National Storytellers League

Below are two stories written by Adlyn M. Keffer.

They are exemplars, not for length but for quality.

Stories submitted for the Adlyn M. Keffer Short Story Contest should not exceed 2000 words.

­­ THE SCHANACHE’S GIFT
by Adlyn M. Keffer
Reprinted from 50 Tellable Tales from Story Art Magazine

(Words 3012)


THE SCHANACHE’S GIFT
by Adlyn M. Keffer
 

On the steps of a small cabin in a village near the city of Cork in Southern Ireland, sat four children, a girl and three boys.  The mild December sunshine threw its golden rays on the red head of Cassie who was telling her three neighbors about Christmas and the Feast of St. Stephen that were only a day or two away.

“Twas little they thought of getting of presents; ‘twas the giving that bothered them most, and wee Cassie was the hardest hit for she had nothing at all to give to the Church and the Holy Child on Christmas Eve.  Her mother was sick and her father was gone these many months to the wars, but the sweet smile of her won her many friends and many a cup of hot broth or a stir-about for her mother.

The three boys were Terry and Seumas and Taddy Malone, and as they swung their bare legs over the side of the step, Taddy began to whistle a bit of a song.  Then Cassie’s mother called for a drink of water and the child ran to get it for her.

“’Tis a fine girl ye are, Cassie,” said the sick woman from her bed in the corner. “Is there aught in the cupboard for your supper?”

“Enough for a feast,” replied Cassie, not want to worry her mother about how little she knew was there. 

Then she turned quickly to the window for she heard the sound of a pipe.  The three boys heard it, too, and jumping from the step, they craned their necks to see where the sound came from.  Cassie was at their side in a wink and then she shouted at the top of her voice, “It’s the Schanache, the Story Teller, it’s Conel of Darah, the Schanache!” And they stopped only long enough to see the head of the traveler rise over the hump in the road, for by the gay, red feather in his hat, they knew him to be the Schanache.

Off they ran to meet him, racing to see who would reach him first.  It was Taddy who threw all of his seventy pounds of welcome at the smilin’ man with his pack over his shoulder.  The others were on him in a few seconds, begging for a story, begging him to stay with them for Christmas.  They clung to his hands, to his coattails, until they reached the cabin where Cassie lived.  Then, she put her finger to her lips and said, “Me poor mother is sick and can’t stand much noise at all, but please stay close by and be giving her your blessin’.”

 
“Maybe a pigin of milk would do her more good than me blessin’,” returned Conel, “Stay here, the four of ye while I see for meself.”

It did not take him long to discover that Cassie’s mother was sick for want of food and took from the pocket of his coat a half loaf of bread and a sip of brandy.  This he gave her and sent Taddy to the store for milk and bacon.  In no time at all, the poor woman was better and joined the children in their excitement over the arrival of the Schanache.

“I’d best be getting along,” says Conel, “I have work to do this night if I am to finish me gift for the Church.”

“Oh, Conel, please stay with us,” cried all the children.  “Ye never stayed with us, Conel. Please. Please.”  With that, Seumas was off to ask his father to bid Conel stay, and – in less time than it take to tell ye – Mr. Malone was adding his welcome to that of his sons.

“’Tis not much we have, me lad, but a share of that ye may have and a welcome, and honored we’ll feel to have ye a guest in our poor cabin.”  And so it was all arranged in the wink of an eye and less.

Word traveled fast that Conel of Darah, the Schanache, was spending Christmas at the cabin of Patrick Malone, and the neighbors began their preparations for a Christmas such as they had not known for years.  The fire in the village oven was started and made ready for the baking of bread and rolls on the morrow.  Kettles of soup were prepared and bowls of apples were polished until you could see your face in them.

Cassie’s mother was called to help at the church, in return for which she was given enough food for her and Cassie that would last them for days.  And the Schanache?  He was surrounded by boys and girls all begging for a story and to see what he had in his pack.

