Stories of Pat Dirane, from The Aran Islands by John Millington Synge (1907)


The Pound of Flesh

There were two farmers in County Clare. One had a son, and the other, a fine rich man, had a daughter.
 The young man was wishing to marry the girl, and his father told him to try and get her if he thought well, though a power of gold would be wanting to get the like of her.
 ‘I will try,’ said the young man.
 He put all his gold into a bag. Then he went over to the other farm, and threw in the gold in front of him.
 ‘Is that all gold?’ said the father of the girl.
 ‘All gold,’ said O’Conor (the young man’s name was O’Conor).
 ‘It will not weigh down my daughter,’ said the father.
 ‘We’ll see that,’ said O’Conor.
 Then they put them in the scales, the daughter in one side and the gold in the other. The girl went down against the ground, so O’Conor took his bag and went out on the road.
 As he was going along he came to where there was a little man, and he standing with his back against the wall.
 ‘Where are you going with the bag?’ said the little man. ‘Going home,’ said O’Conor.
 ‘Is it gold you might be wanting?’ said the man. 'It is, surely,’ said O’Conor.
 ‘I’ll give you what you are wanting,’ said the man, 'and we can bargain in this way - you’ll pay me back in a year the gold I give you, or you’ll pay me with five pounds cut off your own flesh.’
 That bargain was made between them. The man gave a bag of gold to O’Conor, and he went back with it, and was married to the young woman.
 They were rich people, and he built her a grand castle on the cliffs of Clare, with a window that looked out straight over the wild ocean.
 One day when he went up with his wife to look out over the wild ocean, he saw a ship coming in on the rocks, and no sails on her at all. She was wrecked on the rocks, and it was tea that was in her, and fine silk.
 O’Conor and his wife went down to look at the wreck, and when the lady O’Conor saw the silk she said she wished a dress of it.
 They got the silk from the sailors, and when the Captain came up to get the money for it, O’Conor asked him to come again and take his dinner with them. They had a grand dinner, and they drank after it, and the Captain was tipsy. While they were still drinking, a letter came to O’Conor, and it was in the letter that a friend of his was dead, and that he would have to go away on a long journey. As he was getting ready the Captain came to him.
 ‘Are you fond of your wife?’ said the Captain.
 ‘I am fond of her,’ said O’Conor.
 ‘Will you make me a bet of twenty guineas no man comes near her while you’ll be away on the journey?’ said the Captain.
 ‘I will bet it,’ said O’Conor; and he went away.
 There was an old hag who sold small things on the road near the castle, and the lady O’Conor allowed her to sleep up in her room in a big box. The Captain went down on the road to the old hag.
 ‘For how much will you let me sleep one night in your box?’ said the Captain.
 ‘For no money at all would I do such a thing,’ said the hag.
 ‘For ten guineas?’ said the Captain.
 ‘Not for ten guineas,’ said the hag.
 ‘For twelve guineas?’ said the Captain.
 ‘Not for twelve guineas,’ said the hag.
 ‘For fifteen guineas?’ said the Captain.
 ‘For fifteen I will do it,’ said the hag.
 Then she took him up and hid him in the box. When night came the lady O’Conor walked up into her room, and the Captain watched her through a hole that was in the box. He saw her take off her two rings and put them on a kind of a board that was over her head like a chimney-piece, and take off her clothes, except her shift, and go up into her bed.
 As soon as she was asleep the Captain came out of his box, and he had some means of making a light, for he lit the candle. He went over to the bed where she was sleeping without disturbing her at all, or doing any bad thing, and he took the two rings off the board, and blew out the light, and went down again into the box.
 He paused for a moment, and a deep sigh of relief rose from the men and women who had crowded in while the story was going on, till the kitchen was filled with people.
 As the Captain was coming out of his box the girls, who had appeared to know no English, stopped their spinning and held their breath with expectation.
 The old man went on -
 When O’Conor came back the Captain met him, and told him that he had been a night in his wife’s room, and gave him the two rings. O’Conor gave him the twenty guineas of the bet. Then he went up into the castle, and he took his wife up to look out of the window over the wild ocean. While she was looking he pushed her from behind, and she fell down over the cliff into the sea.
 An old woman was on the shore, and she saw her falling. She went down then to the surf and pulled her out all wet and in great disorder, and she took the wet clothes off her, and put on some old rags belonging to herself.
 When O’Conor had pushed his wife from the window he went away into the land.
 After a while the lady O’Conor went out searching for him, and when she had gone here and there a long time in the country, she heard that he was reaping in a field with sixty men.
 She came to the field and she wanted to go in, but the gate-man would not open the gate for her. Then the owner came by, and she told him her story. He brought her in, and her husband was there, reaping, but he never gave any sign of knowing her. She showed him to the owner, and he made the man come out and go with his wife.
 Then the lady O’Conor took him out on the road where there were horses, and they rode away.
 When they came to the place where O’Conor had met the little man, he was there on the road before them.
 ‘Have you my gold on you?’ said the man.
 ‘I have not,’ said O’Conor.
 ‘Then you’ll pay me the flesh off your body,’ said the man. They went into a house, and a knife was brought, and a clean white cloth was put on the table, and O’Conor was put upon the cloth.
 Then the little man was going to strike the lancet into him, when says lady O’Conor -
 ‘Have you bargained for five pounds of flesh?’
 ‘For five pounds of flesh,’ said the man.
 ‘Have you bargained for any drop of his blood?’ said lady O’Conor.
 ‘For no blood,’ said the man.
 ‘Cut out the flesh,’ said lady O’Conor, 'but if you spill one drop of his blood I’ll put that through you.’ And she put a pistol to his head.
 The little man went away and they saw no more of him.
 When they got home to their castle they made a great supper, and they invited the Captain and the old hag, and the old woman that had pulled the lady O’Conor out of the sea.
 After they had eaten well the lady O’Conor began, and she said they would all tell their stories. Then she told how she had been saved from the sea, and how she had found her husband.
 Then the old woman told her story; the way she had found the lady O’Conor wet, and in great disorder, and had brought her in and put on her some old rags of her own.
 The lady O’Conor asked the Captain for his story; but he said they would get no story from him. Then she took her pistol out of her pocket, and she put it on the edge of the table, and she said that any one that would not tell his story would get a bullet into him.
 Then the Captain told the way he had got into the box, and come over to her bed without touching her at all, and had taken away the rings.
 Then the lady O’Conor took the pistol and shot the hag through the body, and they threw her over the cliff into the sea.
 That is my story.

