ONCE upon a time, there were a poor couple who lived in a little cottage overgrown with vines. From roof-tree to cellar, their home was as clean as hands could make it, and the table and chairs were scoured every day till they were as white as snow. The man went out into the woods to tie up fagots, and the woman kept a few bees, and sold the honey. In this way they managed to live, and were happy, till a great storm came, and swept off the roof of their house; then the lightning set it on fire, and it was soon burned to the ground. The man came running from the forest, and found his wife crying as if her heart would break, beside her bee-hives, which the wind had upset, scattering all their busy inmates, and destroying the honey.
"Where shall we sleep to-night?" said the wife.
"Let us search till we find," answered the husband. So they set off and wandered into the woods, while the storm raged over them. Long did they stray, until night came. At last they saw a ruined hut, left by some charcoal-burners, and thankfully entered it. There was dry straw in one corner, and here the poor woman laid down, half dead with fright and fatigue. Both of them were hungry, and the man putting his hand in his pouch was glad to find there a bit of bread, which he was about to give to his wife, when a queer little black object sprang down the wall and seized the crust, running nimbly off with it.
"Who are you?" cried the poor man.
"I'm a lost hearth-fairy," said the little creature, in a piping voice. "If you had made me a fire to warm my poor bones, I should not have taken your food."
The hearth-fairy's teeth were chattering, and the man pulled together some sticks and straw, and lighted them with his flint and steel. The smoke curled up, the flames sparkled merrily. The hearth-fairy slid down and warmed himself.
"Hallo there! give me back my crust," said the poor man, whose wife kept pulling him by the sleeve, to remind him of her hunger.
"Now that I think of it, I want this crust myself,"
said the hearth-fairy. "I am off on a journey to seek a
warm fireside, and I need something to strengthen me.
A fine fat duck tumbled at the poor man's feet. The hearth-fairy vanished in the smoke. Oh! how the poor couple longed to kill and eat that duck. Their mouths watered as they thought of onion-sauce, and of breadcrumbs, and of sage. Faint and starving, they fell asleep in a corner of the hut. When day broke the poor man rose up, and went to the door. The storm had ceased and the duck was quacking on the door-sill. She waddled away, and left behind her a large egg of purest gold. Just then the lord of the forest rode by with his huntsman. They saw the shining prize in the poor man's hand, and offered to buy it of him.
"I will give it for a loaf of brown bread and a sausage," he said, "for my wife lies starving, within."
The huntsman gave him food and drink; and the lord of the forest, after hearing his story, had the poor couple taken to a nice empty cottage near by, and told them they should have it for their own. The golden egg was sold, and the man and his wife lived in comfort all their days from the money it fetched. They never saw either the hearth-fairy or the magic duck again, but the good wife soon went to bee-keeping, which made her very happy.