Shiana/Chapter 25

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CHAPTER XXV.

SHIANA'S PROMISE TO THE KING.

By that time the King's men had dismounted on the fair-green. Beside the horses which they had for their own riding, they had another large herd of driven horses, in charge of grooms. These were the horses that were to be given back to the people from whom they had been bought on that fair-day, and to whom the false money had been paid for them in the King's name. The town's-people were gathered on the fence all round the field, staring with all their eyes at the King's men, and at their silken cloaks and their caps, and at the big long swords they had, and the small swords, and at the fine long smooth lances held erect, and at the ribbons that hung out at the tops of them, fluttering in the wind. But the King's men did not pretend that any of these things was a wonder to them. They made no wonder of themselves, nor of anybody else.

The country people were coming, one by one, because word had been sent to them all round, that anyone from whom a horse had been bought for the King, and to whom false money had been given in payment for it, had only to come to the fair-green that day and he could get his horse if he recognized him, provided some responsible person would go security for him.

They all came. There was no danger of anyone coming and pretending that he had lost a horse. They all knew each other too well. That trick would be discovered at once; and besides, nobody of that sort could get a man to go security for him. The owner of the colt came, and John Kittach came to go security for him. He was almost the first man who got his own. Before his own horse was given to any man, a certain arrangement was made. It was ordered that none of those who had got their horses should leave the field until the last horse was given out, and the last man satisfied. The reason why this order was given was lest any mistake should be made in the distribution of the horses, and that, in order to remedy the mistake, it might be necessary that all the horses and all the claimants should be on the spot.

The claimants had plenty of responsible people to act as securities. The priest was there, and he was going security for seven men together. Cormac was there, because he found the priest had left the house before he reached it, and he followed him. Dermot was there, because Sive would not be satisfied unless he came out to see the King's men and all the splendour of their accoutrements and their imposing appearance. Shiana was there, because every one of the claimants was asking him to go security for him, whether he had given security for anyone else or not.

The claimants and the securities were called up before the military Captain. The owner of the colt was first. He saw the colt long before he was called, and he knew him well. Another man saw the colt too, and thought it was his own. When the claimant of the colt was called for, they both started up.

"He is mine," said one of them.

"He is not yours; he is mine," said the other.

The Captain looked at the securities. Nobody knew what ought to be done. Shiana spoke.

"Let the colt be taken out into the middle of the field," said he. "Let one of these two claimants go to one side of the field and the other to the other side. Then let the colt be turned loose, and let them both call him. I think the colt will come to the lawful claimant."

It was done. As soon as the colt got his head he ran to the man who had fed him.

Soon the horses were distributed, but even then there were still people who had not got their own horses. The searchers had not been able to find all the horses. The people who were at the loss of their property were sad and sorrowful, and everybody said it would be a hard case if they were left in the lurch the second day just as they had been the first day. Everyone was pitying them, and everyone was weighing the pros and cons as to how they ought to bring their case again before the King. Everybody felt sure that if the King knew the true state of the case he would do something for them.

Then it was that the Captain said that he himself had orders from the King that if any man's horse should not be there, the value of the horse was to be given to him. "But," said he, "how can we find out the value of the horse, when the horse is not there?"

Everyone paused. No one knew how the value of the horse could be made out when the horse was not there. There would be no sense in taking the judgment of the claimant as to the value of his own horse. Neither would there be any sense in giving good money, to the amount of the false money, to every claimant whose horse was not there to give him. What was to be done? The thing was becoming a puzzle to them all; the claimants demanding their own boldly, according as the King had ordered it to be given to them; the Captain in a fix, not knowing how much ought to be given to each claimant; and no one able to form any idea of the just value of the horses that had not been found.

Shiana spoke again.

"Let it be settled in this way," said he. "Let there be brought out here before us the best horse and the worst horse of those horses that have now been distributed. Let two judges estimate what each of these two horses is worth. Then let the large value and the small value be put together, and let the total be halved. By that settlement perhaps there will be one man who will get a little more than his right, and another who will get a little less than his right, but I don't think it is possible to make any other settlement that would come nearer to the right."

All the people shouted and clapped their hands.

"That's the talk! That's the talk!" said they. "That is a just decision!"

The Captain looked at Shiana.

"Why," said he, "it is not a shoemaker we have in you, but a judge!"

The matter was settled in that way, and everyone was satisfied.

Great as was the people's eagerness to get a sight of the King's men and of their weapons and uniforms, and of their martial order and pomp, still greater was the eagerness of the King's men to get a sight of Shiana, because while Cormac was in the city his mouth had never stopped talking of Shiana and making a wonder of him, and boasting that there was not another man like him in Ireland for depth of mind and sharpness of intellect, and for long-headedness, and for quickness of action when action was necessary.

At the first look they got at him, when he came into the field with the people who had brought him with them to give the security, they felt a kind of disappointment. "Ach!" said they, "if that is he!" He seemed to them to be nothing but a shoemaker, like any other shoemaker, and Cormac's talk to be nothing but boastful nonsense. But when they heard the settlement he made about the horses, they opened their eyes, and were immensely surprised to think that none of themselves had hit upon that way of arranging matters.

When it was all settled and every one was satisfied, and the King's people were thinking of returning home, the Captain came to Shiana and called him aside.

"I want to speak to you, Shiana," said he. "When I was leaving home the King commanded me to bring you down with me when I returned, because he had heard a great account of you, and he would wish to have a man of your character about him down there."

