Who is that funny little man toiling up the hill? No, it can’t be … can it?
Are the legends about rainbows and gold true? Sir Walter Elliot is suddenly determined to find out!
Sir Walter and the Leprechaun by Laura Hile
It was a dark and stormy night, and for once Sir Walter Elliot was thankful to have no invitation to go out. He and Elizabeth remained at home, and when she gave up waiting for callers and retired, Sir Walter decided to do a little reading.
Now reading was not Sir Walter’s favorite pastime. It was more of a chore—a necessary evil forced upon him, keeping him abreast of the latest goings-on, both in Bath and at Court. But he’d been stumped by several rounds of Patience, and so went hunting for his spectacles.
It so happened that when Mrs. Clay quitted Bath, she left behind a newly purchased book of stories and poems for children. Sir Walter took it up and absently flipped through the pages. His attention was caught by the graceful line drawings. And then he frowned.
Why, that milkmaid, seated beside her cow, had beautiful cheekbones and a delicate, straight nose! How was this possible? She had no business owning the features of a gentlewoman! Beneath the illustration was a poem.
Into the yard the farmer goes,
With grateful heart, at the close of day;
Harness and chain are hung away;
In the wagon-shed stand yoke and plow…
Sir Walter rolled his eyes. Who in his right mind would write a poem about a yoke and a plow? And who would lower himself to read it?
“Not I,” he muttered, and turned the page.
The volume contained the usual story fare: The Three Brothers, Little Red-Cap, and The Frog King. Sir Walter stifled a yawn. He was about to close the book when a title caught his eye: Clever Tom and the Leprechaun. Sir Walter’s brows went up. Why, this was an Irish story.
Sir Walter was of Irish descent on his mother’s side, though he never thought much about it. All that changed, of course, once he discovered the dowager Viscountess Dalrymple ‘s presence in Bath. Perhaps being well-versed in Irish folklore would stand him in good stead? Yes, and all the more, since tomorrow was St. Patrick’s Day. He began to read.
Tom was jist turned o’ nine-an’-twinty, whin he met wid the follyin’ advinthur, an’ he was as cliver, clane, tight, good-lukin’ a boy as any in the whole county Kildare.
Well, then. Since Tom was clever, clean, and good-looking, this story might just be worth his time. Sir Walter continued reading, and became so engrossed that when he retired to his bedchamber, he took the book along.
The following morning dawned bright and clear, with all the delightful promises of spring: sunshine, a light warm breeze, and only a hint of a shower. Sir Walter Elliot, however, remained under a cloud. He made his way along St Peter Street with downcast eyes, bound to do business in the center of the city. How he longed for the splendid, well-sprung carriage he’d had in Kellynch! How unfair it was that he, a baronet by birth, must walk!
Wasn’t it enough that he must visit the jeweler himself? (For a link in his watch chain needed repair and he did not trust the Bath servants.) Money! It all came down to money … or rather the lack thereof. Sir Walter sighed some more.
It was early enough for business, but too early for promenading. No one Sir Walter knew would be walking about at this hour, only tradespeople and such. Sir Walter shook his head over this. What a pity that the gentry must share these beautiful avenues with people of no consequence. Why, Bath was entirely too good for them! Thus Sir Walter made his way along the street–but slowly, as became his dignity. Since there was nothing else to see, he studied the pattern of the flagway.
It was perhaps because of this that he noticed the shoe. It was a beautifully-crafted pump of cordovan leather, rather old-fashioned, with a buckle that shone in the sunshine. If Sir Walter didn’t know better, he’d say that buckle was made of gold. Which, of course, was ridiculous.
The shoe’s wearer overtook Sir Walter and went ahead. Sir Walter compressed his lips. The bourgeoisie were always in such a hurry! And what an awkward gait this man had! Step-thump. Step-thump. Step-thump.
And then Sir Walter realized what he was seeing. Why, the fellow had a peg leg! This was why he’d noticed only one shoe! Agog with curiosity, Sir Walter continued to stare.
The person was extremely short, and he had bowed legs. In fact, he walked with a rolling gait like a sailor, or so it seemed to Sir Walter. But this man was no sailor, for he was nattily attired. He wore a red coat (very nicely tailored) and an enormous cocked hat. Under one arm he hefted a large jug.
