The Time for Naggeneen's Plan (Irish Folk Tale)

Folk Tales, Irish Folk Tales5947

Little happened that needs to be told in the next few months, either to the fairies or to the human people. John O”Brien and Peter Sullivan were not long in finding work to do, and they were paid for it, and the two families got on better than they had in Ireland. The O”Briens got on better than the Sullivans. John was a better workman than Peter. Peter could do the work that was set before him in the way that he was told. But John could do better than that. He could see for himself how the work ought to be done, and he saw that if he did it well he might get better work to do. In Ireland, work as he would, he could no more than live, and so he had come to care little what he did or how he did it. But it was different here. The men who employed him saw that he was not a common workman, and soon they gave him better than the common work and more than the common pay.

But Peter was a common workman. Then, too, John”s mother knew how to care for the house better than Ellen did, and because of that, too, the O”Briens did better. Every day, just as she used to do in Ireland, Mrs. O”Brien left something to eat and drink outside the house for the Good People. She said that she did not know whether there were any Good People here, but if there were they must be well treated. And when she found that what she left for them was taken, she said that she knew that there were Good People here. Of course she did not know that they were the same ones who had lived near them in Ireland. She put the milk and the water and the bread, or whatever she had for them, on the fire-escape, at the back of the rooms where they lived. And first she always laid down a little piece of carpet to put the dishes on, so that the fairies could come and get the food without touching the iron, for she knew that they could never do that. There was only one thing that did not go well with the O”Briens. Kitty”s health did not come back to her, as they had hoped that it would. She did not need to do any work now, though she would do some, and the rest was good for her, but she was still pale and still weak.

Though the Sullivans did not find their fortunes so much improved in the new country as the O”Briens did, yet they felt that they had gained, too, and in one way especially. For the King of the fairies had forbidden Naggeneen to trouble them any more. Naggeneen asked what for at all he had come over all the sea, if he was not to trouble the Sullivans. The King was always ready enough to have Naggeneen”s help, when he thought that his cleverness would be of use; but there were times when he would be obeyed, and this was one of them, so Naggeneen had to do as he was told.

The King tried all the things that Naggeneen had told him to do, to make his people learn all the wonderful magic that the human people knew so well. Naggeneen had told him at first that it would all be of no use, and so the King found it. The fairies were sent out to watch the men, to see all that they did, and to learn how to do it. It was all in vain.

The King often asked Naggeneen what was the one other way that he had said they might try. Naggeneen would never tell. When the time came to try it, he said, he would tell what it was, but it would be of no more use than the rest that they had done. Naggeneen laughed at all the others when they came home baffled and out of sorts. “You”ll never do the things that men do,” he said, “any more than they”ll ever do the things that you do. And their wonders are more and better than yours.”

After a time they ceased to try to learn any more. They began to live much as they had lived in Ireland. They had found a green place where they could dance, near the palace, but it was winter now, and the snow was over everything much of the time. They went to the O”Briens every day for the food that was left outside the window for them, and, for the most part, they spent the rest of the time in the palace. Often Naggeneen played the fiddle or the pipes for them. Then they forgot that it was his fault that they had ever come here, but when he stopped playing they remembered it and hated him again. And Naggeneen laughed at them. He had a strange laugh, without a bit of merriment or good-humor in it. There was something sad in his laugh and something sour, but nothing that it was pleasant to hear.

Then the spring began to come. The grass was looking a bit green and the air was warmer. They could dance on the grass now, whenever they liked. They had given up trying to learn the ways of men, and they were beginning to feel as if they had always lived here. Then Naggeneen came one evening and stood before the King and said: “It is the time now to try my plan, if you want to try it, but it”s no good.”

“What”s the plan, then, at all?” the King asked.

“You know well,” said Naggeneen, “that your people can find out nothing by going out and watching what men do. Now, what you want is to get a human child here, or maybe two of them, and keep them and let them grow up with you here, and then send them out to learn everything that men do, and come back and teach it to your people. Then you”ll learn all these things that men do, and you can do the like.”

“Ah, Naggeneen,” said the King, “it”s yourself was always the clever boy. We”ll do that same.”

“You will so,” Naggeneen replied, “and no good will it ever do you. I've told you before and I tell you again, you”ll never do the things that men do. But it”s crazy you are to try all ways, and I have to be telling you the ways to try. Go on and do it, if it divarts you.”

“And where”ll we get the human child at all?” the Queen asked.

“Sure then,” said Naggeneen, “and haven”t you heard the news? Why, there”s a baby at the Sullivans” since this morning, and one at the O”Briens” since this afternoon. The one at the Sullivans” is a boy and the one at the O”Briens” is a girl. Go and get them and leave two of your own people in their places. You know how to do that; it”s nothing new to you.”

