Shawn Kelvin, a blithe young lad of 20, went to the States to seek his fortune. And 15 years thereafter he returned to his native Kerry, his blitheness sobered and his youth dried to the core, and whether he had made his fortune or whether he had not no one could be knowing for certain. For he was a quiet man, not given to talking about himself and the things he had done. A quiet man, under middle size, with strong shoulders and deep-set blue eyes below brows darker than his dark hair - that was Shawn Kelvin. One shoulder had a trick of hunching slightly higher than the other, and some folks said that it came from a habit he had of shielding his eyes in the glare of an open-hearth furnace in a place called Pittsburgh, while others said it used to be a way he had of guarding his chin that time he was a sort of sparring-partner punching bag at a boxing camp.
Shawn Kelvin came home and found that he was the last of the Kelvin's, and that the farm of his forefathers had added its few acres to the ranch of Big Liam O'Grady, of Moyvalla. Shawn took no action to recover his land, though O'Grady had got it meanly. He had had enough of fighting, and all he wanted now was peace. He quietly went amongst the old and kindly friends and quietly looked about him for the place and peace he wanted; and when the time came, quietly produced the money for a neat, handy, small farm on the first warm shoulder of Knockanore Hill below the rolling curves of heather. It was not a big place but it was in good heart, and it got all the sun that was going; and, best of all, it suited Shawn to the tiptop notch of contentment; for it held the peace that tuned to his quietness, and it commanded the widest view in all Ireland; vale and mountain and the lifting green plain of the Atlantic Sea.
There, in a four-roomed, lime-washed, thatched cottage, Shawn made his life, and, though his friends hinted at his needs and obligations, no thought came to him of bringing a wife into the place. Yet Fate had the thought and the dream in her loom for him. One middling imitation of a man he had to do chores for him, an ex-navy pensioner handy enough about house and byre, but with no relish for the sustained work of the field-and, indeed, as long as he kept house and byre shipshape, he found Shawn an easy master.
Shawn himself was no drudge toiler. He knew all about drudgery and the way it wears out a man's soul. He ploughed a little and sowed a little, and at the end of a furrow he would lean on the handles of the cultivator, wipe his brow, if it needed wiping, and lose himself for whole minutes in the great green curve of the sea out there beyond the high black portals of Shannon Mouth. And sometimes of an evening he would see, under the glory of the sky, the faint smoke smudge of an American liner. Then he would smile to himself - a pitying smile - thinking of the poor devils, with dreams of fortune luring them, going out to sweat in Ironville, or to bootleg bad whiskey down the hidden way, or to stand in a bread line. All these things were behind Shawn forever.
Market days he would go down and across to Listowel town, seven miles, to do his bartering; and in the long evenings, slowly slipping into the endless summer gloaming, his friends used to climb the winding lane to see him. Only the real friends came that long road, and they were welcome - fighting men who had been out in the "Sixteen": Matt Tobin the thresher, the schoolmaster, the young curate - men like that. A stone jar of malt whiskey would appear on the table and there would be a haze of smoke and a maze of warm, friendly disagreements.
"Shawn, old son," one of them might hint, "aren't you sometimes terrible lonely?"
"Like hell I am!" might retort Shawn derisively. "Why?"
"Nothing but the daylight and the wind and the sun setting like the wrath o' God."
"Just that! Well?' "But after the stirring times beyond in the States-"
"Ay! Tell me, fine man, have you ever seen a furnace in full blast?"
"A great sight.
"Great surely! But if I could jump you into a steel foundry this minute, you would be sure that God had judged you faithfully into the very hob of hell." And then they would laugh and have another small one from the stone jar.
And on Sundays Shawn used to go to church, three miles down to the grey chapel above the black cliffs of Doon Bay. Their Fate laid her lure for him.
Sitting quietly on his wooden bench or kneeling on the dusty footboard, he would fix his steadfast deep-set eyes on the vestmented celebrant and say his prayers slowly, or go into that strange trance, beyond dreams and visions, where the soul is almost at one with the unknowable.
