The Manxman (Part IV. Man and Wife)
PART IV. MAN AND WIFE.
Next morning Kate said to herself, “My life must begin again from to-day.” She had a secret that Pete did not share, but she was not the first woman who had kept something from her husband. When people had secrets which it would hurt others to reveal, they ought to keep them close. Honour demanded that she should be as firm as a rock in blotting Philip from her soul. Remembering the promise which Pete had demanded of Philip at the wedding to make their house his home in Ramsey, and seeing that Philip must come, if only to save appearances, she asked herself if she ought to prevent him. But no! She resolved to conquer the passion that made his presence a danger. There was no safety in separation. In her relation to Philip she was like the convict who is beginning his life again—the only place where he can build up a sure career is precisely there where his crime is known. “Let Philip come,” she thought. She made his room ready.
She was married. It was her duty to be a good wife. Pete loved her—his love would make it easy. They were sitting at breakfast in the hall-parlour, and she said, “I should like to be my own housekeeper, Pete.”
“And right, too,” said Pete. “Be your own woman, darling—not your woman’s woman—and have Mrs. Gorry for your housemaid.”
To turn her mind from evil thoughts, she set to work immediately, and busied herself with little duties, little economies, little cares, little troubles. But the virtues of housekeeping were just those for which she had not prepared herself. Her first leg of mutton was roasted down to the proportions of a frizzled shank, and her first pudding was baked to the colour and consistency of a badly burnt brick. She did not mend rapidly as a cook, but Pete ate of all that his faultless teeth could grind through, and laid the blame on his appetite when his digestion failed.
She strove by other industries to keep alive a sense of her duty as a wife. Buying rolls of paper at the paperhanger’s, she set about papering every closet in the house. The patterns did not join and the paste did not adhere. She initialled in worsted the new blankets sent by Grannie, with a P and a Q and a K intertwined. Than she overhauled the linen; turned out every room twice a week; painted every available wooden fixture with paint which would not dry because she had mixed it herself to save a sixpence a stone and forgotten the turpentine. Pete held up his hands in admiration at all her failures. She had thought it would be easy to be a good wife to a good husband. It was hard—hard for any one, hardest of all for her. There are the ruins of a happy woman in the bosom of every over-indulged wife.
She could not keep to anything long, but every night for a week she gave Pete lessons in reading, writing, and arithmetic. His reading was laborious, his spelling was eccentric, his figuring he did on the tips of his heavy fingers, and his writing he executed with his tongue in his cheek and his ponderous thumb down on the pen nib.
“What letter is that, Pete?” she said, pointing with her knitting needle to the page of a book of poems before them.
Pete looked up in astonishment. “Is it me you’re asking, Kitty? If you don’t know, I don’t know.”
“That’s a capital M, Pete.”
“Is it, now?” said Pete, looking at the letter with a searching eye. “Goodness me, the straight it’s like the gate of the long meadow.”
“And that’s a capital A.”
“Sakes alive, the straight it’s like the coupling of the cart-house.”
“And that’s a B.”
“Gough bless me, d’ye say so? But the straight it’s like the hoof of a bull, though.”
“And M A B spells Mab—Queen Mab,” said Kate, going on with her knitting.
Pete looked up at her with eyes wide open. “I suppose, now,” he said, in a voice of pride, “I suppose you’re knowing all the big spells yourself, Kitty?”
“Not all. Sometimes I have to look in the dictionary,” said Kate.
She showed him the book and explained its uses.
“And is it taiching you to spell every word, Kitty?” he asked.
“Every ordinary word,” said Kate.
“My gough!” said Pete, touching the book with awe.
Next day he pored over the dictionary for an hour, but when he raised his face it wore a look of scepticism and scorn. “This spelling-book isn’t taiching you nothing, darling,” he said.
“Isn’t it. Pete?”
“No, nothing,” said Pete. “Here I’ve been looking for an ordinary word—a very ordinary word—and it isn’t in.”
“What word is it?” said Elate, leaning over his shoulder.
“Love,” said Pete. “See,” pointing his big forefinger, “that’s where it ought to be, and where is it?”
“But love begins lo,” said Kate, “and you’re looking at lu. Here it is—love.”
Pete gave a prolonged whistle, then fell back in his chair, looked slowly up and said, “So you must first know how the word begins; is that it, Kitty?”
“Why, yes,” said Kate.
“Then it’s you that’s taiching the spelling-book, darling; so we’ll put it back on the shelf.”
For a fortnight Kate read and replied to Pete’s correspondence. It was plentiful and various. Letters from heirs to lost fortunes offering shares in return for money to buy them out of Chancery; from promoters of companies proposing dancing palaces to meet the needs of English visitors; from parsons begging subscriptions to new organs; from fashionable ladies asking Pete to open bazaars; from preachers inviting him to anniversary tea-meetings, and saying Methodism was proud of him. If anybody wanted money, he kissed the Blarney Stone and applied to Pete. Kate stood between him and the worst of the leeches. The best of them he contrived to deal with himself, secretly and surreptitiously. Sometimes there came acknowledgments of charities of which Kate knew nothing. Then he would shuffle them away and she would try not to see them. “If I stop him altogether, I will spoil him,” she thought.
One day the post brought a large envelope with a great seal at the back of it, and Kate drew out a parchment deed and began to read the indorsement—”‘Memorandum of loan to Cæsar Cre——-‘”
“That’s nothing,” said Pete, snatching the document and stuffing it into his jacket-pocket.
Kate lifted her eyes with a look of pain and shame and humiliation, and that was the end of her secretaryship.
A month after their marriage a man came through the gate with the air of one who was doing a degrading thing. The dog, which had been spread out lazily in the sun before the porch, leapt up and barked furiously.
“Who’s this coming up the path with his eyes all round him like a scallop?” said Pete.
Kate looked. “It’s Ross Christian,” she said, with a catch in her breathing.
Ross came up, and Pete met him at the door. His face was puffy and pale, his speech was soft and lisping, yet there lurked about the man an air of levity and irony.
“Your dog doesn’t easily make friends, Peter,” he said.
“He’s like his master, sir; it’s against the principles of his life,” said Pete.
Ross laughed a little. “Wants to be approached with consideration, does he, Capt’n?”
“You see, he’s lived such a long time in the world and seen such a dale,” said Pete.
Ross looked up sharply and said in another tone, “I’ve just dropped in to congratulate you on your return home in safety and health and prosperity, Mr. Quilliam.”
“You’re welcome, sir,” said Pete.
Pete led the way indoors. Ross followed, bowed distantly to Kate, who was unpicking a dress, and took a chair.
“I must not conceal from you, however, that I have another object—in fact, a private matter,” said Ross, glancing at Kate.
The dress rustled in Kate’s fingers, her scissors dropped on to the table, and she rose to go.
Pete raised his hand. “My wife knows all my business,” he said.
Ross gave out another little chirp of laughter. “You’ll remember what they say of a secret, Captain—too big for one, right for two, tight for three.”
“A man and his wife are one, sir—so that’s two altogether,” said Pete.
Kate took up the scissors and went on with her work uneasily. Ross twisted on his seat and said, “Well, I feel I must tell you, Peter.”
“Quilliam, sir,” said Pete, charging a pipe; but Ross pretended not to hear.
“Only natural, perhaps, for it—in fact, it’s about our father.”
“Tongue with me, tongue with thee,” thought Pete, lighting up.
“Five years ago he made me an allowance, and sent me up to London to study law. He believes I’ve been called to the English bar, and, in view of this vacant Deemstership, he wants me admitted to the Manx one.”
Pete’s pipe stopped in its puffing. “Well?”
“That’s impossible,” said Ross.
“Things haven’t come with you, eh?”
“To tell you the truth, Captain, on first going up I fell into extravagant company. I thought my friends were rich men, and I was never a niggard. There was Monty, the patron of the Fancy”—the scissors in Kate’s hand clicked and stopped—and Ross blurted out, “In fact, I’ve not been called, and I’ve never studied at all.”
Ross squirmed in his chair, glancing under his brows at Kate. Pete leaned forward and puffed up the chimney without speaking.
“You see I speak freely, Peter—something compels me. Well, if a man can’t reveal his little failings to his own brother, Peter——”
“Don’t let’s talk about brothers,” said Pete. “What am I to do for you?”
“Lend me enough to help me to do what our father thinks I’ve done already,” said Ross, and then he added, hastily, “Oh, I’ll give you my note of hand for it.”
“They’re telling me, sir,” said Pete, “your notes of hand are as cheap as cowries.”
“Some one has belied me to you, Captain. But for our father’s sake—he has set his heart on this Deemstership—there may still be time for it.”
“Yes,” said Pete, striking his open hand on the table, “and better men to fill it.”
Ross glanced at Kate, and a smile that was half a sneer crossed his evil face. “How nice,” he said, “when the great friends of the wife are also the great friends of the husband.”
“Just so,” said Pete, and then Ross laughed a little, and the clicking of Kate’s scissors stopped again. “As to you, sir,” said Pete, rising, “if it’s no disrespect, you’re like the cormorant that chokes itself swallowing its fish head-ways up. The gills are sticking in your gizzard, sir, only,” touching Ross’s shoulder with something between a pat and push, “you shouldn’t be coming to your father’s son to help you to ram it down.”
As Ross went out Cæsar came in. “That wastrel’s been wanting something,” said Cæsar.
“The tide’s down on him,” said Pete.
“Always was, and always will be. He was born at low water, and he’ll die on the rocks. Borrowing money, eh?” said Cæsar, with a searching glance.
“Trying to,” said Pete indifferently.
“Then lend it, sir,” said Cæsar promptly. “He’s not to trust, but lend it on his heirship. Or lend it the ould man at mortgage on Ballawhaine. He’s the besom of fire—it’ll come to you, sir, at the father’s death, and who has more right?”
The shank of Pete’s pipe came down from his mouth as he sat for some moments beating out the ash on the jockey bar. “Something in that, though,” he said mechanically. “But there’s another has first claim for all. He’d be having the place now if every one had his own. I must be thinking of it—I must be thinking of it.”
Philip had left the island on the morning after the marriage. He had gone abroad, and when they heard from him first he was at Cairo. The voyage out had done him good—the long, steady nights going down the Mediterranean—walking the deck alone—the soft air—the far-off lights—thought he was feeling better—calmer anyway. He hoped they were settled in their new home, and well—and happy. Kate had to read the letter aloud. It was like a throb of Philip’s heart made faint, feeble, and hardly to be felt by the great distance. Then she had to reply to it on behalf of Pete.
“Tell him to be quick and come out of the land of Egypt and the house of bondage,” said Pete. “Say there’s no manner of sense of a handsome young man living in a country where there isn’t a pretty face to be seen on the sunny side of a blanket. Write that Kirry joins with her love and best respects and she’s busy whitewashing, and he’d better have no truck with Pharaoh’s daughters.”
The next time they heard from Philip he was at Rome. He had suffered from sleeplessness, but was not otherwise unwell. Living in that city was like an existence after death—all the real life was behind you. But it was not unpleasant to walk under the big moon amid the wrecks of the past. He congratulated Mrs. Quilliam on her active occupation—work was the same as suffering—it was strength and power. Kate had to read this letter also. It was like a sob coming over the sea.
“Give him a merry touch to keep up his pecker,” said Pete. “Tell him the Romans are ter’ble jealous chaps, and, if he gets into a public house for a cup of tay, he’s to mind and not take the girls on his knee—the Romans don’t like it.”
The last time they heard from Philip he was in London. His old pain had given way; he thought he was nearly well again, but he had come through a sharp fire. The Governor had been very good—kept open the Deemstership by some means—also surrounded him with London friends—he was out every night. Nevertheless, an unseen force was drawing him home—they might see him soon, or it might be later he had been six months away, but he felt that it had not been all waste and interruption—he would return with a new sustaining power.
This letter could not be answered, for it bore no address. It came by the night-mail with the same day’s steamer from England. Two hours later Mrs. Gorry ran in from an errand to the town saying—
“I believe in my heart I saw Mr. Philip Christian going by on the road.”
“When?” said Pete.
“This minute,” she answered.
“Chut! woman,” said Pete; “the man’s in London. Look, here’s his letter”—running his forefinger along the headline—'”London, January 21st—that’s yesterday. See!”
Mrs. Gorry was perplexed. But the next night she was out at the same hour on the same errand, and came flying into the house with a scared look, making the same announcement.
“See for yourself, then,” she cried, “he’s going up the lane by the garden.”
“Nonsense! it’s browning you’re ateing with your barley,” said Pete; and then to Kate, behind his hand, he whispered, “Whisht! It’s sights she’s seeing, poor thing—and no wonder, with her husband laving her so lately.”
But the third night also Mrs. Gorry returned from a similar errand, at the same hour, with the same statement.
“I’m sure of it,” she panted. She was now in terror. An idea of the supernatural had taken hold of her.
“The woman manes it,” said Pete, and he began to cross-question her. How was Mr. Christian dressed? She hadn’t noticed that night, but the first night he had worn a coat like an old Manx cape. Which way was he going? She couldn’t be certain which way to-night but the night before he had gone up the lane between the chapel and the garden. Had she seen his face at all? The first time she had seen it, and it was very thin and pale.
“Oh, I wouldn’t deceave you, sir,” said Mrs. Gorry, and she fell to crying.
“Gough bless me, but this is mortal strange, though,” said Pete.
“What time was it exactly, Jane?” asked Kate.
“On the minute of ten every night,” answered Mrs. Gorry.
“Is there any difference in time, now,” said Pete, “between the Isle of Man and London, Kitty?”
“Nothing to speak of,” said Kate.
Pete scratched his head. “I must be putting a sight up on Black Tom. A dirty old trouss, God forgive me, if he is my grandfather, but he knows the Manx yarns about right. If it had been Midsummer day now, and Philip had been in bed somewhere, it might have been his spirit coming home while he was sleeping to where his heart is—they’re telling of the like, anyway.”
Kate read the mystery after her own manner, and on the following night, at the approach of ten o’clock, she went into the parlour of the hall, whence a window looked out on to the road. The day had been dull and the night was misty. A heavy white hand seemed to have come down on to the face of sea and land. Everything lay still and dead and ghostly. Kate was in the dark room, trembling, but not with fear. Presently a form that was like a shadow passed under a lamp that glimmered opposite. She could see only the outlines of a Spanish cape. But she listened for the footsteps, and she knew them. They came on and paused, came up and paused again, and then they went past and deadened off and died in the dense night-air.
Kate’s eyes were red and swollen when she came back to supper. She had promised herself enjoyment of Philip’s sufferings. There was no enjoyment, but only a cry of yearning from the deep place where love calls to love. She tried afresh to make the thought of Philip sink to the lowest depth of her being. It was hard—it was impossible; Pete was for ever strengthening the recollection of him—of his ways, his look, his voice, his laugh. What he said was only the echo of her own thoughts; but it was pain and torment, nevertheless. She felt like crying, “Let me alone—let me alone!”
People in the town began to talk of Mrs. Gorry’s mysterious stories.
“Philip will be forced to come now,” thought Kate; and he came. Kate was alone. It was afternoon; dinner was over, the hearth was swept, the fire was heaped up, and the rug was down. He entered the porch quietly, tapped lightly at the door, and stepped into the house. He hoped she was well. She answered mechanically. He asked after Pete. She replied vacantly that he had been gone since morning on some fishing business to Peel. It was a commonplace conversation—brief, cold, almost trivial. He spoke softly, and stood in the middle of the floor, swinging his soft hat against his leg. She was standing by the fire, with one hand on the mantelpiece and her head half aside, looking sideways towards his feet; but she noticed that his eyes looked larger than before, and that his voice, though so soft, had a deeper tone. At first she did not remember to ask him to sit, and when she thought of it she could not do so. The poor little words would have been a formal recognition of all that had happened so terribly—that she was mistress in that house, and the wife of Pete.
They were standing so, in a silence hard to break, harder still to keep up, when Pete himself came back, like a rush of wind, and welcomed Philip with both hands.
“Sit, boy, sit,” he cried; “not that one—this aisy one. Mine? Well, if it’s mine, it’s yours. Not had dinner, have you? Neither have I. Any cold mate left, Kitty? No? Fry us a chop, then, darling.”
Kate had recovered herself by this time, and she went out on this errand. While she was away, Pete rattled on like a mill-race—asked about the travels, laughed about the girls, and roared about Mrs. Gorry and her ghost of Philip.
“Been buying a Nickey at Peel to-day, Phil,” he said; “good little boat—a reg’lar clipper. Aw, I’m going to start on the herrings myself next sayson sir, and what for shouldn’t I? Too many of the Manx ones are giving the fishing the goby. There’s life in the ould dog yet, though. Would be, anyway, if them rusty Kays would be doing anything for the industry. They’re building piers enough for the trippers, but never a breakwater the size of a tooth-brush for the fishermen. That’s reminding me, Phil—the boys are at me to get you to petition the Tynwald Court for better harbours. They’re losing many a pound by not getting out all weathers. But if the child doesn’t cry, the mother will be giving it no breast. So we mane to squall till they think in Douglas we’ve got spavined wind or population of the heart, or something. The men are looking to you, Phil. ‘That’s the boy for us,’ says they. ‘He’s stood our friend before, and he’ll do it again,’ they’re saying.”
Philip promised to draw up the petition, and then Mrs. Gorry came in and laid the cloth.
Kate, meanwhile, had been telling herself that she had not done well. Where was the satisfaction she had promised herself on the night of her wedding-day, when she had seen Philip from the height of a great revenge, if she allowed him to think that she also was suffering? She must be bright, she must be gay, she must seem to be happy and in love with her husband.
She returned to the hall-parlour with a smoking dish, and a face all sunshine.
“I’m afraid they’re not very good, dear,” she said.
“Chut!” said Pete; “we’re not particular. Phil and I have roughed it before to-day.”
She laughed merrily, and, under pretext of giving orders, disappeared again. But she had not belied the food she had set on the table. The mutton was badly fed, badly killed, badly cut, and, above all, badly cooked. To eat it was an ordeal. Philip tried hard not to let Pete see how he struggled. Pete fought valiantly to conceal his own efforts. The perspiration began to break out on their foreheads. Pete stopped in the midst of some wild talk to glance up at Philip. Philip tore away with knife and fork and answered vaguely. Then Pete looked searchingly around, rose on tiptoe, went stealthily to the kitchen door, came back, caught up a piece of yellow paper from the sideboard, whipped the chops into it from his own plate and then from Philip’s, and crammed them into his jacket pocket.
