The Robber Bridegroom

and other folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 955
translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2001-2011


Contents

  1. Link to The Robber Bridegroom (Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, versions of 1812 and 1857). Opens with a new page.

  2. The Robber's Bride (Germany).

  3. The Sweetheart in the Wood (Norway).

  4. The Story of Mr. Fox (England).

  5. The Oxford Student (England).

  6. The Girl Who Got Up a Tree (England).

  7. Bloody Baker (England).

  8. Bobby Rag (England).

  9. Captain Murderer (England, Charles Dickens).

  10. Laula (Wales).

  11. The History of Mr. Greenwood (Scotland).

  12. The Cannibal Innkeeper (Romania).

  13. Greenbeard (Lithuania).

  14. Sulasa and Sattuka (India, The Jataka).

  15. Links to related sites.


Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

The Robber's Bride

Germany

Once upon a time there were a man and a woman to whom the dear Lord had given a wonderfully beautiful daughter. The parents and the child prayed, and worked, and lived good and wholesome lives.

One day when the daughter had just reached her fifteenth year a splendid carriage drove up to their little hut. A distinguished gentleman emerged from it and said to the parents, "Do you not have a daughter whom I could marry?"

"No," was the answer. "To be sure, we do have a daughter, but she should not get married yet."

However, the gentleman would not accept this response. He had his horses unhitched, and he stayed there for three days. During these three days he was so pious and polite, and furthermore he had so much money and other valuables, that he won the mother's approval already on the first day, on the second day that of the daughter, and finally on the third day that of the father as well.

The father had repeatedly said to his wife, "I do not have a good feeling about this!" but she made him feel good about it, knowing how to coax him with sweet words into giving his approval.

As evening of the third day approached they took leave of their daughter, and asked the distinguished gentleman to take good care of her. He promised to do so, as he hurried away with his beautiful bride.

Now this distinguished gentleman was in truth a wild robber and cannibal. On their way he told the poor child nothing but horror stories, and when he pulled her from his carriage, he said to her, laughing, "Would you prefer to be boiled in oil or cooked in water? You are a delicious morsel, and because I am so fond of you, I will give you your choice."

The terrified bride could not answer, and the cannibal pushed her into a cave, saying further, "Ask the dear Lord to give you a good idea, and during the night prepare yourself to die!" Then he went into an adjoining cave.

When the girl came to her senses, she heard a terrible commotion in the next cave. The robber was beating his housekeeper, who in turn was scolding and scratching him. Now she was an old witch. She became very angry when he brought home a young girl, and for this she received a good beating. That is how the two of them behaved.

That night the cannibal slept by himself in his cave, and the old witch stayed with the young bride. The latter, however, did not close her eyes, but instead prayed and wept continuously. The old witch was upset that she was not able to sleep. She was also somewhat touched and still angry with the cannibal. At last she croaked, "Stop your whimpering! Just what did that beast tell you?"

The girl answered, "He asked me if I would prefer to be boiled in oil or cooked in water."

The witch laughed and replied, "And you have no desire for either one, you poor little fool!"

This sounded so heartless that it blocked the poor girl's throat.

"Don't be so sensitive!" the old hag continued, when she received no answer. "Do you want me to tickle you?" And she scratched the girl until she cried out loudly. "You have a very good voice!" scoffed the witch, then continued, "What I am about to tell you is thanks to that ruthless tyrant's blows. Tomorrow morning when he asks you, answer that you would prefer to be cooked in water. Then you yourself will have to carry the water, for he is too proud to do so himself. I will pretend to be sick. When you reach the well, take off your clothes and put them on the well-pole as though you were dressing a real person, then hide yourself in the hollow tree, the seventh tree on the right-hand side of the path. Now give me some peace, or I myself will divulge the plan."

Very early the next morning the cannibal came into the cave, and when the girl answered his question by saying that she would prefer to be cooked in water, he kicked the witch with his foot and shouted, "Go get some water while I slaughter my little dove."

"Fetch your own water!" croaked the witch. "You have lamed both of my arms."

The cannibal cursed and ordered his bride, "Take this bucket and get some water so that I can cook you!"

She took the bucket, put her clothes onto the well-pole, and crept into the hollow tree.

When she did not return, the robber shouted, "Are you waiting for your sweetheart there at the well? Is that why you are standing there without moving? If you don't come back immediately, I will see to it that he comes to you!"

The pole did not pay the least attention to his scoffing, nor did it even turn around when the cannibal began to curse and threaten. When finally a shot from the cave hit the pole, it neither cried nor fell over.

"Is that girl bulletproof?" shouted the cannibal, took a broadsword and ran to the well.

How he seethed when he came closer and found the strange large doll!

Boiling with rage, he ran with a few leaps back into his cave, tied his sword around his waist, mounted his faithful steed, shouted to the witch, "Fill the pot with oil and bring it to a boil!" and hurried away, accompanied by a large bloodhound.

Soon he came to the hollow tree, where the dog stopped and barked and scratched. The robber drew his worthy sword and thrust it through the bark, cutting the maiden's right big toe. Bright blood flowed from it onto the sword, but when he pulled it out again, the blood had disappeared. So he rode on.

When the girl could no longer hear the galloping horse and the barking dog she climbed out of the tree and crept into a deep ditch, then covered herself with twigs.

A half hour later the angry robber returned. The dog stopped next to the ditch, and the robber thrust his sword into the twigs, cutting the same toe on its other side. Again blood flowed from it, but when he pulled back the sword, it was as clean as before.

The poor bride put her ear against the side of the ditch, and when she could no longer hear the earth trembling, she wearily climbed out and limped to the well in order to dress herself a little. She had just washed herself when the robber returned. Seeing her, he shouted loudly for joy. He had just pulled out his worthy sword in order to cut off her head, when a bullet came out of the woods and struck him down.

The prince had just been hunting in the vicinity, and he was the one who shot the cannibal. When he came nearer and saw the beautiful maiden, his heart burned with love for her. The robber was cursing and writhing in his own blood, and the prince had him thrown into the pot filled with oil.

He took the maiden back to his castle as his wife, and there they lived long and happily together.




The Sweetheart in the Wood

Norway

Once on a time there was a man who had a daughter, and she was so pretty her name was spread over many kingdoms, and lovers came to her as thick as autumn leaves. One of these made out that he was richer than all the rest; and grand and handsome he was too; so he was to have her, and after that he came over and over again to see her.

