Shiana/Chapter 22

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A long-limbed, broad-shouldered, sallow man was the big tinker. A lean, strong man. He was slightly pitted with small-pox, and he had very little beard. His eyes were slightly prominent and pursed underneath. He was long-nosed, long-cheeked, well shaped in the jaw and mouth. He was welcome in every company, for he was always making sport and fun and pastime for everybody.

In he walked to them, and no sooner did he see the priest than he drew back a little. He snatched the caubeen[1] from his head and bared his yellow bald forehead; and a great shaggy head he had with very black and curry hair.

"Come along, Patrick, my son," said the priest, smiling. "You need not fear," said he. "Perhaps you may be able to give us some account of this rumour that is abroad about Sive and Cormac the bailiff."

"Upon my word, Father," said the tinker, "that was exactly what brought me here now, and little notion I had that your reverence would be beforehand with me. There is no use in talking! It is my belief that a strange robin redbreast couldn't come into the parish unknown to you."

"Sharp as we both are, Patrick," said the priest, "we need not be too boastful. Murring has been beforehand even with me, and she was near bringing a relapse upon this poor man with her incantations and fooling. She said there was a hen crowing in this house, and she said that Sive had met with some bad companion. And do you know what she said? She said she was from Ulster, and declared that she was sent all the way from the north in order to protect Sive against her enemies. I myself was coming over to see how this man was getting on, when I met a messenger coming to tell me the neighbours were afraid he was getting a relapse. I was wondering what could be the cause of the relapse until he told me that she had been talking to him. I dare say she did not give herself time to hear the story fully lest anyone else should be beforehand with her, and that the present she would get should be the smaller for it. I think she did get a 'hand-reach' from him, but she had not much to tell him, and what she had only seemed to disturb the poor man's mind the mere, when it was disturbed enough already."

"And isn't it a great wonder that you did not know her, Dermot?" said the tinker.

"I often heard of her, but I never saw her until then and it wasn't of her I was thinking, of course, but of my child," said Dermot.

"What sort of version did you hear of this rumour, Patrick?" said the priest. "Or is there any foundation for it?"

"On my word, Father," said Patrick, "there could not be better foundation. It is not rumour nor hearsay, but clean truth. It was the carman, Ulick Burke, that told it to me; and it was Cormac himself that told it to him. He thinks Cormac and Sive are married by this time. Cormac says it was the King himself that made the match."

"Just hear him!" said Dermot.

"I tell you there is no word of a lie in it," said Patrick. " Since the day I was born I never heard of such an adventure. Cormac knew that Sive was gone from home. He followed her on horseback; he knew she was on foot, and although she had been some time on the road before he started, he thought there was no fear but that he would overtake her before she could reach the city. He was enquiring for her and giving descriptions of her along the road for a long time, and so he kept for a long time the road that she had taken, and he almost knew how far ahead of him she was. At last he was told that she had gone two roads. That put him astray, and what he did then was to face straight for the city. He knew he would reach the city before her, and he did. He was known in the city. The King's people knew him well. He sent out police at once along the roads from the south and he gave them Sive's description. It was not long until they saw her coming, bent forward and running, with the hood of her cloak on her head. They made themselves known to her, but it was no use for them until they gave her 'the sure sign.' They told her it was Cormac the bailiff that had sent them to meet her. and 'by the same token' that Deaf Poll was the one person who saw her leaving home. That satisfied her.

"When Cormac asked her what had brought her, she told him she wanted to go to speak to the King and that she must get justice from him.

"'What has the King to do for you?' said Cormac.

"'He has,' said she, 'to catch the thief who stole my money from me, and to take the money from him and give it back to me. What good is it for us to have a King, with his armed men round him, unless he is able to protect us from thieves?' said she. 'It is in the King's name my property was taken from me,' said she, 'and it shall not go unknown to him. I have only one life,' said she, 'but if I had twenty-one lives I would stake them all against that fellow sooner than I would let the scoundrelly act he did go scot free with him. The ground will swallow him or I'll come up with him, and when I do I promise you that I'll make him sore and sorry that he did not leave me alone. It was in the name of the King he took my property. It is from the King I must get satisfaction, or he is no King. If I have been robbed in the King's name, isn't it the least the King can do to give me liberty and help and opportunity to follow and hunt up the thief until I catch him? I'll not leave a hole or a channel in Ireland that I won't search for him. Take me to the King,' said she. 'Take me to the King, or I'll go into his presence myself by some means.'

Cormac had to give her her own way. I don't think he had any objection. He was drawing water to his own mill in the matter; he knew that whoever would catch the thief and bring him to justice would be well paid for it. And he knew that no one could have better help in the work than Sive's help, so long as she was in that determined humour. He gave her her head.

"'I'll take you into the presence of the King,' said he, 'but take care not to do anything that would get me into a fix. You have often heard the proverb, "to go into the King's house is not the same as to get out," and "the flags of a great house are slippery." They are two good proverbs, and he who will not keep them well in mind will be sorry for it.'"

"'You need not fear,' said she. 'I only want to be placed standing in the presence of the King and be given leave to speak. All I have to say to him is that a gentleman came to my father's house in Minister; that he showed me the King's ring; that he pretended to be buying horses for the King; that he bought them in the King's name; that he pretended to me that he had not as much money as would pay for what he had bought, and that if I would lend him three hundred pounds for a few days, in the King's name, I would be conferring a favour on the King, and that it would not go unreported to him; that I gave my three hundred to the gentleman in the King's name; and that that left myself and my father absolutely penniless, unless it is in the power of the King to remedy the mischief that was done in his name.'

"'All right,' said Cormac. 'Don't tell anyone living this plan that you have in mind. When you have done telling your story, tell the King that you would recognise this Sheeghy if you could see him, and that if it would be his majesty's pleasure to send a body of men with you, that you would go in search of him and bring him to justice.'

"'I'd know the scoundrel's head,' said she, 'if it was twenty-four hours boiling in a pot of porridge, and I'll knock the affectation out of him, I promise you!'

"Cormac went and found a lodging for her; then he went and spoke to the man who was master of the King's household. He knew them all.

"'There is a young woman here from Munster,' said he, 'and she says that someone has stolen three hundred pounds from her, and that she cannot get at him; and that she has come to lodge a complaint against him before the King.'

"'It is hard for the King to find them all,' said the master. 'There is a hunt all over Ireland,' said he, 'for the past three weeks and more, after some other thief, and I think it was in Munster he committed the crime, whatever it was, of which he has been guilty. We are tormented and worried and plagued by Munster people.'

"Cormac did not say a word.

"'When does she want to speak to the King?' said the master.

"'At whatever time the King himself may appoint,' said Cormac, and he slipped a gold-piece into the master's hand.

"'Stay a moment,' said the master, and he went off. He soon returned. 'Let her be here at noon to-morrow,' said he, 'and she will get justice. High and low get justice here. Let her be here at noon to-morrow, and leave the rest to me.'

  1. cáibín, an old hat.