[from 'The Manxman' 1894]
ON Saturday afternoon he was at Peel. It was a beautiful day; the sun was shining, and the bay was blue and flat and quiet. The tide was down, the harbour was empty of water, but full of smacks with hanging sails and hammocks of nets and lilies of mollags (bladders) up to the mast-heads. A flight of seagulls were fishing in the mud, and swirling through the brown wings of the boats and crying. A flag floated over the ruins of the castle, the church-bells were ringing, and the harbour-masters were abroad in best blue and gold buttons.
On the tilting-ground of the castle the fishermen had gathered, sixteen hundred strong. There were trawlers among them, Manx, Irish, and English, prowling through the crowd, and scooping up the odds and ends of gossip as their boats on the bottom scraped up the little fish. Occasionally they were observed by the herring-fishers, and then there were high words and free fights. " Taking a creep round from Port le Murrey are you, Dan? "-"Thought I'd put a sight on Peel to-day."-" Bad for your complexion, though; might turn it red, I'm thinking."-" Strek me with blood will you? I'd just like you to strek me, begough. I'd put a Union Jack on your face as big as a griddle."
The Governor came, an elderly man, with a formidable air, an aquiline nose, and cheeks pitted with small-pox. Philip introduced the fishermen and told their grievance. Trawling destroyed immature fish, and so contributed to the failure of the fisheries. They asked for power to stop it in the bays of the island, and within three miles of the coast.
"Then draft me a bill with that object, Mr. Christian," said the Governor, and the meeting ended with cheers for His Excellency, shouts for Philip, and mutterings of contempt from the trawlers. "Didn't think there was a man on the island could spake like it."-"But hasn't your fancy-man been rubbing his back agen the college I'd take lil tacks home if I was yourself, Dan."-" Drink much more and it'll be two feet deep inside of you."
Philip was hurrying away under the crumbling portcullis, when a deputation of the fishermen approached him. " What are we owing you, Mr. Christian?" asked their spokesman.
"Nothing," answered Philip.
" We thank you, sir, and you'll be hearing from us again. Meanwhile, a word if you plaze, sir?"
" What is it, men?" said Philip.
" When a young man can spake like yonder, it's a gift, sir, and he's houlding it in trust for something. The ould island's wanting a big man ter'ble bad, and it hasn't seen the like since the days of your own grandfather. Good everin, and thank you-good everin ! "
With that the rough fellows dismissed him at the ferry steps, and he hastened to the market-place, where he had left his horse. On putting up, he had seen Caesar's gig tipped up in the stable-yard. It was now gone, and, without asking questions, he mounted and made towards Ramsev.
He took the old road by the cliffs, and as he cantered and galloped he hummed, and whistled, and sang, and slashed the trees to keep himself from thinking. At the crest of the hill he sighted the gig in front, and at Port Lady he came up with it. Kate was driving and Caesar was nodding and dozing.
"You've been having a great day, Mr. Christian," said Caesar. "Wish I could say the same for myself; but the heart of man is decaitful, sir, and desperately wicked. I'm not one to clap people in the castle and keep them from sea for debts of drink, and they're taking a mane advantage. Not a penny did I get to-day, sir, and many a yellow sovereign owing to me. If I.was like some-now there's that Tom Baby, Glen Meay. He saw Dan the Spy coming from the total meeting last night. 'Taken the pledge, Dan?' says he. ' Yes, I have,' says Dan. ' I'm plazed to hear it,' says he; ' come in and I'll give you a good glass ofrum for it.' And Dan took the rum for taking the pledge, and there he was as drunk as Mackilley in the castle this morning."
Philip listened as he rode, and a half-melancholy, half-mocking expression played on his face. He was thinking of his grandfather, old Iron Christian, brought into relation with his mother's father, Capt. Billy Ballure, of the dainty gentility of Auntie Nan and the unctuous vulgarity of the father of Kate.
Cæsar grumbled himself to sleep at last, and then Philip was alone with the girl, and riding on her side of the gig. She was quiet at first, but a joyous smile lit up her face.
"I was in the castle, too," she said, with a look of pride.
The sun went down over the waters behind them, and cast their brown shadows on the road in front; the twilight deepened, the night came down, the moon rose in their faces; and the stars appeared. They could hear the tramp of the horses' hoofs, the roll of the _gig wheels, the wash and boom of the sea on their left, and the cry of the sea-fowl somewhere beneath. The loveliness and warmth of the autumn night stole over Kate, and she began to keep up a flow of merry chatter.
" I can tell all the sounds of the fields in the darkness. Fly the moonlight? No but with my eyes shut, if you like. Now try me." She closed her eyes and went on: "Do you hear that-that patter like soft rain ! That's oats nearly ripe for harvest. Do you hear that, then-that pit-a-pat, like sheep going by on the street ? That's wheat, just ready. And there-that whirs, whirs, whirs? That's barley."
She opened her eyes: " Don't you think I'm very clever ?"
Philip felt an impulse to lean over the wheel and put his arms about the girl's neck.
"Take care," she cried merrily;. "your horse is shying."
He gazed at her face, lit up in the white moonlight.. " How bright and happy you seem, Kate ! " he said with a shiver; and then he laid one hand on the gig rail.
Her eyelids quivered, her mouth twitched, and she answered gaily, "Why not ? Aren't you ? You ought to be, you know. How glorious to succeed ? It means so much-new things to see, new houses to visit, new pleasures, new friends--"
Her joyous tones broke down in a nervous- laugh at that last word, and he replied, in a faltering voice, " That may be true of the big world over yonder, Kate, but it isn't so in a little island like ours. To succeed here is like going up the tower of Castle Rushen with some one locking the doors on the stone steps behind you. At every storey the room becomes less, until at the top you have only space to stand alone. Then, if you should ever come down again, there's but one way for you-over the battlements with a crash."
She looked up at him with startled eyes, and his own were large and full of trouble. They were going through Kirk Michael by the house of the Deemster, who was ill, and both drew rein and went talowly,. Some dresinas in the garden slashed their broadswords in the night air, and a windmill behind stood out against the moon like agigantic bat. The black shadow of the horses stepped beside them.
" Are you feeling lonely to-night; Philip ? "
"I'm feeling - "
"I'm feeling as if the dead and the living, the living -and the 'dead-oh, Kate, Kate, I don't know what I'mfeeling."
She put her hand caressingly on the top of his hand. "Never mind, dear," she said softly; "I'll stand by you. You shan't be alone."
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2008