[from 'The Manxman' 1894]

VI

 

PHILIP had not been a success at school; he had narrowly escaped being a failure. During his earlier years he had shown industry without gifts; during his later years he had shown gifts without industry. His childish saying became his by-word, and half in sport, half in earnest, with a smile on his lips, and a shuddering sense of fascination, he would say when the wind freshened, "The sea's calling me, I must be off." The blood of the old sea-dog, his mother's father, was strong in him. Idleness led to disaster, and disaster to some disgrace. He was indifferent to both while at I school, but shame found him out at home.

"You'll be sixteen for spring," said Auntie Nan, "and what would your poor father say if he were alive? He thought worlds of his boy, and always said what a man he would be some day."

That was the shaft that found Philip. The one passion that burned in his heart like a fire was reverence for the name and the will of his dead father. The big hopes of the broken man had sometimes come as a torture to the boy when the blood of the old salt was rioting within him. But now they came as a spur.

Philip went back to school and worked like a slave. There were only three terms left, and it was too late for high honours, but the boy did wonders. Ho came out well, and the masters were astonished. " After all," they said, " there's no denying it, the boy Christian must have the gift of genius. There's nothing he might not do." If Phil had much of the blood of Captain Billy, Pete had much of the blood of Black Tom. After leaving the mill at Sulby, Pete made his home in the cabin of the smack. What he was to eat, and how he was to be clothed, and where he was to be lodged when the cold nights came, never troubled his mind for an instant. He had fine times with his partner. The terms of their partnership were simple. Phil took the fun and made Pete take the fish. They were a pair of happy-go-lucky lads, and they looked to the future with cheerful faces.

There was one shadow over their content, and that was the ghost of a gleam of sunshine. It made daylight between them, though, day by day as they ran together like two that run a race. The prize was Katherine Cregeen. Pete talked of her till Phil's heart awoke and trembled; but Phil hardly knew it was so, and Pete never once suspected it. Neither confessed to the other, and the shifts of both to hide the secret of each were boyish and beautiful. There is a river famous for trout that rises in Sulby glen and flows into Ramsey harbour. One of the little attempts of the two lads to deceive each other was to make believe that it was their duty to fish this river with the rod, and so wander away singly up the banks of the stream until they came to "The Manx Fairy," and then drop in casually to quench the thirst of so much angling. Towards the dusk of evening Philip, in a tall silk hat over a jacket and knickerbockers, would come upon Pete by the Sulby bridge, washed, combed, and in a collar. Then there would be looks of great surprise on both sides.

" What, Phil ! Is it yourself, though ? Just thought I'd see if the trouts were biting to-night. Dear me, this is Sulby too! And bless my soul, ! The Fairy' again! Well, a drop of drink will do no harm. Shall we put a sight on them inside, eh ?" After that prelude they would go into the house together.

This little comedy was acted every night for weeks. It was acted on Hollantide Eve six months after Pete had been turned out by Caesar, Grannie was sitting by the glasa partition, knitting at intervals, serving at the counter occasionally, and scoring up on a black board that was a mass of chalk hieroglyphics. Csar himself in ponderous spectacles and with a big book in his hands was sitting in the kitchen behind with his back to the glass, so as to make the lamp of the business serve also for his studies. On a bench in the bar sat Black Tom, smoking, spitting, scraping his feet on the sanded floor, and looking like a gigantic spider with enormous bald head. At his side tivas a thin man with a face pitted by smallpox, and a forehead covered with strange protuberances. This was Jonaique jolly, barber, clock-mender, and Manx patriot. The postman was there, too, Kelly the Thief, a tiny creature with twinkling ferret eyes, and a face that had a settled look of age, as of one born old, being wrinkled in squares like the pointing of a cobble wall.

At sight of Pete, Grannie-made way, and he pushed through to the kitchen, where he seated himself in a seat in the fireplacg just in front of the peat closet, and under the fish hanging to smoke. At sight of Phil she dropped her needles, smoothed her front hair, rose in spite of protest, and wiped down a chair by the ingle. Csar eyed Pete in silence from between the top rim of his spectacles and the bottom edge of the big book; but as Philip entered he lowered the book and welcomed him. Nancy Joe was coming and going in her clogs like a rip-rap lot loose between the dairy and a pot of potatoes in their jackets which swung from the slowrie, the hook over the fire. A moment later Kate came flitting through the half-lit kitchen, her black eyes dancing and her mouth rippling in smiles. She courtesied to Philip, grimaced at Pete, and disappeared.

Then from the other side of the glass partition came the husky voice of the postman, saying, "Well, I must be taking the road, gentlemen. There's Manx ones starting for Kimberley by the early sailing to-morrow morning."

And then came the voice ofthe barber in a hoarse falsetto " Kimberley ! That's the place for good men I'm always saying.

There's Billy the Iced back home with a fortune. And ould Corlett- look at ould Corlett, the Ballabeg ! Five years away at the diggings, and left a house worth twenty pounds per year per annum, not to spare of other hereditaments."

