Shiana/Chapter 4

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CHAPTER IV.

THE FAIR.

Abbie.—Well, Sheila, where's Peg?
Sheila.—She went over to William Buckley's. The world wouldn't satisfy Kate without her going over to see young Edmund. We are bothered with her and young Edmund. If you were talking to her she couldn't say two words without having young Edmund here, there and everywhere. She would try to persuade you that he notices her and knows her from anybody else, already, when he is only a week old! The other night, before you came, she told Peg that she herself was his mother, and then that it was she that had baptised him, and in the end she said she was afraid that she would eat him!
Abbie.—Indeed, Sheila, I remember the word right well. I was just coming in at the door when I heard it, and I wondered very much who it was for whom she had so much affection. Do you think Peg will be long?
Sheila.—No, I think not. It is a good while since they went. She told me to mind the fire well, so that it should be burning finely for you and Nora Bawn.[1] And she told me to tell you all that she would not stay away any longer than she could help.
Abbie.—Well, here's Nora. I am before you, Nora.
Nora.—Oh, I don't care, Abbie, when the story is not going on. But where's Peg?
Abbie.—We won't get any of the story to-night, I am afraid. I'll have to tell you a story myself.
Nora.—You couldn't! Where is Peg, Sheila?
Peg.—She is here, Nora, my dear. (Peg and Kate come in.)
Nora (to Abbie).—Bad manners to you, you little hussy!—How is young Edmund, Kate?
Abbie.—I suppose she has eaten him by this time.
Kate.—Ochone! Soon nobody will be able to escape from this one, she is turning out so quickwitted!
Abbie.—Oh, you are quite right, Kate. I never thought what I was saying. Indeed, it's no wonder you should be fond of him since you are his mother. (They all burst out laughing.)
Kate.—Oh, for all sakes, Peg, go on with your story, and see if it will put a stop to these!
Abbie.—Do, Peg; and cut off my ear if there is a single sound from any one of us.
Peg.—Where's Sheila? I thought she was there just now.
Kate.—Here she is behind me, with her head under my cloak, like a chicken getting under a hen.
Peg.—Why, Sheila, pet, what ails you now?
Sheila.—Ach, nothing at all, Peg; but I must cover up my head for a while for fear the man with the horns should give another roar, and that I should see him again.
Peg.—No fear of you.

When Shiana came to himself and looked about him, the man with the horns was gone.

Sheila.—May he go and never come again, the scoundrel!

Peg.—I dare say Shiana was very much inclined to say the same thing to him, when he came to himself and found himself alone. There was a death-like sweat upon him, and terror in his eyes, but all the same, whatever he said, the first thing he did was to put his hand into his pocket to see if he had the purse, and upon my word he had. It was there, in the same pocket that he had put it in, and it was fine and plump, and fine and heavy.

He put his hand into another of his pockets, and there he found the two hundred pounds that had been given to him in exchange for the two shillings.

"If I had only let him go on that time," said he to himself, "I should have three hundred; but that makes no difference, for I heard him say that the purse would be always full, in spite of what was taken out of it."

He put the money back in his pocket, and put up the purse neatly and carefully in the inside-pocket of his waistcoat. Then he stood up and shook himself, and I promise you that the remembrance of the fright was soon gone from him.

"Well," said he, "I must buy a horse, and not be killing myself going to Mass on foot every Sunday and holy day. And I must buy a cow and not be depending on one of those little apples to take away my thirst. And indeed I suppose I shall have to marry, for how could I milk the cow myself? But whatever I may do, I must eat something now. I haven't been so hungry for a year!"

He looked up at the malvogue and at the chair, and upon my word he felt a sort of fear about going near them. He looked carefully at the ground all round the chair, and when he did, there he saw quite plainly the mark of the thumb. He thought that even still there was a burnt smell from it. He put the tip of his finger on the chair. No sooner did he do so than the chair moved at his touch quite freely. That encouraged him, and he sat down in it. He moved it back and forward; it moved with him quite well. His mind was satisfied. He put his hand into the malvogue and began to eat his little bit of meal as usual. As soon as he felt thirsty he went out and brought in a couple of the apples and ate them.

Next morning he started early for the fair to buy a horse and a milch cow.

It was not long till the neighbours met him.

"Hullo, Shiana," said one of them, "what happened to you yesterday evening? We all thought that a thunder-bolt had fallen on your house and that you had been burnt alive. I never heard such thunder."

"You are wrong," said another. "It wasn't thunder, but a roar like the bellow of a bull."

"Whisht," said a third man. "Where's the bull that could give such a bellow as that?"

"I was sitting," said a fourth, "on the top of the Ivy Rock, and I could see the house, and when I heard all the noise I looked over, and I saw what looked like an eagle and a pitch-black flight of crows rising up into the sky, and I was surprised to think that they should have been able to make such a noise as that."

So they went on, talking and arguing and discussing, and Shiana did not speak a word. They kept all the conversation to themselves, and he did not grudge it to them. He had no wish to talk, for fear that some word might slip from him that would disclose his mind. Beside all that, he had matter for thought that kept him occupied. He was thinking of the horse and of the cow and of what all the neighbours would say when they saw him on horseback. They would ask where he got the money. What excuse would he have to give?

