Sacred Tree of Killygann

The breeze of that cold March day blew harshly as I walked steadfastly across the wide windswept fields towards the old burial-ground that rested in the townland of Killygann. On reaching the remains of the ancient church, I sat down for a moment upon the grassy bank that enclosed the cemetery. Taking a moment or two I contemplated the ground that lay before me and my mind wandered, thinking upon the generations of men that had taken the road to this place over the many years of its existence. In this place they had been buried to spend an eternity waiting upon the judgement of God, for whom an altar had been raised on this spot so many long years previously.

If you didn’t know what was inside this grassy enclosure, you would never have guessed that it was indeed a place of burial. There were, however, little hillocks here and there on the surface, which were about two or feet long, and defined by a stone. They were tombstones, marking the little graves that were the last resting-places of unfortunate babies that died in the act of being born, or who been born and fated to live but a short time before uttering a brief cry of pain, and going to sleep for eternity. These innocent, but unbaptized, children were never permitted to mingle with the baptised Christians and were always placed in these long disused cemeteries. In this old churchyard had not received the body of a baptised person in many decades, and its presence was almost untraceable beneath the long, rich green grass that flourished there.

It was said that the grandfather of the present landowner had decided to plant the entire area with fir-trees, which flourished in the rich soil formed by the decomposed bodies that lay many feet below. The trees, themselves, had grown to a very unusual size, and demonstrating to all that no man is totally useless, even in death. When his time is finished, and his labours are ended, a dead man’s body may still enrich the ground that is so often impoverished by his greed. In the meantime, among these tall, sheltering trees, a colony of rooks had established their airy city. And, while the young settlers to the place busily built their new nests, the older residents of the grove were engaged in repairing the damage their homes had received from the storms of winter. The air itself was busy with the shrill discordant voices of the black horde as they seemed to be mock those that sought sleep in the lower branches.

1_fairy_treeAs I sat upon that grassy bank, reflecting upon the old graveyard before me, I noticed a man walking along the same path that I had followed. He appeared to be very advanced in years, but he a tall figure of a man, who supported himself with a long wooden staff.  Against the chill of the March wind the old man was wrapped in a blue-grey coat that folded close under a belt of string, and a woollen hat that was drawn over his face, as if to screen it from the sharp blast of a cold-wind that rushed toward him. He suddenly stopped, then fixed his eyes on a spot in the burial ground where a wind-blasted and branchless whitethorn stood. This ‘fairy tree’ looked as if it had become part of the fabric of this ancient, lingering as it did over its grass-grown foundation. The old man then raised his eyes heavenward and sank to his knees, while his lips moved as if speaking some silent prayer. His actions at that place fuelled my imagination as to why this old man’s deep devotion, at such a place and time. I was confident that it was not from some ordinary motive that the old man had felt the need to pray. There must have been some reason, or some tradition connected with this ancient place, that had caused the old man to pray with such enthusiasm. So, as the old man rose from his knees, I approached him and said, “My friend, I hope you will pardon me for intruding, for your sudden and impassioned prayer has awakened my inquisitiveness.”

To my surprise the old man answered me in Irish and explained, “I was only begging mercy and pardon for the souls who in the close darkness of their graves cannot help themselves and I begged the good Lord to cease placing the guilt of their fathers upon the children. This spot caused me to remember a terrible act of sacrilege that my forefathers had committed. For this great sin their descendants continue to suffer, and I did not think for one moment that someone other than God had seen me.”

“Perhaps,” he continued, “as you seem to be a stranger in these parts, you have never heard of the Bald Berrys, and the blessed Whitethorn of Killygann. It is a very old tradition, and you might even say it is just a superstitious legend. But there is the whitethorn, blasted and decayed from the contact of my ancestors’ unholy hands. And here, before you, stands the last of their name. I am a homeless wanderer, with no other inheritance than this mark of the curse and crime of his race.” Removing his woollen hat as he said this, revealing a perfectly smooth head, upon which there was not one single hair.

“That old heads should become bald, is not a rare thing,” I told him, “and I have seen younger men whose heads are as hairless as yours.”

“My head,” he replied, “from my birth to this moment, never had a single hair upon it. Sadly, my father and grandfather endured the same fate, while my great-grandfather was deprived of his long, thick hair in one tearful moment. I shall tell you the whole story as we walk along together, if you are going in the direction of this path.”

As we walked together, he told me the following story. The old man spoke in such a poetic and energetic way that I wish I was able to infuse these qualities into my translation. But, for a wider audience I have had to write in English, which is a much colder language than Irish and fails to do justice to the wonderfully poetical language of the story.

“Many a biting March wind has passed over the heads of men since Colonel Berry lived at Lisnarick, whose veins had the true blood of one of old Strongbow’s chiefs, who became a sovereign prince in the land. His forebears had formed strong alliances with the ancient owners of the land, eventually renouncing any Anglo-Saxon connection and name. This noble family subsequently gloried in the title of McCoille and the colonel did nothing in his life that would bring shame on his forebears. He kept open house for all comers, and every day an ox was killed and consumed at Lisnarick. All the influential men of note in the province came there to hunt, fish and hawk. To feast and lodge there and enjoy the hall, which was always crowded with harpers and pipers, rich men and beggars, and jesters and story-tellers, who came and went as they pleased, in constant succession.” Then the old man let out a long sigh, “I can recall some of these good old times, but now they are vanished and gone for ever. The great hospitality that was so much a part of the chieftain’s hall has gone now and the hall has become a hovel on the moor. The wanderer now turns from the great towers of a Lord’ home, seeks the shelter of the peasant’s shed!

Davey Berry and his seven brothers lived with McCoille and held his name and family. Whether McCoille went hunting on horseback, or took the opportunity to shoot, or moved among the high and titled families of the land, they always went with him. They acted like a sort of body-guard, share in his sports or helping him assert his will in any quarrels. At that time, on the banks of the Bann, near the ruined tower of Shanlieve, lived a man named Edward Berry. On his farm there was a thick and thorny thicket that, for many years had been the hiding place for a fox. This, however, was no normal fox. This fox was famous throughout the Province and was celebrated for the extraordinary speed and prowess that he had shown to those many men who had tried so hard to hunt him down. There had, indeed, been many gallant and noble huntsmen sought the honour of bearing that fox’s tail as a trophy. But all efforts had been in vain and after exhausting both hounds and horses in the arduous pursuit the fox invariably returned every night to his favourite sanctuary. To outsiders it seems that a treaty of peace existed between Edward Berry and the fox. Edward’s poultry for several years, whether they sought the banks of the Bann or the barn door, never suffered because the fox was nearby. It would mix with Barry’s dogs and spend an hour or two playing with them, almost as if he belonged to the same species. Mr. Berry gave his wild crafty friend the same protection and freedom that he permitted his own domestic animals. The fame of this strange union of interests was widespread and even to this day the memory of Berry’s fox survives in the traditions of the country.

One evening as McCoille and his followers returned from a long and unsuccessful chase of Edward Berry’s fox, their route lay by the ruins of the ancient church of Killygann. Near this sacred spot a whitethorn tree had stood, and its beauty and bloom were talked about by every man, woman, and child. The simple prayerful folk who poured their petitions to God beneath its holy shade believed that the hands of guardian angels pruned its luxuriance and developed its form of beauty. They believed also that dewfall from heaven was sprinkled by angel hands to produce its rich and beautiful blossoms, which filled the cold winds of December with many tokens of holy fragrance that welcomed the heavenly coming Him who left his Father’s throne to restore to the sons of Adam the lost inheritance of heaven. McCoille was so enamoured by the beauty of the tree and caring little for its sanctity or the superstitious awe that was attached to it, he was firmly resolved to move it to his home at Lisnarick. He wanted his lawn to have that rare species of thorn which blooms in beauty when all other trees in the field are bare and barren.

Next day, when McCoille made known his intention to remove the sacred whitethorn of Kilygann, his people were astonished at his blatant lack of respect for tradition. In response they all declared that they would resist until death any attempt to commit such an audacious act of sacrilege. Now, McCoille was not a man who would permit resistance to his will and had always been accustomed to his commands being obeyed immediately and without question. When he found that his men were now refusing to obey him he exploded with uncontrollable anger. He cursed and damned all those who were standing around him, shouting, “Traitors!  You have all eaten at my table and enjoyed the hospitality of McCoille, and you have all sought and been given my protection. Yet, there are none you who are grateful enough to abandon your superstitious nonsense and carry out my commands!”

“Here, my Lord, are seven of your own name and Clan,” cried Davey Berry, “men who are sworn to stand or fall together, who obey no commands but yours, and acknowledge no law but your will. The whitethorn of Killygann shall leave its sacred place, if their strong hands and brave hearts can manage its removal. If it be a sacrilege to disturb the tree, which generations have revered, the curse for this sacrilege does not rest on us. Even should McCoille command us to tear the blessed gold from the shrine of a saint, we would not hesitate to obey him. We are just carrying out the will of our legal chieftain.”

They sang McCoille’s praises as they marched to where the tree had stood for many centuries, and they immediately proceeded to desecrate the spot that was made holy by those who had revered it over the ages. Such was the reverence shown to this holy whitethorn that a mystic circle surrounded it, within which no mortal foot may go. But, men have committed many wrongs and salved their consciences by convincing themselves that they acted in obedience to the commands of their leaders, and that a prayer of contrition will purify their souls.

That same evening McCoille saw the beautiful whitethorn planted in his garden and many were thanked for bringing it to him. Gold and rank were his rewards to those faithful men who had risen to the challenge and overcome the terrors of superstition to carry out his commands. But, McCoille was very much surprised when Davey Berry interrupted his morning sleep and announced that the tree had disappeared during the night. Confusion when he told his chieftain that the tree was again planted where it had stood for ages before, in the ancient cemetery of Killygann. McCoille was convinced that the tree venerated by the people had been secretly taken by them during the night to where it formerly stood. He immediately sent his most trusted men bring it back and stand guard until morning.

The Berry brothers obeyed the call of their chief and brought the whitethorn back. They replanted the tree, carefully covering its roots with rich mould, and made ready to watch over it all night. It proved to be a long and dark night, and they were wide awake. The night-breeze had stilled and all of nature appeared to have been mysteriously silenced. In this strange quietness a deep and undefinable feeling of dread crept into the hearts of the guards. These were men who had been tried and tested in the heat of battle but were now frightened by this fearful calmness. Their normal steadfast obedience to the commands of McCoille could not still their hearts against the remorse they began to feel, and there was talk amongst them against the sacrilege he had committed. As the night advanced their fear increased and they spread out their watchful circle around the mysterious tree. Davey, the eldest and bravest of the brothers, finally fell asleep. But, his short and fitful dozes were disturbed by wild and indistinct dreams. Then, as his sleep settled down and those vague images disappeared, the following vision came into his mind –

He began to dream that as he was keeping watch by the sacred whitethorn of Killygann, there stood before him a saintly man. This man’s radiant features and shining ancient clothing illuminated the entire area around him, piercing far into the darkness that surrounded him. In his hand he held a crosier, and upon his head sat a towering mitre. His long, white beard descended to the belt that encircled his rich bishop’s clothes, and he looked every inch the mitred abbot of some ancient monastery, which the rage of the English reformation had levelled to dust. The face of this saintly man, however, bore a fearfully severe expression, and the sleeping man fell to the ground, prostrate before the piercing eye that searched his inner-most soul.

“Wretched man,” said the shining apparition, in a thunderous voice, “ lift your head and listen carefully to your fate, and the fate that shall befall your sacrilegious brothers.”

Berry lifted his head in obedience to the instruction he received, though his soul sank within him, as stood before this dreadful voice and eye of terror. “Because you have violated the sanctity of this place” the holy man continued, “which has been consecrated to God, you and your family shall wander homeless ever more as beggars, and your heads, as a sign and a warning to future generations, shall suffer the pelting of every storm, and the severity of every changing season, unprotected by the defence that nature has bestowed upon all other men. This curse will last until your name and family be erased from memory.”

After hearing this angry denunciation against him the terrified man fell to the ground prostrate pleading for mercy, and he awakened with a cry of terror which alarmed the other guards. As he began to tell them about the terrible vision he had seen in his sleep, there was a crash of thunder, a flash of lightning, and the sweep of a whirlwind, which enveloped them all. As the new day dawned, the guards were to be found senseless, and at a considerable distance from the spot where they had lain the preceding night to guard the sacred tree. The thorn had also disappeared and, most strangely of all, the long black hair that shone like a raven’s wing, and was their pride, no longer adorned their heads. The fierce whirlwind, that had tossed them about, like the stubble of the field, had brought reality the dream, and removed their thick, long hair in its vengefulness.”

This was the story of the of the ‘Bald Berrys’ as it was told to me and I hand it on to you, the reader. I will make no further comment or note on this story, but I leave it to you to decide the truth of it. Some will question how an apparently cultured people can attribute the downfall of families, or the entailment of hereditary disease, to be caused by supernatural intervention. Others will remind you of an old saying –

             “There are more things in heaven

and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your

philosophy.”

