The Manxman (Part V. Man and Man)
PART V. MAN AND MAN.
It was Saturday, and the market-place was covered with the carts and stalls of the country people. After some feint of eating breakfast, Pete lit his pipe, called for a basket, and announced his intention of doing the marketing.
“Coming for the mistress, are you, Capt’n?”
“I’m a sort of a grass-widow, ma’am. What’s your eggs to-day, Mistress Cowley?”
“Sixteen this morning, sir, and right ones too. They were telling me you’ve been losing her.”
“Give me a shilling’s worth, then. Any news over your side, Mag?”
“Two—four—eight—sixteen—it’s every appearance we’ll be getting a early harvest, Capt’n.”
“Is it yourself, Liza? And how’s your butter to-day?”
“Bad to bate to-day, sir, and only thirteen pence ha’penny. Is the lil one longing for the mistress, Capt’n?”
“I’ll take a couple of pounds, then. What for longing at all when it’s going bringing up by hand it is? Put it in a cabbage leaf, Liza.”
Thus, with his basket on his arm and his pipe in his mouth, Pete passed from stall to stall, chatting, laughing, bargaining, buying, shouting his salutations over the general hum and hubbub, as he ploughed his way through the crowd, but listening intently watching eagerly, casting out grapples to catch the anchor he had lost, and feeling all the time that if any eye showed sign of knowledge, if any one began with “Capt’n, I can tell you where she is,” he must leap on the man like a tiger, and strangle the revelation in his throat.
Next day, Sunday, his friends from Sulby came to quiz and to question. He was lounging in his shirt-sleeves on a deck-chair in his ship’s cabin, smoking a long pipe, and pretending to be at ease and at peace with all the world.
“Fine morning, Capt’n,” said John the Clerk.
“It is doing a fine morning, John,” said Pete.
“Fine on the sea, too,” said Jonaique.
“Wonderful fine on the sea, Mr. Jelly.”
“A nice fair wind, though, if anybody was going by the packet to Liverpool. Was it as good, think you, for the mistress on Friday night, Mr. Quilliam?”
“I’ll gallantee,” said Pete.
“Plucky, though—I wouldn’t have thought it of the same woman—I wouldn’t raelly,” said Jonaique.
“Alone, too, and landing on the other side so early in the morning,” said John the Clerk.
“Smart, uncommon! It isn’t every woman would have done it,” said Kelly the Postman.
“Aw, we’ve mighty boys of women deese days—we have dough,” snuffled the constable, and then they all laughed together.
Pete watched their wheedling, fawning, and whisking of the tail, and then he said, “Chut! What’s there so wonderful about a woman going by herself to Liverpool when she’s got somebody waiting at the stage to meet her?”
The laughing faces lengthened suddenly. “And had she, then,” said John the Clerk.
Pete puffed furiously, rolled in his seat, laughed like a man with a mouth full of water, and said, “Why, sartenly—my uncle, of coorse.”
Jonaique wrinkled his forehead. “Uncle,” he said, with a click in his throat.
“Yes, my Uncle Joe,” said Pete.
Jonaique looked helplessly across at John the Clerk. John the Clerk puckered up his mouth as if about to whistle, and then said, in a faltering way, “Well, I can’t really say I’ve ever heard tell of your Uncle Joe before, Capt’n.”
“No?” said Pete, with a look of astonishment. “Not my Uncle Joseph? The one that left the island forty years ago and started in the coach and cab line? Well, that’s curious. Where’s he living? Bless me, where’s this it is, now? Chut! it’s clane forgot at me. But I saw him myself coming home from Kimberley, and since then he’s been writing constant. ‘Send her across,’ says he; ‘she’ll be her own woman again like winking.’ And you never heard tell of him? Not Uncle Joey with the bald head? Well, well! A smart ould man, though. Man alive, the lively he is, too, and the laughable, and the good company. To look at that man’s face you’d say the sun was shining reg’lar. Aw, it’s fine times she’ll be having with Uncle Joe. No woman could be ill with yonder ould man about. He’d break your face with laughing if it was bursting itself with a squinsey. And you never heard tell of my Uncle Joe, of Scotland Road, down Clarence Dock way? To think of that now!”
They went off with looks of perplexity, and Pete turned into the house. “They’re trying to catch me; they’re wanting to shame my poor lil Kirry. I must keep her name sweet,” he thought.
The church bells had begun to ring, and he was telling himself that, heavy though his heart might be, he must behave as usual.
“She’ll be going walking to church herself this morning, Nancy,” he said, putting on his coat, “so I’ll just slip across to chapel.”
He was swinging up the path on his return home to dinner, when he heard voices inside the house.
“It’s shocking to see the man bittending this and bittending that.” It was Nancy; she was laying the table; there was a rattle of knives and forks. “Bittending to ate, but only pecking like a robin; bittending to sleep, but never a wink on the night; bittending to laugh and to joke and wink, and a face at him like a ghose’s, and his hair all through-others. Walking about from river to quay, and going on with all that rubbish—it’s shocking, ma’am, it’s shocking!”
“Hush-a-bye, hush-a-bye!” It was the voice of Grannie, low and quavery; she was rocking the cradle.
“You can’t spake to him neither but he’s scolding you scandalous. ‘I’m not used of being cursed at,’ I’m saying, ‘and is it myself that has to be tould to respect my own Kitty?’ But cry shame on her I must when I look at the lil bogh there, and it so helpless and so beautiful. ‘Stericks, you say? Yes, indeed, ma’am, and if I stay here much longer, it’s losing myself I will be, too, with his bittending and bittending.”
“Lave him to it, Nancy. His poor head’s that moidered and mixed it’s like a black pudding—there’s no saying what’s inside of it. But he’s good, though; aw, right good he is for all, and the world’s cold and cruel. Lave him alone, woman; lave him alone, poor boy.”
The child awoke and cried, and, under cover of this commotion and the crowing and cooing of the two women, Pete stepped back to the gate, clashed it hard, swung noisily up the gravel, and rolled into the house with a shout and a laugh.
“Well, well! Grannie, my gough! Who’d have thought of seeing Grannie, now? And how’s the ould angel to-day? So you’ve got the lil one there? Aw, you rogue, you. You’re on Grannie’s lap, are you? How’s Cæsar? And how’s Mrs. Gorry doing? Look at that now—did you ever? Opening one eye first to make sure if the world’s all right. The child’s wise. Coo—oo—oo! Smart with the dinner, Nancy—wonderful hungry the chapel’s making a man. Coo—oo! What’s she like, now, Grannie?”
“When I set her to my knee like this I can see my own lil Kirry again,” said Grannie, looking down ruefully, rocking the child with one knee and doubling over it to kiss it.
“So she’s like the mammy, is she?” said Pete, blowing at the baby and tickling its chin with his broad forefinger. “Mammy’s gone to the ould uncle’s—hasn’t she, my lammie?”
At that Grannie fell to rocking herself as well as the child, and to singing a hymn in a quavery voice. Then with a rattle and a rush, throwing off his coat and tramping the floor in his shirt-sleeves, while Nancy dished up the dinner, Pete began to enlarge on Kate’s happiness in the place where she had gone.
“Tremenjous grand the ould man’s house is—you wouldn’t believe. A reg’lar Dempster’s palace. The grandeur on it is a show and a pattern. Plenty to ate, plenty to drink, and a boy at the door with white buttons dotting on his brown coat, bless you like—like a turnip-field in winter. Then the man himself; goodness me, the happy that man is—Happy Joe they’re calling him. Wouldn’t trust but he’ll be taking Kate to a theaytre. Well, and why not, if a person’s down a bit? A merry touch and go—where’s the harm at all? Fact is, Grannie, that’s why we couldn’t tell you Kate was going. Cæsar would have been objecting. He’s fit enough for it—ha, ha, ha!”
Grannie looked up at Pete as he laughed, and the broad rose withered on his face.
“H’m! h’m!” he said, clearing his throat; “I’m bad dreadful wanting a smook.” And past the dinner-table, now smoking and ready, he slithered out of the house.
Cæsar was Pete’s next visitor. He said nothing of Kate, and neither did Pete mention Uncle Joe. The interview was a brief and grim one. It was a lie that Ross Christian had been sent by his father to ask for a loan, but it was true that Peter Christian was in urgent need of money. He wanted six thousand pounds as mortgage on Ballawhaine. Had Pete got so much to lend? No need for personal intercourse; Cæsar would act as intermediary.
Pete took only a moment for consideration. Yes, he had got the money, and he would lend it. Cæsar looked at Pete; Pete looked at Cæsar. “He’s talking all this rubbish,” thought Cæsar, “but he knows where the girl has gone to. He knows who’s taken her; he manes to kick the rascal out of his own house neck and crop; and right enough, too, and the Lord’s own vengeance.”
But Pete’s thoughts were another matter. “The ould man won’t live to redeem it, and the young one will never try—it’ll do for Philip some day.”
For three days Pete bore himself according to his wont, thinking to silence the evil tongues of the little world about him, and keep sweet and alive the dear name which they were waiting to befoul and destroy. By Tuesday morning the strain had become unbearable. On pretences of business, of pleasure, of God knows what folly and nonsense, he began to scour the island. He visited every parish on the north, passed through every village, climbed every glen, found his way into every out-of-the-way hut, and scraped acquaintance with every old woman living alone. Sometimes he was up in the vague fore-dawn, creeping through the quiet streets like a thief, going silently, stealthily, warily, until he came to the roads, or the fields, or the open Curragh, and could give swing to his step, and breath to his lungs, and voice to the cries that hurst from him.
Two long weeks he spent in this wild quest, and meanwhile he was as happy as a boy to all outward seeming—whistling, laughing, chaffing, bawling, talking nonsense, any nonsense, and kicking up his heels like a kid. But wheresoever he went, and howsoever early he started on his errands, he never failed to be back at home at seven o’clock in the evening—washed, combed, in his slippers and shirt-sleeves, smoking a long clay over the garden gate as the postman went by with the letters.
“She’ll write,” he told himself. “When she’s mending a bit she’ll aise our mind and write. ‘Dear ould Pete, excuse me for not writing afore’—that’ll he the way of it. Aw, trust her, trust her.”
But day followed day, and no letter came from Kate. Ten evenings running he smoked over the gate, leisurely, largely, almost languidly, hut always watching for the peak of the postman’s cap as it turned the corner by the Court-house, and following the toes of his foot as they stepped off the curb, to see if they pointed in his direction—and then turning aside with a deep breath and a smothered moan that ended in a rattle of the throat and a pretence at spitting.
The postman saw him as he went by, and his little eyes twinkled treacherously.
“Nothing for you yet, Capt’n,” he said at length.
“Chut!” said Pete, with a mighty puff of smoke; “my business isn’t done by correspondence, Mr. Kelly.”
“Aw, no; but when a man’s wife’s away——” began the postman.
“Oh, I see,” said Pete, with a look of intelligence, and then, with a lofty wave of the hand, “She’s like her husband, Mr. Kelly—not bothering much with letters at all.”
“You’ll be longing for a line, though, Capt’n—that’s only natural.”
“No news is good news—I can lave it with her.”
“Of coorse, that’s truth enough, yes! But still and for all, a taste of a letter—it’s doing no harm, Capt’n—aisy writ, too, and sweet to get sometimes, you know—shows a woman isn’t forgetting a man when she’s away.”
“Mr. Kelly! Mr. Kelly!” said Pete, with his hand before his face, palm outwards.
“Not necessary? Well, I lave it with you. Good-night, Capt’n.”
“Good-night to you, sir,” said Pete.
He had laughed and tut-tutted, and lifted his eyebrows and his hands in mock protest and a pretence of indifference, but the postman’s talk had cut him to the quick. “People are suspecting,” he thought. “They’re saying things.”
This made him swear, but a thought came behind that made him sweat instead. “Philip will be hearing them. They’ll be telling him she doesn’t write to me; that I don’t know where she is; that she has left me, and that she’s a bad woman.”
To make Kate stand well with Philip was an aim that had no rival but one in Pete’s reckoning—to make Philip stand well with Kate. Out of the shadow-land of his memory of the awful night of his bereavement, a recollection, which had been lying dead until then, came back now in its grave-clothes to torture him. It was what Cæsar had said of Philip’s fight with Ross Christian. Philip himself had never mentioned it—that was like him. But when evil tongues told of Ross and hinted at mischief, Philip would know something already; he would be prepared, perhaps he would listen and believe.
Two days longer Pete sat in the agony of this new terror and the dogged impatience of his old hope. “She’ll write. She’ll not lave me much longer.” But she did not write, and on the second night, before returning to the house from the gate, he had made his plan. He must silence scandal at all hazards. However his own heart might bleed with doubts and fears and misgivings, Philip must never cease to think that Kate was good and sweet and true.
“Off to bed, Nancy,” he cried, heaving into the hall like a man in drink. “I’ve work to do to-night, and want the house to myself.”
“Goodness me, is it yourself that’s talking of bed, then?” said Nancy. “Seven in the everin’, too, and the child not an hour out of my hands? And dear knows what work it is if you can’t be doing it with good people about you.”
“Come, get off, woman; you’re looking tired mortal. The lil one’s ragging you ter’ble. But what’s it saying, Nancy—bed is half bread. Truth enough, too, and the other half is beauty. Get off, now. You’re spoiling your complexion dreadful—I’ll never be getting that husband for you.”
Thus coaxing her, cajoling her, watching her, dodging her, nagging her, driving her, he got her off to bed at last. Being alone, he looked around, listened, shut the doors of the parlour and the kitchen, put the bolt on the door of the stairs, the chain on the door of the porch, took off his boots, and went about on tiptoe. Then he blew out the lamp, filled and trimmed and relit it, going down on the hearthrug to catch the light of the fire. After that he settled the table, drew up the armchair, took from a corner cupboard pens and ink, a blotting pad, a packet of notepaper and envelopes, a stick of sealing wax, a box of matches, a postage stamp, the dictionary, and the exercise-book in which Kate had taught him to write.
As the clock was striking nine, Pete was squaring himself at the table, pen in hand, and his tongue in his left cheek. Half an hour later he was startled, by an interruption.
“Who’s there?” he shouted in a ferocious voice, leaping up with a look of terror, like a man caught in a crime. It was only Nancy, who had come creeping down the stairs under pretence of having forgotten the baby’s bottle. He made a sort of apologetic growl, handed the flat bottle through an opening like a crack, and ordered her back to bed.
“Goodness sakes!” said Nancy, going upstairs. “Is it coining money the man is? Or is it whisky itself that’s doing on him?”
Two hours afterwards Pete fancied he saw a face at the window, and he caught up a stick, unchained the door, and rushed into the garden. It was no one; the town lay asleep; the night was all but airless; only the faintest breeze moved the leaves of the trees; there was no noise anywhere, except the measured beat of the sea in its everlasting coming and going on the shore.
Stepping back into the house, where the fire chirped and the kettle sang and all else was quiet, he resumed his task, and somewhere in the dark hours before the dawn he finished it. The fingers of his right hand were then inky up to the first joint, his collar was open, his neck was bare, his eyes were ablaze, the cords on his face were big and blue, great beads of cold sweat were standing on his forehead, and the carpet around his chair was littered as white as if a snowstorm had fallen on it.
He went down on his knees and gathered up these remnants and burnt them, with the air of a man destroying the evidences of his guilt. Then he put back the ink and the dictionary, the blotting pad and sealing wax, and replaced them with a loaf of bread, a table knife, a bottle of brandy, and a drinking glass. After that he made up the fire with a shovel of slack, that it might burn until morning; removed the lamp from the table to the window recess that it might cast its light into the darkness outside; and unchained the outer door that a wanderer of the night, if any such there were, might enter without knocking.
He did all this in the absent manner of a man who did it nightly. Then unbolting the staircase door, and listening a moment for the breathing of the sleepers overhead, he crept into the dark parlour overlooking the road, and lay down on the sofa to sleep.
It was done! Pete’s great scheme was afoot! The mighty secret which he had enshrouded with such awful mystery lay in an envelope in the inside breast-pocket of his monkey-jacket, signed, sealed, stamped, and addressed.
Pete had written a letter to himself.
Next day the crier was crying: “Great meeting—Manx fishermen—on Zigzag at Peel when boats come in to-morrow morning—protest agen harbour taxes.”
“The thing itself,” thought Pete, with his hand pressed hard on the outside of his breast-pocket. At five o’clock in the afternoon he went down to the harbour, where his Nickey lay by the quay, shouted to the master, “Take an odd man tonight, Mr. Kemish?” then dropped to the deck and helped to fetch the boat into the bay.
They had to haul her out by poles alone the quay wall, for the tide was low, and there was no breakwater. It was still early in the herring season, but the fishing was in full swing. Five hundred boats from all parts were making for the fishing round. It lay off the south-west tail of the island. Before Pete’s boat reached it the fleet were sitting together, like a flight of sea-fowl, and the sun was almost gone.
The sun went down that night over the hills of Mourne very angry and red in its setting; the sky to the north-west was dark and sullen; the round line of the sea was bleared and broken, but there was little wind, and the water was quiet.
“Bring to and shoot,” cried Pete, and they dropped sail to the landward of the fleet, off the shoulder of the Calf Island, with its two lights making one. The boat was brought head to the wind, with the flowing tide veering against her; the nets were shot over the starboard quarter, and they dropped astern; the bow was swung round to the line of the floating mollags, and boat and nets began to drift together.
Supper was served, the pump was worked, the lights were run up, the small boat was sent round with a flare to fright away the evil spirits, and then the night came down—a dark night, without moon or stars, shutting out the island, though it stood so near, and even the rocks of the Hen and Chicken. The first man for the look-out took up his one hour’s watch at the helm, and the rest went below.
Pete’s bunk was under the binnacle, and the light of its lamp fell on a stamped envelope which he took out of his breast-pocket from time to time that he might read the inscription. It ran—
Capn Peatr Quilliam,
Lm Cottig Ramsey I O Man.
He looked at it lovingly, fondly, yearningly, yet with a certain awe, too, as if it were the casket of some hidden treasure, and he hardly knew what it contained. The dim-lit cabin was quiet, the net boiler sparched drops of hot water at intervals, the fire of the cooking stove slid and fell, the men breathed heavily from unseen beds, and the sea washed as the boat rolled.
“What’s she saying, I wonder! I wonder! God bless her!” he mumbled, and then he, too, fell asleep.
Two hours before hauling, they proved the fishing by taking in a “pair” of the net, found good herring, and blew the horn as signal that they were doing well. Then out of the black depths around, wherein no boat could be seen, the lights of other boats came floating silently astern, until the company about them in the darkness was like a little city of the sea and the night.
At the first peep of morning over the round shoulder of the Calf, the little city awoke. There were the clicks of the capstan, and the shouts of the men as the nets came back to the boats, heavy and white with fish. All being aboard, the men went down on the deck, according to their wont, every man on his knee with his face in his cap, and then leapt up with a shout (perhaps an oath), swung to the wind, hoisted the square sails, and made for home. The dark northwest was lowering by this time, and the sea was beginning to jump.
“Breakfast, boys,” sang out Pete, with his head above the companion, and all but the helmsman went below. There was a pot full of the drop-fish, and every man ate his warp of herring. It had been a great night’s fishing. Some of the boats were full to the mouth, and all had plenty.
“We’ll do middling if we get a market,” said Pete.
“We’ve got to get home first,” said the master, and at the same moment a sea struck the windward quarter with the force of a sledge-hammer, and the block at the masthead began to sing.
“We’ll run for Peel this morning, boys,” said Pete, smothering his voice in a mouthful.
“Peel?” said the master, shooting out his lip. “They’ve got no harbour there at all with a cat’s paw of a breeze, let alone a northwester.”
“I’m for going up to the meeting,” said Pete in an incoherent way.
Then they tacked before the rising gale, and went off with the fleet as it swirled like a flight of gulls abreast of the wind. The sea came tumbling down like a shoal of seahogs, and washed the faces of the men as they sat in oilskins on the hatch-head, shaking the herring out of the nets into the hold.
But their work only began when they came into Peel. The tide was down; there was no breakwater; the neck of the harbour was narrow, and four hundred boats were coming to take shelter and to land their cargoes. It was a scene of tumult and confusion—shouting, swearing, and fighting among the men, and crushing and cranching among the boats as they nosed their way to the harbour mouth, threw ropes on to the quay, where fifty ropes were round one post already, or cast anchors up the bank of the castle rock, which was steep and dangerous to lie on.
Pete got landed somehow, but his Nickey with half the fleet turned tail and went round the island. As he leapt ashore, the helpless harbour-master, who had been bellowing over the babel through a cracked trumpet, turned to him and said, “For the Lord’s sake, Capt’n Quilliam, if you’ve got a friend that can lend us a hand, go off to the meeting at seven o’clock.”
