A Unique Tale
A King and a Queen were walking one day by the blue pool in their domain. The swan had come to the blue pool, and the bright yellow flowers of the broom were above the water. "Och," said the Queen, "if I might have a daughter that would show such colors--the blue of the pool in her eyes, the bright yellow of the broom in her hair, and the white of the swan in her skin--I would let my seven sons go with the wild geese." "Hush," said the King. "You ask for a doom, and it may be sent you." A shivering came upon the Queen. They went back to the Castle, and that evening the nurse told them that a gray man had passed in a circle round her seven sons saying, "If it be as your mother desired, let it be as she has said."
Well, before the broom blossomed again and before the swan came to the blue pool, a child was born to the Queen. It was a girl. The King was sitting with his seven sons when the women came to tell him of the new birth. "O my sons," said he, "may ye be with me all my life." But his sons moved from him as he said it. Out through the door they went, and up the mound that was before the door. There they changed into gray wild geese, and the seven flew towards the empty hills.
No councillor that the King consulted could help to win them back again, and no hunter that he sent through the country could gain tale or tidings of them. The King and Queen were left with one child only, the girl just born. They called her "Sheen," a word that means "Storm," because her coming was a storm that swept away her seven brothers. The Queen died, my hearers. Then little Sheen was forgotten by her father, and she was reared and companioned by the servants of the house.
One day, when she was the age her eldest brother was when he was changed from his human form, Sheen went with Mor, the Woodman's daughter, and Siav, the basket-maker's foster-child, to gather berries in the wood. Going here and there she got separated from Siav and Mor. She came to a place where there were lots of berries and went step after step to pick them. Her feet went down in a marsh. She cried to Mor and Siav, but no answers came from them. She cried and cried again. Her cries startled seven wild geese that rose up and flew round her. "Save me," she cried to them. Then one of the wild geese spoke to her. "Anyone but a girl we would save from the marsh, but such a one we cannot save, because it was a girl who lost us our human forms and the loving companionship of our father." Then Sheen knew--for the servants had often told her the story--that it was one of her seven brothers who spoke. "Since ever I knew of it," said she, "the whole of my trouble has been that I was the cause of your losing your human form and the companionship of our father who is now called the Lonely King. Believe me," said she, "that I would have striven and striven to win you back." There was so much feeling in her voice that her seven brothers, although they had been hardened by thinking about their misfortune, were touched at their hearts and they flew down to help her. They bore up her arms, they caught at her shoulders, they raised up her feet. They carried her beyond the marsh. Then she knelt down and cried to them, "O my brothers dear, is there anything I can do to restore you to your human forms?" "There is," said the first of the seven wild geese. She begged them to tell it to her. "It's a long and a tiresome labor we would put on you," said one. "If you would gather the light down that grows on the bogs with your own hands," said another, "and if you spun that down into threads, and wove the threads into a cloth and sewed the cloth into a shirt, and did that over and over again until you had made seven shirts for us, all that time without laughing or crying or saying a word, you could save us. One shirt you could weave and spin and sew in a year. And it would not be until the seven shirts were put upon us that the human form would be restored to each of us." "I would be glad to do all that," said Sheen, "and I would cry no tear, laugh no laugh, and say no word all the time I was doing this task."
Then said the eldest brother, "The marsh is between you and our father's house, and between you and the companions who were with you to-day. If you would do the task that would restore us to our human forms, it were best you did not go back. Beyond the trees is the house of a lone woman, and there you may live until your task is finished." The seven wild geese then flew back to the marsh, and Sheen went to the house beyond the trees. The Spae-Woman lived there. She took Sheen to be a dumb girl, and she gave her food and shelter for the services she did--bringing water from the well in the daytime and grinding corn at the quern at dusk. She had the rest of the day and night for her own task. She gathered the bog-down between noon and sunset and spun the thread at night. When she had lengths of thread spun she began to weave them on the loom. At the end of a year she had the first shirt made. In another year she made the second, then the third, then the fourth, the fifth and the sixth. And all the time she said no word, laughed no laugh and cried no tear.
