There was once a giant in Ireland, and his name was Mahon McMahon and he lived inside the cliffs that rose up straight from the sea. No one had ever seen door or window in the cliffs, and no one knew how the giant got in or out, but still it was said that he lived there, and there were those who told of how they had heard a strange sound of beating and the ringing of metal sounding from within, and had seen smoke rising up from the crevices.
Back from the sea, but yet not so very far from the cliffs, there was a fine big house, and a man by the name of Thomas Renardy lived in it. He was a married man, and he and his wife had one son, a pretty little boy named Philip, and he was the joy of their life and the light of their eyes.
With every year the boy grew handsomer and finer, till he was the admiration of all who saw him. All day he played about in the sun and the wind, and when his mother called him in to meals he came, and as soon as he had finished he was out again.
So he grew till he was seven years old, and then one day his mother called him, but he did not come. She hunted him high, and she hunted him low, but nowhere could she find him. Then the neighbors joined in the search. They were out hallooing over the hills and through the forest, and over by the cliffs where the sea beats high, but there was no answer to their calling, nor did they see aught of him, and his mother was left sorrowing.
A sad and smileless woman was she after that, and months rolled up into years, until the years were seven; and at the end of that time her grief for him was as green as at the beginning.
Now there was a blacksmith in that country who was a great reader of dreams. People came from far and near to tell him their dreams and to ask the meaning of them.
The name of the blacksmith was Robert Kelly, and he was a great hand at the forge.
One night the blacksmith had a dream of his own, and a curious dream it was.
He dreamed a little lad came riding up on a great white horse. He was a handsome little fellow, with yellow hair and blue eyes, and Robert took him, from his size and looks, to be about seven years old, but at the same time there was something curious about him that made the blacksmith think he might be older.
“Robert Kelly, do you remember me?” asked the lad.
“I can’t say that I do,” answered the blacksmith, “and yet there’s something about you that makes me feel I may have seen you before.”
“Then have you forgotten Phil Renardy that was lost away seven long years ago?”
Now the blacksmith knew of whom the boy had reminded him. It was of that little lost lad of the Renardys.
“But that was seven long years ago, as you said,” replied the blacksmith, “and by this time Phil would be about fourteen years old. You will never be him.”
“Nevertheless I am,” said the boy. “It was the giant Mahon McMahon that stole me away seven years ago when I was playing near the cliffs, and I have been living with him and serving him ever since, and in the halls of the giant we who serve him never grow old, but stay as we were when he first brought us there.”
Now all the while the blacksmith knew he was asleep, and he thought this dream of his was the strangest dream he had ever heard of.
“Now I will tell you why I have come here,” the boy went on; and he told Kelly how the very next night the seven years of his service were up. “Every seven years,” said he, “the giant’s door stands open from the stroke of midnight till cock’s crow the next morning. There is only one way to get to his door, and that is by way of the sea.”
The lad then begged and implored the blacksmith to get a boat and row out to the cliff the next night, and to wait there until midnight, when the house opened. The blacksmith was then to seek through it until he found the lad and then he was to bring him away with him.
“And to-morrow, when my first seven years of service is up, is the only time you can do it,” said he. “If you will not, then I can never escape, but must stay there in service to the giant for always.”
Then Kelly, who still knew he was asleep, said, “But after all, this is all in a dream, and when I waken I’ll think there’s no meaning to it.”
“Then I’ll give you a token to prove to you that this is no common dreaming,” said Philip.
With that he turned his horse about, and the horse lashed out at the blacksmith with his hind leg, and the hoof struck him on the forehead with such force that it seemed as though his head would be crushed in.
The blacksmith cried out with the blow and woke to find the blood streaming down his face, and when he had wiped it away and was able to examine his forehead, there was the mark of a horseshoe on it.
Robert said nothing to any one about his dream, not even when they saw the mark on his forehead and wondered about it, so they thought that in some way when he was shoeing a horse it must have managed to kick him. But that night he went secretly to a friend of his who had a boat and asked him whether he would row him out in front of the cliffs just before midnight.
The friend was loth to do it, for he had small liking for going out at night on the sea and to a place that was but ill thought of; for there were all these tales about sounds that had been heard from inside the cliff and that they might be made by Mahon McMahon.
However, in the end Robert persuaded him, and a little before midnight they set out. There was enough moonlight for them to see the way to go, and as they rowed toward the cliffs, Robert told his friend, for the first time, why he was coming there and what he hoped to do.
“And whether it was a dream or no I can’t tell you,” said he, “for I was sleeping, and yet here, all the same, is the mark of the horse’s hoof on my forehead.”
