The Christmas Cuckoo


Once upon a time there stood in the midst of a bleak moor, in the north country, a certain village; all its inhabitants were poor, for their fields were barren, and they had little trade, but the poorest of them all were two brothers called Scrub and Spare, who followed the cobbler’s craft, and had but one stall between them. It was a hut built of clay and wattles. The door was low and always open, for there was no window. The roof did not entirely keep out the rain, and the only thing comfortable about it was a wide hearth, for which the brothers could never find wood enough to make a sufficient fire. There they worked in most brotherly friendship, though with little encouragement.

The people of that village were not extravagant in shoes, and better cobblers than Scrub and Spare might be found. Spiteful people said there were no shoes so bad that they would not be worse for their mending. Nevertheless Scrub and Spare managed to live between their own trade, a small barley field, and a cottage garden, till one unlucky day when a new cobbler arrived in the village. He had lived in the capital city of the kingdom, and, by his own account, cobbled for the queen and the princesses. His awls were sharp, his lasts were new; he set up his stall in a neat cottage with two windows. The villagers soon found out that one patch of his would outwear two of the brothers’. In short, all the mending left Scrub and Spare, and went to the new cobbler. The season had been wet and cold, their barley did not ripen well, and the cabbages never half closed in the garden. So the brothers were poor that winter, and when Christmas came they had nothing to feast on but a barley loaf, a piece of rusty bacon, and some small beer of their own brewing. Worse than that, the snow was very deep, and they could get no firewood. Their hut stood at the end of the village, beyond it spread the bleak moor, now all white and silent; but that moor had once been a forest, great roots of old trees were still to be found in it, loosened from the soil and laid bare by the winds and rains—one of these, a rough, gnarled log, lay hard by their door, the half of it above the snow, and Spare said to this brother——
‘Shall we sit here cold on Christmas while the great root lies yonder? Let us chop it up for firewood, the work will make us warm.’

‘No,’ said Scrub; ‘it’s not right to chop wood on Christmas; besides, that root is too hard to be broken with any hatchet.’

‘Hard or not we must have a fire,’ replied Spare. ‘Come, brother, help me in with it. Poor as we are, there is nobody in the village will have such a yule log as ours.’

Scrub liked a little grandeur, and in hopes of having a fine yule log, both brothers strained and strove with all their might till, between pulling and pushing, the great old root was safe on the hearth, and beginning to crackle and blaze with the red embers. In high glee, the cobblers sat down to their beer and bacon. The door was shut, for there was nothing but cold moonlight and snow outside; but the hut, strewn with fir boughs, and ornamented with holly, looked cheerful as the ruddy blaze flared up and rejoiced their hearts.
‘Long life and good fortune to ourselves brother!’ said Spare. ‘I hope you will drink that toast, and may we never have a worse fire on Christmas—but what is that?’

Spare set down the drinking-horn, and the brothers listened astonished, for out of the blazing root they heard, ‘Cuckoo! cuckoo!’ as plain as ever the spring-bird’s voice came over the moor on a May morning.
‘It is something bad,’ said Scrub, terribly frightened.

‘May be not,’ said Spare; and out of the deep hole at the side which the fire had not reached flew a large grey cuckoo, and lit on the table before them. Much as the cobblers had been surprised, they were still more so when it said——
‘Good gentlemen, what season is this?’

‘It’s Christmas,’ said Spare.

‘Then a merry Christmas to you!’ said the cuckoo. ‘I went to sleep in the hollow of that old root one evening last summer, and never woke till the heat of your fire made me think it was summer again; but now since you have burned my lodging, let me stay in your hut till the spring comes round—I only want a hole to sleep in, and when I go on my travels next summer be assured I will bring you some present for your trouble.’

‘Stay, and welcome,’ said Spare, while Scrub sat wondering if it were something bad or not; ‘I’ll make you a good warm hole in the thatch. But you must be hungry after that long sleep?—here is a slice of barley bread. Come help us to keep Christmas!’

The cuckoo ate up the slice, drank water from the brown jug, for he would take no beer, and flew into a snug hole which Spare scooped for him in the thatch of the hut.

