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Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/A night adventure in Ireland

Page:ONCE A WEEK JUL TO DEC 1860.pdf/382 We reached our destination in due time, and arrangements were made for my departure; but as the evening set in very inclement, I halted as long as possible in hope that the storm would abate. This, however, was not the result; the storm grew more severe, and my orders being nearly imperative, I had to set forth in the midst of the blast. Making headway against the weather took up more time than I had calculated on, and I reached the station only to learn that the last train had passed. I spent little time in hesitation, as I had only one course before me if my quarters I were to be reached that night, so, drenched and weary, I retraced my steps.

When night began to close in, and the weather grew dense and thick, I for the first time thought that if darkness were once on, and an inn should invite shelter, I would, under the circumstances, avail myself of it and remain till daybreak. I had not a very accurate knowledge of the district, yet I did not doubt that I was on the right road the length I had gone; still, a slight hesitation arose, and I resolved to make inquiry the first opportunity. I continued to go on a considerable distance without sight or sound of human existence, but I was at length fortunate enough to fall in with an old woman driving a cow. When she recovered from her surprise at seeing me, I was fully convinced by her that I had gone astray, and was farther from an inn than it would be agreeable to travel. It appeared there were no houses near but her own—where there was no accommodation—and another one where I might have been put up, but a man having died there that morning, and the widow being in the house alone, it was thought she might object to the presence of a stranger. I resolved to try at any rate, and got such directions for reaching the place as were seemingly intelligible, when my informant and I parted company.

The house was not so easily found as I had1 hoped, but I stumbled upon it after nearly losing temper, and advanced considerably elevated in spirits when its outline attracted my bewildered sight. At first I knocked somewhat gently, not to startle the inmate, but no notice being taken, I repeated it much louder. A stir within followed this, and a voice gruflly inquired the purpose of the disturber.

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I began to explain my situation, but before I had spoken a dozen words I was told I could not get admittance, as there was a dead man in the house. I remonstrated, and urged the necessity of my case, oflering to sit in any corner, and give no trouble nor annoyance. Still I was only told, in notes a key or two louder, that I might as well depart at once. This irritated me greatly, and I angrily shouted, that unless she let me in quietly, I would force the door and enter in spite of her.

There must have been a tone of determined resolution in my speech, for the voice within modified considerably after the threat; some parley and grumbling followed, when the door was opened and a candle lit. The woman eyed me very suspiciously, and appeared either alarmed or annoyed, but I urged her to be composed and give herself no uneasiness on my account.

The house was miserably furnished, the chief objects which arrested my attention in the desolate abode being the figure in the dead dress, which lay on a chest before the bed, and a table by the fireside laid out with provisions. The latter were, to me, rather tempting, but my newly made friend seemed anxious that I should not be allowed too narrow a survey of her premises, as she requested me to follow her to an inner apartment. I would have preferred staying where I was, but I did not consider it unreasonable that she should have the choice of where I was to be located, so I followed when she led the way.

In this place there was nothing but a low eretion covered with straw, and an old-fashioned stool lying upside down. I was told I could take either the stool or the “ bed,” and left alone ; but she handed in a piece of bread a few minutes afterwards, with a sullen remark that was not intelligible.

Tired as I was, I felt more disposed to watch the woman’s motions than court slumber, but this eventually grew tedious, and I began to get drowsy. I therefore quietly lay down. and, to prevent my being taken by surprise, I placed my feet opposite the door, so that it could not be opened without awakening me. In this position I fell into a slight sleep, but a movement in the other apartment made me start and listen. Through the crevices in the old door, I could only see indistinctly, but was still able to see my friend was listening behind it; and when I saw this, I daresay I helped to convince her that I was fast asleep, by certain nasal sounds I introduced at intervals.

She soon desisted and slipped cautiously back, and, my inquisitiveness being aroused, I peered sagely through the seams. She wrapped a shawl around her, set a lighted candle on the table, and left the house, locking the door carefully behind her, I confess to getting uneasy at this, and a feeling of awe at the loneliness of my situation crept through my frame. Not knowing what might follow, I loaded my musket, as I thought it better to be able to defend myself if that should be necessitated.