But after a time, Shawn's eyes no longer fixed themselves on the celebrant. They went no farther than two seats ahead. A girl sat there. Sunday after Sunday she sat in front of him, and Sunday after Sunday his first casual admiration grew warmer.
She had a white nape to her neck and short red hair above it, and Shawn liked the colour and wave of that flame. And he liked the set of her shoulders and the way the white neck had of leaning a little forward and she at her prayers-or her dreams. And, the service over, Shawn used to stay in his seat so that he might get one quick but sure look at her face as she passed out. And he liked her face, too - the wide - set grey eyes, cheekbones firmly curved, clean-moulded lips, austere yet sensitive. And he smiled pityingly at himself that one of her names should make his pulse stir - for she was an O'Grady.
One person, only, in the crowded chapel noted Shawn's look and the thought behind the look. Not the girl. Her brother, Big Liam O'Grady of Moyvalla, the very man who as good as stole the Kelvin acres. And that man smiled to himself, too-the ugly, contemptuous smile that was his by nature - and, after another habit he had, he tucked away his bit of knowledge against a day when it might come in useful for his own purposes.
The girl's name was Ellen - Ellen O'Grady. But a truth she was no longer a girl. She was past her first youth into that second one that had no definite ending. She might be 30 - she was no less - but there was not a lad in the countryside who would say she was past her prime. The poise of her and the firm set of her bones below clean skin saved her from the fading of mere prettiness. Though she had been sought in marriage more than once, she had accepted no one, or, rather, had not been allowed to encourage anyone. Her brother saw to that.
Big Liam O'Grady was a great, raw-boned, sandy-haired man, with the strength of an ox and a heart no bigger than a sour apple. An overbearing man given to berserk rages. Though he was a churchgoer by habit, the true god of that man was Monday - red gold, shining silver, dull copper - the trinity that he worshipped in degree. He and his sister Ellen lived on the big ranch farm of Moyvalla, and Ellen was his housekeeper and maid of all work. She was a careful housekeeper, a good cook, a notable baker, and she demanded no wage. All that suited Big Liam splendidly, and so she remained single - a wasted woman.
Big Liam himself was not a marrying man. There were not many spinsters with a dowry big enough to tempt him, and the few there had acquired expensive tastes-a convent education, the deplorable art of hitting jazz out of a piano, the damnable vice of cigarette smoking, the purse - emptying craze for motor cars - such things.
But in due time, the dowry and the place - with a woman tied to them - came under his nose, and Big Liam was no longer tardy. His neighbour, James Carry, died in March and left his fine farm and all on it to his widow, a youngish woman without children, a woman with a hard name for saving pennies. Big Liam looked once at Kathy Carey and looked many times at her broad acres. Both pleased him. He took the steps required by tradition. In the very first week of the following Shrovetide, he sent an accredited emissary to open formal negotiations, and that emissary came back within the hour.
"My soul," said he, "but she is the quick one! I hadn't 10 words out of me when she was down my throat. 'I am in no hurry,' says she, 'to come wife to a house with another woman at the fire corner. When Ellen is in a place of her own, I will listen to what Liam O'Grady has to say.'"
"She will, by Jacus!" Big Liam stopped him. "She will so."
There, now, was the right time to recall Shawn Kelvin and the look in his eyes. Big Liam's mind corner promptly delivered up its memory. He smiled knowingly and contemptuously. Shawn Kelvin daring to cast sheep's eyes at an O'Grady! The undersized chicken heart, who took the loss of the Kelvin acres lying down! The little Yankee runt hidden away on the shelf of Knockanore! But what of it? The required dowry would be conveniently small,and the girl would never go hungry,anyway. There was Big Liam O'Grady, far descended from many chieftains.
The very next market day at Listowel he sought out Shawn Kelvin and placed a huge, sandy-haired hand on the shoulder that hunched to meet it.
"Shawn Kelvin, a word with you! Come and have a drink."
Shawn hesitated. "Very well," he said then. He did not care for O'Grady, but he would hurt no man's feelings.
