folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther
types 1450, 1451, 1452, 1453, and 1457
about choosing a bride
translated and/or edited by
D. L. Ashliman
Once upon a time there was a girl who was beautiful, but lazy and negligent. When she had to spin she was so ill tempered that if there was a little knot in the flax, she at once pulled out a whole heap of it, and scattered it about on the ground beside her. Now she had a servant who was industrious, and who gathered together the discarded flax, cleaned it, spun it well, and had a beautiful dress woven out of it for herself.
A young man had courted the lazy girl, and the wedding was about to take place. On the eve of the wedding, the industrious girl was dancing merrily about in her beautiful dress, and the bride said,
Ach, wat kann das Mäken springen
Ah, how that girl can jump about,
The bridegroom heard this, and asked the bride what she meant by it. So she told him that the girl was wearing a dress made from the flax which she had thrown away. When the bridegroom heard this, and saw how lazy she was, and how industrious the poor girl was, he gave her up and went to the other girl, and chose her as his wife.
A man wanted to select a wife for himself from among three sisters, all of whom pleased him greatly. He invited them all to eat their noon meal with him at an inn. Wanting to find himself an industrious and efficient housewife, he decided to test them on how they ate cheese.
When her cheese was served the eldest cut the rind off so thick that it included a lot of good cheese, which was thus lost. "She will waste too much and throw out everything," thought the man. "You cannot choose her."
Then the second sister received her cheese, and she ate her piece without cutting off any of the rind. "She is not the wife for you either," thought the man. "She will be disorderly."
Then the youngest sister was served her cheese. She scraped her piece off cleanly and carefully, and then ate it. Thus the suitor thought, "She is the right one!" and he did indeed marry her.
A young herdsman wanted to get married. Now he knew three sisters. All were equally beautiful, and he liked them all equally well, so he could not decide which of them he should choose as his bride. His mother noticed this, and she said to him, "Let me give you some good advice. Invite all three sisters to eat with you at the same time. Serve them some cheese and pay attention to what they do with it."
The son followed this advice. He invited the girls to his house and served them cheese. The first one greedily ate her piece, complete with the rind, so that not a trace of it was left. The second one, to the contrary, cut off the rind so thick that she wasted a lot of good cheese. The third one neatly peeled off just the right amount of rind.
The herdsman told his mother what had happened with the cheese, and she said, "Choose the third one. She will bring you luck."
That is what he did, and as long as he lived, he never regretted having followed his mother's advice.
There was once a rich farmer's son who went out to woo. He had heard of a lass who was fair and gentle, and who was both clever in the house and good at cooking.
Thither he went, for it was just such a wife he wanted. The people on the farm knew, of course, on what errand he came, so they asked him to take a seat near to them, and they talked and chatted with him, as the custom is, and beside offered him a drink and asked him to stop to dinner. They went in and out of the room, so the lad had time to look about him, and over in a corner he saw a spinning wheel with the distaff full of flax.
"Whose spinning wheel is that?" asked the lad.
"Oh, that's our daughter's," said the woman of the house.
"There's a deal of flax on it," said the lad. "I suppose she takes more than a day to spin that," said he.
"No, not at all," said the woman. "She does it easily in one day and perhaps less than that."
That was more than he had ever heard of anyone being able to spin in such a short time.
When they were going to carry in the dinner they all went out of the room and he was left alone. He then saw an old key lying in the window, and this he took and stowed well away among the flax on the distaff. So they ate and drank and got on well together, and when the lad thought he had been there long enough, he said good-bye and went his way. They asked him to come soon again, which he promised, but he did not speak of the matter he had at heart, although he liked the lass very well.
Some time after, he came again to the farm, and they received him still better than the first time. But just as they were chatting at their best, the farmer's wife said, "Last time you were here something very remarkable happened. Our storehouse key disappeared all at once, and we have never been able to find it since."
The lad went over to the spinning wheel, which stood in the corner with just as much flax on it as when last he was there. He put his hand in among the flax and said, "Here is the key! Much cannot be made by the spinning when the spinning day lasts from Michaelmas [September 29] to Easter."
So he said good-bye, and did not speak of the matter he had at heart that time either.
There was once a handsome young fellow by the name of Tom. From an old, wealthy uncle he had inherited a fine farm, and being well established in life, he determined to seek a wife. As he was quite wealthy, he considered himself able to afford a little more than ordinary people in this direction, for the wives of wealthy men must always be prettier and wiser than those of the poor, as we all know.
So Tom wanted a wife who was handsome and industrious, wise and good, and of course it would not be out of the way if she possessed some property.
