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.
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.
"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.