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- The Grey Fairy Book - 58/58 -


Poor Prunella did not know what to do. It was impossible for her to grind the wheat, prepare the dough, and bake the bread, all in the short time that the witch would be away. At first she set to work bravely, but when she saw how hopeless her task was, she threw herself on a chair, and began to weep bitterly. She was roused from her despair by hearing Bensiabel's voice at her side saying: ‘Prunella, Prunella, do not weep like that. If you will give me a kiss I will make the bread, and you will be saved.'

‘I will not kiss the son of a witch,' replied Prunella.

But Bensiabel took the wheat from her, and ground it, and made the dough, and when the witch returned the bread was ready baked in the oven.

Turning to the girl, with fury in her voice, she said: ‘Bensiabel must have been here and helped you;' and Prunella looked down, and said nothing.

‘We shall see who will win in the end,' said the witch, and her eyes blazed with anger.

Next day she called the girl to her and said: ‘Go to my sister, who lives across the mountains. She will give you a casket, which you must bring back to me.' This she said knowing that her sister, who was a still more cruel and wicked witch than herself, would never allow the girl to return, but would imprison her and starve her to death. But Prunella did not suspect anything, and set out quite cheerfully. On the way she met Bensiabel.

‘Where are you going, Prunella?' he asked.

‘I am going to the sister of my mistress, from whom I am to fetch a casket.'

‘Oh poor, poor girl!' said Bensiabel. ‘You are being sent straight to your death. Give me a kiss, and I will save you.'

But again Prunella answered as before, ‘I will not kiss the son of a witch.'

‘Nevertheless, I will save your life,' said Bensiabel, ‘for I love you better than myself. Take this flagon of oil, this loaf of bread, this piece of rope, and this broom. When you reach the witch's house, oil the hinges of the door with the contents of the flagon, and throw the loaf of bread to the great fierce mastiff, who will come to meet you. When you have passed the dog, you will see in the courtyard a miserable woman trying in vain to let down a bucket into the well with her plaited hair. You must give her the rope. In the kitchen you will find a still more miserable woman trying to clean the hearth with her tongue; to her you must give the broom. You will see the casket on the top of a cupboard, take it as quickly as you can, and leave the house without a moment's delay. If you do all this exactly as I have told you, you will not be killed.'

So Prunella, having listened carefully to his instructions, did just what he had told her. She reached the house, oiled the hinges of the door, threw the loaf to the dog, gave the poor woman at the well the rope, and the woman in the kitchen the broom, caught up the casket from the top of the cupboard, and fled with it out of the house. But the witch heard her as she ran away, and rushing to the window called out to the woman in the kitchen: ‘Kill that thief, I tell you!'

But the woman replied: ‘I will not kill her, for she has given me a broom, whereas you forced me to clean the hearth with my tongue.'

Then the witch called out in fury to the woman at the well: ‘Take the girl, I tell you, and fling her into the water, and drown her!'

But the woman answered: ‘No, I will not drown her, for she gave me this rope, whereas you forced me to use my hair to let down the bucket to draw water.'

Then the witch shouted to the dog to seize the girl and hold her fast; but the dog answered: ‘No, I will not seize her, for she gave me a loaf of bread, whereas you let me starve with hunger.'

The witch was so angry that she nearly choked, as she called out: ‘Door, bang upon her, and keep her a prisoner.'

But the door answered: ‘I won't, for she has oiled my hinges, so that they move quite easily, whereas you left them all rough and rusty.'

And so Prunella escaped, and, with the casket under her arm, reached the house of her mistress, who, as you may believe, was as angry as she was surprised to see the girl standing before her, looking more beautiful than ever. Her eyes flashed, as in furious tones she asked her, ‘Did you meet Bensiabel?'

But Prunella looked down, and said nothing.

‘We shall see,' said the witch, ‘who will win in the end. Listen, there are three cocks in the hen-house; one is yellow, one black, and the third is white. If one of them crows during the night you must tell me which one it is. Woe to you if you make a mistake. I will gobble you up in one mouthful.'

Now Bensiabel was in the room next to the one where Prunella slept. At midnight she awoke hearing a cock crow.

‘Which one was that?' shouted the witch.

Then, trembling, Prunella knocked on the wall and whispered: ‘Bensiabel, Bensiabel, tell me, which cock crowed?'

‘Will you give me a kiss if I tell you?' he whispered back through the wall.

But she answered ‘No.'

Then he whispered back to her: ‘Nevertheless, I will tell you. It was the yellow cock that crowed.'

The witch, who had noticed the delay in Prunella's answer, approached her door calling angrily: ‘Answer at once, or I will kill you.'

So Prunella answered: ‘It was the yellow cock that crowed.'

And the witch stamped her foot and gnashed her teeth.

Soon after another cock crowed. ‘Tell me now which one it is,' called the witch. And, prompted by Bensiabel, Prunella answered: ‘That is the black cock.'

A few minutes after the crowing was heard again, and the voice of the witch demanding ‘Which one was that?'

And again Prunella implored Bensiabel to help her. But this time he hesitated, for he hoped that Prunella might forget that he was a witch's son, and promise to give him a kiss. And as he hesitated he heard an agonised cry from the girl: ‘Bensiabel, Bensiabel, save me! The witch is coming, she is close to me, I hear the gnashing of her teeth!'

With a bound Bensiabel opened his door and flung himself against the witch. He pulled her back with such force that she stumbled, and falling headlong, dropped down dead at the foot of the stairs.

Then, at last, Prunella was touched by Bensiabel's goodness and kindness to her, and she became his wife, and they lived happily ever after.

End of The Grey Fairy Book.


The Grey Fairy Book - 58/58

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