The Village Bully, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
About thirty years ago there lived in the town of Chapelizod an
ill-conditioned fellow of herculean strength, well known throughout the
neighbourhood by the title of Bully Larkin. In addition to his remarkable
physical superiority, this fellow had acquired a degree of skill as a
pugilist which alone would have made him formidable. As it was, he was
the autocrat of the village, and carried not the sceptre in vain.
Conscious of his superiority, and perfectly secure of impunity, he lorded
it over his fellows in a spirit of cowardly and brutal insolence, which
made him hated even more profoundly than he was feared.
Upon more than one occasion he had deliberately forced quarrels upon men
whom he had singled out for the exhibition of his savage prowess; and in
every encounter his over-matched antagonist had received an amount of
"punishment" which edified and appalled the spectators, and in some
instances left ineffaceable scars and lasting injuries after it.
Bully Larkin's pluck had never been fairly tried. For, owing to his
prodigious superiority in weight, strength, and skill, his victories had
always been certain and easy; and in proportion to the facility with
which he uniformly smashed an antagonist, his pugnacity and insolence
were inflamed. He thus became an odious nuisance in the neighbourhood,
and the terror of every mother who had a son, and of every wife who had a
husband who possessed a spirit to resent insult, or the smallest
confidence in his own pugilistic capabilities.
Now it happened that there was a young fellow named Ned Moran—better
known by the soubriquet of "Long Ned," from his slender, lathy
proportions—at that time living in the town. He was, in truth, a mere
lad, nineteen years of age, and fully twelve years younger than the
stalwart bully. This, however, as the reader will see, secured for him no
exemption from the dastardly provocations of the ill-conditioned
pugilist. Long Ned, in an evil hour, had thrown eyes of affection upon a
certain buxom damsel, who, notwithstanding Bully Larkin's amorous
rivalry, inclined to reciprocate them.
I need not say how easily the spark of jealousy, once kindled, is blown
into a flame, and how naturally, in a coarse and ungoverned nature, it
explodes in acts of violence and outrage.
"The bully" watched his opportunity, and contrived to provoke Ned Moran,
while drinking in a public-house with a party of friends, into an
altercation, in the course of which he failed not to put such insults
upon his rival as manhood could not tolerate. Long Ned, though a simple,
good-natured sort of fellow, was by no means deficient in spirit, and
retorted in a tone of defiance which edified the more timid, and gave his
opponent the opportunity he secretly coveted.
Bully Larkin challenged the heroic youth, whose pretty face he had
privately consigned to the mangling and bloody discipline he was himself
so capable of administering. The quarrel, which he had himself contrived
to get up, to a certain degree covered the ill blood and malignant
premeditation which inspired his proceedings, and Long Ned, being full of
generous ire and whiskey punch, accepted the gauge of battle on the
instant. The whole party, accompanied by a mob of idle men and boys, and
in short by all who could snatch a moment from the calls of business,
proceeded in slow procession through the old gate into the Phoenix Park,
and mounting the hill overlooking the town, selected near its summit a
level spot on which to decide the quarrel.
The combatants stripped, and a child might have seen in the contrast
presented by the slight, lank form and limbs of the lad, and the muscular
and massive build of his veteran antagonist, how desperate was the chance
of poor Ned Moran.
"Seconds" and "bottle-holders"—selected of course for their love of the
game—were appointed, and "the fight" commenced.
I will not shock my readers with a description of the cool-blooded
butchery that followed. The result of the combat was what anybody might
have predicted. At the eleventh round, poor Ned refused to "give in"; the
brawny pugilist, unhurt, in good wind, and pale with concentrated and as
yet unslaked revenge, had the gratification of seeing his opponent seated
upon his second's knee, unable to hold up his head, his left arm
disabled; his face a bloody, swollen, and shapeless mass; his breast
scarred and bloody, and his whole body panting and quivering with rage
"Give in, Ned, my boy," cried more than one of the bystanders.
"Never, never," shrieked he, with a voice hoarse and choking.
Time being "up," his second placed him on his feet again. Blinded with
his own blood, panting and staggering, he presented but a helpless mark
for the blows of his stalwart opponent. It was plain that a touch would
have been sufficient to throw him to the earth. But Larkin had no notion
of letting him off so easily. He closed with him without striking a blow
(the effect of which, prematurely dealt, would have been to bring him at
once to the ground, and so put an end to the combat), and getting his
battered and almost senseless head under his arm, fast in that peculiar
"fix" known to the fancy pleasantly by the name of "chancery," he held
him firmly, while with monotonous and brutal strokes he beat his fist, as
it seemed, almost into his face. A cry of "shame" broke from the crowd,
for it was plain that the beaten man was now insensible, and supported
only by the herculean arm of the bully. The round and the fight ended by
his hurling him upon the ground, falling upon him at the same time with
his knee upon his chest.
The bully rose, wiping the perspiration from his white face with his
blood-stained hands, but Ned lay stretched and motionless upon the grass.
