Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Publican’s Dream
By John (1798–1842) and Michael (1796–1874) Banim
From ‘The Bit o’ Writin’ and Other Tales’

THE FAIR-DAY had passed over in a little straggling town in the southeast of Ireland, and was succeeded by a languor proportioned to the wild excitement it never failed to create. But of all in the village, its publicans suffered most under the reaction of great bustle. Few of their houses appeared open at broad noon; and some—the envy of their competitors—continued closed even after that late hour. Of these latter, many were of the very humblest kind; little cabins, in fact, skirting the outlets of the village, or standing alone on the roadside a good distance beyond it.  1
  About two o’clock upon the day in question, a house of “Entertainment for Man and Horse,” the very last of the description noticed to be found between the village and the wild tract of mountain country adjacent to it, was opened by the proprietress, who had that moment arisen from bed.  2
  The cabin consisted of only two apartments, and scarce more than nominally even of two; for the half-plastered wicker and straw partition, which professed to cut off a sleeping-nook from the whole area inclosed by the clay walls, was little higher than a tall man, and moreover chinky and porous in many places. Let the assumed distinction be here allowed to stand, however, while the reader casts his eyes around what was sometimes called the kitchen, sometimes the tap-room, sometimes the “dancing-flure.” Forms which had run by the walls, and planks by way of tables which had been propped before them, were turned topsy-turvy, and in some instances broken. Pewter pots and pints, battered and bruised, or squeezed together and flattened, and fragments of twisted glass tumblers, lay beside them. The clay floor was scraped with brogue-nails and indented with the heel of that primitive foot-gear, in token of the energetic dancing which had lately been performed upon it. In a corner still appeared (capsized, however) an empty eight-gallon beer barrel, recently the piper’s throne, whence his bag had blown forth the inspiring storms of jigs and reels, which prompted to more antics than ever did a bag of the laughing-gas. Among the yellow turf-ashes of the hearth lay on its side an old blackened tin kettle, without a spout,—a principal utensil in brewing scalding water for the manufacture of whisky-punch; and its soft and yet warm bed was shared by a red cat, who had stolen in from his own orgies, through some cranny, since day-break. The single four-paned window of the apartment remained veiled by its rough shutter, that turned on leather hinges; but down the wide yawning chimney came sufficient light to reveal the objects here described.  3
  The proprietress opened her back door. She was a woman of about forty; of a robust, large-boned figure; with broad, rosy visage, dark, handsome eyes, and well-cut nose: but inheriting a mouth so wide as to proclaim her pure aboriginal Irish pedigree. After a look abroad, to inhale the fresh air, and then a remonstrance (ending in a kick) with the hungry pig, who ran, squeaking and grunting, to demand his long-deferred breakfast, she settled her cap, rubbed down her prauskeen [coarse apron], tucked and pinned up her skirts behind, and saying in a loud, commanding voice, as she spoke into the sleeping-chamber, “Get up now at once, Jer, I bid you,” vigorously if not tidily set about putting her tavern to rights.  4
  During her bustle the dame would stop an instant, and bend her ear to listen for a stir inside the partition; but at last losing patience she resumed:—  5
  “Why, then, my heavy hatred on you, Jer Mulcahy, is it gone into a sauvaun [pleasant drowsiness] you are, over again? or maybe you stole out of bed, an’ put your hand on one o’ them ould good-for-nothing books, that makes you the laziest man that a poor woman ever had tinder one roof wid her? ay, an’ that sent you out of our dacent shop an’ house, in the heart of the town below, an’ banished us here, Jer Mulcahy, to sell drams o’ whisky an’ pots o’ beer to all the riff-raff o’ the counthry-side, instead o’ the nate boots an’ shoes you served your honest time to?”  6
  She entered his, or her chamber, rather, hoping that she might detect him luxuriantly perusing in bed one of the mutilated books, a love of which (or more truly a love of indolence, thus manifesting itself) had indeed chiefly caused his downfall in the world. Her husband, however, really tired after his unusual bodily efforts of the previous day, only slumbered, as Mrs. Mulcahy had at first anticipated; and when she had shaken and aroused him, for the twentieth time that morning, and scolded him until the spirit-broken blockhead whimpered,—nay, wept, or pretended to weep,—the dame returned to her household duties.  7
