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In Chimney Corners by  Seumas MacManus


 

 

The Old Hag of the Forest

THE OLD HAG OF THE FOREST

[127] ONCE on a time, long long ago, when there were more kings and queens in Ireland than O'Donnell's old castle has windows, and when witches and enchantments were as plentiful as blackthorn bushes, there was a king and a queen with three sons, and to every one of these sons the queen had given a hound, a hawk and a filly. The filly could overtake anything, the hound could catch anything it pursued on dry land, and the hawk could come up with anything in the air or in the water. In the course of time, when these three lads had grown up to be fine, able, strapping young men, the oldest said one day that he would go away to push his fortune. The king and the queen were vexed at this, and wrought him high up and low down to keep him from going, but it was all no use, he wouldn't be said by them, and so, asking [128] their blessing, he mounts the filly, and, with the hawk on his shoulder, and the hound at his heels, sets out. And he told them as he was setting out, to watch, from day to day, the water that settled in the filly's hoof-tracks outside the gate, "for," says he, "as long as that water keeps clear I'm all right; but when you see it frothing, I'm fighting a hard battle; and if ever you see it turn bloody I'm either dead or under enchantment." So himself, the hound, the hawk and the filly, they started, and off with them, and they traveled away, and away, far further than I could tell you and twice further than you could tell me, till at last one evening late he comes in sight of a great castle. When he got sight of the castle he pulls up his filly, and, looking about him, he sees a small wee house convaynient and he drew on this house, and, going in, found only one old woman in it and saw that it was a neat, clean little house entirely. "God save ye, young gentleman," says the woman. "God save yerself, kindly, and thanky; and can I have lodging for the night for myself, my hound, my hawk, and my filly?" says he. "Well [129] for yourself, you can," says the old woman, says she, "but I don't like them other animals, but sure you can house them outside," says she. Very well and good, he agreed to this. When the old woman was getting his supper for him she said she supposed he was for the big fight the morrow. He axed her, "What big fight?" "And och," says she, "is that all you know about it," commencing and telling to him how that the king's daughter of the castle beyond was to be killed by a great giant the next day unless there was a man there able to beat the giant, and to any man that would fight him and beat him the king was to give his daughter in marriage and the weight of herself three times over in goold. "Och," says he, "I'll find something better to do. I'll not go near it." So the next morning early he was up betimes and pretending he was going away to hunt; but doesn't he go instead to the king's castle, and there he saw no end of a crowd gathered together from the four winds of the world, some of them thinking to fight the giant and win the king's daughter, and more of them only come out of curiosity, just to look on. But when the [130] giant made his appearance, and they saw the sight of him, not a man of all the warriors there, covered all over as they were in coats of iron mail from the crown of their heads to the soles of their feet—the sorra resaive the one of them, but went like that, trembling with fear, for the like of such a tar-riffic giant none of them ever saw or heerd tell of before. So, my brave king's son waited on till he saw there was none of them present would venture to fight the giant, and then out he steps himself; and the giant and him to it, and the like of their fight was never witnessed in Ireland before or since, and he gave the giant enough to do, and the giant gave him enough to do; till at last, when it was going hard with him, he gave one leap into the air, and coming down with his sword just right on the giant's neck, he cut off his head, clean off, and then when he had that done he disappeared in the crowd, and after killing some game on the hills came home and gave the old woman the game for supper. That night when the old woman was giving him his supper she told him about the great gentleman that had [131] killed the giant that day, and then disappeared all of a suddint into the air. And then she said that giant's brother was to be there the morra to fight anyone that would fight for the king's daughter, and she told him he should go, for it would be well worth seeing. But, "Och," says he, "I'll find something better worth doing—I'll not go near it." So after his supper, to bed he went, and he was up again early betimes in the morning, and making pretend he was going to hunt, he went off to the castle again. This day the crowd was bigger than ever, and when the giant appeared, if the first giant was tar-riffic, this one was twice over double as tar-riffic, and he could get no man with the heart to venture to fight him, till at length my brave king's son had to step out this day again and encounter him. Well, if the fight was hard the first day, it was this day double as hard, and the giant gave him his fill of it, and he gave the giant his fill of it, till at long and at last when it was going hard on him he takes one spring right up into the air and landing down with his sword on the giant's neck he cuts the head right off from the body [132] and then again disappeared in the crowd, and after a while's hunting on the hills he come home with plenty of game; and this night, just like the night afore, when the old woman was giving him his supper she made great