The Weed Witness by Anonymous

As the world goes, there's few places but have had somebody to blacken their good name, by robbery or murder, or crime of one sort or another; and there's few that hav'n't now, nor hadn't before now, but will one day or other, there's no doubt of it for as sure as the poppy grows in the corn-field, so will bad passions spring up in the hearts of some of us; and them that's the best in their young days, often turn out the worst when they're ould: so that, as somebody says, it's foolish to be spaking much in praise of a man's goodness of heart, and so forth, until the green grass grows over him, and he can't belie us by braking out into badness. It's a fine shew of potato-plants, that has but a single curly-leaved one among them; and we've rason to pride ourselves, that never within our own memory, or that of the ouldest people the ouldest of us now alive knew when we were little ones,—was there more than one man convicted (I don't say taken up on suspicion—I'd be wrong if I did) of killing, or burning, or shooting, or joining with White-Boys or Break-o'-day-Boys, or the likes o' that, for three miles every way from the door o' my house. To be sure, there's but few people in that space; but they're enough in number to have had black sheep among 'em. If you're uncharitable, you'll say, "So they have; but the rogues have had the luck not to be found out." May be, you're right; there's many, to tell the truth, I wouldn't swear for. Much to our glory, however, the one that was found out, didn't draw the first breath o' life here; but came from far away up the country, after he'd done that which brought him to a bad end.

Johnny O'Rourke, as it's said, had a dacent woman for his mother; but, for his own part, Johnny was a downright bad one,—egg and bird. He got into such company when he grew up, as couldn't well improve his morals; and, by-and-by, he'd brought his ould mother—she was a widow—at once to death's door, and the brink of beggary, by his bad goings-on.

One night, after he'd been away for more than a week, Johnny came home, with the mud of three baronies lying in clots and layers on his stockings, white as a corpse, and looking every way as though he'd travelled far and fast, on no pleasant errand.

"It's well you're come," says somebody to him from behind, as he put his hand on the door.

"Why so?" says Johnny; and though he knew by the voice it was one of the neighbours that spoke to him, his heart knocked against his ribs, and then seemed to be climbing up to his throat; for something whispered him, all wasn't well: indeed, he hadn't much reason to expect it.—"Why so," says he, "Biddy?—Isn't the ould woman as she should be?"

"Did you lave her as she should be, or didn't you?"

"Poorly, Biddy, and you know it; for you was wid her whin I wint away. But tell me, now, upon your soul, is she worse?"

"My grief! it's herself that is, then!—You've broke her heart, out and out, God help you!"

"Don't say that, Biddy! or I'll go get a knife and kill meeself. Tell her, I'm here, and that I can't come in 'till she forgives me for all's said and done:—and bring me something to comfort me, for I hav'n't heart to look in the face of her."

"Is it comfort for yourself, you're talking of?—and your mother wailing and howling night and day, as she has been, for the sight of her llanuv!—What has she done to have such a one as yourself, Johnny, no one can tell. Down on your knees, and crawl that way up to her, there where she lies on her death-bed; and don't be thinking of sending me as a go-between; or, may be, your mother may die before you get her blessing."

"Oh! Biddy, Biddy! you're destroying me—root and branch! Sure, she can't be so bad as that!"

"Come in and see," says Biddy, taking his cold hand in her's, and leading him at once right into the house, and up to the bedside of his mother, and shewing her to him, propped up as she was, and raving with the little speech that was left her, for her darling, and her llanuv, and her white-headed boy, and the life of her heart, and all the dear names she could call that bad son, who had brought sorrow and misery upon her. And they say it was awful to hear the shriek of joy that came from her, and how she leaped out of the women's arms that was houlding her, when somebody put aside the long grey hair, which in her grief she'd pulled over her face, and shewed her Johnny himself standing by the bed-side, the image of woe and remorse. There wasn't a hair's breadth of his face that she didn't kiss; and though a little before, when he stood like a statue, looking at her as he did, Johnny was too much choking with grief to be able to utter a word, yet, when he'd mingled the scalding drops that burst from his eyes, with the cold tears on his mother's cheek, he found himself restored; and drawing back from her embrace, he had courage enough to look up at her: but he couldn't bear the sight for a moment, and hid his face on her breast again, exclaiming,—"Oh! mother, mother! and is it this way I find you? Why didn't I die before I saw this night?"

"Cheer up, my darling!" said the ould woman, "for I'll now braathe mee last in peace, that you're here to close mee eyes.—Oh! that hand, Johnny!—put that hand close to mee heart!—it's often I felt it there before now,—long, long ago, Johnny, whin it was young and innocent, and I'd no comfort on earth—widow as I was—but the sight of mee baby laughing up in mee eyes;—though the look of you then even brought the tears into them, you were so like him that was taken from me before you were born."

"I've been a bad son to you, mother," said Johnny; "it's now I feel it."

"Take your mother's blessing and forgiveness, my child; and mee last prayer will be, that you'll get as free pardon here and hereafter for all things, as your poor ould dying mother now gives you."

