Darby O'Gill and the Good People/The Banshee's Comb/Chapter 2
THE BANSHEE'S HALLOWEEN
Halloween night, to all unhappy ghosts, is about the same as St. Patrick's Day is to you or to me—'tis a great holiday in every churchyard. An' no one knew this betther or felt it keener than did Darby O'Gill, that same Halloween night, as he stood on his own doorstep with the paper of black tay for Eileen McCarthy safely stowed away in the crown of his top-hat.
No one in that barony was quicker than he at an act of neighbourly kindness, but now, as he huddled himself together in the shelter of his own eaves, and thought of the dangers before, an' of the cheerful fire an' comfortable bed he was leaving behint, black raybellion rushed shouting across his heart.
"Oh, my, oh, my, what a perishin' night to turn a man out into!" he says. "It'd be half a comfort to know I was goin' to be kilt before I got back, just as a warnin' to Bridget," says he.
The misthrayted lad turned a sour eye on the chumultuous weather, an' groaned deep as he pulled closer about his chowldhers the cape of his greatcoat an' plunged into the daysarted an' flooded roadway.
Howsumever, 'twas not the pelting rain, nor the lashing wind, nor yet the pitchy darkness that bothered the heart out of him as he wint splashin' an' stumbling along the road. A thought of something more raylentless than the storm, more mystarious than the night's blackness put pounds of lead into the lad's unwilling brogues; for somewhere in the shrouding darkness that covered McCarthy's house the banshee was waiting this minute, purhaps, ready to jump out at him as soon as he came near her.
And, oh, if the banshee nabbed him there, what in the worruld would the poor lad do to save himself?
At the raylisation of this sitiwation, the goose-flesh crept up his back an' settled on his neck an' chowldhers. He began to cast about in his mind for a bit of cheer or a scrap of comfort, as a man in such sarcumstances will do. So, grumblin' an' sore-hearted, he turned over Bridget's parting words. "If one goes on an errant of marcy," Bridget had said, "a score of God's white angels with swoords in their hands march before an' beside an' afther him, keeping his path free from danger."
He felt anxious in his hat for the bit of charitable tay he was bringin', and was glad to find it there safe an' dhry enough, though the rest of him was drenched through an' through.
"Isn't this an act of charity I'm doin', to be bringin' a cooling drink to a dyin' woman?" he axed himself aloud. "To be sure it is. Well, then, what rayson have I to be afeared?" says he, pokin' his two hands into his pockets. "Arrah, it's aisy enough to bolsther up one's heart with wise sayin' an' hayroic praycepts when sitting comodious by one's own fire; but talkin' wise words to one's self is mighty poor comfort when you're on the lonely high-road of a Halloween night, with a churchyard waitin' for ye on the top of the hill not two hundred yards away. If there was only one star to break through the thick sky an' shine for him, if there was but one friendly cow to low or a distant cock to break the teeming silence, 'twould put some heart into the man. But not a sound was there only the swish and wailing of the wind through the inwisible hedges.
"What's the matther with the whole worruld? Where is it wanished to?" says Darby. "If a ghost were to jump at me from the churchyard wall, where would I look for help? To run is no use," he says, "an' to face it is——"
Just then the current of his misdoubtings ran whack up against a sayin' of ould Peggy O'Callaghan. Mrs. O'Callaghan's repitation for truth and voracity, whin it come to fairy tales or ghost stories, be it known, was ayquil if not shuparior to the best in Tipperary. Now, Peggy had towld Ned Mullin, an' Ned Mullin had towld Bill Donahue, the tinker, an' the tinker had adwised Darby that no one need ever be afeared of ghosts if he only had the courage to face them.
Peggy said, "The poor crachures ain't roamin' about shakin' chains an' moanin' an' groanin', just for the sport of scarin' people, nor yet out of maneness. 'Tis always a throuble that's on their minds—a message they want sint, a saycret they're endayvouring to unload. So instead of flyin' from the onhappy things, as most people generally do," she said, "one should walk up bowld to the apparraytion, be it gentle or common, male or faymale, an' say, 'What throubles ye, sir?' or 'What's amiss with ye, ma'am?' An' take my worrud for it," says she, "ye'll find yourself a boneyfactor to them when you laste expect it," she says.
'Twas a quare idee, but not so onraysonable afther all whin one comes to think of it; an' the knowledgeable man fell to dayliberatin' whether he'd have the hardness to folly it out if the chanst came. Sometimes he thought he would, then agin he was sure he wouldn't. For Darby O'Gill was one who bint quick undher trouble like a young three before a hurrycane, but he only bint—the throuble never broke him. So, at times his courage wint down to a spark like the light of a candle in a gust of wind, but before you could turn on your heel 'twas blazing up sthrong and fiercer than before.
