Beside the River Liffey stands the picturesque ruins of a mill, overshadowed by some noble trees, that grow in great luxuriance at the water's edge. Here, one day, I was accosted by a silver-haired old man that for some time had been observing me, and who, when I was about to leave the spot, approached me and said: "I suppose it's after takin' off the ould mill you'd be, sir?"
I answered in the affirmative.
"Maybe your honour id let me get a sight iv it," said he.
"With pleasure," said I, as I untied the strings of my portfolio, and drawing the sketch from amongst its companions, presented it to him. He considered it attentively for some time, and at length exclaimed:
"Throth, there it is, to the life--the broken roof and the wather-coorse; ay, even to the very spot where the gudgeon of the wheel was wanst, let alone the big stone at the corner, that was laid the first by himself;" and he gave the last word with mysterious emphasis, and handed the drawing back to me with a "thankee, sir!" of most respectful acknowledgment.
"And who was 'himself," said I, "that laid that stone?" feigning ignorance, and desiring to "draw him out," as the phrase is.
"Oh, then, maybe it's what you'd be a stranger here?" said he
"Almost," said I.
"And you never hear tell of L--'s mill," said he, "and how it was built?"
"Never," was my answer.
"Throth, then, I thought young and ould, rich and poor, knew that--far and near."
"I don't, for one," said I; "but perhaps," I added, bringing forth some little preparation for a lunch that I had about me, and producing a small flask of whisky--" perhaps you will be so good as to tell me, and take a slice of ham, and drink my health," offering him a dram from my flask, and seating myself on the sod beside the river.
"Thank you kindly, sir," says he; and so, after "warming his heart," as be said himself, he proceeded to give an account of the mill in question.
"You see, sir, there was a man wanst, in times back, that owned a power of land about here - but God keep us, they said he didn't come by it honestly, but did a crooked turn whenever 'twas to sarve himself--and sure he sould the pass, and what luck or grace could he havw afther that?"
"How do you mean be sold the pass?" said I.
"Oh, sure your honour must have head how the pass was sould, and he bethrayed his king and counthry."
"No, indeed," said I.
"Och, well," answered my old informant, with a shake of the head, which he meant, like Lord Burleigh in the Critic, to be very significant, "it's no matther now, and I don't care talkin' about it; and laist said is soonest mended--howsomever, he got a power of money for that same, and lands and what not; but the more he got, the more he craved, and there was no ind to his sthrivin' for goold evermore, and thirstin' for the lucre of gain.
"Well, at last, the story goes, the divil (God bless us!) kem to him, and promised him hapes o' money, and all his heart could desire, and more too, if he'd sell his soul in exchange."
"Surely he did not consent to such a dreadful bargain as that?" said I.
"Oh, no, sir," said the old man, with a slight play of muscle about the corners of his mouth, which, but that the awfulness of the subject suppressed it, would have amounted to a bitter smile--" oh, no, he was too cunnin' for that, bad as he was--and he was bad enough, God knows--he had some regard for his poor sinful sowl, and he would not give himself up to the divil, all out; but the villian, he thought he might make a bargain with the ould chap, and get all he wanted, and keep himself out of harm's way still; for he was mighty cute--and throth, he was able for Ould Nick any day.
"Well, the bargain was struck, and it was this-a-way: The divil was to give him all the goold ever he'd ask for, and was to let him alone as long as he could; and the timpter promised him a long day, and said 'twould be a great while before he'd want him, at all, at all; and whin that time kem, he was to keep his hands aff him, as long as the other could give him some work be couldn't do.
"So when the bargain was made, 'Now,' says 'the Colonel to the divil, 'give me all the money I want.'
"' As much as you like,' says Ouid Nick. 'How much will you have?'
"You must fill me that room,' says he, pointin' into a murtherin' big room, that he emptied out on purpose--'you must fill me that room,' says be, 'up to the very ceilin' with goolden guineas.'
"'And welkim,' says the divil.
"With that, sir, he began to shovel in the guineas into the room like mad; and the Colonel towld him, that as soon as he was done, to come to him in his own parlour below, and that he would then go up and see if, the divil was as good as his word, and had filled the room with the goolden guineas. So the Colonel went downstairs, and the ould fellow worked away as busy as a nailer, shovellin' in the guineas by hundherds and thousands.