“Easy now,” laughed Conel, “’Tis me total wealth and me wardrobe and me gift for the Holy Churchl”

“What is it, Conel, what is it?” they all cried.  “Show us, Conel. We’ll tell you what we have to give, Conel.”  So laughing, he undid his pack and carefully unwrapped from bundles of paper and clean rags the figures of the Holy Family, Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus, also an angel and the shepherds, the kings from the east, and the donkey that carried Mary to Bethlehem.  As each figure came to light, the wonder was more breathtaking. The carving from the finest wood was exquisite, and the colors he had used to stain the figures were as perfect as those used by the old masters in their masterpieces.

The children were permitted to examine them one by one, each holding them with loving care and admiration.

“Oh, Conel,” cried Taddy, “Where did you find the wood for the Holy Child?  It is softer than all the rest and the most beautiful of all.”

“Sure, I had to find the finest for the Holy Child, and I searched from the Giants Causeway to the Killarney Lakes, and one day as I was sitting, dreaming by a small stream, what should I see but a small boat sailin’ towards me.  It looked like a boat, it did, as it nosed its way toward the shore and stopped right there in front of me.  It seemed that it was manned with fairy folk, gauzy wings flying and wee hands beckoning me, so I reached out and found myself holding as fine a piece of wood as ever I saw.  ‘Just what I want for the Babe,’ I cried. Just right then and there I took out me knife and went to work.  I’m glad, I am, that ye like it.”

“Oh, Conel, it’s beautiful,” cried Terry, “and where did ye get the gold for the King’s crown and the caskets?  They shine like the gold in the Bishop’s ring.”

“Now that was a queer happening,” said Conel. “Another day I was napping when I heard a faint tapping-tap-tap-tapping.  I lay as quiet as a mouse but with me eyes I took in the whole of the scenery.  And lo and behold ye!  I saw a leprechaun no higher than your knee and not an arm’s length away.  His back was to me so I just reached out me hand and had him by the collar of his little green coat in no time at all.”

The children were wide-eyed with the wonder of it.  “And then what did ye do, Conel?” cried Cassie.

“I turned him around and fixed him with me eye and told him it was gold I wanted.”

“’And sure it’s Conel of Darah, the Schanache, and no other,’ said the little man. ‘Come right this way.’  I was so surprised.  I held on and he pointed to a small fusia bush about ten paces away.  I set him on his feet, holding tight to the coat of him, and he dug with his two hands in the loose earth about the bush and, to me amazement, he pulls up a wee crock of gold. ‘Help yerself,’ sez he, looking at me with a merry twinkle in his eye.  Now, I hadn’t the heart to take all his gold, so I reached in and took out as much as I could put on a ha’penny.”

“Oh, Conel, did you keep the gold?” cried Cassie, “And ye aholdin’ it with yer own hands.”

“Sure, lassie,” laughed Conel, “the leprechaun’s gold is fairy gold and no good for mortals at all at all, except to bring more evil than good.  And how could I rob such a decent, little fellow, anyhow?”

The children agreed that he couldn’t and went on with their questions.

“And where,” asked Cassie, “did ye find the lovely blue color for the Virgin’s cloak? Oh, Conel, it’s so beautiful.”

“Well,” said Conel, “I had been studying about that for some time, so as I was settin’ the leprechaun free, I said to him, I said, ‘Would ye be knowin’ where I could get some ripe berries to use as a stain?’

“’A stain,’ says he, ‘and what would ye be after staining?’

“Then, I told him about the gift I was makin’ and nothing would do him but I must show it to him.  He made a grand audience and after sayin’ it was a nice job, he made a few suggestions here and there and says, ‘Follow me.’  He led the way to a small clump of bushes, that I’m sure was not there a minute before, and with his wee hand, he plucked a bunch of berries and showed me the juice running blue as a kingfisher’s wing. ‘It’s just right,’ says I, ‘and thank ye for your trouble.’

“‘No trouble at all,’ says the little man. ‘Just give me regards to the Bishop when ye see him.’

“’I will that,’ says I and waved him a farewell as I took up me pack and started for the next village.

“’Tis a grand story,” says Seumas.  “Now tell us where did ye get the hair for the donkey’s tail?”

The Schanache laughed long and loud. “That was a grand fight while it lasted,” he said at last while the children waited breathlessly.