The Pishogue

Wait ’til I tell you, Mickey Brennan, it’s not that I don’t have a great regard for you as a man. Indeed, it’s true that you are a decent sort of boy, and that you come from a decent family. But, I have to say that, the long and short of it is,  I just don’t want you to be running about after my wee girl any more.” Such was the concluding portion of a very long and unfriendly speech that had been undertaken by old Brian Moran of Loughcroy. Old Brian’s sole purpose for giving such a speech was, simply, to persuade his daughter’s sweetheart to cease paying her any further attention. It is a difficult task that parents occasionally need to take upon themselves and it is a task that is never very easy to carry out. Indeed, the entire affair become even more difficult when the couple in question are unceremoniously separated from each other, having very much believed that they had been born for each other.

Everyone who knew Michael Brennan, knew him to be a quiet, unassuming young man who was always respectful to his elders. On this occasion, however, he was not very successful in holding either his patience, or his temper, on this occasion. “Why? Dear God, Brian Moran!” he exclaimed angrily, “I beg, in the name of all that is holy, just give me one good reason why I should be separated from her? Whether the reason be good, bad, or indifferent, and I’ll be satisfied!

Och, what am I to say to you, you unfortunate eejit of a boy. Now don’t be questioning me on this bloody decision anymore,” responded Brian in a way that suggested to Michael that he wasn’t entirely happy with the decision himself.

And why shouldn’t I?” asked Michael. “Do you think that I should just give up so easily, and we playing together since she could walk. Has that girl not been the very light of my eyes and the pulse of my heart, these six long years since we reached a proper age to know how things were between us. Now, you tell me when, in all of that time, did either you or your good wife ever say, or even hint, until this damned minute that I was to cease from courting her?  Will you just tell me that.

Would you give my head a bit of peace, Michael!” Brian groaned at the young man. He put his hands to his ears to keep himself from hearing the questions, especially when he did not have the ability to give the boy a straight answer to them.

That’s true enough,” he finally conceded. “This whole mess is all down to Peggy,God forgive her, and I wish she she had told you herself. I knew how you would be when you were told this, and don’t blame you in any way for being angry. When she hears it all, it will kill young Mary completely.

“Has this all come about because you feel that I am not wealthy enough to be keeping her in a proper manner?” Michael asked him with all the impatience of a teenager.

Not at all, Michael,” Brian replied, “it’s nothing like that at all. But, if you want to be sure, can’t you wait an’ ask Peggy, herself?”

Michael chose to totally ignore any mention of Peggy’s name and asked ‘Old Brian”, Is it because there’s something against me?”.

When Brian didn’t answer immediately, Michael asked him again, “Is it because there is something against me, I asked you? Is there a warrant, or a summons, or has somebody spoken against me?

“Jaysus Christ! Did I not just say, no more questions?” sighed Brian, feeling overwhelmed by the young man’s questions. “Just wait a wee while and you can ask all you want to know off Peggy, Michael!

Claddagh GirlBrian Moran really liked young Michael Brennan, and had encouraged the young man’s close relationship with his darling daughter, Mary. He could not ease the grief and uneasiness that he felt because of Michael’s constant questions. Mickey could see just how uneasy the old man was and the way he had tried to evade his “I’m being lied to, Brian. I know I am, and I know it all now,” he shouted as he began to lose control of himself. “Come on now, Brian, there is no longer any need or any time to be playing silly buggers anymore. I am not a child, you know, so you can tell me immediately who it was who spoke out against me. Just you tell me who it is and I will ram the damned lie down his, or her, throat, and I don’t care what it costs me!

No, Michael!” insisted Brian, “There was never a word said against you. My God, sure you have never done anything wrong that would cause a person to speak out against you. In all honesty, my lad, it is that which is breaking my heart. Total damnation to that bloody woman of mine, but this is all Peggy’s fault.

What?” exclaimed Mickey in disbelief. “I bet you that Peggy has had a bad dream about Mary and I. Come on, Brian! Out with it! Tell us what Peggy the Pishogue (Prophetess) has to say for herself. Come on, out with it, man dear!. My whole life is being tossed upside down for something your Peggy has dreamed up!

Oh Michael, for Jaysus’, be at peace, and don’t be talking that way about Peggy,” Brian told him. Mickey had offended him by talking in such a manner about his wife, whose previous visions had always come to pass. “Whatever she says, doesn’t it always come true?” Brian reminded him. “Didn’t it rain on last Saturday, even though the day looked fine at first? Sure didn’t Tommy Higgins’s cow die on him? Wasn’t Annie Creaney married to Jimmy Knox after all? And wait ’til I tell you, that as sure as your name is Mickey Brennan, what she says about you will also come to pass. In fact, God forbid that it should happen to anyone else of your decent family!

In the name of God, Brian, tell me what’s going to happen to me?” Mickey asked in a trembling voice, despite his efforts to adopt an uncaring attitude, especially after he had commented quite contemptuously upon Peggy’s reputation of  being the wisest of women. In fact, Peggy’s reputation stood very high among the people of the district, and Mickey should not have tried to sound too unconcerned about being seen in unfavourable circumstances in any of her visions of the future.

Ah Jaysus, Michael, don’t ask me such things. Please don’t ask me,” was Brian’s pitiful answer, “Maybe you should just get all your things together now, as quickly as you can, and go straight to Father Corry. The priest might be able to give you some sort of blessing that will give you a chance to escape all the bad luck that’s in front of you.

It’s all crap! Total bullshit! And, by the way, Brian Moran, you should be ashamed of yourself for spreading such rubbish.”

There’s not one word of a lie in it, I’m telling ye,” Brian insisted. “Peggy seen it all last night, and, in all honesty, the poor woman is as troubled about it, almost as if you were her own flesh and blood. Look, sure isn’t that a mole you have there under your ear?”

Well, and what if it is?” Michael replied in a quite uncaring tone. But, in reality, he was very disturbed by the concern that his future was causing both Brian and Peggy. “What if I have a mole? Sure there are many men who have a mole in the same place as myself!

That’s very true,” Brian replied. “But, Mickey, my friend, didn’t they have the same bad luck come to them as well. Now listen to me, you poor, ignorant  wee crature, you would not want me to give my blessing to have my poor wee darlin’ girl marry a man who will sooner or later end his days swinging at the end of a rope on the gallows!

The gallows!” screamed Mickey Brennan,slowly, “Jaysus Christ and his Holy Mother! Is that what Peggy says is going to happen to me?” He tried desperately to laugh derisively and defiantly at what he thought was preposterous idea. But, Mickey could not do it. Deep down he was truly shocked by what Brian had told him. He knew that this was not a matter to be laughed at, and he had to finally give in to those fears he had tried so hard to resist. Almost as a sign of his surrender to the inevitable, Mickey buried his face in his hands as he threw himself violently to the ground.

Meanwhile, Brian was equally, deeply moved by the revelation he had made to Michael. Though it was his wife’s, Peggy, vision that he had revealed he sat down beside young Brennan and tried to console him as best as he could. Before all this talk of visions had gotten in his way, Old Brian had nothing but a good deal of admiration for young Michael. He was among the more well-to-do people of the district, and had gathered a small amount of wealth about him. Mickey owned a good, fertile piece of land and his farm produced a good harvest of crops, pigs, cows and sheep. The fact that he owned all these things in his own name made him the most eligible bachelor among all the young men of the district. Mary Moran, however, was more interested in Mickey’s handsome good looks and muscular physique.

Mickey’s family were all very well off and highly respected in the area, but both his mother and his father were dead and his only sister had gotten herself married just before Lent had began. Naturally, having all the advantages of wealth and freedom, you would think that Mickey could have selected any girl in the parish to be his bride. But, Mickey had made his choice of a wife many years ago. His eye had fallen upon Mary Moran and they had both given each other their hearts. Both Brian and Peggy were happy with their daughter’s choice and had never thought about disputing it. Brian didn’t even have second thoughts after he came to the decision that he would could give his daughter a money gift, which, at the time, amounted to double what Michael Brennan was worth. There was not, perhaps, the same certainty about the money gift when it came to Peggy. A mother always worries about her daughter and, being such careful creatures, they always want to see that any future son-in-law is financially independent. This is always true when it comes to an Irish mother who has a daughter of marriageable age.

Peggy Moran was as good an Irish mother as any other and she was somewhat concerned about the amount of money that Brian was about to shower on Mary. She argued strongly with Brian about the agreement he had made and she tried everything possible to change his mind. But, Peggy’s efforts were all in vain, however,  because as much as Brian usually submitted to her advice, he loved his pretty daughter Mary. This great love that he held for his daughter strengthened his resolve in this matter. Every time Mary cried at her mother’s insinuations,, Brian always words to comfort her.  On those occasions when Brian’s words of comfort were not enough, he always got Mickey and Mary together, and left them to settle the matter in their own way.

Peggy was not the type of woman who gave up easily, and she was determined that she would have her way in this matter. Such was her reputation as a seer, after all, that one word from her could break up any match that had been made in the district, and that included her very own daughter’s match whether Brian liked it or not. To this end Peggy now applied all her tricks, and every ounce of her cunning to the task. Firstly, she could not allow Brian to shower the young couple with all that money. And so, Peggy talked about the dreams that she had been given about the match between Michael and Mary. She read the tea leaves and consulted the burning embers of the fire in which she saw all sorts of strange signs concerning her daughter’s relationship with Michael Brennan. Calling upon her entire knowledge of magic and the world of spirits, she was rewarded with a vision that revealed Michael Brennan was destined to end his days on the gallows.

There were some parishioners, who thought themselves older and wiser than most, that considered the very idea of Peggy Moran being something of a prophetess as an ugly sort of joke. There were many more in the Parish who believed she had become so devoted to the dark spirits that her knowledge and skill in supernatural matters was very strong. They called her ‘The Pishogue‘, a name that implied she had a knowledge of more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamed about. It was a title that was certainly not misplaced in Peggy’s case. There was not a university professor more deeply read in science and medicine than was Peggy when it came to all the signs and omens whereby the affairs of this world are foretold.

There seemed to be nothing too great or too small for Peggy to not get involved. She was expert in every form of fortune telling, from reading tea-leaves to magic. She could read a person’s future in the mystical dregs from a tea-cup, which assumed a variety of shapes that would puzzle any learned person. By just taking a glance at some symbol, or other, she could immediately detect its true meaning, and foretell deaths, births, and marriages, with the same infallibility as a newspaper. Even those dreams that would mystify the wisest of men would be quickly unravelled by Peggy. At the same time, there was not a ghost, or other spirit, in the entire country with whose haunts and habits she was not familiar with, almost as if she one of their number. There wasn’t a single fairy that could put its nose outside without being detected by Peggy. Meanwhile, there were many property owners in the district that employed Peggy to use her skills and charms against all manner of theft and loss. When news of these ‘Spirit Blessings’ became known the properties concerned increased a great deal in their value.

We could spend an entire lifetime describing every mystical talent that Peggy possessed, and to relate every one of the successes she had. But, it would a certainty that there would still be those among you who would still not believe in all the things that Peggy had said and done. Yet, the people of the parish were very much aware of Peggy’s achievements and had great confidence in all she said and did neighbours. Not only her friends and neighbours had trust and confidence in her, but also her closest family, Brian and Mary. With such a status within the community around her, it is no wonder why so many people believed her when she foretold the coming disaster that would befall Mickey Brennan.

It should come as no surprise to  you then that Peggy’s revelation  created a great sensation, especially  after several old gossips, to whom  she had imparted her discovery,  were put on oath not to say one  word about it. Instead they were  told that they should hush up the  entire matter for the young fool’s  peace of mind. Those people who  had a close friendship with Michael  also worried about his fate, because  not even the most sceptical among them would dare to question the truth and certainty of Peggy Moran revelation. Rather than scrutinising the sources of her information they preferred to view the entire matter as being one that required their sympathy for their friend. Everyone viewed Peggy’s warnings as being certain, and some of Michael’s friends even declared, “that since the thing cannot be avoided, and Mickey, poor fellow, must be hanged, we can only hope it is for something worthwhile, decent, and not thieving, or cheating, or anything like that.

You can appreciate that in all of this the hardest task in this story is to describe the feelings that poor Michael Brennan, himself, felt about the situation. He did everything he possibly could to make Peggy’s revelations appear to be the foolish superstions of a very weird woman. Unfortunately, Michael had grown to believe in the apparitions just as much as any other person in the district. Though he tried very hard to ignore the revelations made about him, his efforts were fruitless and a dark sense of despair quickly overcame him.

Now it’s all very well and good for you to preach long and hard about the advantages of education, and its ability to overcome old superstitions. But, take my word for it, that it will take a very long period of time to root out the centuries held superstitions from the hearts of the Irish people. Be assured that, until that bright day dawns, Ireland’s many country villages will still have their ‘Wise Women’, and what they say will be regarded as gospel truth by the vast majority of their neighbours. Of course, there will always be a number of people who will pour scorn on such things, but there will be many more who will very respectfully beg leave to doubt them. There will always be, however, those who believe wholeheartedly in the words and visions of the ‘Wise Women’. If truth be told, in the more remote inland villages that dot the hillsides and mountains of Ireland, there are events occurring almost every day that are far more strange than anything that you are being told in this story.

