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The Fox and the Wolf

There was once a fox and a wolf, who set up house together in a cave near the seashore. They got on very well for a time, for they went out hunting all day, and when they came back at night they were generally too tired to do anything but to eat their supper and go to bed.

They might have lived together always had it not been for the slyness and greediness of the fox. He tried to over-reach his companion, and this was how it came about.

It chanced, one dark December night, that there was a dreadful storm at sea, and in the morning the beach was all strewn with wreckage. As soon as it was daylight the two friends went down to the shore to see if they could find anything to eat. They had the good fortune to find a great keg of butter, which had been washed overboard from some ship on its way home from Ireland.

The wolf danced with joy when he saw it. "Marrowbones and sheep feet prepared for food! We will have a good supper tonight," he cried, licking his lips. "Let ua set to work at once and roll it up to the cave."

But the wily fox made up his mind that he would have it all to himself. So he put on his wisest look and shook his head gravely.

"You have no prudence, my friend," he said, "or you would not talk of breaking up a keg of butter at this time of year, when the stackyards [1] are full of good grain that can be had for the eating, and the farmyards are stocked with nice fat ducks and poultry. No, it behoves us to have foresight and to lay up in store for the spring, when the grain is all threshed and the stackyards are bare, and the poultry have gone to market. So we will bury the keg and dig it up when we have need of it."

The wolf was thinner and hungrier than the fox, so he agreed only reluctantly to this. But they dug a hole and buried the keg in it, and then the two animals went off hunting as usual.

About a week passed by. Then one day the fox came into the cave and flung himself down on the ground as if he were very much exhausted.

"Oh, dear, oh, dear!" he sighed. "Life is a heavy burden."

"What has happened to you?" asked the wolf.

"Some friends of mine, who live over the hills there, are wanting me to go to a christening tonight. Just think of the distance that I must travel."

"But do you have to go?" asked the wolf. "Can you not send an excuse?"

"I doubt that no excuse would be accepted," answered the fox, "for they asked me to stand god-father. Therefore it behoves me to do my duty, and pay no heed to my own feelings."

So that evening the fox was absent, and the wolf was alone in the cave. But it was not to a christening that the fox went; it was to the keg of butter that was buried in the sand. About midnight he returned, looking fat and sleek, and well pleased with himself.

The wolf had been dozing, but he looked up drowsily as his companion entered. "Well, how did they name the child?" he asked.

"They gave it a strange name," answered the fox. "One of the strangest names that I ever heard."

"And what was that?" asked the wolf. Nothing less than "Let-me-taste," replied the fox, throwing himself down in his corner and laughing to himself.

Some days afterwards the same thing happened. The fox said he was asked to another christening; this time at a place some twenty-five miles along the shore. And as he had grumbled before, so he grumbled again; but he declared that it was his duty to go, and he went.

At midnight he came back, smiling to himself and with no appetite for his supper. And when the wolf asked him the name of the child, he answered that it was a more extraordinary name than the other "Midway".

The very next week the fox was asked to yet another christening. And this time the name of the child was "Scraping the staves". After that there were no more invitations.

Time went on, and the hungry spring came, and the fox and the wolf had nothing left in their storing-room, for food was scarce, and the weather was bleak and cold.

"Let us go and dig up the keg of butter," said the wolf. "I should say that now is the time we need it."

The fox agreed; he had already decided how he would act. The two set out to the place where the keg had been hidden. They scraped away the sand, and uncovered it, it was empty.

"This is your work," said the fox angrily, turning to the innocent wolf. "You have crept along here while I was at the christenings, and eaten it up by stealth."

"Not I," answered the wolf. "I have never been near the spot since the day that we buried it together."

"But I tell you it must have been you," insisted the fox, "for no other creature knew it was there except ourselves. And, besides, I can see by your sleek fur that you have fared well of late."

However, the poor wolf looked as lean and badly nourished as he could possibly be.

