The Girl With The Golden Hair
Source: The Folk-tales Of The Magyars
There was once, I do not know where, in the world an old man who had
twelve sons; the eldest of whom served the king for twenty-four years.
One day the old man took it into his head that all his sons should get
married, and they all were willing to comply with their father's wish,
with the exception of the eldest son, who could not on any account be
coaxed into matrimony. However the old man would not give in, and said,
"Do you hear me, my son? the eldest of you must marry at the same time
as the youngest; I want you all to get married at the same time."
So the old man had a pair of boots made for himself with iron soles and
went in search of wives for his twelve sons. He wandered hither and
thither over several countries until the iron soles of his boots were
worn into holes; at last, however, he found at a house twelve girls,
who, he thought, would do.
The eleven younger lads made great preparations and went to the fair to
buy themselves saddle-horses; but the eldest, who was serving the king,
did not concern himself about anything, and turned out the king's horses
to grass as usual. Among the animals there was a mare with a foal, and
Jack--this was the name of the eldest lad--always bestowed the greatest
care upon the mare. One day, as the whole stud were grazing in the
fields, the mare neighed and said to the lad, "I say, Jack, I hear that
you are thinking of getting married; your eleven brothers have already
gone to the fair to purchase riding-horses for the wedding; they are
buying the finest animals they can get; but don't you go and purchase
anything: there is a foal of mine that was foaled last year, go and beg
the king to let you have it, you will have no cause to repent your
choice. The king will try to palm off some other animal on you, but
don't you take it. Choose the foal as I tell you."
So it happened Jack went up stairs and saw the king and spoke to him
thus: "Most gracious Majesty! I have now served you for twenty-four
years and should like to leave this place, because my eleven brothers
are already on their way to get themselves wives; the tips of my
moustache too reach already to my ears, the days fly fast, and it is
high time for me to find a wife too; I should be much obliged if you
would pay me my wages." "You are perfectly right, my dear son, Jack,"
replied the king, "it is high time that you too get married; and, as you
have so faithfully served me, I will give orders for your wedding to be
celebrated with the greatest pomp. Let me know your wishes! would you
like to have so much silver as you can carry, or would you prefer as
much gold?" "Most gracious Majesty, I have only one desire, and that is
to be allowed to take with me from your stud a certain foal that belongs
to a certain mare that is with foal again this year." "Surely you don't
want to make an exhibition of yourself on that wretched creature?" "Aye,
but I do, your Majesty, and I do not want anything else."
Our Jack was still fast asleep when his eleven brothers set out on the
finest horses to fetch their girls. Jack did not get up till noon, at
which hour the king ordered out a coach and six, together with a couple
of outriders, and thus addressed the lad: "Well, Jack, my boy, I have no
objection, you can take your foal, but don't reproach me hereafter."
Jack thereupon had plenty to eat and drink, and even took out a
bucketful of wine to his foal and made it drink the whole. He then took
his goods and chattels and sat in the coach, but the king would not
allow the foal to run along with the coach, and said: "Not that way, if
I know it; put the ugly creature up on the box! I should feel ashamed if
anybody saw the ugly brute running alongside my coach." So the foal was
tied up to the box, and they set off till they reached the outskirts of
the town. By this time the foal, which was in a most uncomfortable
position, presented a most pitiful sight; for by rubbing against the box
the whole of one of its sides had become raw. So they stopped, and it
was taken down and placed on the ground. Jack got out, and, the coach
having set out for home, he sat on the foal's back, his feet touching
the ground. The foal gazed round to see whether anybody was looking on,
and, not seeing a soul, it flew up high into the air and thus addressed
the lad: "Well, my dear master, at what speed shall we proceed? Shall we
go like the hurricane or like a flash of thought?" "As quick as you can,
my dear horse," was his reply.
They flew along for a while, when the foal again spoke, asking: "Is your
hat tied on, my dear master?"
"Yes, it is, my dear horse."
