[from 'The Manxman' 1894]

VII

 

THE kitchen of " The Manx Fairy " was now savoury with the odour of herrings roasting in their own brine, and musical with the crackling, and frizzling of the oil as it dropped into the fire.

"It's a long way back to Ballure, Mrs. Cregeen," said Philip, popping his head in at the door jamb. "May I stay to a bite of supper?" " Aw, stay and welcome," said Csar, putting down the big book, and Nancy Joe said the same, dropping her high-pitched voice perceptibly, and Grannie said, also, "Right welcome, sir, if you'll not be thinking mane to take pot luck with us. Potatoes and herrings, Mr. Christian; just a Manxman's supper. Lift the pot off the slowrie, Nancy."

" Well, and isn't he a Manxman himself, mother?" said Csar. "Of course I am, Mr. Cregeen, said Philip, laughing noisily. " If I'm not, who should be, eh ?"

"And Manxman or no Manxman, what for should he turn up his nose at herrings same as these?" said Nancy Joe. She was dishing up a bowlful. "Where'll he get the like of them? Not in England over, I'll go bail."

"Indeed, no, Nancy," said Philip, still laughing needlessly. "And if they had them there, the poor, useless creatures would be lost to cook them."

"'Deed, would they, Nancy," said Grannie. She was rolling the potatoes into a heap on to the bare table. " And we've much to be thankful for, with potatoes and herrings three times a day; but we shouldn't be thinking proud of ourselves for that."

"Ask the gentleman to draw up, mother," said Csar. " Draw up, sir, draw up. Here's your bowl of butter-milk. A knife and fork, Nancy. We're no people for knife and fork to a herring, sir. And a plate for Mr. Christian, woman ; a gentleman usually likes a plate.

Now ate, sir, ate and welcome but where's your friend, though ?"

"Pete ! oh ! he's not far off." Saying this, Philip interrupted his laughter to distribute sage winks between Nancy Joe and Grannie. Caesar looked around with a potato half-peeled in his fingers. ,` And the girl-where's Kate ?" he asked.

" She's not far off neither," said Philip, still winking vigorously. "But don't trouble about them, Mr. Cregeen. They'll want no supper. They're feeding on sweeter things than herrings even." Saying this be swallowed a gulp with another laugh.

Caesar lifted his head with a pinch of his herring between finger and thumb half way to his open mouth. "Were you spaking, sir?" he said. At that Philip laughed immoderately. It was a relief to drown with laughter the riot going on within.

" Aw, dear, what's agate of the boy?" thought Grannie. Is it a dog bite that's working on him?" thought Nancy.

" Speaking!" cried Philip, "of course I'm speaking. I've come in to do it, Mr. Cregeen-I've come in to speak for Pete. He's fond of your daughter, Csar, and wants your good-will to marry her." " Lord-a-massy I" cried Nancy Joe.

"Dear heart alive !" muttered Grannie.

"Peter Quilliam !" said Csar, "did you say Peter?"

"I did, Mr. Cregeen, Peter Quilliam," said Philip stoutly, " my friend Pete, a rough fellow, perhaps, and without much education, but the best-hearted lad in the island. Come now, Csar, say the word, sir, and make the young people happy."

He almost foundered over that last word, but Csar kept him up with a searching look.

" Why, I picked him out of the streets, as you might say," said Csar.

" So you did, Mr. Cregeen, so you did. I always thought you were a discerning man, Csar. What do you say, Grannie ? It's Csar for knowing a deserving lad when be sees one, eh ? "

He gave another round of his cunning winks, and Grannie replied, " Aw, well, it's nothing against either of them anyway." Caesar was sitting as straight as a crowbar and as grim as a gannet. " And when he left me, he gave me imperence and disrespeck." "But the lad meant no harm, father," said Grannie; "and hadn't you told him to take to the road? "

" Let every bird hatch its own eggs, mother; it'll become you better," said Csar. "Yes, sir, the lip of Satan and the imperence of sin."

" Pete ! " cried Philip, in atone of incredulity ; " why, he hasn't a thought about you that isn't out of the Prayer-book."

Csar snorted. " No? Then maybe that's where he's going for his curses."

"No curses at all," said Nancy Joe, from the side of the table, " but a right good lad though, and you've never had another that's been a patch on him."

Csar screwed round to her and said severely, "Where there's geese there's dirt, and where there's women there's talking." Then turning back to Philip, he said in a tone of mock deference, " And may I presume, sir -a little question-being a thing like that's general understood-what's his fortune?"

Philip fell back in his chair. "Fortune ? Well, I didn't think that you now-"

" No? " said Csar. " We're not children of Israel in the wilderness getting manna dropped from heaven twice a day. If it's only potatoes and herrings itself, we're wanting it three times, you see."

Do what be would to crush it, Philip could not help feeling a sense of relief. Fate was interfering; the girl was not for Pete. For the first moment since he returned to the kitchen he breathed

freely and fully. But then came the prick of conscience: be had come to plead for Pete, and he must be loyal; he must not yield; he must exhaust all his resources of argument and persuasion. The wild idea occurred to him to take Csar by force of the Bible.

" But think what the old book says, Mr. Cregeen, `take no thought for the morrow' "

" That's what Johnny Niplightly said, Mr. Christian, when he lit my kiln overnight and burnt my oats before morning."

" But consider the lilies' "

"I have considered them, sir; but I'm toiling still and mother, has to spin."

"And isn't Pete able to toil, too," said Philip boldly. "Nobody better in the island; there's not a lazy bone in his body, and he'll earn his living anywhere."

