[from 'The Manxman' 1894]

III

 

ONE morning in the late spring there came to Douglas a startling and most appalling piece of news-Ross Christian was constantly seen at "The Manx Fairy." On the evening of that day Philip reappeared at Sulby. He had come down in high wrath, inventing righteous speeches by the way on plighted troths and broken pledges. Ross was there in lacquered boots, light kid gloves, frock coat, and pepper and salt trousers, leaning with elbow on the counter, that he might talk to Kate, who was serving. Philip had never before seen her at that task, and his indignation was extreme. He was more than ever sure that Grannie was a simpleton and Csar a brazen hypocrite. Kate nodded gaily to him as he entered, and then continued her conversation with Ross. There was a look in her eyes that was new to him, and it caused him to change his purpose. He would not be indignant, he would be cynical, he would be nasty, he would wait his opportunity and put in with some cutting remark. So, at Csar's invitation and Grannie's welcome, he pushed through the bar-room to the kitchen, exchanged salutations, and then sat down to watch and to listen.

The conversation beyond the glass partition was eager and enthusiastic. Ross was fluent and Kate was vivacious.

"My friend Monty?"

"Yes; who is Monty?"

" He's the centre of the Fancy."

" The Fancy!"

" Ornaments of the Ring, you know. Come now, surely you know the Ring, my dear. His rooms in St. James's Street are full of them every night. All sorts, you know-feather-weights, and heavy-weights,and greyhounds. And the faces ! My goodness, you should see them. Such worn-out old images. Knowledge boxes all awry, mouths crooked, and noses that have had the upper-cut. But good men all; good to take their gruel, you know. Monty will have nothing else about him. He was Tom Spring's backer. Never heard of Tom Spring? : Tom of Bedford, the incorruptible, you know, only he fought cross that day. Monty lost a thousand, and Tom keeps a public in Holborn now with pictures of the Fancy round the walls." Then Kate, with a laugh, said something which Philip did not catch, because Caesar was rustling the newspaper he was reading. "Ladies come ? " said Ross. "Girls at Monty's suppers? Rather ! what should you think? Cleopatra-but you ought to be there. I must begetting off myself very soon. There's a supper coming off next week at Handsome Honey's. Who's Honey? Proprietor of a night-house in the Haymarket. Night-house? You come and see, my dear."

Caesar dropped the newspaper and looked across at Philip. The gaze was long and embarrassing, and, for want of better conversation, Philip asked Caesar if he was thinking.

"Aw, thinking, thinking, and thinking again, sir," said Caesar. Then, drawing his chair nearer to Philip's, he added, in a, half whisper, "I'm getting a bit of a skute into something, though. See yonder ? They're calling his father a miser. The man's racking his tenants and starving his land. But I believe enough the young brass lagh (a weed) is choking the ould grain."

Caesar, as he spoke, tipped his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of Ross, and, seeing this, Ross interrupted his conversation with Kate to address himself to her father.

" So you've been reading the paper, Mr. Cregeen ?"

"Aw, reading and reading," said Caesar grumpily. Then in another tone, "You're home again from London, sir? Great doings yonder, they're telling me. Battles, sir, great battles."

Ross elevated his eyebrows. " Have you heard of them then?" he asked.

" Aw, heard enough," said Caesar, " meetings, and conferences, and conventions, and I don't know what."

" Oh, oh, I see," said Ross, with a look at Kate.

"They're doing without hell in England now-a-days-that's a quare thing, sir. Conditional immorality they're calling it-the singlerest thing I know. Taking hell away drops the tailboard out of a man's religion, eh ? "

The time for closing came, and Philip had waited in vain; Only one cut had come his way, and that had not been his own. As he rose to go, Kate had said, "We didn't expect to see you again for six months, Mr. Christian."

"So it seems," said Philip, and Kate laughed a little, and that was all the work of his evening, and the whole result of his errand. Caesar was waiting for him in the porch. His face was white, and it twitched visibly. It was plain to see that the natural man was fighting in Caesar. " Mr. Christian, sir," said he, "are you the gentleman that came here to speak to me for Peter Quilliam?"