Again they flew along, and again the little foal said: "Well, my dear
master, your hat that you have bought for your wedding is gone. You have
lost it. We have left it some seven miles behind, but we will go back to
fetch it; nobody has as yet picked it up." So they returned and picked
up the hat, and the little foal again flew high up into the air. After
proceeding for three hours they reached the inn where his brothers had
decided to take up their night's lodgings. The other lads had started at
dawn, he not till noon, after his midday meal, and still he left them
behind. Having got within a short distance of the inn, the foal alighted
on the ground with Jack, and addressed him in these words: "Well, my
dear master, get off here and turn me out on to that heap of rubbish and
weeds yonder, then walk into the inn and have plenty to eat and drink;
your eleven younger brothers will also arrive here shortly." So Jack
entered the inn, ordered a bottle of wine, made a hearty meal, and
enjoyed himself heartily. He took out a bucketful of wine to his foal
and gave it to drink; time passed on ... when, at last his brothers
arrived. They were still at some distance when the youngest caught sight
of the foal, and exclaimed: "Oh, look at that miserable screw! Surely it
is our eldest brother's steed." "So it is! So it is!" exclaimed all the
others, but at the same time they all stared at each other, and could
not explain how it came to pass that, although they had started much
earlier than their brother, they had been outdistanced by him,
notwithstanding the fact that his animal could not be compared with
their own horses. The brothers put their steeds into the stables and
placed plenty of hay and corn before them, then they walked into the
tap-room and found Jack already enjoying himself.
"So you have got here, brother," they remarked. "As you behold,
youngsters, though I had not left home when the clock struck twelve."
"Certainly it is a mystery how you have got here on that thorough-bred
of yours, a wolf could swallow the creature at a bite."
They sat down and ate and drank; so soon as it became dark, the lads
went out to look after the horses.
"Well then, where will you put your horse over night?" they inquired of
"I will put it into the same stables with yours."
"You don't mean that, it will barely reach to the bellies of our horses,
the stables are too big for that steed of yours."
But Jack took his foal into the stables and threw his cloak over its
back. In the meantime his brothers had returned to the tap-room and were
holding council as to what was to be done with their eldest brother.
"What shall we do with him? what indeed? what can we do under the
circumstances but kill him? It will never do to take him with us to the
girls, they will laugh at us and drive us off in disgrace."
At this the foal began to speak, and said: "I say, dear master, tie me
near the wall, your brothers will come to kill you, but don't do
anything in the matter, leave it to me; join them, eat and drink, and
then come back and lie down at my feet, I will do the rest."
Jack did as he was told; upon leaving the tap-room he returned to the
stables and lay down at the feet of his foal, and as the wine had made
him a bit drowsy he soon fell asleep. Ere long his brothers arrived with
their hatchet-sticks which they had purchased for the wedding.
"Gee-up, you jackass," they shouted, and all eleven were about to attack
the poor little foal, when it kicked out with such force that it sent
the youngest flying against the wall.
"Get up, dear master, they have come." Jack thereupon woke, and his
little foal asked him, "What shall I do with them?"
"Oh! knock them all against the wall."
The foal did as it was told, and the lads dropped about like
crab-apples. It collected them all into a heap, when Jack, seeing their
condition, became frightened, so he hurriedly picked up a bucket, ran to
the well, fetched some water and poured it over the eleven. They
managed, with some difficulty, to get on to their feet and then showered
reproaches upon him, complaining bitterly about his unbrotherly conduct
in ordering his foal to handle them so roughly as it had done.
The eleven then left the inn without a moment's delay, and toiled along
the whole night and the next day, until at last, on the following
evening, they reached the home of the twelve girls. But to get in was
not such an easy task, for the place was fenced round with strong iron
rails, the gate was also very strong and made of iron, and the latch was
so heavy that it took more than six powerful men to lift it. The eleven
brothers made their horses prance about and bade them to kick against
the latch, but all their manoeuvres were of no avail--they could not
move the latch.