“One night,” he went on, “I was sleeping outside the cabin of Michael O’Sullivan.  There bein’ but one room in the house, it was filled with the family and two dogs and a goat.  Old Michael was on his deathbed, and I tarried to see if I could do aught for the wife when he passed away.  It was a warm summer night and the sky was filled with stars.  I had no trouble falling to sleep, but no sooner had I begun a beautiful dream then I was roused by a horrible scream over me head.  At the same time, all the little O’Sullivan’s ran out of the house cryin’, ‘It is the banshee, the banshee, now our father will die.’  Never have I heard such a sound.  I sat up and shouted, ‘Come down out of that tree or I’ll come up and get ye,’ and I raised meself up to me two feet and started for the tree.  With that, the evil creature flew at me with a shout and a scream.  To ward off the blow she meant to give me, I caught her by the hair of the head and I says, says I, ‘Now get ye out of here or I’ll forget yer a lady,’ and I shook her until her long teeth chattered.  She shook her ugly head and begged for mercy so I let her go, and before I could wink me eye, she was nowhere to be seen.

“I turned to reassure the little O’Sullivans and there stood Michael in the way as hail and hearty as ever I’d seen him.  And as I gaped at him with me mouth wide open and me hair risin’ on me head, he clapped his hand to his thigh and laughed a hearty laugh.

“’Sure, I’m no ghost,’ says he, ‘but meself entirely, thanks to ye.  Ye chased the banshee away and she’s been waiting outside me door this past week.  But what is that yer holdin’ in yer hand?’ says he.  I looked and found I was holdin’ a handful of the banshee’s hair. 

“‘It’s the very thing I need,’ says I, and I told Michael the use I’d make of it.

“’An evil thing it is ye hold,’ says Michael. ‘Put it in the fire here and go take as much hair as ye need from the donkey’s tail yonder.’”

The children laughed gaily as Conel told them tale after tale of the making of the gift.

By the twinkle in his eye they knew it was the way of the Schanache to tell them tales to bring them happiness, but they knew it was the truth he was telling them now.

“It had been a labor of love and merry adventure, too,” he told them.  “Many a prayer has gone into the making.  I have whittled by the hearthstone of a lonely cabin; by the brook’s cool waters and by the jagged rocks of the Giants Causeway; by the great log fire as I listened to the monks in the abbies tell the wonder tales from the Bible; and by the Lakes of Killarney on a summer’s afternoon and as I sat on the wall above the city of Cork listening to the Bells of Shandon; aye and in the great cities of Dublin and Belfast I whittled and searched for the right bit of wood to carve the precious gift, and now I am nearly ready to give it as my gift to the Church and the Holy Child.”

“Nearly ready?” the children asked.

“Aye,” said Conel. “I have yet to carve the crib for the Babe. It must be of wood as fine in texture as the child himself.  I have searched everywhere and have found nothing that will do.  That is why I came to this section; your forests are full of precious woods.  It is disappointed I’d be if I had to wait another year to give me gift.”

The little troupe fell silent.  Then they began to talk of the coming of Christmas, and the visit of the Bishop, and their gifts for the Baby Jesus.

“I have a bright new penny,” said Tess, who had joined the group. 

“And I have a great sack of potatoes from the three of us,” said Taddy proudly.

Wee Cassie looked up with a tear in her eye. “’Tis nothing at all I have, Conel. Think ye the Babe will frown upon me?”

“And indeed he will not,” says Conel.  “He frowns only on those who have and will not give.  Come now, dry your tears and help me find wood to make the crib.” And followed by the children, all except Cassie, he started down the road.

Cassie tried to dry her tears but the more she wiped with the back of her little hand, the faster they came.  She entered her cabin and climbed onto her mother’s bed for comfort.  Suddenly she sat up straight, a smile lighting her tear-stained face.  Without a word, she slid down and went to the corner where she kept her treasures and drew out a little wooden doll.  For a moment, she held her close and kissed her again and again. Then she talked to her, as a mother talks to her child.

“I love you next to mother and father, and now you and I are going to make a gift together.  You are smooth and beautiful and the Holy Child will lie close to your soft body.”

So saying, she laid the doll gently down and ran out of the house and down the road calling, “Conel, Conel, I have me a gift.”  At last she caught with him and taking his hand, she begged him to go back with her.

