Site Map
English and Welsh Folktales and Legends
Section › 14   Set    Search  Previous Next

Reservations   Contents    

The Princess of Canterbury

In the old days, when there were more than one king in this country, one of them was king of Canterbury. He had an only daughter, wise, fair, beautiful, and unmarried.

The king had it proclaimed that whoever would watch one night with his daughter and neither sleep nor doze at the time, should have her the next day in marriage. But if he did not stay awake or away, he should lose his head.

Such bargains were not uncommon in those days. Many knights did their best, but failed and lost their lives.

Now a young shepherd, grazing his flock near the road, said to his master, "Zur [Sir], I see many gentlemen ride to the court at Canterbury, but I never see them return again."

"Shepherd," said his master, "I know not how you should, for they try to watch with the king's daughter, and all who fail lose their heads."

"Well," said the shepherd, "I'll try my worth, folly or luck; so now for a king's daughter, or a headless shepherd!"

And taking his bottle and bag, he trudged to the court to try his fortune. On his way he had to cross a river. He pulled off his shoes and stockings, and while he was passing over he observed several pretty fish bobbing against his feet. He caught some and put them into his pocket. When he reached the palace, he knocked at the gate loudly with his shepherd's staff.

As soon as he said why he was visiting, he was taken to a hall where the king's daughter sat ready, prepared to receive her lovers. He was placed in a luxurious chair, and rich wines and spices were set before him, and all sorts of delicate meats. The shepherd was unused to such fare, and ate and drank plentifully, so that he was nearly dozing before midnight.

"Shepherd," said the lady, "I have caught you napping!"

"No, sweet ally, I was busy fishing."

"Fishing?" said the princess in surprise. "No, shepherd, there is no fish-pond in the hall."

"No matter that, I have been fishing in my pocket, and have just caught one."

''Oh my!" said she. "Let me see it."

The shepherd cleverly drew a fish out of his pocket and showed it to her, and she said it was the finest she had ever seen.

About half an hour afterwards, she said, "Shepherd, do you think you could get me one more?"

He replied, "Maybe," and after a little while he brought out another. It was finer than the first, and the princess was so delighted that she gave him leave to go to sleep, and promised to excuse him to her father.

In the morning the princess told the king to his great astonishment that the shepherd must not be beheaded, for he had been fishing in the hall all night. The shepherd agreed.

But when the king heard how the shepherd had caught such beautiful fish out of his pocket, he asked him to catch one in his own royal pocket.

The shepherd agreed, bid the king lie down, and pretended to fish in his pocket while he had another fish hidden and ready in his hand. At last he gave the king a prick with a needle, held up the fish, and showed it to the king.

And even though the king did not delight in such a fishing method, nevertheless the princess and shepherd were united the same day and lived for many years together.

[Halliwell 1849, p. 35-36. Adapted]


Tom the Tin-Miner

A long way back, in times when Parcurnow was the chief port west of Hayle, a man called Tom lived in a little out-of-way place with his wife and their daughter. When farm-work fell scant, Tom streamed for tin in moors near his dwelling, but the soil and turf was thick and tin beneath it scarce. Then one day he got so tired of the mine that he took the little tin he had raised that summer down to Treen for sale. Many wool-weavers and ropers lived there, and basket-makers who made creels that pleased fisherwomen better than any to be got elsewhere.

In Treen market-place stood a broad rock. It was nearly round, about four feet high, eight feet across and level as a table, except that its upper surface shallow pits were hollowed. In these shallow pits stream-tin that was brought for sale or exchange, was piled.

After having placed his tin in one of the hollows of this stone, Tom asked about the news and asked some merchants who travelled far, how work was in the East Country. They told him that streamers' work might be had in a place near the large town Market-Jew.

When Tom had exchanged his tin for leather and other things, he went home and told his wife what he had learned. "We would be fools," he said, "to stay here and starve when two or three days' journey will take us to a land of plenty. What do you think, wife?"

"Well, Tom," she said, "you will always have your own way, whatever one may say: if you have mind to go eastward to look for work, go! I and the maid will stay and get our living here. But don't go right away; wait for a day or two so that I may put your clothes in order and bake a nourishing cake for you to eat on your way. Long lanes and scant entertainment you will find, I expect."

"It will take me some days," he answered, "to go round and wish the neighbours well and to prepare my tools well before I start."

In three days Tom got his beat-axe and pick re-steeled and other tools repaired. They were tools that he wanted to take with him. Finally he said, "I wish you well till I see you again" to everybody for miles round. Tom kissed the young women and the elderly ones kissed him and said, "If we never see you again we wish you good luck for your courage; but take care you don't get kidnapped and locked away in Market-Jew [1] and nevermore heard of, as it has happened to many a good man before."

When all was ready for Tom's journey, his tools, provisions and clothes made a heavy load to travel with. Early in the morning he started. His wife and daughter went many miles on the way, carrying his things, until they arrived at a public house where the roads meet. Here they shared a bottle and cheered their hearts. "Be sure, wife," said Tom "to take care of our only child Patience. Mind she is but fifteen."

