Once upon a time there lived a widow who had two daughters. One of the girls, the widow's stepdaughter, was pretty and clever; the other was homely and lazy. But the lazy child was the mother's own child, and she liked her best. The mother did not like her stepdaughter. And so, every day the widow sent the pretty girl to sit by a well on the high road and to spin until her fingers were so sore they bled.
One day a drop of blood fell from the girl's finger onto her spindle. She dipped her finger into the well to wash it. But as she did, the spindle dropped from her hand and fell into the well. Weeping, the girl ran home to tell her stepmother what had happened.
"Well, since you have dropped the spindle," her stepmother shouted, "you must jump in after it. And don't let me see you again until you bring that spindle back with you."
It was cold and windy outside, and snow was beginning to fall, but the girl ran to the well. She held her breath and jumped in. She sank instantly to the bottom. For some time she lost consciousness, but when she woke, she saw that she was lying in a lovely meadow, surrounded by blossoming flowers.
She stood up and began to wander through this enchanted garden until she came to a baker's oven full of fresh bread. As she passed by, the bread called out to her: "Take me out or I shall burn. I am quite done! Please remove me." The girl stepped shyly to the oven and took out all the loaves.
Walking on, soon she came to an apple tree, bowing low with ripe apples. As she passed by, the tree called out to her: "Shake me, please. My apples are too heavy and my limbs ache. Please set me free."
The girl did as the tree requested, and the apples fell like rain from the tree. She gathered them in a heap and went on her way. Before long she came to a little house. An old woman with scraggly hair and big teeth sat in the doorway.
The woman's looks so frightened the girl that she turned to run away. But the woman called out to her: "Child, don't be afraid. Stay with me and be my maid. If you work hard, I will reward you. Only be careful how you make my featherbed. You must shake it until the feathers fly. The people on earth will call it snow, for I am Mother Holle."
The woman's voice was so soft and sweet that the girl's fears vanished. She readily agreed to the offer and did her best to please Mother Holle. She shook the featherbed so hard that the feathers flew all about like tiny snowflakes. She led a happy life, for Mother Holle never yelled at her or lost her temper and was always generous and kind. They lived off the fruits of the rich land.
But after a while the girl began to feel sad, though she did not know what saddened her. "Mother Holle," she said at last, "I am a thousand times better off living here with you than I was living on earth with my stepmother. But I long to go home. I must return to my people. I know that in my heart."
"I understand," Mother Holle said, and she took the child's hand in hers. "Because you have been so good to me, I will show you the way home."
Hand in hand they walked to an open door. As the girl passed beneath it, a shower of gold pieces rained down on her and covered her from head to toe.
"That is your reward for your goodness," Mother Holle explained. "And here is your spindle that fell into the well. Now always be kind and honest, and you will always be showered with goodness."
Then Mother Holle closed the door, and the girl found herself outside her very own home. She heard the old hen cluck, "Click, click, clack, our golden girl is back." She ran to the door, and because she was covered with gold, her stepmother greeted her kindly.
The girl told her story. As soon as her stepmother heard the tale of Mother Holle, she wanted her own daughter to have the same luck, so she sent her to the well. The girl pricked her finger on the hedge near the well, then threw the spindle into the well. She jumped in herself, just as her sister had done. And just like her sister, she came to a beautiful meadow full of blossoming flowers. She followed the path, and soon came to the baker's oven.
"Take me out or I shall burn!" the bread called to her.
But when the lazy girl heard this, she frowned. "I will not burn my hands for the likes of you!" she said, and left the bread where it was.
Walking on, she came to the apple tree. "Shake me, please. My limbs are aching with the weight of these apples!" the tree cried.
"Don't be silly," the girl said. "I have no need for the likes of you. I am going to see Mother Holle, and there I will have everything I need." And on she walked.
When she came to Mother Holle's home, she saw the old woman, but she did not feel afraid, for she knew this must be the woman who showered girls with gold. She happily agreed to be Mother Holle's maid.
The first day she worked hard. She mopped the floor and washed the curtains and scrubbed the pots and pans. She dusted every corner of the tiny house. She whistled while she worked, dreaming of the gold that would soon be hers. She shook the featherbed so hard that the feathers flew everywhere, dusting the world.
But on the second day she worked less quickly, and by the third day she slept late and could not finish all her work. By the fourth day she had stopped dusting and mopping, and did not shake the bed at all.
Mother Holle grew tired of the girl's lazy ways. "I am sending you home tomorrow," she told the girl.
The girl clapped her hands, delighted at the thought of the shower of gold that would fall on her as she journeyed home. Sure enough, the next morning Mother Holle took the girl by the hand and led her to the secret door. But when the girl passed through, a kettle full of tar came down on her. "That is your reward for laziness," Mother Holle said, and closed the door.
The lazy girl returned home covered with black, sticky tar. When the old hen saw her standing in the farmyard, she clucked, "Click, click, clack, our dirty girl is back."
When her mother saw her, she cried out in despair. "Come, we will wash you, child," she said. But no matter how hard she scrubbed, she could not scrub her daughter clean.
At last the snow began to fall from the sky, and the girl's mother cried, "The snow will wash this filth from you!" She led her daughter out into the field.
The girl looked up at the sky and held out her arms to the snow falling down upon her. But alas, the tar remained, and she began to weep. "The snow is useless," she cried. "Mother Holle's snow is useless!"
Meanwhile, her stepsister danced under the falling snow and sang her blessings and her thanks to Mother Holle.