The Lianhan Shee by William Carleton
One summer evening Mary Sullivan was sitting at her own well-swept
hearthstone, knitting feet to a pair of sheep's gray stockings for
Bartley, her husband. It was one of those serene evenings in the
month of June, when the decline of day assumes a calmness and repose,
resembling what we might suppose to have irradiated Eden, when our first
parents sat in it before their fall. The beams of the sun shone through
the windows in clear shafts of amber light, exhibiting millions of those
atoms which float to the naked eye within its mild radiance. The dog lay
barking in his dreams at her feet, and the gray cat sat purring placidly
upon his back, from which even his occasional agitation did not dislodge
Mrs. Sullivan was the wife of a wealthy farmer, and niece to the Rev.
Felix O'Rourke; her kitchen was consequently large, comfortable, and
warm. Over where she sat, jutted out the "brace" well lined with bacon;
to the right hung a well-scoured salt-box, and to the left was the jamb,
with its little gothic paneless window to admit the light. Within it
hung several ash rungs, seasoning for flail-sooples, or boulteens, a
dozen of eel-skins, and several stripes of horse-skin, as hangings for
them. The dresser was a "parfit white," and well furnished with the
usual appurtenances. Over the door and on the "threshel," were nailed,
"for luck," two horse-shoes, that had been found by accident. In a
little "hole" in the wall, beneath the salt-box, lay a bottle of holy
water to keep the place purified; and against the cope-stone of the
gable, on the outside, grew a large lump of house-leek, as a specific
for sore eyes and other maladies.
In the corner of the garden were a few stalks of tansy "to kill the
thievin' worms in the childhre, the crathurs," together with a little
Rose-noble, Solomon's Seal, and Bu-gloss, each for some medicinal
purpose. The "lime wather" Mrs. Sullivan could make herself, and the
"bog bane" for the Unh roe, (* Literally, red water) or heart-burn, grew
in their own meadow drain; so that, in fact, she had within her reach a
very decent pharmacopoeia, perhaps as harmless as that of the profession
itself. Lying on the top of the salt-box was a bunch of fairy flax, and
sewed in the folds of her own scapular was the dust of what had once
been a four-leaved shamrock, an invaluable specific "for seein' the good
people," if they happened to come within the bounds of vision. Over the
door in the inside, over the beds, and over the cattle in the outhouses,
were placed branches of withered palm, that had been consecrated by the
priest on Palm Sunday; and when the cows happened to calve, this good
woman tied, with her own hands, a woollen thread about their tails, to
prevent them from being overlooked by evil eyes, or elf-shot* by the
fairies, who seem to possess a peculiar power over females of every
species during the period of parturition. It is unnecessary to mention
the variety of charms which she possessed for that obsolete malady the
colic, the toothache, headache, or for removing warts, and taking motes
out of the eyes; let it suffice to inform our readers that she was well
stocked with them; and that, in addition to this, she, together with her
husband, drank a potion made up and administered by an herb-doctor, for
preventing forever the slightest misunderstanding or quarrel between man
and wife. Whether it produced this desirable object or not our readers
may conjecture, when we add, that the herb-doctor, after having taken a
very liberal advantage of their generosity, was immediately compelled to
disappear from the neighborhood, in order to avoid meeting with Bartley,
who had a sharp lookout for him, not exactly on his own account, but
"in regard," he said, "that it had no effect upon Mary, at all, at all;"
whilst Mary, on the other hand, admitted its efficacy upon herself, but
maintained, "that Bartley was worse nor ever afther it."
* This was, and in remote parts of the country still
is, one of the strongest instances of belief in the
power of the Fairies. The injury, which, if not
counteracted by a charm from the lips of a "Fairy-man,"
or "Fairy-woman," was uniformly inflicted on the animal
by what was termed an elf-stone—which was nothing
more nor less than a piece of sharp flint, from three
to four or five ounces in weight. The cow was supposed
to be struck upon the loin with it by these mischievous
little beings, and the nature of the wound was indeed
said to be very peculiar—that is, it cut the midriff
without making any visible or palpable wound on the
outward skin. All animals dying of this complaint,
were supposed to be carried to the good people, and
there are many in the country who would not believe
that the dead carcass of the cow was that of the real
one at all, but an old log or block of wood, made to
resemble it. All such frauds, however, and deceptions
were inexplicable to every one, but such as happened to
possess a four-leaved shamrock, and this enabled its
possessor to see the block or log in its real shape,
although to others it appeared to be the real carcass.
Such was Mary Sullivan, as she sat at her own hearth, quite alone,
engaged as we have represented her. What she may have been meditating on
we cannot pretend to ascertain; but after some time, she looked sharply
into the "backstone," or hob, with an air of anxiety and alarm. By
and by she suspended her knitting, and listened with much earnestness,
leaning her right ear over to the hob, from whence the sounds to which
she paid such deep attention proceeded. At length she crossed herself
devoutly, and exclaimed, "Queen of saints about us!—is it back ye are?
Well sure there's no use in talkin', bekase they say you know what's
said of you, or to you—an' we may as well spake yez fair.—Hem—musha,
yez are welcome back, crickets, avourneenee! I hope that, not like the
last visit ye ped us, yez are comin' for luck now! Moolyeen (* a cow
without horns) died, any way, soon afther your other kailyee, (* short
visit) ye crathurs ye. Here's the bread, an' the salt, an' the male for
yez, an' we wish ye well. Eh?—saints above, if it isn't listenin' they
are jist like a Christhien! Wurrah, but ye are the wise an' the quare
crathurs all out!"
She then shook a little holy water over the hob, and muttered to herself
an Irish charm or prayer against the evils which crickets are often
supposed by the peasantry to bring with them, and requested, still in
the words of the charm, that their presence might, on that occasion,
rather be a presage of good fortune to man and beast belonging to her.
"There now, ye dhonans (* a diminuitive, delicate little thing) ye,
sure ye can't say that ye're ill-thrated here, anyhow, or ever was
mocked or made game of in the same family. You have got your hansel, an'
full an' plenty of it; hopin' at the same time that you'll have no rason
in life to cut our best clothes from revinge. Sure an' I didn't desarve
to have my brave stuff long body (* an old-fashioned Irish gown) riddled
the way it was, the last time ye wor here, an' only bekase little Barny,
that has but the sinse of a gorsoon, tould yez in a joke to pack off wid
yourself somewhere else. Musha, never heed what the likes of him says;
sure he's but a caudy, (* little boy) that doesn't mane ill, only the
bit o' divarsion wid yez."
She then resumed her knitting, occasionally stopping, as she changed her
needles, to listen, with her ear set, as if she wished to augur from the
nature of their chirping, whether they came for good or for evil. This,
however, seemed to be beyond her faculty of translating their language;
for—after sagely shaking her head two or three times, she knit more
busily than before.*
* Of the origin of this singular superstition I can
find no account whatsoever; it is conceived, however,
in a mild, sweet, and hospitable spirit. The visits of
these migratory little creatures, which may be termed
domestic grasshoppers, are very capricious and
uncertain, as are their departures; and it is, I should
think, for this reason, that they are believed to be
cognizant of the ongoings of human life. We can easily
suppose, for instance, that the coincidence of their
disappearance from a family, and the occurrence of a
death in that family, frequently multiplied as such
coincidences must be in the country at large, might
occasion the people, who are naturally credulous, to
associate the one event with the other; and on that
slight basis erect the general superstition. Crickets,
too, when chirupping, have a habit of suddenly ceasing,
so that when any particularly interesting conversation
happens to go on about the rustic hearth, this stopping
of their little chaunt looks so like listening, that it
is scarcely to be wondered at that the country folks
think they understand every word that is spoken. They
are thought, also, to foresee both good and evil, and
are considered vindictive, but yet capable of being
conciliated by fair words and kindness. They are also
very destructive among wearing-apparel, which they
frequently nibble into holes; and this is always looked
upon as a piece of revenge, occasioned by some
disrespectful language used towards them, or some
neglect of their little wants. This note was necessary
in order to render the conduct and language of Mary
Sullivan perfectly intelligible.
