[from 'The Manxman' 1894]
AT the sound of Kate's crying, Caesar had thrown away the twister and come close to listen, and Black Tom had dropped from the thatch. Nancy ran back with the basket, and Grannie came hurrying from the house.
Caesar lifted both hands solemnly. Now, you that are women, control yourselves," said he, "and listen while I spake. Peter Quilliam's dead in Kimberley."
" Goodness mercy! " cried Grannie. " Lord alive ! " cried Nancy.
And the two women went indoors, threw their aprons over their heads, and rocked themselves in their seats.
"Aw boy veen ! boy veen !"
Kate came tottering in, ghostly white, and the women fell to comforting her, thereby making more tumult with their soothing moans than Kate with her crying.
"Chut ! Put a good face on it, woman," said Black Tom. "A whippa of a girl like you will be gettin another soon,. and singing, ' Hail, Smiling Morn !' with the best."-
"Shame on you, man. Are you as drunk as Mackillya ?" cried Nancy. "Your own grandson, too!"
"Never another for Kate, anyway," wept Grannie. "Aw boy veen, aw boy veen ! "
"Maybe he had another himself, who knows? " said Black Tom. " Out of sight out of mind, and these sailor lads have a rag on lots of bushes."
Kate was helped to her room upstairs, Philip sat down in the kitchen, the news spread like a curragh fire, and the bar-room was full in five minutes. In the midst of all stood Caesar, solemn and expansive.
"He turned his herring yonder night when he left good-bye to the rour of us," he said. "My father did the same the night he was lost running rum for Whitehaven, and I've never seen a man do it and live."
"It's forgot at you, father," wept Grannies It was Mr: Philip that turned it. Aw boy veen ! boy veen ! "
" How could that be, mother ? " said Caesar. "Mr. Philip isn't dead."
But Grannie heard no more. She was busy with the consolations of half-a-dozen women who were gathered around her. "I dreamt it the night he sailed. I heard a cry, most terrible, I did. 'Father,' says I, 'what's that' It was the same as if ? had seen the poor boy coming to his end untimeously. And I didn't get a wink on the night."
" Well, he has gone to the rest that remaineth," said Caesar. "The grass perisheth, and the worm devoureth, and we'll all be in heaven with him soon."
'" God forbid, father; don't talk of such dreadful things," said Grannie, flapping her apron. "Do you say his mother, ma'am ? Is she in life? No, but under the sod, I don't know the years. Information of the lungs, poor thing."
" I've known him since I was a slip of a boy," said one. " It was whip-top time-no, it was peg-top time-"
" I saw him the morning he sailed," said another. " I was standI' tag so-"
"Mr. Christian saw him last," moaned Grannie, and the people in the bar-room peered through at Philip with awe.
"I felt like a father for the lad myself," said Caesar, "he was always my white-headed boy, and I stuck to him with life. He desarved it, too. Maybe his birth was a bit mischancy, but what's the ould saying, ' Don't tell me what I was, tell me what I am.' And Pete was that civil with the tongue-a civiller young man never was."
Black Tom tsht and spat. "Why, you were shouting out of mercy at the lad, and knocking him about like putty. He wouldn't get lave to live with you, and that's why he went away."
" You're bad to forget, Thomas-I've always noticed it,") said Caesar.
"You'll be putting the bell about, and praiching his funeral, eh, Caesar ?" said somebody.
"'Deed, yes, man, Sabbath first," said Caesar.
"That's impossible, father," said Grannie. " How's the girl to have her black ready ?"
"Sunday week, then, or Sunday fortnight, or the Sunday after the Melliah (harvest-home)," said Caesar; "the crops are waiting for saving, but a dead man is past it. Oh, I'll be faithful, I'll give it theta straight, it's a time for spaking like a dying man to dying men ;I'll take a tex' that'll be a lesson and a warning, ' Ho, every one that thirsteth "
Black Tom tsht and spat again. "I wouldn't, Cæsar; they'll think you're going to trate them," he muttered.
Philip was asked for particulars, and he brought out a letter. Jonaique Jelly, John the Clerk, and Johnny the Constable had come in by this time. "Read it, Jonaique," said Caesar.
" A clane pipe first," said Black Tom. "Aren't you smooking on it, Cæsar ? And isn't there a croppa of rum anywhere? No! Not so much as a plate of crackers and a drop of tay going ! Is it to be a totaller's funeral then ?"
