Mirry-Ann: A Manx Story
Mirry-Ann: A Manx Story
Chapters I to X
“For the Lord will not fail his people; neither will he forsake his inheritance.”
It was at even, ere the sun was set, that these words fell upon the idle ears of Grace Christian.
Neither the bared heads of the fishermen, nor the attentive attitude of the women listening, with the conscious calm of not far distant village homes lending an air of domestic peace to the scene, served to touch a nerve of poetic emotion in the girl’s flippant nature.
Not yet out of the hearing of the little gathering of people, she turned to the squire, her brother, with a shallow laugh.
“What a particularly unsuitable text! Methodists have no sense of humour, and yet it was not forbidden by John Wesley.”
The squire reluctantly took his eyes off the figure of the young preacher and turned them reproachfully on his sister. It was a brilliant face, beautiful enough to arouse even a brother’s admiration. As he looked at her he did not speak; no words were ready. But his expression clearly showed that, man like, without taking any active part in living up to the precepts of Christ’s doctrine (professing through circumstances a Christian belief, without letting the restraint and sacrifices of its teaching interfere with his worldly pleasures), he disliked hearing flippant utterances from the lips of a pretty woman, more especially his own sister.
Clearly noting his look and resenting it, Grace went on: “Surely if there ever was a time when the Lord had failed his people, it has been during the past year. The village has been positively devastated with scarlet fever — there is scarcely a house in the village that has not suffered — and now they say that the her- rings have left the coast ; and yet ”
She paused a moment and the preacher’s voice was heard again: “In the multitude of the sorrow I had in my heart thy comforts have refreshed my soul.”
The girl had to strain her ears to catch the last words, although the preacher’s voice was clear and penetrating, for the sky overhead was black with rooks homing to the small plantation of fir trees under which the little meeting had gathered, and the chorus of cawing to denote their day’s work done broke the stillness of the air and drowned the preacher’s voice. Grace Christian walked on in silence for a few moments as they turned out of the meadow into the narrow path through a wild gean orchard which wound its way toward the wide avenue leading to the Big House.
“Who is she? ” the squire at last asked, half-absently, as if expecting to place her in his memory before his sister answered. “Do I know her?”
“Of course you do; she’s a Colby girl, born and bred. She’s only ‘ old Ned Gawne’s girl,’ Mirry-Ann, as the people call her. I believe she styles herself Marion.”
“Great scissors! Not little Mirry Gawne, old — Ned — Gawne’s girl?”
“Yes. The very same. Some well-meaning fool, I hear, educated her in a Methodist college in Liverpool. When she came back to the village she took up this preaching craze.”
The squire laughed a little, tenderly.
“Of course I recognise her now. But, Grace, she was always religious, even as a little bit of a thing. She used to ask me all sorts of questions about my soul, don’t you remember? But she was a dear little child. Just fancy little Mirry Gawne with the tearful blue eyes grown up into a Methodist preacher, and ” He paused.
“And?” Grace asked.
“And,” the squire laughed back, “a really beautiful woman. ”
“Her religion’s all humbug; I don’t believe a bit in it. She comes of a bad lot. She merely thinks it suits her style. I feel sure she is perfectly well aware how much more striking she is dressed like a Quaker, than decked out in curled crows’ feathers and cotton roses, like the other village girls. I can’t stand her at any price.”
“Apparently not, dear,” and the squire looked slyly at his sister. “But surely you needn’t be jealous of a girl in that position. I know that two pretty women of the same colouring never can admire each other.”
“Same colour indeed!” and the girl’s slim back straightened, as with chin uplifted she sailed down the narrow orchard path like a white yacht carrying her full complement of sail. “Same colour!” she repeated scornfully. “Thanks, Chum; I’m sorry for your eye-sight.”
“Oh, my eyesight’s right enough, and I know quite well that if that lovely girl’s skin wasn’t exposed so much to the sun and sea, and if a maid brushed that great coil of hair and tucked it up in that funny sort of a pump-handle business, like yours — which shows off all the lights in it — the tout ensemble would be pretty much the same colour as Miss Grace Christian, of Ballaugh.”
“What about our eyes, pray? A woman’s colouring goes by her eyes, a man’s by his mustache,” and Grace turned her indignant gray ones full on her brother’s face. Mirry Gawne’s are the regular fisher-girl’s blue — mine are the true Wheatley eyes.”
“Gay, gray, and godless — eh, Grace?”
“It doesn’t pay, Chum dear, to show your feelings if you’re a woman; blue eyes are such spooney things, they always give a girl away.”
The squire’s eyes were frankly blue, and delightfully merry.
“No one could accuse Grace Christian of being spooney,” he said. “A little more feeling wouldn’t spoil your beauty, dear. Men like to know that a girl is a woman and not only a female. In fact.”
“In fact,” Grace interrupted, “when a man’s looking at a girl he likes picturing to himself how she’d behave when he first tried to kiss her. It’s always what’s to follow in a pretty woman that interests a man.”
“You seem to be wise in the ways of men. How would you take it?”
Grace was stooping down to catch up the blue Persian cat which had come down the portico of the white-stone house to meet her.
“Don’t be absurd, Frank. There’s nobody in Colby who wants to try, in the first place. Besides, the men one wouldn’t mind kissing, one would mind marrying — and the one is so often taken as a preliminary to the other.”
They had reached the “Big House,” as Ballaugh was familiarly called. In the square hall plenty of easy-chairs, books, and light literature of to-day were scattered about in a becoming untidiness. There was a look of modern luxury about the place which was characteristic of its owners.
Grace threw herself down in a low rocking-chair. The blue-haired cat curled itself up in a coaxing attitude between her neck and shoulders. She picked up the letters which had just arrived by the evening mail; two were for her brother and one was for herself. She opened her own idly while she tickled the soft breast of the cat.
“Here are two for you, Frank,” she said. “One looks like Uncle Robert’s writing. I do hope he isn’t offering to visit us! I’m so sick of Uncle Robert!”
Frank took the letters from his sister and put them both unopened into his pocket. “Uncle Robert’s letters will always keep, and they generally answer themselves if you leave them long enough. What an old beast he is! He’d borrow a shilling without a blush; but he knows I’m good for a fiver rather than have him here. I think I’ll have another stroll, Grace,” he said, suddenly changing the subject. “It’s really too lovely to come in yet. I suppose supper’s at nine, as usual? ”
Grace pretended to yawn; she was really watching her brother very closely.
“Oh, yes; it makes the evenings so horribly long if we dine any earlier. But don’t be late.”
“There’s plenty of time for a stroll. I’ll be back in good time,” and the young squire kissed the cat that was purring happily near the shining pump-handle of hair. He was an affectionate fellow and would gladly have kissed his sister, but that was a liberty no one ever took with Grace Christian. She knew, however, that the caress given to the cat was meant to convey that her brother was sorry if he had said anything to annoy her, and this was quite as near as any one ever came to showing their feelings to the young mistress of Ballaugh.
When the squire had left the house Grace stopped reading her letter, and addressed the cat, with a mischievous smile on her face.
“Kitty dear,” she said, “he’s gone to have another look at the pretty preacher; you and I know the habits of the male sex, don’t we, dear? I didn’t live under Uncle Robert’s roof for nothing. We know how demureness attracts them almost as much as badness, and how beautiful he’ll think her when she sings the evening hymn. Mirry Gawne is a clever woman, Kitty, although she is only the baseborn child of a fisher girl.”
Grace paused, and thought for a moment. “But it’s her eyes, pussy, and the woman in them that does it. Mine are only female’s eyes, I suppose; hers are a woman’s, tender and appealing. And Frank is so susceptible, pussy, it’s very dangerous; but what’s to be done?”
She took up her letter again and was soon lost in it, while her susceptible brother found his way back, apparently unconsciously, to the little cluster of people gathered together under the fir trees.
When he reached the spot the evening hymn was being sung. Mirry Gawne’s clear full voice rose well above the less certain singing of the congregation. Frank Christian stood a little apart and watched with beating pulses the girl whom he remembered as a golden-haired child; a gentle little child with serious blue eyes, and “mortal genteel ways at her” as the villagers expressed it.
It was well before the days of the Salvation Army movement, or at least before that “great army of peace” had invaded all the quiet corners of the world. But Mirry-Ann Gawne’s black bonnet was not unlike the bonnet of the modern Salvation Army lass. Her heavy coil of light hair just fitted into the opening in the bonnet behind and lay softly in the arch of the slender neck; white strings were tied closely under her chin.
Frank noticed all this with a man’s quick instinct for the good points in a woman, and also that her plain black frock fitted her flowing figure, which had none of the flatness or angularity so noticeable among the lower classes when once they adorn themselves in their chapel clothes.
The girl was so uncommonly beautiful that the young man half hoped she would not notice his presence.
The rooks had almost cawed their last and were gradually quieting for the night, not, however, without some family discussions over the favourite corners, and the red glow of the departing sun was low over the sea. The words of the hymn had never struck the squire’s careless youth as particularly worth listening to until he heard them from the lips of Mirry-Ann Gawne:
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes ; Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies; Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee; In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
The girl read aloud each verse before it was sung. All present knew the words by heart, but it was an old island custom when books were scarce among the people, and not an unpleasant one. She read well, and raised the singing with no trace of shyness in her voice.
Frank Christian remained spellbound. Her eyes were lit up with a beautiful spiritual emotion, but they were still the pure, blue eyes of the little child he had played with so long ago. Her identity came back to him in flashes; he remembered how easily he had made her cry, and how when she cried as a little child her long dark lashes would stick together in heavy wet patches with her tears. Then again he remembered her love for animals and her childish pity for all things suffering and wounded. But all this was before he went to school in England, in the days when he knew the name of every boy and girl in the village and played with them as their equal, until perhaps some point in the game caused a noisy dispute. Then Frank Christian would turn on his heel, and mind him that he was the squire’s son. He knew well- enough that he had only to assert his position by passing through the tall iron gates where the village youngsters used to stand and peep at the Big House half hidden in the trees, with its brilliant patches of red geraniums and yellow calceolarias showing the whole length of the avenue away.
He had scarcely lived in the old place since his childish days, as his father had died when he was little more than ten years old, and during his minority he had lived with his aunt, Miss Wheatley, a half-sister of his mother.
When the evening hymn was finished Mirry Gawne’s eyes met those of the young squire and a blush of surprise coloured her face, and, Frank Christian thought, almost a look of gladness as well. But the next moment her eyes were bent on the ground and a blessing was asked. Then the meeting broke up, and the villagers took their way through the meadow toward the village.
The squire went up to the mound where Mirry-Ann still stood; he raised his hat and the girl bowed politely, saying, half with dignity, half with respectful shyness: “Good-evening, sir; we’re glad to see you back again.”
The squire had a personality which had made him highly popular both at school and at Oxford. It was principally due to the boyish expression of his well-bred face and the frankness of his blue eyes. Young girls would have called him “awfully good-looking,” women
would have described him as ” lovable.”
He answered her quickly.
“And I’m awfully glad to be back among you all again. I feel just as young as ever; in fact, I thought I was a boy still, but I find that all the boys and girls I left have grown into men and women. It was my sister who told me that you are the little Mirry Gawne.”
He looked at her slim maidenly height with an amused smile.
“Would you not have known me, sir?”
The squire laughed. “If I had seen your eyes, yes, I think I should, but I only heard your voice. Would you have known me? Yet I think men change more than girls.”
“We don’t grow mustaches, sir,” and the girl laughed, a delicious laugh that had nothing to do with her serious eyes and manner. “Perhaps, sir, if I hadn’t known you were expected home I might not, but you see, we’ve all been looking for you; it’s so dull in the village when the Big House is shut up. I hope, sir, you mean to live here. It’s bad for the village when the squire is away. There’s no one to take any real interest in the people.”
“Or for the people to take a real interest in; the affairs of the ‘ Big House ‘ keep them busy?”
“That’s very true, sir. Colby is a terrible place for gossip, but they don’t mean any harm by it; they have so little in their lives they must peep into those that are larger. But I must be going, sir; good-evening.”
“Please stop a minute, Miss Gawne — or Mirry-Ann — which is it to be? May I call you Mirry-Ann?”
“I should think so; indeed, it would sound very strange if you didn’t, sir.”
“But you’ve grown up since I left and you’ve been to college, a regular blue-stocking. I hear you took the Manx scholarship, or something, didn’t you?”
“Yes, sir. Uncle is a good Manx scholar and it came easy to me, and the scholarship took me to a school in Liverpool; but I’m only Mirry Gawne, old Ned Gawne’s girl, for all that, sir.” The great blue eyes were veiled behind their lashes as she said the words a little bitterly.
The squire remembered the expression in the old days. “Old Ned Gawne’s girl” — he had used the very words to his sister that day. It was the name the girl went by in the village, for Ned Gawne was her only relative, and he was but her grand-uncle.
“You are my own little playfellow, Mirry Gawne,” and the squire held out his hand to the girl, and for the gracious words her heart went out to him. When she put her hand into his, ungloved and brown, he felt that her slender fingers were not the inheritance of humble fisher blood, nor was the quiet dignity of her manner.
When she turned and left him a little abruptly, the squire stayed to watch her black-gowned figure pass down the meadow. Buttercups all gold were growing in their slender grace, and dog-daisies almost reached up to the girl’s knees as she walked. Mirry-Ann Gawne loved buttercups and all field flowers, and she stopped now and then to gather some on her way home. Some artist would have loved to paint the black figure in the evening light passing through the waving sea of flowers.
Frank Christian was no artist, but a very human young man.
“I hope I shan’t fall in love with her,” he said, which meant that he had done so already. “She’s so confoundedly pretty. Grace isn’t fair, for she’s the simplest creature I ever met. Circumstances may have placed her in a cottage, but I’m sure Nature made her for a palace.
But no, she’s better suited to a natural simple life, reigning queen of it all. My lady of the flowers, I’ll call her She’d turn the head of half the stalls if she went on the stage simply dressed like that, and sang a song — or a hymn, for the matter of that. Johnnies might be induced to listen to hymns if they could hear them sung from lips like those. She’s simply stunning. I wonder who on earth her father was, but I can’t even recollect her mother. I must ask Grace.”
But Grace Christian had no recollection of Mirry Gawne’s mother.
History had repeated itself with Mirry-Ann’s family. Both her grandmother and her mother were village belles, but neither of them had found husbands in village beaus. Maidenly virtue was but lightly thought of in these outwardly respectable and peaceful little villages. Young mothers’ heads were not bowed with shame when their babes were registered in their maiden names, nor were their chances of winning a good husband lessened by their trouble. A few shillings a week served to father the child well enough; there was always a place for it in the old home if the young mothers and fathers were regular in their contributions toward its expenses.
When Mirry Gawne’s mother was a baby the weekly sum which fathered the little one did not come from the Manx herring-fleet at Kinsale. It was strange that the village curiosity never did fathom where that money came from; one of the chief reasons being that it never passed through the village post-office.
Some said that it came from no less a person than the Attorney General himself, for Mirry Gawne’s grandmother was a winsome, delicate thing when she went to be maid in his mother’s house. Her child, Emma Gawne, was in her turn the village beauty. She never went to service; her uncle, Ned Gawne, had been wise enough to profit by the example of her mother’s unhappy story, and he hoped, by keeping the girl in her village home under his own eye, that he would keep her out of the danger her beauty would subject her to.
Old Ned Gawne, and his wife, who died when Emma was a mere child, were the only near relatives that pretty Emma Gawne had in the village.
Her beauty was delicate and provoking, and although she was a nameless child there was scarce a man in the village, from the schoolmaster who had a bit of “college learning at him” (which in after days he bestowed gratuitously on Emma Gawne’s daughter), to the Wesleyan preacher, who would not gladly have given her his own. “She had real genteel ways at her and a mortal saf tongue in her head” that made the young girls in the village dislike her, but at a prayer meeting, or a choir practice, it was little Emma Gawne who had the pick of the village lads to see her home. In all grades men are only grateful for favours to come, and if Emma Gawne was sparing of her favours, and ever postponed the liberty of walking hand-in-hand through the dark lanes, or made the lads fear to snatch a kiss — more hurried than tender, as they did with other lasses, it was in their minds only the more tempting for the postponement. It was the delightful anticipation of what was still to be that kept them ever at her beck and call. Each walk might see the barrier broken down, each message, or mission well performed, might be repaid by a kiss.
Her eyes, the eyes which she bequeathed to her daughter, Mirry-Ann, were like the sea, and every man could read with quickening heart the depth of stormy passion that would one day be stirred up in their peaceful blue.
The day came when Emma Gawne suddenly left the village, and the girls were glad, for there was peace in the minds of the men and they turned their thoughts to those who were not too fine to walk hand-in-hand with the fisher-lads in their blue guernseys.
Emma Gawne never returned to heal the aching in her uncle’s heart or to disturb the village courtships. But a little blue-eyed child came instead, and all the village knew that they were the eyes of Emma’s child.
Thus it was that Mirry Gawne had two generations of gentle blood in her veins inherited on both sides from the father. And her father’s blood was strong although it was unrecognised, for the graces of heredity come to the nameless as well as to the great. If her mother had had a lawful right to her father’s name the law of inheritance could not have done its work more surely.
In the village, Mirry-Ann was nothing more nor less than a child of accident — little Emma Gawne’s trouble. The folk did not think less of her on that account; still the fact robbed her of a home, for her great-uncle, Ned Gawne, was getting too old to make much by the fishing, and Mirry Gawne could not leave him in his old age to make a living for herself.
When Mirry-Ann reached her uncle’s cottage the same evening she found the old man brooding over the fire. His big Bible was open on his knees, but his eyes were closed and his head was sunk on his chest.
“Are you cold, dad,” she said gently, “on such a fine night as this? If you had taken the meeting it would have done you more good than this poor fire.”
She put her two hands on the old man’s shoulder and stooped down to kiss his weather-beaten face. The meadow air was still clinging to her clothes and a new sweet fragrance of youth and summer seemed to emanate from her through the room.
It was a little while before the old man spoke. The girl’s cheek was soft and cool.
“It’s mortal couth I am, Mirry-Ann, but praychin’ ‘ill not bring no warmth to my ould bones at all.”
“Oh, dad, but it brings such warmth to the soul — it kindles the spirit.”
“My gaugh! but it’s thrue what you’re sayin’, Mirry-Ann: the spirit is willin’, but the flesh is wake. It was tryin’ to follow ye up to the prayer maetin’ I was when the rheumatics took me that bad that Tom Quilliam’s woman had to give me a han’ home.”
“Why didn’t you come with me, dad? I had to walk all the way there, and back, alone.”
Mirry-Ann had slipped down on her knees in front of the old man, for she was fast rubbing some of the vitality of her young blood into his old trembling limbs. Her voice shook a little as she asked the question, and the old man’s head sank farther down on his breast.
“It’s true, dad, I wanted you; I wanted the spiritual help of your presence. Now that the immediate fear of death has passed from the village the hearts of the people have fallen back into the old cold way. Ah! how they prayed and implored the Master’s pity, while He shook their hearts with fear! Why didn’t you come, dad?”
“Mirry-Ann,” the old man said at last, and the words came slowly, “thou’rt doin’ what seems right in thine own eyes. Thou’rt doin’ what may seem right in the eyes of the Lord, but thou’rt not doin’ what I like to see a young wom-an do. Thou’rt doin man’s work. Praychin’, lass, in the chapel, or in the fields, is man’s work. A wom-an’s work is in the house mindin’ the childer.”
“But you were coming to hear me yourself, dad; you’ve just said so.” And the girl smiled, with a look of such tender sympathy in her eyes that it was a pity there was only the old rumpy cat privileged to see it.
“Thrue enough, chil’ villish, thrue enough; but I’m not sayin’ that I was aisy in me conscience for all, though. But they’re tellin’ me that thy schoolin’ and thy fine larnin’ has given thee a mortal fine tongue in thy head and a powerful clare way of put tin’ things. ‘Deed but they’re sayin’ as how thou’rt movin’ men’s hearts just as aisy as the Lord Bishop himself. An’ I was wantin’ to hear thee, lass, for it’s the las’ time, Mirry-Ann; thou’st promised, and thou’lt kape thy word?”
“Yes, dad, it’s the last time. I’ll not preach again.”
“An’ I’m mortal glad to hear thee promise, for it’s not wom-an’s work; the ‘fection’s [infection] all over, lass; let them go back to the chapel again.”
These pious Methodists, who spent most of their spare time in their chapels or at prayer meetings, raising up prophets among themselves with as little difficulty as a Hindoo juggler raises up a palm tree on the deck of a ship out of a tumblerful of dry sand, had at heart a mighty reverence for the Established Church. It was in even keeping with their grudging respect for the upper classes. They were an ultra-independent race, scorning charity given in the form of charity, while at the same time, stronger than their independent radical views, was their inherited respect for ” real gentry.” The church belonged to the gentry, and the chapel to the people. But there was not the same enjoyment to be derived from going to the conventional service in the little white-washed church in the morning as there was in suddenly being called upon by the brethren at the chapel in the evening to address the meeting.
There was no hard and fast line drawn between the church and chapel; almost every man, woman, and child were regular church-goers. The long white road which led from the village to the parish church was raised to a cloud of dust every Sunday morning with the tramping of heavy country feet. The precious black of the elder women and the gay colours of the younger folk, mixed with the stiff blue coats of the men, made an unending stream from church to village.
The seats in the church were all free, but so regular were these devout chapel people in their morning attendance at church that every sitting had by right of custom been allotted to its particular owner. But their attitude in the service — which, it must be confessed, was not soul-stirring — was one of passive indifference. It is true that they sang the popular hymns with more than necessary unction, swaying from side to side in true sailor fashion, and often keeping time with their heavy boots on the wooden floor. The zeal of an old man, the Captain of the Parish, had necessitated a new zinc floor for his pew, for rumour had it that the old hymn, ” There is a fountain filled with blood,” had worn out three floors in the Captain’s pew in his lifetime.
But all this was due to their intense love of singing, and is a digression from the story.
When Mirry-Ann had rubbed some life into the old man’s rheumatic limbs, she busied herself preparing the evening meal.
“Herrings and potatoes, dad,” she said; “and if what they say is true, it will soon be potatoes without the herrings.”
“Herrin’ and spuds, you mean”; and the blue eyes of the old man under their heavy eyebrows looked at the girl with such a mingling of scorn and anger that the hot blood mounted to her white forehead. “What art thou doin’ with that newfangled way of talkin’ at ye? Spuds and herrin? Can’t thou kape a decent tongue in thy head, and not be apin’ the foreign gibberish thou’rt hearin’ in Liverpool?”
“‘Deed an’ I warn’t apin’, dad, and that’s the thruth I’m tellin’ thee. I didn’t ape at all; I joost clane forgot.” And the girl’s arms went round him, while the homely words slipped off her tongue with so perfect an imitation of the old man’s brogue that he fell to laughing.
“There, Mirry-Ann, lave go and don’t be endangerin’ thy foolish sowl with tellin’ lies; it’s just apin’ the gentry thou art, to practise thy larnin’. But thou’rt only ould Ned Gawne’s girl for all; thou’st naught to do with genteel folks.”
The spuds and herrings were set on the little table, which was covered with a spotless white cloth made of coarse homespun yarn. And the bright flowering yellow calceolaria and red geraniums formed a screen against the window to keep off the curious eyes of the passers-by, for the little white cottage was built on the village street. Two chairs were drawn up to the table and the old man told the girl to ask a blessing.
For a moment she did not speak. When she had command of her voice the old man looked at her covertly under his bushy eyebrows; large tears had dropped between her fingers on to the white cloth. Mirry-Ann was ever easily made to weep, as the young squire had remembered.
