Once there was a famous castle-builder called Gobborn Seer, and his son was called Jack. In the course of time Jack grew to be a young man, and the old castlebuilder began to think of teaching him his trade and leaving his business to him. "Jack is a good boy," he said, "but he is not quick with his brains. I must see what I can do for his education."
v Soone day he sent Jack to sell a sheepskin, and said to him, "You must bring me back the skin and the value of it too."
Jack went, but he could not find anyone who would leave him the skin and give him its price, too, and he came home discouraged.
"Never mind," said his father, "you can try again tomorrow."
The next day Jack went out once more with the skin, but nobody wished to buy it on such terms.
"Well," said his father, when Jack returned home, "so you have not sold the skin yet? However, go out tomorrow and your luck may be better."
On the third day Jack set off as before and trudged here and there till nearly nightfall, but he could not find a customer who would pay him for the skin without having it. At last he came to a bridge across a little river. When he was halfway over the bridge he stopped and leaned on the parapet, thinking of his troubles. "I may not be able to get rid of this horrid sheepskin even if I live to be as old as Methuselah," said he. "Perhaps I'd better run away from home and the job."
While he was talking to himself in this way he looked over the side of the bridge and saw a girl washing clothes on the border of the stream. At the same time she looked up and saw him, and said, "If it is no offence asking, what is it you feel so badly about?"
Jack held up the sheepskin that she might see it, and answered, "My father has given me this skin to sell, and I am to fetch it back and the price of it besides."
"Is that all?" laughed the girl. "Such a task ought not to trouble you in the least. Bring the skin down here."
Jack carried it down to her and she washed it in the stream and took the wool from it. Then she paid him its value and kept the wool, but gave him the skin to carry back.
When Jack reached home he told his father all that had happened, and his father said, "That was a clever woman you met at the bridge, and she would make a good wife for you. Do you think you could find her again?"
"I think so," answered Jack.
"Well, then," said his father, "go and see if she is at the same place tomorrow, and if she is there, ask her to come home with you and have a cup of tea with us."
The young fellow did as his father suggested, and, sure enough, he found the girl at the waterside and told her how his old father had wished to meet her, and would she be pleased to have tea with them?
The girl thanked him kindly and accepted the invitation. When she came, the old man did not have to talk with her long to assure himself that she was uncommonly keen-witted, and then he asked her if she would marry his Jack.
"Yes," she said, and they were married.
Not long afterward, Gobborn Seer told his son he must come with him and build the finest castle that ever was seen. The castle was to be for their king, who wished to outdo all the other kings in the world with his wonderful castle. So they set off for the place where the castle was to stand, and as they walked along the old man said to Jack, "Can't you shorten the way for me?"
"It is many long miles we have to go," answered Jack, "and I would shorten them if I could, but I fear that is not possible."
"Ah, well!" said the old man, "if you cannot shorten the way, you are no good to me and had better go back home."
So Jack returned, and when he entered the house door his wife cried out, "Why! how is it that you are back so soon?"
He told her what his father had said and what he had answered.
"Why didn't you tell a tale? That would have shortened the road!" said his wife. "He would have forgotten the miles and the weariness. Now listen till I repeat to you a story, and then you catch up with your father and begin it at once. He will like hearing it, and by the time it is done you will have arrived where the castle is to be."
Jack heard the story, and then he ran as fast as he could until he overtook his father. The old man never said a word, but Jack began his story, and the road was shortened as his wife had said.
At the end of their journey they found many workmen gathered and waiting for them. The workmen had been sent there by the king to labour under the direction of the old castle-builder and his son, and without delay they were set to laying the foundations of the castle. For a year the builders worked, and Gobborn Seer and Jack and their helpers had erected such a castle that thousands came to admire it. Last of all the king came also. "Is the castle done?" he asked.
"I have just a ceiling to finish in an upper hall," answered Gobborn Seer, "and then it will want nothing."
"Very well," said the king, "I shall return tomorrow and pay you for your labour."
But after the king had gone, a friendly courtier sent for Gobborn and his son and told them he had learned that the king was so afraid they would now build some other king as fine a castle as his that he meant to throw them into prison next day and keep them there for the rest of their lives.
