[from 'The Manxman' 1894]

VIII

 

WHEN Csar came in after seeing Philip to the door, he said, " Not a word of this to the girl. You that are women are like pigs --we've got to pull the way we don't want you."

On that Kate herself came in, blushing a good deal, and fussing about with great vigour. "Are you talking of the piggies, father ? " she said artfully. "How tiresome they are, to be sure l They came out into the yard when the moon rose and I had such work to get them back."

Caesar snorted a little, and gave the signal for bed " Fairies indeed !" he said, in a tone of vast contempt, going to the corner to wind the clock. "Just wakeness of faith," he said over the clank of the chain as the weights rose; "and no trust in God neither," he added, and then the clock struck ten.

Grannie had lit two candles-one for herself and her husband, the other for Nancy Joe. Nancy had slyly filled three earthenware crocks with water from the well, and had set them on the table, mumbling something about the kettle and the morning.- And Caesar himself, pretending not to see anything, and muttering dark words about waste, went from the clock to the hearth, and raked out the hot ashes to a flat surface, on which you might have laid a girdle for baking cakes.

" Good-night, Nancy," called Grannie, from half-way up the stairs, and Csar, with his head down, followed grumbling. Nancy went off next, and then Kate was left alone. She had to put out the lamp and wait for her father's candle.

When the lamp was gone the girl was in the dark, save for the dim light of the smouldering fire. She began to tremble and to laugh in a whisper. Her eyes danced in the red glow of the dying turf. She slipped off her shoes and went to a closet in the wall. There she picked an apple out of a barrel, and brought it to the fire and roasted it. Then, down on her knees before the hearth, she took two pinches of the apple and swallowed them. After that and a little shudder she rose again, and turned about to go to bed, backwards, slowly, tremblingly, with measured steps, feeling her way past the furniture, having a shock when she touched anything, and laughing to herself, nervously, when she remembered what it was.

At the door of her father's room and Grannie's she called, with a quaver in her voice, and a sleepy grunt came out to her. She reached one hand through the door, which was ajar, and took the burning candle. Then she blew out the light with a trembling puff, that had to be twice repeated, and made for her own bedroom, still going backwards.

It was a sweet little chamber over the dairy, smelling of new milk and ripe apples, and very dainty in dimity and muslin. Two tiny windows looked out from it, one on to the stable-yard and the other on to the orchard. The late moon came through the orchard window, over the heads of the dwarf trees, and the little white place was lit up from the floor to the sloping thatch.

Kate went backwards as far as to the bed, and sat down on it. She fancied she heard a step in the yard, but the yard window was at her back, and she would not look behind. She listened, but heard nothing more except a see-sawing noise from the stable, where the mare was running her rope in the manger ring. Nothing but this and the cheep-cheep of a mouse that was gnawing the wood somewhere in the floor.

" Will he come? " she asked herself.

She rose and loosened her gown, and as it fell to her feet she laughed.

" Which will it be, I wonder-which? " she whispered.

The moonlight had crept up to the foot of the bed, and now lay on it like a broad blue sword speckled as with rust by the patch. work counterpane.

She freed her hair from its red ribbon, and it fell in a shower about her face. All around her seemed hushed and awful. She shuddered again, and with a backward hand drew down the sheets. Then she took a long, deep breath, like a sigh that is half a smile, and lay down, to sleep.


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