A Midnight Funeral

A Tale of Mystery

Ah, would you be quiet!” cried an old man with whom I was discussing such topics, “Would you believe this?

Would I believe what?” I asked him.

It’s as true as I’m living,” he insisted. “I heard it from the man’s own lips, may God be merciful to him! And Lord forbid that I should tell a lie on him!

What was it?” I asked again impatiently.

Did you ever know Brian Douglas that lived over there in Ballymacnab?” the old man replied, and, like the proverbial Irishman, I shook my head.

graveyardOh no, you wouldn’t have known him” he went on, “he died before you came here. Well, he was coming home one night from town. It was after twelve o’clock or maybe coming near to one. He had his horse and cart with him, and he was walking along at the horse’s head, smoking away at his pipe as content as you like, and it was a fine moonlit night, Glory be to God! Then, what should he see before him in the middle of the road but three men carrying a coffin. Well, it wasn’t long, sir, until they put down the coffin. Sure, the hair was standing on Brian’s head with fear, but he made the sign o’ the cross on himself, and he walked on until he came up to where the three men had been standing beside the coffin. ‘The blessing of God on you,’ said Bryan in Irish, ‘and what’s wrong with you all, at all?’

“’The same to yourself,’ spoke up one of the three men, ‘ but come and take a fourth man’s place under this and ask us no more questions.’ Well, sir, he was going to ask, ‘What will I do with my horse and cart?’ but he thought better of it, and he didn’t, for you see he was told to ask no more questions, and it wouldn’t have been right for him to go against them. But sure he didn’t need to ask, for they knew well enough what was going through his mind, and another of the men said to him, ‘ your horse and cart will be here when you come back.’

Well, he went with them and helped them to carry the coffin, and never was there a heavier corpse, the Lord be good to us, ever buried he told us. They went on until they left the coffin in the graveyard, and then they told him he might go back to his horse and cart. ‘Oh,’ says Brian, ‘I’ll help you to dig the grave now that I’m here.’

“’Do what you’re told,’ said the third of the men, who hadn’t spoken before this, ‘or maybe it would be al the worse for you.’

Well, sir, Brian was reluctant to say anything more, so he went back to his horse and cart, and sure enough they were waiting for him at the very spot where he had left them.

Did Brian know the men?” I asked the old man when he had finished.

Did he know them? Indeed, he did, for they were his own three first cousins who died long before this event.”

And who was in the coffin?

It was Brian’s own brother, who had died in California that same night. But he only heard this afterwards, when he received a letter that came from his uncle in America.”

The old man assured me that Brian had never told a lie in his life and that he was dead now, may God be merciful to him!

You, who are reading this now, I ask that you should not scoff the story. You may never be called upon to assist the dead to carry the dead at a mysterious midnight funeral, but do not ridicule the story of Brian Dougan’s experience that has been brought to you by an honourable man.

TIM SCANLAN’S WAKE

There was nothing special about Tim Scanlan. He was neither rich nor famous, for all his lifetime he worked as a labouring man. But, Tim was very well liked by everyone he met in the district and, therefore, when he died it was expected that his funeral would attract an unusually large gathering of mourners. There were great crowds of people who flocked to his wake, and a there was a large supply of tea, cakes, whisky, clay pipes, and tobacco made for those who would attend. Tim’s widow, as was the tradition, occupied her place of honour at the head of the coffin, and gave a great show of grief, with large tears she when joining in with loud weeping whenever the wailing was begun and led by the older women. But, she was a fair looking young widow. Those who didn’t know her would have thought that she was Tim’s daughter rather than his widow. Several years previously, however, she had come to Tim’s house when only a ‘slip’ of a girl to look after him, and Tim decided it would be better for him to marry her and from that day he ruled over her like a master to a servant.

