“Bendemeer Cottage” by Edmund Leamy

Some years ago I was on a visit with a friend in the county of Wicklow, whose house was situated in one of the most delightful valleys of “the garden of Ireland.” It was when the lilac and the laburnum were in full bloom and the air was sweet with scent. The weather was delightful, and I spent most of my time out of doors, taking long walks over the hills and through the hedgerows, musical with the songs of birds and soon to be laden with the perfume of the hawthorn.

In the course of my rambles I chanced one day to pass a rusty iron gate fastened by an equally rusty chain, the base of which was partially concealed by tall, rank grass, showing that it had not been opened for a long time. The gate was hung upon two stone piers covered with lichen. On the top of one was a stone globe. That which had surmounted the other had been removed, or had fallen off through the action of time and weather. From the gate a pathway once gravelled, but now almost overgrown with grass, led up through a fair-sized lawn to a long, one-storied cottage, stoutly built, the windows and door of which were faced with stone, which, like that of the piers, was also stained with lichen. The grass, pushed itself high over the threshold of the door and almost reached the windowsills. The slates on the roof appeared to be nearly all perfect, but were covered with brown or grey patches of moss or lichen. A few of the slates had fallen away and exposed part of a rafter. On the lawn, as doubtless was the case when the cottage was inhabited, a number of sheep were browsing. In the centre of it was a nearly circular piece of water, fenced by a wire railing. Towards this pond the ground dipped gently, both from the roadside and from the side immediately fronting the cottage. The gate pierced a long, high hedgerow, and this it was, perhaps, that caused me stop to look over it to see what lay beyond. The silent, almost grim desolation of the cottage was a curious and striking contrast to the cheerful aspect of all the others which I had seen in the neighbourhood, and this it was that tempted me to cross a stile that was close to the gate and stroll up to the cottage. The windows had been barred up with timber that was giving way in some places. The door, which was of oak, was firm and well secured, and over it I noticed a stone on which were carved some words, of which at first, owing to the incrustation of lichen, I was able only to distinguish the letters “ottage.” By the aid of the ferule of my walking stick I succeeded in clearing off the lichen so as to enable me to decipher the inscription. It was “Bendemeer Cottage.” The name brought to my mind the familiar and delightfully melodious lines of Moore:—

“There’s a bower of roses by Bendemeer’s stream,
And the nightingale sings round it all the day long.”

And even while the echo of the melody was floating in my memory, my ear caught the faint whisper of gliding water. I passed round the cottage and saw a gentle stream close to a hedgerow, and between the cottage, and near the stream, were a mass of tangled rose-bushes, which had long ceased to flower, and were pushing forth only a few weak leaves.

“And this was their bower of roses,” said I, “in the days long gone; and where are they who enjoyed its fragrance? Whither have they departed, and why has the blight fallen on the bloom?”

It was an idle question for there was none to answer it. I passed round the cottage again and again. A few moments before I was unaware of its existence, and already it had begun to exercise a fascination on me.

“Is there,” said I, “anyone in a far away land asking his heart ‘Are the roses still bright by the Bendemeer?’” for I doubted not that the name was given to the stream as well as to the cottage.

I turned home slowly and thoughtfully, and scarcely heard the blackbirds trolling out their rich notes in the silence of the evening. The sight of a ruined homestead—a sight, alas! so frequent in many parts of Ireland, has always had a deep effect on me, for I cannot help conjuring up the crackling fire upon the hearthstone lighting the faces of happy children, and of speculating on the fate which awaited them when its light was quenched and they were scattered far and wide across the seas. But this desolate cottage whose name was so suggestive of youth and bloom, and love and happiness, was like a ruined tombstone raised over dead hopes—a mockery of their vanity.

That evening I questioned my friend as to its history. He knew nothing of it, though he had lived twenty years not far from it, and he rallied me on my sentimental mood, and suggested that its former inhabitants had got tired of it, that probably they had found some thorns amongst its roses.

“They were sentimental people like yourself,” he said. “Probably town bred, and that’s what made them give it such an absurd name, and they soon tired of love in a cottage.”

My friend was an extremely good-hearted, generous fellow, ever ready to help another in distress; but he was prone to regard any one who would sorrow over what he called imaginary woes as little better than a simpleton. I saw there was no information to be gained from him, and I could hardly look for any sympathy from him with my desire to procure it. But the desire, instead of abating, increased, and I found myself again and again taking the direction of the lonely cottage. But day after day I saw only the sheep browsing on the lawn, and heard only the murmur of the stream; and I was about giving up all hope of learning its history, when it chanced that one evening I fell in with an old shepherd, who, as I was crossing the stile on to the road, was coming towards it. He saluted me in the friendly way so common until recently with people of his class. I acknowledged his salute with equal friendliness. He remarked on the fineness of the weather, and seeing that he was inclined to be communicative, I resolved to continue the conversation. I thought he was about to cross the stile, but instead he pursued the road leading to my friends’ house.

“That’s a lonely cottage over there,” said I tentatively.

