Story of the Month

September 2016

Displaying frog.jpg

The Frog Princess

Long, long, long ago in Russia, there lived a king who had three sons. When the youngest, Ivan, had reached maturity, the king called the three of them together and said:

“It is time for you to marry so that I might have grandchildren to play with before I die.”

To which the sons replied:

“If that is you wish, we will be happy to oblige – tell us who we should marry.”

“We will let fate decide,” said the king. “Take your bows and loose an arrow, wheresoever it falls, there you will find your bride.”

And so the princes went out into the grounds of their castle and fired their arrows high into the sky. The eldest son’s arrow flew high and straight and landed in the garden of a nobleman. The nobleman’s daughter came out of the house and plucked the arrow from the soil. The middle son’s arrow also flew high and straight and landed in the garden of a merchant. The merchant’s daughter came out of her house and plucked the arrow from the soil. But Ivan’s arrow was taken by the wind and flew off crooked and wide – it took him all morning to find it. It was in a marsh. In the middle of the marsh was a pond; on the pond was a lily; on a lily pad was a frog; in the frog’s mouth was the arrow.

Ivan asked the frog for his arrow, but the frog refused and said that he could only have it back if he married her. Well, Ivan was not keen on marrying a frog and so decided to ask for his father’s guidance. He picked the frog up, put it in his pocket, and returned to his castle.

His father considered, and then told Ivan that he could not avoid fate – he should marry the frog.

And so, some time later, three weddings took place on the same day. The eldest prince married the nobleman’s daughter, the second son married the merchant’s daughter, and poor prince Ivan married the frog.

Six days and seven nights later, the king summoned his three sons before him and told them that it was time to see what skills their wives possessed.

“I want to see which wife can make me the finest shirt – a shirt fit for a king.” “It will be a Great Russian Sowing Bee.” Well the three men went their separate ways. The two elder sons wore frowns on their faces – they knew that their wives could sow, but they also knew that they were not very good at it.

Poor Ivan returned home in tears. The frog hopped up onto the kitchen table and asked him what was wrong. And when Ivan had explained, the frog told him not to worry:

“Oh, is that all!” “Go upstairs to bed, we will see what the morning brings.”

No sooner had Ivan laid his head on his pillow then he was asleep. The frog hopped onto the floor, struggled out of her frog skin and was transformed into Vassilisa the Fair! She was so beautiful that it is beyond the skills of the finest storyteller to describe her beauty! She laboured all night, and when Ivan came down the stairs in the morning, there, on the table, sat the frog next to a parcel.

The three bothers stood before the king while he examined the shirts. The shirt displayed by his eldest son was a sorry thing. It was of such poor quality that the king declared that it was not fit for a peasant, let alone a king. The second son’s offering was even worse. The king unwrapped the parcel provided by Ivan, and gasped at the beauty of the garment inside. It was made of the finest white silk with patterns of gold and silver threads – and when the king tried it on, it was a perfect fit.

“Ivan, your wife has done well.”

Six days and seven nights later, the king summoned his three sons again.

“I want to know how well your wives can cook.” “Get them to produce for me a loaf of bread fit for a king – we will call it a ‘bake off’.”

Well the three men went their separate ways. The two elder sons were nervous – they knew that their wives could cook, but they also knew that they were not very good at it. Ivan returned home once more in tears. The frog hopped up onto the kitchen table and asked him what was wrong. And when Ivan had explained, the frog told him not to worry:

“Oh, is that all!” “Go upstairs to bed, we will see what the morning brings.”

No sooner had Ivan laid his head on his pillow then he was asleep. The frog hopped onto the floor, struggled out of her frog skin and was again transformed into Vassilisa the Fair!

During that night, Vassilisa produced a loaf of bread. It was golden and crusty on the outside, and light and fluffy on the inside – and the smell made your mouth water! When Ivan came downstairs in the morning, there was the frog with the perfect loaf next to it waiting for him.

The king prodded the loaf presented by his eldest son, and hurt his finger – it was so hard!When he finally broke it open, it was grey and dry on the inside. The king declared that it was not fit for a peasant and that it should be fed to the pigs. The middle son’s offering was even worse – burnt on the outside and grey and sticky on the inside. The king ordered that it be burnt on a fire, as he feared for his pigs’ safety. Of course, the king loved Ivan’s loaf.

“Ivan, your wife has done well.”

The king then announced that there would be a banquet and ball, and he would judge which of his daughters was the best dancer. A strictly judged competition. Ivan’s brothers returned home with a spring in their steps – this was something that their wives were good at. But Ivan was in tears by the time he reached his house.