ScanlanThe house was filled with people drinking and smoking and, as the night wore on, the whisky began to have a decided effect on those visitors who remained outside the room where the corpse lay. The noise of chatter, laughter, and argument increased to a level when you would have thought it loud enough to ‘wake the dead.’ On this occasion, however, much to the distress, anxiety and amazement of everyone present, the dead man, after a deep, loud sigh and various types of groans, opened his eyes and struggled to raise himself into a sitting position. When the shocked and startled people in the house came back to their senses, poor Tim was lifted out of his coffin and whisky was liberally poured down his throat. Disorientated by his sudden resurrection Tim was well wrapped up in blankets and brought over to a big chair by the fire, where he gradually revived from whatever the trance or state of stupefaction was that had been mistaken others for death. Still dumbfounded and amazed by events, the last of the guests left the small cottage, leaving Tim, still propped on the chair before the fire, was left to be cared for by his wife. But, instead of coming to her husband, however, she stepped away, cringing timidly, into a dark corner behind his chair, like a frightened puppy-dog. From that dark ‘sanctuary’ she stared at Tim with a great terror in her eyes and wringing her hands.

‘Mary!’ Tim called out to her in a stern voice, but his summons did not receive an answer.

‘Are you there, girl?‘ peering round the chair at her, his face quivering with anger.

‘Yes, Tim, I’m here,’ Mary answered in a quiet and faltering voice, but never moved from the spot she was standing.

‘Bring me my stick!’ he ordered

‘Ah, no, Tim! You won’t! Sure, you have never lifted a hand to me yet! And this cannot be the time, when you’ve come back from the dead, and right again that …’

‘Bring me my stick!’ he interrupted her, and Mary set about her task. She brought him the stick as he had asked, and she flopped down to her knees, cowering before her husband.

‘Well, you know that you deserve it, and more. You know, you damned thief and deceiver! You know that if I was to take this stick and beat you until your body is as black as a hearse it would serve you right, after the mean and dirty, shameful thing you’ve done to me!’

‘Aye Tim, it would. It would!’ sobbed the girl.

‘ Just you look here!’ scolded Tim, pulling back the blanket that covered him and showing her the old tattered shirt that he was wearing. ‘Look at this rag! Just you look at what you dressed up my poor corpse in, you witch! You shamed me before all my decent neighbours at the wake! And you knew as well as I did about the fancy, brand-new shirt that I had bought to have for my burying! This is a shirt that I wouldn’t have put on a dog never mind my own back. Aye, not even if I had to go about naked as a new born child! You knew as well as there’s an eye in a goat that I had it there in the chest ready and waiting. But, by God, you grudged it to my unfortunate corpse when I wasn’t in a position to speak up for myself!’

‘O Tim, my darling, forgive me!’ cried Mary. ‘Forgive me this once, and on my bended knees I swear I will never, never do the likes of it again! Sure, I don’t know what came over me at all. I think, maybe it was the devil, may the Lord preserve us! He must have been holding back my arms when I went to get the shirt out of the chest. The devil was tempting me and whispering to me that it was a pity and a sin to put good quality shirt like that into six feet of clay. Oh sure, how could I have done it at all?’

‘Now, you listen to me, Mary,’ said Tim sternly as he raised the stick and laid it on her shoulder. She knew then that he wouldn’t beat her even if he could with his trembling hands, but she pretended to wince and cower away from him. ‘Mind what I say, girl. As sure as you try to do the same thing to me again, and attempt to dress me in those indecent rags, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll walk!’

‘O don’t do that, Tim, don’t!’ cried Mary loudly as her face became as pale as ashes. ‘Sure, murder me now, if it pleases you, or do anything you want to me, but for Jesus’ sake, and that of his Holy Mother, and all the Saints in Heaven, keep to your grave! I’ll put the new shirt on you, and with my own two hands ‘ll starch it and make it as white as snow, after being left so long in the old chest. Sure, your corpse will look lovely, never you fear! And I’ll give you the grandest wake that ever man had, even if I must sell the pig, and part with every stick of furniture in the cottage to buy the tea and the whisky. By Almighty God, I swear to you I will, darling man. Here is my hand on it, this night!’

‘Well, make sure you do, my girl, or it will all be the worse for you. Now, Mary, give me a wee drop of water to drink, and put a drop of spirits through it for taste. Sure, I am almost ready to faint with the thirst and weakness.’

Indeed, Mary kept her promise, and no one could ever remember a wake like that of Tim Scanlan’s, when, soon after this event, the poor man really did breathe his last in this life. But, seeing Tim all dressed up in his fancy, brand-new shirt’ was the talk of all those who attended.