“No good hurting anybody’s feelings,” said he; and then Kate reappeared smiling.
“Finished already?” she said with an elevation of pitch.
“Ha! ha!” laughed Pete. “Two hungry men, Kate! You’d rather keep us a week than a fortnight, eh?”
Kate stood over the empty dish with a look of surprise. Pete winked furiously at Philip. Philip’s eyes wandered about the tablecloth.
“She isn’t knowing much about a hungry man’s appetite, is she, Phil?”
“But,” said Kate—”but,” she stammered—”what’s become of the bones?”
Pete scratched his chin through his beard. “The bones? Oh, the bones? Aw, no, we’re not ateing the bones, at all.” Then with a rush, as his eyes kindled, “But the dog, you see—coorse we always give the bones to the dog—Dempster’s dead on bones.”
Dempster was lying at the moment full length under the table, snoring audibly. Mrs. Gorry cleared the cloth, and Kate took up her sewing and turned towards the sideboard.
“Has any one seen my pattern?” she asked.
“Pattern?” said Pete, diving into his jacket-pocket. “D’ye say pattern,” he muttered, rummaging at his side. “Is this it?” and out came the yellow paper, crumpled and greasy, which had gone in with the chops. “Bless me, the stupid a man is now—I took it for a pipe-light.”
Kate’s smile vanished, and she fled out to hide her face. Then Pete whispered to Philip, “Let’s take a slieu round to the ‘Plough.'”
They were leaving the house on that errand when Kate came back to the hall. “Just taking a lil walk, Kirry,” said Pete. “They’re telling me it’s good wonderful after dinner for a wake digestion of the chest,” and he coughed repeatedly and smote his resounding breast.
“Wait a moment and I’ll go with you,” said Kate.
There was no help for it. Kate’s shopping took them in the direction of the “Plough.” Old Mrs. Beatty, the innkeeper, was at the door as they passed, and when she saw Pete approaching on the inside of the three, she said aloud—meaning no mischief—”Your bread and cheese and porter are ready, as usual, Capt’n.”
The man was killing her. To be his spoiled and adored wife, knowing she was unworthy of his love and tenderness, was not happiness—it was grinding misery, bringing death into her soul. If he had blamed her for her incompetence; if he had scolded her for making his home cheerless; nay, if he had beaten her, she could have borne with life, and taken her outward sufferings for her inward punishment.
She fell into fits of hysteria, sat whole hours listless, with her feet on the fender. Pete’s conduct exasperated her. As time went on and developed the sweetness of Pete, the man grew more and more distasteful to her, and she broke into fits of shrewishness. Pete hung his head and reproached himself. She wasn’t to mind if he said things—he was only a rough fellow. Then she burst into tears and asked him to forgive her, and he was all cock-a-hoop in a moment, like a dog that is coaxed after it has been beaten.
Her sufferings reached a climax—she became conscious that she was about to become a mother. This affected her with terrible fears. She went back to that thought of a possible contingency which had torn her with conflicting feelings on the eve of her marriage. It was impossible to be sure. The idea might be no more than a morbid fancy, born of her un-happiness, of her secret love for Philip, of her secret repugnance for Pete (the inadequate, the uncouth, the uncongenial) but nevertheless it possessed her with the force of an overpowering conviction, it grew upon her day by day, it sat on her heart like a nightmare—the child that was to be born to her was not the child of her husband.
In spite of Pete’s invitations, Philip came rarely. He was full of excuses—work—fresh studies—the Governor—his aunt. Pete said “Coorse,” and “Sartenly,” and “Wouldn’t trust,” until Philip began to be ashamed, and one evening he came, looking stronger than usual, with a more sustaining cheerfulness, and plumped into the house with the words, “I’ve come at last!”
“To stay the night?” said Pete.
“Well, yes,” said Philip.
“That’s lucky and unlucky too, for I’m this minute for Peel with two of the boys to fetch round my Nickey by the night-tide. But youll stay and keep the wife company, and I’ll be back first tide in the morning. You’ll be obliged to him, won’t you, Kate?” he cried, pitching his voice over his shoulder; and then, in a whisper, “She’s a bit down at whiles, and what wonder, and her so near—but you’ll see, you’ll see,” and he winked and nodded knowingly.
There was no harking back, no sheering off on the score of modesty before Pete’s large faith. Kate looked as if she would cry “Mercy, mercy!” but when she saw the same appeal on Philip’s face she was stung.
Pete went off, and then Kate and Philip sat down to tea. While tea lasted it was not hard to fill the silences with commonplaces. After it was over she brought him a pipe, and they lapsed into difficult pauses. Philip puffed vigorously and tried to look happy. Kate struggled not to let Philip see that she was ill at ease. Every moment their imagination took a new turn. He began to read a book, and while they sat without speaking she thought it was hardly nice of him to treat her with indifference. When he spoke she thought he was behaving with less politeness than before. He went over to the piano and they sang a part song, “Oh, who will o’er the downs so free?” Their voices went well enough together, but they broke down. The more they tried to forget the past the more they remembered it. He twiddled the backs of his fingertips over the keyboard; she swung on one foot and held to the candle-bracket while they talked of Pete. That name seemed to fortify them against the scouts of passion. Pete was their bulwark. It was the old theme, but played as a tragedy, not as a comedy, now.
“It is delightful to see you settled in this beautiful home,” he said.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” she answered.
“You ought to be very happy.”
“Why should I not be happy?” with a little laugh.
“Why, indeed? A home like a nest and a husband that worships you——-”
She laughed again because she could not speak. Speech was thin gauze, laughter was rolling smoke; so she laughed and laughed.
“What a fine hearty creature he is!” said Philip.
“Isn’t he?” said Kate.
“Education and intellect don’t always go together.”
“Any wife might love such a husband,” said Kate.
“So simple, so natural, so unsuspicious——-”
But that was coming to quarters too close, so they fell back on silence. The silence was awful; the power of it was pitiless. If they could have spoken the poorest commonplaces, the spell might have dissolved. Philip thought he would rise, but he could not do so. Kate tried to turn away, but felt herself rooted to the spot. With faces aside, they remained some moments where they were, as if a spirit had passed between them.
Mrs. Gorry came in to lay the supper, and then Kate recovered herself. She got back her power of laughter, and laughed at everything. He was not deceived. “She loves me still,” said the voice of his heart. He hated himself for the thought, but it haunted him with a merciless persistence. He remembered the evening of the wedding-day, and the imploring look she gave him on going away with Pete; and he returned to the idea that she had been married under the compulsion of her father, Cæsar, the avaricious hypocrite. He told himself it would be easy to kindle a new fire on the warm hearth. As she laughed and he looked into her beautiful eyes and caught the nervous twitch of her mouth, he felt something of the old thrill, the old passion, the old unconditioned love of her who loved him in spite of all, and merely because she must. But no! Had he spent six months abroad for nothing? He would be strong; he would be loyal. If need be he would save this woman from herself.
At last Kate lit a candle and said, “I must show you to your room.”
She talked cheerily going upstairs. On the landing she opened the door of the room above the hall, and went into it, and drew down the blind. She was still full of good spirits, said perhaps he had no night-shirt, so she had left out one of Pete’s, hoped he would find it big enough, and laughed again. He took the candle from her at the threshold, and kissed the hand that had held it. She stood a moment quivering like a colt, then she bounded away; there was the clash of a door somewhere beyond, and Kate was in her own room, kneeling before the bed with her face buried in the counterpane to stifle the sobs that might break through the walls.
Under all her lightness, in spite of all her laughter, the old tormenting thought had been with her still. Should she tell him? Could he understand? Would he believe? If he realised the gravity of the awful position in which she was soon to be placed, would he make an effort to extricate her? And if he did not, would not, could not, should not she hate him for ever after? Then the old simple love, the pure passion, came hack upon her at the sight of his face, at the touch of his hand, at the sound of his voice? Oh, for what might have been—what might have been!
Pete’s Nickey came into harbour with the morning tide, and the three breakfasted together. As Kate moved heavily in front of the fire, Pete crowed, cooed, and scattered wise winks round the table.
“More milk, mammy,” he whimpered, and then he imitated all kinds of baby prattle.
After breakfast the men smoked, and Kate took up her sewing. She was occupying herself with the little labours, so pretty, so full of delicate humour and delicious joy, which usually open a new avenue for a woman’s tenderness. Philip’s eyes fell on her, and she dropped below into her lap the tiny piece of white linen she was working on. Pete saw this, stole to the back of her chair, reached over her shoulder, snatched the white thing out of her fingers, held it outstretched in his ponderous hands, and roared like a smithy bellows. It was a baby’s shirt.
“Never mind, darling,” he coaxed, as the colour leapt to Kate’s face. “Philip must be a sort of a father to the boy some day—a godfather, anyway—so he won’t mind seeing his lil shiff. We must be calling him Philip, too. What do you say, Kirry—Philip, is it agreed?”
As her time drew near, the conviction deepened upon her that she could not be confined in her husband’s house. Being there at such a crisis was like living in a volcanic land. One false step, one passionate impulse, and the very earth under her feet would split. “I must go home for awhile, Pete,” she said.
“Coorse you must,” said Pete. “Nobody like the ould angel when a girl’s that way.”
Pete took her back to her mother’s in the gig, driving very slowly, and lifting her up and down as tenderly as if she had been a child. She breathed freely when she left Elm Cottage, but when she was settled in her own bedroom at “The Manx Fairy” she realised that she had only stepped from misery to misery. So many memories lived like ghosts there—memories of innocent slumbers, and of gleeful awakenings amid the twittering of birds and the rattling of gravel. The old familiar place, the little room with the poor little window looking out on the orchard, the poor little bed with its pink curtains like a tent, the sweet old blankets, the wash-basin, the press, the blind with the same old pattern, the sheepskin rug underfoot, the whitewashed scraas overhead—everything the same, but, O God! how different!
“Let me look at myself in the glass, Nancy,” she said, and Nancy gave her the handglass which had been cracked the morning after the Melliah.
She pushed it away peevishly. “What’s the use of a thing like that?” she said.
Pete haunted the house day and night. There was no bed for him there, and he was supposed to go home to sleep. But he wandered away in the darkness over the Curragh to the shore, and in the grey of morning he was at the door again, bringing the cold breath of the dawn into the house with the long whisper round the door ajar. “How’s she going on now?”
The women bundled him out bodily, and then he hung about the roads like a dog disowned. If he heard a sigh from the dairy loft, he sat down against the gable and groaned. Grannie tried to comfort him. “Don’t be taking on so, boy. It’ll be all joy soon,” said she, “and you’ll be having the child to shew for it.”
But Pete was bitter and rebellious. “Who’s wanting the child anyway?” said he. “It’s only herself I’m wanting; and she’s laving me; O Lord, she’s laving me. God forgive me!” he muttered. “O good God, forgive me!” he groaned: “It isn’t fair, though. Lord knows it isn’t fair,” he mumbled hoarsely.
At last Nancy Joe came out and took him in hand in earnest.
“Look here, Pete,” she said. “If you’re wanting to kill the woman, and middling quick too, you’ll go on the way you’re going. But if you don’t, you’ll be taking to the road, and you won’t be coming back till you’re wanted.”
This settled Pete’s restlessness. The fishing had begun early that season, and he went off for a night to the herrings.
Kate waited long, and the women watched her with trembling. “It’s a week or two early,” said one. “The weather’s warm,” said another. “The boghee millish! She’s a bit soon,” said Grannie.
There was less of fear in Kate’s own feelings.
“Do women often die?” she asked.
“The proportion is small,” said the doctor.
Half an hour afterwards she spoke again.
“Does the child sometimes die?”
“Well, I’ve known it to happen, but only when the mother has had a shock—lost her husband, for example.”
She lay tossing on the bed, wishing for her own death, hoping for the death of the unborn child, dreading its coming lest she should hate and loathe it. At last came the child’s first cry—that cry out of silence that had never broken on the air before, but was henceforth to be one of the world’s voices for laughter and for weeping, for joy and for sorrow, to her who had borne it into life. Then she called to them to show her the baby, and when they did so, bringing it up with soft cooings and foolish words, she searched the little wrinkled face with a frightened look, then put up her arms to shut out the sight, and cried “Take it away,” and turned to the wall. Her vague fear was a certainty now; the child was the child of her sin—she was a bad woman.
Yet there is no shame, no fear, no horror, but the pleading of a new-born babe can drown its clamour. The child cried again, and the cruel battle of love and dread was won for motherhood. The mother heart awoke and swelled. She had got her baby, at all events. It was all she had for all she had suffered; but it was enough, and a dear and precious prize.
“Are you sure it is well?” she asked. “Quite, quite well? Doesn’t its little face look as if its mammy had been crying—no?”
“‘Deed no,” said Grannie, “but as bonny a baby as ever was born.”
The women were scurrying up and down, giggling on the landings, laughing on the stairs, and saying hush at their own noises as they crept into the room. In a fretful whimper the child was still crying, and Grannie was telling it, with many wags of the head and in a mighty stern voice, that they were going to have none of its complaining now that it had come at last; and Kate Herself, with hands clasped together, was saying in a soft murmur like a prayer, “God is very good, and the doctor is good too. God is good to give us doctors.”
“Lie quiet, and I’ll come back in an hour or two,” said Dr. Mylechreest from half-way through the door.
“Dear heart alive, what will the father say?” cried Grannie, and then the whole place broke into that smile of surprise which comes to every house after the twin angels of Life and Death have brooded long over its roof-tree, and are gone at length before the face of a little child.
When Pete came up to the quay in the raw sunshine of early morning, John the Clerk, mounted on a barrel, was selling by auction the night’s take of the boats.
“I’ve news for you, Mr. Quilliam,” he cried, as Pete’s boat, with half sail set, dropped down the harbour. Pete brought to, leapt ashore, and went up to where John, at the end of the jetty, surrounded by a crowd of buyers in little spring-carts, was taking bids for the fish.
“One moment, Capt’n,” he cried, across his outstretched arm, at the end whereof was a herring with gills still opening and closing. “Ten maise of this sort for the last lot, well fed, alive and kicking—how much for them? Five shillings? Thank you—and three, Five and three. It’s in it yet, boys—only five and three—and six, thank you. It’ll do no harm at five and six—six shillings? All done at six—and six? All done at six and six?” “Seven shillings,” shouted somebody with a voice like a foghorn. “They’re Annie the Cadger’s,” said John, dropping to the ground. “And now, Capt’n Quilliam, we’ll go and wet the youngster’s head.”
Pete went up to Sulby like an avalanche, shouting his greetings to everybody on the way. But when he got near to the “Fairy,” he wiped his steaming forehead and held his panting breath, and pretended not to have heard the news.
“How’s the poor girl now?” he said in a meek voice, trying to look powerfully miserable, and playing his part splendidly for thirty seconds.
Then the women made eyes at each other and looked wondrous knowing, and nodded sideways at Pete, and clucked and chuckled, saying, “Look at him,—he doesn’t know anything, does he?” “Coorse not, woman—these men creatures are no use for nothing.”
“Out of a man’s way,” cried Pete, with a roar, and he made a rush for the stairs.
Nancy blocked him at the foot of them with both hands on his shoulders. “You’ll be quiet, then,” she whispered. “You were always a rasonable man, Pete, and she’s wonderful wake—promise you’ll be quiet.”
“TO be like a mouse,” said Pete, and he whipped off his long sea-boots and crept on tiptoe into the room.
There she lay with the morning light on her, and a face as white as the quilt that she was plucking with her long fingers.
“Thank God for a living mother and a living child,” said Pete, in a broken gurgle, and then he drew down the bedclothes a very little, and there, too, was the child on the pillow of her other arm.
Then do what he would to be quiet, he could not help but make a shout.
“He’s there! Yes, he is! He is, though! Joy! Joy!”
The women were down on him like a flock of geese. “Out of this, sir, if you can’t behave better!’
“Excuse me, ladies,” said Pete humbly, “I’m not in the habit of babies. A bit excited, you see, Mistress Nancy, ma’am. Couldn’t help putting a bull of a roar out, not being used of the like.” Then, turning back to the bed, “Aw, Kitty, the beauty it is, though! And the big! As big as my fist already. And the fat! It’s as fat as a bluebottle. And the straight! Well, not so very straight, neither, but the complexion at him now! Give him to me, Kitty I give him to me, the young rascal. Let me have a hould of him, anyway.”
“Him, indeed! Listen to the man,” said Nancy.
“It’s a girl, Pete,” said Grannie, lifting the child out of the bed.
“A girl, is it?” said Pete doubtfully. “Well,” he said, with a wag of the head, “thank God for a girl.” Then, with another and more resolute wag, “Yes, thank God for a living mother and a living child, if it is a girl,” and he stretched out his arms to take the baby.
“Aisy, now, Pete—aisy,” said Grannie, holding it out to him.
“Is it aisy broke they are, Grannie?” said Pete. A good spirit looked out of his great boyish face. “Come to your ould daddie, you lil sandpiper. Gough bless me, Kitty, the weight of him, though! This child’s a quarter of a hundred if he’s an ounce. He is, I’ll go bail he is. Look at him! Guy heng, Grannie, did ye ever see the like, now! It’s absolute perfection. Kitty, I couldn’t have had a better one if I’d chiced it. Where’s that Tom Hommy now? The bleating little billygoat, he was bragging outrageous about his new baby—saying he wouldn’t part with it for two of the best cows in his cow-house. This’ll floor him, I’m thinking. What’s that you’re saying, Mistress Nancy, ma’am? No good for nothing, am I? You were right, Grannie. ‘It’ll be all joy soon,’ you were saying, and haven’t we the child to show for it? I put on my stocking inside out on Monday, ma’am. ‘I’m in luck,’ says I, and so I was. Look at that, now! He’s shaking his lil fist at his father. He is, though. This child knows me. Aw, you’re clever, Nancy, but—no nonsense at all, Mistress Nancy, ma’am. Nothing will persuade me but this child knows me.”