" What is his living, sir ?" said Csar.

Philip halted for an answer, and then said, " Well, he's only with me in the boat at present, Mr. Cregeen."

"And what's he getting? His meat and drink and a bit of pence, eh ? And you'll be selling up some day, it's like, and going away to England over, and then where is he? Let the girl marry a mother-naked man at once."

"But you're wanting help yourself, father," said Grannie. "Yes, you are though, and time for chapel too and aisement in your old days"

" Give the lad my mill as well as my daughter, is that it, eh ? " said Csar. " No, I'm not such a goose as yonder, either. I could get heirs, sir, heirs, bless ye-fifty acres and better, not to spake of the bas'es. But I can do without them. The Lord's blest me with enough. I'm not far daubing grease on the tail of the fat pig."

" Just so, Caesar," said Philip, " just so; you can afford to take a Poor bayour ly in want of a bird, though, there's to give a groat for an owl," said Csar.

" The lad means well, anyway," said Grannie ; " and he was tbat good to his mother, poor thing-it was wonderful."

" I knew the woman," said Csar ; " I broke a sod of her grave myself. A brand plucked from the burning, but not a straight walker in this life. And what is the lad himself ? A monument of sin without a name. A bastard, what else ! And that's not the port I'm sailing for." '

Down to this point Philip had been torn by conflicting feelings. He was no match for Caesar in worldly logic, or at fencing with texts of Scripture. The devil had been whispering at his ear, " Let it alone, you'd better." But his time had come at length to conquer both himself and Csar. Rising to his feet at Csar's last word, he cried in a voice of wrath, " What? You call yourself a Christian man, and punish the child for the sin of the parent ! No name, indeed ! Let me tell you, Mr. Caesar Cregeen, it's possible to have one name in heaven that's worse than none at all on earth, and that's the name of a hypocrite."

So saying be threw back his chair, and was making for the door, when Csar rose and said softly, " Come into the bar and have something." Then, looking back at Philip's plate, he forced a laugh, and said, "But you've turned over your herring, sir-that's bad luck." And, putting a band on Philip's shoulder, he added, in a lower tone, "No disrespeck to you, sir; and no harm to the lad, but take my word for it, Mr. Christian, if there's an amble in the mare it'll be in the colt."

Philip went off without another word. The moon was rising and whitening as he stepped from the door. Outside the porch a figure flitted past him in the uncertain shadows with a merry trill of mischievous laughter. He found Pete in the road, puffing and blowing as before, but from a different cause.

" The living devil's in the girl for sartin," said Pete; " I can't get my answer out of her either way." He, had been chasing her for his answer, and she had escaped him through a gate. "But what luck with the ould man, Phil?"

Then Phil told him of the failure of his mission-told him plainly and fully but tenderly, softening the hard sayings but revealing the whole truth. As he did so he was conscious that he was not-feeling like one who brings bad news He knew that his mouth in the darkness was screwed up into an ugly smile, and, do what he would, he could not make it straight and sorrowful.

The happy laughter died off Pete's lips, and he listened at first in silence, and afterwards with low growls. When Phil showed M how his poverty was his calamity he said, " Ay, ay, I'm only a wooden-spoon man." When Phil told him how Csar had ripped up their old dead quarrel he muttered, 1" I'm on the ebby tide, Phil, that's it." And when Phil hinted at what Caesar had said of his mother and of the impediment of his own birth, a growl came up from the very depths of him, and he scraped the stones under his feet and said, " He shall repent it yet; yes, shall he."

" Come, don't take it so much to heart-it's miserable to bring you such bad news," said Phil; but he knew the sickly smile was on his lips still, and he hated himself for the sound of his own voice. Pete found no hollow ring in it. " God bless you, Phil," he said; "you've done the best for me, I know that. My pocket's as low as my heart, and it isn't fair to the girl, or I shouldn't be asking the ould man's lave anyway."

He stood a moment in silence, crunching the wooden laths of the garden fence like matchwood in his fingers, and then said, with sudden resolution, "I know what I'll do."

" What's that ?" said Philip.

" I'll go abroad; I'll go to Kimberley." " Never !"

"Yes, will I though, and quick too. You heard what the men were saying in the evening-there's Manx ones going- by the boat in the morning ? Well, I'll go with them."

"And you talk of being low in your pocket," said Phil. "Why, it will take all you've got, man."

"And more, too," said Pete, " but you'll lend me the lave of the passage-money. That's getting into debt, but no matter. When a man falls into the water he needn't mind the rain. I'll make good money out yonder."

A light had appeared at the window of an upper room, and Pete shook his clenched fist at it and cried, "Good-bye, Master Cregeen. I'll put worlds between us. You were my master once, but nobody made you my master for ever-neither you nor no man."

All this time Philip knew that hell was in his heart. The hand that had let him loose when his anger got the better of him with Caesar was clutching at him again. Some evil voice at his ear was whispering, "Let him go; lend him the money."

"Come on, Pete," he faltered, "and don't talk nonsense !"

But Pete heard nothing. He had taken a few steps forward, as far as to the stable-yard, and was watching the light in the house. It was moving from window to window of the dark wall. "She's taking the father's candle," he muttered. "She's there," he said softly. " No, she has gone. She's coming back though." He lifted the stocking cap from his head and fumbled it in his hands.

God bless her," he murmured. He sank to his knees on the ground. "And take care of her while I'm away."

The moon had come up in her whiteness behind, and all was quiet and solemn around. Philip fell back and turned away his. face.


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