  She did not neglect, however, to keep calling to him every half-minute, until at last Mr. Jeremiah Mulcahy strode into the kitchen: a tall, ill-contrived figure, that had once been well fitted out, but that now wore its old skin, like its old clothes, very loosely; and those old clothes were a discolored, threadbare, half-polished kerseymere pair of trousers, and aged superfine black coat, the last relics of his former Sunday finery,—to which had recently and incongruously been added a calfskin vest, a pair of coarse sky-blue peasant’s stockings, and a pair of brogues. His hanging cheeks and lips told, together, his present bad living and domestic subjection; and an eye that had been blinded by the small-pox wore neither patch nor band, although in better days it used to be genteelly hidden from remark,—an assumption of consequence now deemed incompatible with his altered condition in society.  8
  “O Cauth! oh, I had such a dhrame,” he said, as he made his appearance.  9
  “An’ I’ll go bail you had,” answered Cauth, “an’ when do you ever go asleep without having one dhrame or another, that pesters me off o’ my legs the livelong day, till the night falls again to let you have another? Musha, Jer, don’t be ever an’ always such a fool; an’ never mind the dhrame now, but lend a hand to help me in the work o’ the house. See the pewther there: haive it up, man alive, an’ take it out into the garden, and sit on the big stone in the sun, an’ make it look as well as you can, afther the ill usage it got last night; come, hurry, Jer—go an’ do what I bid you.”  10
  He retired in silence to “the garden,” a little patch of ground luxuriant in potatoes and a few cabbages. Mrs. Mulcahy pursued her work till her own sensations warned her that it was time to prepare her husband’s morning or rather day meal; for by the height of the sun it should now be many hours past noon. So she put down her pot of potatoes; and when they were boiled, took out a wooden trencher full of them, and a mug of sour milk, to Jer, determined not to summon him from his useful occupation of restoring the pints and quarts to something of their former shape.  11
  Stepping through the back door, and getting him in view, she stopped short in silent anger. His back was turned to her, because of the sun; and while the vessels, huddled about in confusion, seemed little the better of his latent skill and industry, there he sat on his favorite round stone, studiously perusing, half aloud to himself, some idle volume which doubtless he had smuggled into the garden in his pocket. Laying down her trencher and her mug, Mrs. Mulcahy stole forward on tiptoe, gained his shoulder without being heard, snatched the imperfect bundle of soiled pages out of his hand, and hurled it into a neighbor’s cabbage-bed.  12
  Jeremiah complained, in his usual half-crying tone, declaring that “she never could let him alone, so she couldn’t, and he would rather list for a soger than lade such a life, from year’s end to year’s end, so he would.”  13
  “Well, an’ do then—an’ whistle that idle cur off wid you,” pointing to a nondescript puppy, which had lain happily coiled up at his master’s feet until Mrs. Mulcahy’s appearance, but that now watched her closely, his ears half cocked and his eyes wide open, though his position remained unaltered. “Go along to the divil, you lazy whelp you!”—she took up a pint in which a few drops of beer remained since the previous night, and drained it on the puppy’s head, who instantly ran off, jumping sideways, and yelping as loud as if some bodily injury had really visited him—“Yes, an’ now you begin to yowl, like your masther, for nothing at all, only because a body axes you to stir your idle legs—hould your tongue, you foolish baste!” she stooped for a stone—“one would think I scalded you.”  14
  “You know you did, once, Cauth, to the backbone; an’ small blame for Shuffle to be afeard o’ you ever since,” said Jer.  15
  This vindication of his own occasional remonstrances, as well as of Shuffle’s, was founded in truth. When very young, just to keep him from running against her legs while she was busy over the fire, Mrs. Mulcahy certainly had emptied a ladleful of boiling potato-water upon the poor puppy’s back; and from that moment it was only necessary to spill a drop of the coldest possible water, or of any cold liquid, on any part of his body, and he believed he was again dreadfully scalded, and ran out of the house screaming in all the fancied theories of torture.  16
  “Will you ate your good dinner, now, Jer Mulcahy, an’ promise to do something to help me, afther it?— Mother o’ Saints!”—thus she interrupted herself, turning towards the place where she had deposited the eulogized food—“see that yon unlucky bird! May I never do an ill turn but there’s the pig afther spilling the sweet milk, an’ now shoveling the beautiful white-eyes down her throat at a mouthful!”  17
  Jer, really afflicted at this scene, promised to work hard the moment he got his dinner; and his spouse, first procuring a pitchfork to beat the pig into her sty, prepared a fresh meal for him, and retired to eat her own in the house, and then to continue her labor.  18
  In about an hour she thought of paying him another visit of inspection, when Jeremiah’s voice reached her ear, calling out in disturbed accents, “Cauth! Cauth! a-vourneen! For the love o’ heaven, Cauth! where are you?”  19
