The Manxman (Part III. Man and Woman)
PART III. MAN AND WOMAN
Philip was vanquished, and he knew it, but he was not daunted, he was not distressed. To have resisted the self-abandonment of Kate’s love would have been monstrous. Therefore, he had done no wrong, and there was nothing to be ashamed of. But when he reached Ballure he did not dash into Auntie Nan’s room, according to his wont, though a light was burning there, and he could hear the plop and click of thread and needle; he crept upstairs to his own, and sat down to write a letter. It was the first of his love letters.
“I shall count the days, the hours, and the minutes until we meet again, my darling, and I shall be constantly asking what time it is. And seeing we must be so much apart, let us contrive a means of being together, nevertheless. Listen!—I whisper the secret in your ear. To-morrow night and every night eat your supper at eight o’clock exactly; I will do the same, and so we shall be supping in each other’s company, my little wife, though twenty miles divide us. If any body asks me to supper, I will refuse in order that I may sup with you. ‘I am promised to a friend,’ I’ll say, and then I’ll sit down in my rooms alone, but you will be with me.”
Tingling with delight, he wrote this letter to Kate, though less than an hour parted from her, and went out to post it. He was going upstairs again, steadily, on tiptoe, his head half aside and his face over his shoulder, when Auntie Nan’s voice came from the blue room—”Philip!”
He returned with a sheepish look, and a sense, never felt before, of being naked, so to speak. But Auntie Nan did not look at him. She was working a lamb on a sampler, and she reached over the frame to take something out of a drawer and hand it to him. It was a medallion of a young child—a boy, with long fair curls like a girl’s, and a face like sunshine.
“Was it father, Auntie?”
“Yes; a French painter who came ashore with Thurlot painted it for grandfather.”
Philip laid it on the table. He was more than ever sure that Auntie Nan had heard something. Such were her tender ways of warning him. He could not be vexed.
“I’m sleepy to-night, Auntie, and you look tired too. You’ve been waiting up for me again. Now, you really must not. Besides, it limits one’s freedom.”
“That’s nothing, Philip. You said you would come home after calling on the poor Deemster, and so——”
“He’s in a bad way, Auntie. Drink—delirium—such a wreck. Well, good night!”
“Did you read the letters, dear?”
“Oh, yes. Father’s letters. Yes, I read them. Good night.”
“Aren’t they beautiful? Haven’t they the very breath of ambition and enthusiasm? But poor father! How soon the brightness melted away! He never repined, though. Oh, no, never. Indeed, he used to laugh and joke at our dreams and our castles in the air. ‘You must do it all yourself, Nannie; you shall have all the cakes and ale.’ Yes, when he was a dying man he would joke like that. But sometimes he would grow serious, and then he would say, ‘Give little Philip some for all. He’ll deserve it more than me. Oh, God,’ he would say, ‘let me think to myself when I’m there, you’ve missed the good things of life, but your son has got them; you are here, but he is on the heights; lie still, thou poor aspiring heart, lie still in your grave and rest.'”
Philip felt like a bird struggling in the meshes of a net.
“My father was a poet, Auntie, trying to be a man of the world. That was the real mischief in his life, if you think of it.”
Auntie Nan looked up with her needle at poise above the sampler, and said in a nervous voice, “The real mischief of your father’s life, Philip, was love—what they call love. But love is not that. Love is peace and virtue, and right living, and that is only madness and frenzy, and when people wake up from it they wake up as from a nightmare. Men talk of it as a holy thing—it is unholy. Books are written in praise of it—I would have such books burnt. When anybody falls to it, he is like a blind man who has lost his guide, tottering straight to the precipice. Women fall to it too. Yes, good women as well as good men; I have seen them tempted——”
Philip was certain of it now. Some one had been prying upon him at Sulby. He was angry, and his anger spent itself on Auntie Nan in a torrent of words. “You are wrong, Aunt Anne, quite wrong. Love is the one lovely thing in life. It is beauty, it is poetry. Call it passion if you will—what would the world be like without it? A place where every human heart would be an island standing alone; a place without children, without joy, without merriment, without laughter. No, no; Heaven has given us love, and we are wrong when we try to put it away. We cannot put it away, and when we make the attempt we are punished for our pride and arrogance. It ought to be enough for us to let heaven decide whether we are to be great men or little men, and to decide for ourselves whether we are to be good men and happy men. And the greatest happiness of life is love. Heaven would have to work a miracle to enable us to live without it. But Heaven does not work such a miracle, because the greatest miracle of heaven is love itself.”
The needle hand of Auntie Nan was trembling above her sampler, and her lips were twitching.
“You are a young man yet, Philip,” she faltered, “but I am an old lady now, dear, and I have seen the fruits of the intoxication you call passion. Oh, have I not, have I not? It wrecks lives, ruins prospects, breaks up homes, sets father against son, and brother against brother——”
Philip would give her no chance. He was tramping across the room, and he burst out with, “You are wrong again, Auntie. You are always wrong in these matters, because you are always thinking from the particular to the general—you are always thinking of my father. What you have been calling my father’s fall was really his fate. He deserved it. If he had been fit for the high destiny he aspired to—if he had been fit to be a judge, he would not have fallen. That he did fall is proof enough that he was not fit. God did not intend it. My father’s aspirations were not the call of a stern vocation, they were mere poetic ambition. If he had ever by great ill-fortune lived to be made Deemster, he would have found himself out, and the island would have found him out, and you yourself would have found him out, and all the world would have been undeceived. As a poet he might have been a great man, but as a Deemster he must have been a mockery, a hypocrite, an impostor, and a sham.”
Auntie Nan rose to her feet with a look of fright on her sweet old face, and something dropped with a clank on to the floor.
“Oh, Philip, Philip, if I thought you could ever repeat the error——”
But Philip gave her no time to finish. Tossing his disordered hair from his forehead, he swung out of the room.
Being alone, he began to collect himself. Was it, in sober fact, he who had spoken like that? Of his father too? To Auntie Nan as well? He saw how it was; he had been speaking of his father, but he had been thinking of himself; he had been struggling to justify himself, to reconcile, strengthen, and fortify himself. But in doing so he had been breaking an idol, a life-long idol, his own idol and Auntie Nan’s.
He stumbled downstairs in a rush of remorse, and burst again into the room crying in a broken voice, “Auntie! Auntie!”
But the room was empty; the lamp was turned down; the sampler was pushed aside. Something crunched under his foot, and he stooped and picked it up. It was the medallion, and it was cracked across. The accident terrified him. His skin seemed to creep. He felt as if he had trodden on his father’s face. Putting the broken picture into his pocket, he turned about like a guilty man and crept silently to bed in the darkness.
But the morning brought him solace for the pains of the night—it brought him a letter from Kate.
“The Melliah is over at long, long last, and I am allowed to be alone with my thoughts. They sang ‘Keerie fu Snaighty’ after you left, and ‘The King can only love his wife, And I can do the sa-a-me, And I can do the same.’ But there is really nothing to tell you, for nothing happened of the slightest consequence. Good night! I am going to bed after I have posted this letter at the bridge. Two hours hence you will appear to me in sleep, unless I lie that long awake to think of you. I generally do. Good-bye, my dear lord and master! You will let me know what you think best to be done. Your difficulties alarm me terribly. You see, dear, we two are about to do something so much out of the common. Good night! I lift my head that you may give me another kiss on the eyes, and here are two for yours.”
Then there were empty brackets [ ], which Kate had put her lips to, expecting Philip to do the same.
Philip was going into his chambers in Douglas that morning when he came upon a messenger from Government House in stately intercourse with his servant. His Excellency begged him to step up to Onchan immediately, and to remain for lunch.
The Governor’s carriage was at the door, and Philip got into it. He was not excited; he remembered his agitation at the Governor’s former message and smiled. On leaving his own rooms he had not forgotten to order supper for eight o’clock precisely.
He found the Governor polite and expansive as usual. He was sitting in a room hung round with ponderous portraits of former Governors, most of them in frills and ruffles, and one vast picture of King George.
“You will have heard,” he said, “that our northern Deemster is dead.”
“Is he so?” said Philip. “I saw him at one o’clock yesterday.”
“He died at two?” said the Governor.
“Poor man, poor man!” said Philip.
That was all. Not a tremble of the eyelid, not a quiver of the lip.
“You are aware that the office is a Crown appointment?” said the Governor. “Applications are made, you know, to the Home Office, but it is probable that my advice may be asked by the Secretary in his selection. I may, perhaps, be of use to a candidate.”
Philip gave no sign, and the Governor shifted his leg and continued with a smile, “Certainly that appears to be the impression of your brother advocates, Mr. Christian; they are about me already, like wasps at a glue-pot. I will not question but you’ll soon be one of them.”
Philip made a gesture of protestation, and the Governor waved his hand and smiled again. “Oh, I shan’t blame you; young men are ambitious. It is natural that they should wish to advance themselves in life. In your case, too, if I may say so, there is the further spur of a desire to recover the position your family once held, and lately lost through the mistake or misfortune of your father.”
Philip bowed gravely, but said nothing.
“That, no doubt,” said the Governor, “would be a fact in your favour. The great fact against you would be that you are still so young. Let me see, is it eight-and twenty?”
“Twenty-six,” said Philip.
“No more? Only six-and-twenty? And then, successful as your career has been thus far—perhaps I should say distinguished or even brilliant—you are still unsettled in life.”
Philip asked if his Excellency meant that he was still unmarried.
“And if I do,” the Governor replied, with pretended severity, “and if I do, don’t smile too broadly, young man. You ought to know by this time that the personal equation counts for something in this old-fashioned island of yours. Now, the late Deemster was an example which it would be perilous to repeat. If it were repeated, I know who would hear of the blunder every day of his life, and it wouldn’t be the Home Secretary either. Deemster Mylrea was called upon to punish the crimes of drink, and he was himself a drunkard; to try the offences of sensuality, and he was himself a sensualist.”
Philip could not help it—he gave a little crack of laughter.
“To be sure,” said the Governor hastily, “you are in no danger of his excesses; but you will not be a safe candidate to recommend until you have placed yourself to all appearances out of the reach of them. ‘Beware of these Christians,’ said the great Derby to his son; and pardon me if I revive the warning to a Christian himself.”
The colour came strong into Philip’s face. Even at that moment he felt angry at so coarse a version of his father’s fault.
“You mean,” said he, “that we are apt to marry unwisely.”
“I do that,” said the Governor.
“There’s no telling,” said Philip, with a faint crack of his fingers; and the Governor frowned a little—the pock-marks seemed to spread.
“Of course, all this is outside my duty, Mr. Christian—I needn’t tell you that; but I feel an interest in you, and I’ve done you some services already, though naturally a young man will think he has done everything for himself. Ah!” he said, rising from his seat at the sound of a gong, “luncheon is ready. Let us join the ladies.” Then, with one hand on Philip’s shoulder familiarly, “only a word more, Mr. Christian. Send in your application immediately, and—take the advice of an old fiddler—marry as soon afterwards as may be. But with your prospects it would be a sin not to walk carefully. If she’s English, so much the better; but if she’s Manx—take care.”
Philip lunched with the Governor’s wife, who told him she remembered his grandfather; also with his unmarried daughter, who said she had heard him speak for the fishermen at Peel. An official “At home,” the last of the summer, was to be held in the garden that afternoon, and Philip was invited to remain. He did so, and thereby witnessed the assaults of the wasps at the glue-pot. They buzzed about the Governor, they buzzed about his wife, they buzzed about his dog and about a tame deer, which took grapes from the hands of the guests.
An elderly gentleman, sitting alone in a carriage, drove up to the lawn. It was Peter Christian Ballawhaine, looking feebler, whiter, and more splay-footed than before. Philip stepped up to his uncle and offered his arm to alight by. But the Ballawhaine brushed it aside and pushed through to the Governor, to whom he talked incessantly for some minutes of his son Ross, saying he had sent for him and would like to present him to his Excellency.
If Philip lacked enjoyment of the scene, if his face lacked heart and happiness, it was not the fault of his host. “Will you not take Lady So-and-so to have tea?” the Governor would say; and presently Philip found himself in a circle of official wifedom, whose husbands had been made Knights by the Queen, and themselves made Ladies by—God knows whom. The talk was of the late Deemster.
“Such a life! It’s a mercy he lasted so long!”
“A pity, you mean, my dear, not to be hard on him either.”
“Poor thing! He ought to have married. Such a man wants a wife to look after him. Don’t you think so, Mr. Christian?”
“Why,” said a white-haired dame, “have you never heard of his great romance?”
“Ah! tell us of that. Who was the lady?”
“The lady——” there was a pause; the white-haired dame coughed, smiled, closed her little ferret eyes, dropped her voice, and said with mock gravity, “The lady was the blacksmith’s daughter, dearest.” And then there was a merry trill of laughter.
Philip felt sick, bowed to his hosts, and left. As he was going off, his uncle intercepted him, holding out both hands.
“How’s this, Philip? You never come to Ballawhaine now. I see! Oh, I see! Too busy with the women to remember an old man. They’re all talking of you. Putting the comather on them, eh? I know, I know; don’t tell me.”
Philip’s way home lay through the town, but he made a circuit of the country, across Onchan, so heartsick was he, so utterly choked with bitter feelings. He felt as if all the angels and devils together must be making a mock at him. The thing he had worked for through five heavy years, the end he had aimed at, the goal he had fought for, was his already—his for the stretching out of his hand. Yet now that it was his, he could not have it. Oh, the mockery of his fate! Oh, the irony of his life! It was shrieking, it was frantic!
Then his bolder spirit seemed to say, “What is all this childish fuming about? Fortune comes to you with both hands full. Be bold, and you may have both the wish of your soul and the desire of your heart—both the Deemster-ship and Kate.”
It was impossible to believe that. If he married Kate, the Governor would not recommend him as Deemster. Had he not admitted that he stood in some fear of the public opinion of the island? And was it not conceivable that, besides the unselfish interest which the Governor had shown in him, there was even a personal one that would operate more powerfully than fear of the old-fashioned Manx conventions to prevent any recommendation of the husband of the wrong woman? At one moment a vague memory rose before Philip, as he crossed the fields, of the lunch at Government House, of the Governor’s wife and daughter, of their courtesy and boundless graciousness. At the next moment he had drawn up sharply, with pangs of self-contempt, hating himself, loathing himself, swearing at himself for a mean-souled ingrate, as he kicked up the grass and the turf beneath it But the idea had taken root. He could not help it; the Governor’s interest went for nothing in his reckoning.
“What a fool you are, Philip,” something seemed to whisper out of the darkest corner of his conscience; “take the Deemstership first, and marry Kate afterwards.” But it was impossible to think of that either. Say it could be done by any arts of cunning or duplicity, what then? Then there were the high walls of custom and prejudice to surmount. Philip remembered the garden-party, and saw that they could never be surmounted. The Deemster who slapped the conventions in the face would suffer for it. He would be taboo to half the life of the island—in public an official, in private a recluse. An icy picture rose before his mind’s eye of the woman who would be his wife in her relations with the ladies he had just left. She might be their superior in education, certainly in all true manners, and in natural grace and beauty, in sweetness and charm, their mistress beyond a dream of comparison. But they would never forget that she was the daughter of a country innkeeper, and every little cobble in the rickety pyramid, even from the daughter of the innkeeper in the town, would look down on her as from a throne.
He could see them leaving their cards at his door and driving hurriedly off. They must do that much. It was the bitter pill which the Deemster’s doings made them swallow. Then he could see his wife sitting alone, a miserable woman, despised envied, isolated, shut off from her own class by her marriage with the Deemster, and from his class by the Deemster’s marriage with her. Again, he could see himself too powerful to offend, too dangerous to ignore, going out on his duties without cheer, and returning to his wife without company. Finally, he remembered his father and his mother, and he could not help but picture himself sitting at home with Kate five years after their marriage, when the first happiness of each other’s society had faded, had staled, had turned to the wretchedness of starvation in its state of siege. Or perhaps going out for walks with her, just themselves, always themselves only, they two together, this evening, last evening, and to-morrow evening; through the streets crowded by visitors, down the harbour where the fishermen congregate, across the bridge and over the head between sea and sky; people bowing to them respectfully, rigidly, freezingly; people nudging and whispering and looking their way. Oh, God, what end could come of such an abject life but that, beginning by being unhappy, they should descend to being bad as well?
“What a fuss you are making of things,” said the voice again, but more loudly. “This hubbub only means that you can’t have your cake and eat it. Very well, take Kate, and let the Deemstership go to perdition.”
There was not much comfort in that counsel, for it made no reckoning with the certainty that, if marriage with Kate would prevent him from being Deemster, it would prevent him from being anything in the Isle of Man. As it had happened with his father, so it would happen with him—there would be no standing ground in the island for the man who had deliberately put himself outside the pale.
“Don’t worry me with silly efforts to draw a line so straight. If you can’t have Kate and the Deemstership together, and if you can’t have Kate without the Deemstership, there is only one thing left—the Deemstership without Kate. You must take the office and forego the girl. It is your duty, your necessity.”
This was how Philip put it to himself at length, and the daylight had gone by that time, and he was walking in the dark. But the voice which had been pleading on his side now protested on hers.
“Don’t prate of duty and necessity. You mean self-love and self-interest. Man, be honest. Because this woman is an obstacle in your career, you would sacrifice her. It is boundless, pitiless selfishness. Suppose you abandon her, dare you think of her without shame! She loves you, she trusts you, and she has given you proof of her love and trust. Hold your tongue. Don’t dare to whisper that nobody knows it but you and heir—that you will be silent, that she will have no temptation to speak. She loves you. She has given you all. God bless her!”
Affectionate pity swept down the selfish man in him. As the lights of the town appeared on his path, he was saying to himself boldly, “Since either way there is trouble, I’ll do as I said last night—I’ll leave Heaven to decide whether I’m to be a great man or a little man, and decide for myself whether I’m to be a true man or a happy man. I’ll take my heart in my hand and go right forward.”
In this temper he returned to his chambers. The rooms fronted to Athol Street, but backed on to the churchyard of St. George’s. They were quiet, and not overlooked. His lamp was lit. The servant was laying the cloth.
“Lay covers for two, Jemmy,” said Philip. Then he began to hum something.
Presently, in feeling for his keys, his fingers touched an unfamiliar substance in his pocket. He remembered what it was. It was the cracked medallion of his father. He could not bear to look at it. Unlocking a chest, he buried it at the bottom under a pile of winter clothing.
This recalled a possession yet more painful, and going to a desk, he drew out the packet of his father’s letters and proceeded to hide them away with the medallion. As he did so his hand trembled, his limbs shook, he felt giddy, and he thought the voice that had tormented him with conflicting taunts was ringing in his ears again. “Bury him deep! Bury your father out of all sight and all remembrance. Bury his love of you, his hopes of you, his expectations and dreams of you. Bury and forget him for ever.”
Philip hesitated a moment, and then banged down the lid of the chest, and relocked it as his servant returned to the room. The man was a solemn, dignified, and reticent person, who had been groom to the late Bishop. His gravity he had acquired from his horses, his dignity from his master; but his reticence he had created for himself, being a thing beyond nature in creature or man. His proper name was Cottier; he had always been known as Jemy-Lord.
“Company not arrived, sir,” he said. “Wait or serve?”
“What is the time?” said Philip.
“Struck eight; but clock two minutes soon.”
“Serve the supper at once,” said Philip.
When the dishes had been brought in and the man dismissed, Philip, taking his place at the table, drew from his button-hole a flower which he had picked out of his water-bowl at lunch, and, first putting it to his lips, he tossed it on to the empty place before the chair which had been drawn up opposite. Then he sat down to eat.
He ate little; and, do what he would, he could not keep his mind from wandering. He thought of his aunt, and how hurt she had been the previous night; of his uncle, and how he had snubbed and then slavered over him; of the Governor, and how strange the interest he had shown in him; and finally, he thought of Pete, and how lately he was dead, and how soon forgotten.
In the midst of these memories, all sad and some bitter, suddenly he remembered again that he was supping with Kate. Then he struggled to be bright and even a little gay. He knew that she would be taking her supper at Sulby at that moment, thinking of him and making believe that he was with her. So he tried to think that she was with him, sitting in the chair opposite, looking across the table between the white cloth and the blue lamp-shade, out of her beaming eyes, with her rings of dark hair dancing on her forehead, and her ripe mouth twitching merrily. Then the air of the room seemed to be filled with a sweet presence. He could have fancied there was a perfume of lace and dainty things. “Sweetheart!” He laughed—he hardly knew if it was himself that had spoken. It was dear, delicious fooling.
But his eyes fell on the chest wherein he had buried the letters and the medallion, and his mind wandered again. He thought of his father, of his grandfather, of his lost inheritance, and how nearly he had reclaimed the better part of it, and then once more of Pete, crying aloud at last in the coil of his trouble, “Oh, if Pete had only lived!”
His voice startled and his words horrified him. To wipe out both in the first moment of recovered consciousness, he filled his glass to the brim, and lifted it up, rising at the same time, looking across the table, and saying in a soft whisper, “Your health, darling, your health!”
The bell rang from the street door, and he stood listening with the wine-glass in his hand. When he knew anything more, a voice at his elbow was saying out of a palpitating gloom, “The gentleman can’t come, seemingly; he has sent a telegram.”
It was Jem-y-Lord holding a telegram in his hand.
Philip tore open the envelope and read—
“Coming home by Ramsey boat to-morrow well and hearty tell Kirry Peat.”
Somewhere in the dead and vacant dawn Philip went to bed, worn out by a night-long perambulation of the dark streets. He slept a heavy sleep of four deep hours, with oppressive dreams of common things swelling to enormous size about him.
When Jem-y-Lord took the tea to his master’s bedroom in the morning, the tray was almost banged out of his hands by the clashing back of the door, after he had pushed it open with his knee. The window was half up, and a cold sea-breeze was blowing into the room; yet the grate and hearth showed that a fire had been kindled in the night, and his master was still sleeping.
Jem set down his tray, lifted a decanter that stood on the table, held it to the light, snorted like an old horse, nodded to himself knowingly, and closed the window.
Philip awoke with the noise, and looked around in a bewildered way. He was feeling vaguely that something had happened, when the man said—
“The horse will be round soon, sir.”
“What horse?” said Philip.
“The horse you ride, sir,” said Jem, and, with an indulgent smile, he added, “the one I ordered from Shimmen’s when I posted the letter.”
“The letter you gave me to post before I went to bed.”
All was jumbled and confused in Philip’s mind. He was obliged to make an effort to remember. Just then the newsboys went shouting down the street beyond the churchyard: “Special edition—Death of the Deemster.”
Then everything came back. He had written to Kate, asking her to meet him at Port Mooar at two o’clock that day. It was then, and in that lonesome place, that he had decided to break the news to her. He must tell all; he had determined upon his course.
