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Banim, John / Stories by English Authors: Ireland
He was a single man, and,
dying as such, he would be the sole depository of his own valor,
which, like Junius's secret, must perish with him. If he could have
left it as a legacy to such of his friends as were most remarkable
for cowardice, why, the case would be altered: but this was impossible,
and he had now no other means of preserving it to posterity than
by creating a posterity to inherit it. He saw, too, that the world
was likely to become convulsed. Wars, as everybody knew, were
certain to break out; and would it not be an excellent opportunity
for being father to a colonel, or perhaps a general, that might
astonish the world?

The change visible in Neal after the schoolmaster's last visit
absolutely thunderstruck all who knew him. The clothes which he
had rashly taken in to fit his shrivelled limbs were once more let
out. The tailor expanded with a new spirit; his joints ceased to
be supple, as in the days of his valor; his eye became less fiery
but more brilliant. From being martial, he got desperately gallant;
but, somehow, he could not afford to act the hero and lover both
at the same time. This, perhaps, would be too much to expect from
a tailor. His policy was better. He resolved to bring all his
available energy to bear upon the charms of whatever fair nymph he
should select for the honour of matrimony; to waste his spirit in
fighting would, therefore, be a deduction from the single purpose
in view.

The transition from war to love is by no means so remarkable as we
might at first imagine. We quote Jack Falstaff in proof of this;
or, if the reader be disposed to reject our authority, then we
quote Ancient Pistol himself--both of whom we consider as the most
finished specimens of heroism that ever carried a safe skin. Acres
would have been a hero had he worn gloves to prevent the courage
from oozing out at his palms, or not felt such an unlucky antipathy
to the "snug lying in the Abbey"; and as for Captain Bobadil, he
never had an opportunity of putting his plan for vanquishing an
army into practice. We fear, indeed, that neither his character
nor Ben Jonson's knowledge of human nature is properly understood;
for it certainly could not be expected that a man whose spirit
glowed to encounter a whole host could, without tarnishing his
dignity, if closely pressed, condescend to fight an individual.
But as these remarks on courage may be felt by the reader as an
invidious introduction of a subject disagreeable to him, we beg
to hush it for the present and return to the tailor.

No sooner had Neal begun to feel an inclination to matrimony than
his friends knew that his principles had veered by the change now
visible in his person and deportment. They saw he had ratted from
courage and joined love. Heretofore his life had been all winter,
darkened by storm and hurricane. The fiercer virtues had played
the devil with him; every word was thunder, every look lightning;
but now all that had passed away. Before he was the FORTITER IN RE;
at present he was the SUAVITER IN MODO. His existence was perfect
spring, beautifully vernal. All the amiable and softer qualities
began to bud about his heart; a genial warmth was diffused over
him; his soul got green within him; every day was serene, and if
a cloud happened to become visible, there was a roguish rainbow
astride of it, on which sat a beautiful Iris that laughed down at
him and seemed to say, "Why the dickens, Neal, don't you marry a
wife?"

Neal could not resist the afflatus which decended on him; an
ethereal light dwelled, he thought, upon the face of nature; the
colour of the cloth which he cut out from day to day was, to his
enraptured eye, like the colour of Cupid's wings--all purple; his
visions were worth their weight in gold; his dreams a credit to
the bed he slept on; and his feelings, like blind puppies, young
and alive to the milk of love and kindness which they drew from his
heart. Most of this delight escaped the observation of the world,
for Neal, like your true lover, became shy and mysterious. It is
difficult to say what he resembled; no dark lantern ever had more
light shut up within itself than Neal had in his soul, although
his friends were not aware of it. They knew, indeed, that he had
turned his back upon valor; but beyond this their knowledge did
not extend.

Neal was shrewd enough to know that what he felt must be love;
nothing else could distend him with happiness until his soul felt
light and bladderlike but love. As an oyster opens when expecting
the tide, so did his soul expand at the contemplation of matrimony.
Labour ceased to be a trouble to him; he sang and sewed from morning
till night; his hot goose no longer burned him, for his heart was
as hot as his goose; the vibrations of his head, at each successive
stitch, were no longer sad and melancholy. There was a buoyant
shake of exultation in them which showed that his soul was placid
and happy within him.

