ONE night, about twelve o'clock in the morning, as the good folks say, who tell this good tale, Dame--the sage femme of Tavistock, had just got comfortably into bed, when rap, rap, rap, came on her cottage door, with such bold and continued noise, that there was a sound of authority in every individual knock. Startled and alarmed by the call, she arose from her bed, and soon learnt that the summons was a hasty one to bid her attend on a patient who needed her help. She opened her door, when the summoner appeared to be a strange, squint-eyed, little, ugly old fellow, who had a look, as she said, very like a certain dark personage, who ought not at all times to be called by his proper name. Not at all prepossessed in favour of the errand by the visage of the messenger, she nevertheless could not, or dared not, resist the command to follow him straight, and attend on "his wife."
"Thy wife!" thought the good dame; "Heaven forgive me, but as sure as I live I be going to the birth of a little divil." A large coal-black horse, with eyes like balls of fire, stood at the door. The ill-looking old fellow, without more ado, whisked her up on a high pillion in a minute, seated himself before her, and away went horse and riders as if sailing through the air rather than trotting on the ground. How she got to the place of her destination she could not tell; but it was a great relief to her fears when she found herself set down at the door of a neat cottage, saw a couple of tidy children, and remarked her patient to be a decent looking woman, having all things about her fitting the time and occasion. A fine bouncing babe soon made its appearance, who seemed very bold on its entry into life, for it gave the good dame a box on the ear, as, with the coaxing and cajolery of all good old nurses, she declared the "sweet little thing to be very like its father." The mother said nothing to this, but gave nurse a certain ointment, with directions that she should strike (i. e. rub) the child's eyes with it. The nurse performed her task, considering what it could be for. She thought that, as no doubt it was a good thing, she might just as well try it upon her own eyes as well as those of the baby; so she made free to strike one of them by way of trial, when, O ye powers of fairy land! what a change was there!
The neat, but homely cottage, and all who were in it, seemed all on a sudden to undergo a mighty transformation; some for the better, some for the worse. The new-made mother appeared as a beautiful lady attired in white; the babe was seen wrapped in swaddling clothes of a silvery gauze. It looked much prettier than before, but still maintained the elfish cast of the eye, like his father, whilst two or three children more had undergone a strange metamorphosis. For there sat on either side the bed's head, a couple of little flat-nosed imps, who with "mops and mows,' and with many a grimace and grin, were busied to no end in scratching their own polls, or in pulling the fairy lady's ears with their long and hairy paws. The dame who beheld all this, fearing she knew not what, in the house of enchantment, got away as fast as she could, without saying one word about striking her own eye with the magic ointment and what she had seen. The sour-looking old fellow once more handed her up on the coal-black-horse, and sent her home in a whip sissa [a] much faster than she came.
On the next market-day, when she sallied forth to sell her eggs, she saw the same old fellow busy pilfering sundry articles from stall to stall, and going up to him she enquired about his wife and child. "What!" exclaimed he, "do you see me to-day?" "See you! to be sure I do, as plain as I see the sun in the sky; and I see you are busy, too." "Do you?" says he, "and pray with which eye do you see all this?" "With the right eye to be sure."
"The ointment! the ointment!" cried he. "Take that, for meddling with what did not belong to you; you shall see me no more."
He struck her eye as he spoke, and from that hour till the day of her death she was blind of that eye.
[a] Whip says he, as Mrs. Bray conjectures.