Shiana/Chapter 8

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When Shiana came near the house he heard the men talking loudly as if they were discussing something important. When he came in they stopped. He asked them what they were talking about. They were surprised at his asking, for he did not usually take any interest in their conversation.

"It is," said one of them," that Michael's people are in trouble this morning."

Shiana looked about him.

"And where is Michael," said he.

"He stayed at home," said the man who had spoken. "There is a bailiff coming there to demand rent, and I don't think they have a halfpenny of money under the roof of the house."

All Shiana did was to turn round and go out at the door.

Michael's mother was a widow. He went straight to the widow's house. He arrived before the bailiff, and only just before him. The widow welcomed him.

"What does he want?" said Shiana.

"The rent," said she.

"How much is it?" said he.

"Twenty pounds," said she.

"Here," said he. "Michael gets a pound a week. There are twenty pounds of his wages for you before-hand."

"Oh," said she, "why would you give me so much money in advance?"

"For the Saviour's sake," said he.

"May the Saviour repay you for it," said she. He was gone before she had time to say any more.

The bailiff came in. He had a white hat on. He had puffy cheeks, and an overbearing mouth, a thick nose and a fat neck. He had a sheep's-grey frieze coat on, and he had a big stomach and a broad back and stout calves. He had a heavy blackthorn stick in his hand, and he was grunting and puffing.

"Rent or possession, woman of the house," said he.

Abbie.—Oh, upon my word and credit, Peg, I never saw anyone that was so exactly like "John of the Fair" as he!
Peg.—And isn't John of the Fair a bailiff, Abbie?
Abbie.—Why, he is, to be sure.
Peg.—What more about it then?

"Rent or possession, woman of the house," said he, just as John of the Fair would say it. She called her son.

"Here, Michael," said she, "count that, and give it to this good man."

Michael opened his eyes, for he had not seen Shiana give the money to his mother. And the bailiff opened his eyes, because he had never expected that there would be a halfpenny of money in the house. He took the rent and went off, and he was very much vexed and angered, for he had promised the place that very morning to somebody else, for a good bribe.

"There!" said Shiana, as he went home, "if it gave him work to do to destroy the good of my shilling, let him have more work now to destroy the good of the twenty pounds. I think it will be no harm for me to leave that business between himself and the widow."

He arrived home and went to work. Very soon Michael was in after him, and he went to work. No one spoke for the rest of the day, and nothing was to be heard there but the soft whistling of the men, the long, heavy breathing of Shiana, the tapping of the little hammers, and the drawing and tightening of the waxed thread.

When Michael went home that night, his mother told him what Shiana had said when he was giving her the money, that he said it was for the Saviour's sake he was giving it to her. They were both surprised, for they had never thought there was much piety about Shiana.

Michael went out in the evening and he told it to another boy. It was not long before it was spread far and wide all over the district. Grey Dermot heard it. The bailiff heard it. Sive heard it.

"Dad," said Sive, "did you hear what Shiana did lately?"

"No, I didn't, and I don't care."

"Well, dad, we thought he had sense."

"Why, what has he done?" said Dermot.

"He has done a silly thing,—what he never failed to do," said she.

"And what is the last silly thing he has done?" said Dermot.

"It is," said she, "to go and give a hundred pounds of money to that mean little spiritless creature above, lame Michael's mother."

"Nonsense, Sive, don't you believe it."

"Oh, indeed, dad, there isn't a word of untruth in it. It was the bailiff himself that told me. I don't know where he got all the money. And, indeed, what good is it for him to have money if that's the way he means to let it go from him? You did well to break off the match that time, I should never have got over the regret of it if I had been married to a fool."

"Indeed, Sive," said Dermot, "it wasn't I that broke it off."

"And goodness, man, who else broke it off but you? Surely you are not going to say that it was Shiana that broke it off! "

"Really, my dear, I don't think anybody broke it. It wasn't there to break," said Dermot.

"It wasn't there to break!" said she. "It wasn't, and it won't be! You are a nice sort of man! It wasn't there to break! That is a nice way for you to talk. There are all your neighbours who have their children settled in life, and what have you done? It wasn't there to break! It was not, and it never will be!"

And then she began to cry.

Dermot got up, and walked down to the door and put his shoulder against the doorpost, and looked down the road, and then looked up the road.

Kate.—If I had been in Dermot's place, I would have said to her, "May your tears bring you no relief."[1]
Peg.—I don't know, Kate. Perhaps if you were in Dermot's place you couldn't have done a better thing than he did. Most likely he knew best what he ought to do.
Kate.—The bold thing! I hate her.
Abbie.—Did Short Mary hear of it, Peg?

Peg.—The next Sunday she was talking to Michael's mother, and she got the account of the whole thing exactly as it had happened. She was very glad when she heard that he had given the money for the Saviour's sake.

"And," said she, "I hope, now, that Michael will earn that money as honestly as if he had not got it beforehand."

"Why then indeed," said the widow, "that is just the wonder of the whole business. When he was paying the men last night he handed a pound to Michael as usual. 'Oh,' said Michael, 'I am paid already.' 'Take that from me,' said Shiana, and he had to take it."

"Well!" said Short Mary, "they used to say that Shiana had no religion. Let them take that as a sign of it!"