" This is no time for feasting to the refreshment of our carnal bodies," said Caesar severely, "It's a time for praise and prayer." "I'll pud up a word or dwo," said the Constable meekly.
" Masther Niplightly," said Caesar, "don't be too ready to show your gift. It's vanity. I'll engage in prayer myself." And Cæsar offered praise for all departed in faith and fear. "
"Caesar is nod a man of a liberal spirit, bud he is powerful in prayer, dough," whispered the Constable.
" He isn't a prodigal son, if that's what you mane," said Black Tom. "Never seen him shouting after anybody with a pint, anyway."
" Now for the letter, Jonaique," said Caesar.
It was from one of the Gills' boys who had sailed with Pete, and hitherto served as his letter-writer.
" Respected Sir,"' read Jonaique, " ' with pain and sorrow I write these few lines, to tell you of poor Peter Quilliam "'
"Aw boy veen, boy veen !" broke in Grannie.
" 'Knowing you were his friend in the old island, and the one be talked of mostly, except the girl-"
" Boy ve-. "
" Hush, woman."
" ' He made good money out here, at the diamond mines -' "
" Never a yellow sovereign he sent to me, then,'' said Black Tom, nor the full of your fist of ha'pence either. What's the use of getting grand-childers ?"
Cæsar waved his hand. "Go on, Jonaique. It's bad when the deceitfulness of riches is getting the better of a man."
"Where was I ? Oh, 'good money-' 'Yet he was never for taking joy in it "'
" More money, more cares," muttered Caesar.
" But talking and talking, and scheming for ever for coming home."'
" Ah ! home is a full cup," moaned Grannie. "It was a show the way that lad was fond of it. ' Give we a plate of mate, bolstered with cabbage, and what do I care for their buns and sarves, Grannie,' says he. Aw, boy veen, boy bogh ! "
" What does the nightingale care for a golden cage when he can get a twig ? " said Caesar.
" Is the boy's chest home yet ?" asked John the Clerk.
" There's something about it here," said Jonaique, "if people ould only let a man get on."
" It's mine," said Black Tom.
" We'll think of that by-and-bye," said Caesar, waving his hand to Joniaque.
" ' He had packed his chest for going, when four blacklegs, who had been hanging round the compound, tempting and plaguing the Kairs, made off with a bag of stones. Desperate gang, too; so nobody was running to be sent after them. But poor Peter, being always a bit bull-necked, was up to the office in a jiffy, and Might he go ? And off in chase in the everin' with the twenty Kaffirs of his own company to help him-not much of a lot neither, and suspected of dealing diamonds with the blacklegs times; but Peter always swore their love for him was getting thicker and stronger every day like sour cream. " The captain's love has been their theme, and shall be till they die," said Peter."'
" He drank up the Word like a thirsty land the rain," said Caesar. " Peter Quilliam and I had mortal joy of each other. 'Good-bye, father,' says he, and he was shaking me by the hand ter'ble. But go on, Jonaique."
"'That was four months ago, and a fortnight since eight of his Kaffirs came back."'
" Aw dear ! " " Well, well ! " " Lord-a-massy ! " " Hush ! ''
" ' They overtook the blacklegs far up country, and Peter tackled them. But they had Winchester repeaters, and Peter's boys didn't know the muzzle of a gun from the neck of a gin-bottle. So the big man of the gang cocked his piece at Peter, and shouted at him like a high bailiff, "You'd better go back the way you came." "Not immajetly," said Peter, and stretched him. Then there was smoke like a smithy on hooping-day, and "To your heels, boys," shouted Peter. And if the boys couldn't equal Peter with their hands, they could bate him with their toes, and the last they heard of him, he was racing behind them with the shots of the blacklegs behind him, and shouting mortal, " Oh, oh ! All up! I'm done ! Home and tell, boys ! Oh, oh." ' "
" Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy. When I fall I shall arise. Selah," said Caesar.
Amid the tumult of moans which followed the reading, Philip, sitting with his head on his hand by the ingle, grew hot and cold with the thought that after all there was no actual certainty that Pete was dead. Nobody had seen him die, nobody had buried him ; the story of the returned Kaffirs might be a lie to cover their desertion of Pete, their betrayal of him, or their secret league with the thieving Boers. At one awful moment Philip asked himself how he had ever believed the letter. Perhaps be had wanted to believe it.
Nancy Joe touched him on the shoulder. "Kate is waiting for a word with you alone, sir," she said, and Philip crossed the kitchen into the little parlour beyond, chill with china and bowls of sea-eggs and stuffed sea-birds.
