Shiana/Chapter 3

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CHAPTER III.

THE BLACK MAN DISAPPEARS.

Peg.—Welcome, Kate!
Kate.—Long life to you, Peg! I fancy I am the first to-night.
Peg.—Indeed you are; you are first of them all, except little Sheila.
Kate.—How could I be before Sheila, who is always here with you?
Sheila.—She will be before everybody now since her sister has a little son.
Peg.—Hush, you little hussy. How is Nell, Kate?
Kate.—She is very well, Peg, and the baby is well, too. And, oh! indeed and indeed, Peg, he is the nicest and prettiest and fairest baby you ever set eyes upon, and I am his mother.
Peg.—You! I thought Nell was his mother.
Kate.—Ah, what nonsense I am talking! Of course, so she is. But it was I that baptized him.
Peg.—What? Kate, my dear, what was the need for that when he wasn't going to die? Wasn't the priest there?
Kate.—Ach, what is that I am saying? Why, of course, it was the priest that baptized him, and it was I that stood for him for the baptism, myself and James. But what put it into your head that he should be going to die, Peg? There are no signs of dying about him, God bless him!—never you fear.
Peg.—Why, you said first that you were his mother, and then that it was you that had baptized him; and the Catechism says that nobody but the priest could baptize him, unless he were dying and that there was no priest there.
Sheila.—I think the way it is with Kate just now is that her foot doesn't know what her hand is going to do.
Kate.—I declare, Sheila, you are right! My foot doesn't know what my hand will do, and I myself don't know what my foot or my hand will do! If you saw him, Sheila, you would be very fond of him. I am so fond of him myself that I think I shall eat him!
Abbie (coming in).—Why, Kate, what is that you are saying? I shouldn't like you to be very fond of me, if that is what you would do to me!
Peg.—Welcome, Abbie! Have you seen Nora coming?
Abbie.—She is just coming to the door. She was beckoning to me to wait for her, but I was afraid that I would lose some of that story of Shiana.
Nora (coming in).—You see now, Abbie, it wasn't worth your while not to wait for me.
Peg.—Welcome, Nora! You haven't done badly; you are not far behind her. Now, girls, move up here near the fire. The evening is a little bit chilly. There! Now I think we are pretty snug.
Abbie.—See how well Sheila settles herself near Kate without being afraid that she will be pinched!
Sheila.—Whisper, Kate! What is his name?
Kate.—It is Edmund.
Peg.—And his father is Edmund. This is young Edmund—Edmund ōg[1] O'Flynn. It is a fine name, Kate. I congratulate you.
Nora.—And I congratulate Shiana, Peg, because he got the purse, with leave to draw out of it. But how did he part with the vagabond? Or did he part with him at all?
Sheila.—I'm afraid he didn't part well with him.

Peg.—He didn't part with him until they reached Shiana's house. They had hardly turned their faces homeward when Shiana saw the child again with the loaf under his arm, and he was in the same childish form as when he saw him first. He looked very gratefully at Shiana, and then fled out of his sight.

Not long after that, Shiana saw the barefooted woman, and she also looked at him very thankfully, and she opened her right hand so that he saw the shilling there in the middle of her palm, and then she fled from his sight just as the child had done.

After another while Shiana saw, walking on the road out before him, the poor man to whom he had given the first shilling. The poor man's back was turned to him, but even so he knew him quite well.

"I wonder," said Shiana to himself, "if he has kept the shilling I gave him, as the woman kept hers, and as the child kept the loaf."

No sooner had he thought that, than the poor man turned on his heel and faced them. There were two large tears falling from his eyes. He stretched out his two hands, wide open, so that Shiana could see his two palms, and they were both empty. When Shiana saw that, he gave a side look at the Black Man, but though he did, he took no notice of it. He did not pretend to have seen the poor man. When Shiana looked back again, the poor man was gone.

They went on. Neither of them spoke a word. One of the neighbours met them, and saluted Shiana.

"God and Mary with you, Shiana," said he.

"How early in the day you have come home from the town, and you alone too!"

"I hadn't much to do," said he, and he gave another side-look at the Black Man. The Black Man took no notice of him, and then Shiana understood that the neighbour had not seen him.

They went into the house. The chair was there near the fireplace, and it had not stirred since Shiana had left it in the morning. The malvogue was hanging there, just as he had seen it in the morning when he had taken the last handful of meal out of it. The Black Man looked at the chair and at the malvogue. Then he looked at Shiana.

"Move that," said he.

Shiana went over and put his hand on the back of the chair.

"Oh!" said he. "It has stuck!"

He put both hands on it. He failed to make it bend or turn.

"Good gracious!" said he. "It is as firm as the handle in a mallet!"

"Move the malvogue" said the Black Man. He went up and put his hand on the malvogue. It was stuck as tightly to the side of the wall as a stone would stick to the ice.

Shiana paused and bent his head.

"Well," said he, "I am done for now, if I never was before. I don't know in the world nor in all creation what I am to do! I don't know from the five heights of Heaven what I shall do! No matter what care I take about it, somebody will come, and in spite of my utmost efforts to prevent him, he'll sit in it, and the whole countryside will be in red war round me! I shall be killed on my own hearthstone without pity or remorse!—Perhaps, sir, that you would be able to take the curse off them?"

"'Perhaps I would be able to take the curse off them,' after he himself had put it upon them with all his heart," said the Black Man, bitterly. "'Wouldn't he make fun of them!'—Where is the fun now?"

"The fun is in a bad way, I admit," said Shiana, "but even if it is, it is not right for you to throw it in my face. I suppose you never made a bad blunder yourself. Who is that lady that ruined you?"

