From John MacDonald, travelling tinker.
THERE was an old soldier once, and he left the army. He went to the top of a hill that was at the upper end of the town land, and he said--
"Well, may it be that the mischief may come and take me with him on his back, the next time that I come again in sight of this town."
Then he was walking till he came to the house of a gentleman that was there, John asked the gentleman if he would get leave to stay in his house that night. "Well, then," said the gentleman, "since thou art an old soldier, and hast the look of a man of courage, without dread or fear in thy face, there is a castle at the side of yonder wood, and thou mayest stay in it till day. Thou shalt have a pipe and baccy, a cogie full of whisky, and a bible to read."
When John got his supper, he took himself to the castle: he set on a great fire, and when a while of the night had come, there came two tawny women in, and a dead man's kist between them. They threw it at the fireside, and they sprang out. John arose, and with the heel of his foot he drove out its end, and he dragged out an old hoary bodach, and he set him sitting in the great chair; he gave him a pipe and baccy, and a cogie of whisky, but the bodach lot them fall on
the floor. "Poor man," said John, "the cold is on thee." John laid himself stretched in the bed, and he left the bodach to toast himself at the fireside; but about the crowing of the cock he went away.
The gentleman came well early in the morning.
"What rest didst thou find John?"
"Good rest," said John "thy father was not the man that would frighten me."
"Right, good John, thou shalt have two hundred 'pund,' and lie to-night in the castle."
"I am the man that will do that," said John; and that night it was the very like. There came three tawny women, and a dead man's kist with them amongst them. They threw it up to the side of the fireplace, and they took their soles out (of that).
John arose, and with the heel of his foot he broke the head of the kist, and he dragged out of it the old hoary man; and as he did the night before he set him sitting in the big chair, and gave him pipe and baccy, and he let them fall. "Oh! poor man," said John, "cold is on thee." Then he gave him a cogie of drink, and he let that fall also. "Oh! poor man, thou art cold."
The bodach went as he did the night before; "but," said John to himself, "if I stay here this night, and that thou shouldst come, thou shalt pay my pipe and baccy, and my cogie of drink."
The gentleman came early enough in the morning, and he asked, "What rest didst thou find last night, John?" "Good rest," said John, "it was not the hoary bodach, thy father, that would put fear on me."
"Och!" said the gentleman, "if thou stayest to-night -thou shalt have three hundred 'pund.'"
"It's a bargain," said John.
When it was a while of the night there came four
tawny women, and a dead man's kist with them amongst them; and they let that down at the side of John.
John arose, and he drew his foot and he drove the head out of the kist, and he dragged out the old hoary man and he set him in the big chair. He reached him the pipe and the baccy, the cup and the drink, but the old man let them fall, and they were broken.
"Och," said John, before thou goest this night thou shalt pay me all thou hast broken;" but word there came not from the head of the bodach. Then John took the belt of his "abersgaic," 1 and he tied the bodach to his side, and he took him with him to bed. When the heath-cock crowed, the bodach asked him to let him go.
"Pay what thou hast broken first," said John. "I will tell thee, then," said the old man," there is a cellar of drink under, below me, in which there is plenty of drink, tobacco, and pipes; there is another little chamber beside the cellar, in which there is a caldron full of gold; and under the threshold of the big door there is a crocky full of silver. Thou sawest the women that came with me to-night?"
"I saw," said John.
"Well, there thou hast four women from whom I took the cows, and they in extremity; they are going with me every night thus, punishing me; but go thou and tell my son how I am being wearied out. Let him go and pay the cows, and let him not be heavy on the poor. Thou thyself and he may divide the gold and silver between you, and marry thyself my old girl; but mind, give plenty of gold of what is left to the poor, on
whom I was too hard, and I will find rest in the world of worlds."
The gentleman came, and John told him as I have told thee, but John would not marry the old girl of the hoary bodach.
At the end of a day or two John would not stay longer; he filled his pockets full of the gold, and he asked the gentleman to give plenty of gold to the poor. He reached the house (went home), but he was wearying at home, and he had rather be back with the regiment. He took himself off on a day of days, and he reached the hill above the town from which he went away; but who should come to him but the Mischief.
