The Pink Fairy Book
The King Who Would Have a Beautiful Wife
Fifty years ago there lived a king who was very anxious to get married; but, as he was
quite determined that his wife should be as beautiful as the sun, the thing was not so easy
as it seemed, for no maiden came up to his standard. Then he commanded a trusty servant
to search through the length and breadth of the land till he found a girl fair enough to be
queen, and if he had the good luck to discover one he was to bring her back with him.
The servant set out at once on his journey, and sought high and low-in castles and
cottages; but though pretty maidens were plentiful as blackberries, he felt sure that none
of them would please the king.
One day he had wandered far and wide, and was feeling very tired and thirsty. By the
roadside stood a tiny little house, and here he knocked and asked for a cup of water. Now
in this house dwelt two sisters, and one was eighty and the other ninety years old. They
were very poor, and earned their living by spinning. This had kept their hands very soft
and white, like the hands of a girl, and when the water was passed through the lattice, and
the servant saw the small, delicate fingers, he said to himself: 'A maiden must indeed be
lovely if she has a hand like that.' And he made haste back, and told the king.
'Go back at once,' said his majesty, 'and try to get a sight of her.'
The faithful servant departed on his errand without losing any time, and again he knocked
at the door of the little house and begged for some water. As before, the old woman did
not open the door, but passed the water through the lattice.
'Do you live here alone?' asked the man.
'No,' replied she, 'my sister lives with me. We are poor girls, and have to work for our
'How old are you?'
'I am fifteen, and she is twenty.'
Then the servant went back to the king, and told him all he knew. And his majesty
answered: 'I will have the fifteen-year-old one. Go and bring her here.'
The servant returned a third time to the little house and knocked at the door. In reply to
his knock the lattice window was pushed open, and a voice inquired what it was he
'The king has desired me to bring back the youngest of you to become his queen,' he
'Tell his majesty I am ready to do his bidding, but since my birth no ray of light has fallen
upon my face. If it should ever do so I shall instantly grow black. Therefore beg, I pray
you, his most gracious majesty to send this evening a shut carriage, and I will return in it
to the castle.