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

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No. 75.--The Fox

Brian, the son of the king of Greece, fell in love with the hen-wife's daughter, and he would marry no other but she. His father said to him on a day of days, before that should happen that he must get first for him the most marvellous bird that there was in the world. Then here. went Brian, and he put the world under his head, till he came much further than I can tell, or you can think, till he reached the house of the Carlin of Buskins. 1 He got well taken to by the carlin that night; and in the morning she said to him, It is time for thee to arise. The journey is far.'

When he rose to the door, what was it but sowing and winnowing snow. He looked hither and thither, and what should he see but a fox drawing on his shoes and stockings. 'Sha! beast,' said Brian, 'thou hadst best leave my lot of shoes and stockings for myself.'

'Och!' said the fox, 'it's long since a shoe or a stocking was on me; and I'm thinking that I shall put them to use this day itself.'

'Thou ugly beast, art thou thinking to steal my foot-webs, and I myself looking at thee?'

'Well,' said the fox, 'if thou wilt take me to be thy servant, thou shalt get thy set of shoes and stockings.'

'O poor beast!' said he, 'thou wouldst find death with me from hunger.'

'Ho! hoth!' said the fox, 'there is little good in the servant that will not do for his own self and for his master at times.'

'Yes, yes,' said he, 'I don't mind; at all events thou mayst follow me.'

They had not gone far on their journey when the fox asked him if he was good at riding. He said he was, if it could be known what on.

'Come on top of me a turn of a while,' said the fox.

'On top of thee! Poor beast, I would break thy back.'

'Ho! huth! son of the king of Greece,' said the fox, thou didst not know me so well as I know thee. Take no care but that I am able to carry thee.'

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But never mind. When Brian went on top of the fox, they would drive spray from each puddle, spark from each pebble. And they took no halt nor rest till they reached the house of the Giant of Five Heads, Five Humps, and Five Throttles.

'Here's for thee,' said the fox, 'the house of the giant who has the marvellous bird. And what wilt thou say to him when thou goest in?'

'What should I say but that I came to steal the marvellous bird?'

'Hu! hu!' said the fox, 'thou wilt not return. 'But,' said the fox, 'take thou service with this giant to be a stable-lad. And there is no sort of bird under the seven russet rungs of the world that he has not got. And when he brings out the marvellous bird, say thou, "Fuith! fuith! the nasty bird, throw it out of my sight. I could find braver birds than that on the middens at home."'

Brian did thus.

'S’tia!' said the big one, 'then I must go to thy country to gather a part of them.'

But Brian was pleasing the giant well. But on a night of the nights Brian steals the marvellous bird, and drags himself out with it. When he was a good bit from the giant's house, 'S’tia!' said Brian to himself, 'I don't know if it is the right bird I have after every turn.' Brian lifts the covering off the bird's head, and he lets out one screech, and the screech roused the giant.

'Oh! oh! son of the king of Greece,' said the giant, 'that I have coming to steal the marvellous bird. The prophet was saying that he would come to his gird.'

Then here the giant put on the shoes that could make nine miles at every step, and he wasn't long catching poor Brian. They returned home to the giant's house, and the giant laid the binding of the three smalls on him, and he threw Brian into the peat-corner, and he was there till the morning on the morrow's day.

'Now,' said the giant, 'son of the king of Greece, thou hast thy two rathers--Whether wouldst thou rather thy head to be on yonder stake, or go to steal the White Glaive of Light that is in the realm of Big Women?'

'A man is kind to his life,' said Brian. 'I will go to steal the White Glaive of Light.'

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But never mind. Brian had not gone far from the giant's house when the fox met with him. ' O man without mind or sense, thou didst not take my counsel, and what will now arise against thee? Thou art going to the realm of Big Women to steal the White Glaive of Light. That is twenty times as hard for thee as the marvellous bird of that carl of a giant.'

'But what help for it now but that I must betake myself to it?' said poor Brian.

'Well, then,' said the fox, 'come thou on top of me, and I am in hopes thou wilt be wiser the next time.'

They went then further than I can remember, till they reached the knoll of the country at the back of the wind and the face of the sun, that was in the realm of Big Women.

'Now,' said the fox, 'thou shalt sit here, and thou shalt begin at blubbering and crying; and when the Big Women come out where thou art, they will lift thee in their oxters; and when they reach the house with thee, they will try to coax thee. But never thou cease of crying until thou get the White Glaive of Light; and they will leave it with thee in the cradle the length of the night, to keep thee quiet.'

Worthy Brian was not long blubbering and crying when the Big Women came, and they took Brian with them as the fox had said. And when Brian found the house quiet, he went away with the White Glaive of Light. And when he thought he was a good way from the house, he thought he would see if he had the right sword. He took it out of the sheath, and the sword gave out a ring. This awoke the Big Women, and they were on their soles. 'Whom have we here,' said they, 'but the son of the king of Greece coming to steal the White Glaive of Light.'

