[from 'The Manxman' 1894]
AUNT NAN bad grown uneasy because Philip was not yet started in life. During the spell of his partnership with Pete she had protested and he had coaxed, she had scolded and he had laughed. But when Pete was gone she remembered her old device, and began to play on Philip through the memory of his father.
One day the air was full of the sea freshness of a beautiful Manx November. Philip sniffed it from the porch after breakfast and then gathered up his tackle for cod.
"The boat again, Philip?" said Auntie Nan. "Then promise me to be back for tea."
Philip gave his promise and kept it. When he returned after his day's fishing the old lady was waiting for him in the little blue room wbicn she called her own. The sweet place was more than usually dainty and comfortable that day. A bright fire was burning, and everything seemed to be arranged so carefully and nattily. The table was laid with cups and saucers, the kettle was singing on the jockey-bar, and Auntie Nan herself, in a cap of black lace and a dress of russet silk with flounces, was fluttering about with an odour of lavender and the light gaiety of a bird.
"Why, what's the meaning of this? " said Philip.
And the sweet old thing answered, half nervously, half jokingly, "You don't know? What a child it is, to be sure! So you don't remember what day it is?"
"What day? The fifth of Nov-oh, my birthday ! I had clean forgotten it, Auntie."
"Yes, and you are one-and-twenty for tea-time. That's why I asked you too be home."
She poured out the tea, settled herself with her feet on the fender, allowed the cat to establish itself on her skirt, and then, with a nervous smile and a slight depression of the heart, she began on her tack.
"How the years roll on, Philip! It's twenty years since I gave you my first birthday present. I wasn't here when you were born, dear. Grandfather had forbidden me. Poor grandfather ! But how I longed to come and wash, and dress, and nurse my boy's boy, and call myself an auntie aloud! Oh, dear me, the day I first saw you ! Shall I ever forget it? Grandfather and I were at Cowley, the draper's, when a beautiful young person stepped in with a baby. A little too gay, poor thing, and that was how I know her."
"Yes, dear, and grandfather was standing with his back to the street. I grow hot to this day when I remember, but she didn't seem afraid. She nodded and smiled and lifted the muslin veil from the baby's face, and said 'Who's he like, Miss Christian?' It was wonderful. You were asleep, and it was the same for all the world as if your father had slept back to be a baby. I was trembling fit to drop and couldn't answer, and then your mother saw grandfather, and before I could stop her she had touched him on the shoulder. He stood with his bad ear towards us, and his sight was failing, too, but seeing the form of a lady beside him, he swept round, and bowed low, and smiled and raised his hat, as his way was with all women. Then your mother held the baby up and said quite gaily, ' Is it one of the Ballures he is, Dempster, or one of the Ballawbaines ?' Dear heart, when I think of it ! Grandfather straightened himself up, turned about, and was out on the street in an instant."
Poor father ! " said Philip: Auntie Nan's eyes brightened.
"I was going to tell you of your first birthday, dearest. Grand father had gone then-poor grandfather !-and I had knitted you a little soft cap of white wool, with a tassel ànd a pink bow. Your mother's father was living still-Capt'n Billy, as they called him-and when I put the cap on your little head, he cried out, 'A sailor every inch of him !' And sure enough, though I had never thought it, a sailor's cap it was. And Capt'n Billy put you on his knee, and looked at you sideways, and slapped his thigh, and blew a cloud of smoke from his long pipe and cried again, 'This boy is for a sailor, I'm telling you.' You fell asleep in the old man's arms, and I carried you to your cot upstairs. Your father followed me into the bedroom, and your mother was there already dusting the big shells on the mantelpiece. Poor Tom ! I see him yet. He dropped his long white hand over the cot-rail, pushed back the little cap and the yellow curls from your forehead, and said proudly, 'Ah, no, this head wasn't built for a sailor'!' He meant no barm, but-Ob, dear, Oh, dear!-your mother heard him, and thought he was belittling her and hers. 'These qualities!' she cried, and slashed the duster and flounced out of the room, and one of the shells fell with a clank into the fender. Your father turned his face to the window. could have cried for shame that he should be ashamed before me. But looking out on the sea-the bay was very loud that day, I remember-he said in his deep voice, that was like a mellow bell, and trembled ratherly, 'It's not for nothing, Nannie, that the child has the forehead of Napoleon. Only let God spare him and he'll be something some day, when his father, with his broken heart and his broken brain, is dead and gone,' and the daisies cover him."'
Auntie Nan carried her point. That night Philip laid up his boat for the winter, and next morning.; he set his face towards Ballawhaine with the object of enlisting Uncle Peter's help in starting upon the profession .of the law. Auntie Nan went with him. She had urged him to the step by the twofold plea that the Ballawhaine was his only male relative of mature years, and that he had lately sent his own son Ross to study for the bar in England.
