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Gypsy Folk Tales, by Francis Hindes Groome, [1899], at

No. 20.--Mare's Son

A priest went riding on his mare to town. And . . . . he led her into the forest, and left her there. The mare brought forth a son. And God came and baptized him, and gave him the name 'Mare's Son.' He sucked one year, and went to a tree, and tries to pluck it up, and could not.

'Ah! mother, I'll suck one year more.'

He sucked one year more; he went to the tree; he plucked it up.

'Now, mother, I shall go away from you.'

And he went into the forests, and found a man. 'Good day to you.'


'What's your name?'


'Hah! let's become brothers. Come with me.'

They went further; they found another man. 'Good day'


'What's your name?'


'Hah! let's become brothers.'

They became brothers.

'Come with me.'

They went further; they found yet another man. 'Good day to you.'


What's your name?'


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'Come with me.'

The four went further, and they found a robbers' den. The robbers had killed a heifer. When the robbers saw them, they fled. They went away, and left the meat untouched. They cooked the meat and ate. They passed the night. In the morning Mare's Son said, 'Let three of us go to hunt, and one stay at home to cook.' They left Tree-splitter at home to cook, and he cooked the food nicely. And there came an old man to him, a hand's-breadth tall, with a beard a cubit in length.

'Give me to eat.'

'Not I. For they'll come from hunting, and there'll be nothing to give them.'

The old man went into the wood, and cut four wedges, and threw him, Tree-splitter, on the ground, and fastened him to the earth by the hands and feet, and ate up all the food. Then he let him go, and departed. He put more meat in the pot to cook. They came from hunting and asked, 'Have you cooked the food?'

'Ever since you've been away I've had the meat at the fire, but it isn't cooked properly.'

'Dish it up as it is, for we're hungry.'

He dished it up as it was, and they ate it. They passed the night. The next day they left another cook, and the three of them went off to hunt. The old man came again.

'Give me something to eat.'

'Not I, for they'll come from hunting, and there'll be nothing to give them to eat.'

He went into the wood, and cut four wedges, and fastened him to the earth by the hands and feet, and ate up all the food, and let him go, and departed. He put more meat in the pot to cook. They came from hunting. 'Have you cooked the food?'

'Ever since you've been away I've had it at the fire, but it isn't cooked, for it's old meat.'

They passed the night. The third day they left another cook. The three of them went to hunt; and those two never told what they had undergone. Again the old man came, demanded food.

'Not a morsel, for they'll come from hunting, and I should have nothing to give them.'

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He went into the wood, and cut four wedges, and fastened him to the earth by the hands and feet, and ate up all the food, and let him go. They came from hunting. 'Have you cooked the food?'

'The minute you went away I put the meat in the pot but it isn't cooked, for it's old.'

The fourth day Mare's Son remained as cook, and he cooked the food nicely.

The old man came. 'Give me something to eat, for I'm hungry.'

'Come here, and I'll give you some.'

He called him into the house, and caught him by the beard, and led him to a beech-tree, and drove his axe into the beech, and cleft it, and put his beard in the cleft, and drew out the axe, and drove in wedges by the beard, and left him there. They came from hunting; he gave them to eat. ' Why didn't you cook as good food as I?'

They ate.

The old man pulled the tree out of the earth on to his shoulders, and dragged it after him, and departed into a cave in the other world.

Said Mare's Son to them, 'Come with me, and you shall see what I've caught.'

They went, and found only the place.

Said Mare's Son, 'Come with me, for I've got to find him.'

They went, following the track of the tree to his cave.

'This is where he went in. Who'll go in to fetch him out?'

They said, 'Not we, we're afraid. Do you go in, for it was you who caught him.'

He said, 'I'll go in, and do you swear that you will act fairly by me.'

They swore that they will act fairly by him. They made a basket, and he lowered himself into the cave, and went to the other world. There was a palace under the earth, and he found the old man with his beard in the tree, put him in the basket, and they drew him up. He found a big stone, and put it in the basket. 'If they pull up the stone, they will pull up me.' They pulled it up half-way, and cut the rope He fell a-weeping. 'Now I am undone.'

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He journeyed under the earth, and came to a house. There was an old man and an old woman, both blind, for the fairies 1 had put out their eyes. Mare's Son went to them and said, 'Good day.'

'Thanks. And who are you?'

'I am a man.'

'And old or young?'


'Be a son to us.'


The old man had ten sheep. 'Here take the sheep, and graze them, daddy's darling. And don't go to the right hand, else the fairies will catch you and put out your eyes; that's their field. But go to the left hand, for they've no business there; that's our field.'

He went three days to the left hand, until he bethought himself, and made a flute, and went to the right hand with his sheep.

And there met him a fairy, and said to him, 'Son of a roarer, 2 what are you wanting here?'

He began to play on the flute. 'Dance a bit for me.'

He began to play, and she danced. Just as she was dancing her very best, he broke the flute with his teeth.

The fairy said, 'What are you doing, why did you break it, when I was dancing my very best?'

'Come with me to that tree, that maple, that I may take out its heart and make a flute. And I will play all day, and you shall dance. Come with me.'

He went to the maple, and drove his axe into the maple, and cleft it. 'Put your hand in, and take out the heart.'

She put in her hand; he drew out the axe, and left her hand in the tree.

She cried, 'Quick, release my hand; it will be crushed.'

And he said, 'Where are the old man's and the old woman's eyes? For if you don't tell me, I shall cut your throat.'

