At the time when the Tuatha De Dannan held the sovereignty of Ireland, there reigned in Leinster a king, who was remarkably fond of hearing stories. Like the other princes and chieftains of the island, he had a favourite story-teller, who held a large estate from his Majesty, on condition of telling him a new story every night of his life, before he went to sleep. Many indeed were the stories he knew, so that he had already reached a good old age without failing even for a single night in his task; and such was the skill he displayed that whatever cares of state or other annoyances might prey on the monarch's mind, his story-teller was sure to send him to sleep.
One morning the story-teller arose early, and as his custom was, strolled out into his garden turning over in his mind incidents which he might weave into a story for the king at night. But this morning he found himself quite at fault; after pacing his whole demesne, he returned to his house without being able to think of anything new or strange. He found no difficulty in "there was once a king who had three sons" or "one day the king of all Ireland," but further than that he could not get. At length he went in to breakfast, and found his wife much perplexed at his delay.
"Why don't you come to breakfast, my dear?" said she.
"I have no mind to eat anything," replied the story teller; "long as I have been in the service of the king of Leinster, I never sat down to breakfast without having a new story ready for the evening, but this morning my mind is quite shut up, and I don't know what to do. I might as well lie down and die at once. I will be disgraced for ever this evening, when the king calls for his story-teller."
Just at this moment the lady looked out of the window.
"Do you see that black thing at the end of the field?" said she.
"I do," replied her husband.
They drew nigh, and saw a miserable looking old man lying on the ground with a wooden leg placed beside him.
"Who are you, my good man?" asked the story-teller. Oh, then, it is little matter who I am. I am a poor, old, lame, decrepit, miserable creature, sitting down here to rest awhile."
"An" what are you doing with that box and dice I see in your hand?"
"I am waiting here to see if anyone will play a game with me," replied the beggar man.
"Play with you! Why what has a poor old man like you to play for?"
"I have one hundred pieces of gold in this leathern purse," replied the old man.
"You may as well play with him," said the story-teller's wife; "and perhaps you will have something to tell the king in the evening."
A smooth stone was placed between them, and on it they cast their throws.
It was but a little while and the story-teller lost every penny of his money.
"Much good may it do you, friend," said he. "What better hap could I look for, fool that I am!"
"Will you play again?" asked the old man.
"Don't be talking, man: you have all my money."
"Haven't you chariot and horses and hounds?"
"Well, what of them!"
"I will stake all the money I have against your."
"Nonsense, man! Do you think for all the money in Ireland, I'd run the risk of seeing my lady tramp home on foot?"
"Maybe you would win," said the bocough.
"Maybe I wouldn't," said the story-teller.
"Play with him, husband," said his wife. "I don't mind walking, if you do, love."
"I never refused you before," said the story-teller, "and I will not do so now.
Down he sat again, and in one throw lost houses, hounds, and chariot.
"Will you play again?" asked the beggar.
"Are you making game of me, man; what else have I to stake?"
"I will stake all my winnings against your wife," said the old man.
The story-teller turned away in silence, but his wife stopped him.
"Accept his offer," said she. "This is the third time, and who knows what luck you may have? You will surely win now."
They played again, and the story-teller lost. No sooner had he done so, than to his sorrow and surprise, his wife went and sat down near the ugly old beggar.
"Is that the way you are leaving me?" said the story-teller.
"Sure I was won," said she. "You would not cheat the poor man, would you?"
"Have you any more to stake?" asked the old man.
"You know very well I have not," replied the storyteller.
"I will stake the whole now, wife and all, against your own self," said the old man.
Again they played, and again the story-teller lost.
"Well! here I am, and what do you want with me?"
"I will soon let you know," said the old man, and he took from his pocket a long cord and a wand.
"Now," said he to the story-teller, "what kind of animal would you rather be, a deer, a fox, or a hare? You have your choice now, but you may not have it later."
To make a long story short, the story-teller made his choice of a hare; the old man threw the cord round him, struck him with the wand, and lo! a long-eared, frisking hare was skipping and jumping on the green.
But it wasn't for long; who but his wife called the hounds, and set them on him. The hare fled, the dogs followed. Round the field ran a high wall, so that run as he might, he couldn't get out, and mightily diverted were beggar and lady to see him twist and double.
In vain did he take refuge with his wife, she kicked him back again to the hounds, till at length the beggar stopped the hounds, and with a stroke of the wand, panting and breathless, the story-teller stood before them again.
"And how did you like the sport?" said the beggar.
"It might be sport to others," replied the story-teller looking at his wife, "for my part I could well put up with the loss of it."
"Would it be asking too much," he went on to the beggar, "to know who you are at all, or where you come from, or why you take a pleasure in plaguing a poor old man like me?"
"Oh!" replied the stranger, " I am an odd kind of good-for-little fellow, one day poor, another day rich, but if you wish to know more about me or my habits, come with me and perhaps I may show you more than you would make out if you went alone."
"I am not my own master to go or stay," said the story-teller, with a sigh.