Without appetite he ate his breakfast. As he did so he heard voices from a stable-yard in the street. He lifted his head and looked out mechanically. A four-wheeled dogcart was coming down the archway behind a mettlesome young horse with silver-mounted harness. The man driving it was a gorgeous person in a light Melton overcoat. One of his spatted feet was on the break, and he had a big cigar between his teeth. It was Ross Christian.
The last time Philip had seen the man he had fought him for the honour of Kate. It was like whips and scorpions to think of that now. Ashamed, abased, degraded in his own eyes, he turned away his head.
In the middle of the night following the Melliah, Kate, turning in bed, kissed her hand because it had held the hand of Philip. When she awoke in the morning she felt a great happiness. Opening her eyes and half raising herself in bed, she looked around. There were the pink curtains hanging like a tent above her, there were the scraas of the thatched roof, with the cracking whitewash snipping down on the counterpane, there were the press and the wash-hand table, the sheep-skin on the floor, and the sun coming through the orchard window. But everything was transfigured, everything beautiful, everything mysterious. She was like one who had gone to sleep on the sea, with only the unattainable horizon round about, and awakened in harbour in a strange land that was warm and lovely and full of sunshine. She closed her eyes again, so that nothing might disturb the contemplation of the mystery. She folded her round arms as a pillow behind her head, her limbs dropped back of their own weight, and her mouth broke into a happy smile. Oh, miracle of miracles! The whole world was changed.
She heard the clatter of pattens in the room below; it was Nancy churning in the dairy. She heard shouts from beyond the orchard—it was her father stacking in the haggard; she heard her mother talking in the bar, and the mill-wheel swishing in the pond. It seemed almost wonderful that the machinery of ordinary life could be working away the same as ever.
Could she be the same herself? She reached over for a hand-glass to look at her face. As she took it off the table, it slipped from the tips of her fingers, and, falling face downwards, it broke. She had a momentary pang at that accident as at a bad omen, but just then Nancy came up with a letter. It was the letter which Philip had written at Ballure. When she was alone again she read it. Then she put it in her bosom. It seemed to be haunted by the odour of the gorse, the odour of the glen, of the tholthan, of Philip, and of all delights.
A faint ghost of shame came to frighten her. Had she sinned against her sex? Was it disgraceful that she had wooed and not waited to be won? With all his love of her, would Philip be ashamed of her also? Her face grew hot. She knew that she was blushing, and she covered up her head as if her lover were there to see. Such fears did not last long. Her joy was too bold to be afraid of tangible things. So overwhelming was her happiness that her only fear was lest she might awake at some moment and find that she was asleep now, and everything had been a dream.
That was Friday, and towards noon word came from Kirk Michael that the Deemster had died on the afternoon of the day before.
“Then they ought to put Philip Christian in his place,” she said promptly; “I’m sure no one deserves it better.”
They had been talking in low tones in the kitchen with their backs to her, but faced about with looks of astonishment.
“Sakes alive, Kirry,” cried Nancy, “is it yourself it was? What were you saying a week ago?”
“Well, do you expect a girl to be saying the one thing always?” laughed Kate.
“Aw, no,” said Cæsar. “A woman’s opinions isn’t usually as stiff as the tail of a fighting Tom cat. They’re more coming and going, of a rule.”
Next day, Saturday, she received Philip’s second letter, the letter written at Douglas after the supper and the arrival of Pete’s telegram. It was written crosswise, in a hasty hand, on a half-sheet of note-paper, and was like a postscript, without signature or superscription:—.
“Most urgent. Must see you immediately. Meet me at Port Mooar at two o’clock to-morrow. We can talk there without interruption. Be brave, my dear. There are serious matters to discuss and arrange.”
The message was curt, and even cold, but it brought her no disquiet. Marriage! That was the only vision it conjured up. The death of the Deemster had hastened things—that was the meaning of the urgency. Port Mooar was near to Ballure—that was why she had to go so far. They would have to face gossip, perhaps backbiting, perhaps even abuse—that was the reason she had to be brave. Why and how the Deemster’s death should affect her marriage with Philip was a matter she did not puzzle out. She had vague memories of girls marrying in delightful haste and sailing away with their husbands, and being gone before you had time to think they were to go. But this new fact of her life was only a part of the great mystery, and was not to be explained by everyday ideas and occurrences.
Kate ran up to dress, and came down like a bud bursting into flower. She had dressed more carefully than ever. Philip had great expectations; he must not be disappointed. Making the excuse of shopping, she was setting off towards Ramsey, when her father shouted from the stable that he was for driving the same way. The mare was harnessed to the gig, and they got up together.
Cæsar had made inquiries and calculations. He had learned that the Johannesburg, from Cape Town, arrived in Liverpool the day before; and he concluded that Pete’s effects would come by the Peveril, the weekly steamer to Ramsay, on Saturday morning, The Peveril left Liverpool at eight; she would be due at three. Cæsar meant to be on the quay at two.
“It’s my duty as a parent, Kate,” said he. “What more natural but there’s something for yourself? It’s my duty as a pastor, too, for there’s Manx ones going that’s in danger of the devil of covetousness, and it’s doing the Lord’s work to put them out of the reach of temptation. You may exhort with them till you’re black in the face, but it’s throwing good money in the mud. Justchuck! No ring at all; no way responsive!”
Kate was silent, and Cæsar added familiarly, “Of course, it’s my right too, for when a man’s birth is that way, there’s no heirship by blood, and possession is nine points of the law. That’s so, Kate. You needn’t be looking so hard. It’s truth enough, girl. I’ve had advocate’s opinion.”
Kate had looked, but had not listened. The matter of her father’s talk was too trivial, it’s interest was too remote. As they drove, she kept glancing seaward and asking what time it was.
“Aw, time enough yet, woman,” said Cæsar. “No need to be unaisy at all. She’ll not be round the Head for an hour anyway. Will you come along with me to the quay, then? No? Well, better not, maybe.”
At the door of a draper’s she got down from the gig, and told her father not to wait for her on going home. Cæsar moistened his forefinger and held it in the air a moment.
“Then don’t be late,” said he, “there’s weather coming.”
A few minutes afterwards she was walking rapidly up Ballure. Passing Ballure House, she found herself treading softly. It was like holy ground. She did not look across; she gave no sign; there was only a tremor of the eyelids, a quiver of the mouth, and a tightening of the hand that held her purse, as, with head down, she passed on. Going by the water-trough, she saw the bullet-head of Black Tom looking seaward over the hedge through a telescope encased in torn and faded cloth. Though the man was repugnant to her, she saluted him cheerfully.
“Fine day, Mr. Quilliam.”
“It was doing a fine day, ma’am, but the bees is coming home,” said Tom.
He glowered at her as at a scout of the enemy, but she did not mind that. She was very happy. The sun was still shining. On reaching the top of the brow, she began to skip and run where the road descends by Folieu. Thus, with a light heart and a light step, thinking ill of no one, in love with all the world, she went hurrying to her doom.
The sea below lay very calm and blue. Nothing was to be seen on the water but a line of black smoke from the funnel of a steamship which had not yet risen above the horizon.
Philip put up his horse at the Hibernian, a mile farther on the high-road, and the tongue of the landlady, Mistress Looney went like a mill-race while he ate his dinner. She had known three generations of his family, and was full of stories of his grandfather, of his father, and of himself in his childhood. Full of facetiæ, too, about his looks, which were “rasonable promising,” and about the girls of Douglas, who were “neither good nor middling.” She was also full of sage counsel, advising marriage with a warm girl having “nice things at her—nice lands and pigs and things”—as a ready way to square the “bobbery” of thirty years ago at Ballawhaine.
Philip left his plate half full, and rose from the table to go down to Port Mooar.
“But, boy veen, you’ve destroyed nothing,”, cried the landlady. And then coaxingly, as if he had been a child, “You’ll be ateing bits for me, now, come, come! No more at all? Aw, it’s failing you are, Mr. Philip! Going for a walk is it? Take your topcoat then, for the clover is closing.”
He took the road that Pete had haunted as a boy on returning home from school in the days when Kate lived at Cornaa, going through the network of paths by the mill, and over the brow by Ballajora. The new miller was pulling down the thatched cottage in which Kate had been born to put up a slate house. They had built a porch for shelter to the chapel, and carved the figure of a slaughtered lamb on a stone in the gable. Another lamb—a living lamb—was being killed by the butcher of Ballajora as Philip went by the shambles. The helpless creature, with its inverted head swung downwards from the block, looked at him with its piteous eyes, and gave forth that distressful cry which is the last wild appeal of the stricken animal when it sees death near, and has ceased to fight for life.
The air was quiet, and the sea was calm, but across the Channel a leaden sky seemed to hover over the English mountains, though they were still light and apparently in sunshine. As Philip reached Port Mooar, a cart was coming out of it with a load of sea-wrack for the land, and a lobster-fisher on the beach was shipping his gear for sea.
“Quiet day,” said Philip in passing.
“I’m not much liking the look of it, though,” said the fisherman. “Mortal thick surf coming up for the wind that’s in.” But he slipped his boat, pulled up sail, and rode away.
Philip looked at his watch and then walked down the beach. Coming to a cave, he entered it. The sea-wrack was banked up in the darkness behind, and between two stones at the mouth there were the remains of a recent fire. Suddenly he remembered the cave. It was the cave of the Carasdhoo men. He éould hear the voice of Pete in its rumbling depths; he could hear and see himself. “Shall we save the women, Pete?—we always do.” “Aw, yes, the women—and the boys.” The tenderness of that memory was too much for Philip. He came out of the cave, and walked back over the shore.
“She will come by the church,” he thought, and he climbed the cliffs to look out. A line of fir-trees grew there, a comb of little misshapen ghoul-like things, stunted by the winds that swept over the seas in winter. In a fork of one of these a bird’s nest of last year was still hanging; but it was now empty, songless, joyless, and dead.
“She’s here.” he told himself, and he drew his breath noisily. A white figure had turned the road by the sundial, and was coming on with the step of a greyhound.
The black clouds above the English mountains were heeling down on the land. There was a storm on the other coast, though the sky over the island was still fine. The steamship had risen above the horizon, and was heading towards the bay.
She met him on the hill slope with a cry of joy, and kissed him. It came into his mind to draw away, but he could not, and he kissed her back. Then she linked her arm in his, and they turned down the beach.
“I’m glad you’ve come,” he began.
“Did you ever dream I wouldn’t?” she said. Her face was a smile, her voice was an eager whisper.
“I have something to say to you, Kate—it is something serious.”
“Is it so?” she said. “So very serious?”
She was laughing and blushing together. Didn’t she know what he was going to say? Didn’t she guess what this serious something must be? To prolong the delicious suspense before hearing it, she pretended to be absorbed in the things about her. She looked aside at the sea, and up at the banks, and down at the little dubbs of salt water as she skipped across them, crying out at sight of the sea-holly, the anemone, and the sea-mouse shining like fire, but still holding to Philip’s arm and bounding and throbbing on it.
“You must be quiet, dear, and listen,” he said.
“Oh, I’ll be good—so very good,” she said. “But look! only look at the white horses out yonder—far out beyond the steamer. Davy’s putting on the coppers for the parson, eh?”
She caught the grave expression of Philip’s face, and drew herself up with pretended severity, saying, “Be quiet, Katey. Behave yourself. Philip wants to talk to you—seriously—very seriously.”
Then, leaning forward with head aside to look up into his face, she said, “Well, sir, why don’t you begin? Perhaps you think I’ll cry out. I won’t—I promise you I won’t.”
But she grew uneasy at the settled gravity of his face, and the joy gradually died off her own. When Philip spoke, his voice was like a cracked echo of itself.
“You remember what you said, Kate, when I brought you that last letter from Kimberley—that if next morning you found it was a mistake———”
“Is it a mistake?” she asked.
“I am quite calm, dear. I remember I said it would kill me. But I was very foolish. I should not say so now. Is Pete alive?”
She spoke without a tremor, and he answered in a husky whisper, “Yes.”
Then, in a breaking voice, he said, “We were very foolish Kate—jumping so hastily to a conclusion was very foolish-it was worse than foolish, it was wicked. I half doubted the letter at the time, but, God forgive me, I wanted to believe it, and so——”
“I am glad Pete is living,” she said quietly.
He was aghast at her calmness. The irregular lines in his face showed the disordered state of his soul, but she walked by his side without the quiver of an eyelid, or a tinge of colour more than usual. Had she understood?
“Look!” he said, and he drew Pete’s telegram from his pocket and gave it to her.
She opened it easily, and he watched her while she read it, prepared for a cry, and ready to put his arms about her if she fell. But there was not a movement save the motion of her fingers, not a sound except the crinking of the thin paper. He turned his head away. The sun was shining; there was a steely light on the firs, and here and there a white breaker was rising like a sea-bird out of the blue surface of the sea.
“Well?” she said.
“Kate, you astonish me,” said Philip. “This comes on us like a thundercloud, and you seem not to realise it.”
She put her arms about his neck, and the paper rustled on his shoulder. “My darling,” she said, “do you love me still?”
“You know I love you, but——”
“Then there is no thundercloud in heaven for me now,” she said.
The simple grandeur of the girl’s love shamed him. Its trust, its confidence, its indifference to all the evil chance of life if only he loved her still, this had been beyond him. But he disengaged her arms and said, “We must not live in a fool’s paradise, Kate. You promised yourself to Pete——”
“But, Philip,” she said, “that was when I was a child. It was only a half promise then, and I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what love was. All that came later, dearest, much later—you know when.”
“To Pete it is the same thing, Kate,” said Philip. “He is coming home to claim you——”
She stopped him by getting in front of him and saying, with face down, smoothing his sleeve as she spoke, “You are a man, Philip, and you cannot understand. How can you, and how can I tell you? When a girl is not a woman, but only a child, she is a different person. She can’t love anybody then—not really—not to say love, and the promises she makes can’t count. It was not I that promised myself to Pete—if I did promise. It was my little sister—the little sister that was me long, long ago, but is now gone—put to sleep inside me somewhere. Is that veryfoolish, darling?”
“But think of Pete,” said Philip; “think of him going away for love of you, living five years abroad, toiling, slaving, saving, encountering privations, perhaps perils, and all for you, all for love of you. Then think of him coming home with his heart full of you, buoyed up with the hope of you, thirsting, starving, and yearning for you, and finding you lost to him, dead to him, worse than dead—it will kill him, Kate.”
She was unmoved by the picture. “I am very sorry, but I do not love him,” she said quietly. “I am sorry—what else can a girl be when she does not love a young man?”
“He left me to take care of you, too, and you see—you see by the telegram—he is coming home with faith in my loyalty. How can I tell him that I have broken my trust? How can I meet him and explain——”
“I know, Philip. Say we heard he was dead and——”
“No, it would be too wretched. It’s only three weeks since the letter came—and it would not be true, Kate—it would revolt me.”
She lifted her eyes in a fond look of shame-faced love, and said again, “I know, then—lay the blame on me, Philip. What do I care? Say it was all my fault, and I made you love me. Ishan’t care for anybody’s talk. And it’s true, isn’t it? Partly true, eh?”
“If I talked to Pete of temptation I should despise myself,” said Philip; and then she threw her head up and said proudly—
“Very well, tell the truth itself—the simple truth, Philip. Say we tried to be faithful and loyal, and all that, and could not, because we loved each other, and there was no help for it.”
“If I tell him the truth, I shall die of shame,” said Philip. “Oh, there is no way out of this miserable tangle. Whether I cover myself with deceit, or strip myself of evasion, I shall stain my soul for ever. I shall become a base man, and year by year sink lower and lower in the mire of lies and deceit.”
She listened with her eyes fixed on his quivering face, and her eyelids fluttered, and her fond looks began to be afraid.
“Say that we married,” he continued; “we should never forget that you had broken your promise and I my trust. That memory would haunt us as long as we lived. We should never know one moment’s happiness or one moment’s peace. Pete would be a broken-hearted man, perhaps a wreck, perhaps—who knows?—dead of his own hand. He would be the ghost between us always.”
“And do you think I should be afraid of that?” she said. “Indeed, no. If you were with me, Philip, and loved me still, I should not care for all the spirits of heaven itself.”
Her face was as pale as death now, but her great eyes were shining.
“Our love would fail us, Kate,” said Philip. “The sense of our guilt would kill it. How could we go on loving each other with a thing like that about us all day and all night—sitting at our table—listening to our talk—standing by our bed? Oh, merciful God!”
The terror of his vision mastered him, and he covered his face with both hands. She drew them down again and held them in a tight lock in her fingers. But the stony light of his eyes was more fearful to look upon, and she said in a troubled voice, “Do you mean, Philip, that we—could—not marry—now?”
He did not answer, and she repeated the question, looking up into his face like a criminal waiting for his sentence—her head bent forward and her mouth open.
“We cannot,” he muttered. “God help us, we dare not,” he said; and then he tried to show her again how their marriage was impossible, now that Pete had come, without treason and shame and misery. But his words frayed off into silence. He caught the look of her eyes, and it was like the piteous look of the lamb under the hands of the butcher.
“Is that what you came to tell me?” she asked.
His reply died in his throat. She divined rather than heard it.
Her doom had fallen on her, but she did not cry out. She did not yet realise in all its fulness what had happened. It was like a bullet-wound in battle; first a sense of air, almost of relief, then a pang, and then overwhelming agony.
They had been walking again, but she slid in front of him as she had done before. Her arms crept up his breast with a caressing touch, and linked themselves behind his neck.
“This is only a jest, dearest,” she said, “some test of my love, perhaps. You wished to make sure of me—quite, quite sure—now that Pete is alive and coming home. But, you see, I want only one to love me, only one, dear. Come, now, confess. Don’t be afraid to say you have been playing with me. I shan’t be angry with you. Come, speak to me.”
He could not utter a word, and she let her arms fall from his neck; and they walked on side by side, both staring out to sea. The English mountains were black by this time. A tempest was raging on the other shore, though the air on this side was as soft as human breath. .
Presently she stopped, her feet scraped the gravel, and she exclaimed in a husky tone, “I know what it is. It is not Pete. I am in your way. That’s it. You can’t get on with me about you. I am not fit for you. The distance between us is too great.”
He struggled to deny it, but he could not. It was part of the truth. He knew too well how near to being the whole truth it was. Pete had come at the last moment to cover up his conscience, but Kate was stripping it naked and showing him the skeleton.
“It’s all very well for you,” she cried, “but where am I? Why didn’t you leave me alone? Why did you encourage me? Yes, indeed, encourage me! Didn’t you say, though a woman couldn’t raise herself in life, a man could lift her up if he only loved her? And didn’t you tell me there was neither below nor above where there was true liking, and that if a woman belonged to some one, and some one belonged to her, it was God’s sign that they were equal, and everything else was nothing—pride was nothing and position was nothing and the whole world was nothing? But now I know different. The world is between us. It always has been between us, and you can never belong to me. You will go on and rise up, and I will be left behind.”
Then she broke into frightful laughter. “Oh, I have been a fool! How I dreamt of being happy! I knew I was only a poor ignorant thing, but I saw myself lifted up by the one I loved. And now I am to be left alone. Oh, it is awful! Why did you deceive me? Yes, deceive me! Isn’t that deceiving me? You deceived me when you led me to think that you loved me more than all the world. You don’t I It is the world itself you love, and Pete is only your excuse.”
As she spoke she clutched at his arms, his hands, his breast, and at her own throat, as if something was strangling her. He did not answer her reproaches, for he knew well what they were. They were the bitter cry of her great love, her great misery, and her great jealousy of the world—the merciless and mysterious power that was luring him away. After awhile his silence touched her, and she came up to him, full of remorse, and said, “No, no, Philip, you have nothing to reproach yourself with. You did not deceive me at all. I deceived myself. It was my own fault. I led you on—I know that. And yet I’ve been saying these cruel things. You’ll forgive me, though, will you not? A girl can’t help it sometimes, Philip. Are you crying? You are not crying, are you? Kiss me, Philip, and forgive me. You can do that, can’t you?”
She asked like a child, with her face up and her lips apart. He was about to yield, and was reaching forward to touch her forehead, when suddenly the child became the woman, and she leapt upon his breast, and held him fervently, her blood surging, her bosom exulting, her eyes flaming, and her passionate voice crying, “Philip, you are mine. No, I will not release you. I don’t care about your plans—you shall give them up. I don’t care about your trust—you shall break it. I don’t care about Pete coming—let him come. The world can do without you—I cannot. You are mine, Philip, and I am yours, and nobody else’s, and never will be. You must come back to me, sooner or later, if you go away. I know it, I feel it, it’s in my heart. But I’ll never let you go. I can’t, I can’t. Haven’t I a right to you? Yes, I have a right. Don’t you remember?… Can you ever forget?… My husband!”
The last word came muffled from his breast, where she had buried her head in the convulsions of her trembling at the moment when her modesty went down in the fierce battle with a higher pain. But the plea which seemed to give her the right to cling the closer made the man to draw apart. It was the old deep tragedy of human love—the ancient inequality in the bond of man and woman. What she had thought her conquest had been her vanquishment. He could not help, it—her last word had killed everything.
“Oh, God,” he groaned, “that is the worst of all.”
“Philip,” she cried, “what do you mean?”
“I mean that neither can I marry you, nor can you marry Pete. You would carry to him your love of me, and bit by bit he would find it out, and it would kill him. It would kill you, too, for you have called me your husband, and you could never, never, never forget it.”
“I don’t want to marry Pete,” she said. “If I’m not to marry you, I don’t want to marry any one. But do you mean that I must not marry at all—that I never can now that——”
The word failed her, and his answer came thick and indistinct—”Yes.”
“And you, Philip? What about yourself?”
“As there is no other man for you, Kate,” he said, “so there is no other woman for me. We must go through the world alone.”
“Is this my punishment?”
“It is the punishment of both, Kate, the punishment of both alike.”
Kate stopped her breathing. Her clenched hands slackened away from his neck, and she stepped back from him, shuddering with remorse, and despair, and shame. She saw herself now for the first time a fallen woman. Never before had her sin touched her soul. It was at that moment she fell.
They had come up to the cave by this time, and she sat on the stone at the mouth of it in a great outburst of weeping. It tore his heart to hear her. The voice of her weeping was like the distressful cry of the slaughtered lamb. He had to wrestle with himself not to take her in his arms and comfort her. The fit of tears spent itself at length, and after a time she drew a great breath and was quiet. Then she lifted her face, and the last gleam of the autumn sun smote her colourless lips and swollen eyes. When she spoke again, it was like one speaking in her sleep, or under the spell of somebody who had magnetised her.
“It is wrong of me to think so much of myself, as if that were everything. I ought to feel sorry for you too. You must be driven to it, or you could never be so cruel.”
With his face to the sea, he mumbled something about Pete, and she caught up the name and said, “Yes, and Pete too. As you think it would be wrong to Pete, I will not hold to you. Oh, it will be wrong to me as well! But I will not give you the pain of turning a deaf ear to my troubles any more.”
