A miller had a daughter,
And lovely, too, she was;
Her step was light, her smile was bright,
Her eyes were gray as glass.
(So Chaucer loved to write of eyes
In which that nameless azure lies
So like shoal-water in its hue,
Though all too crystal clear for blue.)
As you would suppose, the miller
Was very proud of her,
And would never fail to tell some tale
As to what her graces were.
On the powdery air of his own mill
Floated the whispers of her skill;
At the village inn the loungers knew
All that the pretty girl could do.
Oft in his braggart way
This foolish tale he told,
That his daughter could spin from bits of straw
Continuous threads of gold!
So boastful had he grown, forsooth,
That he cared but little for the truth:
But since this was a curious thing
It came to the knowledge of the king.
He thought it an old wife's fable,
But senseless stuff at best;
Yet, as he had greed, he cried, "Indeed!
I will put her powers to test."
With a wave of his hand, he further said
That to-morrow morning the clever maid
Should come to the castle, and he would see
What truth in the story there might be.
Next day, with a trembling step,
She reached the palace door,
And was shown into a chamber, where
Was straw upon the floor.
They brought her a chair and a spinning-wheel,
A little can of oil, and a reel;
And said that unless the work was done--
All of the straw into the gold-thread spun--
By the time that the sun was an hour high
Next morning, she would have to die.
Down sat she in despair,
Her tears falling like rain:
She had never spun a thread in her life,
Nor ever reeled a skein!
Hark! the door creaked, and through a chink,
With droll wise smile and funny wink,
In stepped a little quaint old man,
All humped, and crooked, and browned with tan.
She looked in fear and amaze
To see what he would do;
He said, "Little maid, what will you give
If I'll spin the straw for you?"
Ah, me, few gifts she had in store--
A trinket or two, and nothing more!
A necklace from her throat so slim
She took, and timidly offered him.
'Twas enough, it seemed; for he sat
At the wheel in front of her,
And turned it three times round and round,
Whirr, and whirr-rr, and whirr-rr-rr--
One of the bobbins was full; and then,
Whirr, and whirr-rr, and whirr-rr-rr again,
Until all the straw that had been spread
Had been deftly spun into golden thread.
At sunrise came the king
To the chamber, and, behold,
Instead of the ugly heaps of straw
Were bobbins full of gold!
This made him greedier than before;
And he led the maiden out at the door
Into a new room, where she saw
Still larger and larger heaps of straw,
A chair to sit in, a spinning-wheel,
A little can of oil, and a reel;
And he said that straw, too, must be spun
To gold before the next day's sun
Was an hour high in the morning sky,
And if 'twas not done, she must die.
Down sank she in despair,
Her tears falling like rain;
She could not spin a single thread,
She could not reel a skein.
But the door swung back, and through the chink,
With the same droll smile and merry wink,
The dwarf peered, saying, "What will you do
If I'll spin the straw once more for you?"
"Ah me, I can give not a single thing,"
She cried, "except my finger-ring."
He took the slender toy,
And slipped it over his thumb;
Then down he sat and whirled the wheel,
Hum, and hum-m, and hum-m-m;
Round and round with a droning sound,
Many a yellow spool he wound,
Many a glistening skein he reeled;
And still, like bees in a clover-field,
The wheel went hum, and hum-m and hum-m-m.
Next morning the king came,
Almost before sunrise,
To the chamber where the maiden was,
And could scarce believe his eyes
To see the straw, to the smallest shreds,
Made into shining amber threads.
And he cried, "When once more I have tried
Your skill like this, you shall be my bride;
For I might search through all my life
Nor find elsewhere so rich a wife."
Then he led her by the hand
Through still another door,
To a room filled twice as full of straw
As either had been before.
There stood the chair and the spinning-wheel,
And there the can of oil and the reel;
And as he gently shut her in
He whispered, "Spin, little maiden, spin."
Again she wept, and again
Did the little dwarf appear;
"What will you give this time," he asked,
"If I spin for you, my dear?"
Alas--poor little maid--alas!
Out of her eyes as gray as glass
Faster and faster tears did fall,
As she moaned, "I've nothing to give at all."
Ah, wicked indeed he looked;
But while she sighed, he smiled!
"Promise, when you are queen," he said,
"To give me your first-born child!"
Little she tho't what that might mean,
Or if ever in truth she should be queen
Anything, so that the work was done--
Anything, so that the gold was spun!
She promised all that he chose to ask;
And blithely he began the task.
Round went the wheel, and round,
Whiz, and whiz-z, and whiz-z-z!
So swift that the thread at the spindle point
Flew off with buzz and hiss.
She dozed--so tired her eyelids were--
To the endless whirr, and whirr, and whirr;
Though not even sleep could overcome
The wheel's revolving hum, hum, hum!
When at last she woke the room was clean,
Not a broken bit of straw was seen;
But in huge high heaps were piled and rolled
Great spools of gold--nothing but gold!
It was just at the earliest peep of dawn,
And she was alone--the dwarf was gone.
It was indeed a marvellous thing
For a miller's daughter to wed a king;
But never was royal lady seen
More fair and sweet than this young queen.
The spinning dwarf she quite forgot
In the ease and pleasure of her lot;
And not until her first-born child
Into her face had looked and smiled
Did she remember the promise made;
Then her heart grew sick, her soul afraid.
One day her chamber door
Pushed open just a chink,
And she saw the well-known crooked dwarf,
His wise smile and his blink.
He claimed at once the promised child;
But she gave a cry so sad and wild
That even his heart was touched to hear;
And, after a little, drawing near,
He whispered and said: "You pledged
The baby, and I came;
But if in three days you can learn
By foul or fair my name--
By foul or fair, by wile or snare,
You can its syllables declare,
Then is the child yours--only then--
And me you shall never see again!"
He vanished from her sight,
And she called her pages in;
She sent one this way, and one that;
She called her kith and kin,
Bade one go here, and one go there,
Despatched them thither, everywhere--
That from each quarter each might bring
The oddest names he could to the king.
Next morning the dwarf appeared,
And the queen began to say,
"Caspar," "Balthassar," "Melchoir"--
But the dwarf cried out, "Nay, nay!"
Shaking his little crooked frame,
"That's not my name, that's not my name!"
The second day 'twas the same;
But the third a messenger
Came in from the mountains to the queen,
And told this tale to her:
That, riding under the forest boughs,
He came to a tiny, curious house;
Before it a feeble fire burned wan,
And about the fire was a little man;
In and out the brands among,
Dancing upon one leg, he sung:
"To-day I'll stew, and then I'll bake,
To-morrow I shall the queen's child take;
How fine that none is the secret in,
That my name is Rumpelstiltskin!"
The queen was overjoyed,
And when, due time next day,
The dwarf returned for the final word,
She made great haste to say:
"Is it Conrade?" "No,"--he shook his head.
"Is it Hans? or Hal?" Still "No," he said.
"Is it Rumpelstiltskin?" then she cried.
"A witch has told you," he replied,
And shrieked and stamped his foot so hard
That the very marble floor was jarred;
And his leg broke off above the knee,
And he hopped off, howling terribly.
He vanished then and there,
And never more was seen!
This much was in his dreadful name--
It saved her child to the queen.
And the little lady grew to be
So very sweet, so fair to see,
That none could her loveliness surpass;
And her eyes--they were as gray as glass!