Shiana/Chapter 11

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In the meantime Michael and his mother were hard at work finishing the match. They had almost decided who were to be present at the wedding feast.

They heard someone coming toward the house. They sprang up and stood looking out at the door. Who should go past the door but Shiana! He looked in at the two. He never moved his lips; he only looked at them. You would think that look had chained them to the ground. He did not pause in his walk. He merely looked at them and passed on.

Neither of the two spoke for a long time. At last the mother spoke.

"Well!" said she. "What do you say to yourself now?"

"I say that it is an extraordinary kind of courtship," said Michael. "A man about to be married, and he goes to speak to the young woman, after having been to speak to the priest, without a coat or a hat on, with a shoemaker's apron on, wax on his fingers, and his two eyes blazing! The whole business seems to me to be going topsy-turvy!" And he went out, and up to his work. And I can tell you that he had not the same energy in his lame leg going up that he had had when he was coming down. John Kittach was sitting in the parlour in his own house, near the window. Mary was sitting opposite him. Whom should they see coming to the door but Shiana. John jumped up and went out to meet him.

"Oh, a thousand welcomes to you, Shiana!" said he.

"Long may you live, John!" said Shiana. "I want to speak a word or two to Mary, if you please."

"There she is within for you. I hope what you have to say to her is better than what you had to say to me this morning."

Shiana went in.

"Oh, a thousand welcomes to you, Shiana!" said Short Mary.

"Listen, Mary," said he. "I have a secret to tell you. I never thought that I should ever have to tell it to anyone. But I think now that I have not done right in not coming sooner to tell it to you. I am bound before God not to marry."

He stopped. She did not speak for some time.

"The bond is a noble bond," said she at last. "It is a noble bond, and it is a holy bond. If it is a noble bond for you," said she, "it ought to be a noble bond for me. Have no fear," said she. "I will keep your secret. I have twice the heart I had, or have had for this good while. God gave you a great gift when he put it into your mind to take upon yourself such a bond as that."

"I have done what I came here to do. God's blessing be with you, Mary!" he said. And he went away without speaking to the man of the house.

When he got out into the open air, it seemed to him as if a cloud came down upon the top of his head. The sky grew dark and the ground grew dark. A tightness came upon his chest. He felt as if his heart had gone away out of his breast, and as if the thing he had instead of his heart were like a large heavy stone. He looked eastward toward his own house, and when he did, an intense disgust came to him against the house and against the place, against the tree and the chair and the malvogue, against the work, against all that was above ground there, indoors and out. Instead of facing for home, he faced for the mountain. As he was passing by a neighbour's house two children were playing in the yard, and as soon as they saw him they ran into the house screaming.

"Oh, mammy!" said one of them, "there is a madman out in the yard, and he looked at me!"

Shiana went on up the mountain. When he reached the top he was surprised that he should be so little wearied, although the mountain was so steep. There was a splendid view from the summit. He saw the town, and the fair-green, and Grey Dermot's house, and the widow's house. He saw his own house and John Kittach's house. If the view had been seven times more splendid, it could not have taken the stone out of his chest nor the cloud from over his head. There was a fine big broad plot of moss at the top of the mountain, as dry as a feather-bed, and so soft that one would sink to the knees in it. He flung himself down on that plot, on his face, and I don't suppose there was another man on the dry land of Ireland that day so crushed and broken in mind as he.

After a while he raised his head and looked westward along the side of the mountain. He saw a woman coming from the west. He thought at first that she was some one of the neighbours who was going by the short cut over the mountain. Very soon he observed that she was making straight for the place where he was. He jumped up. Soon he recognized her. It was the barefooted woman!

"The peace of God be with you, Shiana!" said she

"I need that," said he, "if ever any man needed it."

"Look!" said she, opening one of her hands.

"That is the shilling that you gave me for the Saviour's sake."

"I remember it," said he. "Many is the shilling that has passed through my hands since then, and they are a poor consolation to me to-day. I should have more peace in my life if I had never seen them."

"Many is the good thing you have done with them, which you would not have done if you had never seen them," said she.

"Perhaps some evil has been done which would not have been done if I had never seen them," said he.

"The good is greater than the evil," said she.