They went across to Sullivan's bar and had a drink, and Shawn paid for it. And Big Liam came directly to his subject - almost patronisingly, as if he were conferring a favour.
"I want to see Ellen settled in a place of her own," said he.
Shawn's heart lifted into his throat and stayed there. But that steadfast face with the steadfast eyes gave no sign and, moreover, he could not say a word with his heart where it was.
"Your place is small," went on the big man, "but it is and no load of debt on it, as I hear. Not much of a dowry ever came to Knockanore, and not much of a dowry can I be giving with Ellen. Say 200 pounds at the end of harvest, if prices improve. What do you say, Shawn Kelvin?"
Shawn swallowed his heart, and his voice came slow and cool "What does Ellen say?"
I haven't asked her," said Big Liam. "but what would she say, blast it?"
"Whatever she says, she will say it herself, not you, Big Liam."
But what could Ellen say? She looked within her own heart and found it empty; she looked at the granite crag of her brother's face and contemplated herself a slowly withering spinster at his fire corner; she looked up at the swell of Knockanore Hill and saw the white cottage among the green small fields below the warm brown of the heather. Oh, but the sun would shine up there in the lengthening spring day and pleasant breezes blow in sultry summer; and finally she looked at Shawn Kelvin, that firmly built, small man with the clean face and the lustrous eyes below steadfast brow. She said a prayer to her God and sank head and shoulders in a resignation more pitiful than tears, more proud than the pride of chieftains. Romance? Well away!
Shawn was far from satisfied with resigned acceptance, but then was not the time to press for a warmer one. He knew the brother's wizened soul, guessed at the girl's clean one, and saw that she was doomed beyond hope to a fireside sordidly bought for her. Let it be his own fireside then. There were many worse ones - and God was good.
Ellen O'Grady married Shawn Kelvin. One small statement and it holds the risk of tragedy, the chance of happiness, the probability of mere endurance - choices wide as the world.
Big Liam O'Grady, for all his resolute promptness, did not win Kathy Carey to wife. She, foolishly enough, took to husband her own cattleman, a gay night rambler, who gave her the devil's own time and a share of happiness in the bygoing. For the first time, Big Liam discovered how mordant the wit of his neighbours could be,and to contempt for Shawn Kelvin he now added an unreasoning dislike.
Shawn Kelvin had got his precious, red-haired woman under his own roof now. He had no illusions about her feelings for him. On himself, and on himself only, lay the task of moulding her into a wife and lover. Darkly, deeply, subtly, away out of sight, with gentleness, with restraint, with a consideration beyond kenning, that moulding must be done, and she that was being moulded, must never know. He hardly knew himself.
First he turned his attention to material things. He hired a small servant maid to help her with the housework. Then he acquired a rubber-tired rub cart and a half-bred gelding with a reaching knee action. And on market days, husband and wife used to bowl down to Listowel, do their selling and their buying, and bowl smoothly home again, their groceries in the well of the cart and a bundle of second-hand American magazines on the seat at Ellen's side. And in the nights, before the year turned, with the wind from the plains of the Atlantic keening above the chimney, they would sit at either side of the flaming peat fire, and he would read aloud strange and almost unbelievable things out of the high-coloured magazines. Stories, sometimes wholly unbelievable.
Ellen would sit and listen and smile, and go on with her knitting or her sewing; and after a time it was sewing she was at mostly - small things. And when the reading was done, they would sit and talk quietly in their own quiet way, for they were both quiet. Woman though she was, she got Shawn to do most of the talking. It could be that she, too, was probing and seeking, unwrapping the man's soul to feel the texture thereof, surveying the marvel of his life as he spread it diffidently before her. He had a patient, slow, vivid way of picturing for her the things he had seen and felt. He made her see the glare of molten metal, lambent vet searing, made her feel the sucking heat, made her hear the clang; she could see the roped square under the dazzle of the hooded arcs with the curling smoke layer above it, understand the explosive restraint of the game, thrill when he showed her how to stiffen wrist for the final devastating right hook. And often enough the stories were humorous, and Ellen would chuckle, or stare, or throw back her red, lovely curls in laugher. It was grand to make her laugh.
