The Wandering Young Gentlewoman; or, Catskin
(An English Tale)
[The following version of this ancient English ballad has been
collated with three copies. In some editions it is called
Catskin's Garland; or, the Wandering Young Gentlewoman. The story has a close similarity to that of Cinderella, and is supposed to be of oriental origin. Several versions of it are current in
Scandinavia, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Wales. For some account of it see Pictorial Book of Ballads, ii. 153, edited by Mr. J. S. Moore.]
You fathers and mothers, and children also,
Draw near unto me, and soon you shall know
The sense of my ditty, and I dare to say,
The like's not been heard of this many a day.
The subject which to you I am to relate,
It is of a young squire of vast estate;
The first dear infant his wife did him bear,
It was a young daughter of beauty most rare.
He said to his wife, 'Had this child been a boy,
'Twould have pleased me better, and increased my joy,
If the next be the same sort, I declare,
Of what I'm possessed it shall have no share.'
In twelve months' time after, this woman, we hear,
Had another daughter of beauty most clear;
And when that he knew it was but a female,
Into a bitter passion he presently fell,
Saying, 'Since this is of the same sort as the first,
In my habitation she shall not be nursed;
Pray let her be sent into the countrie,
For where I am, truly, this child shall not be.'
With tears his dear wife unto him did say,
'Husband, be contented, I'll send her away.'
Then to the countrie with speed her did send,
For to be brought up by one was her friend.
Although that her father he hated her so,
He a good education on her did bestow;
And with a gold locket, and robes of the best,
This slighted young damsel was commonly dressed.
And when unto stature this damsel was grown,
And found from her father she had no love shown,
She cried, 'Before I will lay under his frown,
I'm resolved to travel the country around.'
But now mark, good people, the cream of the jest,
In what sort of manner this creature was dressed;
With cat-skins she made her a robe, I declare,
The which for her covering she daily did wear.
Her own rich attire, and jewels beside,
Then up in a bundle by her they were tied,
And to seek her fortune she wandered away;
And when she had travelled a cold winter's day,
In the evening-tide she came to a town,
Where at a knight's door she sat herself down,
For to rest herself, who was tired sore; -
This noble knight's lady then came to the door.
This fair creature seeing in such sort of dress,
The lady unto her these words did express:
'Whence camest thou, girl, and what wouldst thou have?'
She said, 'A night's rest in your stable I crave.'
The lady said to her, 'I'll grant thy desire,
Come into the kitchen, and stand by the fire.'
Then she thanked the lady, and went in with haste;
And there she was gazed on from highest to least.
And, being well warmed, her hunger was great,
They gave her a plate of good food for to eat,
And then to an outhouse this creature was led,
Where with fresh straw she soon made her a bed.
And when in the morning the daylight she saw,
Her riches and jewels she hid in the straw;
And, being very cold, she then did retire
Into the kitchen, and stood by the fire.
The cook said, 'My lady hath promised that thee
Shall be as a scullion to wait upon me;
What say'st thou girl, art thou willing to bide?'
'With all my heart truly,' to him she replied.
To work at her needle she could very well,
And for raising of paste few could her excel;
She being so handy, the cook's heart did win,
And then she was called by the name of Catskin.
The lady a son had both comely and tall,
Who oftentimes used to be at a ball
A mile out of town; and one evening-tide,
To dance at this ball away he did ride.
Catskin said to his mother, 'Pray, madam, let me
Go after your son now, this ball for to see.'
With that in a passion this lady she grew,
And struck her with the ladle, and broke it in two.
On being thus served she quick got away,
And in her rich garments herself did array;
And then to this ball she with speed did retire,
Where she danced so bravely that all did admire.
The sport being done, the young squire did say,
'Young lady, where do you live? tell me, I pray.'
Her answer was to him, 'Sir, that I will tell, -
At the sign of the broken ladle I dwell.'
She being very nimble, got home first, 'tis said,
And in her catskin robes she soon was arrayed;
And into the kitchen again she did go,
But where she had been they did none of them know.
Next night this young squire, to give him content,
To dance at this ball again forth he went.
She said, 'Pray let me go this ball for to view.'
Then she struck with the skimmer, and broke it in two.
Then out of the doors she ran full of heaviness,
And in her rich garments herself soon did dress;
And to this ball ran away with all speed,
Where to see her dancing all wondered indeed.
The ball being ended, the young squire said,
'Where is it you live?' She again answered,
'Sir, because you ask me, account I will give,
At the sign of the broken skimmer I live.'
Being dark when she left him, she homeward did hie,
And in her catskin robes she was dressed presently,
And into the kitchen amongst them she went,
But where she had been they were all innocent.
When the squire dame home, and found Catskin there,
He was in amaze and began for to swear;
'For two nights at the ball has been a lady,
The sweetest of beauties that ever I did see.
'She was the best dancer in all the whole place,
And very much like our Catskin in the face;
Had she not been dressed in that costly degree,
I should have swore it was Catskin's body.
