The Strange Voice by Dora Sigerson Shorter
Eileen sat very silent amongst the group that gathered around the
turf fire in the low thatched cottage.
What has come to your light heart? one said to her. You are that
quiet, I keep forgetting Eileen Murphy is with us at all.
But the head of the old grandmother nodded slowly, and it was she who
answered for Eileen.
I'm afeard, she said, the boy is gone. It is seven days since he
walked from that door, and not a word or sight of him since. I'm afeard
the boy is gone.
Eileen drew her bare feet from the fire, as though a spark had fallen
upon them. She shrank further into the shadow.
I met him that night outside your door, the neighbour said,
knocking the ashes from his pipe upon the stone hearth. He borrowed a
match from me, to light his pipe. He told me he was to be married as
soon as the banns were called. He seemed very light-hearted. The man
glanced pitifully at the girl's figure hiding in the shadow. I never
seen or heard of him since.
He said he had business to do when he left us, and that a lamb of
his had strayed, that he must look for before morning; but it was not
dark, and the lamb was there next day, but he had gone.
The girl's little sister drew her chair to the fire, looking
fearfully behind her. Maybe he walked on the sleeping grass, she
whispered, thinking of the fairies, but nobody heeded her.
Maybe he ran from the wedding, a bold young voice giggled from near
the door. Maybe he's off to Dublin, and some of the grand ladies have
caught hold of him.
Shame upon you! Kathleen O' Grady. The girl's mother spied into the
darkness where her daughter sat so quiet. Well you know he was after
Eileen since they were children together.
And he is going to give her the jackdaw you wanted, Kathleen, the
girl's sister said, with childish triumph. He said he was teaching it
I remember them well, the old grandmother said, the two children;
and with him it was, 'Follow me, Eileen,' and she was after him
wherever he went.
A faint giggle from Kathleen and a whispered She was drew the stern
eye of the neighbour upon her face. She flushed, and said I mean no
harm; sure the boy is all right.
'Follow me, Eileen, ' the old woman muttered. I seem to hear his
voice; only a few weeks ago he came to the door and cried to her, then
ran like a child, jumping the heather before her.
It was his way of getting her to himself, the mother said. God be
with him, wherever he is! The girl threw her chest out with a long
breath, but stifled the sob before it was heard.
He was for selling every stick and beast about his place, Kathleen
said in a hard voice. She once fancied that he cared for her, and the
mistake still stabbed her. Yesterday the bargain was to have come off.
Did he tell ye?
That's true, the neighbour said, filling his pipe and crushing the
tobacco in with his finger.
Mike Doherty told me he paid him good money that evening. He was
going to take his bride to America, and he was right; there is more
chance there for a man than here.
It's to Dublin he's gone, Kathleen muttered, and forgotten ye all;
he was always a rag on every bush.
The girl in the shadow clenched her hands, but did not speak.
He promised to send for me, the old grandmother muttered, in a
year; but I'll be buried by that, glory be to God!
I'm told America's a great place for the poor, the mother said,
looking round the dim cabin it would have broken her heart to leave; a
great place entirely.
And Eileen will be a grand lady there, the grandmother continued,
breaking into a cackle of laughter. For it's over the sea with
O'Rouark she is going. 'Follow me, Eileen, he said.
Kathleen sprang to her feet. My God! she cried; did you hear
There was a sudden rustling in the cabin of startled people settling
into silence, then the quiet of listening. Outside the door a voice was
heard, loud and distinct,
Follow me, Eileen.
Then came a burst of joyous clatter in the room. Open the door for
He's right welcome!
Eileen stood up in her corner, the hot blood rushing back to her
heart, suffocating her. Kathleen opened the door with a sullen face;
she would not be glad to see him. She opened the door wide, and all
faces were turned to the darkness outside; but no one entered.
There was a moment's silence, and then from a distance the voice
again, Follow me, Eileen.
Kathleen sprang towards the group at the fire, hiding her face
Lord have mercy upon us! It's his ghost I'm after seeing.
The little child began to scream, and the women made the sign of the
cross upon themselves. Holy Mother, protect us! they said; but the
neighbour shook the ashes from his pipe and stood up.
You're a fool, Kathleen O'Grady! he said, and he went outside.
Eileen laid her hands upon her heart. He wants me, she whispered,
but I cannot stir; I am too gladtoo glad!
The neighbour re-entered; he closed the door behind him, and, as
though unintentionally, slipped the bar across it.