“Do you hear the man?” said Nancy. “He and he, and he and he! It’s a girl, I’m telling you; a girl—a girl—a girl.”
“Well, well, a girl, then—a girl we’ll make it,” said Pete, with determined resignation.
“He’s deceaved,” said Grannie. “It was a boy he was wanting, poor fellow!”
But Pete scoffed at the idea. “A boy? Never! No, no—a girl for your life. I’m all for girls myself, eh, Kitty? Always was, and now I’ve got two of them.”
The child began to cry, and Grannie took it back and rocked it, face downwards, across her knees.
“Goodness me, the voice at him!” said Pete. “It’s a skipper he’s born for—a harbour-master, anyway.”
The child slept, and Grannie put it on the pillow turned lengthwise at Kate’s side.
“Quiet as a Jenny Wren, now,” said Pete. “Look at the bogh smiling in his sleep. Just like a baby mermaid on the egg of a dogfish. But where’s the ould man at all? Has he seen it? We must have it in the papers. The Times?Yes, and the ‘Tiser too. ‘The beloved wife of Mr. Capt’n Peter Quilliam, of a boy—a girl,’ I mane. Aw, the wonder there’ll be all the island over—everybody getting to know. Newspapers are like women—ter’ble bad for keeping sacrets. What’ll Philip say? But haven’t you a toothful of anything, Grannie? Gin for the ladies, Nancy. Goodness me, the house is handy. What time was it? Wait, don’t tell me! It was five o’clock this morning, wasn’t it? Yes? Gough bless me, I knew it! High water to the very minute—aw, he’ll rise in the world, and die at the top of the tide. How did I know when the child was born, ma’am? As aisy as aisy. We were lying adrift of Cronk ny Irrey Lhaa, looking up for daylight by the fisherman’s clock. Only light enough to see the black of your nail, ma’am. All at once I heard a baby’s cry on the waters. ‘It’s the nameless child of Earey Cushin,’ sings out one of the boys. ‘Up with the clout,’ says I. And when we were hauling the nets and down on our knees saying a bit of a prayer, as usual, ‘God bless my new-born child,’ says I, ‘and God bless my child’s mother, too,’ I says, and God love and protect them always, and keep and presarve myself as well.'” There was a low moaning from the bed.
“Air! Give me air! Open the door!” Kate gasped.
“The room is getting too hot for her,” said Grannie.
“Come, there’s one too many of us here,” said Nancy. “Out of it,” and she swept Pete from the bedroom with her apron as if he had been a drove of ducks.
Pete glanced backward from the door, and a cloak that was hanging on the inside of it brushed his face.
“God bless her!” he said in a low tone. “God bless and reward her for going through this for me!”
Then he touched the cloak with his lips and disappeared. A moment later his curly black poll came stealing round the door jamb, half-way down, like the head of a big boy.
“Nancy,” in a whisper, “put the tongs over the cradle; it’s a pity to tempt the fairies. And, Grannie, I wouldn’t lave it alone to go out to the cow-house—the lil people are shocking bad for changing.”
Kate, with her face to the wall, listened to him with an aching heart. As Pete went down the doctor returned.
“She’s hardly so well,” said the doctor. “Better not let her nurse the child. Bring it up by hand. It will be best for both.”
So it was arranged that Nancy should be made nurse and go to Elm Cottage, and that Mrs. Gorry should come in her place to Sulby.
Throughout four-and-twenty hours thereafter, Kate tried her utmost to shut her heart to the child. At the end of that time, being left some minutes alone with the little one, she was heard singing to it in a sweet, low tone. Nancy paused with the long brush in her hand in the kitchen, and Granny stopped at her knitting in the bar.
“That’s something like, now,” said Nancy.
“Poor thing, poor Kirry! What wonder if she was a bit out of her head, the bogh, and her not well since her wedding?”
They crept upstairs together at the unaccustomed sounds, and found Pete, whom they had missed, outside the bedroom door, half doubled up and holding his breath to listen.
“Hush!” said he, less with his tongue than with his mouth, which he pursed out to represent the sound. Then he whispered, “She’s filling all the room with music. Listen! It’s as good as fairy music in Glentrammon. And it’s the little fairy itself that’s ‘ticing it out of her.”
Next day Philip came, and nothing would serve for Pete but that he should go up to see the child.
“It’s only Phil,” he said, through the doorway, dragging Philip into Kate’s room after him, for the familiarity that a great joy permits breaks down conventions. Kate did not look up, and Philip tried to escape.
“He’s got good news for himself, too” said Pete. “They’re to be making him Dempster a month to-morrow.”
Then Kate lifted her eyes to Philip’s face, and all the glory of success withered under her gaze. He stumbled downstairs, and hurried away. There was the old persistent thought, “She loves me still,” but it was working now, in the presence of the child, with how great a difference! When he looked at the little, downy face, a new feeling took possession of him. Her child—hers—that might have been his also! Had his bargain been worth having? Was any promotion in the world to be set against one throb of Pete’s simple joy, one gleam of the auroral radiance that lights up a poor man’s home when he is first a father, one moment of divine partnership in the babe that is fresh from God?
Three weeks later, Pete took his wife home in Cæsar’s gig. Everything was the same, as when he brought her, save that within the shawls with which she was wrapped about the child now lay with its pink eyelids to the sky, and its fiat white bottle against her breast. It was a beautiful spring morning, and the young sunlight was on the sallies of the Curragh and the gold of the roadside gorse. Pete was as silly as a boy, and he chirped and croaked all the way home like every bird and beast of heaven and earth. When they got to Elm Cottage, he lifted his wife down as tenderly as if she had been the babe she had in her arms. He was strong and she was light, and he half helped, half carried her to the porch door. Nancy was there to take the child out of her hands, and, as she did so, Pete, back at the horse’s head, cried, “That’s the last bit of furniture the house was waiting for, Nancy. What’s a house without a child? Just a room without a clock.”
“Clock, indeed,” said Nancy; “clocks are stopping, but this one’s for going like a mill.”
“Don’t be tempting the Nightman, Nancy,” cried Pete; but he was full of childlike delight.
Kate stepped inside. The fire burned in the hall parlour, the fire-irons shone like glass, there were sprigs of fuchsia-bud in the ornaments on the chimneypiece—everything was warm and cheerful and homelike. She sat down without taking off her hat. “Why can’t I be quiet and happy?” she thought. “Why can’t I make myself love him and forget?”
But she was like one who traversed a desert under the sea—a vast submerged Sahara. Over her head was all her life, with all her love and all her happiness, and the things around her were only the ghostly shadows cast by them.
The more Kate realised that she was in the position of a bad woman, the more she struggled to be a good one. She flew to religion as a refuge. There was no belief in her religion, no faith, no creed, no mystical transports, but only fear, and shame, and contrition. It was fervent enough, nevertheless. On Sunday morning she went to The Christians, on Sunday afternoon to church, on Sunday evening to the Wesleyan chapel, and on Wednesday night to the mission-house of the Primitives. Her catholicity did not please her father. He looked into her quivering face, and asked if she had broken any commandment in secret. She turned pale, and answered “No.”
Pete followed her wherever she went, and, seeing this, some of the baser sort among the religious people began to follow him. They abused each other badly in their efforts to lay hold of his money-bags. “You’ll never go over to yonder lot,” said one. “They’re holding to election—a soul-destroying doctrine.” “A respectable man can’t join himself to Cowley’s gang,” said another. “They’re denying original sin, and aren’t a ha’p’orth better than infidels.”
Pete took the measure of them all, down to the watch-pockets of their waistcoats.
“You remind me,” said he, “when you’re a-gate on your doctrines, of the Kaffirs out at Kimberley. If one of them found an ould hat in the compound that some white man had thrown away, they’d light a camp-fire after dark, and hould a reg’lar Tynwald Coort on it. There they’d be squatting round on their haunches, with nothing to be seen of them but their eyes and their teeth, and there’d be as many questions as the Catechism. ‘Who found it!’ says one. ‘Where did he find it?’ says another. ‘If he hadn’t found it, who else would have found it?’ That’s how they’d be going till two in the morning, and the fire dead out, and the lot of them squealing away same as monkeys in the dark. And all about an ould hat with a hole in it, not worth a ha’penny piece.”
“Blasphemy,” they cried. “But still and for all, you give to the widow and lend to the Lord—you practise the religion you don’t believe in, Cap’n Quilliam.”
“There’s a pair of us, then.” said Pete, “for you believe in the religion you don’t practise.”
But Cæsar got Pete at last, in spite of his scepticism. The time came for the annual camp-meeting. Kate went off to it, and Pete followed like a big dog at her heels. The company assembled at Sulby Bridge, and marched through the village to a revival chorus. They stopped at a field of Cæsar’s in the glen—it was last year’s Melliah field—and Cæsar mounted a cart which had been left there to serve as a pulpit. Then they sang again, and, breaking up into many companies, went off into little circles that were like gorse rings on the mountains. After that they reassembled to the strains of another chorus, and gathered afresh about the cart for Cæsar’s sermon.
It dealt with the duty of sinless perfection. There were evil men and happy sinners in the island these days, who were telling them it was not good to be faultless in this life, because virtue begot pride, and pride was a deadly sin. There were others who were saying that because a man must repent in order to be saved, to repent he had to sin. Doctrines of the devil—don’t listen to them. Could a man in the household of faith live one second without committing sin? Of course he could. One minute? Certainly. One hour? No doubt of it. Then, if a man could live one hour without sin, he could live one day, one week, one month, one year—nay, a whole lifetime.
In getting thus far, Cæsar had worked himself into a perspiration, and he took off his coat, hung it over the cartwheel, and went on in his shirt-sleeves. Let them make no excuses for backsliders. It was a trick of the devil to deal with you, and forget to pay strap (the price). It was an old rule and a good one that, if any were guilty of the sins of the flesh, they should be openly punished in this world, that their sins might not be counted against them in the day of the Lord.
Cæsar threw off his waistcoat and finished with a passionate exhortation, calling upon his hearers to deliver themselves of secret sins. If oratory is to be judged of by its effects, Cæsar’s sermon was a great oration. It began amid the silence of his own followers, and the tschts and pshaws of a little group of his enemies, who lounged on the outside of the crowd to cast ridicule on the “swaddler” and the “publican preacher.” But it ended amid loud exclamations of praise and supplications from all his hearers, sighing and groaning, and the bodily clutching of one another by the arm in paroxysms of fear and rapture.
When Cæsar’s voice died down like a wave of the sea, somebody leapt up from the grass to pray. And before the first prayer had ended, a second was begun. Meantime the penitents had begun to move inward through the throng, and they fell weeping and moaning on their knees about the cart. Kate was among them, and, when she took her place, Pete still held by her side A strong shuddering passed over her shoulders, and her wet eyes were on the grass. Pete took her hand, and feeling how it trembled, his own eyes also filled. Above their heads Cæsar was towering with fiery eyes and face aflame. In a momentary pause between two prayers, he tossed his voice up in a hymn. The people joined him at the second bar, and then the wailing of the penitents was drowned in a general shout of the revival tune—
“If some poor wandering child of Thine
Have spurned to-day the voice divine,
Now, Lord, the gracious work begin,
Let him no more lie down in sin.”
Kate sobbed aloud—poor vessel of human passions tossed about, tormented by the fire that was consuming her.
As the penitents grew calmer, they rose one by one to give their experience of Satan and salvation. At length Cæsar seized his opportunity and said, “And now Brother Quilliam will give us his experience.”
Pete rose from Kate’s side with tearful eyes amid a babel of jubilation, most of it facetious. “Be of good cheer, Peter, be not afraid.”
“I’ve not much to tell,” said Pete—”only a story of backsliding. Before I earned enough to carry me up country, I worked a month at Cape Town with the boats. My master was a pious old Dutchman getting the name of Jan. One Saturday night a big ship lost her anchor outside, and on Sunday morning forty pounds was offered for finding it. All the boatmen went out except Jan. ‘Six days shalt thou labour,’ says he, ‘but the seventh is the Sabbath.'”
Pete’s address was here punctuated by loud cries of thanksgiving.
“All day long he was seeing the boats beating up the bay, so, to keep out of temptation, he was going up to the bedroom and pulling the blind and getting down on his knees and wrastling like mad. And something out of heaven was saying to him, ‘It’s the Lord’s day, Jannie; they’ll not get a ha’p’orth.’ Neither did they; but when Jan’s watch said twelve o’clock midnight the pair of us were going off like rockets. Well, we hadn’t been ten minutes on the water before our grapplings had hould of that anchor.”
There were loud cries of “Glory!”
“Jan was shouting, ‘The Lord has put us atop of it as straight as the lid of a taypot!'”
Great cries of “Hallelujah!”
“But when we came ashore we found Jan’s watch was twenty minutes fast, and that was the end of the ould man’s religion.”
That day the word went round that both Pete and Kate had been converted. Their names were entered in Class, and they received their quarterly tickets.
Next morning Kate set out to church for her churching. Her household duties had lost their interest by this time, and she left Nancy to cook the dinner. Pete had volunteered to take charge of the child. This he began to do by establishing himself with his pipe in an armchair by the cradle, and looking steadfastly down into it until the little one awoke. Then he rocked it, rummaged his memory for a nursery song to quiet it, and smoked and sang together.
“A frog he would a-wooing go,
Kitty alone, Kitty alone,
A wonderful likely sort of a beau,
Kitty alone and I!”
(Puff, puff, puff.)
The sun was shining in at the doorway, and a man’s shadow fell across the cradle-head. It was Philip. Pete put his mouth out into the form of an unspoken “Hush,” and Philip sat down in silence, while Pete went on with his smoke and his song.
“But when her husband rat came home,
Kitty alone, Kitty alone,
Pray who’s been here since I’ve been gone?
Kitty alone and I!” (Puff, Puff)
Pete had got to the middle of the verse about “the worthy gentleman,” when the low whine in the cradle lengthened to a long breath and stopped.
“Gone off at last, God bless it,” said Pete. “And how’s yourself, Philip? And how goes the petition?”
With his head on his hand, Philip was gazing absently into the fire, and he did not hear.
“How goes the petition?” said Pete.
“It was that I came to speak of,” said Philip. “Sorry to say it has had no effect but a bad one. It has only drawn attention to the fact that Manx fishermen pay no harbour dues.”
“And right too,” said Pete. “The harbours are our fathers’ harbours, and were freed to us forty years ago.”
“Nevertheless,” said Philip, “the dues are to be demanded. The Governor has issued an order.”
“Then we’ll rise against it—every fisherman in the island,” said Pete. “And when they’re making you Dempster, you’ll back us up in the Tynwald Coort.”
“Take care, Pete, take care,” said Philip.
Then Kate came in from church, and Pete welcomed her with a shout. Philip rose and bowed in silence. The marks of the prayers of the week were on her face, but they had brought her no comfort. She had been constantly promising herself consolation from religion, but every fresh exercise of devotion had seemed to tear open the wound from which she bled to death.
She removed her cloak and stepped to the cradle. The child was sleeping peacefully, but she convinced herself that it must be unwell. Her own hands were cold and moist, and when she touched the child she thought its skin was clammy. Presently her hands became hot and dry, and when she touched the child again she thought its forehead was feverish.
“I’m sure she’s ill,” she said.
“Chut! love,” said Pete; “no more ill than I am.”
But, to calm her fears, he went off for the doctor. The doctor was away in the country, and was not likely to be back for hours. Kate’s fears increased. Every time she looked at the child she applied to it the symptoms of her own condition.
“My child is dying—I’m sure it is,” she cried.
“Nonsense, darling,” said Pete. “Only an hour ago it was looking up as imperent as a tomtit.”
At last a new terror seized her, and she cried, “My child is dying unbaptized.”
“Well, we’ll soon mend that, love,” said Pete. “I’ll be going off for the parson.” And he caught up his hat and went out.
He called on Parson Quiggin, who promised to follow immediately. Then he went on to Sulby to fetch Cæsar and Grannie and some others, having no fear for the child’s life, but some hope of banishing Kate’s melancholy by the merriment of a christening feast.
Meanwhile, Philip and Kate were alone with the little one, save in the intervals of Nancy’s coming and going between the hall and the kitchen. She was restless, and full of expectation, starting at every sound and every step. He could see that she had gone whole nights without sleep, and was passing through an existence that was burning itself away.
Do what he would to explain her sufferings as the common results of childbirth, he could not help resolving them in the old flattering solution. She was paying the penalty of having married the wrong man. And she was to blame. Whatever the compulsion put upon her, she ought to have withstood it. There was no situation in life from which it was not possible to escape. Had he not found a way out of a situation essentially the same? Thus a certain high pride in his own conduct took possession of him even in the presence of Kate’s pain.
But his tenderness fought with his self-righteousness. He looked at her piteous face and his strength almost ebbed away. She looked up into his eyes and affectionate pity almost overwhelmed him. Once or twice she seemed about to say something, but she did not speak, and he said little. Yet it wanted all his resolution not to take her in his arms and comfort her, not to mingle his tears with hers, not to tell her of six months spent in vain in the effort to wipe her out of his heart, not to whisper of cheerless days and of nights made desolate with the repetition of her name. But no, he would be stronger than that. It was not yet too late to walk the path of honour. He would stand no longer between husband and wife.
Pete came back, bringing Grannie and Cæsar. The parson arrived soon after them. Kate was sitting with the child in her lap, and brooding over it like a bird above its nest. The child was still sleeping the sleep of health and innocence, but the mother’s eyes were wild.
“Bogh, bogh!” said Grannie, and she kissed her daughter. Kate made no response. Nancy Joe grew red about the eyelids and began to blow her nose.
“Here’s the prazon, darling,” whispered Pete, and Kate rose to her feet. The company rose with her, and stood in a half-circle before the fire. It was now between daylight and dark, and the firelight flashed in their faces.
“Are the godfather and godmothers present?” the parson asked.
“Mr. Christian will stand godfather, parzon; and Nancy and Grannie will be godmothers.”
Nancy took the child out of Kate’s arms, and the service for private baptism began with the tremendous words, “Dearly beloved, forasmuch as all men are conceived and born in si——”
The parson stopped. Kate had staggered and almost fallen. Pete put his arm around her to keep her up, and then the service went on.
