ONCE upon a time, by the glimmer of the nursery-fire, a little girl sat listening to the tales told by her buxom Irish nurse. The details of most of these—notably of one very thrilling legend of the Banshee, who has ever since seemed to float upon the wind that blows after nightfall—have passed from memory; but the good old story of Molly Jones and the Leperhaun remains, and, as best I can, I reproduce it here.
In a comfortable farm-house upon the outskirts of a small village in Ireland, lived a farmer with his six sons. He was a prosperous man, and, besides having better cows, pigs, and potatoes than any other man in the county, was said to keep a tidy bit of money laid away in bank. Only one maid-servant did the work of the house, and she had lived there for many a year. At last she died, and the farmer looked about him for a girl to take her place. The wages were high, and a strapping lass named Mary Jones made up her mind that she was the right person for the situation. The farmer liked her looks, and engaged her on the spot.
"Now, Molly, lass," said the master, when he had finished taking her around the house, and showing her how neat and convenient everything was; "you see what you've got to do, and that's the end of it. Nobody in this house, who works well, has ever cause to want for encouragement, for there's hands to help them that aren't too curious! The main thing you'd better guard against is takin' notes and askin' questions."
Molly protested that she was innocent of the inheritance of Mother Eve; and the farmer went on with his directions.
"On the first night of every month the family goes early to bed, and it will be your business to see that the hearth is well swept, and fresh turf laid upon the fire, and to collect around it all the worn or broken shoes about the house. The last thing before you leave the room, be sure to set before the fire a nice bowl of mealy potatoes bursting from their jackets, a couple of herrings broiled to a turn, and a jug of sweet buttermilk—and, whatever you do, never forget the salt!"
Molly, though burning with curiosity, courtesied, and said nothing. All went well till the first night of the coming month. "When the family was retiring, the farmer whispered:
"Remember, Molly! Be abed and asleep before the clock strikes twelve; and don't forget the salt."
Molly tidied her kitchen, swept the hearth, arranged around it all the worn and broken shoes in the house, her own Sunday pair included; and, after setting a nice little meal, covered with a white cloth, near the fire, wound up the clock and went to bed. Next morning what was her surprise to find not only all the boots and shoes neatly mended, but the empty jug and platter washed and restored to their places, while a beautiful fire was blazing merrily! She dared not ask any questions of the farmer or his sons, and no one appeared in the least surprised by what had occurred. That month her work went so easily that Molly thought it child's play. Her bread was baked brown and light, her potatoes were a triumph, her churning was done sooner than anybody's in the place, and her linen was hung out to dry by sunrise on Monday mornings. For a month or two Molly never failed to set her kitchen in order, as before, for the mysterious guest. But one night she was in a hurry, and forgot the salt. Next morning the boots were mended, but the fire was scattered on the hearth, ashes lay all about her neat kitchen, and the dishes were left unwashed. This excited Molly's curiosity anew and, when the next time came, she did everything as usual, but, instead of going to bed, hid behind the kitchen clock. Punctually as the clock struck twelve, out popped from behind a big stone in the chimney-place a queer little dwarf dressed all in red. Apparently he suspected something, for he sniffed and peered into the darkness of the kitchen. Molly held her breath through fear, and the dwarf proceeded to blow up the fire and warm himself before sitting down to supper. Then, uncovering his cup and platter, and finding that all was to his taste, he smacked his lips, and made an excellent repast. When it was over, he whipped out of his bag some shoemaker's tools, and went to work to patch and mend the shoes, with twinkling fingers. In an hour's time all was finished and, after putting the room to rights, the dwarf took his leave.
Molly told nobody that she had seen the veritable Leperhaun, the famous shoemaking fairy; but the next month she happened to be in an ill humor and hungry; so, without stopping to think of the consequences, she ate his supper herself—leaving upon the platter only a heap of potato-skins and the bones of the well-picked herrings.
That night, while all the world was asleep, in came the Leperhaun and, finding the trick that had been played on him, flew into a terrible rage, scattered the boots and shoes over the floor, broke the crockery and, seizing a broom, swept all the ashes out upon the kitchen floor. Molly, who was watching, ran up to the garret and, jumping into bed, pulled the clothes over her head in a cold perspiration with terror. But hark! on the steps outside came the pit-pat of little feet. In rushed the offended house-fairy. He seized Molly by the hair of her head, and dragged her down the stairs, and over the flags of the yard, saying,
In vain Molly cried for mercy. The farmer and his sons were fast asleep, and not a soul heard her. All night long the Leperhaun dragged her about; and when the cock crowed he vanished, leaving her bruised and sore upon the threshold of the door. More dead than alive, Molly crawled up to her bed, where she lay black and blue for many a day.
The farmer, suspecting what lesson had been taught her, said nothing; and we may be sure that, when the next time came for the visit of the Leperhaun, the little red dwarf had no fault to find with Molly.
[The stories here following are, it is hoped, so rendered, from metrical romances of the Middle Ages, as to be adapted to the taste and understanding of youthful readers.]