The Devil and Johnny Dixon by Unknown

Arnold. Your form is man's, and yet you may be the devil.

Stranger. Unless you keep company with him (and you seem scarce used to such high company) you can't tell how he approaches.

The Deformed Transformed.

I remember having been exceedingly amused by a book of German diablerie, in which the movements of his Satanic Majesty were faithfully and fashionably chronicled. He had chosen, it would appear, for good and cogent reasons, to revisit our earth incognito; and as potentates steal occasionally a glance at the world to see how things move in their ordinary courses, he too indulged his princely curiosity, and, selon la règle, during his travels assumed a borrowed title.

I had business to transact in a very remote district of the kingdom of Connaught, and, as some delay was unavoidable, I threw a few books carelessly into my portmanteau. Among them the wild conception of Hoffmann, entitled "The Devil's Elixir," was included; and in the perusal of that strange tale, I endeavoured to amuse the tedium of as wet a day as often comes in Connemara. Bad as the morning had been, the evening was infinitely worse: the wind roared through the mountains; the rain came down in torrents; and every unhappy wayfarer pushed hastily for the nearest inn.

I had been an occupant of the best (and only) parlour of Tim Corrigan during the preceding week; and so unfrequent were the calls at his caravansera, that, like Robinson Crusoe, I could stroll out upon the moor, and proclaim that I was absolute over heath and "hostelrie." But, on this night, two travellers were driven to the "Cock and Punchbowl." They were bound for a fair that was to be holden on the morrow some twenty miles off; and, although anxious to lodge themselves in some more contiguous hostel, the weather became so desperate, that by mutual consent they abandoned their intention, and resolved to ensconce themselves for the night in a double-bedded room, which, fortunately for them, happened to be unoccupied in the "Cock and Punchbowl."

Had their resolution to remain been doubtful, one glance at the kitchen fire would have confirmed it. There, a well-conditioned goose was twisting, on a string appended to the chimney-breast; while divers culinary utensils simmered on the blazing turf, giving sure indications that other adjuncts were to accompany the bird, and the dinner would be a substantial one. I, while taking "mine ease in mine inn," had seen the travellers arrive; and, the door being ajar, heard the "to ride or not to ride" debated. That question settled, other cares arose.

"Tim," said the younger guest to the landlord, as he nodded significantly at the goose, "I'm hungry as a hawk."

The host shrugged his shoulders, and, pointing to the "great chamber," where I was seated, replied in an undertone, "There's a customer before ye, Master Johnny."

"A customer!—only one, Tim?"

"Sorrow more," replied the host.

"Why, the curse of Cromwell on ye for a cormorant!" said the traveller. "Three priests, after confessing half a parish, would scarcely demolish that wabbler. I'll invite myself to dinner; and if I be not in at the dissection, it won't be Johnny Dixon's fault."

"Arrah! the devil a fear of that," returned the landlord. "Your modesty nivir stopped your promotion, Shawn avourneen! " and he of the Cock and Punchbowl laughed heartily as the traveller entered the parlour.

He was a stout, middle-sized, foxy-headed fellow of some six or eight-and-twenty. His face was slightly marked with small-pox, and plain, but not unpleasing. The expression was good-humoured and intelligent; while, in the sparkle of his light blue eye, there was a pretty equal proportion of mirth and mischief. He advanced to me with perfect nonchalance; nodded as if he had known me for a twelvemonth; and, as if conferring a compliment, notified with great brevity that it was his intention to honour me with his company. No proposition could have pleased me better, and it was fortunate that I had no wish to remain alone; for, I verily believe, the traveller had already made up his mind, coute qui coute, to aid and assist in demolishing the bird that saved the Capitol.

Presently the hostess announced that all preparations were complete. The traveller, who had been talking of divers affairs, rural and political, suddenly changed the conversation. "There was," he said, "an unlucky sinner outside, who like himself had been storm-stayed that evening. He was a priest's nephew, a harmless poor devil, whom the old fellow had worked like a nigger, until one sweet evening he smothered himself in poteen-punch, leaving Peter Feaghan a kettleful of gold. If he, Peter, were only let in, he would pray for me during life; and, as to eating, would be contented with the drumsticks."

