Billy Mac Daniel was once a likely young man who fell into bad company one clear, frosty night when he was going home and the moon was round and bright, it was a fine night, but he felt pinched with cold. "I wish I had something warm to drink right now," he said.
"Never wish it twice, Billy," said a little man in a three-cornered hat, bound all about with gold lace, and with great silver buckles in his shoes, so big that it was a wonder how he could carry them, and he held out a glass as big as himself, filled with some liquor.
Billy Mac Daniel understood the little man belonged to the good people, yet he received the drink, saying, "Here's your health, and thank you kindly," and he took the glass and drained it to the bottom.
"And now, Billy, don't think of cheating me as you have done others. Just pay me for the drink."
But Billy refused.
"Billy Mac Daniel," said the little man, getting very angry, "you shall be my servant for seven years and a day, and that is the way I will be paid; so make ready to follow me."
When Billy heard this he began to be very sorry, and even though he could not tell how, he felt he had to follow the little man.
They walked all night. When morning began to dawn the little man turned round to him and said, "You may now go home, Billy, but meet me in the Fort-field tonight. If I find you a good servant, you will find me an indulgent master."
Home went Billy Mac Daniel; and though he was tired and weary enough, never a wink of sleep could he get for thinking of the little man; but he was afraid not to do his bidding, so up he got in the evening, and away he went to the Fort-field. He was not long there before the little man came towards him and said, "Billy, I want to go a long journey tonight; so saddle one of my horses, and you may saddle another for yourself, as you are to go along with me and may be tired after your walk last night."
Billy thought this very considerate of his master, and thanked him accordingly: "But," said he, "I don't know the way to your stable."
"Ask no questions, Billy," said the little man, "but go over to that bit of bog, and bring me two of the strongest rushes you can find."
Billy did accordingly, wondering what the little man would be at; and he picked two of the stoutest rushes he could find, with a little bunch of brown blossom stuck at the side of each, and brought them back to his master.
"Get up, Billy," said the little man, taking one of the rushes from him and striding across it.
"Where shall I get up?" said Billy.
"Why, on horseback, like me, to be sure," said the little man.
"Are you trying to persuade me that the rush I pulled but a while ago out of the bog over there is a horse?"
"Up! up! and no words," said the little man, looking very angry; "the best horse you ever rode was but a fool to it." So Billy, thinking all this was in joke, and fearing to vex his master, straddled across the rush. "Get great!" cried the little man three times, and Billy did the same after him. At once the rushes swelled up into fine horses, and away they went full speed; but Billy, who had put the rush between his legs, without much minding how he did it, found himself sitting on horseback the wrong way, which was rather awkward, with his face to the horse's tail; and so quickly had his steed started off with him that he had no power to turn round, and there was therefore nothing for it but to hold on by the tail.
At last they came to their journev's end, and stopped at the gate of a fine house. "Now, Billy," said the little man, "do as you see me do, and follow me close; but mind your head."
The little man then said some queer kind of words, out of which Billy could make no meaning; but he contrived to say them after him for all that; and then they both went in through the key-hole of the door, and through one key-hole after another, till they got into the cellar, which was well stored with all kinds of soda water.
The little man fell to drinking as hard as he could, and Billy did the same. Then said the little man, "Up and follow me." Away they went, through key-hole after key-hole; and each mounting on the rush which he left at the hall door, scampered off, kicking the clouds before them like snowballs, as soon as "Get great!" had passed their lips.
When they came back to the Fort-field the little man dismissed Billy, bidding him to be there the next night at the same hour. Thus did they go on, night after night, shaping their course one night here, and another night there; sometimes north, and sometimes east, and sometimes south, till there was not a gentleman's cellar in all Ireland they had not visited, and could tell the flavor of every kind of soda water in it as well, ay, better than the butler himself.
One night when Billy Mac Daniel met the little man as usual in the Fort-field, and was going to the bog to fetch the horses for their journey, his master said to him, "Billy, I shall want another horse tonight, for maybe we may bring back more company than we take."
So Billy, who now knew better than to question any order given to him by his master, brought a third rush, much wondering who it might be that would travel back in their company.
