Shiana/Chapter 7

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CHAPTER VII.

"SHORT MARY."

When the men went home, each to his own lodging, I promise you there was a great tale to tell in every house. The neighbours came in to spend the evening. Each shoemaker gave his own version of Dermot's visit and of Shiana's answer. Each neighbour carried home with him his own way of repeating the story. There never was such fun over anything, before or since, about the place. By the time Sunday came there was not a person, old or young, in the three congregations that had not the whole story, and three times as much more added to it. You would see the people on the roads, in threes, or fours, or tens, telling the story or asking about it, and staggering on their feet with fun and laughter. Dermot was right. The whole country was making game of the pair.

Short Mary and Nora of the Causeway and the Maid of the Liss were all very thankful and well pleased in their minds at their having escaped so well. They would not have escaped but for Dermot's visit being so absurd as it was, and Dermot himself having the reputation of being so very sharp-witted.

When people had had enough of the fun about Dermot and Sive, they had another thing to discuss. All the men had heard Shiana say that he had no notion of marrying, and would not have, yet awhile. Not one of them made a change of a word in that part of the story. Short Mary heard it. Nora of the Causeway heard it. The Maid of the Liss heard it. Everybody heard it, and there was not one of those who heard it that did not remember it correctly. That was the question among them. That was the difficulty. What made Shiana say that he had no notion of marrying, and would not have for a while?

There would not be a batch of men working in a field, nor a few people walking on the road, nor a little gathering going to a neighbour's house in the evening, nor a company going to have a drink, but that the first question that would start up among them would be, "Man, did you hear what Grey Dermot did? Oh, upon my word and credit, he walked straight up to Shiana' s house, and he wanted, right or wrong, to bring Shiana down with him by the poll of his head and marry him there and then, to Sive, in spite of his back teeth! Did anyone ever see the like?"

Then, by-and-bye, somebody else would say, "And what did Shiana say?" He would get as an answer, "Shiana told him to go home and have sense, that he had no notion of marrying, and that he wouldn't have, yet awhile."

Then the question would arise, "What made Shiana say such a thing, while matches were being made for him all over the country as thick as gravel? "

When Shiana himself said the words, he let out more of his mind than he wished to let out, but he was angry, and Dermot had done the thing in such a blundering way that he could not keep patience with him. When they were all gone home for the night, and he was alone, sitting in the soogaun chair, the whole affair was running through his mind in this way:—

"In the mouth of the three congregations! It wasn't I that put it into the mouth of the three congregations. The old fool! He will be in the mouth of the three congregations now—himself and Sive. Humph!—I am sorry there should have been any mention of Short Mary's name. But how can I help it? Now I think of it, I wonder why she is called Short Mary, when she is as tall as any woman coming to the congregation. It is no wonder she should be. John Kittach himself is a fine big powerful man. He has the name of being the strongest man of his race, and the MacCarthys are strong men. She is a handsome woman! It is no mistake to call her a quiet, sensible girl. Three years ago there was no fear of her name being mentioned together with mine.

"It would be a queer thing for me to do, to marry, when I have only ten years now. They were not long going, those three years. There won't be much delay in three years more to follow them. There's half the time gone then. 'Won't it be soon enough for you to ask that question,' said he, 'when we are starting?' What good would it be for me to ask it then? He made me swear by the virtue of the Holy Things. I suppose there is no escape for me. Things are in a queer way for me. I working and making money as thick as gravel, and what am I getting by it? To many a poor man have I given help. Their gratitude is great—on their lips. I don't know if there is much of it in their hearts. I wonder if they are any the better of what I have given them. There are some of them of whom I think that it would have been better for them if they had never seen a halfpenny of it. There are some of them who, if the time were past and I were gone, would not grieve for me long. They would think then that it was certain that they need never pay. That is their gratitude.