Next night to the ball he did go once more,
And she asked his mother to go as before,
Who, having a basin of water in hand,
She threw it at Catskin, as I understand.
Shaking her wet ears, out of doors she did run,
And dressed herself when this thing she had done.
To the ball once more she then went her ways;
To see her fine dancing they all gave her praise.
And having concluded, the young squire said he,
'From whence might you come, pray, lady, tell me?'
Her answer was, 'Sir, you shall soon know the same,
From the sign of the basin of water I came.'
Then homeward she hurried, as fast as could be;
This young squire then was resolved to see
Whereto she belonged, and, following Catskin,
Into an old straw house he saw her creep in.
He said, 'O brave Catskin, I find it is thee,
Who these three nights together has so charmed me;
Thou'rt the sweetest of creatures my eyes e'er beheld,
With joy and content my heart now is filled.
'Thou art our cook's scullion, but as I have life,
Grant me but thy love, and I'll make thee my wife,
And thou shalt have maids for to be at thy call.'
'Sir, that cannot be, I've no portion at all.'
'Thy beauty's a portion, my joy and my dear,
I prize it far better than thousands a year,
And to have my friends' consent I have got a trick,
I'll go to my bed, and feign myself sick.
'There no one shall tend me but thee I profess;
So one day or another in thy richest dress,
Thou shalt be clad, and if my parents come nigh,
I'll tell them 'tis for thee that sick I do lie.'
Thus having consulted, this couple parted.
Next day this young squire he took to his bed;
And when his dear parents this thing both perceived,
For fear of his death they were right sorely grieved.
To tend him they send for a nurse speedily,
He said, 'None but Catskin my nurse now shall be.'
His parents said, 'No, son.' He said, 'But she shall,
Or else I'll have none for to nurse me at all.'
His parents both wondered to hear him say thus,
That no one but Catskin must be his nurse;
So then his dear parents their son to content,
Up into his chamber poor Catskin they sent.
Sweet cordials and other rich things were prepared,
Which between this young couple were equally shared;
And when all alone they in each other's arms,
Enjoyed one another in love's pleasant charms.
And at length on a time poor Catskin, 'tis said,
In her rich attire again was arrayed,
And when that his mother to the chamber drew near,
Then much like a goddess did Catskin appear;
Which caused her to stare, and thus for to say,
'What young lady is this, come tell me, I pray?'
He said, 'It is Catskin for whom sick I lie,
And except I do have her with speed I shall die.'
His mother then hastened to call up the knight,
Who ran up to see this amazing great sight;
He said, 'Is this Catskin we held in such scorn?
I ne'er saw a finer dame since I was born.'
The old knight he said to her, 'I prithee tell me,
From whence thou didst come and of what family?'
Then who were her parents she gave them to know,
And what was the cause of her wandering so.
The young squire he cried, 'If you will save my life,
Pray grant this young creature she may be my wife.'
His father replied, 'Thy life for to save,
If you have agreed, my consent you may have.'
Next day, with great triumph and joy as we hear,
There were many coaches came far and near;
Then much like a goddess dressed in rich array,
Catskin was married to the squire that day.
For several days this wedding did last,
Where was many a topping and gallant repast,
And for joy the bells rung out all over the town,
And bottles of canary rolled merrily round.
When Catskin was married, her fame for to raise,
Who saw her modest carriage they all gave her praise;
Thus her charming beauty the squire did win;
And who lives so great now as he and Catskin.
Now in the fifth part I'll endeavour to show,
How things with her parents and sister did go;
Her mother and sister of life are bereft,
And now all alone the old squire is left.
Who hearing his daughter was married so brave,
He said, 'In my noddle a fancy I have;
Dressed like a poor man now a journey I'll make,
And see if she on me some pity will take.'
Then dressed like a beggar he went to her gate,
Where stood his daughter, who looked very great;
He cried, 'Noble lady, a poor man I be,
And am now forced to crave charity.'
With a blush she asked him from whence that he came;
And with that he told her, and likewise his name.
She cried 'I'm your daughter, whom you slighted so,
Yet, nevertheless, to you kindness I'll show.
'Through mercy the Lord hath provided for me;
Pray, father, come in and sit down then,' said she.
Then the best provisions the house could afford,
For to make him welcome was set on the board.
She said, 'You are welcome, feed hearty, I pray,
And, if you are willing, with me you shall stay,
So long as you live.' Then he made this reply:
'I only am come now thy love for to try.
'Through mercy, my dear child, I'm rich and not poor,
I have gold and silver enough now in store;
And for this love which at thy hands I have found,
For thy portion I'll give thee ten thousand pound.'
So in a few days after, as I understand,
This man he went home, and sold off all his land,
And ten thousand pounds to his daughter did give,
And now altogether in love they do live.
Dixon, James. Ancient Poems, Ballads, and Songs of the Peasantry of England. London, 1857. Pp. 115-122.