It is said by those who ought to understand such things, that the good people, or the fairies, are some of the angels who. were turned out of heaven, and who landed on their feet in this world, while the rest of their companions, who had more sin to sink them, went down further to a worse place. Be this as it may, there was a merry troop of the fairies, dancing and playing all manner of wild pranks on a bright moonlight evening towards the end of September. The scene of their merriment was not far distant from Inchegeela, in the west of the county Cork - a poor village, although it had a barrack for soldiers; but great mountains and barren rocks, like those round about it, are enough to strike poverty into any place however, as the fairies can have every thing they want for wishing, poverty does not trouble them much, and all their care is to seek out unfrequented nooks and places where it is not likely anyone will come to spoil their sport.
On a nice green sod by the river's side were the little fellows dancing in a ring as gaily as may be, with their red caps wagging about at every bound in the moonshine; and so light were these bounds, that the lobes of dew, although they trembled under their feet, were not disturbed by their capering. Thus did they carry on their gambols, spinning round and round, and twirling and bobbing, and diving and going through all manner of figures, till one of them chirped out,
"Cease, cease, with your drumming,
And away every one of the fairies scampered off as hard as they could, concealing themselves under the green leaves of the lusmore, where, if their little red caps should happen to peep out, they would only look like its crimson bells; and more hid themselves in the hollow of stones, or at the shady side ol" brambles, and others under the bank of the river, and in holes and crannies of one kind or another.
The fairy speaker was not mistaken; for along the road, which was within view of the river, came Father Horrigan on his pony, thinking to himself that as it was so late he would make an end of his journey at the first cabin he came to. According to this determination, he stopped at the dwelling of Dermod Leary, lifted the latch, and entered with " My blessing on all here."
I need not say that Father Horrigan was a welcome guest wherever he went, for no man was more pious or better beloved in the country. Now it was a great trouble to Dermod that he had nothing to offer his reverence for supper as a relish to the potatoes which " the old woman," for so Dermod called his wife, though she was not much past twenty, had down boiling in the pot over the fire; he thought of the net which be had set in the river, but as it had been there only a short time, the chances were against his finding a fish in it. " No matter," thought Dermod, "there can be no harm in stepping down to try, and may be as I want the fish for the priest's supper that one will be there before me."
Down to the river side went Dermod, and he found in the net as fine a salmon as ever jumped in the bright waters of "the spreading Lee;" but as he was going to take it out, the net was pulled from him, he could not telll how or by whom, and away got the salmon, and went swimming along with the current as gaily as if nothing had happened.
Dermod looked sorrowfully at the wake which the fish had left on the water, shining like a line of silver in the moonlight, and then,. with an angry motion of his right hand, and a stamp of his foot, gave vent to his feelings by muttering, "May bitter bad luck attend you night and day for a blackguard schemer of a salmon, wherever you go! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, if there "s any shame in you, to give me the slip after this fashion And I am clear in my own mind you will come to no good, for some kind of evil thing or other helped you - did I not feel it pull the net against me as strong as the devil himself?"
That is not true for you," said one of the little fairies, who had scampered off at the approach of the priest, coming up to Dermod Leary, with a whole throng of companions at his heels; "there was only a dozen and a half of us pulling against you."
Dermod gazed on the tiny speaker with wonder, who continued, "Make yourself noways uneasy about the priest's supper; for if you will go back and ask him one question from us, there will be as fine a supper as ever was put on a table spread out before him in less than no time."
"I will have nothing at all to do with you," replied Dermod, in a tone of determination; and after a pause he added, "I am much obliged to you for your offer, sir, but I know better than to sell myself to you or the like of you for a supper; and more than that, I know Father Horrigan has more regard for my soul than to wish me to pledge it for ever, out of regard to any thing you could put before him - so there is an end of the matter."
The little speaker, with a pertinacity not to be repulsed by Dermod's manner, continued, " Will you ask the priest one civil question for us?"
Dermod considered for some time, and he was right in doing so, but he thought that no one could come to harm out of asking a civil question. "I see no objection to do that same, gentlemen," said Dermod; " but I will have nothing in life to do with your supper - and mind that."
Then," said the little speaking fairy, whilst the rest came crowding after him from all parts, "go and ask Father Horrigan to tell us whether our souls will be saved at the last day, like the souls of good Christians; and if you wish us well, bring back word what lie says without delay."
Away went Dermod to his cabin, where he found the potatoes thrown out on the table, and his good woman handing the biggest of them all, a beautiful laughing red apple, smoking like a hard-ridden horse on a frosty night, over to Father Horrigan.
