The Orange Fairy Book HTML version

The Two Caskets
Far, far away, in the midst of a pine forest, there lived a woman who had both a
daughter and a stepdaughter. Ever since her own daughter was born the mother
had given her all that she cried for, so she grew up to be as cross and
disagreeable as she was ugly. Her stepsister, on the other hand, had spent her
childhood in working hard to keep house for her father, who died soon after his
second marriage; and she was as much beloved by the neighbours for her
goodness and industry as she was for her beauty.
As the years went on, the difference between the two girls grew more marked,
and the old woman treated her stepdaughter worse than ever, and was always
on the watch for some pretext for beating her, or depriving her of her food.
Anything, however foolish, was good enough for this, and one day, when she
could think of nothing better, she set both the girls to spin while sitting on the low
wall of the well.
'And you had better mind what you do,' said she, 'for the one whose thread
breaks first shall be thrown to the bottom.'
But of course she took good care that her own daughter's flax was fine and
strong, while the stepsister had only some coarse stuff, which no one would have
thought of using. As might be expected, in a very little while the poor girl's thread
snapped, and the old woman, who had been watching from behind a door,
seized her stepdaughter by her shoulders, and threw her into the well.
'That is an end of you!' she said. But she was wrong, for it was only the
Down, down, down went the girl--it seemed as if the well must reach to the very
middle of the earth; but at last her feet touched the ground, and she found herself
in a field more beautiful than even the summer pastures of her native mountains.
Trees waved in the soft breeze, and flowers of the brightest colours danced in
the grass. And though she was quite alone, the girl's heart danced too, for she
felt happier than she had since her father died. So she walked on through the
meadow till she came to an old tumbledown fence--so old that it was a wonder it
managed to stand up at all, and it looked as if it depended for support on the old
man's beard that climbed all over it.
The girl paused for a moment as she came up, and gazed about for a place
where she might safely cross. But before she could move a voice cried from the
'Do not hurt me, little maiden; I am so old, so old, I have not much longer to live.'
And the maiden answered: