The Bad Stepmother (2)

At last there was a letter delivered to the king; and this was wrote by the wicked stepmother herself, as if it was from the young queen to one of the officers, asking him to get a furlough, and come and meet her at such a well, naming the one in the forest.

He got this officer, that was as innocent as the child unborn, put in irons, and sent two of his soldiers to put the queen to death, and bring him his young child safe.

But the night before, the spirit of the queen’s mother appeared to her in a dream, and told her the danger that was coming.

“Go,” said she, “with your child to-morrow morning to the well, and dress yoursel in your maid’s clothes before you leave the house; wash your arms in the well once more, and take a bottle of the water with you, and return to your father’s palace. Nobody will know you. The water will cure him of a disorder he has, and I need not say any more.”

Just as the young queen was told, just so she done; and when she was after washing her face and arms, lo and behold! her nice soft hands were restored; but her face that was as white as cream was now as brown as a berry.

So she fell on her knees and said her prayers, and then she filled her bottle, and set out for her father’s court with her child in her arms.

The sentries at the palace gates let her pass when she said she was coming to cure the king; and she got to where he was lying in pain before the stepmother knew anything about it, for herself was sick at the time.

Before she opened her mouth the king loved her, she looked so like his former queen and his lost daughter, though her face was so swarthy.

She hardly washed his wound with the water of the holy well when out came the splinter, and he was as strong on his limbs as a new ditch.

Well, hadn’t he great cooramuch about the brown-faced woman and her child, and nothing that the wicked queen could do would alter his opinion of her. The old rogue didn’t know who she was, especially as she wasn’t without the hands; but it was her nature to be jealous of every one that the king cared for.

In two or three weeks the wars was over, and the young king was returning home, and the road he took brought him by his father-in-law’s.

The old king would not let him pass by without giving him an entertainment for all his bravery again’ the Danes, and there was great huzzaing and cheering as he was riding up the avenue and through the courtyard.

Just as he was alighting, his wife held up his little son to him, with the jewel in his little hand.

He got a wonderful fright. He knew his wife’s features, but they were so tawny, and her pretty brown hands were to the good, and the child was his own picture, but still she couldn’t be his false princess.

He kissed the child, and passed on, but hardly said a word till dinner was over. Then says he to the old king, “Would you allow a brown woman and her child that I saw in the palace yard, to be sent for, till I speak to her?”

“Indeed an’ I will,” said the other; “I owe my life to her.”

So she came in, and the young king made her sit down very close to him.

“Young woman,” says he, “I have a particular reason for asking who you are, and who is the father of that child.”

“I can’t tell you that, sir,” said she, “because of an oath I was obliged to take never to tell my story to any one that was christened. But my little boy was never christened, and to him I’ll tell everything. My little son, you must know that my wicked stepmother killed my father’s favourite dog, and killed my own little brother, and made me swear never to tell any one that ever received baptism, about it. She got my own father to have my hands chopped off, and I’d die only I washed them in the holy well in the forest. A king’s son made me his wife, and she got him by forged letters to send orders to have me killed. The spirit of my mother watched over me; my hands were restored; my father’s wound was healed; and now I place you in your own father’s arms. Now, you may be baptized, thank God! and that’s the story I had to tell you.”

She took a wet towel, and wiped her face, and she became as white and red as she was the day of her marriage.

She had like to be hurt with her husband and her father pulling her from each other; and such laughing and crying never was heard before or since.

If the wicked stepmother didn’t make her escape, she was torn between wild horses; and if they all didn’t live happy after—that you and I may!

End of this Story