After that the rasping voice of Black Tom, in a tone of irony and contempt: "Ofcoorse, aw, yes, of coorse, there's goold on the cushags there, they're telling me. . But I thought you were a man that's all for the island, Mr. Jelly."

"Lave me alone for that," said the voice of the barber. " Manxland for the Manx-man-that's the text I'm hoolding to. But what's it saying, 'Custom must be indulged with. custom, or custom will die " And with these English scouring over it like puffins on the Calf, it isn't much that's left of the ould island but the name. The best of the Manx boys are going away foreign, same as these ones." " Well, I've letters for them to the packet-office anyway," said the postman.

" Who are they, Mr. Kelly? " called Philip, through the doorway. "Some of the Quarks ones from Glen Rushen, sir, and the Gills boys from Castletown over. Good-night all, good-night !"

The door closed behind the postman, and Black Tom growled, "Slips of lads-I know them."

" Smart though, smart uncommon," said the barber; "that's the only sort they're wanting out yonder."

There was a contemptuous snort. "So? You'd better go to Kimberley yourself, then."

"Turn the clock back a piece and I'll start before you've time to curl your hair," said the barber.

Black Tom was lifting his pot. "That's the one thing," said he, "the Almighty Himself " (gulp, gulp) "can't do."

"Which?" tittered the barber.

"Both," said Black Tom, scratching his big head, as bald as a bladder.

Csar flashed about with his face to the glass partition. "You're like the rest of the infidels, sir," said he, "only spaking to contradick yourself-calling God the Almighty, and telling in the same breath of something He can't do."

Meanwhile an encounter of another sort was going on at the ingle. Kate had re-appeared with a table fork which she used at intervals to test the boiling of the potatoes. At each approach to the fire she passed close to where Pete sat, never looking at Phil above the level of his boots. And as often as she bent over the pot, Pete put his arm round her waist, being so near and so tempting. For thus pestering her she beat her foot like a goat, and screwed on a look of anger which broke down in a stifled laugh; but she always took care to come again to Pete's side rather than to Phil's, until at last the nudging and shoving ended in a pinch and a little squeal, and a quick cry of " What's that?" from Csar.

Kate vanished like a flash, the dim room began to frown again, and Phil to draw his breath heavily, when the girl came back as suddenly bringing an apple and a length of string. Mounting a chair, she fixed one end of the string to the lath of the ceiling by the peck, the parchment oatcake pan, and the other end she tied to the stalk of the apple.

" What's the jeel now ?" said Pete.

" Fancy ! Don't you know? Not heard 'Hop-to-naa ! It's Hollantide Eve, man," said Kate.

Then setting the string going like a pendulum, she stood back a T pace with hands clasped behind her, and snapped at the apple as it swung, sometimes catching it, sometimes missing it, sometimes ,harking it, sometimes biting it, her body bending and rising with its waggle, and nod, and bob, her mouth opening and closing, her white teeth gleaming, and her whole face bubbling over with delight. At every touch the speed increased, and the laughter grew louder ,as the apple went faster. Everybody, except the miller, joined in the fun. Phil cried out on the girl to look to her teeth, but Pete eggod her on to test the strength of them.

" Snap at it, Kitty! " cried Pete. " Aw, lost ! Lost again ! Ow ! One in the cheek! No matter! Done ! "

And Black Tom and Mr. Jelly stood up to watch through the doorway. " My goodness grayshers ! " cried one. " What a mouthful ! " said the other. "Share it, Kitty, woman; aw, share and share alike, you know."

But then came the thunderous tones of Csar. "Drop it, drop it ! Such practices is nothing but Popery."

" Popery !" cried Black Tom from over the counter. " Clint ! nonsense, man! The like of it was going before St. Patrick was born." Kate was puffing and panting and taking down the pendulum.

" What does it mean then, Tom ?" she said; " it's you for knowing things."

"Mane? It manes fairies!" " Fairies !"

Black Tom sat down with a complacent air, and his rasping voice came from the other side of the glass. " In the ould times gone by, girl, before Manxmen got too big for their breeches, they'd be off to bed by ten o'clock on Hollantide Eve to lave room for the little people that's outside to come in. And the big woman of the house would be filling the crocks for the fairies to drink, and the big man himself would be raking the ashes so they might bake their cakes, and a girl, same as you, would be going to bed backwards-"

"I know 1 I know! " cried Kate, near to the ceiling, and clapping her hands. "She eats a roasted apple, and goes to bed thirsty, and then dreams that somebody brings her a drink of water, and that's ' the one that's to be her husband, eh !"

" You've got it, girl."

Csar had been listening with his eyes turned sideways off his book, and now he cried, ` Then drop it, I'm telling you. It's nothing but instruments of Satan, and the ones that's telling it are just flying in the face of faith from superstition and contrariety. It isn't dacent in a Christian public-house, and I'm for having no ore of it."