Michael Brennan found it increasingly difficult to keep calm in the face of the denunciation that had been made. Sadly, only comfort that he could get from those people around him was, “The gallows is a good death for an Irishman.” In those days the majority of Irishmen who were sent to the gallows were considered martyrs for the cause of Ireland’s freedom from the British Crown and they were, therefore, considered by most to be good men and women. This, of course, was the last thing on Michael’s mind. Peggy’s revelation had caused him to begin losing any hope he had of becoming a husband to his beloved Mary. No longer having this hope filling his heart with joy, Michael began to wish that death, instant and immediate, would come quickly and carry him off. As his anxiety and depression grew, death, it seemed to him, would be a great relief and it would also show that Peggy’s prophecies could not always be relied upon to come true.

It will, therefore, come as no surprise to you to learn that, in the depth of the depression brought about by his mental suffering and fear for the future, Mickey made a failed attempt upon his own life. When he was sure, in his own mind, that there was no one close enough to stop him, Mickey plunged himself into a nearby lake. He quickly discovered, however, that he was not alone at that moment. A local man, who was looking after sheep, saw Michael plunge into the lake and went to rescue him. The shepherd, however, was quite a distance away and, by the time he had reached the lake, Mickey’s body was to all appearances lifeless. His discovery was quickly spread about the parish, causing shock to all who heard the news. It was like the game of ‘Chinese Whispers’ that went the rounds and finally declared Mickey’s death, but the description of that death was different each time it was described. Some said that Mickey Brennan had lain in the cold, dark water for at least ten minutes, while others said a half an hour, half the day, and even since the previous  night. There was only one point that was consistent in each story told, and that was the agreement saying that Mickey Brennan was as dead as a door-nail.

Only Peggy Moran didn’t believe the news that she was given. “Would you all stop your bleetin’,for God’s sake, sure the man’s not dead,” she told the crowd that had gathered.

If you would all be quiet for a few minutes, the man might just come to! When have you ever known a man who is born to be hanged was drowned. So, just wait a wee while and hold your tongues, for this is all nonsense, I tell you. Mickey Brennan will live long enough to spoil somebody’s day, and more’s the pity.”

Her words seemed to fall on deaf ears, however, Many began to shake their heads, some even suggesting that Peggy had mistaken rope for water in her dream about Brennan. All their doubts soon vanished, nonetheless. Slowly and quite mysteriously, Mickey began to recover from his rash effort at suicide. By recovering, unfortunately, he fulfilled much of the destiny that Peggy had for him. At the same time, Mickey raised Peggy Moran’s reputation to an even higher point beyond than it had been previously.

During the days that followed Peggy’s fame rose even higher. She discovered six cases of stolen goods, twice discovered that the fairies had interfered with the milk churns on nearby farms belonging to their neighbours, and she was invited by a large number of people to tell them their fortunes. In the meantime, poor Mickey Brennan finally realised that his destiny could not be avoided so easily, and he resigned himself to what his fate would be. But, if he was to die on the gallows, he decided that he would seek out the best possible opportunity to face the gallows without any disgrace to his people, or family name. Mary Moran, however, was deeply heartbroken with grief at her beloved’s declared fate and she just could not imagine anything that could be worse for her to bear, though she would soon discover that there was .

In a very short period of time there began a new whisper that began to creep through the parish. This new whisper promised death and disaster on some very unlucky unknown person. Rumours said, “Peggy Moran has something on her mind,” and this alone made the people impatiently wonder as to what that ‘something’ could be. When anyone gathered enough courage to question her on the mystery, Peggy remained silent and slipped into a mysterious with a shake of her head. Constantly in her mouth was a lit ‘Sweet Afton’ cigarette, which she never removed unless she lay on her bed to sleep, or sat down at the table to her meals. The more people that now asked her questions, the angrier Peggy became, which was not usual for the woman. She began to avoid all sorts of conversation, which was very definitely not her way either. These actions, naturally, served to arouse interest and curiosity of her neighbours to an agonising pitch. Peggy now had every one trembling that the result of the new prophecy would be some terrible revelation that might affect any single one of them.

For every person in the district the question of who was the subject of Peggy’s new prophecy became the first question asked each morning, and the last question at night. Every word that Peggy spoke became a matter of the greatest speculation to every person who heard her. Such was the tension among the people of the district that there was a danger that the people themselves would go absolutely mad with fright if they were kept in the dark much longer. Eventually the secret was discovered, but at some cost the the discoverer.

One night Brian and Peggy were sitting together in front of the fire for a while before they went to bed. As he sat there with his wife, Brian head that he should try and discover the source of Peggy’s sorrow. After asking her many questions, and getting no straight answers, Peggy told him, “Brian darlin’ it is very good of you to ask and to show your concern. But, my darlin’ old man, there is no use in hiding it anymore. It is all about you.

Jaysus, Peggy, Lord bless us and keep us.”

Indeed, Brian,” replied Peggy gently as she exhaled a large cloud of tobacco smoke from her mouth and nostrils. “ These last couple of days I’ve noticed that you just have not been at yourself.”

Christ, Peggy! You could be right and maybe I am not at myself,” said Brian anxiously.

“Do you not feel something different about yourself, Brian. Maybe your heart darlin‘?”

By God, I do. You’re right enough, Peggy. I do feel something different,” Brian told her, willing to believe almost anything she said about him.

“ It’s something like a pleurisy, isn’t it?” she suggested in a mournful tone of voice.

“Ay, right enough, Peggy. It’s just like a pleurisy and may the good God keep me safe from harm!”moaned Brian.

And I’m sure you feel the cold these night, Brian?” continued Peggy.

“Oh! Holy God, Peggy! Sure I’m foundered! My body is as cold as ice,”answered Brian, and his teeth suddenly began to chatter as if he had fallen into an icy cold pond.

“And your appetite must be completely gone, darlin’?” Peggy continued with her questions.

“Isn’t that the truth of it?” he answered.  Brain now believed completely that he had been struck down by some great illness. He had totally forgotten that less than an hour previously he had finished off a pot of potatoes, cabbage and bacon, washed down with a pint of buttermilk.

“Just look at that old black cat, taking a good look at you now, after it has  licked her paw,” said Peggy.

“As sure as there’s an eye in a goat, there’s a divil in that cat! I wouldn’t put it past her that she is waiting for me to breathe my last,” said Brian sadly.

Peggy moved a little closer to her husband. “Let me feel your pulse, darlin’,” she said and Brian weakly submitted his trembling wrist for her inspection. As she checked for a pulse, Brian anxiously stared at her face  to see if there was any indication as to what his fate would be. At length, a long, deep sigh broke from her lips, accompanied by another huge cloud of cigarette smoke, and she let go of Brian’s arm. Then, to Brian’s surprise, Peggy began to rock herself to and fro, muttering some words or other in a low, moaning voice. Brian was certain that this was an ominous sign of what his fate would be.

“Ah, Jaysus, Peggy, surely to God  I am not going to die am I?” he asked his wife anxiously.

“Dear, Oh dear, my darlin’ man!” roared Peggy in anguish, “Never did I ever think that when I married you, Brian my love, that I would ever see the sorrowful day when I would cry the widow’s wail over you. God knows, Brian, but you were the best of a man to me, young and old!”

“Oh Peggy!” Brian sighed loudly as his wife continued her lamentations.

“Ah don’t talk, my darlin’ man, don’t talk to me. Sure I’ll never be able to hold my head up again in this district, so I won’t!” Peggy continued to lament loudly and her wailing quickly brought everyone in the house around her, and finally all the neighbours gathered.

As all these people gathered together there was a great uproar, with people giving mixed ideas with noisy explanations about the cause for Peggy’s lamenting. But, despite their best efforts, there were none who could provide consolation to either Brian or Peggy. Young Mary clung to her father in total despair and grief, while Old Brian mouthed over his prayers as fast and as correctly as his dismay would allow him.

As the morning dawned of the next day, Brian could just not gather the will-power to get up and out of his bed. He refused all that was offered him to eat, and he demanded that the priest should be sent for without delay. Every hour that passed seemed to be worse than the previous hour, as Brian moved from one period of unconsciousness to another. Those at his bedside received a running commentary on the symptoms he was feeling, which seemed to encompass every complaint that ever troubled mankind. He complained bitterly that he was crippled by pain in every part of his body, from the top of his head to the tip of his toes. The doctor who attended him could make neither head nor tail of the illness, which had struck down Old Brian Moran. Totally mystified, this man of science declared that the complaint was the greatest oddity complication that he had ever heard of. In fact, he was so annoyed that he believed Brian was making the entire illness up and needed a good kick in the arse to pull himself out of his self pity. At the same time, the Doctor suggested that the best treatment for Peggy was to throw her into the nearest river to help calm her down.

When he arrived on the scene the Parish Priest was equally puzzled by what was happening. “ Brian, what in the name of God, Brian is wrong with you, man dear?” he asked.

“My body is being killed all-over the place with some sort of illness or other,“ replied Brian pitifully. The priest looked at the old man and had to admit to himself that he was bothered by the fact that a man like Brian could not rise from his bed.

Despite every urging of the priest to rise, Old Brian remained where he was and moaned, “What use is there in a man getting up from his bed, and him going to die anyway? Is it not far easier and more decent for me just to die in bed like a good Christian?”

“Ah now, Brian, sure God’s good and maybe this is not yet your time to die,” said the priest.

“Now, don’t be talking your old nonsense, Father. Sure doesn’t my Peggy know best?” Brian told him and with this he closed his ears to all words of consolation that people spoke to him. Even the tearful words spoken by his heart-broken daughter, Mary. Referring to traditional remedies the doctor decided he would try and apply a herbal poultice to the man. He made up a poultice, much stronger than was normal and assured everyone that it would have Brian up from his bed and walking by the next morning.

By this time there were a good many people gathered into the small cottage, hoping to witness Old Brian being cured. The doctor, however, was so distracted by their presence that he felt they could have all been done without. But, these people were a godsend for Peggy, and she turned to them moaning and weeping, and declaring her total lack of faith in any of these modern remedies. She kept on insisting that she had no other expectation than that she would be a sad widow by Sunday. Then, quite unexpectedly, Old Brian was roused a little by the application of the poultice and, with a weak voice, asked be heard.

“Peggy, my darlin’,” said Brian, “there’s no denying that you’re a wonderful woman and, since I’m going from you, it would be a great kindness if you would tell us all how you found out that I was do sick, even before I knew it myself. I’m only curious, darlin’ woman. I just don’t want to die and not know why, or for what reason. Wouldn’t I look the quare fool if someone above was to ask me what I died of, and I couldn’t tell them.”

Peggy looked sorrowfully at her husband, while she told him that she was willing to do him this last favour. In a sobbing voice, Peggy began to explain, “It was Thursday night week,” she began, “sure it’s a night I’ll never forget, Brian, should I live to be a hundred years old. It was just after my first sleep that I began to dream, and I dreamed that I went down to Danny Kelly’s butcher shop to buy a bit of beef. Surely, you remember, it was that day that he had slaughtered a young bull for the butcher’s block. I was sure that when I would go into his house I would see a fine carcase hanging of beef hanging but, all that I saw hanging up was an ugly looking carcase that did not smell too fresh. Says Danny Kelly to me, with a mighty grim look on his face, “Well, woman, what do you want? Is it some of this meat you’re wanting?” ‘Yes, says I, but none of that old rubbish! That’s not the type of meat we’re used to.’ “Ah sure, who cares?” says he to me, “I’ll cut you out a rib.” ‘Oh, no thank you all the same,’ says I and put out my hand to stop him, and what do you think he did? He raised the hatchet and brought it down upon my hand, cutting the ring on my finger into two.”

There were murmurs heard among the gathered crowd as her story came to its end. The meaning of the dream had suddenly been revealed to Old Brian and he unmoved for a while. Everyone in the room looked to Brian to see how he had taken the explanation as to his imminent death when, suddenly, he sat bolt upright in the bed, with his mouth and eyes wide open. “In the name of God, Peggy,” Brian slowly exclaimed, when he had recovered a little from the surprise, “do you mean to tell me that’s all that’s wrong with me?”

Startled by Old Brian’s extraordinary question, Peggy and her crowd of supporters stared at him. For a moment it appeared to them that he was about to leap out of the bed, and forcibly display his indignation to his wife. Although he was known as a quiet man, his temper was just well known. His bodily strength, however, failed him as he attempted to get out of the bed and, roaring with pain, he returned to is lying down position on the bed. Nonetheless, Peggy’s infallibility among the local people was now at an end. The doctor’s poultice had done the trick and in a few short days Brian was able to stump about as usual, threatening everyone with extreme violence if they dared to laugh at him. Laughter, however, is something that is not so easily controlled, and Brian’s foul temper was worsened to such a degree by the ridicule he had encountered, that he now became determined to seek a reconciliation with young Mickey Brennan. He decided that all of Peggy’s gloomy prophesies could go to the devil, and he would give the Parish Priest a job to do for the young couple. Mary and Mickey, as a result, were married and, thanks be to God, Mickey did not end his days on the gallows as Peggy had prophesied.

The Blarney Part I

It is said by many that a sweet-talking Irishman has a “Touch of the Blarney”, a gift of speaking given to him because he has kissed the ‘Blarney Stone’. The following verse I once heard, but I cannot recall the person who wrote it, and I offer it to the readers as a basic introduction to the story that follows it.

“Oh, did you ne’er hear of the

Blarney,

‘Tis found near the banks of

Killarney,

Believe it from me, no girl’s heart is

free,

Once she hears the sweet sound of

the Blarney.”

