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HOME > Short Stories > Light O' The Morning > CHAPTER VI. — THE CAVE OF THE BANSHEE.
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 At ten o'clock on the following evening two eager excited girls might have been seen stealing down a narrow path which led to Murphy's Cove. Murphy's Cove was a charming little semicircular bay which ran rather deeply into the land. The sand here was of that silvery sheen which, at low tide, shone like burnished silver. The cove was noted for its wonderful shells, producing many cowries and long shells called pointers.  
In the days of her early youth Nora had explored the treasures of this cove, and had secured a valuable collection of shells, as well as very rare seaweeds, which she had carefully dried. Her mother had shown her how to make seaweeds and shells into baskets, and many of these amateur productions adorned the walls of Nora's bedroom.
All the charm of these things had passed away, however; the time had come when she no longer cared to gather shells or collect seaweeds. She felt that she was turning very fast into a woman. She had all an Irish girl's high spirits; but she had, added to these, a peculiarly warm and sensitive heart. When those she loved were happy, no one in all the world was happier than Nora O'Shanaghgan; but when any gloom fell on the home-circle, then Nora suffered far more than anyone gave her credit for.
She had passed an anxious day at home, watching her father intently, afraid to question him, and only darting glances at him when she thought he was not looking. The Squire, however, seemed cheerful enough, plodding over his land, or arranging about the horses, or doing the thousand-and-one small things which occupied his life.
Mrs. O'Shanaghgan seemed to have forgotten all about the mortgage, and was eagerly discussing ways and means with Terence. Terence avoided Nora's eyes, and rode off early in the evening to see the nearest tailor. It was not likely that this individual could make a fitting suit for the young heir to O'Shanaghgan; but the boy must have something to travel in, and Mrs. O'Shanaghgan gave implicit directions as to the London tailor whom he was to visit as soon as he reached the Metropolis.
“For you are to look your best, and never to forget that you are my son,” was her rejoinder; and Terence forgot all about Nora's words on the previous evening. He was to start in two days' time. Even Nora became excited over his trip and in her mother's account of her Uncle Hartrick.
“I wish you were going, Nora,” said the mother. “I should be proud of you. Of course you are a little rough colt; but you could be trained;” and then she looked with sudden admiration at her handsome daughter.
“She has a face in a thousand,” she thought, “and she is absolutely unconscious of her beauty.”
At five o'clock Nora had started off in the pony-trap to visit her friend Biddy. The trap had been brought back by one of the numerous gossoons who abounded all over O'Shanaghgan, and Biddy and Nora had a few hours before the great secret expedition was to take place. And now the time had come. The girls had put on thick serge petticoats, short jackets, and little tight-fitting caps on their heads. There was always a breeze blowing round that extreme corner of the Atlantic. Never did the finest summer day find the waves calm there. Nora and Biddy had been accustomed to these waves since their earliest girlhood, and were not the least afraid. They stood now waiting in the little cove, and looking round wonderingly for the appearance of Mike and Neil upon the scene. They were to bring the boat with them. The girls were to wade through the surf to get into it, and Biddy was stooping down to take off her shoes and stockings for the purpose.
“Dear, dear!” she cried. “Do you see that ugly bank of clouds just behind the moon? I hope my lady moon is not going to hide herself; we can do nothing in the cave if we have not light.”
“But the cave is dark, surely?”
“Yes. But don't you know there is a break in the cliffs above, just in the center? And it is down there the moon sends its shafts when it is at the full; it is there the Banshee will meet us, if we are to see her at all. The shafts from the moon will only enter the cave at midnight. I have counted the times, and I know everything.”
“I want to see the Banshee so badly,” said Nora.
“You won't be frightened, then, Nora?”
“Frightened? No. Not of our own Banshee.”
“They say,” began Biddy, “that if you see a spirit, and come face to face with it, you are good for—”
“What?” said Nora.
