In the County of Armagh, there was once a poor widow woman, who had an only son called Bernard, but known to all as ‘Bear’. There were some neighbours who would have had a good word for the boy and said that he was as sharp a boy as one would care to meet. There were others, however, that thought he was not much better than an idiot. His mother, meanwhile, was a hard-working woman who struggled night and day to ensure that there would be a roof over their heads. One day his mother called to him and told him, “‘Bear’, my son, bad luck is not very far from us these days. There is no food in the house, and the day will soon be here when the landlord will be coming around to collect our rent. So, I want you to take our white cow, for she is the poorest of the three, and bring her over to the fair, and sell her to whoever will give you the best price for her.”
‘Bear’ was very happy to undertake this task for his mother, because it was better fun to go to the fair than to work on the farm. He brushed his clothes down, cocked his hat, and he headed off to the fair whistling a merry tune, driving the white cow ahead of him along the road. It was still early morning. The sun was not yet high, and the dew was lying thick on the hedgerows. The birds were singing on either side of the narrow country road, almost as if they joining ‘Bear’ as joyfully whistled to himself as he walked. It was one of those beautiful mornings that made you feel good about life and ‘Bear’ soaked in the fresh morning air as he drove the white cow ahead of him.
After a while ‘Bear’ came to a stile and sitting on the top of this stile there was a little man who was scarcely two feet high, and he was dressed all in green with a small red cap lying beside him. “Good morning to you, ‘Bear’,” said the little man.
‘Bear’ answered him politely, just as his mother had taught him, but he wondered how this strange little man sitting in the bright sunshine knew that he was known to all as ‘Bear’. “And how much do you think you’ll get for the white cow at the fair?” the stranger asked.
This concerned ‘Bear’ even more as he began to wonder just how this little man knew about his business at the fair, as well as his name. “Well, my mother told me to get that I should get the best price I could,” he answered.
“Aye, but the best price for your cow may not be in gold or silver, young man. But, if you wait a bit, I’ll show you a thing or two worth that is worth seeing.” ‘Bear watched as the little man reached down into a deep pocket of his coat and brought out a tiny harp and a tiny stool. He set these on the top step of the stile and then he reached down into his pocket again, bringing out a ‘May Bug’ gently with his hand. The ‘May Bug’ was dressed in a tiny long-tailed coat and breeches, and the moment the little man set him on the stile, he drew the stool up in front of the harp and began to try the strings and tune them up. When ‘Bear’ saw this he was so surprised that he let out a great whoop of joy.
“Just wait a minute or two, for the story is not yet completed,” said the little man in green. He then took out a mouse dressed as a gentleman of quality, and a bumble-bee in a flowered silk skirt and overdress. The ‘May Bug’ began to play a tune, the mouse bowed to the bumblebee, she curtsied to him and the white cow he was driving before him. Then, as the sound of the joyful music filled the morning air, ‘Bear’ threw back his head and laughed loudly. In time with the music his feet began to jig, causing his hat to bounce on his head, and the even the cow herself began to jump about, waving her tail very happily.
After Barney had danced and laughed himself weak, the music came to an end. The dancers stopped to rest their weary legs, and Barney and the cow also stood still. “Well, and what do you think of that?” asked the little man.
“I think it’s a better sight than any that I’ll be seeing at the fair.”
“Listen to me now,” the little man said. “I am in a great need for a good cow. To tell you the truth, it is those who live under the hill who have sent me out to buy one, and if you want them, I will give you the little harp and the musician for your white cow.”
Barney looked at what he was being offered and scratched his head for a few moments before saying, “It’s not the sort of price my mother thought I’d be getting for the cow.”
“It’s a price that, eventually, will be worth more than gold and silver to you,” said the little man. A few minutes later ‘Bear’ gave the little man the cow and in exchange, he took the harp, the stool, and the little ‘May Bug’. When he took out his handkerchief and wrapped them up in it very carefully, he turned back to the little man and discovered that he had disappeared entirely. There was no sign of him or the cow anywhere.
“And that’s a curious thing, too,” said ‘Bear’ to himself as he set out for home. He put a get pace on his step and when he came within sight of the house, he saw his mother was at the window watching for him, and she came out to meet him.
“I see you sold the cow, son,” she said excitedly. “How much did you get for it?”
“Come inside and I’ll show you,” smiled ‘Bear’, eager to show his mother the treasures he had been given. They went into the house and Barney dusted off the table. Putting his hand in his pocket ‘Bear’ took out the handkerchief, untied it and put the harp, the stool, and the little musician upon the table. The ‘May Bug’ made a bow to Barney’s mother, then he seated himself and began to play. If ‘Bear’ had laughed the last time he had seen the performance, he roared even more loudly now. The old woman, too, began to laugh and that was something that she had not done for many a year before. She laughed until the tears ran down her face, and then she dropped weakly into an armchair and laughed some more. But, when the music finally came to an end, the old woman wiped the tears from her eyes, and she began to return to her normal self. Then, she remembered that the food cupboard was still bare and that the rent was still due to be paid to the landlord despite the wonderful objects that ‘Bear had brought home. “You worthless excuse for a man!” she cried out to her son. “Is that what you sold the cow for? Tell me how you expect us to fill our stomachs and pay the landlord with such nonsense as this?”
‘Bear’ couldn’t give an answer to his mother, for he didn’t have one. The money, however, had to be gathered some way or other, and the next morning, ‘Bear’s’ mother sent him off to the fair again, and this time it was the dappled cow he was driving before him, which was a much finer and larger cow than old ‘Whitey’ had been. As he came nearer and nearer the stile he kept looking and looking to see whether the little man in green was there. It was not until the young man came quite close to the stile that he spied him. There sat the small man on the top step in the sunlight, with his red cap lying beside him. “Well, how did your mother like the price you got for old ‘Whitey’?” the small man asked.
“She didn’t think very much of it, and the trouble I got into with her is all thanks to you.”
“Sure, don’t worry about it! The woman will be thankful enough someday for the price I paid you. Now, is the dappled cow for sale, too?”
“Aye, it is for sale but not to you,” answered ‘Bear’.
