Shiana/Chapter 18

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CHAPTER XVIII.

CORMAC TELLS HIS STORY.

The night was passing and Cormac was not returning, nor any exact account from him. Those who had lost their horses began to feel troubled and ashamed. They had heard what Sive said to the owner of the colt, and they knew she was right. There was not one of them to whom her remarks did not apply as aptly as to him of the colt. They felt that no one had much pity for them, and they had not much pity for each other. When the big sums were offered to them they knew they were getting more than their right—and they took it. By and by, when the truth came out, they felt in their hearts that they had got what they deserved because they had consented to what was wrong. They slipped away home, gloomy and sore at heart, sad and disappointed, disgusted with themselves and with their day's work.

Sheila.—Now you see there are many ways of making false money besides making it of little slate flags, by witchcraft.
Kate.—There are, to be sure. And see also that it seldom happens that a man is found honest enough to come a week later and put the right money instead of the false, as Michael Redmond did.
Abbie.—And as usually happens, see how little he was thanked. He saved both his character and his property.
Kate.—Which character, Abbie—for honesty or for witchcraft?
Abbie.—Well said, Kate. I think he saved both.
Nora.—I wonder, Peg, if there was any hope that the gentleman would come back and give real money to those people to whom he had given the base coin.
Peg.—I fear, Nora, that if he did, he would be set down by those same people as being quite as mad as they thought Sive was.
Abbie.—Oh, Peg, how quietly Nora pokes a bit of fun at us! "I wonder if there was any hope that he would come back," says she. As if she had the slightest doubt in her mind that there was no hope whatever of it!
Nora.—Oh, really and truly, Abbie, and as I hope no evil to my soul, I am in downright earnest. Here is the point that puzzles me. Michael Redmond made money, by witchcraft, out of little slate flags, and gave them to the landlady in order to get his hat from her. But he was not easy in his mind until he returned at the end of a week and brought her real money, and neither he nor anyone else saw anything extraordinary in that. But if that gentleman were to come back and give real money to the people to whom he had given the bad money, they would say he was as mad as they considered Sive to be. That is what puzzles me.
Peg.—Well, you see, Nora, there is this difference between the two cases. Michael Redmond was an honest man, whatever witchcraft he had, or had not. That "gentleman" was a thief, whatever gentility he had, or had not.
Kate.—Upon my word, it's my opinion that the greatest gentlemen are the greatest thieves. There is that gentleman who evicted the MacKeowns. It is said that he has ten thousand a year over in England. That would not satisfy him, but he must needs come over here to the poor MacKeowns and fling them out in a deluge of rain on Christmas Eve. The old couple were there, and the young couple, and nine children. The eldest was the same age as Peg, and the youngest was three weeks old. When they were out, and the rain falling in torrents, young John MacKeown made a shed for them against the ditch as a shelter. The gentleman came and pulled down the shed.
Nora.—Oh, dear, Kate! Surely he did not do that?
Kate.—Indeed he did. The bailiff told him there was some point of law in it, and that he would have the same trouble in evicting them from the shed as he had in evicting them from the house. He pulled down the shed, at all events. Then the poor old man cried; and when the gentleman saw him crying, "See," said he, "how the old cock cries."
Sheila.—What does that mean, Kate?
Kate."Feuċ mar ġoilean an sean ċocaíġe."
Sheila.—Oh, to think of it! When it was he that was making him cry!
Abbie.—I should be inclined to say to that gentleman what Mary Partolan said to the man who had robbed her of a year's butter, when she found she had no legal remedy. "Upon my word," said she, "it is a good thing that there is a hell."
Peg.—O fie, Abbie! how did she know but that she might go there herself?
Abbie.—I dare say she did not say it from her heart. She was angry, and she had cause.
Sheila.—I don't think anybody need have said it to that gentleman who evicted the people and pulled down the shed.
Peg.—Why not, Sheila?
Sheila.—Because God (praise be to Him!) will do it without being asked.
Peg.—What will he do, Sheila?
Sheila.—He will send that gentleman to hell.
Peg.—How do we know, Sheila, that the gentleman will not do penance?
Sheila.—His penance won't do unless he builds up the house again and puts the people back into it, safe and sound, as they were before; and gives them money for the damage he did them.
Kate.—Bravo, Sheila! That is the way to talk I What a pity you don't make the laws for us; you would soon put the gentlemen into their proper place, and that is badly wanted. But look here, Peg, surely gentlemen never do penance, do they?
Peg.—Why, what put that into your head, Kate?
Kate.—Well, I have always heard of their bad doings; of the wrong and the ruin that they inflict upon the poor—crushing and grinding them, and turning them out into cold and wandering—and I never heard that any of them repented or made reparation. It is the poor who are always doing penance. It is a strange thing.
Peg.—Oh, indeed, Kate, gentry do penance, too. St. Gobnet of Ballyvourney was a king's daughter, and St. Colum Cille was a king's son.
Sheila.—Did you hear that, Abbie?
Abbie.—Oh, I heard it long ago, Sheila. She was a king's daughter, and when she left her father's house the angel told her not to stop to live in any place until she should find nine white deer asleep. She came to some place and she found three of them. She stayed there a little while. Then she came to Killgobnet, where she found six. She stayed there for some time, and it was then that the place was called Killgobnet. Then she came to Ballyvourney, where she found the nine. There she spent the rest of her life, and she is buried there.
Kate.—I'll engage the MacKeowns will be out a long time before the gentleman who evicted them will repent and put them back into their home.
Nora.—I suppose the gentry who live now are different from the gentry who lived long ago.
Peg.—Indeed, I think it will be a long time before a saint is found among them.
Abbie.—Well, how did it go with Nosey Cormac, Peg?

