The Grey Fairy Book HTML version
There was once upon a time a woman who had an only daughter. When the child was
about seven years old she used to pass every day, on her way to school, an orchard where
there was a wild plum tree, with delicious ripe plums hanging from the branches. Each
morning the child would pick one, and put it into her pocket to eat at school. For this
reason she was called Prunella. Now, the orchard belonged to a witch. One day the witch
noticed the child gathering a plum, as she passed along the road. Prunella did it quite
innocently, not knowing that she was doing wrong in taking the fruit that hung close to
the roadside. But the witch was furious, and next day hid herself behind the hedge, and
when Prunella came past, and put out her hand to pluck the fruit, she jumped out and
seized her by the arm.
‘Ah! you little thief!' she exclaimed. ‘I have caught you at last. Now you will have to pay
for your misdeeds.'
The poor child, half dead with fright, implored the old woman to forgive her, assuring her
that she did not know she had done wrong, and promising never to do it again. But the
witch had no pity, and she dragged Prunella into her house, where she kept her till the
time should come when she could have her revenge.
As the years passed Prunella grew up into a very beautiful girl. Now her beauty and
goodness, instead of softening the witch's heart, aroused her hatred and jealousy.
One day she called Prunella to her, and said: ‘Take this basket, go to the well, and bring it
back to me filled with water. If you don't I will kill you.'
The girl took the basket, went and let it down into the well again and again. But her work
was lost labour. Each time, as she drew up the basket, the water streamed out of it. At
last, in despair, she gave it up, and leaning against the well she began to cry bitterly,
when suddenly she heard a voice at her side saying ‘Prunella, why are you crying?'
Turning round she beheld a handsome youth, who looked kindly at her, as if he were
sorry for her trouble.
‘Who are you,' she asked, ‘and how do you know my name?'
‘I am the son of the witch,' he replied, ‘and my name is Bensiabel. I know that she is
determined that you shall die, but I promise you that she shall not carry out her wicked
plan. Will you give me a kiss, if I fill your basket?'
‘No,' said Prunella, ‘I will not give you a kiss, because you are the son of a witch.'