Shawn's friends, in some hesitation at first, came in ones and twos up the slope to see them. But Ellen welcomed them with her smile that was shy and, at the same time, frank, and her table was loaded for them with scones and crumpets and cream cakes and heather honey; and at the right time it was she herself that brought forth the decanter of whiskey - no longer the half-empty stone jar -and the polished glasses. Shawn was proud as sin of her. She would sit then and listen to their discussions and be forever surprised at the knowledgeable man her husband was-the way he would discuss war and politics and the making of songs, the turn of speech that summed up a man or a situation, and sometimes she would put in a word or two and be listened to,and they would look to see if her smile commended them, and be a little chastened by the wisdom of that smile - the age-old smile of the matriarch from whom they were all descended. In no time at all, Matt Tobin the thresher, who used to think, "Poor old Shawn! Lucky she was to get him," would whisper to the schoolmaster: "Herrin's alive! That fellow's luck would astonish nations."
Women, in the outside world, begin by loving their husbands; and then, if fate is kind, they grow to admire them; and, if fate is not unkind may descend no lower than liking and enduring. And there is the end of lawful romance. Look now at Ellen O'Grady. She came up to the shelf of Knockanore and in her heart was only a nucleus of fear in a great emptiness, and that nucleus might grow into horror and disgust, but, glory of God, she, for reason piled on reason, presently found herself admiring Shawn Kelvin; and with or without reason, a quiet liking came to her for this quiet man who was so gentle and considerate; and then, one great heart-stirring dark o' night, she found herself fallen head and heels in love with her own husband. There is the sort of love that endures, but the road to it is a mighty chancy one.
A woman, loving her husband, may or may not be proud of him, but she will fight like a tiger if anyone, barring herself, belittles him. And there was one man that belittled Shawn Kelvin. Her brother, Big Liam O'Grady. At fair or market or chapel that dour giant deigned not to hide his contempt and dislike. Ellen knew why. He had lost a wife and farm; he had lost in herself a frugally cheap housekeeper; he had been made the butt of a sly humour; and for these mishaps, in some twisted way, he blamed Shawn. But-and there came in the contempt-the little Yankee runt, who dared say nothing about the lost Kelvin acres, would not now have the gall or guts to demand the dowry that was due. Lucky the hound to steal an O'Grady to hungry Knockanore Let him be satisfied with that luck!
One evening before a market day, Ellen spoke to her husband: "Has Big Liam paid you my dowry yet, Shawn?"
"Sure there's no hurry, girl," said Shawn.
"Have you ever asked him?"
"I have not. I am not looking for your dowry, Ellen."
"And Big Liam could never understand that." Her voice firmed. "You will ask him tomorrow"
"Very well so, agrah," agreed Shawn easily.
And the next day, in that quiet diffident way of his, he asked Big Liam. But Big Liam was brusque and blunt. He had no loose money and Kelvin would have to wait till he had. Ask me again, Shawneen," he finished, his face in a mocking smile, and turning on his heel, he ploughed his great shoulders through the crowded market.
His voice had been carelessly loud and people had heard.They laughed and talked amongst themselves. "Be-gobs! The devil's own boy, Big Liam! What a pup to sell! Stealing the land and keeping a grip on the fortune! Ay, and a dangerous fellow, mind you, the same Big Liam! He would smash little Shawn at the wind of a word. And devil the bit his Yankee sparring tricks would help him!"
A friend of Shawn's, Matt Tobin the thresher, heard that and lifted his voice: "I would like to be there the day Shawn Kelvin loses his temper."
"A bad day for poor Shawn!"
It might then," said Matt Tobin, "but I would come from the other end of Kerry to see the badness that would be in it for someone.
Shawn had moved away with his wife, not heeding or not hearing.
You see, Ellen?" he said in some discomfort. "The times are hard on the big ranchers, and we don't need the money, anyway.
"Do you think Big Liam does?" Her voice had a cut in it. He could buy you and all Knockanore and be only on the fringe of his hoard. You will ask him again?"
"But, girl dear, I never wanted a dowry with you."
