The Maiden Without Hands
A miller, who had gradually become very poor, had nothing left but his mill and a large apple tree behind it. One day when he went into the forest to gather wood, an old man, whom he had never seen before, came toward him, and said, “Why do you take the trouble to cut down wood? I will give you great riches if you will promise to let me have what stands behind your mill.”
“That can be no other than my apple tree,” thought the miller. “I possess nothing else.” So he said to the old man, “Yes, I will let you have it.”
Then the stranger smiled maliciously, and said, “In three years I will come again to claim what belongs to me,” and after saying this he departed.
As soon as the miller returned home, his wife came toward him and said: “Miller, from whence have all these riches come so suddenly to our house? All at once every drawer and chest has become full of gold. No one brought it here, and I know not where it came from.”
“Oh,” replied her husband, “I know all about it. A strange man whom I met in the wood promised me great treasures if I would make over to him what stood behind the mill. I knew I had nothing there but the large apple tree, so I gave him my promise.”
“Oh, husband!” said the wife in alarm, “that must have been the wizard. He did not mean the apple tree, but our daughter, who was behind the mill sweeping out the court.”
The miller’s daughter was a modest and beautiful maiden, and lived in innocence and obedience to her parents for three years, until the day came on which the wicked wizard was to claim her. She knew he was coming, and after washing till she was pure and clean as snow, she drew a circle of white chalk and stood within it.
The wizard made his appearance very early, but he did not dare to venture over the white circle, therefore he could not get near her. In great anger he said to the miller, “Take away every drop of water, that she may not wash, otherwise I shall have no power over her!”
The frightened miller did as he desired, but on the next morning, when the wizard came again, her hands were as pure and clean as ever, for she had wept over them. On this account the wizard was still unable to approach her; so he flew into a rage, and said, “Chop her hands off, otherwise I cannot touch her.”
Then the miller was terrified, and exclaimed, “How can I cut off the hands of my own child?”
Then the wicked wizard threatened him, and said, “If you will not do as I desire you, then I can claim you instead of your daughter, and carry you off.”
The father listened in agony, and in his fright promised to obey. He went to his daughter, and said to her, “Oh, my child, unless I cut off your two hands the wizard will take me away with him, and in my anguish I have promised. Help me in my trouble, and forgive me for the wicked deed I have promised to do.” “Dear father,” she replied, “do with me what you will: I am your child.”
Thereupon she placed her two hands on the table before him, and he cut them off. The wizard came next day for the third time, but the poor girl had wept so bitterly over the stumps of her arms that they were as clean and white as ever. Then he was obliged to give way, for he had lost all right to the maiden.
As soon as the wizard had departed the miller said, “My child, I have obtained so much good through your conduct that for your whole lifetime I shall hold you most precious and dear.” “But I cannot stay here, father,” she replied; “I am not safe; let me go away with people who will give me the sympathy I need so much.” “I fear such people are very seldom to be found in the world,” said her father. However, he let her go. So she tied up her maimed arms and went forth on her way at sunrise.
For a whole day she traveled without food, and as night came on found herself near one of the royal gardens. By the light of the moon she could see many trees laden with beautiful fruit, but she could not reach them, because the place was surrounded by a moat full of water. She had been without a morsel to eat the whole day, and her hunger was so great that she could not help crying out, “Oh, if I were only able to get some of that delicious fruit! I shall die unless I can obtain something to eat very soon.”
Then she knelt down and prayed for help, and while she prayed a guardian fairy appeared and made a channel in the water so that she was able to pass through on dry ground.
When she entered the garden the fairy was with her, although she did not know it, so she walked to a tree full of beautiful pears, not knowing that they had been counted.
Being unable to pluck any without hands, she went quite close to the tree and ate one with her mouth as it hung. One, and no more, just to stay her hunger. The gardener, who saw her with the fairy standing near her, thought it was a spirit, and was too frightened to move or speak.
After having satisfied her hunger the maiden went and laid herself down among the shrubs and slept in peace. On the following morning the King, to whom the garden belonged, came out to look at his fruit trees, and when he reached the pear tree and counted the pears, he found one missing. At first he thought it had fallen, but it was not under the tree, so he went to the gardener and asked what had become of it.
Then said the gardener, “There was a ghost in the garden last night who had no hands, and ate a pear off the tree with its mouth.” “How could the ghost get across the water?” asked the King; “and what became of it after eating the pear?”
To this the gardener replied, “Some one came first in snow-white robes from heaven, who made a channel and stopped the flow of the water so that the ghost walked through on dry ground. It must have been an angel,” continued the gardener; “and therefore I was afraid to ask questions or to call out. As soon as the specter had eaten one pear it went away.”
Then said the King, “Conceal from every one what you have told me, and I will watch myself tonight.”
As soon as it was dark the King came into the garden and brought a priest with him to address the ghost, and they both seated themselves under a tree, with the gardener standing near them, and waited in silence. About midnight the maiden crept out from the bushes and went to the pear tree, and the three watchers saw her eat a pear from the tree without picking it, while an angel stood near in white garments.
Then the priest went toward her, and said, “Art thou come from Heaven or earth? Art thou a spirit or a human being?”
Then the maiden answered, “Ah, me! I am no ghost, only a poor creature forsaken by every one but God.”
Then said the King, “You may be forsaken by all the world, but if you will let me be your friend, I will never forsake you.”
So the maiden was taken to the King’s castle, and she was so beautiful and modest that the King learned to love her with all his heart. He had silver hands made for her, and very soon after they were married with great pomp.
About a year after, the King had to go to battle, and he placed his young wife under the care of his mother, who promised to be very kind to her, and to write to him.
Not long after this the Queen had a little son born, and the King’s mother wrote a letter to him immediately, so that he might have the earliest intelligence, and sent it by a messenger.
From Grimms' Complete Fairy Tales, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.International Collectors Library, Garden City, New York, 1900.