"A SAD tale's best for winter," saith the epigraph; and it was by the winter's hearth that I heard the following ghost-story, rendered interesting from the air of reverential belief with which It was delivered from the withered lips of an old woman.
Masses for the souls of the dead are among the most cherished items of the Roman Catholic peasant's belief; and it was to prove how sacred a duty the mass for the "soul of the faithful departed" is considered before the eternal judgment-seat, that the tale was told, which I shall endeavour to repeat as nearly as my memory will serve, in the words of the original narrator. It was a certain eve of St. John, as well as I can remember, that the old dame gave as the date of the supernatural occurrence.
"Whin Mary O'Malley, a friend of my mother's (God rest her sowl!) and it was herself tould me the story: Mary O'Malley was in the chapel hearin' vespers an the eve o' Saint John, whin, you see, whether it was that she was dbrowsy or tired afther the days work--for she was all day teddin' the new-cut grass, for 'twas haymakin' sayson--or whether it was ordhered and that it was all for the glory of God, and the repose of a throubled sowl, or how it was, it doesn't become me to say, but howsomever, Mary fell asleep in the chapel, and sound enough she slep', for never a wink she wakened antil every individhial craythur was gone, and the chapel doors was looked. Well, you may be sure, it's poor Mary O'Malley was freken'd, and thrimbl'd till she thought she'd ha' died on the spot, and sure, no wondher, considerin' she was locked up in a chapel all alone, and in the dark, and no one near her.
Well, afther a time she recovered herself a little, and she thought there was no use in life in settin' up a phillelew, sthrivin' to make herself heerd, for she knew well no livin' sowl was within call; and so, on a little considheration, whin she got over the first fright at being left alone that-a-way, good thoughts kem into her head to comfort her; and sure she knew she was in God's own house, and that no bad sper't daar come there. So, with that she knelt down agin, and repeated her credos and pather-and -aves, over and over, antil she felt quite sure in the purtection of hiv'n, and then, wrappin' herself up in her cloak, she thought she might lie down and sthrive to sleep till mornin', whin, 'may the Lord keep us!' piously ejaculated the old woman, crossing herself most devoutly, 'all, of a suddint a light shined into the chapel as bright as the light of day, and with that poor Mary, lookin' up, seen it shinin' out of the door of the vesthry, and immediately out walked out of the vesthry a priest dhressed in black vestments, and goin' slowly up to the althar, he. said: 'Is there anyone here to answer this mass?'
Well, my poor dear Mary thought the life 'id lave her, for she dhreaded the priest was not of this world, and she couldn't say a word; and whin the priest ax'd three times was there no one there to answer the mass, and got no answer, he walked back agin into the vesthry, and in a minit all was dark agin; but before he wint, Mary thought he looked towards her, and she said she'd never forget the melancholy light of his eyes, and the look he gave her quite pitiful like, and she said she never heerd before nor since such a wondherful deep voice.
Well, sir, the poor craythur, the minit the sper't was gone--for it was a sper't, God be good to us!--that minit the craythur fainted dead away; and so I suppose it was with her from one faint into another, for she knew nothin' more about anything antil she recovered and kem to herself in her mother's cabin, afther being brought home from the chapel next mornin' whin it was opened for mass, and she was found there.
I hear, thin, it was as good as a week before she could lave her bed, she was so overcome by the mortial terror she was in that blessed night, blessed as it was, bein' the eve of a holy saint, and more by token, the manes of givin' repose to a throubled sper't; for you see, whin Mary tould what she had seen and heard to her clergy, his Riverence, undher God, was enlightened to see the maynin' of it all; and the maynin' was this, that he undherstood from hearin' of the priest appearin' in black vestments, that it was for to say mass for the dead that he kem there; and so he supposed that the priest durin' his lifetime had forgot to say a mass for the dead that he was bound to say, and that his poor sowl couldn't have rest antil that mass was said, and that he must walk antil the duty was done.
So Mary's clergy said to her, that as the knowledge of this was made. through her, and as his Riverence said she was chosen, he ax'd her would she go and keep another vigil in the chapel, as his Riverence said--and thrue for him--for the repose of a sowl. So Mary, bein' a stout girl, and always good, and relyin' on doin' what she thought was her duty in the eyes of God, said she'd watch another night, but hoped she wouldn't be ax'd to stay long in the chapel alone. So the priest tould her 'twould do if she was there a little store twelve o'clock at night; for you know, sir, that people never appears antil afther twelve, and from that till cock-crow. And so accordingly Mary wint on the night of the vigil, and before twelve down she knelt in the chapel, and began a-countin' of her beads, and the craythur, she thought every minit was an hour antil she'd be relaysed.
Well, she wasn't kep' long; for soon the dazalin' light burst from out of the vesthry door, and the same priest kem out that appeared afore, and in the same melancholy voice he ax'd, when he mounted the althar: 'Is there anyone here to answer this mass?'
Well, poor Mary sthruv to spake, but the craythur thought her heart was up in her mouth, and not a word could she say, and agin the word was ax'd from the althar, and still she couldn't say a word; but the sweat ran down her forehead as thick as the winther's rain, and immediately she felt relieved, and the impression was taken aff her heart like, and so, whin for the third and last time the appearance said: 'Is there no one here to answer this mass?' poor Mary mutthered out 'Yis' as well as she could.
Oh, often I heerd her say the beautiful sight it was to see the lovely smile upon the face of the sper't as he turned round and looked kindly upon her, saying these remarkable words: 'It's twenty years,' says he, ' I have been 'askin' that question, and no one answered till this blessed night, and a blessin' be on her that answered, and now my business on earth is finished,' and with that he vanished before you could shut your eyes.
So never say, sir, It's no good praying for the dead; for you see that even the sowl of a priest couldn't have pace for forgettin' so holy a thing as a mass for the sowl of the faithful departed."