The true bride


La novia verdadera

There was once on a time a girl who was young and beautiful, but she had lost her mother when she was quite a child, and her step-mother did all she could to make the girl's life wretched. Whenever this woman gave her anything to do, she worked at it indefatigably, and did everything that lay in her power. Still she could not touch the heart of the wicked woman by that; she was never satisfied; it was never enough. The harder the girl worked, the more work was put upon her, and all that the woman thought of was how to weigh her down with still heavier burdens, and make her life still more miserable.
One day she said to her, "Here are twelve pounds of feathers which thou must pick, and if they are not done this evening, thou mayst expect a good beating. Dost thou imagine thou art to idle away the whole day?" The poor girl sat down to the work, but tears ran down her cheeks as she did so, for she saw plainly enough that it was quite impossible to finish the work in one day. Whenever she had a little heap of feathers lying before her, and she sighed or smote her hands together in her anguish, they flew away, and she had to pick them out again, and begin her work anew. Then she put her elbows on the table, laid her face in her two hands, and cried, "Is there no one, then, on God's earth to have pity on me?" Then she heard a low voice which said, "Be comforted, my child, I have come to help thee." The maiden looked up, and an old woman was by her side. She took the girl kindly by the hand, and said, "Only tell me what is troubling thee." As she spoke so kindly, the girl told her of her miserable life, and how one burden after another was laid upon her, and she never could get to the end of the work which was given to her. "If I have not done these feathers by this evening, my step-mother will beat me; she has threatened she will, and I know she keeps her word." Her tears began to flow again, but the good old woman said, "Do not be afraid, my child; rest a while, and in the meantime I will look to thy work." The girl lay down on her bed, and soon fell asleep. The old woman seated herself at the table with the feathers, and how they did fly off the quills, which she scarcely touched with her withered hands! The twelve pounds were soon finished, and when the girl awoke, great snow-white heaps were lying, piled up, and everything in the room was neatly cleared away, but the old woman had vanished. The maiden thanked God, and sat still till evening came, when the step-mother came in and marvelled to see the work completed. "Just look, you awkward creature," said she, "what can be done when people are industrious; and why couldst thou not set about something else? There thou sittest with thy hands crossed." When she went out she said, "The creature is worth more than her salt. I must give her some work that is still harder."

Next morning she called the girl, and said, "There is a spoon for thee; with that thou must empty out for me the great pond which is beside the garden, and if it is not done by night, thou knowest what will happen." The girl took the spoon, and saw that it was full of holes; but even if it had not been, she never could have emptied the pond with it. She set to work at once, knelt down by the water, into which her tears were falling, and began to empty it. But the good old woman appeared again, and when she learnt the cause of her grief, she said, "Be of good cheer, my child. Go into the thicket and lie down and sleep; I will soon do thy work." As soon as the old woman was alone, she barely touched the pond, and a vapour rose up on high from the water, and mingled itself with the clouds. Gradually the pond was emptied, and when the maiden awoke before sunset and came thither, she saw nothing but the fishes which were struggling in the mud. She went to her step-mother, and showed her that the work was done. "It ought to have been done long before this," said she, and grew white with anger, but she meditated something new.

