It was a cold, wet evening as Dinny Sweeney returned home, a silent, plodding, and sorrowful young man who looked older than his twenty-five years. He had watched as his old, decrepit father became ill, faded physically, and was laid to rest in his grave. The sun was setting now, warmer than it had previously been and its glorious rays broke through the gaps that were now appearing among the scarlet and grey clouds that were dispersing. From the bough of a tree a thrush sang its song, and was a sound that would often gladden the hearts of those returning from their work in the fields. But, even this joyful tune could do little to lighten Dinny’s mood.
As he looked at the fields that he passed by, noticed just how fruitful they were and the half-matured crops promised the prospect of a good harvest, as well as a prosperous future to come. But, at that moment Dinny’s heart was heavy because it was filled with a deep, dark sorrow, and there was no room for the light of joy to enter. The usual good mood that filled his life had gone from him, and no cheerful birdsong would encourage it to return. The promises being made by the softly undulating fields of light-green wheat, or the silken-surfaced patches of barley, were ignored. Dinny was simply a poor, penniless, friendless, young man, who was groaning under the responsibilities that were now left to him. He was totally worn out by the grief he had born, and was continuing to suffer. At that moment it appeared that there was no light at the end of the tunnel.
Sadly, and much to his embarrassment, the body of Dinny’s father had only received a proper burial due to the charity that had been shown by their neighbours. The country people of Ireland are known for coming together when a neighbour is in trouble, and ensure they overcome the problem. Among themselves the neighbours had collected money and made all the necessary arrangements for the burial of Dinny’s father. Such was the degree of respect that Dinny and his father were held within the local community that all their neighbours were saddened by the very low standard of living this hardworking father and son had been reduced.
They lived in an old, almost derelict building, which they called “home.” Dinny was a married man and he had left his young wife lying on an old iron-framed bed, listening to the hungry cries of two small children. As she lay there she awaited the time when she would become the weary, weeping mother of a third child. All the while, as he walked home, Dinny’s mind was filled with a deep bitterness for the family treachery, which left both him and his father to financial destitution. All these years, he and his father, both respectable and hard working men, could have been living a comfortable life in this world only for that despicable act of treachery. Not surprisingly, therefore, Dinny held a deep bitterness and anger at what had happened, and these feelings festered within him the more he contemplated those far off events.
After all these years, Dinny could now only faintly call to mind those days of his early childhood, when he lived in a large house with his parents, and was surrounded by servants and workers of all types. He could remember eating only the best of foods, dressing in the best of clothes, and sleeping on the most comfortable of beds. But, Dinny could also faintly remember that terrible day when their lives changed for the worse. His mind went back to the very strange and very rude people who had forced their way into the house, so many years ago. For some reason, unknown and unclear to him as a boy, his father, servants, and workers were all turned out of the house, and left without anything. It was something of a blessing that Dinny’s mother had died just prior to this event and she had not been forced, as they had been, to seek warmth and shelter in a place almost unfit for human habitation. It was only when Dinny had reached the age of eighteen years, that his father had given him a full explanation of what had happened all those years before.
Dinny’s father was the youngest son of a large, wealthy farmer, who divided his lands between his two eldest children. In those far off days it was tradition among Catholic families that the youngest son joined the priesthood. It was this that was to be the fate of Dinny’s father and the family sent him abroad for his education, providing him with a liberal allowance while he studied. But, a few days before he was due to be ordained he returned home to visit his family and friends, joining with them to celebrate the beginning of his priestly ministry.
Being the first person from the district to reach the stage of ordination, Dinny’s father soon became something of a minor celebrity and was invited into the homes of many of the local dignitaries from all faiths. It was while he was a guest in the home of one wealthy local Protestant family, that he met the owner’s sister. She was a very beautiful young lady, who was quite wealthy in her own right. When this young woman talked and smiled sweetly at Dinny’s father any idea of him being a candidate for priesthood began to disappear, and he fell totally in love with her. By the end of the evening he had abandoned the entire idea of dedicating his life to the service of others. But, such a relationship between Catholic and Protestant had its opponents, and the couple were forced to run away together and get married in private. By doing this, however, they brought upon themselves the deep hostility of both families, particularly his own. It took them a considerable period of time until they were eventually accepted by her kindly and generous brother. With the help and guidance of this man the young couple regained much of their reputation among their neighbours, and they settled into the house which filled much of Dinny’s childhood memory. It was in that house that he spent a very happy childhood, at least until he reached the age of six years.