"That sounds bad," said the old man to Jack, "but keep a good heart and we will come off all right yet."
Next day when the king arrived, Gobborn told him he had been unable to complete the upper hall for lack of a certain tool. "I shall have to go home for that tool," said he.
"No, no!" exclaimed the king, "you can send someone else just as well."
"Yes, I might send Jack, I suppose," the old man responded.
"Don't do that," the king said; "it will be better to have Jack here with you. Let one of the workmen do the errand."
"There's not a workman I would trust it to but my son," explained Gobborn.
"Well, then, but what would you say to having my own son do the errand for you?" asked the, king.
"Well, well," Gobborn answered, "I will send a note with him to Jack's wife, telling her where to find the seequir -"
Then he wrote this message: "I need my seequir. It is in the big tool chest in the attic. Don't let the prince who does this errand return without it."
"Jack," said the old castle-builder when the prince had gone, "if your wife is as clever as I think she is we can rest easy now. That message will give her a hint of what she is to do, and we can trust her to do the rest."
As soon as Jack's wife read the letter the prince brought, she saw that something was wrong. "There is no such tool as a seequir," she thought, "and that big chest in the attic is empty; and yet the note says for me not to let the prince return without the tool. Well, I won't."
Then she said to the prince, "I think I will have to ask you to help me get that tool."
"I am at your service, madam," answered the prince with a polite bow.
So Jack's wife led the way to the attic and said, "Here is the big chest. I will lift the lid and you must reach down into the bottom of the chest and see if you find the tool."
"With pleasure," responded the prince, but no sooner had he leaned over with his head and arms in the chest than Jack's wife gave him a shove that tumbled him into the big box, heels and all, and then she slammed down the cover and locked it. Next she hunted up an augur and bored some holes in the lid to let in a little air and light to the prisoner.
"Now," she said, "I want to know what is the matter with my husband and his father."
The prince did not wish to say.
"You are going to tell me the whole story," ordered Jack's wife, "and if you don't start with it right off I shall bring up a kettle of hot water from the fire and pour some through these augur holes. That will loosen your tongue, I'm sure."
Then the prince told how Gobborn Seer and his son were going to be put in prison.
"We'll have to put a stop to such doings," said Jack's wife. "Do you hear me, prince? You and I will have to put a stop to such doings."
"Yes," answered the prince, "You and I. I hear you."
He did not feel much like arguing, shut up in that box with those augur holes in the lid that only let in a little light and air, but which might admit a good deal of hot water.
"Very well," said Jack's wife, "I'm going to get some paper and a pen and ink, and I'll slip them in through these holes to you. Then you can write a letter to your father and let him know that you will never return alive unless my father-in-law and husband are released."
She got the writing materials and poked them through the augur holes to the prince, and he wrote as she directed.
The letter frightened the king, and he paid Gobborn for his work at once and let him and his son go home.
"Jack," said his father, as they were on the way, "your wife has helped us nobly. You ought now to reward her by building a castle for her far finer than the one we have made for the king." And that was what Jack did, and they lived in it happily ever after.
[Retold. Johnsen 1905, 178-86; Jacobs 1894 (p. 54-58 and 225) thinks the tale has come to England from Ireland, due to a few clues in the tale. One of them is 'Gobborn Seer', which is traced to Irish-like words for 'free carpenter'. He also traces 'the clever lass' theme back to India, right or wrong.]
Long ago England was divided into several different kingdoms. Canterbury was one of them, and the king there had an only daughter who was both wise and beautiful. When she was about twenty years old the king said to himself, "It is time to think of getting a husband for my daughter, but one would have to go far to find a princess so fair and clever as her, and I shall insist that she has a husband who properly values her."
So he devised a scheme which he thought would make sure that the man who won her was of the right sort. This scheme was to have each suitor sit up a whole night with her, and the first suitor who neither slept nor slumbered should have the princess the next day in marriage. But every aspirant who failed to keep awake should lose his head. This deal was now proclaimed, and many knights came and tried to win the fair lady. However, all of them lost their lives.
One day a young shepherd who grazed his flock near the highroad not far from the city of the king said to his master, "Sir, I see many gentlemen ride to the court at Canterbury, but I never see them return."
