This story is copyrighted by Rosemary Lake. All Rights Reserved.
The Once Upon a Time When the Princess(tm) series

 

The Well at the World's End
(or, Well on the Way to It)

 

Once there was a little girl who, after the death of her mother, lived alone with her harsh old Uncle, the acting Laird of the Valley. Although they had a comfortable stone manor between woods and orchards, and plenty of servants, he made Marianne (for that was her name) work harder than anyone else, ‘for the good of her character.’ The quicker and more neatly she finished each chore, the grumpier her Uncle became, and found her a harder chore to do next. Still Marianne was quite happy most of the time, for all the farmers and servants loved her, particularly her old Nurse. Though the old woman had become very hoarse with age and now could scarcely speak, still she and Marianne shared many loving moments when her Uncle was not finding chores to keep them apart.

One day when Marianne had finished scrubbing the kitchen floor and was putting cakes and fruit on a plate to take to old Nurse, her Uncle threw a sieve at her and commanded: "Here, go and fill this with water from the Well at the World’s End." For he was sure there was no such place, and if there were, no one could fill a sieve with water anyway.

"Yes, Sir," Marianne said quickly, glad of an excuse to leave the manor for a while. She had never heard of the Well at the World’s End, but it sounded magical. And as for filling a sieve, well, at a place with such a magical name, who knew what might happen? So Marianne set out at once, stopping only to fill her pockets with apples and sandwiches, and leave the cakes with the old Nurse.

"And where might you be off to?" the old woman asked hoarsely.

"To the Well at the World’s End."

The old woman looked at the sieve but said only: "Do you know the way?"

"I was just going to look for the prettiest path in the woods," said Marianne, "and follow it."

"A wise choice," said the good old woman. "Turn thrice west and once east, and there you will be." And then she had to rub her throat and could say no more. So Marianne kissed her warmly and set off.

It was a beautiful day and Marianne quite enjoyed the walk. The path wound about through beautiful deep forest and bright flowering glades. At each branch, the westering sun shone clearly along the westerly path; each time it was like walking through an arch into fairyland, as the lowering afternoon sunbeams made each glade she passed through more beautiful than the last.

At the fourth branch, the sunbeams fell on the easterly side. There Marianne found the loveliest glade yet, full of mossy stones and ferns and violets half hidden from the eye. Through a bank of untrimmed pink roses ahead, she caught a glimpse of sun glinting from water.

Just then, through the roses came a strong, white-haired woman carrying a jug of water, though there was no cottage or other path in sight. The woman looked rather like old Nurse, but much younger and healthier.

"Is this the Well at the World’s End?" Marianne asked her.

"It is close enough for now," said the woman, and blessed Marianne and went on her way.

Marianne went through the rose bushes, and came out on a lovely highland, hung high over the shining sea, where there was a low round well of calm green water.

For a long time, she could do little but look at the beauty all around. Then she sat down and ate her sandwiches. Then she went to the well, knelt on a soft cushion of moss, and dipped the sieve into the water.

The water ran right out of the sieve. Marianne tried again. And again. Same result.

Marianne stared in dismay. Magical as this place looked and felt, the water acted just like normal water! She had never expected this. She tried again and again. Still nothing unusual happened.

Finally she sat down at a loss. "What in the world am I to do!" she said aloud.

"Well," said a small but deep voice, "you could cry. You could and weep and wail and throw yourself upon the mercy of the court. That is traditional. Harrrumph!"

Marianne looked down. At her foot sat a big fat black Frog with a white head and a crimson throat. "Things aren’t that bad," she said. "I could always run away from home or something, I suppose."

"Why?" said the Frog. "Your manor is very nice, and everyone loves you. Except your old Uncle, of course."

"How did you know that?" said Marianne.

"I know many things," the Frog said mysteriously.

"Then do you know what I should do about the sieve and the water?"

"Of course."

"What?" said Marianne.

"What will you give me if I tell you?"

"What do you want?"

"Harrrrummmph – promise to do whatever I bid you for a whole night long."

"Er, I don’t know about that," said Marianne.

"Subject to the Golden Rule, Plymouth Rock, the Axioms of Practical Reason, and the Classic Moral Platitudes, of course," said the Frog.

"What are those?"

"Ask your old Nurse."

That sounded reassuring. "Well, if Nurse says it’s all right, then I will," said Marianne. "Now, about the sieve…"

The Frog cleared his throat and recited:

Stop it with moss and daub it with clay,
Then it will carry the water away.

Marianne sighed. "I could have thought of that. Probably. But my Uncle would surely get mad if I do that."

"When does he not get mad?" said the Frog.

"That’s a good point," said Marianne. So she stopped the holes in the sieve with moss, and daubed it all over with clay, and then put on another coat of moss. Then she dipped the sieve again, and found it now held water quite well.

