Shiana/Chapter 17

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CHAPTER XVII.

THE ROBBERY.

Shiana and Grey Dermot went on steadily up to Dermot' s house. They found nobody there but a gathering of women and children and old people, and the big tinker explaining to them what had happened.

"What is that he says?" said Dermot to one of them.

"He says," said the man, "that the King's people have carried off Sive, and Nosey Cormac and his men have gone after them at full speed to take her from them and bring her home, because she and Cormac were going to be married."

They went into the house. They found nobody there. They tried the door of the room. It was locked on the inside. They looked at each other.

"Open the door, whoever is there!" said Dermot.

"You shut the house-door first," said Sive—for it was she. He did so.

Then she opened the room-door and appeared before them, wearing the red cloak, and in a state of terror.

"What the mischief is this," said she, "that is coming over the people, or are they all going out of their senses? I was sitting in that chair there. Sheeghy had gone out to see if he could see you. He had hardly gone out of sight of the door when I heard a great tramping and noise and confusion outside. I looked out, and what should I see but the whole fair making for the door in one body, the bailiff at the head of them with his drawn sword in his right hand and his blackthorn stick in his left, his two eyes blazing, and his mouth tightly closed. I sprang up to shut the door, but he was too quick for me. 'You need not fear, Sive,' said he, and on he went into the room, and two or three other men with him. He stabbed the beds with his sword, and he stabbed under them. In the twinkling of an eye he and they were out again. He turned to one of the men: 'They are gone,' said he; 'let us follow them!' And then such a shout was raised that I had to put my fingers in my ears."

"Look here," said Shiana, "I have some of the money. I got it in payment for shoes I sold."

And he pulled up out of his pocket a few gold pieces. He took one of them and rubbed it on the sleeve of his coat for a while. Very soon the fine yellow colour disappeared, and a grey leaden colour took its place. If you saw the look in Sive's eyes when she perceived that!

"Where was that money got?" said she.

"It was got," said Shiana, "in that box that was given to you to put in safe keeping. If they had only put a little more of the colour on it, perhaps the business they were at might not have been discovered so soon. It is a pity Cormac was not a few moments earlier. Perhaps he may overtake them yet!"

"I don't understand what you are talking about," said Sive.

"What I am talking about," said Shiana, "is that you have had four thieves lodging here, and that the money in the box was false coin; that all the horses they bought in the fair to-day were paid for with false money; that most of the horses that were bought to-day were bought for the King, and that the whole district has been robbed. That is what I am talking about."

She turned away from him. They noticed her legs giving way under her. Her father caught her in his arms, or they would have had her on the floor in a dead lump.

Sheila.—Poor girl! Three hundred pounds gone! It was a terrible loss!
Nora.—Did she faint, Peg?

Peg.—Indeed she did, and her father was a long time slapping her hands and throwing water on her before she came to herself. And when she did, the first thing she said was, "Oh, bother you! Why need you hurt me and drown me? What do you want here?" said she to Shiana. "Go away home," said she. "You have no business here."

He did not pretend to know that she had spoken.

"I am afraid," he said to Dermot, "that if they are caught they will come off badly. Cormac is angry. I think they must have carried off something of value from him. I never saw him go to work with so much fury. Even his own men felt a kind of fear of him. I can tell you they were willing and ready and diligent, and that there was no fear that any of them would answer him back. I wouldn't be in that big man's place for anything I could name, if they come up with him."

"Such a piece of ill-luck never came on me before," said Dermot. "Here in this place I was born and reared, and my father before me, and my grandfather. Not a farthing's worth was ever laid to my charge, nor to the charge of anyone of the seven generations that came before me. Oh! Oh! Oh! That it should be my lot and my unlucky star that they should come in at my door without invitation or asking! That they should turn to this house rather than to any other in the town or near it! What will the neighbours say but that I was in league with their evil designs, and that I was helping them in them? If Cormac fails to overtake them—and if the people who have lost their money by this day have to come back here after a vain pursuit—why, everybody will say that I am to blame for it, and that unless I had given them some warning they would not have got off so quickly. They won't leave a stick over my head, or a whole bone in my body. Oh, dear, what a misfortune! What a disaster! What am I to do at all, at all? It is a hard thing to happen to me at the end of my life! Oh! I am ruined! Utterly ruined! What shall I do! What shall I do?"

