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The Blacksmith's Wife of Yarrowfoot

Some years back, the blacksmith of Yarrowfoot had for apprentices two brothers. Both were steady lads and fine healthy fellows on arriving. After a few months, however, the younger of the two began to grow pale and lean, lose his appetite, and show other marks of declining health. His brother, much concerned, often questioned him as to what ailed him, but to no purpose.

At last, however, the poor lad burst into an agony of tears, and confessed that he was quite worn-out, and should soon be brought to the grave through the ill-usage of his mistress, who was a witch, though none suspected it. "Every night," he sobbed out, "she comes to my bedside, puts a magic bridle on me, and changes me into a horse. Then, seated on my back, she urges me on for many a mile to the wild moors, where she and other creatures hold their hideous feasts. There she keeps me all night, and at early morning I carry her home. She takes off my bridle, and there I am, but so weary I can ill stand. In this way I pass my nights while you are soundly sleeping."

The elder brother at once said he would take his chance of a night among the witches, so he put the younger one in his own place next the wall, and lay awake himself till the time when the witch-woman usually arrived. She came, bridle in hand, and flung it over the elder brother's head, and up sprang a fine hunting horse. The lady leaped on his back, and started for the trysting-place, which this time chanced to be the cellar of a neighbouring laird.

While she and the rest of the crew were regaling themselves with claret and sack, the hunter, who was left in a spare stall of the stable, rubbed and rubbed his head against the wall till he loosened the bridle, and finally got it off. Thereby he recovered his human form. Holding the bridle firmly in his hand, he hid himself at the back of the stall till his mistress came within reach. Then in an instant he flung the magic bridle over her head, and, behold, a fine grey mare! He mounted her and dashed off, riding through hedge and ditch, till, looking down, he perceived she had lost a shoe from one of her forefeet. He took her to the first smithy that was open, had the shoe replaced, and a new one put on the other forefoot, and then rode her up and down a ploughed field till she was nearly worn out. At last he took her home, and pulled the bridle off just in time for her to creep into bed before her husband awoke to get up for his day's work.

The blacksmith arose, but his wife complained of being very ill, and begged him to send for a doctor. He accordingly aroused his apprentices. The elder one went out, and soon returned with one. The doctor wished to feel his patient's pulse, but she resolutely hid her hands and refused to show them. The doctor was perplexed; but the husband impatiently pulled off the bed-clothes, and found to his horror that horseshoes were tightly nailed to both hands. On further examination, her sides appeared galled with kicks, the same that the apprentice had given her during his ride up and down the ploughed field.

The brothers now came forward, and related all that had passed. On the following day the witch was tried by the magistrates of Selkirk, and condemned to be burned to death on a stone at the Bullsheugh. The sentence was promptly carried out.

The younger apprentice was at last restored to health by eating butter made from the milk of cows, a sovereign remedy for the effects of being weary and witch-ridden.

[Retold from "The Blacksmith's Wife of Yarrowfoot," in George Douglas, Scottish Fairy and Folk Tales.]

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The Mermaid Wife

A Shetlander was walking on a sandy shore when he saw several mermen and mermaids dancing by moonlight, and several seal-skins strewed beside them on the ground. When he approached, they at once fled to secure their garbs. Then they got seal shapes and plunged at once into the sea. But the Shetlander noticed that a skin remained on the shore. It lay close to his feet, so he snatched it up, bore it swiftly away, and hid it carefully.

When he returned to the shore, he met the fairest woman. She lamented the robbery, for now she could not divne into the water to her friends in the deeps, and had to stay on the ground above water. She begged them man in vain to give her back her skin, but the man had drunk deeply of love and could not be swayed to give back the skin. However, he offered to protect her beneath his roof as his betrothed spouse.

The merlady understood that she had to live on earth, and found it fit to accept the offer, and the couple had several children. The Shetlander's loved his merwife without bounds, whereas the lady would often steal alone to the desert strand, and give a signal. At that a large seal would appear, and the two of them talked together in an unknown tongue.

