Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race
Page: 100In Vain
But all was useless. Her messengers had sent no word of their return, and the abundant supplies at the forest cottage were more easily obtained, and were less carefully regulated, than those of the Countess Cathleen. The merchants, too, were ever at hand with their cunning wiles, and their active, persuasive dupes, who would gladly bring all others into their own soulless condition. The wine given by the demons warmed the hearts of all who drank, and the deceived peasants dreamed of happiness when the famine was over, and so the passionate appeal of the Countess failed, and the sale of souls continued merrily. The noise of revelry grew daily louder and more riotous, and the drinkers cared nothing for the death or departure of their dearest friends; while those who died, died drunken and utterly reckless, or full of horror and despair, reviling the crafty merchants who had deceived them with promises of life and happiness. The evil influence clung all about the country-side, and seemed in league with the pitiless powers of Nature against the souls of men, till at last the stricken Countess, putting her trust in God, sought out the forest lodge where the demon merchants dwelt, trafficking for souls. The way was easy to find now, for a broad beaten track led to the dwelling, and as the evil spirits saw Cathleen coming slowly along the path their wicked eyes gleamed and their clawlike hands worked convulsively in their jewelled gloves, for they hoped she had come to sell her pure soul.
She Visits the Demons
“What does the Countess Cathleen wish to obtain from two poor stranger merchants?” said the elder with an evil smile; and the younger, bowing deeply said: “Lady, you may command us in all things, save what touches our allegiance to our king.” Cathleen replied: “I have no merchandise to barter, nothing for trade with you, for you buy such things as I will never sell: you buy men’s souls for Hell. I come only to beg that you will release the poor souls whom you have bought for Satan’s kingdom, and will have mercy on my ignorant people and deceive them no more. I have yet some gold unspent and jewels unsold: take all there is but let my people go free.” Then the merchants laughed aloud scornfully, and rejected her offer. “Would you have us undo our work? Have we toiled, then, for naught to extend our master’s sway? Have we won for him so many souls to dwell for ever in his kingdom and do his work, and shall we give them back for your entreaties? We have gold enough, and food and wine enough, fair lady. The souls we have bought we keep, for our master gives us honour and rank proportioned to the number of souls we win for him, and you may see by the golden circlets round our brows that we are princes of his kingdom, and have brought him countless souls. Nevertheless, there is one most rare and precious thing which could redeem these bartered souls of Ireland’s peasants, things of little worth.”