2th March 1898
To my darling wife Maggie,
Well, I’m arriving safely and settling into the new job down in Connacht. If all goes well, we’ll be having more than enough money to pay our debt. The local Lord seems a tight-fisted old miser, probably charges his own children for candlelight at dinner, but the two blokes working with me both seem right enough.
After being settled in at the steam pumping station, we get to having a good look at this watery bog. Don’t know if it has an official name on any map, I’m getting an idea it drains out of the River Moy. It’s about as big as our town square back home, so that ain’t saying much, but it is deep. Got a spongy peat up top; I’ve half a mind to cut it up for fuel but it’s so waterlogged it’s hardly worth the effort. Dark green, brown and black it is, edged with reeds and fallen tree stumps. It’s got the fog rolling off it all day and night, so it’s a good thing we’re inside where it’s warm. I’m smelling it now as I write, and I tell you it’s like something crawled into the water and died. As for the men with me, Lachlan doesn’t smell much better, so I doubt he notices the stink much. Young bloke, from the farms down south. Seems a strange contradiction of a fellow; he’s constantly talking, singing and muttering like a man possessed, but he’s never having much to say for himself. As for old Daniel, he’s one of them northsiders from Dublin. Keeps to himself but I reckon he’s gotten in the wrong end of the law more than once.
And as for me, my love? Your husband is looking forward to a nice, easy job for the next month or so, chopping wood for the fire and tending to the steam pump. Beautiful machine, so it is. Takes up most of the building that we’re stationed in. Big brick firebox at the bottom with the kettle above, feeding the steam into a tall metal cylinder that houses the piston. The piston is attached to a great wooden arm; sticks out of the building’s roof and waves at us while we work. Goes up and down like a fiddler’s elbow it does, steam leaking out of the roof of the little brick and timber building – the other end of it is attached to a chains and an enormous bucket sunk into the swamp. Down it goes, squelch into the watery mud. Then a whoosh of steam and up it rises, tipping the bucket out so the water gushes away. It’ll take weeks to drain the bog completely, but until then all me and the boys are doing is watching the engine, chopping firewood and staying out of trouble. We’re having a devil of a time when the machinery clogs up though; if we leave it for more than a few hours, the bog will probably fill right back up. The little Lord says our role is to empty out the bog so that some work crews can build a proper headcut, which’ll be draining the whole area for new farmland.
Dan is fine, he’s got a few books and a little diary he’s writing in. Lachlan seems a bit put out, seeing as he’s the only one of us who can’t read or write, so when he’s free he’s either carving little figures with that belt knife of his or he’s off to the pub in town. He was after coming back the other night, muttering like he always does, tells us the old nans in the pub were warning him against the bog. Reckoned the local Lord is making a mistake, and the bog is left alone for a reason. He’s telling us stories of pixies and spectres. Typical superstitious southerners, right? He’s giving us a laugh though.
I’ll be leaving this letter here, my darling. The mist is rolling in again so I’m off to bed. Give my love to our girls, tell them that Da will be home as soon as he can.
I’m missing you every minute,
19 March 1898
To my dear Maggie.
We’re suffering a tragedy.
It’s been getting colder and colder as me and boys are draining the bog. It’s an eerie feeling; outside it’s almost completely silent. The fog is a dark thick soup, clinging as a tax collector and cold as the nuns who taught me to read. Inside the pumping station you got good solid brick, a fire, shining metal pistons working with mechanical precision. The thump of the pump arm rising and falling has gotten right into my head. Gotten in all our heads, really.
Dan has been getting quieter and quieter. Barely said a word to us after we’re having our dinner. Been avoiding going into town and all that, instead just been giving it out to us whenever we make a mistake with the machine. Acting a right little Lord himself, that one. As for Lachlan, he’s turned fey. We’re getting the bog down by about three feet, got a black muddy ring round the edges now, but Lachlan is getting more and more twitchy, not eating his meals, kneeling by the bed praying, and through it all, this constant muttering and whispering in that high-pitched southern voice of his.
It all started when he’s out chopping wood for the boiler and sees hoofprints on the pathway by the door. He’s screaming, hopping about mad as a hare, he’s saying that we’ve disturbed the each-uisce, the water horse of the bog, and it’s coming for us. And all the while Dan and I are telling him, Lachlan, we’re saying, ain’t no such thing as these goblins and pixies the old folk in town are filling your head with.
But that night, Maggie, that very same night, he’s waking up screaming that a black horse is coming to take him away, to drag him into the bottom of the swamp unless we all stop pumping. Dan is there, he’s got a face like a thundercloud and he’s saying that Lachlan’s in for a beating unless he pulls himself together, and that he has no time for fanciful southern nonsense. God help me, I’m tired and overworked and I join in with Dan giving Lachlan a bit of stick. Hoofprints were just some stray stock, we says. Or perhaps the little Lord of the Manor checking that we’re all still at work and not out drinking – like that farmer I used to work for up past Shannon, remember him, love?
We shouldn’t be pushing Lachlan so hard.
That night, it’s like he’s having a fit. He’s weeping, he’s crying, saying the beast is getting closer, how he sees it dragging itself up out of the bog and slowly coming for him. Dan is roaring at him something fierce, giving him a right smack across the face, saying to me that we should tie Lachlan up.
Then it happens.