The Handless Maiden – A Brothers Grimm Tale

An evil spirit’s promise, a virtuous daughter mutilated, and a king determined to be reunited with his wife and child.


The Handless Maiden

– A Brothers Grimm Tale –

A CERTAIN Miller had fallen by degrees into great poverty, until he had nothing left but his mill and a large apple-tree. One day when he was going into the forest to cut wood, an old man, whom he had never seen before, stepped up to him, and said, “Why do you trouble yourself with chopping wood? I will make you rich if you will promise me what stands behind your mill.”

The Miller thought to himself that it could be nothing but his apple-tree, so he said, “Yes,” and concluded the bargain with the strange man. The other, however, laughed derisively, and said, “After three years I will come and fetch what belongs to me;” and then he went away.

As soon as the Miller reached home, his wife came to him, and said, “Tell me, husband, whence comes this sudden gold into our house? All at once every chest and cupboard is filled, and yet no man has brought any in; I cannot tell how it has happened.”

The Miller, in reply, told her, “It comes from a strange lord, whom I met in the forest, who offered me great treasure, and I promised him in return what stands behind the mill, for we can very well spare the great apple-tree.”

“Ah, my husband,” exclaimed his wife, “it is the Evil Spirit, whom you have seen; he did not mean the apple-tree, but our daughter, who was behind the mill sweeping the yard.”

This Miller’s daughter was a beautiful and pious maiden, and during all the three years lived in the fear of God, without sin. When the time was up, and the day came when the Evil One was to fetch her, she washed herself quite clean and made a circle around herself with chalk. Quite early came the Evil One, but he could not approach her; so in a rage he said to the Miller, “Take away from her all water, that she may not be able to wash herself, else have I no power over her.” The Miller did so, for he was afraid. The next morning came the Evil One again, but she had wept upon her hands so that they were quite clean. Then he was baffled again, and in his anger he said to the Miller, “Cut off both her hands, or else I cannot now obtain her.” The Miller was horrified, and said, “How can I cut off the hands of my own child?” but the Evil One pressed him, saying, “If you do not, you are mine, and I will take you yourself away!” At last the Miller promised, and he went to the maiden, and said, “My child, if I do not cut off both your hands the Evil One will carry me away, and in my terror I have promised him. Now help me in my trouble, and forgive me for the wickedness I am about to do you.”

The Handless Maiden, Gordon Browne

She replied, “Dear father, do with me what you will; I am your daughter.”

Thereupon she laid down both her hands, and her father cut them off. For the third time now the Evil One came, but the maiden had let fall so many tears upon her arms, that they were both quite clean. So he was obliged to give her up, and after this lost all power over her.

The Miller now said to her, “I have received so much good through you, my daughter, that I will care for you most dearly all your life long.”

But she answered, “Here I cannot remain; I will wander forth into the world, where compassionate men will give me as much as I require.”

Then she had her arms bound behind her back, and at sunrise departed on her journey, and walked the whole day long till night fell. At that time she arrived at a royal garden, and by the light of the moon she saw a tree standing there bearing most beautiful fruits, but she could not enter, for there was water all round. Since, however, she had walked the whole day without tasting a morsel, she was tormented by hunger, and said to herself, “Ah, would I were there, that I might eat of the fruit, else shall I perish with hunger.” So she kneeled and prayed to God, and all at once an angel came down, who made a passage through the water, so that the ground was dry for her to pass over. Then she went into the garden, and the angel with her. There she saw a tree full of beautiful pears, but they were all numbered; so she stepped up and ate one to appease her hunger, but no more. The gardener perceived her do it, but because the angel stood by he was afraid, and thought the maiden was a spirit; so he remained quiet and did not address her. As soon as she had eaten the pear she was satisfied, and went and hid herself under the bushes.

The next morning the King to whom the garden belonged came down, and counting the pears found that one was missing; and he asked the gardener whither it was gone. The gardener replied, “Last night a spirit came, who had no hands, and ate the pear with her mouth.” The King then asked, “How did the spirit come through the water; and whither did it go after it had eaten the pear?”

“An angel clothed in snow-white garments came down from heaven and made a passage through the waters, so that the spirit walked through the ditch. And because it was an angel, I was afraid, and neither called out nor questioned it; and as soon as it had finished the fruit, it returned as it came.”

The King said, “If it be as you say, I will this night watch with you.”

As soon as it was dark the King came into the garden, bringing with him a priest, who was to address the spirit, and all three sat down under the tree. About midnight the maiden crept out from under the bushes, and again ate with her mouth a pear off the tree, whilst the angel clothed in white stood by her. Then the priest went towards her, and said, “Art thou come from God, or from earth? art thou a spirit, or a human being?” She replied, “I am no spirit, but a poor maiden, deserted by all, save God alone.”

The King said, “If you are forsaken by all the world, yet will I not forsake you;” and he took her with him to his royal palace, and, because she was so beautiful and pious, he loved her with all his heart, and ordered silver hands to be made for her, and made her his bride.

