: English Fairy Tales

Once upon a time, a long, long while ago, when all the world was young

and all sorts of strange things happened, there lived a very rich

gentleman whose wife had died leaving him three lovely daughters. They

were as the apple of his eye, and he loved them exceedingly.

Now one day he wanted to find out if they loved him in return, so he

said to the eldest, "How much do you love me, my dear?"

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And she answered as pat as may be, "As I love my life."

"Very good, my dear," said he, and gave her a kiss. Then he said to the

second girl, "How much do you love me, my dear?"

And she answered as swift as thought, "Better than all the world


"Good!" he replied, and patted her on the cheek. Then he turned to the

youngest, who was also the prettiest.

"And how much do you love me, my dearest?"

Now the youngest daughter was not only pretty, she was clever. So she

thought a moment, then she said slowly:

"I love you as fresh meat loves salt!"

Now when her father heard this he was very angry, because he really

loved her more than the others.

"What!" he said. "If that is all you give me in return for all I've

given you, out of my house you go." So there and then he turned her out

of the home where she had been born and bred, and shut the door in her


Not knowing where to go, she wandered on, and she wandered on, till she

came to a big fen where the reeds grew ever so tall and the rushes

swayed in the wind like a field of corn. There she sate down and plaited

herself an overall of rushes and a cap to match, so as to hide her fine

clothes, and her beautiful golden hair that was all set with milk-white

pearls. For she was a wise girl, and thought that in such lonely

country, mayhap, some robber might fall in with her and kill her to get

her fine clothes and jewels.

It took a long time to plait the dress and cap, and while she plaited

she sang a little song:

"Hide my hair, O cap o' rushes,

Hide my heart, O robe o' rushes.

Sure! my answer had no fault,

I love him more than he loves salt."

And the fen birds sate and listened and sang back to her:

"Cap o' rushes, shed no tear,

Robe o' rushes, have no fear;

With these words if fault he'd find,

Sure your father must be blind."

When her task was finished she put on her robe of rushes and it hid all

her fine clothes, and she put on the cap and it hid all her beautiful

hair, so that she looked quite a common country girl. But the fen birds

flew away, singing as they flew:

"Cap-o-rushes! we can see,

Robe o' rushes! what you be,

Fair and clean, and fine and tidy,

So you'll be whate'er betide ye."

By this time she was very, very hungry, so she wandered on, and she

wandered on; but ne'er a cottage or a hamlet did she see, till just at

sun-setting she came on a great house on the edge of the fen. It had a

fine front door to it; but mindful of her dress of rushes she went round

to the back. And there she saw a strapping fat scullion washing pots and

pans with a very sulky face. So, being a clever girl, she guessed what

the maid was wanting, and said:

"If I may have a night's lodging, I will scrub the pots and pans for


"Why! Here's luck," replied the scullery-maid, ever so pleased. "I was

just wanting badly to go a-walking with my sweetheart. So if you will do

my work you shall share my bed and have a bite of my supper. Only mind

you scrub the pots clean or cook will be at me."

Now next morning the pots were scraped so clean that they looked like

new, and the saucepans were polished like silver, and the cook said to

the scullion, "Who cleaned these pots? Not you, I'll swear." So the maid

had to up and out with the truth. Then the cook would have turned away

the old maid and put on the new, but the latter would not hear of it.

"The maid was kind to me and gave me a night's lodging," she said. "So

now I will stay without wage and do the dirty work for her."

So Caporushes--for so they called her since she would give no other

name--stayed on and cleaned the pots and scraped the saucepans.

Now it so happened that her master's son came of age, and to celebrate

the occasion a ball was given to the neighbourhood, for the young man

was a grand dancer, and loved nothing so well as a country measure. It

was a very fine party, and after supper was served, the servants were

allowed to go and watch the quality from the gallery of the ball-room.

But Caporushes refused to go, for she also was a grand dancer, and she

was afraid that when she heard the fiddles starting a merry jig, she

might start dancing. So she excused herself by saying she was too tired

with scraping pots and washing saucepans; and when the others went off,

she crept up to her bed.