"Oh! you're not dying, mother;—you can't be dying!" cried Johnny, in the greatest agony; "such a thought as that of your dying never crossed mee brain,—and I can't bear it;—Sure, mother, I'm home, and I'll watch you, and be wid you night and day:—there's hope for us yet. Isn't there hope, mother? Don't you feel life come into you at the sight of me, and mee tears and repentance for what I've done?"

"No, Johnny," said the ould woman; "I'm sure I'll not see the morning. The sight of you does me good; but I'd live longer iv you hadn't come:—now I've nothing to wait for, as I know mee last look will be fixed on the child I bore, and who's the only one that's kith, kin, or kind to me, on the face of the earth. But, oh! mee child!—don't do as you have done!"

"Why spake of it, mother?—be quiet about the past, for it troubles me—so it does."

"I've had bad dreams of you, Johnny. Neighbours, iv you'd let me be alone awhile wid me child, I'd thank you."

The women retired slowly from the room, and closed the door behind them. "What have you been dreaming, mother?" eagerly inquired Johnny, as soon as they had departed.

"There was a river of blood, Johnny, wid yourself struggling for life in it; and me in a boat, widout rudder or oar, not able to save you: and then—"

"Don't go on, mother! it's worse than throwing water on me!—I'm shaking from head to foot."

"You didn't mind dreams once, Johnny;—and you used to laugh at me when I'd be telling you warnings I had that way, about you."

"I wasn't so bad then, may be, mother, as I'm now: bud you'll live long yet, and help me to pray meeself out of all of it; and I'll mind what you say, and go to work for you honestly, instead of feeding you wid what I got in sorrow and sin. If I escape this once, I'll make a vow never to sleep out of mee own little bed there again. Oh! that I never had!—bud it's too late to make that wish."

"Don't despair, darling! for he that's above us is good: and iv you're penitent, and do as your father's son should, my dear, in spite of that other bad dream I had, the grass will grow on your grave, as it does on his."

"Oh! mercy! and did'nt the grass grow over me, mother? And did you see mee grave in your dreams?"

"A thousand times, Johnny, since you were gone:—the little hillock itself was barren and bare, and all round it, as far as the eye could reach, there was nothing bud wild turnips growing."

"Mother! you're mad to tell me so! You couldn't have dreamed that—you couldn't have seen the prushaugh vooe—"

"I see it now, my dear boy, as I did in mee dreams, waving its yellow flowers backwards and forwards, summer and winter, as iv they were to last for ever and ever."

"Oh! mother, mother! spake no more o'them! Iv I thought it wouldn't be the death of you, I'd aize mee mind."

"Pray God, you've murdered nobody!"

"I have, mother!—I have!—Iv you didn't spake o' the prushaugh vooe, I wouldn't have tould you; bud there'd be no salvation for me, iv you died and did'nt forgive me for it:—for though you forgave me for every thing besides, you couldn't forgive me for what you didn't know about. I'd die iv I didn't confess to somebody;—and who's there in the wide world I could open mee soul to bud yourself, mother?"

"Oh! my grief, Johnny! and is it come to this?—Bud are you sure you're not pursued?—(spake low, for they're at the door, and it won't shut close)—are you sure, my dear?"

"I don't know, mother; I think I'm not: bud I'm afraid, as well I may, from what he said to me, and that same thing you dreamed about, I'll be found out and hung, worse luck! who knows?—though I never meant to harm him, as you'll hear, mother, at the last day,—the day o' judgment, whin there's no keeping a secret."

"Who was your victim, Johnny? And where was it you were tempted to risk your soul?"

"It was the Hearthmoneyman I killed!—I'd been watching for him, different ways, day and night, to rob him of his collection; but he'd always somebody wid him, or there was people coming; or whin there wasn't, I hadn't the heart, until this blessed morning."

"In the broad day?"

"It was;—miles away where you never have been. Bud he was too much for me, mother; and if it wasn't for the bit of ould baggonet I carried in mee sherkeen, without ever intinding to use it, he'd have taken me off to the police: for he got away mee stick from me, and I couldn't manage him; no, nor keep him off, nor get away from him even, till I took out the baggonet."

"Did no one see you?—Was there nobody near?—Are you sure, now?"

"I am:—bud, oh! mother! what do you think he said to me? There was wild turnips growing by the road side, and as he fell among them, says he,—'You think no one sees you; bud while there's a single root of this prushaugh vooe growing in Ireland, I'll not want a witness that you murdered me!' Then he dragged up a handful of it, and threw it in the face o' me, as he fell back for ever."

"My dream! my dream!" cried the ould woman; "Curse his collection! Curse the money that tempted mee child into this sin!"

"I took none of his money!—not a keenogue! How could I touch it after what I tould you?—But what'll I do, mother?"

"Fly, my dear! Go hide yourself far, far away! Go, and my blessing be on you!—Go, for you'll be suspected and pursued!—Go at once, for I'll not be able to spake much more!—Go, while I've mee sight to see you depart!—Go, while I've sinse left to hear the last o' your footsteps, out away through the garden! Mee eyes is getting dim, and the breath's going from me."

