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Catskin

There was once a gentleman who had fine lands and houses and very much wanted to have a son to be heir to them. So when his wife brought him a daughter, bonny as bonny could be, he cared nothing for her, and said, "Let me never see her face."

So she grew up a bonny girl, though her father never set eyes on her till she was fifteen years old and was ready to be married. But her father said, "Let her marry the first that comes for her."

This was soon known among people, and the first suitor to come was a nasty, rough old man. The girl didn't know what to do, and went to the henwife [1] and asked her advice.

The henwife said, "Say you will not take him unless they give you a coat of silver cloth, and maybe not even then."

They gave her a coat of silver cloth, but she wouldn't take him for all that, but went again to the henwife, who said, "Say you will not take him unless they give you a coat of beaten gold, and perhaps not even then."

They gave her a coat of beaten gold, but still she would not take him, but went to the henwife, who said, "Say you will not take him unless they give you a coat made of the feathers of all the birds of the air, and maybe not even then."

Now they sent a man with a great heap of peas to cry to all the birds of the air, "Each bird take a pea and put down a feather in return."

Each bird took a pea and put down one of its feathers. They took all the feathers and made a coat of them and gave it to her, but still she would not marry the old man. She asked the henwife once again, and she said, "Say they must first make you a coat of cat skin from cats who have died a natural death, and maybe not even then."

They managed to make her a coat of cat skin. She put it on and tied up the other coats she had been given, and then she ran away into the wood.

She went along and went along until she came to the end of the wood and saw a fine castle. She hid her many dresses and went up to the castle gates and asked for work. The lady of the castle saw her and told her, "I'm sorry I have no better place, but if you like you may be our kitchen servant [1]."

Down she went into the kitchen, where they took to calling her Catskin because of her dress. The cook was very cruel to her and made her life miserable.

It happened soon after that the young lord of the castle was coming home, and there was to be a grand ball in honour of the occasion. When they were speaking about it among the servants, "Dear me, Mrs. Cook," Catskin said, "how much I should like to go."

"What! You dirty maid servant," said the cook, "you go among all the fine lords and ladies with your filthy cat skin?!" and with that she took a basin of water and dashed it into Catskin's face. Catskin remained collected and cool and said nothing.

When the day of the ball arrived, Catskin slipped out of the house and went to the edge of the forest where she had hidden her dresses. She bathed in a crystal waterfall, put on her coat of silver cloth and hastened away to the ball. As soon as she entered, all were much impressed by her beauty and grace, and the young lord at once lost his heart to her. He asked her to be his partner for the first dance, and he would dance with none other the whole night through.

When it came to parting time, the young lord said, "Please tell me where you live."

Catskin curtsied and said:

"Kind sir, if the truth I must tell,
At the sign of the 'Basin of Water' I dwell."

Then she flew from the castle and donned her cat-skin robe again, and slipped into her little room next to the kitchen all unknown to the cook.

The young lord went the very next day to his mother, the lady of the castle, and declared he would wed none other but the lady of the silver dress, and would never rest till he had found her. So another ball was soon arranged in hope that the beautiful maid would appear again.

Catskin said to the cook, "Oh, how I should like to go!"

The cook screamed out in a rage, "What, you, you dirty maid servant among all the finely dressed lords and ladies?" And with that she also dashed a ladle across Catskin's back so hard that the ladle broke. But Catskin remained cool still. Very soon afterwards she ran off to the forest. There she first of all bathed, then put on her coat of beaten gold, and off she went to the ball-room.

As soon as she entered, all eyes were upon her, and the young lord soon recognised her as the lady of the "Basin of Water," claimed her hand for the first dance, and did not leave her till the last. When that came, he again asked her where she lived. But all that she would say was:

"Kind sir, if the truth I must tell,
At the sign of the 'Broken Ladle' I dwell."

and with that she curtsied and flew from the ball. In the forest again it was off with the golden robe, on with the cat skin, and into her little room next to the kitchen without the cook's knowing.

Next day when the young lord could not find where was the sign of the "Basin of Water," or of the "Broken Ladle," he begged his mother to have another grand ball, so that he might meet the beautiful maid once more.

All happened as before. Catskin told the cook how much she would like to go to the ball, the cook called her "a dirty maid servant," and even broke the skimmer [3] across her shoulder. But Catskin managed to keep calm all the same. Soon she was off to the forest. There she first bathed in the crystal spring, and then she put on her coat of feathers, and so off to the ball-room.

When she entered, everyone was surprised. Such a lovely woman, and such a very rare dress - and the young lord soon recognised his beautiful love, and would dance with no one but her the whole evening. When the ball came to an end, he pressed her to tell him where she lived, but all she would answer was:

"Kind sir, if the truth I must tell,
At the sign of the 'Broken Skimmer' I dwell;"

and with that she curtsied and was off. She hurried to to the forest as before, but this time the young lord followed her, and watched her change her fine dress of feathers for her cat skin dress, and then he knew her: she was his own kitchen maid.

Next day he went to his mother and told her that he wished to marry the kitchen maid they who was called Catskin.

"Never," said the lady, and rushed from the room.

The young lord was so grieved at that, that he took to his bed and was very ill. The doctor tried to cure him, but he would not take any medicine unless from the hands of Catskin. So the doctor went to the lady of the castle and told her son would die if she did not agree to let him marry Catskin.

The lady felt she had no better choice than to give way, so she summoned Catskin to her. Catskin put on her coat of beaten gold and went to the lady, who soon was glad to wed her son to so beautiful a maid.

