Short Stories: John Banim - The Rival Dreamers - Bio data - Links to more ShS

Posted by Ricardo Marcenaro | Posted in | Posted on 12:54

John Banim
(3 April 1798 – 30 August 1842)

Mr. Washington Irving has already given to the public a version of an American legend, which, in a principal feature, bears some likeness to the following transcript of a popular Irish one. It may, however, be interesting to show this very coincidence between the descendants of a Dutch transatlantic colony and the native peasantry of Ireland, in the superstitious annals of both. Our tale, moreover, will be found original in all its circumstances, that alluded to only excepted.
Shamus Dempsey returned a silent, plodding, sorrowful man, though a young one, to his poor home, after seeing laid in the grave his aged, decrepit father. The last rays of the setting sun were glorious, shooting through the folds of their pavilion of scarlet clouds; the last song of the thrush, chanted from the bough nearest to his nest, was gladdening; the abundant though but half-matured crops around breathed of hope for the future. But Shamus's bosom was covered with the darkness that inward sunshine alone can illumine. The chord that should respond to song and melody had snapped in it; for him the softly undulating fields of light-green wheat, or the silken-surfaced patches of barley, made a promise in vain. He was poor, penniless, friendless, and yet groaning under responsibilities; worn out by past and present suffering, and without a consoling prospect. His father's corpse had just been buried by a subscription among his neighbours, collected in an old glove, a penny or a half-penny from each, by the most active of the humble community to whom his sad state was a subject of pity. In the wretched shed which he called "home," a young wife lay on a truss of straw, listening to the hungry cries of two little children, and awaiting her hour to become the weeping mother of a third. And the recollection that but for an act of domestic treachery experienced by his father and himself, both would have been comfortable and respectable in the world, aggravated the bitterness of the feeling in which Shamus contemplated his lot. He could himself faintly call to mind a time of early childhood, when he lived with his parents in a roomy house, eating and sleeping and dressing well, and surrounded by servants and workmen; he further remembered that a day of great affliction came, upon which strange and rude persons forced their way into the house; and, for some cause his infant observation did not reach, father, servants, and workmen (his mother had just died) were all turned out upon the road and doomed to seek the shelter of a mean roof. But his father's discourse, since he gained the years of manhood, supplied Shamus with an explanation of all these circumstances, as follows.
Old Dempsey had been the youngest son of a large farmer, who divided his lands between two elder children, and destined Shamus's father to the Church, sending him abroad for education, and, during its course, supplying him with liberal allowances. Upon the eve of ordination the young student returned home to visit his friends; was much noticed by neighbouring small gentry of each religion; at the house of one of the opposite persuasion from his met a sister of the proprietor, who had a fortune in her own right; abandoned his clerical views for her smiles; eloped with her; married her privately; incurred thereby the irremovable hostility of his own family; but, after a short time, was received, along with his wife, by his generous brother-in-law, under whose guidance both became reputably settled in the house to which Shamus's early recollections pointed and where, till he was about six years old, he passed indeed a happy childhood.
But, a little previous to this time, his mother's good brother died unmarried, and was succeeded by another of her brothers, who had unsuccessfully spent half his life as a lawyer in Dublin, and who, inheriting little of his predecessor's amiable character, soon showed himself a foe to her and her husband, professedly on account of her marriage with a Roman Catholic. He did not appear to their visit, shortly after his arrival in their neighbourhood, and he never condescended to return it. The affliction experienced by his sensitive sister from his conduct entailed upon her a premature accouchement, in which, giving birth to a lifeless babe, she unexpectedly died. The event was matter of triumph rather than of sorrow to her unnatural brother. For, in the first place, totally unguarded against the sudden result, she had died intestate; in the next place, he discovered that her private marriage had been celebrated by a Roman Catholic priest, consequently could not, according to law, hold good; and again, could not give to her nominal husband any right to her property, upon which both had hitherto lived, and which was now the sole means of existence to Shamus's father.
The lawyer speedily set to work upon these points, and with little difficulty succeeded in supplying for Shamus's recollections a day of trouble, already noticed. In fact, his father and he, now without a shilling, took refuge in a distant cabin, where, by the sweat of his parent's brow, as a labourer in the fields, the ill-fated hero of this story was scantily fed and clothed, until maturer years enabled him to relieve the old man's hand of the spade and sickle, and in turn labour for their common wants.
Shamus, becoming a little prosperous in the funeral we now see Shamus returning, and to such a home does he bend his heavy steps.
