From Mrs. MacGeachy, Farmer's Wife, Islay.
THERE was formerly a poor widow, and she had three daughters, and all she had to feed them was a kailyard. There was a great gray horse who was coming every day to the yard to eat the kail. Said the eldest of the daughters to her mother, "I will go to the yard to-day, and I will take the spinning-wheel with me, and I will keep the horse out of the kail." "Do," said her mother. She went out. The horse came; she took the distaff from the wheel and she struck him. The distaff stuck to the horse, and her hand stuck to the distaff. Away went the horse till, they reached a green hill, and he called out, "Open, open, oh green hill, and let in the king's son; open, open, oh green hill, and let in the widow's daughter." The hill opened, and they went in. He warmed water for her feet, and made a soft bed for her limbs, and she lay down that night. Early on the morrow, when he rose, he was going to hunt. He gave her the keys of the whole house, and he said to her that she might open every chamber inside but the one. "By all she ever saw not to open that one." That she should have his dinner ready when he should come back, and that if she would be a good woman that he would marry her. When he went away she began to open the chambers. Every one, as she opened it, was getting finer and finer, till she came to the one that was forbidden. It seemed to her, "What might be in it that she might not open it too." She opened it, and it was full of dead gentle women, and she went down to the knee in blood. Then she came out, and she was cleansing her foot; and though she were cleaning it, still she could not take a bit of the blood off it. A tiny cat came where she was, and she said to her, "If she would give a little drop of milk that she would clean her foot as well as it was before. "Thou! ugly beast! be off before thee. Dost thou suppose that I won't clean them better than thou?" "Yes, yes, take thine own away. Thou wilt see what will happen to thee when himself comes home." He came home, and she set the dinner on the board, and they sat down at it. Before they ate a bit he said to her, "Wert thou a good woman to-day was," said she. "Let me see thy foot, and I will tell thee whether thou wert or wert not." She let him see the one that was clean. "Let me see the other one," said he. When he saw the blood, "Oh! ho!" said he. He rose and took the axe and took her head off, and he threw her into the chamber with the other dead people. He laid down that night, and early on the morrow he went to the widow's yard again. Said the second one of the widow's daughters to her mother--"I will go out to-day, and I will keep the gray horse out of the yard." She went out sewing. She struck the thing she was sewing on the horse. The cloth stuck to the horse, and her hand stuck to the cloth. They reached the hill. He called as usual to the hill; the hill opened, and they went in. He warmed water for her feet, and made a soft bed for her limbs, and they lay down that night. Early in the morning he was going to hunt, and he said to her that she should open every chamber inside but one, and "by all she ever saw" not to open that one. She opened every chamber till she came to the little one, and because she thought "What might be in that one more than the rest that she might not open it?" She opened it, and it was full of dead gentlewomen, and her own sister amongst them. She went down to the knee in blood. She came out, and as she was cleaning herself, and the little cat came round about, and she said to her, "If thou wilt give me a tiny drop of milk I will clean thy foot is well as it ever was." "Thou! ugly beast! begone. Dost thou think that I will not clean it myself better than thou?" "Thou wilt see," said the cat, "what will happen to thee when himself comes home." When he came she set down the dinner, and they sat at it. Said he--"Wert thou a good woman to-day?" "I was," said she. "Let me see thy foot, and I will tell thee whether thou wert or wert not." She let him see the foot that was clean. "Let me see the other one," said he. She let him see it. "Oh! ho said he, and he took the axe and took her head off. He lay down that night. Early on the morrow, said the youngest one to her mother, as she wove a stocking--"I will go out with my stocking to-day, and I will watch the gray horse. I will see what happened to my two sisters, and I will return to tell you." "Do," said her mother, "and see thou dost not stay away. She went out, and the horse came. She struck the stocking on the horse. The stocking stuck to the horse, and the hand stuck to the stocking. They went away, and they reached the green hill. He called out as usual, and they got in. He warmed water for her feet, and made a soft bed for her limbs, and they lay down that night. On the morrow he was going to hunt, and he said to her--"If she would behave herself as a good woman till he returned, that they would be married in a few days." He gave her the keys, and he said to her that she might open every chamber that was within but that little one, "but see that she should not open that one." She opened every one, and when she came to this one, because she thought "what might be in it that she might not open it more than the rest?" she opened it, and she saw her two sisters there dead, and she went down to the two knees in blood. She came out, and she was cleaning her feet, and she could not take a bit of the blood off them. The tiny cat came where she was, and she said to her--"Give me a tiny drop of milk, and I will clean thy feet as well as they were before." "I will give it thou creature; I will give thee thy desire of milk if thou will clean my feet." The cat licked her feet as well as they were before. Then the king came home, and they set down his dinner, and they sat at it. Before they ate a bit, he said to her, "Wert thou a good woman to-day?" "I was middlin," said she; "I have no boasting to make of myself." "Let me see thy feet," said he. She let him see her feet. "Thou wert a good woman," said he; "and if thou holdest on thus till the end of a few days, thyself and I will be married." On the morrow he went away to hunt. When he went away the little cat came where she was. "Now, I will tell thee in what way thou wilt be quickest married to him," said the cat. "There are," said she, "a lot of old chests within. Thou shalt take out three of them; thou shalt clean them. Thou shalt say to him next night, that he must leave these three chests, one about of them, in thy mother's house, as they are of no use here; that there are plenty here without them; thou shalt say to him that he must not open any of them on the road, or else, if he opens, that thou wilt leave him; that thou wilt go up into a tree top, and that thou wilt be looking, and that if he opens any of them that thou wilt see. Then when he goes hunting, thou shalt open the chamber, thou shalt bring out thy two sisters; thou shalt draw on them the magic club, and they will be as lively and whole as they were before; thou shalt clean them then, and thou shalt put one in each chest of them, and thou shalt go thyself into the third one. Thou shalt put of silver and of gold, as much in the chests as will keep thy mother and thy sisters right for their lives. When he leaves the chests in thy mother's house, and when he returns he will fly in a wild rage: he will then go to thy mother's house in this fury, and he will break in the door; be thou behind the door, and take off his head with the bar; and then he will be a king's son, as precious as he was before, and he will marry thee. Say to thy sisters, if he attempts the chests to open them by the way, to call out, 'I see thee, I see thee,' and that he wilt think that thou wilt be calling out in the tree." When he came home he went away with the chests, one after one, till he left them in her mother's house. When he came to a glen, where he thought she in the tree could not see him, he began to let the chest down to see what was in it; she that was in the chest called out, "I see thee, I see thee!"