But alas! and alack-a-day! The door had been left open, and as she lay

in her bed she could hear the fiddlers fiddling away and the tramp of

dancing feet.

Then she upped and off with her cap and robe of rushes, and there she

was ever so fine and tidy. She was in the ball-room in a trice joining

in the jig, and none was more beautiful or better dressed than she.

While as for her dancing...!

Her master's son singled her out at once, and with the finest of bows

engaged her as his partner for the rest of the night. So she danced away

to her heart's content, while the whole room was agog, trying to find

out who the beautiful young stranger could be. But she kept her own

counsel and, making some excuse, slipped away before the ball finished;

so when her fellow-servants came to bed, there she was in hers in her

cap and robe of rushes, pretending to be fast asleep.

Next morning, however, the maids could talk of nothing but the beautiful


"You should ha' seen her," they said. "She was the loveliest young lady

as ever you see, not a bit like the likes o' we. Her golden hair was all

silvered wi' pearls, and her dress--law! You wouldn't believe how she

was dressed. Young master never took his eyes off her."

And Caporushes only smiled and said, with a twinkle in her eye, "I

should like to see her, but I don't think I ever shall."

"Oh yes, you will," they replied, "for young master has ordered another

ball to-night in hopes she will come to dance again."

But that evening Caporushes refused once more to go to the gallery,

saying she was too tired with cleaning pots and scraping saucepans. And

once more when she heard the fiddlers fiddling she said to herself, "I

must have one dance--just one with the young master: he dances so

beautifully." For she felt certain he would dance with her.

And sure enough, when she had upped and offed with her cap and robe of

rushes, there he was at the door waiting for her to come; for he had

determined to dance with no one else.

So he took her by the hand, and they danced down the ball-room. It was a

sight of all sights! Never were such dancers! So young, so handsome, so

fine, so gay!

But once again Caporushes kept her own counsel and just slipped away on

some excuse in time, so that when her fellow-servants came to their beds

they found her in hers, pretending to be fast asleep; but her cheeks

were all flushed and her breath came fast. So they said, "She is

dreaming. We hope her dreams are happy."

But next morning they were full of what she had missed. Never was such a

beautiful young gentleman as young master! Never was such a beautiful

young lady! Never was such beautiful dancing! Every one else had stopped

theirs to look on.

And Caporushes, with a twinkle in her eyes, said, "I should like to see

her; but I'm sure I never shall!"

"Oh yes!" they replied. "If you come to-night you're sure to see her;

for young master has ordered another ball in hopes the beautiful

stranger will come again; for it's easy to see he is madly in love with


Then Caporushes told herself she would not dance again, since it was not

fit for a gay young master to be in love with his scullery-maid; but,

alas! the moment she heard the fiddlers fiddling, she just upped and

offed with her rushes, and there she was fine and tidy as ever! She

didn't even have to brush her beautiful golden hair! And once again she

was in the ball-room in a trice, dancing away with young master, who

never took his eyes off her, and implored her to tell him who she was.

But she kept her own counsel and only told him that she never, never,

never would come to dance any more, and that he must say good-bye. And

he held her hand so fast that she had a job to get away, and lo and

behold! his ring came off his finger, and as she ran up to her bed there

it was in her hand! She had just time to put on her cap and robe of

rushes, when her fellow-servants came trooping in and found her awake.

"It was the noise you made coming upstairs," she made excuse; but they

said, "Not we! It is the whole place that is in an uproar searching for

the beautiful stranger. Young master he tried to detain her; but she

slipped from him like an eel. But he declares he will find her; for if

he doesn't he will die of love for her."

Then Caporushes laughed. "Young men don't die of love," says she. "He

will find some one else."

But he didn't. He spent his whole time looking for his beautiful dancer,

but go where he might, and ask whom he would, he never heard anything

about her. And day by day he grew thinner and thinner, and paler and

paler, until at last he took to his bed.

And the housekeeper came to the cook and said, "Cook the nicest dinner

you can cook, for young master eats nothing."

