The Valley of the Innocents

Cover: kristina swarner illustration


“Musha! Bad cess to you, Darby Dillon! Och, wirra! wirra! is id goin to brake the doors in ye are wid hammerin? By the blessed light one id think ye had a goat’s horn on every knuckle! Ha – ha – ha! yer at it agin, ye dirty baste! Ugh! I suppose I must let you in.”

Knock, knock – rattle, rattle.

“Hurry, hurry wid ye, Thade alanna! – hurry, I say. Tell the gintleman in the big beard that I’m off, but’ll wait a start for him if he’s purty lively.”

Post-horn: turroo – turroo – turrootoo! ad lib.

Thus was I awoke out of a most delightful slumber, during which I had pleasantly travelled through all the pleasant paths of dreamland. A rude awakening it was, but its accompaniments were worse. The rain poured in torrents – enough, as I heard Darby, the mail-driver, soliloquise outside, “to pelt holes in the hide of a runosceros!”

The tempest raged in fury, an inky darkness pervaded, and I had the prospect of an eight hours’ drive before me into the heart of the kingdom of Kerry.

There was nothing else for it; so, with the resolution of despair, I sprang from my turf smoke-perfumed couch, nearly upsetting Thade as he rushed into my room.

“Och! murther, yer honor! I’m ruined intirely. I overslep mysel, and there’s that villin Darby has come too airly, a purpose… ”

“Just give Darby my compliments, and ask him would not a drop of hot water, with the insects in it scalded with a drop of whiskey, make him weather-proof this morning?”

“Begar, jest the thing to keep the old baste from growlin his liver out, yer honor!” was the delighted answer of the shock-headed little waiter of the principal house of entertainment for man and beast in the good town of Tralee.

I peeped through the window, and could just discern the outline of the vehicle upon which I was about to undergo an amount of bodily suffering which none but those who have travelled on an Irish mail-car can at all appreciate. ‘

Perched upon the apex of a rectangularly-shaped box, appeared a bulky mass of shiny wet oilskin garments: naught of the “human form divine” could be seen save a red button of a nose, and about an inch of brick dust-coloured cheek, revealed by the occasional flashings from the bowl of a “dudheen;” with a thing called a hat set well forward to meet the driving rain, and the car drawn close to the door, so that he could reach it with the butt of his whip – there sat Darby Dillon, one of the rarest specimens of an Irish driver it ever fell to my lot to encounter.

After fortifying the inner man, and disposing of Thade and his fee, which he acknowledged with a “God bless yer honor – ids yerself I always found to be a raale ossifer; and sure ye never lave us bud I’m wishin ye back agin I” which certainly puzzled me, as I had never set eyes upon him before, and mentally hoped I never might again; I proceeded to mount, and we rattled out of the town, getting an occasional “thug” from a rut or a stone about the size of a thirty-two pound shot, occasioning a shock which sent a throe of agony through the fag-ends of one’s teeth, when Darby opened fire.

“Does yer honor iver take a blast of the pipe?” he inquired, with a patronising bend of his bullet-shaped cranium.

“Often, Darby, mabouchal!” said I; for there is nothing will open an Irishman’s heart like entering into his ways at once.

“Here ye are thin, alanna!” returned he. “Niver be afraid uv id; ids good for the lungs, bewtiful to privint ketching a cowld, and whin yer inclined in the way of miditation, bedad ids quare what castles ye can build up out uv the smoke uv a dudheen.”

Accepting Darby’s philosophy, I was speedily occupied in dispersing volumes from the generous weed; during which we overtook a tall, shambling gaited individual, clothed in black, a cross between a distressed tradesman and an unfrocked parson.

“D’ye see that chap ?” inquired Darby.

“Yes; what of him?”

“Well now, if that was a daycint fellow, I’d give him a lift this blake mornin, – but .
Morrow – morrow, kindly!” he exclaimed to the individual in question, “but as I was sayin, yer honor, he’s one uv them snaking Soupers!”