The frog hopped up onto the kitchen table and asked him what was wrong. And when Ivan

had explained, the frog told him not to worry:

“Oh! Is that all? Just go to the ball on your own, but when you hear a clap of thunder, tell

everyone that your frog-wife has arrived.”

And so that is what Ivan did. His brothers and sisters-in- law mocked him. They asked where his wife was. They said he could have brought her in his pocket. They said he could have used a lettuce leaf for her to sit on. But the sky darkened and there was a tremendous clap of thunder and Ivan announced the arrival of his wife. Through the door walked Vassilisa the Fair. Her emerald green dress glittered with stars and clung to her body in all the right places, and she took her husband’s arm and led him to the dance floor.

Everyone was enchanted with Vassilisa’s skill at dancing – and Ivan was delighted to discover that he was married to a beauty, a princess, rather than a frog. But, fearing that the transformation would only be temporary, he rushed home and, finding the frog skin, he threw it into the fire. When Vassilisa the Fair returned and saw her skin was gone, she bowed her head in sorrow:

“If only you had waited just three more days, I would have been yours for the rest of my days. But now the curse is renewed and we must part. If you find me and kill the sorcerer who enslaves me, we might be together again – but it would be so, so hard for you to do.”

With these words she turned into a grey cuckoo and flew away, and away, and away. If you want to know if Ivan succeeded in winning her back – well that’s another story…

 

 

THE TONGUE-CUT SPARROW.

From Japanese Fairy Tales       Author: Yei Theodora Ozaki

 

Long, long ago in Japan there lived an old man and his wife. The old man was a good, kind-hearted, hard-working old fellow, but his wife was a regular cross-patch, who spoiled the happiness of her home by her scolding tongue. She was always grumbling about something from morning to night. The old man had for a long time ceased to take any notice of her crossness. He was out most of the day at work in the fields, and as he had no child, for his amusement when he came home, he kept a tame sparrow. He loved the little bird just as much as if she had been his child.

When he came back at night after his hard day’s work in the open air it was his only pleasure to pet the sparrow, to talk to her and to teach her little tricks, which she learned very quickly. The old man would open her cage and let her fly about the room, and they would play together. Then when supper-time came, he always saved some tit-bits from his meal with which to feed his little bird.

Now one day the old man went out to chop wood in the forest, and the old woman stopped at home to wash clothes. The day before, she had made some starch, and now when she came to look for it, it was all gone; the bowl which she had filled full yesterday was quite empty.

While she was wondering who could have used or stolen the starch, down flew the pet sparrow, and bowing her little feathered head—a trick which she had been taught by her master—the pretty bird chirped and said:

“It is I who have taken the starch. I thought it was some food put out for me in that basin, and I ate it all. If I have made a mistake I beg you to forgive me! tweet, tweet, tweet!”

You see from this that the sparrow was a truthful bird, and the old woman ought to have been willing to forgive her at once when she asked her pardon so nicely. But not so.

The old woman had never loved the sparrow, and had often quarreled with her husband for keeping what she called a dirty bird about the house, saying that it only made extra work for her. Now she was only too delighted to have some cause of complaint against the pet. She scolded and even cursed the poor little bird for her bad behavior, and not content with using these harsh, unfeeling words, in a fit of rage she seized the sparrow—who all this time had spread out her wings and bowed her head before the old woman, to show how sorry she was—and fetched the scissors and cut off the poor little bird’s tongue.

“I suppose you took my starch with that tongue! Now you may see what it is like to go without it!” And with these dreadful words she drove the bird away, not caring in the least what might happen to it and without the smallest pity for its suffering, so unkind was she!

The old woman, after she had driven the sparrow away, made some more rice-paste, grumbling all the time at the trouble, and after starching all her clothes, spread the things on boards to dry in the sun, instead of ironing them as they do in England.

In the evening the old man came home. As usual, on the way back he looked forward to the time when he should reach his gate and see his pet come flying and chirping to meet him, ruffling out her feathers to show her joy, and at last coming to rest on his shoulder. But to-night the old man was very disappointed, for not even the shadow of his dear sparrow was to be seen.

He quickened his steps, hastily drew off his straw sandals, and stepped on to the veranda. Still no sparrow was to be seen. He now felt sure that his wife, in one of her cross tempers, had shut the sparrow up in its cage. So he called her and said anxiously:

“Where is Suzume San (Miss Sparrow) today?”

The old woman pretended not to know at first, and answered:

“Your sparrow? I am sure I don’t know. Now I come to think of it, I haven’t seen her all the afternoon. I shouldn’t wonder if the ungrateful bird had flown away and left you after all your petting!”