  Running to him, she found her husband sitting upright, though not upon his round stone, amongst the still untouched heap of pots and pints, his pock-marked face very pale, his single eye staring, his hands clasped and shaking, and moisture on his forehead.  20
  “What!” she cried, “the pewther just as I left it, over again!”  21
  “O Cauth! Cauth! don’t mind that now—but spake to me kind, Cauth, an’ comfort me.”  22
  “Why, what ails you, Jer a-vourneen?” affectionately taking his hand, when she saw how really agitated he was.  23
  “O Cauth, oh, I had such a dhrame, now, in earnest, at any rate!”  24
  “A dhrame!” she repeated, letting go his hand, “a dhrame, Jer Mulcahy! so, afther your good dinner, you go for to fall asleep, Jer Mulcahy, just to be ready wid a new dhrame for me, instead of the work you came out here to do, five blessed hours ago!”  25
  “Don’t scould me, now, Cauth; don’t, a-pet: only listen to me, an’ then say what you like. You know the lonesome little glen between the hills, on the short cut for man or horse, to Kilbroggan? Well, Cauth, there I found myself in the dhrame; and I saw two sailors, tired afther a day’s hard walking, sitting before one of the big rocks that stand upright in the wild place; an’ they were ating or dhrinking, I couldn’t make out which; and one was a tall, sthrong, broad-shouldhered man, an’ the other was sthrong, too, but short an’ burly; an’ while they were talking very civilly to each other, lo an’ behould you, Cauth, I seen the tall man whip his knife into the little man; an’ then they both sthruggled, an’ wrastled, an’ schreeched together, till the rocks rung again; but at last the little man was a corpse; an’ may I never see a sight o’ glory, Cauth, but all this was afore me as plain as you are, in this garden! an’ since the hour I was born, Cauth, I never got such a fright; an’—oh, Cauth! what’s that now?”  26
  “What is it, you poor fool, you, but a customer, come at last into the kitchen—an’ time for us to see the face o’ one this blessed day. Get up out o’ that, wid your dhrames—don’t you hear ’em knocking? I’ll stay here to put one vessel at laste to rights—for I see I must.”  27
  Jeremiah arose, groaning, and entered the cabin through the back door. In a few seconds he hastened to his wife, more terror-stricken than he had left her, and settling his loins against the low garden wall, stared at her.  28
  “Why, then, duoul’s in you, Jer Mulcahy (saints forgive me for cursing!)—and what’s the matter wid you, at-all at-all?”  29
  “They’re in the kitchen,” he whispered.  30
  “Well, an’ what will they take?”  31
  “I spoke never a word to them, Cauth, nor they to me;—I couldn’t—an’ I won’t, for a duke’s ransom: I only saw them stannin’ together, in the dark that’s coming on, behind the dour, an’ I knew them at the first look—the tall one an’ the little one.”  32
  With a flout at his dreams, and his cowardice, and his good-for-nothingness, the dame hurried to serve her customers. Jeremiah heard her loud voice addressing them, and their hoarse tones answering. She came out again for two pints to draw some beer, and commanded him to follow her and “discoorse the customers.” He remained motionless. She returned in a short time, and fairly drove him before her into the house.  33
  He took a seat remote from his guests, with difficulty pronouncing the ordinary words of “God save ye, genteels,” which they bluffly and heartily answered. His glances towards them were also few; yet enough to inform him that they conversed together like friends, pledging healths and shaking hands. The tall sailor abruptly asked him how far it was, by the short cut, to a village where they proposed to pass the night—Kilbroggan?—Jeremiah started on his seat, and his wife, after a glance and a grumble at him, was obliged to speak for her husband. They finished their beer; paid for it; put up half a loaf and a cut of bad watery cheese, saying that they might feel more hungry a few miles on than they now did; and then they arose to leave the cabin. Jeremiah glanced in great trouble around. His wife had fortunately disappeared; he snatched up his old hat, and with more energy than he could himself remember, ran forward to be a short way on the road before them. They soon approached him; and then, obeying a conscientious impulse, Jeremiah saluted the smaller of the two, and requested to speak with him apart. The sailor, in evident surprise, assented. Jer vaguely cautioned him against going any farther that night, as it would be quite dark by the time he should get to the mountain pass, on the by-road to Kilbroggan. His warning was made light of. He grew more earnest, asserting, what was not the fact, that it was “a bad road,” meaning one infested by robbers. Still the bluff tar paid no attention, and was turning away. “Oh, sir; oh, stop, sir,” resumed Jeremiah, taking great courage, “I have a thing to tell you;” and he rehearsed his dream, averring that in it he had distinctly seen the present object of his solicitude set upon and slain by his colossal companion. The listener paused a moment; first looking at Jer, and then at the ground, very gravely: but the next moment he burst into a loud, and Jeremiah thought, frightful laugh, and walked rapidly to overtake his shipmate. Jeremiah, much oppressed, returned home.  34