At the sight of her tears the old man took out a rough red handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to the girl.
“Wipe thy eyes, lass; thou’rt tired with thy praychin’; it’s no wom-an’s work, I tould thee.” And he took her hands in his, which were the honest horny hands of toil.
“I’m not tired, dad, but thou’rt ever throwin’ in my face that I’m only ould Ned Gawne’s girl.”
“And ain’t ould Ned Gawne good enough for thee, lass?” The old man tried to laugh, but the laugh was tearful and the voice was bitter.
“Yes, too good, dad, dear, if it was ould Ned Gawne’s daughter I was called, but it’s just ould Ned’s girl, and it’s dreadfully hard, dad, to have that always dragging you down when it ain’t any fault of your own.”
“My gaugh! and who said it wass draggin’ thee down? I’ll be draggin’ them down that’s sayin’ it. There’s not a house in the street that can throw a stone at ye, for there’s more love childer nor Emma Gawne’s in the village. Mirry-Ann,” the old man went on, more softly, “if I wass sayin’ it meself a few minutes ago, it wass joost cause thou wast talkin’ that newfangled talk, that don’t belong at all to the people as found thee bread and mate when thou wert lef, a lil’ bundle of yeller hair and blue eyes, in ould Ned’s boat out yonder, fas’ asleep under the sate. There warn’t no name put on ye at all, and ye couldn’t spake, but yer eyes were the same, chil’ — the very same; ye wass the mortal spit of her all over. And when ye grew up I could see the same saf genteel ways comin’ with yer play; and yer very han’s too, Mirry-Ann, were joost the same, always saf and nate-like, no matter if thou wart pailin’ the spuds or helpin’ thy ould dad to gut the herrin. If I could have shook the genteel ways out of ye I would, lass, once — it’s thrue as I’m sittin’ here, I tried to do it. But it’s makin’ me laugh joost to think of it. Thou wart a lil’ bit of a thing, but thou wart showin’ too plain for my likin’ that it warn’t workin’ blood that ran strongest in thy veins. My gaugh ! chil’, but I wass up wi’ ye and nearly bate the life out of thy lil’ body. An’ would ye believe it, when I put ye down all covered with tears — thou wart a rare one to cry, Mirry-Ann — yes, all tears, and herrin’ scales, for I wass joost saltin’ for the winter, thou wart up and walked away with as much pride and consate in thy lil’ body as the Governor’s wife herself. An’ the imperance of ye, before I had time to get me breath ye had put up a prayer for yer ould uncle, an’ a mighty fine prayer it wass too, for the chil’ ye wass then. Mirry-Ann, it’s cause I love ye like me own flesh an’ blood, that’s been lyin’ all them fifty years in the churchyard, that I can’t listen to that genteel tongue in thy head. Them as threw thee back on thy mother’s people for every bite ye ever ate, ain’t good enough if they do be gentry for ould Ned Gawne’s girl to be apin’.”
“Who knows that they were not fisher peopie just like ourselves, dad? Why are you so certain that poor mother loved a gentleman? ”
” He warn’t no gentleman, Mirry-Ann — leastways not what the Lord and I reckon a gentleman. But Emma Gawne, she never had no fancy for the Colby lads; she wass mortal independent, not carin’ if she warn’t seen keepin’ company with a young fellow from one’s year end to the t’other. She wass joost as happy and contented like, sittin’ out yonder with me mendin’ the nets, or sidin’ up the house, as she wass goin’ to a prayer maetin’, or a burial, with the smartest young fellow in the place. Thy mawther, Mirry-Ann, wass a rare one to taze. Sometimes I wass thinkin’ it wass joost to draw the lads on that she wass houldin’ back; for she would be takin’ her guernsey out there in the sun and sit lookin’ as demure as the ould cat there when she’s pretendin’ she don’t notice the lil’ mouse, joost at the very nick of time that the gels and young fellows would be walkin’ out. Some of the gels would be lookin’ at her as if they would like to turn her into a ghoul, while the young fellows would be heavin’ big sighs at her as would sail a nickie out of port yonder and a flood tide runnin’ agin her.”
“And did you never even guess, dad?”
“Guess what, lass?”
“Guess rightly who stole her poor heart from the Colby lads?”
The old man got up and struck his hand on the table and glared at the girl. The memory of sweet Emma Gawne had roused all his old deadly hatred against the upper classes.
“No, chil’, I didn’t; naver. The Lord saw to that, for it’s murther as would have been done if I’d caught sight of his dirty face. But thy mawther kept her sacret too close for that. With all her merry ways and the light heart arrar, Emma Gawne wass hidin’ a heavy sacret. But she couldn’t hide it from the Lord, Mirry- Ann, though she warn’t takin’ no thought of her soul, like you, lass, for she wass joost takin’ religion as lightly as she wass takin’ her young man — joost somethin’ to come in handy like when there warn’t nothin’ else in season. Even at a prayer maetin’ she’d be smilin’ and as jolly lookin’ as if the Lord had chosen Emma Gawne out particular like, joost as if there warn’t no judgment day sure and sartin for Emma Gawne. And there warn’t no way of convartin’ her neither, she wass that slippery about her sowl, just tazin’ the Lord as she wass tazin’ every other man.”
“Poor, poor little mother! what a child she was! Just think, dad, only seventeen when it all happened! She was such a foolish child, perhaps the Lord would ” Mirry-Ann hesitated.
“Make it aisy for her, is it that you wass meanin’, Mirry-Ann? make it aisy for her, when the smile wass took off her pretty face and she found that there wass a hell and judgment day for lil’ Emma Gawne? Mirry-Ann, I’ve bane puttin’ up a prayer every night and mornin’ since you wass lef in the boat out yonder that thy poor mawther wass ready to be took.”
“She was far more sinned against than sinning; she was so simple and trusting, dad, and she had never known a mother’s care.”
“Mirry-Ann, it warn’t that she trusted the man she loved too well that wass breakin’ me heart at all. Itwassjoost that she didn’t trust her ould dad who brought her up enough. Gaugh! but she wass deceivin’ me all the time; she wass playin’ with me like. Chil’ villish, but it’s kapin’ me from lovin’ and trustin’ you; ‘deed but it is, though.”
Mirry-Ann knew quite well that like most of the other old villagers her uncle thought but lightly of such misfortunes in love if the father of the child recognised his claim to share in its support, and did not bring lifelong ruin on the mother. It was the girl’s deception which seemed the real sin in the old man’s eyes. The other was a natural weakness of a young and loving nature.
He roused himself as if to shake off the bitter memory, and called out sharply to Mirry-Ann, who had gone out to get a breath of fresh air on the cottage doorstep. The discussion had roused a storm of feeling in her heart.
“Are they comin’ in sight yet, lass? They should be roundin’ the Point.”
Mirry-Ann had been gazing seaward, but with eyes all unmindful of what they saw. Hearing the old man’s voice she looked again toward Poolvash Point. “Yes, they’re comin’, dad. John Thomas is leading the way — look, dad, how she’s making for the port!”
Very slowly old Ned Gawne rose from his chair and Mirry-Ann stepped back into the cottage and helped him to the door.
“‘Deed but she’s comin’ in mighty quick, though! John Thomas has got a mortal smart boat at him, but I’m thinkin’ he’s that eager to see some one that he’s pickin’ up every ounce of wind round the Point.”
“Ah! here they all come — Ned Kenvig— : look, dad! — and John William Kenean, and every one of them.” Mirry-Ann pretended not to notice the old man’s pointed allusion to John Thomas’s eagerness to get home. The fishing-boats — nickies, as they were called — were all duly christened and registered at their home port: most of them were called after their owner’s sweetheart or wife. The Mary Jane, Betsy Anne, Victoria Maud, were popular names in the fleet. John Thomas Costain’s white nickie was christened the Mary Anne — a common enough name in the village, but significant of only one woman in John Thomas’s eyes.
It was a comfort to him, perhaps, when he was out at sea to have something of his very own called “Mary Anne,” something which he could touch and handle and speak tenderly to. But when the fleet rounded Poolvash Point, and made for Port St. Mary, then the very women whose names the boats bore and who knew each one by sight, spoke of them by their husbands’ names and called to each other concerning the John Thomas, Ned Clucas, or William Kenean.
“Good-luck to them, Mirry-Ann! But it’s mortal couth, and my ould bones is full of the rheumatics. Who’ll be takin’ the cart in the mornin?”
The girl helped him back to his chair by the fireside. “I’ll see to that, dad; you can’t go. Come, I’ll give you a sup of hot ale and put you to bed.”
Her uncle looked at her curiously. “Thou’lt be askin’ John Thomas to take the cart, Mirry-Ann; he’ll be glad enough to do it for thee, lass?”
There was no reply to his question, and the old man spoke roughly:
“Thou’st got no tongue in thy head to answer?”
“No, dad. John Thomas Costain won’t take the cart; he’ll have more than enough to do to-morrow without doing other folks’ work.”
“Mirry-Ann, thou’lt let the herrin’ go to dung in the harbour before thou’lt take a favour from John Thomas. Let thy dad have a bit of peace.”
“We can’t always be taking favours, dad, and not giving anything in return. It was John Thomas who dug the garden in the spring.” A wave of distress came over the girl.
“Oh, I can’t let him do it; leave the cart to me.”
The old man whimpered softly: “‘Deed, Mirry-Ann Gawne, but thou’rt thy mawther’s own daughter after all. For all the religion that’s at ye, why can’t ye be givin’ John Thomas the favour he’s askin’?”
“Some people ask too high a favour for driving a herring cart, dad.”
“Then thou’lt let the herrin’s go rot?”
“No, dad, don’t be afraid; the herrings will go to market. Here’s thy warm ale. I’ll take the cart myself.”
The old man jumped up.
“‘Deed, Mirry-Ann, but thou shan’t, though. Ould Ned Gawne’s girl won’t be seen praychin’ like a man, and drivin’ a herrin’ cart like a man. Thou’lt be wearin’ men’s trousers next. Joost as if there warn’t no young fellow as thought her good enough to do it for her. Why can’t ye kape company with John Thomas? He’s a sight better lookin’ nor thy ould dad, that thou’rt always kissin’ and fondlin’.”
“Plenty of young fellows think well enough ould Ned Gawne’s girl to want to drive her
Cart to market” the girl replied with spirit; “But Mirry-Ann hasn’t seen the man yet whom she thinks well enough of to accept a favour from him.”
“Thou’rt the mortal spit of thy mawther, chir, the mortal spit — as pervokin’ as a mackerel when they’re playin’ all roun’ and too full in the belly to touch the bate.”
The hot ale quieted him, and the old man was soon in bed whimpering himself to sleep.
Mirry-Ann closed the cottage door softly behind her and walked down the village street to pick up news of the fishing.
In half an hour’s time small companies of fishermen, each carrying a bundle over his shoulder, tied up in bright cotton handkerchiefs, came through the village. The village of Colby lay some little distance from the port. The little band of men decreased in number as one by one they came to their homes.
“Good-night, mates!” “Good-night, John William!” and another and yet another turned abruptly from his companions into the shelter of his low, thatched cottage, until at the end of the street only a straggling one or two were left. News of the “take” had been passed by word of mouth the length of the village, for the wives standing at the doors ready for the men’s return called out the news to each other in their shrill, clear, Manx voices. Old Ned Gawne’s cottage was at the outskirt of the village. John Thomas met Mirry-Ann a few yards from her door.
“Good-evening, John Thomas,” she said. “What luck have you had?”
John Thomas walked toward her home and dropped his bundle on the doorstep. A quick twinge of resentment swept over the girl’s face. What right had he to plant his bundle down on her doorstep as though he were her man?
“Don’t be talking there, John Thomas,” she said rather coldly. “You’ll wake dad, and he’s had a bad day; he’s turned very frail since you’ve been gone.”
John Thomas turned and went back to where the girl stood a few feet up the street, but Mirry-Ann still kept her eyes fixed on the red bundle on the white-flagged doorstep, and John Thomas felt compelled to pick it up.
“Not much luck, lass; the herrin’ are dreadful scarce, though John William Kenean’s done mighty well.”
Mirry-Ann had held out her hand in welcome. John Thomas took it respectfully in his, not as a lover may take the hand of the woman he loves, but as one privileged to shake hands with his superior.
“It does seem as if the wicked flourished like a green bay tree, all the luck goin’ to his boat and the man spendin’ his time in drink, beatin’ his wife, and lettin’ his childer starve almost. He’s drinkin’ over at the port now, not much is comin’ home to his wife; some men aren’t fit to live.”
Mirry-Ann’s hand was her own again.
“John William Kenean isn’t fit to die,” she said. “And he isn’t any use living; but there isn’t any middle road.”
While she spoke John Thomas looked at her with hungry, devouring eyes; his thoughts had left William Kenean.
“But thou’rt lookin’ well thyself, lass, and it’s mighty fine puttin’ a sight on ye again. Can ould Ned take the cart in the mornin’?”
“No, he’s not fit”; and Mirry-Ann turned her eyes from the young fellow’s eager face out to sea.
John Thomas came a little nearer. “Thou canst always trust to me, Mirry-Ann, and ye know that it’s mortal glad I am to do it for ye.”
“No, thanks, John Thomas. You’re always kind. It’s very good of you; but we’ve arranged about the cart.”
“Who’s got the job?” and he glared with a jealous rage in his eyes. “Who’s in favour now, Mirry-Ann? Art thou kapin’ company at last?”
The girl turned to him and spoke very softly, all traces of the Manx dialect had left her voice.
“Have you left your manners out at sea, John Thomas? Driving the cart is dad’s business; he can give it to whom he likes.”
“And can’t ye be civil enough to tell a fellow who he’s given it to? Who’s been walkin’ out with ye, Mirry-Ann?”
“Good-night, John Thomas. Seems as if you had forgotten me since you’ve been away, for that’s not the way you used to speak to Mirry-Ann.”
“Don’t go, Mirry-Ann, don’t go,” he said pleadingly. “I was clane forgettin’ myself again. But it seems as if I was never gettin’ a bit nearer to ye for all the months and months that yer keepin’ me waitin’.”
“I’m not keeping you waiting. Oh, won’t you ever understand you can never be any nearer. We are old friends, Tom, but that is all; old friends are very dear. Won’t you be satisfied?”
“I can’t, Mirry-Ann, I can’t; for I want ye for me wife, and how can ye be axing me to be satisfied with ye for a friend. There’s not much comfort to be got out of being ould friends, if ye won’t let me kiss ye at all. Me heart is fillin’ me very mouth, and I feel as if I’d got a terrible thirst at me, and there warn’t nothin’ but salt water to drink. Mirry-Ann, if ye haven’t got no love-feelin’ in yeself, ye might try and feel tender like to one who has. Yer mortal saft-hearted for other kind of sufferin’, Mirry-Ann, makin’ such a fuss about a cat when her young ones is drownded, or a bird that’s been wounded. It’s strange that when a big lump of a fellow is sufferin’ yer heart’s as cold as the black marble rocks of Poolvash yonder.”
“John Thomas, your love for me is all a fancy. I know it is. You’re joost an ould mule.” Out of sympathy she had dropped into the broad Manx tongue. “Yer not really lovin’ me, but yer joost mad because thou’rt courtin’ a woman that doesn’t want to be courted.” She spoke rapidly. “All the other girls in the village keep company with the first young fellow that walks back with them from their lil’ marryin’ [Confirmation]. They don’t even ask themselves if they, love each other, or if they will make suitable companions to each other through life. They just i walk out ‘ until they’ve saved enough money to get married. Most times the young man hasn’t even asked the girl to be his wife.”
“Where’s the nade of him axin’, Mirry-Ann, when the woman knows? That’s joost the sacret of love, Mirry-Ann. The young fellow’s always tellin’ his young woman the things he feels without spakin’. Talkin’ without words is rale love, lass. They’re joost comin’ together, one mind and one heart ; but you’re as cold and ould-maidish as ould Nance Quin herself.”
Nance Quin was the rara avis of the village, an unmarried woman of over fifty years, and, what’s more uncommon still, she was a childless one to boot. It may seem remarkable that the village could supply enough husbands to go all round; but not being over-scrupulous in its ideas of womanly virtue, matters were arranged easily enough. It was better to be womanly than virtuous; and if the Lord had not found a husband for them all, he had at least found a child, so that the woman’s heart should not go longing. Everything was in the hands of the Lord, and the fatherless were taught to look
upon their lack as all his doing.
Mirry-Ann put her hand gently on the lad’s blue coat. “Nance Quin’s ways of thinking are more often to my liking than the ways of other women, so I expect I shall be an old maid. John Thomas, don’t be wasting your time:
“There’s many a belle that I know well, That is waiting for you in the town.”
She sang the lines of the old song softly, and her rich voice fevered the blood of her lover.
“Gaugh, lass! just as if I didn’t know ye would be glad. Ye haven’t got enough love-feelin’s in ye to be mad if I walked home, right before your very eyes, from the maetin’ with Emily Corrin on me arm.”
“No, John Thomas, I wouldn’t. It may be that I have no love-feelings in me, but I can’t love a man just because he’s courting me.”
“Is that the truth, Mirry-Ann, the honest clane truth? Have ye no love-feelin’s in ye, or is it because” — John Thomas’s voice grew hoarse — “because I’ve only got rough ways at me, and I’ve got no larnin’, and I’m only a lump of a fellow?” He looked down at his clumsy sea-boots and rough, salt-stained breeches. “But I can fix up a bit to walk out with ye, lass.”
Mirry-Ann laughed — a laugh which was in itself a tender, affectionate answer.
“John Thomas,” she said, “I like you a thousand times better as you are, in your rough sea-boots, than when you’ve fixed yourself up to walk out. Dad’s always in his rough sea things, and I love every inch of them.”
A look of sheepish misery came over his sunburnt face; it was as if the girl had struck him.
“Don’t ye like me new walkin’-out suit, Mirry-Ann? They cost a powerful lot of money. If ye don’t like me when I’m fixed up, lass, there ain’t no hope lef.”
There was silence for a few moments. The girl’s heart smote her for the pain she had caused her lover.
“I’m going in now, John Thomas,” was her only answer.
“Because we’ve talked foolishly long enough. I suppose love, like everything else that’s worth having, is powerful hard to get.”
“If I mayn’t kiss ye, Mirry-Ann, let me come in and have a bit of readin’, joost to give me a bit of welcome like”; and he stepped into the kitchen.
He knew as well as Mirry-Ann did where the Bibles were kept ; without asking he opened the little press between the fireplace and the window and took down the books. His keen eyes caught sight of some volumes with strange bindings on the higher shelf, and a disagreeable expression came over his face. They were a few of the books Mirry-Ann had brought with her from the College in Liverpool. John Thomas gave them an angry push which sent them out of sight. Mirry-Ann noticed the childish display of temper, but made no remark.
John Thomas hated the books because they reminded him that Mirry-Ann had a precious world all of her own wherein he could never travel. He knew that her books were the only friends who really, understood her, and who could sympathize with her in her lonely life.
She asked softly, “What shall we read, John Thomas?”
“Whatever the Book opens at; it isn’t for the likes of me to be showing any preference at all.”
John Thomas sat himself down with a small Bible at one end of the table which was placed along the wall under the window, and Mirry-Ann sat at the other with her uncle’s big Bible before her. The book opened at the fourth chapter of the Song of Solomon. It was their custom to read the passage chosen, verse and verse about — John Thomas always a little haltingly and not entirely free from embarrassment, Mirry-Ann in a clear, low voice.
“Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from Mount Gilead.”
At the end of the chapter John Thomas rose abruptly.
“Mighty lovin’ words about a church, Mirry-Ann.”
His heart was almost suffocating him; the girl heard his laboured breath. He was surprised that hearing Mirry-Ann read a few verses from the Bible had no subduing effect on his feelings. Indeed, while he listened the longing for the woman he loved seemed to grow until it devastated his whole being. He could scarcely command his voice to say good-night.
What particular tabernacle of beauty the girl thought had inspired the love song she did not divulge. John Thomas had never questioned the fact of its being The Church.
“Good-night, John Thomas. Dad will be glad to see you in the morning.”
“Good-night, Mirry-Ann,” he almost whispered; he would not trust himself to look into the eyes that were like doves’ eyes within her locks. “Good-night, lass.” And without taking her offered hand he went out into the street.
Pleasant words of welcome were called out to him as he passed the few remaining houses in the village, but John Thomas scarcely heard them; he was walking off the fever of love that held him in its grip.
“Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely.” The words preyed upon his tongue until he could feel his lips pressed against the girl’s sweet mouth. As if to get rid of the spell of the song he repeated the words aloud: “‘Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.’ ‘Deed, there is no spot in Mirry-Ann, that’s sure and sartin. She’s that pure and heavenly lookin’, that a fellow can scarcely enjoy thinkin’ about her without seemin’ to defile her. The words might have been writ about Mirry-Ann herself, and yet it’s the Bible I’m singin’. Didn’t seem to open at a very quietin’ part this evenin. Now if it had been Revelations it would, maybe, have drove the woman out of my head. It’s strange, though, for air I never thought, but her eyes is joost like doves’ — all saf, and never very sure of bein’ the same colour for five min- utes at a time. If Mirry-Ann’s vexed there’s a powerful lot of quare light in them, shinin’ like the lanthan on the water, at night; but when she’s gentle like to the ould man, or to some baest that’s took bad, it’s clane blue they are, like the sea round Bradda Head. And no mistake about it. Strange that the words of the Bible should be suitin’ a Colby girl like that. Her lips wass joost like a thread of scarlet as sartin as she wass readin’ the words. But women are mortal quare things. Some of them’s like blackberries when they’ve got the ‘club,’ just sick-ripe and droppin’ off the bushes into yer very han’s until there ain’t no worth in eatin’ them, and some of them wants all the nursin’ and coaxin’, like a peach on a garden wall, before they will become saf like.”
When Mirry-Ann closed the door softly behind her lover, the old man’s voice called out from the small room overhead:
“Wass that John Thomas, Mirry-Ann?”
“Yes, dad; but I thought you were asleep.”
“Too fas’ to hear thy courting chil’; but not fast enough but that I knew you wass doin’ it, for all.”
“John Thomas wasn’t courtin’, dad. It was the Bible we were reading.”
The old man chuckled.
“Didn’t I court my old woman fifty years ago raedin’ the Bible, an’ didn’t her father before her court his wom-an the same way. My gaugh! chil’, thou’rt only tellin’ me the ould, ould story, an’ it’s mortal glad I am to hear it, for John Thomas is a smart young fellow, and he’s got a nice house at him and a bit of Ian’. Now I can go to sleep contented like.”
“Good-night, dad. I tell you we weren’t courtin’. It’s a strange thing if reading the Bible is to be considered love-making.” The girl spoke impatiently, as she hurriedly prepared to go to bed, as if the final shutting of the door would shut out the memory of John Thomas. The love in his eyes was distasteful to her pure nature, for very little more than speech removed him from the brute creation.
A village day begins early. Soon after the sun had risen the next morning, Mirry-Ann was up and busy about her household duties. The chickens had to be fed, and the old man’s breakfast put ready for him on the stove. Cottage doors were opening one after another all the way down the street. The little ones, always eager to anticipate the arrival of a new day, were crawling about half-dressed by the cottage door-stones, while their mothers kindled a fire in the kitchen grate. Thin trails of blue smoke commenced to shoot up into the clear blue overhead. A new day was beginning over land and sea; the stillness of the long village night was past; each moment brought fresh signs of awakened life.
