Today's classic tale is from the Green Fairy Book, a collection of tales assembled and translated by Andrew Lang, published in 1892.
Once upon a time there lived a girl who lost her father and mother when she was quite a tiny child. Her godmother lived all alone in a little cottage at the far end of the village, and there she earned her living by spinning, weaving, and sewing. The old woman took the little orphan home with her and brought her up in good, pious, industrious habits.
When the girl was fifteen years old, her godmother fell ill, and, calling the child to her bedside, she said: ‘My dear daughter, I feel that my end is near. I leave you my cottage, which will, at least, shelter you, and also my spindle, my weaver’s shuttle, and my needle, with which to earn your bread.’
Then she laid her hands on the girl’s head, blessed her, and added: ‘Mind and be good, and then all will go well with you.’ With that she closed her eyes for the last time, and when she was carried to her grave the girl walked behind her coffin weeping bitterly, and paid her all the last honours.
After this the girl lived all alone in the little cottage. She worked hard, spinning, weaving, and sewing, and her old godmother’s blessing seemed to prosper all she did. The flax seemed to spread and increase; and when she wove a carpet or a piece of linen, or made a shirt, she was sure to find a customer who paid her well, so that not only did she feel no want herself, but she was able to help those who did.
Now, it happened that about this time the King’s son was making a tour through the entire country to look out for a bride. He could not marry a poor woman, and he did not wish for a rich one.
‘She shall be my wife,’ said he, ‘who is at once the poorest and the richest.’
When he reached the village where the girl lived, he inquired who was the richest and who the poorest woman in it. The richest was named first; the poorest, he was told, was a young girl who lived alone in a little cottage at the far end of the village.
The rich girl sat at her door dressed out in all her best clothes, and when the King’s son came near she got up, went to meet him, and made him a low curtsey. He looked well at her, said nothing, but rode on further.
When he reached the poor girl’s house he did not find her at her door, for she was at work in her room. The Prince reined in his horse, looked in at the window through which the sun was shining brightly, and saw the girl sitting at her wheel busily spinning away.
She looked up, and when she saw the King’s son gazing in at her, she blushed red all over, cast down her eyes and span on. Whether the thread was quite as even as usual I really cannot say, but she went on spinning till the King’s son had ridden off. Then she stepped to the window and opened the lattice, saying, ‘The room is so hot,’ but she looked after him as long as she could see the white plumes in his hat.
Then she sat down to her work once more and span on, and as she did so an old saying which, she had often heard her godmother repeat whilst at work, came into her head, and she began to sing:
‘Spindle, spindle, go and see, If my love will come to me.’
Lo, and behold! the spindle leapt from her hand and rushed out of the room, and when she had sufficiently recovered from her surprise to look after it she saw it dancing merrily through the fields, dragging a long golden thread after it, and soon it was lost to sight.
The girl, having lost her spindle, took up the shuttle and, seating herself at her loom, began to weave. Meantime the spindle danced on and on, and just as it had come to the end of the golden thread, it reached the King’s son.
‘What do I see?’ he cried; ‘this spindle seems to wish to point out the way to me.’ So he turned his horses head and rode back beside the golden thread.
Meantime the girl sat weaving, and sang:
‘Shuttle, weave both web and woof, Bring my love beneath my roof.’
The shuttle instantly escaped from her hand, and with one bound was out at the door. On the threshold it began weaving the loveliest carpet that was ever seen. Roses and lilies bloomed on both sides, and in the centre a thicket seemed to grow with rabbits and hares running through it, stags and fawns peeping through the branches, whilst on the topmost boughs sat birds of brilliant plumage and so life-like one almost expected to hear them sing. The shuttle flew from side to side and the carpet seemed almost to grow of itself.
As the shuttle had run away the girl sat down to sew. She took her needle and sang:
‘Needle, needle, stitch away, Make my chamber bright and gay,’
and the needle promptly slipped from her fingers and flew about the room like lightning. You would have thought invisible spirits were at work, for in next to no time the table and benches were covered with green cloth, the chairs with velvet, and elegant silk curtains hung before the windows. The needle had barely put in its last stitch when the girl, glancing at the window, spied the white plumed hat of the King’s son who was being led back by the spindle with the golden thread.
He dismounted and walked over the carpet into the house, and when he entered the room there stood the girl blushing like any rose. ‘You are the poorest and yet the richest,’ said he: ‘come with me, you shall be my bride.’
She said nothing, but she held out her hand. Then he kissed her, and led her out, lifted her on his horse and took her to his royal palace, where the wedding was celebrated with great rejoicings.
The spindle, the shuttle, and the needle were carefully placed in the treasury, and were always held in the very highest honour.