(a German folktale)
Long ago, in the countryside in Germany, a tailor and his wife lived with their beautiful young daughter, Gabriele. The family was poor, times were difficult, but the tailor worked as hard as he could, and the family was surviving.
Alas, one day the tailor fell ill. Soon he grew too ill to sew, and so his wife took over. But she too grew sick, unable even to lift her head from her bed.
Gabriele knew she must find someone to help her family. “I will go to the village,” she told her parents. “I will find someone to heal you, and I will find us food to eat. I promise I will not let you down.”
“You never have,” her father said, and her mother smiled. “Dear girl, dress warmly. It’s cold outside. And take a loaf of bread from the cupboard so you will not go hungry.”
Gabriele put on her warmest slip and her heaviest dress, her thick stockings and boots, a scarf, mittens and a nice wool cap. Then she packed the last of the bread into a sack, put on her coat, and set out into the world.
The family lived deep in the countryside, and to reach the village Gabriele would have to walk a long, long way. First she had to climb a steep hill, and then she had to walk through a steep, dark valley.
Gabriele was a determined girl. She believed that all would be well, and so she walked with a spring in her step and trust in her heart.
As she was nearing the lowest part of the valley, she heard a rustling in some trees ahead, and then she heard a deep, anguished sigh. She came upon an old man shuffling along.
“Dear child,” the man said when he saw her, “I haven’t eaten for days. Might you have a little food for a poor beggar like me?”
“Of course,” Gabriele said. She reached into her bag and handed her loaf of bread to the man. “I’m sorry I have nothing more, but this loaf is yours,” she said.
The man thanked her, and hungrily ate the whole loaf. They bid each other farewell, but before long Gabriele saw in the distance a little boy. He was running along the path toward her, dressed only in a thin jacket and tattered trousers. “You there, aren’t you cold?” she called.
The boy stopped and stared. “I am,” he said.
“Take my hat,” Gabriele said. “It will keep your ears warm.”
The boy’s face lit up. “Thank you!” and they bid each other farewell.
Gabriele continued on, and before long she neared an old woman who sat at the side of the road, selling her wares. No one had bought a thing from her for days, and she had no money at all. Besides that, she wore only a thin dress and a scarf. She had no coat. And she was shivering like a leaf in the wind.
“Please take my coat,” Gabriele said, removing the woolen coat her father had made for her.
The woman stared in disbelief at Gabriele. “What a kind girl you are!” she said, slipping into the coat. “May you be blessed.”
Gabriele wrapped her arms around herself to keep warm and continued walking to the forest. She was shaking with cold when she entered the woods, but was shocked when she came across a little girl sitting by the side of the river wearing only the thinnest slip.
“May I have your dress?” the girl asked when Gabriele came near. “I’m so cold. And those boots, too, perhaps?”
Gabriele could not say no. She looked around. Surely the dark forest would hide her from prying eyes, and this poor girl needed warmth.
And so she removed her dress and boots, and she handed these to the little girl.
The child’s face lit up with joy. “Bless you!” she said.
Now night had fallen, and Gabriele continued walking, shuddering with cold. She was not certain what she would do when she reached the village, but something would come to her. Of that she was confident.
Before long she heard twigs cracking and footsteps approaching. She made out the shape of a man walking into the forest, coming near. “I cannot let him see me this way,” she said to herself. Flush with embarrassment, she looked at the cold river.
“I’ll just jump in,” she said, and so she did.
When the man heard the splash, he came running, and when he saw the poor child in the cold river, he called out to her. “Please do not be afraid. I am your guardian angel and I’ve come to reward you for your generosity.”
With those words he placed onshore a thick towel and a clean set of clothing — a slip, a dress, a coat, a pair of boots, thick woolen socks and a cap!
Gabriele swam to shore, and she looked around, but the man had disappeared. She climbed out of the water, vigorously dried herself and dressed once again.
Then she called to him. “Please, come back. I must thank you …”
All of a sudden, the night sky was no longer dark but filled with stars. From each star rained down shimmering talers, silver coins. They cascaded down from the sky, one from every star. Gabriele thought she heard the fluttering of wings overhead, and then a voice saying, “All this is yours …”
Gabriele collected the coins and hurried on. In the village she found a doctor and paid him handsomely. He returned home with her, and before long her parents were cured.
The family lived happily ever after, for now they were wealthy, with silver and health and love, thanks to Gabriele’s generous heart.