[From Captain of the Parish, 1897]
ON New Year's Eve of 185- there was a great table laid in Arrosey barn along the end and down the sides, and the people had all taken their places. The big man sat between Ellen and Lizzie. At the lower ends were the soldier in a full soldier's coat, and the overseer of highroads with white shirt, red beard, and glowing face.
"Rather a tight fit that coat, for a supper, Mr. Curlat," said Dan Creer, just as Parson Ollikins began grace.
There were half-a-dozen town waiters from Inchport, with a carver at a table in the middle. Molroy and Molvurra were attending to the guests.
"Just the same as waiters, only newer looking," said Dan.
" Well, and isn't it waiters they are this evening, anyway ? It's waiters' clothes they're wearing," said the smith.
"No, I've my doubts as to that," said Osborne, the local preacher. "That'll be the wedding garment. Now the son, though he be the heir, is a servant! Well, it was middling nice in Bible days for all. Just like this. A certain man made a supper, and sent to call them that were bidden."
" Aye, man ! " said Dan Creer. " But with this difference, my hearty ! They didn't come in the Scripture. But every man that got the chance has turned up here, fit to eat against Juan Paddy."
"I'm pitying them waiters myself," said the smith, "and us at it like this. 'Deed, but I didn't know waiters had that hard work."
"Leave them alone," said Dan. "Them fellows will have a turn when we're done. I'm not pitying them at all. I'd ten times rather have the leavings of a supper like this and my own time, tel' be forced through it this way. I believe in my heart they're just hurrying to get us done quick."
"Aw, well, Daniel, we'll keep backing against them, like the parson's horse," said the smith.
" Man alive, Mr. Curlat ! but the white shirt is to the fore with life to-night. He's big, James. Do thou see him ? " said Dan, glancing across at the roadman.
"The overseer will take a turn of work with the rest when it's this kind of job," said the smith.
When the feast had progressed the conversation became freer, and was carried on quite across the room.
"How are thou getting on, John?" said the shoemaker across the din and clatter, addressing Wade.
"Me, Daniel? aw, keeping order," said Wade.
"I'm not seeing thee eating nothing; that's the way I'm asking," said Dan.
" This Sylvester is wiry," said the smith. " Clothes makes a difference."
" Very straight, like his uncle," said the soldier. "But a piece wirier to look at. Not the same weight ! "
"He would be a stiff man to tackle. Would thou stand up to him, Bell?" said Dan.
"Come, Daniel, keep civil, or tbou'll have my elbow in thy ribs shortly," said the smith.
The company had come to the discussion of the desert, and had their elbows on the tables.
"Who was arranging this supper, I wonder? " said Dan. "The two of them," said Mr. Curlat. "Men has been ruling in Arrosey too long, but their day is done."
Outside the ground was frozen under the cold stars. The tables were taken down, and the forms placed down the sides along the walls. At the lower end of the room were grouped the overseer of highways, the smith, the shoemaker, the wheelwright, and Osborne, the local preacher. Mr. Cui:at had gone to the upper end near the big man. Georgie Garret, the fiddler, emerged from the crowd, dressed in faded black and ample white shirt, carrying his green bag. Tom Killip, the mason, was seen piecing his "clar'net." Willy Curlat, the joiner, had his bass viol in the far up corner. Phil Barr, the fiddler, had his fiddle and bow ready, and Wee Cleator was trying his lips on the mouthpiece of his cornopean. The floor was clear down the middle. The fiddles struck up a few sharp notes. All looked up the room. Georgie and Barr stood conspicuous, and the other musicians in the background. There were nods and answering nods; a moment of attentive silence. Georgie struck his bow sharply on the fiddle, and the music began. They were playing "Mylecharaine." There was a profound stillness, and in every heart an uncontrollable thrill. The quavering melancholy minor of the Manx air, full of the sadness and sweetness of old times and old faces and old things, made tears well to the women's eyes, and the men affect to look unconcerned. Conspicuous sat Ellen and Lizzie, listening with wrapt attention while the musicians played. The strain was ended; when, with briefest interval, they played again, the tune was changed.
"A dancing-tune, man !" said Wade, with an air of experience and superior knowledge. "A dancing-tune, man ! " he repeated, turning round to those behind.
" Never a dancing-tune ? " said the local.
"Take my word for it, Mr. Osborne, it's a dancing-tune," said Wade.
"Well, I'll not go out of the room, Mr. Wade, as long as Arrosey himself doesn't move. I'm not called on," said the local.
"No, man," said Creer. " Aw, no! and if thou were called on thou wouldn't go. Don't thou know what's to come yet?" " No, Daniel-what ? "
"Wait and thou'll see," said Dan, his eyes fixed on Georgie Garret.
The feet of the people began to beat time, just tapping their toes, but growing louder.
"Thou needn't put thy nose in the air and roll thy eyes," said Dan. "Thou'll not be asked to take a prayer-not tonight, at all."
Meanwhile there was a movement at the upper end. There was a "hush! hush!" whispered everywhere, and John Molroy and Ellen Molvurra came circling down the room. Georgie Garret's eyes glowed, and he breathed his very soul into the music. The toes of the people ceased to beat time, and there was a breathless silence.
" I told you so, men!" said Wade. "See there! I told you so ! "
" We seen it as soon as thyself, Wade," said Dan, his eyes staring out of his head.
Sylvester Molvurra and Lizzie Milvartin were also on the floor. This was not all. As if crumbling and dissolving under the melting magic of the music, other couples began to take the floor. Parson Ollikins of Arrosey Church was dancing with the English Preacher's wife, and the English Preacher with Miss Gawn. Then Miss Milvartin came out with the soldier, and so they went on, everybody with everybody. And Wade had left his friends, for he too was going on the floor.
" If these people had been drinking wine or strong drink," said the local, who was reputed to be himself most uncontrollablė in the pulpit,-" if they had been drinking wine or strong drink ! "
"Aye, man! but they haven't," said Dan Creer. "They have got the chance to-not yet, anyway. But let's hope that it's to come later on."
" Still and for all, it's a nice sight," said the wheelwright.
" Looked at as music, they're nice tunes, anyway," said the smith to the local.
"Aye, and him tapping the floor with his foot this minute," said Creer. " What's the use of talking that way to a fellow that's pretending he don't like it."
"Mr. Creer ! I've only just began," said the local.
"Well, go on, man ! I'm not finding fault. Thou're doing well a chance time when thou're forgetting thyself-like the time before now, when thou gave out the six hundred and fortieth hymn, and only four hundred odd in the book. Thou're doing first-rate," said Dan, with his eyes on the musicians.
" If there wasn't such a thing as sin in this world, James," said the preacher sententiously, "there might be a great deal of happiness in it."
" There's lots in it as it is, man, surely," said the smith. "Well! well! provided it's innocent, James, it's a good thing."
"Aw, no, it's not a good thing. Anyway, I would say not within a mile of thy face," said Dan. " But if there's some of this wine and strong drink thou're talking of in store for us, I'll forgive thee thy face, you, sir."
The evening wore on. The band changed to the old tune, "Pop goes the weasel." Ellen and Lizzie joined hands and came down, everybody else following. There was laughter and noise, everybody beating time on the floor all down the sides of the room. Even Arrosey himself hummed the tune. The nasal bassoon came in that night "about the right way." - Only, as Willy Curlat, the joiner, said, "Thou see he was getting about half hymn-tune and half dancing-tune out of everything."
Finally, the big man and Ellen and Lizzie, and John Molroy and Sylvester, and the Parson and the English Preacher, and their wives and all, came down the room and shook hands with everybody, with the sweet old words, "A happy New Year."