If to know that the enemy of his father and mother did not thrive on the spoils of his oppression could have yielded Shamus any consolation in his lot, he had long ago become aware of circumstances calculated to give this negative comfort. His maternal uncle enjoyed, indeed, his newly acquired property only a few years after it came into his possession. Partly on account of his cruelty to his relations, partly from a meanness and vulgarity of character, which soon displayed itself in his novel situation, and which, it was believed, had previously kept him in the lowest walks of his profession as a Dublin attorney, he found himself neglected and shunned by the gentry of his neighbourhood. To grow richer than those who thus insulted him, to blazon abroad reports of his wealth, and to watch opportunities of using it to their injury, became the means of revenge adopted by the parvenu. His legitimate income not promising a rapid accomplishment of this plan, he ventured, using precautions that seemingly set suspicion at defiance, to engage in smuggling-adventures on a large scale, for which his proximity to the coast afforded a local opportunity. Notwithstanding all his pettifogging cleverness, the ex-attorney was detected, however, in his illegal traffic, and fined to an amount which swept away half his real property. Driven to desperation by the publicity of his failure, as well as by the failure itself, he tried another grand effort to retrieve his fortune; was again surprised by the revenue officers; in a personal struggle with them, at the head of his band, killed one of their body; immediately absconded from Ireland; for the last twenty years had not been authentically heard of, but, it was believed, lived under an assumed name in London, deriving an obscure existence from some mean pursuit, of which the very nature enabled him to gratify propensities to drunkenness and other vices, learned during his first career in life.
All this Shamus knew, though only from report, inasmuch as his uncle had exiled himself while he was yet a child, and without previously having become known to the eyes of the nephew he had so much injured. But if Shamus occasionally drew a bitter and almost savage gratification from the downfall of his inhuman persecutor, no recurrence to the past could alleviate the misery of his present situation.
He passed under one of the capacious open arches of the old abbey, and then entered his squalid shed reared against its wall, his heart as shattered and as trodden down as the ruins around him. No words of greeting ensued between him and his equally hopeless wife, as she sat on the straw of her bed, rocking to sleep, with feeble and mournful cries, her youngest infant. He silently lighted a fire of withered twigs on his ready-furnished hearthstone; put to roast among their embers a few potatoes which he had begged during the day; divided them between her and her crying children; and, as the moon rising high in the heavens warned him that night asserted her full empire over the departed day, Shamus sank down upon the couch from which his father's mortal remains had lately been borne, supperless himself, and dinnerless, too, but not hungry; at least not conscious or recollecting that he was.
His wife and little ones soon slept soundly, but Shamus lay for hours inaccessible to nature's claims for sleep as well as for food. From where he lay he could see, through the open front of his shed, out into the ruins abroad. After much abstraction in his own thoughts, the silence, the extent, and the peculiar desolation of the scene, almost spiritualised by the magic effect of alternate moonshine and darkness, of objects and of their parts, at last diverted his mind, though not to relieve it. He remembered distinctly, for the first time, where he was--an intruder among the dwellings of the dead; he called to mind, too, that the present was their hour for revealing themselves among the remote loneliness and obscurity of their crumbling and intricate abode. As his eye fixed upon a distant stream of cold light or of blank shadow, either the wavering of some feathery herbage from the walls or the flitting of some night-bird over the roofless aisle, made motion which went and came during the instant of his alarmed start, or else some disembodied sleeper around had challenged and evaded his vision so rapidly as to baffle even the accompaniment of thought. Shamus would, however, recur, during these entrancing aberrations, to his more real causes for terror; and he knew not, and to this day cannot distinctly tell, whether he waked or slept, when a new circumstance absorbed his attention. The moon struck fully, under his propped roof, upon the carved slab he had appropriated as a hearthstone; and turning his eye to the spot, he saw the semblance of a man advanced in years, though not very old, standing motionless, and very steadfastly regarding him. The still face of the figure shone like marble in the night-beam, without giving any idea of the solidity of that material; the long and deep shadows thrown by the forehead over the eyes left those unusally expressive features vague and uncertain. Upon the head was a close-fitting black cap, the dress was a loose-sleeved, plaited garment of white, descending to the ground, and faced and otherwise checkered with black, and girded round the loins; exactly the costume which Shamus had often studied in a little framed and glazed print, hung up in the sacristy of the humble chapel recently built in the neighbourhood of the ruin by a few descendants of the great religious fraternity to whom, in its day of pride, the abbey had belonged. As he returned very inquisitively, though, as he avers, not now in alarm, the fixed gaze of his midnight visitor, a voice reached him, and he heard these strange words:
"Shamus Dempsey, go to London Bridge, and you will be a rich man."
"How will that come about, your reverence?" cried Shamus, jumping up from the straw.
But the figure was gone; and stumbling among the black embers on the remarkable place where it had stood, he fell prostrate, experiencing a change of sensation and of observance of objects around, which might be explained by supposing a transition from a sleeping to a waking state of mind.
The rest of the night he slept little, thinking of the advice he had received, and of the mysterious personage who gave it. But he resolved to say nothing about his vision, particularly to his wife, lest, in her present state of health, the frightful story might distress her; and, as to his own conduct respecting it, he determined to be guided by the future; in fact, he would wait to see if his counsellor came again. He did come again, appearing in the same spot at the same hour of the night, and wearing the same dress, though not the same expression of feature; for the shadowy brows now slightly frowned, and a little severity mingled with the former steadfastness of look.