“Ah, ‘Bear’, ‘Bear’! I’m beginning to think you must be the eejit that some people call you. There’s no one can pay you as good a price as I can offer you. If you had this well-dressed gentleman of a mouse to dance to the music your mother would split her sides with laughter, and you can have him for yourself in exchange for that cow.”
‘Bear’ stood his ground and would not listen to any deal the little man put forward. But the little man coaxed and wheedled, until finally ‘Bear’ gave him the cow, and took the little mouse in exchange for it. When he reached home again, he found his mother was on the lookout for him. “How much money did you get for the cow?” she asked him.
‘Bear’ made no answer, but he untied his handkerchief, and let the little mouse step out on the table. The old widow looked at this new prize with its cocked hat under its arm, and with its claws on its hip, as he made a grand bow to her. She could say or do nothing but stare and grin with admiration. Then, ‘Bear’ put the ‘May Bug’ and the harp on the table too, and as soon as it had tuned up, it began to play, and the tune was pleasant that it caused his very heart dance in the bosom. The mouse then began to dance and twirl and jig up and down, and ‘Bear’ and his mother stood and laughed until they almost split their sides.
But after the tune ended, the old woman came to herself again, and she was a very angry soul. She began to cry just as hard as she had previously laughed, for both the white cow and the dappled cow were gone, and the landlord’s rent was no nearer to being paid than it had been two days before. But they had to have the money, and there was nothing left but to allow ‘Bear’ to set off the next day for the fair with the red cow, which was the finest of the three animals she once had. ‘Bear’ trudged along, driving the cow before him, and after a while, he once again came to the stile, and there, once again, was the little man in green seated upon it. “Good-day to you, ‘Bear’,” said he.
‘Bear’ never said a word.
“That’s a fine cow you have there,” said the little man, but ‘Bear’ trudged along the narrow road as though he had not heard him, and he never so much as turned his head. “No, ‘Bear’, just hold on a minute, friend,” the little man said. “We have made two bargains, and now we ought to make the third, for there is said to be good luck in odd numbers.”
‘Bear’ would have willingly walked on if he could, but when the little man said, “Wait a bit,” it seemed as though he were rooted to the ground, and he could not stir a step, however hard he tried. Then the little man began to beg and plead with ‘Bear’ to let him have the cow in exchange for the bumble-bee, and for a very long time, Barney continued to refuse. At last, however, he could hold out no longer and the trade was made. No sooner had the young man agreed and taken the bumblebee in his handkerchief than, “pouff!” the little man and the cow both disappeared like a warm breath on a window-pane.
‘Bear’ stared and wondered, and then he turned toward home again, but the nearer he came to the house the slower he walked, for he had some notion as to what his mother would have to say about the bargain he had made. Needless to say, things turned out just the way he had thought they would. When he first put the bumblebee and the others on the kitchen table, when the ‘May Bug’ began to play and the others to dance, his mother laughed and laughed as she had never laughed before in all her life. But when they stopped, and she had come to herself again, she was so angry that simply scolding the young man not enough punishment for him. She grabbed hold of a broom, and if ‘Bear’ had not run out and hidden in the cow byre, he would have had a beating that would have more than dusted his coat for him. However, what was done was done, and what they were to do now to get food and money was more than either of them could say. But the next morning, ‘Bear’ suddenly had a grand scheme in his head.
“Listen, mother, I have a great plan in mind that might bring us in a few pennies,” he said. “I will take the ‘May Bug’, the mouse and the bumble-bee with me to the fair to-day. When we are there the ‘May Bug’ will play the harp and the mouse and the bumble-bee will dance, and it may be the people will be so happy with their tricks that they will give me some pennies.” There was nothing better than this that she could think of, and so the widow gave her consent, and off Bear set for the fair. But I can tell you that if his heart was light his stomach was lighter, for he had had nothing to put in it that morning. He trudged along and trudged along the road, and after a time he came to the stile, and there was the little green man sitting on it just as he had sat before.
“Good-day, Bear,” the little man greeted him.
“Good-day, and bad luck to you,” answered Bear sternly. “It was a dirty trick you played on me when you took our three cows from me and gave me only such nonsense as I carry here in my pocket as payment.”
“Bear,” said the little man in a solemn tone, “I tell you that never again in all your life will you make as good a bargain as you made with me. I will tell you now, truthfully, that the price I paid you shall be the making of you.”
“Aye, and how will that come about?” asked Bear sarcastically.
“Sure, isn’t that what I came here to tell you,” replied the little man. “I’m sure that you already know that the king of Erin has a daughter.”
“Aye,” answered Bear.
“But you may not know that this princess is so beautiful that there never was likes of her seen anywhere in all the world before and that the poor girl is as sad as she is beautiful. It is feared, indeed, that unless something happens to cheer her up, she will grieve her life away. Therefore, the king, her father, has promised that whoever can make her laugh three times shall have her for his wife.”
“But what has all that to do with me?” asked Bear.
“What? Can’t you see that you may be the lad to raise the laugh from her and win her for your wife, and it is with the ‘ May Bug’, the mouse and the bumble-bee that you shall be able to do it.”
“Man dear isn’t that the truth!” exclaimed Bear slapping his leg, “there’s surely nobody in all of this world that could look at those creatures playing their wee tricks and keep a sober face on him.”
The little man then laid out to Bear exactly how he was to proceed and act, and Bear listened intently until he had made sense of all the little man had to say, and then in a flash, he vanished from sight, and Barney saw him no more. He now turned his face away from the direction of the fair and toward where the palace stood, and off he set, one foot before the other, just as fast as he could go.
After a long journey Bear and came to the place, he wished to go, and a very grand fine palace it was when he reached it. But in front of it, there was a strange, terrifying sight, which did nothing for Bear’s confidence or his will to continue. There in front of the door stood twelve tall stakes, and upon eleven of these stakes were eleven heads, but upon the twelfth stake, there was no head at all. Bear decided he would not stare long at this scene and, gathering all the courage he still had he went forward, marching up to the palace door and rapping it loudly with his stick. A few moments later it opened and there stood a man, all in gold lace, looking out at him. “What do you want here?” he asked.