Whilst thus contimplatin' an' meditaytin', his foot sthruck the bridge in the hollow just below the berrin'-ground, an' there as the boy paused a minute, churning up bravery enough to carry him up the hill an' past the mystarious gravestones, there came a short quiver of lightning, an' in its sudden flare he was sure he saw not tin yards away, an' comin' down the hill toward him, a dim shape that took the breath out of his body.
"Oh, be the powers!" he gasped, his courage emptying out like wather from a spilt pail.
It moved, a slow, grey, formless thing without a head, an' so far as he was able to judge it might be about the size of an ulephant. The parsecuted lad swung himself sideways in the road, one arrum over his eyes an' the other stretched out at full length, as if to ward off the turrible wisitor.
The first thing that began to take any shape in his bewildhered brain was Peggy O'Callaghan's adwice. He thried to folly it out, but a chatterin' of teeth was the only sound he made. An' all this time a thraymendous splashin', like the floppin' of whales, was coming nearer an' nearer.
The splashin' stopped not three feet away, an' the ha'nted man felt in the spine of his back an' in the calves of his legs that a powerful, unhowly monsther towered over him.
Why he didn't swoonge in his tracks is the wondher. He says he would have dhropped at last if it weren't for the distant bark of his own good dog, Sayser, that put a throb of courage intil his bones. At that friendly sound he opened his two dhry lips an' stutthered this sayin':
"Whoever you are, an' whatever shape ye come in, take heed that I'm not afeared," he says. "I command ye to tell me your throubles an' I'll be your boneyfactor. Then go back dacint an' rayspectable where you're buried. Spake an' I'll listen," says he.
He waited for a reply, an' getting none, a hot splinther of shame at bein' so badly frightened turned his sowl into wexation. "Spake up," he says, "but come no furder, for if you do, be the hokey I'll take one thry at ye, ghost or no ghost!" he says. Once more he waited, an' as he was lowering the arrum from his eyes for a peek, the ghost spoke up, an' its answer came in two pitiful, disthressed roars. A damp breath puffed acrost his face, an' openin' his eyes, what should the lad see but the two dhroopin' ears of Solomon, Mrs. Kilcannon's grey donkey. Foive different kinds of disgust biled up into Darby's throat an' almost sthrangled him. "Ye murdherin', big-headed imposture!" he gasped.
Half a minute afther a brown hoot-owl, which was shelthered in a near-by black-thorn three, called out to his brother's fambly which inhabited the belfry of the chapel above on the hill that some black-minded spalpeen had hoult of Solomon Kilcannon be the two ears an' was kickin' the ribs out of him, an' that the langwidge the man was usin' to the poor baste was worse than scan'lous.
Although Darby couldn't undherstand what the owl was sayin', he was startled be the blood-curdlin' hoot, an' that same hoot saved Solomon from any further exthrayornery throuncin', bekase as the angry man sthopped to hearken there flashed on him the rayilisation that he was bating an' crool maulthraytin' a blessing in dishguise. For this same Solomon had the repitation of being the knowingest, sensiblist thing which walked on four legs in that parish. He was a fayvourite with young an' old, especially with childher, an' Mrs. Kilcannon said she could talk to him as if he were a human, an' she was sure he understhood. In the face of thim facts the knowledgeable man changed his chune, an' puttin' his arrum friendly around the disthressed animal's neck, he said:
"Aren't ye ashamed of yerself, Solomon, to be payradin' an' mayandherin' around the churchyard Halloween night, dishguisin' yerself this away as an outlandish ghost, an' you havin' the foine repitation for daciency an' good manners?" he says, excusin' himself. "I'm ashamed of you, so I am, Solomon," says he, hauling the baste about in the road, an' turning him till his head faced once more the hillside. "Come back with me now to Cormac McCarthy's, avourneen. We've aich been in worse company, I'm thinkin'; at laste you have, Solomon," says he.
At that, kind an' friendly enough, the forgivin' baste turned with him, an' the two keeping aich other slitherin' company, went stumblin' an' scramblin' up the hill toward the chapel. On the way Darby kept up a one-sided conwersation about all manner of things, just so that the ring of a human woice, even if 'twas only his own, would take a bit of the crool lonesomeness out of the dark hedges.
