THE BAD STEPMOTHER

From Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts by Patrick Kennedy

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The chief incidents of the following household tale would determine its invention to a period subsequent to the introduction of Christianity; but it would not have been difficult for a Christian story-teller to graft the delay of the baptism on some Pagan tale. It is slightly connected with the "Lassie and her Godmother" in the Norse collection. An instance of the rubbing-down process to which these old-world romances are subject in their descent through the generations of story-tellers, is the introduction of the post-office and its unworthy officer, long before the round ruler and the strip of parchment formed the writing apparatus of the kings of Sparta or their masters, the Ephori.

THE BAD STEPMOTHER

Once there was a king, and he had two fine children, a girl and a boy; but he married again after their mother died, and a very wicked woman she was that he put over them. One day when he was out hunting, the stepmother came in where the daughter was sitting all alone, with a cup of poison in one hand and a dagger in the other, and made her swear that she would never tell any one that ever was christened what she would see her doing. The poor young girl--she was only fifteen--took the oath, and just after the queen took the king's favourite dog and killed him before her eyes.

When the king came back, and saw his pet lying dead in the hall, he flew into a passion, and axed who done [1] it; and says the queen, says she--"Who done it but your favourite daughter? There she is--let her deny it if she can!" The poor child burst out a crying, but wasn't able to say anything in her own defence bekase of her oath. Well, the king did not know what to do or to say. He cursed and swore a little, and hardly ate any supper. The next day he was out a hunting the queen killed the little son, and left him standing on his head on the window-seat of the lobby.

Well, whatever way the king was in before, he went mad now in earnest. "Who done this?" says he to the queen. "Who but your pet daughter?" "Take the vile creature," says he to two of his footmen, "into the forest, and cut off her two hands at the wrists, and maybe that'll teach her not to commit any more murders. Oh, Vuya, Vuya! " says he, stamping his foot on the boarded floor, "what a misfortunate king I am to lose my childher this way, and had only the two. Bring me back the two hands, or your own heads will be off before sunset."

When he stamped on the floor a splinter ran up into his foot through the sole of his boot; but he didn't mind it at first, he was in such grief and anger. But when he was taking off his boots, he found the splinter fastening one of them on his foot. He was very hardset to get it off, and was obliged to send for a surgeon to get the splinter out of the flesh; but the more he cut and probed, the further it went in. So he was obliged to lie on a sofia all day, and keep it poulticed with bowl-almanac or some other plaster.

Well, the poor princess, when her arms were cut off, thought the life would leave her: but she knew there was a holy well off in the wood, and to it she made her way. She put her poor arms into the moss that was growing over it, and the blood stopped flowing, and she was eased of the pain, and then she washed herself as well as she could. She fell asleep by the well, and the spirit of her mother appeared to her in a dream, and told her to be good, and never forget to say her prayers night and morning, and that she would escape every snare that would be laid for her.

When she awoke next morning she washed herself again, and said her prayers, and then she began to feel hungry. She heard a noise, and she was so afraid that she got into a low broad tree that hung over the well. She wasn't there long till she saw a girl with a piece of bread and butter in one hand, and a pitcher in the other, coming and stooping over the well. She looked down through the branches, and if she did, so sure the girl saw her face in the water, and thought it was her own. She looked at it again and again, and then, without waiting to eat her bread or fill her pitcher, she ran back to the kitchen of a young king's palace that was just at the edge of the wood. "Where's the water?" says the housekeeper. "Wather!" says she; "it 'ud be a purty business for such handsome girl as I grew since yesterday, to be fetchin' wather for the likes of the people that's here. It's married to the young prince I ought to be." "Oh! to Halifax with you," says the housekeeper, " I'll soon cure your impedence." So she locked her up in the store-room, an' kep' her on bread and water.

To make a long story short, two other girls were sent to the well, and all were in the same story when they cum back. An' there was such a thravally [2] ruz in the kitchen about it at last, that the young king came to hear the rights of it. The last girl told him what happened to herself, and nothing would do the prince but go to the well to see about it. When he came he stooped and saw the shadow of the beautiful face; but he had sense enough to look up, and he found the princess in the tree.

Well, it would take me too long to tell yez all the fine things he said to her, and how modestly she answered him, and how he handed her down, and was almost ready to cry when he seen her poor arms. She would not tell him who she was, nor the way she was persecuted on account of her oath; but the short and the long of it was, that he took her home, and couldn't live if she didn't marry him. Well, married they were; and in course of time they had a fine little boy; but the strangest thing of all was that the young queen begged her husband not to have the child baptized till he'd be after coming home from the wars that the King of Ireland had just then with the Danes.

He agreed, and set off to the camp, giving a beautiful jewel to her just as his foot was in the stirrup. Well, he wrote to her every second day, and she wrote to him every second day, and dickens a letter ever came to the hands of him or her. For the wicked stepmother had her watched all along, from the very day she came to the well till the king went to the wars; and she gave such a bribe to the postman (!) that she got all the letters herself. Well, the poor king didn't know whether he was standing on his head or his feet, and the poor queen was crying all the day long.

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NOTES

[1] The reader must calculate on finding the perfect participle doing duty for the imperfect tense, and a total neglect of the pluperfect tense, when the story is given in the words of the original teller.

[2] Corruption of reveillé. This and many other Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman words, such as bon-grace, "bonnet," brief, a corruption of "rife;" grisset, for "cresset," &c., are still in use in the counties of the Pale. Ruz, "arose."


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