about them, being come there to beg from any traveller
or pilgrim who might have spent the night in the guest-house.
The abbot and the friars led the gleeman to a place
in the woods at some distance, where many straight
young trees were growing, and they made him cut one
down and fashion it to the right length, while the
beggars stood round them in a ring, talking and gesticulating.
The abbot then bade him cut off another and shorter
piece of wood, and nail it upon the first. So
there was his cross for him; and they put it upon his
shoulder, for his crucifixion was to be on the top
of the hill where the others were. A half-mile
on the way he asked them to stop and see him juggle
for them; for he knew, he said, all the tricks of Aengus
the Subtle-hearted. The old friars were for
pressing on, but the young friars would see him:
so he did many wonders for them, even to the drawing
of live frogs out of his ears. But after a while
they turned on him, and said his tricks were dull
and a shade unholy, and set the cross on his shoulders
again. Another half-mile on the way, and he asked
them to stop and hear him jest for them, for he knew,
he said, all the jests of Conan the Bald, upon whose
back a sheep’s wool grew. And the young
friars, when they had heard his merry tales, again
bade him take up his cross, for it ill became them
to listen to such follies. Another half-mile
on the way, he asked them to stop and hear him sing
the story of White-breasted Deirdre, and how she endured
many sorrows, and how the sons of Usna died to serve
her. And the young friars were mad to hear him,
but when he had ended they grew angry, and beat him
for waking forgotten longings in their hearts.
So they set the cross upon his back and hurried him
to the hill.
When he was come to the top, they took the cross from
him, and began to dig a hole to stand it in, while
the beggars gathered round, and talked among themselves.
‘I ask a favour before I die,’ says Cumhal.
‘We will grant you no more delays,’ says
’I ask no more delays, for I have drawn the
sword, and told the truth, and lived my vision, and
‘Would you, then, confess?’
’ By sun and moon, not I; I ask but to be let
eat the food I carry in my wallet. I carry food
in my wallet whenever I go upon a journey, but I do
not taste of it unless I am well-nigh starved.
I have not eaten now these two days.’
‘You may eat, then,’ says the abbot, and
he turned to help the friars dig the hole.
The gleeman took a loaf and some strips of cold fried
bacon out of his wallet and laid them upon the ground.
’I will give a tithe to the poor,’ says
he, and he cut a tenth part from the loaf and the bacon.
‘Who among you is the poorest?’ And thereupon
was a great clamour, for the beggars began the history
of their sorrows and their poverty, and their yellow
faces swayed like Gara Lough when the floods have
filled it with water from the bogs.