[from 'The Manxman' 1894]
THE two young men went on without s word. Philip walked with long strides three paces in front, with head thrown back, pallid face and contracted features, mouth firmly shut, arms stiff by his side, and difficult and audible breathing. Ross slouched behind with an air of elaborate carelessness, his horse beside him, the reins over its head and round his arm, the riding-whip under his other armpit, and both his hands deep in the breeches pockets. There was no road the way they went, but only a cart track, interrupted here and there by a gate, and bordered by square turf-pits half full of water.
The days were long and the light was not yet failing. Beyond the gorse, the willows, the reeds, the rushes and the sally bushes of the flat land, the sun was setting over a streak of gold on, the sea. They had left behind them the smell of burning turf, of crackling sticks, of fish, and of the cowhouse, and were come into the atmosphere of flowering gorse and damp scraa soil and brine.
" Far enough, aren't we?" shouted Ross, but Philip pushed on. He drew up at last in an open space, where the gorse had been burnt away and its black remains desolated the surface and killed the odours of life. There was not a house near, not a landmark in sight, except a windmill on the sea's verge, and the ugly tower of a church, like the funnel of a steamship between sea and sky.
" We're alone at last," he said hoarsely.
" We are," said Ross, interrupting the whistling of a tune, " and now that you've got me here, perhaps you'll be good enough to tell me what we've come for."
Philip made no more answer than to strip himself of his coat and waistcoat.
"You're never going to make a serious business of this stupid affair ?" said Ross, leaning against the horse and slapping the sole of one foot with the whip.
"Take off your coat," said Philip in a thick voice. " Can I help it if a pretty girl " began Ross. " Will you strip ?" cried Philip.
Ross laughed. "Ah ! now I remember our talk of the other night. But you don't mean to say," he said, flipping at the flies at the horse's head, "that because the little woman is forgetting the curmudgeon that's abroad-"
Philip strode up to him with clenched hands and quivering lips and said, " Will you fight? "
Ross laughed again, but the blood was in his face, and he said tauntingly, "I wouldn't distress myself, man. Daresay I'll be done with the girl before the fellow -"
"You're a scoundrel," cried Philip, "and if you won't stand up to me-"
Ross flung away his whip. " If I must, I must," he said, and then threw the horse's reins round the charred arm of a half-destroyed gorse tree.
A minute afterwards the young men stood face to face.
" Stop," said Ross, " let me tell you first; it's only fair. Since I went up to London I've learnt a thing or two. I've stood up before men that can strip a picture; I've been opposite talent and I can peck a bit, but I've never heard that you can stop a blow."
"Are you ready?" cried Philip.
"As you will. You shall have one round, you'll want no more."
The young men looked badly matched. Ross, in riding-breeches and shirt, with red bullet head and sprawling feet, arms like an oak and veins like willow boughs. Philip in shirt and knickerbockers, with long fair hair, quivering face, and delicate figure. It was strength and some skill against nerve alone.
Like a rush of wind Philip came on, striking right and left, and was driven back by a left-hand body-blow.
" There, you've got it," said Ross, smiling benignly. " Didn't I tell you? That's old Bristol Bull to begin with."
Philip rushed on again, and came back with a smashing blow that cut his nether lip.
"You've got a second," said Ross. "Have you had enough ?"
Philip did not hear, but sprang fiercely at Ross once mare. The next instant he was on the ground. Then Ross took on a manner of utter contempt. "I can't keep on flipping at you all night."
" Mock me when you've beaten me," said Philip, and he was on his feet again, somewhat blown, but fresh as to spirit and doggedly resolute. "'Toe the scratch, then," said Ross. "I must say you're good at your gruel."
Philip flung himself on his man a third time, and fell more heavily than before, under a flush hit that seemed to bury itself in his chest.
" Ican't go on fighting a man that's as good for nothing as my old grandmother," said Ross.
But his contempt was abating; he was growing uneasy; Philip ras before him as fierce as ever.
" Fight your equal," he cried. "I'll fight you," growled Philip.
"You're not fit. Give it up. And look, the dark is falling."
"There's enough daylight yet. Come on."
" Nobody is here to shame you."
"Come on, I say."
Philip did not wait, but sprang on his man like a tiger. Ross met his blow, dodged, feinted; they gripped,, swinging to and fro; there was a struggle, and Philip fell again with a drill thud against the ground.
"Will you stop now?" said Ross.
"No, no, no," cried Philip, leaping to his feet.
"I'll eat you up. I'm a glutton, I can tell you." But his voice trembled, and Philip, blind with passion, laughed.
"You'll be hurt," said Ross. " What of that?" said Philip. "You'll be killed."
" I'm willing."
Ross tried to laugh mockingly, but the hoarse gurgle choked in his throat. He began to tremble. "This man doesn't know when he's mauled," he muttered, and after a loud curse he stood up afresh, with a craven and shifty look. His blows fell like scorching, missiles, but Philip took them like a rock scoured with shingle, raining blood like water, but standing firm.
"What's the use?" cried Ross ; "drop it." "I'll drop myself first,"' said Philip.
"If you won't give it up, I will," said Ross. "You shan't," said Philip.
"Take your victory if you like." " I won't."
" Say you've licked me."
" I'll do, it first," said Philip.
Ross laughed lông and riotously, but he was trembling like a whipped cur. With a blob of foam on his lips he came up, collecting all his strength, and struck Philip a blow on the forehead that fell with the sound of a hammer on a coffin.
"Are you done ? " he snufed.
"No, by God," cried Philip, black as ink with the burnt gorse from the ground, except where the blood ran red on him.
"This man means to kill me," mumbled Ross. He looked round shiftily, and said, "I mean no harm by the girl."