But at last, when the old man gave her no peace, but asked her again and again, insisting that she must know what had happened to his pet, she confessed all. She told him crossly how the sparrow had eaten the rice-paste she had specially made for starching her clothes, and how when the sparrow had confessed to what she had done, in great anger she had taken her scissors and cut out her tongue, and how finally she had driven the bird away and forbidden her to return to the house again.

Then the old woman showed her husband the sparrow’s tongue, saying:

“Here is the tongue I cut off! Horrid little bird, why did it eat all my starch?”

“How could you be so cruel? Oh! how could you so cruel?” was all that the old man could answer. He was too kind-hearted to punish his be shrew of a wife, but he was terribly distressed at what had happened to his poor little sparrow.

“What a dreadful misfortune for my poor Suzume San to lose her tongue!” he said to himself. “She won’t be able to chirp any more, and surely the pain of the cutting of it out in that rough way must have made her ill! Is there nothing to be done?”

The old man shed many tears after his cross wife had gone to sleep. While he wiped away the tears with the sleeve of his cotton robe, a bright thought comforted him: he would go and look for the sparrow on the morrow. Having decided this he was able to go to sleep at last.

The next morning he rose early, as soon as ever the day broke, and snatching a hasty breakfast, started out over the hills and through the woods, stopping at every clump of bamboos to cry:

“Where, oh where does my tongue-cut sparrow stay? Where, oh where, does my tongue-cut sparrow stay!”

He never stopped to rest for his noonday meal, and it was far on in the afternoon when he found himself near a large bamboo wood. Bamboo groves are the favorite haunts of sparrows, and there sure enough at the edge of the wood he saw his own dear sparrow waiting to welcome him. He could hardly believe his eyes for joy, and ran forward quickly to greet her. She bowed her little head and went through a number of the tricks her master had taught her, to show her pleasure at seeing her old friend again, and, wonderful to relate, she could talk as of old. The old man told her how sorry he was for all that had happened, and inquired after her tongue, wondering how she could speak so well without it. Then the sparrow opened her beak and showed him that a new tongue had grown in place of the old one, and begged him not to think any more about the past, for she was quite well now. Then the old man knew that his sparrow was a fairy, and no common bird. It would be difficult to exaggerate the old man’s rejoicing now. He forgot all his troubles, he forgot even how tired he was, for he had found his lost sparrow, and instead of being ill and without a tongue as he had feared and expected to find her, she was well and happy and with a new tongue, and without a sign of the ill-treatment she had received from his wife. And above all she was a fairy.

The sparrow asked him to follow her, and flying before him she led him to a beautiful house in the heart of the bamboo grove. The old man was utterly astonished when he entered the house to find what a beautiful place it was. It was built of the whitest wood, the soft cream-colored mats which took the place of carpets were the finest he had ever seen, and the cushions that the sparrow brought out for him to sit on were made of the finest silk and crape. Beautiful vases and lacquer boxes adorned the tokonoma[1] of every room.

[1] An alcove where precious objects are displayed.

The sparrow led the old man to the place of honor, and then, taking her place at a humble distance, she thanked him with many polite bows for all the kindness he had shown her for many long years.

Then the Lady Sparrow, as we will now call her, introduced all her family to the old man. This done, her daughters, robed in dainty crape gowns, brought in on beautiful old-fashioned trays a feast of all kinds of delicious foods, till the old man began to think he must be dreaming. In the middle of the dinner some of the sparrow’s daughters performed a wonderful dance, called the “suzume-odori” or the “Sparrow’s dance,” to amuse the guest.

Never had the old man enjoyed himself so much. The hours flew by too quickly in this lovely spot, with all these fairy sparrows to wait upon him and to feast him and to dance before him.

But the night came on and the darkness reminded him that he had a long way to go and must think about taking his leave and return home. He thanked his kind hostess for her splendid entertainment, and begged her for his sake to forget all she had suffered at the hands of his cross old wife. He told the Lady Sparrow that it was a great comfort and happiness to him to find her in such a beautiful home and to know that she wanted for nothing. It was his anxiety to know how she fared and what had really happened to her that had led him to seek her. Now he knew that all was well he could return home with a light heart. If ever she wanted him for anything she had only to send for him and he would come at once.

The Lady Sparrow begged him to stay and rest several days and enjoy the change, but the old man said he must return to his old wife—who would probably be cross at his not coming home at the usual time—and to his work, and there-fore, much as he wished to do so, he could not accept her kind invitation. But now that he knew where the Lady Sparrow lived he would come to see her whenever he had the time.

