“Come listen to a tale of times of old,
Come listen to me—”
It was in the good days, when the little people, most impudently called fairies, were more frequently seen than they are in these unbelieving times, that a farmer, named Mick Purcell, rented a few acres of barren ground in the neighbourhood of the once celebrated preceptory of Mourne, situated about three miles from Mallow, and thirteen from “the beautiful city called Cork.” Mick had a wife and family: they all did what they could, and that was but little, for the poor man had no child grown up big enough to help him in his work: and all the poor woman could do was to mind the children, and to milk the one cow, and to boil the potatoes, and to carry the eggs to market to Mallow; but with all they could do, ’twas hard enough on them to pay the rent. Well, they did manage it for a good while; but at last came a bad year, and the little grain of oats was all spoiled, and the chickens died of the pip, and the pig got the measles,—she was sold in Mallow, and brought almost nothing; and poor Mick found that he hadn’t enough to half pay his rent, and two gales were due.
“Why then, Molly,” says he, “what’ll we do?”
“Wisha, then, mavournene, what would you do but take the cow to the fair of Cork and sell her?” says she; “and Monday is fair day, and so you must go to-morrow, that the poor beast may be rested again the fair.”
“And what’ll we do when she’s gone?” says Mick, sorrowfully.
“Never a know I know, Mick; but sure God won’t leave us without Him, Mick; and you know how good He was to us when poor little Billy was sick, and we had nothing at all for him to take, that good doctor gentleman at Ballydahin come riding and asking for a drink of milk; and how he gave us two shillings; and how he sent the things and bottles for the child, and gave me my breakfast when I went over to ask a question, so he did: and how he came to see Billy, and never left off his goodness till he was quite well?”
“Oh! you are always that way, Molly, and I believe you are right after all, so I won’t be sorry for selling the cow; but I’ll go to-morrow, and you must put a needle and thread through my coat, for you know ’tis ripped under the arm.”
Molly told him he should have every thing right; and about twelve o’clock next day he left her, getting a charge not to sell his cow except for the highest penny. Mick promised to mind it, and went his way along the road. He drove his cow slowly through the little stream which crosses it and runs by the old walls of Mourne. As he passed he glanced his eye upon the towers and one of the old elder trees which were only then little bits of switches.
“Oh, then, if I only had half the money that’s buried in you, ’tisn’t driving this poor cow I’d be now! Why, then, isn’t it too bad that it should be there covered over with earth, and many a one besides me wanting? Well, if it is God’s will, I’ll have some money myself coming back.”
So saying, he moved on after his beast; ’twas a fine day, and the sun shone brightly on the walls of the old abbey as he passed under them; he then crossed an extensive mountain tract, and after six long miles he came to the top of that hill—Bottle Hill ’tis called now, but that was not the name of it then, and just there a man overtook him.
“Good morrow,” says he. “Good morrow,” kindly, says Mick, looking at the stranger, who was a little man, you’d almost call him a dwarf, only he wasn’t quite so little neither: he had a bit of an old, wrinkled, yellow face, for all the world like a dried cauliflower, only he had a sharp little nose, and red eyes, and white hair, and his lips were not red, but all his face was one colour, and his eyes never were quiet, but looking at every thing, and although they were red, they made Mick feel quite cold when he looked at them. In truth he did not much like the little man’s company; and he couldn’t see one bit of his legs,nor his body; for, though the day was warm, he was all wrapped up in a big great-coat. Mick drove his cow something faster, but the little man kept up with him. Mick didn’t know how he walked, for he was almost afraid to look at him, and to cross himself, for fear the old man would be angry. Yet he thought his fellow-traveller did not seem to walk like other men, nor to put one foot before the other, but to glide over the rough road, and rough enough it was, like a shadow, without noise and without effort. Mick’s heart trembled within him, and he said a prayer to himself, wishing he hadn’t come out that day, or that he was on fair hill, or that he hadn’t the cow to mind, that he might run away from the bad thing—when, in the midst of his fears, he was again addressed by his companion.
“Where are you going with the cow, honest man?”
“To the fair of Cork then,” says Mick, trembling at the shrill and piercing tones of the voice.
“Are you going to sell her?” said the stranger.
“Why, then, what else am I going for but to sell her?”
“Will you sell her to me?”
Mick started—he was afraid to have any thing to do with the little man, and he was more afraid to say no.
“What’ll you give for her?” at last says he.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you this bottle,” said the little one, pulling a bottle from under his coat.
Mick looked at him and the bottle, and, in spite of his terror, he could not help bursting into a loud fit of laughter.
“Laugh if you will,” said the little man, “but I tell you this bottle is better for you than all the money you will get for the cow in Cork—ay, than ten thousand times as much.”
Mick laughed again. “Why then,” says he, “do you think I am such a fool as to give my good cow for a bottle—and an empty one, too? indeed, then, I won’t.”
“You had better give me the cow, and take the bottle—you’ll not be sorry for it.”
“Why, then, and what would Molly say? I’d never hear the end of it; and how would I pay the rent? and what would we all do without a penny of money?