I laughed, and assented; and "Master Johnny" speedily produced a soft-looking, bullet-headed farmer; who, after scraping his leg across the floor, sate himself down at the corner of the table.

Dinner came. I, since I breathed the keen air of Connemara, had felt a quickened appetite; but "Master Johnny" double-distanced me easily as a trencher-man, and he, in turn, could not hold a candle to the nephew of the defunct priest. Peter Feaghan was a silent and a steady workman, and I firmly believe the drumsticks were regularly skeletonized before the priest's heir was disposed to cry "Hold, enough!" At last the cloth was removed; and a quart-bottle, a basin of sugar, with a jug of boiling water of enormous capacity, were set down.

"What an infernal night it is!" ejaculated the younger traveller, as a gust of wind drove the hail against the window. "Were you not in luck," he continued, "that chance drove two Christian men, like Peter and me, among the mountains? Honest Tim is speechless by this hour, or he has shortened his allowance greatly since I was here last. No flirting in the house, for Mrs. Corrigan is a Carmelite, and Brideen dhu has bundled off with a peeler. In short, you must have got drunk in self-defence, and, for lack of company, as I have often done, drank one hand against the other."

"Or," said I, "diluted the poteen with a draught of 'The Devil's Elixir.'"

"The Devil's Elixir!" repeated the foxy-headed traveller; "and pray what may that be?"

In reply, I handed him a volume of the Prussian Counsellor; he looked at the title-page, and read the motto, "In that yeare the Deville was alsoe seene walking publiclie on the streetes of Berline." Laughing loudly, he turned to the priest's heir.

"Holy Mary! had your poor uncle Paul been in town, he would have had a shy at ould Beelzebub, or made him quit the flagway."

"And who was Uncle Paul?" I inquired of the stranger.

"What!" he exclaimed, in manifest astonishment, "not know that excellent and gifted churchman,—one before whom the devil shook like a whipped schoolboy?"

"And was Mr. Feaghan's influence over him, surnamed 'the Morning Star,' so extraordinary?"

"Extraordinary you may well call it," resumed Foxy-Head. "The very mention of Paul's name would produce an ague-fit. Many a set-to they had—a clear stage and no favour—and in all and every, the devil was regularly floored. There is the old house of Knockbraddigan,—for months, man, woman, or child could not close an eye. Priest, monk, and friar, all tried their hands in vain. Holy-water was expended by the gallon—masses said thrice a week—a saint's finger borrowed for the occasion, and brought all the way from Cork,—and even the stable-lantern had a candle in it, blessed by the bishop. For all these 'Clooty' did not care a button, when Father Paul toddled in, and saved the house and owner."

"Indeed?"

"Ay! and I'll tell you the particulars. It was the year after the banks broke—times were bad—tenants racked—and Tom Braddigan, like many a better man, poor fellow! was cleaned out by the sheriff. Never was a shuck sinner harder up for a few hundreds; and, to make a long story short, Hoofey came in the way, and Tom 'sould himself' regularly. I never heard the sum, but it is said that it was a large figure; and that, to give the devil his due, he never cobbled for a moment, but paid a sporting price, and came down like a man. Well, the tenure-day came round; Clooty was true to time, and claimed his customer: but Tom was awake; Paul Feaghan was at his elbow, and, as it turned out, Paul proved himself nothing but a good one.

"'Arrah! what do ye want here, honest man?' says the priest to the devil, opening the conversation civilly.

"'No offence, I suppose,' says the other, 'for a body to look after his own.'

"'None in the world,' replied Father Paul, answering him quite politely; and all the while, poor Tom shaking like a Quaker.

"'Mr. Braddigan,' says the devil, 'we have a long drive before us, and the carriage is waiting. Don't mind your Cotamore, Tom; and the eternal ruffian put his tongue in his cheek. 'Though the day's cold, 'pon my conscience, you shall have presently an air of the fire.'

"'Asy,' says the priest, 'what call have you to a Catholic?'