When the Lady Sparrow saw that she could not persuade the old man to stay longer, she gave an order to some of her servants, and they at once brought in two boxes, one large and the other small. These were placed before the old man, and the Lady Sparrow asked him to choose whichever he liked for a present, which she wished to give him.

The old man could not refuse this kind proposal, and he chose the smaller box, saying:

“I am now too old and feeble to carry the big and heavy box. As you are so kind as to say that I may take whichever I like, I will choose the small one, which will be easier for me to carry.”

Then the sparrows all helped him put it on his back and went to the gate to see him off, bidding him good-by with many bows and entreating him to come again whenever he had the time. Thus the old man and his pet sparrow separated quite happily, the sparrow showing not the least ill-will for all the unkindness she had suffered at the hands of the old wife. Indeed, she only felt sorrow for the old man who had to put up with it all his life.

When the old man reached home he found his wife even crosser than usual, for it was late on in the night and she had been waiting up for him for a long time.

“Where have you been all this time?” she asked in a big voice. “Why do you come back so late?”

The old man tried to pacify her by showing her the box of presents he had brought back with him, and then he told her of all that had happened to him, and how wonderfully he had been entertained at the sparrow’s house.

“Now let us see what is in the box,” said the old man, not giving her time to grumble again. “You must help me open it.” And they both sat down before the box and opened it.

To their utter astonishment they found the box filled to the brim with gold and silver coins and many other precious things. The mats of their little cottage fairly glittered as they took out the things one by one and put them down and handled them over and over again. The old man was overjoyed at the sight of the riches that were now his. Beyond his brightest expectations was the sparrow’s gift, which would enable him to give up work and live in ease and comfort the rest of his days.

He said: “Thanks to my good little sparrow! Thanks to my good little sparrow!” many times.

But the old woman, after the first moments of surprise and satisfaction at the sight of the gold and silver were over, could not suppress the greed of her wicked nature. She now began to reproach the old man for not having brought home the big box of presents, for in the innocence of his heart he had told her how he had refused the large box of presents which the sparrows had offered him, preferring the smaller one because it was light and easy to carry home.

“You silly old man,” said she, “Why did you not bring the large box? Just think what we have lost. We might have had twice as much silver and gold as this. You are certainly an old fool!” she screamed, and then went to bed as angry as she could be.

The old man now wished that he had said nothing about the big box, but it was too late; the greedy old woman, not contented with the good luck which had so unexpectedly befallen them and which she so little deserved, made up her mind, if possible, to get more.

Early the next morning she got up and made the old man describe the way to the sparrow’s house. When he saw what was in her mind he tried to keep her from going, but it was useless. She would not listen to one word he said. It is strange that the old woman did not feel ashamed of going to see the sparrow after the cruel way she had treated her in cutting off her tongue in a fit of rage. But her greed to get the big box made her forget everything else. It did not even enter her thoughts that the sparrows might be angry with her—as, indeed, they were—and might punish her for what she had done.

Ever since the Lady Sparrow had returned home in the sad plight in which they had first found her, weeping and bleeding from the mouth, her whole family and relations had done little else but speak of the cruelty of the old woman. “How could she,” they asked each other, “inflict such a heavy punishment for such a trifling offense as that of eating some rice-paste by mistake?” They all loved the old man who was so kind and good and patient under all his troubles, but the old woman they hated, and they determined, if ever they had the chance, to punish her as she deserved. They had not long to wait.

After walking for some hours the old woman had at last found the bamboo grove which she had made her husband carefully describe, and now she stood before it crying out:

“Where is the tongue-cut sparrow’s house? Where is the tongue-cut sparrow’s house?”

At last she saw the eaves of the house peeping out from amongst the bamboo foliage. She hastened to the door and knocked loudly.

When the servants told the Lady Sparrow that her old mistress was at the door asking to see her, she was somewhat surprised at the unexpected visit, after all that had taken place, and she wondered not a little at the boldness of the old woman in venturing to come to the house. The Lady Sparrow, however, was a polite bird, and so she went out to greet the old woman, remembering that she had once been her mistress.

The old woman intended, however, to waste no time in words, she went right to the point, without the least shame, and said:

“You need not trouble to entertain me as you did my old man. I have come myself to get the box which he so stupidly left behind. I shall soon take my leave if you will give me the big box—that is all I want!”

The Lady Sparrow at once consented, and told her servants to bring out the big box. The old woman eagerly seized it and hoisted it on her back, and without even stopping to thank the Lady Sparrow began to hurry homewards.