"This day's evil is greater," said he, "than all the good put together."

"How is that? " said she.

"If I had been content to do my business that day with that shilling and the two others that I had together with it," said he, "I should never have thought of Short Mary nor she of me. I should never have known the sorrow of this day. My heart would not have become like a stone, nor my head like a cloud of mist, nor my mind like a smith's forge-fire, as they are now. My life would not be limited to thirteen years, and the half of that same gone already."

"Look, Shiana!" said she, and she opened her other hand and showed him, in the middle of her palm, a little ball of glass. And that little ball was so brilliant that you could not look straight at it, or it would blind you. And there were little particles of light going from it all round, like the rays out of the sun. There was a little golden band round it, with a golden chain hanging from the band.

"What is that?" said Shiana, as he tried to look at the ball, while the strength of the light blinded his eyes.

"It is yours," said she.

"What should make it mine?" said he.

"That is the deed you did this morning," said she; "the noblest deed that has been done in Ireland for a long time."

"Why, what is this noble deed that I have done this morning?" said he.

"It is," said she, "that you put the best woman in Ireland away from your heart for the Saviour's sake."

"How could I help it?" said he. "How could I do such a wrong to such a woman?"

"You parted from such a woman rather than you would do such a wrong," said she.

With that she went up to him, and she put the chain round his neck and put the jewel into his bosom, over his heart.

"Keep it there," said she, "and in the greatest difficulty that will ever overtake you, and in the hardest strait that will ever come upon you, your courage will never fail."

No sooner did she put her hand into his bosom than he felt as if something exploded in his ears. The mist vanished. Earth and sky became bright. The raging grief went from his mind, and his own heart came back to him.

As soon as the woman had uttered the last word, a kind of white mist rose around her which hid her from his sight, and then the mist drifted away and she was not there.

He looked round him at the sky and at the earth. His mind was as calm as it had ever been in his life. He looked over at the town and over at Grey Dermot's house, eastward at the widow's house, over at his own house, down at John Kittach's house. He gave a little laugh, and turned his face homeward.

Abbie.—I wonder what Michael said when he saw him coming.

Peg.—Not one of them spoke a word when they saw him coming. Short as the time was since John Kittach had come in the morning, the report had already been spread about the country that Shiana was out of his mind; that the match had been almost made, that Short Mary had refused the marriage, and that Shiana had gone out of his senses; that people had seen him during the day going through the country in his shirt and trousers; that he had killed a child up at the top of the townland; and that after that he had gone up the mountain like a yellow deer from Mangerton; that he had gone off to the Madmen's Glen, and that it was supposed to be unknown when he would come back; that there was a batch of people in every one of the seven townlands cutting splinters of wood to make torches for the night to go in search of him, and that no doubt he would be found stuck head downwards in some hole and drowned, or in some rock-cave, perished with cold and hunger.

Kate.—No reward to them for their trouble! Perhaps if he were cold and hungry, some of them would think very little of paying him scant attention.

Peg.—That is true, Kate. But anyhow they hadn't much advantage over Shiana himself in that respect. He was the boy that wouldn't have been much concerned about their labours or their preparations if he had known they were going on—which he did not know.

Abbie.—It would be great sport if they were to be going all night through bogs and mountains looking for him, while he was snug at home making his shoes, and humming the tune of the "Bristly Hag."
Peg.—I declare to you, Abbie, you have just taken the word out of my mouth.

No sooner did Shiana reach home, than he sat down to work, and he had not put in three stitches before the "Bristly Hag" was going on as merrily as ever she was, so that the men looked at each other, and Michael drove his awl deep into the eye of his thumb.

