There was once a King
and a Queen in Rousay who had three daughters. When the young
Princesses were just grown up, the King died, and the Crown passed
to a distant cousin, who had always hated him, and who paid no heed
to the widowed Queen and her daughters.
So they were left very badly off, and they went to live in a tiny
cottage, and did all the housework themselves. They had a kailyard
in front of the cottage, and a little field behind it, and they had
a cow that grazed in the field, and which they fed with the cabbages
that grew in the kailyard. For everyone knows that to feed cows with
cabbages makes them give a larger quantity of milk.
But they soon discovered that some one was coming at night and
stealing the cabbages, and, of course, this annoyed them very much.
For they knew that if they had not cabbages to give to the cow, they
would not have enough milk to sell.
So the eldest Princess said she would take out a threelegged stool,
and wrap herself in a blanket, and sit in the kailyard all night to
see if she could catch the thief. And, although it was very cold and
very dark, she did so.
At first it seemed as if all her trouble would be in vain, for hour
after hour passed and nothing happened. But in the small hours of
the morning, just as the clock was striking two, she heard a
stealthy trampling in the field behind, as if some very heavy person
were trying to tread very softly, and presently a mighty Giant
stepped right over the wall into the kailyard.
He carried an enormous creel on his arm, and a large, sharp knife in
his hand; and he began to cut the cabbages, and to throw them into
the creel as fast as he could.
Now the Princess was no coward, so, although she had not expected to
face a Giant, she gathered up her courage, and cried out sharply,
“Who gave thee liberty to cut our cabbages? Leave off this minute,
and go away."
The Giant paid no heed, but went on steadily with what he was doing.
“Dost thou not hear me?” cried the girl indignantly; for she was the
Princess Royal, and had always been accustomed to be obeyed.
“If thou be not quiet I will take thee too," said the Giant grimly,
pressing the cabbages down into the creel.
“I should like to see thee try,” retorted the Princess, rising from
her stool and stamping her foot; for she felt so angry that she
forgot for a moment that she was only a weak maiden and he was a
great and powerful Giant.
And, as if to show her how strong he was, he seized her by her arm
and her leg, and put her in his creel on the top of the cabbages,
and carried her away bodily.
When he reached his home, which was in a great square house on a
lonely moor, he took her out, and set her down roughly on the floor.
“Thou wilt be my servant now,” he said, “and keep my house, and do
my errands for me. I have a cow, which thou must drive1 out every
day to the hillside; and see, here is a bag of wool, when thou hast
taken out the cow, thou must come back and settle thyself at home,
as a good housewife should, and comb, and card it, and spin it into
yam, with which to weave a good thick cloth for my raiment. I am out
most of the day, but when I come home I shall expect to find all
this done, and a great bicker of porridge boiled besides for my
The poor Princess was very dismayed when she heard these words, for
she had never been accustomed to work hard, and she had always had
her sisters to help her; but the Giant took no notice of her
distress, but went out as soon as it was daylight, leaving her alone
in the house to begin her work.
As soon as he had gone she drove the cow to the pasture, as he had
told her to do; but she had a good long walk over the moor before
she reached the hill, and by the time that she got back to the house
she felt very tired.
So she thought that she would put on the porridge pot, and make
herself some porridge before she began to card and comb the wool.
She did so, and just as she was sitting down to sup them the door
opened, and a crowd of wee, wee Peerie Folk came in.
They were the tiniest men and women that the Princess had ever seen;
not one of them would have reached halfway to her knee; and they
were dressed in dresses fashioned out of all the colours of the
rainbow—scarlet and blue, green and yellow, orange and violet; and
the funny thing was, that every one of them had a shock of
straw-coloured yellow hair.
They were all talking and laughing with one another; and they hopped
up, first on stools, then on chairs, till at last they reached the
top of the table, where they clustered round the bowl, out of which
the Princess was eating her porridge.
“We be hungry, we be hungry,” they cried, in their tiny shrill
voices. “Spare a little porridge for the Peerie Folk.”
But the Princess was hungry also; and, besides being hungry, she was
both tired and cross; so she shook her head and waved them
impatiently away with her spoon.
