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

No. 50.--The Witch

There was once a nobleman who had a very handsome son. The nobleman wished that his son should marry, but there was nobody whom he would wed. Young ladies of every kind were assembled, but not one of them would he have. For ten years he lived with his father. Once in a dream he bethought himself that he should go and travel. He went away far out into the world; and for ten years he was absent from his home. He reflected, and 'What shall

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[paragraph continues] I do?' he asked himself; 'I will return to my father.' He returned home in rags, and all lean with wretchedness, so that his father was ashamed of him. He remained with him three months.

Once he dreamt that in the middle of a field there was a lovely sheet of water, and that in this little lake three beautiful damsels were bathing. Next morning he arose and said to his father, 'Rest you here with the help of the good God, my father; for I am going afar into the world.'

His father gave him much money, and said to him, 'If you do not wish to stay with me, go forth with the help of God.'

He set out on his way; he came to this little lake; and there he saw three beautiful damsels bathing. He would have captured one of them, but these damsels had wings on their smocks, by means of which they soared into the air and escaped him. He went away, this nobleman's son, and said he to himself, 'What shall I do now, poor wretch that I am?' and he began to weep bitterly.

Then he sees an old man approaching him, and this old man asks him, 'Why do you weep, my lad?'

'Oh! well do I know why I weep: there are three lovely damsels who bathe in that lake, but I cannot capture them.'

'What do you want, then?' asks this old man. 'Would you catch the whole three of them?'

'No,' he replied, 'I wish to catch only one of them, the youngest one.'

'Very well, then, listen: I am going to dig a pit for you; whenever you see them coming for a swim, hide yourself in this hole, and wait there in silence. As soon as they have laid down their clothes, jump up and seize hold of the smock belonging to the youngest one. She will beg you to give it up to her, but do not give it up.'

Well, these three damsels came; they took off their smocks, and laid each of them aside. The nobleman's son watched them from his pit; he jumped out; he seized hold of the smock belonging to the youngest one. She beseeches him to give it back to her, but he will not consent to do so. The two other sisters fly away with the good God, and he returns to his home with the young damsel. His father sees that he brings a beautiful damsel with him. Well, he marries her. They live together for five years. They had

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a very pretty young son. But as for the winged smock he had a special room made, into which he locked it, and the key of the room he gave to his mother to take care of. Madman that he was! he would have done better had he burned that smock.

One day he went out into the fields. Then his wife spoke thus to his mother, 'Mother, five years now have I been here, and I know not what there is in my husband's room, because he always keeps it hidden from me.'

Then the mother said to her, 'Well, come with me; I am going to show it to you.'

'That is right, mother. I wish it much, because he ought not to hide anything from me, for I would not rob him of anything, to hand it over to the lads.'

She went into that room with his mother; she sees that her smock with the two wings is there.

'Mother,' she said, 'may I again don this smock, to see whether I am as beautiful still as I was once.'

'Very well, my daughter, put it on again; I do not forbid you.'

She put on the smock, and she said to his mother, 'Remain here with the help of the good God, my mother; salute my husband for me; and take good care of my child. For never more will you see me.'

Then she sped away with the good God, and returned home to the witch, her mother.

Her husband came back to the house and asked his mother, 'Where has my wife gone?'

My son, she went into that room there; she once more put on a certain smock; she sent you a farewell greeting; and she asked me to take care of her child, for never more would she see us.'

'Well, I am going away in quest of her.'

He took a lot of money with him, he set out, and journeyed forth with the help of the good God. He came to a miller's house. The miller had a mill, where they ground corn for this witch. Well, the nobleman's son asked this miller to hide him in a sack, to cover him with meal, and to fasten him securely into the sack.

'I will pay you for this service,' said he to the miller.

Well, as soon as he had hidden him in the sack and

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fastened it, four devils came. Each of them took a sack; but the first of these, the one in which the nobleman's son was concealed, was very heavy. This devil took the sack; he threw it upon his back; he set out on his road, and went away with the good God (sic!). They went to the abode of the witch and laid down their sacks.

The next day there was to be a wedding there. Who should happen to come to this first sack but his wife? 'What are you doing here?'

'Well, I am come to take you away.'

'Meanwhile, my mother is going to kill you.'

Her mother, having heard with whom she was speaking, entered and recognised him. 'So, then, it is you who are so clever, and who stole away my daughter. Hearken, then, you shall have her to wife if you perform for me the feats which I shall lay upon you.'

She gave him food and drink; he went to bed.

Next day he got up, and the witch arose also and said to him, 'Hearken, I have here a great forest, three hundred leagues in extent. You must uproot for me every tree, cut them in pieces, arrange these pieces in piles, the logs on one side and the brushwood on the other. If you do not do that for me, I will cut off your head.'

She gave him a wooden axe and a wooden spade. He set out; he went to the forest. He came to this forest; he saw it was very large.

'What can I do here, wretched man that I am, with the wooden axe and the wooden spade that she has given me?'

He struck a blow with the axe on a tree; and the axe broke.

'What am I going to do now, wretched man that I am?'

He cowered down upon the ground, and fell a-weeping. He sees his wife come; she brings him something to eat and drink.