Years passed in this way. Then it happened that one of the children, in the course of his play, found a seal's skin hidden beneath a stack of corn. Delighted he ran with it to his mother. Her eyes glistened with rapture, for she knew he had found the means for her to get back to the ocean and her native home. Her bursts of joy was only toned down at the thought of leaving her dear children. She hastily embracing them, however, and then fled with all speed towards the seaside.

The husband returned home at this very moment, and learnt from the children what had taken place. He ran briskly to the shore, hoping to overtake his wife, but too late. She had already turned herself into a seal and bound from the ledge of a rock into the sea. The large seal that she had used to talk with on the shore, soon appeared and congratulated her in the most tender manner on her escape.

But before she dived out of his sight, she cast a parting glance at the miserable Shetlander, and said to him, "Farewell, and may all good attend you. I loved you well when I lived on earth, but I always loved my first husband better."

[Retold from C. T. J. Folk-Lore and Legends: Scotland, 1889]

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The Swarthy Smith of the Socks

The swarthy smith of the socks had served his time learning smith-craft, but he could not make anything connected with smith-work but socks for ploughs.

He opened a smithy a few miles out of Edinburgh, and began sock-making. At that time a fair was held once a month in the city, and as often as it would come round the swarthy smith used to go to it with his old white horse and a cart full of socks. And after selling the socks he would return home, sound asleep in his cart, leaving the old white horse to find his way as best he could.

On a certain market day he went as usual to the inn, and who met him there but the king's smith. The two smiths soon made one another's acquaintance, and they sat down drinking till the liquor went to their heads and they began to boast. Neither of them would admit that he was not a better smith than the other. To put an end to the wrangle, the king's smith stood up, and said to the swarthy smith: "I'll bet three hundred merks that before next fair I'll make something that nothing you can make in the same time will surpass."

The swarthy smith then stood up and answered: "I'll lay another three hundred that you can do nothing of the kind, but that I'll make something to surpass the thing you will make." The smiths parted, promising to meet at next fair, having with them the thing they were to make.

At the close of the day the swarthy smith returned home in the cart as usual. Next morning he turned out to the smithy, and began to make more socks. He kept at them day after day until the day before the market arrived. In the evening a gentleman came to the smithy and said to the swarthy smith: "Have you no word at all of making something with which you are going to win the bet from the king's smith? If you do not begin quickly, be sure you will lose."

The swarthy smith replied: "I do not know what you mean; I am not aware that I laid any bet with the king's smith." He had been drinking too much to remember a thing from that night and the next morning. [1]

"You did," said the gentleman; "I was within hearing, and my own ears heard you lay three hundred merks against him."

"Well, then, I will lose, for I never learned to make anything except socks," said the swarthy smith.

"Keep up your courage," said the gentleman, "if you will give me half of what you win. I'll make something for you which will win the bet."

"I will give you that with all my heart, if I can remember," said the swarthy smith.

Without further delay the gentleman set to work. First he made a good lump of a box. After that he placed a large piece of iron in the forge, and in a short time drew it out a deer-hound. And when everything was finished, he put the deer-hound into the box, and closed the lid over him.

"Now," said the gentleman, turning to the smith, "when you go away tomorrow with the socks, you will take this box with you, and when you arrive at the fair, the king's smith will be there before you, and will come to meet you. If he then asks you to open your box and show him what is in it, you will tell him that he ought to open his first, because it was he who first laid the bet. Then he will open his box, and a stag will spring out. As soon as you see the stag, open your box and let out the dog; and I am mistaken if he does not win the bet for you."

Then the gentleman bade good evening to the swarthy smith and departed.

Next morning the swarthy smith went away with his socks and his box in the cart. He reached the fair in good time, and there met the king's smith with a box under his arm. Then everything passed between them as the gentleman had expected. At length the king's smith opened his box and a fine stag sprang out, and away he went at full speed. The swarthy smith then opened his box, and a handsome deer-hound sprang out and stretched away after the stag and did not stop until he caught the stag and left it at the swarthy smith's feet.

"Now, I call you to witness," said the swarthy smith to the king's smith, "that you have lost your bet."

