The Three Soldiers

The Three Soldiers

Today's classic tale was from Popular Tales of the Western Highlands, a collection of Scottish folklore collected by JF Campbell through many years of oral history research, and published in 1890.

There was before a regiment in Dublin in Erin, and it was going a long journey. There was a sergeant, a corporal, and a single soldier, who had sweethearts in the town. They went to see them on the day that they were to go, and they stayed too long, and the regiment left them; they followed it, and they were going and going till the night came on them. They saw a light a long way from them; and if it was a long way from them, it was not long they were in reaching it. They went in, the floor was ready swept, and a fire on it, and no one in; they sat at the fire toasting themselves; they were not long there when the single soldier rose, to whom was the name of John, to look what was in the chamber, because there was a light in it. There was there a board covered with every sort of meat, and a lighted candle on it; he went up, he began to eat, and the rest began to hinder him, for that he had no business with it. When they saw that he did not stop, they went up and they began themselves. There were three beds in the chamber, and one of them went to lie in each bed; they had not laid long when three great red girls came in, and one of them stretched herself near each one of the beds; and when they saw the time fitting in the morning, they rose and went away. When the girls rose, it could not be known that a bit had ever come off the board. They sat and they took their meat. The sergeant said that they had better follow the regiment; and John said that they should not follow it; as long as he could get meat and rest that he would not go. When dinner time came they sat and they took their dinner. The sergeant said they had better go; and John said that they should not go. When supper time came they sat and they took their supper; after supping they went to lie down, each one to his own bed. The girls came this night too, and went to lie down as before. In the morning when they saw the time fitting, they rose and they went away. When the lads rose the board was covered, and it could not be known that a bit had ever come off it. They sat and they took their meat; and when they took their meat, the sergeant said that they wouldgo at all events. John said that they should not go. They took their dinner and their supper as they used; they went to lie down; the girls came and they lay down after them. In the morning the eldest gave the sergeant a purse, and every time he would unloose it, it would be full of gold and silver.

She said to the middle one, "What wilt thou give to thine?" "I will give him a towel, and every time he spreads it it will be full of every sort of meat." She gave the towel to the corporal; and she said to the youngest, "What wilt thou give to thine own?" "I will give him a whistle, and every time he plays it he will be in the very middle of the regiment." She gave him the whistle; they left their blessing with them, and they went away. "I wont let it rest here," said John; "I will know who they are before I go further forward." He followed them, and he saw them going down a glen; and when he was about to be down, they came to meet him, crying. "What is the matter with you!" says he. "Much is the matter with us," said they, "that we are under charms, till we find three lads who will spend three nights with us without putting a question to us; and if thou hadst stayed without following us we were free." Is there any way that you can get free but that!" said he. "There is," said they. "There is a tree at the end of the house, and if you come at the end of a day and year and pluck up the tree, we were free." John turned back where the rest were, and he told them how it happened to him; and they gave this advice to each other that they should return back to Dublin again, because it was not worth their while to follow the regiment. They returned back to Dublin.

That night John said, - "I had better go to see the king's daughter to-night." "Thou had'st better stay in the house," said the rest, "than go there."

"I will go there, at all events," says he. He went and he reached the king's house; he struck at the door, one of the gentlewomen asked him what he wanted; and he said that he wished to be speaking to the king's daughter. The king's daughter came where he was, and she asked what business he had with her. "I will give thee a whistle," said he, "and when thou playest it thou wilt be in the middle of such a regiment." When she got the whistle she drove him down stairs, and she shut the door on him. "How went it with thee?" said they. "She wheedled the whistle from me," said he. He did not stop till he had beguiled a loan of the purse from the sergeant. "I had better," said he, "go to see the king's daughter again." He went away and he reached the house; he saw the king's daughter; she wheedled the purse from him, and drove him down stairs, as she did before; and he turned back. He did not stop till he beguiled a loan of the towel from the corporal. He went again where the king's daughter was. "What wilt thou give me this journey?'' said she. "A towel, and when it is opened it will be full of every sort of meat." "Let me see it," said she. "We will spread it out," said he. He spread it out, and there was a comer that would not lie right. He said to her to stand on the comer; she stood on it; he stood himself on another comer, and he wished to be in the uttermost isle of the deep; and himself and the king's daughter, and the towel, were in it in five minutes. There was the very prettiest island that man ever saw, and nothing in it but trees and fruits. There they were, going through the island backwards and forwards, and sleep came on him. They came to a pretty little hollow, and he laid his head in her lap; and he took a death grip of her apron, in order that she should not get away without his perceiving her. When he slept she loosed the apron; she left him there; she took the towel with her; she stood on it; she wished herself to be in her father's house, and she was in it. When he awoke he had nothing to get, he had nothing to see but trees and birds; he was then keeping himself alive with the fruits of the island, and hit upon apples; and when he would eat one sort of them they would put a deer's head on him; and when he would eat another sort of them, they would put it off him.

