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Household Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm translated by Margaret Hunt

The Girl Without Hands

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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 dost thou plague thyself with cutting wood, I will make thee rich, if thou wilt promise me what is standing behind thy 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 cannot get the better of 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 thou dost not do it thou art mine, and I will take thee thyself." 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 thine 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 thee." 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 thee received such great wealth that I will keep thee most delicately as long as thou livest." 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 there was much water round about it. 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, "Some one 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 thou sayest, I will watch with thee 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, "Comest thou from heaven or from earth? Art thou 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 thou art forsaken by all the world, yet will I not forsake thee." 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 take the field, so he commended his young Queen to the care of his mother and said, "If she is brought to 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 thee killed as the King commands, but here thou mayst stay no longer. Go forth into the wide world with thy 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 they 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 knowest thou that I was a queen?" The white maiden answered, "I am an angel sent by God, to watch over thee and thy 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 the war, and his first wish was to see his wife and the child. Then his aged mother began to weep and said, "Thou wicked man, why didst thou 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 thou badest 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 thy wife's back and bade her go forth into the wide world, and made her promise never to come back here again, because thou wert 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 travelled 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 of this 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 travelled 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 put 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 thy child, thy husband hath come." So she went to the place where he lay, and the handkerchief fell from his face. Then said she, "Sorrowful, pick up thy 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,' thou hast 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 thy wife, and that is thy 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 mine heart." Then the angel of God gave them one meal with her, 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.


From two stories current in Hesse which, on the whole, complete and agree with each other. The one from Zwehrn lacks the beginning, and only says that a father wanted to have his own daughter to wife, and as she refused, cut off her hands (and breasts), made her put on a white shirt, and drove her out into the world. The sequel of this story, however, which is told almost in the same way, surpasses the other in internal completeness, only in the former the incident of its being the Devil who changes the letters is retained, whereas here it is the old Queen who is from the very first ill- disposed towards her step-daughter, who does it. There are also the distinguishing features, that before the girl marries the King she keeps the fowls for a while in his courtyard, and that after wards, when she is driven out with her child on her back into the wild forest, an old man bids her fold her maimed arms thrice round a tree, and while she is doing this, they (and her breasts also) will, by God's grace, grow again of their own accord. He also tells her that the house in which she is to live, will only be allowed to open to him who shall thrice beg for admission for God's sake, which the King, when he comes to it, is afterwards forced to do before he is let in. A third story from the district of Paderborn coincides on the whole with that from Zwehrn. Instead of an angel, a little light which comes down from heaven guides the unhappy maiden. As she is going about in the forest with her stumps of arms, she sees a blind mouse which puts its head into a running stream, and thus receives its sight again. So, weeping and praying, the girl holds her arms under water, and her hands grow once more. A fourth tale from Mecklenburg contains another form of the saga. A certain man had a daughter, still a child, who day and night was always at prayer. He grew angry and forbade her to do it, but she went on praying continually, until at last he cut out her tongue, but she prayed in thought, and embraced the cross with her arms. Then the man became still more angry, and cut off her right hand, but she clasped the cross with her left. He cut off her arm as far as the elbow. Then a man said to her, "Depart, or thy father will cut off thy left arm as well." She was just seven years old, and she walked onwards and ever onwards until in the evening she came to a great house, in front of which a huntsman was standing. She made him understand that she was hungry, and that she wished he would let her go in. The huntsman would willingly have done it, but did not know where to put her; at length he took her to a dog's kennel, where two pet dogs of the rich Count, in whose service he was, were lying. She stayed two year in the kennel, and ate and drank with the dogs. Then the Count remarked how thin the dogs were growing, and asked the huntsman what was the reason, and he confessed that he had taken in a girl who was sharing their food. The Count said that he was to fetch her to him, but the girl would not come; so he himself went down to the dog-kennel and saw her, and said she was to go with him into his castle and he would bring her up. She was then nine years old, and it happened that one day when she was standing by the gate, a poor grey-haired man came and begged for a charitable gift. She gave him something, and then he said, "Thou shalt have thy tongue and thine arm back again," and gave her a staff and said, "'lake this staff, and walk straight onwards, it will protect thee from evil, and hw thee thy way." So she took the staff and walked on for the space of two years. She reached a lake and drank some of it, and then her tongue came swimming to her and grew fast in her mouth, and then she put the maimed stump into the water, and the arm came and grew fast in its old place, and after that the hand came also. And now she took the staff, and returned to the Count, hut she had grown so beautiful that he no longer knew her. She made herself known to him, and they were married.