"I have lost this one, indeed; but perhaps I may win the next," replied the king's smith, while he handed the other every penny of the money wagered.

Then they went to the inn, and were not long there until they laid another such wager as the last. After that they parted, promising to meet at the next fair, having the machines they would make with them. Then the swarthy smith went into the cart, and the white horse took him home.

The first thing he did next morning was to go to the smithy and hide the three hundred merks in a hole he dug under the door-step. He had no word of the bet, but he continued making socks until the last evening before the fair.

Shortly before the time to stop work came, the gentleman who had made the deer-hound, came into the smithy. He greeted the swarthy smith, and asked him whether he had yet made that machine that was going to win him the next bet from the king's smith. But the swarthy smith remembered neither that he laid a bet, nor what it was about.

"Well," said the gentleman, "if you promise me half of what you win, and that you will go no more to the inn, I will make you a machine to carry off the bet with."

"I promise that, and will also fulfil my promise as far as I can recall it," replied the swarthy smith.

Then the gentleman set to work. He made first a box, and then a large, strong otter in the same way as he had made the deer-hound. And when it was ready, he put it in the box and shut and locked the lid over it. "Now," said he to the swarthy smith, "you will take this box with you to the fair, and you will not open it until the king's smith will first open his. You will win the bet this time yet. But see that you go not to the inn, and that you do not lay another bet, for if you do, you could lose all you have won. In a few days I will call again at the smithy, and you will give me half the money you will win."

The smith said he was eager do as he was told, and they parted.

Next day the swarthy smith went away with the box to the fair. When he arrived he met the king's smith, but on being asked refused to open his box first. Then the king's smith went to the water side, and as soon as he opened his box a salmon leapt out into the water, and away he swam. Then the swarthy smith opened his own, and the otter sprang out after the salmon, and in a short time seized the salmon and returned with it in his mouth and left it at his master's feet.

"I call you to witness," said the swarthy smith, "that you have lost your bet."

"I have undoubtedly," replied the king's smith, "and if you come with me to the inn I'll pay you every penny of it."

"No, I will not, for I have resolved that I will not lay a bet again," said the swarthy smith.

"All right, "said the king's smith, and he paid the other smith on the spot.

The smith went home and dug down the money in the usual place, and discovered the three hundred merks he had hidden there earlier too. At the end of a few days the gentleman entered the smithy again. He waited a while, expecting that the swarthy smith would pay unasked what he had earned, but the swarthy smith did nothing of the kind.

At last the gentleman said to him: "I have come for my reward; you had better give it me and let me go."

But reward or thanks the swarthy smith would not give, for "I was eager to win and share with you then, but not any more," he said. When the gentleman saw this he went away, but was not pleased at all.

A few days afterward another gentleman came on horseback to the smithy, and his horse was limping badly for want of shoes. After greeting the smith the man said: "I wish you would shoe my horse, for he is so much in need that he cannot go a step."

The swarthy smith said, "I never made an article of smithwork except socks for ploughs."

The gentleman replied: "Many a thing a man could make if he had courage enough to try. Try, and I will assist you."

"Very well, then, I will do as well as I can."

The gentleman went out and cut the horse's four feet off below the knees. He took them in to the smith and laid them in the fire. He himself went to the bellows-handle, and the smith was keeping the fire banked up about the feet. After they were a good while in the fire, he cried to the swarthy smith: "Out with the heat!"

The smith took hold of the tongs, and with them pulled the first foot out of the fire on to the anvil. He then seized the hand hammer and the gentleman took the sledge hammer, and with a few strokes they shod the foot as neatly as a smith ever did. When they were done with it, they took the other feet and shod them one by one in the same manner. Then the gentleman cried again to the swarthy smith: "Get out with the two fore feet and strike them in their place on the horse."

The swarthy smith did that, and the gentleman himself did the same with the two hind feet. In an instant the horse stood up as sound as ever he was, shod and ready for the road. Then the gentleman sprang into the saddle and departed.

