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Dame Pridgett And The Fairies






Source: Tales Of Folk And Fairies

Dame Pridgett was a fat, comfortable, good-natured old body, and her
business in life was to go about nursing sick folk and making them
well again.

One day she was sitting by the window, rocking herself and resting
after a hard week of nursing. She looked from the window, and there
she saw a queer-looking little man come riding along the road on a
great fiery, prancing black horse. He rode up to her door and knocked
without getting off his horse, and when Dame Pridgett opened the door
he looked down at her with such queer pale eyes he almost frightened
her.

"Are you Dame Pridgett?" he asked.

"I am," answered the dame.

"And do you go about nursing sick people?"

"Yes, that is my business."

"Then you are the one I want. My wife is ill, and I am seeking some
one to nurse her."

"Where do you live?" asked the dame, for the man was a stranger to
her, and she knew he was not from thereabouts.

"Oh, I come from over beyond the hills, but I have no time to talk.
Give me your hand and mount up behind me."

Dame Pridgett gave him her hand, not because she wanted to, but
because, somehow, when he bade her do so she could not refuse. He gave
her hand a little pull, and she flew up through the air as light as a
bird, and there she was sitting on the horse behind him. The stranger
whistled, and away went the great black horse, fast, fast as the
wind;--so fast that the old Dame had much ado not to be blown off, but
she shut her eyes and held tight to the stranger.

They rode along for what seemed a long distance, and then they stopped
before a poor, mean-looking house. Dame Pridgett stared about her, and
she did not know where they were. She knew she had never seen the
place before. In front of the house were some rocks with weeds growing
among them, and a pool of muddy water, and a few half-dead trees. It
was a dreary place. Two ragged children were playing beside the door
with a handful of pebbles.

The little man lighted down and helped the old dame slip from the
horse; then he led the way into the house. They passed through a mean
hallway and into a room hung round with cobwebs. The room was poorly
furnished with a wooden bed, a table and a few chairs. In the bed lay
a little, round-faced woman with a snub nose and a coarse, freckled
skin, and in the crook of her arm was a baby so small and weak-looking
the nurse knew it could not be more than a few hours old.

"This is my wife," said the stranger. "It will be your duty to wait on
her and to wash and dress the child."

The baby was so queer looking that Dame Pridgett did not much care to
handle it, but still she had come there as a nurse, and she would do
what was required of her.

The little man showed her where the kitchen was, and she heated some
water and then went back to the bedroom and took up the baby to wash
it. But so strange it all seemed, and she felt so shaken up by her
ride that she was awkward in handling the child, and as she bent her
head over it, it lifted its hand and gave her such a box on the ear
that her head rang with it.

The old dame cried out and almost let the babe fall, she was so
thunderstruck.

"What is the matter?" asked the woman from the bed. Then she slipped
her hand under her pillow and drew out a box of salve. "Here! Rub the
child's eyes with a bit of this," she said, "but be sure you do not
get any of it on your own eyes, or it will be a bad thing for
you,--scarce could be a worse."

The nurse took a bit of the salve on her forefinger and rubbed the
baby's eyes with it, and then the mother bade her go and wash off any
particle of salve that might be left on her finger.

All day Dame Pridgett waited on the mother and child, and when night
came she was shown into a room next to theirs where she was to sleep.

The following day the dame was again kept busy with the mother and
child. She washed the baby and rubbed the salve on its eyelids as
before, and again the mother warned her not to let the least particle
of salve touch her own eyes, or it would be the worse for her.

Food was set out for the nurse in a small room beyond her own. She did
not know whence it came, nor who prepared it, but she was hungry and
ate heartily of it, though it had a strange taste she did not like.
The two ragged children came in and ate with her. They did not speak,
but stared at her from under their matted hair. The little man she did
not see again for some time.

So day followed day, and it was always the same thing over and over
for Dame Pridgett, and every day after she had washed the child she
rubbed salve on its eyelids. Soon its eyes, that had at first been
dull, grew so bright and strong they sparkled like jewels. Dame
Pridgett thought it must be a very fine salve. She would have liked to
try some of it on her own eyes, for her sight was somewhat dim, but
the mother watched her so closely that she never had a chance to use
it.

Now, every day, after Dame Pridgett had washed the baby, she left the
basin on a chair beside her while she rubbed the salve on the child's
eyes. One day she managed to upset the basin with her elbow as though
by accident, though really by design. She gave a cry and bent over to
pick up the basin, and as she did so, unseen by her mistress, she
rubbed her right eye with the finger that still had some salve left on
it.