Please your reverence," said Dermod, after some hesitation, " may I make bold to ask your honour one question?"
"What may that be?" said Father Horrigan.
"Why, then, begging your reverence's pardon for my freedom, it is, If the souls of the good people are to be saved at the last day?"
"Who bid you ask me that question, Leary?" said the priest, fixing his eyes on him very sternly, which Dermod could not stand before at all.
"I will tell no lies about the matter, and nothing in life but the truth," said Dermod. "It was the good people themselves who sent me to ask the question, and there they are in thousands down on the bank of the river waiting for me to go back with the answer.
"Go back by all means," said the priest, "and tell them, if they want to know, to come here to me themselves, and I will answer that or any other question they are pleased to ask with the greatest pleasure in life."
Dermod accordingly returned to the fairies, who came swarming round about him to hear what the priest had said in reply; and Dermod spoke out among them like a bold man as lie was: but when they heard that they must go to the priest, away they fled, some here and more there; and some this way and m6re that, whisking by poor Dermod so fast and in such numbers, that he was quite bewildered.
When he came to himself; which was not for a long time, back he went to his cabin and ate his dry potatoes along with Father Horrigan, who made quite light of the thing; but Dermod could not help thinking it a mighty hard case that his reverence, whose words had the power to banish the fairies at such a rate, should have no sort of relish to his supper, and that the fine salmon he had in the net should have been got away from him in such a manner.
"A younger brother and myself were left to the care of my mother," said a priest, sighing deeply and clasping his hands fervently. "Well, my brother Frank was my mother's darling; he was not of that weak mind that lavished its care on one at the expense of others& – far from it -
I was sent for my studies to St. Omer, and Frank then became the sole object of all her maternal tenderness and affection. He eserved it all; he was the gentlest of natures. He also had a mind of singular strength and brilliant imagination, so great things were expected from him. It was some thus after I returned from St. Omer, while preparations were making for advancing Frank in the pursuit which had been selected as the business of his life, that every hour which drew nearer to the moment of his departure made him dearer, not only to us, but to all who knew him, and each friend claimed a day that Frank should spend with him, which always passed in recalling the happy hours they had already spent together, in assurances given and received of kindly remembrances that still should be cherished, and in mutual wishes for success, with many a hearty prophecy from my poor Frank's friends, "that he would one day be a great man."
One night, as my mother and myself were sitting at home beside the fire, expecting Frank's return from one of these parties, my mother said, in an unusually anxious tone: "I wish Frank were home."
"What makes you think of his return so soon?" said I.
"I don't know," said she; "but somehow, I am uneasy about him."
Mother could not become calm, and she fidgeted about the room, became busy in doing nothing, and now and then would go to the door of the house to listen for the distant tramp of Frank's horse; but Frank came not.
More than the hour I had named as the probable time of his return had elapsed, and my mother's anxiety had amounted to a painful pitch; and I began myself to blame my brother for so long and late an absence. Still, I endeavoured to calm her, and had prevailed on her to seat herself again at the fire, and commenced reading a page or two of an amusing book, when suddenly she stopped me, and turned her head to the window in the attitude of listening.
"It is! it is!" said she; "I hear him coming."
And now the sound of a horse's feet in a rapid pace became audible. She rose from her chair, and with a deeply aspirated "Thank God!" went to open the door for him herself. I heard the horse now pass by the window; in a second or two more the door was opened, and instantly a fearful scream from my mother brought me hastily to her assistance. I found her lying in the hall in a deep swoon. The servants of the house hastily crowded to the spot, and gave her immediate aid. I ran to the door to ascertain the cause of my mother's alarm, and there I saw Frank's horse panting and foaming, and the saddle empty. That my brother had been thrown and badly hurt was the first thought that suggested itself; and a car and horse were at once ordered to drive in the direction he had been returning; but in a few minutes our fears were excited to the last degree by discovering there was blood on the saddle.
We all experienced inconceivable terror at the discovery, but not to weary you with details, suffice it to say that we commenced a diligent search, and at length arrived at a small by-way that turned from the main road, and led through a bog, which was the nearest course for my brother to have taken homewards, and we accordingly began to explore it. I was mounted on the horse my brother had ridden, and the animal snorted violently, and exhibited evident symptoms of dislike to retrace this by-way, which, I doubted not, he had already travelled that night; and this very fact made me still more apprehensive that some terrible occurrence must have taken place to occasion such excessive repugnance on the part of the animal. However, I urged him onward, and telling those who accompanied me, to follow with what speed they might, I dashed forward, followed by a faithful dog of poor Frank's. At the termination of about half a mile, the horse became still more impatient of restraint, and started at every ten paces; and the dog began to traverse the little road, giving an occasional yelp, sniffing the air strongly, and lashing his sides with his tail, as if on some scent. At length he came to a stand, and beat about within, a very circumscribed space& – yelping occasionally, as if to draw my attention.