Mirry-Ann left her own breakfast untasted, for it was necessary that the cart should be down at the port as early as possible. Her
uncle had a small share in John Thomas’ nickie, and it had always been his custom to take a cartload of herrings round the neighbourhood as soon as they arrived in the harbour.
Of late years most of the herrings had been disposed of wholesale from the boats to the kippering houses in Douglas and Liverpool, and the carts had not stopped on their way through the village; but the old man retained the right to sell his small share in retail quantities.
With the opening of the kippering houses herrings went up in price; Mirry-Ann could now sell them at the rate of a shilling a dozen. Her uncle recalled the days when he had known them sold as low as a hundred for a shilling, and the history of the island relates how one year there was such a glut in the market that they were used for manuring the land.
There was some surprise among the men at the port when they saw Mirry-Ann Gawne waiting in her cart down on the little pier, but when she told them that the old man was getting past his work and that she had come to take his herrings, they made the job as easy for the girl as possible; they had long been accustomed to treat her with a respect and courtesy they never showed the other village girls, due in some manner to her superior education, but principally the outcome of her personality.
As Mirry Gawne’s cart passed through the village she was surrounded by eager buyers. Little children and aged men had been watching for the cart, plate in hand. The old men picked out the herrings for themselves, taking good value for their money, while the little ones who could not reach up to the high-set cart handed up their plates with their money on them. Mirry-Ann was seated in the orthodox fashion at the end of the long flat cart, set on two high wheels. The mass of glittering herrings was well displayed; the flatness of the cart saved them from becoming bruised by their own weight.
Nance Quin brought out her plate of rare old blue willow pattern, which had once graced other kitchen dressers than the small one in the old maid’s home.
“What art thou doin’ drivin’ the cart? Where’s thy uncle?”
“In bed,” Mirry-Ann answered, while she counted out a dozen herrings. “He’s scarcely able to crawl with rheumatism; he’s been past work these last few months.” Nance peered under the pink sunbonnet the girl had put on to screen her face.
“Did John Thomas want to take it — is that why thou art doin’ it, poor chil’?”
“Fresh herrings! fresh herrings!” echoed again through the village street. “Fresh her- rings, twelve a shilling!”
Nance Quin took her plateful of herrings from Mirry-Ann, who said quietly: “I could have sold them all to the curing house straight from the boat, but I can get more off them this way, and I could scarcely have got back from Douglas till this afternoon. I can clear the cart before midday in the village. There’s not been one through for a couple of weeks.”
The horse moved on again, for there was no time to be lost, and the last plate had been served.
At the foot of a long shady lane leading up to an old-fashioned Manx farmhouse Mirry-Ann saw the figure of a young man waving for the cart to stop.
“Hi, there, stop, bother you! — I want some herrings.”
But the cart still went on, and the figure seated at its end did not respond to the waving of the handkerchief. With a bound the young man had jumped the wall of the lane and run across the angle of the meadow which skirted the highroad. In a few minutes he was even with the cart.
“Didn’t you hear? I want some herrings; can’t you stop?” he shouted. “I’ve knocked my shins on that beastly wall trying to catch you up. Oh! I beg your pardon — Mirry — I never dreamt it was you. But, dear, why — on — earth are you driving a herring cart?”
“Good-morning, sir; how many herrings do you wish? They’re beauties this morning, just out of the boat.” She took no notice of his question.
“I don’t know; I forget. Mrs. Hedges asked me to get her some — half a dozen, I think; but tell me, Mirry, is your uncle ill? Why are you doing this?” There was a touch of anger in his voice.
“Oh, please don’t talk to me. I didn’t stop my cart because I knew it was you; you know you promised -”
“Promised what?” The young man was gazing in utter bewilderment at the beauty of the girl’s eyes below her pink sunbonnet. “Promised that I wouldn’t buy herrings from you? I certainly never did.”
“No; promised that you wouldn’t — ” she hesitated — “speak to me as if we were friends. I want you to remember that I’m only a village girl.”
She was such a gross caricature of a village fishwife that for the moment, before he answered, as if to remind her of the fact, his eyes rested on her slim ankles dangling over the end of the cart, and then on her delicately shaped hands, soft and brown as berries, picking out the slippery, shining herrings. Not one point of her rough dress was worn for effect, yet there was something pathetically ludicrous in her attempt to look suited to the part she was playing.
Young Schofield laughed; first with his eyes only, but when they met hers, full of a sweet embarrassment, he laughed outright.
“How can I remember to remember that I’m to forget? Besides, Mirry, you never said we might not be friends. I was to remember to forget something else.”
The girl laughed. “I said remember, sir.”
“Yes, but first I have to remember that I am to forget, and I don’t want to forget. Would you be glad if I forgot, little Mirry?”
A hot blush mounted over the girl’s throat and face; she could not answer truthfully “Yes,” for her heart cried out “No, no, no.”
“Sevenpence, please,” was all she said, as she held out the fish with a trembling hand.
“Have you managed to forget?” The young man held on to the plate and looked into her eyes for an answer. “Have you managed to forget the thing that will be sweetest in our life to remember? Have you forgotten that two nights ago the whole world was beautiful for us, because we loved each other? Can a woman so easily forget, Mirry?”
“I manage to pretend I’ve forgotten; couldn’t you do the same for my sake?” There was a ring of genuine entreaty in her voice.
“What a brute I’ve been! Forgive me,” he said softly; “but why shouldn’t I see and speak to you, if I mayn’t love you? Why shouldn’t we at least be friends, just because an old man has an idea that every man who doesn’t belong to the people must be a born scoundrel? Do I look like a scoundrel? My coat is very old, I know; but I could ‘fix up’ for Sundays, and courtin’ Mirry-Ann,” he said, laughing, and unconsciously using almost John Thomas’s very words of the night before in his imitation of the dialect.
The girl had no wish to be seen speaking to Mr. Schofield in the village street. Already it had been remarked that Mirry-Ann was takin’ it mortal aisy. “But it takes some folks longer to buy twelve fish, nor others,” they said jokingly, as the cart moved slowly on, followed by Dick Schofield.
The girl kept her eyes on the herrings, and the young man kept his discreetly divided between her ankles and the dusty high-road.
“I’ve been up to the Druid’s chapel every evening since, Mirry,” he said, looking at her with eyes of reproach.
“I told you I would never come again, sir.”
“But why not — where was the harm, dear? Twice we sat for an hour at sunset and discussed archaeology among the Druidical remains, and the other times I happened to be fishing while you were walking by the stream. If we have the power to raise up human flesh and blood out of dry bones, surely the gods have smiled upon us. We never willingly or with intention fell in love; it just came, Mirry!”
The girl was too honest and downright to console her conscience with a subterfuge.
“If there was no harm in it, sir, I should tell my uncle. I can’t deceive him, indeed I can’t.”
The cart was nearing old Ned Gawne’s cottage and young Schofield knew it, so he reluctantly said good-bye. When he lifted his hat he showed a close-cut head of fair-brown hair. He was by no means a good-looking young man, but there was something attractive in his plainness which was almost more distinctive than mere good looks.
Some people are uninteresting through the very perfection of their good looks; young Schofield was good-looking through his very imperfections. There is a nice kind of ugliness among men, which has a much more deadly effect upon women than the most perfect type of an Adonis. A woman’s tenderness for faults in her ideal extends even to his looks. Besides, Dick Schofield had some curious tricks of facial expression which one learnt to look for. When he laughed, for instance, the rather deeply marked lines round his mouth relaxed, and two provoking and unexpected dimples appeared in their place. Then, again, his eyes, which were really the best feature in his face, almost closed when he laughed, while all that remained of them positively gleamed with humour. He had gone by the name of “Slits” at school.
The best thing that can be said for his appearance was that he wore dilapidated gray tweeds, and a very sunburnt straw hat, as if from choice and because his .breeding permitted, and not from necessity. And for his character, it is not the least necessary that he should be either better, or cleverer, than any other young man of his day because Mirry-Ann loved him. For the best and most lovable of women have never loved men for what others see good in them, but for what they themselves have found and are pleased to think that no one else has discovered.
When the young man was out of sight, Mirry-Ann took off her sunbonnet for a moment to let the fresh air blow over her heated face and hair. Sunbonnets are warm things even in cool weather, and this early summer day was one of typical island beauty; the air was s soft and warm, though delightfully tempered at times by a breeze from the sea.
She fanned herself for a moment with the ample brim of the bonnet, and then tied the cotton strings under her chin, letting the hood fall back over her hair behind. The breezes caught what tendrils of her hair were allowed to stray and blew them into provoking curls.
Something more than the morning sun had heightened the colour in her cheeks, and her heart was panting like the fluttering of a bird’s wings.
Was this, then, the “love-feelin'” of which John Thomas spoke, this unaccountable physical weakness in the presence of the loved one? She, poor child, was so amazed at the sudden betrayal by her own heart, and at the realization that even the purest physical emotions have nothing on earth to do with the will or moral choice, that a curious resentment filled her mind against the man who had thus awakened her.
She had no wish to love him (not that she considered him in any way unworthy of being loved), and it distressed her to find that in spite of her prayers for help and strength to conquer her love, she now found that physically his magnetism for her was greater than before. It was as if two beings in one person were at war with one another; her prayer was that the will should conquer. To love a man against your will was submitting the will to the body. In her Methodist upbringing moral choice was expected to govern all things. Dick Schofield had no religious feeling in common with her. He did not understand her desire for spiritual companionship in their love; he looked upon her devout belief as a gentle womanly attribute; he was a man to whom all expression of religion appeared feminine, or part of a curate’s profession.
How clearly she remembered learning the rules of her people written by the great John Wesley himself, and his directions on the choice of a husband. First she had learnt them in Manx from her uncle, and then at the chapel Sunday school in English.
“No person belonging to the society [of Methodists] to marry with an unbeliever, or any person who does not fear God or walk in his ways. Neither should they take any steps in matrimony but in the fear of God, with earnest prayer for his guidance, with the advice and desire of their Christian friends.”
“Soailchys my ihiggey lesh yn cill agus wheeghyn gyn feme.” (“Not permitting or yielding to the body in needless things.”)
The girl said the last words to herself in Manx. They were stern rules that her memory recalled, as following:
“No playing of games which can not be used properly in the name of the Lord Jesus; such as dancing, card playing, sporting entertainments or horse racing, as none of these can agree with the words of the apostles.
“Singing such songs or reading such books as those which can not lead to the knowledge and love of God.”
As she was repeating the rules half mechanically in the exact order in which they came in her little Manx text-book, just as one often repeats a simple prayer taught in infancy in a moment of doubt or emergency, a voice broke in on her reverie: ” Good-morning, Mirry-Ann.”
“Good-morning, sir,” she answered in a startled voice, for it was difficult to bring her mind suddenly back from the old days when she had learnt the stern teaching of John Wesley standing by her uncle’s chair with no fear in her young heart but that she would find it simple to keep them faithfully in word and spirit, to the practical present when each fresh step even in her quiet life seemed to unfold a new army of temptations.
“What a Jack-of-all-trades you are, Mirry-Ann!” the voice said; “preaching at sundown, and driving a herring cart in the morning, you don’t leave the young fellows a chance.”
“The young men have got chances enough already, sir; it’s we women who are handicapped.”
The squire, for it was he, laughed pleasantly.
“I had no idea you were such an advanced young woman. What special grudge have you against us to-day? You’re well in the race this morning, I fancy”; and he scanned the highroad for any sign of another herring cart. He was out for his morning ride, and he took good care to keep his horse at an even pace with the cart, so that he was level with the pretty profile under the sunbonnet.
“I’m quite as well able to drive a herring cart, and count out a dozen herrings at a time to my customers, as any young man in the village, and yet, simply because I am a woman, every one seems to think I am doing something extraordinary.” Mirry-Ann spoke bitterly. “If I can cook a herring, why may I not sell it?”
“Because you aren’t quite an ordinary sort of a woman, Mirry-Ann. Now if Mrs. Quayle was sitting where you are, perhaps there wouldn’t be so many remarks passed.”
The girl pulled the hood of her bonnet farther over her head. It partly hid her confusion, but when the squire laughed she laughed too, for Mrs. Quayle was the ugliest old woman in the village. Her sex might easily have been mistaken, for Nature had bestowed upon her a strong red beard, and her hair was cut short like a man’s.
“Please forgive me for laughing,” he said. “I’m awfully rude, but you’ve no idea how” — he was going to say “charming,” but changed the word — “unsuitable you look as a fishwife. It’s like a get-up for a fancy bazaar.”
“Why, sir, I’m dressed just like this every morning at home. You’ve only seen me in my best frock, when I’m ‘fixed up.'” She used the expression sarcastically.
“Because I’ve not had the pleasure of being in your home since I came back. When may I come?”
“We’re here now, sir”; and Mirry-Ann jumped so quickly out of the cart that the squire found no chance of helping her. She disappeared into the low-roofed cottage, and in another moment brought out a rough blue stone plate. She piled it high with the slippery, glittering herrings and took it back to the cottage.
“Of course, this is your home. I remember it quite well now,” he said, looking round the spotlessly clean cottage with its low white-washed walls. The flagged floor was sprinkled with silver sand from the seashore, and a tailless Manx cat sat blinking in the stream of sunlight that shot through the small window and warmed a spot on the floor.
“How it brings back the old days!” he went on; “your uncle in his chair, and the Bible press; everything is just the very same, only you are changed, Mirry-Ann.”
It was essentially a fisherman’s cottage, furnished with the plainest necessities of life; but there was an indefinite air of refinement about it, depending principally on an absence of cheap ornaments and bright-coloured prints which adorned the walls of the other cottages in the village. The kitchen-parlour was delightfully cool and homelike; the bunch of dog-roses and honeysuckle on the table was arranged with an eye for colour in an old blue china bowl.
The squire had fastened the bridle of his horse to a thick branch of a fuschia tree which almost covered the front of the cottage; bees were busy over its honey all day long, while the white butterflies chased each other across round the lilac bush and rosemary which grew under the fuschia tree close to the door.
Frank Christian had followed the girl into the cottage, but when she held up her hand to warn him to be quiet, he went back and stood near the open door watching her move about her little house. Mirry-Ann was so perfectly symmetrical that until he had seen her in this low-roofed cottage he had not realized that she was tall; she was in fact quite as tall as Grace, his sister, whom he had always considered much beyond the average height of women. It was a practical lesson in the beauty of proportion; besides, he became aware as he watched Mirry-Ann that Grace was a little too slender for her height.
In the corner seat by the fire old Ned Gawne sat fast asleep.
“I don’t want to wake him,” she said softly, “until I have sold all the fish; he doesn’t like me taking the cart.”
The fluttering of her heart and the startled confusion of her senses when she was speaking to Dick Schofield had now entirely subsided. She was a woman of a naturally quiet and shy disposition, and her lonely life with only her old uncle for a companion had taught her a considerable amount of self-repression and reserve. It is difficult to describe in mere words the subtle fascination and physical charm which endears and softens a woman of a dignified and self-contained nature, for words are a poor medium to convey the magnetism of glorious womanhood, and the precious gift of human sympathy. Mirry-Ann’s nature was not one of exuberant vitality; she was lacking in a hundred characteristics peculiar to such natures, to women of a gayer and lighter heart.
Part of her charm may have been due to the rare illumination of spiritual grace which is a power of beauty in itself. The trembling of divine beauty in a woman’s eyes touches every chord in a man’s nature in whatever mould he is cast. Beauty has divine means of manifestation, but the beauty of holiness is undisputed.
On this particular day the squire was granted only a few more words with Mirry-Ann, but in the days which immediately followed he found himself very much at home in old Ned Gawne’s cottage. The old man strangely enough forgot his usual resentment to the upper classes, and his long grudge against them, when he was talking to his young squire, as he called him. He had, it is true, no fancy to let Mirry-Ann talk much with him, for the less women had to say to any man but the man she meant to marry the better, and he bitterly resented her occasionally forgetting to address the squire as sir. But it was sufficient pleasure and amusement in the long summer days for the young man to watch the girl in her quiet daily life while he smoked a pipe with her uncle and listened again to the old sea yarns he had heard when he was a child. Like most of the old people in the island, Ned Gawne was steeped in the superstition of the Celtic races. Although the old customs, half pagan in their origin, and the open belief in evil spirits were fast dying out in the island, local superstitions were too deeply ingrained in their nature to be totally uprooted in one generation.
In old Ned’s fishing days no boat would ever be the third to leave the harbour; even to this day, perhaps out of long custom, the squire knew, but had never questioned why, the fleet went out in a body. If one boat went ahead by favour of the wind, the next two would be tied together in case one should fall behind and become the unlucky third. The squire used to ask the old man almost daily, half in fun and half in earnest, what particular festival it was in the Manx calendar, and what had taken place on that day in the good old time before the young people suffered from compulsory education and grew too wise to believe in or reverence the customs of their forefathers. It was interesting to both Dick Schofield and the squire to note how these old beliefs still played their part in the daily lives of the people. Sometimes it was just to amuse the children, they would say, and at other times the excuse would be that it was mere habit; but the superstitions prevailed all the same, and a few of the old practices were kept up.
Mirry-Ann knew that John Thomas Costain still carried in his breast pocket the feathers of a “witch wren” to preserve him from shipwreck. He had carried them ever since the time when he (along with other boys of the village) had gone out with sticks and stones to slaughter every wren in the neighbourhood, in the hope that they would catch the witch wren. The poor little wren when slain was put on a pole decked with evergreens and bright streaming ribbons, and was then carried in triumph through the village on St. Stephen’s Day. Before daylight on the dark December morning dedicated to the martyr, bands of boys carrying a witch-wren bush, visit all the houses in the neighbourhood, beginning at the big houses and the well-stocked farms, and ending in the village. There are often as many as three such bushes in one village, and there is great rivalry over the splendour of their decoration, and anxiety to be the first “bush” to visit the big houses, for the first-comers are best served: only coppers are given later in the day where silver is bestowed early in the morning. The captain of each successive bush is always strong in his persuasions that the witch wren on his bush is the bona-fide witch wren, and that the others are merely common willow wrens or gray linnets.
So in the early dawn of St. Stephen’s Day, more commonly known as Hunt-the-Wren Day, the inmates of a big house are waked from their sleep by the words of the old song, which every Manx boy knows by heart:
We’ll away to the woods, says Robin to Bobbin, We’ll away to the woods, says Richard to Robin, We’ll away to the woods, says Jack the Land, We’ll away to the woods says every one.
The song goes on until the death of poor Jenny Wren — with sticks and stones — has been related.
The Manxman’s common fear of witches, his secret wearing of charms to keep away ill luck, and his dread of evil spells, mingles very curiously with his simple and pious belief in God. He hardly ever speaks without some reference to God’s almighty hand, and yet in old Ned’s youth it was no uncommon thing to see a pair of tongs laid across a child’s cradle to protect it from the fairies, or to hear that some young mother at the birth of her child had asked a friend to carry a lighted candle up a flight of stairs above the room where the child was born, so that it might grow up high-minded.
Life in the quiet village flowed evenly along; yet each day, unmarked as it passed, was helping to unfold the tragedies of lives which outwardly seemed too simple and uneventful to deserve recording. Each day brought Mirry-Ann and Dick Schofield closer together, while each day only proved that love was a torment, a disturbing element. The girl’s life without love had been restful and devout; with, it was vexed and remorseful.
Every vow she made to resist the joy of meeting her lover was made futile by the working of fate. The opportunity would be forced upon her when she least sought it, and the enemy would usurp the situation. Love was forcing the hand of the young squire too. Had his will been strong enough he would have flown from the danger while it still lay ambushed, for each day while he lingered it was growing more ready to assail his unguarded moments. Love, the destroyer, had entered the village, and before his work was done many hearts were to fall beneath his hand.
Consisting as the village did of but one long street forming part of the main highroad from Port Erin to Castletown, with a few outlying houses nestling under the shadow of the mountains in the background, Mirry-Ann found it almost impossible to avoid meeting either Dick Schofield, or the squire, every day. Their desire to see her naturally drew their steps toward the village. She had given up taking her book or work to some favourite spot in the glen or mountain side, for if Dick Schofield did not find her in the village and steal a few words with her every evening, he would scour the countryside till he found her, and Mirry-Ann had learnt by experience that it is easier to keep a lover at a distance in the public thoroughfare of a village than when alone with him under the influence of romantic surroundings.
The social position Dick Schofield held in the village was peculiar, and from a mercenary point of view he was far from being as good a match for Mirry-Ann as plain John Thomas. Grace Christian hit the mark, perhaps as nearly as any one, when she described him one day in a fit of temper, as Mrs. Hedges’s nursery governess. Mrs. Hedges was a “foreigner” as the Colby villagers designated any one not born and bred on the island, but one whom they respected, for she was clever enough to make a living for herself and four children off farming a small property which her husband had bought a few years before his death.
Dick Schofield had accepted, from necessity, the position of tutor at a salary of sixty pounds a year to Mrs. Hedges’s three sons. When that wise woman realized that it would cost her less to educate three boys upon the principle she herself had been educated, namely, an underpaid governess divided among four daughters, she advertised for a tutor, firm in the belief that there is an eager soul somewhere in this crowded world waiting to fill any post. Her theory proved correct; she had forty offers from which to pick and choose. Besides teaching the boys the tutor was expected to help Mrs. Hedges with the farm accounts, but the advantages she had to offer were certainly very tempting to a poor young man fond of country life — good rough shooting, some trout and sea fishing, and an interesting island to explore.
Mrs. Hedges in choosing young Schofield trusted solely to her intuitive judgment of human nature. She scorned references: they took up a great deal of precious time, and, after all, were of little value, for, as she said truly, “You can always get some respectable person to tell a lie about a scoundrel just to get him out of the way and decently employed.”
Dick Schofield had been brought up with the idea that his father was a wealthy man, and that as he, Dick, was his only son, his going to a good public school and afterward to Oxford was not so much a matter of education as of social convention. He had come out of both with a poor education and a good reputation for games, also an amazing capacity for absorbing knowledge with the least possible amount of work.
But, alas! before he had taken his degree or considered the question of his future career for more than a quarter of an hour at a time, his father had died insolvent, and he and his sister were left orphans dependent upon a maiden aunt for a temporary home.
His sister soon found a situation as governess in a wealthy stockbroker’s family — the sort of people who live in a large villa in a new suburb. But young Schofield became aware that the openings for young men who are cast adrift in the world with no particular training for any particular work, are considerably fewer than those open to women. Six months after they were left penniless his sister was earning her living somehow, while he was still subsisting on the charity of an aunt who never lost an opportunity of telling him that she, his aunt, would break stones on the road (although she had no wish to see him so employed in her respectable London suburb) before she would remain idle while his sister worked. What truly great men have been born women! For had all the women who have seen themselves deprived of greatness owing to their sex, been born men, heroes would be too general to be noticed and greatness would be at a discount.
Young Schofield’s aunt, who had an income of about £600 a year, used to point out the fact that women could always earn a living, because, rather than be dependent upon charity, they would become household drudges on a salary of £30 a year. But young men had no such pride. It did not dawn upon the good lady that the simple reason why these governesses are paid £30 a year by the same people who would not dare to offer a tutor £70, or even £100, is because they are willing and eager to give their services for £30 a year. If they would, one and all, band themselves together and refuse to give their brains and the best years of their lives for this miserable pittance, their salaries would soon rise, and the mothers of large families would recognise that four girls could no longer be educated for £30 a year, while one son costs £90 at least at a boarding-school.
When Mrs. Hedges advertised for a tutor for her sons (the eldest was too delicate to go to school), Dick Schofield told his aunt that he had applied for the situation.
“You’ll never get it,” she said. “What do you know about teaching little boys?”
