Long ago, when London was a village and Cardiff only a hamlet, there was a boy who tended sheep on the hill sides. His father was a hard working farmer, who every year tried to coax to grow out of the stony ground some oats, barley, leeks and cabbage. In summer, he worked hard, from the first croak of the raven to the last hoot of the owl, to provide food for his wife and baby daughter. When his boy was born, he took him to the church to be christened Gruffyd, but everybody called him "Gruff." In time several little sisters came to keep the boy company.
His mother always kept her cottage, which was painted pink, very neat and pretty, with vines covering the outside, while flowers bloomed indoors. These were set in pots and on shelves near the latticed windows. They seemed to grow finely, because so good a woman loved them. The copper door-sill was kept bright, and the broad borders on the clay floor, along the walls, were always fresh with whitewash. The pewter dishes on the sideboard shone as if they were moons, and the china cats on the mantle piece, in silvery lustre, reflected both sun and candle light. Daddy often declared he could use these polished metal plates for a mirror, when he shaved his face. Puss, the pet, was always happy purring away on the hearth, as the kettle boiled to make the flummery, of sour oat jelly, which, daddy loved so well.
Mother Gruffyd was always so neat, with her black and white striped apron, her high peaked hat, with its scalloped lace and quilled fastening around her chin, her little short shawl, with its pointed, long tips, tied in a bow, and her bright red plaid petticoat folded back from her frock. Her snowy-white, rolling collar and neck cloth knotted at the top, and fringed at the ends, added fine touches to her picturesque costume.
In fact, young Gruffyd was proud of his mother and he loved her dearly. He thought no woman could be quite as sweet as she was.
Once, at the end of the day, on coming back home, from the hills, the boy met some lovely children. They were dressed in very fine clothes, and had elegant manners. They came up, smiled, and invited him to play with them. He joined in their sports, and was too much interested to take note of time. He kept on playing with them till it was pitch dark.
The children had aprons full of what seemed to be real coins, the size of crowns, or five-shilling pieces, each worth a dollar. These had "head and tail," beside letters on them and the boy supposed they were real. But when he showed these to his mother, she saw at once from their lightness, and because they were so easily bent, that they were only paper, and not silver.
She asked her boy where he had got them. He told her what a nice time he had enjoyed. Then she knew that these playmates, were fairy children. Fearing that some evil might come of this, she charged him never to go out on the mountain again alone. She mistrusted that no good would come of making such strange children his companions.
But the lad was so fond of play, that one day, tired of seeing nothing but byre and garden, while his sisters liked to play girls' games more than those which boys cared most for, and the hills seeming to beckon him to come to them, he disobeyed, and slipped out and off to the mountains. He was soon missed and search was made for him.
Yet nobody had seen or heard of him. Though inquiries were made on every road, in every village, and at all the fairs and markets in the neighbourhood, two whole years passed by, without a trace of the boy.
But early one morning of the twenty-fifth month, before breakfast, his mother, on opening the door, found him sitting on the steps, with a bundle under his arm, but dressed in the same clothes, and not looking a day older or in any way different, from the very hour he disappeared.
"Why my dear boy, where have you been, all these months - over two years?"
"Why, mother dear, how strange you talk. I left here yesterday, to go out and to play with the children, on the hills, and we have had a lovely time. See what pretty clothes they have given me for a present." Then he opened his bundle.
But when she tore open the package, the mother was all the more sure that she was right, and that her fears had been justified. In it she found only a dress of white paper. Examining it carefully, she could see neither seam nor stitches. She threw it in the fire, and again warned her son against fairy children.
But pretty soon, after a great calamity had come on them, both father and mother changed their minds about fairies.
They had put all their savings into the venture of a ship, which had for a long time made trading voyages from Cardiff. Every year, it came back bringing great profit to the owners and shareholders. In this way, daddy was able to eke out his income, and keep himself, his wife and daughters comfortably clothed, while all the time the table was well supplied with good food. Nor did they ever turn from their door anyone who asked for bread and cheese.
But in the same month of the boy's return, bad news came that the good ship had gone down in a storm. All on board had perished, and the cargo was totally lost, in the deep sea, far from land. In fact, no word except that of dire disaster had come to hand.
Now, it was told that on a certain hill there was a great boulder was quite different from any other kind of rock to be found within miles. It was partly imbedded in the earth, and beneath it, lay a great, yes, an untold treasure. The grass grew luxuriantly around this stone, and the sheep loved to rest at noon in its shadow. Many men had tried to lift, or pry it up, but in vain. The tradition, unaltered and unbroken for centuries, was to the effect, that none but a very good man could ever budge this stone. Any and all unworthy men might dig, or pull, or pry, till doomsday, but in vain. Till the right one came, the treasure was as safe as if in heaven.