I dismounted at once, but the horse, was so extremely restless that the difficulty I had in holding him prevented me from observing the road by the light of the lantern which I carried. I perceived, however, it was very much trampled hereabouts, and bore evidence of having been the scene of a struggle. I shouted to the party in the rear, who soon came up and lighted some faggots of bogwood which they brought with them to assist in our search, and we now more clearly distinguished the marks I have alluded to. The dog still howled, and indicated a particular spot to us; and on one side of the path, on the stunted grass, we discovered a quantity of fresh blood, and I picked up a pencil-case that I knew had belonged to my murdered brother& – for I now was compelled, to consider him as such; and an attempt to describe the agonised feelings which at that moment I experienced would be in vain. We continued our search for the discovery of his body for many hours without success, and the morning was far advanced before we returned home. How changed a home from the preceding day! My beloved mother could scarcely be roused for a moment from a sort of stupor that seized on her when the paroxysm of frenzy was over which the awful catastrophe of the fatal night had produced. If ever heart was broken, here was. She lingered but a few weeks after the son she adored, and seldom spoke during the period, except to call on his name.
But I will not dwell on this painful theme. Suffice it to say she died; and her death, under such circumstances, increased the sensation which my brother's mysterious murder had excited. Yet, with all the horror which was universally entertained for the crime, and the execrations poured on its atrocious perpetrator, still the doer of the deed remained undiscovered, and even I, who of course was the most active in seeking to develop the mystery, not only could catch no clue to lead to the discovery of the murderer, but failed even to ascertain where the mangled remains of my lost brother had been deposited.
It was nearly a year after the fatal event that a penitent knelt to me, and confided to the ear of his confessor the misdeeds of an ill-spent life; I say of his whole life& – for he had never before knelt at the confessional.
Fearful was the catalogue of crime that was revealed to me& – unbounded selfishness, oppression, revenge, and lawless passion had held unbridled influence over the unfortunate sinner, and sensuality in all its shapes, even to the polluted home and betrayed maiden, had plunged him deeply into sin.
I was shocked& – I may even say I was disgusted, and the culprit himself seemed to shrink from the recapitulation of his crimes, which he found more extensive and appalling than he had dreamed of, till the recital of them called them all up in fearful array before him. I was about to commence an admonition, when he interrupted me& – he had more to communicate. I desired him to proceed. He writhed before me. I enjoined him in the name of the God he had offended, and who knoweth the inmost heart, to make an unreserved disclosure of his crimes before he dared to seek a reconciliation with his Maker. At length, after many a pause end convulsive sob, he told me, in a voice almost suffocated by terror, that he had been guilty of bloodshed. I shuddered, but in a short time I recovered myself, and asked how and where he had deprived a fellow-creature of life? Never, to the latest hour of my life, shall I forget the look which the miserable sinner gave me at that moment. His eyes were glazed, and seemed starting from their sockets with terror; his face assumed a deadly paleness& – he raised his clasped hand up to me in the most imploring action, as if supplicating mercy, and with livid and quivering lips he gasped out& – "It was I who killed your brother!"
Oh, God! how I felt at that instant! Even now, after the lapse of years, I recollect the sensation: It was as if the blood were flowing back on my heart, till I felt as if it would burst; and then, a few convulsive breathings, and back rushed the blood again through my tingling veins. I thought I was dying; but suddenly I uttered an hysteric laugh, and fell back senseless in my seat.
When I recovered, a cold sweat was pouring down my forehead, and I was weeping copiously. Never before did I feel my manhood annihilated under the influence of an hysterical affection. It was dreadful.
I found the blood-stained sinner supporting me, roused from his own prostration by a sense of terror at my emotion; for when I could hear anything, his entreaties that I would not discover on him were poured forth in the most abject strain of supplication. "Fear not for your miserable life," said I; "the seal of confession is on what you have revealed to me, and so far you are safe; but leave me for the present, and come not to me again till I send for you." He departed.
I knelt and prayed for strength to Him who alone could give it, to fortify me in this dreadful trial. Here was the author of a brother's murder, and a mother's consequent death, discovered to me in the person of my penitent. It was a fearful position for a frail mortal to be placed in; but as a consequence of the holy calling I professed, I hoped, through the blessing of Him whom I served, to acquire fortitude for the trial into which the ministry of His gospel had led me.
