The Luck of Mary McPhee

Contributed by Marilyn McPhie
Mary McPhee was content with her life. She lived in a small cottage on the west of Scotland, and she lived alone –
except for her orange cat, Clementine – for her husband John had died a decade before, and they had no children. But
Mary McPhee was well-regarded and well-loved in the village – not only for her cheerful manner, but also for her skills.
She was often called upon to help a child into the world, and she cared for anyone who was very young, very old, or very
sick, and all seemed to benefit from her care.
Some people might say that Mary was poor, but Mary herself always maintained that she was lucky. Not that she ever
had much money. For her work, she was occasionally paid with a few coins, but more often the payment was with some
potatoes or a cabbage or some eggs.
One morning, a girl appeared at Mary’s door. It was Kate, who lived in a cottage across the meadow. “Can you help me,
Mary McPhee?” she said. “My father is out to sea with the fishing. My baby brother is sick, and so is Mother.”
“Of course, I’ll come, child. You are brave and strong, but still, you are only eight. I’ll be glad to help.”
And Mary took her gray shawl from the peg by the door and followed Kate back to her home. There she found that her
help was surely needed. The baby was wailing. The mother, sick herself, was weeping, too. Laundry was piled up.
Dishes needed washing. Mary set herself to the tasks.
She tucked the mother into bed. Then she changed the baby, fed him, and rocked him to sleep. With Kate’s help, she
washed the dishes and did the laundry and hung it out to dry. Then Mary made a big pot of stew and some bread, and
when it was ready, she and Kate and the mother – now refreshed after a nap – sat down to a warm meal.
“I can’t thank you enough for your help, Mary,” said the mother, “But I’m afraid I can’t pay you.”
“No payment necessary, my dear. The smiles of your baby and the companionship of your daughter are payment
enough.”
“It’s getting dark. Will you stay the night?”
“No. Clementine would miss me, and besides there’s a full moon to light my way home. I’ll come by to check on you
tomorrow.”
And with that, Mary McPhee wrapped her gray shawl about her shoulders and set off down the path.
She looked up at the moon, glad for the light, and perhaps because she was looking up, she wasn’t watching the path.
She stumbled and almost fell over something. Looking down, she saw that it was a large iron pot.
“Well, now. What luck! I can’t imagine what a pot is doing in the middle of the path, but an iron pot is a useful thing.
I’ll take it home.”
When Mary went to pick up the pot, it was very heavy, and looking inside, she saw the reason. It was filled with gold
coins.
“Oh, my,” said Mary, “What luck! Why, I could do much with a pot of gold. I could trade my cottage for a fine, grand
mansion – with a maid! Fancy that.”
The pot was heavy, so she tied her shawl around it and began to drag it behind her.

Mary was weary after a long day of work, so after a while she stopped to take a breath. And looking back at the pot, she
saw to her surprise that what she was pulling behind her was not a pot of gold, but instead a large lump of silver.
“What luck!” she said. “Why, with this silver, I could buy a horse so I could ride everywhere, and a cow and chickens to
give me milk and eggs.”
And she resumed walking, stopping again for a break. Looking back, now she saw to her surprise that her shawl was tied
around a large lump of iron.
“What luck!” she exclaimed. “I have my feet to take me everywhere I need to go, and don’t my neighbors give me
plenty of milk and eggs, but Iron is very useful. I could take this to the smith and have him make me a new cooking pot.”
And so saying, she resumed her journey. When she was finally standing in front of her own door and went to untie the
shawl, she discovered not a pot of gold or a lump of silver or a lump of iron, but only a large stone.
“What luck!” exclaimed Mary McPhee. “I didn’t need a new cooking pot. The old one is still good, but wasn’t I just
thinking that I could use a large stone to prop open my door now that the weather is warmer? This will be perfect.”
However, as she bent down to pick up the stone, it began to shake – and then to Mary’s astonishment, it sprouted four
legs, a tail, and a head. It looked like a horse – but clearly, it was no ordinary horse. Mary had heard of kelpies —
creatures who would take you to the bottom of a loch and drown you – but this creature did not seem malevolent, but
only mischievous.
The creature looked at Mary McPhee and spoke. “Would you like a ride, Mary?”
And after only a moment’s pause, she answered, “I would, indeed.” She grasped the creature’s mane and swung herself
onto its back, and soon they were sweeping across the ground so fast that Mary’s long gray hair, usually in a neat bun,
came loose and streamed out behind her, making her look for all the world like she was actually flying.
Finally, the creature stopped at a crossroads. There was nothing in sight in any direction, but it spoke. “Get down, Mary
McPhee. They are waiting for you.” Suddenly a thick mist arose, and when it cleared, she saw a large grand house with
light and music streaming from its windows. Hesitantly, Mary approached the door and peered inside. The room was lit
– not with candles or lanterns – but with silver-blueflames that seemed to float in the air. She saw many beautiful
people, skin like white marble and hair like spun silver, singing and dancing.
A man approached Mary, extending a hand. “Will you dance, Mary McPhee?”
“Alas, no. My dancing days are long gone,” she replied, but she felt herself drawn into the middle of the room, and she
was surprised that her feet seemed to know the dance. She danced with more skill and liveliness that she had ever felt,
even at twenty. Then someone requested a song, and although Mary declared that she had never had much of a singing
voice, she found herself delivering a tune that brought both smiles and tears to the listeners.
Finally, Mary could see that the sun was rising outside. As the sky brightened, the silver-blue flames disappeared, along
with the beautiful people – and even the house itself. Mary found herself standing at the crossroads with the horse
creature waiting for her.
“Tis time we went home, Mary McPhee,” it said, and once again Mary was astride and flying over the land. Back at her
cottage, Mary thanked the creature for a glorious night, and it disappeared, leaving behind only a large stone. Mary

opened her door and propped it open with the stone. Then she hung her gray shawl on the peg by the door, brewed a
pot of tea, picked up Clementine, and sat down in her rocking chair.
“Ah, Clementine,” she said. “I have a story for you. And I can tell you this. I am surely the luckiest woman in the world.”