"Ah," said his master, "I don't know how you should, for they try to sit up with the king's daughter according to a decree the king has issued. Any man who can keep awake a whole night with her will become her husband. But if he fails he will lose his life. None has managed to stay awake so far."
"Would they let a shepherd marry the princess if he did not sleep?" asked the shepherd.
"Yes," his master answered. "It does not matter who the candidate is. Prince or beggar, it is all the same."
"Well then I'll try my fortune," said the lad, and off he trudged to the king's city.
On his way he had to cross a stream. A plank served for a bridge and he sat down midway on it and pulled off his shoes and stockings to wash his feet. While he had his feet in the water a fish bit his toes. He caught it and put it in his pocket. Afterward several other fish came nibbling at his toes, and he caught them too.
When he reached the palace he knocked loudly at the gate with his long shepherd's crook. Having told his business he was at once led to the king. "So you want to marry my daughter, do you?" said the king.
"Yes," answered the shepherd.
"Very well," said the king, "come along with me to the hall where you are to sit up with her. If you can keep awake this whole night long you shall marry her tomorrow."
"But if I can't?" said the shepherd.
"Then off goes your head," was the king's response. "But you do not have to try if you do not want to take that risk."
"Oh, yes!" answered the shepherd. "I am going to try, come what will."
The king led the way to a handsome hall where the princess sat waiting to see the new suitor. Everything was ready for him and he was given a luxurious chair. Then dishes of rich food and fruits and drinks of many kinds were placed before him.
The shepherd ate and drank plentifully, but found it make him sleepy. He did his best to fight off the drowsiness, but by midnight he was on the point of slumbering.
"Oh, shepherd!" cried the princess, "I have caught you napping."
He roused up at hearing her speak, and said "Hm, I guess I was busy fishing again."
"Fishing?" exclaimed the princess. "No, shepherd, how could you be fishing here in the hall?"
"I have been fishing, and have the fish in my pocket, he insisted."
"If so, let me see the fish!"
The shepherd drew a fish out of his pocket.
"That is a nice little fish," said she; "and in your pocket! Dear shepherd, do you think you could catch one more?"
"Maybe I can," he answered.
He sat quietly a while with his hand in his pocket. Then he suddenly drew out another fish.
"You can go to sleep now, if you wish, and I will excuse you to my father," she said, for she had taken a liking to him.
The shepherd slept till morning, and when the king came to the hall with his headsman as usual, the princess cried out, "Here is no work for you this time."
"How so?" asked the king. "Has the fellow neither slept nor slumbered?"
"I gave him permission to sleep after midnight," she replied. "Before that he sat here with me fishing in his pocket," and she showed her father the two fish he had given her.
The king exclaimed, "He must be a clever fellow. It looks as if we had at last found a man worthy of you. But, my friend," he said while turning to the shepherd, "I wonder if you could catch a fish in my pocket?"
"I will try," the lad answered. "But you have to lie down first."
The king lay down, and the shepherd began to fumble in one of the king's pocket. The king did not appreciate that very much and said,. "Fish no more," said he, "but take my daughter, just as I have decreed."
The wedding was celebrated with great triumph, and thus the wise shepherd became a prince.
[Retold from Johnson 1906:341-46]
Gillan was a pretty girl of twelve. She lived in a cottage up the mountains as the only child of hardworking parents. They loved Gillan and one another, and taught her about good and right. But they had too little to eat, for all their food came from what they could grow on a stony patch of ground on the mountain-side, and it was not enough for three.
It had been raining heavily for unusually long. And then one night torrents of rain washed away their little garden crops on the mountain-side. Soon afterward her parents died for lack of food.
The nearest neighbours lived in a cottage in the valley below. In hunger and grief Gillan went down to them to ask for help. It was a long way to go, first beside a waterfall down a crevice, and then onward on a path between high rocks on the one side and a waste of bog on the other side.
Gillan's father had avoided the people in the lake cottage, and had forbidden her to go near their place although they were the only neighbours. But her father was dead now, and her mother too, and she needed help to bury them.
Her father had also told her that if she was left helpless she would have to go out and serve others for her daily bread. To what others than these could she look?
It rained and it rained. Gillan came down shivering and weeping and knocked at the door of the lake cottage.
"Who's that?" asked a hoarse voice inside.