"Shut your mouth and not be bothering us—that's what you'll do!" said Sive. "It is not you that are at a loss by it, but I. If I get him into my hands I'll tear the eyes out of his head. And now I think of it, what string was tying your tongue," said she to Shiana, "that you didn't speak when we passed you as we went down the fair-green? Pretending that you didn't notice us! You saw us right well. However cleverly you pretended not to look at us, I saw your baleful eye upon us. Why didn't you speak then? I had not given him my money then. What kept your mouth shut? You had your tongue loose enough when it was too late. It was as easy for you to speak at that time as it was for you to speak afterwards. Whatever infernal hold you have upon Cormac so that you need only give him a whisper to drive him out of his senses, it would have been as well for you to have given him then the whisper that you gave him afterwards, if you had wanted to do the business properly. But you didn't. You let the time go by until I had given away my money and the rogue was gone. No man of his own gang could have arranged the thing more neatly for him than you arranged it. Wherever he is now, he must be very much obliged to you. And people saying that you surpass all the world in shrewdness! Aye, indeed!"

While all this talk was going on, Shiana was standing opposite the pair, with his hands behind his back. He stood gazing over at the wall, so that you would think that he could see through the wall to something that was behind it. His eyes were wide open, and you would think to look at them that they saw some sight that no other human eyes could see. His features never moved, and he never moved a muscle of his limbs, but stood as still as if there were neither life nor breath in him.

When people saw him in that state of rapt meditation, they used to feel a kind of dread and fear of him. Sive looked at him. She fell silent, in spite of the vehemence that moved her. She looked at him again, and she actually moved back a little bit from him.

You would not think that he had heard a single word all the time she had been talking, nor that he ever noticed that she had ceased or that she had moved away from him.

It was nightfall. Cormac and his men had not returned. Some of those who had accompanied them, and who had failed to keep up with them, were returning one after another. Some of them were saying that the thieves had been caught, others that they had not. There was a crowd of them gathered in the middle of the road just outside Dermot's house, disputing and arguing. The big tinker was in the midst of them asking them questions.

Shiana started out of his reverie.

"Dermot," said he, "shut this door behind me and fasten it well"; and out he went into the midst of the people who were talking.

"Have they been caught?" said he.

"They have," said one.

"They have not," said another.

"But I say they have," said the first. "Did not my two eyes see Cormac's hand on the throat of that big fellow who was walking the fair to-day with Sive? Would you deny me the sight of my own eyes?"

"Talking of that," said a third, "I cannot understand what made Sive go walking the fair with him."

"Neither can I," said a fourth. "Nor can I understand what brought them to Dermot's house at all, walking in and out there, so that one would think the place belonged to them. That was what deceived me, and others beside me. When I saw them so much at home in Dermot's house I had no distrust of them. They took a splendid colt from me. I would have been well pleased to get thirty pounds for him. When I heard of all the excitement, and the big sums of money being given for anything in the shape of a horse, I was astonished. I heard people saying that they were only buyers; that they had the King's money; that they got it easily and were spending it easily. I said to myself, of course, that I might as well have my pull out of it, as I had got the chance. I asked sixty pounds. I got it at once. A pocket full of little leaden plates! They have ruined me! My fine brave colt, after I had spent the year feeding him! If I had not seen them so much at home at Grey Dermot's house they would not have played that trick on me."

"That's the talk!" said another, with passion in his voice. "They played the same trick on me, and but for Grey Dermot and Sive they couldn't have done it."

