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Darby O'Gill and the Good People/The Banshee's Comb/Chapter 3

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CHAPTER III
THE GHOSTS AT CHARTRES' MILL


For a little while afther Darby O'Gill sint the banshee back her comb, there was the duckens to pay in that townland. Aich night came stormier than the other. An' the rain—never, since Noey the Phœnaycian histed sail for Arrayat was there promised such a daynudherin' flood. (In one way or another we're all, even the Germin min an' the Fardowns, dayscendints of the Phœaycians.)

Even at that the foul weather was the laste of the throuble—the counthry-side was ha'nted. Every ghost must have left Croaghmah as soon as twilight to wander abroad in the lonesome places. The farm-yards and even the village itself was not safe.

One morning, just before cock-crow, big Joey Hooligan, the smith, woke up sudden, with a turrible feeling that some gashly person was lookin' in at him through the windy. Startin' up flurried in bed, what did he see but two eyes that were like burnin' coals of fire, an' they peerin' study into the room. One glance was enough. Givin' a thraymendous gasp, Joey dhropped back quakin' into the bed, an' covered his head with the bed-clothes. How long afther that the two heegous eyes kept starin' at the bed Joey can't rightly tell, for he never uncovered his head nor stirred hand nor foot agin till his wife Nancy had lighted the fire an' biled the stirabout.

Indade, it was a good month afther that before Joey found courage enough to get up first in the morning so as to light the fire. An' on that same mimorable mornin' he an' Nancy lay in bed argyfin' about it till nearly noon—the poor man was that frightened.

The avenin' afther Hooligan was wisited Mrs. Norah Clancy was in the stable milking her cow—Cornaylia be name—whin sudden she spied a tall, sthrange man in a topcoat standin' near the stable door an' he with his back turned toward her. At first she thought it a shadow, but it a-ppeared a thrifle thicker than a shadow, so, a little afeared, she called out: "God save you kindly, sir!"

At that the shadow turned a dim, grey face toward her, so full of rayproachful woe that Mrs. Clancy let a screech out of her an' tumbled over with the pail of milk betwixt her knees. She lay on her back in the spilt milk unconscionable for full fufteen minutes.

The next night a very rayliable tinker, named Bothered Bill Donahue, while wandherin' near Chartres' ruined mill, came quite accidental upon tunty skillingtons, an' they colloguing an' confabbing together on the flat roof of the mill-shed.

But worst of all, an' something that sthruck deeper terror into every heart, was the news that six different persons at six different places had met with the turrible phantom coach, the Costa Bower.

Peggy Collins, a wandherin' beggar woman from the west counthry, had a wild chase for it; an' if she'd been a second later raichin' the chapel steps an' laying her hand on the church-door it would have had her sure.

Things got on so that afther dark people only wentured out in couples or in crowds, an' in pint of piety that parish was growin' into an example an' patthron for the naytion.

But of all the persons whom thim con-ditions complicayted you may be sure that the worst harried an' implicayted was the knowledgeable man, Darby O'Gill.

There was a weight on his mind, but he couldn't tell why, an' a dhread in his heart that had no raysonable foundaytion. He moped an' he moothered. Some of the time he felt like singin' doleful ballads an' death keens, an' the rest of the time he could hardly keep from cryin'. His appetite left him, but what confuged him worse than all the rest was the fondness that had come over him for hard worruk—cuttin' turf an' diggin' petaties, an' things like that.

To make matters more onsociable, his friend, Brian Connors, the King of the Fairies, hadn't showed a nose inside Darby's door for more than a fortnit; so the knowledgeable man had no one to adwise with.

In thim dismal sarcumstances Darby, growin' dusperate, harnessed the pony Clayopathra one morning and dhrove up to Clonmel to see the Masther Doctor—the raynowned McNamara. Be this you may know how bad he felt, for no one, till he was almost at the pint of dissolation, ever wint to that crass, brow-batin' ould codger.

So, loath enough was our own hayro to face him, an' hard-hearted enough was the welcome the crabbed little docthor hilt out to Darby whin they met.

"What did you ate for breakwus?" the physician says, peerin' savage from undher his great eyebrows at Darby's tongue.