After much kissing, crying and wishes for good luck and a speedy return, they parted.

Tom reached Market-Jew before dark and was much bewildered to see so large a place and so many people. As it happened to be Whitsun market, streamers in great numbers had brought their tin for sale or to exchange for clothing and other things. It was sold by measure. Large amounts were bought by smelters and merchants. From foreign traders, market-people, pilgrims to the Mount and pleasure-seekers there was noise and bustle enough. Tom, however, found lodgings in a quiet house, a little out of the town and was on his road, early next day towards the place where he was told that he might get work.

He went boldly on over barren hills, across deep bottoms that were overgrown with thickets; and nothing daunted him. He waded streams unknown to him, for he was going farther east from home than but few of his family and place had ever been. Thus trudging along he came to Crenver Downs about sunset. Then, as he passed this tract of moorland, rich in tin, he came to a farm.

He knocked at the door and said to the mistress who opened it, "I have travelled from far away in the West Country to seek work and would be glad to lodge in your barn tonight."

"Come in, good man; lay down your burden and sit at the table," she said.

"Well hello, stranger?" exclaimed the farmer; "come here beside me. When supper is over we will hear the news from your country. And wife, bring a jug of ale; that's better drink after a journey than milk," he went on, while heaping Tom's trencher from a huge steaming pie of hare, beef and other meat.

After having a hearty meal, Tom looked towards the farmer and said, "This must be a house of plenty. I wish you wanted a servant."

"Well, son, what work can you do?" asked the farmer.

"Many sorts of husbandry or moor-work," he answered. "Give me a board like this, to keep up my strength and I'll turn my back for no man."

After some hours' talk about Tom's country and other matters, the farmer, finding him to be a good-natured, honest fellow, agreed to take him. They bargained for two pounds a year wages.

Now, as Tom didn't mind doing a trifle of work, after his day's task was done, the farmer gave him many additional pence. After supper of winters' the master and men told old amusing stories and sketches and carded wool while the mistress and her maids kept their turns (spinning wheels) going till they had each spun their pound of yarn. The women knitted warm stockings for him and washed and mended his clothes. All were well pleased with Tom and he liked his place.

When the year was ended, the farmer brought two pounds from his chest, laid them on the board and showed them to Tom who sat opposite him, saying, "Here are your wages, son; but if you will give them back to me I will teach you a piece of wisdom that is more worth than silver and gold."

"Give them here to me," said Tom, "and keep your penny-worth of wit."

"No," said his master, "give them to me and I will tell you."

"Well, take them," said Tom.

Then said his master, "Take care never to lodge in a house where an old man is married to a young woman."

Then they bargained for another year, and, when that was ended, his master brought two pounds, laid them on the table as before, and said "See, Tom, here are your wages. However, if you give them back to me I will teach you another piece of wisdom."

"No, by dad;" he answered; "hand them here to me; I don't want your pennyworth of wit."

"No," said his master, "give them to me and I will tell you a piece of wisdom that is worth more than strength."

"Take them back, then," said Tom.

Then said his master, "Take care never to leave an old road for a new one."

They bargained for another year. During that time Tom missed his wife and daughter more than the years before, and made up his mind to return home when his time was up.

The year ended, his master brought the two pounds and said, "See here are your wages; but if you will give them back again to me I will teach you the best point of wisdom of all."

"No bring them here! I know enough to find my road home again."

"No," said his master, "you will need it then, more than ever. Give them to me and I will tell you."

"All right, as you say. Take back the money, in that case," said Tom.

"Well now, as you have served me truly, as an honest fellow," said his master, "I will tell you two points of wisdom.

"First, never swear to anybody or anything seen through glass; second, be thrashed twice before content once. This is the best point of wisdom of all."

Tom said he would serve no longer but leave at once and go to see his wife and child. "No, don't go today," his master answered; "for my wife is going to bake tomorrow morning; she is going to make a cake for you to take home to your wife, and a a cake with meat baked on it for you to eat by the way."

"Very well," said Tom, "as it's Whitsuntide, I'll wait until Tuesday."

"I'm very sorry you are going to leave us, my son," said the farmer's wife; "and I should be glad if you will thatch the hen's house and the duck's crow for me while I make you a cake and meat-cake. After that I will give you a charmed stone for your daughter, and that stone shall be of more worth to her than gold or jewels."

In a few hours Tom thatched all the outbuildings that required it, and came into the house again. His mistress gave him a smooth stone. It was about the size and shape of an acorn, and there was a hole drilled through it for hanging it by a cord round the neck.

"Although this looks only like a piece of smooth, common rock, it is a jewel of great virtue all the same," said the mistress. "It will preserve any woman who wears it from much trouble if she but keeps it in her mouth with her lips closed, so it will not drop out when her husband or any other contends with her. I will tie it round your neck so that it won't be lost," she said; and did so.