On the third morning she said to the girl, "Thou must build me a castle on the plain there, and it must be ready by the evening." The maiden was dismayed, and said, "How can I complete such a great work?" - "I will endure no opposition," screamed the step-mother. If thou canst empty a pond with a spoon that is full of holes, thou canst build a castle too. I will take possession of it this very day, and if anything is wanting, even if it be the most trifling thing in the kitchen or cellar, thou knowest what lies before thee!" She drove the girl out, and when she entered the valley, the rocks were there, piled up one above the other, and all her strength would not have enabled her even to move the very smallest of them. She sat down and wept, and still she hoped the old woman would help her. The old woman was not long in coming; she comforted her and said, "Lie down there in the shade and sleep, and I will soon build the castle for thee. If it would be a pleasure to thee, thou canst live in it thyself." When the maiden had gone away, the old woman touched the gray rocks. They began to rise, and immediately moved together as if giants had built the walls; and on these the building arose, and it seemed as if countless hands were working invisibly, and placing one stone upon another. There was a dull heavy noise from the ground; pillars arose of their own accord on high, and placed themselves in order near each other. The tiles laid themselves in order on the roof, and when noon-day came, the great weather-cock was already turning itself on the summit of the tower, like a golden figure of the Virgin with fluttering garments. The inside of the castle was being finished while evening was drawing near. How the old woman managed it, I know not; but the walls of the rooms were hung with silk and velvet, embroidered chairs were there, and richly ornamented arm-chairs by marble tables; crystal chandeliers hung down from the ceilings, and mirrored themselves in the smooth pavement; green parrots were there in gilt cages, and so were strange birds which sang most beautifully, and there was on all sides as much magnificence as if a king were going to live there. The sun was just setting when the girl awoke, and the brightness of a thousand lights flashed in her face. She hurried to the castle, and entered by the open door. The steps were spread with red cloth, and the golden balustrade beset with flowering trees. When she saw the splendour of the apartment, she stood as if turned to stone. Who knows how long she might have stood there if she had not remembered the step-mother? "Alas!" she said to herself, "if she could but be satisfied at last, and would give up making my life a misery to me." The girl went and told her that the castle was ready. "I will move into it at once," said she, and rose from her seat. When they entered the castle, she was forced to hold her hand before her eyes, the brilliancy of everything was so dazzling. "Thou seest," said she to the girl, "how easy it has been for thee to do this; I ought to have given thee something harder." She went through all the rooms, and examined every corner to see if anything was wanting or defective; but she could discover nothing. "Now we will go down below," said she, looking at the girl with malicious eyes. "The kitchen and the cellar still have to be examined, and if thou hast forgotten anything thou shalt not escape thy punishment." But the fire was burning on the hearth, and the meat was cooking in the pans, the tongs and shovel were leaning against the wall, and the shining brazen utensils all arranged in sight. Nothing was wanting, not even a coal-box and water-pail. "Which is the way to the cellar?" she cried. "If that is not abundantly filled, it shall go ill with thee." She herself raised up the trap-door and descended; but she had hardly made two steps before the heavy trap-door which was only laid back, fell down. The girl heard a scream, lifted up the door very quickly to go to her aid, but she had fallen down, and the girl found her lying lifeless at the bottom.

And now the magnificent castle belonged to the girl alone. She at first did not know how to reconcile herself to her good fortune. Beautiful dresses were hanging in the wardrobes, the chests were filled with gold or silver, or with pearls and jewels, and she never felt a desire that she was not able to gratify. And soon the fame of the beauty and riches of the maiden went over all the world. Wooers presented themselves daily, but none pleased her. At length the son of the King came and he knew how to touch her heart, and she betrothed herself to him. In the garden of the castle was a lime-tree, under which they were one day sitting together, when he said to her, "I will go home and obtain my father's consent to our marriage. I entreat thee to wait for me here under this lime-tree, I shall be back with thee in a few hours." The maiden kissed him on his left cheek, and said, "Keep true to me, and never let any one else kiss thee on this cheek. I will wait here under the lime-tree until thou returnest.

The maid stayed beneath the lime-tree until sunset, but he did not return. She sat three days from morning till evening, waiting for him, but in vain. As he still was not there by the fourth day, she said, "Some accident has assuredly befallen him. I will go out and seek him, and will not come back until I have found him." She packed up three of her most beautiful dresses, one embroidered with bright stars, the second with silver moons, the third with golden suns, tied up a handful of jewels in her handkerchief, and set out. She inquired everywhere for her betrothed, but no one had seen him; no one knew anything about him. Far and wide did she wander through the world, but she found him not. At last she hired herself to a farmer as a cow-herd, and buried her dresses and jewels beneath a stone.

And now she lived as a herdswoman, guarded her herd, and was very sad and full of longing for her beloved one; she had a little calf which she taught to know her, and fed it out of her own hand, and when she said,

"Little calf, little calf, kneel by my side,
And do not forget thy shepherd-maid,
As the prince forgot his betrothed bride,
Who waited for him 'neath the lime-tree's shade."
the little calf knelt down, and she stroked it.
And when she had lived for a couple of years alone and full of grief, a report was spread over all the land that the King's daughter was about to celebrate her marriage. The road to the town passed through the village where the maiden was living, and it came to pass that once when the maiden was driving out her herd, her bridegroom travelled by. He was sitting proudly on his horse, and never looked round, but when she saw him she recognized her beloved, and it was just as if a sharp knife had pierced her heart. "Alas!" said she, "I believed him true to me, but he has forgotten me."