Sheila.—Why did he need to do that, Peg?
Peg.—I don't know in the world, Sheila, unless it was that he was thinking of something else while he was driving in the awl.
Sheila.I know what he was thinking of.
Peg.—What was it, Sheila?
Sheila.—He was thinking that he would like to know what Short Mary said when she saw the wax on Shiana's fingers, and the apron he was wearing, and that he was bare-headed; and whether the match was broken off on account of those things.
Peg.—Well, Sheila, if he had all that on his mind it is no wonder that he put the awl through his thumb.
Sheila.—His mother said he was good at matchmaking, and I think he was no good at all.
Peg.—Why would you say he was no good, Sheila?
Sheila.—Oh, the blunderer! It would be far better to give him a match to break than a match to make.
Abbie.—Wait a moment, Sheila dear. Surely nobody living could have made that match. Diarmaun himself could not have made it. Wasn't Shiana's mind made up against it from the beginning? Didn't he say that it would be better for her to be burnt alive than that he should marry her?
Sheila.—I wonder, Peg, why he said that?
Peg.—What do you think yourself, Sheila?
Sheila.—I was thinking it was that he didn't like to leave her behind him a widow when the thirteen years should be up. But then that wouldn't be the same as burning her alive.
Peg.—I think there was more than that in it, Sheila. The story of the Black Man would have to be told to her from beginning to end, or else it would have to be kept from her from beginning to end. If it were told to her, and then that she were to marry Shiana—as she would—the thought of it would break down her health. She would be wasted away by melancholy, and she would not live long. If it were not told to her, Shiana would have done the most deceitful act that ever a man did. He could not do such an act, and by the same token, they all failed to make the match.
Abbie.—I heard there was one match that Diarmaun failed to make.
Sheila.—What match was that, Abbie?
Abbie.—Mr. Quilty's match.
Elate.—Oh, indeed, Abbie, I heard of it, but I did not hear of its being broken off. What broke it? Everybody was surprised to think that he should marry Janet.
Abbie.—Well, there were a lot of joking fellows gathered east at Michael the Smith's forge, and Diarmaun was there. They were saying that Mr. Quilty had a firkin full of gold under the head of his bed after he came home from foreign parts. "You couldn't do better, Diarmaun," said one of them," than make a match for him." "To whom should I speak?" said Diarmaun. "To White Thady," said another man. They all shouted and laughed. He thought they were shouting their approval of the match. Out he went, and away east to Mr. Quilty's house. "Mr. Quilty," said Diarmaun, "I have made a match for you."—"God spare you your health, Dermot!" said Mr. Quilty, "and that you may not have that length of illness in the year.[1] Who is she?"—"Gently, gently, Mr. Quilty. It is no matter to you, as yet, who she is. I won't tell you who she is. I won't mention her name to you until I know whether you are ready and resolved to marry."—"I am ready and fully resolved," said he.—"Very well," said Diarmaun, I will tell them so," and off he went. He went away west to White Thady's house. He found nobody at home but Janet. "Janet," said he, "I have made a match for you."—"May you not be rewarded for your trouble!" said she.—"I shall be rewarded," said he. "He has a firkin full of gold under the head of his bed."—"Yes, and you have a firkin full of nonsense under the foot of yours! How would he get it?"—"By bringing it from over the sea," said he.—"Oh, is it Mr. Quilty you are talking about?" said she.—"It is that same man exactly that I am talking about," said he.—"Have you spoken to him?" said she. "I have just this moment come from him," said he. "He said that he was ready and fully resolved to marry you."—There was not a day for a whole week after that, that she didn't think every moment that it was Mr. Quilty that was coming in at the door to her when she heard anybody coming. At last her patience gave way. Off she went east to Mr. Quilty's house.
Peg.—She didn't!

Abbie.—I tell you she did, and with her head in the air, looking as vain and silly as it always did. Mr. Quilly wondered what had brought her. He had been so long out of the country that he did not know who she was.
"Fy don't you marry me?" said she.

"Fot does I want you for?" said he, "you head of a fool!"
Kate.—I understand it all now. Diarmaun has not passed their door since, and he would not be more loth to meet a red soldier on the road than either of the two—Janet or her father.
Sheila.—Say it in Irish, Abbie.
Abbie.“Cad ’na ṫaoḃ ná pósann tú mise?” said she.—“Cad é an gnó ḃéaḋ agam díot-sa, a ṗlaosg óinsiġe?” said he.
Sheila.—There, now I understand it. What an ugly sort of talk that English is! I don't know, myself, why in the world people want so much to speak it. They say nothing but "Fot? fot? fot?" like a hen with the pip.

  1. A common expression of thanks for a service quickly rendered.