The Black Dog by Edmund Leamy

Did you ever see a ghost, Tim?”

“No, then; I don’t mane to say I ever see a ghost, nor I don’t mane to say that I didn’t nayther; but maybe I see more than any of ye ever saw in your born days,” said old Tim Kerrigan, as he stooped over the hearth, and, picking up a sod of turf, put the fire to his dhudeen.

His listeners were a group of light-hearted youngsters (of whom I was one), who turned in to old Tim’s one Christmas Eve a good many years ago, and who, seated round the fire, were trying to coax him to tell them some of his supernatural experiences, which, if Tim were to be relied on, were as numerous as they were varied. Tim, at the time, was an old man of about five-and-seventy, still hardy and supple; but his brown face—“brown as the ribbed sea-sand”—was full of wrinkles. Over these wrinkles he appeared to us, youngsters, to have wonderful power. He had a trick of pursing, and withdrawing, and inflating his lips before answering any question put to him, with the result that the wrinkles appeared to close in and to open out after the manner of the bellows of a concertina, and when, at the same time, he contracted his forehead, and brought his shaggy, grey eyebrows down over his bright, little, brown eyes, they peered out from under them in such a way as to bear a curious resemblance to those of a rabbit peeping out under the edge of his burrow.

“Troth and maybe I did,” repeated Tim, “see more nor any of ye ever saw, and maybe more than wud be good for any of ye to see, ayther.”

“Oh, we don’t doubt you, Tim,” said I, putting in a word to mollify him; “But that was a long time ago, for none of them things are going about now.”

“Ar’n’t they!” said Tim. “How mighty clever some people thinks they are.” And he took three or four strong whiffs of his dhudeen and sent a blue cloud of pungent smoke through the room.

“Did ye ever hear of the black dog?” said he.

“No,” said we in chorus.

“No; and I suppose none of ye would believe in it?”

“Oh, indeed, Tim, we’d believe anything you’d tell us.”

“Well, I know ye are all dacent boys,” said Tim, “an’, seein’ the night that it is, I don’t mind tellin’ ye, but I hope that none of ye will meet the likes of it. And, be the same token, ’twas a Christmas Eve, too, it happened, before any of ye was born. I was only a gorsoon myself then, but I remember it as if ’twas only last night. Ould Hegarty lived up in the big house on the hill with the grove around it. ’Tis little better nor a ruin now, with the jackdaws nesting in the chimneys and the swallows buildin’ in the drawin’-room, where the quality used to be. Ould Hegarty, when I first saw him, was a fine, splendid-lookin’ man, as straight as a pikestaff. He had a free hand and an open house to them that he thought was good enough for him, but he was as hard as flint to the poor. There was a poor widow that lived in a cabin where the railway is now, bad luck to it, and she had an only son, a poor angashore of a fellow that didn’t rightly know what he was doin’, and one fine day me bould Hegarty caught him stealin’ a few turnips for his ould mother, an’ nothin’ wud do Hegarty but to put the law agin’ him, and the poor boy was transported, and sure the luck was that he wasn’t hanged, bekase they’d hang you then for stealin’ a tinpenny bit. And sure the night the assizes was over myself seen the poor lone widow up at ould Hegarty’s doorstep, an’ she cursin’ him, and, says she, ‘May the black dog follow ye night and day till the hour of yer death,’ and she was down on her two knees, and her poor grey hairs was streamin’ in the wind. And out kem Hegarty with his ridin’ whip in his hand, and he lashed her wud it until the welts on her shoulders wor as thick as yer fingers. ‘Do yer worst, Hegarty,’ sez she, ‘but the curse of the widow and the orphan is on ye, and the black dog will follow ye to your dyin’ day,’ and the poor crather got up and she staggered away, an’ sure before a fortnight was over they buried her in the churchyard beyant. He murdhered her, as sure as ye’re sittin’ there, but there was no one to take the law agin him; an’, sure, if there was ’twud be no use, for the likes of him could do what they liked in them times wud the poor people. But, for all that, they say he hadn’t an easy day nor night from that out, and in daylight or dark he always thought he saw a black dog following him. He wouldn’t sleep by himself if he got the world full of goold, and he always had his servant-man—one, Jim Cassidy—to sleep wud him. An’, sure, Jim himself tould me that Hegarty wud often start up out of his sleep and cry out, ‘Cassidy, Cassidy, Cassidy, turn out the dog!’ But Cassidy let on to me that he never seed the dog, though he used to make believe as if he wor huntin’ him out of the room, but he said whenever he did that he used to hear a dog howlin’ outside for all the world like a banshee.”

“Well, this went on for a year or two, and me bould Hegarty that used to have a face, from eatin’ and dhrinkin’, as red as a turkey-cock’s gills, grew as white an’ as thin as a first coat of whitewash, and he’d never go home in the night, after playin’ cards up at the club-house, without havin’ one or two friends along with him, and he used to keep them playin’ and dhrinkin’ in his own house till cock-crow, and then he used to get a bit easy in his mind, and Cassidy tould me he could get a few hours’ sleep.”

