Mary McPhee lived in a tiny stone house in a remote part of the country with nothing but her cat and her memories to keep her company. Her parents had died many years before, and she remained in that little cabin, following a routine that had not changed since she was a girl. Lonesomeness was a familiar part of her life, and she put it in its proper place with the thought, “There’s plenty who are worse off than the likes of me.” She blessed the sun when it shone and praised the rain for making the grass grow. In her heart, Mary kept alive a flicker of hope that something wonderful was waiting for her just around the corner. It might take awhile to find, but she was convinced that it was there; it was just a matter of looking in the right place.
Mary seldom had two coins to rub together. She ran errands and did extra chores for nearby farmwives, occasionally receiving a penny or two for her labors. More often than not, she simply earned a plate of cabbage and boiled potatoes or a slice of buttered bread and a cup of tea. She made do and was grateful for the food and whatever else might come her way.
One day, a young boy appeared at Mary’s door with a plea for help. His youngest brother and sister were sick with the croup and his mother needed help with the washing and cooking of the meals. “Will you come, Mary McPhee?” he asked in a solemn voice.
“Of course I will,” she answered, reaching up to grab her shawl from the peg by the door.
It had been a long, troubled walk for the child and as they returned to his home, he revealed his worries to Mary. “Mary, are you not afraid walking this lonely stretch of road at night by yourself?”
“Afraid? No, I’ve walked this road all my life. What is there to be frightened of?” Mary replied.
“Why, Mary McPhee, surely you’ve heard of the pooka. He travels these roads at night, playing tricks on folks and causing all sorts of devilment.”
“Oh, that old black horse—he’s nothing to be afraid of. His tricks are harmless. All he does is turn himself into a pile of straw that can’t be lifted or spoil the berries or bewitch a cow and get it to kick over a milk pail. Why would I be afraid of nonsense like that?”
“Mary McPhee, have you not heard the other stories? How he knocks people into ditches, scares them with his fiery blue eyes, bruises them with his great big hooves, and takes them away on wild night rides!”
“Ah, he only abuses them that’s afraid of him. I’m not a bit afraid. In fact, I’d welcome a ride through the countryside. It would be a grand adventure the likes of which I’ve never had!”