“I tell you this bottle is better to you than money; take it, and give me the cow. I ask you for the last time, Mick Purcell.”
“How does he know my name?” thought he.
The stranger proceeded: “Mick Purcell, I know you, and I have regard for you; therefore do as I warn you, or you may be sorry for it. How do you know but your cow will die before you get to Cork?”
Mick was going to say “God forbid!” but the little man went on (and he was too attentive to say any thing to stop him; for Mick was a very civil man, and he knew better than to interrupt a gentleman, and that’s what many people, that hold their heads higher, don’t mind now).
“And how do you know but there will be much cattle at the fair, and you will get a bad price, or may be you might be robbed when you are coming home? but what need I talk more to you when you are determined to throw away your luck, Mick Purcell?
“Oh! no, I would not throw away my luck, sir,” said Mick; “and if I was sure the bottle was as good as you say, though I never liked an empty bottle, although I had drank what was in it, I’d give you the cow in the name——”
“Never mind names,” said the stranger, “but give me the cow; I would not tell you a lie. Here, take the bottle, and when you go home do what I direct exactly.”
“Well then, good by, I can stay no longer: once more, take it, and be rich; refuse it, and beg for your life, and see your children in poverty, and your wife dying for want: that will happen to you, Mick Purcell!” said the little man with a malicious grin, which made him look ten times more ugly than ever.
“May be ’tis true,” said Mick, still hesitating: he did not know what to do—he could hardly help believing the old man, and at length in a fit of desperation he seized the bottle—”Take the cow,” said he, “and if you are telling a lie, the curse of the poor will be on you.”
“I care neither for your curses nor your blessings, but I have spoken truth, Mick Purcell, and that you will find to-night, if you do what I tell you.”
“And what’s that?” says Mick.
“When you go home, never mind if your wife is angry, but be quiet yourself, and make her sweep the room clean, set the table out right, and spread a clean cloth over it; then put the bottle on the ground, saying these words: ‘Bottle, do your duty,’ and you will see the end of it.”
“And is this all?” says Mick.
“No more,” said the stranger. “Good by, Mick Purcell—you are a rich man.”
“God grant it!” said Mick, as the old man moved after the cow, and Mick retraced the road towards his cabin; but he could not help turning back his head, to look after the purchaser of his cow, who was nowhere to be seen.
“Lord between us and harm!” said Mick: “He can’t belong to this earth; but where is the cow?” She too was gone, and Mick went homeward muttering prayers, and holding fast the bottle.
“And what would I do if it broke?” thought he. “Oh! but I’ll take care of that;” so he put it into his bosom, and went on anxious to prove his bottle, and doubting of the reception he should meet from his wife; balancing his anxieties with his expectations, his fears with his hopes, he reached home in the evening, and surprised his wife, sitting over the turf fire in the big chimney.
“Oh! Mick, are you come back! Sure you wer’n’t at Cork all the way! What has happened to you? Where is the cow? Did you sell her? How much money did you get for her? What news have you? Tell us every thing about it.”
“Why then, Molly, if you’ll give me time, I’ll tell you all about it. If you want to know where the cow is, ’tisn’t Mick can tell you, for the never a know does he know where she is now.”
“Oh! then, you sold her; and where’s the money?”
“Arrah! stop awhile, Molly, and I’ll tell you all about it.”
“But what is that bottle under your waistcoat?” said Molly, spying its neck sticking out.
“Why, then, be easy now, can’t you,” says Mick, “till I tell it to you?” and putting the bottle on the table, “That’s all I got for the cow.”
His poor wife was thunderstruck. “All you got! and what good is that, Mick? Oh! I never thought you were such a fool; and what’ll we do for the rent, and what——”
“Now, Molly,” says Mick, “can’t you hearken to reason? Didn’t I tell you how the old man, or whatsomever he was, met me,—no, he did not meet me neither, but he was there with me—on the big hill, and how he made me sell him the cow, and told me the bottle was the only thing for me?”
“Yes, indeed, the only thing for you, you fool!” said Molly, seizing the bottle to hurl it at her poor husband’s head; but Mick caught it, and quietly (for he minded the old man’s advice) loosened his wife’s grasp, and placed the bottle again in his bosom. Poor Molly sat down crying, while Mick told his story, with many a crossing and blessing between him and harm. His wife could not help believing him, particularly as she had as much faith in fairies as she had in the priest, who indeed never discouraged her belief in the fairies; may be, he didn’t know she believed in them, and may be, he believed in them himself. She got up, however, without saying one word, and began to sweep the earthen floor with a bunch of heath; then she tidied up every thing, and put out the long table, and spread the clean cloth, for she had only one, upon it, and Mick, placing the bottle on the ground, looked at it and said, “Bottle, do your duty.”
“Look there! look there, mammy!” said his chubby eldest son, a boy about five years old—”look there! look there!” and he sprang to his mother’s side, as two tiny little fellows rose like light from the bottle, and in an instant covered the table with dishes and plates of gold and silver, full of the finest victuals that ever were seen, and when all was done went into the bottle again. Mick and his wife looked at every thing with astonishment; they had never seen such plates and dishes before, and didn’t think they could ever admire them enough; the very sight almost took away their appetites; but at length Molly said, “Come and sit down, Mick, and try and eat a bit: sure you ought to be hungry after such a good day’s work.”
