[from 'The Manxman' 1894]

II

 

PHILIP did not forget the task wherewith Pete had charged him. It is a familiar duty in the Isle of Man, and he who discharges it is known by a familiar name. They call him the Dooiney Molla-literally, the " man-praiser; " and his primary function is that of an informal, unmercenary, purely friendly and philanthropic match-maker, introduced by the young man to persuade the parents of the young woman that he is a splendid fellow, with substantial possessions or magnificent prospects, and entirely fit to marry her. But he has a secondary function, less frequent, though scarcely less familiar; and it is that of lover by proxy, or intended husband by deputy, with duties of moral guardianship over the girl while the man himself is off " at the herrings," or away "at the mackerel," or abroad on wider voyages.

This second task, having gone through the first with dubious success, Philip discharged with conscientious zeal. The effects were peculiar. Their earliest manifestations were, as was most proper; on Philip and Kate themselves. Philip grew to be grave and wondrous solemn, for assuming the tone of guardian lifted his manners above all levity. Kate became suddenly very quiet and meek; very watchful and modest, soft of voice and most apt to blush. The girl who had hectored it over Pete and played little mistress over every body else, grew to be like a dove under the eye of Philip. A kind of awe fell on her whenever he was near. She found it sweet to listen to his words of wisdom when he discoursed, and sweeter still to obey his will when he gave commands. The little wistful head was always turning in his direction; his voice was like joy-bells in her ears; his parting bow under his lifted hat remained with her as a dream until the following day. She hardly knew what great change had been wrought in her, and her people at home were puzzled.

" Is it not very well you are; Kirry, woman ? " said Grannie. Well enough, mother; why not ?" said Kate.

" Is it the toothache that's plaguing you ?"

"No."

"Then maybe it's the new hat in the window at Miss Clucas's ?" " Hould your tongue, woman," whispered Caesar behind the back of his hand. " It's the Spirit that's working on the girl. Give it lave, mother; give it lave."

" Give it fiddlesticks," said Nancy Joe. " Give it brimstone and treacle and a cupful of wormwood and camomile."

When Philip and Kate were together, their talk was all of Pete. It was " Pete likes this," and " Pete hates that," and " Pete always says so and so." That was their way of keeping up the recollection of Pete's existence; and the uses they put poor Pete to were many and peculiar.

One night "The Manx Fairy" was merry and noisy with a "Scaltha," a Christmas supper given by the captain of a fishing boat to the crew that he meant to engage for the season. Wives, sweethearts, and friends were there, and the customs and superstitions of the hour were honoured.

" Isn't it the funniest thing in the world, Philip ? " giggled Kate from the back of the door, and a moment afterwards she was standing alone with him in the lobby, looking demurely down at his boots.

" I suppose I ought to apologise:"

"Why so?"

" For calling you that."

" Pete calls me Philip. Why shouldn't you ?"

The furtive eyes rose to the buttons of his waistcoat. " Well, no; there can't be much harm in calling you what Pete calls you, can there? But then-"

" Well !"

" He calls me Kate."

" Do you think he would like me to do so ? "

" I'm sure he would."

" Shall we, then?"

" I wonder !"

" Just for Pete's sake ?"

"Just."

" Kate!"

" Philip ! "

They didn't know what they felt. It was something exquisite, something delicious; so sweet, so tender, they could only laugh as if some one had tickled them.

" Of course, we need not do it except when we are quite by ourselves," said gate. '

" Oh no, of course not, only when we are quite alone," said Philip. Thus they threw dust into each other's eyes; and walked hand in f hand on the edge of a precipice.

The last day of the old year after Pete's departure found Philip attending to his duty.

"Are you going to put the new year in anywhere, Philip ?" said Kate, from the door of the porch.

"I should be the first-foot here, only I'm no use as a qualtagh," said Philip.

"Why not?"

" I'm a fair man, and would bring you no luck, you know." "Ah !"

There was silence for a moment, and then Kate cried " I know." "Yes?"

"Come for Pete-he's dark enough, anyway."

Philip was much impressed. "That's a good idea," he said gravely. "Being qualtagh for Pete is a good idea. His first New Year from home, too, poor fellow !"

" Exactly," said Kate.

" Shall I, then ? "

"I'll expect you at the very stroke of twelve."

Philip was going off. " And, Philip ! "

"Yes ?"

Then a low voice, so soft, so sweet, so merry, came from the door. way into the dark, "I'll be standing at the door of the dairy." Philip began to feel alarm, and resolved to take for the future a lighter view of his duties. He would visit "The Manx Fairy" less frequently. As soon as the Christmas holidays were over he would devote himself to his studies, and come back to Sulby no more for half a year. But the Manx, Christmas is long. It begins on the 24th of December, and only ends for good on the 6th of January. In the country places, which still preserve the old traditions, the culminating day is Twelfth Day. It is then that they "cut off the fiddler's head," and play valentines, which they call the "Goggans." The girls set a row of mugs on the hearth in front of the fire, put something into each of them as a symbol of a trade, and troop out to the stairs. Then the boys change the order of the mugs, and the girls come back blindfold, one by one, to select their goggans. According to the goggans they lay hands on, so will be the trades of their husbands.

At this game, played at " The Manx Fairy " on the last night of Philip's holiday, Csar being abroad on an evangelising errand, Kate was expected to draw water, but she drew a quill.

" A pen ! A pen ! " cried the boys. " Who says the girl is to marry a sailor ? The ship isn't built that's to drown her husband." Good-night all," said Philip.

" Good-night, Mr. Christian, good-night, sir," said the boys. Kate slipped after him to the door.

" Going so early, Philip ? "

"I've to be back at Douglas to-morrow morning," said Philips " I suppose we shan't see you very soon ? "

" No, I must set to work in earnest now." " A fortnight-a month may be ? "

"Yes, and six months-I intend to do nothing else for half a year."

" That's a long time, isn't it, Philip ? "

" Not so long as I've wasted."

"Wasted? So you call it wasted ! Of course, it's nothing to me -but there's your aunt "

"A man can't always be dangling about women," said Philip. Kate began to laugh.

" What are you laughing at?"

"I'm so glad I'm a girl," said Kate.

"Well, so am I," said Philip.

"Are you?"

It came at his face like a flash of lightning, and Philip stammered, " I mean-that is-you know-what about Pete? "

"Oh, is that all? Well, good-night, if you must go. Shall I bring you the lantern? No need? Starlight, is it? You can see your way to the gate quite plainly? Very well, if you don't want showing. Good-night !"

The last words, in an injured tone, were half lost behind the closing door.

But the heart of a girl is a dark forest, and Kate had determined that, work or. no work, so long a spell as six months Philip should not be away.


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