"Shamus Dempsey, why have you not gone to London Bridge, and your wife so near the time when she will want what you are to get by going there? Remember, this is my second warning."
"Musha, your reverence, an' what am I to do on Lunnon Bridge?"
Again he rose to approach the figure; again it eluded him. Again a change occurred in the quality of the interest with which he regarded the admonition of his visitor. Again he passed a day of doubt as to the propriety of undertaking what seemed to him little less than a journey to the world's end, without a penny in his pocket, and upon the eve of his wife's accouchement, merely in obedience to a recommendation which, according to his creed, was not yet sufficiently strongly given, even were it under any circumstances to be adopted. For Shamus had often heard, and firmly believed, that a dream or a vision instructing one how to procure riches ought to be experienced three times before it became entitled to attention.
He lay down, however, half hoping that his vision might thus recommend itself to his notice It did so.
"Shamus Dempsey," said the figure, looking more angry than ever, "you have not yet gone to London Bridge, although I hear your wife dying out to bid you go. And, remember, this s my third warning."
"Why, then, tundher an' ouns, your reverence, just stop and tell me-"
Ere he could utter another word the holy visitant disappeared, in a real passion at Shamus's qualified curse; and at the same moment his confused senses recognised the voice of his wife, sending up from her straw pallet the cries that betoken a mother's distant travail. Exchaning a few words with her, he hurried away. professedly call up, at her cabin window, an old crane who sometimes attended the very poorest women in Nance Dempsey's situation.
"Hurry to her, Noreen, acuishla, and do the best it's the will of God to let you do. And tell her from me, Noreen--" He stopped, drawing in his lip, and clutching his cudgel hard.
"Shamus, what ails you, avick?" asked old Noreen; "what ails you, to make the tears run down in the gray o' the morning?"
"Tell her from me," continued Shamus, "that it's from the bottom o' the heart I 'll pray, morning and evening, and fresh and fasting, maybe, to give her a good time of it; and to show her a face on the poor child that's coming, likelier than the two that God sent afore it. And that I 'll be thinking o' picturing it to my own mind, though I'll never see it far away."
"Musha, Shamus, what are you speaking of?"
"No Matter, Noreen, only God be wid you, and wid her, and wid the weenocks; and tell her what I bid you. More-be-token, tell her that poor Shamus quits her in her throuble wid more love from the heart out than he had for her the first day we came together; and I'll come back to her at any rate, sooner or later, richer or poorer, or as bare as I went; and maybe not so bare either. But God only knows. The top o' the morning to you, Noreen, and don't let her want the mouthful o' praties while I'm on my thravels. For this," added Shamus, as he bounded off, to the consternation of old Noreen--"this is the very morning and the very minute that, if I mind the dhrame at all at all, I ought to mind it; ay, without ever turning back to get a look from her, that 'ud kill the heart in my body entirely."
Without much previous knowledge of the road he was to take, Shamus walked and begged his way along the coast to the town where he might hope to embark for England. Here the captain of a merchantman agreed to let him work his passage to Bristol, whence he again walked and begged into London.
Without taking rest or food, Shamus proceeded to London Bridge, often put out of his course by wrong directions, and as often by forgetting and misconceiving true ones. It was with old London Bridge that Shamus had to do (not the old one last pulled down, but its more reverend predecessor), which, at that time, was lined at either side by quaintly fashioned houses, mostly occupied by shopkeepers, so that the space between presented perhaps the greatest thoroughfare then known in the Queen of Cities. And at about two o'clock in the afternoon, barefooted, ragged, fevered, and agitated, Shamus mingled with the turbid human stream, that roared and chafed over the as restless and as evanescent stream which buffeted the arches of old London Bridge. In a situation so novel to him, so much more extraordinary in the reality than his anticipation could have fancied, the poor and friendless stranger felt overwhelmed. A sense of forlornness, of insignificance, and of terror seized upon his faculties. From the stare or the sneers or the jostle of the iron-nerved crowd he shrank with glances of wild timidity, and with a heart as wildly timid as were his looks. For some time he stood or staggered about, unable to collect his thoughts, or to bring to mind what was his business there. But when Shamus became able to refer to the motive of his pauper journey from his native solitudes into the thick of such a scene, it was no wonder that the zeal of superstition totally subsided amid the astounding truths he witnessed. In fact, the bewildered simpleton now regarded his dream as the merest chimera. Hastily escaping from the thoroughfare, he sought out some wretched place of repose suited to his wretched condition, and there mooned himself asleep, in self-accusations at the thought of poor Nance at home, and in utter despair of all his future prospects.
