by Norman A. Rubin
’Twas a glorious morning with the bright sun warming the Emerald Isle when Shamus Finnegan stepped out of his cottage onto the soil of County Kerry. He then traipsed lively from his home as he made quick steps on his thick legs towards the little church near Shannon for the early Mass. Yet the sunny day had a surprise for his sight as he trekked merrily along the path: an unbelievable vision of finely dressed legs, nothing more.
The goodly man was finely dressed on his rotund figure in a new suit of fine broadcloth, new black leather brogues on broad feet, and a green tam-o-shanter on the graying of his hair. It was quite fitting for the solemnity of the day.
His green eyes shone from his florid face like a leprechaun counting the cold coins as he stepped with springing steps over heather and tussock and along a trickling brook and a grove of elder and ash trees.
What was really on his thoughts was to kneel at service by the side of that fair colleen, Widow Agatha, a fair-haired and blue-eyed devotee, albeit a woman past the prime of youth.
His thoughts turned to mumbling of words where he repeated over and over again the phrases to be used in inviting her to a dance at the church hall that evening.
“Blessed fine morning it be!” he exclaimed. Then with a whistle to his thick lips the tune of ‘Irish Eyes are Shining’, came forth in the clear air.
As he was trudging merrily along the flowered heath fields he came to a low ditch covered with mulberry bushes entangled with a decaying trunk of an old oak whose tendrils shot up weak shoots that waved to a nearby brook. He paused for a moment as he looked for a path through the brush and an easy ascent to the top of the hollow; then he caught hold of a strong tree shoot and climbed above the ditch. Suddenly he heard a noise coming from a nearby grove of elder and ash trees, which caused him to stop in amazement.
There in the sight of wide-opened eyes and silent expression in equally wide-opened mouth he saw a pair of well-shaped legs walking, rather dancing like a dance master upon the top of the ditch. He blinked twice, but he only saw a pair of legs without hip, body or head.
He observed that the figure and size of same legs were of a manly person from the fine full-length woolen stockings that covered well-shaped legs and with buckled black-leather pumps that fitted over broad feet.
“Glory be! Bless be the holy mother in heaven! Is this devilish thing real or am I dreaming?” he exclaimed in overwhelming astonishment.
Well Shamus Finnegan pinched himself on one of his cheeks to see if he going through hallucinations of a nightmare, but the pain reminded him of his wakefulness. It would be vain to detail all the exclamations from the ‘oohs’, ‘ahhs’ to ‘saints be praised’ that escaped from the mouth of Shamus Finnegan, time after time, as the legs skipped across the heather and hopped through the path of another mulberry bush filled ditch.
But the curious chap questioned in his mind to the sighting of a bodiless person seen only by his legs. Then curiosity got the better of him and he chased after the apparition.
The strange sighting was not limited to sight of Shamus Finnegan by any means; one by one, a few surprised villagers stopped and stared as the legs nimbly crossed over the stones of the gurgling brook, through a patch of bog, or pushed through a thicket without nary a spot of water or a tear on his brown woolen stockings.
The good man was joined by a neighbor going to same early Mass who could not resist following and ascertaining how this strange phenomenon should end. A milk maid downed her filled milk pails, a smith hammering a shoe onto a horse downed his tools, a farmer hoeing his patch of cabbages put his aside his hoe. All ran after the skipping limbs; so great were the numbers that followed the dancing legs that it seemed like a congregation of some little village church moving in solemn procession.
The curious folk cut across the fields of heather and bog at a nimble gait, the procession lengthening at every hour, and increasing in clamorous wonder as it carried on as they followed the dancing legs. Then, after an hour or so, they descended in a wooded glen of tangled briar underbrush and stooping branches of elder and stunted oak. When the followers jumped over the underbrush the briars tore them; when they ducked under the low branches, they were knocked on their heads.
Soon the crowd stopped and called out that they will go no further, all except Shamus Finnegan. He cried out, “The legs are dancing faster and faster as they skip along the briar patches, bogs and the fields of heather.”
Many surmised that the legs weren’t all that were there, but only, as it were, the shapes of ’em, and they would keep going and going until they led to a mysterious wood of a treacherous deserted place; and then, maybe, the ground will open up swallow up one and all. “We will be swooped up in one lot and nobody will hear from us again.”
The legs had, meantime, danced merrily along with the tiring Shamus Finnegan following in its footsteps. When the last glimmering of daylight started to fade away, the legs had reached the mighty Gale River of County Kerry; it flowed with sluggishness through the glen. With renewed vigor Shamus pressed on to the opposite side. Poor Shamus had to slog through the wet and mud to keep up with the fast-disappearing limbs.