At this moment, the shadow of a person passing the house darkened the
window opposite which she sat, and immediately a tall female, of a wild
dress and aspect, entered the kitchen.
"Gho manhy dhea ghud, a ban chohr! the blessin' o' goodness upon
you, dacent woman," said Mrs. Sullivan, addressing her in those kindly
phrases so peculiar to the Irish language.
Instead of making her any reply, however, the woman, whose eye glistened
with a wild depth of meaning, exclaimed in low tones, apparently of much
anguish, "Husht, husht', dherum! husht, husht, I say—let me alone—I
will do it—will you husht? I will, I say—I will—there now—that's
it—be quiet, an' I will do it—be quiet!" and as she thus spoke, she
turned her face back over her left shoulder, as if some invisible being
dogged her steps, and stood bending over her.
"Gho manhy dhea ghud, a ban chohr, dherhum areesh! the blessin' o' God
on you, honest woman, I say again," said Mrs. Sullivan, repeating that
sacred form of salutation with which the peasantry address each other.
"'Tis a fine evenin', honest woman, glory be to him that sent the same,
and amin! If it was cowld, I'd be axin' you to draw your chair in to the
fire: but, any way, won't you sit down?"
As she ceased speaking, the piercing eye of the strange woman became
riveted on her with a glare, which, whilst it startled Mrs. Sullivan,
seemed full of an agony that almost abstracted her from external
life. It was not, however, so wholly absorbing as to prevent it from
expressing a marked interest, whether for good or evil, in the woman who
addressed her so hospitably.
"Husht, now—husht," she said, as if aside—"husht, won't you—sure I
may speak the thing to her—you said it—there now, husht!" And then
fastening her dark eyes on Mrs. Sullivan, she smiled bitterly and
"I know you well," she said, without, however, returning the blessing
contained in the usual reply to Mrs. Sullivan's salutation—"I know you
well, Mary Sullivan—husht, now, husht—yes, I know you well, and the
power of all that you carry about you; but you'd be better than you
are—and that's well enough now—if you had sense to know—ah, ah,
ah!—what's this!" she exclaimed abruptly, with three distinct shrieks,
that seemed to be produced by sensations of sharp and piercing agony.
"In the name of goodness, what's over you, honest woman?" inquired Mrs.
Sullivan, as she started from her chair, and ran to her in a state of
alarm, bordering on terror—"Is it sick you are?"
The woman's face had got haggard, and its features distorted; but in a
few minutes they resumed their peculiar expression of settled wildness
and mystery. "Sick!" she replied, licking her parched lips, "awirck,
awirek! look! look!" and she pointed with a shudder that almost
convulsed her whole frame, to a lump that rose on her shoulders; this,
be it what it might, was covered with a red cloak, closely pinned and
tied with great caution about her body—"'tis here! I have it!"
"Blessed mother!" exclaimed Mrs. Sullivan, tottering over to her chair,
as finished a picture of horror as the eye could witness, "this day's
Friday: the saints stand betwixt me an' all harm! Oh, holy Mary
protect me! Nhanim an airh," in the name of the Father, etc., and she
forthwith proceeded to bless herself, which she did thirteen times in
honor of the blessed virgin and the twelve apostles.
"Ay, it's as you see!" replied the stranger, bitterly. "It is
here—husht, now—husht, I say—I will say the thing to her, mayn't I?
Ay, indeed, Mary Sullivan, 'tis with me always—always. Well, well, no,
I won't. I won't—easy. Oh, blessed saints, easy, and I won't."
In the meantime Mrs. Sullivan had uncorked a bottle of holy water, and
plentifully bedewed herself with it, as a preservative against this
mysterious woman and her dreadful secret.
"Blessed mother above!" she ejaculated, "the Lianhan Shee" And as
she spoke, with the holy water in the palm of her hand, she advanced
cautiously, and with great terror, to throw it upon the stranger and the
unearthly thing she bore.
"Don't attempt it!" shouted the other, in tones of mingled fierceness
and terror, "do you want to give me pain without keeping yourself
anything at all safer? Don't you know it doesn't care about your holy
water? But I'd suffer for it, an' perhaps so would you."
Mrs. Sullivan, terrified by the agitated looks of the woman, drew back
with affright, and threw the holy water with which she intended to
purify the other on her own person.
"Why thin, you lost crathur, who or what are you at all?—don't,
don't—for the sake of all the saints and angels of heaven, don't come
next or near me—keep your distance—but what are you, or how did you
come to get that 'good thing' you carry about wid you?"
"Ay, indeed!" replied the woman bitterly, "as if I would or could tell
you that! I say, you woman, you're doing what's not right in asking me
a question you ought not let to cross your lips—look to yourself, and
what's over you."
The simple woman, thinking her meaning literal, almost leaped off her
seat with terror, and turned up her eyes to ascertain whether or not any
dreadful appearance had approached her, or hung over her where she sat.
"Woman," said she, "I spoke you kind an' fair, an' I wish you
"But what?" replied the other—and her eyes kindled into deep and
profound excitement, apparently upon very slight grounds.
"Why—hem—nothin' at all sure, only"—
"Only what?" asked the stranger, with a face of anguish that seemed to
torture every feature out of its proper lineaments.
"Dacent woman," said Mrs. Sullivan, whilst the hair began to stand
with terror upon her head, "sure it's no wondher in life that I'm in a
perplexity, whin a Lianhan Shee is undher the one roof wid me. 'Tisn't
that I want to know anything' at all about it—the dear forbid I should;
but I never hard of a person bein' tormented wid it as you are. I always
used to hear the people say that it thrated its friends well."
"Husht!" said the woman, looking wildly over her shoulder, "I'll not
tell: it's on myself I'll leave the blame! Why, will you never pity me?
Am I to be night and day tormented? Oh, you're wicked an' cruel for no
"Thry," said Mrs. Sullivan, "an' bless yourself; call on God."
"Ah!" shouted the other, "are you going to get me killed?" and as she
uttered the words, a spasmodic working which must have occasioned great
pain, even to torture, became audible in her throat: her bosom heaved
up and down, and her head was bent repeatedly on her breast, as if by
"Don't mention that name," said she, "in my presence, except you mean
to drive me to utter distraction. I mean," she continued, after a
considerable effort to recover her former tone and manner—"hear me with
attention—I mean, woman—you, Mary Sullivan—that if you mention that
holy name, you might as well keep plunging sharp knives into my heart!
Husht! peace to me for one minute, tormentor! Spare me something, I'm in
"Will you ate anything?" said Mrs. Sullivan; "poor crathur, you look
like hunger an' distress; there's enough in the house, blessed be them
that sent it! an' you had betther thry an' take some nourishment, any
way;" and she raised her eyes in a silent prayer of relief and ease for
the unhappy woman, whose unhallowed association had, in her opinion,
sealed her doom.
"Will I?—will I?—oh!" she replied, "may you never know misery for
offering it! Oh, bring me something—some refreshment—some food—for
I'm dying with hunger."