“Little for one, and less for two,
And never a grain have I for you.”
she said sharply, and, to her great delight, for she did not feel
quite comfortable with all the Peerie Folk standing on the table
looking at her, they vanished in a moment.
After this she finished her porridge in peace; then she took the
wool out of the bag, and she set to work to comb and card it. But it
seemed as if it were bewitched; it curled and twisted and coiled
itself round her fingers so that, try as she would, she could not do
anything with it. And when the Giant came home he found her sitting
in despair with it all in confusion round her, and the porridge,
which she had left for him in the pot, burned to a cinder.
As you may imagine, he was very angry, and raged, and stamped, and
used the most dreadful words; and at last he took her by the heels,
and beat her until all her back was skinned and bleeding; then he
carried her out to the byre, and threw her up on the joists among
the hens. And, although she was not dead, she was so stunned and
bruised that she could only lie there motionless, looking down on
the backs of the cows.
Time went on, and in the kailyard at home the cabbages were
disappearing as fast as ever. So the second Princess said that she
would do as her sister had done, and wrap herself in'a blanket, and
go and sit on a three-legged stool all night, to see what was
becoming of them.
She did so, and exactly the same fate befell her that had befallen
her elder sister. The Giant appeared with his creel, and he carried
her off, and set her to mind the cow and the house, and to make his
porridge and to spin; and the little yellow-headed Peerie Folk
appeared and asked her for some supper, and she refused to give it
to them; and after that, she could not comb or card her wool, and
the Giant was angry, and he scolded her, and beat her, and threw her
up, half dead, on the joists beside her sister and the hens.
Then the youngest Princess determined to sit out in the kailyard all
night, not so much to see what was becoming of the cabbages, as to
discover what had happened to her sisters.
And when the Giant came and carried her off, she was not at all
sorry, but very glad, for she was a brave and loving little maiden;
and now she felt that she had a chance of finding out where they
were, and whether they were dead or alive.
So she was quite cheerful and happy, for she felt certain that she
was clever enough to outwit the Giant, if only she were watchful and
patient; so she lay quite quietly in her creel above the cabbages,
but she kept her eyes very wide open to see by which road he was
carrying her off.
And when he set her down in his kitchen, and told her all that he
expected her to do, she did not look downcast like her sisters, but
nodded her head brightly, and said that she felt sure that she could
And she sang to herself as she drove the cow over the moor to
pasture, and she ran the whole way back, so that she should have a
good long afternoon to work at the wool, and, although she would not
have told the Giant this, to search the house.
Before she set to work, however, she made herself some porridge,
just as her sisters had done; and, just as she was going to sup
them, all the little yellow-haired Peerie Folk trooped in, and
climbed up on the table, and stood and stared at her.
“We be hungry, we be hungry" they cried. “Spare a little porridge
for the Peerie Folk.”
“With all my heart,” replied the good-natured Princess. “If you can
find dishes little enough for you to sup out of, I will fill them
for you. But, methinks, if I were to give you all porringers, you
would smother yourselves among the porridge.”
At her words the Peerie Folk shouted with laughter, till their
straw-coloured hair tumbled right over their faces; then they hopped
on to the floor and ran out of the house, and presently they came
trooping back holding cups of blue-bells, and foxgloves, and saucers
of primroses and anemones in their hands; and the Princess put a
tiny spoonful of porridge into each saucer, and a tiny drop of milk
into each cup, and they ate it all up as daintily as possible with
neat little grass spoons, which they had brought with them in their
When they had finished they all cried out, “Thank you! Thank you!”
and ran out of the kitchen again, leaving the Princess alone. And,
being alone, she went all over the house to look for her sisters,
but, of course, she could not find them.
“Never mind, I will find them soon,” she said to herself. "To-morrow
I will search the byre and the outhouses; in the meantime, I had
better get on with my work.” So she went back to the kitchen, and
took out the bag of wool, which the Giant had told her to make into
But just as she was doing so the door opened once more, and a
Yellow-Haired Peerie Boy entered. He was exactly like the other
Peerie Folk who had eaten the Princess's porridge, only he was
bigger, and he wore a very rich dress of grass-green velvet. He
walked boldly into the middle of the kitchen and looked round him.