“If you hold out during the year you have seen the spirit, you are good to live for another ten; but during that first year you are in extreme danger of dying. If you escape that fate, however, and are whole and sound, you will be quite safe to live for ten more years. They say nothing can send you out of the world; not sickness, nor accidents, nor fire, nor water; but the second year you are liable to an accident, and the year after to a misfortune; then in the fourth year your luck turns—in the fourth year you find gold, in the fifth year health, in the sixth year beauty. Oh, I would give anything to be beautiful!”
“You are very well as you are, Biddy.”
“Very well as I am? What nonsense! Look at my turned-up nose.” Here Biddy pressed her finger on the feature in question.
“It looks very racy,” answered Nora.
“Bedad, then, it does that,” replied Biddy. “I believe I got it sound and safe from one of the old——”
“You needn't go on,” cried Nora. “I know what you are going to say.”
“And why shouldn't I say it? You would be proud enough to be descended from——”
“Oh, I have a very fine descent of my own,” answered Nora, with spirit.
“Now, if I was like you,” began Biddy, “wouldn't I be proud, just? But dear, dear! there never were two Irish girls farther asunder as far as appearance goes. See here, let me describe myself, feature by feature. Oh, here's a clear pool. I can get a glimpse of myself in it. You come and look in too, Nora. Now, then, we can see ourselves. Oh, holy poker! it's cruel the difference between us. Here's my forehead low and bumpy, and my little nose, scarcely any of it, and what there is turned right up to the sky; and my wide mouth, and my little eyes, and my hair just standing straight up as rakish as you please. And look at you, with your elegant features and your—oh, but it's genteel you are!—and I love you, Nora alannah; I love you, and am not a bit jealous of you.”
Here the impulsive girl threw her arms round her friend's neck and kissed her.
“All the same,” she added, “I wish those clouds were not coming up. It has been so precious hot all day that I should not be the least surprised if we had a thunderstorm.”
“A thunderstorm while we are in the cave would be magnificent,” said Nora.
“Does anything ever frighten you, Nora?”
“I don't think anything in nature could frighten me; but there are some things I am frightened at.”
“What? Do tell me. I should like to know.”
“You'll keep it a secret—won't you, Biddy?”
“To be sure I will. When did I ever blaze out anything you told me? If I am plain, I am faithful.”
“Well, I am afraid of pain,” said Nora.
“Pain! You? But I have seen you scratch yourself ever so deep and not so much as wink; and I mind that time when you twisted your ankle and you didn't even pretend you were hurt.”
“Oh, it is not that sort of pain. I am terrified of pain when it affects those I love. But there! don't ask me any more. Here are the boys; we'll jump into the boat and be off. Why, it is half-past ten, and it will take half-an-hour's good rowing to cross the bay, and then we have to enter the cave and——”
“I don't like those clouds,” said Biddy. “I wonder if it is safe to go.”
“Safe?” said Nora. “We must go. Mother won't allow me to spend another night here, and I shall lose my chance. I am determined to speak to the Banshee or die in the attempt.”
The splash of oars was now distinctly audible, and the next moment a four-oared gig swiftly turned the little promontory and shot with a rapid movement into the bay.
“Why,” said Biddy, running forward, “who's in the boat?”
A lad and a man now stood upright and motioned to the girls.
“Where's Neil?” said Biddy.
“Neil could not come, Miss Biddy, so I'm taking his place,” said the deep voice of a powerful-looking man. He had a black beard down to his waist, flashing black eyes, a turned-up nose, and a low forehead. A more bull-dog and ferocious-looking individual it would be hard to find. Biddy, however, knew him; he was Neil's father—Andy Neil, as he was called. He was known to be a lawless and ferocious man, and was very much dreaded by most of the neighbors around. Neither Nora nor Biddy, however, felt any reason to fear him and Nora said almost cheerfully:
“As we are to have such a stiff row, it is just as well to have a man in the boat.”