One day he gathered a great many of the apples, and he put the one sort in the one end of the pock, and the other sort in the other end. He saw a vessel going past, he waved to her; a boat came to shore, and they took him on board. The captain took him down to meat, and he left the pock above. The sailors opened the pock to see what was in it; when they saw that apples were in it, they began to eat them. They ate the sort that would put deers'homs on them, and they began fighting till they were like to break the vessel. When the captain heard the row, he came up; and when he saw them, he said, "Thou bad man, what hast thou done to my men now?" "What," said John, "made thy men so impudent that they would go and look into any man's pock?" "What wilt thou give me," said John, "if I leave them as they were before?" The skipper took fright, and he said that he would give him the vessel and cargo at the first port they reached. Here he opened the pock, and he gave them the other sort, and the horns fell off them. It was a cargo of gold was on the ship, and it was to Dublin she was going. When they arrived the captain said to him to be taking care of the vessel and cargo, that he was done with it. "Be patient," said John, "till we see how it goes with us at the end of a few days." He went away on the morrow to sell the apples about the town with nothing on but torn clothes. He went up through the town, and he came opposite the king's house, and he saw the king's daughter with her head out of the window. She asked that a pound of the apples should be sent up to her. He said she should try how they would agree with her first. He threw up an apple to her of the sort that would put a deer's head on her; when she ate the apple there came a deer's head and horns on her. The king sent forth word, that if any man whatsoever could be found, who would heal his daughter, that he should get a peck of gold, and a peck of silver, and herself to marry. She was thus many days and no man coming that could do any good at all. John came to the door with the torn clothes, asking to get in; and when they saw his like, they would not let him in; but she had a little brother who saw them keeping him out, and he told it to his father; and his father said, "Though it were the beggar of the green!" Word went after him that he should return, and he returned. The king said to him, "Could he heal his daughter?" and he said "that he would try it." They took him up to the chamber where she was. He sat, and he took a book out of his pocket, with nothing in it, pretending that he was reading it. "Didst thou," said he, "Wheedle a whistle from a poor soldier; when he would play it, it would take him to the middle of the regiment?" "I wheedled," said she. "If that is not found," said he, "I cannot heal thee." "It is," says she. They brought the whistle to him. When he got the whistle he gave her a piece of apple, and one of the horns fell off her. "I can't," said he, "do more to-day, but I will come here to-morrow. Then he went out, and his old comrades met him. The trade they had was to be slaking lime and drawing water for stone masons. He knew them, but they did not know him; he noticed nothing at all, but he gave them ten shillings, and he said to them, "Drink the health of the man who gave them." He left them there, and he returned to the ship. On the morrow he went where the king's daughter was; he took out the book, and he said to her, "Didst thou wheedle a pupe from a poor soldier, that would be full of gold and silver every time it was opened?" "I wheedled," said she. "If that is not found," said he, "I cannot heal thee." "It is," said she; and they gave him the purse. When he got the purse he gave her a piece of the apple, and another horn fell off her. "I can do no more to-day," said he, "but I will come the next night." He went where his old comrades were, and he gave them other ten shillings, and he said to them, "To drink the health of the man who gave them." Then he returned to the vessel. The captain said to him, "Was he going to take charge of the vessel now?" Said he, "Catch patience till the end of a day or two, till we see how it goes with us." He returned the next night to see the king's daughter. He gave a pull at the book as he used to do, "Didst thou wheedle," said he, "a towel from a poor soldier, that would be full of every kind of meat every time it was undone?" "I wheedled," said she. "If that towel is not to be found, I cannot cure thee," says he. "It is," says she. They gave it to him; as quick as he got it, he gave her a whole apple; and when she ate it she was as she was before. Here he got a peck of gold and a peck of silver; and they said to him that he would get herself to marry. "I will come to-morrow," said he. He went the way of his old comrades this time too; he gave them ten shillings, and he said to them, "To drink the health of the man who gave them." Said they, "it would be pleasing to us to know what kind friend is giving us the like of this every night." "Have you mind," said he, "when we were in such a place, and that we promised to the three girls that we would go there again a year from the time." Then they knew him. "That time has gone past long ago," said they. "It is not gone," said he; "Next night is the night." He returned where the captain was; he said to him that himself and his cargo might be off; that he would not be troubling him; that he had enough. On the morrow he went past the king's house, and the king's daughter said to him, "Art thou going to marry me to day;"' "No, nor to-morrow," said he. He returned where the rest were, and he began to set them in order for going where they promised. He gave the purse to the sergeant, the towel to the corporal, and the whistle he kept himself. He bought three horses, and they went riding with great haste to the place to which they had promised to go. When they reached the house they caught the tree, and it came with them at the first pull. The three girls came so white and smiling where they were, and they were free from the spells. Every man of them took his own with him; they came back to Dublin, and they married.

From James MacLachlan, servant, Islay


Would you like a FREE collection of classic fairytales to keep?

Download your FREE copy of Once Upon A Time, a collection of fairytales, folktales and legends from all over the world, from Ancient Rome to the present day. Be warned: these are the original tales, before they were censored to be suitable for children. 

Loved this? Spread the word

About the Author

USA Today bestselling author Demelza Carlton has always loved the ocean, but on her first snorkelling trip she found she was afraid of fish.
She has since swum with sea lions, sharks and sea cucumbers and stood on spray-drenched cliffs over a seething sea as a seven-metre cyclonic swell surged in, shattering a shipwreck below.
Sensationalist spin? No - Demelza tends to take a camera with her so she can capture and share the moment later; shipwrecks, sharks and all.
Demelza now lives in Perth, Western Australia, the shark attack capital of the world.

Demelza Carlton

Related posts

Swamp Soup

​Read More

Zoticus: Master Assassin, Pied Piper…but can he stop the plague?

​Read More

The Three Dogs

​Read More

The Three Musicians

​Read More

Love free books? Take this quiz and get up to 9 free books perfect for you!