Presently the parson turned to Philip with a softening voice and an inclination of the head.
“Dost thou, in the name of this child, renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of ‘the same, and the carnal desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow nor be led by them?”
And Philip answered, in a firm, low voice, “I renounce them all.”
The parson took the child from Nancy. “Name this child.”
Nancy looked at Kate, but Kate, who was breathing violently, gave no sign.
“Kate,” whispered Pete; “Kate, of coorse.”
“Katherine,” said Nancy, and in that name the child was baptized.
Dr. Mylechreest came in as the service ended. Grannie held little Katherine up to him, and he controlled his face and looked at her.
“There’s not much amiss with the child,” he said.
“I knew it,” shouted Pete.
“But perhaps the mother is a little weak and nervous,” he added quietly.
“Coorse she is, the bogh,” cried Pete.
“Let her see more company,” said the doctor.
“She shall,” said Pete.
“If that doesn’t do, send her away for awhile.”
“Fresh scenes, fresh society; out of the island, by preference.”
“She’ll come back another woman.”
“I’ll put up with the same one,” said Pete; and, while the company laughed, he flung open the door, and cried “Come in!” and half a dozen men who had been waiting outside trooped into the hall. They entered with shy looks because of the presence of great people.
“Now for a pull of jough, Nancy,” cried Pete.
“Not too much excitement either,” said the doctor, and with that warning he departed. The parson went with him. Philip had slipped out first, unawares to anybody. Grannie carried little Katherine to the kitchen, and bathed her before the fire. Kate was propped up with pillows in the armchair in the corner. Then Nancy brought the ale, and Pete welcomed it with a shout. Cæsar looked alarmed and rose to go.
“The drink’s your own, sir,” said Pete; “stop and taste it.”
But Cæsar couldn’t stay; it would scarcely be proper.
“You don’t christen your first granddaughter every day,” said Pete. “Enjoy yourself while you’re alive, sir; you’ll be a long time dead.”
Cæsar disappeared, but the rest of the company took Pete’s counsel, and began to make themselves comfortable.
“The last christening I was at was yesterday,” said John the Clerk. “It was Christian Killip’s little one, before she was married, and it took the water same as any other child.”
“The last christening I was at was my own,” said Black Tom, “when I was made an in inheriter, but I’ve never inherited yet.”
“That’s truth enough,” said an asthmatic voice from the backstairs.
“Well, the last christening I was at was at Kimberley,” said Pete, “and I was the parzon myself that day. Yes, though, Parzon Pete. And godfather and godmother as well, and the baby was Peter Quilliam, too. Aw, it was no laughing matter at all. There’s always a truck of women about a compound, hanging on to the boys like burrs. Dirty little trousses of a rule, but human creatures for all. One of them had a child by somebody, and then she came to die, and couldn’t take rest because it hadn’t been christened. There wasn’t a pazon for fifty miles, anywhere, and it was night-time, too, and the woman was stretched by the camp-fire and sinking. ‘What’s to be done?’ says the men. I’ll do it,’ says I, and I did. One of the fellows got a breakfast can of water out of the river, and I dipped my hand in it. ‘What’s the name,’ says I; but the poor soul was too far gone for spaking. So I gave the child my own name, though I didn’t know the mother from Noah’s aunt, and the big chaps standing round bareheaded began to blubber like babies. ‘I baptize thee, Peter Quilliam, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.’ Then the girl died happy and aisy, and what for shouldn’t she? The words were the same, and the water was the same, and if the hand wasn’t as clane as usual, maybe Him that’s above wouldn’t bother about the diff’rance.”
Kate got up with a flush on her cheeks. The room had become too close. Pete helped her into the parlour, where a bright fire was burning, then propped and wrapped her up afresh, and, at her own entreaty, returned to his guests. The company had increased by this time, and there were women and girls among them. They went on to sing and to playt and at last to dance.
Kate heard them. Through the closed door between the hall and the parlour their merriment came to her. At intervals Pete put in his head, brimming over with laughter, and cried in a loud whisper, “Did you hear that, Kate? It’s rich!”
At length Philip came, too, with his hat in one hand and a cardboard box in the other. “The godfather’s present to little Katherine,” he said.
Kate opened the lid, and drew out a child’s hood in scarlet plush.
“You are very good,” she said vacantly.
“Don’t let us talk of goodness,” he answered; and he turned to go.
“Wait,” she faltered. “I have something to say to you. Shut the door.”
Philip turned pale. “What is it?” he asked.
She tried to speak, but at first she could not.
“Are you unhappy, Kate?” he faltered.
“Can’t you see?” she answered.
He sat down by the fire, and leaned his face on his hands. “Yes, we have both suffered,” he said, in a low tone.
“Why did you let me marry him?”
Philip raised his head. “How could I have hindered you?”
“How? Do you ask me how?” She spoke with some bitterness, but he answered quietly.
“I tried, Kate, but I could do nothing. You seemed determined. Do what I would to prevent, to delay, to stop your marriage altogether, the more you hastened and hurried it. Then I thought to myself, Well, perhaps it is best. She is trying to forget and forgive, and begin again. What right have I to stand in her way? Haven’t I wronged her enough already? A good man offers her his love, and she is taking it. Let her do so, if she can, God help her! I may suffer, but I am nothing to her now. Let me go my way.”
She put her arms on the table, and hid her face in them. “Oh, I cannot bear it,” she said.
He rose to his feet slowly. “If it is my presence here that hurts you, Kate, I will go away. It has been but a painful pleasure to come, and I have been forced to take it. You will acquit me of coming of my own choice, Kate. But I will not torment you. I will go away, and never come again.”
She lifted her face, and said in a passionate whisper, “Take me with you.”
He shook his head. “That’s impossible, Kate. You are married now. Your husband loves you dearly. He is a better man than I am, a thousand, thousand times.”
“Do you think I don’t know what he is?” she cried, throwing herself back. “That’s why I can’t live with him. It’s killing me. I tell you I can’t bear it,” she cried, rising to her feet. “Love me! Haven’t I tried to make myself love him. Haven’t I tried to be a good wife! I can’t—I can’t. He never speaks but he torments me. Nothing can happen but it cuts me through and through. I can’t live in this house. The walls are crushing me, the ceiling is falling on me, the air is stifling me. I tell you I shall die if you do not take me out of it. Take me, Philip, take me, take me!”
She caught him by the arm imploringly, but he only dropped his head down between both hands, saying in a deep thick voice, “Hush, Kate, hush! I cannot and I will not. You are mad to think of it.”
Then she sank down into the chair again, breathless and inert, and sobbing deep, low sobs. The sound of dancing came from the hall, with cries of “Hooch!” and the voice of Pete shouting—
“Hit the floor with heel and toe
‘Till heaven help the boords below.”
“Yes, I am mad, or soon will be,” she said in a hard way. “I thought of that this morning when I crossed the river coming home from church. It would soon be over there, I thought. No more trouble, no more dreams, no more waking in the night to hear the breathing of the one beside me, and the voice out of the darkness crying——”
“Kate, what are you saying?” interrupted Philip.
“Oh, you needn’t think I’m a bad woman because I ask you take me away from my husband. If I were that, I could brazen it out perhaps, and live on here, and pretend to forget; many a woman does, they say. And I’m not afraid that he will ever find me out either. I have only to close my lips, and he will never know. But I shall know, Philip Christian,” she said, with a defiant look into his eyes as he raised them.
Her reproaches hurt him less than her piteous entreaties, and in a moment she was sobbing again. “Oh, what can God do but let me die! I thought He would when the child came; but He did not, and then—am I a wicked woman, after all?—I prayed that He would take my innocent baby, anyway.”
But she dashed the tears away in anger at her weakness, and said, “I’m not a bad woman, Philip Christian; and that’s why I won’t live here any longer. There is something you have never guessed, and I have never told you; but I must tell you now, for I can keep my secret no longer.”
He raised his head with a noise in his ears that was like the flapping of wings in the dark.
“Your secret, Kate?”
“How happy I was,” she said. “Perhaps I was to blame—I loved you so, and was so fearful of losing you. Perhaps you thought of all that had passed between us as something that would go back and back as time went on and on. But it has been coming the other way ever since. Yes, and as long as I live and as long as the child lives——”
Her voice quivered like the string of a bow and stopped. He rose to his feet.
“The child, Kate? Did you say the child?”
She did not answer at once, and then she muttered, with her head down, “Didn’t I tell you there was something you had never guessed?”
“And is it that?” he said in a fearful whisper.
“You are sure? You are not deceiving yourself? This is not hysteria?”
“You mean that the child——”
His questions had come in gasps, like short breakers out of a rising sea; her answers had fallen like the minute-gun above it. Then, in the silence, Pete’s voice came through the wall. He was singing a rough old ditty—
“It was to Covent Gardens I chanced for to go,
To see some of the prettiest flowers which in the gardens grow.”
Nancy came in with a scuttle of coals. “The lil one’s asleep,” she said, going down on her knees at the fire. She had left the door ajar, and Pete’s song was rolling into the room—
“The first was lovely Nancy, so delicate and fair,
The other was a vargin, and she did laurels wear.”
“Grannie bathed her, and she’s like a lil angel in the cot there,” said Nancy. “And, ‘Dear heart alive, Grannie,’ says I,’ the straight she’s like her father when she’s sleeping.'”
Nancy brushed the hearth and went off. As she closed the door, Pete’s voice ebbed out.
Philip’s lips trembled, his eyes wandered over the floor, he grew very pale, he tried to speak and could not. All his self-pride was overthrown in a moment The honour in which he had tried to stand erect as in a suit of armour was stripped away. Unwittingly he had been laying up an account with Nature. He had forgotten that a sin has consequences. Nature did not forget. She had kept her own reckoning. He had struggled to believe that after all he was a moral man, a free man; but Nature was a sterner moralist; she had chained him to the past, she had held him to himself.
He was still by the fire with his head down. “Did you know this before you were married to Pete?” he asked, without looking up.
“Hadn’t I wronged him enough without that?” she answered.
“But did you think of it as something that might perhaps occur?”
“And if I did, what then?”
“If you had told me, Kate, nothing and nobody should have come between us—no,” he said in a decisive voice, “not Pete nor all the world.”
“And wasn’t it your own duty to remember? Was it for me to come to you and say, ‘Philip, something may happen, I am frightened.'”
Was this the compulsion that had driven her into marriage with the wrong man? Was it all hysteria? Could she be sure? In any case she could not think this awful thought and continue to live with her husband.
“You are right,” he said, with his head still down. “You cannot live here any longer. This life of deception must end.”
“Then you will take me away, Philip?”
“I must, God forgive me, I must. I thought it would be sin. But that was long ago. It will be punishment. If I had known before—and I have been coming here time and again—looking on his happiness—but if I had once dreamt—and then only an hour ago—the oath at its baptism—O God!”
Her tears were flowing again, but a sort of serenity had fallen on her now.
“Forgive me,” she whispered. “I tried to keep it to myself———”
“You could not keep it; you ought never to have kept it so long; the finger of God Himself ought to have burnt it out of you.”
He spoke harshly, and she felt pain; but there was a secret joy as well.
“I am ruining you, Philip,” she said, leaning over him.
“We are both drifting to ruin, Katherine,” he answered hoarsely. He was an abandoned hulk, with anchorage gone and no hand at the helm—broken, blind, rolling to destruction.
“I can offer you nothing, Kate, nothing but a hidden life, a life in the dark. If you come to me you will leave a husband who worships you for one to whom your life can never be joined. You will exchange a life of respect by the side of a good man for a life of humiliation, a life of shame. How can it be otherwise now? It is too late, too late!”
“Don’t think of that, Philip. If you love me there can be no humiliation and no shame for me in anything. I love you, dear, I cannot help but love you. Only love me a little, Philip, just a little, dearest, and I will never care—no, I will never, never care whatever happens.”
Her passionate devotion swept down all his scruples. His throat thickened, his eyes grew dim. She put one arm tenderly on his shoulder.
“I will follow you wherever you must go,” she said. “You are my real husband, Philip, and always have been. We will love one another, and that will make up for everything. There is nothing I will not do to make you forget. If you must go away—far away—no matter where—I will go with you—and the child as well—and if we must be poor, I’ll work with you.”
But he did not seem to hear her as he crouched with buried face by the fire. And, in the silence, Pete’s muffled voice came again through the wall, singing his rugged ditty—
“I’m not engaged to any young man, I solemnly do swear,
For I mane to be a vargin and still the laurels wear.”
Unconsciously their hands touched and their fingers intertwined.
“It will break his heart,” he muttered.
She only grasped his hand the closer, and crouched beside him. They were like two guilty souls at the altar steps, listening to the cheerful bell that swings in the tower for the happy world outside.
The door opened with a bang, and Pete rolled in, heaving with laughter.
“Did you think it was an earth wake, Philip?” he shouted, “or a blackbird a bit tipsy, eh? Bless me, man, it’s good of you, though, sitting up in the chimney there same as a good ould jackdaw, keeping the poor wife company when her selfish ould husband is flirting his tail like a stonechat. The company’s going now, Kitty. Will they say good-night to you? No? Have it as you like, bogh. You’re looking tired, anyway. Dempster, the boys are asking when the ceremony is coming off, and will you come home to Ramsey that night? But, sakes alive, man, your eye is splashed with blood as bad as the egg of a robin.”
In his suffering and degradation, Philip felt as if he wished the earth to open and swallow him.
“Bloodshot, is it?” he said. “It’s nothing. The ceremony? I’m to take the oath to-morrow at three o’clock at the Special Council in Douglas. Yes, I’ll come back to Ballure for the night?”
“Six o’clock, maybe?”
“Perhaps seven to eight.”
“That’s all right. Mortal inquisitive the boys are, though. It’s in the breed of these Manx ones, you know. Laxey way, now?”
“I’ll drive by St. John’s,” said Philip.
With a look of wondrous wisdom, and a knowing wink at Kate across Philip’s back, Pete went out. Then there was much talking in low tones in the hall, and on the paths outside the house.
Philip understood what it meant. He glanced back at the door, leaned over to Kate, and said in a whisper, without looking into her eyes—
“The carriage shall come at half-past seven. It will stand for a moment in the Parsonage Lane, and then drive back to Douglas by way of Laxey.”
His face was broken and ugly with shame and humiliation. As she saw this she thought of her confession, and it seemed odious to her now; but there was an immense relief in the feeling that the crisis was over.
Pete was shouting at the porch, “Good-night, all! Goodnight!”
“Good-night!” came back in many voices.
Grannie came in muffled up to the throat. “However am I to get back to Sulby, and your father gone these two hours?” she said.
“Not him,” said Pete, coming behind with one eye screwed up and a finger to his nose. “The ould man’s been on the back-stairs all night, listening and watching wonderful. His bark’s tremenjous, but his bite isn’t worth mentioning.”
And then a plaintive voice came from the hall, saying, “Are you never coming home, mother? I’m worn out waiting for you.”
A little patch of youth had blossomed in Grannie since the baby came.
“Good-night, Pete,” she cried from the gate, “and many happy returns of the christening-day.”
“One was enough for yourself, mother,” said Cæsar, and then his voice went rumbling down the street.
Philip had come out into the hall. “You’re time enough yet,” said Pete. “A glass first? No? I’ve sent over to the ‘Mitre’ for your mare. There she is; that’s her foot on the path. I must be seeing you off, anyway. Where’s that lantern, at all?”
They stepped out. Pete held the light while Philip mounted, and then he guided him, under the deep shadow of the old tree, to the road.
“Fine night for a ride, Phil. Listen! That’s the churning of the nightjar going up to Ballure glen. Well, good-night! Good-night, and God bless you, old fellow!”
Kate inside heard the deadened sound of Philip’s “Goodnight,” the crunch of the mare’s hoofs on the gravel and the clink of the bit in her teeth. Then the porch door closed with a hollow vibration like that of a vault, the chain rattled across it, and Pete was back in the room.
“What a night we’ve had of it! And now to bed.”
Kate was up early the next morning, but Pete was stirring before her. As soon as he had heard the news of Philip’s appointment he had organised a drum and brass band to honour the day of the ceremony. The brass had been borrowed from Laxey, but the drum had been bought by Pete.
“Let’s have a good sizable drum,” said he; “something with a voice in it, not a bit of a toot, going off with a pop like bladder-wrack.”
The parchment was three feet across, the steel rings round it were like the hoops of a dog-cart, and the black drumsticks, according to Pete, were like the bullet heads of two niggers. Jonaique Jelly played the clarionet, and John the Widow played the trombone, but the drum was the leading instrument. Pete himself played it. He pounded it, boomed it, thundered it. While he did so, his eyes blazed with rapture. A big heroic soul spoke out of the drum for Pete. With the strap over his shoulders, he did not trouble much about the tune. When the heart Leapt inside his breast, down came the nigger heads on to the mighty protuberance in front of it; and surely that was the end and aim of all music.
The band practised in the cabin which Pete had set up for a summer-house in the middle of his garden. They met at daybreak that morning for the last of their rehearsals. And, being up before their morning meal, they were constrained to smoke and drink as well as play. This they did out of a single pipe and a single pot, which each took up from the table in turn as it fell to his part to have a few bars’ rest.
While their muffled melody came to the house through the wooden walls and the dense smoke, Kate was cooking breakfast. She did everything carefully, for she was calmer than usual, and felt relieved of the load that had oppressed her. But once she leaned her head on the mantelshelf while stooping over the frying-pan, and looked vacantly into the fire; and once she raised herself up from the table-cloth at the sound of the drum, and pressed her hand hard on her brow.
The child awoke in the bedroom above and cried. Nancy Joe went flip-flapping upstairs, and brought her down with much clucking and cackling. Kate took the child and fed her from a feeding-bottle which had been warming on the oven top. She was very tender with the little one, kissing all its extremities in the way that women have, worrying its legs, and putting its feet into her mouth.
Pete came in, hot and perspiring, and Kate handed the child back to Nancy.