"Hast thou any work for me to do? ” he asked. “I ken grand how to
handle wool and turn it into fine thick cloth.” .
“I have plenty of work for anybody who asks it,” replied the
Princess; “but I have no money to pay for it, and there are but few
folk in this world who will work without wages.”
“All the wages that I ask is that thou wilt take the trouble to find
out my name, for few folk ken it, and few folk care to ken. But if
by any chance thou canst not find it out, then must thou pay toll of
half of thy cloth.”
The Princess thought that it would be quite an easy thing to find
out the Boy’s name, so she agreed to the bargain, and, putting all
the wool back into the bag, she gave it to him, and he swung it over
his shoulder and departed.
She ran to the door to see where he went, for she had made up her
mind that she would follow him secretly to his home, and find out
from the neighbours what his name was.
But, to her great dismay, though she looked this way and that, he
had vanished completely, and she began to wonder what she should do
if the Giant came back and found that she had allowed someone, whose
name she did not even know, to carry of! all the wool.
And, as the afternoon wore on, and she could think of no way of
finding out who the boy was, or where he came from, she felt that
she had made a great mistake, and she began to grow very frightened.
Just as the gloaming was beginning to fall a knock came at the door,
and, when she opened it, she found an old woman standing outside,
who begged for a night’s lodging.
Now, as I have told you, the Princess was very kind-hearted, and she
would fain have granted the poor old Dame’s request, but she dared
not, for she did not know what the Giant would say. So she told the
old woman that she could not take her in for the night, as she wrs
only a servant, and not the mistress of the house; but she made her
sit down on a bench beside the door, and brought her out some bread
and milk, and gave her some water to bathe her poor, tired feet.
She was so bonnie, and gentle, and kind, and she looked so sorry
when she told her that she would need to turn her away, that the old
woman gave her her blessing, and told her not to vex herself, as it
was a fine, dry night, and now that she had had a meal she could
easily sit down somewhere and sleep in the shelter of the outhouses.
And, when she had finished her bread and milk, she went and laid
down by the side of a green knowe, which rose out of the moor not
very far from the byre door.
And, strange to say, as she lay there she felt the earth beneath her
getting warmer and warmer, until she was so hot that she was fain to
crawl up the side of the hillock, in the hope of getting a mouthful
of fresh air.
And as she got near the top she heard a voice, which seemed to come
from somewhere beneath her, saying, “TEASE, TEASENS, TEASE; CARD,
CARDENS, CARD; SPIN, SPINNENS, SPIN; for PEERIFOOL PEERIFOOL,
PEERIFOOL is what men call me." And when she got to the very top,
she found that there was a crack in the earth, through which rays of
light were coming; and when she put her eye to the crack, what
should she see down below her but a brilliantly lighted chamber, in
which all the Peerie Folk were sitting in a circle, working away as
hard as they could.
Some of them were carding wool, some of them were combing it, some
of them were spinning it, constantly wetting their fingers with
their lips, in order to twist the yam fine as they drew it from the
distaff, and some of them were spinning the yarn into cloth.
While round and round the circle, cracking a little whip, and urging
them to work faster, was a Yellow-Haired Peerie Boy.
“This is a strange thing, and these be queer on-goings," said the
old woman to herself, creeping hastily down to the bottom of the
hillock again. “I must e'en go and tell the bonnie lassie in the
house yonder. Maybe the knowledge of what I have seen will stand her
in good stead some day. When there be Peerie Folk about, it is well
to be on one's guard."
So she went back to the house and told the Princess all that she had
seen and heard, and the Princess was so delighted with what she had
told her that she risked the Giant's wrath and allowed her to go and
sleep in the hayloft.
It was not very long after the old woman had gone to rest before the
door opened, and the Peerie Boy appeared once more with a number of
webs of cloth upon his shoulder. “Here is thy cloth," he said, with
a sly smile, “and I will put it on the shelf for thee the moment
that thou tellest me what my name is."
Then the Princess, who was a merry maiden, thought that she would
tease the little follow for a time ere she let him know that she had
found out his secret.
