The Girl Without Hands or The Handless Maiden
Girl promised to the devil is saved, loses hands, becomes queen. Devil forces her to flee with child, king finds her. Hands grow back
A miller had gradually fallen into poverty and had nothing more than his mill and a large apple tree behind it. Once he had gone into the forest to fetch wood, when an old man, whom he had never seen before, came up to him and said "why do you bother with chopping wood, I will make you rich if you promise me what is behind your mill." "What can it be but my apple tree?" thought the miller, said "yes," and prescribed it to the strange man. But he laughed derisively and said, "After three years I will come and take what is mine," and went away. When the miller came home, his wife met him and said "tell me, miller, where does the sudden wealth come into our house? all at once all the boxes and chests are full, no man has brought it in, and I do not know how it has come." He answered, "It comes from a strange man who met me in the woods and promised me great treasures; I, on the other hand, prescribed for him what is behind the mill: the great apple tree we may well give for it." "Oh, man," said the woman, startled, "that was the devil: he didn't mean the apple tree, but our daughter, who was standing behind the mill sweeping the yard."
The miller's daughter was a beautiful and pious girl, and lived the three years in the fear of God and without sin. When the time was over and the day came when the evil one wanted to take her, she washed herself clean and made a wreath around herself with chalk. The devil appeared very early, but he could not come near her. Angrily he said to the miller "put all the water away from her, so that she can no longer wash, for otherwise I have no power over her." The miller was afraid and did it. The next morning the devil came again, but she had cried on her hands, and they were quite clean. Then again he could not approach her, and said angrily to the miller, "Cut off her hands, or I cannot harm her." The miller was horrified and replied, "How could I cut off the hands of my own child!" Then the evil one threatened him and said "if you don't do it, you are mine and I will get you myself." The father became afraid and promised to obey him. Then he went to the girl and said, "My child, if I do not cut off both your hands, the devil will take me away, and in my fear I promised him. Help me in my need and forgive me what I do evil to you." She answered, "dear father, do with me what you will, I am your child." Thereupon she put down both her hands and let them be cut off. The devil came a third time, but she had cried so long and so much on the stumps that they were quite pure after all. Then he had to give way and had lost all right to her.
The miller said to her, "I have gained such great good through you, I will keep you most deliciously all my life." But she answered, "I cannot stay here: I want to go away: compassionate people will give me as much as I need. Then she had her mutilated arms tied behind her back, and at sunrise she set out and walked all day until night came. Then she came to a royal garden, and by the moonlight she saw that there were trees full of beautiful fruit in it; but she could not enter it, for there was water around it. And because she had walked all day and had not tasted a morsel, and hunger tormented her, she thought, "Alas, if I were in it, that I might eat some of the fruit, else I must faint." So she knelt down, called upon the Lord God, and prayed. All at once an angel came along, who closed a sluice in the water, so that the ditch became dry and she could go through. Now she went into the garden, and the angel went with her. She saw a tree with fruit, they were beautiful pears, but they were all counted. Then she went up and ate one with her mouth from the tree to satisfy her hunger, but no more. The gardener saw it, but because the angel was standing there, he was afraid and thought the girl was a ghost, kept silent and did not dare to call or address the ghost. When she had eaten the pear, she was satisfied and went and hid in the bushes. The king, who owned the garden, came down the next morning and counted the pears. He saw that one of them was missing and asked the gardener where it had gone. Then the gardener answered "last night a ghost came in, he had no hands and ate one with his mouth." The king said "how did the ghost come in over the water? and where did he go after he ate the pear?" The gardener answered "someone in snow-white robe came from heaven and closed the sluice and stopped the water so that the spirit could go through the ditch. And because it must have been an angel, I was afraid, did not ask and did not call. When the spirit had eaten the pear, it went back again." The king said, "If it is as you say, I will watch over you this night."
When darkness fell, the king came into the garden and brought a priest with him to address the spirit. All three sat down under the tree and paid attention. At midnight the girl crawled out of the bushes, came to the tree, and ate a pear again with her mouth; but next to her stood the angel in the white robe. Then the priest came out and said "have you come from God or from the world? are you a spirit or a man?" She answered "I am not a spirit, but a poor man, forsaken of all but God." The king said "if thou art forsaken of all the world, I will not forsake thee." He took her to his royal castle, and because she was so beautiful and pious, he loved her dearly, had silver hands made for her, and took her as his wife.