"Say to the King, sir," said Shiana, "that I regard worldly riches as nothing and I care not whether I live or die, in comparison with carrying out the will of my King; that my good qualities are nothing to speak of, and my knowledge is small, but that however little or great my best may be, I will do it in his service. Ask his Majesty to give me a little time to arrange such business matters as I have in hand here, and to wind up my affairs."

"How much time would you need," said the Captain.

"A year and a quarter, sir," said Shiana.

"Very good," said the Captain.

The reason why Shiana said "a year and a quarter," was because, at that time, all that was left unspent of the thirteen years was only a year and a quarter.

Sheila.—Ach, the poor fellow! What good was his life to him! And just think how quickly the time had gone!
Abbie.—Yes, though one would think, at the beginning of the time, that there was no knowing when it would be spent.
Nora.—And her mother said that Peg wouldn't be thirteen years old until May.
Kate.—When did she say that?
Nora.—Don't you remember that night that Sheila got into such a fright, and that we all ran away? I had not gone quite out, and I heard that. "And you only thirteen years in May next," said she.

Peg.—However long or short the years were, they were gone, all but a year and a quarter, and even that was going fast.

Kate.—I don't know how in the world he was able to sleep at night or to eat any food. I think if I were in his case it would kill me to be thinking of the day that was coming. I don't know in all the world how he was able to take it so quietly.

Peg.—There was hardly a week that he used not to walk over to the priest's house, and any day that he went over, he and the priest used to spend a good while together.

Abbie.—Surely he did not tell his secret to the priest?

Peg.—He had not told the secret the day he was talking to him about that match with Short Mary, and he did not tell it to him that day, but I don't know whether he told it to him afterwards or not.

Nora.—Why, he couldn't tell it to him.
Kate.—Listen to her! Surely nobody is bound to keep a secret from a priest.
Peg.—A person is not bound to keep a secret from a priest when he is making a confession to a priest, but he might be bound not to tell him the secret outside the confession.
Nora.—Oh, I understand. And when the priest had heard the secret in confession, the priest himself would be bound to keep the secret and not to let it out.
Peg.—He would, exactly; just as the priest is bound to keep the secret of the sins a person tells him.

But anyhow, Shiana used often to be over, talking with the priest, and they used to spend a good part of the day together. Shiana was often seen going to Communion, and the people used to be glad of that, especially as he had always had the reputation of being rather wanting in faith. First he used to be seen going to Communion twice in the year, at Easter and at Christmas; then once a quarter; and in the end he was seen going to Communion every first Sunday of the month.

He and the priest were on the fair-green talking together after the horses had been distributed. The military Captain came to them to say good-bye to the priest, and who should come up to them at the very same time, but Cormac.

"Well, Father," said Cormac, "now that all that business is done and everybody is satisfied, perhaps it would be no harm for us to see about doing another little bit of business. Don't go, Shiana," said he, "nor you, sir," to the Captain. "You both did that other business so well that I don't object to your being present at my own business now."

"But for Shiana we should have been in a bad way about the business a while ago," said the Captain. "All I have to do now is to bid farewell to your priest and to you all before I turn my face toward the 'City-far-away.' But whatever this other business is that you have to do, Cormac, if you would like me to make a little delay on account of it, I will make it, and welcome. I hope, Father," said he to the priest, "that you are satisfied with the day's work?"

"Very well satisfied, sir," said the priest. "Give my goodwill and regard most truly and heartily to his Majesty when you have speech with him, and say that I cannot tell his Majesty how grateful I am, and we all are, to him for what he has done for these poor people who had lost their property. Say to his Majesty that the people of this place will long remember that noble action, and that if an emergency ever arises in which help would be wanted from us—God forbid that it should come, but if it should—tell him that there is not a man in this district who will not cheerfully risk his life for his King."

"This gentleman knows, Father," said Cormac, "that I have often said that very thing to him since the day the King gave orders to have those horses searched for and given back to the poor people."

"Indeed you did, Cormac," said the Captain. "You said it so often that there is no fear of anybody forgetting it. But it won't do for us to forget your own business. What business is this that you have to do yourself, Cormac? I hope it won't put us in as tight a fix as we were in a while ago, until Shiana got us out of it."

"That is the thing, Cormac," said the priest. "What business is this that you have to do?"

"I was over at your house, Father, to speak to you about it, but you were gone before I got there. I was told that you had come here, and I followed your reverence."

"Very good," said the priest. "We are all here now. What do you want, Cormac?"

"This, Father," said Cormac; "I want to make a little alteration in my way of life."

"An alteration in your way of life?" said the priest, as if he were greatly astonished. "Surely, Cormac, you are not going to give up the office of bailiff?"

"Oh, indeed now, Father," said Cormac, "I am sure you know very well that I am not going to give up the office of bailiff, of course; but your reverence is always ready for a joke, and you are determined now to have a little bit of fun at me, since I seldom give your reverence the opportunity for it."

"Well, really and truly, Cormac," said the priest, laughing, "it is not altogether a subject for fun or joking. 'A little alteration' you call it. In my opinion it is a very big alteration. But be it little or big, one thing is certain: if it was as a help and assistance to her husband that the wife was intended, I do not think there will be a man to be found whose wife will be a greater help and assistance to him than Sive will be to you when you have married her."

"Oh, give me your holy hand, Father!" said Cormac. "In fun or in earnest you say well, and a good hand you are at telling the truth. And when will it be convenient for your reverence to come and tie the knot for us?"

"Whatever time will fit in best with your own convenience, Cormac," said the priest.