Shiana/Chapter 24

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A week later there was great noise in the little town. The King's soldiers came, with the Captain at their head, all on horseback, each man wearing a silken cloak, each man's sword hanging down by the flank of his horse, and a fine long spear standing up high in his hand, while the men and women and children of the town crowded and crushed each other, striving to get a view of them.

Sive was with them, and Cormac, driven in a fine coach, with a pair of the King's horses drawing the coach. Sive wore a red cloak, redder far, and finer, than the cloak she had on, that day of the fair. I suppose she had packed up the black cloak that she was wearing the morning that Poll saw her going away. She had a golden chain on her neck, and it was as thick and as heavy, you would think, as the ridge-band of a cart. There were big gold rings on her fingers and buckles of gold on her shoes. It was not a hood that was on the cloak, but a cape; and all round the edge of the cape, and falling down her shoulders, there was a fringe of golden drops, each drop an inch and a half long, and the drops were all shivering and shining and sparkling in the sun with every movement of the coach. In the breast of the cloak, on her bosom, there was a golden button as big as a crown-piece. Down in front, along the edge of the cloak and all round the lower hem of it, there was a border of cloth-of-gold which was fully two inches in breadth, so splendid and bright that you would think it was a streak of flame, as it swayed about in the sunlight. She had the golden band that was on Sheeghy's head when he had his grey wig, wearing it on her own head to hold back her hair.

Cormac was there sitting beside her in the coach. He wore no ornaments, though, but was the same as he always was. He was the same bailiff. He had the same bullying mouth, and the cheeks, and the thick neck, and the grunting, just as he had that day he came to demand possession from the widow. If there was any change in him it was in the grunting. He was doing that more heavily than usual.

The coach stopped outside Grey Dermot's house. Dermot was standing between the two jambs of the door, with his shoulder to the doorpost. Sive jumped out of the coach, and ran over to him.

"Oh!" said she, "why, what has happened to you since?" putting her two arms round his neck and giving him a couple of kisses. "Why, dad," said she, "there is not a bit of flesh on you! What in the world has happened to you?"

"A little bit of a chill came upon me, my dear, and I think it stuck to me more than I would have expected."

"A little bit of a chill!" said she. "You have had some bad illness; if you hadn't, you wouldn't look as you do. See, your clothes are in bags about you. What has happened to him, Poll?"

"He has just got over a fever,—health and life where it is told!" said Poll.

"A fever!" said Sive. "Save us! Why, what sort of man are you, or what mischief was upon you, that you went and put that sickness on yourself without need or necessity? It is a strange thing that one couldn't go from home for a little while and leave you in charge of the place without your going and putting a fever upon yourself with your fretting and foolishness. Just see what you look like now!"—And with that she began to cry.

Cormac walked in after her.

"By the deer, Dermot," said he, "but you have come out of it well. You have come out of it exceedingly well, I can tell you. I had no fears about you, nor any serious doubt of your recovery, but all the same I did not think you would come out of it so well. It must be that your heart is very sound and strong, for you to be so sturdy after all you have put over you."

"You don't know the half of it, Cormac," said Dermot. "A woman walked in here to me some days ago, and you never saw such a start as she gave me. I never got such a start since the day I was born, even counting the night of the fair. She almost said to me, up to my face, that Sive had been killed on the road somewhere to the north, and that she had seen her dead. But that the priest came in, and that he persuaded me that there was no meaning in her talk, I think my heart would have been injured by it."

"But who was she, though?" said Cormac.

"Indeed, I don't know who she was. I had never set eyes on her before that, and I tell you I have no desire to see her again," said Dermot. "She was the most extraordinary woman I ever came across."

"What sort of woman was she?" said Cormac.

"A bad sort, I promise you," said Dermot. "She was a great stump of a hard, rough, bony woman, and she was blind of one eye, and one side of her mouth was twisted back almost to her ear, save the mark ever!"

"Oh, I have her!" said Cormac. "A bad sort! you may well say it. I know that bold lass a long time. It was I that put her eye out and disfigured her face like that."

"You!" said Dermot.