“I mane to,” said Pete, but he had something else to do first. It was the task that had brought him to Peel, and no eye must see him do it. Slowly and slyly, like one who does a doubtful thing and pretends to be doing nothing, he went stealing through the town—behind the old Court-house and up Castle Street, into the market-place, and across it to the line of shops which make the principal thoroughfare.
At one of these shops, a little single-roomed place, with its small shutter still up, but the door half open and a noise of stamping going on inside, he stopped in a lounging way, half twisting on his heel as if idly looking back. It was the Post-Office.
With a stealthy look around, he put a trembling hand into his breast-pocket, drew out the letter, screened it by the flat of his big palm, and posted it. Then he turned hurriedly away, and was gone in a moment, like a man who feared pursuit, down a steep and tortuous alley that led to the shore. The morning was early; the shops were not yet open; only the homes of the fishermen were putting out curling wreaths of smoke; the silent streets echoed to his lightest footstep.
But the shore road was busy enough. Fishermen in sea-boots and sou’westers, with oilskin over one arm and a string of herring in the other hand, were trooping from the harbour up to the Zigzag by the rock called the Creg Malin. It was at the end of the bay, where cliff and beach and sea together form a bag like the cod-end of the trawl net.
“It’s not the fishermen at all—it’s the farmers they’re thinking of,” said one.
“You’re right,” said Pete, “and it’s some of ourselves that’s to blame for it.”
“How’s that?” said somebody.
“Aisy enough,” said Pete. “When I came home from Kimberly I met an ould fisherman—you know the man, Billy—well, you do, Dan—Phil Nelly, of Ramsey. ‘How’s the fishing, Phil?’ says I. He gave me a Hm! and a heise of his neck, and ‘I’m not fishing no more,’ says he. ‘The wife’s keeping a private hotel,’ says he. ‘And what are you doing yourself,’ says I. ‘I’m walking about,’ says he, and, gough bless me, if the man wasn’t wearing a collar and carrying a stick, and prating about advertising the island, if you plaze.”
At the sound of Pete’s voice a group of the men gathered about him. “That’s not the worst neither,” said he. “The other day I tumbled over Tom Hommy—you know Tom Hommy, yes, you do, the lil deaf man up Ballure. He was lying in the hedge by the public-house, three sheets in the wind. ‘Why aren’t you out with the boats, Tom?’ says I. ‘Wash for should I go owsh wish the boash, when the childer can earn more on the roads?’ says the drunken wastrel. ‘And is yonder your boys and girls tossing summersaults at the tail of the trippers’ car?’ says I. ‘Yesh,’ says he; ‘and they’ll earn more in a day at their caperings than their father in a week at the herrings.'”
“I believe it enough,” said one. “The man’s about right,” said another; and a querulous voice behind said, “Wonderful the prosperity of the island since the visitors came to it.”
“Get out with you, there, for a disgrace to the name of Manxman,” sang out Pete over the heads of those that stood between. “With the farming going to the dogs and the fishing going to the divil, d’ye know what the ould island’s coming to? It’s coming to an island of lodging-house keepers and hackney-car drivers. Not the Isle of Man at all, but the Isle of Manchester.”
There was a tremendous shout at this last word. In another minute Pete was lifted shoulder high over the crowd on to the highest turn of the zigzag path, and bidden to go on. There were five hundred faces below him, putting out hot breath in the cool morning air. The sun was shooting over the cliffs a canopy as of smoke above their heads. On the top of the crag the sea-fowl were jabbering, and the white sea itself was climbing on the beach.
“Men,” said Pete, “there’s not much to say. This morning’s work said everything. We’d a right fishing last night, hadn’t we? Four hundred boats came up to Peel, and we hadn’t less than ten maise apiece. That’s—you that’s smart at your figguring and ciphering, spake out now—that’s four thousand maise isn’t it?” (Shouts of “Right.”) “Aw, you’re quick wonderful. No houlding you at all when it’s money that’s in. Four thousand maise ready and waiting for the steamers to England—but did we land it? No, nor half of it neither. The other half’s gone round to other ports, too late for the day’s sailing, and half of that half will be going rotten and getting chucked back into the sea. That’s what the Manx fishermen have lost this morning because they haven’t harbours to shelter them, and yet they’re talking of levying harbour dues.”
“Man veen, he’s a boy!”—”He’s all that”—”Go it, Capt’n. What are we to do?”
“Do?” cried Pete. “I’ll tell you what you’re to do. This is Friday. Next Thursday is old Midsummer Day. That’s Tynwald Coort day. Come to St. John’s on Thursday—every man of you come—come in your sea-boots and your jerseys—let the Governor see you mane it. ‘Give us raisonable hope of harbour improvement and we’ll pay,’ says you. ‘If you don’t, we won’t; and if you try to make us, we’re two thousand strong, and we’ll rise like one man.’Don’t be freckened; you’ve a right to be bould in a good cause. I’ll get somebody to spake for you. You know the man I mane. He’s stood the fisherman’s friend before to-day, and he isn’t going taking off his cap to the best man that’s setting foot on Tynwald Hill.”
It was agreed. Between that day and Tynwald day Pete was to enlist the sympathy of Philip, and to go to Port St. Mary to get the co-operation of the south-side fishermen. The town was astir by this time, the sun was on the beach, and the fishermen trooped off to bed.
Pete was back in his ship’s cabin in the garden the same evening with a heart the heavier because for one short hour it had forgotten its trouble. The flowers were opening, the roses were creeping over the porch, the blackbird was singing at the top of the tree; but his own flower of flowers, his rose of roses, his bird of birds—where was she? Summer was coming, coming, coming—coming with its light, coming with its music, coming with its sweetness—but she came not.
The clock struck seven inside the house, and Pete, pipe in hand, swung over to the gate. No need to-night to watch for the postman’s peak, no need to trace his toes.
“A letter for you, Mr. Quilliam.”
Hearing these words, Pete, his eyes half shut as if dosing in the sunset, wakened himself with a look of astonishment.
“What? For me, is it? A letter, you say? Aw, I see,” taking it and turning it in his hand, “just’a line from the mistress, it’s like. Well, well! A letter for me, if you plaze,” and he laughed like a man much tickled.
He was in no hurry. He rammed his dead pipe with his finger, lit it again, sucked it, made it quack, drew a long breath, and then said quietly, “Let’s see what’s her news at all.”
He opened the letter leisurely, and read bits of it aloud, as if reading to himself, but holding the postman while he did so in idle talk on the other side of the gate. “And how are you living to-day, Mr. Kelly? Aw, h’m—getting that much better it’s extraordinary—Yes, a nice everin’, very, Mr. Kelly, nice, nice—that happy and comfortable and Uncle Joe is that good—heavy bag at you to-night, you say? Aw, heavy, yes, heavy—love to Grannie and all inquiring friends—nothing, Mr. Kelly, nothing—just a scribe of a line, thinking a man might be getting unaisy. She needn’t, though—she needn’t. But chut! It’s nothing. Writing a letter is nothing to her at all. Why, she’d be knocking that off, bless you,” holding out a half sheet of paper, “in less than an hour and a half. Truth enough, sir.” Then, looking at the letter again, “What’s this, though? PN. They’re always putting a P.N. at the bottom of a letter, Mr. Kelly. P.N.—I was expecting to be home before, but I wouldn’t get away for Uncle Joe taking me to the theaytres. Ha, ha, ha! A mighty boy is Uncle Joe. But, Mr. Kelly, Mr. Kelly,” with a solemn look, “not a word of this to Cæsar?”
The postman had been watching Pete out of the corners of his ferret eyes. “Do you know, Capt’n, what Black Tom is saying?”
“What’s that?” said Pete, with a sudden change of tone.
“He’s saying there is no Uncle Joe.”
“No Uncle Joe?” cried Pete, lifting voice and eyebrows together.
The postman signified assent with a nod of his peak.
“Well, that’s rich,” said Pete, in a low breath, raising his face as if to invoke the astonishment of the sky itself. “No Uncle Joe?” he repeated, in a tone of blank incredulity. “Ask the man if it’s in bed he is. Why,” and Pete’s eyes opened and closed like a doll’s, “he’ll be saying there’s no Auntie Joney next.”
The postman looked up inquiringly.
“Never heard of Auntie Joney—Uncle Joe’s wife? No? Well, really, really—is it sleeping I am? Not Auntie Joney, the Primitive? Aw, a good ould woman as ever lived. A saint, if ever the like was in, and died a triumphant death, too. No theaytres for her, though. She won’t bemane herself. No, but she’s going to chapel reg’lar, and getting up in the middle of every night of life to say her prayers. ‘Deed she is. So Black Tom says there is no Uncle Joe?”
Pete gave a long whistle, then stopped it sudden with his mouth agape, and said from his throat, “I see.”
He put his mouth close to the postman’s ear and whispered, “Ever hear Black Tom talk of the fortune he’s expecting through the Coort of Chancery?” The postman’s peak bobbed downwards. “You have? Tom’s thinking to grab it all for himself. Ha, ha! That’s it! Ha, ha!”
The postman went off blinking and giggling, and Pete reeled up the path, biting his lip, and muttering, “Keep it up, Pete, keep it up—it’s ploughing a hard furrow, though.” Then aloud, “A letter from the mistress, Nancy.”
Nancy met him in the porch, clearing her fingers, thick with dough.
“There you are,” said Pete, flapping the letter on one hand.
“Good sakes alive!” said Nancy. “Did it come by the post, though, Pete?”
“Look at the stamp, woman, and see for yourself,” said Pete.
“My goodness me! From Kirry, you say?”
“Let me in, then, and I’ll be reading you bits.”
Nancy went back to her kneading with looks of bewilderment, and Pete followed her, opening the letter.
“She’s well enough, Nancy—no need to read that part at all. But see,” running his forefinger along the writing “‘Kisses for the baby, and love to Nancy, and tell Grannie not to be fretting?et setterer, et setterer. See?”
Nancy looked up at her thumping and thunging, and said, “Did Mr. Kelly give it you?”
“He did that,” said Pete, “this minute at the gate. It’s his time, isn’t it?”
Nancy glanced at the clock. “I suppose it must be right,” she said.
“Take it in your hand, woman,” said Pete.
Nancy cleaned her hands and took the letter, turned it over and felt it in her fingers as if it had been linen. “And this is from Kirry, is it? It’s nice, too. I haven’t much schooling, Pete, but I’m asking no better than a letter myself. It’s like a peppermint in your frock on Sunday—if you’re low you’re always knowing it’s there, anyway.” She looked at it again, and then she said, like one who says a strange thing, “I once had a letter myself—’deed I had, Pete. It was from father. He went down in the Black Sloop, trading oranges with the blacks in their own island somewhere. They put into the port of London one day when they were having a funeral there. What’s this one they were calling after the big boots—Wellingtons, that’s the man. They were writing home all about it—the people, and the chariots, and the fighting horses, and the music in the streets and the Cateedrals—and we were never hearing another word from them again—never. ‘To Miss Annie Cain—your affecshunet father, Joe Cain.’ I knew it all off—every word—and I kept it ten years in my box under the lavender.”
Philip came later. He was looking haggard and tired; his face was pallid and drawn; his eyes were red, quick, and wandering; his hair was neglected and ragged; his step was wavering and uncertain.
“Gough alive, man,” cried Pete, “didn’t you take oath to do justice between man and man?”
Philip looked up with alarm. “Well?” he said.
“Well,” cried Pete, with a frown and a clenched fist, “there’s one man you’re not doing justice to.”
“Who’s that?” said Philip with eyes down.
“Yourself,” said Pete, and Philip drew a long breath. Pete laughed, protested that Philip must not work so hard, and then plunged into an account of the morning’s meeting.
“Tremenjous! Talk of enthusiasm! Man veen, man veen! Didn’t I say we’d rise as one man? We will, too. We’re going up to Tynwald Coort on Tynwald day, two thousand strong. Tynwald Coort? Yes, and why not? Drum and fife bands, bless you—two of them. Not much music, maybe, but there’ll be noise enough. It’s all settled. Southside fishermen are coming up Foxal way; north-side men going down by Peel. Meeting under Harry Delany’s tree, and going up to the hill on mass (en masse). No bawling, though—no singing out—no disturbing the Coort at all.”
“Well, well! What then?” said Philip.
“Then we’re wanting you to spake for us, Dempster. Aw, nothing much—nothing to rag you at all. Just tell them flat we won’t—that’ll do.”
“It’s a serious matter, Pete. I must think it over.”
“Aw, think and think enough, Dempster—but mind you do it, though. The boys are counting on you. ‘He’s our anchor and he’ll hould,’ they’re saying; But, bother the harbours, anyway,” reaching his hand for something on the mantelpiece. “What do you think?”
“Nay,” said Philip, with a long breath of weariness and relief.
“Guess, then,” said Pete, putting his hand behind him.
Philip shook his head and smiled feebly. Then, with the expression of a boy on his birthday, Pete leaned over Philip, and said in a half-whisper across the top of his head, “I’ve heard from Kate.”
Philip turned ghastly, his lip trembled, and he stammered, “You’ve—you’ve—heard from Kate, have you?”
“Look at that,” cried Pete, and round came the letter with a triumphant sweep.
Philip’s respiration grew difficult and noisy. Slowly, very slowly, he reached out his hand, took the letter, and looked at its superscription.
“Read it—read it,” said Pete; “no secrets at all.”
With head down and eyebrows hiding his eyes, with trembling hands that tore the envelope, Philip took out the letter and read it in passages—broken, blurred, smudged, as by the smoke of a fo’c’stle lamp.
“Deerest peat i am gettin that much better… i am that
happy and comforbel… sometimes i am longing for a sight of
the lil ones swate face… no more at present… ure own
“Come to the P. N. yet, Philip?” said Pete. He was on his knees before the fire, lighting his pipe with a red coal.
“axpectin to be home sune but… give my luv and bess
respects to the Dempster when you see him he was so good to me
when “were forren the half was never towl you”
“She’s not laving a man unaisy, you see,” said Pete.
Philip could not speak. His throat was choking; his tongue filled his mouth; his eyes were swimming in tears that scorched them. Nancy, who had been up to Sulby with news of the letter, came in at the moment, and Philip raised his head.
“I told my aunt not to expect me to-night, Nancy. Is my room upstairs ready?”
“Aw, yes, always ready, your honour,” said Nancy, with a curtsey.
He got up, with head aside, took a candle from Nancy’s hand, excused himself to Pete—he was tired, sleepy, had a heavy day to-morrow—said “Good-night,” and went upstairs—stumbling and floundering—tore open his bedroom door, and clashed it back like a man flying from an enemy.
Pete thought he had succeeded to admiration, but he looked after Philip, and was not at ease. He had no misgivings. Writing was writing to him, and it was nothing more. But in the deep midnight, Philip, who had not slept, heard a thick voice that was like a sob coming from somewhere downstairs. He opened his door, crept out on to the stairhead, and listened. The house was dark. In some unseen place the voice was saying—
“Lord, forgive me for deceaving Philip. I couldn’t help it, though; Thou knows, Thyself, I couldn’t. A lie’s a dirty thing, Lord. It’s like chewing dough—it sticks in your throat and chokes you. But I had to do it to save my poor lost lamb, and if I didn’t I should go mad myself—Thou knows I should. So forgive me, Lord, for Kirry’s sake. Amen.”
The thick voice stopped, the house lay still, then the child awoke in a room beyond, and its thin cry came through the darkness. Philip crept back in terror.
“This is what she had to go through! O God! My God!”
Cæsar called next day and took Pete to the office of the High Bailiff, where the business of the mortgage was completed. The deeds of Ballawhaine were then committed to Cæsar’s care for custody and safe keeping, and he carried them off to his safe at the mill with a long stride and a face of fierce triumph.
“The ould Ballawhaine is dying,” he thought; “and if we kick out the young one some day, it’ll only be the Lord’s hand on a rascal.”
On drawing his big cheque, Pete had realised that, with reckless spending, and more reckless giving, he had less than a hundred pounds to his credit. “No matter,” he thought; “Philip will pay me back when he comes in to his own.”
Grannie was with Nancy at Elm Cottage when Pete returned home. The child was having its morning bath, and the two women were on their knees at either side of the tub, cackling and crowing like two old hens over one egg.
“Aw, did you ever, now, Nancy? ‘Deed, no; you never did see such a lil angel. Up-a-daisy!”
“Cry I must, Grannie, when I see it looking so beautiful. Warm towels, you say? I’m a girl of this sort—when I get my heart down, I can never get it up again. Fuller’s earth, is it? Here, then.”
“Boo—loo—loo! the bog millish! Nancy, we must be shortening her soon.”
And with that they fell to an earnest council on frocks and petticoats, and other mysteries unread by man. Pete sat and watched and listened. “People will be crying shame on her if they see the Grannie doing everything,” he thought.
That night he lounged through the town and examined the shop windows out of the corner of his eye. He was trying to bear himself like a workman enjoying his Saturday night’s ramble in clean clothes, but the streets were thronged, and he found himself observed. “Not here,” he told himself. “I can buy nothing here. Doesn’t do to be asleep at all, and a man isn’t always in bed when he’s sleeping.”
Some hours later, Nancy and the child being upstairs, Pete bethought himself of something that was kept at the bottom of a drawer. Going to the drawer to open it, he found it stiff to his tugging, and it came back with a jerk, which showed it had not lately been disturbed. Pete found what he looked for, and came upon something beside. It was a cardboard box, tied about with a string, which was knotted in a peculiar way. “Kate’s knot,” thought Pete with a sigh. He slipped it, and opened the lid and took out a baby’s hood of scarlet plush. “The very thing,” he thought. He held it, mouth open, over his big brown hand, and laughed with delight. “She’s been buying it for the child and never using it.” His eyes glistened. “The very thing,” he thought, and then he took down pen and paper to write something to go with it.
This is what he wrote—
“For lil Katerin from her Luvin mother”
Then he held it at arm’s length and looked at it. The subscription crossed the whole face of a half-sheet of paper. But the triumphant success of his former effort had made him bold. He could not resist the temptation to write more. So he turned the paper over and wrote on the back—
“tell pa pa not to wurry about me i aspect to be home sune
but dont no ezactly”
His eyes were swimming by the time he got that down, but they brightened again as he remembered something.
“Weve had grate times ear uncle Jo—”
“Must go on milking that ould cow,” he thought
“tuk me to sea the prins of Wales yesterda”
He could not help it—he began to take a wild joy in his own inventions.
“flags and banns of musick all day and luminerashuns all
night it was grand we were top of an umnibuss goin down lord
strete and saw him as plane as plane”
“Bless me,” said Pete, dropping his pen, and rubbing his hands in ravishing contemplation of his own fiction; “the next thing we hear she’ll be riding in her carriage and’ pair.”
He was sobbing a little, for all that, in a low, smothered way, but he could not deny himself one word more—
“luv to all enquirin frens and bess respecs to the Dempster
if im not forgot at him.”
This second forgery of love being finished, he went about the house on tiptoe, found brown paper and twine, put the hood back into the box with his half-sheet peeping from between the frills where the little face would go, and made it up, with his undeft fingers, into an ungainly parcel, which he addressed to himself as before. After that he did his accustomed duty with the lamp and the door, and lay down in the parlour to sleep.
On Monday, at dinner, he broke out peevishly with “Ter’ble botheration, Nancy—I must be going to Port St. Mary about that thundering demonstration.”
Then from underneath the sofa in the parlour he rooted up a brown paper parcel, stuffed it under his coat, buttoned it up, and so smuggled it out of the house.
They set sail early in the afternoon, and ran down the coast under a fair breeze that made the canvas play until the sea hissed. The day was wet and cheerless; a thick mist enshrouded the land, and going by Laxey they could just descry the top arc of the great wheel like a dun-coloured ghost of a rainbow in a grey sky. As they came to Douglas the mist was lifting, but the rain was coming down in a soaking drizzle. A band was playing dance tunes on the iron pier, which shot like a serpent’s tongue out of the mouth of the bay. The steamer from England was coming round the head, and her sea-sick passengers were dense as a crowd on her forward deck, the men with print handkerchiefs tied over their caps, the women with their skirts over their drooping feathers. A harp and a violin were scraping lively airs amidships. The town was like a cock with his tail down crowing furiously in the wet.
When they came to Port St. Mary the mist had risen and the rain was gone, but the fishing-town looked black and sullen under a lowering cloud. The tide was down, and many boats lay on the beach and in the shallow water within the rocks.
Pete was put ashore; his Nickey went round the Calf to the herring ground beyond the shoulder; a number of fishermen were waiting for him on the quay, with heavy looks and hands deep in their trousers-pockets.
“No need for much praiching at all,” said Pete, pointing to the boats lying aground. “There you are, boys, fifty of you at the least, with no room to warp for the rocks. Yet they’re for taxing you for dues for a harbour.”
“Go ahead, Capt’n,” said one of the fishermen; “there’s five hundred men here to back you up through thick and thin.”