Endless honour be to Neal Malone for the originality with which
he managed the tender sentiment! He did not, like your commonplace
lovers, first discover a pretty girl and afterward become enamoured
of her. No such thing; he had the passion prepared beforehand--cut
out and made up, as it were, ready for any girl whom it might fit.
This was falling in love in the abstract, and let no man condemn
it without a trial, for many a long-winded argument could be urged
in its defence. It is always wrong to commence business without
capital, and Neal had a good stock to begin with. All we beg is
that the reader will not confound it with Platonism, which never
marries; but he is at full liberty to call it Socratism, which
takes unto itself a wife and suffers accordingly.

Let no one suppose that Neal forgot the schoolmaster's kindness,
or failed to be duly grateful for it. Mr. O'Connor was the first
person whom he consulted touching his passion. With a cheerful
soul he waited on that melancholy and gentleman-like man, and in
the very luxury of his heart told him that he was in love.

"In love, Neal!" said the schoolmaster. "May I inquire with whom?"

"Wid nobody in particular yet," replied Neal; "but o' late I'm got
divilish fond o' the girls in general."

"And do you call that being in love, Neal?" said Mr. O'Connor.

"Why, what else would I call it?" returned the tailor. "Am n't I
fond o' them?"

"Then it must be what is termed the 'universal passion,' Neal,"
observed Mr. O'Connor, "although it is the first time I have seen
such an illustration of it as you present in your own person."

"I wish you would advise me how to act," said Neal; "I'm as happy as
a prince since I began to get fond o' them an' to think o' marriage."

The schoolmaster shook his head again, and looked rather miserable.
Neal rubbed his hands with glee, and looked perfectly happy. The
schoolmaster shook his head again, and looked more miserable than
before. Neal's happiness also increased on the second rubbing.

Now, to tell the secret at once, Mr. O'Connor would not have appeared
so miserable were it not for Neal's happiness; nor Neal so happy
were it not for Mr. O'Connor's misery. It was all the result of
contrast; but this you will not understand unless you be deeply
read in modern novels.

Mr. O'Connor, however, was a man of sense, who knew, upon this
principle, that the longer he continued to shake his head the more
miserable he must become, and the more also would he increase Neal's
happiness; but he had no intention of increasing Neal's happiness
at his own expense--for, upon the same hypothesis, it would have
been for Neal's interest had he remained shaking his head there
and getting miserable until the day of judgment. He consequently
declined giving the third shake, for he thought that plain
conversation was, after all, more significant and forcible than
the most eloquent nod, however ably translated.

"Neal," said he, "could you, by stretching your imagination, contrive
to rest contented with nursing your passion in solitude, and love
the sex at a distance?"

"How could I nurse and mind my business?" replied the tailor. "I'll
never nurse so long as I'll have the wife; and as for 'magination,
it depends upon the grain o'it whether I can stretch it or not. I
don't know that I ever made a coat o'it in my life."

"You don't understand me, Neal," said the schoolmaster. "In recommending
marriage, I was only driving one evil out of you by introducing
another. Do you think that, if you abandoned all thoughts of a wife,
you would get heroic again--that is, would you take once more to
the love of fighting?"

"There is no doubt but I would," said the tailor; "if I miss the
wife, I'll kick up such a dust as never was seen in the parish, an'
you're the first man that I'll lick. But now that I'm in love," he
continued, "sure, I ought to look out for the wife."

"Ah, Neal," said the schoolmaster, "you are tempting destiny; your
temerity be, with all its melancholy consequences, upon your own
head."

"Come," said the tailor; "it wasn't to hear you groaning to the
tune o' 'Dhrimmindhoo,' or 'The old woman rockin' her cradle,' that
I came; but to know if you could help me in makin' out the wife.
That's the discoorse."

"Look at me, Neal," said the schoolmaster, solemnly. "I am at this
moment, and have been any time for the last fifteen years, a living
CAVETO against matrimony. I do not think that earth possesses such
a luxury as a single solitary life. Neal, the monks of old were
happy men; they were all fat and had double chins; and, Neal, I
tell you that all fat men are in general happy. Care cannot come
at them so readily as at a thin man; before it gets through the
strong outworks of flesh and blood with which they are surrounded,
it becomes treacherous to its original purpose, joins the cheerful
spirits it meets in the system, and dances about the heart in all
the madness of mirth; just like a sincere ecclesiastic who comes to
lecture a good fellow against drinking, but who forgets his lecture
over his cups, and is laid under the table with such success that
he either never comes to finish his lecture, or comes often to be
laid under the table. Look at me, Neal, how wasted, fleshless, and
miserable I am. You know how my garments have shrunk in, and what
a solid man I was before marriage. Neal, pause, I beseech you;
otherwise you stand a strong chance of becoming a nonentity like
myself."