"Whoever gets her will have a good wife. I often heard that a wife was better than a fortune There is both wife and fortune there.—It would be a queer thing for me to do, to marry, having only ten years now. She would be in a nice way then—and her children, if she had any. Bad manners to it for money and for a purse and for a bargain! I had an easy mind until they came my way."

That is the way he spent the night. He went out at daybreak, and up the hill. He sat for a while on the top of a big rock called the Gamblers' Rock. When the day cleared and the sun rose, and he looked round him at the beautiful view to be seen from the rock, the gloom rose from his heart and a great peace came upon his mind.

Abbie.—Why indeed, Peg, I would feel inclined to say to him what "Kate Music" said to her husband, when she took the mouse out of the basin of milk for him.
Nora.—What did she say to him, Abbie?
Abbie.—Well, he had a batch of workmen, and they were sitting down to dinner, and there was a big table of potatoes before them, and there was a basin of thick milk in front of each man. The man of the house took his own basin, and the first mouthful he took out of it he laid bare a mouse in it. He beckoned to Kate, and showed her the mouse. That did not put her about in the least. She took the basin in her left hand, and went over to the door. She put her right hand into the basin and lifted the mouse out of it and flung it out at the door; and then she put the same basin, with the same milk in it, down before her husband. When he saw what she had done, he got up from the table in a rage and went out. As he was going out, she said, "Well, indeed, it is hard to please people! Milk with a mouse in it won't do, nor milk with a mouse out of it!"
Kate.—My hand to you, Kate Music! You never failed to make a blunder! What did her husband say, Abbie?
Abbie.—Why, what could the man say? That was just the way with Shiana. When he had no money he was not satisfied, and then when he had the purse, and leave to draw out of it, he was not satisfied either. He was as hard to please as Kate Music's husband.
Kate.—Why, see now, Abbie, you don't rightly understand the thing. When Shiana was getting the purse he didn't give himself time to consider the condition. Then when the bargain was made, and confirmed by the virtue of the Holy Things, he had leisure enough for reflection. The time was going at a gallop, and he had never got an answer to that question of his "Where shall we go then?" How cunningly the Black Man said to him: "Won't it be time enough for you to ask that question when we are starting?" He didn't understand it in time.
Abbie.—Indeed then, Kate, I am afraid that he understood it right well from the beginning, but he was so anxious for the purse that he didn't care. And I think the Black Man knew that he understood it when he said to him, "You are sharp-witted." It's my opinion that the pair understood each other right well.
Kate.—'It is after it is done that every act is understood,' Abbie. All the world can't beat a proverb.
Nora.—Whatever way he understood the thing when he was getting the purse, I suppose he understood it better when the whole country was marrying him without his knowledge to four different women, while he himself knew that there were only ten years between him and the fulfilment of the bargain he had made with the Black Man. If he had only looked before him when the angel gave him the warning! If I had been in his place, the three wishes I would have asked for would have been, plenty of money in this world, a long life in happiness, and the eternal life after it. Then he could have married Short Mary, or the Maid of the Liss—or even—Sive if he liked, independently of the Black Man and his tricks.
Sheila.—How do you know, Nora, that he wouldn't have chosen Nora of the Causeway?
Nora.—I think that "Sheila" was the name of the Maid of the Liss, and that she was the one he liked best.
Peg.—Whichever of them he liked best, Nora, I think he was sorry enough that he did not do as you would have done.
Nora.—He acted in a most absurd and blundering way. It wouldn't be easy for him to ask three wishes more useless than the three that he asked for. I don't know in the world what came over him. He was to have three wishes at his own choice and judgment, and he could have them without any condition or impediment, and he must needs go and trample them under foot, and then accept a purse on the hardest condition that ever was put on any man. It was no wonder that his night's sleep was gone from him, and that an ugly look was coming in his eyes!
Sheila.—And was it that that put the ugly look in his eyes? Oh, I understand it now. I shouldn't be surprised if he were to drown himself, with such a fate hanging over him.
Peg.—I dare say he might have done something of the kind, but that he wouldn't give the Black Man the satisfaction of it. He often used to say to himself, "The thirteen years are mine in spite of him, and I will spend them to the very end."
Nora.—It is a pity he didn't stay as he was at the beginning, trusting to his apple-tree and his malvogue and his soogaun chair.
Abbie.—But if he had stayed like that, Nora, there would have been no lady looking his way.
Nora.—Well, perhaps it might have been just as well for him. I don't see any "gentility" in a lot of them except pride and standoffishness and contempt of others.
Abbie.—Ah, Nora, I know what causes that sometimes. When they see little girls who are not ladies and who are better-looking than themselves, they are jealous. I am afraid if I were a lady I should be jealous of you.
Nora.—Oh, why, Abbie?
Abbie.—Ask Sheila why.
Sheila.—No, she won't ask Sheila why. Let Abbie tell it herself now, since she has drawn the question on her.
Peg.—Abbie is a great girl for making fun, Nora, but she is right sometimes.
Kate.—I'm sure it isn't right for a girl who is a lady to be jealous or overbearing, even if it should please God to give the most angelic beauty to a humble little girl.
Sheila.—I wonder, Peg, if the people who are ugly in this world will be beautiful in Heaven?
Peg.—Oh, Sheila dear, nobody will be ugly in Heaven, but everyone will be more beautiful and gracious than the most beautiful person that a human eye ever saw in this world.
Sheila.—Then they won't need to be jealous or proud.
Peg.—There won't be any jealousy or pride there, Sheila, any more than there will be any other ugly thing.
Sheila.—Wasn't it a pity Shiana didn't take the angel's advice, instead of thinking about his malvogue and his soogaun chair and his apple-tree and about the dalteens that used to play tricks upon him?

