|Marguerite de Angeli|
Once upon a time, in a forest somewhere in Europe, there lived a woodcutter and his wife. The two were blessed with neither fortune nor fortitude, but three little girls. Though the girls were sweet enough to look at, neither mother nor father showed a spark of family love. There must have been a time when the woodcutter was vigorous and his wife industrious and pleasant, but hose days seemed dim indeed to the couple once the children had arrived. Providing for the three daughters and keeping them in clog and cloth was more than these two indolents could manage. Together one night, they hatched a plot to lighten their burden. In the morning, the mother would pack a large loaf of bread, as for a picnic, and the father would take his ax, that he might gather wood. Then they would load the children onto their cart, hitch the donkey to it and set out as for a pleasant day in the woods. After feeding the children on bread, the shiftless couple planned to lull them to sleep and leave them, too far from home to find their way back. And so they put the plan into action. All went as they had imagined, save for one thing. Little Finetta, youngest of their three daughters, had lain awake in her trundle as the two wicked ones made their plans. The child, in a fright of being abandoned, had laid a plot of her own. Soon after she was put in the cart she began to cry, as though from hunger. The girl would not desist until she was given a bit of bread. This she secretly crumbled into morsels, tossing them over the cart's sides without being observed. After quite a long way the father stopped the cart. Now the girls were taken out, and the parents sliced the bread between them. The sisters ran to and fro among the dappled light, gathering pretty leaves and delighting in the outing. When they had eaten their small bellies full, they were left lulled to sleep by their mother's singing. That's when their parents hitched the donkey to the cart and departed from the forest. At length, when the shadows had fallen and the air chilled, the girls awoke. And though they whimpered and called, neither Mama nor Papa heard their cries. Little Finetta, keeping faith in her trail of crumbs, counseled her sisters to follow after her, and she would leave them home. But although Finetta led her sisters first one way and then another, no bread crumbs could they find. The birds had eaten every one. The three laid themselves down to cry, knowing themselves abandoned. When they had cried awhile they got up again and began to walk: what else could they do? When they had walked in silence for some length of time, the eldest stopped. She spied a flicker through the trees up ahead! Now the second sister could see it as well, and then Finetta. The three crept towards the light and soon could see that it came from a little hut. They knocked upon the door. A kindly looking, wrinkled grandmother opened the door, and welcomed them in. She did not speak but bobbed her head, and dipped them each a bowl of stew from a bubbling pot. Exhausted, hungry, and worn out, the girls ate their fill. The old woman spread a feather bed for them before the fire, and they slept in the deepest of peace. It was just before dawn when little Finetta awoke. Without moving, she carefully opened one eye. The old woman's back was turned to her, and she was moving about, taking small jars off a shelf. As she sniffed one, and then another, the old one muttered to herself: When next Finetta awoke, she and her sisters were still in the feather bed—but the feather bed was in large bird cage! The old woman's wrinkled face did not look kindly at all in the morning light, and she seemed to have grown twice her size. Finetta and her sisters set to crying once more. They had entered the home of an ogress and now were held fast with no hope to get out. The ogress kept the children in the cage at night and let them out every morning to do the chores. The eldest must tend the henhouse. The middle must go into the forest and gather wood each day. And Finetta must keep the fire going and tend the soup that boiled on top of the huge clay oven. Days passed and turned into weeks. Before the weeks became a month, the sisters made a plan. They had discovered that the ogress was blind, and found her way around the hut only by smell. Each morning the ogress walked away from the hut, returning only at dusk when she smelled Finetta's soup. They planned carefully, each sister to do her part. The eldest would kill one of the hens, the middle would gather herbs while she was out in the forest, and Finetta would make a soup that smelled so wonderful, the ogress would be sure to come right up to the stove to smell it. But Finetta would hold the door to the oven open when she came, and the two others would shove her in when she bent to sniff. Before the moon waxed again, they had carried out this plot. The ogress had given one terrible howl and evaporated in a puff of foul smelling smoke. When they opened the oven door, she had disappeared! And that is when Finetta's real troubles began. Now that the ogress was gone, the sisters stayed on in the hut. The eldest slept in the ogress' bed, the middle