She was gathering the bog-down for the seventh and last shirt. Once she went abroad on a day when the snow was melted and she felt her footsteps light. Hundreds of birds were on the ground eating plentifully and calling to one another. Sheen could hardly keep from her mouth the song that was in her mind. She would sing and laugh and talk when the last thread was spun and woven, when the last stitch was sewn, and when the shirts of bog-down she had made in silence would have brought back her brothers to their own human forms. She gathered the scarce heads of the cannavan or bog-down with one hand, while she held the other hand to her lips.
Something dropped down at her feet. It was a white grouse and it remained cowering on the ground. Sheen looked up and she saw a hawk above. And when she looked round she saw a man coming across the bog. The hawk flew towards him and lighted on his shoulder.
Sheen held the white grouse to her breast. The man came near to her and spoke to her and his voice made her stand. He wore the dress of a hunter. His face was brown and lean and his eyes were bright-blue like gentian-flowers. No word did Sheen say to him and he passed on with the hawk on his shoulder. Then with the grouse held at her breast she went back to the Spae-Woman's house.
That night when she spun her thread she thought of the blue-eyed, brown-faced man. Would any of her brothers be like him, she wondered, when they were restored to their human shapes. She fed the white grouse with grains of corn and left it to rest in the window-niche above her bed. And then she lay awake and tried to know the meaning in the song the Spae-Woman sang when she sat spinning wool in the chimney Corner--
You would not slumber
If laid at my breast!
I'll rock you to rest!
The flood on the river beats
The swan from its nest!
You would not slumber
If laid at my breast!
The rain-drops encumber
The hawthorn's crest:
My thoughts have no number:
You would not slumber
If laid at my breast,
I'll rock you to rest.
She passed the night between sleeping and waking, and when the light grew she saw the white grouse crouching against the window-opening. She opened the door and stepped outside to let the grouse fly from her hands.
And there, on the ground before her was a sword! Sheen knew it to be the sword of the man she had seen yesterday, and she knew the man had been before the door in the night-time. She knelt on the ground to look at the bright blue blade. O my listeners, if I was there I was in the crows that flew down heavily and cawed as they picked up something that pleased them, in the wood-cushats that cooed in the trees, in the small birds that quarreled in the thatch of the house, and in the breeze that blew round--the first breeze of the day.
The Spae-Woman came outside and saw what Sheen was looking at--the sword on the ground. "It is wrought with cunning that only the smiths of Kings possess," she said. She took the sword and hung it on the branch of a tree so that the dews of the ground might not rust it. "I think the one who owns it is the stranger who is seen in the wild places hereabouts--the man whom the neighbors call the Hunter-King," she said to Sheen.
On another day Sheen went to gather bog-down. This time she crossed the river by the stepping-stones and went into a country where there were many cattle. She stood wondering at their numbers and wishing that such a cow and such a calf might belong to the Spae-Woman. Then the next thing she saw was two black horses striving with each other. They showed their teeth at each other and bit and kicked. Then they came racing towards her. "Oh," said Sheen to herself, "they are Breogan's wild stallions." She ran, but the horses were able to make circles round her. "Breogan's wild stallions," said she, "they will rush in and trample me to death." Then she heard someone shouting commands to the horses. She saw a man strike one of the stallions with a staff, making him rear high. She saw him make the other stand with the command that was in his voice. She ran to the river, but she slipped on the stepping-stones; she fell down and she felt the water flowing upon her. The man came and lifting her up carried her to her own side of the river. Across the bog he carried her, and when she looked at him she saw the lean face and eyes blue like gentian-flowers--she saw the face of the man who was called the Hunter-King. He left her on the ground when they passed the bog, and she went on her way without speaking.
Nothing of this no more than of anything else that happened to her, or anything that she thought of, did Sheen tell the Spae-Woman. But she wished and she wished that the Hunter-King might come past while there was a light in the house and step within and talk to the Spae-Woman, so that she herself, while spinning the thread, could hear his voice and listen to the things he talked about. She often stood at the door and watched across the bog to see if anything was coming to her.
A neighbor-woman came across the door-step one evening and Sheen went into the house after her, for she felt that something was going to be told. There was a dead man in a house. He had been found in the wood. He was known as the Hunter-King. Sheen stood at her bed and heard what the neighbor-woman said.
