Fergus O'Mara and the Demons

Patrick Weston Joyce

Mass was all over and the people dispersed to their homes, and all wondered that they did not see Fergus; for no one could remember that he was ever absent before. His wife returned, expecting to find him at home; but when she arrived there was trouble in her heart, for there were no tidings of him, and no one had seen him since he had set out for Mass in the morning.

Meantime Fergus followed up the chase till he was wearied out; and at last, just on the edge of a wild moor, both deer and hounds disappeared behind a shoulder of rock, and he lost them altogether. At the same moment the cry of the hounds became changed to frightful shrieks and laughter, such as he had heard more than once from the Demons' Bock. And now, sitting down on a bank to rest, he had full time to reflect on what he had done, and he was overwhelmed with remorse and shame. Moreover, his heart sank within him, thinking of the last sounds he had heard; for he believed that he had been allured from Mass by the cunning wiles of the demons, and he feared that the dangerous time had come, foretold by the monk. He started up and set out for his home, hoping to reach it before night. But before he had got half-way, night fell, and a storm came on, great wind and rain, and bursts of thunder and lightning. Fergus was strong and active however and knew every turn of the mountain, and he made his way through the storm till he approached the Demons' Rock.

Suddenly there burst on his ears the very same sounds that he had heard on losing sight of the chase—shouts and shrieks and laughter. A great black ragged cloud, whirling round and round with furious gusts of wind, burst from the rock and came sweeping and tearing towards him. Crossing himself in terror and uttering a short prayer, he rushed for home. But the whirlwind swept nearer and nearer, till at last, in a sort of faint shadowy light, he saw the black cloud full of dimly defined frightful faces, all glaring straight at him, and coming closer and closer.

At this moment a small bright light dropped down from the sky and rested in front of the cloud; and when he looked closely he saw his little child floating in the air between him and the demons, holding a lighted candle in her hand. And although the storm was raging and roaring all round, she was quite calm—not a breath of air stirred her long yellow hair—and the candle burned quietly. Even in the midst of all his terror he could observe her pale gentle face and blue eyes just as when she was alive, not showing traces of sickness or sadness now, but lighted up with joy. The demons seemed to start back from the light, and with great uproar rushed round to the other side of Fergus, the black cloud still moving with them and wrapping them up in its ragged folds; but the little angel floated softly round with the light in her hand, still keeping between them and her father. Fergus ran on for home, and the cloud of demons still kept furiously whirling round and round him, bringing with them a whirlwind that roared among the trees and bushes and tore them from the roots; but still the child, always holding the candle towards them, kept floating calmly round and shielded him.