After a year had passed by, the King was obliged to go to war, so he commended the young Queen to the care of his mother, and told her to write him word if she had a child born, and to pay her especial attention. Soon afterwards the Queen bore a fine boy, so the old mother wrote a letter to her son, containing the joyful news. The messenger, however, rested on his way by a brook, and, being weary of his long journey, fell asleep. Then came the Evil One, who had always been trying to do some evil to the Queen, and changed the letter for another wherein it was said that the Queen had brought a changeling into the world. As soon as the King had read this letter he was frightened and much troubled, nevertheless he wrote an answer to his mother, that she should take great care of the Queen until his arrival. The messenger went back with this letter, but on his way rested at the same spot, and went to sleep. Then the Evil One came a second time, and put another letter in his pocket wherein it was said the Queen and her child should be killed. When the old mother received this letter, she was struck with horror, and could not believe it; so she wrote another letter to the King; but she received no other answer, for the Evil One again placed a false letter in the messenger’s pocket, and in this last it said that she should preserve the tongue and eyes of the Queen, for a sign that she had fulfilled his commands.

The old mother was sorely grieved to shed innocent blood, so she caused a calf to be fetched by night, and cut off its tongue and took out its eyes. Then she said to the Queen, “I cannot let you be killed, as the King commands; but you must remain here no longer. Go forth with your child into the wide world, and never return here again.”

Thus saying, she bound the child upon the young Queen’s back, and the poor wife went away, weeping bitterly. Soon she entered a large wild forest, and there she fell upon her knees and prayed to God, and the angel appeared and led her to a little cottage, and over the door was a shield inscribed with the words, “Here may every one live freely.” Out of the house came a snow-white maiden, who said, “Welcome, Lady Queen,” and led her in. Then she took the little child from the Queen’s back, and gave it some nourishment, and laid it on a beautifully covered bed. Presently the Queen asked, “How do you know that I am a Queen?” and the maiden answered, “I am an angel sent from God to tend you and your child;” and in this cottage she lived seven years, and was well cared for, and through God’s mercy to her, on account of her piety, her hands grew again as before.

Meanwhile the King had come home again, and his first thought was to see his wife and child. Then his mother began to weep, and said, “You wicked husband, why did you write to me that I should put to death two innocent souls?” and, showing him the two letters which the Evil One had forged, she continued, “I have done as you commanded;” and she brought him the tokens, the two eyes and the tongue. Then the King began to weep so bitterly for his dear wife and son, that the old mother pitied him, and said, “Be comforted, she lives yet! I caused a calf to be slain, from whom I took these tokens; but the child I bound on your wife’s back, and I bade them go forth into the wide world; and she promised never to return here, because you were so wrathful against her.”“So far as heaven is blue,” exclaimed the King, “I will go; and neither will I eat nor drink until I have found again my dear wife and child, if they have not perished of hunger by this time.”

Thereupon the King set out, and for seven long years sought his wife in every stony cleft and rocky cave, but found her not; and he began to think she must have perished. And all this time he neither ate nor drank, but God sustained him.

At last he came into a large forest, and found there the little cottage whereon the shield was with the words, “Here may every one live freely.” Out of the house came the white maiden, and she took him by the hand; and leading him in, said,—“Be welcome, Great King. Whence comest thou?”

He replied, “For seven long years have I sought every where for my wife and child; but I have not succeeded.”

Then the angel offered him meat and drink, but he refused both, and would only rest a little while. So he lay down to sleep, and covered his face with a napkin.

Now went the angel into the chamber where sat the Queen, with her son, whom she usually called “Sorrowful,” and said to her, “Come down, with your child: your husband is here.” So she went to where he lay, and the napkin fell from off his face; so the Queen said, “Sorrowful, pick up the napkin, and cover again your father’s face.” The child did as he was bid; and the King, who heard in his slumber what passed, let the napkin again fall from off his face. At this the boy became impatient, and said, “Dear mother, how can I cover my father’s face? Have I indeed a father on the earth? I have learnt the prayer, ‘Our Father which art in heaven;’ and you have told me my father was in heaven,—the good God: how can I talk to this wild man? he is not my father.”

As the King heard this he raised himself up, and asked the Queen who she was. The Queen replied: “I am your wife, and this is your son, Sorrowful.” But when he saw her human hands, he said, “My wife had silver hands.” “The merciful God,” said the Queen, “has caused my hands to grow again;” and the angel, going into her chamber, brought out the silver hands, and showed them to him.

Now he perceived that they were certainly his dear wife and child; and he kissed them gladly, saying, “A heavy stone is taken from my heart;” and, after eating a meal together with the angel, they went home to the King’s mother.

Their arrival caused great rejoicings every where; and the King and Queen celebrated their marriage again, and ever afterwards lived happily together to the end of their lives.

The Handless Maiden, R. Anning Bell

‘Grimm’s Household Tales’ contains fifty of their best-loved stories, edited and translated by Marian Edwardes, and illustrated by R. Anning Bell. It includes the narratives of ‘The Golden Goose’, ‘Briar Rose’, ‘The Robber Bridegroom’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘Tom Thumb’, ‘The Juniper Tree’, ‘The Frog Prince’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, and many more.


Grimm’s Household Tales – Edited and Partly Translated Anew by Marian Edwardes – Illustrated by R. Anning Bell

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