  Towards dawn, next morning, the publican awoke in an ominous panic, and aroused his wife to listen to a loud knocking, and a clamor of voices at their door. She insisted that there was no such thing, and scolded him for disturbing her sleep. A renewal of the noise, however, convinced even her incredulity, and showed that Jeremiah was right for the first time in his life, at least. Both arose, and hastened to answer the summons.  35
  When they unbarred the front door, a gentleman, surrounded by a crowd of people of the village, stood before it. He had discovered on the by-road through the hills from Kilbroggan, a dead body, weltering in its gore, and wearing sailor’s clothes; had ridden on in alarm; had raised the village; and some of its population, recollecting to have seen Mrs. Mulcahy’s visitors of the previous evening, now brought him to her house to hear what she could say on the subject.  36
  Before she could say anything, her husband fell senseless at her side, groaning dolefully. While the bystanders raised him, she clapped her hands, and exalted her voice in ejaculations, as Irishwomen, when grieved or astonished or vexed, usually do; and now, as proud of Jeremiah’s dreaming capabilities as she had before been impatient of them, rehearsed his vision of the murder, and authenticated the visit of the two sailors to her house, almost while he was in the act of making her the confidant of his prophetic ravings. The auditors stept back in consternation, crossing themselves, smiting their breasts, and crying out, “The Lord save us! The Lord have mercy upon us!”  37
  Jeremiah slowly awoke from his swoon. The gentleman who had discovered the body commanded his attendants back to the lonesome glen, where it lay. Poor Jeremiah fell on his knees, and with tears streaming down his cheeks, prayed to be saved from such a trial. His neighbors almost forced him along.  38
  All soon gained the spot, a narrow pass between slanting piles of displaced rocks; the hills from which they had tumbled rising brown and barren and to a great height above and beyond them. And there, indeed, upon the strip of verdure which formed the winding road through the defile, lay the corpse of one of the sailors who had visited the publican’s house the evening before.  39
  Again Jeremiah dropt on his knees, at some distance from the body, exclaiming, “Lord save us!—yes! oh, yes, neighbors, this is the very place!—only—the saints be good to us again!—’twas the tall sailor I seen killing the little sailor, and here’s the tall sailor murthered by the little sailor.”  40
  “Dhrames go by conthraries, some way or another,” observed one of his neighbors; and Jeremiah’s puzzle was resolved.  41
  Two steps were now indispensable to be taken; the county coroner should be summoned, and the murderer sought after. The crowd parted to engage in both matters simultaneously. Evening drew on when they again met in the pass: and the first, who had gone for the coroner, returned with him, a distance of near twenty miles; but the second party did not prove so successful. In fact they had discovered no clue to the present retreat of the supposed assassin.  42
  The coroner impaneled his jury, and held his inquest under a large upright rock, bedded in the middle of the pass, such as Jeremiah said he had seen in his dream. A verdict of willful murder against the absent sailor was quickly agreed upon; but ere it could be recorded, all hesitated, not knowing how to individualize a man of whose name they were ignorant.  43
  The summer night had fallen upon their deliberations, and the moon arose in splendor, shining over the top of one of the high hills that inclosed the pass, so as fully to illumine the bosom of the other. During their pause, a man appeared standing upon the line of the hill thus favored by the moonlight, and every eye turned in that direction. He ran down the abrupt declivity beneath him; he gained the continued sweep of jumbled rocks which immediately walled in the little valley, springing from one to another of them with such agility and certainty that it seemed almost magical; and a general whisper of fear now attested the fact of his being dressed in a straw hat, a short jacket, and loose white trousers. As he jumped from the last rock upon the sward of the pass, the spectators drew back; but he, not seeming to notice them, walked up to the corpse, which had not yet been touched; took its hand; turned up its face into the moonlight, and attentively regarded the features; let the hand go; pushed his hat upon his forehead; glanced around him; recognized the person in authority; approached, and stood still before him, and said “Here I am, Tom Mills, that killed long Harry Holmes, and there he lies.”  44
  The coroner cried out to secure him, now fearing that the man’s sturdiness meant farther harm. “No need,” resumed the self-accused; “here’s my bread-and-cheese knife, the only weapon about me;” he threw it on the ground: “I come back just to ax you, commodore, to order me a cruise after poor Harry, bless his precious eyes, wherever he is bound.”  45
  “You have been pursued hither?”  46
