Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race
Page: 99“Why do the villagers and strangers no longer come to me for food? I have but little now to give, but all are welcome to share it with me and my household.”
The Peasant’s Story
“They do not come, O Countess, because they are no longer starving. They have better food and wine, and abundance of money to buy more.”
“Whence then have they obtained the money, the food, and the wine for the drinking-bouts, the tumult of which reaches me even in my oratory?”
“Lady, they have received all from the generous merchants who are in the forest dwelling where old Mairi formerly lived; she is dead now, and these noble strangers keep open house in her cottage night and day; they are so wealthy that they need not stint their bounty, and so powerful that they can find good food, enough for all who go to them. Since Brigit died (your old servant, lady) her husband and son work no more, but serve the strange merchants, and urge men to join them; and I, and many others, have [Pg 174] done so, and we are now wealthy” (here he showed the Countess a handful of gold) “and well fed, and have wine as much as heart can desire.”
“But do you give them nothing in return for all their generosity? Are they so noble that they ask nothing in requital of their bounty?”
“Good Gold for Souls”
“Oh, yes, we give them something, but nothing of importance, nothing we cannot spare. They are merchants of souls, and buy them for their king, and they pay good red gold for the useless, painful things. I have sold my soul to them, and now I weep no more for my wife; I am gay, and have wine enough and gold enough to help me through this dearth!”
“Alas!” sighed the Countess, “and what when you too die?” The old peasant laughed at her grief as he said: “Then, as now, I shall have no soul to trouble me with remorse or conscience”; and the Countess covered her eyes with her hand and beckoned silently that he should go. In her oratory, whither she betook herself immediately, she prayed with all her spirit that the Virgin and all the saints would inspire her to defeat the demons and to save her people’s souls.
Cathleen Tries to Check the Traffic
Next day Cathleen called together all the people in the village, her own tribesmen and strangers. She offered them again a share of all she had, and the daily rations she could distribute, but told them that all must share alike and that she had nothing but the barest necessaries to give—scanty portions of corn and meal, with milk from one or two famine-stricken cows her servants had managed to keep alive. To this she added that she had sent two trusty messengers for help, [Pg 175] one to Ulster for cattle, and Fergus to England for corn and wine; they must return soon, she felt sure, with abundant supplies, if men would patiently await their return.