'Why are you weeping?' asks his wife.

'How can I refrain from weeping when your mother has given me an axe and a spade of wood, and I have broken them both already.'

'Hush, then, weep not; all will go well. Only eat and be filled.'

He ate and was filled.

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'Come, now, I am going to louse your head.' 1

He went to her; he laid his head in her lap; and he fell asleep. His wife put her fingers into her mouth and whistled. A great number of devils came to her.

'What is it that the great lady demands of us?'

'That this entire forest be cut down, and that the logs be set in piles on one side, and the brushwood on the other; each kind has to be ranged in separate piles.'

The devils set themselves to this task, and cut down the whole forest, so that not a stick of it remained standing, and all the wood was arranged in piles.

His wife then awoke him: 'Get up now.'

He arose, he saw the whole forest was cut down, and each kind of wood was arranged in lots. He is rejoiced; he returns to the house before night.

'Finished already?' the mother, this witch, asks him. 'Yes,' he replied, 'I am finished.'

She went out to see. The whole forest indeed was felled, and each kind of wood was arranged in piles. At that she was much mortified. Well, she gave him some food; he satisfied himself, and lay down to sleep.

She arose next morning, this witch, and said to him, 'I will give you my daughter to wife if you cause my forest to become again what it was before, with every leaf in its place again. And if you fail to do that for me, why, then, I will cut off your head.'

Well, he set out; he went on his way. He came to the forest.

'What shall I do now, unhappy wretch that I am?'

He tried to fasten a branch on to its proper trunk, and the branch fell off again. He bowed himself to the ground and wept. His wife came to him, bringing him food.

'Why do you weep so, like a calf?'

'How can I help weeping, when your mother has made me fell this forest, and now commands me so to restore this same forest so that each leaf shall be once more in its proper place on the tree?'

'Don't weep any more, then; eat.'

He ate; he was satisfied.

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'Come, let me louse your head.'

He lay down on her lap and went to sleep.

Then she whistled, and the devils appeared in great numbers.

'What do you demand of us, my lady?'

'I demand that my forest be restored to its former condition, so that each leaf may be on its own tree.'

Well, the devils set to work and restored everything, so that every leaf was in its proper place. Then she awoke him. He got up and saw the whole forest entire, as it had been before.

Quite overjoyed, he returned to the house before night. 'Finished already?' asked the mother.

'Yes. I have finished.'

She went forth to see if it was true. There was the forest as it had been before.

Then the mother said, 'What are we to do with him now?'

She gave him food and drink.

She arose next morning, this witch. 'Hearken, you shall have my daughter to wife if you perform for me yet one more feat.'

'Very well, mother.'

'There is a very large pond here; you must drain it dry.'


But beware of letting a single fish in it perish.'

She gave him a sieve with big holes. 'This is what you must empty the pond with.'

He went to the pond, this nobleman's son; he lifted up a sieveful of water, which immediately streamed away. He flung the sieve to the devils.

'If at least she had given me a bucket, I might perhaps have managed to empty this pond more quickly.'

Then he bowed himself down and began to weep. 'Wretch that I am, what shall I do now?'

He sees his wife come to him.

'Why are you weeping again?'

'Because your mother has given me a sieve with big holes, so that the water runs away at once.'

'Never mind, then, be quiet; do not weep any more. With God's help all will go well,'

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She gave him to eat and to drink; then he lay down on his wife's lap and slept. His wife whistled, and a great number of devils appeared before her.

'What does her ladyship demand of us?'

'I desire that all the water in this pond be drained away, without a single fish in it dying.'

The devils set themselves to the task; the pond was soon empty; and not one fish in it died. When he arose, he saw that there was no longer any water in the pond, and that the fish in it remained alive. Filled with joy, he went away to the house.

'Finished already?' the witch asked him.

'Yes, mother, I have done it already.'

Well, she went away out to see. She sees that not a single drop of water remained in her pond, but that the fish, still living, were like to die for want of water. The witch, having then returned home, said to herself, 'What are we going to do with him now? He has already performed three feats for me; I must make him perform yet a fourth.'

She gave him food and drink. He went to bed.

Next morning, when he arose, the witch said to him, Hearken, you shall have my daughter to wife if you accomplish this feat: my pond must be fuller than ever of water, and with more fish in it.'

Then he betook himself to the pond, this nobleman's son, and began to weep bitterly. 'Unhappy that I am, what am I going to do now?' He sees his wife come bringing food.

'Why are you weeping at such a rate? I've told you already not to weep any more.'

He ate; he lay down with his head in his wife's lap, and fell asleep. She whistled, and the devils appeared in great numbers.

'What does her ladyship demand of us?'

'I desire that my pond again be filled with water, and that it have more water and more fish than before.'

Well, she awoke him; he found the pond full of water. He was quite delighted and returned to the house.

'Finished already?' the witch asked him.

'Yes, mother, I have finished.'

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She goes out and sees that the pond is full of water and fish. She comes into the house again, and says she to herself, 'What are we going to do now with him? However, he must be killed to-morrow.'

She gave him food and drink; thereafter he went to bed.

