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feathers, and were so scattered that she had to commence her task anew.
At last she placed her elbows on the table, rested her face in her hands, and cried, "Is there no one on all this earth who will pity me?"
Immediately she heard a soft voice say, "Be comforted, my child; I am come to help you!"
The maiden looked up and saw an old woman standing near her. She took the maiden's hand, and said kindly, "Now tell me what is troubling you."
She spoke so heartily that the maiden told her all about her unhappy life, and of one burden after another which her stepmother laid upon her, and of the terrible tasks which never would come to an end. "If I do not finish parting these feathers by the evening," she said, "my stepmother has threatened to beat me; and I know she will keep her word."
Her tears began to flow as she spoke; but the kind old woman said, "Be at peace, my child, and go and rest awhile; I will finish your work for you."
So she made her lie down on a bed in the room, and worn out with sorrow the young girl soon fell asleep.
Then the old woman placed herself at the table by the feathers. Ah! how they flew and sorted themselves under the touch of her withered hand! and very soon the whole twelve pounds were finished. When the maiden awoke, there they lay in large snowy heaps, and everything in the room was neat and in order; but the old woman had vanished.
The maiden's heart was full of thankfulness, and she sat still till the evening, when her stepmother came into the room.
She was truly astonished when she found the feathers finished. "See, now," she said at last, "what people can do when they are industrious! But why are you sitting there with your hands in your lap? Can you find nothing else to do?" As she left the room she said to herself, "The creature can do anything; I must give her something more difficult next time."
On the morrow she called the maiden to her, and said, "There is a large spoon for you; now go and
ladle out the water from the pond that lies near the garden, and if by evening you have not reached the bottom you know what you have to expect."
The maiden took the spoon, and saw that it was full of holes; and even if it had not been it would have been impossible for her to empty the pond with it.
She made an attempt, however—knelt by the water, into which her tears fell, and began to scoop it out. But the good old woman again made her appearance, and when she saw the cause of her sorrow she said, "Be comforted, my child, and go and rest in the shrubbery; I will do your work for you."
As soon as the old woman was alone she merely touched the water; it immediately rose like a mist in the air, and mingled itself with the clouds. Gradually the pond became empty, and when at sunset the maiden awoke, the water had disappeared, and she saw only the fish writhing in the mud at the bottom. She at once went to her stepmother and showed her that she had finished her task.
"You should have finished it long ago!" she said; but she was pale with anger, and determined to think of some still more difficult task for the poor girl.
Next morning she again called her, and said,
"To-day I shall expect you to go into the valley, and on the plain build me a beautiful castle, which must be finished by the evening."
"Oh!" exclaimed the poor maiden in terror, "how can I ever perform such a work as this?"
"I will have no excuses!" screamed the stepmother. "If you can empty a pond with a spoon full of holes, you can build me a castle. I shall expect it to be ready to-day, and if you fail in the slightest thing, whether in kitchen or cellar, you know what is before you."
As she spoke she drove out the poor girl, who soon reached the valley, which she found full of rocks, piled one over the other, and so heavy that, with all her strength, she could not move even the smallest.
She seated herself, and began to weep; yet still hoping for the assistance of the kind old woman, who did not keep her waiting long, but greeted her, when she appeared, with the words of comfort.
"Go and lie down in the shade and sleep," she said. "I will build a castle for you, and when the happy time comes, you can have it yourself."
As soon as the maiden had gone away the old
woman touched the gray rocks, and immediately they began to move, then to rock together, and presently to stand upright, as if they had been walls built by giants. Within these walls the castle rose, as if numberless invisible hands were at work laying stone upon stone. The earth trembled as large halls expanded and stood near each other in order. The tiles on the roof arranged themselves regularly, and before noon the weathercock, like a golden maiden with flying drapery, stood on the pinnacle of the tower.
The interior of the castle was not finished till evening; and how the old woman managed I cannot say, but the walls were covered with silk and velvet, richly embroidered; and decorated chairs and sofas, marble tables, and other elegant articles furnished the rooms. Cut-glass chandeliers hung from the ceilings and sparkled in the light of many lamps. Green parrots sat in golden cages, and foreign birds, which sang sweetly, were in every room. Altogether the castle was as magnificent as if built for the king himself.
it was after sunset when the maiden awoke, and seeing the glitter of a thousand lamps, she ran with hasty steps. Finding the gate open, she entered the court. The steps leading to the entrance-hall were covered with red cloth, and the gilded balconies were full of rich and blooming flowers. All was so magnificently beautiful that the maiden stood still with astonishment.
She knew not how long she might have remained standing thus, if she had not thought all at once that her stepmother was coming.
"Ah," said she to herself, "what joy it would be