"I don't care what I become," said the tailor; "I can't think
that you'd be so unreasonable as to expect that any o' the Malones
should pass out o' the world widout either bein' bate or marrid.
Have reason, Mr. O'Connor, an' if you can help me to the wife I
promise to take in your coat the next time for nothin'."

"Well, then," said Mr. O'Connor, "what would you think of the
butcher's daughter, Biddy Neil? You have always had a thirst for
blood, and here you may have it gratified in an innocent manner,
should you ever become sanguinary again. 'T is true, Neal, she is
twice your size and possesses three times your strength; but for
that very reason, Neal, marry her if you can. Large animals are
placid; and Heaven preserve those bachelors whom I wish well from
a small wife; 't is such who always wield the sceptre of domestic
life and rule their husbands with a rod of iron."

"Say no more, Mr. O'Connor," replied the tailor; "she's the very
girl I'm in love wid, an' never fear but I'll overcome her heart
if it can be done by man. Now, step over the way to my house, an'
we'll have a sup on the head o' it. Who's that calling?"

"Ah, Neal, I know the tones--there's a shrillness in them not to
be mistaken. Farewell! I must depart; you have heard the proverb,
'Those who are bound must obey.' Young Jack, I presume, is squalling,
and I must either nurse him, rock the cradle, or sing comic tunes
for him, though Heaven knows with what a disastrous heart I often
sing, 'Begone, dull care,' the 'Rakes of Newcastle,' or, 'Peas upon
a Trencher.' Neal, I say again, pause before you take this leap in
the dark. Pause, Neal, I entreat you. Farewell!"

Neal, however, was gifted with the heart of an Irishman, and scorned
caution as the characteristic of a coward; he had, as it appeared,
abandoned all design of fighting, but the courage still adhered to
him even in making love. He consequently conducted the siege of
Biddy Neil's heart with a degree of skill and valor which would not
have come amiss to Marshal Gerald at the siege of Antwerp. Locke
or Dugald Stewart, indeed, had they been cognisant of the tailor's
triumph, might have illustrated the principle on which he succeeded;
as to ourselves, we can only conjecture it. Our own opinion is
that they were both animated with a congenial spirit. Biddy was the
very pink of pugnacity, and could throw in a body-blow or plant a
facer with singular energy and science. Her prowess hitherto had,
we confess, been displayed only within the limited range of domestic
life; but should she ever find it necessary to exercise it upon a
larger scale, there was no doubt whatsoever, in the opinion of her
mother, brothers, and sisters, every one of whom she had successively
subdued, that she must undoubtedly distinguish herself. There was
certainly one difficulty which the tailor had NOT to encounter in
the progress of fats courtship: the field was his own, he had not
a rival to dispute his claim. Neither was there any opposition
given by her friends; they were, on the contrary, all anxious for
the match; and when the arrangements were concluded, Neal felt
his hand squeezed by them in succession, with an expression more
resembling condolence than joy. Neal, however, had been bred to
tailoring, and not to metaphysics; he could cut out a coat very
well, but we do not say that he could trace a principle --as what
tailor, except Jeremy Taylor, could?

There was nothing particular in the wedding. Mr. O'Connor was
asked by Neal to be present at it; but he shook his head, and told
him that he had not courage to attend it or inclination to witness
any man's sorrows but his own. He met the wedding-party by accident,
and was heard to exclaim with a sigh as they flaunted past him in
gay exuberance of spirits: "Ah, poor Neal! he is going like one of
her father's cattle to the shambles! Woe is me for having suggested
matrimony to the taylor! He will not long be under the necessity
of saying that he is 'blue-moulded for want of a beating.' The
butcheress will fell him like a Kerry ox, and I may have his blood
to answer for and his discomfiture to feel for in addition to my
own miseries."

