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Welsh Folklore and Fairytales
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THE BACK DOOR WAS FRONT
In the days when were no books, or writing, and folk tales were the
only ones told, there was an old woman, who had a bad reputation. She
pretended to be very poor, so as not to attract or tempt robbers. Yet
those who knew her best, knew also, as a subject of common talk, that
she was always counting out her coins.
Besides this, she lived in a nice house, and it was believed that she
made a living by stealing babies out of their cradles to sell to the
It was matter of rumor that she would, for an extra large sum, take a
wicked fairy's ugly brat, and put it in place of a mother's darling.
In addition to these horrid charges against her, it was rumored that
she laid a spell, or charm, on the cattle of people whom she did not
like, in order to take revenge on them.
The old woman denied all this, and declared it was only silly gossip
of envious people who wanted her money. She lived so comfortably, she
averred, because her son, who was a stone mason, who made much money
by building chimneys, which had then first come into fashion. When he
brought to her the profits of his jobs, she counted the coins, and
because of this, some people were jealous, and told bad stories about
her. She declared she was thrifty, but neither a miser, nor a
kidnaper, nor a witch.
One day, this old woman wanted more feathers to stuff into her bed, to
make it softer and feel pleasanter for her old bones to rest upon, for
what she slept on was nearly worn through. So she went to a farm,
where they were plucking geese, and asked for a few handfuls of
But the rich farmer's people refused and ordered her out of the farm
Shortly after this event, the cows of this farmer, who was opposed to
chimneys, and did not like her or her son, suffered dreadfully from
the disease called the black quarter. As they had no horse doctors or
professors of animal economy, or veterinaries in those days, many of
the cows died. The rich farmer lost much money, for he had now no milk
or beef to sell. At once, he suspected that his cattle were bewitched,
and that the old woman had cast a spell on them. In those days, it was
very easy to think so.
So the angry man went one day to the old crone, when she was alone,
and her stout son was away on a distant job. He told her to remove the
charm, which she had laid on his beasts, or he would tie her arms and
legs together, and pitch her into the river.
The old woman denied vehemently that she possessed any such powers, or
had ever practiced such black arts.
To make sure of it, the farmer made her say out loud, "The Blessing of
God be upon your cattle!" To clinch the matter, he compelled her to
repeat the Lord's Prayer, which she was able to do, without missing
one syllable. She used the form of words which are not found in the
prayer book, but are in the Bible, and was very earnest, when she
prayed "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."
But after all that trouble, and the rough way which the rich farmer
took to save his cattle, his efforts were in vain. In spite of that
kind of religion which he professed--which was shown by bullying a
poor old woman--his cattle were still sick, with no sign of
improvement. He was at his wits' end to know what to do next.
Now, as we have said, this was about the time that chimneys came into
fashion. In very old days, the Cymric house was a round hut, with a
thatched roof, without glass windows, and the smoke got out through
the door and holes in the walls, in the best way it could. The only
tapestry in the hut was in the shape of long festoons of soot, that
hung from the roof or rafters. These, when the wind blew, or the fire
was lively, would swing or dance or whirl, and often fall on the
heads, or into the food, while the folks were eating. When the
children cried, or made wry faces at the black stuff, their daddy only
laughed, and said it was healthy, or was for good luck.
But by and by, the carpenters and masons made much improvement,
especially when, instead of flint hatchets, they had iron axes and
tools. Then they hewed down trees, that had thick cross branches and
set up columns in the center, and made timber walls and rafters. Then
the house was square or oblong. In other words, the Cymric folks
squared the circle.
Now they began to have lattices, and, much later, even glass windows.
They removed the fireplace from the middle of the floor and set it at
the end of the house, opposite the door, and built chimneys.
Then they set the beds at the side, and made sleeping rooms. This was
done by stretching curtains between partitions. They had also a loft,
in which to keep odds and ends. They hung up the bacon and hams, and
strings of onions, and made a mantle piece over the fireplace. They
even began to decorate the walls with pictures and to set pewter
dishes, china cats, and Dresden shepherds in rows on the shelves for
Now people wore shoes and the floor, instead of being muddy, or dusty,
with pools and puddles of water in the time of rainy weather and with
the pigs and chickens running in and out, was of clay, beaten down
flat and hard, and neatly whitewashed at the edges. Outside, in front,
were laid nice flat flagstones, that made a pleasant path to the front
door. Flowers, inside and out, added to the beauty of the home and
made perfume for those who loved them.
The rich farmer had just left his old round hut and now lived in one
of the new and better kind of houses. He was very proud of his
chimney, which he had built higher than any of his neighbors, but he
could not be happy, while so many of his cows were sick or dying.
Besides, he was envious of other people's prosperity and cared
nothing, when they, too, suffered.
One night, while he was standing in front of his fine house and
wondering why he must be vexed with so many troubles, he talked to
himself and, speaking out loud, said:
"Why don't my cows get well?"
"I'll tell you," said a voice behind him. It seemed half way between a
squeak and a growl.
He turned round and there he saw a little, angry man. He was dressed
in red, and stood hardly as high as the farmer's knee. The little old
man glared at the big fellow and cried out in a high tone of voice:
"You must change your habits of disposing of your garbage, for other
people have chimneys besides you."
"What has that to do with sickness among my cows?"
"Much indeed. Your family is the cause of your troubles, for they
throw all their slops down my chimney and put out my fire."
The farmer was puzzled beyond the telling, for he owned all the land
within a mile, and knew of no house in sight.
"Put your foot on mine, and then you will have the power of vision, to
The farmer's big boot was at once placed on the little man's slipper,
and when he looked down he almost laughed at the contrast in size.
What was his real surprise, when he saw that the slops thrown out of
his house, did actually fall down; and, besides, the contents of the
full bucket, when emptied, kept on dripping into the chimney of a
house which stood far below, but which he had never seen before.
But as soon as he took his foot off that of the tiny little man, he
saw nothing. Everything like a building vanished as in a dream.
"I see that my family have done wrong and injured yours. Pray forgive
me. I'll do what I can to make amends for it."
"It's no matter now, if you only do as I ask you. Shut up your front
door, build a wall in its place, and then my family will not suffer
The rich farmer thought all this was very funny, and he had a hearty
laugh over it all.
Yet he did exactly as the little man in the red cloak had so politely
asked him. He walled up the old door at the front, and built another
at the back of the house, which opened out into the garden. Then he
made the path, on which to go in from the roadway to the threshold,
around the corners and over a longer line of flagstones. Then he
removed the fireplace and chimney to what had been the front side of
the house, but was now the back. For the next thing, he had a copper
doorsill nailed down, which his housemaid polished, until it shone as
bright as gold.
Yet long before this, his cows had got well, and they now gave more
and richer milk than ever. He became the wealthiest man in the
district. His children all grew up to be fine looking men and women.
His grandsons were famous engineers and introduced paving and drainage
in the towns so that to-day, for both man and beast, Wales is one of
the healthiest of countries.