“I have come to see the princess and to make her laugh,” Bearn answered boldly and with confidence.
“Well, you have a hard task before you,” said the man. “However, I am not the one to tell you can or can’t, and I will go and tell the king you are here.”
He went away and then presently he not much later he returned with the king at his side. The king looked at Bear intensely for a moment or two and then he said, “You are a fine stout lad, but I doubt that you are the one to make the princess laugh. Nevertheless, you can try if you wish, although there are certain conditions must know about before you begin. You must make her laugh three times before you can have her for a wife, and if you fail your head will be cut off and set upon a stake, for the princess has made me promise that this shall be the punishment for failure.” The king went on to tell him that eleven stout lads had already lost their heads,“and there they are to prove it,” he said, as he pointed to the stakes before the palace door.
Bear looked and saw again that the twelfth stake had nothing on it, and he liked the looks of it even less than before, for it seemed to him to be waiting for his head to be fitted on top. However, he was not the type of man to turn back at this stage and he told them, “Your majesty, I will give it a try, whether I succeed or fail.”
“Very well,” said the king; “and when will you try?”
“Now,” said Bear, “if you will just give me a moment or two.”
He then took out the ‘May Bug’, the mouse and the bumble-bee and tied them all together with a long piece of string, one in front of the other. Then, setting them on the floor, he took the end of the string in his hand. Now, when the king saw that, he began to laugh, and the man in gold lace began to laugh. They laughed and laughed until the tears ran down their cheeks and they had to wipe them away. “Do you know, boy,” said the king, “you may be the one to win the princess for a wife, after all.” With that they set off down a long hall, the king first, and the man in gold lace next, and, last of all, Bear with the three little creatures following.
At the end of the hall, there was a grand fine room with a grand fine throne placed in it. Upon the throne sat the princess, and she was looking very sad. And, all the ladies that were standing around her looked very sad too, for that was the polite and safest thing for them to do when she was sorrowful. She frowned deeply when she saw the king enter, and when she saw the man in gold lace follow, she scowled. But when she saw Bear in all his tattered clothes, holding one end of the string, and the three little creatures hopping along behind him, first she smiled and then she grinned, and then she threw back her head and let out such a laugh you could have heard it a mile away.
“That’s one!” cried Bear. Then he untied the little creatures and called for a table and set them upon it, and he drew out the harp and stool and gave it to the ‘May Bug’. It seated itself and tuned the harp, while the princess and all her ladies stared and stared. Then, it began to play and the mouse and the bumble-bee began to dance. They danced so fine and light, you’d have thought they’d had wings to their feet. At this spectacle, the princess let out a laugh that was twice as loud as the other.
“Thank you, princess,” said Bear, “that’s two.” But, at that, the princess stopped laughing and looked as glum as the grave. The ‘ May Bug’ played, the others danced, faster and faster, but not a third laugh could they get out of the princess, and it seemed as though Bear would lose his head after all. But the little mouse saw as well as Bear what was happening and suddenly, he whirled around and brought his tail, whack! across the bumble-bee’s mouth. That set the bumble-bee to coughing. It coughed and coughed as though it would cough its head off and the princess began to laugh for the third time. The more it coughed the more she laughed until it seemed as though she might die of laughing.
“That makes the third time,” cried Bear ecstatically, “and now I think you’ll agree that I’ve won the princess fairly.” Well, no one could deny that, so he was taken to another grand room in the palace and there he was washed and combed and dressed in fine clothes, and when that was done, he looked so brave and straight and handsome that the princess was glad enough to have him for a husband. They were married the next day, and a coach and four were sent to bring the old mother to the wedding. When she came and saw her own son, Bear, dressed in that way and holding a royal princess by the hand, she could hardly believe her eyes, and almost died of joy as the princess had of laughing. A great feast was held in celebration, and the little man in green was there, too, and feasted with the best of them, but nobody saw him for he had his red cap on his head, and that made him invisible
In the County of Armagh, there once lived a young man, who had never washed his feet from the day he was born. His name was Danny Grealish but, because people said there was enough dirt on his feet to grow potatoes, they used to call him ‘Spud Foot’. His father would often call him, “Get up, you great waste of space and wash.” But not one inch would he move out of the bed, and never a thought did he give to washing one foot, never mind two.
There was no sense at all in talking to the idler. Everyone would constantly be making fun of him because of his dirty feet, but not one bit of attention did he pay to them. In fact, you could have said anything to him, but he had the hide of rhinoceros and would pay no heed, going his own way despite all. Then, one night the whole family were gathered in the house, sitting by the fire, telling stories, and having great craic, with him in the middle of it. The father took a puff of his pipe and said to him, “Danny, my boy, this day you are twenty-one years old this day, and you’ve never washed a foot from the day you were born.”
“That’s a lie,” said Danny, “sure, didn’t I go swimming last May Day, and I couldn’t keep my feet out of the water.“
“Well, let me tell you, boy, they were as dirty as ever they were when you came to the shore,” said the father.
“Aye, that’s the truth. They were,” replied Danny.
“Precisely!” replied his father, “Isn’t that what I’m telling you! It was never in you to wash your feet.“
“Aye, and I will never wash them until the day that God calls me,” Danny told him.
“You’re a miserable gobshite! A clown! a tinker! a good-for-nothing wastrel! What kind of answer is that? ” says the father, who drew back his hand and gave him a great thump with his fist on the boy’s jaw. “Get out of this!” he said, “I can’t stand you being about me any longer.“
Danny lifted himself up from the floor and put a hand to his jaw, where he had got the fist. “Only that it is you that gave me that blow,” said the boy, “You’d never hit another blow for the rest of your life.” His eyes were filled with rage and his voice with anger as he stormed out of the house.