But what has become of Jack? where did he tarry? His foal knew only too
well where the girls could be found, and how they could be got at; so he
did not budge from the inn until late in the afternoon, and spent his
time eating and drinking. His brothers were still busily engaged with
the latch, hammering at it and kicking, when at last, just when the
people were lighting the candles at dusk, the brothers discovered Jack
approaching high up in the air on his foal. As soon as he reached the
gate he wheeled round, the foal gave a tremendous kick at the latch,
whereupon the gate, and with it a portion of the railing, heeled over
into the dust. The landlady, a diabolical old witch, then came running
to the gate with a lamp in her hand, and said: "I knew Jack that you
had arrived, and I have come and opened the gate." This statement was of
course not true.
The lads entered the house, where they found the twelve girls all
standing in a row. With regard to the age of the maidens they
corresponded to those of the lads; and when it came to choice, the
eldest lad fell in love with the eldest girl, the youngest lad with the
youngest maid, and so on, every lad with the girl of his own age. They
sat down to supper, each girl by the side of her beau; they ate and
drank, enjoyed themselves, and the kissing had no end. At last they
exchanged handkerchiefs. As it was getting late, and the young folks
became sleepy, they all retired to rest. Beds were prepared for all
twenty-four in a huge room; on one side stood the beds for the girls, on
the other those for the lads. Just then the mischievous old witch, who
was the girls' mother, walked out of the house, and muttered to herself:
"Now I have got you all in my net, you wretched crew, we shall see which
of you will leave this place alive!"
It so happened that Jack went out to look after his foal; he took a
bucketful of wine with him and gave his animal a drink, whereupon the
foal spoke to him thus:
"I say, dear master! we have come to an awful place; that old witch
intends to kill you all. At the same time don't be frightened, but do
what I am about to tell you. After everybody has gone to bed, come out
again and lead us horses out from these stables, and tie twelve horses
belonging to the old witch in our places. With regard to yourselves,
place your hats on to the girls' heads, and the old witch will mistake
the maids, and slay them in your stead. I will send such a deep slumber
over them that even a noise seven times as loud as you will make cannot
In conformity with the advice thus received, Jack re-entered the
bedchamber, placed the twelve men's hats on to the heads of the girls;
he then exchanged the horses, and went back to bed. Soon after the old
witch commenced to whet a huge knife, which sent forth a shower of vivid
sparks: she then approached the beds, groped about, and as soon as she
discovered a hat, snap! off went a head, and so she went on until she
had cut off all the girls' heads. Then she left the house, fetched a
broad axe, sharpened it and went into the stables. Snap! off came the
head of the first horse, then the next, till she had killed all twelve.
The foal then stamped upon the ground, whereupon Jack went out, and was
thus spoken to by his foal:
"Now then, dear master! rouse up all your brothers, and tell them to
saddle their horses! and let them get away from this place without a
moment's delay. Don't let dawn overtake them here, or they are lost. You
yourself can go back and finish your sleep."
Jack rushed in and with great difficulty roused them; and then informed
them of the dangerous position they were in. After a great deal of
trouble, they got up and left the place. Jack himself laid down and had
a sound sleep. As soon as the first streaks of dawn appeared, the foal
again stamped; Jack went out, sat upon it, and as they flew through the
gate the foal gave the railing such a powerful kick that even the house
tottered and fell. The old witch hereupon jumped up in great hurry, sat
a-straddle an iron pole, and rode in pursuit of Jack.
"Stop Jack, you deceitful lad!" she shouted; "you have killed my twelve
daughters, and destroyed my twelve horses. I am not sure whether you
will be able to come again hither or not!"
"If I do, I shall be here; if not, then I shan't."
Poor Jack got weary of his life, not having been able to get himself a
wife. He did not return to his native town, but went into the wide,
wide world. As he and his foal were proceeding on their journey, the
steed said to him: "Look, dear master! I have stept on a hair of real
gold; it is here under my hoof. It would bring ill luck if we picked it
up, but it would equally be unlucky to leave it; so you had better take
it with you." Jack picked up the golden hair, and re-mounted his foal,
and continued his journey. After a while the foal again spoke, saying:
"My dear master! now I have stept on a half horse-shoe of pure gold, it
is here under my hoof. It would be unlucky to take it with us, but we
should not fare better if we left it; so you had better take it." Jack
picked up the half horse-shoe of pure gold, put it into his bag, and
they again flew like lightning. They reached a town just as the evening
bell rang, and stopped in front of an hostelry; Jack got off, walked in
and asked the innkeeper:
"Well, my dear host, what is the news in this town?"
