Once upon a time there was a mother who had but one daughter. She was not an ugly girl, but she had the flaw that she was always too smart for her own good and that she would rather eat and be lazy than work. Such daughters bring little joy to their mothers, and so it was here as well. The daughter could do nothing right for her mother, who for an entire year never stopped scolding her.
Once the mother left early for the field, telling the daughter, who was still in bed, "Near noontime cook some soup and put a couple of kernels of rice in it so there will be something for me to eat when I get home. Now "a couple" was a common way of saying "not too much and not too little," but the girl did not understand that. She put a kettle of water on the fire, picked out two kernels of rice and threw them in. What a soup that was when the mother arrived home! She scolded, but to no avail. She had to pour out the water and make her own soup, if she wanted anything to eat.
Another time the mother went away again, and said, "Boil some meat for our noon meal."
"How much should I use?" asked the girl.
"Whatever is honest!" replied the mother, and left.
"Just what is honest?" thought the girl over and over. Then it occurred to her that their donkey, standing in the stall, was named Honest. "Yes, indeed, mother meant him," she cried. "To be sure, he is old and is no longer worth much. I'll not get a scolding this time."
So she went to the stall, struck the poor donkey dead, and chopped him up in pieces. Then she put a large washtub on the fire, threw the pieces into the water, and let it boil until it was hissing and bubbling. When the mother arrived home and saw what had happened she was beside herself and began to hit at her daughter with both fists. But that did not bring the poor donkey back to life. And his meat was so tough that it could not be eaten. So she threw it out to the dogs, and they were only able to eat it only because they were bitterly hungry and had sharp teeth.
Later the mother went away again and told the daughter, "For our noon meal cook some mush, but do it right."
The daughter cooked a lot of mush, and she herself ate seven dishes full. The eighth dish, the smallest one, she saved for her mother. When she came home and learned that the girl had already eaten seven dishes of mush, she became angry and began to scold loudly and intensely.
At that same moment a distinguished gentleman passed by the house, heard the scolding, and entered. "Why are you scolding this poor girl so?" he asked.
The mother was ashamed and quickly replied, "I am scolding her because she works too much. Today she has spun seven spindles full, and I do not want her to overtire herself."
"Can she really spin so well?" asked the gentleman.
"There is no one far and wide in the entire country who can spin as well as my daughter," answered the mother.
Then the gentleman said, "If that is so, then you can give her to me for my wife. I want to have a wife who works well, and I shall never find one who is better or more industrious."
Mother and daughter agreed happily. The wedding took place, and the gentleman took his young wife home with him.
A few days later he had a large pile of flax brought in and said, "Listen, wife, I will be out hunting the entire day. By tomorrow evening you are to have spun this flax."
She made a sour face and said, "Husband, my lord, that is not possible."
Then he became angry and repeated to her, "Do you think that I took you for a wife so you would not have to work? If you want to be lazy then you can go back to your own house." With that he went forth to hunt.
The wife was beside herself. The pile of flax was so large that even with a hundred maids she would not have been able to spin it in two days. While she was standing there in desperation, a dwarf crept up to her. He was dressed in red and wore a little crown on his head. He said, "Why are you so sad? What will you give me if I spin the flax?"
The wife did not answer, and the red dwarf continued, "I will spin the flax, but only under the condition that you guess my name within three tries. If you fail to do so, you will be mine and must come with me."
In her desperation the wife said yes, and immediately there appeared countless little dwarfs, and they carried all the flax away until not a single strand was left behind.
That evening the gentleman returned home from hunting. Seeing his wife quiet and still, he thought that she must be tired from spinning. Before they went to bed he told her, "Just think about what happened to me today. When I was up on the mountain and it was just getting dark, I came to a split in the earth. I looked down and saw beneath me a large room where many hundreds of little devils were hurriedly spinning flax. It was a joy to watch them. In the middle there stood a throne, and on it sat a dwarf dressed in red and wearing a little crown on his head. He was continuously clicking his tongue and crying out:
What will she do, what will she say,
When tomorrow we take it to her?
Then she will guess so and so.
But my name is Tarandandò.
Then the wife became happy once again, and said, "Dear husband, my lord, what did the crazy dwarf say?" And when he repeated it, she secretly wrote down the name and went to bed feeling relieved.
The next morning the gentleman went hunting again. Then the red dwarf arrived with hundreds of little devils, who were carrying the flax, all finely and neatly spun, and not even a hair of it was missing. Then the red dwarf approached the wife and said with a scornful smile, "Here is the flax. Now guess what my name is."
Pretending to be at a loss for words, the wife said, "Is your name perhaps Peter?"
"No," cried the dwarf, laughing.
With an even sadder face she asked, "Is you name perhaps Toni?"
"No," repeated the dwarf and laughed even more scornfully.
Then she pretended to be thinking deeply and to have fallen into despair. But finally she said, "Is your name perhaps -- Tarandandò?"
"Curses!" cried the red dwarf, as though he had been stung by a viper. He slapped her hard on the cheek, and then he and his little devils departed into the air with such a sound of whistling and rushing that it was like a windstorm in the fall swirling the dry leaves about and blowing them through the woods.
When the gentleman arrived home that evening, his wife showed him the spun flax, and he was uncommonly satisfied. "But why is your cheek so swollen?" he asked.
"Oh, dear husband, my lord," she said, "that comes from spinning."
Soon afterward he had an even larger pile of flax brought in and ordered his wife to spin it within a few days. She was beside herself, but then it occurred to her that she had an aunt who was an uncommonly sly and clever woman who had helped many a relative out of difficulty. She went to her and told her of her troubles.
"Just let me deal with it," said the aunt. "Go home, and this evening when your husband is at home I shall come and pay you a visit. Then you'll see."
When it was evening she took a dead hen, filled it with blood and grease, put it under her arm between her skin and her undershirt, and went to her niece. She entered the room where the husband and wife were, and the latter approached her, saying, "Greetings, dear aunt. It is so good that you can visit us."
"Yes, yes, I have been looking forward to this for a long time," said the aunt, and pressed her arm against her body until the blood and grease ran out onto the floor, while she stood there all bent over.
"Oh, good woman, what are you doing there?" said the gentleman.
The sly woman looked casually at the blood drops on the floor, then complained loudly, "Oh, my ailment! My old ailment! I have a large boil under my arm. That's where the blood is coming from."
"How did you get such an ailment?" asked the gentleman with sympathy.
"Do you know, my lord," she replied, "when I was young and beautiful I always had to spin, and that is what brought on my ailment. How it grieved my dear departed husband. I believe it was the cause of his early death."
When the gentleman heard this he turned to his wife and said, "Listen, wife, you shall never touch another spindle. I can no longer stand spinning!"
That was fine with her. From that time forth she had the best and the most comfortable life, and if she hasn't died, she is still living lazily forth.
Source: Christian Schneller, "Tarandandò," Märchen und Sagen aus Wälschtirol (Innsbruck: Verlag der Wagner'schen Universitäts-Buchhandlung, 1867), no. 55, pp. 158-162.
This story is from South Tyrol, an alpine region in northern Italy but with historical and cultural ties to Austria.