The Fairy Nurse





There was once a little farmer and his wife living near

Coolgarrow. They had three children, and my story happened while

the youngest was a baby. The wife was a good wife enough, but her

mind was all on her family and her farm, and she hardly ever went

to her knees without falling asleep, and she thought the time

spent in the chapel was twice as long as it need be. So, friends,

she let her man and her two children go before her one day to

Mass, while she called to consult a fairy man about a disorder

one of her cows had. She was late at the chapel, and was sorry

all the day after, for her husband was in grief about it, and she

was very fond of him.



Late that night he was wakened up by the cries of his children

calling out 'Mother! Mother!' When he sat up and rubbed his eyes,

there was no wife by his side, and when he asked the little ones

what was become of their mother, they said they saw the room full

of nice little men and women, dressed in white and red and green,

and their mother in the middle of them, going out by the door as

if she was walking in her sleep. Out he ran, and searched

everywhere round the house but, neither tale nor tidings did he

get of her for many a day.



Well, the poor man was miserable enough, for he was as fond of

his woman as she was of him. It used to bring the salt tears down

his cheeks to see his poor children neglected and dirty, as they

often were, and they'd be bad enough only for a kind neighbour

that used to look in whenever she could spare time. The infant

was away with a nurse.



About six weeks after--just as he was going out to his work one

morning--a neighbour, that used to mind women when they were ill,

came up to him, and kept step by step with him to the field, and

this is what she told him.



'Just as I was falling asleep last night, I heard a horse's tramp

on the grass and a knock at the door, and there, when I came out,

was a fine-looking dark man, mounted on a black horse, and he

told me to get ready in all haste, for a lady was in great want

of me. As soon as I put on my cloak and things, he took me by the

hand, and I was sitting behind him before I felt myself stirring.

"Where are we going, sir?" says I. "You'll soon know," says he;

and he drew his fingers across my eyes, and not a ray could I

see. I kept a tight grip of him, and I little knew whether he was

going backwards or forwards, or how long we were about it, till

my hand was taken again, and I felt the ground under me. The

fingers went the other way across my eyes, and there we were

before a castle door, and in we went through a big hall and great

rooms all painted in fine green colours, with red and gold bands

and ornaments, and the finest carpets and chairs and tables and

window curtains, and grand ladies and gentlemen walking about. At

last we came to a bedroom, with a beautiful lady in bed, with a

fine bouncing boy beside her. The lady clapped her hands, and in

came the Dark Man and kissed her and the baby, and praised me,

and gave me a bottle of green ointment to rub the child all over.



'Well, the child I rubbed, sure enough; but my right eye began to

smart, and I put up my finger and gave it a rub, and then stared,

for never in all my life was I so frightened. The beautiful room

was a big, rough cave, with water oozing over the edges of the

stones and through the clay; and the lady, and the lord, and the

child weazened, poverty-bitten creatures--nothing but skin and

bone--and the rich dresses were old rags. I didn't let on that I

found any difference, and after a bit says the Dark Man, "Go

before me to the hall door, and I will be with you in a few

moments, and see you safe home." Well, just as I turned into the

outside cave, who should I see watching near the door but poor

Molly. She looked round all terrified, and says she to me in a

whisper, "I'm brought here to nurse the child of the king and

queen of the fairies; but there is one chance of saving me. All

the court will pass the cross near Templeshambo next Friday

night, on a visit to the fairies of Old Ross. If John can catch

me by the hand or cloak when I ride by, and has courage not to

let go his grip, I'll be safe. Here's the king. Don't open your

mouth to answer. I saw what happened with the ointment."



'The Dark Man didn't once cast his eye towards Molly, and he

seemed to have no suspicion of me. When we came out I looked

about me, and where do you think we were but in the dyke of the

Rath of Cromogue. I was on the horse again, which was nothing but

a big rag-weed, and I was in dread every minute I'd fall off; but

nothing happened till I found myself in my own cabin. The king

slipped five guineas into my hand as soon as I was on the ground,

and thanked me, and bade me good night. I hope I'll never see his

face again. I got into bed, and couldn't sleep for a long time;

and when I examined my five guineas this morning, that I left in

the table drawer the last thing, I found five withered leaves of

oak--bad luck to the giver!'



Well, you may all think the fright, and the joy, and the grief

the poor man was in when the woman finished her story. They

talked and they talked, but we needn't mind what they said till

Friday night came, when both were standing where the mountain

road crosses the one going to Ross.



There they stood, looking towards the bridge of Thuar, in the

dead of the night, with a little moonlight shining from over

Kilachdiarmid. At last she gave a start, and "By this and by

that," says she, "here they come, bridles jingling and feathers

tossing!" He looked, but could see nothing; and she stood

trembling and her eyes wide open, looking down the way to the

ford of Ballinacoola. "I see your wife," says she, "riding on the

outside just so as to rub against us. We'll walk on quietly, as

if we suspected nothing, and when we are passing I'll give you a

shove. If you don't do YOUR duty then, woe be with you!"



Well, they walked on easy, and the poor hearts beating in both

their breasts; and though he could see nothing, he heard a faint

jingle and trampling and rustling, and at last he got the push

that she promised. He spread out his arms, and there was his

wife's waist within them, and he could see her plain; but such a

hullabulloo rose as if there was an earthquake, and he found

himself surrounded by horrible-looking things, roaring at him and

striving to pull his wife away. But he made the sign of the cross

and bid them begone in God's name, and held his wife as if it was

iron his arms were made of. Bedad, in one moment everything was

as silent as the grave, and the poor woman lying in a faint in

the arms of her husband and her good neighbour. Well, all in good

time she was minding her family and her business again; and I'll

go bail, after the fright she got, she spent more time on her

knees, and avoided fairy men all the days of the week, and

particularly on Sunday.



It is hard to have anything to do with the good people without

getting a mark from them. My brave nurse didn't escape no more

than another. She was one Thursday at the market of Enniscorthy,

when what did she see walking among the tubs of butter but the

Dark Man, very hungry-looking, and taking a scoop out of one tub

and out of another. 'Oh, sir,' says she, very foolish, 'I hope

your lady is well, and the baby.' 'Pretty well, thank you,' says

he, rather frightened like. 'How do I look in this new suit?'

says he, getting to one side of her. 'I can't see you plain at

all, sir,' says she. 'Well, now?' says he, getting round her back

to the other side. 'Musha, indeed, sir, your coat looks no better

than a withered dock-leaf.' 'Maybe, then,' says he, 'it will be

different now,' and he struck the eye next him with a switch.

Friends, she never saw a glimmer after with that one till the day

of her death.



'Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts,' by Patrick Kennedy.





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