IN THE old days when London Bridge was lined with shops from one end to the other, and salmon swam under the arches, there lived at Swaffham, in Norfolk, a poor pedlar. He had much ado to make his living, trudging about with his pack at his back and his dog at his heels, and at the close of the day's labour was but too glad to sit down and sleep. Now it fell out that one night he dreamed a dream, and in it he saw the great bridge of London town, and it sounded in his ears that if he went there he should hear joyful news. He made little count of the dream, but on the next night it came back to him, and again on the third night.
Then he said to himself, "I have to try out that dream, since it was repeated twice," and so he trudged up to London town. Long was the way and he was right glad when he stood on the great bridge and saw the tall houses on right hand and left, and had glimpses of the water running and the ships sailing by. All day long he paced to and fro, but he heard nothing that might yield him comfort. And again next day he stood and he gazed he paced afresh all along the London Bridge, but nothing did he see and nothing did he hear.
The third day when he still stood on the bridge and gazed, a shopkeeper nearby spoke to him.
"Friend," said he, "I wonder much at your fruitless standing. Have you no wares to sell?"
"No, indeed," said the pedlar.
"And you do not beg for alms?"
"Not so long as I can keep myself."
"Then, tell me, what do you want here, and what business do you have?"
"Well, kind sir, to tell the truth, I dreamed that if I came here, I should hear good news."
The shopkeeper laughed heartily.
"Nay, you must be a fool to take a journey on such an errand. I have dreams too. Last night I dreamt myself to be in Swaffham, a place somewhere in Norfolk, and it seemed to me I was in an orchard behind a pedlar's house, and in that orchard was a great oak tree. Then it seemed to me that if I digged I should find a great treasure beneath that tree. But don't think you I'm such a fool as to take a long and wearisome journey for a dream. No, my good fellow, learn wit from a wiser man than yourself. Get home and mind your business."
When the pedlar heard this he said nothing, but he was exceedingly glad inwardly. He returned home speedily, digged underneath the great oak tree in his orchand, and found a great treasure. He grew exceeding rich, but he did not forget to do good. He built up again the church at Swaffham, and when he died they put a statue of him in it, all in stone with his pack at his back and his dog at his heels.
ONCE on a time three bears lived together in a house of their own in a wood. One of them was a wee bear; and one was a middle-sized bear, and the other was a great bear. They each had a pot for their porridge, a little pot for the wee bear, and a middle-sized pot for the middle bear, and a great pot for the great bear. And they each had a chair to sit in; a little chair for the wee bear; and a middle-sized chair for the middle bear; and a great chair for the great bear. And they each had a bed to sleep in; a little bed for the wee bear; and a middle-sized bed for the middle bear; and a great bed for the great bear.
One day, after they had made the porridge for their breakfast and poured it into their porridge-pots, they walked out into the wood while the porridge was cooling, that they might not burn their mouths by beginning to eat it too soon.
While they were walking, a little girl called Goldilocks strayed to the house. First she looked in at the window and then she peeped in at the keyhole; and seeing nobody in the house, she lifted the latch. The door was not fastened because the bears were good bears who did nobody any harm and never suspected that anybody would harm them. So the Goldilocks opened the door and went in; and she was well pleased when she saw the porridge on the table.
If she had been a good little girl, she would have waited till the bears came home and then they would perhaps have asked her to breakfast; for they were good bears, and very good-natured and hospitable. But Goldilocks set about helping herself.
First she tasted the porridge of the great bear, and that was too hot for her. Then she tasted the porridge of the middle bear, and that was too cold for her. And then she went to the porridge of the wee bear, and tasted that; and that was neither too hot nor too cold, but just right. She liked it so well that she ate it all up.
Then Goldilocks sat down in the chair of the great bear, and that was too hard for her. And then she sat down in the chair of the middle bear, and that was too soft for her. And then she sat down in the chair of the wee bear, and that was neither too hard, nor too soft, but just right. So she seated herself in it and there she sat till the bottom of the chair came out and she came down on the ground.