Scrub said he was afraid it wouldn’t be lucky; but as it slept on, and the days passed he forgot his fears. So the snow melted, the heavy rains came, the cold grew less, the days lengthened, and one sunny morning the brothers were awoke by the cuckoo shouting its own cry to let them know the spring had come.

‘Now I’m going on my travels,’ said the bird, ‘over the world to tell men of the spring. There is no country where trees bud or flowers bloom, that I will not cry in before the year goes round. Give me another slice of barley bread to keep me on my journey, and tell me what present I shall bring you at the twelve-month’s end.’

Scrub would have been angry with his brother for cutting so large a slice, their store of barley-meal being low; but his mind was occupied with what present would be most prudent to ask: at length a lucky thought struck him.
‘Good master cuckoo,’ said he, ‘if a great traveller who sees all the world like you, could know of any place where diamonds or pearls were to be found, one of a tolerable size brought in your beak would help such poor men as my brother and I to provide something better than barley bread for your next entertainment.’

‘I know nothing of diamonds or pearls,’ said the cuckoo; ‘they are in the hearts of rocks and the sands of rivers. My knowledge is only of that which grows on the earth. But there are two trees hard by the well that lies at the world’s end—one of them is called the golden tree, for its leaves are all of beaten gold: every winter they fall into the well with a sound like scattered coin, and I know not what becomes of them. As for the other, it is always green like a laurel. Some call it the wise, and some the merry tree. Its leaves never fall, but they that get one of them keep a blithe heart in spite of all misfortunes, and can make themselves as merry in a hut as in a palace.’
‘Good master cuckoo, bring me a leaf off that tree!’ cried Spare.

‘Now, brother, don’t be a fool!’ said Scrub! ‘think of the leaves of beaten gold! Dear master cuckoo, bring me one of them!’

Before another word could be spoken, the cuckoo had flown out of the open door, and was shouting its spring cry over moor and meadow. The brothers were poorer than ever that year; nobody would send them a single shoe to mend. The new cobbler said, in scorn, they should come to be his apprentices; and Scrub and Spare would have left the village but for their barley field, their cabbage garden, and a certain maid called Fairfeather, whom both the cobblers had courted for seven years without even knowing which she meant to favour.

Sometimes Fairfeather seemed inclined to Scrub, sometimes she smiled on Spare; but the brothers never disputed for that. They sowed their barley, planted their cabbage, and now that their trade was gone, worked in the rich villagers’ fields to make out a scanty living. So the seasons came and passed: spring, summer, harvest, and winter followed each other as they have done from the beginning. At the end of the latter, Scrub and Spare had grown so poor and ragged that Fairfeather thought them beneath her notice. Old neighbours forgot to invite them to wedding feasts or merrymaking; and they thought the cuckoo had forgotten them too, when at daybreak, on the first of April, they heard a hard beak knocking at their door, and a voice crying——
‘Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Let me in with my presents.’

Spare ran to open the door, and in came the cuckoo, carrying on one side of his bill a golden leaf larger than that of any tree in the north country; and in the other, one like that of the common laurel, only it had a fresher green.
‘Here,’ it said, giving the gold to Scrub and the green to Spare, ‘it is a long carriage from the world’s end. Give me a slice of barley bread, for I must tell the north country that the spring has come.’
Scrub did not grudge the thickness of that slice, though it was cut from their last loaf. So much gold had never been in the cobbler’s hands before, and he could not help exulting over his brother.

‘See the wisdom of my choice!’ he said, holding up the large leaf of gold. ‘As for yours, as good might be plucked from any hedge. I wonder a sensible bird would carry the like so far.’

‘Good master cobbler,’ cried the cuckoo, finishing the slice, ‘your conclusions are more hasty than courteous. If your brother be disappointed this time, I go on the same journey every year, and for your hospitable entertainment will think it no trouble to bring each of you whichever leaf you desire.’

‘Darling cuckoo!’ cried Scrub, ‘bring me a golden one’; and Spare, looking up from the green leaf on which he gazed as though it were a crown jewel, said——
‘Be sure to bring me one from the merry tree,’ and away flew the cuckoo.