"Nothing else, my kinsman, but that the king's coachman, who drove his
state-coach, is lying on his death-bed; if you care for the situation,
you had better take it."
So Jack at once made up his mind, and went to see the king--who was then
still a bachelor--and was at once engaged by him to drive the
state-coach. He did not ask for any wages, but only stipulated that his
foal should be allowed to feed with the coach-horses from the same
manger. To this the king agreed, and Jack at once proceeded to the
stables. In the evening the other grooms (there were some fifty or sixty
of them) raised a great cry, and all asked for candles from the woman
who served out the stores. But Jack did not want any, so he did not ask
for any, and still his horses were in better condition, and were better
groomed than the rest. All the other grooms used a whole candle a head
every night. This set the storekeeper woman thinking; she could not
imagine how it could be that, whereas all the other men wanted a whole
candle a head every blessed night, the man who drove the state-coach
did not want any, and still his horses looked a hundred times better
than the others. She told the strange discovery to the king, who
immediately sent for all the men with the exception of Jack.
"Well, my sons, tell me this: How is it that every one of you burns a
whole candle every night, whereas my state-coachman has never asked for
any, and still his horses look seven times better than yours?"
"Oh, your majesty, he has no need to ask for any; we could do without
them, if we were in his position."
"How is that, explain yourselves."
"Because, sir, he does his work one morning by the light of a golden
hair, and every other morning by the rays of half a horse-shoe of pure
The king dismissed the grooms, and the next day at dawn concealed
himself, and watched Jack, and satisfied himself with his own eyes that
his men had spoken the truth. So soon as he got back into his rooms, he
sent for Jack, and addressed him thus:
"I say, my boy, you were working this morning by the light of a hair of
"That is not true, your majesty; where on earth could I get a hair of
"Don't let us waste any words! I saw it with my own eyes this morning.
If the girl to whom that golden hair belonged is not here by to-morrow
morning you forfeit your life! I'll hang you!"
Poor Jack returned to the stables and wept like a child. "What is the
matter?" inquired his foal; "Why do I see those tears? what makes you
"How could I help crying and weeping? the king has just sent for me and
told me that if I can't produce the girl to whom the golden hair
belonged he will hang me."
"This is indeed a very serious look-out, my dear master, because you
must know that the old witch whose twelve girls we have slain has yet
another most beautiful daughter; the girl has not yet been allowed to
see daylight, she is always kept in a special room which she has never
yet left, and in which six candles are kept burning day and night--that
is the girl to whom that golden hair once belonged. But never mind, eat
and drink to your heart's content, we will go and fetch her. But be
cautious when you enter the house where the daughter of the old witch is
guarded, because there are a dozen bells over the door, and they may
Jack therefore ate and drank, and took a bucketful of wine to his foal
too, and gave it a drink. Then they started and went and went, until
after a while they reached the dwelling of the old witch. Jack
dismounted, cautiously approached the door, carefully muffled the dozen
bells, and gently opened the door without making the slightest noise.
And lo! inside he beheld the girl with the golden tresses, such a
wonderfully pretty creature the like of which he had not set his eyes
upon before during all his eventful life. He stole up to her bedside on
tiptoe, grasped the girl round the waist, and in another second was
again out of the house, carrying her off with him. He ran as fast as he
could and mounted his steed. The foal gave a parting kick to the house
that made the roof tumble in, and the next moment was off, high up in
the air like a swift bird. But the old witch was not slow either, the
moment she was roused she mounted a long fir-pole and tore after Jack
like forked lightning.
"It is you, Jack, you good-for-nothing, deceitful fellow! My twelve
daughters have perished by your hand, and now you carry off my
thirteenth! You may have been here before, but I'll take care that you
don't come again."
