The Midwife of Listowel
WHY do you call the fairies 'good people'?" asked I.
"I don't call them the good people myself," answered Duvane, "but that is what the man called them who told me the story Some call them the good people to avoid vexing them. I think they are called the good people mostly by pious men and women, who say that they are some of the fallen angels."
"How is that?"
"They tell us that when the Lord cast down the rebel angels the chief of them all and the ringleaders went to the place of eternal punishment, but that the Lord stopped His hand while a great many were on the way. Wherever they were when He stopped His hand there they are to this day. Some of these angels are under the earth; others are on the earth, and still others in the air. People say that they are among us at all times, that they know everything that is going on, that they have great hope of being forgiven at the day of judgment by the Lord and restored to heaven, and that if they hadn't that hope they would destroy this world and all that's in it."
At this juncture the mason called out:
"I will not say whether I think the fairies are fallen angels or who they are, but I remember a case in which a woman lost an eye through the fairies."
"If you do," said I, "I hope you will tell it."
"I will indeed," said he.
There was an old woman, a midwife, who lived in a little house by herself between this and Listowel. One evening there was a knock at the door; she opened it, and what should she see but a man who said she was wanted, and to go with him quickly. He begged her to hurry. She made herself ready at once, the man waiting outside. When she was ready the man sprang on a fine, large horse, and put her up behind him. Away raced the horse then. They went a great distance in such a short time that it seemed to her only two or three miles. They came to a splendid large house and went in. The old woman found a beautiful lady inside. No other woman was to be seen. A child was born soon, and the man brought a vial of ointment, told the old woman to rub it on the child, but to have a great care and not touch her own self with it. She obeyed him and had no intention of touching herself, but on a sudden her left eye itched. She raised her hand, and rubbed the eye with one finger. Some of the ointment was on her finger, and that instant she saw great crowds of people around her, men and women. She knew that she was in a fort among fairies, and was frightened, but had courage enough not to show it, and finished her work. The man came to her then, and said:
"I will take you home now" He opened the door, went out, sprang to the saddle, and reached his hand to her, but her eye was opened now and she saw that in place of a horse it was an old plough beam that was before her. She was more in dread then than ever, but took her seat, and away went the plough beam as swiftly as the very best horse in the kingdom. The man left her down at her own door, and she saw no more of him. Some time after there was a great fair at Listowel. The old midwife went to the fair, and there were big crowds of people on every side of her. The old woman looked around for a while and what did she see but the man who had taken her away on a plough beam. He was hurrying around, going in and out among the people, and no one knowing he was in it but the old woman. At last the finest young girl at the fair screamed and fell in a faint--the fairy had thrust something into her side. A crowd gathered around the young girl. The old woman, who had seen all, made her way to the girl, examined her side, and drew a pin from it. The girl recovered.
A little later the fairy made his way to the old woman.
"Have you ever seen me before?" asked he.
"Oh, maybe I have," said she.
"Do you remember that I took you to a fort to attend a young woman?"
"When you anointed the child did you touch any part of yourself with the ointment I gave you?"
"I did without knowing it; my eye itched and I rubbed it with my finger."
The moment she said that he struck her left eye and took the sight from it. She went home blind of one eye, and was that way the rest of her life.
On the third evening the mason was absent, but his place was filled by a young farmer of the neighbourhood, named Garvey, who knew two ghost stories. The host was anxious that I should hear them, hence he brought in the farmer. After some hesitation and protests the young man told a story, which is grotesque enough and borders very closely, if it does not touch, on the unpermitted. It has some points of resemblance with the "Ghostly Concert" in "Tales of Three Centuries," which I translated from the Russian of Zagoskin. In Zagoskin's tale the demon leader of the ghostly orchestra in Moscow makes a guitar of the right leg of his victim, the only living man present at the midnight rehearsal. In this Irish tale the ghost makes an instrument out of his own body--plays on his ribs. There is a splendid tale among the Western Indians of North America describing a trial of skill in a musical contest between all existences in the universe except man. The first place was won by the lamprey eel (one of the forms of water as a person), and the eel was declared to be the greatest musician in the world. The lamprey eel in the contest uses his own body as a flute, played by inhaling air and then expelling it through his sides. Of those holes there are marks left on the body of the lamprey eel. Some Indians call water the Long One: and water is certainly a mighty musician.