The Ghost of Garroid Jarla by Edmund Leamy

In fulfilment of a promise of many years standing, I went to pay a visit to an old schoolfellow in the Christmas of the year 185—, and who then resided within a few miles of the hill called Knock Cord Na Gur, in the Queen’s County. He was a retired naval surgeon, named Lynam, to whom a substantial residence and farm had been left by an uncle whom he had never seen, and who had been a bachelor, as was my friend, the doctor. It was a lonely place for him to settle down in, but he had been for over twenty years roving in his ship all over the world, and he was tired of voyages, and he found, or professed to find, this comparatively lonely spot an agreeable retreat. Besides his housekeeper, his only servant was one Terry Brennan, who was at once coachman, gardener, valet, and butler. The farm was pasture, and this the doctor let on easy terms to the neighbouring tenants, and as he was ever ready on an emergency to give his medical services, he was very popular for miles round. He loved a book, a pipe, and could brew a glass of punch which would “satisfy an admiral,” as he was wont to boast, for this appeared to him to be the highest proof of its efficacy and quality; but, although he had read much, and travelled far and wide, he was as superstitious as the most unlettered sailor, and firmly believed in spiritual visitants, and had many a strange story of what he himself had seen of the dead returning.

He met me at the station with an ordinary outside car, which he was driving, having left Terry at home to have everything ready on our arrival.

We had some miles to go. Night had already fallen a few hours before, and the sky above was as black as ink. We made our way, driving cautiously, all right, until, after going for about an hour, a bend in the road brought us in view of a light, not more than half-a-mile ahead.

“That is the house,” said the doctor. “We’ll be there in five minutes.”

The announcement was very welcome to me, as I was cold and very hungry, and I was about to make some reply, when my companion suddenly exclaimed:—

“By ——, there is the light on the Knock.”

And I saw a second light higher up than the first, and at some distance to the right of it, but it vanished in a second.

The doctor’s tone was startling.

“What is it?” I queried.

“Quiet, pet; quiet, Molly; easy, girl.” The doctor was speaking to the mare and did not answer my question. “Hold on to the car. By heaven, we’re over!”

I felt the car was being overturned. I was flung out on to the side of the road, and as I was recovering myself I heard the mare, who had in some way broken from the harness, clattering down the hill.

I had fallen on the grassy margin near the ditch and escaped unhurt. The car tumbled into it without touching me.

“Are you hurt?” said the doctor, who was by my side as I was lifting myself up.

“No,” I replied, “and you?”

“All right,” he said, but I detected a tremor in his voice.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Oh, yes! Come, let us get on—away from here.”

I was on my feet. “What is it, Lynam?”

“Do not ask. Come!” and the doctor caught my arm and hurried me along. I saw he was labouring under some great emotion and forebore to speak. We reached the gate leading up to the house. It was open, and in two minutes we were at the hall door. That, too, was open, and on the steps stood a man holding a lamp out from above his shoulder, and who seemed framed by the doorway. It was Terry.

“Doctor, darlint, did you see him?”

“Where’s the mare?”

“She’s in the yard, doctor. She has not a scratch on her, but there’s a lather on her all over.”

“Go and rub her down, put her up, and come back as soon as you can.”

The doctor’s tone had become calm again.

The excitement caused by this incident had made me forget the hunger and the cold, but when I entered the doctor’s cosy room with its bright log fire glowing in the hearth and inhaled my first breath of the warm temperature I shuddered, and the doctor, noticing my discomfiture, uncorked a bottle of champagne and poured out a tumblerful. I observed that his hand shook as he presented it to me, and also that he appeared strangely put about.

I tossed off the wine and then accompanied the doctor to my room, and made myself ready for dinner.

When I came down again to the dining-room the doctor was standing with his back to the fire, looking still, as I thought, a little distrait.

But he brightened up at once, and saying: “I’m sure you must be hungry after your long journey,” he rang the bell for dinner.

It was brought in by the housekeeper in response to the summons, and shortly after Terry appeared dressed in the orthodox waiter fashion.

Our talk during dinner was chiefly about old times and old acquaintances. The wine, which was excellent, was done full justice to by both of us, and by the time dinner was over we were in the best possible humour with ourselves and all the world.

Then when the cloth had been removed, and Terry brought in the “materials,” the doctor set himself to brew two stiff tumblers of punch. This task accomplished, we lit our pipes, and as often happens with smokers, we relapsed for a while into silence.

We were rudely interrupted by Terry, who pushed in the door without knocking, and who cried out excitedly:

“Doctor! doctor! you’re wanted. Michael Cassidy’s cart is overturned at the trough below, God save us from all harm, although the horse was only walking, and he’s lying under it, and his boy, who was along with him, has come up for you.”

“Get the lamp at once, Terry, and Jack,” said the doctor, addressing me, “on with your coat, I may need your help.”