She was struggling with a pitiless hope that perhaps she might regain him after all. “If I give him up,” she thought, “he will love me for it;” and then, with a sad ring in her voice, she said, “You will go on and be a great man now, for you’ll not have me to hold you back.”
“For pity’s sake, say no more of that,” he said, but she paid no heed.
“I used to think it a wonderful thing to be loved by a great man. I don’t now. It is terrible. If I could only have you to myself! If you could only be nothing to anybody else! You would be everything to me, and what should I care then?”
Between torture and love he had almost broken down at that, but he gripped his breast and turned half aside, for his eyes were streaming. She came up to him and touched with the tips of her fingers the hand that hung by his side, and said in a voice like a child’s, “Fancy! this is the end of everything, and when we part now we are to meet no more. Not the same way at all—not as we have met. You will be like anybody else to me, and I will be like anybody else to you. Miss Cregeen, that will be my name and you will be Mr. Christian. When you see me you’ll say to yourself, ‘Yes, poor thing; long ago, when she was a girl, I made her love me. Nobody ever loved me like that.’ And fancy! when you pass me in the street, you will not even look my way. You won’t, will you? No—no, it will be better not. Goodbye!”
Her simple tenderness almost stifled him. He had to hold his under lip with his teeth to keep back the cry that was bursting from his tongue. At last he could bear it no longer, and he broke out, “Would to God we had never loved each other! Would to God we had never met!”
But she answered with the same childish sweetness, “Don’t say that, Philip. We have had some happy hours together. I would rather be parted from you like this, though it is so hard, so cruel, than never to have met you at all. Isn’t it something for me to think of, that the truest, cleverest, noblest man in all the world has loved me?… Good-bye!… Good-bye!”
His heart bled, his heart cried, but he uttered no sound. They were side by side. She let his hand slip from the tips of her fingers, and drew silently away. At three paces apart she paused, but he gave no sign. She climbed the low brow of the hill slowly, very slowly, trying to command her throat, which was fluttering, and looking back through her tears as she went. Philip heard the shingle slip under her feet while she toiled up the cliff, and when she reached the top the soft thud on the turf seemed to beat on his heart. She stood there a moment against the sky, waiting for a sound from the shore, a cry, a word, the lifting of a hand, a sob, a sigh, her own name, “Kate,” and she was ready to fly back even then, wounded and humiliated as she was, a poor torn bird that had been struggling in the lime. But no; he was silent and motionless, and she disappeared behind the hill. He saw her go, and all the light of heaven went with her.
It was so far back home, so much farther than it had been to come. The course is short and easy going out to sea when the tide is with you, and the water is smooth, and the sun is shining, but long and hard coming back to harbour, when the waves have risen, and the sky is low, and the wind is on your bow.
So far, so very far. She thought everybody looked at her, and knew her for what she was—a broken, forsaken, fallen woman. And she was so tired too; she wondered if her limbs would carry her.
When Philip was left alone, the sky seemed to be lying on his shoulders. The English mountains were grey and ghostly now, and the storm, which had spent itself on the other coast, seemed to hang over the island. There were breakers where the long dead sea had been, and the petrel outside was scudding close to the white curves, and uttering its dismal note.
So heavy and confused had the storm and wreck of the last hour left him, that he did not at first observe by the backward tail of smoke that the steamer had passed round the Head, and that the cart he had met at the mouth of the port had come back empty to the cave for another load of sea-wrack. The lobster-fisher, too, had beached his boat near by, and was shouting through the hollow air, wherein every noise seemed to echo with a sepulchral quake, “The block was going whistling at the mast-head. We’ll have a squall I was thinking, so in I came.”
That night Philip dreamt a dream. He was sitting on a dais with a wooden canopy above him, the English coat of arms behind, and a great book in front; his hands shook as he turned the leaves; he felt his leg hang heavily; people bowed low to him, and dropped their voices in his presence; he was the Deemster, and he was old. A young woman stood in the dock, dripping water from her hair, and she had covered her face with her hands. In the witness-box a young man was standing, and his head was down. The man had delivered the woman to dishonour; she had attempted her life in her shame and her despair. And looking on the man, the Deemster thought he spoke in a stern voice, saying, “Witness, I am compelled to punish her, but oh to heaven that I could punish you in her place! What have you to say for yourself?” “I have nothing to say for myself,” the young man answered, and he lifted his head and the old Deemster saw his face. Then Philip awoke with a smothered scream, for the young man’s face had been his own.
When Cæsar got to the quay, he looked about with watchful eyes, as if fearing he might find somebody there before him. The coast was clear, and he gave a grunt of relief. After fixing the horse-cloth, and settling the mare in a nose-bag, he began to walk up and down the fore part of the harbour, still keeping an eager look-out. As time went on he grew comfortable, exchanged salutations with the harbour-master, and even whistled a little to while away the time.
“Quiet day, Mr. Quayle.”
“Quiet enough yet, Mr. Cregeen; but what’s it saying? ‘The greater the calm the nearer the south wind.'”
By the time that Cæsar, from the end of the pier, saw the smoke of the steamer coming round Kirk Maughold Head, he was in a spiritual, almost a mournful, mood. He was feeling how melancholy was the task of going to meet the few possessions, the clothes and such like, which were all that remained of a dear friend departed. It was the duty of somebody, though, and Cæsar drew a long breath of resignation.
The steamer came up to the quay, and there was much bustle and confusion. Cæsar waited, with one hand on the mare’s neck, until the worst of it was over. Then he went aboard, and said in a solemn voice to the sailor at the foot of the gangway, “Anything here the property of Mr. Peter Quilliam?”
“That’s his luggage,” said the sailor, pointing to a leather trunk of moderate size among similar trunks at the mouth of the hatchway.
“H’m!” said Cæsar, eyeing it sideways, and thinking how small it was. Then, reflecting that perhaps valuable papers were all it was thought worth while to send home, he added cheerfully, “I’ll take it with me.”
Somewhat to Cæsar’s surprise, the sailor raised no difficulties, but just as he was regarding the trunk with that faith which is the substance of things hoped for, a big, ugly hand laid hold of it, and began to rock it about like a pebble.
It was Black Tom, smoking with perspiration.
“Aisy, man, aisy,” said Cæsar, with lofty dignity. “I’ve the gig on the quay.”
“And I’ve a stiff cart on the market,” said Black Tom.
“I’m wanting no assistance,” said Cæsar; “you needn’t trouble yourself.”
“Don’t mention it, Cæsar,” said Black Tom, and he turned the trunk on end and bent his back to lift it.
But Cæsar put a heavy hand on top and said, “Gough bless me, man, but I am sorry for thee. Mammon hath entered into thy heart, Tom.”
“He have just popped out of thine, then,” said Black Tom, swirling the trunk on one of its corners.
But Cæsar held on, and said, “I don’t know in the world why you should let the devil of covetousness get the better of you.”
“I don’t mane to—let go the chiss,” said Black Tom, and in another minute he had it on his shoulder.
“Now, I believe in my heart,” said Cæsar, “I would be forgiven a little violence,” and he took the trunk by both hands to bring it down again.
“Let go the chiss, or I’ll strek thee into the harbour,” bawled Black Tom under his load.
“The Philistines be upon thee, Samson,” cried Cæsar, and with that there was a struggle.
In the midst of the uproar, while the men were shouting into each other’s faces, and the trunk was rocking between them shoulder high, a sunburnt man, with a thick beard and a formidable voice, a stalwart fellow in a pilot jacket and wide-brimmed hat, came hurrying up the cabin-stairs, and a dog came running behind him. A moment later he had parted the two men, and the trunk was lying at his feet.
Black Tom fell back a step, lifted his straw hat, scratched his bald crown, and muttered in a voice of awe. “Holy sailor!”
Cæsar’s face was livid, and his eyes went up toward his forehead. “Lord have mercy upon me,” he mumbled; “have mercy on my soul, O Lord.”
“Don’t be afraid,” said the stranger. “I’m a living man and not a ghost.”
“The man himself,” said Black Tom.
“Peter Quilliam alive and hearty,” said Cæsar.
“I am,” said Pete. “And now, what’s the bobbery between the pair of you? Shuperintending the beaching of my trunk, eh?”
But having recovered from his terror at the idea that Pete was a spirit, Cæsar began to take him to task for being a living man. “How’s this?” said he. “Answer me, young man, I’ve praiched your funeral.”
“You’ll have to do it again, Mr. Cregeen, for I’m not gone yet,” said Pete.
“No, but worth ten dead men still,” said Black Tom. “And my goodness, boy, the smart and stout you’re looking, anyway. Been thatching a bit on the chin, eh? Foreign parts has made a man of you, Peter. The straight you’re like the family, too! You’ll be coming up to the trough with me—the ould home, you know. I’ll be whipping the chiss ashore in a jiffy, only Cæsar’s that eager to help, it’s wonderful. No, you’ll not then?”
Pete was shaking his head as he went up the gangway, and seeing this, Cæsar said severely—
“Lave the gentleman alone, Mr. Quilliam. He knows his own business best.”
“So do you, Mr. Collecting Box,” said Black Tom. “But your head’s as empty as a mollag, and as full of wind as well. It’s a regular ould human mollag you are, anyway, floating other people’s nets and taking all that’s coming to them.”
They were ashore by this time; one of the quay porters was putting the trunk into the gig, and Cæsar was removing the horse-cloth and the nose-bag.
“Get up, Mr. Peter, and don’t listen to him,” said Cæsar. “If my industry and integrity have been blessed with increase under Providence——”
“Lave Providence out of it, you grasping ould Ebenezer, Zachariah, Amen,” bawled Black Tom.
“You’ve been flying in the face of Providence all your life, Tom,” said Cæsar, taking his seat beside Pete.
“You haven’t though, you miser,” said Black Tom; “you’d sell your soul for sixpence, and you’d raffle your ugly ould body if you could get anybody to take tickets.”
“Go home, Thomas,” said Cæsar, twiddling the reins, “go home and try for the future to be a better man.”
But that was too much for Black Tom. “Better man, is it? Come down on the quay and up with your fiss, and I’ll show you which of us is the better man.”
A moment later Cæsar and Pete were rattling over the cobbles of the market-place, with the dog racing behind. Pete was full of questions.
“And how’s yourself, Mr. Cregeen?”
“I’m in, sir, I’m in, sir, praise the Lord.”
“Like myself, sir, not getting a dale younger, but caring little for spiritual things, though.”
“Going west, is she, poor ould angel? There ought to be a good piece of daylight at her yet, for all. And—and Nancy Joe?”
“A happy sinner still,” said Cæsar. “I suppose, sir, you’d be making good money out yonder now? We were hearing the like, anyway.”
“Money!” said Pete. “Well, yes. Enough to keep off the divil and the coroner. But how’s—how’s——”
“There now! For life, eh?” said Cæsar.
“Yes, for life; but that’s nothing,” said Pete; “how’s——”
“Wonderful!” cried Cæsar; “five years too! Boy veen, the light was nearly took out of my eyes when I saw you.”
“But Kate? How’s Kate? How’s the girl, herself?” said Pete nervously.
“Smart uncommon,” said Cæsar.
“God bless her!” cried Pete, with a shout that was heard across the street.
“We’ll pick her up at Crellin’s, it’s like,” said Cæsar.
“What? Crellin’s round the corner—Crellin the draper’s I Woa! Let me down! The mare’s tired, father;” and Pete was over the wheel at a bound.
He came out of the shop saying Kate had left word that her father was not to wait for her—she would perhaps be home before him. Amid a crowd of the “mob beg” children of the streets, to whom he showered coppers to be scrambled for, Pete got up again to Cæsar’s side, and they set off for Sulby. The wind had risen suddenly, and was hooting down the narrow streets coming up from the harbour.
“And Philip? How’s Philip?” shouted Pete.
“Mr. Christian? Well and hearty, and doing wonders, sir.”
“I knew it,” cried Pete, with a resounding laugh.
“Going like a flood, and sweeping everything before him,” said Cæsar.
“The rising day with him, is it?” said Pete. “I always said he’d be the first man in the island, and he’s not going to deceave me neither.”
“The young man’s been over putting a sight on us times and times—he was up at my Melliah only a week come Wednesday,” said Cæsar.
“Man alive!” cried Pete; “him and me are same as brothers.”
“Then it wasn’t true what they were writing in the letter, sir—that your black boys left you for dead?”
“They did that, bad luck to them,” said Pete; “but I was thinking it no sin to disappoint them, though.”
“Well, well! lying began with the world, and with the world it will end,” said Cæsar.
As they passed Ballywhaine, Pete shouted into Cæsar’s ear, above the wind that was roaring in the trees, and scattering the ripening leaves in clouds, “And how’s Dross?”
“That wastrel? Aw, tearing away, tearing away,” said Cæsar.
“Floating on the top of the tide, is he?” shouted Pete.
“Maybe so, but the devil is fishing where yonder fellow’s swimming,” answered Cæsar.
“And the ould man—the Ballawhaine—still above the sod?” bawled Pete behind his hand.
“Yes, but failing, failing, failing,” shouted Cæsar. “The world’s getting too heavy for the man. Debts here, and debts there, and debts everywhere.”
“Not much water in the harbour then, eh?” cried Pete.
“No, but down on the rocks already, if it’s only myself that knows it,” shouted Cæsar.
When they had turned the Sulby Bridge, and come in sight of “The Manx Fairy,” Pete’s excitement grew wild, and he leaped up from his seat and shouted above the wind like a man possessed.
“My gough, the very place! You’ve been thatching, though—yes, you have. The street! Holy sailor, there it is! Brownie at you still? Her heifer, is it? Get up, Molly! A taste of the whip’ll do the mare no harm, sir. My sakes, here’s ould Flora hobbling out to meet us. Got the rheumatics, has she? Set me down, Cæsar. Here we are, man. Lord alive, the smell of the cowhouse. That warm and damp, it’s grand! What, don’t you know me, Flo? Got your temper still, if you’ve lost your teeth? My sakes, the haggard! The same spot again! It’s turf they’re burning inside! And, my gracious, that’s herrings roasting in their brine! Where’s Grannie, though? Let’s put a sight in, Cæsar. Well, well, aw well, aw well!”
Thus Pete came home, laughing, shouting, bawling, and bellowing above the tumult of the wind, which had risen by this time to the strength of a gale.
“Mother,” cried Cæsar, going in at the porch, “gentleman here from foreign parts to put a word on you.”
“I never had nobody there belonging to me,” began Grannie.
“No, then, nobody?” said Cæsar.
“One that was going to be, maybe, if he’d lived, poor boy——”
“Grannie!” shouted Pete, and he burst into the bar-room.
“Goodness me!” cried Grannie; “it’s his own voice anyway.”
“It’s himself,” shouted Pete, and the old soul was in his arms in an instant.
“Aw dear! Aw dear!” she panted. “Pete it is for sure. Let me sit down, though.”
“Did you think it was his ghost, then, mother!” said Cæsar with an indulgent air.
“‘Deed no,” said Grannie. “The lad wouldn’t come back to plague nobody, thinks I.”
“Still, and for all the uprisement of Peter, it bates everything,” said Cæsar. “It’s a sort of a resurrection. I thought I’d have a sight up to the packet for his chiss, poor fellow, and, behould ye, who should I meet in the two eyes but the man himself!”
“Aw, dear! It’s wonderful I it’s terrible! I’m silly with the joy,” said Grannie.
“It was lies in the letter the Manx ones were writing,” said Cæsar.
“Letters and writings are all lies,” said Grannie. “As long as I live I’ll take no more of them, and if that Kelly, the postman, comes here again, I’ll take the bellows to him.”
“So you thought I was gone for good, Grannie?” said Pete. “Well, I thought so too. ‘Will I die?’ I says to myself times and times; but I bethought me at last there wasn’t no sense in a good man like me laving his bones out on the bare Veldt yonder; so, you see, I spread my wings and came home again.”
“It’s the Lord’s doings—it’s marvellous in our eyes,” said Cæsar; and Grannie, who had recovered herself and was bustling about, cried—
“Let me have a right look at him, then. Goodness me, the whisker! And as soft as Manx carding from the mill, too. I like him best when he takes off his hat. Well, I’m proud to see you, boy. ‘Deed, but I wouldn’t have known you, though. ‘Who’s the gentleman in the gig with father?’ thinks I. And I’d have said it was the Dempster himself, if he hadn’t been dead and in his coffin.”
“That’ll do, that’ll do,” roared Pete. “That’s Grannie putting the fun on me.”
“It’s no use talking, but I can’t keep quiet; no I can’t,” cried Grannie, and with that she whipped up a bowl from the kitchen dresser and fell furiously to peeling the potatoes that were there for supper.
“But where’s Kate?” said Pete.
“Aw, yes, where is she? Kate! Kate!” called Grannie, leaning her head toward the stairs, and Nancy Joe, who had been standing silent until now, said——
“Didn’t she go to Ramsey with the gig, woman?”
“Aw, the foolish I am! Of course she did,” said Grannie; “but why hasn’t she come back with father?”
“She left word at Crellin’s not to wait,” said Cæsar.
“She’ll be gone to Miss Clucas’s to try on,” said Nancy.
“Wouldn’t trust now,” said Grannie. “She’s having two new dresses done, Pete. Aw, girls are ter’ble. Well, can you blame them either?”
“She shall have two-and-twenty if she likes, God bless her,” said Pete.
“Goodness me!” said Nancy, “is the man for buying frocks for a Mormon?”
“But you’ll be empty, boy. Put the crow down and the griddle on, Nancy,” said Grannie. “We’ll have cakes. Cakes? Coorse I said cakes. Get me the cloth and I’ll lay it myself. The cloth, I’m saying, woman. Did you never hear of a tablecloth? Where is it? Aw, dear knows where it is now! It’s in the parlour; no, it’s in the chest on the landing; no, it’s under the sheets of my own bed. Fetch it, bogh.”
“Will I bring you a handful of gorse, mother?” said Cæsar.
“Coorse you will, and not stand chattering there. But I’m laving you dry, Pete. Is it ale you’ll have, or a drop of hard stuff? You’ll wait for Kate? Now I like that. There’s some life at these totallers. ‘Steady abroad?’ How dare you, Nancy Joe? You’re a deal too clever. Of course he’s been steady abroad—steady as a gun.”
“But Kate,” said Pete, tramping the sanded floor, “is she changed at all?”
“Aw, she’s a woman now, boy,” said Grannie.
“Bless my soul!” said Pete.
“She was looking a bit white and narvous one while there, but she’s sprung out of it fresh and bright, same as the ling on the mountains. Well, that’s the way with young women.”
“I know,” said Pete. “Just the break of the morning with the darlings.”
“But she’s the best-looking girl on the island now, Pete,” said Nancy Joe.
“I’ll go bail on it,” cried Pete.
“Big and fine and rosy, and fit for anything.”
“Bless my heart!”
“You should have seen her at the Melliah; it was a trate.”
“God bless me!”
“Sun-bonnet and pink frock and tight red stockings, and straight as a standard rase.”
“Hould your tongue, woman,” shouted Pete. “I’ll see herself first, and I’m dying to do it.”
Cæsar came back with the gorse; Nancy fed the fire and Grannie stirred the oatmeal and water. And while the cakes were baking, Pete tramped the kitchen and examined everything and recognised old friends with a roar.
“Bless me! the same place still. There’s the clock on the shelf, with the scratch on its face and the big finger broke at the joint, and the lath—and the peck—and the whip—you’ve had it new corded, though——”
“‘Sakes, how the boy remembers!” cried Grannie.
“And the white rumpy” (the cat had leapt on to the dresser out of the reach of Pete’s dog, and from that elevation was eyeing him steadfastly), “and the slowrie—and the kettle—and the poker—my gracious, the very poker——”
“Now, did you ever!” cried Grannie with amazement.
“And—yes—no—it is, though—I’ll swear it before the Dempster—that’s,” said Pete, picking up a three-legged stool, “that’s the very stool she was sitting on herself in the fire-seat in front of the turf closet. Let me sit there now for the sake of ould times gone by.”
He put the stool in the fireplace and sat on it, shouting as he did so between a laugh and a cry, “Aw, Grannie, bogh—Grannie, bogh! to think there’s been half the world between us since I was sitting here before!”
And Grannie herself, breaking down, said, “Wouldn’t you like the tongs, boy? Give the boy the tongs, woman, just to say he’s at home.”
Pete plucked the tongs out of Nancy’s hands, and began feeding the fire with the gorse. “Aw, Grannie, have I ever been away?” he cried, laughing, and his wet eyes gleaming.
“Nancy Joe, have you no nose at all?” cried Grannie. “The cake’s burning to a cinder.”
“Let it burn, mother,” shouted Pete. “It’s the way she was doing herself when she was young and forgetting. Shillings a-piece for all that’s wasted. Aw, the smell of it’s sweet!”
So saying he piled the gorse on the fire, ramming it under the griddle and choking it behind the crow. And while the oatcake crackled and sparched and went black, he sniffed up the burning odour, and laughed and cried in the midst of the smoke that went swirling up the chimney.
And meanwhile, Grannie herself, with the tears rolling down her cheeks, was flapping her apron before her face and saying, “He’ll make me die of laughing, he will, though—yes, he will!” But behind the apron she was blubbering to Nancy, “It’s coming home, woman, that’s it—it’s just coming home again, poor boy!”
By this time word of Pete’s return had gone round Sulby? and the bar-room was soon thronged with men and women, who looked through the glass partition into the kitchen at the bronzed and bearded man who sat smoking by the fire, with his dog curled up at his feet. “There’ll be a wedding soon,” said one. “The girl’s in luck,” said another. “Success to the fine girl she always was, and lucky they kept her from the poor toot that was beating about on her port bow.”—”The young Ballawhaine, eh?”—”Who else?”
Presently the dog went out to them, and, in default of its master, became a centre of excited interest. It was an old creature, with a settled look of age, and a gravity of expression that seemed to say he had got over the follies of youth, and was now reserved and determined to keep the peace. His back was curved in as if a cart-wheel had gone over his spine, he had gigantic ears, a stump of a tail, a coat thin and prickly like the bristles of a pig, but white and spotted with brown.
“Lord save us! a queer dog, though—what’s his breed at all?” said one; and then a resounding voice came from the kitchen doorway, saying—
“A sort of a Manxman crossed with a bat. Got no tail to speak of, but there’s plenty of ears at him. A handy sort of a dog, only a bit spoiled in his childhood. Not fit for much company anyway, and no more notion of dacent behaviour than my ould shoe. Down, Dempster, down.”
It was Pete. He was greeted with loud welcomes, and soon filled the room all round with the steaming odour of spirits and water.
“You’ve the Manx tongue at you still, Mr. Quilliam,” said Jonaique; “and you’re calling the dog Dempster; what’s that for at all?”
