|English Fairy Tales
THE THREE HEADS OF THE WELL
before Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, there reigned in the
eastern part of England a king who kept his Court at Colchester. In the
midst of all his glory, his queen died, leaving behind her an only
daughter, about fifteen years of age, who for her beauty and kindness
was the wonder of all that knew her. But the king hearing of a lady who
had likewise an only daughter, had a mind to marry her for the sake of
her riches, though she was old, ugly, hook- nosed, and hump-backed. Her
daughter was a yellow dowdy, full of envy and ill-nature; and, in
short, was much of the same mould as her mother. But in a few weeks the
king, attended by the nobility and gentry, brought his deformed bride
to the palace, where the marriage rites were performed. They had not
been long in the Court before they set the king against his own
beautiful daughter by false reports. The young princess having lost her
father's love, grew weary of the Court, and one day, meeting with her
father in the garden, she begged him, with tears in her eyes, to let
her go and seek her fortune; to which the king consented, and ordered
her mother-in-law to give her what she pleased. She went to the queen,
who gave her a canvas bag of brown bread and hard cheese, with a bottle
of beer; though this was but a pitiful dowry for a king's daughter. She
took it, with thanks, and proceeded on her journey, passing through
groves, woods, and valleys, till at length she saw an old man sitting
on a stone at the mouth of a cave, who said: "Good morrow, fair maiden,
whither away so fast?"
"Aged father," says she, "I am going to seek my fortune."
"What have you got in your bag and bottle?"
"In my bag I have got bread and cheese, and in my bottle good small beer. Would you like to have some?"
"Yes," said he, "with all my heart."
that the lady pulled out her provisions, and bade him eat and welcome.
He did so, and gave her many thanks, and said: "There is a thick thorny
hedge before you, which you cannot get through, but take this wand in
your hand, strike it three times, and say, 'Pray, hedge, let me come
through,' and it will open immediately; then, a little further, you
will find a well; sit down on the brink of it, and there will come up
three golden heads, which will speak; and whatever they require, that
do." Promising she would, she took her leave of him. Coming to the
hedge and using the old man's wand, it divided, and let her through;
then, coming to the well, she had no sooner sat down than a golden head
came up singing:
"Wash me, and comb me,
And lay me down softly.
And lay me on a bank to dry,
That I may look pretty,
When somebody passes by."
said she, and taking it in her lap combed it with a silver comb, and
then placed it upon a primrose bank. Then up came a second and a third
head, saying the same as the former. So she did the same for them, and
then, pulling out her provisions, sat down to eat her dinner.
Then said the heads one to another: "What shall we weird for this damsel who has used us so kindly?"
The first said: "I weird her to be so beautiful that she shall charm the most powerful prince in the world."
The second said: "I weird her such a sweet voice as shall far exceed the nightingale."
third said: "My gift shall be none of the least, as she is a king's
daughter, I'll weird her so fortunate that she shall become queen to
the greatest prince that reigns."
then let them down into the well again, and so went on her journey. She
had not travelled long before she saw a king hunting in the park with
his nobles. She would have avoided him, but the king, having caught a
sight of her, approached, and what with her beauty and sweet voice,
fell desperately in love with her, and soon induced her to marry him.
king finding that she was the King of Colchester's daughter, ordered
some chariots to be got ready, that he might pay the king, his
father-in-law, a visit. The chariot in which the king and queen rode
was adorned with rich gems of gold. The king, her father, was at first
astonished that his daughter had been so fortunate, till the young king
let him know of all that had happened. Great was the joy at Court
amongst all, with the exception of the queen and her club-footed
daughter, who were ready to burst with envy. The rejoicings, with
feasting and dancing, continued many days. Then at length they returned
home with the dowry her father gave her.
hump-backed princess, perceiving that her sister had been so lucky in
seeking her fortune, wanted to do the same; so she told her mother, and
all preparations were made, and she was furnished with rich dresses,
and with sugar, almonds, and sweetmeats, in great quantities, and a
large bottle of Malaga sack. With these she went the same road as her
sister; and coming near the cave, the old man said: "Young woman,
whither so fast?"
"What's that to you?" said she.
"Then," said he, "what have you in your bag and bottle?"
She answered: "Good things, which you shall not be troubled with."
"Won't you give me some?" said he.
"No, not a bit, nor a drop, unless it would choke you."
The old man frowned, saying: "Evil fortune attend ye!"
on, she came to the hedge, through which she espied a gap, and thought
to pass through it; but the hedge closed, and the, thorns ran into her
flesh, so that it was with great difficulty that she got through. Being
now all over blood, she searched for water to wash herself, and,
looking round, she saw the well. She sat down on the brink of it, and
one of the heads came up, saying: "Wash me, comb me, and lay me down
softly," as before, but she banged it with her bottle, saying, "Take
that for your washing." So the second and third heads came up, and met
with no better treatment than the first. Whereupon the heads consulted
among themselves what evils to plague her with for such usage.
The first said: "Let her be struck with leprosy in her face."
The second: "Let her voice be as harsh as a corn-crake's."
The third said: "Let her have for husband but a poor country cobbler."
she goes on till she came to a town, and it being market-day, the
people looked at her, and, seeing such a mangy face, and hearing such a
squeaky voice, all fled but a poor country cobbler. Now he not long
before had mended the shoes of an old hermit, who, having no money gave
him a box of ointment for the cure of the leprosy, and a bottle of
spirits for a harsh voice. So the cobbler having a mind to do an act of
charity, was induced to go up to her and ask her who she was.
"I am," said she, "the King of Colchester's daughter-in-law."
said the cobbler, "if I restore you to your natural complexion, and
make a sound cure both in face and voice, will you in reward take me
for a husband?"
"Yes, friend," replied she, "with all my heart!"
this the cobbler applied the remedies, and they made her well in a few
weeks; after which they were married, and so set forward for the Court
at Colchester. When the queen found that her daughter had married
nothing but a poor cobbler, she hanged herself in wrath. The death of
the queen so pleased the king, who was glad to get rid of her so soon,
that he gave the cobbler a hundred pounds to quit the Court with his
lady, and take to a remote part of the kingdom, where he lived many
years mending shoes, his wife spinning the thread for him.