Peg.—There was neither tale nor tidings of him for a week after the fair day. Everything settled down. Neither Sive nor her father was seen outside the door during the week. Those who had suffered most by the thieves' work were those who spoke least about it. Those who had had nothing to lose were constantly talking. Each of them was boasting that if he had had a horse to sell he would not have parted with him quite so greenly.

After a week Cormac returned. Shiana's house was the first he visited. Shiana came out to meet him just as he had gone to meet John Kittach that other day.

"Well!" said Shiana.

"Three of them have been hanged," said Cormac. "Sheeghy, or whatever his name is, escaped. For all our speed we failed to overtake them until we reached the city. I went at once to the King's men, where I was well known, and I told my story. You never saw people so much astonished as they were. 'Why,' said they, 'a man came here a while ago and told us that same story, and showed us three of the thieves, and we arrested them at once, and probably they will be hanged to-morrow. He said that they were not the most guilty, but the man who was their leader, and the leader of more of their sort in Munster, a man named Shiana—a man who had been manufacturing false coin for a long time. And by the same token, that it was generally known in the district that he was in abject poverty until within the last five or six years, and that now he was the richest man in Munster, or perhaps in Ireland. And, said they, 'there is an order from the King to prepare an armed force to go and seize upon that Shiana, whoever he is, and to bring him here in custody.' 'Where is the man who told that story?' said I. 'He is here within,' said they. We went in. There was not a trace of him. They ran in all directions in search of him. He was not to be found any more than if the ground had swallowed him. 'Where are the other three?' said I. 'In the jail,' said they. 'Let us see them and question them,' said I. We went in and questioned them, each separately. The answers were the same thus far; that the base coin was being made somewhere in the city, but that none of them knew the place; that they were getting five shillings in the pound for passing the coin at fairs and markets; that they had made their living as pedlars before this business came their way; that the base coin used to be sent to their dwellings; that they had never seen the place where it was made, nor the person who was head of the business.

"You never saw anything like the astonishment of the King's men when they heard that. Then I told them how you set me on the track of the thieves, and I explained to them how, but for your action, it would have been impossible to catch them at all.

