Long ago there lived in Ireland a woman who married a man of high degree. They had a daughter, and soon after she was born, the husband died.
The woman was not long a widow when she married a second time and had two more daughters. These two hated their half-sister, and wanted to believe that she was not so wise as others, and therefore nicknamed her Smallhead.
When the elder of the two sisters was fourteen years old their father died. The mother was in great grief then, and began to pine away. She used to sit at home in the corner and never left the house. Smallhead was kind to her, and the mother was fonder of her than of the other two, who were ashamed of her.
At last the two sisters made up in their minds to kill their mother. One day while their half-sister was gone, they put the mother in a pot, boiled her, and threw the bones outside.
When Smallhead came home there was no sign of the mother. "Where is Mother?" she asked of the other two.
"How should we know?"
"Wicked girls! You have killed Mother," said Smallhead.
Smallhead would not leave the house now at all, and the sisters were very angry. "No man will marry either one of us," said they, "if he sees our fool of a sister."
Since they could not drive Smallhead from the house, they made up their minds to go away themselves. One fine morning they left home, unknown to their half-sister, and travelled on many miles. When Smallhead discovered that her sisters were gone, she hurried after them and never stopped till she came up with them. They had to go home with her that day, but they scolded her bitterly.
The two settled then to kill Smallhead, so one day they took twenty needles and scattered them outside in a pile of straw. "We are going to that hill beyond," said they, "to stay until evening, and if you have not gathered all the needles that are in that straw outside and put them on the tables before us, we will have your life."
Away they went to the hill. Smallhead sat down and was crying when a short grey cat walked in and spoke to her.
"Why do you cry and lament?" asked the cat.
"My sisters abuse and beat me," answered Smallhead. "This morning they said they would kill me in the evening unless I had all the needles in the straw outside gathered before them."
"Sit down here," said the cat, "and dry your tears."
The cat soon found the twenty needles and brought them to Smallhead, saying: "Listen to what I tell you now. Do good and do the best you can to save your sisters. This will be better for you in the end."
The cat went away for herself, and the two sisters came home in the evening. The twenty needles were on the table before them, but the two were vexed and angry when they saw them all, and thought someone must have helped her.
One night when Smallhead was in bed and asleep they started away again, resolved this time never to return. Smallhead slept until morning. When she saw that the sisters were gone she followed and asked other people about them until one evening some person told her that they were in the house of an old hag who had one son and three daughters. The house was a bad place to be in because the old hag was very wicked.
Smallhead hurried over there to save her sisters. She knocked at the door and asked lodgings for God's sake.
"Oh, then," said the hag, "it is hard to refuse anyone lodgings, and besides on such a wild, stormy night."
After supper the hag told Smallhead and her two sisters to sleep in a room on the right side of the house. When the hag's own daughters were going to bed, Smallhead saw her tie a ribbon around the neck of each one of them, and heard her say: "Sleep in the left-hand bed."
Smallhead hurried and said to her sisters: "Come quickly, or I will tell the woman we are half-sisters."
They took the bed in the left-hand room and were in it before the hag's daughters came.
"Oh," said the hag's daughters, "the other bed is as good." So they took the bed in the right-hand room.
When Smallhead noticed that the hag's daughters were asleep she rose, took the ribbons off their necks, and put them on her sister's necks and on her own. She lay awake and watched them. After a while she heard the hag say to her son:
"Go, now, and kill the three girls; they have the clothes and money."
"You have killed enough in your life. Let these go," said the son.
But the old woman would not listen. The boy rose up, fearing his mother, and taking a long knife, went to the right-hand room and cut the throats of the three girls without ribbons. He went to bed then for himself, and when Smallhead found that the old hag was asleep, she roused her sisters, told what had happened, made them dress quickly and follow her. They did.
The three travelled walked briskly and soon came to a bridge called "The Bridge of Blood." It was so called because whoever had killed a person could not cross the bridge. When the three girls came to the bridge the two sisters stopped. They could not go a step further. Smallhead ran across and went back again.
"If I did not know that you killed our mother," said she, "I might know it now, for this is the Bridge of Blood."
She carried one sister over the bridge on her back and then the other. Hardly was this done when the hag was at the bridge.
"Bad luck to you, Smallheadm" she said, "I didn't recognise you last evening. It was too dark. And now you have killed my three daughters."
"Not I. You did, and your son," said Smallhead.
The old hag could not cross the bridge, so she began to curse. It was terrible to hear her. The sisters travelled on till they came to a king's castle. They heard that two servants were needed in the castle.
"Go now," said Smallhead to the two sisters, "and ask for service. Be faithful and do well. You can never go back by the road you came."
The two found employment at the king's castle. Smallhead took lodgings in the house of a blacksmith nearby.