“Hould hard,” cried Pete; “don’t take her off yet. Give me a hould of her, the lil rogue. My sailor! What a child it is, though! Look at that, now. She’s got a grip of my thumb. What a fist, to be sure! It’s lying in my hand like a meg. Did you stick a piece of dough on the wall at your last baking, Nancy? Just as well to keep the evil eye off. Coo—oo—oo! She’s going it reg’lar, same as the tide of a summer’s day. By jing, Kitty, I didn’t think there was so much fun in babies.”
Kate, seated at the table, was pouring out the tea, and a sudden impulse seized her.
“That’s the way,” she said. “First the wife is everything; but the child comes, and then good-bye to the mother who brought it.”
“No, by gough!” said Pete. “The child is eighteen carat goold for the mother’s sake, but the mother is di’monds for sake of the child. If I lost that little one, Kitty, it would be like losing the half of you.”
“Losing, indeed!” said Nancy. “Who’s talking about losing? Does she look like it, bless her lil heart!”
“Take her into the kitchen, Nancy,” said Kate.
“Going to have a rare do to-day,” said Pete, over a mouthful. “I’m off for Douglas, to see Philip made Dempster. Coming home with himself by way of St. John’s. It’s all arranged, woman. Boys to meet the carriage by Kirk Christ Lezayre at seven o’clock smart. Then out I’m getting, laying hould of the drum, the band is striking up, and we’re bringing him into Ramsey triumphant. Oh, we’ll be doing it grand,” said Pete, blowing over the rim of his saucer. “John the Clerk is tremenjous on the trombones, and there’s no bating Jonaique with the clar’net—the man is music to his little backbone. The town will be coming out too, and the fishermen shouting like one man. We’re bound to let the Governor see we mane it. A friend’s a friend, say I, and we’re for bucking up for the man that’s bucking up for us. And when he goes to the Tynwald Coort there, it’ll be lockjaw and the measles with some of them. If the ould Governor’s got a tongue like a file, Philip’s got a tongue like a scythe—he’ll mow them down. ‘No harbour-dues,’ says he, ’till we’ve a raisonable hope of harbour improvements. Build your embankments for your trippers in Douglas if you like, but don’t ask the fisher-, men to pay for them.'”
Pete wiped his mouth and charged his pipe. “It’ll be a rare ould dust, but we’re not thinking of ourselves only, though. Aw, no, no. If there wasn’t nothing doing we would be giving him a little tune for all, coming home Dempster.”
Pete lit up. “My sailor! It’ll be a proud man I’ll be this day, Kitty. Didn’t I always say it? ‘He’ll be the first Manxman living,’ says I times and times, and he’s not going to de-ceave me neither.”
Kate was in fear lest Pete should look up into her face. Catching sight of a rent in the cloth of his coat, she whipped out her needle and began to stitch it up, bending closely over it.
“What an eye a woman’s got now,” said Pete. “That was the steel of the drum ragging me sideways when I was a bit excited. Bless me, Kitty, there won’t be a rag left at me when I get through this everin’. They’re ter’ble on clothes is drums.”
He was puffing the smoke through her hair as she knelt below him. “Well, he deserves it all. My sakes, the years I’ve known him! Him and me have been same as brothers. Yes, have we, ever since I was a slip of a boy in jackets, and we went nesting on Maughold Head together. And getting married hasn’t been making no difference. When a man marries he shortens sail usually, and pitches out some ballast, but not me at all. You’re taking a chill, Kitty. No? Shuddering any way. Chut! This dress is like paper; you should be having warmer things under it. Don’t be going out to-day, darling, but to-night, about twenty-five minutes better than seven, just open the door and listen. We’ll be agate of it then like mad, and when you’re hearing the drum booming you’ll be saying to yourself, ‘Pete’s there, and going it for all he knows.'”
“Oh, Pete, Pete!” cried Kate, and she dropped back at his feet
“Why, what’s this at all?” said Pete.
“You’ve been very, very good to me, Pete, and if I never see you again you’ll think the best of me, will you not?”
She had an impulse to tell all—she could hardly resist it.
He smoothed the black ripples of her hair back from her forehead, and said, tenderly, “She’s not so well to-day, that’s it. Her eyes are bubbling like the laver.” Then aloud, with a laugh, “Never see me again, eh? I’m not willing to share you with heaven yet, though. But I’ll have to be doing as the doctor was saying—sending you to England aver. I will now, I will,” he said, lifting his big finger threateningly.
She slid backwards to the ground, but at the next moment was landed on Pete’s breast. “My poor lil Kirry! Not willing to stay with me, eh? Tut, tut! She’ll be as smart as ever, soon.”
She drew away from him with shame and self-reproach, mingled with that old feeling of personal repulsion which she could not conquer.
Then the gate of the garden clicked, and Ross Christian came up the path. “He’s sticking to me as tight as a limpet,” said Pete.
“Mr. Quilliam,” said Ross, “I come from my father this time.”
“‘Deed, man,” said Pete.
“He is a little pressed for money.”
“And Mr. Peter Christian sends to me?”
“He thought you might like to lend on mortgage.”
Ross stammered and stuttered, “Well, yes, certainly, as you say, on Balla——”
“To think, to think,” muttered Pete. He gazed vacantly before him for a moment, and then said, sharply, “I’ve no time to talk of it now, sir. I’m off to Douglas, but if you like to stop awhile and talk of it with Mrs. Quilliam, I’ll be hearing everything when I come back. Good-day, Kate. Take care of my wife. Good-day, Nancy; look after my two girls while I’m away. And Kitty, bogh” (whispering), “mind you send to Robbie Clucas, the draper, for some nice warm underclothing. Good-bye! Another! Just one more” (then aloud) “Good-day to you, sir, good-day.”
“… He, the Spirit Himself, may come
When all the nerve of sense is numb.”
Philip had not slept at Ballure. The house was in darkness as he passed. He was riding to Douglas. It is sixteen miles between town and town, six of them over the steep headland of Kirk Maughold. Before he reached the top of the ascent he had been an hour on the road, and the night was near to morning. He had seen no one after leaving Ramsey, except a drunken miner with his bundle on his stick, marching home to a tipsy travesty of some brave song.
His self-righteousness was overthrown; his pride was in the dust. Since he returned home, he had struggled to feel strong and easy in the sense of being an honourable man; but now he was thrown violently out of the path in which he had meant to walk rightly. What he was about to do was necessary, was inevitable, yet in his relation to Kate he was in the position of an immoral man, a betrayer, an adulterer, with a vulgar secret, which he must support by lying and share with servants. And what was the outlook? What would be the end? Here was a situation from which there was no escape. Let there be no false glamour, no disguise, no self-deception. On the eve of his promotion to the dignities and responsibilities of a Judge, he was taking the first step down on the course of the criminal!
The moon was shining at the full. It was low down in the sky, on his right, and casting his shadow on to the road. He walked his horse up the long hill. The even pace, the quiet of the night, the drowsy sounds of unseen stream and far-off murmuring sea overcame him in spite of himself, and he dozed in the saddle. As he reached the hilltop the level step of the horse awoke him, and he knew that he was passing that desolate spot on the border of parish and parish which is known as Tom Alone’s.
Opening his eyes, without realising that he had slept, he thought he became aware of another horse and another rider walking by his side. They were on the left of him, going pace for pace, stepping along with him like his shadow. “It is my shadow,” he thought, and he forced up his head to look. Nothing was there but a whitewashed wall that fenced a sheepfold. The moon had gone under the mountains on the right, and the night would have been dark but for the stars. With an astonishment near to terror, Philip gripped the saddle with his quaking knees, and broke his horse into a trot.
When the hard ride had brought warmth to his blood and a glow to his cheeks, he told himself he had been the victim of fancy. It was nothing; it was a delusion of the sight; a mere shadow cast off by his distempered brain. He was passing at a walking pace through Laxey by this time, and as the horse’s feet beat up the echoes of the sleeping town, his heart grew brave.
Next day, at noon, he was talking with his servant, Jem-y-Lord, in his rooms in Athol Street. He had lately become tenant of the entire house. They were in his old chambers on the first floor, looking on to the churchyard.
“I may rely on you, Jemmy?”
“You may, Deemster.”
His voice was low and husky, his eyes were down, he was fumbling the papers on the table. “Get the carriage, a landau, from Shimmin’s, but drive it yourself. Be at Government offices at four—we’ll go by St. John’s. If there is any attempt at Ramsey to take the horse out of the carriage, resist it. I will alight at the head of the town. Then drive on to the lane between the chapel and Elm Cottage. The moment the lady joins you, start away. Return to Laxey—are the rooms upstairs ready?”
“They will be.”
“The two in front of your own, and the little parlour behind this. We shall need no other servants—the lady will be housekeeper.”
“I quite understand, Deemster.”
Philip turned his face aside and spoke thickly, “And you know what name——”
“I know what name, Deemster.”
“You have no objection?”
“None whatever, Deemster.”
Phillip drew a long breath. “I am not Deemster yet, Jemmy. Perhaps it might have been… but God knows. You are a good fellow—I shall not forget it.”
He made a motion as if to dismiss the man, but Jemmy did not go.
“Beg pardon, your honor—”
“Your honour has eaten nothing at breakfast—and the bed wasn’t slept in last night.”
“I was riding late—then I had work to do.”
“But I heard your foot on the floor—-it woke me times.”
“I may have speeches to make to-day…. Fetch me a glass of water.”
Jemmy brought water-bottle and glass. As Philip took the water an icy numbness seemed to seize his arm. “I—well, I—I declare I can’t lift—ah! thanks.”
The man raised Philip’s arm to his mouth; the glass rattled against his teeth while he drank.
“Pardon, your honour. You’re looking ten years older lately. The sooner this day is over the better.”
“Sleep, Jemmy—I only want sleep. I must have a long, long sleep at Ballure to-night.”
He left the house at three minutes to three, carrying his cloak over his arm. It was a hot day at the beginning of June, and when he stepped out at the door the air of the street smote his face like a blast from an open furnace. He reeled and almost fell. The sun’s heat was like a load on his head, its dazzling rays made his sight dim, and he had a sound in his ears like running water. As he walked down the street he caught his wandering reflection in the shop windows. “Jemmy was right,” he thought. “My worst enemy would not accuse me of looking too young to-day.”
There was a small crowd about the entrance to Government offices. Carriages were driving up, discharging their occupants and going on. The Bishop, the Attorney-General, finally the Governor with his wife and daughter passed into the house. In the commotion of these arrivals Philip reached the door unobserved. When he was recognised, there was a sudden hush of voices, and then a low buzz of gossip. He walked through with a firm step, going in alone, all eyes upon him.
The doorway opens on a narrow passage, which is neither wide nor very light, and the sunshine without made the gloom within more grey and uncertain. As Philip stepped over the threshold he was conscious that somebody was coming out. When he had taken two paces more, he drew up sharply with the sense of walking into a mirror. At the next instant he saw that what he had taken for the reflection of his own face in a glass was the actual face of another man.
The man was coming out as he went in. They were approaching each other. At two paces more they were side by side. He looked at the man with creeping horror. The man looked at him with amazement and dread. Thus, eye to eye, they crossed and passed. Then each turned his head over his shoulder and looked after the other, Philip stepping into the gloom, the stranger striding into the light.
At the next moment the narrow doorway was darkened by a ponderous figure rolling through. Then a heavy hand fell on Philip’s shoulder, and a hearty voice exclaimed, “Hilloa, Christian; proud to see you, boy! You’ve outstripped old stick-in-the-mud; but I always knew you would lead me the way though…. Funking a bit, are you? Hands like ice, anyway. Come along—nothing to be nervous about—we’re not going to give you the dose of Illiam Dhone—-don’t martyr the Christians these days, you know.”
Is was Philip’s old master, the Clerk of the Rolls. Taking Philip’s arm, he was for swinging him along; but Philip, still looking towards the street, said falteringly, “Did you, perhaps, see a man—a young man—going out at the door?”
“As you came in.”
“Was there?” said the Clerk dubiously; then, as by a sudden light, “Did he wear a round hat and a monkey-jacket?”
“Maybe—I hardly know—I didn’t observe.”
“That’ll be the man. He’s been at me half the morning for admission to the Council. Said he’d known you all his life. Bough as a thorn-bush, but somehow I couldn’t say no to the fellow at last. He ought to be inside, though.”
“It’s nothing,” thought Philip. “Only another shadow from a tired brain. Jemmy’s talk about my altered looks—the reflection in the shop-windows—the sudden gloom after the dazzling sunlight—that’s all, that’s all. Sleep, I want sleep.”
When the Governor took his seat with the first Deemster on his right, and motioned Philip to the chair on his left, an involuntary murmur passed over the chamber at the contrast there presented—the one Deemster very old, with round, russet face, quick, gleaming eyes, and a comfortable, youthful, even merry expression; the other, very young, with long, pallid, powerful face, large eyes, and a tired look of age.
Philip presented his commission received from the Home Secretary, and the oath of office was administered to him. Kissing a stained copy of a leather-bound Testament, he repeated the words after the Governor in a thick croak that seemed to hack the air—
“By this book, and by the holy contents thereof, and by the wonderful works that God hath miraculously wrought in heaven above and on the earth beneath in six days and seven nights, I, Philip Christian, do swear that I will, without respect of favour or friendship, love or hate, loss or gain, consanguinity or affinity, envy or malice, execute the laws of this Isle justly, betwixt our Sovereign Lady the Queen and her subjects within this Isle, and betwixt party and party, as indifferently as the herring backbone doth lie in the midst of the fish.”
As Philip pronounced these words, he was conscious of only one face in that assembly. It was not the face of the Governor, of the Bishop, of any dignitary of Church or State—but a rugged, eager, dark face over a black beard in the grip of a great brown hand, with sparkling eyes, parted lips, and a look of boyish pride—it was the face of Pete.
“It only remains for me,” said the Governor, “to congratulate your Honour on the high office to which it has pleased Her Majesty to appoint you, and to wish you long life and health to fulfil its duties, with blameless credit to yourself and distinction to your country.”
There was some other speaking, and then Philip replied. He spoke clearly, firmly, and well. A reference to his grandfather provoked applause. His modesty and natural manner made a strong impression. “His Excellency is not so far wrong, after all,” was the common whisper.
Some further business, and the Council broke up for general gossip. Then, on the pavement outside, while the carriages were coming in line, there were renewed congratulations, invitations, and warnings. The Governor invited Philip to dinner. He excused himself, saying he had promised to dine with his aunt at Ballure. The ladies warned him to spare himself, and recommended a holiday; and then the Clerk of the Rolls, proud as a peacock, strutting here and there and everywhere, and assuming the airs of a guardian, cried, “Can’t yet, though, for he holds his first court in Ramsey tomorrow morning…. Put on the cloak, Christian. It will be cold driving. Good men are scarce.”
An open landau came up at length, with Jem-y-Lord on the box-seat, and Pete walking by the horse’s head, smoothing its neck and tickling its ears.
“Why, you were talking of the young man, Christian, and behold ye, here’s the great fellow himself. Well, young chap,” slapping Pete on the back, “see your Deemster take the oath, eh?”
“He’s my cousin,” said Philip.
“Cousin! Is he, then—can he perhaps be—Ah! yes, of course, certainly———” The good man stammered and stopped, remembering the marriage of Philip’s father. He opened the carriage door and stood aside for Philip, but Philip said—
“Step in, Pete;” and, with a shamefaced look, Pete rolled into the carriage. Philip took the seat beside him, amid a buzz of voices from the people standing about the door.
“Well, as you like; good day, then, boy, good day,” said the Clerk of the Rolls, clashing the door back. The carriage began to move.
“Good day, your Honour,” cried several out of the crowd.
Philip raised his hat. The hats of the men went up to him. Some of the girls were wiping their eyes.
While Pete and Philip were driving over the road from Douglas, Kate was sitting with the child on her lap before the fire in Elm Cottage. Her eyes were restless, her manner agitated. She looked out at the window from time to time. The setting sun behind the house still held the day with horizontal shafts of light in the spring green of the transparent leaves.
“Wouldn’t you like to see the procession to-night, Nancy?” she said.
“Aw, mortal,” said Nancy. “But I won’t get lave, though. ‘Take care of my two girls,’ says he——”
“You may go, Nancy; I’ll see to baby,” said Kate.
“But the man himself, woman; he’ll be coming home as hungry as a hunter.”
“I’ll see to his supper, too,” said Kate. “Carry the key with you that you may let yourself in, and be back at half-past seven.”
Then Nancy began to fly about the kitchen like sputter-ings out of the frying-pan—filling the kettle, lighting the lamp, and getting together the baby’s night-clothes. Kate watched her and glanced at the clock.
“Was the town quiet when you were out for the bacon, Nancy?” she said.
“Quiet enough,” said Nancy. “Everybody flying off Le-zayre way already—except what were making for the quay.”
“Is the steamer sailing to-night, then?”
“Yes, the Peveril; but not water enough to float her till half-past seven, they were saying. Here’s the lil one’s nightdress, and here’s her binder, bless her—just big enough for a bandage for a person’s wrist if she sprained it churning.”
“Lay them on the fender to air, Nancy—I’ll not undress baby yet awhile. And see—it’s nearly seven.”
“I’ll be pinning my shawl on and away like the wind,” said Nancy. “The bogh!” she said, with the pin between her teeth. “She’s off again. Do you really think, now, the angels in heaven are as sweet and innocent, Kirry? I don’t. They can’t if they’re grown up. And having to climb Jacob’s ladder, poor things, they must be. Then, if they’re men—but that’s ridiculous, anyway.”
“The clock is striking, Nancy. No use going when everything’s over,” said Kate, and the foot with which she rocked the child went faster now that the little one was asleep.
“Sakes alive! Let me tie the strings of my bonnet, woman. Pity you can’t come yourself, Kitty. But if they’re worth their salt they’ll be whipping round this way and giving you a lil tune, anyway.”
“Have you got the key, Nancy?”
“Yes, and I’ll be back in an hour. And mind you put baby to bed soon, and mind you—and mind you——”
With as many warnings as if she had been mistress and Kate the servant, Nancy backed herself out of the house. It was now dark outside.
Kate rose immediately, put the child in the cradle, and began to lay the table for Pete’s supper—the cruet, the plates, the teapot on the hob to warm, and then—by force of habit—two cups and saucers. But sight of the cups awakened her to painful consciousness. She put one of them back in the cupboard, broke the coal on the fire, settled the kettle up to the blaze, fixed the Dutch oven with three rashers of bacon before the bars, then lit a candle, and, with a nervous look around, turned to go upstairs.