"You're a liar !" cried Philip.
With a glance of deep malignity, Ross closed with Philip again.
It was now a struggle of right with wrong as well as nerve with strength. The sun had set under the sea, the sally bushes were I : shivering in the twilight, a flight of rooks were screaming overhead. Blows were no more heard. Ross gripped Philip in a venomous embrace, and dragged him on to one knee. Philip rose, Ross doubled round his waist, pushed him backward, and fell heavily on his breast, shouting with the growl of a beast, "You'll fight me, will you? Get up, get up 1 "
Philip did not rise, and Ross began dragging and lunging at him with brutal ferocity, when suddenly, where he bent double, a blow fell on his ear from behind, another and another, a hand gripped his shirt collar and choked him, and a voice cried, " Let go, you brute, let go, let go."
Ross dropped Philip and swung himself round to return the attack. It was the girl. " Oh, it's you, is it ? " he panted.
She was like a fury. "You brute, you beast, you toad," she cried, and then threw herself over Philip.
He was unconscious. She lifted his Lead on to her lap, and, lost to all shame, . to all caution, to all thought but one thought, she kissed him on the cheek, on the lips, on the eyes, on the forehead, crying, " Philip ! oh, Philip, Philip ! "
Ross was shuddering beside them. " Let me look at him," he faltered, but Kate fired back with a glance like an arrow, and said, screaming like a sea-gull, " If you touch him again I'll strangle you."
Ross caught a glimpse of Philip's face, and he was terrified. Going to a turf pit, be dipped both hands in the dub, and brought some water. "Take this," he said, "for heaven's sake let me bathe his head."
He dashed the water on the pallid forehead, and then withdrew Iaia eyes, while the girl coaxed Philip back to consciousness with fresh kisses and pleading words.
"Is he breathing? Feel his heart. Any pulsation ? Oh, God !" said Ross, " it wasn't my fault." He looked round with wild eyes; he meditated flight.
" Is he better yet?"
"What's it to you, you coward?" said Kate, with a burning glance. She went on with her work: "Come then, dear, come, come now."
Philip opened his eyes in a vacant stare, and rose on his elbow. Then Kate fell back from him immediately, and began to cry quietly, being all woman now, and her moral courage gone again in an instant.
But the moral courage of Mr. Ross came back as quickly. He began to sneer and to laugh lightly, picked up his riding-whip and strode over to his horse.
" Are you hurt ? " asked Kate, in a low tone.
"Is it Kate?" said Philip.
At the sound of his voice, in that low whisper, Kate's tears came streaming down.
" I hope you'll forgive me," she said. " I should have taken your warning."
She wiped his face with the loose sleeve of her dress, and then he struggled to his feet.
"Lean on me, Philip."
"No, no, I can walk."
" Do take my arm."
" Oh no, Kate, I'm strong enough."
" Just to please me."
" Well-very well."
Ross looked on with jealous rage. His horse, frightened by the fight, had twirled round and round till the reins were twisted into a knot about the gorse stump, and as he liberated the beast he flogged it back till it flew around him. Then be vaulted to the saddle, tugged at the curb, and the horse reared. "Down," he cried with an oath, and lashed brutally at the horse's head.
Meantime Kate, going past him with Philip on her arm, was saying softly, "Are you feeling better, Philip? "
And Ross, looking on in sulky meditation, sent a harsh laugh out of his hot throat, and said, "Ob, you can make your mind easy about him. If your other man fights for you like that you'll do. Thought you'd have three of them, did you ? Or perhaps you only wanted me for your decoy 7 Why don't you kiss him now, when he can know it? But he's a beauty to take care of you for somebody else. Fighting for the other one, eh ? Stuff and humbug! Take him home, and the curse of Judas on the brace of you."
So saying, he burst into wild, derisive laughter, flogged his horse on the ears and the nose, shouted " Down, you brute, down ! " and shot off at a gallop across the open Curragh.
Philip and Sate stood where he had left them till he had disappeared in the mist rising off the marshy land, and the thud of his horse's hoofs could be no more heard. Their heads were down, and though their arms were locked, their faces were turned half aside.
There was silence for some time. The girl's eyelids quivered; her look was anxious and helpless. Then Philip said, "Let us go home," and they began to walk together.
Not another word did they speak. Neither looked into the other's eyes. Their entwined arms slackened a little in a passionless asundering, yet both felt that they must hold tight or they would fall. It was almost as if Ross's parting taunt had uncovered their hearts to each other, and revealed to themselves their secret. They were like other children of the garden of Eden, driven out and stripped naked.
At the bridge they met Caesar, Grannie, Nancy Joe, and half the inhabitants of Sulby, abroad with lanterns in search of them. "They're here," cried Caesar. "You've chastised him, then! You'd bait his head off, I'll go bail. And I believe enough you'll be forgiven, sir. Yonder blow was almost bitterer than flesh can bear. Before my days of grace-but, praise the Lord for His restraining hand, the very minute my anger was up He crippled me in the hip with rheumatics. But what's this ?" holding the lantern over his head; "there's blood on your face, sir?"
"A scratch-it's nothing," said Philip.
"It's the women that's in every mischief," said Caesar.
" Lord bless me, aren't the women as good as the men ?" said , Nancy.
" H'm," said Caesar. "We're told that man was made a little lower than the angels, but about woman we're just left to our own conclusions."
" Scripture has nothing to do with Ross Christian, father," said Grannie.
" The Lord forbid it," said Caesar. " What can you get from a cat but his skin? And doesn't the man come from Christian Ballawhaine 7 "
If it comes to that, though, haven't we, all come from Adam ?" said Grannie.
"Yes; and from Eve too, more's the pity," said Caesar.
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2008