"Only a bowl of stirabout, an' a couple of petaties, an' a bit of bacon, an' a few eggs." He was countin' on his fingers, "an'—an' somethin' or other I forgot. Do you think I'll go into a daycline, Doctor, agra?"

"Hump! ugh! ugh!" was all the comfort the sick man got from the blinkin' ould blaggard. But turnin' imaget to his medicine-table the surgent began studyin' the medicines. There was so much of it ferninst him he might have give a gallon an' never missed it. There was one foine big red bottle in particular Darby had his eye on, an' thought his dose 'ud surely come out of that. But NcNamara turns to a box the size of your hat, an' it filled to the top with little white, flat pills. Well, the stingy ould rascal counts out three and, handing them to Darby, says: "Take one before breakwus, another before dinner, an' the last one before suppher, an' give me four silver shillings, an' that'll cure ye," he says.

You may be sure that Darby biled up inside with madness at the onraysonableness of the price of the pills, but, houlding himself in, he says, very cool an' quite: "Will you write me out a rayceipt for the money, Doctor McNamara, if you plaze?" he says. An', whilst the ould chayter was turned to the writing, be the hokey if our hayro didn't half fill his pockets with pills from the box. By manes of them, as he dhrove along home, he was able to do a power of good to the neighbour people he met with on the road.

Whin you once get in the habit of it there's no pleasure in life which ayquils givin' other people medicine.

Darby ginerously med ould Peggy O'Callaghan take six of the little round things. He gave a swally to half-witted Red Durgan, an' a good mouthful to poor sick Eileen McCarthy (only she had to gulp them whole, poor thing, an' couldn't ate them as the others did—but maybe 'twas just as good). An' he gave a fistful aich to Judy Rafferty an' Dennis Hogan; an' he stood handsome thrate to a sthranger, who, the minute he got the taste well intil his mouth, wanted to fight Darby. Howsumever, the two only called aich other hard names for a while, then Darby joggled along, doin' good an' growin' lighter-hearted an' merrier-minded at every sthop he med. 'Twas this way with him till, just in front of Mrs. Kilcannon's, who should he see, scratching himself agin the wall, but Solomon, an' the baste lookin' bitther daynunciation out of the corner of his eye. Darby turned his head, ashamed to look the misthrayted donkey in the face. An' worse still nor that, just beyant Solomon, laning agin the same wall, was Bothered Bill Donahue, the deef tinker. That last sight dashed Darby entirely, for he knew as well as if he had been tould that the tinker was layin' in wait to ride home with him for a night's lodging.

It wasn't that Darby objected on his own account to takin' him home, for a tinker or a beggar-man, mind you, has a right, the worruld over, to claim a night's lodgin' an' a bit to ate wherever he goes; an' well, these honest people pay for it in the gossip an' news they furnish at the fireside an' in the good rayport of your family they'll spread through the counthry aftherwards.

Darby liked well to have them come, but through some unknown wakeness in her char-ack-ther Bridget hated the sight of them. Worst of all, she hated Bothered Bill. She even went so far as to say that Bill was not half so bothered as he purtendid—that he could hear well enough what was a-greeable for him to hear, an' that he was deef only to what he didn't like to listen to.

Well, anyhow there was the tinker in the road waitin' for the cart to come up, an' for a while what to do Darby didn't well know.

He couldn't rayfuse one who axed food to ate or shelther for a wandherer's four bones during the night (that would be a sin, besides it would bring bad luck upon the house), an' still he had a mortial dislike to go agin Bridget in this purtick'ler—she'd surely blame him for bringin' Bothered Bill home.

But at length an' at last he daycided, with a sigh, to put the whole case before Bill an' then let him come or stay.

Whilst he was meditaytin' on some way of conveyin' the news that'd be complaymintary to the tinker, an' that'd elevayte instid of smashing that thraveller's sinsitiveness, Bill came up to the cart.

"The top iv the day to you, dacint man," he says. "'Tis gettin' toward dark an' I'll go home with ye for the night, I'm thinkin'," says he. The tinker, like most people who are hard of hearin', roared as though the listener was bothered.

Darby laid down the lines an' hilt out a handful of the little medicines.

"There's nothin' the matther with me, so why should I ate thim?" cried Bill.

