Shiana/Chapter 14

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CHAPTER XIV.

A DILEMMA.

Peg.—As I said a while ago, when Grey Dermot's Sive understood that Short Mary's match was broken off, she told everyone that it was she herself who had broken it, and that the reason why she broke it was that Shiana had made a promise of marriage to herself.

Nobody contradicted her. Some people believed it and some did not; but whether they believed it or not, there was no fear that anybody would try to dispute the matter with her. She was always boasting that she was the girl to put down forward, chattering hussies like the Maid of the Liss and Nora of the Causeway. And as for Short Mary, she was sure that she had too much respect for herself to marry a man who had been promised to another woman.

Sheila.—Oh, wasn't she a villain!
Peg.—You see, Sheila, the way it was with her at last was this: she had told the story in that way so often, without anyone contradicting her, that I think in the end she quite believed it herself.
Sheila.—How could she believe he had promised to marry her, when he had never mentioned such a thing to her?
Peg.—It is wonderful, Sheila, how readily and easily we sometimes believe a thing that pleases us, especially if we are so obstinate that nobody thinks it worth while to give us wholesome advice, and that if they did, we wouldn't take it from them.
Abbie.—Indeed I suppose that was what happened to Con Shaun Og. He was coming home from the town one night, and he stayed drinking somewhere until most of the night was spent. Then when he was getting near home he was afraid his mother would blame him for keeping her all night at the fireside waiting for him. What did he do but pretend that he had seen a ghost below on the Broad Road. His mother believed it because of the place having the name of being eerie. Never a neighbour came in for a long time after, that she didn't make Con tell the story. The end of it was that Con became so terrified of the ghost he had never seen, that he daren't walk along the Broad Road after nightfall, though he were to get all Ireland for it.

Peg.—Whether Sive herself believed it or not, there were many of the neighbours who believed it at once, and it was not long until they all believed it. Probably they thought that, owing to the dealing in leather between Dermot and Shiana, it was likely that the promise did exist. At all events, it was fixed in their minds that it was on account of Sive that Short Mary's match had come to nothing. Then, when they recalled to mind that famous visit of Dermot's up to Shiana's house, they came to the conclusion that Dermot was not quite so ignorant of his own business as they had thought.

"Ah!" they would say to each other, "there isn't a ghost or a pooka that doesn't know what he is about."

Michael and his mother were really heavy-hearted over the matter. Certainly Hannah knew that Sive had had nothing whatever to do with the breaking off of the match, but Michael did not know that. And if Hannah was heavy-hearted because that pair were parted from one another for ever in this world, Michael was heavy-hearted, and vexed and furious, to think that such an evil fate should befall Shiana as that he should have made a promise of marriage to Sive.

Sheila.—But he hadn't, Peg.
Peg.—Michael thought he had.
Sheila.—I wouldn't doubt him! Isn't it a wonder that he couldn't fail, once in a way, to think the wrong thing!

Peg.—Why, she had put it into everybody's mouth. She had spread it through the country. Except Shiana himself and Short Mary and Hannah, there wasn't a single human creature that hadn't the story exactly as Sive had published it. Even as to John Kittach himself; it was firmly fixed in his mind that Shiana had really given a promise of marriage to Sive, and that it was that promise that was weighing on Shiana's mind the day they were walking in the field opposite Shiana's house, when he (John) was urging him to marry Mary, and Shiana was admitting his love for her, and at the same time placing every sort of obstacle in the way of the match.

Sheila.—And is that what they were talking about? How was it found out, Peg?

Peg.—It wasn't found out until Sive's rumour spread throughout the district and until John heard it. Then he struck his knee with the palm of his hand, and said to himself, "Oh, I see now what was on Shiana's mind that day. Isn't it a great wonder," said he, "that he didn't tell me, clean and straight, what he had on his mind, and not to have me at him, urging him to marry one woman, while he had given a promise of marriage to another? Now I think of it," said he, "I wonder what evil fate was over him to make him give such a promise to such a woman."

