There was a young man in the parish of Drimalegue, county Cork, who was courting three girls at one time, and he didn't know which of them would he take; they had equal fortunes, and any of the three was as pleasing to him as any other. One day when he was coming home from the fair with his two sisters, the sisters began:
"Well, John," said one of them, "why don't you get married. Why don't you take either Mary, or Peggy, or Kate?"
"I can't tell you that," said John, "till I find which of them has the best wish for me."
"How will you know?" asked the other.
"I will tell you that as soon as any person will die in the parish."
In three weeks' time from that day an old man died. John went to the wake and then to the funeral. While they were burying the corpse in the graveyard John stood near a tomb which was next to the grave, and when all were going away, after burying the old man, he remained standing a while by himself, as if thinking of something; then he put his blackthorn stick on top of the tomb, stood a while longer, and on going from the graveyard left the stick behind him. He went home and ate his supper. After supper John went to a neighbour's house where young people used to meet of an evening, and the three girls happened to be there that time. John was very quiet, so that every one noticed him.
"What is troubling you this evening, John?" asked one of the girls.
"Oh I am sorry for my beautiful blackthorn," said he.
"Did you lose it?"
"I did not," said John; "but I left it on the top of the tomb next to the grave of the man who was buried to-day, and whichever of you three will go for it is the woman I'll marry. Well, Mary, will you go for my stick?" asked he.
"Faith, then, I will not," said Mary.
"Well, Peggy, will you go? "
"If I were without a man for ever,"said Peggy, "I wouldn't go."
"Well, Kate," said he to the third, "will you go for my stick? If you go I'll marry you."
"Stand to your word," said Kate, "and I'll bring the stick."
"Believe me, that I will," said John.
Kate left the company behind her, and went for the stick. The graveyard was three miles away and the walk was a long one. Kate came to the place at last and made out the tomb by the fresh grave. When she had her hand on the blackthorn a voice called from the tomb:
"Leave the stick where it is and open this tomb for me."
Kate began to tremble and was greatly in dread, but something was forcing her to open the tomb - she couldn't help herself.
"Take the lid off now," said the dead man when Kate had the door open and was inside in the tomb, "and take me out of this - take me on your back."
Afraid to refuse, she took the lid from the coffin, raised the dead man on her back, and walked on in the way he directed. She walked about the distance of a mile. The load, being very heavy, was near breaking her back and killing her. She walked half a mile farther and came to a village; the houses were at the side of the road.
"Take me to the first house," said the dead man.
She took him.
' Oh, we cannot go in here," said he, when they came near. "The people have clean water inside, and they have holy water, too. Take me to the next house."
She went to the next house.
"We cannot go in there," said he, when she stopped in front of the door. "They have clean water, but there is holy water as well."
She went to the third house.
"Go in here," said the dead man. "There is neither clean water nor holy water in this place; we can stop in it."
They went in.
"Bring a chair now and put me sitting at the side of the fire. Then find me something to eat and to drink."
She placed him in a chair by the hearth, searched the house, found a dish of oatmeal and brought it. "I have nothing to give you to drink but dirty water," said she.
"Bring me a dish and a razor."
She brought the dish and the razor.
"Come, now," said he, "to the room above."
They went up to the room, where three young men sons of the man of the house, were sleeping in bed, and Kate had to hold the dish while the dead man was drawing their blood.
"Let the father and mother have that," said he, "in return for the dirty water;" meaning that if there was clean water in the house he wouldn't have taken the blood of the young men. He closed their wounds in the way that there was no sign of a cut on them. "Mix this now with the meal, get a dish of it for yourself and another for me."
She got two plates and put the oatmeal in it after mixing, it and brought two spoons. Kate wore a handkerchief on her head; she put this under her neck and tied it; she was pretending to eat, but she was putting the food to hide in the handkerchief till her plate was empty.
"Have you your share eaten?" asked the dead man.
"I have," answered Kate.
"I'll have mine finished this minute," said he, and soon after he gave her the empty dish. She put the dishes back in the dresser, and didn't mind washing them. "Come, now," said he, "and take me back to the place where you found me."
"Oh, how can I take you back; you are too great a load; 'twas killing me you were when I brought you."
She was in dread of going from the houses again.
"You are stronger after that food than what you were in coming; take me back to my grave."