A long time ago, before the Danes came into Ireland, or made beer of the heath flowers, a rich man, though he was but a sculloge, lived in Muskerry, in the south, and he died there too, rolling in riches for he was a saving man. It is not often that a very thrifty and hardworking man has a son of the same character to step into his shoes, and the Muskerry sculloge was no worse off than many of his neighbours. When the young sculloge came to own the chests and the stockings full of gold, said he to himself, "How shall I ever be able to spend all this money?" Little he thought of adding anything to it. So he began to go to fairs and markets, not to make anything by buying and selling, but to meet young buckeens like himself and drink with them, and gamble, and talk about hunters and hounds.
So he drank, and he gambled, and he rode races, and he followed the hounds, till there 'were very few' of the guineas left in the chests or the stockings; and then he began to grope among the thatch, and in corners and old cupboards, and he found some more, and with this he went on a little farther. Then he borrowed some money on his farm, and when that was gone, he bethought him of a mill that used to earn a great deal of money, and that stood by the river at the very bounds of his land. He was never minded to keep it at work while the money lasted. When he came near it he four the dam broken, and scarcely a thimbleful of water in the mill-race, and the wheel rotten, and the thatch of the house and the wood-work all gone, and the upper mill-stone lying flat on the lower one, and a coat of dust and mould over everything. Well, he went about in a very disconsolate way, and at last sat down for grief and weariness on a seat fastened to the wall, where he often saw his father sitting when he was alive. While he was ready to cry in his desolation, he recollected seeing his father once working at a stone that was in the wall just over the seat, and wondering what he wanted with it. He put his fingers at each side, and by stirring it backwards and forwards he got it out, and there behind in a nook he found a bag holding fifty guineas. "Oh ho! "said he, "maybe these will win back all I lost." So. instead of repairing his mill, and beginning the world in a right way, he gambled, and lost, and then drank to get rid of his sorrow. "Well," said he, "I'll reform. I'll borrow a horse, and follow the hunt to-morrow, and the day after will be a new day."
Well, he rode after the hounds, and the stag led him a fine piece away; and late in the evening, as he was returning home through a lonely glen, what should he see there but a foolish-looking old man, sitting at a table, with a backgammon-board, and dice, and box, and the taplaigh (bag for holding all) lying by him on the grass. There he was, shouting, and crying, and cursing, just as if it was a drinking-house, and a dozen of men gambling. Sculloge stopped his horse when he was near the table, and found out by the talk of the man that his right hand was playing against his left; and he was favouring one of them. One game was over, and then he began to lay out the terms of the next. "Now, my darling little left," said he, "if you lose you must build a large mill there below for the right; and you, you bosthoon! "said he to the right, "if you lose, but I know you won't, you thief, you must make a castle, and a beautiful garden, and pleasure-grounds spring up on that hill for the entertainment of your brother. I know I'll lose, but still i'll bet for the left: what will you venture?" said he to the young Sculioge. "Faith," said the other, "I have only a testher (sixpence) in the world, so, if you choose, I'll lay that on the right." "Done!" said he, "and if you win I'll give you a hundred pounds. I have no luck, to be sure, but I'll stick to my dear little left hand for all that. Here goes!"
Then he went throwing right and left, cheering whenever the left hand, gave a good throw, and roaring and cursing at the other when two sixes or two fives turned up. All his fury was useless; the right won; and after the old fool had uttered a groan that was strong enough to move a rock, he put his left hand in on his naked breast under his coat, muttered some words that the Sculloge did not understand, and at the moment a great crash was heard down the river, as if some rocks were bursting. They looked down, and there was plain in sight a mill, with the water tumbling over the wheels, and the usual sounds coming from within,. "There is your wager," said he to the.right hand; "much good do you with it. Here, honest man, is your hundred guineas. D----run to Lusk [b] with you and them."
Strange to say, Sculloge did not find himself so eager for the bottle, nor the cards and dice next day. The hundred pounds did not turn out to be withered leaves, and he began to pay the poor people about him the debts he owed, and to make his house and place look snug as it used to do. However, he did not lose his love of hunting; and on that very day week he was coming home through the same valley in the evening, and there, sure enough, was the foolish old man again, sitting at his table, but saying nothing.
"If I knew your name," said Sculloge, "I would wish you the compliments of the evening, for I think it is lucky to meet you." "I don't care for your compliments," said the other, "but I am not ashamed of my name. I am the Sighe-Draoi (Fairy Druid), Lassa Buaicht, and my stars decreed at my birth that I should be cursed from my boyhood with a rage for gambling, though I should never win a single game. I am killed all out, betting on my poor left hand all day, and losing. So if you wish to show your gratitude get down and join me. If I win, which I won't, you are to do whatever I tell you. You may say now what is to be yours if you win, and that you are sure to do."