 

“Ah! Dear God, Mick! You can talk and advise me until I’m blue in the face, but it still won’t matter for I just cannot do it. That, my friend, is just the long and the short of it.”

“Would you just listen to him, surely you are not one of these bashful types are you, Eddie?”

“It’s true Mick! I’m afraid it all true.”

“Have you gone completely mad? You know that they’ll put into a museum along with other rare creatures like mermaids and Dodo-Birds! A bashful Irish man! Sure, nothing like it has ever been heard of, never mind been seen.”

“Aye, so they say. But, friend, I have caught the complaint anyway.”

“Well! May my arse trail the ground if ever I have heard the likes of this from a friend of mine!  It makes me worry about the future of our race, for if modesty gets a hold among us Irish it will be the ruin of us altogether. I shouldn’t surprise me that some of them damned English men have inoculated us with this affliction, as they travelled through our country. Now, Eddie, tell me what does it feel like when you are blushing?”

“Ah! Mick, now don’t you be laughing at me and making fun. Sure, there is none of us can help having a weakness. Anyway, it is only when I am with her that my heart seems to melt away entirely.”

“Never mind, my friend. Sure, it’s only a good man, like you, who can feel like that anyway. And so, pretty Nelly has put the spell on you and taken over your senses?”

“You could well say that, Mick, for its not one bit of sense do I have left. Sometimes I wonder if I ever possessed even an ounce of sense in my body. Do you know, Mick, no joking, but isn’t it a mighty odd thing that I can’t get my usually big mouth to utter a single word out of my head when I see her looking at me? Did you ever see Nelly’s eye, Mick?”

“I’ve seen them hundreds of times.”

“Maybe that isn’t an eye?”

“Maybe there isn’t a pair of them, now that I think on it?”

“As sure as there is an eye in a goat, I have never seen such wicked-looking innocence in the eyes of a Christian person before.  At least there is no one that I can remember.”

“Sure, man dear, it’s only right that you should think like that, Eddie.”

“Oh! Mick, the joy that beams out of those eyes, when she’s happy, is to me as good as that wonderful warm feeling you get from the softest sun-ray that ever made the world smile. But when she’s sad, oh, Christ, Christ, Mick! When those watery jewels flutter about her silken eye-lashes, or they flow slowly down upon her downy cheek, like dew upon a rose-leaf, who in the name of God could endure it? It’s as much as I can do to stand up before those merry glances, but when her eyes take to the water, then by all the powers of heaven, it bothers my heart out an’ out and I don’t know what to do.”

“Fair Play, Eddie.”

“And then there is her mouth! Did you ever see Nelly’s mouth, Mick?”

“I’ve only seen it from a distance, Eddie.”

“Well, that’s what I call a real mouth, Mick. It’s not like all those other mouths that are only to pile food and drink into. Her mouth is a soft-talking, sweet-loving mouth, with her kisses growing in tempting clusters about it, which none dare have the cheek to pluck off. Isn’t that right, Mick?”

“Now, be quiet for a while Eddie. Hold your tongue.”

“I will tell you, Mick, that if Nelly’s heart isn’t the very bed of love, why then Cupid is a total gobshite, that’s all. And then her teeth! Did you ever take notice of those teeth? I tell you that even the best pearls are simple paving-stones compared to Nelly’s teeth. Oh, how they do gleam and flash, as her beautiful round red lips part to let out a voice that is just so soft and sweet, almost like honey. Every word she speaks slips into the soul of a man, whether he likes it or not. Oh! Mike, Mike, there is absolutely no use in talking. If that woman isn’t an angel, she ought to be, and that’s all.”

“Jaysus, you really have fallen for this girl in a big way, Eddie, and that’s a fact. It’s a wonderful thing to see the talent that a boy can develop for talking such nonsense when his soft emotions get stirring in his head. Tell me, Eddie, have you ever spoken to her?”

“What? How could I? Sure, wasn’t I too busy listening to her? But, in all honesty, and between you and me, the truth of the matter is, I just couldn’t do it. Whether it was that she had bewitched me, or that my senses had got completely drowned with drinking in all her charms, making me stammer and stutter like a child, I don’t know! But every time that I attempted to say something to her, my tongue, may the devil take it, twisted and turned itself into knots, and sure devil the word would it say for itself, bad or good.”

“Well, now, allow me to think for a moment, and let me give you a wee bit of advice, Eddie. The next time you see that girl, just take it easy. Keep your feelings in check! Put a big stone on them and simply ask her about the weather. Your problem is, you see, that you want to pour out all you have to say at once, and your throat is too small and narrow to let it all through.”

“Be patient and cool, sure that’s good advice, Mick, if I can but follow it. This love is a great and troublesome affection, isn’t it?”

“It’s tremendous, Eddie. I had it once myself.”

“How did you catch it?”

“I didn’t catch it at all. I took to it naturally.”

“And did you ever get cured, Mick? Tell me.”

“I was completely cured.”

“How did that happen?”

“I got married.”

“Oh God, let’s just go to work.”

From this conversation between two friends, Mick Riley and Eddie Flynn, it is quite clear that fabled Cupid’s arrow, “Feathered with pleasure and tipped with pain,” had firmly embedded itself in Eddie’s heart. Putting it plain and simple, Eddie Flynn was completely infatuated with Miss Nelly Malone. During a rest period at work they had indulged in this discussion and, when the conversation was ended, the two men resumed their mowing. Mick, the settled “married man” began to hum a sprightly air, which kept time to the stroke of his scythe. Meanwhile, the love-struck Eddie joined in, every now and then, with strictly orthodox sighs as an accompaniment.

It certainly was a most clear signal of just how strongly attracted Eddie was to pretty Nell. There was never a more noble heart that ever beat than the honest, manly heart that now throbbed with the first pangs of a passion that was both pure and unselfish. After an hour or two of labour, the two men rested again. Eddie was feeling rather sad and he remained silent. There is something within Irish men that makes them regard suffering as sacred and, having respect for this suffering in his friend, Mick also kept quiet. Finally, Eddie looked up. He was still a little downcast and there was a sheepish expression on his face, but there was the slight trace of a smile that crept across his lips as he said, “Mick, do you know what?”

“What?” said Mick.

“I’ve written a bit of a song about Nelly.”

You didn’t,” smiled Mick, with an ambiguity in his voice that made it obvious that he believed his friend. “Is it a song?” he asked tactfully, “Sure why shouldn’t you? Haven’t you the great heart of a poet, and the ability to write songs that are as good as anyone else’s? Give us a wee blast of it, Eddie.”

“Damn the bit of it will I sing! Sure, you’ll only laugh at me, Mick.”

“Me? Not at all, Eddie!” replied Mick in such a manner that Eddie was convinced that his friend would not make fun of his efforts to sing. After pausing for a minute or two to prepare, Eddie cleared his throat nervously and, with a fine, clear voice, he began to sing:

blarneystone“All you sporting young heroes, with

hearts so light and free,

Take care how you come near

the town of Tralee;

For the witch of all witches that

ever wove a spell

In the town of Tralee, at this moment

does dwell.

 

“Oh, then, don’t venture near her, be

warned by me,

For the devil all out is the Rose of

Tralee.

 

“She’s as soft and as bright as a

young summer morn,

Her breath’s like the breeze

from the fresh blossomed thorn,

Her cheek has the sea shell’s pale

delicate hue,

And her lips are like rose leaves just

bathed in the dew;

 

“So, then, don’t venture near her, be

warned by me,

For she’s mighty destructive, this

Rose of Tralee.

 

“Oh! her eyes of dark blue, they so

heavenly are

Like the night sky of summer,

and each holds a star;

Were her tongue mute as silence,

man’s life they’d control;

But eyes and tongue both are too

much for one’s soul.

 

“Young men, stay at home, then,

and leave her to me,

For I’d die with delight for the Rose

of Tralee.”

Poor Man’s Bridge Part II

He was washed and stretched, and waked, with all the honours, rites, and ceremonies belonging to a genuine Irish wake. On the third day following, being the Sabbath, he was followed to the grave by crowds of the village peasantry, who remained in the churchyard until they saw his remains deposited, as they thought forever, in the rank soil of the cemetery.

There were many rumours that arose with respect to the Boccough’s money. Everyone but Terry believed that the fortune was now in the hands of Terry himself. But Terry, who knew better, believed and affirmed that “what was got under the devil’s belly, always goes over his back.” In other words, that the “old boy” had taken the spoils, and that he had concealed them in some crevice along the bank of the river.

The night following the burial of the old sailor was passed in a very disturbed and agitated manner by Terry O’Shea. He did not sleep a wink, when he finally fell into a slumber, he jumped and moaned in his bed, appearing to be frightened and annoyed. “What’s wrong with you?” his old mother demanded affectionately. She was sleeping in the same room as Terry, and was kept awake by her son’s restless and disturbed manner.

I don’t know, mother,” replied Terry; “I am so frightened and tormented with dreaming of the Boccough Ruadh, that I am almost out of my natural senses. Even at this moment I think I see him in front of me, walking about the room.”

Holy Mary, protect us!” screamed the old woman. “And it is no wonder that his unfortunate soul would be star-gazing about, for he died without the priest, and a curse and a lie in his mouth!”

Terry groaned agitatedly at her words, and then the old woman asked him, “And how does he appear in your dreams?”

As he always was,” replied Terry. “But I think I see him pointing to his red nightcap, and endeavouring to pull it off with his old withered hand.”

Umph!” said the old woman, in a knowing tone. “Ha! ha! I have it now. Are you sure that the strings of his night-cap were loosened before he was nailed up in the coffin?”

I don’t know,” was the reply.

I’ll go bail they weren’t,” said the old woman, “and you know, or at any rate you ought to know, that a corpse can never rest in the grave when there is a knot or a tie upon any thing belonging to its grave-dress.”

Terry emitted another deep groan.

Well, dear boy,” said the old mother, “go tomorrow, taking a neighbour with you, and open the grave to see if any thing is astray. If you find the nightcap or any thing else not as it should be, set it to rights, and close the grave again decently, and he will trouble you no more.”

Please God,” replied Terry briefly but emphatically.

Early the next morning Terry was at the Boccough’s grave, accompanied by a local man. The coffin was opened, the corpse examined, and, according to the mother’s prediction, the red nightcap was found knotted tightly under the dead man’s chin. Terry immediately began to unloosen it, and in the act of doing so, a corner of the nightcap gave way, and out slipped a shining golden guinea.

Ah ha!” mentally exclaimed Terry, “that’s no bent penny, for sure. There is a lot more where that was hid, but I had better keep a straight face about this!” So, without seeming to appear any way affected, he opened the knot, closed the coffin, shut up the grave, and left to go home, without once letting his companion aware of what he had seen.

The moment Terry entered door of his house, he told his mother about the golden guinea, and his determination to go back to the grave that very night, and fetch the red nightcap home with him. Excitedly, he told her, “Body and bones and all, for that guinea has its friends about it, and I’ll bet you a bucketful of money that is where the old devil has hidden his fortune. That is why he insisted on me burying the red cap with him in the grave.”

Wait a minute, sweetheart,” said his mother, with a note of worry in her voice. “Won’t you be afraid?”

Afraid!” asked Terry, “Devil a bit of it! Afraid, me? And my fortune perhaps in that red nightcap.”

The mother consented to his adventure, but she made him promise not to tell anyone about the matter, in case it turned out to be a disappointment. Terry vowed that he would say nothing, and immediately set about his usual tasks in the garden.

At last the night came, and Terry set about preparing for his strange adventure. All the folk arts and prayers and charms of old Kathleen were put in place to ensure his preservation from danger. Just as the clock struck the witching hour of twelve o’clock, with his spade on his shoulder, and his clay pipe in his mouth, the bold-hearted Terry set forward all alone to the grave-yard. He walked along the winding banks of the dark river that glittered in the moonlight. He whistled as he strode on, but not to keep his mind busy, for never was man’s mind more busily occupied than was Terry’s, in deciding how he would spend the money which he expected to find in the ‘Boccough Ruadh’s’ nightcap.

After a short walk, Terry arrived at the churchyard. It was a lovely summer’s night, the full moon shining gloriously, and myriads of pretty stars blinking and twinkling in the blue expanse, but all their native lustre was drowned in the borrowed splendour of the brightly shining planet of Venus. Terry paused for a moment to investigate his surroundings, and, resting on his spade, he looked about him with an anxious gaze. There was nothing out of place. All was silent as the departed beneath his feet, except for the murmuring of the river’s waters flowing past, or the barking of some village dog in the far distance. Terry moved on to the grave of the Boccough, and in a few minutes the ghostly moonbeams shone upon the pale, grim features of the dead. He snatched the nightcap quickly from the bald head of the corpse, put it in his pocket, and, despite his fears and the great terror that he felt, Terry chuckled to himself as he quietly commented on the “dead weight” of the Boccough’s head-gear. He then closed the coffin, and as he proceeded to cover it, the clay and stones fell on it with an appalling and unearthly sound. Then, with the grave covered up again, Terry again shouldered his spade, and sought the river’s edge, striding hurriedly along its banks in the direction of his home. In the quiet of the night, he could clearly hear the splash of an otter and the diving of a water-hen, both of which momentarily disturbed the thread of his lonely thoughts.