At daybreak the next morning he awoke, a little less agitated, but still with no hope. He was able, however, to resolve upon the best course of conduct now left open to him; and he arranged immediately to retrace his steps to Ireland, as soon as he should have begged sufficient alms to speed him a mile on the road. With this intent he hastily issued forth, preferring to challenge the notice of chance passengers, even at the early hour of dawn, than to venture again, in the middle of the day, among the dreaded crowds of the vast city. Very few, indeed, were the passers-by whom Shamus met during his straggling and stealthy walk through the streets, and those of a description little able or willing to afford a half-penny to his humbled, whining suit, and to his spasmed lip and watery eye. In what direction he went Shamus did not know; but at last he found himself entering upon the scene of his yesterday's terror. Now, however, it presented nothing to renew its former impression. The shops at the sides of the bridge were closed, and the occasional stragglers of either sex who came along inspired Shamus, little as he knew of a great city, with aversion rather than with dread. In the quietness and security of his present position, Shamus was both courageous and weak enough again to summon up his dream.
"Come," he said, "since I am on Lunnon Bridge, I 'll walk over every stone of it, and see what good that will do."
He valiantly gained the far end. Here one house, of all that stood upon the bridge, began to be opened; it was a public-house, and, by a sidelong glance as he passed, Shamus thought that, in the person of a red-cheeked, red-nosed, sunken-eyed, elderly man, who took down the window-shutters, he recognised the proprietor. This person looked at Shamus, in return, with peculiar scrutiny. The wanderer liked neither his regards nor the expression of his countenance, and quickened his steps onward until he cleared the bridge.
"But I 'll walk it over at the other side now," he bethought, after allowing the publican time to finish opening his house and retire out of view.
But, repassing the house, the man still appeared, leaning against his door-jamb, and as if waiting for Shamus's return, whom, upon this second occasion, he eyed more attentively than before.
"Sorrow's in him," thought Shamus, "have I two heads on me, that I'm such a sight to him? But who cares about his pair of ferret eyes? I 'll thrudge down the middle stone of it, at any rate!"
Accordingly, he again walked toward the public-house, keeping the middle of the bridge.
"Good-morrow, friend," said the publican, as Shamus a third time passed his door.
"Sarvant kindly, sir," answered Shamus, respectfully pulling down the brim of his hat, and increasing his pace.
"Am early hour you choose for a morning walk," continued his new acquaintance.
"Brave and early, faix, sir," said Shamus, still hurrying off.
"Stop a bit," resumed the publican. Shamus stood still. "I see you're a countryman of mine --an Irishman; I'd know one of you at a look, though I'm a long time out of the country. And you're not very well off on London Bridge this morning, either."
"No, indeed, sir," replied Shamus, beginning to doubt his skill in physiognomy, at the stranger's kind address; "but as badly off as a body 'ud wish to be."
"Come over to look for the work?"
"Nien, sir; but come out this morning to beg a ha'-penny, to send me a bit of the road home."
"Well, here's a silver sixpence without asking. And you'd better sit on the bench by the door here, and eat a crust and a cut of cheese, and drink a drop of good ale, to break your fast."
With profuse thanks Shamus accepted this kind invitation, blaming himself at heart for having allowed his opinion of the charitable publican to be guided by the expression of the man's features. "Handsome is that handsome does," was Shamus's self-correcting reflection.
While eating his bread and cheese and drinking his strong ale, they conversed freely together, and Shamus's heart opened more and more to his benefactor. The publican repeatedly asked him what had brought him to London; and though, half out of prudence and half out of shame, the dreamer at first evaded the question, he felt it at last impossible to refuse a candid answer to his generous friend.
"Why, then, sir, only I am such a big fool for telling it to you, it's what brought me to Lunnon Bridge was a quare dhrame I had at home in Ireland, that tould me just to come here, and I'd find a pot of goold." For such was the interpretation given by Shamus to the vague admonition of his visionary counsellor.
His companion burst into a loud laugh, saying after it:
"Pho, pho, man, don't be so silly as to put faith in nonsensical dreams of that kind. Many a one like it I have had, if I would bother my head with them. Why, within the last ten days, while you were dreaming of finding a pot of gold on London Bridge, I was dreaming of finding a pot of gold in Ireland."
"Ullaloo, and were you, sir?" asked Shamus, laying down his empty pint.
"Ay, indeed; night after night an old friar with a pale face, and dressed all in white and black, and a black skull-cap on his head, came to me in a dream, and bid me go to Ireland, to a certain spot in a certain county that I know very well, and under the slab of his tomb, that has a cross and some old Romish letters on it, in an old abbey I often saw before now, I'd find a treasure that would make me a rich man all the days of my life."
"Musha, sir," asked Shamus, scarce able prudently to control his agitation," and did he tell you that the treasure lay buried there ever so long under the open sky and the ould walls?"
"No; but he told me I was to find the slab covered in by a shed that a poor man had lately built inside the abbey for himself and his family."
"Whoo, by the powers!" shouted Shamus, at last thrown off his guard by the surpassing joy derived from this intelligence, as well as by the effects of the ale; and at the same time he jumped up, cutting a caper with his legs, and flourishing his shillalah.
"Why, what's the matter with you?" asked his friend, glancing at him a frowning and misgiving look.
"We ax pardon, sir." Shamus rallied his prudence. "An', sure, sorrow a thing is the matter wid me, only the dhrop, I believe, made me do it, as it ever and always does, good luck to it for the same. An' isn't what we were spaking about the biggest raumaush [Footnote: Nonsense.] undher the sun, sir? Only it's the laste bit in the world quare to me how you'd have the dhrame about your own country, that you didn't see for so many years, sir--for twenty long years, I think you said, sir?" Shamus had now a new object in putting his sly question.