"I should be glad to find a place as kitchenmaid in the castle," said Smallhead to the blacksmith's wife.
"I will go to the castle and find a place for you if I can," said the woman.
The blacksmith's wife found a place for Smallhead as kitchenmaid in the castle, and she went there next day.
"I must be careful," thought Smallhead, "and do my best. I'm in a strange place. My two sisters are here in the king's castle. Who knows, we may have great fortune yet."
She dressed neatly and was cheerful. Everyone liked her, liked her better than her sisters, though they were beautiful. The king had two sons, one at home and the other abroad.
Smallhead thought to herself one day: "It is time for the son who is here in the castle to marry. I will speak to him the first time I can." One day she saw him alone in the garden, went up to him, and said:
"Why are you not getting married? It is high time for you."
He only laughed and thought she was too bold, but then thinking that she was a simple-minded girl who wished to be pleasant, he said:
"I will tell you the reason: My grandfather bound my father by an oath never to let his oldest son marry till he could get the Sword of Light, and I'm afraid that I shall be long without marrying."
"Do you know where the Sword of Light is, or who has it?" asked Smallhead.
"I do," said the king's son, "an old hag who lives a long distance from here, beyond the Bridge of Blood, she has it. I cannot go there myself, I cannot cross the bridge, for I have killed men in battle. Even if I could cross the bridge, I would not go, for that hag has destroyed or enchanted many a king's son."
"Suppose someone were to bring the Sword of Light, and that person was a woman, would you marry her?"
"I would indeed," said the king's son.
"If you promise to marry my elder sister, I will strive to bring the Sword of Light."
"I will promise most willingly," said the king's son.
Next morning early, Smallhead set out on her journey. Calling at the first shop she bought fourteen pounds of salt, and went on her way, never stopping or resting till she reached the hag's house at nightfall. She climbed to the gable, looked down, and saw the son making a great pot of stirabout for his mother, and she hurrying him, "I am as hungry as a hawk!" cried she.
Whenever the boy looked away, Smallhead dropped salt down, dropped it when he was not looking, dropped it till she had the whole fourteen pounds of salt in the porridge.
The old hag waited and waited till at last she cried out: "Bring the stirabout. I am starving! Bring the pot. I will eat from the pot. Give the milk here as well."
The boy brought the stirabout and the milk, the old woman began to eat, but the first taste she got she spat out and screamed "You put salt in the pot in place of meal!"
"I did not, mother."
"You did, and it is a mean trick that you played on me. Throw this stirabout to the pig outside and go for water to the well in the field."
"I cannot," said the boy, "the night is too dark; I might fall into the well."
"You must go and bring the water; I cannot live till morning without eating."
"I am as hungry as yourself," said the boy, "but how can I go to the well without a light? I will not go unless you give me a light."
"If I give you the Sword of Light there is no knowing who may follow you; maybe Smallhead is outside."
But soon the old hag gave the Sword of Light to her son, warning him to take good care of it. He took the Sword of Light and went out. As he saw no one when he came to the well he left the sword on the top of the steps going down to the water, so as to have good light. He had not gone down many steps when Smallhead had the sword, and away she ran over hills, dales, and valleys towards the Bridge of Blood.
The boy shouted and screamed with all his might. Out ran the hag. "Where is the sword?" she cried.
"Someone took it from the step."
Off rushed the hag, following the light, but she didn't come near Smallhead until the girl was over the bridge.
"Give me the Sword of Light, or bad luck to you," cried the hag.
"I shall keep it, and bad luck to yourself," answered Smallhead.
On the following morning she walked up to the king's son and said:
"I have the Sword of Light; now will you marry my sister?"
"I will," said he.
The king's son married Smallhead's sister and got the Sword of Light. Smallhead stayed no longer in the kitchen - the sister didn't care to have her in kitchen or parlour.
The king's second son came home. He was not long in the castle when Smallhead said to herself, "Maybe he will marry my second sister."
She saw him one day in the garden. When she went toward him he said something, she answered it, and then asked: "Is it not time for you to be getting married like your brother?"
"When my grandfather was dying," said the young man, "he bound my father not to let his second son marry till he had the Black Book. This book used to shine and give brighter light than ever the Sword of Light did, and I suppose it does yet. The old hag beyond the Bridge of Blood has the book, and no one dares to go near her, for many king's sons have been killed or enchanted by that woman."
"Would you marry my second sister if you were to get the Black Book?"
"I would, indeed; I would marry any woman if I got the Black Book. The Sword of Light and the Black Book were in our family until my grandfather's time, then they were stolen by that old hag."
"I will get the book," said Smallhead, "or die in trying to get it."
