A lover’s hand

There was a farmer in  Wicklow who had a high-spirited daughter who needed careful guarding. For, she needed to be kept away from the amorous advances of the local bucks who were bent on mischief of their own, given half a chance, with the enthralled teenager.

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She settled on one likely lad who seemed intent on becoming her friend, and who knew what else afterwards, all going well. Electricity was not long come to that part of the country.

The farmer had the new power installed in the barn as well as in the family dwelling for he was a far-seeing man. The switch for the barn was placed on the wall inside the old tin gate that never quite fitted the space given over to it. It was positioned there so a hand could come through a gap and switch it on, or off, from the outside, depending on whether a person was coming or going.

On this night, the daughter and the boyfriend were sporting themselves inside the building, out of the winter darkness and snowy wind.

Out late, checking his animals, the farmer heard a noise as he was passing through the yard and turned to investigate. He called out advance warning to any tramp or thief that might be inside the barn.

His amorous daughter was surprised to hear her father’s voice calling out, for all she wanted to hear were sweet encouraging words from her chap of the moment.

Who was at that point more interested in other matters than answering her father’s call to come out and identify himself, whoever he was.

Nonetheless, of escape there was none. He could but await discovery and reckoning, not to mention banishment from the girl’s company.

Quite unexpectedly, however, providence took a hand, much to the young man’s surprise, for the father turned out to be more frightened of what was inside the building than either of its users inside could imagine.

He sneaked his hesitant hand into the gap beside the ill-fitting gate to reach for the light switch. His intent was to shine a single hanging bulb’s light on all that was inside.

But the best plans often fall at the first fence. At that moment, in a spontaneous attempt to delay the inevitable, the young man reached out and grabbed the older man’s wrist.

The man outside only knew that a grip had closed around his wrist, in the darkness. He howled out in fear for who knew if a red-eyed being was inside trying to draw him in?

The young man inside closed his mouth tighter so as not to cry out in fear himself, for he was in the dark as to what was happening. Even though his willing companion  was by now hanging out of him in her own paroxysm of fear. The man that was her father was outside howling in dread.

Freeing himself, her father ran for the house and his legally-held shotgun to discharge a shot in the air to see if that might redress the balance of terror. If what was inside the barn was human it would be feared by the loud report of the gun going off. If not, then the farmer’s neighbours would be alerted to the state of affairs and might be expected to come to his call for assistance.

The boy in the barn heard him running away and said so to the girl who realised all too quickly that her father had left for more firepower.

She told the boy to open the door, leaving the light off for safety, and to make his way home across the fields and out of harm’s way, for a shotgun, while deadly at close quarters, would do little enough harm to a fleeing lover a few fields away from the scene.

In the meantime, she ran across the yard to stand well back from the farmhouse door as her father poured himself out in the spilling light with a loaded gun and a determination to face his tormentor. He passed her by in the shadow, without seeing her. And when he was well away, she stepped backwards into the light and shouted at him to be careful.

Not for the first time did he wonder where she had been when he went into the house for the gun; but she must have been somewhere, for here she was stepping out after him, as plain as day. He told her to stay in the house where she would be safe.

With an audience to play to, the farmer made a show of calling out the tormentor from the barn, to no response of course, for the disappointed buck was away by then.

He reached gingerly in to press  the hard brown bakelite switch and to bathe the scene in a weak yellow light. He spent a deal of time inside the building while his frustrated daughter shivered on the step as the excited perspiration dried on her body and her evening’s fun departed with the disappearing heels of the lad of her dreams.

Like many a father before, or since, the farmer stopped to study his daughter on the way back in for there was something about her demeanour that was amiss. She had appeared behind him when she had not been before him on his hurried arrival into the house for his shotgun.

Not for the first time was he sorry that her mother had passed away many years before, for if there is one thing that a father finds hard to fathom it is a wilful daughter.

The night passed away peacefully enough; even if it was disturbed by the daughter’s tossing and turning for a long time in her single and solitary bed.

The farmer told his neighbours on the next day what had happened. Most agreed it was unlikely a red-eyed devil had been about the place in the dark. But, there had been no sightings of  strangers in the locality for some time.

If there is one place where a stranger moving through the countryside will be seen it is in the mountains where the footfall of a visitor is noticed by many, and known to all, soon enough.

Suspicion soon fell on the daughter and her last known boyfriend; but when both were questioned they denied all knowledge of the other person’s existence on the planet, a denial that only served to confirm the farmer’s suspicion that he had been the victim of a hoax.

Intentional or not, it mattered little in its result for it was not long before his peers started to pull his leg about being caught by the wrist by a devil in his own yard.

Extracted from Wicklow Folk Tales  © Brendan Nolan

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