The stranger put one hand into his wallet and drew out of it before their eyes a well looking middle-aged man, to whom he spoke as follows:
"By all you heard and saw since I put you into my wallet, take charge of this lady and of the carriage and horses, and have them ready for me whenever I want them."
Scarcely had he said these words when all vanished, and the story-teller found himself at the Foxes" Ford, near the castle of Red Hugh O'Donnell. He could see all but none could see him.
O'Donnell was in his hall, and heaviness of flesh and weariness of spirit were on him.
"Go out," said he to his doorkeeper, " and see who or what may be coming."
The doorkeeper went, and what he saw was a lank, grey beggarman; half his sword bared behind his haunch, his two shoes full of cold road-a-wayish water sousing about him, the tips of his two ears out through his old hat, his two shoulders out through his scant tattered cloak, and in his hand a green wand of holly.
"Save you, O Donnell," said the lank grey beggarman.
"And you likewise," said O'Donnell. "Whence come you, and what is your craft?"
"I come from the outmost stream of earth,
"It is the great traveller you are," said O'Donnell. "Maybe you've learnt something on the road."
"I am a juggler," said the lank grey beggarman, "and for five pieces of silver you shall see a trick of mine."
"You shall have them," said O'Donnell; and the lank grey beggarman took three small straws and placed them in his hand.
"The middle one," said he, "I will blow away; the other two I will leave."
"You can not do it," said one and all.
But the lank grey beggarman put a finger on either outside straw and, whiff, away he blew the middle one.
"'It is a good trick," said O'Donnell; and he paid him his five pieces of silver.
"For half the money," said one of the chief's lads, "I will do the same trick.
"Take him at his word, O'Donnell."
The lad put the three straws on his hand, and a finger on either outside straw and he blew; and what happened but that the fist was blown away with the straw.
"You are sore, and you will be sorer," said O'Donnell.
"Six more pieces, O'Donnell, and I will do another trick for you," said the lank grey beggarman.
"Six shalt you have."
"Do you see my two ears! One I will move but not the other."
"'It is easy to see them, they are big enough, but you can never move one ear and not the two together."
The lank grey beggarman put his hand to his ear, and he gave it a pull.
O'Donnell laughed and paid him the six pieces.
"Call that a trick," said the fistless lad, "anyone can do that," and so saying, he put up his hand, pulled his ear, and what happened was that he pulled away ear and head.
"Sore you are, and sorer you will be," said O'Donnell. "Well, O'Donnell," said the lank grey beggarman, strange are the tricks I have shown you, but I will show you a stranger one yet for the same money."
"You hast my word for it," said O'Donnell.
With that the lank grey beggarman took a bag from under his armpit, and from out the bag a ball of silk, and he unwound the ball and he flung it slantwise up into the clear blue heavens, and it became a ladder; then he took a hare and placed it on the thread, and up it ran; again he took out a red-eared hound, and it swiftly ran up after the hare.
"Now," said the lank grey beggarman; "has anyone a mind to run after the dog and on the course?"
"I will," said a lad of O'Donnell's.
"Up with you then," said the juggler; "but I warn you if you let my hare be killed I will cut off your head when you come down."
The lad ran up the thread and all three soon disappeared. After looking up for a long time, the lank grey beggarman said: "I am afraid the hound is eating the hare, and that our friend has fallen asleep."
Saying this he began to wind the thread, and down came the lad fast asleep; and down came the red-eared hound and in his mouth the last morsel of the hare.
He struck the lad a stroke with the edge of his sword, and so cast his head off. As for the hound, if he used it no worse, he used it no better.
"It is little I am pleased, and sore I am angered," said O'Donnell, "that a hound and a lad should be killed at my court."
"Five pieces of silver twice over for each of them," said the juggler, "and their heads shall be on them as before."
You shalt get that," said O'Donnell.
Five pieces, and again five were paid him, and lo! the lad had his head and the hound his. And though they lived to the uttermost end of time, the hound would never touch a hare again, and the lad took good care to keep his eyes open.
Scarcely had the lank grey beggarman done this when he vanished from out their sight, and no one present could say if he had flown through the air or if the earth had swallowed him up.
He moved as wave tumbling over wave
Heavy was the flesh and weary the spirit of Leinster's king. "It was the hour he was wont to hear a story, but send he might right and left, not a jot of tidings about the story-teller could he get.
"Go to the door," said he to his doorkeeper, "and see if a soul is in sight who may tell me something about my story-teller."
The doorkeeper went, and what he saw was a lank grey beggarman, half his sword bared behind his haunch, his two old shoes full of cold road-a-wayish water sousing about him, the tips of his two ears out through his old hat, his two shoulders out through his scant tattered cloak, and in his hand a three-stringed harp.
"What can you do?" said the doorkeeper.
"I can play," said the lank grey beggarman.
"Never fear," added he to the story-teller, "you shalt see all, and not a man shall see you."
When the king heard a harper was outside, he bade him in.