"If I said so, I forgot," answered the publican, his suspicions of Shamus at an end. "But it is about twenty years, indeed, since I left Ireland."
"And by your speech, sir, and your dacency, I 'll engage you were in a good way in the poor place afore you left it?"
"You guess correctly, friend." (The publican gave way to vanity.) "Before misfortunes came over me, I possessed, along with a good hundred acres besides, the very ground that the old ruin I saw in the foolish dream I told you stands upon."
"An' so did my curse-o'-God's uncle," thought Shamus, his heart's blood beginning to boil, though, with a great effort, he kept himself seemingly cool. "And this is the man fornent me, if he answers another word I 'll ax him. Faix, sir, and sure that makes your dhrame quarer than ever; and the ground the ould abbey is on, sir, and the good acres round it, did you say they lay somewhere in the poor county myself came from?"
"What county is that, friend?" demanded the publican, again with a studious frown.
"The ould County Monaghan, sure, sir," replied Shamus, very deliberately.
"No, but the county of Clare," answered his companion.
"Was it?" screamed Shamus, again springing up. The cherished hatred of twenty years imprudently bursting out, his uncle lay stretched at his feet, after a renewed flourish of his cudgel. "And do you know who you are telling it to this morning? Did you ever hear that the sisther you kilt left a bit of a gorsoon behind her, that one day or other might overhear you? Ay," he continued, keeping down the struggling man, "it is poor Shamus Dempsey that's kneeling by you; ay, and that has more to tell you. The shed built over the old friar's tombstone was built by the hands you feel on your throttle, and that tombstone is his hearthstone; and," continued Shamus, beginning to bind the prostrate man with a rope snatched from a bench near them, "while you lie here awhile, an' no one to help you, in the cool of the morning, I'll just take a start of you on the road home, to lift the flag and get the threasure; and follow me if you dare! You know there's good money bid for your head in Ireland--so here goes. Yes, faith, and wid this-this to help me on the way!" He snatched up a heavy purse which had fallen from his uncle's pocket in the struggle. "And sure, there's neither hurt nor harm in getting back a little of a body's own from you. A bright goodmorning, uncle dear!"
Shamus dragged his manacled relative into the shop, quickly shut to and locked the door, flung the key over the house into the Thames, and the next instant was running at headlong speed.
He was not so deficient in the calculations of common sense as to think himself yet out of his uncle's power. It appeared, indeed, pretty certain that, neither for the violence done to his person nor for the purse appropriated by his nephew, the outlawed murderer would raise a hue and cry after one who, aware of his identity, could deliver him up to the laws of his country. But Shamus felt certain that it would be a race between him and his uncle for the treasure that lay under the friar's tombstone. His simple nature supplied no stronger motive for a pursuit on the part of a man whose life now lay in the breath of his mouth. Full of his conviction, however, Shamus saw he had not a moment to lose until the roof of his shed in the old abbey again sheltered him. So, freely making use of his uncle's guineas, he purchased a strong horse in the outskirts of London, and, to the surprise if not under heavy suspicions of the vender, set off at a gallop upon the road by which he had the day before gained the great metropolis.
A ship was ready to sail at Bristol for Ireland; but, to Shamus's discomfiture, she waited for a wind. He got aboard, however, and in the darksome and squalid hold often knelt down, and, with clasped hands and panting breast, petitioned Heaven for a favourable breeze. But from morning until evening the wind remained as he had found it, and Shamus despaired. His uncle, meantime, might have reached some other port, and embarked for their country. In the depth of his anguish he heard a brisk bustle upon deck, clambered up to investigate its cause, and found the ship's sails already half unfurled to a wind that promised to bear him to his native shores by the next morning. The last light of day yet lingered in the heavens; he glanced, now under way, to the quay of Bristol. A group who had been watching the departure of the vessel turned round to note the approach to them of a man, who ran furiously toward the place where they stood, pointing after her, and evidently speaking with vehemence, although no words reached Shamus's ear. Neither was his eye sure of this person's features, but his heart read them distinctly. A boat shot from the quay; the man stood up in it, and its rowers made a signal.
Shamus stepped to the gangway, as if preparing to hurl his pursuer into the sea. The captain took a speaking-trumpet, and informing the boat that he could not stop an instant, advised her to wait for another merchantman, which would sail in an hour. And during and after his speech his vessel ploughed cheerily on, making as much way as she was adapted to accomplish.
Shamus's bosom felt lightened of its immediate terror, but not freed of apprehension for the future. The ship that was to sail in an hour haunted his thoughts; he did not leave the deck, and, although the night proved very dark, his anxious eyes were never turned from the English coast. Unusual fatigue and want of sleep now and then overpowered him, and his senses swam in a wild and snatching slumber; but from this he would start, crying out and clinging to the cordage, as the feverish dream of an instant presented him with the swelling canvas of a fast-sailing ship, which came, suddenly bursting through the gloom of midnight, alongside of his own. Morning dawned, really to unveil to him the object of his fears following almost in the wake of her rival. He glanced in the opposite direction, and beheld the shores of Ireland; in another hour he jumped upon them; but his enemy's face watched him from the deck of the companion vessel, now not more than a few ropes' lengths distant.
