The Green Woman of Kittlerumpit

by Stephen J. McKenzie


part 1 of 3

A retelling of a classic folk tale from Dumfriesshire.


I know that you are fond of stories about fairies, and in particular, those regarding the reluctance of my people to reveal our true names. So, the story of the Goodwife of Kittlerumpit has just come into my mind, being as it is our own proper account of that tale you may know in your country by the jumbled-up name of “Rumple-stiltskin” or some other foolish thing.

The Kittlerumpit tale differs from that one, on account of its being true, but despite that, I cannot tell you exactly where Kittlerumpit village lies, only that it was somewhere in the Debatable Ground.

For there to be a Goodwife there must needs be a Goodman, but the so-called “good man” of Kittlerumpit comes into the story only by being absent from it. By all accounts he was a foolish, rambling sort of fellow and ended up in strife of some unknown kind, leaving his home one morning and never returning.

Most likely the press-gangs caught him napping and hauled him off to fight for Nelson, which would have served him right, but we shall never know because as I said, he never returned, did he?

This event was the cause of great sorrow to his wife, not so much because she lost the lazy man, but for the reason that he had got her with child six months before his permanent departure, and now there was no-one else to provide for the baby when it came.

Things turned from bad to worse upon a day, about a month after the Goodman went missing, when she went out to her sty to fill the trough and found the old sow there lying on her back, making noises even worse than usual and looking almost ready to give up the ghost.

The sow had been her only consolation after the Goodman departed, for it was soon to farrow and she had hoped for a good litter, and moreover it was the better of her former husband in both manners and in odour. But now it seemed that the sow was also to be taken from her. She sat down in the sty, on the knocking-stone, and cried out all the grief that had eluded her that past month.

It must be said she was not a pretty sight at the best of times; her hair was dirty red and lanky, her nose resembled a stubby carrot, and her eyes were often red from drink or tears in the case of the present day.

After a time the Goodwife looked up through the mist of her tears and saw an old woman in a green gown walking all stately down the road, with a hat of beaver’s fur upon her head and a crook staff to support her, of the old-fashioned sort, nearly as tall as herself. She was the kind of body that looks very grand in all her green finery, but in her heart, she meant the Goodwife ill. It is better that I tell you this now so that you do not get in a state about it when I tell you later; she was a fairy, and a very powerful one at that.

“Ah, what is the cause of your crying, now that the Goodman has been taken from you?” said the fairy woman in green, as the ugly Goodwife arose and made a curtsey.

“Madam,” said she, “I’m only the most unfortunate woman in all the whole world, that is all.” And she began to cry again.

“Come now, fie! I’ve not come to hear piper’s news and fiddler’s tales, woman,” said the green lady. “You lost your husband, sure enough, but he was not much of a man, so it is not much of a loss. We had better men than he lost at Sherrifmuir, and you don’t see me crying about that now, although I was right there when they fell.”

“Well,” said the Goodwife, conceding the point but taking up another, “why do you come to be asking me about my troubles if you take not the slightest interest when I tell you?”

This may sound a foolish thing to have said, but you must remember, she thought she was addressing a normal person, like yourself. Not being versed in her history, she did not know that the Battle of Sherrifmuir had been fought close to ninety years before, and through all her tears she could not tell that the green lady was a fairy; not at this particular point in the story, at least.

“I see there that your sow is ill,” said the green lady haughtily, ignoring the question.

“Yes, and if you were the sort to listen, you might have heard that the animal is the true cause of my sorrow and not my husband’s being missing and all,” said the Goodwife.

“I knew that already, before I came here,” said the green lady. “Why don’t I mend her for you so that her litter will come, and you can be the richer for it? I ask only a small thing in return.”

“Oh, anything, if it could be done, anything at all I’d give you,” said the Goodwife in desperation. Now this really was a very foolish thing to say to a fairy, but as I keep saying, she did not know, did she? So I should not have to keep reminding you of that plain truth.

“Let us wet thumbs to that bargain,” said the green woman, and so they spat upon their thumbs to make their oaths, the simple Goodwife never thinking it odd that this fine lady should make a pact in the same manner as would a coarse fellow of the fields. And then into the sty leaps the old woman, nimble as a farm girl, and begins to attend to the sow.

Pitter Patter, Hoolie Watter,” sings she in a low voice, and takes from beneath her kirtle a silver bottle. From it she pours forth a few drops, of a liquid that you must assume was indeed holy water, although it probably wasn’t. And now up jumps the sow like nothing at all had ever been the matter with it, and goes off to seek some breakfast.

Now the Goodwife was a joyful wife, and she made to kiss the hem of the old woman in green, but the green lady was having none of that and stepped back hastily before the wife’s mortal body could come near her own. “There’s no need for all that to-do,” she said. “The bargain we made was not one between mistress and maidservant but a meeting of equals. You will not find me greedy and unreasonable. As I said, I want only a small thing; the baby boy that grows in your belly.”

Well, you may have already guessed that this unfortunate request was about to be put forward, but there’s no good in your being too pleased with yourself about that, because you weren’t there to warn the poor Goodwife, were you? Only now did she know her enemy, but it was too late.

“No! Anything but that!” she pleaded, and then prayed, begged, cried and scolded for all she was worth, until the sow came running back to see whatever was the matter. But the green lady was unmoved throughout.

“There’s no good in your screeching at me as though I were deaf as a doornail!” said the fairy, covering her ears. “My word, they could hear you in Norway, woman. The deal was sealed fair and true under the old law. A year after the bairn has taken his first breath, I shall come to claim him. Unless, of course, you can be telling me my right name in that time. And I don’t see much chance of that occurrence, not with the wits nature left with you.”

And with that, the fairy screeched with laughter and then vanished all at once from sight, leaving the Goodwife to fall down in a faint in the mud behind the knocking-stone.

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Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2009 by Stephen J. McKenzie

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