The Child and the Fiddle
Once there was a woman who had the fretfullest child in all Ireland. He lay in the cradle, lamenting all the while, from dark to dawn. There was no prosperity, nor comfort in that house. All things went awry in the kitchen and on the farm; the cattle fell sick, the potatoes took a blight, there was no butter coming from the churn. But the worst of all was the continual strife between the man and the woman of the house, and they a couple who beforetimes had been so fond of one another.
It happened when the child was about eighteen months that a strange man was hired to work on the farm. If he’d known the ill luck that was in the place, for sure he’d never ventured near, but he was from distant parts and didn’t know.
One day he chanced to be in from the work before the master of the house, and the woman was gone to fetch water. The hired man sat down by the fire, taking no heed of the child watching him from the cradle. He quit his lamenting and sat up straight, looking for all the world like a wise old man.
“I will be playing you a tune on the fiddle, for I’m thinking ‘tis fond of the music you are,” says the child.
The man near fell into the fire, so shocked was he. He didn’t say a word, waiting instead to see what would be coming next.
The weak child pulled a fiddle out from under the pillow, and he began to play the loveliest music that was ever heard. He had reels and jigs, songs and sets, merry tunes and mournful ones.
The man sat listening, all the while thinking the child was no natural thing.
After a time the child stopped playing, put the fiddle back and commenced his old whimpering again. Herself came in the door with a bucket of water.
The man walked out and called her after him. “That is a strange child you have, mistress,” says he.
“A strange child, surely,” she says, “and sorrowful too.”
“Did he ever play on the fiddle in your hearing?” asks the man.
“Is it raving you are?”
“I am not mistress,” he answers. “He is after giving me the best of entertainment with reels and jigs.”
“Why are you funning me?” says she, getting vexed.
“I see you are doubting my words. Stand here then where he’ll not be looking on you at all. I’ll go into the kitchen, and maybe he’ll bring out the fiddle again.” With that he went in, leaving herself by the window.
Says he to the child, “I’m thinking there’s not above a score of fiddlers in all Ireland having better knowledge of music than yourself. Sure that is a great wonder and you but an innocent little thing.”
“Maybe it’s not that innocent I am,” says the child. “And let me tell you there isn’t one fiddler itself to be my equal in the land.”
“Ah, you’re boasting now,” says the man.
The child sat up in a rage, pulled the fiddle from under the pillow and began to play the grandest tune yet.
The man went back out. “Are you satisfied now?” he asks the woman.
“My heart beats time to his reels,” says she. “Run down to the field and send the master home so he may hear him too.”
The man of the house came in a terrible temper. “If it’s lies you be telling me, I’ll brain the pair of yous,” says he when he was told of the fiddle.
“Put your ear to the window, it’s soft he is playing now,” says his wife.
But the words weren’t out of her mouth before a blast of loud music was heard. The man ran in to see the child sitting up playing tunes.
“Let you be off out of this,” says he, “or I’ll throw you at the back of the fire, for you are no right thing at all.”
With that the little fellow leapt out of the cradle, bounded across the floor and disappeared over the fields. But he left his fiddle behind, and the master of the house threw it down on the burning turf. Only then it showed itself to be no true fiddle at all, only a piece of an old bog stick rotten with age.
I wonder if the ‘fretful little child’ was a changeling … Whatever he/it was, I find this story a wee bit unsettling.