[from 'The Manxman' 1894]

X

GRANNIE saw nothing of Philip that night. He went home tingling with pleasure, and yet overwhelmed with shame. Sometimes he told himself that he was no better than a Judas, and sometimes that Pete might never come back. The second thought rose oftenest. It crossed his mind like a ghostly gleam. He half wished to believe it. When he counted up the odds against Pete's return, his pulse beat quick. Then be hated himself. He was in torment. But under his distracted heart there was a little chick of frightened joy, like a young cuckoo hatched in a wagtail's nest. After many days, in which no further news had come from Pete, Kate received this brief letter from Philip : ,

"I am coming to see you this evening. Have something of grave importance to tell you."

It as afternoon, and Kate ran upstairs, hurried on her best frock, and came down to help Nancy to gather apples in the orchard. Black Tom was there, new thatching the back of the house, and Csar was making sugganes (straw rope) for him with a twister. There was a soft feel of autumn in the air, pigeons were cooing in the ledges of the mill-house gable, and everything wa, luminous and tranquil. Kate bad climbed to the fork of a tree; and was throwing apples into Nancy's apron, when the orchard gate clicked, and she uttered a little cry of joy unawares as Philip. entered " To cover this, she pretended to be falling, find he ran to help her. "Oh, it's nothing,'? she said. "I thought the bough was breaking. So it's you 1" Then, in a clear voice, " Is.your apron full, Nancy ? Yes ? Bring another basket, then ; the white one with the handles. Did you come Laxey way by the coach ? Rode over, eh ? Nancy, do you really think we'll have sugar enough for all these Keswicks ?"

" Good evenin', Mr. Christian, sir," said Csar. And Black Tom, from the ladder on the roof, nodded his wide straw brim. "Thatching afresh, Mr. Cregeen ?."

"Covering it up, sir ; covering it up. May the Lord cover our sins up likewise, or how shall we cover ourselves from His avenging wrath ?"

"How vexing!" said Kate, from the tree. "Half of them get bruised, and will be good for nothing but preserving. They drop at the first touch-so ripe, you see."

" May we all be ripe for the great gathering, and good for precerving, too," said Csar. "Look at that big one, now-knotted like a blacksmith's muscles, but it'll go rotten as fast as the least lilone of the lot. It's taiching us a lesson, sir, that we all do fall-big mountoins as aisy as lil cocks. This world is changeable." Philip was not listening, but looking up at Kate, with a face of half-frightened tenderness.

"Do you know," she said, "I was afraid you must be ill again-jour apron, Nancy-that was foolish, wasn't it ?"

"No; I have been well enough," said Philip.,

Kate looked at him. "Is it somebody else?" she asked. " I got your letter."

"Can I help ?" said Philip.

"What is it? I'm sure there's something," said Kate.

"Set your foot here," he said. "Let me down, I feel giddy."

"Slowly, then. Hold by this one. Give me your hand." Their fingers touched, and communicated fire.

"Why don't'you tell me l'' she said, with a passionate tightening of his hand. "It's bad news, isn't it ? Are you going away?"

"Somebody who went away will never come back," he answered. "Is it-Pete ?"

"Poor Pete is gone," said Philip. Her throat fluttered. " Gone ?"

" He is dead," said Philip.

She tottered; but drew herself up quickly. "Stop!" she said. "Let me make sure. Is there no mistake? Is it true ?"

"Too true."

"I can bear the truth now-but afterwards--to-night--to-morrow I. -in the morning it might kill me if--.--.-"

"Pete is dead, Kate; he died at Kimberley." "Philip !"

She burst into a wild fit of hysterical weeping, and buried her face in his breast.

He put his arms about her, thinking to soothe her. "There! be brave ! Hold yourself firm. It's a terrible blow. I was too sudden. My poor girl. My brave girl! "

She clung to him like a terrified child; the tears came from under her eyelids tightly closed; the flood-gates of four years' reserve went down in a moment, and she kissed him on the lips.

And, throbbing with bliss and a blessed relief from four years' hypocrisy and treason, he kissed her back, and they smiled through their tears.

Poor Pete ! Poor Pete ! Poor Pete !

 


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