| The Story-Teller At Fault |
HE LAD RAN up the thread and all three soon disappeared. After looking up for a long time, the lank grey beggarman said: "I'm afraid the hound is eating the hare, and that our friend has fallen asleep."
Saying this he began to wind the thread, and down came the lad fast asleep; and down came the red-eared hound and in his mouth the last morsel of the hare.
He struck the lad a stroke with the edge of his sword, and so cast his head off. As for the hound, if he used it no worse, he used it no better.
"It's little I'm pleased, and sore I'm angered," said O'Donnell, "that a hound and a lad should be killed at my court."
"Five pieces of silver twice over for each of them," said the juggler, "and their heads shall be on them as before."
"Thou shalt get that," said O'Donnell.
Five pieces, and again five were paid him, and lo! the lad had his head and the hound his. And though they lived to the uttermost end of time, the hound would never touch a hare again, and the lad took good care to keep his eyes open.
Scarcely had the lank grey beggarman done this when he vanished from out their sight, and no one present could say if he had flown through the air or if the earth had swallowed him up.
He moved as wave tumbling o'er wave
As whirlwind following whirlwind,
As a furious wintry blast,
So swiftly, sprucely, cheerily,
And no stop made
Until he came
To the court of Leinster's King,
He gave a cheery light leap
O'er top of turret,
Of court and city
Of Leinster's King.
Heavy was the flesh and weary the spirit of Leinster's king. 'Twas the hour he was wont to hear a story, but send he might right and left, not a jot of tidings about the story-teller could he get.
"Go to the door," said he to his doorkeeper, "and see if a soul is in sight who may tell me something about my story-teller."
The doorkeeper went, and what he saw was a lank grey beggarman, half his sword bared behind his haunch, his two old 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 three-stringed harp.
"What canst thou do?" said the doorkeeper.
"I can play," said the lank grey beggarman.
"Never fear," added he to the story-teller, "thou shalt see all, and not a man shall see thee."
When the king heard a harper was outside, he bade him in.
"It is I that have the best harpers in the five-fifths of Ireland," said he, and he signed them to play. They did so, and if they played, the lank grey beggarman listened.
"Heardst thou ever the like?" said the king.
"Did you ever, O king, hear a cat purring over a bowl of broth, or the buzzing of beetles in the twilight, or a shrill tongued old woman scolding your head off?"
"That I have often," said the king.
"More melodious to me," said the lank grey beggarman, "were the worst of these sounds than the sweetest harping of thy harpers."
When the harpers heard this, they drew their swords and rushed at him, but instead of striking him, their blows fell on each other, and soon not a man but was cracking his neighbour's skull and getting his own cracked in turn.
When the king saw this, he thought it hard the harpers weren't content with murdering their music, but must needs murder each other.
"Hang the fellow who began it all," said he; "and if I can't have a story, let me have peace."
Up came the guards, seized the lank grey beggarman, marched him to the gallows and hanged him high and dry. Back they marched to the hall, and who should they see but the lank grey beggarman seated on a bench with his mouth to a flagon of ale.
"Never welcome you in," cried the captain of the guard, "didn't we hang you this minute, and what brings you here?"
"Is it me myself, you mean?"
"Who else?" said the captain.
"May your hand turn into a pig's foot with you when you think of tying the rope; why should you speak of hanging me?"
Back they scurried to the gallows, and there hung the king's favourite brother.
Back they hurried to the king who had fallen fast asleep.
"Please your Majesty," said the captain, "we hanged that strolling vagabond, but here he is back again as well as ever."
"Hang him again," said the king, and off he went to sleep once more.
They did as they were told, but what happened was that they found the king's chief harper hanging where the lank grey beggarman should have been.
The captain of the guard was sorely puzzled.
"Are you wishful to hang me a third time?" said the lank grey beggarman.
"Go where you will," said the captain, "and as fast as you please if you'll only go far enough. It's trouble enough you've given us already."
"Now you're reasonable," said the beggarman; "and since you've given up trying to hang a stranger because he finds fault with your music, I don't mind telling you that if you go back to the gallows you'll find your friends sitting on the sward none the worse for what has happened."
As he said these words he vanished; and the story-teller found himself on the spot where they first met, and where his wife still was with the carriage and horses.
"Now," said the lank grey beggarman, "I'll torment you no longer. There's your carriage and your horses, and your money and your wife; do what you please with them."
"For my carriage and my houses and my hounds," said the story- teller, "I thank you; but my wife and my money you may keep."
"No," said the other. "I want neither, and as for your wife, don't think ill of her for what she did, she couldn't help it."
"Not help it! Not help kicking me into the mouth of my own hounds! Not help casting me off for the sake of a beggarly old--"
"I'm not as beggarly or as old as ye think. I am Angus of the Bruff; many a good turn you've done me with the King of Leinster. This morning my magic told me the difficulty you were in, and I made up my mind to get you out of it. As for your wife there, the power that changed your body changed her mind. Forget and forgive as man and wife should do, and now you have a story for the King of Leinster when he calls for one;" and with that he disappeared.
It's true enough he now had a story fit for a king. From first to last he told all that had befallen him; so long and loud laughed the king that he couldn't go to sleep at all. And he told the story- teller never to trouble for fresh stories, but every night as long as be lived he listened again and he laughed afresh at the tale of the lank grey beggarman.