“As much as my sister knows about teaching little girls, I suppose,” he said. “She was never trained for the work.”
“Women can always adapt themselves.”
“Another reason why they are so often ‘put Upon. ‘” he replied. “It’s a fatal mistake to let selfish people know your full value; it’s like dipping into your capital. For taken collectively, my dear aunt, the world is very selfish, and a good bargain appeals to the most benevolent-hearted.”
The young tutor came and made himself so “beastly useful” as he himself expressed it, that no one knew (least of all himself) where his duties left off and his good nature began. Indeed he gradually slipped into the place of father or elder brother to the bundle of children which had been hurried into the world with such alarming rapidity that their father’s untimely death was the way Providence saw fit to interfere and thus prevent their ultimate starvation. In depriving the children of their father, Providence caused no appreciable difference in their lives (he was at the best a negligible quantity) beyond the fact that after his decease the youngest was not always in arms.
Dick Schofield hung up his hat in the hall, so to speak, and the presence of a man about the house eased Mrs. Hedges’s mind at night, for the house was lonely; yet it was only after her day’s work was done that Mrs. Hedges had time to be afraid. She was a very able woman, with the same knack of rearing a fine class of animals for her farm as she had of rearing fine sons for her country. It is true that at times she treated her animals as if they were children, and her children as if they were animals. But perhaps she was to be forgiven; for she had, poor soul! little time for fine distinctions, and it is doubtful if a boy’s gift of tongue commends him to a busy woman’s mercy more than the silence of other domestic animals. She had been known to sit up all night, her woman’s heart aching with tender pity, for the slim brown cow she had reared from a calf, in the trouble of its first-born; yet the same woman had turned her second son, with her own hot Irish blood in his veins, out to do farm labour, and live on farm fare, for reading by candlelight.
It would have been almost impossible for the most evangelical scandalmonger to impute any scandal from the position the young tutor held in the household. Mrs. Hedges was a busy worker, scarcely conscious of her own sex. By her practical and casual treatment of all men she managed to place them on a footing of equality with herself, which aroused their admiration, while it robbed her of any claims to tenderness or femininity.
It was a pleasant, happy life for the young man, and the days slipped by far too easily. He often wondered if his aunt would consider that he had become drudge enough to claim her admiration. If he had, then all he could tell her was that girls are not to be pitied.
It was easy for Mrs. Hedges to forget that for doing all that a useful husband, or a thoughtful son, is generally expected to do — and seldom does — this young man only received £60 a year. Besides, did he receive it? It had devolved upon him to pay the farm servants their weekly wages, and sometimes the little sack grew empty before his own turn came; the widow’s cruse ran dry. She never knew it, poor soul ! but remained happy in the belief that her tutor paid himself regularly when he drew the money for the farm wages.
Sometimes the nursery governess found it his duty to tell Mrs. Hedges that part of the money in the little sack must be spent on a new dress for herself, and he would point out, very tactfully, how her position demanded that the village dressmaker should now and again be given a piece of new material out of which to shape a dress, just for the sake of her credit. Then an excursion would be made to buy the material; and how Dick Schofield longed to see this hard-working mother for once do justice to the few good points Nature had bestowed upon her! But Mrs. Hedges invariably bought a certain class of stout material, not because it suited her, but because it wore well — too well, the young man thought, if its unattractiveness was any guide in the matter.
Mrs. Hedges, like many other healthy, capable women, seldom thought; she worked by instinct. Thinking with her was a waste of time and seldom ended satisfactorily. If she had given a thought to the fact that the time must come when her nursery governess would necessarily leave her, her indomitable energy might have collapsed. And young Schofield was wont to close his mind on the thought as well; for after taking the burden of this woman’s battles upon his own shoulders, and allowing her unconsciously to rely upon him, he was too tender-hearted to break the chains he had forged for himself. But during the last few months, since his acknowledged love for Mirry-Ann had tuned his thoughts to a different key, the longing for a home of his own, if ever so humble, shared with the woman he loved, in place of practical Mrs. Hedges’s, had grown more and more insistent. He was beginning to realize that a lifetime can not pass in even the quietest surroundings in a totally negative condition. Sooner or later something comes to disturb the even tenor of a peaceful existence, and Mirry-Ann Gawne had disturbed his.
To Grace Christian of Ballaugh, Dick Schofield always spoke of himself as Mrs. Hedges’s nursery governess, and very often he took an impudent delight in doing little womanly offices for the younger children when he was well aware that Grace was there to see. Grace pretended to despise him for this, and for his lack of ambition; but in heart she was softened into a sweeter woman when she noted how tenderly he nursed the eldest boy when he was seized with one of his violent headaches, the lingering result of venturing to a magpie’s nest well out on a rotten branch of a tall fir tree.
Why, Grace asked herself, should Mrs. Hedges, with a family figure and a weakness for rearing black pigs, have the power to make a young man sacrifice himself to her service? Why did he never show her, Grace Christian of Ballaugh, the same charming deference and unspoken tenderness? She had shown him every attention socially that lay in her power. She considered him dull and unenterprising not to use the chances she had given him of entering into a flirtation with herself, pour passer le temps. If he had risen to the occasion, in all probability the flirtation would have been of brief duration, for no affaire du cceur had ever amused her for any length of time. But perversity, which lies at the root of many a love affair, willed that because Dick Schofield had proved totally indifferent to the power of her beauty, and had not vanity enough to be flattered by her attentions, her pique should grow into something stronger. She allowed her annoyance and her determination to make him love her to dominate her mind; her life was lonely, and there was little else to think about.
She was particularly vexed one morning by his almost bored expression and complete indifference to her most engaging mood. She had assumed a gentleness rather foreign to her nature, and had simulated an interest in the most trivial matters concerning himself. She knew that even the most interesting man is more interested in himself than in any one else, and that to a man a sympathetic woman usually means the best listener. She had tried Archaeology, knowing that he had just returned from a visit to Glen Darrah to see the most perfect remains of a Druidical temple in the island, and it had failed. Dick Schofield was certainly not in an amusing humour.
“Going to take the children out for a walk?” she said, with a glance of humour in her scornful gray eyes, as he rose to say goodbye.
“No; jam-making,” he answered simply. “Mrs. Hedges wants the last of the raspberries picked this afternoon: she’s afraid of rain. You see what a good housekeeper I’ve become. I know all about it — dry fruit, a pound of sugar to a pound of fruit, a clear fire, and no vanity concerning your complexion.”
“Perhaps I’ll come and help to pick,” she said sweetly. “One must do something.”
“You’ll get your fingers badly pricked. I’d advise you not.”
Grace looked at her fingers; it gave her an opportunity of displaying them, and they certainly were very charming. But the temptation to amuse herself by being in his company and will him into flirting with her was greater than her vanity.
“What an ungracious person you are!” she said. “Raspberry scratches aren’t poisonous.” Her pride was hurt, and she spoke in her usually rather imperious tones; her voice and manner had been natural and gracious before. “Tell me,” she said, “are you not getting tired of this little place? How can you go on wasting your time here? It’s dreadful for a man to have absolutely no ambition?”
Dick Schofield laughed at her childish show of temper following so quickly upon the role of womanly gentleness.
“I don’t know,” he said; “I’m beginning to think that I have some ambition. I want to make more money. There are some things you can’t do without money,” he added almost sadly. “You see, I find I am so ‘beastly useful’ I’ve no time to be dull. When I’m not performing one of my various domestic duties, I’ve always got fishing and shooting. I haven’t had time to see half the island yet. I like it, it’s such a jolly, hospitable little place.”
“Oh, I’m not complaining about the island; of course I like it,” the girl said. “If there was only something to do. The people are all half asleep; they’ve no energy.”
“I don’t know how it is, I’ve always more to do than I can get through, minding the children, making jam, building new glass-houses, and what not.” He laughed at the situation. “It’s just like living in the colonies,” he said. “I expect I shall do the washing next.”
“I suppose you’d like to tell me that there’s always something to be done if one chooses to look for it. But I don’t want to work. I want to play, and there’s no one to play with. I don’t care about feeding the few orphans in the village, and interfering with the Wesleyan Bible reader.”
“I suppose there is more to amuse a man than a girl in a place like this,” he said sympathetically.
“Certainly there is; for I object to flirting with a good-looking fisherman,” she said.
“Why naturally? Where is your argument — if men of your class don’t object to having a flirtation with a pretty fisher girl?”
“What are you insinuating, Miss Christian?” he asked, with the fire of sudden anger lighting up his eyes. “But stop — perhaps it is wiser left unsaid. You’ll only be sorry and wish the words forgotten.”
The girl’s pride was up in arms. This young man, a nursery governess in trousers at the farm, dictating to her in this way. In her heart she rather liked his tone of authority and was ready to apologize, but her pride would not let her. Grace Christian would be very sick before she was sorry.
“You’re quite mistaken, Mr. Schofield,” she said. “I shall certainly never be sorry to you. I mean what I say when I tell you that you and my brother — the only two people with whom I can associate in this dull village — are turning the head of that preaching-girl, Mirry-Ann Gawne. Oh, you needn’t deny it. I’m a woman, so I know what is likely to turn a girl’s head.”
Dick Schofield was fast losing his temper. He had grown almost accustomed to being lectured and patronized in turns by this capricious girl. But this time she had gone too far. She had spoken slightingly of the woman he loved. But for Mirry-Ann’s sake he would have enjoyed telling her that he was not flirting with the girl, but persuading her to marry him.
“I had no idea your head was so easily turned, Miss Christian, or I might have tried to exercise my poor powers.” He recognised the impertinence of the remark as soon as he had made it, but he was scarcely prepared for the furious blush that burned her neck and face.
“Are we to be judged from the same standpoint? What affects my housemaid would scarcely affect me. I am out of the question altogether.”
“Then please leave me out as well,” he said. “As Mirry-Ann Gawne and I have no social position to consider, it is scarcely worth your while to worry over my attentions to her. Your brother, I am sure, will not be so selfish as to give rise to any unpleasant gossip in the village about the girl; besides, Mirry-Ann is not likely to have her head turned.”
“You don’t know her story, perhaps. What’s bred in the bone comes out in the flesh. Her mother’s head was easily turned; so the story goes.”
“We will not discuss the subject any more, Miss Christian. I do know her sad story; and I know also that you are far too generous and true a woman in your heart to remember it against her. You do yourself an injustice by your cruel speech. If she is born with gentle blood in her veins and a stain upon her fair name, it is surely all the harder for her to live the life she leads.”
Grace was mollified for a moment and her angry eyes dropped.
“Perhaps I have been a beast,” she said; “but there’s nothing else to do.” She managed to imply that if he wouldn’t flirt, they must fight. “When I’m bored to death as I have been to-day, I always do get cross. I really can’t help it. I just long to be hateful to some one, it doesn’t matter whom. And I have had this on my mind for some time now. I think my brother is in greater danger than you know; you are so level-headed.”
“Wouldn’t being nice to some one do as well?” There was just the suspicion of forgiveness in his voice, and his eyes for the moment were tender. He had intentionally ignored the latter part of her sentence.
“It’s a more dangerous way of letting off suppressed energy, isn’t it?” she said shyly.
“Perhaps; but it’s pleasanter for the other person, don’t you think?”
“Well, whom shall I begin on?” she asked laughingly, the answer hovering in her eyes.
How full his heart was of another woman Dick Schofield had never known until that moment, for Grace Christian had never been so alluring. Yet recognising her charm, his heart cried out for Mirry-Ann, and he answered her casually to steel himself against drifting with her mood; for Grace was light of heart and quick of wit, and a man must indeed be master of himself to resist the fascination of a lovely woman doing her best to please him. So he said coldly:
“Be nice to Mrs. Hedges.”
Now Mrs. Hedges was Grace’s bete noire, so they both laughed naturally and relieved the situation.
“I’ll ‘come and eat the raspberries with the cream,” she said, “after you’ve picked them, and you’ll be nice to me instead. You’ve been odious enough for one morning; try and make up for it in the afternoon. You look so like a cross governess when you scold. Don’t do it, and I’ll promise to be good.”
There was always so much banter and chaff when Grace was in a gay mood, that Dick Schofield never took anything she said very seriously; so with a laugh and a promise to be good to her in the afternoon, he said good-bye.
In the afternoon, when the raspberries were picked, and all carefully hulled and laid in sugar for preserving, Grace Christian, conscious of having behaved herself remarkably well, asked Dick Schofield to take her up to the Colby Ponds, which were on the Ballaugh estate, and teach her how to cast a fly. He had annoyed her once by calling her a poacher, because so far she had only fished with worms. To get to the old ponds they had to pass through the village and turn off the highway about a mile along the road. Mrs. Hedges watched them go off together, and the matchmaking instinct, which lies at the bottom of every woman’s heart, was kindled. “Such a handsome couple!” she said to herself. “But the girl’s a desperate flirt. I hope she won’t play with him. What a dear fellow he is!” She little knew that the girl had long been playing a losing game, and was now so heavily involved that she could not draw back.
The handsome young couple had walked some way through the village in silence, when Dick Schofield stopped suddenly, and said: “Wait here a moment, if you don’t mind. I’ve a message from Mrs. Hedges for John William Kenean’s wife.” They stopped in front of the cottage and Dick Schofield knocked on the door with his stick.
“Are you in, Mrs. Kenean?” he asked, and a soft voice answered quickly:
“Hush, please! Mrs. Kenean’s asleep.”
The voice sent the blood rushing through the young man’s veins and dyed his face a deep crimson. He stepped softly into the cottage kitchen, and Grace Christian waited outside with war in her heart.
“You here, Mirry?— Is Albert Victor ill?” The way he spoke the girl’s name was in itself an endearment; there was a ring of quiet possession in it which was not lost upon Grace’s listening ears.
“Yes, poor little mite! He’s dying, I’m afraid, and his mother doesn’t know it. He’s had two bad fits to-day. It has been so terrible to watch his baby suffering.”
The girl’s voice was tired, and her face pale with anxiety. A great longing came to Dick Schofield for the lover’s right to comfort her with gentle caresses. But he remembered that Grace Christian was standing near the door, and said, as he looked down at the little child on her knee: “Poor wee chap, how dreadfully ill he looks!” The little hand, like a bird’s claw, found its way into his. “What’s the matter with his mother? Why has she left you all alone with the child?”
“Her husband almost killed her last night. The neighbours heard her cry for help, and sent for -” She paused.
“They sent for you, of course. My poor Mirry, you are the good angel of the village!” He bent toward her for a moment, silently kissing her hair and fondling the hand which was clasped round the child’s shoulders, with a look in his eyes which made the girl feel all the more tender toward the frail little life which was passing away on her knee. “What a pitiful little object!” he said.
“Yes,” she whispered, her voice trembling with emotion and grief. At the moment she would like to have laid her head on his shoulder, for she was physically worn out, as well as sick at heart. “A drunkard’s child. So much kinder of the Master to take him, if only the poor mother could understand. But she’s cried herself to sleep in there,” and she pointed to a bed in a recess in the wall, where the mother lay worn out with bodily fatigue and suffering.
“My darling, you look so tired. What can I do for you? I hate to leave you like this. May I stay?”
“Oh, no; please go. There is nothing you can do. But you’ve forgotten — you said Mrs. Hedges had asked you to call?”
“It was only to tell the mother that there is plenty of milk up at the farm for the baby if she wanted any, and fresh eggs, too. But I’m afraid Albert Victor won’t want any more, poor wee chap!”
Dick Schofield was standing behind Mirry-Ann’s chair. He had seen Grace’s shadow move from the door some minutes before. With a hand laid on each of the girl’s soft cheeks, he pulled her face gently back, and pushed a lingering kiss on her burning lips. For a moment she did not speak. Then, broken and shaken with emotion, she implored him to leave her.
“If you only knew how little I can bear it, you would have pity, and not try me so hard.”
Her ear caught the sound of Grace’s footsteps.
“Oh, please go,” she said, in tones of such evident distress and nervousness at his presence that he turned to leave her.
A knock came to the door.
“Are you ever coming? I’m getting tired of waiting.” The voice was coldly imperious. Mirry-Ann turned her tired eyes to the door where Grace Christian stood, a dainty figure in white, her sailor hat just correctly balanced on her coil of shining hair, and one brown boot already across the threshold. She drew back when she saw Mirry-Ann Gawne with the dying child in her lap.
“I beg your pardon,” she said coldly. “I thought Mr. Schofield had brought a message to Mrs. Kenean. Is she not here?” Without waiting for an answer she went on: “Is the child, ill? Can I send you anything from Ballaugh?”
“No, thank you,” Mirry-Ann said, with more dignity and less irritation in her voice than Miss Christian had shown. “Mrs. Hedges has been most thoughtful. The child has had everything it could want.”
Grace was annoyed. It was her place, not Mrs. Hedges’s, to play Lady Bountiful in the village. “Then, are you ready?” she asked, turning to Dick Schofield. “Oh, by the way,” she said to Mirry-Ann, as she left the cottage, “I have some more plain sewing for you whenever you have finished what you have on hand.”
Mirry-Ann was always ready to cry. She could never keep back the tears that filled her blue eyes the moment her heart was bruised, and Miss Christian had intended that her words should bruise. The little child on her lap turned his weary eyes up to hers, when two hot tears dropped on his sickly little face.
“Poor little mite!” she whispered, as she pressed him closely to her; “poor little mite! At least you can lie in some one’s arms, and be loved and caressed. You don’t know what it is to have a hunger tearing at your heart, and to know that it can never be satisfied. Oh, baby! just to feel that it was right to let him love me, and to let him know that I love him as only a woman who has been deprived of love all her life, can love. Just to tell him that although I am only Ned Gawne’s girl, his love is all the world to me. Dick fills my heart all day, and yet I have never once called him Dick. But love doesn’t need any name, for he’s always here,” and she pressed the child to her heart; “always the one thing of which I am wholly conscious. Ah! why am I not as conscious of the presence of Christ? for that is what he asks for. Why does he not fill my heart — the dear Lord Jesus, who is waiting to make your frail little body beautiful? Oh, baby! if he would only come down for you while I am here, just to let me see him — for once, and touch my hand for a moment; yes, and love me as I want to be loved to help me through life’s journey. Have I strength to resist this human love and sympathy which is offered me and to trust only to his mercy and loving-kindness? Sometimes it seems so far off, but that is because I have driven out his presence by an earthly love.”
Her reverent and devotional nature was awakening to the fact that imperfect human love does more for human nature, for joy or for sorrow, than a lifetime of spiritual intercourse with the unseen. For the human heart is dependent on human love for a complete existence. Even Saint Catherine, Mirry-Ann’s model of womanly virtue and saintly piety, did not remain single at heart. To heal the aching void, aching for a woman’s full existence, she comforted herself with the belief in her spiritual union with the Lord, and his personal manifestations were what made her love more tangible.
But to return to Dick Schofield and his frivolous companion. Teaching a girl how to cast a fly somewhat resembles teaching a man how to tie an evening necktie. To do the thing correctly you should put your arm round his neck and stand behind him.
Grace Christian stood in front of her teacher by the edge of the still ponds, a charming picture of unconscious submission. Her pretty head was so close to his that it might have been a mere accident if their lips had met; a quick turn of the girl’s head, and the unresisted impulse of an ordinary human man. The old ponds were hidden deep in a copse of brushwood in the private preserves of Ballaugh, a delightful spot to idle away a summer afternoon.
They had left Mrs. Kenean’s cottage in silence; and certainly the first part of the fishing expedition was not so enjoyable as Grace had anticipated, for her companion’s thoughts were very unguardedly still taken up with the scene in the little cottage which they had just left. But it was only natural, as the hours passed on, that the magnetic vitality and glowing beauty of the girl at his side should affect the young man, who, like all young men, had no morbid fancy for dwelling on unpleasant topics in silence.
“Let us sit down,” she said, when she found he was not in a talkative mood; walking is so often conducive of silence. She flung herself down gracefully and rested her back against the stump of a fallen tree, which was soft with a covering of moss and ivy. “You may sit on my skirt,” she went on, with a pretty air of condescension and with mischief-provoking eyes; and
she pulled out the full length of her white dress to make a carpet for the young man to sit upon.
“Shan’t I crush it?” he said. But her eyes waited for him to sit down, which he did at a conscious distance from her and waited for her to speak. In his heart there was anger for her scornful treatment of Mirry-Ann, but no man could be wholly angry with a woman so good to look upon. Grace was the incarnation of proud beauty.
She held out her pretty hands. “Look,” she cried, “at the raspberry pricks! It might be nettle rash.”
“Poor little hands,” he answered, keeping his own quite busy by stripping the seeds from a blade of grass. The girl was so inviting and human nature is so quick to assert itself when youth is off guard. “They are quite business-like.”
“They look horrid,” she said. “I hate to see a woman’s hands look so hard-worked.”
“Do you?” he said, trying not to see the two white hands spread out for his inspection. “I rather like it in a way, if the hands are well kept and nicely shaped. I like to think a woman’s hands can do something.”
“Surely hands that can do something and look as if they couldn’t are much nicer? The unexpected is always so much more interesting.”
“Is that possible?” he asked. “Almost everything we do bears its reflection. The reflection of a busy life is not distasteful to me. I’ve little in common with drones.”
Grace made a little grimace. “Mrs. Hedges, for instance, sometimes suggests a hen-wife, or a potato pealer. Do you like that?”
“Dear soul! yes,” he said. Nevertheless, Mrs. Hedges’s hard-worked hands were not the illustration in point in his mind’s eye. “Really, Miss Christian, you are too hard on her, just because she is not good-looking and a little overpractical. But even you would have admired the way she received the Attorney General and his wife yesterday when they came to call. They found her working like any man, picking out seed potatoes in a big mushroom hat and a sack pinned round her for an apron. She wasn’t the least put out, and entertained them with that charming dignity which seems the special inheritance of an Irish woman.”
Grace frowned. “She’s so frowzy, I can’t stand her. Now she is what Frank calls a mere female. I thought most men liked women.”
Her eyes were following the antics of two kingfishers darting across the water in chase of flies. Two thrushes answered each other in song from the trees overhead. Two butterflies, all white, provoked each other in the little shaft of sunlight which found its way through the trees overhanging the pond. In the silence that followed her words Dick Schofield let his mind answer some questions about the girl by his side, questions which had often before been suggested by her manner toward him.
“If I had flirted with her as my lady no doubt wished,” he said to himself, “and had ended by loving her, what would have been the result? A pretended amazement at my doing so, and a very decided refusal to my addresses. For I can’t flatter myself that she has any real liking for me. But I’m the only man in the neighbourhood, and I’ve no doubt she thinks it a monstrous thing that I’m not head over ears in love with her. Women want things all their own way. We are to flirt with them, and devote ourselves to them, just up to the point they wish and which pleases their vanity, but no farther. They forget the fact that things seldom stand still. They either advance or retire altogether.”
“How charmingly they flirt!” she said, “Did you never flirt?”
The bantering voice broke in on his reverie. She seemed almost to have divined his thoughts, though her words were suggested by the birds and butterflies.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I have never had time to try.”
“Oh, you are always busy doing nothing!” The girl’s gray eyes were bright with alluring laughter. He certainly looked idle enough at the moment.
“It takes two to flirt, and two to kiss, and two to fight and make it up again, and there’s no one to teach me, you see,” he said, with mock seriousness.
“Shall I try?” she asked. “It’s really not hard to learn. Not nearly so difficult as throwing a fly.”
“But I couldn’t flirt with you,” he said, with mock deference.
“And your reason, sir. Am I not fair enough?”
“Passing fair, madam, and passing rich — for one so humble as me.”