Tuesday morning Tom took leave with many kind wishes and promises to see them again. "Take this cake home to your wife," said his master, "and eat it when you are most merry together." "And what you will find in this dinner-bag," said his mistress, "is for you to eat on the road. May good luck attend you; come to see us again; you will be right welcome always."

Tom trudged on for many miles a somewhat different road from the road he came. He did not meet anybody until he had passed St. Hillar downs. Then he fell in with three merchants of Treen. They were driving before them their packhorses laden with wool from a fair where they had been with cloth and other goods. "Hi, Tom," cried they, "where have you been and how have you fared this long time? We are glad to see you!"

"I've been in service and am now going home to my wife, and I'm glad to meet men of my parish," he said.

"Come along with us: right welcome you shall be," said they.

They kept together and came to Market-Jew town, where the merchants proposed to sup and stay overnight in a house where they had lodged before. "And come along with us, Tom, right welcome you shall be" said they.

When they were come to the inn, Tom said, "I don't know about stopping here; before settling that point, I must see the host."

"The host of the house!" they exclaimed; "what can you possibly want with the host? Here is the hostess - young and buxom, as you may see. But if you have to see the host, you'll find him in the kitchen."

By the kitchen fire, sitting on a three-legged stool, Tom saw a feeble, bald-headed old man turning the spit. "Oh! by my dearly bought wit, I see this is never the inn for me," said Tom. "I will not lodge here, but in the next house."

"Don't go yet," said the merchants; "stay and take supper with us: you are heartily welcome."

Soon after supper the merchants saw their horses fed, well groomed and littered. Then they went early to bed, for they were tired.

Tom, on entering the next house, was told there was no spare bed, only some straw in an upper floor where mostly lumber was kept; he was welcome to rest there, free of charge.

"I can sleep there very well," Tom answered; and the host showed him the place where sweet straw was piled near a boarding that divided it from the next house, where the merchants lodged.

Now the mistress of the inn next-door was very fond of a young fellow who sauntered about and did nothing for his living but court the landladies in town. The young wife had long been tired of her old man and wished him dead, but as he never seemed to die, she persuaded the young fellow to kill him that night, as it looked like a good opportunity to escape suspicion of the dark deed.

A little before daybreak she ran to the mayor's house – her hair in disorder and her clothes rent – crying when she came near it, "Help, and don't delay," she cried under his chamber window. "My money is stolen and my dear husband murdered by three West Country villains who lodged in our house last night. They are now getting ready to start in haste."

The mayor called from his chamber window, "Go and tell the town crier to sound his trumpet through the streets and summon the town folk to meet me in the marketplace."

In a short time the townspeople gathered in the market square where their mayor and the hostess waited for them. The mayor said to his constables, "Go to this woman's house and bring to me three men you will find there." Turning to the town people he went on, "Honest neighbours, choose a jury among yourselves so that we may try these merchants right away for robbery and murder and hang them before breakfast, No doubt they are guilty, so let us not waste much time on such matters. And thank God that we have no lawyers in Market-Jew to confound us with their quibbles, to embarrass justice and hinder speedy punishment."

Before the mayor had finished speaking, the three merchants were brought to him, handcuffed. When they had all entered the townhall, the mayor said, "Woman, state your case."

When she stood up she put on a sanctified look; groaned; sighed; turned up her eyes; and exclaimed, "Oh, help me to declare the troubles I endured last night! Know, all of you," she said while glancing around, "that towards the morning part of the night these three villains came into my chamber, where my blessed husband and I were in bed. One of them broke open our money-chest while another did something to me that my modesty forbids me to name. My dear man struggled hard to defend my virtue and his money. Then the third of them grasped his throat with both hands to keep him quiet, and strangled him. Then they gave me more ill usage all three."

"That will do," said the mayor, "the case seems clear to me. Gentlemen of the jury, what is your verdict?"

"We are all agreed to hang them," answered the foreman; but our doctor, who saw the body, has some doubts of what the woman says."

"With your doubts and reservations you are keeping up all of us," said the mayor angrily to the doctor. "But be quick and we will hear what you have to say."

"The old man has been dead for many hours," said the doctor, "for the body is stiff and cold and I want to know how the woman did not make an alarm before."

"Woman, what have you to say to that?" demanded the mayor.

Without hesitation she answered, "After these three men had misused me I fainted and remained in a fit. I don't know how long before I woke up to my trouble and ran to seek help from you."

"Now, does that clear your doubts?" said the mayor. "And you villains," he added, speaking to the merchants, "what can you say for yourselves that you should not be hanged and thereby serve as a warning not to murder, rob and ravish the virtuous people of Market-Jew?"

"We are innocent," they said, "and we never saw the old man but once. It was in the kitchen where he was turning the spit. A tin miner who came with us from St. Hillar downs, knows us to be men of good repute, but we do not know where to find him and can only declare we are innocent, each one of us."

