The Two Gamblers and the Fairies
AT our fourth meeting, which was held two nights later, the mason was present again, and told a story which had the same motive as the one which he had given us before, the stealing of a young woman made ill previously by a fairy stroke. The fairies leave a supposititious body, which is buried by the girl's parents, who mourn for their daughter, "and she living" in a distant part of the kingdom. There are endless variants on this theme; the earliest perhaps the more interesting.
There was a gambler once, and he went to a fair which was held near Killarney. He was at the fair a part of the day when another gambler came the way; the two began to play and held on till evening. When they finished at last there wasn't one penny gained by either of them on the other. The first gambler asked the stranger from what place was he, and he said, "I am from the North of Ireland." He asked him then would he join him for twelve months and they'd play in company. He consented. They agreed to make two halves of their gains, each to have one half.
The second gambler asked the first how much had he gathered, and he told him he had one keg full of gold. The first asked the second how much had he, and he said he had two kegs and the half of a third.
"Have you a family?" asked the second gambler.
"I have no one. Have you many with you?"
"I have no one but my mother."
"Then," said the first gambler, "we'll hire a horse and do you go for your gathering. We will live together. They hired a car-man; the second gambler went with the carman and brought the three kegs. The carman was well paid when his work was done.
Not long after this it came in a dream to the first gambler that a keg of gold was dry on the strand. He called his comrade and said, "It came to me in a dream that there is a keg of gold high and dry on the strand." They rose up then, and taking two strong clubs went to the strand, searched every foot of it and met nothing. They were near the water as they were facing for home, when all at once they saw a great crowd. They didn't know who the people were, but it seemed like a large funeral.
"Go to them now," said the first gambler to the second, "and ask who they are and what brought them to this place so late at night."
"Indeed, then, I'll not go to them," said the second man. "I'll be off home for myself." And with that he left the first one alone.
The first man ran up with great speed till he came to the crowd, and what should he see but a coffin and four men carrying it. He gave a blow of his stick on the coffin lid, and asked, "What is here?" When he struck the blow and made the inquiry, the four men dropped the coffin, and the whole crowd vanished. In one twinkle of an eye there wasn't a man there--just as if the ground had swallowed them.
The man carried the coffin home on his back and took the lid from it. What did he find inside but the most beautiful young woman to be seen, and she asleep. He lifted her out of the coffin. She was alive, but tongue-tied--without a word. He said he'd give no quarter to the other man who deserted him and ran home. That night twelve months the first man dreamed again that if he would go to the strand he would find a keg of gold. "Rise up and come with me," said he to the second man.
"I saw enough the night I was with you last year. I'll stay where I am."
The first man went to the strand and searched, but if he did he found nothing. At last, as he was leaving the place, he saw a whole troop of fairies going towards a large fort, and he followed them. The fort seemed to his eyes in the night the grandest castle that ever was built. All the fairies sat down to supper, but he stood at the side of the door and looked at the nicest things in the world as they seemed to him. At last one of the fairies spoke up and asked, "Did ye see the man that carried the woman from us this time twelve months?"
"I did," said the chief, "and I know what he wants; he wants the young woman able to speak, and it will be a long time before he'll get that, though if she had three drinks out of this horn here she would speak in some way, but she will never speak rightly till the pin that I stuck in the top of her head is drawn from it. I put the pin there the night we carried her from her father and mother."
The horn was going the round of the fairies, and all were drinking from it. The gambler was watching his chance at the door. When he saw the horn near him he reached out his hand, snatched it, and raced away. No one followed him. He brought the horn home with him. The woman took three drinks from it and was partly cured; then he drew the pin. She gave a hearty laugh, and spoke as well as ever in her life.
The gambler was in dread of the fairies, so he took the horn to the fort and the fairies never troubled him.
The young woman, being cured now, wished her parents, who lived near Dublin, to know where she was.
"Write a letter," said the gambler. "I will take it, and be walking on till I come to them."
She wrote the letter. He took it and went away. He was inquiring always, and never stopped till he came to her father's house. All were in mourning, for she was a rich man's only daughter. Her father was lying on his bed when the gambler came, for he had never risen out of it since he buried the daughter. The fairies had put a strange body in place of her, and the father and mother thought that it was their own daughter they had buried.
"There is no business for you here," said the housekeeper.
"I have a letter to the master and mistress of this house from their daughter, and I will not go till I give it to them," said the man.
The housekeeper was going to bring servants to drive him out of the house, when the mistress came. She took the letter, read it, and went to her husband. "There is a man below in the kitchen," said she, "who says that our daughter is living, and that he has a letter from her."
The husband rose up in the bed. "Bring me the gun till I shoot that impostor!"
"Have patience," said the wife. "It's fitter for you to read the letter than to kill the man who brought it."
He read the letter, and, finding it true to all appearances, sprang out of bed, went to the young man, and questioned him. The man told the whole story.
The night that he saved her from the fairies was the same that the young woman died.
"Go home now," said the father, offering him money for the road. "I'll give you my daughter to marry if you bring her here to me."
"I have money enough of my own; I don't need yours," said the gambler, who was in dread the father might not keep his promise if he had the daughter at home. "Come with me and have the marriage at my place."
The father took a coach and four; himself, his wife, and the gambler rode away to find the daughter. The daughter wasn't in the house when they came, and the young man was in dread of his life; he thought the father would kill him if the daughter couldn't be found. She was on the brink of the sea, combing her hair, at the time. He found her at last, and when the parents saw their daughter they were near fainting.
After finding the daughter they thought the man too small, not good enough. He took them then to an inside room and showed his riches; he had a keg and a half, and the other gambler two kegs and a half full of gold.
"Have you as much as that?" asked he of the father.
"I have not," said he, "nor the third part of it."
Still he did not give him the daughter, but started for home, taking her with him. When they had gone some distance the mother said, "It is not right to act this way towards the man who saved our daughter from the fairies."
"He is the right man to be my husband," said the daughter. "I'd be among the fairies for ever but for him."
"Turn back and go to him," said the father. He left the daughter and she went back.
The gamblers divided their gold, and the second gambler went home, carrying his part to the north of Ireland.