His wife came to him and said, 'We must escape this very night. But should our mother pursue us, I will then change myself into a lovely flower, and you shall change yourself into a beautiful meadow.'

'Very well.'

'And if you see it is our father that pursues us, then I will change myself into a church, and you shall change yourself into an old man.'


'And if you perceive it is our sister who is coming after us, then I shall have to change myself into a duck, and you must change yourself into a drake. But I shall no longer have the heart to retain myself; she will beseech me, "My darling sister, return to us." Thus will she speak to me. Then must you, in your form of drake, allow her no rest, but beat her senseless with blows of your wings.'

All right.'

Well, they set out and took to flight.

After they had escaped, and had traversed a distance of a great many leagues, what do they see?--the eldest sister coming after them. As soon as she perceived her, she said to her husband, 'Change yourself into a beautiful meadow, and I will change myself into a pretty flower.'

The eldest sister came up, and, finding nobody, said to herself, 'In the midst of such miserable fields, see, here is a beautiful large meadow and a very pretty flower.' Then she went home to her mother, the witch.

'What have you seen?' asked her mother.

'In the midst of a field I saw a beautiful meadow with a lovely flower.'

Her mother stormed at her: 'Why did you not pluck that flower? You would have brought them both home again.'

Well, the witch set out herself. Meanwhile they had got to a great distance. At length she sees the witch pursuing them, and she says to her husband, 'I will change myself

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into a duck swimming in the middle of a pond, and you must change yourself into a swan.' 1

Well, she changed herself into a duck on a beautiful pond, and he changed himself into a swan. Her mother, the witch, making up to them, said to them, 'Oh! I am just going to capture you, to take you both back with me.'

She proceeded to drink up the water of the pond. Then the swan flung himself upon the witch, and battered in her head.

'That's what my wife advised me to do,' he remarked.

Then they renewed their journey, and went away with the help of God. They had gone yet some leagues further on; then the father set out in pursuit of them. His daughter sees her father coming, and says she to her husband, 'Now change yourself into an old man, and I will change myself into a church.'

The father arrives, but finds nobody. He sees a church in the middle of a forest, and he says to himself, this sorcerer, 'I am now a hundred years old, but never yet have I seen a church in the depths of a forest with an old man inside it.' So he went back to his house with the good God. When he got there, his two daughters said to him, 'Our mother has been killed. We knew not that she had exposed all the tricks to him, and they have ended by killing our mother.'

They journeyed still further away into the world. She sees, the wife of the nobleman's son, that her youngest sister is pursuing them. She says to him, 'I will change myself into a duck, and do you change yourself into a drake, and you must do the same thing to her as you did to my mother.'

Well, he stopped there and changed himself into a drake, and she changed herself into a beautiful duck. Her sister came up, and proceeded to entreat her, 'My dear sister, come back with me, for if you do not I will kill myself.'

Then the drake flung himself upon this sister, and battered her with blows of his wings, and gave her no respite; again he flung himself on her and battered in her head. Well, then they set out, and resumed their journey with the good God.

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'Now,' said they to themselves, 'nobody will pursue us any more.'

They arrived, this nobleman's son and his wife, at the house of that same miller who had hidden him in a sack. 'So you see, sir, that I have gained my end.'

It is very fortunate that you have, by the grace of God. We were certain you were dead, and, see, you are still alive.'

He paid this miller a large sum of money for bringing him to the house where his wife was living. He comes home; his mother sees that it is her son, who had been absent from home for more than twenty years. His child is now grown up. She is filled then with joy, so is his son at his father's return; and they all live together with the good, golden God.

'The Witch' is identical with the middle portion (pp. 125-130) of Ralston's 'The Water King and Vasilissa the Wise,' collected by Afanasief in the Voronej government, South-eastern Russia. Ralston cites many variants, among them an Indian one. Cf. also 'Prince Unexpected,' a Polish story, No. 17 in Wratislaw's Sixty Slavonic Folk-tales, pp. 108-I21. A striking parallel for the recovery of the smock is furnished by 'La Loulie et la Belle de la Terre' in Dozon's Contes Albanais, pp. 94-5. Cf. also Wratislaw's Croatian story, 'The She-Wolf,' No. 55, p. 290; Georgeakis and Pineau's story from Lesbos, No. 2, 'Le Mont des Cailloux,' p. 11; and especially Cosquin's 'Chatte Blanche,' No. 32, with the valuable notes thereon (ii. 9-28). The Welsh-Gypsy story of 'The Green Man of Noman's Land,' No. 62, is almost a variant (there, likewise, the hero is tearful); so, too, is the Bukowina-Gypsy story, 'Made over to the Devil' (No. 34). Cf. the notes on these; and Clouston, i. 182-191, for bird-maidens. The pursuit and the transformation into a church and a priest are discussed pretty fully in the Introduction.


192:1 Cf. Campbell's Tales of the West Highlands, i. 61, and iv. 283; and Dozon's Contes Albanais, 27, note.

196:1 It should by rights be a drake; still, the swan is suggestive of ' swan-maidens.' Nor does she strictly adhere to her self-prescribed rules of metamorphosis.

Next: No. 51.--Bobby Rag