"That's a kind of evidence that won't stand here," answered the mayor, "and, not to waste more time, I sentence you to be hanged all three. Officers," he went on, "see to that at once and seize their horses and merchandise to pay the costs."

While the mayor was pronouncing this sentence, Tom entered the court in haste. "Hold it," he cried, "Don't murder three innocent men. That woman caused the death of her husband. And a long-legged, red-haired fellow with a pimply face and a coat of this colour did the foul deed," he said, while, holding up a piece of grey cloth.

"What can you know of this matter?" demanded the mayor.

"Give me time to draw more breaths and I will tell you," said Tom. "I was a fellow traveller with these three merchants. They asked me to lodge in the same house with them, but I had bought a piece of wit that teaches me to avoid the house where a young woman is wed to an old man, so I went next door. There was no room to spare but in the garret. There I found a pile of straw against a screen of boards between that house and the one that the merchants lodged in. On the straw I made my bed. Even though I was tired I didn't sleep, for music, singing and dancing below kept me awake.

"About midnight, when all was quiet, I saw, through a hole in the screen a light in the next house and that women with the purple nose and splatty face talking to a tall red-haired-man. Both stood near the screen. Then she said to him, 'I am heartily sick and tired of my old fool. All he's good for is to turn the spit, and a small dog would do that better. Tonight would be the best time to stop his wheezing. Here's what you might do it with,' she she said to the man, giving him a handkerchief. 'Draw it tight around his scraggy throat, give it a good twist and we shall be no more troubled with him. Don't fear the consequences; leave them to me; I know how to put the blame on these three jeering merchants. If they are hanged for it, it will be good fun for us.' "The man seemed unwilling at first, until she put her arms around his waist and said, 'With all the love I have for you, my dearest Hannibal, this will make the way clear for you to be master here, with me and all the old fool's money. - And there is most of the money,' he added, pointing, 'in the bags by the screen. What is left in the chest is only copper coins and old tokens. And here, faint heart,' she said, taking up a bottle and pouring out a cup of liquor, 'drink this brandy; go down; be quick; and do it quietly, so that the three merchants in the next room, won't hear you.'

"The man went down with the handkerchief in his hand and in two minutes or less he returned. 'Well, is all right?' she asked.

"'As right as right can be,' he answered, 'I quickly wound the handkerchief round his neck. Then he moved a little and murmured in his sleep, "Don't you hug me so close, my dear." I then drew it tight and gave it a wrench, and he made but one squeak and all was over. And now I'll take the money and go.'

"'Don't be in such a hurry,' she said, 'one or two bags are enough for you now.'

"'No,' said he, getting from her and approaching the screen, 'all isn't enough for the deed I've done to please you.' Then he handled the bags, took two and went away. I know it was about midnight," added Tom, "for while the man was below I heard the bell that the monks on the Mount toll at the dead of night."

The Mount referred to is the tidal island St. Michael's Mount

"Well and what next?" demanded the mayor; "if you have anything more to say, be quick and out with it."

"I have only to state," resumed Tom, "that when he stooped to weigh the bags of money, his skirt came against the hole in the screen. With my left hand I caught hold of the cloth, and with my other I took out my knife and cut off this piece. I tried to keep awake, knowing these men were in danger from that false woman, but I fell asleep, I don't know how, and only woke up just in time to learn they were brought here to be tried for their lives."

"It's provoking," said the mayor, "yet this man's story may be as true as the woman's; or truer," he went on speaking to the officers; "You know the long-legged scamp that haunts this woman's house and all the others in the town, where he can get liquor and victuals. Hunt him up and bring him here; he is likely to be at the St. Michael's or some other public house. Get the money he took away and all you can find in this woman's house; bring it all here to pay the cost." In a short time the officers returned, dragging in the man Tom had spoken of. They turned him round and held up his skirt, and there they saw a hole that the piece which Tom held, fitted exactly. And in the man's pockets were found two bags of gold.

"It's a clear case now," said the mayor, "so string them up at once – the man and woman, I mean. You merchants may go about your business and thank your luck that this tinner had his wits about him so that you were not wrongly killed."

Tom and the merchants had a hasty breakfast, loaded their pack-horses and started homewards about sunrise. In passing the jail they saw the woman and her long-legged, red-haired lover strung up. They went quickly on to avoid the ugly sight and the merchants made much of Tom, you may be sure.

Two hours or so before noon, they arrived at a public house, tied their horses to a hedge, gave them their nose-bags of corn and eased their backs by propping up their loads with sticks, such as were then kept at road-side inns for that purpose. "Come and dine with us, Tom. We will treat you to the best the house can offer," said the merchants. "We may also rest a few hours, now that we are just as good as home and in a part of the country where honest folks live."

The merchants said cheerfully to Tom, "Comrade, we, will one and all give you something to show how we value the good turn you have done to us. But for you we would never more have seen our dear wives and children or our home town."

Tom answered, "It was only by a mere cat's jump that you were not hanged. But let us be going. I am thinking about my wife and child. It was here in this public house we parted, and I wonder how they have got on, poor dears, when I have been far away."

