Shiana/Chapter 20

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CHAPTER XX.

THE FORTUNE-TELLER.

Shiana came on the following day to see how the sick man was, and he took away some more of the leather that was in the shop and paid for it. It was well he did. That left some money to the nurse, so that when Dermot came to the crisis, she was able to provide the food and drink which were necessary, and to give them to him according as he required.

Very soon she had him sitting up beside the fire, and extremely eager for food. But indeed she used not to give it to him, except as much as she considered was good for him, and you never saw such fighting and arguing as he used to have with her trying to get more.

According as he got better the neighbours used to be gathering in and making enquiries, and telling how grieved they were when they heard of his illness, and how glad they were to find him recovering.

When Shiana found him getting really better and out of danger he did not come so often, and after a little time his visits ceased.

The nurse remained longer than she thought necessary, but the priest was the cause of that, for he was expecting from time to time and from day to day that Sive would return home. At last the nurse got a call from the opposite side of the parish, and she bad to go.

The only thing they could do then was to ask poor old Poll to come every morning and light the fire and get a bit of food for Dermot. It was not left altogether to her. There was scarcely a day that Michael's mother used not to drop in there. And the day she was not there Short Mary herself used to be there. And what the neighbours used to say was that Dermot used to make greater progress toward recovery during the piece of a day that she would spend talking to him, than during the whole of the rest of the time. Dermot himself used to say that he felt as if a cloud were lifted off his heart when he used to see her coming in at his door.

What everyone said was that it was well for him that Sive was not at home near him while he was sick, because he could not possibly have recovered while she was there, for if he were just at a crisis and that anything happened to cross her, she would fly into a rage, and bring a relapse upon him, as surely as her name was Sive.

That was the opinion of the neighbours, but that was not Dermot's own opinion. In his estimation, there was nothing keeping him on the flat of his back but the fact that she was not coming home, nor any tidings of her. From morning till night there used to be no subject of conversation between himself and the neighbours who came in but "where was she?" or "what was keeping her?" or "whether she was dead or alive." "If she was alive, why didn't somebody hear news of her? If she was dead, why was not an account of her death coming from some quarter? Surely she could not be killed without some one's knowing it. If she were killed in the middle of the night and her body thrown into some hole, surely it would be found the next day, and the news would spread through the country, and Sheeghy would be caught, if it were he that had done the deed, and he would be hanged. If he were as clever again as he was, he could not escape Cormac."

That was how he used to spend the time, debating the matter as long as there was anybody in the house to listen to him. When he was alone, he used to talk to himself and argue with himself and dispute with himself. Sometimes, while thus disputing with himself, he would raise his voice, so that Poll heard him, and she used to be under the impression that there were two or three people with him, he used to make so much noise.

In spite of his grief he had a good appetite, and he was recovering very fast. He was soon at the door, with his shoulder to the jamb as usual; but there was a want of colour in his face, compared with what there had been, and you could see that his clothes were not so well filled out as they used to be before the poor man got ill. You could see that some of the flesh was gone and a great deal of the fat. The shoulder was thin in the coat; the arm was thin in the sleeve; the thigh was thin in the breeches; the poor man had too much room in his clothes, and he used to feel the wind searching his bones all round in the empty passages between the skin and the clothes, so that he could not stay long at the door without coming now and then to the fire to warm himself.

One day, about a fortnight after he had left his bed, he came to the door, with the smell of the fire strong upon his clothes. No sooner did he look up the road than he saw a woman coming down the height towards him. At the first look he was rather startled, because he thought she was very like Sive. He never took his eyes off her until she came close to him. She was a coarse, large-boned woman, and she wore a frieze cloak, with the hood over her head; with her left hand she was holding the two sides of the hood closed over her mouth, so that her nose and one of her eyes were all that Dermot could see of her features.

She made straight for the door, and in through the door, and if he had not moved aside from her she would have knocked him down. Up she went to the fire, and she sat down in Dermot's own chair. She turned to the fire and spread herself and both her hands over it to receive the heat, and you would think she was in want of it.

