Tales about Pixies
Redcap, Redcomb, or Bloody Cap, is a sprite of another sort
from the friendly Brownie. He is cruel and malignant of mood,
and resides in spots which were once the scene of tyranny — such
as Border castles, towers, and peelhouses. He is depicted as a
short thickset old man, with long prominent teeth, skinny fingers
armed with talons like eagles, large eyes of a fiery-red colour,
grisly hair streaming down his shoulders, iron boots, a pikestaff
in his left hand, and a red cap on his head. When benighted or
shelterless travellers take refuge in his haunts, he flings huge
stones at them ; nay, unless he is much maligned, he murders
them outright, and catches their blood in his cap, which thus
acquires its crimson hue.
This ill-conditioned goblin may, however, be driven away by
repeating Scripture words, or holding up the Cross ; he will then
yell dismally, or vanish in a flame of fire, leaving behind him a
large tooth on the spot where he was last seen.
Now here we plainly have the " Redcap sly " who sat in Her-
mitage Castle with the evil Lord Soulis, sorcerer and tyrant alike,
and Warden of the South and West Marshes. To him Redcap
" While thou shalt bear a charmed life,
And hold that life of me,
'Gainst lance and arrow, sword and knife,
I shall thy warrant be,
" Nor forged steel nor hempen baud
Shall e'er thy limbs confine ;
Till threefold ropes of sifted sand
Around thy body twine."
And when the evil lord was taken, and by the aid of Michael
Scott's book," True Thomas," shaped the ropes "sae curiously,"
we are told, that —
Redcap sly unseen was by.
And the ropes would neither twist nor turn.
It was, however, beyond Redcap's power to save his lord from
his final doom, and, as the spae-book directed, Lord Soulis was
boiled to death in a brazen cauldron on the Nine-stane Rig.
I find this goblin referred to in an old proverb given in the
Denham Tracts: " He caps Bogie, Bogie capt Redcap, and Red-
cap capt Old Nick," corresponding with the Lancashire saying,
"He caps Wryneck, and Wryneck caps the Dule," i.e. the Devil.
And Sir Walter Scott says of him : " Redcap is a popular appel-
lation of that class of spirits which haunt old castles. Every
ruined tower in the South of Scotland is supposed to have an in-
habitant of this species."
Mr. Wilkie has recorded the following lines, which he calls
" a common song about Redcap": —
Now Redcap he was there.
And he was there indeed ;
And grimly he girned and glowed,
Wi' his red cowl on his head.
Then Redcap gave a yell,
It was a yell indeed ;
That the flesh neath my oxter grew caold,
It grew as cauld as lead.
Auld Bluidie-cowl ga'ed a gim,
It was a gim indeed ;
Syne my flesh it grew mizzled for fear,
And I stood like a thing that is dead.
Last Redcowl gave a laugh,
It was a langh indeed ;
'Twas mair like a hoarse, hoarse scrough,
Syne a tooth fell out o' his head.
In East Lancashire stands a public-house called Mother Red-
cap, doubtless in allusion to some local tradition of a witch.
There are Redcaps in Holland too, but they have little in
common with the Scottish Redcap, except the name. They are
nearer akin to the Brownie, whom they resemble in their attach-
ment to certain homesteads, in the diligence with which they
perform manual labour, and in their abrupt departure on receiv-
ing a guerdon in the form of clothing. The Dutch Redcaps
light fires during the night, which are invisible save to them-
selves, but warm the house ; and the few sticks they leave of the
Hausfrau's stock of brushwood serve her as long as a great
bundle, and give double the warmth. They are clad in red from
head to foot, and have green hands and faces. A Redcap once
made the fortune of a poor man by doing all the work of his
little farm, and especially by churning at night more butter than
any one else could get from the milk. The man became possessor
of a whole herd of cows, and laid up a stocking-full of shining
dollars. But, prosperity corrupting him , he grew idle and disso-
lute, and finally abused Redcap, and threw the bundle of fire-
wood prepared for him by the gudewife into the well. On this
the sprite disappeared: the wife was seized with illness, the
stocking was only filled with coals, the cows died, and all went
to ruin. The peasant begged and prayed that Redcap would
return, but to no purpose ; he was only answered by the laughs
and jeers of the goblin outside the cottage