"That's Gillan from up above us," said a hoarser voice.
"Come in then, little Gillan," another voice said, that was the hoarsest of the three.
The child flinched before opening the door, but she did open it, and set one foot over the threshold. Then she stopped. There was nothing in the cottage but a muddy puddle on the floor. Rain kept running into it from the broken roof. Three men sat together in the puddle, squatted like frogs. They had broad noses and spotted faces, and all three turned to look at Gillan when she came in.
"We are glad to see you, Gillan," said the one who sat in the middle, holding out a hand that had all its fingers webbed together. He was the one who had the hoarsest voice. "My friend on the right is Dock, Dodder sits on my left, and I am Squill. Come in and shut the door behind you."
Gillan had to choose between the dreary, empty world outside and being with these three creatures. She hesitated only a little, then went in and shut the door behind her.
"A long time ago your father came to us, and he went out and shut the door on us. You are wiser than him, little girl."
"My father, oh, my dear father!" began Gillan, and started to weep bitterly.
"Her father is dead," said Dock, who was the least hoarse.
"And her mother too," said Dodder, who was hoarser. "And she wants us to help her to bury them," croaked Squill.
"The girl is fainting with hunger," said Dock.
"She is dying of hunger and grief," said Dodder.
"And we have nothing to offer her but tadpoles, which she cannot eat," said Squill.
"Oh, neighbours," said the child. "If you would come with me and help me."
"She asks us to her house," said Dock.
"We may go," said Dodder, "if we are invited."
"Little Gillan," said Squill then, in his hoarsest tone of all, "we will all follow you to the mountain hut."
Then the three creatures splashed out of their pool, and hopped with webbed feet about their cottage. Gillan could only thank them, frankly looking up into their bright and very eager eyes.
Then Gillan started to climb the mountain with her three strange-looking neighbours. They hopped arm in arm behind her, and got a good hold on the wet and slippy stones with their web feet. Rain still poured down from the sky; runlets flooded their path, and a great cataract roared by their side.
The faint and hungry child had climbed but halfway to her desolate home when she swooned, and was caught in the arms of Squill.
"Sprinkle water," said Dock.
"No need of that," said Dodder.
"It will not be right for us to carry her," said Squill.
Soon Gillan recovered and climbed on. They reached the hut, and when there, the three neighbours set to work at once. Because of the rain and flood outside they dug the graves for Gillan's dead father and mother under the roof, one on each side of the hearth, and so buried them.
Then the child made her helping friends sit down to rest; one in her father's chair, one in her mother's, and one on her own little stool. She raked the embers of the fire and put on fresh wood until a blaze leapt up that was strong enough to warm them before she would turn aside. Then standing in a corner by the morsel of window that looked out towards the waterfall, she gave way to sobbing. But again the brave little heart conquered herself, and she came forward to where the three were sitting with their legs crossed, basking in the firelight. She said, "I am sorry, kind neighbours, that I have no supper to offer you."
"Oh, but you have," said Dock.
The child followed the glance of his eyes, and saw that on her father's grave there stood a loaf of bread, and on her mother's grave a cup of milk.
"They are for you, from the good angels."
She said, "Oh, I am thankful!" Then Gillan broke the bread into three pieces, and gave a piece to each, and held the milk for them when they would drink.
"She is famished herself," said Dodder.
"We must eat all of it up," said Squill.
So they ate all of it up; and while they ate, there was no thought in the child's heart but of pleasure that she had this bread to give.
When they had eaten all, there was another loaf upon the father's grave, and on the mother's grave another and a larger cup of milk.
"See there!" Dock said.
"Whose supper is that?" asked Dodder.
"It must be for the pious little Gillan, and no one else," said Squill.
The three neighbours refused to take another crumb; they had eaten so much tadpole for their dinners, they said, So Gillan supped, but she left much bread and milk, secretly thinking that her friends would need breakfast if they should consent to stay with her throughout the night. It was long since the sun set, reddening the mists of the plain, and now the mountain path beside the torrent was all dark and very perilous.