They both went back to the cave, arguing all the way. The fox kept declaring that the wolf must have been the thief, and the wolf said he was innocent.

"Are you ready to swear to it?" said the fox at last.

"Yes, I am," replied the wolf firmly. Standing in the middle of the cave and holding one paw up solemnly, he swore an awful oath: "If I stole the butter, may a fateful disease fall on me."

When he was finished, he put down his paw, turned to the fox, and looked at him keenly. All at once it struck him that the fox fur looked sleek and fine.

"It is your turn now," he said. "I have sworn, and you must do so also."

The fox's face fell at these words, for he had been well brought up in his youth and knew that it was a terrible thing to swear falsely. So he made one excuse after another, while the wolf got more and more suspicious every moment.

Finally, as the fox did not have courage to tell the truth, he was forced at last to swear an oath, he too: "If I stole the butter, then let some deadly punishment fall on me. Whirrum wheeckam, whirram whee!"

When the wolf heard the fox swear this terrible oath, he thought that his suspicions must be groundless, and would have let the matter rest. However, the fox could not do so, for he had got an uneasy conscience. He suggested that since it seemed clear that one of them must have eaten the keg of butter, they should both stand near the fire, and when they became hot, the butter would ooze out of the skin of the guilty one. And he took care that the wolf should stand in the hottest place.

But the fire was big and the cave was small, and while the poor lean wolf showed no sign of discomfort, he himself, being nice and fat and comfortable, soon began to get unpleasantly warm. This did not suit him at all, so he next proposed that they should go for a walk, "for," said he, "it is now quite plain that neither of us can have taken the butter. It must have been some stranger who has found out our secret."

But the wolf had seen the fox beginning to grow greasy, and now he knew who had eaten the butter. He also decided to have his revenge. He waited until they came to a smithy at the side of the road, where a horse was waiting just outside the door to be shod.

Then, keeping at a safe distance, he said to his companion, "There is a writing on that smithy door, but I cannot read it. Maybe you will try to, for perhaps it may be something that would be good for us to know."

The fox went close up to the door to try and read the writing. In so doing, he chanced to touch the horse's fetlock [3]. The horse at once lifted its foot and struck out, and killed the fox as dead as a door-nail.

[Cf. Grierson 245-53]

  1. stackyard: A yard or enclosure for stacks of hay or grain.
  2. fetlock: the lower leg of a horse.


The Horse-dealer and Thomas the Rhymer

It chanced, long years ago, that a certain horse-dealer lived in the south of Scotland, near the English border, not very far from Longtown. He was known as Canonbie Dick. As he went up and down the country, he almost always had behind him a long string of horses that he bought at one fair and sold at another, generally managing to earn much money by the transaction.

He was a rather fearless man, not easily daunted. One evening he was returning from a fair at some distance from his home with a pair of horses that he had not succeeded in selling. He was riding over Bowden Moor to the west of the Eildon Hills, where some say King Arthur and his knights are asleep, resting under the three high peaks and waiting for a mystic call to wake them up.

The horse-dealer was riding along at a snail's pace, thinking over the bargains that he had made at the fair that day, and wondering when he was likely to dispose of his two remaining horses. All at once he was startled by the approach of a venerable man. The man had white hair and an old-world dress. He seemed almost to start out of the ground, so suddenly he appeared.

When they met, the stranger stopped, and to Canonbie Dick's amazement, he asked him how much money he wanted for his horses. The wily horse-dealer saw a chance of driving a good bargain, so he named a good round sum.

The old man tried to bargain with him, but no one ever did succeed in inducing Canonbie Dick to sell a horse for a less sum than he named for it at first, so at last the man pulled a bag of gold from the pocket of his breeches and began to count out the price.

As he did so, Canonbie Dick got another surprise, for the gold that the stranger gave him was ancient coins of good, pure gold. The horse-dealer thought he to himself, "Surely this gold is worth much more than the two horses."

