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Of Costello the Proud


Costello had come up from the fields and lay upon the ground before
the door of his square tower, resting his head upon his hands and
looking at the sunset, and considering the chances of the weather.
Though the customs of Elizabeth and James, now going out of fashion
in England, had begun to prevail among the gentry, he still wore the
great cloak of the native Irish; and the sensitive outlines of his
face and the greatness of his indolent body had a commingling of
pride and strength which belonged to a simpler age. His eyes wandered
from the sunset to where the long white road lost itself over the
south-western horizon and to a horseman who toiled slowly up the
hill. A few more minutes and the horseman was near enough for his
little and shapeless body, his long Irish cloak, and the dilapidated
bagpipes hanging from his shoulders, and the rough-haired garron
under him, to be seen distinctly in the grey dusk. So soon as he had
come within earshot, he began crying: 'Is it sleeping you are, Tumaus
Costello, when better men break their hearts on the great white
roads? Get up out of that, proud Tumaus, for I have news! Get up out
of that, you great omadhaun! Shake yourself out of the earth, you
great weed of a man!'

Costello had risen to his feet, and as the piper came up to him
seized him by the neck of his jacket, and lifting him out of his
saddle threw him on to the ground.

'Let me alone, let me alone,' said the other, but Costello still
shook him.

'I have news from Dermott's daughter, Winny,' The great fingers were
loosened, and the piper rose gasping.

'Why did you not tell me,' said Costello, that you came from her? You
might have railed your fill.'

'I have come from her, but I will not speak unless I am paid for my

Costello fumbled at the bag in which he carried his money, and it was
some time before it would open, for the hand that had overcome many
men shook with fear and hope. 'Here is all the money in my bag,' he
said, dropping a stream of French and Spanish money into the hand of
the piper, who bit the coins before he would answer.

'That is right, that is a fair price, but I will not speak till I
have good protection, for if the Dermotts lay their hands upon me in
any boreen after sundown, or in Cool-a-vin by day, I will be left to
rot among the nettles of a ditch, or hung on the great sycamore,
where they hung the horse-thieves last Beltaine four years.' And
while he spoke he tied the reins of his garron to a bar of rusty iron
that was mortared into the wall.

'I will make you my piper and my bodyservant,' said Costello, 'and no
man dare lay hands upon the man, or the goat, or the horse, or the
dog that is Tumaus Costello's.'

'And I will only tell my message,' said the other, flinging the
saddle on the ground, 'in the corner of the chimney with a noggin in
my hand, and a jug of the Brew of the Little Pot beside me, for
though I am ragged and empty, my forbears were well clothed and full
until their house was burnt and their cattle harried seven centuries
ago by the Dillons, whom I shall yet see on the hob of hell, and they
screeching'; and while he spoke the little eyes gleamed and the thin
hands clenched.

Costello led him into the great rush-strewn hall, where were none of
the comforts which had begun to grow common among the gentry, but a
feudal gauntness and bareness, and pointed to the bench in the great
chimney; and when he had sat down, filled up a horn noggin and set it
on the bench beside him, and set a great black jack of leather beside
the noggin, and lit a torch that slanted out from a ring in the wall,
his hands trembling the while; and then turned towards him and said:
'Will Dermott's daughter come to me, Duallach, son of Daly?'

'Dermott's daughter will not come to you, for her father has set
women to watch her, but she bid me tell you that this day sennight
will be the eve of St. John and the night of her betrothal to Namara
of the Lake, and she would have you there that, when they bid her
drink to him she loves best, as the way is, she may drink to you,
Tumaus Costello, and let all know where her heart is, and how little
of gladness is in her marriage; and I myself bid you go with good men
about you, for I saw the horse-thieves with my own eyes, and they
dancing the "Blue Pigeon" in the air.' And then he held the now empty
noggin towards Costello, his hand closing round it like the claw of a
bird, and cried: 'Fill my noggin again, for I would the day had come
when all the water in the world is to shrink into a periwinkle-shell,
that I might drink nothing but Poteen.'

Finding that Costello made no reply, but sat in a dream, he burst
out: 'Fill my noggin, I tell you, for no Costello is so great in the
world that he should not wait upon a Daly, even though the Daly
travel the road with his pipes and the Costello have a bare hill, an
empty house, a horse, a herd of goats, and a handful of cows.'
'Praise the Dalys if you will,' said Costello as he filled the
noggin, 'for you have brought me a kind word from my love.'

