Once there was a poor widow, and often there was, and she had one son. A very scarce summer came, and they didn't know how they'd live till the new potatoes would be fit for eating So Jack said to his mother one evening: "Mother, bake my cake, and kill my cock, till I go seek my fortune; and if I meet it, never fear but I'll soon be back to share it with you." So she did as he asked her, and he set off at break of day on his journey. His mother came along with him to the bawn gate, and says she,--"Jack, which would you rather have, half the cake and half the. cock with my blessing, or the whole of 'em with my curse?" "O musha, mother," says Jack, "why do you ax me that question? Sure you know I wouldn't have your curse and Damer's [a] estate along with it." " Well, then, jack," says she, "here's the whole tote (lot) of 'em, and my thousand blessings along with them." So she stood on the bawn ditch (fence) and blessed as far as her eyes could see him.
Well, be went along and along till be was tired, and ne'er a farmer's house he went into wanted a boy. [b] At last his road led by the side of a bog, and there was a poor ass up to his shoulders near a big bunch of grass he was striving to come at. "Ah, then, Jack asthore," says he, "help me out or I'll be dhrownded." "Never say't twice," says Jack, and he pitched in big stones and scraws into the slob, till the ass got good ground under him.
"Thank you, Jack," says he, when he was out on the hard road; "I'll do as much for you another time. Where are you going?" "Faith, I'm going to seek my fortune till harvest comes in, God bless it!" "If you like," says the ass, "I'll go along with you; who knows what luck we may have!" "With all my heart; it's getting late, let us be jogging."
Well, they were going through a village, and a whole army of gorsoons [c] were hunting a poor dog with a kittle tied to his tail. He ran up to Jack for protection, and the ass let such a roar out of him, that the little thieves took to their heels as if the ould boy (the devil) was after them. "More power to you, Jack!" says the dog. "I'm much obliged to you: where is the baste [d] and yourself going?" "We're going to seek our fortune till the harvest comes in." "And wouldn't I be proud to go with you!" says the dog, "and get shut (rid) of them ill-conducted boys; purshuin to 'em!" "Well, well, throw your tail over your arm and come along."
They got outside the town, and sat down under an old wall, and Jack pulled out his bread and meat, and shared with the dog; and the ass made his dinner on a bunch of thistles. While they were eating and chatting, what should come by but a poor half-starved cat, and the moll-row he gave out of him would make your heart ache. "You look as if you saw the tops of nine houses since breakfast," says Jack; "here's a bone and something on it." "May your child never know a hungry belly!" says Tom; "it's myself that's in need of your kindness. May I be so bold as to ask where yez are all going?" "We're going to seek our 'fortune till the harvest comes in, and you may join us if you like." "And that I'll do with a heart and a half," says the cat, "and thankee for asking me."
Off they set again, and just as the shadows of the trees were three times as long as themselves, they heard a great crackling in a field inside the road, and out over the ditch jumped a fox with a fine black cock in his mouth. "Oh, you anointed villian!" says the ass, roaring like thunder. "At him, good dog!" says Jack, and the word wasn't of his mouth when Coley was in full sweep after the Moddhera Rua (Red Dog). Reynard dropped his prize like a hot potato, and was off like a shot, and the poor cock came back fluttering and trembling to Jack and his comrades. "O musha, neighbours!" says he, "wasn't it the hoith (height) o' luck that threw you in my way! Maybe I won't remember your kindness if ever I find you in hardship; and where in the world are you all going?" " We're going to seek our fortune till the harvest comes in; you may join our party if you like, and sit on Neddy's crupper when your legs and wings are tired.
Well, the march began again, and just as the sun was gone down they looked around, and there was neither cabin nor farmhouse in sight. "Well, well," says Jack, "the worse luck now the better another time and it's only a summer night after all. We'll go into the wood, and make our bed on the long grass." No sooner said than done. Jack stretched himself on a bunch of dry grass, the ass lay near him, the dog and cat lay in the ass's warm lap and the cock went to roost in the next tree.
Well, the soundness of deep sleep was over them all, when the cock took a notion of crowing "Bother you, Cuileach Dhu!" (Black Cock) says the ass: you disturbed me from as nice a wisp of hay as ever I tasted. What's the matter?" "It's daybreak that's the matter: don't you see light yonder?" "I see a light indeed," says Jack, "but it's from a candle it's coming, and not from the sun. As you have roused us we may as well go over and ask for lodging." So they all shook themselves and went on through grass, and rocks, and briars, till they got down into a hollow, and there was a light coming through the shadow, and along with it came singing, and laughing, and cursing. "Easy, boys!" says Jack; "walk on your tippy toes till we see what sort of people we have to deal with."
