[from 'The Manxman' 1894]
KATHERINE CREGEEN, Pete's champion at school, had been his companion at home as well. She was two years younger than Pete. Her hair was a black as a gipsy's, and her face as brown as a berry. In summer she liked best to wear a red frock without sleeves, no boots and no stockings, no collar and no bonnet, not even a sun-bonnet. From constant exposure to the sun and rain her arms and legs were as ruddy as her cheeks, and covered with a soft silken down. So often did you see her teeth that you would have said she was always laughing. Her laugh was a little saucy trill given out with head aside and eyes aslant, like that of a squirrel when he is at a safe height above your head, and has a nut in his open jaws. Pete had seen her first at school, and there be had tried to draw the eyes of the maiden upon himself by methods known only to heroes, to savages, and to boys. He had prowled around her in the playground with the wild vigour of a young colt, tossing his bead, swinging his arms, screwing his body, kicking up his legs, walking on his hands, lunging out at every lad that was twice as big as himself, and then bringing himself down at length with a whoop and a crash on his hindmost parts just in front of where she stood. For these tremendous efforts to show what a fellow he could be if he tried, he had won no applause from the boys, and Katherine herself bad given no sign, though Pete had watched her out of the corners of his eyes. But in other scenes the children came together.
After Philip had gone to King William's, Pete and Katherine had become bosom friends. Instead of going home after school to cool his heels in the road until his mother came from the fields, he found it neighbourly to go up to Ballajora and round by the network of paths to Cornaa. That was a long detour, but Cæsar's mill stood there. It nestled down in the low bed of the river that runs through the glen called Ballaglass. Song-birds built about it in the spring of the year, and Cæsar's little human songster sang there always. When Pete went that way home, what times the girl had of it Wading up the river, clambering over the stones, playing female Blondin on the fallen tree-trunks that spanned the chasm, slipping, falling, holding on any way up (legs or arms) by the rotten branches below, then calling for Pete's help in a voice between a laugh and a cry, flinging chips into the foaming back-wash of the mill-wheel, and chasing them down stream, racing among the gorse, and then lying full length like a lamb, without a thought of shame; while Pete took the thorns out of her bleeding feet. She was a wild duck in the glen where she lived, and Pete was a great lumbering tame duck waddling behind her.
But the glorious, happy, make-believe days too soon came to an end. The swinging cane of the great John Thomas Corlett, and the rod of a yet more relentless tyrant, darkened the sunshine of both the children. Pete was banished from school, and Katherine's father removed from Cornaa.
When Caesar had taken a wife, he had married Betsy, the daughter of the owner of the inn at Sulby. After that he had " got religion," and he held that persons in the household of faith were not to drink, or to buy or, to sell drink. But Grannie's father died and left his house, "The Manx Fairy," and his farm, Glenmooar, to her and her husband. About the same time the miller at Sulby also died, and the best mill in the island cried out for a tenant.
Cæsar took the mill and the farm, and Grannie took the inn, being brought up to such profanities and no way bound by principle. From that time forward, Cæsar pinned all envious cavillers with the test which says, " Not that which goeth into the mouth of a man defileth him, but that which cometh out.,"
Nevertheless, Caesar's principles grew more and more puritanical .. year by year. There were no half measures with Cæsar. Either a man was a saved soul, or he was in the very belly of bell, though the pit might not have shut its mouth on him. If a man was saved be knew it, and if be felt the manifestations of the Spirit he could live without sin. His cardinal principles were three-instantaneous regeneration; assurance, and sinless perfection. He always said-be had said it a thousand times-that he was converted in Douglas market-place, a piece off the west door of ould St. Matthew's, at five-and-twenty minutes past six on a Sabbath evening in July, when he was two-and-twenty for harvest.
While at Cornaa, Cæsar had been a "local" on the preachers' plan, a class leader, and a chapel steward; but at Sulby he outgrew the Union and set up a," body" of his own. He called them " The Christians," a title that was at once a name, a challenge, and a protest. They worshipped in the long barn over Caesar's mill, and held strong views on conduct. A saved soul must not wear gold or costly apparel, or give way to softness or bodily indulgence, or go to, fairs for sake of sport, or appear in the show-tents of play-actors, or sing songs; or read books, or take any diversion that did not tend to the knowledge of God. As for carnal transgression, if any were guilty of it, they were to be cut off from the body of believers, for the souls of the righteous must be delivered.
"The religion that's going among the Primitives these days is just Popery;" said Cæsar. " Let's go back to the warm ould Methodism and put out the Romans:"
When Pete turned his face from Ballawhaine, he thought first of Cæsar and his mill. It would be more exact to say he thought of Katherine and Grannie. He was homeless as well as penniless. The cottage by the water-trough was no longer possible to him, now that the mother was gone who had stood between his threatened shoulders and Black Tom. Philip was at home for a few weeks only in the year, and Ballure had lost its attraction. So Pete made his way to Sulby, offered himself to Caesar for service at the mill, and was taken on straightway at eighteenpence a week and his board.