“What the plague is that, Darby?” I inquired, for he might just as well have catechised me in pagan nomenclature.

“Ye see how it is, yer honor, that ther’s some people in this world when ther well off don’t know it, and can’t keep thimselves to thimselves, and lave ther neighbours to make ther pace wid heaven afther ther own notions; but begor if they find out that you dig wid the left foot, they’ll want to make ye dig wid the right, and so the world goes round; and they sind craytures like that down here to put contention among the people; they call it enlight’nin uz. Sure we have light consciences, and light stomachs, glory be to God! an if that’s not lightnin enough, I don’t know what is!”

I now perceived Darby’s drift.

“O, they want to convert you, Darby, do they?”

“Ye have it now, yer honor. Musha, don’t let the pipe out! – Well, as I was tellin yer honor, one of thim chaps tuck a purty joke out of me a while ago. He was a sort uv an inspecthur, – a fat jolly chap enough too, an plinty of fun in his way; and bedad ids myself thinks id was more the money he was makin than the marvels he was workin, that tuck up the most of his time!”

“What did he do to you, Darby?” I inquired, fearing his garrulity would lead him to be discursive.

“Why thin I’ll tell you. I stopped at Corny Callaghan’s up here above, one mornin, to lave him a bag of male; bud while I was lightin the pipe, down comes my gintleman throttin along the Boreen as brisk as a two-year-ould. –
‘Have ye an empty sate on the car?’ says he. –
‘Id wouldn’t take a blind man to tell that,’ says I, ‘seem there’s none of thim full.’ –
‘Bedad yer a pleasant fellow, anyhow,’ says he, jumpin on the car. ‘What’s yer name, my man?’ says he, as I druv on. –
‘Darby Dillon, at yer sarvice,’ says I, lookin at him hard, yer honor, this way:” and Darby screwed his little grey ferret-eyes into a look that he meant to pierce like gimlets. –
‘Yer a mimber,’ says he, ‘of that erroneous religion that sheds ids baleful influence over this benighted land!’ –
‘Bedad,’ says I, ‘I don’t know what that manes, at all at all; bud if ids what persuasion I am,’ says I, du daytermined to let him see I wasn’t as ignorant as he was, ‘I’m an humble follower of that pagan Prince the Pope of Roome,’ says I, ‘and at yer sarvice!’

Well, my jewel, wid that ye think the blackguard id dhrop off the car wid the laughin.

‘Manners is a purty thing,’ says I, in a huff, ye undherstand, yer honor, for a chap doesn’t like to be laughed at by thim kind of cattle. –
‘Pon my honor, Darby,’ says he, ‘I beg yer pardon!’ –
‘Och, thin,’ says I, ‘if ids comin bogthrottin down here ye are, ye’d betther lave yer honor behind ye!’ angered like, ye know, to hear a spalpeen like that takin’ the word out uv a gintleman’s mouth. –
‘Well, Darby,’ says he, ‘and do you attind yer devotions?’ –
‘As often as Her Majesty lets me,’ says I; ‘but she has such a constant demand for my sarvices, that whin I do get a male of prayers I make a good one!’ –
‘And do you understand what the priest says whin he’s prayin for you?’ says he. –
‘No,’ says I, ‘why should I? Ids not for the likes of uz,’ says I, ‘to be too pryin!’ –
‘An what good does it do you,’ says he, ‘if ye don’t understand it ?’ –
‘It’s mighty edifyin,’ says I, ‘an comfortin too, that fine ould Roman language!’ –

Well, bedad, I shut him up complately, an he hadn’t another word to say for a long time. By’m bye, anyhow, he got over it, and, as we’d meet a flock of geese, he’d begin to cackle, ‘Gobble, gobble, gobble! Cackle, cackle!’ until, upon my conscience, the ould gandhers thimselves didn’t know whether they wer on ther heads or ther tails. Thin, if we met an ould puckawn goat, he’d begin to ‘Ma-a-a-h-a!’ till ye’d think he’d crack his jaws. And as to cows and calves and jackasses, bedad he had thim all dancin quodreels along the road.

