| The Story-Teller At Fault |
T THE TIME when the Tuatha De Dannan held the sovereignty of Ireland, there reigned in Leinster a king, who was remarkably fond of hearing stories. Like the other princes and chieftains of the island, he had a favourite story-teller, who held a large estate from his Majesty, on condition of telling him a new story every night of his life, before he went to sleep. Many indeed were the stories he knew, so that he had already reached a good old age without failing even for a single night in his task; and such was the skill he displayed that whatever cares of state or other annoyances might prey upon the monarch's mind, his story-teller was sure to send him to sleep.
One morning the story-teller arose early, and as his custom was, strolled out into his garden turning over in his mind incidents which he might weave into a story for the king at night. But this morning he found himself quite at fault; after pacing his whole demesne, he returned to his house without being able to think of anything new or strange. He found no difficulty in "there was once a king who had three sons" or "one day the king of all Ireland," but further than that he could not get. At length he went in to breakfast, and found his wife much perplexed at his delay.
"Why don't you come to breakfast, my dear?" said she.
"I have no mind to eat anything," replied the story-teller; "long as I have been in the service of the king of Leinster, I never sat down to breakfast without having a new story ready for the evening, but this morning my mind is quite shut up, and I don't know what to do. I might as well lie down and die at once. I'll be disgraced for ever this evening, when the king calls for his story-teller."
Just at this moment the lady looked out of the window.
"Do you see that black thing at the end of the field?" said she.
"I do," replied her husband.
They drew nigh, and saw a miserable looking old man lying on the ground with a wooden leg placed beside him.
"Who are you, my good man?" asked the story-teller.
"Oh, then, 'tis little matter who I am. I'm a poor, old, lame, decrepit, miserable creature, sitting down here to rest awhile."
"An' what are you doing with that box and dice I see in your hand?"
"I am waiting here to see if any one will play a game with me," replied the beggar man.
"Play with you! Why what has a poor old man like you to play for?"
"I have one hundred pieces of gold in this leathern purse," replied the old man.
"You may as well play with him," said the story-teller's wife; "and perhaps you'll have something to tell the king in the evening."
A smooth stone was placed between them, and upon it they cast their throws.
It was but a little while and the story-teller lost every penny of his money.
"Much good may it do you, friend," said he. "What better hap could I look for, fool that I am!"
"Will you play again?" asked the old man.
"Don't be talking, man: you have all my money."
"Haven't you chariot and horses and hounds?"
"Well, what of them!"
"I'll stake all the money I have against thine."
"Nonsense, man! Do you think for all the money in Ireland, I'd run the risk of seeing my lady tramp home on foot?"
"Maybe you'd win," said the bocough.
"Maybe I wouldn't," said the story-teller.
"Play with him, husband," said his wife. "I don't mind walking, if you do, love."
"I never refused you before," said the story-teller, "and I won't do so now."
Down he sat again, and in one throw lost houses, hounds, and chariot.
"Will you play again?" asked the beggar.
"Are you making game of me, man; what else have I to stake?"
"I'll stake all my winnings against your wife," said the old man.
The story-teller turned away in silence, but his wife stopped him.
"Accept his offer," said she. "This is the third time, and who knows what luck you may have? You'll surely win now."
They played again, and the story-teller lost. No sooner had he done so, than to his sorrow and surprise, his wife went and sat down near the ugly old beggar.
"Is that the way you're leaving me?" said the story-teller.
"Sure I was won," said she. "You would not cheat the poor man, would you?"
"Have you any more to stake?" asked the old man.
"You know very well I have not," replied the story-teller.
"I'll stake the whole now, wife and all, against your own self," said the old man.
Again they played, and again the story-teller lost.
"Well! here I am, and what do you want with me?"
"I'll soon let you know," said the old man, and he took from his pocket a long cord and a wand.
"Now," said he to the story-teller, "what kind of animal would you rather be, a deer, a fox, or a hare? You have your choice now, but you may not have it later."