I waited anxiously a long time, but heard no sign of her return, nor any sound save the first dull clicks of an old clock, and the splashing of the rain outside. At length I was seized with a desire to inspect the premises, and after a slight hesitation I ventured into the other end. It was the most dreary position in which I had ever found myself, the solemn stillness imparting a feeling as much akin to terror as the greatest fear of real danger could ever instil within me; but my survey was almost immediately interrupted by a rustling movement in the direction where the dead man lay.

I started at this, and moved my piece into a better position, and I think I raised it mechanically to my shoulder, when I saw the sheets moving on the lifeless body, as I had thought it. My hair, which was generally so short as to be always on end, cannot exactly be said to have stood erect at this, but I perspired at every pore, and felt somewhat unnerved, although I am no slave to superstitious fears. At this stage, a voice from the sheets addressed me in a low tone saying, slowly and distinctly,—“Sodger, sodger, sure an’ ye won’t shoot me!”

This partly convinced me that he was still an animated being, but I was not by any means at ease, and could only respond by a searching yet tremulous stare.

“Sowl! an’ I’m living as ye are,” he said, turning round; “but if ye’ll plaise to take the pins out of them binders and cut the cord round my toes afore that woman returns, I’ll till ye the howl about it, an’ dhrink my own health wid ye to the bargain.”

There was now no reason for being concerned so much, although my curiosity ran on a head while conjecture followed hard to overtake it. I complied with his wish, and he civilly asked me to remove to the other end, after I had covered him up nearly as he was before, and handed him a “sprig” as he termed a ponderous staff that looked decidedly dangerous, even when standing quietly in the corner.

I was somewhat excited when I returned and sat down again within. In an hour or so, silence was broken by the grating of the lock, and my hostess entered accompanied by as ruffianly a looking character as I had ever beheld. She pointed to the door I was looking through, and muttered something to her companion, who growled a response and brandished a stick he had brought with him. Both then listened earnestly for what seemed a long time, but I was soon convinced that I was not the object of much care on their part. They sat down, and began to drink from a bottle the woman had taken from a recess. By-and-by the new comer put his arm round her neck and began to whisper words I could not hear, but their proceedings were speedily interrupted by the man in the sheets springing to his feet with sundry execrations, and dealing most unmerciful blows with the “sprig” upon the head of each. At the first sign of life in the prostrate figure, the woman began to shriek, but this soon ceased as she and her companion were knocked down.

I felt it was not my business to interfere, so I looked on in silence. The next proceeding of our hero was to open the door, and throw them both outside with the greatest unconcern. After this he carefully locked the door, came forward to where I was, and asked me to sit with him, by the fire which had now kindled up.

I gladly complied, and he related the reason that had led to the scene I had just witnessed. The woman, it appeared, was his wife, and he had found occasion to suspect that she intended to rob him, and run off with the stranger. He likewise discovered that she had poison in her possession, which he managed to replace by a harmless ingredient, and he subsequently had the gratification to see it mixed up for himself. This led him to feign death, with a view to ascertaining her exact intentions, but he evinced surprise that she had been deceived so thoroughly. Her anxiety to get rid of him, however, had aided the deception, and she had not investigated very closely whether her drug had done its work thoroughly.

He very unreservedly stated his future purpose; turned over some old gear in a corner, and produced a sum of money with which he meant to pay his passage to America, and leave for that country at break of day. We sat talking all night, and grew so friendly that he offered to share his funds with me, which I, of course, declined.

In the morning he looked out in front of the house, but the two outcasts were nowhere to be seen. With a hatchet he smashed in the face of the old clock, which terminated its asthmatic ticking, and threw it on the fire; and every other thing in the house, that appeared worth destroying, he broke. Tying up some of his own apparel in a napkin, he muttered a curse on the wretched dwelling, locked the door, and threw the key on the dunghill with a “bad luck to it;” and after that, he showed no farther concern about what had occurred.

At the station I allowed him to pay part of my fare, which gratified him exceedingly; and when I left him, he was so sorry to part, that I believe a word would have taken him into the ranks with me. But the parting whistle sounded, he pressed my hand, and I returned his grasp of kindness, and in one minute more the last look was exchanged, and since that time I have seen nor heard nothing of my somewhat singularly-formed acquaintance.