Sir Walter’s heart began to hammer. The red-coated fellow crossed the street, heading away from the city center, uphill. Sir Walter scurried after him. The story about Clever Tom had opened his eyes to a few things. For starters, he knew that one must never take one’s eyes from a leprechaun, or else he would disappear. For that was what this fellow was, sure enough—a leprechaun!
The man turned, and Sir Walter caught a glimpse of his face. He had a neatly trimmed gray beard and a pointed nose. His coat had a double row of gold buttons that glinted in the sunshine, and he wore a striped wool muffler round his neck. This so exactly matched the drawing in the book that Sir Walter nearly crowed with glee.
And then he recalled something else. There’d been a rainbow in the sky when he’d stepped out of his house. He’d thought nothing of it then, but now its significance loomed large. This leprechaun had a hoard of gold hidden nearby! At the end of the rainbow, if the tales were true. His errand forgotten, Sir Walter broke into a trot. It wouldn’t hurt to follow, would it?
Up and up the leprechaun climbed, with Sir Walter hard on his heels. The pair even passed by Sir Walter’s house on Camden Place. Elizabeth must have seen them coming, for she came out the front door and called. Sir Walter ignored her and kept going, for he now realized where the red-coated leprechaun was heading: Belsom Park. He hadn’t a moment to lose, for the McGillvary estate was extensive. It was an excellent place to bury a pot of gold. But he’d only find it if he didn’t lag behind. Though he was puffing like a bellows and very red in the face, Sir Walter was determined to keep pace.
Pym muttered as he went along. The Admiral must have scrumpy for the workmen. Grubbers and sloggers they were, to a man. Not worth the generous wage they were paid, or so Pym thought. But the Admiral had a heart for the ordinary seaman, and whenever the occasion presented itself, he hired them on. Just now it was the drains that needed repairing at the mansion, near the east corner of the foundation. A fair lot of digging must be done, and Pym was glad to let them have at it.
Grog the Admiral could manage, for the cellars had casks of rum. But scrumpy—good, honest Somerset scrumpy—was in short supply, so Pym had been sent on his errand. The wine seller would deliver the remaining casks; Pym brought this one jug along for his admiral’s approval. Pym would rather not inconvenience John, the toplofty coachman, or listen to his jawing, so he’d set out on foot. A short cut across the park saved a good mile or more.
Pym glanced up. The sky was rapidly darkening. A gust of wind tugged at his hat. So much for the tropical weather—it now looked like a monsoon was about to hit! Several hundred yards and he’d be out of this, and a very good thing it was. For Pym had worn his in-house clothes—all the more to swagger it over the workmen, if the truth were known. It would be a shame to get a soaking, for his coat had a velvet collar.
A flash and a roll of thunder confirmed his suspicions. Pym redoubled his pace and reached the Belsom mansion as the rain began to fall. He found the service door and went in. He never saw the hunched form of Sir Walter toiling up the hill behind him.
By the time Sir Walter reached the mansion it was raining in earnest. Sheets of rain made walking impossible. Rills of water streamed from his hat and filled his shoes. His fine stockings and bisque-colored breeches were a sad sight. But for once Sir Walter did not care about his clothes. Gold-lust was on him now. Greed brought a gleam to his eyes and a twist to his smile. So the leprechaun had disappeared. That meant the hoard of gold was nearby. Buried, no doubt.
Sir Walter now realized that he brought no shovel, nor did he own such a tool. No matter. He would find the spot where the treasure was buried, and then, like Clever Tom, he would mark it and return.
And then, most unfortunately, Sir Walter fell headlong onto the lawn. He sat up, rubbing his elbow. He’d tripped over the long handle of a shovel. A shovel? And there was more. Piles of dirt, very fresh, were all around. An enormous hole lay before him.
Chortling, Sir Walter crawled forward on his hands and knees. Grasping the turf for support, he leaned over to have a look inside. It was raining something awful, and he could not see very well. His hat tumbled into the hole. Sir Walter blinked and wiped his eyes. And then he began to grin. For there, at the very bottom beside his muddy hat, was a glint of gold. He’d found the leprechaun’s treasure! With renewed strength, Sir Walter Elliot reached for the shovel. He’d dig until he dropped, until calluses covered his hands. For his troubles were over! He was a wealthy man!
