One day an old woman leaning on a staff and a blind man "walked the way to me." After some talk and delay they agreed to tell what they knew about fairies, ghosts, and buried treasures. I had heard of them before, and tried to secure their services. The old woman speaks English only when forced to it, and then very badly. The blind man has suffered peculiarly from the fairies. They have lamed the poor fellow, taken his eyesight, and have barely left the life in him. I shall have occasion to refer to the man later on. The woman told me three stories; one of them was an incident in her own experience, the other two concerned her husband's relatives.
The first story has nothing supernatural in it, though some of the actors were convinced firmly for a time that it had.
I may say that the woman, whose name is Maggie Doyle, was unwilling to tell tales in the daytime. It was only after some persuasion and an extra reward that she was induced to begin, as follows:
Long ago, when I was a fine, strong girl, not the like of what I am this day, I went down the country with a bag of sea-moss to sell. I was in company with a girl from the next village, and she was carrying another bag. Coming evening, the other girl found lodgings for the night with a friend, and I walked ahead on the road for myself. I wasn't long walking when I met a woman, and she took me home with her. It was milking time when we came. The woman, whose name was Peggy Driscoll, put cream into a churn, and told me to churn while herself would be milking.
I churned away while she was with the cows, and when the milking was over, she helped me, and the two of us were churning till the butter came. She never asked me to take a bite or a sup, not even a drink of butter-milk. I had food of my own with me, and made a supper of that. After supper she said: "There is a dead man above in the room; come with me." "Oh, God save us !" said I, "how is that, and who is it?" "My own husband, John Driscoll, and he's dead these three hours."
"God knows, then," thought I to myself, "'tis easy enough you are taking his death."
She brought warm water, and we went up, the two of us; we prepared the body of John Driscoll, dressed it, and laid it out, and put beads in the hands of the dead man, who was stiff and cold.
"I must go out now for a little start," said Peggy Driscoll; "sure you'll not be in dread of the corpse while I go to tell some of the neighbours that John is dead."
I was that in dread that it failed me to speak to her.
The next minute she was gone and the door closed behind her. I was left alone with the corpse. I stopped there a while and went then to the kitchen, sat there a quarter of an hour, and went back to the dead man.
About midnight the woman of the house walked in, and with her a neighbouring young farmer. She made tea in the kitchen, and the two were eating and drinking for themselves with great pleasure, laughing and joking. They were talking English. I hadn't but two or three words of English at that time, and John Driscoll not a word at all, but after a while the young farmer laughed, and, forgetting himself, said in Irish:
"It's a happy woman you are this night, Peggy, and the old man above on the table."
With that, the corpse sprang up, tumbling candles and everything before him. He caught a pike that was in the corner, and down to the kitchen with him. Peggy Driscoll and the young farmer began to screech in the way you'd think the life would leave the two of them, but by my word they hadn't long to screech in the kitchen, for the pike was coming at them. Out with the two through the back door and John Driscoll at their heels. I took my bag and away with me through the frontdoor. I was running for hours and hurrying on. I didn't know where was I going, till at last I met a man, and asked what was the next town, and he said Killarney. I went on till I came to Killarney, and sold my bag of seamoss to the first buyer, and took the road home for myself.
"Did you go to Killarney with moss the second time?" asked I.
"I did indeed," said she. "I went the next week, and I met a woman on the road, a cousin of John Driscoll's."
. "You told me," said I, "that you and Peggy Driscoll laid out John on the table; that he was stiff and cold, a real corpse. How, then, could he rise up and run with a pike at his wife and the young farmer?"
"It was that that frightened me," said Mrs. Doyle; "but this woman told me everything. John Driscoll had a twin brother Daniel, and the two were so much alike that no man could tell one from the other. Peggy, John's wife, was from a distant parish, and she didn't know that Daniel was in the world at all. She was married to John only six months. The day that I was passing Peggy was away with a sick woman, a neighbour, from the morning till the middle of the afternoon. While she was gone Daniel came to see his brother for the first time since his marriage. He wasn't two hours in the house when he died in one minute, as if something pricked his heart. It was then that John planned to make a trial of Peggy. So he put his own clothes on Daniel, and laid the corpse on the bed above in the room and hid under the bed himself. Peggy put Daniel on the table, thinking that it was her own husband she was laying out. While Peggy was gone for the young farmer, and I was in the kitchen, John put the corpse under the bed and went on the table himself. You have the whole story now."
"I suppose you can tell me a story now with a real ghost in it," remarked I.
"Indeed, then, I can," said the old woman, "and a true story, too. I didn't know John Doyle myself nor his son, for they lived across the mountains from us, and John Doyle died a few months after my marriage, but my husband told me all about John and his son, and my husband was a man who wouldn't tell a lie, God rest his soul."