Next day he again came along the road. When he was near her she said to the little calf,

"Little calf, little calf, kneel by my side,
And do not forget thy shepherd-maid,
As the prince forgot his betrothed bride,
Who waited for him 'neath the lime-tree's shade."
When he was aware of the voice, he looked down and reined in his horse. He looked into the herd's face, and then put his hands before his eyes as if he were trying to remember something, but he soon rode onwards and was out of sight. "Alas!" said she, "he no longer knows me," and her grief was ever greater.
Soon after this a great festival three days long was to be held at the King's court, and the whole country was invited to it.

"Now will I try my last chance," thought the maiden, and when evening came she went to the stone under which she had buried her treasures. She took out the dress with the golden suns, put it on, and adorned herself with the jewels. She let down her hair, which she had concealed under a handkerchief, and it fell down in long curls about her, and thus she went into the town, and in the darkness was observed by no one. When she entered the brightly-lighted hall, every one started back in amazement, but no one knew who she was. The King's son went to meet her, but he did not recognize her. He led her out to dance, and was so enchanted with her beauty, that he thought no more of the other bride. When the feast was over, she vanished in the crowd, and hastened before daybreak to the village, where she once more put on her herd's dress.

Next evening she took out the dress with the silver moons, and put a half-moon made of precious stones in her hair. When she appeared at the festival, all eyes were turned upon her, but the King's son hastened to meet her, and filled with love for her, danced with her alone, and no longer so much as glanced at anyone else. Before she went away she was forced to promise him to come again to the festival on the last evening.