Terry was soon at his mother’s side, who since his departure had been on her knees, praying for his safe return. The nightcap was ripped up, and from it flowed three hundred golden guineas as his reward for his churchyard adventure! Stitched carefully in every part of the huge nightcap, the gold lay secure, so as not to attract the notice of any one, or cause the least suspicion of its nearness to the old man’s scalp.

Terry and his mother were ecstatic. Farms were already purchased in minds, cattle bought, houses built, and Terry even began in his mind to make preparations for his wedding with Annie Kinsella. She was a rich farmer’s daughter of the neighbourhood, for whom he had breathed many a hopeless sigh, and who, in addition to her beauty, was possessed of fifty pounds in hard gold, a couple of good yearlings, and a feather-bed as broad as the “nine acres.”

The mother and son retired to bed, as happy as the certain possession of wealth, and the almost as certain expectations of honour and distinction, could make them. After a long time spent in constructing and condemning schemes for the future, Terry fell asleep. He had not slept long, however, when he started up with a loud scream, crying out, “The Boccough! The Boccough!”

Och, Jaysus he is seeing the Boccough again!” exclaimed the mother. “Is he coming for the nightcap and the gold?”

Oh, no,” said Terry, calmly. “But I was dreaming of him again, and I was frightened.”

What did you dream to-night?” asked the old woman.

I was dreaming that I was going over the ford by moonlight, and that I saw the Boccough walking on the water towards me. Then he stopped at a certain big stone, and began to examine under it with his hands. I came up to him and asked him what he was searching for, when he looked up with a frightful look on his face, and he cried out in a monstrous voice, ‘For my red nightcap!’”

God Almighty never opened one door but he opened two,” exclaimed old Kathleen. “Examine under that stone to-morrow, and as sure as there’s an eye in a goat, you’ll find another fortune of money in it.”

Maybe so,” replied Terry, “sure, there’s no harm in saying ‘God willing,’ and that He may make a thief of you before a liar.”

Amen, to that,” replied Kathleen.

Next morning at daybreak, Terry got up, and proceeded to the exact same stone where he had dreamed that he had seen the spirit of the Boccough. He examined it closely, and after a thorough search, discovered in the sand beneath the rock a leather pouch full of money. He cheerfully seized it, and on counting its contents, found it amounted to almost a hundred pounds, in silver and copper coins. “What a lucky born man you are, Terry O’Shea!” cried the overjoyed treasure hunter, “and what a bright day it was for your family that the Boccough Ruadh crossed over the waters of the Nore.”

It was not a bright day at all, but a wild, gloomy, stormy night,” said the old woman, who, unknown to Terry, had followed her son to watch the success of his treasure hunt.

Who cares about that?” said Terry, “There never was so bright a day in your seven generations as that dark night. I am now a rich man, and I would not salute the Lord Lieutenant at this time.”

That joyful day was passed by the happy mother and son counting and examining the gold, and again proposing plans, and considering the best purposes to which it could be applied. They passed the hours until the summer sun had long sunk behind the crimson west, and Terry again went to bed. He jumped from his sleep with a wild shriek, “Mother of mercy!” He then frantically screamed aloud, “Here is the Boccough Ruadh! I hear the tramp of his wooden leg on the floor.”

The Lord save us!” said the old woman in a trembling voice, “what can be the trouble with him now? Maybe it’s more money he has hid somewhere else.”

Oh, do you hear how he rattles about the place! Devil a thing in the cabin but he will destroy it,” exclaimed poor Terry. “It’s a black day for us whenever we caught sight of himself, or his dirty trash of money. And, if God saves me till morning, I’ll go back and leave every bit of it where I got it.”

Sure, wouldn’t that be a terrible crime to leave so much fine money simply moulding in the clay, while there are so many in want of it. Well, you shall do no such thing,” said the mother.

I don’t care a jot for that,” said Terry. “I would not have that old sinner, God rest his soul, rummaging every other night about my honest decent cabin for all the gold in the Queen’s County.”

Well, then,” says the old woman, “go to the priest in the morning, and leave him the money, and let him dispose of it as he likes for the good of the old vagabond’s unfortunate soul.”

This plan was agreed to, and the conversation dropped, although the ghost of the Boccough still rattled and clanked about the house. He never ceased stumping about, from the kitchen to the room, and from the room to the kitchen. Pots and pans, plates and pitchers, were tossed here and there. The dog was kicked, the cat was mauled, and even the raked-up fire was lashed out of the grate. In fact, Terry declared that if the Devil himself was about the place, there couldn’t have been more noise than there was that night with the Boccough’s ghost, and this continued without a pause until the bell of Abbeyleix castle clock tolled the midnight hour.

Terry got up out of his bed the next morning at sunrise, and he packed up the money, which he believed was the cause of all his trouble, in his mother’s check apron. Then, with a heavy heart, he proceeded to the parochial house, which was about two miles from the present Poor-man’s Bridge, to see the priest. The priest, however, had not yet risen when Terry arrived, but being well known to the domestics, the young man was admitted into the priest’s bedroom.

You have started early,” said the priest; “what troubles you now, Terry?”

In response, Terry gave a full and true account of his troubles, and concluded by telling the priest that he had brought him the money to dispose of it as he thought best. “I won’t have any thing to do with it,” said the Father. “It is not mine, so you may take it back again the same road.”

Not a piece of it will ever go my road again,” said Terry. “Can’t you give it for his unfortunate old soul?”

I’ll have no hand in it,” said the priest.

Well, neither will I,” said Terry. “I wouldn’t have the old miser thumping about my quiet floor another night for a king’s ransom.”

Well, take it to your landlord. Sure, he is a magistrate, and he will have it put to some public works connected with the county,” said the priest.

Bad luck to the lord or lady that I will ever take it to,” said Terry, turning on his heels, and running down the stairs, leaving the money, apron and all, on the floor at the priest’s bedside.

Come back, come back!” shouted the Father urgently and with increasing anger.

Good morning to your reverence,” said Terry, as he sprang and bound across the priests’ garden like a mountain deer. “Ay, go you back! You have the money now, and you may make a bog or a road with it, whichever pleases you more.”

An hour later, the priest’s servant man was on the road to Maryborough, mounted on the priest’s own black horse. Strapped in a large bag behind the servant was a sealed parcel containing the Boccough’s money, and a letter addressed to the treasurer of the Queen’s County grand jury. This letter detailed the curious circumstances by which the money came into the priest’s possession, and recommending him to use it for whatever purpose the gentlemen of the county should consider the most urgent.

The summer assizes came on in a few days, and the matter was brought before the grand jury, who agreed to use the money to build a stone bridge over the ford where it was collected.

Within a year from that day, the ford had disappeared, and a magnificent bridge of seven arches spanned the sparkling waters of the River Nore, which pretty broad at this point and of considerable depth. From that day to this it has been called the “Poor-man’s Bridge,” and I never cross it without thinking of the strange circumstances which led to its erection.

The spirit of the Boccough Ruadh never troubled Terry O’Shea after that day, but often, as people say, amid the gloom of a winter’s night, or the grey haze of a summer’s evening, the figure of a wan and decrepid old man with his head enveloped in a red nightcap, was seen wandering about Poor-man’s Bridge, or walking quite “natural” over the glassy waters of the River Nore.

Poor Man’s Bridge Pt I

When ghosts, as cottage maids believe,

Their pebbled beds permitted leave,

And goblins haunt, from fire or fen,

Or mine or flood, the walks of men.”—— Collins.

This is a story adapted from an original tale written by John Keegan, an Irish writer, and storyteller, who was born in the townland of Killeaney, near the village of Shanahoe in County Laois (formerly Queen’s County). John was born in 1816, in the house of his uncle, Thomas Maloney, who was a local hedge-school teacher, with whom John’s parents lived. He was educated by his uncle, who had established a school in the sacristy of Shanahoe chapel, about 1822, prior to the erection of a school in the village in 1830.This particular story was published in 1846 and is an excellent example of Irish storytelling in the eighteenth century, before, during and after the great Famine.

It happened one evening last winter. It was a Christmas holiday evening, and the western wind was sweeping wildly from the grey hills of Tipperary, across the rich and level plains of County Laois. When a blast of wind blast roared down the chimney, and the huge rain-drops pattered saucily against the four tiny glass panes which constituted the little kitchen window, I was sitting in the cottage of a neighbouring peasant. I was in the middle of a small but happy group of village rustics, and enjoying with them that enlivening mirth and sinless delight, which I have never found anywhere else but at the fireside of an Irish peasant.

The earthen floor was well scrubbed over, while the various bits and pieces of furniture that existed were arranged with more than the usual tidiness. Even the crockery on the well-scoured dresser reflected the ruddy glare from the red fire with redoubled brilliancy, glittering and glistening as merrily as if they felt conscious of the calm and tranquillity of that happy scene. And happy indeed was that scene, and happy was that time, and happier still the hearts of the laughing people by whom I was, on that occasion, surrounded. It has been among people such as these that I have spent the lightest and happiest hours of my existence.

It was, as I said, a wild night. But even the violence of the weather outside gave an additional relish to the enjoyments within that building. The wind’s blast whistled fiercely in the cracks of the old and weather beaten wall, but the huge fire blazed brightly on the hearth-stone. The rain fell in torrents, but, as one of the company laughingly remarked, “the wrong side of the house was out,” and I myself mentally exclaimed with Tam O’Shanter,

“The storm without may roar and rustle,

We do not mind the storm a whustle.”

Meanwhile, to help wind up the climax of our happiness, a bit of a boy who had been dispatched for a large tankard full of ‘poteen,’ now returned. Within a few minutes a huge jug of half ‘poteen’ and half boiling water steamed on the table, and was circulated around the smiling and expectant ring of people. It was passed with a speed, the likes of which the peasantry of Ireland will in a very short time, from certain existing causes, have not even the remotest idea.

Well, such an evening as we had, I shall never forget! It would be virtually impossible to even attempt a description of the festivities. Those who have witnessed similar scenes require none, and to those who have not, any attempt at one would be useless. All, therefore, I shall say, is, that such a scene of fun and frolic and harmless foolishness could not be found anywhere outside that ring which encircles the Emerald Isle. Even within that bright zone, nowhere but in the cabin of an Irish “peasant”

The songs of our fathers, sung with all that melancholy softness and pathetic sweetness for which the voices of our wild Irish girls are renowned. The wild legend recited with that rich brogue and self-deprecating humour that is peculiar alone to the Irish peasant. The romantic and absurd fairy tale, that is told with all the reverential awe and caution, which the solemnity of the subject required, long amused and excited the captivated listeners. But at length, more is the pity, the vocalist could sing no more, having “a mighty great cold on him entirely.” The storyteller was “as dry as a chip with all his talking,” and even the sides of most of the company “were ready to split with all the laughing that was done.” Meanwhile, as if to afford us another illustration of the truth of the old proverb, “one trouble never comes alone,” even the old crone who had astonished us with the richness and the extent of her fairy lore, had also finished, having exhausted her huge reservoir of earthly spirits to entertain us.

Well, what could we do? The night was still young, and, better than that, a good drop still remained in the large tankard. Not surprisingly, as we all had contributed to procure the drink, everyone declared that none should leave until the very last drop was drained. But what were we to do to occupy ourselves? The singer was silenced, the storyteller was exhausted, and the volleys of wit and foolishness had exploded until everyone was exhausted from the laughter, and yet to remain silent was considered by all as the most uncomfortable way to spend such an evening as this.

Puzzled by this dilemma the man of the house scratched his scalp, and, in an sudden impulsive act, he stood up and handed me an old book that was covered in soot. “Maybe you’ll entertain us all by reading a story or two for the education of the company here, until it would be time for us all to go home?

Without hesitation I agreed to do as he asked, and on opening the dusty and smoke-begrimed book discovered that it was, in fact, “Sir Charles Coote’s Statistical Survey of the Queen’s County,” printed in Dublin by Graisberry and Campbell, and published by direction of the Dublin Society in the year 1801. I was, of course, well aware that the dry details of a work that was exclusively statistical, were not designed to amuse, or even interest, an audience such as this. But, sadly the library of an Irish peasant is always, unfortunately, scanty. In this particular instance, with the exception of a few mediocre works on religious subjects, there was only this ‘Statistical Survey.’ Nevertheless, I was determined to make it as interesting to my audience as was possible. For that reason I opened it at Sir Charles’s description of the immediate district in which we were situated, namely, the barony of Maryborough West, and townland of Killeany.

I began to read, “On Sir Allen Johnson’s estate stand the ruins of Killeany Castle, the walls of which are injudiciously built of very bad stones, although an excellent quarry is nearby. … ‘Poor-man’s Bridge’ over the River Nore was lately widened, and is very safe, but I cannot learn the tradition why it was so called.”

Read that again, sir,” said a fine grey-headed, patriarchal old man, who was present. “Read that again,” said he emphatically, and I did so.

He cannot learn the tradition of ‘Poor-man’s Bridge,’ the eejit!” the old man said with a sneer. “Sure, I can’t believe it. Normally, with a man of his education, I’d take his word as gospel. But, if he had come to me when he was travelling the country making up his statistics, I could have opened his eyes on that subject, and many others too.”