Just a little way off from the gable of the house there was the finest Rath in Ireland, with a fine grass bank that ran around it, and Danny would often sit there by himself. He stood, half leaning against the gable wall of the house, looking up into the sky, and watching the beautiful white moon over his head. After he was standing there for a couple of hours, he said quietly to himself, “It’s my fault that I am not away from this place before now. By God, I would rather be any other place in the world than here. Och, sure, it’s well for you, white moon, going around and around just as you wish, and no man can hold you back. I wish, I was the same as you.“
Hardly were the words out of his mouth when he heard a great noise coming toward him, like the sound of many people running together, talking, and laughing, and having fun, and the sound went by him like a whirl of wind. He listened attentively to it as it went into the Rath, “Well, by my soul,” says he, ” but you’re all sounding in good form, and I’ll follow your example”.
Although he did not know it at the time, it was the fairy host that had passed him by, and he followed them into the Rath. It was there that he heard whooping, hollering, whistling, and the cheering, and every one of them crying out as loud as he could, “My horse, and bridle and saddle!”
“Now, that’s not a bad shout,” said Danny, “Sure, I’ll imitate you.” Cupping his hand to his mouth, he cried out as loudly as they did, “My horse, and bridle, and saddle! My horse, and bridle, and saddle! “
In an instant, a fine horse with a bridle of gold, and a saddle of silver was standing before him and leapt upon it. The moment he was on its back Danny clearly saw that the Rath was full of horses, and of little people riding on them. One of these little people turned to him and asked, “Are you coming with us to-night, ‘Spud Feet’?”
He was surprised to hear himself called this, nevertheless, he answered, “I am sure.“
“Well, if you are, come along,” said the little man, and he rode out with them, riding like the wind, faster than the fastest horse ever you and faster than the fox with the hounds at his tail. The cold winter’s wind that was blowing ahead of them, they overtook, and the cold winter’s wind that was behind them, could not overtake them. They made no stop or slowing down that race until they eventually came to the brink of the sea. Then every one of them cried out, “High up! High up!“. In a flash, they were high up in the air, and before Danny had time to think about where he was, they were down again on dry land and were going like the wind.
Finally, they stood, and one of the little people asked Danny, ” ‘Spud Feet’, do you know where you are now?“
“Not a clue,” replied Danny.
” You’re in Rome, ‘Spud Feet’’” said he, “but we’re going much further than that. The daughter of the king of France is to be married to-night, and she the most handsome woman that ever the sun shone upon, and we must do our best to bring her with us if we can carry her off. You must come with us, so that we may be able to put the young girl up behind you on the horse, when we bring her away, for it’s not permitted for her to sit behind us. But you are flesh and blood, and she can take a good grip of you, to prevent her from falling off the horse. Are you satisfied, ‘Spud Feet’, and will you do what we’re telling you?“
“Sure, why shouldn’t I be satisfied?” said Danny. “I’m satisfied, surely, and anything that you tell me to do I’ll do it, but where are we now?“
“You’re in Rome now, ‘Spud Feet’,” said the fairy.
“In Rome, is it?” said Danny. “Indeed, and no lie. Sure, I’m glad of that, for the parish priest that we had was suspended and lost his parish some time ago. Now, I’ll go to the Pope and get a ‘Bull’ from him that will put the priest back in his own place again.“
“Oh, ‘Spud Feet’,” said the fairy, “sure, you can’t do that. You won’t be allowed into the palace and, anyhow, we can’t wait for you, for we’re in a terrible hurry.“
“I’ll not go with you one foot,” Said Danny, “until I go to the Pope! All of you can go on ahead without me if you want. But I’ll not move an inch until I go and get the pardon for my parish priest.“
“’Spud Feet’, have you completely lost your senses, man dear? You can’t go, and there’s your answer for you now! I tell you, you can’t go, so settle yourself.”
“Can you not just go on and leave me here behind you?” said Danny, “Then, when you come back, can you not just throw the wee girl up behind me?”
“But we want you at the palace of the king of France,” said the fairy, “and you have to come with us now.“
“No! The devil a step I’ll take, I’ve told you,” stressed Danny, “until I get the pardon for the priest. I tell you, he’s the most honest and the most pleasant man in Ireland.“
Another now stepped forward and spoke, “Now, don’t you lot be so hard on ‘Spud Feet’. Sure, that boy’s a kind boy, and he has a good heart. If he doesn’t want to come without the Pope’s bull in his hand, then we must do our best to get it for him. He and I will go into the Pope together, and you all can wait here for us.“
“Thank you, a thousand times,” an excited Danny said with a huge grin. “I’m ready to go with you now, for this priest is the nicest and most generous man in the world.”
“You just talk too much, ‘Spud Feet’,” said the fairy leader, “but come along with me now. Get off your horse and take my hand.“
Danny dismounted and took the fairy’s hand, and he heard the little man say a couple of words that he did not understand. Then, before he could get his thoughts together, he found himself in a room with the Pope. That night the Pope was sitting up late reading a book that he liked, and he was sitting on a big soft armchair with his two feet on the chimney-board. He had a fine fire going in the grate, and a little table standing at his elbow and a drop of hot whiskey with sugar in a little glass. He was so involved in his book that he never felt Danny coming up behind him. “Now ‘Spud Feet’,” said the fairy leader, “go and tell him that unless he gives you that bull, you’ll set the room on fire. And, if that fellow refuses it to you, I’ll spurt fire all around the place out of my mouth, until he thinks the place is really in a blaze, and I’ll bet you that he’ll be quick enough then to give you that pardon.”
Danny went up to the Pope and put his hand on a shoulder, with a jump of fright the Pope turned around, and when he saw Danny standing behind him, he almost fainted. “Don’t be afraid, big man,” said Danny comfortingly, “we have a parish priest at home, and some blackguard told your honour an awful lie about him, and he was a broken man. But, let me tell you that he’s the most decent man ever your honour came across, and there’s not a man, woman, or child in the entire Parish that doesn’t love him.”
“Hold your whisht, you wee imp!” snapped the Pope angrily. “Where did you come from, and how did you get in here at all, for I have a lock on the door? What is it you want of me?”
“Didn’t I come in through the keyhole?” Danny told him. “And I’d be very much obliged if your honour would do just what I’m asking of you.“
The Pope cried out in fear, “Where are all my people? Where are my servants? Seamus! Sean! I’m killed! I’m robbed!”