" I am," said Philip.

"Then do you remember the ould Manx saying, " Perhaps the last dog may be catching the hare?"

" Leave it to me, Mr. Cregeen," said Philip through his teeth. Half a minute afterwards he was swinging down the dark road homewards, by the side of Ross, who was drawling along with his cold voice.

" So you've started on your light-weight handicap, Philip. Father was monstrous unreasonable that day. Seemed to think I was coming back here to put my shoulder out for your high bailiffships and bum-bailiffships and heaven knows what. You're welcome to the lot for me, Philip. That girl's wonderful, though. It's positively miraculous, too; she's the living picture of a girl of my friend Mentague's. Eyes, hair, that nervous movement of the mouth-every thing. Old man looked glum enough, though. Poor little woman. I suppose she's past praying for. The old hypocrite will hold her like a dove in the claws of a buzzard hawk till she throws herself away on some Manx omathaun. It's the way with half these pretty creatures-they're wasted."

Philip's blood was boiling. " Do you call it being wasted when a good girl is married to an honest man? " he asked.

" I do because a girl like this can never marry the right man. The man who is worthy of her cannot marry her, and the man who marries her isn't worthy of her. It's like this, Philip. She's young, she's pretty, perhaps beautiful, has manners and taste, and some refinement. The man of her own class is clumsy and ignorant, and stupid and poor. She doesn't want him, and the man she does want-the man she's fit for-daren't marry her; it would be social suicide." "And so," said Philip bitterly, " to save the man above from social suicide, the girl beneath must choose moral death-is that it?"

Ross laughed. " Do you know I thought old Jeremiah was at you in the corner there, Philip. But look at it straight. Here's a girl like that. Two things are open to her-two only. Say she marries your Manx fellow, what follows? A thatched cottage three fields back from the mountain road, two rooms, a cowhouse, a crock, a dresser, a press, a form, a three-legged stool, an armchair, and a clock with a dirty face, hanging on a nail in the wall. Milking, weeding, digging, ninepence a day, and a can of buttermilk, with a lump of butter thrown in. Potatoes, herrings, and barley bonnag. Year one, a baby, a boy; year two, another baby, a girl; year three, twins; year four, barefooted children squalling, dirty house, man grumbling, woman distracted, measles, hooping-cough, a journey at the tail of a cart to the bottom of the valley, and the awful words ' I am the-"'

" Hush, man !" said Philip. They were passing Lezayre churchyard. When they had left it behind, he added, with a grim curl of the lip, which was lost in the darkness, "Well, that's one side. What's the other ? "

"Life," said Ross. "Short and sweet, perhaps. Everything she wants, everything she can wish for-five years, four years, three years-what matter?"

"And then?"

"Every one for himself and God for us all, my boy. She's as happy as the day while it lasts, lifts her head like a rosebud in the sun-"

"Then drops it, I suppose, like a rose-leaf in the mud."

Ross laughed again. "Yes, it's a fact, old Jeremiah has been at you, Philip. Poor little Kitty-"

"Keep the girl's name out of it, if you please."

Ross gave a long whistle. "I was only saying the poor little woman "

" It's damnable, and I'll have no more of it."

" There's no duty on speech, I hope, in your precious Isle of Man."

"There is, though," said Philip, "a duty of decency and honour, and to name that girl, foolish as she is, in the same breath with your women-But here, listen to me. Best tell you now, so there may be no mistake and no excuse. Miss Cregeen is to be married to a friend of mine. I needn't say who he is-he comes close enough to you at all events. When he's at home, he's able to take care of his own affairs; but while he's abroad I've got to see that no harm comes to his promised wife, I mean to do it, too. - Do you understand me, Ross? I mean to do it. Goodnight!"

They were at the gate of Ballawhaine by this time, and Ross went through it giggling.


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