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The Unseen Bridegroom
(A European Tale)

ONCE upon a time there was a king and queen, as many a one has been, and they had three daughters, all of them beautiful; but the most beautiful of all was the youngest whose name was Anima. Now it happened one day that all three sisters were playing in the meadows, and Anima saw a bush with lovely flowers. As she rushed to carry it home to plant in her own garden

She plucked at the root and plucked and plucked again. At last it gave way, and she saw beneath it a stairway going down farther into the earth. Being a brave girl and very curious as to where this could lead to, without calling her sisters, she crept down the stairs for a long, long way, till at last she came out into the open air again in a country which she had never seen before, and not far away, in front of her, she saw a magnificent palace.

Anima ran towards it, and when she came to the door she knocked at the knocker and it opened without anybody being there. So she went in and found all inside richly bedecked with marble walls and rich trappings; and, as she went along, lovely music broke out and came with her wherever she went. At last she came to a room with cozy couches, and she threw herself into one because she was tired with her searching. Scarcely had she done so, when there appeared a table coming towards her on wheels, without anybody moving it, and upon the table were delightful fruits and cakes and cool drinks of all kinds. So Anima took as much as she needed and fell into slumber and did not awake till it was getting dark. And then appeared through the air two large candlesticks, each with three candles in them; and they swam through the air and settled upon the tables near her, so that she had plenty of light. But she cried out: "Oh, I must go back to my father and mother; how shall I go? How shall I go?"

Then a sweet voice near her spoke out and said: "Abide with me and be my bride, and thou shalt have all thy heart desires." But Anima cried out in fear and trembling. "But who art thou? Who art thou? Come forth and let me see thee."

But the voice replied: "Nay, nay, that is forbidden. Never must thou look upon my face or we must part, for my mother, the Queen, wishes not that I should wed. "

So sweet was his voice and so lonely did Anima feel, that she consented to become his bride, and they lived happily together, though he never came near her till all was dark, so that she could not see him. But after a time Anima became weary even with all these splendors and happiness, and wished to see her own people again, and said to her husband:

"Please may I go home and see my father and my mother and my dear sisters?"

"Nay, nay, child, " said the voice of her husband, "ill will come of it if thou seest them again, and thou and I must part." I

But she kept on begging him to let her return to her people for a visit, or at least to let them come and see her, till at last he consented and sent a message to her father and mother and sisters, asking them to come and spend some days with her, at a time when he himself would have to be absent.

So the King and Queen and Anima's two sisters came and wondered at the splendors of her new home, and, above all, was surprised to find that they were waited on by invisible hands, who did all for them that they could wish for. But Anima's sisters soon became both curious and envious; they could not guess who or what her husband was, and envied her having so wonderful a household.

So one of them said to her: "But Anima, how marry a man without ever seeing him ? There must be some reason why he will not show himself; perhaps he is deformed, or maybe he is some beast transformed."

But Anima laughed and said: "He is no beast, that I am sure; and see how kind he is to me. I do not care if he is not as handsome as he does."

Still the sisters kept on insisting that there must be something wrong where there was something concealed, and at last they got their mother the Queen to say to her as she was leaving: "Now, Anima, I think it right to know who and what thy husband is. Wait till he is asleep and light a lamp, and then see what he is."

Soon after this they all departed. And the same night her husband came to Anima again, but she had already prepared a lamp of oil with a spark of fire ready to kindle it. And when she heard him sleeping by her side she lit the candle and looked at him. She was delighted to find that he was most handsome, with a strong and well-made body But as she was looking at him her hand trembled with delight and three drops of oil fell upon his cheek from the lamp she was holding. Then he woke up and saw her, and knew that she had broken her promise, and said:

"Oh, Anima, oh, Anima, why hast thou done this? Here we part until thou canst persuade my mother the Queen to let thee see me again."

With that came a rumbling of thunder and her lamp went out, and Anima fell to the ground in a swoon. And when she awoke the palace had disappeared and she was on a bleak, bleak moor. She walked and she walked till she came to a house by the wayside where an old woman received her and gave her something to eat and drink, and then asked Anima how she came there. So Anima told all that had happened to her, and the old woman said:
"Thou hast married my nephew, my sister's son, and I fear she will never forgive thee. But pluck up courage, go to her and demand thy husband, and she'll have to give him up to thee if thou canst do all that she demands from thee. Take this twig; if she asks what I think she will ask, strike it on the ground thrice and help will come to thee."

Then she told Anima the way to her husband's mother, and, as it was far distant, gave her directions where she could find another sister of hers who might help her. So she came to another house along the way where she saw another old woman, to whom she told her story, and this old woman is the Queen's sister, gave her a raven's feather and told her how to use it.