Thinks I to myself, says I, bedad this is a lunytic, and I got into a fair thrimble uv fright: all uv a sudden he jumps up and ketches me by the arm:
‘Darby!’ says he, wid a shout. –
‘Y-y-e-s, sir,’ says I, making ready to lep off the car and run for my life. –
‘D’ye undherstand what I’m sayin to the geese and the goats?’ says he. –
‘Divil resave the word!’ says I. –
‘Aren’t ye edified?’ says he. –
‘I am,’ says I, thinkin to humour his madness, ye know.
‘Aren’t ye comfortable?’ says he. –
‘N – Yes,’ says I, ketchin myself before I vexed him. – ‘Well, whisper,’ says he. –
Now I’m in for it, says I; he’ll bite the ear off me anyhow: bud sure may be he’d knock my brains out if I don’t; so I stooped down to him, yer honor, and he says:
‘Sure ye won’t tell any one,’ says he. –
‘Divil a word,’ says I. –
‘Pon yer honor?’ says he. –
”Pon my honor!’ says I. –
‘Well,’ says he, ‘that’s as good to you as the priest’s Latin.’ ”

Enjoying a hearty laugh with the good-humoured Darby, we rolled ourselves up afresh, for the storm came on more pitilessly than ever. We had by this time arrived in a very wild and bleak mountain district, and occasionally we caught glimpses of the Atlantic lashing the iron-bound coast with impotent fury.

Wilder and wilder whistled the blast through the narrow defile through which we endeavoured to urge the panting steed; the sheets of driving rain were whirled into mist and fog, enough to obscure the daylight; when suddenly, as we emerged from the rocky pass, there was a lull in the gale, the rain suddenly ceased, the sun shone forth in meridian splendour, and I beheld a scene which has left an impression on my mind never to be effaced.

We had entered a narrow valley, surrounded with bleak and barren mountains, adown whose sides leaped foaming torrents; nor verdure, leaf, nor tree gave relief to the eye on three sides of our point of view, but on our right such a romantic little picture enchained the eye, that I jumped from the car and stood for a lengthened period lost in astonished admiration.

The road wound in the form of a large horseshoe, on the inside of which ran a clear and beautiful river, unstained by mountain torrent or aught else that was impure; its bed of snow-white pebbles strongly contrasting with the rich emerald-hued verdure of a mound of considerable extent, whose base it washed with a playful ripple, as if to injure such a lovely spot would be a mortal crime against nature.

The mountain rose gently from the back of this mound, and there laurestina, arbutus, and evergreens of various kinds luxuriated in wild profusion. Row over row, and tier over tier, this miniature mountain forest arose like the seats of an amphitheatre; the wild rose and sweet-briar gave forth their richest perfume; and the primrose, blue bell, and wood violet flourished in lavish wildness. But the mound, this emerald mound, if ever there was a peaceful-looking spot on the face of God’s creation there it lay: it was studded all over with tiny tombstones and little wooden crosses; so curiously formed, so quaintly fashioned, so cunningly worked, and so carefully preserved – flowers of rare and splendid hue loaded the air with the sweet scents of spring; garlands woven with jealous care hung suspended here and there, whilst gently raised little ridges encased in their moss-clad bosoms all that on earth remained of those whose gentle spirits knew no guile; whose souls knew no sin; who had bloomed and passed away from earth to heaven; whose little voices were hushed by whispering angels; whose sojourn knew not of sorrow or of suffering!

Such a holy quiet reigned around, that involuntarily I removed my cap, and as I cast a furtive look at Darby I perceived that poor fellow, rough as he was in exterior, he had a Christian heart, for a tear moistened his cheek as he offered up an Irish peasant’s heartfelt prayer for the souls of the dead. To add appropriate interest to the sweet solemnity of the picture, kneeling amongst the tiny tombstones, clad in the picturesque garb of the country, sky-blue coats, and the females with the distinguishing scarlet cloak, were many a poor fond father and mother, who had toiled wearily and from afar to deck with flowers and smooth the mossy canopy that covered all that was dear to them, and to commune in spirit with their lost first-born.

