THE ENCHANTED WREATH
(Adapted from Thorpe’s Yule-Tide Stories.)
Once upon a time there lived near a forest a man and
his wife and two girls; one girl was the daughter of the
man, and the other the daughter of his wife; and the man’s
daughter was good and beautiful, but the woman’s daughter
was cross and ugly. However, her mother did not know
that, but thought her the most bewitching maiden that
ever was seen.
One day the man called to his daughter and bade her
come with him into the forest to cut wood. They
worked hard all day, but in spite of the chopping they
were very cold, for it rained heavily, and when they
returned home, they were wet through. Then, to his
vexation, the man found that he had left his axe behind
him, and he knew that if it lay all night in the mud it
would become rusty and useless. So he said to his
‘I have dropped my axe in the forest, bid your daughter
go and fetch it, for mine has worked hard all day and is
both wet and weary.’
But the wife answered:
‘If your daughter is wet already, it is all the more
reason that she should go and get the axe. Besides,
she is a great strong girl, and a little rain will not hurt
her, while my daughter would be sure to catch a bad
By long experience the man knew there was no good
saying any more, and with a sigh he told the poor girl she
must return to the forest for the axe.
The walk took some time, for it was very dark, and
her shoes often stuck in the mud; but she was brave as
well as beautiful and never thought of turning back
merely because the path was both difficult and unpleasant.
At last, with her dress torn by brambles that
she could not see, and her face scratched by the twigs
on the trees, she reached the spot where she and her father
had been cutting in the morning, and found the axe in
the place he had left it. To her surprise, three little
doves were sitting on the handle, all of them looking very
‘You poor little things,’ said the girl, stroking them.
‘Why do you sit there and get wet? Go and fly home
to your nest, it will be much warmer than this; but first
eat this bread, which I saved from my dinner, and
perhaps you will feel happier. It is my father’s axe you
are sitting on, and I must take it back as fast as I can,
or I shall get a terrible scolding from my stepmother.’
She then crumbled the bread on the ground, and
was pleased to see the doves flutter quite cheerfully
‘Good-bye,’ she said, picking up the axe, and went her
By the time they had finished all the crumbs the doves
felt much better, and were able to fly back to their nests
in the top of a tree.
‘That is a good girl,’ said one; ‘I really was too weak
to stretch out a wing before she came. I should like to
do something to show how grateful I am.’
‘Well, let us give her a wreath of flowers that will never
fade as long as she wears it,’ cried another.
‘And let the tiniest singing birds in the world sit amongst
the flowers,’ rejoined the third.
‘Yes, that will do beautifully,’ said the first. And
when the girl stepped into her cottage a wreath of rose-buds
was on her head, and a crowd of little birds were
The father, who was sitting by the fire, thought that,
in spite of her muddy clothes, he had never seen his daughter
looking so lovely; but the stepmother and the other girl
grew wild with envy.
‘How absurd to walk about on such a pouring night,
dressed up like that,’ she remarked crossly, and roughly
pulled off the wreath as she spoke, to place it on her own
daughter. As she did so the roses became withered and
brown, and the birds flew out of the window.
‘See what a trumpery thing it is!’ cried the stepmother;
‘and now take your supper and go to bed, for it is near
But though she pretended to despise the wreath,
she longed none the less for her daughter to have one like
Now it happened that the next evening the father, who
had been alone in the forest, came back a second time
without his axe. The stepmother’s heart was glad when
she saw this, and she said quite mildly:
‘Why, you have forgotten your axe again, you careless
man! But now your daughter shall stay at home, and
mine shall go and bring it back’; and throwing a cloak
over the girl’s shoulders, she bade her hasten to the
With a very ill grace the damsel set forth, grumbling
to herself as she went; for though she wished for the wreath,
she did not at all want the trouble of getting it.
By the time she reached the spot where her stepfather
had been cutting the wood the girl was in a very bad temper
indeed, and when she caught sight of the axe, there were
the three little doves, with drooping heads and soiled, bedraggled
feathers, sitting on the handle.
‘You dirty creatures,’ cried she, ‘get away at once, or
I will throw stones at you.’ And the doves spread their
wings in a fright and flew up to the very top of a tree, their
bodies shaking with anger.
‘What shall we do to revenge ourselves on her?’ asked
the smallest of the doves, ‘we were never treated like that
‘Never,’ said the biggest dove. ‘We must find some way
of paying her back in her own coin!’
‘I know,’ answered the middle dove; ‘she shall never
be able to say anything but “dirty creatures” to the end
of her life.’
‘Oh, how clever of you! That will do beautifully,’
exclaimed the other two. And they flapped their wings
and clucked so loud with delight, and made such a noise,
that they woke up all the birds in the trees close by.
‘What in the world is the matter?’ asked the birds
‘That is our secret,’ said the doves.
Meanwhile the girl had reached home crosser than ever;
but as soon as her mother heard her lift the latch of the
door she ran out to hear her adventures. ‘Well, did you
get the wreath?’ cried she.
‘Dirty creatures!’ answered her daughter.