Then Goldilocks went upstairs into the bed-chamber where the three bears slept. And first she lay down on the bed of the great bear; but that was too high at the head for her. And next she lay down on the bed of the middle bear, and that was too high at the foot for her. And then she lay down on the bed of the wee bear, and that was neither too high at the head nor at the foot, but just right. So she covered herself up comfortably and lay there till she fell fast asleep.
By this time the three bears thought their porridge would be cool enough, so they came home to breakfast.
"Somebody has been eating from my porridge!' said the great bear in his booming voice..
"Somebody has been eating from my porridge!" said the middle bear in his average voice.
"Somebody has eaten up all my porridge!" said the wee bear, in his wee voice.
On this the three bears, seeing that someone had entered their house and eaten up the wee bear's breakfast, began to look about them. Now the little girl had not put the hard cushion straight when she rose from the chair of the great bear.
"Somebody has been sitting in my chair!" said the great bear, in a booming voice.
"Somebody has been sitting in my chair!" said the middle bear in his average voice.
"Somebody has been sitting in my chair and has sat the bottom out of it!" said the wee bear, in his delicate voice.
Then the three bears thought they had to seek further; so they went upstairs into their bed-chamber. Now Goldilocks had pulled the pillow of the great bear out of its place.
"Somebody has been lying in my bed!" said the great bear, in his booming voice.
"Somebody has been lying in my bed!" said the middle bear in his average voice.
"Somebody is lying in my bed here she is!" said the wee bear, in his delicate voice.
Goldilocks had heard in her sleep the booming voice of the great bear; but she was so fast asleep that it was no more to her than the roaring of wind or the rumbling of thunder. And she had heard the middle voice of the middle bear as if someone was speaking in a dream. But when she heard the delicate voice of the wee bear, it was so delightful that iit woke her up at once. Then she saw the three bears on one side of the bed, and tumbled herself out at the other side and ran to the open window. For the good, tidy bears always opened their bed-chamber window when they got up in the morning. The little girl jumped out and ran into the wood and found her way out of the wood and was never seen there again.
[Based on an English Tale From Joseph Jacobs' English Fairy Tales. London: David Nutt, 1890.]
LONG, LONG ago, when Michael Scott was just a young man he set out on a journey to Edinburgh with two companions. They travelled on foot, and one day, when they were climbing a high hill, they sat down to rest. No sooner had they done so than they heard a loud hissing sound. They looked in the direction that the sound came from, and saw with horror a great white snake, curved in wheel shape, rolling towards them at a rapid speed. It was plain that the monster was going to attack them, and when it began to roll up the hill-side as swiftly as it had crossed the moor, Michael's two companions sprang to their feet and ran away, shouting with terror.
Michael did not fear, though, and made up his mind to attack the snake. He stood waiting for it, with his staff firmly grasped in his right hand.
When the snake came close to Michael it uncurved its body and, throwing itself into a coil, raised its head to strike, its jaws gaping wide and its forked tongue thrust out like an arrow. Michael at once raised his staff, and struck the monster so fierce a blow that he cut its body into three parts. Then he turned away, and called on his friends to wait for him. They heard his voice, stopped running, and gazed upon him with wonder as he walked towards them very calmly and at an easy pace. It was a great relief to them to learn from Michael that he had slain the fearsome monster.
They walked on together, and had not gone far when they came to a house in which lived a wise old woman. As the sun was beginning to set and it would soon be dark, they asked her for a night's lodging, and she invited them to enter the house. One of the men then told her of their adventure with the wheeling snake which Michael had slain.
The wise woman said: "Are you sure the white snake is dead?"
"It must be dead," Michael answered, "because I cut its body into three parts."
The wise woman said: "This white snake is no ordinary snake. It has power to unite the severed parts of its body again. Once before it was attacked by a brave man, who cut it in two. The head part of its body, however, crawled to a stream. After bathing in the stream it crawled back and joined itself to the tail part. The snake then became whole again, and once more it bathed in the healing waters of the stream. All snakes do this after attacking a human being. If a man who has been stung by a snake should hasten to the stream before the snake can reach it, he will be cured and the snake will die."
"You have great knowledge of the mysteries," Michael exclaimed with wonder.
