The Dance of the Dead
It is especially dangerous to be out late on the last, night of November, for it is the closing scene of the revels--the last night when the dead have leave to dance on the hill with the fairies, and after that they must all go back to their graves and lie in the chill, cold earth, without music or wine till the next November comes round, when they all spring up again in their shrouds and rush out into the moonlight with mad laughter.
One November night, a woman of Shark island, coming home late at the hour of the dead, grew tired and sat down to rest, when presently a young man came up and talked to her.
"Wait a bit," he said, "and you will see the most beautiful dancing you ever looked on there by the side of the hill."
And she looked at him steadily. He was very pale, and seemed sad.
"Why are you so sad?" she asked, "and as pale as if you were dead?"
"Look well at me," he answered. "Do you not know me?"
"Yes, I know you now," she said. "You are young Brien that was drowned last year when out fishing. What are you here for?"
"Look," he said, "at the side of the hill and you will see why I am here."
And she looked, and saw a great company dancing to sweet music; and amongst them were all the dead who had died as long as she could remember--men, women, and children, all in white, and their faces were pale as the moonlight.
"Now," said the young man, "run for your life; for if once the fairies bring you into the dance you will never be able to leave them any more."
But while they were talking, the fairies came up and danced round her in a circle, joining their hands. And she fell to the ground in a faint, and knew no more till she woke up in the morning in her own bed at home. And they all saw that her face was pale as the dead, and they knew that she had got the fairy-stroke. So the herb doctor was sent for, and every measure tried to save her, but without avail, for just as the moon rose that night, soft, low music was heard round the house, and when they looked at the woman she was dead.
It is a custom amongst the people, when throwing away water at night, to cry out in a loud voice, "Take care of the water;" or, literally from the Irish, "Away with yourself from the water "---for they say the spirits of the dead last buried are then wandering about, and it would be dangerous if the water fell on them.
One dark winter's night a woman suddenly threw out a pail of boiling water without thinking of the warning words. Instantly a cry was heard as of a person in pain, but no one was seen. However, the next night a black lamb entered the house, having the back all fresh scalded, and it lay down moaning by time hearth and died. Then they all knew this was the spirit that had been scalded by the woman. And they carried the dead lamb out reverently and buried it deep in the earth. Yet every night at the same hour it walked again into the house and lay down and moaned and died. And after this had happened many times, the priest was sent for, and finally, by the strength of his exorcism, the spirit of the dead was laid to rest, and the black lamb appeared no more. Neither was the body of the dead lamb found in the grave when they searched for it, though it had been laid by their own hands deep in the earth and covered with the clay.
Before an accident happens to a boat, or a death by drowning, low music is often heard, as if under the water, along with harmonious lamentations, and then every one in the boat knows that some young man or beautiful young girl is wanted by the fairies, and is doomed to die. The best safeguard is to have music and singing in the boat, for the fairies are so enamoured of the mortal voices and music that they forget to weave the spell till the fatal moment has passed, and then all in the boat are safe from harm.