On the evening of the wedding-day, about the hour of ten o'clock,
Neal, whose spirits were uncommonly exalted, for his heart
luxuriated within him, danced with his bridesmaid; after the dance
he sat beside her, and got eloquent in praise of her beauty; and
it is said, too, that he whispered to her and chucked her chin with
considerable gallantry. The tête-à-tête continued for some time
without exciting particular attention, with one exception; but THAT
exception was worth a whole chapter of general rules. Mrs. Malone
rose up, then sat down again and took off a glass of the native;
she got up a second time; all the wife rushed upon her heart. She
approached them, and, in a fit of the most exquisite sensibility,
knocked the bridesmaid down, and gave the tailor a kick of affecting
pathos upon the inexpressibles. The whole scene was a touching
one on both sides. The tailor was sent on all-fours to the floor,
but Mrs. Malone took him quietly up, put him under her arm as one
would a lap-dog, and with stately step marched away to the connubial
apartment, in which everything remained very quiet for the rest of
the night.

The next morning Mr. O'Connor presented himself to congratulate
the tailor on his happiness. Neal, as his friend, shook hands with
him, gave the schoolmaster's fingers a slight squeeze, such as a
man gives who would gently entreat your sympathy. The schoolmaster
looked at him, and thought he shook his head. Of this, however, he
could not be certain; for, as he shook his own during the moment
of observation, he concluded that it might be a mere mistake of the
eye, or, perhaps, the result of a mind predisposed to be credulous
on the subject of shaking heads.

We wish it were in our power to draw a veil, or curtain, or blind
of some description, over the remnant of the tailor's narrative that
is to follow; but as it is the duty of every faithful historian to
give the secret causes of appearances which the world in general
does not understand, so we think it but honest to go on, impartially
and faithfully, without shrinking from the responsibility that is
frequently annexed to truth.

For the first three days after matrimony Neal felt like a man who
had been translated to a new and more lively state of existence.
He had expected, and flattered himself, that the moment this
event should take place he would once more resume his heroism, and
experience the pleasure of a drubbing. This determination he kept
a profound secret; nor was it known until a future period, when he
disclosed it to Mr. O'Connor. He intended, therefore, that marriage
should be nothing more than a mere parenthesis in his life--a kind
of asterisk, pointing, in a note at the bottom, to this single
exception in his general conduct--a nota bene to the spirit of a
martial man, intimating that he had been peaceful only for a while.
In truth, he was, during the influence of love over him and up to
the very day of his marriage, secretly as blue-moulded as ever for
want of a beating. The heroic penchant lay snugly latent in his
heart, unchecked and unmodified. He flattered himself that he was
achieving a capital imposition upon the world at large, that he was
actually hoaxing mankind in general, and that such an excellent
piece of knavish tranquillity had never been perpetrated before
his time.

On the first week after his marriage there chanced to be a fair
in the next market-town. Neal, after breakfast, brought forward a
bunch of shillalahs, in order to select the best; the wife inquired
the purpose of the selection, and Neal declared that he was resolved
to have a fight that day if it were to be had, he said, for "love
or money." "The truth is," he exclaimed, strutting with fortitude
about the house, "the truth is, that I've DONE the whole of yez--I'm
as blue-mowlded as ever for want of a batin'."

"Don't go," said the wife.

"I WILL go," said Neal, with vehemence; "I 'll go if the whole
parish was to go to prevint me."

In about another half-hour Neal sat down quietly to his business
instead of going to the fair!

Much ingenious speculation might be indulged in upon this abrupt
termination to the tailor's most formidable resolution; but, for
our own part, we will prefer going on with the narrative, leaving
the reader at liberty to solve the mystery as he pleases. In the
meantime we say this much; let those who cannot make it out carry
it to their tailor; it is a tailor's mystery, and no one has so
good a right to understand it--except, perhaps, a tailor's wife.

At the period of his matrimony Neal had become as plump and as stout
as he ever was known to be in his plumpest and stoutest days. He
and the schoolmaster had been very intimate about this time; but
we know not how it happened that soon afterward he felt a modest,
bride-like reluctance in meeting with that afflicted gentleman. As
the eve of his union approached, he was in the habit, during the
schoolmaster's visits to his workshop, of alluding, in rather a
sarcastic tone, considering the unthriving appearance of his friend,
to the increasing lustiness of his person. Nay, he has often leaped
up from his lap-board, and, in the strong spirit of exultation,
thrust out his leg in attestation of his assertion, slapping it,
moreover, with a loud laugh of triumph that sounded like a knell
to the happiness of his emaciated acquaintance. The schoolmaster's
philosophy, however, unlike his flesh, never departed from him; his
usual observation was, "Neal, we are both receding from the same
point; you increase in flesh, whilst I, Heaven help me, am fast
diminishing."

