A WINTER’S TALE FROM KILCULLEN
by Sean Landers
RED GAP INN
I remember well how strongly my boyish feelings were excited at reading the narrative of Raymond’s escape from the murderous innkeepers in Lewis’s romance of “The Monk.”* His version of the story has nearly faded from my memory, but the circumstances upon which he founded it are said to have occurred in Ireland , and wild and improbable as they are, you have them, verbatim, as they are related upon the spot: and, moreover, I am not to blame if you think fit to believe them, inasmuch as I give up my authority – and Lord Lyndhurst himself could ask no more. My informant’s name is Catharine Flynn.
As you go from Kilcullen Bridge to Carlow, about three miles on your road,there stands and barely stands a ruined house. The situation has nothing particular striking about it, the country is open and thinly cultivated, and a faint outline of hills is visible in the distance.
Some seventy or eighty years ago it was a substantial- looking inn, the proprietor was a farmer, as well as an inn-keeper, and although no particular or satisfactory reason could be assigned for it,beyond vague and uncertain rumours, he was by no means a favourite with his neighbours. . He had little, indeed, of the Boniface ** about him; dark, sullen and down-looking, he never appeared, even to a guest, unless when specially called for, much less to a thirsty brother farmer or labourer, passing his heavy old-fashioned door, to ask him to taste his home-brewed ale or esquebaugh: yet the man was well to pass in the world, and with the aid of three or four hulking sons, and a heart-broken drudge of a wife, managed his farm and his inn so as to pay his way at fair and market, and “hold his own”, as the saying is, in the country.- For all that, there were those who did not stick to say that more travellers went to his inn in the night than ever left it in the morning ; and one or two who remembered him in his early days before he had learned to mask the evil traits of his character by sullenness and reserve , would not have taken the broad lands of the Geraldines of Leinster to pass a night in the best bed-room in the house ;-no, no,-they would rather take chance in the Bog of Allen, for that matter.
A severe storm, however, compelled a traveller to halt there one evening , although he has originally intended to get further on his journey , before he put up for the night. Not that he had any suspicion of the place; on the contrary, he thought it rather a comfortable , quiet looking concern ; and turning from the lowering inhospitable sky , and wishing the pitiless driving sleet good night, he rode into the inn-yard , saying in his own mind , ‘ I may go further and fare worse.’ Now, I am of a very different opinion.
It was late in the evening, and late in the year- no matter about dates, I am not particular. So the traveller ( who being a merciful man, was merciful to his beast ) having seen his horse fed and carefully laid up for the night , thought it high time to look after himself, as to both his outward and inward man. Accordingly , throwing his saddle-bags over his arm, he walked into the inn-kitchen, in those days the most comfortable winter apartment in the house, to thaw himself at the huge fire , and give the customary mandates concerning supper and bed- to say nothing of a bottle of good old wine, then to be found in every inn in Ireland. This feat accomplished , away he stalked to his own apartment- jack-boots , silver headed riding whip, cloak and all- followed close by a terrier dog, who had been laying at the kitchen fire when he came in , but who now kept snuffling and smelling at his heels every step of the way up stairs.
When he had reached is room, and had disencumbered himself of his heavy riding gear, the dog at once leaped upon him with a cry of joy; and he immediately recognised an old favourite whom he had lost in Dublin a year or two before; wondering, at the same time, how he had got so far into the country, and why he had not known him before. When the landlord entered the room with supper , the traveller claimed his dog, and expressed his determination to bring him on with him to Cork, whither he was bound. The host made not the slightest objection , merely observing , that he had bought hm from a Dublin carrier, who, he supposed, had found him in the streets. That point settled, the traveller dismissed his landlord for the night , with directions to cause him to be called betimes in the morning ; the man smiled darkly, and withdrew.
