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