‘This is the Feast of All Fools, and it ought to be your birthday,’ said Scrub. ‘Did ever man fling away such an opportunity of getting rich! Much good your merry leaves will do in the midst of rags and poverty!’ So he went on, but Spare laughed at him, and answered with quaint old proverbs concerning the cares that come with gold, till Scrub, at length getting angry, vowed his brother was not fit to live with a respectable man; and taking his lasts, his awls, and his golden leaf, he left the wattle hut, and went to tell the villagers.

They were astonished at the folly of Spare and charmed with Scrub’s good sense, particularly when he showed them the golden leaf, and told that the cuckoo would bring him one every spring. The new cobbler immediately took him into partnership; the greatest people sent him their shoes to mend; Fairfeather smiled graciously upon him, and in the course of that summer they were married, with a grand wedding feast, at which the whole village danced, except Spare, who was not invited, because the bride could not bear his low-mindedness, and his brother thought him a disgrace to the family.

Indeed, all who heard the story concluded that Spare must be mad, and nobody would associate with him but a lame tinker, a beggar boy, and a poor woman reputed to be a witch because she was old and ugly. As for Scrub, he established himself with Fairfeather in a cottage close by that of the new cobbler, and quite as fine. There he mended shoes to everybody’s satisfaction, had a scarlet coat for holidays, and a fat goose for dinner every wedding-day. Fairfeather, too, had a crimson gown and fine blue ribands; but neither she nor Scrub were content, for to buy this grandeur the golden leaf had to be broken and parted with piece by piece, so the last morsel was gone before the cuckoo came with another.

Spare lived on in the old hut, and worked in the cabbage garden. (Scrub had got the barley field because he was the eldest.) Every day his coat grew more ragged, and the hut more weather-beaten; but people remarked that he never looked sad nor sour; and the wonder was, that from the time they began to keep his company, the tinker grew kinder to the poor ass with which he travelled the country, the beggar-boy kept out of mischief, and the old woman was never cross to her cat or angry with the children.

Every first of April the cuckoo came tapping at their doors with the golden leaf to Scrub and the green to Spare. Fairfeather would have entertained him nobly with wheaten bread and honey, for she had some notion of persuading him to bring two gold leaves instead of one; but the cuckoo flew away to eat barley bread with Spare, saying he was not fit company for fine people, and liked the old hut where he slept so snugly from Christmas till Spring.

Scrub spent the golden leaves, and Spare kept the merry ones; and I know not how many years passed in this manner, when a certain great lord, who owned that village came to the neighbourhood. His castle stood on the moor. It was ancient and strong, with high towers and a deep moat. All the country, as far as one could see from the highest turret, belonged to its lord; but he had not been there for twenty years, and would not have come then, only he was melancholy. The cause of his grief was that he had been prime-minister at court, and in high favour, till somebody told the crown-prince that he had spoken disrespectfully concerning the turning out of his royal highness’s toes, and the king that he did not lay on taxes enough, whereon the north country lord was turned out of office, and banished to his own estate. There he lived for some weeks in very bad temper. The servants said nothing would please him, and the villagers put on their worst clothes lest he should raise their rents; but one day in the harvest time his lordship chanced to meet Spare gathering watercresses at a meadow stream, and fell into talk with the cobbler.

How it was nobody could tell, but from the hour of that discourse the great lord cast away his melancholy: he forgot his lost office and his court enemies, the king’s taxes and the crown-prince’s toes, and went about with a noble train hunting, fishing, and making merry in his hall, where all travellers were entertained and all the poor were welcome. This strange story spread through the north country, and great company came to the cobbler’s hut—rich men who had lost their money, poor men who had lost their friends, beauties who had grown old, wits who had gone out of fashion, all came to talk with Spare, and whatever their troubles had been, all went home merry. The rich gave him presents, the poor gave him thanks. Spare’s coat ceased to be ragged, he had bacon with his cabbage, and the villagers began to think there was some sense in him.
By this time his fame had reached the capital city, and even the court. There were a great many discontented people there besides the king, who had lately fallen into ill-humour because a neighbouring princess, with seven islands for her dowry, would not marry his eldest son. So a royal messenger was sent to Spare, with a velvet mantle, a diamond ring, and a command that he should repair to court immediately.

‘To-morrow is the first of April,’ said Spare, ‘and I will go with you two hours after sunrise.’