The tailor received these remarks with very boisterous mirth, whilst
Mr. O'Connor simply shook his head and looked sadly upon his limbs,
now shrouded in a superfluity of garments, somewhat resembling a
slender thread of water in a shallow summer stream nearly wasted
away and surrounded by an unproportionate extent of channel.

The fourth month after the marriage arrived, Neal, one day near
its close, began to dress himself in his best apparel. Even then,
when buttoning his waistcoat, he shook his head after the manner
of Mr. O'Connor, and made observations upon the great extent to
which it over-folded him.

"Well," thought he with a sigh, "this waistcoat certainly DID fit
me to a T; but it's wonderful to think how--cloth stretches!"

"Neal," said the wife, on perceiving him dressed, "where are you
bound for?"

"Faith, FOR LIFE" replied Neal, with a mitigated swagger; "and I'd
as soon, if it had been the will of Provid--"

He paused.

"Where are you going?" asked the wife a second time.

"Why," he answered, "only to dance at Jemmy Connolly's; I 'll be
back early."

"Don't go," said the wife.

"I'll go," said Neal, "if the whole counthry was to prevint me.
Thunder an' lightnin', woman, who am I?" he exclaimed, in a loud,
but rather infirm voice. "Am n't I Neal Malone, that never met a
MAN who'd fight him? Neal Malone, that was never beat by MAN! Why,
tare an' ouns, woman! Whoo! I'll get enraged some time, an' play
the divil! Who's afeard, I say?"

"DON'T GO," added the wife a third time, giving Neal a significant
look in the face.

In about another half-hour Neal sat down quietly to his business
instead of going to the dance!

Neal now turned himself, like many a sage in similar circumstances,
to philosophy; that is to say, he began to shake his head upon
principle, after the manner of the schoolmaster. He would, indeed,
have preferred the bottle upon principle; but there was no getting
at the bottle except through the wife, and it so happened that by
the time it reached him there was little consolation left in it.
Neal bore all in silence; for silence, his friend had often told
him, was a proof of wisdom.

Soon after this, Neal one evening met Mr. O'Connor by chance upon
a plank which crossed a river. This plank was only a foot in breadth,
so that no two individuals could pass each other upon it. We cannot
find words in which to express the dismay of both on finding that
they absolutely glided past each other without collision.

Both paused and surveyed each other solemnly; but the astonishment
was all on the side of Mr. O'Connor.

"Neal," said the schoolmaster, "by all the household gods, I conjure
you to speak, that I may be assured you live!"

The ghost of a blush crossed the churchyard visage of the tailor.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, "why the divil did you tempt me to marry a
wife?"

"Neal," said his friend, "answer me in the most solemn manner possible;
throw into your countenance all the gravity you can assume; speak
as if you were under the hands of the hangman, with the rope about
your neck, for the question is indeed a trying one which I am about
to put. Are you still 'blue-moulded for want of a beating'?"

The tailor collected himself to make a reply; he put one leg
out--the very leg which he used to show in triumph to his friend,
but, alas, how dwindled! He opened his waistcoat and lapped it
round him until he looked like a weasel on its hind legs. He then
raised himself up on his tiptoes, and, in an awful whisper, replied,
"No!!! the divil a bit I'm blue-mowlded for want of a batin'!"

The schoolmaster shook his head in his own miserable manner; but,
alas! he soon perceived that the tailor was as great an adept at
shaking the head as himself. Nay, he saw that there was a calamitous
refinement, a delicacy of shake in the tailor's vibrations, which
gave to his own nod a very commonplace character.