Away they went, Billy leading the third horse, and never stopped till they came to a snug farmer's house, in the county Limerick, close under the old castle of Carrigogunniel. People say the castle was built by the great Brian Boru. Within the house there was great carousing going forward, and the little man stopped outside for some time to listen; then turning round all of a sudden, said, "Billy, I will be a thousand years old tomorrow!"
"Great, sir," said Billy. "perhaps the first two hundreds were worst?"
"Don't say that, Billy," said the little old man. "Getting old comes by itself,. Now Billy, as I will be a thousand years in the world tomorrow, I think it is full time for me to get married. And to that purpose," said the little man, "have I come all the way to Carrigogunniel; for in this house, this very night, is young Darby Riley going to be married to Bridget Rooney; and as she is a tall and comely girl, and has come of decent people, I think of marrying her myself, and taking her off with me."
"And what will Darby Riley say to that?" said Billy.
"Silence!" said the little man, putting on a severe look; "I did not bring you here with me to ask questions." And without holding further argument, he began saying the queer words which had the power of passing him through the key-hole as free as air, and which Billy thought himself mighty clever to be able to say after him.
In they both went; and for the better viewing the company, the little man perched himself up as nimbly as a cocksparrow on one of the big beams which went across the house over all their heads, and Billy did the same on another facing him; but not being much accustomed to roosting in such a place, his legs hung down as untidy as may be, and it was quite clear he had not taken pattern after the way in which the little man had bundled himself up together. If the little man had been a tailor all his life he could not have sat more contentedly on his haunches.
There they were, both master and man, looking down on the fun that was going forward; and under them were the druid and piper, and the father of Darby Riley, with Darby's two brothers and his uncle's son; and there were both the father and the mother of Bridget Rooney, and the old couple were proud that night of their daughter and her four sisters with brand new ribbons in their caps, and her three brothers all looking as clean and as clever as any three boys in Munster. There were also uncles and aunts, and gossips and cousins enough besides to make a full house of it; and plenty to eat and drink on the table for everyone, even if they had been double the number.
Just as Mrs. Rooney had helped the druid to the first cut of the pig's head which was placed before her, beautifully bolstered up with white savoys, the bride gave a sneeze, which made everyone at the table start. All thought that the druid would have done so, as he ought if he had done his duty, no one wished to take the word out of his mouth, which unfortunately was preoccupied with pig's head and vegetables. And after a moment's pause the fun and merriment of the bridal feast went on.
Billy and his master saw it all. "Hah!" exclaimed the little man, throwing one leg from under him with a joyous flourish, and his eye twinkled with a strange light, while his eyebrows were lifted into the curvature of Gothic arches; "Hah!" said he, peering down at the bride, and then up at Billy, "I have half of her now, surely. Let her sneeze but twice more, and she is mine, in spite of druid, mass-book, and Darby Kiley."
Again the fair Bridget sneezed; but it was so gently, and she blushed so much, that few except the little man seemed to take any notice; and no one thought of saying "God bless us."
Billy all this time regarded the poor girl with a most rueful expression; for he could not help thinking what a terrible thing it was for a nice young girl of nineteen, with large blue eyes, transparent skin, and dimpled cheeks, suffused with health and joy, to have to marry an ugly little bit of a man, who was a thousand years old, barring a day.
At this critical moment the bride gave a third sneeze, and Billy roared out with all his might, "Prosit!" Whether this exclamation resulted from his soliloquy, or from the mere force of habit, he never could tell exactly himself; but no sooner was it uttered than the little man, his face glowing with rage and disappointment, sprung from the beam where he had perched himself, and shrieked out in the shrill voice of a cracked bagpipe, "I discharge you from my service, Billy Mac Daniel! Take that for your wages." Then he gave poor Billy a furious kick in the back, which sent Billy sprawling on his face and hands right in the middle of the supper table. If Billy was astonished, how much more so was everyone of the company. But when they heard his story, the druid laid down his knife and fork, and married the young couple out of hand with all speed; and Billy Mac Daniel was cordially invited to take part in it for his contribution.