Now leprechauns are tricksy creatures, and their gold is not free for the taking. After what seemed like hours, Sir Walter finally admitted defeat. The gold fever had died away and in its place was gnawing hunger and misery. Sir Walter was covered with mud, and his fingers and toes were numb from cold. The only gold he’d found in that hole was a watch chain. It was better than nothing, he supposed.
When he was able, he heaved himself out of the hole and sat on the turf. Rain continued to fall. Sir Walter shook his head to clear it. Those leprechauns—curse them! —were laughing at him, he could hear them! Laughing and singing with bold, lusty voices.
The scent of cooking reached his nostrils—beef or sausages, he guessed. But that couldn’t be right. He glanced over his shoulder at the massive stone mansion. The draperies were drawn; there was no party inside. However, down the hill to the left were outbuildings. The larger one, apparently a barn, had a chimney belching smoke.
Sir Walter clambered to his feet. Against his will he staggered forward, the wind whipping at his sodden clothes. Hunger drove him, for enchanting scents were in the air.
As he drew near to the barn, a door came open and two fellows, just as muddy and disheveled as he, peered out. “Ahoy, there, mate!” one of them called. “Make sail! Grub’s on!”
“Grub?” repeated Sir Walter.
“Irish bacon and cabbage!” said the other. “With colcannon!”
“Cabbage?” faltered Sir Walter. Goodness, did people actually eat cabbage? But strong hands grasped his arms and drew him into the barn’s warm interior.
A burly fellow with a bristling beard thrust out his hand. Over the laughter and singing he shouted, “Who ye be, mate? Where’re ye from?” He thrust a tankard into Sir Walter’s free hand. “Scrumpy,” he said. “First rate. Just came in. Trust the Admiral to treat us right proper.”
Sir Walter stared at the golden liquid, then took a tentative swallow. The brew was strong; his eyes began to water. “I’m …W-walter,” he said meekly. “From, er … Kellynch.”
“Hey mates! Here be a new fellow! Walter! Served aboard the Kellynch.” Behind his hand he added, “Beats me what they names ships nowadays. Must be French.”
“Or Dutch. Or maybe Porty-geese,” suggested someone else.
A round-faced man in a leather apron came rolling up. “Didn’t ye hear the Admiral’s call to leave off, Walter?” he shouted kindly. His callused hand twitched at Sir Walter’s ruined silk waistcoat. “Nice goods. Name’s Siddons.”
The man’s head was perfectly bald, and he had a gold ring in one ear. However, Siddons held out a tin plate filled with meat, mashed potatoes, and pale cooked leaves—cabbage?
Sir Walter took the plate.
“Come sit a spell and warm yourself,” Siddons said. He gestured to a rude wooden bench.
Sir Walter sat.
Several hours later, warmed and filled—and with a gold coin in his pocket from McGillvary, who came through to pay his workers for their toil—Sir Walter staggered home. Elizabeth was naturally revolted at the state of his clothes. And hair. And hands.
It took a long time for Sir Walter to answer her questions. “Been on a bit of a bender,” he managed, putting to use a newly acquired phrase. “That’s what comes of chasing leprechauns.”
“Leprechauns?” Elizabeth threw up her hands. “And did the leprechauns take your waistcoat and neck cloth?”
“Nope.” Sir Walter rocked back on his heels. “Siddons did. Siddons,” he added, “was master-at-arms on the Scoville. He has an ear-ring. But now he digs ditches for the Admiral.”
Elizabeth just stared. She hastened to order a hot bath readied and shooed him up the stairs to Roberts, his valet.
“I daresay he’ll forget all about it by morning, miss,” soothed Roberts.
And unfortunately, Roberts was perfectly right.
~~ The End ~~
Clever Tom was taken from my grandmother’s copy of The Little Folks’ Speaker or, Songs and Rhymes for Jolly Times by Maude M Jackson, 1901.
© Copyright Laura Hile, 2009.