Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 101

They Make a Proposal

“Oh, what is that?” said the Countess. “If I have it, or can in any way procure it, tell me, that I may redeem these deluded people’s souls.”

[Pg 177] “You have it now, fair saint. It is one pure soul, precious as multitudes of more sin-stained souls. Our master would far rather have a perfect and flawless pearl for his diadem than myriads of these cracked and flawed crystals. Your soul, most saintly Countess, would redeem the souls of all your tribe, if you would sell it to our king; it would be the fairest jewel in his crown. But think not to save your people otherwise, and beguile them no longer with false promises of help: your messenger to Ulster lies sick of ague in the Bog of Allen, and no food comes from England.”

False Tidings

“We saw a man
Heavy with sickness in the Bog of Allen
Whom you had bid buy cattle. Near Fair Head
We saw your grain ships lying all becalmed
In the dark night, and not less still than they
Burned all their mirrored lanterns in the sea.”

When Cathleen heard of the failure of her messengers to bring food it seemed as if all hope were indeed over, and the demons smiled craftily upon her as she turned silently to go, and laughed joyously to each other when she had left their presence. Now they had good hope to win her for their master; but they knew that their time was short, since help was not far away.

“Last night, closed in the image of an owl,
I hurried to the cliffs of Donegal,
And saw, creeping on the uneasy surge,
Those ships that bring the woman grain and meal;
They are five days from us.
I hurried east,
A grey owl flitting, flitting in the dew,
And saw nine hundred oxen toil through Meath,
Driven on by goads of iron; they too, brother,
Are full five days from us. Five days for traffic.”

[Pg 178]

Cathleen’s Despair

The Countess then went back in bitter grief to her desolate castle, where only faithful old servants now waited in the halls, and whispered together in the dark corners, and, kneeling in her oratory, she prayed far into the night for light in her darkness. As she prayed before the altar she slept for very weariness, and was aroused by a sudden furious knocking, and an outcry of “Thieves! Thieves!” Cathleen rose quickly from the altar steps, and met her foster-mother, Oona, at the door of the oratory; and Oona cried aloud: “Thieves have broken into the treasure-chamber, and nothing is left!” Cathleen asked if this were true, and discovered that not a single coin, not a single gem was left: the demons had stolen all. And while the servants still mourned over the lost treasures of the house there came another cry of “Thieves! Thieves!” and an old peasant rushed in, exclaiming that all the food was gone. That, alas! was true: the few sacks of meal which supplied the scanty daily fare were emptied and the bags flung on the floor. Now indeed the last poor resource was gone.