Mrs. Sullivan, who, with all her superstition, was remarkable for
charity and benevolence, immediately placed food and drink before her,
which the stranger absolutely devoured—taking care occasionally to
secrete under the protuberance which appeared behind her neck, a portion
of what she ate. This, however, she did, not by stealth, but openly;
merely taking means to prevent the concealed thing, from being, by any
possible accident discovered.
When the craving of hunger was satisfied, she appeared to suffer less
from the persecution of her tormentor than, before; whether it was, as
Mrs. Sullivan thought, that the food with which she plied it, appeased
in some degree its irritability, or lessened that of the stranger, it
was difficult to say; at all events, she became more composed; her eyes
resumed somewhat of a natural expression; each sharp ferocious glare,
which shot, from them! with such intense and rapid flashes, partially
disappeared; her knit brows dilated, and part of a forehead, which had
once been capacious and handsome, lost the contractions which deformed
it by deep wrinkles. Altogether the change was evident, and very-much
relieved Mrs. Sullivan, who could not avoid observing it.
"It's not that I care much about it, if you'd think it not right o' me,
but it's odd enough for you to keep the lower part of your face muffled
up in that black cloth, an' then your forehead, too, is covered down on
your face a bit? If they're part of the bargain,"—and she shuddered at
the thought—"between you an' anything that's not good—hem!—I think
you'd do well to throw thim off o' you, an' turn to thim that can
protect you from everything that's bad. Now a scapular would keep all
the divils in hell from one; an' if you'd"—
On looking at the stranger she hesitated, for the wild expression of her
eyes began to return.
"Don't begin my punishment again," replied the woman; "make no
allus—don't make mention in my presence of anything that's good.
Husht,—husht,—it's beginning—easy now—easy! No," said she, "I came
to tell you, that only for my breakin' a vow I made to this thing upon
me, I'd be happy instead of miserable with it. I say, it's a good thing
to have, if the person will use this bottle," she added, producing one,
"as I will direct them."
"I wouldn't wish, for my part," replied Mrs. Sullivan, "to have anything
to do wid it—neither act nor part;" and she crossed herself devoutly,
on contemplating such an unholy alliance as that at which her companion
"Mary Sullivan," replied the other, "I can put good fortune and
happiness in the way of you and yours. It is for you the good is
intended; if you don't get both, no other can," and her eyes kindled as
she spoke, like those of the Pythoness in the moment of inspiration.
Mrs. Sullivan looked at her with awe, fear, and a strong mixture of
curiosity; she had often heard that the Lianhan Shee had, through
means of the person to whom it was bound, conferred wealth upon several,
although it could never render this important service to those who
exercised direct authority over it. She therefore experienced something
like a conflict between her fears and a love of that wealth, the
possession of which was so plainly intimated to her.
"The money," said she, "would be one thing, but to have the Lianhan
Shee planted over a body's shouldher—och; the saints preserve us!—no,
not for oceans' of hard goold would I have it in my company one minnit.
But in regard to the money—hem!—why, if it could be managed widout
havin' act or part wid that thing, people would do anything in rason and
"You have this day been kind to me," replied the woman, "and that's
what I can't say of many—dear help me!—husht! Every door is shut in
my face! Does not every cheek get pale when I am seen? If I meet a
fellow-creature on the road, they turn into the field to avoid me; if I
ask for food, it's to a deaf ear I speak; if I am thirsty, they send
me to the river. What house would shelter me? In cold, in hunger, in
drought, in storm, and in tempest, I am alone and unfriended, hated,
feared, an' avoided; starving in the winter's cold, and burning in the
summer's heat. All this is my fate here; and—oh! oh! oh!—have mercy,
tormentor—have mercy! I will not lift my thoughts there—I'll keep the
paction—but spare me now!"
She turned round as she spoke, seeming to follow an invisible object,
or, perhaps, attempting to get a more complete view of the mysterious
being which exercised such a terrible and painful influence over her.
Mrs. Sullivan, also, kept her eye fixed upon the lump, and actually
believed that she saw it move. Fear of incurring the displeasure of what
it contained, and a superstitious reluctance harshly to thrust a person
from her door who had eaten of her food, prevented her from desiring the
woman to depart.
"In the name of Goodness," she replied, "I will have nothing to do wid
your gift. Providence, blessed be his name, has done well for me an'
mine, an' it mightn't be right to go beyant what it has pleased him to
"A rational sentiment!—I mean there's good sense in what you say,"
answered the stranger: "but you need not be afraid," and she accompanied
the expression by holding up the bottle and kneeling: "now," she added,
"listen to me, and judge for yourself, if what I say, when I swear it,
can be a lie." She then proceeded to utter oaths of the most solemn
nature, the purport of which Was to assure Mrs. Sullivan that drinking
of the bottle would be attended with no danger. "You see this little
bottle, drink it. Oh, for my sake and your own drink it; it will give
wealth without end to you and to all belonging to you. Take one-half of
it before sunrise, and the other half when he goes down. You must stand
while drinking it, with your face to the east, in the morning; and at
night, to the west. Will you promise to do this?"
"How would drinkin' the bottle get me money?" inquired Mrs. Sullivan,
who certainly felt a strong tendency of heart to the wealth.
"That I can't tell you now, nor would you understand it, even if I
could; but you will know all when what I say is complied with."
"Keep your bottle, dacent woman. I wash my hands of it: the saints above
guard me from the timptation! I'm sure it's not right, for as I'm a
sinner, 'tis getting stronger every minute widin me? Keep it! I'm loth
to bid any one that ett o' my bread to go from my hearth, but if you go,
I'll make it worth your while. Saints above, what's comin' over me. In
my whole life I never had such a hankerin' afther money! Well, well, but
it's quare entirely!"
"Will you drink it?" asked her companion. "If it does hurt or harm
to you or yours, or anything but good, may what is hanging over me be
fulfilled!" and she extended a thin, but, considering her years,
not ungraceful arm, in the act of holding out the bottle to her kind
"For the sake of all that's good and gracious take it without
scruple—it is not hurtful, a child might drink every drop that's in it.
Oh, for the sake of all you love, and of all that love you, take it!"
and as she urged her, the tears streamed down her cheeks.
"No, no," replied Mrs. Sullivan, "it'll never cross my lips; not if it
made me as rich as ould Hendherson, that airs his guineas in the sun,
for fraid they'd get light by lyin' past."
"I entreat you to take it?" said the strange woman.
"Never, never!—once for all—I say, I won't; so spare your breath."
The firmness of the good housewife was not, in fact to be shaken; so,
after exhausting all the motives and arguments with which she could urge
the accomplishments of her design, the strange woman, having again put
the bottle into her bosom, prepared to depart.
She had now once more become calm, and resumed her seat with the languid
air of one who has suffered much exhaustion and excitement. She put
her hand upon her forehead for a few moments, as if collecting her
faculties, or endeavoring to remember the purport of their previous
conversation. A slight moisture had broken through her skin, and
altogether, notwithstanding her avowed criminality in entering into an
unholy bond, she appeared an object of deep compassion.
In a moment her manner changed again, and her eyes blazed out once more,
as she asked her alarmed hostess:—
"Again, Mary Sullivan, will you take the gift that I have it in my power
to give you? ay or no? speak, poor mortal, if you know what is for your
Mrs. Sullivan's fears, however, had overcome her love of money,
particularly as she thought that wealth obtained in such a manner could
not prosper; her only objection being to the means of acquiring it.
"Oh!" said the stranger, "am I doomed never to meet with any one who
will take the promise off me by drinking of this bottle? Oh! but I am
unhappy! What it is to fear—ah! ah!—and keep his commandments. Had
I done so in my youthful time, I wouldn't now—ah—merciful mother, is
there no relief? kill me, tormentor; kill me outright, for surely the
pangs of eternity cannot be greater than those you now make me suffer.