For the next few days Duallach went hither and thither trying to
raise a bodyguard, and every man he met had some story of Costello,
how he killed the wrestler when but a boy by so straining at the belt
that went about them both that he broke the big wrestler's back; how
when somewhat older he dragged fierce horses through a ford in the
Unchion for a wager; how when he came to manhood he broke the steel
horseshoe in Mayo; how he drove many men before him through Rushy
Meadow at Drum-an-air because of a malevolent song they had about his
poverty; and of many another deed of his strength and pride; but he
could find none who would trust themselves with any so passionate and
poor in a quarrel with careful and wealthy persons like Dermott of
the Sheep and Namara of the Lake.

Then Costello went out himself, and after listening to many excuses
and in many places, brought in a big half-witted fellow, who followed
him like a dog, a farm-labourer who worshipped him for his strength,
a fat farmer whose forefathers had served his family, and a couple of
lads who looked after his goats and cows; and marshalled them before
the fire in the empty hall. They had brought with them their stout
cudgels, and Costello gave them an old pistol apiece, and kept them
all night drinking Spanish ale and shooting at a white turnip which
he pinned against the wall with a skewer. Duallach of the pipes sat
on the bench in the chimney playing 'The Green Bunch of Rushes', 'The
Unchion Stream,' and 'The Princes of Breffeny' on his old pipes, and
railing now at the appearance of the shooters, now at their clumsy
shooting, and now at Costello because he had no better servants. The
labourer, the half-witted fellow, the farmer and the lads were all
well accustomed to Duallach's railing, for it was as inseparable from
wake or wedding as the squealing of his pipes, but they wondered at
the forbearance of Costello, who seldom came either to wake or
wedding, and if he had would scarce have been patient with a scolding

On the next evening they set out for Cool-a-vin, Costello riding a
tolerable horse and carrying a sword, the others upon rough-haired
garrons, and with their stout cudgels under their arms. As they rode
over the bogs and in the boreens among the hills they could see fire
answering fire from hill to hill, from horizon to horizon, and
everywhere groups who danced in the red light on the turf,
celebrating the bridal of life and fire. When they came to Dermott's
house they saw before the door an unusually large group of the very
poor, dancing about a fire, in the midst of which was a blazing
cartwheel, that circular dance which is so ancient that the gods,
long dwindled to be but fairies, dance no other in their secret
places. From the door and through the long loop-holes on either side
came the pale light of candles and the sound of many feet dancing a
dance of Elizabeth and James.

They tied their horses to bushes, for the number so tied already
showed that the stables were full, and shoved their way through a
crowd of peasants who stood about the door, and went into the great
hall where the dance was. The labourer, the half-witted fellow, the
farmer and the two lads mixed with a group of servants who were
looking on from an alcove, and Duallach sat with the pipers on their
bench, but Costello made his way through the dancers to where Dermott
of the Sheep stood with Namara of the Lake pouring Poteen out of a
porcelain jug into horn noggins with silver rims.

'Tumaus Costello,' said the old man, 'you have done a good deed to
forget what has been, and to fling away enmity and come to the
betrothal of my daughter to Namara of the Lake.'

'I come,' answered Costello, 'because when in the time of Costello De
Angalo my forbears overcame your forbears and afterwards made peace,
a compact was made that a Costello might go with his body-servants
and his piper to every feast given by a Dermott for ever, and a
Dermott with his body-servants and his piper to every feast given by
a Costello for ever.'

'If you come with evil thoughts and armed men,' said the son of
Dermott flushing,' no matter how strong your hands to wrestle and to
swing the sword, it shall go badly with you, for some of my wife's
clan have come out of Mayo, and my three brothers and their servants
have come down from the Ox Mountains'; and while he spoke he kept his
hand inside his coat as though upon the handle of a weapon.

'No,' answered Costello, 'I but come to dance a farewell dance with
your daughter.'

Dermott drew his hand out of his coat and went over to a tall pale
girl who was now standing but a little way off with her mild eyes
fixed upon the ground.

'Costello has come to dance a farewell dance, for he knows that you
will never see one another again.'

