"Mr. Buttons," said Emmeline that night, as they sat on the sand near the tent he had improvised, "Mr. Button--cats go to sleep."
They had been questioning him about the "never-wake-up" berries.
"Who said they didn't?" asked Mr. Button.
"I mean," said Emmeline, "they go to sleep and never wake up again. Ours did. It had stripes on it, and a white chest, and rings all down its tail. It went asleep in the garden, all stretched out, and showing its teeth; an' I told Jane, and Dicky ran in an' told uncle. I went to Mrs. Sims, the doctor's wife, to tea; and when I came back I asked Jane where pussy was and she said it was deadn' berried, but I wasn't to tell uncle."
"I remember," said Dick. "It was the day I went to the circus, and you told me not to tell daddy the cat was deadn' berried. But I told Mrs. James's man when he came to do the garden; and I asked him where cats went when they were deadn' berried, and he said he guessed they went to hell - at least he hoped they did, for they were always scratchin' up the flowers. Then he told me not to tell anyone he'd said that, for it was a swear word, and he oughtn't to have said it. I asked him what he'd give me if I didn't tell, an' he gave me five cents. That was the day I bought the cocoa-nut."
The tent, a makeshift affair, consisting of two sculls and a tree branch, which Mr. Button had sawed off from a dwarf aoa, and the staysail he had brought from the brig, was pitched in the centre of the beach, so as to be out of the way of falling cocoa-nuts, should the breeze strengthen during the night. The sun had set, but the moon had not yet risen as they sat in the starlight on the sand near the temporary abode.
"What's the things you said made the boots for the people, Paddy?" asked Dick, after a pause.
"You said in the wood I wasn't to talk, else--"
"Oh, the Cluricaunes--the little men that cobbles the Good People's brogues. Is it them you mane?"
"Yes," said Dick, not knowing quite whether it was them or not that he meant, but anxious for information that he felt would be curious. "And what are the good people?"
"Sure, where were you born and bred that you don't know the Good People is the other name for the fairies--savin' their presence?"
"There aren't any," replied Dick. "Mrs. Sims said there weren't."
"Mrs. James," put in Emmeline, "said there were. She said she liked to see children b'lieve in fairies. She was talking to another lady, who'd got a red feather in her bonnet, and a fur muff. They were having tea, and I was sitting on the hearthrug. She said the world was getting too--something or another, an' then the other lady said it was, and asked Mrs. James did she see Mrs, Someone in the awful hat she wore Thanksgiving Day. They didn't say anything more about fairies, but Mrs. James--"
"Whether you b'lave in them or not," said Paddy, "there they are. An' maybe they're poppin' out of the wood behint us now, an' listenin' to us talkin'; though I'm doubtful if there's any in these parts, though down in Connaught they were as thick as blackberries in the ould days. O musha! musha! The ould days, the ould days! when will I be seein' thim again? Now, you may b'lave me or b'lave me not, but me own ould father--God rest his sowl! was comin' over Croagh Patrick one night before Christmas with a bottle of whisky in one hand of him, and a goose, plucked an' claned an' all, in the other, which same he'd won in a lottery, when, hearin' a tchune no louder than the buzzin' of a bee, over a furze-bush he peeps, and there, round a big white stone, the Good People were dancing in a ring hand in hand, an' kickin' their heels, an' the eyes of them glowin' like the eyes of moths; and a chap on the stone, no bigger than the joint of your thumb, playin' to thim on a bagpipes. Wid that he let wan yell an' drops the goose an' makes for home, over hedge an' ditch, boundin' like a buck kangaroo, an' the face on him as white as flour when he burst in through the door, where we was all sittin' round the fire burnin' chestnuts to see who'd be married the first.
"'An' what in the name of the saints is the mather wid yiz?' says me mother.
"'I've sane the Good People,' says he, 'up on the field beyant,' says he; 'and they've got the goose,' says he, 'but, begorra, I've saved .the bottle,' he says. "Dhraw the cork and give me a taste of it, for me heart's in me throat, and me tongue's like a brick-kil.'
"An' whin we come to prize the cork out of the bottle, there was nothin' in it; an' whin we went next marnin' to look for the goose, it was gone. But there was the stone, sure enough, and the marks on it of the little brogues of the chap that'd played the bagpipes and who'd be doubtin' there were fairies after that?"
The children said nothing for a while, and then Dick said:
"Tell us about Cluricaunes, and how they make the boots."
"Whin I'm tellin' you about Cluricaunes," said Mr. Button, "it's the truth I'm tellin' you, an' out of me own knowlidge, for I've spoke to a man that's held wan in his hand; he was me own mother's brother, Con Cogan--rest his sowl! Con was six fut two, wid a long, white face; he'd had his head bashed in, years before I was barn, in some ruction or other, an' the docthers had japanned him with a five-shillin' piece beat flat."
Dick interposed with a question as to the process, aim, and object of japanning, but Mr. Button passed the question by.
"He'd been bad enough for seein' fairies before they japanned him, but afther it, begorra, he was twiced as bad. I was a slip of a lad at the time, but me hair near turned grey wid the tales he'd tell of the Good People and their doin's. One night they'd turn him into a harse an' ride him half over the county, wan chap on his back an' another runnin' behind, shovin' furze prickles under his tail to make him buck-lep. Another night it's a dunkey he'd be, harnessed to a little cart, an' bein' kicked in the belly and made to draw stones. Thin it's a goose he'd be, runnin' over the common wid his neck stritched out squawkin', an' an old fairy woman afther him wid a knife, till it fair drove him to the dhrink; though, by the same token, he didn't want much dhrivin'.
"And what does he do when his money was gone, but tear the five-shillin' piece they'd japanned him wid aff the top of his hed, and swaps it for a bottle of whisky, and that was the end of him."
Mr. Button paused to relight his pipe, which had gone out, and there was silence for a moment.
The moon had risen, and the song of the surf on the reef filled the whole night with its lullaby. The broad lagoon lay waving and rippling in the moonlight to the incoming tide. Twice as broad it always looked seen by moonlight or starlight than when seen by day. Occasionally the splash of a great fish would cross the silence, and the ripple of it wouId pass a moment later across the placid water.
Big things happened in the lagoon at night, unseen by eyes from the shore. You would have found the wood behind them, had you walked through it, full of light. A tropic forest under a tropic moon is green as a sea cave. You can see the vine tendrils and the flowers, the orchids and tree boles all lit as by the light of an emerald-tinted day.
Mr. Button took a long piece of string from his pocket.
"It's bedtime," said he; "and I 'm going to tether Em'leen, for fear she'd be walkin' in her slape, and wandherin' away an' bein' lost in the woods."
"I don't want to be tethered," said Emmeline.
"It's for your own good I'm doin' it," replied Mr. Button, fixing the string round her waist. "Now come 'long."
He led her like a dog in a leash to the tent, and tied the other end of the string to the scull, which was the tent's main prop and support.
"Now," said he, "if you be gettin' up and walkin' about in the night, it's down the tint will be on top of us all."
And, sure enough, in the small hours of the morning, it was.