“Oh, then, you may well call it lonely,” said he, “but I mind the time when it was one of the brightest cottages ye’d see in a day’s walk in the whole of the county Wicklow.”

“That must have been a long time ago,” I rejoined.

“Ay, thin, it is. It’s fifty years ago or more. ’Twas about the time that poor Boney was bet at Waterloo. Sure I mind it well. I was only a gorsoon then, yer honour, but ’twas often and often I did a hand’s turn for the lady, and sure ’twas the rale illegant lady she was, yer honour, with her eyes that wor as blue as the sky above us this blessed and holy evenin’, and her smile was as light and as bright as the sunbeams, and her voice was sweeter nor the blackbird that’s singin’ this minit in the elm beyant there, only twice as low.”

“And how long was she living there, and was she married?”

“Troth thin, she was married, or at laste the poor crater thought she was, and her husband was an illegant man, too. He was taller nor yer honour, but twice as dark. He was a foreigner of some kind, but his name was English, or sounded like it. It was Duran. And sure ’twas happy enough they seemed to be, although there were no childre, and they wor livin’ there more nor three years, your honour, and you couldn’t tell which of thim was fonder of the other. And the cottage, yer honour, t’was all covered with roses, and sure, ’tis myself that many a time trimmed the rosebushes that ye might see up by the strame at the back of the cottage, where the summer-house was. And did ye mind the pond in front of it, yer honour?”

“I did,” I replied.

“Well then ’twasn’t a pond at all, yer honour but a quarry hole, and nothing would do the young mistress but that a lake should be made out of it, and didn’t myself help to dam up the strame to let the water run into the hollow ye see in the field, and a purty little lake it made, to be sure. Ay, sure, ’tis I mind it well, for a few days after ’twas finished, the news kem in that Boney was bet.”

“And did they live there long after that?” I asked.

“Little more nor two years, yer honour, for the lake was made the first year they wor there. But sure, ’tis the quare story it was, but no one minds it about here now but myself. The neighbours’ childre, that wor childre wud me are all dead and gone, and sure they were foreigners, and they didn’t mix nor make with anyone outside their own two selves, and till the cross kem they were as happy as the day’s long.”

“And what was the cross?”

“Oh, then, meself doesn’t rightly know the ins and outs of it, yer honour; but ye see the way it was—one day when the master was away in Dublin, there drove up to the door a dark woman, that was more like a gipsy than anything else, and with big goold rings in her ears, and myself chanced to be in the garden behind the house trimmin’ them same rose bushes, an’ I only heard an odd word or two. But as far as I could hear, the dark woman, she was saying that the poor darlin’ lady had no right to call herself Mrs. Duran at all, for that he was ayther promised to marry her, or was married to her, meself didn’t rightly know till after, for I was only a gorsoon then, yer honour, and didn’t know much about it; but when the strange woman went away, and I went into the cottage to ask the mistress if she had any more for me to do, she was as white as a ghost, she, that used always to be bloomin’ like one of the roses ye’d see in them hedges there in the month of June. Well, yer honour, she told me she wouldn’t want anythin’ till mornin’, and sure meself never set eyes on her alive again.”

“Why, what happened?”

“What happened is it, yer honour? Sure there never was a mournfuller story. The master kem home that night, but there was no sign of the poor mistress. I heard long after that she had left a letter, but I never heard tell of what was in it. Well, sure, he was nearly out of his mind, and then when there was no sign of her comin’ back he went away to foreign parts, and myself thought he’d never come back ayther, but he came home one mornin’ and he went on livin’ in the cottage as he did before when they wor together. The only one, barrin’ an old woman of a servant, that he ever let about the house, was myself, for ye see, yer honour, he knew the poor young mistress had a likin’ for me, and he used to employ me in lookin’ after the roses and keepin’ the summer house in order, where I often saw himself and herself sitting together, and often it was he sat there lookin’ as lonesome as a churchyard in the night, yer honour, and sure ’twas hardly a word he ever spoke. And then I knew that he was as fond as ever of the poor mistress, and that ’twas thinkin’ of her all the time he was. And didn’t myself see her picture in his bedroom, and ye’d think ’twas smilin’ at ye she was out o’ the frame, and then I knew the strange woman had wronged her and him.”

“And how long did he live there alone?”

“Sure, that’s the quarest part of the story, yer honour. Ye see, when the poor mistress was gone he didn’t mind the lake, and the water began to sink into the ground, and then there kem one dry summer when all the strames in the country ran dry. It was the driest summer I ever remember, and the grass was as thin and as brown as my old coat, and as little nourishin’, and sure one mornin’ we noticed somethin’ under the shallow water of the lake, and what was it but the body of the poor mistress? And after that when we buried her in the churchyard beyond the hill there, the poor master left the place and the cottage was shut up, for no one would live in it, and the fields around it were tuk by Mr. Toole that had a farm next to it, and ’tis in the hollow where you might see the sheep browsin’ this minnit the poor lady was found.”