William Elliot Griffis in his book Welsh Fairy Tales, tells a strange story of a widow who had been robbed by a notorious gang of thieves and cutthroats known as the Red Bandits of Montgomery. This is also the title of the story and presented here is a retelling of that tale.
Joshua Johnson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Red Bandits of Montgomery
There was once an infamous bunch of thieves, robbers and cutthroats known as the Red Bandits of Montgomery who were notorious for climbing down the chimneys of houses and robbing the homeowner. In an attempt to counter this old scythe blades were installed in the chimneys.
The Red Bandits had robbed and killed many people but one of their most heinous acts of lawlessness came when they brutally murdered a man who left behind a widow and a baby boy. For the widow deprived of her husband and the baby boy of his father, the future was not very rosy, in fact it was bleak. The widow had a good cow that provided a surplus of milk which she sold and she worked hard to make a living for her and her son. Money was always short but she always managed to pay the rent money on time which was fortunate because in those days landlords would throw their tenants out leaving them homeless if they could not pay.
Theft in the Night
When he had been alive her husband had provided a good lock on the cowshed to keep the cow from being stolen and had installed scythe blades in the chimney as a deterrent to the Red Bandits, so the widow thought she would be safe.
However, the Red Bandits, not content with murdering her husband and depriving the boy of his father, knew she had a good cow and knew it provide enough milk to sell to pay the rent. They also knew that without her husband she was vulnerable and an easy victim and in their evil greed they decided they would rob the widow of it. Therefore, their foremost expert in climbing down chimneys was selected to enter the house through the chimney, steal the rent money and the key to the lock on the cowshed and run off with the cow in the night.
When the widow awoke she found the rent money gone and dashing out to the cowshed found the cow had gone. Devastated by the double loss she ran back to the kitchen and laying sobbing over the table not knowing how she an her son would survive. As she was weeping for the hardness of the world she heard a knock on the door.
An Unexpected Visitor
Fighting back tears she called, “Why don’t you just come in, everyone else does!” not really caring anymore. Pushing the door open there entered a very old woman with a very kind face. She was dressed in the traditional way of Welsh women with the tall headdress but her clothes were in various shades of green. Her dress had green ruffles and in her right hand she carried a staff and under he cloak she carried a bag.
“Tell me please, why it is you weep?” she asked the widow.
So the widow not knowing what else to do told her how her rent money had been burgled and her cow stolen and that she didn’t know how she was going to feed her baby son, or pay the rent money.
The old woman smiled kindly upon her and opening her bag began tipping out gold coins upon the table and said, “Well now, see here, there is more than enough gold to pay your rent and purchase another good cow!” as the gold formed a heap upon the table. “and it is all yours if you will give me what I ask and at the same time relieve yourself of a huge worry and burden,” and the old woman glanced across the room at the sleeping babe in its cradle.
The widow’s eyes nearly popped out of her head when she saw the big pile of glittering gold coins laying on her kitchen table. She had never seen such huge amount of gold before. She wondered and then nervously glanced across the room at her sleeping son, but said nothing. Then she laughed at the half formed thought. Looking around her kitchen she wondered what she had that the old woman valued so much. Laughing at the poverty she saw around her she said, “Hah! And what do I have of such value that you could possibly want? Tell me and you shall have it!” and then her laughter ceased and she was afraid.
The old lady looked kindly upon her and said, “I can help you. I can give you gold, more than enough to pay your rent, enough to buy a new cow – a herd of cows. I can make you you rich and takes away all of your worries … and your burden.”
“What do you want?” asked the widow fearfully.
“I want to help you. I want to make you rich. I came to take your baby back with me,” said the old woman.
Aghast, the widow realized that the old woman was from the Otherworld and had come for her baby. She begged her frantically not to take her son telling her to take everything else but not her baby. The old woman said, “Take the gold and make yourself rich. Give me the child and relieve yourself of your burden.”
“Surely there is something else I can give, something else I can do for the gold?” begged the widow.
The old woman looked on her kindly and said, “There are two thing that I have to tell you that that may help you decide. The first is that by the laws of my world I cannot take your boy until three days have passed. Then I will return with the gold and you shall keep that and I shall take the boy back to my world with me.”
“That is but one,” said the widow, “tell me the other.”
“The second condition is this. If you can guess my name you win twofold; you keep both the gold and and your baby son.”
Having said that the old woman scooped all of the gold into her bag and walked out the door saying, “I will return in three days for your answer,” and was gone.The widow without her cow and her rent money feared being turned out of her house and spent the night fretting and worrying, not sleeping wink.
After a restless night the widow decided she would visit her relatives who lived several miles away in another village to see if they could help. She asked her neighbor to look after her son while she made the journey on foot to see them. Although they were glad to see her and sorry about the loss of her rent and cow they were so poor they could offer no more than emotional support which the widow needed and understood. Feeling low in spirits she trudged home passing through a wood along the way. In the middle of the wood was a small grassy glade situated just a little way off the path. As the she came near the glade to her surprise she heard someone singing.
Carefully and quietly so as not to disturb them she crept through the trees to the glade to see who it was. Skipping lightly round and round the center of the glade was one of the Otherfolk happily dancing in a circle and singing,
“Ha ha! What a hoot! What’s my name? Silly Doot!”
Round and round the glade she tripped while the widow hid behind a bush listening. Carefully and quietly she left the glade and made her way home as quickly as she could thinking carefully about what she had seen and heard.
On returning home she collected her baby boy from her neighbor, thanking them and set about her daily tasks working as hard as ever. That night she went to bed and slept soundly despite knowing the old woman would return for her baby son in the morning.
The next morning she heard a rap at the door. She opened it and in walked the old woman in green carrying her bag. Wasting no time she sat down at the table and tipped her bag up letting a pile of gold coins fall upon the table, saying, “The time has come. Give me the boy and I will give you the gold, if you want me to help you, or if you guess my name correctly you get to keep both. Are you up for this? Are you ready?”
The widow thought for a moment and then said, “How many guesses can I have and how long have I got?”
“You are allowed as many guesses as you choose and you have all the time there is,” replied the old woman, smiling confidently.
The widow tried name after name, after name, but each time the old woman said, “No!”
The old woman’s eyes began to gleam and she moved her chair nearer the cradle. The widow thought as hard as she could and guessed again and again but each time she was wrong. At last nearing defeat she fell quiet in despair and her mind went back to the previous day to the glade in the wood and the Otherfolk dancing and singing,
“Ha! Ha! What a hoot, what’s my name? Silly Doot!”
“Silly Droot!” cried the widow,
“Your name is Silly Doot!”
The old green woman turned red and then purple with rage, but simultaneously the door flew wide open and a strong gust of wind blew her clean up the chimney and she was gone leaving all of the gold in a big pile upon the table. Whether she was cut to pieces by the scythes in the chimney we do not know but she never came back.
Justice for the Red Bandits
So the widow kept her baby and also the gold. She spent wisely and prudently, buying two good cows, brought a new table and chairs and hid the rest of the coins under the hearth stone. When her baby grew up she gave him a good education and he became one of the judges who hunted down and brought the Red Bandits to justice.
© 02/10/2018 zteve t evans
References, Attributions and Further Reading
Copyright October 2nd, 2018 zteve t evans