"They're the best thing in the worruld for that," says Darby, forcing them into Bill's mouth. "You don't know whin you'll nade thim," he says, shoutin'. "It's betther meet sickness half-way," says he, "than to wait till it finds you."

And thin, whilst Bill, with an open hand aginst his ear, was chawin' the pills an' lookin' up plaintiff into Darby's face, the knowledgeable man wint on in a blandishin' way to pint out the sitiwation.

"You see, 'tis this away, Wullum," he says. "It's only too daylighted I'd be to take you home with me. Indade, Bridget herself has wondherful admiraytion for you in an ord'nary way," says he. "She believes you're a raymarkable man intirely," he says, dayplomatic, "only she thinks you're not clane," says he.

The tinker must have misundherstood altogether, for he bawled, in rayply, "Wisha good luck to her," he says, "an' ain't I glad to have so foine opinion from so foine a woman," says he. "But sure, all the women notice how tidy I am, an' that's why they like to have me in the house. But we best be movin'," says he, coolly dhropping his bags of tools intil the cart, "for the night's at hand, an' a black an' stormy one it'll be," says Bill.

He put a foot onto the wheel of the cart. As he did so Darby, growin' very red in the face, pressed a shilling into the tinker's hand. "Go into Mrs. Kilcannon's for the night, Wullum," he says, "an' come to us for your breakwus, an' your dinner an' maybe your supper, me good fellow," says he.

But the deef man only pocketed the shillin' an' clambered up onto the sate beside Darby. "Faith, the shillin's welcome," he says; "but I'd go to such a commodious house as yours any time, Darby O'Gill, without a fardin's pay," says he, pattin' Darby kindly on the back. But Darby's jaw was hangin' for the loss of the shillin' right on top of the unwelcome wisitor.

"We'd betther hurry on," says the tinker, lighting his pipe; "for afther sundown who knows what'll catch up with us on the road," says he.

Sure, there was nothing for it but to make the best of a bad bargain, an' the two went on together, Darby gloomy an' vexed an' the deef man solemn but comfortable till they were almost at McHale's bridge. Then the tinker spoke up.

"Did ye hear the black threats Sheelah Maguire is makin' agin you?" he says.

"No," says Darby; "what in the worruld ails her?" says he.

"Bless the one of me knows," says the tinker, "nor anybody else for that matther. Only that last Halloween night Sheelah Maguire was bate black an' blue from head to foot, an' she lays the raysponsibility on you, Darby," he says.

The knowledgeable man had his mouth open for a question whin who should go runnin' acrost the road in front of them but Neddy McHale himself, an' his arrum full of sticks. "Go back! go back!" cries Neddy, wavin' an arrum wild. "The bridge's butther-worruks are washed out be the flood an' McDonald's bridge is down, too, so yez must go around be the mill," says Neddy.

Now here was bitther news for ye! 'Twas two miles out of the way to go be Chartres' mill, an' do the best possible they'd be passing that ha'nted place in the pitch dark.

"Faith, an' I've had worse luck than in pickin' you up this night, Bothered Bill Donahue," says Darby, "for it's loath I'd be to go alone——"

He turned to speak just in time, for the tinker had gathered up his bag an' had put his right foot on the cart-wheel, purparin' for a jump. Darby clutched the lad be the back of his neck an' joulted him back hard into the sate.

"Sit still, Wullum, till we raich me own house, avourneen," he says, sarcastic, "for if ye thry that move agin I'll not lave a whole bone in your body. I'll never let it be said," he says, lofty, "that I turned one who axed me for a night's lodgin' from me door," he says. An' as he spoke he wheeled the cart quick around in the road.

"Lave me down, Misther O'Gill! I think I'll stop the night with Neddy McHale," says Wullum, shiverin'. "Bridget don't think I'm clane," says he, as the pony started off.

"Who tould ye that, I'd like to know?" shouted Darby, growin' fierce; "who dared say that of ye? You're bothered, Wullum, you know, an' so you misthrupit langwidge," he says.

But Bill only cowered down sulky, an' the pony galloped down the side lane intil the woods, strivin' to bate the rain an' the darkness. But the elements were too swift-footed, an' the rain came down an' all the shadows met together, an' the dusk whirled quick intil blackness before they raiched the gloomy hill.

