[from 'The Manxman' 1894]


LATER that day Coesar came in from the mill with the startling intelligence that Philip was riding up on the high-road.

"Goodness mercy!" cried Nancy, and she fled away to wash her face. Grannie with a turn of the hand settled her cap, and smoothed her grey hair under it. Kate herself had disappeared like a flash of light; but as Philip dismounted at the gate, looking taller, and older, and paler, and more serious, but raising big cap from his fair head and smiling a smile like, sunshine, she was coming leisurely out of the porch with a bewitching hat over her wavy black hair and a hand-basket over her arm.

Then there was a little start of surprise and recognition, a short catch of quick breath and nervous salutations.

"I'm going round to the nests," she said. "I suppose you'll step in to see mother."

"Time enough for that," said Philip. "May I help you with the eggs first ? Besides, I've something to tell you." "Is it that you're 'admitted? "' said Kate.

"That's nothing," said Philip. "Only the A B C, you know. Getting ready to begin, so to speak."

They walked round to the stackyard, and he tied up his horse and gave it hay. Then, while they poked about for eggs on hands and knees among the straw, under the stacks and between the bushes, she said she hoped he would have success, and he answered that success was more than a hope to him now-it was a sort of superstition. She did not understand this, but looked up at him from all fours with brightening eyes, and said, "What a glorious thing it is to be a man !"

"Is it?" said Philip. "And yet I remember somebody who said she wasn't sorry to be a girl."

"Did i?' said Kate. "But that was long ago. And I remember somebody else who pretended he was glad I was."

" That was long ago too," said Philip, and both laughed nervously. " What strange things girls are-and boys! " said Kate, with a matronly sigh, burying her face in a nest where a hen was clucking and two downy chicks were peeping from her wing.

They went through to the orchard, where the trees were breaking into eager blossoms.

"I've another letter for you from Pete," said Philip. " So? " said Kate.

" Here it is," said Philip.

" Won't you read it ? " said Kate.

But it's yours; surely a girl doesn't want anybody else-"

" Ah ! but you're different, though; you know everything-and besides-read it aloud, Philip."

With her basket of eggs on one arm, and the other hand-on the outstretched arm of an apple-tree, she waited while be read

" Dearest Kitty,-How's yourself, darling, and how's Philip, and how's Grannie ? I'm getting on tremendous. They're calling me Captain now-Capt'n Pete. Sort of overseer at the Diamond Mines outside Kimberley. Regular gentleman's life and no mistake. Nothing to do but sit under a monstrous big umbrella, with a paper in your fist, like a chairman, while twenty Kaffirs do the work. Just a bit of a tussle now and then to keep you from dropping off. When a Kaffir turns up a diamond, you grab it, and mark it on the timesheet against his name. They've got their own outlandish ones, but we always christen them ourselves-Sixpence, Seven Waistcoats, Shoulder-of-Mutton, Twopenny Trotter-anything you like. When a Kaffir strikes a diamond, he gets a commission, and so does his overseer. I'm afraid I'm going to be getting terrible rich soon. Tell the old man I'll be buying that harmonia yet. They are a knowing lot, though, and if they can get up a dust to smuggle a stone when you're not looking, they will. Then they sell it to the blackleg Boers, and you've got to raise your voice like an advocate to get it back somehow. But the Boers can't do no harm to you with their fists at all-it's playing. They're a dirty lot, wonderful straight like some of the lazy Manx ones, especially Black Tom. When they see us down at the river washing, they say, ' What dirty people the English must be if they have to wash themselves three times a day-we only do it once a week.' When a Kaffir steals a stone we usually court-martial him, but I don't hold with it, as the floggérs on the compound can't be trusted; so I always lick my own niggers, being more kinder, and if anybody does anything against me, they lynch him."

Kate made a little patient sigh and turned away her head, while Philip, in a halting voice, went on-

"Darling Kitty, I amlonging mortal for a sight of your sweet face. When the night comes, and I'll be lying in the huts-boards on the ground, and good canvas, and everything comfortable-says I. to the boys, ' Shut your faces, men, and let a poor chap sleep;' but they never twig the darkness of my meaning. I'll only be wanting a bit of quiet for thinking of . . . . with the stars atwinkling down . She's looking at that one . . . . Shine on my angel . . . ."

"Really, Kate," faltered Philip, "I can't " " Give it to me, then," said Kate.

She was tugging with her trembling hand at the arm of the apple-tree, and the white blossom was raining over her from the rowels of the thin boughs overhead, like silver fish falling from the herring-net. Taking the letter, she glanced over the close-

" darlin Kirry how is the matkral this saison and is the millin doing middling and I wonder is the hens all layin and is the grace gone out of the mares leg yet and how is the owl man and is he still playin hang with the texes Theer is a big chap beer that is strait like him he bath swallowed the owl Book and cant help bring it up agen but dear Kirry no more at present i axpéct to be Home sune bogh, to see u all tho I dent-no azactly With luv your luving swateart peat."

When she had finished the letter, she turned it over in her fingers, and gave another patient little sigh. "You didn't read it as it was spelled, Philip," she said.

"What odds if the spelling is uncertain when the love is as sure as that ? " said Philip.

" Did he write it himself, think you ?" said Kate.

" He signed it, anyway, and no doubt indited it too; but perhaps one of the Gills boys held the pen."

She coloured a little, slipped the letter down her dress into her pocket, and looked ashamed.

  Back index next  

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2008