"If I do, I do; if I don't, I don't."
Jack went and went, and by dawn had already reached home; he conducted
the girl into the king's presence, and lo! no sooner had the monarch
caught sight of her than he rushed forward and embraced her, saying:
"Oh, my darling, my pretty love, you are mine and I am yours!" But the
girl would not utter a single word, not for the whole world. This made
the king question her: "What is the matter, my love? Why are you so
"How can I help being sad? Nobody can have me until some one brings
hither all my goods and chattels, my spinning-wheel and distaff, nay,
the very dust in my room."
The king at once sent for Jack.
"Well, my boy, if the golden-haired girl's goods and chattels,
spinning-wheel, distaff, and the very dust in her room, are not here by
to-morrow morning, I will hang you."
Jack was very much downcast and began to cry. When he reached the
stables his foal again asked him: "What's the matter with you, my dear
master? Why all this sorrow?"
"How can I help weeping and crying, my dear horse; the king has sent for
me and threatened to hang me if the golden-haired girl's goods and
chattels, nay, the very dust of her room, be not here by to-morrow
"Don't fret, my dear master, we will go and fetch them too. Get a
table-cloth somewhere, and when you enter her room spread out the cloth
on the floor and sweep all her paraphernalia into it."
Jack got ready and started on his errand. Within a short time he reached
the dwelling of the old witch, entered the room, and spread out his
cloth. But, would anybody believe it, the glare of the place very nearly
blinded him; the very dust on the floor was pure gold. He swept
everything he could find into the table-cloth, swung the bundle on his
back, and ran out; having got outside, the foal at his bidding gave the
building a powerful kick that demolished its very foundations. This woke
the old witch, who immediately mounted a red-hot broom and tore after
him like a whirlwind.
"Confound you, deceitful Jack! after you have robbed me of all my
thirteen daughters, you now come and steal the chattels of the youngest
girl. I warrant that you won't return hither any more."
"If I do, I do; if I don't, I don't."
Jack went home with the luggage and handed it to the king.
"Well, my darling, my pretty love! your wish is now fulfilled, and
nothing can prevent you from becoming mine."
"You shall have me, but only on one condition. Somebody must go for my
stud with golden hair, which is to be found beyond the Red Sea. Until
all my horses are here nobody can have me."
The king again sent for Jack.
"Listen to this, my boy; the girl with the golden hair has a
golden-haired stud beyond the Red Sea; if you don't go at once to fetch
them, you forfeit your life."
Jack went down stairs in great trouble, bent over his foal, buried his
face in his hands, and wept most bitterly, and as he sobbed and moaned
the little foal asked: "What are you crying about now?" Jack told the
foal what the king had ordered him to do, and what the punishment would
be if the order were not obeyed.
"Don't weep, dear master, don't fret; the thing can be done if you
follow my directions. Go up stairs to the king and beg of him twelve
buffalo-hides, twelve balls of twine, a grubbing-hoe, and an ordinary
hoe, besides a stout awl to sew the buffalo-hides together with."
Jack went to the king and declared himself willing to carry out his
order if he would let him have these things, to which the king replied:
"Go and take anything that you may require, there must be some sixty
buffalo-hides still left hanging in the loft."
Jack went up to the loft and took what he wanted; then he ate and drank,
gave his foal a bucketful of wine, and set out in search of the horses
with the golden hair.
He journeyed on till, after a short lapse of time, he reached the Red
Sea, which he crossed on the back of his foal. As soon as they emerged
from the water and gained the opposite shore, the foal said: "Look, my
dear master; can you see the pear-tree on that hill yonder? Let's go up
on the hill, take your hoe and dig a hole big enough to hold me; and as
soon as you have dug the hole sew the twelve buffalo-hides together and
wrap them round me, as it would not be advisable for me to get into the
hole without them. As soon as I have got in, blow this whistle and the
stallion will appear; and the moment you see it touching the buffalo
skins, throw a halter over its head."