It was impossible to get him upon his legs for another round. So he was
carried down, just as he was, to the pond which then lay close to the old
Park gate, and his head and body were washed beside it. Contrary to the
belief of all he was not dead. He was carried home, and after some months
to a certain extent recovered. But he never held up his head again, and
before the year was over he had died of consumption. Nobody could doubt
how the disease had been induced, but there was no actual proof to
connect the cause and effect, and the ruffian Larkin escaped the
vengeance of the law. A strange retribution, however, awaited him.
After the death of Long Ned, he became less quarrelsome than before, but
more sullen and reserved. Some said "he took it to heart," and others,
that his conscience was not at ease about it. Be this as it may, however,
his health did not suffer by reason of his presumed agitations, nor was
his worldly prosperity marred by the blasting curses with which poor
Moran's enraged mother pursued him; on the contrary he had rather risen
in the world, and obtained regular and well-remunerated employment from
the Chief Secretary's gardener, at the other side of the Park. He still
lived in Chapelizod, whither, on the close of his day's work, he used to
return across the Fifteen Acres.
It was about three years after the catastrophe we have mentioned, and
late in the autumn, when, one night, contrary to his habit, he did not
appear at the house where he lodged, neither had he been seen anywhere,
during the evening, in the village. His hours of return had been so very
regular, that his absence excited considerable surprise, though, of
course, no actual alarm; and, at the usual hour, the house was closed for
the night, and the absent lodger consigned to the mercy of the elements,
and the care of his presiding star. Early in the morning, however, he was
found lying in a state of utter helplessness upon the slope immediately
overlooking the Chapelizod gate. He had been smitten with a paralytic
stroke: his right side was dead; and it was many weeks before he had
recovered his speech sufficiently to make himself at all understood.
He then made the following relation:—He had been detained, it appeared,
later than usual, and darkness had closed before he commenced his
homeward walk across the Park. It was a moonlit night, but masses of
ragged clouds were slowly drifting across the heavens. He had not
encountered a human figure, and no sounds but the softened rush of the
wind sweeping through bushes and hollows met his ear. These wild and
monotonous sounds, and the utter solitude which surrounded him, did not,
however, excite any of those uneasy sensations which are ascribed to
superstition, although he said he did feel depressed, or, in his own
phraseology, "lonesome." Just as he crossed the brow of the hill which
shelters the town of Chapelizod, the moon shone out for some moments
with unclouded lustre, and his eye, which happened to wander by the
shadowy enclosures which lay at the foot of the slope, was arrested by
the sight of a human figure climbing, with all the haste of one pursued,
over the churchyard wall, and running up the steep ascent directly
towards him. Stories of "resurrectionists" crossed his recollection, as
he observed this suspicious-looking figure. But he began, momentarily,
to be aware with a sort of fearful instinct which he could not explain,
that the running figure was directing his steps, with a sinister
purpose, towards himself.
The form was that of a man with a loose coat about him, which, as he ran,
he disengaged, and as well as Larkin could see, for the moon was again
wading in clouds, threw from him. The figure thus advanced until within
some two score yards of him, it arrested its speed, and approached with a
loose, swaggering gait. The moon again shone out bright and clear, and,
gracious God! what was the spectacle before him? He saw as distinctly as
if he had been presented there in the flesh, Ned Moran, himself, stripped
naked from the waist upward, as if for pugilistic combat, and drawing
towards him in silence. Larkin would have shouted, prayed, cursed, fled
across the Park, but he was absolutely powerless; the apparition stopped
within a few steps, and leered on him with a ghastly mimicry of the
defiant stare with which pugilists strive to cow one another before
combat. For a time, which he could not so much as conjecture, he was held
in the fascination of that unearthly gaze, and at last the thing,
whatever it was, on a sudden swaggered close up to him with extended
palms. With an impulse of horror, Larkin put out his hand to keep the
figure off, and their palms touched—at least, so he believed—for a
thrill of unspeakable agony, running through his arm, pervaded his entire
frame, and he fell senseless to the earth.
Though Larkin lived for many years after, his punishment was terrible. He
was incurably maimed; and being unable to work, he was forced, for
existence, to beg alms of those who had once feared and flattered him. He
suffered, too, increasingly, under his own horrible interpretation of the
preternatural encounter which was the beginning of all his miseries. It
was vain to endeavour to shake his faith in the reality of the
apparition, and equally vain, as some compassionately did, to try to
persuade him that the greeting with which his vision closed was intended,
while inflicting a temporary trial, to signify a compensating
"No, no," he used to say, "all won't do. I know the meaning of it well
enough; it is a challenge to meet him in the other world—in Hell, where
I am going—that's what it means, and nothing else."
And so, miserable and refusing comfort, he lived on for some years, and
then died, and was buried in the same narrow churchyard which contains
the remains of his victim.
I need hardly say, how absolute was the faith of the honest inhabitants,
at the time when I heard the story, in the reality of the preternatural
summons which, through the portals of terror, sickness, and misery, had
summoned Bully Larkin to his long, last home, and that, too, upon the
very ground on which he had signalised the guiltiest triumph of his
violent and vindictive career.
I recollect another story of the preternatural sort, which made no small
sensation, some five-and-thirty years ago, among the good gossips of the
town; and, with your leave, courteous reader, I shall relate it.