"It is I that have the best harpers in the five-fifths of Ireland," said he, and he signed them to play. They did so, and if they played, the lank grey beggarman listened.
Heardst you ever the like?" said the king.
"Did you ever, O king, hear a cat purring over a bowl of broth, or the buzzing of beetles in the twilight, or a shrill tongued old woman scolding your head off?"
"That I have often," said the king.
"More melodious to me," said the lank grey beggarman, "were the worst of these sounds than the sweetest harping of your harpers."
When the harpers heard this, they drew their swords and rushed at him, but instead of striking him, their blows fell on each other, and soon not a man but was cracking his neighbour's skull and getting his own cracked in turn.
When the king saw this, he thought it hard the harpers weren't content with murdering their music, but must needs murder each other.
"Hang the fellow who began it all," said he; "and if I can't have a story, let me have peace."
Up came the guards, seized the lank grey beggarman, marched him to the gallows and hanged him high and dry. Back they marched to the hall, and who should they see but the lank grey beggarman seated on a bench with his mouth to a flagon of ale.
Never welcome you in," cried the captain of the guard, "didn't we hang you this minute, and what brings you here?"
"Is it me myself, you mean?
"Who else?" said the captain.
"May your hand turn into a pig's foot with you when you think of tying the rope; why should you speak of hanging me?"
Back they scurried to the gallows, and there hung the king's favourite brother.
Back they hurried to the king who had fallen fast asleep.
"Please your Majesty," said the captain, "we hanged that strolling vagabond, but here he is back again as well as ever."
"Hang him again," said the king, and off he went to sleep once more.
They did as they were told, but what happened was that they found the king's chief harper hanging where the lank grey beggarman should have been.
The captain of the guard was sorely puzzled.
"Are you wishful to hang me a third time?" said the lank grey beggarman.
"Go where you will;" said the captain, "and as fast as you please if you will only go far enough. It is trouble enough you've given us already."
"Now you are reasonable," said the beggarman; "and since you've given up trying to hang a stranger because he finds fault with your music, I don't mind telling you that if you go back to the gallows you will find your friends sitting on the sward none the worse for what has happened."
As he said these words he vanished; and the story-teller found himself on the spot where they first met, and where his wife still was with the carriage and horses.
"Now," said the lank grey beggarman, "I will torment you no longer. There is your carriage and your horses, and your money and your wife; do what you please with them."
"For my carriage and my horses and my hounds," said the story-teller, "I thank you; but my wife and my money you may keep."
"No," said the other. "I want neither, and as for your wife, don't think ill of her for what she did, she couldn't help it."
Not help it! Not help kicking me into the mouth of my own hounds! Not help casting me off for the sake of a beggarly old – – -"
"I am not as beggarly or as old as ye think. I am Angus of the Bruff; many a good turn you've done me with the king of Leinster. This morning my magic told me the difficulty you were in, and I made up my mind to get you out of it. As for your wife there, the power that changed your body changed her mind. Forget and forgive as man and wife should do, and now you have a story for the king of Leinster when he calls for one;" and with that he disappeared.
It is true enough he now had a story fit for a king. From first to last he told all that had befallen him; so long and loud laughed the king that he couldn't go to sleep at all. And he told the story-teller never to trouble for fresh stories, but every night as long as he lived he listened again and he laughed afresh at the tale of the lank grey beggarman.
There was once a king, but I didn't hear what country he was over, and he had one very beautiful daughter. Well, he was getting old and sickly, and the doctors found out that the finest medicine in the world for him was the apples of a tree that grew in the orchard just under his window. So you may be sure he had the tree well minded, and used to get the apples counted from the time they were the size of small marbles. One harvest, just as they were beginning to turn ripe, the king was awakened one night by the flapping of wings outside in the orchard; and when he looked out, what did he see but a bird among the branches of his tree. Its feathers were so bright that they made a light all round them, and the minute it saw the king in his night-cap and night-shirt it picked off an apple, and flew away "Oh, botheration to that thief of a gardener! " says the king, "this is a nice way he is watching my precious fruit."
He didn't sleep a wink the rest of the night and as soon as anyone was stirring in the palace, he sent for the gardener, and abused him for his neglect.
"Please your Majesty!" says he, " not another apple you shall lose. My three sons are the best shots at the bow and arrow in the kingdom, and they and myself will watch in turn every night."
When the night came, the gardener's eldest son took his post in the garden, with his bow strung and his arrow between his fingers, and watched, and watched. But at the dead hour, the king, that was wide awake, heard the flapping of wings, and ran to the window. There was the bright bird in the tree, and the boy fast asleep, sitting with his back to the wall, and his bow on his lap.
"Rise, you lazy thief! " says the king, "" there is the bird again, botheration to her!"
Up jumped the poor fellow; but while he was fumbling with the arrow and the string, away was the bird with the nicest apple on the tree. Well, to be sure, how the king fumed and fretted, and how he abused the gardener and the boy, and what a twenty-four hours he spent till midnight came again!