Suddenly the dancing legs stopped their pace when they came to a flat, rather dismal spot of ground. They wheeled on their toes to right and almost in a flash sprang into a shallow trench; then they danced quickly towards the remains of a derelict church, ruined through neglect from the past years.
There were three dismal wrecks of walls hidden in the rank weeds, standing close to only one solitary, leafless tree. Graves, with fallen tombstones stood about; they could barely be discerned in the tall weeds and the fallen debris of the ruined chapel.
Shamus could see the remains of the church from the path as he huffed and puffed along as he followed the tracks of the legs. Slowly, with the last of his strength, the good man neared the site.
When the twilight released the shadows, the legs came towards Shamus and circled about him. The poor chap stopped in wonderment as they came nearer and nearer towards him; but closer they approached, they began gradually to fade away, leaving behind an almost transparent outline, and after a moment or two disappeared altogether.
* * *
When those dancing legs were brought to the mind of older people occupied by the thoughts and the tongues of gossip, Shamus Finnegan learned months later, from those who had intimate contact with the spiritual world, the meaning of that unique occurrence. One old wrinkled woman, ages old in unknown years, and gray in memory, called in her fading mind a tale that was told her when she was an innocent child, which may give an inkling to that past sighting.
“There lived,” she muttered in the garble of her tongue, “in past years, a lady of royalty and of immense wealth who dwelt in a fairly large castle in the low hills not far from County Kerry. She was at the end of her youthful years, supple in body and fair in features, but widowed in the early years of a blessed and happy union.
“Thus in her lonely years she was wooed by two great lords of the land, and they proposed their hand in matrimony. One was a faired haired, green-eyed youth of pleasing countenance with a graceful manner; the other a stout middling figure of man, hawk-like in features, proud in his stance, but rather boorish in his manners. The dear lady, off course, liked the fair lad best, which made the other fellow so jealous that he contemplated murdering his rival.
“He engaged a dastardly villain, by a large purse of gold, to gain access to the youth’s bedroom at the dark of night and cut off his head with a sharp broadsword. That very evening he made merry at the tavern with the fair-headed youth and plied him with many cups of wine, till the young man wasn’t able to stand firmly on his feet.
“The young lord staggered from the tavern and somehow made it to the bedroom of his lodging, where collapsed fully dressed upon his bed. Within a few minutes the murderous villain came into the darkened room and crept towards the sleeping figure with a sharp broadsword in hand. Then he lifted the weapon high and let it fall towards the back of the bed, but instead of cutting of the youth’s head he managed to cut off his legs from the knees downwards. Upon that slash the youth groaned in agony and it took another blow to dispatch him with his head lopped off.
“The bloody corpse was placed in a sack and carried that very night to a church and thrown in the sanctified soil of the graveyard where it got a solemn burial; but the legs were nearly forgotten in the rush to cover up the crime; and later in the dark of night they were hastily thrown in a hole near the castle grounds and covered with earth.
“The cruel lord who had plotted and procured the murder, attended the fair lady the next day and pretended that the fair headed lad had returned to his realm and withdrew his suit of marriage. She became quite offended and within a few weeks accepted the murderous rival in marriage.
“But in the midst of revelry there was a horn blown outside the castle, and soon feet were heard mounting the steps to the grand entrance, and the doors to the banquet hall were thrown open, and in walked bodiless legs.
“Then there was pandemonium all about, with the guests running hither and yon in great panic upon the sighting. The bride fainted, but the legs danced and only followed the cowardly lord wherever he stepped.
“Soon, the former bridegroom quit the castle and the limbs followed him everywhere, and wherever he turned or looked, from that hour, he saw the dancing feet stalking before, or beside, or behind him, until he wasted away to a shivery of wreck of a man. Then when Father Death was counting the grains in the hourglass he confessed to his murderous deed as he lay on his throes of coming death on his regal bed.
“The next day, a search for the assassin was begun in order to ascertain where the legs were buried and give them a proper interment within the grave of the fair lad. Wherever they searched the bloodstained swine of a murderer was nowhere to be found.
“From that day to that day, and maybe,” the woman continued in the roughness of her tongue, “the legs got to leave that deep hole and dance about the country at an odd time, to show what’s happened to them, and for some good soul to search them out, to join them to the fair-headed lad.”
Copyright © 2009 by Norman A. Rubin