Shiana/Chapter 9

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CHAPTER IX

MATCHMAKING

Shiana did not return home that day, and he did not return that night.

Michael stayed to take care of the place. He was very much surprised when he found that Shiana did not come. He spent the night in the soogaun chair. From time to time he thought Shiana was coming in at the door. Three times he jumped up and went to the door. He thought he heard a man's footstep each time, and he could have sworn that it was Shiana. The last time he thought he saw Shiana himself coming to the door, and he moved his lips to speak to him, but when he looked more carefully there was nobody there. He did not go to the door again. He stayed in the chair near the fire. He put down a sod of turf now and again. He was there ever so long. He thought it impossible for any night to be so long. He felt a dismal loneliness and a quaking fear and dread, yet that did not prevent him from having a nod of sleep from time to time. Once a heavier nod than usual fell upon him, and he saw the house full of little black people all round him, all of them coming at him with hostile intent, with one little gentleman among them who was protecting him from them. One of them slipped in behind the gentleman and made a drive at Michael, showing his teeth. Michael started out of his sleep. Every drop of sweat upon him was as big as a whortleberry, and he was trembling all over.

Mary of the miracles!" said he, "what shall I do? Or what has happened to the night that it is so long, or what has happened to Shiana, or what is keeping him? If he wants to make a match with Sive, should not the day be long enough to make it, without spending the night out like this? He is a dark man. It is hard to be up to him. He said it would be better for her to be dead than that he should marry her, and there he is doing his best to marry her. I don't know in the world why it should be better for her to be dead than that he should marry her. I should think it would be better for him to be dead than that Sive should marry him. I wouldn't marry her for all Shiana's money and her own and her father's all put together; not I!"

At that moment he noticed a light like the day-break. That gave him great courage. But after a while what rose was the moon. When he saw the moonlight shining in through the window and over upon the mantel-piece where the malvogue was hanging, and no ray of daylight coming, things seemed so black to him that he lost heart completely, and if he had not been too frightened he would have begun to cry. When the light fell fair upon the malvogue it made it look like a human head. Michael thought he had never seen anything so like the head of the hag in the Fenian tale, who had her two furthest back teeth for two crutches. When he had been looking at it for some time the eyes moved, and the lips opened as if it were going to speak. Michael knew it was only the malvogue, but all the same he shuddered and his hair stood on end, and cold shivers ran down his backbone. He had to shut his eyes so as not to look at those eyes moving. Soon he had to open them again for very fear and terror. At last a cloud came over the moon, and the malvogue was brought back to its own shape. It was a great relief. Michael thanked God fervently, you may be sure, and he must have fallen at once into a sound sleep, for the next thing he was aware of was the sun shining on the malvogue instead of the moon, the work going on around him, the soft whistling of the men, the tapping of the little hammers, and the drawing and tightening of the waxed thread. He looked over at Shiana' s place. Shiana himself was there, working as hard and as diligently as if he could get no supper till that shoe was sold.

Michael stood up and looked across at his own seat.

"Michael," said Shiana, "go you home and have something to eat, and take another sleep. You have earned this day's wages for last night. You need not come to work till to-morrow morning."

As he spoke he looked at Michael, and in spite of the sleep in Michael's eyes, he noticed the look. Shiana looked ten years older than he had looked the day before. Michael went away home, but that look did not leave his memory.

"There is some terrible trouble upon him," he said to himself. "I must tell my mother of it and consult with her as to what should be done."

He reached the house, but when he did, there was neither tale nor tidings of his mother there. There was not a living Christian there. He searched all round the house. He called her. It was no use.

"Well, well, well," said he, "did anybody ever see the like? As sure as there is a ferrule on a beggar's stick, she has gone down to Grey Dermot's house to finish the match. And what shall I do? What in the world shall I do? For all the gold in the universe I wouldn't wish Shiana to be married to that scourge of a woman. Oh, oh, oh! what shall I do at all? I thought my mother had sense, and now I am sure she hasn't an atom, to take such a match as that in hand. There is nothing for me to do but just one thing, to go away down this very minute, and break off this match before it is too late. The bold, barefaced, proud thing! Humph! 'Tis little wonder he has an aged, worn look! I don't know in all the world what hold they have got over him. Surely it isn't possible that he can have put himself under any bond or promise, and that they are now trying to get money out of him? We were all making game of Dermot that day that he went up. Perhaps he knew what he was about. 'There is not a ghost nor a pooka that does not know his own business himself.' And see now, Shiana did not say, 'I won't marry her,' but 'I have no notion of marrying.' Perhaps it may not come so easily to me to break off the match as I thought it would.——And see too, here am I weighing and balancing, while, perhaps, the match is being finished by my mother. May she not be rewarded for her trouble! How very neighbourly she is!"

He was a field's length away from the house before he had finished that last reflection, as he ran straight down to Grey Dermot's house, getting over the ground as fast as his lame leg could go. It was not long till he arrived, panting, in front of Dermot's house.