As soon as the gentleman went away the smith entered the house, and said to his wife: "I'll no longer pay wages to rascally smiths, for I can now shoe without them. Come out and help me to shoe the white horse, because I have to go with him to the town soon."

When he had finished what he had to say, he went to the stable, and cut the white horse's feet off, and then he took them to the smithy, and put them in the fire. He sent his wife to blow the bellows, while he kept coals over the feet. When he thought they were ready, he drew one out to the anvil, and struck it with the hammer. But the foot up to its middle was nothing but charred bone, and therefore the stroke sent it flying in splinters over the smithy.

The rest of the feet were in the same condition, and so the smith had no alternative but to put the poor white horse out of pain at once, and lay his carcass under ground as quietly as possible.

A good while after the second gentleman departed, a third gentleman came to the smithy with two old women in his company. He said to the swarthy smith: "If you will make for me a young maiden of these old women, I will give you a good reward for your labour."

The swarthy smith answered: "I never made anything but socks."

"Will you then lend me the use the smithy and your assistance for a while?" said the gentleman.

"Yes, you will get that."

"Come, then, begin work. Many a thing a man could do if he had courage enough to try."

They put the old women in the fire, and the gentleman went to blow the bellows, and the swarthy smith to keep coals on the fire. When they had given the women a good heating, they drew them out to the anvil, and then the gentleman began to strike with the sledge hammer and the smith with the hand hammer, and with one welding heat they made the most handsome maiden that the smith had ever seen. When they had done, the gentleman gave the swarthy smith a good reward, and departed with the young maiden in his company.

As soon as he parted with them, the swarthy smith made his way to the house, and said to his wife: "I have news for you. I have just made a delightful young maiden out of two old wives. Come and we will make another of your mother and mine, and then we shall have what we never had before, a daughter of our own."

But his wife said: "Take care that you will not have the smithing of the white horse over again."

"There is no fear of that," he said and set to work. He tried to do everything as he saw the gentleman do, but if the result was not the smithing of the white horse over again, it was something seven times worse.

Time passed, and then the first gentleman called in at the smithy. After greeting the swarthy smith, he said: "Are you at all disposed to give me, as you promised, half of the money I earned for you?"

No, after being deceived into killing his mother and mother-in-law, the smith lo longer felt inclined to thank the gentleman. Then the gentleman began to grow so big that the smith was in danger of being flattened between him and the side of the forge. When the swarthy smith saw the danger he was in, he took from his pocket a purse which was fastened with thongs, and said: "I see that you can make yourself big enough, but if you will now make yourself so small that you can enter this purse, I may give you all the money I owe you."

At once the gentleman began to grow smaller and smaller until at last he was so small that he leaped into the purse. As soon as the smith saw this, he drew the thongs and tied them hard and fast about the mouth. He then laid the purse on the anvil and gave it three strokes of the sledgehammer as hard as he could. The purse burst with so loud a report that the smith's wife thought the smithy and all that it contained were blown into the skies. She ran out in terror and asked what had happened.

"Never mind. If he cheated me over the white horse and the old wives, I have cheated him of his life."

He continued to make socks and to go with them once a month to the fair. And any time he had need of money, he would take a little from the hoard he had hidden under the threshold of the smithy.

[Retold from James MacDougall. Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English: Collected from Oral Tradition. Edinburgh: J. Grant, 1910.]

Explanation

1. Blackout. One of the blackout types, so-called en bloc blackouts, shows up in the being unable to recall anything from the intoxicated period afterwards, even when prompted. One study has indicated a genetic predisposition towards blacking out. [Wikipedia, s.v. "Blackout (alcohol-related amnesia)"]

Contents


Scottish folktales, legends, fairy tales of Scotland, Literature  

Douglas, George, ed. Scottish Fairy and Folk Tales. New York: A. L. Burt Co. (nd), p. 186-89.

Anonymous (J., C. T.). Folk-Lore and Legends: Scotland. London: W. W. Gibbings, 1889.

MacDougall, James. Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English: Collected from Oral Tradition. Edinburgh: J. Grant, 1910.

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