Danny had put his back to the door of the to prevent his escape, and he was afraid to go anywhere near Danny, so there was little choice Pope but to listen to the story. Danny, however, was the type of man who could not tell a story briefly and plainly, because his speech was naturally slow and coarse, and this made the Pope angry. So, when Danny had finished his story, the Pope vowed that he would never pardon the priest, and he threatened that he would have Danny put to death for his audacity in bursting in upon him uninvited. He immediately began to cry out for his servants to attend him, but there was a lock on the inside of the door which would prevent them coming into the room, whether they heard him or not. “Unless you give me a bull under your hand and seal, granting the priest his pardon, I will burn this house of yours to the ground,” Danny threatened.
The fairy man, whom the Pope had not seen, now began to blow fire and flame out of his mouth, and the Pope panicked as he thought that the room was all ablaze. He cried out, “Oh, Stop your destruction! I’ll give you the pardon you want. I’ll give you anything you want if you would stop your fire, and don’t burn my house.”
The Fairy man stopped the fire, and the Pope had to sit down at his desk and write a full pardon for the priest and giving him back his old Parish. When he had it written, he put his name under it on the paper, and he placed it in Danny’s hand. “Thank you,” Danny said humbly, “I will never come here again to disturb you, good-bye.”
“Don’t even think about it,” replied the Pope, ” for if you do, I’ll be ready for you, and you won’t get away from me so easily again. I will have you shut up in a dark prison, from which you will never get out.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t be coming again,” Danny insisted and, before he could say another word, the Fairy Man spoke some words, caught Danny’s hand again, and they left. Danny found himself among the other Fairies, and his horse waiting for him.
“Now, ‘Spud Feet’,” they said, “you have caused us a great delay, and us in such a hurry. But, no matter, come on now, and don’t be playing such a trick again, for we won’t wait for you the next time.”
“I’m satisfied, now,” said Danny, “and I thank you all. But tell me, where are we going?”
“We’re going to the palace of the king of France,” they told him, “and if we can, we are going to carry off his daughter.”
With one voice they said, “Rise up, horse !” and the horses began leaping, and running, and prancing. The cold wind of winter that was before them they over-took, and the cold wind of winter that was behind them did not overtake them. As they raced on their journey there was no obstruction to their progress, and they never stopped once until they came as far as the palace of the King of France. On their arrival, they all got off their horses and not one of them said, and in a moment, they were all lifted up. Danny now found himself and his companions in the palace, where there was a great feast in progress. At this feast, every nobleman and other men of rank were present and dressed in colourful silk and satin, with gold and silver jewellery. In that hall the night was as bright as the day with all the lamps and candles that were lit, causing Danny to shut his eyes because of the brightness. When he opened them again and looked out at the crowded hall, he thought that he had never seen anything as fine as all that he saw there.
There were a hundred tables spread out, and each was filled with meat and drink, flesh-meat, and cakes and sweetmeats, and wine and ale, and every drink that ever a man could think of. The musicians were at the two ends of the hall, and they were playing the sweetest music that a man’s ear had ever heard. In the centre of the hall, there were young women and fine young men dancing and turning, and going around so quickly and so lightly, that it caused Danny’s head to spin, just by looking at them. There were more people playing tricks, and others making fun and laughing, for such a feast as this had not been held in France for twenty years. This was special because the old king had no children alive but the one daughter, who was to be married to the son of another king that night. For three days the feast had been going, and on the third night, she was to be married. That was the night that Danny and the Fairy host had come in the hope that they could carry off the king’s daughter with them.
Danny and his companions were standing together at the head of the hall, where there was a fine altar dressed up, and two bishops behind it waiting patiently to marry the girl, as soon as the appointed time arrived. Nobody could see the Fairies, for they had spoken their charm of invisibility as they came in, and it was as if they were not there at all. “Tell me which of these people is the king’s daughter,” said Danny, as he became increasingly used to the noise and the light about him.
“Don’t you see her there, in front of you?” said the small fairy that was standing at his side. Danny looked to the place where the little man was pointing with his finger, and there he saw the loveliest woman that ever he had seen. The rose and the lily were in her face, and you could not tell which of them had dominance, while her entire form was smooth and slender, and her hair was falling from her head in tresses of gold. Her garments and dress were woven with gold and silver, and the bright stone that was in the ring on her hand was as shining as the sun.
Danny was almost made speechless by the loveliness and beauty of the woman before him, but when he looked at her again, he noticed that she was crying and that there were tracks of tears in her eyes. “It can’t be,” said Danny, “that she’s so sad when everybody around her is so full of joy and merriment.”
“Aye, she is very sad,” said the little man, “for she is being forced to marry against her will, and to a man, she does not love. The king was going to give her to him three years ago when she was only fifteen, but she said she was too young, and asked him to leave her as she was. The king gave her a year’s grace, and when that year was ended, he gave her another year’s grace, and then another. But, after that, he would not give her another week or a day longer. Tonight, she is eighteen years old, and it’s time for her to marry. But, indeed,” says he, and he twisted his mouth in an ugly way, “she’ll marry no king’s son if I can help it.”
Danny pitied the beautiful young lady when he heard that, and he was heart-broken to think that it would be necessary for her to marry a man she did not like, or what was worse, to take a nasty ‘Fairy Man’ for a husband. Although he said nothing, he could not help cursing the ill-fortune that had been laid out for himself, because he was helping the people that were to snatch her away from her home and from her father. Nonetheless, he began to think about what he could do to save her, but he could think of nothing. “If I could only give her some help and relief,” he told himself, “I wouldn’t care whether I was alive or dead. But I see nothing that I can do for her.” He was looking on when the king’s son came up to her and asked her for a kiss, but she turned her head away from him. Danny was filled with great sorrow for her, especially when he saw the young man taking her by the soft white hand and drawing her out to dance. They went dancing around the floor near to where Danny stood, and he could plainly see that there were tears in her eyes. When the dancing was over, the old king, her father, and her mother the queen came up and said that this was the right time to marry her. The Bishop was ready, and all had been prepared, and it was time to put the wedding-ring on her finger and give her to her husband.