The next day the tailor took in his clothes; and from time to time
continued to adjust them to the dimensions of his shrinking person.
The schoolmaster and he, whenever they could steal a moment, met
and sympathised together. Mr. O'Connor, however, bore up somewhat
better than Neal. The latter was subdued in heart and in spirit,
thoroughly, completely, and intensely vanquished. His features
became sharpened by misery, for a termagant wife is the whetstone
on which all the calamities of a henpecked husband are painted by
the devil. He no longer strutted as he was wont to do, he no longer
carried a cudgel as if he wished to wage a universal battle with
mankind. He was now a married man. Sneakingly, and with a cowardly
crawl, did he creep along, as if every step brought him nearer
to the gallows. The schoolmaster's march of misery was far slower
than Neal's, the latter distanced him. Before three years passed
he had shrunk up so much that he could not walk abroad of a windy
day without carrying weights in his pockets to keep him firm on the
earth which he once trod with the step of a giant. He again sought
the schoolmaster, with whom, indeed, he associated as much as
possible. Here he felt certain of receiving sympathy; nor was he
disappointed. That worthy but miserable man and Neal often retired
beyond the hearing of their respective wives, and supported each
other by every argument in their power. Often have they been heard
in the dusk of evening singing behind a remote hedge that melancholy
ditty, "Let us BOTH be unhappy together," which rose upon the
twilight breeze with a cautious quaver of sorrow truly heartrending
and lugubrious.

"Neal," said Mr. O'Connor on one of those occasions, "here is a
book which I recommend to your perusal; it is called 'The Afflicted
Man's Companion'; try if you cannot glean some consolation out of
it."

"Faith," said Neal, "I'm forever oblaged to you, but I don't want
it. I've had 'The Afflicted Man's Companion' too long, and not an
atom o' consolation I can get out of it. I have ONE o' them, I tell
you; but, be my sowl, I'll not undertake A PAIR o' them. The very
name's enough for me." They then separated.

The tailor's vis vitae must have been powerful or he would have
died. In two years more his friends could not distinguish him from
his own shadow, a circumstance which was of great inconvenience
to him. Several grasped at the hand of the shadow instead of his;
and one man was near paying it five and sixpence for making a
pair of small-clothes. Neal, it is true, undeceived him with some
trouble, but candidly admitted that he was not able to carry home
the money. It was difficult, indeed, for the poor tailor to bear
what he felt; it is true he bore it as long as he could; but at
length he became suicidal, and often had thoughts of "making his
own quietus with his bare bodkin." After many deliberations and
afflictions, he ultimately made the attempt; but, alas! he found
that the blood of the Malones refused to flow upon so ignominious
an occasion. So HE solved the phenomenon; although the truth was
that his blood was not "i' the vein" for it; none was to be had.
What then was to be done? He resolved to get rid of life by some
process, and the next that occurred to him was hanging. In a solemn
spirit he prepared a selvage, and suspended himself from the rafter
of his workshop. But here another disappointment awaited him, he
would not hang. Such was his want of gravity that his own weight
proved insufficient to occasion his death by mere suspension. His
third attempt was at drowning; but he was too light to sink; all
the elements, all his own energies, joined themselves, he thought,
in a wicked conspiracy to save his life. Having thus tried every
avenue to destruction, and failed in all, he felt like a man doomed
to live forever. Henceforward he shrank and shrivelled by slow
degrees, until in the course of time he became so attenuated that
the grossness of human vision could no longer reach him.

This, however, could not last always. Though still alive, he was
to all intents and purposes imperceptible. He could only now be
heard; he was reduced to a mere essence; the very echo of human
existence, vox etpraeterea nihil. It is true the schoolmaster asserted
that he occasionally caught passing glimpses of him; but that was
because he had been himself nearly spiritualised by affliction,
and his visual ray purged in the furnace of domestic tribulation.
By-and-by Neal's voice lessened, got fainter and more indistinct,
until at length nothing but a doubtful murmur could be heard, which
ultimately could scarcely be distinguished from a ringing in the
ears.

Such was the awful and mysterious fate of the tailor, who,
as a hero, could not, of course, die; he merely dissolved like an
icicle, wasted into immateriality, and finally melted away beyond
the perception of mortal sense. Mr. O'Connor is still living, and
once more in the fulness of perfect health and strength. His wife,
however, we may as well hint, has been dead more than two years.






THE BANSHEE

(ANONYMOUS)





Of all the superstitions prevalent amongst the natives of Ireland
at any period, past or present, there is none so grand or fanciful,
none which has been so universally assented to or so cordially
cherished, as the belief in the existence of the banshee. There
are very few, however remotely acquainted with Irish life or Irish
history, but must have heard or read of the Irish banshee; still,
as there are different stories and different opinions afloat respecting
this strange being, I think a little explanation concerning her
appearance, functions, and habits will not be unacceptable to my
readers.