Some of those present laughed outright at the manner in which the old man made this confident boast. “You needn’t laugh! You can all just shut your potato-traps,” said the old man indignantly. “He might have thought he was a great man, with his gold and silver, his coach and horses, and his servants with gold and scarlet livery. But, I could tell him a thing or two about the ancient history and traditions of our country. In fact, a lot more history and tradition than all those landlords and landowners whom he visited, could have given him on his tour through the Queen’s County.”

Such boasting only served to increase the storm of ridicule which was beginning to gather around the old man’s head. So, in order to put a stop to any potential bad feelings, which the occasion might cause, I asked him to simply tell us the tradition surrounding “The Boccough Ruadh.”

After some coaxing and some flattery he agreed, and he began to tell us a curious story, the substance of which follows:-

The River Nore flows through a district of the Queen’s County that is famous for its fertility and romantic beauty. From its source among the blue hills of Slievebloom to where the river’s bright ripples mix with the briny waves of the Irish Sea, at New Ross, many excellent and even some beautiful bridges span its stream. Until the beginning of the last century, however, except in the vicinity of the towns, there were only a few permanent bridges across this river. In the country districts access, for the most part, was gained over the river by means of causeways, or, as they are often called “fords.” These were usually constructed of stones and huge blocks of timber that were fixed firmly in the bed of the river, and extended in irregular succession from bank to bank. Over this pathway foot passengers crossed easily enough, but cattle and wheeled carriages were obliged to struggle through the water as well as they could. But, in time of flooding, and in the winter season when the waters were swollen, all communication was cut off except to pedestrians alone.

One of those “fords,” in former times, crossed the Nore at Shanahoe, a very pretty neighbourhood, about three miles northwards of the beautiful and rising town of Abbeyleix, in the Queen’s County.Here, the river winds its course through a silent glen, and several snug cottages and farm-houses arise above its banks at either side. The country in this neighbourhood is remarkably beautiful. Several great homes are scattered along the banks of the river in this vicinity, all elegant and of modern erection. Meanwhile, swelling hills, sloping dales, gloomy groves, and the ruins of churches, towers, and grey castles, ornament and beautify the scene.

About a hundred years ago, on a gentle piece of rising ground, along the eastern bank of the river, stood the cabin of a man named Neale O’Shea. At that time there was not another dwelling within a mile or two of the ford, and on many occasions Neale was summoned from his midnight slumbers to guide the traveller as he made his way over the lonely and dangerous river pathway.

One wild and stormy December night, when the angry foaming water of the agitated river beat against the huge limestone rocks that formed the stepping-stones of the ford, Neale O’Shea’s wife thought she heard, between the pauses of the wind, the cry of someone in distress. She immediately awakened her husband, who was stretched out and asleep on a large oak stool in the chimney corner, and told him to look outside. Neale, who was always willing to assist a fellow-creature, got up from his resting place. Flinging his grey cloak over his wide shoulders, and grabbing hold of a long iron-tipped pole, which he constantly took with him on his nightly excursions, hurriedly made his way down to the river’s edge. He stood for a moment at the verge of the ford, and tried to see through the intense gloom of the night, to try and identify a human form, but he could see nothing. “Is there any one there?” he shouted out in a loud voice, which rose high above the whistling of the wind, and the rushing of the angry and swift-flowing river.

A voice sounded at the other end of the ford, and with steady step great determination, crossed over the wet and slippery stepping-stones. “Who the devil are you?” Neale called out to the figure of a man who was stretched out on the brink of the river, very near to the entrance of the ford. “Whoever I am,” the stranger faintly replied, “you are my guardian angel, and it was surely my good fortune which caused you to come and rescue me from a watery grave.”

Whoever you are,” said Neale, “come along with me, and Kathleen and the children will make you welcome in my cabin until morning.” Having given the invitation, he seized the bent form of the travel weary stranger, and using all his strength to fling him on his back, Neale trudged over the stepping-stones, chuckling with delight, and happily whistling a tune as he went.

The dangerous path was soon crossed, and arriving at the door, Neale pushed it open before him, and with a smile he laid his trembling burden down on the warm hearth. A fine fire blazed merrily, and its flickering flames fell brightly on the pale face of the stranger. He was a tall, portly figure of a man, stooped as if from extreme suffering rather than from age, and he had a wooden leg. His features, which had evidently been handsome in his youth, were worn, pale, and extremely thin, and looked as though he might be about fifty years of age. His clothes were faded and ragged, and he was entirely without shoes or stockings. The man’s head was covered by a broad-brimmed leather hat, under which he wore an enormous red nightcap of coarse woollen cloth.

Neale’s good wife, Kathleen, now set about preparing supper, and while she was doing this, the stranger gave them both a brief account of his life. He told them that he was a native of the north of Ireland, and that he had spent several years of his youth at sea. He admitted that he had been wounded in a fight with smugglers on the coast of France, and after losing his leg, he had been discharged from his employment, and sent out into the world, without having one friend on earth, or a penny in his pocket. In this emergency he had no alternative but to beg for assistance from his fellow-men, and had thus for the last twenty years wandered up and down the land, entirely dependent on the bounty and charity of the public.

Supper was now ready, and having taken a share of a comfortable meal, the wanderer went to rest in a comfortable “shake-down” bed, which the good woman had prepared for him in the chimney corner. The storm died away during the night, and next morning the watery beams of the winter’s sun shone faintly yet cheerfully on the smooth surface of the silvery Nore. The stranger was up at sunrise, and was preparing to leave, but his kind host and hostess would not allow him to go. They told him to stop a few days to rest, and in the interim, that he could do no better than take his post at the ford, and ask alms of those who passed that way. There were always a great many people that passed there and, he was told, as nothing was ever begged from them in that place, they would cheerfully extend their charity to a person worthy of help.

Acting on their suggestions, the old sailor was soon sitting on a stone at the western end of the ford. With his old beret in his hand, and his head enveloped in the gigantic red nightcap, he begged for alms, in the name of God and the Virgin, from all those who passed that way. Before the faint beams of the December sun had sunk behind the distant hills, the old sailor could show that had earned more money than ever he did before, or since his limb was swept off by the shot of the smugglers.

The next morning, and every morning after, the sailor was to be found at his post at the ford. He soon became so well known to all the villagers, and from the circumstance of his always appearing with no other head-gear than the red nightcap, they nicknamed him the “Boccough Ruadh.” This was the name by which he was known for ever after until his death.

The days and weeks passed by as usual, and the one-legged old sailor still conducted his lucrative employment at the river’s ford. Neale O’Shea’s cabin still continued to supply him with shelter every night, and all his days, from cock-crow until the final evening song of the wood-thrush, were spent at the ford, seated on that large block of limestone that is called to this day the “Clough-na-Boccough.”

The old sailor’s hand was stretched out to every stranger for alms, claiming it was “for the good of their souls,” and very few passed without giving something to the Boccough Ruadh.In this way he acquired considerable sums of money, but constantly denied having even a penny to his name. Whenever he was tormented by any of the neighbouring children about the size of his purse, he would get into a great rage. Angrily he swore, by the cross made by his crutch, that between buying a wee bit of tobacco and paying for other things he wanted, he hadn’t as much as would jingle on a tomb-stone, or as much that would buy a farthing candle to show a light on his poor corpse at the last day. He described the food that he ate as being the very worst, and unless it was supplied by the kind-hearted Kathleen O’Shea, he would sooner go to bed without supper than lay out one penny to buy bread. He allowed his clothes to go degrade into rags, unless any person in the area gave him old clothes for charity, and he would not pay for soap to even wash his shirt. Despite their best efforts, however, no one could find out what he did with his money. The man did not spend a half-crown in a year, and most people believed that he was piling it all up to give for masses that would benefit his soul on his dying day.

The years rolled by, and Neale O’Shea having reached old age, died, and was buried with his own people in the adjacent green churchyard of Shannikill, that lay on the banks of the winding Nore. The Boccough followed the remains of his kind benefactor to his last earthly resting-place, and poured his sorrows over his grave in loud and long-continued lamentations. But though Neale was gone, Kathleen remained, and she promised that while she lived, neither son nor daughter should ever turn out the Boccough Ruadh.

It was now forty years since the Boccough first crossed the waters of the Nore, and still he was constantly to be found from morning until night on his favourite stone at the river’s side. In the mean time, all the O’Shea children were married, and spread out through various parts of the country, with the exception of Terry, the youngest son. He was a fine stout fellow, now about thirty-five years of age, who still remained in a state of batchelorhood, and said he would continue to be single, “until he would lay the last sod on his poor old mother.”He had great strength, and he inherited all his father’s kindness of heart and undaunted bravery. Terry was particularly attentive to the Boccough, whom he regarded with the same affection as a child would a parent.

One morning in summer, the Boccough remained in his bed longer than was his usual custom, and thinking that he might be unwell, Terry went to his bedside, and asked him why he was not up as usual. “Ah, Terry,” said the old man sorrowfully, “I will never get up again until I get the wooden box. Sure, my days are spent, and I know it, for there is something over me that I cannot describe, and I won’t be alive this time tomorrow.” and as he said these words, he heaved a deep groan, and Terry, wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his coat began to weep bitterly.

Will I go for the priest?” asked Terry, sobbing as if his heart would break.

No,” replied the old man sorrowfully, “I do not want him. It is a long time since I complied with my religious duties, and now I feel it is useless.”

There is mercy still,” replied Terry; “you know the old saying,‘Mercy craved and mercy found

Between the saddle

and the ground.’”

The old man did not reply, but shook his head, indicating his determination to die without the consolations that religion might provide, while Terry trembled for his hopeless situation. “Well, since you won’t have the priest, will you give me some money till I bring you the doctor?” said Terry.

The old man’s eyes literally flashed fire, his form heaved with rage, and his face showed an almost demoniac indignation.

What’s that you say?” he demanded in a ferocious tone, and Terry repeated the question. “Send for a doctor? Give you money?” echoed the old man. “Where the devil would I get money to pay a doctor?”

You have it, and ten times as much,” said Terry, “and you cannot deny it.”

If I have as much money as would buy me a coffin,” said the Boccough, “may my soul never rest quiet in the grave.”

Terry crossed his brow with terror. He knew the unhappy wretch was dying with a lie on his tongue, but he resolved not to press the matter further. “You are dying as fast as you can, remarked Terry; “have you anything that you want to say before you go?”

Nothing,” he replied faintly. “But let me be buried with my red nightcap on me.”

Your wish must be granted,” said Terry, and he went to awake his old mother, who still lay asleep. When he returned, he found the old man breathing his last. He uttered a convulsive groan, and expired.

The Christmas Horror Final

Part III

Spirit Council“Still smiling bravely I closed her door behind me and, as I crossed the landing a bright light came from another room, whose door was left slightly open. The light fell like a golden path across my way and, as I approached the light’s source, the door opened wider and my sister Lucy came out. She had bee waiting for me and came out in a white cashmere robe, over which her loosened dark hair hung heavily, like tangles of silk. “Rose,” she whispered, “Mary and I cannot bear the idea of you sleeping in that place, all alone. That isolated bedroom, and the very room the old housekeeper used to talk about! Mary has already given up her room to come to sleep in mine. We would also like for you to stay with us, for tonight at least still we should so wish you to stop with us to-night at least. We could make up a bed on the sofa for me or you–“ I stopped Lucy’s speech with a kiss of thanks.

“I declined Lucy’s offer and did not allow her to finish her plea to me. I was angry, full of self-pride, and I would have done anything but accept a proposal that was made in the belief that my nerves had been shaken by all the ghostly tales that had been told. I wondered if they really thought that I was a weak, superstitious little girl, unable to spend a night in a strange bedroom. Again I kissed Lucy and bade her good-night, before proceeding on my way with a laugh, just to show that I was not frightened. Yet, as I looked back along the dark corridor and could see Lucy’s door was still open and she was peering after me. For a moment I wanted to return to her, but a sense of shame at such cowardice forced me to go on, and I waved her good night.

“Turning the corner, I peeped back over my shoulder and saw the door close, extinguishing the light and bringing back the darkness. Just at that very moment I thought I heard a heavy sigh, and I looked sharply around to see where the noise was coming from. But, there was no one there, and there no door was open. Yet, I did hear with great clarity a sigh, which was breathed not far from where I stood. It was a clear sigh, and not to be confused with the groan of tree branches as the wind outside tossed them to and. I was afraid, and my nervous system was kicking in as my imagination began to play strange tricks on me.

“Ahead of me lay the picture-gallery and I had never passed this part of the house without light before. There was a gloomy array of tall portraits whose eyes seemed to follow my every movement. The lozenge-paned or painted windows rattled as the wind blew fiercely past them. In the darkness many of the portraits looked stern and very different from their daylight expression. In other portraits a furtive, flickering smile seemed to mock me as my torch light illuminated them. Not surprisingly, I felt ill at ease under their stony gaze, though I knew that they were not real people. To ease my passage I smiled and hummed a song to myself. I would even laugh to myself at some of those pictures as I confronted them, and slowly, nervously continued on my way in silence.

