Translator: Emily J. Harding
Once upon a time there was a poor woman who had an only daughter, named Helen, a very lazy girl. One day when she had refused to do a single thing, her mother took her down to the banks of a stream and began to strike her fingers with a flat stone, just as you do in beating linen to wash it.
The girl cried a good deal. A prince, Lord of the Red Castle, happened at that moment to pass by, and inquired as to the cause of such treatment, for it horrified him that a mother should so ill-use her child.
“Why should I not punish her?” answered the woman. “The idle girl can do nothing but spin hemp into gold thread.”
“Really?” cried he. “Does she really know how to spin gold thread out of hemp? If that be so, sell her to me.”
“Willingly; how much will you give me for her?”
“Half a measure of gold.”
“Take her,” said the mother; and she gave him her daughter as soon as the money was paid.
The prince placed the girl behind him on the saddle, put spurs to his horse, and took her home.
On reaching the Red Castle, the prince led Helen into a room filled from floor to ceiling with hemp, and having supplied her with distaff and spinning-wheel, said, “When you have spun all this hemp into gold thread I will make you my wife.”
Then he went out, locking the door after him.
On finding herself a prisoner, the poor girl wept as if her heart would break. Suddenly she saw a very odd-looking little man seated on the window-sill. He wore a red cap, and his boots were made of some strange sort of material.
“Why do you weep so?” he asked.
“I cannot help it,” she replied, “I am but a miserable slave. I have been ordered to spin all this hemp into gold thread, but it is impossible, I can never do it, and I know not what will become of me.”
“I will do it for you in three days, on condition that at the end of that time you guess my right name, and tell me what the boots I am wearing now are made of.”
Without for one moment reflecting as to whether she would be able to guess aright she consented. The uncanny little man burst out laughing, and taking her distaff set to work at once.
All day as the distaff moved the hemp grew visibly less, while the skein of gold thread became larger and larger.
The little man spun all the time, and, without stopping an instant, explained to Helen how to make thread of pure gold. As night drew on he tied up the skein, saying to the girl, “Well, do you know my name yet? Can you tell me what my boots are made of?”
Helen replied that she could not, upon which he grinned and disappeared through the window. She then sat and looked at the sky, and thought, and thought, and thought, and lost herself in conjecturing as to what the little man’s name might be, and in trying to guess what was the stuff his boots were made of. Were they of leather? or perhaps plaited rushes? or straw? or cast iron? No, they did not look like anything of that sort. And as to his name–that was a still more difficult problem to solve.
“What shall I call him?” said she to herself–“John? Or Henry? Who knows? perhaps it is Paul or Joseph.”
These thoughts so filled her mind that she forgot to eat her dinner. Her meditations were interrupted by cries and groans from outside, where she saw an old man with white hair sitting under the castle wall.
“Miserable old man that I am,” cried he; “I die of hunger and thirst, but no one pities my sufferings.”
Helen hastened to give him her dinner, and told him to come next day, which he promised to do.