At last Anima came to the palace of the Queen, the mother of her invisible husband, and when she came into her presence demanded to see him.

"What, thou lowborn mortal, " cried the Queen; "how didst thou dare to wed my son?"

"It was his choice," said Anima, "and I am now his wife. Surely you will let me see him once more."

"Well," said the Queen, "if thou canst do what I demand of thee thou shalt see my son again. And first go into that barn where my stupid stewards have poured together all the wheat and oats and rice into one great heap. If by nightfall thou canst separate them into three heaps perhaps I may grant thy request."

So Anima was led to the great barn of the Queen and there was a huge heap of grain all mixed together, and she was left alone, and the barn was closed upon her. Then she bethought herself of the twig that the Queen's sister had given her, and she struck it thrice upon the ground, whereupon thousands of ants came out of the ground and began to work upon the heap of grain, some of them taking the wheat to one corner, some the oats to another, and the rest carrying off the grains of rice to a third. By nightfall all the grain had been separated, and when the Queen came to let out Anima she found the task had been done.

"Thou hast had help," she cried; "we'll see tomorrow if thou canst do something by thyself."

Next day the Queen took her into a large loft at the top of the palace almost filled with feathers of geese, of eider ducks, and of swans, and from her cupboard she took twelve mattresses and said:

"See these mattresses; by the end of the day thou must fill four of them with swans' feathers, four of them with eiderdown, and the rest with feathers of geese. Do that and then we will see."

With that she left Anima and closed and locked the door behind her. And Anima remembered what the other Queen's sister had given her, and took out the raven's feather and waved it thrice. Immediately birds, and birds, and birds came flying through the windows, and each of them picked out different kinds of feathers and placed them in the mattresses, so that long before night the twelve mattresses were filled as the Queen had ordered.

Again at nightfall the Queen came in, and as soon as she saw that the second task had been carried out, she said:

"Again thou hast had help; tomorrow thou shalt have something to do which thou alone canst carry out."

Next day the Queen summoned her and gave her a small flask and a letter and said to her.

"Take these to my sister, the Queen of the Netherworld, and bring back what she will give to thee safely, and then I may let thee see my son."

"How can I find your sister?" said Anima.

"That thou must find for thyself," and left her.

Poor Anima did not know which way to go, but as she walked along the voice of some one invisible to her said softly:

"Take with thee a copper coin and a loaf of bread and go down that deep defile there till thou comest to a deep river and there thou wilt see an old man ferrying people across the river. Put the coin between your teeth and let him take it from you, and he will carry you across, but speak not to him. Then, on the other side, thou wilt come to a dark cave, and at the entrance is a savage dog; give him the loaf of bread and he will let thee pass and thou wilt soon come to the Queen of the Netherworld. Take what she gives thee, but beware lest thou eat anything or sit down while thou art within the cave."

Anima recognized the voice of her husband and did all that he had told her, till she came to the Queen of the Nether-World, who read the letter she had handed to her. Then she offered Anima cake and wine, but she refused, shaking her head, but saying nothing. Then the Queen of the Nether-World gave her a curiously wrought box and said to her:

"Take this, I pray thee, to my sister, but beware lest thou open it on the way or ill may befall thee," and then dismissed her.

Anima went back past the great dog and crossed the dark river. When she got into the forest beyond she could not resist the temptation to open the box, and when she did so out jumped a number, the Dog of little dolls, which commenced dancing about in front of her and around her and amused her much by their playful antics. But soon the night was coming on, and she wanted to put them into the box, and they ran away and hid behind the trees, and Anima knew that she could not get them back. So she sat down upon the ground and wept, and wept, and wept. But at last she heard the voice of her husband once more, who said:

"See what thy curiosity has again brought upon thee; thou canst not bring back the box to my mother just as my aunt the Queen of the Netherworld has given it to you, and so we shall not see one another again."

But at this Anima burst out into weeping and wailing so piteously that he took compassion on her and said:

"See that golden bough on yonder tree; pluck it and strike the ground three times with it and see what thou wilt see."

Anima did as she had been told, and soon the little dolls came running from behind the trees and jumped of their own accord into the box; and she closed it quickly and took it back to the Queen, her husband's mother. The Queen opened the box, and when she found all the little dolls were in it laughed aloud and said:

"I know who has helped thee; I cannot help myself; I suppose thou must have my son."

And as soon as she had said this Anima's husband appeared and took her to him, and they lived happy ever afterwards.

Jacobs, Joseph, ed. European Folk and Fairy Tales. New York: G. P Putnam's Sons, 1916.


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©Heidi Anne Heiner, SurLaLune Fairy Tales
Page created 11/2001; Last updated 7/4/07