Dreamers by John
Mr. Washington Irving has already given to the public a version
of an American legend, which, in a principal feature, bears some
likeness to the following transcript of a popular Irish one. It
may, however, be interesting to show this very coincidence between
the descendants of a Dutch transatlantic colony and the native
peasantry of Ireland, in the superstitious annals of both. Our
tale, moreover, will be found original in all its circumstances,
that alluded to only excepted.
Shamus Dempsey returned a silent, plodding, sorrowful man, though
a young one, to his poor home, after seeing laid in the grave
his aged, decrepit father. The last rays of the setting sun were
glorious, shooting through the folds of their pavilion of scarlet
clouds; the last song of the thrush, chanted from the bough nearest
to his nest, was gladdening; the abundant though but half-matured
crops around breathed of hope for the future. But Shamus's bosom was
covered with the darkness that inward sunshine alone can illumine.
The chord that should respond to song and melody had snapped in it;
for him the softly undulating fields of light-green wheat, or the
silken-surfaced patches of barley, made a promise in vain. He was
poor, penniless, friendless, and yet groaning under responsibilities;
worn out by past and present suffering, and without a consoling
prospect. His father's corpse had just been buried by a subscription
among his neighbours, collected in an old glove, a penny or a
half-penny from each, by the most active of the humble community to
whom his sad state was a subject of pity. In the wretched shed which
he called "home," a young wife lay on a truss of straw, listening
to the hungry cries of two little children, and awaiting her hour
to become the weeping mother of a third. And the recollection that
but for an act of domestic treachery experienced by his father and
himself, both would have been comfortable and respectable in the
world, aggravated the bitterness of the feeling in which Shamus
contemplated his lot. He could himself faintly call to mind a time
of early childhood, when he lived with his parents in a roomy house,
eating and sleeping and dressing well, and surrounded by servants
and workmen; he further remembered that a day of great affliction
came, upon which strange and rude persons forced their way into the
house; and, for some cause his infant observation did not reach,
father, servants, and workmen (his mother had just died) were
all turned out upon the road and doomed to seek the shelter of a
mean roof. But his father's discourse, since he gained the years
of manhood, supplied Shamus with an explanation of all these
circumstances, as follows.
Old Dempsey had been the youngest son of a large farmer, who divided
his lands between two elder children, and destined Shamus's father
to the Church, sending him abroad for education, and, during its
course, supplying him with liberal allowances. Upon the eve of
ordination the young student returned home to visit his friends;
was much noticed by neighbouring small gentry of each religion; at
the house of one of the opposite persuasion from his met a sister
of the proprietor, who had a fortune in her own right; abandoned
his clerical views for her smiles; eloped with her; married her
privately; incurred thereby the irremovable hostility of his own
family; but, after a short time, was received, along with his wife,
by his generous brother-in-law, under whose guidance both became
reputably settled in the house to which Shamus's early recollections
pointed and where, till he was about six years old, he passed
indeed a happy childhood.
But, a little previous to this time, his mother's good brother died
unmarried, and was succeeded by another of her brothers, who had
unsuccessfully spent half his life as a lawyer in Dublin, and who,
inheriting little of his predecessor's amiable character, soon showed
himself a foe to her and her husband, professedly on account of
her marriage with a Roman Catholic. He did not appear to their
visit, shortly after his arrival in their neighbourhood, and he
never condescended to return it. The affliction experienced by his
sensitive sister from his conduct entailed upon her a premature
accouchement, in which, giving birth to a lifeless babe, she
unexpectedly died. The event was matter of triumph rather than of
sorrow to her unnatural brother. For, in the first place, totally
unguarded against the sudden result, she had died intestate; in
the next place, he discovered that her private marriage had been
celebrated by a Roman Catholic priest, consequently could not,
according to law, hold good; and again, could not give to her nominal
husband any right to her property, upon which both had hitherto
lived, and which was now the sole means of existence to Shamus's
The lawyer speedily set to work upon these points, and with little
difficulty succeeded in supplying for Shamus's recollections a day
of trouble, already noticed. In fact, his father and he, now without
a shilling, took refuge in a distant cabin, where, by the sweat of
his parent's brow, as a labourer in the fields, the ill-fated hero
of this story was scantily fed and clothed, until maturer years
enabled him to relieve the old man's hand of the spade and sickle,
and in turn labour for their common wants.
