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

MARY LOVED TO WALK across the lush green mountain, where no other human came.

Mary and the Leprechaun

Picture by Elizabeth Starr

Her mountain.

This was the time of the year she loved the most. Summer!

Warm breezes from the placid North Atlantic, played through the purple heather, tumbling white cotton balls over the hill into the valley far below.

As she hummed a tune she watched Rua, her Irish red setter dog jumping moss covered mounds in pursuit of something only he could see. His hair, the same colour as Mary’s shone burnished red in the mid-day sun. Above her, a lark sang, winging its way to the mountain top.

“Don’t ye know the words or have ye forgotten them?”

Mary stopped in her tracks and looked around. Ahead of her a pheasant ran, one wing dragging on the ground. A trick to lure Rua away from the nest, where her young chicks clustered together.

But Rua too had heard the voice. He stopped, forgetting the chase and sniffed the air. Nothing, except the smell of his mistress, a nearby rabbit and the damp aroma of drying peat, drifting up from the valley floor far below.

I must be dreaming, she thought, and resumed her walk.

“Careful! Ye nearly stepped on me – and keep that dog of yours well away from me!”

As she looked down, Mary’s mouth dropped open in surprise. Hardly reaching the top of her wellington boots, with his hands over his head, stood a man, a tiny man in funny clothes.

His jacket and pants were as green as the grass they stood on. The soft felt hat and knee length boots, purple as the heather he leaned against.

“Who – who are you?”

“My name is Michael,” he smiled up at her, “I know ye, Mary of the red hair. I have watched ye through all seasons. I have heard yer feet breaking the cold hard skin of ice covering the sleeping grass. Aye! and picking snowdrops for yer Grandmother while the snow was still on the peak. I saw ye chase willy-wagtails through the soft spring grass, yer red hair flying like flames from yer head! And singing in that beautiful clear voice. It makes my mountain very happy.”

Mary exploded.

“Your mountain! I have never seen you on my mountain before, and anyway – what are you? Your so small.”

The wind hushed, the lark was silent as the sound of warm gentle laughter covered the hillside.

“Sure don’t ye know? I’m a Leprechaun. Michael, Caretaker of this mountain.”

Speechless, Mary sat down opposite Michael. She watched in amazement as a pipe appeared out of thin air, smoke rising from the bowl.

Edging closer, his tail thumping the ground, Rua stared. This thing was a mystery, he had never seen anything like this before.

Mary had heard of Leprechauns from her Grandmother, but she didn’t believe in them – until now. Then she remembered something.

“If your a Leprechaun, where’s your pot of gold?”

The laughter brought a rabbit to the surface, to stand on its back legs and stare in their direction. Rua ignored it, happy to study this little man, who he could see but not smell.

“Sure, I’m only Michael, Caretaker of the mountain not, Caretaker of the gold. Anyway, what would a young girl like ye do with gold?”

Mary was indignant. “I’m not a young girl! I’m. . ..”

“Twelve summers old, I know, As I said before, I’ve been watching ye for a long time.”

Her mind whirling with questions, Mary was silent for a few moments. She stretched out on her stomach so she could see him better. Rua, at her side did the same, snuffling at the smoke rising from the pipe.

“I thought Leprechauns were afraid of humans.”

“Us – Afraid!” Michael eyed the dog warily. “The only reason we stay out of the way of humans is because they’re greedy. They always think we have gold or that we can grant three wishes. We look after the gold, we don’t give it away. If ye want three wishes, go and ask the fairies!”

Mary pondered on this. “Why then, have you shown yourself to me?”

“Ah! sure there’s a good reason for that. I know yer Grandmother’s not well and she’s the only one that can look after ye.”

“I’ve a sister in the city,” Mary interrupted.

“Oh, I know that and what a brat she was too, always breaking things. No child – I mean young lady, yer place is here. Look around ye, see how the flowers bloom, the birds sing and the young roam free? That’s because ye help me, with yer love and care for the mountain. So, we must get yer Grandmother well.”

A tear formed in the corner of Mary’s eye. For three weeks her Grandmother had lain in bed sick. The doctor had told her he didn’t know what was wrong with her. He advised her to stay in bed until she recovered.

“You think bad of me, humming a tune while Grandma is sick.”

“Not a-tall Mary, ’tis the mountain that’s making ye sing, it’s trying to repay ye.’

A small stone appeared in his hand.

“Take this and put it under her pillow. Don’t let her see it, nor tell her about it. Tomorrow, she’ll be well!”

Mary took the pebble and turned it over in her hand. It looked the same as any stone she could find on the river bank. “Thank you, I will try it.”

But when she looked up, he was gone!

Rua whined, turning his head this way and that, sniffing, searching, but he too could find nothing.

That night, as the embers glowed red in the fireplace, Mary tucked the sheets under her Grandmothers pale chin, quietly slipping the pebble under the pillow.

Before closing the front door she stared up at the full moon and prayed, “Please, please, let my Grandmother get well.”

High on the hillside, small figures cast blue shadows on the ground, as they danced to strange haunting music.

It did not reach Mary’s troubled mind.

The next morning she awoke to the sound of singing. Mary knew the voice well. A voice that had sung her to sleep on many a cold winters night.. She jumped out of bed and raced to the kitchen.

Little wisps of steam was rising from freshly baked bread, that her Grandmother was cutting. It made Mary’s mouth water.

“Good morning Mary and what a beautiful morning it is!”

Mary was so happy she could not speak. The pebble had worked!

“You know,” her Grandmother said as she handed her a slice of bread with the butter slowly melting into it, “I had the strangest dream last night. As I lay on my bed, three women, dressed in blue and gold came to me. The next thing, we’re walking around this stone that seemed to get bigger and bigger as we walked. The last thing I remember was bright the moon was. Then, ’tis morning, and you know, I haven’t felt better in years! ‘Tis a miracle.”

“That it is Grandma. I’ll go and make your bed before breakfast.”

Mary put her hand under the pillow. It was gone! She searched everywhere, but the pebble was nowhere to be found.

What was she going to say to Michael?

Later that day, she stood on the mountain, in the same place she had talked to Michael. Rua sat beside her, ignoring the rustling through the heather.

“Michael, can you hear me? I know you can. I want to thank you, Grandma is better. She has no aches, no pain and she says she hasn’t felt better in years. It’s all thanks to you. Michael – there’s just one thing. I can’t find the pebble you gave me – I’m sorry.”

A swallow swooped past her face.

A pebble landed at her feet. It looked like any pebble she could find on the river bank. She smiled, started to hum a tune and turned for home.

Mary was happy to share her mountain with Michael the Leprechaun.

© John W. Kelly