Ever and always Chartres' mill was a misfortunit place. It broke the heart of an' runed and kilt the man who built it; an' itself was a rune these last tunty years.

Many was the wild tale known throughout the counthry-side of the things that had been seen an' heard at that same mill, but the tale that kept Darby an' the tinker unwelcome company as the pony throtted along was what had happened there a couple of years before. One night, as Paddy Carroll was dhrivin' past the gloomy ould place, his best ear cocked an' his weather eye open for ghosts, there came sudden from the mill three agonised shrieks for help.

Thinkin' 'twas the spirits that were in it Paddy whipped up his pony an' hurried on his way. But the next morning, misdoubtin' whether 'twasn't a human woice, afther all, he had heard, Paddy gathered up a dozen of the neighbours an' went back to inwestigate. What did they find in one of the upper rooms but a peddler, lying flat on the floor, his pack ramsacked an' he dead as a door-nail. 'Twas his cries Paddy had heard as the poor thraveller was bein' murdhered.

Since that time a dozen people passing the mill at night had heard the cries of the same peddler, an' had seen the place blazin' with lights. So, that now no one who could help it ever alone passed the mill afther dark.

At the hill this side of that place the pony slowed down to a walk; nayther coaxin' nor batin' 'd injooce the baste to mend his steps. The horse'd stop a little an' wait, an' thin it'd go on thrimblin'.

They could all see the dim outlines of the empty mill glowerin' up at them, an' the nearer they came the more it glowered, an' the faster their two hearts bate. Half-way down the hill an ould sign-post pinted the way with its broken arm; just beyant that the bridge, an' afther that the long, level road an'—salwaytion.

But at the sign-post Clayopathra sthopped dead still, starin' into some bushes just beyant. She was shakin' an' snortin' and her limbs thrimblin'.

At the same time, to tell the truth, she was no worse off than the two Christians sittin' in the cart behint her, only they were not so daymonsthray-ta-tive about it. Small blame to the lads at that, for they were both sure an' sartin that lurking in the black shadows was a thing waiting to freeze their hearts with terror, an' maybe to put a mark on thim that they'd carry to their graves.

Afther coaxing Clayopathra an' raysonin' with her in wain, Darby, his knees knocking, turned to the tinker, an' in the excitement of the events forgettin' that Bill was deef, whuspered, as cool an' as aisy-like as he could:

"Would ye mind doin' me the favour of steppin' out, avick, an' seein' what's in that road ahead of us, Wullum?"

But Bothered Bill answered back at once, just as cool an' aisy:

"I would mind, Darby," he says; "an' I wouldn't get down, asthore, to save you an' your family an' all their laneyal daysindents from the gallus-rope," says he.

"I thought you was deef," says Darby, growin' disrayspectful.

"This is no time for explaynations," says Wullum. "An' I thought meself," he wint on, turning his chowlder on Darby, "that I was in company with a brave man; but I'm sorry to find that I'm riding with no betther than an' outrageous coward," says he, bitther.

Whilst Wullum was sayin' them wexatious worruds Darby stood laning out of the cart with a hand on Clayopathra's back an' a foot on the shaft, goggling his eyes an' sthrivin' to pierce the darkness at the pony's head. Without turnin' round he med answer:

"Is that the way it is with you, Wullum?" he says, still sarcastic. "Faix, thin ye'll have that complaint no longer, for if yez don't climb down this minute I'll trow you bag an' baggage in the ditch," he says; "so get out immaget, darlint, or I'll trow you out," says he.

The worruds weren't well out of his mouth whin the owdacious tinker whipped out his scissors an' sint the sharp pint half an inch into Clayopathra's flank. Clayopathra jumped, an' Darby, legs an' arrums flying, took a back sommerset that he never ayquiled in his supplest days, for it landed him flat agin the hedge; an' the leap Clayopathra gave, if she could only keep it up'd fit her for the Curragh races. An' keep it up for a surprisin' while she did, at any rate, for as the knowledgeable man scrambled to his feet he could hear her furious gallop a hundhred yards down the road.

"Stop her, Wullum avourneen, I was only joking! Come back, ye shameless rogue of the univarse, or I'll have ye thransported!" he shouted, rushing a few steps afther them. But the lash of the whip on Clayopathra's sides was the only answer Wullum sint back to him.