took the feather bed for herself, and poor little Finetta was left on the floor! It is curious how experiencing cruelty does not always lead to kindness. So it was with the two older sisters: no sooner had they done away with the ogress than they put little Finetta to work, at all the roughest chores. The years passed while the sisters grew. The elder took her ease and the middle took her leisure, and they both took it upon themselves to order Finetta about. One day, while she was cleaning the ashes from the hearth, she chanced to look up. Just inside the chimney she saw a golden key. That night when her sisters were asleep, she crept to the ogress's bed, fit the key into the chest at its foot, and marveled. The chest was filled with gowns the like of which Finetta had never seen before. One day shortly thereafter, the sisters heard the sound of trumpets. The king's herald was announcing a ball, to which all the citizens were invited. The two eldest sisters declared that Finetta must stay behind to tend the fire. As soon as they left, the girl went to the chimney, fetched the key and opened the chest. Attired in a gown stitched all over with pearls, Finetta went to the ball. There she danced with each young man in turn, enjoying herself mightily. She saw her sisters there tittering, and heard them wonder who could this pearl-clad maiden be? The next night the ball continued, and Finetta again opened the chest. This time she selected a gown sewn all over with rubies. Again she danced with all the young men, and again she slipped out before hers sisters. When they came in laughing and full of gossip about they mysterious princess in the ruby dress, Finetta shrugged as if in disinterest. For the third night, the festivities continued. Now Finetta took out a dress covered entirely in diamonds. This night she danced with only one man: the King himself, for he had taken note of this strange young woman, and decided that she was fit only for a king. As the evening wore on Finetta began to worry, for she must leave the castle before her sisters headed for home. At length she fled, dashing through the forest to reach the hut in time to maintain her trick. In her haste she lost a slipper, which was "of Red velvet braided with Pearls". In the morning, the trumpeter was heard once more. Now he announced that the King had found a velvet shoe, and that he sought she who could wear it. All maidens were to come to the palace at once to attempt it. Now her sisters revel in primping themselves, desiring that Finetta clean their shoes and dress their hair. Forbidding her to follow, the two set off for the palace. The moment they were gone, Finetta opened the chest again. This time as soon as she opened the lid, she heard a voice. "Not a dress but a horse!" it declared, and at the very same moment, Finetta hear a whinny and stamp. Running out the door, and taking the red pearl slipper with her, she mounted the beast and galloped away. Soon Finetta saw her sisters on the road, and as she dashed by "dash'd them all over with Dirt". At the palace, Finetta takes her place in the line of maidens, though they stare and snicker at her ragged clothes. Although the ladies of the land "wash'd and pared their Feet, and made choice of the thinnest Stockings" this was "to no purpose, since none of them could get it on." But Finetta could! And when she had slipped on the first slipper and drawn out the second, the King knew that he had found his maiden. He and Finetta were married that very same day. She, being sweet of heart, forgave her sisters and found places for them at the palace too, so that the ogress' hut stands empty to this day.
From Opie & Opie: The Classic Fairy Tales p. 155
Notes: Iona and Peter Opie identify this story as being from a book published in 1721, Madame d'Aulnoy's Volume 1, Collection of Novels and Tales. The Opies note the similarity to Hansel and Gretel, which also opens with parents deserting children in the forest. I find that it is also quite similar to The Ogress and the Snake, a fairy tale from Somalia. That one begins with the father abandoning his five daugters out in the bush. They find their way to the home of an ogress, where they make friends with her daughter. It is taken from the book of the same name by Laird, Elizabeth.
Montessori Connection Literature/Connections between Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes and Fairy Tales.
1. Read this story and notice where and when it comes from.
2. Learn that in the year 1697 a man named Charles Perrault published a book called Tales of Times Past and Tales of My Mother Goose. It contained a story called Cinderella, and many nursery rhymes.
3. Notice that this story involves a golden key.
4. Try this joke out on your friends, it is a funny two-person riddle game:
First Person (you) says 1. I am a gold lock.
Second Person (your friend) answers: I am a gold key.
First Person then continues, and each time the friend gives the response, using the kind of metal used for the "lock". 2. I am a silver lock. 3. I am a brass lock. 4. I am a lead lock. 5. I am a don lock.
How did your friend answer the last one? (See p. 56, The Real Mother Goose, Lock and Key)