“Shaking off my earlier fears, I blushed at my weakness, and continued to look for my room, very happy that I was the only one to witness my trembling. As I entered my room I thought I heard something move in the much neglected ‘glory-hole’, which was the only neighbouring room to mine. But I was determined not to let my nerves send me into a panic again and I closed my eyes and ears to slight noise. After all, between the rats and the wind, an old manor-house on a stormy night needs no ghosts or other spirits to disturb it. So, I entered the bedroom, and rang for a maid. But, as I did so, I looked around my room, and a terrible, inexplicable repugnance to my new surroundings overcame me, despite of my best efforts.

“This was not a simple chill that made my body shiver, and could be easily shaken off. There was an intense feeling of dislike, accompanied by a deep sense of apprehension; the sort of instinct that allows us to regard certain places and people are not entirely beneficial to us. Some of you will undoubtedly consider such things as being irrational, but it is by instinct that we often can distinguish friends from enemies. It is often said, ‘Show me a man whom children and dogs shrink from, and I will show you a bad man, who speaks lies, and has murder in his heart.’ So, we should never despise the gift of instinct that causes the horse to tremble when the lion crouches in the thicket. As I looked around me in this strange bedroom I felt the presence of danger, and yet I could not explain why I should feel this way. It was a nice room, with drawn green damask curtains, a warm fire burning bright in the hearth, and small table lamps that provided light. The pretty little white bed, also, looked peaceful and inviting, promising me a peaceful night’s sleep.

“My maid arrived in the room and immediately began to assist in my preparations for bed. She was a friendly face on a night when I just did not want to be on my own, and I shamelessly encouraged her to gossip. In fact we gossiped so much that it took Maura, the maid, a half an hour longer than usual to get through her duties. Then, when all was done that had to be done, Maura asked me if there was anything more that I required from her. She gave a little yawn as she spoke, and I felt sorry for having kept her so long. “There’s nothing more,” I told her and she left me, closing the door gently behind her.

“With the closing of the bedroom door I was left all alone once again, and I quickly began to feel very uneasy. Everything that was in the room that I had previously liked, I now took a terrible dislike. In fact, I was sorely tempted to put on a dressing-gown and run, half-dressed, through the corridors to my sisters’ room, and tell them that I had a change of mind and wanted to take up their kind offer to sleep in their room. But thinking that they must be asleep by this time, I decided it would not be very kind to awaken them again. Instead, I said my prayers with a little more earnestness than was usual and with a heavy heart I put out the lamp. I was just about to lay my head on my pillow, when I suddenly had the idea that I should lock bedroom door with the key. The flames from the burning fire were enough to guide me in the darkness and I quickly managed to reach the door. There was indeed a lock, but it would not allow me to turn the key in it, no matter how hard I tried. It was evident that there was, at one time, a bolt on the door, but it was now broken and completely worthless to me. Contenting myself that there was nothing more that I could do I returned to my bed, where I lay awake for a good while, watching the red glow of the burning coals in the grate.

“Everything was quiet now, and I was feeling a lot more composed within my mind. Talking to Maura had done me a lot of good and had helped divert my thoughts. I was just about to drop off to sleep, when I was suddenly disturbed, twice. The first occasion was caused by an owl, which was hooting from its hiding place within the ivy outside my window. It was a sound that I had heard many times but, this time, it much more harsh and melancholy. The second disturbance was a long and mournful howl created by the family’s large hound that had been chained-up in the yard. It was a long-drawn out howl, and sounded almost as if it was heralding a death in the family. I knew, of course, that this was nonsense, but I could not help feeling that those mournful tones were sad, and expressed the dog’s terror of something evil that it could sense nearby. But, my body was tired and I soon fell asleep in that small, comfortable bed.

“I cannot tell how long I slept, but I awoke at once with an abrupt start which took me from a state of utter unconsciousness to the full use of my senses in a matter of seconds. The coals in the fire were still burning in the grate, but the light it radiated was very low, and more than half the room was now in deep shadow. Instantly I felt that there was someone, or something, in the room with me, but, in the low light nothing unusual could be seen. Nevertheless, I could sense that there was a danger present, and it was that sense of peril that had aroused me from my sleep. I experienced that chill and shock of alarm, knowing that there was an intruder in that room who was invisible to me. My ears were attuned  to hear the slightest sound that might give away the intruder’s position, but I could only hear the faint sounds of the fire, and the loud, irregular beatings of my own heart.

“Perhaps it was intuition that told me that I was not alone in that room. I waited, and my heart pounded quicker, and its pulsations grew as my fear deepened. It was this time that I heard a faint, distinct sound of a chain rattling, and I tried to lift my head from the pillow. Although the light was very dim I saw the curtains shake, and I caught a glimpse of something darker beyond them. I tried to cry out, but I could not utter a single word. The chain rattled again, but much louder and clearer this time. In the dim darkness, I caught a glimpse of something, but no matter how hard I tried I could not penetrate the shadows at the other end of the room, where the noise appeared to be generated.  My mind was now suddenly filled with all sorts of questions. Was it a robber? Could it be a supernatural visitor? Or was I the victim of some sort of an unpleasant practical joke? My anxiety levels continued to rise, restraining me and preventing me from speaking.

“Then the chain clanked nearer to my bed as I began to notice a dusky, shapeless mass appear between the curtains on the opposite side to where I was lying. I could hear no sound but that of the curtains rustling and the clash of the iron chains. Suddenly, the dying flames of the fire leaped up, and the door to the room was firmly closed. It was then that I saw something resembling human form that now threw itself heavily upon the bed, and lay there, huge and dark, in the red gleam that now died away after arousing so much fear and returned the room to darkness. There was now no light in the room, though the red cinders remaining in the hearth glowed like the eyes of wild beasts. The chain did not rattle again, but I still tried to scream wildly for help. My mouth was so parched, my tongue refused to co-operate and I could not utter a cry.  Even if I could have called out I could not be sure that anyone would have heard me from my lonely room, which was so far from another living being. The storm that howled outside would have easily drowned out my pleas, even if help had been nearer to hand. To call out aloud would have been both useless and perilous, especially if the intruder was a robber and my calls had angered him to violence. Whatever it was that lay by my side could not be seen and I began to pray aloud as my mind filled with images from the weird and fascinating stories of my childhood. The spirits of wicked men that were forced to revisit the scenes of their earthly crimes, of demons that skulked about in certain accursed spots, of ghouls and vampires that wandered among the graves, which they broke into and gather for their ghostly banquets. Thoughts of such creatures caused me to shudder and I could feel it stirring beside me, moaning hoarsely. Again I heard the clinking of chains close to me, and I pulled myself away from it in my fear and loathing. I did not know what the presence was, but I was certain that it was something malignant, and a harbinger of evil.

“Although I was very much afraid, I knew that I dared not speak. I wanted to be silent, because I was still convinced that, whatever this presence was, it had not yet discovered that I was in the room with it. And then I remembered all the events of the night, Lady Hurst’s ill-omened half-warnings, and particularly my sister’s remark that this was the room the old housekeeper used to warn us to avoid. Then I recalled the long-forgotten repute that this disused room had gained, the many grievous sins it had witnessed, the blood that had been spilled, the poison administered by unnatural hate and greed, and the stories that condemned it as haunted. It was ‘The Green Room’, and how the servants avoided it, how it was rarely mentioned, and then only in whispers, when we were children. The entire household regarded it as a mysterious place that was totally unfit for mortal habitation. I wondered if this presence was the creature which haunted the room, and what type of creature was it?

“The chain faintly rattled again and the hair on my head bristled at the sound, as my eyes strained in their sockets, and the cold sweat of terror dripped from my brow. My heart did not beat so freely, occasionally appearing to stop, and sometimes its pulses were hurried, which caused my breaths to be short and extremely difficult. Although my body shivered, as if it was cold, I was still much too fearful to move. But, the mysterious presence moved, moaned, and its chains clanked dismally, while the bed creaked and shook. This presence, therefore, was not a spectre, but something very solid and real that its presence increased my terror a thousand times. At that moment I felt that I was in the grasp of something both evil and dangerous, in the presence of which I was now sick with fear. In desperation I slipped silently from the bed, grabbed a nearby dressing-gown, which I wrapped around me, and tried to inch my way to the door on my hands and knees.

“I was very excited at the possibility of escaping this unknown being, but I had scarcely moved a foot before the moaning began again. In a moment it changed into a threatening growl that sounded as if it had come from the depths of some dark a wolf’s throat, and a hand appeared as if from nowhere and clutched at my sleeve. I became frozen to the spot. That muttering growl changed again to a moan and, although there was no further clanking of the chain, the ghostly hand still held a tight grip of my sleeve. I was afraid to move even an inch because I was now certain that this being was aware of my presence. My brain was spinning as the blood pounded through my heart, and my knees lost all of their strength, while my body shook like that of a deer caught in the stare of a wolf pack. In my numbing terror it appeared to me that I was losing all of my senses at once.

“Once my senses returned I found myself sitting on the edge of the bed, shivering with cold, and barefooted. There wasn’t a sound, but I could still feel my sleeve still being gripped by a strong, unearthly being. The silence seemed to last a long time, though it may have only been a matter of minutes, and it was eventually by a devilish laugh that almost caused the marrow in my bones to freeze. Then I heard what appeared to be the gnashing of teeth, and then a wailing moan, which was followed by silence once again. My fear was such that I could not feel time passing, or hear the hours chime on the clock. All the while hideous visions passed before my eyes, which continued to gaze into that pitch blackness where the invisible being lay.

“In my feverish fear I pictured the being in every abhorrent form imaginable to me. I saw it as a skeleton with hollow eye sockets and grinning, fleshless jaws. Next, I envisaged a vampire, with its ashen coloured face and a mouth dripping with blood. I longed for daylight, and yet I knew that when the morning light came I would have to meet the beast face-to-face. There were tales that said ghosts and devils faded away as morning broke, but I was sure that this creature was too terrible a thing that dawn’s light would have no effect upon it. It was my destiny, I was certain of it, to see this creature, and a great chill once again seized my body. My teeth began to chatter, and every part of my body shivered as a cold, damp sweat burst upon my brow. In response I grabbed at a shawl, which lay upon a nearby chair, and I wrapped it around me. My movement, of course, caused that demoniacal moan to return and the chain to clank again, causing all hopes to dissipate. Time flew by quickly, and I sat there rigid and silent. I may have even slept for a time. I remember the cold grey light of another winter’s morning on my face, and it gradually stole around the small, dark room from between the heavy curtains that hung at the window.

“Shuddering with great fear I turned to see what horror had plagued my night. In the grey light of that winter dawn I saw that the being was not a ghost, a dream, or hallucination brought on by fear. There it lay on the bed, with its grim head on the pillow. I could not tell if it was a man, or a corpse that had arisen from its grave to await the demon that brought it to life. It was a gaunt, gigantic form, wasted to a skeleton, half-dressed, covered with dirt and clotted blood, its huge limbs flung upon the bed, and its shaggy hair streaming over the pillows like a lion’s mane.

“This creature’s wild, hideous face was turned toward me. Its features were human, covered in a horrible mask of mud and half-dried blood, while the expression it bore was a brutish and savagely fierce one, its white teeth visible between parted lips in a malignant grin. The creature’s tangled hair and beard were crumpled together, and there were scars disfiguring the brow. Around the creature’s waist was a ring of iron, to which was attached a heavy but broken chain that was undoubtedly the chain that I had heard clanking. I noticed that part of the chain was wrapped in straw to prevent it rubbing against the creature. There were marks of the chains on the creature’s wrists, and the bony arm that protruded through one tattered sleeve was scarred and bruised. His feet were bare, and cut by stones and briers, with one foot wrapped in a kind of rag bandage. The lean hands, one of which held my sleeve, were armed with talons like those of an eagle. In that moment I knew that I was at the mercy of a madman. It would, perhaps, have been better if this had been a ghost that merely scares people, rather than a beast that tears a quivering body limb from limb. I was now sure that this was a pitiless brute which had no heart that could be softened, and whose intentions no plea could change. My terror was complete as I looked upon those blood covered fingers and wolfish jaws that, along with its face, were smeared with blackening blood!

“In that moment the mystery of the slain sheep had been solved. The manner in which they had been mangled and torn apart, the print of a naked foot, and the broken chain link found near the slaughtered animals were now fully explained. This creature had escaped from some institution, where his wild rages had been bound up. How had this grisly creature broken its chains? It must have been a mighty rage that gave him the strength to escape those prison bars, most likely he was encouraged by the scars whippings he had received from his guardians. Now this creature was loose, free to play the tortured brute his captors had made him. Was I already caught in his clutches, to be his next victim? I felt overcome by a terrible sickness and was struck dumb by the total fear in which I was encased. All I could do was to wait until the moment when he should open his eyes and be aware of my presence.

“Something told me that the creature was not yet aware of my presence. He had used the room as a lair in which he could hide and, after killing and gorging himself on the sheep, he wearily flung himself down on the bed to sleep. He had not expected to find any other person in that room and had, therefore, no reason to suspect that he was not alone. Even when he grasped my sleeve it was, most likely, an action carried out in his sleep, just his unconscious moans and laughter.

“Time was passing and I was sure that the entire house would be awake soon. Someone would be sent to awaken me and would awaken the creature. Then I heard a light footstep outside the door, which was followed by a quiet knock. There was a pause and the knock was repeated, only more loudly on this occasion. In that moment I saw the creature stretch his limbs, uttering a moaning cry, and he slowly opened his eyes. And as his eyes opened they met mine. There was another knock, and I worried that the door would open, the grim creature would be seen, and bring about a catastrophe.

