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