THERE was an old man with a girl of thirteen years, and he was begging. He came to a gentleman, and begged of him. The gentleman said it would be better for him to go and earn wages than to be begging. the man said he would go, and willingly, if he got anyone to pay him. The other said he would himself give him pay, and a house to live in for himself, and for the girl to come to and wash and cook for him. He gave them the house, and they went to live in it.
They were not long there when the gentleman came to the girl one day, and thought to take liberties with her, but she kept herself free from him. When he saw that, he went to his workmen, and he spoke to her father, and said to him that he would hang him at twelve o'clock next day unless he told him which there was the greater number of, rivers or banks. His intention was to put the old man to death, that he might have his way with the girl.
The old man went home sorrowful and troubled. His daughter asked him what ailed him, and he told her he was to be hung at twelve o'clock next day unless he could tell which there was the greater number of, rivers or banks.
"Oh, don't be sorrowful," said his daughter, "eat your supper, and sleep plenty, and eat your breakfast in the morning, and when you are going to work, I will tell you."
In the morning said she to him, "Say, when he asks you the question, that there is not a river but has two banks."
When he went to work the master came and asked him, "Which is there the greater number of, rivers or banks?"
"There is not a river," said he, "but has two banks."
"Your question is answered; but you must tell me tomorrow the number of the stars."
He went home in the evening sorrowful and troubled. His daughter asked him what ailed him, and he told her. She bade him not to be sorrowful, for she would tell him in the morning. And in the morning he went to his work, and his master came and asked him to count the number of the stars; and he said, "I will, if you put posts under them."
And he could not do that, but he said, "I will hang you at twelve tomorrow, if you don't give me the measure of the sea in quarts."
And he went home to his daughter and told her, and in the morning, as he was going to work, she said,
"Let him stop the rivers that are going into the sea or out of it, and you will measure it in quarts."
So he gave that answer to his master, and his master could not stop the rivers.
Then he asked for the girl in marriage, and the old man told him not to be making fun of the girl, she was not fit for him. He would get a lady.
"I will not do that," said he, "you must give her to me to marry."
"Well, I must see the girl; she will know what she will do."
He went to his daughter and told her what the gentleman said, and the girl answered her father, and said to him,
"I will marry him, but he must give me a writing under his hand that on the day when he puts me away, he must give me my choice of all that's in his house, to take away three loads with me."
And he said he would give her that, and she got it in his handwriting and signed by the lawyer.
Then the girl came and lived in his house with him until she had two children. At that time there was a dispute in the village between two men, one of whom had a horse, and the other a mare and a foal, and the three beasts used to be together. And the man who owned the horse said that the foal belonged to the horse; and the man of the mare, said no, that the foal was his.
The man who owned the horse put law on the man who owned the mare, and they left it to arbitration; and the man who was brought in to decide was the gentleman, who said he would settle it between them.
He said: "Put the three animals into an empty house and open two doors. The foal is to be with the one it follows." The horse went out first and the foal followed him. Then the foal was given to the man who owned the horse.
All was well till there came some gentlemen to the house. They went out hunting. And when they were a while gone the woman took a fishingrod, and she went fishing in the lake, and she was catching white trout until she saw the company coming, and she turned her back to the lake, and she began casting her line on the dry land. When her husband saw that, he went towards her, away from the other people, and he came and said it was a great wonder she should be casting her line on the dry ground and the lake on the other side of her; and she said it was a great wonder that a horse without milk should have a foal. That made him very angry, and he said on the spot, "After your dinner get ready and go from me."
"Will you give me what you promised?"
"I will give it."
After dinner, when the gentlemen were gone, he told her to be going, and she stood up and took with her her own child as a load and laid it down outside the door. She came in and took the second child as her load and put it outside.
She came and she said, "I believe yourself are the load that's nearest to me." And she threw her arms round him and took him out as her third load. "You are now my own," said she, "and you cannot part from me."
"Oh! I am content," said he, "and I promise I will not part from you for ever."
They lived together then, and she took her father into the house, and he was with her until he died. They had a long life afterward too.