So the couple was married, and after a time a dear little son came to them and grew up a bonny lad. One day when he was four years old, a beggar woman came to the door. Lady Catskin gave some money to the little boy and told him to go and give it to the beggar woman. He went and gave it, but put it into the hand of the woman's child, who leant forward and kissed the little lord. Now the wicked old cook – why hadn't she been sent away? – was looking on, and said, "Only see how beggars' brats take to one another."

This insult went to Catskin's heart, so she went to her husband, the young lord, and told him all about her father, and asked him if he would go and find out what had become of her parents. They set out in the lord's grand coach, and travelled through the forest until they came to the house of Catskin's father. They put up at an inn nearby. Catskin stopped there, while her husband went to see if her father would acknowledge her as his daughter.

Now her father had never had any other child, and his wife had died, so he was all alone in the world and sat moping and miserable. When the young lord came in, he hardly looked up until he saw a chair close up to him, and was asked: "Pray, sir, did you not once have a young daughter that you would never see or acknowledge full well?"

The old gentleman said, "It is true. But I would give all my worldly goods if I could but see her once before I die."

Then the young lord told him what had happened to Catskin, and took him to the inn. He brought his father-in-law to his own castle, where they lived happy afterwards, all except the cruel cook. She got discharged at long last.

Notes
  1. Henwife: a woman who raises poultry.
  2. Scullion: a servant employed to do rough household work in a kitchen.
  3. Skimmer: a big, perforated spoon used in skimming liquids.
[Edited from Jacobs 1894, p. 189-94. Also see Rhys 1906, p. 44-49]

The Little Red Hairy Man

Once on a time there was a lead miner in Derbyshire who had three sons and was very poor. One day the eldest son said he would go and seek his fortune, so he packed up his kit and took something to eat with him and set off. After he had walked a long way he came to a wood, and since he was very tired he sat down on a large stone by the wayside and began to eat the bread and cheese that he had brought with him.

While he was eating he thought he heard a voice. So he looked about him and saw a little red man coming out of the wood. The man was covered with hair and was about thirty cm high - maybe more, maybe less. He came close up to the eldest son and asked for something to eat. But instead of giving him food the eldest son told him to be off and kicked his foot out at the little man and hurt him, so that he went limping back into the wood.

Then the eldest son went on his way and after a long time came home again as poor as he had left.

After the eldest son had returned, the second son said that he would go out and seek his fortune. When he came to the wood he sat down to rest and eat. While he was eating, the little red hairy man came out and begged for some food. But the second son went on eating until he had eaten all the good food he wanted. Then he threw the little man the crumbs and bits that were left. In return, the little man told the second son to go and try his luck in a mine that he would find in the middle of the wood.

So the second son went to look for the mine. When he had found it he said to himself, "Why, it's only an old worn-out mine and I'm not going to waste my time over that." So he set off on his way and after a long time came home again as poor as he had left.

Now by this time Jack, the youngest son, had grown up. When the second son came home, Jack said to his father, "I will go now and seek my fortune."

When he was ready he left home in the same way that his brothers had done. When he came to the wood and saw the stone on the way side, he sat down on it and pulled out his bread and cheese and began to eat.

In a few minutes he heard somebody say, "Jack, Jack." He looked around and saw the little red hairy man that his brothers had seen. The little man said he was hungry and asked Jack to give him some of his bread and cheese. Jack said he would, and welcomed him to share his food. He cut the man a good lump and told him he could have more if he wanted. Then the little man came close up to Jack and told him that he only wanted to try him to see what sort he was.

"And now," said the little man, "I will help you to get your fortune, but you must do as I tell you."

Then he told Jack to go and find the old mine in the middle of the wood. Jack went, and when he got to the mine he found the little man had got there before him.

The opening of the mine was inside an old hut and over the pit in the middle of the floor was a windlass. The little man told Jack to get into the windlass bucket and began to let him down. Jack went down and down and down till at last he came to the bottom. Then he got out and found himself in a beautiful country.

While he was looking round about him the little man stood by him and gave him a sword and armour and told him to go and set free a princess who was imprisoned in a copper castle in that country. Then the little man threw a small copper ball on the ground and it rolled away and Jack followed it until it came to a castle made of copper and flew against the door. Then a giant came out of the castle. Jack fought with him and killed him and set the princess free, and she went back to her own home.

When Jack came back, the little man told him that he must go to a silver castle and set another princess free. Then the little man threw down a silver ball, and Jack followed it till it came to a splendid silver castle and struck against the door so loudly that the giant who lived there came out to see what it was. Then Jack fought with him and killed him and set the princess free.

Some time after Jack had set free the princess in the silver castle, the little man said that he must now try to set another princess free. She lived in a golden castle. Jack said he would try, and the little man threw down a golden ball. It began to roll away, and Jack followed it until it came in sight of a magnificent gold castle. Then the golden ball went faster and faster until it struck the castle door and made the giant who lived there come out to see what was the matter. Jack and the giant fought, and the giant nearly killed Jack, but at last Jack killed the giant and then went into the castle and found a beautiful lady there. Jack fell in love with her and brought her to the little man. The man married them and helped Jack to get as much gold from the gold castle as he wanted. And then he helped Jack and his wife up the mine and they went to Jack's home.

Jack built a fine house for himself and another for his father and mother. But his two brothers were envious and went off to the mine to see if they could get some gold, they too. When they got into the hut they quarrelled as to who should go down first. As they were struggling to get into the bucket, the rope broke and they both fell to the bottom of the pit.

As they did not come back, Jack and his father went to seek them. When they got to the mine they saw that the sides of the pit had given way and blocked it up. The hut had fallen down and the place was covered up for good.

[Addy 1895, p. 50-53. From Wensley in Derbyshire]

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