Then the cook prepared soups, and jellies, and creams, and roast

chicken, and bread sauce; but the young man would none of them.

And Caporushes cleaned the pots and scraped the saucepans and said


Then the housekeeper came crying and said to the cook, "Prepare some

gruel for young master. Mayhap he'd take that. If not he will die for

love of the beautiful dancer. If she could see him now she would have

pity on him."

So the cook began to make the gruel, and Caporushes left scraping

saucepans and watched her.

"Let me stir it," she said, "while you fetch a cup from the


So Caporushes stirred the gruel, and what did she do but slips young

master's ring into it before the cook came back!

Then the butler took the cup upstairs on a silver salver. But when the

young master saw it he waved it away, till the butler with tears begged

him just to taste it.

So the young master took a silver spoon and stirred the gruel; and he

felt something hard at the bottom of the cup. And when he fished it up,

lo! it was his own ring! Then he sate up in bed and said quite loud,

"Send for the cook!" And when she came he asked her who made the gruel.

"I did," she said, for she was half-pleased and half-frightened.

Then he looked at her all over and said, "No, you didn't! You're too

stout! Tell me who made it and you shan't be harmed!"

Then the cook began to cry. "If you please, sir, I did make it; but

Caporushes stirred it."

"And who is Caporushes?" asked the young man.

"If you please, sir, Caporushes is the scullion," whimpered the cook.

Then the young man sighed and fell back on his pillow. "Send Caporushes

here," he said in a faint voice; for he really was very near dying.

And when Caporushes came he just looked at her cap and her robe of

rushes and turned his face to the wall; but he asked her in a weak

little voice, "From whom did you get that ring?"

Now when Caporushes saw the poor young man so weak and worn with love

for her, her heart melted, and she replied softly:

"From him that gave it me," quoth she, and offed with her cap and robe

of rushes, and there she was as fine and tidy as ever with her beautiful

golden hair all silvered over with pearls.

And the young man caught sight of her with the tail of his eye, and sate

up in bed as strong as may be, and drew her to him and gave her a great

big kiss.

So, of course, they were to be married in spite of her being only a

scullery-maid, for she told no one who she was. Now every one far and

near was asked to the wedding. Amongst the invited guests was

Caporushes' father, who, from grief at losing his favourite daughter,

had lost his sight, and was very dull and miserable. However, as a

friend of the family, he had to come to the young master's wedding.

Now the marriage feast was to be the finest ever seen; but Caporushes

went to her friend the cook and said:

"Dress every dish without one mite of salt."

"That'll be rare and nasty," replied the cook; but because she prided

herself on having let Caporushes stir the gruel and so saved the young

master's life, she did as she was asked, and dressed every dish for the

wedding breakfast without one mite of salt.

Now when the company sate down to table their faces were full of smiles

and content, for all the dishes looked so nice and tasty; but no sooner

had the guests begun to eat than their faces fell; for nothing can be

tasty without salt.

Then Caporushes' blind father, whom his daughter had seated next to her,

burst out crying.

"What is the matter?" she asked.

Then the old man sobbed, "I had a daughter whom I loved dearly, dearly.

And I asked her how much she loved me, and she replied, 'As fresh meat

loves salt.' And I was angry with her and turned her out of house and

home, for I thought she didn't love me at all. But now I see she loved

me best of all."

And as he said the words his eyes were opened, and there beside him was

his daughter lovelier than ever.

And she gave him one hand, and her husband, the young master, the other,

and laughed saying, "I love you both as fresh meat loves salt." And

after that they were all happy for evermore.

[Illustration: She sate down and plaited herself an overall of rushes

and a cap to match]


Now ponder well, you parents dear,

These words which I shall write;

A doleful story you shall hear,

In time brought forth to light.

A gentleman of good account

In Norfolk dwelt of late,

Who did in honour far surmount

Most men of his estate.

Sore sick he was and like to die,

No help his life could save;

His wife by him as sick did lie,

And both possest one grave.