"Did you notice McDonald's sthrame as you came along the night, Solomon? It must be a roarin' torrent be this, with the pourin' rains, an' we'll have to cross it," says he. "We could go over McDonald's stone bridge that stands ferninst McCarthy's house, with only Nolan's meadow betwixt the two, but," says Darby, laying a hand, confaydential on the ass's wet back, "'tis only a fortnit since long Faylix, the blind beggarman, fell from the same bridge and broke his neck, an' what more natural," he axed, "than that the ghost of Faylix would be celebraytin' its first Halloween, as a ghost, at the spot where he was kilt?"
You may believe me or believe me not, but at thim worruds Solomon sthopped dead still in his thracks an' rayfused to go another step till Darby coaxed him on be sayin':
"Oh, thin, we won't cross it if you're afeared, little man," says he, "but we'll take the path through the fields on this side of it, and we'll cross the sthrame by McCarthy's own wooden foot-bridge. 'Tis within tunty feet of the house. Oh, ye needn't be afeared," he says agin; "I've seen the cows cross it, so it'll surely hould the both of us."
A sudden raymembrance whipped into his mind of how tall the stile was, ladin' into Nolan's meadow, an' the boy was puzzling deep in his mind to know how was Solomon to climb acrost that stile, whin all at once the gloomy western gate of the graveyard rose quick be their side.
The two shied to the opposite hedge, an' no wondher they did.
Fufty ghosts, all in their shrouds, sat cheek be jowl along the churchyard wall, never caring a ha'porth for the wind or the rain.
There was little Ted Rogers, the humpback, who was dhrownded in Mullin's well four years come Michaelmas; there was black Mulligan, the game-keeper, who shot Ryan, the poacher, sittin' with a gun on his lap, an' he glowerin'; beside the game-keeper sat the poacher, with a jagged black hole in his forehead; there was Thady Finnegan, the scholar, who was disappointed in love an' died of a daycline; furder on sat Mrs. Houlihan, who dayparted this life from ating of pizen musherooms; next to her sat—oh, a hundhred others!
Not that Darby saw thim, do ye mind. He had too good sinse to look that way at all. He walked with his head turned out to the open fields, an' his eyes squeeged shut. But something in his mind toult him they were there, an' he felt in the marrow of his bones that if he gave them the encouragement of one glance two or three'd slip off the wall an' come moanin' over to tell him their throubles.
What Solomon saw an' what Solomon heard, as the two wint shrinkin' along'll never be known to living man, but once he gave a jump, an' twice Darby felt him thrimblin', an' whin they raiched at last the chapel wall the baste broke into a swift throt. Purty soon he galloped, an' Darby wint gallopin' with him, till two yallow blurs of light across in a field to the left marked the windys of the stone-cutter's cottage.
'Twas a few steps only, thin, to the stile over into Nolan's meadow, an' there the two stopped, lookin' helpless at aich other. Solomon had to be lifted, and there was the throuble. Three times Darby thried be main strength to hist his compagnen up the steps, but in vain, an' Solomon was clane dishgusted.
Only for the tendher corn on our hayro's left little toe, I think maybe that at length an' at last the pair would have got safe over. The kind-hearted lad had the donkey's two little hoofs planted on the top step, an' whilst he himself was liftin' the rest of the baste in his arrums, Solomon got onaisy that he was goin' to be trun, an' so began to twisht an' squirm; of course, as he did, Darby slipped an' wint thump on his back agin the stile, with Solomon sittin' comfortable on top of the lad's chist. But that wasn't the worst of it, for as the baste scrambled up he planted one hard little hoof on Darby's left foot, an' the knowledgeable man let a yowl out of him that must have frightened all the ghosts within miles.
Seein' he'd done wrong, Solomon boulted for the middle of the road an' stood there wiry an' attentive, listening to the names flung at him from where his late comerade sat on the lowest step of the stile nursin' the hurted foot.
'Twas an excited owl in the belfry that this time spoke up an' shouted to his brother down in the blackthorn:
"Come up, come up quick!" it says. "Darby O'Gill is just afther calling Solomon Kilcannon a malayfactor."
Darby rose at last, an' as he climbed over the stile he turned to shake his fist toward the middle of the road.
"Bad luck to ye for a thick-headed, on-grateful informer!" he says; "you go your way an' I'll go mine—we're sundhers," says he. So sayin', the crippled man wint limpin' an' grumplin' down the boreen, through the meadow, whilst his desarted friend sint rayproachf ul brays afther him that would go to your heart.
The throbbin' of our hayro's toe banished all pity for the baste, an' even all thoughts of the banshee, till a long, gurgling, swooping sound in front toult him that his fears about the rise in McDonald's sthrame were undher rather than over the actwil conditions.
Fearin' that the wooden foot-bridge might be swept away, as it had been the year purvious, he hurried on.
