There was once a poor woman that had three daughters, and one day the eldest said, " Mother, bake my cake and kill my cock, till I go seek my fortune." So she did, and when all was ready, says her mother to her, " Which will you have-half of these with my blessing, or the whole with my curse ? " " Curse or no curse," says she, " the whole is little enough." So away she set, and if the mother didn't give her her curse, she didn't give her her blessing.
She walked and she walked till she was tired and hungry, and then she sat down to take her dinner. While she was eating it, a poor woman came up, and asked for a bit. " The dickens a bit you'll get from me," says she; " it's all too little for myself;" and the poor woman walked away very sorrowful. At nightfall she got lodging at a farmer's, and the woman of the house told her that she'd give her a spade-full of gold and a shovel-full of silver if she'd only sit up and watch her son's corpse that was waking in the next room. She said she'd do that; and so, when the family were in their bed, she sat by the fire, and cast an eye from time to time on the corpse that was lying under the table.
All at once the dead man got up in his shroud, and stood before her, and said, " All alone, fair maid ! " She gave him no answer, and when he said it the third time, he struck her with a switch, and she became a grey nag.
About a week after, the second daughter went to seek her fortune, and she didn't care for her mother's blessing no more nor her sister, and the very same thing happened to her. She was left a grey flag by the side of the other.
At last the youngest went off in search of the other two, and she took care to carry her mother's blessing with her. She shared her dinner with the poor woman on the road, and she told her that she would watch over her.
Well, she got lodging in the same place as the others, and agreed to mind the corpse. She sat up by the fire with the dog and cat, and amused herself with some apples and nuts the mistress gave her. She thought it a pity that the man under the table was a corpse, he was so handsome.
But at last he got up, and says he, "All alone, fair maid ! " and she wasn't long about an answer :-
" All alone I am not, I've little dog Douse and Pussy, my cat; I've apples to roast, and nuts to crack, And all alone I am not."
" Ho, ho ! " says he, " you're a girl of courage, though you wouldn't have enough to follow me. I am now going to cross the quaking bog, and go through the burning forest. I must then enter the cave of terror, and climb the hill of glass, and drop from the top of it into the Dead Sea." " I'll follow you," says she, " for I engaged to mind you." He thought to prevent her, but she was as stiff as he was stout.
Out he sprang through the window, and she followed him till they came to the "Green Hills," and then says he :-
" Open, open, Green Hills, and let the Light of the Green Hills through ;"
" Aye," says the girl, "and let the fair maid, too."
They opened, and the man and woman passed through, and there they were, on the edge of a bog.
He trod lightly over the shaky bits of moss and sod; and while she was thinking of how she'd get across, the old beggar appeared to her, but much nicer dressed, touched her shoes with her stick, and the soles spread a foot on each side. So she easily got over the shaky marsh. The burning wood was at the edge of the bog, and there the good fairy flung a damp, thick cloak over her, and through the flames she went, and a hair of her head was not singed. Then they passed through the dark cavern of horrors, where she'd have heard the most horrible yells, only that the fairy stopped her ears with wax. She saw frightful things, with blue vapours round them, and felt the sharp rocks, and the slimy backs of frogs and snakes.
When they got out of the cavern, they were at the mountain of glass; and then the fairy made her slippers so sticky with a tap of her rod, that she followed the young corpse easily to the top. There was the deep sea a quarter of a mile under them, and so the corpse said to her, " Go home to my mother, and tell her how far you came to do her bidding: farewell." He sprung head foremost down into the sea, and after him she plunged, without stopping a moment to think about it.
She was stupefied at first, but when they reached the waters she recovered her thoughts. After piercing down a great depth, they saw a green light towards the bottom. At last they were below the sea, that seemed a green sky above them; and sitting in a beautiful meadow, she half asleep, and her head resting against his side. She couldn't keep her eyes open, and she couldn't tell how long she slept: but when she woke, she was in bed at his house, and he and his mother sitting by her bedside, and watching her.
It was a witch that had a spite to the young man, because he wouldn't marry her, and so she got power to keep him in a state between life and death till a young woman would rescue him by doing what she had just done. So at her request, her sisters got their own shape again, and were sent back to their mother, with their spades of gold and shovels of silver. Maybe they were better after that, but I doubt it much. The youngest got the young gentleman for her husband. I'm sure she deserved him, and, if they didn't live happy, that we may!
The succeeding story is met with, in some shape or other, in almost every popular collection. It happened, however, that we never met with it in a complete form except from the recital of Mrs. K., of the Duffrey, a lady in heart and deed, though a farmer's wife. The reader will find the word serenade doing duty for " surround ; " but the circumstance having remained fixed in our memory, we have not ventured on a supposed improvement. The scarcity of proper names is a remarkable feature in these old monuments. We have always, even at the risk of tautology and circumlocution, respected this characteristic.