Once on a time there was a goody who had a son called Matthew, but he was so stupid that he had no sense for anything, nor would he do much either; and the little he did was always topsy-turvy and never right, and so they never called him anything but 'Silly Matt.'
All this the goody thought bad; and it was still worse she thought that her son idled about and never turned his hand to anything else than yawning and stretching himself between the four walls.
Now close to where they lived ran a great river, and the stream was strong and bad to cross. So, one day, the goody said to the lad, there was no lack of timber there, for it grew almost up to the cottage-wall; he must cut some down and drag it to the bank and try to build a bridge over the river and take toll, and then he would both have something to do and something to live upon besides.
Yes! Matt thought so too, for his mother had said it; what she begged him do, he would do. That was safe and sure he said, for what she said must be so and not otherwise. So he hewed down timber and dragged it down and built a bridge. It didn't go so awfully fast with the work, but at any rate he had his hands full while it went on.
When the bridge was ready, the lad was to stand down at its end and take toll of those who wanted to cross, and his mother bade him be sure not to let any one over unless they paid the toll. It was all the same, she said, if it were not always in money. Goods and wares were just as good pay.
So the first day came three chaps with each his load of hay, and wanted to cross the bridge.
'No! no!' said the lad; 'you can't go over till I've taken the toll.'
'We've nothing to pay it with,' they said.
'Well, then! you can't cross; but it's all the same, if it isn't money. Goods will do just as well.'
So they gave him each a wisp of hay, and he had as much as would go on a little hand-sledge, and then they had leave to pass over the bridge.
Next came a pedlar with his pack, who sold needles and thread, and such like small wares, and he wanted to cross.
'You can't cross, till you have paid the toll,' said the lad.
'I've nothing to pay it with,' said the pedlar.
'You have wares, at any rate.'
So the pedlar took out two needles and gave them him, and then he had leave to cross the bridge. As for the needles, the lad stuck them into the hay, and soon set off home.
So when he got home, he said, 'Now, I have taken the toll, and got something to live on.'
'What did you get?' asked the goody.
'Oh!' said he, 'there came three chaps, each with his load of hay. They each gave me a wisp of hay, so that I got a little sledge-load; and next, I got two needles from a pedlar.'
'What did you do with the hay?' asked the goody.
'I tried it between my teeth; but it tasted only of grass, so I threw into the river.'
'You ought to have spread it out on the byre-floor,' said the goody.
'Well! I'll do that next time, mother,' he said.
'And what then did you do with the needles?' said the goody.
'I stuck them in the hay!'
'Ah!' said his mother. 'You are a born fool. You should have stuck them in and out of your cap.'
'Well! don't say another word, mother, and I'll be sure to do so next time.'
Next day, when the lad stood down at the foot of the bridge again, there came a man from the mill with a sack of meal, and wanted to cross.
'You can't cross till you pay the toll,' said the lad.
'I've no pence to pay it with,' said the man.
'Well! You can't cross,' said the lad; 'but goods are good pay.' So he got a pound of meal, and the man had leave to cross.
Not long after came a smith, with a horse-pack of smith's work, and wanted to cross; but it was still the same.
'You mustn't cross till you've paid the toll,' said the lad. But he too had no money either; so he gave the lad a gimlet, and then he had leave to cross.
So when the lad got home to his mother, the toll was the first thing she asked about.
'What did you take for toll to-day?'
'Oh! there came a man from the mill with a sack of meal, and he gave me a pound of meal; and then came a smith, with a horse-load of smith's-work, and he gave me a gimlet.'
'And pray what did you do with the gimlet?' asked the goody.
'I did as you bade me, mother,' said the lad. 'I stuck it in and out of my cap.'
'Oh! but that was silly,' said the goody; 'you oughtn't to have stuck it out and in your cap; but you should have stuck it up your shirt-sleeve.'
'Ay! ay! only be still, mother; and I'll be sure to do it next time.'
'And what did you do with the meal, I'd like to know?' said the goody.
'Oh! I did as you bade me, mother. I spread it over the byre-floor.'