To purshue was useless, so the daysarted man slacked down to a throt. I'd hate bad to have befall me any one of the hundhred things Darby wished aloud then an' there for Wullum.

Well, at all events, there was Darby, his head bint, plodding along through the storm, an' a fiercer storm than the wind or rain ever med kept ragin' in his heart.

Only that through the storm in his mind there flared now an' thin quivers of fear an' turpitation that sometimes hastened his steps an' thin again falthered thim. Howsumever, taking it all in all, he was making good pro-gress, an' had got to the bunch of willows at the near side of the mill whin one particular raymembrance of Sheelah Maguire and of the banshee's comb halted the lad in the middle of the road an' sint him fumblin' with narvous hands in his weskit pocket. There, sure enough, was the piece of the banshee's comb. The broken bit had lain forgotten in the lad's pocket since Halloween; an' now, as he felt it there next his thumping heart an' buried undher pipefuls of tobaccy, the rayalisation almost floored him with consthernaytion. All rushed over his sowl like a flood.

Who else could it be but the banshee that guv Sheelah Maguire that turrible batin' mintioned by the tinker? An' what was that bating for, unless the banshee a-ccused Sheelah of stealing the ind of the comb? An', mother of Moses! 'Twas sarchin' for that same bit of comb it was that brought the ghosts up from Croaghmah an' med the whole townland ha'nted.

Was ever such a dangerous purdicament! Here he was, with ghosts in the threes above him an' in the hedges, an' maybe lookin' over his chowlder, an' all of them sarchin' for the bit of enchanted comb that was in his own pocket. If they should find out where it lay what awful things they would do to him. Sure, they might call up the Costa Bower an' fling him into it, an' that 'ud be the last ever heard of Darby O'Gill in the land of the livin'.

With thim wild thoughts jumpin' up an' down in his mind he stood in the dark an' in the rain, gawmin' vacant over toward the shadowy ruin. An' he bein' much agitayted, the lad, without thinkin', did the foolishest thing a man in his sitiwaytion could well a-complish—he took out of his pocket the enchanted sliver of goold an' hildt it to his two eyes for a look.

The consequences came suddin', for as he stuck it back into the tobaccy there burst from the darkness of the willows the hallowest, most blood-curdlin' laugh that ever fell on mortial ears. "Ho! ho! ho!" it laughed.

The knowledgeable man's hair lifted the hat from his head.

An' as if the laugh wasn't enough to scatther the wits of anyone, at the same instant it sounded, an' quick as a flash, every windy in the ould mill blazed with a fierce blue light. Every batthered crack an' crevice seemed bursting with the glare for maybe the space of ten seconds, an' then, oh, Millia Murther! there broke from the upper floor three of the bitterest shrieks of pain an' terror ever heard in this worruld; an', with the last cry, the mill quinched itself into darkness agin an' stood lonely an' gloomy an' silent as before. The rain patthered down on the road an' the wind swished mournful in the threes, but there was no other sound.

The knowledgeable man turned to creep away very soft an' quiet; but as he did a monsthrous black thing that looked like a dog without a head crawled slowly out from the willows where the turrible laugh had come from, an' it crept into the gloom of the opposite hedge an' there it stood, waitin' for Darby to dhraw near.

But the knowledgeable man gave a leap backwards, an' as he did from the darkness just behindt him swelled a deep sigh that was almost a groan. From the hedge to his right came another sigh, only deeper than the first, and from the blackness on his left rose another moan, an' then a groaning, moaning chorus rose all round him, an' lost itself in the wailing of the wind. He was surrounded—the ghosts had captured Darby.

The lad never rayalised before that minute what a precious thing is daylight. If there would only come a flash of lightening to show him the faces of the surrounding spirrits, horrible though they might be, he'd bid it welcome. But though the rain drizzled an' the tunder rumpled, not a flare lit up the sky.

One swift, dusperate hope at the last minute saved the boy from sheer dispair; an' that same hope was that maybe some of the Good People might be flyin' about an' would hear him. Liftin' up his face to the sky an' crying out to the passin' wind, he says:

"Boys," he says, agonised, "lads," says he, "if there be any of yez to listen," he cried, "I'll take it as a great favour an' I'll thank ye kindly to tell King Brian Connors that his friend an' comerade, Darby O'Gill, is in deep throuble and wants to see him imaget," says he.

