A certain youth whom we shall here distinguish by the name of Rickard the Rake, amply earned his title by the time he lost in fair-tents, in dance-houses, in following hunts, and other unprofitable occupations, leaving his brothers and his aged father to attend to the concerns of the farm, or neglect them as they pleased. It is indispensable to the solemnities of a night dance in the country, to take the barn door off its hinges, and lay it on the floor to test the skill of the best dancers in the room in a single performance. In this was Rickard eminent, and many an evening did he hold the eyes of the assembly intent on his flourishes, lofty springs and kicks, and the other fashionable variations taught by the departed race of dancing-masters.
One evening while earning the applause of the admiring crowd, he uttered a cry of pain, and fell on his side on the hard door. A wonderful scene of confusion ensued,--the groans of the dancer, the pitying exclamations of the crowd, and their endeavours to stifle the sufferer in their eagerness to comfort him. We must suppose him carried home and confined to his bed for weeks, the complaint being a stiffness in one of his hip joints, occasioned by a fairy-dart. Fairy-doctors, male and female, tried their herbs and charms on him in vain; and more than one on leaving the house said to one of his family, "God send it's not one of the sheeoges yous are nursing, instead of poor wild Rickard!"
And indeed there seemed to be some reason in the observation. The jovial, reckless, good-humoured buck was now a meagre, disagreeable, exacting creature, with pinched features, and harsh voice, and craving appetite; and for several weeks he continued to plague and distress his unfortunate family. By the advice of a fairyman a pair of bagpipes was accidentally left near his bed, and ears were soon on the stretch to catch the dulcet notes of the instrument from the room. It was well known that he was not at all skilled in the musical art; so if a well-played tune were heard from under his fingers, the course to be adopted by this family was clear.
But the invalid was as crafty as they were cunning; groans of pain and complaints of neglect formed the only body of sound that issued from the sick chamber. At last, during a hot harvest afternoon when every one should be in the field, and a dead silence reigned through the house, and yard, and out-offices, some one that was watching from an unsuspected press saw an anxious, foxy face peep out from the gently opened door of the room, and draw itself back after a careful survey of the great parlour into which it opened, and which had the large kitchen on the other side. Soon after, the introductory squeal of the instrument was heard, but of a sweeter quality than the same pipes ever uttered before or after that day. Then followed a strain of such wild and sweet melody as held in silent rapture about a dozen of the people of the house and some neighbours who had been apprised of the experiment, and who, till the first enchanting sound breathed through the house, had kept themselves quiet in the room above the kitchen, consequently the farthest from the changeling's station.
While they stood or sat entranced as air succeeded to air, and the last still the sweetest, they began to distinguish whispers, and the nearly inaudible rustle of soft and gauzy dresses seemingly brushing against each other, and such subdued sounds as a cat's feet might cause, swiftly pacing along a floor. They were unable to stir, or even move their lips, so powerful was the charm of the fairy's music on their wills and their senses, till at last the fairy-man spoke--the only person who had the will or the capacity to hold conference with him being the fairy-woman from the next townland.
He.--Come, come! this must be put a stop to.
The words were not all uttered when a low whistling noise was heard from the next room, and the moment after there was profound stillness.
She.--Yes, indeed; and what would you advise us to do first with the anointed sheeoge?
He.--We'll begin easy. We'll take him neck and crop and hold his head under the water in the turnhole till we'll dhrive the divel out of him.
She.--That 'ud be a great deal too easy a punishment for the thief. We'll hate the shovel red-hot, put it under his currabingo, and land him out in the dung-lough.
He.--Ah, now; can't you thry easier punishments on him? I'll put the tongs in the fire till the claws are as hot as the dive!, and won't I hould his nasty crass nose between them till he'll know the difference between a fiery faces and a latchycock. [a]
She.--No, no! Say nothing, and I'll go and bring my liquor, drawn from the leaves of the lussmore; [b] and if he was a sheeoge forty times, it will put the inside of him, into such a state that he'd give the world he could die. Some parts of him will be as if he had red-hot saws rasping him asunder, and others as if needles of ice were crossing and crossing each other in his bowels; and when he's dead, we'll give him no better grave nor the bog-hole, or the outside of the churchyard.
He.--Very well; let's begin. I'll bring my red-hot tongs from the kitchen fire, and you your little bottle of lussmore water. Don't any of yez go in, neighbours, till we have them ingradients ready.
There was a pause in the outer room while the fairyman passed into the kitchen and back. Then there was a rush at the door, and a bursting into the room; but there was no sign of the changeling on the bed, nor under the bed, nor in any part of the room. At last one of the women shouted out in terror, for the face of the fiend was seen at the window, looking in, with such scorn and hate on the fearful features as struck terror into the boldest. However, the fairy-man dashed at him with his burning tongs in hand; but just as it was on the point of gripping his nose, a something between a laugh and a scream, that made the blood in their veins run cold, came from him. Face and all vanished, and that was the last that was seen of him. Next morning, Rickard, now a reformed rake, was found in his own bed. Great was the joy at his recovery, and great it continued, for he laid aside his tobacco-pipe, and pint and quart measures. He forsook the tent and the sheebeen house, and took kindly to his reaping-hook, his spade, his plough, and his prayer-book, and blessed the night he was fairy-struck on the dance floor.
The mutual proceedings of the intruding fairies and the intruded-on mortals, are not always of the hostile character hitherto described. It is with some pleasure that we record an instance where the desirable re-exchange was effected without those disagreeable agencies resorted to in the case of "Rickard the Rake."
[a] Attempts at two law terms. The author has been acquainted with peasants to whom law terms and processes were as familiar as ever they were to poor Peter Peebles.
[b] Great Herb. The Purpureus Digitalis, Fairy-finger, or Foxglove.