"'A Catholic!' replied the devil, with a twist of his lip, mimicking Father Paul; 'maybe your reverence would tell us when he was last at confession?'

"At this the priest lost temper. 'What the blazes,' says he, 'have you to do with that? Was there any body present at the bargain betune ye?'

"'Hell to the one,' replied the devil.

"'Then,' says Father Paul, 'sorrow leg you would have to stand on if the whole thing came before the barrister.'

"The devil gave a knowing look, and, dipping his hand into the left breeches-pocket, took out a piece of paper, and, as an attorney shows the corner of a promissory-note to an unwilling witness, he held it out to Tom, and asked him was it his hand-writing: 'Tummas a Brawdeen,' says he, in Irish, 'is that yer fist?'

"'There's no denying it,' says Tom, with a shudder.

"'Then draw on yer boots, and let us be jogging.'

"'Asy,' says Father Feaghan. 'Did ye get the consideration, Tom?'

"The devil seemed uncommonly affronted. 'Paul Feaghan,' says he, 'I didn't think you would suppose that I would take his I.O.U. and not post the coal! By my oath,' he continued, 'and let him contradict me if he can, a Tuam note he would not touch with the tongs; and the devil a flimsy would go down with him, good or bad, but a regular Bank of Ireland!'

"'Oh, be Jakers!' says the priest, 'you're done, Tom! Show me the note.'

"'Bedershin!' says the devil, clapping his right fore-finger on his nose.

"'Honour bright!' replied Father Paul.

"'Will ye return it?' inquired Old Hoofey.

"'Will a duck swim?' says the priest. 'Be this book,' says he, laying his hand upon the tea-caddy, 'ye shall have it in two twos.'

"'There it is, then,' replied the other, 'and make your best of it. Come, Tom, there's no turnpikes to pay where you're going to; so on with your wrap-rascal,' pointing to the cotamore.

"But, sorrow wink was on Father Feaghan all the while. He examined the note, and not a letter was wanting. It was regular, as if the devil had been bound to an attorney—drawn on a three-shilling stamp,—and, as he turned it round and round, it crumpled like singed parchment.

"'You're dished,' ejaculated his reverence, looking over at Tom.

"'Murder! murder!' says he, as Hoofey held out his hand for the I.O.U.

"'Arrah!' says Father Paul, 'do ye keep your papers in a tinderbox?'

"'They're over dry, I allow,' replied the devil; 'but in my place it's hard to find a cool corner.'

"'We'll damp this one a little,' says the priest, slipping his hand fair and asy into a mug of holy-water, and splashing half a pint of it on Tummas a Brawdeen's note. 'Put that in yer pocket to balance yer pipe.'

"In a moment the devil changed colour. 'Bad luck attend ye night and day, for a circumventing villain!' says he.

"'Off with ye, you convicted ruffin!' roared Father Paul, making a flourishing †; and before Tom Braddigan had time to bless himself, Clooty went up the chimney in a flash of fire, leaving the room untenantable for a fortnight, from the sulphur; and Tummas a Brawdeen sung, for the remainder of his life, 'Wasn't that elegantly done?'"

"Nothing could be better," said I, as Red-head closed his story. "What a sensation the affair must have occasioned. 'Like angels' visits,' I presume, the old gentleman's are 'few and far between?'"

"By no means," returned the stranger, "there are few families of any fashion in this country, who have not, at some period or other, been favoured with a call; and I myself was once honoured by his company at supper."

I stared at the man; but he bore my scrutiny without flinching.

"Had you a party to meet his Satanic Majesty?" I inquired, with a smile.

"Not a soul," replied he. "We supped tête-à-tête; and a pleasanter fellow never stretched his legs beneath a man's mahogany."

"You certainly have excited my curiosity not a little," said I.

"If I have," returned the fox-headed stranger, "I shall most willingly give you a full account of our interview.

"It was the first Friday after the winter fair of Boyle. I was returning home in bad spirits; for, though I sold my bullocks well, I had been regularly cleaned out at loo, and hit uncommonly hard in a handicap. For three nights I scarcely won a pool, and that was bad enough; but to lose the best weight-carrier that was ever lapped in leather, for a paltry ten-pound note, and a daisy-cutter with a fired leg and feathered eye, would make a saint swear, and a Quaker kick his mother.

