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The Tale of the Princess Cathleen

"Tell me a story!"

A long time ago--

"How long?"

Longer than you can remember, longer than I can remember, and ten times longer than both of us put together can remember.

"That long?"

Longer even than that.

"Is it a sad story? I don't like sad stories."

Well, it's sad, and it's happy too!

"Can't you leave out the sad parts?"

No 'cos then it wouldn't be a real story.

"Does it have a happy ending? I like happy endings."

Now, just you settle down and listen. I'll tell you the story and then you can tell me whether you like it or not.

"All right."

A long time ago, before television, before story books, when princes and princesses lived in Ireland, a young boy was out on a hillside, herding sheep. He worked for a rich farmer, whose wife fed him, and, if he was very good, once in a while she gave him some patched-up clothes to wear. The boy liked that, because sometimes it was cold on the hillside when the clouds hid the sun, and the wind blew, and the rain fell.

At the foot of the hill was a river, the River Erne. To the boy it was a big river, and a dangerous river. There were rapids in a gorge where the river ran past the hill. His job was to see that none of the sheep fell into the gorge and were carried away by the river.

"And did he? Did he save any sheep? Did he save any little lambs? I don't want to think of little lambs being carried away by the river."

Now let me tell the story, and you just listen.

One sunny day the boy was on the hillside and he looked across the river. There he saw a galloping horse, a great white horse, and riding on its back a handsome prince and a beautiful princess.

The great white horse was galloping straight to the river. Behind it the boy saw a whole host of horsemen, riding fast, chasing the prince and princess.

On came the great white horse. On came the other horsemen, galloping, galloping, galloping.

The boy raced down the hill. "The rapids! The rapids! Look out for the rapids!" He shouted, and shouted, and shouted.

On came the prince and princess. On came their pursuers.

The boy ran as fast as his legs could carry him. The great white horse raced faster and faster.

The boy shouted. The horsemen in pursuit shouted.

The great white horse raced up to the edge of the river bank, leaped high in the air, mane and tail flying, stretched out in the air.

Never was there such a jump. Up, up, and into a cloud of mist!

"Where did the mist come from? You said it was a sunny day!"

It was fairy mist. This was in Ireland, you see. In Ireland it can rain and the sun can shine all at the same time. And, in between, the fairies look after the mist.

The boy's mouth dropped open. His eyes opened wide. He didn't know whether to cry because the great white horse, the prince and the princess, all disappeared, or to laugh because they had escaped from the horsemen who were chasing them.

"What happened to the horsemen? Did they jump into the mist, too?"

No! The horsemen were frightened. They knew it was a fairy mist, and they were afraid of the fairies. Fairies don't like bad people, and they do nasty things to them.

"Like what?"

Like sting them with nettles, and put thorns in their beds, and feed them cakes with big things in them.

"What sort of big things?"

Horrible things, like pieces of carrots, and caraway seeds that stick in their teeth, and then they have to wash their mouths and brush their teeth, ten times a day!

The horsemen were very bad men. They told everyone a big, big lie! They said the princess and her prince had fallen off their horse into the river, and drowned.

Many people believed them, but the young boy knew better. He knew the fairies had saved the princess, and that some day she would return, with her prince, and her horse, and live happily ever after.

From that day to this, the rapids in the gorge are called Cathleen's Falls, for Cathleen was the name of the princess. And on bright sunny days, when it is raining in the gorge, there is always a lovely rainbow in the sky. People say it is the multi-coloured ribbons that the princess wears in her hair.

"Is that the end of the story?"

Tomorrow I'll tell you another.


Cross my heart, and blink my eyes!

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