"Oh! mother! how can I tear meeself from you?"

"Obey me on mee death-bed, if you never did before. I'd linger long in agonies iv you didn't; and, may be, die shrieking, just as they came to take you up!—Go off, my darling boy, and I'll expire in peace, wid the hope of your escaping. Soul and body I'll try to hould together until morning; and then, iv I don't hear of your being taken,—as bad news travels fast,—I'll think you're safe, and die happy."

Well, at last Johnny promised his mother he'd try all he could to get away to some place where he couldn't be known; and after taking her blessing, and an eternal lave of her,—a sorrowful one it was, they say,—he wint out at the back door of the cabin, and made off as fast as he well could. After skulking about in different parts for many months, at last he came to this place, got a wife, and did as well as here and there one;—nobody suspecting him of being worse than his neighbours,—for eighteen or twenty long years. His wife, who was a cousin of mine, loved him all that while; and said, though he was dull and gloomy at times, and didn't get his sleep for bad dreams he had,—which she thought made him cross,—take him altogether, he was as good a husband as woman could wish.

Well, as I said 'while ago, Johnny O'Rourke lived among us here, for eighteen or twenty years,—under the name of Michael Walsh though, I must tell you,—then you'll hear what happened him. He wint out to fetch a bit of a walk one day, after being bad a week or two, so that he couldn't well work; but he hadn't been over the threshould a quarter of an hour, when he came running back the most lamentable-looking object that ever darkened a door. Every hair on his head seemed to have a life of its own; his eye-balls were fixed as those of one just killed with fright; his mouth was half open; his jaw seemingly motionless; his lips white as a sheet; and around them both was a blue circle, as though he'd been painted to imitate death. Down he dropped upon the floor as soon as he got in; and all his wife and the neighbours could do, didn't restore him to his right senses for hours. At last, he began to call for the priest;—I remember it as well as if it happened but yesterday;—and here it was where they found Father Killala, who was telling me the middle and both ends of the cant at The Beg: for all Pierce Veogh's furniture and things were sould under the hammer that day, and the Monday before, for a mere nothing, or next kin to it. And when Father Killala got to the sick man, he said, that though we'd so long called him Mick Walsh, his raal name was Johnny O'Rourke; and that he'd seen a sight that day, which drove him to do what he'd long been thinking of; namely,—confessing that he was the murderer of Big Dick Blaney, the Hearthmoneyman, who was found, with an ould baggonet in his breast, among the prushaugh vooe by the road side, away up the country, twenty years before. "And," says he, "I can't live wid the load on mee heart;—whether I lie abroad or at home I'm always tossing about in a bed of prushaugh vooe, wid the baggonet glimmering like a flash of lightning over mee head: so you'll deliver me up at once, that I may suffer by man for raising mee hand against man, and God help me to go through it!"

And, no doubt, the sight he saw was enough to make him do as he did. A week after he tould his wife his whole history; and how, when he wint out that day when he came home and called for the priest, after walking a little way along the road, thinking of no harm in the world, but with his heart weighed down as usual for the deed he'd done long ago, he was suddenly startled, by hearing somebody singing what he thought was a keentaghaun; and what should he see, on turning his eyes to the bit of wild broken ground by the road-side, but the face of his ould mother! And what was she doing, think you, but tearing up the wild turnip-plants, which were growing on the spot where she stood, as though her life depended on their destruction!—He thought she'd been in her grave years and years before; but there she was, miserably ould, and withered away to skin and bone: but though altered by time, he saw, at the first look, it was his mother. She wint on with her work, not noticing her son, and singing in a low, wild, heart-breaking tone—

     "Still the prushaugh vooe grows!
     For the winds are his foes,
     And scatter the seed,
     Of the fearful weed,
     O'er mountain and moor;
     While weary and sore,
     I travel, up-rooting
     Each bright green shooting:—
     But the winds are his foes,
     And the prushaugh still grows!
     Oh! mee llanuv! mee lanuv!"

And says she, "Mee task will never be ended; for mee tears water the seeds, while I pull up the ould plants that bore them. Oh! Johnny! where are you, my son?—Come to your mother and help her, my darling!"

So then he staggered up to her, but she didn't know him!—the mother didn't know the son she doated on,—but cursed him, and called him "Dick Blaney," and "Hearthmoneyman!"—All this it was that drove Johnny O'Rourke to run home, like one out of his senses, and make his confession.

It's said, that he tried, at the bar, with tears and lamentation, which wasn't expected of him, to save his life; or, at any rate, to get a long day given him:—promising how good he'd be, if he was let live, and pleading the years he'd passed in repentance. But you'd guess, if I did'nt tell you, that such blarney, from one who'd done as he had, would have no weight. So he suffered; and that, too, penitently, as I'm tould by them that saw him at the last. His wife spent all she could scrape together,—as he bid her with his last words a'most,—in search of his mother; but the ould woman never was found, as far as I know, from that day to this; and, may be, the poor soul is still wandering about, tearing up the prushaugh vooe, and singing her melancholy song.