Shiana/Chapter 23

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CHAPTER XXIII.

HOW SIVE WENT TO COURT.

"At noon on the following day the two were at the door of the King's house. The master came out; he saw Cormac.

"'Where is she?' said he.

"'Here she is,' said Cormac, mildly.

"'Come along, daughter,' said the master.

"She went with him. They went in at a door; they went on through a long corridor; they passed through another door and through another corridor; then they passed through a third door. It was not a corridor that was beyond that, but a fine, big broad sunny field, which was green and which had been closely mown with a scythe, and there were nice pathways across through it with gravel on them. There was a fine, noble palace at the far side of the field. The master went to the door of the palace. Sive followed him. The master knocked softly at the door, and it was soon opened. The man who opened it was a fine, brave, portly gentleman. He had a silver cap on his head, or Sive thought it was silver, and he wore a silken cloak. He had a battle-axe on his shoulder, and it was polished and shining like glass, and it was so sharp that you would think it would take the head off a horse at one blow. The two men spoke in whispers for a little time. Then the man with the axe beckoned to Sive, and she followed him, and the other man remained outside.

"No sooner was Sive inside the door than her eyes nearly jumped out with astonishment. She saw a splendid hall, large, wide, and high, and nobles sitting at each side of it. Fine, tall, handsome men they were, with silk cloaks, and chains of gold, and gold buckles on their shoes, and each man with his sword at his side. Up in front of her she saw one man who was taller and stronger and handsomer than any other man there. There was a crown of gold on his head, and things like little horns standing up out of it all round. On the top of each little horn there was a little ball of gold, and in the middle of each little ball there was some sort of light, shining and twinkling like a star on a frosty night. He wore a red cloak, as red as the cloak Sive herself wore on the fair day, or perhaps redder. He had a sceptre in his right hand, and he was seated on a big, high chair, and you would think every bit of it was made of twisted gold. When Sive saw him she knew he was the King, but she was not a bit nervous or afraid of him, because he had not a hard, haughty look, but a beautiful, mild, gentle, friendly look. The royal chair itself was on a raised platform, which was about half-a-foot higher than the rest of the floor. There were two other chairs there, one of them on each side of the dais, down on the floor, and there were two noblemen seated on them. They were old, grey men. The one who was on the right of the King had long, grey hair, which hung backward and downward upon his shoulders, and he had a long grey beard down the front of his neck and on his bosom; he was wearing a green cloak, and there was a large harp standing near him. The man who was on the other side of the King had long grey hair also, and there was a band of gold round his head keeping the hair back from his forehead, and he wore a long, grey beard exactly like the one on the man with the harp. But he was a bigger and heavier man by far than the man with the harp.

"Sive was noticing all those things while she was walking up the floor towards the King. When she was as near as five yards or so to him, she stopped.

"'Move up a little further, daughter,' said the King. She did not stir.

"'Move up, don't be shy,' said the King.

"'Move up, there is nothing to happen you,' said the man with the axe, whispering to her.

"She did nothing at all but to let her cloak fall back down on the floor, and to make one spring at the beard of the big man who was on the King's left, and to begin to tug at the beard, just as she did to the man of the colt the night of the fair. The second pull she made at the beard, it came away in her hands in one piece, beard, hair, gold band and all, and who should she have there alive in the flesh but honest Sheeghy!

"'Aha! you thief of the black gallows!' said she, 'hand me out here at once my money that you tricked out of me in the name of the King.'

"In an instant there were twenty hands raised over them, and a drawn sword in every one of the hands.

"'Do not strike him,' said the King. 'Arrest him.—Where are you from, daughter?' said the king.

"She flung herself on her knees before the King.

"'From Munster, my King,' said she, 'and that man came the other day to my father's house and he said he was buying horses for you, my King, and he bought all the horses that were in the fair that day, and he paid false money for them, and he showed me your ring, my King, and he said he had not money enough to pay for all he had bought, and he asked me to give him three hundred pounds in your name, my King, and I gave it to him. I had hardly given it to him when Shiana found out that he was a thief, and he sent Cormac after him. But Cormac failed to overtake him. And indeed it was no wonder he failed seeing that the fellow was sitting snug in here with long grey hair on him and a long, grey beard. Look at that!'

"'Gently, daughter,' said the King. 'Who is Cormac?'

"'The bailiff we have, my King,' said she.

"'Where is he now?' said the King.

"'He is outside at the gate, my King,' said she.

"'Bring him in,' said the King.

"He was brought in, and indeed, Father, Ulick Burke says that if you had only one laugh in you, you would give it out if you were to see the two eyes Cormac showed, and the wonder and amazement that came upon him, when he saw Sive on her knees before the King, and that mass of hair and beard in her hands, and her cloak behind her on the ground, and the man who went walking the fair with her, standing there above, a prisoner, and the man with the battle-axe standing behind him ready to split his head with the axe if he stirred.

"'Bailiff," said the King, 'who is that man?'

"'That, my King,' said Cormac, 'is the man who bought the horses at the Well Fair in Munster, and who paid the false money for them. There were four of them, and three of them were caught, but we failed to come up with this one. And I don't think there is a corner in this city, nor perhaps in all Ireland, in which there are not people this moment searching for him. Word must be sent out at once to tell them that he has been caught, and not to have poor men killing themselves any longer running after him where he is not to be found.'

"'One moment, bailiff,' said the King. 'I think you are under a slight mistake.'

"'Oh, no, my King,' said Cormac.