She liked him to say that, but far better would she like to win for him the respect and admiration that was his due. She must do that now at all costs. Shawn, drawing back now, would be the butt of his fellowmen.
"You foolish lad! Big Liam would never understand your feelings, with money at stake. " She smiled and a pang went through Shawn's breast. For the smile was the smile of an O'Grady, and he could not be sure whether the contempt in it was for himself or for her brother.
Shawn asked Big Liam again, unhappy in his asking, but also dimly comprehending his woman's object. And Shawn asked him a third time. The issue was become a famous one now. Men talked about it and women too. Bets were made on it. At fair or market, if Shawn was seen approaching Big Liam, men edged closer and women edged away. Some day the big fellow would grow tied of being asked, and in one of his terrible rages half kill the little lad as he had half killed other men. A great shame. Here and there, a man advised Shawn to give up asking and put the matter in a lawyer's hands. "I couldn't do that was Shawn's only answer. Strangely enough, none of these prudent advisers were amongst Shawn's close friends. His friends frowned and said little, but they were always about, and always amongst them was Matt Tobin.
The day at last came when Big Liam grew tired of being asked. That was the big October cattle fair at Listowel, and he had sold 20 head of fat, polled Angus beeves at a good price. He was a hard dealer and it was late in the day before he settled at his own figure, so that the banks were closed and he was not able to make a lodgement. He had, then, a great roll of bills in an inner vest pocket when he saw Shawn and Ellen coming across to where he was bargaining with Matt Tobin for a week's threshing. Besides, the day being dark, he had had a drink or two more than was good for him and the whiskey had loosened his tongue and whatever he had of discretion. By the powers! - it was time and past time to deal once and for all with this little gadfly of a fellow, to show him up before the whole market. He strode to meet Shawn, and people got out of his savage way and edged in behind to lose nothing of this dangerous game.
He caught Shawn by the hunched shoulder - a rending grip - and bent down to grin in his face.
"What is it, little fellow? Don't be ashamed to ask!"
Matt Tobin was probably the only one there to notice the case with which Shawn wrenched his shoulder free, and Matt Tobin's eyes brightened. But Shawn did nothing further and said no word. His deep-set eyes gazed steadily at the big man.
The big man showed his teeth mockingly. "Go on, you whelp! What do you want?"
"You know, O'Grady.
"I do. Listen, Shawneen! " Again he brought his hand clap on the little man's shoulder. "Listen, Shawneen! If I had a dowry to give my sister, 'tis not a little shrimp like you would get her. Go to hell out o' that!"
His great hand gripped and he flung Shawn backwards as if he were only the image of a man filled with chaff.
Shawn went backwards, but he did not fall. He gathered himself like a spring, feet under him, arms half raised; head forward into hunched shoulder. But as quickly as the spring coiled, as quickly it slackened, and he turned away to his wife. She was there facing him, tense and keen, her face pale and set, and a gleam of the race in her eyes. "Woman, woman!" he said in his deep voice. 'Why would you and I shame ourselves like this?"
"Shame!" she cried. "Will you let him shame you now?"
"But your own brother, Ellen - before them all?"
"And he cheating you -"
"Glory of God" His voice was distressed. "What is his dirty money to me? Are you an O'Grady, after all?"
That stung her and she stung him back in one final effort. She placed a hand below her breast and looked close into his face. Her voice was low and bitter, and only he heard: I am an O'Grady. It is a great pity that the father of this my son is a Kelvin and a coward."
The bosses of Shawn Kelvin's cheekbones were like hard marble, but his voice was as soft as a dove's.
"Is that the way of it? Let us be going home then, in the name of God!"
He took her arm, but she shook his hand off, nevertheless, walked at his side, head up, through the people that made way for them. Her brother mocked them with his great, laughing bellow.
"That fixes the pair of them!" he cried, brushed a man who laughed with him out of his way, and strode off through the fair.
There was talk then - plenty of it. "Murder, but Shawn had a narrow squeak that time! Did you see the way he flung him? I wager he'll give Big Liam a wide road after this. And he by way of being a boxer! That's a pound you owe me, Matt Tobin.