Grannie paused in her knitting, fixed her cap with one of her needles and said, " Dear heart, father! Tom meant no 1pr: os Then, glancing at the clock and rising, " But it's time to shut ul: the house, anyway. Good night, Tom ! Good night all ! Good night.",

Phil and Pete rose also. Pete went to the door and pretended to look out, then came back to Kate's side and whispered, " Come, give them the slip-there's somebody outside that's waiting for you.,,

" Let them wait," said the girl, but she laughed, and Pete knew she would come. Then he turned to Philip, " A word in your ear, Phil," he said, and took him by the arm and drew him out of the house and round to the yard of the stable.

" Well, good night, Grannie," said Mr. Jelly, going out behind them. "But if I were as young as your grandson there, Mr. Quilliam, I would be making a start for somewhere."

" Grandson! " grunted Tom, heaving up, " I've got no grandson; or he wouldn't be laving me to smoke a dry pipe. But he's making an Almighty of this Phil Christian-that's it."

After they were gone, Grannie began counting the till and saying, As for fairies-one, two, three it may be, as Csar says-four-five-the like isn't in, but it's safer to be civil to them anyway."

" Aw, yes," said Nancy Joe, " a crock of fresh water and a few good words going to bed on Hollantide Eve does no harm at all, at all." Outside in the stable-yard the feet of Black Tom and Jonaique Jelly were heard going off on the road The late moon was hanging low, red as an evening sun, over the hill to the south-east. Pote was puffing and blowing as if he had been running a race.

" Quick, boy, quick ! " he was whispering, " Kate's coming. A word in your ear first. Will you do me a turn, Phil?" `What is it?" said Philip.

"Spake to the ould man for me while I spake to the girl 1" " What about? " said Philip.

But Pete could hear nothing except his own voice. "The oald angel herself, she's all right, but the ould man's hard. Spake for me, Phil; you've got the fine English tongue at you."

" But what about ? " Philip said again.

"Say I may be a bit of a rip, but I'm not such a bad sort anyway. Make me out a taste, Phil, and praise me up. Say I'll be as good as goold ; yes, will I though. Tell him he has only to say yes, and I'll be that studdy and willing and hard-working and persevering you never seen."

" But, Pete, Pete, Pete, whatever am I to say all this about?" , Pete's puffing and panting ceased. "What about? Why, about the girl for sure."

"The girl !" said Philip. " What else ?" said Pete.

" Sate ? Am I to speak for you to the father for Kate ! as

Philip's voice seemed to come up from the bottom depths of his throat.

"Are you thinking hard of the job, Phil ? "

There was a moment's silence. The blood had rushed to Philip's face, which was full of strange matter, but the darkness concealed it. "I didn't say that," he faltered.

Pete mistook Philip's hesitation for a silent commentary on his own unworthiness. "I know I'm only a sort of a waistrel," he said, " but, Phil, the way I'm loving that girl it's shocking. I can never take rest for thinking of her. No, I'm not sleeping at night nor working reg'lar in the day neither. Everything is telling of her, and everything is shouting her name. It's 'Kate' in the sea, and 'Kate' in the river, and the trees and the gorse. 'Kate,' 'Kate,'Kate,' it's Kate constant, and I can't stand much more of it. I'm loving the girl scandalous, that's the truth, Phil."

Pete paused, but Philip gave no sign.

"It's hard to praise me, that's sarten sure," said Pete, "but I've known her since she was a little small thing in pinafores, and I was a slip of a big boy, and went into trousers, and we played Blondin inthe glen together."

Still Philip did not speak. He was gripping the. stable-wall with his trembling fingers, and struggling for composure. Pete scraped the paving-stones at his feet, and mumbled again in a voice that was near to breaking, "Spake for me, Phil. It's you to do it. You've the way of saying things, and making them out to look something. It would be clano ruined in a jiffy if I did it for myself. Spake for me, boy, now won't you, now?"

Still Philip was silent. He was doing his best to swallow a lump in his throat. His heart had begun to know itself. In the lightof Pete's confession he had read his own secret. To give the girl up was one thing; it was another to plead for her for Pete. But Pete's trouble touched him. The lump at his throat went down, and the fingers on the wall slacked away. "I'll do it," he said, only his voice was like a sob.

Then he tried to go off hastily that he might hide the emotion that came over him like a flood that had broken its dam. But Pete gripped him by the shoulder, and peered into his face in the dark. "You will, though," said Pete, with a little shout of joy; "then it's as good as done; God bless you, old fellow."

Philip began to roll about. "Tut, it's nothing," he said, with a stout heart, and then he laughed a laugh with a cry in it. He could have said no more without breaking down; but just then a flash of light fell on them from the house, and a hushed voice cried, "Pete!"

" It's herself," whispered Pete. " She's coming ! She's here ! "

Philip turned, and saw Kate in the doorway of the dairy, the sweet young figure framed like a silhouette by the light behind.' "I'm going!" said Philip, and he edged up to the house as the girl stepped out. -

Pete followed him a step or two in approaching Kate. " Whist, man !" he whispered. "Tell the old geezer I'll be going to chapel reg'lar early tides and late shifts,. and Sunday-school constant. And, whist! tell him I'm larning myself to play on the harmonic"

Then Philip slithered softly through the dairy door, and shut it after him, leaving Kate and Pete together.


  Back index next  

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2008