Legend of the Yew Tree continued

It was understood that on this night Honor was to make her choice between her lovers, so becoorse they both came prepared to do all they could to win the hand of the purty cailleen. Neal, it was remarked, never talked so fast, laughed so loud, and whispered such slewthering [8] speeches into Honor's ear as on that evening. Frank, who was no match for the soger at the blarney, sat by without opening his lips, but every now and then he threw such mournful and reproachin' looks over towards Honor, as caused her cheek to turn pale, and made her wish in her heart that Frank could spake to her like Neal. Well, as the night grew late, some of the ould people began to talk of ghosts and sperrits, and holy places, and laygends, and the like; and, amongst the rest, of the yew-tree of Mucruss, which was planted by the blessed hands of St. Columbkill himself, who left a strict order and command to all thrue believers not to touch so much as a leaf from it. I don't know what put it into Honor's head, but says she, quite suddenly, 'I wish I had some of the leaves of that tree: I hear they are good for the tooth-ache; and last night I had it so bad I could not get a wink of sleep.'

"Then, giving a side-glance at her sweethearts, she added, in a careless way, "'I wondher is there anybody here fond enough of me to go to the abbey to-night, and fetch me a handful of the leaves.'

"'I'll go,' cried Neal and Frank, jumping up together.

"Honor looked from one to the other in a laughing way.

"'I won't make little of either by preferring one to the other,' says she, 'but if you're both so eager to oblige me, I'll give him who first brings me a branch from the yew-tree that grows in the church'—here she smiled one of her deludin' smiles, and purtended to look for a pin she had dropped on the flure—'I'll give him,' says she, 'whatever he asks that 'tis in my power to bestow.'

"The words had hardly passed her lips when the two young men, without the laste warning, started off, like a brace of greyhounds, down the hill towards the abbey.

"'Blessed mother!' cried Honor, turning as pale as a shroud, 'they don't mean to touch the blessed tree! Sure they might know I was only joking to try their sperrit. Shawn M'Garry, achree, run after them, and don't let them attempt such a thing! Run, Shawn, asthore!'

"But Shawn should have had the foot of one of the mountain-deer to be able to overtake the rivals, who were already half-way down the hill. The night was as black as pitch, but both the lovers knew every inch of the path, and you may be sure neither of them let much grass grow under their feet on the way. On they kept, running for the bare life, till Neal, who was the lightest of the two, got a good piece ahead of Frank, and was crossing the last ditch between him and the abbey, when he heard a voice calling to him in the pitifullest manner you can consave,

"'Neal Connor, Neal Connor!' says the voice, 'stop and help a poor ould woman that's fallen into the ditch.'

"'I haven't time,' says Neal, 'at the present.'

"'For the love of heaven! for the blessed Vargin's sweet sake, don't lave me to perish here!' says the ould woman.

"'Don't bother me,' says Neal, 'I wouldn't stop now for a univarse of ould women;' and away he run.

"Just then up comes Frank.

"'Help a poor ould crather out of this, Frank Fineen, and my blessing will attend you,' cries the same voice.

"'That I will and welcome, poor woman,' says Frank, 'though every minnit is worth goold to me now.—Where are you at all.'

"'Here I am, in the ditch: give us your hand, avourneen.'

"Frank reached out his hand to her, which she caught hoult of; but when he tried to pull her up she was so mortial heavy he could hardly stir her.

"'Pull away, Frank, abouchal—pull away, asthore!' says the ould woman from the bottom of the ditch.

"'I'm pullin' my best,' says Frank, making a great heave, and raising her about half-way up the bank, when his foot slipped and down he went, head over heels, along with her into the mud and sludge of the ditch. After struggling and sliddhering about for a long while, he at last got himself and the ould woman upon dry land.

"'You've done one of the blessed works of mercy, Frank,' says she: 'a poor ould woman like me has little to give; but here's something at laste for you to remember me by,' and tearing a bit off the corner of her cloak, she gave it to Frank, who put it in his pocket, and walked off towards the abbey quite melancholy, for he knew he had lost so much time that his chance of being first back with the yew-branch was gone. Surprised at not meeting Neal on his return, he entered the cloisters, and there what did he behold, but the soger stretched upon one of the tombstones, with a large branch of the blessed tree in his hand. Frank at first thought he was dead, but after a while he began to recover, and at last, with Frank's help, he tottered to a neighbour's cabin, where he was put to bed, and the priest sent for; but before Father James could arrive poor Neal Connor was a corpse. Before he died, however, he tould Frank, that the instant he cut off the branch of the tree, he heard a dreadful screech—heaven presarve the hearers!—and at the same time felt a sudden blow from something he couldn't see, which struck him sinseless to the ground."

"Indeed?"

"Aye, sir, but the most particular part of the story ain't tould yet; for the next day, when the people went to look at the yew-tree, they found the ground around it steeped in blood from the wound that Neal Connor had made cutting off the branch; and since then the ghost of the soldier is said to haunt this ould place, followed by a big dark man, who every night whips him three times round the abbey walls."

I suppose my ancient chronicler perceived an incredulous smile lurking about my mouth, for she hastily added, as if replying to my thoughts—

"In troth, sir, it is a mighty remarkable laygend, and has some hard parts in it; but still an'all, it's as thrue as that your honour is sitting there upon that flagstone."

I assured her that I placed as implicit belief in her narration as I did in any similar marvellous tradition.

"But," said I, "who was the old woman that Frank helped out of the ditch?'

"I knew your honour would be curious about her. Well, then, that ould woman was no other than the blessed Saint Bridget herself; and if Neal Connor had shown a pitiful heart towards the cries of the distressed, she would have pursarved him from the misfortune that happened to him. As for Frank, he had his reward for the ducking he got that night; for in less than a month he was married to Honor Hennesey—and, by all accounts, there was lashins of whiskey at their weddin'; but that was before the Teetotallers was hard of in these parts."

The simple moral of the woman's story pleased me exceedingly, and having acknowledged the gratification I had received by a small douceur, I quitted the abbey, overwhelmed by a shower of blessings poured forth with that energetic eloquence in which the Irish peasant gives expression to the emotions of a heart warm in its gratitude and bitter in its hate.


NOTE

[8] Slewthering, flattering.


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