“How absurd! As if you were really humble. I never knew any one so irritating.”
“Because, madam, I do not presume.”
“The pride that apes humility! We might have had a very amusing summer if it had been any one else but you. I never let things drag into the winter. People get serious in the winter, and I hate that. I only want to be amused.”
“After all,” he said, “what do you mean by flirting? Perhaps even Mrs. Hedges’s nursery governess might have indulged in it, if it was quite harmless and suitable for a young person in that position?”
“Speaking by the dictionary, flirting is to simulate a feeling you do not entertain. But it is really to entertain your feelings with the part you do not simulate.”
The young man laughed. “To simulate means to make believe, does it not?”
“Yes,” she said. “But don’t you see, that is why the definition is wrong, for the feelings sometimes get to be quite real.”
“That is where the fun comes in, I suppose. For—
“‘No game was ever yet worth a rap
For a rational man to play,
Into which no accident, no mishap,
Could possibly find its way.'”
Grace laughed a little scornfully. “You’re afraid of the danger, apparently; but with experienced flirts there really isn’t any. If people are clumsy they must expect to suffer. And now we must go home, for we can’t sit here all the evening.”
As they went homeward through the village, they met the young chapel folk hurrying to the choir practice for their anniversary service. The anniversary, which was usually held out of doors, was the great chapel event of the year. It was even more popular than the Tea Meeting Festival, which took place in the winter and was more of a social order, although it took place in the chapel itself.
John Thomas Costain was in the leading strings of a rosy-faced buxom girl, whose bright blue eyes shone with an air of proud possession, for all the village knew that to walk to and from the chapel with a girl meant that the man was courting her. A girl would often give a man up if he were seen walking with another girl. It was Emily Corrin, the under housemaid at Ballaugh. She bowed respectfully to Miss Christian, and John Thomas saluted with the usual, “Good-evening, ma’am.”
“Oh, fancy! John Thomas has got a new girl,” Grace said. “He didn’t look very cheerful over it, did he?”
Dick Schofield laughed. “John Thomas is more than British; he’s Manx. He takes his pleasures doubly sadly. When they’re off duty, what a solemn psalm-singing set they are! They seem to me to go to chapel every night, and practise their parts, as they call it, all day long.”
“John Thomas can look happier than that,” Grace said quickly. “Now if he had been walking out with the pretty Mirry-Ann, the expression on their faces would have been reversed. He then looks the proud possessor, and she — well! — she tries to look like an early Christian martyr. It’s very foolish of her; for John Thomas is really a very good catch. He’s quite well off, you know, and ought to hold a much better position in the village than he does. But he’s very ignorant and lazy, I fancy.”
At the sound of running footsteps Grace turned — “Why!” and she laughed, a natural and not unpleasant laugh, “here comes Mirry-Ann herself, running after them. She is a woman, after all. Perhaps it was the young man’s dodge. He’s not so ignorant after all, at least where women are concerned!”
Mirry-Ann Gawne, her face pale and stained with weeping, was about to pass them, when Dick Schofield stopped her.
“How’s the little Albert Victor now?” he asked. “I’m coming down this evening to sit with John William to try and keep him from drinking.”
“The child is dead,” she said, pausing to get breath. “Another fit came on after you had left, and he died in it. The father’s home now, and horribly drunk. I can’t manage him. I must get some one to help me. I am going to ask John Thomas Costain.”
Scarcely remembering Grace Christian, Dick Schofield hurried after her.
“I’ll come, Mirry. John William and I are good friends when he’s sober. I’ve spent a lot of time sea-fishing with him. Perhaps I can manage him now. You’ll excuse me, I know, Miss Christian,” he said, turning abruptly back to the girl, whose face was expressive of pained horror.
“Oh, certainly, go!” she said. “Don’t mind me.”
When they reached the cottage Mirry-Ann suggested that she should go in first, for they could hear no voices or any sound of disturbance. In a moment she came out again and spoke very softly: “John William’s fast asleep, but Mrs. Kenean’s awake. She motioned to me not to come in. I think I can leave her now, for all the neighbourhood will be eager to talk to her over the baby’s death. They take a morbid pleasure in death. And broken-hearted as she is, the mother will enjoy discussing every detail of his illness.”
They stood together silent for a little time; then Dick said: “There is something I want to say to you to-night, something I want you to promise. Will you come, Mirry, for a walk, up to the old Druids’ chapel? It was there I first met you, dearest. Will you come?”
The girl shrank back. “No, no; don’t ask me,” she said. “You know I have never willingly gone anywhere to meet. When we have met it has been by chance.”
“Or the ruling of Fate, dear,” he said, “if that will ease that terrible conscience of yours. If you won’t, I will ask you here; for, darling, I want the whole village to know that some day you will be my wife. You must promise me tonight, Mirry. Ah, darling! why not just promise that some day — for I can wait, Mirry, I would wait a hundred years — you will marry me?”
They had turned off the public highroad through an open gate into a green meadow. Some of John William’s small Manx sheep lifted their black faces, and for a moment ceased their endless nibble. It was not the first time that a lover and his lass had interrupted their evening meal.
Mirry-Ann’s face became dyed with radiant crimson as they walked full into the glory of the setting sun. It was a lover’s evening, the witching hour, but the girl could not trust herself to speak.
“Sweet Mirry,” he pleaded, with his arm slipped round her waist, “won’t you promise, won’t you give me this hope to take away with me? For, dearest,” he whispered, drawing her a little closer toward him, and feeling as he did so how physically weak and unresisting she was, though her eyes still held their look of unconquerable will — “dearest, I am soon going away, and I want the assurance of your promise that you will be my wife.”
“Going away!” she said with a little cry, instinctively drawing nearer to him. “Why are you going?” Her last words were scarcely more than a whisper.
“I am going to make a home for you, Mirry. It’s so sweet to be here with you, dear, in this lovely little island! It’s so precious to know that you love, Mirry. It takes a lot of courage to go. But I want something more than your love, darling. I want you yourself, for my very own. And if I stay on the farm I could never go to ybur uncle and say: ‘ I can afford to marry your niece; will you give her to me? ‘ Almost any young man in the village has more to offer than I have. I am what he hates most, a gentleman and a beggar.”
“Yes, it is best for you to go,” she said more calmly. “I am sure it is best.”
He knew by the tone of her voice that this was one of the moments when she was praying for power to resist.
“It will be best for us both, in the end, dear; but I will stay in Colby till I have your promise, for I couldn’t go and leave you, Mirry, if you had not promised. I should torture myself into madness with the fear that your uncle had forced you to marry some young fellow with an acre and a cow. And I believe you would consent to sacrifice your whole life and happiness to what you considered your duty. But there is a duty which we owe to ourselves, dearest Mirry,” he continued, as he saw the strength of resistance still shining in her eyes. “I never knew a woman who was such a strange mixture of womanly submission and moral determination. Faith can move mountains, but my love can not move you one inch. Do you really love me, Mirry? — Forgive me, dear Mirry, for, thank God, I know you love me; but I am waiting for your promise. We have been drawn together, you and I, by some unseen force. We have been conscious since the day we first met that something stronger than our own wills has taken our lives into its keeping. If we had never met again, unconsciously we should still have influenced each other, for you are the completion of my being. You love me, dearest, I know; not because I am my poor self, not because I am in any way worthy of your love, not because you have wished to love me, but because, in spite of yourself, you must submit. Our love was inevitable. Can you deny that, sweetheart?”
Both of her hands were held tight in her lover’s and he was eagerly watching her eyes for the first look of complete submission. “Dearest, you understand?”
“No,” she said sadly, “it is impossible. It is all too difficult to understand. You say that Fate has decreed our love, that we had no power over our hearts, that we drifted to each other because by nature we belonged to each other. To believe in Fate like that is to deny God.”
“Yes,” the girl continued, fighting back the love in her full heart lest it should hasten her will and so pass from her keeping and, mingling with his, kindle into passion. “Yes,” she said, “it is to deny God. He has given us a will-power and a sense of right and wrong. If he tempts us now and again to prove our worth, it is a coward’s refuge to call it the working of Fate. The affection of the will and moral choice should guide our love. I can not believe that a marriage with you would be right.”
“But why should we fight against our love? Is it wrong, is it unholy? May God not be watching and approving?”
“I have always hoped,” the girl said, “that if ever I loved a man I should love him for what was best in him. I should wish to be his wife to enjoy the sympathy and companionship of his mind and individuality.” She paused, and then almost whispered: “My love for you has not taken thought or reckoning of all these things. I know that you are worthy of a better love than mine; I know that you are worthy of a woman’s highest love; but often I ask myself, have I given you my highest love? Oh!” she cried, “I have kept no watch over myself; I have let myself love like the creatures that have nothing higher than instinct to guide them. Religion is nothing to you, yet I would marry you, and in so doing break my uncle’s heart.”
“Why do you speak of our love like this, Mirry? My reverence for you is so mingled with my love that they are one.”
“I am so unworthy,” she said. “I thought I was strong, and I am so weak — so weak that I loved you without the poorest reason to guide me. I loved you as I have always prayed that I should never love any man. What can be high or pure in a love that goes against one’s reason, and one’s sense of right and wrong? Such love as ours can only bring unhappiness. It has begun by deception.”
“I would have it open, Mirry. I would have the whole world know that the dearest, and purest, and loveliest woman has promised one day to be my wife.”
“If I promised,” she said, disengaging herself from his attempt to draw her to him again, “I must deceive my uncle, for he would never believe that a man of your birth and position meant to marry me.” With the thought of her uncle’s wrath and his hatred of the upper classes, her longing for the gentleness of her lover’s caresses almost broke down her reserve. “In his lifetime,” she went on, “I can never marry you. I will never repay his love and kindness by breaking his heart again. I must atone for my mother’s deed. If I marry I must marry one of her people. Besides,” she said wearily, with all hope gone out of her voice, “there is your life to consider. I love you too dearly to ruin it. Yes, it would be ruin,” she said, not pausing to listen to his protest. “Friends and relations, one’s earliest life’s ties, should not be easily cast off. My marriage with you would do this — you know the story of my birth. No, no! you must see that our love is a thing to be conquered and put aside. If you leave here and take up some profession which interests you, it will be easier to forget. It is easier for men to forget.”
“If I go away, Mirry, it will only be to make a home for you. I will come back and claim you when you have only your own happiness to consider. The old man cannot live long.”
“Oh, hush!” she said, “he is all I have. How can I ever repay him or love him enough! Oh, you don’t know,” she said earnestly, “how hard he has tried to be both mother and father to me. He is getting old now, and exacting.”
“Forgive me, dearest, but it is his foolish prejudices that keep us apart.”
“No,” Mirry-Ann said, “it is not only that. God give me strength to resist you if he were gone.”
“Dear one,” he said, “your humble birth and lowly life only makes you the more saintly in my eyes. I have no money and no position to offer you or to lose.”
They had come out through the meadow at the end of the village near Ned Gawne’s cottage. The old man was standing waiting for the girl at the open door wrapped up in a warm shawl. When they drew near Dick Schofield noticed the unpleasant expression in his eyes, and his threatening look at the girl.
“Good-evening, Ned; how’s the rheumatism?” he asked, trying to speak naturally.
“Middlin’, middlin’, sir,” he answered gruffly. “Hast thou bane to the choir practice, Mirry-Ann?”
“No, dad. John William Kenean’s little one’s just died, and I was over helping the mother.”
“I’m thinkin’ thou’lt be the village busy-body soon, Mirry-Ann. Thou’rt that ready with thy helpin’. Wass there anythin’ you would be wantin’, sir?” he asked suddenly of Dick, in a hard, cold voice.
“Only a little civility, dad,” the girl said coaxingly. “Mr. Schofield very kindly helped me.”
“It’s mortal kind ye are, sir,” he said, interrupting the girl’s gracious speech, ” to be helpin’ Mirry-Ann; but I’m thinkin’ she’s got a young man of her own that might coome in handy for a job like that, and it’s mighty vexed he’ll be, I’m thinkin’, if he’s bane robbed of his desarts. John Thomas Costain’s courtin’ the girl, sir, and I’ll be tellin’ ye he’s dreadful jealous. ‘Deed but that’s true, Mirry-Ann? ”
“No, dad, it’s not true. Don’t believe him, Mr. Schofield.” The girl’s eyes were burning with shame and indignation. “You know, dad, I’ve told you it wasn’t true a hundred times.”
“My gaugh! that’s only to tase yer ould dad, chil’; it’s like yer mawther ye are.” The words were meant to convey good humour, but the tone of his voice was grating.
“I hope you will forgive me. I only went with your niece to see if I could make John William Kenean behave himself.”
“John Thomas would have been a dale more suited to the job, Mirry-Ann. Thou’rt makin’ too free with thy betters, axin’ them to help thee with a drunken baest.”
Dick Schofield took out his tobacco pouch and handed it to the old man, who filled his pipe greedily and lit it, making a grand sucking sound while it drew. In a few minutes the old man’s angry eyes softened under the genial influence of a full pipe of tobacco. As often as not he would sit over an empty fireplace drawing hard at an empty pipe. Mirry-Ann supposed he derived the same pleasure as a child does from an empty bottle. The old man was almost in his second childhood.
“Take a sate, sir,” he said. “It’s as chape to sit as stand.”
Dick Schofield dropped into John Thomas’s accustomed chair opposite the Bible press, and the old man smoked his pipe in silence. The young man wondered what thoughts were filling his mind; he certainly would never have guessed, for Ned Gawne suddenly said, apropos of nothing that was in his own thoughts:
“Mrs. Hedges be a mortal smart woman, sir; ‘deed, but she’s mortal smart, though!”
“Yes,” Dick answered with an amused smile. Smart was hardly the term Miss Christian would have applied to her, but “smart” had a different meaning in old Ned’s vocabulary. “She’s as able as any man.”
“An’ powerful sight abler, sir. ‘Deed, but it isn’t every young fellow as can make a bit of Ian’ pay in these bad times. All the young fell’s is leavin’ the ould country, times is that bad, sir.”
“What will the girls do? They are dull enough when the men are at the fishing.”
“They’ll be goin’ after them, sir, I reckon, for the gels can’t do without them at all. But Mrs. Hedges is a mortal smart wom-an; ‘deed but she is though — powerful smart. I wass joost sayin’ that to Mirry-Ann this very day, sir.”
There was silence again for a few minutes. The cat purred, all unmindful of its tailless existence, never missing what it never had, and blissfully ignorant of the fact that a cat’s tail is supposed to denote the way the wind blows in its own affairs. The old man squinted down into the full bowl of his long pipe.
“I wass hearin’ that Mrs. Hedges wass killin’ a pig up at the farm, sir.”
“Yes,” Dick Schofield replied, the trend of the old man’s thoughts suddenly dawning upon him. “I spoke to the pig sticker last night.”
“An’ ‘deed, but Mrs. Hedges breeds tremenjous fat pigs, sir.”
“Yes, this one’s a beauty; it’s been entirely hand fed. I’m quite sorry to part with it. I shall keep my head well under the bedclothes to-morrow morning.” He looked at Mirry-Ann, quietly knitting, as he spoke.
“That’s the worst part of stock-farming,” she said. “You’re always rearing and nursing things only to kill them in the end.”
“Mirry-Ann, hould thy tongue! Thy feelin’s are as saf , thou’lt be a mortal poor wife for a man, I’m thinkin’. It’s joost her way, sir,” speaking with an air of apology to the young man. “She’ll be refusin’ to ate the chickens she’s reared from the eggs herself joost for the very purpose of atin’ them and nothin’ else. But she’ll take a sight of trouble, sir, to mind them when they’re HI’ things, feedin’ them from her han’ and callin’ them all by name, joost as tender as a mawther with a lap full of childer. Then when they’re fit and ready for fillin’ her, she’ll be sayin’, ‘Dad, I can’t touch it!’ Mirry-Ann’s that saf, sir, I’ve seen her cry when a young pullet’s been catched for killin’. Don’ let John Thomas know it, Mirry-Ann, for a young fellow likes his wife to be enjoyin’ a comfortable bit of dinner with him — leastways at first, sir.”
“Gives his wife the breast the first year, the liver-wing the next, a leg the third, and the trunk when they’ve been married some years,” said Dick, trying to take lightly, for Mirry-Ann’s sake, her uncle’s reference to John Thomas.
The old man chuckled at Dick’s poor attempt at wit. “‘Deed, but it’s joost what, yer sayin’, sir. A saf wom-an soon gets the nonsense drove out of her when her family comes. Now, Mrs. Hedges’ll have too good sense at her to have saf feelin’s like that. I wass joost thinkin’, sir, there will be a dale of waste comin’ off that pig. You’ll not be atein’ the insides, nor all the fat, up at the farm at all. There’ll be a dale of waste, sir.”
“Mrs. Hedges never wastes, Ned. She’s far too good a housekeeper for that.”
“She’s a mortal smart woman, is Mrs. Hedges; but if there wass a bit of fat goin’ waste, sir, it’s a fine thing for the rheumatics. Isn’t that so, Mirry-Ann?”
Mirry-Ann did not answer, but the look of shame for her uncle’s exhibition of native greed bowed her head.
“I’m thinkin’ that gentry won’t be atein’ insides, Mirry-Ann, and a little bit of fat would be a rale comfort — it would save yer elbow grease.”
Dick Schofield tried to laugh, but the girl’s eyes forbade him.
“I have no doubt,” he said, as he rose to go, “that Mrs. Hedges will be only too glad to find a good use for some of Black Sally’s superfluous fat. I’ll not forget to tell her.”
Mirry-Ann had followed him to the doorstep. “Please don’t ask her,” she said. “Dad forgets himself; he’s getting old.”
“Mirry-Ann,” the old man called out sharply, “don’t be keepin’ the young gentleman out there talkin’ at all. John Thomas will be comin’ soon, I’m thinkin’. Coome in and get the books ready for the readin’. Good-night to ye, sir. A liI’ bit of pig’s fat is a rale comfort, sir.”
“Good-night, Ned. Mrs. Hedges won’t forget to send you a bit of Black Sally to comfort your knees.” The girl’s hands were both in her lover’s for a moment in the shadow of the cottage doorway. He could see her love for him in her eloquent eyes mingled with her sensitive shrinking from the old man’s vulgarity. Surely her lover would see now how far removed she was from him in her real life.
“Mirry-Ann,” the old man called again impatiently, “art thou naver comin’, standin’ talkin’ there like a gossip on the doorstep? Good-evenin’, sir, good-evenin’. I wass thinkin’ if Mrs. Hedges had a HI’ bit of saf flannin and pig’s grease for aesin’ the rheumatics. Mirry-Ann,” and his voice rose to a shrill cry, “I can see John Thomas.”
“Go,” the girl said, and she pulled her hands from her lover’s lips — he was caressing them with silent kisses. “Go,” she whispered. “I told you that I must deceive him if I loved you.”
When he left the cottage he walked quickly through the village in order to reach the farm in time for the evening meal. The width of the village street was spanned with bands of young men and girls walking arm in arm, singing hymns. John Thomas Costain, with Emily Corrin still on his arm, was among the leaders; he had a full barytone voice and gloried in showing it off to its limit.
John Thomas was never really so happy as when “taking a part,” as he termed it, in a soul- stirring hymn. Indeed, there was no form of amusement you could offer these simple people that achieved half the popularity of a prayer meeting or a choir practice.
When he first came to the village Dick Schofield had tried to start a cricket team, and with the squire’s and his sister’s help had opened a reading-room for the men, where a fair number of papers, second-hand from Ballaugh and the farm, were supplied free. There was also a fair bagatelle board, backgammon, and draughts. But the effort was not appreciated, so the club had fallen through. From the first it had been received ungraciously, and with but ill-disguised scorn.
Music and prayers were the limit of their recreations. But music they considered a gift bestowed upon men to praise the perfections of Jehovah, not for the destruction — by pleasure — of the human soul. It is extremely doubtful if any one of them had ever been inside an opera house, or seen a theatrical performance; but the younger ones had heard of such things, and read descriptions of them in illustrated papers, and had also been taught by their minister, on circuit, from Liverpool, that operatic music breathed sensual and subtle poison into the human heart.
Mrs. Hedges seemed a little put out, and for once thoughtful, as she and Dick Schofield sat at their evening meal. As a rule, she had more to say than there was time to say it all in. Noting her distraction, he asked what was troubling her.
“Oh, nothing,” she answered, “only the eyes of an old starving woman I saw to-day.”
“The eyes of a woman who is starving! Where did you see her?”
“At the farm,” said Mrs. Hedges a little wearily. ” She was found in a state of exhaustion just outside the farm gate. She was the poorest-looking thing you ever saw, and the saddest.”
“What did you do with her? Was she begging? I hope you weren’t frightened.”
Mrs. Hedges laughed. “Afraid, my dear boy! if you had only seen her. How could I be afraid of a poor starving woman who couldn’t even remember her own name? ”
“Forgive me, but women are proverbially afraid of beggars and mice, whereas they will often face a burglar. What was she doing at the farm? We don’t get tramps in our part of the world.”
“That’s what I couldn’t find out, and she couldn’t tell me herself. She spoke quite sensibly, though in a state of extreme exhaustion, until I questioned her where she had come from; then she lost her head and couldn’t remember anything. She doesn’t know who she is any more than I do.”
“Where is she now?”
“I’m sure I don’t know. I offered her a bed in the barn, and what do you think she said? ‘I would rather sleep in a hedgeside than accept charity, when I ought by rights to be sleeping down there’; and she pointed to Ballaugh.”
“Then she wasn’t begging?”
“Oh, dear no! I thought she was, but she refused all offers of food or money. I wish I could forget her before I go to bed — her wild eyes haunt me. She was exactly like some poor, wandering spirit returned to earth in search of some one or something. It is a case of total collapse of memory.”
Mrs. Hedges usually resorted to something practical when her mind had had time to dwell upon unpleasant topics. So when supper was finished she took up the tall brass candlestick, and went hurriedly off to take a last look at her sleeping family before she herself retired for the night. Fortunately, too, there were a few last words to be said to the cook on the subject of a warm bath for Black Sally’s corpse in the morning, before it was shaved and prepared for cutting up.
She had no tender feelings like Mirry-Ann Gawne on the subject of its death. A pig in Mrs. Hedges’s practical eyes was merely a few hams in a state of incompletion, and she would in all probability superintend the process of their evolution until they reached the haven of shelter under the kitchen roof.
About an hour later Dick Schofield suddenly remembered old Ned Gawne’s request for a bit of “flanhin” and pig’s grease to comfort his aching knees, and went in search of Mrs. Hedges, whom he found in one of the children’s rooms. She was bending over her youngest son, whose cheeks were flushed with crying and his eyes wide with fear.
“Only dreaming,” Mrs. Hedges said when she saw Dick standing near her with inquiring eyes. “Quite big boys are such infants at night. What cowards the dark makes of us all!”
“Is he vexed with the lordship of dreams?” the young man asked, quoting Kendall’s fine lines a trifle incorrectly.
“Yes,” she said. “Poor wee fellow, he’s dreaming of the old tramp. It appears it was Tim who first noticed her; she told him she was looking for a little child with blue eyes, just like his, and now he’s dreamt that the old woman has carried him off.”
When Tim saw Dick Schofield he literally sprang into his arms and refused to go back into his cot.
“The old woman’s got big eyes, just like saucers!” he cried. “She is under the bed hiding ’cause you’re here.”
“Hush, Tim darling. God takes care of little boys in the dark.” The old cant saying came handy to the mother’s lips, although darkness was this strong woman’s one weak point. Often at night she would lie awake for hours, panting like a frightened hare, feeling the very presence of darkness inclosing her in its mysterious embrace.