"Good luck be on thy pretty little head," said he, "if thou canst not see a long way!"
This was the way with him each journey, till he left the chests altogether in her mother's house.
When he returned home on the last journey, and saw that she was not before him, he flew in a wild rage; he went back to the widow's house, and when he reached the door he drove it in before him. She was standing behind the door, and she took his head off with the bar. Then he grew a king's son, as precious as ever came; there he was within and they were in great gladness, She and himself married, and they left with her mother and sisters, of gold and silver, as much as left them well for life.
Campell's Notes on the Tale:
From Catherine Milloy, Kilmeny, Islay, March 1859.
An old woman of the name of Hutton, in Cowal, told this to Catherine Milloy, a Cowal woman, married to a farmer at Kilmeny, Angus MacGeachy, a Campbelltown man. Written down from her dictation by Hector MacLean, Islay, May 1859.
This story is something like The Hoodie and The Daughter of the King of the Skies; it has a bit like The Mermaid.
I have another version, told by Hugh Mac-in-deor, an old man at Bowmore, in Islay, who can recite a great many more stories; he borders upon eighty, is very poor, and has had but little education. He tells MacLean that he learnt his stories long ago from one Angus Brown, who was known by the soubriquet of Aonghas Gruama frowning Angus, of whom very queer anecdotes are told. Mac-in-deor was able to play the pipes in his day. His father was considered an excellent piper; and his son Dugald is allowed to be one of the best pipers in the island.
2d. A poor woman had three daughters and a kail-yard, and a horse used to come every day to eat the kail. The daughters went, one after the other, to drive him away with the distaff and the distaff stuck to the horse and to their hands, and he dragged them in turn to a castle. (It is not said that the horse became a man.) The first was the eldest who slept in the castle; on the morrow she got a key, and was told to look at all the rooms but one; and to milk the "Three Red-brown Hornless Cows." She looked into the room of course, and sank to her knee in blood; and "a grey great cat" came about and asked for a drop milk, and was refused.
When the "giant" came home he asked to see her foot, and it was red with blood; and he smote her with the "White Glave of Light," and killed her.
The very same thing happened to the second. The youngest milked the three Red-brown Hornless Cows; but peeped, and sank to her knee in blood, and saw her two dead sisters. The great grey cat asked for milk, and got it and drank it, and became a splendid woman, and told her that she was a king's daughter under spells; and she told her to take some of the milk and to clean her foot with it, and that it would not leave a speck of the blood on her; and so she did.
"Now," said the king's daughter, "when he comes in and sees that thy foot is clean, he will marry thee; but thou wilt not be long alive if thou art with him. When he goes to the hunting hill, thou shalt take with thee AM BALLAN IOC, vessel of balsam (ballan is a teat), and rub it against the mouth of thy big sister; and thou shalt put her into a sack, and gold and silver with her, and thou shalt stuff the sack with hay; and when he comes home tell him that there is a whisp for the cow, and to leave it with thy mother; and the next day do the same with thy second sister; and on the third day, I will put thyself and the white glave of light into the sack. When he knows that thou art not with him, he will go after thee; and when he is coming in at the door, "SGAP" the head off him with the sword, and hold the sword on the SMIOR CHAILLEACH (spinal marrow) till it cools, before the head goes on again."
The girl did as she was told; and he took the three sisters alive, and his gold and his sword, in the sacks with the hay on his back to the mother, and said each time, "SO A CHAILLEACH SIN AGUD SOP DO'N BHO," "Here carlin, there thou hast a whisp for the cow."
On the third day he went home, and when he lay down and found that she was not there, he went to the poor woman's house, and the youngest daughter chopped his head off as he went in it the door; and then she went back to the castle and stayed in it with the king's daughter.
3d. This is manifestly the same story as "The history of Mr. Greenwood," in Mr. Peter Buchan's unpublished MS. The scene of that story is laid in the Western Isles; it is brought down to a much later period than the Gaelic story; and the language is not that of peasants.
It is the same as the Old Dame and her Hen, Norse Tales, No. III., published 1859, and it resembles bits of other tales in the same collection. It is the same as Fitcher's Vogel, Grimm, No. 46, and Old Rink Rank, 196. It is in French as Barbe Bleu; in English as Bluebeard; and according to the notes in Grimm's third volume, it is very old and very widely spread. Of all these the Norse and Gaelic resemble each other most.
The same idea pervades a number of other Gaelic stories, namely, that of a people living underground, who assumed the shape of various creatures, and lived by hunting; possessed gold and silver, and swords; carried off women and children; ate some, murdered others, and kept a larder of dead gentlewomen, whom it appears that they carried off, married, and murdered.
Campbell, J. F. Popular Tales of the West Highlands: Orally Collected. London: Alexander Gardner, 1890-1893. (Reprint available from Detroit: Singing Tree Press, 1969.)
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