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The Blue Fairy Book

The Water-Lily. The Gold-Spinners
ONCE upon a time, in a large forest, there lived an old woman and three
maidens. They were all three beautiful, but the youngest was the fairest. Their
hut was quite hidden by trees, and none saw their beauty but the sun by day, and
the moon by night, and the eyes of the stars. The old woman kept the girls hard
at work, from morning till night, spinning gold flax into yarn, and when one distaff
was empty another was given them, so they had no rest. The thread had to be
fine and even, and when done was locked up in a secret chamber by the old
woman, who twice or thrice every summer went a journey. Before she went she
gave out work for each day of her absence, and always returned in the night, so
that the girls never saw what she brought back with her, neither would she tell
them whence the gold flax came, nor what it was to be used for.
Now, when the time came round for the old woman to set out on one of these
journeys, she gave each maiden work for six days, with the usual warning:
"Children, don't let your eyes wander, and on no account speak to a man, for, if
you do, your thread will lose its brightness, and misfortunes of all kinds will
follow." They laughed at this oft-repeated caution, saying to each other: "How
can our gold thread lose its brightness, and have we any chance of speaking to a
man?"
On the third day after the old woman's departure a young prince, hunting in the
forest, got separated from his companions, and completely lost. Weary of
seeking his way, he flung himself down under a tree, leaving his horse to browse
at will, and fell asleep.
The sun had set when he awoke and began once more to try and find his way
out of the forest. At last he perceived a narrow foot-path, which he eagerly
 
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