"Night had closed in, as I passed the cross-roads of Kilmactigue, about two miles from home; and I pulled up into a walk, to bring my bad bargain cool to the stable. Just then I heard a horse behind me, coming on in a slapping trot; and, before you could say Jack Robinson, a strange horseman was beside me.

"'Morra, Mistre Dixon,' says he.

"'Morra to ye, sir,' says I, turning sharp about to see if I could know him. He looked in the dim light a 'top-sawyer,' and, as far as I could judge, the best-mounted man I had met for a month of Sundays. He appeared to be dressed in black; his horse was the same colour as his coat, and I began to tax my memory, hard, to recollect the place where he and I had met before.

"'You have the advantage of me, sir,' says I.

"'Faith, and that's odd enough,' says he, 'for you and I rode head and girth together at the stag-hunt at Rathgranaher.'

"'Death and nouns!' says I, 'is this Mr. Magan?'

"'I believe so,' says he, 'for want of a better.'

"'Ah! then,' said I, 'I'm glad I met you. Is that the black mare that carried you so brilliantly?'

"'The same,' he replied.

"'No wonder I didn't know ye: you wore at Rathgranaher a light-green coatee, and now you're black as a bishop.'

"'I buried an aunt of mine lately,' says he.

"'Maybe you could do as much for a friend,' replied I; 'I have a couple at your service; and, as I pay them a hundred a year, I wish them often at the devil.'

"'I'll make no objection on my part,' replied Mr. Magan. 'But how far is it to Templebeg? It will be late before I reach it, I fear.'

"'It's the worst road in Connaught,' said I: 'my den is scarcely a mile off; and, if you are not in a hurry, turn in for the night, and you shall have a warm stall, a grilled bone, and a hearty welcome.'

"'Never say it again,' says Mr. Magan; and on we rode, cheek by jowl, talking of fairs, horses, and the coming election. Lord! nothing came amiss to him: he was up to every thing, from écarté to robbing the mail-coach; and in politics so knowing, that one while I fancied him a Whig, and at the next I would have given my book oath he was a black Orangeman.

"Before we reached the avenue, I tried if he would 'stand a knock.'

"'Would you part with the mare?' says I.

"'If I was bid a sporting price, I would part with my grandmother, if I had one,' was the reply.

"'What boot will you take, and turn tails?' said I.

"'Neighbour,' replied Mr. Magan, 'it must be a long figure that gets Black Bess. What's that you're riding?'

"'A thorough-bred four-year old, by Langar, out of a Tom Pipes mare.'

"'Bedershin!' says Mr. Magan; 'Tom died before you were born.'

"This was a hard hit. Devil a one of me knew how the horse was bred; but, as he happened to be a chestnut, I thought I would give Langar for a sire. Pretending not to hear the remark, I continued,

"'He's uncommon fast up to twelve stone; will take five feet, 'coped and dashed,' without a balk; and live the longest day with any fox-hounds on the province. At three years old, Peter Brannick refused fifty for him.'

"'And didn't ask a rap for a dark eye and a ring-bone,' observed Mr. Magan.

"'Oh!' says I, to myself, 'Magan, there's no coming over ye!' So I thought that I had better leave horse-flesh alone, and try if I could draw him at a setch of loo, or a hand of five and ten.

"With that we had ridden into the yard, and given our prads to the men, with a hundred charges from the stranger, that his mare should have a bran-mash and warm clothing. Well, I ushered him into the parlour, and there was a roaring fire, and the cloth laid for supper; for, luckily enough, Judy Mac Keal had expected me home. Mr. Magan took off his cotamore, laid his hat and whip aside, and then threw his eyes over the apartment.

"'Mona mon diaoul!' says he, 'if there's a snugger hunting-box between Birr and Bantry.'

"'Oh!' said I, 'the cabin's well enough for a loose lad like me. Everything here is rough and ready; and, as it's a bachelor's shop, you must make allowances.'

