Monday, 2 April 2018

The Three Aunts

There was once upon a time a poor man, who lived in a cabin far away in the forest, and he lived by shooting. He had an only daughter, and she was both beautiful and fine. As her mother was dead, and the girl was half grown, she said that she would away to folk, so that she could learn to earn her keep, too. “Yes, my daughter,” said her father, “surely you have learned nothing from me but to pluck a bird and roast it, but you must try to earn your keep anyway.”

So the girl went out to ask to go into service, and when she had walked for a while, she came to the king’s farm. There she stayed, and the queen thought so well of her that the other servant girls simply grew envious of her. They found it good to tell the queen that the girl had said she was good to pin a pound1 of flax in four and twenty hours; for the queen made such a fuss of all manner of handiwork. “Well, if you have said it, then you must do it,” said the queen, “but you may have a little longer time.” The poor girl dared not tell her that she had never spun, but merely asked for a chamber to herself; this she got, and up there they carried both spinning wheel and flax. There she sat, miserable and weeping, and did not know what to do; she fiddled with the spinning wheel, and turned and spun it, and did not know how she should use it—she had never even seen a spinning wheel.

But as she sat there, an old wife came in to her.

“What is wrong with you, my child?” she said.

“Oh,” replied the girl, “it will do no good to tell you; you cannot help me anyway.”

“No one can know that,” said the wife. “It may be I can help you in any matter.”

Well, I can tell her, even so, thought the girl, and so she told her that the other servant girls had said that she had said that she was good to spin a pound of flax in four and twenty hours, “and I, poor unfortunate,” she said, “I have never in all my days seen a spinning wheel, much less spin so much in a day.”

“Well, it makes no difference, child,” said the wife. “If you will call me aunt on your day of honour, then I shall spin for you; so you can go away and lie down to sleep.”2

Yes, the girl would like that, and went away to bed.

In the morning, when she awoke, all the flax lay spun on the table, and it looked so nice and fine that no one had seen such even and beautiful yarn. The queen was so pleased with the fine yarn she had got, and held the girl even dearer than before. But the others grew even more envious of her for this, and so they decided to tell the queen that she had now said that she was good to weave the yarn she had spun in four and twenty hours. The queen said again that had she said it, then she should do it; but if it did not take exactly four and twenty hours, then she could take a little longer day. The girl dared not say no now, either, but asked for a chamber to herself, and she would try.

There she sat again, weeping and complaining, and she knew not what she should do; then came in an old wife again, and asked: “What is wrong with you, my child?”

The girl would not out with it, at first, but she eventually told her what she was so sorrowful for.

“Yes,” replied the wife, “no matter; if you will call me aunt on you day of honour, I shall weave for you; so you can go away and lie down to sleep.”

The girl did not need to be asked twice, but went deliberately to bed.

When she awoke, the heap lay on the table, woven as neatly and densely as it could be woven. She took the heap and went with it down to the queen, and she was pleased with the beautiful weave she had got, and held the girl even dearer than before. But the others grew even more envious of her, and thought of nothing other than what they could contrive.

Finally, they told the queen that she had now said that she was good to sew the heap of weaving into shirts in four and twenty hours. Yes, things went the same way as before: the girl dared not say that she could not sew; she came up to a chamber to herself, and sat there weeping, and at her wits’ end. But then there again came an old wife to her, who promised to sew for her, if only she would call her aunt on her day of honour. This the girl promised, more than willingly, and then she did what the wife said, and went away to lie down to sleep. In the morning, when she awoke, she found the heap of sewn shirts lying on the table. Such beautiful needlework had no one seen, and the shirts had names and were completely finished.

When the queen saw the work, she was so pleased with the needlework that she clapped her hands together, “for such beautiful needlework have I neither had nor seen,” she said; and after that, she held the girl as dear as her own child.

“If you want the prince, then you may have him,” she said to the girl, “for you will never have to send out anything; you can sew and spin and weave it all yourself.”

As the girl was so beautiful, and the prince thought so well of her, there was soon a wedding. But as the prince had just sat down at the wedding table, together with her, and ugly old woman with a long nose—it was certainly three cubits long—came in.

Then the bride stood up and curtseyed and said: “Good day, aunt!”

“Is that an aunt to my bride?” said the prince.

Yes, she was that.

“Well, then, she had better sit at the table, then,” said the prince; but both he and the others thought it terrible to sit at the table with her.

But just like that there again came an ugly old woman in; she had a backside so fat and broad that she only just managed to squeeze herself through the door. Straightway the bride rose and greeted her: “Good day, aunt!” and the prince asked again if that was aunt to his bride. Both replied yes, and the prince said that since it was, then she should sit at the table, too.

But she had hardly sat down before there again came an ugly old woman, with eyes as big as plates, and so red and runny that it was horrible to see. The bride rose again and greeted her: “Good day, aunt!” and the prince asked her also to sit at the table; but pleased he was not, and thought to himself: “God help me! What aunts my bride has!”

When he had sat a little, he could not help himself, but asked: “But how in all the world can it be that my bride, who is so beautiful, can have such horrible, disfigured aunts?”

“I shall tell you,” said the first. “I was just as beautiful as your bride, when I was her age„ but I have got such a long nose from constantly sitting all the time, teasing and nodding from the spinning, so that my nose has stretched until it is as you now see it.”

“And I,” said the second, “from the time I was young have I sat and scooted back and forth on the loom bench, and from that has my backside grown and swollen, as you see.”

Then the third said: “from the time I was quite small have I sat, staring and sewing, night and day; from that have my eyes grown so horrible and red, and now I do not know what to do with them any more.”

“Well, well,” said the prince. “It is a good thing I got to know this; for if folk can grow so horrible and ugly from it, then my bride shall neither spin nor weave not sew for the rest of her days.”


Norwegian source: “De tre mostrene

  1. Depending on the kind of pound being spoken about, and the time the tale dates from, the pound could be an equivalent of 0.46 kg (pund), 5.59 kg or 5.97 kg (bismerpund), 7.97 kg (lispund), or even 151.16 kg or 159.49 kg (skibspund). Source. The implication in the tale is that, no matter the amount of flax, the task of spinning it in 24 hours is a daunting one. 

  2. The Norwegian word, moster denotes a maternal aunt. A paternal aunt would be called faster

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