“Don’t want God to take care of Tim. God doesn’t take good care. God isn’t comfie. God can take care of the old tramp under the bed with big eyes. Mr. Schofield can take care
There was no resisting Irish Tim’s blue eyes at night when he was a trusting little child. In the daytime he ruled the house with the grand air of a trumpet-major. So the .” nursery governess ” carried him off to sleep in his little den, which did duty for a smoking-room as well as a bedroom.
“I came to tell you, Mrs. Hedges,” he said, “that old Ned Gawne wants some fat from Black Sally and a ‘bit of flannin. ‘ It’s tremenjous comfortin’ to the rheumatics ‘ — and Albert Victor Kenean won’t require any more eggs or milk.”
“‘Cause he’s been took.”
Mrs. Hedges laughed. “Don’t be horrid, you irreverent boy. Poor little mite.”
“I’m not horrid; that is just the way his mother expressed it. She said that ‘ even lil’ fella as he wass he were ready to be took.’ When I said I hoped so, she said: ‘He wass, Mr. Schofield, for he hadn’t a smile on his face these last six weeks.'”
“Six weeks of baby suffering isn’t exactly conducive to smiling,” said Mrs. Hedges. “But some mothers find it difficult to distinguish between cause and effect. Good-night.”
“Good-night,” answered the young man as he carried off Tim in his arms. His thoughts had flown to the girl who had nursed the dying child on her knee. Love has a curiously softening influence even on the modern young man, for, as he thought of Mirry-Ann, the young tutor kissed little Tim and held him close in his strong arms until the child was soothed and brave once more. Tim was a dear little thing to love.
In the village down below, where the lads with their lasses had longf since sung their last hymn, and lovers had kissed each other goodnight, not so softly as surely, the long street was in summer darkness. The wonderful stillness of Nature which would have filled a city dweller with profound awe, lent the village a sacred beauty. The stars alone seemed to be awake, keeping watch over the little white village nestling under the shelter of the mountain. A solitary traveller, passing on his way through the village at this hour, would have felt the same reverence for Sleep, as for her twin sister, Death, in God’s silent acre. The dignity of silence would have hushed his steps.
Suddenly, in this conscious stillness, Mirry-Ann was disturbed at her prayers by a gentle lifting of the door-latch. She had gone to bed later than usual, having spent more time than Mrs. Hedges would deem profitable in thinking over the events of the day.
She rose quickly from her knees and went to the door. It might be that some one had sent for her from the cottage where little Albert Victor lay stiff and rigid, with no angel smile on his little discoloured face — a sure sign, his mother thought, that he was ready to join the angel band.
There was no light in the cottage, and the girl, slim and tall, in her white nightgown looked, as she stood at the door, like an angel of pity bound on some mission of charity to the village.
She pushed the door open and called softly: “Who’s there?” So complete was the night’s silence that she felt afraid to raise her voice.
There was no answer; the stillness was unbroken. She scanned the white street up and down, but no figure was in sight. The cool night air blew about her bare feet, but it brought with it no sound or sense of human presence. She was alone with the stars in the sweet summer darkness. There was a movement in the tall fuchsia bush, where the bees had ceased their busy droning. Mirry-Ann held her breath, and then asked again: ” Is any one there? ” But it was only the night wind swaying the rosemary branches, lendifig their fragrance to the stars.
“Rosemary for remembrance,” she said; “is there anything to help me to forget?” She shut the cottage door and went back to her prayers.
But in a few moments the gentle lifting of the latch was heard again, and Mirry-Ann, with a mind full of spiritual devotion, knelt, half expectant that some heavenly spirit was about to enter the cottage. With bated breath she remained on her knees, and this time the latch was lifted more firmly and the door was pushed gently open. Still Mirry-Ann knelt as if in prayer, half afraid of the spiritual presence which she felt certain was near her, half filled with exultant emotion.
But instead of some beautiful apparition, an old feeble woman, tottering from exhaustion, stole into the cottage kitchen.
Mirry-Ann got up from her knees and struck a light in order to see her strange visitor more clearly. The mad blue eyes of the trembling woman stared at the girl vacantly and in wonder. Apparently she was familiar with the kitchen, for she looked round timidly for old Ned’s arm-chair, and finding it, sank into it wearily. Her eyes were still sadly gazing at Mirry-Ann, as if her poor wandering brain had mistaken the girl in her white gown for an angel. The candlelight, it is true, did play strange tricks with her wealth of shimmering hair, and her eyes between her locks were like doves.
“What do you want?” she asked, bending over the old woman. “Are you seeking a night’s rest?” She had to strain her ears to hear the trembling answer.
“I never rest and I never sleep. I am looking for my little child.”
“A little child lost at this time of night?” the girl echoed in alarm. “The poor little thing! it will be so afraid. Where have you come from?”
The big blue eyes, the saucerlike eyes which at that very moment were frightening little Tim in his sleep, looked all round the cottage helplessly, and then dropped beneath the steady gaze of the girl by her side.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Am I here now?” Her eyes looked madder than ever.
“Yes, you are here — in a cottage — safe for the night,” Mirry-Ann answered pityingly. “I will give you a bed.”
“He told me to go to the devil,” the woman said, “but my little child wouldn’t let me. The little child was stronger than the devil.”
The tramp looked at her with a queer puzzled fear in her eyes.
“Angels don’t like the devil’s ways, do they? But I didn’t go, no, I didn’t go. Always, when I was near going, it was the little child that kept me back.”
“Will you have something to eat?” said Mirry-Ann, beginning to be a little afraid of the woman’s wild words.
“I never eat,” she said, “and I never sleep. I’m only looking for my little child.” She made a feeble attempt to rise out of the big arm-chair.
“Perhaps I can help you to find your child, if you will try and think how you lost it.”
“Angels don’t bring back little children when they are lost,” the woman said sadly. “They come to take them away.”
“But I’m not an angel,” Mirry-Ann said, a quiet sob rising to her throat. It was strange that the two women had thought each other supernatural. “I’m only a weak woman like yourself.”
“Not like me, not like me,” and the tramp’s slim fingers stroked the threadbare dress she wore. “But once I was like you,” she said, as if it were impossible for the girl at her side to believe it. “Once I was like you. Pure women look like angels sometimes, before they know the devil.”
“Before you knew the devil,” Mirry-Ann said, trying to follow the woman’s mad wandering, “what was your name?”
“I never had a name,” she answered directly, with almost childish glibness.
“Oh, yes, you had. Can’t you remember it? Every one has a name. What did your father and mother call you? Do you remember where they lived?”
“I never had a father or a mother.”
“Who was your husband? Has he got your little child?”
“No, no!” she said, with a wild fear in her vacant eyes. “I never had a husband; I lived with the devil. I wouldn’t let my little child stay with the devil. What’s your name? Do angels have names?”
“My name is Mirry-Ann Gawne,” the girl said simply. “I lost my mother when I was a little child.”
A fit of trembling as if from bodily fatigue came over the woman. She rocked to and fro, moaning to herself, “Mirry-Ann Gawne — Mirry-Ann Gawne. I’m looking for my little child.”
While Mirry-Ann had been speaking to the woman she had been quickly preparing a bed on the floor, and with a little gentle persuasion she made the woman lie down.
Some four or five hours later, at earliest dawn, the door-latch was carefully lifted again, but the stealthy movement of the tottering figure did not wake the girl from her sound sleep. She stirred for a moment as if some dream had disturbed her, and her hand travelled, heavy with the languor of sleep, to brush off a dream kiss from her forehead; then her sleep became as sound again and her face as pure and untroubled as a child’s.
Summer nights are short in the island, and the weary wanderer was away with the dawn to look for her little child. When she opened the door on to the street a breath of sweet lavender and rosemary swept the cottage like a perfumed cloud hovering over Mirry-Ann in her sleep. It affected her, for she dreamed she heard her lover say: “Rosemary for remembrance.”
When Mirry-Ann awoke the summer sun was streaming into the room through the yellow calceolarias in the window. The empty bed on the floor suddenly recalled her strange visitor of the past night. She looked round the room in wonder, but there was no trace of the old woman now. She had slipped away, leaving no sign of her mysterious visit but the blankets and pillows spread upon the floor.
The girl stood for a moment gathering her thoughts from the dreamland of the night to the practical world of the day.
“If I couldn’t touch the very bed she has lain in, it might all have been a dream,” she said, as she dressed quickly and hurried up the village street in search of her phantom guest. But already the everyday life of the village had begun, and there was no sign of the frail little figure in black.
The everyday noises and the sound of the children’s healthy laughter, with the quacking of ducks and geese devouring their breakfast of strange household scraps thrown to them on the village street, made her feel that her visitor of the night before had surely been but a creation of her own fancy. The poor mad eyes and the trembling figure which had lost the thread of life and was scarcely aware of its own existence was not a thing to meet in broad daylight; such queer, timid eyes could not stand the brilliancy of midsummer sunshine.
In a forced, unnatural voice, Mirry-Ann asked here and there if any one had seen an old woman, a stranger to the village, passing up the street When the neighbours questioned her about the woman, Mirry-Ann felt that her visitor had been no imaginary vision, the hysteria of the moment vanished, and she made inquiries in a practical common-sense way.
But a few of the women shook their heads, and said to each other that it was one of the girl’s strange fancies. She wasn’t like other people at all, and never had been; she was seeing things that other people couldn’t see when she was a lil’ bit of a thing. If a tramp had passed through the village she’d have gone to some better house nor ould Ned Gawne’s.
By midday, however, they had a strange piece of news to tell the girl, and their native curiosity was aroused. The old woman had been found dead in the Arbory churchyard, only a few feet from the grave of Mirry-Ann’s grandmother. A coroner’s inquest was held, and her death proved to be due to extreme exhaustion.
When Mirry-Ann heard of the woman’s death, and how she was to be buried in the first pauper’s grave that had ever been dug in the little churchyard, she determined to go up to Ballaugh and ask the squire to pay for the grave and the funeral expenses. A pauper’s funeral seemed to the girl such a bitter ending to the, sad life of the poor unknown creature whose evident refinement and gentle pride was such a bitter sarcasm on her destitute condition.
“Some one may love her somewhere,” the girl said. “Poor soul, she had only lost her way at the end of life’s journey.”
Mirry-Ann determined to take Nance Quin’s advice on the subject of asking the squire.
“Yes, why not, chil’? The squire’s kind-hearted enough, and he’s plenty of money and to spare.”
“Yes, Nance, I know he has. I’m sure he would like to do it. We can’t have a pauper’s funeral in the village; but -” and the girl looked troubled.
“But what, chil’?”
Mirry-Ann sat down beside the old maid and put her arm round her, speaking in a half whisper.
“I suppose I’m pretty, Nance — I think I must be, and all men are just alike. It doesn’t seem to matter who the pretty face belongs to.” She got up suddenly. “I’d like to prove,” she said, “if I were quite ugly and just the same . girl as I am now, if even John Thomas Costain would care for me as much.”
Nance Quin’s face darkened. “Chil’, don’t tell me he’s just like his father. I thought the young squire was different.”
“What was his father like, Nance?”
“Like, chil’?” and the old woman’s eyes gleamed young again. “He was like the pic- tures you see up at Ballaugh of the fine soldiers. He may have been a brave soldier, chil’, but he was wantin’ in honour with women. He was never content until he had cast a shadow over every pretty face he came across.”
“The young squire isn’t like that, Nance,?” Mirry-Ann said quickly. “I don’t know how to explain. He’s very polite, and very, very kind” and the girl paused. “O Nance,
don’t you know what I mean? Don’t you know how it is when life is difficult just because you are a woman? When I’m talking to the squire I feel, Nance, that if I don’t take just the greatest care in the world he will forget that I’m only a village girl and say something very foolish. I’ve kept him from saying it a hundred times. Sometimes,” and the girl’s voice dropped, “sometimes, Nance, perhaps, I won’t be able to take care.”
There was a little silence broken only by the old woman’s busy knitting needles.
“Were you always the same wise person when you were young, Nance? Did you ever know what it was to be two or three people all in one, and none of the three on even speaking terms with each other, and all scorning each other’s actions? One of these persons, Nance, hasn’t the power to be careful with the squire, and doesn’t so much mind the expression she sees in his eyes; but the other person, the person I want to be always, manages to subdue it by her own will. She can take care of both, the man and herself. I wish the squire would remember, Nance, that I used to courtesy to his mother when he was walking through the village with her. I would courtesy to him now, but I’m too tall, Nance. Miss Christian likes all the girls to drop her a courtesy when she passes “; and the girl bobbed low in front of the old maid and imitated the shrill Manx voice of a little child, ” Good-evenin’, ma’am.” Her face had assumed a demure, respectful expression, and the old maid laughed. “Wait a bit, Nance,” she said, “and I’ll show you how I’ll bow to the governor’s wife when I’m presented at Government House.”
She lifted back her dress and pretended to spread out her invisible train, and with a pretty dignity she made a sweeping bow and kissed Nance Quin’s hand. It was so seldom that the girl indulged in any form of frivolity that Nance Quin was quite taken aback.
“What’s come to ye, chil’? Sure yer gettin’ merrier as ye get older. When yer were a chil’ yer were as serious as if every day was Sunday.”
“Little children try to be serious over their week days; big people try to play on their Sundays. When we begin life we like to pretend we are men and women — youth has no charm for us. We are all impatience to rush ‘through life’s golden days, and take old burdens on our young shoulders.”
“I know well enough what yer mean, chil’. Plenty of us would like to throw down the burden we were in such a hurry to pick up; but yer haven’t any trouble up yer sleeve, chil’, that yer need be smiling to the village about.”
“Not any trouble, I suppose, Nance” — Mirry-Ann was putting on her bonnet while she spoke — “only some people find life such a simple thing. They just go on from day to day, coming into the world, marrying, and going out of it, doing all three things just by instinct, as it were, while other people are always turning the heel of life, and dropping stitches, and having to go back and pick them up.” Mirry-Ann took up the long worsted stocking of rough gray wool from Nance Quin’s knee, and held it up to view. “Look, Nance,” she said; “this is one person’s life,” and the girl ran her fingers down the straight, unshaped leg of the stocking, “and this difficult part is another’s. Do you remember how I used to cry when you taught me to turn the heel, Nance? I had to remember so much and always had to be on guard.”
The stocking dropped back into its place on the older woman’s knee. Nance Quin fastened the pins into the bamboo sticks in her belt; something was blinding her eyes so that she had to look carefully before she commenced her knitting. When she lifted her withered face to speak, the girl had gone; her pretty flowing figure was passing the window. The old maid’s hungry eyes followed it lovingly. In some strange, unaccountable way the girl always recalled the memory of her own youth and her love.
On reaching the Big House Mirry-Ann was shown by Emily Corrin into the library. She was not kept waiting many minutes before the squire appeared. He came forward quickly to the window where the “young person” whom he had been told was waiting to see him in the library was standing.
When he saw that it was Mirry-Ann Gawne he held out his hand in pleased surprise, and the girl put hers, ungloved, regretfully into his.
“What has brought you here, Mirry-Ann?” he asked, rather anxiously. The girl had kept out of his way so persistently of late that coming of her own accord to see him aroused his apprehension. “Are you in trouble?”
She withdrew her hand, which he let go reluctantly, and dropped it at her side. “No, not in trouble myself, thank you, sir; but I have come to ask a kindness of you.”
“Surely there is no reason to look so uncomfortable about it, Mirry-Ann? Aren’t we old, old friends? But you shan’t begin to tell me what it is until you sit down.”
“I would rather stand, thank you.” The girl wished to make her visit as brief as possible.
“How unkind, when it compels me to do the same! But why not rest while we may? No, not in that stiff-backed chair of my maiden aunt’s — here, in this comfortable, easy one.”
He gently forced her to sit down, and she felt his hands linger as they left hers.
“I came to ask you if you had heard about the death of an old woman who passed through the village two nights ago,” she said abruptly.
“No, I did not. What about her? Was she a burglar in disguise?”
“Oh, no, poor thing. She came to our cottage late at night when all the village was asleep— the most pitiful human thing I have ever seen. She wasn’t begging; she had simply lost the thread of her lonely life, and had drifted, she didn’t know where. I took her in and gave her a bed.”
Mirry-Ann’s eyes were filling with tears at the memory of the old woman’s broken spirit and poor mad eyes. “In the morning, before daylight, she had gone; but later in the day the sexton found her dead in the churchyard.”
“Poor old soul,” Frank Christian said, thinking more of the beauty of the tender woman before him than of the lonely old tramp. “What can I do to help you?
“She is to be buried by the parish in a pauper’s grave — the first ever dug in our churchyard. I can’t bear to think of it. Her people may be looking for her somewhere, for no one knows where she came from. Such an end is so dreadful for one who was so gentle and refined. I thought that if I told you about her sad death and explained how very respectable she appeared to be in spite of her exhausted condition, you would be glad to pay for a simple funeral — just because” — the girl went on timidly — “you are kind and rich, and she was a poor, broken-hearted woman who came to her little village to die.”
Mirry-Ann’s nervous manner of speaking and the quick rise and fall of her beautiful figure told the squire more plainly than words how much she disliked the mission upon which she had come.
“I can not help thinking, sir, that I have been called upon to look after her. She came to me when I was praying, when the whole village was asleep; and she was found dead by my grandmother’s grave. If some one had loved her once, sir- ”
The squire interrupted her, taking her two hands in his. “Why, Mirry-Ann, little Mirry-Ann, you needn’t plead. You know I will do this for you gladly.”
“I knew you would. I knew I had only to ask. You are so very, very kind.”
“Don’t you see how easy it is to be kind, Mirry-Ann; and how nice it is for me to be able to help some one whom I care for very much?”
The girl rose to go.
“What shall you put on her gravestone?” he asked, as an excuse to detain her; but Mirry-Ann was woman enough to take the question seriously, so as to keep the conversation from becoming personal. She thought for a moment.
“We can not put a name on it, can we, when we don’t know who she was? But we could a text — ‘I was a stranger and ye took me in.'”
“That would do very well,” the squire agreed absently.
“I wonder who she was, sir. Her eyes haunt me, and so does her voice — it was so sweet and refined.”
“So is yours, Mirry-Ann. I never heard a softer voice. If I were blind I should choose my wife by her voice.”
The girl blushed, and moved to the door.
“No, don’t run away just because I said the same thing about your voice as you said about the old lady.”
“My remark was quite impersonal, sir. The old lady was saved the embarrassment of responding, sir.”
“And you think it is safer not to be personal, you and I?”
“It’s wiser, sir.”
“But you are so horribly wise, Mirry-Ann. What if I were to throw wisdom to the winds, and spoke out all that was in my heart?”
“The thoughts that are in one’s heart seldom bear the test of speech.”
“Caution spoils half the joy of living. The gods defy wisdom.”
“I have no fine words to argue, sir. Goodbye, and thank you.”
“Ah, Mirry-Ann, why can’t you stay and talk to me for a little while, just by way of showing your thanks? Why do you always run away from me?”
“What shall we talk about?” the girl asked in distress. “You and I have nothing in common.”
“People don’t consider what they shall talk about, child, when they are pleased to be together.”
“Don’t they, sir? It would be wiser if they did. A cautious talker has less to regret.”
“But wisdom is so dull, Mirry-Ann, and regrets are life’s antidotes.”
Suddenly the squire’s face lit up. “Would you like to go out through the conservatory? We have some fine begonias in flower.” He held the glass door open and Mirry-Ann passed through. She could not resist the temptation, for flowers of any description were a joy to her. The conservatory was carpeted, and here and there, under the shade of some tall plants was an easy chair, made of light basket work. One large Japanese parasol screened the glare from the glass roof. Grace and her brother used this picturesque conservatory as a morning-room, for there were no exotics in it demanding a tropical temperature.
The girl’s undisguised admiration was very pleasing to the Squire of Ballaugh. He watched her as she stood silently taking in all the beauty and fragrance of her surroundings. “Do you know, Mirry-Ann,” he said, “what I should like to do to make this world a really nice sort of world? I’d let two people like you and me enjoy a few innocent pleasures, and I’d strike dumb any evil tongue that troubled us. I’d set you down in that chair and I would take this one; then I’d light a cigarette — if you didn’t mind — and we would let the rest of the world look after itself for the whole livelong day. Surely that is an innocent pleasure enough — only to ask to sit near you in my own conservatory. But there is something very wrong about the construction of life. Don’t you think so?”
“I’m afraid we couldn’t have done it any better, sir. There must be some faults in every large undertaking.”
“I know I could improve upon the plan as it now stands; and then I should get the credit for the whole invention, like the lucky beggars who improve upon other people’s patents.”
“Your idea is that the laws of convention have spoilt the original plan.”
“Hang convention,” he said earnestly; “it spoils everything.”
“And yet it is useful.”
“How so? To spoil any natural pleasure to be got out of living in a quiet place?”
Mirry-Ann thought for words, and then looked at the young man who was fast letting his feelings run away with his discretion. At that moment Mirry-Ann was not the person she desired most to be. She had lost her power to subdue.
“Well, sir, if we were allowed to sit all day alone, you and I, in this beautiful conservatory, there would always be the fear that I might fall in love with you.”
The squire was about to speak when she stopped him.
“Wait a moment,” she said. “I might fall in love with you; then there would be sorrow and trouble, for you could not possibly marry me, even if you pitied my hopeless passion and were willing to do so. It would bring a great deal of unhappiness — your sister would never speak to you again, and the village would never forget that the squire’s wife was only old Ned Gawne’s girl. Now the wisdom of convention saves us from all that. Conventions protect us from ourselves.”
The graceful attitude Mirry-Ann had assumed while speaking, and her mock serious tones, tumbled down the last remnant of the squire’s reserve.
“Supposing I have fallen in love with you already!” he cried. “Supposing I love you better than to care what the world thinks — supposing that I were to ask you to be my wife?”
His eyes were aflame with the passion of youth, and he put out his arms to draw the girl to him. She held up her hands to ward off his words. “Oh, please, please don’t, sir! you don’t know what you are saying; have some consideration. I must go; indeed I must.”
But the squire was deaf to the voice of caution. “I can’t consider, dearest — fancy love considering! What poor, cold-blooded love you would have!”
“Let me leave you, sir, for you are not serious. You are carried away by your feelings for the moment.”
“You shall believe that I am serious, Mirry-Ann — you must believe it. I would rather marry you than the greatest lady in the island. O Mirry-Ann! there is no one like you in the whole world.”
“You think so at this moment, sir; but I must save you from years of bitter regret. It is always a woman’s duty in life to think first of the man’s happiness.”
“Think of your own, Mirry-Ann, for I believe, dearest, that you do love me a little in your heart. Just tell me, dear, that, right or wrong as it may seem in your serious eyes, love has triumphed.”
Mirry-Ann was not a woman of quick wit or ingenious brain. She was now filled with distress at her own inability to tell him that she did not love him. And to do it tenderly, in a way that would not wound his young vanity — this was her one thought. Mirry-Ann’s weakness was her horror of giving pain or being the cause of suffering. She stood speechless in front of her lover, not knowing how to answer, and too disturbed to think. Her silence was so sweetly submissive that he with youthful confidence took it for a modest confession of her love. In a moment his arms were round her, and he was about to kiss her, when Grace Christian came hurriedly into the conservatory. She stopped suddenly when she saw her brother, with his arms round Mirry- Ann’s waist, bending to steal a kiss.
Lovers caught unaware, however legitimate their caress may be, invariably look guilty. Frank Christian dropped Mirry- Ann’s hands and stood sheepishly in front of her, while his sister, the very picture of aristocratic dignity, looked coldly from one to the other.
