The Robber Bridegroom

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Once upon a time there was a miller who had a beautiful daughter. When she came of age he wished that she was provided for and well married. He thought, "If a respectable suitor comes and asks for her hand in marriage, I will give her to him."

Not long afterward a suitor came who appeared to be very rich, and because the miller could find no fault with him, he promised his daughter to him.

The girl, however, did not like him as much as a bride should like her bridegroom. She did not trust him, and whenever she saw him or thought about him, she felt within her heart a sense of horror.

One time he said to her, "You are engaged to marry me, but you have never once paid me a visit."

The girl replied, "I don't know where your house is."

Then the bridegroom said, "My house is out in the dark woods."

Looking for an excuse, she said that she would not be able to find the way there.

The bridegroom said, "Next Sunday you must come out to me. I have already invited guests. I will make a trail of ashes, so that you can find your way through the woods."

When Sunday came, and it was time for the girl to start on her way, she became frightened, although she herself did not know exactly why. In order to mark the path, she filled both her pockets full of peas and lentils. At the entrance of the forest there was a trail of ashes, which she followed, but at every step she threw a couple of peas to the ground, to the right and to the left. She walked almost the whole day until she came to the middle of the woods, where it was the darkest, and there stood a solitary house. She did not like it, because it looked so dark and sinister. She went inside, but no one was there. It was totally quiet.

Suddenly a voice called out:

Turn back, turn back, you young bride.
You are in a murderer's house.

The girl looked up and saw that the voice came from a bird, which was hanging in a cage on the wall. It cried out again:

Turn back, turn back, you young bride.
You are in a murderer's house.

Then the beautiful bride went from one room to another, walking through the whole house, but it was entirely empty, and not a human soul was to be found. Finally she came to the cellar. A very old woman was sitting there shaking her head.

"Could you tell me," said the girl, "if my bridegroom lives here?"

"Oh, you poor child," replied the old woman, "where did you come from? You are in a murderer's den. You think you are a bride soon to be married, but it is death that you will be marrying. Look, they made me put a large kettle of water on the fire. When they have captured you, they will chop you to pieces without mercy, cook you, and eat you, for they are cannibals. If I do not show you compassion and save you, you are doomed."

With this the old woman led her behind a large barrel where she could not be seen.

"Be quiet as a mouse." she said. "Do not make a sound or move, or all will be over with you. Tonight when the robbers are asleep we will escape. I have long waited for an opportunity."

This had scarcely happened when the godless band came home. They were dragging with them another maiden. They were drunk and paid no attention to her screams and sobs.

They gave her wine to drink, three glasses full, one glass of white, one glass of red, and one glass of yellow, which caused her heart to break. Then they ripped off her fine clothes, laid her on a table, chopped her beautiful body in pieces and sprinkled salt on it. The poor bride behind the barrel trembled and shook, for she saw well what fate the robbers had planned for her.

One of them noticed a gold ring on the murdered girl's little finger. Because it did not come off easily, he took an ax and chopped the finger off, but it flew into the air and over the barrel, falling right into the bride's lap. The robber took a light and looked for it, but could not find it.

Then another one said, "Did you look behind the large barrel?"

But the old woman cried out, "Come and eat. You can continue looking in the morning. That finger won't run away from you."

Then the robbers said, "The old woman is right." They gave up their search and sat down to eat. The old woman poured a sleeping-potion into their wine, so that they soon lay down in the cellar and fell asleep, snoring.

When the bride heard them snoring she came out from behind the barrel, and had to step over the sleepers, for they lay all in rows on the ground. She was afraid that she might awaken one of them, but God helped her, and she got through safely.

The old woman went upstairs with her, opened the door, and they hurried out of the murderer's den as fast as they could.

The wind had blown away the trail of ashes, but the peas and lentils had sprouted and grown up, and showed them the way in the moonlight. They walked all night, arriving at the mill the next morning. Then the girl told her father everything, just as it had happened.

When the wedding day came, the bridegroom appeared. The miller had invited all his relatives and acquaintances. As they sat at the table, each one was asked to tell something. The bride sat still and said nothing.

Then the bridegroom said to the bride, "Come, sweetheart, don't you know anything? Tell us something, like the others have done."

She answered:

Then I will tell about a dream. I was walking alone through the woods, when finally I came to a house. Inside there was not a single human soul, but on the wall there was a bird in a cage. It cried out:

Turn back, turn back, you young bride.
You are in a murderer's house.

Then it cried out the same thing again. Darling, it was only a dream. Then I went through all the rooms. They were all empty, and there was something so eerie in there. Finally I went down into the cellar, and there sat a very old woman, shaking her head. I asked her, "Does my bridegroom live in this house?"

She answered, "Alas poor child, you have gotten into a murderer's den. Your bridegroom does live here, but he intends to chop you to pieces and kill you, and then he intends to cook you and eat you."

Darling, it was only a dream. After that the old woman hid me behind a large barrel. I had scarcely hidden myself there when the robbers came home, dragging a girl with them. They gave her three kinds of wine to drink: white, red, and yellow, which caused her heart to stop beating. Darling, it was only a dream. After that they took off her fine clothes, and chopped her beautiful body to pieces on a table, then sprinkled salt on it. Darling, it was only a dream. Then one of the robbers saw that there was still a ring on her ring finger. Because it was hard to get the ring off, he took an ax and chopped off the finger. The finger flew through the air behind the large barrel, and fell into my lap. And here is the finger with the ring.

With these words she pulled out the finger and showed it to everyone who was there.

The robber, who had during this story become as white as chalk, jumped up and tried to escape, but the guests held him fast, and turned him over to the courts. Then he and his whole band were executed for their shameful deeds.

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Revised December 2, 2005.