We stood before the “Graves of the Innocents.” As we turned reluctantly to pursue our journey, I inquired from Darby, was there any legend or story connected with this sweet and peaceful resting place? Regarding me with an indescribable look – half serious, half comic – he burst forth:

“Why, thin, musha, yer honor it’s joking me ye are now. Don’t you know there’s not a mountain, valley, or river, nor a rath, nor a boreen, lake, watherfall, or landmark of our bewtiful green island that hasn’t its own wild story? Haven’t we White Ladies and Black Ladies, and Phookas, Banshees, and Chirichauns, and Leprichauns as plenty as thorns in a whin bush. Story, indeed – ay, an a bitther one.”

“Well, then, Darby,” said I, producing a fresh stock of the real “Maryland,” which made his eyes sparkle again, “We’ll load again, and then you can fire away with the story.”

“Long life to yer honor!” ejaculated Darby, as he sent forth a puff like the explosion from a thirteen-inch mortar, and giving the old horse a thwack that resounded along the mountain like the blow of a flail, he settled himself down for a comfortable yarn.

“There’s an ould manor in these parts, called the Manor of Frierne, belonging to the raale ould stock, they owned half the counthry at one time, but the ould Friernes were gallows ould chaps for wine and women, and horses, dogs, and hawks, racin and shootin, and spendin ther money in foreign parts. Och! musha! ’twas a great ould place in times gone by, and the ould castle stands there still, yer honor, an would do yer heart good to look at it; every stone is as prefect as the day it was built – divil a fut less than thirteen feet of solid stone-work is in every wall of it – and you” might manewver a ridgement in the ould coort-yard.

The last of the Friernes that was in the counthry – oh! he was a wild chap – shocking, and had always a wild clan about him; but there was one despirate scoundhrel that used to set him on for all sorts of badness. No good could come of him, and so the neighbours and tinints said; but this black-hearted rascal drew him on from bad to worse until he had to lave the counthry, and thin this chap was made agint over the property. Och! wirrawirra! bud it was a bad day for the tinints of Frierne – for they never knew bad thratement until then. “Ye see that brake up in the mountains, there, yer honor?”

“I do, Darby!”

“That’s called Tubbermore!” continued he. “And up there lived a sthrong young farmer, a tinint of the Friernes, by the name of Con Flaherty. Con had the best farm on the estate, for he was own fosterer to young Frierne, and used to be always at his elbow, until this black -livered hound of an agint put him against him.

Con had just been married to the purtiest Colleen Dhas in all Kerry; and many an achin heart there was amongst the boys the day she became Mrs. Flaherty. Now the agint, Misthur Dan O’Mara he was called, a Dublin attorney – bad look to the likes of thim – had as liquorish a tooth, and was as bad a boy as ever walked the hall uv the foor coorts; and many a poor father and mother’s curse was upon his head, for many was the poor misfortunate girleen he left without name or characther, deluded and desaived; and sure, yer honor,” appealed Darby, “a man that id lade an innocent girleen on to ruin and desthruction, and a nameless grave among sthrangers, to satisfy a few hours of his own bad passions, is no man at all, – he’s a brute baste!

Well, this was the sort of chap that had the whole of the manor of Frierne undther him. But the moment he clapped his eyes on Noreen of Tubbermore, he was fairly illuminated about her. Now, Captain, jewel, if there’s one woman in the world that’s more virtuous than another, ids an Irishwoman; uv coorse I know there’s an odd one now and agin, but in the main they bate creation.

So my dear, Noreen up an she tould Misther O’Mara that if he kem to her house agin on the same errand she’d make her husband lave marks upon him that he’d carry to his grave. Well, they lived on, and there wasn’t a happier, or purtier, or betther hearted couple in the counthry round; the poor never left their doore emptyhanded, and the sthranger was always welkim.