The box was so heavy that she could not walk fast, much less run, as she would have liked to do, so anxious was she to get home and see what was inside the box, but she had often to sit down and rest herself by the way.

While she was staggering along under the heavy load, her desire to open the box became too great to be resisted. She could wait no longer, for she supposed this big box to be full of gold and silver and precious jewels like the small one her husband had received.

At last this greedy and selfish old woman put down the box by the wayside and opened it carefully, expecting to gloat her eyes on a mine of wealth. What she saw, however, so terrified her that she nearly lost her senses. As soon as she lifted the lid, a number of horrible and frightful looking demons bounced out of the box and surrounded her as if they intended to kill her. Not even in nightmares had she ever seen such horrible creatures as her much-coveted box contained. A demon with one huge eye right in the middle of its forehead came and glared at her, monsters with gaping mouths looked as if they would devour her, a huge snake coiled and hissed about her, and a big frog hopped and croaked towards her.

The old woman had never been so frightened in her life, and ran from the spot as fast as her quaking legs would carry her, glad to escape alive. When she reached home she fell to the floor and told her husband with tears all that had happened to her, and how she had been nearly killed by the demons in the box.

Then she began to blame the sparrow, but the old man stopped her at once, saying:

“Don’t blame the sparrow, it is your wickedness which has at last met with its reward. I only hope this may be a lesson to you in the future!”

The old woman said nothing more, and from that day she repented of her cross, unkind ways, and by degrees became a good old woman, so that her husband hardly knew her to be the same person, and they spent their last days together happily, free from want or care, spending carefully the treasure the old man had received from his pet, the tongue-cut sparrow.  

 

This treasury of traditional Japanese tales is one of the out-of-copyright books re-printed by our very own Colin – if you want to buy a copy, let us know and he’ll bring it along to the next event (£7.50).  Click here for more titles in the series.

 

March 2016

THE STORY-TELLER H.H.Munro

It was a hot afternoon, and the railway carriage was correspondingly sultry, and the next stop was at Templecombe, nearly an hour ahead.  The occupants of the carriage were a small girl, and a smaller girl, and a small boy.  An aunt belonging to the children occupied one corner seat, and the further corner seat on the opposite side was occupied by a bachelor who was a stranger to their party, but the small girls and the small boy emphatically occupied the compartment.  Both the aunt and the children were conversational in a limited, persistent way, reminding one of the attentions of a housefly that refuses to be discouraged.  Most of the aunt’s remarks seemed to begin with “Don’t,” and nearly all of the children’s remarks began with “Why?”  The bachelor said nothing out loud.  “Don’t, Cyril, don’t,” exclaimed the aunt, as the small boy began smacking the cushions of the seat, producing a cloud of dust at each blow.

“Come and look out of the window,” she added.

The child moved reluctantly to the window.  “Why are those sheep being driven out of that field?” he asked.

“I expect they are being driven to another field where there is more grass,” said the aunt weakly.

“But there is lots of grass in that field,” protested the boy; “there’s nothing else but grass there.  Aunt, there’s lots of grass in that field.”

“Perhaps the grass in the other field is better,” suggested the aunt fatuously.

“Why is it better?” came the swift, inevitable question.

“Oh, look at those cows!” exclaimed the aunt.  Nearly every field along the line had contained cows or bullocks, but she spoke as though she were drawing attention to a rarity.

“Why is the grass in the other field better?” persisted Cyril.

The frown on the bachelor’s face was deepening to a scowl.  He was a hard, unsympathetic man, the aunt decided in her mind.  She was utterly unable to come to any satisfactory decision about the grass in the other field.

The smaller girl created a diversion by beginning to recite “On the Road to Mandalay.”  She only knew the first line, but she put her limited knowledge to the fullest possible use.  She repeated the line over and over again in a dreamy but resolute and very audible voice; it seemed to the bachelor as though some one had had a bet with her that she could not repeat the line aloud two thousand times without stopping.  Whoever it was who had made the wager was likely to lose his bet.

“Come over here and listen to a story,” said the aunt, when the bachelor had looked twice at her and once at the communication cord.

The children moved listlessly towards the aunt’s end of the carriage.  Evidently her reputation as a story-teller did not rank high in their estimation.

In a low, confidential voice, interrupted at frequent intervals by loud, petulant questionings from her listeners, she began an unenterprising and deplorably uninteresting story about a little girl who was good, and made friends with every one on account of her goodness, and was finally saved from a mad bull by a number of rescuers who admired her moral character.

“Wouldn’t they have saved her if she hadn’t been good?” demanded the bigger of the small girls.  It was exactly the question that the bachelor had wanted to ask.