This kindly man died quite unexpectedly a few years later and, being unmarried, his only direct heir was his brother. This uncle of Dinny’s was not, however, as generous as his brother and had spent a good portion of his life as an unsuccessful lawyer in Dublin. It did not take him long to show everyone that he had inherited his brother’s wealth. But, he wasted even less time to show that he had inherited very little of his amiability and generosity of character. The one thing that he did demonstrate quite rapidly was his deeply felt enmity toward his sister and her husband. He made it absolutely clear that his actions against this couple were his revenge for her decision to marry a Roman Catholic. Such was his enmity towards them that he refused even to see them when they came to welcome him after his arrival in the district. At the same time he would not even consider accepting any invitation to visit their home.
Dinny’s mother was very sensitive woman who disliked all forms of confrontation, and she had hoped the enmity of her family was a thing of the past. But, the conduct of her brother at this time caused the poor woman great stress and put a great deal of pressure on her unborn child. In fact, such was the strain on her that the lady went into premature labour, during which she gave birth to a lifeless baby, and she unexpectedly died due to the efforts she had made.
Because they were so young neither Dinny’s father or mother had expected her to die so suddenly, and without ever making a will in Dinny’s favour. Through various legal trickery and numerous underhand dealings, the brother-in-law successfully managed to have her private marriage to Dinny declared null and void. Under such circumstances the law declared that the nominal husband did not have any rights to her property. Both Dinny’s parents had been living of his wife’s wealth and , with her death, this was now the only source of income from which Dinny’s father could maintain his family in comfort. Almost immediately the avenging brother set about gaining control of his sister’s property, and had little trouble in achieving this. As a result, with hardly a penny to their name Dinny and his father were forced to take up residence in a distant, and almost derelict cabin. By hiring himself out as a field hand he was just about managed to feed and clothe his child, raising him up to be a fine, respectable young man. Then, as his father grew older and weaker, Dinny was able to shoulder some of the old man’s burden and work to better their lot in life. Now, after burying his father, it was to this ramshackle of a cabin that Dinny trudged home with heavy steps.
Dinny later discovered that this evil and malicious uncle did not enjoy his spoils for very long, but this certainly did not make him feel any happier. The uncle, in fact, only enjoyed his newly acquired wealth for only a very few years after he had gained possession of it. He was despised for the cruel manner in which he had treated his relatives, and for the scrooge-like meanness and vulgarity that he had displayed toward everyone. He constantly kept watch for any and all opportunities to use his wealth to gain revenge of all of his enemies. The only problem he faced, however, was that his legitimate income was totally insufficient to achieve his goal in a reasonable period of time. He had, therefore, to consider indulging in illegal means of gaining sufficient wealth to achieve his aims. Because he had lived so close to the coast he decided that his best route to obtaining a fortune was for him to engage in some large-scale smuggling operations.
Dinny’s uncle was not the businessman or criminal mastermind that he had thought he was. Despite every precaution that he took to ensure he would not be caught, the former lawyer did fall foul of the law and received some hefty fines that caused him to lose over half of his property. The ensuing bad publicity arising from his failed smuggling operations did, however, cause him to take much more desperate measures. Rashly he attempted yet another wild scheme, which he hoped would retrieve his fortunes, but was once again surprised by the forces of law and order. On this occasion he, and his gang of smugglers, were confronted by the revenue officers and, in the struggle that followed, he killed one of their number. In the confusion that followed the tragic incident the uncle had ran away from Ireland, and had not been heard of again for over twenty-years. Local people had speculated that he hid himself in London and was living somewhere in that city under an assumed name. One thing everyone was certain about was that he was financing his new life through some illegal means, that allowed him to continue to enjoy all the vices that he experienced when living as a Lawyer in Dublin.