Woman," said she, and her muscles stood out in extraordinary energy—
"woman, Mary Sullivan—ay, if you should kill me—blast me—where I
stand, I will say the word—woman—you have daughters—teach them—to
Having got so far, she stopped—her bosom heaved up and down—her frame
shook dreadfully—her eyeballs became lurid and fiery—her hands were
clenched, and the spasmodic throes of inward convulsion worked the white
froth up to her mouth; at length she suddenly became like a statue, with
this wild, supernatural expression intense upon her, and with an awful
calmness, by far more dreadful than excitement could be, concluded by
pronouncing, in deep, husky tones, the name of God.
Having accomplished this with such a powerful struggle, she turned
round, with pale despair in her countenance and manner, and with
streaming eyes slowly departed, leaving Mrs. Sullivan in a situation not
at all to be envied.
In a short time the other members of the family, who had been out
at their evening employments, returned. Bartley, her husband, having
entered somewhat sooner than his three daughters from milking, was the
first to come in; presently the girls followed, and in a few minutes
they sat down to supper, together with the servants, who dropped in
one by one, after the toil of the day. On placing themselves about the
table, Bartley, as usual, took his seat at the head; but Mrs. Sullivan,
instead of occupying hers, sat at the fire in a state of uncommon
agitation. Every two or three minutes she would cross herself devoutly,
and mutter such prayers against spiritual influences of an evil nature,
as she could compose herself to remember.
"Thin, why don't you come to your supper, Mary," said the husband,
"while the sowans are warm? Brave and thick they are this night, any
His wife was silent; for so strong a hold had the strange woman and her
appalling secret upon her mind, that it was not till he repeated his
question three or four times—raising his head with surprise, and
asking, "Eh, thin, Mary, what's come over you—is it unwell you
are?"—that she noticed what he said.
"Supper!" she exclaimed, "unwell! 'tis a good right I have to be
unwell,—I hope nothin' bad will happen, any way. Feel my face, Nanny,"
she added, addressing one of her daughters, "it's as cowld an' wet as a
lime-stone—ay, an' if you found me a corpse before you, it wouldn't be
at all strange."
There was a general pause at the seriousness of this intimation. The
husband rose from his supper, and went up to the hearth where she sat.
"Turn round to the light," said he; "why, Mary dear, in the name of
wondher, what ails you? for you're like a corpse, sure enough. Can't
you tell us what has happened, or what put you in such a state? Why,
childhre, the cowld sweat's teemin' off her!"
The poor woman, unable to sustain the shock produced by her interview
with the stranger, found herself getting more weak, and requested a
drink of water; but before it could be put to her lips, she laid her
head upon the back of the chair and fainted. Grief, and uproar, and
confusion followed this alarming incident. The presence of mind, so
necessary on such occasions, was wholly lost; one ran here, and another
there, all jostling against each other, without being cool enough to
render her proper assistance. The daughters were in tears, and Bartley
himself was dreadfully shocked by seeing his wife apparently lifeless
She soon recovered, however, and relieved them from the apprehension of
her death, which they thought had actually taken place. "Mary," said the
husband, "something quare entirely has happened, or you wouldn't be in
"Did any of you see a strange woman lavin' the house, a minute or two
before ye came in?" she inquired.
"No," they replied, "not a stim of any one did we see."
"Wurrah dheelish! No?—now is it possible ye didn't?" She then
described her, but all declared they had seen no such person.
"Bartley, whisper," said she, and beckoning him over to her, in a
few words she revealed the secret. The husband grew pale, and crossed
himself. "Mother of Saints! childhre," said he, "a Lianhan Shee!"
The words were no sooner uttered than every countenance assumed the
pallidness of death: and every right hand was raised in the act of
blessing the person, and crossing the forehead. "The Lianhan Shee!!"
all exclaimed in fear and horror—"This day's Friday, God betwixt us
* This short form is supposed to be a safeguard against
the Fairies. The particular day must be always named.
It was now after dusk, and the hour had already deepened into the
darkness of a calm, moonless, summer night; the hearth, therefore, in a
short time, became surrounded by a circle, consisting of every person in
the house; the door was closed and securely bolted;—a struggle for the
safest seat took place, and to Bartley's shame be it spoken, he lodged
himself on the hob within the jamb, as the most distant situation
from the fearful being known as the Lianhan Shee. The recent terror,
however, brooded over them all; their topic of conversation was the
mysterious visit, of which Mrs. Sullivan gave a painfully accurate
detail; whilst every ear of those who composed her audience was set,
and every single hair of their heads bristled up, as if awakened into
distinct life by the story. Bartley looked into the fire soberly, except
when the cat, in prowling about the dresser, electrified him into a
start of fear, which sensation went round every link of the living chain
about the hearth.
The next day the story spread through the whole neighborhood,
accumulating in interest and incident as it went. Where it received the
touches, embellishments, and emendations, with which it was amplified,
it would be difficult to say; every one told it, forsooth, exactly as
he heard it from another; but indeed it is not improbable, that those
through whom it passed were unconscious of the additions it had received
at their hands. It is not unreasonable to suppose that imagination
in such cases often colors highly without a premeditated design of
falsehood. Fear and dread, however, accompanied its progress; such
families as had neglected to keep holy water in their houses borrowed
some from their neighbors; every old prayer which had become rusty
from disuse, was brightened up—charms were hung about the necks of
cattle—and gospels about those of children—crosses were placed over
the doors and windows;—no unclean water was thrown out before sunrise
or after dusk—
"E'en those prayed now who never prayed before.
And those who always prayed, still prayed the more."
The inscrutable woman who caused such general dismay in the parish was
an object of much pity. Avoided, feared, and detested, she could find
no rest for her weary feet, nor any shelter for her unprotected head. If
she was seen approaching a house, the door and windows were immediately
closed against her; if met on the way she was avoided as a pestilence.
How she lived no one could tell, for none would permit themselves to
know. It was asserted that she existed without meat or drink, and that
she was doomed to remain possessed of life, the prey of hunger and
thirst, until she could get some one weak enough to break the spell by
drinking her hellish draught, to taste which, they said, would be to
change places with herself, and assume her despair and misery.
There had lived in the country about six months before her appearance
in it, a man named Stephenson. He was unmarried, and the last of his
family. This person led a solitary and secluded life, and exhibited
during the last years of his existence strong symptoms of eccentricity,
which, for some months before his death, assumed a character of
unquestionable derangement. He was found one morning hanging by a halter
in his own stable, where he had, under the influence of his malady,
committed suicide. At this time the public press had not, as now,
familiarized the minds of the people to that dreadful crime, and it was
consequently looked upon then with an intensity of horror, of which
we can scarcely entertain any adequate notion. His farm remained
unoccupied, for while an acre of land could be obtained in any other
quarter, no man would enter upon such unhallowed premises. The house was
locked up, and it was currently reported that Stephenson and the devil
each night repeated the hanging scene in the stable; and that when the
former was committing the "hopeless sin," the halter slipped several
times from the beam of the stable-loft, when Satan came, in the shape of
a dark complexioned man with a hollow voice, and secured the rope until
Stephenson's end was accomplished.
