164 THE KING'S BEAUTIFUL WIFE
And the king believed her words, and the marriage took place without the veil being once lifted. Afterwards, when they were alone, he raised the corner, and knew for the first time that he had wedded a wrinkled old woman. And, in a furious burst of anger, he dashed open the window and flung her out. But, luckily for her, her clothes caught on a nail in the wall, and kept her hanging- between heaven and earth.
While she was thus suspended, expecting every moment to be dashed to the ground, four fairies happened to pass by.
' Look, sisters,' cried one, ' surely that is the old woman that the king sent for. Shall we wish that her clothes may give way, and that she should be dashed to the ground ?'
' Oh, no ! no! ' exclaimed another. ' Let us wish her something good. I myself will wish her youth.'
' And I beauty.'
' And I wisdom.'
' And I a tender heart.'
So spake the fairies, and went their way, leaving the most beautiful maiden in the world behind them.
The next morning when the king looked from his window he saw this lovely creature hanging on the nail. ' Ah! what have I done ? Surely I must have been blind last night!'
And he ordered long ladders to be brought and the maiden to be rescued. Then he fell on his knees before her, and prayed her to forgive him, and a great feast was made in her honour.
Some days after came the ninety-year-old sister to the palace and asked for the queen.
' Who is that hideous old witch ? ' said the king.
' Oh, an old neighbour of mine, who is half silly,' she replied.
But the old woman looked at her steadily, and knew her again, and said: ' How have you managed to grow