“For sake of the ould island, Mr. Jelly, and for the straight he’s like Dempster Mylrea when he’s a bit crooked,” said Pete.
“The old man’s dead, sir,” said John the Clerk.
“You don’t say?” said Pete.
“Yes, though; the sun went down on him a Wednesday. The drink, sir, the drink! I’ve been cutting a sod of his grave to-day.”
“And who’s to be Dempster now?” asked Pete. “Who are they putting in for it?”
“Well,” said John the Clerk, “they’re talking and talking, and some’s saying this one and others that one; but the most is saying your ould friend Philip Christian.”
“I knew it—I always said it,” shouted Pete; “best man in the island, bar none. Oh, he’ll not deceave me.”
The wind was roaring in the chimney, and the light was beginning to fail. Pete became restless, and walked to and fro, peering out at intervals by the window that looked on to the road. At this there was some pushing and nudging and indulgent whispering.
“It’s the girl! Aw, be aisy with the like! Five years apart, be aisy!”
“The meadow’s white with the gulls sitting together like parrots; what’s that a sign of, father?” said Pete.
“Just a slant of rain maybe, and a puff of wind,” said Cæsar.
“But,” said Pete, looking up at the sky, “the long cat tail was going off at a slant awhile ago, and now the thick skate yonder is hanging mortal low.”
“Take your time, sir,” said Cæsar. “No need to send round the Cross Vustha (fiery cross) yet. The girl will be home immadiently.”
“It’ll be dark at her, though,” said Pete.
The company tried to draw him into conversation about the ways of life in the countries he had visited, but he answered absently and jerkily, and kept going to the door.
“Suppose there’ll be Dempsters enough where you’re coming from?” said Jonaique.
“Sort of Dempsters, yes. Called one of them Ould Necessity, because it knows no law. He rigged up the statute books atop of his stool for a high sate, and when he wanted them he couldn’t find them high or low. Not the first judge that’s sat on the law, though…. It’s coming, Cæsar, d’ye hear it? That’s the rain on the street.”
“Aisy, man, aisy, man,” said Cæsar. “New dresses isn’t rigged up in no time. There’ll be chapels now, eh? Chapels and conferences, and proper religious instruction?”
“Divil a chapel, sir, only a rickety barn, belonging to some-ones they’re calling the Sky Pilots to. Wanted the ould miser that runs it to build them a new tabernacle, but he wouldn’t part till a lump of plaster fell on his bald head at a love-feast, and then he planked down a hundred pound, and they all shouted, ‘Hit him again, Lord—you might!’… D’ye hear that, then? That’s the water coming down from the gill. I can’t stand no more of it, Grannie.”
Grannie was at the door, struggling to hold it against the wind, while she looked out into the gathering darkness. “‘Deed, but I’m getting afraid of it myself,” she said, “and dear heart knows where Kirry can be at this time of night.” “I’m off to find her,” said Pete, and, catching up his hat and whistling to the dog, in a moment he was gone.
The door was hard to close behind him, for it was now blowing a gale from the north-east. Cæsar slipped through the dairy to see if the outbuildings were safe, and came back with a satisfied look. The stable and cow-house were barred, the barns were shut up, the mill-wheel was on the brake, the kiln fire was burning gently, and all was snug and tight. Grannie was wringing her hands as he returned, crying “Kate! Oh, Kate!” and he reproved her for want of trust in Providence.
People were now coming in rapidly with terrible stories of damage done by the storm. It was reported that the Chicken Rock Lighthouse was blown down, that the tide had risen to twenty-five feet in Ramsey and torn up the streets, and that a Peel fisherman had been struck by his mainsail into the sea and drowned.
More came into the house at every minute, and among them were all the lonesome and helpless ones within a radius of a mile—Blind Jane, who charmed blood, but could not charm the wind; Shemiah, the prophet, with beard down to his waist and a staff up to his shoulder; and old Juan Vessy, who “lived on the houses” in the way of a tramp. The people who had been there already were afraid to go out, and Grannie, still wringing her hands and crying “Kate, Kate,” called everybody into the kitchen to gather about the fire. There they bemoaned their boys on the sea, told stories of former storms, and quarrelled about the years of wrecks and the sources of the winds that caused them.
The gale increased to fearful violence, and sometimes the wind sounded like sheets flapping against the walls, sometimes like the deep boom of the waves that roll on themselves in mid-ocean and never know a shore. It began to groan in the chimney as if it were a wild beast struggling to escape, and then the smoke came down in whorls and filled the kitchen. They had to put out the fire to keep themselves from suffocation, and to sit back from the fireplace to protect themselves from cold. The door of the porch flew open, and they barricaded it with long-handled brushes; the windows rattled in their frames, and they blocked them up with the tops of the tables. In spite of all efforts to shut out the wind, the house was like a basket, and it quaked like a ship at sea. “I never heard the like on the water itself, and I’m used of the sea, too,” said one. The others groaned and mumbled prayers.
Kelly the Thief, who had come in unopposed by Grannie, was on his knees in one corner with his face to the wall, calling on the Lord to remember that he had seen things in letters—stamps and such—but had never touched them. John the Clerk was saying that he had to bury the Deemster; Jonaique, the barber, that he had been sent for to “cut” the Bishop; and Claudius Kewley, the farmer, that he had three fields of barley still uncut and a stack of oats unthatched. “Oh, Lord,” cried Claudius, “let me not die till I’ve got nothing to do!”
Cæsar stood like a strong man amidst their moans and groans, their bowings of the head and clappings of the hands, and, when he heard the farmer, his look was severe.
“Cloddy,” said he, “how do you dare to doubt the providence of God?”
“Aisy to talk, Mr. Cregeen,” the farmer whined, “but you’ve got your own harvest saved,” and then Cæsar had no resource but to punish the man in prayer. “The Lord had sent His storm to reprove some that were making too sure of His mercies; but there was grace in the gale, only they wouldn’t be patient and trust to God’s providence; there was milk in the breast, only the wayward child wouldn’t take time to find the teat. Lord, lead them to true stillness——”
In the midst of Cæsar’s prayer there was a sudden roar outside, and he leapt abruptly to his feet with a look of vexation. “I believe in my heart that’s the mill-wheel broken loose,” said he, “and if it is, the corn on the kiln will be going like a whirlingig.”
“Trust in God’s providence, Cæsar,” cried the farmer.
“So I will,” said Cæsar, catching up his hat, “but I’ll put out my kiln fire first.”
When Pete stepped out of the porch, he felt himself smitten as by an invisible wing, and he gasped like a fish with too much air. A quick pain in the side at that moment reminded him of his bullet-wound, but his heels had heart in them, and he set off to run. The night had fallen, but a green rent was torn in the leaden sky, and through this the full moon appeared.
When he got to Ramsey the tide was up to the old cross, slates were flying like kites, and the harbour sounded like a battlefield with its thunderous roar of rigging. He made for the dressmaker’s, and heard that Kate had not been there for six hours. At the draper’s he learned that at two o’clock in the afternoon she had been seen going up Ballure. The sound rocket was fired as he pushed through the town. A schooner riding to an anchor in the bay was flying her ensign for help. The sea was terrific—a slaty grey, streaked with white foam like quartz veins; but the men who had been idling on the quay when the water was calm were now struggling, chafing, and fighting to go out on it, for the blood of the old Vikings was in them.
Going by the water-trough, Pete called on Black Tom, who was civil and conciliatory until he heard his errand, then growled with disappointment, but nevertheless answered his question. Yes, he had seen the young woman. She went up early in the “everin,” and left him good-day. Giving this grateful news, Black Tom could not deny himself a word of bitterness to poison the pleasure. “And when you are finding her,” said he, “you’ll be doing well to take her in tow, for I’m thinking there’s some that’s for throwing her a rope.”
“Who d’ye mane?” said Pete.
“I lave it with you,” said Black Tom; and Pete pulled the door after him.
On the breast of the hill there was the meeting of two roads, one of them leading up to the “Hibernian,” the other going down to Port Mooar. To resolve the difficulty of choice, Pete inquired at a cottage standing some paces beyond, and as Kate had not been seen to pass up the higher road, he determined to take the lower one. But he gathered no tidings by the way, for Billy by the mill knew nothing, and the woman by the sundial had gone to bed. At length he dipped into Port Mooar, and came to a little cottage like a child’s Noah’s ark, with its tiny porch and red light inside, looking out on the white breakers that were racing along the beach. It was the cottage of the lobster-fisher. Pete inquired if he had seen Kate. He answered no; he had seen nobody that day but Mr. Christian. Which of the Christians? Mr. Philip Christian.
The news carried only one message to Pete’s mind. It seemed to explain something which had begun to perplex him—why Philip had not met him at the quay, and why Kate had not heard of his coming. Clearly Philip was at present at Ballure. He had not yet received the telegram addressed to Douglas.
Pete turned back. Surely Kate had called somewhere. She would be at home by this time. He tried to run, but the wind was now in his face. It was veering northwards every minute, and rising to the force of a hurricane. He tied his handkerchief over his head and under his chin to hold on his hat. His hair whipped his ears like rods. Sometimes he was swept into the hedge; often he was brought to his knees. Still he toiled along through sheets of spray that glistened with the colours of a rainbow, and ran over the ground like driven rain. His eyes smarted, and the taste on his lips was salt.
The moon was now riding at the full through a wild flecked sky, and Pete could clearly see, as he returned towards the bay, a crowd of human figures on the cliffs above Port Lewaige. Quaking with undefined fears, he pushed on until he had joined them. The schooner, abandoned by her crew, had parted her cable, and was rolling like a blinded porpoise towards the rocks. She fell on them with the groan of a living creature, and, the instant her head was down, the white lions of the sea leapt over her with a howl, the water swirled through her bulwarks and filled her hatches, her rudder was unshipped, her sails were torn from their gaskets, and the floating home wherein men had sailed, and sung, and slept, and laughed, and jested, was a broken wreck in the heavy wallowings of the waves.
Kate had not returned when Pete got back to Sulby, but the excitement of her absence was eclipsed for the time by the turmoil of Cæsar’s trouble. Standing in the dark on the top of the midden, he was shouting to the dairy door in a voice of thunder, which went off at the end of his beard like the puling of a cat. The mill-wheel was going same as a “whirlingig”—was there nobody to “hould the brake?” The stable roof was stripped, and the mare was tearing herself to pieces in a roaring “pit of hell”—was there never a shoulder for the door? The cow-house thatch was flapping like a sail—was there nothing in the world but a woman (Nancy Joe) to help a man to throw a ladder and a stone over it?
Only when Cæsar had been pacified was there silence to speak of Kate. “I picked up news of her coming back by Claughbane,” said Pete, “and traced her as near home as the ‘Ginger.’ She can’t be far away. Where is she?”
Those who were cool enough fell to conjecture. Grannie had no resource but groans. Nancy was moaning by her side. The rest were full of their own troubles. Blind Jane was bewailing her affliction.
“You can all see,” she cried, “but I’m not knowing the harm that’s coming on me.”
“Hush, woman, hush,” said Pete; “we’re all same as yourself half our lives—we’re all blind at night.”
In the midst of the tumult a knock came to the door, and Pete made a plunge towards the porch.
“Wait,” cried Cæsar. “Nobody else comes here to-night except the girl herself. Another wind like the last and we’ll have the roof off the house too.”
Then he called to the new-comer, with his face to the porch door, and the answer came back to him in a wail like the wind itself.
It was Joney from the glen.
“We’re like herrings in a barrel—we can’t let you in.”
She wasn’t wanting to come in. But her roof was going stripping, and half her house was felled, and she couldn’t get her son (the idiot boy) to leave his bed. He would perish; he would die; he was all the family she had left to her—wouldn’t the master come and save him?
“Impossible!” shouted Cæsar. “We’ve our own missing this fearful night, Joney, and the Lord will protect His children.”
Was it Kate? She had seen her in the glen——
“Let me get at that door,” said Pete.
“But the house will come down,” cried Cæsar.
“Let it come,” said Pete.
Pete shut the door of the bar-room, and then the wind was heard to swirl through the porch.
“When did you see her, Joney, and where?” said the voice of Pete; and the voice of Joney answered him—
“Goings by my own house at the start of the storm this everin.”
“I’ll come with you—go on,” said Pete, and Grannie shouted across the bar—
“Take Cæsar’s topcoat over your monkey-jacket.”
“I’ve sail enough already for a wind like this, mother,” cried the voice of Pete, and then the swirling sound in the porch went off with a long-drawn whirr, and Cæsar came back alone to the kitchen.
Pete’s wound ached again, but he pressed his hand on the place of it and struggled up the glen, dragging Joney behind him. They came to her house at last. One half of the thatch lay over the other half; the rafters were bare like the ribs of the wreck; the oat-cake peck was rattling on the lath; the meal-barrel in the corner was stripped of its lid, and the meal was whirling into the air like a waterspout; the dresser was stripped, the broken crockery lay on the uncovered floor, and the iron slowrie hanging over the place of the fire was swinging and striking against the wall, and ringing like a knell. And in the midst of this scene of desolation the idiot boy was placidly sleeping on his naked bed, and over it the moon was scudding through a tattered sky.
The night wore on, and the company in the kitchen listened long, and sometimes heard sounds as of voices crying in the wind, but Pete did not return. Then they fell to groaning again, to praying aloud without fear, and to confessing their undiscovered sins without shame.
“I’m searched terrible—I can see through me,” cried Kelly, the postman.
Some were chiefly troubled lest death should fall on them while they were in a public-house.
“I keep none,” cried Cæsar.
“But you wouldn’t let us open the door,” whined the farmer.
If the door had been wide enough for a Bishop, not a soul would have stirred. For the first time within anyone’s recollection, Nancy Joe was on her knees.
“O Lord,” she prayed, “Thou knowest well I don’t often bother Thee. But save Kate, Lord; oh, save and prasarve my little Kirry! It’s twenty years and better since I asked anything of Thee before and if Thou wilt only take away this wind, I’ll promise not to say another prayer for twenty years more.”
“Say it in Manx, woman,” moaned Grannie. “I always say my prayers in Manx as well, and the Lord can listen to the one He knows best.”
“There’s prayer as well as praise in singing,” cried Cæsar; and they began to sing, all down on their knees, their eyes tightly closed, and their hands clasped before their faces. They sang of heaven and its peaceful plains, its blue lakes and sunny skies, its golden cities and emerald gates, its temples and its tabernacles, where “congregations ne’er break up and Sabbaths never end.” It was some comfort to drown with the wild discord of their own voices the fearful noises of the tempest. When they finished the hymn, they began on it again, keeping it up without a break, sweeping the dying note of the last word into the rising pitch of the first one. In the midst of their singing, they thought a fiercer gust than ever was beating on the door, and, to smother the fear of it, they sang yet louder. The gust came a second time, and Cæsar cried—
“Again, brothers,” and away they went with another wild whoop through the hymn.
It came a third time, and Cæsar cried—
“Once more, beloved,” and they raced madly through the hymn again.
Then the door burst open as before a tremendous kick, and Pete, fierce and wild-eyed, and green with the drift of the salt foam caked thick on his face, stepped over the threshold with the unconscious body of Kate in his arms and the idiot boy peering over his shoulder.
“Thank the Lord for an answer to prayer,” cried Cæsar. “Where did you find her?”
“In the tholthan up the glen,” said Pete. “Up in the witch’s tholthan.”
On the second morning afterwards the air was quiet and full of the odour of seaweed; the sky was round as the inside of a shell, and pale pink like the shadow of flame; the water was smooth and silent; the hills had lost the memory of the storm, and land and sea lay like a sleeping child.
In this broad and steady morning Kate came back to consciousness. She had slid out of delirium into sleep as a boat slides out of the open sea into harbour, and when she awoke there was a voice in her ears that seemed to be calling to her from the quay. It was a familiar voice, and yet it was unfamiliar; it was like the voice of a friend heard for the first time after a voyage. It seemed to come from a long way off, and yet to be knocking at the very door of her heart. She kept her eyes closed for a moment and listened; then she opened them and looked again.
The light was clouded and yet dazzling, as if glazed muslin were shaking before her eyes. Grannie was sitting by her bedside, knitting in silence.
“Why are you sitting there, mother?” she asked.
Grannie dropped her needles and caught at her apron. “Dear heart alive, the child’s herself again!” she said.
“Has anything happened?” said Kate. “What time is it?”
“Monday morning, bogh, thank the Lord for all His mercies!” cried Grannie.
The familiar voice came again. It came from the direction of the stairs. “Who’s that?” said Kate, whispering fearfully.
“Pete himself, Kirry. Aw well! Aw dear!”
“Pete!” cried Kate in terror.
“Aw, no, woman, but a living man come back again. No fear of him, bogh! Not dead at all, but worth twenty dead men yet, and he brought you safe out of the storm.”
“Yes, the storm, woman. There warn such a storm on the island I don’t know the years. He found you in the tholthan up the glen. Lost your way in the wind, it’s like, and no wonder. But let me call father. Father! father! Chut! the man’s as deaf as little Tom Hommy. Father!” called Grannie, bustling about at the stair-head in a half-demented way.
There was some commotion below, and the voice on the stairs was saying, “This way? No, sir. That way, if you plaze.”
“D’ye hear him, Kirry?” cried Grannie, putting her head back into the room. “That’s the man himself. Sitting on the bottom step same as an ould bulldog, and keeping watch that nobody bothers you. The good-naturedst bulldog breathing, though, and he hasn’t had a wink on the night. Saved your life, darling. He did; yes, he did, praise God.”
At mention of the tholthan, Kate had remembered everything. She dropped back on the pillow, and cried, in a voice of pain, “Why couldn’t he leave me to die?”
Grannie chuckled knowingly at that, and wiped her eyes with the corner of her apron. “The bogh is herself, for sure. When they’re wishing themselves dead they’re always mending father! But I’ll go down instead. Lie still, bogh, lie still!”
The voice of Grannie went muffled down the stairs with many “Aw dears, aw dears!” and then crackled from below through the floor and the unceiled joists, saying sharply but with a tremor, too, “Nancy Joe, why aren’t you taking a cup of something upstairs, woman?”
“Goodness me, Mistress Cregeen, is it true for all?” said Nancy.
“Why, of course it’s true. Do you think a poor child is going fasting for ever?”
“What’s that?” shouted the familiar voice again. “Was it herself you were spaking to in the dairy loft, Grannie?”
“Who else, man?” said Grannie, and then there was a general tumult.
“Aw, the joy! Aw, the delight! Gough bless me, Grannie, I was thinking she was for spaking no more.”
“Out of the way,” cried Nancy, as if pushing past somebody to whip the kettle on to the fire. “These men creatures have no more rising in their hearts than bread without balm.”
“You’re balm enough yourself, Nancy, for a quiet husband. But lend me a hould of the bellows there—I’ll blow up like blazes.”
Cæsar came into the house on the top of this commotion, grumbling as he stepped over the porch, “The wind has taken half the stacks of my haggard, mother.”
“No matter, sir,” shouted Pete. “The best of your Melliah is saved upstairs.”
“Is she herself?” said Cæsar. “Praise His name!”
And over the furious puffing and panting and quacking of the bellows and the cracking and roaring of the fire, the voice of Pete came in gusts through the floor, crying, “I’ll go mad with the joy! I will; yes, I will, and nobody shall stop me neither.”
The house, which seemed to have been holding its breath since the storm, now broke into a ripple of laughter. It began in the kitchen, it ran up the stairs, it crept through the chinks in the floor, it went over the roof. But Kate lay on her pillow and moaned, and turned her face to the wall.
Presently Nancy Joe appeared in the bedroom, making herself tidy at the doorway with a turn of the hand over her hair. “Mercy on me!” she cried, clapping her hands at the first sight of Kate’s face, “who was the born blockhead that said the girl’s wedding was as like to be in the churchyard as in the church?”
“That’s me,” said a deep voice from the middle of the stairs, and then Nancy clashed the door back and poured Pete into Kate in a broadside.
“It was Pete that done it, though,” she said. “You can’t expect much sense of the like, but still and for all he saved your life, Kitty. Dr. Mylechreest says so. ‘If the girl had been lying out another hour,’ says he——And, my goodness, the fond of you that man is; it’s wonderful! Twisting and turning all day yesterday on the bottom step yonder same as a live conger on the quay, but looking as soft about the eyes as if he’d been a week out of the water. And now! my sakes, now! D’ye hear him, Kirry? He’s fit to burst the bellows. No use, though—he’s a shocking fine young fellow—he’s all that…. But just listen!”
There was a fissing sound from below, and a sense of burning. “What do I always say? You can never trust a man to have sense enough to take it off. That’s the kettle on the boil.”
Nancy went flopping downstairs, where with furious words she rated Pete, who laughed immoderately. Cæsar came next. He had taken off his boots and was walking lightly in his stockings; but Kate felt his approach by his asthmatic breathing. As he stepped in at the door he cried, in the high pitch of the preacher, “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me praise His holy name!” Then he fell to the praise of Pete as well.
“He brought you out of the jaws of death and the mouth of Satan. It was a sign, Katherine, and we can’t do better than follow the Spirit’s leading. He saved your life, woman, and that’s giving him the right to have and to hould it. Well, I’ve only one child in this life, but, if it’s the Lord’s will, I’m willing. He was always my white-headed boy, and he has made his independent fortune in a matter of five years’ time.”
The church bell began to toll, and Kate started up and listened.
“Only the Dempster’s funeral, Kitty,” said Cæsar. “They were for burying him to-morrow, but men that drink don’t keep. They’ll be putting him in the family vault at Lezayre with his father, the staunch ould Rechabite. Many a good cow has a bad calf, you see, and that’s bad news for a man’s children; but many a good calf is from a bad cow, and that’s good news for the man himself. It’s been the way with Peter anyway, for the Lord has delivered him and prospered him, and I’m hearing on the best authority he has five thousand golden sovereigns sent home to Mr. Dumbell’s bank at Douglas.”
Grannie came up with a basin of beef-tea, and Cæsar was hustled out of the room.
“Come now, bogh; take a spoonful, and I’ll lave you to yourself,” said Grannie.
“Yes, leave me to myself,” said Kate, sipping wearily; and then Grannie went off with the basin in her hand.
“Has she taken it?” said some one below.
“Look at that, if you plaze,” said Grannie in a jubilant tone; and Kate knew that the empty basin was being shown around.
Kate lay back on the pillow, listened to the tolling of the bell, and shuddered. She thought it a ghostly thing that the first voice she had heard on coming as from another world had been the voice of Pete, and the first name dinned into her ears had been Pete’s name. The procession of the Deemster’s funeral passed the house, and she closed her eyes and seemed to see it—the coffin on the open cart, the men on horseback riding beside it, and then the horses tied up to posts and gates about the churchyard, and the crowd of men of all conditions at the grave-side. In her mind’s eye, Kate was searching through that crowd for somebody. Was he there? Had he heard what had happened to her?