Knowing that stirabout was the main food of the hag, Smallhead thought up another trick. Taking a bag she scraped the chimney, gathered about fourteen pounds of soot, and took it with her. The night was dark and rainy. When she reached the hag's house, she climbed up the gable to the chimney and found that the son was making stirabout for his mother. She dropped the soot down by degrees till at last the whole fourteen pounds of soot was in the pot; then she scraped around the top of the chimney till a lump of soot fell on the boy's hand.
"Oh, mother," he said, "the night is wet and soft, the soot is falling."
"Cover the pot," said the hag. " Be quick with that stirabout, for I am hungry."
The boy took the pot to his mother.
"Bad luck to you," cried the hag the moment she tasted the stirabout, "this is full of soot; throw it out to the pig."
"If I throw it out there is no water inside to make more, and I will not go in the dark and rain to the well."
"You must!" she screamed.
"l will not stir a foot out of this unless I get a light," said the boy.
"Is it the book you are thinking of? What if you take it with your and lose it as you did with the sword? Smallhead may be watching you."
"How could Smallhead be outside all the time? If you have no use for the water you can do without it."
The hag did not want to go hungry to bed. She gave her son the book, saying: " Do not put this down or let it from your hand till you come in, or . . ." It was a dangerous threat.
The boy took the book and went to the well. Smallhead followed him carefully. He took the book down into the well with him, and when he was stooping to dip water she snatched the book and pushed him into the well, and there he came very near drowning.
Smallhead was far away when the boy recovered and began to scream and shout to his mother. She came in a hurry, and finding that the book was gone, fell into such a rage that she thrust a knife into her son and ran after Smallhead. But the girl had crossed the bridge before the hag could come up with her.
When the old woman saw Smallhead on the other side of the bridge facing her and dancing with delight, she screamed:
"You took the Sword of Light and the Black Book, and your two sisters are well married. And tonight I have become just an old, childless woman with no one to help me."
Smallhead said. "If you had lived an honest life you wouldn't be as you are today."
"Now, Smallhead," said the old hag, "Your two sisters are well married. Come, now, and take care of me in my old age. I will take all former curses from you, and you will have good luck. I bind myself never to harm a hair of your head."
Smallhead thought awhile, promised to do this, and said "If you harm me, or try to harm me, it will be the worse for yourself."
The old hag was satisfied and went home. Smallhead went to the castle and was received with great joy. Next morning she found the king's son in the garden, and said:
"If you marry my sister tomorrow, you will have the Black Book."
"I will marry her gladly," said the king's son.
Next day the marriage was celebrated and the king's son got the book.
Smallhead stayed in the castle for about a week, and then she went to the hag's house. The old woman gladdened at the sight of her and showed the girl her work. All Smallhead had to do was to wait on the hag and feed a large pig that she had.
"I am fatting that pig," said the hag; "he is seven years old now. We will keep this pig a while longer, and then we will kill and eat him."
Smallhead did her work well in the following months. The old hag taught her some things, and Smallhead learned herself far more than the hag dreamt of. The girl fed the pig three times a day, never thinking that he could be anything but a pig.
The hag had sent word to a sister that she had in the Eastern World, bidding her come and they would kill the pig and have a great feast. The sister came, and one day when the hag was going to walk with her sister she said to Smallhead:
"Give the pig plenty of meal today; this is the last food he will have; give him his fill."
The pig had his own mind and knew what was coming. He put his nose under the pot and threw it on the barefoot Smallhead's toes. She ran into the house for a stick, and seeing a rod on the edge of the loft, snatched it and hit the pig.
That moment the pig was a splendid young man.
Smallhead was amazed.
"Never fear," said the young man, "I am the son of a king that the old hag hated, the king of Munster. She stole me from my father seven years ago and enchanted me - made a pig of me."
Smallhead told the king's son, then, how the hag had treated her. "I must make a pig of you again," she said, "for the hag is coming. Be patient. I will save you if you promise to marry me."
"I promise you," said the king's son.
With that she struck him, and he was a pig again. She put the switch in its place and was at her work when the two sisters came. The pig ate his meal now with a good heart, for he felt sure of rescue.
"Who is that girl you have in the house, and where did you find her?" asked the sister.
"All my children died of the plague, and I took this girl to help me. She is a good servant."
At night the hag slept in one room, her sister in another, and Smallhead in a third. When the two sisters were sleeping, Smallhead rose, stole the hag's magic book, and then took the rod. She went next to where the pig was, and with one blow of the rod made a man of him.
With the help of the magic book Smallhead made two doves of herself and the king's son, and they took flight through the air and flew on without stopping. Next morning the hag called Smallhead, but she did not come. She hurried out to see the pig. The pig was gone. She ran to her book. Not a sign of it.