The traveller made himself as comfortable as he could , with the aid of a good supper and a cheerful fire, not forgetting his lost- and found companion, until, after some time, finding that the wine ran low , and that a certain disposition to trace castles and abbeys in the glowing recesses of the burning turf , was creeping over him- that is to say , in plain English , catching himself nodding over the fire- he thought it best to transfer his somnolency to a well-curtained bed that stood invitingly in a recess of the room. As he proceeded to undress, the anxiety and agitation of his dog attracted his attention, and at last fairly aroused him, sleepy as he was, though he could in no way account for it. The animal ran ran backward and forward from him to the bed, and as he laid aside every article of clothing, fetched it to him again, with the most intelligent and beseeching gestures, and when, to satisfy the poor creature, as well as to discover, if possible, what he wanted and meant, he resumed some portion of his dress, nothing equal his joy. Strange suspicions began to flash across the traveller’s mind : he ran over every circumstance, even the minutest which had occurred since he entered the inn ; and now that his attention was excited, it did strike him that after making every allowance for boorishness and rusticity, and sullenness of temper, there as more of the gaolor than the inn-keeper in the bearing and deportment of the slent host ; he remembered, too, how heavily the miserable looking, haggard wife had sighed, while she looked at his own burly figure as he stood by the fire, as though she sorrowed over a victim whom she could not save; and, lastly, and above all, he pondered on the ominous smile with which the innkeeper received his directions to be awakened early in the morning.
Meanwhile, the indefatigable dog was busied in pulling off the bed clothes as well as his strength would permit: and when his master went to his assistance , what was his horror at seeing , beneath clean sheets and well arranged blankets, a bed and mattress literally dyed with dark-red stains of blood ! Though a man of peaceful habits, he knew as little of fear as most people, and the exigency of the moment roused every energy of his mind; he deliberately locked the door, examined the walls to see if there was any secret entrance, looked to the priming of his pistols, and the stood prepared to abide by whatever might come and to sell his life as dearly as he could.
The dog watched him intently until his preparations were completed; and then, having assured himself that his movements were observed by his master, he jumped once more on the fatal bed; then, after lying down for an instant, as if in imitation of the usual posture of a person composing himself to sleep, he suddenly changed his mind as it were, sprang hastily to the floor; and stood with eyes fixed and ears erect, in an attitude of the most intense attention, watching the bed itself, and nothing else. The traveller, in the mean time, never stirred from the spot, those his eyes naturally followed those of the dog, and for a time everything was as still as the grave; and not a stir nor a breath broke the silence of the room; or interrupted the silence of the mute pair. At last a slight rustling sound was heard in the direction of the bed; the dog, with ears cocked and tail slightly moving, looked up at his master, as to make sure that he was attentive; and , in an instant the bed was seen descending swiftly and stealthily through the yawning floor , while a strong light flashed upwards into the room. Not a second was to be lost. The traveller dashed open the window, and leaped into the yard, followed by his faithful companion. Another moment, and without giving himself any trouble on the score of a saddle, he was on the back of his horse, as fast a hunter as any in Leinster,and scouring away for life and death on the road to Kilcullen, followed by a train as pitiless as that which hurries from Kirk Alloway after poor Tam O’Shanter. ***
You may be sure he spared neither whip, spur, nor horseflesh, and thanks to Providence and a good steed, he reached Kilcullen in safety. The authorities secured the villainous host and his accomplice sons, and the infuriated peasantry gave the fatal inn and its bloody secrets to the flames.
There is the story; and if it be true, I can only say that I wish I knew where I could get of the breed of the traveller’s terrier, for love or money.
The story is taken from “The Philadelphia Visiter” (sic). It was originally published in 1815. This version of the story is taken from an 1840 reprint.
* From the Gothic novel, “The Monk” by Matthew Lewis, published in 1796.
** Boniface, innkeeper in The Beaux‘ Stratagem (1707) by George Farquhar
*** “Tam O’Shanter” , a poem by Robbie Burns , published in 1791.