“Faix, now, young ladies, come along, and don't keep me waiting,” said Andy, rising and brandishing one of his oars in a threatening way. “There's a storm coming on, and I want to be out of this afore it overtakes us. Oh, glory be to goodness, there's a flash of lightning!”
There came a flash on the edge of the horizon, lighting up the thick bank of rapidly approaching clouds.
“Nora, had we better go tonight?” said Biddy. She had as little fear as her friend, but even she did not contemplate with pleasure a wild storm in the midst of the Atlantic.
The man Neil looked gravely round.
“Och! good luck to ye now, young ladies; don't be kaping me waiting after the botheration of coming to fetch yez. Come along, and be quick about it.”
“To be sure,” said Nora. She splashed bravely into the surf, for the boat could not quite reach the shore. The waves reached high above her pretty, rosy ankles as she stepped into the boat.
Biddy followed in her wake; and then Nora, producing a rough towel, began to dry her feet. Both girls put on their shoes and stockings again in absolute silence.
Neil had now faced the boat seaward, and with great sweeps with a pair of sculls was taking it out to sea. The tide was in their favor, and they went at a rapid rate. The man did not speak at all, and his face was in complete shadow. Nora breathed hard in suppressed excitement and delight. Biddy crouched at the bottom of the boat and watched the clouds as they came up.
“I wish I hadn't come,” she muttered once or twice.
The boy Mike sat at the stern. The two girls had nothing whatever to do.
“Shall I take an oar, Andy?” said Nora at last.
“You, miss?”
“I can take a pair of oars and help you,” said the girl.
“If it plazes you, miss.” The man hastily stepped to the back of the boat. Nora took her place, and soon they were going at greater speed than ever. She was a splendid oarswoman, and feathered her oars in the most approved fashion.
In less than the prescribed half-hour they reached the entrance to the great cave.
They were safe. A hollow, booming noise greeted them as they came close. Andy bent forward and gave Nora a brief direction.
“Ship your oars now, miss. Aisy now; aisy now. Now, then, I'll take one pull; pull your left oar again. Now, here we are.”
He spoke with animation. Nora obeyed him implicitly. They entered the shadow of the cave, and the next instant found themselves in complete darkness. The boat bobbed up and down on the restless water, and just at that instant a flash of vivid lightning illuminated all the outside water, followed by a crashing roar of thunder.
“The storm is on us; but, thank the Almighty, we're safe,” said Mike, with a little sob. “I wish to goodness we hadn't come, all the same.”
“And so do I,” said Biddy; “it is perfectly awful being in a cave like this. What shall we do?”
“Do!” said Neil. “Hould your tongues and stay aisy. Faix, it's the Almighty is having a bit of a talk; you stay quiet and listen.”
The four oars were shipped now, and the boat swayed restlessly up and down.
“Aren't we going any farther?” said Nora.
“Not while this storm lasts. Oh, for goodness' sake, Nora, do stay quiet,” said Biddy.
Andy now produced out of his pocket a box of matches and a candle. He struck a match, applied it to the candle, and the next moment a feeble flame shot up. It was comparatively calm within the cave.
“There! that will light us a bit,” said Andy. “The storm won't last long. It's well we got into shelter. Now, then, we'll do fine.”
“You don't think,” said Biddy, in a terrified tone, “that the cave will be be crashed in?”
“Glory be to Heaven, no, miss—we have cheated the storm coming here.” The man smiled as he spoke, showing bits of broken teeth. His words were gentle enough, but his whole appearance was more like that of a wild beast than a man. Nora looked full at him. The candle lit up her pale face; her dark-blue eyes were full of courage; a lock of her black hair had got loose in the exertion of rowing, and had fallen partly over her shoulder and neck. “Faix, then, you might be the Banshee herself,” said Andy, bending forward and looking at her attentively.
“If the moon comes out again we may see the Banshee,” whispered Nora. “Can we not go farther into the cave? Time is flying.” She took her watch from her pocket and looked at the hour. It was already past eleven o'clock.