"'Arrah! nabocklish! I'm a single man myself, and it's wonderful how well I get my health, and manage with a housekeeper. 'By-the-bye,' and he looked knowing as a jailor,  'is Judy Mac Keal with you still?'

"'And what do you know about Judy, neighbour?' says I.

"'Don't be offended,' replied he. 'The boys were joking after supper at Dinny Balfe's; and Maurice Ffrench named her for face and figure, against any mentioned, for a pony.'

"'Ffrench is a fool!' I replied. 'But as you know Judy already, we'll ring, and see if there's any chance of supper.'

"She answered the bell; told us the ducks were at the fire, and that in half an hour all would be ready. When she went away, Magan swore she was the best-looking trout he had laid eyes on for a twelvemonth; and, spying out a pack of cards upon the chimney-piece, proposed that we should kill time with a game of hookey or lansquenet.

"It was the very thing I wanted; but I took the offer indifferently.

"'Egad! I'm afraid of you,' says I, as I laid the pack upon the table-cloth. He cut the cards.

"'The deal is yours. What an infernal ass I am to touch paper,' says he; and kissing the knave of clubs. 'By this book, I'm such an unlucky devil, that I verily believe, had my father bound me to a hatter, men would be born without heads. Come, down with the dust!' and he pulled from his breast-pocket a parcel of notes as thick as an almanack. They were chiefly fives and tens; and when I remarked them all the black bank, I set him down a Northman.

"We played at first tolerably even; but, by the time supper was served, I found myself a winner of twenty pounds. This was a good beginning; and I determined to continue my good luck, and, if I could, do Mr. Magan brown.

"Down we sate; my friend had an excellent appetite, and finished a duck to his own share. We drank a bottle of sherry in double-quick, got the cards again, and called for tumblers and hot water.

"Judy brought in the materials, and Mr. Magan began to quiz her.

"'Arrah! Miss Mac Keal,' says he, 'will ye come and keep house for me, and I'll double your wages?'

"'And where do ye live?' replied she.

"'Down in the North,' returned Magan; 'and I have as nate a place, ay, and as warm a house, as ever you laid a foot in!'

"'Have done with your joking,' says Judy, 'and go home to your own dacent wife.'

"'I have her yet to look for,' replied he.

"'Devil have the liars,' says Judy.

"'Ah then, amen!' said Magan.

"'I wouldn't believe ye,' continued she, 'if you kissed the vestment on it.'

"'Liggum lathé,' says he.

"'Why, what good Irish you have for a Northman!' replied Judy.

"'My mother was a Munster woman,' says Mr. Magan.

"'Is she alive?' inquired she.

"'Dead as Cleopatra,' he said, with a laugh; and Judy afterwards remarked, 'she knew he was a rascal, or he would have added, 'God rest her soul!'

"When the housekeeper disappeared, the stranger filled a bumper. 'Egad!' thought I, 'I'll try him now, whether he be radical or true-blue; and, lifting up the tumbler, I proposed, 'The glorious, pious, and immortal memory—'

"'Of the great and good King William,' says he, taking the word out of my mouth.

"'Who freed us from Pope and popery, knavery, slavery—'

"'Brass money, and wooden shoes,' returned the Northman.

"'May he who would not, on bare and bended knee, drink this toast, be rammed, crammed—'

"'And damned!' roared Magan, as if the sentiment came from his very heart. 'Here's the Pope in the pillory, and the Devil pelting priests at him!' cried the Northman; and, with a laugh, off went the bumpers, and we commenced the cards anew.

"Well, sir, that night I had the luck of thousands. The black bank-notes came over the table-cloth by the dozen; and, as the Northman lost his money, his temper went along with it. He cursed the cards, and their maker; swore he would book himself against bones and paper for a twelvemonth; made tumbler after tumbler; and, as he drank them boiling from the kettle, I wondered how he could swallow poteen-punch hot enough to scald a pig.

"'Come,' says he, in a rage, 'I see how the thing will end; and the sooner I am cleaned out, the better. Instead of a beggarly flimsey, fork out a five-pound note.'

