THE TWO CASKETS 93
seized her stepdaughter by her shoulders, and threw her into the well.
'That is an end of you!' she said. But she was wrong, for it was only the beginning.
Down, down, down went the girl — it seemed as if the well must reach to the very middle of the earth; but at last her feet touched the ground, and she found herself in a field more beautiful than even the summer pastures of her native mountains. Trees waved in the soft breeze, and flowers of the brightest colours danced in the grass. And though she was quite alone, the girl's heart danced too, for she felt happier than she had done since her father died. So she walked on through the meadow till she came to an old tumbledown fence — so old that it was a wonder it managed to stand up at all, and it looked as if it depended for support on the old man's beard that climbed all over it.
The girl paused for a moment as she came up, and gazed about for a place where she might safely cross. But before she could move a voice cried from the fence:
'Do not hurt me, little maiden; I am so old, so old, I have not much longer to live.'
And the maiden answered:
'No, I will not hurt you; iear nothing.' And then, seeing a spot where the clematis grew less thickly than in other places, she jumped lightly over.
'May all go well with thee,' said the fence, as the girl walked on.
She soon left the meadow and turned into a path which ran between two flowery hedges. Right in front of her stood an oven, and through its open door she could see a pile of white loaves.
'Eat as many loaves as you like, but do me no harm, little maiden,' cried the oven. And the maiden told her to fear nothing, for she never hurt anything, and was very grateful for the oven's kindness in giving her such a