“Well, yes,” admitted the aunt lamely, “but I don’t think they would have run quite so fast to her help if they had not liked her so much.”

“It’s the stupidest story I’ve ever heard,” said the bigger of the small girls, with immense conviction.

“I didn’t listen after the first bit, it was so stupid,” said Cyril.

The smaller girl made no actual comment on the story, but she had long ago recommenced a murmured repetition of her favourite line.

“You don’t seem to be a success as a story-teller,” said the bachelor suddenly from his corner.

The aunt bristled in instant defence at this unexpected attack.

“It’s a very difficult thing to tell stories that children can both understand and appreciate,” she said stiffly.

“I don’t agree with you,” said the bachelor.

“Perhaps you would like to tell them a story,” was the aunt’s retort.

“Tell us a story,” demanded the bigger of the small girls.

“Once upon a time,” began the bachelor, “there was a little girl called Bertha, who was extraordinarily good.”

The children’s momentarily-aroused interest began at once to flicker; all stories seemed dreadfully alike, no matter who told them.

“She did all that she was told, she was always truthful, she kept her clothes clean, ate milk puddings as though they were jam tarts, learned her lessons perfectly, and was polite in her manners.”

“Was she pretty?” asked the bigger of the small girls.

“Not as pretty as any of you,” said the bachelor, “but she was horribly good.”

There was a wave of reaction in favour of the story; the word horrible in connection with goodness was a novelty that commended itself.  It seemed to introduce a ring of truth that was absent from the aunt’s tales of infant life.

“She was so good,” continued the bachelor, “that she won several medals for goodness, which she always wore, pinned on to her dress.  There was a medal for obedience, another medal for punctuality, and a third for good behaviour.  They were large metal medals and they clicked against one another as she walked.  No other child in the town where she lived had as many as three medals, so everybody knew that she must be an extra good child.”

“Horribly good,” quoted Cyril.

“Everybody talked about her goodness, and the Prince of the country got to hear about it, and he said that as she was so very good she might be allowed once a week to walk in his park, which was just outside the town.  It was a beautiful park, and no children were ever allowed in it, so it was a great honour for Bertha to be allowed to go there.”

“Were there any sheep in the park?” demanded Cyril.

“No;” said the bachelor, “there were no sheep.”

“Why weren’t there any sheep?” came the inevitable question arising out of that answer.

The aunt permitted herself a smile, which might almost have been described as a grin.

“There were no sheep in the park,” said the bachelor, “because the Prince’s mother had once had a dream that her son would either be killed by a sheep or else by a clock falling on him.  For that reason the Prince never kept a sheep in his park or a clock in his palace.”

The aunt suppressed a gasp of admiration.

“Was the Prince killed by a sheep or by a clock?” asked Cyril.

“He is still alive, so we can’t tell whether the dream will come true,” said the bachelor unconcernedly; “anyway, there were no sheep in the park, but there were lots of little pigs running all over the place.”

“What colour were they?”

“Black with white faces, white with black spots, black all over, grey with white patches, and some were white all over.”

The story-teller paused to let a full idea of the park’s treasures sink into the children’s imaginations; then he resumed:

“Bertha was rather sorry to find that there were no flowers in the park.  She had promised her aunts, with tears in her eyes, that she would not pick any of the kind Prince’s flowers, and she had meant to keep her promise, so of course it made her feel silly to find that there were no flowers to pick.”

“Why weren’t there any flowers?”

“Because the pigs had eaten them all,” said the bachelor promptly.  “The gardeners had told the Prince that you couldn’t have pigs and flowers, so he decided to have pigs and no flowers.”

There was a murmur of approval at the excellence of the Prince’s decision; so many people would have decided the other way.

“There were lots of other delightful things in the park.  There were ponds with gold and blue and green fish in them, and trees with beautiful parrots that said clever things at a moment’s notice, and humming birds that hummed all the popular tunes of the day.  Bertha walked up and down and enjoyed herself immensely, and thought to herself: ‘If I were not so extraordinarily good I should not have been allowed to come into this beautiful park and enjoy all that there is to be seen in it,’ and her three medals clinked against one another as she walked and helped to remind her how very good she really was.  Just then an enormous wolf came prowling into the park to see if it could catch a fat little pig for its supper.”

“What colour was it?” asked the children, amid an immediate quickening of interest.