Shamus, becoming a little prosperous in the funeral we now see
Shamus returning, and to such a home does he bend his heavy steps.
If to know that the enemy of his father and mother did not thrive
on the spoils of his oppression could have yielded Shamus any
consolation in his lot, he had long ago become aware of circumstances
calculated to give this negative comfort. His maternal uncle
enjoyed, indeed, his newly acquired property only a few years after
it came into his possession. Partly on account of his cruelty to
his relations, partly from a meanness and vulgarity of character,
which soon displayed itself in his novel situation, and which, it
was believed, had previously kept him in the lowest walks of his
profession as a Dublin attorney, he found himself neglected and
shunned by the gentry of his neighbourhood. To grow richer than
those who thus insulted him, to blazon abroad reports of his wealth,
and to watch opportunities of using it to their injury, became the
means of revenge adopted by the parvenu. His legitimate income not
promising a rapid accomplishment of this plan, he ventured, using
precautions that seemingly set suspicion at defiance, to engage in
smuggling-adventures on a large scale, for which his proximity to
the coast afforded a local opportunity. Notwithstanding all his
pettifogging cleverness, the ex-attorney was detected, however, in
his illegal traffic, and fined to an amount which swept away half
his real property. Driven to desperation by the publicity of his
failure, as well as by the failure itself, he tried another grand
effort to retrieve his fortune; was again surprised by the revenue
officers; in a personal struggle with them, at the head of his
band, killed one of their body; immediately absconded from Ireland;
for the last twenty years had not been authentically heard of, but,
it was believed, lived under an assumed name in London, deriving
an obscure existence from some mean pursuit, of which the very
nature enabled him to gratify propensities to drunkenness and other
vices, learned during his first career in life.
All this Shamus knew, though only from report, inasmuch as his
uncle had exiled himself while he was yet a child, and without
previously having become known to the eyes of the nephew he had so
much injured. But if Shamus occasionally drew a bitter and almost
savage gratification from the downfall of his inhuman persecutor,
no recurrence to the past could alleviate the misery of his present
He passed under one of the capacious open arches of the old abbey,
and then entered his squalid shed reared against its wall, his heart
as shattered and as trodden down as the ruins around him. No words
of greeting ensued between him and his equally hopeless wife, as
she sat on the straw of her bed, rocking to sleep, with feeble and
mournful cries, her youngest infant. He silently lighted a fire
of withered twigs on his ready-furnished hearthstone; put to roast
among their embers a few potatoes which he had begged during the
day; divided them between her and her crying children; and, as
the moon rising high in the heavens warned him that night asserted
her full empire over the departed day, Shamus sank down upon the
couch from which his father's mortal remains had lately been borne,
supperless himself, and dinnerless, too, but not hungry; at least
not conscious or recollecting that he was.
His wife and little ones soon slept soundly, but Shamus lay for
hours inaccessible to nature's claims for sleep as well as for
food. From where he lay he could see, through the open front of
his shed, out into the ruins abroad. After much abstraction in his
own thoughts, the silence, the extent, and the peculiar desolation of
the scene, almost spiritualised by the magic effect of alternate
moonshine and darkness, of objects and of their parts, at last diverted
his mind, though not to relieve it. He remembered distinctly, for
the first time, where he was—an intruder among the dwellings of
the dead; he called to mind, too, that the present was their hour
for revealing themselves among the remote loneliness and obscurity
of their crumbling and intricate abode. As his eye fixed upon a
distant stream of cold light or of blank shadow, either the wavering
of some feathery herbage from the walls or the flitting of some
night-bird over the roofless aisle, made motion which went and came
during the instant of his alarmed start, or else some disembodied
sleeper around had challenged and evaded his vision so rapidly as
to baffle even the accompaniment of thought. Shamus would, however,
recur, during these entrancing aberrations, to his more real causes
for terror; and he knew not, and to this day cannot distinctly
tell, whether he waked or slept, when a new circumstance absorbed
his attention. The moon struck fully, under his propped roof, upon
the carved slab he had appropriated as a hearthstone; and turning
his eye to the spot, he saw the semblance of a man advanced in
years, though not very old, standing motionless, and very steadfastly
regarding him. The still face of the figure shone like marble in
the night-beam, without giving any idea of the solidity of that
material; the long and deep shadows thrown by the forehead over the
eyes left those unusally expressive features vague and uncertain.
Upon the head was a close-fitting black cap, the dress was a
loose-sleeved, plaited garment of white, descending to the ground,
and faced and otherwise checkered with black, and girded round
the loins; exactly the costume which Shamus had often studied in
a little framed and glazed print, hung up in the sacristy of the
humble chapel recently built in the neighbourhood of the ruin by a
few descendants of the great religious fraternity to whom, in its day
of pride, the abbey had belonged. As he returned very inquisitively,
though, as he avers, not now in alarm, the fixed gaze of his midnight
visitor, a voice reached him, and he heard these strange words:
"Shamus Dempsey, go to London Bridge, and you will be a rich man."
"How will that come about, your reverence?" cried Shamus, jumping
up from the straw.
But the figure was gone; and stumbling among the black embers on the
remarkable place where it had stood, he fell prostrate, experiencing
a change of sensation and of observance of objects around, which
might be explained by supposing a transition from a sleeping to a
waking state of mind.
The rest of the night he slept little, thinking of the advice he
had received, and of the mysterious personage who gave it. But he
resolved to say nothing about his vision, particularly to his wife,
lest, in her present state of health, the frightful story might
distress her; and, as to his own conduct respecting it, he determined
to be guided by the future; in fact, he would wait to see if his
counsellor came again. He did come again, appearing in the same
spot at the same hour of the night, and wearing the same dress,
though not the same expression of feature; for the shadowy brows
now slightly frowned, and a little severity mingled with the former
steadfastness of look.
"Shamus Dempsey, why have you not gone to London Bridge, and your
wife so near the time when she will want what you are to get by
going there? Remember, this is my second warning."
"Musha, your reverence, an' what am I to do on Lunnon Bridge?"
Again he rose to approach the figure; again it eluded him. Again a
change occurred in the quality of the interest with which he regarded
the admonition of his visitor. Again he passed a day of doubt as to
the propriety of undertaking what seemed to him little less than
a journey to the world's end, without a penny in his pocket, and
upon the eve of his wife's accouchement, merely in obedience to a
recommendation which, according to his creed, was not yet sufficiently
strongly given, even were it under any circumstances to be adopted.
For Shamus had often heard, and firmly believed, that a dream or a
vision instructing one how to procure riches ought to be experienced
three times before it became entitled to attention.
He lay down, however, half hoping that his vision might thus
recommend itself to his notice It did so.
"Shamus Dempsey," said the figure, looking more angry than ever,
"you have not yet gone to London Bridge, although I hear your wife
dying out to bid you go. And, remember, this s my third warning."
"Why, then, tundher an' ouns, your reverence, just stop and tell
Ere he could utter another word the holy visitant disappeared, in
a real passion at Shamus's qualified curse; and at the same moment
his confused senses recognised the voice of his wife, sending up
from her straw pallet the cries that betoken a mother's distant
travail. Exchaning a few words with her, he hurried away. professedly
call up, at her cabin window, an old crane who sometimes attended
the very poorest women in Nance Dempsey's situation.
"Hurry to her, Noreen, acuishla, and do the best it's the will
of God to let you do. And tell her from me, Noreen—" He stopped,
drawing in his lip, and clutching his cudgel hard.
"Shamus, what ails you, avick?" asked old Noreen; "what ails you,
to make the tears run down in the gray o' the morning?"
"Tell her from me," continued Shamus, "that it's from the bottom o'
the heart I 'll pray, morning and evening, and fresh and fasting,
maybe, to give her a good time of it; and to show her a face on
the poor child that's coming, likelier than the two that God sent
afore it. And that I 'll be thinking o' picturing it to my own
mind, though I'll never see it far away."
"Musha, Shamus, what are you speaking of?"
"No Matter, Noreen, only God be wid you, and wid her, and wid the
weenocks; and tell her what I bid you. More-be-token, tell her that
poor Shamus quits her in her throuble wid more love from the heart
out than he had for her the first day we came together; and I'll
come back to her at any rate, sooner or later, richer or poorer,
or as bare as I went; and maybe not so bare either. But God only
knows. The top o' the morning to you, Noreen, and don't let her
want the mouthful o' praties while I'm on my thravels. For this,"
added Shamus, as he bounded off, to the consternation of old
Noreen—"this is the very morning and the very minute that, if
I mind the dhrame at all at all, I ought to mind it; ay, without
ever turning back to get a look from her, that 'ud kill the heart
in my body entirely."
Without much previous knowledge of the road he was to take, Shamus
walked and begged his way along the coast to the town where he
might hope to embark for England. Here the captain of a merchantman
agreed to let him work his passage to Bristol, whence he again
walked and begged into London.
Without taking rest or food, Shamus proceeded to London Bridge,
often put out of his course by wrong directions, and as often
by forgetting and misconceiving true ones. It was with old London
Bridge that Shamus had to do (not the old one last pulled down, but
its more reverend predecessor), which, at that time, was lined
at either side by quaintly fashioned houses, mostly occupied
by shopkeepers, so that the space between presented perhaps the
greatest thoroughfare then known in the Queen of Cities. And at
about two o'clock in the afternoon, barefooted, ragged, fevered,
and agitated, Shamus mingled with the turbid human stream, that
roared and chafed over the as restless and as evanescent stream
which buffeted the arches of old London Bridge. In a situation so
novel to him, so much more extraordinary in the reality than his
anticipation could have fancied, the poor and friendless stranger
felt overwhelmed. A sense of forlornness, of insignificance, and
of terror seized upon his faculties. From the stare or the sneers
or the jostle of the iron-nerved crowd he shrank with glances of
wild timidity, and with a heart as wildly timid as were his looks.
For some time he stood or staggered about, unable to collect his
thoughts, or to bring to mind what was his business there. But when
Shamus became able to refer to the motive of his pauper journey
from his native solitudes into the thick of such a scene, it was
no wonder that the zeal of superstition totally subsided amid the
astounding truths he witnessed. In fact, the bewildered simpleton
now regarded his dream as the merest chimera. Hastily escaping
from the thoroughfare, he sought out some wretched place of repose
suited to his wretched condition, and there mooned himself asleep,
in self-accusations at the thought of poor Nance at home, and in
utter despair of all his future prospects.
At daybreak the next morning he awoke, a little less agitated, but
still with no hope. He was able, however, to resolve upon the best
course of conduct now left open to him; and he arranged immediately
to retrace his steps to Ireland, as soon as he should have begged
sufficient alms to speed him a mile on the road. With this intent
he hastily issued forth, preferring to challenge the notice of
chance passengers, even at the early hour of dawn, than to venture
again, in the middle of the day, among the dreaded crowds of the
vast city. Very few, indeed, were the passers-by whom Shamus met
during his straggling and stealthy walk through the streets, and
those of a description little able or willing to afford a half-penny
to his humbled, whining suit, and to his spasmed lip and watery
eye. In what direction he went Shamus did not know; but at last he
found himself entering upon the scene of his yesterday's terror.
Now, however, it presented nothing to renew its former impression.
The shops at the sides of the bridge were closed, and the occasional
stragglers of either sex who came along inspired Shamus, little as
he knew of a great city, with aversion rather than with dread. In
the quietness and security of his present position, Shamus was both
courageous and weak enough again to summon up his dream.
"Come," he said, "since I AM on Lunnon Bridge, I 'll walk over
every stone of it, and see what good that will do."
He valiantly gained the far end. Here one house, of all that stood
upon the bridge, began to be opened; it was a public-house, and, by
a sidelong glance as he passed, Shamus thought that, in the person
of a red-cheeked, red-nosed, sunken-eyed, elderly man, who took
down the window-shutters, he recognised the proprietor. This person
looked at Shamus, in return, with peculiar scrutiny. The wanderer
liked neither his regards nor the expression of his countenance,
and quickened his steps onward until he cleared the bridge.
"But I 'll walk it over at the other side now," he bethought, after
allowing the publican time to finish opening his house and retire
out of view.
But, repassing the house, the man still appeared, leaning against
his door-jamb, and as if waiting for Shamus's return, whom, upon
this second occasion, he eyed more attentively than before.
"Sorrow's in him," thought Shamus, "have I two heads on me, that
I'm such a sight to him? But who cares about his pair of ferret
eyes? I 'll thrudge down the middle stone of it, at any rate!"
Accordingly, he again walked toward the public-house, keeping the
middle of the bridge.
"Good-morrow, friend," said the publican, as Shamus a third time
passed his door.
"Sarvant kindly, sir," answered Shamus, respectfully pulling down
the brim of his hat, and increasing his pace.
"Am early hour you choose for a morning walk," continued his new
"Brave and early, faix, sir," said Shamus, still hurrying off.
"Stop a bit," resumed the publican. Shamus stood still. "I see
you're a countryman of mine —an Irishman; I'd know one of you at
a look, though I'm a long time out of the country. And you're not
very well off on London Bridge this morning, either."
"No, indeed, sir," replied Shamus, beginning to doubt his skill in
physiognomy, at the stranger's kind address; "but as badly off as
a body 'ud wish to be."
"Come over to look for the work?"
"Nien, sir; but come out this morning to beg a ha'-penny, to send
me a bit of the road home."
"Well, here's a silver sixpence without asking. And you'd better
sit on the bench by the door here, and eat a crust and a cut of
cheese, and drink a drop of good ale, to break your fast."
With profuse thanks Shamus accepted this kind invitation, blaming
himself at heart for having allowed his opinion of the charitable
publican to be guided by the expression of the man's features.
"Handsome is that handsome does," was Shamus's self-correcting
While eating his bread and cheese and drinking his strong ale,
they conversed freely together, and Shamus's heart opened more and
more to his benefactor. The publican repeatedly asked him what had
brought him to London; and though, half out of prudence and half
out of shame, the dreamer at first evaded the question, he felt it
at last impossible to refuse a candid answer to his generous friend.
"Why, then, sir, only I am such a big fool for telling it to you,
it's what brought me to Lunnon Bridge was a quare dhrame I had at
home in Ireland, that tould me just to come here, and I'd find a
pot of goold." For such was the interpretation given by Shamus to
the vague admonition of his visionary counsellor.
His companion burst into a loud laugh, saying after it:
"Pho, pho, man, don't be so silly as to put faith in nonsensical
dreams of that kind. Many a one like it I have had, if I would bother
my head with them. Why, within the last ten days, while you were
dreaming of finding a pot of gold on London Bridge, I was dreaming
of finding a pot of gold in Ireland."
"Ullaloo, and were you, sir?" asked Shamus, laying down his empty
"Ay, indeed; night after night an old friar with a pale face, and
dressed all in white and black, and a black skull-cap on his head,
came to me in a dream, and bid me go to Ireland, to a certain spot
in a certain county that I know very well, and under the slab of
his tomb, that has a cross and some old Romish letters on it, in
an old abbey I often saw before now, I'd find a treasure that would
make me a rich man all the days of my life."
"Musha, sir," asked Shamus, scarce able prudently to control his
agitation," and did he tell you that the treasure lay buried there
ever so long under the open sky and the ould walls?"
"No; but he told me I was to find the slab covered in by a shed
that a poor man had lately built inside the abbey for himself and
"Whoo, by the powers!" shouted Shamus, at last thrown off his guard
by the surpassing joy derived from this intelligence, as well as by
the effects of the ale; and at the same time he jumped up, cutting
a caper with his legs, and flourishing his shillalah.
"Why, what's the matter with you?" asked his friend, glancing at
him a frowning and misgiving look.
"We ax pardon, sir." Shamus rallied his prudence. "An', sure,
sorrow a thing is the matter wid me, only the dhrop, I believe,
made me do it, as it ever and always does, good luck to it for the
same. An' isn't what we were spaking about the biggest raumaush
[Footnote: Nonsense.] undher the sun, sir? Only it's the laste bit
in the world quare to me how you'd have the dhrame about your own
country, that you didn't see for so many years, sir—for twenty
long years, I think you said, sir?" Shamus had now a new object in
putting his sly question.
"If I said so, I forgot," answered the publican, his suspicions
of Shamus at an end. "But it is about twenty years, indeed, since
I left Ireland."
"And by your speech, sir, and your dacency, I 'll engage you were
in a good way in the poor place afore you left it?"
"You guess correctly, friend." (The publican gave way to vanity.)
"Before misfortunes came over me, I possessed, along with a good
hundred acres besides, the very ground that the old ruin I saw in
the foolish dream I told you stands upon."
"An' so did my curse-o'-God's uncle," thought Shamus, his heart's
blood beginning to boil, though, with a great effort, he kept
himself seemingly cool. "And this is the man fornent me, if he
answers another word I 'll ax him. Faix, sir, and sure that makes
your dhrame quarer than ever; and the ground the ould abbey is on,
sir, and the good acres round it, did you say they lay somewhere
in the poor county myself came from?"
"What county is that, friend?" demanded the publican, again with
a studious frown.
"The ould County Monaghan, sure, sir," replied Shamus, very
"No, but the county of Clare," answered his companion.
"Was it?" screamed Shamus, again springing up. The cherished hatred
of twenty years imprudently bursting out, his uncle lay stretched
at his feet, after a renewed flourish of his cudgel. "And do you
know who you are telling it to this morning? Did you ever hear
that the sisther you kilt left a bit of a gorsoon behind her, that
one day or other might overhear you? Ay," he continued, keeping down
the struggling man, "IT IS poor Shamus Dempsey that's kneeling by
you; ay, and that has more to tell you. The shed built over the old
friar's tombstone was built by the hands you feel on your throttle,
and that tombstone is his hearthstone; and," continued Shamus,
beginning to bind the prostrate man with a rope snatched from
a bench near them, "while you lie here awhile, an' no one to help
you, in the cool of the morning, I'll just take a start of you on
the road home, to lift the flag and get the threasure; and follow
me if you dare! You know there's good money bid for your head in
Ireland—so here goes. Yes, faith, and wid this-THIS to help me on
the way!" He snatched up a heavy purse which had fallen from his
uncle's pocket in the struggle. "And sure, there's neither hurt nor
harm in getting back a little of a body's own from you. A bright
goodmorning, uncle dear!"
Shamus dragged his manacled relative into the shop, quickly shut to
and locked the door, flung the key over the house into the Thames,
and the next instant was running at headlong speed.