The Hunter-King was being waked in the neighbor-woman's house, and her eldest daughter had been the corpse-watcher the first night. In the morning they found that the girl's hand had been withered. The woman's second daughter was the corpse-watcher the second night and her right hand had been left trembling. This was the third and last night that the Hunter-King would be waked, and to-night there was no one to watch his corpse.
Sheen thought that nothing would ever happen in the world again, now that the Hunter-King was dead. She thought that there was no loneliness so great as that of his corpse with no one to watch it on the last strange night it would be above ground. The neighbor-woman went from the Spae-Woman and Sheen went after her. She was standing on the door-step of her house. "Oh, colleen," said the neighbor-woman, "I am wanting a girl to watch a corpse in my house to-night--the third and the last night for watching. Will you watch and I will give you a comb for your hair?" Sheen showed that she would serve the woman and she went into the wake-house. At first she was afraid to look at the bed. Then she went over and saw the Hunter-King with his face still, his eyes closed down, and the plate of salt on his breast. His gray gaunt hound was stretched across his feet.
The woman and her daughters lighted candles and placed them in the window recesses and at the head of the corpse. Then they went into their dormer-room and left Sheen to her watching. She sat at the fire and made one fagot after another blaze up. She had brought her basket of bog-down and she began to spin a thread upon the neighbor-woman's wheel.
She finished the thread and put it round her neck. Then she began to search for more candles so that she might be able to light one, as another went out. But as she rose up all the candles went out all at once. The hound started from the foot of the bed. Then she saw the corpse sitting up stiffly in the place where it had been laid.
Something in Sheen overcame her dread, and she went over to the corpse and took the salt that was on its breast and put it on its lips. Then a voice came from between the lips. "Fair Maid," said the voice, "have you the courage to follow me? The others failed me and they have been stricken. Are you faithful?" "I will follow you," said Sheen. "Then," said the corpse, "put your hands on my shoulders and come with me. I must go over the Quaking Bog, and through the Burning forest, and across the Icy Sea." Sheen put her hands on his shoulders. A storm came and they were swept through the roof of the house. They were carried through the night. Down they came on the ground and the dead man sprang away from Sheen. She went to follow him and found her feet upon a shaking sod. They were on the Quaking Bog, she knew. The corpse of the Hunter-King went ahead and she knew that she must keep it in sight. He went swiftly. The sod went under her feet and she was in the watery mud. She struggled out and jumped over a pool that was hidden with heather. All the time she was in dread that the figure that went before her so quickly would be lost to her. She sank and she struggled and she sprang across pools and morasses. All the time what had been the corpse of the Hunter-King went before her.
Then she saw fires against the sky and she knew they were coming to the Burning Forest. The figure before her sprang across a ditch and went into the forest. Sheen sprang across it too. Burning branches fell across her path as she went on. Hot winds burnt her face. Flames dazzled and smoke dazed her. But the figure before her went straight on and Sheen went straight on too.
The forest ended on a cliff. Below was the sea. The figure before her dived down and Sheen dived too. The cold chilled her to the marrow. She thought the chill would drive the life out of her. But she saw the head of one swimming before her and she swam on.
And then they were on land again. "Fair Maid," said the corpse of the Hunter-King, "put your hands on my shoulders again." She put her hands on his shoulders. A storm came and swept them away. They were driven through the roof of the neighbor-woman's house. The candle-wicks fluttered and light came on them again. She saw the hound standing in the middle of the floor. She saw the corpse sitting where it had been laid and the eyes were now open.
"Fair Maid," said the voice of the Hunter-King, "you have brought me back to life. I am a man under enchantment. There is a witch-woman in the wood that I gave my love to. She enchanted me so that the soul was out of my body, and wandering away. It was my soul you followed. And the enchantment was to be broken when I found a heart so faithful that it would follow my soul over the Quaking Bog, through the Burning Forest and across the Icy Sea. You have brought my soul and my life back to me."
