O NCE upon a time there was a Queen of Scotland. When the King, her husband, died, the kingdom passed to a distant cousin and the Queen and her three daughters had to go to a cottage in a lonely part of the country, for this cousin of theirs was not nearly so good a king as the Queen's husband had been and he did not want the Queen and the three Princesses near the castle, where they could always see how he was ruling and could pass comparisons of him and his predecessor. The new king, accordingly, had packed them off to a distant part of the kingdom, where they had no neighbours at all to talk to and only a little field where they could keep their cow and a patch of ground for their cabbages. But the Queen was a good, thrifty woman, and she said to the Princesses they must make the best of the little bit of land they had or their fortunes would never be mended. They all set to work, therefore, to carry stones from the moor and build a stout wall round the kailyard so the cow couldn't eat the cabbages.
They all set to work to carry stones from the moor and build a stout wall round the kailyard.
Whenever the eldest Princess, whose name was Nannie, began to grumble and talk about the fine castle they once lived in, the Queen would say: "Make the best of it when you're getting the worst of it and soon the worst of it turns to the best of it."
"But that nasty, mean, stingy cousin of ours had no right to turn us out this way," cried Nannie, who was a proud little lass and did not mind the hard times so much as the injustice.
"Fortune mends when grumbling ends," said the Queen and that was all Nannie could get out of her.
One morning when Bess, the second Princess, ran out to pull a cabbage, she came tearing back white as paint and shouted out before she got inside the cottage (and you can tell how serious a thing had happened to make her so forget her manners for Princesses never speak except in the gentlest, sweetest voices), "Oh, mother, do come and look at the kailyard. Some one's been there in the night and cut off a whole row of cabbages and taken them away with him."
Well, now there was a to-do and a scuttering to the kailyard, but at the end of it, the Queen hushed the little Princesses who were stamping their feet and carrying on something terrible at the thought of their few cabbages being taken from them.
"Now, now, children," said she, "fortune mends when grumbling ends. The stalks are left and if we wait a while, there's sure to be the sweetest baby cabbages, a dozen on each, maybe. You know how fond you are of those."
"But it's the injustice of it," cried Nannie. "Nobody has any right to steal our cabbages when we have made a wall and kept them from the cow and dug the soil and watered them."
"I won't dig there any more," said Bess, who had a fine Scotch temper and sulked and pouted where Nannie stamped her foot.
You will notice you haven't heard about the third Princess yet. Well, her name was Elspeth and the reason you haven't heard of her is that she never was much for talking, but just went about her business smiling away and doing everything so cannily it was a pleasure to watch her. She had stayed behind at the kailyard and now she came dancing along the path.
"Oh, mother," said she, "there are such big boot-marks along by the wall in the mud!"
Well, now, they must all run and look, and sure enough there were the most enormous bootmarks, so big that the Queen said at once, "Why, a Giant must have been here."
You might think Nannie and Bess and Elspeth would have been afraid to hear that, but being Princesses, they had been brought up never to be afraid of anything, and Nannie said she should take her milking stool and wrap herself in her mother's plaid and sit up all the next night in the kailyard so that if the Giant came again, she could send him about his business.
So that night when the others went to bed, Nannie marched out with her milking stool and set herself down to watch. The moon was up, and the cabbages glistened as plainly as if it had been day.
She drew her plaid round her and hid every bit of her face except the tiniest part of her eyes to peep out of; then came a dull sort of tramping sound in the stillness; and over the wall she heard a scuffling and hustling and then there stepped into the kailyard the biggest sort of a Giant. He stooped down and cut off a row of cabbages before Nannie could get her plaid off her mouth; then she cried out: "What are you doing with our cabbages?"
"What business is that of yours?" said the Giant so impolitely that Nannie raged with anger. Think of the injustice of his stealing their cabbages and then asking what business it was of hers!
"They're our cabbages and you put down that sack and go about your business," cried Nannie, putting on her haughtiest air.
Well, what do you think the Giant did!
If he didn't stoop down and pick up Nannie as if she were a cabbage and toss her into the sack on top of them! Then he put the sack over his broad shoulder and went striding off, over the hill and dale.
Dear, dear, but she had an uncomfortable journey and when the Giant marched into his house and threw the sack down on the floor Nannie crawled from the sack so shaken about she hadn't the strength to stamp her foot, even when the Giant told her she must drive his cow to pasture, comb, card, and spin a bag of wool, and make a great bicker of porridge for his supper against the time when he returned.
It was no use to try to run away, for the Giant could reach out his long arm and pick her up as if she were a fly and so Nannie had to go along behind the cow, with the Giant watching her all morning.
Then she tethered the cow to a patch of grass and came back to see about the wool and the porridge. When she got inside the door, the Giant couldn't see her and so Nannie thought she would make herself a sup of porridge for her dinner. She found a little iron pot, where the Giant kept his salt, and in this she boiled a nice little sup of porridge for herself, and sat down to eat it.
She had just sat down on the floor to have her dinner, when there came a knock. It was a timid little knock, and when she called, "Who's that?" a weak, shivery sort of voice said:
"Faith, no," said proud Nannie. "I've little for one and less for two. Be off about your business or the Giant will be after you."
Well, she heard no more of the traveller, and after she had eaten the porridge she piled the peat under the great bicker full of meal and gave it a stir and then she set to work to comb the wool; but the more she combed the more knots came into it, and she grew angrier and angrier, until when the Giant marched in, there was all the bag of wool spoiled and the porridge burnt as black as the pot, for every knot of wool that wouldn't come out, Nannie had tossed into the fire and sent a great blaze under the bicker.
Mercy, but he was angry! He picked up Nannie and took her out into the byre and threw her up into the loft among the hens and told her to stay there, for she was no use at all. And didn't Nannie cry and storm at the injustice of it, when she had been driving his cow and trying to comb his wool all day.