But the boy's father and mother were now very poor and his sisters now grown up wanted pretty clothes so badly, that the lad hoped that he or his father might be the deserving one. He would help him to win the treasure for he felt sure that his parent would share his gains with all his friends.
Though his neighbours were not told of the generous intentions credited to the boy's father, by his loving son, they all came with horses, ropes, crowbars, and tackle, to help in the enterprise. Yet after many a long days' toil, between the sun's rising and setting, their end was failure. Every day, when darkness came on, the stone lay there still, as hard and fast as ever. So they gave up the task.
On the last night, the lad saw that father and mother, who were great lovers, were holding each other's hands, while their tears flowed together, and they were praying for patience.
Seeing this, before he fell asleep, the boy resolved that on the morrow, he would go up to the mountains and talk to his fairy friends about the matter. So early in the morning, he hurried to the hill tops, and going into one of the caves, met the fairies and told them his troubles. Then he asked them to give him again some of their money.
"Not this time, but something better. Under the great rock there are treasures waiting for you."
"Oh, don't send me there! For all the men and horses of our parish, after working a week, have been unable to budge the stone."
"We know that," answered the principal fairy, "but try to move it. Then you will see what is certain to happen."
Johnny went home to tell what he had heard. His parents had a hearty laugh at the idea of a boy succeeding where men with many horses and oxen had failed with their united strength.
Yet, after brooding awhile, they were so dejected that anything seemed reasonable. So they said, "Go ahead and try it."
When Johnny returned to the mountain, the fairies went with him in a band to the great rock. One touch of his hand, and the mighty boulder trembled like an aspen leaf in the breeze. A shove, and the rock rolled down from the hill and crashed in the valley below.
There, underneath, were little heaps of gold and silver, which the boy carried home to his parents, who became the richest people in the country round about.
There was once a man who had three sons. Johnny, the youngest, was always looked on as the simpleton of the family.
It happened one day that the eldest son was going out into the wood to cut fuel; and before he started, his mother gave him a slice of rich plum-cake and a flask of wine, so that he might not suffer from hunger or thirst. Just as he reached the wood, he met a queer old man, dressed in grey, who wished him "Good day," and begged for a piece of the young man's cake and a drink of wine.
But the greedy youth replied: "If I were to give you cake and wine, I should not have enough left for myself; so be off with you, and leave me in peace."
Then he pushed the little man rudely on one side and went his way.
He soon came to a likely-looking tree, and began to hew it down, but he made a false stroke, and instead of striking the tree he buried his axe in his own arm, and hadto hurry home as fast as he could to have the wound dressed. This was what came of offending the little grey man!
Next day the second son set out to the wood, and his mother treated him just as she had done her eldest songave him a slice of cake and a flask of wine, in case he should feel hungry.
The little grey man met him at the entrance to the wood, and begged for a share of his food, but the young man answered: "The more I give to you, the less I have for myself. Be off with you."
Then he left the little grey man standing in the road, and went on his way. But it was not long before he, too, was punished; for the first stroke he aimed at a tree glanced aside and wounded his leg, so that he was obliged to be carried home.
Then said Johny: "Father, let me go to the wood for once. I will bring you home plenty of fuel."
"No," answered the father. "Both your brothers have got into trouble, and it is not likely that I am going to trust you."
But Johnny would not give up the idea and worried his father, till at last he said: "Very well, my son, have your own way. You shall learn by experience that I know better than you."
There was no rich cake for Johnny. His mother just gave him a little loaf of dough and a bottle of sour beer.
No sooner did he reach the wood than the little grey man appeared. "Give me a piece of your cake and a drink of your wine?" said he.
But the young man told him he had only a dough loaf and a bottle of sour beer. "Still," said he, "you are welcome to a share of the food, such as it is."
So the two sat down together; but when Johnny took his humble fare from his pocket, what was his surprise to find it changed into the most delicious cake and wine. Then the young man and his guest made a hearty meal, and when it was ended the little grey man said: "Because you have such a kind heart, and have willingly shared your food with me, I am going to reward you. Over there stands an old tree: hew it down, and deep in the heart of the roots you will find something."
The old man then nodded kindly, and disappeared in a moment. Johnny at once did as he had been told, and as soon as the tree fell he saw, sitting in the middle of the roots, a goose with feathers of purest gold. He lifted it carefully out, and carried it with him to the inn, where he meant to spend the night.
