Photo (c) Martin Liebermann
Jenny’s family were poor, and her cloak was tattered, and food was scarce, so her mother sent her to seek for a position, so she might earn her keep, and perhaps send some money home. So off she went. After walking a while she rested at a crossroads, pulling at some fern leaves that grew there.
Suddenly there was a man standing before her who asked her what she wanted. So she told him.
“That’s right Jane”, he said “and I’m here to offer you what you seek.”
Jenny started. No-one but her mother ever called her Jane, and she had never seen this man before. But he said
“I’ve watched you looking at yourself in the dewpond from the other side.”
Then, pointing to some petals of violets in her hair, “and I’ve watched you help yourself to these violets of mine to twine in your tresses.”
Jenny didn’t know what to say, but the man continued, “Will you come to my house and look after my young child?”
She thought this was what she was seeking, so she said
“Yes, when should I come?”
“At once”, he replied.
She agreed then to go with him.
“Not yet”, he says, “You must swear my oath.”
Jenny looked frightened.
“Don’t worry”, he says, “you must kiss this fern leaf and say ‘For a-year-and-a-day I promise to stay’.”
So she kissed the fern leaf and said
I promise to stay
and at that the man led her away.
They walked for miles until Jenny asked to stop and began to weep for tiredness.
“There are no tears of sorrow in my world”, the man said, and he took a fern leaf and drew it across her eyes. As he did so the tears disappeared and she found herself in another world where flowers glittered like gemstones in clear sunlight.
The man himself was transformed too and appeared to shine with translucent radiance as he led her through a forest to a clearing containing a large structure that might have been formed from trees, or from stone, or from a trick of the light. She could not decide. But here she was to spend a-year-and-a-day looking after a young child.
It seemed sometimes to Jenny that the time there was forever, as she could imagine no other time, and she came to love the child she cared for, and her every need was met.
But it also seemed that the year-and-a-day passed in no more than seconds when, at the end of it, she found herself suddenly back at the crossroads which appeared unchanged, except that the ferns had gone and instead some thistles grew there.
Around Jenny’s shoulders was a new cloak which always kept her warm when she was cold, and dry when she as wet, and snug when she wrapped it around herself to sleep. But it never became soiled or ragged or looked anything but new. And the violets in her hair were as pretty as her face and so it was not long before a farmer’s son found her and wed her, and she had her own children to care for.