"On the following day I had to go before the judge and tell him the story in detail. Then they were sentenced to be hanged, on account of the act they had done, and for doing it under the King's name. And detectives were appointed and sent out in all directions, to see if they could come up with honest Sheeghy, whoever he is and wherever he is, and bring him to hand. Searchers were also appointed to find out the place where the base coin is being made, and, since there must be others at work beside the four, to hunt up and catch the rest of them before they could do any further mischief. There is many a sharp hound at the rascal's heels by this time, I promise you, and if he escapes them it will be a wonder to me. When they had heard how cleverly you acted on the fair day, and how closely the four were pursued, what they all said was, that it was a great pity you were not down there among them, where you would have an opportunity of turning your talents to some account."

"I fear, Cormac," said Shiana, "that when you were giving them an account of my talents, if you did not exaggerate the truth you did not diminish it. But I dare say that, but for the quickness with which you followed at the heels of that big fellow, and but for your arriving in the city so soon after him, I should be with them now—not exactly for the sake of my talents. He seems to have made a desperate attempt against me. It is a pity the like of him should be at large. The city men will do badly if they fail to catch him, now that his name is known all over the country on account of this deed. And when I think of it I am really surprised that he should have been such a fool as to connect the King's name with the act. He ought to have known that he could not escape long under the King's name."

"My opinion is," said Cormac, "that he knew well what he was about, and that he did the work of the fair day with a deliberate purpose."

"How is that?" said Shiana.

"As I understand the matter," said Cormac, "he was aiming chiefly at you, and here is how he meant to get at you, if he had succeeded. As soon as he should have finished the business of the fair, he and Sive would go down to Dublin. He would leave the other three in care of the horses, to lead them along until they should meet some of their own gang on the road, who would take them away to dispose of them at other fairs. When he reached the city he would go before the judge and swear against you the deed he himself had done, saying that it was you who had the base coin, and that it was you that were buying the horses under the pretence that they were for the King, and that he himself had no other business in the place but to make the match and to take his wife home. Then when he had had his will in settling matters for you and had put the hemp about your neck, he would marry Sive, and then see who would say he was a thief! It would not have been very difficult for him to make the city people believe the story when he would tell them how little money you had a short time ago and the greatness of your wealth now."

"No one has ever said that he got base coin from me," said Shiana.

"Neither did he get it," said Cormac. "When I was told that it was you that gave the rent to the widow that day long ago, I tested every piece of it, and it was all as true as if it had come out that very morning from the King's own mint."

"I suppose," said Shiana, "if it had been base, things would have gone hard with me," and he gave a little laugh.

"There was no danger that anything would go hard with you through me," said Cormac, "as long as you were doing no wrong." It just happened that he looked Shiana in the face, and he stopped.

Sheila.—Why did he stop, Peg? I should think that, whomsoever that look of Shiana's would startle or not startle, it would be very hard for it to startle Nosey Cormac. I'll bet if John of the Fair were there it would not startle him. No, indeed; no more than it would startle a sow pig if she were there.
Peg.—Why, the way the matter stood with Cormac was that Shiana knew an ugly secret about him. A short time after that day on which he came to take possession from the widow, Shiana found out all about the bribe, and Cormac knew he did. He was unable to make his mind easy or to sleep at night until he went to speak to Shiana and asked him not to lodge a complaint against him. Shiana promised he would not, provided Cormac promised not to take a bribe again. He promised that most willingly.
Sheila.—What a barefaced fellow! "You need not have dreaded me as long as you did no wrong." It was no wonder that he was startled. If Sive had known that, she would have understood what the grip was that Shiana had of him.
Peg.—He had that grip of him firmly, and signs by, he had but to beckon to him in order to send him to work, be the work hard or easy, be the time late or early, and no matter how cold or wet the weather.

"Do you think is there any chance of his being caught?" said Shiana.

"The pursuit is hot at all events," said Cormac.

"There are men on his trail from whom it is hard to escape, I promise you. They say themselves that no thief has ever escaped them. If this fellow escapes them he will take the palm."

"Have you had any talk with Grey Dermot since you came back?" said Shiana.

"No," said he, "but I have heard that Sive has left home, and that there is no account of her. I was intending to go down there now to see whether she has returned, or whether there is any truth at all in it."

"I'll go with you," said Shiana. "I had not heard a word of it. The poor man is to be pitied."

They went down.