"Oh I" cried she, "Smallhead has robbed me. She has stolen my book, made a man of the pig, and taken him away with her."
What could she do but tell her whole story to the sister. "Go and follow them," the old hag said. "You have learnt more enchantment than Smallhead has."
"How am I to know them?" asked the sister.
"Bring the first two strange and wonderful things that you find."
The sister then made a hawk of herself and flew away as swiftly as a wind.
"Look behind," said Smallhead to the king's son some hours later. "S ee what is coming."
"I can only see a hawk coming swiftly after us."
"That is the hag's sister. She has three times more enchantment in her than the hag herself. But fly down on the ditch and be picking yourself as doves do in rainy weather, and maybe she will pass without seeing us."
The hawk saw the doves, but did not think they were something wonderful. She flew on till evening, and went went back to her sister.
"Did you see anything wonderful?"
"No, I saw only two doves picking themselves."
"Oh, those doves were Smallhead and the king's son. Off with you in the morning and don't let me see you again without the two with you."
Away went the hawk a second time. Smallhead and the king's son flew swiftly, but the hawk was gaining on them. Seeing this, Smallhead and the king's son dropped down into a large village. It was market-day. They made two heather brooms of themselves, and the two brooms began to sweep the road without anyone holding them, and swept toward each other. This was a great wonder. Crowds gathered at once around the two brooms.
The old hag flying over in the form of a hawk saw this and thought that it must be Smallhead and the king's son. She came down, turned into a woman, and said to herself:
"I will have those two brooms."
She pushed forward so quickly through the crowd that she came near knocking down a man standing before her. The man was vexed.
"You cursed old hag!" he cried, "do you want to knock us down?" With that he gave her a blow and drove her against another man, that man gave her a push that sent her spinning against a third man, and so on till between them all they came near putting the life out of her, and pushed her away from the brooms. A woman in the crowd called out then:
"It would be nothing but right to knock the head off that old hag."
"True," said another woman. With that the people were as angry as angry could be, and were ready to kill the hag. They were going to take the head off the hag when she made a hawk of herself and flew away, while she vowed never to do another stroke of work for her sister. She might do her own work or let it alone.
When the hawk disappeared, the two heather brooms rose and turned into doves. The people felt sure that the doves that had been sweeping broom for a while, were a blessing from heaven.
On the next day Smallhead and the king's son saw his father's castle, and the two came down not too far from it in their own forms. Smallhead was a very beautiful woman now, for she had the magic and didn't spare it. She made herself as beautiful as she could, and the king's son fell in love with her at once. He did not wish to part with her, but she would not go with him.
"When you are at your father's castle," said Smallhead, "all will be overjoyed to see you, and the king will give a great feast in your honour. But if you kiss anyone or let any living thing kiss you, you will forget me."
"I will not let even my own mother kiss me," said he.
The king's son went to the castle. They had not seen him for seven years and thought he was dead. All were overjoyed, but he would not let anyone come near to kiss him. "I am bound by oath not to kiss anyone here," he said to his mother. At that moment an old grey hound came in, and with one spring was on his shoulder and licked his face. All that the king's son had gone through in seven years was forgotten that moment.
Smallhead went toward a forge near the castle. The smith had a wife far younger than himself, and a stepdaughter. They were simple people. In the rear of the forge was a well and a tree growing over it. "I will get up in that tree," thought Smallhead. "and spend the night in it." She climbed up and sat just over the well. She was not long in the tree when the moon came out high above the hill tops and shone on the well. The blacksmith's stepdaughter, coming for water, looked down in the well, saw the face of the woman above in the tree, thought it her own face, and cried:
"Oh, what a beauty I have become! I will never bring another drop to the blacksmith again." With that she cast the pail in the ditch and ran off to find a king's son to marry.
When she was not coming with the water, the blacksmith sent his wife for water instead, for he wanted to wash after his day's work in the forge. His wife had nothing but a pot to get the water in. Off she went with that. When she came to the well she saw a beautiful face in the water.
"Oh, am I such a beauty I will never draw another drop of water for the blacksmith.
She threw away the pot, hurried away to find some nobleman to get married to instead.
When neither mother nor daughter came back with water the smith himself went to see what was keeping them. He saw the pail in the ditch, caught it, went to the well, and saw the face of a beautiful woman in the water. Since he was a bearded man, he knew that it was not his own face that was in it, so he looked up, and there in the tree saw a woman. He said to her:
"My wife and her daughter saw your face in the well, thought they were too good for me and ran away. You must come now and keep the house until I find them."
"I will help you," said Smallhead. She came down, went to the smith's house, and showed the road that the women took. The smith hurried after them, and found the two in a village ten miles away. He explained their own folly to them, and they came home.
