The Voyage of the Wee Red Cap
by Ruth Sawyer Durand
It was the night of St. Stephen, and Teig sat alone by his fire
with naught in his cupboard but a pinch of tea and a bare mixing
of meal, and a heart inside of him as soft and warm as the ice
on the water-bucket outside the door. The tuft was near burnt
on the hearth--a handful of golden cinders left, just; and Teig
took to counting them greedily on his fingers.
"There's one, two, three, an' four an' five," he laughed. "Faith,
there be more bits o' real gold hid undther the loose clay in
It was the truth; and it was the scraping and scrooching for
the last piece that had left Teig's cupboard bare of a Christmas
"Gold is betther nor eatin' an' dthrinkin'. An' if ye have naught
to give, there'll be naught asked of ye;" and he laughed again.
He was thinking of the neighbours, and the doles of food and
piggins of milk that would pass over their thresholds that night
to the vagabonds and paupers who were sure to come begging. And
on the heels of that thought followed another: who would be giving
old Barney his dinner? Barney lived a stone's throw from Teig,
alone, in a wee tumbled-in cabin; and for a score of years past
Teig had stood on the doorstep every Christmas Eve, and, making
a hollow of his two hands, had called across the road:
"Hey, there, Barney, will ye come over
for a sup?"
And Barney had reached for his crutches--there being but one
leg to him--and had come.
"Faith," said Teig, trying another laugh, "Barney can fast for
the once; 'twill be all the same in a month's time." And he fell
to thinking of the gold again. A knock came at the door. Teig
pulled himself down in his chair where the shadow would cover
him, and held his tongue.
"Teig, Teig!" It was the widow O'Donnelly's voice. "If
ye are there, open your door. I have not got the pay for the
spriggin' this month, an' the childher are needin' food."
But Teig put the leash on his tongue, and never stirred till
he heard the tramp of her feet going on to the next cabin. Then
he saw to it that the door was tight-barred. Another knock came,
and it was a stranger's voice this time:
"The other cabins are filled; not one
but has its hearth crowded; will ye take us in--the two of
us? The wind bites mortal sharp, not a morsel o' food have
ne tasted this day. Masther, will ye take us in?"
But Teig sat on, a-holding his tongue; and the tramp of the
strangers' feet passed down the road. Others took their place--small
feet, running. It was the miller's wee Cassie, and she called
out as she ran by.
"Old Barney's watchin' for ye. Ye'll
not be forgettin' him, will ye, Teig?"
And then the child broke into a song, sweet and clear, as she
passed down the road:
"Listen all ye, 'tis the Feast o' St.
Stephen, Mind that ye keep it, this holy even. Open your door
an' greet ye the stranger-- For ye mind that the wee Lord had
naught but a manger. Mhuire as truagh!
"Feed ye the hungry an' rest ye the
weary, This ye must do for the sake of Our Mary. 'Tis well
that ye mind--ye who sit by the fire-- That the Lord he was
born in a dark and cold byre. Mhuire as truagh!"
Teig put his fingers deep in his ears. "A
million murdthering curses on them that won't let me be! Can't
a man try to keep what is his without bein' pesthered by them
that has only idled an' wasted their days?"
And then the strange thing happened: hundreds and hundreds of
wee lights began dancing outside the window, making the room
bright; the hands of the clock began chasing each other round
the dial, and the bolt of the door drew itself out. Slowly, without
a creak or a cringe, the door opened, and in there trooped a
crowd of the Good People. Their wee green cloaks were folded
close about them, and each carried a rush candle.
Teig was filled with a great wonderment, entirely, when he saw
the fairies, but when they saw him they laughed.
"We are takin' the loan o' your cabin this night, Teig," said
they. "Ye are the only man hereabout with an empty hearth, an'
we're needin' one."
Without saying more, they bustled about the room making ready.
They lengthened out the table and spread and set it; more of
the Good People trooped in, bringing stools and food and drink.
The pipers came last, and they sat themselves around the chimney-piece
a-blowing their chanters and trying the drones. The feasting
began and the pipers played and never had Teig seen such a sight
in his life. Suddenly a wee man sang out:
"Clip, clap, clip, clap, I wish I had my wee red cap!" And
out of the air there tumbled the neatest cap Teig ever laid
his two eyes on. The wee man clapped it on his head, crying:
"I wish I was in Spain!" and--whist--up
the chimney he went, and away out of sight.
It happened just as I am telling it. Another wee man called
for his cap, and away he went after the first. And then another
and another until the room was empty and Teig sat alone again.
"By my soul," said Teig, "I'd like
to thravel that way myself! It's a grand savin' of tickets
an' baggage; an' ye get to a place before ye've had time to
change your mind. Faith there is no harm done if I thry it."
So he sang the fairies' rhyme and out of the air dropped a wee
cap for him. For a moment the wonder had him, but the next he
was clapping the cap on his head and crying:
Then--whist--up the chimney he went after the fairies, and before
he had time to let out his breath he was standing in the middle
of Spain, and strangeness all about him.
He was in a great city. The doorways of the houses were hung
with flowers and the air was warm and sweet with the smell of
them. Torches burned along the streets, sweetmeat-sellers went
about crying their wares, and on the steps of the cathedral crouched
a crowd of beggars.
