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Story No. 114

The Old Smith

Book Name:

Gypsy Folk Tales

Tradition: Gypsy, Roumania, Bukovina, Ukraine

An old smith lived on a hill with his wife and mother-in-law. He could only make ploughshares. A boy comes, and wants his horse shod. The smith could not do it. The boy cuts the horse's legs off, stops the blood, and puts the legs on the fire, beats them on the anvil, and replaces them on the horse. He gives the smith a guinea, and goes away. The smith tries this with his mother-in-law's horse, but bungles it: the horse bleeds to death, and its legs are burnt to ashes. The boy comes again with two old women. 'I want you to make them young again.' The smith couldn't. The boy puts them on the fire, beats them on the anvil, and rejuvenates them. The smith tries it with his wife and mother-in-law, but burns them to ashes. He leaves his forge, and sets off in the snow and wind. The barefooted boy follows him. The smith wants to send him off. The boy tells him of a sick king in the next town, whom they will cure, the boy acting as the smith's servant. The butler admits them, and gives them plenty to eat and drink. The smith forgets all about the sick king, but the boy reminds him. They go up. The boy asks for a knife, pot, water, and spoon. He cuts the king's head off, and spits on his hand to stop the blood. He puts the head in the pot, boils it, lifts it out with the golden spoon, and replaces it on the king, who is cured. The king gives them a sack of gold.

They take the road again.

'All I want,' says Barefoot, 'is a pair of shoes.'

'I've little enough for myself,' says the smith.

The boy leaves him, and the smith goes on alone. Hearing of another sick king, he goes to cure him, but takes too much to drink, and boils his head all to ribbons, and lets him bleed to death. A knock comes to the door. The smith, frightened, refuses admittance.

'Won't you open to little Barefoot?'

The boy enters, and with much difficulty gets the head on again. The king is cured, and gives them two sacks of gold. The boy asks for shoes and gets them. The boy tells the smith of a gentleman who has a wizard, [I am reminded of Poly Mace, the champion's cousin. He was camping at Golden Acre near Granton, and told me one Sunday that he knew a sea captain who had a familiar: would I care to see it? Of course I would; had he seen it? what was it like, then? 'well, it's a very curious kind of a little, wee, teeny dragon, that is, Mr. Groome; changes colour, it does, according to where you puts it.' I found Poly meant a chameleon] whom none can beat: 'Let's go there. Three sacks of gold to any one who beats him.' They enter. There was a bellows. The wizard blows, and blows up half the sea; the boy blows up a fish that drinks up all the wizard's water. The wizard blows up corn as it were rain; the boy blows up birds that eat the corn. The wizard blows up hundreds of rabbits; the boy blows up greyhounds that catch the rabbits. So they win the three sacks of gold. The smith hardly knows what to do with all his money. He builds a village and three taverns, and spends his time loafing round. An old woman comes and begs a night's lodging. He gives it her. She gives him three wishes. He wishes that whoever takes his hammer in his hand can't put it down again, that whoever sits on his chair can't get up again, and that whoever gets in his pocket can't get out again. One day, when money had run low, a man comes to the smith and asks will he sell himself. The smith sells himself for a bag of gold, the time to be up in five years. After five years the man returns. The smith gives him his hammer to hold, and goes off to his tavern. From inn to inn the man follows him, and, finding him in the third inn, gives him five more years' freedom. The same thing happens with the chair; and the smith gets five more years from the old man (now called Beng, devil). The third time the devil finds the smith in one of his taverns. The smith explains that he has called for drinks, and asks the devil to change himself into a sovereign in his (the smith's) pocket to pay for them. The devil does so. The smith returns home, and goes to bed. At night he hears a great uproar in his trousers pocket, gets up, puts them on the anvil, and hammers. The devil promises never to meddle with him in future if he will release him. The smith lets him go. Afterwards the smith dies, and goes to the devil's door and knocks. An imp of Satan comes out. Tell your father the smith is here.'

The little devil went and told his father.

'He will kill us all,' said the devil, 'if we let him in. Here, take this wisp of straw, and light him upstairs to God.'

The little devil did so. The smith went to heaven. There he sat and played the harp. And there we shall all see him one day unless we go to the devil instead.


Cf. Ralston's 'The Smith and the Demon,' p. 57, and 'The Pope with the Greedy Eyes,' p. 351; Dasent's 'The Master-Smith' (Tales from the Norse, p. 106); Clouston, ii. 409; a curious Negro version from Virginia, 'De New Han’,' plainly derived from a European source, which I published in the Athenæum for 10th August 1887, p. 215, and give here as an appendix; Reinhold Köhler's essay, 'Sanct Petrus, der Himmelspförtner' (Aufsätze über Märchen and Volkslieder, pp. 48-78); 'L’Anneau de Bronze' in Carnoy and Nicolaides' Traditions Populaires de l’Asie Mineure, p. 62; and Grimm's 'Brother Lustig,' No. 81 (i. 312, 440). With the last compare this sketch of a story, which M. Paul Bataillard got from Catalonian Gypsies encamped near Paris in 1869, and which very closely resembles one of the Cento Novelle Antiche, summarised by Crane (Italian Popular Tales, p. 360).

St. Peter travels with Christ as his servant, and they are often hard put to it for a livelihood. Christ sends St. Peter to find a sheep, and, bidding him cook it, goes to heal a sick person, who rewards him richly. Peter eats the sheep's liver and kidneys, and Christ, when he comes back, asks where the liver and kidneys are, 'for Jesus, who is God, knows everything.' Peter replying that the sheep had none, at the end of their meal Christ divides into three heaps the large sum received from the farmer whom he has healed. 'For whom are these three heaps?' asks Peter. 'The two first for each of us,' Christ answers, 'and the third for him who ate the liver and kidneys.' 'That was me,' says Peter. 'Very well,' Christ answers, 'take my share as well. I return to my own.' And then it is that Christ takes the cross, etc. 'You see,' the narrator ended, 'that it was God Jesus who at the beginning of the world founded all the estates of men – first doctors, for he healed for money – and who taught the Gypsies to beg and to go barefoot, whilst St. Peter instructed them how to deceive their like.'

In another Catalonian-Gypsy story, Christ sends St. Peter to a farm to get an omelette or some roasted eggs, and Peter returns with the omelette hidden in his hat, intending to keep it for himself. Two other pseudo-Christian legends of Christ travelling with St. Peter were told to M. Bataillard by an Alsatian Gypsy, but he had forgotten them (Letter of 22nd April 1872). Ralston has a legend (p. 346) of a Gypsy who learns of God, through St. George, that 'his business is to cheat and to swear falsely,' so opens business by stealing the saint's golden stirrup.

Lastly Dr. von Sowa gives this confused but curious Slovak-Gypsy tale (No. 60. 'The Old Soldier'): –


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