The girl lifted her eyes and gazed at Costello, and in her gaze was
that trust of the humble in the proud, the gentle in the violent,
which has been the tragedy of woman from the beginning. Costello led
her among the dancers, and they were soon drawn into the rhythm of
the Pavane, that stately dance which, with the Saraband, the Gallead,
and the Morrice dances, had driven out, among all but the most Irish
of the gentry, the quicker rhythms of the verse-interwoven,
pantomimic dances of earlier days; and while they danced there came
over them the unutterable melancholy, the weariness with the world,
the poignant and bitter pity for one another, the vague anger against
common hopes and fears, which is the exultation of love. And when a
dance ended and the pipers laid down their pipes and lifted their
horn noggins, they stood a little from the others waiting pensively
and silently for the dance to begin again and the fire in their
hearts to leap up and to wrap them anew; and so they danced and
danced Pavane and Saraband and Gallead and Morrice through the night
long, and many stood still to watch them, and the peasants came about
the door and peered in, as though they understood that they would
gather their children's children about them long hence, and tell how
they had seen Costello dance with Dermott's daughter Oona, and become
by the telling themselves a portion of ancient romance; but through
all the dancing and piping Namara of the Lake went hither and thither
talking loudly and making foolish jokes that all might seem well with
him, and old Dermott of the Sheep grew redder and redder, and looked
oftener and oftener at the doorway to see if the candles there grew
yellow in the dawn.

At last he saw that the moment to end had come, and, in a pause after
a dance, cried out from where the horn noggins stood that his
daughter would now drink the cup of betrothal; then Oona came over to
where he was, and the guests stood round in a half-circle, Costello
close to the wall to the right, and the piper, the labourer, the
farmer, the half-witted man and the two farm lads close behind him.
The old man took out of a niche in the wall the silver cup from which
her mother and her mother's mother had drunk the toasts of their
betrothals, and poured Poteen out of a porcelain jug and handed the
cup to his daughter with the customary words, 'Drink to him whom you
love the best.'

She held the cup to her lips for a moment, and then said in a clear
soft voice: 'I drink to my true love, Tumaus Costello.'

And then the cup rolled over and over on the ground, ringing like a
bell, for the old man had struck her in the face and the cup had
fallen, and there was a deep silence.

There were many of Namara's people among the servants now come out of
the alcove, and one of them, a story-teller and poet, a last remnant
of the bardic order, who had a chair and a platter in Namara's
kitchen, drew a French knife out of his girdle and made as though he
would strike at Costello, but in a moment a blow had hurled him to
the ground, his shoulder sending the cup rolling and ringing again.
The click of steel had followed quickly, had not there come a
muttering and shouting from the peasants about the door and from
those crowding up behind them; and all knew that these were no
children of Queen's Irish or friendly Namaras and Dermotts, but of
the wild Irish about Lough Gara and Lough Cara, who rowed their skin
coracles, and had masses of hair over their eyes, and left the right
arms of their children unchristened that they might give the stouter
blows, and swore only by St. Atty and sun and moon, and worshipped
beauty and strength more than St. Atty or sun and moon.

Costello's hand had rested upon the handle of his sword and his
knuckles had grown white, but now he drew it away, and, followed by
those who were with him, strode towards the door, the dancers giving
way before him, the most angrily and slowly, and with glances at the
muttering and shouting peasants, but some gladly and quickly, because
the glory of his fame was over him. He passed through the fierce and
friendly peasant faces, and came where his good horse and the rough-
haired garrons were tied to bushes; and mounted and bade his ungainly
bodyguard mount also and ride into the narrow boreen. When they had
gone a little way, Duallach, who rode last, turned towards the house
where a little group of Dermotts and Namaras stood next to a more
numerous group of countrymen, and cried: 'Dermott, you deserve to be
as you are this hour, a lantern without a candle, a purse without a
penny, a sheep without wool, for your hand was ever niggardly to
piper and fiddler and story-teller and to poor travelling people.' He
had not done before the three old Dermotts from the Ox Mountains had
run towards their horses, and old Dermott himself had caught the
bridle of a garron of the Namaras and was calling to the others to
follow him; and many blows and many deaths had been had not the
countrymen caught up still glowing sticks from the ashes of the fires
and hurled them among the horses with loud cries, making all plunge
and rear, and some break from those who held them, the whites of
their eyes gleaming in the dawn.

