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Peerifool

from The Scottish Fairy Book





There was once a King and a Queen in Rousay who had three daughters.
When the young Princesses were just grown up, the King died, and the
Crown passed to a distant cousin, who had always hated him, and who paid
no heed to the widowed Queen and her daughters.

So they were left very badly off, and they went to live in a tiny
cottage, and did all the housework themselves. They had a kailyard in
front of the cottage, and a little field behind it, and they had a cow
that grazed in the field, and which they fed with the cabbages that grew
in the kailyard. For everyone knows that to feed cows with cabbages
makes them give a larger quantity of milk.

But they soon discovered that some one was coming at night and stealing
the cabbages, and, of course, this annoyed them very much. For they knew
that if they had not cabbages to give to the cow, they would not have
enough milk to sell.

So the eldest Princess said she would take out a three-legged stool, and
wrap herself in a blanket, and sit in the kailyard all night to see if
she could catch the thief. And, although it was very cold and very dark,
she did so.

At first it seemed as if all her trouble would be in vain, for hour
after hour passed and nothing happened. But in the small hours of the
morning, just as the clock was striking two, she heard a stealthy
trampling in the field behind, as if some very heavy person were trying
to tread very softly, and presently a mighty Giant stepped right over
the wall into the kailyard.

He carried an enormous creel on his arm, and a large, sharp knife in his
hand; and he began to cut the cabbages, and to throw them into the creel
as fast as he could.

Now the Princess was no coward, so, although she had not expected to
face a Giant, she gathered up her courage, and cried out sharply, "Who
gave thee liberty to cut our cabbages? Leave off this minute, and go
away."

The Giant paid no heed, but went on steadily with what he was doing.

"Dost thou not hear me?" cried the girl indignantly; for she was the
Princess Royal, and had always been accustomed to be obeyed.

"If thou be not quiet I will take thee too," said the Giant grimly,
pressing the cabbages down into the creel.

"I should like to see thee try," retorted the Princess, rising from her
stool and stamping her foot; for she felt so angry that she forgot for
a moment that she was only a weak maiden and he was a great and powerful
Giant.

And, as if to show her how strong he was, he seized her by her arm and
her leg, and put her in his creel on the top of the cabbages, and
carried her away bodily.

When he reached his home, which was in a great square house on a lonely
moor, he took her out, and set her down roughly on the floor.

"Thou wilt be my servant now," he said, "and keep my house, and do my
errands for me. I have a cow, which thou must drive out every day to the
hillside; and see, here is a bag of wool, when thou hast taken out the
cow, thou must come back and settle thyself at home, as a good housewife
should, and comb, and card it, and spin it into yarn, with which to
weave a good thick cloth for my raiment. I am out most of the day, but
when I come home I shall expect to find all this done, and a great
bicker of porridge boiled besides for my supper."

The poor Princess was very dismayed when she heard these words, for she
had never been accustomed to work hard, and she had always had her
sisters to help her; but the Giant took no notice of her distress, but
went out as soon as it was daylight, leaving her alone in the house to
begin her work.

As soon as he had gone she drove the cow to the pasture, as he had told
her to do; but she had a good long walk over the moor before she reached
the hill, and by the time that she got back to the house she felt very
tired.

So she thought that she would put on the porridge pot, and make herself
some porridge before she began to card and comb the wool. She did so,
and just as she was sitting down to sup them the door opened, and a
crowd of wee, wee Peerie Folk came in.

They were the tiniest men and women that the Princess had ever seen; not
one of them would have reached half-way to her knee; and they were
dressed in dresses fashioned out of all the colours of the
rainbow--scarlet and blue, green and yellow, orange and violet; and the
funny thing was, that every one of them had a shock of straw-coloured
yellow hair.

They were all talking and laughing with one another; and they hopped up,
first on stools, then on chairs, till at last they reached the top of
the table, where they clustered round the bowl, out of which the
Princess was eating her porridge.

"We be hungry, we be hungry," they cried, in their tiny shrill voices.
"Spare a little porridge for the Peerie Folk."