Shamus mounted a second good horse, and spurred toward home. Often did he look back, but without seeing any cause for increased alarm. As yet, however, the road had been level and winding, and therefore could not allow him to span much of it at a glance. After noon it ascended a high and lengthened hill surrounded by wastes of bog. As he gained the summit of this hill, and again looked back, a horseman appeared, sweeping to its foot. Shamus galloped at full speed down the now quickly falling road; then along its level continuation for about a mile; and then up another eminence, more lengthened, though not so steep as the former; and from it still he looked back, and caught the figure of the horseman breaking over the line of the hill he had passed. For hours such was the character of the chase, until the road narrowed and began to wind amid an uncultivated and uninhabited mountain wilderness. Here Shamus's horse tripped and fell; the rider, little injured, assisted him to his legs, and, with lash and spur, re-urged him to pursue his course. The animal went forward in a last effort, and for still another span of time well befriended his rider. A rocky valley, through which both had been galloping, now opened at its farther end, presenting to Shamus's eye, in the distance, the sloping ground, and the ruin which, with its mouldering walls, encircled his poor home; and the setting sun streamed golden rays through the windows and rents of the old abbey.
The fugitive gave a weak cry of joy, and lashed his beast again. The cry seemed to be answered by a shout; and a second time, after a wild plunge, the horse fell, now throwing Shamus off with a force that left him stunned. And yet he heard the hoofs of another horse come thundering down the rocky way; and, while he made a faint effort to rise on his hands and look at his pursuer, the horse and horseman were very near, and the voice of his uncle cried, "Stand!" at the same time that the speaker fired a pistol, of which the ball struck a stone at Shamus's foot. The next moment his uncle, having left his saddle, stood over him, presenting a second pistol, and he spoke in a low but distinct voice.
"Spawn of a beggar! This is not merely for the chance of riches given by our dreams, though it seems, in the teeth of all I ever thought, that the devil tells truth at last. No, nor it is not quite for the blow; but it is to close the lips that, with a single word, can kill me. You die to let me live!"
"Help!" aspirated Shamus's heart, turning itself to Heaven. "Help me but now, not for the sake of the goold either, but for the sake of them that will be left on the wild world widout me; for them help me, great God!"
Hitherto his weakness and confusion had left him passive. Before his uncle spoke the last words, his silent prayer was offered, and Shamus had jumped upon his assailant. They struggled and dragged each other down. Shamus felt the muzzle of the pistol at his breast; heard it snap--but only snap; he seized and mastered it, and once more the uncle was at the mercy of his nephew. Shamus's hand was raised to deal a good blow; but he checked himself, and addressed the almost senseless ears of his captive.
"No; you're my mother's blood, and a son of hers will never draw it from your heart; but I can make sure of you again; stop a bit."
He ran to his own prostrate horse, took off its bridle and its saddle-girth, and with both secured his uncle's limbs beyond all possibility of the struggler being able to escape from their control.
"There," resumed Shamus; "lie there till we have time to send an ould friend to see you, that, I'll go bail, will take good care of your four bones. And do you know where I'm going now? You tould me, on Lunnon Bridge, that you knew that, at least," pointing to the abbey; "ay, and the quare ould hearthstone that's to be found in it. And so, look at this, uncle, honey." He vaulted upon his relative's horse. "I'm just goin' to lift it off o' the barrel-pot full of good ould goold, and you have only to cry halves, and you'll get it, as, sure as that the big divil is in the town you came from."
Nance Dempsey was nursing her new-born babe, sitting up in her straw, and doing very well after her late illness, when old Noreen tottered in from the front of the ruin to tell her that "the body they were just speaking about was driving up the hill mad, like as if't was his own sperit in great throuble." And the listener had not recovered from her surprise when Shamus ran into the shed, flung himself, kneeling, by her side, caught her in his arms, then seized her infant, covered it with kisses, and then, roughly throwing it in her lap, turned to the fireplace, raised one of the rocky seats lying near it, poised the ponderous mass over the hearthstone, and shivered into pieces, with one crash, that solid barrier between him and his visionary world of wealth.
"It's cracked he is out an' out of a certainty," said Nance, looking terrified at her husband.
"Nothing else am I," shouted Shamus, after groping under the broken slab; "an', for a token, get along wid yourself out of this, ould gran!"
He started up and seized her by the shoulder. Noreen remonstrated. He stooped for a stone; she ran; he pursued her to the arches of the ruin. She stopped half-way down the descent. He pelted her with clods to the bottom, and along a good piece of her road homeward, and then danced back into his wife's presence.
"Now, Nance," he cried, "now that we're by ourselves, what noise is this like?"
"And he took out han'fuls after han'fuls of the ould goold afore her face, my dear," added the original narrator of this story.
"An' after the gaugers and their crony, Ould Nick, ran off wid the uncle of him, Nance and he and the childer lived together in their father's and mother's house; and if they didn't live and die happy, I wish that you and I may."

