In which the Gift of Stories continues with another "sock" story

While digging up stories to share this year, I also stumbled on a lot of amusing traditions and folk beliefs concerning socks and stockings.  Who knew?

The Prince's Secret  -  a story by Barbara Ker Wilson
Long ago, there once lived a man who had three beautiful daughters. 

All three of the girls were beautiful and kind.  But the youngest daughter was so forgetful!

"Watch out for the pot on the fire," said the father and the sisters to the youngest daughter, as they set out for the market.  But five minutes later she had forgotten what she was supposed to do, and got busy with the basket of socks to be darned.

When the others returned from the market they found that all the socks had been mended, but the supper was burned.

"How can anyone be so forgetful!" complained the older sisters, and the poor youngest girl cried because she couldn't do anything right.

One day a prince came riding through the woods and knocked on the blacksmith's door.  As the eldest daughter opened the door, he thought she was the most beautiful maiden in the world - until he saw the other two.

"I really don't know which of you is the most beautiful," said the prince.  He decided to make one of the daughters his wife. 

But which one? The prince thought it over and announced: "Whichever one of you can keep a secret shall be my wife." 

All three maidens looked at him eagerly.

The Prince turned to the eldest daughter.  "You would surely not betray a secret, would you?"
"Oh, no, certainly not."

Then the prince leaned over and whispered the secret in her ear.

"Oh," breathed the eldest.

"In seven days I will come back," said the prince. "If you have kept to yourself what I just told you, then you will be my bride."

Scarcely had he ridden off when both of the other sisters besieged the eldest to reveal the secret.  But it was in vain - she said nothing.

But after three days had passed the eldest sister could no longer resist.  She had to tell the secret to someone.  "I'll tell it to the well," she thought to herself, "then it will go no further." And she bent over the edge of the well and babbled the prince's secret.  

On the seventh day the prince returned. "So, have you kept my secret?" he asked the eldest sister.

"Of course."

Both of the other sisters swore that she had not revealed the secret to them.  Then the prince reached out his hand and said, "Then I will take you to be my . . ."

But before he could speak the word, "Wife," a little green frog hopped onto the edge of the well and croaked: "She told me the secret!  I sat below in the well and heard the Prince's secret:  In his left stocking there is a hole!"

The prince let go of the eldest sister's hand and said sadly, "No, you cannot be my wife." 

 He turned to the middle daughter: "Can you keep a secret?" 

"Of course I can."

And the prince leaned over and whispered something in her ear.

"Oh!" breathed the second eldest and she blushed.

As the prince had promised to be back in seven days, he rode off.  Immediately the other girls asked the sister for the secret, but she would not reveal it.

After five days, however, she went sighing into the orchard, pacing up and down.  "Oh if I could only tell my secret to someone!"  She saw the blooming trees overhead and thought to herself, "If I tell the trees, no one else will know," and she whispered the secret to them.

By time the prince returned she had a good conscience and assured him that she had not revealed the secret.  Her sisters swore, as well, that they knew nothing of it. 

The prince reached out his hand and said solemnly, "Then I will take you for my. . ."

But before he could speak the word, "Wife", a swarm of bees zoomed by.  "She lies!" they buzzed.  "We know that in your right stocking there is a hole!"

The prince sadly let go of the middle sister's hand.  "Then you cannot be my wife." And he asked the youngest daughter: "Can you keep a secret to yourself?"

"I don't know.  I can try."
"All right."  And the prince leaned over and whispered his secret in her ear.

"Oh" breathed the youngest.

Once more the prince rode off and again the sisters begged the third to reveal the secret.  But she held fast and said not a word.  

The youngest sister, though, was also the most forgetful.  After three days she sighed sadly and restlessly walked up and down.  "If I could only keep the secret! But I have forgotten it!"

She racked her brains, but the secret would simply not come to mind.  

On the seventh day the prince came and asked her, "Have you kept my secret?"

"No", answered the youngest sister truthfully.  "I've forgotten it."

"Forgotten!" cried the prince.  "Unbelievable!"

"It makes me very sorry," declared the youngest sister.  "I've tried to remember but no matter how I rack my brains the secret has escaped.  But that's how it goes with me all the time. I simply cannot hold a thought in my head." 

The prince still seemed quite irritated. But then he thought, “Well, perhaps it doesn’t matter if she can’t remember the secret, since she can’t tell it to anyone else.”

 He stretched out his hand and asked, "Will you be my wife?"

"Yes," answered the youngest daughter.  She said goodbye to her sisters and her father and rode off with the prince.

"She forgot to take her apron off!" laughed the sisters.

No one ever found out the last of the Prince's secrets.  He and his wife lived happily in their castle. 

And although the princess never had to spin or cook, every day she sat down with the clothing basket to mend - because the prince's stockings were always full of holes!

In long-ago England, friends of the groom would rip off their socks and throw them; the first to hit the groom’s nose would be the next to be married.


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