'Never heard anything so silly in my born days,' said the goody; 'why, you ought to have gone home for a pail and put it into it.'
'Well! well! only be still, mother,' said the lad; 'and I'll be sure to do it next time.'
Next day the lad was down at the foot of the bridge to take toll, and so there came a man with a horse-load of brandy, and wanted to cross.
'You can't cross till you pay the toll,' said the lad.
'I've got no money,' said the man.
'Well, then, you can't cross; but you have goods, of course;' said the lad. Yes; so he got half a quart of brandy, and that he poured up his shirt-sleeve.
A while after came a man with a drove of goats, and wanted to cross the bridge.
'You can't cross till you pay the toll,' said the lad.
Well! he was no richer than the rest. He had no money; but still he gave the lad a little billy-goat, and he got over with his drove. But the lad took the goat and trod it down into a bucket he had brought with him. So when he got home, the goody asked again--
'What did you take to-day?'
'Oh! there came a man with a load of brandy, and from him I got a pint of brandy.'
'And what did you do with it?'
'I did as you bade me, mother; I poured it up my shirt-sleeve.'
'Ay! but that was silly, my son; you should have come home to fetch a bottle and poured it into it.'
'Well! well! be still this time, mother, and I'll be sure to do what you say next time,' and then he went on--
'Next came a man with a drove of goats, and he gave me a little billy-goat, and that I trod down into the bucket.'
'Dear me!' said his mother, 'that was silly, and sillier than silly, my son; you should have twisted a withy round its neck, and led the billy-goat home by it.'
'Well! be still, mother, and see if I don't do as you say next time.'
Next day he set off for the bridge again to take toll, and so a man came with a load of butter, and wanted to cross. But the lad said 'he couldn't cross unless he paid toll.'
'I've nothing to pay it with,' said the man.
'Well! then you can't cross,' said the lad; 'but you have goods, and I'll take them instead of money.'
So the man gave him a pat of butter, and then he had leave to cross the bridge, and the lad strode off to a grove of willows and twisted a withy, and twined it round the butter, and dragged it home along the road; but so long as he went he left some of the butter behind him, and when he got home there was none left.
'And what did you take to-day?' asked his mother.
'There came a man with a load of butter, and he gave a pat.'
'Butter!' said the goody, 'where is it?'
'I did as you bade me, mother,' said the lad. 'I tied a withy round the pat and led it home; but it was all lost by the way.'
'Oh!' said the goody, 'you were born a fool, and you'll die a fool. Now you are not one bit better off for all your toil; but had you been like other folk, you might have had both meat and brandy, and both hay and tools. If you don't know better how to behave, I don't know what's to be done with you. Maybe, you might be more like the rest of the world, and get some sense into you if you were married to some one who could settle things for you, and so I think you had better set off and see about finding a brave lass; but you must be sure you know how to behave well on the way and to greet folk prettily when you meet them.'
'And pray what shall I say to them?' asked the lad.
'To think of your asking that,' said his mother. 'Why, of course, you must bid them "God's Peace," Don't you know that?'
'Yes! yes! I'll do as you bid,' said the lad; and so he set off on his way to woo him a wife.
So, when he had gone a bit of the way, he met Greylegs, the wolf, with her seven cubs; and when he got so far as to be alongside them, he stood still and greeted them with 'God's Peace!' and when he had said that, he went home again.
'I said it all as you bade me, mother,' said Matt.
'And what was that?' asked his mother.
'God's Peace,' said Matt.
'And pray whom did you meet?'
'A she wolf with seven cubs; that was all I met,' said Matt.
'Ay! ay! You are like yourself,' said his mother. 'So it was, and so it will ever be. Why in the world did you say "God's Peace" to a wolf. You should have clapped your hands and said--"Huf! huf! you jade of a she-wolf!" That's what you ought to have said.'