John Banim (3 April 1798 – 30 August 1842), was an Irish novelist, short story writer, dramatist, poet and essayist, sometimes called the "Scott of Ireland." He also studied art, working as a painter of miniatures and portraits, and as a drawing teacher, before dedicating himself to literature.

Early life

John Banim was born in Kilkenny. At the age of four, he was sent to a local school where he was taught the basics of reading and grammar. He was removed from this school at age five and sent to the English Academy at Kilkenny where his older brother Michael (1796–1874) was a student. An account of this school is given in the novel Father Connell. After five years at the English Academy, John was sent to a seminary run by the Rev. Magrath, considered to be the finest Roman Catholic school in Ireland, where he remained for a year before being sent to another academy run by a well-known teacher named Terence Doyle. Throughout his school years he read avidly and wrote his own stories and poems. As a boy he came up with a birthday tradition where he would gather all of his writings of the previous year, re-read them critically, and then burn the ones he found lacking.[2]

When he was ten, John visited the home of the poet Thomas Moore, bringing along some of his own poetry in manuscript. Moore encouraged John in his writing and gave him a season ticket to his private theatre in Kilkenny, where Moore himself was performing at the time.[2] In his thirteenth year he entered Kilkenny College and devoted himself specially to drawing and miniature painting. He pursued his artistic education for two years in the schools of the Royal Dublin Society, and afterwards taught drawing in Kilkenny, where he fell in love with one of his pupils, a girl of seventeen named Anne. His affection was returned, but the parents of the young lady interfered and removed her from Kilkenny. She pined away and died less than two months later of consumption.[2] Her death made a deep impression on Banim, whose health suffered severely and permanently.

After spending the whole of 1818 recuperating, he spent five months living in idleness and dissipation, a choice that he soon regretted, as he began to get into debt. He then chose to return to his former industrious ways; he painted portraits and contributed to a local paper, the Leinster Gazette, of which he became the editor.[2]

In 1820, he went to Dublin after deciding to commit himself to the work of literature. Upon his arrival in Dublin, he went to meet an old student friend, the artist Thomas J. Mulvaney, who aided and advised him. At this time, the Dublin artists where trying to obtain a Charter of Incorporation and a government grant for the aid of Irish artists. Banim had become a contributor to several important Dublin newspapers in the short time that he had been in the city, and he was able to use his position with the papers to help strengthen the artists's claim in the public press. In 1820, the artists were granted their charter, and they gave an address and a considerable sum of money to Banim for his support. Much of the money he made in his early days in Dublin went to paying off his debts.[2]

He became friends with the writer Charles Phillips, who helped him with his literary pursuits. Banim had thought of going to London, but Phillips convinced him to stay in Dublin. Phillips gave Banim advice in regard to some of his poetry and showed his early poem Ossian's Paradise to several publishers; it was published in 1821 as The Celt's Paradise. While still in manuscript the poem had been shown to Sir Walter Scott, who expressed a favourable opinion of it.[2] After the publication of The Celt's Paradise, he focused on writing a classical tragedy. Banim's play Damon and Pythias was performed at Covent Garden on 28 May 1821, with William Macready as Damon and Charles Kemble as Pythias. It was later performed at the Theatre Royal, Dublin.[2]

He visited Kilkenny at the end of 1821 where, with the help of his profits from Damon and Pythias, he was able to pay the last of his old debts. During his visit he discussed his future plans for novels and stories with his brother Michael. While in Kilkenny, he lodged in the home of a close friend of his father, a man named John Ruth. He spent his days in the company of his brother and of John Ruth's three daughters. In a matter of weeks he came to love John's youngest daughter, Ellen Ruth. Before asking her to marry him, he returned to Dublin to take care of his affairs. He returned to Kilkenny in February 1822, and, after a courtship of five months, he and Ellen were married.[2]

In 1822, he planned, in conjunction with Michael, a series of tales illustrative of Irish life, which should be for Ireland what the Waverley Novels were for Scotland; and the influence of his model is distinctly traceable in his writings. Another influence were the tales of everyday life by John Galt.[2]

He then set out for London, where he supported himself and his wife by writing for magazines and for the stage. Their first residence was at No. 7, Amelia Place, Brompton, the former home of John Philpot Curran. At the end of 1822 his wife fell ill, and in November gave birth to a stillborn child. Her illness required John to do more work to meet the costs of her treatment. In 1823 John's own earlier illness returned. He was sick for several months before recovering, his finances, by that time, greatly diminished.[2]

Unable to do much work for the weekly papers because of his illness, he began doing more work for monthly periodicals. This allowed him the time to do more carefully written and serious work. Around this time he was visited by the writer Gerald Griffin, new to London, and in need of guidance. Banim befriended Griffin and did everything he could to assist him, helping to edit his plays and to have them submitted for production.[2] Griffin said the following of Banim in a letter:

    "What would I have done if I had not found Banim? I should never be tired of talking about and thinking of Banim. Mark me! he is a man – the only one I have met since I left Ireland, almost." [2]

Banim published a volume of miscellaneous essays anonymously in 1824, called Revelations of the Dead Alive. He met the American author Washington Irving the same year, finding him to be a good hearted and genuine man, while other literary celebrities he had met had disappointed him.[2] The first series of Tales of the O'Hara Family appeared in April 1825, achieving immediate and decided success. One of the most powerful of them, Crohoore of the Bill Hook, was by Michael Banim. The two had worked on the Tales through correspondence during 1823–24, periodically sending each other their completed work to be read and criticised. Banim and Gerald Griffin were still close friends, despite a misunderstanding that had temporarily parted them, and Griffin was often called upon to offer criticism on the Tales.[2]

After the publication of Tales of the O'Hara Family, John began work on a his novel The Boyne Water, a story of Protestant – Catholic relations during the Williamite War. He travelled back to Ireland, spending time in Derry and Belfast, to do research on the novel, which was published in 1826.[2] That same year, a second series of Tales of the O'Hara Family was published, containing the novel, The Nowlans.

