| The Story-Teller At Fault |
O MAKE A long story short, the story-teller made his choice of a hare; the old man threw the cord round him, struck him with the wand, and lo! a long-eared, frisking hare was skipping and jumping on the green.
But it wasn't for long; who but his wife called the hounds, and set them on him. The hare fled, the dogs followed. Round the field ran a high wall, so that run as he might, he couldn't get out, and mightily diverted were beggar and lady to see him twist and double.
In vain did he take refuge with his wife, she kicked him back again to the hounds, until at length the beggar stopped the hounds, and with a stroke of the wand, panting and breathless, the story-teller stood before them again.
"And how did you like the sport?" said the beggar.
"It might be sport to others," replied the story-teller looking at his wife, "for my part I could well put up with the loss of it."
"Would it be asking too much," he went on to the beggar, "to know who you are at all, or where you come from, or why you take a pleasure in plaguing a poor old man like me?"
"Oh!" replied the stranger, "I'm an odd kind of good-for-little fellow, one day poor, another day rich, but if you wish to know more about me or my habits, come with me and perhaps I may show you more than you would make out if you went alone."
"I'm not my own master to go or stay," said the story-teller, with a sigh.
The stranger put one hand into his wallet and drew out of it before their eyes a well-looking middle-aged man, to whom he spoke as follows:
"By all you heard and saw since I put you into my wallet, take charge of this lady and of the carriage and horses, and have them ready for me whenever I want them."
Scarcely had he said these words when all vanished, and the story- teller found himself at the Foxes' Ford, near the castle of Red Hugh O'Donnell. He could see all but none could see him.
O'Donnell was in his hall, and heaviness of flesh and weariness of spirit were upon him.
"Go out," said he to his doorkeeper, "and see who or what may be coming."
The doorkeeper went, and what he saw was a lank, grey beggarman; half his sword bared behind his haunch, his two shoes full of cold road-a-wayish water sousing about him, the tips of his two ears out through his old hat, his two shoulders out through his scant tattered cloak, and in his hand a green wand of holly.
"Save you, O'Donnell," said the lank grey beggarman.
"And you likewise," said O'Donnell. "Whence come you, and what is your craft?"
"I come from the outmost stream of earth,
From the glens where the white swans glide,
A night in Islay, a night in Man,
A night on the cold hillside."
"It's the great traveller you are," said O'Donnell.
"Maybe you've learnt something on the road."
"I am a juggler," said the lank grey beggarman, "and for five pieces of silver you shall see a trick of mine."
"You shall have them," said O'Donnell; and the lank grey beggarman took three small straws and placed them in his hand.
"The middle one," said he, "I'll blow away; the other two I'll leave."
"Thou canst not do it," said one and all.
But the lank grey beggarman put a finger on either outside straw and, whiff, away he blew the middle one.
"'Tis a good trick," said O'Donnell; and he paid him his five pieces of silver.
"For half the money," said one of the chief's lads, "I'll do the same trick."
"Take him at his word, O'Donnell."
The lad put the three straws on his hand, and a finger on either outside straw and he blew; and what happened but that the fist was blown away with the straw.
"Thou art sore, and thou wilt be sorer," said O'Donnell.
"Six more pieces, O'Donnell, and I'll do another trick for thee," said the lank grey beggarman.
"Six shalt thou have."
"Seest thou my two ears! One I'll move but not t'other."
"'Tis easy to see them, they're big enough, but thou canst never move one ear and not the two together."
The lank grey beggarman put his hand to his ear, and he gave it a pull.
O'Donnell laughed and paid him the six pieces.
"Call that a trick," said the fistless lad, "any one can do that," and so saying, he put up his hand, pulled his ear, and what happened was that he pulled away ear and head.
"Sore thou art; and sorer thou'lt be," said O'Donnell.
"Well, O'Donnell," said the lank grey beggarman, "strange are the tricks I've shown thee, but I'll show thee a stranger one yet for the same money."
"Thou hast my word for it," said O'Donnell.
With that the lank grey beggarman took a bag from under his armpit, and from out the bag a ball of silk, and he unwound the ball and he flung it slantwise up into the clear blue heavens, and it became a ladder; then he took a hare and placed it upon the thread, and up it ran; again he took out a red-eared hound, and it swiftly ran up after the hare.
"Now," said the lank grey beggarman; "has any one a mind to run after the dog and on the course?"
"I will," said a lad of O'Donnell's.
"Up with you then," said the juggler; "but I warn you if you let my hare be killed I'll cut off your head when you come down."