When John and the priest met they settled the question between them to their own satisfaction. Until then, neither of them had been able to make head or tail of the thing, but when Sive's report reached them they understood it all thoroughly.

Sheila.—They thought they did.

Peg.—They thought they did, yes. They thought they knew all the ins and outs of the story exactly and completely, as soon as they had heard of the promise; and they were full of pity and sorrow because of the ill-luck that had fallen upon Shiana and the way in which Sive was making mischief and trouble for him.

"I don't know in the world," said the priest, "what dulness of vision came over him to cause him to make such a promise to such a woman."

"I suppose," said John, "he must have done it during the time that he was so poor. He used often to get leather on credit from Dermot, and perhaps the poor fellow thought that if he were to marry Sive he would have a dry and full hearth, whatever happened, and whatever other comfort he might have or lack."

"I'll engage," said the priest, "that there was no fear of her marrying him then. But all the same, perhaps she wouldn't object to accepting the promise from him. There are no bounds to people like her, when once they take to trickery and cheating and telling lies."

"I declare to you. Father," said John Kittach, "that I believe you are right. Still, there is a good deal in it that is hard to understand. The day he was back at my house, he said he wanted to speak a couple of words to Mary. It seemed to me that he had hardly had time to enter the house when he was gone. If he spoke at all he didn't speak more than the two words. He went off like a bird. Whatever he said, I never saw such a change in any Christian as there was in her from that time forward. Her appetite and her colour returned. The languor and dulness departed; very soon her voice was as full of life and her laugh was as ringing as any laugh I ever heard from her mother in her youngest days. If he told her that he had made a promise to Sive, it is hard to suppose that that would raise the gloom from her heart as it was raised. I should have thought its effect would have been to plunge her into absolute melancholy."

"Upon my word and credit, John," said the priest, "you surprise me very much indeed. The day he came here to speak to me I thought of course that he had come to arrange the marriage finally. He said to me that he would rather than all the gold and silver he had in the world that he were able to marry Mary. I thought I had happy news to tell him when I said that I knew Mary was quite willing to agree to the match. Instead of that, you would think I had told him she was dead. 'It is a miserable and disastrous business,' said he, and he rushed out at the door from me like a madman.

"Whatever he said to Mary to take away her depression, I am afraid that Sive has some tight grip upon him, and that if she hadn't she wouldn't be boasting of it all over the country as she is; nor would he part so easily from a woman for whom he cares so much, and she for him.

"And look," said the priest, "at the other side of the matter. He has not parted from Mary more easily than she has parted from him."

"By the deer, Father, it's true for you!" said John. "Though no one else has any claim upon her."

"It is the most extraordinary case I have ever met with," said the priest.

"Wouldn't it be reasonable to expect, Father," said John, "that if he did give a promise to Dermot's Sive, it should be possible to get at the root of the matter, and set the promise aside? Surely the world knows he is not bound in the sight of God to fulfil that promise."

"Doubtless," said the priest, "if the promise does exist, he is not bound to fulfil it."

"If it does exist, Father, do you say?" said John. "That implies that you think it does not exist. If it does not exist, oughtn't it to be possible to put a curb on Sive's tongue? If what she is saying is all lies—if she has no claim upon Shiana by right of any promise,—she beats all the women I have ever seen, and Shiana beats all the men I have ever seen."

"How so?" said the priest.

"If Sive has no claim upon him," said John, "what is coming between him and marrying my daughter?"

"That is exactly the question," said the priest.

"It is, Father," said John, "and I have a mind to follow up that question until I succeed in solving it, sooner or later If you were in my case, Father," said he, "it wouldn't suit you very well to have Dermot's Sive making you ridiculous like this."

