Cap O'Rushes & The Smallest Elfen
With stories from Joseph Jacobs and CC Hogan
Episode 12 - Saturday, 15 February 2020
On Episode Twelve of Deep in the Dark Forest, I have two stories for you.
The main story is from English Fairy Tales, a book curated and edited by Joseph Jacobs, the man who brought us Jack and the Beanstalk and others.
Cap O'Rushes (Cape of Rushes) is one of many tales that fits in the girl dances with prince and he falls in love with her - the most famous being Cinderella.
This version is a little nicer (not chopped off toes!) and has a very sweet end.
The second story is one of mine and it taken from my current massive "work in progress" - The Unicorns Tales. This is the story of The Smallest Elfen and the Big Fish, which is taken from Aelwen Jones and the Crystal Hand.
I like this story, not just because I wrote it, but because it is a story for little children, and yet in my book is told by a teenage girl to her teenage friends. And I rather like the music wot I wrote for it!
Welcome to episode twelve of Deep in the Dark Forest, with me, CC Hogan. And if this is your first time here, don’t worry about starting twelve episodes in – you are free to listen in any order you please!
Two stories for you today!
The first is a story from the collection of English folk stories edited by Joseph Jacobs. And I am following that with one of my own. This one is a story for young children, but it is told by a teenager to her teenage friends. If you are young, well younger than me, try it. It is a lot of fun. Dig around for stories or write your own. That way you can talk about the things that matter to you. A nice way to enjoy company and share a tale.
But first to the story of Cap O’Rushes. I like this story. It is part of a group of stories that have the theme of a girl working in the kitchens and dancing with the rich young man. Cinderella is the most famous of theses, of course.
This one is not so nasty, however, and is rather fun. I like it. So here is the tale of Cap O’Rushes, from the story published by Joseph Jacobs.
From the collections by Joseph Jacobs
At one time, in one place, in one land, there lived a very rich gentleman, and living with him were his three beautiful daughters. On a day, he thought to himself, “I wonder how much each of my daughters loves me? For I love all of them.” So he says to the first, “How much do you love me, my dear?”
“Why,” says she, “as I love my life, father.”
He smiled warmly. “And I love you as much,” says he.
So he says to the second, “How much do you love me, my dear?”
“Why,” says she, “better than all the world laid before me.”
“That’s good,” says he, “for I love you as much.”
Then he says to the third, “How much do you love me, my dear?”
And the third daughter who was the youngest and always the most playful, says, “Why, I love you as fresh meat loves salt!”
The rich gentlemen was angry, for he had been compared to meat and salt. “Then you don’t love me at all,” says he, his voice in a fury, “and in my house you shall stay no more!” So he drove her out there and then, and shut the door in her face.
The third daughter, having a soul of happiness and hopefulness, went on her way, and travelled far across the county till she came to a fen. There she gathered together fine rushes, and she wove them into a bonnie cape with a hood to cover her from head to toe, and to hide her fine clothes. And, now dressed a simple girl, she travelled on until she found herself at the gate of a great house.
“Kind madam,” she said to the mistress of household staff, disguising her voice, “do you want a maid?”
“No, we don’t,” said the housekeeper.
“I haven’t nowhere to go,” says she; “and I ask no wages, and will do any sort of work.”
“Well,” says the housekeeper, “if you are happy to wash the pots and scrape the saucepans you may stay. But I warn thee, it can be a hard graft for the fire bakes the grease like iron.”
And so the daughter stayed in the kitchens of the great house, and she washed the pots and scraped the saucepans and did all the dirty work. And she did it well, for she always carried hope in her heart. And because she gave no name, and always wore the cape she had made, the people of the house called her “Cap O’Rushes.”
One day, the housekeeper said there was to be a great dance in the Grand Hall in the town, and all the servants were allowed to go and watch while the grand people danced the night away. Cap O’Rushes said she was too tired to go, so she stayed at home.
But when the other servants were gone, she offed with her Cap O’Rushes, and scrubbed herself clean, and ran all the way to the dance. And no one there was so finely dressed as her. She danced and twirled, he happy face aglow, and everyone watched this beautiful girl in her dress so fine.
Well, who else should be there but the young son of the master whose pots and pans she scrubbed every day. And what else should he do but fall in love with her the minute he set eyes on her. From that moment on, he refused all other dances, and he took the beautiful girl by the hand, and they danced like no other couple.
