“Did yer honor ever hear tell,” inquired Darby as we emerged on the direct highway to that portion of her Majesty’s dominions called Cahirciveen, “of how Phil Considine met the Banshee?”
I leaped off the car as I answered, glad of the opportunity to stretch my aching limbs. I had penetrated so far into Darby’s idiosyncrasy as likewise to know that whenever he volunteered a yarn commencing with, “Did you ever hear tell?” it was an unmistakeable signal that the “baste ” wanted a rest.
The shades of evening were rapidly descending, the black pall of night clothed the rugged fastnesses we had left behind us, mists rose in curling wreaths from mountain-moss and lowland lea, the last faint pencilled rays of day were glinting up the far western wave, and the plaintive lowing of the kine mingled with the distant moaning of the ocean; it was just that hour of evening when the imagination feeds on the marvellous and supernatural.
And as Darby threw the reins to his tired steed and strode alongside of me, I could scarcely restrain a wandering glance to each lichen-covered crag or yellow-blossomed furze brake, momentarily expecting that his wild legends would become realised by the appearance of some one of the strange beings with which he had peopled the romantic West.
“Well, thin, your honor must know,” continued Darby, “that the Banshee is a quare sort of sperit, and always appears before a death in a family; it’s a woman yer honor, and generally appears in the gloom of evenin, and keens to herself just like a child singin a wailful, purty, little song; and more times whin she’s angry like, you could hear it risin up in the air, fearsome to hear, fitful and heart-wringin, just like the screech of a dying hare. Arrah! sure, yer honor, there isn’t one of the raale ould stock at all that hasn’t a Banshee in the family, sometimes appearin for misfortin, and more times whin the corpse candles are lightin; bud, bedad if she spakes to you, ye may lave yer clothes wid the first respectable naybour, and just lie down in the most convaynient spot, for go you will, and the less throuble ye give yer relaytions the aisier they’ll pray for the repose of yer sowl.
“Phil Considine was a rovin sort uv blade — a regular sporther, and never could settle down to a day’s mowin, rapin, or turf-cuttin in his life; bud if there was a hare to be soho’d, or a main uv cocks to be fought, or a salmon to be coaxed in sayson or out uv sayson; shure Phil the darlin was the boy to do it; and he had as many pets, betune dogs, an badgers, an saalcs, an game cocks, as id set up a thravellin show-man. He was a hardy crayture, too, an would as lieve sleep out on the side uv a mountain as on the best feather bed in the barony; ye’d know Phil a mile off by his shamblin gate — half throt, half walk — his ould caubeen stuck on the back uv his head; an alpeen uv the raale mountain-ash always unaisy in his fist, and the neck uv a black bottle peepin out uv his coat, in which, he said, he carried holy wather to defind himself agin the good people; but, bedad, it was so often impty that people began to think at last that he used to meet whole regimints uv thim: anyhow, there ye’d see Phil goin along, and divil resave the bush or tuft, that the alpeen wouldn’t be shoved into, lookin for hares’ forms, and the like; and to see him settin a throut or a salmon — och! musha! it was a picthur intirely. There he’d stand away back from the bank uv the river, shadin his eyes wid his left hand, the alpeen in his right, held in the middle, as if it was the butt uv a fly-rod; his back doubled up like a rapin-hook, an his knees thrimblin backwards and forwards wid every move uv the fish; an often if ye watched him close from a hidin place, he’d get so wake in himself that he’d forget may be, and take a pull at the holy-wather bottle, all by mistake, uv coorse.
“Well, wid all, Phil was a mighty dacent poor chap, an never a crayture was lyin sick bud Phil id have a nice leverit, or may be a young grouse, or a dawshy silver salmon, an he’d lave it quiet an aisy like, at the doore airly uv a mornin, so that nobody id know where it kem from; and sure if he did snare a hare of an odd start, or run a salmon by the light uv a bog dale — divil a one was the worse of it.