So they crept near the window, and there they saw six robbers inside, with pistols, and blunderbushes, and cutlashes, sitting at a table, eating roast beef and pork, and drinking mulled beer, and wine, and whisky punch.
"Wasn't that a fine haul we made at the Lord of Dunlavin's!" says one ugly-looking thief with his mouth full, "and it's little we'd get only for the honest porter: here's his purty health!" "The porter's purty health!" cried out every one of them, and Jack bent his fingers at his comrades. "Close your ranks, my men," says he in a whisper, "and let every one mind the word of command." So the ass put his fore-hoofs on the sill of the window, the dog got on the asses head, the cat got on the dog's head, and the cock on the cat's head. Then Jack made a sign, and they all sung out like mad.
"Hee-haw, hee-haw!" roared the an; "bow-wow!" barked the dog; "meaw-meawl" cried the cat; "cock-a-doodle-doo!" crowed the cock. "Level your pistols!" cried jack, "and make smithereens of 'em. Don't leave a mother's son of 'em alive; present, fire!" With that they gave another halloo, and smashed every pane in the window. The robbers were frightened out of their lives. They blew out the candles, threw down the table and skelped out at the back door as if they were in earnest, and never drew rein till they were in the very heart of the wood.
Jack and his party got into the room, closed the shutters; lighted the candles, and ate and drank till hunger and thirst were gone. Then they lay down to rest;--Jack in the bed, the ass in the stable, the dog on the door mat, the cat by the fire, and the cock on the perch.
At first the robbers were very glad to find them-selves safe in the thick wood, but they soon began to get vexed. "This damp grass is very different from our warm room," says one; "I was obliged to drop a fine pig's crubeen," says another; "I didn't get a spoonful of my last tumbler," says another; "and all the Lord of Dunlavin's gold and silver that we left behind!" says the last. "I think I'll venture back," says the captain, "and see if we can recover anything." "That's a good boy!" said they all, and off he went.
The lights were all out, and so he groped his way to the fire, and there the cat flew in his face, and tore him with teeth and claws. He let a roar out of him, and made for the room door, to look for a candle inside. He trod on the dog's tail, and if he did, he got marks of his teeth in his arms, and legs, and thighs. "Millia murdher!" (thousand murders) cried he; "I wish I was out of this unlucky house." When he got to the street door, the cock dropped down upon him with his claws and bill, and what the cat and dog done to him was only a flay-bite to what he got from the cock. "Oh, tattheration to you all, you unfeeling vagabones!" says he, when he recovered his breath; and he staggered and spun round and round till he reeled into the stable, back foremost, but the ass received him with a kick on the broadest of his small clothes, and laid him comfortably on the dunghill. When he came to himself, he scratched his head, and began to think what happened him; and as soon as he found that his legs were able to carry him, he crawled away, dragging one foot after another, till he reached the wood.
"Well, well," cried them all, when he came within hearing, "any chance of our property?" "You may say chance," says he, "and it's itself is the poor chance all out. Ah, will any of you pull a bed of dry grass for me? All the sticking plaster in Inniscorthy (Enniscorthy) will be too little for the cuts and bruises I have on me. Ah, if you only knew what I have gone through for you! When I got to the kitchen fire, looking for a sod of lighted turf, what should be there but a colliach carding flax, and you may see the marks she left on my face with the cards. I made to the room door as fast as I could, and who should I stumble over but a cobbler and his seat, and if he did not work at me with his awls and his pinchers you may call me a rogue. Well, I got away from him somehow, but when I was passing through the door, it must be the divel himself that pounced down on me with his claws, and his teeth, that were equal to six-penny nails, and his wings--ill luck be in his road! Well, at last I reached the stable, and there, by way of salute, I got a pelt from a sledge-hammer that sent me half a mile off. if you don't believe me, you can go and judge for yourselves." "Oh, my poor captain," says they, "we believe you to the nines. Catch us, indeed, going within a hen's race of that unlucky cabin!"
Well, before the sun shook his doublet next morning, Jack and his comrades were up and about. They made a hearty breakfast on what was left the night before, and then they all set off to the castle of the Lord of Dunlavin, and gave back all his gold and silver. Jack put it all in the two ends of a sack, and laid it across Neddy's back, and all took the road in their hands. Away they went, through bogs, up hills, down dales, and sometimes along the yalla high road, till they came to the hall door of the Lord of Dunlavin, and who should be there, airing his powdered head, his white stocks, and his red breeches, but the thief of a porter.