He had his eye this time on the second son of the gardener; but though he was up and lively enough when the clock began to strike twelve, it wasn't done with the last bang when he saw him stretched like one dead on the long grass, and saw the bright bird again, and heard the flap of her wings, and saw her carry away the third apple. The poor fellow woke with the roar the king let at him, and even was in time enough to let fly an arrow after the bird. He did not hit her, you may depend; and though the king was mad enough, he saw the poor fellows were under " pishtrogues, and could not help it.
Well, he had some hopes out of the youngest, for he was a brave, active young fellow, that had everybody's good word. There he was ready, and there was the king watching him, and talking to him at the first stroke of twelve. At the last clang, the brightness coming before the bird lighted up the wall and the trees, and the rushing of the wings was heard as it flew into the branches; but at the same instant the crack of the arrow on her side might be heard a quarter of a mile off. Down came the arrow and a large bright feather along with it, and away was the bird, with a screech that was enough to break the drum of your ear. She hadn't time to carry off an apple; and bedad, when the feather was thrown up into the king's room it was heavier than lead, and turned out to be the finest beaten gold.
Well, there was great cooramuch made about the youngest boy next day, and he watched night after night for a week, but not a mite of a bird or bird's feather was to be seen, and then the king told him to go home and sleep. Every one admired the beauty of the gold feather beyond anything, but the king was fairly bewitched. He was turning it round and round, and rubbing it against his forehead and his nose the live-long day; and at last he proclaimed that he'd give his daughter and half his kingdom to whoever would bring him the bird with the gold feathers, dead or alive.
The gardener's eldest son had great conceit of himself and away he went to look for the bird. In the afternoon he sat down under a tree to rest himself; and eat a bit of bread and cold meat that he had in his wallet, when up comes as fine a looking fox as you would see in the burrow of Munfin. " Musha, sir," says he, " would you spare a bit of that meat to a poor body that is hungry?"
"Well," says the other, " you must have the divil's own assurance, you common robber, to ask me such a question. Here is the answer," and he let fly at the moddhereen rua.
The arrow scraped from his side up over his back, as if he was made of hammered iron, and stuck in a tree a couple of perches off.
"Foul play," says the fox; but I respect your young brother, and will give a bit of advice. At nightfall you will come into a village. One side of the street you will see a large room lighted up, and filled with young men and women, dancing and drinking. The other side you will see a house with no light, only from the fire in the front room, and no one near it but a man and his wife, and their child. Take a fool's advice, and get lodging there." With that he curled his tail over his crupper, and trotted off.
The boy found things as the fox said, but begonies he chose the dancing and drinking, and there we will leave him. In a week's time, when they got tired at home waiting for him, the second son said he'd try his fortune, and off he set. He was just as ill-natured and foolish as his brother, and the same thing happened to him. Well, when a week was over, away went the youngest of all, and as sure as the hearth-money, he sat under the same tree, and pulled out his bread and meat, and the same fox came up and saluted him. Well, the young fellow shared his dinner with the moddhereen, and he wasn't long beating about the bush, but told the other he knew all about his business.
"I will help you," says he, "if I find you are biddable. So just at nightfall you will come into a village … Good-bye till tomorrow."
It was just as the fox said, but the boy took care not to go near dancer, drinker, fiddler, or piper. He got welcome in the quiet house to supper and bed, and was on his journey next morning before the sun was the height of the trees.
He wasn't gone a quarter of a mile when he saw the fox coming out of a wood that was by the roadside.
"Good-morrow, fox," says one.
"Good-morrow, sir," says the other.
"Have you any notion how far you have to travel till you find the garden bird?"
"Dickens a notion have I; - how could I?"
"Well, I have. She is in the king of Spain's palace, and that is a good two hundred miles off."
"Oh, dear! we will be a week going."
"No, we will not. Sit down on my tail, and we will soon make the road short."
"Tail, indeed! that "ud be the droll saddle, my poor moddhereen."
"Do as I tell you, or I will leave you to yourself."
Well, rather than vex him he sat down on the tail that was spread out level like a wing, and away they went like thought. They overtook the wind that was before them, and the wind that came after didn't overtake them. In the afternoon, they stopped in a wood near the King of Spain's palace, and there they stayed till nightfall.
"Now," says the fox, "I will go before you to make the minds of the guards easy, and you will have nothing to do but go from lighted hall to another lighted hall till you find the golden bird in the last. If you have a head on you, you will bring himself and his cage outside the door, and no one then can lay hands on him or you. If you haven't a head I can't help you, nor no one else." So he went over to the gates.
In a quarter of an hour the boy followed, and in the first hall he passed he saw a score of armed guards standing upright, but all dead asleep. In the next he saw a dozen, and in the next half a dozen, and in the next three, and in the room beyond that there was no guard at all, nor lamp, nor candle, but it was as bright as day; for there was the golden bird in a common wood and wire cage, and on the table were the three apples turned into solid gold.