"Well, Tom, since you are in such a hurry," they answered, "we will pay for you at this place. You just jog along again and be home before sunset if all be well."

Since Tom went eastward some years earlier, a new road had been made. It took another direction to reach the hill-top where it re-entered the old one. The merchants were for going by the new road, because it was easier for their horses.

"Friend Tom, you had better come along with us," said they, "than scramble up the steep hill through that rocky lane."

"No, my friends. Though I much like your pleasant company," he answered, "I shall take the old road. For I have bought another piece of wit that tells me never to leave an old road for a new one. Choose for yourselves. Where the two roads join, the first that arrives can wait for the others."

When Tom came to where the roads joined, he saw the horses jogging homewards, but without their owners. He looked along the road both ways, but saw no merchants. Then getting on a high bank, in a minute or two he beheld one of them coming across the downs, stripped of his coat, hat and wallet. Tom saw soon afterwards the two others too. They were coming from different directions and were almost naked.

"Hallo," said Tom, when they came near, "how have you got into such a sad plight?"

"Ah," answered they, "we wish we had been as lucky as you. Half-ways up the hill robbers fell on us and stripped us."

"How many were they?" Tom asked.

When the merchants were attacked by the robbers, in their confusion they had split up at once, each one trying to save himself, and understood that only three robbers had attacked them one by one after they split up.

Tom remarked, "From what I understand, each of you tried to save himself, took to his heels and left his comrades in the lurch. That was how you were beaten. You did not stick together and put up a fight together. My old dad used to say to me, 'Tom, my boy, stand by your comrades, and in misfortune stick all the closer, my son.'"

"But we have no time to lose," Tom went on. "We are four together now, and they cannot have reached far. I have something here that may come in handy," he said, taking up his flail, undoing it and directing the three others. "One take the slash-staff, another the hand-staff, the other of you take my threshal-strings and bind the rascals hand and foot as we knock them down. Now come on! "One and All mind," as my old dad also said."

The merchants wanted to recover their clothes and money, and readily agreed to return with Tom in pursuit. They ran down the rocky lane. At the bottom, near where the roads separated, they saw bundles of clothes and the merchants' wallets on a rock by the side of the new road. Three robbers lay stretched on the grass a little off the road, counting the stolen money and dividing their spoil. They sprang to their legs when the merchants and Tom ran at them, but were scarcely up before they were knocked down and tied up.

"Ah!" said Tom with a satisfied look when he saw the robbers laid low, "the leather coat and new boots on that big fellow who looks like their leader, will suit me. I will take them for my Sunday's wear."

No sooner said than done. While the merchant divided their money, he pulled off the captain's boots and stripped him of his leather coat, saying, "Now you won't be able to run very fast over furze and stones if you should be inclined to give chase when you come round again."

The merchants left the two other robbers stretched on the ground,, took their own clothes and walked homewards. They soon overtook their horses, and without stopping got to a crossing where one of the roads went to their hometown, Treen. The merchants pressed Tom to go home and sup with them.

"No, thank you, not now, some other time," he answered.

"Come along," they again urged, all three; saying, "you are right welcome and we will treat you well."

"No, not now," he answered, "I am longing to get home quickly and see my wife and child."

Each party went their separate ways. When Tom was within half a mile of his dwelling, he sat down on a bank and lingered there till dusk, that he might get home about dark and have a chance to look round unperceived and thus find out how well his wife had done. For Tom had learned but little about his family from the merchants: they merely told him that his wife had often been to Treen with yarn to sell, and as she was a good spinster, they supposed the weavers gave her plenty of work. They knew nothing of either his wife or his daughter.

When it was all but dark Tom again went on slowly and quickened his pace in going up the Bottom till he approached within a stone's-cast of his home. Here he paused a moment on hearing a man's voice inside. Then he went softly on to a little glass window – the only one that was glazed in his house – and peeped in.

On the chimney-stool he saw a man and a woman by the fire-light. They were hugging, kissing and seeming very fond of each other. "Oh!" groaned Tom to himself, "that I should ever come home after working for years far away, to be greeted with such a sight. Now where can the child be? It is probably enough to make one mad to see her mother showing more love for that fellow than she did for me, except in our courting times and a week or so after marriage. I'll kill the villain and drive the old hussy out of the house, I will."

While such thoughts of vengeance passed through Tom's mind, he recalled his last two pounds' worth of wit and hesitated a minute at the door; "Never swear to anybody or anything seen through glass," his master had said. But Tom was sure of what he saw; and now, hearing them laughing and romping in their loving play, so he grasped his stick and looked again to be certain when a voice close behind him called out to him in tones like his wife's, "Hallo, eaves-dropper! Who are you and what do you want there, spying and listening? You will hear nothing good of yourself, I'm afraid!"

Tom looked around and saw his wife close by. She carried a 'burn' of ferns on her back.