She fell into a doze, and was awakened by a horse’s step on the road, and the voices of two men talking as they came nearer.
“Man alive, the joy I’m taking to see you! The tallygraph? Coorse not. Knew I’d find you at the funeral, though.” It was Pete.
“But I meant to come over after it.” It was Philip, and Kate’s heart stood still.
The voices were smothered for a moment (as the buzzing is when the bees enter the hive), and then began with as sharper ring from the rooms below.
“How’s she now, Mrs. Cregeen?” said the voice of Philip.
“Better, sir—much better,” answered Grannie.
“No return of the unconsciousness?”
“Aw, no,” said Grannie.
“Was she”—Kate thought the voice faltered—”was she delirious?”
“Not rambling at all,” replied Grannie.
“Thank God,” said Philip, and Kate felt a long breath of relief go through the air.
“I didn’t hear of it until this morning,” said Philip. “The postman told me at breakfast-time, and I called on Dr. Mylechreest coming out. If I had known——I didn’t sleep much last night, anyway; but if I had ever imagined——”
“You’re right good to the girl, sir,” said Grannie, and then Kate, listening intently, caught a quavering sound of protestation.
“‘Deed you are, though, and always have been,” said Grannie, “and I’m saying it before Pete here, that ought to know and doesn’t.”
“Don’t I, though?” came in the other voice—the resounding voice—the voice full of laughter and tears together. “But I do that, Grannie, same as if I’d been here and seen it. Lave it to me to know Phil Christian. I’ve summered and wintered the man, haven’t I? He’s timber that doesn’t start, mother, blow high, blow low.”
Kate heard another broken sound as of painful protest, and then with a sickening sense she covered up her head that she might hear no more.
She was weak and over-wrought, and she fell asleep as she lay covered. While she slept a babel of meaningless voices kept clashing in her ears, and her own voice haunted her perpetually. When she awoke it was broad morning again, and the house was full of the smell of boiling stock-fish. By that she knew it was another day, and the hour of early breakfast. She heard the click of cups and saucers on the kitchen table, the step of her father coming in from the mill, and then the heartsome voice of Pete talking of the changes in the island since he went away. New houses, promenades, iron piers, breakwaters, lakes, towers—wonderful I extraordinary! tre-menjous!
“But the boys—w here’s the Manx boys at all?” said Pete. “Gone like a flight of birds to Austrillya and Cleveland and the Cape, and I don’t know where. Not a Manx house now that hasn’t one of the boys foreign. And the houses themselves—where’s the ould houses and the crofts? Felled, all felled or boarded up. And the boats—where’s the boats? Lying rotting at the top of the harbour.”
Grannie’s step came into the kitchen, and Pete’s loud voice drooped to a whisper. “How’s herself this morning, mother?”
“Sleeping quiet and nice when I came downstairs,” said Grannie.
“Will I be seeing her myself to-day, think you?” asked Pete.
“I don’t know in the world, but I’ll ask,” answered Grannie.
“You’re an angel, Grannie,” said Pete, “a reg’lar ould archangel.”
Kate shuddered with a new fear. It was clear that in the eyes of her people the old relations with Pete were to stand. Everybody expected her to marry Pete; everybody seemed anxious to push the marriage on.
Grannie came up with her breakfast, pulled aside the blind, and opened the window.
“Nancy will tidy the room a taste,” she said coaxingly, “and then I shouldn’t wonder if you’ll be sending for Pete.”
Kate raised a cry of alarm.
“Aw, no harm when a girl’s poorly,” said Grannie, “and her promist man for all.”
Kate tried to protest and explain, but courage failed her. She only said, “Not yet, mother. I’m not fit to see him yet.”
“Say no more about it. Not to-day at all—to-morrow maybe,” said Grannie, and Kate clutched at the word, and answered eagerly—
“Yes, tomorrow, mother; to-morrow maybe.”
Before noon Philip had come again. Kate heard his horse’s step on the road, trotting hard from the direction of Peel. He drew up at the porch, but did not alight, and Grannie went out to him.
“I’ll not come in to-day, Mrs. Cregeen,” he said. “Does she continue to improve?”
“As nice as nice, sir,” said Grannie.
Kate crept out of bed, stole to the window, hid behind the curtains, and listened intently.
“What a mercy all goes well,” he said; Kate could hear the heaving of his breath. “Is Pete about?”
“No, but gone to Ramsey, sir,” said Grannie. “It’s like you’ll meet him if you are going on to Ballure.”
“I must be getting back to business,” said Philip, and the horse swirled across the road.
“Did you ride from Douglas on purpose, then?” said Grannie, and Philip answered with an audible effort—
“I was anxious. What an escape she has had! I could scarcely sleep last night for thinking of it.”
Kate put her hand to her throat to keep back the cry that was bubbling up, and her mother’s voice came thick and deep.
“The Lord’s blessing. Master Philip——” she began, but the horse’s feet stamped out everything as it leapt to a gallop in going off.
Kate listened where she knelt until the last beat of the hoofs had died away in the distance, and then she crept back to bed and covered up her head in the clothes as before, but with a storm of other feelings. “He loves me,” she told herself with a thrill of the heart. “He loves me—he loves me still! And he will never, never, never see me married to anybody else.”
She felt an immense relief now, and suddenly found strength to think of facing Pete. It even occurred to her to send for him at once, as a first step towards removing the impression that the old relations were to remain. She would be quiet, she would be cold, she would show by her manner that Pete was impossible, she would break the news gently.
Pete came like the light at Nancy’s summons. Kate heard him on the stairs whispering with Nancy and breathing heavily. Nancy was hectoring it over him and pulling him about to make him presentable.
“Here,” whispered Nancy, “take the redyng comb and lash your hair out, it’s all through-others. And listen—you’ve got to be quiet. Promise me you’ll be quiet. She’s wake and low and nervous, so no kissing. D’ye hear me now, no kissing.”
“Aw, kissing makes no noise to spake of, woman,” whispered Pete; and then he was in the room.
Kate saw him come, a towering dark figure between her and the door. He did not speak at first, but slid down to the chair at the foot of the bed, modestly, meekly, reverently, as if he had entered a sanctuary. His hand rested on his knee, and she noticed that the wrist was hairy and tattooed with the three legs of Man.
“Is it you, Pete?” she asked; and then he said in a low tone, almost in a whisper, as if speaking to himself in a hush of awe—
“It’s her own voice again! I’ve heard it in my drames these five years.”
He looked helplessly about him for a moment, fixed his watery eyes on Nancy as if he wanted to burst into sobs but dare not for fear of the noise, then turned on his chair and seemed on the point of taking to flight. But just at that instant his dog, which had followed him into the room, planted its forelegs on the counterpane and looked impudently into Kate’s face.
“Down, Dempster, down!” cried Pete; and after that, the ice being broken by the sound of his voice, Pete was his own man once more.
“Is that your dog, Pete?” said Kate.
“Aw, no, Kate, but I’m his man,” said Pete. “He does what he likes with me, anyway. Caught me out in Kimber-ley and fetched me home.”
“Is he old?”
“Old, d’ye say? He’s one of the lost ten tribes of dogs, and behaves as if he’d got to inherit the earth.”
She felt Pete’s big black eyes shining on her.
“My gracious, Kitty, what a woman you’re growing, though!” he said.
“Am I so much changed?” she asked.
“Changed, is it?” he cried. “Gough bless me heart! the nice little thing you were when we used to play fishermen together down at Cornaa Harbour—d’ye remember? The ould kipper-box rolling on a block for a boat at sea—do you mind it? Yourself houlding a bit of a broken broomstick in the rope handle for a mast, and me working the potato-dibber on the ground, first port and then starboard, for rudder and wind and oar and tide. ‘Mortal dirty weather this, cap’n?’ ‘Aw, yes, woman, big sea extraordinary’—d’ye mind it, Kirry!”
Kate tried to laugh a little and to say what a long time ago it was since then. But Pete, being started, laughed uproariously, slapped his knee, and rattled on.
“Up at the mill, too—d’ye remember that now? Yourself with the top of a barrel for a flower basket, holding it ‘kimbo at your lil hip and shouting, ‘Violets! Swate violets! Fresh violets!'” (He mocked her silvery treble in his lusty baritone and roared with laughter.)
“And then me, woman, d’ye mind me?—me, with the pig-stye gate atop of my head for a fish-board, yelling, ‘Mackerel! Fine ladies, fresh ladies, and bellies as big as bishops—Mack-er-el!’ Aw, Kirry, Kirry! Aw, the dear ould times gone by! Aw, the changes, the changes!… Did I know you then? Are you asking me did I know you when I found you in the glen? Did I know I was alive, Kitty? Did I know the wind was howling? Did I know my head was going round like a compass, and my heart thumping a hundred and twenty pound to the square inch? Did I kiss you and kiss you while you were lying there useless, and lift you up and hitch your poor limp arms around my neck, and carry you out of the dirty ould tholthan that was going to be the death of you—the first job I was doing on the island, too, coming back to it…. Lord save us, Kitty, what have I done?”
Kate had dropped back on the pillow, and was sobbing as if her heart would break, and seeing this, Nancy fell on Pete with loud reproaches, took the man by the shoulders and his dog by the neck, and pushed both out of the room.
“Out of it,” cried Nancy. “Didn’t I tell you to be quiet? You great blethering omathaun, you shall come no more.”
Abashed, ashamed, humiliated, and quiet enough now, Pete went slowly down the stairs.
Late that night Kate heard Cæsar and her mother talking together as they were going to bed. Cæsar was saying—
“I got him on the track of a good house, and he went off to Ramsey this morning to put a sight on it.”
“Dear heart alive, father!” Grannie answered, “Pete isn’t home till a week come Saturday.”
“The young man is warm on the wedding,” said Cæsar, “and he has money, and store is no sore.”
“But the girl’s not fit for it, ‘deed she isn’t,” said Grannie.
“If she’s wake,” said Cæsar, “shell be no worse for saying ‘I will,’ and when she’s said it she’ll have time enough to get better.”
Kate trembled with fear. The matter of her marriage with Pete was going on without her. A sort of supernatural power seemed to be pushing it along. Nobody asked if she wished it, nobody questioned that she did so. It was taken for granted that the old relations would stand. As soon as she could go about she would be expected to marry Pete. Pete himself would expect it, because he believed he had her promise; her mother would expect it, because she had always thought of it as a thing understood; her father would expect it, because Pete’s prosperity had given him a new view of Pete’s piety and pedigree; and Nancy Joe would expect it, too, if only because she was still haunted by her old bugbear, the dark shadow of Ross Christian. There was only one way to break down these expectations, and that was to speak out. But how was a girl to speak? What was she to say?
Kate pretended to be ill. Three days longer she lay, like a hunted wolf in its hole, keeping her bed from sheer dread of the consequences of leaving it. The fourth day was Sunday. It was morning, and the church bells were ringing. Cæsar had shouted from his bedroom for some one to tie his bow, then for some one to button his black gloves. He had gone off at length with the footsteps of the people stepping round to chapel. The first hymn had been started, and its doleful notes were trailing through the mill walls. Kate was propped up in bed, and the window of her room was open. Over the droning of the hymn she caught the sound of a horse’s hoofs on the road. They stopped at a little distance, and then came on again, with the same two voices as before.
Pete was talking with great eagerness. “Plenty of house, aw plenty, plenty,” he was saying. “Elm Cottage they’re calling it—the slate one with the ould fir-tree behind the Coort House and by the lane to Claughbane. Dry as a bone and clane as a gull’s wing. You could lie with your back to the wall and ate off the floor. Taps inside and water as white as gin. I’ve been buying the cabin of the ‘Mona’s Isle’ for a summer-house in the garden. Got a figurehead for the porch too, and I’ll have an anchor for the gate before I’m done. Aw, I’m bound to have everything nice for her.”
There was a short silence, in which nothing was heard but the step of the horse, and then Philip said in a faltering voice, “But isn’t this being rather in a hurry, Pete?”
“Short coorting’s the best coorting, and ours has been long enough anyway,” said Pete. They had drawn up at the porch, and Pete’s laugh came in at the window.
“But think how weak she is,” said Philip. “She hasn’t even-left her bed yet, has she?”
“Well, yes, of coorse, sartenly,” said Pete, in a steadier voice, “if the girl isn’t fit——”
“It’s so sudden, you see,” said Philip. “Has she—has she—consented?”
“Not to say consented——” began Pete; and Philip took him up and said quickly, eagerly, hotly—
“She can’t—I’m sure she can’t.”
There was silence again, broken only by the horse’s impatient pawing, and then Philip said more calmly, “Let Dr. Mylechreest see her first, at all events.”
“I’m not a man for skinning the meadow to the sod, no——” said Pete, in a doleful tone; but Kate heard no more.
She was trembling with a new thought. It was only a shadowy suggestion as yet, and at first she tried to beat it back. But it came again, it forced itself upon her, it mastered her, she could not resist it.
The way to break the fate that was pursuing her was to make Philip speak out! The way to stop the marriage with Pete was to compel Philip to marry her! He thought she would never consent to marry Pete—what if he were given to understand that she had consented. That was the way to gain the victory over Philip, the way to punish him!
He would not blame her—he would lay the blame at the door of chance, of fate, of her people. He would think they were forcing this marriage upon her—the mother out of love of Pete, the father out of love of Pete’s money, and Nancy out of fear of Ross Christian. He would know that she could not struggle because she could not speak. He would believe she was yielding against her will, in spite of her love, in the teeth of their intention. He would think of her as a victim, as a martyr, as a sacrifice.
It was a deceit—a small deceit; it looked so harmless, too—so innocent, almost humorous, half ridiculous; and she was a woman, and she could not put it away. Love, love, love! It would be her excuse and her forgiveness. She had appealed to Philip himself and in vain. Now she would pretend to go on with her old relations. It was so little to do, and the effects were so certain. In jealousy and in terror Philip would step out of himself and claim her.
She had craft—all hungry things have craft. She had inklings of ambition, a certain love of luxury, and desire to be a lady. To get Philip was to get everything. Love would be satisfied, ambition fulfilled, the aims of refinement reached. Why not risk the great stake?
Nancy came to tidy the room, and Kate said, “Where’s Pete all this time, I wonder?”
“Sitting in the fire-seat this half-hour,” said Nancy. “I don’t know in the world what’s come over the man. He’s rocking and moaning there like a cow licking a dead calf.”
“Would he like to come up, think you?”
“Don’t ask the man twice if you want him to say no,” said Nancy.
Blushing and stammering, and trying to straighten his black curls, Pete came at Nancy’s call.
Kate had few qualms. The wound she had received from Philip had left her conscienceless towards Pete. Yet she turned her head a little sideways as she welcomed him.
“Are you better, then, Kirry?” said Pete timidly.
“I’m nearly as well as ever,” she answered.
“You are, though?” said Pete. “Then you’ll be down soon, it’s like, eh?”
“I hope so, Pete—quite soon.”
“And fit for anything, now—yes?”
“Oh, yes, fit for anything.”
Pete laughed from his heart like a boy. “I’ll take a slieu round to Ballure and tell Philip immadiently.”
“Philip?” said Kate, with a look of inquiry.
“He was saying this morning you wouldn’t be equal to it, Kirry.”
“Equal to what, Pete?”
“Getting—going—having—that’s to say—well, you know, putting a sight on the parson himself one of these days, that’s the fact.” And, to cover his confusion, Pete laughed till the scraas of the roof began to snip.
There was a moment’s pause, and then Kate said, with a cough and a stammer and her head aside, “Is that so very tiring, Pete?”
Pete leapt from his chair and laughed again like a man demented. “D’ye say so, Kitty? The word then, darling—the word in my ear—as soft as soft——”
He was leaning over the bed, but Kate drew away from him, and Nancy pulled him back, saying, “Get off with you, you goosey gander! What for should you bother a poor girl to know if sugar’s sweet, and if she’s willing to change a sweetheart for a husband?”
It was done. One act—nay, half an act; a word—nay, no word at all, but only silence. The daring venture was afoot.
Grannie came up with Kate’s dinner that day, kissed her on both cheeks, felt them hot, wagged her head wisely, and whispered, “I know—you needn’t tell me!”
The last hymn was sung, Cæsar came home from chapel, changed back from his best to his work-day clothes, and then there was talking and laughing in the kitchen amid the jingling of plates and the vigorous rattling of knives and forks.
“Phil must be my best man,” said Pete. “He’ll be back to Douglas now, but I’ll get you to write me a line, Cæsar, and ask him.”
“Do you hold with long engagements, Pete?” said Grannie.
“A week,” said Pete, with the air of a judge; “not much less anyway—not of a rule, you know.”
“You goose,” cried Nancy, “it must be three Sundays for the banns.”
“Then John the Clerk shall get them going this evening,” said Pete. “Nancy had the pull of me there, Grannie. Not being in the habit of getting married, I clane forgot about the banns.”
John the Clerk came in the afternoon, and there was some lusty disputation.
“We must have bridesmaids and wedding-cakes, Pete—it’s only proper,” said Nancy.
“Aw, yes, and tobacco and rum, and everything respectable,” said Pete.
“And the parson—mind it’s the parson now,” said Grannie; “none of their nasty high-bailiffs. I don’t know in the world how a dacent woman can rest in her bed——”
“Aw, the parson, of coorse—and the parson’s wife, maybe,” said Pete.
“I think I can manage it for you for to-morrow fortnight,” said John the Clerk impressively, and there was some clapping of hands, quickly suppressed by Cæsar, with mutterings of—
“Popery! clane Popery, sir! Can’t a person commit matrimony without a parson bothering a man?”
Then Cæsar squared his elbows across the table and wrote the letter to Philip. Pete never stood sponsor for anything so pious.
“Respected and Honoured Sir,—I write first to thee that it hath been borne in on my mind (strong to believe the Lord hath spoken) to marry on Katherine Cregeen, only beloved daughter of Cæsar Cregeen, a respectable man and a local preacher, in whose house I tarry, being free to use all his means of grace. Wedding to-morrow fortnight at Kirk Christ, Lezayre, eleven o’clock forenoon, and the Lord make it profitable to my soul.—With love and-reverence, thy servant, and I trust the Lord’s, Peter Quilliam.”
Having written this, Cæsar read it aloud with proper elevation of pitch. Grannie wiped her eyes, and Pete said, “Indited beautiful, sir—only you haven’t asked him.”
“My pen’s getting crosslegs,” said Cæsar, “but that’ll do for an N.B.”
“N. B.—Will you come for my best man?”
Then there was more talk and more laughter. “You’re a lucky fellow, Pete,” said Pete himself. “My sailor, you are, though. She’s as sweet as clover with the bumbees humming over it, and as warm as a gorse bush when the summer’s gone.”
And then, affection being infectious beyond all maladies known to mortals, Nancy Joe was heard to say, “I believe in my heart I must be having a man myself before long, or I’ll be losing the notion.”
“D’ye hear that, boys?” shouted Pete. “Don’t all spake at once.”
“Too late—I’ve lost it,” said Nancy, and there was yet more laughter.
To put an end to this frivolity, Cæsar raised a hymn, and they sang it together with cheerful voices. Then Cæsar prayed appropriately, John the Clerk improvised responses, and Pete went out and sat on the bottom step in the lobby and smoked up the stairs, so that Kate in the bedroom should not feel too lonely.
Meanwhile Kate, overwhelmed with shame, humiliation, self-reproach, horror of herself, and dread of everything, lay with cheeks ablaze and her head buried in the bedclothes. She had no longer any need to pretend to be sick; she was now sick in reality. Fate had threatened her. She had challenged it. They were gambling together. The stake was her love, her life, her doom.
By the next day she had worked herself into a nervous fever. Dr. Mylechreest came to see her, unbidden of the family. He was one of those tall, bashful men who, in their eagerness to be gone, seem always to have urgent business somewhere else. After a single glance at her and a few muttered syllables, he went off hurriedly, as if some one were waiting for him round the corner. But on going downstairs he met Cæsar, who asked him how he found her.
“Feverish, very; keep her in bed,” he answered. “As for this marriage, it must be put off. She’s exciting herself, and I won’t answer for the consequences. The thing has fallen too suddenly. To tell you the truth—this way, Mr. Cregeen—I am afraid of a malady of the brain.”
“Tut, tut, doctor,” said Cæsar.
“Very well, if you know better. Good-day! But let the wedding wait. Traa dy liooar—time enough, Mr. Cregeen. A right good Manx maxim for once. Put it off—put it off!”
“It’s not my putting off, doctor. What can you do with a man that’s wanting to be married? You can’t bridle a horse with pincers.”
But when the doctor was gone, Cæsar said to Grannie, “Cut out the bridesmaids and the wedding-cakes and the fiddles and the foolery, and let the girl be married immadiently.”
“Dear heart alive, father, what’s all the hurry?” said Grannie.
“And Lord bless my soul, what’s all the fuss?” said Cæsar. “First one objecting this, then another objecting that, as if everybody was intarmined to stop the thing. It’s going on, I’m telling you; d’ye hear me? There’s many a slip—but no matter. What’s written with the pen can’t be cut out with the axe, so lave it alone, the lot of you.”
Kate was in an ecstasy of exultation. The doctor had been sent by Philip. It was Philip who was trying to stop the marriage. He would never be able to bear it; he would claim her soon. It might be to-day, it might be to-morrow, it might be the next day. The odds were with her. Fate was being worsted. Thus she clung to her blind faith that Philip would intervene.
That was Monday, and on Tuesday morning Philip came again. He was very quiet, but the heart has ears, and Kate heard him. Pete’s letter had reached him, and she could see his white face. After a few words of commonplace conversation, he drew Pete out of the house. What had he got to say? Was he thinking that Pete must be stopped at all hazards? Was he about to make a clean breast of it? Was he going to tell all? Impossible! He could not; he dared not; it was her secret.
Pete came back to the house alone, looking serious and even sad. Kate heard him exchange a few words with her father as they passed through the lobby to the kitchen. Cæsar was saying—
“Stand on your own head, sir, that’s my advice to you.”
In the intensity of her torment she could not rest. She sent for Pete.
“What about Philip?” she said. “Is he coming? What has he been telling you?”
“Bad news, Kate—very bad,” said Pete.
There was a fearful silence for a moment. It was like the awful hush at the instant when the tide turns, and you feel as if something has happened to the world. Then Kate hardened her face and said, “What is it?”
“He’s ill, and wants to go away in a week. He can’t come to the wedding,” said Pete.
“Is that all?” said Kate. Her heart leapt for joy. She could not help it—she laughed. She saw through Philip’s excuse. It was only his subterfuge—he thought Pete would not marry without him.