Well, the friend thought it a strange tale. “And it’s hard to believe there’s any truth in it,” said he; “but here we are in front of the cliffs, and this night will prove the worth of your dreaming.”
He held the boat there in front of the rocks with his oars, and the minutes slipped by, and neither of the men spoke, and everything was silent. Then from far away, and faintly, they heard the village clock strike twelve.
Again they waited, and then suddenly and without a sound the front of the cliff opened, and they saw a portico down almost on a level with the water, and a great door opening out upon it. Inside the door were steps cut in the rock and leading up and out of sight. A light shone out through the door and across the water, but it was not very bright.
“Here is where I chance it,” said the blacksmith. “Row me up close so that I may step out on the portico, for according to my dream, it’s in there I must go if I am to find little Philip Renardy.”
The whole matter was so strange that his friend tried to dissuade him from going, but the blacksmith would not listen to him.
“I’ve a sign from him on my forehead,” he said, “and go I must and will. Do you wait here for me till cock’s crow, and if I haven’t come by then, there’s no use in your waiting longer.”
His friend rowed him up close to the edge of the portico, and the blacksmith climbed out on it, and watchfully he crept over to the door and peered in. Everything was still, and he saw nothing but the steps leading upward, and they were so high, each one of them, that it was as much as he could do to climb them.
He carried a plowshare that he had brought with him from his smithy, for somehow he thought a plowshare might be a good weapon if he needed one. And anyhow, it gave him some sort of a feeling of courage to have hold of it.
He climbed the steps, one after another, and that took him some time, and then he came into a great hall, and in the center of it was a table hewn out of rock.
Around this table sat seven giants. They sat there bending forward as though they were consulting with each other, but none of them moved or spoke, or even so much as winked an eyelid. They might have been carven figures, for all the signs of life they gave.
At the head of the table sat a giant with a long beard, and he had been sitting there so long that his beard had grown into the slab of rock that was the top of the table.
Robert Kelly stood there looking at them for a while, and then, as none of them took any notice of him, he called in a loud voice, “Is any one among you named Mahon McMahon?”
At that the giant at the head of the table started up so suddenly that the pulling out of his beard split the rock of the table into pieces, but none of the others stirred nor looked at him.
“I am Mahon McMahon,” cried the giant. “And what do you come seeking me for?”
“I have come here in search of little Phil Renardy,” cried the blacksmith boldly, “and I have been told that you are the one who can tell me where to find him.”
The giant looked at him in silence for a bit, and then he said, “Yes, I can tell you where to find him, and better than that, I can even show you where he is.”
He then led the way into a great stone chamber on beyond the hall, and it was glowing with fires, and there in it were a great number of young lads. It seemed to the blacksmith that there were hundreds of them, and they were all busy at some kind or other of metal work.
When Mahon McMahon came in, they stopped their work and stood back against the wall, and the blacksmith saw that not one among them looked to be more than seven years old, and they were all so much alike that they might have been brothers.
“If you are a friend of Phil Renardy, no doubt you can choose him from all others,” said the giant. “And now look about you, and if you can tell me at the first telling which is he, then you may take him away with you, and no harm to any one. But if you cannot tell me, then it was an ill hour for you when you entered my house, for you’ll never go out again.”
This frightened the blacksmith, but still he kept his wits about him and looked carefully from one lad to the other, but for the life of him he could not tell of a surety which was Phil Renardy, for he had no clear remembrance of him.
In order to gain time he said to the giant, “And are all these fine lads servants of yours?”
“They are,” replied Mahon McMahon, “and it has taken me a long time to gather them together.”
“You must be a good master,” went on Robert Kelly, “for they all look rosy and in good condition, and I’m sure you treat them well, and they must be fond of you.” He thought by talking in this way he might flatter the giant and put him in a good humor.
“That is a true word you have spoken,” said the giant, “and I’m sure you must be an honest man, so let us shake hands upon it.”
He held out his hand to the blacksmith, but when Bob Kelly looked at it, it was so thick and broad and cruel looking that he was afraid to trust his own hand to it. “For if he were to take the fancy,” thought Bob, “he could crush it as easily as I could crush a rotten potato.” So, instead of putting his hand into the giant’s, he put the plowshare in it, and the giant shut his fingers tight on it, so that it crumpled up as though the iron had no more strength in it than a piece of paper.
“Praises be it was not my hand he was squeezing,” thought Robert Kelly.
“You have a strong hand,” said the giant, “but you need a stronger than that if you’re to shake hands with Mahon McMahon.”
Then all the little lads burst into laughter, but through their laughter he thought he heard some one sighing, “Robert Kelly! Robert Kelly! I am here behind you.”