Prince Fickle and Fair Helena
There was once upon a time a beautiful girl called Helena. Her own mother had died when she was quite a child, and her stepmother was as cruel and unkind to her as she could be. Helena did all she could to gain her love, and performed the heavy work given her to do cheerfully and well; but her stepmother's heart wasn't in the least touched, and the more the poor girl did the more she asked her to do.
One day she gave Helena twelve pounds of mixed feathers and bade her separate them all before evening, threatening her with heavy punishment if she failed to do so.
The poor child sat down to her task with her eyes so full of tears that she could hardly see to begin. And when she had made one little heap of feathers, she sighed so deeply that they all blew apart again. And so it went on, and the poor girl grew more and more miserable. She bowed her head in her hands and cried, 'Is there no one under heaven who will take pity on me?'
Suddenly a soft voice replied, 'Be comforted, my child: I have come to help you.'
Terrified to death, Helena looked up and saw a Fairy standing in front of her, who asked in the kindest way possible, 'Why are you crying, my dear?'
Helena, who for long had heard no friendly voice, confided her sad tale of woe to the Fairy, and told her what the new task she had been given to do was, and how she despaired of ever accomplishing it.
'Don't worry yourself about it any more,' said the kind Fairy; 'lie down and go to sleep, and I'll see that your work is done all right.' So Helena lay down, and when she awoke all the feathers were sorted into little bundles; but when she turned to thank the good Fairy she had vanished.
In the evening her stepmother returned and was much amazed to find Helena sitting quietly with her work all finished before her.
She praised her diligence, but at the same time racked her brain as to what harder task she could set her to do.
The next day she told Helena to empty a pond near the house with a spoon which was full of holes.