The old king laughed out loud. “Well, friends,” he said, “the night is nearly over, but my son will make a great night for himself, and I’ll bet you that he won’t be rising early in the morning.”
“Well, maybe he will,” said the Fairy man in Danny’s ear, “or maybe he won’t go to bed, at all. Ha, ha, ha! “
Danny did not answer him, for he was busy watching to see what they would do then. He watched as the king took the young man by the hand, and the queen took her daughter, and they all went up together to the altar, with all the lords and great people following them. When they came near the altar and were no more than about four yards from it, the little fairy man stretched out his foot in front of the girl, and she fell. Before she was able to get up again, he threw something that was in his hand upon her, saying a couple of words, and immediately the girl was gone from the scene. Nobody could see her, for those words made her invisible. The little man had taken her and lifted her up behind Danny, and not a person saw them as they moved through the hall until they came to the door. The place was in a chaos with people screaming and crying as they searched and pulled the place apart, seeking the lady who had disappeared in front of their eyes. The fairy folk were now out of the palace door, without being seen by anyone and they all called out, “My horse, my bridle, and saddle! “
“My horse, my bridle, and saddle!” shouted Danny and in an instant, the horse was standing ready and waiting for him.
“Now, jump up, Spud Feet,” said the little man, “and put the lady behind you, and we will be going. It won’t be long until morning.”
Danny raised her up on the horse’s back, and leapt up in front of her, calling out, “Move on horse.” His horse, and the other horses with him, went in at full pace until they came to the sea.
“High over, cap!” said every man of them.
“High over, cap!” said Danny, and immediately the horse rose under him, cutting a path through the clouds, and came down in Ireland. They did not stop there but went racing off to the place where Danny’s house and the Rath stood. And when they came as far as that, Danny turned and caught the young girl in his two arms and leapt off the horse. “I call out and bless you to myself, in the name of God!” he said and even before he had finished speaking the horse fell and immediately changed into the beam of a plough, from which they had made it. Simultaneously, every other horse they had was returned to its original form. Some of them were riding on an old brush, and some on a broken stick, and more on a ragweed, or a hemlock-stalk.
The ‘good people’ called out together when they heard what Danny said: “Oh, ‘Spud Feet’, you clown, you thief, no good fortune will come your way now. Why did you play that trick on us?” But they had no power at all to carry off the girl after Danny had consecrated her to himself. “Oh, ‘Spud Feet’, isn’t that a nice turn you did us, and we were so kind to you? What good have we now out of our journey to Rome and to France? Never mind now, you clown, but you’ll pay us back another time for this deceit. Believe us you’ll repent of it.”
“He’ll have no life with that young girl,” said the little man that was talking to him in the palace before that, and as he said these words, he moved over to her and struck her a slap on the side of the head. “Now,” says he, “she’ll not be able to talk anymore. So, now, ‘Spud Feet’, what good will she be to you when she’ll be dumb? It’s time for us to go, but you’ll remember us, ‘Spud Feet!” When he said that he stretched out his two hands and before Danny was able to give an answer, he and the rest of them were gone into the rath out of his sight, and he saw them no more.
He turned to the young woman and said to her, “Thanks be to God, they’re gone. Would you not sooner stay with me than with them?“. She did not answer. “She’s still troubled and grieving,” Danny told himself, and he spoke to her again, “I’m afraid that you must spend this night in my father’s house, lady, and if there is anything that I can do for you, tell me, and I’ll be your servant.” The beautiful girl remained silent, but there were tears in her eyes, and her face was white and red after each other.
“Lady” said Grealish, “tell me what you would like me to do now. I never belonged at all to that lot of fairy folk who carried you away with them. I am the son of an honest farmer, and I went with them without knowing it. If I am able to send you back to your father, I’ll do it, and I pray you make any use of me now that you may wish.” He looked into her face, and he saw the mouth moving as if she was going to speak, but there came no word from it. “It cannot be,” said Danny, “that you are dumb. Did I not hear you speaking to the king’s son in the palace tonight? Or has that devil made you really dumb, when he struck his nasty hand on your jaw?“
The girl raised her white smooth hand, and laid her finger on her tongue, to show him that she had lost her voice and power of speech, and the tears ran from the ducts in her two eyes like streams, and Danny’s own eyes were not dry. Although he may have rough on the outside, he had a soft heart, and could not stand the sight of the young girl in such an unhappy condition. He began thinking to himself what he could do, and he did not like the idea of bringing her home with himself to his father’s house. He fully realised that they would not believe that he had been in France and brought back with him the King of France’s daughter, and he feared that they might make fun of her.
The girl bent her head, to show him that she was obliged, and she gave him to understand that she was ready to follow him any place he was going. “We will go to the priest’s house, then,” said he, “he is under an obligation to me, and will do anything I ask him.” They went to the priest’s house, and the sun was just rising when they came to the door. Danny knocked it hard, and as early as it was the priest was up and opened the door himself. He wondered when he saw Danny and the girl, for he was certain that they had come to him wanting to be married. “Danny, aren’t you a nice boy that you can’t wait until ten o’clock or twelve, but decide to come to me at this hour, looking to get married, you and your girlfriend. You ought to know that I’m suspended and that I can’t marry you or can’t marry you lawfully. But, hold on!” said the priest as he looked again at the young girl, “In the name of God, who have you here? Who is she, and where did you get her?“
“Father,” said Danny, “you can marry me, or anybody else, from now on if you wish. But I’m not looking to be married. I came to you now, just to ask you, if you would please give a room in your house where this young lady can stay.” And with that, he drew out the ‘Papal Bull’ and gave it to the priest to read. The priest took it, and read it, in disbelief. But took careful notice of the writing and the seal, and he had no doubt, that it was a legitimate document from the Pope’s own hand.
“Where did you get this?” he asked Danny, and the hand he held the paper in, was trembling with wonder and joy. “Oh, now! ” said Danny, airily enough, “I got it last night in Rome. I remained a couple of hours in the city when I was on my way to bring this young-lady, daughter of the king of France, back with me.” The priest looked at him as though he had ten heads on him. But without putting another question to him, the priest asked them both to come in. When they entered the house, the priest shut the door, brought them into the parlour, and bade them be seated.