Jack tucked up his shirt-sleeves, dug the hole, sewed the twelve
buffalo-hides on to the foal, and his steed got into the hole. Then he
blew the whistle, and lo! a fine stallion, with golden hair, and almost
entirely covered with golden froth, jumped out of the ground; it pranced
about, and kicked out in all directions, whereupon Jack's foal said:
"Now then, my dear master, throw that halter over its head and jump on
its back." Jack did as he was told; when, no sooner was he on its back,
than the stallion gave a tremendous neigh that rent all the mountains
asunder. At its call a vast number of golden-haired horses appeared; so
many, that Jack was not able to count them. The whole herd immediately
took to their heels, and galloped off with the speed of lightning. The
king had not yet finished dressing in the morning when the whole stud
with golden hair stood arrayed in his courtyard. So soon as he caught
sight of them he rushed off to the girl with the golden hair and
exclaimed: "Well, my love, the golden horses are all here, and now you
are mine." "Oh, no! I shan't be yours. I won't touch either food or
drink until the lad who has fetched my animals milks the mares."
The king sent for Jack.
"I say, my boy, if you do not at once milk the mares, I'll play the
hangman with you."
"How can I milk them, sir? Even as they are, I find it difficult to save
myself from being trampled to death."
"Do not let us waste any words; it must be done!"
Jack returned to the stables, and looked very sad; he would not touch
any food or drink. His foal again addressed him and asked: "Why all this
sorrow, dear master?"
"How could I help being sad? The king has ordered me to milk the mares
no matter what happens, whether I get over it dead or alive."
"Don't fret. Ask him to lend you the tub up in the loft, and milk the
mares. They won't do you the least harm."
And so it happened. Jack fetched the tub and milked the mares. They
stood all the time as quietly as the most patient milch-cows. The king
then said to the girl with the golden hair, "Well, my darling; your wish
is fulfilled, and you are mine."
"I shan't be yours until the lad who milked the mares has bathed in the
The king sent for Jack.
"Well, my boy, as you have milked the mares, you had better bathe in the
"Gracious majesty! How could I do that? The milk is boiling hot, and
throws up bubbles as high as a man."
"Don't talk; you have to bathe in the milk or you forfeit your life."
Jack went down and cried, and gave up all hope of life; he was sure of
death on the gallows. His foal again spoke, and said: "Don't cry, dear
master, but tell me what is the matter with you." Jack told him what he
had to do under penalty of death.
"Don't fret, my dear master; but go to the king and ask his permission
to allow you to lead me to the tub, and be present when you take your
bath. I will draw out all the heat, and you can bathe in the milk
without any fear."
So Jack went to the king, and said, "Well, gracious majesty, at least
grant me the favour of allowing my foal to be present when I am having
my bath, so that it may see me give up the ghost."
"I don't care if there be a hundred foals present."
Jack returned to the stables, led his foal to the tub, who began to
sniff. At last it took a deep breath, and beckoned to Jack not to jump
in yet. Then it continued drawing in its breath, and suddenly at a sign
Jack jumped into the tub, and had his bath. When he finished and got out
of the tub he was three times more handsome than before; although he was
a very handsome lad then. When the king saw this he said to the lad:
"Well, Jack, you see you would not have the bath at first. I'm going to
have one myself." The king jumped in, but in the meantime the foal had
sent all the heat into the milk back again, and the tyrant was scalded
to death. The heat was so intense that nothing was left of his body
except a few bits of bone, as big as my little finger, which were every
now and then brought up by the bubbles. Jack lost not a moment, but
rushed up to the girl with the golden hair, embraced and kissed her, and
said: "Well, my pretty darling, love of my heart, you are now mine, and
I am yours; not even the spade and the hoe shall separate us one from
another." To which she replied: "Oh, my love, Jackie, for a long time
this has been one of my fondest wishes, as I knew that you were a brave
The wedding was celebrated with great pomp, that gave people something
to talk about over seven countries. I, too, was present at the banquet,
and kept on shouting: "Chef! Cook! let me have a bone," till, at last,
he did take up a bone and threw it at me. It hit me, and made my side
ache ever since.
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