In which the Gift of Stories continues with a tale from Ireland
I've told a version of the "Field of Buttercups" story for years as a St. Patrick's Day tale, but it's just as much fun to share it in December.
The Field of Boliauns and Buttercups
- collected from Joseph Jacobs
One fine day in harvest—it was indeed Lady-day in harvest, that everybody knows to be one of the greatest holidays in the year—Tom Fitzpatrick was taking a ramble through the ground when all of a sudden he heard a clacking sort of noise a little before him in the hedge.
"Dear me," said Tom, "but isn't it surprising to hear the stonechatters singing so late in the season?"
So Tom stole on, going on the tops of his toes to try if he could get a sight of what was making the noise, to see if he was right in his guess.
The noise stopped; but as Tom looked sharply through the bushes, what should he see in a nook of the hedge but a little wee teeny tiny bit of an old man, with a little motty of a cocked hat stuck upon the top of his head, a deeshy daushy leather apron hanging before him, and he pulled out a little wooden stool and began to work at putting a heel-piece on a bit of a brogue just fit for himself.
"Well, by the powers," said Tom to himself, "I often heard tell of the Leprechauns, and, to tell God's truth, I never rightly believed in them—but here's one of them in real earnest. If I go knowingly to work, I'm a made man. They say a body must never take their eyes off them, or they'll escape.”
Tom now stole on a little further, with his eye fixed on the little man just as a cat does with a mouse. So when he got up quite close to him, "God bless your work, neighbor," said Tom.
The little man raised up his head, and "Thank you kindly," said he.
"I wonder you'd be working on the holiday!" said Tom.
"That's my own business, not yours," was the reply. “It would be fitter for you to be looking after your father's property than to be bothering decent quiet people with your foolish questions. There now, while you're idling away your time here, there's the cows have broke into the oats, and are knocking the corn all about."
Tom was taken so by surprise with this that he was just on the very point of turning round when he recollected himself; so, afraid that the like might happen again, he made a grab at the Leprechaun, and caught him up in his hand; and called for the little man to take him to riches.
Tom looked so wicked and so bloody-minded that the little man was quite frightened; so says he, "Come along with me a couple of fields off, and I'll show you a crock of gold."
So they went, and Tom held the Leprechaun fast in his hand, and never took his eyes from off him, though they had to cross hedges and ditches, and a crooked bit of bog, till at last they came to a great field all full of boliauns and buttercups, and the Leprechaun pointed to a big boliaun, and says he, "Dig under that flower, and you'll get the great crock all full of guineas."
Tom in his hurry had never thought of bringing a spade with him, so he made up his mind to run home and fetch one; and that he might know the place again he took off one of his red socks, and tied it round the boliaun.
Then he said to the Leprechaun, "Swear ye'll not take that sock away from that boliaun." And the Leprechaun swore right away not to touch it.
"I suppose," said the Leprechaun, very civilly, "you have no further occasion for me?"
"No," says Tom; "you may go away now, if you please, and God speed you, and may good luck attend you wherever you go."
"Well, good-bye to you, Tom Fitzpatrick," said the Leprechaun; "and much good may it do you when you get it."
So Tom ran for dear life, till he came home and got a spade, and then away with him, as hard as he could go, back to the field of boliauns and buttercups; but when he got there, lo and behold!
Not a boliaun in the field but had a red sock, the very model of his own, tied about it; and as to digging up the whole field, that was all nonsense, for there were more than forty rocky Irish acres in it.
So Tom came home again with his spade on his shoulder, a little cooler than he went, and many's the hearty curse he gave the Leprechaun every time he thought of the neat turn he had served him.
It is lucky to find that one has put a sock on inside out or to discover that one has put on an unmatching pair (in which case the wearer should leave them as they are to enjoy the full benefit).