The mother and daughter washed fine linen for the castl. Smallhead saw them ironing one day, and said:
"Sit down: I will iron for you."
She caught the iron, and in an hour had the work of the day done.
The women were delighted. In the evening the daughter took the linen to the housekeeper at the castle.
"Who ironed this linen?" asked the housekeeper.
"My mother and I."
"You two can hardly do such fine work. Tell me who did it."
The girl was in dread now and answered:
"A woman who is stopping with us did the ironing."
The housekeeper went to the queen and showed her the linen.
"Send that woman to the castle," said the queen.
Smallhead went, the queen welcomed her, wondered at her beauty and put her over all the maids in the castle. Smallhead could do anything; everybody liked her. But the king's son did not know that he had seen her before.
She lived in the castle a year; what the queen told her she did.
The king had made a match for his son with the daughter of the king of Ulster. There was a great feast in the castle in honour of the young couple. The marriage, was to be a week later. The bride's father brought many who were versed in all kinds of tricks and enchantment.
The king of Munster thought that Smallhead could do many things, for what he or his queen asked her to do, she did in a twinkle.
"Now," said the king to the queen, "I think she can do something that his people cannot do." He summoned Smallhead and asked:
"Can you amuse the strangers?"
"I can if you wish me to do so."
When the time came and the Ulster men had shown their best tricks, Smallhead came forward and raised the window, which was forty feet from the ground. She had a small ball of thread in her hand; she tied one end of the thread to the window, threw the ball out and over a wall near the castle; then she passed out the window, walked on the thread and kept time to music from players that no man could see. She came in; all cheered her and were greatly delighted.
"I can do that too," said the king of Ulster's daughter and sprang out on the string, but she fell and broke her neck on the stones below. There were cries, there was lamentation, and a funeral in place of a marriage.
The king's son was angry and grieved. Therefore he wanted to drive Smallhead from the castle in some way.
"She is not to blame," said the king of Munster, who did nothing but praise her.
Another year passed the king got the daughter of the king of Connacht for his son.
There was a great feast before the wedding day, and as the Connacht people were famed for being full of enchantment and witchcraft, the king of Munster called Smallhead and said:
"Now show the best trick of any."
"I will," said Smallhead.
When the feast was over and the Connacht men had shown their tricks, the king of Munster called Smallhead.
She stood before the company, threw two grains of wheat on the floor, and spoke some magic words. At once there was a hen and a cock before her. She threw a grain of wheat between them. The hen sprang to eat the wheat, the cock gave her a blow of his bill, the hen drew back, looked at him, and then said:
"You wouldn't do a thing like that when I was serving the old hag, you were her pig, and I made a man of you and gave you back your own form."
The king's son looked at her and thought, " There must be something in this."
Smallhead threw a second grain. The cock pecked the hen again. "Oh," said the hen, "you would not do that the day the hag's sister was hunting us, and we were two doves."
The king's son was still more astonished.
She threw a third grain. The cock struck the hen, and she said, "You would not do that to me the day I made two heather brooms out of you and me."
She threw a fourth grain. The cock pecked the hen a fourth time. "You would not do that the day you promised not to let any living thing kiss you or kiss anyone yourself but me - but you let the hound kiss you and you forgot me."
At this the king's son made one bound forward, embraced and kissed Smallhead, and told his father the whole story from beginning to end.
"I have promised to marry her," he said; "I won't marry any other woman."
"Whose wife will my daughter be? " asked the king of Connacht.
"Oh, she will be the wife of the man who will marry her," said the king of Munster, "my son gave his word to this woman before he saw your daughter, and he must keep it."
So Smallhead married the king of Munster's son.
Once there was a poor widow, as often there; has been, and she had one son. A very scarce summer came, and they didn't know bow they'd live till the new potatoes would be fit for eating. So Jack said to his mother one evening,
"Mother, bake my cake, and kill my hen, till I go seek my fortune; and if I meet it, never fear but I will soon be back to share it with you."
So she did as he asked her, and he set out at break of day on his journey. His mother came along with him to the yard gate, and says she,
"Jack, which would you rather have, half the cake and half the hen with my blessing, or the whole of them with my curse?"
"O musha, mother," says Jack, "why do you ask me that question? sure you know I wouldn't have your curse and Damer's estate along with it."
"Well, then, Jack," says she, "here is the whole lot of them, with my thousand blessings along with them." So she stood on the yard fence and blessed him as far as her eyes could see him.
Well, he went along and along till he was tired, and
never a farmer's house he went into wanted a boy. At last his road led by the side of a bog, and there was a poor ass up to his shoulders near a big bunch of grass he was striving to come at.