“But one night as myself was comin’ home late from buryin’ of ould Michil Gallagher, that was drowned on a rough night down near the bar, when the hooker struck again’ the Pollock Rock, who should I come up with but Hegarty, and a couple of other spree-boys along with him. A wild night it was, too, wud the moon, that was only half full, tearin’ every now and thin through the clouds that was as black as my hat, and sure ’twas they wor laughin’ and shoutin’, as if the dhrink wor in ’em, and, faix, maybe myself had a dhrop in, too, but sure that’s neither here nor there. Well, myself followed on, keepin’ at a civil distance, as was the best of me play, an’ it wasn’t long till they wor passin’ the churchyard, where the poor ould widow was buried, an’ just then the moon tore out through a cloud, an’ may I sup sorrow to my dyin’ day, if I didn’t see a black dog comin’ boundin’ over the gate of the churchyard, an’ every leg on him as big as my arm, an’ his two eyes blazin’ in his head like two live coals. Well, faix, meself felt all at once as if a lump of ice was slidderin’ down the small of me back, till I was almost as cowld as a corpse, God save the mark; but for all that I kept follyin’ on, an’ didn’t I see the black naygur of a dog sniff in’ and sniffin’ at Hegarty’s heels. I don’t rightly know whether Hegarty noticed him or no, but he began shoutin’ louder than ever, and the divel take me, Lord forgive me for cursin’, if I ever heard such swearin’ in my life as he was going’ on wud, and the play-boys that were wud him wor nearly as bad as himself. Well, as soon as he got to his house, an’ they all went inside, may I never draw another breath if I didn’t see the black dog vanishin’ in a flame of blue fire that nearly blinded me eyes like a flash of lightnin’; and when I kem to myself again, what should I see on the doorstep but the ould widow herself—and sure as she was dead and buried over a year before, it must have been her ghost I saw—an’ she down on her two knees, an’ she cursin’ away as meself seed her the night ould Hegarty horsewhipped the poor crather. Well, of coorse, meself didn’t meddle or make wud her, and I hurried home as fast as I could, an’ I never tould what I seen to man or mortal.

“Well, the next day the talk was all over the place that Hegarty was in a ragin’ fever, an’ the best of doctors wor brought down from Dublin to try an’ cure him, but ’twas worse an’ worse he was gettin’, an’ at last he got so bad that they had to tie him down, an’ Cassidy had to watch him night an’ day, an’ the poor boy was nearly worn out like an ould shoe, an’ he asked me to come an’ help him.

“I didn’t like the job, at all; but Cassidy was an ould friend of mine, an’ we wor naybour’s childre, so by dint of persuasion he got meself to consint, an’ sure ’twas the hard time we had between us. Every minute Hegarty used to start up and cry out:

“‘Hunt him away! Hunt him away; his nails are in my throat! His eyes are scorchin’ me! I’m burnin’! I’m burnin’!’

“The Lord save us, but ’twas awful to listen to him.

“‘Hunt him out! Cassidy, hunt him out, or I’ll horsewhip you as I horsewhipped the widow, an’ ’tis her curse is on me, the ould hag. Hunt him out!’

“And we had to pretend we wor huntin’ him out, an’ daylight or dark we used to hear a long howl outside that wud make your flesh creep.

“Well, begob, we wor almost wasted to a thread watchin’ him, an’ we could hardly get a wink of sleep; but one night the two of us were dozin’ by the side of the bed when all of a sudden we heard glass crashin’, an’ before we had time to rub our eyes wud our fists what should we see but the black dog who had burst in through the window, an’ he in gores of blood an’ his eyes blazin’ like wildfire, and before we could stir a foot he was up on the bed an’ he tarin’ the throat out of ould Hegarty.

“‘The Lord between us an’ all harm!’ says Cassidy, an’ he caught up the poker an’ he hot the dog a belt that ought to have broken every rib in his body. ‘Ye divil get out of that,’ says he, an’ I gave him another thwack, an’, wud a screech that would waken the dead an’ that made every hair of our heads stand up like bristles, the black dog jumped out through the windy, an’ he tuk the whole sash along wud him, an’ ye’d take yer oath for a minnit that the whole house was on fire, an’ there was a smell of brimstone that would knock ye down. An’ when we kem to ourselves an’ looked at ould Hegarty, there he was stiff and stark, an’ the blue mark of the dog’s teeth across his windpipe. We called up the house an’ sent for the docthors, an’ they kem, an’ they said ’twas somethin’ or the other was the matter wud him that killed him; but Cassidy an’ meself knew betther nor they, but we kept our tongues quiet, for what was the good of talkin’ agin them docthors? Well, we waked him, though sorrow the wan kem to the wake barrin’ the playboys who kem to have a look at him, an’ he was buried up in the churchyard, and not far from the poor widow ayther, an’ when ye are goin’ home to-night take my advice and go round by the hill-road, and don’t pass by the churchyard, though ’tis your shortest way home, for as sure as ye do ye might meet wud the black dog who is always about on Christmas Eve, for that was when ould Hegarty bet the poor widow wud his horsewhip, and maybe if the dog met any one of yees he’d do to ye what he did to ould Hegarty.”

Perhaps we didn’t believe Tim’s story, but whether or no we all went by the hill road, and though many a year is past and gone since Tim told the story there is not one who heard it, who for love or money would pass by that churchyard on a Christmas Eve, and it might after all be no harm if those who read the story as I tell it now, and who dwell in the place that knows old Tim no more, should take his advice as we did, and follow the hill road. It is longer than the road by the churchyard, but there is an old saying that the longest way round is the shortest way home.