Now, the landlord had three daughters, and no sooner did they see the goose than they wanted to know what curious kind of bird it might be, for never before had they seen a fowl of any kind with feathers of pure gold. The eldest made up her mind to wait for a good opportunity and then pluck a feather for herself. So as soon as Johnny went out of the room she put out her hand and seized the wing of the goose, but what was her horror to find that she could not unclasp her fingers again, nor even move her hand from the golden goose!
Very soon the second sister came creeping into the room, meaning also to steal a feather; but no sooner did she touch her sister than she, too, was unable to draw her hand away.
Lastly came the third, anxious to secure a feather before the goose's master returned. "Go away! go away!" screamed her two sisters, but she could not understand why she should not help herself as well as the others. So she paid no heed to their cries, but came toward them and stretched out her hand to the goose. In doing so she touched her second sister, and then, alas! she too, was held fast. They pulled and tugged with might and main, but it was all of no use; they could not get away, and there they had to remain the whole night.
The next morning Johnny tucked the goose under his arm, and went on his way, never troubling himself about the three girls hanging on behind. Then what a dance he led them: over hedges and ditches, highways and byways! Wherever he led they were bound to follow.
Half way across a sunny meadow, they met the parson, who was terribly shocked to see the three girls running after a young man. "For shame!" he cried angrily, and seized the youngest by the hand to drag her away. But no sooner did he touch her than the poor parson was made fast too, and had to run behind the girls, whether he would or no.
They had scarcely gone half a dozen paces before they met the sexton, who stared with astonishment to see his master running at the heels of the three girls. "Hi! stop, your reverence," he cried. "You will be late for the christening." He seized the parson's sleeve as he ran past him, but the poor sexton had to join the procession too.
So now there were five of them, and just as they turned a corner the parson saw two peasants, and called to them to set him and his sexton free. They threw down their spades at once and tried to do so, but they too, stuck fast, and so Johnny had a fine string of seven folk hanging on to the wing of his golden goose.
On and on they ran, till at length they came into the country of a powerful king. This king had an only daughter, who all her life had been so sad that no one had ever been able to make her laugh. So the king made a decree that the man who could bring a smile to his daughter's face should have her for his bride. When Johnny heard what the king had promised, he at once made his way into the princess's presence, and when she saw the goose with the seven queer-looking companions hanging on behind, she burst into such a hearty fit of laughter that it was thought she would never be able to stop again.
Johnny claimed her as his bride, but the king did not fancy him for a son-in-law, so he made all sorts of excuses. "You shall have her," said he, "if you can first bring me a man who can drink up a whole cellarful of wine."
Johnny at once remembered the little grey man, and, feeling sure that he would help him, he set out for the wood where he had first met him. When he reached the stump of the old tree which he had himself hewn down, he noticed a man sitting beside it, with a face as gloomy as a rainy day. Johnny asked politely what ailed him, and the man answered: "I suffer from a thirst I cannot quench. Cold water disagrees with me, and though I have, it is true, emptied a barrel of wine, it was no more to me than a single drop of water on a hot stone."
You can think how pleased Johnny was to hear these words. He took the man to the king's cellar, where he seated himself before the huge barrels, and drank and drank till, at the end of the day, not a drop of wine was left. Then Johnny claimed his bride, but the king could not make up his mind to give his daughter to this "a never-do-well". So he made fresh excuses, and said that he would not give her up till the young man had found someone who could eat up a mountain of bread in a single day.
The young man had no choice but to set out once more for the wood. And again he found a man sitting beside the stump of the tree. He was very sad and hungry-looking, and sat tightening the belt round his waist. "I have eaten a whole ovenful of bread," he said sadly, "but when one is as hungry as I am, such a meal only serves to make one more hungry still. I am so empty that if I did not tighten my belt I should die of hunger."
"You are the man for me!" said Johnny. "Follow me, and I will give you a meal that will satisfy even your hunger." He led the man into the courtyard of the king's palace, where all the meal in the kingdom had been collected together and mixed into an enormous mountain of bread. The man from the wood placed himself in front of it and began to eat, and before the day was over the mountain of bread had vanished.
A third time Johnny demanded his bride, but again the king found an excuse. "First bring me a ship that can sail both on land and sea, and then you shall wed the princess," he said.
Johnny went straightway to the wood, where he met the little grey man he had once shared his food with. "Good day," he said, nodding his wise little head. "So you've come to visit me again, eh? It was I, you know, who drank the wine and ate the bread for you, and now I will finish by giving you the wonderful ship which is to sail on either land or sea. All this I do for you because you were kind and good to me."
Then he gave him the ship, and when the king saw it, he could find no further excuse. So he gave the young man his daughter, and the pair were married that very day. When the old king died, Johnny became king in his stead, and he and his wife lived happily ever after.