"Ah, then, Jack asthore," says he, "help me out or I will be drowned."
"Never say't twice," says Jack, and he pitched in big stones and sods into the slob, till the ass got good ground under him.
"Thank you, Jack," says he, when he was out on the hard road; " I will do as much for you another time. Where are you going?"
"Faith, I am going to seek my fortune till harvest comes in, God bless it."
"And if you like," says the ass, "I will go along with you; who knows what luck we may have!"
"With all my heart, it is getting late, let us be jogging." Well, they were going through a village, and a whole army of gossoons were hunting a poor dog with a kettle tied to his tall. He ran up to Jack for protection, and the ass let such a roar out of him, that the little thieves took to their heels as if the ould boy was after them.
"More power to you, Jack," says the dog.
"I am much obleeged to you where is the baste and yourself going?"
"We are going to seek our fortune till harvest comes in."
"And wouldn't I be proud to go with you!" says the dog, "and get rid of them ill conducted boys; purshuing to them."
"Well, well, throw your tail over your arm, and come along."
They got outside the town, and sat down under an old wall, and Jack pulled out his bread and meat, and shared with the dog; and the ass made his dinner on a bunch of thistles. While they were eating and chatting, what should come by but a poor half-starved cat, and the moll-row he gave out of him would make your heart ache.
"You look as if you saw the tops of nine houses since breakfast," said Jack; "here is a bone and something on it."
"May your child never know a hungry belly!" says Tom; "it is myself that is in need of your kindness. May I be so bold as to ask where yez are all going?"
"We are going to seek our fortune till the harvest comes in, and you may join us if you like."
"And that I will do with a heart and a half," says the cat, and thank'ee for asking me."'
Off they set again, and just as the shadows of the trees were three times as long as themselves, they heard a great cackling in a field inside the road, and out over the ditch jumped a fox with a fine black cock in his mouth.
"Oh, you anointed villain! " says the ass, roaring like thunder.
"At him, good dog! " says Jack, and the word wasn't out of his mouth when Coley was in full sweep after the Red Dog. Reynard dropped his prize like a hot potato, and was off like shot, and the poor cock came back fluttering and trembling to Jack and his comrades.
"O musha, naybours!" says he, "wasn't it the heigth of luck that threw you in my way! Maybe I will not remember your kindness if ever I find you in hardship; and where in the world are you all going?"
"We are going to seek our fortune till the harvest comes in; you may join our party if you like, and sit on Neddy's crupper when your legs and wings are tired."
Well, the march began again, and just as the sun was gone down they looked around, and there was neither cabin nor farm house in sight.
"Well, well," says Jack, " the worse luck now the better another time, and it is only a summer night after all. We will go into the wood, and make our bed on the long grass."
No sooner said than done. Jack stretched himself on a bunch of dry grass, the ass lay near him, the dog and cat lay in the ass's warm lap, and the cock went to roost in the next tree.
Well, the soundness of deep sleep was over them all, when the cock took a notion of crowing.
"Bother you, Black Cock!" says the ass "you disturbed me from as nice a wisp of hay as ever I tasted. What is the matter?"
"It is daybreak that is the matter: don't you see light yonder?"
"I see a light indeed," says Jack, "but it is from a candle it is coming, and not from the sun. As you've roused us we may as well go over, and ask for lodging."
So they all shook themselves, and went on through grass, and rocks, and briars, till they got down into a hollow, and there was the light coming through the shadow, and along with it came singing, and laughing, and cursing.
"Easy, boys!" says Jack: "walk on your tippy toes till we see what sort of people we have to deal with."
So they crept near the window, and there they saw six robbers inside, with pistols, and blunderbushes, and
cutlashes, sitting at a table, eating roast beef and pork, and drinking mulled beer, and wine, and whisky punch.
"Wasn't that a fine haul we made at the Lord of Dunlavin's!" says one ugly-looking thief with his mouth full, "and it is little we'd get only for the honest porter! here is his purty health!"
"The porter's purty health!" cried out every one of them, and Jack bent his finger at his comrades.
"Close your ranks, my men, says he in a whisper, "and let every one mind the word of command."
So the ass put his fore-hoofs on the sill of the window, the dog got on the ass's head, the cat on the dog's head, and the cock on the cat's head. Then Jack made a sign, and they all sung out like mad.
"Hee-haw, hee-haw!" roared the ass; "bow-wow!" barked the dog; "meaw-meaw!" cried the cat; "cock-a-doodle-doo!" crowed the cock.
"Level your pistols!" cried Jack, "and make smithereens of them. Don't leave a mother's son of them alive; present, fire!"
