The Old Woman in the Wood also included in Little brother & little sister and other tales by the Brothers Grimm (Jacob and Wilheim Grimm) Fairy tales published 1812-1858.
A poor servant-girl was once travelling with the family with which she was in service, through a great forest, and when they were in the midst of it, robbers came out of the thicket, and murdered all they found. All perished together except the girl, who had jumped out of the carriage in a fright, and hidden herself behind a tree. When the robbers had gone away with their booty, she came out and beheld the great disaster. Then she began to weep bitterly, and said, “What can a poor girl like me do now? I do not know how to get out of the forest, no human being lives in it, so I must certainly starve.” She walked about and looked for a road, but could find none. When it was evening she seated herself under a tree, gave herself into God’s keeping, and resolved to sit waiting there and not go away, let what might happen. When, however, she had sat there for a while, a white dove came flying to her with a little golden key in its mouth. It put the little key in her hand, and said, “Dost thou see that great tree, therein is a little lock, it opens with the tiny key, and there thou wilt find food enough, and suffer no more hunger.” Then she went to the tree and opened it, and found milk in a little dish, and white bread to break into it, so that she could eat her fill. When she was satisfied, she said, “It is now the time when the hens at home go to roost, I am so tired I could go to bed too.” Then the dove flew to her again, and brought another golden key in its bill, and said, “Open that tree there, and thou willt find a bed.” So she opened it, and found a beautiful white bed, and she prayed God to protect her during the night, and lay down and slept. In the morning the dove came for the third time, and again brought a little key, and said, “Open that tree there, and thou wilt find clothes.” And when she opened it, she found garments beset with gold and with jewels, more splendid than those of any king’s daughter. So she lived there for some time, and the dove came every day and provided her with all she needed, and it was a quiet good life.
Once, however, the dove came and said, “Wilt thou do something for my sake?” – “With all my heart,” said the girl. Then said the little dove, “I will guide thee to a small house; enter it, and inside it, an old woman will be sitting by the fire and will say, ‘Good-day.’ But on thy life give her no answer, let her do what she will, but pass by her on the right side; further on, there is a door, which open, and thou wilt enter into a room where a quantity of rings of all kinds are lying, amongst which are some magnificent ones with shining stones; leave them, however, where they are, and seek out a plain one, which must likewise be amongst them, and bring it here to me as quickly as thou canst.” The girl went to the little house, and came to the door. There sat an old woman who stared when she saw her, and said, “Good-day my child.” The girl gave her no answer, and opened the door. “Whither away,” cried the old woman, and seized her by the gown, and wanted to hold her fast, saying, “That is my house; no one can go in there if I choose not to allow it.” But the girl was silent, got away from her, and went straight into the room. Now there lay on the table an enormous quantity of rings, which gleamed and glittered before her eyes. She turned them over and looked for the plain one, but could not find it. While she was seeking, she saw the old woman and how she was stealing away, and wanting to get off with a bird-cage which she had in her hand. So she went after her and took the cage out of her hand, and when she raised it up and looked into it, a bird was inside which had the plain ring in its bill. Then she took the ring, and ran quite joyously home with it, and thought the little white dove would come and get the ring, but it did not. Then she leant against a tree and determined to wait for the dove, and, as she thus stood, it seemed just as if the tree was soft and pliant, and was letting its branches down. And suddenly the branches twined around her, and were two arms, and when she looked round, the tree was a handsome man, who embraced and kissed her heartily, and said, “Thou hast delivered me from the power of the old woman, who is a wicked witch. She had changed me into a tree, and every day for two hours I was a white dove, and so long as she possessed the ring I could not regain my human form.” Then his servants and his horses, who had likewise been changed into trees, were freed from the enchantment also, and stood beside him. And he led them forth to his kingdom, for he was a King’s son, and they married, and lived happily.
Source & Reference:
- The Old Woman in the Wood, (German: Die Alte im Wald) is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, tale number 123. It is Aarne-Thompson type 442.
- Featured Illustration by Arthur Rackham 1917