But before the dance was done, Cap O’Rushes slipped away, and trotted quickly home. And when the other maids returned, the found their friend pretending to be asleep, wearing her rush cape, and hiding a secret smile beneath the hood.
Next morning, they says to her, “You did miss a sight, Cap O’Rushes!”
“Why? What was that?” says she, innocent of face.
“Why, the beautifullest lady you ever did see, dressed right gay and fine. The young master, he never took his eyes off her. Right besotted was he. And she danced him silly!”
“I should have loved to have seen her,” says Cap O’Rushes, giggling with her friends.
“Well, there’s to be another dance this evening, and perhaps she’ll be there.”
But, come the evening, Cap O’Rushes said she was too tired to go with them again, and she feigned the biggest of yawns. Howsoever, when they were gone, she offed with her Cap O’Rushes, scrubbed herself clean, and away she went to the dance.
The master’s son had been reckoning on seeing her, and he would dance with no one else. And as soon as she arrived, he took her by the hand and never once took his eyes off her. But, once more, before the dance was over, she slipped away, and home she went as quick as anything. And when the maids returned from the dance, chatting and laughing, they hushed themselves with giggles, for Cap O’Rushes was pretending to be asleep and was hiding a giggle of her own.
Next day they said to her again, “Well, Cap O’Rushes, you should ha’ been there to see the lady. So fine she was. So gay and happy and beautiful. And the young master he never took his eyes off her, not for one minute he didn’t. You could see he has fallen right and proper.”
“Well, there,” says Cap O’Rushes, “I should ha’ liked to ha’ seen her.”
“Well,” says they, “there’s a dance again this evening, and you must go with us, for she’s sure to be there.”
Well, come the evening, Cap O’Rushes said she was too tired to go, and do what they would to persuade her otherwise, she insisted and sent them on their way. But the very moment they were gone, she offed with her Cap O’Rushes and scrubbed away all the grit and grime of the day, and away she went to the dance.
The master’s son was overjoyed when she twirled into the Grand Hall. He ran up to her, his eyes sparkling with love, and they danced together and with no others, and not once did they take their eyes from each other. But as much as he asked, she would not tell him her name till it became almost a game between them, and neither would she tell him where she came from. So, at last, he gave her a ring and he told her solemnly that if he never saw her again he should die of a broken heart.
Well, before the dance was over, off she slipped, and home she went, and when the maids returned she was once again pretending to be asleep with her Cap O’Rushes on. But beneath the hood, she held on her young face, the happiest of smiles.
Well, next day the maids said to her, “There, Cap O’Rushes, you didn’t come last night, and now you won’t see the lady, for there’s no more dances. Not for a long time.”
“I should have liked to have seen her,” says she. “She sounds such a happy soul!”
“And she was,” says they, “and so was he until she left, for then he was right glum he was!”
The master’s son tried every way to find out where the lady was gone, but go where he might, and ask whom he might, he never heard one word about her. His heart was breaking, for he loved her with all that he was, and became sick with loss and he took to his bed.
“Make some gruel for my son,” said the master to the cook. “For he is dying for the love of a young lady, and I do not know what to do.”
The cook set about making fine broth when Cap O’Rushes came in carrying a sparkling pot she had been scouring.
“What are you a-doing?” says she to the cook.
“I’m making a gruel for the young master,” says the cook, “for he’s dying for love of the lady he met at the dance.”
“Oh, let me make it,” says Cap O’Rushes.
“You, girl? I am pleased you are so keen, but you are not the cook. And the master would be displeased if any other prepared gruel for his son.”
“Please let me. I know how and I will make it special!”
Well, the cook wouldn’t at first, but at last she said yes, and Cap O’Rushes made the broth and the gruel. And when she was done, she slipped the ring into it on the sly before the cook took it upstairs.
The sad young man sipped at the gruel, spoonful by spoonful, until he reached the bottom of the bowl. And there he saw the ring, glinting among the oats.
“Send for the cook,” says the young man, sitting up straight.
The cook was called and she came rushing up for she feared something had been wrong with the gruel.
“Who made this gruel here?” demanded the young man.
“I did,” says the cook, for she was frightened to tell him otherwise.
The young man looked at the elderly and rounded cook who has served the house from before he was born.
“No, you didn’t, cook,” says he in a kindly voice. “Say who did, and you shan’t be harmed.”
“I am sorry, young master,” says she, “but it was the girl in the scullery who scrubs the pans. She be called Cap O’Rushes, and she right insisted she made the gruel for thee.”
