On the third evening the mason was absent, but his place was filled by a young farmer of the neighbourhood, named Garvey, who knew two ghost stories. The host was anxious that I should hear them, hence he brought in the farmer. After some hesitation and protests the young man told a story, which is grotesque enough and borders very closely, if it does not touch, on the unpermitted. It has some points of resemblance with the "Ghostly Concert" in "Tales of Three Centuries," which I translated from the Russian of Zagoskin. In Zagoskin's tale the demon leader of the ghostly orchestra in Moscow makes a guitar of the right leg of his victim, the only living man present at the midnight rehearsal. In this Irish tale the ghost makes an instrument out of his own body - plays on his ribs. There is a splendid tale among the Western Indians of North America describing a trial of skill in a musical contest between all existences in the universe except man. The first place was won by the lamprey eel (one of the forms of water as a person), and the eel was declared to be the greatest musician in the world. The lamprey eel in the contest, uses his own body as a flute, played by inhaling air and then expelling it through his sides. Of those holes there are marks left on the body of the lamprey eel. Some Indians call water the Long One: and water is certainly a mighty musician.
There lived a man in Cork whose name was Daniel Crowley. He was a coffin-maker by trade, and had a deal of coffins laid by, so that his apprentice might sell them when himself was not at home.
A messenger came to Daniel Crowley's shop one day and told him that there was a man dead at the end of the town, and to send up a coffin for him, or to make one.
Daniel Crowley took down a coffin, put it on a donkey cart, drove to the wake house, went in and told the people of the house that the coffin was there for them. The corpse was laid out on a table in a room next to the kitchen Five or six women were keeping watch around it; many people were in the kitchen. Daniel Crowley was asked to sit down and commence to shorten the night: that is, to tell stories, amuse himself and others. A tumbler of punch was brought, and he promised to do the best he could.
He began to tell stories and shorten the night. A second glass of punch was brought to him, and he went on telling tales. There was a man at the wake who sang a song: after him another was found, and then another. Then the people asked Daniel Crowley to sing, and he did. The song that he sang was of another nation. He sang about the good people, the fairies. The song pleased the company, they desired him to sing again, and he did not refuse.
Daniel Crowley pleased the company so much with his two songs that a woman who had three daughters wanted to make a match for one of them, and get Daniel Crowley as a husband for her. Crowley was a bachelor, well on in years, and had never thought of marrying.
The mother spoke of the match to a woman sitting next to her. The woman shook her head, but the mother said:
"If he takes one of my daughters I'll be glad, for he has money laid by. Do you go and speak to him, but say nothing of me at first."
The woman went to Daniel Crowley then, and told him that she had a fine, beautiful girl in view, and that now was his time to get a good wife; he'd never have such a chance again.
Crowley rose up in great anger. "There isn't a woman wearing clothes that I'd marry," said he. "There isn't a woman born that could bring me to make two halves of my loaf for her."
The mother was insulted now and forgot herself. She began to abuse Crowley.
"Bad luck to you, you hairy little scoundrel," said she, "you might be a grandfather to my child. You are not fit to clean the shoes on her feet. You have only dead people for company day and night; 'tis by them you make your living."
"Oh, then," said Daniel Crowley, "I'd prefer the dead to the living any day if all the living were like you. Besides, I have nothing against the dead. I am getting employment by them and not by the living, for 'tis the dead that want coffins."
"Bad luck to you, 'tis with the dead you ought to be and not with the living; 'twould be fitter for you to go out of this altogether and go to your dead people."
"I'd go if I knew how to go to them," said Crowley.
"Why not invite them to supper?" retorted the woman.
He rose up then, went out, and called:
"Men, women, children, soldiers, sailors, all people that I have ever made coffins for, I invite you to-night to my house, and I'll spend what is needed in giving a feast."
The people who were watching the dead man on the table saw him smile when he heard the invitation. They ran out of the room in a fright and out of the kitchen, and Daniel Crowley hurried away to his shop as fast as ever his donkey could carry him. On the way he came to a public-house and, going in, bought a pint bottle of whiskey, put it in his pocket, and drove on.
The workshop was locked and the shutters down when he left that evening but when he came near he saw that all the windows were shining with light, and he was in dread that the building was burning or that robbers were in it. When right there Crowley slipped into a corner of the building opposite, to know could he see what was happening, and soon he saw crowds of men, women, and children walking toward his shop and going in, but none coming out. He was hiding some time when a man tapped him on the shoulder and asked, "Is it here you are, and we waiting for you? 'Tis a shame to treat company this way. Come now."
Crowley went with the man to the shop, and as he passed the threshold he saw a great gathering of people. Some were neighbours, people he had known in the past. All were dancing, singing, amusing themselves. He was not long looking on when a man came up to him and said:
"You seem not to know me, Daniel Crowley."
