The Old Man's Good Girl

Once upon a time there was an old man who had a daughter famous for her diligence. The old man got married for the second time to an old woman who had a girl as well. But the old woman demanded that the old man's daughter see to all the chores of the house while her own was bone idle. The poor girl spun, wove and baked bread, swept the floors and dusted the rooms without protesting, but the old woman would take sides with her daughter, and tell on her and curse her. Every single day she argued with her husband and tried to talk him into banning his daughter: "If you don't chase her away, we won't be living under the same roof anymore." The poor man shrank from the thought of chasing the girl; but one night the old woman poured water on the hearth and put out the fire the old man's daughter had lit the previous night. The next morning, the girl woke up very early to kindle the fire, for she was the one to take care of this as well; but there was no smoldering coal in the hearth anymore. Then, for fear her step mother should curse her again, she climbed the hut, looked around, in the hope she would see some fire burning somewhere so that she could go and ask for coal; but there was no fire in sight. When she was about to climb down, she saw a light glittering to the east; so she went down and headed for that place. She walked a long way, but she couldn't reach the flame; she ran into an overgrown garden which called out to her: "Good girl, good girl, come and clean my trees, for they are overrun by cutworms; on your way back, I promise I will feed you on ripe fruit." The girl started working at once, and as soon as she finished she left. Later on, she ran into a well which called out to her: "Good girl, good girl! Come and drain me and I promise you will refresh on cool water on your way back." The girl drained the well and left. After a while, she ran into an oven which called out to her: "Good girl, good girl, come and repair me and wipe the ash off me and I promise I will feed you on hot bread on your way back." The girl repaired the oven and went on her way. She walked a little more and saw a little house; she knocked on its door. "Who's there?" a voice asked. "If you are a good person, then do come in; if you are not, do not, I have a little dog with iron and steel teeth and it will tear you apart." "Good person," answered the girl. She came in and, as she was afraid that her step mother would beat her for being late, she asked if there was any need for a maid. Saint Friday, the dweller who had welcomed the girl, said she did need a maid, so the girl stayed. First she told her that in the morning she had to feed the babies she had in the yard; the food should be neither hot nor cold. Then she had to tidy up the house. Saint Friday left for church. The girl followed her orders. When she came back, Saint Friday asked her babies, which were in fact firedrakes, snakes, weasels, lizards and the like, if they had liked the food. They all said that they had been so well taken care of that they hadn't noticed her absence. When Saint Friday entered the house, she was very pleased to see everything was in its place. After a while the girl said: "Saint Friday, I miss my parents, allow me to return home." "Go, my girl. But first brush my hair and you will see a brook flowing in front of the house; all kinds of boxes, chests and coffers will be floating on the surface. Pick one; that will be your fee." They sat down and the girl saw the flowing brook at once; the chests were too beautiful. She thought her work was not worth a beautiful one, so she waited until she saw a small, plain box; then she said: "Saint Friday, I have chosen the box that I consider proper for my payment." "Take it, my girl, if you don't wish to choose anything more beautiful than this. God bless you!" The old man's daughter bid her farewell, put the box under her armpit and left. As she passed by the oven, she got hot bread for lunch, and as she passed by the well, she got fresh water to drink; when she reached the garden, she ate ripe fruit. The girl finally got home; her old father was broken-hearted; she told him what she had been doing and opened the box. Well, such wonder! It was full with gems, diamonds, beads, shirts embroidered with golden butterflies and silk coats. Both her step mother and sister envied the old man's daughter; and the old man was elated with happiness. The old woman sent her daughter to do what the old man's daughter had done. She left and as she reached the garden which was calling out to her, she answered: "I am not crazy to get my hands scratched by your thistles!" She went on and as she reached the well which was calling to her she answered: "Why, do you think I will bother to drain you?" She went on her way and as she reached the oven which was calling out to her just as it had called out to the old man's daughter, she answered: "Why should I dirty my hands to clean you?" She went on walking until she reached Saint Friday's house. Saint Friday asked who she was and then welcomed her. She told her what her chores were and then left for church. When she came back home, all the beasts complained that their throats were sore because of the food which had been too hot. She entered the house; everything was topsy-turvy. Eventually, the lazy girl said: "Saint Friday, I miss my parents. Won't you give me my fee and let me go home?" "You can go, my girl, answered Saint Friday, but first wait a little; there will be a brook flowing in front of the house, and there will be things flowing on it; choose whichever you like; until then, do brush my hair." No sooner had the girl taken the brush than she dropped it and rushed to catch the biggest and the most beautiful chest she saw. Saint Friday said: "Since you have chosen this chest, take it; but don't open it until you get home; and when you open it, make sure you are alone with your mother in the room, so that nobody will see what is inside." The girl took the chest and left. When she got to the oven, she saw hot loaves of bread; she tried to take one but she couldn't; she was starving. She was craving with thirst but the well wouldn't let her have a drop of water; when she passed by the garden, the fruit made her mouth water and she couldn't even shelter from the sun in its shadows. She finally got home, dying of hunger and thirst. She was so impatient that she called her mother and told her to talk the old man and his daughter into getting out of the room. When they were alone, she opened the chest; what a nightmare! The firedrakes, snakes and the other beats whose throats were sore burst out, swallowed and ate the two women. The whole village was terrified by the incident; everybody understood it had been God's punishment. The old man's daughter got married to one of the most handsome boys of the village, who asked her hand in marriage and she became his wife. The whole village partied at their wedding and they lived happily ever after. He who won't believe me should look around and see many such houses. Told by mother. Published for the first time in The Romanian Peasant, no. 25 of 1862

by Petre Ispirescu (1830-1887)