After an interval of two days we had our fifth and last meeting in the house at the cross-road. As the old man had told all his stories, and the blind quarryman had only one left, my host brought a tinker who had "walked the way" that day and was passing the night at the house. The tinker knew none of the old tales, but as the host said, "He has two stories that will knock a laugh out of the company, and they prove that women can outwit their husbands, as well as other men," we were curious to hear what he had to say, and he told the following:
In the county Cork, a mile and a half from Fermoy, there lived three brothers. The three lived in one house for some years and never thought of marrying. On a certain day they went to a fair in the town of Fermoy.
There was a platform on the fair ground for dancing and a fiddler on the platform to give music to the dancers. Three sisters from the neighbourhood, handsome girls, lively and full of jokes, made over to the three brothers and asked would they dance. The youngest and middle brother wouldn't think of dancing, but the eldest said, "We mustn't refuse; it wouldn't be good manners."
The three brothers danced with the girls, and after the dance took them to a public-house for refreshments.
After a while the second brother spoke up and said, "Here are three sisters, good wives for three brothers; why shouldn't we marry? Let the eldest brother of us take the eldest sister; I will take the second; the youngest brother can have the youngest sister."
It was settled then and there that the three couples were satisfied if the girls' parents were. Next day the brothers went to the girls' parents and got their consent. In a week's time they were married.
Each of the three brothers had a good farm, and each went now to live on his own place. They lived well and happily for about ten years, when one market-day the eldest sister came to the second and asked her to go to Fermoy with her.
In those days women used to carry baskets made of willow twigs, in which they took eggs and butter to market. The second sister said she hadn't thought of going, but she would go, and they would ask the youngest sister for her company.
All three started off, each with a basket of eggs. After they had their eggs sold in the market they lingered about for some time looking at people, as is usual with farmers' wives. In the evening, when thinking of home, they dropped into a public-house to have a drop of drink before going. The public-house was full of people, chatting, talking, and drinking. The three sisters did not like to be seen at the bar, so they went to a room up stairs, and the eldest called for three pints of porter, which was brought without delay.
It is common for a farmer or his wife who has a ten-shilling piece or a pound, and does not wish to break it, to say, "I will pay the next time I come to town;" so the eldest sister said now. The second sister called for three pints, and then the third followed her example.
'Tis said that women are very noisy when they've taken a glass or two, but whether that is true or not, these three were noisy, and their talk was so loud that Lord Fermoy, who was above in a room finishing some business with the keeper of the public-house, could not hear a thing for their chat, so he sent the landlord to tell the women to leave the room. The landlord went, and finding that they had not paid their reckoning yet, told them it was time they were paying their reckoning and moving towards home.
One of the sisters looked up and said, "The man above * will pay all. He is good for the reckoning."
* The man above, God.
The man of the house, thinking that it was Lord Fermoy she was speaking of, was satisfied, and went up stairs.
"Have they gone?" asked Lord Fermoy.
"They have not, and they say that you will pay the reckoning."
"Why should I pay when I don't know them? We'll go down and see who they are and what they mean."
The two went down, and Lord Fermoy saw that they were tenants of his; he knew them quite well, for they lived near his own castle. He liked the sisters, they were so sharp-witted.
"I'll pay the reckoning, and do you bring each of these women a glass of punch," said he to the man of the house.
The punch was brought without delay.
"Here is a half sovereign for each of you," said Lord Fermoy. "Now go home, and meet me in this place a week from to-day. Whichever one of you during that time makes the biggest fool of her husband will get ten pounds in gold and ten years rent free."
"We'll do our best," said the sisters.
Each woman of them was anxious, of course, to do the best she could. They parted at the door of the public-house, each going her own way, and each thinking of what could be done to win the ten pounds and ten years rent.
It had happened that the eldest sister's husband became very phthisicky and sickly a couple of years after his marriage and fell into a decline. On the way home the wife made up her mind what to do. She bought pipes, tobacco, candles, and other articles needed at a wake. She was in no hurry home, so 'twas late enough when she came to the house. When she looked in at the window she saw her husband sitting by the fire with his hand on his chin and the children asleep around him. A pot of potatoes, boiled and strained, was waiting for her.
She opened the door. The husband looked at her and asked, "Why are you so late?"
"Why are you off the table, and where are the sheets that were over you?" asked she as if in a fright; "or the shirt that I put on you? I left you laid out on the table."
"Sure I am not dead at all. I know very well when you started to go to the market, I wasn't dead then, and I didn't die since you left the house."
Then she began to abuse him, and said that all his friends were coming to the wake, and he had no right to be off the table tormenting and abusing herself and the children, and went on in such a way that at last he believed himself dead and asked her in God's name to give him a smoke and he would go up again on the table and never come down till he was carried from it.