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The unfaithful wife

One day I was travelling on foot from Galway to Dublin, and the darkness came on me and I ten miles from the town I was wanting to pass the night in. Then a hard rain began to fall and I was tired walking, so when I saw a sort of a house with no roof on it up against the road, I got in the way the walls would give me shelter.
 As I was looking round I saw a light in some trees two perches off, and thinking any sort of a house would be better than where I was, I got over a wall and went up to the house to look in at the window.
 I saw a dead man laid on a table, and candles lighted, and a woman watching him. I was frightened when I saw him, but it was raining hard, and I said to myself, if he was dead he couldn’t hurt me. Then I knocked on the door and the woman came and opened it.
 ‘Good evening, ma’am,’ says I.
 ‘Good evening kindly, stranger,’ says she, 'Come in out of the rain.’ Then she took me in and told me her husband was after dying on her, and she was watching him that night.
 ‘But it’s thirsty you’ll be, stranger,’ says she, 'Come into the parlour.’ Then she took me into the parlour - and it was a fine clean house - and she put a cup, with a saucer under it, on the table before me with fine sugar and bread.
 When I’d had a cup of tea I went back into the kitchen where the dead man was lying, and she gave me a fine new pipe off the table with a drop of spirits.
 ‘Stranger,’ says she, 'would you be afeard to be alone with himself?’
 ‘Not a bit in the world, ma’am,’ says I; 'he that’s dead can do no hurt,’ Then she said she wanted to go over and tell the neighbours the way her husband was after dying on her, and she went out and locked the door behind her.
 I smoked one pipe, and I leaned out and took another off the table. I was smoking it with my hand on the back of my chair - the way you are yourself this minute, God bless you - and I looking on the dead man, when he opened his eyes as wide as myself and looked at me.
 ‘Don’t be afraid, stranger,’ said the dead man; 'I’m not dead at all in the world. Come here and help me up and I’ll tell you all about it.’
 Well, I went up and took the sheet off of him, and I saw that he had a fine clean shirt on his body, and fine flannel drawers.
 He sat up then, and says he -
 ‘I’ve got a bad wife, stranger, and I let on to be dead the way I’d catch her goings on.’
 Then he got two fine sticks he had to keep down his wife, and he put them at each side of his body, and he laid himself out again as if he was dead.
 In half an hour his wife came back and a young man along with her. Well, she gave him his tea, and she told him he was tired, and he would do right to go and lie down in the bedroom.
 The young man went in and the woman sat down to watch by the dead man. A while after she got up and 'Stranger,’ says she, 'I’m going in to get the candle out of the room; I’m thinking the young man will be asleep by this time.’ She went into the bedroom, but the divil a bit of her came back.
 Then the dead man got up, and he took one stick, and he gave the other to myself. We went in and saw them lying together with her head on his arm.
 The dead man hit him a blow with the stick so that the blood out of him leapt up and hit the gallery.
 That is my story.