He gave a cross look to the visitors, and says he to Jack, "What do you want here, my fine fellow? there isn't room for you all." "We want," says Jack, "what I'm sure you haven't to give us--and that is, common civility." "Come, be off, you lazy geochachs!" says he, "while a cat 'ud be licking her ear, or I'll let the dogs at you." "Would you tell us," says the cock that was perched on the asses head, "who was it that opened the door for robbers the other night?" Ah! maybe the porter's red face didn't turn the colour of his frill, and the Lord Dunlavin and his pretty daughter, that were standing at the parlour window unknownst to the porter, put out their heads. "I'd be glad, Barney," says the master, "to hear your answer to the gentleman with the red comb on him," "Ah, my lord don't believe the rascal; sure I didn't open the door to the six robbers." "And how did you know there were six, you poor innocent?" said the lord. "Never mind, sir," says Jack, "all your gold and silver is there in that sack, and I don't think you will begrudge us our supper and bed after our long march from the wood of Athsalach." "Begrudge, indeed! Not one of you will ever see a poor day if l can help it."
So all were welcomed to their heart's content, and the ass, and the dog, and the cock got the best posts in the farmyard, and the cat took possession of the kitchen. The lord took Jack in hand, dressed him from top to toe in broadcloth, and frills as white as snow, 'and turnpumps, and put a watch in his fob. When they sat down to dinner, the lady of the house said Jack had the air of a born gentleman about him, and the lord said he'd make him his stewart. Jack brought his mother, and settled her comfortably near the castle, and all were as happy as you please. The old woman that told me the story said Jack and the young lady were married; but if they were I hope he spent two or three years getting the education of a gentleman. I don't think that a country boy would feel comfortable, striving to find discourse for a well-bred young lady, the length of a summer's day, even if he had the Academy of Compliments and the Complete Letter Writer by heart. [e]
Our archaeologists, who are of opinion that beast worship prevailed in Erin as well as in Egypt, cannot but be well pleased with our selection of this story, seeing the domestic animals endowed with such intelligence, and acting their parts so creditably in the stirring little drama. This animal cultus must have been of a fetish character, for among the legendary remains we find no acts of beneficence ascribed to serpent, or boar, or cat, but the contrary. The number of places in the country named from animals is very great. A horse cleared the Shannon at its mouth (a leap of nine miles); one of the Fenian hounds sprung across the river Roe in the North, and the town built on the locality gets its name from the circumstance (Limavaddy--Dog's leap). We have more than one large pool deriving its name from having been infested by a worm or a serpent in the days of the heroes. Fion M'Cumhaill killed several of these. A Munster champion slew a terrible specimen in the Duifrey (Co. Wexford), and the pool in which it sweltered is yet called Loch-na-Piastha. Near that remarkable piece of water is a ridge, called Kilach dermid (Cullach Diarmuid, Diarmuid's Boar). Even the domestic hen gives a name to a mountain in Londonderry, Slabh Cearc, [e] and to a castle in Connaught, Caislean na Cearca. The dog has a valley in Roscommon (Glann na Moddha) to himself, and the pig (muc), among his possessions, owns more than one line of vale. Fion's exploits in killing terrible birds with his arrows, the boar that ravaged the great valley in Munster, and the various "piasts" in the lakes, bring him on a line with the Grecian Hercules. And as the old Pagans of that country and of Italy, along with a wholesome dread and hatred of the Stymphalides, hydras, and lions, warred on by Hercules, together with the Harpies and Cerberus, entertained for them a certain fetish reverence, so it is not to be wondered at if the secluded Celts of Ireland regarded their boars, and serpents, and cats, with similar feelings. Mr. Hackett relates a legend of a monster (genus and species not specified) who levied black mail in the form of flesh meat on a certain district in Cork to such an amount that they apprehended general starvation. In this exigency they applied to a holy man, and acting under his directions, they called the terrible tax-collector to a parley. They represented to him that they were nearly destitute of means to furnish his honour with another meal, but that if he consented to enter a certain big pot, and sleep till Monday, they would scatter themselves abroad, and collect such a supply of fish and flesh as would satisfy his appetite for a twelvemonth. Thinking the offer reasonable, he got into his crib, which was securely covered by his wily constituents, and dropped into an exceedingly deep hole in the neighbouring river. He looked on this as a strange proceeding, but kept his opinion to himself until next Monday. Then he roared out to be set at liberty, but the unprincipled party with whom he had to do, stated that the time appointed had not arrived, seeing that Doomsday was the period named in the covenant. He insisted that Monday was the word, but learned, to his great disgust, that the Celtic name, besides doing duty for that first of working days, also implied the Day of Judgment. He gave a roar, and stupidly vented his rage in a stanza of five lines, to the effect that if he was once more at liberty he would not only eat up the whole country, but half the world into the bargain; and bitterly bewailed his ignorance of the perfidies of the Gaelic tongue, that had made him a wretched prisoner.
