Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Three Feathers & The Old Witch: Two Deptford Fairy Tales

More English Fairy Tales  by Joseph Jacobs (1894) includes a tale called 'Three Feathers' which the author states was 'Collected by Mrs Gomme from some hop-pickers near Deptford' (presumably the folklorist Alice Gomme).

'Once upon a time there was a girl who was married to a husband that she never saw. And the way this was, was that he was only at home at night, and would never have any light in the house. The girl thought that was funny, and all her friends told her there must be something wrong with her husband, some great deformity that made him want not to be seen.

Well, one night when he came home she suddenly lit a candle and saw him. He was handsome enough to make all the women of the world fall in love with him. But scarcely had she seen him when he began to change into a bird, and then he said: 'Now you have seen me, you shall see me no more, unless you are willing to serve seven years and a day for me, so that I may become a man once more.' Then he told her to take three feathers from under his side, and whatever she wished through them would come to pass'.

She uses the feathers to wish for her work as a laundress to be done, and to trick various men out of  their money before the bird man reappears and the live happily ever after.

Another story in the same collection, The Old Witch is also described as 'Collected by Mrs Gomme at Deptford'

'Once upon a time there were two girls who lived with their mother and father. Their father had no work, and the girls wanted to go away and seek their fortunes. Now one girl wanted to go to service, and her mother said she might if she could find a place. So she started for the town. Well, she went all about the town, but no one wanted a girl like her. So she went on farther into the country, and she came to the place where there was an oven where there was lots of bread baking. And the bread said, 'Little girl, little girl, take us out, take us out. We have been baking seven years, and no one has come to take us out.' So the girl took out the bread, laid it on the ground and went on her way. Then she met a cow, and the cow said, 'Little girl, little girl, milk me, milk me! Seven years have I been waiting, and no one has come to milk me.' The girl milked the cow into the pails that stood by. As she was thirsty she drank some, and left the rest in the pails by the cow. Then she went on a little farther, and came to an apple-tree, so loaded with fruit that its branches were breaking down, and the tree said, 'Little girl, little girl, help me shake my fruit. My branches are breaking, it is so heavy.' And the girl said, 'Of course I will, you poor tree.' So she shook the fruit all off, propped up the branches, and left the fruit on the ground under the tree. Then she went on again till she came to a house. Now in this house there lived a witch, and this witch took girls into her house as servants. And when she heard that this girl had left her home to seek service, she said that she would try her, and give her good wages. The witch told the girl what work she was to do. 'You must keep the house clean and tidy, sweep the floor and the fireplace; but there is one thing you must never do. You must never look up the chimney, or something bad will befall you.'

So the girl promised to do as she was told, but one morning as she was cleaning, and the witch was out, she forgot what the witch said, and looked up the chimney. When she did this a great bag of money fell down in her lap. This happened again and again. So the girl started to go off home. When she had gone some way she heard the witch coming after her. So she ran to the apple-tree and cried:

'Apple-tree, apple-tree, hide me,
So the old witch can't find me;
If she does she'll pick my bones,
And bury me under the marble stones.'

So the apple-tree hid her. When the witch came up she said:

'Tree of mine, tree of mine,
Have you seen a girl
With a willy-willy wag, and a long-tailed bag,
Who's stole my money, all I had?'

And the apple-tree said, 'No, mother; not for seven year.'

She outwits the witch, but when her sister tries to do the same without being so helpful along the way she is caught and punished.

No comments: