[from 'The Manxman' 1894]
PETER succeeded in due course to the estate of Ballawhaine, but he was not a lawyer, and the line of the Deemsters Christian was broken.
Meantime Thomas Wilson Christian had been married to Mona Crellin without delay. He loved her, but he had been afraid of her ignorance, afraid also (notwithstanding his principles) of the dif- ference in their social rank, and had half intended to give her up when his father's reproaches had come to fire his anger and to spur his courage. As soon as she became his wife he realised the price he had paid for her. Happiness could not come of such a beginning. He had broken every tie in making the one which brought him down. The rich disowned him, and the poor lost respect for him.
" It's positively indecent," said one. " It's potatoes marrying herrings," said another. It was little better than hunger marrying thirst.
In the general downfall of his fame his profession failed him. He lost heart and ambition. His philosophy did not stand him in good stead, for it had no value in the market to which he brought it. Thus, day by day, he sank deeper into the ooze of a wrecked and wasted life.
The wife did not turn out well. She was a fretful person, with a good face, a bad shape, a vacant mind, and 'a great deal of vanity. She had liked her husband a little as a lover, but when she saw that her marriage brought her nobody's envy, she fell into a long fit of the vapours. Eventually she made herself believe that she was an ill-used person. She never ceased to complain of her fate. Every- body treated her as if she had laid plans for her husband's ruin. The husband continued to love her, but little by little he grew to despise her also. When he made his first plunge, he had prided himself on indulging an heroic impulse. He was not going to deliver a good woman to dishonour because she seemed to be an obstacle to his success. But she had never realised his sacrifice. She did not appear to understand that he might have been a great man in the island, but that love and honour had held him back. Her ignorance was pitiful, and he was ashamed of it. In earning the contempt of others he had not saved himself from self-contempt.
The old sailor died suddenly in a fit of drunkenness at a fair, and busband and wife came into possession of his house and property at Ballure. This did not improve the relations between them. The woman perceived that their positions were reversed. She was the bread-bringer now. One day, at a slight that her husband's people had put upon her in the street, she reminded him, in order to re-establish her wounded vanity, that but for her and hers he would not have so much as a roof to cover him.
Yet the man continued to love her in spite of all. And she was not at first a degraded being. At times she was bright and cheerful, and, except in the worst spells of her vapours, she was a brisk and busy woman. The house was sweet and homely. There was only one thing to drive him away from it, but that was the greatest thing of all. Nevertheless they had their cheerful hours together.
A child was born, a boy, and they called him Philip. He was the beginning of the end between them; the iron stay that held them together and yet apart. The father remembered his mis- fortunes in the presence of his son, and the mother was stung afresh by the recollection of disappointed hopes. The boy was the true heir of Ballawhaine, but the inheritance was lost to him by his father's fault and he had nothing.
Philip grew to be a winsome lad. There was something sweet and amiable and big-hearted, and even almost great, in him. One day the father sat in the garden by the mighty fuchsia-tree that grows on the lawn, watching his little fair-haired son play at marbles on the path with two big lads whom he had enticed out of the road, and another more familiar playmate-the little barefooted boy Peter, from the cottage by the water-trough. At first Philip lost, and with grunts of satisfaction the big ones promptly pocketed their gains. Then Philip won, and little curly Peter was stripped naked, and his lip began to fall. At that Philip paused, held his head aside, and considered, and then said quite briskly, " Peter hadn't a fair chance that time-here, let's give him another go."
The father's throat swelled, and he went indoors to the mother and said, " I think-perhaps I'm to blame-but somehow I think our boy isn't like other boys. What do you say ? Foolish ? May be so, may be so ! No difference ? Well, no-no ! "
But deep down in the secret place of his heart, Thomas Wilson Christian, broken man, uprooted tree, wrecked craft in the mud and slime, began to cherish a fond idea. The son would regain all that his father had lost ! He had gifts, and he should be brought up to the law; a large nature, and he should be helped to develop it; a fine face which all must love, a sense of justice, and a great wealth of the power of radiating happiness. Deemster ? Why not?
Ballawhaine ? Who could tell? The biggest, noblest, greatest of all Manxmen ! God knows!
Only-only he must be taught to fly from his father's dangers. Love? Then let him love where he can also respect-but never outside his own sphere. The island was too little for that. To love and to despise was to suffer the torments of the damned.