As time went on, he said he should like her to come to his house and see how he lived; he was sorry he could not fetch her and go with her, but the day she came he would strew peas all along the path right up to his house door; but somehow or other it fell out that he strewed the peas a day too early.

She set out and walked a long way, through wood and waste, and at last she came to a big grand house, which stood in a green field in the midst of the wood; but her lover was not at home, nor was there a soul in the house either. First, she went into the kitchen, and there she saw nothing but a strange bird which hung in a cage from the roof. Next she went into the parlour, and there everything was so fine it was beyond belief. But as she went into it, the bird called after her:

"Pretty maiden, be bold, but not too bold."

When she passed on into an inner room, the bird called out the same words. There she saw ever so many chests of drawers, and when she pulled open the drawers, they were filled with gold and silver, and everything that was rich and rare. When she went on into a second room the bird called out again:

"Pretty maiden! be bold, but not too bold."

In that room the walls were all hung round with women's dresses, till the room was crammed full. She went on into a third room, and then the bird screamed out:

"Pretty maiden! Pretty maiden, be bold, but not too bold."

And what do you think she saw there? Why! ever so many pails full of blood.

So she passed on to a fourth room, and then the bird screamed and screeched after her:

"Pretty maiden! Pretty maiden, be bold, but not too bold."

That room was full of heaps of dead bodies, and skeletons of slain women, and the girl got so afraid that she was going to run away out of the house, but she had only got as far as the next room, where the pails of blood stood, when the bird called out to her:

"Pretty maiden! Pretty maiden! Jump under the bed, jump under the bed, for now he's coming."

She was not slow to give heed to the bird, and to hide under the bed. She crept as far back close to the wall as she could, for she was so afraid she would have crept into the wall itself, had she been able!

So in came her lover with another girl; and she begged so prettily and so hard he would only spare her life, and then she would never say a word against him, but it was all no good. He tore off all her clothes and jewels, down to a ring which she had on her finger. That he pulled and tore at, but when he couldn't get it off he hacked off her finger, and it rolled away under the bed to the girl who lay there, and she took it up and kept it, Her sweetheart told a little boy who was with him to creep under the bed and bring out the finger. Yes! he bent down and crept under, and saw the girl lying there; but she squeezed his hand hard, and then he saw what she meant.

"It lies so far under, I can't reach it," he cried. "Let it bide there till tomorrow, and then I'll fetch it out."

Early next morning the robber went out, and the boy was left behind to mind the house, and he then went to meet the girl to whom his master was betrothed, and who had come, as you know, by mistake the day before. But before he went, the robber told him to be sure not to let her go into the two farthermost bedrooms.

So when he was well off in the wood, the boy went and said she might come out now.

"You were lucky, that you were," he said, "in coming so soon, else he would have killed you like all the others."

She did not stay there long, you may fancy, but hurried back home as quick as ever she could, and when her father asked her why she had come so soon, she told him what sort of a man her sweetheart was, and all that she had heard and seen.

A short time after her lover came passing by that way, and he looked so grand that his raiment shone again, and he came to ask, he said, why she had never paid him that visit as she had promised.

"Oh!" said her father; "there came a man in the way with a sledge and scattered the peas, and she couldn't find her way; but now you must just put up with our poor house, and stay the night, for you must know we have guests coming, and it will be just a betrothal feast."

So when they had all eaten and drunk, and still sat round the table, the daughter of the house said she had dreamt such a strange dream a few nights before. If they cared to hear it she would tell it them, but they must all promise to sit quite still till she came to the end.

Yes! They were all ready to hear, and they all promised to sit still, and her sweetheart as well.

"I dreamt I was walking along a broad path, and it was strewn with peas."

"Yes! Yes!" said her sweetheart; "just as it will be when you go to my house, my love."

"Then the path got narrower and narrower, and it went far far away through wood and waste."

"Just like the way to my house, my love," said her sweetheart.

"And so I came to a green field, in which stood a big grand house."

"Just like my house, my love," said her sweetheart.

"So I went into the kitchen, but I saw no living soul, and from the roof hung a strange bird in a cage, and as I passed on into the parlour, it called after me, 'Pretty maiden, be bold, but not too bold.'"

"Just like my house that too, my love!" said her sweetheart.

"So I passed on into a bedroom, arid the bird bawled after me the same words, and in there were so many chests of drawers, and when I pulled the drawers out and looked into them, they were filled with gold and silver stuffs, and everything that was grand."

"That is just like it is at my house, my love," said her sweetheart. "I, too, have many drawers full of gold and silver, and costly things."

"So I went on into another bedroom, and the bird screeched out to me the very same words; and that room was all hung round on the walls with fine dresses of women."

"Yes, that too, is just as it is in my house," he said; "there are dresses and finery there both of silk and satin."

"Well! when I passed on to the next bedroom, the bird began to screech and scream: 'Pretty maiden, pretty maiden! be bold, but not too bold!' and in this room were casks and pails all round the walls, and they were full of blood."

"Fie," said her sweetheart, "how nasty. It isn't at all like that in my house, my love," for now he began to grow uneasy and wished to be off.

"Why!" said the daughter, "it's only a dream, you know, that I am telling. Sit still. The least you can do is to hear my dream out."

Then she went on: "When I went on into the next bedroom the bird began to scream out as loudly as before, the same words: 'Pretty maiden, pretty maiden! be bold, but not too bold.' And there lay many dead bodies and skeletons of slain folk."

"No! no," said her sweetheart, "there's nothing like that in my house," and again he tried to run out.

"Sit still, I say," she said, "it is nothing else than a dream, and you may very well hear it out. I, too, thought it dreadful, and ran back again, but I had not got farther than the next room where all those pails of blood stood, when the bird screeched out that I must jump under the bed and hide, for now he was coming; and so he came, and with him he had a girl who was so lovely I thought I had never seen her like before. She prayed and begged so prettily that he would spare her life. But he did not care a pin for all her tears and prayers; he tore off her clothes, and took all she had, and he neither spared her life nor aught else; but on her left hand she had a ring, which he could not tear off, so he hacked off her finger, and it rolled away under the bed to me."

"Indeed! my love," said her sweetheart, "there's nothing like that in my house."

"Yes, it was in your house," she said, "and here is the finger and the ring, and you are the man who hacked it off."