I'll pay it,"said Matt Tobin,and that is all he said. He stood wide legged, looking at the ground, his hand ruefully rubbing the back of his head and dismay and gloom on his face. His friend had failed him in the face of the people.
Shawn and Ellen went home in their tub cart and had not a single word or glance for each other on the road. And all that evening, at table or fireside,aheart-sickening silence held them in its grip. And all that night they lay side by side, still and mute. There was only one subject that possessed them and on that they dared speak no longer. They slept little. Ellen, her heart desolate, lay on her side, staring into the dark, grieving for what she had said and unable to unsay it. Shawn, on his back, contemplated things with a cold clarity. He realised that he was at the fork of life and that a finger pointed unmistakably. He must risk the very shattering of all happiness; he must do a thing so final and decisive that, once done, would never again be questioned. Before morning, he came to his decision, and it was bitter as gall. He cursed himself. "Oh, you fool! You might have known that you should never have taken an O'Grady without breaking the O'Gradys."
He got up early in the morning at his usual hour and went out, as usual, to his morning chores - rebedding and foddering the cattle, rubbing down the half-bred, helping the servant maid with the milk in the creaming pans - and, as usual, he came in to his breakfast, and ate it un-hungrily and silently which was not usual. But, thereafter he again went out to stable, harnessed his gelding and hitched him to the tub cart. Then he returned to the kitchen and spoke for the first time.
"Ellen, will you come with me down to see your brother?"
She hesitated, her hands thrown wide in a helpless, hopeless gesture. "Little use you going to see my brother, Shawn. 'Tis I should go and - and not come back."
"Don't blame me now or later, Ellen. It has been put on me, and the thing I am going to do is the only thing to be done. Will you come?"
"Very well," she agreed tonelessly. I will be ready in a minute."
And they went the four miles down into the vale to the big farmhouse of Moyvalla. They drove into the great square of cobbled yard and found it empty.
On one side of the square was the long, low, lime-washed dwelling house; on the other, 50 yards away, the two-storied line of steadings with a wide arch in the middle; and through the arch came the purr and zoom of a threshing machine. Shawn tied the half-bred to the wheel of a farm cart and, with Ellen, approached the house.
A slattern servant girl leaned over the kitchen half door and pointed through the arch. The master was out beyond in the haggard (the rickyard) and would she run across for him?
"Never mind, achara, " said Shawn, I'll get him... Ellen, will you go in and wait?"
'No." said Ellen, I'll come with you." She knew her brother.
As they went through the arch,the purr and zoom grew louder and, turning the corner, they walked into the midst of activity. A long double row of cone-pointed corn stacks stretched across the yard and, between them, Matt Tobin's portable threshing machine was busy. The smooth-flying, 8-foot driving wheel made a sleepy purr and the black driving belt ran with a sag and a heave to the red-painted thresher. Up there on the platform,bare-armed men were feeding the flying drum with loosened sheaves, their hands moving in a rhythmic sway. As the toothed drum bit at the corn sheaves it made an angry snarl that changed and slowed into a satisfied zoom: The wide conveying belt was carrying the golden straw up a steep incline to where other men were building a long rick; still more men were attending to the corn shoots, shoulders bending under the weight of the sacks as they ambled across to the granary. Matt Tobin himself bent at the face of his engine, feeding the fire box with sods of hard black peat. There were not less than two score men about the place, for, as was the custom, all Big Liam's friends and neighbours were giving him a hand with the threshing - "the day in harvest."
Big Liam came round the flank of the engine and swore. He was in his shirtsleeves, and his great forearms were covered with sandy hair.
"Hell and damnation! Look who's here!"
He was in the worst of tempers this morning. The stale dregs of yesterday's whiskey were still with him, and he was in the humour that, as they say, would make a dog bite its father. He took two slow strides and halted, feet apart and head truculently forward.
'What is it this time?" he shouted. That was the un-Irish welcome he gave his sister and her husband.
