A fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm
There was once upon a time a young maiden, whose mother and father had died when she was a small child. In one corner of the village, all alone in a tiny cottage, dwelt her godmother, who supported herself by spinning, weaving and sewing. The old woman took in the deserted child, put her to work and educated her in all that is pious.
When the maiden was fifteen years old her godmother became ill, and she called her to her bed and said, "Dear daughter, I feel that my end is approaching. I leave you this house, which will protect you from wind and weather, and my spindle, shuttle and needle, with which you may earn your bread." She laid her hand on the girl's head and blessed her, and continued. "Keep God in your heart, and you shall fare well." Then her eyelids closed, and when she was buried in the earth, the maiden walked behind the coffin, weeping bitterly, and gave her last respects.
Now the girl lived quite alone in the little house, and was dilligent in her spinning, weaving and sewing, and the blessing of the old woman was always upon all that she did. It was as if the flax in her chamber increased of its own accord, and when she wove a piece of cloth or a rug or sewed a shirt, she immediately found a buyer who paid her generously, so she was in need of nothing and was even able to share with others.
At this time the son of the King was travelling about the land in search of a wife. He had been instructed not to choose a poor girl, but did not want a rich one. So he said, "She who is both the richest and the poorest shall be my wife."
When he came to the village in which the maiden dwelt, he asked, as he did everywhere, whom the richest and poorest in the area was. The richest was named first. The poorest, they said, was the maiden who lived in the cottage at the end of the village. The rich girl was sitting on her doorstep in all her splendour, and when the prince arrived, she stood and curtsied before him. He looked at her, said nothing, and rode on.
When he came to the house of the poorest, she was not at her door, but sat in her parlour. He stopped his horse and peered in at the window, through which
the bright sun was shining, and there the maiden sat at her spinning wheel, busily spinning. She glanced up, and when she noticed that the prince was looking in, she grew redder and redder, lowered her eyes and continued her spinning. Whether at this time the thread was quite even I do not know, but she went on spinning until the King's son rode away. Then she stepped up to the window, opened it and said, "It is so very hot in this room," but she stared after the prince for as long as she could still see the white feathers in his hat.
The maiden sat down to work in her chamber once again and continued to spin.
Suddenly an old saying sprang into her mind, one that her godmother had often said when she sat down to work, and she sang the words to herself:
"Spindle, spindle, haste thee away,
And bring to my house the suitor, I pray."
And what happened then? The spindle sprang immediately from her hand and out of the door; and when she stood up in astonishment and looked after it, she saw that it was dancing merrily through the fields and drawing a gleaming, golden thread
behind it. Not long afterwards, it disappeared right before her eyes. The girl, who now had no spindle, took up a weaver's shuttle
, sat down at the loom and began to weave.
But the spindle continued to dance on further, and just when the thread came to its end, it reached the King's son. "What do I see?" he cried, "the spindle wishes me to show me the way?" He turned his horse around and followed the golden thread back. The maiden, however, was still sitting at work, singing:
"Shuttle, shuttle, weave well this day,
And guide my suitor to me, I pray."
Straight away the shuttle sprang out of her hand and through the door. But as it reached the threshold
it began to weave a carpet more beautiful than anyone had ever seen. From both its sides bloomed lilies
s, and in its centre on a golden background green branches grew; and under them leapt hares and rabbits, stags and deer stretched their necks between them, on the branches above brightly-coloured birds sat; they lacked nothing but the ability to sing. The shuttle sprang hither and thither
, and it was as if everything was growing of its own accord.
As the shuttle was leaving, the maiden sat down to sew. She held the needle in her hand and sang:
"Needle, needle, sharp and fine,
Prepare for my suitor this house of mine."
Then the needle sprang from her fingers and flew hither and thither about the room so quickly that it seemed a storm blew. It was as if invisible spirits were at work, as the needle covered tables and benches in green cloth and the stools with velvet
, and hung silken curtain
s at the windows. Scarcely had the needle sewed the last stitch when the maiden saw through the window the white feathers in the hat of the prince, whom the spindle had led thither with its golden thread. He stopped, walked over the carpet into the house, and when he came into the chamber, the maiden was standing in her poor clothes, but she shone from within them like a rose in a bush.
"You are the poorest and also the richest," he said to her. "Come with me; you shall be my bride." She was silent, but took his hand. He gave her a kiss, led her out, lifted her onto his horse and brought her to the royal palace, where the wedding was held with great jubilations. The spindle, the shuttle and the needle were kept in the treasure-chamber and held in great honour.