In this stable did the wanderer take up her residence at night; and when
we consider the belief of the people in the night-scenes, which were
supposed to occur in it, we need not be surprised at the new feature
of horror which this circumstance super-added to her character. Her
presence and appearance, in the parish were dreadful; a public outcry
was soon raised against her, which, were it not from fear of her power
over their lives and cattle, might have ended in her death. None,
however, had courage to grapple with her, or to attempt expelling her
by violence, lest a signal vengeance might be taken on any who dared
to injure a woman that could call in the terrible aid of the Lianhan
In this state of feeling they applied to the parish priest, who,
on hearing the marvellous stories related concerning her, and on
questioning each man closely upon his authority, could perceive, that,
like most other reports, they were to be traced principally to the
imagination and fears of the people. He ascertained, however, enough
from Bartley Sullivan to justify a belief that there was something
certainly uncommon about the woman; and being of a cold, phlegmatic
disposition, with some humor, he desired them to go home, if they were
wise—he shook his head mysteriously as he spoke—"and do the woman no
injury, if they didn't wish—" and with this abrupt hint he sent them
about their business.
This, however, did not satisfy them. In the same parish lived a
suspended priest, called Father Philip O'Dallaghy, who supported
himself, as most of them do, by curing certain diseases of the
people—miraculously! He had no other means of subsistence, nor indeed
did he seem strongly devoted to life, or to the pleasures it
afforded. He was not addicted to those intemperate habits which
characterize "Blessed Priests" in general; spirits he never tasted, nor
any food that could be termed a luxury, or even a comfort. His communion
with the people was brief, and marked by a tone of severe contemptuous
misanthropy. He seldom stirred abroad except during morning, or in
the evening twilight, when he might be seen gliding amidst the coming
darkness, like a dissatisfied spirit. His life was an austere one,
and his devotional practices were said to be of the most remorseful
character. Such a man, in fact, was calculated to hold a powerful sway
over the prejudices and superstitions of the people. This was true. His
power was considered almost unlimited, and his life one that would not
disgrace the highest saint in the calendar. There were not wanting some
persons in the parish who hinted that Father Felix O'Rourke, the parish
priest, was himself rather reluctant to incur the displeasure, or
challenge the power, of the Lianhan Shee, by, driving its victim
out of the parish. The opinion of these persons was, in its distinct
unvarnished reality, that Father Felix absolutely showed the white
feather on this critical occasion—that he became shy, and begged
leave to decline being introduced to this intractable pair—seeming to
intimate that he did not at all relish adding them to the stock of his
Father Philip they considered as a decided contrast to him on this
point. His stern and severe manner, rugged, and, when occasion demanded,
daring, they believed suitable to the qualities requisite for sustaining
such an interview. They accordingly waited, on him; and after Bartley
and his friends had given as faithful a report of the circumstances as,
considering all things, could be expected, he told Bartley he would hear
from Mrs. Sullivan's own lips the authentic narrative. This was quite
satisfactory, and what was expected from him. As for himself, he
appeared to take no particular interest in the matter, further than that
of allaying the ferment and alarm which had spread through the parish.
"Plase your Reverence," said Bartley, "she came in to Mary, and she
alone in the house, and for the matther o' that, I believe she laid
hands upon her, and tossed and tumbled the crathur, and she but a sickly
woman, through the four corners of the house. Not that Mary lets an so
much, for she's afeard; but I know from her way, when she spakes about
her, that it's thruth, your Reverence."
"But didn't the Lianhan Shee," said one of them, "put a sharp-pointed
knife to her breast, wid a divilish intintion of makin' her give the
best of aitin' an' dhrinkin' the house afforded?"
"She got the victuals, to a sartinty," replied Bartley, "and 'overlooked'
my woman for her pains; for she's not the picture of herself since."
Every one now told some magnified and terrible circumstance,
illustrating the formidable power of the Lianhan Shee.
When they had finished, the sarcastic lip of the priest curled into an
expression of irony and contempt; his brow, which was naturally black
and heavy, darkened; and a keen, but rather a ferocious-looking eye,
shot forth a glance, which, while it intimated disdain for those to whom
it was directed, spoke also of a dark and troubled spirit in himself.
The man seemed to brook with scorn the degrading situation of a
religious quack, to which some incontrollable destiny had doomed him.
"I shall see your wife to-morrow," said he to Bartley; "and after
hearing the plain account of what happened, I will consider what is best
to be done with this dark, perhaps unhappy, perhaps guilty character;
but whether dark, or unhappy, or guilty, I, for one, should not and will
not avoid her. Go, and bring me word to-morrow evening, when I can see
her on the following day. Begone!"
When they withdrew, Father Philip paced his room for some time in
silence and anxiety.
"Ay," said he, "infatuated people! sunk in superstition and ignorance,
yet, perhaps, happier in your degradation than those who, in the pride
of knowledge, can only look back upon a life of crime and misery. What
is a sceptic? What is an infidel? Men who, when they will not submit to
moral restraint, harden themselves into scepticism and infidelity, until
in the headlong career of guilt, that which was first adopted to
lull the outcry of conscience, is supported by the pretended pride of
principle. Principle in a sceptic! Hollow and devilish lie! Would I have
plunged into scepticism, had I not first violated the moral sanctions of
religion? Never. I became an infidel, because I first became a villain!
Writhing under a load of guilt, that which I wished might be true I soon
forced myself to think true: and now"—he here clenched his hands and
groaned—"now—ay—now—and hereafter—oh, that hereafter! Why can I
not shake the thoughts of it from my conscience? Religion! Christianity!
With all the hardness of an infidel's heart I feel your truth; because,
if every man were the villain that infidelity would make him, then
indeed might every man curse God for his existence bestowed upon him—as
I would, but dare not do. Yet why can I not believe?—Alas! why should
God accept an unrepentant heart? Am I not a hypocrite, mocking him by
a guilty pretension to his power, and leading the dark into thicker
darkness? Then these hands—blood!—broken vows!—ha! ha! ha! Well,
go—let misery have its laugh, like the light that breaks from the
thunder-cloud. Prefer Voltaire to Christ; sow the wind, and reap the
whirlwind, as I have done—ha, ha, ha! Swim, world—swim about me! I
have lost the ways of Providence, and am dark! She awaits me; but I
broke the chain that galled us: yet it still rankles—still rankles!"
The unhappy man threw himself into a chair in a paroxysm of frenzied
agony. For more than an hour he sat in the same posture, until he became
gradually hardened into a stiff, lethargic insensibility, callous and
impervious to feeling, reason, or religion—an awful transition from a
visitation of conscience so terrible as that which he had just suffered.
At length he arose, and by walking moodily about, relapsed into his
usual gloomy and restless character.
When Bartley went home, he communicated to his wife Father Philip's
intention of calling on the following day, to hear a correct account of
the Lianhan Shee.
"Why, thin," said she, "I'm glad of it, for I intinded myself to go to
him, any way, to get my new scapular consecrated. How-an'-ever, as he's
to come, I'll get a set of gospels for the boys an' girls, an' he can
consecrate all when his hand's in. Aroon, Bartley, they say that man's
so holy that he can do anything—ay, melt a body off the face o' the
earth, like snow off a ditch. Dear me, but the power they have is
strange all out!"
"There's no use in gettin' him anything to ate or dhrink," replied
Bartley; "he wouldn't take a glass o' whiskey once in seven years.
Throth, myself thinks he's a little too dry; sure he might be holy
enough, an' yet take a sup of an odd time. There's Father Felix, an'
though we all know he's far from bein' so blessed a man as him, yet he
has friendship an' neighborliness in him, an' never refuses a glass in
"But do you know what I was tould about Father Philip, Bartley?"
"I'll tell you that afther I hear it, Mary, my woman; you won't expect
me to tell what I don't know?—ha, ha, ha!"