"But I saw and heard you just now inside the house. You were sitting on the chimney-stool with a stranger and behaving in a way that suits lovers," Tom said"

"Oh Tom, don't you know your own child, now?" she answered. "Who else should be in but our Patience and her sweetheart, Jan the cobbler? I left them there half an hour ago, when I went down in the moors for a 'burn' of fuel. Come in, quick, and let's see how you look after being so long away. Where have you been? We didn't know if you were alive or dead. If I had been married again nobody could blame me."

Patience, hearing her father's voice, ran out and greeted him with great joy. Tom shook hands with her sweetheart, saying, "I could never have believed when I left you, Jan, a mere hobble-de-hoy, I should come back and find you such a stout man and the child too, grown a woman – taller than her mother."

After Tom had taken his accustomed place on the bench, his wife said, "I see you have got a leather coat and a pair of new high boots, fit for any gentleman or a lord of the land to wear on Sundays and high holidays, and I suppose you have brought home something new for me and the maid to wear that you may not be ashamed of us when you are rigged in your boots and leather coat. Come now, Tom dear," she continued over a bit, when they had admired the coat and boots. Tom didn't tell them right then that he had taken them from the robber. "Come, love, let's see what have you got for us?" said his wife.

"I have brought you myself, wife," Tom answered, "and a charm-stone for Patience to wear when she is married. The stone may work better than a fortune of gold and lands for her and her husband. Besides, I have brought you a cake," he went on, placing it on the table.

"And is that all?" demanded his wife, looking as black as thunder at him; "and tell us what's become of your wages then," continued she with increasing anger.

"I gave my two pounds a year wages," he, answered, "back again to my master for six pounds' worth of wit, and he gave me that cake for you."

She said in a rage. "You did not recognise your own child after being three years away from home. Go east away again and take your cake along with you." Saying this she snatched up the cake and fired it at her husband, aiming for his head; but Tom ducked quick, the cake went smash against the wall, broke in pieces and out of it fell a lot of money. Silver and gold tinkled on the floor! When all was picked up and counted they found Tom's three years' wages and many shillings over.

"Oh, dear Tom," said his wife, her anger having steamed away, "no tongue can tell how glad I am to see you home again, safe and sound, after being so long away in strange countries one didn't know where. You knew well enough about the money and only played the trick to try me."

"Not at all," said Tom, "but I forgive you and let's have supper."

The wife gave Patience a large bottle, telling her to run quick over to Trebeor and have it filled with the best she could get, to drink her father's health and welcome home. Turning to Tom she said, "The sand will soon be down in the hour-glass and then a leek-and-pilchard will be ready. But meanwhile let's have a piece of your cake; it seems very good."

When Patience and Jan had gone away for the best thing to drink, Tom's wife seated herself on the chimney-stool with a piece of the cake in her hand and said quite coaxing like, "Take your piece of cake in your hand, my son and come here alongside of me; I have something to tell you."

When both of them were seated on the chimney-stool, very lovingly, eating their cake together, she went on to say, "I hope you won't be vexed, Tom dear, to hear me confess the truth; and if you are it can't be helped now. So listen and don't let your temper get the upper hand of all your wisdom, for I have had a young fellow living in the house more than two years and we have slept in the same bed lately every night."

She paused, and then went on: "Why, you are looking almost black, good man! But he is very innocent and handsome, and you will agree with me. He is in my bed asleep now! Come and see him. One may see by your looks that you have a mind to murder him, but have patience and come along."

Tom sprang up like one amazed and followed his wife when she took the lamp and entered the other room.

"Come softly, Tom," said his wife, as she got near the bed, turned down the bedclothes and to Tom's great surprise showed him a fine boy nearly three years old. She then told Tom how, after being many years without children, when he left her for the East she found that she was carrying his child.

Tom's joy was now past all bounds, also when Patience and her sweetheart entered. All of them drank to the boy's health and all was now joy and content.

News that Tom had come back was quickly carried from house to house, and supper was scarcely put aside when in came a number of neighbours. All welcomed him home, and the night sped as they listened to him recounting his adventures.

Next day Tom and his wife were alone together, and then she said to him, "Now, while the maid is out, tell me what you think of her sweetheart and of their being married soon?"

"Well, wife, from what I saw when I looked through the window last night," Tom answered, "I should say that she wouldn't break her heart, any more than her mother before her, if she were to be married tomorrow."

"I am loath to lose the maid so soon. However, a cobbler isn't to be despised and a good trade is often more worth than money that may be spent; so let them be wedded when they will."

A few days after Tom's return, he and Patience went down to Treen. While they were away, his wife got curious and took to examine the leather coat that Tom took from the robber. She had wondered how it was so heavy and noticed that the body-lining of serge was worked over very closely. She undid the cloth and found that gold coins were quilted in all over it, two-deep in some places, between the woollen stuff and an inner lining.

