Posted by Abigail
…in days of old there lived three men who made their living by weaving cloth for the mantles of others. Their small-but-tidy houses stood side by side on the pebbled street of a flourishing city and their fortunes had been so intertwined that whatever took place under the roof of one, happened under the roofs of all. But though trained in the same art they were as different in character as three close friends could be.
“I always weave my webs the same length,” Herthold confided to the other two. “There is no use wasting time measuring each man, when I know the size which a perfect mantle should be.”
“Don’t you get weary with always weaving the same size? What if you run out of the proper color of warp or woof? It is much more convenient just to end the web there.” Insisted Hubert, for it was well-known that he wove his whims into his fabric and then stretched or cut afterward to fit whoever would buy.
Hildgardmar shook his head sorrowfully and returned to his work. Carefully and painstakingly, he measured first the man and then the web by the inches and ells of his carefully marked yardstick. He knew the stature of those around him and his reward was his own satisfaction at the perfection with which each cloak fit the shoulders of the man for whom it had been made.
In this pattern of similar fortunes, each man took a wife and later each became the father of a tiny daughter. Thus were born Hertha, Huberta and Hildegarde.
One evening a short time later, the three friends sat together under the sparkling stars discussing the future. There was a lull in the conversation as each father mulled over the mysterious message he’d received a few days before.
Finally, Herthold spoke up: “Friends, rejoice with me! Wonderful fortune has befallen me and mine. Perhaps you know that the fairy of all the weavers was present today for my Hertha’s christening? she left a beautiful gift beside the cradle: a tiny loom, fashioned of the purest gold. And a wonderful promise, to boot!”
Even as Herthold spoke, his two friends exchanged knowing glances, for, you must know, that what had happened under the roof of one had happened under the roofs of all. The fairy had made her appearance at the christenings of the three wee maidens, and left beside each cradle a tiny, golden loom with the same foretelling for each: that a prince would come to seek her hand.
“Think of it!” Hubert laughed, boisterously. “I, the father of a queen!”
Herthold added, “It’s a good thing children provide for their parents in old age. I should have a comfortable retirement.”
“Gently now, friends,” Hildgardmar reminded them. “What if our daughters cannot fulfill the required conditions?”
The three men fell silent thought, the fairy’s parting words echoing in the halls of each man’s memory. “One thing is necessary: Your daughter must weave upon this loom a mantle fit for the prince’s wearing. It must be ample and fine, cloth of gold and woven in rainbow hues, and of princely size and shape. Many will come to claim it, for your daughter will be fair and charming, but if it is woven rightly, it shall be the guide by which she may measure her suitors. And when the prince comes, it will fit him in all faultlessness, as the falcon’s feathers fit the falcon. But if it should not be ample and fine, worthy of royalty, the prince will refuse to don it and the maiden’s heart will break.”
Herthold sighed heavily. “It is a grievous task to give a small girl. Mine shall know naught of the loom until she is old enough to weave with skill and style. I’ll not waste my time with a child who will be constantly distracted by childish fancies. Until then, I’ll lock it away where she cannot destroy such good fortune with her folly.”
“What an old worrywart you are!” Hubert scoffed. “It is not as if the fairy has asked her to weave straw into gold. Besides, I am sure it is all a joke—you saw the loom. It could never make a mantle large enough to cover a man’s head, much less his shoulders. It is only a toy. Besides, what is written is written and I can’t change the outcome of fate. I have good fortune coming and I plan on celebrating!”
Hildegardmar said little, but his mind was busy long afterward. Often as his wife would come to bring him his lunch, she would hear him speaking to himself over the clacking of his wooden shuttle. “Upon the correct weaving of this mantle lies my precious daughter’s whole future.” Clackety, clack. “I must teach her to weave with care and give her a standard to measure by.”
…and the girls grew like the summer wildflowers. One day as they strung daisies together, Huberta said to the other two, “I have a loom made of solid gold in a little tower off of my room.”
“Don’t be silly,” Hertha retorted. “A loom of gold would belong to a princess.”
Undaunted, Huberta continued. “I have one and you do too. So does Hildegarde. A fairy gave them to the three of us at our christening and said a prince will come to wed us if we weave a mantle for him.”
“I don’t believe you,” Hertha snapped. “I never heard of such a loom, and I don’t believe it is true, or else my father would surely have told me.”
Hildegarde interposed, “If it is true, Huberta, just show us the loom.”
Silently the three girls stole into the weaver’s house and through Huberta’s room until they stood beside a doorway, standing half-open. Entering the room they saw, against the wall, a small loom of pure gold that had grown with Huberta’s growth and fit her as if made only for her. The golden warp was the fairy’s gift, but the thread of the shuttle was of her own spinning—from the airy dreams of a maiden’s fancy. Huberta ran her fingers over the smooth gold, and motioned to the beginning of a mantle. “See? Already I have begun.” She seized the shuttle as she spoke and crossed the threads of a rosy-daydream with the golden warp.
