The hand was child-sized but covered in a coarse matting of grey hair. Noiselessly it lifted the clasp from my satchel and slipped inside. Moments later it withdrew, my mother's gold chain following close behind, sliding out like a gilded serpent unfurling from its dark hole.
My shillelagh flew upwards, its polished blackthorn wood carving an arc through the still dusk air, its hardened knob striking precisely on target.
“Blood and Turf,” yelped the villain. “now what did ya go and do t'at for?”
“Because you're a good for nothing thief,” said I.
“Ach, to be sure, it was just a spot of harmless fun!”
I didn't bother to respond. I held the only weapon and as I had just demonstrated I was no stranger to its use. Remaining by my writing desk, I turned to face my unwelcome intruder. He stood no more than two feet tall although his green felt hat probably granted him another six inches. His jacket looked like it had seen better days and his knee-length breeches were spattered with mud. Only the shiny black shoes gave the lie to the semblance of destitution.
“I should have thought,” said I, “that the little people had more than enough gold of their own. So why would you be wanting to deprive me of my family heirloom?”
“It was more of a loan,” said he. “Sure, I left ya a wee note over t'ere on top of yer desk. Did ya not see it?”
I knew better than to fall for that particular trick. It's a curious fact about leprechauns that they cannot disappear while you're staring right at them. But the moment you glance away, poof, it's as if they were never there in the first place.
“Why don't you hop on the table and show me this letter,” said I. “Then I'll let you be on your way.”
It was amusing to watch the little fella squirm. “Ach, I haven't exactly written it as yet,” he explained. “But I was just about to. Besides I wasn't planning on keeping yer chain. It was more of a borrowing, so to speak.”
“Aha,” said I, not believing a word. “And what were you going to do with my treasure?”
The leprechaun hopped from one foot to the other as he pondered his response. His eyes flicked constantly between the haft of my shillelagh and the possibility of escape afforded by my fireplace. But he was in no doubt that I would give him a quare hiding before he took three steps in that direction.
“I was planning to slip it in yer sister's handbag,” he said at last. “In t'e morning when ya was all sitting down for breakfast, I was going to spill everyt'ing out over t'e table. T'e denials and t'e shouting would have been priceless. Only a bit of craic, nothing wicked, like.”
I pondered this for a moment. It is true that leprechauns are better known for causing mischief than for out and out larceny. If something awful happens, it is more likely to be the fault of a clurichaun or if you are really in for some bad luck then one of those demented banshees. The little people aren't evil as such. On occasions they will even help a man out when he finds himself in dire straits.
“You'll have to reimburse me,” said I. “For sure, it's only fair since I was the one that caught you.”
“Would ya be wanting a share of me gold?” said he. “T'e rainbow's end's not t'at far from here. I could take ya t'ere in t'e morning.”
“I think not,” said I, having heard tell of other eejits who had ruined many a field in Leinster with all their digging. “Just a coin from your purse will suffice. A heavy one, mind.”
With a deep sigh, the little fella conjured up a gold coin and threw it up in the air for me to catch. It was magnificently done. As the spinning coin grabbed my attention, the leprechaun vanished. Moments later I was flabbergasted to discover that my reward was no more than a shiny brass button. Leaning back in my chair, I let out a roar of laughter that wakened the entire household.
Only then did I notice that my mother's precious gold chain no longer lay on the carpeted floor...
Glossary of Irish terms:
shillelagh: blackened walking stick that doubles as a cudgel
clurichaun: bad-tempered, often inebriated Irish gnome
banshee: female spirit who wails at impending death
quare: undefined term, somewhere between odd and powerful
craic: a welcome dose of lively banter
eejit: an idiot
leprechaun: do you really have to ask?
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