Nourishing these dreams, the poor man began to be tortured by every caress' the mother gave her son, and irritated by every word she spoke to him. Her grammar was good enough for him- self, and the exuberant caresses of her maudlin moods were even sometimes pleasant, but the boy must be degraded by neither.
The woman did not reach to these high thoughts, but she was not slow to interpret the casual byplay in which they found expression. Her husband was taiching her son to disrespeck her. She wouldn't have thought it of him-she wouldn't really. But it was always the way when a plain practical woman married on the quality.
Imperence and disrespeck-that's the capers ! Imperence and dis- respeck from the ones that's doing nothing and behoulden to you for everything. It was shocking ! It was disthressing !
In such outbursts would her jealousy taunt him with his poverty, revile him for his idleness, and square accounts with him for the manifest preference of the boy. He could bear them with patience when they were alone, but in Philip's presence they were as gall and wormwood, and whips and scorpions.
"Go, my lad, go," he would sometimes whimper, and hustle the boy out of the way.
"No," the woman would cry, "stop and see the man your father is."
And the father would mutter, "He might see the woman his mother is as well."
But when she bad pinned them together, and the boy had to hear her out, the man would drop his, forehead on the table and break into groans and tears. Then the woman would change quite sud- denly, and put her arms about him and kiss him and weep over him. He could defend himself from neither her insults nor her embraces.
In spite of everything beloved her. That was where the bitterness of the evil lay. But for the love he bore her, he might have got her off his back and been his own man once more. He would make peace with her and kiss her again, and they would both kiss the boy, and be tender, and even cheerful.
Philip was still a child, but he saw the relations of his parents, and in his own way he understood everything. He loved his father best, but he did not hate his mother. She was nearly always affectionate, though often jealous of the father's greater love and care for him, and sometimes irritable from that cause alone. But the frequent broils between them were like blows that left scars on his body. He slept in a cot in the same room, and he would cover up his head in the bedclothes at night with a feeling of fear and physical pain.
A man cannot fight against himself for long. That deadly enemy is certain to slay. When Philip was six years old his father lay sick of his last sickness. The wife had fallen into habits of intemperance by this time, and stage by stage she had descended to the condition of an utterly degraded woman There was something to excuse her. She had been disappointed in the great stakes of life; she had earned disgrace where she had looked for admiration. She was vain, and could not bear misfortune; and she bad no deep well of love from which to drink when the fount of her pride ran dry. If her husband had indulged her with a little pity, everything might have gone along more easily. But he had only loved her and been ashamed. And now that he lay near to his death, the love began to ebb and the shame to deepen into dread.
He slept little at night, and as often as he closed his eyes certain voices of mocking and reproach seemed to be constantly humming in his ears.
"Your son!" they would cry. "What is to become of him ?
Your dreams ! Your great dreams 1 Deemster ! Ballawbaine
God knows what! You are leaving the boy; who is to bring him up ? His mother ? Think of it ! "
At last a ray of pale sunshine broke on the sleepless wrestler with the night, and he became almost happy. " I'll speak to the boy,"
he thought. "I will tell him my own history, concealing nothing. Yes, I will tell him of my own father also, God rest him, the stern old man-severe, yet just."
An opportunity soon befell. It was late at night-very late. he woman was sleeping off a bout of intemperance somewhere below; and the boy, with the innocence and ignorance of his years in all that the solemn time foreboded, was bustling about the room with mighty eagerness, because he knew that be ought to be in bed. "I'm staying up to intend on you, father," said the boy.
The father answered with a sigh.
" Don't you asturb yourself, father. I'll intend on you." The father's sigh deepened to a moan.
"If you want anything 'aticular, just call me; dye see, father?" And away went the boy like a, gleam of light. Presently he came back, leaping like the dawn. He was carrying, insecurely, a jug of poppy-head and camomile, which had been prescribed as a lotion.
" Poppy-heads, father! Poppy-heads is good, I can tell ye."
"Why arn't you in bed, child?" said the father. "You must be tired."
"No, I'm not tired, father. I was just feeling a bit of tired, and then I took a smell of poppy-heads. and away went the tiredness to Jericho. They is good."
The little white head was glinting off again when the father called it back.
"Come here, my boy."
The child went up to the bedside, and the father ran his fingers lovingly through the long fair hair.
"Do you think, Philip, that twenty, thirty, forty years hence, when you are a man-aye, a big man, little one-do you think you will remember what I shall say to you now?"