They took after Brian, and they were not long bringing him back. They tied him roundly (like a ball), and they threw him into the peat-corner till the white morrow's day was. When the morning came, they asked him to be under the sparks of the bellows, 1 or to go to steal the Sun Goddess, daughter of the king of the gathering of Fionn.

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'A man is kind to his life,' said Brian. 'I will go steal the Sun Goddess.'

Never mind. Brian went, but he was not long on the path when the fox met him. 'O poor fool,' said the fox, 'thou art as silly as thou wert ever. What good for me to be giving thee counsel? Thou art now going to steal the

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[paragraph continues] Sun Goddess. Many a better thief than thou went on the same journey, but ever a man came never back. There are nine guards guarding her, and there is no dress under the seven russet rungs of the world that is like the dress that is on her but one other dress, and here is that dress for thee. And mind,' said the fox, 'that thou dost as I ask thee, or, if thou dost not, thou wilt not come to the next tale.'

Never mind. They went, and when they were near the guard, the fox put the dress on Brian, and he said to him to go forward straight through them, and when he reached the Sun Goddess to do as he bid him. 'And, Brian, if thou gettest her out, I will not be far from you.'

But never mind. Brian took courage, and he went on, and each guard made way for him, till he went in where the Sun Goddess, daughter of the king of the gathering of Fionn, was. She put all-hail and good-luck on him, and she it was who was pleased to see him, for her father was not letting man come near her. And there they were.

'But how shall we get away at all, at all?' said she in the morning.

Brian lifted the window, and he put out the Sun Goddess through it.

The fox met them. 'Thou wilt do yet,' said he. 'Leap you on top of me.'

And when they were far, far away, and near the country of Big Women, 'Now, Brian,' said the fox, 'is it not a great pity for thyself to give away this Sun Goddess for the White Glaive of Light?'

'Is it not that which is wounding me at this very time?' said Brian.

'It is that I will make a Sun Goddess of myself, and thou shalt give me to the Big Women,' said the fox.

'I had rather part with the Sun Goddess herself than thee.'

'But never thou mind, Brian, they won't keep me long.'

Here Brian went in with the fox as a Sun Goddess, and he got the White Glaive of Light. Brian left the fox with the Big Women, and he went forward. In a day or two the fox overtook them, and they got on him. And when they were nearing the house of the big giant, 'Is it not a great pity for thyself, O Brian, to part with the White Glaive of Light for that filth of a marvellous bird?'

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'There is no help for it,' said Brian.

'I will make myself a White Glaive of Light,' said the fox; 'it may be that thou wilt yet find a use for the White Glaive of Light.'

Brian was not so much against the fox this time, since he saw that he had got off from the Big Women.

'Thou art come with it,' said the big man. 'It was in the prophecies that I should cut this great oak-tree at one blow, which my father cut two hundred years ago with the same sword.'

Brian got the marvellous bird, and he went away. He had gone but a short distance from the giant's house when the fox made up to him with his pad to his mouth.

'What's this that befell thee?' said Brian.

'Oh! the son of the great one,' said the fox, 'when he seized me, with the first blow he cut the tree all but a small bit of bark. And look thyself, there is no tooth in the door of my mouth which that filth of a Bodach has not broken.'

Brian was exceedingly sorrowful that the fox had lost the teeth, but there was no help for it. They were going forward, walking at times, and at times riding, till they came to a spring that there was by the side of the road. 'Now, Brian,' said the fox, 'unless thou dost strike off my head with one blow of the White Glaive of Light into this spring, I will strike off thine.'

'S’tia,' said Brian, 'a man is kind to his own life.'

And he swept the head off him with one blow, and it fell into the well. And in the wink of an eye what should rise up out of the well but the son of the king that was father to the Sun Goddess.

They went on till they reached his father's house. And his father made a great wedding with joy and gladness, and there was no word about marrying the hen wife's daughter when I parted from them.

'On the 25th of April 1859, [at Inverary], John [Macdonald] the tinker gave the beginning of this as part of his contribution to the evening's entertainment. He not only told the story, but acted it, dandling a fancied baby when it came to the adventure of the Big Women, and rolling his eyes wildly. The story which he told varied from that which he dictated in several particulars. It began:--

'"There was a king and a knight, as there was and will be, and

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as grows the fir-tree, some of it crooked and some of it straight. And it was the King of Eirinn, it was. And the queen died with her first son, and the king married another woman. Oh! bad straddling queen, thou art not like the sonsy, cheery queen that we had ere now."

