A Story strange but true

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER VI (14) start of chapter

Returning to Toronto after a hard day's work, Father Gordon was about entering his modest residence, to obtain some necessary refreshment, when a countryman rode up to the door. He proved to be an Irishman from the township of Tecumseth, in the county of Simcoe, about forty miles from Toronto. 'Father, I'm glad to meet you; I want you to come with me to near my place, where there's a man dying, and there's not a moment to be lost.' This was agreeable news for the poor priest, who certainly had had his fair share of the saddle for that day. 'Who is the sick man? ' he asked. 'Oh, he's one Marshall, from the North—a Protestant, and all his people the same—and he is asking for the priest. I'm a neighbour of his, and I heard it from one of his sons, and I thought I couldn't do better than come for your reverence; and so here I am, just in time, thank God.' 'Very well,' said the priest, 'I will take a cup of tea, borrow a fresh horse, and be off without delay. Come in and join me, and I will be ready to start at once.' In half an hour after the two horsemen rode from the door on their journey through the forest, and it was not until late at night, thoroughly tired, that they pulled up before the house of the sick man, who was said to be at the point of death. Father Gordon dismounted, and knocked at the door, which was immediately opened by an elderly woman, at whose back stood two young men. 'What do you want here, at this hour of the night?' demanded the woman. 'Is there not a sick man in the house?' inquired the priest. 'There is—my husband—he is dying.' 'Well, I was sent for to see him—I am the priest.' 'Priest!' shrieked the woman, as if the Evil One stood revealed before her. 'Yes; I am the priest, come all the way from Toronto to see him, as he wished me to do,' was the quiet rejoinder. 'Then you may go as you came, for no priest will cross this threshold, if I can help it, no matter who wants to see him;' and saying this, the mistress of the house shut the door on Father Gordon and his guide, who was overwhelmed with confusion at the untoward result. 'To think that I should bring your reverence all this distance, and only to have the door shut in your face! I can't forgive myself; but I did it for the best.' 'To be sure you did, man—you did your duty, no more; and I respect you for it. But,' added the priest, 'I must be turning my horse's head homewards.' 'No, your reverence, not a step you'll go back this blessed night, if my name is Spillane (Spillane or Sullivan, I am not certain which); you'll stop at my house—'tis only a mile off—and we'll try and make you as comfortable as we can. It will be time enough to think of returning to-morrow.' 'Be it so, in God's name,' said Father Gordon.

They soon reached the house, where a good supper and a clean bed made some amends for the long ride and the keen disappointment. The tired missionary was soon in a deep slumber, in which perhaps he may have beheld again the group in the doorway, lit up by the flickering candle, and heard the words, 'No priest will cross this threshold if I can help it,' when he was suddenly awakened by a great noise or clatter in the house. At that moment his host entered the room. 'What is the matter, Spillane?' 'Why, then, your reverence, it is a strange matter—the strangest matter I ever heard of;—young Marshall has brought his father to you, as you wouldn't be allowed to come to him,' replied the host. 'You jest, man; 'tis impossible,' said the priest, in his first impulse of astonishment. 'Faith, then, 'tis no jest at all, your reverence, but the truth, as I'm a sinner, and that's no lie, any way,' said Spillane. It was the literal truth. When the dying man heard how the priest had been denied admission, and driven from his door, he was intensely afflicted; but he in vain sought to move the stern obduracy of his wife. 'Not one belonging to me ever disgraced himself by turning Papist, and you shan't be the one to commence.' The poor woman believed she was only doing her duty, and in this tranquillising conviction she soon forgot her troubles in sleep. But the dying man was inconsolable, and he moaned and wept in a manner to touch the heart of one of his sons, to whom he addressed the most earnest entreaties that he might be allowed to die as he wished to die. Moved alike by the tears and importunities of his father, the son at length yielded. But what was to be done?

The priest could not enter the house—his mother would not allow that; how, then, could his father's wish be accomplished? There was only one way of doing it, and that was quickly resolved upon and adopted. Carefully wrapping the dying man in the clothes in which he lay, the son raised him gently on his back, and, stealing softly with his precious burden, he crossed the threshold with noiseless step, and bore it a mile through the dark forest to the house in which the priest found shelter for the night, and there laid it down in safety. Whether it were that Nature rallied her failing resources, or that the spirit rose superior to the frailty of the body, it may be difficult to say; but the father preserved strength enough to be received into the Church, and prepared for death, and to be brought back to his own home, in which he shortly after breathed his last. For several years, or as long as his mother lived, the son did not separate from her communion; but he afterwards became a Catholic, and is now the wealthy head of a large Catholic family, all good and religious, and full of worldly prosperity.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America