“The storm will be over in good time,” said the man. “Do you want to get the gleam of moonlight in the crack of the inner cave? Is that what you're afther, missy?”
“Yes,” said Nora.
“Well, you stay quiet; you'll reach it right enough.”
“Nora wants to see the Banshee, Andy,” called out Biddy. “Oh, what a flash! It nearly blinded me.”
“The rain will soon be on us, and then the worst of the storm will be past,” said the man.
Mike uttered a scream; the lightning was now forked and intensely blue. It flashed into every cranny in the cave, showing the barnacles on the roof, the little bits of fern, the strange stalactites. After the flash had passed, the darkness which followed was so intense that the light of the dim candle could scarcely be seen. Presently the rain thundered down upon the bare rock above with a tremendous sound; there were great hailstones; the thunder became less frequent, the lightning less vivid. In a little more than half an hour the fierce storm had swept on to other quarters.
“Now, then, we can go forward,” said Andy. He took up his oars. “You had best stay quiet, missies; just sit there in the bottom of the boat, and let me push ahead.”
“Then I will hold the candle,” said Nora.
“Right you are, miss.”
She took it into her cold fingers. Her heart was beating high with suppressed excitement; she had never felt a keener pleasure in her life. If only she might see the Banshee, and implore the spirit's intercession for the fortunes of her house!
The man rowed on carefully, winding round corners and avoiding many dangers. At last they came bump upon some rocks.
“Now, then,” he said, “we can't go a step farther.”
“But we must,” said Nora. “We have not reached the chasm in the rock. We must.”
“We dare not, miss; the boat hasn't water enough to float her.”
“Well, then, I shall wade there. How far on is the chasm?”
“Oh, Nora! Nora! you won't be so mad as to go alone?” called out Biddy.
“I shan't be a scrap afraid,” said Nora.
“But there's water up to your knees; you dare not do it,” said Biddy.
“Yes, I dare; and the tide is going down—is it not?”
“It will be down a good bit in half an hour,” said the man, “and we'll be stranded here as like as not. These are bad rocks when the tide is low; we must turn and get out of this, miss, in a quarter of an hour at the farthest.”
“Oh, I could just do it in a quarter of an hour,” said Nora.
She jumped up, and the next moment had sprung out of the boat into the water, which nearly reached up to her knees.
“Oh, Nora! Nora! you'll be lost; you'll slip and fall in that awful darkness, and we'll never see you again,” said Biddy, with a cry of terror.
“No, no; let her go,” said Andy. “There ain't no fear, miss; you have but to go straight on, holding your candle and avoiding the rocks to your left, and you'll come to the opening. Be as quick as you can, Miss Nora; be as quick as you can.”
His voice had a queer note in it. Nora gave him a look of gratitude, and proceeded on her dangerous journey. Her one fear was that the candle might go out; the flame flickered as the air got less good; the hot grease scalded her fingers; but suddenly a breeze of fresher air reached her, and warned her that she was approaching the aperture. There came a little puff of wind, and the next moment the brave girl found herself in total darkness. The candle had gone out. Just at that instant she heard, or fancied she heard, a splash behind her in the water. There was nothing for it now but to go forward. She resolved not to be terrified. Perhaps it was a water-rat; perhaps it was the Banshee. Her heart beat high; still she had no fear. She was going to plead for her father. What girl would be terrified with such a cause in view? She walked slowly and carefully on, and at last the fresher air was followed by a welcome gleam of light; she was approaching the opening. The next moment she had found it. She stood nearly up to her knees in the water; the shaft of moonlight was piercing down into the cave. Nora went and stood in the moonlight. The hole at the top was little more than a foot in width; there was a chasm, a jagged chasm, through which the light came. She could see a bit of cloudless sky, and the cold moonlight fell all over her.