The banshee, then, is said to be an immaterial and immortal being,
attached, time out of mind, to various respectable and ancient
families in Ireland, and is said always to appear to announce, by
cries and lamentations, the death of any member of that family to
which she belongs. She always comes at night, a short time previous to
the death of the fated one, and takes her stand outside, convenient
to the house, and there utters the most plaintive cries and
lamentations, generally in some unknown language, and in a tone
of voice resembling a human female. She continues her visits night
after night, unless vexed or annoyed, until the mourned object dies,
and sometimes she is said to continue about the house for several
nights after. Sometimes she is said to appear in the shape of a
most beautiful young damsel, and dressed in the most elegant and
fantastic garments; but her general appearance is in the likeness
of a very old woman, of small stature and bending and decrepit form,
enveloped in a winding-sheet or grave-dress, and her long, white,
hoary hair waving over her shoulders and descending to her feet.
At other times she is dressed in the costume of the middle ages--the
different articles of her clothing being of the richest material
and of a sable hue. She is very shy and easily irritated, and, when
once annoyed or vexed, she flies away, and never returns during the
same generation. When the death of the person whom she mourns is
contingent, or to occur by unforeseen accident, she is particularly
agitated and troubled in her appearance, and unusually loud
and mournful in her lamentations. Some would fain have it that
this strange being is actuated by a feeling quite inimical to the
interests of the family which she haunts, and that she comes with joy
and triumph to announce their misfortunes. This opinion, however,
is rejected by most people, who imagine her their most devoted friend,
and that she was, at some remote period, a member of the family,
and once existed on the earth in life and loveliness. It is not
every Irish family can claim the honour of an attendant banshee;
they must be respectably descended, and of ancient line, to have
any just pretensions to a warning spirit. However, she does not
appear to be influenced by the difference of creed or clime, provided
there be no other impediment, as several Protestant families of
Norman and Anglo-Saxon origin boast of their own banshee; and to
this hour several noble and distinguished families in the country
feel proud of the surveillance of that mysterious being. Neither
is she influenced by the circumstances of rank or fortune, as she
is oftener found frequenting the cabin of the peasant than the
baronial mansion of the lord of thousands. Even the humble family
to which the writer of this tale belongs has long claimed the
honourable appendage of a banshee; and it may, perhaps, excite an
additional interest in my readers when I inform them that my present
story is associated with her last visit to that family.

Some years ago there dwelt in the vicinity of Mountrath, in the
Queen's County, a farmer, whose name for obvious reasons we shall
not at present disclose. He never was married, and his only domestics
were a servant-boy and an old woman, a housekeeper, who had long
been a follower or dependent of the family. He was born and educated
in the Roman Catholic Church, but on arriving at manhood, for
reasons best known to himself, he abjured the tenets of that creed
and conformed to the doctrines of Protestantism. However, in after
years he seemed to waver, and refused going to church, and by his
manner of living seemed to favour the dogmas of infidelity or atheism.
He was rather dark and reserved in his manner, and oftentimes sullen
and gloomy in his temper; and this, joined with his well-known
disregard of religion, served to render him somewhat unpopular
amongst his neighbours and acquaintances. However, he was in general
respected, and was never insulted or annoyed. He was considered
as an honest, inoffensive man, and as he was well supplied with
firearms and ammunition,--in the use of which he was well practised,
having, in his early days, served several years in a yeomanry
corps,--few liked to disturb him, even had they been so disposed.
He was well educated, and decidedly hostile to every species of
superstition, and was constantly jeering his old housekeeper, who
was extremely superstitious, and pretended to be entirely conversant
with every matter connected with witchcraft and the fairy world.
He seldom darkened a neighbour's door, and scarcely ever asked any
one to enter his, but generally spent his leisure hours in reading,
of which he was extremely fond, or in furbishing his firearms, to
which he was still more attached, or in listening to and laughing
at the wild and blood-curdling stories of old Moya, with which her
memory abounded. Thus he spent his time until the period at which
our tale commences, when he was about fifty years of age, and old
Moya, the housekeeper, had become extremely feeble, stooped, and
of very ugly and forbidding exterior. One morning in the month of
November, A.D. 1818, this man arose before daylight, and on coming
out of the apartment where he slept he was surprised at finding old
Moya in the kitchen, sitting over the raked-up fire, and smoking
her tobacco-pipe in a very serious and meditative mood.

"Arrah, Moya," said he, "what brings you out of your bed so early?"