"Behave, Bartley, an' quit your jokin' now, at all evints; keep it till
we're talkin' of somethin' else, an' don't let us be committin' sin,
maybe, while we're spakin' of what we're spakin' about; but they say
it's as thrue as the sun to the dial:—the Lent afore last itself it
was,—he never tasted mate or dhrink durin' the whole seven weeks! Oh,
you needn't stare! it's well known by thim that has as much sinse
as you—no, not so much as you'd carry on the point o' this
knittin'-needle. Well, sure the housekeeper an' the two sarvants
wondhered—faix, they couldn't do less—an' took it into their heads
to watch him closely; an' what do you think—blessed be all the saints
above!—what do you think they seen?"
"The Goodness above knows; for me—I don't."
"Why, thin, whin he was asleep they seen a small silk thread in his
mouth, that came down through the ceilin' from heaven, an' he suckin'
it, just as a child would his mother's breast whin the crathur 'ud
be asleep: so that was the way he was supported by the angels! An' I
remimber myself, though he's a dark, spare, yallow man at all times, yet
he never looked half so fat an' rosy as he did the same Lent!"
"Glory be to Heaven! Well, well—it is sthrange the power they have! As
for him, I'd as fee meet St. Pettier, or St. Pathrick himself, as him;
for one can't but fear him, somehow."
"Fear him! Och, it 'ud be the pity o' thim that 'ud do anything to
vex or anger that man. Why, his very look 'ud wither thim, till there
wouldn't be the thrack* o' thim on the earth; an' as for his curse, why
it 'ud scorch thim to ashes!"
* Track, foot-mark, put for life
As it was generally known that Father Philip was to visit Mrs. Sullivan
the next day, in order to hear an account of the mystery which filled
the parish with such fear, a very great number of the parishioners were
assembled in and about Bartley's long before he made his appearance. At
length he was seen walking slowly down the road, with an open book in
his hand, on the pages of which he looked from time to time. When he
approached the house, those who were standing about it assembled in
a body, and, with one consent, uncovered their heads, and asked his
blessing. His appearance bespoke a mind ill at ease; his face was
haggard, and his eyes bloodshot. On seeing the people kneel, he
smiled with his usual bitterness, and, shaking his hand with an air
of impatience over them, muttered some words, rather in mockery of the
ceremony than otherwise. They then rose, and blessing themselves, put
on their hats, rubbed the dust off their knees, and appeared to think
themselves recruited by a peculiar accession of grace.
On entering the house the same form was repeated; and when it was over,
the best chair was placed for him by Mary's own hands, and the fire
stirred up, and a line of respect drawn, within which none was to
intrude, lest he might feel in any degree incommoded.
"My good neighbor," said he to Mrs. Sullivan, "what strange woman is
this, who has thrown the parish into such a ferment? I'm told she paid
you a visit? Pray sit down."
"I humbly thank your Reverence," said Mary, curtseying lowly, "but I'd
rather not sit, sir, if you plase. I hope I know what respect manes,
your Reverence. Barny Bradagh, I'll thank you to stand up, if you plase,
an' his Reverence to the fore, Barny."
"I ax your Reverence's pardon, an' yours, too, Mrs. Sullivan: sure we
didn't mane the disrespect, any how, sir, plase your Reverence."
"About this woman, and the Lianhan Shee?" said the priest, without
noticing Barny's apology. "Pray what do you precisely understand by a
"Why, sir," replied Mary, "some sthrange bein' from the good people,
or fairies, that sticks to some persons. There's a bargain, sir, your
Reverence, made atween thim; an' the divil, sir, that is, the ould
boy—the saints about us!—has a hand in it. The Lianhan Shee, your
Reverence, is never seen only by thim it keeps wid; but—hem!—it
always, with the help of the ould boy, conthrives, sir, to make the
person brake the agreement, an' thin it has thim in its power; but if
they don't brake the agreement, thin it's in their power. If they can
get any body to put in their place, they may get out o' the bargain; for
they can, of a sartainty, give oceans o' money to people, but can't take
any themselves, plase your Reverence. But sure, where's the use o' me
to be tellin' your Reverence what you know betther nor myself?—an' why
shouldn't you, or any one that has the power you have?"
He smiled again at this in his own peculiar manner, and was proceeding
to inquire more particularly into the nature of the interview between
them, when the noise of feet, and sounds of general alarm, accompanied
by a rush of people into the house, arrested his attention, and he
hastily inquired into the cause of the commotion. Before he could
receive a reply, however, the house was almost crowded; and it was not
without considerable difficulty, that, by the exertions of Mrs. Sullivan
and Bartley, sufficient order and quiet were obtained to hear distinctly
what was said.
"Plase your Reverence," said several voices at once, "they're comin',
hot-foot, into the very house to us! Was ever the likes seen! an' they
must know right well, sir, that you're widin in it."
"Who are coming?" he inquired. "Why the woman, sir, an' her good pet,
the Lianhan Shee, your Reverence."
"Well," said he, "but why should you all appear so blanched with terror?
Let her come in, and we shall see how far she is capable of injuring her
fellow-creatures: some maniac," he muttered, in a low soliloquy, "whom
the villany of the world has driven into derangement—some victim to a
hand like m——. Well, they say there is a Providence, yet such things
"He's sayin' a prayer now," observed one of them; "haven't we a good
right to be thankful that he's in the place wid us while she's in it,
or dear knows what harm she might do us—maybe rise the wind!"* As the
latter speaker concluded, there was a dead silence. The persons about
the door crushed each other backwards, their feet set out before them,
and their shoulders laid with violent pressure against those who stood
behind, for each felt anxious to avoid all danger of contact with a
being against whose power even a blessed priest found it necessary to
guard himself by a prayer.
* It is generally supposed by the people, that persons
who have entered into a compact with Satan can raise
the wind by calling him up, and that it cannot be laid
unless by the death of a black cock, a black dog, or an
At length a low murmur ran among the people—"Father O'Rourke!—here's
Father O'Rourke!—he has turned the corner after her, an' they're both
comin' in." Immediately they entered, but it was quite evident from the
manner of the worthy priest that he was unacquainted with the person
of this singular being. When they crossed the threshold, the priest
advanced, and expressed his surprise at the throng of people assembled.
"Plase your Reverence," said Bartley, "that's the woman," nodding
significantly towards her as he spoke, but without looking at her
person, lest the evil eye he dreaded so much might meet his, and give
him "the blast."
The dreaded female, on seeing the house in such a crowded state,
started, paused, and glanced with some terror at the persons assembled.
Her dress was not altered since her last visit; but her countenance,
though more meagre and emaciated, expressed but little of the unsettled
energy which then flashed from her eyes, and distorted her features by
the depth of that mysterious excitement by which she had been agitated.
Her countenance was still muffled as before, the awful protuberance rose
from her shoulders, and the same band which Mrs. Sullivan had alluded to
during their interview, was bound about the upper part of her forehead.
She had already stood upwards of two minutes, during which the fall of
a feather might be heard, yet none bade God bless her—no kind hand was
extended to greet her—no heart warmed in affection towards her; on
the contrary, every eye glanced at her, as a being marked with enmity
towards God. Blanched faces and knit brows, the signs of fear and
hatred, were turned upon her; her breath was considered pestilential,
and her touch paralysis. There she stood, proscribed, avoided, and
hunted like a tigress, all fearing to encounter, yet wishing to
exterminate her! Who could she be?—or what had she done, that the
finger of the Almighty marked her out for such a fearful weight of
Father Philip rose and advanced a few steps, until he stood confronting
her. His person was tall, his features dark, severe, and solemn: and
when the nature of the investigation about to take place is considered,
it need not be wondered at, that the moment was, to those present, one
of deep and impressive interest—such as a visible conflict between
a supposed champion of God and a supernatural being was calculated to
"Woman," said he, in his deep stern voice, "tell me who and what you
are, and why you assume a character of such a repulsive and mysterious
nature, when it can entail only misery, shame, and persecution on
yourself? I conjure you, in the name of Him after whose image you are
created, to speak truly?"