“Aw, but you never seen the like, though, Kirry,” said Pete; “he was that white and wake and narvous. Work and worry, that’s the size of it. There’s nothing done in this world without paying the price of it, and that’s as true as gospel. ‘The sea’s calling me, Pete,’ says he, and then he laughed, but it was the same as if a ghost itself was grinning.”
In the selfishness of her enfeebled spirit, Kate still rejoiced. Philip was suffering. It was another assurance that he would come to her relief.
“When does he go?” she asked.
“On Tuesday,” answered Pete.
“Isn’t there a way of getting a Bishop’s license to marry in a week?” said Kate.
“But will you, though?” said Pete, with a shout of joy.
“Ask Philip first. No use changing if Philip can’t come.”
“He shall—he must. I won’t take No.”
“You may kiss me now,” said Kate, and Pete plucked her up into his arms and kissed her.
She was heart-dead to him yet, from the wound that Philip had dealt her, but at the touch of his lips a feeling of horror seemed to cramp all her limbs. With a shudder she crept down in the bed and hid her face, hating herself, loathing herself, wishing herself dead.
He stood a moment by her side, crying like a big boy in his great happiness. “I don’t know in the world what she sees in me to be so fond of me, but that’s the way with the women always, God bless them!”
She did not lift her face, and he stepped quietly to the door. Half-way through he turned about and raised one arm over his head. “God’s rest and God’s peace be with you, and may the man that gets you keep a clane heart and a clane hand, and be fit for the good woman he’s won for his wife.”
At the next minute he went tearing down the stairs, and the kitchen rang with his laughter.
Fate scored one. Kate had been telling herself that Philip was tired of her, that he did not love her any longer, that having taken all he could take he desired to be done with her, that he was trying to forget her, and that she was a drag upon him, when suddenly she remembered the tholthan, and bethought herself for the first time of a possible contingency. Why had she not thought of it before? Why had he never thought of it? If it should come to pass! The prospect did not appal her; it did not overwhelm her with confusion or oppress her with shame; it did not threaten to fall like a thunderbolt; the thought of it came down like an angel’s whisper.
She was not afraid. It was only an idea, only a possibility, only a dream of consequences, but at one bound it brought her so much nearer to Philip. It gave her a right to him. How dare he make her suffer so? She would not permit him to leave her. He was her husband, and he must cling to her, come what would. Across the void that had divided them a mysterious power drew them together. She was he, and he was she, and they were one, for—who knows?—who could say?—perhaps Nature herself had willed it.
Thus the first effect of the new thought upon Kate was frenzied exultation. She had only one thing to do now. She had only to go to Philip as Bathsheba went to David. True, she could not say what Bathsheba said. She had no certainty, but her case was no less strong. “Have you never thought of what may possibly occur?” This is what she would say now to Philip. And Philip would say to her, “Dearest, I have never thought of that. Where was my head that I never reflected?” Then, in spite of his plans, in spite of his pledge to Pete, in spite of the world, in spite of himself—yea, in spite of his own soul if it stood between them—he would cling to her; she was sure of it—she could swear to it—he could not resist.
“He will believe whatever I tell him,” she thought, and she would say, “Come to me, Philip; I am frightened.” In the torture of her palpitating heart she would have rejoiced at that moment if she could have been sure that she was in the position of what the world calls a shameful woman. With that for her claim she could see herself going to Philip and telling him, her head on his breast, whispering sweetly the great secret—the wondrous news. And then the joy, the rapture, the long kiss of love! “Mine, mine, mine! he is mine at last!”
That could not be quite so; she was not so happy as Bathsheba; she was not sure, but her right was the same for all that. Oh, it was joyful, it was delicious!
The little cunning arts of her sex, the small deceits in which she had disguised herself fell away from her now. She said to herself, “I will stop the nonsense about the marriage with Pete.” It was mean, it was foolish, it was miserable trifling, it was wicked, it was a waste of life—above all, it was doing a great, great wrong to her love of Philip! How could she ever have thought of it?
Next morning she was up and was dressing when Grannie came into the room with a cup of tea. “I feel so much better,” she said “that I think I’ll go to Douglas by the coach today, mother.”
“Do, bogh,” said Grannie cheerfully, “and Pete shall go with you.”
“Oh, no; I must be quite alone, mother.”
“Aw, aw! A lil errand, maybe! Shopping is it? Presents, eh? Take your tay, then.” And Grannie rolled the blind, saying, “A beautiful morning you’ll have for it, too. I can see the spire as plain as plain.” Then, turning about, “Did you hear the bells this morning, Kitty?”
“Why, what bells, mammy?” said Kate, through a mouthful of bread and butter.
“The bells for Christian Killip. Her old sweetheart took her to church at last. He wouldn’t get rest at your father till he did—and her baby two years for Christmas. But what d’ye think, now? Robbie left her at the church door, and he’s off by the Ramsey packet for England. Aw, dear, he did, though. ‘You can make me marry her,’ said he, ‘but you can’t make me live with her,’ he said, and he was away down the road like the dust.”
“I don’t think I’ll go to Douglas to-day, mother,” said Kate in a broken voice. “I’m not so very well, after all.”
“Aw, the bogh!” said Grannie. “Making too sure of herself, was she? It’s the way with them all when they’re mending.”
With cheerful protestations Grannie helped her back to bed, and then went off with an anxious face to tell Cæsar that she was more ill than ever.
She was ill indeed; but her worst illness was of the heart. “If I go to him and tell him,” she thought, “he will marry me—yes. No fear that he will leave me at the church door or elsewhere. He will stay with me. We will be man and wife to the last. The world will know nothing. But I will know. As long as I live I will remember that he only sacrificed himself to repair a fault That shall never be—never, never!”
Cæsar came up in great alarm. He seemed to be living in hourly dread that some obstacle would arise at the last moment to stop the marriage. “Chut, woman!” he said play-. fully. “Have a good heart, Kitty. The sun’s not going down on you yet at all.”
That night there were loud voices from the bar-room. The talk was of the marriage which had taken place in the morning, and of its strange and painful sequel. John the Clerk was saying, “But you’d be hearing of the by-child, it’s like?”
“Never a word,” said somebody.
“Not heard of it, though? Fetching the child to the wedding to have the bad name taken off it—no? They were standing the lil bogh—-it’s only three—two is it, Grannie, only two?—well, they were standing the lil thing under its mother’s perricut while the sarvice was saying.”
“You don’t say!”
“Aw, truth enough, sir! It’s the ould Manx way of legitimating. The parsons are knowing nothing of it, but I’ve seen it times.”
“John’s right,” said Mr. Jelly; “and I can tell you more—it was just that the man went to church for.”
“Wouldn’t trust,” said John the Clerk. “The woman wasn’t getting much of a husband out of it anyway.”
“No,” said Pete—he had not spoken before—”but the child was getting the name of its father, though.”
“That’s not mountains of thick porridge, sir,” said somebody. “Bobbie’s gone. What’s the good of a father if he’s doing nothing to bring you up?”
“Ask your son if you’ve got any of the sort,” said Pete; “some of you have. Ask me. I know middling well what it is to go through the world without a father’s name to my back. If your lad is like myself, he’s knowing it early and he’s knowing it late. He’s knowing it when he’s saying his bits of prayers atop of the bed in the gable loft: ‘God bless mother—and grandmother,’ maybe—there’s never no ‘father’ in his little texes. And he’s knowing it when he’s growing up to a lump of a lad and going for a trade, and the beast of life is getting the grip of him. Ten to one he comes to be a waistrel then, and, if it’s a girl instead, a hundred to nothing she turns out a—well, worse. Only a notion, is it? Just a parzon’s lie, eh? Having your father’s name is nothing—no? That’s what the man says. But ask the child, and shut your mouth for a fool.”
There was a hush and a hum after that, and Kate, who had reached from the bed to open the door, clutched it with a feverish grasp.
“But Christian Killip is nothing but a trollop, anyway, sir,” said Cæsar.
“Every cat is black in the night, father—the girl’s in trouble,” said Pete. “No, no! If I’d done wrong by a woman, and she was having a child by me, I’d marry her if she’d take me, though I’d come to hate her like sin itself.”
Grannie in the kitchen was wiping her eyes at these brave words, but Kate in the bedroom was tossing in a delirium of wrath. “Never, never, never!” she thought.
Oh, yes, Philip would marry her if she imposed herself upon him, if she hinted at a possible contingency. He, too, was a brave man; he also had a lofty soul—he would not shrink. But no, not for the wealth of worlds.
Philip loved her, and his love alone should bring him to her side. No other compulsion should be put upon him, neither the thought of her possible future position, nor of the consequences to another. It was the only justice, the only safety, the only happiness now or in the time to come.
“He shall marry me for my sake,” she thought, “for my own sake—my own sake only.”
Thus in the wild disorder of her soul—the tempest of conflicting passions—her pride barred up the one great way.
There was no help for it after all—she must go on as she had begun, with the old scheme, the old chance, the old gambling hazard. Heart-sick and ashamed, waiting for Philip, and listening to every step, she kept her room two days longer. Then Cæsar came and rallied her.
“Gough bless me, but nobody will credit it,” he said. “The marriage for Monday, and the bride in bed a Wednesday. People will say it isn’t coming off at all.”
This alarmed her. It partly explained why Philip did not come. If he thought there was no danger of the marriage, he would be in no hurry to intervene. Next day (Thursday) she struggled up and dressed in a light wrapper, feeling weak and nervous, and looking pale and white like apple-blossom nipped by frost. Pete would have carried her downstairs, but she would not have it. They established her among a pile of cushions before a fire in the parlour, with its bowl of sea-birds’ eggs that had the faint, unfamiliar smell—its tables of old china that shook and rang slightly with every step and sound. The kitchen was covered with the litter of dressmakers preparing for the wedding. There were bodices to try on, and decisions to give on points of style. Kate agreed to everything. In a weak and toneless voice she kept on telling them to do as they thought hest. Only when she heard that Pete was to pay did she assert her will, and that was to limit the dresses to one.
“Sakes alive now, Kirry,” cried Nancy, “that’s what I call ruining a good husband—the man was willing to buy frocks for a boarding-school.”
Pete came, sat on a stool at her feet, and told stories. They were funny stories of his life abroad, and now and again there came bursts of laughter from the kitchen, where they were straining their necks to catch his words through the doors, which they kept ajar. But Kate hardly listened. She showed signs of impatience sometimes, and made quick glances around when the door opened, as if expecting somebody. On recovering herself at these moments, she found Pete looking up at her with the big, serious, moist eyes of a dog.
He began to tell of the house he had taken, to excuse himself for not consulting her, and to describe the progress of the furnishing.
“I’ve put it all in the hands of Cannell & Quayle, Kitty,” he said, “and they’re doing it beautiful. Marble slabs, bless you, like a butcher’s counter; carpets as soft as daisies, and looking-glasses as tall as a man.”
Kate had not heard him. She was trying to remember all she knew of the courts of the island—where they were held, and on what days.
“Have you seen Philip lately?” she asked.
“Not since Monday,” said Pete. “He’s in Douglas, working like mad to be here on Monday, God bless him!”
“What did he say when he heard we had changed the day?”
“Wanted to get out of it first. ‘I’m sailing on Tuesday,’ said he.”
“Did you tell him that I proposed it?”
“Trust me for not forgetting that at all. ‘Aw, then,’ says he, ‘there’s no choice left,’ he says.”
Kate’s pale face became paler, the dark circles about her eyes grew yet more dark. “I think I’ll go back to bed, mother,” she said in the same toneless voice.
Pete helped her to the foot of the stairs. The big, moist eyes were looking at her constantly. She found it hard to keep an equal countenance.
“But will you be fit for it, darling?” said Pete.
“Why, of course she’ll be fit, sir,” said Cæsar. “What girl is ever more than middling the week before she’s married?”
Next day she persuaded her father to take her to Douglas. She had little errands there that could not be done in Ramsey. The morning was fine but cold. Pete helped her up in the gig, and they drove away. If only she could see Philip, if only Philip could see her, he would know by the look of her face that the marriage was not of her making—that compulsion of some sort was being put on her. She spent four hours going from shop to shop, lingering in the streets, but seeing nothing of Philip. Her step was slow and weary, her features were pinched and starved, but Cæsar could scarcely get her out of the town. At length the daylight began to fail, and then she yielded to his importunities.
“How short the days are now,” she said with a sigh, as they ran into the country.
“Yes, they are a cock’s stride shorter in September,” said Cæsar; “but when a woman once gets shopping, Midsummer day itself won’t do—she’s wanting the land of the midnight sun.”
Pete lifted her out of the gig in darkness at the door of the “Fairy,” and, his great arms being about her, he carried her into the house and set her down in the fire-seat. She would have struggled to her feet if she had been able; she felt something like repulsion at his touch; but he looked at her with the mute eloquence of love, and she was ashamed.
The house was full of gossips that night. They talked of the marriage customs of old times. One described the “pay-weddings,” where the hat went round, and every guest gave something towards the cost of the breakfast and the expenses of beginning housekeeping—rude forefather of the practice of the modern wedding present. Another pictured the irregular marriages made in public-houses in the days when the island had three breweries and thirty drinking shops to every thousand of its inhabitants. The publican laid two sticks crosswise on the floor, and said to the bride and bridegroom—
“Hop over the sticks and lie crossed on the floor, And you’re man and wife for nevermore.”
There was some laughter at this, but Kate sat in the fire-seat and sipped her tea in silence, and Pete said quietly, “Nothing to laugh at, though. I remember a girl over Foxal way that was married to a man like that, and then he went off to Kinsale, and got kept for the herring riots—d’ye mind them? She was a strapping girl, though, and when the man was gone the boys came bothering her, first one and then another, and good ones among them too. And honour bright for all, they were for taking her to the parzon about right But no! Did they think she was for committing beggamy? She was married to one man, and wasn’t that enough for a dacent girl anyway. And so she wouldn’t and she didn’t, and last of all her own boy came back, and they lived together man and wife, and what for shouldn’t they?”
This question from the man who was on the point of going to church was received with shouts of laughter, through which the voice of Grannie rose in affectionate remonstrance, saying, “Aw, Pete, it’s ter’ble to hear you, bogh.”
“What’s there ter’ble about that, Grannie?” said Pete. “Isn’t it the Almighty and not the parzon that makes the marriage?”
“Aw, boy veen, boy veen,” cried Grannie, “you was used to be a good man, but you have fell off very bad.”
Kate was in a fever of eagerness. She wanted to open her heart to Pete, to beg him to spare her, to tell him that it was impossible that they should ever marry. Pete would see that Philip was her husband by every true law, human and divine. In this mood she lived through much of the following day, Friday, tossing and turning in bed, for the exhaustion of the day in Douglas had confined her to her room again.
In the evening she came downstairs, and was established in the fire-seat as before. There were four or five old women in the kitchen spinning yarn for a set of blankets which Grannie intended for a wedding present. “When the day’s work was nearly done, two or three old men, the old husbands of the old women, came to carry their wheels home again. Then, as the wheels whirred for the last of the twist, Pete set the old crones to tell stories of old times.
“Tell us of the days when you were young, Anne,” said Pete to an ancient dame of eighty. Her husband of eighty-four sat sucking his pipe by her side.
“Well,” said old Anne, stretching her arms to the yarn, “I was as near going foreign, same as yourself, sir, just as near, now, as makes no matter. It was the very day I married this man, and his brother was making a start for Austrillya. Jemmy was my ould sweetheart, only I had given him up because he was always stealing my pocket-handkerchers. But he came that morning and tapped at my window, and ‘Will you come, Anne?’ says he, and I whipped on my perricut and stole out and down to the quay with him. But my heart was losing me when I saw the white horses on the water, and home I came and went to church with this one instead.”
While old Anne told her story her old husband opened his mouth wider and wider, until the pipe-shank dropped out of his toothless gums on to his waistcoat. Then he stretched his left arm and brought down his clenched hand with a bang on to her shoulder.
“And have you been living with me better than sixty years,” said he, “and never telling me that before?”
Pete tried to pacify his ancient jealousy, but it was not to be appeased, and he shouldered the wheel and hobbled off, saying, “And I sent out two pound five to put a stone on the man’s grave!”
There was loud laughter when the old couple were gone, but Pete said, nevertheless, “A sacret’s a sacret, though, and the ould lady had no right to tell it. It was the dead man’s sacret too, and she’s fouled the ould man’s memory. If a person’s done wrong, the best thing he can do next is to say darned little about it.”
Kate rose and went off to bed. Another door had been barred to her, and she felt sick and faint.
The next day was Saturday. Kate remembered that Philip came to Ballure on Saturdays. She felt sure that he would come to Sulby also. Let him only set eyes on her, and he would divine the trouble that had taken the colour out of her cheeks. Then he would speak to Pete and to her father; he would deliver her; he would take everything upon himself. Thus all day long, like a white-eyed gambler who has staked his last, she waited and listened and watched. At breakfast she said to herself, “He will come this morning.” At dinner, “He will come this evening.” At supper, “He will come tonight.”
But Philip did not come, and she grew hysterical as well as restless. She watched the clock; the minutes passed with feet of lead, but the hours with wings of fire. She was now like a criminal looking for a reprieve. Every time the clock warned to strike, she felt one hour nearer her doom.
The strain was wearing her out. She reproached Philip for leaving her to this cruel uncertainty, and she suffered the pangs of one who tries at the same time to love and to hate. Then she reproached herself with altering the date of the marriage, and excused Philip on the grounds of her haste. She felt like a witch who was burning by her own spell. Hope was failing her, and Will was breaking down as well. Nevertheless, she determined that the wedding should be postponed.
That was on Saturday night. On Sunday morning she had gone one step farther. The last pitiful shred of expectation that Philip would intervene seemed then to be lost, and she had resolved that, come what would, she should not marry at all. No need to appeal to Pete; no necessity to betray the secret of Philip. All she had to do was to say she would not go on with the wedding, and no power on earth should compel her.
With this determination, and a feeling of immense relief, she went downstairs. Cæsar was coming in from the preaching-room, and Pete from the new house at Ramsey. They sat down to dinner. After dinner she would speak out. Cæsar sharpened the carving-knife on the steel, and said, “We’ve taken the girl Christian Killip back to communion to-day.”
“Poor thing,” said Grannie, “pity she was ever put out of it, though.”
“Maybe so,—maybe no,” said Cæsar. “Necessary anyway; one scabby sheep infects the flock.”
“And has marriage daubed grace on the poor sheep’s sore then, Cæsar?” said Pete.
“She’s Mistress Robbie Teare and a dacent woman, sir,” said Cæsar, digging into the beef, “and that’s all the truck a Christian church has got with it.”
Kate did not eat her dinner that day, and neither did she speak out as she had intended. A supernatural power seemed to have come down at the last moment and barred up the one remaining pathway of escape. She was in the track of the storm. The tempest was ready to fall on her. Where could she fly for shelter?
What her father had said of the girl had revealed her life to her in the light of her relation to Philip. The thought of the possible contingency which she had foreseen with so much joy, as so much power, had awakened the consciousness of her moral position. She was a fallen woman! What else was she? And if the contingency befell, what would become of her? In the intensity of her father’s pietistic views the very shadow of shame would overwhelm his household, overthrow his sect, and uproot his religious pretensions. Kate trembled at the possibility of such a disaster coming through her. She saw herself being driven from house and home. Where could she fly? And though she fled away, would she not still be the cause of sorrow and disgrace to all whom she left behind—her mother, her father, Pete, everybody?
If she could only tear out the past, at least she could stop this marriage. Or if she had been a man she could stop it, for a man may sin and still look to the future with a firm face. But she was a woman, and a woman’s acts may be her own, but their consequences are beyond her. Oh, the misery of being a woman! She asked herself what she could do, and there was no answer. She could not break the web of circumstances. Her situation might be false, it might be dishonourable, but there was no escape from it. There was no gleam of hope anywhere.
Late that night—Sunday night—they were sitting together in the kitchen, Kate in the fire-seat as usual, Pete on the stool by the turf closet, smoking up the chimney, Cæsar reading aloud, Grannie listening, and Nancy cooking the supper, when the porch door burst open and somebody entered. Kate rose to her feet with a startled cry of joy, looked round eagerly, and then sat down again covered with confusion.
It was the girl Christian Killip, a pale, weak, frightened creature, with the mouth and eyes of a hare.
“Is Mr. Quilliam here?” she asked.
“Here’s the man himself, Christian,” said Grannie. “What do you want with him?”
“Oh, God bless you, sir,” said the girl to Pete, “God bless you for ever and ever.”
Then turning back to Grannie, she explained in woman’s fashion, with many words, that somebody unknown had sent her twenty pounds, for the child, by post, the day before, and she had only now guessed who it must be when John the Clerk had told her what Pete had said a week before.
Pete grunted and glimed, smoked up the chimney, and said, “That’ll do, ma’am, that’ll do. Don’t believe all you hear. John says more than his Amens, anyway.”
“I’m axing your pardon, miss,” said the girl to Kate, “but I couldn’t help coming—I couldn’t really—no, I couldn’t,” and then she began to cry.
“Where’s that child?” said Pete, heaving up to his feet with a ferocious look. “What! you mane to say you’ve left the lil thing alone, asleep? Go back to it then immajent. Good night!”
“Good night, sir, and God bless you, and when you’re married to-morrow, God bless your wife as well!”
“That’ll do—that’ll do,” said Pete, backing her to the porch.
“You desarve a good woman, sir, and may the Lord be good to you both.”
“Tut! tut!” said Pete, and he tut-tutted her out of the house.
She smoothed her baby’s hair more tenderly than ever that night, and kissed it again and again.
Kate could scarcely breathe, she could barely see. Her pride and her will had broken down utterly. This greathearted man loved her. He would lay down his life if need be to save her. To morrow he would marry her. Here, then, was her rock of refuge—this strong man by her side.
She could struggle against fate no longer. It’s invisible hand was pushing her on. It’s blind power was dragging her. If Philip would not come to claim her she must marry Pete.
And Pete? She meant no harm to Pete. She had not yet thought of things from Pete’s point of view. He was like the camel-bag in the desert to the terrified wayfarer when the sand-cloud breaks oyer him. He flies to it. It shelters him. But what of the camel itself, with its head in the storm? Until the storm is over he does not think of that.
Meantime Philip himself was in the throes of his own agony. At the news of Kate’s illness he was overwhelmed with remorse, and when he inquired if she had been delirious, he was oppressed with a sense of meanness never felt before. At his meeting with Pete he realised for the first time to what depths his duplicity had degraded him. He had prided himself on being a man of honour, and he was suddenly thrown out of the paths in which he could walk honourably.
When the first shock of Kate’s disaster was over, he remembered the interview with the Governor. The Deemstership burnt in his mind with a growing fever of desire, but he did not apply for it. He did not even mention it to Auntie Nan. She heard of his prospects from Peter Christian Balla-whaine, who first set foot in her house on this errand of congratulation. The sweet old soul was wildly excited. All the hopes of her life were about to be realised, the visions and the dreams were coming true. Philip was going to regain what his father had lost. Had he made his application yet? No? He would, though; it was his duty.
