There was once a wizard who used to take the form of a poor man, and went to houses and begged, and caught pretty girls. No one knew whither he carried them, for they were never seen again. One day he appeared before the door of a man who had three pretty daughters. He looked like a poor weak beggar, and carried a basket on his back, as if he meant to collect charitable gifts in it. He begged for a little food, and when the eldest daughter came out and was just handing him a piece of bread, he did but touch her, and she was forced to jump into his basket.
Thereupon he hurried off with long strides, and carried her away into a dark forest to his house, which stood in the midst of it. Everything in the house was magnificent. He gave her whatsoever she could possibly desire, and said, my darling, you will certainly be happy with me, for you have everything your heart can wish for. This lasted a few days, and then he said, I must journey forth, and leave you alone for a short time. Here are the keys of the house. You may go everywhere and look at everything except into one room, which this little key opens, and there I forbid you to go on pain of death. He likewise gave her an egg and said, preserve the egg carefully for me, and carry it continually about with you, for a great misfortune would arise from the loss of it.
She took the keys and the egg, and promised to obey him in everything. When he was gone, she went all round the house from the bottom to the top, and examined everything. The rooms shone with silver and gold, and she thought she had never seen such great splendor. At length she came to the forbidden door. She wished to pass it by, but curiosity let her have no rest. She examined the key, it looked just like any other. She put it in the keyhole and turned it a little, and the door sprang open. But what did she see when she went in. A great bloody basin stood in the middle of the room, and therein lay human beings, dead and hewn to pieces, and hard by was a block of wood, and a gleaming axe lay upon it. She was so terribly alarmed that the egg which she held in her hand fell into the basin. She got it out and wiped the blood off, but in vain, it appeared again in a moment. She washed and scrubbed, but she could not get it off.
It was not long before the man came back from his journey, and the first things which he asked for were the key and the egg. She gave them to him, but she trembled as she did so, and he saw at once by the red spots that she had been in the bloody chamber. Since you have gone into the room against my will, said he, you shall go back into it against your own. Your life is ended. He threw her down, dragged her along by her hair, cut her head off on the block, and hewed her in pieces so that her blood ran on the ground. Then he threw her into the basin with the rest.
Now I will fetch myself the second, said the wizard, and again he went to the house in the shape of a poor man, and begged. Then the second daughter brought him a piece of bread. He caught her like the first, by simply touching her, and carried her away. She did not fare better than her sister. She allowed herself to be led away by her curiosity, opened the door of the bloody chamber, looked in, and had to atone for it with her life on the wizard’s return. Then he went and brought the third sister, but she was clever and wily. When he had given her the keys and the egg, and had left her, she first put the egg away with great care, and then she examined the house, and at last went into the forbidden room. Alas, what did she behold. Both her dear sisters lay there in the basin, cruelly murdered, and cut into pieces. But she began to gather their limbs together and put them in order, head, body, arms and legs. And when nothing further was wanting the limbs began to move and unite themselves together, and both the maidens opened their eyes and were once more alive. Then they rejoiced and kissed and caressed each other.
On his arrival, the man at once demanded the keys and the egg, and as he could perceive no trace of any blood on it, he said, you have stood the test, you shall be my bride. He now had no longer any power over her, and was forced to do whatsoever she desired. Oh, very well, said she, you shall first take a basketful of gold to my father and mother, and carry it yourself on your back. In the meantime I will prepare for the wedding. Then she ran to her sisters, whom she had hidden in a little chamber, and said, the moment has come when I can save you. The wretch shall himself carry you home again, but as soon as you are at home send help to me. She put both of them in a basket and covered them quite over with gold, so that nothing of them was to be seen. Then she called in the wizard and said to him, now carry the basket away, but I shall look through my little window and watch to see if you stop on the way to stand or to rest.
The wizard raised the basket on his back and went away with it, but it weighed him down so heavily that the sweat streamed from his face. Then he sat down and wanted to rest awhile, but immediately one of the girls in the basket cried, I am looking through my little window, and I see that you are resting. Will you go on at once. He thought it was his bride who was talking to him, and he got up on his legs again. Once more he was going to sit down, but instantly she cried, I am looking through my little window, and I see that you are resting. Will you go on directly. And whenever he stood still, she cried this, and then he was forced to go onwards, until at last, groaning and out of breath, he took the basket with the gold and the two maidens into their parents, house. At home, however, the bride prepared the marriage-feast, and sent invitations to the friends of the wizard. Then she took a skull with grinning teeth, put some ornaments on it and a wreath of flowers, carried it upstairs to the garret-window, and let it look out from thence. When all was ready, she got into a barrel of honey, and then cut the feather-bed open and rolled herself in it, until she looked like a wondrous bird, and no one could recognize her. Then she went out of the house, and on her way she met some of the wedding-guests, who asked, o, fitcher’s bird, how com’st thou here. I come from fitcher’s house quite near. And what may the young bride be doing. From cellar to garret she’s swept all clean, and now from the window she’s peeping, I ween.
At last she met the bridegroom, who was coming slowly back. He, like the others, asked, o, fitcher’s bird, how com’st thou here. I come from fitcher’s house quite near. And what may the young bride be doing. From cellar to garret she’s swept all clean, and now from the window she’s peeping, I ween.
The bridegroom looked up, saw the decked-out skull, thought it was his bride, and nodded to her, greeting her kindly. But when he and his guests had all gone into the house, the brothers and kinsmen of the bride, who had been sent to rescue her, arrived. They locked all the doors of the house, that no one might escape, set fire to it, and the wizard and all his crew had to burn.