Shiana/Chapter 6

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CHAPTER VI.

RUMOURS.

Abbie.—That was a nice humming I But I wonder why he called her a "bristly hag." I suppose she must have had a thin beard, as the old "badger-woman" has.
Kate.—Who said the old "badger-woman" had a beard?
Abbie.—Oh, indeed, Kate, she has. I have been near her, and I looked well at her chin, and it's full of great thick long hairs, and they are grey, just like bristles. When she saw me noticing them, she laughed and she rubbed them against my forehead, so that I couldn't help screaming with the tickling.
Kate.—It is a pity she didn't put them in your eyes. Maybe that would keep you from looking at people so rudely.
Abbie.—Why then indeed, upon my word and credit, Kate, she did put them into my eyes! And it was that that set me screaming, and not the tickling. There was one of them that was as big and as long as a thick needle, and it went into my eye, and I promise you I didn't forget it for a while. But I don't know if it will cure me of the rudeness.
Kate.—Hush, Abbie, I was joking. There's no rudeness about you, and there never was. But you have what I have not,—you have patience. Perhaps if I had been there, I would not have been able to keep from giving a look at the bristles. But listen, Peg; I don't know in the world what was the grudge that thimble-man had against Shiana that he should give him such an out-facing in the middle of the fair, without cause or reason.

Peg.—That was exactly what was puzzling Shiana. He didn't know why anybody should do such a thing. He was often afterwards at the same fair selling shoes, and many a long while he spent watching thimble-men, hoping that he might get a good look at the man who had spoken to him that day, but he didn't. Most likely, if he had, the man's insolence would not have gone unpunished.

Kate.—It is a great pity that it was let go unpunished at first.

Peg.—The thing came too suddenly on Shiana. He hadn't time to think of what he ought to do, especially when he looked at the thimble-man and he was minding his own business, without taking any notice of Shiana's affairs. After a little time, in fact, he did not feel quite sure that it was that man who had spoken at all.

Kate.—Why then indeed, upon my word and credit, that is just what I was thinking myself too, that perhaps it wasn't he.

Peg.—Well, and wouldn't it have been nice work for Shiana to have done, if he had struck the man without having anything against him?

Kate.—Indeed, that's true.

Peg.—A long time afterwards, when Shiana used to be looking for the man, he had determined that if he saw him he would first go and speak to him, and then, when he had discovered from the talk whether he was the man who had spoken in that way or not, he could either strike him or not strike him.

Nora.—And surely, Peg, it wouldn't be right for him to strike him, whether he had spoken the words or not?

Peg.—Really, Nora, I am not saying that it would; but I am saying that he had determined to do it, whether it was right or not. But it was all the same, for he failed to get a single glimpse of him, at home or abroad. He never got tale or tidings of him, high or low, and at last the whole business went out of his head.

When he had finished the two pair of shoes, although he had not used up the pound's worth of leather, he went and took home two pounds' worth, and then four pounds' worth. Then he engaged two other shoemakers at daily wages, and after a while two others. In a very short time he had acquired a great name in the country for the goodness and cheapness of his shoes, and it was to him that all the best workmen used to come, because he used to feed them best and pay them best. And it was to him that the richest and highest people used to come to buy shoes, because it was his shoes that were of the best material and of the neatest make. It was to him the poor used to come, who had not the money handy for the shoes, because he used to give them fine long credit, and when the time came for payment and the debts were not paid, he was not hard about claiming them. Shoemakers who had not money to buy leather used often to come to him and ask him to lend them a little money so that they could be working and earning something instead of being quite idle. There was no fear of his ever refusing any one of them, and there was many a poor shoemaker with a large family, who would have often been without food for his children or a pig at his door, but for Shiana.

When he was going to Mass on a Sunday or holy day, or when he was going to a fair or market to sell shoes, there was many a man that would come to him on the road and call him aside, saying, "Will you excuse me, Shiana—I would have those two pounds for you, but that I failed to sell the pig." Or, "Indeed, Shiana, I am ashamed to come to talk to you, when I haven't a halfpenny of your money yet for you; but my son was taken ill, and he was twenty-one days in bed before the crisis came, and I had to keep two nurses taking care of him all that time."

It was so with them all, each making his own poor mouth, and Shiana had no answer for them but "Never mind," or "It doesn't matter a pin," or "Take your time"—and I promise you that they did take it.

There was just one man to whom Shiana gave a refusal. And indeed the way he came was in a suit of broadcloth, and he was broad and strong and healthy, and fine and rosy and fat, and his hands were beautifully soft and white and supple, without a sign of work or craft upon them. And here is how he spoke:

"Indeed, Shiana," said he, "I feel annoyed and humiliated that such a thing should overtake me alive as that I should have to come to you to ask a loan of money. But a hundred pounds would be a great convenience to me now, and from what I hear, it will be no great trouble to you to give it to me. It is not every day that a man like me will come to ask it of you."

"I am sorry that I have not a hundred pounds handy now to give you," said Shiana.

The gentleman stopped and looked at Shiana. He had never expected that answer. He looked at Shiana as he would look at some extraordinary animal. Shiana looked him steadily in the eyes. People used to say that Shiana had a very wild look when anything made him angry, and there was hardly anyone who would not cower before it. That gentleman cowered before it. He looked down at the ground, and then he looked out at the door, and after a while he looked again at Shiana, and there was Shiana laughing at him.

"Oh," said he, "fifty pounds would do."

"I am sorry," said Shiana, "that I have not fifty pounds handy to give you."

That took the pride out of him altogether.

"Give me ten pounds," said he.