In the bedroom she drew on her cloak, pinned her hat and veil with trembling fingers, then took her purse from her pocket and emptied its contents onto the dressing-table.
“Not mine,” she thought. And standing before the mirror at that moment, she caught sight of her earrings. “I must take nothing of his,” she told herself, and she raised her hands to her ears. Then her heart smote her. “As if Pete would ever think of such things,” she thought. “No, not if I took everything he has in the world. And must I be thinking of them?… Yet I cannot—I will not take them with me.”
She opened a drawer and hurried everything into it—the money, the earrings, the keeper off her finger, and then she paused at the touch of the wedding-ring. A superstitious instinct restrained her. Yet the ring was the badge of her broken covenant. “With this ring I thee wed——” She tore off the wedding-ring also, and cast it with the rest.
“He will find them,” she thought. “There will be nothing else to tell him what has happened. He will come, and I shall be gone. He will call, and there will be no answer. He will look for me, and I shall be lost to him for ever. Not a word left behind. Not a line to say, ‘Thank you and good-bye and God bless you, dear Pete, for all your love and goodness to rae.”‘
It was cruel—very cruel—yet what could she write? What could she say that had not better be left unsaid? The least syllable—no, the uncertainty would be kinder. Perhaps Pete would think she was dead—perhaps that she had destroyed herself. Even that would not be so bitter as the truth. He would get over it—he would become reconciled. “No,” she thought, “I can write nothing—I can leave no message.”
She shut the drawer quickly, and picked up the candle. As she did so, the shadow of herself moved about her. It mounted from the floor to the wall, from the wall to the ceiling. When she walked it seemed to be on top of her, hanging over her, pressing down on her, crushing her. She grew cold and sick, and hastened to the door. The room was full of other shadows—the memories of sleepless nights and of painful awakenings. These stared at her from every familiar thing—the watch ticking in its stand on the mantelpiece, the handle of the wardrobe, the pink curtains of the bed, the white pillow beneath them. She felt like a frightened child. With a terrified glance over her shoulder she crept out of the room.
Being downstairs again, she breathed more freely. There was light all about her, and the hall-parlour was bright and warm. The kettle was now singing in the cheerful blaze, the cat was purring on the rug, and there was a smell of bacon slowly frying. She looked at the clock—it was a quarter after seven. “Time to waken baby,” she thought.
She took from a chest the child’s outdoor clothes—a robe, a pelisse, and a white hood. Her fingers had touched a scarlet hood in a cardboard box, but “not that” she thought, and left it. She spread the clothes about her chair, and then lifted the little one from the cradle to her pillowing arm. The child awoke as she raised it, and made a fretful cry, which she smothered in a gurgling kiss.
“I can love the darling without shame now,” she thought. “It’s sweet face will reproach me no more.”
With soft cooings at the baby’s cheek, she was stooping to take the robe that lay at her feet, when her eyes fell on the round place in the cradle where the child had been. That made her think again of Pete. He would come home and find the little nest cold and empty. It would kill him; it would be a second bereavement. Was it not enough that she should go away herself? Must she rob him of the child as well? He loved it; he doted on it. It was the light of his eyes, the joy of his life. To lose it would be a blow like the blow of death.
Yet could a mother leave her child behind her? Impossible! The full tide of motherhood came over her, and its tender selfishness swept down everything. “I cannot,” she thought; “come what may, I cannot and I will not leave her.” And then she reached her hand for the child’s pelisse.
“It would be a kind of atonement, though,” she thought. To leave the little one to Pete would be making amends in some sort for the wrong that she was doing him. To deny herself the sight of the child’s sweet face day by day and hour by hour—that would be a punishment also, and she deserved to be punished. “Can I leave her?” she thought. “Can I? Oh, what mother could bear it? No, no—never, never! And yet I ought—I must—Oh, this is terrible!”
In the midst of this agony of uncertainty, thinking of Pete and of the wrong she had done him, yet pressing the child to her breast with trembling arms, as if some one were tearing it away, the babe itself settled everything. Making some inarticulate whimper of communication, it nuzzled up to her, its eyes closed, but its head working against her bosom with the instinct of suckling, though it had never sucked.
“I’m only half a mother, after all,” she thought.
The highest joys, the deepest rights of motherhood had been denied to her—the child taking from the mother, the mother giving to the child, the child and the mother one—: this had not been hers.
“My little baby can live without me,” she thought. “If I leave her, she will never miss me.”
She nearly broke down at that thought, and almost let her purpose slip. It was like God’s punishment in advance, God’s hand directing her—thus to withdraw the child from dependence on herself.
“Yes, I must leave her with Pete,” she thought.
She put the child back into the cradle, half dressed as it was, and rocked it until it slept again. Then she hung over the tiny bed as a mother hangs over the little coffin that is soon to be shut up from her eyes for ever. Her tears rained down on the small counterpane. “My sweet baby I my little Katherine! I may never kiss you again—never see you any more’—you may grow up to be a woman and know nothing of your mother!”
The clock ticked loud in the quiet room—it was twenty-five minutes past seven.
“One kiss more, my little darling. If they ever tell you… they’ll say because your mother left you… Oh, will she think I did not love her? Hush!”
Through the walls of the house there came the sound of a band playing at a distance. She looked at the clock again—it was nearly half-past seven. Almost at the same moment there was the rumble of carriage-wheels on the road. They stopped in the lane that ran between the chapel and the end of the garden.
Kate rose from her knees and opened the door softly. The house had been as a dungeon to her, and she was flying from it like a prisoner escaping. A shrill whistle pierced the air. ThePeveril was leaving the quay. Through the streets there was a sound as of water running over stones. It was the scuttling of the feet of the townspeople as they ran to meet the procession.
She stepped out. The garden was dark and quiet as a prison yard; Hardly a leaf stirred, but the moon was breaking through the old fir-tree as she lifted her troubled face to the untroubled sky. She stood and listened. The band was coming nearer. She could hear the thud of the big drum.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
Pete was there. He was helping at Philip’s triumph. That was the beat of his great heart made audible.
At this her own heart stopped for a moment. She grew chill at the thought of the brave man who asked no better lot than to love and cherish her, and at the memory of the other upon whose mercy she had cast herself. The band stopped. There was a noise like the breaking of a mighty rocket in the sky. The people were cheering and clapping hands. Then a clearer sound struck her ear. It was the clock inside the house chiming the half-hour.
Nancy would be back soon.
Kate listened intently, inclining her head inwards. If the child had awakened at that instant, if it had stirred and cried, she must have gone back for good. She returned for one moment and flung herself over the cradle again. One spasm more of lingering tenderness. “Good-bye, my little one! I am leaving you with him, darling, because he loves you dearly. You will grow up and be a good, good girl to him always. Good-bye, my pet! My precious, my precious! You will reward him for all he has done for me. You are half of myself, dearest—the innocent half. Yes, you will wipe out your mother’s sin. You will be all he thinks I am, but never have been. Farewell, my sweet Katherine, my little, darling baby—good-bye—farewell—good-bye!”
She leapt up and fled out of the house at last, on tiptoe, like a thief, pulling the door after her.
When she heard the click of the lock she felt both wretchedness and exultation—immense agony and immense relief. If little Katherine were to cry now, she could not return to her. The door was closed, the house was shut, the prison was left behind. And behind her, too, were the treachery, the duplicity, and deceit of ten stifling months.
She hurried through the garden to a side-door in the wall leading to the lane. The path was like a wave of the sea to her stumbling feet. Her breathing was short, her sight was weak, her temples were beating audibly. Half across the garden something touched her dress, and she made a faint scream. It was Pete’s dog, Dempster. He was looking up at her out of the darkness of the bushes. By the light through the blind of the house she could see his bat’s ears and watchful eyes.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
The band had begun again. It was coming nearer. Philip! Philip! He was her only refuge now. All else was a blank.
The side-door had been little used. Its hinges and bolt were rusty and stiff. She broke her nails in opening it. From the other side came the light jingle of a curb chain, and over the wall hovered a white sheet of smoking light.
The carriage was in the lane, and the driver—Philip’s servant, Jem-y-Lord—stood with the door open. Kate stumbled on the step and fell into the seat. The door was closed.
Then a new thought smote her. It was about the child, about Philip, about Pete. In leaving the little one behind her, though she had meant it so unselfishly, she had done the one thing that must be big with consequences. It would bring its penalty, its punishment, its retribution. Stop! She would go back even yet. Her face was against the glass; she was struggling with the strap. But the carriage was moving. She heard the rumble of the wheels; it was like a deafening reverberation from the day of doom. Then her senses dwaled away and the carriage drove on.
Outside Ballure House there was a crowd which covered the garden, the fence, the high-road, and the top of the stone wall opposite. The band had ceased to play, and the people were shouting, clapping hands, and cheering. At the door—which was open—Philip stood bareheaded, and a shaft of the light in the house behind him lit up a hundred of the eager faces gathered in the darkness. He raised his hand for silence, but it was long before he was allowed to speak. Salutations rugged, rough—almost rude—but hearty to the point of homeliness, and affectionate to the length of familiarity, flew at his head from every side. “Good luck to you, boy!”—”Bravo for Ramsey!”—”The Christians for your life!”—”A chip of the ould block—Dempster Christian the Sixth!”—”Hush, man, he’s spaking!”—”Go it, Phil!”—”Give it fits, boy!”—”Hush! hush!”
“Fellow-townsmen,” said Philip—his voice swung like a quivering bell over a sea,—”you can never know how much your welcome has moved me. I cannot say whether in my heart of hearts I am more proud of it or more ashamed. To be ashamed of it altogether would dishonour you, and to be too proud of it would dishonour me, I am not worthy of your faith and good-fellowship. Ah!”—he raised his hand to check a murmur of dissent (the crowd was now hushed from end to end)—”let me utter the thought of all. In honouring me you are thinking of others also (‘No,’ ‘Yes’); you are thinking of my people—above all, of one who was laid under the willows yonder, a wrecked, a broken, a disappointed man—my father, God rest him! I will not conceal it from you—his memory has been my guide, his failures have been my lightship, his hopes my beacon, his love my star. For good or for evil, my anchor has been in the depths of his grave. God forbid that I should have lived too long under the grasp of a dead hand. It was my aim to regain what he had lost, and this day has witnessed its partial reclamation. God grant I may not have paid too dear for such success.”
There were cries of “No, sir, no.”
He smiled faintly and shook his head. “Fellow-countrymen, you believe I am worthy of the name I bear. There is one among you, an old comrade, a tried and trusted friend, whose faith would be a spur if it were not a reproach——”
His voice was breaking, but still it pealed over the sea of heads. “Well, I will try to do my duty—from this hour onwards you shall see me try. Fellow-Manxmen, you will help me for the honour of the place I fill, for the sake of our little island, and—yes, and for my own sake also, I know you will—to be a good man and an upright judge. But”—he faltered, his voice could barely support itself—”but if it should ever appear that your confidence has been misplaced—if in the time to come I should seem to be unworthy of this honour, untrue to the oath I took to-day to do God’s justice between man and man, a wrongdoer, not a righter of the wronged, a whited sepulchre where you looked for a tower of refuge—remember, I pray of you, my countrymen, remember, much as you may be suffering then, there will be one who will be suffering more—that one will be myself.”
The general impression that night was that the Deemster’s speech had not been a proper one. Breaking up with some damp efforts at the earlier enthusiasm, the people complained that they were like men who had come for a jig and were sent home in a wet blanket. There should have been a joke or two, a hearty word of congratulation, a little natural glorification of Ramsey, and a quiet slap at Douglas and Peel and Castletown, a few fireworks, a rip-rap or two, and some general illumination. “But sakes alive! the solemn the young Dempster was! And the melancholy! And the mystarious!”
“Chut!” said Pete. “There’s such a dale of comic in you, boys. Wonder in the world to me you’re not kidnapped for pantaloonses. Go home for all and wipe your eyes, and remember the words he’s been spaking. I’m not going to forget them myself, anyway.”
Handing over the big drum to little Jonaique, Pete turned to go into the house. Auntie Nan was in the hall, hopping like a canary about Philip, in a brown silk dress that rustled like withered ferns, hugging him, drawing him down to the level of her face, and kissing him on the forehead. The tears were raining over the autumn sunshine of her wrinkled cheeks, and her voice was cracking between a laugh and a cry.
“My boy! My dear boy! My boy’s boy! My own boy’s own boy!”
Philip freed himself at length, and went upstairs without turning his head, and then Auntie Nan saw Pete standing in the doorway.
“Is it you, Pete?” she said with an effort. “Won’t you come in for a moment? No?”
“A minute only, then—just to wish you joy, Miss Christian, ma’am,” said Pete.
“And you, too, Peter. Ah!” she said, with a bird-like turn of the head, “you must be a proud man to-night, Pete.”
“Proud isn’t the word for it, ma’am—I’m clane beside myself.”
“He took a fancy to you when you were only a little barefooted boy, Pete.”
“So he did, ma’am.”
“And now that he’s Deemster itself he owns you still.”
“Aw, lave him alone for that, ma’am.”
“Did you hear what he said about you in his speech. It isn’t everybody in his place would have done that before all, Pete.”
“‘Deed no, ma’am.”
“He’s true to his friends, whatever they are.”
“True as steel.”
The maid was carrying the dishes into the dining-room, and Auntie Nan said in a strained way, “You won’t stay to dinner, Pete, will you? Perhaps you want to get home to the mistress. Well, home is best for all of us, isn’t it? Martha, I’ll tell the Deemster myself that dinner is on the table. Well, good-night, Peter. I’m always so glad to see you.”
She was whisking about to go upstairs, but Pete had taken one step into the dining-room, and was gazing round with looks of awe.
“Lord alive, Miss Christian, ma’am, what feelings now-barefooted boy, you say? You’re right there, and cold and hungry too, sleeping in the gable-house with the cow, and not getting much but the milk I was staling from her, and a leathering at the ould man for that. Philip fetched me in here one evenin’—that was the start, ma’am. See that pepper-and-salt egg on the string there? It’s a Tommy Noddy’s. Philip got it nesting up Gob-ny-Garvain. Nearly cost him his life, though. You see, ma’am, Tommy Noddy has only one, and she fights like mad for it. We were up forty fathom and better, atop of a cave, and had two straight rocks below us in the sea, same as an elephant’s hoofs, you know, walking out on the blue floor. And Phil was having his lil hand on the ledge where the egg was keeping, when swoop came the big white wings atop of his bare head. If I hadn’t had a stick that day, ma’am, it would have been heaven help the pair of us. The next minute Tommy Noddy was going splash down the cliffs, all feathers and blood together, or Philip wouldn’t have lived to be Dempster…. Aw, frightened you, have I, ma’am, for all it’s so long ago? The heart’s a quare thing, now, isn’t it? Got no yesterday nor to-morrow neither. Well, good-night, ma’am.” Pete was making for the door, when he looked down and said, “What’s this, at all? Down, Dempster, down!”
The dog had came trotting into the hall as Pete was going out. He was perking up his big ears and wagging his stump of a tail in front of him.
“My dog, ma’am? Yes, ma’am, and like its master in some ways. Not much of itself at all, but it has the blood in it, though, and maybe it’ll come out better in the next generation. Looking for me, are you, Dempster? Let’s be taking the road, then.”
“Perhaps you’re wanted at home, Pete?”
“Wouldn’t trust. Good night, ma’am.” Auntie Nan hopped upstairs in her rustling dress, relieved and glad in the sweet selfishness of her love to get rid of Pete and have Philip to herself.
Pete went off whistling in the darkness, with the dog driving ahead of him. “I’m to blame, though,” he thought. “Should have gone home directly.”
The town was now quiet, the streets were deserted, and Pete began to run. “She’d be alone, too. That must have been Nancy in the crowd yonder by Mistress Beatty’s. ‘Lowed her out to see the do, it’s like. Ought to be back now, though.”
As Pete came near to Elm Cottage, the moon over the tree-tops lit up the panes of the upper windows as with a score of bright lamps. One step more, and the house was dark.
“She’ll be waiting for me. Listening, too, I’ll go bail.”
He was at the gate by this time, and the dog was panting at his feet with its nose close to the lattice.
“Be quiet, dog, be quiet.”
Then he raised the latch without a sound, stepped in on tiptoe, and closed the gate as silently behind him.
“I’ll have a game with her; I’ll take her by surprise.”
His eyes began to dance with mischief, like a child’s, and he crept along the path with big cat strides, half doubled up, and holding his breath, lest he should laugh aloud.
“The sweet creatures! A man shouldn’t frighten them, though,” he thought.
When he reached the porch he went down on all fours, and began mewing like a mournful tom-cat near to the bottom of the door. Then he listened with his ear to the jamb. He expected a faint cry of alarm, the raucous voice of Nancy Joe, and the clatter of feet towards the porch. There was not a sound.
“She’s upstairs,” he thought, and stepped back to look up at the front of the house. There was no light in the rooms above.
“I know what it is. Nancy is not home yet, and Kirry’s fallen asleep at the rocking.”
He stole up to the window and tried to look into the hall, but the blind was down, and he could not see much through the narrow openings at the sides of it.
“She’s sleeping, that’s it. The house was quiet and she dropped off, rocking the lil one, that’s all.”
He scraped a handful of the light gravel and flung a little of it at the window. “That’ll remind her of something,” he thought, and he laughed under his breath.
Then he listened again with his ear at the sill. There was no noise within. He flung more gravel and waited, thinking he might catch her breathing, but he could hear nothing.
Then rising hurriedly and throwing off his playfulness, he strode to the door and tried to open it. The door was locked. He returned to the window.
“Kate!” he called softly. “Kate! Are you there? Do you hear me? It’s Pete. Don’t be frightened, Kate, bogh!”
There was no response. He could hear the beat of the sea on the shore. The dog had perched himself on one end of the window sill and was beginning to whine.
“What’s this at all? She can’t be out. Couldn’t take the child anyway. Where’s that Nancy? What right had the woman to lave her? She has fainted, being left alone; that’s what’s going doing.”