Then the two parted, but not before the old man had told Dick to get him other good horses at the same price, if Dick would bring them to the same spot, after dark, and always come alone.

And, as time went on, the horse-dealer found that he had indeed got a good customer. For whenever he came across a suitable horse, he had only to lead it over Bowden Moor after dark, and he was sure to meet the mysterious, white-headed stranger, who always paid him for the animal in gold pieces.

Now Canonbie Dick was apt to get very thirsty, and customers that knew this, took care always to provide him with something to drink. The old man never did so; he paid down his money and led away his horses. But one night Dick was even more thirsty than usual. He felt sure that his mysterious horse-buyer must live somewhere in the neighbourhood, since he was wandering about the hillside when everyone else was asleep. Therefore, Dick hinted that he would be very glad to go home with him and have a little refreshment.

"He would need to be a brave man who asks to go home with me," returned the stranger; 'but, if you will, you can follow me. Only, remember this: If your courage fails you, you will rue it all your life."

Canonbie Dick laughed long and loud. "My courage has never failed me yet," he cried. "So lead on, and I will follow."

Without a word the stranger turned and began to ascend a narrow path which led to a curious small hill that was called the "Lucken Hare" by the country-folk. It was supposed to be a great haunt of witches, and as a rule nobody passed that way after dark if they could possibly help it.

Canonbie Dick was not afraid of witches, however, so he followed his guide with a bold step up the hillside; but he felt a little startled when he saw him turn down what seemed to be an entrance to a cavern, especially as he never remembered having seen any opening in the hillside there before.

He paused for a moment, looking round him perplexedly and wondering where he was taken.

His guide glanced at him sternly. "You can go back if you will," he said. "I warned you that you were going on a journey that would try your courage a lot." There was a jeering note in his voice that touched Dick's pride.

"Who said that I was afraid?" he retorted. "I was just taking note of where this passage stands on the hillside, so as to know it another time."

The stranger shrugged his shoulders. "Time enough to look for it when you would visit it again," he said. Then he walked on, with Dick following closely at his heels.

After the first yard or two, they were enveloped in thick darkness, and the guide had to hold out his hand for him to grasp. But after a little while a faint glimmering of light began to appear, which grew clearer and clearer, until at last they found themselves in a huge cavern lit by flaming torches that were stuck here and there in candleholders in the rocky walls and threw scary shadows on the floor in the gloom that hung over the vast apartment.

Along one side of this strange cave was a long row of horse stalls. In each stall stood a coal-black cavalry horse, saddled and bridled, as if ready for fight. And on the straw by every horse's side lay a knight that was clad from head to foot in coal-black armour, and with a drawn sword in his mailed hand.

But not a horse moved, not a chain rattled. Knights and horses alike were silent and motionless, looking exactly as if some strange enchantment had been thrown over them and turned them into black marble.

At the sight of this, Canonbie Dick's courage waned and his knees began to shake under him. Still, he followed the old man up the hall to the far end of it, where there was a table. On the table lay a glittering sword and a hunting-horn.

When they reached this table the stranger turned to him and said gravely, "You may have heard of Thomas the Rhymer, who went to live for a time with the queen of fairyland, and got the gifts of truth and prophecy from her?"

Canonbie Dick nodded.

"That is me," the white-haired stranger went on. "And I have let you get what you wanted and follow me here, where I can test what stuff you are made of. Before you lies a horn and a sword. He sounds the horn or draws the sword, shall be king over the whole of Britain if his courage does not fail. But the outcome of it all depends on solid bravery. Besides, the task with be light or heavy according to what you lay hand on first, the sword or the horn."

Now Dick's first impulse was to seize the sword, for then he had something in his hand to defend himself with, come what might. But just as he was about to lift it, the thought struck him that this action of his might cause this band of warrior spirits in the cave to go against him. So, changing his mind, he picked up the horn with a trembling hand and blew a blast on it. But the sound was so weak and feeble that it could hardly be heard at the other end of the hall.