'Well! well! be still, mother,' he said. 'I'll be sure to say so another time;' and with that he strode off from the farm, and when he had gone a bit on the way, he met a bridal train. So he stood still when he had got well up to the bride and bridegroom, and clapped his hands and said: 'Huf! huf! you jade of a she-wolf!' After that he went home to his mother and said--
'I did as you bade me mother; but I got a good thrashing for it, that I did.'
'What was it you did?' she asked.
'Oh! I clapped my hands and called out, "Huf! huf! you jade of a she-wolf!"'
'And what was it you met?'
'I met a bridal train.'
'Ah! you are a fool, and always will be a fool,' said his mother. 'Why should you say such things to a bridal train. You should have said, "Ride happily, bride and bridegroom."'
'Well! well! See if I don't say so next time,' said the lad, and off he went again.
So he met a bear, who was taking a ride on a horse, and Matt waited till he came alongside him, and then he said 'A happy ride to you, bride and bridegroom,' and then he went back to his mother and told her how he had said what she bade him.
'And pray! what was it you said?' she asked.
'I said, 'A happy ride to you both, bride and bridegroom.'
'And whom did you meet?'
'I met a bear taking a ride on a horse,' said Matt.
'My goodness! what a fool you are,' said his mother. 'You ought to have said, "To the de'il with you." That's what you ought to have said.'
'Well! well! mother. I'll be sure to say so next time.'
So he set off again, and this time he met a funeral; and when he had come well up to the coffin, he greeted it and said, 'To the de'il with you!' and then he ran home to his mother, and told her he had said what she bade him.
'And what was that?' she asked.
'Oh! I said, 'To the de'il with you."'
'And what was it you met?'
'I met a funeral,' said Matt; 'but I got more kicks than halfpence!'
'You didn't get half enough,' said the goody. 'Why, of course, you ought to have said, "May your poor soul have mercy." That's what you ought to have said.'
Ay! ay! mother! so I will next time, only be still,' said Matt, and off he went again.
So when he had gone a bit of the way he fell on two ugly gipsies who were skinning a dog. So when he came up to them he greeted them and said, 'May your poor soul have mercy,' and when he had said so he went home and told his mother he had said what she bade him; but all he got was such a drubbing he could scarce drag one leg after the other.
'But what was it you said?' asked the goody.
'May your poor soul have mercy; that was what I said.'
'And whom did you meet?'
'A pair of gipsies skinning a dog,' he said.
'Well! well!' said the goody. 'There's no hope of your changing. You'll always be a shame and sorrow to us wherever you go. I never heard such shocking words. But now, you must set out and take no notice of any one you meet, for you must be off to woo a wife, and see if you can get some one who knows more of the ways of the world and has a better head on her shoulders than yours. And now you must behave like other folk, and if all goes well you may bless your stars, and bawl out, Hurrah!'
Yes, the lad did all that his mother bade him. He set off and wooed a lass, and she thought he couldn't be so bad a fellow after all; and so she said, 'Yes, she would have him.'
When the lad got home the goody wanted to know what his sweetheart's name was; but he did not know. So the goody got angry and said, he must just set off again, for she would know what the girl's name was. So when Matt was going home again he had sense enough to ask her what she was called. 'Well,' she said, 'my name is Solvy; but I thought you knew it already.'
So Matt ran off home, and as he went he mumbled to himself,
Is my darling!
Is my darling?'
But just as he was running as hard as he could to reach home before he forgot it, he tripped over a tuft of grass, and forgot the name again. So when he got on his feet again he began to search all round the hillock, but all he could find was a spade. So he seized it and began to dig and search as hard as he could, and as he was hard at it up came an old man.
'What are you digging for?' said the man. 'Have you lost anything here?'
'Oh yes! oh yes! I have lost my sweetheart's name, and I can't find it again.'
'I think her name is Solvy,' said the man.
'Oh yes, that's it,' said Matt, and away he ran with the spade in his hand, bawling out,
Is my darling!'
But when he had gone a little way he called to mind that he had taken the spade, and so he threw it behind him, right on to the man's leg. Then the man began to roar and bemoan himself as though he had a knife stuck in him, and then Matt forgot the name again, and ran home as fast as he could, and when he got there, the first thing his mother asked was--
'What's your sweetheart's name?'