'And here came a long bit which the tinker put into another story, and which he seems to have condensed into the first sentence of the version which I have got and translated. He has also transferred the scene from Ireland to Greece, perhaps because the latter country sounds better, and is further off, or perhaps because he had got the original form of the story from his old father in the meantime,

'Some of the things mentioned in the tinker's version have to do with Druidical worship--the magic well, the oak-tree, the bird. For the Celtic tribes, as it is said, were all guided in their wanderings by the flight of birds. The Sun Goddess, for the Druids are supposed to have worshipped the sun, and the sun is feminine in Gaelic. These are all mixed up with Fionn and the Sword of Light and the Big Women, personages and things which do not appear out of the Highlands.'

The whole of this last paragraph seems to me more than questionable, for 'The Fox' is beyond all question identical with the Polish-Gypsy story of ' The Golden Bird and the Good Hare' (No. 49, pp. p. 182-8), in the excellent Servian version of which it is a fox, not a hare. Druidism is hardly to be looked for in either Poland or Servia. In some respects the Polish-Gypsy story is better than the Tinker one, but in others the Tinker version is greatly superior. Each, indeed, supplies the other's deficiencies. The original beginning, given by Campbell, seems to point to a form of the story where, as in the Indian versions of The Bad Mother,' cited on p. 35, note, the hero is sent on his quest by a step-mother. In his notes on the Gaelic story in Orient and Occident (ii. 1864, pp. 685-6), Reinhold Köhler cites an interesting Wallachian version.


283:1 A sock, a brogue of untanned leather or skin, commonly worn with the hairy side outward; Lat. cothurnus, Welsh cwaran, French cothurne.--J. F. C.

285:1 'BOLG SEIDIDH, bag of blowing. The bellows used for melting copper in the mint at Tangier in 1841 consisted of two sheepskins worked by two men. The neck of the hide was fastened to the end of an iron tube, and the legs sewed p. 286 up. The end of each bag opened with two flat sticks; and the workmen, by a skilful action of the hand, filled the bag with air as they raised it, and then squeezed it out by pressing downwards. By working the two bags turn-about, a constant steady blast was kept on a crucible in the furnace, and the copper was soon melted. The Gaelic word clearly points to the use of some such apparatus. I believe something of the kind is used in India; but I saw the Tangier mint at work.'--J. F. C.

Were Mr. Campbell still living I would call his attention to 'something of the kind' much nearer home than India or Tangiers, viz. the Scottish-Gypsy method of smelting iron in a furnace of stone, turf, and clay, three feet in height and eighteen inches in diameter: 'the materials in the furnace are powerfully heated by the blasts of a large hand-bellows, generally wrought by females, admitted at a small hole a little from the ground' (Walter Simson's History of the Gipsies, 1865, p. 234). In the Gypsy Lore Journal for January 1892, pp. 134.142, is an article by Henri van Elven on 'The Gypsies of Belgium,' with excellent illustrations of a Hungarian-Gypsy furnace and bellows, corresponding to Simson's description. And there are also illustrations and minute descriptions of the Gypsy furnace and bellows in Kopernicki's masterly monograph on 'Les Zlotars ou Dzvonkars, Tsiganes fondeurs en bronze dans la Galicie Orientale et la Bukovine,' communicated by Bataillard to the Société d’Anthropologie (Paris, 1878). From a footnote here on p. 519 we learn that 'the Calderari often use two of these bellows at once, making them work turn-about to right and to left, so as to produce a constant blast.' One is tempted to conclude that the mint at Tangiers in 1841 was worked by Gypsies, that here we get an explanation of those mysterious visits of the Hungarian Calderari to Northern Africa, referred to in the Introduction. It sounds surprising, but Mr. Campbell, I doubt not, would have been quite as surprised to learn that the church bell of Edzell in Forfarshire was cast in the woods by Gypsies in 1726; that about 1740 the Border Gypsies practised engraving on pewter, lead, and copper, as well as rude drawing and painting; that about the beginning of this century the Gypsies had a small foundry near St. Andrews, which the country-folk called 'Little Carron'; that Killin in 1748 had its tinker silversmith, whose secret of enamel inlaying died with him; or that the silver Celtic Lochbuy Brooch, a pound in weight, was made by a Mull tinker ' in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, about the year 1500' (Strand Magazine, January 1897, p. 115). I myself have sat and watched a Gypsy lad, a Boswell, fashion a pretty silver finger-ring out of a shilling I had given him, and have thought of the hoard of a travelling silver-smith which in 1858 was unearthed on Skaill Links in Orkney. It comprised brooches, neck-rings, arm-rings, silver ingots, and Cufic coins, struck at Bagdad between 887 and 945. 'It seems most unlikely,' says Mr. Lang, 'that tales which originated in India could have reached the Hebrides within the historic period.' Perhaps; but where coins could come, so surely also could folk-tales.--A desperate footnote this, but nothing to what has some day to be written on the subject of Gypsy metallurgy.

Next: No. 76.--The Magic Shirt