  “No, bless your heart; but I wouldn’t pass such another watch as the last twenty-four hours for all the prize-money won at Trafalgar. ’Tisn’t in regard of not tasting food or wetting my lips ever since I fell foul of Harry, or of hiding my head like a cursed animal o’ the yearth, and starting if a bird only hopped nigh me: but I cannot go on living on this tack no longer; that’s it; and the least I can say to you, Harry, my hearty.”  47
  “What caused your quarrel with your comrade?”  48
  “There was no jar or jabber betwixt us, d’you see me.”  49
  “Not at the time, I understand you to mean; but surely you must have long owed him a grudge?”  50
  “No, but long loved him; and he me.”  51
  “Then, in heaven’s name, what put the dreadful thought in your head?”  52
  “The devil, commodore, (the horned lubber!) and another lubber to help him”—pointing at Jeremiah, who shrank to the skirts of the crowd. “I’ll tell you every word of it, commodore, as true as a log-book. For twenty long and merry years, Harry and I sailed together, and worked together, thro’ a hard gale sometimes, and thro’ hot sun another time; and never a squally word came between us till last night, and then it all came of that lubberly swipes-seller, I say again. I thought as how it was a real awful thing that a strange landsman, before ever he laid eyes on either of us, should come to have this here dream about us. After falling in with Harry, when the lubber and I parted company, my old mate saw I was cast down, and he told me as much in his own gruff, well-meaning way; upon which I gave him the story, laughing at it. He didn’t laugh in return, but grew glum—glummer than I ever seed him; and I wondered, and fell to boxing about my thoughts, more and more (deep sea sink that cursed thinking and thinking, say I!—it sends many an honest fellow out of his course); and ‘It’s hard to know the best man’s mind,’ I thought to myself. Well, we came on the tack into these rocky parts, and Harry says to me all on a sudden, ‘Tom, try the soundings here, ahead, by yourself—or let me, by myself.’ I axed him why? ‘No matter,’ says Harry again, ‘but after what you chawed about, I don’t like your company any farther, till we fall in again at the next village.’ ‘What, Harry,’ I cries, laughing heartier than ever, ‘are you afeard of your own mind with Tom Mills?’ ‘Pho,’ he made answer, walking on before me, and I followed him.  53
  “‘Yes,’ I kept saying to myself, ‘he is afeard of his own mind with his old shipmate.’ ’Twas a darker night than this, and when I looked ahead, the devil (for I know ’twas he that boarded me!) made me take notice what a good spot it was for Harry to fall foul of me. And then I watched him making way before me, in the dark, and couldn’t help thinking he was the better man of the two—a head and shoulders over me, and a match for any two of my inches. And then again, I brought to mind that Harry would be a heavy purse the better of sending me to Davy’s locker, seeing we had both been just paid off, and got a lot of prize-money to boot;—and at last (the real red devil having fairly got me helm a-larboard) I argufied with myself that Tom Mills would be as well alive, with Harry Holmes’s luck in his pocket, as he could be dead, and his in Harry Holmes’s; not to say nothing of taking one’s own part, just to keep one’s self afloat, if so be Harry let his mind run as mine was running.  54
  “All this time Harry never gave me no hail, but kept tacking through these cursed rocks; and that, and his last words, made me doubt him more and more. At last he stopped nigh where he now lies, and sitting with his back to that high stone, he calls for my blade to cut the bread and cheese he had got at the village; and while he spoke I believed he looked glummer and glummer, and that he wanted the blade, the only one between us, for some’at else than to cut bread and cheese; though now I don’t believe no such thing howsumdever; but then I did: and so, d’you see me, commodore, I lost ballast all of a sudden, and when he stretched out his hand for the blade (hell’s fire blazing up in my lubberly heart!)—‘Here it is, Harry,’ says I, and I gives it to him in the side!—once, twice, in the right place!” (the sailor’s voice, hitherto calm, though broken and rugged, now rose into a high, wild cadence)—“and then how we did grapple! and sing out one to another! ahoy! yeho! aye; till I thought the whole crew of devils answered our hail from the hill-tops!—But I hit you again and again, Harry! before you could master me,” continued the sailor, returning to the corpse, and once more taking its hand—“until at last you struck,—my old messmate!—And now—nothing remains for Tom Mills—but to man the yard-arm!”  55
  The narrator stood his trial at the ensuing assizes, and was executed for this avowed murder of his shipmate; Jeremiah appearing as a principal witness. Our story may seem drawn either from imagination, or from mere village gossip: its chief acts rest, however, upon the authority of members of the Irish bar, since risen to high professional eminence; and they can even vouch that at least Jeremiah asserted the truth of “The Publican’s Dream.”  56

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