Fiction by Seumas MacManus
Once there were two brothers named Donal and Jack. Donal was hired by a rich man who had one daughter, and when his master died, he married the daughter.
Jack, he lived close by, with his wife and a big family of children, and he was very poor; but Donal, he was in no way good to Jack, and would never reach his hand to him with a thing. And when the hunger would come into Jack’s house, Jack, he used to think it little harm to steal a bullock out of Donal’s big flock, and kill it for his family.
At length Donal began to suspect that Jack was taking his bullocks, but he didn’t know how he would find out for sure. Donal’s old mother-in-law proposed a plan by which she could catch Jack. She made Donal put her into a big chest that had little spy-holes in it, and put in with her beef and brandy enough to last her nine days. Then Donal was to take the chest to Jack’s, and have it left there on some excuse.
Donal went to Jack, and said he had a big chest of things that was in his way, and asked Jack if he would be so good as to allow him to leave it in his kitchen for a week or so. Jack said he was very welcome to put in ten chests if he liked. So Donal had the chest with the mother-in-law and her provisions in it, carried to Jack’s, and planted in a good place in the kitchen.
On the very first night that the chest and the mother-in-law were at Jack’s, he stole and killed and brought in another bullock, and the old woman was watching it all through the spy-holes of the chest. And after Jack and his wife and children had eaten a hearty supper off the bullock, he and his wife began talking over one thing and another, and says he: “I’d like to know what Donal has in that chest.”
So off he went to a locksmith, and he got the loan of a whole bundle of keys, and he came and tried them all in the chest till he got one that opened it.
When Jack found what was in the chest, he lost little time taking away the beef and the brandy, and he put in their place empty bottles and clean-picked bones, and locked the old woman up with these again.
At the end of nine days, Donal came for the chest. He thanked Jack for giving him house room for it for so long, and said he had now room for it himself and so he had come to take it home. And behold you, when Donal and his wife opened the chest at home, there was the old woman dead of starvation, and a lot of bones and empty bottles in the chest.
Says Donal: “She got greedy, and ate and drank the whole of the provisions the first day, and this is her deserving.”
Well, Donal and the wife waked and buried her, with a purse of money under her head to pay her way in the next world, as they used to do in those days.
Jack, of course, he went to the wake and to the funeral, and sympathized sore with Donal and Donal’s wife both. But the very next night after the funeral, Jack dug up the corpse to get the money, as it was so useful to him. Then he took the old woman’s body on his shoulder and carried it off to Donal’s, and went down into Donal’s wine cellar. He put it sitting in a chair by a puncheon there, and put a glass into its hand, and turned on the wine.
In the morning Donal’s first race was always to the cellar to have a drink, and when he came down this morning he fell over and fainted with the fright when he saw his old mother-in-law sitting by the puncheon drinking. When he came to himself he had her taken up and laid out in the wake-room again.
Jack, he came walking over to see Donal like to bid him the time of day in the morning. “Good morning to you, Donal,” says he, “and how do you find yourself this morning?”
“Och! Och! Och! Jack! Jack!” says Donal, says he, “I’m in a terrible fix entirely.”
“Why, what’s the matter?” says Jack.
“Why,” says he, “my old mother-in-law got up out of the grave in the night time and came back; and when I went down to the cellar in the morning to get a drink of wine, there was the old lady sitting by the puncheon, and she having the puncheon drunk empty. What am I to do at all, at all?” says he.
“Well,” says Jack, says he, “I know why she got up out of her grave again.”
“For what did she?” says Donal.
“Because you didn’t bury her half decently,” says Jack, “you only put ten pound under her head, and it’s fifty pound you should have put.”
“Well, I’m sure sorry for that,” says Donal, “and I’ll make certain that I bury her decently enough this time.”
So Jack went with him to help him bury her this day again, and he saw Donal put a purse of fifty sovereigns under her head. “Now,” says Donal, says he, “she’ll surely not come back to bother me.”
But that night Jack went to the graveyard and raised the body again, and got the fifty pounds. And he took the body then with him on his shoulder off to Donal’s, and he went into the stables, and he put the body sitting on the finest big horse in Donal’s stable, and he tied it there, and he tied a sword into its hand. Now Donal was to have gone off the next morning, riding on a little black mare that was a favorite of his, to the town to pay the accounts of the funeral; and Jack, he had known this, and when Donal came down in the very early morning, when it was still dark, he went into the stable, and he took out the little black mare.
The horse on which Jack had tied the old woman was a great companion of this little black mare, and both of them used to run on the grass together; so when the little black mare was taken out by Donal, the horse (which Jack had left loose) trotted out after.
When Donal saw the appearance of the horse coming out of the stable, and on its back the old mother-in-law with the sword lifted up in her hand, he gave a yell, and he jumped up on the mare, and off as fast as he could gallop.
Off after the little mare the big horse started, and the faster Donal went, the faster came the big horse trotting behind him; and every time he looked over his shoulder, there he saw his old mother-in-law with the sword lifted, ready, as he thought, to cut him down, and all that he could do, he couldn’t gain ground.
Jack, he was prepared for all this. He was concealed a half a mile along the way, and when Donal came tearing up he came out of where he was concealed, and said to Donal: “What’s the matter?”
And Donal pointed back, and Jack he leaped and got hold of the big horse and stopped it, and led it back home, and took the old woman off its back.
When Donal ventured home again, he was in very low spirits entirely, and he said that if his mother-in-law was going to rise every time she was buried and haunt him all the days of his life, he might as well end his life at once.
“Not too quick!” says Jack, says he. “What will you give me, and I’ll save you from your mother-in-law?”
“O! I’ll give you,” says he, “anything at all, in moderation, that you ask.”
“Well,” says Jack, says he, “if you pension me, I’ll live here always, and I’ll watch by your mother-in-law’s grave every night, and keep her from rising.”
Says Donal: “If you do that, I’ll give you any pension you ask.”
Jack asked one hundred pounds a year, and Donal agreed to it. They buried the mother-in-law the third time, and Jack worked for his pension so faithfully and so well, that she never rose more.
Donal and his wife lived middling happy, but Jack and his wife and children, with their pension of one hundred pounds a year, were the happiest family in all Ireland.