wonders of telling him of the tar-riffic fight that day again between the strange gentleman and the giant, and how he killed the giant and then disappeared right up into the sky before all their eyes. And then she said that on the morra the third and last giant was to fight, and she said this would be a wonderful day entirely, and he should surely go to see it, and to see the wonderful gentleman that killed the other two giants. But "Och," says he, "I'll find something better to do—I'll not go near it, to look at him or it." And the third morning again he went to the castle, purtending that it was to hunt he was goin', and the third giant appeared, and him far more tar-riffic than the first two put together. And to make a long story short, my brave king's son and himself went at it, and the fighting was the most odious ever was witnessed [133] before or since, and the short and the long of it was that he sprung up at length into the air, and coming down on the giant's neck cut off his head, and then again disappeared in the crowd and went home; but as he was disappearing, doesn't one of the king's men snap the shoe off his foot; so home he had to go that night wanting one shoe. Next day, and for eight days after, the king had all his men out scouring the country far and wide to see if they could find the owner of the shoe; but though they flocked to the castle in thousands not one of them would the shoe fit. And every one of these days the king's son was out with his filly, his hawk and his hound on the hills hunting. At last one day the old woman went to the castle and told how she had a lodger that come home the night the last giant was kilt with one boot wanting. And the next day the king came there himself with a carriage and four horses and took the king's son away to his castle, and there when they tried on him the boot, doesn't it fit him like as if it was made on his foot; and the king gave him his daughter, and the marriage was performed, and all the whole gentry and nobility [134] of all the land was invited in to a big faist. But, lo and behould ye, on that very night when all the spree was going on, and the fun was at its heighth in the ballroom, and all were as busy as bees in the kitchen, what would ye have of it but at that very ins'ant doesn't there come to the kitchen window a hare, and puts in its head and commences licking a plate of some particular nice dainty that was cooling inside the window, and the cook was so enraged at one of her very best dishes being destroyed that she got up in a passion and put off her all sorts and said it was a nice how do ye do that, with a hairo in the house that had killed giants, a dirty hare would be allowed to come in and spoil her cooking. This word soon came to the groom's ears in the ball-room, and though the king and the queen and the bride and all the nobility and gentry tried to persuade him against it he wouldn't stop, and there was no holding of him. He said he wouldn't sleep two nights in the one bed, or eat two meals' meat in the one house, till he would catch that hare and bring it back dead or alive. So mounting [135] his filly, and taking with him his hawk and his hound, he started off hot-foot in pursuit. He pursued the hare all that night and all the next day, and at evening late he drew on a little wee house he saw in a hollow, and he went in, for he was tired, and determined to rest that night. He wasn't long in, and he was warming himself at the fire, with his hound, his hawk and his filly, when he hears a noise at the wee window of the house, and there he sees a dirty wizened old hag of a woman, trembling and shaking, down to her very finger tips. "Och, och, och, it's cold, cold, cold," says she, and her teeth rattling in her head. "Why don't you come in and warm yourself?" says he. "Och, I can't, I can't," says she. "I'm afeerd of them wild animals of yours. But here," says she, pulling three long hairs out of her head, and handing them in by the window to him, "here," says she, "is three of the borochs we used to have in old times, and if you tie them wild beasts of yours with them then I'll go in." So he took the three hairs and tied the hawk, the hound and [136] the filly with them, and then the old hag came in, but she was trembling no longer, and, says she, with her eyes flashing fire, "Do you know who I am?" says she. "They call me the Old Hag of the Forest, and it was my three sons you killed to win the king's daughter, but you'll pay dearly for it now," says she. With that he drew his sword, and the hag drew another, and both of them fell to it, and I couldn't be able to describe to you the terrible fight they had entirely. But at length the Old Hag of the Forest was getting too many for him, and he had to call on the help of the hound. "Hound, hound," says he, "where are you at my command?" And at this, "Hair, hair," says the old hag, says she, "hold tight." "O," says the hound, "it's hard for me to do anything and my throat a-cutting." Then he called on the hawk. "Hawk, hawk," says he, "where are you at my command?" And, "Hair, hair," says the old hag, says she, "hold tight." "O," says the hawk, "sure it's hard for me to do anything and my throat a-cutting. And then he called on the filly. "Filly, filly," says he, "where are you at my command?" "Hair, hair," says the old hag, [137] says she, "hold tight." "O," says the filly, "sure it's hard for me to do anything and my throat a-cutting." So the end of it all was that the hag overcome him, and then taking out of her pocket a little white rod she struck him with it, and turned him into a gray rock, just outside her door, and then striking the hound, the hawk and the filly with the rod she turned them into white rocks just beside him.