“Now, Danny,” said he, “tell me the truth. Where did you get this ‘bull’, and who is this young lady, and are you completely out of your senses, or are you only making a joke out of me?“.
“I’m not telling you a word of a lie, nor am I making a joke of you,” said Danny. “But it was from the Pope himself that I got the paper, and it was from the palace of the King of France that I carried off this lady, and she is the daughter of the king of France.” He began to tell his whole story to the priest, surprising the priest so much surprised that he could not help calling out at times or clapping his hands together. When Danny said that from what he saw he thought the girl was not happy with the marriage that was going to take place in the palace before he and the fairy-folk broke it up, there came a red blush into the girl’s cheek, and that persuaded him that she would sooner be as she was, and as badly as she was, than be to a man she hated. When Danny said that he would be very thankful to the priest if he would keep her in his own house, the kind man said he would do that as long as Danny wanted, but that he did not know what they ought to do with her, because they had no means of sending her back to her father again. Danny made it clear that he was uneasy for the same reason, but that he saw nothing else to do but to keep quiet until they should find some opportunity of doing something better.
They decided between themselves that the priest should say that she was his brother’s daughter, who had come to visit him from another county. They also agreed that the priest should tell everybody that she was dumb and do his best to keep everyone away from her. They told the young girl what they intended to do, and she showed her support through her eyes. Danny then went home and, when his people asked him where he had been, said that he was asleep at the foot of the ditch, and had passed the night there.
There was great surprise among the neighbours when the honest priest showed them all the Pope’s bull and regained his old position. Everyone rejoiced at the news because they could never see any fault at all in that honest man, except that every now and again he would have too much of a liking for a drop of whiskey. But no one could say that he ever saw him in a state that he could not utter “here’s to your health,” as well as any other man in the land. But if they were surprised to see the priest back again in his old place, they were much more surprised at the arrival of a girl so suddenly to his house without anyone knowing where she was from, or what business she had there. Some of the people said that everything was not as it ought to be, and others that it was not possible that the Pope gave the parish back to the priest after taking it from him before, on account of the complaints about his drinking. And there were more of them, too, who said that Danny was not at all like the same man that he was before, and that it was a great surprise how he was going every day to the priest’s house. But the one thing they could not quite understand was how the priest had come to respect for him. There was seldom a day passed but Danny would not go to the priest’s house and have a talk with him, and as often as he would come, he used to hope to find the young lady well again, and able to speak. Alas! she remained dumb and silent, without relief or cure. Since she had no other means of talking, she communicated by moving her hand and fingers, winking her eyes, opening and shutting her mouth, laughing or smiling, and a thousand other signs, so that it was not long until they came to understand each other very well.
Danny was always thinking about how he should send her back to her father, but there was no one to go with her, and he himself did not know what road to take, for he had never been out of his own country before the night he brought her away with him. Nor had the priest any better knowledge than he, but when Danny asked him, he wrote three or four letters to the King of France, and gave them to buyers and sellers of wares, who used to be going from place to place across the sea. They all went astray, however, and not one ever came to the king’s hand. This was the way they were for many months, and Danny was falling deeper and deeper in love with her every day, and it was plain to himself and the priest that she also liked him. The boy soon began to fear that the King would, somehow, hear where his daughter was and would take her away from him, and he pleaded the priest to write no more letters, but to leave the matter to God.
In this manner, a year passed until there came a day when Danny was lying by himself on the grass on the last day of October, and he was thinking about everything that happened to him from the day that he had gone with the fairy-folk across the sea. He suddenly remembered that it was one November night that he was standing at the gable of the house when the whirlwind came, and the fairy-folk in it, and he said to himself: “We have a November night again today, and I’ll stand in the same place I was last year until I see will the ‘good people’ come again. Perhaps I might see or hear something that would be useful to me and might bring back Mary’s voice” – that being the name Danny and the priest had given the King’s daughter, for neither of them knew her right name. He told his intentions to the priest, and the priest gave him his blessing. Danny then went to the old Rath when the night was darkening, and he stood with his bent elbow leaning on a grey old flag, waiting until the middle of the night should come. The moon rose slowly, and it was like a knob of fire behind him, and there was a white fog which was raised up over the fields of grass and all damp places, through the coolness of the night after a great heat in the day. The night was calm as is a lake when there is not a breath of wind to move a wave on it, and there was no sound to be heard but the hum of the insects that would go by from time to time, or the hoarse sudden scream of the wild geese, as they passed from lake to lake, half a mile up in the air over his head, or the sharp whistle of the golden and green plovers, rising and flying, flying and rising, as they do on a calm night. There were thousands upon thousands of bright stars shining over his head, and there was a little frost, which left the grass under his foot white and crisp.
He stood there for an hour, for two hours, for three hours, and the frost increased greatly so that he heard the breaking of the daisies under his foot every time he moved. He was thinking, in his own mind, at last, that the fairy-folk would not come that night, and that it was as good for him to return back again, when he heard a sound far away from him, coming towards him, and he recognised what it was at the first moment. The sound increased, and at first, it was like the beating of waves on a stony shore, and then it was like the falling of a great waterfall, and at last, it was like a loud storm in the tops of the trees, and then the whirlwind burst into the Rath, and the fairy-folk was in it. It all went by him so suddenly that he lost his breath with it, but he came to himself on the spot, and he began listening to what they would say. Scarcely had they gathered into the Rath until they all began shouting, and screaming, and talking amongst themselves. Then, each one of them cried out, “My horse, and bridle, and saddle! My horse, and bridle, and saddle!“
Danny now took courage, and called out as loudly as any of them, “My horse, and bridle and saddle! My horse, and bridle and saddle!“
But before the word was out of his mouth, another man cried out; “Oh! ‘Spud Feet’, my boy, are you here with us again? How are you coming on with your woman? There’s no use in your calling for your horse tonight, I bet you won’t make fools of us again. It was a good trick you played on us last year!“.
“It was,” said another man, “he won’t do it again.”
