[from 'The Manxman' 1894]
ON the day when the last of the harvest is saved in the Isle of Man, the farmer gives a supper to his farm-people, and to the neighbours who have helped him to cut and house it. This supper, attended' by simple and beautiful ceremonies, is called the Melliah. . The parson may be asked to it, and if there is a friend of position and free manners, he also is invited. Caesar's Melliah fell within a week of the rope-making in the mill, and partly to punish Kate, partly to honour himself,.he asked Philip to be present.
"He'll come," thought Kate with secret joy, "I'm sure he'll come;" and in this certainty, when the day of Melliah came, she went up to her room to dress for it. She was to win Philip that day or lose him for ever. It was to be her trial day-she knew that. She was to fight as for her life, and gain or lose everything. It was to be a battle royal between all the conventions of life, all the network of female custom, all the inferiority of a woman's position as God himself had suffered it to be, and one poor girl.
She began to cry, but, struggling with her sadness, she dashed the tears from her glistening eyes. What was there to cry about 4 Philip wanted to love her, and he should, he must.
It was a glorious day, and not yet more than two o'clock. Nancy had washed up the. dinner things, the fire-irons were polished, the boots and spare whips were put up on the lath, the old hats like lines of heads on a city gate were hung round the kitchen walls, the hearthrug was down, the turf was piled up on the fire, the kettle was singing from the slowrie; and the whole house was taking its afternoon nap.
Kate's bedroom looked over the orchard and across the stackyard !up the glen. She could seethe barley stack growing in the haggard; the laden cart coming down the glen road with the driver three decks up over the mare, now half smothered and looking snddénly little, like a snail under the gigantic load; and beyond the long meadow and the Bishop's bridge, the busy fields dotted with the yellow stooks and their black shadows like a castle's studded doors, When she had thrown off her blue-black dress to wash, her arms and shoulders and neck were bare. She caught sight of herself in the glass, and laughed with delight. The years had brought her a fuller flow of life. She was beautiful, and she knew it. And Philip knew it too, but he should know it to-day as he had never known it before. She folded her arms in their roundness over her bosom in its fulness and walked up and down the little room over the sheepskin rugs, under the turfy scraas, glowing in the joy of blooming health and conscious loveliness. Then she began to dress.
She took from a drawer two pairs of stockings, one black and the other red, and weighed their merits with moral gravity-which ? The red had it, and then came the turn of the boots. There was a grand new pair, with countless buttons, two toecaps like two flowers, and an upward curve like the arm of a glove. She tried them on, bent back and forward, but relinquished them with a sigh in favour of plain shoes cut under the ankles and tied with tape.
Her hair was a graver matter. Its tangled curls had never satisfied her. She tried all means to bring them into subjection ; but the roll on top was ridiculous, and the roll behind was formal. She attempted long waves over the temples. It was impossible. With a lash-comb she dragged her hair back to its natural lawlessness, and when it fell on her forehead, and over her ears, and around her white neck in little knowing rings that came and went, and peeped out and slid back, like kittens at hide-and-seek, she laughed and was content.
From a recess covered by a shawl running on a string she took down her bodice. It was a pink blouse, loose over the breast, like hills of red sand on the shore, and loose, too, over the arms, but tight at the wrist. When she put it on it lit up her head like a gleam from the sunset, and her eyes danced with delight.
The skirt was a print, with a faint pink flower, the sash was a band of cotton of the colour of the bodice, and then came the solemn problems of the throat.' It was round, and full, and soft, and like a tower. She would have loved to leave it bare, but dared not. Out of a drawer under the looking-glass she took a string of pearls. They were a present from Kimberley, and they hung over her fingers a moment and then slipped back. A white silk handkerchief, with a watermark, was chosen instead. She tied it in a sailor's knot, with the ends flying loose, and the triangular corner lying down her back.
Last of all, she took out of a bog a broad white straw hat, like an byster shell, with a silver-grey ribbon, and a sweeping ostrich feather. She looked at it a moment, blew on it, plucked at its ribbon, lifted it over her head, held it at poise there, dropped it gently on to her hair, stood back from the glass to see it, and finally tore it off and sent it skimming on to the bed.
The substitute was her everyday sun-bonnet, which had been lying on the floor by the press. It was also of pale pink, with spots on its print like little shells on a big scallop. When she had tossed it over her black curls, leaving the strings to fall on her bosom, she could not help but laugh aloud.
After all, she was dressed exactly the same as on other days of life, except Sunday, only smarter, perhaps, and fresher maybe.
The sun-bonnet was right though, and she began to play with it. It was so full of play; it lent itself to so many moods. It could speak; it could say anything. She poked it to a point, as girls do when the sun is hot, by closing its mouth over the tip of her nose, leaving only a slumberous dark cave visible, through which her black eyes gleamed and her eyelashes shone. She tied the strings under her chin, and tipped the bonnet back on to her neck, as girls will when the breeze is cool, leaving her hair uncovered, her mouth twitching merrily, and her head like a nymph-head in an aureole. She took it off and tossed it on her arm, the strings still knotted, swinging it like a basket, then wafting it like a fan, and walking as she did so to and fro in the room, the floor creaking, her print frock crinkling, and she herself laughing with the thrill of passion vibrating and of imagined things to come.
Then she went downstairs with a firm and buoyant step, her fresh lithe figure aglow with young blood and bounding health.
At the gate of the "haggard " she met Nancy Joe coming out of the wasbhouse.
" Lord save us alive ! " exclaimed Nancy. " If I ever wanted to be a man until this day !"
Kate kissed and hugged her, then fled away to the Melliah field.
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2008