Poll raised her head in the corner and looked at the stranger long and sullenly. Dermot stood still in the middle of the house staring at the back of her head. When she had warmed herself she put her left hand again to the hood of her cloak and closed it over her mouth. She looked out of her one eye at Poll. Then she looked at Dermot.

"There is a hen crowing in this house!" said she, and one could hardly tell whether it was a man's voice or a woman's. "There is a hen crowing in this house!" she said again.

"I have not heard her crowing," said Dermot.

"There is a hen crowing in this house!" said she.

"Sruv, srov! sruv, srov! sruv, srov!"

"Where did you come from to us, daughter?" said Dermot.

"Sruv, srov! sruv, srov! sruv, srov!" said she.

"Long has been my journey to ye, coming for your good. That is a great wrong, that I should be sent all the way from Ulster to protect ye against your enemies, as if a person nearer home and of nearer kin to ye could not be found to do it."

"Who intends to injure us?" said Dermot. She sprang to her feet and faced him. He did not look her between the eyes, because he could see only one of her eyes. That was enough for him. There was no sleepiness in that one eye, nor any short-sightedness. She held out her right hand towards him. He drew a piece of money out of his pocket and put it in the middle of her palm. She blew a puff of her breath upon it. I suppose it was larger than she expected it to be, for she was thrown off her guard. Her hold slipped off the hood of her cloak, and her face was revealed. She was blind of one eye, and her mouth was twisted back almost to where the ear ought to be, and the ear was gone. Dermot drew back from her, and I tell you he was afraid.

"Who intends to injure you?" said she. "Fire and water intend to injure you," said she. "Disease and death intend to injure you," said she, "There are things bent on injuring you," said she, "which you little expect. But that I was not far from you day or night for the past three weeks, you would know by this time who the people are who are bent on injuring you," said she to Dermot. "And I should think," said she, "that it was enough for me to be protecting you and not to be protecting your daughter also, far asunder as you and she are."

"Where is she?" said Dermot. "Or what is keeping her away? Or why did she go without sending tale or tidings home here to me so that I might know whether she was dead or alive? She has treated me very badly." And he had his hand down again in his breeches' pocket, handling another coin. The woman saw that as well as if she had twenty eyes.

"You will soon hear from her," said she, with her hand again held out, "and I am not the person to be thanked for it, nor herself any more than I."

He put the second piece into her hand.

"Where is she?" said he. "Or when will she come?"

"She will come," said she, "when you will least expect her. She will come when you will have least welcome for her."

"What is that you say, woman?" said Dermot.

"Or who told you that she would not be welcome here whenever she might come?"

"I say what I know," said she, "and what I know is not agreeable, but if it isn't that is not my fault. It was not I that sent her from home. It was not I that put bad company in her way. If I did my best to protect her from her enemy my trouble was great, and I have had little by it."

"When will she come?" said Dermot.

She only put her left hand to the hood of her cloak again and tightened it over her mouth as she had it at first, and rushed out at the door without saying another word.