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Winning the king’s daughter

There was once a widow living among the woods, and her only son living along with her. He went out every morning through the trees to get sticks, and one day as he was lying on the ground he saw a swarm of flies flying over what the cow leaves behind her. He took up his sickle and hit one blow at them, and hit that hard he left no single one of them living.
 That evening he said to his mother that it was time he was going out into the world to seek his fortune, for he was able to destroy a whole swarm of flies at one blow, and he asked her to make him three cakes the way he might take them with him in the morning.
 He started the next day a while after the dawn, with his three cakes in his wallet, and he ate one of them near ten o’clock.
 He got hungry again by midday and ate the second, and when night was coming on him he ate the third. After that he met a man on the road who asked him where he was going.
 ‘I’m looking for some place where I can work for my living,’ said the young man.
 ‘Come with me,’ said the other man, 'and sleep to-night in the barn, and I’ll give you work to-morrow to see what you’re able for.’
 The next morning the farmer brought him out and showed him his cows and told him to take them out to graze on the hills, and to keep good watch that no one should come near them to milk them. The young man drove out the cows into the fields, and when the heat of the day came on he lay down on his back and looked up into the sky. A while after he saw a black spot in the north-west, and it grew larger and nearer till he saw a great giant coming towards him.
 He got up on his feet and he caught the giant round the legs with his two arms, and he drove him down into the hard ground above his ankles, the way he was not able to free himself. Then the giant told him to do him no hurt, and gave him his magic rod, and told him to strike on the rock, and he would find his beautiful black horse, and his sword, and his fine suit.
 The young man struck the rock and it opened before him, and he found the beautiful black horse, and the giant’s sword and the suit lying before him. He took out the sword alone, and he struck one blow with it and struck off the giant’s head. Then he put back the sword into the rock, and went out again to his cattle, till it was time to drive them home to the farmer.
 When they came to milk the cows they found a power of milk in them, and the farmer asked the young man if he had seen nothing out on the hills, for the other cow-boys had been bringing home the cows with no drop of milk in them. And the young man said he had seen nothing.
 The next day he went out again with the cows. He lay down on his back in the heat of the day, and after a while he saw a black spot in the north-west, and it grew larger and nearer, till he saw it was a great giant coming to attack him.
 ‘You killed my brother,’ said the giant; 'come here, till I make a garter of your body.’
 The young man went to him and caught him by the legs and drove him down into the hard ground up to his ankles.
 Then he hit the rod against the rock, and took out the sword and struck off the giant’s head.
 That evening the farmer found twice as much milk in the cows as the evening before, and he asked the young man if he had seen anything. The young man said that he had seen nothing.
 The third day the third giant came to him and said, 'You have killed my two brothers; come here, till I make a garter of your body.’
 And he did with this giant as he had done with the other two, and that evening there was so much milk in the cows it was dropping out of their udders on the pathway.
 The next day the farmer called him and told him he might leave the cows in the stalls that day, for there was a great curiosity to be seen, namely, a beautiful king’s daughter that was to be eaten by a great fish, if there was no one in it that could save her. But the young man said such a sight was all one to him, and he went out with the cows on to the hills. When he came to the rocks he hit them with his rod and brought out the suit and put it on him, and brought out the sword and strapped it on his side, like an officer, and he got on the black horse and rode faster than the wind till he came to where the beautiful king’s daughter was sitting on the shore in a golden chair, waiting for the great fish.
 When the great fish came in on the sea, bigger than a whale, with two wings on the back of it, the young man went down into the surf and struck at it with his sword and cut off one of its wings. All the sea turned red with the bleeding out of it, till it swam away and left the young man on the shore.
 Then he turned his horse and rode faster than the wind till he came to the rocks, and he took the suit off him and put it back in the rocks, with the giant’s sword and the black horse, and drove the cows down to the farm.
 The man came out before him and said he had missed the greatest wonder ever was, and that a noble person was after coming down with a fine suit on him and cutting off one of the wings from the great fish.
 ‘And there’ll be the same necessity on her for two mornings more,’ said the farmer, 'and you’d do right to come and look on it.’
 But the young man said he would not come.
 The next morning he went out with his cows, and he took the sword and the suit and the black horse out of the rock, and he rode faster than the wind till he came where the king’s daughter was sitting on the shore. When the people saw him coming there was great wonder on them to know if it was the same man they had seen the day before. The king’s daughter called out to him to come and kneel before her, and when he kneeled down she took her scissors and cut off a lock of hair from the back of his head and hid it in her clothes.
 Then the great worm came in from the sea, and he went down into the surf and cut the other wing off from it. All the sea turned red with the bleeding out of it, till it swam away and left them.
 That evening the farmer came out before him and told him of the great wonder he had missed, and asked him would he go the next day and look on it. The young man said he would not go.
 The third day he came again on the black horse to where the king’s daughter was sitting on a golden chair waiting for the great worm. When it came in from the sea the young man went down before it, and every time it opened its mouth to eat him, he struck into its mouth, till his sword went out through its neck, and it rolled back and died.
 Then he rode off faster than the wind, and he put the suit and the sword and the black horse into the rock, and drove home the cows.
 The farmer was there before him and he told him that there was to be a great marriage feast held for three days, and on the third day the king’s daughter would be married to the man that killed the great worm, if they were able to find him.
 A great feast was held, and men of great strength came and said it was themselves were after killing the great worm.
 But on the third day the young man put on the suit, and strapped the sword to his side like an officer, and got on the black horse and rode faster than the wind, till he came to the palace.
 The king’s daughter saw him, and she brought him in and made him kneel down before her. Then she looked at the back of his head and saw the place where she had cut off the lock with her own hand. She led him in to the king, and they were married, and the young man was given all the estate.