" Why, yes, father, if it's anything 'aticular, and if it isn't you can amind me of it, can't you, father?"
The father shook his head. "I shall not be here then, my boy. I am going away "
" Going away, father? May I come too ? "
"All ! I wish you could, little one. Yes, truly I almost wish you could."
"Then you'll let me go with you, father ! Oh, I am glad, father." And the boy began to caper and dance, to go down on all fours, and leap about the floor like a frog.
The father fell back on his pillow with a heaving breast. Vain ! vain! What was the use of speaking? The child's outlook was life; his own was death; they had no common ground; they spoke different tongues. And, after all, how could he suffer the sweet innocence of the child's soul to look down into the stained and scarred chamber of his ruined heart?
"You don't understand me, Philip. I mean that I am going to die. Yes, darling, and, only that I am leaving you behind, I should be glad to go. My life has been wasted, Philip. In the time to come, when men speak of your father, you will be ashamed. Perhaps you will not remember then that whatever he was he was a good father to you, for at least he loved you dearly. Well, I must needs bow to the will of God, but if I could only hope that you would live to restore my name when I am gone. . o . Philip, are you--don't cry, my darling. There, there, kiss me. We'll say no more about it then. Perhaps it's not true, although father tolded you? Well, perhaps not. And now undress and slip into bed before mother comes. See, there's your night-dress at the foot of the crib. Wants some buttons, does it? Never mind-in with you-that's a boy."
Impossible, impossible ! And perhaps unnecessary. Who should say? Young as the child was, he might never forget what he had seen and heard. Some day it must have its meaning for him.
Thus the father comforted himself. Those jangling quarrels which . had often scorched his brain like iron-the memory of their abject scenes came to him then, with a sort of bleeding solace !
Meanwhile, with little catching sobs, which he struggled to repress, the boy lay down in his crib. When half-way gone to- wards the mists of the land of sleep, he started up suddenly, and called "Good night, father," and his father answered him "Good night."
Towards three o'clock the next morning there was great commo- tion in the house. The servant was scurrying up and downstairs, and the mistress, wringing her hands, was tramping to and fro in the sick-room, crying in a tone of astonishment, as if the thought had stolen upon her unawares, " Why, he's going! How didn't somebody tell me before?"
The eyes of the sinking man were on the crib. "Philip," he faltered. They lifted the boy out of his bed, and brought him in his night-dress to his father's side; and the father twisted about and took him into his arms, still half asleep and yawning. Then the mother, recovering from the stupidity of her surprise, broke into paroxysms of weeping, and fell over her husband's breast and kissed and kissed him.
For once her kisses had no response. The man was dying miserably, for he was thinking of her and of the boy. Sometimes he babbled over Philip in a soft, inarticulate gurgle ; sometimes he looked up at his wife's face with a stony stare, and then he clung the closer to the boy, as if he would never let him go. The dark hour came, and still he held the boy in his arms. They had to release the child at last from his father's dying grip.
The dead of the night was gone by this time, and the day was at the point of dawn ; the sparrows in the eaves were twittering, and the tide, which was at its lowest ebb, was heaving on the sand far out in the bay with the sound as of a rookery awakening. Philip remembered afterwards that his mother cried so much that he was afraid, and that when he had been dressed she took him downstairs, where they all ate breakfast together, with the sun shining through the blinds.
The mother did not live to overshadow her son's life. Sinking yet lower in habits of intemperance, she stayed indoors from week-end to week-end, seated herself like a weeping willow by the fireside, and drank and drank. Her excesses led to" delusions. She saw ghosts perpetually. To avoid such of them as haunted the death-room of her husband, she had a bed made up on a couch in the parlour, and one morning she was found face downwards stretched out beside it on the floor.
Then Philip's father's cousin, always called his Aunty Nan, came to Ballure House to bring him up. His father had been her favourite cousin, and, in spite of all that had happened, he had been her lifelong hero also. A deep and secret tenderness, too timid to be quite aware of itself, had been lying in ambush in her heart through all the years of his miserable life with Mona. At the death of the old Deemster, her other cousin, Peter, had married and cast her off. But she was always one of those woodland herbs which are said to give, out their sweetest fragrance after they have been trodden on and crushed. Philip's father had been her hero, her lost one and her love, and Philip was his father's son,
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2008