“Take a child from the O”Briens!” the Queen cried. “From them that”s always been so good to us and always given us the bit and sup, when they scarcely had it themselves? I'd never do such a thing.”

“But you”ld be leaving one of your own people in the place of it,” Naggeneen answered, “and they”ld never know the differ. Or if they did, it would be no matter. A woman makes a great hullabaloo when her child looks sick and she thinks it”s dying on her, but she doesn”t care at all after a little. And then, it doesn”t die, and she thinks it”s her own child all the time, and there”s no harm done. And His Majesty here thinks it”s going to do a power of good for all of you. It”s not, but he thinks it is.”

“We”ll never take a child from the O”Briens if I can help it,” the Queen said. “From the Sullivans I don”t care, but not from the O”Briens.”

“We”ll have to do it,” said the King. “I don”t like to hurt the O”Briens myself, but it”s for the good of us all, and it”s our only chance. These mortals are getting ahead of us that far, and they”ll be doing something next that will exterminate us entirely. We”ll send and get both the children.”

The Queen urged again that the O”Briens had always been good to the Good People and must not be harmed, but the King had his mind set on Naggeneen”s plan and he would hear of nothing else. It was settled and it could not be changed. They must have both children. They should live among the fairies till they were old enough to be sent out to learn the ways of men. And they should always come back and teach the fairies the ways of men that they had learned.

“And it”s to-night we”d better be doing it, if we”re to do it at all,” said the King. “Now, who”ll be the ones to go and be put in the place of the children?”

Nobody seemed to care about going to play the part of a baby with the Sullivans, or even with the O”Briens. Everybody was trying to get out of the King”s sight behind the others. “We”ld have to be lyin” still all day,” one whispered, “with never a dance to rest ourselves with.”

“They might be puttin” holy water on us,” said another, and all who heard him shivered.

“There”ll be all sorts of unpleasantness, anyway,” said a third.

“Maybe they”ld find us out,” said a fourth, “and then they”ld be puttin” all sorts of horrible charms on us to be rid of us.”

But the King called one of the women and told her that she must go and stay in the place of the baby at the O”Briens. She whimpered a little, but she knew that what the King said must be done. Then the King looked around him and said, “Where”s Naggeneen got to at all now?”

“Here I am to the fore,” said Naggeneen.

“You”ll go,” said the King, “and you”ll be put in the place of the boy that”s at the Sullivans.”

“I go!” said Naggeneen. “Never a step. Didn”t I tell you of the plan? And that”s enough. Now do it for yourself. I don”t belong to you and you know it. Do your own work.”

“I'll not be disputin” with you,” said the King. “Whether you belong to me or no, you”re in my palace along with my tribe, and you”ll do what I tell you. It”s tired of you I've been this great while, and now I've a chance to be rid of you. You”ll go to the Sullivans and you”ll stay there and you”ll grow up like their child. And mind you play your part well and don”t let them know what you are. If you do, they”ll work some charm on you and be rid of you, and then we”ll have to send back the real child, and all your own plan will be lost.”

“And how will you carry out my plan without me?” Naggeneen asked. “Don”t I always tell you what to do? You”ll want me a dozen times a day.”

“We”ll not want you at all. You do tell us what to do and we do it when we like, and it”s small good ever came of it. And then, if we do want anything of you, we know where to find you, and we”ll easily come to you. It”s been done before. You was left in the place of a young man that was taken away once before, and when the tribe that you was with then wanted to talk to you they came to you, and we can do the same if we like, but I don”t think we shall like.”

“That”s just it,” Naggeneen cried; “did you know about that time? This time would be just like it. Do you know how they drove me off? I couldn”t help it then and I couldn”t help it again. There”s times when it seems like there”s a charm on me, and so there is, belike, and I have to do a thing that it”s bad for me to do. Do you know the whole of it, how it was that time?

“It was a man that time, as you say, and not a child. Rickard the Rake he was called, I remember, and a fine rake he was. Never a bit of work would he do, but he”ld always be at every fair or wake or the like of that. And so little good there was in him that the fairies in the rath where I was then said: “It”s an easy thing it”ll be stealing him away, and serve him right, too, and he”ll be handy for us, he”s so good a dancer.”

“I was ordered to be the one to be left in his place, though I knew no good would come of it. And so one night, when he was dancing, we struck him with a dart in the hip, and he fell down where he was. And then, in all the bother and the noise that there was, it was easy to get him away and to leave me in the place of him. So they took me up and put me in bed and nursed me and did all they could think of for me, and me all the time squirming and squealing, like it was dying I was.