Then she ran out of the neighbor's house. The night after, in the Spae-Woman's house she finished weaving the threads that were on the loom. The next night she stitched the cloth and made the sixth shirt. The day after she went into the bog to gather the bog-down for the seventh shirt. She had gathered her basketful and was going through the wood about the hour of sunset. At the edge of the thin wood she saw the Hunter-King standing. He took her hands and his were warm hands. His brown face and his gentian-blue eyes were high and noble. And Sheen felt a joy like the sharpness of a sword when he sang to her about the brightness of her hair and the blue of her eyes. "O Maid," said he, "is there anything that binds you to this place?" Sheen showed him the bog-down in the basket and the woven thread that was round her neck. "Come with me to my kingdom," said he, "and you shall be my wife and the love of my heart." The next evening Sheen went with him. She took the six shirts she had spun and woven and stitched. The Hunter-King lifted her before him on a black horse and they rode into his Kingdom.
And now Sheen was the wife of the Hunter-King. She would have been happy if her husband's sisters had been kind. But they were jealous and they made everything in the Castle unfriendly to her. And often they talked before her brother saying that Sheen was not noble at all, and that the reason she did not speak was because her language was a base one. They watched her when she went out to gather bog-down in the daytime, and they watched her when she spun by herself at night. Sheen longed for the days and nights to pass so that the last threads might be spun and woven and the last stitches put in the seventh shirt. Then her brothers would be with her. She could tell the King about herself and silence the bad talk of his sisters. But as she neared the end of her task she became more and more in dread.
The threads were spun and woven for the seventh shirt. The cloth was made and the first stitches were put in it. Then Sheen's little son was born. The King was away at the time, gathering his men together at far parts of the Kingdom, and he sent a message saying that Sheen and her baby were to be well-minded, and that his sisters were not to leave the chamber where she was until he returned.
On the third night, while Sheen was in her bed with her baby beside her, and while her sisters-in-law were in the room, a strange music was heard outside. It was played all round the King's house. Whoever heard it fell into deep slumber. The kern that were on guard slept. The maids that were whispering together fell into a slumber. And a deep sleep came upon Sheen and her child and on her three sisters-in-law who watched in the chamber.
Then a gray wolf that had been seen outside sprang in through the window opening. He took Sheen's child in his mouth. He sprang back through the window opening and was seen about the place no more. Her sisters-in-law wakened while Sheen still slept. They went to tend it and found the child was gone. Then they were afraid of what their brother would do to them for letting this happen. They made a plot to clear themselves, and before Sheen wakened they had killed a little beast and smeared its blood upon the pillows of the bed.
When the King came into his wife's chamber he saw his sisters on the ground lamenting and tearing the hairs out of their heads. He went to where his wife was sleeping and saw blood upon her hands and upon the pillows. He turned on his sisters with his sword in his hand. They cried out that they could not have prevented the thing that had happened--that the Queen had laid hands on the child and having killed it had thrown its body to the gray wolf that had been watching outside.
And while they were speaking Sheen awakened. She put out her arms but her child was not beside her. She found blood upon the pillows. Then she heard her sisters-in-law accuse her to the King of having killed her child and flung its body to the gray wolf outside. She fell into a swoon and when she came out of it her mind was lost to her.
The King knelt to her and begged her to tell him what had happened. But she only knew she was to say no word. Then he used to watch her and he wondered why she cried no tear. On the fourth day after she rose from her bed and searched the Castle for the piece of cloth she had spun and woven out of the bog-down. She found it and began to sew it for the seventh shirt. The King's sisters came to him and said, "The woman you brought here is of another race from ours. She has forgotten that a child was born to her, and that she killed it and flung its body to the gray wolf. She sits there now just stitching a garment." The King went and saw her stitching and stitching as if her life depended on each stitch she put into the cloth. He spoke to her and she looked up but did not speak. Then the King's heart was hardened. He took her and brought her outside the gate of the Castle. "Go back to the people you came from," said he, "for I cannot bear that you should be here, and not speak to me of what has happened." Sheen knew she was being sent from the house he had brought her to. A bitter cry came from her. Then the stitched cloth that was in her hand became bog-down and was blown away on the breeze. When she saw this happen she turned from the King's Castle and ran through the woods crying and crying.