"'With all my heart,' replied I.

"'Curse of Cromwell attend upon all shoemakers!' ejaculated Mr. Magan, with a grin.

"'Arrah! what's vexing ye now?' says I, pulling the third five-pounder across the cloth.

"'Every thing!' returned he, 'I have the worst of luck, a tight boot, and a bad corn.'

"'I'll get ye slippers in a shake.'

"'Mind your cards,' says he, rather cross; 'there's nobody here but ourselves, and I'll pull off my boot quietly under the table!'

"He did so: we continued play; and, though he lost ahead, he recovered his temper, and seemed to bear it like a gentleman. It was quite clear that the boot had made him cranky. No wonder: an angry corn and tight shoe would try the patience of a bride.

"Well, the last of his bundle of bank-notes was in due course transferred to me, and I fancied I had him 'polished off;' but, dipping his hand into his big-coat pocket, he produced a green silk purse, half a yard long, and stuffed, apparently, with sovereigns. I lighted a cigar, and offered him another, but he declined it; and, after groping his cotamore for half a minute, produced a dudheen, which he lighted at the candle. I have smoked tobacco here these ten years,—Persian or pigstail were all the same to me;—but the first whiff of Magan's pipe I thought would have smothered me on the spot.

"'Holy Bridget!' says I, gasping for breath. 'Arrah! what stuff is that you're blowing?'

"'It's rather strong,' says he, 'but beautiful when you're used to it. Cut the cards; and, as they say in Connaught, 'if money stands, luck may turn.'

"Just then Judy come in to ask Mr. Magan if he would have a second pair of blankets on his bed.

"'Will you come with me?' says he, putting his arm round her jokingly.

"'God take ye, if possible!' cried Judy: 'pheaks! ye'r not over well honest man, for your hand's in a fever!'

"'It's the liker my heart, Judy,' and he gave her a coaxing smile.

"'Sorrow one of me liked his making so free. 'Go on with your game,' says I, 'and don't be putting your comether over my housekeeper.'

"At the moment a horse-tramp was heard in the yard, and Judy ran to the window.

"'Who's that?' says I. 'Devil welcome him, whoever he is;' for I thought he would interrupt us.

"'It's a short man on a grey pony,' says Judy, 'with a big blue cloak about him.'

"'Phew!' and I whistled. 'It's Father Paul Feaghan.'

"'Father Paul!' ejaculated Mr. Magan, turning pale as a shirt-frill, and dropping the dudheen on the floor.

"'Oh, death and nouns! the carpet will be ruined!' roared Judy, plumping down upon her knees, and snatching at the pipe; but, before she reached it, she gave a wild scream, as if she saw a ghost, and began blessing herself busily. But, scarcely had she made the sign of the †, when a thunderclap shook the lodge; a blaze lightened through the supper-room, and Mr. Magan, taking with him the black bank-notes, and the hand of cards he was playing with, vanished up the chimney. No doubt he would have taken the roof away into the bargain, had not Father Paul been fortunately so near us."

"And," said I, "did no other evil consequences attend this unhallowed visit?"

"Evil consequences!" returned Johnny Dixon, as he repeated my words: "my stable-boy was frightened into fits; Judy Mac Keal kept her bed for a fortnight,—and, mona mon diaoul! thirty shillings did not pay the glazier—for Magan,—the Lord's curse light upon him!—smashed the windows into smithereens. But it grows late," he continued, addressing his companion; "and you and I, Peter, must be up ere cockcrow. Good night, sir!" and he turned to me. "Should you ever meet Mr. Magan—while you remain in his society, never be persuaded, as they say in Mayo, to 'prove agreeable;' or, 'fight, flirt, play cards, or hold the candle.'"

[ Note:—The story was told me at a supper-table table by a Connaught gentleman, with the most profound gravity imaginable. He, the hero, believed it religiously himself; and woe be to the sceptic who gainsayed its authenticity.

Poor Johnny lies under a ton weight of Connemara marble. Requiescat! A better fellow never took six feet in a stroke, carried off a third bottle, or gave a job to the coroner. Requiescat! Amen! ]