Before Tom returned she took out more money, all in gold, then filled a litre measure and still there was a good portion left untouched in the coat. She put the money and coat in an old oak chest that she had the key to, but not Tom, and when Tom and Patience came in, Tom's wife could hardly hide her joy. They wondered why she was in such a sprightly mood, but she did not tell them, even though Tom said more than once that evening. "I can't think what can be the matter – why you are laughing this way for hours?"

And as Tom knew nothing of his good fortune he continued to work on diligently, as usual.

One day during Fast, Jan the cobbler and Patience were married. Tom gave her the charm-stone privately, and instructed her in how to use it, just as his old mistress had directed.

When the honeymoon waned, Jan would sometimes get into an angry mood. Then his wife, unobserved, would slip the charm-stone in her mouth and let him talk or fume while she kept quietly about her work. In a short time he would again be heard ringing his lap-stone to the measure of some lively old tune. The quiet ways of Patience and her gentle bearing helped very much in keeping love, content, peace and plenty in their happy dwelling; and her charm had such power that after a while she had seldom occasion to use the charm-stone. Gentle Patience kept on in the even tenor of her life and retained her husband's unabated love till the peaceful close of her days.

About three years after Tom had returned there was a large farm in for sale. "Ah, poor me," said Tom one night after a hard day's work, "I've been toiling all my life long. If we could but scrape together enough to buy an acre or two where one might have a hut and a garden for herbs, and with the right to use a part of the open area of the village for a cow, how happy we could be."

"Cheer up, Tom," his wife answered; "there are many worse off than we are. Besides I fear you would go crazy or die for joy if anyone gave you enough to buy a few acres."

"I wish somebody would try me in that," Tom answered.

"Well now," she said, "suppose that we have saved enough to buy a good part of the land for sale, if not all of it?" Then she brought from the chest a quart measure of gold coins and poured them out on the board. At the sight of the glittering gold Tom sprung to his feet, exclaiming, "What's going on here?"

She answered, "Be quiet. The coat you took from the robber-captain was lined with gold, quilted in between the serge and the leather. What is more, what you see on the table isn't all I found in it."

When Tom's surprise had abated somewhat, he counted the money and found more than was needed to buy and stock two such farms as the one that was for sale. Over a while Tom bought much land – for many acres might be had for a few pounds in Tom's time, when a very small part of the land was enclosed and much less cultivated. In a few years he was regarded as a rich farmer and his sons and grandsons became solid farmers too.

Tom's descendants may still be flourishing in St. Levan or some place near it for what anybody can tell, for nobody knows what name they took when surnames came into use long after.

[Bottrell 1873, 77-93. A tale from West Cornwall]
  1. Market-Jew: in Cornish: Marghas Yow.
  2. The Mount: here: St. Michael's Mount. It is a tidal island.


The Three Heads in the Well

Long ago there reigned in the eastern part of England a king who kept his court at Colchester. He was witty, strong, and valiant, and subdued enemies abroad and secured peace among his subjects at home, but not all on his own. Hundreds helped him.

Nevertheless, as he gloried thus, his queen died and left behind an only daughter, about fifteen years old. She was pretty, friendly, and well-behaved.

The king heard of a lady who also had an only daughter, and since she was rich, the king wanted to marry the woman, even though she was old and humpbacked. Her daughter was ill-natured and much of the same mould as her mother. In a few weeks the king brought his intended bride to his palace, attended by the nobility and gentry, and the couple was married.

The mother and daughter had not been long in the court before they set the king against his own lovely daughter by false reports and accusations. As a result, the young princess lost her father's love, and grew weary of the court. So one day when she met him in the garden, she asked him with tears in her eyes to give her some money to live on, and then she could go and seek her fortune. The king agreed, and ordered her mother-in-law to make up a small sum, as much as she found best.

The girl went to the queen, who gave her a canvass bag of brown bread and hard cheese, with a bottle of beer. This was but a very pitiful dowry for a king's daughter. The girl took it, thanked for it too, and left the castle. On her journey she passed through groves, woods, and valleys. At length she saw an old man sitting on a stone at the mouth of a cave. He said, "Good morning, fair maiden, where are you going so fast?"

"Aged father," said she, "I am going to seek my fortune."

"What is in your bag and bottle?"

"In my bag I have bread and cheese, and in my bottle good small beer. Will you please partake of both?"

"Yes," said he, "with all my heart."

With that the girl pulled out her provisions and bid him eat and welcome. He did so, and gave her many thanks, saying: "There is a thick thorny hedge before you. It will appear impassable, but take this wand in your hand, strike three times, and say, "Please, hedge, let me come through," and it will open at once. Then, a little further, you will find a well. Sit down on the brink of it, and there will come up three golden heads. They will speak. Please do whatever they ask of you."

She promised she would follow his directions, and took leave of him. When she came to the hedge she did as the old man had told, and the hedge opened and let her come through. Then she went to the well, and had no sooner sat down than a golden head came up singing:

Wash me, and comb me,
And lay me down softly.
And lay me on a bank to dry.
That I may look pretty,
When somebody comes by.