When she appeared for the third time, she wore the star-dress which sparkled at every step she took, and her hair-ribbon and girdle were starred with jewels. The prince had already been waiting for her for a long time, and forced his way up to her. "Do but tell who thou art," said he, "I feel just as if I had already known thee a long time." - "Dost thou not know what I did when thou leftest me?" Then she stepped up to him, and kissed him on his left cheek, and in a moment it was as if scales fell from his eyes, and he recognized the true bride. "Come," said he to her, "here I stay no longer," gave her his hand, and led her down to the carriage. The horses hurried away to the magic castle as if the wind had been harnessed to the carriage. The illuminated windows already shone in the distance. When they drove past the lime-tree, countless glow-worms were swarming about it. It shook its branches, and sent forth their fragrance. On the steps flowers were blooming, and the room echoed with the song of strange birds, but in the hall the entire court was assembled, and the priest was waiting to marry the bridegroom to the true bride.
Érase una vez una muchacha joven y hermosa. Era muy pequeñita cuando quedó huérfana de madre, y su madrastra la trataba con suma dureza. La niña ponía toda su buena voluntad y todas sus fuerzas en cualquier trabajo que le mandase la mujer, por duro que fuese; pero ni aun así lograba satisfacer a la malvada; siempre se mostraba ésta descontenta, nunca tenía bastante, y cuanto mayor era la diligencia de la pequeña, más carga le imponía. Sólo pensaba en cómo podría amargar la vida de la infeliz muchacha.
Un día le dijo:
- Ahí tienes doce libras de plumas; desbárbalas antes del anochecer; de lo contrario, recibirás una tanda de azotes. ¿Piensas que has de pasarte el día holgazaneando?
La pobre niña se puso a trabajar; pero las lágrimas le corrían por las mejillas, pues se daba cuenta de que no podía terminar la tarea en un día. Colocaba ante sí un montoncito de plumas, y, al menor movimiento que hacía o al más leve suspiro que daba, todas echaban a volar y tenía que comenzar de nuevo. Desesperada, apoyó los codos sobre la mesa y, ocultando la cara en las manos, exclamó:
- ¡Dios mío! ¿No habrá nadie en el mundo que se apiade de mí?
Y he aquí que oyó una dulce voz que le decía:
- Consuélate, hijita, que yo vengo a ayudarte.
La niña alzó los ojos y vio a una anciana, que estaba de pie a su lado. La mujer le cogió cariñosamente la mano y le dijo:
- Confíame tu pena.
Como le hablaba tan cordialmente, la muchachita le contó su triste vida; cómo debía soportar carga tras carga, y no podía con los trabajos que le mandaban.
- Si esta noche no he terminado estas plumas, mi madrastra me pegará; me lo ha dicho y sé que cumplirá la promesa.
Y sus lágrimas volvieron a manar a raudales; pero la vieja le dijo:
- Tranquilízate, hija mía; échate a descansar y yo me encargaré del trabajo.
La niña se tendió en la cama, y al poco rato se quedó dormida. La mujer se sentó a la mesa y se puso a desbarbar las plumas. ¡Era de ver cómo saltaban las barbas de los cañones, no bien las tocaban sus resecas manos! Pronto estuvieron listas las doce libras: y cuando la niña se despertó, encontróse con grandes montones blancos como nieve. Toda la habitación estaba limpia y despejada, pero la vieja había desaparecido. La chiquilla dio gracias a Dios y aguardó sentada y en silencio la llegada de la noche. Al entrar, la madrastra asombróse al ver la tarea terminada.
- ¿Ves, lo que puede hacerse cuando se trabaja con aplicación? - le dijo -. Podías haber hecho más aún, en lugar de permanecer aquí mano sobre mano -. Al salir, dijo: - Esta moza sirve para algo más que para comer pan. Tendré que ponerle tareas más duras.
A la mañana siguiente llamó a la niña y le dijo:
- Ahí tienes una cuchara; con ella me vaciarás el estanque grande del lado del jardín, y si al anochecer no has terminado, ya sabes lo que te espera.
La muchachita tomó la cuchara y vio que estaba agujereada; pero aunque no lo hubiese estado, jamás habría podido vaciar el estanque con ella. Púsose inmediatamente a la faena, arrodillada al borde del agua, a la cual caían sus lágrimas, y vacía que vacía. Volvió a presentarse la buena vieja y, al conocer el motivo de su pesar, le dijo:
- Cálmate, hijita mía, échate a dormir entre las matas, que yo haré el trabajo.
Cuando la mujer se quedó sola, tocó el agua con el dedo, y el líquido se elevó como vapor, confundiéndose con las nubes, y poco a poco fue secándose el estanque. Cuando, por la tarde, se despertó la niña y se acercó a la orilla, sólo vio los peces que coleteaban en el légamo. Fuese a la madrastra, y le anunció que la tarea estaba lista.
- Rato ha que debiste terminar -, respondióle ésta, pálida de rabia: y se puso a cavilar nuevos medios para fastidiarla.
A la tercera mañana dijo a la muchacha:
- Vas a construirme en la llanura un hermoso palacio, y habrá de estar terminado al anochecer.
Asustada, exclamó la niña:
- ¿Cómo queréis que haga tal cosa?
- ¡No me repliques! - gritó la madrastra -. Si con una cuchara agujereada eres capaz de vaciar un estanque, también lo serás de edificar un palacio. Esta misma noche quiero alojarme en él, y si falta el menor detalle en la cocina o la bodega, ya sabes lo que te aguarda -. Y despachó a la chiquilla.