But the Princess was hungry also; and, besides being hungry, she was
both tired and cross; so she shook her head and waved them impatiently
away with her spoon,

"Little for one, and less for two,
And never a grain have I for you."

she said sharply, and, to her great delight, for she did not feel quite
comfortable with all the Peerie Folk standing on the table looking at
her, they vanished in a moment.

After this she finished her porridge in peace; then she took the wool
out of the bag, and she set to work to comb and card it. But it seemed
as if it were bewitched; it curled and twisted and coiled itself round
her fingers so that, try as she would, she could not do anything with
it. And when the Giant came home he found her sitting in despair with it
all in confusion round her, and the porridge, which she had left for him
in the pot, burned to a cinder.

As you may imagine, he was very angry, and raged, and stamped, and used
the most dreadful words; and at last he took her by the heels, and beat
her until all her back was skinned and bleeding; then he carried her out
to the byre, and threw her up on the joists among the hens. And,
although she was not dead, she was so stunned and bruised that she could
only lie there motionless, looking down on the backs of the cows.

Time went on, and in the kailyard at home the cabbages were disappearing
as fast as ever. So the second Princess said that she would do as her
sister had done, and wrap herself in a blanket, and go and sit on a
three-legged stool all night, to see what was becoming of them.

She did so, and exactly the same fate befell her that had befallen her
elder sister. The Giant appeared with his creel, and he carried her
off, and set her to mind the cow and the house, and to make his porridge
and to spin; and the little yellow-headed Peerie Folk appeared and asked
her for some supper, and she refused to give it to them; and after that,
she could not comb or card her wool, and the Giant was angry, and he
scolded her, and beat her, and threw her up, half dead, on the joists
beside her sister and the hens.

Then the youngest Princess determined to sit out in the kailyard all
night, not so much to see what was becoming of the cabbages, as to
discover what had happened to her sisters.

And when the Giant came and carried her off, she was not at all sorry,
but very glad, for she was a brave and loving little maiden; and now she
felt that she had a chance of finding out where they were, and whether
they were dead or alive.

So she was quite cheerful and happy, for she felt certain that she was
clever enough to outwit the Giant, if only she were watchful and
patient; so she lay quite quietly in her creel above the cabbages, but
she kept her eyes very wide open to see by which road he was carrying
her off.

And when he set her down in his kitchen, and told her all that he
expected her to do, she did not look downcast like her sisters, but
nodded her head brightly, and said that she felt sure that she could do
it.

And she sang to herself as she drove the cow over the moor to pasture,
and she ran the whole way back, so that she should have a good long
afternoon to work at the wool, and, although she would not have told the
Giant this, to search the house.

Before she set to work, however, she made herself some porridge, just as
her sisters had done; and, just as she was going to sup them, all the
little yellow-haired Peerie Folk trooped in, and climbed up on the
table, and stood and stared at her.

"We be hungry, we be hungry," they cried. "Spare a little porridge for
the Peerie Folk."

"With all my heart," replied the good-natured Princess. "If you can find
dishes little enough for you to sup out of, I will fill them for you.
But, methinks, if I were to give you all porringers, you would smother
yourselves among the porridge."

At her words the Peerie Folk shouted with laughter, till their
straw-coloured hair tumbled right over their faces; then they hopped on
to the floor and ran out of the house, and presently they came trooping
back holding cups of blue-bells, and foxgloves, and saucers of primroses
and anemones in their hands; and the Princess put a tiny spoonful of
porridge into each saucer, and a tiny drop of milk into each cup, and
they ate it all up as daintily as possible with neat little grass
spoons, which they had brought with them in their pockets.

When they had finished they all cried out, "Thank you! Thank you!" and
ran out of the kitchen again, leaving the Princess alone. And, being
alone, she went all over the house to look for her sisters, but, of
course, she could not find them.

"Never mind, I will find them soon," she said to herself. "To-morrow I
will search the byre and the outhouses; in the meantime, I had better
get on with my work." So she went back to the kitchen, and took out the
bag of wool, which the Giant had told her to make into cloth.

But just as she was doing so the door opened once more, and a
Yellow-Haired Peerie Boy entered. He was exactly like the other Peerie
Folk who had eaten the Princess's porridge, only he was bigger, and he
wore a very rich dress of grass-green velvet. He walked boldly into the
middle of the kitchen and looked round him.