For the next few weeks Costello had no lack of news of Oona, for now
a woman selling eggs or fowls, and now a man or a woman on pilgrimage
to the Well of the Rocks, would tell him how his love had fallen ill
the day after St. John's Eve, and how she was a little better or a
little worse, as it might be; and though he looked to his horses and
his cows and goats as usual, the common and uncomely, the dust upon
the roads, the songs of men returning from fairs and wakes, men
playing cards in the corners of fields on Sundays and Saints' Days,
the rumours of battles and changes in the great world, the deliberate
purposes of those about him, troubled him with an inexplicable
trouble; and the country people still remember how when night had
fallen he would bid Duallach of the Pipes tell, to the chirping of
the crickets, 'The Son of Apple,' 'The Beauty of the World,' 'The
King of Ireland's Son,' or some other of those traditional tales
which were as much a piper's business as 'The Green Bunch of Rushes,'
'The Unchion Stream,' or 'The Chiefs of Breffeny'; and while the
boundless and phantasmal world of the legends was a-building, would
abandon himself to the dreams of his sorrow.

Duallach would often pause to tell how some clan of the wild Irish
had descended from an incomparable King of the Blue Belt, or Warrior
of the Ozier Wattle, or to tell with many curses how all the
strangers and most of the Queen's Irish were the seed of the
misshapen and horned People from Under the Sea or of the servile and
creeping Ferbolg; but Costello cared only for the love sorrows, and
no matter whither the stories wandered, whether to the Isle of the
Red Lough, where the blessed are, or to the malign country of the Hag
of the East, Oona alone endured their shadowy hardships; for it was
she and no king's daughter of old who was hidden in the steel tower
under the water with the folds of the Worm of Nine Eyes round and
about her prison; and it was she who won by seven years of service
the right to deliver from hell all she could carry, and carried away
multitudes clinging with worn fingers to the hem of her dress; and it
was she who endured dumbness for a year because of the little thorn
of enchantment the fairies had thrust into her tongue; and it was a
lock of her hair, coiled in a little carved box, which gave so great
a light that men threshed by it from sundown to sunrise, and awoke so
great a wonder that kings spent years in wandering or fell before
unknown armies in seeking to discover her hiding-place; for there was
no beauty in the world but hers, no tragedy in the world but hers:
and when at last the voice of the piper, grown gentle with the wisdom
of old romance, was silent, and his rheumatic steps had toiled
upstairs and to bed, and Costello had dipped his fingers into the
little delf font of holy water and begun to pray to Mary of the Seven
Sorrows, the blue eyes and star-covered dress of the painting in the
chapel faded from his imagination, and the brown eyes and homespun
dress of Dermott's daughter Winny came in their stead; for there was
no tenderness in the passion who keep their hearts pure for love or
for hatred as other men for God, for Mary and for the Saints, and
who, when the hour of their visitation arrives, come to the Divine
Essence by the bitter tumult, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the
desolate Rood ordained for immortal passions in mortal hearts.

One day a serving-man rode up to Costello, who was helping his two
lads to reap a meadow, and gave him a letter, and rode away without a
word; and the letter contained these words in English: 'Tumaus
Costello, my daughter is very ill. The wise woman from Knock-na-Sidhe
has seen her, and says she will die unless you come to her. I
therefore bid you come to her whose peace you stole by treachery.-

Costello threw down his scythe, and sent one of the lads for
Duallach, who had become woven into his mind with Oona, and himself
saddled his great horse and Duallach's garron.

When they came to Dermott's house it was late afternoon, and Lough
Gara lay down below them, blue, mirror-like, and deserted; and though
they had seen, when at a distance, dark figures moving about the
door, the house appeared not less deserted than the Lough. The door
stood half open, and Costello knocked upon it again and again, so
that a number of lake gulls flew up out of the grass and circled
screaming over his head, but there was no answer.