So they laid hands on him, and put him to death, and burnt both his body and his house in the wood.




The Story of Mr. Fox

England

Once upon a time there was a young lady called Lady Mary, who had two brothers. One summer they all three went to a country seat of theirs, which they had not before visited. Among the other gentry in the neighborhood who came to see them was a Mr. Fox, a bachelor, with whom they, particularly the young lady, were much pleased. He used often to dine with them, and frequently invited Lady Mary to come and see his house. One day that her brothers were absent elsewhere, and she had nothing better to do, she determined to go thither, and accordingly set out unattended. When she arrived at the house and knocked at the door, no one answered.

At length she opened it and went in; over the portal of the door was written: "Be bold, be bold, but not too bold." She advanced; over the staircase was the same inscription. She went up; over the entrance of a gallery, the same again. Still she went on, and over the door of a chamber found written:

Be bold, be bold, but not too bold,
Lest that your heart's blood should run cold!

She opened it; it was full of skeletons and tubs of blood. She retreated in haste, and, coming downstairs, saw from a window Mr. Fox advancing towards the house with a drawn sword in one hand, while with the other he dragged along a young lady by her hair. Lady Mary had just time to slip down and hide herself under the stairs before Mr. Fox and his victim arrived at the foot of them. As he pulled the young lady upstairs, she caught hold of one of the banisters with her hand, on which was a rich bracelet. Mr. Fox cut it off with his sword. The hand and bracelet fell into Lady Mary's lap, who then contrived to escape unobserved, and got safe home to her brothers' house.

A few days afterwards Mr. Fox came to dine with them as usual. After dinner the guests began to amuse each other with extraordinary anecdotes, and Lady Mary said she would relate to them a remarkable dream she had lately had.

"I dreamt," said she, "that as you, Mr. Fox, had often invited me to your house, I would go there one morning. When I came to the house I knocked at the door, but no one answered. When I opened the door, over the hall I saw written, 'Be bold, be bold, but not too bold.' But," said she, turning to Mr. Fox, and smiling, "It is not so, nor it was not so."

Then she pursued the rest of the story, concluding at every turn with, "It is not so, nor it was not so," until she came to the room full of skeletons, when Mr. Fox took up the burden of the tale, and said:

It is not so, nor it was not so,
And God forbid it should be so!

which he continued to repeat at every subsequent turn of the dreadful story, until she came to the circumstance of his cutting off the young lady's hand, when, upon his saying, as usual:
It is not so, nor it was not so,
And God forbid it should be so!
Lady Mary retorts by saying:

But it is so, and it was so,
And here the hand I have to show!

at the same moment producing the hand and bracelet from her lap, whereupon the guests drew their swords, and instantly cut Mr. Fox into a thousand pieces.




The Oxford Student

England

Many years ago there lived at the University of Oxford a young student, who, having seduced the daughter of a tradesman, sought to conceal his crime by committing the more heinous one of murder. With this view, he made an appointment to meet her one evening in a secluded field.

She was at the rendezvous considerably before the time agreed upon for their meeting, and hid herself in a tree. The student arrived on the spot shortly afterwards, but what was the astonishment of the girl to observe that he commenced digging a grave. Her fears and suspicions were aroused, and she did not leave her place of concealment till the student, despairing of her arrival, returned to his college.

The next day, when she was at the door of her father's house, he passed and saluted her as usual.

She returned his greeting by repeating the following lines:

One moonshiny night, as I sat high,
Waiting for one to come by,
The boughs did bend; my heart did ache
To see what hole the fox did make.

Astounded by her unexpected knowledge of his base design, in a moment of fury he stabbed her to the heart.

This murder occasioned a violent conflict between the tradespeople and the students, the latter taking part with the murderer, and so fierce was the skirmish, that Brewer's Lane, it is said, ran down with blood. The place of appointment was adjoining the Divinity Walk, which was in time past far more secluded than at the present day, and she is said to have been buried in the grave made for her by her paramour.

According to another version of the tale, the name of the student was Fox, and a fellow student went with him to assist in digging the grave. The verses in this account differ somewhat from the above:

As I went out in a moonlight night,
I set my back against the moon,
I looked for one, and saw two come.
The boughs did bend, the leaves did shake,
I saw the hole the Fox did make.




The Girl Who Got Up the Tree

England

A girl who was leaving her master's service at a farm in the country told her sweetheart that she would meet him near a stile where they had met many times before. This stile was overhung by a tree. The girl got there before him and found a hole dug underneath the tree, and a pickaxe and spade lying by the side of the hole. She was much frightened at what she saw, and got up the tree. After she had been up the tree awhile her sweetheart came, and another man with him.

Thinking that the girl had not yet come, the two men began to talk, and the girl heard her sweetheart say, "She will not come tonight. We'll go home now, and come back and kill her tomorrow night."

As soon as they had gone the girl came down the tree and ran home to her father. When she had told him what she had seen, the father pondered awhile and then said to his daughter, "We will have a feast and ask our friends, and we will ask thy sweetheart to come and the man that came with him to the tree."

So the two men came along with the other guests. In the evening they began to ask riddles of each other, but the girl who had got up the tree was the last to ask hers. She said:

I'll rede you a riddle, I'll rede it you right,
Where was I last Saturday night?
The wind did blow, the leaves did shake,
When I saw the hole the fox did make.
When the two men who had intended to murder the girl heard this they ran out of the house.




Bloody Baker

England

I one day was looking over the different monuments in Cranbrook Church in Kent, when in the chancel my attention was arrested by one erected to the memory of Sir Richard Baker. The gauntlet, gloves, helmet, and spurs were (as is often the case in monumental erections of Elizabethan date) suspended over the tomb. What chiefly attracted my attention was the color of the gloves, which was red.

The old woman who acted as my cicerone, seeing me look at them, said, "Aye, miss, those are Bloody Baker's gloves; their red color comes from the blood he shed."

This speech awakened my curiosity to hear more, and with very little pressing I induced my old guide to tell me the following strange tale:

The baker family had formerly large possessions in Cranbrook, but in the reign of Edward VI great misfortunes fell on them; by extravagance and dissipation they gradually lost all their lands, until an old house in the village (now used as the poor- house) was all that remained to them.

