What did Gilly of the Goatskin do in the Townland of Mischance? He got up early and went to bed late; he was kept digging, delving and ditching until he was so tired that he could go to sleep in a furze bush; he ate a breakfast that left him hungry five hours before dinner-time, and he ate a dinner that made it seem long until supper-time. If he complained the Churl would say, "Well, then you are sorry for your bargain," and Gilly would say "No," rather than lose the wages he had earned and a strip of his skin into the bargain.
One day the Churl said to him, "Go into the town for salt for my supper, take the short way across the pasture-field, and be sure not to let the grass grow under your feet." "All right, master," said Gilly. "Maybe you would bring me my coat out of the house so that I needn't make two journeys." The Churl went into the house for Gilly's coat. When he came back he found Gilly standing in the nice grass of the pasture-field lighting a wisp of hay. "What are you doing that for?" said the Churl to him. "To burn the grass on the pasture-field," said Gilly. "To burn the grass on my pasture-field, you villain--the grass that is for my good race-horse's feeding! What do you mean, at all?" "Sure, you told me not to let the grass grow under my feet," said Gilly. "Doesn't the world know that the grass is growing every minute, and how will I prevent it from growing under my feet if I don't burn it?" With that he stooped down to put the lighted hay to the grass of the pasture-field. "Stop, stop," said the Churl, "I meant that you were to go to the town, without loitering on the way." "Well, it's a pity you didn't speak more clearly," said Gilly, "for now the grass is a-fire." The Churl had to stamp on the grass to put the fire out. He burnt his shins, and that made him very angry. "O you fool," said he to Gilly, "I'm sorry -" "Are you sorry for the bargain you made with me, Master?" "No. I was going to say I was sorry I hadn't made my meaning clear to you. Go now to the town and bring me back salt for my supper as quickly as you can."
After that the Churl was very careful when he gave Gilly an order to speak to him very exactly. This became a great trouble to him, for the people in the Townland of Mischance used always to say, "Don't let the grass grow under your feet," when they meant "Make haste," and "Don't be there until you're back," when they meant "Go quickly" and "Come with horses' legs" when they meant "come with great speed." He became tired of speaking to Gilly by the letter, so he made up his mind to give him an order that could not be carried out, so that he might have a chance of sending him away without the wages he had earned.
One Monday morning he called Gilly to the door of the house and said to him, "Take this sheep-skin to the market and bring me back the price of it and the skin." "Very well, Master," said Gilly. He put the skin across his arm and went towards the town. The people on the road said to him, "What do you want for the sheep-skin, young fellow?" "I want the skin and the price of it," Gilly said. The people laughed at him and said, "You're going to give yourself a long journey, young fellow."
He went through the market asking for the skin and the price of it. Everyone joked about him. He went into the market-house and came to a woman who was buying things that no one else would buy. "What do you want, youth?" said she. "The price of the skin and the skin itself," said Gilly. She took the skin from him and plucked the wool out of it. She put the wool in her bag and put the skin back on the board. "There's the skin," said she, "and here's the price of it." She left three groats and a tester on top of the skin.
The Churl had finished his supper when Gilly came into the house. "Well, Master, I've come back to you," said Gilly. "Did you bring me the price of it and the skin itself?" said the Churl. "There is the skin," said Gilly, putting on the table the sheep-skin with the wool plucked out of it. "And here's the price of it--three groats and a tester," said he, leaving the money on top of the skin.
After that the Churl of the Townland of Mischance began to be afraid that Gilly of the Goatskin would be too wise for him, and would get away at the end of the three months with his wages, a guinea, a groat and a tester, in his fist. This thought made the Churl very downcast, because, for many months now, he had got hard labor out of his serving-boys, without giving them a single cross for wages.