So Sculloge said that all he required was to have his old mill restored, and they began the game. The Sheoge Druid lost as usual, and after rapping out some outlandish oaths, he bade the other take a look at his mill at an early hour next morning.
It was the first thing that Sculloge did when he went out at an early hour, and surprised and delighted he was to find as complete a meal and flour mill in ready order for work as could be found in all Muskerry. It was not long till the wheel was turning, and the Stones grinding, and Sculloge was as happy as the day was long, attending to his mill and his farm, only he felt lonely in the, long evenings. The cards and the dice, and the whiskey-bottle were gone, and their place was not yet filled up by the comely face and the loving heart of the Bhan a teagh.
So one evening about sunset he strolled up into the lonely valley, and was not disappointed in meeting the Sheoge Druid. They did not lose much time till they were hard and fast at the dice, the Druid to supply a beautiful and good wife if he lost the game; if not, Sculloge to obey whatever command he gave him. As it happened the other evenings it happened now. Sculloge won, and went to bed, wishing for the morning.
He slept little till near break of day, and then he dozed. He was awaked by his old housekeeper, who came running into the room in a fright, crying, "Master, master, get up! There's a stranger in the parlour, and the peer of her I never saw. She is dressed like a king's daughter, and as beautiful as--as I don't know what, and no one saw her coming in." Sculloge was not long dressing himself, and it wasn't his work-day clothes he put on.
He almost went on his knees to the lovely lady, whom he found in the parlour. Well, he was not a bad-looking young fellow; and since he was cured of gambling and drinking his appearance was improved, as well as his character. He was a gentleman in feeling, and he only wanted gentle society to be a gentleman in manner. The lady was a little frightened at first, but. when she saw how much in awe he was of her she took courage. "I was obliged to come here," said she, "whether I would or no; but I would die rather than marry a man of bad character. You will not, I am sure, force me to anything against my will." " Dear lady," said he, "I would cut off my right hand sooner than affront you in any way."
So they spent the day together, liking one another better every moment; and to make a long story short, the priest soon made them man and wife. Poor Sculloge thought the hours he spent at his farm and his mill uncommonly long, and in the evenings he would watch the sun, fearing it would never think of setting. She learned how to be a farmer's wife just as if she had forgot she was a king's daughter; but her husband did not forget. He could not bear to see her wet the tip of her fingers; and the only disputes they had arose from his wishing to keep her in state doing nothing, and from her wishing to be useful.
He soon began to fret for fear that he could not buy fine clothes for her, when those she brought on her were worn. She told him over and over, she preferred plain ones; but that did not satisfy him. "I'll tell you what, my darling Saav," [c] said he one evening. "I will go to the lonely glen, and have another game of backgammon with the Sighe Draoi, Lassa Buaicht. I can mention a thousand guineas if I like, and I am sure to win them. Won't I build a nice house for you then, and have you dressed like a king's daughter, as you are!" "No, dear husband," said she; "if you do not wish to lose me or perhaps your own life, never play a game with that treacherous, evil old man. I am under 'geasa' to reveal nothing of his former doings, but trust in me, and follow my advice."
Of course he could only yield, but still the plan did not quit his mind. Every day he felt more and more the change in his wife's mode of living, and at last he stole off one evening to the lonely glen.
There, as sure as the sun, was the foolish-looking old Druid, sitting silent and grim with his hands on the table. He looked pleased when he saw his visitor draw near, and cried out, "How much shall it be? What is it for this evening?--two more mills on your river, a thousand guineas, or another wife? It's all the same, I'm sure to lose. You may make it ten thousand if you like. I don't value a thousand, more or less, the worth of a thraneen, Sit down and name the stake. If I win, which confound the Sighe Aithne (knowledge) I won't, you will have to execute any order I give you."
Down they set to the strife. Sculloge named ten thousand guineas to have done with gambling, and went on rather careless about his throwing. Ah I didn't his heart beat, and blood rush to his face, and a flash dart across his eyes when he found himself defeated! He nearly fell from his seat, but made a strong effort to keep his courage together, and looked up in the old man's face to see what he might expect. Instead of the puzzled, foolish features, a dark threatening face frowned on him, and these words came from the thin harsh lips:--"I lay geasa on you, O Sculioge of folly, never to eat two meals off one table, and never to sleep two nights in one rath, or bruigheen, or caisiol, or shealing, and never to lie in the same bed with your wife till you bring me the Fios Fath an aon Sceil (perfect narrative of the unique story) and the Cloidheamh [d] Solais (Sword of Light) kept by the Fiach O'Duda (Raven, grandson of Soot) in the Donn Teagh (Brown House)."