Pete posted his brown paper parcel as stealthily as he had posted his letter, and left Port St. Mary the same night for Douglas. The roads were thick with coaches, choked full with pleasure-seekers from Port Erin. These cheerful souls were still wearing the clothes which had been drenched through in the morning; their boots were damp and cold; they were chill with the night-air, but they did not repine. They sang and laughed and ate oranges, drew up frequently at wayside houses, and handed round bottles of beer with the corks drawn. In their own way they were bright and cheerful company. Sometimes “Hold the Fort,” sung in a brake going ahead, mingled with “Molly and I and the Baby,” from lusty throats coming behind. Battling through Castletown, they shouted wild chaff at the redcoats lounging by the Castle, and when the darkness fell they dropped asleep—the men usually on the women’s shoulders; and then the horses’ hoofs were heard splashing along the muddy road, and every rider cracked his whip over a chorus of stertorous snores.
Douglas was ablaze with light as they dipped down to it from the dark country. Long sinuous tails of light where the busy streets were, running in and out, this way and that, and belching into the wide squares and market-places like the race of a Curragh fire. The sleepers awoke and shook themselves. “Going to the Castle to-night?” said one. “What do you think?” said another, and they all laughed at the foolish question.
“I’ll sleep here,” thought Pete. “I’ve not searched Douglas yet.”
The driver found him a bed at his mother’s house. It was a lodging-house in Church Street, overlooking the churchyard. Finding himself so near to Athol Street, Pete thought he would look at the outside of Philip’s chambers. He lit on the house easily, though the street was dark. It was one of a line of houses having brass plates, each with its name, and always the wordAdvocate. Philip’s house bore one plate only, a small one, with the name hardly legible in the uneertain light. It ran—The Deemster Christian.
Having spelt out this inscription, Pete crept away. That was the last house in the island at which he wished to call. He was almost afraid of being seen in the same town. Philip might think he was in Douglas to look for Kate.
Pete rambled through the narrow thoroughfares of Post-Office Place, Heywood Lane, and Fancy Street, until he came to the sea front. It was now full tide of busy night, and the holiday town seemed to be given over to enjoyment. The steps of the terraces were thronged; itinerant photographers pitched their cameras on the curb-stones; every open window had its dark heads with the light behind; pianos were clashing in the houses, harps were twanging in the street, tinkling tram-cars, like toast-racks, were sweeping the curve of the bay; there was a steady flow of people on the pavement, and from water’s edge to cliff top, three parts round like a horse’s shoe, the town flashed and fizzed and sparkled and blazed under its thousand lights with the splendour of a forest fire.
Pete called to mind the blinking and groping of the dear old half-lit town to the north; he remembered the dark village at the foot of the lonely hills, with its trout-stream burrowing under the low bridge, and he thought, “She may have tired of it all, poor thing!”
He looked at every woman’s face as she went by him, hungering for one glimpse of a face he feared to see. He did not see it, and he wandered like a lost soul through the little gay town until he drifted with the wave that flowed around the bay into the place that was known as the Castle.
It was a dancing palace in a garden, built in the manner of a conservatory, with the ground level for those who came to dance, and the galleries for such as came to see. Seated by the front rail of the gallery, Pete peered down into the faces below. Three thousand young men and young women were dancing, the men in flannels and coloured scarves, the women in light muslins and straw hats. Sometimes the white lights in the glass roof were coloured with red and blue and yellow. The low buzz of the dancers’ feet, the clang and clash of the brass instruments, the boom of the big drum, the quake of the glass house itself, and the low rumble of the hollow floor beneath—it was like a battle-field set to music.
“She may have tired, poor thing; God knows she may,” thought Pete.
His eyes were growing hazy and his head dizzy, when he became conscious of a waft of perfume behind him, and a soft voice saying at his ear, “Were you looking for anybody, then?”
He turned with a start, and looked at the speaker. It was a young girl with a pretty face, thick with powder. He could not be angry with the little thing; she was so young, and she was smiling.
“Yes,” he said, “I was looking for somebody;” and then he tried to shake her off.
“Is it Maudie, you mane, dear? Are you the young man from Dublin?”
“Lave me, my girl; lave me,” said Pete, patting her hand, and twisting about.
The girl looked at him with a sort of pity, and then close at his neck she said, “A fine boy like you shouldn’t be going fretting his heart about the best girl that’s in.”
He looked at the pretty face again, and the little knowing airs began to break down. “You’re a Manx girl, aren’t you?”
The smile vanished like a flash. “How do you know that? My tongue doesn’t tell you, does it?” And the little thing was ashamed.
Pete took the tight-gloved fingers in his big palm. “So you’re my lil countrywoman, then?” he said. “How old are you?”
The painted lips began to tremble. “Sixteen for harvest,” she answered.
“My God!” exclaimed Pete.
The darkened eyelids blinked; she was beginning to cry. “It wasn’t my fault. He was a visitor with my mother at Ballaugh, and he left me to it.”
Pete took a sovereign out of his pocket, and shut it in the girl’s hand.
“Go home to-night, my dear,” he whispered, and then he clambered out of the place.
“Not there!” cried Pete in his heart; “not there—I swear to God she is not there.”
That ended his search. He resolved to go home the same night, and he went back to his lodgings to pay his bill. Turning out of Athol Street, Pete was almost overrun by a splendid equipage, with two men in buff on the box-seat, and one man behind. “The Governor’s carriage,” said somebody. At the next moment it drew up at Philip’s door, its occupant alighted, and then it swung about and moved away. “It was the young Deemster,” said a girl to her companion, as she went skipping past.
Pete had seen the tall, dark figure, bent and feeble, as it walked heavily up the steps. “Truth enough,” he thought, “there’s nothing got in this world without paying the price of it.”
It was three in the morning when Pete reached Ramsey, Elm Cottage was dark and silent. He had to knock again and again before awakening Nancy. “Now, if this had been Kate!” he thought, and a new fear took hold of him. His poor darling, his wandering lamb, could she have knocked twice? Where was she to-night? He had been picturing her in happiness and plenty—was she in poverty and distress? All the world was sleeping—was she asleep? His hope was slipping away; his great faith was breaking down. “Lord, do not forsake me! Master, strengthen me! My poor lost love, where is she? What is she? Shall I see her face again?”
Something cold touched his hand. It was the dog. Without a bark he had put his nose into Pete’s palm. “What, Dempster, man, Dempster!” The bat’s ears were cocked—Pete felt them—the scut of a tail was wagged, and Pete got comfort from the battered old friend that had tramped the world at his heels.
Nancy unchained the door, opened it an inch, held a candle over her head, and peered out. “My goodness, is it the man himself? However did you come home?”
“By John the Flayer’s pony,” said Pete; and he laughed and made light of his night-long walk.
But next morning, when Nancy came downstairs with the child, Pete was busy with a screwdriver taking the chain off the door. “Ter’ble ould-fashioned, these chains—must be moving with the times, you know.”
“Then what are you putting in its place?” said Nancy.
“You’ll see, you’ll see,” said Pete.
At seven that night Pete was smoking over the gate when Kelly the Thief came up with a brown paper parcel. “Parcel for you, Mr. Quilliam,” said the postman, with the air of a man who knew something he should not know.
Pete blinked and looked bewildered. “You don’t say!” he said.
“Well, if that’s your name,” began the postman, holding the address for Pete to read.
Pete gave it a searching look. “Cap’n Peatr Quilliam, that’s it sartenly, Lm Cottig—yes, it must be right,” he said, taking the parcel gingerly. Then with a prolonged “O——o!” shutting his eyes and nodding his head, “I know—a bit of a present from the mother to the lil one. Wonderful thoughtful a woman is about a baby when she’s a mother, Mr. Kelly.”
The postman giggled, threw his finger seaward over one shoulder, and said, “Why aren’t you writing back to her, then?”
“What’s that?” said Pete sharply, making the parcel creak.
“Why aren’t you writing to tell her how the lil one is, I’m saying?”
Pete looked at the postman as if the idea had dropped from heaven. “I must have a head as thick as a mooring-post, Mr. Kelly. Do you know, I never once thought of it. I’m like Goliath when he got little David’s stone at his forehead—such a thing never entered my head before.”
“Do it for all, Mr. Quilliam,” said the postman, moving off.
“I will, I will,” said Pete; and then he turned into the house.
“Scissors, Nancy,” he shouted, throwing the parcel on the table.
“My sakes, a parcel!” cried Nancy.
“Aisy to tell where it comes from, too. See that knot, woman?” said Pete, with a knowing wink.
“What in the world is it, Pete?” said Nancy.
“I wonder!” said Pete. “Papers enough round it, anyway. A letter? We’ll look at that after,” he said loftily, and then out came the scarlet hood. “Gough bless mee what’s this thing at all?” and he held it up by the crown.
Nancy made a cry of alarm, took the hood out of his hand, and scolded him roundly. “These men, they’re fit to spoil an angel’s wings.”
Then she whipped up the baby out of the cradle, tried the hood on the little round head, and shouted with delight.
“Now I was thinking of that, d’ye know?” she said. “I was, yes, I was; believe me or not, I was. ‘Kirry will be sending something for the lil one the next time she writes,’ I was thinking, and behould ye—here it is.”
“Something spakes to us, Nancy,” said Pete. “‘Deed it does, though.”
The child gurgled and purred, and for all her fine headgear she was absorbed in her bare toes.
“And there’s yourself, Pete—going to Peel and to Douglas, and I don’t know where—and you’ve never once thought of the lil one—and knowing we were for shortening her, too.”
Pete cast down his head and looked ashamed.
“Well, no—of coorse—I never have—that’s truth enough,” he faltered.
Pete went out to buy a sheet of notepaper and an envelope, a pen, and a postage stamp. He had abundance of all theso at home, but that did not serve his turn. Going to as many shops as might be, he dropped hints everywhere of the purpose to which his purchases were to be put. Finally, he went to the barber’s in the market-place and said, “Will you write an address for me, Jonaique?”
“Coorse I will,” said the barber, sweeping a hand of velvet over one cheek of the postman, who was in the chair, leaving the other cheek in lather while he took up the pen.
“Mistress Peter Quilliam, care of Master Joseph Quilliam, Esquire, Scotland Road, Liverpool” dictated Pete.
“What number, Capt’n?” said Jonaique.
“Number?” said Pete, perplexed. “Bless me, what’s this the number is now? Oh,” by a sudden inspiration, “five hundred and fifteen.”
“Five hundred—d’ye say five” said the postman from the half of his mouth that was clear.
“Five,” said Pete emphatically. “Aw, they’re well up.”
“If you say so, Capt’n,” said the barber, and down went “515.”
Pete returned home with the stamped and addressed envelope open in his hands, “Clane the table quick,” he shouted; “I must be writing to Kirry. Will I give her your love, Nancy?”
With much hem-ing and ha-ing and clearing of his throat, Pete was settling himself before a sheet of note-paper, when the door opened, and Philip stepped into the house. His face was haggard and emaciated; his eyes burned as with a fire that came up from within.
“I’ve come to warn you,” he said; “you are in great danger. You must stop that demonstration.”
“Sit down, sir, sit down,” said Pete.
Philip did not seem to hear. He walked to and fro with short, nervous, noiseless steps. “The Governor sent for me last night, and I found him in a frenzy. ‘Deemster,’ he said, ‘they tell me there’s to be a disturbance at Tynwald—have you heard of anything?’ I said, ‘Yes, I had heard of a meeting of fishermen at Peel.’ ‘They talk of their rights,’ said he; ‘I’ll teach them something of one right they seem to forget—the right of the Governor to shoot down the disturbers of Tynwald, without judge or jury.’ ‘That’s a very old prerogative, your Excellency,’ I said; ‘it comes down from more lawless days than ours. You will never use it.’ ‘Will I not?’ said he. ‘Listen, I’ll tell you what I’ve done already. I’ve ordered the regiment at Castletown to be on Tynwald Hill on Tynwald day. Every man of these—there are three hundred—shall have twenty rounds of ball-cartridge. Then, if the vagabonds try to interrupt the Court, I’ve only to lift my hand—so—and they’ll be mown down like grass.’ ‘You can’t mean it,’ I said, and I tried to take his big talk lightly. ‘Judge for yourself—see,’ and he showed me a paper. It was an order for the ambulance waggons to be stationed on the ground, and a request to the doctors of Douglas to be present.”
“Then we’ve made the ould boy see that we mane it,” said Pete.
“‘If you know any one of the ringleaders, Deemster,’ he said, with a look into my face—somebody had been with him—there are tell-tales everywhere——”
“It’s the way of the world still,” said Pete.
“‘Tell him,’ said he, ‘that I don’t want to take the life of any man—I don’t want to send any one to penal servitude.'” It was useless to protest. The man was mad, but he was in earnest. His plan was folly—frantic folly—but it was based on a sort of legal right. “So, for the Lord’s sake, Pete, stop this thing. Stop it at once, and finally. It’s life or death. If ever you thought my word worth anything, you’ll do as I bid you, now. God knows where I should be myself if the Governor were to do what he threatens. Stop it, stop it; I haven’t slept for thinking of it.”
Pete had been sitting at the table, chewing the tip of the pen, and now he lifted to the paleness and wildness of Philip’s face a cool, bold smile.
“It’s good of you, Phil…. We’ve a right to be there, though, haven’t we?”
“You’ve a right, certainly, but——”
“Then, by gough, we’ll go,” said Pete, dropping the pen, and bringing his fist down on the table.
“The penalty will be yours, Pete—yours. You are the man who will suffer—you first—you alone.”
Pete smiled again. “No use—I’m incorr’iblê. I’m like Dan-ny-Clae, the sheep-stealer, when he came to die. ‘I’m going to eternal judgment—what’ll I do?’ says Dan. ‘Give back all you’ve stolen,’ says the parzon. ‘I’ll chance it first,’ says the ould rascal. It’s the other fellow that’s for stealing this time; but I’ll chance it, Philip. Death it may be, and judgment too, but I’ll chance it, boy.”
Philip’s eyes wandered over the floor. “Then you’ll not change your plan for anything I’ve told you?”
“I will, though,” said Pete, “for one thing, anyway. You shan’t be getting into trouble—I’ll be spokesman for the fishermen myself. Oh, I’ll spake enough if they get my dander up. I’ll just square my arms acrost my chest and I’ll say, ‘Your Excellency,’ I’ll say, ‘you can’t do it, and you shan’t do it—because it isn’t right.’ But chut! botheration to all such bobbery! Look here—man alive, look here! She’s not forgetting the lil one, you see,” and, making a proud sweep of the hand, Pete pointed to the scarlet hood. It had been put to sit across the back of a china dog on the mantelpiece, with Pete’s half sheet of paper pinned to the strings.
Philip recognised it. The hood was the present he had made as godfather. His eyes blinked, his mouth twitched, the cords of his forehead moved.
“So she—she sent that,” he stammered.
“Listen here,” said Pete, and he unpinned the paper and read the message aloud, with flourishes of voice and gesture—”For lil Katherine from her loving mother… papa not to worry… love to all inquiring friends… best respects to the Dempster if Im not forgot at him.” Then in an off-hand way he tossed the paper into the fire. “Aw, what’s a bit of a letter,” he said largely, as it took flame and burned.
Philip’s bloodshot eyes seemed to be starting from his head.
“Nancy’s right—a man would never have thought of the like of that—now, would he?” said Pete, looking proudly from Philip to the hood, and from the hood back to Philip.
Philip did not answer. Something seemed to be throttling him.
“But when a woman goes away she leaves her eyes behind her, as you might say. ‘What’ll I be getting for them that’s at home?’ she’s thinking, and up comes a nice warm lil thing for the baby. Aw, the women’s good, Philip. They’re what they make the sovereigns of, God bless them!”
Philip felt as if he must rush out of the house shrieking. One moment he stood up before Pete, as though he meant to say something, and then he turned to go.
“Not sleeping to-night, no? Have to get back to Douglas? Then maybe you’ll write me a letter first?”
Philip nodded his head and returned, his mouth tightly closed, sat down at the table, and took up the pen.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Am I to give you the words, Phil? Yes? Well, if you won’t be thinking mane——”
Pete charged His pipe out of his waistcoat pocket, and began to dictate:
At that Philip gave an involuntary cry.
“Aw, best to begin proper, you know. ‘Dear wife,'” said Pete again.
Philip made a call on his resolution, and put the words down. His hand felt cold; his heart felt frozen to the core. Pete lit up, and walked to and fro as he dictated his letter. Nancy sat knitting by the cradle, with one foot on the rocker.
“‘Glad to get your welcome letter, darling, and the bonnet
for the baby’——-“
“‘Go on,” said Philip, in an impassive voice.
“Got that down, Philip? Aw, you’re smart wonderful with the pen, though….
‘When she’s got it on her lil head you’d laugh tremenjous.
She’s straight like a lil John the Baptist in the church
Pete paused; Philip lifted his pen and waited.
“Done already? Man veen, there’s no houlding you….
‘Glad to hear you’re so happy and comfortable with Uncle Joe
and Auntie Joney. Give the pair of them my fond love and
best respects. We’re getting on beautiful, and I’m as happy
as a sandboy. Sometimes Grannie gets a bit down with
longing, and so does Nancy, but I tell them you’ll be home
for their funeral sarmon, anyway, and then they’re comforted
“Don’t be writing his rubbage and lies, your Honour,” said Nancy.
“Chut! woman; where’s the harm at all? A merry touch to keep a person’s spirits up when she’s away from home—eh, Philip?” and Pete appealed to him with a nudge at his writing elbow.
Philip gave no sign. With a look of stupor he was staring down at the paper as he wrote. Pete puffed and went on—
“‘Cæsar’s at it still, going through the Bible same as a
trawl-boat, fishing up the little texes. The Dempster’s
putting a sight on us reg’lar, and you’re not forgot at him
neither. ‘Deed no, but thinking of you constant, and
trusting you’re the better for laving home——-‘
… Going too fast, am I? So I’m bating you at last, eh?”
A cold perspiration had broken out on Philip’s forehead, and he was looking up with the eyes of a hunted dog.
“Am I to—must I write that?” he said in a helpless way.
“Coorse—go ahead,” said Pete, puffing clouds of smoke, and laughing.
Philip wrote it. His hand was now stiff. It sprawled and splashed over the paper.
“‘As for myself, I’m a sort of a grass-widow, and if you
keep me without a wife much longer they’ll be taxing me for
Pete put his pipe on the mantelpiece, cleared his throat repeatedly, and began to be afflicted with a cough.
“‘Glad to hear you’re coming home soon, darling (cough).
Dearest Kirry, I’m missing you mortal (cough), worse nor
at Kimberley (cough). When I’m going to bed, ‘Where is she
to-night?’ I’m saying. And when I’m getting up, ‘Where is
she now?’ I’m thinking. And in the dark midnight I’m asking
myself, ‘Is she asleep, I wonder?’ (Cough, cough.) Come
home quick, bogh; but not before you’re well at all.’
… Never do to fetch her too soon, you know,” he said in a whisper over Philip’s shoulder, with another nudge at his elbow.
Philip answered incoherently, and shrank under Pete’s touch as if he had been burnt. The coughing continued; the dictating began again.
‘”I’m keeping a warm nest for you here, love. There’ll be a
welcome from everybody, and nobody saying anything but the
good and the kind. So come home soon, my true lil wife,
before the foolish ould heart of your husband is losing
Pete coughed violently, and stretched his neck and mouth awry. “This cough I’ve got in my neck is fit to tear me in pieces,” he said. “A spoonful of cold pinjane, Nancy—it’s ter’ble good to soften the neck.”
Nancy was nodding over the cradle—she had fallen asleep.
Philip had turned white and giddy and sick. For one moment an awful impulse seized him. He wanted to fall on Pete; to lay hold of him, to choke him. The consciousness of his own inferiority, his own duplicity, made him hate Pete. The very sweetness of the man sickened him. He could not help it—the last spark of his self-pride was fighting for its life. Then in shame, in remorse, in horror of himself and dread of everything, he threw down the pen, caught up his hat, shouted “Good night” in a voice like the growl of a beast in terror, and ran out of the house.
Nancy started up from a doze. “Goodness grazhers!” she cried, and the cradle rocked violently under her foot.
“He’s that tender-hearted and sympathising,” whispered Pete as he closed the door. (Cough, cough)… “The letter’s finished, though—and here’s the envelope.”
The following evening the Deemster was in his rooms in Athol Street. His hat was on, his cloak was over his arm, he was resting his elbow on the sash of the window and looking vacantly into the churchyard. Jem was behind him, answering at his back. Their voices were low; they scarcely moved.
“All well upstairs?” said Philip.
“Pretty well, your Honour.”
“More cheerful and content?”
“Much more, except when your Honour is from home. ‘The Deemster’s back,’ she’ll say, and her poor face will be like sunshine on a rainy day.”
Philip remained silent for a moment, and then said in a scarcely audible voice—
“Not fretting so much about the child, Jemmy?”
“Just as anxious to hear of it, though. ‘Has he been to Ramsey to-day? Did he see her? Is she well?’ That’s the word constant, sir.”