Dermot was not at the door yet. It was too early in the day. Michael stood out opposite the door. "Mother!" he called, at the top of his voice.

Sive put her head out at the door, chewing a mouthful of bread.

"Mother!" Michael called again. "Come out here and come along home at once. You have something else to do than to be coming here like a little dog trotting through the mud for them. If they have a match to make, let them make it themselves or leave it alone."

Sive swallowed the bit that was in her mouth.

"Confound you, you cripple!" said she. "What's wrong with you now? "

"Cripple, indeed?" said Michael. "There is enough, and double enough, wrong with me. You were not satisfied with having your own name and your father's name in the mouths of the people, without dragging my mother into your business. But I'll take right good care that what you failed in yourselves you shall not succeed in by her help. Mother! mother, I say!"

"Be off with you home, you mis-shapen thing, and don't be deaving us! And if you have taken a drop, go to bed and sleep it off,' said she.

"I tell you I won't stir a foot to leave this place till she comes out," said he. "And I tell you another thing, and believe it from me; that you needn't be tearing off your clothes for rage because Shiana wouldn't marry you. He wouldn't marry you if there were nobody in Ireland but you, you brazen old thing! Mother! mother, I say! Come out here, or I will come in and carry you out."

"Ach, you lame ape, if you don't leave that place and clear out of my sight double quick, I'll put a mark on you that will stick to you as long as you'll have a crooked leg," said Sive, and she was not speaking but screaming and hopping, with her hair flying about her head.

She went into the house. Michael thought his mother would come out to him. Instead of that, it was Sive who returned, and she had a jug in her hand. She flung the contents of the jug at his face. Luckily for him, he jumped aside. The water that was in the jug flew across the road, with boiling steam coming out of it.

"You villain!" said he, "so, did you mean to murder me?"

"Cut off my ear," said she "but if you had got that you wouldn't come here again to look for your mother, the little sneak!"

At that moment out came Dermot, with his striped night-cap on his head. He took Michael by the shoulder.

"Michael," said he, "you are making some mistake. Your mother is not here, and hasn't been, for I don't know how long."

"Do you tell me so?" said Michael.

"Certainly I do," said Dermot. "Isn't she at home?"

"She wasn't at home when I left home," said Michael.

"Was she at home last night?" said Dermot.

"You are right, indeed," said Michael. "Perhaps she was, and that I left her at home behind me."

Michael was well acquainted with Dermot and his habit of questioning, but he was not going to escape him so easily.

"Stop, Michael " said Dermot. "Don't pretend that you are a fool, because you are not. What put it into your head that she was here matchmaking for Sive and Shiana?"

They were walking slowly and moving away from the house, Michael's face toward home, Sive scolding after them, and Dermot waiting for an answer.

"Why then indeed," said Michael, "it was a curious thing that put it into my head—a dream that I had last night. I thought I was at Shiana's house, alone, sitting in the soogaun chair, with the malvogue opposite me, hanging on the mantel-piece. The malvogue took the shape of a woman's head, and the head spoke to me. I recognised Sive's voice coming out of it. 'Your mother,' said the head, 'is breaking her heart trying to make a match between me and Shiana, but it would be better for Shiana to die the worst death that ever came to a human being than that I should marry him.' With that I started up awake and I sprang up. I called my mother. I got no answer. I thought at once she must be here, and I followed her."

Dermot looked him straight in the eyes. Michael did not flinch. If Dermot had got all Ireland for it he could not have made out whether Michael was telling truth or falsehood. He paused for a good while. At last he said,

"I am afraid, Michael, that your dream was dreamt with your eyes open."

"Why then indeed," said Michael, "that is just the point. I can't make out at this moment, and I don't suppose I shall ever make out, whether I was asleep or awake when I called my mother."

"I would advise you," said Dermot, "whatever dreams you may have, not to come again. Go away home now, and God give you more sense! You have escaped very well."

They parted.

"Well," said Michael to himself, "I was near playing the mischief. I wonder where in the world my mother spent the night?"

When Michael reached home his mother was there before him. Her face and eyes were swollen from weeping.

"Mother," said Michael, "where was the wake?"

"What has brought you home, Michael," said she.

"Why," said he, "I stayed to take care of Shiana's house last night, for he himself spent the night somewhere away from home, and then this morning he told me to go home and take a sleep; that I had earned this day's wages after the night."

"Well," said she, "and where have you spent the day since morning?"

"The day was fine," said he, "and I was neither tired nor sleepy, but indeed I am hungry now, I can tell you."

She gave him something to eat, and it was well bestowed upon him. He was not long in polishing off a good big dish. When he finished eating he began to talk.

"Mother," said he.

"Yes, Michael," said she.

"You haven't told me where the wake was," said he.

"What kept Shiana away from home all last night?" said she.

