When he bade me good-bye the night before John Malone promised to open the present session with a tale which he knew to be true, for the chief actors in it were friends of his own, "and himself was in it also." The tale was called forth by a question concerning a practice among the fairies (quite common it seems) of carrying away living people and leaving substitutes in place of them. It seems that these substitutes are corpses when the persons borne away are marriageable young women. When a married woman is removed a deceased counterfeit is left to take her place. When an infant is stolen a living imitation of the child is put in the cradle. The substitute seems to the parents their own child, but to any one who has the fairy vision the fraud appears in its true form.
About thirty years ago, said the old man. there lived in a village near Rahonain Castle a man named James Kivane, a step-brother of my own, and he married a woman called Elizabeth Shea. Three or four nights after her second child was born Kivane's wife, who was attended by her own mother and her mother-in-law, woke and saw the bed on fire. She called to the mother, who was there at the bedside, but had fallen asleep. The mother sprang up, and, turning towards the hearth, saw a cat with the face of a man on her, and was frightened, but she had no time to look longer at the cat. When she had the fire quenched she looked for the cat, but not a trace of her could they find in the house, and they never caught a sight of her again.
Two days later the young child died, and three or four days after that the woman had a terrible pain in her foot. It swelled to a great size, and where the swelling was the skin looked like the bark of a tree. The poor woman suffered terribly. They sent for the priest many times, and spent money for masses. They offered one priest twenty pounds to cure her, but he said that if all the money in the kingdom were offered he would have nothing to do with the case. He was afraid of getting a fairy stroke himself.
The foot was swelling always, and it was that size that a yard of linen was needed to go once around it. The woman was a year and a half in this way, and towards the end she said that horses and carriages were moving around the house every night, but she had no knowledge of why they were in it.
The mother went to an old woman, an herb doctor, and begged her to come and cure her daughter if she could.
"I can cure her," said the woman, "but if I do you must let some other one of your family go in place of her."
Now, as all the sons and daughters were married and had families of their own, the mother said she had no one she could put in place of this daughter. Kivane's wife used to raise herself by a rope which was put hanging above the bed. When tired and she could hold no longer, she would lie down again. The woman remained in suffering like this till a week before she died. She told her friends that it was no use to give her remedies or pay money for masses to benefit her; that it wasn't herself that was in it at all.
On the night that the mother saw the cat with a man's face and she sitting on the hearth, Kivane's real wife was taken by the fairies and put in Rahonain Castle to nurse a young child.
Nobody could tell who the sick woman was, but whoever she was she died, and the body was so swollen and drawn up that the coffin was like a great box, as broad as 'twas long. About a year after the funeral Pat Mahony, who worked for a hotel-keeper in Dingle, went to a fair at Listowel. At the fair a strange man came up to Mahony. "Where do you live?" asked the man.
"In Dingle," said Pat Mahony.
"Do you know families at Rahonain named Shea and Kivane?"
"I do," said Mahony. "Kivane's wife died about a twelvemonth ago."
"Well," said the strange man, "I have a message for you to the parents of that woman, Elizabeth Shea. She is coming to my house for the last nine months. She comes always after sunset. She lives in a fairy fort that is on my land. This is the way we discovered the woman: About nine months ago potatoes and milk were put out on the dresser for one of my servants who was away from home, and before the man came this woman was seen going to the dresser and eating the potatoes and drinking the milk. She came every evening after that for about a month before I had courage to speak to her. When I spoke she told me that her father, mother, husband, and child were living near Rahonain Castle. She gave every right token of who she was. 'I spent,' said she, 'three months in Rahonain, at first nursing a child that was in it, but was taken after that to the fort on the place where I am living now, in Lismore. I have not tasted food in the fort yet,' said she, 'but at the end of seven years I'll be forced to eat and drink unless somebody saves me; I cannot escape unassisted.'"
When Mahony came home to Dingle he went straight to Rahonain and told the woman's friends all that the strange man had told him. She had told the man, too, how her friends must come with four men and a horse and car; that she would meet them.
Mrs. Kivane's father and brother, and I and another neighbouring man, offered to go to Lismore, but Kivane wouldn't go, for he had a second wife at this time. The following morning we started, and went to the parish priest to take his advice. He told us not to go, and advised us in every way to stay at home. He was afraid, I suppose, that the woman might give the people too much knowledge of the other world. The other three men were stopped by the priest. Sure there was no use in my going alone, and I didn't.
Kivane's wife knew that her husband was married the second time, for she sent word to him that she didn't care, she would live with her father and her child. Everybody forgot the affair for a couple of years. When a retired policeman named Bat O'Connor was going from Lismore to Dingle, the woman appeared before him, saluted him, and asked was he going to Dingle, and he said he was. She told him then if he wanted to do her any good or service to go to her friends at Rahonain (she gave their names) and tell them that they had plenty of time yet to go and claim her; that she had not eaten fairy food so far. He promised to do as she asked. He reached Dingle soon after, went to Rahonain and told her friends what she had said. O'Connor, however, didn't tell everything in full till they would promise to go. At this the relations of Kivane's second wife went to O'Connor and bribed him to say nothing more. After that he was silent, and people cared no more about the woman.
The seven years passed, and at the end of that time Elizabeth Shea's father saw her one evening when he was coming home from market and was about a mile beyond Dingle. She walked nearly a mile with him, but didn't talk. At parting she gave him a blow on the face. On the following day he had to take to his bed, and was blind for seven or eight years. He kept the bed most of the time till he died. During the couple of days before he lost his sight Shea saw the daughter come in and give a blow to her child, which died strangely soon after. Neither priest nor doctor could tell what ailment was on the child.
About the time the child died Shea's second wife got sick, and has not milked a cow nor swept the house since. She has not gone to mass or market these twenty years. She keeps the bed now, and will keep it while she lives. She has no pain and is not suffering in any way, but is dead in herself, as it were. She had a fine young girl of a daughter, but she got a blow and died two days after. She has three sons, but Elizabeth Shea has never done them any harm.