One day he rode over to a rich farmer who lived in the neighborhood and who had three daughters, all of whom were ready to be married at once. He had seen, although he had never talked with, them, and thought well of all three.
Now these girls, who were otherwise pretty and good, had one great fault: namely, that they could not talk distinctly. When Tom came riding into the yard the farmer received him kindly and conducted him into the room where the three girls sat spinning diligently.
They nodded kindly to him and smiled, but did not utter a sound, as their mother had strictly forbidden them to do so. The farmer led the talking, while his wife waited on them with good food and drinks. The girls spun, and looked at the young man at the table, and glanced at each other and at the ceiling and out of the windows, but none of them spoke.
At length the one happened to break her yarn. "My 'arn bote!" exclaimed she.
"Tie it adain," advised her sister.
"Mamma told us we say no'tin', and now we t'ant teep 'till!" broke in the third one.
When Tom heard these grown girls talk like babies he hurried away, utterly shocked. A wife who could not speak distinctly he had no use for at all.
He proceeded to another farm, where they had a daughter who was said to be a very fine girl in all respects. Tom went into the house and saw her. If the first three ones had been too silent, this one talked, however, more fluently and volubly than any girl whom he had ever met. She talked like a house on fire, while her spinning wheel went more rapidly than any engine.
"How long does it take you to use up such a head of flax?" asked the young man, pointing to the rock [distaff].
"Oh," she said, "I use up a couple of them every day."
While she left the room a few minutes to look after the servants, Tom seized a key from a drawer of a bureau in the room and stuffed it into the head of flax. When she returned they finished their conversation; whereupon he bid her parents and herself good-bye, promising to call again in a week.
On the appointed day Tom returned. The girl and her parents expected him to talk this time of his errand. When he came into the room the girl was busy with her rock, as before. She bid him welcome, and invited him to sit down.
"How unfortunate!" began she. "We have been missing the key of that bureau ever since you were here. We are unable to find it, and I cannot reach any of my things. It never happened before."
On hearing this, Tom went over and pulled the key out of the head of flax. It was the same key, and, still worse, the very same head of flax that he had seen a week before. Thus he knew her word could not be depended upon; and bidding her good-bye he left at once, richer in experience than before.
Some time afterwards he heard of a girl who was very pretty and good, but especially wise and thoughtful in all practical matters. Her parents were said to be the same. Tom saddled his horse and rode over to see her.
The whole family was at home and received the young man very kindly. While the men drifted into a talk about the weather and crops, the women placed before them the best that the house could afford.
"Go into the cellar and fetch a bottle of wine," said the woman to her daughter.
The girl went into the cellar, but was so busy thinking what pattern she might choose for a wedding dress that she sat down on the floor, lost in reflection upon this important subject, and the wine was entirely forgotten. After she had left the room, the parents told Tom of their daughter's many good qualities; how industrious she was, how thoughtful, and so on. The young man thought that she would be exactly such a wife as he wished. But as the girl did not appear with the wine, her mother went to see what had become of her.
When she came into the cellar and found her daughter sitting on the floor, she asked, "Why do you sit there, instead of bringing the wine?"
"Well," was the answer, "I am thinking that if I marry Tom I must make a careful choice of the pattern for my wedding gown. The question is, what pattern would do best?"
"Yes, indeed," answered her mother, "which pattern will be the most suitable?" She sat down by her daughter, pondering over this important question.
"I wonder what has become of them both!" at length exclaimed the man, referring to his wife and daughter. "I must look after them."
He went into the cellar, and when he saw both women sitting on the floor he cried, "Why are you both sitting here? You have kept us waiting for over an hour!"
"We are thinking," replied his wife, "of the pattern for the wedding gown. If she is to marry Tom, the gown must, of course, be a pretty one, and the choice of the right pattern is, indeed, an important matter."
"To be sure!" answered her husband, seating himself on the floor beside them to consider the same subject.
As at length Tom grew tired of waiting, he went himself into the cellar to see if anything unusual had happened. He found the whole family sitting on the floor and looking extremely thoughtful.
"Why do you all sit here?" he asked. At length the farmer, aroused from his reverie, proceeded to relate the difficult question which had caught their attention.
"Yes, in dee e ed," answered Tom. "Which will be the most suitable pattern? You may think of that until I return, and in the meantime I will do the same. Good bye to you!"
Mounting his horse, he rode home as rapidly as the steed would carry him, and if he has not found another and less thoughtful girl, he is yet a bachelor.
But the three people may yet be sitting on the cellar floor, thinking of the pattern for the bridal gown, for all that I know!
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Revised July 17, 2010.