"I don't know you," said Crowley. "How could I? "
"You might then, and you ought to know me, for I am the first man you made a coffin for, and 'twas I gave you the first start in business."
Soon another came up, a lame man: "Do you know me, Daniel Crowley?"
"I do not."
"I am your cousin, and it isn't long since I died."
"Oh, now I know you well, for you are lame. In God's name," said Crowley to the cousin, "how am I to get these people out o' this. What time is it? "
'"Tis early yet, it's hardly eleven o'clock, man."
Crowley wondered that it was so early.
"Receive them kindly," said the cousin; "be good to them, make merriment as you can."
"I have no money with me to get food or drink for them; 'tis night now, and all places are closed," answered Crowley.
"Well, do the best you can," said the cousin.
The fun and dancing went on, and while Daniel Crowley was looking around, examining everything, he saw a woman in the far-off corner. She took no part in the amusement, but seemed very shy in herself.
"Why is that woman so shy - she seems to be afraid?" asked he of the cousin. "And why doesn't she dance and make merry like others?"
"Oh, 'tis not long since she died, and you gave the coffin, as she had no means of paying for it. She is in dread you'll ask her for the money, or let the company know that she didn't pay," said the cousin.
The best dancer they had was a piper by the name of John Reardon from the city of Cork. The fiddler was one John Healy. Healy brought no fiddle with him, but he made one, and the way he made it was to take off what flesh he had on his body. He rubbed up and down on his own ribs, each rib having a different note, and he made the loveliest music that Daniel Crowley had ever heard. After that the whole company followed his example. All threw off what flesh they had on them and began to dance jigs and hornpipes in their bare bones. When by chance they struck against one another in dancing, you'd think it was Brandon Mountain that was striking Mount Eagle, with the noise that was in it.
Daniel Crowley plucked up all his courage to know, could he live through the night, but still he thought daylight would never come. There was one man, John Sullivan, that he noticed especially. This man had married twice in his life, and with him came the two women. Crowley saw him taking out the second wife to dance a breakdown, and the two danced so well that the company were delighted, and all the skeletons had their mouths open, laughing. He danced and knocked so much merriment out of them all that his first wife, who was at the end of the house, became jealous and very mad altogether. She ran down to where he was and told him she had a better right to dance with him than the second wife.
"That's not the truth for you," said the second wife;
"I have a better right than you. When he married me you were a dead woman and he was free, and, besides; I'm a better dancer than what you are, and I will dance with him whether you like it or not."
"Hold your tongue!" screamed the first wife.
"Sure, you couldn't come to this feast to-night at all but for the loan of another woman's shinbones."
Sullivan looked at his two wives, and asked the second one:
"Isn't it your own shinbones you have? "
"No, they are borrowed. I borrowed a neighbouring woman's shins from her, and 'tis those I have with me to-night."
"Who is the owner of the shinbones you have under you?" asked the husband.
"They belong to one Catherine Murray. She hadn't a very good name in life."
"But why didn't you come on your own feet? "
"Oh, I wasn't good myself in life, and I was put under a penalty, and the penalty is that whenever there is a feast or a ball I cannot go to it unless I am able to borrow a pair of shins."
Sullivan was raging when he found that the shinbones he had been dancing with belonged to a third woman, and she not the best, and he gave a slap to the wife that sent her spinning into a corner.
The woman had relations among the skeletons present, and they were angry when they saw the man strike their friend. "We'll never let that go with him," said they. "We must knock satisfaction out of Sullivan!"
The woman's friends rose up, and, as there were no clubs or weapons, they pulled off their left arms and began to slash and strike with them in terrible fashion. There was an awful battle in one minute.
While this was going on Daniel Crowley was standing below at the end of the room, cold and hungry, not knowing but he'd be killed. As Sullivan was trying to dodge the blows sent against him he got as far as Daniel Crowley, and stepped on his toe without knowing it; Crowley got vexed and gave Sullivan a blow with his fist that drove the head from him, and sent it flying to the opposite corner.
When Sullivan saw his head flying off from the blow be ran, and, catching it, aimed a blow at Daniel Crowley with the head, and aimed so truly that he knocked him under the bench; then, having him at a disadvantage, Sullivan hurried to the bench and began to strangle him. He squeezed his throat and held him so firmly between the bench and the floor that the man lost his senses, and couldn't remember a thing more.
When Daniel Crowley came to himself in the morning his apprentice found him stretched under the bench with an empty bottle under his arm. He was bruised and pounded. His throat was sore where Sullivan had squeezed it; he didn't know how the company broke up, nor when his guests went away.