Both were nervous and uncertain on the way down; Auntie Nan talked incessantly from under her poke-bonnet, thinking to keep up Philip's courage. But when they came to the big gate and looked up at the turrets through the trees, her memory went back with deep tenderness to the days when the house had been her home, and she began to cry in silence. Philip himself was not unmoved. This had been the birthplace and birthright of his father.
The English footman, in buff and scarlet, ushered them into the drawing-room with the formality proper to strangers. To their surprise they found Ross there. He was sitting at the piano strumming a music-hall ditty. As the door opened he shuffled to his feet, shook hands distantly with Auntie Nan, and nodded his head to Philip. The young man was by this time a sapling well fed from the old tree. Taller than his father by many inches, broader, heavier, and larger in all ways, with the slow eyes of a seal and something of a seal's face as well. But with his father's sprawling legs and his father's levity and irony of manner and of voice-a Manxman disguised out of all recognition of race, and apeing the fashionable follies of the hour in London.
Auntie Nan settled her umbrella, smoothed her gloves and her white front hair, and inquired meekly if he was well.
" Not very fit," he drawled; " shouldn't be here if I were. But father worried my life out until I came back to recruit."
" Perhaps," said Auntie Nan, looking simple and sympathetic, perhaps you've been longing for home. It must be a great trial to a young man to live in London for the first time. That's where a young woman has the advantage-she needn't leave home, at all events. Then your lodgings, perhaps they axe not in the best part either."
" I used to have chambers in an Inn of Court-"
Auntie Nan looked concerned. " I don't think I should like Philip to live long at an inn," she said.
" But now I'm in rooms in the Haymarket." Auntie Nan looked relieved.
" That must be better," she said. "Noisy in the mornings; pea haps, but your evenings will be quiet for study, I should think." "Precisely," said Ross, with a snigger, touching the piano again and Philip, sitting near the door, felt the palm of his hand itch for the whole breadth of his cousin's cheek.
Uncle Peter came in hurriedly, with short, nervous steps. His hair as well as his eyebrows was now white, his eye was hollow, his cheeks were thin, his mouth was restless, and he had lost some of his upper teeth, he coughed frequently, he was shabbily dressed, and had the look of a dying man.
" Ah ! it's you, Anne! and Philip, too. Good morning, Philip
Give the piano a rest, Ross-that's a good lad. Well, Miss Christian, well !"
Philip came of age yesterday, Peter," said Auntie Nan in a timid voice.
" Indeed !" said the Ballawhaine, " then Ross is twenty nèxi month. A little more than a year and a month between them." He scrutinised the old lady's face for a moment without speaking and then said, " Well !"
"He would like to go to London to study for the bar," falteredAuntie Nan.
Why not the church at home ?"
"The church would have been my own choice, Peter, but his father "
The Ballawhaine crossed his leg over his knee. "His father way always a man of a high stomach, ma'am," he said. Then facing towards Philip, "Your idea would be to return to the island."
" Yes," said Philip.
Practise as an advocate, and push your way to insular preferment ? "
" My father seemed to wish it, sir," said Philip.
The Ballawhaine turned back to Auntie Nan. . "Well, Miss Christian ?"
Auntie Nan fumbled the handle of her umbrella and began-" We were thinking, Peter-you see we know so little-now if his father had been living-"
The Ballawhaine coughed, scratched with his nail on his cheek, and said, "You wish me to put him with a barrister in chambers, is that it?" With a nervous smile and a little laugh of relief Auntie Nan signified assent.
" You are aware that a step like that costs money. How much have you got to spend on it ? "
" I'm afraid, Peter-'
" You thought I might find the expenses, eh ? "
"It's so good of you to see it in the right way, Peter_"
The Ballawhaine made a wry face. " Listen," he said dryly. "Ross has just gone to study for the English bar."
"Yes," said Auntie Nan eagerly, " and it was partly that "
" Indeed!" said the Ballawhaine, raising his eyebrows. " I calculate that his course in London will cost me, one thing with another, more than a thousand pounds."
Auntio Nan lifted her gloved hands in amazement.
" That sum I am prepared to spend in order that my son, as an English barrister, may have a better chance "
" Do you know, we were thinking of that ourselves, Peter ?" said! Auntie Nan.
"A better chance," the Ballawhaine continued, "of the few places open in the island than if he were brought up at the Manx bar only, which would cost me less than half as much."
" Oh ! but the money will come back to you; both for Ross and Philip," said Auntie Nan.
The Ballawhaine coughed impatiently. "You don't read me," he said irritably. "These places are few, and Manx advocates are as thick as flies in a glue-pot. For every office there must be fifty applicants, but training counts for something, and influence for something, and family for something."
Auntie Nan began to be penetrated as by a chill.
"These," said the Ballawhaine, "I bring to bear for Ross, that he may distance all competitors. Do you read me now ? "
"Read you, Peter ? " said Auntie Nan.