With that they gave another halloo, and smashed every pane in the window. The robbers were frightened out of their lives. They blew out the candles, threw down the table, and skelped out at the back door as if they were in earnest, and never drew rein till they were in the very heart of the wood.
Jack and his party got into the room, closed the shutters, lighted the candles, and ate and drank till hunger and thirst were gone. Then they lay down to rest; – Jack in the bed, the ass in the stable, the dog on the door-mat, the cat by the fire, and the cock on the perch.
At first the robbers were very glad to find themselves safe in the thick wood, but they soon began to get vexed.
"This damp grass is very different from our warm room," says one.
"I was obliged to drop a fine pig's foot," says another.
"I didn't get a tayspoonful of my last tumbler," says another.
"And all the Lord of Dunlavin's gold and silver that we left behind!" says the last.
"I think I will venture back," says the captain, "and see if we can recover anything."
"That is a good boy!" said they all, and away he went.
The lights were all out, and so he groped his way to the fire, and there the cat flew in his face, and tore him with teeth and claws. He let a roar out of him, and made for the room door, to look for a candle inside. He trod on the dog's tail, and if he did, he got the marks of his teeth in his arms, and legs, and thighs.
"Thousand murders!" cried he; "I wish I was out of this unlucky house."
When he got to the street door, the cock dropped down on him with his claws and bill, and what the cat and dog done to him was only a flay-bite to what he got from the cock.
"Oh, tattheration to you all, you unfeeling vagabones!" says he, when he recovered his breath; and he staggered and spun round and round till he reeled into the stable, back foremost, but the ass received him with a kick on the broadest part of his small clothes, and laid him comfortably on the dunghill.
When he came to himself, he scratched his head, and began to think what happened him; and as soon as he found that his legs were able to carry him, he crawled away, dragging one foot after another, till he reached the wood.
"Well, well," cried them all, when he came within hearing, "any chance of our property?"
"You may say chance," says he, "and it is itself is the poor chance all out. Ah, will any of you pull a bed of dry grass for me? All the sticking-plaster in Enniscoryour will be too little for the cuts and bruises I have on me. Ah, if you only knew what I have gone through for you! When I got to the kitchen fire, looking for a sod of lighted turf, what should be there but an old woman carding flax, and you may see the marks she left on my face with the cards. I made to the room door as fast as I could, and who should I stumble over but a cobbler and his seat, and if he did not work at me with his awls and his pinchers you may call me a rogue. Well, I got away from him somehow, but when I was passing through the door, it must be the divel himself that pounced down on me with his claws, and his teeth, that were equal to sixpenny nails, and his wings – ill luck be in his road! Well, at last I reached the stable, and there, by way of salute, I got a pelt from a sledge-hammer that sent me half a mile off. If you don't believe me, I will give you leave to go and judge for yourselves."
"Oh, my poor captain," says they, "we believe you to the nines. Catch us, indeed, going within a hen's race of that unlucky cabin!"
Well, before the sun shook his doublet next morning, Jack and his comrades were up and about. They made a hearty breakfast on what was left the night before, and then they all agreed to set off to the castle of the Lord of Dunlavin, and give him back all his gold and silver. Jack put it all in the two ends of a sack and laid it across Neddy's back, and all took the road in their hands. Away they went, through bogs, up hills, down dales, and sometimes along the yellow high road, till they came to the hall-door of the Lord of Dunlavin, and who should be there, airing his powdered head, his white stockings, and his red breeches, but the thief of a porter.
He gave a cross look to the visitors, and says he to Jack, "What do you want here, my fine fellow? there isn't room for you all."
"We want," says Jack, "what I am sure you haven't to give us – and that is, common civility."
"Come, be off, you lazy strollers!" says he, "while a cat "ud be licking her ear, or I will let the dogs at you."
"Would you tell a body," says the cock that was perched on the ass's head, "who was it that opened the door for the robbers the other night?"
Ah! maybe the porter's red face didn't turn the colour of his frill, and the Lord of Dunlavin and his pretty daughter, that were standing at the parlour window unknownst to the porter, put out their heads.
"I'd be glad, Barney," says the master, "to hear your answer to the gentleman with the red comb on him."
"Ah, my lord, don't believe the rascal; sure I didn't open the door to the six robbers."
"And how did you know there were six, you poor innocent?" said the lord.
"Never mind, sir," says Jack, "all your gold and silver is there in that sack, and I don't think you will begrudge us our supper and bed after our long march from the wood of Athsalach."
"Begrudge, indeed! Not one of you will ever see a poor day if I can help it."
