Pat Diver, the tinker, was a man well-accustomed to a wandering life, and to strange shelters; he had shared the beggar’s blanket in smoky cabins; he had crouched beside the still in many a nook and corner where poteen was made on the wild Innishowen mountains; he had even slept on the bare heather, or on the ditch, with no roof over him but the vault of heaven; yet were all his nights of adventure tame and commonplace when compared with one especial night.
During the day preceding that night, he had mended all the kettles and saucepans in Moville and Greencastle, and was on his way to Culdaff, when night overtook him on a lonely mountain road. He knocked at one door after another asking for a night’s lodging, while he jingled the halfpence in his pocket, but was everywhere refused.
Where was the boasted hospitality of Innishowen, which he had never before known to fail? It was of no use to be able to pay when the people seemed so churlish. Thus thinking, he made his way towards a light a little further on, and knocked at another cabin door. An old man and woman were seated one at each side of the fire.
«Will you be pleased to give me a night’s lodging, sir?», asked Pat respectfully.
«Can you tell a story?», returned the old man.
«No, then, sir, I canna say I’m good at story-telling», replied the puzzled tinker.
«Then you maun just gang further, for none but them that can tell a story will get in here».
This reply was made in so decided a tone that Pat did not attempt to repeat his appeal, but turned away reluctantly to resume his weary journey.
«A story, indeed», muttered he. «Auld wives fables to please the weans!».
As he took up his bundle of tinkering implements, he observed a barn standing rather behind the dwelling-house, and, aided by the rising moon, he made his way towards it. It was a clean, roomy barn, with a piled-up heap of straw in one corner. Here was a shelter not to be despised; so Pat crept under the straw, and was soon asleep.
He could not have slept very long when he was awakened by the tramp of feet, and, peeping cautiously through a crevice in his straw covering, he saw four immensely tall men enter the barn, dragging a body, which they threw roughly upon the floor. They next lighted a fire in the middle of the barn, and fastened the corpse by the feet with a great rope to a beam in the roof. One of them then began to turn it slowly before the fire.
«Come on», said he, addressing a gigantic fellow, the tallest of the four. «I’m tired; you be to tak’ your turn».
«Faix an’ troth, I’ll no turn him», replied the big man. «There’s Pat Diver in under the straw, why wouldn’t he tak’ his turn?».
With hideous clamour the four men called the wretched Pat, who, seeing there was no escape, thought it was his wisest plan to come forth as he was bidden.
«Now, Pat», said they, «you’ll turn the corpse, but if you let him burn you’ll be tied up there and roasted in his place».
Pat’s hair stood on end, and the cold perspiration poured from his forehead, but there was nothing for it but to perform his dreadful task. Seeing him fairly embarked in it, the tall men went away.
Soon, however, the flames rose so high as to singe the rope, and the corpse fell with a great thud upon the fire, scattering the ashes and embers, and extracting a howl of anguish from the miserable cook, who rushed to the door, and ran for his life.
He ran on until he was ready to drop with fatigue, when, seeing a drain overgrown with tall, rank grass, he thought he would creep in there and lie hidden till morning. But he was not many minutes in the drain before he heard the heavy tramping again, and the four men came up with their burthen, which they laid down on the edge of the drain.
«I’m tired», said one, to the giant; «it’s your turn to carry him a piece now».
«Faix and troth, I’ll no carry him», replied he, «but there’s Pat Diver in the drain, why wouldn’t he come out and tak’ his turn?».
«Come out, Pat, come out», roared all the men, and Pat, almost dead with fright, crept out.
He staggered on under the weight of the corpse until he reached Kiltown Abbey, a ruin festooned with ivy, where the brown owl hooted all night long, and the forgotten dead slept around the walls under dense, matted tangles of brambles and ben-weed. No one ever buried there now, but Pat’s tall companions turned into the wild graveyard, and began digging a grave. Pat, seeing them thus engaged, thought he might once more try to escape, and climbed up into a hawthorn tree in the fence, hoping to be hidden in the boughs.
«I’m tired», said the man who was digging the grave; «here, take the spade», addressing the big man, «it’s your turn».
«Faix an’ troth, it’s no my turn», replied he, as before. «There’s Pat Diver in the tree, why wouldn’t he come down and tak’ his turn?».
Pat came down to take the spade, but just then the cocks in the little farmyards and cabins round the abbey began to crow, and the men looked at one another.
«We must go», said they, «and well is it for you, Pat Diver, that the cocks crowed, for if they had not, you’d just ha’ been bundled into that grave with the corpse».
Two months passed, and Pat had wandered far and wide over the county Donegal, when he chanced to arrive at Raphoe during a fair. Among the crowd that filled the Diamond he came suddenly on the big man.
«How are you, Pat Diver?», said he, bending down to look into the tinker’s face.
«You’ve the advantage of me, sir, for I havna’ the pleasure of knowing you», faltered Pat.
«Do you not know me, Pat?». Whisper: «When you go back to Innishowen, you’ll have a story to tell!».