'There is no one here,' said Duallach, 'for Dermott of the Sheep is
too proud to welcome Costello the Proud,' and he threw the door open,
and they saw a ragged, dirty, very old woman, who sat upon the floor
leaning against the wall. Costello knew that it was Bridget Delaney,
a deaf and dumb beggar; and she, when she saw him, stood up and made
a sign to him to follow, and led him and his companion up a stair and
down a long corridor to a closed door. She pushed the door open and
went a little way off and sat down as before; Duallach sat upon the
ground also, but close to the door, and Costello went and gazed upon
Winny sleeping upon a bed. He sat upon a chair beside her and waited,
and a long time passed and still she slept on, and then Duallach
motioned to him through the door to wake her, but he hushed his very
breath, that she might sleep on, for his heart was full of that
ungovernable pity which makes the fading heart of the lover a shadow
of the divine heart. Presently he turned to Duallach and said: 'It is
not right that I stay here where there are none of her kindred, for
the common people are always ready to blame the beautiful.' And then
they went down and stood at the door of the house and waited, but the
evening wore on and no one came.

'It was a foolish man that called you Proud Costello,' Duallach cried
at last; 'had he seen you waiting and waiting where they left none
but a beggar to welcome you, it is Humble Costello he would have
called you.'

Then Costello mounted and Duallach mounted, but when they had ridden
a little way Costello tightened the reins and made his horse stand
still. Many minutes passed, and then Duallach cried: 'It is no wonder
that you fear to offend Dermott of the Sheep, for he has many
brothers and friends, and though he is old, he is a strong man and
ready with his hands, and he is of the Queen's Irish, and the enemies
of the Gael are upon his side.'

And Costello answered flushing and looking towards the house: 'I
swear by the Mother of God that I will never return there again if
they do not send after me before I pass the ford in the Brown River,'
and he rode on, but so very slowly that the sun went down and the
bats began to fly over the bogs. When he came to the river he
lingered awhile upon the bank among the flowers of the flag, but
presently rode out into the middle and stopped his horse in a foaming
shallow. Duallach, however, crossed over and waited on a further bank
above a deeper place. After a good while Duallach cried out again,
and this time very bitterly: 'It was a fool who begot you and a fool
who bore you, and they are fools of all fools who say you come of an
old and noble stock, for you come of whey-faced beggars who travelled
from door to door, bowing to gentles and to serving-men.

With bent head, Costello rode through the river and stood beside him,
and would have spoken had not hoofs clattered on the further bank and
a horseman splashed towards them. It was a serving-man of Dermott's,
and he said, speaking breathlessly like one who had ridden hard:
'Tumaus Costello, I come to bid you again to Dermott's house. When
you had gone, his daughter Winny awoke and called your name, for you
had been in her dreams. Bridget Delaney the Dummy saw her lips move
and the trouble upon her, and came where we were hiding in the wood
above the house and took Dermott of the Sheep by the coat and brought
him to his daughter. He saw the trouble upon her, and bid me ride his
own horse to bring you the quicker.'

Then Costello turned towards the piper Duallach Daly, and taking him
about the waist lifted him out of the saddle and hurled him against a
grey rock that rose up out of the river, so that he fell lifeless
into the deep place, and the waters swept over the tongue which God
had made bitter, that there might be a story in men's ears in after
time. Then plunging his spurs into the horse, he rode away furiously
toward the north-west, along the edge of the river, and did not pause
until he came to another and smoother ford, and saw the rising moon
mirrored in the water. He paused for a moment irresolute, and then
rode into the ford and on over the Ox Mountains, and down towards the
sea; his eyes almost continually resting upon the moon which
glimmered in the dimness like a great white rose hung on the lattice
of some boundless and phantasmal world. But now his horse, long dark
with sweat and breathing hard, for he kept spurring it to an extreme
speed, fell heavily, hurling him into the grass at the roadside. He
tried to make it stand up, and failing in this, went on alone towards
the moonlight; and came to the sea and saw a schooner lying there at
anchor. Now that he could go no further because of the sea, he found
that he was very tired and the night very cold, and went into a
shebeen close to the shore and threw himself down upon a bench. The
room was full of Spanish and Irish sailors who had just smuggled a
cargo of wine and ale, and were waiting a favourable wind to set out
again. A Spaniard offered him a drink in bad Gaelic. He drank it
greedily and began talking wildly and rapidly.

