Robin Redbreast

Robin Redbreast
Birds can represent the fluttering, darting thoughts of intuition. This is why little birds helped Cinderella help herself.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Cinderella #126 Askungen/Cinder-brat (1882)


West Coast Lady

Once upon a time in Stockholm, there lived a wealthy merchant.  He had a wife, and a little daughter, and life was good.  But one day, the wife caught a chill, and soon died. Time passed and the man married again, to a woman with two daughters of her own.  These two were just like their mother in temperament: as sour as old vinegar. Although the merchant's daughter did her best to accommodate her new stepsisters, this she could not do. The worst of it was that the moment the new mother and girls had moved in, they had seen the child huddled against the big stove, dreaming.  From that moment on they called her Cinder-brat.  So many years had since passed that she had all but forgotten her true name.  All day, from dawn to dusk she heard, "Cinder-brat, kindle the fire!" "Cinder-brat, bring hot water!" "Cinder-brat, do not dally while you milk the cows!" Her father spent most of his time on extended business trips, and his own daughter became nothing more than a servant in her own home.  When her stepmother announced that she was with child, things became even worse.  Her father stayed at home, and all revolved around his laden wife. Now Cinder-brat was kept busy sewing  smallclothes  in preparation for the baby, and her stepmother kept her working without a rest. Her father sent her on one errand after another, as his wife had a taste for this morsel one day and that tidbit the next. Cinder-brat cooked dish after dish and was scarcely allowed to taste them. It happened one day that her stepsisters came in full of news: the king was to give a ball.  In honor of the young prince's coming of age, all eligible maidens in the kingdom were invited to the palace.  Of course those two sour-pusses began elaborate preparations at once.  When Cinder-brat ventured to ask if she might go, she got no more than a cuff and a curse in response. At last, the night arrived. No sooner had her step-sisters left for the festivities than her stepmother began to moan. Her pains had started, and Cinder-brat was sent for the mid-wife.  That good woman came straight away,and set Cinder-brat to boiling a kettle of water and heating linens near the stove.  And in between tending to the fretful parturient, the midwife took stock of the kitchen, and the young girl who remained close to the stove.  At length this dame asked for tea to be brewed, and when it was poured, sat down by the fire.  "The dame cries for attention rather than reason,' she told Cinder-brat, 'yet you cry with some cause. Tell me, child, what are your woes?" And though the girl had not she a tear in as many years as she had not heard her name, she would not deny that sorrow was drowning her. The story poured out, and when the midwife heard that she was not truly a cinder-wench but the born daughter of the household, her face went dark.  Then she said, "Child, you shall have your chance at the prince.  Go into the garden and fetch me a large pumpkin, the largest that you see." And the girl did so, and rolled it over the stone floor.  But the mid-wife made her roll it straight out the kitchen door so that it rested in the path outside.  "I am sure I heard some rats in the trap.  Fetch it hither." This too was done, and four animals with tails as thick as Cinder-brat's fingers were set beside the pumpkin.  "And now for the coachmen..." muttered the old one, casting her eyes about the garden.  She spied two fat caterpillars with green striped coats inching along in the parsley bed.  Gently, she picked these up and set them atop the great orange pumpkin.  Cinder-brat marveled at these preparations, and smiled as the mid-wife drew a carved stick from her basket.  Yet her astonishment when this one waved her wand and chanted ancient words could not be described. Suddenly, the pumpkin became a chariot, drawn by four white horses, whose silky tails were as long as Cinder-brat's arms.  Two jaunty coachmen, in jackets of green with black stripes rode on high, and Cinder-brat felt herself drawn to climb in.  Glancing down, she saw that her sooty rags had been transformed into a gown as milk white as the moon which shone down, and her clogs were now soft slippers. "Go, child, and laugh now! You shall have a merry time, so long as you are home before midnight."  And Cinder-brat laughed as she had not done since she was a fair-haired tot in her mother's arms.  At the palace, she watched her stepsisters dancing with a pair of elegant men whose gray whiskers bobbed in time to the music.  The two girls scowled at their partners, their gowns and jewels no match for their faces.  