"Well, he worked away for an hour and more, and at last he began to get tired; and he thought it mighty odd that the room wasn't fillin' fasther. Well, afther restin' for a while, he began agin, and he put his shouIdher to the work in airnest; but still the room was no fuller, at all, at all.
"'Och! bad luck to me,' says the divil; 'but the likes of this I never seen,' says he, 'far and near, up and down--the dickens a room I ever kem across afore,' says he, 'I couldn't cram while a cook would be crammin' a turkey, till now; and here I am,' says he 'losin' my whole day, and I with such a power o' work an my hands yit, and this room no fuller than if I began five minutes ago.'
"By gor, while he was spakin', be seen the hape o' guineas in the middle of the flure growing littler and littler every minit; and at last they wor disappearing, for all the world, like corn in the hopper of a mill.
"Ho! ho!' says Ould Nick, 'is that the way wid you,' says he; and with that he run over to the hape of goold--and what would you think, but it was runnin' down through a great big hole in the flure that the Colonel made through the ceilin' in the room below; and that was the work he was at afther he left the divil, though he purtended he was only waitin' for him in his parlour; and there the divil, when he looked down through the hole in the flure, seen the Colonel, not content with the two rooms full of guineas, but with a big shovel throwin' them into a closet a one side of him as fast as they fell down. So putting his head through the hole, he called down to the Colonel:
"'Hillo! neighbour,' says he.
"The Colonel look up, and grew as white as a sheet when he seen he was found out, and the red eyes starin' down at him through the hole.
"'Musha, bad luck to your impudence!' says Ould Nick; 'is It sthrivin' to chate me you are,' says he, 'you villain?'
"Oh! forgive me this wanst,' says the Colonel, 'and upon the honour of a gintleman,' says he, 'I'll never--'
"'Whisht! whisht! you thievin' rogue,' says the divil, 'I'm not angry with you, at all, at all; but only like you the betther, bekase you're so cute. Lave off slaving yourself there,' says he, 'you have got goold enough for this time; and whenever you want more, you have only to say the word, and it shall be yours at command.'
"So, with that the divil and he parted for that time; and myself doesn't know whether they used to meet often afther or not; but the Colonel never wanted money, anyhow, but went on prosperous in the world--and as the saying is, if he took the dirt out o' the road, it id turn to money wid him; and so, in coorse of time, he bought great estates, and was a great man entirely--not a greater in Ireland, throth."
Fearing here a digression on landed interest, I interrupted him to ask how he and the fiend settled their accounts at last?
"Oh, sir, you'll hear that all in good time. Sure enough it's terrible, and wondherful it is at the ind, and mighty improvin' - glory be to God!"
"Is that what you say," said I, in surprise, " because a wicked and deluded man lost his soul to the tempter?"
"Oh, the Lord forbid, your honour! but don't be impatient, and you'll hear all. They say, at last, after many years of prosperity, that the old Colonel got stricken in years, and he began to have misgivin's in his conscience for his wicked doin's, and his heart was heavy as the fear of death came upon him; and sure enough, while he had such mournful thoughts, the dlvii kern to him, and tould him he should go meld hiss.
"Well to be sure the ould man was frekened, but he plucked up his courage and his cuteness, and towld the divil, in a bantherin' way, jokin' like, that he had partic'lar business thin, that he was goin' to a party, and hoped an ould friend wouldn't inconvaynience him, that a-way--"
"Well," said I, laughing at the "put off" of going to a party, "the devil, of course would take no excuse, and carried him off in a flash of fire?"
"Oh, no, sir," answered the old man, in something of a reproving, or, at least, offended tone - " that's the finish, I know very well, of many a story such as we're talkin' of, but that's not the way of this, which is thruth every word, what I tell you."
"I beg your pardon for the interruption," said I.
"No offince in life, sir," said the venerable chronicler, who was now deep in his story, and would not be stopped.
