The day after Christmas the Churl said to Gilly, "This is Saint Stephen's Day. I'm going to such a man's barn to see the mummers perform a play. Foolish people give these idle fellows money for playing, but I won't do any such thing as that. I'll see something of what they are doing, drink a few glasses and get away before they start collecting money from the people that are watching them. They call this collection their dues, no less."
"And what can I do for you, Master?" said Gilly. "Run into the barn at midnight and shout out, 'Master, Master, your mill is on fire.' That will give me an excuse for running out. Do you understand now what I want you to do?"
"I understand, Master."
The Churl put on his coat and took his stick in his hand. "Mind what I've said to you," said he. "Don't be a minute later than midnight. Be sure to come in with a great rash--come in with horse's legs--do you understand me?"
"I understand you, Master," said Gilly.
The mummers were dancing before they began the play when the Churl came into the barn. "That's a rich man," said one of them to another. "We must see that he puts a good handful into our bag." The Churl sat on the bench with the farmer who had a score of cows, with the blacksmith who shod the King's horses, and with the merchant who had been in foreign parts and who wore big silver rings in his ears. Half the people who were there I could not tell you, but there were there--
Matt the Thresher
Conan Maol, and
Shaun the Omadhaun.
Some said that the King of Ireland's Son was there too. The play was "The Unicorn from the Stars." The mummers did it very well although they had no one to take the part of the Unicorn.
They were in the middle of the play when Gilly of the Goatskin rushed into the barn. "Master, master," he shouted, "your mill--your mill is on fire." The Churl stood up, and then put his glass to his head and drained what was in it. "Make way for me, good people," said he. "Let me out of this, good people." Some people near the door began to talk of what Gilly held in his hands. "What have you there, my servant?" said the Churl. "A pair of horse's legs, Master. I could only carry two of them."
The Churl caught Gilly by the throat. "A pair of horse's legs," said he. "Where did you get a pair of horse's legs?"
"Off a horse," said Gilly. "I had trouble in cutting them off. Bad cess to you for telling me to come here with horse's legs."
"And whose horse did you cut the legs off?" "Your own, Master. You wouldn't have liked me to cut the legs off any other person's horse. And I thought your race-horse's legs would be the most suitable to cut off."
The mummers and the people were gathered round them and they saw the Churl's face get black with vexation.
"O my misfortune, that ever I met with you," said the Churl.
"Are you sorry for your bargain, Master?" said Gilly.
"Sorry--I'll be sorry every day and night of my life for it," said the Churl.
"You hear what my Master says, good people," said Gilly.
"Aye, sure. He says he's sorry for the bargain he made with you," said some of the people.
"Then," said Gilly, "strip him and put him across the bench until I cut a strip of his skin an inch wide from his neck to his heel."
None of the people would consent to do that. "Well, I'll tell you something that will make you consent," said Gilly. "This man made two poor servant-boys work for him, paid them no wages, and took a strip of their skin, so that they are sick and sore to this day. Will that make you strip him and put him across the bench?"
"No," said some of the people.
"He ordered me to come here to-night and to shout 'Master, master, your mill is on fire,' so that he might be able to leave without paying the mummers their dues. His mill is not on fire at all."
"Strip him," said the first mummer.
"Put him across the bench," said another.
"Here's a skinner's knife for you," said a third.
The mummers seized the Churl, stripped him and put him across the bench. Gilly took the knife and began to sharpen it on the ground.
"Have mercy on me," said the Churl.
"You did not have mercy on the other two poor servant-boys," said Gilly.
"I'll give you your wages in full."
"That's not enough."
"I'll give you double wages to give to the other servant-boys."
"And will you pay the mummers' dues for all the people here?"
"No, no, no. I can't do that."
"Stretch out your neck then until I mark the place where I shall begin to cut the skin."
"Don't put the knife to me. I'll pay the dues for all," said the Churl.
"You heard what he said," said Gilly to the people. "He will pay me wages in full, give me double wages to hand to the servant-boys he has injured, and pay the mummers' dues for everyone."
"We heard him say that," said the people.
"Stand up and dress yourself," said Gilly to the Churl. "What do I want with a strip of your skin? But I hope all here will go home with you and stand in your house until you have paid ail the money that's claimed from you."
"We'll go home with him," said the mummers.
"We'll stand on his floor until he has paid all the money he has agreed to pay," said the others.
"And now I must tell you, neighbors," said Gilly, "that I never cut the legs of a living horse--neither his horse nor anyone else's. This pair was taken off a poor dead horse by the skinners that were cutting it up."
Well, they all went to the Churl's house and there they stayed until he opened his stone chest and took out his money-box and paid to the mummers the dues of all the people with sixpence over, and paid Gilly his wages in full, one guinea, one groat and a tester, and handed him double wages to give to each of the servant-boys he had injured. Gilly took the money and left the house of the Churl of the Townland of Mischance, and the people and the mummers went to the road with him, and cheered him as he went on his way.