15.RAPUNZEL

There was once a man and a woman who had long wished for a child. These people had a little window at the back of their house from which a splendid garden could be seen, which was full of the most beautiful flowers and herbs. It was, however, surrounded by a high wall, and no one dared to go into it because it belonged to a witch, who had great power and terrified everyone. One day the woman was standing by this window and looking down into the garden, when she saw a bed which was planted with the most beautiful rampion (rapunzel), and it looked so fresh and green that she longed for it. She pined away, and began to look pale and miserable. Then her husband was alarmed, and asked, ‘what’s wrong, dear wife?’ ‘Ah,’ she replied, ‘if I can’t eat some of the rampion, which is in the garden behind our house, I shall die.’ The man, who loved her, thought, ‘Sooner than let your wife die, bring her some of the rampion yourself, no matter what the cost.’ At twilight, he clambered down over the wall into the garden of the witch, hastily clutched a handful of rampion, and took it to his wife. She at once made herself a salad of it, and ate it greedily. It tasted so good to her—so very good, that the next day she longed for it three times as much as before. If he was to have any rest, her husband had to once more go into the garden. In the gloom of evening therefore, he let himself down again, but when he had clambered down the wall he was terribly afraid, for he saw the witch standing before him. ‘How can you dare,’ said she with angry look, ‘to come into my garden and steal my rampion like a thief? You shall suffer for it!’ ‘Ah,’ he answered, ‘let mercy take the place of justice, I only made up my mind to do it out of necessity. My wife saw your rampion from the window, and felt such a longing for it that she would have died if she had not got some to eat.’ Then the witch allowed her anger to be softened, and said to him: ‘If what you say is true, I will allow you to take away with you as much rampion as you like, only I make one condition. You must give me the child which your wife will bring into the world. It will be well treated, and I will care for it like a mother.’ The man in his terror agreed to everything, and when the woman gave birth, the witch appeared at once, gave the child the name of Rapunzel, and took it away with her.

Rapunzel grew into the most beautiful child under the sun. When she was twelve years old, the witch shut her into a tower, which lay in a forest, and had neither stairs nor door, but at the top was a little window. When the witch wanted to go in, she placed herself beneath it and cried:

  'Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
  Let down your hair.'

Rapunzel had magnificent long hair, fine as spun gold, and when she heard the voice of the witch she unfastened her braided tresses, wound them round one of the hooks of the window above, and then the hair fell twenty metres down, and the witch climbed up by it.

After a year or two, the king’s son rode through the forest and was passing by the tower. Then he heard a song, which was so charming that he stood still and listened. This was Rapunzel, who in her solitude passed her time in singing. The king’s son wanted to climb up to her, and looked for the door of the tower, but none was to be found. He rode home, but the singing had so deeply touched his heart, that every day he went out into the forest and listened to it. Once when he was thus standing behind a tree, he saw that a witch came there, and he heard how she cried:

  'Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
  Let down your hair.'

Then Rapunzel let down the braids of her hair, and the witch climbed up to her. ‘If that is the ladder by which one climbs, I too will try my fortune,’ he said, and the next day when it began to grow dark, he went to the tower and cried:

  'Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
  Let down your hair.'

Immediately the hair fell down and the king’s son climbed up.

At first Rapunzel was terribly frightened, but the king’s son began to talk to her kindly, and told her that his heart had been so stirred that it had let him have no rest, and he had been forced to see her. Then Rapunzel lost her fear, and when he asked her if she would take him for her husband, and she saw that he was young and handsome, she thought, ‘He will love me more than the witch does’. So she said yes, and laid her hand in his. She said, ‘I will willingly go away with you, but I do not know how to get down. Bring with you a length of silk every time that you come, and I will weave a ladder with it, and when that is ready I will come down, and you will take me on your horse.’ They agreed that until that time he should come to her every evening, for the old woman came in the daytime. The witch knew nothing of this, until once Rapunzel said to her, ‘Tell me, how it is that you are so much heavier for me to draw up than the young king’s son—he is with me in a moment.’ ‘Ah! You wicked child,’ cried the witch. ‘What do I hear you say? I thought I had separated you from all the world, and yet you have deceived me!’ In her anger she clutched Rapunzel’s beautiful hair, wrapped it twice round her left hand, seized a pair of scissors with the right, and snip, snap, they were cut off, and the lovely braids lay on the ground. And she was so pitiless that she took poor Rapunzel into a desert where she had to live in great grief and misery.

On the same day that she cast out Rapunzel, however, the witch fastened the braids of hair, which she had cut off, to the hook of the window, and when the king’s son came and cried:

  'Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
   Let down your hair.'

She let the hair down. The king’s son climbed up, but instead of finding his dearest Rapunzel, he found the witch, who gazed at him with wicked and venomous looks. ‘Aha!’ she cried mockingly, ‘you would fetch your dearest, but the beautiful bird sits no longer singing in the nest. The cat has got it, and will scratch out your eyes as well. Rapunzel is lost to you. You will never see her again.’ The king’s son was beside himself with pain, and in his despair he leapt down from the tower. He escaped with his life, but the thorns into which he fell pierced his eyes. Then he wandered quite blind about the forest, ate nothing but roots and berries, and did nothing but lament and weep over the loss of his dearest wife. Thus he roamed about in misery for some years, and at length came to the desert where Rapunzel, with the twins to which she had given birth, a boy and a girl, lived in wretchedness. He heard a voice, and it seemed so familiar to him that he went towards it, and when he approached, Rapunzel knew him and fell on his neck and wept. Two of her tears wetted his eyes and they grew clear again, and he could see with them as before. He led her to his kingdom where he was joyfully received, and they lived for a long time afterwards, happy and contented.