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Georgian Folk Tales, by Marjory Wardrop [1894], at


The Three Sisters and their Stepmother

ONCE upon a time there was a peasant who had three daughters. This man's wife was dead, so he took to himself another. The stepmother hated the girls like the plague. Every day she bothered her husband, saying: 'Take away these daughters of thine, and get rid of them.' Sometimes she yielded to their father's entreaties, sometimes she gave way to her dislike. At last she could bear it no longer: she became ill, went to bed, took with her crisp, flat bread, and began to moan. She turned on one side, made the loaves crack, and cried out: 'My sides are breaking. Oh! turn me on my other side!' The cause of all this was her stepdaughters, so her husband, seeing that nothing was to be done, consented to get rid of them. He went away into the forest. There he saw a large apple-tree bearing fruit; underneath it he dug a deep hole, took an apple for each, and went home. When he came in, he gave each her apple. The girls liked the taste of the apples, and said to their father: 'Where didst thou find these? canst thou not bring some more?' The father replied: 'There are many of these apples in the forest, but I have not time to bring more. If you like, you can come

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with me; I will shake them down, you can gather them up and bring them away.' The girls were delighted, and went with their father.

Their father had secretly covered up the hole, and said to the girls: 'Here are the apples. I will shake them down, but until I tell you do not gather them up. Then, when I speak, you can all scramble for them, and whoever picks up an apple, it is hers.' The father went up to the tree, and when he had shaken it well, called out to his daughters: 'Now, catch who can!' The girls suddenly rushed on to the covering, which could not bear their weight; it fell into the hole, taking with it the three girls. Their father threw them in a great many apples, left them, and went away.

The girls could not at first understand their father's conduct, but then they saw that he had brought them into the wood on purpose, and said: 'Our wicked stepmother is to blame for this!' but there was no help for it, so these three little maidens sat down and wept. They wept and wept until their faces were pale; their tears shook heaven above and the earth beneath. At last the apples were finished. They thought and thought, and decided that each should let blood from her little finger, and that they should eat her whose blood tasted sweetest. They let blood, and it was agreed by all that the youngest sister's was sweetest. She said: 'O sisters! do not eat me. I have three apples hidden; eat them, and perhaps God will help us.'

Then she bent on her knees, and prayed to God: 'O God, for Thy name's sake, I beseech Thee, let one of my hands turn into a pickaxe, and the other into a shovel.' God heard her prayer. One of her hands changed into a pickaxe, and the other into a shovel. With one hand she dug

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a hole, and with the other shovelled away the earth. She dug and dug until she came to a mouse's hole. She took thence nuts, little nuts, and gave them to her sisters. She went on digging, and broke down a stable wall. This stable belonged to the king, and almonds and raisins were strewed about in it. The girls used to go to the stable; they stole the almonds and raisins, and ate them. The grooms were astonished, and said: 'Who can it be that steals the almonds and raisins? The horses are dying of starvation.'

The little maiden, in her digging, next broke the window of an old woman's hut. Every morning the mistress of this hut went to mass. Feeling sorry for the old woman, the girls stole into the hut, cleaned and tidied everything, put beans on the fire to cook, broke off sufficient bread for themselves, and stole away again. When the old woman came home she was filled with surprise. Who could have been there and stolen her bread? Perhaps she could find out. She did not go to mass next day. She rolled herself in a mat, and stuck herself up, like a stick, near the door. The girls came; they thought the old woman had gone to mass, and stole into the hut one by one. The old woman watched from the mat with both her eyes, and she could scarcely believe what she saw. She saw the three maidens enter--each more beautiful than the other, all fair, as if the sun had never frowned upon them. She gazed and gazed until she could bear it no longer: she threw off the mat, seized one of them in her arms, and said: 'Who art thou, who art so angelic? Art thou human or an angel?' The maiden replied: 'We are three sisters, we are human. Thus and thus has it befallen us.' And she told their tale to the old woman, who was delighted that she had found the three sisters. She guarded them as the light of her eyes,

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and, when she went out, turned up baskets over them, that none should see them and take them away.