“Then send for Cap O’Rushes here,” says he. “As quick as you can.”
So they called for Cap O’Rushes, who came in wearing her rush cape and hood and curtsied, trying to hide the little smile on her face.
“Tell me quick,” said the young master, “did you make my gruel?”
“Yes, I did, young master,” says she.
“And tell me fast, girl, where did you get this ring?” And he held it up before her.
“From him that gave it me,” says she.
“Who are you, then?” says the young man, hope written across his face.
“I’ll shall show you,” says she. And she offed with her Cap O’Rushes, and there she was in her beautiful clothes.
Never did a young man recover from great illness so quickly. Cap O’Rushes fed him gruel every day till he was back on his feet, his cheeks red with life, and his heart beating strongly once more. And it was a bare tick of time before they announced they were to be married.
It was to be a very grand wedding held in the Grand Hall where they had first met. And everyone was invited from all across the county. Even Cap O’Rushes’ father was asked. For he was a great man himself. But still, Cap O’Rushes refused to tell anyone her name. And she still laughed with the maids, for they were her friends.
As the day of the wedding approached, Cap O’Rushes went to see the cook.
“Dearest Cook, I want you to dress every dish without even a mite of salt.”
“That’ll be rare nasty,” says the cook. “For without salt, the meat will be bland.”
“That doesn’t matter,” said Cap O’Rushes. “Do it for me?”
“Very well,” says the kindly cook. “But I know not what you are playing at, girl!”
Well, the wedding-day came, and the young master and Cap O’Rushes were married. And after the ceremony, all the grand company sat down to the fine dinner prepared by the cook. But when they began to eat the meat, it was so tasteless, so bland they could hardly swallow it. Cap O’Rushes’ father tried first one dish and then another, and then another, and none were good. And as he did, the tears began to fall down his old face.
“What is the matter, sir?” asked the young master.
“Oh, woe is me, young man!” says he, “I once had a daughter. As beautiful and happy as maybe. And I asked her how much she loved me. And she said ‘As much as fresh meat loves salt.’ I believed she cared not a wit for me, and I turned her from my door.” The father poked the bland dish with his fork. “And now I see she loved me best of all. For meat truly loves salt, and she must have truly loved me. And now I am broken, for she may be dead for aught I know.”
“No, father,” says Cap O’Rushes, her heart full of hope. She knelt by him and took his hand. “For here she is!” And her father took her in his arms and wept.
And they were happy ever after.
More than a hint of Cinderella here! But at least in this case Cap O’Rushes is treated well by all and never loses her happy heart. One of the things I love about these old tales is the way the ignore the obvious. For this entire story, Cap O’Rushes wears her rush cape with her fine dress underneath. I suspect the has been working in the kitchens for some time. Surely, her clothes, both layers, would be wrecked!
And how is it that fine young gentlemen only appear to be able to recognise people by the clothes they wear?
On a more sombre note, these stories, though fanciful, do shine a little light on the so-called good old days. For though in the story, the servants of the household appear to be a merry bunch, when it comes to the grand dance, they can only go there as spectators. They are the wrong class, and it would not be seemly for them to dance with the masters, as it were. Most folk tales, like this one, have nothing to say about it, and the writers and editors probably approved of the system. It took people like Hans Christian Andersen and Dickens in this same era to highlight inequality. Few others ever did.
The second story today is taken from a series I am writing. It is the same series that I took the Fox and the Dove from. And if you heard that tale, you will recognise the name Instio the Bard who gets a quick mention here.
Aelwen Jones is a Dru, which is what the people of the world of Ferenland call a magician. In my stories, magic is called drucraft, and sometimes a dru will use runes to create the most wonderful spells and tricks. Elves are sometimes called Elfena, and one elf is an Elfen.
The Smallest Elfen and the Big Fish
by CC Hogan
Aelwen wasn’t the storyteller Instio was, nowhere close, but she did her best. It was only a short story, and it was really for very small children, but her little audience sat through the entire show with their mouths hanging open.
“The story of the smallest elfen and the big fish!” announced Aelwen the Bard. With her wonderful drucraft, and running her finger slowly around the drulic runes, she released the story from the tiles. A small village appeared above the fire. It was like a hologram, but it had far more depth, and seemed to be created from charcoals and pastels like a beautiful animation. The village was built on a steep, rocky coast, the little houses wandering down the rocks to the sea. The waves crashed upon the harbour wall, and the sound of the sea flowed around their camp. The view changed, and they were all drawn towards the village where stood a little island elf, her skin ebony, and her black hair tied in huge bunches. Aelwen smiled and took a breath. As she wove the tale, moving from wooden tile to wooden tile, the words danced in her head for her to repeat, and the wonderful children’s story played out in sounds and abstract pictures above the fire, against the darkening sky.