"Thank you," she said, holding the sieve-full of water with both hands. "I had better get this home. When do you want your reward?"

"I will come when I am ready," said the Frog.

So Marianne bade the Frog good evening; then she hurried home through the rosy twilight, and reached the manor just as her old Uncle and a number of guests (mostly friends of Marianne’s mother) were sitting down to dinner, with the old Nurse among them.

"Where have you been?" her Uncle demanded.

With all the guests listening, Marianne said loudly: "You sent me to the Well at the World’s End, to fetch a sieve of water, sir. Well, here it is." She held out the sieve full of water for all the guests to see. "What shall I do with it?"

The Uncle glowered, but in front of all the guests and servants, he had to pretend he had some good reason. "Er – Cook," he called, "take this water and make tea for the old Nurse. Perhaps it will help her throat."

So the Cook took the sieve full of water (with a wink to Marianne), and the footmen brought out the meal, and everyone sat down to eat, concealing their amusement, while the old Uncle glowered and pretended he did not know they were all secretly laughing at him. Soon the Cook brought out a pot of rich, fragrant tea for the old Nurse. At the first sip the Nurse’s voice was fully restored and she cried aloud: "Lawk a mercy! What wonderful water you brought! It must be magic!"`

Everyone marveled at this and praised Marianne, and the old Uncle got sulkier and sulkier as the evening wore on. By the fish course he was not speaking to anyone at all (very much to everyone’s relief).

"So you got the magic healing water all by yourself at the Well?" said Nurse, who was much enjoying the use of her voice after all these years. "That is really something! And to think of plugging a sieve to make it carry water...."

No one was paying attention to the old Uncle’s frowns and sulking. He turned his chair around and glowered at the wall.

"Well," Marianne said, "I had some help—"

"And who helped?"

"Well—" Marianne hesitated.

But just then came a scratching on the door and a small but deep voice cried "Harrrrrumph!! Let me in, I command—" The door flew open, and the great black Frog hopped pompously into the room.

All the guests stared and tried to suppress their laughter.

The old Uncle made puffing noises, but would not turn round to look.

At the sight of the pompous Frog and the sulky old Uncle and the giggling guests, suddenly Marianne lost all caution. "Come in, Sir Frog," she cried. "Welcome! Take a seat!" And she motioned a footman to set up a chair and plate for the Frog in the space her old Uncle had vacated.

The footman scurried to obey, then scurried the faster to leave.

The Uncle kept glaring at the wall, ignoring everything.

"Er, thank you," said the Frog, hopping into the chair. "Er, I mean, I command you to let me sit at your table."

But Marianne didn’t hear him. "Listen, everyone!" she was saying. "This Frog is the one who helped me bring the magic water. Bring him our best food and drink, right now." And while the servants served the Frog with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and he ate his fill, she told the whole story to the guests.

All applauded when she was done. "To the Frog’s good health!" cried the Nurse.

At this the old Uncle jumped up and shouted: "So much thanks to the Frog and Marianne, and none to Me who sent her on the errand! Why, if I hadn’t made her do it, she would have spent the whole day lazing right here!"

Marianne took courage and stood up to him. "You didn’t know the water was magic. You were just giving me an Impossible Task."

"Impossible Tasks are good for your character! – And as for this Frog, you have given him dinner, now I suppose you’ll let him sleep in your bed, too! On your nice yellow silk sheets that My Money bought."

Marianne completely lost her temper. "Certainly, if he wishes! Do you, Sir Frog?"

"Er –" The Frog seemed to be struggling to get control of the situation. "Er, yes, I command it."

Command it--? Both Marianne and her Uncle stared at the Frog.

"You’ll command nothing here—" the old Uncle began.

But Marianne cut him off. "Of course, if the Frog requests it. What I promised, I shall perform. He shall sleep all night on my yellow satin pillow, if he wishes. " The guests could no longer contain their laughter, and some even clapped their hands (under the table, of course). With a last glower all round, the old Uncle stalked away to the billiards room – but no one followed him. The guests laughed and talked with Marianne for hours, then took their leave; and Marianne gently carried the Frog up to her room.

***

Upstairs in her room, Marianne collapsed in laughter for a moment. Then, still giggling, she put her yellow satin pillow in the center of her yellow silk-covered bed, and politely set the Frog upon it.  "Well, Sir Frog," she said, "Now what else may I do for you?"

"What time is it?" said the Frog. "Is it nearly dawn?"

"What--?" Marianne looked at the clock. "Er, yes." For the dinner festivities had lasted quite late.

"Very good," said the Frog. "Now, you must take a sharp knife and cut off my head."

"Er, what?" said Marianne.

"Cut off my head," he repeated.

"No," said Marianne. "I’ll do no such thing!"

"You must!" shouted the Frog. "I command you! You promised!"