“Oh, Banshee!—Lady Spirit who belongs to our house, come and speak to me,” cried the girl. “Come from your home in the rock and give me a word of comfort. A dark time is near, and we implore your help. Come, come, Banshee—it is the O'Shanaghgans who want you. It is Nora O'Shanaghgan who calls you now.”
The sound of a laugh came from the darkness behind her, and the next instant the startled girl saw the big form of Andy Neil approaching.
“Don't you be frightened, Miss Nora,” he said. “I aint the Banshee, but I am as good. Faix, now, I want to say something to you. I have come here for the purpose. There! don't be frightened. I won't hurt ye—not I; but I want yez to promise me something.”
“What is that?” said Nora.
“I have come here for the purpose. She aint no good.” He indicated with a motion of his thumb the distant form of Biddy within the dark recess of the cave.
“Does Miss Murphy know you have followed me?” said Nora.
“No, she don't know it; she's in the dark. There's the little lad Mike will look after her. She won't do nothing until we go back.”
“Oh, I did want to see the Banshee!”
“The Banshee may come or not,” said the man; “but I have my message to yez, and it is this: If you don't get Squire O'Shanaghgan to let me keep my little bit of land, and to see that I aint evicted, why, I'll—you're a bonny lass, you're as purty a young lady as I ever set eyes on, but I'll drownd yez, deep down here in this hole. No one will ever know; they'll think you has fallen and got drowned without no help from me. Yes, I'll do it—yes, I will—unless you promises that Squire O'Shanaghgan shan't evict me. If I go out, why, you goes out first. Now, you'll do it; you'll swear that you'll do it? You'll leave no stone unturned. You'll get 'em to leave me my cabin where I was born, and the childer was born, and where the wife died, or I'll drownd yez deep down here in the Banshee's hole. Look!” said the man as the moon nickered on a deep pool of water; “they say there is no bottom to it. Just one shlip, and over you goes, and nobody will ever see Nora O'Shanaghgan again.”
“I'm not going to be frightened; you wouldn't do it, Andy,” said the girl.
“Wouldn't I just? You think that I'd be afraid?”
“I don't think so. I am sure you are afraid of nothing.”
“Then why shouldn't I do it?”
“Because you wouldn't be so bad, not to an innocent girl who never harmed you.”
“Oh! wouldn't I just? Ain't I a-stharving, and aint the childer stharving, and why should they turn us out of our bit of a cabin? Swear you'll do it; swear you won't have me evicted; you has got to promise.”
“I wouldn't evict you—never, never!” said Nora. “Oh, never!” she added, tears, not of fright, but of pity, filling her eyes. “But how can I control my father?”
“That's for you to see to, missy; I must go back now, or we'll none of us leave this cave alive. But you'll just shlip into that water, and you'll never be heard of again unless you promises. I'll go back; they none of 'em will know I followed yez. You'll be drowned here in the deep pool, and I'll go back to the boat, or you promises and we both goes back.”
“But, Andy, what am I to promise?”
“That you won't have me evicted. You say solemn here: 'Andrew Neil, I would rather die myself or have my tongue cut out, and may the Holy Mother cast me from her presence forever, and may the evil spirits take me, if I don't save you, Andy.' You has to say that.”
“No, I won't,” said Nora with sudden spirit. “I am not afraid. I'll do my very, very best for you; but I won't say words like those.”
The man looked at her attentively.
“I was a little frightened at first,” continued Nora; “but I am not now. I would rather you pushed me into that pool, I would rather sink and die, than take an awful vow like that. I won't take it. I'll do my very best to save you, but I won't make a vow.”
“Faix, then, miss, it's you that has the courage; but now if I let yez off this time, will ye do yer best?”
“Yes, I'll do my best.”
“If yer don't, bonny as you are, and the light of somebody's eyes, you'll go out of the world. But, come, I trust yez, and we must be turning back.”
The man took the matches from his pocket, struck one, and lit the candle. Then, Andy going in front of Nora, they both turned in the direction where the boat was waiting for them.

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