"Sive is making no one ridiculous but herself, John," said the priest. "But all the same you are right in saying that it would be a great pity not to teach some manners to the like of her if it were possible. And now I think of it, surely Dermot would not have gone up so boldly to Shiana's house to ask him 'what he meant to do next Tuesday,' if he had not had some right or title."

"And see for yourself, Father," said John, "what sort of answer Shiana gave him. 'I have no notion of marrying,' said he, 'nor will I have yet awhile;' just as if he meant to say, 'I am not ready yet to fulfil that promise.'"

"Really, John," said the priest, "I am inclined to think you are right. She has got a firm hold on him, and it is a great pity."

Sheila.—Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! Look at that for work! What mischief was taking away their senses? Why, surely the world knows he could say that without having any promise upon him. They were a nice pair, and I wouldn't mind if it weren't the priest himself!
Kate.—Oh, but look, Sheila dear, they knew nothing about Shiana's secret, and had no idea of anything of the kind. If they had had, perhaps they would have understood the whole affair as well as we do. But how could anybody have thought of it? He never told it to a living soul. He never let a word slip from his lips about it to anybody that ever lived, from the first day to that day on which they were speaking. Did you notice how carefully and how well he kept it from every single person that spoke to him? I have been watching the story, thinking from time to time that some word would slip from him that would let it out; but he did not let the smallest tittle of it escape him. There was nothing preventing him from marrying Short Mary, but the secret that he possessed in his own mind. Neither the priest nor John Kittach had any knowledge whatever of that secret. Sive had published it all through the country that he had promised to marry her. Nobody was contradicting that statement. How could anybody tell but that there might perhaps be some fragment of truth in it? I don't think John Kittach and the priest could very well come to any other conclusion than that the promise must have been made.
Sheila.—But surely it was very unfair, Kate.
Kate.—It certainly was, but how could it have been helped?
Sheila.—I think people should look before them, and not do what is unfair and wrong.
Kate.—You are quite right, Sheila, they should. But that does not alter the fact that many a man has been wrongfully hanged without anyone being able to help it.
Abbie.—I have heard that a man was hanged wrongfully like that, west near Rathmore, long ago, the time the Whiteboys broke into the coach and killed the man who was guard to it.
Nora.—What need had they to kill him, Abbie?
Abbie.—The fact was, they thought the coachman had a paper containing the names of all the leaders of the Whiteboys, and that when the coach reached Tralee, soldiers would be sent out, and every man whose name was in that paper would be arrested and hanged. What they planned was to waylay the coach and to take away the paper, either by consent or by force. When they asked for the paper, all the guard did was to fire at them. They had fire-arms as well as he, and they fired at him, and he fell dead on the road. The next morning a poor old man, who used to be herding near the place, walked out upon the road, and when he saw the dead man he stopped to look at him with terror in his eyes. Just then the soldiers came up, and the old man was taken, and a gallows was put up at once to hang him.
Sheila.—But why hang him without cause?
Abbie.—Believe me, Sheila, those fellows didn't care whether there was a cause for it or not. He was a poor simple, sinless old man. He asked that a priest might be brought to him, and he was brought. When he had made his confession, and they were taking him up to the gallows, his legs were bending under him with terror. He could neither stand nor walk. Then the priest spoke to him and said, "You need not be so much afraid. No sooner will your soul have parted from your body on the gallows than you will be enjoying the bliss of heaven at once." "Do you tell me so?" said the poor old man. "I do, certainly," said the priest." Jesus Christ and Mary, His Mother, are up there waiting for you." Strength and courage came to him immediately. "Keep away from me!" said he to them. He went up the ladder without help, and they hanged him. He was eighty years old.
Kate.—It was a nice thing to do! If I got a chance at them I would hang them as I would hang mad dogs. The hateful cowards! The poor old man. And they must have known that he was not, and could not be, guilty. Oughtn't they to have been ashamed?
Abbie.—Ashamed! Why, what did those fellows know about shame? They used to be shooting and hanging the people everywhere at that time. Isn't there that man down in Macroom, who came along up by Gortnalicka one Sunday morning on horseback, with his gun in front of him, and when he saw a poor man on his knees beside a bush saying the Rosary, he put a bullet through him?
Kate.—Yes, indeed, Abbie, it is quite true. He did it just like that. I was in Macroom one day with Nell, and she pointed him out to me, and upon my word, when I saw him it made me shudder. There he was grey and strong, walking the street as boldly as if he had never done such a deed. I couldn't help staring hard at his right hand. He noticed me looking at that hand, and the villain got blue in the face. I was dying to get away out of his sight, I can tell you.
Sheila.—Who is he, Kate?
Kate.—Why, that old rogue below, Dr. White.
Sheila.—And why wasn't he hanged?
Abbie.—Ay, indeed! Why wasn't he hanged! Why wasn't Malachi hanged? No. It was the MacCarthys that were hanged, when Malachi swore that they had done the deed that he had done himself.
Kate.—Wasn't it Cormac MacCarthy that shot Bob Hutchinson, Abbie?
Abbie.—Yes, when Malachi Duggan stood behind him and put the muzzle of his gun up to his back, and said " Shoot him, Cormac, or I'll shoot you!" And indeed, there were none of the MacCarthys there except Cormac. Neither Callaghan nor Thade was there at all, yet all three were hanged. But no fear, Sheila, that Malachi was hanged.
Sheila.—Why, anybody would think, by what you say, Abbie, that it is the guilty people that mostly go free, and that it is the honest people that are hanged. The old man west at Rathmore was hanged, but the people who hanged him were not hanged. The MacCarthys were hanged, but Malachi was not hanged. Dr. White was not hanged.
Abbie.—Did you ever hear, Sheila, what old Jonathan Leader said to the labourer? "I am an honest man," said the labourer. "An honest man," said Jonathan. "Go away, honest man!" said he. "An honest man wouldn't do for me at all."
Peg.—Well, stop now, Abbie.