On the same table was the most lovely golden cage eye ever beheld, and it entered the boy's head that it would be a thousand pities not to put the precious bird into it, the common cage was so unfit for her. Maybe he thought of the money it was worth; anyhow he made the exchange, and he had soon good reason to be sorry for it. The instant the shoulder of the bird's wing touched the golden wires, he let such a squawk out of him as was enough to break all the panes of glass in the windows, and at the same minute the three men, and the half-dozen, and the dozen, and the score men, woke up and clattered their swords and spears, and surrounded the poor boy, and jibed, and cursed, and swore at home, till he didn't know whether it is his foot or head he was standing on. They called the king, and told him what happened, and he put on a very grim face. "It is on a gibbet you ought to be this moment," says he, " but I will give you a chance of your life, and of the golden bird, too. I lay you under prohibitions, and restrictions, and death, and destruction, to go and bring me the King of Moroco's bay filly that outruns the wind, and leaps over the walls of castle-bawns. When you fetch it her into the bawn of this palace, you must get the golden bird, and liberty to go where you please."
Out passed the boy, very down-hearted, but as he went along, who should come out of a brake but the fox again.
"Ah, my friend," says he, " I was right when I suspected you hadn't a head on you; but I will not rub your hair againg the grain. Get on my tail again, and when we come to the King of Moroco's paIace, we will see what we can do."
So away they went like thought. The wind that was before them they would overtake the wind that was behind them would not overtake them.
Well, the nightfall came on them in a wood near the palace, and says the fox, " I will go and make things easy for you at the stables, and when you are leading out the filly, don't let her touch the door, nor doorposts, nor anything but the ground, and that with her hoofs and if you haven't a head on you once you are in the stable, you will be worse off than before."
So the boy delayed for a quarter of an hour, and then he went into the big bawn of the palace. There were two rows of armed men reaching from the gate to the stable, and every man was in the depth of deep sleep, and through them went the boy till he got into the stable. There was the filly, as handsome a beast as ever stretched leg, and there was one stable-boy with a currycomb in his hand, and another with a bridle, and another with a sieve of oats, and another with an armful of hay, and all as if they were cut out of stone. The filly was the only live thing in the place except himself. She had a common wood and leather saddle on her back, but a golden saddle with the nicest work on it was hung from the post, and he thought it the greatest pity not to put it in place of the other. Well, I believe there was some pishrogues over it for a saddle; anyhow, he took off the other, and put the gold one in its place.
Out came a squeal from the filly's throat when she felt the strange article, that might be heard from Tombrick to Bunclody, and all as ready were the armed men and the stable-boys to run and surround the ornadhan of a boy, and the king of Moroco was soon there along with the rest, with a face on him as black as the sole of your foot. After he stood enjoying the abuse the poor boy got from every-body for some time, he says to him, "You deserve high hanging for your impudence, but l will give you a chance for your life and the filly, too. I lay on you all sorts of prohibitions, and restrictions, and death, and destruction to go bring me Princess Golden Locks, the king of Greek's daughter. When you deliver her into my hand, you may have the "daughter of the wind," and welcome. Come in and take your supper and your rest, and be off at the flight of night."
The poor boy was down in the mouth, you may suppose, as he was walking away next morning, and very much ashamed when the fox looked up in his face after coming out of the wood.
"What a thing it is," says he, "not to have a head when a body wants it worst; and here we have a fine long journey before us to the king of Greek's palace. The worse luck now, the same always. Here, get on my tail, and we will be making the road shorter."
So he sat on the fox's tail, and swift as thought they went. The wind that was before them they would overtake it, the wind that was behind them would not overtake them, and in the evening they were eating their bread and cold meat in the wood near the castle.
"Now," says the fox, when they were done, "I will go before you to make things easy. Follow me in a quarter of an hour. Don't let Princess Golden Locks touch the jambs of the doors with her hands, or hair, or clothes, and if you are asked any favour, mind how you answer. Once she is outside the door, no one can take her from you."
Into the palace walked the boy at the proper time, and there were the score, and the dozen, and the half-dozen, and the three guards all standing up or leaning on their arms, and all dead asleep, and in the farthest room of all was the Princess Golden Locks, as lovely as Venus herself. She was asleep in one chair, and her father, the king of Greek, in another. He stood before her for ever so long with the love sinking deeper into his heart every minute. till at last he went down on one knee, and took her darling white hand in his hand, and kissed it.
When she opened her eyes, she was a little frightened, but I believe not very angry, for the boy, as I call him, was a fine handsome young fellow, and all the respect and love that ever you could think of was in his face. She asked him what he wanted, and he stammered, and blushed, and began his story six times, before she understood it.
"And would you give me up to that ugly black King of Moroco?" says she.
"I am obliged to do so," says he, " by prohibitions, and restrictions, and death, and destruction, but I will have his life and free you, or lose my own. If I can't get you for my wife, my days on the earth will be short."
"Well," says she, "let me take leave of my father at any rate."
"Ah, I can't do that," says he, " or they'd all waken, and myself would be put to death, or sent to some task worse than any I got yet."