Shawn and Ellen came forward steadily, and, as they came, Matt Tobin slowly throttled down his engine. Big Liam heard the change of pitch and looked angrily over his shoulder.
"What the hell do you mean, Tobin? Get on with the work!"
"To hell with yourself, Big Liam! This is my engine, and if you don't like it, you can leave it!' And at that he drove the throttle shut and the purr of the flywheel slowly sank.
"We will see in a minute," threatened Big Liam and turned the two now near at hand.
"What is it?" he growled.
"A private word with you. I won't keep you long." Shawn was calm and cold.
"You will not - on a busy morning sneered the big man. "There is no need for private words between me and Shawn Kelvin. "
"There is need," urged Shawn. It will be best for us all if you hear what I have to say in your own house."
"Or here on my own land. Out with it! I don't care who hears!"
Shawn looked round him. Up on the thresher, up on the straw rick, men leaned idle on fork handles and looked down at him; from here and there about the stockyard, men moved in to see, as it might be, what had caused the stoppage, but only really interested in the two brothers-in-law. He was in the midst of Clan O'Grady; they were mostly O'Grady men - big strong, blond men, rough, confident, proud of their breed. Matt Tobin was the only man he could call a friend. Many of the others were not unfriendly, but all had contempt in their eyes, or, what was worse, pity. Very well! Since he had to prove himself, it was fitting that he do it here amongst the O'Grady men.
Shawn brought his eyes back to Big Liam-deep, steadfast eyes that did not waver. "O'Grady,"said he-and he no longer hid his contempt - "you set a great store by money."
"No harm in that. You do it yourself, Shawneen."
"Take it so! I will play that game with you, till hell freezes. You would bargain your sister and cheat; I will sell my soul. Listen, you big brute! You owe me 200 pounds. Will you pay 'There was an iron quality in his voice that was somehow awesome. The big man, about to start forward overbearingly, restrained himself to a brutal playfulness.
I will pay it when I am ready."
"No; nor tomorrow."
"Right. If you break your bargain, I break mine."
"What's that?" shouted Big Liam.
If you keep your 200 pounds, you keep your sister."
"What is it?" shouted Big Liam again, his voice breaking in astonishment. "What is that you say?"
"You heard me. Here is your sister Ellen! Keep her!"
"Fires o' hell!" He was completely astounded out of his truculence. "You can't do that!"
It is done," said Shawn.
Ellen O'Grady had been quiet as a statue at Shawn's side, but now, slow like doom, she faced him. She leaned forward and looked into his eyes and saw the pain behind the strength. "To the mother of your son, Shawn Kelvin?" she whispered that gently to him.
His voice came cold as a stone out of stone face: In the face of God. Let Him judge me."
I know, I know!" that was all she said, and walked quietly across to where Matt Tobin stood at the face of his engine.
Matt Tobin placed a hand on her arm. "Give him time, colleen," he whispered urgently. "Give him his own time. He's slow, but he's deadly as an ogre when he moves."
Big Liam was no fool. He knew exactly how far he could go. There was no use, at this juncture, in crushing the runt under a great fist. There was some force in the little fellow that defied dragooning. Whatever people might think of Kelvin, public opinion would be dead against himself.
Worse, his inward vision saw eyes leering in derision, mouths open in laughter. The scandal on his name would not be surrounded by the four seas of Erin. He must change his stance while he had time. These thoughts passed through his mind while he thudded the ground three times with iron-shod heel. Now he threw up his head and bellowed his laugh.
"You fool! I was only making fun of you. What are your dirty few pounds to the likes of me? Stay where you are." He turned,strode furiously away,and disappeared through the arch.
Shawn Kelvin was left alone in that wide ring of men. The hands had come down off the ricks and thresher to see closer. Now they moved back and aside, looked at one another, lifted eyebrows, looked at Shawn Kelvin, frowned and shook their heads. They knew Big Liam. They knew that, yielding up the money, his savagery would break out into something little short of killing. They waited most of them, to prevent that savagery going too far.
