Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 574
“Wildgoose Lodge,” a nineteenth century tale of terror based on an actual event, begins with the narrator receiving a summons to attend a meeting of a Roman Catholic secret society called the Ribbonmen. In the middle of winter, on a gloomy, stormy day, the narrator, filled with apprehension about the summons, goes to the meeting in the parish chapel. Forty people are waiting for him there, but the welcome he receives is not the hearty greeting to which he is accustomed. Although he does not know the reason for the meeting, he knows that it involves something terrible.
The leader of the Ribbonmen, Patrick Devann, a schoolmaster who teaches in the chapel and on Sunday is clerk to the priest, gives the narrator a glass of whiskey to drink, but the narrator holds back because they are in a church. As more men enter, all are made to drink the whiskey as a sign of their commitment to the act that Devann, called the Captain, has planned, although no one knows what that act is. The Captain reads the names of a group of members of the society who have betrayed the organization and says that all those assembled are brothers on a sacred mission to punish the traitors. The Captain takes the Missal on the altar and swears by the sacred and holy book of God that he will perform the action they have met to accomplish. When he strikes the book with his open hand with a loud sound, the candle goes out and the chapel is thrown into darkness; there is the sound of rushing wings that makes all the men pull back in horror at what they perceive is a supernatural event. However, someone explains that the candle was extinguished by a pigeon and that the sound of rushing wings resulted from the many pigeons roosting in the rafters having been frightened by the loud noise.
Although not all the men swear to participate in the punishment of the so-called traitors, all of them swear to keep secret what happens on this night. A small number of men, whom the narrator calls the Captain’s gang, swear to participate and then affirm their oath by yelling and leaping in triumph around the altar. Afterward, all the men—one hundred thirty strong—go out into the stormy night, at one point fording a flooded area around the house of the family to be punished by leapfrogging over one another. When the men reach the house of the accused traitors, the Captain immediately sets it afire and tells his men “No mercy is the password for the night.”
When a woman puts her head out the window of the burning house and begs for compassion, the Captain and his gang pierce the woman’s head with a bayonet and push her body back into the flames. When a man with his clothes burned off comes out of the house, he begs that his child, an infant, be spared. The Captain calls him a “bloody informer” and shoves him back into the flames. When a woman with an infant in her arms appears at the window, the Captain thrusts his bayonet into the infant and throws it into the flames also. Throughout these atrocities, the narrator is filled with horror, but no one does anything to stop the slaughter. Finally, all the victims are dead, and the house is quickly consumed by flames.