In a few seconds, preceded by Terry with the lamp, and accompanied by Cassidy’s boy, we were hurrying down to the scene of the accident.

We found the cart upset in the middle of the road, and lying across the body of poor Cassidy.

Terry set down the lamp, and the four of us lifted up the cart and turned it over into the ditch, close to where our car was lying. The doctor examined the prostrate man, Terry holding the light for him.

“Dead!” cried the doctor. “Dead! My God, it’s awful.”

The blood in my veins became icy cold. I felt I was not only in the presence of death, but in the presence of a mystery still more weird if that were possible.

“What is it, Lynam?” I whispered hoarsely.

“That is the rattle of a cart coming along, Terry?” said the doctor, not heeding my question.

“It is, doctor.”

“Show them the light.”

Terry held out the light in the direction of the approaching cart. It belonged to one of the neighbours. When the cart came up to where we were standing around the corpse it halted. A few words were sufficient to explain what had happened, and the owner of the cart agreeing we lifted the corpse on to the cart and it was taken home.

The doctor, Terry and I returned towards the house. Not a word was spoken by any of us until we were within a few yards of the hall door.

“Look, doctor, look!” cried Terry, “the light is on the Knock again!”

I turned round and looked towards the Knock, which rose to the left about a quarter of a mile from the house. I saw a blue flame that quivered for a moment like a flame in the wind, and then went out.

“Let us go in,” said the doctor, “he has got his victim to-night.”

We entered the hall and I turned into the doctor’s room followed by him. I felt like one in a dream. But the room was bright and cheerful, and the logs were blazing merrily on the hearth. I flung myself into a chair. The doctor had closed the door, and was standing near me.

“I am sorry, Jack,” he said, in a serious tone, “that your visit has begun so unpropitiously, but let us forget what has occurred and make a pleasant night of it,” and he pulled a chair close to mine and sat down.

He lit a pipe. I followed his example, and we puffed away for a while in silence, but my curiosity got the better of me.

“Look here, Lynam, old man,” I said. “There is some mystery about this business of to-night. Our car was upset, as far as I know without any cause, and it was the same in the case of Cassidy’s cart. What is it all about, and what did you mean by talking of ‘a victim?’”

“It is a mystery,” he began, “but you saw the light on the Knock to-night?”

“Yes.”

“And that is very strange. The only two about here who have seen it—at least in our time—are Terry and myself. I saw it first on Christmas Eve ten years ago—the first Christmas Eve after my coming. I have seen it on three Christmas Eves since, and each time I saw it a man has been found dead where we found Cassidy to-night.”

The doctor spoke in low, measured tones, and a creepy feeling came over me as I listened.

“But what connection can there be between the light and the dead man on the road?” I asked.

“It is a curious story,” he replied. “It was told to me by Terry. I doubted it at first, but my own eyes bore witness before to-night to the truth of part, at least of it. But I had better begin by telling you what Terry told me. It seems that in the old times—three hundred years ago or thereabouts—there was on the Knock-Cord-Na-Gur a strong castle, in which dwelt one of the offshoots of the Fitzgeralds, who was known as Garroid Jarla, or Garrett the Earl. He was a man of unrestrained passions, who knew no law save his own will. He was practised in every kind of devilry, and was dominated by a lust for blood and gold. Murder was his chief delight. He was surrounded by a band of villains as unscrupulous and as bloodthirsty as himself. His name was a name of terror for miles around, and many a blackened rafter and blood stained hearth bore witness to his infamous cruelties. Yet, for all that, he could be seemingly courteous, and could easily deceive an unsuspecting stranger into the belief that he was of a friendly and hospitable disposition.

“And it was his wont, especially at Christmas time, to intercept travellers who happened to be passing along the road which we have just left, and, after a courteous inquiry as to their destination, to bid them stay the night with him at his castle. Invariably he stationed himself on the spot where the drinking trough is, of which you heard Terry speak, and which, perhaps, you may have noticed when he held the lamp as I was seeing to poor Cassidy.”

“I saw something like a stone trough,” I said, “but did not take particular notice of it.”

“That was the trough,” continued the doctor. “It was not there at the time I am speaking of. It was placed there long after the so-called earl had gone to his account. The times were troublous times, and many a belated traveller was glad of the invitation to spend the night at the castle on the hill. Poor and rich were welcome there. The poor traveller set out the next day with the pleasant recollection of a hospitable night, carrying everywhere he went a good word for his host, Garroid Jarla, but for the traveller who had money about him, his night in the castle was his last. He was never seen or heard of again. But when the earl was killed, and the castle sacked, the only record of his treachery was a heap of bones and decaying corpses in a cellar under the diningroom, the only entrance to which was a trap door, over which the unsuspecting victim sat while he was enjoying the earl’s hospitality.