'Go to the third room. They're in a glass. The larger are the old man's, the smaller the old woman's.'

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'How shall I put them in again?'

'There is water in a glass there, and moisten them with the water, and put them in, and they will adhere. And smear with the water, and they will see.'

He cut her throat, and went and got the eyes of the old man and the old woman, and took the water, and moistened them with the water, and put them in, and they adhered. He smeared with the water, and they saw.

The old man and the old woman said, 'Thank you, my son. Be my son for ever. I will give all things into your hand, and I will go to my kinsfolk, for it is ten years since I have seen them.'

And the old man mounted a goat, and the old woman mounted a sheep; and he said to his son, 'Daddy's darling, walk, eat, and drink.' Away went the old man and the old woman to their kinsfolk.

He too set out, and went walking in the forest. In a tree were young eagles, and a dragon was climbing up to devour them. And Mare's Son saw him, and climbed up, and killed him.

And the young eagles said to him, 'God will give you good luck for killing him. For my mother said every year she was hatching chicks, and this dragon was always devouring them. But where shall we hide you? for our mother will come and devour you. But put yourself under us, and we will cover you with our wings.'

Their mother came. 'I smell fresh man.'

'No, mother, you just fancy it. You fly aloft, and the reek mounts up to you.'

'I'm certain there's a man here. And who killed the dragon?'

'I don't know, mother.'

'Show him, that I may see him.'

'He's among us, mother.'

They produced him, and she saw him; and the minute she saw him, she swallowed him. The eaglets began to weep and to lament: 'He saved us from death, and you have devoured him.'

'Wait a bit; I'll bring him up again.'

She brought him up, and asked him, 'What do you want for saving my young ones from death?'

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'I only want you to carry me to the other world.'

'Had I known that, I'd have let him devour my young ones, for to carry you up is mighty difficult. Do you know how I shall manage it? Bake twelve ovenfuls of bread, and take twelve heifers and twelve jars of wine.'

In three days he had them ready.

She said, 'Put them on me; and when I turn my head to the left, throw a heifer into my mouth and an ovenful of bread; and when I turn to the right, pour a jar of wine into my mouth.'

She brought him out; he went to his brothers. 'Good day to you, brothers. You fancied I should perish. If you acted fairly by me, toss your arrows up in the air, and they will fall before you; but if unfairly, then they will fall on your heads.'

All four tossed up their arrows, and they stood in a row. His fell right before him, and theirs fell on their heads, and they died.

I have excised the opening of this tale as far too Rabelaisian; in fact, it leaves the very priest ashamed. Its hero is called 'Mare's Son,' and is suckled by a mare like Milosh Obilich in a Croatian ballad. But the story is clearly identical with Grimm's 'Strong Hans' (No. 166, ii. 253, 454) and 'The Elves' (No. 91, ii. 24, 387), in one or other of which, or of their variants, almost every detail, sometimes to the minutest, will be found. Cosquin's 'Jean de l’Ours' (No. 1, i. 1-27) should also be carefully studied, and Hahn's 'Das Bärenkind' (No. 75, ii. 72). The Gypsy version is in one respect clearly defective: it has no heroine--a lack that might be supplied from Miklosich's Gypsy story of 'The Seer' (No. 23). The episode of the fairies that blind occurs in 'The Scab-pate' (Geldart's Folklore of Modern Greece, p. 158; cf. also Hahn, i. 222); and in Maive Stokes's Indian Fairy Tales, p. 57, one finds a similar restoration of their eyes to seven blinded mothers, with salve, however, not water, for application. Cf. Krauss, i. 181, for a flute that obliges to dance; and a blind old man riding on a great goat comes in Denton's Serbian Folk-lore, p. 249. The rescue of the young eagles, and the being borne to the upper world by the old mother-bird, are conjointly or separately very widespread. The meat generally runs short, and the hero gives her a piece of his own flesh (cf. p. 240). Hahn's 'Der Goldäpfelbaum and die Höllenfahrt,' from Syra (No. 70, ii. 57, 297), furnishes an excellent example; and Cosquin (ii. 141) gives Avar, Siberian, Kabyle, Persian, and Indian variants. The rescue of two eaglets from a great snake occurs in 'The Demon and the King's Son' (Maive Stokes's Indian Fairy Tales, No. 24, p. 182), and in 'Punchkin' (Mary Frere's Old Deccan Days, No. 1, p. 14). The striking ordeal at the close, recurring in 'The Seer' (No. 23, p. 89), is, to the best of my knowledge,

p. 80

peculiar to these two Gypsy stories; the arrows suggest a high antiquity. Von Sowa's Slovak-Gypsy story of 'The Three Dragons' (No. 44) offers many analogies to 'Mare's Son,' of which the Welsh-Gypsy story, 'Twopence-halfpenny' (No. 58, p. 243), is actually a variant. The first eight pages of 'Prince Lionheart and his three Friends,' in F. A. Steel's Wide-awake Stories, pp. 47-54, and her 'How Raja Rasalu's Friends forsook him,' pp. 255-7; also the very curious story of 'Gumda the Hero' (Campbell's Santal Folk-tales, p. 57), offer Indian versions of the opening of Mare's Son.'


77:1 Zenele, a Roumanian loan-word, is rendered 'zenæ' in the Latin translation; 'böse weibliche genien,' 'evil feminine spirits,' in the vocabulary.

77:2 She says much worse in the original.

Next: No. 21.--The Deluded Dragon