Al llegar ésta al valle, encontróse con un caos de rocas amontonadas; por más que se esforzó no logró mover ni la más pequeña, por lo que se sentó a llorar, aunque le quedaba la esperanza de que acudiera en su auxilio la anciana. En efecto, la buena mujer no se hizo aguardar mucho rato; la tranquilizó de nuevo y le dijo:
- Tiéndete en la sombra, y duerme; lo haré yo. Y si te gusta, podrás vivir en él.
Cuando la niña se hubo marchado, la mujer tocó las grises rocas, las cuales pusiéronse en movimiento, alineándose y se acoplaron como si unos gigantes hubiesen construido una muralla. Encima surgió el edificio, y habríase dicho que innúmeras manos invisibles trabajaban colocando piedra sobre piedra. Retumbaba el suelo, y grandes columnas se levantaban por sí mismas y se colocaban en el debido orden. En el tejado, las tejas se disponían también de la manera debida, y, al mediodía, en el punto más alto de la torre giraba una gran veleta, en forma de una doncella de oro, cuyas ropas ondeaban al viento. El interior del palacio quedó listo al anochecer. Cómo se las compuso la vieja, yo no sabría decirlo; lo cierto es que las paredes de las salas estaban tapizadas de seda y terciopelo; sillas multicolores se alineaban en torno a las habitaciones; primorosos sillones rodeaban mesas de mármol, y arañas de límpido cristal colgaban de los techos, reflejándose en los bruñidos pavimentos; verdes papagayos ocupaban jaulas doradas, y otras aves exóticas cantaban deliciosamente; por doquier desplegábase una magnificencia digna de un rey.
Ocultábase el sol cuando se despertó la muchacha y vio relucir el brillo de mil lámparas. Corrió al palacio y entró por la puerta abierta: la escalera estaba alfombrada en rojo, y en la dorada balaustrada aparecían floridos árboles. Al contemplar la belleza de los salones, quedó extasiada. ¡Quién sabe el tiempo que habría permanecido allí, de no haberse acordado de la madrastra! "¡Ay - se dijo -, si al menos se diese por satisfecha y no me atormentara más!." Y fue a anunciarle que el palacio estaba terminado.
- Enseguida voy - respondió la mujer, levantándose. Y cuando llegó al edificio tuvo que ponerse la mano ante los ojos, pues tanto resplandor la deslumbraba.
- ¿Ves - dijo a la muchacha - qué fácil ha sido? Debía mandarte una cosa más difícil.
Y recorrió todos los aposentos, escudriñando todos los rincones por si faltaba algo o encontraba algún defecto: pero todo era perfecto.
- Ahora iremos al piso bajo - dijo a la muchacha, echándole una mirada maligna -. Quedan por revisar la cocina y la bodega; y como te hayas olvidado de un solo detalle, no escaparás al castigo -. Pero el fuego ardía en el hogar; en los pucheros se cocían las viandas; las tenazas y la pala se hallaban en su sitio, y de las paredes colgaba la reluciente batería de latón. Nada faltaba: ni la carbonera, ni el cubo del agua-. ¿Dónde está la bodega? - preguntó -. ¡Como no esté bien provista de barriles de vino, vas a pasarla negra!
Levantó el escotillón y empezó a bajar la escalera; pero al segundo peldaño cayósele encima la pesada trampa, que sólo estaba entornada. La niña oyó un grito y apresuróse a levantar la madera para correr en su auxilio; pero la mujer se había caído al fondo y estaba muerta.
Así, la muchacha se encontró única dueña del magnífico palacio. Al principio no podía creer en tanta dicha, pues los armarios estaban llenos de hermosos vestidos, y las arcas, de oro y plata, piedras preciosas y perlas, y no había deseo que no pudiera satisfacer. Pronto se extendió por el mundo la fama de su hermosura y riqueza, y empezaron a presentarse pretendientes. Ninguno era de su agrado, hasta que llegó un príncipe que supo conmover su corazón, y se prometió a él. En el jardín del palacio había un verde tilo, a cuya sombra solían sentarse los dos enamorados, y un día le dijo él:
- Me marcho a casa a pedir el consentimiento de mi padre. Aguárdame bajo este tilo. Volveré dentro de pocas horas.
La muchacha, dándole un beso en la mejilla izquierda, le recomendó:
- Séme fiel y no dejes que nadie más te bese en esta mejilla. Te aguardaré bajo este tilo hasta que regreses.
Y la muchacha siguió sentada al pie del árbol hasta la puesta del sol; mas el príncipe no regresó. Tres días estuvo aguardándolo en vano, de la mañana a la noche. Y el cuarto día, al ver que no regresaba, dijo:
- Seguramente le ha ocurrido alguna desgracia. Iré en su busca y no volveré hasta encontrarlo.
Envolvió tres de sus más bellos vestidos: uno, bordado con brillantes estrellas; el segundo, con argénteas lunas, y el tercero, con áureos soles, y, atando un puñado de piedras preciosas en un pañuelo, se puso en camino. Preguntaba en todos los lugares por su prometido, pero nadie lo había visto ni sabía de él. Recorrió gran parte del mundo, sin hallarlo. Al fin, colocóse como pastora en casa de un labrador, y enterró sus ropas y piedras preciosas bajo una piedra.
Y se puso a hacer vida de pastora, guardando los rebaños, siempre triste y pensando en su amado. Una ternerita mansa acudía a comer en su mano, y cuando ella decía:

