The White Dove, A Fairytale

by Ethan Allen Hitchcock, 1863

1890s portrait by Hablot Knight Browne


A young girl was once riding in a coach with her master and mistress through a large wood ; and when they came to the middle of it, a band of robbers rushed out of a thicket, and killed all whom they found. Thus all were killed except the maid, who had jumped in terror out of the coach and hidden herself behind a tree.

Under the Moonbeams by the Dalziel brothers, 1890s

When the robbers had gone off with their booty, the maid came out, and saw the dreadful deed that had been done. Then she fell a- weeping bitterly, and said, ” Alas ! what can a poor girl like me do ? I know not the way out of the wood, and shall die of hunger.” Then she wandered about, seeking a path, but she could find none.

When it was evening, she set herself down under a tree, and made up her mind to remain there, and not to go away, happen what might. But after she had been sitting there for some time, a little white dove came flying to her, with a small golden key in its bill. Then it dropped the key into the girl’s hand, and said, ” Do you see yonder large tree ? on its side is a little rock ; open it with this key, and you will find plenty of food, and will no longer suffer hunger.”

SBT SR_OS 97  JON Historiae naturalis (Dove)
Jonstonus, from ‘Historiae naturalis’, 1600s

Then the girl went to the tree and opened it, and found some milk in a little dish, and a loaf of white bread ; so she had now plenty to eat and to drink. And when she had eaten her fill, she said, “The hens at home are all now going to roost ; ah me ! I am so tired, — could I but also lie down in my bed ! ” Then the little dove came flying to her again, and brought another golden key in its bill, and said, ” Open the tree, and you will find in it a bed.” So she unlocked the tree, and found a beautiful soft little bed ; then she said her prayers, lay down, and soon fell asleep.

The next morning the dove came a third time, brought again a little key, and said, ” Open the tree, and you will find in it a dress.’ And when the girl unlocked the tree, sure enough there she found a beautiful dress, trimmed with gold and precious stones, more splendid than any king’s daughter ever had.

So she lived in the wood for some time, and the dove came every day, and took care to provide all she wanted. But one day the little dove came, and said, ” Will you do me a kindness ? “

” With all my heart,” answered the maiden.

Then the dove said, ” I will take you to a cottage ; go into it, and you will see an old woman sitting on the hearth, who will bid you good day. But for your life’s sake do not answer, whatever she may say or do. Go past her on the right hand, and there you will see a door ; open it, and you will come into a little chamber, where a large heap of rings of all sorts are lying on the table. Amongst them are splendid rings with glittering stones ; but let them lie, and seek out a plain ring, which is amongst the rest, and bring it to me here as fast as you can.”

Then the maiden went to the cottage. There sat an old woman, who stared when she saw the girl, and said, ” Good day, my child ! ” But the maiden gave no answer, and went straight past her up to the door. ” Whither so fast ? ” cried the old woman : and she seized her by the gown, and tried to hold her back. ” This is my house, and nobody can come into it without my leave.” The maiden however never opened her lips, but got away from the old woman, and went into the chamber.

Cottage Door, 1890s engraving by the Dalziel brothers.

And there lay a great heap of rings upon the table, which glittered and quite dazzled her eyes ; then she looked and looked everywhere amongst them for the plain ring, but could not find it. As she was busily searching for the ring, she saw the old woman sneaking off with a birdcage in her hand, and trying to make her escape. So the girl ran up to her, and took the cage out of her hand; and when she lifted it up,  she peeped into it, and there sat a bird with a plain ring in its bill. Then she took the ring, and ran out with it in great joy, thinking that the little white dove would come and fetch it, but it came not.

So the maiden leaned against a tree, waiting for the dove ; and as she stood thus, the tree seemed to her to grow soft and flexible, and to let down its boughs. All at once the branches wound themselves around her, and behold they were two arms ! And when she looked around, the tree was a handsome young man, who embraced and kissed her tenderly, and said, ” I am a king’s son, and thou hast freed me from the power of the old woman, who is a wicked fairy. She had changed me into a tree, but every day for two hours I was a white dove; and as long as the old woman had the ring I could never regain my proper form.”

1800s engraving by Mary Hallock Foote

Then his servants and horses were all freed from the spell, and were no longer trees. So the king’s son drove off with the maiden to his kingdom, and they were married forthwith, and lived long and happily.


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