The sole representative of the family remaining at the accession of Queen Mary was Sir Richard Baker. He had spent some years abroad in consequence of a duel; but when, said my informant, Bloody Queen Mary reigned, he thought he might safely return, as he was a Papist.

When he came to Cranbrook he took up his abode in his old house. He only brought one foreign servant with him, and these two lived alone. Very soon strange stories began to be whispered respecting unearthly shrieks having been heard frequently to issue at nightfall from his house. Many people of importance were stopped and robbed in the Glastonbury woods, and many unfortunate travelers were missed and never heard of more.

Richard Baker still continued to live in seclusion, but he gradually repurchased his alienated property, although he was known to have spent all he possessed before he left England.

But wickedness was not always to prosper. He formed an apparent attachment to a young lady in the neighborhood, remarkable for always wearing a great many jewels. He often pressed her to come and see his old house, telling her he had many curious things he wished to show her. She had always resisted fixing a day for her visit, but happening to walk within a short distance of his house, she determined to surprise him with a visit. Her companion, a lady older than herself, endeavored to dissuade her from doing so, but she would not be turned from her purpose. They knocked at the door, but no one answered them; they, however, discovered it was not locked, and determined to enter. At the head of the stairs hung a parrot, which, on their passing, cried out:

Peepoh, pretty lady, be not too bold,
Or your red blood will soon run cold.
And cold did run the blood of the adventurous damsel when, on opening one of the room doors, she found it filled with the dead bodies of murdered persons, chiefly women.

Just then they heard a noise, and on looking out of the window saw Bloody Baker and his servant bringing in the murdered body of a lady. Nearly dead with fear, they concealed themselves in a recess under the staircase.

As the murderers with their dead burden passed by them, the hand of the unfortunate murdered lady hung in the baluster of the stairs. With an oath Bloody Baker chopped it off, and it fell into the lap of one of the concealed ladies. As soon as the murderers had passed by, the ladies ran away, having the presence of mind to carry with them the dead hand, on one of the fingers of which was a ring.

On reaching home they told their story, and in confirmation of it displayed the ring. All the families who had lost relatives mysteriously were then told of what had been found out, and they determined to ask Baker to a large party, apparently in a friendly manner, but to have constables concealed ready to take him into custody.

He came, suspecting nothing, and then the lady told him all she had seen, pretending it was a dream.

"Fair lady," said he, "dreams are nothing; they are but fables."

"They may be fables," said she; "but is this a fable?" and she produced the hand and ring.

Upon this the constables rushed in and took him; and the tradition further says, he was burnt, notwithstanding Queen Mary tried to save him, on account of the religion he professed.




Bobby Rag

English

Yeahs an' yeahs an' double yeahs ago, deah wuz a nice young Gypsy gal playin' round an ole oak tree. An' up comed a squire as she wur a-playin', an' he fa1led in love wid her, an' asked her ef she'd go to his hall an' marry him.

An' she says, "No, sir, you wouldn't have a pooah Gypsy gal like me."

But he meaned so, an' stoled her away an' married her.

Now when he bring'd her home, his mother warn't 'greeable to let hisself down so low as to marry a Gypsy gal. So she says, "You'll hev to go an' 'stry her in de Hundert Mile Wood, an' strip her star'-mother-naked, an' bring back her clothes and her heart and pluck wid you."

And he took'd his hoss, and she jumped up behint him, and rid behint him into de wood. You 'll be shuah it wor a wood, an ole-fashioned wood we know it should be, wid bears an' eagles an' sneks an' wolfs into it.

And when he took'd her in de wood he says, "Now, I 'll ha' to kill you here, an' strip you star'-mother-naked and tek back your clothes an' your heart an' pluck wid me, and show dem to my mammy."

But she begged hard for herself, an' she says, "Deah's an eagle into dat wood, an' he's gat de same heart an' pluck as a Christ'n; take dat home an' show it to your mammy, an' I 'll gin you my clothes as well."

So he stript her clothes affer her, an' he kilt de eagle, an' took'd his heart an' pluck home, an' showed it to his mammy, an' said as he'd kilt her.

And she heared him rode aff, an' she wents an, an' she wents an, an' she wents an, an' she crep an' crep an her poor hens and knees, tell she fun' a way troo de long wood. You 'ah shuah she'd have hard work to fin' a way troo it; an' long an' by last she got to de hedge anear de road, so as she'd hear any one go by.

Now, in de marnin' deah wuz a young genleman comed by an hoss-back, an' he couldn't get his hoss by for love nor money; an' she hed herself in under de hedge, for she wur afrightened 'twor de same man come back to kill her agin, an' besides you 'ah shuah she wor ashamed of bein' naked.

An' he calls out, "Ef you 'ah a ghost, go way; but ef you 'ah a livin' Christ'n, speak to me."

An' she med answer direc'ly, "I'm as good a Christ'n as you are, but not in parable [apparel]."

An' when he sin her, he pull't his deah beautiful topcoat affer him, an' put it an her. An' he says, "Jump behint me."

An' she jumped behint him, an' he rid wi' her to his own gret hall. An' deah wuz no speakin' tell dey gat home. He knowed she wuz deah to be kilt, an' he galloped as hard as he could an his blood-hoss, tell he got to his own hall. An' when he bring'd her in, dey wur all struck stunt to see a woman naked, wid her beautiful black hair hangin down her back in long rinklets.

Deh asked her what she wuz deah fur, an' she tell'd dem, an' she tell'd dem. An' you 'ah shuah dey soon put clothes an her; an' when she wuz dressed up, deah warn't a lady in de land more han'some nor her. An' his folks wor in delight av her.

"Now," dey says, "we'll have a supper for goers an' comers an' all gentry to come at."

You 'ah shuah it should be a 'spensible supper an' no savation of no money. And deah wuz to be tales tell'd an' songs sing'd. An' every wan dat didn't sing't a song had to tell't a tale. An' every door wuz bolted for fear any wan would mek a skip out.

An' it kem to pass to dis' Gypsy gal to sing a song; an' de gentleman dat fun' her says, "Now, my pretty Gypsy gal, tell a tale."

An' de gentleman dat wuz her husband knowed her, an' didn't want her to tell a tale. And he says, "Sing a song, my pretty Gypsy gal."

An' she says, "I won't sing a song, but I'll tell a tale."