‘Don’t speak to me like that! What do you mean?’
asked the mother again.
‘Dirty creatures!’ repeated the daughter, and nothing
else could she say.
Then the woman saw that something evil had befallen
her, and turned in her rage to her stepdaughter.
‘You are at the bottom of this, I know,’ she cried; and
as the father was out of the way she took a stick and beat
the girl till she screamed with pain and went to bed sobbing.
If the poor girl’s life had been miserable before, it
was ten times worse now, for the moment her father’s
back was turned the others teased and tormented her
from morning till night; and their fury was increased by
the sight of the wreath, which the doves had placed again
on her head.
Things went on like this for some weeks, when, one
day, as the king’s son was riding through the forest, he
heard some strange birds singing more sweetly than
birds had ever sung before. He tied his horse to a tree,
and followed where the sound led him, and, to his surprise,
he saw before him a beautiful girl chopping wood, with
a wreath of pink rose-buds, out of which the singing came.
Standing in the shelter of a tree, he watched her a
long while, and then, hat in hand, he went up and spoke
‘Fair maiden, who are you, and who gave you that
wreath of singing roses?’ asked he, for the birds were so
tiny that till you looked closely you never saw them.
‘I live in a hut on the edge of the forest,’ she answered,
blushing, for she had never spoken to a prince before.
‘And as to the wreath, I know not how it came there,
unless it may be the gift of some doves whom I fed when
they were starving.’ The prince was delighted with this
answer, which showed the goodness of the girl’s heart,
and besides he had fallen in love with her beauty, and
would not be content till she promised to return with him
to the palace, and become his bride. The old king
was naturally disappointed at his son’s choice of a wife,
as he wished him to marry a neighbouring princess; but
as from his birth the prince had always done exactly as he
liked, nothing was said and a splendid wedding feast was
The day after her marriage the bride sent a messenger,
bearing handsome presents to her father, and telling him
of the good fortune which had befallen her. As may be
imagined, the stepmother and her daughter were so filled
with envy that they grew quite ill, and had to take to their
beds, and nobody would have been sorry if they had never
got up again; but that did not happen. At length, however,
they began to feel better, for the mother invented a
plan by which she could be revenged on the girl who had
never done her any harm.
Her plan was this. In the town where she had
lived before she was married there was an old witch, who
had more skill in magic than any other witch she knew.
To this witch she would go and beg her to make her a
mask with the face of her stepdaughter, and when she
had the mask the rest would be easy. She told her daughter
what she meant to do, and although the daughter could
only say ‘dirty creatures,’ in answer, she nodded and
smiled and looked well pleased.
Everything fell out exactly as the woman had hoped.
By the aid of her magic mirror the witch beheld the new
princess walking in her gardens in a dress of green silk,
and in a few minutes had produced a mask so like her
that very few people could have told the difference. However,
she counselled the woman that when her daughter
first wore it—for that, of course, was what she intended
her to do—she had better pretend that she had a toothache,
and cover her head with a lace veil. The woman
thanked her and paid her well, and returned to her hut,
carrying the mask with her under her cloak.
In a few days she heard that a great hunt was
planned, and the prince would leave the palace very early
in the morning, so that his wife would be alone all day.
This was a chance not to be missed, and taking her
daughter with her she went up to the palace, where she
had never been before. The princess was too happy
in her new home to remember all that she had suffered
in the old one, and she welcomed them both gladly, and
gave them quantities of beautiful things to take back
with them. At last she took them down to the shore to
see a pleasure boat which her husband had had made
for her; and here, the woman seizing her opportunity,
stole softly behind the girl and pushed her off the rock
on which she was standing, into the deep water, where
she instantly sank to the bottom. Then she fastened
the mask on her daughter, flung over her shoulders a
velvet cloak, which the princess had let fall, and finally
arranged a lace veil over her head.
‘Rest your cheek on your hand, as if you were in pain,
when the prince returns,’ said the mother; ‘and be
careful not to speak, whatever you do. I will go back
to the witch and see if she cannot take off the spell laid on
you by those horrible birds. Ah! why did I not think of
No sooner had the prince entered the palace than he
hastened to the princess’s apartments, where he found
her lying on the sofa apparently in great pain.
‘My dearest wife, what is the matter with you?’ he
cried, kneeling down beside her, and trying to take her
hand; but she snatched it away, and pointing to her cheek
murmured something he could not catch.
‘What is it? tell me! Is the pain bad? When did it
begin? Shall I send for your ladies to bathe the place?’
asked the prince, pouring out these and a dozen other
questions, to which the girl only shook her head.
‘But I can’t leave you like this,’ he continued, starting
up, ‘I must summon all the court physicians to apply
soothing balsams to the sore place.’ And as he spoke
he sprang to his feet to go in search of them. This so
frightened the pretended wife, who knew that if the physicians
once came near her the trick would at once be
discovered, that she forgot her mother’s counsel not to
speak, and forgot even the spell that had been laid upon
her, and catching hold of the prince’s tunic, she cried in
tones of entreaty: ‘Dirty creatures!’
