THE STRANGERS AT THE FAIR.
On the following day there was a fair in the town. Shiana was at the fair with a load of shoes. Michael was at the fair to stand by the load. Michael's mother was at the fair to sell a fat pig and to buy a young pig. John Kittach was at the fair with a large herd of dry cattle from the mountain to sell. Short Mary was at the fair with her father. The bailiff was at the fair, as puffy in the cheeks, as thick in the nose, as self-important, as keen-eyed, as broad in the back, as stout in the calves, as short in speech, as ever was John of the Fair. If you saw him coming up to you, you would think by his manner that he had a warrant in his pocket against you. If you merely saluted him, he would look at you as if you were going to hit him.
There were all sorts of horses there, as many as there had been on that first day when Shiana went there to buy a horse and a cow. There were acrobats there, and dancers, and musicians, and card-sharpers, and pickpockets. There were tinkers there from every quarter, far and near, and they were very troublesome and noisy and impudent and ill-mannered and ill-spoken. They and their wives and children were always flying at each other's heads, till you would think they were going to murder each other, but for all that, they never did.
There were thimble-riggers there, but Shiana's thimble-man was not among them, or if he was, Shiana never caught sight of him.
A race was run, just as on the first day, and everybody watched it. When it was finished, everybody was running about and shouting, but Shiana did not run, nor did he shout.
No sooner was the race over than a fight arose between two tinkers about a donkey's halter. A tinker who was stronger than either of them sprang in between them, and put them apart and took the halter himself.
Just then Shiana heard the people round him whispering.
"Look! Look! Look!" they said. He looked in the same direction as they did. Whom should he see coming down the middle of the fair-green, while all the fair made way for them, but the pair—Sive and the strange gentleman!
Sive wore a scarlet gown, in which she blazed from top to toe. He was in a suit of broadcloth, looking very spick and span, clean-shaven, well set-up, well proportioned, well fed and strong and clear-skinned. Shiana could do nothing but stare at them when they came near him. It was the very gentleman to whom he had refused the money, and whom he had called an "idle vagabond"!
He did not know what in the world he ought to say or do. He only stood just as he was and said nothing. They walked past him down the field, within three spades' lengths of him, without looking at him or noticing him any more than if he had not been there at all. They walked up at the other side of the field, the people making way for them and then pointing their fingers at them and shaking their heads and going into fits of laughter. When the big tinker saw them he stopped to look at them, with the donkey's halter over his arm. When they had gone past him he stole after them and swung the halter at them as if he were going to strike them; no fear that he really struck them, or that they were aware of him at all; but you would think that the people who were looking on at the fun would drop dead with laughter.
Shiana found no fun in it. He was too much amazed.
"Michael," said he, "go up as fast as your legs will carry you, and tell Grey Dermot that I want to speak to him at once."
Michael went off. Before he was half way up the field Dermot met him, and they returned.
"Who is that with Sive?" said Shiana.
"Indeed, Shiana," said Dermot, "I don't know much about him, except that he is a gentleman from somewhere near Dublin."
"What is his name?"
"Sheeghy MacGilpatrick his people call him."
"Who are his people?"
"Three other gentlemen who came with him."
"What brought them here?"
"They came to the fair."
"To buy horses for the King."
"When did they come?"
"The day before yesterday, in the evening."
"Where have they spent the time since then?"
"They have been mostly out during the day, but they have been sleeping at my house."
"And what is this that Sive is up to?"
"A match has been made between herself and Sheeghy MacGilpatrick."
"How do you know the gentleman hasn't a wife already?"
"That's the very thing the priest said to me last night when I was speaking to him. But I told him I only wanted to get leave from him for some priest in Dublin to marry them. He certainly would not ask that leave if he were married and had a wife already in Dublin."
"I see," said Shiana. "Who made the match?"
"Well, they were making fun and amusing themselves the first night, and each of them was telling the others that Sive would rather marry him than any of them.—'Let us cast lots upon it,' said one of them.—'Perhaps she wouldn't take the man on whom the lot fell,' said another. They put the question to her.—'I'll take him,' said she, 'if the lot falls on the man I like.' They all made great fun over that. They cast lots, and the lot fell on the man you saw walking with her a while ago. We all thought it was only a joke, but indeed he took it quite seriously. When Sive wanted to draw out of it he said, 'Indeed, my girl, that won't do. You said you would take the man on whom the lot fell, if it fell on the man you liked. Take me now, or say that you don't like me.' The end of the argument was that the match was made."
"Did they buy many horses for the King?" said Shiana.
"The night they came," said Dermot, "they gave me, to put in a safe place to keep, a great iron box, brim-full of yellow gold. It was as much as I could lift with both hands. This morning they filled their pockets out of it as they were going out. When they had bought some horses and paid for them, and had sent them and their grooms off on the Dublin road, they would come back and take out some more of the gold, and buy more. At last the box was empty. When they were paying for the last lot they were three hundred pounds short. I hadn't it handy, but Sive had, and she lent it to them until they should all meet again in Dublin."
"Michael," said Shiana, "call the bailiff to me. He is somewhere in the fair."
"There he is above," said Michael, "talking to John Bolg O'Daly. I will have him down to you directly."
The bailiff came.
"How many men have you?" said Shiana.
"Only twenty-one," said the bailiff.
"Draw them up at once round Grey Dermot's house," said Shiana. "There are four thieves there, and they have robbed the whole fair."
The bailiff whistled and rushed off. Dermot almost fell.
"It will be better for you not to go near the house yet awhile," said Shiana. "Those fellows are not without edged weapons, and if things go hard with them they will have blood. Leave them to Cormac. He has a trick with that blackthorn stick of his that has often thrown a strong man off his feet."
"How do you know they are thieves?" said Dermot.
"Because I know one of them of old. That man who was walking the fair with Sive a while ago, came to me once, several years ago, to borrow money. When I refused him the money he said he was hungry. I did not believe a word he said, and he knew I didn't. He pretended just now that he didn't know me, but he knew me just as well as I knew him. If Cormac comes up with him there will be an end to his travels and to his acting the gentleman for some time."
At that moment they heard a wild shout up in the direction of Dermot's house. Dermot's patience gave way.
"Oh!" he said, "poor Sive will be killed among them!" And the poor man ran as hard as he was able to run.
Shiana caught him by the arm. "No fear of her," said he, "but it is not the same with you. The whole fair will be assembled there directly. There isn't a creature who has been at a loss by those fellows, who won't be there to attack them. It is better that you should be out of the way, lest someone should say that you were aware of their doings, and then the people might turn on you."
"God help my soul!" said Dermot. "What sent them my way at all?"
"Sive's money did," said Shiana. "And they had no other way of getting at it."
The shouting is stopping. They are quieting down. Let us go up," said Dermot.
"Are all the shoes sold, Michael?" said Shiana.
"Yes, all but a very few," said Michael.
"Well, put the horse to," said Shiana, "and drive on home."