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TOUCH OF IRON
Welsh Fairy Tale
Ages ago, before the Cymry rowed in their coracles across the sea,
there was a race of men already in the Land of Honey, as Great Britain
was then called.
These ancient people, who lived in caves, did not know how to build
houses or to plow the ground. They had no idea that they could get
their food out of the earth. As for making bread and pies, cookies and
goodies, from what grew from the soil, they never heard of such a
thing. They were not acquainted with the use of fire for melting
copper, nor did they know how to get iron out of the ore, to make
knives and spears, arrow heads and swords, and armor and helmets.
All they could do was to mold clay, so as to make things to cook with
and hold milk, or water. When they baked this soft stuff in the fire,
they found they had pots, pans and dishes as hard as stone, though
these were easily broken.
To hunt the deer, or fight the wolves and bears, they fashioned clubs
of wood. For javelins and arrows, they took hard stone like flint and
chipped it to points and sharpened it with edges. This was the time
which men now call the Stone Age. When the men went to war, their
weapons were wholly of wood or stone.
They had not yet learned to weave the wool of the sheep into warm
clothing, but they wore the skins of animals. Each one of the caves,
in which they lived, was a general boarding house, for dogs and pigs,
as well as people.
When a young man of one tribe wanted a wife, he sallied out secretly
into another neighborhood. There he lay in wait for a girl to come
along. He then ran away with her, and back to his own daddy's cave.
By and by, when the Cymry came into the land, they had iron tools and
better weapons of war. Then there were many and long battles and the
aborigines were beaten many times.
So the cave people hated everything made of iron. Anyone of the cave
people, girls or boys, who had picked up iron ornaments, and were
found wearing or using iron tools, or buying anything of iron from the
cave people's enemies, was looked upon as a rascal, or a villain, or
even as a traitor and was driven out of the tribe.
However, some of the daughters of the cave men were so pretty and had
such rosy cheeks, and lovely bodies, and beautiful, long hair, that
quite often the Cymric youth fell in love with them.
Many of the cave men's daughters were captured and became wives of the
Cymry and mothers of children. In course of ages, their descendants
helped to make the bright, witty, song-loving Welsh people.
Now the fairies usually like things that are old, and they are very
slow to alter the ancient customs, to which they have been used; for,
in the fairy world, there is no measure of time, nor any clocks,
watches, or bells to strike the hours, and no almanacs or calendars.
The fairies cannot understand why ladies change the fashions so often,
and the men their ways of doing things. They wonder why beards are
fashionable at one time; then, moustaches long or short, at another;
or smooth faces when razors are cheap. Most fairies like to keep on
doing the same thing in the old way. They enjoy being like the
mountains, which stand; or the sea, that rolls; or the sun, that rises
and sets every day and forever. They never get tired of repeating
to-morrow what they did yesterday. They are very different from the
people that are always wanting something else, and even cry if they
cannot have it.
That is the reason why the fairies did not like iron, or to see men
wearing iron hats and clothes, called helmets and armor, when they
went to war. They no more wanted to be touched by iron than by filth,
or foul disease. They hated knives, stirrups, scythes, swords, pots,
pans, kettles, or this metal in any form, whether sheet, barbed wire,
lump or pig iron.
Now there was a long, pretty stretch of water, near which lived a
handsome lad, who loved nothing better than to go out on moonlight
nights and see the fairies dance, or listen to their music. This youth
fell in love with one of these fairies, whose beauty was great beyond
description. At last, unable to control his passion, he rushed into
the midst of the fairy company, seized the beautiful one, and rushed
back to his home, with his prize in his arms. This was in true
cave-man fashion. When the other fairies hurried to rescue her, they
found the man's house shut. They dared not touch the door, for it was
covered over with iron studs and bands, and bolted with the metal
which they most abhorred.
The young man immediately began to make love to the fairy maid, hoping
to win her to be his wife. For a long time she refused, and moped all
day and night. While weeping many salt water tears, she declared that
she was too homesick to live.
Nevertheless the lover persevered. Finding herself locked in with iron
bars, while gratings, bolts and creaking hinges were all about her,
and unable to return to her people, the fairy first thought out a plan
of possible escape. Then she agreed to become the man's wife. She
resolved, at least, that, without touching it, she should oil all the
iron work, and stop the noise.
She was a smart fairy, and was sure she could outwit the man, even if
he were so strong, and had every sort of iron everywhere in order to
keep her as it were in a prison. So, pretending she loved him dearly,
she said: "I will not be your wife, but, if you can find out my name,
I shall gladly become your servant."
