The Two Step-Sisters.
Once upon a time there was an old widower, who had one daughter; he married again and took for his wife a widow, who also had a daughter. The widow's daughter was ugly, lazy, obstinate and spiteful; yet as she was her mother's own child, the latter was delighted with her and pushed every thing upon her husband's daughter. But the old man's child was beautiful, industrious, obedient and good. God had gifted her with every virtuous and lovable quality, yet she was persecuted by her spiteful sister, as well as by her step-mother; it was fortunate that she possessed endurance and patience, or she would have fared badly. Whenever there was any hard work to be done, it was put upon the old man's daughter—she was obliged to get dry wood from the forest, drag the heavy sacks of grain to the mill; in short, every task always fell to her lot. The whole livelong day she had no rest, but was kept continually going up stairs and down. Still the old woman and her treasure of a daughter were constantly dissatisfied, and always had something to find fault with. The step-daughter was a heavy cross to the second wife, but her own daughter was like the basil plant, which is placed before the images of the saints.
When the step-sisters went to the village in the evening to spin, the old man's daughter did not allow herself to be interrupted in her work, but finished a whole sieve full of spools, while the old woman's daughter with difficulty completed a single one. When they came home late at night, the old woman's daughter jumped nimbly over the fence and asked to hold the sieve till the other had leaped over it too. Meantime the spiteful girl hurried into the house to her parents, and said she had spun all the spools. The step-sister vainly declared that they were the work of her own hands; mother and daughter jeered at her words, and of course gained their cause. When Sunday or Friday came the old woman's daughter was brushed and bedizened as though the calves had licked her. There was no dance, no feather-plucking in the village to which the old woman's daughter did not go, but the step-daughter was sternly denied every pleasure of the kind. Yet when the husband came home, his wife's tongue ran like a mill-wheel—her step-daughter was disobedient, bold, bad-tempered, this, that, and the other; he must send her away from home, put her out at service, whichever he chose; it was impossible to keep her in the house because she might ruin her daughter too.
The old man was a jackanapes, or, as the saying goes, under petticoat government. Every thing his wife said was sacred. Had he obeyed the voice of his heart the poor old man might perhaps have said something, but now the hen had begun to crow in the house, and the rooster was of no consequence; yet, if he had thought of opposing them, his wife and her daughter would have soon made him repent it. One day, when he was unusually angry about what his wife had told him, he called the young girl, and said:—
"My dear child, your mother is always saying that you are disobedient to her, have a spiteful tongue, and are wicked, so that it is not possible for you to stay any longer in my house; therefore go wherever the Lord may guide you, that there may no longer be so much quarreling here on your account. But I advise you as a father, wherever you may go, to be obedient, humble, and industrious, for here with me all your faults have been overlooked, parental affection has aided, but among strangers nobody knows what sort of people you may meet, and they will not indulge you as we have done."
When the poor girl saw that her step-mother and her daughter wanted to drive her out of the house at any cost, she kissed her father's hand with tears in her eyes, and went out into the wide world without any hope of ever returning home. She walked along the road till she chanced to meet a little sick dog, so thin that one could count its ribs.
When the dog saw her, it said: "You beautiful, industrious girl, have pity on me and take care of me, I will reward you some day."
The girl did pity the poor animal, and, taking it in her arms, washed and cleaned it thoroughly. Then she left it and went on, glad that she had been able to do a good action. She had not walked far when she came to a fine pear-tree in full bloom, but it was completely covered with caterpillars.
When the pear-tree saw the girl, it said: "You beautiful, industrious girl, take care of me and rid me of these caterpillars, I will repay you for it some day."
The girl, with her usual diligence, cleared the pear-tree from its dry branches and most carefully removed the caterpillars; then she walked quietly on to seek some place where she might enter into service.
On her way she came to a ruined, neglected fountain, which said to her: "You beautiful, industrious girl, take care of me, I will reward you some day."
The little maid cleared the fountain, cleaned it thoroughly, and then went on again. As she walked she came to a dilapidated oven, which had become almost entirely useless.
As soon as the oven saw her, it said: "You beautiful, industrious girl, line me with stones and clean me, I will repay you some day!"
The young girl knew that work harms no one, so she rolled up her sleeves, moistened some clay, stopped the holes in the stove, greased it and cleaned it till it was a pleasure to see it. Then she washed her hands and continued her journey. As she walked on, day and night, it happened, I don't know how—that she missed her way; yet she did not lose her trust in God, but walked on and on until early one morning, after passing through a dark forest, she reached a beautiful meadow. In the meadow she saw a little house, completely overgrown with vines, and when she approached it an old woman came out kindly to meet her, and said: "What are you seeking here, child, and who are you?"