When they reached the fair-green, and Shiana saw all the horses, he was bewildered, and did not know what it would be best for him to do. There were big horses there, and little horses, old horses and young horses, black horses and white horses, grey horses and speckled horses, horses neighing and horses leaping, horses that had fine skins and were well-built and powerful, and ugly little shaggy colts. Among them all he utterly failed to fix his mind upon the one that he would like.

At last he laid his eye upon a fine jet-black horse, well-knit and full of braced-up energy, that was cantering about the field with a light lissom rider on his back. Shiana moved up and beckoned to the rider. Before the rider had time to notice him, three other horsemen passed him, and they all four went off down the field at full gallop. There was a double fence between them and the field outside, and they all four went freely, lightly, with well-directed speed, over the fence, without letting forefoot or hind-foot touch it. Then on they went right ahead in a straight line without any one of them having an inch of advantage over another. On they went, the breast and the slender body of each horse all but touching the green grass of the field, the head of each horse stretched out to full length, the head of each rider bent down, and all rushing along as a "fairy wind" would rush.

There was not a person, young or old, in the whole fair, that was not standing bolt upright to watch them, except the thimble-rigger.

When they were making for the second fence, every one noticed that the black horse was a little bit in front. When they were clearing the fence the black horse and the horse next to him swept over it like crows, without touching it. The other two touched it with their hoofs. The ground went from under the feet of the furthest horse, and he and his rider fell on the other side of the fence.

"Oh!! He is killed!" all the people shouted. The shout was not out of their mouth when he was mounted again, but his horse was lame, and he had to return.

On went the three, the whole fair watching them, the people so mute that Shiana heard distinctly the rapping, resounding, measured, sharp beats of the horses' feet as they struck the sod of the field, just as a dancer would in dancing upon boards.

Shiana noticed by this time that the black horse was well to the front, making straight for a post that was set up in the field, with a red flag of some sort at the top of it. Round that post he swept. Round went the second horse after him. Round went the third horse after him. On they went after each other, to his left, to the north-east, the black horse in front and getting away from them. The last horse quickened his pace and began to gain upon the second horse. The second quickened, and they both were gaining on the black horse. Then Shiana and all the fair saw a sight. The black horse stretched himself, the rider gave him his head, and out he went like a greyhound, so that you would think his feet didn't touch the ground, but that he was sailing along near the ground like a hawk.

At that moment there rose a wild shout from the place to the north-east for which the horses were making. The shout was taken up all round the fair, Shiana had to put his fingers in his ears, or his head would have been split. Everybody was running and everybody was shouting. Shiana ran and shouted with them, and he did not know why.

When the running and the shouting ceased, Shiana saw opposite him six or seven gentlemen, with fleshy heads and big stomachs, and dressed in suits ol broadcloth, talking together and looking at the black horse.

"How much would you sell him for?" said one of them to the rider.

"For a thousand pounds," said the rider.

When Shiana heard that, he turned on his heel, saying in his own mind, "I would have no business with him. He'd kill me."

Who should be behind him but the thimble-rigger.

"He would kill you, would he?" said the thimble-rigger. "Why, confound you, you little yellow shoemaker with the malvogue, of the race of the brown leather patches and thick awls and smelly shoes, if you haven't presumption, to be coming here to buy a horse, and without a penny in your pocket!"

When Shiana heard that, he turned away. He slipped his hand down into his pocket. On my word it was empty! He searched another pocket—empty also! He put his hand into his bosom, to look for the purse. There was no sign of it there. He gave a side-look at the thimble-man. The man was minding his own business and taking no more notice of Shiana than if he had never seen him.

"Well," said Shiana to himself, "there's the end of the showing off! It's easier since the curse has been taken off the malvogue and the chair and the tree. I suppose it can't have been put on again. At all events, I have nothing to do now but to go and see if I can buy some leather, and go and stick to the business I know best. If they are strong-smelling shoes, the people who wear them don't find any fault with them. It's a bad thing for a man not to be satisfied with what he has, little though it be. If I had my three shillings now, they would do my business as well as all the hundreds. But it's all right. It is no use talking about the thing. I'll go to Grey Dermot, and perhaps he might give me some leather on credit till the money for the shoes comes in. He has given me credit before, and I paid him fully and honestly."

By the time he had thought that, he was making straight for Dermot's door. Dermot himself was standing between the doorposts.

"Oh, Shiana, is that you?" said Dermot.

"'Tis, indeed," said Shiana. "Are you well, Dermot?"

"We have our health, thanks be to God for it! But what was this that happened to you lately? You are in everybody's mouth, and no two stories or two accounts about you are alike. One person says that you saw a ghost. Another says your house fell upon you. Another says a flash of lightning killed you. A fourth says that you have found some money that was going astray. And so on with all of them, each having his own conclusion about you. What did you do? Or what have you on hand? Or what is the cause of all this fuss?"

"I don't know in the world, Dermot. But I think there is one thing plain enough, and that is that I haven't found any money going astray. I suppose that if I had I wouldn't be coming here now in the hope of getting some leather on credit as I did before."

"Oh, indeed you shall, and welcome. How much do you want?"

"If I had as much as would make shoes for two it would be enough for me this time, and when those were sold and I had the money, I would pay you and take some more."

"You may as well take the more with you now at one carrying. Take a pound's worth."

  1. bán, white; fairhaired.