"It wasn't only all last night that he was out of home, but since yesterday morning. When you came out yesterday morning after you had been talking to him—that time that you were ready to faint—I went in, and I didn't find him in the house. He didn't come back all day, and then when the men were going home I stayed to look after the place. I thought every minute that he would be coming in at the door to me. I fell asleep some time during the night, and when I opened my eyes, there they were all working around me, and Shiana there too. And listen, mother—there is some great grief upon him."

"Why, what grief could there be upon him? Hasn't he full and plenty money, and isn't everybody thankful to him?"

"I know one person who isn't a bit too thankful to him," said Michael.

"Who is that," said she.

"That is Dermot's Sive," said he.

"Indeed? and why?" said she.

"Reason enough for her," said he; "because he wouldn't marry her."

"Och, plague to her, the jade! Who would marry her?"

Michael fell back in explosions of laughter. "Jade! Jade! Jade! " said he. "Oh, what a pity I didn't think of that name in the morning!"

"And what business would you have had of it in the morning?" said she.

"In the morning of the other day, I mean," said he, "when I was sent down there for some leather, and she called me a cripple."

"She called you a cripple!" said his mother. "If I had been listening to her, I would have told her who were the cripples that belonged to her, and I would have told her another thing that I won't tell to you now—a thing that would knock the pride out of her, I promise you."

"And tell me, mother, if that is your opinion of her, why did you go up to Shiana's house yesterday morning to try to make a match between her and Shiana?"

"A match between her and Shiana! Why, I'd drown myself before I would do the like," said she.

"Well, then, why did you say to the Maid of the Liss, that day that she was here, that Shiana wouldn't marry any woman in Ireland but Sive?" said he.

"The Maid of the Liss? Yeh, the silly thing, because I wanted to put some stop to her tongue, and not to have her boasting all over the country that he was going to marry her, and the whole country laughing at her!"

"Why then indeed," said Michael, "and there is no use in your hiding it from me, it was a match you had on hand yesterday morning."

"And how do you know what I had on hand?"

"Because he spoke loud, and I heard the words: 'It would be better for her to die than that I should marry her.'"

"Listen, Michael," said she, "if you were to get your will in the matter, who is the wife you would choose for him?"

"Short Mary, of course," said he.

She looked at him sharply.

"And what's the reason," said she, "that you would choose Short Mary for him rather than any other woman of all these that the whole world is marrying to him?"

"In the first place, mother, I have no great opinion of the talk of the whole world. The whole world doesn't care, so long as it can be talking, how much harm or good its talking does, very often. There's the whole world marrying him to Dermot's Sive. It would be better for him to drown himself. You wouldn't choose the Maid of the Liss for him. I have nothing to say, good, bad, or indifferent, about Nora of the Causeway, but I do say that the whole world is a great fool and I would rather set it down a fool than take its advice."

"And see," said his mother, "there is the whole world marrying him to Short Mary, and how well you find no fault with it."

"A pretty comparison, indeed, Short Mary and the rest of them! Where is the like of Short Mary to be found? Not in the seven parishes. A fine, handsome, noble woman. A wise, sensible, wellbrought-up woman, to whom poor and rich alike are grateful. A pious, exemplary woman, whose presence is a benefit to the congregation in which she hears Mass. Good and bad have a reverence for her. If there were two women quarrelling and they saw her coming, they would stop till she had passed them, just as if it were the priest that was going by."

"I wonder," said his mother, "whether, if Sive were quarrelling on the road, she would stop if she saw Mary coming?"

"Why then, I tell you, on my solemn word, mother, that I saw her do it with my own eyes, and I never was more surprised at anything! I was going east to the Burkes' house with a message. When I was getting near Dermot's house I heard Sive scolding at the top of her voice, giving furious abuse to some neighbour. Who should come westward round the corner house but Short Mary. No sooner did Sive see her than the scolding ceased. She hung down her head, and went into the house very slowly."

"And isn't it a great wonder." said his mother, "that you haven't bestirred yourself long ago to make a match for Shiana with her?"

"Why, that is the very point," said he. "I thought that you would have made it long ago, and that you would be far more correct and neat-handed at it than I would be."

"I am afraid," said his mother, "that you are mistaken in that. If there were a match of that sort to be made, I think there is no one who would make it better than yourself, especially as you are so anxious to see it made."

"Surely and certainly, mother," said he, "you are right in that much, at all events. I would rather see that match made than anything in the world. There never was a pair better suited to each other than that pair. It would be hard to outdo Mary's good qualities, and he is as good as she. I would like to make the match, but that I don't know how to set about it."

"How should you set about it but go west to John Kittach himself—to his house—and call the man aside and tell him your mind? Then, if what you say pleases him, he will himself lay the matter before his daughter, and if she likes the match, isn't that half the business done?"

"By the deer," said he, "you are right. I will go now at once."

And off he went.

"May you succeed better than I succeeded!" said she in her own mind.