Well, the next night, Bess said she would sit up and watch, so that she could make the Giant give back their sister Nannie, but directly the Giant saw her, before she had a chance to speak, he put her in the very bottom of his sack and piled the cabbages upon her until, if there hadn't been a little hole for her to breathe through, she would have been suffocated. Exactly the same things happened to her, even to the poor traveller coming and being turned away, for Bess determined to make things as unpleasant as she could for the Giant and every one, and sulked till her face looked as heavy as an underdone pudding. Dear, dear, but the Giant was angry when he got home the next night and found nothing done! He threw her, too, up into the byre with the hens and there she found Nannie. You can imagine how glad they were to see each other. Nannie forgot her temper and Bess forgot her sulks and they kissed and hugged each other and then they ate a little of the meal that had been thrown to the hens and went to sleep cuddled up in their plaids.
When the Giant went to the kailyard the third night, there was the third Princess, Elspeth, perched on the wall, but when she saw him coming, she called out, "Good evening," most politely.
"You're coming along with me," said the Giant, in a terribly gruff voice, and Elspeth said, "I expected to, and that is why I am here."
Seeing she spoke so politely and smiled in such a pleasant way, the Giant had no wish to ill-treat her and when he had put in the cabbages he set her on the top of them quite comfortably. Then off he went with the sack on his shoulder as before, but Elspeth had her little scissors with her, and she cut a wee little hole in the sack and peeped through and noticed every bit of the way they went so that she would know the road home again. When they got to the Giant's house, Elspeth had sat so quietly she had been no weight or trouble at all, and when the Giant set her down on the floor without a single bump, she stepped out as pretty as a picture.
Then the Giant gave his orders, and she nodded when he said she must drive the cow, and said, yes, she could do that; and when he showed her the bicker full of porridge, she said, yes, she could make good porridge; and when he showed her the bag of wool, she said she never had combed or carded or spun any wool, but she would try her best; then the Giant went off for his snooze in the heather, and Elspeth attended to the cow, and came back and made herself a sup of porridge for her dinner.
Just as she was going to eat it, however, the timid knock sounded and the weak, shivery voice of the poor traveller was heard outside the door. Instead of staying where she was and calling out, which is no sort of welcome as every one knows, Elspeth set down her little pot and ran to the door. Outside stood the queerest-looking fellow you ever saw. His hair was bright red-gold and it stuck up like a shock of hay on fire, and his thin, white face and bright blue eyes peered out beneath. He was dressed in a kilt of green and silver tartan and had tossed a plaid over his shoulder, so that he was not so poorly clothed, but it was plain he was hungry, for his face was thin as a hatchet and he was rubbing his stomach in the most pitiful way.
Well, he told he had lost his way on the moor, and seeing the smoke, he had come to the Giant's house, and now he begged for a sup of something.
All Elspeth had to give him was her own dinner, but she brought that out to him, and when he had finished, he said he would like to do a service for her and asked if she had any wool she wanted carded.
Elspeth was ready enough to say yes, and out she brought the great bag the Giant had left, and down sat the poor, strange traveller, and in less than a twinkling, his thin fingers had run through it, and combed it and carded it, and then he told her to fetch out the spinning wheel, and there he sat and spun the wool till it was as white and fine as dandelion down. When he had finished, he jumped out and vanished just as quickly as a dandelion ball when you puff it, and that was the last she saw of him.
When the Giant came in, there was his porridge cooked to perfection, the peat bright and cheerful, the wool finished and Elspeth ready to wait on him. The Giant was so pleased, he told her where her sisters were and said she could set the ladder against the loft and climb up to them. "And if you can teach them to work as well as you have done, I'll let them come down again some day, when their proud hearts are brought low," said the Giant. You can guess how glad Elspeth was to find her sisters again.
In the morning, when Elspeth ran down to attend to the fire and get the Giant's breakfast, she said, "If you please, would you mind carrying a creel of heather to my mother's cottage as there are none of us left to get bedding for the cow?"
Elspeth asked so politely with such a pretty smile, that the Giant could not think of any other answer but yes, and off he strode with the big basket of heather on his shoulder before he took his daily nap. Elspeth was busy at work all day, and in the evening the Giant again said she might go and sleep with her sisters and maybe he would let them come down some day so that Elspeth might teach them to work as well as she did.
Well, the next morning there was another big creel full of grass lying in the yard and Elspeth again asked the Giant if he would carry it over to her mother, as there was no one left to pull fodder for the cow, and again the Giant agreed and took over the basket.
He was just as pleased with Elspeth when he came back in the evening and said next day her two sisters might come down, for he was going on a journey and would like the house redd up.
"In case I am not down when you start," said Elspeth, "would you very kindly carry this last basket of bog myrtle for my mother to stuff a pillow? I will leave it by the door."
Well, the Giant was going past the kailyard and he agreed to take it. Next morning Elspeth was not down, but there lay the basket, and when he had set it down inside the kailyard wall and gone about his business, who should creep out but Elspeth, and then didn't she run across the kailyard and into the cottage where her mother and Nannie and Bess were setting breakfast. For of course Nannie and Bess had been hidden in the baskets of grass and heather which the giant had carried so obligingly.
Just as they were toasting their bannocks and supping their brose, who should come riding up but a fine messenger with a gilded coach, to say their cousin, the King, had become much nicer and had sent for them, so that the Queen could help him to rule the kingdom, and they were all to come at once and live in the castle which had been their own dear home.
And so when the Giant came back that night and found the three Princesses gone and rushed over to the kailyard to look for them, there was nothing for him, neither the cow, nor a hen, nor a cabbage, for the Queen, with true Scottish thrift, had taken everything away with her.