He paused, and the tall figure stood mute before him. The silence was
dead as death—every breath was hushed and the persons assembled stood
immovable as statues! Still she spoke not; but the violent heaving of
her breast evinced the internal working of some dreadful struggle. Her
face before was pale—it was now ghastly; her lips became blue, and her
"Speak!" said he, "I conjure you in the name of the power by whom we
It is probable that the agitation under which she labored was produced
by the severe effort made to sustain the unexpected trial she had to
For some minutes her struggle continued; but having begun at its highest
pitch, it gradually subsided until it settled in a calmness which
appeared fixed and awful as the resolution of despair. With breathless
composure she turned round, and put back that part of her dress which
concealed her face, except the band on her forehead, which she did not
remove; having done this she turned again, and walked calmly towards
Father Philip, with a deadly smile upon her thin lips. When within
a step of where he stood, she paused, and riveting her eyes upon him
"Who and what am I? The victim of infidelity and you, the bearer of a
cursed existence, the scoff and scorn of the world, the monument of a
broken vow and a guilty life, a being scourged by the scorpion lash
of conscience, blasted by periodical insanity, pelted by the winter's
storm, scorched by the summer's heat, withered by starvation, hated by
man, and touched into my inmost spirit by the anticipated tortures of
future misery. I have no rest for the sole of my foot, no repose for a
head distracted by the contemplation of a guilty life; I am the unclean
spirit which walketh to seek rest and findeth none; I am—what you have
made me! Behold," she added, holding up the bottle, "this failed, and I
live to accuse you. But no, you are my husband—though our union was but
a guilty form, and I will bury that in silence. You thought me dead, and
you flew to avoid punishment—did you avoid it? No; the finger of God
has written pain and punishment upon your brow. I have been in all
characters, in all shapes, have spoken with the tongue of a peasant,
moved in my natural sphere; but my knees were smitten, my brain
stricken, and the wild malady which banishes me from society has been
upon me for years. Such I am, and such, I say, have you made me. As
for you, kind-hearted woman, there was nothing in this bottle but pure
water. The interval of reason returned this day, and having remembered
glimpses of our conversation, I came to apologize to you, and to explain
the nature of my unhappy distemper, and to beg a little bread, which I
have not tasted for two days. I at times conceive myself attended by
an evil spirit shaped out by a guilty conscience, and this is the only
familiar which attends me, and by it I have been dogged into madness
through every turning of life. Whilst it lasts I am subject to spasms
and convulsive starts which are exceedingly painful. The lump on my back
is the robe I wore when innocent in my peaceful convent."
The intensity of general interest was now transferred to Father Philip;
every face was turned towards him, but he cared not. A solemn stillness
yet prevailed among all present. From the moment she spoke, her eye drew
his with the power of a basilisk. His pale face became like marble, not
a muscle moved; and when she ceased speaking, his blood-shot eyes were
still fixed upon her countenance with a gloomy calmness like that which
precedes a tempest. They stood before each other, dreadful counterparts
in guilt, for truly his spirit was as dark as hers.
At length he glanced angrily around him;—"Well," said he, "what is it
now, ye poor infatuated wretches, to trust in the sanctity of man.
Learn from me to place the same confidence in God which you place in
his guilty creatures, and you will not lean on a broken reed. Father
O'Rourke, you, too, witness my disgrace, but not my punishment. It
is pleasant, no doubt, to have a topic for conversation at your
Conferences; enjoy it. As for you, Margaret, if society lessen
misery, we may be less miserable. But the band of your order, and the
remembrance of your vow is on your forehead, like the mark of Cain—tear
it off, and let it not blast a man who is the victim of prejudice
still,—nay of superstition, as well as of guilt; tear it from my
sight." His eyes kindled fearfully, as he attempted to pull it away by
She calmly took it off, and he immediately tore it into pieces, and
stamped upon the fragments as he flung them on the ground.
"Come," said the despairing man—"come—there is a shelter for you, but
no peace!—food, and drink, and raiment, but no peace!—no peace!" As he
uttered these words, in a voice that sank to its deepest pitch, he took
her hand, and they both departed to his own residence.
The amazement and horror of those who were assembled in Bartley's house
cannot be described. Our readers may be assured that they deepened in
character as they spread through the parish. An undefined, fear of this
mysterious pair seized upon the people, for their images were associated
in their minds with darkness and crime, and supernatural communion. The
departing words of Father Philip rang in their ears: they trembled,
and devoutly crossed themselves, as fancy again repeated the awful
exclamation of the priest—"No peace! no peace!"
When Father Philip and his unhappy associate went home, he instantly
made her a surrender of his small property; but with difficulty did
he command sufficient calmness to accomplish even this. He was
distracted—his blood seemed to have been turned to fire—he clenched
his hands, and he gnashed his teeth, and exhibited the wildest symptoms
of madness. About ten o'clock he desired fuel for a large fire to be
brought into the kitchen, and got a strong cord, which he coiled and
threw carelessly on the table. The family were then ordered to bed.
About eleven they were all asleep; and at the solemn hour of twelve he
heaped additional fuel upon the living turf, until the blaze shone with
scorching light upon everything around. Dark and desolating was the
tempest within him, as he paced, with agitated steps, before the
"She is risen!" he exclaimed—"the spectre of all my crimes is risen to
haunt me through life! I am a murderer—yet she lives, and my guilt
is not the less! The stamp of eternal infamy is upon me—the finger of
scorn will mark me out—the tongue of reproach will sting me like that
of a serpent—the deadly touch of shame will cover me like a leper—the
laws of society will crush the murderer, not the less that his
wickedness in blood has miscarried: after that comes the black and
terrible tribunal of the Almighty's vengeance—of his fiery indignation!
Hush!—What sounds are those? They deepen—they deepen! Is it thunder?
It cannot be the crackling of the blaze! It is thunder!—but it speaks
only to my ear! Hush!—Great God, there is a change in my voice! It is
hollow and supernatural! Could a change have come over me? Am I living?
Could I have——Hah!—Could I have departed? and am I now at length
given over to the worm that never dies? If it be at my heart, I may feel
it. God!—I am damned! Here is a viper twined about my limbs trying to
dart its fangs into my heart! Hah!—there are feet pacing in the
room, too, and I hear voices! I am surrounded by evil spirits! Who's
there?—What are you?—Speak!—They are silent!—There is no answer!
Again comes the thunder! But perchance this is not my place of
punishment, and I will try to leave these horrible spirits!"
He opened the door, and passed out into a small green field that lay
behind the house. The night was calm, and the silence profound as death.
Not a cloud obscured the heavens; the light of the moon fell upon the
stillness of the scene around him, with all the touching beauty of a
moonlit midnight in summer. Here he paused a moment, felt his brow,
then his heart, the palpitations of which fell audibly upon his ear. He
became somewhat cooler; the images of madness which had swept through
his stormy brain disappeared, and were succeeded by a lethargic vacancy
of thought, which almost deprived him of the consciousness of his own
identity. From the green field he descended mechanically to a little
glen which opened beside it. It was one of those delightful spots to
which the heart clingeth. Its sloping sides were clothed with patches of
wood, on the leaves of which the moonlight glanced with a soft lustre,
rendered more beautiful by their stillness. That side on which the light
could not fall, lay in deep shadow, which occasionally gave to the rocks
and small projecting precipices an appearance of monstrous and unnatural
life. Having passed through the tangled mazes of the glen, he at length
reached its bottom, along which ran a brook, such as in the description
of the poet,—
——In the leafy month of June,
Unto the sleeping woods all night,
Singeth a quiet tune."