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The Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs

A poor widow had three sons and a daughter. One day when her sons were out looking for sticks in the wood they saw a fine speckled bird flying in the trees. The next day they saw it again, and the eldest son told his brothers to go and get sticks by themselves, for he was going after the bird.
 He went after it, and brought it in with him when he came home in the evening. They put it in an old hencoop, and they gave it some of the meal they had for themselves; - I don’t know if it ate the meal, but they divided what they had themselves; they could do no more.
 That night it laid a fine spotted egg in the basket. The next night it laid another.
 At that time its name was on the papers and many heard of the bird that laid the golden eggs, for the eggs were of gold, and there’s no lie in it.
 When the boys went down to the shop the next day to buy a stone of meal, the shopman asked if he could buy the bird of them. Well, it was arranged in this way. The shopman would marry the boys’ sister - a poor simple girl without a stitch of good clothes - and get the bird with her.
 Some time after that one of the boys sold an egg of the bird to a gentleman that was in the country. The gentleman asked him if he had the bird still. He said that the man who had married his sister was after getting it.
 ‘Well,’ said the gentleman, 'the man who eats the heart of that bird will find a purse of gold beneath him every morning, and the man who eats its liver will be king of Ireland.’
 The boy went out - he was a simple poor fellow - and told the shopman.
 Then the shopman brought in the bird and killed it, and he ate the heart himself and he gave the liver to his wife.
 When the boy saw that, there was great anger on him, and he went back and told the gentleman.
 ‘Do what I’m telling you,’ said the gentleman. 'Go down now and tell the shopman and his wife to come up here to play a game of cards with me, for it’s lonesome I am this evening.’
 When the boy was gone he mixed a vomit and poured the lot of it into a few naggins of whiskey, and he put a strong cloth on the table under the cards.
 The man came up with his wife and they began to play.
 The shopman won the first game and the gentleman made them drink a sup of the whiskey.
 They played again and the shopman won the second game. Then the gentleman made him drink a sup more of the whiskey.
 As they were playing the third game the shopman and his wife got sick on the cloth, and the boy picked it up and carried it into the yard, for the gentleman had let him know what he was to do. Then he found the heart of the bird and he ate it, and the next morning when he turned in his bed there was a purse of gold under him.
 That is my story.


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