★ The Rival Kempers Story :
In the north of Ireland there are spinning meetings of unmarried females frequently held at the houses of farmers, called kemps. Every young woman who has got the reputation of being a quick and expert spinner attends where the kemp is to be held, at an hour usually before daylight, and on these occasions she is accompanied by her sweetheart or some male relative, who carries her wheel, and conducts her safely across the fields or along the road, as the case may be. A kemp is, indeed, an animated and joyous scene, and one, besides, which is calculated to promote industry and decent pride.
Scarcely anything can be more cheering and agreeable than to hear at a distance, breaking the silence of morning, the light-hearted voices of many girls either in mirth or song, the humming sound of the busy wheels–jarred upon a little, it is true, by the stridulous noise and checkings of the reels, and the voices of the reelers, as they call aloud the checks, together with the name of the girl and the quantity she has spun up to that period; for the contest is generally commenced two or three hours before daybreak. This mirthful spirit is also sustained by the prospect of a dance–with which, by the way, every kemp closes; and when the fair victor is declared, she is to be looked upon as the queen of the meeting, and treated with the necessary respect.
But to our tale. Every one knew Shaun Buie M’Gaveran to be the cleanest, best-conducted boy, and the most industrious too, in the whole parish of Faugh-a-ballagh. Hard was it to find a young fellow who could handle a flail, spade, or reaping-hook in better style, or who could go through his day’s work in a more creditable or workmanlike manner. In addition to this, he was a fine, well-built, handsome young man as you could meet in a fair; and so, sign was on it, maybe the pretty girls weren’t likely to pull each other’s caps about him.
Shaun, however, was as prudent as he was good-looking; and although he wanted a wife, yet the sorrow one of him but preferred taking a well-handed, smart girl, who was known to be well-behaved and industrious, like himself. Here, however, was where the puzzle lay on him; for instead of one girl of that kind, there were in the neighbourhood no less than a dozen of them–all equally fit and willing to become his wife, and all equally good-looking. There were two, however, whom he thought a trifle above the rest; but so nicely balanced were Biddy Corrigan and Sally Gorman, that for the life of him he could not make up his mind to decide between them. Each of them had won her kemp; and it was currently said by them who ought to know, that neither of them could over-match the other.
No two girls in the parish were better respected, or deserved to be so; and the consequence was, they had every one’s good word and good wish. Now it so happened that Shaun had been pulling a cord with each; and as he knew not how to decide between, he thought he would allow them to do that themselves if they could. He accordingly gave out to the neighbours that he would hold a kemp on that day week, and he told Biddy and Sally especially that he had made up his mind to marry whichever of them won the kemp, for he knew right well, as did all the parish, that one of them must. The girls agreed to this very good-humouredly, Biddy telling Sally that she (Sally) would surely win it; and Sally, not to be outdone in civility, telling the same thing to her.
Well, the week was nearly past, there being but two days till that of the kemp, when, about three o’clock, there walks into the house of old Paddy Corrigan a little woman dressed in high-heeled shoes and a short red cloak. There was no one in the house but Biddy at the time, who rose up and placed a chair near the fire, and asked the little red woman to sit down and rest herself. She accordingly did so, and in a short time a lively chat commenced between them.
‘So,’ said the strange woman, ‘there’s to be a great kemp in Shaun Buie M’Gaveran’s?’
‘Indeed there is that, good woman,’ replied Biddy, smiling and blushing to back of that again, because she knew her own fate depended on it.
‘And,’ continued the little woman, ‘whoever wins the kemp wins a husband?’
‘Ay, so it seems.’
‘Well, whoever gets Shaun will be a happy woman, for he’s the moral of a good boy.’
‘That’s nothing but the truth, anyhow,’ replied Biddy, sighing, for fear, you may be sure, that she herself might lose him; and indeed a young woman might sigh from many a worse reason. ‘But,’ said she, changing the subject, ‘you appear to be tired, honest woman, an’ I think you had better eat a bit, an’ take a good drink of buinnhe ramwher (thick milk) to help you on your journey.’
‘Thank you kindly, a colleen,’ said the woman; ‘I’ll take a bit, if you plase, hopin’, at the same time, that you won’t be the poorer of it this day twelve months.’
‘Sure,’ said the girl, ‘you know that what we give from kindness ever an’ always leaves a blessing behind it.’
‘Yes, acushla, when it is given from kindness.’
She accordingly helped herself to the food that Biddy placed before her, and appeared, after eating, to be very much refreshed.
‘Now,’ said she, rising up, ‘you’re a very good girl, an’ if you are able to find out my name before Tuesday morning, the kemp-day, I tell you that you’ll win it, and gain the husband.’
‘Why,’ said Biddy, ‘I never saw you before. I don’t know who you are, nor where you live; how then can I ever find out your name?’
‘You never saw me before, sure enough,’ said the old woman, ‘an’ I tell you that you never will see me again but once; an’ yet if you have not my name for me at the close of the kemp, you’ll lose all, an’ that will leave you a sore heart, for well I know you love Shaun Buie.’
So saying, she went away, and left poor Biddy quite cast down at what she had said, for, to tell the truth, she loved Shaun very much, and had no hopes of being able to find out the name of the little woman, on which, it appeared, so much to her depended.
It was very near the same hour of the same day that Sally Gorman was sitting alone in her father’s house, thinking of the kemp, when who should walk in to her but our friend the little red woman.