But she asked leave at any rate to kiss the old man; that wouldn't waken him, and then she'd go. How could he refuse her, and his heart tied up in every curl of her hair? But, bedad, the moment her lips touched her father's, he let a cry, and every one of the score, the dozen guards woke up, and clashed their arms, and were going to make gibbets of the foolish boy.
But the king ordered them to hold their hands, till he'd be insensed of what it was all about, and when he heard the boy's story he gave him a chance for his life.
"There is," says he, "a great heap of clay in front of the palace, that will not let the sun shine on the walls in the middle of summer. Every one that ever worked at it found two shovelfuls added to it for every one they threw away. Remove it, and I will let my daughter go with you. If you are the man I suspect you to be, I think she will be in no danger of being wife to that yellow Molott."
Early next morning was the boy tackled to his work, and for every shovelful he flung away two came back on him, and at last he could hardly get out of the heap that gathered round him. Well, the poor fellow scrambled out some way, and sat down on a sod, and he'd have cried only for the shame of it. He began at it in ever so many places, and one was still worse than the other, and in the heel of the evening, when he was sitting with his head between his hands, who should be standing before him but the fox.
"Well, my poor fellow," says he, "you are low enough. Go in: I will not say anything to add to your trouble. Take your supper and your rest : tomorrow will be a new day."
"How is the work going off?" says the king, when they I were at supper.
"Faith, your Majesty," says the poor boy, "it is not going off; but coming on it is. I suppose you will have the trouble of digging me out at sunset tomorrow, and waking me."
"I hope not," says the princess, with a smile on her kind face; and the boy was as happy as anything the rest of the evening.
He was wakened up next morning with voices shouting, and bugles blowing, and drums beating, and such a hullibullo he never heard in his life before. He ran out to see what was the matter, and there, where the heap of clay was the evening before, were soldiers, and servants, and lords, and ladies, dancing like mad for joy that it was gone.
"Ah, my poor fox!" says he to himself; "this is your work."
Well, there was little delay about his return. The king was going to send a great retinue with the princess and himself; but he wouldn't let him take the trouble.
"I have a friend," says he, "that will bring us both to the king of Moroco's palace in a day, d – fly away with him!"
There was great crying when she was parting from her father.
"Ah! " says he, "what a lonesome life I will have now! Your poor brother in the power of that wicked witch, and kept away from us, and now you taken from me in my old age!"
Well, they both were walking on through the wood, and he telling her how much he loved her; out walked the fox from behind a brake, and in a short time he and she were sitting on the brush, and holding one another fast for fear of slipping off; and away they went like thought. The wind that was before them they would overtake it, and in the evening he and she were in the big bawn of the king of Moroco's castle.
"Well," says he to the boy, "you've done your duty well; bring out the bay filly. I'd give the full of the bawn of such fillies, if I had them, for this handsome princess. Get on your steed, and here is a good purse of guineas for the road."
"Thank you," says he. "I suppose you will let me shake hands with the princess before I start."
"Yes, indeed, and welcome."
Well, he was some little time about the hand-shaking, and before it was over he had her fixed snug behind him; and while you could count three, he, and she, and the filly were through all the guards, and a hundred perches away.; On they went, and next morning they were in the wood near the king of Spain's palace, and there was the fox before them.
"Leave your princess here with me," says he, "and go get the golden bird and the three apples. If you don't bring us back the filly along with the bird, I must carry you both home myself."
Well, when the king of Spain saw the boy and the filly in the bawn, he made the golden bird, and the golden cage, and the golden apples be brought out and handed to him, and was very thankful and very glad of his prize. But the boy could not part with the nice beast without petting it and rubbing it; and while no one was expecting such a thing, he was up on its back, and through the guards, and a hundred perches away, and he wasn't long till he came to where he left his princess and the fox.
They hurried away till they were safe out of the king of Spain's land, and then they went on easier; and if I was to tell you all the loving things they said to one another, the story wouldn't be over till morning. When they were passing the village of the dance house, they found his two brothers begging, and they brought them along. When they came to where the fox appeared first, he begged the young man to cut off his head and his tail.
He would not do it for him; he shivered at the very thought, but the eldest brother was ready enough. The head and tail vanished with the blows, and the body changed into the finest young man you could see, and who was he but the princess's brother that was bewitched. Whatever joy they had before, they had twice as much now, and when they arrived at the palace bonfires were set blazing, oxes roasting, and puncheons of wine put out in the lawn.
The young Prince of Greece was married to the king's daughter, and the prince's sister to the gardener's son. He and she went a shorter way back to her father's house, with many attendants, and the king was so glad of the golden bird and the golden apples, that he had sent a waggon full of gold and a waggon full of silver along with them.
As some allusion has been made in the early part of the foregoing story to a fool, this, perhaps, is the fittest place to say something of fools in general. Be it understood, I only mean fools by profession; for, were amateur fools included, an essay on fools in general would be no trifling undertaking. And further, I mean to limit myself within still more circumscribed bounds by treating of the subject only as it regards that immediate part of his Majesty's dominions called Ireland.
