[from 'The Manxman' 1894]
NEXT morning the letter came from Caesar inviting him to the Melliah, and then he thought of Kate more tenderly. She would suffer, she would cry-it would make his heart bleed to see her; but must he for a few tears put by the aims of a lifetime? If only Pete had been alive ! If only Pete were yet to come home ! He grew hot and ashamed when he remembered the time, so lately past, when the prayer of his secret heart would have been different. It was so easy now to hate himself for such evil impulses.
Philip decided to go to the Melliah. It would give him the chance he wanted of breaking off the friendship finally. More than friendship there had never been, except secretly, and that could not count. He knew he was deceiving himself ; he felt an uneasy sense of loss of honour and a sharp pang of tender love as often as Kate's face rose up before him.
On the day of the Melliah he set off early, riding by way of St. John's that he might inquire at Kirk Michael about the Deemster. He found the great man's house a desolate place. The gate was padlocked, and he had to clamber over it; the dresinas slashed above him going down the path, and the fallen leaves encumbered his feet. At the door, which was shut, he rang, and before it was opened to him an old woman put her untidy head out of a little window at the side.
"It's scandalous the doings that's here, sir," she whispered. "The Dempster's gone into 'sterics with the drink, and the lil farmer fellow, Billiam Cowley, is over and giving him as much as he wants, and driving everybody away."
" Can I speak to him? "' said Philip.
" Billiam ? It isn't fit. He'll blackguard you mortal, and the Dempster himself is past it. Just sitting with the brandy and drinking and drinking, and ateing nothing; but that dirt brought up on the Curragh shouting for beefstakes morning and night, and having his dinner laid on a beautiful new white sheet as clane as a bed."
From the ambush of a screen before an open door, Philip looked into the room where the Deemster was killing himself. The window shutters were up to keep out the daylight; candles were burning in the necks of bottles on the mantelpiece; a fire smouldered in a grate littered with paper and ashes; a coarse-featured man was eating ravenously at the table, a chop-bone in his fingers, and veins like cords moving on his low forehead-and the Deemster himself, judge of his island since the death of Iron Christian, was propped up in a chair, with a smoking glass on a stool beside him, and a monkey perched on his shoulder. " Turn them out, neck and crop, Dempster; the women are all for robbing a man," said the fellow; and a husky, eaten-out voice replied to him with a grunt and a laugh, "Hm ! That's only what you're doing yourself, then, you rascal, and if I'd let the right one in long ago you wouldn't be here now-nor I neither, would I, Jacko ? " The tail, of the monkey flapped on the Deemster's breast, and Philip crept away with a shiver.
The sun was shining brightly outside the house, and the air was fresh and sweet. Remounting his horse, which was neighing and stamping at the gate, Philip rode hard to bring back a sense of warmth. At the " Fairy" he alighted and put up, and saw Grannie, who was laying tables in the mill.
"I'm busy as Trap's wife," she said, "and if you were the Govenar itself you wouldn't get lave to spake to me now. Put a sight on himself on the field yonder, the second meadow past the Bishop's bridge, and come back with the boys to supper."
Philip found the Melliah field. Two-score workers, men, women, and children, a cart and a pair of horses were scattered over it. Where the corn had been cut the day before the stubble had been woven overnight into a white carpet of cobwebs, which neither sun, or step of man had yet dispelled. There were the smell of the straw, the cawing of the rooks in the glen, the hissing to the breeze of the barley still standing, the swish of the scythe and the going of the sickle, the bending and rising of the shearers, the swaying of the binders dragging the sheaves, the gluck of the wheels of the cart, the merry head of a child peeping out of a stock like a young bird out of the broken egg, and a girl in scarlet, whom Philip recognised, standing at the farthest hedge, and waving the corn band with which she was tieing to some one below.
Philip vaulted into the field, and was instantly seized by every woman working in it, except Kate, tied up with the straw ropes, and only liberated on paying the toll of an intruder.
"But I've come to work," he protested, and Cæsar, who was plot ting the last rigs of the harvest, paired him with Kate and gave him a sickle. "He's a David, he'll smite down his thousands," said Cæsar. Then cocking his eye up the field, " the Ballabeg for leader," he cried, "he's a plate-ribbed man. And let ould Maggie take the butt along with him. Jemmy the Red, for the after-rig, and Robbie to follow Mollie with the cart. Now ding-dong, boys, bend your backs and down with it."
Kate had not looked up when Philip came into the field, but she had seen him come, and she gave a little start when he took his place in his shirt-sleeves beside her. He used some conventional phrases which she scarcely answered, and then nothing was heard but the sounds of the sickle and the corn. She worked steadily for some time, and he looked up at her at intervals with her round bare arms and supple waist and firm-set foot and tight red stocking. Two butterflies tumbling in the air played around her sun-bonnet and a lady-clock settled on her wrist.
