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 do you plague yourself with cutting wood, I will make you rich, if you will
promise me what is standing behind your 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 have no power over 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 you do not do it you are mine, and I will take you yourself.
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 your 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 you. 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 you received such great
wealth that I will keep you most handsomely as long as you live. 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 it was surrounded by water. 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 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, someone 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 you
say, I will watch with you 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, "Do you come from heaven or from
earth? Are you 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 you are forsaken by
all the world, yet will I not forsake you." 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 go on a journey, so he commended his
young queen to the care of his mother and said, if she is brought to child-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 you killed as the king commands, but here you may
stay no longer. Go forth into the wide world with your 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 she unbound the little
boy from her back, and held him to her breast that he might feed, and laid him in a
beautifully-made little bed. Then said the poor woman, "From whence do you know that
I was a queen?"
The white maiden answered, "I am an angel sent by God, to watch
over you and your 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 more.
At last the king came home again from his journey, and his first
wish was to see his wife and the child. Then his aged mother began to weep and said,
"You wicked man, why did you 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 you bade 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 your wife's back and bade her go forth into the wide
world, and made her promise never to come back here again, because you were so angry with
her." Then spoke 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, or died of hunger."
Thereupon the king traveled 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 time he neither ate nor drank, but God supported him.
At length he came into 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 traveled 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
laid 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 your child, your
husband has come. So she went to the place where he lay, and the handkerchief fell from
his face. Then said she, "Sorrowful, pick up your 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 - you have 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 your wife, and that is
your 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 ate with them once again, 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.