Most times this sthrame was only a quiet little brook that ran betwixt purty green banks, with hardly enough wather in it to turn the broken wheel in Chartres' runed mill; but to-night it swept along an angry, snarlin', growlin' river that overlept its banks an' dhragged wildly at the swaying willows.
Be a narrow throw of light from McCarthy's side windy our thraveller could see the maddened wather sthrivin' an' tearing to pull with it the props of the little foot-bridge; an' the boards shook an' the centre swayed undher his feet as he passed over. "Bedad, I'll not cross this way goin' home, at any rate," he says, looking back at it.
The worruds were no sooner out of his mouth than there was a crack, an' the middle of the foot-bridge lifted in the air, twishted round for a second, an then hurled itself into the sthrame, laving the two inds still standing in their place on the banks.
"Tunder an' turf!" he cried, "I mustn't forget to tell the people within of this, for if ever there was a thrap set by evil spirits to drownd a poor, unwary mortial, there it stands. Oh, ain't the ghosts turrible wicious on Halloween!"
He stood dhrippin' a minute on the threshold, listening; thin, without knockin', lifted the latch an' stepped softly into the house.
Two candles burned above the blue and white chiney dishes on the table, a bright fire blazed on the hearth, an' over in the corner where the low bed was set the stone-cutter was on his knees beside it.
Eileen lay on her side, her shining hair sthrealed out on the pillow. Her purty, flushed face was turned to Cormac, who knelt with his forehead hid on the bed-covers. The colleen's two little hands were clasped about the great fist of her husband, an' she was talking low, but so airnest that her whole life was in every worrud.
"God save all here!" said Darby, takin' off his hat, but there was no answer. So deep were Cormac an' Eileen in some conwersation they were having together that they didn't hear his coming. The knowledgeable man didn't know what to do. He raylised that a husband and wife about to part for ever were lookin' into aich other's hearts, for maybe the last time. So he just sthood shifting from one foot to the other, watching thim, unable to daypart, an' not wishin' to obtrude.
"Oh, it isn't death at all that I fear," Eileen was saying. "No, no, Cormac asthore, 'tis not that I'm misdoubtful of; but, ochone mavrone, 'tis you I fear!"
The kneelin' man gave one swift upward glance, and dhrew his face nearer to the sick wife. She wint on, thin, spakin' tindher an' half smiling an' sthrckin' his hand:
"I know, darlint, I know well, so you needn't tell me, that if I were to live with you a thousand years you'd never sthray in mind or thought to any other woman, but it's when I'm gone—when the lonesome avenings folly aich other through days an' months, an' maybe years, an' you sitting here at this fireside without one to speak to, an' you so handsome an' gran', an' with the penny or two we've put away——"
"Oh,, why can't ye banish thim black thoughts!" says the stone-cutter. "Maybe," he says, "the banshee will not come again. Ain't all the counthry-side prayin' for ye this night, an' didn't Father Cassidy himself bid you to hope? The saints in Heaven couldn't be so crool!" says he.
But the colleen wint on as though she hadn't heard him, or as if he hadn't intherrupted her:
"An' listen," says she; "they'll come urging ye, the neighbours, an' raysonin' with you. You're own flesh an' blood'll come, an', no doubt, me own with them, an' they all sthriving to push me out of your heart, an' to put another woman there in my place. I'll know it all, but I won't be able to call to you, Cormac machree, for I'll be lying silent undher the grass, or undher the snow up behind the church."
While she was sayin' thim last worruds, although Darby's heart was meltin' for Eileen, his mind began running over the colleens of that townland to pick out the one who'd be most likely to marry Cormac in the ind. You know how far-seeing an' quick-minded was the knowledgeable man. He settled sudden on the Hanlon girl, an' daycided at once that she'd have Cormac before the year was out. The ondaycency of such a thing made him furious at her.
He says to himself, half crying, "Why, then, bad cess to you for a shameless, red-haired, forward baggage, Bridget Hanlon, to be runnin' afther the man, an' throwing yourself in his way, an' Eileen not yet cowld in her grave!" he says.
While he was saying them things to himself, McCarthy had been whuspering fierce to his wife, but what it was the stone-cutter said the friend of the fairies couldn't hear. Eileen herself spoke clean enough in answer, for the faver gave her onnatural strength.
"Don't think," she says, "that it's the first time this thought has come to me. Two months ago, whin I was sthrong an' well an' sittin' happy as a meadow-lark at your side, the same black shadow dhrifted over me heart. The worst of it an' the hardest to bear of all is that they'll be in the right, for what good can I do for you when I'm undher the clay," says she.