The wise woman said: "You have overcome the white snake this time, but you may not be so fortunate when next it comes against you. Be assured of this: the snake will, after it has been healed, lie in wait for you to take vengeance. When next it attacks, you will receive no warning that it is near."
"I shall never cross the high mountain again," Michael declared.
The wise woman said: "The snake will search for you and find you, no matter where you may be."
"Alas!" Michael exclaimed, "Evil is my fate. What can I do to protect myself against the snake?"
The wise woman said: "Go now to the place where you smote the snake, and carry away the middle part of its body. Hurry, so that you won't be too late."
Michael took her advice, and asked his companions to go with him; but they were afraid to do so, and he set out alone.
He walked quickly, and soon came to the place where he had struck down the monster. He found the middle part and the tail part of the white snake's body, but the head part was nowhere to be seen. He knew then that the woman had spoken truly, and, as darkness was coming on, he did not care to search for the stream to which the head part had gone. Lifting up the middle part of the body, which still quivered, he hastened back towards the house of the wise woman.
The sky darkened, and the stars began to appear. Michael grew uneasy. He felt sure that something was following, him at a distance, so he quickened his steps and never looked back. At length he reached the house in safety, and he was glad to find that there were charms above the door which prevented any evil spirit from entering.
The wise woman welcomed Michael, and asked him to give her the part of the snake's body which he had brought with him. He did so willingly, and she thanked him, and said: "Now I shall prepare a meal for you and your companions."
The woman at once set to work and cooked an excellent meal. Michael began to wonder why she showed him and his friends so much kindness and why she was in such high spirits. She laughed and talked as merrily as a girl, and he suspected she had been made happy because he had brought her the middle part of the white snake's body. He resolved to watch her and find out, if possible, what she was going to do with it.
After eating his supper Michael pretended that he suffered from pain, and went into the kitchen to sit beside the fire. He told the woman that the heat took away the pain, and asked her to allow him to sleep in a chair in front of the fire. She said, "Very well," so he sat down, while his weary companions went to bed. The woman put a pot on the fire, and placed in it the middle part of the snake's body.
Michael took note of this, but said nothing. He pretended to sleep. The part of the snake began to frizzle in the pot, and the woman came from another room, lifted off the lid, and looked in. Then she touched the cut of the snake with her right finger. When she did so, a cock crew on the roof of the house. Michael was startled. He opened his eyes and looked round.
The wise woman said: "I thought you were fast asleep."
"I cannot sleep because of the pain I suffer," Michael told her.
The wise woman said: "If you cannot sleep, you may be of service to me. I am very weary and wish to sleep. I am cooking the part of the snake. Watch the pot for me, and see that the part does not burn. Call me when it is properly cooked, but be sure not to touch it before you do so."
"I shall not sleep," Michael said, "so I may as well have something to do."
The wise woman smiled, and said: "After you call me, I shall cure your trouble." Then she went to her bed and lay down to sleep.
Michael sat watching the pot, and when he found that the portion of the snake's body was fully cooked, he lifted the pot off the fire. Before calling the old woman, he thought he would first do what she had done when she lifted the lid off the pot. He dipped his finger into the juice of the snake's body. The tip of his right finger was badly burned, so he thrust it into his mouth. The cock on the roof flapped its wings at once, and crowed so loudly that the old woman woke up in bed and screamed.
Michael felt that there must be magic in the juice of the snake. New light and knowledge broke in upon him, and he discovered that he had the power to foretell events, to work magic cures, and to read the minds of other people.
The old woman came out of her room. "You did not call me," she said in a sad voice.
Michael knew what she meant. Had he called her, she would have been the first to taste the juice of the white snake and receive from it the great power he now himself possessed.
"I slew the snake," he said, "and had the first right to taste of its juice."
The wise woman said: "I dare not scold you now. Nor need I tell you what powers you possess, for you have become wiser than I am. You can cure diseases, you can foretell and foresee what is to take place, you have power to make the fairies obey your commands, and you can obtain greater knowledge about the hidden mysteries than any other man alive. All that I ask of you is your friendship."
"I give you my friendship willingly," Michael said to her. Then the wise woman sat down beside him and asked him many questions about hidden things, and Michael found himself able to answer each one. They sat together talking until dawn. Then Michael awoke his companions, and the woman cooked a breakfast. When Michael bade her good-bye, she said: "Do not forget me, for you owe much to me."