“However, sheep begun to go, an fowl roosts wor found impty uv a mornin, and tho ther was a load uv thravellin tinkers about the counthry, yet the sthrong farmers all about wor down upon poor Phil. Now, Phil was a poor divil that had a conscience, an let the thruth be towld, he had nayther hand, act, nor part in the sheep staylins or fowl sackins that was goin on, for it was an ould thief uv a horse docther, who more betoken got seven years for the same, divil’s cure to him.
“Well, Phil was himself agin, an wint on wid his ould capers, an people liked him all the betther, whin the times all of a suddent fell hard — raale famine the poor craytures wor sufferin in these parts, and Phil was put to his wits’-ends to keep starvation from the doore an the life in his poor little famishin gorsoons. There was a great big gomersal of a farmer lived down there by the river, over where yer honor sees the big white house beyant!”
“Ay, Darby — I see it!”
“His name was Pat Flaherty, yer honor, an he was a cousin german uv that same poor Con Flaherty that I renumbered yer honor uv a while ago!”
“He was a cruel, selfish, bosthoon, he hadn’t an Irish heart about him, at all at all; an tho’ he had bread, butther an tay, full an plinty, he’d grudge a crumb the size of a midge’s wing.
“One evenin Phil was womasin home sad an weary enough, for the childther hadn’t tasted a maal’s-mate for two days, an a couple of his naybours wor almost in the dead grips for fair want of food; just as he kem down the boreen by the ind uv Pat Flaherty’s house, out jumps an illigant, bewtifully fat hoorisheen uv a pig; Phil’s heart lepped into his mouth, an his teeth began to wather, an bits of pork wid a selvage uv cabbage begun dancin before his eyes, an every grunt the pig id let as he capered on, stickin his snout first in one sod and thin in another, and thin kicking up his crubeens, an gallopin like mad, med Phil fairly beside himself wid timptation; so Phil repated the Pather, and an office agin the snares uv the evil one; but, begor, it was all up with the poor fellow, for the pig kep gruntin at him, and squintin quite knowin like wid his little grey winky eyes, until, at last, Phil whips off his coateen, an ‘ hoorishes ‘ to the pig.
“Grunt — grunt — squeak — squeak! says the pig; and, bedad, whilst ye’d squeeze a goozeberry Phil whips the coat round his head, claps him undther his arm, and away wid him down along the river, an across the bog, runnin like a thoroughbred at the Curragh, an dodgin like a rat in a haggard.
“Oh faix, it was short work wid poor squeakeen whin onst Phil had him housed; he was kilt, an divided betune the childther an the starvin naybours, an divil as much as a bristle or a bone, a tail or a tusk ever tould who tasted the pig.
”Och! ye may be shure, yer honor, there was Milia-murther at Pat’s whin the pig was missed; the whole barony was sarched, for Flaherty was cruel vindictive in his way, but sight nor light uv the grunther never was found.
“Phil, as I said before, yer honor, had a conscience, an id was very sevare on him; divil a sod he could pass that he didn’t think he saw the pig’s snout sticking out uv id, an every moan on the breeze seemed like a dyin grunt; for ye see it was the first civilised animal he ever come by in an undtherhand sort uv way: oh! no, yer honor — Phil was very high in that respect: I wont say the same uv the wild bastes uv the field; for shure, as he used to say, ‘God Almighty gave them for everybody’s use;’ an as to a pack uv grouse, or a wisp uv snipe, or snarin a scutty tail, begor, he’d sweep ’em the same as a live coal would a turf clamp.
“Phil daren’t go to Father Doolin; for Pat Flaherty was great in the dues, and the fat goose, or the tindher turkey, much less a goolden crock of butther, or a creel of the raale red-bog turf, was never wantin whin the coadjuthor gev the wink; so he was afeard to say boo to a bulrush, for he knew that ‘Paudeen More ‘ had his suspecs uv him, an the fate uv the horse-docther was nothin to the thransportation that my poor Phil id get, if he was found out.