Dinny had no idea about what his uncle’s fate had been, because all of these things had happened when he was only a child, and had no interest in the business of adults. He had learned about his uncle’s activities and his exile much later, and from the reports of others who had known his uncle well. As a matter of fact, Dinny did not even know what his uncle looked like and, in all honesty, he didn’t care to know. If Dinny had shown some pleasure at the downfall and disgrace of that man there would not have been one person who would have blamed him. But, Dinny showed not one sign of enjoying his uncle’s fate, because such thoughts could do very little, if anything, to alleviate the misery of his current situation.
Heavy footed, Dinny trudged under a large, open arch that was part of the Old Abbey ruin, and he then entered that squalid shed that he called home, which rested against the Old Abbey’s wall. Just at that moment his heart felt as if it had been completely shattered into so many pieces that he felt as dismal as those ruins that rose up around him. As he entered that cabin there no words of greeting between him and his young wife. She was sitting where he had left her, on the old iron-frame bed, mechanically rocking their youngest child in her arms. As she rocked slowly to and fro she emitted feeble and mournful noises that described her feelings of utter hopelessness.
Silently Dinny went to the makeshift hearth and set light to a fire of dry, withered twigs mixed with pieces of tree branch. As the fire took light he took from his several potatoes that he had been had been given by a kindly neighbour an hour or two earlier, and he placed these among the glowing embers of the fire. He watched as the potatoes were roasted to a satisfactory level before he removed them, and divided them between his wife and the crying children. The hours passed by silently until the moon rose high in the dark night sky, signalling it was time for bed. Exhausted by the day’s events, Dinny sank himself upon the couch from which his father’s mortal remains had been laid during the wake, and from which they had been lifted to be brought to the burial ground. He had not eaten that day, not even one of the potatoes that he had roasted, and yet he did not feel at all hungry.
As his beloved wife and children slept soundly in the quiet of the night, Dinny lay for hours unable to sleep or even close his eyes for any length of time. From the place where he lay, Dinny could see, through the large window at the front of the derelict cabin, and he contemplated the ruins of the old Abbey. He simply lay there, deep in his own thoughts. The silence that filled the cabin gradually brought a sense of desolation to him that felt almost like a special spiritual moment with God. The magical effect created by alternate moonshine and darkness, of objects and their various parts finally diverted Dinny’s mind but could not relieve it from its troubles. He finally came to his senses once again, remembered where he was, and he suddenly began to feel like he was an intruder among the dwellings of the dead.
Looking out of the cabin window Dinny also called to mind that this was also the time when spirits would reveal themselves in the remote, lonely and obscure place. They would flit here and there among the crumbling walls and intricate arches that had once formed the Abbey. As Dinny’s eyes fixed upon a distant stream of cold light, or of blank shadow, the movement of some bushes hanging from the walls, or the flapping of some night-bird’s wings, caused a stir of alarm as it came and went. He began to think that, perhaps, some ghost had shown itself challenged and disappeared so quickly that he had failed to see it. Dinny would, however, remember the causes of real terror even though he could not really tell if he was awake or asleep as this new circumstance caught his attention.
That night the full moon shone its light through the window of the cabin and settled upon the hearth. When Dinny turned his attention to this particular spot he saw, standing before him, the image of a man, advanced in years, though not very old. This image stood motionless with its gaze fixed upon him. Strangely, the still, pale face of the image shone like marble in the moon’s beam, and yet Dinny could not tell if there was any solidity to that strange image or not. The forehead of the image cast long, deep shadows over its eyes, but left those normally very expressive features both vague and uncertain.
Upon the head of the image was a close-fitting black cap, and the image itself was dressed in a loose-sleeved, plaited garment of white, which flowed down to the ground. In every way it resembled the costume which Dinny had seen in a small framed and glazed print that hung in the sacristy of the humble chapel, which had been recently built not far from the ruin. Those who had built the chapel were descendants of the great religious fraternity to whom the Abbey had belonged in its hey-day. With a puzzled expression on his face, Dinny returned the fixed gaze of this midnight visitor. Then he heard a voice speaking to him and telling him, “Dinny Sweeney, get yourself to London Bridge, and you will become a very rich man.”
“London Bridge? Aye, that would be right enough,” said Dinny as he rose quickly from his bed.