A year rowlled on, and ther first child was born – oh, such a bewtiful little crayture – ‘t would jump and clap its dawshy hands, and crow at everybody, showin it had the big, ginerous heart of father and mother; ’twas a little flaxen haired girleen, too, and ’twas like a wee spring-flower that bloomed before its time.

All this time Misthur O’Mara was working his evil plans ; – an he parsacuted the life and sowl out of poor Con Flaherty, and things began to go wrong. At last Con forgot himself, and he sthruck the agint one day at the fair of Cahirciveen; it was all the black thief wanted, so poor Con was clapped into goal and kep there, and poor Noreen undtherwent such a parsecution that she dhrooped away to nothing; indeed people said, that to save poor Con from the hulks, she did more nor she ought for Mr. O’Mara; be that as it may, the day poor Con got out of gaol and kem home, Noreen died blessin’ him and the dawshy girleen.

The next day the bailiff kem and saized everything on the farm for the rint that became due while Con was in prison, and two days afther Con Flaherty rowled up his poor little girleen in his frieze cota-more and left the home that had been his and his father’s, and grandfather’s before him, a desperate and a ruined
man, and, as he left Tubbermore, he swore an awful oath that he would have a deep and bloody revenge on Misthur Dan O’Mara.

“Well, yer honor, the agint heard that Con was goin about threatenin his life, and he went and swore his life was in danger. Oh! yer honor, it would make yer heart bleed if I was to tell you the way they hunted that poor fellow through the counthry; that big black villain always in his thracks, until the neighbours began to cry shame on him; the poor fellow he was like a specthre, and night or day he never left the little, dawshy, darlin Noreen; the dyin prayer of his lost, ruined colleen was always ringin in his ears; he always kept her wrapt up in his big coat, and no matter where ho was hunted, little Noreen was always wid him.

The neighbours at last missed him for a day or two, and whin they wint to look afther him wid some food in some of his hidin places, they found him lyin on that green mound, and there too was the dead body of the little colleen, the jewel of his poor broken heart. They buried the poor darlin there and then, and many is the night the figure of poor Con could be seen sthretched upon her little grave, for his all was there.

“One wild night the agint had to go through the Black Pass, as it was thin called, and his cowardly heart quailed within him, as he remembered havin heerd tell how Con Flaherty’s child that he had murthered was buried there; bud he couldn’t go back, for the night was wild and stormy. When he got fairly opposite the mound his heart lepped up in his mouth, as he saw a tall, dark, figure glide down from it, cross the river, and stand fair in his way.

innocents

‘Who-o-‘s-e there?’ says he, every hair on his head stannin of an ind.
‘Me!’ says a voice, that sounded more like one from the grave than anything else.
‘Who are you?’ says he, the voice makin him bould.
‘Con Flaherty!’ was the answer.
‘Oh, you black villain!’ shouts O’Mara, ‘would you murther a difinceless man?’
‘My wife was difinceless, and so was my child!’ said O’Flaherty. ‘And you murthered thim.’
‘No—no—no!’ says the villain, his teeth knockin together wid the fright. ‘Shure didn’t they die natural!’
‘Liar!’ shouted O’Flaherty, ‘twice to-night,’ says he, ‘I had you covered, and the waving of a blade of grass would have sent your soul to its long and bad account; but I couldn’t do it,’ says he, the big tears coorsin down his cheeks, as he dashed the gun in the road, ‘for the spirit of my poor dead child whispered for mercy for you.’

“The next mornin poor Con was found lying on the little girleen’s grave, but whin they wint to wake him up, his spirit had gone to hers.

“Ever since that, yer honor,” continued Darby, “the first-borns that die in their infancy, are brought there to be buried from miles upon miles all round the counthry, and on the anniversary of their deaths, if the father or mother are able to thravel at all, they come to the grave to pray, and dress it with fresh flowers and garlands; and they think that the spirit of their child is watchin and smilin on thim; and would you believe it, yer honor, whin I tell you that many a black and foul deed has been prevented by a pilgrimage to the Valley Of The Innocents!”

W. O.

 

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Central Florida
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