"'Yes,' said the King, 'I believe you are, because it is not on you the duty lies of keeping the sky and the ground asunder.'

"All the nobles laughed. Cormac looked round at them and his mouth opened, and his eyes grew round and sharp. He did not know what had made them laugh.

"Then the King called Sive to him, and he questioned her, and gathered from her the whole truth of the matter, from beginning to end, all the particulars of the match and promise of marriage and loan of money and all, while Sheeghy stood there bound, listening to them, and the man with the axe behind him.

"When Sive had finished her story she drew from her pocket some of the false money and gave it to the King. He looked at it closely. Then he called the head of the city police, who was standing below at the door. He came up.

"'How did it happen,' said the King, 'that three of them were caught and that the fourth escaped?'

"'That is what was puzzling me, my King,' said he, 'but I understand it now. There,' said he, pointing his finger towards Sheeghy, 'There is the man who swore information against the other three.'

"A groan escaped from all present when they heard that. 'He also swore,' said the head of the police, 'that the person who was manufacturing the false coin was a man who lives in Munster, and whose name is Shiana, and that it was he that bought the horses at the fair in your name, my King, and as a confirmation of that, that the man was in abject poverty until a very little time ago. That he was but a poor shoemaker in a cabin at the foot of a mountain, and that he is now the richest and most independent man in Ireland. I at once ordered a body of men to go south straight into Munster and to arrest that Shiana, when who should walk in at the door to us but Cormac, the bailiff here, in pursuit of the thieves, and covered with sweat and road-dust. He told us a story then which was exactly the opposite of the other story. He told us that he himself knew Shiana thoroughly, and that he was an honest man, and that it was he that put Cormac himself on the track of the thieves, and that but for him they would not have been caught at all. I determined to bring the man who had told the first story face to face with Cormac, but there was neither tale nor tidings of him. He was gone as if the ground had swallowed him. I sent people to search for him into every part of the city. I joined in the search, but it was no use for us. He was not to be found high or low. I remember, though, right well,' said he, 'that I saw passing me in the street, and walking leisurely, one of the King's nobles, with a long, grey beard, fine and soft and skeiny, just like this,' said he, taking the mass of hair from Sive's hand, 'and fine heavy hair like this falling backward and downward upon his shoulders in rings, waving and curling. Little notion I had then that the man I wanted was so near me.'

"But to give you the end of the story, Father, the gentleman's house was searched, and heaps of silver and of gold, and of other valuables were found there. And the King said that Sive should be given double the amount that she had lost, and also her choice of all the valuable and exquisite things that were there. And as for the horses that were bought at the fair, and for which the false money was paid, the King said they must be searched for and sent back to Munster to their owners. Then the King ordered Sheeghy's house to be cleaned and settled and put in order and given to Sive, if she wished to go to live in it, and to take her father with her there, because she had conferred a great favour upon him, a greater favour than any of the nobles who were around him had ever conferred upon him, much as he had confided in them, and close as was their kinship with him. It was on the day after that that Ulick Burke heard of the match. What people were saying was that Sive and Cormac were to be married, and that they would go to live in the big house, and that there never was anything like the amount of wealth that Sive had got, beside the six hundred pounds."

"Well, well, well!" said Dermot. "It is a wonderful world! Who would have thought that that pair would ever be seen in a marriage bond?"

"Will you go to live in Dublin, Dermot?" said Patrick.

"Wherever he goes," said the priest, "I don't think he will get a relapse this time."

"When will you be going down to the city yourself, Father?" said Patrick.

"Why should I, Patrick?" said the priest.

"Why should you, Father, but to marry those two! If I were in your position, Father, I would not give leave to the city people to perform this marriage, whatever you might do about Sheeghy's marriage."

"I never believed in Sheeghy's marriage," said the priest, " nor did I wish to have anything to do with it."

"Ulick says," said Patrick, "that the King said that he must get sight of Shiana; that it was a pity that a man of such keen intelligence should not be in some position or in some business where he or somebody else would have the benefit of his intelligence. He thinks that if he had had a man like Shiana at the head of his soldiers, honest Sheeghy would not have escaped so long."

"Isn't it a great wonder," said the priest, "that Ulick Burke, or someone, did not tell the King that we have a man here whose intelligence is far keener than even Shiana's, and whom a warm nest near the King would suit as well as it would suit anyone! Especially as he has not already twice as much money as he needs, as Shiana has."

"The place would not agree with my health, Father," said Patrick. "There is many a man who is in a great hurry to get into a snug berth near the King, and whose life is not the longer for it when he gets his wish! 'The flags of a great house are slippery.' Whoever Sheeghy is, I think he understands by this time 'that it is not the same thing to go to the King's house and to come out of it.' I wish the King well—at a distance from me. May God and Mary prosper him!"

"On my word, Patrick," said Dermot, "I think you are right."

"And the world knows, Dermot," said Patrick, "that you will go down to the city to live with Sive and Cormac in the big house, as soon as the place is ready for you!"

"On my word, Patrick, I don't think I will. I think that what I shall do is just to stay in this old nest, as I am. However big and fine Sheeghy's house may be, I don't think I will go encroaching upon them in it. May be, like the King's house, it might be easier to go into it than to come out of it. May be it might be easier to stay out of it than to do either. I will stay where I am, here among the neighbours, in the place where my father spent his life, and my grandfather, and I don't know how many fathers before them."

"I am inclined to think that you have decided wisely, Dermot," said the priest.