The Cattle Jobber of Awnascawil
Do the fairies ever do harm for the pleasure of hurting people?" asked I of Maurice Fitzgerald.
'Whether they harm single men without reason I can't say," replied he, "but they injure a whole country-side sometimes."
"Oh, they do," said Duvane.
"I remember a story in which they punish a single man and destroy all the crops along the road they are travelling, and here it is for you."
There was a cattle jobber once who was going to a fair near Awnascawil, and he met the good people [fairies] about nightfall on the way. They took him with them and turned from the road into a lonely field in which was a large fairy fort. When they went in he saw a house as grand as any he had ever put foot in. The company ate and drank enough, and the good people pressed him to sit at the table, but he would taste neither food nor drink.
Next morning after breakfast they went out, leaving no one behind but their piper, whose name was Tim.
"You are not to let that man out of this while we are gone," said they to the piper.
The jobber noticed that when they were going, every one of the fairies dipped his finger in a box that hung by the door and rubbed his eyes. When the jobber thought that they were off a good distance he said to himself: "I'm man enough for this piper." With that he began to lace his shoes and prepare for his journey.
"What are you doing?" asked the piper.
"I'm going to be off out o' this," said the jobber. "I think it long enough that I'm here."
"You'll not leave this while I am in it," said the piper. "You heard the order to keep you here till they came back."
"Indeed then you'll not keep me, and I won't stay with you." With that he rose, and no sooner was he on his feet than the piper caught him and they went at each other.
In the wrestling the jobber knocked Tim across a tub that was standing on the floor and broke his back. The piper didn't stir after that: how could he and his back broken. With that the jobber sprang to the door, put his finger in the box and rubbed one eye with the finger in the same way that he saw the fairies doing, and when his eye was rubbed he could see all the fairies in the world with that eye if they were before him, and not a one could he see with the other eye. He set forward then, spent one night on the road, and as the fair was to be held on the following day he stopped in a house not far from the fair ground. The day was close and warm and the jobber was thirsty, so he asked for a drink of water.
"You'll get it and welcome," said the woman of the house, "and it isn't water I'd give you to drink, but milk, if I could go for it, but I can't leave the cradle as something is the matter with the child since yesterday; neither I nor my husband slept a wink last night from taking care of him, and he screeching always."
"Well," said the jobber, "I'll take care of the cradle while you are after the milk, and sure the child will not die during that time."
The woman went for the milk, and the jobber rocked the cradle. He noticed that the screeching was different from the crying of a child, and caught hold of the blanket to take it from the child's face; but, if he did, the child had a firm grip of the clothes, and the jobber had to tear away the blanket. When he had the blanket away he saw what was in the cradle, and what was it, sure enough, but Tim the Piper. The man and his wife were young people, and the child was their firstborn.
"What brought you here, you scoundrel?" asked the jobber.
"Oh, when you broke my back," said Tim, "I could do nothing for the good people; they had no further use for me in the fort, so they put me here and took the child of the house with them."
"If you are here itself, why can't you hold your tongue and not be destroying the people with your screeching? Sure this is a good place you are in."
"Oh," said the piper, "I wouldn't cry, but for the rocking; it's the rocking that's killing me. It was you that broke my back, and don't expose me now."
"I'll expose you this minute," said the jobber, "unless you stop quiet."
"I'll stop quiet," said the piper.
When the woman came back the child was not crying. "What did you do to quiet him?" asked she.
"I only uncovered his face, and said that I'd kill him if he didn't stop quiet, and I suppose the child is in dread, as I am a stranger."
"You might as well stay the night with us," said the woman.
The jobber agreed, and as the child was quiet the mother could look to her work. When her husband came home in the evening she told him that the child had stopped crying since the stranger came, and the husband was glad.
"As the child is peaceable," said the jobber to the mother, "I'll take care of him to-night; you can go to bed."
The parents went to bed and left the child with their guest. About midnight the man saw that he was growing sleepy, and he pushed Tim and asked, "Couldn't you play a tune that would keep me awake?"
"It would be hard for me to play and my back broken," said Tim, "but if I had the pipes and you'd prop me in the cradle I might play."
"Where are the pipes?"
"My pipes were brought here," said Tim; "they are on the corner of the loft above the fireplace."
The jobber rose up, took the pipes, and fitted them together. The piper began to play, and his music was so sweet that it could raise the dead out of the grave. He was not long playing when the father and mother heard the music, and they had never heard the like of it.
"Who is the piper?" asked the man.
"I am," said the jobber; "when I am on the road I play often to amuse myself."
Tim threw away the pipes then, stretched back, and stopped quiet till morning. The father and mother were glad that their child was resting. After breakfast the jobber asked the mother had they good turf, and she said they had. "Bring in two or three creels of it," said he.
She brought the turf, and he put it down on the fire. When the fire was blazing well the mother was outside. Said the jobber to Tim: "You were a bad host when I met you last, and you'll not be here any longer; I'll burn you now."
He went to the door then to call the mother He wanted her to see what would happen, and not finding her he came back to the cradle, but found nothing in it except the clothes. Then he got terribly afraid that he would be brought to account for the child.
The mother came in and asked: 'Where is my child?"
He told her everything. He and the woman went to the door to search for the piper, and what should the woman see outside the door but her own child. She was very glad then. The jobber gave her good-bye and started for the fair. On the way he felt a great storm of wind and hail coming towards him, and stooped down for shelter under a bush at the side of a ditch. When the storm was passing he saw that it was a legion of fairies destroying everything before them, tearing up potato stalks and all that stood in their way.
"Oh, shame!" cried the jobber, "to be ruining poor people's labour.
A slender, foxy, red-haired man, a fairy, turned towards him, and, putting his finger into the jobber's eye, took the sight from him. Never again did he see a fairy. When the foxy fairy went back to the [horde of fairies] he asked: "Did ye see that man who was with us in the fort, the man who broke the back of Tim the Piper, and did ye hear what he said?"
"We did not."
"Well, I saw him and heard him. I took the sight from him; he'll never see one of us again."
The jobber went to the fair, though he had but the one eye.