He returned home more dead than alive, and Saav, the moment she caught sight of him, knew what had happened.. So without speaking a word she ran and threw her arms round his neck, and comforted him. "Have courage, dear husband! Lassa Buaicht is strong and crafty, but we will match him." So she explained what he was to do, made him lie down, sung him asleep with a druidic charm, and at dawn she had him ready for his journey.
The first happy morning of her arrival, the Sculloge had found a bright hay horse in his stable, and whenever his wife went abroad, she rode on this steed. Indeed, he would let no one else get.. on his back. Now he stood quiet enough while husband and wife were enfolded in each other's arms and weeping. She was the first to take courage. She made him put foot. in stirrup, smiled, cheered him, and promised him success, so that he remembered her charges,. and carefully followed them.
At last he started, and away at a gentle pace went the noble steed. Looking back after three or four seconds he saw his house a full mile away, and though he scarcely felt the motion, he knew they were going like the wind by the flight of hedges and trees behind them.
And so they came to the strand, and still there was no stoppage. The horse took the waves as he would the undulations of a meadow. The waters went backwards in their course like arrows shot from strong bows. In shorter time than you could count ten, the land behind was below the waters, and the waves farthest seen in front came to them, and swept behind them like thought or a shooting star.
At last when the sun was low, land rose up under the strong blaze, and was soon under the feet of the steed, and in a few seconds snore they were before the drawbridge of a strong stone fort. Loud neighed the horse, and swift the drawbridge was let down upon the moat, and they were within the great fortress.
There the Sculloge alighted, and the horse was patted and caressed by attendants, who seemed to know him right well, and he repaid their welcome by gentle whinnyings. Other attendants surrounded the Scuiloge, and brought him into the hail. The noble-looking man and woman that sat at the upper end, he knew to be the father and mother of his Saav. They bade him welcome, and ordered a goblet of sweet mead to be handed to him. He drank, and then dropped into the empty vessel a ring which his wife had put on his finger before he left home. The attendant carried the goblet to the king and queen, and as soon as their eyes fell on the ring they came down from their high seats, and welcomed and embraced the visitor. They eagerly inquired about the health of their child, and when they were satisfied on that point, the queen said, "We need not ask if she lived happily with you. If she had any reason to complain, you would not have got the ring to show us. Now, after you have taken rest and refreshment, we will tell you how to obtain the Fios Fath an aon Sceil and the Cloidheamh Solais."
The poor Sculloge did not feel what it was to pass over some thousand miles of water while he was on the steed's back, but now he felt as tired as if he had travelled twdhty days without stop or stay. But a sleeping posset and a long night's rest made him a new man; and next morning after a good lunch [e] on venison steaks, a hearthcake, and a goblet of choice mead, he was ready to listen to his father-in-law's directions.
"My dear son," said the king, "the Fiach O'Duda, Lassa Buaicht, and I are brothers. Lassa, though the youngest, and very powerful in many ways, has always envied his eldest brother Fiach the Sword of Light. I only have the means of coming at it, but he knew I would riot willingly interfere to annoy the poor man, who, after all, is my eldest brother, and has been sadly tormented during his past life, and has never done me the slightest harm. So he laid out this plan of stealing my daughter from me. I can't explain to you who know nothing of Droideachta, how he enjoys this and other powers. He got you into his meshes, blessed you with Saav's society, and then put this geasa on you, judging that I would help him to do this injury to my brother, rather than make my daughter's life miserable. Fiach lives in a castle surrounded by three high walls. It is on a wide heath to the south. Everything inside and outside is as brown as a berry. The black steed which I am going to lend you will easily clear the gate of the outer wall, and then you make . your demand. As soon as the Fiach comes into this outer inclosure you have no time to lose; and if you get outside again without leaving a part of yourself or of your horse behind, you may consider yourself fortunate."
He mounted his black: steed, rode southwards, came in sight of the Brown Castle, cleared' the gate of the outer wall, and shouted,' "I summon you, great Fiach O'Duda, on the part of your brother, the Sighe Draoi, Lassa Buaicht, to reveal to me the Fios Fath an aon Sceil, and also surrender into my keeping the matchless Cloidheamh Solais." He had hardly done speaking when the two inner gates flew open, and out stalked a tall man with a dark skin, and beard, hair, birredh, mantle, and hose as black as the blackest raven's wing. When he got inside the inclosure he shouted, "Here is my answer," at the same time making a sweep of his long sword at the Sculloge. But he had given the spur to his steed at the earliest moment, and now safely cleared the wall, leaving the rear half of the noble beast behind.
He returned to the castle dismally enough, but the king and queen gave him praise for his activity and presence of mind. "That, my dear son," said the king, "is all we can do to-day: tomorrow will bring its own labours." So the sun went to rest, and the Sculloge and his relations made three parts of the night. In the first they ate and drank. Their food was the cooked flesh of the deer and the wild boar, and hearthcakes, and water-cress; and their drink--Spanish wine, Greek honey, and Danish beer. The second part of the dark time was given to conversation, and the bard, and the story-teller. The third part was spent in sleep.