No love between these two was lost,

Each was to other kind;

In love they lived, in love they died,

And left two babes behind:

The one a fine and pretty boy

Not passing three years old,

The other a girl more young than he,

And framed in beauty's mould.

The father left his little son,

As plainly did appear,

When he to perfect age should come,

Three hundred pounds a year;

And to his little daughter Jane

Five hundred pounds in gold,

To be paid down on marriage-day,

Which might not be controlled.

But if the children chanced to die

Ere they to age should come,

Their uncle should possess their wealth;

For so the will did run.

"Now, brother," said the dying man,

"Look to my children dear;

Be good unto my boy and girl,

No friends else have they here;

To God and you I recommend

My children dear this day;

But little while be sure we have

Within this world to stay.

"You must be father and mother both,

And uncle, all in one;

God knows what will become of them

When I am dead and gone."

With that bespake their mother dear:

"O brother kind," quoth she,

"You are the man must bring our babes

To wealth or misery.

"And if you keep them carefully,

Then God will you reward;

But if you otherwise should deal,

God will your deeds regard."

With lips as cold as any stone,

They kissed their children small:

"God bless you both, my children dear!"

With that the tears did fall.

These speeches then their brother spake

To this sick couple there:

"The keeping of your little ones,

Sweet sister, do not fear;

God never prosper me nor mine,

Nor aught else that I have,

If I do wrong your children dear

When you are laid in grave!"

The parents being dead and gone,

The children home he takes,

And brings them straight unto his house,

Where much of them he makes.

He had not kept these pretty babes

A twelvemonth and a day,

But, for their wealth, he did devise

To make them both away.

He bargained with two ruffians strong,

Which were of furious mood,

That they should take these children young.

And slay them in a wood.

He told his wife an artful tale

He would the children send

To be brought up in London town

With one that was his friend.

Away then went those pretty babes,

Rejoicing at that tide,

Rejoicing with a merry mind

They should on cock-horse ride.

They prate and prattle pleasantly,

As they ride on the way,

To those that should their butchers be

And work their lives' decay:

So that the pretty speech they had

Made Murder's heart relent;

And they that undertook the deed

Full sore now did repent.

Yet one of them, more hard of heart,

Did vow to do his charge,

Because the wretch that hired him

Had paid him very large.

The other won't agree thereto,

So there they fall to strife;

With one another they did fight

About the children's life;

And he that was of mildest mood

Did slay the other there,

Within an unfrequented wood;

The babes did quake for fear!

He took the children by the hand,

Tears standing in their eye,

And bade them straightway follow him,

And look they did not cry;

And two long miles he led them on,

While they for food complain:

"Stay here," quoth he, "I'll bring you bread,

When I come back again."

These pretty babes, with hand in hand,

Went wandering up and down;

But never more could see the man

Approaching from the town.

Their pretty lips with blackberries

Were all besmeared and dyed;

And when they saw the darksome night,

They sat them down and cried.

Thus wandered these poor innocents,

Till death did end their grief;

In one another's arms they died,

As wanting due relief:

No burial this pretty pair

From any man receives,

Till Robin Redbreast piously

Did cover them with leaves.

And now the heavy wrath of God

Upon their uncle fell;

Yea, fearful fiends did haunt his house,

His conscience felt an hell:

His barns were fired, his goods consumed,

His lands were barren made,

His cattle died within the field,

And nothing with him stayed.

And in a voyage to Portugal

Two of his sons did die;

And to conclude, himself was brought

To want and misery:

He pawned and mortgaged all his land

Ere seven years came about.

And now at last this wicked act

Did by this means come out.

The fellow that did take in hand

These children for to kill,

Was for a robbery judged to die,

Such was God's blessed will:

Who did confess the very truth,

As here hath been displayed:

The uncle having died in jail,

Where he for debt was laid.

You that executors be made,

And overseers eke,

Of children that be fatherless,

And infants mild and meek,

Take you example by this thing,

And yield to each his right,

Lest God with suchlike misery

Your wicked minds requite.