"Sure, this is a fine day for me, altogether," said Grannie Malone as she got out her bit of flour to make the cake. "I can wait for the letter from himself, the way I know they 're in health, and have not forgotten their old Mother. Troth, we 'll have a bit of a feast over it now," she said to the Twins. "While I 'm throwing the cakeen together do you get some potatoes from the bag, Eileen, and put them down in the ashes, and you, Larry, stir up the fire a bit, and keep the kettle full. Sure, 't is singing away like a bird this instant minute! Put some water in it, avic, and then shut up the hens for me."
Eileen ran to the potato bag in the corner and took out four good-sized potatoes. "There 's but three of us," she said to herself, "but Larry will surely be wanting two, himself."
She got down on her knees and buried the potatoes in the burning peat. Then she took a little broom that stood near by, and tidied up the hearth.
Larry took the kettle to the well for more water. He slopped a good deal of it as he came back. It made great spots of mud, for there was no wooden floor—only hard earth with flat stones set in it.
"Arrah now, Larry, you do be slopping things up the equal of a thunderstorm," Eileen said to him.
"Never you mind that, now, Larry," said Grannie Malone. "It might have been that the kettle leaked itself, and no fault of your own at all! Sure, a bit of water here or there does nobody any harm."
She hung the tea-kettle on the hook over the fire again. Then she brought the cakeen and put it into a small iron baking-kettle, and put a cover over it. She put turf on top of the cover. " 'T will not be long until it 's baked," said Grannie, "and you can be watching it, Eileen, while I set out the table."
She pulled a little wooden table out before the fire, put three plates and three cups on it, some salt, and the jug of milk. Meanwhile Larry was out trying to shut the hens into the little shelter beside the house. But he could n't get them all in. One old speckled hen ran round the house to the door. Larry ran after her. The hen flew up on top of the half-door. She was very much excited. "Cut-cut-cut," she squawked.
"Cut-cut yourself now!" cried Grannie Malone.
She ran toward the door, waving her spoon. "Shoo along out of this with your bad manners!" she cried.
Just that minute Larry came up behind the hen and tried to catch her by the legs.
"Cut-cut-cut-á-cut," squawked old Speckle; and up she flew, right over Grannie's head, into the rafters! Then she tucked herself cozily down to go to sleep.
"Did you ever see the likes of that old Speckle, now?" cried Grannie Malone. She ran for the broom. "Sure she must be after thinking I was lonesome for a bit of company! Do you think I 'd be wanting you at all, you silly, when I have the Twins by me?" she said to the hen. She shook the broom at her, but old Speckle was n't a bit afraid of Grannie; she did n't move.
Then Grannie Malone put the broom under her and tried to lift her from her perch, but old Speckle had made up her mind to stay. So she flew across to another rafter, and lit on Grannie Malone's black coat that she wore to Mass on Sundays. She thought it a pleasant warm place and sat down again.
"Bad luck to you for an ill-favored old thief!" screamed Grannie. "Get off my Sunday cloak with your muddy feet! It's ruined you 'll have me entirely!"
She shook the cloak. Then old Speckle, squawking all the way, flew over to Grannie's bed! She ran the whole length of it. She left a little path clear across the patchwork quilt. Larry stood in one corner of the room waving his arms. Eileen was flapping her apron in another, while Grannie Malone chased old Speckle with the broom. At last, with a final squawk, she flew out of the door, and ran round to the shelter where the other hens were, and went in as if she thought home was the best place for a hen after all. Larry shut her in.
As soon as the hen was out of the house, Eileen screamed, "I smell something burning!"
" 'T is the cakeen," cried Grannie.
She and Eileen flew to the fireplace. Eileen got there first. She knocked the cover off the little kettle with the tongs, and out flew a cloud of smoke.
"Och, murder! 'T is destroyed entirely!" poor Grannie groaned.
"I 'll turn it quick," said Eileen.
She was in such a hurry she did n't wait for a fork or stick or anything! She took right hold of the little cakeen, and lifted it out of the kettle with her hand!
The little cake was hot! "Ow! Ow!" shrieked Eileen, and she dropped it right into the ashes! Then she danced up and down and sucked her fingers.
"The Saints help us! The cakeen is bewitched," wailed poor Grannie. She picked it up, and tossed it from one hand to the other, while she blew off the ashes.
Then she dropped it, burned side up, into the kettle once more, clapped on the cover, and set it where it would cook more slowly.
When that was done, she looked at Eileen's fingers. "It 's not so bad at all, mavourneen, praise be to God," she said. "Sure, I thought I had you killed entirely, the way you screamed!"
"Eileen is always burning herself," said Larry. "Mother says 't is only when she 's burned up altogether that she 'll learn to keep out of the fire at all!"
" 'T was all the fault of that disgraceful old hen," Grannie Malone said. "Sure, I 'll have to be putting manners on her! She 's no notion of behavior at all, at all. Reach the sugar bowl, Larry, avic, and sit down by the table and rest your bones. I 'll have the tea ready for you in a minute. Sit you down, too, Eileen, while I get the potatoes." She took the tongs and drew out the potatoes, blew off the ashes, and put them on the table. Then she poured the boiling water over the tea-leaves, and set the tea to draw, while she took the cakeen from the kettle.