“Isn’t he a smart lad, the same lad! To take a woman with him that never said as much to him as, ‘how do you do?’ since this time last year!” says the third man.
” Perhaps he just likes to be looking at her,” said another voice.
“And if the eejit only knew that there’s a herb growing up by his own door, and to boil it and give it to her, she’d be well,” said another voice.
“He is an eejit!’‘
“Don’t be bothering your head with him, we’ll be going.“
” We’ll leave the gobshite as he is.”
And with that, they rose up into the air, and out with them the way they came. They left poor Danny standing where they found him and the two eyes going out of his head, looking after them and wondering. He did not stand long till he went back, and he thought about all he saw and heard, and wondering whether there was really a herb at his own door that would bring back the voice of the King’s daughter. “It can’t be,” he told himself, “that they would tell it to me if there was any truth in it, but perhaps the fairy man didn’t think before he let the word slip out of his mouth. I’ll search as soon as the sun rises, to see if there’s any plant growing beside the house except thistles and dockings.” He went home, and as tired as he was, he did not sleep a wink until the sun rose in the morning. He got up then, and it was the first thing he did to go out and search through the grass round about the house, trying to see if he could he get any herb that he did not recognize. And, indeed, he was not long searching until he saw a large, strange herb that was growing up just by the gable of the house. He went over to it, and examined it closely, and saw that there were seven little branches coming out of the stalk, and seven leaves growing on every branch of them and that there was a white sap in the leaves. “It’s very wonderful,” he said to himself, “that I never noticed this herb before. If there’s any virtue in a herb at all, it ought to be in such a strange one as this.“
He drew out his knife, cut the plant, and carried it into his own house, stripped the leaves off it and cut-up the stalk, and there came a thick, white juice out of it, as there comes out of the dandelion when it is bruised, except that the juice was more like oil. He put it in a little pot and a little water in it and laid it on the fire until the water was boiling, and then he took a cup, filled it half up with the juice, and put it to his own mouth. It came into his head then that perhaps it was a poison that was in it, and that the ‘good people’ were only tempting him that he might kill himself with that trick or put the girl to death without meaning it. He put down the cup again, raised a couple of drops on the top of his finger, and put it to his mouth. It was not bitter, and, indeed, had a sweet, agreeable taste. He grew bolder then, and drank the full of a thimble of it, and then as much again, and he never stopped till he had half the cup drunk. He fell asleep after that and did not wake till it was night, and there was great hunger and great thirst on him. He had to wait, then, until the day returned. But he determined as soon as he should wake in the morning, that he would go to the king’s daughter and give her a drink of the juice of the herb.
As soon as he got up in the morning, he went over to the priest’s house with the drink in his hand, and he never felt himself so bold and valiant, and spirited and light, as he was that day, and he was quite certain that it was the drink he drank which made him so hearty. When he came to the house, he found the priest and the young lady within, and they were wondering greatly why he had not visited them for two days. He told them all his news and said that he was certain that there was great power in that herb, and that it would do the lady no hurt, for he tried it himself and got good from it, and then he made her taste it, for he vowed and swore that there was no harm in it. Danny handed her the cup, and she drank half of it, and then fell back on her bed and a heavy sleep came on her, and she never woke out of that sleep until the next morning.
Danny and the priest sat up the entire night with her, waiting until she should awaken, and they were between hope and despair, between the expectation of saving her and fear of hurting her. She awoke at last when the sun had gone half its way through the day. She rubbed her eyes and looked like a person who did not know where she was. She was like one astonished when she saw Danny and the priest in the same room with her, and she sat up doing her best to collect her thoughts. The two men were anxious to see would she speak, or would she not speak, and when they remained silent for a couple of minutes, the priest said to her, “Did you sleep well, Mary?“
She answered him, “I slept well, thank you.“
No sooner did Danny hear her talking than he gave a shout of joy and ran over to her and fell on his two knees, and said, “A thousand thanks to God, who has given you back your voice, my love, speak again to me.“
The lady answered him that she understood it was he who had boiled that drink for her and gave it to her. She was thankful to him from her heart for all the kindness he had shown her since the day she first came to Ireland, and that he might be certain that she never would forget it. Danny was ready to die with satisfaction and delight. Then they brought her food, and she ate with a good appetite, and was merry and joyous, and never stopped talking with the priest while she was eating. After that Danny went home to his house and stretched himself on the bed and fell asleep again, for the force of the herb was not all spent, and he passed another day and a night sleeping. When he awoke, he went back to the priest’s house and found that the young lady was in the same state and that she was asleep almost since the time that he left the house. He went into her chamber with the priest, and they remained there watching her until she awoke the second time, and she had her voice back, as well as ever, and Danny was overjoyed.
The priest put food on the table again, and they ate together. After this, Danny used to come to the house from day to day, and the friendship that was between him and the king’s daughter increased, because she had no one to speak to except Danny and the priest, and she liked Danny best. He had to tell her the way about standing by the Rath when the ‘good people’ came, and how he went into the Pope, and how the Fairy man blew fire out of his mouth, and every other thing that he had done until the time that the ‘good people’ carried her off. When he had told all, he would have to begin it again from the start, and she never tired of listening to him. When they had been that way for another half year, she said that she could wait no longer without going back to her father and mother. She was certain that they were grieving terribly for her, and that it was a shame for her to leave them in such grief when it was in her power to go to them. The priest did all he could to keep her with them for another while, but without any effect, and Danny spoke every sweet word that came into his head, trying to get win her over to the idea and to coax her and make her stay as she was, but it was no good. She was determined that she would go, and no man alive would make her change her intention. She had not much money, but only two rings that were on her hand, when the ‘good people’ carried her away, and a gold pin that was in her hair, and golden buckles that were on her little shoes. The priest took and sold them and gave her the money, and she said that she was ready to go. She left her blessing and farewell with the priest and Danny and departed. She was not long gone before a great grief and melancholy began to come over Danny that he knew he would soon die unless he could be near her, and he followed her. After being restored to her parents and they, having heard the whole story, permitted the princess and Danny to marry. They lived a long, married life together with neither care, sickness nor sorrow, mishap nor misfortune until the hour of their death.