"Ternerilla, dobla la rodilla
y no olvides a tu pastorcilla,
como el príncipe olvidó
a la doncella que bajo el tilo lo esperó,"

El animal se echaba a sus pies y se dejaba acariciar.
Llevaba ya dos años en esta existencia solitaria y melancólica, cuando corrió por el país el rumor de que la hija del Rey se disponía a celebrar su boda. El camino de la ciudad pasaba por el pueblo donde residía nuestra muchacha, y sucedió que un día en que estaba apacentando su manada, acertó a pasar por allí su prometido. Iba montado a caballo, con porte arrogante, y no la vio; pero ella reconoció al momento a su amado. Parecióle que un agudo cuchillo le partía el corazón.
- ¡Ay! - exclamó -. Creía que me era fiel, pero me ha olvidado.
Al día siguiente, el príncipe recorrió el mismo camino. Cuando lo tuvo cerca, dijo la moza a la ternera:

"Ternerilla, dobla la rodilla
y no olvides a tu pastorcilla,
como el príncipe olvidó
a la doncella que bajo el tilo lo esperó,"

Al oír él su voz, bajó la mirada y detuvo el caballo. Miró el rostro de la pastora y luego se llevó la mano a la frente, como esforzándose por recordar algo; pero enseguida reemprendió la marcha y desapareció.
- ¡Ay! - suspiró ella -. Ni siquiera me conoce ya - y sintióse mas triste que nunca.
Anuncióse para muy pronto una gran fiesta en palacio; debía durar tres días, y a ella fueron invitados todos los súbditos del Rey. "Haré el último intento," pensó la muchacha; y, cuando llegó la primera noche, levantó la piedra bajo la cual guardaba sus tesoros, sacó el vestido de los soles de oro, se lo puso y se atavió con las piedras preciosas. Soltándose la cabellera que ocultaba bajo un pañuelo, desprendiéronse largos y magníficos bucles. Entonces se encaminó a la ciudad, y, como era noche cerrada, nadie la observó. Al penetrar en la sala, espléndidamente iluminada, todos los presentes le dejaron paso asombrados, sin que nadie la reconociera. El hijo del Rey salió a recibirla, bailó con ella y quedó tan prendado de su hermosura, que ni por un momento se acordó de su novia. Al terminar la fiesta, desapareció la muchacha entre la multitud y regresó al pueblo, donde se vistió nuevamente de pastora.
Ala noche siguiente púsose el vestido de las lunas de plata y se adornó el cabello con una diadema de brillantes. Al presentarse en palacio, todas las miradas se concentraron en ella. El príncipe, embargado de amor, corrió a saludarla, bailó toda la noche con ella y no hizo caso de ninguna otra. Antes de marcharse, la obligó a prometerle que la tercera noche no faltaría a la fiesta.
Cuando se presentó por tercera vez llevaba el vestido de estrellas, que centelleaban a cada paso, y la diadema y el ceñidor eran estrellas de piedras preciosas. El príncipe llevaba larga rato aguardándola y se apresuró a salir a su encuentro.
- Dime quién eres - le preguntó -. Tengo la impresión de que te conozco desde hace mucho tiempo.
- ¿No sabes qué hice cuando te despediste de mí? - respondióle ella.
Y, acercándosele, lo besó en la mejilla izquierda. Y en el mismo momento parecióle al príncipe que se le caía una venda de los ojos, y reconoció a su verdadera prometida.
- Ven - le dijo -, no tengo por qué seguir aquí - y, tendiéndole la mano, la condujo al coche.
Como impelidos por el viento corrieron los caballos hasta llegar al palacio encantado, cuyas ventanas brillaban ya desde muy lejos. Al pasar por delante del tilo, lo vieron invadido de innúmeras luciérnagas que, sacudiendo las ramas, esparcían sus aromas. En la escalera aparecían abiertas las flores, y de las habitaciones llegaba el griterío de las aves exóticas; pero en la sala principal se hallaba reunida toda la Corte, y el sacerdote aguardaba para bendecir la unión de los dos enamorados.

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