The Girl and the Robber
THE next story which was told by the blind man, contains an account of one important survival of old times: offering a beast to St. Martin. The method of curing a sick beast is also interesting.
The most solemn acts of worship in primitive times were connected with food and drink. Eating and drinking were, in fact, the main elements in public worship and thanksgiving. The moral of the story is that the young woman came to all her good fortune through her earnest endeavour to bring the sheep as an offering to St. Martin. When the story was finished the old man summed up the whole mailer by remarking, "It was St. Martin did it all."
There was a farmer in the county Kerry who had a deal of cattle and sheep. He was a very rich man. There were four fairs in the year near his land, and one of these was held on St. Martin's day, Nov. 9. On that day they used to kill a sheep, heifer, or something to offer St. Martin. That was a custom all over Ireland, and is observed yet. When any sickness or ailment came over an animal suddenly a piece was cut out of its ear and melted for the sake of God and St. Martin. If the beast recovered it was never sold, but killed at home.
The wife of the rich farmer died and left a son and daughter after her. The man did not marry a second time, and the son and daughter grew till they were on the edge of being married. The brother and sister went to the fair on St. Martin's day, and while they were gone the father never thought once of killing something for St. Martin, as he used to do, and his father and grandfather before him.
It was late in the evening when the son and daughter came from the fair, and it wasn't five minutes before they came when the father remembered that he hadn't killed anything to honour St. Martin.
"A thing has happened this day that never happened before to myself, my father, or my grandfather," said he to the son.
"What is that?" asked the son.
"I never thought of bringing any animal to kill in honour of St. Martin."
"That you may be happy," said the son, "what a misfortune!"
"Never mind," said the father. "We can mend it. I wish you would go now and bring a wether.* Go up to the yard on the hill and bring him down to me."
"I may not come back alive if I go," said the son, "and as you hadn't anything to do all day, 'tis yourself ought to think of St. Martin's and have the sheep ready."
The son wouldn't be said by the father and wouldn't go; then the daughter said to the brother, "I'll go with you for the sheep." The brother swore that he wouldn't go alone nor in company. As he wouldn't go, the sister thought to herself, "I'll go without him." So she took a rope to tie the sheep.
In the parlour was a nice sword they used when in need of it; the sword was in a scabbard hanging from a belt. The young woman put the belt around her waist and went towards the hill. She knew very well where the sheep were. The place was a yard with a high stone wall around it which no dog or wolf could cross. Inside at one end was a little stone house where a herder could stay. She chose the best wether she could find, tied the rope on him, and started for home. Just as she was going a great fog fell, and she had no knowledge of where she was facing. She was going astray for a long time, and at last was very tired without making her way and sat down. "Well," said she to herself, "there is no use for me to be wandering and turning; I can never find the way home; I may as well stay where I am."
She was sitting a good part of the night in the field, when she thought, "I may as well let the wether go his own way and keep the rope in my hand; he may take me back to the sheep; they'll keep me company for the night." Before long the wether made out the yard again. She sat down in the yard, and was just as if at home with the sheep around her. "I'll make my way home when the fog rises," thought she.
About midnight what should she hear but men talking, and soon a good flock of sheep came into the yard and three men behind them. Three brothers, such robbers that they troubled the whole country, and there was a hundred pounds reward on the head of each one of them. The robbers were coming from the fair in disguise, and wanted to take something with them on the way. The farmer was known through the country as a rich man, and the robbers had walked the way before. When the girl heard the men coming she hid in the stone hut at the end of the yard and waited. One of the robbers was choosing the best sheep, another was putting them with the new flock, and the third man stood at the gate of the yard. The man taking the sheep had a good many chosen when he saw the hut and said, "Maybe 'tis here behind the best of the sheep are." He stooped down and put in his head at the door. The girl had the naked sword in her two hands. With one blow she took the head off the robber and pulled him into the hut. The other two called and asked what was keeping him. When no answer came the man who was minding the sheep put his head into the hut; she served him in the same way as the first one, took the head off him. The third and youngest called to the others, but what use for him, sure they couldn't answer. He went to the door, and what did he find but his brother stretched. He pulled out the body and saw that the head was gone from it. He made off with himself then and left the two behind. The girl was afraid to come out, and stayed where she was till clear day. She came out then and found two flocks of sheep, for the robber had run away with his life. She found the wether the rope was on and brought him home with her. The father was crying and lamenting all night. He was sure some evil had come to the daughter, so he welcomed her with gladness and asked what kept her all night. She told him how she had the two robbers killed and the yard full of sheep.
