“Tell me a story before I go to bed” (For the very young)

Mary and the Visitor

As she pulled the collar of her coat tighter around her neck, Mary peered through the falling snow toward her grandmother’s house. She wished she was there with Rua her dog, in front of the warm fire, sipping hot vegetable soup.

Tucking her red hair under her woollen hat she turned to the small man standing beside her. “My toes have gone numb. I hope you have a good reason for calling me out on such a bitter day, Michael Leprechaun!”

Michael grinned up at her. “Let’s go and shelter behind that rock, and sit down, I’m getting an awful pain in me neck looking up at ye!”

Mary slumped down, grateful to be out of the wind and snow. The little man stood before her, a pipe clenched between his teeth.

She scolded him. “Don’t you know that smoking is bad for you?”

He took the pipe out of his mouth and looked at it. “Sure, it’s not tabacce, ’tis a special herb we Leprechauns like to smoke.” He put out his small hand and caught a snowflake.

Gently he placed it on a bare bit of ground. “There, another part of my.,” he glanced at Mary, “of our mountain covered!”

Mary shivered. “I don’t know why your so happy, everything is dead this time of year, and so cold! Of course Leprechauns don’t feel the cold.”

Michael jumped up and down in front of Mary, leaving tiny footprints in the snow. “Look at me, look at the way I’m dressed! Of course I feel the cold!”

She smiled as she looked him up and down – then grinned. He was dressed head to foot in lambs’ wool. His knee high boots and long jacket were white. The cap on his head, a brilliant red.

“You look like a cherry on a ice cake!” She laughed

“That, young girl, is no way to speak to your elders!”

Mary picked up a handful of snow and threw it. “I’m not a young girl….” It landed on empty ground.

“Ah, I’m sorry,” the voice came from beside her left elbow, “I fergot, yer a young lady of thirteen years.”

Startled, Mary looked to where she had thrown the snow and then to where Michael stood. “How did you do that?”

“What? – Oh, that, I can do lots of things.”

“Sorry I said that about your hat, but I’m cold. If I had a coat like yours, I wouldn’t be cold.”

Michael waved his hand in dismissal. “Mary, I have a favour to ask of ye.”

“Me? You want me to do something for you!”

He nodded. “I want ye to welcome a visitor into yer house fer the night.”

Mary felt a snowflake melt in her open mouth. “How can I? I’d have to ask Grandma and she doesn’t believe in Leprechauns, fairies or anything!”

Michael raised his hands. “Slow down girl – young lady. Ye can’t tell yer Grandmother. Ye’ll have to sneak him into the house.”

Mary stood up and started to walk away. “I can’t lie to my Grandmother!”

“Hold on!” he cried, trying to run after her, leaving tiny footprints in the snow. “Don’t want to know who it is?”

“Who is it?”

“Come back, to the shelter of the rock, or ye’ll catch yer death out there!”

She sat silently and waited.

Michael rubbed his hands together; his breath white and heavy in the air. “I can’t tell ye his name, that is forbidden, but, if I said royal, it might give ye an idea”

Mary clapped her hands. “A King!”

“Now, now,” Michael looked around the shrouded mountainside, “not so loud. I never said he was a king. He’s very old and he feels the cold more than ye or me. Where I sleep – ’tis no good for his old bones. Will ye help me?”

Mary pondered for some moments. She remembered the time Michael had saved her Grandmother when she as sick. “I’ll do it, but how will I be able to hide him from Grandma?”

Michael’s laugh disturbed the snow on the rock. It silently settled on Mary’s head and shoulders. “Ye worry too much! Now, he likes a good fire and a chat, and remember yer manners!”

Snow scattered from her shoulders. “Excuse me! I have good manners, I don’t need a Leprechaun to tell me about manners!”

She pulled the collar of her coat tighter around her neck. “Another thing. There’ll be no fire and no chat. He’ll sleep in my bedroom and he’ll be quiet. Now where is he?”

Michael looked sad, “Oh well,” he sighed, “if that’s the best ye can do. . .. He’ll come tonight. Rua will let ye know when he’s there.”

With those words, he disappeared from Mary’s sight.

***

That night, as the wind moaned through the bare trees, Mary and her Grandmother, snug and warm inside, finished the washing up. Rua, the Red setter dog, lay stretched out in front of the fire, panting from the heat.

