I’m a bit late with this one (it’s now after midnight), but it was written on the right day, so that still counts.
This one went off in a completely different direction than I’d expected, but that still counts too.
Did you ever see Tommy Corlett, him they always called “Little”? No? Well he wasn’t one of the lil’ people, for all that he was short of stature. No, Tommy was just a very short man, half the size of his brothers and not even up to the shoulder of his shortest sister. But he was brave as a lion, was Tommy, and nobody ever got the better of him.
Well, maybe the once, aye, that’s true enough. For Tommy was a mighty close man in some ways. He’d give you his own dinner if you let on that you was hungry, but if he thought you were trying to cheat him or take advantage he could be tough as nails. And that made him a hard employer to please.
And so it came about that Tommy was looking for an assistant to help out at the mill he ran down there in Ballahowin, at the foot of the hill they call Stony Mountain. But he couldn’t get anyone he liked the look of, for they was all too skinny or too fat or too handsome or something. And all the fellas who’d been mill hands before had all gone off to Laxey to work in the big new mill there so he couldn’t get anyone with experience and the ones he tried without it was worse than useless.
And Tommy was close to giving up when one day this fella came up to him as he was walking home, and he said, “Tommy Corlett, I’ll be your mill hand and the best one you’ve ever had, and I won’t take any wages for a whole month nor will I”.
“Work for a month with no wages”, says Tommy. “You must be mad. Or a fool.”
“No, I’m not mad and I’m no fool”, says the stranger. “All I’ll take at the end of that month is the flour I can grind for you in an hour.”
At this, Tommy looked hard at the man, suspecting a trick. But the stranger had an honest, open face for all that he was black haired and blue-eyed and a bit too handsome for Tommy’s liking.
“One hour’s worth of flour for a whole month’s worth of work?” he said.
“Aye”, said the other.
Tommy turned the proposition over and over in his mind, but he had little choice for he needed a mill hand something terrible and he’d already tried all the likely candidates nearby – aye, and many of the unlikely ones too. So he agreed and they shook hands on it.
The stranger’s name was Adam, and he certainly was a good worker. No sooner did he set foot in the mill than the sacks of flour were fairly flying out, and finely ground it was, so fine that you could make a loaf of it that would almost float out of the oven it was so light.
Early every morning, Adam arrived at first light and set to work, and every evening as the sun was setting he’d tidy everything away, bid Tommy goodnight and stride off into the darkness.
It got so that Tommy was buying in grain from the north of the island to keep up with Adam’s toiling. But he could sell this fine quality flour for a ha’penny more per pound, so he was well pleased overall.
Soon enough the end of the month came around and Adam came to Tommy and said, “’Tis time for my wages, and then I’ll be on my way for I’m of no mind to stop at one job the rest of my time”.
Tommy was very surprised at this and tried to get Adam to stay by offering him a proper wage, and even to put him up in his own house, but Adam wouldn’t change his mind – and just as well, too.
For when he began to run the mill for his own wages, Tommy realised the stranger had only been working at a fraction of the speed he could. He shovelled the grain and flour like a madman, filling up hoppers and sacks in the blink of an eye. And the mill stream seem to pick up on this urgency, rushing down through its channel at ten times the rate it normally would until Tommy was fearing it’d take the big mill wheel away with it. Aye, and it was a close run thing – and the mill gearing was near enough to setting alight it was spinning around that quickly, and the bitter smell of charring wood came rolling out from the machinery.
Tommy could only wring his cap between his hands and watch the mill heaving and groaning and wheezing like an overworked horse. For it was obvious enough that Adam was no ordinary man, and watching the speed he was working at Tommy began to suspect he might even be dealing with Old Nick himself.
Then suddenly it was all done, the hour was up and the old mill stood there steaming faintly in the sunshine and all creaking and clanking as it slowed down and stopped.
And the one who said his name was Adam winked at Tommy Corlett and picked up all the many many sacks of flour he’d ground, all at once somehow, and tossed them up onto his back and said, “Thanks to ye, Tommy Corlett”, and walked out of the door of the mill. But when Tommy bethought himself to run after him, there was no one there in the mill yard at all but the cat creeping back with his fur and ears all flat.
Well, from that day on Tommy Corlett was a much more suspicious man, but a much fairer employer and he never had any problem getting a mill hand again.
And what would the Devil do with all that fine white flour? Well, nobody knows for certain, but it’s true that the lights were often seen on the fairy mound at the Braaid that year, and always accompanied by a delicious smell of baking bread.