Peg.—Well, you see, he didn't. But I dare say if he had got a second chance he would have taken it. He did not get a second chance. He had made his bargain. He had made it by the virtue of the Holy Things, and he had to stand to it. He knew right well that as soon as the last day of the thirteen years should come, the claimant would come, and that there would be no chance of hiding from him.

When he had spent a good while sitting on the Gamblers' Rock, looking about him at the beautiful view, he continued his reflections:—

"How much my case was troubling him! He heard me say that I was 'without food or drink or money.' Many a one beside me has been without food or drink or money, and how well he let them go by him!'—The bargain is not made yet,' said he. 'Let it be a bargain,' said I. He wouldn't be satisfied with that. He must needs make the bonds very tight. 'By the virtue of the Holy Things!' said he. 'By the virtue of the Holy Things,' said I. There is no doubt but I said it. I can't get out of it. But indeed I wouldn't have said it but for the way he lured me. I never saw with my eyes a more beautiful colour than there was on that handful of gold that he showed me. An intense desire for it came upon me. He gave me a hundred pounds in exchange for a single shilling. 'I would give you that,' said he, 'and seven hundred, if I could only destroy the good done by that shilling.' He admitted that its good could not be destroyed, because I had given it for the Saviour's sake. Destroy the good of it! Why destroy it? Where was the use? If he had failed to destroy the good of that shilling, ought not I to be able to do further good which he would be unable to destroy? I have the purse. It would be great fun to use his own money to provoke and annoy him. By the deer, that is just what I'll do! He would give seven hundred pounds to destroy the good of a single shilling. I have ten years. Many a shilling and penny and pound I shall be able to give for the Saviour's sake in the course of ten years. He will have hard work trying to spoil all the good. So now! I shall have the upper hand of him in that matter at least. I'll get music out of the purse yet, even if it is not in the way in which I thought of doing it at first. The rascal of a thief!"

It was getting well on in the morning when he had finished his reflections and had made up his mind. He stood up and looked round him at the beautiful prospect.

"I have ten years at all events," said he, and he turned his face homeward.