Hertha and Hildegarde watched in silent envy, their eyes following the glowing threads as they crossed in and out of the beautiful pattern, bounding and leaping like summer clouds. But soon they were drawn to a new wonder: in front of the loom so as to reflect through the window, hung an exquisite mirror in which the shadows of the world passed by. As they watched a curly-headed shepherd lad passed by in the street, his knobby staff held aloft like the a scepter.
“See that shepherd lad?” Huberta laughed. “Doesn’t he look a prince with his head held high and his crook in his hand like a scepter? Are you surprised that I am at my loom both sunrise and sunset to see him passing by?”
Hertha shook her head and pointed. “That long-haired page is more my style. He looks almost noble dressed in velvet with a feathered cap! I wonder why my father has said nothing to me of the angel’s marvelous gift. I too, should be at my loom and weaving. I’m as old as you are!”
Hildegarde clapped her hands. “I too!”
Huberta shrugged her shoulders. “Why don’t you ask your father? Perhaps he has forgotten.”
Hertha was not long in reaching her home, and sought her father as he busily weaved the same pattern he always used. Timidly she crept to his side and stood with downcast eyes until he paused. “Father, where is my loom? Huberta has already begun and I, too, would like to be weaving for my prince.”
Herthold leaped from his stool, sending the shuttle clattering. “Hertha, listen to me! Never again must you listen to such idle fairy tales. When you are grown, I will call you and then I will teach you the art of weaving, but not a moment sooner. I am ashamed that my daughter would indulge in such foolish fantasies.” He turned stormily back to his weaving, leaving a confused Hertha to creep away to her room, where she threw herself on her bed and wept violently. “My father must not love me,” she whimpered into her blankets. “But someday my prince will.” Suddenly she stood and walked resolutely to the wall, feeling behind a rich tapestry that adorned it until her fingers closed around the doorknob of a secret room. Inside she found a golden loom filled with shining thread and a mirror in which the shadows of the world passed by. Smiling through her tears, Hertha took hold of the shuttle to send the first woof thread shimmering through the warp, and as she did so the long-haired page hurried past, clutching his velvet cap. “How like a prince he is! My father is a tyrant to forbid me such a simple pleasure as weaving. How can it harm me?”
At the same time, little Hildegarde stood before her father patiently measured a web by the silver yardstick he kept near him. “Is it true, dear father, what Huberta says about our looms? After I saw her loom, I pushed back the bolt to an inner room from mine and there I found such a loom as hers, and a fascinating mirror. I want badly begin my mantle, but I crave your permission and your advice, since you are a more experienced weaver than I.”
Hildegarde’s father laid down his yardstick and placed his hands on his small daughter’s shoulders. Smiling tenderly he answered, “I have often looked foreword to this day, my little one, although I did not think you would come so soon with your questions. It’s true. On the right weaving of this web depends the happiness of you as well as your descendents. It’s a dangerous gift the fairy left you, for that mirror will tempt you to weave to fit the shifting shadows. But listen to your father who has never yet deceived you: keep always by your side this silver yardstick for it marks the inches and ells to which the stature of a prince must measure. Not until the web cloth fully equals it can it be safely taken from the loom. You are young and the loom small, but it is a marvelous gift that lengthens with your growth until you can hold it up against the yardstick and find that it measures to the last inch the size demanded by a prince’s noble stature. You will often be dazzled by the mirror’s sights, and youths will come to you begging, ‘Give me the royal mantle, Hildegarde–I am your prince.’ Do not be persuaded to cut it loose and give it him. Weave patientlyuntil you have fashioned a web that will fit your prince faultlessly.”
With a quick impulse, Hildegarde threw her arms around her father’s neck. Then Hildegardmar took up the yardstick in one hand, and his daughter by the other and led her into the inner chamber where her golden loom awaited. He hung the sterling yardstick next to the tempting mirror, laid her hands on the shuttle and left her with his blessing, to weave.
Hertha grew tall and lovely, treading the house with the airy grace of youth, yet fearing her father’s disapproval she fled more and more often to the inner chamber where she worked in secret, hoping for a glimpse of “her” page. She called him a prince in her thoughts and was sure that, clothed in the mantle she wove he would soon appear as royal as she perceived him.
Huberta laughed brazenly about her web and the prince she hoped to capture with it. Her father often teased her while she sat by him at his weaving. “Is that your prince?” But he never went with her into the inner room so he never knew that she cut the strands of one year’s weaving and gave the cloak to the curly-headed shepherd lad. But Huberta saw other figures in her mirror which pleased her fickle fancy and she began another web.
Years passed by, Huberta scattering favors to whoever would call her “darling” and Hertha, faithful to the page. Hildegarde worked carefully under her father’s guidance, weaving intricate patterns of rose and gold. One day a face flashed across her mirror, so noble and earnest that she started back, her heart fluttering in her bosom. “Father! Surely it’s him!”
“My daughter,” old Hildgarmar said gently. “He only measures as an ordinary man. You are still young. Weave on and you shall fashion a royal web. This is not the one for you.”
Obediently Hildegarde went back to her weaving, and watched in silence as the man disappeared from her mirror. Again time swept over the figures of the weaving maidens, and spring came bringing restlessness to Hildegarde’s heart. The face that crossed her mirror this time was bold and brave, decked with plumes and glittering with a silver helmet. She knew how lovely her mantle would look spread across his broad, mail-clad shoulders and hastened to her father to plead his blessing. “Father, a knight in shining armor has come to me and asked me for the mantle. Measured by your yardstick it would fit him faultlessly.”