He tried to open the window, but the latch was shot. Then he tried the other windows, and the back door, and the window above the hall, which he reached from the roof of the porch; but they would not stir. When he returned to the hall window, the white blind was darker. The lamp inside the room was going out.
The moonlight was dripping down on him through the leaves of the trees. He found some matches beside his pipe in his side pocket, struck one, and looked at the sash, then took out his clasp knife to remove the pane under the latch. His hand trembled and shook and burst through the glass with a jerk. It cut his wrist, but he felt the wound no more than if it had been the glass instead of his arm that bled. He thrust his hand through, shot back the latch, then pushed up the sash, and clambered into the room past the blind. The cat, sitting on the ledge inside, rubbed against his hand and purred.
“Kirry! Kate!” he whispered.
The lamp had given up its last gleam with the puff of wind from the window, and, save for the slumbering fire, all was dark within the house. He hardly dared to drop to his feet for fear of treading on something. When he was at last in the middle of the floor he stood with legs apart, struck another match, held the light above his head, and looked down and around, like a man in a cave.
There was nothing. The child, awakened by the draught of the night air, began to cry from the cradle. He took it up and hushed it with baby words of tenderness in a breaking voice. “Hush, bogh, hush! Mammie will come to it, then. Mammie will come for all.”
He lit a candle and crept through the house, carrying the light about with him. There was no sign anywhere until he came to the bedroom, when he saw that the hat and cloak of Kate’s daily wear had gone. Then he knew that he was a broken-hearted man. With a cry of desolation he stopped in his search and came heavily downstairs.
He had been warding off the moment of despair, but he could do so no longer now. The empty house and the child, the child and the empty house; these allowed of only one interpretation. “She’s gone, bogh, she’s left us; she wasn’t willing to stay with us, God forgive her!”
Sitting on a stool with the little one on his knees, he sobbed while the child cried—two children crying together. Suddenly he leapt up. “I’m not for believing it,” he thought. “What woman alive could do the like of it? There isn’t a mother breathing that hasn’t more bowels. And she used to love the lil one, and me too—and does, and does.”
He saw how it was. She was ill, distraught, perhaps even—God help her I—perhaps even mad. Such things happened to women after childbirth—the doctor himself had said as much. In the toils of her bodily trouble, beset by mental terrors, she had fled away from her baby, her husband, and her home, pursued by God knows what phantoms of disease. But she would get better, she would come back.
“Hush, bogh, hush, then,” he whimpered tenderly. “Mammie will come home again. Still and for all she’ll come back.”
There was the click of a key in the lock, and he crept back to the stool. Nancy came in, panting and perspiring.
“Dear heart alive! what a race I’ve had to get home,” she said, puffing the air of the night.
She was throwing off her bonnet and shawl, and talking before looking round.
“Such pushing and scrooging, you never seen the like, Kirry. Aw, my best Sunday bonnet, only wore at me once, look at the crunched it is! But what d’ye think now? Poor Christian Killip’s baby is dead for all. Died in the middle of the rejoicings. Aw, dear, yes, and the band going by playing ‘The Conquering Hero’ the very minute. Poor thing! she was distracted, and no wonder. I ran round to put a sight on the poor soul, and——why, what’s going wrong with the lamp, at all? Is that yourself on the stool, Kirry? Pete, is it? Then where’s the mistress?”
She plucked up the poker, and dug the fire into a blaze. “What’s doing on you, man? You’ve skinned your knuckles like potato peel. Man, man, what for are you crying, at all?”
Then Pete said in a thick croak, “Hould your bull of a tongue, Nancy, and take the child out of my arms.”
She took the baby from him, and he rose to his feet as feeble as an old man.
“Lord save us!” she cried. “The window broke, too. What’s happened?”
“Nothing,” growled Pete.
“Then what’s coming of Kirry? I left her at home when I went out at seven.”.
“I’m choking with thirst, woman. Can’t you be giving a man a drink of something?”
He found a dish of milk on the table, where the supper had been laid, and he gulped it down at a mouthful.
“She’s gone—that’s what it is. I see it in your face.” Then going to the foot of the stairs, she called, “Kirry! Kate! Katherine Cregeen!”
“Stop that!” shouted Pete, and he drew her back from the stairs.
“Why aren’t you spaking, then?” she cried. “If you’re man enough to bear the truth, I’m woman enough to hear it.”
“Listen to me, Nancy,” said Pete, with uplifted fist. “I’m going out for an hour, and till I’m back, stay you here with the child, and say nothing to nobody.”
“I knew it!” cried Nancy. “That’s what she hurried me out for. Aw, dear! Aw, dear! What for did you lave her with that man this morning?”
“Do you hear me, woman?” said Pete; “say nothing to nobody. My heart’s lying heavy enough already. Open your lips, and you’ll kill me straight.”
Then he went out of the house, staggering, stumbling, bent almost double. His hat lay on the floor; he had gone bareheaded.
He turned towards Sulby. “She’s there,” he thought “Where else should she be? The poor, wandering lamb wants home.”
The bar-room of “The Manx Fairy” was full of gossips ‘that night, and the puffing of many pipes was suspended at a story that Mr. Jelly was telling.
“Strange enough, I’m thinking. ‘Deed, but it’s mortal strange. Talk about tale-books—there’s nothing in the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ itself to equal it. The son of one son coming home Dempster, with processions and bands of music, at the very minute the son of the other son is getting kicked out of the house same as a dog.”
“Strange uncommon,” said John the Widow, and other voices echoed him.
Jonaique looked round the room, expecting some one to question him. As nobody did so, except with looks of inquiry, he said, “My ould man heard it all. He’s been tailor at the big house since the time of Iron Christian himself.”
“Truth enough,” said Cæsar.
“And he was sewing a suit for the big man in the kitchen when the bad work was going doing upstairs.”
“You don’t say!”
“‘You’ve robbed me!’ says the Ballawhaine.”
“Dear heart alive!” cried Grannie. “To his own son, was it?”
“‘You’ve cheated me!’ says he, ‘you deceaved me, you’ve embezzled my money and broke my heart!’ says he. ‘I’ve spent a fortune on you, and what have you brought me back?’ says he. ‘This,’ says he, ‘and this—and this—barefaced forgeries, all of them!’ says he.”
“The Lord help us!” muttered Cæsar.
“‘They’re calling me a miser, aren’t they?’ says he. ‘I grind my people to the dust, do I? What for, then? Whom for? I’ve been a good father to you, anyway, and a fool, too, if nobody knows it!’ says he.”
“Nobody! Did he say nobody, Mr. Jelly?” said Cæsar, screwing up his mouth.
“‘If you’d had my father to deal with,’ says he, ‘he’d have turned you out long ago for a liar and a thief.’ ‘My God, father,’ says Ross, struck silly for the minute. ‘A thief, d’ye hear me?’ says the Ballawhaine; ‘a thief that’s taken every penny I have in the world, and left me a ruined man.'”
“Did he say that?” said Cæsar.
“He did, though,” said Jonaique. “The ould man was listening from the kitchen-stairs, and young Ross snaked out of the house same as a cur.”
“And where’s he gone to?” said Cæsar.
“Gone to the devil, I’m thinking,” said Jonaique.
“Well, he’d be good enough for him with a broken back—pity the ould man didn’t break it,” said Cæsar. “But where is the wastrel now?”
“Gone to England over with to-night’s packet, they’re saying.”
“Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,” said Cæsar.
A grunt came out of the corner from behind a cloud of smoke. “You’ve your own rasons for saying so, Cæsar,” said the husky voice of Black Tom. “People were talking and talking one while there that he’d be ‘bezzling somebody’s daughter, as well as the ould miser’s money.”
“Answer a fool according to his folly,” muttered Cæsar; and then the door jerked open, and Pete came staggering into the room. Every pipe shank was lowered in an instant, and Grannie’s needles ceased to click.
Pete was still bareheaded, his face was ghastly white, and his eyes wandered, but he tried to bear himself as if nothing had happened. Smiling horribly, and nodding all round, as a man does sometimes in battle the moment the bullet strikes him, he turned to Grannie and moved his lips a little as if he thought he was saying something, though he uttered no sound. After that he took out his pipe, and rammed it with his forefinger, then picked a spill from the table, and stooped to the fire for a light.
“Anybody—belonging—me—here?” he said, in a voice like a crow’s, coughing as he spoke, the flame dancing over the pipe mouth.
“No, Pete, no,” said Grannie. “Who were you looking for, at all?”
“Nobody,” he answered. “Nobody partic’lar. Aw, no,” he said, and he puffed until his lips quacked, though the pipe gave out no smoke. “Just come in to get fire to my pipe. Must be going now. So long, boys! S’long! Bye-bye, Grannie!”
No one answered him. He nodded round the room again and smiled fearfully, crossed to the door with a jaunty roll, and thus launched out of the house with a pretence of unconcern, the dead pipe hanging upside down in his mouth, and his head aside, as if his hat had been tilted rakishly on his uncovered hair.
When he had gone the company looked into each other’s faces in surprise and fear, as if a ghost in broad daylight had passed among them. Then Black Tom broke the silence.
“Men,” said he, “that was a d——— lie.”
“Si———” began Cæsar, but the protest foundered in his dry throat.
“Something going doing in Ramsey,” Black Tom continued. “I believe in my heart I’ll follow him.”
“I’ll be going along with you, Mr. Quilliam,” said Jonaique.
“And I,” said John the Clerk.
“And I”—”And I,” said the others, and in half a minute the room was empty.
“Father,” whimpered Grannie, through the glass partition, “hadn’t you better saddle the mare and see if any thing’s going wrong with Kirry?”
“I was thinking the same myself, mother.”
“Come, then, away with you. The Lord have mercy on all of us!”
As soon as he was out of earshot Pete began to run. Within half an hour he was back at Elm Cottage. “She’ll be home by this time,” he told himself, but he dared not learn the truth too suddenly. Creeping up to the hall window, he listened at the broken pane. The child was crying, and Nancy Joe was talking to herself, and sobbing as she bathed the little one.
“Bless its precious heart, it’s as beautiful as the angels in heaven. I’ve bathed her mother on the same knee a hundred times. ‘Deed have I, and a thousand times too. Mother, indeed! What sort of mothers are in now at all? She must have a heart-as hard as a stone to lave the like of it. Can’t be a drop of nature in her…. Goodness, Nancy, what are saying for all? Kate is it? Your own little Kirry, and you blackening her! Aw, dear!—aw, dear! The bogh!—the bogh!”
Pete could not go in. He crept back to the cabin in the garden and leaned against it to draw his breath and think. Then he noticed that the dog was on the path with its long tongue hanging over its jaw. It stopped its panting to whine woefully, and then it turned towards the darker part of the garden.
“He’s telling me something,” thought Pete.
A car rattled down the side road at that moment, and the light of its lamp shot through the bushes to his feet.
“The ould gate must be open,” he thought.
He looked and saw that it was, and then a new light dawned on him.
“She’s gone up to Philip’s,” he told himself. “She’s gone by Claughbane to Ballure to find me.”
Five minutes afterwards he was knocking at Ballure House. His breath was coming in gusts, perspiration was standing in beads on his face, and his head was still bare, but he was carrying himself bravely as if nothing were amiss. His knock was answered by the maid, a tall girl of cheerful expression, in a black frock, a white apron, and a snow-white cap. Pete nodded and smiled at her.
“Anybody been here for me? No?” he asked.
“No, sir, n—o, I think not,” the girl answered, and as she looked at Pete her face straightened.
There was a rustling within as of autumn leaves, and then a twittering voice cried, “Is it Capt’n Quilliam, Martha?”
Some whispered conference took place at the dining-room door, and Auntie Nan came hopping through the hall. But Pete was already moving away in the darkness.
“Shall I call the Deemster, Peter?”
“Aw, no, ma’am, no, not worth bothering him. Good everin’, Miss Christian, ma’am, good everin’ to you.”
Auntie Nan and Martha were standing in the light at the open door when the iron gate of the garden swung to with a click, and Pete swung across the road.
He was making for the lane which goes down to the shore at the foot of Ballure Glen. “No denying it,” he thought. “It must be true for all. The trouble in her head has driven her to it. Poor girl, poor darling!”
He had been fighting against an awful idea, and the quagmire of despair had risen to his throat at last. The moon was behind the cliffs, and he groped his way through the shadows at the foot of the rocks like one who looks for something which he dreads to find. He found nothing, and his catchy breathing lengthened to sighs.
“Thank God, not here, anyway!” he muttered.
Then he walked down the shore towards the harbour. The tide was still high, the wash of the waves touched his feet; on the one hand the dark sea, unbroken by a light, on the other the dull town blinking out and dropping asleep.
He reached the end of the stone pier at the mouth of the harbour, and with his back to the seaward side of the lighthouse he stared down into the grey water that surged and moaned under the rounded wall. A black cloud like a skate was floating across the moon, and a startled gannet scuttled from under the pier steps into the moon’s misty waterway. There was nothing else to be seen.
He turned back towards the town, following the line of the quay, and glancing down into the harbour when he came to the steps. Still he saw nothing of the thing he looked for. “But it was high water then, and now it’s the ebby tide,” he told himself.
He had met with nobody on the shore or on the pier, but as he passed the sheds in front of the berth for the steamers he was joined by the harbour-master, who was swinging home for the night, with his coat across his arm. Then he tried to ask the question that was slipping off his tongue, but dared not, and only stammered awkwardly——
“Any news to-night, Mr. Quay le?”
“Is it yourself, Capt’n? If you’ve none, I’ve none. It’s independent young rovers like you for newses, not poor ould chaps tied to the harbour-post same as a ship’s cable. I was hearing you, though. You’d a power of music in the everin’ yonder. Fine doings up at Ballure, seemingly.”
“Nothing fresh with yourself then, Daniel? No?”
“Except that I am middling sick of these late sailings, and the sooner they’re building us a breakwater the better. If the young Deemster will get that for us, he’ll do.”
They were nearing a lamp at the corner of the marketplace.
“It’s like you know the young Ballawhaine crossed with the boat to-night? Something wrong, with the ould man, they’re telling me. But boy, veen, what’s come of your hat at all?”
“My hat?” said Pete, groping about his head. “Oh, my hat? Blown off on the pier, of coorse.”
“‘Deed, man! Not much wind either. You’ll be for home and the young wife, eh, Capt’n?”
“Must be,” said Pete, with an empty laugh. And the harbour-master, who was a bachelor, laughed more heartily, and added——
“You married men are like Adam, you’ve lost the rib of your liberty, but you’ve got a warm little woman to your side instead.”
“Ha! ha! ha! Goodnight!”
Pete’s laugh echoed through the empty market-place.
The harbour-master had seen nothing. Pete drew a long breath, followed the line of the harbour as far as to the bridge at the end of it, and then turned back through the town. He had forgotten again that he was bareheaded, and he walked down Parliament Street with a tremendous step and the air of a man to whom nothing unusual had occurred. People were standing in groups at the corner of every side street, talking eagerly, with the low hissing sound that women make when they are discussing secrets. So absorbed were they that Pete passed some of them unobserved. He caught snatches of their conversation.
“The rascal,” said one.
“Clane ruined the ould man, anyway,” said another.
“Ross Christian again,” thought Pete. But a greater secret swamped everything. Still he heard the people as he passed.
“Sarve her right, though, whatever she gets—she knew what he was.”
“Laving the child, too, the unfeeling creature.”
Then the sharp voices of the women fell on the dull consciousness of Pete like forks of lightning.
“Whisht, woman! the husband himself,” said somebody.
There was a noise of feet like the plash of retiring waves, and Pete noticed that one of the groups had broken into a half circle, facing him as he strode along the street. He nodded cheerfully over both sides, threw back his bare head, and plodded on. But his teeth were set hard, and his breathing was quick and audible.
“I see what they mane,” he muttered.
Outside his own house he found a crowd. A saddle-horse, with a cloud of steam rising from her, was standing with the reins over its head, linked to the gate-post. It was Cæsar’s mare, Molly. Every eye was on the house, and no one saw Pete as he came up behind.
“Black Tom’s saying there’s not a doubt of it,” said a woman.
“Gone with the young Ballawhaine, eh?” said a man.
“Shame on her, the hussy,” said another woman.
Pete ploughed his way through with both arms, smiling and nodding furiously. “If you, plaze, ma’am I If you plaze.”
As he pushed on he heard voices behind him. “Poor man, he doesn’t know yet.”—”I’m taking pity to look at him.”
The house-door was open. On the threshold stood a young man with long hair and a long note-book. He was putting questions. “Last seen at seven o’clock—left alone with child—husband out with procession—any other information?”
Nancy Joe, with the child on her lap, was answering querulously from the stool before the fire, and Cæsar, face down, was leaning on the mantelpiece.
Pete took in the situation at a glance. Then he laid his big hand on the young man’s shoulder and swung him aside as if he had been turning a swivel.
“What going doing?” he asked.
The young man faltered something. Sorry to intrude—Capt’n Quilliam’s trouble.
“What trouble?” said Pete.
“Need I say—the lamented—I mean distressing—in fact, the mysterious disappearance——”
“What disappearance?” said Pete, with an air of amazement.
“Can it be, sir, that you’ve not yet heard——”
“Heard what? Your tongue’s like a turnip-watch in a fob pocket—out with it, man.”
“Your wife, Captain——”
“What? My wife disa—— What? So this is the jeel! My wife mysteriously disappear—— Oh, my gough!”
Pete burst into a peal of laughter. He shouted, roared, held his sides, doubled, rocked up and down, and at length flung himself into a chair, threw back his head, heaved out his legs, and shook till the house itself seemed to quake.
“Well, that’s good! that’s rich! that bates all!” he cried.
The child awoke on Nancy’s knee and sent its thin pipe through Pete’s terrific bass. Cæsar opened his mouth and gaped, and the young man, now white and afraid, scraped and backed himself to the door, saying—
“Then perhaps it’s not true, after all, Capt’n?”
“Of coorse it’s not true,” said Pete.
“Maybe you know where she’s gone.”
“Of course I know where’s she’s gone. I sent her there myself!”
“You did, though?” said Cæsar.
“Yes, did I—to England by the night sailing.”