It was a curious household he entered into. First there was Cmsar himself; in a moleskin waistcoat with sleeves open three buttons up, knee-breeches usually unlaced, stockings of undyed wool; and slippers with the tongues hanging out-a grim soul, with whiskers like a hoop about his face, and a shaven upper lip as heavy as a moustache, for, when religion like Caesar's lays hold of a man, it takes him first by the mouth. Then Grannie, a comfortable body in a cap, with an outlook on life that was all motherhood, a simple, tender, peaceable soul, agreeing with everybody and everything, and seeming to say nothing but "Poor thing! Poor thing!" and Dear heart ! Dear heart! " Then there was Nancy Cain, getting the name of Nancy Joe, the servant in name but the mistress in fact, a niece of Grannie's, a bit of a Pagan, an early riser, a tireless worker, with a plain face, a rooted disbelief in all men, a good heart, an ugly tongue, and a vixenish temper. Last of all, there was Katherine, now grown to be a great girl, with her gipsy hair done up in a red ribbon and wearing a black pinafore bordered with white braid.
Pete got on steadily at the mill. He began by lighting the kiln fire and cleaning out the pit-wheel, and then went on to the opening the flood-gates, in the morning and regulating the action of the water-wheel according to the work of the day. In two years' time he was a sound miller, safe to trust with rough stuff for cattle or fine flour for white loaf-bread. Caesar trusted him. He would take evangelising journeys to Peel or Douglas and leave Pete in charge. That led to the end of the beginning. Pete could grind the farmers' corn, but he could not make their reckonings. He kept his counts in chalk on the back of the mill-house door, a down line for every stone weight up to eight stones, and a line across for every hundredweight. Then, once a day, while the father was abroad, Katherine came over from the inn to the desk at the little window of the mill, and turned Pete's lines into ledger accounts.
These financial councils were full of delicious discomfiture. Pete always enjoyed them-after they were over.
"John Robert-Molleycarane-did you say Molleycarane, Pete? Oh, Mylecharane-Myle-c-h-a-r-a-i-n-e, Molleycarane; ten stones-did you say ten? Oh, eight-e-i-g-h-t-no, eight; oatmeal, Pete? Oh, barley-male-meal, I mean-m-e-a-l."
In the middle of the night Pete remembered all these entries. They were very precious to his memory after Katherine had spoken them. They sang in his heart the same as song-birds then. They were like hymns and tunes and pieces of poetry.
Caesar returned home from a preaching tour with a great and sudden thought. He had been calling on strangers to flee from the wrath to come, and yet there were those of his own house whose faces were not turned Zionwards. That evening he held an all-night prayer-meeting for the conversion of Katherine and Pete. Through six long hours he called on God in lusty tones, until his throat cracked and his forehead streamed. The young were thoughtless, they had the root of evil in them, they flew into frivolity from contrariness.
Draw the barrow over their soup, plough the fallows of their hearts, grind the chaff out of their household, let not the sweet apple and the crabs grow on the same bough together, give them a Melliah, let not a sheaf be forgotten, grant them the soul of this girl for a harvest-home, and of this boy for a last stook.
Cæsar was dissatisfied with the results. He was used to groaning and trembling and fainting fits.
" Don't you feel the love ? " he cried. " I do-here, under the watch-pocket of my waistcoat."
Towards midnight Katherine began to fail. "Chain the devil," cried Caesar. " Once I was down in the pit with the devil myself, but now I'm up in the loft, seeing angels through the thatch. Can't you feel the workings of the Spirit?"
As the clock was warning-to strike two Katherine thought she could, and from that day forward she led the singing of the women in the choir among " The Christians."
Pete remained among the unregenerate; but nevertheless "The Christians" saw him constantly. He sat on the back form and kept his eyes fixed on the" singing seat." Observing his regularity, Cæsar laid a hand on his head and told him the Spirit was working in his soul at last. Sometimes Pete thought it was, and that was when he shut his eyes and listened to Katherine's voice floating up, up, up, like an angel's, into the sky. But sometimes he knew it was not; and that was when he caught himself in the middle of Caesar's mightiest prayers crooking his neck past the pitching bald pate of Johnny Niplightly, the constable, that he might get a glimpse of the top of Katherine's bonnet when her eyes were down.
Pete fell into a melancholy, and once more took to music as a comforter. It was not a home-made whistle now, but a fiddle bought out of his wages: On this he played in the cowhouse on winter evenings, and from the top of the midden outside in summer.