These observations on animal worship cannot be better brought to a close than by the mention of the cat who reigned over the Celtic branch of the feline race at Knobba, in Meath. The talented and very ill-tempered chief bard, Seanchan, satirized the mice in a body, and the cats also, including their king, for allowing the contemptible vermin to thrust their whiskers into the egg intended for his dinner. He was at Cruachan in Connaught at the time, but the venom of his verse disagreeably affected King Irusan, in his royal cave at Knowth, on the Boyne. He (the cat) took the road, and never stopped for refreshment, till, in the presence of the full court at Cruachan, he seized on the pestilent poet, and throwing him on his back, swept eastwards across the Shannon in full career. His intent was to take him home and make a sumptuous meal of him, assisted by Madame Sharptooth, his spouse, their daughter of the same name, and Roughtooth and the Purrer, their sons. However, as he was cantering through Clonmacnois, St. Kiaran, who, like his Saxon brother, St. Dunstan, was a skilful worker in metals, espied him while hammering on a long red-hot bar of iron. The saint set very small value on Seanchan as a bard, but, regarding him as a baptized man, he determined to disappoint the revengeful out of his workshop, and assuming the correct attitude of a spear-thrower, he launched the flaming bar, which, piercing the cat near the flank, an inch behind the helpless body of the bard, passed through and through, stretched the feline king expiring in agony, and gave the ill-conditioned poet a space for repentance.
Not only can a general resemblance be traced in all the fictions of the great Japhetian divisions of the human race, but an enthusiastic and diligent explorer would be able to find a relationship between these and the stories current among the Semitic races, and even the tribes scattered over the great continent of- Africa, subject to the variations arising from climate, local features, and the social condition of the people. One instance must suffice. In the cold north the fox persuaded the bear to let down his tail into a pond to catch fish, just as the frost was setting in. When a time sufficient for Reynard's purpose had elapsed he cried out, "Pull up the line, you have got a bite." The first effort was to no purpose. "Give a stouter pull--there is a great fish taken;" and now the bear put such a will in his strain that he left his tail under the ice. Since that time the family of Bruin are distinguished by stumpy tails. In Bournou, in Africa, where ice is rather scarce, the weasel said to the hyena, "Fve just seen a large piece of flesh in such a pit. It is too heavy for me, but you can dip down your tail and I will fasten the meat to it, and then you have nothing to do but give a pull." "All right," said the hyena. When the tail was lowered, the weasel fastened it to a stout cross-stick, and gave the word for heaving. No success at first; then he cried out, "The meat is heavy--pull as if you were in earnest." At the second tug the tail was left behind, and ever since, hyenas have no tails worth mentioning.
The chief incidents of the following household tale would determine its invention to a period subsequent to the introduction of Christianity; but it would not have been difficult for a Christian story-teller to graft the delay of the baptism on some Pagan tale. It is slightly connected with the "Lassie and her Godmother" in the Norse collection. An instance of the rubbing-down process to which these old-world romances are subject in their descent through the generations of story-tellers, is the introduction of the post.office and its unworthy officer, long before the round ruler and the strip of parchment formed the writing apparatus of the kings of Sparta or their masters, the Ephori.
[a] A rich Dublin money-lender, contemporary with Dr. Johnathon Swift, and commemorated by im in an appropriate lament. Damer is to the Irish peasant, what Croesus was to the old Greeks.
[b] We must beg rigid grammarians to excuse some solecisms without which the peasant idion could not be truly given.
[c] Garcons, boys. In the ounties of the Pale the earliest colonized by the English, several Nrman-French words and expressions, long obsolete in England, may still be heard.
[d] We are anxious in the expressions put into the mouths of the characters to preserve the idiom, but not always to inflict the pronunciation on the reader. English youths and maidens are requested to recollect that the g in the final ing is seldom sounded; that ea and ei get the sound of a in rare: that dr and tr are pronounced dhr and thr, and der and ter, when not in the first syllable of a word, are sounded dher and ther. The Irish peasant never errs in the pronunciation of ie. So the reader may set down any sketch or story in which he finds praste, belave, thafe, as the composition of one thoroughly ignorant of Irish pronunciation or phraseology.
[d] Two chap or pedler's books, great favourites among our populace during the last century, and still finding some readers. The concluding observations, as well as the body of the story, are in the words of the original narrator.
[e] In Celtic words c and g have uniformly a hard sound: they are never pronounced as c in cent or,g in, gom.