Hildgardemar followed his daughter into the inner room and stood for a long time looking into the mirror at the shining stranger. Then he held up the yardstick and shook his head. “It fits only because you are not yet ready to wed a prince. See? Your mantle reaches only to the size of a knight. A knight may seem noble, my daughter, but he lacks a handbreadth of full stature and you must weave that handbreadth for the wearing of a prince.”
Tears sprang to Hildegarde’s eyes. “But father, suppose the prince should never come? Suppose I should give up the one destined for me and be left forever to weave in solitude?”
Tenderly, Hildgardmar took his daughter in his arms. “I am an old man, Hildegarde, knowing far more of the world than you, my daughter. Better to weave forever, than to settle for a man who does not measure up. Have patience just a little longer. In another year, think of the mantle you will have made!”
With a bowed head Hildegarde returned to her work. As the tempting images rose before her in the mirror, she turned her eyes to the yardstick and wove on.
…when the maidens had all three grown into tall and beautiful women that a prince came riding into the village and, stopping before the house of Hubert, asked him for the hand of his daughter. With a bow and a flourish, Hubert vanished to seek her in the garden. “Well, Huberta, your prince has finally come. Run and get your royal mantle. It must be splendid after weaving all these years!” When she returned with a small, shimmering cloth over one arm, Hubert was startled by its pigmy size. “Is this a jest?”
Hanging her head, Huberta answered, “I—I have already given a few mantles away.
I have no more of the golden thread the fairy left me.”
Hubert rubbed his chin, his brow knit in thought. “Surely it is no worse than what many another has done. No doubt you were only passing time and meant nothing serious by your favors. Besides, it’s still a mantle. Only an unreasonable prince would expect a beautiful girl to wait forever for him.”
Together Hubert and his daughter bore the small out to where the prince stood waiting. When he saw them approaching, he bounded eagerly forward to receive from the maiden’s hand his cloak, but his face fell as she held it up before him. He gazed deeply into Huberta’s beautiful eyes and sadly shook his head. Turning his back on her, he mounted his horse and rode from that house forever. The dwarf mantle fell from the shocked Huberta’s hands and she covered her face and sank to her knees and wept until her heart broke.
The same day a prince approached the house of Herthold and dismounted. Entering, he found Herthold studiously at work, and requested his daughter’s hand in marriage. Herthold rose abruptly and answered, “Have you come at last? Excellent. My daughter is as rare a jewel as you could desire. Wait one moment.” He walked briskly to the doorway leading to the garden and called for his daughter. When she did not answer, he ascended the stairs toward her room and met her halfway, her face downcast and blushing. “Your prince has come!” Herthold explained, seizing her hand and leading his unwilling daughter into the room from which she’d just come. “We must make haste!” But even as he said this his eye fell on the loom, standing empty by the far wall. “What is the meaning of this?”
Defiantly, Hertha raised her head. “If you mean to teach me to weave, you’re too late. Since you scorned me as foolish I wove in secret, and when my prince came long ago, I gave him the mantle. Look! See him?”
The astonished Herthold turned his eyes from the loom to the window, where he saw the long-haired page standing eagerly, clothed in the mantle which Hertha had woven for him. In a rage, Herthold tore the mantle from the lad’s shoulders and dragged his daughter downstairs. But the prince looked contemptuously on the mantle, the angry father and the resistant daughter. Without a word, he left the house, mounted his horse and left the town at a gallop. Standing brokenly in the doorway, Hertha saw her adored page, now stripped of the princely robe which her fond imagining had woven around him. She saw his unworthy shoulders against those of the retreating prince and with a cry she flung her mantle at her father’s feet, screaming in agony as her heart broke.
Then came a gallant prince to the humble abode of Hildgardemar, and entered the house to seek permission to claim his bride. Hildgardmar looked long and carefully at the young prince, then nodded to his daughter who sat by his side. With a pounding heart she dashed up the stairs to her room and clipped the golden threads that held her now-finished mantle in the loom. For a brief instant she gazed at herself in the mirror, her eyes running over the silver yardstick as she held her web before her. “It measures!” she breathed in a tone of awe. “So perfect!” With the mantle in her hand she returned to offer her gift to the prince. He knelt at once so that she could spread it across his shoulders and, glancing shyly into his face, she observed with wonder that her weaving fit him faultlessly. The prince took her hand in his and led her outside to his waiting horse. As her father assisted her to mount behind her prince he whispered, “Farewell, my daughter. Because you kept in view the silver yardstick which I gave you, even in childhood, because not even one golden thread of the golden thread was squandered on another, because you waited cheerfully and patiently until your womanly fingers had woven the best that lay in your womanly heart, may all happiness be yours! Receive it as your fitting crown!” Then Hildegarde stooped to kiss her father, and with his blessing crowning her lovely brow, she rode away behind the prince. With tears in his eyes, Hildgardemar watched, knowing that her life would be filled with joy and love as it had been written.
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