The messenger lodged all night at the castle, and the cuckoo came at sunrise with the merry leaf.
‘Court is a fine place,’ he said when the cobbler told him he was going; ‘but I cannot come there, they would lay snares and catch me; so be careful of the leaves I have brought you, and give me a farewell slice of barley bread.’
Spare was sorry to part with the cuckoo, little as he had of his company; but he gave him a slice which would have broken Scrub’s heart in former times, it was so thick and large; and having sewed up the leaves in the lining of his leathern doublet, he set out with the messenger on his way to court.

His coming caused great surprise there. Everybody wondered what the king could see in such a common-looking man; but scarce had his majesty conversed with him half an hour, when the princess and her seven islands were forgotten, and orders given that a feast for all comers should be spread in the banquet hall. The princess of the blood, the great lords and ladies, ministers of state, and judges of the land, after that discoursed with Spare, and the more they talked the lighter grew their hearts, so that such changes had never been seen at court. The lords forgot their spites and the ladies their envies, the princes and ministers made friends among themselves, and the judges showed no favour.

As for Spare, he had a chamber assigned him in the palace, and a seat at the king’s table; one sent him rich robes and another costly jewels; but in the midst of all his grandeur he still wore the leathern doublet, which the palace servants thought remarkably mean. One day the king’s attention being drawn to it by the chief page, his majesty inquired why Spare didn’t give it to a beggar? But the cobbler answered:
‘High and mighty monarch, this doublet was with me before silk and velvet came—I find it easier to wear than the court cut; moreover, it serves to keep me humble, by recalling the days when it was my holiday garment.’

The king thought this a wise speech, and commanded that no one should find fault with the leathern doublet. So things went, till tidings of his brother’s good fortune reached Scrub in the moorland cottage on another first of April, when the cuckoo came with two golden leaves, because he had none to carry for Spare.

‘Think of that!’ said Fairfeather. ‘Here we are spending our lives in this humdrum place, and Spare making his fortune at court with two or three paltry green leaves! What would they say to our golden ones? Let us pack up and make our way to the king’s palace; I’m sure he will make you a lord and me a lady of honour, not to speak of all the fine clothes and presents we shall have.’

Scrub thought this excellent reasoning, and their packing up began: but it was soon found that the cottage contained few things fit for carrying to court. Fairfeather could not think of her wooden bowls, spoons, and trenchers being seen there. Scrub considered his lasts and awls better left behind, as without them, he concluded, no one would suspect him of being a cobbler. So putting on their holiday clothes, Fairfeather took her looking-glass and Scrub his drinking-horn, which happened to have a very thin rim of silver, and each carrying a golden leaf carefully wrapped up that none might see it till they reached the palace, the pair set out in great expectation.
How far Scrub and Fairfeather journeyed I cannot say, but when the sun was high and warm at noon, they came into a wood both tired and hungry.

‘If I had known it was so far to court,’ said Scrub, ‘I would have brought the end of that barley loaf which we left in the cupboard.’

‘Husband,’ said Fairfeather, ‘you shouldn’t have such mean thoughts: how could one eat barley bread on the way to a palace? Let us rest ourselves under this tree, and look at our golden leaves to see if they are safe.’ In looking at the leaves, and talking of their fine prospects, Scrub and Fairfeather did not perceive that a very thin old woman had slipped from behind the tree, with a long staff in her hand and a great wallet by her side.
‘Noble lord and lady,’ she said, ‘for I know ye are such by your voices, though my eyes are dim and my hearing none of the sharpest, will ye condescend to tell me where I may find some water to mix a bottle of mead which I carry in my wallet, because it is too strong for me?’

As the old woman spoke, she pulled out a large wooden bottle such as shepherds used in the ancient times, corked with leaves rolled together, and having a small wooden cup hanging from its handle.

‘Perhaps ye will do me the favour to taste,’ she said. ‘It is only made of the best honey. I have also cream cheese, and a wheaten loaf here, if such honourable persons as you would eat the like.’