‘God save you, honest woman,’ said Sally, ‘this is a fine day that’s in it, the Lord be praised!’
‘It is,’ said the woman, ‘as fine a day as one could wish for: indeed it is.’
‘Have you no news on your travels?’ asked Sally.
‘The only news in the neighbourhood,’ replied the other, ‘is this great kemp that’s to take place at Shaun Buie M’Gaveran’s. They say you’re either to win him or lose him then,’ she added, looking closely at Sally as she spoke.
‘I’m not very much afraid of that,’ said Sally, with confidence; ‘but even if I do lose him, I may get as good.’
‘It’s not easy gettin’ as good,’ rejoined the old woman, ‘an’ you ought to be very glad to win him, if you can.’
‘Let me alone for that,’ said Sally. ‘Biddy’s a good girl, I allow; but as for spinnin’, she never saw the day she could leave me behind her. Won’t you sit an’ rest you?’ she added; ‘maybe you’re tired.’
‘It’s time for you to think of it,’ thought the woman, but she spoke nothing: ‘but,’ she added to herself on reflection, ‘it’s better late than never–I’ll sit awhile, till I see a little closer what she’s made of.’
She accordingly sat down and chatted upon several subjects, such as young women like to talk about, for about half an hour; after which she arose, and taking her little staff in hand, she bade Sally good-bye, and went her way. After passing a little from the house she looked back, and could not help speaking to herself as follows:
‘She’s smooth and smart, But she wants the heart; She’s tight and neat, But she gave no meat.’
Poor Biddy now made all possible inquiries about the old woman, but to no purpose. Not a soul she spoke to about her had ever seen or heard of such a woman. She felt very dispirited, and began to lose heart, for there is no doubt that if she missed Shaun it would have cost her many a sorrowful day. She knew she would never get his equal, or at least any one that she loved so well. At last the kemp day came, and with it all the pretty girls of the neighbourhood to Shaun Buie’s.
Among the rest, the two that were to decide their right to him were doubtless the handsomest pair by far, and every one admired them. To be sure, it was a blythe and merry place, and many a light laugh and sweet song rang out from pretty lips that day. Biddy and Sally, as every one expected, were far ahead of the rest, but so even in their spinning that the reelers could not for the life of them declare which was the better. It was neck-and-neck and head-and-head between the pretty creatures, and all who were at the kemp felt themselves wound up to the highest pitch of interest and curiosity to know which of them would be successful.
The day was now more than half gone, and no difference was between them, when, to the surprise and sorrow of every one present, Biddy Corrigan’s heck broke in two, and so to all appearance ended the contest in favour of her rival; and what added to her mortification, she was as ignorant of the red little woman’s name as ever. What was to be done? All that could be done was done. Her brother, a boy of about fourteen years of age, happened to be present when the accident took place, having been sent by his father and mother to bring them word how the match went on between the rival spinsters. Johnny Corrigan was accordingly despatched with all speed to Donnel M’Cusker’s, the wheelwright, in order to get the heck mended, that being Biddy’s last but hopeless chance.
Johnny’s anxiety that his sister should win was of course very great, and in order to lose as little time as possible he struck across the country, passing through, or rather close by, Kilrudden forth, a place celebrated as a resort of the fairies. What was his astonishment, however, as he passed a White-thorn tree, to hear a female voice singing, in accompaniment to the sound of a spinning-wheel, the following words:
‘There’s a girl in this town doesn’t know my name; But my name’s Even Trot–Even Trot.’
‘There’s a girl in this town,’ said the lad, ‘who’s in great distress, for she has broken her heck, and lost a husband. I’m now goin’ to Donnel M’Cusker’s to get it mended.’
‘What’s her name?’ said the little red woman.
The little woman immediately whipped out the heck from her own wheel, and giving it to the boy, desired him to take it to his sister, and never mind Donnel M’Cusker.
‘You have little time to lose,’ she added, ‘so go back and give her this; but don’t tell her how you got it, nor, above all things, that it was Even Trot that gave it to you.’
The lad returned, and after giving the heck to his sister, as a matter of course told her that it was a little red woman called Even Trot that sent it to her, a circumstance which made tears of delight start to Biddy’s eyes, for she knew now that Even Trot was the name of the old woman, and having known that, she felt that something good would happen to her. She now resumed her spinning, and never did human fingers let down the thread so rapidly. The whole kemp were amazed at the quantity which from time to time filled her pirn. The hearts of her friends began to rise, and those of Sally’s party to sink, as hour after hour she was fast approaching her rival, who now spun if possible with double speed on finding Biddy coming up with her. At length they were again even, and just at that moment in came her friend the little red woman, and asked aloud, ‘Is there any one in this kemp that knows my name?’ This question she asked three times before Biddy could pluck up courage to answer her. She at last said,
‘There’s a girl in this town does know your name– Your name is Even Trot–Even Trot.’
‘Ay,’ said the old woman, ‘and so it is; and let that name be your guide and your husband’s through life. Go steadily along, but let your step be even; stop little; keep always advancing; and you’ll never have cause to rue the day that you first saw Even Trot.’
We need scarcely add that Biddy won the kemp and the husband, and that she and Shaun lived long and happily together; and I have only now to wish, kind reader, that you and I may live longer and more happily still.
★ Checkout this story aswell :
The Fairies’ Dancing-place