HE CHURL WAS getting very exact in his words. When he was coming into the bawn at dinner-time, what work did he find Jack at but pulling armfuls of the thatch off the roof, and peeping into the holes he was making?
"What are you doing there, you rascal?"
"Sure, I'm looking for the heifers, poor things!"
"What would bring them there?"
"I don't think anything could bring them in it; but I looked first into the likely places, that is, the cow-houses, and the pastures, and the fields next 'em, and now I'm looking in the unlikeliest place I can think of. Maybe it's not pleasing to you it is."
"And to be sure it isn't pleasing to me, you aggravating goose-cap!"
"Please, sir, hand me one pound thirteen and four pence before you sit down to your dinner. I'm afraid it's sorrow that's on you for hiring me at all."
"May the div--oh no; I'm not sorry. Will you begin, if you please, and put in the thatch again, just as if you were doing it for your mother's cabin?"
"Oh, faith I will, sir, with a heart and a half;" and by the time the farmer came out from his dinner, Jack had the roof better than it was before, for he made the boy give him new straw.
Says the master when he came out, "Go, Jack, and look for the heifers, and bring them home."
"And where will I look for 'em?"
"Go and search for them as if they were your own." The heifers were all in the paddock before sunset.
Next morning, says the master, "Jack, the path across the bog to the pasture is very bad; the sheep does be sinking in it every step; go and make the sheep's feet a good path." About an hour after he came to the edge of the bog, and what did he find Jack at but sharpening a carving knife, and the sheep standing or grazing round.
"Is this the way you are mending the path, Jack?" said he.
"Everything must have a beginning, master," said Jack, "and a thing well begun is half done. I am sharpening the knife, and I'll have the feet off every sheep in the flock while you'd be blessing yourself."
"Feet off my sheep, you anointed rogue! and what would you be taking their feet off for?"
"An' sure to mend the path as you told me. Says you, 'Jack, make a path with the foot of the sheep.'"
"Oh, you fool, I meant make good the path for the sheep's feet."
"It's a pity you didn't say so, master. Hand me out one pound thirteen and fourpence if you don't like me to finish my job."
"Divel do you good with your one pound thirteen and fourpence!"
"It's better pray than curse, master. Maybe you're sorry for your bargain?"
"And to be sure I am--not yet, any way."
The next night the master was going to a wedding; and says he to Jack, before he set out: "I'll leave at midnight, and I wish you, to come and be with me home, for fear I might be overtaken with the drink. If you're there before, you may throw a sheep's eye at me, and I'll be sure to see that they'll give you something for yourself."
About eleven o'clock, while the master was in great spirits, he felt something clammy hit him on the cheek. It fell beside his tumbler, and when he looked at it what was it but the eye of a sheep. Well, he couldn't imagine who threw it at him, or why it was thrown at him. After a little he got a blow on the other cheek, and still it was by another sheep's eye. Well, he was very vexed, but he thought better to say nothing. In two minutes more, when he was opening his mouth to take a sup, another sheep's eye was slapped into it. He sputtered it out, and cried, "Man o' the house, isn't it a great shame for you to have any one in the room that would do such a nasty thing?"
"Master," says Jack, "don't blame the honest man. Sure it's only myself that was thrown' them sheep's eyes at you, to remind you I was here, and that I wanted to drink the bride and bridegroom's health. You know yourself bade me."
"I know that you are a great rascal; and where did you get the eyes?"
"An' where would I get em' but in the heads of your own sheep? Would you have me meddle with the bastes of any neighbour, who might put me in the Stone Jug for it?"
"Sorrow on me that ever I had the bad luck to meet with you."
"You're all witness," said Jack, "that my master says he is sorry for having met with me. My time is up. Master, hand me over double wages, and come into the next room, and lay yourself out like a man that has some decency in him, till I take a strip of skin an inch broad from your shoulder to your hip."
Every one shouted out against that; but, says Jack, "You didn't hinder him when he took the same strips from the backs of my two brothers, and sent them home in that state, and penniless, to their poor mother."
When the company heard the rights of the business, they were only too eager to see the job done. The master bawled and roared, but there was no help at hand. He was stripped to his hips, and laid on the floor in the next room, and Jack had the carving knife in his hand ready to begin.
"Now you cruel old villain," said he, giving the knife a couple of scrapes along the floor, "I'll make you an offer. Give me, along with my double wages, two hundred guineas to support my poor brothers, and I'll do without the strap."
"No!" said he, "I'd let you skin me from head to foot first."
"Here goes then," said Jack with a grin, but the first little scar he gave, Churl roared out, "Stop your hand; I'll give the money."
"Now, neighbours," said Jack, "you mustn't think worse of me than I deserve. I wouldn't have the heart to take an eye out of a rat itself; I got half a dozen of them from the butcher, and only used three of them."
So all came again into the other room, and Jack was made sit down, and everybody drank his health, and he drank everybody's health at one offer. And six stout fellows saw himself and the master home, and waited in the parlour while he went up and brought down the two hundred guineas, and double wages for Jack himself. When he got home, he brought the summer along with him to the poor mother and the disabled brothers; and he was no more Jack the Fool in the people's mouths, but "Skin Churl Jack."