"What's the meanin' o' that?" asked Teig of one of the fairies. "They
are waiting for those that are hearing mass. When they come out,
they give half of what they have to those that have nothing,
so on this night of all the year there shall be no hunger and
And then far down the street came the sound of a child's voice,
"Listen all ye, 'tis the Feast o' St. Stephen, Mind that ye
keep it, this holy even".
"Curse it!" said Teig; "can a song
fly afther ye?"
And then he heard the fairies cry "Holland!" and cried "Holland!" too.
In one leap he was over France, and another over Belgium; and
with the third he was standing by long ditches of water frozen
fast, and over them glided hundreds upon hundreds of lads and
maids. Outside each door stood a wee wooden shoe empty. Teig
saw scores of them as he looked down the ditch of a street.
"What is the meanin' o' those shoes? " he
asked the fairies.
"Ye poor lad!" answered the wee man next to him; "are
ye not knowing anything? This is the Gift Night of the year,
when every man gives to his neighbour."
A child came to the window of one of the houses, and in her
hand was a lighted candle. She was singing as she put the light
down close to the glass, and Teig caught the words:
"Open your door an' greet ye the stranger--
For ye mind that the wee Lord had naught but a manger. Mhuire
"'Tis the de'il's work!" cried Teig,
and he set the red cap more firmly on his head.
"I'm for another country."
I cannot be telling you a half of the adventures Teig had that
night, nor half the sights that he saw. But he passed by fields
that held sheaves of grain for the birds and doorsteps that held
bowls of porridge for the wee creatures. He saw lighted trees,
sparkling and heavy with gifts; and he stood outside the churches
and watched the crowds pass in, bearing gifts to the Holy Mother
At last the fairies straightened their
caps and cried, "Now
for the great hall in the King of England's palace!"
Whist--and away they went, and Teig after them; and the first
thing he knew he was in London, not an arm's length from the
King's throne. It was a grander sight than he had seen in any
other country. The hall was filled entirely with lords and ladies;
and the great doors were open for the poor and the homeless to
come in and warm themselves by the King's fire and feast from
the King's table. And many a hungry soul did the King serve with
his own hands.
Those that had anything to give gave it in return. It might
be a bit of music played on a harp or a pipe, or it might be
a dance or a song; but more often it was a wish, just, for good
luck and safekeeping.
Teig was so taken up with the watching that he never heard the
fairies when they wished themselves on; moreover, he never saw
the wee girl that was fed, and went laughing away. But he heard
a bit of her song as she passed through the door:
"Feed ye the hungry an' rest ye the
weary, This ye must do for the sake of Our Mary."
Then the anger had Teig. "I'll stop your pestherin' tongue,
once an' for all time!" and, catching the cap from his head,
he threw it after her. No sooner was the cap gone than every
soul in the hall saw him. The next moment they were about him,
catching at his coat and crying:
"Where is he from, what does he here? Bring him before the King!" And
Teig was dragged along by a hundred hands to the throne where
the King sat.
"He was stealing food," cried one.
"He was robbing the King's jewels," cried
"He looks evil," cried a third. "Kill
And in a moment all the voices took
it up and the hall rang with: "Aye, kill him, kill him!"
Teig's legs took to trembling, and fear put the leash on his
tongue; but after a long silence he managed to whisper:
"I have done evil to no one--no one!"
"Maybe," said the King; "but have ye
done good? Come, tell us, have ye given aught to any one this
night? If ye have, we will pardon ye."
Not a word could Teig say--fear tightened the leash--for he
was knowing full well there was no good to him that night.
"Then ye must die," said the King. "Will
ye try hanging or beheading?"
"Hanging, please, your Majesty," said
The guards came rushing up and carried him off.
But as he was crossing the threshold of the hall a thought sprang
at him and held him.
"Your Majesty," he called after him, "will
ye grant me a last request?"
"I will," said the King.
"Thank ye. There's a wee red cap that
I'm mortal fond of, and I lost it a while ago; if I could be
hung with it on, I would hang a deal more comfortable."
The cap was found and brought to Teig.
"Clip, clap, clip, clap, for my wee red cap, I wish I was home," he
Up and over the heads of the dumfounded guard he flew, and--whist--and
away out of sight. When he opened his eyes again, he was sitting
dose by his own hearth, with the fire burnt low. The hands of
the clock were still, the bolt was fixed firm in the door. The
fairies' lights were gone, and the only bright thing was the
candle burning in old Barney's cabin across the road.
A running of feet sounded outside, and then the snatch of a
"'Tis well that ye mind--ye who sit
by the fire- That the Lord he was born in a dark and cold byre.
Mhuire as traugh!"
"Wait ye, whoever ye are!" and Teig
was away to the corner, digging fast at the loose clay, as
a terrier digs at a bone. He filled his hands full of the shining
gold, then hurried to the door, unbarring it.
The miller's wee Cassie stood there, peering at him out of the
"Take those to the widow O'Donnelly,
do ye hear? And take the rest to the store. Ye tell Jamie to
bring up all that he has that is eatable an' dhrinkable; and
to the neighbours ye say, 'Teig's keepin' the feast this night.'
Teig stopped a moment on the threshold until the tramp of her
feet had died away; then he made a hollow of his two hands and
called across the road:
"Hey there, Barney, will ye come over
for a sup?"