Gypsy Folk Tales, by Francis Hindes Groome, , at sacred-texts.com
Somewhere or other there lived a forester. He ill-used his wife and his children, and often got drunk. Then the mother said, 'My children, the father is always beating us, so we'll get our things together and leave him. We will wander out into the world, whither our eyes lead us.'
They took their things, and followed the road through a great forest. They journeyed two days and two nights without reaching any place, so the eldest son said to his mother, 'Mother, dear, night has come on us, let us sleep here.'
'My children,' said the mother, 'pluck moss, make a resting-place, and we will lie down here to sleep.'
The elder son said to his brother, 'Go for wood.'
They made a fire, and seated themselves by it.
Then said the elder son to his brother, 'Now, you must keep watch, for there are wild beasts about, so that we be
not devoured. Do you sleep first; then you'll get up, I lie down to sleep, then you will watch again.'
So the younger brother lay down near his mother to sleep; the elder kept watch with his gun. Then he thought within himself, and said, 'Great God! wherever are we in these great forests? Surely we soon must perish.' He climbed up a high tree, and looked all round, till a light flashed in his eyes. When he saw the light, he took his hat from his head, and let it drop. 1 Then he climbed down, and looked to see if his mother was all right. From the spot where his hat lay he walked straight forward for a good distance, a whole half hour. Then he observed a fire. Who were there but four-and-twenty robbers, cooking and drinking? He went through the wood, keeping out of their sight, and loaded his gun; and, just as one of them was taking a drink of wine, he shot the jug right from his lips, so that only the handle was left in his hand. And his gun was so constructed that it made no report.
Then the robber said to his comrade, 'Comrade, why won't you let me alone, but knock the jug out of my mouth?' You fool, I never touched you.'
He took a pull out of another jug, and the lad loaded again. He sat on a tree, and again shot the jug--shot it away from his mouth, so that the handle remained in his hand.
Then the first robber said, 'Will you leave me alone, else I'll pay you out with this knife?'
But his comrade stepped up to him, looking just like a fool; at last he said, 'My good fellow, I am not touching you. See, it is twice that has happened; maybe it is some one in the forest. Take your gun, and let's go and look if there is not some one there.'
They went and they hunted, searched every tree, and found him, the forester's son, sitting on a tree at the very top. They said to him, 'You earth-devil, come down. If you won't, we'll shoot at you till you fall down from the tree.'
But he would not come. Again they ordered him. What
was the poor fellow to do? He had to come. When he was down, they each seized him by an arm, and he thought to himself, 'Things look bad with me. I shall never see my mother and brother again. They'll either kill me, or tie me up to a tree.'
They brought him to the fire and asked him, 'What are you?--are you a craftsman?'
'I am one of your trade.'
'If you are of our trade, eat, drink, and smoke as much as your heart desires.'
When he had eaten and drunk, they said, 'Since you are such a clever chap, and such a good shot, there is a castle with a princess in it, whom we went after, but could not come at her anyhow, this princess. Maybe, as you are so smart, there's a big dog yonder that made us run, but as you are such a good shot, and your gun makes no report, you'll kill this dog, and then we'll make you our captain.'
Then they broke up camp, took something to eat and to drink, and came to the castle. When they reached the castle the dog made a great noise. They lifted him up, the forester's son; he aimed his gun, and, as the dog sprang at him, he fired and hit him. The dog made ten more paces, and fell to the earth. As he fell, the lad said to the robbers, 'Comrades, the dog is dead.'
'Brave fellow,' said they, 'now you shall be our captain, for killing the dog; but one thing more you must do. We will make a hole for you in the wall. When we have done that, then--you are so slender--you will creep through the hole.' 1
They made the hole, and he crept through it. Then the robbers said to him, 'Here you, you have to go up a flight of steps, and at the fourth flight you will come to a door. There is one door, two doors, three doors.'