The monsters eagerly watched their little hostess and thanked yes to sleeping in the cottage for the night. There were but two beds and Gillan's own little straw pallet. She offered the three the double bed of her parents. The helping neighbours looked at her gratefully, lay down on it together and went to sleep on it with their arms twisted about each other's necks. The child looked on them as they were clinging together in their sleep, and noticed that many lines in their half frog-like faces meant that they carried pain.
She did not forget them in her evening prayers and in her heart as she lay down to sleep. But she could not fall asleep at once, for when she lay with her face turned towards the hearth, the dying embers shone with a red light on the two newly cast graves. And when she turned her face to the wall, the rush of the torrent on the other side was louder than her weeping. But the noise of the waterfall soothed her after all. So she went up from bed towards the little window and looked out into the black night as she listened to the waterfall.
The night was not altogether black, for there was a short lull in the rain, though the wind howled round the mountain, and soft voices singing,
"Spin the froth and weave the spray!
Almost at the same moment the cottage door opened. Gillan turned round and saw two youths who were bright as the moonlight. They said they had a present to her and gave it to her. Then they flew out and Gillan closed the door after them, for she was bred to be a careful little housewife and she thought the night-air would not be good for the three sleepers inside.
Then she looked again at her three neighbours cuddled together on her father's and mother's double bed. "The fairies have given me this cloth," she considered to herself, "that I might not have to send away kind helpers without a gift. White muslin is not quite the dress that will suit a lodging like theirs, but it is all I have! If I could make them three dresses by the time they wake up, they may see I am truly glad to do something for them in return for all the good things they have done."
So Gillan began measuring her neighbours with the string of her poor little apron, and when she had measured them all, she withdrew into the farthest corner of her hut with her scissors and thread and the bale of muslin. There she set to work by the light of a pine-stick, shaded from the eyes of her guests with a screen made of her own ragged old frock.
While the child stitched, she heard songs about her, and it was a marvel to her that her needle never wanted threading, and how fast she worked to the pace of the songs. She could not understand how, but one needleful of thread made the three coats. And when the coats were made the thread was as long as it had been when she started to sew.
Very soon after dawn the white dresses were made. All the muslin had been used in making them except what was left in the small litter of fragments round the stool that Gillan had been sitting on when she had been at work. Three coats of daintily folded, white muslin were laid by the bed of the three guests. On the corner of each was written in thread its owner's name. Dock was worked in the corner of one; Dodder in the corner of another; and in the corner of the third coat, Squill.
Then Gillan lay down for a little sleep. Weary with grief and toil she slept heavily.
Dock, Dodder, and Squill woke up before her, and the first thing they did when they woke up was to look on their new coats. The next thing that each of them did was to put on his new coat. And after this the three of them changed into three beautiful fairy youths: Dock with yellow hair, Dodder with brown, and Squill with black. They stood hand in hand by the little girl's bed.
"She has freed us, the dear child!" said Dock.
"She," said Dodder, "she and our fairy brothers of the waterfall."
"She has saved nothing for herself," said Squill. "Didn't the child once wish to wear muslin in place of these poor rags? I kiss her rags, brothers, for her sake." But Squill's kiss on the girl's ragged frock made it a treasure for an empire.
"And I kiss the walls that sheltered us," said Dodder. But Dodder's kiss upon the walls changed them into a close network of fragrant blossoms.
"And I kiss the lips that asked us to come here," Dock said; and at his kiss the child smiled, and her eyes opened upon the three fairies in the muslin dresses she had made.
"Ah, fairies," she said, "I made those dresses for my three dear neighbours. Do not take back your gift, although the muslin is indeed yours, and the thread too, and the work, for surely it was you who made the needle run. I am but a child; only I thought you meant to give me something to be grateful with."
"We did not give you your good heart, dear little Gillan," the fairies said; and now their speaking was in softest unison. "That has done more for us than all our love and service will repay. We were your neighbours, but we are your servants now."
"No, no," said the child. "I was afraid to ask to be your servant, for I thought last night you were too poor to feed poor and weak me. But why do the walls flower, and why is my dress covered with glittering stones? Am I at home?" she said, and then her eyes fell on the two graves and she knew she was.
Then, as she rose to her knees with quivering lips, the three fairies went out into the sun and stood at the door to see how all the rains were gone and the bright morning beams played in the spray of the cataract.
"Do you see anything between us and the sun?" Dock asked the other two.
"A speck," said Dodder.
"Alas, I think it is Mubit herself," said Squill.
Gillan did not hear that, but bade the three fairies come in to share her breakfast. The fairies came at her bidding to eat with her. Right after the meal Squill excused himself and went to the stool that the chips and shreds of fairy muslin were lying about. There he joined each to each with a stroke of his finger and shaped them into a little net.
The other two had sent Gillan out to feel the sunshine. After a while she came in, saying that there was a chill wind, and though it was foolish to think so, but it seemed to have come with a black raven that was sitting on the roof.
"You had better strike through the roof, Mubit," Squill cried, looking up. The bird croaked and began to beat an opening through the flowers. As it did so, the leaves of the bower withered and the blossoms began to stink.
But Squill leapt up and held the net he had made, right under the hole that Mubit was making. He caught the raven in it as she fell through, and held her captured in the net against the beating of the raven's wings.
"Our enemy who came on a bad errand, is now our prisoner," said Dock.
"Cleverly done," said Dodder. "Very cleverly done, brother Squill."
Gillan asked, "How can a raven be your enemy?"
"Theirs and yours!" the raven shrieked. "Theirs and yours! The peace inside these walls kills me!"
At that the wicked fairy dropped the form of a raven and withered into a dark lump of earth. The three fairies hurried to throw the lump of earth into the waterfall, and later they told her how they had lived with their brother fairies of the waterfall next to the cottage until the wicked fairy came and caused torrents of rain, and turned the land below into a marshy wilderness she could rule over.
The fairies of the waterfall fought the wicked fairy as best they could, but after one such skirmish they had to leave Dock, Dodder and Squill in the hands of the wicked fairy. The bad fairy encased them in froglike bodies in the cottage at the foot of the mountain while the rain poured down over the whole district. The fairies of the bright, running and leaping water had no choice but to sit in a stagnant puddle and eat tadpoles.
The wicked fairy said to them: "Live there until a human child look at you without being afraid, shuts herself up with you, give you her own supper, and make dresses to suit your shapes."
"Then I have really been a friend to you," the maiden said to the three fairies.
"Yes" they said. "And in the days and years ahead we will direct the waters to a place where water will do good and even help beautiful flowers to blossom." On this they returned to their own kin, but they remained the best of neighbours and friends to Gillan as she grew up to womanhood, and she still found bread and milk every morning and night in the house.
The marsh below the mountain dried and became a great plain that men tilled and fought over. Many fell to the ground in regular battles, wounded and bleeding and in death agonies. Gillan cried over it all and tried to help as many wounded and fallen ones as she could, until at the end of a day she fainted of exhaustion in the arms of a soldier.
When the moon rose, he saw that three youths dressed in white stood near.
"Are you her brothers?" he asked. "Who is this maiden?"
"Take her in your arms," they said, "and we will show you where to carry her."
The young soldier lifted her up in his arms and took her up the mountain to the bower by the waterfall., and the scent of the flowers helped her come to. The soldier gently laid her down on a bank of wild thyme and looked up for the three youths, but they were gone. He went into the bower, and saw in a corner a dress of jewels worth an empire, and two graves with bread and much milk upon them. He brought the food out to the maid and ate with her.
Dock, Dodder, and Squill made up their minds that Gillan should be to the soldier what her mother had been to her father. So they repaired their own cottage by the foot of the mountain and made him a home there. There he dreamt every night of Gillan, and decided to spend all his days by her side. She made his hopes happier and more unbounded.
One morning the grave of Gillan's father was overgrown with laurel bushes, and her mother's grave was lost under a wealth of flowering myrtle, and there was no food any longer. So when her sweetheart soldier came up to her cottage, she said, "I think it is time I take my part in the struggle of living among other human beings now. Let's us go down to the plain together."
She gathered for him a branch of laurel and plucked a sprig of myrtle for herself. Year after year they were as green and fresh as when they were plucked.
As they left the cottage together, neither Gillan nor her chosen husband remembered the jewel-studded dress that lay unguarded in a corner of the hut. The spray of the waterfall was radiant and the foam was white and bright when Gillan and her soldier went hand in hand down the mountain in the sunshine.
[Rhys, 193-207. Retold]