Upon visiting John in London, in the summer of 1826, Michael found that his brother's illness had aged him and made him appear much older than his twenty eight years.[2] The next effort of the "O'Hara family" was almost entirely the production of Michael. The Croppy, a Tale of 1798 (1828), a novel of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, is hardly equal to the earlier tales, though it contains some wonderfully vigorous passages. The Mayor of Windgap, and The Ghost Hunter (both by Michael Banim), The Denounced (1830) and The Smuggler (1831) followed in quick succession, and were received with considerable favour. Most of these deal with the darker and more painful phases of life, but the feeling shown in his last, Father Connell, is brighter and more tender.

In 1827, John became friends with the young writer John Sterling. He accompanied Sterling on an excursion to Cambridge, which temporarily restored Banim's health. His illness soon returned, along with consequent poverty. He continued to write, and encouraged Michael in his writing of The Croppy. In July 1827 John's second child, a daughter, was born. In 1828 John's novel The Anglo-Irish of the Nineteenth Century was published anonymously, but wasn't well received by critics or the public.[2]

After another misunderstanding with Gerald Griffin, the two resumed their friendship through correspondence in the middle of 1828. Their friendship was of high importance to both writers, and brought them much satisfaction. During this time John and his wife lived in Eastbourne, East Sussex, where they had moved for the sake of John's health, and then Sevenoaks in Kent. In 1829 they moved to Blackheath, London for business purposes.[2]

In the Autumn of 1829, he went to France on the recommendation of his doctors. While in France he wrote The Smuggler, which went unpublished until 1831 due to a dispute with the publisher. He also submitted a novel called The Dwarf Bride for publication, but the manuscript was lost by the publisher. In June 1830 his mother died. John was unable to return to Kilkenny to see her due to his increasingly frail health. He continued to make something of a living contributing to periodicals and writing plays. In 1831 his first son was born. His son's birth improved John's state of mind after the death of his mother, but it also placed him in deeper financial need. In 1832 he suffered an attack of Colera but survived.[2]

At the end of 1832, his second son was born. Soon after, in January 1833, a movement to relieve his wants was set on foot by the entreaties of Ellen Banim to John's literary friends, and then by the English press, headed by John Sterling and his father in The Times. Contributions were also collected in Ireland. A sufficient sum was obtained to remove him from any danger of actual want. Among the contributors were Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey and Sir Robert Peel in England and Samuel Lover in Ireland.[2]
Later life

In 1833, he and his wife moved to Paris, in the hope that John would find a doctor who could help him with his condition. He was diagnosed as having an inflammation of the lower spine, and subjected to often excruciating treatments, which provided no relief. The death of his youngest son came early in 1834. He stayed in Paris throughout 1834, doing what writing he was capable of and spending time in the society of the distinguished literary men of the city. His oldest son died at the beginning of 1835, of croup.[2]

He returned to Ireland in July 1835, taking up residence in Dublin. On meeting him again in August, Michael Banim found his condition to be that of a complete invalid. He was often in pain and had to use opiates to sleep, but during the short intervals between the attacks of his illness, he was able to enjoy conversation and the company of his brother and friends. In September he returned to Kilkenny and was received with an address from the citizens of Kilkenny showing their appreciation of him, and a subscription from them of £85. After a short stay in his childhood home, he settled in Windgap Cottage, a short distance from Kilkenny. He passed the remainder of his life there, dying on 13 August 1842.[2]

Michael Banim had acquired a considerable fortune which he lost in 1840 through the bankruptcy of a firm with which he had business relations. After this disaster, he wrote Father Connell (1842), Clough Fionn (1852), and The Town of the Cascades (1862). Michael Banim died at Booterstown in 1874.


His strength lies in the delineation of the characters of the Irish lower classes, and the impulses, often misguided and criminal, by which they are influenced, and in this he showed remarkable power.

An assessment in the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1911) reads:

    The true place of the Banims in literature is to be estimated from the merits of the O'Hara Tales; their later works, though of considerable ability, are sometimes prolix and are marked by too evident an imitation of the Waverley Novels. The Tales, however, are masterpieces of faithful delineation. The strong passions, the lights and shadows of Irish peasant character, have rarely been so ably and truly depicted. The incidents are striking, sometimes even horrible, and the authors have been accused of straining after melodramatic effect. The lighter, more joyous side of Irish character, which appears so strongly in Samuel Lover, receives little attention from the Banims.



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