“Why, then, the man told no lie about the bottle.”
Mick sat down, after putting the children to the table; and they made a hearty meal, though they couldn’t taste half the dishes.
“Now,” says Molly, “I wonder will those two good little gentlemen carry away these fine things again?” They waited, but no one came; so Molly put up the dishes and plates very carefully, saying, “Why, then, Mick, that was no lie sure enough; but you’ll be a rich man yet, Mick Purcell.”
Mick and his wife and children went to their bed, not to sleep, but to settle about selling the fine things they did not want, and to take more land. Mick went to Cork and sold his plate, and bought a horse and cart, and began to show that he was making money; and they did all they could to keep the bottle a secret; but for all that, their landlord found it out, for he came to Mick one day and asked him where he got all his money—sure it was not by the farm; and he bothered him so much, that at last Mick told him of the bottle. His landlord offered him a deal of money for it; but Mick would not give it, till at last he offered to give him all his farm for ever: so Mick, who was very rich, thought he’d never want any more money, and gave him the bottle: but Mick was mistaken—he and his family spent money as if there was no end of it; and, to make the story short, they became poorer and poorer, till at last they had nothing left but one cow; and Mick once more drove his cow before him to sell her at Cork fair, hoping to meet the old man and get another bottle. It was hardly day-break when he left home, and he walked on at a good pace till he reached the big hill: the mists were sleeping in the valleys and curling like smoke-wreaths upon the brown heath around him. The sun rose on his left, and just at his feet a lark sprang from its grassy couch and poured forth its joyous matin song, ascending into the clear blue sky,
“Till its form like a speck in the airiness blending
And thrilling with music, was melting in light.”
Mick crossed himself, listening as he advanced to the sweet song of the lark, but thinking, notwithstanding, all the time of the little old man; when, just as he reached the summit of the hill, and cast his eyes over the extensive prospect before and around him, he was startled and rejoiced by the same well-known voice:—”Well, Mick Purcell, I told you, you would be a rich man.”
“Indeed, then, sure enough I was, that’s no lie for you, sir. Good morning to you, but it is not rich I am now—but have you another bottle, for I want it now as much as I did long ago; so if you have it, sir, here is the cow for it.”
“And here is the bottle,” said the old man, smiling; “you know what to do with it.”
“Oh! then, sure I do, as good right I have.”
“Well, farewell forever, Mick Purcell: I told you, you would be a rich man.”
“And good bye to you, sir,” said Mick, as he turned back; “and good luck to you, and good luck to the big hill—it wants a name—Bottle Hill.—Good bye, sir, good bye;” so Mick walked back as fast as he could, never looking after the white-faced little gentleman and the cow, so anxious was he to bring home the bottle. Well, he arrived with it safely enough, and called out, as soon as he saw Molly,—”Oh! sure, I’ve another bottle!”
“Arrah! then have you? why, then, you’re a lucky man, Mick Purcell, that’s what you are.”
In an instant she put every thing right; and Mick, looking at his bottle, exultingly cried out, “Bottle, do your duty.” In a twinkling, two great stout men with big cudgels issued from the bottle (I do not know how they got room in it), and belaboured poor Mick and his wife and all his family, till they lay on the floor, when in they went again. Mick, as soon as he recovered, got up and looked about him; he thought and thought, and at last he took up his wife and his children; and, leaving them to recover as well as they could, he took the bottle under his coat, and went to his landlord, who had a great company: he got a servant to tell him he wanted to speak to him, and at last he came out to Mick.
“Well, what do you want now?”
“Nothing, sir, only I have another bottle.”
“Oh! ho! is it as good as the first?”
“Yes, sir, and better; if you like, I will show it to you before all the ladies and gentlemen.”
“Come along, then.” So saying, Mick was brought into the great hall, where he saw his old bottle standing high up on a shelf: “Ah! ha!” says he to himself, “may be I won’t have you by and by.”
“Now,” says his landlord, “show us your bottle.” Mick set it on the floor, and uttered the words; in a moment the landlord was tumbled on the floor; ladies and gentlemen, servants and all, were running and roaring, and sprawling, and kicking and shrieking. Wine cups and salvers were knocked about in every direction, until the landlord called out, “Stop those two devils, Mick Purcell, or I’ll have you hanged!”
“They never shall stop,” said Mick, “till I get my own bottle that I see up there at top of that shelf.”
“Give it down to him, give it down to him, before we are all killed!” says the landlord.
Mick put the bottle in his bosom; in jumped the two men into the new bottle, and he carried the bottles home. I need not lengthen my story by telling how he got richer than ever, how his son married his landlord’s only daughter, how he and his wife died when they were very old, and how some of the servants, fighting at their wake, broke the bottles; but still the hill has the name upon it; ay, and so ’twill be always Bottle Hill to the end of the world, and so it ought, for it is a strange story.