In Ireland the fool, or natural, or innocent (for by all those names be goes), as represented in the stories of the Irish peasantry, is very much the fool that Shakespeare occasionally embodies; and even in the present day many a witticism and sarcasm given birth to by these mendicant Touchstones would be treasured in the memory of our beau monde, under the different heads of brilliant or biting, had they been uttered by a Bushe or a Plunket. I recollect a striking piece of imagery employed by one of the tribe on his perceiving the approach of a certain steward, who, as a severe task-master, had made himself disliked amongst the peasantry employed on his master's estate. This man had acquired a nickname (Irishmen, by the way, are celebrated for the application of sobriquets), which nick-name was "Danger"; and the fool, standing one day amidst a parcel of workmen, who were cutting turf, perceived this said steward crossing the bog towards them.
"Ah, ah! by dad, you must work now, boys," said he, "here comes Danger. Bad luck to you, Daddy Danger, you dirty bloodsucker! sure the earth's heavy with you." But suddenly stopping in his career of commonplace abuse, he looked with an air of contemplative dislike towards the man, and deliberately said:
"There you are, Danger! and may I never break bread, if all the turf in the bog "id warm me to you."
Such are the occasional bursts of figurative language uttered by our fools, who are generally mendicants; or perhaps it would be fitter to call them dependents, either on some particular family, or on the wealyour farmers of the district. But they have a great objection that such should be supposed to be the case, and are particularly jealous of their independence. An example of this was given me by a friend who patronised one that was rather a favourite of the gentlemen in the neighbourhood, and a constant attendant at every fair within ten or fifteen miles, where be was sure to pick up a good deal of money from his gentlemen friends. Aware of this fact, Mr. – – , meeting Jimmy one morning on the road, and knowing what errand he was bound on, asked him where he was going.
"I am going to the fair, your honour."
"Why, what can bring you there?"
"Oh, I have business there."
"What business – ?"
"I will tell you tomorrow."
"Ah! Jimmy," said the gentleman, "I see how it is – you are going to the fair to ask all the gentlemen for money."
"Indeed I am not: I am no beggar – Jimmy wouldn't be a beggar. Do you think I have nothing else to do but beg?"
"Well, what else brings you to the fair?"
"Sure, I am going to sell a cow there," said Jimmy, quite delighted at fancying he had successfully baffled the troublesome inquiries of the Squire; and not willing to risk another question or answer, he uttered his deafening laugh, and pursued his road to the fair.
From the same source I heard that they are admirable couriers, which my friend very fairly accounted for by attributing it to the small capability of comprehension in the constitution of their minds, which, rendering them unable to embrace more than one idea at a time, produces a singleness of purpose that renders them valuable messengers. As an instance of this, he told me that a gentleman in his neighbourhood once sent a certain fool to the town of – – , with a packet of great consequence and value, to his banker, with a direction to the bearer not to hand it to any person but Mr. – himself, and not to return without seeing him.
It so happened Mr. – – had gone to Dublin that morning; and no assurances nor persuasion, on the part of that gentleman's confidential clerk, could induce the fool to hand him the parcel – thus observing strict obedience to the commands of his master. But he adhered still more literally to his commission; for when he was told Mr. – had gone to Dublin, and that, therefore, be could not give him the packet, he said: "Oh, very well, Jimmy "ill go back again;" but when be left the office, he took the road to Dublin, instead of homewards, having been bidden not to return without delivering it, and ran the distance to the capital (about one hundred and forty miles), in so short a time, that he arrived there but a few hours after the gentleman be followed, and never rested till he discovered where he was lodged, and delivered to him the parcel, in strict accordance with his instructions.
They are affectionate also. I have heard of a fool who, when some favourite member of a family he was attached to died, went to the churchyard, and sat on the grave, and there wept bitterly, and watched night and day; nor could he be forced from the place, nor could the calls of hunger and thirst induce him to quit the spot for many days; and such was the intensity of grief on the part of the affectionate creature, that he died in three months afterwards.
But they can be revengeful too, and entertain a grudge with great tenacity. The following is a ridiculous instance of this: A fool, who had been severely bitten by a gander, that was unusually courageous, watched an opportunity when his enemy was absent, and getting amongst the rising family of the gander, he began to trample on the goslings, and was caught in the fact of murdering them wholesale, by the enraged woman who had reared them.
Ha, Jimmy, you villian! is it murthering my lovely goslings you are, you thief of the world? Bad scram to you, you thick-headed vagabone."
"Divil mend them, granny," shouted Jimmy, with a laugh of idiotic delight, as he leaped over a ditch, out of the reach of the henwife, who rushed on him with a broomstick, full of dire intent on Jimmy's skull.
"Oh, you morcading thief!" cried the exasperated woman shaking her uplifted broomstick at Jimmy in impotent rage "wait till Maurice ketches you - that is all."
