The Red Fairy Book HTML version
The Wonderful Birch
ONCE upon a time there were a man and a woman, who had an only daughter. Now it
happened that one of their sheep went astray, and they set out to look for it, and searched
and searched, each in n different part of the wood. Then the good wife met a witch, who
said to her:
`If you spit, you miserable creature, if you spit into the sheath of my knife, or if you run
between my legs, I shall change you into a black sheep.'
The woman neither spat, nor did she run between her legs, but yet the witch changed her
into a sheep. Then she made herself look exactly like the woman, and called out to the
`Ho, old man, halloa! I have found the sheep already!'
The man thought the witch was really his wife, and he did not know that his wife was the
sheep; so he went home with her, glad at heart because his sheep was found. When they
were safe at home the witch said to the man:
`Look here, old man, we must really kill that sheep lest it run away to the wood again.'
The man, who was a peaceable quiet sort of fellow, made no objections, but simply said:
`Good, let us do so.'
The daughter, however, had overheard their talk, and she ran to the flock and lamented
`Oh, dear little mother, they are going to slaughter you!'
`Well, then, if they do slaughter me,' was the black sheep's answer, `eat you neither the
meat nor the broth that is made of me, but gather all my bones, and bury them by the
edge of the field.'
Shortly after this they took the black sheep from the flock and slaughtered it. The witch
made pease-soup of it, and set it before the daughter. But the girl remembered her
mother's warning. She did not touch the soup, but she carried the bones to the edge of the
field and buried them there; and there sprang up on the spot a birch tree--a very lovely
Some time had passed away--who can tell how long they might have been living there?--
when the witch, to whom a child had been born in the meantime, began to take an ill-will
to the man's daughter, and to torment her in all sorts of ways.
Now it happened that a great festival was to be held at the palace, and the King had
commanded that all the people should be invited, and that this proclamation should be