He was not so deficient in the calculations of common sense as to
think himself yet out of his uncle's power. It appeared, indeed,
pretty certain that, neither for the violence done to his person
nor for the purse appropriated by his nephew, the outlawed murderer
would raise a hue and cry after one who, aware of his identity,
could deliver him up to the laws of his country. But Shamus felt
certain that it would be a race between him and his uncle for the
treasure that lay under the friar's tombstone. His simple nature
supplied no stronger motive for a pursuit on the part of a man whose
life now lay in the breath of his mouth. Full of his conviction,
however, Shamus saw he had not a moment to lose until the roof of
his shed in the old abbey again sheltered him. So, freely making use
of his uncle's guineas, he purchased a strong horse in the outskirts
of London, and, to the surprise if not under heavy suspicions of
the vender, set off at a gallop upon the road by which he had the
day before gained the great metropolis.
A ship was ready to sail at Bristol for Ireland; but, to Shamus's
discomfiture, she waited for a wind. He got aboard, however, and in
the darksome and squalid hold often knelt down, and, with clasped
hands and panting breast, petitioned Heaven for a favourable breeze.
But from morning until evening the wind remained as he had found
it, and Shamus despaired. His uncle, meantime, might have reached
some other port, and embarked for their country. In the depth
of his anguish he heard a brisk bustle upon deck, clambered up
to investigate its cause, and found the ship's sails already half
unfurled to a wind that promised to bear him to his native shores
by the next morning. The last light of day yet lingered in the
heavens; he glanced, now under way, to the quay of Bristol. A group
who had been watching the departure of the vessel turned round to
note the approach to them of a man, who ran furiously toward the
place where they stood, pointing after her, and evidently speaking
with vehemence, although no words reached Shamus's ear. Neither
was his eye sure of this person's features, but his heart read them
distinctly. A boat shot from the quay; the man stood up in it, and
its rowers made a signal.
Shamus stepped to the gangway, as if preparing to hurl his pursuer
into the sea. The captain took a speaking-trumpet, and informing
the boat that he could not stop an instant, advised her to wait
for another merchantman, which would sail in an hour. And during
and after his speech his vessel ploughed cheerily on, making as
much way as she was adapted to accomplish.
Shamus's bosom felt lightened of its immediate terror, but not
freed of apprehension for the future. The ship that was to sail
in an hour haunted his thoughts; he did not leave the deck, and,
although the night proved very dark, his anxious eyes were never turned
from the English coast. Unusual fatigue and want of sleep now and
then overpowered him, and his senses swam in a wild and snatching
slumber; but from this he would start, crying out and clinging to
the cordage, as the feverish dream of an instant presented him with
the swelling canvas of a fast-sailing ship, which came, suddenly
bursting through the gloom of midnight, alongside of his own. Morning
dawned, really to unveil to him the object of his fears following
almost in the wake of her rival. He glanced in the opposite direction,
and beheld the shores of Ireland; in another hour he jumped upon
them; but his enemy's face watched him from the deck of the companion
vessel, now not more than a few ropes' lengths distant.
Shamus mounted a second good horse, and spurred toward home. Often
did he look back, but without seeing any cause for increased alarm.
As yet, however, the road had been level and winding, and therefore
could not allow him to span much of it at a glance. After noon it
ascended a high and lengthened hill surrounded by wastes of bog.
As he gained the summit of this hill, and again looked back, a
horseman appeared, sweeping to its foot. Shamus galloped at full
speed down the now quickly falling road; then along its level
continuation for about a mile; and then up another eminence, more
lengthened, though not so steep as the former; and from it still he
looked back, and caught the figure of the horseman breaking over
the line of the hill he had passed. For hours such was the character
of the chase, until the road narrowed and began to wind amid an
uncultivated and uninhabited mountain wilderness. Here Shamus's
horse tripped and fell; the rider, little injured, assisted him
to his legs, and, with lash and spur, re-urged him to pursue his
course. The animal went forward in a last effort, and for still
another span of time well befriended his rider. A rocky valley,
through which both had been galloping, now opened at its farther
end, presenting to Shamus's eye, in the distance, the sloping ground,
and the ruin which, with its mouldering walls, encircled his poor
home; and the setting sun streamed golden rays through the windows
and rents of the old abbey.