"Hast thou any work for me to do?" he asked. "I ken grand how to handle
wool and turn it into fine thick cloth."

"I have plenty of work for anybody who asks it," replied the Princess;
"but I have no money to pay for it, and there are but few folk in this
world who will work without wages."

"All the wages that I ask is that thou wilt take the trouble to find out
my name, for few folk ken it, and few folk care to ken. But if by any
chance thou canst not find it out, then must thou pay toll of half of
thy cloth."

The Princess thought that it would be quite an easy thing to find out
the Boy's name, so she agreed to the bargain, and, putting all the wool
back into the bag, she gave it to him, and he swung it over his shoulder
and departed.

She ran to the door to see where he went, for she had made up her mind
that she would follow him secretly to his home, and find out from the
neighbours what his name was.

But, to her great dismay, though she looked this way and that, he had
vanished completely, and she began to wonder what she should do if the
Giant came back and found that she had allowed someone, whose name she
did not even know, to carry off all the wool.

And, as the afternoon wore on, and she could think of no way of finding
out who the boy was, or where he came from, she felt that she had made a
great mistake, and she began to grow very frightened.

Just as the gloaming was beginning to fall a knock came at the door,
and, when she opened it, she found an old woman standing outside, who
begged for a night's lodging.

Now, as I have told you, the Princess was very kind-hearted, and she
would fain have granted the poor old Dame's request, but she dared not,
for she did not know what the Giant would say. So she told the old woman
that she could not take her in for the night, as she was only a servant,
and not the mistress of the house; but she made her sit down on a bench
beside the door, and brought her out some bread and milk, and gave her
some water to bathe her poor, tired feet.

She was so bonnie, and gentle, and kind, and she looked so sorry when
she told her that she would need to turn her away, that the old woman
gave her her blessing, and told her not to vex herself, as it was a
fine, dry night, and now that she had had a meal she could easily sit
down somewhere and sleep in the shelter of the outhouses.

And, when she had finished her bread and milk, she went and laid down by
the side of a green knowe, which rose out of the moor not very far from
the byre door.

And, strange to say, as she lay there she felt the earth beneath her
getting warmer and warmer, until she was so hot that she was fain to
crawl up the side of the hillock, in the hope of getting a mouthful of
fresh air.

And as she got near the top she heard a voice, which seemed to come from
somewhere beneath her, saying, "TEASE, TEASENS, TEASE; CARD, CARDENS,
CARD; SPIN, SPINNENS, SPIN; for PEERIFOOL PEERIFOOL, PEERIFOOL is what
men call me." And when she got to the very top, she found that there was
a crack in the earth, through which rays of light were coming; and when
she put her eye to the crack, what should she see down below her but a
brilliantly lighted chamber, in which all the Peerie Folk were sitting
in a circle, working away as hard as they could.

Some of them were carding wool, some of them were combing it, some of
them were spinning it, constantly wetting their fingers with their lips,
in order to twist the yarn fine as they drew it from the distaff, and
some of them were spinning the yarn into cloth.

While round and round the circle, cracking a little whip, and urging
them to work faster, was a Yellow-Haired Peerie Boy.

"This is a strange thing, and these be queer on-goings," said the old
woman to herself, creeping hastily down to the bottom of the hillock
again. "I must e'en go and tell the bonnie lassie in the house yonder.
Maybe the knowledge of what I have seen will stand her in good stead
some day. When there be Peerie Folk about, it is well to be on one's
guard."

So she went back to the house and told the Princess all that she had
seen and heard, and the Princess was so delighted with what she had told
her that she risked the Giant's wrath and allowed her to go and sleep in
the hayloft.

It was not very long after the old woman had gone to rest before the
door opened, and the Peerie Boy appeared once more with a number of webs
of cloth upon his shoulder. "Here is thy cloth," he said, with a sly
smile, "and I will put it on the shelf for thee the moment that thou
tellest me what my name is."

Then the Princess, who was a merry maiden, thought that she would tease
the little follow for a time ere she let him know that she had found out
his secret.