“They gave me everything I could think of to eat, and that was not so bad, for I never lived better in my life; but it was worn out I was getting, with lying there all the time and playing sick, and never a chance to stir about or get any air or a minute to myself. And the thing I was spoiling for was a tune out of the pipes or the fiddle. Then they brought a fairy-man to look at me, and he said it was a fairy and not Rickard at all that was in it, and I couldn”t be telling you all the bad names he put on me and the things he said about me. And he said: “Leave a pair of bagpipes near him, and maybe he”ll play them. You know well Rickard never could play at all, and so if he plays them we”ll know that it”s not Rickard, but a fairy changeling, and then we”ll know what to do.'”

Just here I must stop Naggeneen in his story for a minute, to tell you that when people in Ireland speak of a “fairy-man” they do not mean a man fairy. They mean a man who knows all about fairies. The fairy-men know all that the fairies can do, and they know the charms against them and the ways to cure a sickness that the fairies have brought upon anyone, and the ways to keep them from stealing the cream from the milk and the milk from the cow. So the people have great respect for a fairy-man or a fairy-woman, and they often send to one of them for help, when they think that the fairies may have done them a mischief.

“They left the pipes beside me,” Naggeneen went on, “and then they went away. Oh, it was then I had the terrible time all out. Oh, may I never long for anything again as I longed to play them pipes! But I knew that they”ld be listening and watching, and if they caught me at it, I'ld have to pay for it, if they could make me. So I kept my hands off them and only groaned and took on as if the dart in my hip was killing me entirely.

“Then there was one hot afternoon, and everything was still about the house, and it was the harvest time, and they all had a right to be in the fields at work. And sure I thought it was there they were. And then the wish to play the pipes came on me worse than ever before. And it was then that it was like there was a charm on me, as I was telling you. I had to do what I did. I could no more help doing it than a girl can help dancing with us, when we get her in our ring on May Eve. But first I opened the door a crack and looked out into the kitchen, to see was there anybody there, and there was nobody. But they were all in another room, as I found out after, waiting and listening. There was the fairy-man and a fairy-woman and all the people of the house, and some of the neighbors.

“But if I'd seen them all I dunno if I could have done other than I did, the power, whatever it was, was on me that strong. And I took the pipes and played. It was soft I played at first, and then the music got the better of me and I went on more and louder, and I played tunes and tunes. I could play as well then as I can now, and so the other fairies, that had been without me for some time, must have heard me playing, for soon I heard the rustle and the whisper and the patter of their coming, and then they gathered round me, and I had been left there lonely for so long that I kept on playing, to keep them with me.

“It was then the fairy-man and the fairy-woman began talking, and I heard every word they said, as no doubt they meant I should. “What”ll we do with the little beast at all?” says she.

“We”ll do something that”s not too unpleasant at first,” says he. “We”ll take him and hold his head under the water, and see will that drive any of the devilment out of him.”

“Oh, the thief!” says she. “That”s not the way to treat him at all. Let”s heat the shovel and put him on it and throw him out the window.”

“Ah, why will you be that cruel?” says he. “Just let me heat the tongs red hot in the fire and then I'll catch him by the nose with them, and we”ll find out will that make him go home and send poor Rickard back to us.”

“That”s not enough,” says she. “I'll go and bring some of the juice of the lussmore that I have, and we”ll make him drink it, and then if he”s a fairy he”ll wish that he was a man, so that he could die, it”ll make that consternation inside him.”

“We”ll do the both of them things,” says he, and with that they both started into the kitchen, and all the rest of the people after them. But you may believe that by that time I was not there at all. I'd had enough of their kindness and I didn”t think it was right to wait for any more of it. But I looked in at the window for a last glimpse of them, and one of the women saw me, and she screamed, and then the fairy-man made after me with the tongs, and I had to vanish completely. And you know what would happen then. When they drove me off, of course we had to send back Rickard, and there they found him the next morning, asleep in his bed, as sound as ever he was in his life.

“And that was not all. The lesson that he”d had was enough for him, and he left drinking and fighting and swearing, and he helped his old father and his brothers on the farm, and he was another man altogether. And so it”s as I told you. You can never get the better of men, if they know anything, and all you do to hurt them only helps them. And so it will be if you send me to the Sullivans.”

“If you”re done talking about it now,” said the King, “you”ll go to the Sullivans and stay in the place of the child that we”re to carry off. It”s not likely they”ll be leaving any pipes or any fiddle about for you to play on, and you can stay there quite comfortable.