The fortitude I needed came through prayer, and when I thought myself equal to the task, I sent for the murderer of my brother. I officiated for him as our Church has ordained& – I appointed penances to him, and in short, dealt with him merely as any other confessor might have done.
Years thus passed away, and during that time he constantly attended his duty; and it was remarked through the country that he had become a quieter person since Father Roach had become his confessor. But still he was not liked& – and indeed, I fear he was far from a reformed man, though he did not allow his transgressions to be so glaring as they were wont to be; and I began to think that terror and cunning had been his motives in suggesting to him the course be had adopted, as the opportunities which it gave him of being often with me as his confessor were likely to still every suspicion of his guilt in the eyes of the world; and in making me the depositary of his fearful secret, he thus placed himself beyond the power of my pursuit, and interposed the strongest barrier to my becoming the avenger of his bloody dead.
Hitherto I have not made you acquainted with the cause of that foul act. It was jealousy. He found himself rivalled by my brother in the good graces of a beautiful girl of moderate circumstances, whom he would have wished to obtain as his wife, but to whom Frank had become an object of greater interest; and I doubt not, had my poor brother been spared, that marriage would ultimately have drawn closer the ties that were so savagely severed. But the ambuscade and the knife had done their deadly work; for the cowardly villain had lain in wait for him on the lonely bog-road be guessed he would travel on that fatal night, and springing from his lurking-place, he stabbed my noble Frank in the back.
Well, sir, I fear I am tiring you with a story which, you cannot wonder, is interesting to me; but I shall hasten to a conclusion.
One gloomy evening in March I was riding along the very road where my brother had met his fate, in company with his murderer. I know not what brought us together in such a place, except the hand of Providence, that sooner or later brings the murderer to justice; for I was not wont to pass the road, and loathed the company of the man who happened to overtake me on it. I know not whether it was some secret visitation of conscience that influenced him at the time, or that he thought the lapse of years had wrought on me so far as to obliterate the grief for my brother's death, which had never been, till that moment, alluded to, however remotely, since he confessed his crime. Judge then my surprise when, directing my attention to a particular point in the bog, he said:
"It is close by that place that "your brother is buried."
I could not, I think, have been more astonished had my brother appeared before me.
"What brother?" said I.
"Your brother Frank," said he; "twas there I buried him, poor fellow, after I killed him."
"Merciful God!" I exclaimed, "your will be done," and seizing the rein of the culprit's horse, I said: "Wretch that you are! you have owned to the shedding of the innocent blood that has been crying to Heaven for vengeance these ten years, and I arrest you here as my prisoner."
He turned ashy pale as he faltered out a few words to say I had promised not to betray him.
"'It was under the seal of confession," said I, "that you disclosed the deadly secret, and under that seal my lips must have been for ever, closed; but now, even in the very place where your crime was committed, it has pleased God that you should arraign yourself in the face of the world, and the brother of your victim is appointed to be the avenger of his innocent blood."
He was overwhelmed by the awfulness of this truth, and unresistingly he rode beside me to the adjacent town of & – & – -, where he was committed for trial.
The report of this singular and providential discovery of a murder excited a great deal of interest in the country; and as I was known to be the culprit's confessor, the bishop of the diocese forwarded a statement to a higher quarter, which procured for me a dispensation as regarded the confessions of the criminal, and I was handed this instrument, absolving me from further secrecy, a few days before the trial. I was the principal evidence against the prisoner. The body of my brother had, in the interim, been found in the spot his murderer had indicated, and the bog preserved it so far from decay as to render recognition a task of no difficulty. The proof was so satisfactorily adduced to the jury that the murderer was found guilty and executed, ten years after he had committed the crime.
The judge pronounced a very feeling comment on the nature of the situation in which I had been placed for so many years, and passed a very flattering eulogium on what he was pleased to call "my heroic observance of the obligation of secrecy by which I had been bound."
Thus, sir, you see how sacred a trust that of a fact revealed under confession is held by our Church, when even the avenging a brother's murder was not sufficient warranty for its being broken.
Oh ullagone, ullagone! this is a wide world, but what will we do in it, or where will we go?" muttered Bill Doody, as he sat on a rock by the Lake of Killarney. " What will we do? tomorrow's rent-day, and Tim the Driver swears if we don't pay up our rent, he will cant every ha'perth we have; and then, sure enough, there is Judy and myself, and the poor little grawls [children] will be turned out to starve on the high road, for the never a halfpenny of rent have I! - Oh hone, that ever I should live to see this day!"