"All the more misfortune to Dermot," said Shiana, "since he did not look before him. They have made beggars of him and of Sive." And he told them the whole story from beginning to end, just as it had taken place.

"The fact of the matter is," said he, "I fear it will break Dermot's heart, if it has not already done so, and that poor Sive will go stark mad. Three hundred pounds! All that the pair had ever saved! I do not remember such an act of plunder. I do not know in the world what they will do."

"By the deer!" said the owner of the colt, "bad as our case is, theirs is worse. But for your saying it, I would not believe a word of it. But I am sure you have the truth of it. What else would have taken her out like a fool, walking the fair with him in that red cloak, but that she was quite sure that the match was made?"

"The wedding was to be in Dublin," said the big tinker. "No place nearer home would do. Good gracious me! I have been a long time in the world, and many a clever trick has been played upon me in my time, but such a trick as that I never saw played until to-day, and I don't suppose I shall ever see again."

"Which were the more, the tricks played on you or the tricks played by you?" said he of the colt.

"Really and truly," said the tinker, "I do not remember ever playing a trick upon anyone. No, really."

He said it so innocently that they all laughed out. Sive heard the laugh. She at once concluded that the fun was at herself, for she had heard Shiana telling all about the match. She had heard him with shame and anger; but when she heard the laugh from the people on the road, she lost her temper completely. She rushed out and began at them. She heaped abuse on Shiana again, because he had not spoken in time, before she had given her money to Sheeghy. Then she heaped abuse on the big tinker because he was laughing at her.

"You thick-speaking clown of the broken pots!" said she, "you never had the right nor any one of your race during seven generations, to be making fun of me." Then she turned on him of the colt because he burst out laughing when he saw the dressing Shiana and the big tinker were getting.

"It is a very just deed," said she, "that it should happen to you as it did, and even if it had happened to you seven times worse. It was easy for you to know when you were offered sixty pounds for your ragged, starved, badly-bred little colt, that it was not an honest man that ever offered such a sum for him. You could not help it. The greed was too strong in your heart. Sixty pounds for a little shaggy colt without shape or form, with no more breeding in him than an old sheep! Confound you, you miserable, mean little wretch! How finely you can talk!"

"Hush, Sive!" said he of the colt, "don't be uneasy. There have been so many senseless people at this fair to-day that I am quite sure that somewhere among them there will very soon be found a fool who will marry you without a fortune."

She made a spring, and before he knew what was coming she had her two hands fixed in his beard and was pulling it hard. She pulled it one way and she pulled it the other. He gave three or four groans, like a bull-calf when the knife is being put to his throat. He did not strike her, though it took all his patience to refrain. He put out both hands, and flung her from him, and ran away. Her fingers did not come away empty. You would think they would all fall dead with laughter when they saw the choking the man of the colt had got, and when they saw the beard on Sive's fingers.

Meanwhile more of the people were returning from chasing the thieves. According as they came each asked what caused the fun, or what was going on. They soon lost sight of their own troubles, and the whole conversation and discussion turned upon the catastrophe which had befallen Sive and Dermot.

Sheila.—Indeed, Peg, I suppose, but for that, it would have happened to them as Dermot said. They would have been killed or burnt alive in the house.
Kate.—But for Shiana they would have been in a bad way.
Sheila.—How is that, Kate? Though he told Dermot to shut the door, did not Sive open it herself?
Kate.—It wouldn't have mattered whether it was open or shut, but for the skill with which Shiana put the story of the match and of the three hundred pounds into the mouths of the people. That was what saved them from the people's rage.

Peg.—And though Sive did not perceive it, she helped Shiana very much in the matter. When they had been looking at her and listening to her for a while, they said to each other that she was surely going out of her mind. Two women of her neighbours came and coaxed her in home. Then the rumour spread that she was stark mad and had to be tied. That put them out of all danger. Everyone believed that they were not guilty, and that they had not had any knowledge of what the thieves had done, and that, in fact, no one had suffered more by the whole business than they had.