An' she says:

Bobby rag! Bobby rag!
Roun' de oak tree—

"Pooh! pooh!" says her husband, "dat tale won't do." (Now de ole mother an' de son, dey knowed what wuz comin' out.)

"Go on, my pretty Gypsy gal," says de oder young genleman. "A werry nice tale indeed."

So she goes on:

Bobby rag! Bobby rag!
Roun' de oak tree.
A Gypsy I wuz born'd,
A lady I wuz bred;
Dey made me a coffin
Afore I wuz dead.
"An' dat's de rogue deah."

An' she tell't all de tale into de party, how he wur agoin' to kill her an' tek her heart an' pluck home. An' all de gentry took't an' gibbeted him alive, both him an' his mother. An' dis young squire married her, an' med her a lady for life. Ah! ef we could know her name, an' what breed she wur, what a beautiful ting dat would be. But de tale doan' say.




Captain Murderer

England, Charles Dickens

The first diabolical character that intruded himself on my peaceful youth (as I called to mind that day at Dullborough), was a certain Captain Murderer. This wretch must have been an offshoot of the Blue Beard family, but I had no suspicion of the consanguinity in those times. His warning name would seem to have awakened no general prejudice against him, for he was admitted into the best society and possessed immense wealth.

Captain Murderer's mission was matrimony, and the gratification of a cannibal appetite with tender brides. On his marriage morning, he always caused both sides of the way to church to be planted with curious flowers; and when his bride said, "Dear Captain Murderer, I never saw flowers like these before: what are they called?" he answered, "They are called garnish for house-lamb," and laughed at his ferocious practical joke in a horrid manner, disquieting the minds of the noble bridal company, with a very sharp show of teeth, then displayed for the first time.

He made love in a coach and six, and married in a coach and twelve, and all his horses were milk-white horses with one red spot on the back which he caused to be hidden by the harness. For, the spot would come there, though every horse was milk white when Captain Murderer bought him. And the spot was young bride's blood. (To this terrific point I am indebted for my first personal experience of a shudder and cold beads on the forehead.)

When Captain Murderer had made an end of feasting and revelry, and had dismissed the noble guests, and was alone with his wife on the day month after their marriage, it was his whimsical custom to produce a golden rolling-pin and a silver pieboard. Now, there was this special feature in the Captain's courtships, that he always asked if the young lady could make pie-crust; and if she couldn't by nature or education, she was taught. Well. When the bride saw Captain Murderer produce the golden rolling-pin and silver pieboard, she remembered this, and turned up her laced-silk sleeves to make a pie. The Captain brought out a silver pie-dish of immense capacity, and the Captain brought out flour and butter and eggs and all things needful, except the inside of the pie; of materials for the staple of the pie itself, the Captain brought out none.

Then said the lovely bride, "Dear Captain Murderer, what pie is this to be?"

He replied, "A meat pie."

Then said the lovely bride, "Dear Captain Murderer, I see no meat."

The Captain humorously retorted, "Look in the glass."

She looked in the glass, but still she saw no meat, and then the Captain roared with laughter, and, suddenly frowning and drawing his sword, bade her roll out the crust. So she rolled out the crust, dropping large tears upon, it all the time because he was so cross, and when she had lined the dish with crust and had cut the crust all ready to fit the top, the Captain called out, "I see the meat in the glass!"

And the bride looked up at the glass, just in time to see the Captain cutting her head off; and he chopped her in pieces, and peppered her, and salted her, and put her in the pie, and sent it to the baker's, and ate it all, and picked the bones.

Captain Murderer went on in this way, prospering exceedingly, until he came to choose a bride from two twin sisters, and at first didn't know which to choose. For, though one was fair and the other dark, they were both equally beautiful. But the fair twin loved him, and the dark twin hated him, so he chose the fair one.

The dark twin would have prevented the marriage if she could, but she couldn't; however, on the night before it, much suspecting Captain Murderer, she stole out and climbed his garden wall, and looked in at his window through a chink in the shutter, and saw him having his teeth filed sharp. Next day she listened all day, and heard him make his joke about the house-lamb. And that day month, he had the paste rolled out, and cut the fair twin's head off, and chopped her in pieces, and peppered her, and salted her, and put her in the pie, and sent it to the baker's, and ate it all, and picked the bones.

Now, the dark twin had had her suspicions much increased by the filing of the Captain's teeth, and again by the house-lamb joke. Putting all things together when he gave out that her sister was dead, she divined the truth, and determined to be revenged.

So she went up to Captain Murderer's house, and knocked at the knocker and pulled at the bell, and when the Captain came to the door, said: "Dear Captain Murderer, marry me next, for I always loved you and was jealous of my sister."

The Captain took it as a compliment, and made a polite answer, and the marriage was quickly arranged. On the night before it, the bride again climbed to his window, and again saw him having his teeth filed sharp. At this sight, she laughed such a terrible laugh, at the chink in the shutter, that the Captain's blood curdled, and he said: "I hope nothing has disagreed with me!"

At that, she laughed again, a still more terrible laugh, and the shutter was opened and search made, but she was nimbly gone and there was no one.

Next day they went to church in the coach and twelve, and were married. And that day month, she rolled the pie-crust out, and Captain Murderer cut her head off, and chopped her in pieces, and peppered her, and salted her, and put her in the pie, and sent it to the baker's, and ate it all, and picked the bones.

But before she began to roll out the paste she had taken a deadly poison of a most awful character, distilled from toads' eyes and spiders' knees; and Captain Murderer had hardly picked her last bone, when he began to swell, and to turn blue, and to be all over spots, and to scream. And he went on swelling and turning bluer and being more all over spots and screaming, until he reached from floor to ceiling and from wall to wall; and then, at one o'clock in the morning, he blew up with a loud explosion.

At the sound of it, all the milk-white horses in the stables broke their halters and went mad, and then they galloped over everybody in Captain Murderer's house (beginning with the family blacksmith who had filed his teeth) until the whole were dead, and then they galloped away.

Hundreds of times did I hear this legend of Captain Murderer, in my early youth, and added hundreds of times was there a mental compulsion upon me in bed, to peep in at his window as the dark twin peeped, and to revisit his horrible house, and look at him in his blue and spotty and screaming stage, as he reached from floor to ceiling and from wall to wall.

