As told by Sheila Kinninmouth, from her book Fife Folktales
Sheila says: “My original source for these stories is The Folklore Society, Examples of Folklore Concerning Fife, by Ewart Simpkins John, printed in 1912.”
There once was a woman living in the Kingdom of Fife who had two sons, both called Jock. The laddies were good to their mother, helping about the house and looking after the few cattle they had.
One day the elder of the two said, “Mother, it’s time I went to make my own way in the world and seek my own fortune, whatever that may be.”
Now the woman was sad that her son wanted to leave but she understood that this was the way of things. So she sent him to the well for water so she could make him a bannock for the journey. She gave him a cracked dish and a sieve and told him that the more water he brought back, the bigger the bannock she would be able to make. So Jock set off for the well and there, sitting on a rock was a wee bird. As Jock approached the bird piped up,
“Stuff it with moss and clag it with clay and that will carry the water away.”
But Jock thought there was no way he was letting a bird tell him what to do so he took the water home in the cracked dish but there was only a wee drop left for his mother and so she just baked him a wee bannock. He put the bannock in his pocket and set of on his journey to seek his fortune.
He had been walking for an hour or two when he decided to sit down to eat his bannock. A wee bird, the same wee bird from before, came and landed beside him.
“If you give me a bit of your bannock, I’ll give you a feather from my wing to make lulls,” said the bird.
“Away with you,” said Jock, “I’ve hardly enough to feed myself never mind give you a bit. Now shoo.”
Well the wee bird flew away and Jock walked on till he came to a big house.
“Maybe I can get some work here,” he thought. So he went up to the house and knocked on the door. After a while it was opened by an old woman. “What do you want?” she asked.
“I’m looking for work. Is there any going?”
“And what kind of work can you do?”
“Well,” said Jock, “I can carry ashes, wash dishes, dig the garden and herd cattle.”
“Herd cattle, can you? How do you think you would do herding hares?”
“I think I could manage that,” said Jock, thinking it sounded it a bit strange.
“Well then,” said the woman, ” if you can go down to the field and take care of the hares and bring them all home tonight , you’ll get to marry the daughter of the house.”
Jock thought that sounded fine. He was sure he could manage some hares and if he married the daughter he would have made his fortune no bother. So he went down to the field where there was twenty four hares all running about and one lame one sitting by itself. Jock thought that this was going to be easy as he sat down on a rock by the gate to watch the hares. But after a while he started to feel a bit hungry. All he’d had to eat all day had been the wee bannock his mum had made. As his stomach began to rumble he thought to himself that no-one would miss the lame hare, so he grabbed it, snapped its neck and set a fire to roast it. It didn’t take long but he was so busy thinking about himself that he didn’t notice the other hares had been watching him and now they had all disappeared into the walls and hedges to hide. When nightfall came Jock searched the field and all the other fields but not one hare could he find. So he returned to the house and when the folk there saw he hadn’t brought back any hares they just hanged him.
Meanwhile, back at the farm the second son was thinking it was time he too went out into the world to seek his fortune. Now the woman was even sadder that this son wanted to leave her all on her own. But she understood this was the way of things. So she sent him to the well for water so she could make a bannock for the journey. She gave him the same dish and sieve and told him the more water he brought back the bigger the bannock he would get. So he set off for the well and when he got there the wee bird was waiting for him. It piped up:
“Stuff it with moss and clag it with clay and that will carry the water away.
“Thank you, “he said, “that’s a good idea, I’ll do that.”
So he lined the sieve and dish with moss and clay and took a full sieve and a full dish back to his mother so she made him a fine big bannock. The next day he put the bannock in his pocket and set off. It wasn’t long till he began to feel hungry so he sat down to eat his bannock. He had just broken a bit off when the wee bird appeared. “That’s a fine big bannock you have there. If you give me a bit I’ll give you a feather from my wing to make lulls with.”
Jock thought that sounded a good trick so he gave the bird a bit of bannock and it let him pull a feather from his wing and it turned into a great set of pipes right before his eyes. Jock was delighted and he set off on his journey again playing himself a tune as he went, till he came to the big house. “Maybe I’ll get some work here,” he thought, knocking on the door. The housekeeper answered and he asked for work. “What kind of work can you do?” she asked.
“All kinds of things about the house and I’m a dab hand at looking after cattle and other beasts,” he replied.
“Well do you think you could take care of hares?”
“I’ve never done that before but I’m sure I could give it a go. What are the wages?”
“If you take care of the hares all day and bring them all back tonight then you’ll get to marry the daughter of the house, but if you don’t you’ll be hanged.”
Jock was a bit surprised but he thought he would manage, so he agreed.
He was sent down to the field where he too found twenty four hares and one lame one. The hares were all running around but they stopped and looked at Jock who swung the pipes up to his mouth and began to play. The hares jumped around to the tune and Jock spent most of the day this way with the hares leaping around and the lame one lying listening to every note. After a while Jock felt a bit hungry so he pulled out the last bit of the bannock and had it for his tea. When it came time to go back, he led the hares up the road playing a tune and carrying the lame one inside his jacket. When he got back the master and the housekeeper were delighted to see him and were delighted to hear him play the pipes. It wasn’t long before he was married to the daughter of the house and after time, when the master died, Jock took his place and he lived a long and happy life playing his pipes every day.