A Bit Of Land
A story with an Irish flavor
Once there was a peddler, and his name was Kevin Conroy, and he traveled about the countryside in his peddler's wagon, buying, selling, but mostly trading this, that, and the other thing. A silk scarf, a fiddle, a pair of gloves, a woolen skirt, a set of pots and pans, a doll, a book, a tin whistle....well, I couldn't begin to tell you what Kevin might have in his wagon from one time to the next.
If he had something that you wanted, he would let you have it for whatever it was that you were willing to trade, and never mind which one of you got the better part of the bargain.
"I have something you want," he would say, "and you have something I want, so let us trade, and we'll both be happy."
And it was not only goods that Kevin traded. He often traded work for a meal, for he was skilled at many tasks. And Kevin had no need to trade, or to work, for lodgings. He slept under the stars when the weather was fine, and in his wagon when it wasn't.
But more than anything else, Kevin loved to trade a story for a story. He would say, "I'll tell you a story, and then you'll tell me a story, and afterwards each of us will be the richer by a story, and neither of us will be any the poorer."
Now one Sunday, Kevin was in a village where he'd never been before, and he went to Mass at the local church. And for the first time, he laid his eyes on her, the loveliest girl he had ever seen. "Ah," thought Kevin to himself, "If I could trade everything I have for her heart and her hand, it would be the best trade of my life."
Yet on that day, Kevin Conroy spoke not one word to the beautiful girl, for he reasoned, "If I were to speak to her, the first thing out of my mouth would most likely be, "Will you marry me?" And what a bold, forward fool I'd seem, proposing to a girl whose name I don't even know. And like as not, she is already engaged to another."
The next day, while peddling his wares, Kevin stopped at a cottage belonging to an old woman. He traded a tablecloth to her for a pair of bookends, and a story about a knight for a story about a leprechaun. And then Kevin made bold to ask about the lovely girl he had seen at Mass.
"That would be Bridget O'Hara," said the old woman. "She came to our village a little more than a year ago. Many a young man has tried for her hand, but nobody has won it." "Then perhaps there's a chance for me, after all," thought Kevin to himself, and he gave the old woman a music box, and took nothing in exchange for it.
And as he went his way, Kevin said to himself, "Yes, there is a chance for me, if I but dared to speak to her. But how do I dare, when I have nothing worthy of such a beautiful girl? She has turned down many a suitor. What chance do I, a common peddler, have of winning her heart, when all I possess is this wagon? And how can I ask her to spend the rest of her life wandering about in a peddler's wagon? Ah, if I but had a bit of land...."
And at that moment, a thought came to Kevin. "And what is land, after all, but earth? And what is soil, but dirt? All I need do is gather enough of it, and then I'll be a landowner, and then I may seek Bridget O'Hara's hand."
And so Kevin Conroy began to trade his wares for common garden dirt. He traded a pair of candlesticks for one sack of dirt, a pair of silver bracelets for two sacks, a silk gown for five sacks, and nobody could understand why Kevin was trading such valuable goods for common garden dirt. In six weeks time, Kevin's wagon was filled with sacks of dirt.
"Now," said Kevin to himself, "I can go back to that village and seek out Bridget O'Hara, for I now have a wagon filled with all these sacks of garden dirt. Yes, I now have a whole wagonful of dirt." And then it struck him like a thunderbolt. "I have a wagonful of dirt. Nothing to show for six weeks of traveling and trading but a wagonful of dirt. Ah, Kevin Conroy, it's a fool you've been entirely, and no mistake. Well, there's nothing for you to do now but to trade your sacks of dirt for decent wares."
But Kevin soon found that while everyone had been more than willing to trade their garden soil for his wares, not one person would accept a sackful of dirt in exchange for goods.
And weeks went by, and Kevin had no wares to trade, and not a cent to spend on food, and had he not been skilled at many tasks, Kevin Conroy would have been hungry indeed.
And in all that time, Kevin did not return to the village where Bridget O'Hara lived. For he said to himself, "What is the use in tormenting myself by looking upon her who can never be mine?"
And one day, feeling especially downhearted, Kevin went into a church to seek comfort in prayer. And as he knelt there, a soft hand was laid upon his shoulder, and a soft voice asked "What's the matter? Can I help you?"
And he looked up, and there she was, Bridget O'Hara, and her voice was as sweet as you might have expected it to be.
"Bridget O'Hara!" Kevin exclaimed, forgetting entirely that they had never been properly introduced.
"Yes," whispered Bridget, "but how is it that you know my name?"
"Let us go outside," said Kevin, "and I will tell you everything."
And they went outside, and Kevin told Bridget the whole story, concluding, "So I wanted to get a bit of land, because I couldn't ask anyone as lovely as yourself to travel about in a peddler's wagon."
"And why not?" asked Bridget. "Wasn't my own father a peddler, and didn't I spend my happiest days traveling in his wagon? And what a good thing it is that I'm visiting my aunt, or our paths may have never crossed again."
"But I have nothing but these sacks of dirt, and nobody has any use for common garden dirt," said Kevin.
"I have," said Bridget. "Just you give that dirt to me, and you'll see what I can do with it. Only, you must stay in this village for awhile."
"That I will, and gladly," said Kevin, "if only for the sake of getting to know you better."
And what do you think Bridget O'Hara did with all that dirt? Well, she put it into pots, and in some of the pots she planted seeds, and in some of the pots she planted bulbs, and in some of the pots she planted cuttings. And by and by the seeds, the bulbs, and the cuttings grew into beautiful plants.
And when the time came for Bridget to return to her own village, she rode there in Kevin's wagon. On the way, Kevin traded every one of the plants, except for a pot of shamrock, which he kept.
Among the things he got in exchange for the plants were a set of willow-ware china, a book of poetry, a quilt, a paint-box, a necktie, a spinning-top, and more things than I can remember at the moment.
And a year afterwards, there was an exchange of rings in the church where Kevin Conroy had first laid his eyes on Bridget O'Hara.
Kevin and Bridget had five children, two boys and three girls. They traveled about in their wagon, buying, selling, but mostly
trading this, that, and the other thing. And every now and then, someone would ask, "Don't you ever wish that you had a bit of land?"
And one or another of them would answer, "What do we want with a bit of land, when we have all the countryside?