Once the woman went to mass. She left the girls under baskets, and shut the doors. Then the idea came into the girls' heads that they would like some raisins. They rose, took off the baskets, and crept into the stable. Just as they were beginning to steal raisins, the groom hastened in seized the three sisters, and took them before the king. The king asked them who they were, and they told him all their history. The king said: 'Tell me, what can you do?' The eldest sister said: 'I can weave such a carpet that every man in thy army could sit on it, and still half of it would not be unrolled.' The second sister said: 'I can cook enough food in an egg-shell to feed thine army, and when they have eaten, half yet shall remain.' The king said to the youngest: 'What canst thou do?' She replied: 'I can bear golden-haired boys.' The king was pleased with this answer, and wedded her. He tried her sisters' skill, but the eldest could not weave a carpet large enough for one man, while the food cooked by the second sister would not have satisfied a bird. The king waxed wroth, and said to his wife: 'If thou deceivest me too, none of you shall live.'

Some time passed, and the youngest sister was with child. At that time the king's enemy came against him, and he prepared to go forth to battle. Before he set out he left this message: 'If my wife bears a son, let a sword be suspended over the door; if she bears a daughter, let a spinning-wheel be hung up.' Shortly after this his wife went to bed. Her sisters would allow no one to enter the bed-room; they tended her and nursed her themselves.

The king's wife brought forth a golden-haired boy. Her

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two sisters were angry that their youngest sister should be proved truthful in the sight of the king, while they were liars; they wished her also to appear untruthful. They arose, and, without the mother's knowledge, took away the golden-haired boy, and put in his place a puppy dog. They did not dare to kill the child, so they made a box, laid him in it, and put it in a river. The river carried it away, and it stuck in a mill-race. The race was dammed up and the mill stopped. The miller came out, and saw the box fixed in the race; he took it up and opened it. Behold, there lay a golden-haired child! He was childless, so he took it home and brought it up. In the meantime the sisters hung up a pestle over the door. The king returned from the battle and saw the pestle. He was very much surprised, and said: 'What does this mean? what has my wife brought forth?' They said: 'A puppy.' The king was very angry, but thought: 'Perhaps some one has done this; I will wait and see if she has a son.'

A year passed, and his wife was again with child. One day, when the king was out hunting, a golden-haired boy was born. The sisters, as before, would allow no one in the room. They took the child away secretly, and put a kitten in its place. They again put the child in a box in the river, and the miller found it again. The sisters hung the pestle over the door. When the king returned from the chase, and saw the pestle, he burned with fires of rage, and sparks shot from his eyes. He took his wife out, caused her to be wrapped in a bullock's skin, and bound to a column in front of the palace. Every one who passed by was ordered to spit in her face and strike her. Thus unjustly did he torture an innocent being! The miller loved the two golden-haired children as if they were the apple of his

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eye. They became very wise, brave, and handsome, and grew as much in a day as other children grow in a year.

Once when the king was out hunting, he saw a group of children playing, but among them were two who far excelled the others. The king was very much taken with these two children, and could not withdraw his eyes from them. He looked and looked, and would never have been tired of looking; he wished to gaze on them for ever. He noticed how strongly they resembled himself. He was astonished, and said to himself: 'Who can these children be, who are so like myself?' But he could not guess the truth. Just then, while playing, the cap fell from the head of one of the brothers, and showed his golden hair. The king was struck, and inquired: 'Whose children are these?' He was told they were the miller's sons.

The next day the king gave a banquet, and invited the miller and his golden-haired sons. When the children came into the king's courtyard, they saw a woman bound to a column, and they looked long, and knew that this must be their mother. The cook was roasting a pheasant. The elder brother went inside, took the spit from the cook, sat down by the fireside, and turned the pheasant round. When it became red and was cooked, he began to tell a tale. All ears were pricked up, and the people looked into his face. The boy began to tell his mother's tale. After he had told how his mother bore the golden-haired boys, and how the sisters were so treacherous, he concluded by saying: 'If this story is true, the bullock's skin will burst, and my mother be free.' And the bullock's skin burst, and his mother came in.

When the story was quite finished, his younger brother came in and took the spit in his hand, and said: 'If all my

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brother's tale is true and this is indeed our mother, this roast pheasant will have feathers and fly away.' Feathers appeared on the roast pheasant, and it flew off. The people gazed open-mouthed. The astonished king commanded the jealous sisters to be brought, bound them to horses' tails, and had them dragged about. The king took his wife and children into the palace, and rejoiced greatly that he had learnt the truth and found his golden-haired sons. 1


11:1 Cf. Lady Charlotte Guest's Mabinogion, p. 353. Pwll.

Next: III. The Good-for-nothing