"It's different with a woman. If you were taken an' I left I'd wear your face in my heart through all me life, an' ax for no sweeter company."
"Eileen," says Cormac, liftin' his hand, an' his woice was hoarse as the roar of the say, "I swear to you on me bendid knees——"
With her hand on his lips, she sthopped him. "There'll come on ye by daygrees a great cravin' for sympathy, a hunger an' a longing for affection, an' you'll have only the shadow of my poor, wanished face to comfort you, an' a recollection of a woice that is gone for ever. A new, warm face'll keep pushin' itself betwixt us——"
"Bad luck to that red-headed hussy!" mutthered Darby, looking around disthressed. "I'll warn father Cassidy of her an' of her intintions the day afther the funeral."
There was silence for a minute; Cormac, the poor lad, was sobbing like a child. By-and-by Eileen wint on again, but her woice was failing an' Darby could see that her cheeks were wet.
"The day'll come when you'll give over," she says. "Ah, I see how it'll all ind. Afther that you'll visit the churchyard be stealth, so as not to make the other woman sore-hearted."
"My, oh, my, isn't she the far-seein' woman?" thought Darby.
"Little childher'll come," she says, "an' their soft, warm arrums will hould you away. By-and-by you'll not go where I'm laid at all, an' all thoughts of these few happy months we've spent together— Oh! Mother in Heaven, how happy they were——"
The girl started to her elbow, for, sharp an' sudden, a wild, wailing cry just outside the windy startled the shuddering darkness. 'Twas a long cry of terror and of grief, not shrill, but piercing as a knife-thrust. Every hair on Darby's head stood up an' pricked him like a needle. 'Twas the banshee!
"Whist, listen!" says Eileen. "Oh, Cormac asthore, it's come for me again!" With that, stiff with terror, she buried herself undher the pillows.
A second cry follyed the first, only this time it was longer, and rose an' swelled into a kind of a song that broke at last into the heart-breakingest moan that ever fell on mortial ears. "Ochone!" it sobbed.
The knowledgeable man, his blood turned to ice, his legs thremblin' like a hare's, stood looking in spite of himself at the black windy-panes, expecting some frightful wision.
Afther that second cry the woice balanced itself up an' down into the awful death keen. One word made the whole song, and that was the turruble worrud, "Forever!"
"Forever an' forever, oh, forever!" swung the wild keen, until all the deep meaning of the worrud burned itself into Darby's sowl, thin the heart-breakin' sob, "Ochone!" inded always the varse.
Darby was just wondherin' whether he himself wouldn't go mad with fright, whin he gave a sudden jump at a hard, sthrained woice which spoke up at his very elbow.
"Darby O'Gill," it said, and it was the stone-cutter who spoke, "do you hear the death keen? It came last night; it'll come to-morrow night at this same hour, and thin—oh, my God!"
Darby tried to answer, but he could only stare at the white, set face an' the sunken eyes of the man before him.
There was, too, a kind of fierce quiet in the way McCarthy spoke that made Darby shiver.
The stone-cutter wint on talkin' the same as though he was goin' to dhrive a bargain. "They say you're a knowledgeable man, Darby O'Gill," he says, "an' that on a time you spint six months with the fairies. Now I make you this fair, square offer," he says, laying a forefinger in the palm of the other hand. "I have fifty-three pounds that Father Cassidy's keeping for me. Fifty-three pounds," he says agin. "An' I have this good bit of a farm that me father was born on, an' his father was born on, too, and the grandfather of him. An' I have the grass of seven cows. You know that. Well, I'll give it all to you, all, every stiver of it, if you'll only go outside an' dhrive away that cursed singer." He trew his head to one side an' looked anxious up at Darby.
The knowledgeable man racked his brains for something to speak, but all he could say was, "I've brought you a bit of tay from the wife, Cormac."
McCarthy took the tay with unfeeling hands, an' wint on talking in the same dull way. Only this time there came a hard lump in his throat now and then that he stopped to swally.
"The three cows I have go, of course, with the farm," says he. "So does the pony an' the five pigs. I have a good plough an' a foine harrow; but you must lave my stone-cutting tools, so little Eileen an' I can earn our way wherever we go, an' it's little the crachure ates the best of times."
The man's eyes were dhry an' blazin'; no doubt his mind was cracked with grief. There was a lump in Darby's throat, too, but for all that he spoke up scolding-like.
"Arrah, talk rayson, man," he says, putting two hands on Cormac's chowlders; "if I had the wit or the art to banish the banshee, wouldn't I be happy to do it an' not a fardin' to pay?"
