Some folk say that the Little People, the Fairies, were once angels that were cast out of Heaven for their sins. They fell to earth and grew smaller and smaller. And to-day they dance on moonlit nights in Fairy Rings, and play all manner of pranks.
Be that as it may, one night a merry troop of them was capering in the moonshine. On a nice green sward by a river’s bank the little fellows were dancing hand-in-hand, with their red caps wagging at every bound. And so light were their feet that the dew trembled, but was not disturbed. So they danced, spinning around and around, and twirling, and bobbing, and diving, until one of them chirped:—
“Cease! Cease with your humming!
Here’s an end to your mumming!
By my smell I can tell
That a Priest is now coming!”
And away all the Fairies scampered as fast as they could. Some hid under the green leaves of the Foxglove, their little caps peeping out like crimson bells. Others crept under the shadow of stones, or beneath the bank of the river.
And scarcely had they done so, when along came Father Horrigan riding slowly on his pony. He was thinking to himself that he would end his journey at the first cabin he came to. And so he did, for soon he stopped at the little house of Dermod Leary, and, lifting the latch, walked in with: “A blessing on all here!”
And a welcome guest, you may be sure, was Father Horrigan, for no man was better loved in all that country. But when Dermod saw him enter, he was troubled, for he had nothing to offer for supper except some potatoes that his wife was boiling in a pot over the fire. Then he remembered that he had set a net in the river. “There’ll be no harm,” thought he, “in my stepping down to see if anything has been caught.”
So down to the river went Dermod. He found as fine a salmon in the net as ever jumped from water. But as he was taking it out, the net was jerked from his hands, and away the salmon went, swimming along as though nothing had happened.
Dermod looked sorrowfully at the wake that the fish left shining like a line of silver in the moonlight.
“May bitter luck attend you night and day!” cried he, shaking his fist. “Some evil thing sure it was that helped you, for did I not feel it pull the net out of my hand!”
“You’re all wrong, Dermod! There were a hundred or more of us pulling against you!” squeaked a little voice near his feet, and the whole troop of Fairies—hundreds and hundreds of them—came rushing from their hiding-places, and stood before him, their red caps nodding violently.
Dermod gazed at them in wonder; then one of the Fairies said:—
“Make yourself noways uneasy about the Priest’s supper, Dermod Leary. If you will go back and ask him one question for us, there’ll be as fine a supper spread before him in no time, as ever was put on table.”
“I’ll have nothing to do with you at all, at all!” answered Dermod; “I know better than to sell my soul to the likes of you!”
But the little Fairy was not to be repulsed. “Will you ask the Priest just one civil question for us, Dermod?” said he.
Dermod considered for a moment. “I see no objection,” said he, “to the same. But I’ll have nothing to do with your supper, mind that!”
The Little People all crowded near him, while the Fairy answered:—
“Go and ask Father Horrigan to tell us whether our souls will be saved at the Last Day. And, if you wish us well, Dermod Leary, you will bring the word that he says.”
Away went Dermod to his cabin.
“Please, your reverence,” said he to Father Horrigan, “may I make bold to ask your honour a question?”
“What is it?” said Father Horrigan.
“Why, then,” said Dermod, “will the souls of the Little People be saved at the Last Day?”
“Who bids you ask that question, Leary?” said Father Horrigan, fixing his eyes sternly on Dermod.
“I’ll tell no lies about the matter, nothing in life but the truth,” answered Dermod. “’Twas the Little People themselves who sent me. They are in thousands down on the bank of the river waiting for your word.”
“Go back,” said Father Horrigan, “and tell them that if they want to know they must come here to me themselves, and I’ll answer that and any other question.”
So back Dermod hurried to the river. The Fairies came swarming around him. They pressed close to his feet, with faces upturned as they anxiously waited. And Dermod, brave man that he was, spoke out boldly and gave them the Priest’s message. And when they heard that, the whole multitude of little Fairies uttered shrill cries and groans; and they whisked past Dermod in such numbers that he was quite bewildered. Then in a trice he found himself alone.
He went slowly back to his cabin. He opened the door. The fire was burning brightly. The candles were lighted. And good Father Horrigan was seated comfortably at the table, a pitcher of new milk before him, and a bit of fresh butter, from Dermod’s cow. And Dermod’s wife was handing him a big, handsome potato, whose white, mealy insides were bursting through its skin, and smoking like a hard-ridden horse on a frosty night.
Dermod sat down at the table, and began to eat without a word. And when Father Horrigan was through the good Priest smacked his lips, and said that he had relished the hot tasty potatoes, more than a dozen fat salmon, and a whole Fairy feast!