Moll Rial's Adventure
by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
When Miss Anne Baily was a child, Moll Rial was an old woman. She had
lived all her days with the Bailys of Lough Guir; in and about whose
house, as was the Irish custom of those days, were a troop of
bare-footed country girls, scullery maids, or laundresses, or employed
about the poultry yard, or running of errands.
Among these was Moll Rial, then a stout good-humoured lass, with
little to think of, and nothing to fret about. She was once washing
clothes by the process known universally in Munster as beetling. The
washer stands up to her ankles in water, in which she has immersed the
clothes, which she lays in that state on a great flat stone, and
smacks with lusty strokes of an instrument which bears a rude
resemblance to a cricket bat, only shorter, broader, and light enough
to be wielded freely with one hand. Thus, they smack the dripping
clothes, turning them over and over, sousing them in the water, and
replacing them on the same stone, to undergo a repetition of the
process, until they are thoroughly washed.
Moll Rial was plying her "beetle" at the margin of the lake, close
under the old house and castle. It was between eight and nine o'clock
on a fine summer morning, everything looked bright and beautiful.
Though quite alone, and though she could not see even the windows of
the house (hidden from her view by the irregular ascent and some
interposing bushes), her loneliness was not depressing.
Standing up from her work, she saw a gentleman walking slowly down the
slope toward her. He was a "grand-looking" gentleman, arrayed in a
flowered silk dressing-gown, with a cap of velvet on his head; and as
he stepped toward her, in his slippered feet, he showed a very
handsome leg. He was smiling graciously as he approached, and drawing
a ring from his finger with an air of gracious meaning, which seemed
to imply that he wished to make her a present, he raised it in his
fingers with a pleased look, and placed it on the flat stones beside
the clothes she had been beetling so industriously.
He drew back a little, and continued to look at her with an
encouraging smile, which seemed to say: "You have earned your reward;
you must not be afraid to take it."
The girl fancied that this was some gentleman who had arrived, as
often happened in those hospitable and haphazard times, late and
unexpectedly the night before, and who was now taking a little
indolent ramble before breakfast.
Moll Rial was a little shy, and more so at having been discovered by
so grand a gentleman with her petticoats gathered a little high about
her bare shins. She looked down, therefore, upon the water at her
feet, and then she saw a ripple of blood, and then another, ring after
ring, coming and going to and from her feet. She cried out the sacred
name in horror, and, lifting her eyes, the courtly gentleman was gone,
but the blood-rings about her feet spread with the speed of light over
the surface of the lake, which for a moment glowed like one vast
estuary of blood.
Here was the earl once again, and Moll Rial declared that if it had
not been for that frightful transformation of the water she would have
spoken to him next minute, and would thus have passed under a spell,
perhaps as direful as his own.