: English Fairy Tales
In a great Palace by the sea there once dwelt a very rich old lord, who
had neither wife nor children living, only one little granddaughter,
whose face he had never seen in all her life. He hated her bitterly,
because at her birth his favourite daughter died; and when the old nurse
brought him the baby he swore that it might live or die as it liked, but
he would never look on its face as long as it lived.
So he turned his back, and sat by his window looking out over the sea,
and weeping great tears for his lost daughter, till his white hair and
beard grew down over his shoulders and twined round his chair and crept
into the chinks of the floor, and his tears, dropping on to the
window-ledge, wore a channel through the stone, and ran away in a little
river to the great sea. Meanwhile, his granddaughter grew up with no one
to care for her, or clothe her; only the old nurse, when no one was by,
would sometimes give her a dish of scraps from the kitchen, or a torn
petticoat from the rag-bag; while the other servants of the palace would
drive her from the house with blows and mocking words, calling her
"Tattercoats," and pointing to her bare feet and shoulders, till she ran
away, crying, to hide among the bushes.
So she grew up, with little to eat or to wear, spending her days out of
doors, her only companion a crippled gooseherd, who fed his flock of
geese on the common. And this gooseherd was a queer, merry little chap,
and when she was hungry, or cold, or tired, he would play to her so
gaily on his little pipe, that she forgot all her troubles, and would
fall to dancing with his flock of noisy geese for partners.
Now one day people told each other that the King was travelling through
the land, and was to give a great ball to all the lords and ladies of
the country in the town near by, and that the Prince, his only son, was
to choose a wife from amongst the maidens in the company. In due time
one of the royal invitations to the ball was brought to the Palace by
the sea, and the servants carried it up to the old lord, who still sat
by his window, wrapped in his long white hair and weeping into the
little river that was fed by his tears.
But when he heard the King's command, he dried his eyes and bade them
bring shears to cut him loose, for his hair had bound him a fast
prisoner, and he could not move. And then he sent them for rich clothes,
and jewels, which he put on; and he ordered them to saddle the white
horse, with gold and silk, that he might ride to meet the King; but he
quite forgot he had a granddaughter to take to the ball.
Meanwhile Tattercoats sat by the kitchen-door weeping, because she could
not go to see the grand doings. And when the old nurse heard her crying
she went to the Lord of the Palace, and begged him to take his
granddaughter with him to the King's ball.
But he only frowned and told her to be silent; while the servants
laughed and said, "Tattercoats is happy in her rags, playing with the
gooseherd! Let her be--it is all she is fit for."
A second, and then a third time, the old nurse begged him to let the
girl go with him, but she was answered only by black looks and fierce
words, till she was driven from the room by the jeering servants, with
blows and mocking words.
Weeping over her ill-success, the old nurse went to look for
Tattercoats; but the girl had been turned from the door by the cook, and
had run away to tell her friend the gooseherd how unhappy she was
because she could not go to the King's ball.
Now when the gooseherd had listened to her story, he bade her cheer up,
and proposed that they should go together into the town to see the King,
and all the fine things; and when she looked sorrowfully down at her
rags and bare feet he played a note or two upon his pipe, so gay and
merry, that she forgot all about her tears and her troubles, and before
she well knew, the gooseherd had taken her by the hand, and she and he,
and the geese before them, were dancing down the road towards the town.
"Even cripples can dance when they choose," said the gooseherd.
Before they had gone very far a handsome young man, splendidly dressed,
riding up, stopped to ask the way to the castle where the King was
staying, and when he found that they too were going thither, he got off
his horse and walked beside them along the road.
"You seem merry folk," he said, "and will be good company."
"Good company, indeed," said the gooseherd, and played a new tune that
was not a dance.
It was a curious tune, and it made the strange young man stare and stare
and stare at Tattercoats till he couldn't see her rags--till he
couldn't, to tell the truth, see anything but her beautiful face.
Then he said, "You are the most beautiful maiden in the world. Will you
Then the gooseherd smiled to himself, and played sweeter than ever.
But Tattercoats laughed. "Not I," said she; "you would be finely put to
shame, and so would I be, if you took a goose-girl for your wife! Go and
ask one of the great ladies you will see to-night at the King's ball,
and do not flout poor Tattercoats."
But the more she refused him the sweeter the pipe played, and the deeper
the young man fell in love; till at last he begged her to come that
night at twelve to the King's ball, just as she was, with the gooseherd
and his geese, in her torn petticoat and bare feet, and see if he
wouldn't dance with her before the King and the lords and ladies, and
present her to them all, as his dear and honoured bride.
[Illustration: Tattercoats dancing while the gooseherd pipes]
Now at first Tattercoats said she would not; but the gooseherd said,
"Take fortune when it comes, little one."
So when night came, and the hall in the castle was full of light and
music, and the lords and ladies were dancing before the King, just as
the clock struck twelve, Tattercoats and the gooseherd, followed by his
flock of noisy geese, hissing and swaying their heads, entered at the
great doors, and walked straight up the ball-room, while on either side
the ladies whispered, the lords laughed, and the King seated at the far
end stared in amazement.
But as they came in front of the throne Tattercoats' lover rose from
beside the King, and came to meet her. Taking her by the hand, he kissed
her thrice before them all, and turned to the King.
"Father!" he said--for it was the Prince himself--"I have made my
choice, and here is my bride, the loveliest girl in all the land, and
the sweetest as well!"
Before he had finished speaking, the gooseherd had put his pipe to his
lips and played a few notes that sounded like a bird singing far off in
the woods; and as he played Tattercoats' rags were changed to shining
robes sewn with glittering jewels, a golden crown lay upon her golden
hair, and the flock of geese behind her became a crowd of dainty pages,
bearing her long train.
And as the King rose to greet her as his daughter the trumpets sounded
loudly in honour of the new Princess, and the people outside in the
street said to each other:
"Ah! now the Prince has chosen for his wife the loveliest girl in all
But the gooseherd was never seen again, and no one knew what became of
him; while the old lord went home once more to his Palace by the sea,
for he could not stay at Court, when he had sworn never to look on his
So there he still sits by his window,--if you could only see him, as you
may some day--weeping more bitterly than ever. And his white hair has
bound him to the stones, and the river of his tears runs away to the