So all were welcomed to their heart's content, and the ass and the dog and the cock got the best posts in the farmyard, and the cat took possession of the kitchen. The lord took Jack in hands, dressed him from top to toe in broadcloth, and frills as white as snow, and turnpumps, and put a watch in his fob. When they sat down to dinner, the lady of the house said Jack had the air of a born gentleman about him, and the lord said he'd make him his steward. Jack brought his mother, and settled her comfortably near the castle, and all were as happy as you please.
One very fine day in harvest Tom Fitzpatrick was taking a ramble through the ground, and went along the sunny side of a hedge; when all of a sudden he heard a clacking sort of noise a little before him in the hedge.
"Dear me," said Tom, "but isn't it surprising to hear the stonechatters singing so late in the season?" So Tom stole on, going on the tops of his toes to try if he could get a sight of what was making the noise, to see if he was right in his guess. The noise stopped; but as Tom looked sharply through the bushes, what should he see in a nook of the hedge but a brown pitcher, that might hold about a gallon and a half of liquor; and by-and-by a little wee teeny tiny bit of an old man, with a little motty of a cocked hat stuck on the top of his head, a deeshy daushy leather apron hanging before him, pulled out a little wooden stool, and stood up on it, and dipped a little piggin into the pitcher, and took out the full of it, and put it beside the stool, and then sat down under the pitcher, and began to work at putting a heel-piece on a bit of a brogue just fit for himself.
"Well, by the powers," said Tom to himself, "I often heard tell of the Lepracauns, and, to tell God's truth, I never rightly believed in them – but here is one of them in real earnest. If I go knowingly to work, I am a made man. They say a body must never take their eyes off them, or they will escape."
Tom now stole on a little further, with his eye fixed on the little man just as a cat does with a mouse. So when he got up quite close to him, "God bless your work, neighbour," said Tom.
The little man raised up his head, and "Thank you kindly," said he.
"I wonder you would be working on the holiday!" said Tom.
"That is my own business, not yours," was the reply.
"Well, may be you would be civil enough to tell us what you've got in the pitcher there?" said Tom.
"That I will, with pleasure,'" said he; "'it is good beer."
"Beer!" said Tom. "Thunder and fire! where did you get it?"
"Where did I get it, is it? Why, I made it. And what do you think I made it of?"
"Devil a one of me knows,'" said Tom; "but of malt, I suppose, what else?"
"There you are out. I made it of heath."
"Of heath!" said Tom, bursting out laughing; "sure you don't think me to be such a fool as to believe that?"
"Do as you please," said he, "but what I tell you is the truth. Did you never hear tell of the Danes."
"Well, what about them?" said Tom.
"Why, all the about them there is, is that when they were here they taught us to make beer out of the heath, and the secret's in my family ever since."
"Will you give a body a taste of your beer?" said Tom.
"I will tell you what it is, young man, it would be fitter for you to be looking after your father's property than to be bothering decent quiet people with your foolish questions. There now, while you are idling away your time here, there is the cows have broke into the oats, and are knocking the corn all about."
Tom was taken so by surprise with this that he was just on the very point of turning round when he recollected himself; so, afraid that the like might happen again, he made a grab at the Lepracaun, and caught him up in his hand; but in his hurry he overset the pitcher, and spilt all the beer, so that he could not get a taste of it to tell what sort it was. He then swore that he would kill him if he did not show him where his money was. Tom looked so wicked and so bloody-minded that the little man was quite frightened; so says he,
"Come along with me a couple of fields off, and I will show you a crock of gold."
So they went, and Tom held the Lepracaun fast in his hand, and never took his eyes from off him, though they had to cross hedges and ditches, and a crooked bit of bog, till at last they came to a great field all full of boliauns, and the Lepracaun pointed to a big boliaun, and says he,
"Dig under that boliaun, and you will get the great crock all full of guineas."
Tom in his hurry had never thought of bringing a spade with him, so he made up his mind to run home and fetch one; and that he might know the place again he took off one of his red garters, and tied it round the boliaun.
Then he said to the Lepracaun, "Swear ye will not take that garter away from that boliaun." And the Lepracaun swore right away not to touch it.
"I suppose," said the Lepracaun, very civilly, "you have no further occasion for me?"
"No," says Tom; "you may go away now, if you please, and God speed you, and may good luck attend you wherever you go."
"Well, good-bye to you, Tom Fitzpatrick," said the Lepracaun; "and much good may it do you when you get it."
So Tom ran for dear life, till he came home and got a spade, and then away with him, as hard as he could go, back to the field of boliauns; but when he got there, lo and behold! not a boliaun in the field but had a red garter, the very model of his own, tied about it; and as to digging up the whole field, that was all nonsense, for there were more than forty good Irish acres in it. So Tom came home again with his spade on his shoulder, a little cooler than he went, and many's the hearty curse he gave the Lepracaun every time he thought of the neat turn he had served him.