The young woman who brought me acquainted with Captain Murderer, had a fiendish enjoyment of my terrors, and used to begin, I remember—as a sort of introductory overture—by clawing the air with both hands, and uttering a long low hollow groan. So acutely did I suffer from this ceremony in combination with this infernal Captain, that I sometimes used to plead I thought I was hardly strong enough and old enough to hear the story again just yet But she never spared me one word of it.




Laula

Wales

Three young ladies live at a castle. A gentleman comes to visit them daily. They know not who he is or where he lives. He asks the youngest to accompany him home. She goes with him, eats, drinks, and returns. She asks his coachman his master's name, "Laula."

She thinks it a pretty name; her elder sister a bad one.

Next evening she goes again. They eat, drink, and play cards. He leaves the room, and returns with a phial of blood.

"Is your blood as red as this?"

She pretends that he is jesting; but he cuts off her finger, opens the window, and throws it to the big dog, afterwards killing her.

The tale goes on, "Who got the finger? The elder sister got it."

It then explains how she had followed the pair by the track of the horse's feet, pacified the dog, and caught the finger (with ring on) thrown to him.

She desires her father to issue invitations to a dinner. Everyone comes and has to tell a tale or sing a song. On Laula's plate is placed nothing but this finger. When the elder sister tells her tale, he grows uneasy, and says he must go outside. He twice interrupts thus, but is restrained by the other gentlemen.

She gives him away, and at the old father's suggestion he is placed in a barrel filled with grease and burnt to death.




The History of Mr. Greenwood

Scotland

In the Western Isles of Scotland there lived a very rich man, of the name of Gregory, who had two beautiful daughters, to whom he was inordinately attached, but being vastly rich, he would not suffer either of them to go for an hour out of his presence without a strong detachment of the inmates of his house accompanying them wherever they went; and for the purpose of defending them from violent attacks that might be made upon them, or being carried off by the lawless banditti who at that time infested that part of the country.

It happened, however, one day when they were at their usual walk and recreation, a little distance from their house, there came up to them a gentleman with his servant on horseback, who accosted them in a rather familiar way, asking them if those men they saw at a little distance were attendants of theirs? They were answered in the affirmative. He also put some other questions to them which they did not choose to answer.

One of the ladies then wished to know how he was so impertinent; when he replied that, being much attached to the elder of the two, her beauty being so enchanting, he broke through the rules of good breeding.

As flattery has too often the desired effect of gaining its purpose over silly minds, it wrought upon this lady like a charm, and made her the more attentive to his bewitching strain, Having so far gained her heart and confidence, he next got all the information that he wanted regarding her place of residence, and other particulars, with liberty to visit her as a suitor.

These preliminaries having been settled, the ladies returned home, attended by the stranger gentleman, who gave his name as Mr. Greenwood, proprietor of an extensive tract of land on one of the neighbouring islands. His visits becoming so frequent, and himself so familiar, that at length he entreated the lady, his sweetheart, to pay a visit in return to his castle, as it was but a short way off, to which she consented.

The necessary instructions were given her for finding the castle secretly, as she could not go openly for fear of her father, he not permitting her to go anywhere without her usual guard of attendants. She behoved, therefore, to steal away in his absence.

The time for this purpose being agreed upon, as it was expected her father would leave home in a few days; but as some secret forebodings of evil preyed much upon her mind, she thought it advisable to go to the place he had appointed some days previous to the time they were to meet. The impropriety of venturing alone, and to a place she knew not, and to meet with one with whom she was so little acquainted, seemed very improper. Having deliberately weighed the matter in her own mind, she thought it better to go in disguise and reconnoitre his dwelling and circumstances. Accordingly, she got herself dressed in all the tattered and torn habiliments of an old beggar woman, and went as proposed, asking alms on her way thither.

On her arriving at Greenwood's castle, she knocked loudly, but as no one appeared, she ventured in, as the door was unlocked, and destitute of a bolt for its security. Her first movement was to examine the contents of a pot which boiled on the fire, but on looking in, she saw such a sight as quite horrified her—it was part of a human body! She next observed a bundle of rusty keys to lie on a table in the kitchen. When taking them up, she applied one of them to the door of a room which was adjoining the kitchen. In this room hung men's clothes of every description; out of each dress she cut a swatch, which having pocketed, she went to another room, when having opened it also, there she found women's dresses of great variety; some new, and some old. Out of each of them she cut again. Her next adventure was down a small trap-door, where, when she arrived at the bottom, she was up to the knees in blood, at which she greatly wondered ; but in the midst of her astonishment, from one of the dark corners of this dreadful vault, a voice said:

O, dear lady Maisry, be not so bold,
Lest your warm heart blood soon turn as cold.
On hearing these words, she immediately fled from this ocean of blood, and ascended with a quick though palsied step, till she arrived at its summit. On beholding the light, she was put to her wits' end how she should make her escape from this place of skulls, which she never thought of till now.

On ruminating on these things, her eyes were shocked with the cannibal owner of the place and his servant dragging triumphantly by the hair of the head, the dead body of a murdered female. As they came hurriedly into the room upon her, she had little time to seek a hiding place, or meditate her escape; so fled behind a door which stood half open between them, but so placed as she could hear and see what passed without being observed by the other party.

Near this place lay a large bloodhound, to which she threw a piece of bread and thereby gained his favour. Greenwood then cut off one of the female's hands and threw it to the dog; but as Maisry had so lately given him a piece of bread, she was suffered to take it up and carry it away.

Having continued in this precarious situation for a wearyful length of time, Greenwood remarked to his man, that he smelled fresh blood. The servant, with some difficulty, got him persuaded that the smell arose from the hand which he had so recently cut off from the dead body and thrown to the dog.

He was also with some reluctance appeased in his rage towards one of his domestics that had offended him. However, he determined that on going to bed, all the doors should be well secured inside, so that none could make their escape ere morning, if any were in the house that did not belong to it; and for their better security, should have their beds made at one of the back doors of the castle. On their going to bed, as fate would have it, sleep took such strong hold of their senses that they were soon in the arms of the drowsy god and snored aloud.

It was now time for the lady to think of saving herself by flight, which she accomplished in the following surprising manner. She opened the door, and at once made such a spring over both of their bodies, as cleared them and the place of her confinement. She then fled with the rapidity of lightning. The jump which she took awoke Greenwood, who said, surely someone had escaped; but the servant insisted that it was only the flutter of a bird that had passed the door. Unconcernedly they then went to sleep again.