When Cæsar heard of it his wrath was fearful What was a fiddler ? He was a servant of corruption, holding a candle to disorderly walkers and happy sinners on their way into the devil's pinfold. And what for was fiddles ? Fiddles was for play-actors and theaytres. " And theay tres is there," said Caesar, indicating with his foot one flag on the kitchen-floor, "and hell flames is there," he added, rolling his toe over to the joint of the next one.
Grannie began to plead. What was a fiddle if you played the right tunes on it ? Didn't they read in the ould Book of King David himself playing on harps and timbrels and such things.? And what was harps but fiddles in a way of spaking ? Then warn't they all looking to be playing harps in heaven ? 'Deed, yes, though the Lord would have to be teaching her how to play hers !
Caesar was shaken. " Well, of course, certainly," he said, " if there's a power in fiddling to bring souls out of bondage, and if there's ,going , to be fiddling and the like in Abraham's bosom-why, then, of coürsë-well, why not?-let's have the lad's fiddle up at 'The Christians. "'
Nothing could have suited Pete so well. From that time forward he went out no more at nights to the cowhouse, but stayed indoors to practise hymns with Katherine. Oh, the terrible rapture of those nighty " practices ! " They brought peopie to the inn to hear them, and so Cæsar found them good for profit both ways.
There was something in Caesar's definition, nevertheless. It was found that among the saints there were certain weaker brethren who did not want a hymn to their ale. One of these was Johnny Niplightly, the rural constable, who was the complement of Katherine in the choir, being leader of the singing among the men. He was a tall man with a long nose, which seemed to have a perpetual cold. Making his rounds one night, he turned in at "The Manx Fairy," when Cæsar and Grannie were both from home, and Nancy Joe was in charge, and Pete and Katherine were practising a revival thorns. Where's Cæsar, dough?" he snuffled.
"At Peel, buying the stock," snapped Nancy.
" Dank de Lord ! I mean-where's Grannie ?" "Nursing Mistress Quiggin."
Niplightly eased the strap of his beaver, liberated his lips, took a deep 'draught of ale, and then turned to Pete, with apologetic smiles, and suggested a change in the music.
At that Katherine leapt up as light as laughter. "A. dance," she cried, "a dance !"
"Good sakes alivo?" said Nancy Joe. "Listen to the girl ? Is it the moon, Kitty, or what is it that's doing on yon?"
" Shut your eyes, Nancy," said Katherine, " just for once, now won't you?"
" You ban do what you like with me, with your coaxing and woaxing," said Nancy. "Enjoy yourself to the full, girl, but don't make a noise above the singing of the kettle."
Pete tuned his strings, and Katherine pinned up the tail of her skirt, and threw herself into position.
At the sound of the livelier preludings there came thronging out of the road into the parlour certain fellows of the baser sort, and behind them came one who was not of that denomination-a fair young man with a fine face under an Alpine hat. Heeding nothing of this audience, the girl gave a little rakish toss of her head and called on Pete to strike up.
Then Pete plunged into one of the profaner tunes which be had practised in the days of the cowhouse, and off went Katherine with a whoop. Tile boys stood back for her, bending dow4 b 1 theist
haunches as at a fight of gamecocks, and encouraging her with shouts of applause-
" Beautiful! Look at that now! Fine, though, fine ! Clane done, aw, clane ! Done to a dot ! There's leaping for you, boys 1 Guy heng, did you ever see the like? Hommer the floor, girl-
higher a piece! higher, then! Whoop, did ye ever see such a nate pair of ankles?"
" Mould your dirty tongue, you gobmouthed omathaun !" cried Nancy Joe. She had tried to keep her eyes away, but could not.
" Aly goodness grayshers ! " she cried. " Did you ever see the like, though? Screwing like the windmill on the schoolhouse! Well, well, Kitty; woman ! Aw, Kirry, Kirry ! Wherever did she get it, then? Goodsakes, the girl's twisting herself into knots! "
Pete was pulling away- at the fiddle with both hands, like a bottom sawyer, his eyes dancing, his lips quivering, the whole soul of the lad lifted out of himself in an instant.
" Hould on still, Kate, hould on, girl!" he shouted. " Machree ! Machree ! The darling's dancing like a drumstick ! "
" Faster !" cried Kate. "Faster!"
The red ribbon had fallen from her head, and the wavy black hair was tumbling about her face. She was holding up her skirt with one hand, and the other arm was akimbo at her waist. Guggling, chuckling, crowing, panting, boiling, and bubbling with the animal life which all her days had been suppressed, and famished and starved into moans and groans, she was carried away by her own fire, gave herself up to it, and danced on the flags of the kitchen which had served Caesar for his practical typology, like a creature intoxicated with new breath.
