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The hut in the forest

THE HUT IN THE FOREST

“Indra! Indra! Indra! Oh, Indra! Where are you?” called Carla and
Alween. “Come, Indra, we are going home. Come, it will soon be dark.
Hurry, or we shall lose our way.” But Indra did not answer. In her
eagerness to find the biggest berries she had strayed away from her
sisters. Now it was quite dark, and she could not find the path. She
called and called but heard nothing save the sound of her own voice.
At last, just as she was thinking, “I will have to pass the night here
all alone in the wood,” she saw a light shining through the darkness.
Following this light, Indra soon stood in front of a small house at the
door of which she knocked. “Come in!” called a harsh voice. Stepping
inside, the girl saw before her an old man whose beard was long, whose
hair was white and whose back was bent almost double; while lying near
him in front of the fire, were a cock, a hen and a brindled cow.

“I have lost my way in the forest,” said Indra. “It is dark, I have
nowhere to sleep and I am so hungry. Will you not give me something to
eat and a bed to lie on?”

The old man looked at her for a long time with his sharp, gray eyes
then, turning to the animals by the fire, he said,–

“My cock, my hen,
My brindled cow,
What say you now?
What say you now?”

The cock, the hen, and the brindled cow all opened their mouths and
called out together,–

“Oh, let her stay!
We’ll not say nay.”

“Go into the kitchen and cook us some supper,” said the old man turning
again to Indra. The girl did as she was bidden. Soon a good meal was
ready which she placed upon the table, but she gave nothing to the
animals and without speaking to them, or even so much as looking at
them, she sat down at the old man’s side and ate heartily.

“Now I am satisfied,” said Indra. “Show me where to sleep.” The
animals said nothing. “Go into the room above and make ready the two
beds you will find there, then I will come and lie down and sleep also,
for I am weary,” said the old man.

Indra spread the two beds with fresh linen. Then without giving one
thought to the hungry animals below, she laid herself down in one of
the beds and fell fast asleep.

When at last the old man climbed to the loft and saw Indra lying in a
deep slumber, he looked sorrowfully at her for a long time. Then
shaking his head sadly and slowly, he opened a curious door beneath the
bed on which the girl lay and let her down into the dark, underground
cellar of the hut.

That night there was trouble and sorrow for good Mother Grougans and
for Carla and Alween. As soon as daylight came they went forth to
search for Sister Indra; but, though they scoured the forest far and
wide, not a trace of her could be found, and at last they were forced
to give their dear one up as lost.

Now as the two sisters Carla and Alween gathered berries in the forest
one day not long after, Carla, in her eagerness to fill her pail with
the biggest berries, strayed away just as her sister Indra had done.
Alween was forced to return home alone, and it happened with Carla just
as it had with her elder sister. She followed the light that shone
from the cottage window, knocked at the door, entered, and saw the old
man sitting and the animals lying by the fire. She too begged for food
and a bed in which to sleep.

Turning to the animals the old man said,–

“My cock, my hen,
My brindled cow,
What say you now?
What say you now?”

The cock, the hen, and the brindled cow all opened their mouths and
called out together,–

“Oh, let her stay!
We’ll not say nay.”

Then the old man sent Carla to prepare supper. Just as her sister had
done, she cooked and ate and gave not so much as a glance or a thought
to the hungry animals. “Now I am satisfied,” said Carla at last.
“Show me where to sleep.” The animals said nothing, but the old man
told her to prepare the two beds in the loft. After spreading them
with fresh linen the girl laid herself down upon one of the beds and
fell fast asleep.

When the old man climbed to the loft and saw Carla lying in a sound
slumber, he opened the curious door again and let her also down into
the cellar.

Now when Carla failed to return home. Mother Grougans was lost in
grief and she forbade her youngest daughter, Alween, to go into the
wood on any account whatsoever. And she said, “Shall I lose my
youngest and my dearest also?” But soon mother and daughter were both
so hungry that Alween was forced to go into the forbidden forest in
search of food. In her eagerness to get the largest and the sweetest
berries for her mother, she too strayed away from the path, and all
happened with her as it had with her sisters.

When Alween entered the hut and begged for food and shelter, the old
man turned to his animals and said,–

“My cock, my hen,
My brindled cow,
What say you now?
What say you now?”

The cock, the hen, and the brindled cow all opened their mouths and
called out together,–

“Oh, let her stay!
We’ll not say nay.”

Then Alween thanked the animals for their kindness and, going close to
them, she stroked the smooth feathers of the cock and the hen and
patted the brindled cow on the white star in her forehead. She made
ready the supper and set it before the old man; but, before satisfying
her own hunger, she said, “The good animals are hungry too. I must
first get food for them.” So she placed a bundle of hay in front of
the brindled cow and scattered wheat and barley for the cock and the
hen and brought a fresh drink of water for all. Then she herself ate
and was satisfied.

That night Alween slept soundly in the loft of the little hut, but not
before she had seen the old man tucked snugly into his bed and fast
asleep. When she wakened, with the first rays of morning light, she
thought, “I must dress quickly and get breakfast for the poor old man
and feed the little cock and the little hen and the pretty brindled
cow.” But when she opened her eyes she seemed to be no longer in the
loft of the little old hut in the wood. Instead of its dingy walls she
saw before her a vast hall hung with cloth of gold and rich
embroideries, and light and sunshine and flowers were everywhere. “I
am surely dreaming,” said Alween. Pushing aside the rich silken
curtain of her bed, which also seemed a part of her dream, she thought
to dress herself; but the poor ragged clothes she had put off the night
before were nowhere to be found. In their place lay costly garments of
satin and velvet.

“Oh, this is a dream, a dream!” thought the girl. She rubbed her eyes
again and again as she gazed at the rich curtains and the costly
garments and the splendid walls with their gay embroideries. She
called aloud. She ran to the old man’s bed to see if he were still
asleep,–there in his place lay a stranger, young and handsome.

“Oh, where is the little old hut in the forest and where is the poor
old man? Oh, where is the little cock and the little hen and the
pretty brindled cow and where, oh, where am I?” she cried. At this the
stranger wakened and, sitting up in bed, he called softly: “Do not run
away. Alween! Alween! Come back! Come back! Do not be frightened.
We are all here. I was the old man with the long white beard and my
servants yonder were the cock, the hen and the brindled cow. You have
saved our lives. You have set us free. You have delivered us from
worse than death. I am a king’s son, but I was bewitched by a wicked
old fairy and forced, in the form of an old, old man, to live here in a
hut in the forest all alone, except for my three servants, who were
made to take the form of a cock, of a hen, and of a brindled cow. Here
we were obliged to stay until some one came to us who showed love and
kindness toward my animals as well as toward myself. You have saved
us. You have set us free and this great palace and all within it is
yours.”

And Alween married the king’s son and they were very happy together for
many, many years; but her sisters were forced to live lives of hardship
and poverty until their hearts had grown more kindly toward all living
creatures.