" He's feeling it bad," said Nancy.
Never been the same since Pete went to the Cape," said Caesar. "I don't know for sure what good lads are going to it for," moaned Grannie. " And calling it Good Hope of 'all names! Died of a bullet in his head, too, aw dear, aw dear ! Discussion of the brain it's like. And look at them black-heads too, as naked as my hand, I'll go bail. I hate the nasty dirts ! Cæsar may talk of one flesh and brethren and all to that, but for my part I'm not used of black brothers, and as for black angels in heaven, it's ridiculous."
" When you're all done talking I'll finish the letter," said Jonaique. " They can't help it, Mr. Jelly, the women can't help it," said Caesar. "'Respected Sir, I must now close, but we are strapping up the chest of the deceased, just as he left it, and sending it to catch the steamer, the Johannesburg, leaving Cape Town Wednesday fort-night-"'
" Hm ! Johannesburg. I'll meet her at the quay-it's my duty to meet her," said Cæsar.
"And I'll board her in the bay," shouted Black Tom.
" Thomas Quilliam," said Caesar, " it's borne in on my spirit that the devil of greed is let loose on you."
" Caesar Cregeen, don't make a nose of wax of me," bawled Tom, " and don't think because you're praiching a bit that religion is going to die with you. Your head's swelling tremenjous, and you won't be able to sleep soon without somebody to tickle your feet. You'll be forgiving sins next, and taking money for absolution, and these ones will be making a pope of you and paying you pence. Pope Cæsar, the publican, in his chapel hat and white choker! But that chiss is mine, and if there's law in the land I'll have it."
With that Black Tom swept out of the house, and Cæsar wiped his eyes.
" No use smoothing a thistle, Mr. Cregeen," said Joniaque soothingly.
"I've a conscience void of offence," said Caesar. "I can only follow the spirit's leading. But when Belial -"
He was interrupted by a most mournful cry of "Look here! Aw, look, then, look ! "
Nancy was coming out of the back-kitchen with something between the tips of her fingers. It was a pair of old shoes, covered with dirt and cobwebs.
"These were his wearing boots," she said, and she put them on the counter.
"Dear heart, yes, the very ones,". said Grannie. "Poor boy, they'd move a heart of stone to see them. Something to remember him by, anyway. Many a mile his feet walked in them; but they're resting now in Abraham's bosom."
Then Caesar's voice rose loud over the doleful tones around the counter. " 'Vital Spark of Heavenly Flame'-raise it, Mr. Niplightly. Pity we haven't Peter and his fiddle here-he played with life."
" I can'd sing to-day, having a cold, bud I'll whistle id," said the Constable.
" Pitch it in altoes, then," said Cæsar. " I'm a bit of a base myself, but not near so base as Peter."
Meanwhile a little drama of serious interest was going on upstairs. There sat Kate before the looking-glass, with flushed cheeks and quivering mouth. The low drone of many voices came to her through the floor. Then a dull silence and one voice, and Nancy Joe coming and going between the kitchen and bedroom.
"What are they doing now, Nancy?" said Kate.
"First one's praying, and then another's praying," said Nancy. " Lord-a-massy, thinks I, it'll be my turn next, and what'll I say ? "
" Where's Mr. Christian ? "
" Gone into the parlour. I whispered him you wanted him alone."
"You never said that, Nancy," said Kate, at Nancy's reflection in the glass.
" Well, it popped out," said Nancy.
Kate went down, with a look of softened sorrow, and Philip, without lifting his eyes, began bemoaning Pete. They would never know his like-so simple, so true, so brave; never, never.
He was fighting against his shame at first seeing the girl after that kiss, which seemed to him now like treason at the mouth of a grave. But, with the magic of a woman's art, Kate consoled him. He had one great comfort-he had been a loyal friend; such fidelity, such constancy, such affection, forgetting the difference of place, of education-everything.
Philip looked up at last, and there was the lovely face with its beaming eyes. He turned to go, and she said, softly "How we shall miss you!"
" Why so?" said Philip.
We can't expect to see you so often now-now that you've not the same reason for coming."
"I'll be here on Sunday," said Philip.
" Then you don't intend to desert us yet-not just yet, Philip ?"
" Never ! " said Philip.
" Well, good-night ! Not that way-not by the porch. Goodnight! "
As Philip went down the road in the darkness, he heard the words of the hymn that was being sung inside
" Thy glory why didst Thou enshrine
In such a clod of earth as mine,
And wrap Thee in my clay."
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2008