It's well pleased he was to see her safe. Himself and the son went then to the sheep yard, drew out the heads, and, taking the girl with them, went to where the reward was to be given. The girl received the two hundred pounds, which the father said must stay with her.
After that the report went all over the country that the young woman had done such a great deed of bravery, and all the people, young and old, were talking of her. About a year later, who should come the way to the farmer's house one evening but a man on horseback, and he dressed like any nobleman. His horse was put in the stable, where he got good food and care. After supper the farmer, who was wondering what could bring such a fine young man to his house, asked him, who was he and what brought him?
"It is for a wife I came," said the young man.
"Oh, don't be talking," said the farmer, "my daughter is not a fit wife for the like of you."
"If she pleases me, isn't that enough?" asked the young man. "I have riches enough for myself; the two hundred pounds she got for the heads of the robbers is plenty for her. I want no fortune with her, I want nothing but herself."
Before the evening was over the farmer was full satisfied with the man, and the match was settled. The following morning they had the marriage and the wedding. The husband wouldn't stop another night, but said he must go home that very day. When the bride saw that he wouldn't stop she looked at him closely and thought to herself, "He may be a brother to the two men I killed." The young man mounted his horse and put the wife behind on a pillion. She had put the sword belt round her, and hid the sword under her long cloak.
The two rode away, and it was no fair road the man was travelling, but through lonely and wild places, and he never spoke a word till the middle of the afternoon when he stopped and said, "It's too long I'm waiting. I have the last of my patience lost, and I'll not give you more time. Come down from the horse."
"What are you saying?" asked she.
"You killed my two brothers in the sheep-yard," said the man. "I have you now, and I don't know in this world how will I make you suffer enough. It's not a sudden death, but a long punishment I'll give you." What did he tell her then but to undress till he'd strip the flesh bit by bit from her and she alive.
She came down from the horse. "Well," said she, "I've only one thing to ask."
"You'll get nothing from me," said the robber.
"All I wish is for you to turn your face from me while I'm undressing."
It was the will of God that he turned his face away, and that moment she gave one blow of her sword on his neck and swept the head off him. She hid the head among the rocks, where no dog or beast could come at it. There were two hundred pounds on the head of this man, for he was the worst of the brothers. She didn't know at first what to do, for she didn't know the road home. She sat on the horse and tried to turn him, but no step would he go for her What did she do then but let the horse go his way, and he never stopped till he reached the robbers' house. There was no man in the house but a very old one; and when he heard the clatter he rose up and saw the horse. He saluted the farmer's daughter and asked where was his son.
"He is at his father-in-law's house," said she. "He got married this morning. He'll stop there to-night, and be here with the wife to-morrow. Friends will come with them to have a feast here; he sent me to tell you."
There was only one servant maid in the house, and the old man told her to make everything ready.
"This is a rich house," said the old man.
"Oh, how could your riches be compared with what your son's wife has?"
"I'll show you a part of this place," said the old man. He took her to a room, and gold and silver were there, not in a chest, but in heaps. "Look at this," said he.
"There is a deal of riches," said she, "but if there was as much more 'twould be less than the riches your son's wife has." Before supper she asked, was it far to a town or city?
"Cork is eight miles from this," said the old man, and he pointed out the road which led to the highway, a mile from the house. After supper the old man showed her a room and a bed. "You can sleep 'in this place' without fear," said he.
The room was full of men's clothes--coats, caps, and Caroline hats. She didn't sleep, but slipped off her own dress and put on a man's clothes. She started at midnight, took her dress with her, and travelled till daylight. She was within two miles of Cork then, and what did she see coming towards her but a young man on horseback. He saluted her, and said, "I suppose you are travelling all night."
"I am travelling a good part of it," said she, "and I suppose you are, as well as myself."
"Oh, I have to rise early. I am the Mayor of Cork, and have a deal of work on my hands," said he.
She threw herself on her knees when she heard this, and the Mayor asked what trouble was on her. She told of all that had happened. What he did was to tell her to stop there while himself would be going for men to the city He went back and brought a good company of soldiers with two waggons, and they never stopped till they went to the robbers' house. The farmer's daughter went with the Mayor and some men to the place where she had the head covered. They brought the head with them, and gathered all the riches at the robbers' house, bound the old father, and took him to Cork, where the authorities hanged him. The Mayor was unmarried, and what did he do but many the farmer's daughter and keep her as his wife while she lived.
* A sheep castrated when very young, and raised for its tender meat.