The lady having reached her father's house, caused a great party of her friends and acquaintances to be invited to a feast which was to be prepared for their entertainment, about the time that Greenwood had promised to give her a call. All things being ready, and the guests at supper set, Greenwood among the rest, when all were merry, and all seemed to enjoy the entertainment.

Supper at length being ended, it was proposed that a few songs for the amusement of the company, should be sung by those who could, and those who could not sing should tell some story or tale. This being agreed upon by all, songs were sung and tales were told by all till it came to Maisry's turn, who said, as she could do neither she would tell a dream she dreamed last night; and looking over to Greenwood, remarked that it was concerning him.

All seemed anxious to hear it, but none more so than Greenwood, when she began thus:

I thought that I disguised myself as a common pauper, and went to your castle to ask alms, but after loudly knocking, and finding no one to make answer, I ventured in, and seeing a pot boiling on the fire, a thought struck me to look into it, I saw what I could scarcely believe, a part of a human body. This having raised my curiosity, I went a step farther and on finding a bunch of keys lying on a table near where I stood; I opened an apartment near the kitchen, and found a variety of men's clothes; next I went into another, where I found women's and cut a piece out of each of them, which I brought along. I also ventured down a small trap stair, when I found myself up to the knees among blood, and a voice saying:
O, dear lady Maisry, be not so bold,
Lest your warm heart blood soon turn as cold.
Greenwood could contain himself no longer, but interrupting her said, "Women's dreams are fabulous, and so are women's thoughts. Jack, saddle your horse, and we will go ride."

But she would not consent to this, but continued to tell the rest of her dream, much against his wish or inclination; but there was no avoiding hearing her out, so she went on, "On arriving at the top of the trap stair which I went down to the vault of blood, I observed you and your man dragging by the hair of her head, the body of a dead lady. You cut off one of her hands and threw it to a greedy bloodhound which lay near where I stood. The hand I took up, and see here it is," producing the bloody hand before them all; when, to his mortification and confusion, he and his servant were secured. He to be burned in the midst of his castle, which was in a remote and secret place of a large wood; the servant to be drowned; which were immediately put into execution, to the no small satisfaction and amazement of all who heard his murderous history.




The Cannibal Innkeeper

Romania

Once there was a poor orphan girl who worked as a servant at the house of a rich man. Her dearest companion was a little dog that her parents had given her before they died.

One day the chieftain of a robber band, disguised as an ordinary servant, came to the rich man's house and asked the girl to marry him. Sensing something sinister about him, the girl rejected the suitor's advances, so, with the assistance of his fellow robbers, he carried her away by force.

Now a prisoner in the robber's house, the girl still refused to marry him, in spite of his friendly words, his threats, and his abuse. Finally he gave up his attempts to win her love, and sold her to a wild and cruel innkeeper.

Now this innkeeper would rob travelers, kill them, cut them into pieces, and serve their cooked flesh to his other guests. He terrorized the poor girl by showing her the valuables he had stolen from his victims, the room where he murdered them, and the weapons he used for his wicked deeds. Then he locked her and her little dog in an adjoining room.

Soon afterward he brought in a little boy whom he had captured in the woods gathering berries. He cut off the boy's head and cut him into pieces. Then he forced the girl to cook the boy's flesh and serve it to the innkeeper's guests.

Some time later the innkeeper brought in a very old woman, ugly and wrinkled, and nothing but skin and bones. Perhaps wanting to fatten her up for later, he locked her in the room with the girl and her dog.

After their captor had left, the old woman told the girl that the cannibal innkeeper was her own son, and that she, disguised so well that he could not recognize her, had come to punish him for his wickedness. Skilled in witchcraft, the old woman told the girl how she could escape. She would first have to kill her little dog and eat a piece of its heart. The girl did this, and then the old woman rubbed some ointment all over the girl's body, which transformed her into a duck.

A little later the wild man opened the door, and the duck flew over his head, escaping into the open. The innkeeper ran from room to room looking for the girl, and his mother uttered a magic curse that caused the house to collapse upon him, killing him at once.

The girl turned around and saw the heap of ruins, but as the old woman had not told her how she could again become a human being, she has remained a duck to this very day.




Greenbeard

Lithuania

In a city there lived a very wealthy merchant who had a very beautiful daughter, and she said that she would marry only a man who had a green beard.

Great forests surrounded the city, and twenty-four robbers lived together in these woods. The captain of these robbers had heard about the girl who would marry only a man with a green beard, so he asked his people if they did not know of a substance that would color a beard green, and they immediately procured such a dye for him.

Then he dyed his beard green (otherwise he was a handsome man) and rode into the city to the merchant to court his daughter. The girl liked him, so he spent the night there. The next day they made arrangements for the girl to pay him a visit. He said that he possessed a large mansion in the woods. He told the girl to ride along the main road until she came to a bridge. The other side of the bridge she should turn left onto a path, then continue riding until she came to his mansion. Then Greenbeard departed.

The merchant's daughter now made preparations for the journey. She had a good cake baked for her bridegroom, then mounted her horse and rode on her way. Arriving at the bridge she found the side path that Greenbeard had told her about. She rode along this path into the woods. The deeper she went into the woods the narrower the path became, until it was only a narrow footpath. What should she do now? She could not ride any further, so she dismounted, tied up her horse, and continued on foot.

At the end of the pathway she saw a small house with two lions chained near the door. Approaching them she thought, "Should I go any further, or not?"

The lions did nothing, so she went inside. In the first room there were beds and a number of flintlocks hanging on the wall. She went into another room where there was a table. A bird's cage with a little bird hung from a rafter.

The bird said to her, "How did you get here? This is a robbers' house. You cannot get away right now, for if you go outside the lions will rip you apart. I will tell you what to do. Lie down under the bed. When the robbers come home they will get drunk and then fall asleep. Then you can escape. When you go outside throw a piece of cake to each of the lions, then you can run away."

She did just that, and crawled under the bed.

One after the other the robbers came home, saying, "It smells here like human flesh."

The bird made excuses as best it could, and they stopped asking questions.

The robbers had brought a girl with them. After eating their supper they chopped her into pieces, beginning with her little fingers. She had a ring on one of her fingers, and the finger with the ring rolled under the bed where the merchant's daughter was lying. She picked up the finger and put it into her pocket.