Sheila.—Och, was not she a surly sort!
Nora.—I wonder, Peg, how she lost her eye?
Peg.—I don't know in the world, Nora.
Abbie.—By her own bad talk, I'll engage.
Nora.—Perhaps something happened to her like what happened to that fortune-telling woman that came to Nell Buckley.
Abbie.—What happened to her, Nora?
Nora.—Kate will tell you, she will tell it best.
Abbie.—What happened to her, Kate?
Kate.—Why, nothing happened to her but half what she deserved, the rogue! Nell was married only three weeks. She was at home in the house, and Edmund was out looking after the cows, as one of them had just calved. After a while he came in, and Nell was crying. He asked her what was the matter with her. It was some time before she told him that a fortune-teller had been asking her for money, and that because she did not give her the money she had said Nell would be a widow before the year would be out. While Edmund was out minding the cows he had noticed the strange woman going away from the house, and he knew what road she had taken. He did not do one bit but to take the whip that was hanging beside the door, and to stick it up the sleeve of his coat, and to rush out at the door. He was gone before Nell knew what he was doing. He soon overtook the woman. "Why," said he, "did you say to my wife that I should die within a year?" "I would not have said it," said she, "but for my knowing it well." "Who told it to you?" said he. "My fairy lover told it to me," said she. He caught her by the back of the head and drew the whip out of his sleeve, and he flogged her there with the whip as soundly as ever Con-the-Master flogged any of the scholars he had at his school. When he had flogged her well he let her go. "There!" said he. "Isn't it a great wonder that your fairy lover did not tell you I'd give you that dressing? Be off now, and you have something to tell him that he did not know before. And if I ever see you coming near my house again I'll give you a greater adventure than that to tell to your fairy lover." Nell was frightened lest the woman should curse them. But Edmund used to say that he would care no more for that than if she were to sing to them.
Nora.—Oh, dear! I would not like to have her cursing me, at any rate.
Kate.—What harm could her curses do you when you had not done anything wrong?
Nora.—How would I know but some of them might fall on me in some way?
Kate.—It is on herself they would fall when you had not deserved them from her. Is it not, Peg?
Nora.—Why, perhaps I might imagine that I had not deserved them, and still perhaps I might. Whether I should have deserved them or not, I would not like to have her calling them down upon me.
Kate.—Oh, but when you could not help it! When she would come and say that you were to die before the year was up, and that her fairy lover told it to her!
Sheila.—How did she come to have a fairy lover, Peg? Isn't it a great wonder that the fairy would not have something else to do besides following the like of her!
Kate.—I heard some one say that the fairies are the fallen angels and the demons of the air, but Edmund says that there are no such creatures at all.
Nora.—But if there are not, how could they be seen?
Peg.—Did you ever see one of them yourself, Nora?
Nora.—Indeed I did not, thank God! But there are many people that have seen them.
Peg.—Tell me one.
Nora.—Jack Herlihy. I was listening to him telling it.
Kate.—Ach, the half-fool!
Nora.—Whether he is a half-fool or not, he saw the ghost.
Sheila.—Where, Nora?
Nora.—Why, he was sent to drive the cows after they had been milked up to Tureen-an-Chassurla on Sunday night. There was a house full of people gathered there for the evening. Soon Jack rushed in, in a great fright, with his eyes shining like candles through terror and panic. "Why, what ails you, Jack?" said they.—"Oh! by gum," said he, "I have seen a ghost!"—"When did you see it, Jack?" said they.—"Oh!" said he, "just at the meeting of day and night it was rather early in the evening—it was day more than it was night it was not dark in fact it was in the middle of the bright day."—I promise you there was a laugh.—"What did she say to you, Jack?" said they.—"By gum!" said he, "but she looked at me in a most woeful manner." "And what did you say to her, Jack?" said they.—"By gum!" said he, "but I thought it was better to run." "What was she like, Jack?" said they.—"She was," said he, "a ghost of a pig, in the form of the vamp of a stocking."
Kate.—Oho! Why, what had he seen, Nora?
Nora.—That is exactly what they were all asking each other, when who should walk in but Jack's father, with his big grey coat on, and his striped cap. No sooner did Jack see him than he roared, "Oh! here she is coming in to ye!" "Oh, shut your mouth, you fool!" said the father.
Kate.—And where was the pig, then?
Nora.—Really, I don't know, Kate. All I know is that that's the account he gave of the ghost he saw.
Peg.—I dare say he used to hear people saying that a ghost in the shape of a pig was worse to see than one in the shape of any other animal, and that in his terror he thought it was a thing in the shape of a pig that was before him.
Kate.—And sure he said himself it was a thing "in the shape of the vamp of a stocking" that he saw, when he saw the striped cap and the big grey coat!
Nora.—I really don't know what he saw, or what he imagined it to be, but that was what he said: "a ghost of a pig, in the shape of the vamp of a stocking," said he.
Kate.—Oh, bad manners to him, the ape! But for his being a fool I should say it would be a just deed to give him some of that whip we were speaking of. It might put a stop to some of his ravings.
Sheila.—Didn't I hear you say, Peg, that the priest said that fortune-tellers have no knowledge of the future, but that they only pretend to have it?
Peg.—So he did; and they have not, any more than that woman had who said that Edmund would die within a year.
Sheila.—I suppose he did not put her eye out, as somebody had done to the woman that came to Dermot.