Meantime Cæsar himself, coming home in his chapel hat (his tall black beaver) from Peel, where he had been buying the year's stock of herrings at the boat's side, had overtaken, on the road, the venerable parson of his parish, Parson Quiggin of Lezayre. Drawing up the gig with a " Woa !" he had invited the old clergyman to a lift by his side on the gig's seat, which was cushioned with a sack of hay. The parson had accepted the invitation, and with a preliminary "` Aisy ! Your legs ataste higher, sir; just to keep the pickle off your trousers," a " Gee up !," and. a touch of the whip, they were away together, with the light of the gig-lamp on the hind-quarters of the mare, as they bobbed and screwed like a mill-race under the splash-board.
It was Cæsar's chance, and he took it. Having pinned one of the heads of the Church, he gave him his views on the Romans, and on the general encroachment of Popery. The parson listened complacently. He was a tolerant old soul, with a round face, expressive of perpetual happiness, though he was always blinking his little eyes and declaring, with the Preacher, that all earthly things were vain. Hence he was nicknamed Old Vanity of Vanities.
The gig had swept past Sulby Chapel when Caesar began to ask for the parson's opinion of certain texts.
"And may I presume, Pazon Quiggin, what d'ye think of the text-'Praise the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me praise His Holy Name ? "'
"A very good text after meat, Mr. Cregeen," said the parson, blinking his little eyes in the dark.
It was Caesar's favourite text, and his fire was kindled at the parson's praise. "Man alive," he cried, his hot breath tickling the parson's neck, " I've praiched on that text, pazon, till it's wet me through to the waistcoat."
They were near to " The Manx Fairy" by this time.
"And talking of praise," said Caesar, "I hear them there at their practices. Asking pardon now-it's proud I'd be, sir-perhaps you'd not be thinking mane to come in and hear the way we do Crown Him ! "'
" So the saints use the fiddle," said the parson, as the gig drew up at the porch of the inn.
Half a minute afterwards the door of the parlour flew open with a bang, and Caesar stood and glared on the threshold with the parson's ruddy face behind him. There was a moment's silence. The uplifted toe of Katherine trailed back to the ground, the fiddle of Pete slithered to his farther side, and the smacking lips of Niplightly transfixed themselves agape. Then the voice of the parson was heard to say, " Vanity, vanity, all is vanity! " and suddenly Caesar, still on the threshold, went down on his knees to pray.
Caesar's prayer was only a short one. His mortified pride called for quicker solace. Rising to his feet with as much dignity as he could command under the twinkling eyes of the parson, he stuttered, "The capers ! Making a datent house into a theaytre ! Respectable person, too-one of the first that's going ! So," facing the spectators, "just help yourselves home the pack of you! As for these ones," turning on Kate, Pete, and the constable, " there'll be no more of your practices. I'll do without the music of three saints like you. In future I'll have three sinners to raise my singing. These polices, too ! " he said with a withering smile. (Niplightly was worming his way out at the back of Parson Quiggin.)
" Who began it? " shouted Caesar, looking at Katherine.
From the moment that Caesar dropped on his knees at the door, Pete had been well-nigh choked by an impulse to laugh aloud. But now he bit his lip and said, " I did."
" Behould ye now, as imperent as a goat !" said Caesar, working his eyebrows vigorously. " You've mistaken your profession, boy.
A play-actorer they ought to be making of you. You're wasting your time with a plain, respectable man like me. You must lave me. Away to the loft for your chiss, boy ! And just give sheet, my lad, and don't lay to till you've fetched up at another lodgings." Pete, with his eyes on the parson's face, could control himself no longer, and he laughed so loud that the room rang.
"Right's the word, ould Nebucannezzar," he cried, and heaved to his feet. " So long, Kitty, woman ! S'long ! We'll finish it n.nother night though, and then the ould man himself will be houlding the candle."
Outside in the road somebody touched him on the shoulder. It was the young man in the Alpine hat.
" My gough ! What ? Phil ! " cried Pete, and he laid hold of him with both hands at once.
"I've just finished at King William's and bought a boat," said Philip, "and I came up to ask you to join me--congers and cods, you know-good fun anyway. Are you willing?"
"Willing! " cried Pete. "Am I jumping for joy?"
And away they went down the road, swinging their legs together with a lively step.
" That's a nice girl, though-Kitty, Kate, what do you call her ? " said Phil.
"Were you in then? So you saw her dancing?" said Pete eagerly. "Aw, yes, nice," he said warmly, "nice uncommon," he added absently, and then with a touch of sadness, "shocking nice ! "
Presently they heard the pattering of light feet in the darkness behind them, and a voice like a broken cry calling "Pete! "
It was Kate. She came up panting and catching her breath in hiccoughs, took Pete's face in both her hands, drew it down to her own face, kissed it on the mouth, and was gone again without a word.
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2008