With a sigh, Mary’s Grandmother sat down. “As soon as the kettle is boiled, I’m going to fill the hot water bottle and go to bed. It’s the only place on a night like this.”

Rua thumped his tail on the floor in agreement, licking the heat off his nose.

“I’ll stay up a little bit longer, Grandma, I have – I have a book I want to finish reading.”

The only sounds in the kitchen after her Grandmother went to bed was an odd angry flame, unwilling to go up the chimney into the cold dark night.

Outside, the crying wind was busy building snowdrifts against doors, windows, walls and fences.

Mary sat in front of the fire her stockinged feet resting on Rua’s back. As she stared at the blue-green flames, her eyelids grew heavy.

She felt Rua’s body stiffen under her feet. A loud knock made her jump. Rua, with his tail wagging raced to the door.

Slowly, Mary unlatched it. The wind, finding a new place to chill, pushed hard, forcing it open. She watched in astonishment as a white ball of wool rolled into the middle of the kitchen.

“Hurry child,” a voice called from its centre, “close the door before we all die from the cold!”

Giving the door a big push, Mary got it closed and bolted.

Rua lay on the floor, head resting on his front paws and watched as the tiny man unfurled himself from the lambs’ wool coat. He was not much taller than Michael but looked a lot older. Fine lines started just under his eyes and disappeared into his long grey beard.

“Keep that dog away from me, he thinks I’m a bone to chew on!”

“Shh! You’ll wake Grandma. Rua would never hurt you. He, helped you once!”

The Leprechaun ignored them both as he stared at the fire, arms outstretched. “Tis great to be warm again!”

“What do I call you…?”

In the blink, of an eye he was sitting on a chair, his feet not reaching the edge of the seat. “Call me Liam. Is there anything warm in the house to drink?”

Mary thought for a moment. “I could warm up some milk for you?”

“That would be grand,” said Liam as he wiggled his feet at the dancing flames.

Rua rested his head on the side of the chair and stared. He took great interest in a replica of Michael.

Liam eyed him warily.

Mary searched frantically for a cup small enough to give him a drink of milk. Then, she had a bright idea. Carefully she filled it up and gave him an eggcup.

Holding it in both hands, Liam, sipped the steaming milk, every now and then smacking his lips in appreciation. When he had finished the second cup, he put it down beside him on the chair. A pipe appeared in his hand. Sweet smelling smoke drifted toward the ceiling.

“Put some peat on the fire Mary, and I’ll tell ye a story!”

***

“Please,” Mary pleaded, “keep your voice down, you’ll wake Grandma.”

He laughed. The flames danced higher. “Yer Grandmother is sleeping like a log, nothing will her wake ’til morning!”

“Are you really a royal?”

Liam smiled. “Ah child.” Mary didn’t correct him. “Child, ye can’t believe everything a Leprechaun tells ye. Now settle down and I’ll tell ye a story about Tir Na No-og, the land of the young.”

Mary tried to concentrate as Liam weaved his tale of a land where nobody ever grew old, but the sound of his musical voice and the heat of the fire made it difficult. Her eyes closed.

***

“Mary, Mary! wake up and come and look at this!”

Bright sun sparkled through the frost tinted window. Mary sat up, surprised to find she was in her own bed.

‘How did I get here?’

“Hurry, Mary!” Her Grandmother called.

Sleepily, Mary wrapped a blanket around herself and stumbled into the kitchen. On the table lay a large brown paper parcel.

“Where did that come from?”

Her Grandmother flung the front door open. “I found it out here this morning! Look at the snow. Not a footprint anywhere. How did it get here?”

Mary looked closely at the parcel. Her name was written on the front, and just above it, where a stamp should be, there was a capital ‘L’. Beside it a gold crown!

“Go on, open it. Let’s see what’s inside!”

Carefully, Mary undid the string. As she loosened it, it seemed to grow bigger. The brown paper fell away to reveal two lambs’ wool coats. Mary smiled, remembering what she had said to Michael.

“Look at the colours!” Her Grandmother sighed, “All the shades of the mountain in summer. Greens, blues, purples and yellows!”

They stood and admired each other in their new coats. “Look at that, perfect fit. Only the fairies could make something like this!”

Mary grinned at Rua.

“Close, Grandma,” she whispered, “Close!”

END

© John W. Kelly

This is one of a series of stories about Mary and her friend Michael the Leprechaun