“One evenin just like this, yer honor, Phil was comin down by the ould castle uv Rosscarberry, a great ould sthronghould, too, an a bad spot to be near at nightfall; for the ould chieftains, they say, walks about there still, and many is the quare sight and sound I heerd tell uv the same spot. Well, yer honor, as I was sayin, Phil was comin along purty brisk, whin just as he got near the stile by the ould tower, the sight left his eyes a’most; for there sittin undther the withered branch of the eldther three, was — divil resave the doubt — the Banshee herself, ay, thrue enough; dusky white, and croonin away, as she rocked backwards and forwards, wid her arms restin on her knees.
“Phil’s heart was goin thump — thump — thug — thug — that you might hear it a mile oif, his jaw hung loose an thrimblin like the dewlap of a cow, every bone in his body shook and rattled like a bladder full uv pays, an his knees wor playin hide and go seek wid one another.
“ ’Phil Considine!’ says the Banshee.
“ ’Hoo-ho-ooh!’ blurted out Phil, fallin down on his marrow-bones.
“ ’Phil Considine!’ says the Banshee.
“ ’Holy Mary uv Aigypt!’ began Phil.
“ ’Howld yer tongue!’ says the sperit, ’an attind to me!’
“ ’Y—y—yis, Mam!’ says Phil, takin a pull at the holy-wather bottle.
“ ’Phil Considine!’ says the Banshee. I’ve been watchin yer goins on!’
“ ’Seven Pathers and eight Aves for the repose uv yer poor sainted sowl!’ whimpers Phil.
“ ’Phil!’ says the sperit.’ l’ve been watchin ye, an there’s somethin heavy on yer conscience!’
“ ’All the way to the Cross uv Coppla, wid pays in my brogues!’ groans Phil.
“ ’Confess at onst!’ says the Banshee, wid a screech that made the ould tower rock agin, whilst the leaves on the eldther shook and rattled like tundther, an a big white owl flew out wid a whoop that made the hair of Phil’s head stand uv an ind.
“ ’Whoo-o-o-o-’ cries Phil. ’I stole a pig!’ says he.
“ ’Ye stole a pig, ye murtherin vagabond!’ says she.
“ ’I did, ma’am, av ye plaze, an be marciful — be maxciful — an give uz along day to repint uv the same!’
“ ’Oh — hoo — hoo!’ says she, wid a wailful croon, ’an who did ye stale the pig from, ye misfortinate craythure!’
“ ’Pat Flaherty!’ moans Phil.
“ ’What — ye stole a pig from Pat Flaherty; the good — pious, Pat Flaherty, that attinds to his devotions, an takes care uv his clargy: go directly and restore the dacint man his pig! ’
“ ’Begor, I can’t!’ says Phil, gettin bould wid another swig of the holy-wather.’ Begor, I can’t, mam,’ says he, ’for we ate the pig!’
“ ’Oh, ye haythen sinner!’ says the sperit, ’ ye onlooky thievin naygur! See here, now, Phil Considine!’ says she, an she lifts up her hood, an her eyes glowered out at him like two stars in the middle of a winnowin sheet. ’Mark my words !’ says she.
“ ’Yis, ma’am! ’says Phil.
“ ’The day uv judgemint ’ill come!’ says she.
“ ’Thrue for you, alanna!’ answers Phil.
“ ’I’ll be there!’ says she.
“ ’More glory to you, ma’am!’ says Phil, taking another throw uv the black bottle.
“ ’An you’ll be there?’ says she.
“ ’ Id’s myself ’ill be proud tomeet you, any- ‘how, — hic — hic — hiccup!’ says Phil.
“ ’An Pat Flaherty ’ill be there !’ says she.
“ ’Ugh the dirty b-b-baste!’ says Phil.
“ ’An the pig ’ill be there!’ says she.
“ ’Whoo — be jakers! Banshee jewel, I have id!’ yells Phil, flingin away the alpeen and the bottle. I’ll say, ‘there Pat Flaherty — there’s yer pig!'”