She went through the woods for many days, living on berries and the water of springs. At last she came to the Spae-Woman's house. The Spae-Woman was before the door and she welcomed Sheen back. She gave her drinks she had made from strange herbs, and in a season Sheen's mind and health came back to her, and she knew all that had happened. She thought she would win back her seven brothers, and then, with their help, win back her child and her husband. But she knew she would have to gather the bog-down, spin the threads and weave them all over again, as her tears and cries had broken her task. She told her story to the Spae-Woman. Then she went into silence again, gathering the bog-down and spinning the thread.
But when the first thread was spun the memory of her child blew against her heart and she cried tears down. The thread she had spun became bog-down and was blown away. For days she wept and wept. Then the Spae-Woman said to her, "Commit the child you have lost to Diachbha--that is, to Destiny--and Diachbha may bring it about that he shall be the one that will restore your seven brothers their human forms. And when you have committed your lost little son to Diachbha go back to your husband and tell him all you have lived through."
Sheen, believing in the Spae-Woman's wisdom, did what was told her. She made an image of her lost little son with leaves and left it on the top of the house where it was blown away by the winds. Then she was ready to go back to her husband and tell him all that had happened in her life. But on the day she was bringing the last pitcher of water from the well she met him on the path before her. "Do you remember that I carried you across the bog?" he said. "And do you remember that I followed your soul?" said she.
These were the first words she ever spoke to him. They went back together to the Spae-Woman's and she told him all that had been in her life. He told her how his sisters had acknowledged that they had spoken falsely against her.
He took her back to his own Kingdom, and there, as King and Queen they still live. But the name she bears is not Sheen or Storm now. Two sons more were born to her. But her seven brothers are still seven wild geese, and the Queen has found no trace of her first-born son. But the Spae-Woman has had a dream, and the dream has revealed this to her: the Son that Sheen lost is in the world, and if the maiden who will come to love him, will give seven drops of her heart's blood, the Queen's seven brothers will regain their human forms.
"So that is the Unique Tale," said the Old Woman of Beare. "If you ever find out what went before it and what comes after it come back here and tell it to me. But I don't think you'll get the rest of it," said she, "seeing that the two of you weren't able to count the horns outside." She went on talking and talking, Gilly and the King's Son hearing what she said when she spoke in a sudden high voice, and not hearing when she murmured on as if talking to the ashes or to the pot or to the corncrake, the cuckoo or the swallow that were picking grains off the floor. "If you see Laheen the Eagle again, or Blackfoot the Elk or the Crow of Achill tell them to come and visit me sometime. I'm all alone here except for my swallow and cuckoo and corncrake. And mind you, great Kings and Princes used to come to see me." So she went on talking in low tones and in sudden high tones.
"You must come with me and help me to get the rest of the Unique Tale," said the King of Ireland's Son. "That I'll do," said Gilly of the Goatskin. "But I must get a name first.
"Old Mother," said he, to the Old Woman of Beare. "You must now give me a name."
"I'll give you a name," said the Old Woman of Beare, "but you must stand before me and strip off the goatskin that covers you."
Gilly pulled at the strings and the goatskin fell on the ground. The Old Woman of Beare nodded her head. "You have the stars on your breast that denote the Son of a King," she said.
"The Son of a King--me!" said Gilly of the Goatskin. "You have the stars on your breast," said the Old Woman of Beare.
Gilly looked at himself and saw the three stars on his breast. "If I am the Son of a King I never knew it until now," he said.
"You are the son of a King," said the Old Woman of Beare, "and I will give you a name when you come back to me. But I want you, first of all, to find out what happened to the Crystal Egg."
"The Crystal Egg!" said Gilly in great surprise.
"The Crystal Egg indeed," said the Old Woman of Beare. "You must know that it was stolen out of the nest of Laheen the Eagle, and the creature that stole it was the Crow of Achill. But what happened to the Crystal Egg after that no one knows."
"I myself had it after that," said Gilly, "and it was stolen from me by Rory the Fox. And then it was put under a goose to hatch." "A goose to hatch the Crystal Egg after an Eagle had half-hatched it! Aye, aye, to be sure, that's right," said the Old Woman of Beare. "And now you must go and find out what happened to it. Go now, and when you come back I will give you your name."
"I will do that," said Gilly of the Goatskin. Then he turned to the King's Son. "Three days before Midsummer's Day meet me on the road to the Town of the Red Castle, and I will go with you to find out what went before and what comes after the Unique Tale," he said.