One can see that this story is the popular source from which in the middle ages sprang the well-known poems Mai and Beaflor Fair Helena and others. A fragment of a fourth story from Hesse coincides also strikingly with this. In this the Queen is driven out with her children, and her two fingers are cut off, which the children carry about with them. The children are stolen from her by wild beasts, and serve as scullions, and the mother as a washerwoman.

A story from Meran, in Zingerle, p. 124, which is linked with the story of The Two Brothers (No. 60), also belongs to this group. So likewise does No. 36 in Pröhle's Kindermärchen. La Penta manomozza, in the Pentamerone (3. 2); two Servian tales (Wuk, Nos. 27-33) are allied, and probably also a Finnish story in Rudbek (1. 140). See Schiefner, 600, 616. An old German tale contains the saga of a king who wishes to have a wife who resembles his daughter. The Pope gives him permission to have the daughter, who refuses him, and is put into a barrel. (Pfälz. MS. 336, folio 276-286.) The girl's washing herself clean with her tears occurs also in a Swedish song (Geyer, 3. 37, 38) when the mother comes out of her grave to her children.

"hon tvälla dem sa snöhvit
alt uti ögnatar."

[A story which I have never met with in print, but which was told me by my friend the late James Macdonell, hears a strong resemblance to Das Mädchen ohne Hände, No. 31, in so far as the method employed to escape from the power of the Evil One is concerned. The beginning is very different. It is as follows. In a lonely farm house, near Tomintoul, Banffshire, dwelt a poor farmer with his wife and family. Things had gone ill with him, and he had for some time not been able "to make all ends meet." At length he was obliged to let his eldest daughter go out to service. In order to find a place she walked to the hirings held at Grantown, which was several miles from her own home. These hirings were held twice a year at the great Candlemas and Martinmas fairs, and men and women stood in the market-place waiting to find places. She stood all day long, but no one hired her. At last, late in the evening, and bitterly disappointed at losing this chance of helping her family, she went homewards. Her way was a very lonely one, and led her across the spurs of mountains, just as they dipped down into the moorland, and long before she drew near home, darkness fell. Suddenly, as she was hurrying onwards, a man joined her whom she had never before seen. "Good evening, mistress," said he, "Good evening," said she, and as he still continued to walk by her side, and talk to her, she told him of the great disappointment she had just met with. "No one has hired you!" cried he. "Why, what wages do you want?" She told him the amount, and be said, "I will hire you; you shall come to me, and here are your arles" (God's-penny). The girl had been very glad when he said that he would hire her; but as he put the money in her hand, she shivered all over, and felt that there was something awful about this stranger. She took the arles, however, and then he told her that at twelve o'clock on the following night she was to come to him at a place very near her father's house, where four roads met. When she got home she told her father and mother what she had done, and what she thought about this stranger, and they too were much alarmed and convinced that he was the Devil. They sent for the priest, who came in the morning. He, too, said that the stranger was the Devil, but declared that the girl must keep her word with him. So when night came she went to the place where the four roads met, and by the priest's orders, drew a circle, and stood within it, saying always the Lord's Prayer and Ave Maria. At midnight there was a loud clap of thunder, and an angry flash of forked lightning, and immediately after a host of horrible black fiends rushed forward against her, screaming and gesticulating as if they won rend her in pieces. Her alarm was intense; but some how she was just able to remember that the priest had told her never for a moment to cease praying, and making the sign of the cross, and never by any chance to allow herself to be terrified into overstepping the limits of the circle. She was likewise not to turn her back to her enemies. They, for their part, did their utmost to make her leave the circle and to weary her out with terror, that she might lose all power of resisting them. Sometimes they attacked her in front, sometimes behind, rushing madly on her, making the most horrible faces, uttering the most horrible cries, glaring at her with fierce fiery eyes, or seeming about to claw her forth and destroy her. Over and over again she felt as if she must faint for very weariness, or turn and tall into their power, but at length after many hours, a pale light in the sky showed that day would ere long dawn, and a cock crowed, on which all vanished, and she was delivered.-TR.]

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Household Tales. Margaret Hunt, translator. London: George Bell, 1884, 1892. 2 volumes.

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