The Belated Priest
A very lonesome road connects the village of Ballindaggin, in the Duffrey, with the townland of Mangan, on the Bantry side of the brawling Urrin, and outside these intermediate stations it leads to Kaim and Castleboro, on one side, and the high road from Bunclody to Ross on the other. From the river to Ballindaggin, you hardly meet a house, and fallow fields extend on each side.
Father Stafford was asked, rather late in the day, to make a sick call at a cabin that stood among these fields, at a considerable distance from this road, - a cabin from which no lane led either to by-road or public road. He was delayed longer than he expected, and when he was leaving the cabin it was nearly dark. This did not disturb him much. There was a path that led to the road, and he knew he had only to keep a north-easterly direction to come out on it, not far from the village already named. So he went on fearlessly for some time, but complete obscurity soon surrounded him, and he would have been sorely perplexed, had it not been that the path lay for the most part beside the fences.
At last, instead of passing in a line near the fence, it struck across the field; and, open his eyes wide as he might, he could hardly distinguish it from the dry, russet-coloured grass at each side. Well, he kept his eyes steadily fixed in the due direction, and advanced till he was about the middle of the field, which happened to be a large one. There some case of conscience, or other anxious subject, crossed his mind, and he stopped and fidgeted about, walking restlessly this way and that for a few steps, totally forgetting his present circumstances. Coming at last to some solution of his difficulty, full recollection returned, and he was sensible of being thoroughly ignorant of the direction in which his proper route lay. If he could but get a glimpse of Mount Leinster, it would be all well; but, beyond a few perches, all was in the deepest darkness on every side. He then set off in a straight line, which he knew would bring him to some fence, and perhaps he might find stile or gap for his guidance. He went twice round the field, but, in the confusion of his faculties, he could find no trace of path or pass. He at last half resolved to cross the fence, and go straight on, but the dykes were, for the most part, encumbered with briers, and furze-bushes crowned the tops of the steep clay mounds.
While he stood perplexed, he heard the rustle of wings or bodies passing swiftly through the air, and a musical voice was heard :- " You will suffer much if you do not find your way. Give us a favourable answer to a question, and you shall be on the road in a few minutes." The good priest was somewhat awed at the rustle and the voice, hut he answered without delay, "Who are you, and what's your question ?" The same voice replied, "We are the Chlann Sighe, and wish you to declare that at the last day our lot may not be with Satan. Say that the Saviour died for us as well as for you." "I will give you a favourable answer, if you can make me a hopeful one. Do you adore and love the SON OF GOD ?"
He received no answer but weak and shrill cries, and the rushing of wings, and at once it seemed as if he had shaken off some oppression. The dark clouds had separated, a weak light was shed round where he stood, and he distinguished the path, and an opening in the bushes on the fence. He crossed into the next field, and, following the path, he was soon on the road. In fifteen minutes he was seated at his comfortable fire, and his little round table, covered with books, was at his side.