"I will meet you," said the King of Ireland's Son.
The two youths went to the table and ate slices of the unwasted loaf and drank draughts from the inexhaustible bottle. "I shall stay here to practise sword-cuts and sword-thrusts," said the King's Son, "until four days before Midsummer's Day." The two youths went to the door.
"Seven waves of good-luck to you, Old Woman of Beare," said Gilly of the Goatskin.
"May your double be slain and yourself remain," said the King's Son. Then they went out together, but not along the same path did the two youths go.
Gilly slept as he traveled that night, for he fell in with a man who was driving a load of hay to the fair, and when he got into the cart he lay against the hay and slept. When he parted with the carter he cut a holly stick and journeyed along the road by himself. At the fall of night he came to a place that made him think he had been there before: he looked around and then he knew that this was the place he had lived in when he had the Crystal Egg. He looked to see if the house was there: it was, and people were living in it, for he saw smoke coming out of the chimney. It was dark now and Gilly thought he could not do better than take shelter in that house.
He went to the door and knocked. There was a lot of rattling behind, and then a crooked old woman opened the door to him. "What do you want?" said she.
"Can I have shelter here for to-night, ma'am?" said Gilly.
"You can get no shelter hem," said the old woman, "and I'd advise you to begone."
"May I ask who lives here?" said Gilly, putting his foot inside the door.
"Six very honest men whose business keeps them out until two and three in the morning," said the crooked old woman.
Gilly guessed that the honest men whose business kept them out until two and three in the morning were the robbers he had heard about. And he thought they might be the very men who had carried off the Spae-Woman's goose and the Crystal Egg along with it. "Would you tell me, good woman," said Gilly, "did your six honest men ever bring to this house an old hatching goose?"
"They did indeed," said the crooked woman, "and a heart-scald the same old hatching goose is. It goes round the house and round the house, trying to hatch the cups I leave out of my hands."
Then Gilly pushed the door open wide and stepped into the house.
"Don't stay in the house," said the crooked old woman. "I'll tell you the truth now. My masters are robbers, and they'll skin you alive if they find you here when they come back in the morning."
"It's more likely I'll skin them alive," said Gilly, and he looked so fierce that he fairly frightened the old woman. "And if you don't satisfy me with supper and a bed I'll leave you to meet them hanging from the door."
The crooked old woman was so terrified that she gave him a supper of porridge and showed him a bed to sleep in. He turned in and slept. He was roused by a candle being held to his eyes. He wakened up and saw six robbers standing round him with knives in their hands.
"What brings you under our roof?" said the Captain. "Answer me now before we skin you as we would skin an eel."
"Speak up and answer the Captain," said the robbers.
"Why shouldn't I be under this roof?" said Gilly. "I am the Master-Thief of the World."
The robbers put their hands on their knees and laughed at that. Gilly jumped out of the bed. "I have come to show you the arts of thievery and roguery," said he. "I'll show you some tricks that will let you hold up your heads amongst the thieves and robbers of the world."
He looked so bold and he spoke so bold that the robbers began to think he might have some reason for talking as he did. They left him and went off to their beds. Gilly slept again. At the broad noon they were all sitting at breakfast--Gilly and the six robbers. A farmer went past leading a goat to the fair.
"Could any of you steal that goat without doing any violence to the man who is driving it?" said Gilly.
"I couldn't," said one robber, and "I couldn't," said another robber, and "I'd be hardly able to do that myself," said the Captain of the Robbers.
"I can do it," said Gilly. "I'll be back with the goat before you are through with your breakfast." He went outside.
Gilly knew that country well and he ran through the wood until he was a bend of the road ahead of the farmer who was leading his goat to the fair. He took off one shoe and left it in the middle of the road. He ran on then until he was round another bend of the road. He took off the other shoe and left it down. Then he hid behind the hedge and waited.
The farmer came to where the first shoe was. "That's not a bad shoe," said he, "and if there was a comrade for it, it would be worth picking up." He went on then and came to where the other shoe was lying. "Here is the comrade," said he, "and it's worth my while now to go back for the first."