"Well, sir," continued he, "the divil said he'd call the next day, and that he must be ready; and sure enough, in the evenin' he kem to him; and when the Colonel seen him, he reminded him of his bargain that as long as he could give him some work he couldn't do, he wasn't obleeged to go.
"'That's thrue,' says the divil.
"'I'm glad you're as good as your word, anyhow,' says the Colonel.
"'I never bruk my word yit,' says the ould chap, cocking up his horns consaitedly--' honour bright,' says he.
"'Well, then,' says the Colonel, 'build me a mill, down there by the river,' says he, 'and let me have it finished by to-morrow mornin'.'
"'Your will is my pleasure,' says the ould chap, and away he wint; and the Colonel thought he had nick'd Ould Nick at last, and wint to bed quite aisy in his mind.
"But, jewel machree, sure the first thing he heerd the next mornin' was, that the whole counthry round was runnin' to see a fine bran-new mill, that was an the riverside, where, the evenin' before, not a thing at all, at all but rushes was standin', and all, of coorse, woudherin' what brought it there; and some sayin 'twas not lucky, and many more throubled in their mind, but one and all agreein' it was no good; and that's the very mill forniust you, that you were takin' aff and the stone that I noticed is a remarkable one--a big coign-stone--that they say the divil himself laid first, and has the mark of four fingers and a thumb an it, to this day.
"But when the Colonel heerd it, he was more throubled than any, of coorse, and began to conthrive what else he could think iv, to keep himself out iv the claws of the ould one. Well he often heerd tell that there was one thing the divil never could do, and I dar say you beard it too, sir--that is, that he couldn't make a rope out of the sands of the sae; and so when the ould one kem to him the next day and said his job was done, and that now the mill was built, he must either tell him somethin' else he wanted done, or come away wid him.
"So the Colonel said he saw it was all over wid him; 'but,' says he,' I wouldn't like to go wid you alive, and sure, it's all the same to you, alive or dead?'
"'Oh, that won't do,' says his frind; 'I can't wait no more,' says he.
"'I don't want you to wait, my dear frind,' says the Colonel; "all I want is, that you'll be plazed to kill me before you take me away.'
"'With pleasure," says Ould Nick.
"'But will you promise me my choice of dyin' one partic'lar way?' says the Colonel.
"'Half a dozen ways, if it plazes you,' says he.
"'You're mighty obleegin', says the Colonel; 'and so,' says he, 'I'd rather die by bein' hanged with a rope made out of the sands of the sae,' says he, lookin' mighty knowin' at the ould fellow.
"'I've always one about me,' says the divil, 'to obleege my frinds,' says he; and with that he pull out a rope made of sand, sure enough.
"'Oh, it's game you're makin',' says the Colonel, growin' as white as a sheet.
"'The game is mine, sure enough,' says the ould fellow, grinnn', with a terrible laugh.
"'That's not a sand-rope at all,' says the Colonel.
"'Isn't it?' says the divil, hittin' him acrass the face with the ind iv the rope, and the sand (for it was made of sand, sure enough) went into one of his eyes, and made the tears come with the pain.
"'That bates all I ever seen or heerd,' says the Colonel, sthrivin' to rally, and make another offer--' is there anything you can't do?'
"'Nothin' you can tell me,' says the divil,' 'so you may as well lay, off your palaverin', and come along at wanst.'
"'Will you give me one more offer?' says the Colonel.
"'You don't deserve it,' says the divil, 'but I don't care if I do;' for you see, sir, be was only playin' wid him, and tantalising the ould sinner.
"'All fair,' says the Colonel, and with that he ax'd him could he stop a woman's tongue.
"'Thry me,' says Ould Nick.
"'Well, then,' says the Colonel, 'make my lady's tongue be quiet for the next month, and I'll thank you.'
"'She'll never throuble you agin,' says Ould Nick; and with that the Colonel heerd roarin' and cryin', and the door of his room was throwin' open, and in ran his daughter, and fell down at his feet, telling him her mother had just dhropped dead.