Shawn Kelvin did not look at anyone. He stood still as a rock, his hands deep in his pockets; one shoulder hunched forward, his eyes on the ground and his face strangely calm. He seemed the least perturbed man here. Matt Tobin held Ellen's arm in a steadying grip and whispered in her ear: "God is good, tell you."
Big Liam was back in two minutes. He strode straight to Shawn and halted within a pace of him. "Look, Shawneen!" In his raised hand was a crumpled bundle of greasy bank notes. "Here is your money. Take it, and then see what will happen to you. Take it!" He thrust it into Shawn's hand. "Count it. Make sure you have it all-and then I will kick you out of this haggard - and look" he thrust forward a hairy fist "if ever I see your face again, I will drive that through it! Count it, you spawn!"
Shawn did not count it. Instead he crumpled it into a ball in his strong fingers. Then he turned on his heel and walked, with surprising slowness, to the face of the engine. He gestured with one hand to Matt Tobin, but it was Ellen, quick as a flash, who obeyed the gesture. Though the hot bar scorched her hand, she jerked open the door of the firebox and the leaping peat flames whispered out at her. And forthwith, Shawn Kelvin, with one easy sweep, threw the crumpled ball of notes into the heart of the flame. The whisper lifted one tone and one scrap of burned paper floated out of the funnel top. That was all the fuss the fire made of its work. But there was fuss enough outside.
Big Liam O'Grady gave one mighty shout. No, it was more an anguished scream then a shout: "My money! My good money!" He gave two furious bounds forward, his great arms raised to crush and kill. But his hands never touched the small man.
"You dumb ox!" said Shawn Kelvin between his teeth. That strong, hunched shoulder moved a little, but no one there could follow the terrific drive of that hooked right arm. The smack of bone on bone was sharp as a whip crack, and, Big Liam stopped dead, went back on his heels, swayed a moment and staggered back three paces.
"Now and forever! Man of the Kelvin's!" roared Matt Tobin.
But Big Liam was a man of iron. That blow should have laid him on his back - blows like it had tied men to the ground for the full count. But Big Liam only shook his head, grunted like a boar, and drove in at the little man. And the little man, instead of circling away, drove in at him, compact of power.
The men of the O'Grady's saw then an exhibition that they had not knowledge enough to appreciate fully. Thousands paid as much as $10 each to see the great Tiger Kelvin in action, his footwork, his timing, his hitting; and never was his on more devastating than now. He was a thunderbolt on two feet and the big man a glutton.
Big Liam never touched Shawn with clenched fist. He did know not know. Shawn, actually 40 pounds lighter, drove him by sheer hitting across the yard.
Men for the first time saw a 200-pound man knocked clean off his feet by a body blow. They saw for the first time the deadly restraint and explosion of skill.
Shawn set out to demolish his enemy in the briefest space of time, and it took him five minutes to do it. Five, six, eight times he knocked the big man down, and the big man came again staggering, slavering, raving, vainly trying to rend and smash. But at last he stood swaying and clawing helplessly, and Shawn finished him with his terrible double hit - left below the breastbone and right under the jaw.
Big Liam lifted on his toes and fell flat on his back. He did not even kick as he lay. Shawn did not waste a glance at the fallen giant. He swung full circle on the O'Grady men and his voice of iron challenged them:
"I am Shawn Kelvin, of Knockanore Hill. Is there an O'Grady amongst you thinks himself a better man? Come then." His face was deep carved stone, his great chest lifted, the air whistled through his nostrils; his deep-set flashing eyes dared them. No man came.
His face was still of stone, but his voice quivered and had in it all the dramatic force of the Celt: "Mother of my son, will you come home with me?"
She lifted to the appeal, voice and eye: Is it so you ask me, Shawn Kelvin?"
His face of stone quivered at last. "As my wife only-Ellen Kelvin! "
"Very well, heart's treasure." She caught his arm in both of hers. "Let us be going home."
"In the name of God," he finished for her.
And she went with him, proud as the morning, out of that place. But a woman, she would have the last word. "Mother of God!" she cried. "The trouble I had to make a man of him!"
"God Almighty did that for him before you were born,' said Matt Tobin softly.