"I shall never forget you," he promised her.
Michael and his companions resumed their journey. They walked until sunset, but did not reach a house.
"Tonight," one of the men said, "we must sleep on the heather."
Michael smiled. "Tonight," said he, "we shall sleep in Edinburgh."
"It is still a day's journey from here," the man reminded him.
Michael laid his staff on the ground and said: "Let us three sit on this staff and see how we fare."
His companions laughed, and sat down as he asked them to do. They thought it a great joke.
"Hold tight!" Michael advised them. The men, still amused, grasped the staff in their hands and held it tightly.
"My staff!" Michael cried, "carry us to Edinburgh."
No sooner did he speak than the staff rose high in the air. The men were terror-stricken as the staff flew towards the clouds and then went forward with the speed of lightning. They shivered with fear and with cold. Snow-flakes fell on them as the staff flew across the sky, for they were higher up than the peak of Ben Nevis. When night was falling and the stars came out one by one, the staff began to descend. Happy were Michael's companions when they came down safely on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
They walked into the town in silence, and the first man they met stood and gazed with wonder upon them in the lamplight.
"Why do you stare at strangers?" Michael asked.
Said the man: "There is snow on your caps, and your shoulders."
Having spoken thus, a sudden fear overcame him, and he turned and fled, believing that the three strangers were either wizards or fairies.
Michael shook the snow off his cap and shoulders, and his companions did the same. They then sought out a lodging, and having eaten their suppers, went to bed.
Next morning Michael found that his companions had risen early and gone away. He knew that they were afraid of him, so he smiled and said to himself: "I bear them no ill-will. I prefer now to be alone."
Michael soon became famous as a builder. When he was asked to build a house, he called the fairies to his aid, and they did the work in the night-time for him.
Once he was travelling towards Inverness, and came to a river which was in flood. The ford could not be crossed, and several men stood beside it looking across the deep turbid waters. "It is a pity," one said to Michael, "there is no bridge here."
Said Michael: "I have come to build a bridge, and my workers will begin to erect it tonight."
Those who heard him laughed and turned away, but great was their surprise next morning to find that a bridge had been built. They crossed over it with their horses and cattle, and as they went on their way they spread the fame of Michael far and wide.
As time went on Michael found that his fairy workers wished to do more than he required of them. They began to visit him every evening, crying out: "Work! work! work!"
So Michael thought one day that he would set them to perform a task beyond their powers, and when next they came to him crying out: "Work! work! work!" he told them to close up the Inverness firth and cut it off from the sea. The fairies at once hastened away to obey his command.
Michael thought of the swift tides and of the great volume of water flowing down from the rivers by night and by day, and was certain that the fairies would not be able to close the firth.
Next morning, however, he found that the river Ness was rising rapidly, and threatening to flood the town of Inverness. He climbed a hill and looked seaward. Then he found that the fairies had very nearly finished the work he had set them to do. They had made two long promontories which jutted across the firth, and there remained only a narrow space through which the water surged. The incoming tide kept back the waters flowing from the river, and that was why the Ness was rising in flood. Not until after the tide turned did the waters of the river begin to fall.
Michael summoned his fairy workers that evening, and ordered them to open up the firth again. They hastened away to obey him, and after darkness came on they began to destroy the promontories. The moon rose as they went on with their work. A holy man walking along the shore saw the fairies, and prayed for protection against them. When he did so the fairies fled away, and were unable again to visit the promontories, and so these still lie jutting across the firth like crab's toes. The one has been named Chanonry Point, and on the peninsula opposite it there now stands Fort George, which was placed there to prevent enemy ships from sailing up to Inverness.
When the fairies found they were unable to complete their task they returned to Michael, crying out again: "Work! work! work!"
Michael then thought of an impossible task which would keep them busy. He said: "Go and make rope-ladders that will reach to the back of the moon. They must be made of sea sand and white foam."
The fairies hastened away to obey his command. They could not, however, make the ropes for Michael. That is why wreaths of foam and strings of twisted sand may be found on the seashore to this day. Or maybe not.