But Philip could not apply for the Deemstership. To sit down in cold blood and write to the Home Secretary while Kate was lying sick in bed would be too much like asking the devil’s wages for sacrificing her. Then came Pete with his talk of the wedding. That did not really alarm him. It was only the last revolution of the old wheel that had been set spinning before Pete went away. Kate would not consent. They had taken her consent for granted. He felt easy, calm, and secure.
Next came his old master, the college friend of his father, now promoted to the position of Clerk of the Polls. He was proud of his pupil, and had learnt that Philip was first favourite with the Governor.
“I always knew it,” he said. “I did, ma’am, I did. The first time I set eyes on him, thinks I, ‘Here comes the makings of the best lawyer in the island,’ and by ——— he’s not going to disappoint me either.”
The good fellow was a noisy, hearty, robustious creature, a bachelor, and when talking of the late Deemster, he said women were usually the chief obstacles in a man’s career. Then he begged Auntie Nan’s pardon, but the old lady showed no anger. She agreed that it had been so in some cases. Young men should be careful what stumbling-blocks they set up in the way of their own progress.
Philip listened in silence, and was conscious, through all the unselfish counselling, of a certain cynical bitterness. Still he did not make application for the Deemstership. Then came Cæsar’s letter announcing the marriage, and even fixing a date for it. This threw him into a fit of towering indignation. He was certain of undue pressure. They were forcing the girl. It was his duty to stop the marriage. But how? There was one clear course, but that course he could not take. He could not go back on his settled determination that he must not, should not marry the girl himself. Only one thing was left—to rely on Kate. She would never consent. Not being able to marry him, she would marry no man. She would do as he was doing—she would suffer and stand alone.
By this time Philip’s love, which, in spite of himself, had grown cool since the Melliah, and in his fierce battle with his worldly aims, suddenly awakened to fresh violence at the approach of another man. But his ambition fought with his love, and he began to ask himself if it made, any difference after all in this matter of Kate whether he took the Deemstership or left it. Kate was recovering; he had nothing to reproach himself with, and it would be folly to sacrifice the ambition of a lifetime to the love of a woman who could never be his, a woman he could never marry. At that he wrote his letter to the Home Secretary. It was a brilliant letter of its kind, simple, natural, strong, and judicious. He had a calm assurance that nothing so good would leave the island, yet he could not bring himself to post it. Some quiverings of the old tenderness came back as he held it in his hand, some visions of Kate, with her twitching lips, her passionate eyes, some whisperings of their smothered love.
Then came Pete again with the decisive blow. Kate had consented. There was no longer any room for doubt. His former indignation seemed almost comic, his confidence absurd. Kate was willing to marry Pete, and after all, what right had he to blame her? What right had he to stop the marriage? He had wronged the girl enough already. A good man came and offered her his love. She was going to take it. How should he dare to stop her from marrying another, being unable to marry her himself?
That night he posted his letter to the Home Secretary, and calmed the gnawings of his love with dreams of ambition. He would regain the place of his father; he would revive the traditions of his grandfather; the Christians should resume their ancient standing in the Isle of Man; the last of their race should be a strong man and a just one. No, he would never marry; he would live alone, a quiet life, a peaceful one, slightly tinged with melancholy, yet not altogether unhappy, not without cheer.
Under all other emotions, strengthening and supporting him, was a secret bitterness towards Kate—a certain contempt of her fickleness, her lightness, her shallow love, her readiness to be off with the old love and on with the new. There was a sort of pride in his own higher type of devotion, his sterner passion. Pete invited him to the wedding, but he would not go, he would invent some excuse.
Then came the change of the day to suit his supposed convenience, and also Kate’s own invitation. Very well, be it so. Kate was defying him. Her invitation was a challenge. He would take it; he would go to the wedding. And if their eyes should meet, he knew whose eyes must fall.
Early next day the sleeping morning was awakened by the sound of a horn. It began somewhere in the village, wandered down the glen, crossed the bridge, plodded over the fields, and finally coiled round the house of the bride in thickening groans of discord. This restless spirit in the grey light was meant as herald of the approaching wedding. It came from the husky lungs of Mr. Jonaique Jelly.
Before daylight “The Manx Fairy” was already astir. Somewhere in the early reaches of the dawn the house had its last dusting down at the hands of Nancy Joe. Then Grannie finished, on hearth and griddle, the baking of her cakes. After that, some of the neighbours came and carried off to their own fires the beef, mutton, chickens, and ducks intended for the day’s dinner. It was woman’s work that was to the fore, and all idle men were hustled out of the way.
Towards nine o’clock breakfast was swallowed standing. Then everybody began to think of dressing. In this matter the men had to be finished off before the women could begin. Already they were heard bellowing for help from unseen regions upstairs. Grannie took Cæsar in hand. Pete was in charge of Nancy Joe.
It was found at the last moment that Pete had forgotten to provide himself with a white shirt. He had nothing to be married in except the flannel one in which he came home from Africa. This would never do. It wasn’t proper, it wasn’t respectable. There was no choice but to borrow a shirt of Cæsar’s. Cæsar’s shirt was of ancient pattern, and Pete was shy of taking it. “Take it, or you’ll have none,” said Nancy, and she pushed him back into his room. When he emerged from it he walked with a stiff neck down the stairs in a collar that reached to his ears at either side, and stood out at his cheeks like the wings of a white bat, with two long sharp points on the level of his eyes, which he seemed to be watching warily to avoid the stab of their ironed starch. At the same moment Cæsar appeared in duck trousers, a flowered waistcoat, a swallow-tail coat, and a tall hat of rough black beaver.
The kitchen was full of men and women by this time, and groups of young fellows were gathered on the road outside, some with horses, saddled and bridled for the bride’s race home after the ceremony; others with guns ready loaded for firing as the procession appeared; and others again with lines of print handkerchiefs, which, as substitutes for flags, they were hanging from tree to tree.
At every moment the crowd became greater outside, and the company inside more dense. John the Clerk called on his way to church, and whispered Pete that everything was ready, and they were going to sing a beautiful psalm.
“It isn’t many a man’s wedding I would be taking the same trouble with,” said John. “When you are coming down the alley give a sight up, sir, and you’ll see me.”
“He’s only a poor thing,” said Mr. Jelly in Pete’s ear as John the Clerk went off. “No more music in the man than my ould sow. Did you hear the horn this morning, sir? Never got up so early for a wedding before. I’ll be giving you ‘the Black and the Grey’ going into the church.”
Grannie came down in a gigantic bonnet like a half-moon, with her white cap visible beneath it; and Nancy Joe appeared behind her, be-ribboned out of all recognition, and taller by many inches for the turret of feathers and flowers on the head that was usually bare.
Then the church bells began to peal, and Cæsar made a prolonged A—hm! and said in a large way, “Has the carriage arrived?”
“It’s coming over by the bridge now,” said somebody at the door, and at the next moment a covered wagonette drew up at the porch.
“All ready?” asked Cæsar.
“Stop, sir,” said Pete, and then, turning to Nancy Joe, “Is it glad a man should be on his wedding-day, Nancy?”
“Why, of coorse, you goose. What else?” she answered.
“Well, no man can be glad in a shirt like this,” said Pete; “I’m going back to take it off.”
Two minutes afterwards he reappeared in his flannel one, under his suit of blue pilot, looking simple and natural, and a man every inch of him.
“Now call the bride,” said Cæsar.
Kate had been kept awake during the dark hours with a sound in her ears that was like the measured ringing of far-off bells. When the daylight came she slept a troubled sleep, and when she awoke she had a sense of stupefaction, as if she had taken a drug, and was not yet recovered from the effects of it. Nancy came bouncing into her room and crying, “It’s your wedding-day, Kitty!” She answered by repeating mechanically, “It’s your wedding day, Kitty.”
There was an expression of serenity on her face; she even smiled a little. A sort of vague gaiety came over her, such as comes to one who has watched long in agony and suspense by the bed of a sick person and the person is dead. Nancy drew the little window curtain aside, stooped down, and looked out and said, “‘Happy the bride the sun shines on’ they’re saying, and look! the sun is shining.”
“Oh, but the sun is an old sly-boots,” she answered.
They came up to dress her. She kept stumbling against things, and then laughing in a faint way. The dress was the new one, and when they had put it on they stood back from her and shouted with delight. She took up the little broken hand-glass to look at herself. Her great eyes sparkled piteously.
The church bells began to ring her wedding-peal. She had to listen hard to hear it. All sounds seemed to be very far away; everything looked a long way off. She was living in a sort of dead white dawn of thought and feeling.
At last they came to say the coach was ready and everything was waiting for the bride. She repeated their message like a machine, made a slow gesture, and followed them downstairs. When she got near to the bottom, she looked around on the faces below as if expecting to see somebody. Just then her father was saying, “Mr. Christian is to meet us at the church.”
She smiled faintly and answered the people’s greetings in an indistinct tone. There was some indulgent whispering at sight of her pale face. “Pale but genteel,” said some one, and then Nancy reached over and drew the bride’s veil down over her face.
At the next minute she was outside the house, standing at the back of the wagonette. The coachman, with his white rosette, was holding the door open on one side, and her father was elevating her hand on the other.
“Am I to go, then?” she asked in a helpless voice.
“Well, what do you think?” said Cæsar. “Shall the man slip off and get married to himself, think you?”
There was laughter among the people standing round, and she laughed also and stepped into the coach. Her mother followed her, crinkling in noisy old silk, and Nancy Joe came next, smelling of lavender and hair-oil. Then her father got in, and then Pete, with his great warm presence.
A salute of six guns was fired straight up by the coach-windows. The horses pranced, Nancy screamed, and Grannie started, but Kate gave no sign. People were closing round the coach-door and shouting altogether as at a fair. “Good luck to you, boy. Good luck! Good luck!” Pete was answering in a rolling voice that seemed to be lifting the low roof off, and at the same time flinging money out in handfuls as the horses moved away.
They were going slowly down the road. From somewhere in front came the sound of a clarionet. It was playing “the Black and the Grey.” Immediately behind there was the tramp of people walking with an even step, and on either side the rustle of an irregular crowd. The morning was warm and beautiful. Here and there the last of the golden cushag glistened on the hedges with the first of the autumn gorse. They passed two or three houses that had been made roofless by the recent storm, and once or twice they came on a fallen tree-trunk with its thin leaves yellowing on the fading grass.
Kate was floating vaguely through these sights and sounds. It was all like a dream to her—a waking dream in shadow-land. She knew where she was and where she was going. Some glimmering of hope was left yet. She was half expecting a miracle of some sort. Philip would be at the church. Something supernatural would occur.
They drew up sharply, the glass of the windows rattled, and the talk that had been going on in the carriage ceased. “Here we are,” cried Cæsar; there were voices outside, and then the others inside stepped down. She saw a hand held out to her and knew whose it was before her eyes had risen to the face. Philip was there. He was helping her to alight.
“Am I to get down too?” she asked in a helpless way.
Cæsar said something that made the people laugh again, and then she smiled like faded sunshine and took the hand of Philip. She held it a moment as if expecting him to say something, but he only raised his hat. His face was white as marble. He will speak yet, she thought.
Over the gateway to the churchyard there was an arch of flowers and evergreens, with an inscription in coloured letters: “God bless the happy pair.” The sloping path going down as to a dell was strewn with gilvers and slips of fuchsia.
At the bottom stood the old church mantled in ivy, like a rock of the sea covered by green moss.
Leaning on her father’s arm she walked in at the porch. The church was full of people. As they passed under the gallery there was a twittering as of birds. The Sunday-school girls were up there, looking down and talking eagerly. Then the coughing and hemming ceased; there was a sort of deep inspiration; the church seemed to hold its breath for a moment. After that there were broken exclamations, and the coughing and hemming began again. “How pale!”—”Not fit, poor thing.” Everybody was pitying her starved features.
“Stand here,” said somebody in a soft voice.
“Must I?” she said quite loudly.
All at once she was aware that she was alone before the communion rail, with the parson—old ruddy-faced Parson Quiggin—in his white surplice facing her. Some one came and stood beside her. It was Pete. She did not look at him, but she felt his warm presence again, and was relieved. It was like shelter from the eyes around. After a moment she turned about Philip was one step behind Pete. His head was bent.
Then the service began. The voice of the parson muttered words in a low voice, but she did not listen. She found herself trying to spell out the Manx text printed over the chancel arch: “Bannet T’eshyn Ta Cheet ayns Ennyn y Chearn” (“Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord”).
Suddenly the words the parson was speaking leapt into meaning and made her quiver.
“…. is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men, and therefore not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly——”
She seemed to know that Philip’s eyes were on her. They were on the back of her head, and the veil over her face began to shake.
The voice of the parson was going on again—
“Therefore if any man can show just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.”
She turned half around. Her eyes fell on Philip. His face was colourless, almost fierce; his forehead was deathly white. She was sure that something was about to happen.
Now was the moment for the miracle. It seemed to her as if the whole congregation were beginning to divine what tie there was between him and her. She did not care, for he would soon declare it. He was going to do so now; he had raised his head, he was about to speak.
No, there was no miracle. Philip’s eyes fell before her eyes, and his head went down. He was only digging at the red baize with one of his feet. She felt tired, so very tired, and oh! so cold. The parson had gone on with his reading. When she caught up with him he was saying—
“—as ye shall, answer at the great day of judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment why ye may not be lawfully joined together in matrimony, ye do now confess it.”
The parson paused. He had always paused at that point. The pause had no meaning for him, but for Kate how much! Impediment! There was indeed an impediment. Confess? How could she ever confess? The warning terrified her. It seemed to have been made for her alone. She had heard it before, and thought nothing of it. Now it seemed to scorch her very soul. She began to tremble violently.
There was an indistinct murmur which she did not catch. The parson seemed to be speaking to Pete—
“—love her, comfort her, honour and keep her… so long as ye both shall live.”
And then came Pete’s voice, full and strong from his great chest, but far off, and going by her ear like a voice in a shell—”I will.”
After that the parson’s words seemed to be falling on her face.
“Wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou obey him and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and forsaking all other, keep thee unto him, so long as ye both shall live?”
Kate was far away. She was spelling out the Manx text, “Bannet T’eshyn Ta Cheet,” but the letters were dancing in and out of each other, and yellow lights were darting from her eyes. Suddenly she was aware that the parson’s voice had stopped. There was blank silence, then an uneasy rustle, and then somebody was saying something in a soft tone.
“Eh?” she said aloud.
The parson’s voice came now in a whisper at her breast—”Say, ‘I will.'”
“Ah I,” she murmured.
“I-will! That’s all, my dear. Say it with me, ‘I—will.'”
She framed her lips to speak, but the words were half uttered by the parson. The next thing she knew was that a stray hand was holding her hand. She felt more safe now that her poor cold fingers lay in that big warm palm.
It was Pete, and he was speaking again. She did not so much hear him as feel his voice tingling through her veins.
“I, Peter Quilliam, take thee, Katherine Cregeen——'”
But it was all a vague murmur, fraying off into nothing, ending like a wave with a long upward plash of low sound.
The parson was speaking to her again, softly, gently, caressingly, almost as if she were a frightened child. “Don’t be afraid, my dear! try to speak after me. Take your time.”
Then, aloud, “‘I, Katherine Cregeen.'”
Her throat gurgled; she faltered, but she spoke at length in the toneless voice of one who speaks in sleep.
“‘I, Katherine Cregeen—-‘”
“‘Take thee, Peter Quilliam——'”
The toneless voice broke—— “take thee, Peter Quilliam———'”
And then all came in a rush, with some of the words distinctly repeated, and some of them droned and dropped—
“—’to my wedded husband, to have and to hold——-‘”
“—’have and to hold——-‘”
“—’from this day forward…. till death do us part——-‘”
“—’death do us part———'”
“—’therefore I give thee my troth———'”
The last word fell like a broken echo, and then there was a rustle in the church, and much audible breathing. Some of the school-girls in the gallery were reaching over the pews with parted lips and dancing eyes.
Pete had taken her left hand, and was putting the ring on her finger. She was conscious of his warm breath and of the words—
“With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow, Amen.”
Again she left her cold hand in Pete’s warm hand. He was stroking it on the outside with his other one.
It was all a dream. She seemed to rally from it as she moved down the aisle. Ghostly faces were smiling at her out of the air on either side, and the choir in the gallery behind the school-girls were singing the psalm, with John the Clerk’s husky voice drawling out the first word of each new verse as his companions were singing the last word of the preceding one—
“Thy wife shall be as the fruitful vine upon the walls of thine house;
Thy children like the olive branches round about thy table.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be;
World without end, A—men.”
They were all in the vestry now, standing together in a group. Her mother was wiping her eyes, Pete was laughing, and Nancy Joe was nudging him and saying in an audible whisper, “Kiss her, man—it’s only respectable.”
The parson was leaning over the table. He spoke to Pete, and then said, “A substantial mark, too. The lady’s turn next.”
The open book was before her, and the pen was put into her hand. When she laid it down, the parson returned his spectacles to their sheath, and a nervous voice, which thrilled and frightened her, said from behind, “Let me be the first to wish you happiness, Mrs. Quilliam.”
It was Philip. She turned towards him, and their eyes met for a moment. But she was only conscious of his prominent nose, his clear-cut chin, his rapid smile like sunshine, disappearing as before a cloud. He said something else—something about a new life and a new beginning—but she could not gather its meaning, her mind would not take it in. At the next moment they were all in the open air.
Philip had been in torment—first the torment of an irresistible hatred of Kate. He knew that this hatred was illogical, that it was monstrous; but it supported his pride, it held him safe above self-contempt in being present at the wedding. When the carriage drew up at the church gate, and he helped Kate to alight, he thought she looked up at him as one who says, “You see, things are not so bad after all!” And when she turned her face to him at the beginning of the service, he thought it wore a look of fierce triumph, of victory, of disdain. But as the ceremony proceeded and he observed her absent-ness, her vacancy, her pathetic imbecility, he began to be oppressed by an awful sense of her consciousness of error. Was she taking this step out of pique? Was she thinking to punish him, forgetting the price she would have to pay? Would she awake to-morrow morning with her vexation and vanity gone, face to face with a hideous future—the worst and most terrible that is possible to any woman—that of being married to one man and loving another?
Faugh! Would his own vanity haunt him even there? Shame, shame! He forced himself to do the duty of a best man. In the vestry he approached the bride and muttered the conventional wishes. His heart was devouring itself like a rapid fire, and it was as much as he could do to look into her piteous eyes and speak. Struggle as he might at that moment, he could not put out of his heart a passionate tenderness. This frightened him, and straightway he resolved to see no more of Kate. He must be fair to her, he must be true to himself. But walking behind her up the path strewn with flowers from the church door to the gate, the gnawings of the worm of buried love came on him again, and he felt like a man who was being dragged through the dirt.
Four saddle-horses, each with its rider seated and ready, had been waiting at the churchyard gate, pawing up the gravel. The instant the bride and bridegroom came out of the church the horses set off for Cæsar’s house at a furious gallop. Kate and Pete, Cæsar, Grannie, and Nancy, with the addition of Philip and Parson Quiggin, returned in the covered carriage.
At the turn of the road the way was blocked by a group of stalwart girls out of the last of the year’s cornfields. With the straw rope of the stackyard stretched across, they demanded toll before the carriage would be allowed to pass. Pete, who sat by the door, put his head out and inquired solemnly if the highway women would take their charge in silver or in kind—half-a-crown apiece or a kiss all round. They laughed, and answered that they saw no objection to taking both. Whereupon Pete, whispering behind his hand that the mistress was looking, tossed into the air a paper bag, which rose like a cannon-ball, broke in the air like a shell, and fell over their white sun-bonnets like a shower.
At the door of “The Manx Fairy” the four riders were waiting with smoking horses. The first to arrive had been rewarded already with a bottle of rum. He had one other ancient privilege. As the coach drove up to the door, he stepped up to the bride with the wedding-cake and broke it over her head. Then there was a scramble for the pieces among the girls who gathered round her, that they might take them to bed and dream of a day to come when they should themselves be as proud and happy.
The wedding-breakfast (a wedding-dinner) was laid in the loft of the mill, the chapel of The Christians. Cæsar sat at the head of the table, with Grannie on one side and Kate on the other. Pete sat next to Kate, and Philip next to Grannie. The parson sat at the foot with Nancy Joe, a lady of consequence, receiving much consideration, at his reverent right hand. Jonaique Jelly sat midway down the table, with a fine scorn on his features, for John the Clerk sat opposite with a fiddle gripped between his knees.
The neighbours brought in the joints of beef and mutton, the chickens and the ducks. Cæsar and the parson carved. Black Tom, who had been invited by way of truce, served out the liquor from an eighteen-gallon cask, and sucked it up himself like the sole of an old shoe. Then Cæsar said grace, and the company fell to. Such noise, such sport, such chaff, such laughter! Everything was a jest—every word had wit in it. “How are you doing, John?”—”Haven’t done as well for a month, sir; but what’s it saying, two hungry meals make the third a glutton.”—”How are you doing, Tom?”—”No time to get a right mouthful for myself Cæsar; kept so busy with the drink.”—”Aw, there’ll be some with their top works hampered soon.”—”Got plenty, Jonaique?”—”Plenty, sir, plenty. Enough down here to victual a menagerie. It’ll be Sunday every day of the week with the man that’s getting the lavings.”—”Take a taste of this beef before it goes, Mr. Thomas Quilliam, or do you prefer the mutton?”—”I’m not partic’lar, Mr. Cregeen. Ateing’s nothing to me but filling a sack that’s empty.”
Grannie praised the wedding service—it was lovely—it was beautiful—she didn’t think the ould parzon could have made the like; but Cæsar criticised both church and clergy—couldn’t see what for the cross on the pulpit and the petticoat on the parson. “Popery, sir, clane Popery,” he whispered across Grannie to Philip.
Away went the shanks of mutton, the breasts of birds, and the slabs of beef, and up came an apple-pudding as round as a well-fed salmon, and as long as a twenty-pound cod. There was a shout of welcome. “None of your dynamite pudding that,—as green as grass and as sour as vinegar.”
Kate was called on to make the first cut of the monster. A faint colour had returned to her cheeks since she had come home. She was talking a little, and even laughing sometimes, as if the weight on her heart was lightening every moment. She rose at the call, took, with the hand nearest to the dish, the knife that her father held out, and plunged it into the pudding. As she did so, with all eyes upon her, the wedding-ring on her finger flashed in the light and was seen by everybody.
“Look at that, though,” cried Black Tom. “There’s the wife for a husband, if you plaze. Ashamed of showing it, is she? Not she, the bogh.”
Then there was much giggling among the younger women, and cries of “Aw, the poor girl! Going to church has been making her left-handed!”
