Habetrot and the Scantlie Mab

A woman had one fair daughter, who loved play better than work, wandering in the meadows and lanes better than the spinning-wheel and distaff. The mother was heartily vexed at this, for in those days no lassie had any chance of a good husband unless she was an industrious spinster. So she coaxed, threatened, even beat her daughter, but all to no purpose; the girl remained what her mother called her, ‘an idle cuttie’.

At last, one spring morning, the gudewife gave her seven heads of lint, saying she would take no excuse; they must be returned in three days spun into yarn. The girl saw her mother was in earnest, so she plied her distaff as well as she could; but her hands were all untaught, and by the evening of the second day only a very small part of her task was done. She cried herself to sleep that night, and in the morning, throwing aside her work in despair, she strolled out into the fields, all sparkling with dew. At last she reached a knoll, at whose feet ran a little burn, shaded with woodbine and wild roses; and there she sat down, burying her face in her hands. When she looked up, she was surprised to see by the margin of the stream an old woman, quite unknown to her, drawing out the thread as she basked in the sun. There was nothing very remarkable in her appearance, except the length and thickness of her lips, only she was seated on a self-bored stone. The girl rose, went to the good dame, and gave her a friendly greeting, but could not help inquiring:

‘What makes you so long lipped?’

‘Spinning thread, my hinny,’ said the old woman, pleased with her. ‘I wet my fingers with my lips, as I draw the thread from the distaff.

‘Ah!’ said the girl, ‘I should be spinning too, but it’s all to no purpose. I shall ne’er do my task’: on which the old woman proposed to do it for her. Overjoyed, the maiden ran to fetch her lint, and placed it in her new friend’s hand, asking where she should call for the yarn in the evening; but she received no reply; the old woman passed away from her among the trees and bushes. The girl, much bewildered, wandered about a little, sat down to rest, and finally fell asleep by the little knoll.

When she awoke she was surprised to find that it was evening. Causleen, the evening star, was beaming with silvery light, soon to be lost in the moon’s splendour. While watching these changes, the maiden was startled by the sound of an uncouth voice, which seemed to issue from below the self-bored stone, close beside her. She laid her ear to the stone and heard the words: ‘Hurry up, Scantlie Mab, for I’ve promised the yarn and Habetrot always keeps her promise.’ Then looking down the hole saw her friend, the old dame, walking backwards and forwards in a deep cavern among a group of spinsters all seated on colludie stones, and busy with distaff and spindle. An ugly company they were, with lips more or less disfigured, like old Habetrot’s. Another of the sisterhood, who sat in a distant corner reeling the yarn, was marked, in addition, by grey eyes, which seemed starting from her head, and a long hooked nose.

While the girl was still watching, she heard Habetrot address this dame by the name of Scantlie Mab, and say, ‘Bundle up the yarn, it is time the young lassie should give it to her mother.’ Delighted to hear this, the girl got up and returned homewards. Habetrot soon overtook her, and placed the yarn in her hands. ‘Oh, what can I do for ye in return?’ exclaimed she, in delight. ‘Nothing — nothing,’ replied the dame; ‘but dinna tell your mother who spun the yarn.’

Scarcely believing her eyes, the girl went home, where she found her mother had been busy making sausters, and hanging them up in the chimney to dry, and then, tired out, had retired to rest. Finding herself very hungry after her long day on the knoll, the girl took down pudding after pudding, fried and ate them, and at last went to bed, too. The mother was up first the next morning, and when she came into the kitchen and found her sausters all gone, and the seven hanks of yarn lying beautifully smooth and bright upon the table, she ran out of the house wildly, crying out —

‘My daughter’s spun seven, seven, seven,
My daughter’s eaten seven, seven, seven,
And all before daylight.’

A laird who chanced to be riding by heard the exclamation, but could not understand it; so he rode up and asked the gudewife what was the matter, on which she broke out again —

‘My daughter’s spun seven, seven, seven.
My daughter’s eaten seven, seven, seven

before daylight; and if ye dinna believe me, why come in and see it.’ The laird, he alighted and went into the cottage, where he saw the yarn, and admired it so much he begged to see the spinner.

Part 2
Weaving / Spinning Goddesses


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