What They Saw
The first person they stopped to watch was a Juggler doing tricks. It was quite wonderful to see him keep three balls in the air all at the same time, or balance a pole on the end of his nose. But when he took out a frying-pan from behind his stall, and said to the Twins, who were standing right in front of him, "Now, I 'll be after making you a bit of an omelet without any cooking," their eyes were fairly popping out of their heads with surprise.
The Juggler broke an egg into the frying-pan. Then he clapped on the cover, waved the pan in the air, and lifted the cover again. Instead of an omelet there in the frying-pan was a little black chicken crying "Peep, peep," as if it wanted its mother!
The Juggler looked very much surprised himself, and the Twins were simply astonished.
"Will you see that now!" Larry whispered to Eileen. "Sure, if only Old Speckle could be learning that trick, 't would save her a deal of sitting."
"Indeed, then, 't is magic," Eileen answered back, "and there 's no luck in that same! Do you come away now, Larry McQueen, or he might be casting his spells on yourself and turning you into something else entirely, a goat maybe, or a Leprechaun!"
This seemed quite likely to Larry, too, so they slipped hurriedly out under the elbows of the crowd just as the Juggler was in the very act of finding a white rabbit in the crown of his hat. They never stopped running until they found themselves in the middle of a group of people in a distant part of the Fairgrounds.
This crowd had gathered around a rough-looking man with a bundle of papers under his arm. He was waving a leaflet in the air and shouting, "Ladies and Gentlemen—Whist now till I sing you a song of Old Ireland. 'T is the Ballad of the Census Taker!" Then he began to sing in a voice as loud as a clap of thunder. This was the first verse of the song:—
Every one seemed to think this a very funny song and at the end of the second verse they all joined in the chorus. The Ballad Singer sang louder than all the rest of the people put together.
"Musha, the roars of him are like the roars of a giant," Eileen said to Larry. "Indeed, I 'm fearing he 'll burst himself with the noise that 's in him."
The moment the song ended, the Ballad Singer passed the hat, and the crowd began to melt away. "There you go, now," cried the Singer, "lepping away on your two hind legs like scared rabbits! Come along back now, and buy the Ballad of 'The Peeler and the Goat.' Sure, 't is a fine song entirely and one you 'll all be wanting to sing yourselves when once you 've heard it." He seized a young man by the arm. "Walk up and buy a ballad now," he said to him. "Troth, you 've the look of a fine singer yourself, and dear knows what minute you may be needing one, and none handy. Come now, buy before 't is too late."
The young man turned very red. "I don't think I 'll be wanting any ballads," he said, and tried to pull away.
"You don't think!" shouted the Ballad Singer. "Of course, you don't think, you 've nothing whatever to do it with!"
The crowd laughed. The poor young man bought a ballad.
"There now," cried the Singer, "you 're the broth of a boy after all! Who 'll be after buying the next one off of me?"
His eyes lighted on the Twins. They shook in their shoes. "He 'll be clapping one of them on us next," Larry said to Eileen. "We 'd best be going along"; and they crept out of the crowd just as he began to roar out a new song.
An old woman, with a white cap and a shawl over her head and a basket on her arm, smiled at them as they slipped by. She jerked her thumb over her shoulder at the Ballad Singer. "Melodious is the closed mouth," she said.
"Indeed, ma'am, I 've often heard my Mother say so," Eileen answered politely. She curtsied to the old woman.
The old woman looked pleased. "Will you come along with me out of the sound of this—the both of you?" she said. "And I 'll take you to hear things that will keep the memory of Ireland green while there 's an Irishman left in the world."
She led them to a raised platform some distance away. Over the platform there floated a white flag with a green harp on it. The old woman pointed to it. "Do you remember the old harp of Tara?" she said to the Twins. "'T is nowhere else at all now but on the flag, but time was, long, long years ago, when the harp itself was played on Tara's hill. And in those days there were poets to praise Ireland, and singers to sing her songs. And here they will be telling of those days, and singing those songs. Come and listen. 'T is a Feis they 're having, and prizes given for the best tale told, or the best song sung."
The old woman and the Twins made their way to the platform and sat down on a bench near the edge of it. Many other people were sitting or standing about. An old man stood up on the platform. He told the story of Cuchulain — the "Hound of Culain"—and how he fought all the greatest warriors of the world on the day he first took arms.
When he had finished, another man took his place and told the story of Deirdre and Naisi, and another told the fate of the four children of Lir that were turned into four beautiful swans by their cruel stepmother.
And when the stories were finished a prize was given for the best one, and the Twins were glad that it was for the story of Deirdre, for that tale was like an old friend to them.
After that there was music, and the dances of old Ireland—the reel and the lilt. And when last of all came the Irish jig, the old woman put her basket down on the ground.
"Sure, the music is like the springtime in my bones," she said to the Twins. "Bedad. I 'd the foot of the world on me when I was a girl and I can still shake one with the best of them, if I do say it myself."
She put her hands on her hips and began to dance! The music got into everybody else's bones, too, and soon everybody around the platform, and on it, too,—old and young, large and small,—was dancing gayly to the sound of it.
The Twins danced with the rest, and they were having such a good time that they might have forgotten to go home at all if all of a sudden, Larry had n't shaken Eileen's arm and said, "Look there!"
"Where?" Eileen said.
"There!" said Larry. "The rough man with the brown horse."
The moment Eileen saw the man with the brown horse she took Larry's hand and they both ran as fast as they could back to their Father.
"We saw the Tinker!" they cried the moment they saw Mr. McQueen.
"Then we 'd as well be starting home," said Mr. McQueen. "I 'd rather not be meeting the gentleman on the road after dark."
He got Colleen and put her into the cart once more. Then he and the Twins had something to eat. They bought a ginger cake shaped like a rabbit, and another like a man from one of the hawkers, and they bought some sugar sticks, too, and these, with what they had brought from home, made their supper.
Then Mr. McQueen brought out his notched stick. "We've sold the pig," he said, with his finger on the first notch, "and the butter and eggs was the second notch." Then he went over all the other notches. "And besides all else I've bought Herself a shawl," he said to the Twins.
The Twins wanted to get home because the Secret was getting so big inside of them, they knew they could n't possibly hold it in much longer, and they did n't want to let it out until they were at home and could tell their Father and Mother both at the same time. So they said good-bye to Diddy, and Eileen took off the ribbons and kept them to remember her by. Then they hurried away.
It was after dark when at last they drove into the yard. Mrs. McQueen came running to the door to greet them and hear all about the Fair.
Eileen and Larry told her about the prize, and about Lady Kathleen buying the pig, and about seeing the Tinker, while their Father was putting up Colleen.
Then when he came in with all his bundles, and took the three golden sovereigns out of his pocket, to show to the Mother, the Twins could n't keep still another minute. "It 's for you! To pay the rent!" they cried.
The Father and Mother looked at each other. "Now, what are they at all," said Mrs. McQueen, "but the best children in the width of the world? Was n't I after telling you that we 'd make it out somehow? And to think of her being a thoroughbred like that, and we never knowing it at all." She meant the pig!
But Mr. McQueen never said a word. He just gave Larry and Eileen a great hug.
Then Mr. McQueen went over all the errands with his wife, and last of all he brought out the shawl. "There, old woman," he said, "is a fairing for you!"
"The Saints be praised for this day!" cried Mrs. McQueen. "The rent paid, and me with a fine new shawl the equal of any in the parish."
It was a happy family that went to bed in the little farmhouse that night. Only Mrs. McQueen did n't sleep well. She got up a number of times in the night to be sure there were no Tinkers prowling about. "For one can't be too careful with so much money in the house," she said to herself.