Scrub and Fairfeather became very condescending after this speech. They were now sure that there must be some appearance of nobility about them; besides, they were very hungry, and having hastily wrapped up the golden leaves, they assured the old woman they were not at all proud, notwithstanding the lands and castles they had left behind them in the north country, and would willingly help to lighten the wallet. The old woman could scarcely be persuaded to sit down for pure humility, but at length she did, and before the wallet was half empty, Scrub and Fairfeather firmly believed that there must be something remarkably noble-looking about them. This was not entirely owing to her ingenious discourse. The old woman was a wood-witch; her name was Buttertongue; and all her time was spent in making mead, which, being boiled with curious herbs and spells, had the power of making all who drank it fall asleep and dream with their eyes open. She had two dwarfs of sons; one was named Spy, and the other Pounce. Wherever their mother went they were not far behind; and whoever tasted her mead was sure to be robbed by the dwarfs.

Scrub and Fairfeather sat leaning against the old tree. The cobbler had a lump of cheese in his hand; his wife held fast a hunch of bread. Their eyes and mouths were both open, but they were dreaming of great grandeur at court, when the old woman raised her shrill voice:
‘What ho, my sons! come here and carry home the harvest.’

No sooner had she spoken, than the two little dwarfs darted out of the neighbouring thicket.

‘Idle boys!’ cried the mother, ‘what have ye done to-day to help our living?’

‘I have been to the city,’ said Spy, ‘and could see nothing. These are hard times for us—everybody minds their business so contentedly since that cobbler came; but here is a leathern doublet which his page threw out of the window; it’s of no use, but I brought it to let you see I was not idle.’ And he tossed down Spare’s doublet, with the merry leaves in it, which he had carried like a bundle on his little back.

To explain how Spy came by it, I must tell you that the forest was not far from the great city where Spare lived in such high esteem. All things had gone well with the cobbler till the king thought that it was quite unbecoming to see such a worthy man without a servant. His majesty, therefore, to let all men understand his royal favour toward Spare, appointed one of his own pages to wait upon him. The name of this youth was Tinseltoes, and, though he was the seventh of the king’s pages, nobody in all court had grander notions. Nothing could please him that had not gold or silver about it, and his grandmother feared he would hang himself for being appointed page to a cobbler. As for Spare, if anything could have troubled him, this token of his majesty’s kindness would have done it.

The honest man had been so used to serve himself that the page was always in the way, but his merry leaves came to his assistance; and, to the great surprise of his grandmother, Tinseltoes took wonderfully to the new service. Some said it was because Spare gave him nothing to do but play at bowls all day on the palace-green. Yet one thing grieved the heart of Tinseltoes, and that was his master’s leathern doublet; but for it he was persuaded people would never remember that Spare had been a cobbler, and the page took a deal of pains to let him see how unfashionable it was at court; but Spare answered Tinseltoes as he had done the king, and at last, finding nothing better would do, the page got up one fine morning earlier than his master, and tossed the leathern doublet out of the back window into a certain lane where Spy found it, and brought it to his mother.
‘That nasty thing!’ said the old woman; ‘where is the good in it?’

By this time, Pounce had taken everything of value from Scrub and Fairfeather—the looking-glass, the silver-rimmed horn, the husband’s scarlet coat, the wife’s gay mantle, and, above all, the golden leaves, which so rejoiced old Buttertongue and her sons, that they threw the leathern doublet over the sleeping cobbler for a jest, and went off to their hut in the heart of the forest.

The sun was going down when Scrub and Fairfeather awoke from dreaming that they had been made a lord and a lady, and sat clothed in silk and velvet, feasting with the king in his palace-hall. It was a great disappointment to find their golden leaves and all their best things gone. Scrub tore his hair, and vowed to take the old woman’s life, while Fairfeather lamented sore; but Scrub, feeling cold for want of his coat, put on the leathern doublet without asking or caring whence it came.

Scarcely was it buttoned on when a change came over him; he addressed such merry discourse to Fairfeather, that, instead of lamentations, she made the wood ring with laughter. Both busied themselves in getting up a hut of boughs, in which Scrub kindled a fire with a flint and steel, which, together with his pipe, he had brought unknown to Fairfeather, who had told him the like was never heard of at court. Then they found a pheasant’s nest at the root of an old oak, made a meal of roasted eggs, and went to sleep on a heap of long green grass which they had gathered, with nightingales singing all night long in the old trees about them. So it happened that Scrub and Fairfeather stayed day after day in the forest, making their hut larger and more comfortable against the winter, living on wild birds’ eggs and berries, and never thinking of their lost golden leaves, or their journey to court.