“Garroid Jarla had many enemies, but not one whom he hated more than Rory O’Moore, who then dwelt in the Castle of Cluin Kyle, and who, at the head of the Rapparees, was carrying fire and sword into the English territories. There was a price then on the head of Rory, fifteen thousand pounds of our money now, and many a plot and plan was framed and laid to entrap the dauntless Irish captain. Garroid Jarla determined at any cost to secure the blood money, and tried, again and again, to entice one of Rory’s followers, by the offer of a large bribe, to betray his master, but without success. Still he persisted, and, at last, he gained, or thought he had, one over to his interests. The renegade persuaded Garroid that he was desirous of avenging a grievous personal wrong he had suffered at the hands of Rory, and that he was willing to give his life to accomplish his destruction.

“Garroid’s hunger for gold induced him to believe that with it he could purchase a man’s soul, and, therefore, he gave ready credence to Rory’s retainer, whose name was Teague O’Moore, and Teague humoured Garroid to the top of his bent, and denounced Rory in all the moods and tenses. One night he came to Garroid, and told him that his chance of overcoming his enemy, Rory, had arrived. Rory, he said, had come to Cluin-Kyle, after some desperate and successful fighting, and was holding high revel in the castle. There was no watch kept, as Rory felt perfectly secure for that night at least, and, therefore, he might easily be surprised about midnight, and Teague undertook that he would see that the castle gates were unlocked, and as for signal he would place a lighted candle in the postern window.

“Garroid eagerly embraced the proposal, and decided to attempt the surprise of Rory’s castle, and, calling his retainers around him, he made a feast, believing that men fought better if their stomachs were not too empty, and that as there was stern and bloody work before them, they would be all the better prepared for it if they imbibed some draughts of usquebaugh. Teague remained until the party seated at supper had begun to enjoy themselves, and then having taken care to see that the window of the room opposite which Garroid was seated was not curtained, he took his leave to go, as Garroid thought, to Cluin-Kyle; but Teague, having passed out of the castle, entered the wood that skirted the ford of Dysartgalen. He had not gone far through the fallen leaves that strewed his path when he was challenged.

“‘God and Our Lady and Rory O’Moore,’ was his reply.

“‘All right, pass on.’

“‘Is the captain here?’ said Teague.

“‘Here,’ answered a stalwart Rapparee.

“‘I want your best marksman, captain.’

“‘Come hither, Shan Dhu,’ said the captain.

“A man stepped forward with musket on shoulder.

“‘Follow me,’ said Teague, ‘and you captain and your men keep close to our heels. When you hear the shot rush straight for the castle. If the bullet does its work the castle is yours.’

“Teague and the marksman went ahead. They passed unnoticed within the outer walls, and advanced close to the uncurtained window.

“‘That candle that you see,’ said Teague to the marksman, ‘is in a line with Garroid Jarla. Snuff it and you kill him.’

“The marksman took a cautious aim.

“‘Bang!’ A crash of glass, a fierce yell.

“‘Oh, Captain!’ cried Teague, with a wild shout, that made the night tremble. The Rapparees burst in on the startled revellers. But, as the latter had their weapons ready to hand, a desperate conflict ensued, and it is said that, until the last of his followers was slain, Garroid Jarla remained sitting where he had been shot, and that his face was black as coal, while his eyes gleamed like fire. The Rapparees sacked the castle before they left for Cluin-Kyle with the news of the tyrant’s death.

“The next day the peasantry entered the ruined castle, and, finding the body of their arch-enemy, Garroid Jarla, they dragged it to the Ford of Dysartgallen, and, having cut it in quarters, they flung them into the river, and believed they had got rid, once and for all, of the ruthless tyrant of their homes.

“But in this, according to Terry’s story,” said the doctor, “they were mistaken. For, time after time, Garroid Jarla appeared at the very spot where he used to meet travellers during his life, and whomever he accosted never saw the morning break again.

“At last a friar coming this way heard of the apparitions and their fatal results, and he bade the people bring a stone trough, and place it on the spot, and this trough was fed with water from a running stream, and the friar blessed the water, so that no evil spirit could come near it. And after this, for generations, no one ever saw the ghost of Garroid Jarla. But in the dark days of Ninety-eight, a band of Yeos, coming along the road, broke the trough, and turned away the stream from it, and ever since then it is dry, and of no service to man or beast, and ever since then at irregular intervals, but always on Christmas Eve, the ghost reappears and claims a victim, and when he appears a light burns on the Knock. And that is Terry’s story,” said the doctor, and he shook the ashes from his pipe.

“Have you ever seen the ghost?” I asked.

“I have seen the light on the Knock,” he replied, “and I have seen the dead men. You saw the light on the Knock to-night; you also have seen a dead man. Do you doubt,” said he, looking me straight in the face, “that he is one of Garroid Jarla’s victims?”

“Perhaps, after all, doctor,” said I, “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.”

“It is getting late,” said the doctor, “and I am sure you must be tired.”

I was tired, and yet when I turned in I could not sleep. On that night and many a night since I was haunted by the ghost of Garroid Jarla.