When Dame Pridgett straightened up and looked about her she could
hardly keep from crying out again at what she saw. The room and
everything in it looked different. Instead of being poor and mean, it
was like a chamber in a castle. Where there had been cobwebs were now
shimmering silken hangings. The bed and all the furniture was of gold,
magnificently carved. The sheets and pillow cases were of silk, and
instead of a coarse, snub-nosed little woman, there among the pillows
lay the most exquisite little lady the old dame had ever set eyes on;
her skin was as fine as a rose leaf, her hair like spun gold, her lips
like coral, and her eyes as bright as stars. The babe, also, from
being a very ordinary looking child, had become the most exquisite
little elfin creature that ever was seen.

Dame Pridgett managed somehow to keep quiet and hide her amazement,
but now she knew very well that it was to fairyland she had come, and
that these were fairy folk.

She made some excuse to go to the window and look out. The change
outside was no less wonderful than that within. The muddy pool she now
saw was a shining lake; the rocks were grottoes; the trees were
covered with leaves and shining fruit, and the weeds were beds of
flowers of wondrous colors, such as she had never seen before. As for
the ragged children, she saw them now as fairy children clothed in the
finest of laces and playing, not with pebbles, but with precious
jewels so brilliant that they fairly dazzled the eyes.

Dame Pridgett managed to keep her mouth shut and acted in such a way
that the fairies never suspected she had used the magic ointment, and
could now see them as they were. But it was only with the right eye,
the one she had touched with the salve, that she could see thus. When
she closed that eye and looked with the other, everything was just as
it had been before, and seemed so mean and squalid it was difficult to
believe it could appear otherwise.

So time went on until the fairy lady was well again and had no need of
a nurse to care for her. Then one day the little man came again on his
black steed and called the old dame out to him.

"You have served us well," said he, "and here is your reward," and he
placed a purse of gold pieces in her hand. Then he caught hold of her
and lifted her up behind him on to the horse, and away they went,
swifter than the wind. Dame Pridgett had to shut her eyes to keep from
growing dizzy and falling off. So it was that when she reached home
she knew no more of the way she had come than she knew of the way she
had gone.

But this was not the last Dame Pridgett saw of the fairy folk. The
little man on the black steed came to her house no more, but there
were other little people about in the world who were now visible to
her salve-touched eye. Sometimes as she came through the wood she
would see them busy among the roots of the trees, setting their houses
in order, or bartering and trading in their fairy markets; or on
moonlight nights she would look out and see them at play among the
flowers in her garden; or she would pass them dancing in fairy rings
in the pastures or meadow lands, but she never told a soul of what she
saw, nor tried to speak to the wee folk, and they were so busy about
their own affairs that they paid no attention to her and never guessed
she could see them.

And then at last came a day (and a sad day it was for Dame Pridgett)
when she again met the little man who had come for her on the great
black horse.

She had gone to market to buy the stuff for a new apron and was
walking along, thinking of nothing but her purchase, when suddenly she
saw the little man slipping about among the market people, never
touching them and unseen by any. He was peeping into the butter
firkins, smelling and tasting, and wherever he found some very good
butter he helped himself to a bit of it and put it in a basket he
carried on his arm.

Dame Pridgett pressed up close to him and looked into his basket, and
there in it was a dish almost full of butter. When the good dame saw
that, she was so indignant that she quite lost all prudence.

"Shame on you," she cried to the little man. "Are you not ashamed to
be stealing butter from good folk who are less able to buy than
yourself."

The little man stopped and looked at her. "So you can see me, can
you?" he said.

"Yes, to be sure I can," said the old dame boldly.

"And how does that happen?" asked the little man smoothly, and without
any show of anger.

"Oh, when I was nursing your good lady, I managed to rub a bit of her
salve on one of my eyes, and that is how I can see you."

"And which eye did you rub with the salve?"

"My right eye."

"And it is only with your right eye you see me?"

"Only with my right eye."

When the little man heard that, quick as a flash he pursed up his lips
and blew into her right eye, and he blew so hard he blew the sight
right out of it. The old dame blinked and winked and rubbed her eye
with her fingers. The little man had vanished from before her. She
could see everything else, but what she saw was with her left eye
only, and she could see no fairies with it for it had not been touched
with salve.

So that was the end of it for Dame Pridgett, as far as the wee folk
were concerned, for she never got back the sight of her right eye;
only she still had the purse of gold pieces left, and that was enough
to comfort the old dame for a great deal.





Next: The Grasshopper And The Ant

Previous: Life's Secret - A Story Of Bengal



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