But, as quick as it had appeared the strange figure was gone again. With eyes still filled with tiredness, Dinny stumbled among the cold, black embers that were scattered on the hearthstone, where the image had been standing, and he fell prostrate to the ground. That fall caused Dinny to experience a change of sensation. Now he could see the objects surrounding him much more clearly, which he chose to explain to as being the transition from a sleeping to a waking state of mind.
Dinny managed to crawl back into his bed but he got very little sleep that night. His mind filled entirely with those words that the image had spoken to him, and wondered what the entire incident meant. As he thought about this encounter he felt it would be better if he said nothing about his vision to anyone, and especially his wife. In the present conditions, Dinny was worried that news of the encounter might just increase her present anxiety and her over the edge. As for the advice that the strange image had given him, Dinny decided to do nothing but wait to see if this messenger returned. Despite his initial doubts, the messenger did return, appearing in the same place, at the same time hour of the night, and wearing the same clothes. But, on this occasion, the expression on the face of the apparition had changed, now looking more stern and determined. “Dinny Sweeney,” the vision called out to him, “why have you not gone to London Bridge, and your wife being so near the time when she will need what you are to receive by going there? Remember that you have now been given a second warning.”
“But, tell me, what am I to do on London Bridge?” asked Dinny as he rose again and moved toward the figure. Once again, however; the mysterious figure vanished as quickly as it had first appeared. Nonetheless, the apparition had once again stimulated his interest in what he might find at London Bridge, if he should go there. At the same time Dinny was somewhat surprised and annoyed at the angry attitude that had been displayed by the apparition. But, that was another day wasted on worrying about how he could undertake such a long journey to London without a penny in his pocket. There was also the added concern that it was almost time for his wife to go into labour and give birth to their child. For Dinny such a journey was neither possible or sensible, and he wondered if he could bring himself to obey any such recommendation made to him under such circumstances. However, Dinny remained unsure about the validity of the apparition’s message, because he had been told that a dream instructing him how to get rich should be experienced three times before it could be considered authentic.
Dinny lay down again on the bed and hoped that his vision might just return a third time. Still, much to his surprise, this hope was realised. “Dinny Sweeney,” said the apparition, looking angrier than previously, “you have not yet gone to London Bridge, although I hear your wife crying out, telling you to go. This, remember, is my third warning to you.”
“I know that, but just tell me….” But, before Dinny could say another word the apparition disappeared and, at the same moment, he thought he could hear the voice of his wife. It was weak and was coming from the old iron-framed bed, and it sounded as if she was about to go into labour. Dinny went immediately to her and after brief, excited conversation he left the cabin in a hurry and went to fetch a neighbouring woman who would act as midwife to the poorest women who were in the same condition as his wife, Nancy.
“Please hurry over to her, Annie,” he urged the woman. “Do the best that you can do for her. Would you also tell her from me……” Dinny stopped, breathed heavily and wrung his hands nervously.
“Dinny, my son! What is wrong with you, boy?” old Annie asked him. “What in the name of God is causing you to cry so bitterly this early in the morning?”
“Will you tell her from me,” continued Dinny, “that I ‘ll be praying, both morning and evening, that God will give her ease in her ordeal and provide us with a good, healthy child, just like the other two that He has given us. Tell her I won’t be far away and I will be ready to return as soon as I can.”
“Just what are talking about, Dinny?”
“It’s not important, Annie. May God be with you, and with her, and with the wee ones! Just tell her what I have said, and also tell her that Dinny has left her at this time of need with more love in my heart for her than on the first day that we came together. I will be back, and of that she should have no doubt. Whether I will be richer or poorer when I return, God alone only knows the answer. So, I will say goodbye, Annie, and don’t let her go hungry for the sake of a mouthful of potatoes and cabbage, while I’m away. I must leave now because my dream commands it, and I dare not look at her in case one word from her would convince me to stay.”
With these final words Dinny rushed off, although he was not at all sure what roads would take him to London Bridge. He walked and begged his way along the coast to a port where he hoped to embark a ferry bound for England. Hiring himself out on the docks, Dinny gathered enough money for his passage to South Wales, from where he once again walked and begged his way to the great city of London.