Mirry-Ann put her hands before her face, as if to save it from the humiliation of the girl’s silent scorn.
Miss Christian knew the value of self-control. She was too wise to rush into any hasty or undignified accusation; so, quietly turning to a work-table which stood a few feet away, she picked up a piece of delicate embroidery and went quickly out of the conservatory.
Neither of the two who were left looking miserably at one another spoke for a few moments. The silence seemed to last an hour to the girl. Then Frank Christian drew closer to her and put his arm again round her waist. “Little Mirry-Ann,” he said, “it is my fault. I have placed you in a false position in my sister’s eyes; but, dearest, it is only for a few minutes. Will you come to her with me and tell her that you have promised to be my wife? I would have told her then, but you had not given me your promise.”
With a great effort the girl got her words together and forced herself to speak.
“Mr. Christian,” she said, “you have made a great mistake. I do not love you, and if I did I could never be your wife. I could not be happy here in this big house. I have been brought up in a cottage, and I am only a village girl. I know love is so great and so exacting, that if I loved you I might put all these things aside to gratify my love.” Her eyes were trembling, and the long silken lashes were fluttering like butterflies’ kisses on her cheeks. “I can not but be proud of the great honour you have paid me, but it will be best for us both to forget.”
“O Mirry-Ann! it is no honour. You have been brought up in a cottage, but the whole world can see that you are fit to adorn a palace. Dear, you would grow used to living in this house if it were your home. Will you try to love me, Mirry-Ann?”
“No, Mr. Christian; please don’t press me. I do like you, perhaps better than a girl of my position usually likes a gentleman of yours. Oh!” she said, a little sadly, “how unlikely it would be that old Ned Gawne’s girl should wed the Squire of Ballaugh!”
“Old Ned won’t live forever,” replied the squire; but as he spoke, the memory of the old man and the knowledge of the girl’s faithful devotion to him stood out and hit him in the face. But he made a fight for loyalty, and was about to urge his love again when the girl stopped him.
“You must not say any more. I am going now. I have done wrong to stay with you, and listen to the words that one day you will wish unsaid. But, believe me, sir, the regret will be unnecessary, for all this will be forgotten as if unsaid. May I go out by the private door?”
Even in the heat of his passion and youthful egotism, there was a lurking admission in the squire’s mind that the girl’s words might one day be justified. Though he loved her truly and tenderly, he could not but see the many difficulties in the way of their marriage.
They were silent as they left the conservatory and walked across the old turf lawn to a little black wooden door in the boundary wall, which would let her out on to the highroad. It opened from the inside only. He stood for a moment with the door open for her to pass through. Their eyes met; his were reproachful and unhappy. Her refusal of his love had robbed them of their boyish confidence.
“You will remember what I came for,” she said softly, “and forget all the rest that has passed?”
“I can not,” he replied, believing that he meant it, not yet knowing what time will do for young lives. “And my sister never will.”
When the little black door shut on Mirry-Ann, leaving the squire standing alone in the privacy of his grounds, he realized that between her and himself was fixed a great gulf. Mirry-Ann had gone back to old Ned Gawne, and he had to face his sister!
Grace Christian feigned to be sewing the piece of embroidery she had taken from the conservatory when her brother found her. She looked up as he approached, quickly dropping her eyes again to her work.
Frank took a seat and waited for her to open up the subject which filled both their minds. But Grace knew that perfect silence on her part would make the situation more difficult for her brother, and she had no wish to spare his feelings. Manlike, finding himself forced to take the initiative, he plunged straight into it.
“You saw me talking to Mirry-Ann Gawne in the conservatory, Grace. I wish to ex -”
His sister interrupted him. “Don’t try to explain, please. Has the girl gone?” Her tone implied such scorn for the innocent Mirry-Ann that the squire’s blood was up in defence of the woman he loved.
“Yes, she has gone,” he said; “but I would advise you not to speak of her in that slighting tone of voice. Mirry-Ann Gawne is a woman to command any one’s respect.”
“In a man’s eyes, perhaps; I’m afraid women don’t think so. Your conduct to her this afternoon somewhat belies your words.”
“My conduct to her was perfectly respectful.”
“Really? Does a self-respecting village girl usually allow her master to kiss her? And do men usually respect girls who allow themselves to be kissed?”
“I am not Mirry- Ann’s master. You are going too far, Grace. Nor did I kiss her.”
“No, I forgot— I spoilt it, didn’t I?”
Frank Christian rose from his seat and stood close beside his sister. His handsome, rather weak face, showed that when his temper was once roused he could show fight.
“I wonder how nice women can be so cruel,” he said. “Why do you persist in throwing mud at each other, leaving us men clear? I am to blame, not Mirry-Ann, for putting her in a false position in your eyes.”
“Excuse me; you have done nothing to change my opinion of her in any way. But I do not wish my brother’s name connected with Mirry-Ann Gawne.”
“Don’t you?” he said, towering over her with anger. “Then you have to thank her for that. It would scarcely be honourable on my part if I continued to seek her society after what happened to-day; for the village would hardly credit her with having refused to marry me.
Grace Christian laid her work slowly down, and gazed at her brother; the expression in her eyes plainly said: “Are you mad?”
“I mean,” he went on, “that at the very moment you Came into the conservatory Mirry-Ann was refusing even to listen to my proposal of marriage. You can be so beastly nasty when you like, Grace, that you can put that news in your pipe and smoke it.”
His sister’s eyes blazed, and her voice shook with passion. “How dare you,” she said, “oh! how dare you drag the name of Christian into the gutter? Remember, please, that I bear it.”
“Hadn’t you better change it soon? It scarcely suits your disposition.”
“Don’t be flippant, please; this is no laughing matter. If you have no pride, you might at least have some respect for your name. Are you not ashamed to own that to gratify your passion for this girl, who knows well how to play her cards, you have offered to bestow upon Ned Gawne’s bastard niece the name our forefathers have borne so honourably? Oh,” the girl cried, “what beasts men are! They would sacrifice anything to self.”
“Stop, Grace!” and Frank Christian caught the girl’s arm and held it until she forced herself free. “Would to God that you were a man at this moment. But only a woman’s tongue would dare to say what you have said of the woman I love. You take advantage of the fact that I can not thrash you.”
“You love her, indeed!” and Grace laughed. “I consider that it would be almost more honourable to court her love in the way her mother and grandmother were courted before her, than to drag your family name into dishonour; for it is dishonour to bring bad blood into a respected family.”
“You rank your pride of race too high, Grace. What have we sprung from better than the girl I love — you and I? Nothing. We were the same to begin with, only we made some money three or four generations ago. Mirry-Ann’s family has continued obscure and poor because they ‘ carry on an honest trade, while ours rose from village insignificance by trading in a dishonest one. Our forefathers were plain fisher-folk until they made a fortune by smuggling contraband goods. When they had defrauded his Majesty King George’s Government to the extent of an ample fortune, they ceased their illicit trade and lived in dignified idleness off the proceeds. Then they could afford to be loyal, and the eldest sons for many generations served with their sword the country their forebears had so successfully robbed. It is, alas! impossible to smuggle nowadays, or perhaps old Ned Gawne might have had a similar chance of starting an ancient pedigree. These fine soldiers who adorn our walls make you proud in the belief that you sprang from a race of heroes; but you forget that we inherit the blood of contrabandists.”
“Don’t try to belittle your family. Smugglers, at least, were brave, and it was a recognised trade in those days.”
“Fishermen are brave also. But I have no wish to belittle my family: I merely wish to point out to you that it is only by dishonourable means that we are one whit better than Mirry-Ann Gawne. All this fine property was bought with the illegal profits. And, after all,” he continued, “in this little island you think that we are somebody. We live in the ‘Big House’ the children kow-tow to us, and we have sufficient to live upon comfortably as long as we live here. But if we left our insular home and settled in London, or indeed any part of England, who would ever have heard of Grace Christian of Ballaugh? You would be the merest cipher, and your income would be unnoticed.”
“Perhaps you are not aware that the girl’s name is already connected with some one else.”
“No; the fact is news to me. Perhaps that is the reason she can not love me. I hope he is worthy of her.” Frank Christian tried to speak calmly, but his jealousy was roused.
“Some one who is too level-headed to offer his hand as well as his heart. Mr. Schofield is a very cautious lover.”
“Who told you Mr. Schofield loved Mirry-Ann Gawne?”
“I did not say love; you abuse the word. I said paid her attention. And how do I know it? Well, for one reason, because lie has never attempted to flirt with your sister. He can have a better time with a girl of her class.”
“Mere woman’s jealousy! I don’t believe it. You expect every man to bow down and worship, Grace.”
“Not at all; pure worldly wisdom. Mr. Schofield can not afford to marry, and a village flirtation holds more possibilities than one with the squire’s sister.”
“You will repent your bitter tongue some day, Grace. I don’t suppose I shall break my heart because Mirry-Ann Gawne has refused to marry me. The disease died out in the beginning of this century, for we Englishmen are taught to grin and bear so much that even love has to be conquered. But it will ache for many a long day; and even if I love again, and marry another woman, I shall always know that MirryAnn Gawne was more than good enough to be my wife.”
“Hear, hear!” the girl cried mockingly; “quite a stump speech. You will have a seat in the House of Keys yet, Frank”; and folding up her work she left the room.
When the squire remembered the mission upon which Mirry-Ann had come, he sat down at Grace’s little writing table and wrote a cheque for £10, payable to Mirry-Ann Gawne. No sooner had he written it than he realized that it was unwise to write the cheque in her name, so he quickly tore it in two, and threw it in the waste-paper basket. He wrote another cheque for the same amount, but made out in the name of the Captain of the Parish. The torn cheque caught Grace Christian’s eye that evening when she went to her table to look for a missing letter.
She placed the halves together and studied it for a moment, then threw it back in the basket. “Men are loyal,” she said; “he almost convinced me.” The torn cheque was inspected by yet another pair of eyes, and was again pieced together; but this time it was not thrown back among the waste paper.
The next afternoon, as Mirry-Ann was walking through the village, she met John Thomas Costain. He was dressed in his “walking-out” suit, and was going in the opposite direction to her uncle’s house. John Thomas had been absent from the village, away with the fishing-fleet at the other side of the island. In fact, Mirry-Ann had not spoken to him since she had seen him with Emily Corrin on his arm; she had endeavoured to keep out of his way. A look of confusion covered his face when he saw Mirry-Ann. He stopped abruptly in front of her.
“Are you going to meet Emily?” she asked. “It’s a lovely evening for a walk.”
“Yes,” Thomas replied doggedly. “You wouldn’t come if I axed ye.”
“O John Thomas!” she said, suddenly remembering what she wished to ask him, and avoiding his comment ; “but will you and Emily do something for me?”
“What’s that?” he asked, and his blue eyes kindled with pleasure. “It’s little enough yer axin’ me to do. You’ve been kapin’ mortal clare of me, Mirry-Ann; just as if I had the chin cough.”
“Will you gather some flowers?” she said pleadingly. “The best you can find. I’m wanted at home or I would gather them myself.”
“Would ye come with me, Mirry-Ann, if ye warn’t wanted? It would be like the time when we wass childer together; when we went bird nestin’ and gatherin’ May flowers to keep out the witches. Do ye mind the day, Mirry-Ann, when all the lil’ ones were throwin’ the primroses and buttercups on the doorsteps to keep out the evil fairies, on the eve of May mornin’? Ye swept them off your uncle’s doorstep and told us that it wass Jesus Christ ye believed in, and not heathen superstitions. ‘Deed, but ye were quare, Mirry-Ann. Would ye come, lass, joost for the sake of ould times?”
“But you are going with Emily Corrin, John Thomas. Don’t be foolish.”
“I’m walkin’ out with Emily Corrin,” he said pettishly, ” because you’ve thrown me over, and I’m tryin’ to forget ye. What is it ye want the flowers for?”
“I want to make a wreath for the poor old woman’s funeral to-morrow. You’ll get some, won’t you, Tom?”
“Ye know I would kill mesel’ for ye if ye axed me, Mirry-Ann; but it ain’t much yer wantin’ of me, only to gather some weeds.”
“Thank you, John Thomas; you’re too good to me; ” and the girl made an attempt to hurry on.
“It’s the squire ye should ask, Mirry-Ann, for some genteel flowers out of his glass house; not weeds at all.”
“Field flowers aren’t weeds, John Thomas. I saw all the squire’s flowers the other day, but I tove the wild ones best. Get me golden cushag, Tom; it’s beautiful just now, and more suited to her poor grave than hot-house flowers.”
“A crown of cushag for the old tramp’s grave. I’ll be takin’ a sickle, Mirry-Ann,” and Tom laughed.
“Don’t laugh, Tom dear,” she said tenderly. “The wild flowers grow in God’s garden. His angels do all the pruning. God leaves his garden open to the whole world, so that the poor as well as the rich may enjoy it.”
“What the whole village can see no one wants to look at, Mirry-Ann. It’s just what we can’t get week days that makes the Sunday’s dinner. Butcher mate would soon be as dull as herrin’ if we could ate it every day.”
Mirry-Ann laughed at John Thomas’s practical simile.
“You’ll bring me the cushag in the morning, Tom, and we will make the wreath together. I see some one coming. Look, Tom.”
John Thomas frowned as he saw the short, plump figure of Emily Corrin appear in sight. Emily Corrin was a typical Manx maiden, clear-skinned and coarse-featured, with strong yellow hair and rather small clear blue eyes. Her strong, even teeth made her coarse mouth rather attractive. When Mirry-Ann was well out of sight, John Thomas was not averse to kissing the expectant girl. It would have pleased Emily better if her rival had seen his token of affection, but John Thomas took good care that this should not happen.
“Will ye come and gather some cushag?” Tom asked his sweetheart, for Emily Corrin had cleverly forced him into the position of an accepted lover. “Mirry-Ann wants some to make a wreath for the ould tramp’s grave.”
“A wreath of cushag!” and Emily’s shrill, derisive laughter grated on John Thomas’s not too sensitive ear. It was all very well for him to laugh at the idea to the girl he loved, but no other woman must do it. “Why not a wreath of nettles instead? They’re common enough, and won’t sting her.”
“So are fools,” John Thomas said angrily.
Emily tossed her well-oiled braids of shining hair. “You’d think the ould tramp was her mother,” she said.
“Mirry-Ann’s got a big lump of a heart, arrar’,” John Thomas said tenderly. “She was always achin’ for a mother. ‘John Thomas’ she was sayin’ to me, ‘perhaps my mother was buried in some strange grave; I would like to do this in memory of her.’ Will ye come, Emily?”
Reluctantly Emily went. She was not sure enough yet of her man to thwart his wishes, but while they were gathering bright armfuls of cushag, she would take Tom’s big jackknife and cut a tall thistle or a briar of blackberries.
It was a beautiful summer morning when the funeral passed through the village. The nameless coffin was borne by four stout fellows. John Thomas Costain in his “walking-out” suit was one of them. Such a thing as a hearse for one of their class had never been seen in the village during the lifetime of the oldest in the community — at least not a real hearse carrying a human corpse. But many a person had seen the warning of approaching death — the phantom hearse driven by headless horses. Old Ned Kenwig, who kept the only pretension to a shop in the village, had seen the hearse pass Mirry-Ann’s very door the day the old woman died.
So, of course, Ned went to the funeral looking as solemn as an owl. Now and again his thoughts escaped control, and in place of meditating upon the terrors of the Judgment Day, as the occasion demanded, he found himself anticipating the glass of strong ale which would be served all round when the funeral was over.
A Manx funeral is always well attended, for a death in the neighbourhood is an object of common interest to the whole community. A burial is a form of outing almost as popular as the open-air anniversary service. Every one from far and near thinks it his duty to attend a burial, partly from ancient and respectful custom, partly out of morbid curiosity, a As the little band of people passed solemnly along the village street the cottage blinds were drawn and doors were shut. The men, in their best blue coats, left their women standing respectfully on the doorsteps and joined in the procession until it had gathered a goodly number. If you had asked these men why they were following this nameless coffin to its last resting-place, they would gaze at you and find no better answer than that it had always been their custom to do so. Mirry-Ann’s wreath of cushag rested on the coffin and caught the golden sunlight as it was borne aloft on the shoulders of the four young men.
Nance Quin and Mirry-Ann were among the few women who followed the body to the grave. Although the coffin was almost as light as that of a little child, the bearers had to stop to rest now and then on the long road which led to the churchyard; indeed, there were the accustomed stones where the funerals halted every half mile — stones which had been used for this purpose from one generation to another.
Harvesting had commenced in the island. The noise of the reapers in some particularly sun-favoured field lent a cheerful note to the scene. A restless army of tomtits and yellow hammers chirped and chit-chit-chitted along the gorse hedge which divided the road from the corn, and a skylark, high up in the blue overhead, was delirious with song.
“Was there ever such a lovely morning,” Mirry-Ann said, “to gather in this poor little harvest to God’s acre?”
Nance Quin had never been out of her island home, and her old eyes had grown accustomed to its beauty. The sweet, clear air, the colour of the land and sea, the endless charm of glen and mountain, had always been a matter of course to her.
After a hymn had been sung over the grave, and every reverence paid to the last office of the dead, Mirry-Ann’s golden wreath was left on the brown grave in the corner of the churchyard, near the spot where the wanderer had been found dead. “It was joost as if she had chosen her grave herself,” said the sexton, as he dug it. “It’s a rare cool place in summer.”
John Thomas walked home from the funeral with Mirry-Ann and Nance Quin. Mirry-Ann had been very gracious to him while they made the wreath together, and his heart was filled with hope. He climbed over the gorse hedge into a field of ripe wheat, and gathering some ears he rubbed off the husks in the palms of his hands. When he had blown the loose chaff from the grain, he held up his hands to the girl’s mouth and whispered: ” Ye used to eat it like that, long ago, Mirry-Ann, with blackberries for the jam.” And, for the sake of the old days that were gone, the girl put her pretty lips to the palm of his hand and picked up some of the grains. When she had finished the young milky wheat John Thomas had some fine blackberries ready for her. Old Nance Quin laughed softly to herself at the young fellow’s honest ardour, and at the girl’s unconscious air of condescension. She was like a princess being gracious to some simple clown.
But when he offered her some more wheat, she laughingly refused. “I can’t go on eating grain all day, Tom. Please don’t pick any more.”
But he held his hand out persistently, and answered her roughly: “Ye can if ye like. Come on; ye could eat a deal more nor this when ye were HI’, and hadn’t so much room to hold it.”
The girl pushed his hand away. It was so like John Thomas to lose his temper over nothing; she had always to humour him to keep him gentle. He threw the wheat on the white highroad, and kicked up a cloud of dust with his heavy, brass-pointed boots.
“Ye’ve got a fine stomach at ye now as well as a fine tongue, Mirry-Ann. I’ll be kapin’ my trouble for some one as knows how to thank me for it.”
“Tom, dear,” she said coaxingly, “don’t be so foolish. You’re cross just because I don’t want to eat more raw grain than is good for me.”
“When you speak like that, Mirry-Ann, and look at me with eyes that are joost like doves’, I feel as saf as a lamb. Take a wing,” he added, abruptly; “yer’re lookin’ tired;” and he hooked the girl’s hand in his arm.
“No, no, John Thomas, I’m not really tired. Please help Nance instead; “and the girl dragged her hand out of his tight clutch. And for the rest of the walk home she managed to stay on the other side of Nance Quin and address her conversation principally to the old maid.
In a few days harvesting had become general, and the fishing village was now busy with cutting and carrying corn. All hands were in requisition for the fields, and as a liberal supply of beer was always served to the harvesters, and the young girls worked with the men, tying the bands and folding the sheaves, harvest work was highly popular.
One day a little bit of gossip reached John Thomas Costain while he tied a band Emily. Corrin had just made round an armful of corn. They were cutting the Home Farm, and the Ballaugh house servants had been allowed out in the fields to help.
“What will you give me if I show you something I’ve got in my pocket, John Thomas?” she asked pertly. Emily took this same thing out of her pocket and held it above her head. It was a piece of paper with some handwriting on it. John Thomas snatched at it. “Hould on, John Thomas! What’ll yer give me for it?”
“Depen’s on what it’s worth.” John Thomas wasn’t to be drawn into kissing her. He was now more than ever set on winning Mirry-Ann Gawne for his wife.
“It’s a mortal quare somethin’ about Mirry-Ann Gawne; ” and Emily peeped at it again and held it behind her back. “It’s worth ten pounds to Mirry-Ann Gawne — if the master’s name is good at the bank.”
A howl of rage came from John Thomas, like the cry of a wild animal. Emily was so frightened that she meekly handed him the torn cheque.
John Thomas Costain looked at the cheque for fully three minutes without speaking. The expression of mad cunning on his face forced the girl into conciliating him.
“What’s come to you, John Thomas?” she said. “It’s only a bit of waste paper I found in the master’s study. Mirry-Ann had been spending the afternoon with him and he was making her a little present. He knows well enough that a poor girl can’t put thanks in her pocket at all.”
With the growl of a savage dog he told the girl he had been courting a minute before to “hould her d d tongue.”
“Then give me back the cheque,” she said, with tears in her angry eyes. “I thought the sight of it would amuse ye.”
“Ye did, did ye, ye mean ferret!” And the cheque was torn in small pieces and scattered in the cornfield.
Emily Corrin tossed her fair head and her lips quivered. “Yer’ll be sorry for what yer sayin’ some day, John Thomas. If ye warn’t as blind as an ould bat yer wouldn’t have needed tellin’ what the whole village knows, that Mirry-Ann Gawne is only houldin’ ye off a bit till she’s done courtin’ with the squire. She’ll be comin’ to ye, it’s like, by and bye, to get yer to make an honest woman of her. Yer’ll be sorry some day, John Thomas, for treatin’ an honest girl as yer’ve treated me.”
For the rest of the afternoon, while the hot August sun shone down on the harvest field, John Thomas Costain’s heart blazed within him. He let his ungovernable temper have its sway. He refused every timid attempt at reconciliation on Emily Corrin’s part. Over and over again he swore to himself that he would tear the image of Mirry-Ann from his heart and marry some other woman, only it should never, never be Emily Corrin. He took a vow in his revengeful heart, that no matter how long he had to wait his opportunity, he would have his vengeance on the Squire of Ballaugh.
Preceding some strange event in a quiet life, an event leading to great issues, there is often a sense of oppression and warning felt by keenly sensitive natures like Mirry-Ann’s. The workings of Fate, although sealed to the outward eye, create an atmosphere which to some extent warns and prepares the helpless individual. The drawing together of the moments which shall culminate in life’s supremest hour, creates a feeling which such natures term a pre-sentiment. In the rush of the busy outer world there is little time to heed presentiments. They are driven out of the cities into the quiet country, where men still have time to hear and listen to the unspoken warning. While Emily Corrin was sowing seeds in John Thomas’s mind that would lead to a harvest of tears and sorrow, Mirry-Ann was engaged in the very practical occupation of “siding up” her cottage. She was working eagerly, a nervous sense of some unseen force driving her forward to a crisis in her life.
So electric was the atmosphere that unconsciously she stopped her work now and then to listen. She felt that it would be almost as well to sit down and so await the coming of the inevitable.
She had been so quiet during the past few days that the old man looked anxiously at her as she moved about the cottage with flushed cheeks and restless eyes.
“What’s at thy tongue, chil’? Thou’rt as sober-faced as a tombstone. Tell thy ould dad.”
“It’s nothing, dad,” she said, knowing that she could never explain all that was in her heart.
“Has thy courtin’ gone wrong, lass?”
“No, dad. I was never much of a one to talk.”
