stumps,
that after all they were quite clean. Then he had to give in, and had lost all
right over her.

     The miller said to her, "I have by means of thee received such great
wealth that I will keep the most delicately as long as thou livest." But she
replied, "Here I cannot stay, I will go forth, compassionate people will give
me as much as I require." Thereupon she caused her maimed arms to be bound to
her back, and by sunrise she set out on her way, and walked the whole day
until night fell. Then she came to a royal garden, and by the shimmering of
the moon she saw that trees covered with beautiful fruits grew in it, but she
could not enter, for there was much water round about it. And as she had
walked the whole day and not eaten one mouthful, and hunger tormented her, she
thought, "Ah, if I were but inside, that I might eat of the fruit, else must I
die of hunger!" Then she knelt down, called on God the Lord, and prayed. And
suddenly an angel came towards her, who made a dam in the water, so that the
moat became dry and she could walk through it. And now she went into the
garden and the angel went with her. She saw a tree covered with beautiful
pears, but they were all counted. Then she went to them, and to still her
hunger, ate one with her mouth from the tree, but no more. The gardener was
watching; but as the angel was standing by, he was afraid and thought the
maiden was a spirit and was silent, neither did he dare to cry out, or to
speak to the spirit. When she had eaten the pear, she was satisfied, and went
and concealed herself among the bushes. The King to whom the garden belonged,
came down to it the next morning, and counted, and saw that one of the pears
was missing, and asked the gardener what had become of it, as it was not lying
beneath the tree, but was gone. Then answered the gardener, "Last night, a
spirit came in, who had no hands, and ate off one of the pears with its
mouth." The King said, "How did the spirit get over the water, and where did
it go after it had eaten the pear?" The gardener answered, "Some one came in a
snow-white garment from heaven who made a dam, and kept back the water, that
the spirit might walk through the moat. And as it must have been an angel, I
was afraid, and asked no questions, and did not cry out. When the spirit had
eaten the pear, it went back again." The King said, "If it be as thou sayest,
I will watch with thee to-night."

     When it grew dark the King came into the garden and brought a priest with
him, who was to speak to the spirit. All three seated themselves beneath the
tree and watched. At midnight the maiden came creeping out of the thicket,
went to the tree, and again ate one pear off it with her mouth, and beside her
stood the angel in white garments. Then the priest went out to them and said,
"Comest thou from heaven or from earth? Art thou a spirit, or a human being?"
She replied, "I am no spirit, but an unhappy mortal deserted by all but God."
The King said, "If thou art forsaken by all the world, yet will I not forsake
thee." He took her with him into his royal palace, and as she was so beautiful
and good, he loved her with all his heart, had silver hands made for her, and
took her to wife.

     After a year the King had to take the field, so he commended his young
Queen to the care of his mother and said, "If she is brought to bed take care
of her, nurse her well, and tell me of it at once in a letter." Then she gave
birth to a fine boy. So the old mother made haste to write and announce the
joyful news to him. But the messenger rested by a brook on the way, and as he
was fatigued by the great distance, he fell asleep. Then came the Devil, who
was always seeking to injure the good Queen, and exchanged the letter for
another, in which was written that the Queen had brought a monster into the
world. When the King read the letter he was shocked and much troubled, but he
wrote in answer that they were to take great care of the Queen and nurse her
well until his arrival. The messenger went back with the letter, but rested at
the same place and again fell asleep. Then came the Devil once more, and put a
different letter in his pocket, in which it was written that they were to put
the Queen and her child to death. The old mother was terribly shocked when she
received the letter, and could not believe it. She wrote back again to the
King, but received no other answer, because each time the Devil substituted a
false letter, and in the last letter it was also written that she was to
preserve the Queen's tongue and eyes as a token that she had obeyed.

     But the old mother wept to think such innocent blood was to be shed, and
had a hind brought by night and cut out her tongue and eyes, and kept them.
Then said she to the Queen, "I cannot have thee killed as the King commands,
but here thou mayst stay no longer. Go forth into the wide world with thy
child, and never come here again." The poor woman tied her child on her back,
and went away with eyes full of tears. She came into a great wild forest, and
then she fell on her knees and prayed to God, and the angel of the Lord
appeared to her and led her to a little house on which was a sign with the
words, "Here all dwell free." A snow-white maiden came out of the little
house and said, "Welcome, Lady Queen," and conducted her inside. Then they
unbound the little boy from her back, and held him to her breast that he might
feed, and then laid him in a beautifully-made little bed. Then said the poor
woman, "From whence knowest thou that I was a queen?" The white maiden
answered, "I am an angel sent by God, to watch over thee, and thy child." The
Queen stayed seven years in the little house, and was well cared for, and by
God's grace, because of her piety, her hands which had been cut off, grew once

     At last the King came home again from the war, and his first wish was to
see his wife and the child. Then his aged mother began to weep, and said,
"Thou wicked man, why didst thou write to me that I was to take those two
innocent lives?" and she showed him the two letters which the Evil-one had
forged, and then continued, "I did as thou badest me," and she showed the
tokens, the tongue and eyes. Then the King began to weep for his poor wife and
his little son so much more bitterly than she was doing, that the aged mother
had compassion on him and said, "Be at peace, she still lives; I secretly
caused a hind to be killed, and took these tokens from it; but I bound the
child to thy wife's back and bade her go forth into the wide world, and made
her promise never to come back here again, because thou wert so angry with
her." Then spake the King, "I will go as far as the sky is blue, and will
neither eat nor drink until I have found again my dear wife and my child, if
in the meantime they have not been killed, nor died of hunger."

     Thereupon the King travelled about for seven long years, and sought her
in every cleft of the rocks and in every cave but he found her not, and
thought she had died of want. During the whole of this time he neither ate nor
drank, but God supported him. At length he came to a great forest, and found
therein the little house whose sign was, "Here all dwell free." Then forth
came the white maiden, took him by the hand, led him in, and said, "Welcome,
Lord King," and asked him from whence he came. He answered, "Soon shall I have
travelled about for the space of seven years, and I seek my wife and her
child, but cannot find them." The angel offered him meat and drink, but he did
not take anything, and only wished to rest a little. Then he lay down to
sleep, and put a handkerchief over his face.

     Thereupon the angel went into the chamber where the Queen sat with her
son, whom she usually called "Sorrowful," and said to her. "Go out with thy
child, thy husband hath come." So she went to the place where he lay, and the
handkerchief fell from his face. Then said she, "Sorrowful, pick up thy
father's handkerchief, and cover his face again." The child picked it up, and
put it over his face again. The King in his sleep heard what passed, and had
pleasure in letting the handkerchief fall once more. But the child grew
impatient, and said, "Dear mother, how can I cover my father's face when I
have no father in this world? I have learnt to say the prayer, 'Our Father,
which art in Heaven,' thou hast told me that my Father was in Heaven, and was
the good God, and how can I know a wild man like this? He is not my father."
When the King heard that, he got up, and asked who they were. Then said she,
"I am thy wife, and that is thy son, Sorrowful." And he saw her living hands,
and said, "My wife had silver hands." She answered, "The good God has caused
my natural hands to grow again;" and the angel went into the inner room, and
brought the silver hands, and showed them to him. Hereupon he knew for a
certainty that it was his dear wife and his dear child, and he kissed them,
and was glad, and said, "A heavy stone has fallen from off my heart." Then the
angel of God gave them one meal with her, and after that they went home to the
King's aged mother. There were great rejoicings everywhere, and the King and
Queen were married again, and lived contentedly to their happy end.