Time was called for rest as Nancy Joe came through the gate bringing a basket with bottles and a can.
"The belly's a malefactor that forgets former kindness," said Cæsar ; " ate and drink."
Then the men formed a group about the ale, the older women drank tea, the children making bands were given butter-milk, and the younger women with babes went cooing and clucking to the hedge where the little ones lay nuzzled up and unattended, some asleep in shawls, some awake on their backs and grabbing at the wondrous forests of marguerites towering up beside them, and all crying with one voice at sight of the breast, which the mothers were as glad to give as they to take.
The rooks cawed in the glen, there was a hot hum of bees, and a company of starlings passed overhead, glittering in the sunlight like the scales of a herring.
"They're taiching us a lesson," said Cæsar. "They're going together over the sea; but there's someones on earth would sooner go to heaven itself solitary, and take joy if they found themselves all alone and the cock of the walk there."
Kate and Philip stood and talked where they had been shearing quietly, simply, without apparent interest, and meanwhile the workers discussed them.
First the men: " He works his single' like a man though."-" A stout boy anyway; give him practice and he'd shear many a man in bed." Then the women! " She's looking as bright as a pewter pat, and she's all so pretty as the Govenar's daughter too."-" Got a good heart, though. Only last week she had word of Pete, and look at the scarlet perricut." Finally both men and women : " Lave her alone, mother; it's that Dross that's wasting the woman."-" Well, if I was a man I'd know my tack."-" Wouldn't trust. It comes with Cæsar anyway; the Lord prospers him ; she'll have her pickings. Nothing bates religion in this world. It's like going to the shop with an ould Manx shilling-you get your pen'orth of taffy and twelve pence out."-"Lend'! a hand with the jough then, boy. None left ! Aw, Cæsar's wonderful religious, but there's never much lavings of ale with him."
Cæsar was' striding through the stocks past Philip and Kate.
" Will it thrash well, Mr. Cregeen ? " said Philip.
" Eight bolls to the acre maybe, but no straw to spake of, sir;" said Cæsar. "Now, boys, let the weft rest on the last end, finish our work."
The workers fell to again, and the sickle of the leader sang round his head as he hacked and blew and sent off his breath in spits until the green grass springing up behind him left only a triangular corner of yellow corn. Fore-rig and the after-rig took a tussle together, and presently nothing was standing of all the harvest of Glenmooar but one small shaft of ears a yard wide or less. Then the leaders stopped, and all the shearers of the field came up and cast down their sickles into the soil in a close circle, making a sheaf of crescent moons.
"Now for the Melliah," said Cæsar. "Who's to be Queen !" There. was a cry for Kate, and she sailed forward buoyantly, fresh still, warm with her work, and looking like the after-glow from the sunset in the lengthening shadows from the west.
"Strike them from their legs, Kirry," cried Nancy Joe, and Kate drew up one of the sickles, swept her left arm over the standing corn, and at a single stroke of her right brought the last ears to the ground. Then there was a great shout. " Hurrah.for the Melliah ! " It rang through the glen and echoed in the mountains. Grannie heard it in the valley, and said to herself, " Cæsar's Melliah's took." "Well, we've gathered the ripe corn, praise His name," said Caesar, " but what shall be done at the great gathering far unripe Christians ?"
Kate lifted her last sheaf and tied it about with a piece of blue ribbon, and Philip plucked the cushag (the ragwort) from the hedge, and gave it her to put in the band.
This being done, the Queen of the Meliiah stepped back, feeling Philip's eyes following her, while the oldest woman shearer came forward.
"I've a crown-piece here that's being lying in my pocket long enough, Joney," said Cæsar with an expansive air, and he gave the woman her accustomed dole.
She was a timid, shrinking creature, having a face walled with wrinkles, and wearing a short blue petticoat, showing heavy dull boots like a man's, and thick black stockings.
Then the young fellows went racing over the field, vaulting the, stocks, stretching a straw rope for the girls to jump over, heightening and tightening it to trip them up, and slackening and twirling; it to make them skip. And the girls were falling with a laugh, and leaping up again and flying off like the dust, tearing their frocks and dropping their sun-bonnets as if the barley grains they had been reaping had got into their blood.
In the midst of this maddening frolic, while Cæsar and the others were kneeling behind the barley stack, Kate snatched Philip's hat from his bead and shot like a gleam into the depths of the glen.
Philip dragged up his coat by one of its arms and fled after her.
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2008