"I will not," said Shiana.

"You wouldn't refuse me one pound," said he.

"You won't get it," said Shiana.

"Look here, Shiana," said he, "the dear knows I have not eaten food or taken a drink since yesterday morning. It would be a great charity for you to give me something to eat."

That look came into Shiana's eyes. He pointed his finger toward the door.

"Take the road," he said, "you idle vagabond!"

He almost sprang out at the door.

Sheila.—And whisper, Peg. I wonder what put that evil look in Shiana's eyes. He wasn't like that always.
Peg.—That is exactly what was surprising all the neighbours, Sheila. They noticed Shiana altering very much in his disposition and mind. He seldom used to speak except when he was spoken to, and he hardly ever laughed. He dropped his humming altogether. People could not remember when they had heard the " bristly hag " dispraised. When he used to be working with the men, there was nothing to be heard from him from morning till night but his long heavy breathing, the tapping of the little hammer, and the drawing and tightening of the waxed thread. The men thought it was greed for money that moved him, seeing that he used to work so hard. But then they would wonder that he used to part with it so easily, lending it to people who had no chance of ever paying it back, and giving it to them without security or bond. When he used not to speak, neither did they speak, and there was nothing to be heard from them but the long heavy breathing and the tapping of the little hammers and the drawing and the tightening of the waxed thread. You would think if you saw them that they were working for a wager. When people used to pass by the house they used to stop and listen to the sounds of the work. And then, when they went on their way they used to say to each other, "It's little wonder Shiana has money! We never saw workmen working so hard. He feeds them well and he pays them well, but indeed he gets the work out of them, if ever anybody did!"

But both the workmen and the neighbours failed completely to reconcile the two sides of the story, or to answer the question: What caused Shiana to work so hard to make money, and then to part with it so readily?

Matters went on in that way for three years. Then, by whatever means the report got abroad, it was spread throughout the district that Shiana was going to be married. It was understood that the match was made and that the day was fixed. All the beggars and tramps in the country-side were preparing for it. There was just one thing about the business that was rather strange. No two people were agreed as to who was to be the bride. The townspeople had settled that it was Grey Dermot's daughter. Dermot himself heard this report repeated so often that he believed every word of it, and I promise you he was well satisfied in his mind. He knew Shiana was rich and that he did not care at all for money, and so he thought, of course, that there would be no talk of a fortune. There was only one thing troubling him. The public had fixed a day for the marriage. That day was only a week off, but Shiana had never yet come to have any talk with him.

"I suppose," said Dermot to himself, "that he would come, if it were not that he does not mean to ask for any fortune with Sive. Very good. She is a fine handsome woman. A quiet sensible girl—if nothing happens to make her angry. 'A wife is better than a fortune.' Whoever was the first to say that had great wisdom! All the world can't beat a proverb."

Two days more passed and there was neither tale nor tidings of Shiana. Dermot was very much surprised. His daughter Sive was twice as much surprised.

"Go up," said she to her father, "and speak to that man, as he is so wanting in understanding as not to come himself to speak to you—or to me."

Dermot marched up. When he was getting near Shiana's house he heard the work going on as hard as if all the world were in want of shoes and there was nobody to make them but Shiana and his men.

He walked in to where they were.

"God save all here!" said he.

"God and Mary to you!" said Shiana.

"Well now indeed, Dermot," said one of the men, "it is high time for you. There are pains in my eyes from looking sideways down that pathway for the past week, thinking from time to time that I would see you coming."

"That's a funny thing," said Dermot, "when I have pains in my eyes and in my shoulder from standing in the doorway with my shoulder to the doorpost, so that a crow couldn't come down over the rise in the road unknown to me, and every man that came into my sight I was quite sure it must be Shiana, until he came close to me."

"I!" said Shiana.

"You, to be sure!" said Dermot. "Isn't it in the mouth of the three congregations that you and my Sive are to be married next Tuesday? And don't you think it's right for me to expect that there should be some little talk between us before Tuesday comes?"

"You are mistaken, Dermot," said one of the men.

"It is not to your Sive he is to be married, but to 'Short Mary,' John Kittach's[1] daughter, to the west; and by the same token, John has gone off to Cork to get a supply of provisions and drinks for the wedding. And I fancy his relatives have been invited for Tuesday."

"You are mistaken, Michael," said another man. "It is not to Short Mary he is to be married, but to the Maid of the Liss here below. There are tailors and dressmakers at work there these three days, and as I was coming up this morning I saw the beggars gathering there already."

"Did anyone ever see the like of you all?" said a fourth man. "Were you at Mass on Sunday, Michael? If you were, it would be hard for you not to hear what was in everybody's mouth—that is, that Shiana was to be married on Tuesday next to Nora of the Causeway. And it was there the beggars were going, and not to the Liss. I'll bet that Shiana himself will say that I am right."

Shiana looked from one to another of them. The ugly look and the hostile stare were in his eyes. He was angry, but he crushed the anger down.

"Go away home, Dermot," said he, "and have sense. I have no notion of marrying, and I don't think I shall have, yet awhile."

He bent his head and went on with his work. Not another word was spoken. Dermot slipped out, feeling thoroughly disgusted with himself.

He arrived home.

"Well?" said Sive.

"Well, indeed!" said Dermot.

"What's the news?" said Sive.

"Queer news," said Dermot. "The whole country, for seven years from now, will be doing nothing but making fun of the two of us, of you and of me."

"Why, how is that?" said Sive.

"Because we have deserved it," said Dermot. And she failed to get any more talk out of him.

  1. ceataċ, left-handed.