Thus did Bill Doody bemoan his hard fate, pouring his sorrows to the reckless waves of the most beautiful of lakes, which seemed to mock his misery as they rejoiced beneath the Cloudless sky of a May morning. That lake, glittering in sunshine, sprinkled with fairy isles of rock and verdure, and bounded by giant hills of ever-varying hues, might, with its magic beauty, charm all sadness but despair; for alas,
"How ill the scene that offers rest
Yet Bill Doody was not so desolate as he supposed. There was one listening to him that he little thought of; and help was at hand from a quarter he could not have expected.
"What is the matter with you, my poor man?" said a tall portly looking gentleman, at the same time stepping out of a furze-brake. Now Bill was seated on a rock that commanded the view of a large field. Nothing in the field could be concealed from him, except this furze-brake, which grew in a hollow near the margin of the lake. He was, therefore, not a little surprised at the gentleman's sudden appearance, and began to question whether the personage before him belonged to this world or not. He, however, soon mustered courage sufficient to tell him how his crops had failed, how some bad member had charmed away his butter, and how Tim the Driver threatened to turn him out of the farm if he didn't pay up every penny of the rent by twelve o'clock next day.
"A sad story in deed," said the stranger; "but surely, if you represented the case to your land-lord's agent, he will not have the heart to turn you out."
"Heart, your honour! where would an agent get a heart!" exclaimed Bill. "I see your honour does not know him: besides, he has an eye on the farm this long time for a fosterer of his own; so I expect no mercy at all at all, only to be turned out."
"Take this my poor fellow, take this," said the stranger, pouring a purse full of gold into Bill's old hat, which in his grief he had flung on the ground. "Pay the fellow your rent, but I will take care it shall do him no good. I remember the time when things went otherwise in this country, when I would have hung up such a fellow in the twinkling of an eye!"
These words were lost on Bill, who was insensible to every thing but the sight of the gold, and before he could unfix his gaze, and lift up his head to pour out his hundred thousand blessings, the stranger was gone. The bewildered peasant looked around in search of his benefactor, and at last he thought he saw him riding on a white horse a long way off on the lake.
"O'Donoghue, O'Donoghue!" shouted Bill; "the good, the blessed O'Donoghue!" and he ran capering like a madman to show Judy the gold, and to rejoice her heart with the prospect of wealth and happiness.
The next day Bill proceeded to the agent's; not sneakingly, with his hat in his hand, his eyes fixed on the ground, and his knees bending under him; but bold and upright, like a man conscious of his independence.
"Why don't you take off your hat, fellow; don't you know you are speaking to a magistrate?" said the agent.
"I know I am not speaking to the king, sir," said Bill; "and I never take off my hat but to them I can respect and love. The Eye that sees all knows I have no right either to respect or love an agent!"
"You scoundrel!" retorted the man in office, biting his lips with rage at such an unusual and unexpected opposition, "I will teach you how to be insolent again - I have the power, remember."
"To the cost of the country, I know you have," said Bill, who still remained with his head as firmly covered as if he was the lord Kingsale himself.
"But, come," said the magistrate; "have you got the money for me? - this is rent-day. If there is one penny wanting, or the running gale that is due, prepare to turn out before night, for you shall not remain another hour in possession."
"There is your rent," said Bill, with an unmoved expression of tone and countenance "you had better count it, and give me a receipt in full for the running gale and all."
The agent gave a look of amazement at the gold; for it was gold - real guineas! and not bits of dirty ragged small notes, that are only fit to light one's pipe with. However willing the agent may have been to ruin the tenant, he took up the gold, and handed the receipt to Bill, who strutted off with it as proud as a cat of her whiskers.
The agent going to his desk shortly after, was confounded at beholding. a heap of gingerbread cakes instead of the money he had deposited there. He raved and swore, but all to no purpose; the gold had become gingerbread cakes, just marked like the guineas, with the king's head, and Bill had the receipt in his pocket; so he saw there was no use in saying anything about the affair, as he would only get laughed at for his pains.
From that hour Bill Doody grew rich; all his undertakings prospered; and he often blesses the day that he met with O'Donoghue, the great prince that lives down under the lake of Killarney.
Like the butterfly, the spirit of Donoghue closely hovers over the perfume of the hills and flowers it loves; while, as the reflection of a star in the waters of a pure lake, to those who look not above, that glorious spirit is believed to dwell beneath.