“‘Cause it’s some one younger yer wantin’ to talk to than an ould fella like me, Mirry-Ann. It’s time ye had a man of yer own, lass. It’s a strange presentiment I’ve got that I’ll not be with ye long.”
Mirry-Ann stared, almost frightened by old Ned’s words. Was this to be the explanation of her presentiment?
“Don’t say that, dad; don’t say that!” she cried pitifully. “I can’t let yer go.”
“Yer’re foolish, Mirry-Ann. I must be makin’ room for John Thomas. Has he been near ye to-day at all?”
“No, dad — at least not as you mean. I told you we weren’t courting. John Thomas is walking out with Emily Corrin.”
“Is that the thruth yer’re tellin’ me, Mirry-Ann?” The old man’s voice was full of sadness. “Is it the rale thruth?”
“Yes, dad, quite true.”
“Then it’s thou as has drove him to her. John Thomas was thy man, Mirry-Ann, for the takin’ of him. How could ye do it, chil’? John Thomas Costain is comin’ into the farm that ould Ned Kenwig is leavin’ at his death. And his people have been livin’ in the only stone house in the village them three generations. I could die in peace, Mirry-Ann, if ye’d consent to have the banns put up. My gaugh! but I’d be a proud man if I cotild see lil’ Emma Gawne’s chil’ married to a dacent man.” He paused and whimpered for a moment; then went on in a whisper: “I thought, maybe, when ye’d stopped praychin’ and haelin’ the sick, and castin’ out spells like, as ye’d be takin’ a man, Mirry-Ann.”
“Don’t break my heafCdad. I can’t marry a man I don’t love, just because his mother lives in a stone house, and he owns two thirds of a fishing boat.”
“Yer that saf, Mirry-Ann, wastin’ yer love on an ould man that’s only a burthen on ye. Why ain’t ye keepin’ company and jolly lookin’, like the other gels?”
To avoid answering, the girl opened the Bible press and began to dust it. She took out all the books and pushed the duster back to the farthest corner. At that moment the Fates might have whispered to the girl that she was getting “warm,” as children say in the game, when they see the seeker draw near the hidden thimble, for her duster swept out something to the front of the shelf — something which Mirry-Ann at first imagined was one of the religious tracts her uncle was fond of reading. He always kept them in the Bible press, and this one must have slipped far back. She took it in her hands to dust it before replacing it in its proper position.
A long parchment envelope, soiled and worn, addressed in a neat, formal writing to Mrs. Emma Christian, was what she found the supposed tract to be. It might have lain in the press all the girl’s lifetime, so naturally had she come across it; but Mirry-Ann knew that everything had been dusted and turned out of the Bible press each Saturday since she was old enough to remember.
Then the thought came to her that this yellow envelope contained some secret message for herself; that it had been laid there on purpose that she should find it and treat it as sacred.
She finished dusting the press and replaced the envelope until she could find an opportunity to look at the contents by herself. All the evening she wondered who had placed it there, and what was the meaning of it all.
That night, when old Ned was fast asleep, Mirry-Ann opened the mysterious packet, and what she read in it was so wonderful that she doubted her own reason. Even with the stiff, yellow paper held tightly in her trembling hands she grew afraid that she was under the spell of some hallucination — that her over-wrought brain was imagining the strange story she read with difficulty by the dim light of the candle.
Was there nothing to tell her that it was real? That the parchment letter and the whole situation was not a fancy? She trembled in fear for her own sanity. She looked round the quiet little kitchen, and caught the blinking green eyes of the rumpy cat. She watched the slow moving of the brass hands of the tall clock — those unwavering hands which had only ticked away three minutes of her life since she had read the paper.
She rose and looked at herself in the small, square glass which hung near the fireplace. “My eyes are quite sane,” she said, “and I feel no desire to do anything wild or mad, and yet I can see written here” — and she touched the yellow parchment — “what no human hand surely could have written or sane brain imagined. O God!” she laughed hysterically, “it can’t be true. I must be going mad. I will open the door and let in the company of fresh air. I am so horribly alone.”
She opened the cottage door and a flood of fresh air tore into the room. The girl stood in a whirlwind of draught. A stiff wind was blowing off the sea, and driving the smell of wrack up into the village. “How good it is,” she said, putting her hands to her head — “God’s dear wind and sea!” She drew the fresh air into her lipgjs, and her reeling brain grew calmer. For a few moments she stood in silence, listening to the wind; then she lifted the yellow envelope and looked at it nervously in the dim light by the door.
Yes, there was the small formal writing, addressed to Mrs. Emma Christian, and the finger marks on the envelope.
For two hours the girl sat reading and re-reading the strange document. One fact she found there which drowned all others — the fact that the poor, weary tramp lying in the churchyard, under the wreath of cushag, was her own mother. Her mother, whom she had fancied dead long, long years ago — old Ned Gawne’s HI’ Emma of the merry smile and sweet blue eyes, changed to that poor, broken creature, with the mad, staring eyes!
“Dad must never know,” the girl said to herself; “it would kill him. But if one part of the story is true why not the other? If it is true, I am not Mirry-Ann Gawne, old Ned Gawne’s girl, but Mirry-Ann Christian, the legal daughter of the late Squire of Ballaugh. O mother, mother, is it true? Is it true that, although I am poor, and have lived in a cottage all my life, that I am not unworthy to be his wife; that I may let him love me, and know that there is no stain on my name; that though my father deserted you and wronged you cruelly, he was what the world calls a gentleman, and my mother was his lawful wife? ”
Then the full meaning of her thoughts swept through the girl’s brain — the horror as well as the joy of it. If she was the late squire’s daughter by his legal wife, Emma Gawne, whom he had married in a registry office in Liverpool, then the present squire must be her half-brother — the illegitimate son of her father — and Grace Christian, proud, haughty Grace, was the base-born, and not she. Then, too, her own father had been guilty of bigamy.
In the yellow envelope there was a copy of Emma Gawne’s marriage certificate, given at a registry office in Liverpool, signed and sealed by two witnesses and the registrar. The story the poor woman had enclosed with this proof of her marriage was told in the simplest manner.
The squire had married her when he was on the eve of emigrating to Canada, after he had sold out of an expensive regiment to pay his debts. He was at that time the second son, and the black sheep of the family. As an emigrant’s wife Emma Gawne would not be unsuited to his position, and she was pretty enough to turn any man’s head. During the voyage to Canada, when the young husband had already begun to tire of his wife’s simple companionship, his eldest brother was drowned, yachting off the treacherous Calf of Man, and Emma Gawne’s husband — the next heir to the estate — was immediately recalled home. As the wife of a colonial emigrant the girl was charming, but to take her back to her native village, and install her as the squire’s wife there, among her own people, would be impossible.
So little Emma Gawne was left alone in Canada, under the belief that her marriage at the registry had been a hoax, and that she was no better than the man’s mistress. Young Christian was anxious to support her comfortably for the rest of her life, but the girl stoutly refused to accept his money. Her heart was broken and she cared but little how she lived. After her child was born, she worked her passage back to England, and thence to the Isle of Man. One dark night, when starvation stared her in the face, she left her baby in old Ned Gawne’s boat and started out in the world again by herself. With a baby to look after it had been impossible to earn a living. How she had supported herself during all the years that followed was not revealed.
The new squire only lived some five or six years after his brother’s death, and his wife died when their elder child was only twelve years old. She was a pretty English girl of good family, devoted to her handsome, easy-going husband, whose life of pleasure was seldom clouded by the memory of the broken-hearted woman whom he had left in Canada.
The squire’s two children, Frank and Grace, lived a good deal alone under care of nurses at Ballaugh, for since that day on which the squire had seen a little blue-eyed child sitting on old Ned Gawne’s knee, and was told by some one that it was little Emma Gawne’s child, the blue eyes of the child had a habit of spoiling his peace of mind. They seemed to hold an innocent reproach behind their silken lashes.
Emma Gawne’s story went on to tell how, as she grew older and learnt more of the world, she had gone to the registry office in Liverpool, where she had, as she supposed, gone through a sham marriage, and carried away with her a correct copy of her marriage lines. She had saved and stinted herself of the merest necessaries of life to have it proved beyond doubt that her marriage with the man who had deserted her so cruelly was strictly valid.
The poor trembling woman had explained to the registrar that she had nothing to gain for her trouble and expense beyond proving to her child that her mother was a decent woman. “My husband is dead,” she had said, “and I am left penniless.” The name of Christian was so far reaching in the Isle of Man that it conveyed nothing to the public registrar of Liverpool.
Emma Gawne had kept this proof of her marriage for many years, intending some day before her death to find her child and give the certificate to her, extracting a promise that she would never claim any right she might have to support from her father’s estate. When she had parted from her husband in Canada, the young man knew that his wife spoke the truth when she said she would die of starvation rather than accept a kindness from his hands. So from that source there was nothing to fear.
During his short, happy life with his rich young wife, he had grown himself to believe in the lie he had told Emma Gawne. It seemed now such a mad deed, this marriage with old Ned Gawne’s adopted daughter, that it was easy to become a self-deceiver. But the little child in the village could not so easily be got rid of, and its likeness to his daughter Grace was uncomfortably strong.
When dawn lit up the cottage Mirry-Ann folded up the precious documents and put the envelope back in the Bible press. How strange that a whole new world of thought and feeling should begin for her with the new day, and yet to all outward purpose her life would be the same! The girl never dreamt for a moment of letting the world know the secret her mother had kept all those cruel years. How could she, to gratify her own pride, bring ruin and disgrace on the young squire who loved her? No, no; it was impossible, she told herself, for he would be penniless. The estate of Ballaugh was entailed, and it would, if it were proved that he was not the legal heir, pass into the hands of his uncle Robert, a man whom the whole village detested. Miss Christian had inherited her mother’s fortune. If a provision were made for Mirry-Ann it would be through Robert Christian’s charity. But how strange it was that she was to keep in her possession, unknown to the world, a document officially signed and sealed, proving that she, and not Grace Christian, was honourably born.
“Dear Lord,” the girl prayed in her heart, “give me grace not to glory in the knowledge of her downfall.”
So automatic was the day’s work in the little village that Mirry-Ann found herself performing her little, trivial household duties with the same care and neatness with which she had fulfilled them in all the calm, uneventful years of her life. Her fine sewing was laid in a white linen towel ready to be carried up to Ballaugh at twelve o’clock. The money she would be paid for it was very necessary; for her uncle of late, since he had been so feeble and ailing, had asked for things which Mirry-Ann found it difficult to procure on the few shillings a week she had to spend on food. The old man knew the work was finished; he had seen the girl tie it up the day before, “ready for goin’ home,” as he expressed it, and his eyes would look eagerly for something better than a salt herring for his dinner.
When Mirry-Ann arrived at Ballaugh the servant told her that her mistress wished to speak to her, and she was shown into the morning room.
“Good-morning, Mirry-Ann,” Grace said brightly. “I wished to speak to you about what took place between my brother and you the last time you were here.”
Mirry-Ann was silent. The memory of the squire’s love-making, now that she knew he was her half-brother, was more than she could bear to hear discussed.
“I don’t wish to accuse you of having encouraged my brother. I know how foolish young men are, but I wish to save you from the disgrace you are bringing upon yourself and your poor uncle.”
Still Mirry-Ann was silent. Instead of anger, a great pity filled her heart — the irony of fate was so great.
“You have somehow managed to place yourself above your humble station in life. I think you are naturally a girl of refined tastes and feelings; at the same time it is impossible not to recognise that you inherit your mother’s weakness of character.”
Mirry-Ann drew a deep breath and tried to still her heart to speak, but Miss Christian went on.
“Now, I have found a situation for you, as a lady’s maid and companion to an old aunt of minef who lives very quietly. She can dispense with the usual services of an accomplished maid, and your fine sewing will be a great recommendation in her eyes.”
She paused and looked at the girl for an answer. For a moment there was silence. The pride and anger that were battling in Mirry-Ann’s heart brought out the resemblance between the two women to a marked degree. At that moment Grace Christian hated the girl for her beauty.
“Can you go to your place in a week’s time?” Grace asked impatiently, twisting two fine rings round and up and down her slender fingers. She had dropped her cold gray eyes rather nervously under the anger of Mirry-Ann’s.
“Miss Christian” — Mirry-Ann spoke with a voice so unlike her own that she scarcely knew herself that she was speaking — “I am not going to a place. I can not leave my uncle.”
“Oh, I forgot; ” and Miss Christian smiled. “I have thought about that. Your uncle is to have one of the almshouses which are just finished. He will be well taken care of. I will see to that.”
Mirry-Ann gasped for breath, and such a storm of rage swept through her that she trembled and felt sick. She leant feebly on to the back of a chair for support. Grace Christian was a little startled when the girl answered her, for the usually sweet soft voice was broken with passion. She had had no idea that this gentle-looking girl could be roused to such a state of passionate resentment.
“Miss Christian,” she said, “how have you dared to arrange my private affairs? What would you think if I found a husband for you, and told you to marry him, or sent you away from here to keep you out of the way? If I disposed of you and your brother as you have tried to dispose of my uncle and myself, would you not think I was mad? What right have you to send me away, or to put my uncle, who has lived an honourable, independent life for eighty-eight years, into an almshouse? We are not your pensioners; we do not live on Ballaugh land; our lives are as free as yours. We are not indebted to you for a single piece of bread. The work I have done for you you have given me to do for a few shillings what a shop would charge in pounds.”
The girl paused, suffocated with the fulness of her own heart. Grace could hear it beating in the stillness of the room.
“You are an impertinent, low-born girl. You forget whom you are addressing.”
But Mirry-Ann had not forgotten, and her heart was crying out for justice and for the right to break her mother’s trust and to humble the proud woman to the dust. But she only said, with the gentleness returning to her voice: “Not low born, Miss Christian; only humbly.”
Heedless of the remark, Grace continued in a patronizing manner: “To save you from yourself and from repeating your mother’s story, I have taken the trouble to find a good home for you where you will enjoy far greater comforts than you can afford in your own cottage, and you are not only ungrateful but abominably impertinent.”
“My mother’s story was not shameful. I have lately found proof of her marriage. She was cruelly sinned against.”
“Can you show your proof to the world?”
“If I did innocent people would suffer.”
“A little too unselfish a reason, I think. In a case like this you ought to clear your mother’s name at any cost. It is your first duty.”
“The temptation is far greater than you can possibly imagine,” the girl said sadly. “But the misery it would bring upon others who are innocent would kill my happiness.”
“For John Thomas Costain’s sake I think it would be fairer; he holds a good position in the village.”
“My name is entirely my own affair, Miss Christian; neither you nor John Thomas have anything to do with it.”
“But I heard you were to be married. Surely he has a right to be considered.”
“You have been misinformed. I have no intention of marrying John Thomas.”
Grace drummed a tune on the polished rose-wood table with her fingers.
“I hope you have not thrown an honest fellow over because of my brother’s foolish attentions. You are surely too sensible a girl to let a good husband slip through your fingers for the sake of the idle love of a man in my brother’s position.”
“Your brother has not insulted me by idle love-making.”
“‘The squire,’ if you please,” said Grace haughtily. (Squire was a term not used in the Isle of Man, but Miss Christian had insisted upon this conventional form of address from their tenantry.)
“Your brother,” repeated Mirry-Ann slowly (“and mine” she said in her heart), “may be foolish, for I am only a poor girl. But I am as free as yourself, Miss Christian, and I have every whit as much right to insult you as you have to insult me.”
“Stop, you impertinent girl!” Grace said angrily. “I know more than you think. Leave the room.”
Mirry-Ann kept her steady eyes fixed on the angry face of the girl opposite her, and said very deliberately:
“It may seem to you merely an idle threat, Miss Christian, but if you try me too far I will tell you something for which even I, Mirry-Ann Gawne, have reason to pity you — yes, even to patronize you!” And Mirry-Ann turned to the door without another word or look at Grace Christian.
“Oh! you think I don’t know, you foolish girl, that my brother offered to marry you. If he has got you into trouble he is only acting as a gentleman should.”
“O God!” The cry escaped Mirry- Ann’s lips like the cry of a wounded animal, and her hands went out as if to ward off the insulting words. “O God! that you should think such a thing !”
The horror and insult of all that the angry girl was saying in her ignorance of the truth, added to the strain under which Mirry-Ann had lived for the past few days, was more than she could bear. Her head suddenly dropped on her chest, and deep, distressing sighs rapidly following one another told Grace Christian that Mirry-Ann was fast losing consciousness. Before she could reach her to help her to a chair, the girl had fallen to the floor.
Grace rang the bell so impatiently that Emily Corrin, who was the first to hear it — indeed, she had not been far from the back of the door during the stormy interview — answered it at once.
“Mirry-Ann Gawne has fainted,” her mistress said coldly. “Quick, bring me some brandy!”
When Emily Corrin returned with the brandy she found Miss Christian standing over the unconscious girl, a helpless look on her face. She stood silently watching while Emily administered the brandy and opened the collar of the girl’s dress. As there was no sign of returning consciousness, Emily looked up at her mistress as if she expected some explanation of Mirry-Ann’s strange conduct, but Grace remained silent.
“She’s gone off dreadful bad,” Emily said in a frightened tone. “There ain’t no sign of life at her at all.”
“What is the right thing to do, Emily?” Grace asked in a bewildered way. “I’ve often heard, but I’ve quite forgotten. One always does forget at the critical moment. What can we do?” She wrung her hands together. “I wish I knew.” Her heart was really softened by Mirry-Ann’s deathlike appearance.
“Goin’ off ain’t very common in the village, ma’am,” Emily said slowly. “I can’t get her to take no brandy at all. She’s not lettin’ a single drop pass her throat.”
“Try sprinkling some cold water on her face. Here, quick! hand me that glass of flowers.” Grace threw the tall-stemmed red rose on the floor and sprinkled a full handful of cold water on the girl’s calm, upturned face. As she did so men’s voices were heard in the hall. Some one called her; it was her brother.
“Grace, where are you?” he cried. “I’ve brought Mr. Schofield up to lunch with me;” and before Grace could answer, her brother had come into the room, followed by Dick Schofield.
“Hush!” Grace exclaimed, and she held up her hand to ward the two men off. “Hush!”.
“Great Scott! what’s up? Some one ill?” her brother asked, in a whisper.
“Yes; Mirry-Ann Gawne has fainted,” Grace said in an agitated voice which she tried to subdue to coldness. “I have tried brandy, but it has no effect. What shall I do now?” She turned her anxious eyes to Dick Schofield.
At the sight of the girl, lying like death, halfway between Grace’s easy-chair and the door, the two men had turned pale with agitation; neither could find the voice to speak. Dick Schofield was the first to recover active sense. He knelt down beside Mirry-Ann, and raising her head, bent it gently forward. No word was spoken, but Grace Christian’s quick eye noted the expression of tenderness on his face, and the squire noted it too. Perhaps now he would believe her words. It seemed to both Grace and her brother that several minutes passed before a gentle, quivering sigh escaped the lips of the unconscious girl.
“Brandy,” was all that the anxious lover could say, and held out his hand for the glass. Very firmly he forced some through her lips, and with her next sigh a few drops passed into her throat. A pitiful gasping for breath, followed by weary sighs, and then a long quiver of returning life trembled through her body, as her heart began to flutter painfully.
“Please go away,” Dick said; “she may be startled to find herself here when she comes to her senses.”
“Come, Frank,” Grace said, putting her arm through her brother’s. “Perhaps Mr. Schofield is right. She is coming round, and so many of us standing here will frighten her. I will send some one to relieve you, Mr. Schofield, and will you follow us to lunch? ”
In the hall she met the parlour maid waiting to serve lunch. “Quirk,” she said, “we will wait upon ourselves. Go and see if you can do anything to help Mirry-Ann Gawne. She has fainted, and Emily Corrin is with her in the morning room. Let her rest on my sofa until she has completely recovered, and see that she has some lunch when she feels well enough to eat it.”
In this way Grace contrived to get her brother out of the room before he said or did anything foolish; but she had no intention of leaving Dick Schofield alone with the fainting girl. Even in her anxiety Grace had noticed that Mirry-Ann’s throat was as white and beautifully moulded as her own. Where had the girl got her breeding? She asked herself this a dozen times during the silent lunch that ensued. While the two men sat with the same thought filling their hearts, Grace was considering the advisability of changing her attitude toward Dick and Mirry-Ann. “I will not take any more notice of his silly flirtation,” she said to herself. “I will do nothing to stop it, but let the girl take him to save Frank. One or other of them will make a complete fool of himself over her, and which is it to be? Do I love my brother well enough to do this? I hate giving in. Oh, if Dick had only flirted a little with me when I wanted him to at first,” she said, “I should never have thought twice about him — his calm indifference made me wild.” She looked at the young man whom she had been piqued into loving. “Just an ordinary male person,” she thought ; “nothing the least out of the common ; not nearly as handsome as Frank, and without a brass farthing in the world. I wonder how long I should care about his love if I had it.”
Neither Dick Schofield nor the squire made the least pretence of substituting polite conversation for the natural outflow of good spirits. The former did not mind in the least if Miss Christian did see that Mirry-Ann Gawne’s illness had spoilt his lunch, and her brother was too angry with her to speak, for he felt sure that Grace had in some way caused Mirry-Ann to faint.
“Will you join us in a walking tour round the island, Mr. Schofield?” Grace asked suddenly — she felt that something must be said to break the silence. “We are getting tip a little party, and we mean to do the tour easily and comfortably.” She did not in the least expect him to accept, but it was a safe topic for conversation.
“When do you start?” he asked.
“After the Mheillea [harvest home], I think, when the weather is cooler.”
“When is your Mheillea?”
“In about ten days’ time; some of the fields in the High Farm are always late, you know.”
“Ours is to-morrow night. Mrs. Hedges is very busy making preparations. It’s wonderful what the men can eat on a night like that. Your brother has promised to come and help us through.”
“It is like Mrs. Hedges’s luck,” Grace said, with a laugh; “her harvest is always in before any one else’s. But when it is over, if we get up the party, can you come? It will be rather fun, I think.”
Dick Schofield took time to answer, and his voice was a trifle unsteady as he spoke. “I’m afraid I can’t,” he said. “I meant to tell you that I am leaving the island directly after our Mheillea.”
“But you are coming back?” Grace said, with a little gasp. “We haven’t fixed any time to start.”
“No,” he answered, “I am not coming back, for I have taken your advice. I am going to take up some serious occupation. I am not going to waste my time any longer.”
“Not coming back?” Grace said, her voice full of surprise and an unconscious sadness softening her gray eyes. “Why, what has happened?”
“I’ve been thinking over your good advice,” he replied casually, raising his voice at the same time, “and I have concluded that I have idled long enough.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean anything. No man could say you were idle. I was only in fun.”
“So was I, when I first came here; but I’m older now. I must leave off having fun. Being comfortable and happy is all very well, but it doesn’t add to your banking account, does it?”
“May I ask what you are going to do?” The man’s casual voice had hurt her pride; it was so evident that he had no wish for either confidences or sympathy.
“The Clerk of the Rolls has got me a very good appointment in London,” he said. “I only hope I can fill it. It is entirely through Mrs. Hedges I have got it.”
“Has she quarrelled with her governess that she wants to get rid of him?”
“Not at all. I explained my case to her and she insisted on me trying * to better myself.’ I think she’ll miss me just at first more than she knows.”
“I wish I could send my brother away, too,” Grace said with meaning in her voice, as she rose from the table. “He certainly won’t better himself by staying here. You are wise to run away from the danger.”
“I am only running away so that I may come back all the quicker,” he said, but Grace did not hear his remark.