Although knowing the time was short and that, even if he found the wood he sought, he would have to work all night to have ready his gift, he followed Cassie and the other children back to her cabin.

“Wait here,” she said as she reached the door.  In a minute she returned, her eyes big with love and stardust.  “Please take her, Conel, and make the crib.” And as she saw Conel draw back his hand, she said quickly, “It’s all right.  She and I talked it over and she wants to be a crib more than she wants to be doll.”

So, without further words, Conel took the precious gift and stowed it gently in his pack.  “God bless ye, Little One,” says he, “When I come next time, I’ll bring ye the finest doll in all Dublin.”

“Will ye, Conel?  Will ye?” cried Cassie, her arms about his neck and the last of the tears winked away.

On Christmas Eve, Conel and Cassie led the villagers to the midnight service.  The Bishop was there to bless the gifts.  The last to reach the altar was Conel with his gift that had taken years in the making, and as he stood waiting his turn to present his gift, he thought of all tears, the joy, the sleepless nights and the hungry days that had gone into the making, and at the last the love of a little child mingled with his own.  Three gifts he had brought the Christ Child: the exquisite workmanship of his hands; the hours and days he had spent carving with quiet mind, and from his heart the sparkling jewels of his tales shared with the children, making shining hours for the little lonely ones of earth.  Who shall say which gift was closest to the heart of Him who loves little children.  And as he fell upon his knees, holding tight to Cassie’s hand, Conel felt the blessing from High and “the peace that passeth all understanding” descend upon him.  As he rose with Cassie and held high their gift, the Bells of Shandon rang out joyously for “peace on earth, good will to men.”

 
 

LITTLE BROWN TEDDY BEAR
by Adlyn M. Keffer
Reprinted from Story Art Magazine, July and August 1937

(Words 430)

 
LITTLE BROWN TEDDY BEAR
by Adlyn M. Keffer
 

Little Brown Teddy Bear sat in the corner all by himself.  He didn’t like to sit all by himself and he tried to tell Little Boy John all about it; but Little Boy John didn’t even look at him for Big Daddy John had just come home with the most beautiful White Wooly Bunny Rabbit, all tied up in crackly paper that Little Boy John could see through.

It took a long time to get the White Wooly Bunny Rabbit unwrapped, but Big Daddy John knew how to do everything, so by and by Little Boy John had the lovely soft White Wooly Bunny Rabbit in his arms.

He loved it and loved it, and when he squeezed it hard, White Wooly Bunny Rabbit said, “Sque-sque-squeak.”

All this time, Little Brown Teddy Bear sat over in the corner, sad and lonely and forgotten.

By and by, Mummy came in to give Little Boy John his supper and put him to bed.  When she had tucked him in and she and Daddy John kissed him on the very top of his head, she put the White Wooly Bunny Rabbit in his arms and told him, “Happy dreams and good night.”  Then she went out and closed the door ever so softly – Mummy always did things that way, softly and oh, so sweet and cuddly.

Little Boy John hugged White Wooly Bunny Rabbit tight in his arms and White Wooly Bunny Rabbit said, “Sque-sque-squeak.”  Little Boy John opened his eyes wide and looked all around.  Then he closed his eyes again and held White Wooly Bunny Rabbit tighter in his arms.

“Sque-sque-squeak,” said White Wooly Bunny Rabbit, and Little Boy John sat straight up in bed with his eyes wide open.  It was still daylight in the nursery and as Little Boy John sat blinking, he again squeezed White Wooly Bunny Rabbit and again White Wooly Bunny Rabbit said, “Sque-sque-squeak.”Little Boy John was tired of this cry-baby White Wooly Bunny Rabbit, so what do you think he did?  He tumbled him right out on the floor and then very quietly, so he would not disturb Mummy and Big Daddy John, he crept out of bed and over to the corner where Little Brown Teddy Bear sat all by himself.  He took him by the hand and pulled him across the floor and climbed into bed with him, then he pulled up the covers and without a squeak, or the tiniest bit of a cry, Little Brown Teddy Bear snuggled down beside Little Boy John and soon they were both fast asleep. .