In the meantime Spare had got up and missed his doublet. Tinseltoes, of course, said he knew nothing about it. The whole palace was searched, and every servant questioned, till all the court wondered why such a fuss was made about an old leathern doublet. That very day things came back to their old fashion. Quarrels began among lords, and jealousies among the ladies. The king said his subjects did not pay him half enough taxes, the queen wanted more jewels, the servants took to their old bickerings and got up some new ones. Spare found himself getting wonderfully dull, and very much out of place: nobles began to ask what business a cobbler had at the king’s table, and his majesty ordered the palace chronicles to be searched for a precedent. The cobbler was too wise to tell all he had lost with that doublet, but being by this time somewhat familiar with court customs, he proclaimed a reward of fifty gold pieces to any who would bring him news concerning it.

Scarcely was this made known in the city, when the gates and outer courts of the palace were filled by men, women, and children, some bringing leathern doublets of every cut and colour; some with tales of what they had heard and seen in their walks about the neighbourhood; and so much news concerning all sorts of great people came out of these stores, that the lords and ladies ran to the king with complaints of Spare as a speaker of slander; and his majesty, being now satisfied that there was no example in all the palace records of such a retainer, issued a decree banishing the cobbler for ever from court, and confiscating all his goods in favour of Tinseltoes.

That royal edict was scarcely published before the page was in full possession of his rich chamber, his costly garments, and all the presents the courtiers had given him; while Spare, having no longer the fifty pieces of gold to give, was glad to make his escape out of the back window, for fear of the nobles, who vowed to be revenged on him, and the crowd, who were prepared to stone him for cheating them about his doublet.

The window from which Spare let himself down with a strong rope, was that from which Tinseltoes had tossed the doublet, and as the cobbler came down late in the twilight, a poor woodman, with a heavy load of fagots, stopped and stared at him in great astonishment.
‘What’s the matter, friend?’ said Spare. ‘Did you never see a man coming down from a back window before?’

‘Why,’ said the woodman, ‘the last morning I passed here a leathern doublet came out of that very window, and I’ll be bound you are the owner of it.’

‘That I am, friend,’ said the cobbler. ‘Can you tell me which way that doublet went?’

‘As I walked on,’ said the woodman, ‘a dwarf, called Spy, bundled it up and ran off to his mother in the forest.’

‘Honest friend,’ said Spare, taking off the last of his fine clothes (a grass-green mantle edged with gold), ‘I’ll give you this if you will follow the dwarf, and bring me back my doublet.’

‘It would not be good to carry fagots in,’ said the woodman. ‘But if you want back your doublet, the road to the forest lies at the end of this lane,’ and he trudged away.

Determined to find his doublet, and sure that neither crowd nor courtiers could catch him in the forest, Spare went on his way, and was soon among the tall trees; but neither hut nor dwarf could he see. Moreover, the night came on; the wood was dark and tangled, but here and there the moon shone through its alleys, the great owls flitted about, and the nightingales sang. So he went on, hoping to find some place of shelter. At last the red light of a fire, gleaming through a thicket, led him to the door of a low hut. It stood half open, as if there was nothing to fear, and within he saw his brother Scrub snoring loudly on a bed of grass, at the foot of which lay his own leathern doublet; while Fairfeather, in a kirtle made of plaited rushes, sat roasting pheasants’ eggs by the fire.
‘Good-evening, mistress,’ said Spare, stepping in.

The blaze shone on him, but so changed was her brother-in-law with his court-life, that Fairfeather did not know him, and she answered far more courteously than was her wont.

‘Good-evening, master. Whence come ye so late? but speak low, for my good man has sorely tired himself cleaving wood, and is taking a sleep, as you see, before supper.’

‘A good rest to him,’ said Spare, perceiving he was not known. ‘I come from the court for a day’s hunting, and have lost my way in the forest.’

