|These are not fir trees.|
Once upon a time, in Germany, there lived an orphan girl. Her parents had died, "leaving her nothing but a wonderful, scintillating dress and a testament." The girl decides that she will go and seek employment, carefully hiding the dress in a hollow fir tree. Then she goes to the grandest house in town, and begs for work. She is given the task of sweeping the cinders from the heath, and so takes the name of Aschengrübel. It happens that the son of the household is coming of age, and there is a grand ball in his honor. Now Aschengrübel begs permission to watch the party. She is given it, on condition that she does not dance. So the girl goes surreptitiously to her fir tree and changes into her marvelous dress. Back she goes to the party, where the young man of the house is taken by her looks, and begs her to dance. She steadfastly refuses, telling him that she has made an oath. When the evening ends, she rushes back to her fir tree, and is about to change clothes when "a tiny little man comes out from behind the tree, greets her kindly, and disappears suddenly." The next night the festivities are to continue, and again, Aschengrübel asks leave to watch. Once again she is told that she may, on condition that she does not dance. She goes to the fir tree and puts the dress on again, then runs back to the grand house. Again the young man of the household cannot keep his eyes off of her, and again, he begs her to dance. Yet she refuses. Now the man "tries to steal a kiss", so Aschengrübel runs back to the tree. After she has changed her clothes, "the little man comes forth, and greets her still more kindly". For the third night in a row, there is to be dancing. For the third night, Aschengrübel is told that she may go and watch, but not dance. This night the young man cannot keep his hands off of her, and grasps her firmly by the hand. He won't let her go until she promises to marry him! But she begs of him not to extract this promise from her, admitting to him that she is merely the hearth maid, his parents' Aschengrübel. He says that this does not matter to him, that he loves her for the sake of her own self. Who could resist such a promise? Certainly not Aschengrübel! But after she has promised, she runs back to the fir tree. There, "the little man meets her, beaming all over with friendliness". She tells him of her wedding plans, and he nods, and smiles. The next day, she changes for a final time, and prepares to leave the fir tree forever. Now the tiny little man says, "You have a dowry as well." He gives her a book, which is carefully wrapped. It is her "parent's testament, which says she is heiress to a great estate." She rushes to tell the young man of the house her true identity. They are married in splendor, and live happily ever after.
From Cox, M. R. (1893/2011, p. 402)
Notes:This is my new fave. I just love the little man and the fir tree; it reminds me of little gnomes and gnarled trees and thick white snow and the deep scent of fir.