“There was wonder and surprise in those wild, bloodshot eyes as I saw him stare at me half vacantly. In an instant I could see a murderous demon begin to peep from those hideous eyes, while its lips to part in a sneer, and its wolf-like teeth bared themselves. My fear, however, now gave me a new and desperate composure that I had not felt before. I stared at the glare of those terrible eyes, remaining steady, undaunted, and motionless. Those dreadful eyes began to sink, as if from shame, as he moaned and his shaggy head drooped between his gaunt, squalid hands.

“Seizing my chance I jumped to my feet and, with one spring, reached the door, which I tore open and, with a shriek, rushed through. As I caught the girl by the arm I screamed at her to run for her life, and rushed through the corridor, and down the stairs. Maura’s screams filled the house as she fled at my side. Then I heard a long-drawn, raging cry, the roar of a wild animal robbed of its prey, and I knew what was behind me. I never turned my head to check, preferring to run as fast as I could. It seemed to be only seconds before I was in the hall, and all around me there was a rush of many feet. There was a cacophony of many voices, brutal yells, swearing, heavy blows, and I suddenly fell to the ground crying out, “Help me!”

“I awoke from a delirious trance and there were kind faces all around my bed, and I saw the loving looks from all who were there, but I fainted once again. I did not recover for a long time afterward, and was nursed tenderly through this period. When I awoke, the pitying looks of those who cared for me made my body tremble. Although I asked for a mirror on many occasions it was denied me, but I prevailed. A mirror was finally brought, and I saw that all of my youth was gone from me in one fell swoop. The glass showed a livid and haggard face, blanched and bloodless, with ashen lips, wrinkled brow, and dim eyes. There was nothing of my former self reflected back to me. My rich dark hair was now as white as snow, and in one night it was as if I had aged fifty years. My nerves, too, never recovered after that dire shock, and my life was blighted to the extent that my lover abandoned me.

“I am old now and very much alone. My sisters wanted me to live with them, but I chose not to sadden their happy homes with my ghostly face and dead eyes. Roger, meanwhile, married another and he has been dead for many years now. As for me, my sadness is almost over and I am near the end of my life. I have not been bitter or hard, but I cannot bear to see many people, and I am probably best alone. The wealth left to me by Lady Hurst is doing whatever good that it can do. After all is said and done, what need do I have of wealth, being the shattered wreck of a woman that was left by that one night of horror!

The Christmas Horror II

Part II

XMAS 3The room that I was now given was a dim little triangular room in the west wing of the house. It could only be reached by crossing the ‘picture-gallery’, or by climbing a little flight of stairs which led directly upward from the low-browed arch of a door that opened into the garden area. There was one more room on the same landing, but it was used mainly to house broken furniture, old toys, and bits of timber that had accumulate over the years. As for the room in which I was to sleep for the next few nights there were tapestries on the wall, with old, faded green velvet curtains, , fresh clothes on the bed, which had been hurriedly made, and quite oddly a new carpet. The furniture in the room was half old and half new, and on the dressing-table stood a very old oval mirror, in a frame of black ebony. It is many years ago now, but my memory of that night is so good that I will never forget one detail of it.

“Every Christmas several local girls were hired to act as maids for the guests that had been invited to our home. That short winter’s day had drawn to a close and the maids busied themselves with the large number of guests, who were very much looking forward to a Christmas feast and party. A large variety of traditional yuletide foods was served to them and, after dinner, a large number of guests gathered together in the huge drawing-room, in which a great wood-fire blazed in the ornate marble hearth. Among the crowd were, of course, the old, hard-riding, hard-drinking men of the fox-hunting clique, mumbling to each other over their port in the dining-room, and father was obliged to remain with them. The ladies and all the younger gentlemen, in the meantime, were all together in the drawing-room. Some of these had been invited to spend the night at our house, while others would have to make their own way home in the early hours, navigating narrow, dark and lonely country roads.

“Roger was at the gathering, of course, and he sat by my side. It was well known by everyone that we were engaged and were only waiting until the spring came so we could marry. My sisters were not very far away, and they seemed to have found handsome men whose hearts were very responsive to them. I could see the eyes of those men sparkle and soften as they met these young, attractive women. They were full of the joys of youth, innocent and very loving young ladies to whom the young gentlemen wanted to converse.

“The drawing room was large and lofty, with an arched roof that had somewhat sombre character, caused by the polished black oak features. On the walls hung ornate mirrors and many beautiful paintings, and the room was filled with tasteful furniture, a marble chimney-piece, and a large, colourful carpet. Many lights were burning, but in a forlorn hope of brightening the dark walls and roof. But, the black oak just appeared to ingest the rays of light like the mouth of a huge cave. A searchlight might have had serious difficulty in giving that room a cheerful glow of a modern drawing room. The gloomy richness of the panels, however, matched well with the ruddy gleam from the enormous wood-fire in which, crackling and glowing, lay the mighty Yule log.

“There was a blood-red lustre from the fire, reflected off the walls and roof. I was with a large group of the young people gathered around the antique hearth in a wide circle. The light from the fire, candles, and bulbs fell upon each of our faces though not on all equally, for some preferred to stay in the shadow of another. I remember still how tall, manly and handsome Roger looked that night. He was at least a head taller than any other person in the drawing room, and full of high spirits and fun. I must admit that I too was in the highest of spirits, and the rest the rest of our company joined in our joyous mood. All, that is, except for one.

“Lady Hurst was dressed in grey silk and was wearing a quaint head-dress. She was sitting in a big, comfortable armchair, facing the fire, very quiet, with her hands and her sharp chin propped on a sort of ivory-handled stick that she used because she was lame. All the while the old woman was peering at me with half-closed eyes. She was a small, old, and had very delicate features. The grey silk dress, her spotless lace, old-fashioned jewellery, and her overall neatness in appearance, were well suited to the intelligent face, with its thin lips, and eyes of a piercing black that were undimmed by age. But, in spite of my high spirited mood, those eyes made me feel uncomfortable as they appeared to follow my every movement around the room. Still, I tried hard to be both merry and happy, even to the point where my own sisters began to wonder what come over me. my ever-ready mirth, which was almost wild in its excess. Nevertheless, Lady Hurst’s eyes did make a disagreeable impression upon me and others quickly began to notice her scrutinising, but they put it down to her eccentricity.

“That disagreeable impression lasted only a few moments I was more pleasantly distracted. My aunt now began to take part in the conversation that was happening and we found ourselves listening to a weird legend. The old lady was a good teller of stories, and one tale would, naturally, lead to another.

“Everyone in the room was called upon to contribute to the entertainment, and each story contained some form of demonology and witchcraft. It was, after all, Christmas and the season for such tales to be told. The old drawing room, with its dusky walls was the perfect place to relate stories like these. The huge logs were crackling in the hearth and burned with a warm glow. The blood-red glare of the ‘Yule log’ reflected on the faces of storyteller and listeners alike, on paintings and the holly wreaths wrapped about their frames. It is no wonder, in the shimmering lustre of an ominously ruddy hue upon the oaken panels that the ghost and goblin stories took on a life of their own. As the tales unfolded the blood of the more timid grew chill and curdled. They felt their flesh creep while their hearts beat irregularly. The young ladies peeped fearfully over their shoulders and huddled close together like frightened sheep, believing that some impish and malignant face was cackling at them from the dark corners of the old room.

“By degrees my high spirits began to die out, and I started those childish tremors that I long thought I had left behind. I listened intently to each story as it was told, but I never asked myself if I believed in the authenticity of such dismal tales. A fear grew on me, like a child left alone in the nursery and menaced by variously shaped dark shadows. I am sure that most of ladies that were present in the room, both young and middle-aged, were affected in a variety of ways by the wild and fantastic characters in these tales.  Those fears and tremors would die out with the first light of a new day, when the bright sun would shine again on the frost covered grass and tree branches and was reflected by the rich red berries and glossy green spiked holly leaves. This form of entertainment soon ended, however, as my father and the older men returned into our midst. No one was courageous enough to relate such tales when these hard-headed, unimaginative men, returned, because they scorned such idle legends and superstitions.

“The previous quiet that had prevailed now disappeared, to make way for quite a bit of stir and bustle. There was tea, coffee, and other refreshments being served as some played piano and others sang. Roger and I sang a duet together. He had a very fine voice and good musical skills that carried me through the song. Surprisingly my singing was praised for its power and pathos. At the same time, I heard one lady say to another that I was by far the cleverest of my father’s daughters, as well as being the prettiest. Such compliments, however, did not make me vain since there was absolutely no competition between myself and my sisters. Roger whispered some soft, loving words in my ear as he put on his coat and got into the taxi to bring him home. It was now time for shawls, coats and other apparel to be called for as various vehicles rolled up to the porch of the house, and the guests gradually began to make their way home. At last there was no one left in the house but those who were staying the night there. Then I noticed my father, with a look of great annoyance evident on his face.

“”I have just been told a very strange story,” I heard him say, “One of the tenant farmers has just informed me that we have lost four of best ewes that we have been rearing on his land. It was that new flock that arrived at the end of October and the poor man says that they have been killed in a very strange way, with their carcasses having been torn to pieces and horribly mangled.”

“There was a collective sound of shock in the room when this news was revealed. Some of the younger men suggested that the culprit could very well have been a vicious dog. “It would seem so,” said father, “it would appear to be the work of a very vicious dog, and yet there is no dog fitting that description in this area. There are only sheepdogs and sporting dogs, all of which are well secured in yards. But, the sheep have been gnawed and bitten, because they show the marks of teeth distinctly. Some creature has done this thing, and torn those bodies apart like a wolf would. The mystery is that very little, or no, flesh has been taken from any of the bodies and that the attack was apparently made just to suck the blood from the sheep.”

“Heavens above!” was one excited cry when this news was revealed. Then one of the men recalled having heard that dogs could become addicted to sheep- killing and even wipe out an entire flock. “They say that the sight that is left to us is one of complete wantonness, scarcely waiting even a moment to taste a single morsel of flesh.”

“My father shook his head. “I also have heard of such cases,” he said, “but in this case I think that this might be the work of some unknown enemy. The teeth of a dog have been busy, of that there is no doubt, but these poor sheep have been mutilated in a very unusual manner that was as strange as it was horrible. The hearts of the animals have been torn out, and left several feet away from the carcasses, half- gnawed. The men, moreover, insist that they discovered the print of a naked human foot in the soft mud of the ditch. Near to it, this was found.” And he held up what appeared to be a broken link of a rusted iron chain.

“These revelations brought more exclamations of wonder and alarm, as well as many more suggestions, none of which appeared to have a bearing on the case. Then, when my father went on to say that two lambs of the same valuable breed had been killed in the same manner three days previously, there were further loud exclamations. All the while Lady Hurst had listened very calmly, but joined in none of our exclamations. Finally, she spoke to my father, “Try to remember if you have you any enemies among your neighbours?”

“My father gave her a puzzled look and frowned heavily at her. “Not one that I know of,” he replied, confident that he was a popular and kind man.

“Then, you are indeed a lucky man,” said the old woman, with one of her grim smiles.

“The hour was now very late, one-by-one we went off to our rooms to rest. Unfortunately, I was the family who was selected to escort old Lady Hurst to her room, the room I had vacated for her to use. It was not a task that I was fond of, because I did not like her much, godmother or not. My aunts, however, insisted that I should ingratiate myself with a woman who had as much money as she had, in case she might leave to a favourite such as might become. The old lady hobbled up the broad oaken stairs using both my arm her ivory crutch as props. When we reached the door to the room I opened it and led her into the brightly furnished room, which had a warm fire, glowing in the hearth. “This is a very nice room, dear,” she said as she looked around her new surroundings, “I should thank you, since I have been told that you have given it up to me.”

“All I could do was to smile at her compliment. “But, My dear,  I sure you’ll be sorry for your generosity to me, when you consider the strange bedchamber that you have been given, especially after all those ghost stories that were told. Yes?” the old lady added. I simply shrugged this off, telling her that I didn’t believe in such things.

“Where have they put you, child?” she asked, “in some little mouse-hole in the turrets, or in a glory hole somewhere else to sleep among the discarded things of the house. You need not try to be so brave, for I can hear your heart pounding with fear at this moment. I don’t think should be alone tonight.”

“Calling up every ounce of my pride, I tried to laugh off her doubts about my courage. Deep inside my own mind, however, I realised there was quite a lot of truth in what she had said. “Is there anything more that I can get for you, Lady Hurst?” I asked her, while trying to trying to pretend to yawn in the hope that she would see that I was already very sleepy.

“There was to be no such luck for me, because the old woman’s eyes stared directly at me. “You know my dear, I rather like you,” she said, “I also liked your mother well enough before she treated me so shamefully about the christening dinner. Now, dear, I know you are frightened and fearful, and if some bird should even flutter at your window to-night, it just might drive you into hysterics. There is a lovely little sofa-bed over there which can be quickly made up for you, and you can sleep there snugly, under the old witch’s protection. Rest assured no creature will harm you, and no one will be any bit the wiser, or mock you for being afraid.” It was my chance to accept her kind offer, and if I had only known what would happen I might have said “Yes”. Unfortunately, none of us can see into the future with any sense of certainty.XMAS 3