Here he stood, and looked upon the green winding margin of the
streamlet—but its song he heard not. With the workings of a guilty
conscience, the beautiful in nature can have no association. He looked
up the glen, but its picturesque windings, soft vistas, and wild
underwood mingling with gray rocks and taller trees, all mellowed by the
moonbeams, had no charms for him. He maintained a profound silence—but
it was not the silence of peace or reflection. He endeavored to recall
the scenes of the past day, but could not bring them back to his memory.
Even the fiery tide of thought, which, like burning lava, seared his
brain a few moments before, was now cold and hardened.
He could remember nothing. The convulsion of his mind was over, and his
faculties were impotent and collapsed.
In this state he unconsciously retraced his steps, and had again reached
the paddock adjoining his house, where, as he thought, the figure of his
paramour stood before him. In a moment his former paroxysm returned, and
with it the gloomy images of a guilty mind, charged with the extravagant
horrors of brain-stricken madness.
"What!" he exclaimed, "the band still on your forehead! Tear it off!"
He caught at the form as he spoke, but there was no resistance to his
grasp. On looking again towards the spot it had ceased to be visible.
The storm within him arose once more; he rushed into the kitchen,
where the fire blazed out with fiercer heat; again he imagined that the
thunder came to his ears, but the thunderings which he heard were only
the voice of conscience. Again his own footsteps and his voice sounded
in his fancy as the footsteps and voices of fiends, with which his
imagination peopled the room. His state and his existence seemed to
him a confused and troubled dream; he tore his hair—threw it on the
table—and immediately started back with a hollow groan; for his locks,
which but a few hours before had been as black as a raven's wing, were
now white as snow!
On discovering this, he gave a low but frantic laugh. "Ha, ha, ha!" he
exclaimed; "here is another mark—here is food for despair. Silently,
but surely, did the hand of God work this, as proof that I am hopeless!
But I will bear it; I will bear the sight! I now feel myself a man
blasted by the eye of God Himself! Ha, ha, ha! Food for despair! Food
Immediately he passed into his own room, and approaching the
looking-glass beheld a sight calculated to move a statue. His hair
had become literally white, but the shades of his dark complexion, now
distorted by terror and madness, flitted, as his features worked
under the influence of his tremendous passions, into an expression so
frightful, that deep fear came over himself. He snatched one of his
razors, and fled from the glass to the kitchen. He looked upon the fire,
and saw the white ashes lying around its edge.
"Ha!" said he, "the light is come! I see the sign. I am directed, and I
will follow it. There is yet one hope. The immolation! I shall be saved,
yet so as by fire. It is for this my hair has become white;—the sublime
warning for my self-sacrifice! The color of ashes!—white—white! It is
so! I will sacrifice my body in material fire, to save my soul from that
which is eternal! But I had anticipated the sign. The self-sacrifice is
* As the reader may be disposed to consider the nature
of the priest's death an unjustifiable stretch of
fiction, I have only to say in reply, that it is no
fiction at all. It is not, I believe, more than forty,
or perhaps fifty, years since a priest committed his
body to the flames, for the purpose of saving his soul
by an incrematory sacrifice. The object of the suicide
being founded on the superstitious belief, that a
priest guilty of great crimes possesses the privilege
of securing salvation by self-sacrifice. We have heard
two or three legends among the people in which this
principle predominated. The outline of one of these,
called "The Young Priest and Brian Braar," was as
A young priest on his way to the College of Valladolid,
in Spain, was benighted; but found a lodging in a small
inn on the roadside. Here he was tempted by a young
maiden of great beauty, who, in the moment of his
weakness, extorted from him a bond signed with his
blood, binding himself to her forever. She turned out
to be an evil spirit: and the young priest proceeded to
Valladolid with a heavy heart, confessed his crime to
the Superior, who sent him to the Pope, who sent him to
a Friar in the County of Armagh, called Brian Braar,
who sent him to the devil. The devil, on the strength
of Brian Braar's letter, gave him a warm reception,
held a cabinet council immediately, and laid the
despatch before his colleagues, who agreed that the
claimant should get back his bond from the brimstone
lady who had inveigled him. She, however, obstinately
refused to surrender it, and stood upon her bond, until
threatened with being thrown three times into Brian
Braar's furnace. This tamed her: the man got his bond,
and returned to Brian Braar on earth. Now Brian Braar
had for three years past abandoned God, and taken to
the study of magic with the devil; a circumstance which
accounts for his influence below. The young priest,
having possessed himself of his bond, went to Lough
Derg to wash away his sins; and Brian Braar, having
also become penitent, the two worthies accompanied each
other to the lake. On entering the boat, however, to
cross over to the island, such a storm arose as drove
them back. Brian assured his companion that he himself
was the cause of it.
"There is now," said he, "but one more chance for me;
and we must have recourse to it." He then returned
homewards, and both had reached a hill-side near
Bryan's house, when the latter desired the young priest
to remain there a few minutes, and he would return to
him; which he did with a hatchet in his hand.
"Now," said he, "you must cut me into four quarters,
and mince my body into small bits, then cast them into
the air, and let them go with the wind."
The priest, after much entreaty, complied with his
wishes, and returned to Lough Derg, where he afterwards
lived twelve years upon one meal of bread and water per
diem. Having thus purified himself, he returned home;
but, on passing the hill where he had minced the Friar,
he was astonished to see the same man celebrating mass,
attended by a very penitential looking congregation of
"Ah," said Brian Braar, when mass was over, "you are
now a happy man. With regard to my state for the
voluntary sacrifice I have made of myself, I am to be
saved; but I must remain on this mountain until the Day
of Judgment." So saying, he disappeared.
There is little to be said about the superstition of
the Lianhan Shee, except that it existed as we have
drawn it, and that it is now fading fast away. There is
also something appropriate in associating the heroine
of this little story with the being called the Lianhan
Shee, because, setting the superstition aside, any
female who fell into her crime was called Lianhan
Shee. Lianhan Shee an Sogarth signifies a priest's
paramour, or, as the country people say, "Miss." Both
terms have now nearly become obsolete.
We must here draw a veil over that which ensued, as the description of
it would be both unnatural and revolting. Let it be sufficient to
say, that the next morning he was found burned to a cinder, with the
exception of his feet and legs, which remained as monuments of, perhaps,
the most dreadful suicide that ever was committed by man. His razor,
too, was found bloody, and several clots of gore were discovered about
the hearth; from which circumstances it was plain that he had reduced
his strength so much by loss of blood, that when he committed himself to
the flames, he was unable, even had he been willing, to avoid the fiery
and awful sacrifice of which he made himself the victim. If anything
could deepen the the impression of fear and awe, already so general
among the people, it was the unparalleled nature of his death. Its
circumstances are yet remembered in the parish and county wherein it
occurred—for it is no fiction, gentle reader! and the titular bishop
who then presided over the diocese, declared, that while he lived, no
person bearing the unhappy man's name should ever be admitted to the
The shock produced by his death struck the miserable woman into the
utter darkness of settled derangement. She survived him some years,
but wandered about through the province, still, according to the
superstitious belief of the people, tormented by the terrible enmity of
the Lianhan Shee.
the Lianhan Shee.