Tattercoats by Unknown
IN a great palace by the sea there once dwelt a very rich
old lord who had neither wife nor children living, only
one little granddaughter, whose face he had never seen
in all her life. He hated her bitterly, because at her birth his
favorite daughter died; and when the old nurse brought him
the baby he swore that it might live or die as it liked, but he
would never look on its face as long as it lived.
So he turned his back and sat by his window looking out
over the sea, and weeping great tears for his lost daughter,
till his white hair and beard grew down over his shoulders and
twined round his chair and crept into the chinks of the floor,
and his tears, dropping on to the window ledge, wore a channel
through the stone and ran away in a little river to the great
sea. And meanwhile his granddaughter grew up with no one
to care for her or clothe her; only the old nurse, when no one
was by, would sometimes give her a dish of scraps from the
kitchen or a torn petticoat from the rag bag; while the other
servants of the palace would drive her from the house with
blows and mocking words, calling her "Tattercoats," and
pointing at her bare feet and shoulders, till she ran away crying,
to hide among the bushes.
And so she grew up, with little to eat or wear, spending
her days in the fields and lanes, with only the gooseherd for
a companion, who would play to her so merrily on his little
pipe when she was hungry or cold or tired that she forgot all
her troubles, and fell to dancing, with his flock of noisy geese
But one day people told each other that the King was traveling
through the land, and in the town near by was to give a
great ball to all the lords and ladies of the country, when the
Prince, his only son, was to choose a wife.
One of the royal invitations was brought to the palace
by the sea, and the servants carried it up to the old lord
who still sat by his window, wrapped in his long white
hair and weeping into the little river that was fed by his
But when he heard the King's command he dried his eyes
and bade them bring shears to cut him loose, for his hair had
bound him a fast prisoner and he could not move. And then
he sent them for rich clothes and jewels, which he put on; and
he ordered them to saddle the white horse with gold and silk
that he might ride to meet the King.
Meanwhile Tattercoats had heard of the great doings in the
town, and she sat by the kitchen door weeping because she
could not go to see them. And when the old nurse heard her
crying she went to the lord of the palace, and begged him to
take his granddaughter with him to the King's ball.
But he only frowned and told her to be silent, while the
servants laughed and said: "Tattercoats is happy in her rags,
playing with the gooseherd; let her be—it is all she is fit for."
TATTERCOATS FORGOT ALL HER TROUBLES AND FELL TO DANCING
A second, and then a third time, the old nurse begged him
to let the girl go with him, but she was answered only by black
looks and fierce words, till she was driven from the room by
the jeering servants with blows and mocking words.
Weeping over her ill success, the old nurse went to look for
Tattercoats; but the girl had been turned from the door by
the cook, and had run away to tell her friend the gooseherd
how unhappy she was because she could not go to the King's
But when the gooseherd had listened to her story he bade
her cheer up, and proposed that they should go together into
the town to see the King and all the fine things; and when
she looked sorrowfully down at her rags and bare feet he
played a note or two upon his pipe, so gay and merry that
she forgot all about her tears and her troubles, and, before she
well knew, the herdboy had taken her by the hand, and she
and he, and the geese before them, were dancing down the
road toward the town.
Before they had gone very far a handsome young man,
splendidly dressed, rode up and stopped to ask the way to the
castle where the King was staying; and when he found that
they too were going thither, he got off his horse and walked
beside them along the road.
The herdboy pulled out his pipe and played a low, sweet
tune, and the stranger looked again and again at Tattercoats'
lovely face, till he fell deeply in love with her and begged her
to marry him.
But she only laughed and shook her golden head.
"You would be finely put to shame if you had a goosegirl
for your wife!" said she; "go and ask one of the great ladies
you will see to-night at the King's ball, and do not flout poor
But the more she refused him the sweeter the pipe played
and the deeper the young man fell in love, till at last he begged
her, as a proof of his sincerity, to come that night at twelve
to the King's ball, just as she was, with the herdboy and his
geese, and in her torn petticoat and bare feet, and he would
dance with her before the King and the lords and ladies, and
present her to them all as his dear and honored bride.
So when night came, and the hall in the castle was full of
light and music, and the lords and ladies were dancing before
the King, just as the clock struck twelve, Tattercoats and the
herdboy, followed by his flock of noisy geese, entered at the
great doors and walked straight up the ballroom, while on
either side the ladies whispered, the lords laughed, and the
King, seated at the far end, stared in amazement.
But as they came in front of the throne Tattercoats' lover
rose from beside the King and came to meet her. Taking her
by the hand, he kissed her thrice before them all, and turned
to the King.
"Father," he said, for it was the Prince himself, "I have
made my choice, and here is my bride, the loveliest girl in all
the land, and the sweetest as well!"
Before he had finished speaking the herdboy put his pipe
to his lips and played a few low notes that sounded like a bird
singing far off in the woods; and as he played, Tattercoats'
rags were changed to shining robes sewn with glittering jewels,
a golden crown lay upon her golden hair, and the flock of
geese behind her became a crowd of dainty pages bearing her
And, as the King rose to greet her as his daughter, the
trumpets sounded loudly in honor of the new Princess, and
the people outside in the street said to each other:
"Ah, now the Prince has chosen for his wife the loveliest
girl in all the land!"
But the gooseherd was never seen again, and no one knew
what became of him; while the old lord went home once more
to his palace by the sea, for he could not stay at court when
he had sworn never to look on his granddaughter's face.
So there he still sits by his window, if you could only see
him, as you some day may, weeping more bitterly than ever,
as he looks out over the sea.