"Yes," she said and put forth her hand, washed it and and combed it with a silver comb, and placed it on a primrose bank. Then a second and a third head came up and asked for the same treatment, and she did as they asked her. She then pulled out her provisions and ate her dinner.

Then the heads said one to another, "What shall we do for this fine girl who has tened us so kindly?"

The first said, "I will add to her beauty so that she can charm the most powerful prince in the world."

The second said, "I will give her such a fine scent, both in body and breath, that it will smell far better than the sweetest flowers."

The third said, "My gift shall be that this king's daughter will be so fortunate that she will become queen to the most fit prince that reigns."

When they had done this, they asked her to let them down into the well again. She did, and then continued on her journey. She had not travelled long before she saw a king hunting in the park with his nobles. She would have avoided him, but the king had caught sight of her, approached, and was so powerfully smitten with her beauty and sweet-smelling breath that he could not subdue his passion, but started to court her on the spot. He was so successful that he gained her love and led her to his castle, where she was dressed up for the happy wedding that took place some weeks later.

The king found that she was the king of Colchester's daughter, and ordered some richly gold-decorated chariots to get ready to take him and his queen to Colchester. When they arrived, her father was astonished that she had been so fortunate as she was., and everyone at court rejoiced, except the queen and her daughter. They were ready to burst with malice and envied her happiness. The fact that she was above them, was almost unbearable.

Great rejoicings, with feasting and dancing, continued many days. Then at length, with the dowry her father gave her, the sweet-smelling queen and her husband returned home.

The ill-natured daughter noticed that her step-sister had succeeded in finding her fortune, and would do the same as she had done. She told her mother what she had in mind, and they prepared for her to go too. She was furnished richly with food and wine, clothes and money for the undertaking. She went the same road as her sister, and when she came near the cave of the old man, he said, "Young woman, where are you going so fast?"

"What is that to you," she said.

"Then, he said, "What do you have in your bag and bottle?"

She answered, "Good things that you shall not be troubled with."

"Won't you give me some?" he said.

" No, not a bit, nor a drop, unless it would choke you."

The old man frowned, saying, "Bad fortune is due to attend you, I gather."

Going on, she came to the hedge. She saw a gap in in and had in mind to pass through it. But when she went in, the hedge closed, and the thorns run into her flesh, so that it was with great difficulty that she got out. In her pains she searched for water to wash herself. Looking around, she saw the well and sat down on the brink of it. Then one of the heads came up, saying:

Wash me, comb me,
And lay me down softly.
And lay me down softly on a bank to dry.
That I may look pretty,
When somebody comes by.

But she banged it with her bottle, saying, "Take this for your washing."

The second and third heads came up, and met with no better treatment than the first. Then the heads consulted among themselves what evils to plague her with for such abuse. The first said, "Let her be struck with leprosy in her face."

The second, "Let a bad stench be added to her breath."

The third bestowed on her a poor country cobbler for her husband.

This done, she went on till she came to a town. It was market day. The people looked at her, but when they saw her leprous face, they fled out of her sight, all but a poor cobbler. Not long before he had mended the shoes of an old hermit who had no money, but gave him a box of ointment for curing of leprosy, and a bottle of spirits for a stinking breath. Now the cobbler had a mind to do an act of charity, so he went up to her and asked her who she was.

"I am the daughter-in-law of the king of Colchester," she said.

"Well," said the cobbler, "if I heal your face and breath, will you take me for a husband in reward?"

"Yes," she answered, "I surely will."

With this the cobbler applied the remedies, and they worked their effect in a few weeks. Then they were married, and after a few days they set out for the court at Colchester.

When the queen understood she had married a poor cobbler, she got greatly confused and hanged herself for vexation. That his queen did was not a source of sorrow to the king, who had only married her for her wealth, and had no good feelings for her. Shortly afterwards he gave the cobbler a hundred pounds to take the daughter to a remote part of the kingdom. There he lived for many years mending shoes, while his wife assisted the housekeeping by spinning and selling the results of her labours at the country market.

[Retold from Halliwell 1849, p. 39-43. AT number 480: "The kind and the unkind girls"]


This story is abridged from the old chap-book of the Three Kings of Colchester. The incident of the heads rising out of the well is very similar to one introduced in Peele's Old Wives Tale, 1595, and the rhyme is also similar:

'A Head rises in the well,
Fair maiden, white and red,
Stroke me smooth and comb my head,
And you shall have some cockell-bread.'



English folktales, Cornish folktales, Welsh folktales, British fairy tales, legends, tales of Wales, Cornwall tales, Folk tales legends fairy tales of England, Cornwall and Wales, To top    Section     Set    Next

English folktales, Cornish folktales, Welsh folktales, British fairy tales, legends, tales of Wales, Cornwall tales, Folk tales legends fairy tales of England, Cornwall and Wales. User's Guide   ᴥ    Disclaimer 
© 2010–2018, Tormod Kinnes [Email]