The Deemster was silent again, and Jem was withdrawing with a deep bow. “Jemmy, I’m going to Government House, and may be late. Don’t wait up for me.”
Jem answered in a half whisper, “Some one waits up for your Honour whether I do or not ‘He’s at home now,’ she’ll say, and then creep away to bed.”
Philip muttered, thickly and huskily, “The decanter is empty—leave out another bottle.” Then he turned to go from the room, keeping his eyes from his servant’s face.
He found the Governor as violent as before, and eager to fall on him before he had time to speak.
“They tell me. Deemster, that the leader of this rising is a sort of left-hand relative of yours. Surely you can stop the man.”
“I’ve tried to, your Excellency, and failed,” said Philip.
The Governor tossed up his chin. “I’m told the fellow can’t even write his own name,” he said.
“It’s true,” said Philip.
“An illiterate and utterly uneducated person.”
“All the same, he’s the wisest and strongest man on this island,” said Philip decisively.
The Governor frowned, and the pockmarks on his forehead seemed to swell. “The wisest and strongest man on this island will have to leave it,” he said.
Philip made no answer. He had come to plead, but he saw that it was hopeless. The Governor put his right hand in the breast, of his white waistcoat—he was alone in the dining-room after dinner—and darted at Philip a look of anger and command.
“Deemster,” he said, “if, as you say, you cannot stop this low-bred rascal, there’s one thing you can do—leave him to himself.”
“That is to say,” said Philip out of a corner of his mouth, “to you.”
“To me be it, and who has more right?” said the Governor hotly.
Philip held himself in hand. He was silent, and his silence was taken for submission. Cracking some nuts and munching them, the Governor began to take another tone.
“I should be sorry, Mr. Christian, if anything came between you and me—very sorry. We’ve been good friends thus far, and you will allow that you owe me something. Don’t you see it yourself—this man is dishonouring me in the eyes of the island? If you have tried your best to keep his neck out of the halter, let the consequences be his own.”
“Eh?” said Philip, with his eyes on the floor.
“You have done your duty by the man, I say. Help yourself to a glass of wine.”
Still Philip did not speak. The Governor saw his advantage, but little did he guess the pitiless power of it.
“The fellow is your kinsman, Deemster, and I shall not ask you to deal with him. That would be inhuman. If there is no hope of restraining him to-morrow—wise as he is, if he will not listen to saner counsels, I will only beg of you—but this is a matter for the police. You are a high official now. It would be a pity to give you pain. Stay at home—I’ll gladly excuse you—you look as if a day’s rest would do you good.”
Philip drank two glasses of the wine in quick succession. The Governor poured him a third, and went on—
“I don’t know what you’re feeling for the man may be—it can’t be friendship. I’m sure he’s a thorn in your flesh. And as long as he’s here he will always be.”
Philip looked up with inquiry, doubt, and fear.
“Ah! I knew it. Even if this matter goes by, your time will come. You’ll quarrel with the fellow yet—you know you will—it’s in the nature of things—if he’s the man you say.”
Philip drank the third glass of wine and rose to go.
“Leave him to me—I’ll deal with him. You’ll be done with him, and a good riddance, too, I reckon. And now come in to the ladies—they’ll know you’re here.”
Philip excused himself and went off with feverish gestures and an excited face.
“The Governor is right,” he thought, as he went home over the dark roads. Pete was a thorn in his flesh, and always would be; his enemy, his relentless enemy, notwithstanding his love for him.
The misery of the past month could not be supported any longer. Perpetual fear of discovery, perpetual guard of the tongue, keeping watch and ward on every act of life—to-day, to-morrow, the next day, on and on until life’s end in wretchedness or disgrace—it was insupportable, it was impossible, it could not be attempted.
Then came thoughts that were too fearful to take form-too awful to take words. They were like the flapping of unseen wings going by him in the night, but the meaning of them was this: If Pete persists in his purpose, there will be a riot. If any one is injured, Pete will be transported. If any one is killed, Pete will be indicted for his life.
“Well, I have done my duty by him,” his heart whimpered. “I have tried to restrain him. I have tried to restrain the Governor. It isn’t my fault. What more can I do?”
Philip walked fast. Here was the way of escape from the evil that beset his path. Fate was stretching out her hands to him. When men had done wrong, they did yet more wrong to elude the consequences of their first fault; but there was no need for that in his case.
The hour was late. A strong breeze was blowing off the sea. It flicked his face with salt as he went swinging down the hill into the town. His blood was a-fire. He had a feeling, never felt before, of courage and even ferocity. Something told him that he was not so good a man as he had been, but it was a tingling pleasure to feel that he was a stronger man than before.
Should he tell Kate? No! Let the thing go on; let it end. After it was over she would see where their account lay. Thinking in this way, he laughed aloud.
The town was quiet when he came to it. So absorbed had he been that, though the air was sharp, he had been carrying his cloak over his arm. Now he put it on, and drew the hood close over his head. A dog, a homeless cur, had begun to follow at his heels. He drove it off, but it continued to hang about him. At last it got in front of his feet, and he stumbled over it in one of his large, quick strides. Then he kicked the dog, and it crossed the dark street yelping. He was a worse man, and he knew it.
He let himself into the house with his latch-key, and banged the door behind his back. But no sooner had he breathed the soft, woolly, stagnant air within than a change came over him. His ferocious strength ebbed away, and he began to tremble.
The hall passage and staircase were in darkness. This was by his orders—coming in late, he always forgot to put out the gas. But the lamp of his room was burning on the candle rest at the stairhead, and it cast a long sword of light down the staircase well.
Chilled by some unknown fear, he had set one foot on the first tread when he thought he heard the step of some one coming down the stairs. It was a familiar step. He was sure he knew it. It must be a step he heard daily.
He stopped, and the step seemed to stop also. At that moment there was a shuffling of slippered feet on an upper landing, and Jem-y-Lord called down, “Is it you, your Honour?”
With an effort he answered, “Yes.”
“Is anything the matter?” called the man-servant.
“There’s somebody coming downstairs, isn’t there?” said Philip.
“Somebody coming downstairs?” repeated the man-servant, and the light shifted as if he were lifting the lamp.
“Is it you coming down, Jem?”
“Me coming down? I’m here, holding the lamp, your Honour.”
“Another of my fancies,” thought Philip; and he laid hold of the handrail, and started afresh. The step came on. He knew it now; it was his own step. “An echo,” he told himself. “A dream,” he thought, “a mirage of the mind;” and he compelled himself to go up. The step came down. It passed him on the stairs, going by the wall as he went by the rail, with an irresistible down-drive, headlong, heavily.
Then came one of those moments of partial unconsciousness in which the sensation of a sound takes shape. It seemed to Philip that the figure of a man had passed him. He remembered it instantly. It was the same that he had seen in the lobby to the Council Chamber, his own figure, but wrapped in a cloak like the one he was then wearing, and with the hood drawn over the head. The body had been half turned aside, the face had been hidden, and the whole form had expressed contempt, repugnance, and loathing.
“Not well to-night, your Honour?” said the far-off voice of Jem-y-Lord. He was holding the dazzling lamp up to the Deemster’s face.
“A little faint—that’s all. Go to bed.”
Then Philip was alone in his room. “Conscience!” he thought. “Pete may go, but this will be with me to the end. Which, O God?—which?”
He poured out half a tumbler from the bottle on the table, and gulped it down at a draught. At the same moment he heard a light foot overhead. It was a woman’s foot; it crossed the floor, and then ceased.
Next morning the Deemster was still sleeping while the sun was shining into his room. He was awakened by a thunderous clamour, which came as from a nail driven into the back of his head. Opening his eyes, he realised that somebody was knocking at his door, and shouting in a robustious bass—
“Christian, I say! Ever going to get up at all?”
It was the Clerk of the Rolls. Under one of his heavy poundings the catch of the door gave way, and he stepped into the room.
“Degenerate Manxman!” he roared. “In bed on Tynwald morning. Pooh! this room smells of dead sleep, dead spirits, and dead everything. Let me get at that window—you pitch your clothes all over the floor. Ah! that’s fresher! Headache? I should think so. Get up, then, and I’ll drive you to St. John’s.”
“Don’t think I’ll go to-day, sir,” said Philip in a feeble whimper.
“Not go? Holy saints! Judge of his island and not go to Tynwald! What will the Governor say?”
“He said last night he would excuse my absence.”
“Excuse your fiddlesticks! The air will do you good. I’ve got the carriage below. Listen! it’s striking ten by the church. I’ll give you fifteen minutes, and step into your breakfast-room and look over the Times.”
The Clerk rolled out, and then Philip heard his loud voice through the door in conversation with Jem-y-Lord.
“And how’s Mrs. Cottier to-day?”
“Middling, sir, thank you, sir.”
“You don’t let us see too much of her, Jemmy.”
“Not been well since coming to Douglas, sir.”
Cups and saucers rattled, the newspaper creaked, the Clerk cleared his throat, and there was silence.
Philip rose with a heavy heart, still in the torment of his great temptation. He remembered the vision of the night before, and, broad morning as it was, he trembled. In the Isle of Man such visions are understood to foretell death, and the man who sees them is said to “see his soul.” But Philip had no superstitions. He knew what the vision was: he knew what the vision meant.
Jem-y-Lord came in with hot water, and Philip, without looking round, said in a low tone as the door closed, “How now, my lad?”
“Fretting again, your Honour,” said the man, in a half whisper. He busied himself in the room a moment, and then added, “Somehow she gets to know things. Yesterday evening now—I was taking down some of the bottles, and I met her on the stairs. Next time I saw her she was crying.”
Philip said in a confused way, fumbling the razor. “Tell her I intend to see her after Tynwald.”
“I have, your Honour. ‘It’s not that, Mr. Cottier,’ she answered me.”
“My wig and gown to-day, Jemmy,” said Philip, and he went out in his robes as Deemster.
The day was bright, and the streets were thronged with vehicles. Brakes, wagonettes, omnibuses, private carriages, and cadger’s carts all loaded to their utmost, were climbing out of Douglas by way of the road to Peel. The town seemed to shout; the old island rock itself seemed to laugh.
“Bless me, Christian,” said the Clerk of the Rolls, looking at his watch, “do you know it’s half-past ten? Service begins at eleven. Drive on, coachman. You’ve eight miles to do in half an hour.”
“Can’t go any faster with this traffic on the road, sir,” said the coachman over his shoulder.
“I got so absorbed in the newspaper,” said the Clerk, “that—— Well, if we’re late, we’re late, that’s all.”
Philip folded his arms across his breast and hung his head. He was fighting a great battle.
“No idea that the fisherman affair was going to be so serious,” said the Clerk. “It seems the Governor has ordered out every soldier and pensioner. If I know my countrymen, they’ll not stand much of that.”
Philip drew a long breath: there was a cloud of dust; the women in the brakes were laughing.
“I hear a whisper that the ringleader is a friend of yours, Christian—’an irregular relative of a high official,’ as the reporter says.”
“He is my cousin, sir,” said Philip.
“What? The big, curly-pated fellow you took home in the carriage?… I say, coachman, no need to drive quite so fast.”
Philip’s head was still down. The Clerk of the Rolls sat watching him with an anxious face.
“Christian, I am not so sure the Governor wasn’t right after all. Is this what’s been troubling you for a month? You’re the deuce for a secret. If there’s anything good to tell, you’re up like the sun; but if there’s bad news going, an owl is a poll-parrot compared with you for talking.”
Philip made some feeble effort to laugh, and to say his head was still aching. They were on the breast of the steep hill going up to Greeba. The road ahead was like a funnel of dust; the road behind was like the tail of a comet.
“Pity a fine lad like that should get into trouble,” said the Clerk. “I like the rascal. He got round an old man’s heart like a rope round a capstan. One of the big, hearty dogs that make you say, ‘By Jove, and I’m a Manxman, too.’ He’s in the right in this affair, whatever the Governor may say. And the Governor knows it, Christian—that’s why he’s so anxious to excuse you. He can overawe the Keys; and as for the Council, we’re paid our wages, God bless us, and are so many stuffed snipes on his stick. But you—you’re different. Then the man is your kinsman, and blood is thicker than water, if it’s only—— Why, what’s this?”
There was some whooping behind; the line of carriages swirled like a long serpent half a yard near the hedge, and through the grey dust a large covered car shot by at the gallop of a fire-engine. The Clerk-sat bolt upright.
“Now, what in the name of——”
“It’s an ambulance waggon,” said Philip between his set teeth.
A moment later a second waggon went galloping past, then a third, and finally a fourth.
“Well, upon my—— Ah! good day. Doctor! Good day, good day!”
The Clerk had recognised friends on the waggons, and was returning their salutations. When they were gone, he first looked at Philip, and then shouted, “Coachman, right about face. We’re going home again—and chance it.”
“We can’t be turning here, sir,” said the coachman. “The vehicles are coming up like bees going a-swarming. We’ll have to go as far as Tynwald, anyway.”
“Go on,” said Philip in a determined voice.
After a while the Clerk said, “Christian, it isn’t worth while getting into trouble over this affair. After all, the Governor is the Governor. Besides, he’s been a good friend to you.”
Philip was passing through a purgatorial fire, and his old master was feeding it with fuel on every side. They were nearing Tynwald, and could see the flags, the tents, and the crowd as of a vast encampment, and hear the deep hum of a multitude, like the murmur of a distant sea.
Tynwald Hill is the ancient Parliament ground of Man. It is an open green in the midst of the island, with hills on three of its sides, and on the fourth a broad plain dipping to the coast. This green is of the shape of a guitar. Down the middle of the guitar there is a walled enclosure of the shape of a banjo. At the end stands a church. The round drum is the mount, which has four circles, the topmost being some six paces across.
The carriage containing the Deemster and the Clerk of the Bolls had drawn up at the west gate of the church, and a policeman had opened the door. There came the sound of singing from the porch.
“A quarter late,” said the Clerk of the Rolls, consulting his watch. “Shall we go in, your Honor?”
“Let us take a turn round the fair instead,” said Philip.
The carriage door was shut back, and they began to move over the green. The open part of it was covered with booths, barrows, stands, and show-tents. There were cheap jacks with shoddy watches, phrenologists with two chairs, fat women, dwarfs, wandering minstrels, itinerant hawkers of toffee in tin hat-boxes, and other shiny and slimy creatures with the air and grease of the towns. There were a few oxen and horses also, tethered and lanketted, and kicking up the dust under the dry turf.
The crowd was dense already, and increasing at every moment. As the brakes arrived, they drove up with a swing that sent the people surging on either side. Some brought well-behaved visitors, others brought an eruption of ruffians.
Down the neck of the enclosure, and round the circular end of it, stood a regiment of soldiers with rifles and bayonets. The steps to the mount were laid down with rushes. Two armchairs were on the top, under a canopy hung from a flagstaff that stood in the centre. These chairs were still empty, and the mount and its approaches were kept clear.
The sun was overhead, the heat was great, the odour was oppressive. Now and again the sound of the service within the church mingled with the crack of the toy rifle-ranges and the jabber of the cheap jacks. At length there was another sound—a more portentous sound—the sound of bands playing in the distance. It came from both south and west, from the direction of Peel, and from that of Port St. Mary.
“They’re coming,” said the Clerk, and Philip’s face, when he turned his head to listen, quivered and grew yet more pale.
As the bands approached they ceased to play. Presently a vast procession of men from the west came up in silence to the skirt of the hill, and turned off in the direction from which the men from the south were seen to be coming. They were in jerseys and sea-boots, marching four deep, and carrying nothing in their brawny hands. One stalwart fellow walked firmly at the head of them.. It was Pete.
Philip could support the strain no longer. He got out of the carriage. The Clerk of the Rolls got out also, and followed him as he walked with wavering, irregular steps.
Under a great tree at the junction of three roads, the two companies of fishermen met and fell into a general throng. There was a low wall around the tree-trunk, and, standing on this, Pete’s head was clear above the rest.
“Boys,” he was saying, “there’s three hundred armed soldiers on the hill yonder, with twenty rounds of ball-cartridge apiece. You’re going to the Coort because you’ve a right to go. You’re going up peaceable, and, when you’re getting there, you’re going to mix among the soldiers, three to every man, two on either side and one behind. Then your spokesmen are going to spake out your complaint. If they’re listened to, you’re wanting no better. But if they’re not, and if the word is given to fire on them, then, before there’s time to do it, you’re going to stretch every man of the three hundred on his back and take his weapon. Don’t hurt the soldiers—the poor soldiers are only doing what they’re tould. But don’t let the soldiers hurt you neither. You’re going there for justice. You’re not going there to fight. But if anybody fights you, let him never forget the day he done it. Break up every taffy stand in the fair, if you can’t find anything better. And if blood is shed, lave the man that orders it to me. And now go up, boys, like men and like Manxmen.”
There was no cheering, no shouting, no clapping of hands. Only broken exclamations and a sort of confused murmur. “Come,” whispered the Clerk of the Rolls, putting his hand through Philip’s quivering arm. “Little does the poor devil think that, if blood is shed, he will be the first to fall.” “God in heaven!” muttered Philip.
The crowd on Tynwald had now gathered thick down the neck of the enclosure and dense round the mount. To the strains of the National Anthem, played by the band of the regiment, the Governor had come out of the church. He was in cocked hat and with sword, and the sword of state was carried upright before him. With his Keys, Council, and clergy, he walked to the hill-top. There he took one of the two chairs under the canopy; the other, was taken by the Bishop in his lawn. Their followers came behind, and broke up on the hill into an indiscriminate mass. A number of ladies were admitted to the space on the topmost round. They stood behind the chairs, with their parasols still open.
There are men that the densest crowd will part and make way for. The crowd had parted and made way for Philip. As the court was being “fenced,” he appeared with his companion at the foot of the mount. There he was recognised by many, but he scarcely answered their salutations. The Governor made a deferential bow, smiled, and beckoned to him to come up to his side. He went up slowly, pausing at every other step, like a man who was in doubt if he ought to go higher. At length he stood at the Governor’s right hand, with all eyes upon him, for the favourite of the great is favoured. He was then the highest figure on the mount, the Governor and the Bishop being seated. The people could see him from end to side of the Tynwald, and he could see the people as they stood closely packed on the green below.
The business of the Court began. It was that of promulgating the laws. Philip’s senior colleague, the old Deemster of the happy face, read the titles of the laws in English.
Then the Coroner of the premier sheading began to recite the same titles in Manx. Nobody heard them; hardly anybody listened. The ladies on the mount chatted among themselves, the Keys and the clergy intermingled and talked, the officials of the Council looked at the crowd, and the crowd itself, having nothing to hear, no more to see, indifferent to doings they could not understand, resumed their amusements among the frivolities of the fair.
There were three persons in that assembly of fifteen thousand who were following the course of events with feverish interest. The first of these was the Governor, whose restless eyes were rolling from side to side with almost savage light; the second was the captain of the regiment, who was watching the Governor’s face for a signal; the third was Philip, who was looking down at the crowd and seeing something that had meaning for himself alone.
The fishermen came up quietly, three thousand strong. Half a hundred of them lounged around the magazine—the ammunition was at their command. The rest pushed, edged, and elbowed their way through the people until they came to the line of the guard. Wherever there was a red coat, behind it there were three jerseys and stocking-caps, Philip saw it all from his elevation on the mount. His face was deadly pale, his eyelids wavered, his lower lip trembled, his hand twitched; when he was spoken to, he hardly answered; he was like a man holding counsel with himself, and half in fear that everybody could read his hidden thoughts. He was in the last throes of his temptation. The decisive moment was near. It was heavy with the fate of his after life. He thought of Pete and the torture of his company; of Kate and the unending misery of her existence; of himself and the deep duplicity to which he was committed. From all this he could be freed for ever—by what? By doing nothing, having already done his duty? Only let him command himself, and then—relief from an existence enthralled by torment—from constant alarm and watchfulness—peace—sleep—love—Kate!
Somebody was speaking to him over his shoulder. It was nothing—only the quip of a witty fellow, descendant of a Spanish freebooter. Ladies caught his eye, smiled and bowed to him. A little man, whose swarthy face showed African blood, reached up and quoted something about the bounds of freedom wide and wider.
The Coroner had finished, the proceedings were at an end—there was a movement—something had happened—the Governor had half risen from his chair. Twelve men in sea-boots and blue jerseys had passed the line of the guard, and were standing midway across the steps of the mount. One of them was beginning to speak. It was Pete.
“Governor,” he said; but the captain of the regiment was abreast of him in a moment, and a score of the soldiers were about his companions at the next breath. The fishermen stood their ground like a wall, and the soldiers fell back. There was hardly any scuffle.
“Governor,” said Pete again, touching his cap.
The Governor was twisting in his seat. Looking first at Pete, and then at the captain, he was in the act of lifting his hand when suddenly it was held by another hand at his side, and a low voice whispered at his ear, “No, sir; for God’s sake, no!”