Her name was Sea-Blossom, and she was ever so little. Her daddy was bigger than her, her mummy was bigger than her, her brother was bigger than her, and even their little pony was bigger than her. Everyone was bigger than Sea-Blossom. But dear little Sea-Blossom was only seven years old.
Sea-Blossom lived in a little village of little houses that were built on terraced paths on a steep cliff by the ocean. One day, Sea-Blossom walked to the woods that grew on the top of the cliff.
“Oh, why am so little?” asked Sea-Blossom of a great cedar tree that grew red and tall against the sky. “I am the smallest elfen ever!”
“All elfena are small, Sea-Blossom,” said the tree, looking down on the little elfen. “Even your cottages are small!” And so saying, the great cedar shook his branches, and his leaves rained down like snow on the cottages below.
Sea Blossom sighed. “But I am even smaller!” The great cedar laughed out loud, and the other cedars joined in, so Sea-Blossom turned her back, and walked down to the long beach.
There, at the bottom of the cliff, she sat on a huge boulder.
“Oh, why am so little?” cried the elfen. “I am the smallest elfen ever!”
“All elfena are small,” rumbled the cliff. “Even the wide beach is smaller than me and the trees on my head!” And so saying, the cliff rumbled all the more, and made the pebbles dance around his rocky toes and the cedars hang on tightly with their roots.
“But I am even smaller!” said the little elfen. The cliff laughed out loud and so did all the boulders. So little Sea-Blossom walked to the harbour and looked out to the west.
“Oh, why am I so little?” asked Sea-Blossom of the sea, watching the waves roll in from the never-ending ocean. “I am the smallest elfen ever!”
“All elfena are small, Sea-Blossom,” boomed the sea like a storm. “Even your island and its mighty cliffs are small compared to me!” And so saying, the sea rolled himself up into a huge wave, and crashed into the cliffs. The water sprayed so high that it rained down upon the cedars which grew on the clifftop.
Sea-Blossom sighed. “But I am even smaller.” The sea laughed at her and do did his children the waves, so she turned her back, and walked along the beach and across the rocks till she reached a large pool. She sat on the edge of the pool and dangled her little toes in the cool water.
“Oh, why am so little?” mumbled the little elfen. “I am the smallest elfen ever.” As she spoke, a big fish poked her head out of the water. “Even you are bigger than me,” said the sad little elfen.
“I may be bigger than you, child,” said the fish, “but my daughters are smaller than you. And my sons are smaller than you. And all the slipper fish and aelfisc are smaller than you. But you should see us when we swim! Come, climb on my back. And when the ocean, which is the biggest of them all, raises his huge wave, we will swim right to the crest and dance in the white water together. For however little you may be, Sea-Blossom, you can still climb the highest mountain.”
And when the elfena of the village walked down to the harbour to take in their lines, there, lit by the setting sun, and dancing on the crest of the biggest wave, was little Sea-Blossom, sitting astride a great big fish. And with her, swam all the little fishes of the sea, laughing and singing until it was time for bed.
And there you go. A short story taken from my book Aelwen Jones and the Crystal Hand, which is book six in my still to be published series, The Unicorn Chronicles. Wish me luck!
On another note, I have been working on a series of audiobooks written by the great science fiction author Neil Barrett Jnr, who sadly died a few years back. The Aldair books are set in a distant future where the world is populated by intelligent beasts – pigs, wolves, lizards, bears and more. It is told by Aldair the Venicii as he struggles to find his place in the world, and discover who he really is. There are four books in the series, and they are wonderful story. They were first published in the 1970s, and have been republished by crossroads press, starting with book one, Aldair in Albion. The audiobooks are out on Audible and iTunes, and I have put a link in the show notes.
And that is all for this episode. Don’t forget to leave me a review or even just a rating wherever you found this, or say something nice on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag Deep in the Dark Forest. It would be lovely to hear from you and I will read out the nicest or funniest comments in the show.
You have been listening to Deep in the Dark Forest. I am CC Hogan, and I wish you good fortune as you travel on your way.