"Hoth! hoth! John, thou hast come back?"
"Hoth! on thyself," quoth John, "I came; who art thou?"
"I am the Mischief; the man to whom thou gavest thyself when thou was here last."
"Ai! ai!" said John, "it's long since I heard tell of thee, but I never saw thee before. There is glamour on my eyes, I will not believe that it is thou at all; but make a snake of thyself, and I will believe thee."
The Mischief did this.
"Make now a lion of roaring."
The Mischief did this.
"Spit fire now seven miles behind thee, and seven miles before thee."
The Mischief did this.
Well," said John, "since I am to be a servant with thee, come into my 'abersgaic,' and I will carry thee; but thou must not come out till I ask thee, or else the bargain's broke."
The Mischief promised, and he did this.
"Now," said John, "I am going to see a brother of mine that is in the regiment, but keep thou quiet."
So now, John went into the town; and one yonder and one here, would cry, "There is John the 'desairtair.'"
There was gripping of John, and a court held on him; and so it was that he was to be hanged about mid-day on the morrow, and John asked no favour but to be floored with a bullet.
The "Coirneal" said, "Since he was an old soldier, and in the army so long, that he should have his asking."
On the morrow when John was to be shot, and the soldiers foursome round all about him, "What is that they are saying?" said the Mischief. "Let me amongst them and I wont be long scattering them."
"Cuist! cuist!" said John.
"What's that speaking to thee?" said the Coirneal.
"Oh! it's but a white mouse," said John.
"Black or white," said the Coirneal, "don't thou let her out of the 'abersgaic' and thou shalt have a letter of loosing, and let's see thee no more."
John went away, and in the mouth of night be went into a barn where there were twelve men threshing.
"Oh! lads," said John, "here's for you my old abersgaic, and take a while threshing it, it is so hard that it is taking the skin off my back."
They took as much as two hours of the watch at the abersgaic with the twelve flails; and at last every blow they gave it, it would leap to the top of the barn, and it was casting one of the threshers now and again on his back. When they saw that, they asked him to be out
of that, himself and his agersgaic; they would not believe but that the Mischief was in it.
Then he went on his journey, and he went into a smithy where there were twelve smiths striking their great hammers.
"Here's for you, lads, an old abersgaic, and I will give you half-a-crown, and take a while at it with the twelve great hammers; it is so hard that it is taking the skin off my back."
But that was fun for the smiths; it was good sport for them the abersgaic of the soldier; but every "sgailc" it got, it was bounding to the top of the smithy. "Go out of this, thyself and it," said they; "we will not believe but that the 'Bramman' 1 is in it."
So then John went on and the Mischief on his back, and he reached a great furnace that was there.
"Where art thou going now, John?" said the Mischief.
"Patience a little, and thou'lt see that," said John.
"Let me out," said the Mischief, "and I will never put trouble on thee in this world."
"Nor in the next?" said John.
"That's it," said the Mischief.
"Stop then," said John, "till thou get a smoke;" and so saying, John cast the abersgaic and the Donas into the middle of the furnace, and himself and the furnace went as a green flame of fire to the skies.
This was written by Hector Urquhart, from the dictation of John MacDonald, and sent January 1860.
It is clearly the same story as that of the man who travelled to learn what shivering meant (Grimm), though it has only a very few of the incidents which are in the German version.
Another version of the same story was told me in English by a man whom I met in London, and have never been able to find again. (See Introduction.)
It is a story very widely spread in Europe; and I believe this to be a genuine tradition, though I have but one Gaelic version of it.
John MacDonald, travelling tinker, has but a small stock of lore; and the tinker whom I met in London could not read the card which I gave him, with a promise of payment if he would come and repeat his stock of stories. His female companion, indeed, could both read the card and speak French. The whole lot seemed to suspect some evil design on my part; and I have never seen the one who told the story, or the woman since, though I met their comrade afterwards.
For the pedigree of Grimm's version, see vol. iii., p. 15, edition 1856.
295:1 This word I have never met before.