After a year, the king had to go to the fields, so he ordered the young queen to his mother and said, "When she comes into childbirth, keep her well and feed her, and write me a letter right away. Now she gave birth to a beautiful son. Then the old mother hurriedly wrote and told him the good news. The messenger, however, rested on the way at a brook, and being tired from the long way, he fell asleep. Then the devil, who was always trying to harm the pious queen, came and exchanged the letter with another one saying that the queen had given birth to a changeling. When the king read the letter, he was frightened and very sad, but he wrote in reply that they should keep the queen well and take care of her until his arrival. The messenger went back with the letter, rested in the same place and fell asleep again. Then the devil came again and put another letter in his pocket, saying that they should kill the queen and her child. The old mother was frightened when she received the letter, could not believe it and wrote to the king again, but she did not get any other answer, because the devil gave the messenger a false letter each time: and in the last letter it was written that they should pick up the queen's tongue and eyes as a sign.
But the old mother wept that such innocent blood should be shed, and in the night she sent for a hind, cut out her tongue and eyes, and raised her up. Then she said to the queen, "I cannot let you be killed as the king commands, but you must not stay here any longer: go out into the wide world with your child and never come back." She tied the child on her back, and the poor woman went away with weeping eyes. She came to a great wild forest, and there she sat down on her knees and prayed to God, and the angel of the Lord appeared to her and led her to a little house, and on it was a little sign with the words, "Here dwelleth every one free." Out of the little house came a snow-white maiden, who said "welcome, Madam Queen," and led her in. Then she tied the little boy from her back and held him to her breast so that he drank, and then laid him on a beautifully made little bed. Then the poor woman said, "How do you know that I was a queen?" The white maiden answered "I am an angel, sent by God to feed you and your child." Then she stayed in the house seven years, and was well fed, and by God's grace, because of her piety, her hands, which had been cut off, grew again.
The king finally returned home from the field, and the first thing he wanted to do was to see his wife with the child. Then the old mother began to weep and said, "You wicked man, what have you written to me that I should kill two innocent souls?" and showed him the two letters that the wicked man had falsified, and continued, "I have done as you commanded," and showed him the signs, tongue and eyes. Then the king began to weep even more bitterly over his poor wife and his little son, so that the old mother took pity on him and said to him, "Be content, she is still alive. I have had a hind slaughtered secretly and taken its markings, but I have tied your wife's child on her back and told her to go out into the world, and she has had to promise never to come here again, because you would be so angry with her." Then said the king, "I will go as far as the sky is blue, and neither eat nor drink until I have found my dear wife and child again, if they have not perished in time or died of hunger."
Then the king wandered about for about seven years, looking for her in all the rocky cliffs and caves, but he did not find her and thought she had languished. He did not eat or drink during all this time, but God sustained him. At last he came to a great forest and found in it the little house, on which was the sign with the words, "Here everyone lives free." Then the white maiden came out, took him by the hand, led him in, and said "be welcome, Mr. King", and asked him where he came from. He answered "I have been wandering soon seven years, looking for my wife with her child, but I cannot find her." The angel offered him food and drink, but he did not take it, and only wanted to rest a little. Then he lay down to sleep and covered his face with a cloth.
Then the angel went into the chamber where the queen was sitting with her son, whom she used to call Sorrowful, and said to her, "Come out with your child, your husband has come." Then she went to where he was lying, and the cloth fell from his face. Then she said, "Sorrowful one, pick up your father's cloth and cover his face again." The child picked it up and covered his face again. Hearing this, the king in slumber gladly dropped the cloth once more. Then the little child became impatient and said "dear mother, how can I cover my father's face, I don't have a father in the world. I have learned to pray, our father, who is in heaven; then you said my father was in heaven and was the good God: how should I know such a wild man? he is not my father." When the king heard this, he straightened up and asked who she was. Then she said "I am your wife, and this is your son Sorrowful." And he saw her living hands and said "my wife had silver hands." She answered "the natural hands the gracious God has made me grow again;" and the angel went into the chamber, fetched the silver hands, and showed them to him. Then he first saw for certain that it was his dear wife and child, and kissed them, and was glad, and said "a heavy stone is fallen from my heart." Then the angel of God fed them again together, and then they went home to his old mother. There was great joy everywhere, and the king and queen held another wedding, and they lived happily ever after.