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The Children of the Dead Woman


There was a man long ago, and he was looking for a wife. He found one, but he was only a year married to her when she died, while giving birth to a child. Her mother was anxious to have the child to rear, but the father said that he would not give the child away to anybody. He would try to rear it himself. At that time, there were old women who earned their living by minding children; so the father got one of them to look after his own child. The only people in the house besides the child were this old woman and himself. He was a very strong man: Two months went by. The old woman slept in a bed beside the fire with the cradle nearby, so that she was able to attend to the child by night and by day.

One stormy evening, the father came home from his work. He took off his boots and sat beside the fire.

He took up the child, saying, "You are doing well, my little orphan, and getting strong."

"May God give you long life," said he to the old woman. "You are minding him well, to say that he is thriving so fast!"

"You don't know what I know," replied the old woman. "Every night since she died-here at least, since I came here-that child's mother comes here. She eats some boiled potatoes and drinks some milk from the cupboard. The moment she comes in, she goes over to the cradle and kisses the child. Then she warms her hands at the fire before taking the boiled potatoes and milk from the cupboard. When she has taken some food, she comes to the cradle again, takes up the child, and feeds him at her breast. Then she washes him, puts dry clothes under him, and lays him down in the cradle, kissing him. She then stands in the middle of the floor, looks up toward the room, where you are asleep, heaves a sigh, and goes out the door. She has done that every night since I came here. I see her, but I don't ask any question."

"Had I known that," said the man, "and had I seen her, I would have held her here or failed in the attempt."

"You'll get your chance," said the old woman. "I will cough tonight when she comes. Have your ears open."

That night he did not take off all of his clothes, but lay on the bed, so that he would see her when she came and hold her.

Late that night, they heard the door opening. She came in and kissed the child; then she went to the cupboard, got the dish of potatoes and the naggin of milk-naggins were common vessels at that time-and ate quickly. She then stirred up the fire and warmed herself. (I'd say she was cold.) When she had warmed herself, she went to the cradle, took up the child, suckled him, washed and cleaned him, and put dry clothes under him. Then she stood in the middle of the floor and looked up toward the room. The old woman coughed, and the woman went out the door.

"Are you awake now?" asked the old woman.

"I am," replied the man, coming down from the room.

"Did you see her?"

"I did, but I was too frightened to go near her. And I thought that if I saw her at all, I'd hold her here."

the two of them did not go to bed until it dawned. The man went next morning to the house of his wife's parents. Her three brothers were there, two of them were strong, hefty fellows, but the third was a weakling. The family welcomed him and asked him how the child was doing. He told them the child was thriving, that his mother came each night to wash and clean and suckle him.

"I saw her myself last night," said he. "She ate some potatoes and drank milk after attending to the child. Then she went out the door, and I was too frightened to move."

"Bad luck to you," said the eldest brother. "If you saw her, you could have held her. If I were there, I'd not let her go."

"Well, come over to me tonight then, and you'll see her," said the husband. "We'll see if you can hold her."

"If I see her, I'll hold her," said the brother.

They walked back to the house again. The old woman and the child were there. When they sat down, the dead woman's brother asked the old woman did his sister come every night. She said that he did.

"Well, if I see her tonight, I won't let her go," said he.

Early in the night, the dead woman's husband and brother went up to the bedroom and kept watch to see if she would come. It wasn't long until they heard the door opening. Her brother saw her as well as the husband and the old woman. She went up to the fire and warmed her hands. (I suppose she was always cold.) When she had warmed herself, she went to the cupboard, took out the dish of potatoes and a naggin of milk and ate quickly. Then she went to the cradle, took up the child and put him to her breast. She cleaned and washed him and put dry clothes under him. Then she stood in the middle of the floor, looked up toward the room, heaved a sigh, and went out.

"Are ye asleep?" asked the old woman.

"No," they replied, as they came down from the room.

"Ye are the two most cowardly men I've ever met," said the old woman.

(I must shorten my story for you now.) The same thing happened to the second brother.

"May the devil take ye!" said the third brother. "If I were there, I'd hold her."

"Bad cess* to you! You're able to do nothing," replied the two brothers.

"I'll tell ye what I can do," said the youngest brother. "If I saw my sister, I'd hold her and wouldn't let her go. If ye come along with me tonight, ye'll see that I'll hold her if I lay eyes on her."

The three brothers went to the house that night. Before it was too late, they decided to go up to the bedroom. They lay down, the youngest on the outside, so that he could easily run down to the kitchen to catch his sister. It wasn't long until they heard the door opening, and in she came. They all saw her. She ran to the fire and warmed her hands. Then she went to the cupboard and took out the potatoes and milk. She seemed to be very hungry. After eating, she sat down and took the child from the cradle and put him to her breast; then she washed and cleaned him and put dry clothes under and about him.

As she put him back into the cradle, she kissed him three times. On the other nights, she had kissed him only once. She then stood up to leave. Weren't the four men great cowards that they made no move? Just then, up jumped the youngest brother, and he put his two arms around her. She screamed and begged him, for God's sake, to let her go. In the struggle, she lifted him up to the rafters, beseeching him to release her.

"I'll be killed if I'm not back in time," she cried.

"The devil a foot will you put out of here," said her brother.

She was dragging him about, almost killing him; so he shouted to one of his brothers to come to his assistance. The pair of them struggled with her until she finally fell down in a dead faint. The youngest brother still kept his hold of her.

Next morning, her husband went with one of the brothers for the priest. When they came back, the priest prayed over her until ten o'clock, while her young brother held her. When she recovered her speech, she told the priest that that was to have been her last visit, as the fairies with whom she stayed were moving to Ulster that night. So she stayed with her husband and child, much the same as she had been before, except that she had a wild look in her eyes till the day she died. She bore nine sons to her husband after her rescue, and they came to be known as the children of the dead woman.


*cess: Luck.

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