The result of the sounding was remarkable, though. Thunder rolled in crashing peals through the immense hall. The charmed knights and their horses woke in an instant from their enchanted sleep. The knights sprang to their feet and seized their swords and waved them round their heads, while their great black horses stamped, snorted, and ground their bits as if eager to escape from their stalls. Where all had been stillness and silence just a moment before, there was now a scene of wild din and excitement.

Now was the time for Canonbie Dick to show off to the soldiers, but his courage failed him. Terrified at seeing so many threatening faces turned towards him, he dropped the horn and made one weak, undecided effort to pick up the sword. But before he could do so, a voice sounded from somewhere in the hall:

"Woe to the man who did not draw the sword before he blew the horn."

And before Dick knew what he was about, a whirlwind of cold, raw air tore through the cavern, carrying the horse-dealer along with it. The wind hurried him along the narrow passage that he had entered through, and dashed him down outside on a bank of loose stones and silt. He fell right to the bottom, and was found next morning by some shepherds. By then there was little life left in him. He had just strength enough left to whisper the story of his adventure.


The Fairies of Merlin's Crag

About three hundred years ago there was a poor man working as a labourer on a farm in Lanarkshire. He was what is known as an "orra man," that is, he had no special work mapped out for him to do, but he was expected to undertake odd jobs of any kind that happened to turn up.

One day his master sent him out to cast peats on a piece of moorland that lay on a certain part of the farm. Now this strip of moorland ran up at one end to a curiously shaped crag [1], known as Merlin's Crag, because that famous wizard had once taken up his abode there. So the country folk said.

The man was a willing fellow. When he arrived at the moor he set to work with all his might and main. He had lifted quite a quantity of peat from near the crag, when he was startled by seeing the smallest woman that he had ever seen in his life. She was only about sixty-five centimetres, and she was dressed in a green gown and red stockings, and her long yellow hair was not bound by any ribbon, but hung loosely round her shoulders.

She was such a delicate and pretty little creature that the astonished countryman stopped working, stuck his spade into the ground, and gazed at her in wonder.

His wonder increased when she held up one of her tiny fingers and addressed him in these words: ' What would you think if I were to send my husband to uncover your house? You mortals think that you can do anything that please you."

Then, stamping her tiny foot, she added in a voice of command, "Put back that turf at once, or you shall regret this day."

Now the poor man had often heard of the fairy folk and of the harm that they could work to unthinking mortals who offended them, so in fear and trembling he set to work to undo all his labour, and to place every divot in the exact spot that he had taken it from.

When he was finished, he looked round for his strange visitor, but she had disappeared completely. He could not tell how, nor where. Putting up his spade, he wended his way homewards. He went straight to his master and told him the whole story, and suggested that in the future the peats should be taken from the other end of the moor.

But the master only laughed. He was a strong, hearty man, and did not believe in ghosts, or elves, or fairies, or any other creature that he could not see. But although he laughed, he was vexed that his servant should believe in such things. So to cure him of what he thought was superstition, he ordered him to take a horse and cart and go back at once, and lift all the peats and bring them to dry in the farm steading.

The man obeyed only reluctantly, and was greatly relieved to find that despite what he had done, he came to no harm as weeks went on. In fact, he began to think that his master was right, and that the whole thing must have been a dream.

So matters went smoothly on. Winter passed, and spring, and summer, until autumn came round once more, and the very day arrived on which the peats had been lifted the year before.

That day, as the sun went down, the orra man left the farm to go home to his cottage, and as his master was pleased with him because he had been working very hard lately, he had given him a little can of milk as a present to carry home to his wife.

So he was feeling very happy, and as he walked along he was humming a tune to himself. His road took him by the foot of Merlin's Crag, and as he approached it, he was astonished to find himself growing strangely tired. His eyelids dropped over his eyes as if he were going to sleep, and his feet grew as heavy as lead.