“‘Deed, man!” said Cæsar.
“The doctor ordered it. You heard him yourself, grandfather.”
“Well, that’s true, too,” said Cæsar.
The young man closed his long note-book and backed into a throng of women who had come up to the porch. “Of course, if you say so, Capt’n Quilliam——”
“I do say so,” shouted Pete; and the reporter disappeared.
The voices of two women came from the gulf of white faces wherein the reporter had been swallowed up. “I’m right glad it’s lies they’ve been telling of her, Capt’n,” said the first.
“Of coorse you are, Mistress Kinnish,” shouted Pete.
“I could never have believed the like of the same woman, and I always knew the child was brought up by hand,” said the other.
“Coorse you couldn’t, Mistress Kewley,” Pete replied.
But he swung up and kicked the door to in their faces. The strangers being shut out, Cæsar said cautiously—
“Do you mane that, Peter?”
“Molly’s smoking at the gate like a brewer’s vat, father,” said Pete.
“The half hasn’t been told you, Peter. Listen to me. It’s only proper you should hear it. When you were away at Kim-berley this Ross Christian was bothering the girl terrible.”
“She’ll be getting cold so long out of the stable,” said Pete.
“I rebuked him myself, sir, and he smote me on the brow. Look! Here’s the mark of his hand over my temple, and I’ll be carrying it to my grave.”
“Ross Christian! Ross Christian!” muttered Pete impatiently.
“By the Lord’s restraining grace, sir, I refrained myself—but if Mr. Philip hadn’t been there that night—I’m not hould-ing with violence, no, resist not evil—but Mr. Philip fought the loose liver with his fist for me; he chastised him, sir; he—”
“D———the man!” cried Pete, leaping to his feet. “What’s he to me or my wife either?”
Cæsar went home huffed, angry, and unsatisfied. And then, all being gone and the long strain over, Pete snatched the puling child out of Nancy’s arms, and kissed it and wept over it.
“Give her to me, the bogh,” he cried, hoarse as a raven, and then sat on the stool before the fire, and rocked the little one and himself together. “If I hadn’t something innocent to lay hould of I should be going mad, that I should. Oh, Katherine bogh! Katherine bogh! My little bogh! My I’ll bogh millish!”
In the deep hours of the night, after Nancy had grumbled and sobbed herself to sleep by the side of the child, Pete got up from the sofa in the parlour and stole out of the house again.
“She may come up with the morning tide,” he told himself. “If she does, what matter about a lie, God forgive me? God help me, what matter about anything?”
If she did not, he would stick to his story, so that when she came back, wherever she had been, she would come home as an honest woman.
“And will be, too,” he thought. “Yes, will be, too, spite of all their dirty tongues—as sure as the Lord’s in heaven.”
The dog trotted on in front of him as he turned up towards Ballure.
Philip had not eaten much that night at dinner. He had pecked at the wing of a fowl, been restless, absent, preoccupied, and like a man struggling for composure. At intervals he had listened as for a step or a voice, then recovered himself and laughed a little.
Auntie Nan had explained his uneasiness on grounds of natural excitement after the doings of the great day. She had loaded his plate with good things, and chirruped away under the light of the lamp.
“So sweet of you, Philip, not to forget Pete amid all your success. He’s really such a good soul. It would break his heart if you neglected him. Simple as a child, certainly, and of course quite uneducated, but——”
“Pete is fit to be the friend of any one, Auntie.”
“The friend, yes, but you’ll allow not exactly the companion——”
“If he is simple, it is the simplicity of a nature too large for little things.”
“The dear fellow! He’s not a bit jealous of you, Philip.”
“Such feelings are far below him, Auntie.”
“He’s your first cousin after all, Philip. There’s no denying that. As he says, the blood of the Christians is in him.”
The conversation took a turn. Auntie Nan fell to talking of the other Peter, uncle Peter Christian of Ballawhaine. This was the day of the big man’s humiliation. The son he had doted on was disgraced. She tried, but could not help it; she struggled, but could not resist the impulse—in her secret heart the tender little soul rejoiced.
“Such a pity,” she sighed. “So touching when a father—no matter how selfish—is wrecked by love of a thankless son. I’m sorry, indeed I am. But I warned him six years ago. Didn’t I, now?”
Philip was far away. He was seeing visions of Pete going home, the deserted house, the empty cradle, the desolate man alone and heart-broken.
They rose from the table and went into the little parlour, Auntie Nan on Philip’s arm, proud and happy. She fluttered down to the piano and sang, to cheer him up a little, an old song in a quavering old voice.
“Of the wandering falcon
The cuckoo complains,
He has torn her warm nest,
He has scattered her young.”
Suddenly Philip got up stiffly, and said in a husky whisper, “Isn’t that his voice?”
“In the hall.”
“I hear nobody. Let me look. No, Pete’s not here. But how pale you are, Philip. What’s amiss?”
“Nothing,” said Philip. “I only thought——”
“Take some wine, dear, or some brandy. You’ve overtired yourself to-day, and no wonder. You must have a long, long rest to-night.”
“Yes I’ll go to bed at once.”
“So soon! Well, perhaps it’s best. You want sleep: your eyes show that. Martha! Is everything ready in the Deemster’s room? All but the lamp? Take it up, Martha. Philip, you’ll drink a little brandy and water first? I’ll carry it to your room then; you might need it in the night. Go before me, dear. Yes, yes, you must. Do you think I want you to see how old I am when I’m going upstairs? Ah! I hadn’t to climb by the banisters this way when I came first to Bal-lure.”
On reaching the landing, Philip was turning to his old room, the bedroom he had occupied from his boyhood up, the bedroom of his mother’s father, old Capt’n Billy.
“Not that way to-night, Philip. This way—there! What do you say to that?”
She pushed open the door of the room opposite, and the glow of the fire within rushed out on them.
“My father’s room,” said Philip, and he stepped back.
“Oh, I’ve aired it, and it’s not a bit the worse for being so long shut up. See, it’s like toast Oo—oo—oo! Not the least sign of my breath. Come!”
“No, Auntie, no.”
“Are you afraid of ghosts? There’s only one ghost lives here, Philip, the memory of your dear father, and that will never harm you.”
“But this place is too sacred. No one has slept here since——”
“That’s why, dearest. But now you have justified your father’s hopes, and it must be your room for the future. Ah! if he could only see you himself, how proud he would be! Poor father! Perhaps he does. Who knows—perhaps—kiss me, Philip. See what an old silly I am, after all. So happy that I have to cry. But mind now, you’ve got to sleep in this room every time you come to hold court in Ramsey. I refuse to share you with Elm Cottage any longer. Talk about jealousy! If Pete isn’t jealous, I know somebody who is—or soon will be. But Philip—Philip Christian——”
The sweet old face grew solemn. “The greatest man has his cares and doubts and divisions. That’s only natural—out in the open field of life. But don’t be ashamed to come here whenever you are in trouble. It’s what home is for, Philip. Just a place of peace and shelter from the rough world, when it wounds and hurts you. A quiet spot, dear, with memories of father and mother and innocent childhood—and with an old goose of an auntie, maybe, who thinks of you all day and every day, and is so vain and foolish—and—and who loves you. Philip, better than anybody in the World.”
Philip’s arms were about the old soul, but he had not heard her. With a terrified glance towards the window, he was saying in a low quick voice, “Isn’t that a footstep on the gravel?”
“N—o, no! You’re nervous to-night, Philip. Lie and rest. When you’re asleep, I’ll creep back and look at you.”
She left him, and he looked around. Not in all the world could Philip have found a spot so full of terrors. It was like a sepulchre of dead things—his dead father, his dead mother, his dead youth, his dead innocence, his slaughtered friendship, and his outraged conscience.
Over the fireplace hung a portrait of his mother. It was the picture of a comely girl, young and soft, with full ripe lips and bright brown eyes. Philip shuddered as he looked at it. The portrait was like the ghost of himself looking through the veil of a woman’s face.
Facing this, and hanging over the side of the bed, was a portrait of his father. The eyes were full of light, the lines of the cheek were round; the mouth seemed to quiver with a tender smile. But Philip could not see it as it was. He saw it with straggling hair, damp and long as reeds, the cheeks pallid and drawn, the eyes like lamps in a mist, the throat bare of the shirt, and the lips kept apart by laboured breathing.
Near the window stood the cot where he had once slept with Pete, and leaped up in the morning and laughed. On every hand, wherever his eye could rest, there rose a phantom of his lost and buried life. And Auntie Nannie’s love and pride had brought him to this chamber of torture!
The night was calm enough outside; but it seemed to lie dead within that room, so quiet was it and so still. There was a clock, but it did not go; and there was a cage for a bird, but no bird pecked in it, Philip thought he heard a knocking at the door of the house. Nobody answered it, so he rang for the maid. She came upstairs with a smile.
“Didn’t you hear a knock at the front door, Martha?”
“No, sir,” said the girl.
“Strange! Very strange! I could have sworn it was the knock of Mr. Quilliam.”
“Perhaps it was, sir. Ill go and look.”
“No matter. I’ve a singing in my ears to-night. It must be that.”
The girl left him. He threw off his boots and began to creep about the room as if he were doing something in which he feared detection. Every time his eyes fell on the portrait of his father he dropped his head and turned aside. Presently he heard voices in the room below. This time the sound in his ears was no dreaming. He opened the door noiselessly and listened. It was Pete. Martha was answering him. Auntie Nan was calling from the dining-room, and Pete was saying “No, no,” in a light way and moving off. The gate of the garden clicked and the front door was closed quietly. Then Philip shut the door of his own room without a sound.
A moment later Auntie Nan re-opened it. She was carrying a lighted candle.
“Such an extraordinary thing, Philip. Martha says you thought you heard Peter knocking, and, do you know, he must have been coming up the hill at that very moment. He was so strange, too, and looked so wild. Asked if anybody had been here inquiring for him; as if anybody should. Wouldn’t have me call to you, and went off laughing about nothing. Really, if I hadn’t known him for a sober man——”
Philip felt sick-and chill, and-he began to shiver. An irresistible impulse took hold of him. It was like the half-smothered fear which makes guilty men go to sit at the inquests on their murdered victims.
“Something wrong,” he said. “Where are my boots?”
“Going to Elm Cottage, Philip? Pity the coachman drove back to Douglas. Hadn’t you better send Martha? Besides, it may be only my fancy. Why worry in any case? You’re too tender-hearted—indeed you are.”
Philip fled downstairs like one who flies from torture. While dragging on his coat in the hall, he began to foresee what was before him. He was to go to Pete, pretending to know nothing; he was to hear Pete’s story, and show surprise; he was to comfort Pete—perhaps to help him in his search, for he dared not appear not to help—he was to walk by Pete’s side, looking for what he knew they should not find. He saw himself crawling along the streets like a snake, and the part he had to play revolted him. He went upstairs again.
“On second thoughts, you must be right, auntie.”
“I’m sure I am.”
“If not, he’ll come again.”
“I’m sure he will.”
“If there’s anything amiss with Pete, he’ll come first to me.”
“There can be nothing amiss except what I say. Just a glass too much maybe and no great sin either, considering the day, and how proud he is, for your sake, Philip. I believe in my heart that young man couldn’t be prouder and happier if he stood in your own shoes instead.”
“Good-night, Auntie,” said Philip, in a thick gurgle.
“Good-night, dear. I’m going to bed, and mind you go yourself.”
Being alone, Philip found himself leaning against the mantelpiece and looking across at his father’s picture. He began to contrast his father with himself. He was a success, his father had been a failure. At seven-and-twenty he was Deemster at all events; at thirty his father had died a broken man. He had got what he had worked for; he had recovered the place of his people; and yet how mean a man he was compared to him who had done nothing and lost all.
Failure was all that his father had had to reproach himself with; but he had to accuse himself of dishonour as well. His father’s offence had been a fault; his own was a crime. If his father had been willing to betray love and friendship, he might have succeeded. Because he himself had been true to neither, he had not failed. The very excess of his father’s virtues had kept him down. Every act of his own selfishness had pushed him up. His father had thought first of love and truth and an upright life, and last of money and rank and applause. The world had renounced his father because his father had first renounced the world. But it had opened its arms to him, and followed him with shouts and cheers, and loaded him with honours. And yet, miserable man, better be down in the ooze and slime of a broken life, better be dead and in the grave—for the dead in his grave must despise him.
An awful picture rose before Philip. It was a picture of himself in the time to come. An old man—great, powerful, perhaps even beloved, maybe worshipped, but heart-dead, tottering on to the grave, and the mockery of a gorgeous funeral, with crowds and drums and solemn music. Then suddenly a great silence, as if the snow had begun to fall, and a great white light, and an awful voice crying, “Who is this that comes with dust for a bleeding heart, and ashes for a living soul?”
Philip screamed aloud at the vision, as piece by piece he put it together. His cry died off with a tingle in the china ornaments of the mantelpiece, and he remembered where he was. Then two gentle taps came to the door of his room. He composed himself a little, snatched up a book, and cried “Come in!”
It was Auntie Nan. She was in her night-dress and night-cap. A candle was in her hand, and the flame was shaking.
“Whatever’s to do, my child?” she said.
“Only reading aloud, Auntie. Did I awaken you?”
“But you screamed, Philip.”
“Macbeth, Auntie. See, the banquet scene. He has become king, you know, but his conscience——”
He stopped. The little lady looked at him dubiously and made a pull at the string of her night-cap, causing it to fall aside and give a grotesque appearance to her troubled old face.
“Take a little brandy, dear. I left it here on the dressing-table.”
“Don’t trouble about me, Auntie. Good-night again. There! go back to bed.”
Half coaxing, half forcing her, he drew her to the door, and she went out slowly, reluctantly, doubtfully, the wandering strings of her cap trailing on her shoulders, and her bare feet nipping up the bottom of the night-dress behind her.
Philip looked at the book he had snatched up in his haste. What had put that book of all books into his hand? What had brought him to that room of all rooms? And on that night of all nights? What devil out of hell had tempted Auntie Nan to torture him? He would not stay; he would go back to his own bed.
Out on the landing he heard a low voice. It came from Auntie Nan’s room. A spear of candle-light shot from her door, which was ajar. He paused and looked in. The white night-dress was by the bedside, the night-cap was buried in the counterpane. A cat had established itself beside it, and was purring softly. Auntie Nan was on her knees. Philip heard his own name——
“God bless my Philip in the great place to which he has been called this day. Give him wisdom and strength and peace!”
Holy woman, with angels hovering over you, who dared to think of devils tempting your innocence and love?
Philip went back to his father’s room. He began to reconcile himself to his position. Though he had been extolling his father at his own expense, what had he done but realise his father’s hopes. And, after all, he could not have acted differently. At no point could he have behaved otherwise than he had. What had he to accuse himself for? If there had been sin, he had been dragged into it by blind powers which he could not command. And what was true of himself was also true of Kate.
Ah! he could see her now. She was gone where he had sent her. There were tears in her beautiful eyes, but time would wipe them away. The duplicity of her old life was over; the corroding deceit, the daily torment, the hourly infidelity—all were left behind. If there was remorse, it was the fault of destiny; and if she was suffering the pangs of shame, she was a woman, and she would bear it cheerfully for the sake of the man she loved. She was going through everything for him. Heaven bless her! In spite of man and man’s law, she was his love, his darling, his wife—yes, his wife—by right of nature and of God; and, come what would, he should cling to her to the last.
Suddenly a thick voice cut through the still air of the night.
It was Pete at last He was calling up at the window from the path below. Philip groaned and covered his face with his hands.
With rigid steps Philip walked to the window and threw up the sash. It was starlight, and the branches were bending in the night air.
“Is it you, Pete?”
“Yes, it’s me. I was seeing the lamp, so I knew you war’n in bed at all. Studdying a bit, it’s like, eh? I thought I wouldn’t waken the house, but just shout up and tell you.”
“What is it, Pete?” said Philip. His voice shivered like a sail at tacking.
“Nothing much at all. Only the wife’s gone to England over by the night’s steamer.”
“Aw, time for it too, I’m thinking; the wake and narvous she’s been lately. You remember what the doctor was saying yonder everin,’ when we christened the child? ‘Send her out of the island,’ says he, ‘and she’ll be coming home another woman.’ Wasn’t for going, though. Crying and shouting she wouldn’t be laving the lil one. So I had to put out a bit of authority. Of course, a husband’s got the right to do that, Philip, eh? Well, I’ll be taking the road again. Doing a fine night, isn’t it? Make’s a man unwilling to go to bed.”
Philip trembled and felt sick. He tried to speak, but could utter nothing except an inarticulate noise. As Pete went off, an owl screeched in the glen. Philip drew down the sash, pulled the blind, tugged the curtains across, stumbled into the middle of the floor, and leaned against the bed.
“Such is the beginning of the end,” he thought.
The duplicity, the deceit, the daily torment which Kate had left behind, were henceforward to be his own! At one flash, as of lightning, he saw the path before him. It was over cliffs and chasms and quagmires, where his foot might slip at any step.
His head began to reel. He took the brandy bottle from the dressing-table, poured out half a tumbler, and drained it at one draught. As he did so, his eyes above the rim of the glass rested on the portrait of his mother over the fireplace. The face as he saw it then was no longer the face of the winsome bride. It was the living face as he remembered it—bleared, bloated, gross, and drunken. She smiled on him, she beckoned to him.
It was the beginning of the end indeed. He was his mother’s son as well as his father’s. The father had ruled down to that day, but it was the turn of the mother now. He could not resist her. She was alive in his blood, and he was hers.
Never before had he touched raw spirits, and the brandy mastered him instantly. Feeling dizzy, he made an effort to undress and get into bed. He dragged off his coat and his waistcoat, and threw his braces over his shoulders. Then he stumbled, and he had to lay hold of the bedpost. His hand grew chill and relaxed its hold. Stupor came over him. He slipped, he slid, he fell, and rolled with outstretched arms on to the floor. The fire went out and the lamp died down.
Then the sun came up over the sea. It was a beautiful morning. The town awoke; people hailed each other cheerfully in the streets, and joy-bells rang from the big church tower for the first court-day of the new Deemster. But the Deemster himself still lay on the floor, with damp forehead and matted hair, behind the blind of the darkened room.