"Stop! Stop, Shiana! Let us drop it, blunder as it is. I will take the curse off these things for you, on condition that you will never speak to anyone, living or dead, about the bargain that you and I have made with one another."

"Have your condition and welcome," said Shiana.

"I assure you that I have no desire to speak of it to anyone. The fact is, I was afraid that you would be chattering about it to somebody. But if you wish us both to keep it secret, I am quite satisfied."

The Black Man went up and bent down near the chair, and with the thumb of his right hand he made a ring on the ground round about it, and Shiana noticed that out of the place where his thumb was drawn along the ground there arose a vapour like the vapour of fire, and that the thumb made a mark upon the ground such as a bar of red-hot iron would make.

Then Shiana looked out at the apple-tree, in dread lest perhaps he might see a boy stuck high up in it. He went out, and the Black Man went with him. Shiana did not see any person in the tree, but he saw what appeared to be a bird on the topmost branch. The bird was shaking its wings as if it were trying to rise from the tree and were not able. They came near to the tree. Shiana looked at the Black Map. The Black Man was looking up at the bird.

"He is stuck in the tree, sir," said Shiana.

The Black Man did not speak. He went over to the tree, and he bent down and put the thumb of his right hand on the ground at the foot of the tree. Then he drew the thumb along the ground round about the tree. Shiana saw a smoky vapour coming out of the ground in the part where the thumb touched it. A red ring remained on the grass at the foot of the tree after the thumb, just as it would if a red-hot iron had been drawn along it. The Black Man stood up when he had done that. Shiana looked up at the top of the tree. The bird was gone. Shiana was surprised that he had not heard it going. He heard no sound of wings, but the bird was gone.

Then they went in again. The Black Man went up to the malvogue and made a ring round it on the wall, and the same vapour came out of the wall, and the same trace remained afterwards upon it. While he was stooping Shiana looked sharply at the tail, as he had the opportunity. He saw, out at the very tip of it, a great long, crooked, thick claw, with a dangerous-looking point upon it, and it kept swaying from side to side continually, as a cat's tail does when he is watching for a mouse.

"By the deer, my lad," said Shiana, in his own mind, "if you get an itching, you will have no lack of nails!"

Just as if Shiana had spoken aloud, the Black Man raised his head and looked at him.

"Beware of that nail," said he, "for fear that it might take the itch off you and give you pain instead of the itch. Go up now and move the chair."

Shiana went up, and he was trembling very much. He put his hand gently on the chair, and when he did, it moved to his touch as easily as ever. He put his hand on the malvogue, and no sooner did he touch it than it moved back and forward along the wall. He looked at the Black Man.

"Oh, sir," he said, "I am very thankful to you! Oh, oh, oh! may God prosper you greatly, and His Blessed Mother!"

Oh, my dear people! As soon as that word came oat of Shiana's mouth the Black Man changed. He raised up his two hands as high as his horns. A blue flame came out of his eyes. The hoof danced; the tail rose; the claw spread out; and he gave a roar like the roar of a mad lion. The roar began with a growl, and it swelled and strengthened until the floor shook, and the house shook, and the mountain shook all round the place. When Shiana saw the change, and when he heard the sound and the power of that roar, swelling and rising, the house whirled about him, a cloud came before his eyes, and he fell like a dead lump on the floor, unconscious and speechless.

Sheila.—Oh, Peg! I see him, I see him! oh! oh! oh!
Peg.—Hush, hush, Sheila dear! What do you see?
Sheila.—Oh, the man with the horns! The man with the horns! What shall I do? What shall I do? Oh!
Kate.—The neighbours will hear her. Hush, Sheila, my darling.
Abbie.—Your mother is coming up the field, Peg.
Peg.—Come over, Sheila, and sit here on my lap.
Sheila.—Oh! oh! What shall I do? What shall I do? Oh! oh!
Mary (mother of Peg and Sheila).—What's this you are going on with here? What made you cry, Sheila, my lamb?
Sheila.—Oh, I don't know, mother. It is just that I got frightened, and I thought I saw the man with the horns.
Mary.—The man with the horns! Why, who is he?
Sheila.—The man with the tail, I meant to say.
Mary.—The man with the tail?
Sheila.—The man with the tail that had a claw in it.
Mary.—Well, indeed now, Peg, 'tis a great shame for you. You have spoilt all the youngsters of the place. I don't know in the world how you have gathered together all the raimaishes[2] that you have in your head, or how you can keep account of them, you that are only thirteen up to May next. What is the story that is going on now, Sheila?
Sheila.—It's "Shiana," mother, but I think he's dead.
Mary.—I'll engage he's not, and that he won't be, till I don't know when.
Sheila.—Well then indeed he got a terrible fright. If I were in his place I'd be as dead as Art.[3]
Mary.—I thought there were five or six of you here. Where are the others?
Peg.—I think, mother, that they ran away from you.
Mary.—They need not have done that. Get up, Peg, my dear, and get us something to eat. Indeed, it is a great wonder you should have given this child such a fright. Listen to that sigh coming from her. I fancy she is asleep.
Sheila.—Ach, no, mother, I am not. I am not a bit sleepy. It doesn't matter a pin. Nobody gave me a fright. I did it myself. If I had not kept thinking of him so hard as I did, I wouldn't have seen him. I won't think of him any more, the thief! I don't know in the world, Peg, what made him give such a roar as that?
Peg.—Your supper is ready now, mother. Come here to me, Sheila, and let your mother eat her supper. There!
  1. óg, young.
  2. ráiméis, nonsense; silly tales.
  3. Art mac Cuinn, one of the ancient Kings of Ireland.