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The Girl Who Sat by the Ashes by  Padraic Colum
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CROW-FEATHER-CLOAK AGAIN

[63]

H
E came out of the woods holding her by the legs and carrying her slung across his shoulder. Then with great stride he went up the side of a mountain. He crossed the top and went down the other side so fast that the life was nearly shaken out of her body. But now the Giant lifted Girl-go-with-the-Goats up on his shoulder and his gait was easier for her then.

He went through a gate and into a yard where she heard the yelping and howling of beasts and the rattling of chains. He pushed [64] open the door of a house. He left her down on the ground and closed the door as a boy might leave down and shut in the kitten of a wild-cat he had taken.

The Giant shut her into the terrible house that was all in darkness. "Don't try to get away, for I'll hear every sound you make," he said to her. Then she heard him cast off his heavy hunting-boots and throw down on the ground a chain he carried. She heard him get into his bed. For a while he talked to himself and then she heard him snore in his sleep.

She stayed in a corner all the night listening to beasts' feet running, running in the dark before the house. The light came and she saw the house big and empty. She saw the Giant's bed and she saw the Giant lying in it, with his grisly beard nearly covering his red face. She saw the doors of the house, on at the back and one at the front with bolts on each of them. It was surely a terrible house.

The Giant wakened up. He put his feet under him in the bed and he looked at her. "Ho," [67] said he, "this is the thirtieth maid I have caught. I'll take her to the fastness where I have the other nine and twenty."

He opened wide the front door and stood looking into his yard. She stole down and looked out too. A wolf, a wild-cat, a fox, a badger—all were running here and there with chains upon them and yelping and howling. The Giant took up the chain he had brought and shook it before the beasts, and they howled and yelped the more angrily.

And then Girl-go-with-the-Goats heard a little twittering in the window-opening above her. She looked up and there she saw her two starlings. "Oh, my birds," said she to them softly, "show me, show me some way of escaping from the Giant."

Then the two starlings flew down on the low bench that was by the wall and they shrugged their wings and twisted their heads and went through all the ways of washing themselves. And then they flew up to the window-opening, and there again they shrugged their wings and [68] twisted their heads and went through all the ways of washing themselves. Girl-go-with-the-Goats thought she knew what the starlings would have her do: they would have her try to wash herself.

She spoke to the Giant who was still rattling the chain at the beasts. "Mighty man," said she, "would you let me wash myself?"

"Wash yourself and then come with me," said the Giant. "But I won't let you go out to get the water." He stepped outside the door and came back with a basin of rain-water. "Wash now," he said, "and come with me to the fastness where my nine and twenty other maids are kept."

She took the basin from him and left it down on the low bench. She stood there not knowing what next to do. And the Giant went to the door as before and made the beasts that were outside yelp and howl with the sight of the chain he held.

And now the two starlings flew down and lighted on the rim of the basin. They began to splash themselves with water. They flew into the basin [69] and splashed louder and louder. Then she knew how the starlings were trying to help her. They would keep splashing and splashing while she stole away from the Giant.

The back door was shut by a bolt of wood that was within her reach. She put up her hands and laid them on the bolt. Louder and louder the starlings splashed in the basin. She pushed the bolt back slowly. She drew the door towards her. With more and more noise the birds splashed in the water.

She opened the door a little way. She stepped out and closed the door behind her. She stopped [70] to listen. She heard the starlings in the basin of water splashing and splashing and splashing.

And then Girl-go-with-the-Goats ran on, ran on. Far, far she went before she stopped to drink at a stream or pick a berry. Along a pathway in a wood she went, fearful because she did not know where she was going.

It was then she heard two magpies discoursing to one another in human language: "When was your tongue split with a silver sixpence so that you were made able to speak in men's language?" said one to the other.

"It was before the night of the great wind," said the second magpie. "That same great wind blew myself and my cage away and ever since I'm in these woods. And when was your tongue split?"

"Mine was split before the battle in the sky was seen," said the first magpie. "The people in the house ran out to see the same battle and I hopped off my perch and came away."

"And when you want to speak human words to whom do you go?" said the second magpie.

[71] "Oh, to no one else but the Woman of a Thousand Years," said the first magpie. "Her house is down by this pathway."

"I go to talk to the Little Green Man of the Mountain," said the second magpie. The two went hopping off together.

Girl-go-with-the-Goats went along the path that the first magpie had spoken of. She did not go far before she saw a small black house deep-sunken in the earth, with elder-bushes growing [72] around it. The door of the house was open, and she stole up so that she might first look to see who was within.

An old woman was there spinning threads of grey on a spindle. The only garment she had on was a Cloak of Crow-feathers. She went in on the doorway. "Good evening," said she to the old woman.

The old woman in the Crow-feather Cloak looked at her from under her grey eyebrows. "Good evening, girl that I remember," she said.

"May I come in and rest myself?" said Girl-go-with-the-Goats.

"Come in and rest yourself," said the Woman of a Thousand Years.

Girl-go-with-the-Goats came into that little house, and oh, but her heart was rested to be within a house that was not fearful to her. She sat down on a stool, and the moment she did she began to think of her step-mother's Goats. Where were they, and who was minding them to-day?

"Girl that I remember, would you eat or drink?" said the Woman of a Thousand Years.

[73] "I would take a drink of milk if you could spare it," said Girl-go-with-the-Goats.

"There's no milk in the house, but this may do as well," said the old woman. She brought the girl a bowl of elder-berry wine; dark-red and sharp-smelling it was. She drank the bowl of wine and the fears that she still had began to go away from her.

And then the two starlings flew into the house and lighting on the window sill behind her began to sing loudly and joyfully. Oh, it was well to be here in this house, with the bowl in her hands and the two starlings singing. She laid her head against the wall, and no sooner did she do this than she fell into slumber.


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