"Ho! ho! ho!" laughed the turrible thing in the hedge.

In spite of the laugh he was almost sure that off in the distance a cry answered him.

To make sure he called again, but this time, though he sthrained his ears till their drums ached, he caught no rayply.

And now, out of the murkiness in the road ahead of him, something began to grow slowly into a tall, slender, white figure. Motionless it stood, tightly wrapped in a winding sheet. In its presence a new an' awful fear pressed down the heart of Darby. He felt, too, that another shade had taken its place behindt him, an' he didn't want to look, an' sthrove against lookin', but something forced the lad to turn his head. There, sure enough, not foive feet away, stood still an' silent the tall, dark figure of a man in a topcoat.

Thin came from every direction low, hissing whuspers that the lad couldn't undherstand. Somethin' turrible would happen in a minute—he knew that well.

There's just so much fear in every man, just exactly as there is a certain amount of courage, an' whin the fear is all spilt a man aither fights or dies. So Darby had always said.

He raymembered there was a gap in the hedge nearly opposite the clump of willows, so he med up his mind that, come what might, he'd make a gran' charge for it, an' so into the upland meadow beyant. He waited an instant to get some strength back intil his knees, an' then he gave a spring. But that one spring was all he med—in that direction, at laste.

For, as he neared the ditch, a dozen white, ghostly hands raiched out eager for him. With a gasp he whirled in his thracks an' rushed mad to the willows opposite, but there a hundhred gashly fingers were stretched out to meet the poor lad; an' as he staggered back into the middle of the road agin, the hayro couldn't, to save his sowl, keep back a long cry of terror and disthress.

Imaget, from undher the willows and from the ditch near the hedge an' in the air above his head, from countless dead lips aychoed that triumphing, onairthly laugh, Ho! ho! ho!

'Twas then Darby just nearly guve up for lost. He felt his eyes growing dim an' his limbs numb. There was no air comin' into his lungs, for whin he thried to breathe he only gaped, so that he knew the black spell was on him, an' that all that was left for him to do was to sink down in the road an' thin to die.

But at that minute there floated from a great way off the faint cry of a woice the dispairing man knew well.

"Keep up your heart, Darby O'Gill," cried Brian Connors; "we're coming to resky you," an' from over the fields a wild cheer follyed thim worruds.

"Faugh-a-balla—clear the way!" sprang the shrill war-cry of a thousand of the Good People.

At the first sound of the King's worruds there rose about Darby the mighty flurrying an' rushing of wings in the darkness, as if thraymendous birds were rising sudden an' flying away, an' the air emptied itself of a smothering heaviness.

So fast came the King's fairy army that the great cheer was still aychoing among the threes when the goold crown of Brian Connors sparkled up from beside the knowledgeable man's knees. At that the parsecuted man, sobbin' with joy, knelt down in the muddy road to shake hands with his friend, the masther of the Good People.

Brian Connors was not alone, for there crowded about Darby, sympathisin' with him, little Phelim Beg, an' Nial the fiddler, an' Shaun Rhue the smith, an' Phadrig Oge. Also every instant, flitthering out of the sky into the road, came be the score green-cloaked and red-hooded men, follying the King an' ready for throuble.

"If ever a man needed a dhrop of good whusky, you're the hayro, an' this is the time an' place for it," says the King, handin' up a silver-topped noggin. "Dhrink it all," he says, "an' then we'll escorch ye home. Come on," says he.

The masther of the night-time turned an' shouted to his subjects. "Boys," he cried, "we'll go wisible, the betther for company sake. An' do you make the 'luminaytion so Darby can see yez with him!"

At that the lovely rosy light which, as you may raymember, our hayro first saw in the fairy's home at Sleive-na-mon, lighted up the roadway, an' undher the leafy arches, bobbin' along like a ridgement of sojers, all in their green cloaks an' red caps, marched at laste a thousand of the Little People, with Phadrig Oge at their head actin' as gineral.

As they passed the mill foive dayfiant pipers med the batthered ould windys rattle with "Garry Owen."