"Well, then," says Cormac, scowling, an' pushin' Darby to one side, "I'll face her myself—I'll face her an' choke that song in her throat if Sattin himself stood at her side."
With those words, an' before Darby could sthop him, the stone-cutter flung open the door an' plunged out into the night. As he did so the song outside sthopped. Suddenly a quick splashing of feet, hoarse cries, and shouts gave tidings of a chase. The half-crazed gossoon had stharted the banshee—of that there could be no manner of doubt. A raymembrance of the awful things that she might do to his friend paythrefied the heart of Darby.
Even afther these cries died away he stood listenling a full minute, the sowls of his two brogues glued to the floor. The only sounds he heard now were the deep ticking of a clock and a cricket that chirped slow an' solemn on the hearth, an' from somewhere outside came the sorrowful cry of a whipperwill. All at once a thought of the broken bridge an' of the black, treacherous waters caught him like the blow of a whip, an' for a second drove from his mind even the fear of the banshee.
In that one second, an' before he rayalised it, the lad was out undher the dhripping trees, and running for his life toward the broken foot-bridge. The night was whirling an' beating above him like the flapping of thraymendous wings, but as he ran Darby thought he heard above the rush of the water and through, the swish of the wind Cormac's woice calling him.
The friend of the fairies stopped at the edge of the foot-bridge to listen. Although the storm had almost passed, a spiteful flare of lightning lept up now an' agin out of the western hills, an' afther it came the dull rumble of distant thunder; the water splashed spiteful against the bank, and Darby saw that seven good feet of the bridge had been torn out of its centre, laving uncovered that much of the black, deep flood.
He stood sthraining his eyes an' ears in wondheration, for now the woice of Cormac sounded from the other side of the sthrame, and seemed to be floating toward him through the field over the path Darby himself had just thravelled. At first he was mightily bewildhered at what might bring Cormac on the other side of the brook, till all at once the murdhering scheme of the banshee burst in his mind like a gunpowdher explosion.
Her plan was as plain as day—she meant to dhrown the stone-cutter. She had led the poor, daysthracted man straight from his own door down to and over the new stone bridge, an' was now dayludherin' him on the other side of the sthrame, back agin up the path that led to the broken foot-bridge.
In the glare of a sudden blinding flash from the middle of the sky Darby saw a sight he'll never forget till the day he dies. Cormac, the stone-cutter, was running toward the death-trap, his bare head trun back, an' his two arrums stretched out in front of him. A little above an' just out of raich of them, plain an' clear as Darby ever saw his wife Bridget, was the misty white figure of a woman. Her long, waving hair sthrealed back from her face, an' her face was the face of the dead.
At the sight of her Darby thried to call out a warning, but the words fell back into his throat. Thin again came the stifling darkness. He thried to run away, but his knees failed him, so he turned around to face the danger.
As he did so he could hear the splash of the man's feet in the soft mud. In less than a minute Cormac would be sthruggling in the wather. At the thought Darby, bracing himself body and sowl, let a warning howl out of him.
"Hould where you are!" he shouted; "she wants to drownd ye—the bridge is broke in the middle!" but he could tell, from the rushing footsteps an' from the hoarse swelling curses which came nearer an' nearer every second, that the dayludhered man, crazed with grief, was deaf an' blind to everything but the figure that floated before his eyes.
At that hopeless instant Bridget's parting words popped into Darby's head.
"When one goes on an errant of marcy a score of God's white angels, with swoords in their hands, march before an' beside an' afther him, keeping his path free from danger."
How it all come to pass he could never rightly tell, for he was like a man in a dhrame,but he recollects well standing on the broken ind of the bridge, Bridget's words ringing in his ears, the glistening black gulf benathe his feet, an' he swinging his arrums for a jump. Just one thought of herself and the childher, as he gathered himself for a spring, an' then he cleared the gap like a bird.
As his two feet touched the other side of the gap a turrific screech—not a screech, ayther, but an angry, frightened shriek—almost split his ears. He felt a rush of cowld, dead air agin his face, and caught a whiff of newly turned clay in his nosthrils; something white stopped quick before him, an' then, with a second shriek, it shot high in the darkness an' disappeared. Darby had frightened the wits out of the banshee.
The instant afther the two men were clinched an' rowling over an' over aich other down the muddy bank, their legs splashing as far as the knees in the dangerous wather, an' McCarthy raining wake blows on the knowledgeable man's head an' breast.
Darby felt himself goin' into the river. Bits of the bank caved undher him, splashing into the current, an' the lad's heart began clunking up an' down like a churn-dash.
"Lave off, lave off!" he cried, as soon as he could ketch his breath. "Do you take me for the banshee?" says he, giving a dusperate lurch an' rowling himself on top of the other.