It was Philip. The Governor looked at him with amazement. “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” said Philip, still whispering over him hotly and impetuously, “that there’s only one way back to Government House, but if you lift your hand it will be one too many; I mean that if blood is shed you’ll never live to leave this mount; I mean that your three hundred soldiers are only as three hundred rabbits in the claws of three thousand crows.”
At the next instant he had left the Governor, and was face to face with the fishermen.
“Fishermen,” he cried, lifting both hands before him, “let there be no trouble here to-day, no riot, for God’s sake, no bloodshed. Listen to me. I am the grandson of a fisherman; I have been a fisherman myself; I love the fishermen. As long as I live I will stand by you. Your rights shall be my rights, your sins my sins, and where you go I will go too.”
Then, swinging back to the Governor, he bowed low, and said in a deferential voice—
“Your Excellency, these men mean no harm; they wish to speak to you; they have a petition to make; they will be loyal and peaceable.”
But the Governor, having recovered from his first fear, was now in a flame of anger.
“No,” he said, with the accent of authority; “this is no time and no place for petitions.”
“Forgive me, your Excellency,” said Philip, with a deeper bow; “this is the time of all times, the place of all places.”
There had been a general surging of the Keys and clergy towards the steps, and now one of them cried out of their group, “Is Tynwald Court to be turned into a bear-garden?” And another said in a cynical voice, “Perhaps your Excellency has taken somebody else’s seat.”
Philip raised himself to his full height, and answered, with his eyes on the speakers, “We are free-born men on this island, your Excellency. We did not come to Tynwald to learn order from the grandson of a Spanish pirate, or freedom from the son of a black chief.”
“Hould hard, boys!” cried Pete, lifting one hand against his followers, as if to keep them quiet. He was boiling with a desire to shout till his throat should crack.
The Governor had exchanged rapid looks and low whispers with the captain. He saw that he was outwitted, that he was helpless, that he was even in personal danger. The captain was biting his leg with vexation that he had not reckoned more seriously with this rising—that he had not drawn up his men in column.
“Your Excellency will hear the fishermen?” said Philip.
“No, no, no,” said the Governor. He was at least a brave man, if a vain and foolish one.
There was silence for a moment. Then, standing erect, and making an effort to control himself, Philip said, “May it please your Excellency, you fill a proud position here; you are the ruler of this island under your sovereign lady our Queen. But we, your subjects, your servants, are in a prouder position still. We are Manxmen. This is the Court of our country.”
“Hould hard,” cried Pete again.
“For a thousand years men with our blood and our names have stood on this hill to hear the voice of the people, and to do justice between man and man. That’s what the place was meant for. If it has lost that meaning, root it up—it is a show and a sham.”
“Bravo!” cried Pete; he could hold himself in no longer, and his word was taken up with a shout, both on the hill and on the green beneath.
Philip’s voice had risen to a shrill cry, but it was low and meek as he added, bowing yet lower while he spoke—
“Your Excellency will hear the fishermen?”
The Governor rolled in his seat. “Go on,” he said impatiently.
The men made their petition. Three or four of them spoke briefly and to the point. They had had harbours, their fathers’ harbours, which had been freed to them forty years before; don’t ask them to pay harbour dues until proper harbours were provided:
The Governor gave his promise. Then he rose, the band struck up “God save the Queen,” and the Legislature filed back to the chapel.
Philip went with them. He had fought a great battle, and he had prevailed. Through purging fires the real man had emerged, but he had paid the price of his victory. His eye burned like live coal, his cheek-bones seemed to have upheaved. He walked alone; his ancient colleague had stepped ahead of him. But now and again, as he passed down the long path to the church-door, fishermen and farmers pushed between the rifles of the guards, and said in husky voices, “Let me shake you by the hand, Dempster.”
The scene was repeated with added emotion half an hour afterwards, when, the court being adjourned and the Governor gone in ominous silence, Philip came out, white and smiling, and leaning on the arm of his old master, the Clerk of the Rolls. He could scarcely tear himself through the thick-set hedge of people that lined the path to the gate. As he got into the carriage his smile disappeared. Sinking into the seat, he buried himself in the corner and dropped his head on his breast. The people began to cheer.
“Drive on,” he cried.
The cheering became loud.
“Drive, drive,” he cried.
The people cheered yet louder. They thought that they had seen a grand triumph that day—a man triumphing over the Governor. But there had been a grander triumph which they had not seen—a man triumphing over himself. Only one saw that, and it was God.
Pete seemed to be beside himself. He laughed until he cried; he cried until he laughed. His resonant voice rang out everywhere.
“Hear him? My gough, it was like a bugle spaking. There’s nobody can spake but himself. When the others are toot-tooting, it’s just ‘Polly, put the kettle on’ (mimicking a mincing treble). See the lil Puffin on his throne of turf there? Looked as if Ould Nick had been thrashing peas on his face for a week.”
Pete’s enthusiasm rose to frenzy, and he began to sweep through the fair, bemoaning his country and pouring mouth-fuls of anathema on his countrymen.
“Mannin veg villish (sweet little Isle of Man), with your English Governors and your English Bishops, and boys of your own worth ten of them. Manninee graihagh (beloved Manxmen), you’re driving them away to be Bishops for others and Governors abroad—and yourselves going to the dogs and the divil, and d——— you.”
Pete’s prophetic mood dropped to a jovial one. He bought the remaining stock-in-trade of an itinerant toffee-seller, and hammered the lid of the tin hat-box to beat up the children. They followed him like hares hopping in the snow; and he distributed his bounty in inverse relation to size, a short stick to a big lad, a long stick to a little one, and two sticks to a girl. The results were an infantile war. Here, a damsel of ten squaring her lists to fight a hulking fellow of twelve for her sister of six; and there, a mother wiping the eyes of her boy of five, and whispering “Hush, bogh; hush! You shall have the bladder when we kill the pig.”
Pete began to drink. “How do, Faddy? Taking joy of you, Juan. Are you in life, Thom! Half a glass of rum will do no harm, boys. Not the drink at all—just the good company, you know.”
He hailed the women also, but they were less willing to be treated. “I’d have more respect for my quarterly ticket, sir,” said Betsy—she was a Primitive, with her husband on the “Planbeg.” “There’s a hole in your pocket, Capt’n; stop it up with your fist, man,” said Liza—she was a gombeen woman, and when she got a penny in her hand it was a prisoner for life. “Chut! woman,” said Pete, “what’s the good book say ing? ‘Riches have wings;’ let the birds fly then,” and off he went, reeling and tottering, and laughing his formidable laugh.
Pete grew merry. Rooting up the remains of the fishermen’s band, he hired them to accompany him through the fair. They were three little musicians, now exceedingly drunk, and their duty was to play “Hail, Isle of Man,” as he went swaggering along in front of them.
“Hail, Isle of Man,
Swate ocean lan’,
I love thy sea-girt border.”
“Play up, Jackie.”
“The barley sown,
We’ll get our boats in order.”
Thus he forged through the fair, capering, laughing, shouting protests over his shoulder when the tipsy music failed, pretending to be very drunk, trying to show that he was carrying on, that he was going it, that he hadn’t a second thought, but watching everything for all that, studying every face, and listening to the talk of everybody.
“Whips of money at him, Liza—whips of it—millions, they’re saying.”—”He’s spending it like flitters then. The Manx chaps isn’t fit for fortunes—no, they aren’t. I wonder in the world what sort of wife there’s at him. I don’t ‘low my husband the purse. Three ha’pence is enough to be giving any man at once.”—”Wife, you’re saying? Don’t you know, woman?” Then some whispering.
“Bass, boy—more bass, I tell thee.”
“We then sought nex’
The soothing sex,
Our swatearts at Port Erin.”
“Who is the man at all?”—”Why, Capt’n Quilliam from Kimberley.”—”‘Deed, man! Him that married with some of the Cæsar Glenmooar’s ones?”—”She’s left him, though, and gone off with a wastrel.”—”You don’t say?”—”Well, I saw the young woman myself——”
“At Quiggin’s Hall
There’s enough for all,
Good beer, and all things proper.”
Pete had drawn up suddenly, and stopped his musicians with a sweep of the arm.
“Were you spaking, Mr. Corteen?”
“Nothing, Capt’n. No need to stare at all. I was only saying I was at the camp-meeting at Sulby, and I saw——”
“Go on, Jackie.”
“A pleasant place,
With beds of aise,
When we are done our supper.”
The unhappy man was deceiving himself at least as much as anybody else. After looking for the light of intelligence in every face, waiting for a word, watching for a glance, expecting every moment that some one from south or north, or east or west, would say, “I’ve seen her;” yet, covering up the burning coal of his anxiety with the ashes of mock merriment, he tried to persuade himself that Kate was not on the island if nobody at Tynwald had seen her; that he had told the truth unwittingly, and that he was as happy as the day was long.
A man in a gig came driving a long-horned cow in front of him. Driver, horse, gig, and cow were like animated shapes of dust, but Pete recognised them.
“Is it yourself, Cæsar? So you’re for selling ould Horney?”
“Grieved in my heart I am to do it, sir. Many a good glass of milk she has given to me and mine,” and Cæsar was ready to weep.
“Going falling in fits, isn’t she, Cæsar?”
“Hush, man! hush, man!” said Cæsar, looking about. “A good cow, very; but down twice since I left home this morning.”
“I’d give a bad sixpence to see Cæsar selling that cow,” thought Pete.
Three men were bargaining over a horse. Two were selling, the third (it was Black Tom) was buying.
“Rising five years, sir. Sired by Mahomet. Oh, I’ve got the papers to prove it,” said one of the two.
“What, man? Five?” shouted Black Tom down the horse’s open mouth. “She’ll never see eight the longest day she lives.”
“No use decaiving the man,” said the other dealer, speaking in Manx. “She’s sixteen—’low she’s nine, anyway.”
“Fair play, boys; spake English before a poor fellow,” said Black Tom, with a snort.
“This brother of mine lows she’s seven,” said the first of the two.
“You thundering liar,” said Black Tom in Manx. “He says she’s sixteen.”
“Dealing ponies then?” asked Pete.
“Anything, sir; anything. Buying for farmers up Lonan way,” said Black Tom.
“Come on,” said Pete; “here’s Cæsar with a long-horned cow.”
They found the good man tethering a white, long-horned cow to the wheel of the tipped-up gig.
“How do, Cæsar? And how much for the long-horn?” said Black Tom.
“Aw, look at the base (beast), Mr. Quilliam. Examine her for yourself,” said Cæsar.
“Middling fair ewer, good quarter, five calves—is it five, Cæsar?” said Black Tom, holding one of the long horns.
“Three, sir, and calving again for February.”
“No milk fever? No? Kicks a bit at milking? Never? Fits? Ever had fits, Cæsar?” opening wide one of the cow’s eyes.
“Have you known me these years for a dacent man, Mr. Quilliam——” began Cæsar in an injured tone.
“Well, what’s the figure?”
“Fourteen pound, sir! and she’ll take the road before I’ll go home with a pound less!”
“Fourteen—what! Ten; I’ll give you ten—not a penny more.”
“Good day to you, Mr. Quilliam,” said Cæsar. Then, as if by an afterthought, “You’re an ould friend of mine, Thomas; a very ould friend, Tom—I’ll split you the diff’rance.”
“Break a straw on it,” said Black Tom; and the transaction was complete.
“I’ve had a clane strike here—the base is worth fifteen,” chuckled Black Tom in Pete’s ear as he drove the cow in to a shed beyond.
“I must be buying another cow in place of poor ould Horney,” whispered Cæsar as he dived into the cattle stand.
“Strike up, Jackie,” shouted Pete.
“West of the mine,
The day being fine.
The tide against us veering.”
Ten minutes later Pete heard a fearful clamour, which drowned the noise that he himself was making. Within the shed the confusion of tongues was terrific.
“What’s this at all?” he asked, crushing through with an innocent face.
“The man’s cow has fits,” cried Black Tom. “I’ll have my money back. The ould psalm-singing Tommy Noddy! did he think he was lifting the collection? My money! My twelve goolden pounds!”
If Black Tom had not been as bald as a bladder, he would have torn his hair in his mortification. But Pete pacified him.
“Cæsar is looking for another cow—sell him his own back again. Impozz’ble? Who says it’s impozz’ble? Cut off her long horns, and he’ll never be knowing her from her grandmother.”
Then Pete made up to Cæsar and said, “Tom’s got a mailie (hornless) cow to sell, and it’s the very thing you’re wanting.”
“Is she a good mailie?” asked Cæsar.
“Ten quarts either end of the day, Cæsar, and fifteen pounds of butter a week,” said Pete.
“Where’s the base, sir?” said Cæsar.
They met Black Tom leading a hornless, white cow from the shed to the green.
“Are you coming together, Peter?” he said cheerfully.
Cæsar eyed the cow doubtfully for a moment, and then said briskly, “What’s the price of the mailie, Mr. Quilliam?”
“Aw, look at the base first, Mr. Cregeen. Examine her for yourself, sir.”
“Yes—yes—well, yes; a middling good base enough. Four calves, Thomas?”
“Two, sir, and calves again for January. Twenty-four quarts of new milk every day of life, and butter fit to burst the churn for you.”
“No fever at all? No fits? No?”
“Aw, have you known me these teens of years, Mr. Cregeen——”
“Well, what d’ye say—eleven pounds for the cow, Tom!”
“Thirteen, Cæsar; and if you warn an ould friend——”
“Hould your hand, Mr. Quilliam; I’m not a man when I’ve got a bargain…. Manx notes or the dust, Thomas? Goold? Here you are, then—one—two—three—four…” (giving the cow another searching glance across his shoulder). “It’s wonderful, though, the straight she’s like ould Horney… five—six—seven… in colour and size, I mane… eight—nine—ten… and if she warn a mailie cow, now… eleven—twelve—” (the money hanging from his thumb). “Will that be enough, Mr. Quilliam? No? Half a one, then? Aw, you’re hard, Tom… thirteen.”
Having paid the last pound, Cæsar stood a moment contemplating his purchase, and then said doubtfully, “Well, if I hadn’t… Grannie will be saying it’s the same base back——-” (the cow began to reel). “Yes, and it—no, surely—a mailie for all——-” (the cow fell). “It’s got the same fits, anyway,” cried Cæsar; and then he rushed to the cow’s head. “It is the same base. The horns are going cutting off at her. My money back! Give me my money back—my thirteen yellow sovereigns—the sweat of my brow!” he cried.
“Aw, no,” said Black Tom. “There’s no money giving back at all. If the cow was good enough for you to sell, she’s good enough for you to buy,” and he turned on his heel with a laugh of triumph.
Cæsar was choking with vexation.
“Never mind, sir,” said Pete. “If Tom has taken a mane advantage of you, it’ll be all set right at the Judgment. You’ve that satisfaction, anyway.”
“Have I? No, I haven’t,” said Cæsar from between his teeth. “The man’s clever. He’ll get himself converted before he comes to die, and then there’ll not be a word about cutting the horns off my cow.”
“Strike up, Jackie,” shouted Pete.
“Hail, Isle of Man,
Swate ocean làn’,
I love thy sea-girt border.”
The sky became overcast, rain began to fall, and there was a rush for the carts. In half an hour Tynwald Hill was empty, and the people were splashing off on every side like the big drops of rain that were pelting down.
Pete hired a brake that was going back to the north, and gathered up his friends from Ramsey. When these were seated, there was a rush of helpless and abandoned ones who were going in the same direction—young mothers with children, old men and old women. Pete hauled them up till the seats and the floor were choked, and the brake could hold no more. He got small thanks. “Such crushing and scrooging! I declare my black merino frock, that I’ve only had on once, will be teetotal spoilt.”—”If they don’t start soon I’ll be taking the neuralgy dreadful.”
They got started at length, and, at the tail of a line of stiff carts, they went rattling over the mountain-road. The harebells nodded their washed faces from the hedge, and the talk was brisk and cheerful.
“Our Thorn’s sowl a hafer, and got a good price.”—”What for didn’t you buy the mare of Corlett Beldroma, Juan?”—”Did I want to be killed as dead as a herring?”—”Kicks, does she? Bate her, man; bate her. A horse is like a woman. If you aren’t bating her now and then——”
They stopped at every half-way houses—it was always halfway to somewhere. The men got exceedingly drunk and began to sing. At that the women grew very angry.
“Sakes alive! you’re no better than a lot of Cottonies.”—”Deed, but they’re worse than any Cottonies, ma’am. Some excuse for the like of them. In their cotton-mills all the year, and nothing at home but a piece of grass the size of your hand in the backyard, and going hopping on it like a lark in a cage.”
The rain came down in torrents, the mountain-path grew steep and desolate, the few houses passed were empty and boarded up, gorse bushes hissed to the rising breeze, geese scuttled and screamed across the untilled land, a solitary black crow flew across the leaden sky, and on the sea outside a tall pillar of smoke went stalking on and on, where the pleasure-steamer carried her freight of tourists round the island. Then songs gave way to sighs, some of the men began to pick quarrels, and some to break into fits of drunken sobbing.
Pete kept them all up. He chaffed and laughed and told funny stories. Choking, stifling, wounded to the heart as he was, still he was carrying on, struggling to convince everybody and himself as well, that nothing was amiss, that he was a jolly fellow, and had not a second thought.
He was glad to get home, nevertheless, where he need play the hypocrite no longer. Going through Sulby, he dropped out of the brake and looked in at the “Fairy.” The house was shut. Grannie was sitting up for Cæsar, and listening for the sound of wheels. There was something unusual and mysterious about her. Cruddled over the fire, she was smoking, a long clay in little puffs of blue smoke that could barely be seen. The sweet old soul in her troubles had taken to the pipe as a comforter. Pete could see that something had happened since morning, but she looked at him with damp eyes, and he was afraid to ask questions. He began to talk of the great doings of the day at Tynwald, then of Philip, and finally of Kate, apologising a little wildly for the mother not coming home sooner to the child, but protesting that she had sent the little one no end of presents.
“Presents, bless ye,” he began rapturously——
“You don’t ate enough, Pete, ‘deed you don’t,” said Grannie.
“Ate? Did you say ate?” cried Pete. “If you’d seen me at the fair you’d have said, ‘That man’s got the inside of a limekiln!’ Aw, no, Grannie, I’m not letting my jaws travel far. When I’ve got anything before me it’s—down—same as an ostrich.”
Going away in the darkness, he heard Cæsar creaking up in the gig with old Horney, now old Mailie, diving along in front of him.
Nancy was waiting for Pete at Elm Cottage. She tried to bustle him upstairs.
“Come, man, come,” she said; “get yourself off to bed and I’ll bring your clothes down to the fire.”
He had never slept in the bedroom since Kate had left. “Chut! I’ve lost the habit of beds,” he answered. “Always used of the gable loft, you know, and the wind above the thatch.”
Not to be thought to behave otherwise than usual, he went upstairs that night. But—
“Feather beds are saft,
Pentit rooms are bonnie,
But ae kiss o’ my dear love
Better’s far than ony.”
The rain was still falling, the sea was loud, the mighty breath of night was shaking the walls of the house and rioting through the town. He was wet and tired, longing for a dry skin and a warm bed and rest.
“Yet fain wad I rise and rin
If I tho’t I would meet my dearie.”
The long-strained rapture of faith and confidence was breaking down. He saw it breaking. He could deceive himself no more. She was gone, she was lost, she would lie on his breast no more.
“God help me! O, Lord, help me,” he cried in his crushed and breaking heart.
When Kate thought of her husband after she had left him, it was not with any crushing sense of shame. She had injured him, but she had gained nothing by it. On the contrary, she had suffered, she had undergone separation from her child. To soften the hard blow inflicted, she had outraged the tenderest feelings of her heart. As often as she thought of Pete and the deep wrong she had done him, she remembered this sacrifice, she wept over this separation. Thus she reconciled herself to her conduct towards her husband. If she had bought happiness at the cost of Pete’s sufferings, her remorse might have been deep; but she had only accepted shame and humiliation and the severance of the dearest of her ties.
When she had said in the rapture of passionate confidence that if she possessed Philip’s love there could be no humiliation and no shame, she had not yet dreamt of the creeping degradation of a life in the dark, under a false name, in a false connection: a life under the same roof with Philip, yet not by his side, unacknowledged, unrecognised, hidden and suppressed. Even at the moment of that avowal, somewhere in the secret part of her heart, where lay her love of refinement and her desire to be a lady, she had cherished the hope that Philip would find a way out of the meanness of their relation, that she would come to live openly beside him, she hardly knew how, and she did not care at what cost of scandal, for with Philip as her own she would be proud and happy.
Philip had not found that way out, yet she did not blame him. She had begun to see that the deepest shame of their relation was not hers but his. Since she had lived in Philip’s house the man in him had begun to decay. She could not shut her eyes to this rapid demoralisation, and she knew well that it was the consequence of her presence. The deceptions, the subterfuges, the mean shifts forced upon him day by day, by every chance, every accident, were plunging him in ever-deepening degradation. And as she realised this a new fear possessed her, more bitter than any humiliation, more crushing than any shame—the fear that he would cease to love her, the terror that he would come to hate her, as he recognised the depth to which she had dragged him down.