When the prince asked Cinder-brat to dance she was speechless with surprise, and spoke not a word all evening.  But suddenly, the clock began to toll, and as she counted eight, then nine, then ten, she realized with a sinking heart that she must flee. Just as the clock struck twelve she leaped into her chariot, and before she could draw breath, was home again.  The wailing of an infant's voice told her that all was well upstairs.  Finding herself dressed in rags again, she  banked the coals in the stove, and lay down to sleep.  In the morning, her father sent her for the mid-wife  again, saying that his wife required the woman's help.  All that day Cinder-brat was kept busy, fetching one thing after another for her stepmother, but not allowed so much as a peek at her wee  baby sister. Her stepsisters arose when the sun was warm, giving the news that there was to be a second ball that night.  When evening fell, and the mid-wife was seated once more in the kitchen with a cup of tea, she nodded at Cinder-brat, who fetched the same strange assortment of animals as the night before. There was another pumpkin on the vine, this one not so big as the night before, but it would do. With a wink and a wave of the wand, the mid-wife worked her magic again.  Now Cinder-brat found herself dressed in a gown that glittered like the sun in high summer.  Her slippers were of pure gold. Again she watched her stepsisters dance with dukes and chamberlains, and again saw their irritation at being denied the prince. Unbeknownst to these two was that the mysterious girl in the golden gown who kept the prince close to her all evening was their despised younger sister.   So enamored was the prince of this young lady that he kept her close by him all evening.  But all of a sudden, as the clock chimed twelve, the girl bolted out the door.  In her haste, she lost a shoe.  The prince, lunging after her and finding himself sprawled on the floor, grasping for a shoe, let out a gasp! What had been a dainty slipper of gold became a heavy wooden clog even as he held it.  And the girl who had worn it but a minute hence had disappeared.  Cinder-brat, to her her horror, found herself racing down the palace stairs in her ragged kitchen dress. The chariot that had transported her was gone, and, on the road in front of the palace, four large rats and a pair of striped caterpillars strutted jauntily past. Cinder-brat ran home and hid her face in the ashes.  In the morning, aroused by her stepsisters brisk shake, she was truly a fright to behold. Her hair was tangled and her face smeared with cold soot. Her dress was torn, and she was wearing only one shoe! "Stupid girl, light the fire! The prince and his men are here to see your sisters." Her stepmother slapped her with one hand and coddled her babe in the other.  Soon the prince entered the house and asked each of the three young women present to sit down.  He had found a shoe, he told them, and was determined to find the young woman who had lost it.  When he drew out the greasy clog, Cinder-brat's stepsisters recoiled.  "That shoe belongs to the Cinder-brat, your majesty," they declared, "please punish her as you will for soiling your hands with it." But the prince bent forward and placed the shoe on Cinder-brat's foot, and, as he did so, the mid-wife appeared at the kitchen door. With a wave of her wand Cinder-brat was dressed in a gown that sparkled like all of the stars in the sky.  Her shining face and glossy braids were upturned toward the prince.  As he took her in his arms he saw that her clogs had turned to gold.  Together, they left the home that had been so bitter for his bride.  Within a year, the midwife had delivered them of a fine baby girl.  Many more followed and Cinder-brat and the prince lived happily ever after.  
Notes: This is Cox Number 22, identified as being from Värmland, Sweden. I love the image of the caterpillars transformed into horses, as Cinder-brat was transformed into a beautiful butterfly of loveliness. Also it is very interesting to see a midwife as the wise woman, this makes sense.  I do not know if this story predates Perrault in an oral version. His 1697 story, invoking lizards as coachmen, might, or might not, have influenced this story from Sweden. There is a significant language barrier between those two countries, much greater than between France and England.
Montessori Connection: Biology/Insects/Butterflies
1. Read this story and notice that it is caterpillars which are transformed into coachmen.
2. Find Sweden on the globe.
3. Learn about caterpillars and butterflies of Northern Europe:Butterflies of Northern Europe or Field Guide to Insects of Great Britain and Northern Europe

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