“Time enough, my beauties,” cried Pete; “and mind you’re not struck that way yourselves one of these days.”
Away went the dishes, and the parson rose to return thanks.
“Never heard that grace but once before, Parson Quiggin,” said Pete, “and then”—lighting his pipe—”then it was a burial sarvice.”
“A burial sarvice!”
A dozen voices echoed the words together, and in a moment the table was quiet.
“Yes, though,” said Pete. “It was up at Johannesburg. Two chums settled there, and one married a girl. Nice lil thing, too; some of the Boer girls, you know; but not much ballast at her at all. The husband went up country for the Consolidated Co., and when he came back there was trouble. Chum had been sweethearting the wife a bit!”
“Aw, dear!”—”Aw, well, well!”
“Do? The husband? He went after the chum with a repeater, and took him. Bath-chair sort of a chap—no fight in him at all. ‘Mercy!’ he cries. ‘I can’t,’ says the husband. ‘Forgive him this once,’ says the wife. ‘It’s only once a woman loses herself,’ says the man. ‘Mercy, mercy!’ ‘Say your prayers.’ ‘Mercy, mercy, mercy!’ ‘Too late!’ and the husband shot him dead. The woman dropped in a faint, but the man said, ‘He didn’t say his prayers, though—I must be doing it for him.’ Then down he went on his knees by the body, but the prayers were all forgot at him—all but the bit of a grace, so he said that instead.”
Loud breathings on every side followed Pete’s story, and Cæsar, leaning over towards Philip, whose face had grown ashy, said, “Terrible, sir, terrible! But still and for all, right enough, though, eh! What’s it saying, Better an enemy than a bad friend.”
Philip answered absently; his eyes were on the opposite side of the table. There was a sudden rising of the people about Kate.
“Water, there,” shouted Pete. “It’s a thundering blockhead I am for sure—frightning the life out of people with stories fit for a funeral.”
“No, no,” said Kate; “I’m not faint Why should you think so?”
“Of coorse, not, bogh,” said Nancy, who was behind her in a twinkling. “White is she? Well, what of it, man? It’s only becoming on a girl’s wedding-day. Take a lil sup, though, woman—there, there!”
Kate drank the water, with the glass jingling against her teeth, and then began to laugh. The parson’s ruddy face rose at the end of the table. “Friends,” he said, “after that tragic story, let us indulge in a little vanity. Fill up your glasses to the brim, and drink with me to the health of the happy couple. We all know both of them. We know the bride for a good daughter and a sweet girl—one so naturally pure that nobody can ever say an evil word or think an evil thought when she is near. We know the bridegroom for a real Manxman, simple and rugged and true, who says all he thinks and thinks all he says. God has been very good to them. Such virginal and transparent souls have much to be thankful for. It is not for them to struggle with that worst enemy of man, the enemy that is within, the enemy of bad passions. So we can wish them joy on their union with a full heart and a sure hope that, whatever chance befall them on the ways of this world, they will be happy and content.”
“Aw, the beautiful advice,” said Grannie, wiping her eyes.
“Popery, just Popery,” muttered Cæsar. “What about original sin?”
There was a chorus of applause. Kate was still laughing. Philip’s head was down.
“And now, friends,” continued the parson, “Captain Quilliam has been a successful man abroad, but he has had to come home to do the best piece of work he ever did.” (A voice—”Do it yourself, parzon.”) “It is true I’ve never done it myself. Vanity of vanities, love is not for me. It’s been the Lord’s will to put me here to do the marrying and leave my people to do the loving. But there is a young man present who has all the world before him and everything this life can promise except one thing, and that’s the best thing of all—a wife.” (Kate’s laughter grew boisterous.) “This morning he helped his friend to marry a pure and beautiful maiden. Now let me remind him of the text which says, ‘Go thou and do likewise.'”
The toast was drunk standing, with shouts of “Cap’n Pete,” and, amid much hammering on the table, stamping on the floor, and other thunderings of applause, Cap’n Pete rolled up to reply. After a moment’s pause, in which he distributed sage winks and nods on every side, he said: “I’m not much for public spaking myself. I made my best speech and my shortest in church this morning—I will. The parzon has has been telling my dooiney molla to do as I have done today. He can’t. Begging pardon of the ladies, there’s only one woman on the island fit for him, and I’ve got her.” (Kate’s laughter grew shrill.) “My wife——”
At this word, uttered with an air of life-long familiarity, twenty clay pipes lost their heads by collision with the table, and Pete was interrupted by roars of laughter.
“Gough bless me, can’t a married man mention his wife in company? Well then. Mistress Cap’n Peter Quilliam——”
This mouthful was the signal for another riotous interruption, and a general call for more to drink.
“Won’t that do for you neither? I’m not going back on it, though. ‘Whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder’—isn’t that it, Parzon Quiggin? What’s it you’re saying—no man but the Dempster? Well, the Dempster’s here that is to be—I’ll clear him of that, anyway.”
Kate’s laughter became explosive and uncontrollable. Pete nodded sideways to fill up the gap in his eloquence, and then went on. “But if my dooiney molla can’t marry my wife, there’s one thing he can do for her—he can make her house his home in Ramsey when he goes to Douglas for good and comes down here to the coorts once a fortnight.”
Kate laughed more immoderately than ever; but Philip, with a look of alarm, half rose from his seat, and said across the table, “There’s my aunt at Ballure, Pete.”
“She’ll be following after you,” said Pete.
“There are hotels enough for travellers,” said Philip.
“Too many by half, and that’s why I asked in public,” said Pete.
“I know the brotherly feeling——” began Philip.
“Is it a promise?” demanded Pete.
“If I can’t escape your kindness——”
“No, you can’t; so there’s an end of it.”
“It will kill me yet——”
“May you never die till it polishes you off.”.
At Philip’s submission to Pete’s will, there was a general chorus of cheers, through which Kate’s shrill laughter rang like a scream. Pete patted the back of her hand, and continued, “And now, young fellows there, let an ould experienced married man give you a bit of advice—he swore away all his worldly goods this morning, so he hasn’t much else to give. I’ve no belief in bachelors myself. They’re like a tub without a handle—nothing to lay hould of them by.” (Much nudging and whispering about the bottom of the table.) “What’s that down yonder? ‘The vicar,’ you say? Aw, the vicar’s a grand man, but he’s only a parzon, you see. Mr. Christian, is it? He’s got too much work to do to be thinking about women. We’re living on the nineteenth century, boys, and it’s middling hard feeding for some of us. If the fishing’s going to the dogs and the farming going to the deuce, don’t be tossing head over tip at the tail of the tourist. If you’ve got the pumping engine inside of you, in plain English, if you’ve got the indomable character of the rael Manxman, do as I done—go foreign. Then watch your opportunity. What’s Shake-spar saying?” Pete paused. “What’s that he’s saying, now?” Pete scratched his forehead. “Something about a flood, anyway.” Pete stretched his hand out vigorously. “‘Lay hould of it at the flood,’ says he, ‘that’s the way to make your fortune.'”
Then Pete melted to sentiment, glanced down at Kate’s head, and continued, “And when you come back to the ould island—and there isn’t no place like it—you can marry the girl of your heart, God bless her. Work’s black, but money’s white, and love is as sweet on potatoes and herrings three times a day, as on nothing for dinner, and the same every night of the week for supper. While you’re away, you’ll be draming of her. ‘Is she faithful?’ ‘Is she thrue?’ Coorse she is, and waiting to take you the very minute you come home.” Kate was still laughing as if she could not stop. “Look out for the right sort, boys. Plenty of the like in yet. If the young men of these days are more smart and more educated than their fathers, the young women are more handsome and more virtuous than their mothers. So ben-my-chree, my hearties, and enough in the locker to drive away the divil and the coroner.”
Through the volley of cheers which followed Pete’s speech came the voice of Black Tom, thick with drink, “Drive off the crow at the wedding-breakfast.”
Everybody rose and looked. A great crow, black as night, had come in at the open door of the mill, calmly, sedately, as if by habit, for the corn that usually lay there.
“It manes divorce,” said Black Tom.
“Scare it away,” cried some one.
“It’s the new wife must do it,” said another.
“Where’s Kate?” cried Nancy.
But Kate only looked and went on laughing as before.
The crow turned tail and took flight of itself at finding so eager an audience. Then Pete said, “Whose houlding with such ould wife’s wonders?”
And Cæsar answered, “Coorse not, or fairies either. I’ve slept out all night on Cronk-ny-airy-Lhaa—before my days of grace, I mane—and I never seen no fairies.”
“It would be a fool of a fairy, though, that would let you see him, Cæsar,” said Black Tom.
At nine o’clock Cæsar’s gig was at the door of “The Manx Fairy” to take the bride and bridegroom home. They had sung “Mylecharane,” and “Keerie fu Snaighty,” and “Hunting the Wren,” and “The Win’ that Shook the Barley,” and then they had cleared away the tables and danced to the fiddle of John the Clerk and the clarionet of Jonaique Jelly. Kate, with wild eyes and flushed cheeks, had taken part in everything, but always fiercely, violently, almost tempestuously, until people lost enjoyment of her heartiness in fear of her hysteria, and Cæsar whispered Pete to take her away, and brought round the gig to hasten them.
Kate went up for her cloak and hat, and in the interval between her departure and reappearance, Grannie and Nancy Joe, both glorified beings, Nancy with her unaccustomed cap askew, stood in the middle of a group of women, who were deferring, and inquiring, and sympathising.
“I don’t know in the world how she has kept up so long,” said Grannie.
“And dear heart knows how I’m to keep up when she’s gone,” said Nancy, with her apron to her eyes.
Kate came down ready. Everybody followed her into the road, and all stood round the gig with flashes from the gig-lamps on their faces, while Pete swung her up into the seat, lifting her bodily in his great arms.
“You wouldn’t drown yourself to-night for an ould rusty nail, eh, Capt’n?” cried somebody with a laugh.
“You go bail,” said Pete, and he leapt up to Kate’s side, twiddled the reins, cracked the whip, and they drove away.
Philip had stood at the door of the porch, struggling to command his soul, and employing all his powers to look cheerful and even gay. But as Kate had passed she had looked at him with an imploring look, and then he had seemed to understand everything—that she had made a mistake and that she knew it, that her laughter had been bitterer than tears, that some compulsion had been put upon her, and that she was a wretched and miserable woman. At the next moment she had gone by with an odour of lace and perfume; and then a flood of tenderness, of pity, of mad jealousy had come upon him, and it had been as much as he could do to restrain himself. One instant he held himself in hand, and at the next the wheels of the gig had begun to move, the horse had started, the women had trooped into the house again, and there was nothing before him but the broad back of Cæsar, who was looking into the darkness after the vanishing gig-lamps, and breathing asthmatical breath.
“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife,” said Cæsar. “You’re time enough yet, sir; come in, come in.”
But the man was odious to Philip at that moment, the house was odious, the people and the talk inside were odious, and he slipped away unobserved.
Too late! From the torment of his own thoughts he could not escape—his lost love, his lost happiness, his memories of the past, his dreams of the future. A voice—it was his own voice—seemed to be taunting him constantly: “You were not worthy of her. You did not know her value. She is gone; and what have you got instead!”
The Deemstership! That was of no consequence now. A name, an idle name! Love was the only thing worth having, and it was lost. Without it all the rest was nothing, and he had flung it away. He had been a monster, he had been a fool. The thought of his folly was insupportable; the recollection of his selfishness was stifling; the memory of his calculating deliberations was dragging him again in the dust. Thus, with a sense of crushing shame, he plunged down the dark road, trying not to think of the gig that had gone swinging along in front of him.
He would leave the island. To-morrow he would sail for England. No matter if he lost the chance of promotion. To-morrow, to-morrow! But to-night? How could he live through the hours until morning, with the black thoughts which the darkness generated? How could he sleep? How lie awake? What drug would bring forgetfulness? Kate! Pete! To-night! Oh, God! oh, God!
Six strides of the horse into the darkness and Kate’s hysteria was gone. She had been lost to herself the whole day-through, and now she possessed herself again. She grew quiet and silent, and even solemn. But Pete rattled on with cheerful talk about the day’s doings. At the doors of the houses on the road as they passed, people were standing in the half-light to wave them salutations, and Pete sent back his answers in shouts and laughter. Turning the bridge they saw a little group at the porch of the “Ginger.”
“There’s company waiting for us yonder,” said Pete, giving the mare a touch of the whip.
“Let us get on,” said Kate in a nervous whisper.
“Aw, let’s be neighbourly, you know,” said Pete. “It wouldn’t be dacent to disappoint people at all. We’ll hawl up for a minute just, and hoof up the time at a gallop. Woa, lass, woa, mare, woa, bogh!”
As the gig drew up at the inn door, a voice out of the porch cried, “Joy to you, Capt’n, and joy to your lady, and long life and prosperity to you both, and may the Lord give you children and health and happiness to rear them, and may you see your children’s children, and may they call you blessed.”
“Glasses round. Mrs. Kelly,” shouted Pete.
“Go on, please,” said Kate in a fretful whisper, and she tugged at Pete’s sleeve.
The stars came out; the moon gave a peep; the late hay of the Curragh sent a sweet odour through the night. Kate shuddered and Pete covered her shoulders with a rug. Then he began to sing snatches. He sang bits of all the songs that had been sung that night, but kept coming back at intervals to an old Manx ditty which begins—
“Little red bird of the black turf ground,
Where did you sleep last night?”
Thus he sang like a great boy as he went rolling down the dark road, and Kate sat by his side and trembled.
They came to the town, rattled down the Parliament Street, passed the Court-house under the trees, turned the sharp angle by the market-place, and drew up at Elm Cottage in the corner.
“Home at last,” cried Pete, and he leapt to the ground.
A dog began to bark inside the house. “D’ye hear him?” said Pete. “That’s the master in charge.”
The porch door was opened, and a comfortable-looking woman in a widow’s cap came out with a lighted candle shaded by her hand.
“And this is your housekeeper, Mrs. Gorry,” said Pete.
Kate did not answer. Her eyes had been fixed in a rigid stare on the hind-quarters of the horse, which were steaming in the light of the lamps. Pete lifted her down as he had lifted her up. Then Mrs. Gorry took her by the hand, and saying, “Mind the step, ma’am—this way, ma’am,” led her through the gate and along the garden path, and up to the porch. The porch opened on a square hall, furnished as a sitting-room. A fire was burning, a lamp was lit, the table was laid for supper, and the place was warm and cosy.
“There! What d’ye say to that?” cried Pete, coming behind with the whip in his hand.
Kate looked around; she did not speak; her eyes began to fill.
“Isn’t it fit for a Dempster’s lady?” said Pete, sweeping the whip-handle round the room like a showman.
Kate could bear no more. She sank into a chair and burst into a fit of tears. Pete’s glowing face dropped in an instant.
“Dear heart alive, darling, what is it?” he said. “My poor girl, what’s troubling you at all? Tell me, now—tell me, bogh, tell me.”
“It’s nothing, Pete, nothing. Don’t ask me,” said Kate. But still she sobbed as if her heart would break.
Pete stood a moment by her side, smoothing her arm with his hand. Then he said, with a crack and a quaver in his great voice, “It is hard for a girl, I know that, to lave father and mother and every one and everything that’s been sweet and dear to her since she was a child, and to come to the house of her husband and say, ‘The past has been very good to me; but still and for all, I’m for trusting the future to you.’ It’s hard, darling; I know it’s hard.”
“Oh, leave me! leave me!” cried Kate, still weeping.
Pete brushed his sleeve across his eyes, and said, “Take her upstairs, Mrs. Gorry, while I’m putting up the mare at the ‘Saddle.'”
Then he whistled to the dog, which had been watching him from the hearthrug, and went out of the house. The handle of the whip dragged after him along the floor.
Mrs. Gorry, full of trouble, took Kate to her room. Would she not eat her supper? Then salts were good for headache-should she bring a bottle from her box? After many fruitless inquiries and nervous protestations, the good soul bade Kate good-night and left her.
Being alone, Kate broke into yet wilder paroxysms of weeping. The storm-cloud which had been gathering had burst at last. It seemed as if the whole weight of the day had been deferred until then. The piled-up hopes of weeks had waited for that hour, to be cast down in the sight of her own eyes. It was all over. The fight with Fate was done, and the frantic merriment with which she had kept down her sense of the place where the blind struggle had left her made the sick recoil more bitter.
She thought of Philip, and her trouble began to moderate. Somewhere out of the uncrushed part of her womanhood there came one flicker of womanly pride to comfort her. She saw Philip at last from the point of revenge. He loved her; he would never cease to love her. Do what he might to banish the thought of her, she would be with him always; the more surely with him, the more reproachfully and unattainably, because she would be the wife of another man. If he could put her away from him in the daytime, and in the presence of those worldly aims for which he had sacrificed her, when night came he would be able to put her away no more. He would never sleep but he would see her. In every dream he would stretch out his arms to her, but she would not be there, and he would awake with sobs and in torment. There was a real joy in this thought, although it tore her heart so terribly.
She got strength from the cruel comforting, and Mrs. Gorry in the room below, listening intently, heard her crying cease. With her face still shut in both her hands, she was telling herself that she had nothing to reproach herself with; that she could not have acted differently; that she had not really made this marriage; that she had only submitted to it, being swept along by the pitiless tide, which was her father, and Pete, and everybody. She was telling herself, too, that, after all, she had done well. Here she lay in close harbour from the fierce storm which had threatened her. She was safe, she was at peace.
The room lay still. The night was very quiet within those walls. Kate drew down her hands and looked about her. The fire was burning gently, and warming her foot on the sheepskin rug that lay in front of it. A lamp burned low on a table behind her chair. At one side there was a wardrobe of the shape of an old press, but with a tall mirror in the door; on the other side there was the bed, with the pink curtains hanging like a tent. The place had a strange look of familiarity. It seemed as if she had known it all her life. She rose to look around, and then the inner sense leapt to the outer vision, and she saw how it was. The room was a reproduction of her own bedroom at home, only newer and more luxurious. It was almost as if some ghost of herself had been there while she slept—as if her own hand had done everything in a dream of her girlhood wherein common things had become grand.
Kate’s eyes began to fill afresh, and she turned to take off her cloak. As she did so, she saw something on the dressing-table with a label attached to it. She took it up. It was a little mirror, a handglass like her own old one, only framed in ivory, and the writing on the label ran—
Insted of The one that is bruk with fond Luv to Kirry.
Her heart was now beating furiously. A flood of feeling had rushed over her. She dropped the glass as if it stung her fingers. With both hands she covered her face. Everything in the room seemed to be accusing her. Hitherto she had thought only of Philip. Now for the first time she thought of Pete.
She had wronged him—deeply, awfully, beyond atonement or hope of forgiveness. He loved her; he had married her; he had brought her to his home, to this harbour of safety, and she had deceived and betrayed him—she had suffered herself to be married to him while still loving another man.
A sudden faintness seized her. She grew dizzy and almost fell. A more terrible memory had come behind. The thought was like ravens flapping their black wings on her brain. She felt her temples beating against her hands. They seemed to be sucking the life out of her heart.
Just then the voice of Pete came beating up the echoes between the house and the chapel beyond the garden—
“Little red bird of the black turf ground,
Where did you sleep last night?”
She heard him open the garden gate, clash it back, come up the path with an eager step, shut the door of the house and chain it on the inside. Then she heard his deep voice speaking below.
“Better now, Mrs. Gorry?”
“Aw, better, sir, yes, and quiet enough this ten minutes.”
“Give her time, the bogh! Be aisy with the like, be aisy.”
Presently she heard him send off Mrs. Gorry for the night, saying he should want no supper, and should be going to bed soon. Then the house became quiet, and the smell of tobacco smoke came floating up the stairs.
Kate’s hot breath on her hands grew damp against her face. She felt herself swooning, and she caught hold of the mantelpiece.
“It cannot be,” she thought. “He must not come. I will go down to him and say, ‘Pete, forgive me, I am really the wife of another.'”
Then she would tell him everything. Yes, she would confess all now. Oh, she would not be afraid. His love was great. He would do what she wished.
She made one step towards the door, and was pulled up as by a curb. Pete would say, “Do you mean that you have been using me as a cloak? Do you ask me to live in this house, side by side with you, and let no one suspect that we are apart? Then why did you not ask me yesterday? Why do you ask me to-day, when it is too late to choose?”
No, she could not confess. If confession had been difficult yesterday, it was a thousand times more difficult to-day, and it would be a thousand thousand times more difficult tomorrow.
Kate caught up the cloak she had thrown aside. She must go away. Anywhere, anywhere, no matter where. That was the one thing left to her—the only escape from the wild tangle of dread and pain. Pete was in the hall; there must be a way out at the back; she would find it.
She lowered the lamp, and turned the handle of the door. Then she saw a light moving on the landing, and heard a soft step on the stairs. It was Pete, with a candle, coming up in his stockinged feet. He stopped midway, as if he heard the click of the latch, and then went noiselessly down again.
Kate closed the door. She would not go. If she left the house that night she would cover Pete with suspicion and disgrace. The true secret would never be known; the real offender would never suffer; but the finger of scorn would be raised at the one man who had sheltered and shielded her, and he would die of humiliation and blind self-reproach.
This reflection restrained her for the moment, and when the stress of it was spent she was mastered by a fear that was far more terrible. For good or for all she was now married to Pete, and he had the rights of a husband. He had a right to come to her, and he would come. It was inevitable; it had to be. No boy or girl love now, no wooing, no dallying, no denying, but a grim reality of life—a reality that comes to every woman who is married to a man. She was married to Pete. In the eye of the world, in the eye of the law, she was his, and to fly from him was impossible.
She must remain. God himself had willed it As for the shame of her former relation to Philip, it was her own secret. God alone knew of it, and He would keep it safe. It was the dark chamber of her heart which God only could unlock. He would never unlock it until the Day of Judgment, and then Philip would be standing by her side, and she would cast it back upon him, and say, “His, not mine, O God,” and the Great Judge of all would judge between them.
But she began to cry again, like a child in the dark. As she threw off her cloak a second time, her dress crinkled, and she looked down at it and remembered that it was her wedding-dress. Then she looked around at the room, and remembered that it was her wedding chamber. She remembered how she had dreamt of coming in her bridal dress to her bridal room—proud, afraid, tingling with love, blushing with joy, whispering to herself, “This is for me—and this—and this. He has given it, for he loves me and I love him, and he is mine and I am his, and he is my love and my lord, and he is coming to—”
There was a gentle knocking at the door. It made her flesh creep. The knock came again. It went shrieking through and through her.
“Kirry,” whispered a voice from without.
She did not stir.
“It’s only Pete.”
She neither spoke nor moved.
There was silence for a moment, and then, half nervously, half jovially, half in laughter, half with emotion as if the heart outside was palpitating, the voice came again, “I’m coming in, darling!”