the Thistle Girl
I n a certain kingdom there lived a poor little thistle girl. What thistle girls did for a livingâthat is, what people did with thistlesâis no longer known, but whatever the reason that people gathered thistles, she was one of those who did it. All day long, from well before sunrise until long after sunset, she wandered the countryside gathering thistles, pricking her fingers to the bone, piling the thistles into her enormous thistle sack and carrying them back to her stepmother. It was a bitter life, but she always made the best of it and never felt the least bit sorry for herself, only for the miseries of others. The girlâs name was Gudgekin.
Alas! The stepmother was never satisfied. She was arrogant and fiercely competitive, and when she laid out her thistles in her market stall, she would rather be dead than suffer the humiliation of seeing that some other stall had more thistles than she had. No one ever did, but the fear preyed on her, and no matter how many sacks of thistles poor Gudgekin gathered, there were never enough to give the stepmother comfort. âYou donât earn your keep,â the stepmother would say, crossing her arms and closing them together like scissors. âIf you donât bring more thistles tomorrow, itâs away you must go to the Childrenâs Home and good riddance!â
Poor Gudgekin. Every day she brought more than yesterday, but every night the same. âIf you donât bring more thistles tomorrow, itâs away to the Home with you.â She worked feverishly, frantically, smiling through her tears, seizing the thistles by whichever end came first, but never to her stepmotherâs satisfaction. Thus she lived out her miserable childhood, blinded by burning tears and pink with thistle pricks, but viewing her existence in the best light possible. As she grew older she grew more and more beautiful, partly because she was always smiling and refused to pout, whatever the provocation; and soon she was as lovely as any princess.
One day her bad luck changed to good. As she was jerking a thistle from between two rocks, a small voice cried, âStop! Youâre murdering my children!â
âI beg your pardon?â said the thistle girl. When she bent down she saw a beautiful little fairy in a long white and silver dress, hastily removing her children from their cradle, which was resting in the very thistle that Gudgekin had been pulling.
âOh,â said Gudgekin in great distress.
The fairy said nothing at first, hurrying back and forth, carrying her children to the safety of the nearest rock. But then at last the fairy looked up and saw that Gudgekin was crying. âWell,â she said. âWhatâs this?â
âIâm sorry,â said Gudgekin. âI always cry. Itâs because of the misery of others, primarily. Iâm used to it.â
âPrimarily?â said the fairy and put her hands on her hips.
âWell,â sniffled Gudgekin, âto tell the truth, I do sometimes imagine Iâm not as happy as I might be. Itâs shameful, I know. Everyoneâs miserable, and itâs wrong of me to whimper.â
âEveryone?â said the fairy, ââmiserable? Sooner or later an opinion like that will make a fool of you!â
âWell, I really donât know,â said Gudgekin, somewhat confused. âIâve seen very little of the world, Iâm afraid.â
âI see,â said the fairy thoughtfully, lips pursed. âWell, thatâs a pity, but itâs easily fixed. Since youâve spared my children and taken pity on my lot, I think I should do you a good turn.â
She struck the rock three times with a tiny golden straw, and instantly all the thistles for miles around began moving as if by their own volition toward the thistle girlâs sack. It was the kingdom of fairies, and the beautiful fairy with whom Gudgekin had made