‘Sit down and have a share of our supper,’ said Fairfeather, ‘I will put some more eggs in the ashes; and tell me the news of court—I used to think of it long ago when I was young and foolish.’

‘Did you never go there?’ said the cobbler. ‘So fair a dame as you would make the ladies marvel.’

‘You are pleased to flatter,’ said Fairfeather; ‘but my husband has a brother there, and we left our moorland village to try our fortune also. An old woman enticed us with fair words and strong drink at the entrance of this forest, where we fell asleep and dreamt of great things; but when we woke, everything had been robbed from us—my looking-glass, my scarlet cloak, my husband’s Sunday coat; and, in place of all, the robbers left him that old leathern doublet, which he has worn ever since, and never was so merry in all his life, though we live in this poor hut.’

‘It is a shabby doublet, that,’ said Spare, taking up the garment, and seeing that it was his own, for the merry leaves were still sewed in its lining. ‘It would be good for hunting in, however—your husband would be glad to part with it, I dare say, in exchange for this handsome cloak’; and he pulled off the green mantle and buttoned on the doublet, much to Fairfeather’s delight, who ran and shook Scrub, crying:
‘Husband! husband! rise and see what a good bargain I have made.’

Scrub gave one closing snore, and muttered something about the root being hard; but he rubbed his eyes, gazed up at his brother, and said:
‘Spare, is that really you? How did you like the court, and have you made your fortune?’

‘That I have, brother,’ said Spare, ‘in getting back my own good leathern doublet. Come, let us eat eggs, and rest ourselves here this night. In the morning we will return to our own old hut, at the end of the moorland village where the Christmas Cuckoo will come and bring us leaves.’

‘Scrub and Fairfeather agreed. So in the morning they all returned, and found the old hut little the worse for wear and weather. The neighbours came about them to ask the news of court, and see if they had made their fortune. Everybody was astonished to find the three poorer than ever, but somehow they liked to go back to the hut. Spare brought out the lasts and awls he had hidden in a corner; Scrub and he began their old trade, and the whole north country found out that there never were such cobblers.

They mended the shoes of lords and ladies as well as the common people; everybody was satisfied. Their custom increased from day to day, and all that were disappointed, discontented, or unlucky, came to the hut as in old times, before Spare went to court.

The rich brought them presents, the poor did them service. The hut itself changed, no one knew how. Flowering honeysuckle grew over its roof; red and white roses grew thick about its door. Moreover, the Christmas Cuckoo always came on the first of April, bringing three leaves of the merry tree—for Scrub and Fairfeather would have no more golden ones. So it was with them when I last heard the news of the north country.”

What a summer-house that hut would make for me, mamma!” said the Princess Greedalind.

We must have it brought here bodily,” said Queen Wantall; but the chair was silent, and a lady and two noble squires, clad in russet-coloured satin and yellow buskins, the like of which had never been seen at that court, rose up and said:
“That’s our story.”

I have not heard such a tale,” said King Winwealth, “since my brother Wisewit went from me, and was lost in the forest. Redheels, the seventh of my pages, go and bring this little maid a pair of scarlet shoes with golden buckles.”
The seventh page immediately brought from the royal store a pair of scarlet satin shoes with buckles of gold. Snowflower never had seen the like before, and joyfully thanking the king, she dropped a courtesy, seated herself and said: “Chair of my grandmother, take me to the worst kitchen.” Immediately the chair marched away as it came, to the admiration of that noble company.

The little girl was allowed to sleep on some straw at the kitchen fire that night. Next day they gave her ale with the scraps the cook threw away. The feast went on with great music and splendour, and the people clamoured without; but in the evening King Winwealth again fell into low spirits, and the royal command was told to Snowflower by the chief-scullion, that she and her chair should go to the highest banquet hall, for his majesty wished to hear another story.

When Snowflower had washed her face, and dusted her chair, she went up seated as before, only that she had on the scarlet shoes. Queen Wantall and her daughter looked more spiteful than ever, but some of the company graciously noticed Snowflower’s courtesy, and were pleased when she laid down her head, saying, “Chair of my grandmother, tell me a story.”

“Listen,” said the clear voice from under the cushion, “to the story of Lady Greensleeves.”

 – Frances Browne (1857)

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