So she mentioned first one name and then another, always pretending to
think that she had hit upon the right one; and all the time the Peerie
Boy jumped from side to side with delight, for he thought that she would
never find out the right name, and that half of the cloth would be his.

But at last the Princess grew tired of joking, and she cried out, with a
little laugh of triumph, "Dost thou by any chance ken anyone called
PEERIFOOL, little Mannikin?"

Then he knew that in some way she had found out what men called him, and
he was so angry and disappointed that he flung the webs of cloth down in
a heap on the floor, and ran out at the door, slamming it behind him.

Meanwhile the Giant was coming down the hill in the darkening, and, to
his astonishment, he met a troop of little Peerie Folk toiling up it,
looking as if they were so tired that they could hardly get along. Their
eyes were dim and listless, their heads were hanging on their breasts,
and their lips were so long and twisted that the poor little people
looked quite hideous.

The Giant asked how this was, and they told him that they had to work so
hard all day, spinning for their Master that they were quite exhausted;
and that the reason why their lips were so distorted was that they used
them constantly to wet their fingers, so that they might pull the wool
in very fine strands from the distaff.

"I always thought a great deal of women who could spin," said the Giant,
"and I looked out for a housewife that could do so. But after this I
will be more careful, for the housewife that I have now is a bonnie
little woman, and I would be loth to have her spoil her face in that
manner."

And he hurried home in a great state of mind in case he should find that
his new servant's pretty red lips had grown long and ugly in his
absence.

Great was his relief to see her standing by the table, bonnie and
winsome as ever, with all the webs of cloth in a pile in front of her.

"By my troth, thou art an industrious maiden," he said, in high good
humour, "and, as a reward for working so diligently, I will restore thy
sisters to thee." And he went out to the byre, and lifted the two other
Princesses down from the rafters, and brought them in and laid them on
the settle.

Their little sister nearly screamed aloud when she saw how ill they
looked and how bruised their backs were, but, like a prudent maiden, she
held her tongue, and busied herself with applying a cooling ointment to
their wounds, and binding them up, and by and by her sisters revived,
and, after the Giant had gone to bed, they told her all that had
befallen them.

"I will be avenged on him for his cruelty," said the little Princess
firmly; and when she spoke like that her sisters knew that she meant
what she said.

So next morning, before the Giant was up, she fetched his creel, and put
her eldest sister into it, and covered her with all the fine silken
hangings and tapestry that she could find, and on the top of all she put
a handful of grass, and when the Giant came downstairs she asked him, in
her sweetest tone, if he would do her a favour.

And the Giant, who was very pleased with her because of the quantity of
cloth which he thought she had spun, said that he would.

"Then carry that creelful of grass home to my mother's cottage for her
cow to eat," said the Princess. "'Twill help to make up for all the
cabbages which thou hast stolen from her kailyard."

And, wonderful to relate, the Giant did as he was bid, and carried the
creel to the cottage.

Next morning she put her second sister into another creel, and covered
her with all the fine napery she could find in the house, and put an
armful of grass on the top of it, and at her bidding the Giant, who was
really getting very fond of her, carried it also home to her mother.

The next morning the little Princess told him that she thought that she
would go for a long walk after she had done her housework, and that she
might not be in when he came home at night, but that she would have
another creel of grass ready for him, if he would carry it to the
cottage as he had done on the two previous evenings. He promised to do
so; then, as usual, he went out for the day.

In the afternoon the clever little maiden went through the house,
gathering together all the lace, and silver, and jewellery that she
could find, and brought them and placed them beside the creel. Then she
went out and cut an armful of grass, and brought it in and laid it
beside them.

Then she crept into the creel herself, and pulled all the fine things in
above her, and then she covered everything up with the grass, which was
a very difficult thing to do, seeing she herself was at the bottom of
the basket. Then she lay quite still and waited.

Presently the Giant came in, and, obedient to his promise, he lifted the
creel and carried it off to the old Queen's cottage.

No one seemed to be at home, so he set it down in the entry, and turned
to go away. But the little Princess had told her sisters what to do, and
they had a great can of boiling water ready in one of the rooms
upstairs, and when they heard his steps coming round that side of the
house, they threw open the window and emptied it all over his head; and
that was the end of him.





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