Back from Tynwald, Philip was standing in his room. From time to time he walked to the window, which was half open, for the air was close and heavy. A misty rain was falling from an empty sky, and the daylight was beginning to fail. The tombstones below were wet, the treed were dripping, the churchyard was desolate. In a corner under the wall lay the angular wooden lid which is laid by a gravedigger over an open grave. Presently the iron gates swung apart, and a funeral company entered. It consisted of three persons and an uncovered deal coffin. One of the three was the sexton of the church, another was the curate, the third was a policeman. The sexton and the policeman carried the coffin to the church-door, which the curate opened. He then went into the church, and was followed by the other two. A moment later there were three strokes of the church bell. Some minutes after that the funeral company reappeared. It made for the open grave in the corner by the wall. The cover was removed, the coffin was lowered, the policeman half lifted his helmet, and the sexton put a careless hand to his cap. Then the curate opened a book and closed it again. The burial service was at an end. Half an hour longer the sexton worked alone in the drenching rain, shovelling the earth back into the grave.
“Some waif,” thought Philip; “some friendless, homeless, nameless waif.”
He went noiselessly up the stairs to the floor above, slinking through the house like a shadow. At a door above his own he knocked with a heavy hand, and a woman’s voice answered him from within—
“Is any one there?”
“It is!,” he said. “I am coming to see you.”
Then he opened the door and slipped into the room. It was a room like his own at all points, only lower in the ceiling, and containing a bed. A woman was standing with her back to the window, as if she had just turned about from looking into the churchyard. It was Kate. She had been expecting Philip, and waiting for him, but she seemed to be overwhelmed with confusion. As he crossed the floor to go to her, he staggered, and then she raised her eyes to his face.
“You are ill,” she said. “Sit down. Shall I ring for the brandy?”
“No,” he answered. “We have had a hard day at Tyn-wald—some trouble—some excitement—I’m tired, that’s all.”
He sat on the end of the bed, and gazed out on the veil of rain, slanting across the square church tower and the sky.
“I was at Ramsey two days ago,” he said; “that’s what I came to tell you.”
“Ah!” She linked her hands before her, and gazed out also. Then, in a trembling voice, she asked, “Is mother well?”
“Yes; I did not see her, but—yes, she bears up bravely.”
“And—and—” the words stuck in her throat, “and Pete?”
“Well, also—in health, at all events.”
“You mean that he is broken-hearted?”
With a deep breath he answered, “To listen to him you would think he was cheerful enough.”
“And little Katherine?”
“She is well too. I did not see her awake. It was late, and she was in her cradle. So rosy, and fresh, and beautiful!”
“My sweet darling! She was clean too? They take care of her, don’t they?”
“More care they could not take.”
“My darling baby! Has she grown?”
“Yes; they talk of taking her out of the long clothes soon. Nancy is like a second mother to her.”
Kate’s foot was beating the floor. “Oh, why can’t her own mother——” she began, and then in a faltering voice, “but that cannot be, I suppose…. Do her eyes change? Are they still blue? But she was asleep, you say. My dear baby! Was it very late? Nine o’clock? Just nine? I was thinking of her at that moment. It is true I am always thinking of her, but I remember, because the clock was striking. ‘She will be in her little cot now,’ I thought, ‘bathed and clean, and so pretty in her nightdress, the one with the frill!’ My sweet, sweet angel!”
Her speech was confused and broken. “Do you think if I never see her until… Will I know her if… It’s useless to think of that, though. Is her hair like… What is the colour of her hair, Philip?”
“Fair, quite fair; as fair as mine was——”
She swirled round, came face to face with him, and cried, “Philip, Philip, why can’t I have my darling to myself? She would be well enough here. I could keep her quiet. Oh, she would not disturb you. And I should be so happy with my little Kate for company. The time is long with me sometimes, Philip, and I could play with her all the day. And then at night, when she would be in the cot, I could make her little stock of clothes—her frocks and her little pinafores, and——”
“Impossible, Kate, impossible!” said Philip.
She turned to the window. “Yes,” she said, in a choking voice, “I suppose it would even be stealing to fetch her away now. Only think! A mother stealing her own child! O gracious heaven, have I sinned myself so far from my innocent baby! My child, my child! My little Katherine!”
Her bosom heaved, and she said in a hard tone, “I daresay they think I’m a bad mother because I left her to others to nurse her and to love her, to see her every day and all day, to bathe her sweet body, and to comb her yellow hair, to look into her little blue eyes, and to watch all her pretty, pretty ways—Oh, yes, yes.” she said, with increasing emotion, “I daresay they think that of me.”
“They think nothing but what is good of you, Kate—nothing but what is good and kind.”
She looked out on the rain which fell unceasingly, and said in a low voice, “Is Pete still telling the same story—that I am only away for a little while—that I am coming back?”
“He is writing letters to himself now, and saying they come from you.”
“Such simple things—all in his own way—full of love and happiness—I am so happy and comfortable—it is pitiful. He is like a child—he never suspects anything. You are better and enjoying yourself and looking forward to coming home soon. Sending kisses and presents for the baby, too, and greetings for everybody. There are messages for me also. Your true and loving wife—it is terrible.”
She covered her face with both hands. “And is he telling everybody?”
“Yes; that’s what the letters are meant for. He thinks he is keeping your name sweet and your place clean, so that you may return at any time, and scandal may not touch you.”
“Oh, why do you tell me that, Philip? It is dragging me back. And the child is dragging me back also… Does he show the letters to you?”
“Worse than that, Kate—much worse—he makes me answer them. I answered one the other night. Oh, when I think of it! Dear wife, glad to get your welcome letters. God knows how I held the pen—I was giddy enough to drop it. He gave you all the news—about your father, and Grannie, and everybody. All in his own bright way—poor old Pete, the cheeriest, sunniest soul alive. The Dempster is putting a sight on us regular—trusts you are the better for leaving home. It was awful—awful! Dearest Kirry, I’m missing you mortal—worse than Kimberley. So come home soon, my true lil wife, to your foolish ould husband, for his heart is losing him.”
He leapt up, and began to tramp the floor. “But why do I tell you this? I should bear my own burdens.”
Her hands had come down from her face, which was full of a great compassion. “And did you have to write all that?” she asked.
“Oh, he meant no harm. He had no thought of hurting anybody! He never dreamt that every word was burning and blistering me to the heart of hearts.”
His voice deepened, and his face grew hard and ugly. “But it was the same as if some devil out of hell had entered into the man and told him how to torture me—as if the cruellest tyrant on earth had made me take up the pen and write down my own death-warrant. I could have killed him—I could not help it—yes, I felt at that moment as if—— Oh, what am I saying?”
He stopped, sat on the end of the bed again, and held his head between his hands.
She came and sat by his side. “Philip,” she said, “I am ruining you. Yes, I am corrupting you. I who would have had you so high and pure—and you so pure-minded—I am bringing you to ruin. Having me here is destroying you, Philip. No one visits you now. You are shutting the door on everybody…. I heard you come in last night, Philip. I hear you every night. Yes, I know everything. Oh, you will end by hating me—I know you will. Why don’t you send me away? It will be better to send me away in time, Philip. Besides, it will make no difference. We are in the same house, yet we never meet. Send me away now, before it is too late.”
He dropped his hand and felt for her hand; he was trying not to look into her face. “We have both suffered, Kate. We can never hate one another—we have suffered for each other’s sake.”
She clung tightly to the hand he gave her, and said, “Then you will never forsake me, whatever happens?”
“Never, Kate, never,” he answered; and with a smothered cry she threw her arms about his neck.
The rain continued to pour down on the roofs and on the tombs with a monotonous plash. “But what is to be done?” she said.
“God knows,” he answered.
“What is to become of us, Philip? Are we never to smile on each other again? We cannot carry a burden like this for ever. To-day, to-morrow, the next day, the next year—is it to go on like this for a lifetime? Is this life? Is there nothing that will end it?”
“Yes, Kate, yes; there is one thing that will end it—one thing only.”
“Do you mean—death?”
He did not answer. She rose slowly from his side and returned to the window, rested her forehead against the pane, and looked down on the desolate churchyard and the sexton at his work in the rain. Suddenly she broke the silence. “Philip,” she said, “I know now what we ought to do. I wonder we have never thought of it before.”
“What is it?” he asked.
She was standing in front of him. Her breath came quickly. “Tell Pete that I am dead.”
“No, no, no.”
She took both his hands. “Yes, yes,” she said.
He kept his face away from her. “Kate, what are you saying?”
“What is more natural, Philip? Only think—if you had been anybody else, it would have come to that already. You must have hated me for dragging you down into this mire of deceit, you must have forsaken me, and I must have gone to wreck and ruin. Oh, I see it all—just as if it had really happened. A solitary room somewhere—alone—sinking—dying—unknown, unnamed—forgotten——”
His eyes were wandering about the room. “It will kill him. If his heart can break, it will break it,” he said.
“He has lived after a heavier blow than that, Philip. Do you think he is not suffering? For all his bright ways and hopeful talk and the letters and the presents, do you think he is not suffering?”
He liberated his hands, and began to tramp the room as before, but with head down dud hands linked behind him.
“It will be cruel to deceive him,” he said.
“No, Philip, but kind. Death is not cruel. The wound it makes will heal. It won’t bleed for ever. Once he thinks I am dead he will weep a little perhaps, and then “—she was stifling a sob—”then it will be all over. ‘Poor girl,’ he will say, ‘she was much to blame. I loved her once, and never did her any wrong. But she is gone, and she was the mother of little Katherine—let us forget her faults’——”
He had not heard her; he was standing before the window looking down. “You are right, Kate, I think you must be right.”
“I’m sure I am.”
“He will suffer, but he will get over it.”
“Yes, indeed. And you, Philip—he will torture you no longer. No more letters, no more presents, no more messages——”
“I’ll do it—I’ll do it to-morrow,” he said.
She opened her arms wide, and cried, “Kiss me, Philip, kiss me. We shall live again. Yes, we shall laugh together still—kiss me, kiss me.”
“Not yet—when I come back.”
“Very well—when you come back.”
She sank into a chair, crying with joy, and he went out as he had entered, noiselessly, stealthily, like a shadow.
When a man who is not a criminal is given over to a deep duplicity of life, he will clutch at any lie, wearing the mask of truth, which seems to shield him from shame and pain. He may be a wise man in every other relation, a shrewd man, a far-seeing and even a cunning man, but in this relation—that of his own honour, his own fame, his own safety—he is certain to be a blunderer, a bungler, and a fool. Such is the revenge of Nature, such is God’s own vengeance!
Philip was walking from Ballure House to Elm Cottage. It was late, and the night was dark and silent—a muggy, dank, and stagnant night, without wind or air, moon or stars. The road was quiet, the trees were still, the sea made only a far-off murmur.
And as he walked he struggled to persuade himself that in what he was about to do he would be doing well. “It will not be wrong to deceive him,” he thought. “It will only be for his own good. The suspense would kill him. He would waste away. The sap of the man’s soul would dry up. Then why should I hesitate? Besides, it is partly true—true in its own sense, and that is the real sense. She is dead—dead to him. She can never return to him; she is lost to him for ever. So it is true after all—it is true.”
“It is a lie,” said a voice at his ear.
He started. He could have been sure that somebody had spoken. Yet there was nobody by his side. He was alone in the road. “It must have been my own voice,” he thought. “I must have been thinking aloud.” And then he resumed his walk and his meditation.
“And if it is a lie, is it therefore a crime?” he asked himself. “Sure it is—how very sure!—it was a wise man that said so—a great fault once committed is the first link in a chain. The other links seem to be crimes also, but they are not—they are consequences. Our fault was long ago, and even then it was partly the fault of Fate. If the past could be recalled we could not act differently unless our fates were different. And what has followed has been only the consequence. It was the consequence when Kate was married to Pete; it was the consequence when she left him—and this is the consequence.”
“It is a lie,” said the same voice by his side.
He stopped. The darkness was gross around him—he could see nothing.
“Who’s there?” he demanded.
There was no answer. He stretched his hand out nervously. There was no one at his side. “It must have been the wind in the trees,” he thought; but there could be no wind in the stagnant dampness of that air. “It was like my own voice,” he thought. Then he remembered how his man in Douglas had told him that he had contracted a habit of talking to himself of late. “It was my own voice,” he thought, and he went on again.
“A lie is a bad foundation to build on—that’s certain. The thing that should be cannot rest on the thing that is not. It will topple down; it will come to ruin; it will wreck everything. Still——”
“It is a lie,” said the voice again. There could be no mistaking it this time. It was a low, deep whisper. It seemed to be spoken in the very cavity of his ear. It was not his own voice, and yet it struck upon his sense with the sound as of his own. It must be his own voice speaking to himself!
When this idea took hold of him, he was seized with a deadly shuddering. His heart knocked against his ribs, and an icy coldness came over him. “Only the same tormenting dream,” he thought. “Before it was a vision; now it is a voice. It is generated by solitude and separation. I must resist it I must be strong. It will drive me into an oppression as of madness. Men do not ‘see their souls’ until they are bordering on madness from religious mania or crime.”
“A lie! a lie!” said the voice.
“This is madness itself. To paint faces on the darkness, to hear voices in the air, is madness. The madman can do no more.”
“A lie!” said the voice again. He cast a look over his shoulder. It was the same as if some one had touched him and spoken.
He walked faster. The voice seemed to walk with him. “I will hold myself firm,” he thought; “I will not be afraid. Reason does not fail a man until he allows himself to believe that it is failing. ‘I am going mad,’ he thinks; and then he shrieks and is mad indeed. I will not depart from my course. If I do so now, I shall be lost. The horror will master me, and I shall be its slave for ever.”
He had turned out of Ballure into the Ramsey Road, and he could see the town lights in the distance. But the voice continued to haunt him persistently, besiegingly, despotically.
“Great God!” he thought, “what is the imaginary devil to the horror of this presence? Your own eye, your own voice, always with you, always following you! No darkness so dense that it can hide the sight, no noise so loud that it can deaden the sound!”
He walked faster. Still the voice seemed to stride by his side, an invisible thing, with deliberate and noiseless step, from which there was no escape.
He drew up suddenly and walked slower. His knees were tottering, he was treading as on waves; yet he went on. “I will not yield. I will master myself. I will do what I intended. I am not mad,” he thought.
He was at the gate of Elm Cottage by this time, and, with a strong glow of resolution, he walked boldly to the door and knocked.
Pete had not awakened until late that morning. While still in bed he had heard Grannie and Nancy in the room below. The first sound of their voices told him that something was amiss.
“Aw, God bless me, God bless me!” said Nancy, as though with uplifted hands.
“It was Kelly the postman,” said Grannie in a doleful tone—the tone in which she had spoken between the puffs of her pipe.
“The dirt!” said Nancy.
“He was up at Cæsar’s before breakfast this morning,” said Grannie.
“There now!” cried Nancy. “There’s men like that, though. Just aiger for mischief. It’s sweeter than all their prayers to them…. But where can she be, then? Has she made away with herself, poor thing?”
“That’s what I was asking Cæsar,” said Grannie. “If she’s gone with the young Ballawhaine, what for aren’t you going to England over and fetching her home?” says I.
“And what did Cæsar say?”
“‘No,’ says he, ‘not a step,’ says he. ‘If she’s dead,’ says he, ‘we’ll only know it a day the sooner, and if she’s in life, it’ll be a disgrace to us the longest day we live.'”
“Aw, bolla veen, bolla veen!” said Nancy. “When some men is getting religion there’s no more inside at them than a gutted herring, and they’re good for nothing but to put up in the chimley to smook.”
“It’s Black Tom, woman,” said Grannie. “Cæsar’s freckened mortal of the man’s tongue going. ‘It’s water to his wheel,’ he’s saying. ‘He’ll be telling me to set my own house in order, and me a local preacher, too.’ But how’s the man himself?”
“Pete?” said Nancy. “Aw, tired enough last night, and not down yet…. Hush!… It’s his foot on the loft.”
“Poor boy! poor boy!” said Grannie.
The child cried, and then somebody began to beat the floor to the measure of a long-drawn hymn. Grannie must have been sitting before the fire with the baby across her knees.
“Something has happened,” thought Pete as he drew on his clothes. A moment later something had happened indeed. He had opened a drawer of the dressing-table and found the wedding-ring and the earrings where Kate had left them. There was a commotion in the room below by this time, but Pete did not hear it. He was crying in his heart. “It is coming! I know it! I feel it! God help me! Lord forgive me! Amen! Amen!”
Cæsar, the postman, and the constable, as a deputation from “The Christians,” had just entered the house. Black Tom was with them. He was the ferret that had fetched them out of their holes.
“Get thee home, woman,” said Cæsar to Grannie, “This is no place for thee. It is the abode of sin and deception.”
“It’s the home of my child’s child, and that’s enough for me,” said Grannie.
“Get thee back, I tell thee,” said Cæsar, “and come thee to this house of shame no more.”
“Take her, Nancy,” said Grannie, giving up the child. “Shame enough, indeed, I’m thinking, when a woman has to shut her heart to her own flesh and blood if she’s not to disrespect her husband,” and she went off, weeping.
But Cæsar’s emotions were walled in by his pietistical views. “Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or land, for My name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold,” said Cæsar, with a cast of his eye towards Black Tom.
“Well, if I ever!” said Nancy. “The husband that wanted the like of that from me now…. A hundredfold, indeed! No, not for a hundred hundredfolds, the nasty dirt.”
“Don’t he turning up your nose, woman, but call your master,” said Cæsar.
“It’s more than some ones need do, then, and I won’t call my master, neither—no, thank you,” said Nancy.
“I’ve something to tell him, and I’ve come, too, for to do it,” said Cæsar.
“The devil came farther than ever you did, and it was only a lie he was bringing for all that,” said Nancy.
“Hould your tongue, Nancy Cain,” said Cæsar, “and take that Popish thing off the child’s head.” It was the scarlet hood.
“Pity the money that’s wasted on the like wasn’t given to the poor.”
“I’ve heard something the same before, Cæsar Cregeen,” said Nancy. “It was Judas Iscariot was saying it first, and you’re just thieving it from a thief.”
“Chut!” cried Cæsar, goaded by the laughter of Black Tom. “I’ll call the man myself. Peter Quilliam!” and he made for the staircase door.
“Stand back,” cried Nancy, holding the child like a pillow over one of her arms, and lifting the other threateningly.
“Aw, you’ll never be raising your hand to the man of God, woman,” giggled Black Tom.
“Won’t I, though?” said Nancy grimly, “or the man of the devil either,” she added, flashing at himself.
“The woman’s not to trust, sir,” snuffled the constable. “She’s only an infidel, anyway. I’ve heard tell of her saying she didn’t believe the whale swallowed Jonah.”
“That’s the diff’rance between us, then,” said Nancy; “for there’s some of you Manx ones would believe if Jonah swallowed the whale.”
The staircase door opened at the back of Nancy, and Pete stepped into the room. “What’s this, friends?” he asked, in a careworn voice.
Cæsar stepped forward with a yellow envelope in his hand. “What’s that, sir?” he answered.
Pete took the envelope and opened it.
“That’s your letter back to you through the dead letter office, isn’t it?” said Cæsar.
“Well?” said Pete.
“There’s nobody of that name in that place, is there!” said Cæsar.
“Well?” said Pete again.
“Letters from England don’t come through Peel, but your first letter had the Peel postmark, hadn’t it?”
“Parcels from England don’t come through Port St. Mary, but your parcel was stamped in Port St. Mary, wasn’t it?”
“The handwriting inside the letter wasn’t your own handwriting, was it? The address on the outside of the parcel wasn’t your own address—no?”
“Is that all?”
“Enough to be going on, I’m thinking.”
“What about Uncle Joe?” said Black Tom, with another giggle.
“Your mistress is not in Liverpool. You don’t know where she is. She has gone the way of all sinners,” said Cæsar.
“Is that what you’re coming to tell me?” said Pete.
“No; we’re coming to tell you,” said Cæsar, “that, as a notorious loose liver, we must be putting her out of class. And we’re coming to call on yourself to look to your own salvation. You’ve deceaved us, Mr. Quilliam. You’ve grieved the Spirit of the Lord,” with another “glime” in the direction of Black Tom; “you’ve brought contempt on the fellowship that counts you for one of the fold. You’ve given the light of your countenance to the path of an evildoer, and you’ve brought down the head of a child of God with sorrow to the grave.”