"Never!" Marianne cried. "Yecch. It would break the Golden Rule, and kindness to dumb animals, and I’m sure it violates some of the Old Moral Platitudes, whatever they are."

"You must!" shouted the Frog. "How dare you disobey me? Off with my head at once!"

"No, no, never!" Marianne shouted back. "I won’t, I won’t, I won’t."

"You will!" said the Frog! "It is the law!"

"Nonsense!" said Marianne, and got so mad she had a tantrum and began throwing silver hairbrushes and pewter candlesticks and iron fire-tongs around the room. Then she threw herself on the mercy of the coverlet, and pulled a blanket over her head.

Just then there came a pounding at the door – then the door burst open, and there stood three footmen armed with pokers, feather dusters, and kitchen knives. Behind them stood old Nurse, who cried out: "What is the matter, Marianne dear? Is that Frog annoying you?" And before Marianne could speak, a footman pulled out a great knife--

"NO--!" Marianne shouted. "Don’t--!"

But it was too late. The footman had already struck off the Frog’s head with a carving knife.

Marianne stared in horror – then in amazement. Everyone stood gaping at the astonishing sight.

As soon as his head left his body, the Frog vanished, and in his place stood a great fat human Barrister, dressed all in black robes with a white powdered wig. He was holding a large scroll bound with scarlet ribbons, with globs of crimson sealing wax all over it. Pulling a golden monocle out of his pocket, he surveyed the room with satisfaction.

Involuntarily, the footmen straightened up and stood at attention (the guilty one hiding the carving knife behind his back).

"Ahem," the Barrister said loudly. "Well. Harrrrummmph. I suppose that decapitation by proxy will have to serve, within the meaning of the act, of course." He looked down and patted himself all over, smoothing the robes and ribbons. "I do seem to be myself again."

"Why, Barrister Boondoggle, as I live and breathe!" said Nurse. "Where in the world have you been all these years?"

"Under a curse, my dear lady," said the Barrister, with a bow to Nurse. "A curse which was placed upon me by Marianne’s Usurping Uncle seven years ago, upon my disclosing to him that this whole manor belongs to Marianne herself by the terms of her mother’s will."

"What?" said Marianne.

The Barrister bowed to her. "You, not your Uncle, are the owner of this whole estate," he said. "Your Uncle is here strictly as your employee."

"Th—th—then he’s fired!" said Marianne.

"Hurrah!" shouted the footmen, and went and roused the rest of the servants, and together they drove the cruel old Uncle from the house, and threw all his belongings out the third floor window after him. Then they ran down to the lawn and stacked everything by the drive for removal, just as the sun was coming up. "And serve the fellow right, too," said the old Nurse, standing with Marianne and the Barrister at the top of the front steps as they all watched the old Uncle stalk away. And all the cooks and other servants (who had lined up on the front lawn to see the grumpy old man off) gave three cheers as well. "And very good riddance it will be," murmured Nurse.

Then the cooks scurried back to the kitchen, and clattered and sang, and soon everyone in the manor was sitting down at a long table in the great hall, to the best breakfast they had had in years.

Over jam and tea, Marianne said to Barrister Boondoggle, "But I still don’t understand—"

"By the terms of the curse," explained the Barrister, "I had to remain a Frog till some young woman was willing to obey my commands for a whole evening, and then strike off my head. It is a rather common provision in curses, actually."

Marianne sighed. "Well, I hope I never have to deal with another one. Another curse, I mean. Or another Usurping Uncle, for that matter."

"Why did the curse have a provision for escape, anyway?" old Nurse asked curiously.

"It’s a well-known requirement of Tanstaafl," the Barrister explained. "Which is a subdivision of Poetic Justice."

( Marianne whispered to Nurse: "What does he mean?" – "He means it’s magic." – "Oh." )

All day the whole manor celebrated getting rid of the stingy old Uncle, and by evening the word had spread to the villages around. Marianne declared the whole week a holiday.

Finally the last of the celebrations were ended, and everyone began settling back to a (much more pleasant) routine. That night, when the old Nurse tucked Marianne into bed (which her Uncle had forbidden for years), Marianne asked sleepily: "Was that really the Well at the World’s End?"

"It was well on the way to it," the old woman said. "And some day you will find the real one, and an even better friend."

And from then on the whole manor and all its people lived in great peace and merriment.   Marianne settled all quarrels herself with good sense and mercy, except for the dull quarrels about numbers; those she turned over to Barrister Boondoggle, for they were his favorite kind.

The End

Source material taken from an English fairy tale published 1918. Details mine. -- RL

 

This story is copyrighted by Rosemary Lake. All Rights Reserved.
The Once Upon a Time When the Princess(tm) series
Once Upon a Time When the Princess Rescued the Prince,
Once Upon a Time When the Princess Beat the Dragon
Once Upon a Time When the Princess Cast the Spell
Once Upon a Time When the Princess Got the Treasure

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