He tied the goat to the mile-stone and went back. As soon as the farmer had turned his back, Gilly took the collar off the goat, left it on the milestone and took the goat through a gap in the hedge. He brought it to the house before the robbers were through with their breakfast. They were all terribly surprised. The Captain began to bite at his nails.
The farmer, with the two shoes under his arm, came to where he had left the goat. The goat was gone and its collar was left on the milestone. He knew that a robber had taken his goat. "And I had promised Ann, my wife, to buy her a new shawl at the fair," said he. "She'll never stop scolding me if I go back to her now with one hand as long as the other. The best thing I can do is to take a sheep out of my field and sell that. Then when she is in good humor on account of getting the shawl I'll tell her about the loss of my goat." So the farmer went back to the field.
They were sitting down to a game of cards after breakfast--the six robbers and Gilly--when they saw the farmer going past with the sheep. "I'll be bound that he'll watch that sheep more closely than he watched the goat," said one of the robbers. "Could any of you steal that sheep without doing him any violence?" said Gilly. "I couldn't," said one robber, and "I couldn't," said another robber. "I could hardly do that myself," said the Captain of the Robbers. "I'll bring the sheep here before you're through with the game of cards," said Gilly.
The farmer was just past the milestone when he saw a man hanging on a tree. "The saints between us and harm," said he, "do they hang men along this road?" Now the man hanging from the tree was Gilly. He had fastened himself to a branch with his belt, putting it under his arm-pits. He slipped down from the branch and ran till he was ahead of the farmer. The farmer saw another man hanging from a tree. "The saints preserve us," said he, "sure; it's not possible that they hanged two men along this road?" Gilly slipped down from that tree too and ran on until he was ahead of the farmer again. The farmer saw a third man hanging from a tree. "Am I leaving my senses?" said he. "I'll go back and see if the other men are hanging there as I thought they were." He tied the sheep to a bush and went back. As soon as he turned, Gilly slipped down from the tree, took the sheep through a gap, and got back to the robbers before they were through with the game. All the robbers said it was a wonderful thing he had done. The Captain of the Robbers was left standing by himself scratching his head.
The farmer found no men hanging on trees and he thought he was out of his mind. He came back and he found his sheep gone. "What will I do now?" said he. "I daren't let Ann know I lost a goat and a sheep until I put her into good humor by showing the shawl I bought her at the fair. There's nothing to be done now, but take a bullock out of the field and sell it at the fair." He went to the field then, took a bullock out of it, and passed the house just as the robbers were lighting their pipes. "If he watched the goat and the sheep closely he'll watch the bullock nine times as closely," said one of the robbers.
"Which of you could take the bullock without doing the man any violence?" said Gilly. "I couldn't," said one robber, and "I couldn't," said another robber. "If you could do it," said the Captain of the Robbers to Gilly, "I'll resign my command and give it to you." "Done," said Gilly, and he went out of the house again.
He went quickly through the wood, and when he came near where the farmer was he began to bleat like a goat. The farmer stopped and listened. Then Gilly began to baa like the sheep. "That sounds very like my goat and sheep," said the farmer. "Maybe they weren't taken at all, but just strayed off. If I can get them now, I needn't make any excuses to Ann my wife." He tied the bullock to a tree and went into the wood. As soon as he did, Gilly slipped out, took the bullock by the rope and hurried back to the house. The robbers were gathered at the door to watch for his coming back. When they saw him with the bullock they threw up their hats. "This man must be our Captain," they said. The Captain was biting his lips and his nails. At last he took off his hat with the feathers in it and gave it to Gilly. "You're our Captain now," said the robbers.
Gilly ordered that the goat, the sheep and the bullock be put into the byre, that the door be locked and the key be given to him. All that was done. Then said he to all the robbers, "I demand to know what became of the Crystal Egg that was with the goose you stole from the Spae-Woman." "The Crystal Egg," said one of the robbers. "It hatched, and a queer bird came out of it." "Where is that bird now?" said Gilly. "On the waves of the lake near at hand," said the robbers. "We see it every day." "Take me to the lake till I see the Bird out of the Crystal Egg," said Gilly. They locked the door of the house behind them, and the seven, Gilly at their head, wearing the hat with feathers, marched down to the lake.