So through each door he passed; then he passed through the third, there were a quantity of swords. He saw they were very fine swords, and took one of them. Then he went to the fourth, opened it slowly; it did not stop him, for the
keys were there. Through the keyhole he saw a bed. Then he opened it, and went in. There he saw a princess lying, quite naked, but 1 covered with a cloth of gold. At her feet stood a table, on which lay a pair of golden scissors. There were golden clasps, and there were two rings, and her name was engraved inside one of them. And when he sees her sleeping thus, he thought, 'O great God, what if I were to lie down beside her! Do, my God, as thou wilt.' So he took the scissors, and cut off half the cloth of gold, and lay down beside her; and she could not awake. Then he arose, and took to himself the half of the coverlet and one of the rings and one of her slippers, and went out, taking the sword with him, and shutting the door. As he passed through the fourth door he said to himself, 'I must open it carefully, so as not to waken her mother and father.' He got out safely, then he went through the courtyard to the robbers. When he reached the hole he said to them, 'My dear men, I know where she is. Come, we'll soon have the princess, but you must creep through the hole one after the other.' Then he drew his sword, and, as one came through after the other, he seized him by the head, cut off his head, and cast him aside. When he had done so to the twenty-fourth, he cast away the sword, and returned by the way that he had come to his mother, where they had slept. (He had thought never again to see his mother and his brother.) When he came to his mother, he said, 'Mother, how do you find yourself? you must be sleepy.'
His mother asked him, 'My dear son, how have you managed to do with so little sleep?'
His younger brother said, 'Why didn't you wake me up?' You were so sleepy, I let you sleep.'
Then they made a fire, ate and drank, and wandered on again through the forest. They arrived in a town, and sought employment. The mother said to her eldest son, 'My son, we will stay at least a year here.' She fortunately got a place at a big house as cook, and the two lads went as servants to an innkeeper. When they had been a year there, the mother said to her two sons, 'Just see how well off we were at home, and here we have to work, and I an old body.
[paragraph continues] You are young folk, and can stick to it, but I am old, and can't stand it any longer. The father ill-used us; still, let us return home, if the Lord God gives us health and strength to do so.'
So they made ready; the landlord paid them their wages; and they set out. They went by the very way that he had gone by to the castle where he killed the twenty-four robbers.
But how had they got on there since the year when he did that to her? The princess had borne a child, but she knew not who was the father. She had a tavern built not far from the castle, and said to her mother, ' Mother dear, see what has befallen me, and how I now am. But I know not whom the child is by. You have let me have the tavern built. Whoever comes there I will entertain gratis, and ask him what he has learned in the world--whether he has any story to tell me, or whether he has had any strange experiences. Perhaps the man will turn up by whom I had the child.'
As luck would have it, the two brothers came through the village where the tavern was. There was a large sign-board, on which was written, 'Every man may eat and drink to his heart's desire, and smoke, only he must relate his experiences that he has gone through in the world.' The elder lad said to his brother, 'Brother dear, where are we? I don't myself know.' But right well he knew whom the tavern belonged to. They halted. Then he looked at the notice, and said to his mother, 'See, mother dear, see what that is. See there is written that the victuals and drink are gratis.'
'Let us go in, my son; we are very hungry, anyhow. Sure, we'll find something to tell her, if only she'll give us to eat and to drink.'
They went into the tavern. Straightway the hostess greeted them, and said, 'Good-day, where do you come from?'
'We come from a town out yonder. We have been working there; now we want to return home, where my husband is.'
She said, 'Good. What might you drink, what will you eat? I will give you just what you want.'
'Ah, my God! ' said she, 'kind lady, if you would be so good as to give us something. We know you are a kind lady.'
So she said to her women-servants, 'Bring wine here, bring beer here, bring food here, and for the two men bring something to smoke.'
When they brought it, they ate and drank.
'Now,' said the princess--the seeming hostess, but they knew not that she was a princess; only the elder brother knew it--'oh! if only you would tell me something. Come, you, old wife, what have you seen in your time?'