"Easily won," thought the lover to himself. Yet the game was a harder
one to play than he supposed. It was like playing Blind Man's Buff, or
Hunt the Slipper. Although he made guesses of every name he could
think of, he was never "hot" and got no nearer to the thing sought
than if his eyes were bandaged. All the time, he was deeper and deeper
in love with the lovely fairy maid.
But one night, on returning home, he saw in a turf bog, a group of
fairies sitting on a log. At once, he thought, they might be talking
about their lost sister. So he crept up quite near them, and soon
found that he had guessed right. After a long discussion, finding
themselves still at a loss, as to how to recover her, he heard one of
them sigh and say, "Oh, Siwsi, my sister, how can you live with a
"Enough," said the young man to himself. "I've got it." Then, crawling
away noiselessly, he ran back all the way to his house, and unlocked
the door. Once inside the room, he called out his servant's
Astonished at hearing her name, she cried out, "What mortal has
betrayed me? For, surely no fairy would tell on me? Alas, my fate, my
But in her own mind, the struggle and the fear were over. She had
bravely striven to keep her fairyhood, and in the battle of wits, had
She would not be wife, but what a wise, superb and faithful servant
Everything prospered under her hand. The house and the farm became
models. Not twice, but three times a day, the cows, milked by her,
yielded milk unusually rich in cream. In the market, her butter
excelled, in quality and price, all others.
Meanwhile, the passion of the lover abated not one jot, or for an
instant. His perseverance finally won. She agreed to become his wife;
but only on one condition.
"You must never strike me with iron," she said. "If you do, I'll feel
free to leave you, and go back to my relatives in the fairy family."
A hearty laugh from the happy lover greeted this remark, made by the
lovely creature, once his servant, but now his betrothed. He thought
that the condition was very easy to obey.
So they were married, and no couple in all the land seemed to be
happier. Once, twice, the cradle was filled. It rocked with new
treasures that had life, and were more dear than farm, or home, or
wealth in barns or cattle, cheese and butter. A boy and a girl were
theirs. Then the mother's care was unremitting, day and night.
Even though the happy father grew richer every year, and bought farm
after farm, until he owned five thousand acres, he valued, more than
these possessions, his lovely wife and his beautiful children.
Yet this very delight and affection made him less vigilant; yes, even
less careful concerning the promise he had once given to his fairy
wife, who still held to the ancient ideas of the Fairy Family in
regard to iron.
One of his finest mares had given birth to a filly, which, when the
day of the great fair came, he determined to sell at a high price.
So with a halter on his arm, he went out to catch her.
But she was a lively creature, so frisky that it was much like his
first attempt to win his fairy bride. It almost looked as if she were
a cave girl running away from a lover, who had a lasso in his hand.
The lively and frolicsome beast scampered here and there, grazing as
she stopped, as if she were determined to put off her capture as long
So, calling to his wife, the two of them together, tried their skill
to catch the filly. This time, leaving the halter in the house, the
man took bit and bridle, and the two managed to get the pretty
creature into a corner; but, when they had almost captured her, away
she dashed again.
By this time, the man was so vexed that he lost his temper; and he who
does that, usually loses the game, while he who controls the wrath
within, wins. Mad as a flaming fire, he lost his brains also and threw
bit and bridle and the whole harness after the fleet animal.
Alas! alas! the wife had started to run after the filly and the iron
bit struck her on the cheek. It did not hurt, but he had broken his
Now came the surprise of his life. It was as if, at one moment, a
flash of lightning had made all things bright; and then in another
second was inky darkness. He saw this lovely wife, one moment active
and fleet as a deer. In another, in the twinkling of an eye, nothing
was there. She had vanished. After this, there was a lonely home,
empty of its light and cheer.
But by living with human beings, a new idea and form of life had
transformed this fairy, and a new spell was laid on her. Mother-love
had been awakened in her heart. Henceforth, though the law of the
fairy world would not allow her to touch again the realm of earth,
she, having once been wife and parent, could not forget the babies
born of her body. So, making a sod raft, a floating island, she came
up at night, and often, while these three mortals lived, this fairy
mother would spend hours tenderly talking to her husband and her two
children, who were now big boy and girl, as they stood on the lake
On his part, the father did not think it "an ideal arrangement," as
some modern married folks do, to be thus separated, wife and husband,
one from the other; but by her coming as near as could be allowed, she
showed her undying love. Even to-day, good people sometimes see a
little island floating on the lake, and this, they point out as the
place where the fairy mother was wont to come and hold converse with
her dear ones. When they merrily eat the pink delicacy, called
"floating island," moving it about with a spoon on its yellow lake of
eggs and cream, they call this "the Fairy Mother's rocking chair."