Next day Sculloge rode forth on a white steed, and when he approached the fort, he saw the outer wall lying in rubbish. He cleared the second gate, summoned the Fiach, saw him enter the inclosure, and if his face was terrible yesterday it was five times more terrible to-day. This time he escaped with the loss of the hind legs of his steed only, and he was joyfully welcomed back by the king and the queen. They divided the night into three parts [f] as they did the last, and the next day he approached the Donn Teagh on the Eich Doun, the brown horse that brought him over the sea.
The second wail was now in brishe as well as the first, and at one bound of the brown steed he was within the courtyard. He had no need to call on Fiach, for he was standing before his door, sword in hand, and the moment the horse's hoofs touched the ground he sprang forward to destroy steed and rider. But the druidic beast was in the twinkling of an eye again on the other side, and a roar escaped the throat of Fiach that made the very marrow in Sculloge's bones shiver. However, the horse paced on at his ease without a hair on his body being turned, and Sculloge recovered his natural courage before you could count three.
Great joy again at the castle, and the day was spent, and the night divided into three parts as the day before, and the day before that again. Next morning the king sent out no horse, but put a Clarsech (small harp) into his son-in-law's hand, and a satchel by his side filled with withered leaves and heath-flowers, tufts of ciair, pebbles, and thin slates, passed his hands down Sculioge's arms from shoulder to wrist, and gave him directions what to do.
When he came within sight of the castle, he began to touch the harp-strings, and such sounds came from them that he thought he was walking on a cloud, and enjoying the delights of Tir na-n-Oge. The trees waved their branches, the grass bent to him, and the wild game followed him with heads raised and feet scarce touching the ground. All the walls,were in confused heaps, and as he approached them, servants and followers were collected from wherever they were employed, and standing in a circular sweep facing him. No noise arose from the crowd; their delight was too great. As he came close he ceased for a moment, and flung the contents of his satchel among them. All eagerly seized on scraps of leaves, or hair, or heath-flowers, or slates, or pebbles, for in their .eyes they were gold, and diamond ornaments, and pearls, and rich silks. He struck the strings again, and entered the castle, accompanied by the enchanted sounds from the harp-strings. He passed from the hall through a passage, then up some steps, and he was in the small bedchamber of Fiach O'Duda. He had heard the sounds, but the effect they had was to throw him into a deep sleep, in which the music was still present to his brain, and kept him in a sleepy rapture.
This room was as light as the day, though window it had none. By the wall hung a sword in a dark sheath. Bright light flashed round the room from the diamond-crested hilt and about three inches of the blade not let down into the scabbard. Taking it down, he approached the sleeping Druid chief and struck him on the side with tbe flat of the blade. "Arise," said he, "great Fiach O'Duda I reveal to the Sighe Draoi, Lassa Buaicht, through me, the Fans Fath an aon Sceil. I will not ask for the Cloidheamh Solais I have it in my keeping." The Druid's looks were full of surprise at first, and then of fright, but in a short time he became calm, and proceeded to relate the
[a] Sceal Vhic Scoloige O'Muscridhe. Scolog means either a small farmer, or a generous, hospitable person.
[b] The original MS. being here injured, and the best lenses found ineffective, the translator of the story was at a sore nonplus, being Ignorant of the locality to which Cork and Kerry people are in the habit of consigning their ill-wishers. People of Wexford, certainly, and those of Wicklow and Carlow, probably, have established the town mentioned as their social Norfolk Island; so he has ventured on the substitution. He has questioned sundry archaeologists on the reason of this undesirable distinction being conferred on the little Fingallian burgh, but to no sure result, the causes assigned delightfully contradicting each other.
[c] Salk or Sadhh is one of the many Irish words perplexing for the variety of their significations. Some only of the meanings ot this name follow. An airy shape, a fantasy, a salve, the sun, a good habitation It is Englished by Sabia or Sabina.
[d] Pronounced Chiolve; Fath nearly as faw. Claymore is made up of cloidheamh and mhor, large. Glaive is evidently.a cognate word.
[e] It is maintained that the ancient Celts, as well as the Romans and other peoples of old times, ate only once a day, viz, after sunset. That was undoubtedly the principal meal, but the most determined Dryasdust in Ireland, or Scotland, or Wales, shall not persuade us that they did not partake of lunch or collation, say from 8 to II AM, to enable them to endure life till Beal chose to sink into his western bed.
[f] A circumstance frequently repeated in Celtic tales. Such repetitions were never omitted by the story-tellers. They were used as resting-places, and aids to arrangement or recollection of what was to follow.