Ludwig Bechstein: “As Pretty as Seven”

Excerpt, “As Pretty As Seven, and Other Popular Tales from the German.”  Collected by Ludwig Bechstein with One Hundred Illustrations by Richter.  1848.

As Pretty as Seven

ONCE upon a time, in a certain village, dwelt a worthy pair in a small cottage. They had but one child, a daughter; but she was a treasure in her way. She worked, sewed, washed, and spun as much as seven ordinary people, and withal was “As Pretty as Seven.” But on account of her pretty face, everybody stared at her; and, as she did not like this, she put a veil over her face when she went to church on Sundays; for this was one of her greatest charms, that she was pious as well as hard-working. One day the king’s son saw her, and admired her graceful form and figure, and her ladylike manners; but to his great mortification he could not see her face, because of the veil. He asked his servants the reason why she wore this veil; and they told him it was because she was so modest and maidenly.

“If the girl is so modest about her beauty,” said the king, “I am sure she would make a good wife. Go, take her this gold ring; and say I wish to speak to her, if she will come this evening to the great oak-tree.”

The servant did as he was bidden; and As Pretty as Seven, believing that the prince wished to give her some work, went to the spot named at the appointed time. There the prince told her how he loved her dearly for her beauty and virtue, and would make her his wife. But she said,” I am a poor girl, and you are a rich prince; your father would be very angry if I were to become your wife.”


The prince, however, would not be put off; and she at last consented to his entreaties, and promised him an answer in two days. But the prince fancied he could not possibly wait so long; and accordingly, the morning after their meeting, he sent As Pretty as Seven a pair of silver shoes, and begged her to meet him once more beneath the oak. When they met, he asked her if she had yet decided; but she said she had not yet had time-she had been too busy about household affairs; and besides, she was a poor girl and he a rich prince, and it would only enrage his father if he were to marry her. But the prince begged and entreated her so long to listen to him, that she at length promised to consider the matter, and tell her parents of it. The next day the prince sent her a golden cloak, and asked a third meeting beneath the oak-tree. But the maiden was as unprepared as before to listen to him; and she told him again she was too poor and he too rich, and his father would be in a terrible passion if they were married to one another. The prince declared that all her reasons went for nothing; that if she became his wife now, by and by she would be queen; and he seemed so much in earnest in all be said, that at last she consented to meet him every evening beneath the oak-tree.

Now the king knew not a word about this. But there was at the palace an ugly old courtier, who was always spying into the young prince’s doings, and he, discovering these meetings, reported them to the king. The king immediately sent his servants with orders to burn down the cottage where As Pretty as Seven lived; that she and her parents might perish together. But in this dark design he failed; for although the cottage was burnt, and also the helpless old couple, the maiden luckily escaped, and took refuge in an empty barn. As soon as the coast was clear, the maiden came out of her hiding-place, and searching among the ruins of the cottage, found a few small matters which were yet of use. These she sold, and with the money purchased a suit of men’s clothing, and went to the court attired as a footman in want of a place. The king asked the new-comer his name; and he received for answer, “Misfortune.” Now the king was so pleased with the youth’s manners, that he hired him at once, and by degrees grew so partial to him as to prefer him to any other servant.

Meanwhile the prince had heard and seen that the cottage of his betrothed was burnt to the ground, and he fully believed that she had perished in the flames. This the king also said; and he was very anxious that his son should marry the daughter of a neighbouring king. When the wedding was agreed upon, the whole court and all the royal household accompanied the young prince to the home of the bride. Among the others, but almost last in the procession, went Misfortune, sad at heart, and weighed down by grief. As she rode she sang:

“As Pretty as Seven was once my name,

But it changed to Misfortune when here I came.”

The prince heard the singing, and asked who it was. “It is my servant Misfortune, I think,” replied the king. Presently they heard the song again:

“As Pretty as Seven was once my name,

But it changed to Misfortune when here I came.”

Then the prince asked again if it were really only a servant of the king’s who sang so beautifully; and the king said he knew it could be no one else. But as the procession drew closer to the palace of the intended bride, the same clear voice sang louder than before:

“As Pretty as Seven was once my name,

But it changed to Misfortune when here I came.”

When the prince heard the same words a third time, he could restrain his impatience no longer, and rode as fast as possible back to the end of the cavalcade. There he saw Misfortune, and recognized As Pretty as Seven. So, contenting himself for the time with a kindly nod, he rode back to his place, and in due course entered the palace, where his bride awaited him. Then by and by, when all the guests were come, and were collected in the great council-chamber to hear the betrothal before the ceremony commenced, the young prince said to his future father-in-law, “My lord king, before I am betrothed to your daughter, give me, I pray you, an answer to this riddle. I possess a beautiful casket, to which some time since I lost the key; but now, just as I have procured a new one, the old key has come to light: tell me, therefore, which key am I bound to make use of?”

“Oh, naturally the old one,” answered the king; “the old key should be had in honour, and the new one laid aside.”

“Very well, my lord king,” said the prince; “then do not be angry with me, if I put aside your daughter; she is the new key, and there stands the old one!”

As he spoke he took the hand of As Pretty as Seven, and led her to his father, saying, “My lord, here is my bride.”

But the old king was quite frightened, and said, “Oh, no, my dear son, that is my servant Misfortune!”

Many of the people exclaimed too, “Yes, that is Misfortune!”

“No, no,” said the young prince, authoritatively; “this is not Misfortune the servant, but As Pretty as Seven my bride.”

And then taking a courteous leave of the assembly, he conducted his recovered sweetheart to the most charming of the castles which he possessed, and installed her there as his wife, and the mistress of all his wealth.