There's nothing there, sure enough, he said, and pulled his chair
closer to the fire. Again came the cry, Follow me, Eileen, and the
bar fell with a clatter from the door. The women rose with a shriek,
which ended in a hysterical laugh.
It's only Eileen, Kathleen said; she slipped out.
Holy Mother and the saints, preserve her! the mother said. She put
a lighted candle in the window. She will see it when she is tired of
They sat down in silence and waited.
But Eileen ran out into the night, listening for the voice she loved,
for in the dark she heard it again,
Follow me, Eileen.
I am coming, she answered; wait for me: I cannot see you. She ran
fast along the rough mountain road, till her breath failed her.
Oh! wait for me! she gasped; it is so dark.
Follow me, Eileen. The voice was close beside heramongst the few
fir trees that clustered together beside a murmuring brook.
She sprang from the road with a laugh, and bounded amongst the deep
fern and pricking gorse. The briars caught her dress and tore it, they
clung about her ankles, leaving red marks of their caresses. She
stretched her arms wide, to hold the beloved. Follow me, Eileen. The
voice was far away. She struggled back to the road, sobbing and crying,
Ah, you are cruel; I will follow you no more.
Follow me, Eileen. The voice had a plaintive note now. She
stretched her hands towards it, but did not answer. She crouched by the
wayside, and hid her face. Surely he was playing with her, to treat her
so; and yetshe raised her head to listen.
Follow me, Eileen. The voice grew fainter, further off. She sprang
to her feet and ran, afraid to lose the sound. Once again she thought
she had come upon him. The Voice seemed only a few feet away from her.
She opened her arms with a glad cry:
Ah! I have found you at last.
Then a crushing blow upon the forehead knocked her to the earth. She
had run against a tree in the darkness. She drew herself up beneath it
and moaned. Far away she could hear the voice again, Follow me,
A great terror came to her; she shivered, and hid her bruised face in
her hands. He was dead oh, yes! dead; it was his ghost who was
calling to her, and flying before her like a false marsh- light. She
shuddered with the fear of death upon her. He was near, she felt him;
in a moment he would put his cold, dead hands upon her. She shrieked,
Don't touch me! and heard his voice far away calling to her
Follow me, Eileen.
She sprang up, all her love awake for him.
Living or dead, I will follow you. She cast her fear from her.
Where are you, Alanna?
All around her came the singing of grasshoppers amongst the rough
grass and heather. The sound seemed to her like the turning of fairy
spinning wheels. She imagined the tiny figures sitting there among the
ferns spinning. Whiz! whiz! whiz! What were they spinning? Over her
face came spiders' webs, blown by the wind,fine silk, floating from
place to place in the breezelying on her nervous, bruised forehead
like ropes. She brushed them aside.
You will not bind me, she said; spin as you may, I will follow him
for ever. She started running again; and ran gasping and stumbling
after the strange voice for hours. Her dress was torn half away, her
hands and feet red with her rough travelling, her brain was hot and mad
with weariness and despair, her breath came in harsh sobs through the
quiet of the night.
Now she would say, I hate you; you are cruel. And again, I love
you; wait for me; I love you.
Suddenly again, close beside her, came the Follow me, Eileen.
I follow you till death. She staggered off the little foot-track
across the bog. In a moment she felt herself caught; something cool,
and soft, and strong was dragging her down.
Is it you, Alanna? she gasped but got no answer, and was too tired
to wonder. She was benumbed and foolish with weariness, yet surely she
was in his arms.
You are so cold, she muttered, yet thought it should be so, seeing
he was dead. I do not care if you are living or dead, now I have found
you. She felt the cold chill of his soft clasp move upward, now to her
waist, now to her shoulders. She struggled a moment, then was
quietshe sank lower. I am in the bog, she shrieked. Then again, I
am so tired; kiss me, Alanna! And for a moment the kiss was bitter on
her lips, then the bog closed above her soft hair, and she slept.
* * *
But still in the little village they tell the story of Eileen and her
lover, and bar the door and draw near the fire in the telling; for
though one old man always believed it was the jackdaw's voice that
frightened them that night, calling as its lost master had taught it,
he was always a foolish old man, and he is dead now, and his story
forgotten. The others, and especially the young folk, will tell you it
was the ghost of Eileen's lover who called her forth, and Kathleen
O'Grady saw him with her two eyes standing before the door beckoning