The young man stopped, not able to believe his ears,
but supposed that pain had made the princess cross, as
it sometimes does. However, he guessed somehow that
she wished to be left alone, so he only said:
‘Well, I dare say a little sleep will do you good, if you
can manage to get it, and that you will wake up better
Now, that night happened to be very hot and airless,
and the prince, after vainly trying to rest, at length got up
and went to the window. Suddenly he beheld in the
moonlight a form with a wreath of roses on her head rise
out of the sea below him and step on to the sands, holding
out her arms as she did so towards the palace.
‘That maiden is strangely like my wife,’ thought he;
‘I must see her closer.’ And he hastened down to the
water. But when he got there, the princess, for she indeed
it was, had disappeared completely, and he began to wonder
if his eyes had deceived him.
The next morning he went to the false bride’s room,
but her ladies told him she would neither speak nor get
up, though she ate everything they set before her.
The prince was sorely perplexed as to what could be the
matter with her, for naturally he could not guess that
she was expecting her mother to return every moment,
and to remove the spell the doves had laid upon her, and
meanwhile was afraid to speak lest she should betray
herself. At length he made up his mind to summon
all the court physicians; he did not tell her what he was
going to do, lest it should make her worse, but he went
himself and begged the four learned leaches attached to
the king’s person to follow him to the princess’s apartments.
Unfortunately, as they entered, the princess
was so enraged at the sight of them that she forgot all
about the doves, and shrieked out: ‘Dirty creatures!
dirty creatures!’ which so offended the physicians that
they left the room at once, and nothing that the prince
could say would prevail on them to remain. He then
tried to persuade his wife to send them a message that
she was sorry for her rudeness, but not a word would she
Late that evening, when he had performed all the tiresome
duties which fall to the lot of every prince, the young
man was leaning out of his window, refreshing himself
with the cool breezes that blew off the sea. His
thoughts went back to the scene of the morning, and he
wondered if, after all, he had not made a great mistake in
marrying a low-born wife, however beautiful she might
be. How could he have imagined that the quiet, gentle
girl who had been so charming a companion to him during
the first days of their marriage, could have become in a
day the rude, sulky woman, who could not control her
temper even to benefit herself. One thing was clear, if
she did not change her conduct very shortly he would have
to send her away from court.
He was thinking these thoughts, when his eyes fell on
the sea beneath him, and there, as before, was the figure
that so closely resembled his wife, standing with her feet
in the water, holding out her arms to him.
‘Wait for me! Wait for me! Wait for me!’ he
cried; not even knowing he was speaking. But when he
reached the shore there was nothing to be seen but the
shadows cast by the moonlight.
A state ceremonial in a city some distance off caused
the prince to ride away at daybreak, and he left without
seeing his wife again.
‘Perhaps she may have come to her senses by to-morrow,’
said he to himself; ‘and, anyhow, if I am going to send
her back to her father, it might be better if we did not
meet in the meantime.’ Then he put the matter from
his mind, and kept his thoughts on the duty that lay before
It was nearly midnight before he returned to the
palace, but, instead of entering, he went down to the shore
and hid behind a rock. He had scarcely done so when
the girl came out of the sea, and stretched out her arms
towards his window. In an instant the prince had seized
her hand, and though she made a frightened struggle to
reach the water—for she in her turn had had a spell laid
upon her—he held her fast.
‘You are my own wife, and I shall never let you go,’
he said. But the words were hardly out of his mouth
when he found that it was a hare that he was holding by
the paw. Then the hare changed into a fish, and the
fish into a bird, and the bird into a slimy wriggling snake.
This time the prince’s hand nearly opened of itself, but
with a strong effort he kept his fingers shut, and drawing
his sword cut off its head, when the spell was broken, and
the girl stood before him as he had seen her first, the wreath
upon her head and the birds singing for joy.
The very next morning the stepmother arrived at
the palace with an ointment that the old witch had given
her to place upon her daughter’s tongue, which would
break the dove’s spell, if the rightful bride had really
been drowned in the sea; if not, then it would be useless.
The mother assured her that she had seen her stepdaughter
sink, and that there was no fear that she would ever come
up again; but, to make all quite safe, the old woman might
bewitch the girl; and so she did. After that the wicked
stepmother travelled all through the night to get to the
palace as soon as possible, and made her way straight
into her daughter’s room.
‘I have got it! I have got it!’ she cried triumphantly,
and laid the ointment on her daughter’s tongue.
‘Now what do you say?’ she asked proudly.
‘Dirty creatures! dirty creatures!’ answered the
daughter; and the mother wrung her hands and wept, as
she knew that all her plans had failed.
At this moment the prince entered with his real wife.
‘You both deserve death,’ he said, ‘and if it were left to
me, you should have it. But the princess has begged me
to spare your lives, so you will be put into a ship and
carried off to a desert island, where you will stay till you
Then the ship was made ready and the wicked woman
and her daughter were placed in it, and it sailed away,
and no more was heard of them. But the prince and
his wife lived together long and happily, and ruled their