"'T is not burned so much, after all," she said, as she looked it over. "Sure, we can shut our eyes when we eat it."
She drew her own chair up to the table; the Twins sat on the bench on the other side. Grannie Malone crossed herself, and then they each took a potato, and broke it open. They put salt on it, poured a little milk into the skin which they held like a cup, and it was ready to eat.
Grannie poured the tea, and they had milk and sugar in it. The little cakeen was broken open and buttered, and, "Musha, 't is fit for the Queen herself," said Larry, when he had taken his first bite.
And Eileen said, "Indeed, ma'am, it 's a grand cook you are entirely."
"Sure, I 'd need to be a grand cook with the grand company I have," Grannie answered politely, "and with the fine son I have in America to be sending me a fortune in every letter! 'T is a great thing to have a good son, and do you be that same to your Mother, the both of you, for 't is but one Mother that you 'll get in all the world, and you 've a right to be choice of her."
"Sure, I 'll never at all be a good son to my Mother," laughed Eileen.
"Well, then," said Grannie, "you can be a good daughter to her, and that 's not far behind. Whist now, till I tell you the story of the Little Cakeen, and you 'll see that 't is a good thing entirely to behave yourselves and grow up fine and respectable, like the lad in the tale. It goes like this now.—
"It was once long ago in old Ireland, there was living a fine, clean, honest, poor widow woman, and she having two sons, and she fetched the both of them up fine and careful, but one of them turned out bad entirely. And one day she says to him, says she:—
" 'I 've given you your living as long as ever I can, and it 's you must go out into the wide world and seek your fortune.'
" 'Mother, I will,' says he.
" 'And will you take a big cake with my curse, or a little cake with my blessing?' says she.
"'A big cake, sure,' says he.
"So she baked a big cake and cursed him, and he went away laughing! By and by, he came forninst a spring in the woods, and sat down to eat his dinner off the cake, and a small, little bird sat on the edge of the spring.
"'Give me a bit of your cake for my little ones in the nest,' said she; and he caught up a stone and threw at her.
" 'I 've scarce enough for myself,' says he, and she being a fairy, put her beak in the spring and turned it black as ink, and went away up in the trees. And whiles he looked for a stone for to kill her, a fox went away with his cake!
"So he went away from that place very mad, and next day he stopped, very hungry, at a farmer's house, and hired out for to tend the cows.
" 'Be wise,' says the farmer's wife, 'for the next field is belonging to a giant, and if the cows get into the clover, he will kill you dead as a stone.'
"But the bad son laughed and went out to watch the cows; and before noontime he went to sleep up in the tree, and the cows all went in the clover. And out comes the giant and shook him down out of the tree and killed him dead, and that was the end of the bad son.
"And the next year the poor widow woman says to the good son:—
" 'You must go out into the wide world and seek your fortune, for I can keep you no longer,' says the Mother.
" 'Mother, I will,' says he.
" 'And will you take a big cake with my curse or a little cake with my blessing?'
" 'A little cake,' says he.
"So she baked it for him and gave him her blessing, and he went away, and she a-weeping after him fine and loud. And by and by he came to the same spring in the woods where the bad son was before him, and the small, little bird sat again on the side of it.
" 'Give me a bit of your cakeen for my little ones in the nest,' says she.
" 'I will,' says the good son, and he broke her off a fine piece, and she dipped her beak in the spring and turned it into sweet wine; and when he bit into his cake, sure, it was turned into fine plum-cake entirely; and he ate and drank and went on light-hearted. And next day he comes to the farmer's house.
" 'Will ye tend the cows for me?' says the farmer.
" 'I will,' says the good son.
" 'Be wise,' says the farmer's wife, 'for the clover-field beyond is belonging to a giant, and if you leave in the cows, he will kill you dead.'
" 'Never fear,' says the good son, 'I don't sleep at my work.'
"And he goes out in the field and lugs a big stone up in the tree, and then sends every cow far out in the clover-fields and goes back again to the tree! And out comes the giant a-roaring, so you could hear the roars of him a mile away, and when he finds the cow-boy, he goes under the tree to shake him down, but the good little son slips out the big stone, and it fell down and broke the giant's head entirely. So the good son went running away to the giant's house, and it being full to the eaves of gold and diamonds and splendid things.
"So you see what fine luck comes to folks that is good and honest! And he went home and fetched his old Mother, and they lived rich and contented, and died very old and respected."
"Do you suppose your son Michael killed any giants in America, the way he got to be an Alderman?" asked Eileen, when Grannie had finished her story.
"I don't rightly know that," Grannie answered. "Maybe it was n't just exactly giants, but you can see for yourself that he is rich and respected, and he with a silk hat, and riding in a procession the same as the Lord-Mayor himself!"
"Did you ever see a giant or a fairy or any of the good little people themselves, Grannie Malone?" Larry asked.
"I 've never exactly seen any of them with my own two eyes," she answered, "but many is the time I've talked with people and they having seen them. There was Mary O'Connor now,—dead long since, God rest her. She told me this tale herself, and she sitting by this very hearth. Wait now till I wet my mouth with a sup of tea in it, and I 'll be telling you the tale the very same way she told it herself."