The fugitive gave a weak cry of joy, and lashed his beast again.
The cry seemed to be answered by a shout; and a second time, after
a wild plunge, the horse fell, now throwing Shamus off with a force
that left him stunned. And yet he heard the hoofs of another horse
come thundering down the rocky way; and, while he made a faint
effort to rise on his hands and look at his pursuer, the horse and
horseman were very near, and the voice of his uncle cried, "Stand!"
at the same time that the speaker fired a pistol, of which the ball
struck a stone at Shamus's foot. The next moment his uncle, having
left his saddle, stood over him, presenting a second pistol, and
he spoke in a low but distinct voice.
"Spawn of a beggar! This is not merely for the chance of riches
given by our dreams, though it seems, in the teeth of all I ever
thought, that the devil tells truth at last. No, nor it is not
quite for the blow; but it IS to close the lips that, with a single
word, can kill me. You die to let me live!"
"Help!" aspirated Shamus's heart, turning itself to Heaven. "Help
me but now, not for the sake of the goold either, but for the sake
of them that will be left on the wild world widout me; for them
help me, great God!"
Hitherto his weakness and confusion had left him passive. Before
his uncle spoke the last words, his silent prayer was offered, and
Shamus had jumped upon his assailant. They struggled and dragged
each other down. Shamus felt the muzzle of the pistol at his breast;
heard it snap—but only snap; he seized and mastered it, and once
more the uncle was at the mercy of his nephew. Shamus's hand was
raised to deal a good blow; but he checked himself, and addressed
the almost senseless ears of his captive.
"No; you're my mother's blood, and a son of hers will never draw
it from your heart; but I can make sure of you again; stop a bit."
He ran to his own prostrate horse, took off its bridle and its
saddle-girth, and with both secured his uncle's limbs beyond all
possibility of the struggler being able to escape from their control.
"There," resumed Shamus; "lie there till we have time to send an
ould friend to see you, that, I'll go bail, will take good care of
your four bones. And do you know where I'm going now? You tould
me, on Lunnon Bridge, that you knew THAT, at least," pointing to
the abbey; "ay, and the quare ould hearthstone that's to be found
in it. And so, look at this, uncle, honey." He vaulted upon his
relative's horse. "I'm just goin' to lift it off o' the barrel-pot
full of good ould goold, and you have only to cry halves, and
you'll get it, as, sure as that the big divil is in the town you
Nance Dempsey was nursing her new-born babe, sitting up in her
straw, and doing very well after her late illness, when old Noreen
tottered in from the front of the ruin to tell her that "the body
they were just speaking about was driving up the hill mad, like as
if't was his own sperit in great throuble." And the listener had
not recovered from her surprise when Shamus ran into the shed, flung
himself, kneeling, by her side, caught her in his arms, then seized
her infant, covered it with kisses, and then, roughly throwing it
in her lap, turned to the fireplace, raised one of the rocky seats
lying near it, poised the ponderous mass over the hearthstone, and
shivered into pieces, with one crash, that solid barrier between
him and his visionary world of wealth.
"It's cracked he is out an' out of a certainty," said Nance, looking
terrified at her husband.
"Nothing else am I," shouted Shamus, after groping under the broken
slab; "an', for a token, get along wid yourself out of this, ould
He started up and seized her by the shoulder. Noreen remonstrated.
He stooped for a stone; she ran; he pursued her to the arches of
the ruin. She stopped half-way down the descent. He pelted her with
clods to the bottom, and along a good piece of her road homeward,
and then danced back into his wife's presence.
"Now, Nance," he cried, "now that we're by ourselves, what noise
is this like?"
"And he took out han'fuls after han'fuls of the ould goold afore
her face, my dear," added the original narrator of this story.
"An' after the gaugers and their crony, Ould Nick, ran off wid the
uncle of him, Nance and he and the childer lived together in their
father's and mother's house; and if they didn't live and die happy,
I wish that you and I may."