"Religion?" said the widow. "I never saw the like of it. If I were to live a thousand years I could never put out of my head the look he gave me when he was handing me the money. 'For the Saviour's sake,' said he, and when I looked up at him, his two eyes were looking through me, so that a sort of awe came over me that I couldn't describe."

"Hush, don't be silly," said Mary. "What need was there for fear?"

"Oh, let me alone, Mary. I assure you, if I had looked into his eyes again I should have fallen down," said the widow.

"Hannah," said Mary.

"Yes, Mary," said the widow.

"I have a secret to tell you," said she, and there was a tremor in her limbs and in her voice.

"Do not hesitate, Mary," said Hannah. "I will keep your secret, if my life were to depend upon it."

"I know well that you will, Hannah, but there is more for you to do for me than to keep my secret."

She stopped. Hannah did not speak.

"During part of my life, Hannah," said she, " I thought I would never marry."

"There isn't a very long part of your life spent yet," said Hannah.

"Short as it is, it has been full of grief lately," said Mary.

"I don't see that you have much cause for grief," said Hannah.

"My heart is wrung with grief," said she.

Then she spoke in a whisper to Hannah, and they spent a long time whispering. When they had finished whispering Mary went home, and Hannah went to bed. But not a wink of sleep fell upon either Mary or Hannah that night.

When Hannah got up in the morning she was very tired. When she meant to put her cap on her head she put it into her pocket. When she meant to put her shoe on her foot, she put it into the fire, as she would put a sod of turf. When she knelt down to say her prayers, she could not say a single word correctly, except "May God direct me to do what is right! May God and Mary, His Mother, direct me to do what is right!" When Michael wanted his breakfast, the food was not ready for him. When it was put before him, it was only half cooked. He did not pretend to notice anything, but ate the food as well as he could.

"There is something the matter with my mother," said he to himself. "I don't know in the world what is coming over her. Surely it cannot be that that bailiff would be coming again? Mother," said he, "there is something troubling you. Had the bailiff any further claim to make that day?"

"Ach, no, Michael, not as much as a halfpenny. There isn't a bit wrong with me except that I didn't sleep much last night."

"The best thing you could do now, mother," said Michael, "would be to go and sleep for a bit."

"It is a bad thing to sleep in broad daylight, Michael," said she. " It is better for one to bear with it, if possible, so as to sleep well at night."

Michael went away up to Shiana's house, and set to at his work. He had not made two stitches when in came his mother after him. He raised his head and looked at her. Shiana raised his head and looked at her.

"Shiana," said she, "if you please, I would like to speak a word with you alone."

"Michael," said Shiana, "perhaps you wouldn't mind walking out there for a little while."

Michael walked out and put his back against a fence.

"I don't know in the world," said he to himself, "what is coming over her, or what is this important business she has on hand."

There was a furze bush near him. He saw on the bush a little bee caught in a spider's web. The spider jumped out from the place where he was hiding, and tried to catch the little bee. When the bee saw him coming the fright put double strength into her, and she broke the thread and flew off.

Sheila.—Oh, indeed, Peg, I saw a spider do a thing like that, but it wasn't a bee that was in the web, but a fly. And the spider caught the fly by the small of the back, and I tell you it was no good for her to wriggle her legs or to struggle. He kept his hold till she was quiet enough. And then if you were to see how he rolled her up in the web, and how he carried her in with him!
Abbie.—I suppose he made bacon of her.
Sheila.—He carried her off, anyway.

Peg.—Michael's spider didn't carry the bee off, for she flew away from him. And when Michael thought the little while was spent he returned to the house. When he was going up to the door he heard Shiana saying these words:—

"It would be better for her to die the worst death that ever came to a human being, and to die it seven times over, than that I should marry her!"

Michael turned and made off before he heard any more. But even so, he had no sooner reached the furze bush again than he was overcome by anger.

"This is nice work," said he to himself. "It is a disgusting business for my mother to be coming here making a match for Grey Dermot's Sive! Wait till I get home to-night!"

At that moment he saw his mother coming to him, with a face as white as death. He sprang to meet her.

"Why, mother," he said," what's wrong with you? "

"Hush, hush, my son!" she said in a whisper.

"There's nothing wrong with me. Go away in to your work. The other men are just coming."

Michael went in. The door was wide open, and not a human being was in before him. Shiana's place was empty. Michael sat down and drew his work to him. The men came one by one. The work went on as usual. Shiana did not return that day.

Sheila.—Whisper, Peg; surely Hannah wasn't match-making for Sive?
Peg.—What then, Sheila dear?
Sheila.—For Short Mary, I'll be bound. And I should think that if Michael had had any sense he would have understood that.
Abbie.—And how do you know, Sheila, that it was for Short Mary she was making the match, or how do you know she was match-making at all?
Sheila.—Oh, indeed, I have very little doubt about it. What did she and Short Mary spend the night whispering about? What took the night's sleep away from both of them? What was the secret that Short Mary told her? I know very well what they were about, I promise you.
Peg.—It seems to me, Sheila, that you are not far from the truth, and that you are much quicker to see it than Michael.
  1. A proverbial expression, used when a person weeps without good cause.