Cæsar was moved by his self-satisfied piety, and began to make’ noises in his nostrils. “Let us lay the case before the Lord,” he said; and he went down on his knees and prayed—
“Our brother has deceived us, O Lord, but we forgive him freely. Forgive Thou also his trespasses, so that at the last he escape hell-fire. Count not Thy handmaid for a daughter of Belial, wherever she is this day. May it be good for her to be cut off from the body of the righteous. Grant that she feel this mercy in her carnal body before her eternal soul be called to everlasting judgment. Lord, strengthen Thy servant. Let not his natural affections be as the snare of the fowler unto his feet. Though it grieve him sore, even to tears and tribulation, help him to pluck out the gourd that groweth in his own bosom——”
“Dear heart alive!” cried Nancy, clattering her clogs, “it’s a wonder in the world the man isn’t thinking shame to blacken his own daughter before the Almighty Himself.”
“Be merciful, O Lord,” continued Cæsar, “to all rank unbelievers, and such as live in heathen darkness in a Christian land, and don’t know Saturday from Sunday, and are imper-ent uncommon and bad with the tongue——”
“Stop that now.” cried Nancy, “that’s meant for me.”
Pete had stood through this in silence, but with an angry, miserable face.
“Beg pardon all,” he said. “I’m not going for denying to what you say. I’m like the fish at the heel of the trawl-boat—the net’s closing in on me and I’m caught. The game’s up. I did deceave you. I did write those letters myself. I’ve no Uncle Joe, nor no Auntie Joney neither. My wife’s left me. I’m not knowing where she is, or what’s becoming of her. I’m done, and I’m for throwing up the sponge.”
There were grunts of satisfaction. “But don’t you feel the need of pardon, brother,” said Cæsar.
“I don’t,” said Pete. “What I was doing I was doing for the best, and, if I was doing wrong, the Almighty will have to forgive me—that’s about all.”
Cæsar shot out his lip. Pete raised himself to his full height and looked from face to face, until his eyes settled on the postman.
“But it takes a thief to catch a thief,” he said. “Which of you was the thief that catcht me? Maybe I’ve been only a blundering blockhead, and perhaps you’ve been clever, and smart uncommon, but I’m thinking there’s some of you hasn’t been rocked enough for all that.”
He held out the yellow envelope. “This letter was sealed when you gave it to me, Mr. Cregeen—how did you know what was inside of it? ‘On Her Majesty’s Sarvice,’ you say. But it isn’t dead letters only that’s coming with words same as that.”
The postman was meddling with his front hair.
“The Lord has His own wayses of doing His work, has He, Cæsar? I never heard tell, though, that opening other people’s letters was one of them.”
Mr. Kelly’s ferret eyes were nearly twinkling themselves out.
Pete threw letter and envelope into the fire. “You’ve come to tell me you’re going to turn my wife out of class. All right! You can turn me out, too, and if the money I gave you is anywhere handy, you can turn that out at the same time and make a clane job.”
Black Tom was doubling with suppressed laughter at the corner of the dresser, and Cæsar was writhing under his searching glances.
“You’re knowing a dale about the ould Book and I’m not knowing much,” said Pete, “but isn’t it saying somewhere, ‘Let him that’s without sin amongst you chuck the first stone?’ I’m not worth mentioning for a saint myself, so I lave it with you.”
His voice began to break. “You’re thinking a dale about the broken law seemingly, but I’m thinking more about the broken heart. There’s the like in somewhere, you go bail. The woman that’s gone may have done wrong—I’m not saying she didn’t, poor thing; but if she comes home again, you may turn her out, but I’ll take her back, whatever she is and whatever she’s done—so help me God I will—and I’ll not wait for the Day of Judgment to ask the Almighty if I’m doing right.”
Then he sat down with his back to them on a chair before the fire.
“Now you can go home to nurse,” said Nancy, wiping her eyes, “and lave me to sweeten the kitchen—it’s wanting water enough after dirts like you.”
Cæsar also was wiping his eye—the one nearest to Black Tom. “Come,” he said with plaintive resignation, “our errand was useless. The Ethiopian cannot change his skin, nor the leopard his spots.”
“No, but he can get a topcoat to cover them, though,” said Nancy. “Oh, that flea sticks, does it, Cæsar? Don’t blame the looking-glass if your face is ugly.”
Cæsar pretended not to hear her. “Well,” he said, with a sigh discharged at Pete’s back, “we’ll pray, spite of appearances, that we may all go to heaven together some day.”
“No, thank you, not me,” said Nancy. “I wouldn’t be-mane myself going anywhere with the like of you.”
The Job in Cæsar could bear up no longer. “Vain and ungrateful woman,” he cried, “who hath eaten of my bread and drunken of my cup——”
“Cursing me, are you?” said Nancy. “Sakes! you must have been found in the bulrushes at Pharaoh’s daughter and made a prophet of.”
“No use bandying words, sir, wid a single woman dat lives alone wid a single man,” said Mr. Niplightly.
Nancy flopped the child from her right arm to her left, and with the back of her hand she slapped the constable across the face. “Take that for the cure of a bad heart,” she said, “and tell the Dempster I gave it you.”
Then she turned on the postman and Black Tom. “Out of it, you lil thief, your mouth’s only a dirty town-well and your tongue’s the pump in it. Go home and die, you big black spider—you’re ould enough for it and wicked enough, too. Out of it, the lot of you!” she cried, and clashed the door at their backs, and then opened it again for a parting shot. “And if it’s true you’re on your way to heaven together, just let me know, and I’ll see if I can’t put up with the other place myself.”
That evening Pete was sitting with one foot on the cradle rocker, one arm on the table, and the other hand trifling tenderly with the ring and the earrings which he had found in the drawer of the dressing-table, when there was a hurried knock on the door. It had the hollow reverberation of a knock on the lid of a coffin.
“Come in,” called Pete.
It was Philip, but it was almost as if Death had entered, so thin and bony were his cheeks, so wild his eyes, so cold his hands.
Pete was prepared for anything. “You’ve found me out, too, I see you have,” he said defiantly. “You needn’t tell me—it’s chasing caught fish.”
“Be brave, Pete,” said Philip. “It will be a great shock to you.”
Pete looked up and his manner changed. “Speak it out, sir. It’s a poor man that can’t stand——”
“I’ve come on the saddest errand,” said Philip, taking a seat as far away as possible.
“You’ve found her—you’ve seen her, sir. Where is she?”
“She is——” began Philip, and then he stopped.
“Go on, mate; I’ve known trouble before to-day,” said Pete.
“Can you bear it?” said Philip. “She is——” and he stopped again.
“She is—where?” said Pete.
“She is dead,” said Philip at last.
Pete rose to his feet. Philip rose also, and now poured out his message with the headlong rush of a cataract.
“In fact, it all happened some time ago, Pete, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell you before. I tried, but I couldn’t. It was in Douglas—of a fever—in a lodging—alone—unattended——”
“Hould hard, sir! Give me time,” said Pete. “I’d a gunshot wound at Kimberley, and since then I’ve a stitch in my side at whiles and sometimes a bit of a catch in my breathing.”
He staggered to the porch door and threw it open, then came back panting—”Dead! dead! Kate is dead!”
Nancy came from the kitchen at the moment, and hearing what he was saying, she lifted both hands and uttered a piercing shriek. He took her by the shoulders and turned her back, shut the door behind her, and said, holding his right hand hard at his side, “Women are brave, sir, but when the storm breaks on a man——” He broke off and muttered again, “Dead! Kirry is dead!”
The child, awakened by Nancy’s cry, was now whimpering fretfully. Pete went to the cradle and rocked it with one foot, crooning in a quavering treble, “Hush-a-bye! hush-a-bye!”
Philip’s breathing was oppressed. He felt like a man at the edge of a precipice, with an impulse to throw himself over. “God forgive me,” he said. “I could kill myself. I’ve broken your heart;——”
“No fear of me, sir,” said Pete. “I’m an ould hulk that’s seen weather. I’ll not go to pieces from inside at all. Give me time, mate, give me time.” And then he went on muttering as before, “Dead! Kirry dead! Hush-a-bye! My Kirry dead!”
The little one slept, and Pete drew back in his chair, nodded into the fire, and said in a weak, childish voice, “I’ve known her all my life, d’ye know? She’s been my lil sweetheart since she was a slip of a girl, and slapped the schoolmaster for bating me wrongously. Swate lil thing in them days, mate, with her brown feet and tossing hair. And now she’s a woman and she’s dead! The Lord have mercy upon me!”
He got up and began to walk heavily across the floor, dipping and plunging as if going upstairs. “The bright and happy she was when I started for Kimberley, too; with her pretty face by the aising stones in the morning, all laughter and mischief. Five years I was seeing it in my drames like that, and now it’s gone. Kirry is gone! My Kirry! God help me! O God, have mercy upon me!”
He stopped in his unsteady walk, and sat and stared into the fire. His eyes were red; blotches of heart’s blood seemed to be rising to them; but there was not the sign of a tear. Philip did not attempt to console him. He felt as if the first syllable would choke in his throat.
“I see how it’s been, sir,” said Pete. “While I was away her heart was changing her, and when I came back she thought she must keep her word. My poor lamb! She was only a child anyway. But I was a man—I ought to have seen how it was. I’m like a drowning man, too—things are coming back on me. I’m seeing them plain enough now. But it’s too late! My poor Kirry! And I thought I was making her so happy!” Then, with a helpless look, “You wouldn’t believe it, sir, but I was never once thinking nothing else. No, I wasn’t; it’s a fact. I was same as a sailor working all the voyage home, making a cage, and painting it goold, for the love-bird he’s catcht in the sunny lands somewhere; but when he’s putting it in, it’s only wanting away, poor thing.”
With a sense of grovelling meanness, Philip sat and listened. Then, with eyes wandering across the floor, he said, “You have nothing to reproach yourself with. You did everything a man could do—everything. And she was innocent also. It was the fault of another. He came between you. Perhaps he thought he couldn’t help it—perhaps he persuaded himself—God knows what lie he told himself—but she’s innocent, Pete; believe me, she’s——”
Pete brought his fist down heavily on the table, and the rings that lay on it jumped and tingled. “What’s that to me?” he cried hoarsely. “What do I care if she’s innocent or guilty? She’s dead, isn’t she? and that’s enough. Curse the man! I don’t want to hear of him. She’s mine now. What for should he come here between me and my own?”
The torn heart and racked brain could bear no more. Pete dropped his head on the table. Presently his anger ebbed. Without lifting his head, he stretched his hand across the rings to feel for Philip’s hand. Philip’s hand trembled in his grasp. He took that for sympathy, and became the more ashamed.
“Give me time, mate,” he said. “I’ll be my own man soon. My head’s moithered dreadful—I’m not knowing if I heard you right. In Douglas, you say? By herself, too? Not by herself, surely? Not quite alone neither? She found you out, didn’t she? You’d be there, Phil? You’d be with her yourself? She’d be wanting for nothing?”
Philip answered huskily, his eyes still wandering. “If it will be any comfort to you… yes, I was with her—she wanted for nothing.”
“My poor girl!” said Pete. “Did she send—had she any—maybe she said a word or two—at the last, eh?”
Philip clutched at the question. There was something at last that he could say without falsehood. “She sent a prayer for your forgiveness,” he said. “She told me to tell you to think of her as little as might be; not to grieve for her too much, and to try to forget her, so that her sin also might be forgotten.”
“And the lil one—anything about the lil one?” asked Pete.
“That was the bitterest grief of all,” said Philip. “It was so hard that you must think her an unnatural mother. ‘My Katherine! My little Katherine! My sweet angel!’ It was her cry the whole day long.”
“I see, I see,” said Pete, nodding at the fire; “she left the lil one for my sake, wanting it with her all the while. Poor thing! You’d comfort her, Philip? You’d let her go aisy?”
“‘The child is well and happy,’ I told her. ‘He’s thinking nothing of yourself but what is good and kind,’ I said.”
“God’s peace rest on her! My darling! My wife!” said Pete solemnly. Then suddenly in another tone, “Do you know where she’s buried?”
Philip hesitated. He had not foreseen this question. Where had been his head that he had never thought of it? But there was no going back now. He was compelled to go on. He must tell lie on lie. “Yes,” he faltered.
“Could you take me to the grave?”
Philip gasped; the sweat broke out on his forehead.
“Don’t be freckened, sir,” said Pete; “I’m my own man again. Could you take me to my wife’s grave?”
“Yes,” said Philip. He was in the rapids. He was on the edge of precipitation. He was compelled to go over. He made a blindfold plunge. Lie on lie; lie on lie!
“Then we’ll start by the coach to-morrow,” said Pete.
Philip rose with rigid limbs. He had meant to tell one lie only, and already he had told many. Truly “a lie is a cripple;” it cannot stand alone. “Good night, Pete; I’ll go home. I’m not well to-night.”
“We’ll stop the coach at your aunt’s gate in the morning,” said Pete.
They stepped to the door together, and stood for a moment in the dank and lifeless darkness.
“The world’s getting wonderful lonely, man, and you’re all that’s left to me now, Phil—you and the child. I’m not for wailing, though. When I got my gun-shot wound out yonder, I was away over the big veldt, hundreds of miles from anywhere, behind the last bush and the last blade of grass, with the stones and the ashes and the dust—about as far, you’d say, as the world was finished, and never looking to see herself and the ould island and the ould faces no more. I’m not so lonesome as that at all. Good-night, ould fellow, and God bless you!”
The gate opened and closed, Philip went stumbling up the road. He was hating Pete. To hate this open-hearted man who had dragged him into an entanglement of lies was the only resource of his stifled conscience.
Pete went back to the house, muttering, “Kirry is dead! Kirry is dead!” He put the catch on the door, said, “Close the shutters, Nancy,” and then returned to his chair by the cradle.
Later the same night Pete carried the news to Sulby. Grannie was in the bar-room, and he broke it to her gently, tenderly, lovingly.
Loud voices came from the kitchen. Cæsar was there in angry contention with Black Tom. An open Bible was between them on their knees. Tom tugged it towards him, bobbed his blunt forefinger down on the page, and cried, “There’s the text—that’ll pin you—publicans and sinners.”
Cæsar leaned back’in his seat, and said with withering scorn, “It’s a bad business—I’ll give you lave to say that. It’s men like you that’s making it bad. But whether is it better for a bad business to be in bad hands or in good ones? There’s a big local praicher in London, they’re telling me, that’s hot for joining the public-house to the church, and turning the parsons into the publicans. That’s what they all were on the Isle of Man in ould days gone by, and pity they’re not so still. Oh, I’ve been giving it my sarious thoughts, sir. I’ve been making it a subject for prayer. ‘Will I give up my public or hould fast to it to keep it out of worse hands?’ And I’m strong to believe the Lord hath spoken. ‘It’s a little vineyard—a little work in a little vineyard. Stick to it, Cæsar,’ and so I will.”
Pete stepped into the kitchen and flung his news at Cæsar with a sort of wild melancholy, as who would say, “There, is that enough for you? Are you satisfied now?”
“Mair yee shoh—it’s the hand of God,” said Cæsar.
“A middling bad hand then,” said Pete; “I’ve seen better, anyway.”
A high spiritual pride took hold of Cæsar—Black Tom was watching him, and working his big eyebrows vigorously. With mouth firmly shut and head thrown back, Cæsar said in a sepulchral voice, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!”
Pete made a crack of savage laughter.
“Aren’t you feeling it, sir?” said Cæsar.
“Not a feel near me,” said Pete. “I never did the Lord no harm that I know of, but He’s taken my young wife and left my poor innocent lil one motherless.”
“Unsearchable the wisdom and justice of God,” said Cæsar.
“Unsearchable?” said Pete. “It’s all that. But I don’t know if you’re calling it justice. I’m not myself. It isn’t my tally. Blasphemy? I lave it with you. A scoffer, am I? So be it. The Lord’s licked me, and I’ve had enough. But I’m not going down on my knees for it, anyway. The Almighty and me is about quits.”
With that word on his lips he strode out of the place, grim, implacable, almost savage, a fierce smile fluttering on his ashy face.
Grannie came to Elm Cottage next morning with two duck eggs for Pete’s breakfast. She was boiling them in a saucepan when Pete came downstairs.
“Come now,” she said coaxingly, as she laid them on the table, with the water smoking off the shells. But Pete could not eat.
“He hasn’t destroyed any food these days,” said Nancy. A little before she had rolled her apron, slipped out into the street, and brought back a tiny packet screwed up in a bit of newspaper.
“Perhaps he’ll ate them on the road,” said Grannie. “I’ll put them in the hankerchief in his hat anyway.”
“My faith, no, woman!” cried Nancy. “He’s the mischief for sweating. He’ll be mopping his forehead and forgetting the eggs. But here—where’s your waistcoat pocket, Pete? Have you room for a hayseed anywhere? There!… It’s a quarter of twist, poor boy,” she whispered behind her hand to Grannie.
Thus they vied with each other in little attentions to the down-hearted man. Meantime Crow, the driver of the Douglas coach, a merry old sinner with a bulbous nose and short hair, standing erect like the steel pins of an electric brush, was whistling as he put his horses to in the marketplace. Presently he swirled round the corner and drew up at the gate. The women then became suddenly quiet, and put their aprons to their mouths, as if a hearse had stopped at the door; but Pete bustled about and shouted boisterously to cover the emotion of his farewell.
“Good-bye, Grannie; I’ll say a word for you when I get there. Good-bye, Nancy; I’ll not be forgetting yourself neither. Good bye, lil bogh,” dropping on one knee at the side of the cradle. “What right has a man’s heart to be going losing him while he has a lil innocent like this to live for? Good-bye!”
There was a throng of women at the gate talking of Kate. “Aw, a civil person, very—a civiller person never was.”—”It’s me that’ll be missing her too. I served her eggs to the day of her death, as you might say. ‘Good morning, Christian Anne,’ says she—just like that. Welcome, you say? I was at home at the woman’s door.”—”And the beautiful she came home in the gig with the baby! Only yesterday you might say. And now, Lord-a-massy!”—”Hush! it’s himself! I’m fit enough to cry when I look at the man. The cheerful heart is broke at him.”—”Hush!”
They dropped their heads so that Pete might avoid their gaze, and held the coach-door open for him, expecting that he would go inside, as to a funeral. But he saluted them with “Good morning all,” and leapt to the box-seat with Crow.
The coach stopped to take up the Deemster at the gate of Ballure House. Philip looked thin and emaciated, and walked with a death-like weakness, but also a feverish resolution. Behind him, carrying a rag, came Aunty Nan in her white cap, with little nervous attentions, and a face full of anxiety.
“Drive inside to-day, Philip,” she said.
“No, no,” he answered, and kissed her, pushed her to the other side of the gate with gentle protestation, and climbed to Pete’s side. Then the old lady said—
“Good-morning, Peter. I’m so sorry for your great trouble, and trust… But you’ll not let the Deemster ride too long outside if it grows… He’s had a sleepless night and——”
“Go on, Crow,” said Philip, in a decisive voice.
“I’ll see to that, Miss Christian, ma’am,” shouted Crow over his shoulder. “His honour’s studdying a bit too hard—that’s what he is. But a gentleman’s not much use if his wife’s a widow, as the man said—eh? Looking well enough yourself, though, Miss Christian, ma’am. Getting younger every day, in fact. I’ll have to be fetching that East Indee capt’n up yet. I will that. Ha! ha! Get on, Boxer!” Then, with a flick of the whip, they were off on their journey.
The day was calm and beautiful. Old Barrule wore his yellow skull-cap of flowering gorse, the birds sang on the trees, and the sea on the shore sang also with the sound of far-off joy-bells. It was a heart-breaking day to Pete, but he tried to bear himself bravely.
He was seated between Philip and the driver. On the farther side of Crow there were two other passengers, a farmer and a fisherman. The farmer, a foul-mouthed fellow with a long staff and two dogs racing and barking on the road, was returning from Midsummer fair, at which he had sold his sheep; the fisherman, a simple creature, was coming home from the mackerel-fishing at Kinsale, with a box of the fish between his legs.
“The wife’s been having a lil one since I was laving in March,” said the fisherman, laughing all over his bronzed face. “A boy, d’ye say? Aw, another boy, of coorse. Three of them now—all men. Got a letter at Ramsey post-office coming through. She’s getting on as nice as nice, and the ould woman’s busy doing for her.”
“Gee up, Boxer—we’ll wet its head at the Hibernian,” said Crow.
“I’m not partic’lar at all,” said the fisherman cheerily. “The mack’rel’s been doing middling this season, anyway.”
And then in his simple way he went on to paint home, and the joy of coming back to it, with the new baby, and the mother in child-bed, and the grandmother as housekeeper, and the other children waiting for new frocks and new jackets out of the earnings of the fishing, and himself going round to pay the grocer what had been put on “strap” while he was at Kin-sale, till Pete was melted, and could listen no longer.
“I’m persuaded still she wasn’t well when she went away,” he whispered, turning his shoulder to the men and his face to Philip. He talked in a low voice, just above the rumble of the wheels, trying to extenuate Kate’s fault and to excuse her to Philip.