"I will sit down and take a rest for a few minutes," he said to himself; "the road home never seemed so long as it does today." So he sat down on a tuft of grass right under the shadow of the crag, and before he knew where, he was he had fallen into a deep and heavy slumber.

When he awoke it was near midnight, and the moon had risen on the crag. And he rubbed his eyes, when by its soft light he became aware of a large band of fairies who were dancing round and round him, singing and laughing, pointing their tiny fingers at him, and shaking their little fists in his face.

The bewildered man rose and tried to walk away from them, but in whatever direction he turned, the fairies would accompany him, encircling him in a magic ring. There was no way out of it, he found.

At last they stopped, and with shrieks of elfin laughter, led the prettiest and daintiest of their companions up to him, and cried, "Tread a measure, tread a measure, man! Then you will not be so eager to escape from our company."

Now the poor labourer was but a clumsy dancer, and he held back with a shamefaced air. But the fairy who had been chosen to be his partner reached up and seized his hands, and lo! some strange magic seemed to enter into his veins, for in a moment he found himself waltzing and whirling, sliding and bowing, as if he had done nothing else but dance all his life.

The strangest thing of all was that he forgot about his home and his children. He felt so happy that he had no longer the slightest desire to leave the fairies' company.

All night long the merriment went on. The little folk danced and danced as if they were mad, and the farm man danced with them, until at last a shrill sound came over the moor. It was the cock from the farmyard crowing its loudest to welcome the dawn.

In an instant the revelry ceased, and the fairies crowded together with cries of alarm and rushed towards the crag, dragging the countryman along in their middle. As they reached the rock, a mysterious door that he never remembered having seen before, opened in it of its own accord and shut again with a crash as soon as the fairy host had all trooped through.

The door led into a large, dimly lighted hall full of tiny couches, and here the little folk sank to rest, tired out with their exertions, while the good man sat down on a piece of rock in the corner, wondering what would happen next.

But there seemed to be some kind of spell thrown over his senses, for even when the fairies woke up and began to go about their household occupations and to carry out certain curious practices which he had never seen before, and that he was forbidden to speak of afterwards, he was content to sit and watch them without in any way attempting to escape.

As it drew toward evening someone touched his elbow, and he turned round with a start to see the little woman with the green dress and scarlet stockings, who had remonstrated with him for lifting the turf the year before, standing by his side.

"The lumps of grass and earth that you took from the roof of my house have grown once more," she said, "and once more it is covered with grass; so you can go home again, for justice is satisfied your punishment has lasted long enough. But first must you take a solemn oath never to tell to mortal ears what you have seen while you have been among us."

The countryman promised gladly, and took the oath with all due solemnity. Then the door was opened, and he was at liberty to depart.

His can of milk was standing on the green, just where he had laid it down when he went to sleep, and it seemed to him as if it were only yesternight that the farmer had given it to him.

But when he reached his home, his wife looked at him as if she saw a ghost, and the children that had been small toddlers when he had left, were now well-grown boys and girls who stared at him as if he was an utter stranger.

"Where have you been these long, long years?" cried his wife when she had gathered her wits and assured herself that it was really he, and not a spirit. "And how could you find it in your heart to leave the children and me alone?"

And then he knew that the one day he had passed in fairyland had lasted seven whole years, and realised what heavy punishment the little folk had laid on him.

[Cf. Grierson 136-44]


  1. Lanarkshire: The county of Lanark was a county of Scotland (see the red part of the map). Lanarkshire is now covered by the council areas of North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire.
  2. crag: cliff; a steep rough mass of rock forming part of a cliff or mountain peak; etc.
  3. peat: compacted organic debris (turf). Cut and dried pieces of peat are used as fuel.


Scottish folktales, legends, fairy tales of Scotland, Literature  

Grierson, Elizabeth Wilson. The Scottish Fairy Book. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1910.

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