Now, at home, they watched the water in the filly's hoof tracks as regular as the sun rose every day, day after day, till at last they one day saw the water in the hoof tracks frothing, and they said he was fighting a hard battle; and so he was, for that was the very day himself and the first giant had the encounter. Next day it was frothing more than ever, for that was the day he was fighting the second giant, and on the third day the water frothed right up out of the tracks, and then they knew he was fighting a desperate big battle entirely; and sure enough himself and the third giant were at it hard and fast at the same ins'ant. But at length didn't they find the water turning to blood and they thought he must be killed. So the next morning [138] the second brother set out and he said he wouldn't sleep two nights in the one bed nor eat two meals of meat in the one house till he'd find out what happened to his brother. He took his hound, his hawk and his filly with him and he traveled on and on, far further than I could tell you, and twice further than you could tell me, till at length one evening late doesn't he come to the very wee house near a great castle where his brother had put up before him. And when he comes in the old woman that was in the house flew at him and kissed him and welcomed him back with a hundred welcomes ten times over, for he was so like his brother she was sure it was him was in it. Then she told him that they were all waiting for him anxiously at the castle, expecting him back every day, and that he should lose no time in going to them, for that the bride in particular was down-hearted entirely since he had went away, thinking that she'd never see him no more. So off he starts at once for the castle to find it all out, and it's there was the welcome and the rejoicing, and the pretty king's daughter covered him all over with kisses, and there was a great spread, and [139] all the gentry and nobility were asked in again, but that night again, what would you have of it, but the hare comes a sccond time, and spoiled the cook's best dish, and drove the cook into a frightful rage, and—"It's a nice how do ye do, indeed," says the cook, says she, "that with a hairo in the house that slew three giants a hare would be allowed to come in and spoil my very choicest dish, and then go off with itself scot free," says she. And this word come to the new groom in the ballroom, and "By this, and by that," says he, "I won't stop till I go after that hare, and I'll never stop two nights or eat two meals in the one house 'till I bring back that hare dead or alive." And so, off he starts, himself, the hound, the hawk, and the filly; and all that night and the next day he purshued after the hare, and late the next evening when he was feeling tired out and not able to follow any further doesn't he see in the hollow below him a little house, and drawing on the house, he went in and was warming himself by the fire with his hound, his hawk and his filly about him when he hears a noise at the window, and there he sees an old hag quaking and shaking [140] all over. "Och, och, och, it's cold, cold, cold," says she, trembling all over. "Why don't you come in and warm yourself?" says he. "O," says she, "I couldn't go in, for I'm afeerd of them wild animals of yours. But here," says she, pulling three long hairs out of her head, "here's three of the kind of borochs we used to use long ago, and tie your aninials with them, and then I'll go in." So he takes the hairs and ties the hound, the hawk and the filly with them, and then the old hag came in, and she not trembling at all now, but her eyes flashing fire, and, says she, "Your brother killed my three sons, and I made him pay dearly for it, and I'll make you pay dearly," says she, "too." So with that she drew a sword, and he drew a sword, and both of them to it, and they fought long and they fought hard, but the hag was too many for him, so at length he had to call on the hound. "Hound, hound," says he, "where are you at my command?" Says the old hag, says she, "Hair, hair, hold tight!" "O," says the hound, "how could I do anything and my throat a-cutting?" Then he called on the hawk. [141] "Hawk, hawk," says he, "where are you at my command?" "Hair, hair," says the old hag, says she, "hold tight!" "O," says the hawk, "how could I do anything and my throat a-cutting?" Then he called on his filly. "Filly, filly," says he, "where are you at my command?" "Hair, hair," says the old hag, says she, "hold tight!" "O," says the filly, says he, "how could I do anything and my throat a-cutting?" So the end of it all was again that the hag got the better of him, and, taking out a wee bit of white rod out of her pocket she struck him with it, and turned him into another gray stone outside the door, and then struck the hound, the hawk and the filly, and turned them into three white stones just beside him.