“It’s no use thinking hard of anybody, is it, sir?” he said. “We can’t crawl into another person’s soul, as the saying is.”
After that he asked many questions—about Kate’s illness, about the doctor, about the funeral, about everything except the man—of him he asked nothing. Philip was compelled to answer. He was like a prisoner chained at the galleys—he was forced to go on. They crossed the bridge over the top of Ballaglass, which goes down to the mill at Cornaa.
“There’s the glen, sir,” said Pete. “Aw, the dear ould days! Wading in the water, leaping over the stones, clambering on the trunks—aw, dear! aw, dear! Bareheaded and barefooted in those times, sir; but smart extraordinary, and a terble notion of being dressy, too. Twisting ferns about her lil neck for lace, sticking a mountain thistle, sparkling with dew, on her breast for a diamond, twining a trail of fuchsia round her head for a crown—aw, dear! aw, dear! And now—well, well, to think! to think!”
There was laughter on the other side of the coach.
“What do you say, Capt’n Pete?” shouted Crow.
“What’s that?” asked Pete.
The fisherman had treated the driver and the farmer at the Hibernian, and was being rewarded with robustious chaff.
“I’m telling Dan Johnny here these childers that’s coming when a man’s away from home isn’t much to trust. Best put a sight up with the lil one to the wise woman of Glen Aldyn, eh? A man doesn’t like to bring up a cuckoo in the nest—what d’ye say, Capt’n?”
“I say you’re a dirty ould divil, Crow; and I don’t want to be chucking you off your seat,” said Pete; and with that he turned back to Philip. *
The driver was affronted, but the farmer pacified him by an appeal to his fear. “He’d be coarse to tackle, the same fellow—I saw him clane out a tent with one hand at Tyn-wald.”
“It’s a wonder she didn’t come home for all,” said Pete at Philip’s ear—”at the end, you know. Couldn’t face it out, I suppose? Nothing to be afraid of, though, if she’d only known. I had kept things middling straight up to then. And I’d have broke the head of the first man that’d wagged a tongue. But maybe it was myself she was freckened of! Freckened of me! Poor thing! poor thing!”
Philip was in torment. To witness Pete’s simple grief, to hear him breathe a forgiveness for the erring woman, and to be trusted with the thoughts of his heart as a father might be trusted by a young child—it was anguish, it was agony, it was horror. More than once he felt an impulse to cast off his load, to confess, to tell everything. But he reflected that he had no right to do this—that the secret was not his own to give away. His fear restrained him also. He looked into Pete’s face, so full of manly sorrow, and shuddered to think of it transformed by rage.
“Sit hard, gentlemen. Breeches’ work here,” shouted Crow.
They were at the top of the steep descent going down to Laxey. The white town lay sprinkled over the green banks of the glen, and the great water-wheel stood in the depths of the mountain gill behind it.
“She’s there! She’s yonder! It’s herself at the door. She’s up. She’s looking out for the coach,” cried the fisherman, clambering up on to the seat.
“Aisy all,” shouted Crow.
“No use, Mr. Crow. Nothing will persuade me but that’s herself with the lil one in a blanket at the door.”
Before the coach had drawn up at the bridge, the fisherman had leapt to the ground, shouldered his keg, shouted “Good everin’ all,” and disappeared down an alley of the town.
The driver alighted. A crowd gathered around. There were parcels to take up, parcels to set down, and the horses to water. When the coach was ready to start again, the farmer with his dogs had gone, but there was a passenger for an inside place. It was a girl, a bright young thing, with a comely face and laughing black eyes. She was dressed smartly, after her country fashion, in a hat covered with scarlet poppies, and with a vast brooch at the neck of her bodice. In one hand she carried a huge bunch of sweet-smelling gilvers. A group of girl companions came to see her off, and there was much giggling and chatter and general excitement.
“Are you forgetting the pouch and pipe, Emma?”
“Let me see; am I? No; it’s here in my frock.”
“Well, you’ll be coming together by the coach at nine, it’s like?”
“It’s like we will, Liza, if the steamer isn’t late.”
“Now then, ladies, off the step! Any room for a lil calf’ in the straw with you, missy? Freckened? Tut! Only a lil calf, as clane as clane—and breath as swate as your own, miss. There you are—it’ll be lying quiet enough till we get to Douglas. All ready? Ready we are then. Collar work now, gentlemen. Aise the horse, sir. Thank you! Thank you! Not you, your Honour—sit where you are, Dempster.”
Pete got down to walk up the hill, but Philip, though he made some show of alighting also, was glad of the excuse to remain in his seat. It relieved him of Pete’s company for a while, at all events. He had time to ask himself again why he was there, where he was going to, and what he was going to do. But his brain was a cloudy waste. Only one picture emerged from the maze. It was that of the burial of the nameless waif in the grave at the foot of the wall. If he was conscious of any purpose, it was a vague idea of going to that grave. But it lay ahead of him only as an ultimate goal. He was waiting and watching for an opportunity of escape. If it came, God be praised! If it did not come, God help and forgive him!
Meanwhile Pete walked behind, and caught fragments of a conversation between the girl and Crow.
“So you’re going to meet himself coming home, miss, eh?”
“My faith, how d’ye know that? But it’s yourself for knowing things, Mr. Crow. Has he been sailing foreign? Yes, sir; and nine months away for a week come Monday. But spoken at Holyhead in Tuesday’s paper, and paid off in Liverpool yesterday. That’s his ‘nitials, if you want to know—J. W. I worked them on the pouch myself. I’ve spun him a web for a jacket, too. Sweethearting with the miner fellows while Jemmy’s been away? Have I, d’ye say? How people will be talking!”
“Aw, no offence at all. But sorry you’re not keeping another string to your bow, missy. These sailor lads aren’t partic’lar, anyway. Bless your heart, no; but getting as tired of one swateheart as a pig of brewer’s grain. Constant? Chut! When the like of that sort is away foreign, he lays up of the first girl he comes foul of.”
The girl laughed, and shook her head bravely, but the tears were beginning to trickle from her eyes, and the hand that held the flowers was trembling.
“Don’t listen to the man, my dear,” said Pete. “There’s too much comic in these ould bachelor bucks. Your boy is dying to get home to you. Go bail on that, Emma. The packet isn’t making half way enough for him, and he’s bad dreadful wanting to ship aloft and let out the topsail.”
At the crest of the hill Pete climbed back to Philip’s side, and said, “The heart’s a quare thing, sir. Got its winds and tides same as anything else. The wind blows contrary ways in one day, and it’s the same with the heart itself. Changeable? Well, maybe! We shouldn’t be too hard on it for all…. If I’d only known now…. She wasn’t much better than a child when I left for Kimberley… and then what was I? I was only common stuff anyway… not much fit for the likes of herself, when you think of it, sir…. If I’d only guessed when I came back…. I could have done it, sir—I was loving the woman like life, but if I’d only known, now…. Well, and what’s love if it’s thinking of nothing but itself? If I’d thought she was loving another man by the time I came home, I could have given her up to him—yes, I could; I’m persuaded I could—-so help me God, I could.”
Philip was wasting on that journey like a piece of wax. Pete saw his face melting away till it looked more like a skeleton than the face of à man really alive.
“You mustn’t be taking it so bad at all, Phil,” said Pete. “She’ll be middling right where she’s gone to, sir. She’ll be right enough yonder,” he said, rolling his head sideways to where the sun was going round to its setting. And then softly, as if half afraid she might not be, he muttered into his beard, “God be good to my poor broken-hearted girl, and forgive her sins for Christ’s sake.”
An elderly gentleman got on the coach at Onchan.
“Helloa, Deemster!” he cried. “You look as sober as an old crow. Sober! Old Crow! Ha, ha!”
He was a facetious person of high descent in the island.
“Crow never goes home without getting off the box once or twice to pick up the moonlight on the road—do you, Crow?”
“That’ll do, parson, that’ll do!” roared Crow. And then his reverence leaned across the driver and directed the shaft of his wit at Philip.
“And how’s the young housekeeper, Deemster?”
Philip shuddered visibly, and made some inarticulate reply—
“Good-looking young woman, they’re telling me. Jem-y-Lord’s got taste, seemingly. But take care, your Honour; take care! ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his ox, nor his ass’——”
Philip laughed noisily. The miserable man was writhing in his seat.
“Take an old fiddler’s advice, Deemster—have nothing to do with the women. When they’re young they’re kittens to play with you, but when they’re old they’re cats to scratch you.”
Pete twisted his body until the whole breadth of his back blocked the parson from Philip’s face.
“A fortnight ago, you were saying, sir?”
“A fortnight,” muttered Philip.
“There’ll be daisies growing on her grave by this time,” said Pete softly.
The parson had put up his nose-glasses. “Who’s this fellow, Crow? Captain—what? His honour’s cousin? Cousin? Oh, of course—yes—I remember—Tynwald—ah—h’m!”
The coach set down its passengers in the market-place. Pete inquired the hour of its return journey, and was told that it started back at six. He helped the girl to alight, and directed her to the pier, where a crowd of people’ were awaiting the arrival of the steamer. Then he rejoined Philip, who led the way through the town.
The Deemster was observed by everybody. As he passed along the streets there was much whispering and nudging, and some bowing and lifting of hats. He responded to none of it He recognised no one. He, who was famous for courtesy, renowned for gracious manners, beloved for a smile like sunshine—the brighter and more winsome when it broke as from a cloud—returned no man’s salutation that day, and replied to no woman’s greeting. His face was set hard like a marble mask. It passed along without appearing to see.
Pete walked one step behind. They did not speak as they went through the town. Not a word or a sign passed between them. Philip turned into a side street, and drew up at an iron gate which opened on to a churchyard. They were at the churchyard of St. George’s.
“This is the place,” said Philip huskily.
Pete took off his hat.
The gate was partly open. It was Saturday, and the organist was alone in the church practising hymns for Sunday’s services. They passed through.
The churchyard was an oblong enclosure within high walls, overlooked on its long sides by rows of houses. One of these rows was Athol Street, and one of the houses was the Deemster’s.
It was late afternoon by this time. Long shadows were cast eastward from the tombstones; the horizontal sunlight was making the leaves very light.
Philip walked noisily, jerkily, irregularly, like a man conscious of weakness and determined to conquer it. Pete walked behind, so softly that his foot on the gravel was hardly to be heard. The organist was playing Cowper’s familiar hymn—
“God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform.”
There was a broad avenue, bordered by railed tombs, leading to the church-door. Philip turned out of this into a narrow path which went through a bare green space, that was dotted with pegs of wood and little unhewn slabs of slate, like an abandoned quoit ground. At the farthest corner of this space he stopped before a mound near to the wall. It was the new-made grave. The scars of the turf were still unhealed, and the glist of the spade was on the grass.
Philip hesitated a moment, and looked round at Pete, as if even then, even there, he would confess. But he saw no escape from the mesh of his own lies, and with a deep, breath of submission he pointed down, turned his head over his shoulder, and said in a strange voice—
The silence was long and awful. At length Pete said in a broken whisper—
“Lave me, sir, lave me.”
Philip turned away, breathing audibly. A moment longer Pete stood where he was, gripping his hat with both hands in front of him. Then he went down on his knees. “Oh, forgive me my hard thoughts of thee,” he said. “Jesus, forgive me my hard thoughts of my poor Kirry.”
Philip heard no more. The organ was very loud and triumphant.
“Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.”
A red shaft of sunlight tipped down on Pete’s uncovered head from the top of the wall. The blessed tears had come to him. He was sobbing aloud; he was alone with his love at last.
He was alone with her indeed. At that moment Kate was looking down from the window of her room. She saw him kneeling and praying by another’s grave.
Philip never knew how he got out of the churchyard. He crawled out—creeping along by the wall, and slinking through the gate—heart-sick and all but heart-dead. When he came to himself, he was standing in Athol Street, and a company of jolly fellows in a jaunting-car, driving out of the golden sunset, were rattling past him with shouts and peals of laughter.
Kate was standing in her room with the door open, beating her hands together in the first helpless stupor of fear, when she saw a man coming up the stairs. His legs seemed to be giving way as he ascended; he was bent and feeble, and had all the look of great age. As he approached he lifted his face, which was old and withered. Then she saw who it was. It was Philip.
She made an involuntary cry, and he smiled upon her—a hard, frozen, terrible smile. “He is lost,” she thought. Her scared expression penetrated to his soul. He knew that she had seen everything. At first he tried to speak, but he could utter nothing. Then a mad desire seized him to lay hold of her—by the arms, by the shoulders, by the throat. Conquering this impulse, he stood motionless, passing his hands through his hair. She dropped her eyes and hung her head. Their abasement in each other’s eyes was complete. He was ashamed before her, she was ashamed before him. One moment they faced each other thus, in silence, in pitiless and awful silence, and then slowly, very slowly, stupefied and crushed, he turned away and crept out of the house.
“It is the end—the end.” What was the use of going farther? He had fallen too low. His degradation was abject. It was hopeless, irreparable, irremediable. “End it all—end it all.” The words clamoured in his inmost soul.
Halting down the quay, he made for the ferry steps, where boats were waiting for hire. He had lately hired one of an evening, and pulled round the Head for the sake of the breath and the silence of the sea.
“Going far out this evening, your Honor?” the boatman asked.
“Farther than ever,” he answered.
Pull, pull! Away from the terrible past. Away from the horrible present. The steamer had arrived, and had discharged her passengers. She was still pulsing at the end of the red pier like a horse that pants after running a race.
A band was playing a waltz somewhere on the promenade. Pleasure boats were darting about the bay. Sea-birds were sitting on the water where the sewers of the gay little town empty into the sea.
Pull, pull! He was flying from remorse, from despair, from the deep duplicity of a double life, from the lie that had slain the heart of a living man. How low he had fallen! Could he fall lower without falling into crime?
Pull, pull! He would be a criminal next. When a man had been degraded in his own eyes, and in the eyes of her he loved, crime stood beckoning him. He might try, but he could not resist; he must yield, he must fall. It was the only degradation remaining. Better end everything before dropping into that last abyss.
Pull, pull! He was the judge of his island, and he had outraged justice. Holding a false title, living on a false honour, he was safe of no man’s respect, secure of no woman’s goodwill. Exposure hung over him. He would be disgraced, the law would be disgraced, the island would be disgraced. Pull, pull, pull, before it is too late; out, far out, farther than tide returns, or sea tells stories to the shore.
He had rowed like a slave escaping from his chains, in terror of being overtaken and dragged back. The voices of the harbour were now hushed, the music of the band was deadened, the horses running along the promenade seemed to creep like ants, and the traffic of the streets was no louder than a dull subterranean rumble. He had shot out of the margin of smooth blue water in which the island lay as on a mirror, and out of the shadow of the hill upon the bay. The sea about him now was running green and glistening, and the red sun-? light was coming down on it like smoke. Only the steeples and towers and glass domes of the town reached up into luminous air. He could see the squat tower of St. George’s silhouetted against the dying glory of the sky. Seven years he had been its neighbour, and it had witnessed such happy and such cruel hours. All the joy of work, the sweetness of success, the dreams of greatness, the rosy flushes of love, and then—the tortures of conscience, the visions, the horror, the secret shame, the self-abandonment, and, last of all, the twofold existence as of husband with wife, hidden, incomplete, unfulfilled, yet full of tender ties which had seemed like galling bonds so many a time, but were now so sweet when the hour had come to break them.
How distant it all appeared to be! And was he flying from the island like this? The island that had honoured him, that had rewarded him beyond his deserts, and earlier than his dreams, that had suffered no jealousy to impede him, no rivalry to fret him, no disparity of age and service to hold him back—the little island that had seemed to open its arms to him, and to cry, “Philip Christian, son of your father, grandson of your grandfather, first of Manxmen, come up!”
Oh, for what might have been! Useless regrets! Pull, pull, and forget.
But the home of his childhood! Ballure—Auntie Nan—his father’s death brightened by one hope—the last, but ah! how vain!—Port Mooar—Pete, “The sea’s calling me.” Pull, pull! The sea was calling him indeed. Calling him to the deep womb that is death, not birth.
He was far out. The sun had gone, the island was like a bird of ashy grey stretched across the horizon; the great wing of night was coming down from the sky, and up out the mysterious depths of the sea came the profound hum, the mighty voice that is the organ of the world.
He took in the oars, and his tiny shell began to drift At that moment his eye caught something at the bottom of the boat. It was a flower, a broken stem, a torn rose, and a few scattered rose leaves. Only a relic of the last occupants, but it brought back the perfume of love, a sense of tenderness, of bright eyes, of a caress, a kiss. His mind went back to Sulby, to the Melliah, to the glen, to the days so full of tremulous love, when they hovered on the edge of the precipice. They had been hurled over it since then. It was some relief that between love and honour he would not have to struggle any longer.
And Kate? When all was over and word went round, “The Deemster is gone,” what would happen to Kate? She would still be at his house in Athol Street. That would be the beginning of evil! She would wait for him, and when hope of his return was lost, she would weep for him. That would be the key of discovery! The truth would become known. Though he might be at the bottom of the sea, yet the cloud that hung over his life would break. It was inevitable. And she would be there to bear the storm alone—alone with the island which had been deceived, alone with Pete, who had been lied to and betrayed. Was that just? Was that brave?
And then—what then? What would become of her? Openly shamed, charged, as she must be, with the whole weight of the crime from whose burden he had fled, accused of his downfall, a Delilah, a Jezebel, what fate should befall her? Where would she go? Down to what depths? He saw her sinking lower than ever man sinks; he heard her appeals, her supplications.
“Oh, what have I done,” he cried, “that I can neither live nor die?”
Then in that delirium of anguish in which the order of nature is reversed, and external objects no longer produce sensation, but sensation produces, as it were, external objects, he thought he saw something at the bottom of the boat where the broken rose had been. It was the figure of a man, stretched out, still and lifeless. His eyes went up to the face. The face was his own. It was ashy grey, and it stared up at the grey sky. The brain image was himself, and he was dead. He watched it, and it faded away. There was nothing left but the scattered rose-leaves and the torn flower on the broken stem.
The terrible shadow was gone; he felt that it was gone for ever. It was dead, and it would haunt him no longer. It had lived on an empire of evil-doing, and his evil-doing was at an end. He would “see his soul” no more. The tears gushed to his eyes and blinded him. They were the first he could remember since he was a boy. Alone between the two mirrors of sea and sky, the chain that he had dragged so long fell: away from him. He was a free man again.
“Go back! your place is by her side. Don’t sneak out of life, and leave another to pay. Suffering is a grand thing. It is the struggle of the soul to cast off its sin. Accept it, go through with it, come out of it purged. Go back to the island. Your life is not ended yet.”
“We were just going sending a lil yawl after you, Dempster, when we were seeing you a bit overside the head yonder coming back. ‘He’s drifting home on the flowing tide,’ says I, and so you were. Must have been a middling stiff pull for all. We were thinking you were lost one while there.”
“I was almost lost, but I’m here again, thank God,” said Philip.
He spoke cheerily, and went away with a light step. It was now full night; the town was lit up, and the musicians of the pavement were twanging their banjos and harps. Philip felt a sort of physical regeneration, a renewal of youth, a new birth of heart and hope. He was like a man coming out of some hideous Gehenna of delirious illness; he though he had never been so light, so buoyant, so happy in his life before. The future was vague. He did not yet know what he would do. It would be something radical, something that would go down to the heart of his condition. Oh, he would be strong, he would be resolute, he would pay the uttermost farthing, he would not wait to count the cost. And she—she would be with him. He could do nothing without her. The partner of his fault would share his redemption also. God bless her!
He let himself into the house and shut the door firmly behind him. The lights were still burning in the hall, so it was not very late. He mounted the stairs with a loud step and swung into his room. The lamp was on the table, and within the circle cast by its blue shade a letter was lying. He took it up with dismay. It was in Kate’s handwriting:—
“Forgive me! I am going away. It is all my fault. I have broken the heart of one man, and I am destroying the soul of another. If I stay here any longer you will be ruined and lost. I am only a millstone about your neck. I see it, I feel it. And yet I have loved you so, and wished to be so proud of you. Your heart is brave enough, though I have sunk it down so low. You will live to be strong and good and true, though that can never be while I am with you. I have been far below you from the first. All along I have only been thinking how much I loved you, but you have had so many other things to consider. My life seems to have been one long battle for love. I think it has been a cruel battle too. Anyway, I am beaten, and oh! so tired.
“Do not follow me. I pray of you do not try to find me. It is my last request. Think of me as on a long journey. I may be—the Great God of heaven knows.
“I am taking the little cracked medallion from the bottom of the oak box. It is the only picture I can find, and it will remind me of some one else as well—my little Katherine, my motherless baby.
“I have nothing to leave with you but this (it was a lock of her hair). At first I thought of the wedding-ring that you gave me when I came here, but it would not come off, and besides, I could not part with it.
“Good-bye! I ought to have done this long ago. But you will not hate me now? We could never be happy together again. Good-bye!”