IN the west of Ireland there was a lake, and no doubt it is there still, in which many young men had been at various times drowned. What made the circumstance remarkable was, that the bodies of tile drowned persons were never found. People naturally wondered at this: and at length the lake came to have a bad repute. Many dreadful stories were told about that lake; some would affirm, that on a dark night its waters appeared like fire - others would speak of horrid forms which were seen to glide over it; and every one agreed that a strange sulphurous smell issued from out of it.
There lived, not far distant from this lake, a young farmer, named Roderick Keating, who was about to be married to one of the prettiest girls in that part of the country. On his return from Limerick, where he had been to purchase the wedding-ring, he came up with two or three of his acquaintance, who were standing on the shore, and they began to joke with him about Peggy Honan. One said that young Delaney, his rival, had in his absence contrived to win the affection of his mistress ; - but Roderick's confidence in his intended bride was too great to be disturbed at this tale, and putting his hand in his pocket, he produced and held up with a significant look the wedding-ring. As he was turning it between his fore-finger and thumb, in token of triumph, somehow or other the ring fell from his hand, and rolled into the lake: Roderick looked after it with the greatest sorrow; it was not so much for its value, though it had cost him half-a-guinea, as for the ill-luck of the thing; and the water was so deep, that there. was little chance of recovering it. His companions laughed at him, and he in vain endeavoured to tempt any of them by the offer of a handsome reward to dive after the ring: they were all as little inclined to venture as Roderick Keating himself; for the tales which they had heard when children were strongly impressed on their memories, and a superstitious dread filled the mind of each.
"Must I then go back to Limerick to buy another ring?" exclaimed the young farmer. "Will not ten times what the ring cost tempt any one of you to venture after it?"
There was within hearing a man who was considered to be a poor, crazy, half-witted fellow, but he was as harmless as a child, and used to go wandering up and down through the country from one place to another. When he heard of so great a reward; Paddeen, for that was his name, spoke out, and said, that if Roderick Keating would give him encouragement equal to what he had offered to others, he was ready to venture after the ring into the lake; and Paddeen, all the while he spoke, looked as covetous after the sport as .the money.
"I'll take you at your word," said Keating. So Paddeen pulled off his coat, and without a single syllable more, down he plunged, head fore-most, into the lake: what depth he went to, no one can tell exactly; but he was going, going, going down through the water, until the water parted from him, and he came upon the dry land; the sky, and the light, and every thing, was there just as it is here; and he saw fine pleasure-grounds, with an elegant avenue through them, and a grand house, with a power of steps going up to the door. When he had recovered from his wonder at finding the land so dry and comfortable under the water, he looked about him and what should he see but all the young men that were drowned working away in the pleasure-grounds as if nothing bad ever happened to them. Some of them were mowing down the grass, and more were settling out the gravel walks, and doing all manner of nice work, as neat and as clever as if they had never been drowned; and they were singing away with high glee: -
"She is fair as Cappoquin :
Have you courage her to win ?
And her wealth it far outshines
Cullen's bog and Silvermines.
She exceeds all heart can wish;
Not brawling like the Foherish,
But as the brightly-flowing Lee,
Graceful, mild, and pure is she! "
Well, Paddeen could not but look at the young men, for he knew some of them before they were lost in the lake; but he said nothing, though he thought a great deal more for all that, like an oyster : - no, not the wind of a word passed his lips; so on he went towards the big house, bold enough, as if he had seen nothing to speak of; yet all the time mightily wishing to know who the young woman could be that the young men were singing the song about.
When he had nearly reached the door of the great house, out walks from the kitchen a powerful fat woman, moving along like a beer-barrel on two legs, with teeth as big as horses' teeth, and up she made towards him.
"Good morrow, Paddeen," said she.
"Good morrow, Ma'am," said he.
"What brought you here?" said she.
" 'Tis after Rory Keating's gold ring," said he, " I'm come."
" Here it is for you," said Paddeen's fat friend, with a smile on her face that moved like boiling stirabout [gruel].
"Thank you, Ma'am," replied Paddeen, taking it from her : -" I need not say the Lord increase you, for you're fat enough already. Will you tell me, if you please, am I to go back the same way I came?"
"Then you did not come to marry me ?" cried the corpulent woman, in a desperate fury.
"Just wait till I come back again, my darling," said Paddeen: "I'm to be paid for my message, and I must return with the answer, or else they'll wonder what has become of me."
"Never mind the money," said the fat woman : "if you marry me, you shall live for ever and a day in that house, and want for nothing."
Paddeen saw clearly that, having got possession of the ring, the fat woman had no power to detain him; so without minding any thing she said, he kept moving and moving down the avenue, quite quietly, and looking about him; for, to tell the truth, he had no particular inclination to marry a fat fairy. When he came to the gate, without ever saying good b'ye, out he bolted, and he found the water coming all about him again. Up he plunged through it, and wonder enough there was, when Paddeen was seen swimming away at the opposite side of the lake; but he soon made the shore, and told Roderick Keating, and the other boys that were standing there looking out for him, all that had happened. Roderick paid him the five guineas for the ring on the spot; and Paddeen thought himself so rich with such a sum of money in his pocket, that he did not go back to marry the fat lady with the fine house at the bottom of the lake, knowing she had plenty of young men to choose a husband from, if she pleased to be married.