“Off with him now!” the King cried to a dozen of his men, “and mind you don”t come back without the child. And the same to you,” he said again to others of his men; “take the woman and leave her in the place of the child at the O”Briens”.”

The two parties were off, like two little swarms of bees, the one with Naggeneen and the other with the woman. The rest of the fairies waited. The Queen sat on her throne, with her face turned away from the rest and hidden in her hands. The King, with a troubled face, sat looking straight before him, not moving an eye or a hand. The others stood as far off as they could go. Nobody played; nobody danced; nobody laughed or whispered. They waited and watched and listened. Then there was a little murmur and buzz of one of the parties coming back. It was the one that had been to the Sullivans.

The King looked up and seemed to look through the fairies without seeing them. “Have you the child with you?” he asked.

“We have,” said the leader.

“And where”s Naggeneen?” the King asked.

“Lying in the bed beside Mrs. Sullivan,” the leader answered, “and squealing like a pig under a gate.”

“Give the child something to eat and make him comfortable,” said the King.

The Queen turned suddenly around. “Don”t give him anything to eat yet,” she said. “We”ve nothing here but our own food. You couldn”t give him that. What did you bring him here for? Was it not so that you could send him out again, as he grows up, to learn to do the things that men do? And if he touched a bit of our food or our drink, you know he could never leave us.”

“That”s the true word,” said the King. “Here! Some of you go to the O”Briens” and see is there any milk left out of the window. And bring back enough so there”ll be some for the other child, when we get her.”

As the fairies set off on this errand there came a sound like the whistling of the wind through the door, and those who had gone to bring the O”Briens” child were back. They were back in a whirl and a rush and a scramble and a rout. They were all screaming and crying and whimpering and gabbling and gibbering together, and they all fell and sprawled together in a heap before the King. In the midst of them was the woman who had been sent to take the place of the O”Briens” child.

“What for are you here without the child?” the King cried. “And what are you all doing there on the floor, like fish tumbled out of a basket? Get up and tell me what”s wrong with you! Where is the child?”

The fairies all choked and gasped and groaned and tried to speak. Then the leader of the party staggered up to his feet and stammered out: “The child is where it was before we went for it. We could not bring it; we could not take it; we could not touch it. You might as well be asking us to bring a lily from the fields of heaven.”

“And why could you not take it?” the King asked. “Was the mother holding it so fast in her arms? Could you not make her look the other way while you”ld be taking it? Could you not put some charm on her so that she”ld let it go? Or was she praying all the time, so that you could do nothing with her? Or was she making those signs over it that none of us can stand?”

“No, no,” said the leader, so low that they could scarcely hear him; “no, it wasn”t that; the mother was doing none of them things. The mother was dead!”

For a minute everybody was still. The Queen started and looked at the leader of the party and leaned toward him. All the others gazed at him too. Then the King said, “And why did you not bring the child?”

“I'm after telling you we couldn”t touch the child,” the leader answered. “I went to take it, and all at once I felt burning hot, and like I was all dried up into a cinder, and I think they must have drawn a circle of fire round the child. And then I had that fearful feeling that you have when you”re near a horseshoe nail. There must have been one somewhere about. You couldn”t mistake that feeling–as if needles of ice were going all through and through you. And so I was driven back and could get no nearer to the child.”

The woman who had been sent to take the place of the child was standing near the King now, though she could scarcely stand at all, and her face was all wet with tears. “But they made me go nearer to the child than that,” she cried. “These others pushed me close to her, so that I'ld take her place and give the child to them. And I felt burned up like a cinder, too, and then I felt the icy needles, and then worse than that. I felt as if I was all cut across and across and through and through with flaming swords, and torn with red-hot saws. Not the way it is when you divide yourself, so that you can be in two places at once. Anybody can do that, and it hurts no more than cutting a lock of hair, but this was–oh! there”s only one thing could do this. There was a pair of open scissors lying close to the child, and I almost touched them!”

She could say no more, and there was no more to be said. “You couldn”t get the child, then,” said the King, “and there”s the end of it. Nobody could, if they did all them things. I dunno how it is,” the King went on, half to himself, “a child lies there with a pair of scissors open near by, and a horseshoe nail close to it–maybe hung around its neck–and a circle drawn around it with a coal of fire, and it never minds it at all. It sleeps and wakes and lies there as peaceful and happy and quiet as if there was nothing at all out of the common about it. I dunno how they can do it. They”re queer people, these mortals. We can”t get the girl. They was too clever for us. But we”ve got the boy, and we”ll do the best we can with him.”

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