"Who are you, then? If you're not a ghost you're the divil, at any rate," gasped the stone-cutter.
"Bad luck to ye!" cried Darby, clasping both arrums of the haunted man. "I'm no ghost, let lone the divil—I'm only your friend, Darby O'Gill."
Lying there, breathing hard, they stared into the faces of aich other a little space till the poor stone-cutter began to cry.
"Oh, is that you, Darby O'Gill? Where is the banshee? Oh, haven't I the bad fortune," he says, sthriving to raise himself.
"Rise up," says Darby, lifting the man to his feet an' steadying him there. The stone-cutter stared about like one stunned be a blow.
"I don't know where the banshee flew, but do you go back to Eileen as soon as you can," says the friend of the fairies. "Not that way, man alive," he says, as Cormac started to climb the foot-bridge, "it's broke in the middle; go down an' cross the stone bridge. I'll be afther you in a minute," he says.
Without a word, meek now and biddable as a child, Cormac turned, an' Darby saw him hurry away into the blackness.
The raysons Darby raymained behind were two: first an' foremost, he was a bit vexed at the way his clothes were muddied an' dhraggled, an' himself had been pounded an' hammered; an' second, he wanted to think. He had a quare cowld feeling in his mind that something was wrong—a kind of a foreboding, as one might say.
As he stood thinking a rayalisation of the caylamity sthruck him all at once like a rap on the jaw—he had lost his fine brier pipe. The lad groaned as he began the anxious sarch. He slapped furiously at his chist an' side pockets, he dived into his throwsers and greatcoat, and at last, sprawlin' on his hands an' feet like a monkey, he groped savagely through the wet, sticky clay.
"This comes," says the poor lad, grumblin' an' gropin', "of pokin' your nose into other people's business. Hallo, what's this?" says he, straightening himself. "'Tis a comb. Be the powers of pewther, 'tis the banshee's comb."
An' so indade it was. He had picked up a goold comb the length of your hand an' almost the width of your two fingers. About an inch of one ind was broken off, an' dhropped into Darby's palm. Without thinkin', he put the broken bit into his weskit pocket, an' raised the biggest half close to his eyes, the betther to view it.
"May I never see sorrow," he says, "if the banshee mustn't have dhropped her comb. Look at that, now. Folks do be sayin' that 'tis this gives her the foine singing voice, bekase the comb is enchanted," he says. "If that sayin' be thrue, it's the faymous lad I am from this night. I'll thravel from fair to fair, an' maybe at the ind they'll send me to parliament."
With these worruds he lifted his caubeen an' stuck the comb in the top tuft of his hair.
Begor, he'd no sooner guv it a pull than a sour, singing feelin' begun at the bottom of his stomick, an' it rose higher an' higher. When it raiched his chist he was just going to let a bawl out of himself only that he caught sight of a thing ferninst him that froze the marrow in his bones.
He gasped short an' jerked the comb out of his hair, for there, not tin feet away, stood a dark, shadowy woman, tall, thin, an' motionless, laning on a crutch.
During a breath or two the parsecuted hayro lost his head completely, for he never doubted that the banshee had changed her shuit of clothes to chase back afther him.
The first clear aymotion that rayturned to him was to fling the comb on the ground an' make a boult of it. On second thought he knew that 'twould be aisier to bate the wind in a race than to run away from the banshee.
"Well, there's a good Tipperary man done for this time," groaned the knowledgeable man, "unless in some way I can beguile her." He was fishing in his mind for its civilist worrud when the woman spoke up, an' Darby's heart jumped with gladness as he raycognised the cracked voice of Sheelah Maguire, the spy for the fairies.
"The top of the avenin' to you, Darby O'Gill," says Sheelah, peering at him from undher her hood, the two eyes of her glowing like tallow candles; "amn't I kilt with a-stonishment to see you here alone this time of the night," says the ould witch.
Now, the clever man knew as well as though he had been tould, when Sheelah said thim worruds, that the banshee had sent her to look for the comb, an' his heart grew bould; but he answered her polite enough, "Why, thin, luck to ye, Misthress Maguire, ma'am," he says, bowing grand, "sure, if you're kilt with a-stonishment, amn't I sphlit with inkerdoolity to find yourself mayandherin' in this lonesome place on Halloween night."
Sheelah hobbled a step or two nearer, an' whuspered confaydential.
"I was wandherin' hereabouts only this morning," she says, "an' I lost from me hair a goold comb—one that I've had this forty years. Did ye see such a thing as that, agra?" An' her two eyes blazed.