But Matt was just as wise as when he set out, for he did not know the name any better the last than the first time.
'You are the same big fool, that you are,' said the goody. 'You won't do any better this time either. But now I'll just set off myself and fetch the girl home, and get you married. Meanwhile you must fetch water up to the fifth plank all round the room, and wash it, and then you must take a little fat and a little lean, and the greenest thing you can find in the cabbage garden, and boil them all up together; and when you have done that you must put yourself into fine feather, and look smart when your lassie comes, and then you may sit down on the dresser.'
Yes, all that Matt thought he could do very well. He fetched water and dashed it about the room in floods, but he couldn't get it to stand above the fourth plank, for when it rose higher it ran out. So he had to leave off that work. But now you must know, they had a dog whose name was 'Fat,' and a cat whose name was 'Lean;' both these he took and put into the soup-kettle. As for the greenest thing in the garden, it was a green gown which the goody had meant for her daughter-in-law; that he cut up into little bits, and away it went into the pot; but their little pig, which was called 'All,' he cooked by himself in the brewing tub. And when Matt had done all this he laid hands on a pot of treacle and and a feather pillow. Then he first of all rubbed himself all over with the treacle, and then he tore open the pillow and rolled himself in the feathers, and then he sat down on the dresser out in the kitchen, till his mother and the lassie came.
Now the first thing the goody missed when she came to her house was the dog, for it always used to meet her out of doors. The next thing was the cat, for it always met her in the porch, and when the weather was right down good and the sun shone, she even came out into the yard, and met her at the garden gate. Nor could she see the green gown she had meant for her daughter-in-law either, and her piggy-wiggy, which followed her grunting wherever she went, he was not there either. So she went in to see about all this; but as soon as ever she lifted the latch, out poured the water through the doorway like a waterfall, so that they were almost borne away by the flood, both the goody and the lassie.
So they had to go round by the back door, and when they got inside the kitchen there sat that figure of fun all befeathered.
'What have you done?' said the goody.
'I did just as you bade me, mother,' said Matt. 'I tried to get the water up to the fifth plank, but as fast as ever I poured it in it ran out again, and so I could only get up as high as the fourth plank.'
'Well! well! but "Fat" and "Lean," said the goody, who wished to turn it off; 'what have you done with them?'
'I did as you bade me, mother,' said Matt. 'I took and put them into the soup-kettle. They both scratched and bit, and they mewed and whined, and Fat was strong and kicked against it; but he had to go in at last all the same; and as for "All," he's cooking by himself in the brewing tub in the brew-house, for there wasn't room for him in the soup-kettle.'
'But what have you done with that new green gown I meant for my daughter-in-law?' said the goody, trying to hide his silliness.
'Oh! I did as you bade me, mother. It hung out in the cabbage-garden, and as it was the greatest thing there, I took it and cut it up small, and yonder it boils in the soup.'
Away ran the goody to the chimney-corner, tore off the pot and turned it upside down with all that was in it. Then she filled it anew and put it on to boil. But when she had time to look at Matt she was quite shocked.
'Why is it you are such a figure?' she cried.
'I did as you bade me, mother,' said Matt. 'First I rubbed myself all over with treacle to make myself sweet for my bride, and then I tore open the pillow and put myself into fine feathers.'
Well, the goody turned it off as well as she could, and picked off the feathers from her son, and washed him clean, and put fresh clothes on him.
So at last they were to have the wedding, but first Matt was to go to the town and sell a cow to buy things for the bridal. The goody had told him what he was to do, and the beginning and end of what she said was, he was to be sure to get something for the cow. So when he got to the market with the cow, and they asked what he was to have for her, they could get no other answer out of him than that he was to have something for her. So at last came a butcher, who begged him to take the cow and follow him home, and he'd be sure to give him something for her. Yes, Matt went off with the cow, and when he got to the butcher's house the butcher spat into the palm of Matt's hand, and said--
'There, you have something for your cow, but look sharp after it.'