When the robbers had finished their work they began to drink again, drinking so much that they knew nothing more of their sins, and they all fell asleep.

When the girl thought that they were all fast asleep, she got up, gave the little bird a bit of sugar, then took a piece of cake in each hand. She threw the cake to the lions as she walked out. While they were devouring the cake she made her escape. However, they had scarcely finished the cake when they began to roar, bellowing so loudly that the forest shook.

The robbers jumped up, and they immediately surmised that the girl had been there. They took after her, but she safely reached her horse. She rode home as fast as she could, arriving there as white as a corpse with fear. She was so sick that she had to lie down immediately.

Greenbeard cut off his beard, then made plans to capture the girl. He ordered large wagons loaded with large barrels in which the robbers could hide. So outfitted he rode to the merchant. He offered him these wares, claiming to be a wholesale merchant from such and such a city.

He had told his people that he would gain entrance into the merchant's house, and then would give them a sign when they should break their way out of the barrels, steal everything the merchant had, and take away the girl as well.

However, one of the merchant's servants was walking about in the courtyard when he heard a voice from one of the barrels: "What is happening? It is taking a long time."

He went inside and reported to his master: "Sir, what is happening? There are people inside the barrels."

Then the merchant called up a number of strong men to capture the robbers. He forced the robber captain to stay seated inside with two strong men beside him.

Then the girl came in and showed him the chopped off finger with the ring and asked him if he remembered it. Now he knew that he had been exposed, and he looked around for an escape route. But the merchant gave the men a sign, and they held him fast, then bound him hand and foot. In one of his boots he had hidden a long knife.

After tying him securely, they went into the courtyard and capured the rest of them, one after the other. Then they took them all to prison. Thus all the robbers were captured and taken care of.

The girl then led the people to the robbers' house. She kept the little bird for herself. Everything else was divided among the poor. They burned the house down. The merchant kept the lions.

The robbers all died in prison. Thus everything was finished. And the girl no longer showed any desire for green beards.




Sulasa and Sattuka

India, The Jataka

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, there was a beautiful woman of the town, called Sulasa, who had a train of five hundred courtesans, and whose price was a thousand pieces a night.

There was in the same city a robber named Sattuka, as strong as an elephant, who used to enter rich men's houses at night and plunder at will. The townsmen assembled and complained to the king. The king ordered the city-watch to post bands here and there, have the robber caught and cut off his head. They bound his hands behind his back and led him to the place of execution, scourging him in every square with whips.

The news that he was taken excited the whole city. Sulasa was standing at a window, and looking down on the street she saw the robber, loved him at sight and thought, "If I can free that stout fighting-man, I will give up this bad life of mine and live respectably with him."

In the way described in the Kanavera Birth she gained his freedom by sending a thousand pieces to the chief constable of the city and then lived with him in delight and harmony.

The robber after three or four months thought, "I shall never be able to stay in this one place: but one can't go empty-handed: Sulasa's ornaments are worth a hundred thousand pieces: I will kill her and take them."

So he said to her one day, "Dear, when I was being hauled along by the king's men, I promised an offering to a tree-deity on a mountaintop, who is now threatening me because I have not paid it: let us make an offering."

"Very well, husband, prepare and send it."

"Dear, it will not do to send it: let us both go and present it, wearing all our ornaments and with a great retinue."

"Very well, husband, we'll do so."

He made her prepare the offering and when they reached the mountain-foot, he said, "Dear, the deity, seeing this crowd of people, will not accept the offering; let us two go up and present it."

She consented, and he made her carry the vessel. He was himself armed to the teeth, and when they reached the top, he set the offering at the foot of a tree which grew beside a precipice a hundred times as high as a man, and said, "Dear, I have not come to present the offering, I have come with the intention of killing you and going away with all your ornaments: take them all off and make a bundle of them in your outer garment."

"Husband, why would you kill me?"

"For your money."

"Husband, remember the good I have done you: when you were being hauled along in chains, I gave up a rich man's son for you and paid a large sum and saved your life: though I might get a thousand pieces a day, I never look at another man: such a benefactress I am to you: do not kill me, I will give you much money and be your slave."

With these entreaties she spoke the first stanza:

Here is a golden necklace, and emeralds and pearls,
Take all and welcome: give me place among thy servant girls.
When Sattuka had spoken the second stanza in accordance with his purpose, to wit:
Fair lady, lay thy jewels down and do not weep so sore:
I'll kill thee: else I can't be sure thou'lt give me all thy store:
Sulasa's wits rose to the occasion, and thinking, "This robber will not give me my life, but I'll take his life first by throwing him down the precipice in some way," she spoke the two stanzas:
Within my years of sense, within my conscious memory,
No man on earth, I do protest, have I loved more than thee.

Come hither, for my last salute, receive my last embrace:
For never more upon the earth shall we meet face to face.

Sattuka could not see her purpose, so he said, "Very well, dear; come and embrace me."

Sulasa walked round him in respectful salutation three times, kissed him, and saying, "Now, husband, I am going to make obeisance to you on all four sides," she put her head on his foot, did obeisance at his sides, and went behind him as if to do obeisance there: then with the strength of an elephant she took him by the hinder parts and threw him head over heels down that place of destruction a hundred times as high as a man. He was crushed to pieces and died on the spot.

Seeing this deed, the deity who lived on the mountain-top spoke these stanzas:

Wisdom at times is not confined to men:
A woman can shew wisdom now and then.

Wisdom at times is not confined to men:
Women are quick in counsel now and then.

How quick and keen she was the way to know,
She slew him like a deer with full-stretched bow.

He that to great occasion fails to rise
Falls, like that dull thief from the precipice.

One prompt a crisis in his fate to see,
Like her, is saved from threatening enemy.

So Sulasa killed the robber.

When she descended from the mountain and came among her attendants, they asked where her husband was. "Don't ask me," she said, and mounting her chariot she went on to the city.




Links to related sites

Targets open in new windows.

  1. The Robber Bridegroom by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (type 955).

  2. Blue Beard by Charles Perrault (type 312).

  3. Blue Beard, as retold by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. This link will take you to a text provided by bartleby.com, Great Books Online.

  4. Blue Beard. Additional folktales of types 312 and 312A.

  5. How the Devil Married Three Sisters and other folktales of type 311.

  6. Fitcher's Bird by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (type 311).



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Revised February 23, 2011.