'Why, my good lady, I have gone through plenty. When I was at home, my man drank much, ran through my money. When he got drunk, he'd come home, scold and knock me about, smash everything that came to hand, and as for his children, he couldn't bear the sight of them. He scolded and knocked them about till they didn't know where they were. At last I said to my children, "My children, since I can't get on with my man, and he uses us so badly, let us take our few things, and go off into the world."'
The hostess listened, brought the old wife a mug of beer, and gave it her. When she had drunk, the hostess said, Speak on.'
'Well, we set off and journeyed through the great forests, where we must go on and on, two whole days, without ever lighting on town or village. Never a peasant was to be seen, and night,' she said, 'came upon us, when we could go no further, and I was so weak that I could not take another step. There, poor soul, I had to bide, lying in the great forest under a great tree. It rained, and we crouched close under so as not to get wet. Forthwith I gathered wood, made a big fire, plucked moss, and made a resting-place for us. It was dark, and my sons said, "We must mind and not be eaten by wild beasts." And my elder son said to his brother, " I will think what must be done. You, too, have a couple of guns; if anything attacks us, you will shoot." But he said to his elder brother, "Do you, my brother, sleep first, and when you have had your sleep out, then you will watch again." 1 As they all slept under that great tree, he
thought to himself, "I will sling my gun round my neck and climb a tree." He climbed a tree, reached its top, for he wondered whether he might not see something--a village or a town or a light. As it was, he did see a light. He took the hat from his head, and threw it in the direction of the light.'
Then she said, 'Ah! hostess, believe him not. Mark you, that is not true,' said his mother.
But she went and brought them beer, and said, 'Tell on.' And he said, 'I climbed down the tree to look where my hat was.'
'Ah! believe him not, hostess, believe him not; mark you, that is not true.'
'Nay, let him go on with his story. What was there?'
'Twenty-four robbers. There was a bright light that dazzled my eyes. Not far from them was a tree.' [At this point the story-teller forgot that the elder son is the narrator, so resumed the third person, repeating his former words almost verbatim till he came to the passage where the robbers send the lad into the castle.]
Then said the old mother to the hostess, 'Believe him not, believe him not, for that is not true which he tells you.'
'Let him proceed. What have you then done?' the hostess asked him.
'I--have done nothing.'
'You must have done something.'
'Well then, I have lain with you. I took away the ring; I took half the cloth of gold; a slipper I took from you--that I carried off. And I took me a sword, and went out, shut the door behind me. Then I went to where the robbers were, called to them to step through the hole one after another. As they came through the hole, I cut off each one's head, and flung him aside.'
Then the hostess saw it was true. 'Then you will be my man.'
And he drew the things out, and showed them to her. And they straightway embraced, and kissed one another. And she went into the little room, fetched the boy. 'See, that is your child; I am your wife.'
Forthwith she bids them harness two horses to the carriage; they drove to the castle. When they reached it,
she said to her father, 'Father dear, see, I have soon found my husband.'
Forthwith they made a feast, invited everybody. Forthwith the banns were proclaimed, and they were married. The floor there was made of paper, and I came away here.
Identical with Grimm's No. 111, 'The Skilful Huntsman' (ii. 102), but in some points more closely resembling the variants on p. 412. There are also some striking analogies to our Welsh-Gypsy story of An Old King and his Three Sons in England,' No. 55.
145:1 He threw the hat in the direction of the light, so that when he had descended, and could no longer discern the light, he might know by the hat in which direction to find it. So in Grimm, No. 111 (ii. 103).
146:1 The idea may be far-fetched (literally), but this passage has a very Oriental flavour. Cf. ' A Simple Thief' in Campbell's Santal Folk-tales, p. 126.--The thieves 'went to a rich man's house, and dug a hole through the wall. They then said, "You creep in."'
147:1 The text for the next ten lines is very corrupt, like the narrative. I have Bowdlerised much, and omitted a good deal more.
149:1 This is wrong; and from this point onward there is some confusion--the son, not the mother, seeming to become the narrator.