So off went Matt as carefully as if he trode on eggs, holding his hand shut; but when he had got about as far as the cross-road, which led to their farm, he met the parson, who came driving along.
'Open the gate for me, my lad,' said the parson.
So the lad hastened to open the gate, but in doing so he forgot what he had in his palm, and took the gate by both hands, so that what he got for the cow was left sticking on the gate. So when he saw it was gone he got cross, and said, his reverence had taken something from him.
But when the parson asked him if he had lost his wits, and said he had taken nothing from him, Matt got so wrath he killed the parson at a blow, and buried him in a bog by the wayside.
So when he got home he told his mother all about it, and she slaughtered a billy-goat, and laid it where Matt had laid the parson, but she buried the parson in another place. And when she had done that she hung over the fire a pot of brose, and when it was cooked she made Matt sit down in the ingle and split matches. Meantime she went up on the roof with the pot and poured the brose down the chimney, so that it streamed over her son.
Next day came the sheriff. So when the sheriff asked him, Matt did not gainsay that he had slain the parson, and more, he was quite ready to show the sheriff where he had laid 'his reverence.' But when the sheriff asked on what day it happened, Matt said 'it was the day when it rained brose over the whole world.'
So when he got to the spot where he had buried the parson the sheriff pulled out the billy-goat, and asked--
'Had your parson horns?'
Now when the judges heard the story, they made up their minds that the lad was quite out of his wits, and so he got off scot free.
So after all the bridal was to stand, and the goody had a long talk with her son, and bade him be sure to behave prettily when they sat at table. He was not to look too much at the bride, but to cast an eye at her now and then. Peas he might eat by himself, but he must share the eggs with her, and he was not to lay the leg bones by his side on the table, but to place them tidily on his plate.
Yes, Matt would do all that, and he did it well; yes, he did all that his mother bade him, and nothing else. First, he stole out to the sheepfold, and plucked the eyes out of all the sheep and goats he could find, and took them with him. So when they went to dinner he sat with his back to his bride; but all at once he cast a sheep's eye at her so that it hit her full in her face; and a little while after he cast another, and so he went on. As for the eggs he ate them all up to his own cheek, so that the lassie did not get a taste, but when the peas came he shared them with her. And when they had eaten a while Matt put his feet together, and up on his plate went his legs.
At night, when they were to go to bed, the lassie was tired and weary, for she thought it no good to have such a fool for her husband. So she said she had forgotten something and must go out a little; but she could not get Matt's leave; he would follow her, for to tell the truth, he was afraid she would never come back.
'No! no! lie still, I say,' said the bride. 'See, here's a long hair-rope; tie it round me, and I'll leave the door ajar. So if you think I'm too long away you have only to pull the rope and then you'll drag me in again.'
Yes, Matt was content with that; but as soon as the lassie got out into the yard she caught a billy-goat and untied the rope and tied it round him.
So when Matt thought she was too long out of doors he began to haul in the rope, and so he dragged the billy-goat up into bed to him. But when he had lain a while, he bawled out--
'Mother! mother! my bride has horns like a billy-goat!'
'Stuff! silly boy to lie and bewail yourself,' said his mother. 'It's only her hair-plaits, poor thing, I'm sure.'
In a little while Matt called out again--
'Mother! mother! my bride has a beard like a goat.'
'Stuff! silly boy to lie there and rave,' said the goody.
But there was no rest in that house that night, for in a little while Matt screeched out that his bride was like a billy-goat all over. So when it grew towards morning the goody said--
'Jump up, my son, and make a fire.'
So Matt climbed up to a shelf under the roof, and set fire to some straw and chips, and other rubbish that lay there. But then such a smoke rose, that he couldn't bear it any longer indoors. He was forced to go out, and just then the day broke. As for the goody, she too had to make a start of it, and when they got out the house was on fire, so that the flames came right out at the roof.
'Good luck! good luck! Hip, hip, hurrah!' roared out Matt, for he thought it fine fun to have such an ending to his bridal feast.