"Faix, I dunno," says Darby, putting his two arrums behind him. "Was it about the length of ye're hand an' the width of ye're two fingers?" he axed.
"It was," says she, thrusting out a withered paw.
"Thin I didn't find it," says the tantalising man. "But maybe I did find something summillar, only 'twasn't yours at all, but the banshee's," he says, chuckling.
Whether the hag was intentioned to welt Darby with her staff, or whether she was only liftin' it for to make a sign of enchantment in the air, will never be known, but whatsomever she meant the hayro doubled his fists an' squared off; at that she lowered the stick, an' broke into a shrill, cackling laugh.
"Ho, ho!" she laughed, houldin' her sides, "but aren't ye the bould, distinguishable man. Becourse 'tis the banshee's comb; how well ye knew it! Be the same token I'm sint to bring it away; so make haste to give it up, for she's hiding an' waiting for me down at Chartres' mill. Aren't you the courageous blaggard, to grabble at her, an' thry to ketch her. Sure, such a thing never happened before, since the worruld began," says Sheelah.
The idee that the banshee was hiding an' afeared to face him was great news to the hayro. But he only tossed his head an' smiled shuparior as he made answer.
"'Tis yourself that knows well, Sheelah Maguire, ma'am," answers back the proud man, slow an' dayliberate, "that whin one does a favour for an unearthly spirit he may daymand for pay the favours of three such wishes as the spirit has power to give. The worruld knows that. Now I'll take three good wishes, such as the banshee can bestow, or else I'll carry the goolden comb straight to Father Cassidy. The banshee hasn't goold nor wor'ly goods, as the sayin' is, but she has what suits me betther."
This cleverness angered the fairy-woman so she set in to abuse and to frighten Darby. She ballyragged, she browbate, she trajooced, she threatened, but 'twas no use. The bould man hildt firm, till at last she promised him the favours of the three wishes.
"First an' foremost," says he, "I'll want her never to put her spell on me or any of my kith an' kin."
"That wish she gives you, that wish she grants you, though it'll go sore agin the grain," snarled Sheelah.
"Then," says Darby, "my second wish is that the black spell be taken from Eileen McCarthy."
Sheelah flusthered about like an angry hin. "Wouldn't something else do as well?" she says.
"I'm not here to argify," says Darby, swingin' back an' forrud on his toes.
"Bad scran to you," says Sheelah. "I'll have to go an' ask the banshee herself about that. Don't stir from that spot till I come back."
You may believe it or not, but with that sayin' she bent the head of her crutch well forward, an' before Darby's very face she trew—savin' your presence—one leg over the stick as though it had been a horse, an' while one might say Jack Robinson the crutch riz into the air an' lifted her, an' she went sailing out of sight.
Darby was still gaping an' gawpin' at the darkness where she disappeared whin—whisk! she was back agin an' dismountin' at his side.
"The luck is with you," says she, spiteful. "That wish I give, that wish I grant you. You'll find seven crossed rushes undher McCarthy's door-step; uncross them, put them in fire or in wather, an' the spell is lifted. Be quick with the third wish—out with it!"
"I'm in a more particular hurry about that than you are," says Darby. "You must find me my brier pipe," says he.
"You omadhaun," sneered the fairy-woman, "'tis sthuck in the band of your hat, where you put it when you left your own house the night. No, no, not in front," she says, as Darby put up his hand to feel. "It's stuck in the back. Your caubeen's twishted," she says.
Whilst Darby was standing with the comb in one hand an' the pipe in the other, smiling daylighted, the comb was snatched from his fingers and he got a welt in the side of the head from the crutch. Looking up, he saw Sheelah tunty feet in the air, headed for Chartres' mill, an' she cacklin' an' screechin' with laughter. Rubbing his sore head an' mutthering unpious words to himself, Darby started for the new bridge.
In less than no time afther, he had found the seven crossed rushes undher McCarthy's door-step, an' had flung them into the stream. Thin, without knocking, he pushed open McCarthy's door an' tiptoed quietly in.
Cormac was kneelin' beside the bed with his face buried in the pillows, as he was when Darby first saw him that night. But Eileen was sleeping as sound as a child, with a sweet smile on her lips. Heavy pursperation beaded her forehead, showing that the faver was broke.
Without disturbing aither of them our hayro picked up the package of tay from the floor, put it on the dhresser, an' with a glad heart sthole out of the house an' closed the door softly behind him.
Turning toward Chartres' mill he lifted his hat an' bowed low. "Thank you kindly, Misthress Banshee," he says. "'Tis well for us all I found your comb this night. Public or private, I'll always say this for you—you're a woman of your worrud," he says.