Now, at home as before, they were watching his filly's hoof tracks every day regular, and everything went well till at last one day they saw the water in them turn bloody and then they were afeerd he was kilt. Then the very next morning says the youngest son Jack, says he, "I'll start off with my hound, my hawk and my filly, and won't sleep two nights in one [142] bed, or eat two meals in the one house till I find what has happened to my two older brothers." So off he starts—himself, his filly, his hawk, and his hound—and he traveled and traveled away, far further than you could tell me or I could tell you, till he come in sight of the very same castle his two brothers reached before him, and drawing on the wee hut he saw near it he went in, and the old woman jumped and threw her arms about his neck, and welcomed him home with a hundred thousand welcomes, and told him it was a poor thing to go away and leave his bride the way he did, twice, and that she was in a very bad way, down-hearted entirely, thinking and ruminating what had become of him, or happened to him at all, at all. And then she hurried my brave Jack off to the castle. And, och, it's there the welcome was for him and the rejoicements, bekase he had come back again. And this time, just as before, the great faist was given, and the gentry and nobility all asked in to it, and the play was at its heighth when the word come to the ball-room once more about the unmannerly hare spoiling the cook's best dish the third time, and [143] how the cook said it was a purty how de ye do, entirely, that such a thing would be allowed, with a hairo in the house that slew three giants. And with that, without more ado, off my brave Jack insisted on starting, and there was no holding of him, good or bad, for he said he was bound to fetch back that hare, dead or alive. So off Jack starts himself, his hawk, his hound and his filly, and Jack had a sort of notion in his eye that this same hare was nothing good, and that 'twas it led his two brothers astray, whatever had happened to them. So he traveled on, and on, and on, for that night and all the next day, and never come up with the hare, till at length, late that evening, he saw from him the same wee hut in the hollow that his brothers drew on before, and on it my brave Jack drew, too. And after he had been in the cabin some time himself, his hound, his hawk and his filly, he hears the noise at the window, and there he sees the old hag, trembling and shaking and quaking, and "Och, och, och, but it's cold, cold, cold," says she: "And why," says he, "don't you come in and warm yourself?" "Och," says she, "I'm [144] afeerd of them wild animals of yours. But here," says she, taking out of her head three hairs, "here's three of the kind of borochs we used to use in old times, and tie your animals with them, and then I'll go in." Jack took from her the three hairs, and, pretending to tie the hound, the hawk and the filly with them, he threw them instead into the fire. Then the old hag came in, her eyes blazing in her head, and, drawing a sword, she rushes at Jack to have his life. And Jack drew his sword and rushed at her, and both of them to it hard and fast, and they fought long and they fought hard, till at length Jack, finding the hag putting too sore on him, called on his hound. "Hound, hound, where are you at my command?" "Hair, hair," says the old hag, says she, "hold tight!" "O," says the hair, "it's hard for me to do good and me a-burning in the fire." And then Jack called on his hawk. "Hawk, hawk," says he, "where are you at my command?" "Hair, hair," says the old hag, says she, "hold tight." "O," says the hair, "it's hard for me to do good and me a-burning in the fire." Then Jack called on his filly. "Filly, filly," says he, "where are you at [145] my command?" "Hair, hair," says the old hag, says she, "hold tight." "O," says the hair, "it's hard for me to do good and me a-burning in the fire." So the hound, the hawk and the filly all rallied to my brave Jack's aid, and the hound got hold of the hag by the heel and wouldn't let her go all she could do; and with one fling the filly broke her leg, and the hawk picked out her two eyes, so she couldn't see what she was doing, or where she was striking. So then, she cried out, "Mercy, mercy, spare my life and I'll give you back your two brothers." "All right," says Jack, "tell me where they are, and how I'm to get them." "Do you see them two gray stones," says she, "outside the door, with three smaller white ones round each of them?" "I do," says Jack. "Well," says she, "the gray stones are your brothers, and the others are their hounds, their hawks, and their fillies; and if you take water from the well at the foot of that tree below the house, and sprinkle three drops of it on each of them stones, they'll all be disenchanted again." Jack, you may suppose, didn't lose much time doing this, and lo and behold you from the stones comes up his two [146] brothers, every one of them with his hound, his hawk, and his filly, just the same as they were before they had been enchanted by the old Hag of the Forest, and that was the meeting and the greeting between Jack and his lost brothers, that he thought he'd never see again! But off they soon started, all of them, with their hounds, their hawks and their fillies, away back for the castle again, and the eldest brother got his bride and the faist was spread this time again and all the gentry and nobility of both that and the surrounding countries all come to attend it and do honor to the bride and groom; and such a time for eating, drinking, dancing, singing, fun and amusement was never seen before or after. Jack and the second brother started away off afterwards for home with their hounds, their hawks and their fillies with them and as much goold as they could carry. I got brogues of brocham and slippers of bread, a piece of a pie for telling a lie, and then come slithering home on my head.


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