Monday, March 16, 2015

#133 The Bonnie Wee Harp

There was once a shepherd lad who carved for himself a bonnie wee harp.

He was a year in making it, all of a single piece of fine ash wood. He hollowed out the box and bored the holes for the tuning pins, then strung it all with sheep gut. It was not much bigger than a grown man’s hand, and it had the sweetest little voice, like heather bells laughing on the wind. The shepherd boy was never without it wherever he went, and played it hour after hour as he tended his sheep.

As time went on, the shepherd boy would sometimes see a pair of bright green eyes watching from a hedge, or behind the tall grass, as he played, but when he got up to look closer there would be nothing there. Tis one of the wee folk, he thought, and the little devil is after my harp.

For a time, the shepherd boy guarded his harp close, for it was the thing he loved most dearly in all the world. But then he got to thinking. It was a fine little harp, but there were many things in the world that were finer, and perhaps the leprechaun in the hedge might be willing to make a swap.

One day, the boy, pretending to be careless, set his harp down and turned his face away, as if to gaze off at the horizon. He counted a quick one, two, three, then looked back again and what did he see, caught in broad daylight and plain as anything, but a green-eyed leprechaun in a green frock coat, breeches, and tiny buckled shoes. The shepherd boy snatched the little man up with both hands and fixed him with both his eyes and didn’t dare to blink, for a leprechaun can’t get away so long as you’ve got both your eyes on him.

“You mean to steal my harp, do ye?” The shepherd boy gave the leprechaun a shake.

“No, no, only to admire it a while,” the leprechaun said. “Let me go, now, or it’ll go badly for ye. I’m warning!”

“You fancy my harp then? I’d be of a mind to let you have it, if you’ll give me it’s weight in gold.”

The leprechaun let out a merry laugh. “Gladly! That’s easily done. Here’s your gold, boy, and welcome. Pity you didn’t ask for more.”

And the leprechaun opened his pocket and spilled out a pile of gold coins on the ground.

The shepherd’s boys eyes grew wide, and he nearly looked away from the little man in his hands to better see the gold, but he caught himself in time and kept his eyes on the leprechaun. “More, what do you mean more?”

“Such a fine little harp, I’d have given you better for it, if only ye had asked me.”

“Well, I’m asking ye now, and I won’t let ye go unless I have all I want.”

“And what is that?”

“Twice the harp’s weight in gold, and a fine suit of clothes to wear when I go and spend it, and a fine house to live in besides.”

“Very well,” said the leprhechan. “There’s yer fine clothes, ye’re wearing them already, and yer house is right behind ye.”

And the shepherd boy looked down to see how he was dressed, but it was only his patched and ragged shepherd’s garb, and when he looked behind himself there was nothing but empty hillside.

“I see no house, and these are only my own clothes,” the boy said, but when he looked to his hands, the little man was gone, and so was the gold, and so was the harp.

On rare fine days, when you go up into the hills and hear a sweet music like the heather bells laughing on the wind, you’ll know it’s the leprechaun playing the bonnie wee harp he stole from the shepherd boy.

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