"Divil mend them, granny,"
"shouted Jimmy – " ha! ha! – why did their daddy bite me?"
The peasantry believe a fool to be insensible to fear from any ghostly visitation; and I heard of an instance where the experiment was made on one of these unhappy creatures, by dressing a strapping fellow In a sheet, and placing him in a situation to intercept "poor Jimmy" on his midnight path, and try the truth of this generally-received opinion, by endeavouring to intimidate him. When he had reached the appointed spot, a particularly lonely and narrow path, and so hemmed in by high banks on each side as to render escape difficult, Mr. Ghost suddenly reared his sheeted person as Jimmy had half ascended a broken stile, and with all the usual terrific formulae of "Boo,"
"Fee-fa-fum," etc., etc., demanded who dared to cross that path? The answer:
"I am poor Jimmy," was given in his usual tone.
"I am Raw-head and Bloody-bones," roared the "ghost.
"Ho! ho! I often heard of you," said Jimmy.
"Baw," cried the ghost, advancing - " I will kill you – I will kill you – I will kill you."
"The divil a better opinion I bad iv you," said Jimmy.
"Boo!" says Raw-head, "I will eat you – I will eat you."
"The divil do you good with me," says Jimmy. And so the ghost was at a nonplus, and Jimmy, won the field.
I once heard of a joint-stock company having been established between a fool and a blind beggar-man, and for whom the fool acted in the capacity of guide. They had share and share alike in the begging concern, and got on tolerably well together, till one day the blind man had cause to suspect Jimmy's honour. It happened that a mail-coach passing by, the blind man put forth all his begging graces to induce the "quality" to "extind their charity," and" succeeded so well, that not only some copper, but a piece of silver was thrown by the wayside. Jimmy, I am sorry to say, allowed "the filyour lucre of gain" so far to predominate, that in picking up these gratuities, he appropriated the silver coin to his own particular pouch, and brought the halfpence only for division to his blind friend; but the sense of hearing was so nice in the latter, that he detected the sound of the falling silver, and asked Jimmy to produce it. Jimmy denied the fact stoutly.
"Oh, I heard it fall," said the blind man. "Then you were better off than poor Jimmy," said our hero; "for you heard it, but poor Jimmy didn't see it."
"Well, look for it," says the blind man. "Well, well, but you are cute, daddy," cried Jimmy; "you are right enough, I see it now;" and Jimmy affected to pick up the sixpence, and handed it to his companion.
"Now we will go an to the Squire's," said the blind man, "and they will give us something to eat;" and he and his idiot companion were soon seated outside the kitchen-door of the Squire's house, waiting for their expected dish of broken meat and potatoes.
Presently Jimmy was summoned, and he stepped forward to receive the plate that was handed him; but in its transit from the kitchen-door to the spot where the blind man was seated, Jimmy played foul again, by laying violent hands on the meat, and leaving potatoes only In the dish. Again the acute sense of the blind man detected the fraud; he sniffed the scent of the purloined provision; and after poking with hurried fingers amongst the potatoes, he exclaimed: "Ha! Jimmy, Jimmy, I smelt meat."
"Deed and deed, no," said Jimmy, who had, in the meantime, with the voracity of brutal hunger, devoured his stolen prey. "That is a lie, Jimmy," said the "blind man – "that is like the sixpence. Ha! you thieving rogue, to cheat a poor blind man, you villian;" and forthwith he aimed a blow of his stick at Jimmy with such good success, as to make the fool bellow lustily. Matters, however, were accommodated; and both parties considered that the beef and the blow pretty well balanced one another, and so accounts were squared.
After their meal at the squire's, they proceeded to an adjoining village; but in the course of their way thither, it was necessary to pass a rapid, and sometimes swollen, mountain-stream, and the only means of transit was by large blocks of granite placed at such intervals in the stream as to enable a passenger to step from one to the other, and hence called "stepping-stones." Here, then, it was necessary, on the blind man's part, to employ great caution, and he gave himself up to the guidance of Jimmy, to effect his purpose.
"You will tell me where I am to step," said be, as he cautiously approached the brink. "Oh, I will, daddy," said Jimmy; "give me your hand."
But Jimmy thought a good opportunity had arrived for disposing of one whom he found to be an over-intelligent companion, and leading him to a part of the bank where no friendly stepping-stone was placed, he cried: "Step out now, daddy." The poor blind man obeyed the command, and tumbled plump into the water. The fool screamed with delight, and clapped his hand. The poor, deluded blind man floundered for some time in the stream, which, fortunately, was not deep enough to be dangerous; and when he scrambled to the shore, he laid about him with his stick and tongue, in dealing blows and anathemas, all intended for Jimmy. The former Jimmy carefully avoided by running out of the enraged man's reach.
"Oh, my curse light an you, you black-hearted traitor," said the dripping old beggar, "that has just wit enough to be wicked, and to play such a hard-hearted turn to a poor blind man."
"Ha! ha! daddy," cried Jimmy, "you could smell the meat – why didn't you smell the water?"