The Ballawhaine fixed his hollow eye upon her, and said, "What do you ask me to do? You come here and ask me to provide, prepare, and equip a rival to my own son."
Auntie Nan had grasped his meaning at last..
" But gracious me, Peter," she said, " Philip is your own nephew, your own brother's son."
The Ballawhaine rubbed the side of his nose with his lean forefingers and said, " Near is my shirt, but nearer is my skin."
Auntie Nan fixed her timid eyes upon him, and they grew brave in their gathering indignation. " His father is dead, and he is poor and friendless," she said.
"We've had differences on that subject before, mistress," he answered.
"And yet you begrudge him the little that would start him in life." " My own has earlier claim; ma'am."
"Saving your presence; sir; let me tell you that every penny of the money you are spending on Ross would have been Philip's this day if things had gone different:"
The Ballawhaine bit his lip. " Must I, for my sins, be compelled to put an end to this interview ?"
He rose to go to the door. Philip rose also.
"Do you mean it?" said Auntie Nan. "Would you dare to turn me out of the house?"
" Come, Auntie, what's the use ? " said Philip.
The Ballawhaine was drumming on the edge of the open door. "You are right, young man," he said, "a woman's hysteria is of no use."
"That will do, sir," said Philip in a firm voice.
The Ballawhaine put his hand familiarly on Philip's shoulder. "Try Bishop Wilson's theological college, my friend; it's cheap and--" "Take your hand from him, Peter Christian," cried Auntie Nan. Her eyes flashed, her cheeks were aflame, her little. gloved hands were clenched. "You made war between his father and your father, and when I would have made peace you prevented me. Your father is dead and your brother is dead, and both died in hate that might have died in love, only for the lies you told and the deceit you practised. But they have gone where the mask falls from all faces, and they have met before this, eye to eye and hand to hand. Yes, and they are looking down on you now, Peter Christian, and they know you at last for what you are and always have been-a deceiver and a thief."
By an involuntary impulse the Ballawhaine turned his eyes upward to the ceiling while she spoke, as if he had expected to see the ghosts of his father and his brother threatening him.
"Is the woman mad at all ?" he cried; and the timid old lady, lifted out of herself by the flame of her anger, blazed at him again with a tongue of fire.
"You have done wrong, Peter Christian, much wrong; you've done wrong all your days, and whatever your motive, God will find it out, and on that secret place he will bring your punishment. If it was only greed, you've got your wages; but no good will they bring to you, for another will spend them, and you will see them wasted like water from the ragged rock. And if it was hate as well, you will live till it comes back on your own head like burning coal. I know it, I feel it," she cried, sweeping into the hall, "and sorry I I am to say it before your own son, who ought to honour and respect his father, but can't; no, he can't and never will, or else he has a heart to match your own in wickedness, and no bowels of compassion at him either."
"Come, Auntie, come," said Philip, putting his arm about the old lady's waist. But she swerved round again to where the Ballawhaine came slinking behind him.
"Turn me out of the house, will you?" she cried. "The place where I lived fifteen years, and as mistress, too, until your evil deeds made you master. Many a good cry I've had that it's only a woman I am, and can do nothing on my own head. But I would rather be a woman that hasn't a roof to cover her than a man that can't warm to his own flesh and blood. Don't think I begrudge you your house, Peter Christian, though it was my old home, and I love it, for all I'm shown no respect in it. I would have you to know, sir, that it isn't our houses we live in after all, but our hearts-our hearts, Peter Christian-do you hear me?-our hearts, and yours is full of darkness and dirt-and always will be, always will be."
"Come, come, Auntie, come," cried Philip again, and the sweet old thing, too gentle to hurt a fly, turned on him also with the fury of a wild-cat.
" Go along yourself with your 'come' and 'come' and 'come.' Say less and do more."
With that final outburst she swept down the steps and along the path, leaving Philip three paces behind, and the Ballawhaine with a terrified look under the stuffed cormorant in the fanlight above the open door.
The fiery mood lasted her half way home, and then broke down in a torrent of tears.
" Oh dear! oh dear !" she cried. "I've been-too hasty. After all, he is your only relative. What shall I do now ? Oh, what shall I do now?"
Philip was walking steadily half a step behind, and he had never once spoken since they left Ballawhaine.
" Pack my bag to-night, Auntie," said he with the voice of a man; " I shall start for Douglas by the coach to-morrow morning."
He sought out the best known of the Manx advocates, a college friend of his father's, and said to him, " I've sixty pounds a year, sir, from my mother's father, and my aunt- has enough of her own to live on. Can I afford to pay your premium ?"
The lawyer looked at him attentively for a moment, and answered, "No, you can't," and Philip's face began to fall.
"But I'll take you the five years for nothing, Mr. Christian," the wise man added, " and if you suit me, I'll give you wages after two."
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
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