|The great palace by the sea.|
Illustrations by Diane Goode.
Once upon a time, "in a great palace by the sea, there once dwelt a very rich old lord who had neither wife nor children living, only one little granddaughter whose face he had never seen in all her life. He hated her bitterly", for her birth had brought about her mother's death. For the loss of his own daughter, the lord blamed this lonesome baby. So he sent it away with a nurse, and told himself that he did not care whether the child lived or no. He sat upon his throne and gazed out to sea, weeping over the losses of his life. Finally, "his white hair and beard grew down over his shoulders and twined round his chair." He wept so hard and and so long that "his tears, dropping onto the window ledge, wore a channel through the stone and ran away in a little river to the sea." Meanwhile, the child was cared for by the nurse, who fed her on scraps, and dressed her in cast-off tatters. Her little feet never knew shoes, and she grew up as wild as the flowers in springtime. Since she was noble born but tossed among the servants, they hated her every one, and mockingly called her Tattercoats. Jeering her was their sport, and the child quickly learned to stay out of their way. Out of doors all day long, she soon learned to follow a large gaggle of geese that waddled past each day. They were herded by a small, funny man who was a "queer, merry little chap", and played so happily on his pipe that he could make Tattercouts forget her woes, whether she felt "hungry or cold or tired". The girl danced away the years, her nimble, bare feet stepping lightly over the grass. Her gown, patched with scraps and stitched firmly together, faded and blurred until it seemed made of a thousand colors. It happened one day that the King travelled throughout the land, inviting all the gentry to a ball. A courier was sent to the castle of the old lord, "who still sat by his window, wrapped up in his long beard." Now Tattercoats sat down and cried, for she knew that her grandfather was going to the ball, and that he would not take her with him. Nurse went and beseeched the old man to take pity on the girl, two times she asked him, and then three. But "he only frowned and told her to be silent while the servants laughed and said, 'Tattercoats is happy in her rags, playing with the gooseherd! Let her be — it is all that she is fit for." Now Tattecoats fled, crying, to find comfort with her friends, the geese and their herder. He dried her tears and suggested they go together into town, to see the fine people passing by. She looked sadly down at her own rags and bare toes and the gooseherd saw what was in her mind. "Before she well knew, the gooseherd had taken her by the hand, and she and he, with the geese before them, were dancing down the road towards the town." As they skipped down the road they saw coming towards them a fine steed with a well-dressed rider upon its back. As he drew nearer, the man dismounted, and asked if they knew the way to the king's castle. "You seem merry folk, and will be good company!" said he, when he found that they were "going thither". The gooseherd struck up "a new tune, that was not a dance", and the longer he played, the brighter shone Tattercoats' face, and the more faded were her rags, until they hardly seemed noticeable. As the sun beamed down upon him, the gentleman felt a very strange sensation in his chest. Before he could restrain himself, he burst out,"You are the most beautiful maiden in the world. Will you marry me?' The gooseherd smiled to himself and played sweeter than ever. But Tattercoats laughed. 'Not I,' said she, 'you would be finely put to shame, and so would I be, if you took a goosegirl for your wife! Go and ask one of the great ladies you will see tonight at the King's ball, and do not flout poor Tattercoats." Yet the goosherd kept playing, and the sun kept shining, and Tattercoats was so lovely that the young man begged her "to come that night at twelve to the King's ball, just as she was, with the gooseherd and the geese, in her torn petticoat and bare feet". Then she would see, he told her, that he would ask her to dance before the assembled company, and show that his love for her was true. Tattercoats would not agree to this, but the gooseherd counseled her,"Take fortune when it comes, little one." The ball was a lavish affair and the feasting of the highest level. When the table and chairs had been cleared, and the musicians struck a tune, and the chandeliers were lighted, the palace seemed bathed in luxury. And the fine ladies in their silks and brocades, and the lords in their velvets and furs, strode about haughtily, dancing with dainty steps amid the splendor. But when the clock began to toll the midnight hour all the guests fluttered into silence. For right up to the King marched a ragged goosegirl, and a gaggle of noisy geese! The King stared in amazement, a tiny smile hidden beneath his beard. Now the young gentleman who had invited Tattercoats stepped forward and said,"Father!' — for it was the prince himself — 'I have made my choice, and here is my bride, the loveliest girl in all the land, and the sweetest as well. "Now the gooseherd began to play his pipes once more and "as he played, Tattercoats' rags were changed to shining robes sewn with glittering jewels, a golden crown lay upon her golden hair, and the flock of geese behind her became a crowd of pages, bearing her long train." And the King embraced his son's bride and called her Daughter, and the courtiers saw how graceful and lovely the girl was, and the trumpets were sounded, and merriment reigned. As for the gooseherd, he is still tending his geese, and if ever you are walking in the woods and hear "notes that sound like a bird singing, far off", you will know that he is near.
From Tattercoats, Told by Flora Annie Steel, with pictures by Diane Goode. (1976) New York: Bradbury Press
Notes: This is a lovely book, with water color illustrations that set a wistful, magical tone. I love the part where the lord's tears carve a channel in the windowsill! The story is reminiscent of The Turkey Girl, a Zuni American Indian tale. In that story, her only friends are also a flock of birds, and she has no friendly herd boy for a mate.
Montessori Connection: Extension, The Work of Water/ Erosion
1. Read this story and notice what happens to the stone windowsill after the lord cries on it for so many years.
2. Ask your teacher to give you the Work of Water lesson on erosion.
3. Learn that erosion means wearing away a little tiny bit at a time.
4. Ask for permission to build a small mountain out of rocks, earth and sand, outside.
5. Using a garden hose, tubing, straws, tin foil, or other materials, experiment with running water down your mountain.
6. Observe the results.
7. If a pathway, or channel has been worn through the soil, you will have witnessed erosion.