"She has got a firm hold on him," said the priest, "and it is a great pity. But what are we to do?"

"What could we do," said John, "but set the promise aside? Shiana is not bound to keep the promise. No man living would be bound to keep it in such a case. The promise is void."

"All that is true enough," said the priest, "but how is it to be set aside? That is the question. What is the first move we have to make?"

"The first move I should make, Father," said John, " would be to go east to Grey Dermot's house, and to come to the point with him and Sive without preface, and to tell them plain and straight that the promise is of no effect, and that it is only nonsense for them to expect that they could ever enforce it against the man."

"If you do that," said the priest, "I fancy the first move Sive will make will be to ask you shortly and stiffly who told you to come and speak to her, and was it Shiana that sent you to her with that message; and if it was, that her own advice to you is to go home and mind your own business, and to let Shiana do the same."

"Well, Father," said John, "what would you say to my going to speak to Shiana himself first?"

"And what would you say to him?" said the priest.

"I would say to him that it is a great pity for him to let his life pass away from him abiding by a promise that has no force, when he is not bound before God to fulfil the promise."

"I can't make any guess," said the priest, "as to the answer you would get from him. He is too deep and too mysterious a man. No matter how keenly you might guess at what he would say, when the words came they would be seven miles away from your guess. But I could promise you that he would say something that you would not expect, and that would upset all your ideas."

"I don't know in the world, Father," said John, "what I had better do."

"Did Mary tell you," said the priest, "what Shiana said to her the day he went to your house?"

"No, Father," said John, "and I didn't ask her."

"Perhaps," said the priest, "if you knew what he said to her that day, it might show you enough of his mind to put you on the right road before you went to speak to him."

"Very well, Father," said John. "I will ask her about it now when I get home, though I don't like talking about it to her at all, for fear that it might trouble her, and that that depression might come upon her again."

"All you need do," said the priest, "is to touch upon the subject as quietly and as carelessly as possible."