This Irish folktale tells the story of Paddeen, who bravely retrieved a golden wedding ring from the bottom of a lake.
In the west of Ireland, there was a lake in which many young men had drowned. Their bodies were never found. People naturally wondered at this, and the lake came to have a bad reputation. Many dreadful stories were told about the lake. Some said that on a dark night its waters appeared like fire. Others would speak of horrid forms which were seen to glide over it. Everyone agreed that it smelled strangely sulphurous.
Not far from the lake lived a young farmer named Roderick Keating, who was about to be married to one of the prettiest girls in that part of the country. On his return from Limerick, where he had been to purchase the wedding ring, Roderick met some acquaintances, who were standing on the shore. They began to joke with him about Peggy Honan.
They said that young Delaney, his rival, had in his absence tried to win the affection of his fiancée, but Roderick’s was not disturbed by this tale. Putting his hand in his pocket, he produced and held up the wedding ring. As he was turning it between his forefinger and thumb, in token of triumph, somehow the ring fell from his hand and rolled into the lake.
Roderick looked after it with the greatest sorrow; not so much for its value, though it had cost him half-a-guinea, as for the ill-luck of the thing.
His companions laughed at him, as Roderick tried to tempt them, by the offer of a handsome reward, to dive after the ring. None were inclined to venture into the lake; the tales which they had heard when they were children were strongly impressed on their memories and a superstitious dread filled their minds.
“Must I really go back to Limerick to buy another ring?” exclaimed the young farmer. “Will not ten times what the ring cost persuade anyone to dive after it?”
There was within hearing a man who was considered to be a poor, crazy, half-witted fellow, but who was as harmless as a child. When he heard of so great a reward, Paddeen, for that was his name, volunteered to retrieve the ring. He pulled off his coat and plunged, head first, into the lake.
What depth he went to, no one can tell exactly; but he was going, going, going down through the water, until the water parted and he came upon the dry land.
The sky, and the light, and everything there was just as it is here, and he saw fine pleasure-grounds, with an elegant avenue through them, and a grand house, with steps going up to the door.
When he had recovered from his wonder at finding the land so dry and comfortable under the water, Paddeen looked around and saw all the young men that were drowned. They were working in the pleasure-grounds as if nothing bad ever happened to them. Some were mowing the grass, others were settling out the gravel walks; and they were singing:
“She is fair as Cappoquin:
Have you courage her to win?
And her wealth it far outshines
Cullen’s bog and Silvermines:
She exceeds all heart can wish;
Not brawling like the Foherish,
But as the brightly-flowing Lee,
Graceful, mild, and pure is she!”
Paddeen could not help to look at the young men, for he knew some of them before they were lost in the lake. Not a word passed his lips as he went towards the big house, wishing to know who the young woman could be that the young men were singing about. When he reached the door of the great house, a powerful fat woman walked from the kitchen, moving along like a beer-barrel on two legs.
“Good morrow, Paddeen,” she said.
“Good morrow, Ma’am,” he replied.
“What brought you here?” she asked.
“I’m after Rory Keating’s gold ring,” he answered.
“Here it is,” she said, with a smile on her face that moved like boiling gruel.
“Thank you, Ma’am,” replied Paddeen, taking it from her, “I need not say the Lord increase you, for you’re fat enough already. Will you tell me, if you please, am I to go back the same way I came?”
“Then you did not come to marry me?” the corpulent woman cried, in a desperate fury.
“I’ll come back, my darling,” Paddeen said, “I’m to be paid for the ring.”
“Never mind the money,” the fat woman replied, “if you marry me, you shall live forever and a day in that house, and want for nothing.”
Paddeen saw clearly that, since he had possession of the ring, the fat woman had no power to detain him. Without minding anything she said, he kept moving down the avenue; for, to tell the truth, he had no particular inclination to marry a fat fairy.
When he came to the gate, without ever saying goodbye, out he bolted. He found the water coming all about him again. Up he plunged through it, and came up at the opposite side of the lake. He soon made it to shore and told Roderick Keating, and the other boys that were standing there looking out for him, all that had happened.
Roderick paid five guineas for the ring on the spot, and Paddeen felt so rich that he did not go back to marry the fat lady at the bottom of the lake.
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