So she mentioned first one name and then another, always pretending
to think that she had hit upon the right one; and all the time the
Peerie Boy jumped from side to side with delight, for he thought
that she would never find out the right name, and that half of the
cloth would be his.
But at last the Princess grew tired of joking, and she cried out,
with a little laugh of triumph, “Dost thou by any chance ken anyone
called PEERIFOOL, little Mannikin?"
Then he knew that in some way she had found out what men called him,
and he was so angry and disappointed that he flung the webs of cloth
down in a heap on the floor, and ran out at the door, slamming it
Meanwhile the Giant was coming down the hill in the darkening, and,
to his astonishment, he met a troop of little Peerie Folk toiling up
it, looking as if they were so tired that they could hardly get
along. Their eyes were dim and listless, their heads were hanging on
their breasts, and their lips were so long and twisted that the poor
little people looked quite hideous.
The Giant asked how this was, and they told him that they had to
work so hard all day, spinning for their Master that they were quite
exhausted; and that the reason why their lips were so distorted was
that they used them constantly to wet their fingers, so that they
might pull the wool in very fine strands from the distaff.
“I always thought a great deal of women who could spin," said the
Giant, “and I looked out for a housewife that could do so. But after
this I will be more careful, for the housewife that I have now is a
bonnie little woman, and I would be loth to have her spoil her face
in that manner.”
And he hurried home in a great state of mind in case he should find
that his new servants pretty red lips had grown long and ugly in his
Great was his relief to see her standing by the table, bonnie and
winsome as ever, with all the webs of cloth in a pile in front of
“By my troth, thou art an industrious maiden,” he said, in high good
humour, “and, as a reward for working so diligently, I will restore
thy sisters to thee.” And he went out to the byre, and lifted the
two other Princesses down from the rafters, and brought them in and
laid them on the settle.
Their little sister nearly screamed aloud when she saw how ill they
looked and how bruised their backs were, but, like a prudent maiden,
she held her tongue, and busied herself with applying a cooling
ointment to their wounds, and binding them up, and by and by her
sisters revived, and, after the Giant had gone to bed, they told her
all that had befallen them.
“I will be avenged on him for his cruelty" said the little Princess
firmly; and when she spoke like that her sisters knew that she meant
what she said.
So next morning, before the Giant was up, she fetched his creel, and
put her eldest sister into it, and covered her with all the fine
silken hangings and tapestry that she could find, and on the top of
all she put a handful of grass, and when the Giant came downstairs
she asked him, in her sweetest tone, if he would do her a favour.
And the Giant, who was very pleased with her because of the quantity
of cloth which he thought she had spun, said that he would.
“Then carry that creelful of grass home to my mother’s cottage for
her cow to eat," said the Princess. “'Twill help to make up for all
the cabbages which thou hast stolen from her kailyard."
And, wonderful to relate, the Giant did as he was bid, and carried
the creel to the cottage.
Next morning she put her second sister into another creel, and
covered her with all the fine napery she could find in the house,
and put an armful of grass on the top of it, and at her bidding the
Giant, who was really getting very fond of her, carried it also home
to her mother.
The next morning the little Princess told him that she thought that
she would go for a long walk after she had done her housework, and
that she might not be in when he came home at night, but that she
would have another creel of grass ready for him, if he would carry
it to the cottage as he had done on the two previous evenings. He
promised to do so; then, as usual, he went out for the day.
In the afternoon the clever little maiden went through the house,
gathering together all the lace, and silver, and jewellery that she
could find, and brought them and placed them beside the creel. Then
she went out and cut an armful of grass, and brought it in and laid
it beside them.
Then she crept into the creel herself, and pulled all the fine
things in above her, and then she covered everything up with the
grass, which was a very difficult thing to do, seeing she herself
was at the bottom of the basket. Then she lay quite still and
Presently the Giant came in, and, obedient to his promise, he lifted
the creel and carried it off to the old Queen's cottage.
No one seemed to be at home, so he set it down in the entry, and
turned to go away. But the little Princess had told her sisters what
to do, and they had a great can of boiling water ready in one of the
rooms upstairs, and when they heard his steps coming round that side
of the house, they threw open the window and emptied it all over his
head; and that was the end of him.