"Yes, I. And I will tell you how it was," said Cormac. "I think it was ten years ago. I was coming home from Cork. It was in the dead of night. I was coming this way toward Dripsey Bridge. I knew the place had the name of being haunted, but I had no nervousness or fear about it. I never have any fear of anything of that sort, whatever time of night it may be, when I am doing my own business. They cannot touch a person who is doing his own business and not interfering with them, directly or indirectly. But if a person will be going into haunted places at unseasonable times and through sheer foolhardiness, it is no wonder that he should get something else to mind sometimes. But anyhow, by a side-look that I gave, what should I see but a woman sitting on the other shaft of the cart from me, with her back to me. When I saw her I suppose I must have got a touch of faintness on account of the place being said to be haunted; but whatever it was that came over me it didn't last long. Soon I felt something like a human hand going into my bosom, where I carried whatever little money I had. No sooner did I feel the hand than I knew at once that it was a living person I had to deal with, and I laid hold upon the hand. It was a vigorous, strong hand, with a well-developed, well-shaped, stout forearm to it. An attempt was made to pull it away from me, but I tell you I kept my grip, and the more I succeeded in keeping my grip, the more my courage and strength returned to me. When the woman saw that it was useless for her to go on pulling, she remained still, but she did not turn her face to me. While she was keeping still and I was trying to make out who she was, my grip slackened unknown to me. The hand was snatched from me, and the woman jumped out of the cart at the far side from me. Just as she jumped out,—as if a hook or something had got caught in her clothing,—she was thrown down. She fell on the road, and the wheel went over her head. At the moment when she alighted on the road her feet went from under her, and her head turned in under the wheel. I was near fainting in good earnest then. 'Her head is cut in two!' said I to myself. I stopped the horse at once. I was sure the woman was dead, and that I had no witness but God as to how the thing had happened. I jumped out of the cart. While I was coming round from my own side of the horse, the woman jumped up and over the fence she went into a grove that was near the road. 'Well!' said I in my own mind, 'I give thanks to God of glory (praise be to Him for ever) whatever sort you are, that you are able to do that!' I drove on here to the Bridge and I stopped at the stage house. As soon as I saw the first glimmering of the light of day, out with me and eastward again to the place where I saw her going in over the fence. There was a pool of blood on the road at the place where she was knocked down, and there was a great deal of blood on the ground over as far as the fence, and on the top of the fence where she had jumped over. I went over and followed the trail of blood through the grove to the north-east, and on again through the field which was beyond the grove, until I came to a little house, a miserable little cabin, in the north-eastern corner of the field. The trail of the blood was there on the ground, up to the door of the little house. I put my hand on the latch. The door moved in before me. I went in. I saw a woman sitting on a stool in front of the fire, swaying herself to and fro like a woman in grief, and crying under her breath.

"'God save all here!' said I. She sprang up and turned her face to me. She had her head wrapped in a cloth, except one of her eyes, and that eye was almost closed with swelling. She flung herself on her knees. 'I appeal to you for my life, Cormac!' said she. 'Don't give me up to the law this time! I have had my mother there below,' said she, 'without mind or sense, unable to walk or move or know anybody, or speak, for two years and five weeks next Saturday. If I am taken from her now she will die of starvation! She will have nobody to bring priest or friar to her, or to hand a drink to her! I implore you, for the love of Our Lord in Heaven and for the love of the Virgin Mary, and for the sake of the soul of your own mother, not to take me away from that wretched being below there!'

"It was no misnomer to call the old woman a wretched being, and it was quite true to say that the young woman was also a wretched being, seeing the state she was in after the accident that had befallen her. I turned my face to the door, and I said: 'I was coming home from Cork last night, and some woman got into the cart beside me, pretending that she was a spirit, God preserve us! She put her hand into my bosom. She meant to take my money from me, but she did not succeed. I don't know what business a spirit would have with gold or silver. I gripped hold of the hand. She was a queer spirit, with a hand of flesh and blood! I meant to keep hold of her and to take her with me to see if I could find out what sort of spirit she was, but she was too quick for me. She snatched her hand from me and jumped out of the cart. The wheel went over her head. I could not help that. It was the providence of God (praise to Him for ever!) that she was not killed on the spot. But I think that accident has given her punishment enough for this time. I do not know who she is, or to what family she belongs,' said I, 'but if I ever hear of her playing that trick again, or if I set eyes upon her, at home or abroad, I will give her up to the law'—and I rushed out at the door. I suppose there were never so many holy blessings sent after any Christian as were sent after me as I went down the field that summer morning as the sun was rising. But it was not this I came here to speak about, but quite another matter. I have something else to put before you now, Dermot. Myself and Sive here are thinking that we could not do better than spend the rest of our life together. Do you think you would find any fault with me as a son-in-law, Dermot?"

"Why, indeed, Cormac, my son," said Dermot, "I don't think there is a man to be found in Ireland who would be a better head to her than you will be. And the priest himself said, the day we heard the first rumour of this, that it was a good match, a very good match, and that there was no doubt but that there would be luck upon it, with the help of God, and we all well."

"Very good," said Cormac. "I will leave you there for a while, and I'll go east to the priest's house to see when it would be convenient for him to come and marry us."