"Och musha, I dunna," replied the old woman; "I was so uneasy all
night that I could not sleep a wink, and I got up to smoke a blast,
thinkin' that it might drive away the weight that's on my heart."

"And what ails you, Moya? Are you sick, or what came over you?"

"No, the Lord be praised! I am not sick, but my heart is sore, and
there's a load on my spirits that would kill a hundred."

"Maybe you were dreaming, or something that way," said the man,
in a bantering tone, and suspecting, from the old woman's grave
manner, that she was labouring under some mental delusion.

"Dreaming!" reechoed Moya, with a bitter sneer; "ay, dreaming.
Och, I wish to God I was ONLY DREAMING; but I am very much afraid
it is worse than that, and that there is trouble and misfortune
hanging over uz."

"And what makes you think so, Moya?" asked he, with a half-suppressed
smile.

Moya, aware of his well-known hostility to every species of
superstition, remained silent, biting her lips and shaking her gray
head prophetically.

"Why don't you answer me, Moya?" again asked the man.

"Och," said Moya, "I am heart-scalded to have it to tell you, and I
know you will laugh at me; but, say what you will, there is something
bad over uz, for the banshee was about the house all night, and
she has me almost frightened out of my wits with her shouting and
bawling."

The man was aware of the banshee's having been long supposed to
haunt his family, but often scouted that supposition; yet, as it
was some years since he had last heard of her visiting the place,
he was not prepared for the freezing announcement of old Moya.
He turned as pale as a corpse, and trembled excessively; at last,
recollecting himself, he said, with a forced smile:

"And how do you know it was the banshee, Moya?"

"How do I know?" reiterated Moya, tauntingly. "Didn't I see and
hear her several times during the night? and more than that, didn't
I hear the dead-coach rattling round the house, and through the
yard, every night at midnight this week back, as if it would tear
the house out of the foundation?"

The man smiled faintly; he was frightened, yet was ashamed to appear
so. He again said:

"And did you ever see the banshee before, Moya?"

"Yes," replied Moya, "often. Didn't I see her when your mother
died? Didn't I see her when your brother was drowned? and sure,
there wasn't one of the family that went these sixty years that I
did not both see and hear her."

"And where did you see her, and what way did she look to-night?"

"I saw her at the little window over my bed; a kind of reddish light
shone round the house; I looked up, and there I saw her old, pale
face and glassy eyes looking in, and she rocking herself to and
fro, and clapping her little, withered hands, and crying as if her
very heart would break."

"Well, Moya, it's all imagination; go, now, and prepare my breakfast,
as I want to go to Maryborough to-day, and I must be home early."

Moya trembled; she looked at him imploringly and said: "For Heaven's
sake, John, don't go to-day; stay till some other day, and God
bless you; for if you go to-day I would give my oath there will
something cross you that's bad."

"Nonsense, woman!" said he; "make haste and get me my breakfast."

Moya, with tears in her eyes, set about getting the breakfast
ready; and whilst she was so employed John was engaged in making
preparations for his journey.

Having now completed his other arrangements, he sat down to breakfast,
and, having concluded it, he arose to depart.

Moya ran to the door, crying loudly; she flung herself on her knees,
and said: "John, John, be advised. Don't go to-day; take my advice;
I know more of the world than you do, and I see plainly that if
you go you will never enter this door again with your life."

Ashamed to be influenced by the drivellings of an old cullough,
he pushed her away with his hand, and, going out to the stable,
mounted his horse and departed. Moya followed him with her eyes
whilst in sight; and when she could no longer see him, she sat down
at the fire and wept bitterly.

It was a bitter cold day, and the farmer, having finished his
business in town, feeling himself chilly, went into a public-house
to have a tumbler of punch and feed his horse; there he met an old
friend, who would not part with him until he would have another
glass with him and a little conversation, as it was many years since
they had met before. One glass brought another, and it was almost
duskish ere John thought of returning, and, having nearly ten miles
to travel, it would be dark night before he could get home. Still
his friend would not permit him to go, but called for more liquor,
and it was far advanced in the night before they parted. John,
however, had a good horse, and, having had him well fed, he did not
spare whip or spur, but dashed along at a rapid pace through the
gloom and silence of the winter's night, and had already distanced
the town upward of five miles, when, on arriving at a very desolate
part of the road, a gunshot, fired from behind the bushes, put an
end to his mortal existence.



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