“Mud-colour all over, with a black tongue and pale grey eyes that gleamed with unspeakable ferocity.  The first thing that it saw in the park was Bertha; her pinafore was so spotlessly white and clean that it could be seen from a great distance.  Bertha saw the wolf and saw that it was stealing towards her, and she began to wish that she had never been allowed to come into the park.  She ran as hard as she could, and the wolf came after her with huge leaps and bounds.  She managed to reach a shrubbery of myrtle bushes and she hid herself in one of the thickest of the bushes.  The wolf came sniffing among the branches, its black tongue lolling out of its mouth and its pale grey eyes glaring with rage.  Bertha was terribly frightened, and thought to herself: ‘If I had not been so extraordinarily good I should have been safe in the town at this moment.’  However, the scent of the myrtle was so strong that the wolf could not sniff out where Bertha was hiding, and the bushes were so thick that he might have hunted about in them for a long time without catching sight of her, so he thought he might as well go off and catch a little pig instead.  Bertha was trembling very much at having the wolf prowling and sniffing so near her, and as she trembled the medal for obedience clinked against the medals for good conduct and punctuality.  The wolf was just moving away when he heard the sound of the medals clinking and stopped to listen; they clinked again in a bush quite near him.  He dashed into the bush, his pale grey eyes gleaming with ferocity and triumph, and dragged Bertha out and devoured her to the last morsel.  All that was left of her were her shoes, bits of clothing, and the three medals for goodness.”

“Were any of the little pigs killed?”

“No, they all escaped.”

“The story began badly,” said the smaller of the small girls, “but it had a beautiful ending.”

“It is the most beautiful story that I ever heard,” said the bigger of the small girls, with immense decision.

“It is the only beautiful story I have ever heard,” said Cyril.

A dissentient opinion came from the aunt.

“A most improper story to tell to young children!  You have undermined the effect of years of careful teaching.”

“At any rate,” said the bachelor, collecting his belongings preparatory to leaving the carriage, “I kept them quiet for ten minutes, which was more than you were able to do.”

“Unhappy woman!” he observed to himself as he walked down the platform of Templecombe station; “for the next six months or so those children will assail her in public with demands for an improper story!”

February 2016:

Feetwater

“Put a sod on the fire, give an apple to the child, and pour a drink for the storyteller.”

A rich woman sat up late one night carding and preparing wool, while all the family and servants were asleep. Suddenly a knock was given at the door, and a voice called, “Open!

“Who is there?” said the woman of the house.

“I am the Witch of one Horn,” was answered.

The mistress, supposing that one of her neighbours had called and required assistance, opened the door, and a woman entered, having in her hand a pair of wool-carders, and bearing a horn on her forehead, as if growing there. She sat down by the fire in silence, and began to card the wool with violent haste. Suddenly she paused, and said aloud: “Where are the women? they delay too long.”

Then a second knock came to the door, and a voice called as before, “Open! open!”

The mistress felt herself obliged to rise and open to the call, and immediately a second witch entered, having two horns on her forehead, and in her hand a wheel for spinning wool.

“Give me place,” she said; “I am the Witch of the two Horns,” and she began to spin as quick as lightning.

And so the knocks went on, and the call was heard, and the witches entered, until at last twelve women sat round the fire—the first with one horn, the last with twelve horns.

And they carded the thread, and turned their spinning-wheels, and wound and wove, all singing together an ancient rhyme, but no word did they speak to the mistress of the house.

Strange to hear, and frightful to look upon, were these twelve women, with their horns and their wheels; and the mistress felt near to death, and she tried to rise that she might call for help, but she could not move, nor could she utter a word or a cry, for the spell of the witches was upon her.

Then one of them called to her in Irish, and said, “Rise, woman, and make us a cake.”

Then the mistress searched for a vessel to bring water from the well that she might mix the meal and make the cake, but she could find none.

And they said to her, “Take a sieve and bring water in it.”

And she took the sieve and went to the well; but the water poured from it, and she could fetch none for the cake, and she sat down by the well and wept.

Then a voice came by her and said, “Take yellow clay and moss, and bind them together, and plaster the sieve so that it will hold.”

This she did, and the sieve held the water for the cake; and the voice said again:

“Return, and when thou comest to the north angle of the house, cry aloud three times and say, ‘The mountain of the Fenian women and the sky over it is all on fire.'” And she did so.

When the witches inside heard the call, a great and terrible cry broke from their lips, and they rushed forth with wild lamentations and shrieks, and fled away to Slievenamon, where was their chief abode. But the Spirit of the Well bade the mistress of the house to enter and prepare her home against the enchantments of the witches if they returned again.