For some three weeks the wind blew inshore or with too great
violence, and the sailors stayed drinking and talking and playing
cards, and Costello stayed with them, sleeping upon a bench in the
shebeen, and drinking and talking and playing more than any. He soon
lost what little money he had, and then his horse, which some one had
brought from the mountain boreen, to a Spaniard, who sold it to a
farmer from the mountains, and then his long cloak and his spurs and
his boots of soft leather. At last a gentle wind blew towards Spain,
and the crew rowed out to their schooner, singing Gaelic and Spanish
songs, and lifted the anchor, and in a little while the white sails
had dropped under the horizon. Then Costello turned homeward, his
life gaping before him, and walked all day, coming in the early
evening to the road that went from near Lough Gara to the southern
edge of Lough Cay. Here he overtook a great crowd of peasants and
farmers, who were walking very slowly after two priests and a group
of well-dressed persons, certain of whom were carrying a coffin. He
stopped an old man and asked whose burying it was and whose people
they were, and the old man answered: 'It is the burying of Oona,
Dermott's daughter, and we are the Namaras and the Dermotts and their
following, and you are Tumaus Costello who murdered her.'

Costello went on towards the head of the procession, passing men who
looked at him with fierce eyes and only vaguely understanding what he
had heard, for now that he had lost the understanding that belongs to
good health, it seemed impossible that a gentleness and a beauty
which had been so long the world's heart could pass away. Presently
he stopped and asked again whose burying it was, and a man answered:
'We are carrying Dermott's daughter Winny whom you murdered, to be
buried in the island of the Holy Trinity,' and the man stooped and
picked up a stone and cast it at Costello, striking him on the cheek
and making the blood flow out over his face. Costello went on
scarcely feeling the blow, and coming to those about the coffin,
shouldered his way into the midst of them, and laying his hand upon
the coffin, asked in a loud voice: 'Who is in this coffin?'

The three Old Dermotts from the Ox Mountains caught up stones and bid
those about them do the same; and he was driven from the road,
covered with wounds, and but for the priests would surely have been

When the procession had passed on, Costello began to follow again,
and saw from a distance the coffin laid upon a large boat, and those
about it get into other boats, and the boats move slowly over the
water to Insula Trinitatis; and after a time he saw the boats return
and their passengers mingle with the crowd upon the bank, and all
disperse by many roads and boreens. It seemed to him that Winny was
somewhere on the island smiling gently as of old, and when all had
gone he swam in the way the boats had been rowed and found the new-
made grave beside the ruined Abbey of the Holy Trinity, and threw
himself upon it, calling to Oona to come to him. Above him the square
ivy leaves trembled, and all about him white moths moved over white
flowers, and sweet odours drifted through the dim air.

He lay there all that night and through the day after, from time to
time calling her to come to him, but when the third night came he had
forgotten, worn out with hunger and sorrow, that her body lay in the
earth beneath; but only knew she was somewhere near and would not
come to him.

Just before dawn, the hour when the peasants hear his ghostly voice
crying out, his pride awoke and he called loudly: 'Winny, daughter of
Dermott of the Sheep, if you do not come to me I will go and never
return to the island of the Holy Trinity,' and before his voice had
died away a cold and whirling wind had swept over the island and he
saw many figures rushing past, women of the Sidhe with crowns of
silver and dim floating drapery; and then Oona, but no longer smiling
gently, for she passed him swiftly and angrily, and as she passed
struck him upon the face crying: 'Then go and never return.'

He would have followed, and was calling out her name, when the whole
glimmering company rose up into the air, and, rushing together in the
shape of a great silvery rose, faded into the ashen dawn.

Costello got up from the grave, understanding nothing but that he had
made his beloved angry and that she wished him to go, and wading out
into the lake, began to swim. He swam on and on, but his limbs were
too weary to keep him afloat, and her anger was heavy about him, and
when he had gone a little way he sank without a struggle, like a man
passing into sleep and dreams.

The next day a poor fisherman found him among the reeds upon the lake
shore, lying upon the white lake sand with his arms flung out as
though he lay upon a rood, and carried him to his own house. And the
very poor lamented over him and sang the keen, and when the time had
come, laid him in the Abbey on Insula Trinitatis with only the ruined
altar between him and Dermott's daughter, and planted above them two
ash-trees that in after days wove their branches together and mingled
their trembling leaves.

William Butler Yeats