"The minit the door opened, the divil runs and hides himself behind a big elbow-chair; and the Colonel was frekened almost out of his siven sinses, by raison of the sudden death of his poor lady, let alone the jeopardy he was in himself, seein' how the divil had forestall'd him every way; and after ringin' his bell, and callin' to his servants, and recoverin' his daughter out of her faint, he was goin' away wid her out o' the room, whin the divil caught hould of him by the skirt of the coat, and the Colonel was obleeged to let his daughter be carried out by the servants, and shut the door afther them.
"'Well,' says the divil, and he grinn'd and wagg'd his tail, and all as one as a dog when he's plaz'd--' what do you say now?' says he.
"'Oh,' says the Colonel, 'only lave me alone antil I bury my poor wife,' says he, 'and I'll go with you then, you villian,' says he.
"'Don't call names,' says the divil; 'you had better keep a civil tongue in your head,' says he; 'and it doesn't become a gintleman to forget good manners.'
"Well, sir, to make a long story short, the divil purtended to let him off, out of kindness, for three days, antil his wife was buried; but the raison of it was this, that when the lady, his daughter, fainted, be loosened the clothes about her throat, and in pulling some of her dhrees away, he tuk off a gould chain that was an her neck, and put it in his pocket, and the chain had a diamond crass on it, the Lord be praised! and the divil darn't touch him while he had the sign of the crass about him.
"Well, the poor Colonel, God forgive him! was grieved for the loss of his lady, and she had an iligant berrin, and they say that when the prayers was readin' over the dead, the ould Colonel took it to heart like anything, and the word o' God kem home to his poor sinful sowl at last.
"Well,' sir, to make a long story short, the ind if it was that for the three days o' grace that was given to him the poor deluded ould sinner did nothin' at all but read the Bible from mornin' till night, and bit or sup didn't pass his lips all the time, he was so intint upon the holy Book, but sat up in an ould room in the far ind of the house, and bid no one disturb him an no account, and struv to make his heart bould with the words iv life; and sure it was somethin' strinthened him at last, though as the time drew nigh that the inimy was to come, he didn't feel aisy. And no wondher! And, by dad! the three days was past and gone in no time, and the story goes that at the dead hour o' the night, when the poor sinner was readin' away as fast as he could, my jew'l! his heart jumped up to his mouth at gettin' a tap on the shoulder.
"'Oh, murther!' says he. 'Who's there?' for he was afeard to look up.
"'It's me,' says the ould one, and he stood right forninst him, and his eyes like coals o' fire lookin' him through, and he said, with a voice that a'most split his ould heart: 'Come!' says he.
"'Another day!' cried out the poor Colonel.
"'Not another hour,' says Sat'n.
"'Half an hour?'
"'Not a quarther,' says the divil, grinnin', 'with a bitther laugh. 'Give over your readin', I bid you,' says he, 'and come away wid me.'
"'Only gi' me a few minits,' says he.
"'Lave aff your palavering, you snakin' ould sinner,' says Sat'n. 'You know you're bought and sould to me, and a purty bargain I have o' you, you ould baste,' says he, 'so come along at wanst,' and he put out his claw to ketch him; but the Colonel tuk a fast hould o' the Bible,' and begg'd hard that he'd let him alone, and wouldn't harm him antil the bit o' candle that was just blinkin' in the socket before him was burned out.
"'Well, have it so, you dirty coward!' says Ould Nick, and with that he spit an him.
"But the poor ould Colonel didn't lose a minit--for he was cunnin' to the ind--but snatched the little taste o' candle that was forninst him out o' the candlestick, and puttin' it an the holy Book before him, he shut down the cover of it and quinched the light. With that the divil gave a roar like, a bull, and vanished in a flash o' fire, and the poor Colonel fainted away in his chair; but the sarvants heerd the noise--for the divil tore aff the roof o' the house when he left it--and run into the room, and brought their master to himself agin. And from that day out he was an althered man, and used to have the Bible read to him every day, for be couldn't read himself any more, by raison of losin' his eyesight when the divil hit him with the rope of sand in the face, and afther spit an him--for the sand wint into one eye, and he lost the other that-away, savin' your presence.
"So you see, sir, afther all, the Colonel, undher heaven, was "too able for the divil, and by readin' the good Book his sowl was saved, and, glory be to God! isn't that mighty improvin'?"