And first, to break their spells, she sprinkled the water in which she had washed her child’s feet, the feet-water, outside the door on the threshold; secondly, she took the cake which in her absence the witches had made of meal mixed with the blood drawn from the sleeping family, and she broke the cake in bits, and placed a bit in the mouth of each sleeper, and they were restored; and she took the cloth they had woven, and placed it half in and half out of the chest with the padlock; and lastly, she secured the door with a great crossbeam fastened in the jambs, so that the witches could not enter, and having done these things she waited.

Not long were the witches in coming back, and they raged and called for vengeance.

“Open! open!” they screamed; “open, feet-water!”

“I cannot,” said the feet-water; “I am scattered on the ground, and my path is down to the Lough.”

“Open, open, wood and trees and beam!” they cried to the door.

“I cannot,” said the door, “for the beam is fixed in the jambs and I have no power to move.”

“Open, open, cake that we have made and mingled with blood!” they cried again.

“I cannot,” said the cake, “for I am broken and bruised, and my blood is on the lips of the sleeping children.”

Then the witches rushed through the air with great cries, and fled back to Slievenamon, uttering strange curses on the Spirit of the Well, who had wished their ruin; but the woman and the house were left in peace, and a mantle dropped by one of the witches in her flight was kept hung up by the mistress in memory of that night; and this mantle was kept by the same family from generation to generation for five hundred years after.

This traditional tale is taken from the 1892 book Celtic Folk and Fairy Tales – Edited by Joseph Jacobs – Success Stories storyteller Colin Rowan has reprints of this book for sale.

There is a brilliant version of this story in the book Grandmother’s Stories from Barefoot Books – called “Go Ask The Wise Woman”

January 2016: The Pregnant Priest as told by Colin Rowan.

Ivan Ivanovich was a priest in Russia. He was fat, greedy, and usually red in the face from drink. One day he was suffering from bad stomach pains and so he sent his servant off to get some medicine from the local doctor. Along the road into town the servant trudged until finally reaching the doctor’s house, but when he explained what his master wanted, the doctor said that he wouldn’t prescribe anything until he had a sample of the priest’s urine.

So it was back down the road for the servant, back to the priest’s house, back to explain what was required. The priest took the flask that the doctor had provided and soon brought it back – full to the brim.

Once more the servant set off down that road. But when he had covered about half the distance, he tripped on a rock in the middle of the road and, as he fell forward, all the contents of the beaker was spilt on the dusty road.

Well, what was he to do? He couldn’t go back to his priest – he would be severely beaten. But at that moment he noticed a nearby field of cows and, having been told so often that patience was a virtue, had sat down in the field and waited. After a short time he was rewarded – sweeeesch – a huge stream emerged from a nearby cow and he was up, flask under the cow and soon filled to the top.

When the doctor received the sample, and carried out his tests, he was astounded. There was no doubt about it – the priest was soon going to give birth to a calf.

Well, when the servant got back and explained to the priest what he’d been told, the priest was shocked (although perhaps not quite as shocked as you might have imagined). He quickly decided that the shame would be too much to bear and so he set off that very night – to travel out of the district until the calf was born. He walked and walked and walked and finally came to a farmhouse on the very edge of the parish. There he used his badge of office to gain admittance and secure the best bed in the house – the one in the kitchen next to the stove. Ivan the priest was so tired after his travels that he undressed, climbed into the cot and went straight to sleep.

Now, it just so happened that one of the farmer’s cows gave birth in the night and, it being a very cold night, the farmer didn’t want to leave the newborn calf in the shed. So he brought it, with some straw, into the kitchen and put it by the stove – next to the priest’s bed. When the priest woke, he looked down, saw the calf and exclaimed – “My God! I’ve must have been so tired that I gave birth in the night and didn’t even notice. Well, it’s all over – I can travel back home with my child and pretend I’ve adopted him.”

And, with that, he got dressed, put the calf under his arm, and set off for home. Of course, when the farmer discovered that the priest had stolen his calf, he was straight off to the local magistrate. Before long, the farmer and the magistrate had caught up with the priest on the road and the arguments began. Not knowing which story to believe, the magistrate decided that a trial would be needed and so they all trooped back to the farm.

Once there, the magistrate instructed the priest to stand on one side of the farmyard whilst the cow was brought to the other. The magistrate held the calf in between them and decreed that, when he released it, whoever it went to would be judged to be the parent. The calf was released. The priest made cooing noises, “Here little calf – come to Daddy”

The cow, meanwhile, just said, “Mooooooooooooo.”

And, of course, the calf went straight to its mother and started to suckle.

And so, the priest returned to his village. Soon the story of the pregnant priest spread across the whole district until it was known by everyone.  And the sad thing was, not only was the priest forever in disgrace, he had also lost his only child!

Advertisements