The Wonderful Birch
Now it happened that a great festival was to be held at the palace, and the King had commanded that all the people should be invited, and that this proclamation should be made:
`Come, people all! Poor and wretched, one and all! Blind and crippled though ye be, Mount your steeds or come by sea.'
And so they drove into the King's feast all the outcasts, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. In the good man's house, too, preparations were made to go to the palace. The witch said to the man:
`Go you on in front, old man, with our youngest; I will give the elder girl work to keep her from being dull in our absence.'
So the man took the child and set out. But the witch kindled a fire on the hearth, threw a potful of barleycorns among the cinders, and said to the girl:
`If you have not picked the barley out of the ashes, and put it all back in the pot before nightfall, I shall eat you up!'
Then she hastened after the others, and the poor girl stayed at home and wept. She tried to be sure to pick up the grains of barley, but she soon saw how useless her labour was; and so she went in her sore trouble to the birch tree on her mother's grave, and cried and cried, because her mother lay dead beneath the sod and could help her no longer. In the midst of her grief she suddenly heard her mother's voice speak from the grave, and say to her:
`Why do you weep, little daughter?'
`The witch has scattered barleycorns on the hearth, and bid me pick them out of the ashes,' said the girl; `that is why I weep, dear little mother.'
`Do not weep,' said her mother consolingly. `Break off one of my branches, and strike the hearth with it crosswise, and all will be put right.' The girl did so. She struck the hearth with the birchen branch, and lo! the barleycorns flew into the pot, and the hearth was clean. Then she went back to the birch tree and laid the branch upon the grave. Then her mother bade her bathe on one side of the stem, dry herself on another, and dress on the third.