[from 'The Manxman' 1894]
OLD Mannanin, the magician, according to his wont, had sur. rounded his island with mist that day, and, in the helpless void of things unrevealed, a steamship bound for Liverpool came with engines slacked some points north of her course, blowing her fog-horn over the breathless sea with that unearthly yell which must surely be the sound whereby the devil summons his legions out of chaos.
Presently something dropping through the dense air settled for a moment on the damp rope of the companion ladder, and one of the passengers recognised it.
" My gough ! It's a bird, a sparrow," he cried.
At the same moment there was a rustle of wind, the mist lifted, and a great round shoulder rose through the white gauze, as if it had been the ghost of a mountain.
" That's the Isle of Man," the passenger shouted, and there was a cry of incredulity. " It's the Calf, I'm telling you, boys. - Lave it to me to know." And instantly the engines were reversed.
The passenger, a stalwart fellow, with a look as of pallor under a tawny tan, walked the deck in a fever of excitement, sometimes shouting in a cracked voice, sometimes laughing huskily, and at last breaking down in a hoarse gurgle like a sob.
" Can't you put me ashore, capt'n ?"
" Sorry I can't, sir, we've lost time already."
There was a dog with him, a little, misshapen, ugly creature, and he lifted it up in his arms and hugged it, and called it by blusterous swear names, with noises of inarticulate affection. Then he went down to his berth in the second cabin and opened a little box of letters, and took them out one by one, and leaned up to the port to read them. He had read them before, and he knew them by heart, but he traced the lines with his broad forefinger, and spelled the words one by one. And as he did so he laughed aloud, and then cried to himself, and then laughed once more. " She is well and happy, and looking lovely, and, if she does not write, don't think she is forgetting you."
" God bless her. And God bless him, too. God bless them both I " He went up on deck again, for he could not rest in one place long. There was a breeze now, and he filled his lungs and blew and blew. The island was dying down over the sea in a pale light of silver grey. An engineman and a stoker were leaning over the bulwark to cool themselves.
" Happy enough now, sir, eh !"
"Happy as a sand-boy, mate, only mortal hungry. Tiffin, you say? Aw, the heart has its hunger same as anything else, and mine has been on short commons these five years and better. See that island there, lying like a salmon gull atop of the water ? Looks as if she might dip under it, doesn't she 1 That's my home, my native land, as the man says, and only three weeks ago I wasn't looking to see the thundering ould thing again; but God is good, you see, and I'm middling fit for all. I'm a Manxman myself, mate, and I've got a lil Manx woman that's waiting for me yonder. It's only an ould shirt I'm bringing her to patch, as the saying is, but she'll be that joyful you never seen. It's bad to take a woman by surprise, though-these nervous creatures-'sterics, you see-I'll send her a tallygraph from the Stage. My sakes! the joy she'll be taking of that boy, too I He'll be getting sixpence for himself and a drink of butter-milk. It's always the may of these poor lil things -can't stand no good news at all-people coming home and the like-not much worth, these women-crying reglar-can't help it. Well, you see, they're tender-bearteder than us, and when anybody's been five years . . . Be Bough, we're making way, though ! The island's going under, for sure. Or is it my eyes that isn't so clear since my bit of a bullet-wound ! Aw, God is good tremenjous !" The breaking voice stopped suddenly, and the engine-men turned about, but the passenger was stumbling down the cabin stairs.
" If ever a man came back from the dead it's that one," said both men together.
END OF PART II.
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2008