Silken Janet
or
Mucketty Meg

[From the collection of Ruth L. Tongue, who designated it “A North-Country Tale, told by an old Lancashire lady, 1939.” (The teller of this tale was an evacuee from the city. Her grandparents were Cumberland and Westmorland on her mother’s side, and Durham and Northumberland on her father’s, but she herself was born in Lancashire, and married a Lancastrian.)]
Blue eye beauty,
Brown eye bonny,
Grey eye grumpy,
Green eye greedy,
Black eye pick the pie,
Lie in bed and tell a lie.

There was a pretty lass they called Jane, but she was proud and greedy and very poor. She thought her looks made a lady of her, and she wouldn’t lift a finger to sweep or dust or clean herself, or help on the farm, or mind the sheep.

She said they were dirty, and when they answered her, “Dirty beast,” she didn’t like it.

She wouldn’t milk the cows, she said they were mucky, and when they answered her “Mucky Minny,” she didn’t like that either.

As for the pigs, she said they smelled, and when they answered, “Stinking slut,” she liked it no better.

One day she stole some silk from a Ladies’ Bower on the Fairy Knowe and made herself a fine gown over her old rags, but she didn’t wash; then she went to walk on the Fairy Knowe, and when they saw her on their land, in all her dirt and stolen finery, they had a mind to punish her. So all the beasts began to call out at her:

Silken Janet she wears a fine gown,
She stole it, she stole it from Down a Down,
She never paid a penny,
Because she hadn’t any.

They made such a racket that people heard, and they caught Silken Janet, and were going to take away her fine dress, but it was so dirty they said she should be hanged in it. Then she cried out to the beasts to help her, but they all answered:

Nobody likes a grimy lass,
Nobody wants a stinking slut,
Nobody needs a dirty beast,
Go away and roll in the muck.

Well, she couldn’t anyway, even if she wanted to.

Then she cried out to the lads, “Will you not help a pretty lass?” But they answered her:

Nobody likes a grimy lass,
Nobody likes a stinking slut,
Nobody wants a dirty beast,
Go away and roll in the muck.

And she couldn’t anyway, and the hangman got the rope round her neck—and then she saw a fine gentleman in green, and called out to him, “Will you not save a pretty lass?”

And he said, “Leave it to me, but you must pay me your two blue eyes.”

“What will I see with?” she begged.

“Green ones,” said he, and took away her blue ones, and left her with green.

Well, she cried, but the rope was still there. “I’Il give you my fine golden gown,” she said.

“It’s stolen! I’ll not touch it. I want real gold,” he said.

“I have none,” she cried.

“There’s all your pretty gold hair under the dirt. I’ll take that.”

And he cut it all off.

“Now go and wash it in the river.”

And she got out of the rope and the crowd, and ran down to the river so fast she fell right in.

When she climbed out, she had lost the tresses of hair, so she sat and cried. But nobody came to hang her, and when she looked down, the golden gown had been washed off her, and her rags were clean as a gowan.

Then the pig came by. “Good morning, clean lass,” said he.

Then a sheep came by. “Pretty clean curly locks,” said she.

Then a cow came by with a pail on her horns. “I’ll let you milk me, my clean pretty lass,” she said. “There’s a crowd looking for a dirty golden slut that was to be hanged, and I don’t want them to have my milk.”

So she set to milking, and did it quite well. And when the crowd came by, she kept her face hid against the cow. But the gentleman in green took her by the hair and looked at her. “This is a clean lass,” he said. “ She’s got a lint-white linen gown, and curly lint-white locks. She’s got green eyes! They were so disappointed they threw her in the river again.

When she climbed out this time, she couldn’t see any crowd, or any gallows, or any gentleman in green. She was all in her washed rags, and her long golden hair hung down to dry about her, and she was on the Fairy Knowe.

“I best be out of here,” she said, and ran for home. She ran till her dry rags fluttered in the wind, and her golden hair streamed out around her and she met a young farmer.

“Good morning, blue eyes,” he said. “I’m looking for a clean pretty wife to work all her days. Will you marry me?”

“That I will gladly,” said Silken Janet.

*

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