[from 'The Manxman' 1894]
PHILIP'S way home lay through the town, but he made a circuit of the country, across Onchan, so heartsick was he, so utterly choked with bitter feelings. He felt as if all the angels and devils together must be making a mock at him. The thing he had worked for through five heavy years, the end he had aimed at, the goal he bad fought for, was his already-his for the stretching out of his hand. Yet now that it was his, he could not have it. Oh, the mockery of his fate ! Oh, the irony of his life ! It was shrieking, it was frantic
Then his bolder spirit seemed to say, "What is all this childish fuming about ? Fortune comes to you with both hands full. Be bold, and you may have both the wish of your soul and the desire of your heart-both the Deemstership and Kate."
It was impossible to believe that. If he married Kate, the Governor would not recommend him as Deemster. Had he not admitted that he stood in some fear of the public opinion of the island ? And was it not conceivable that, besides the unselfish interest which the Governor had shown in him, there was even a personal one that would operate more powerfully than fear of the old-fashioned Manx conventions to prevent any recommendation of the husband of the wrong woman? At one moment a vague memory rose before Philip, as he crossed the fields, of the lunch at Government House, of the Governor's wife and daughter, of their courtesy and boundless graciousness. At the next moment he had drawn up sharply, with pangs of self-contempt, hating himself, loathing himself, swearing at himself for a mean-souled ingrate, as he kicked up the grass and the turf beneath it. But the idea had taken root. He could not help it ; the Governor's interest went for nothing in his reckoning.
" What a fool you are, Philip," something seemed to whisper out of the darkest corner of his conscience; "take the Deemstership first, and marry Kate afterwards." . But it was impossible to think of that either. Say it could be done by any arts of cunning or duplicity, what then I Then there were the high walls of custom and prejudice to surmount. Philip remembered the garden-party, and saw that they could never, be surmounted. The Deemster who slapped the conventions in the-face would suffer for it. He would be taboo to half the life of the island-in public an official, in private a recluse. An icy picture rose before his mind's eye of the woman who would be his wife in her relations with the ladies he had just left. She might be their superior in education, certainly in all true planners, and in natural grace and beauty, in sweetness and charm, their mistress beyond a dream of comparison. But they would never forget that she was the daughter of a country innkeeper, and every little cobble in the rickety pyramid, even from the daughter of the innkeeper in the town, would look down on her as from a throne.
He could see them leaving their cards at his door and driving hurriedly off. They must do that much. It was the bitter pill which the Deemster's doings made them swallow. Then he could see his wife sitting alone, a miserable woman, despised, envied, isolated, shut off ' from her own class by her marriage with the Deemster, and from his class by the Deemster's marriage with her. Again, he could see himself too powerful to offend, too dangerous to ignore, going out on his duties without cheer, and returning to his wife without company. Finally, he remembered his father and his mother, and he could not help but picture himself sitting at home with Kate five years after their marriage, when the first happiness of each other's society had faded, had staled, had turned to the wretchedness of starvation in its state of siege. Or perhaps going out for walks with her, just themselves, always themselves only, they two together, this evening, last evening, and to-morrow evening; through the streets crowded by visitors, down the harbour where the fishermen congregate, across the bridge and over the head between sea and sky; people bowing to them respectfully, rigidly, freezingly ; people nudging and whispering and looking their way. Oh, God, what end could come of such an abject life but that, beginning by being unhappy, they should descend to being bad as well?
"What a fuss you are making of things," said the voice again, but more loudly. "This hubbub only means that you can't have your cake and eat it. Very well, take Kate, and let the Deemstership go to perdition."
There was not much comfort in that counsel, for it made no reckoning with the certainty that, if marriage with Kate would prevent him from being Deemster, it would prevent him from being anything in the Isle of Man. As it had happened with his father,' so it would happen with him-there would be no standing ground in the island for the man who bad deliberately put himself outside the pale.
"Don't worry me with silly efforts to draw a line so straight. If you can't have Kate and the Deemstership together, and if you can't have Kate without the Deemstership, there is only one thing left-the Deemstership without Kate. You must take the office and forego the girl. It is your duty, your necessity."
This was how Philip put it to himself at length, and the daylight had gone by that time, and he was walking in the dark. But the voice which bad been pleading on his side now protested on hers.
"Don't prate of duty and necessity. You mean self-love and self-interest. Man,, be honest. Because this woman is an obstacle in your career, you would sacrifice her. It is boundless, pitiless
selfishness. Suppose you abandon her, dare you think of her with
out shame! She loves you, she trusts you, and she has given you
proof of her love and trust. Hold your tongue. Don't dare to whisper that nobody knows it but you and her-that you will be silent, that she will have no temptation to speak, . She loves you. She has given you all. God bless her ! "
Affectionate pity swept down the selfish man in him. As the lights of the town appeared on his path, he was saying to himself boldly, " Since either way there is trouble, I'll do as I said last night-I'll leave Heaven to decide whether I'm to be a great mail or a little man, and decide for myself whether I'm to be a true
man or a happy man. I'll take my heart in my hand and go right forward."
In this temper he returned to his chambers. The rooms fronted to Athol Street, but backed on to the churchyard of St. George's. They were quiet, and not overlooked. His lamp was lit, The servant was laying the cloth.
"Lay covers for two, Jemmy," said Philip. Then he began to hum something.
Presently, in feeling for his keys, his fingers touched an unfamiliar substance in his pocket. IIe remembered what it was. It was the cracked medallion of his father. He could not bear to look at it. Unlocking a chest, he buried it at the bottom under a pile of winter clothing.
This recalled a possession yet more painful, and going to a desk, he drew out the packet of his father's letters and proceeded to hide them away with the medallion. As he did so his hand trembled, his limbs shook, he felt giddy, and he thought the voice that had tormented him with conflicting taunts was ringing in his ears again.
Bury him deep ! Bury your father out of all sight and all remem
brance. Bury his love of you, his hopes of you, his expectations
and dreams of you. Bury and forget him for ever."
Philip hesitated a moment, and then banged down the lid of the chest, and relocked it as his servant returned to the room. The man was a solemn, dignified, and reticent person, who bad been
groom to the late Bishop. His gravity he had acquired from his horses, his dignity from his master; but his reticence he had created
for himself, being a thing beyond nature in creature or man. His proper name was Cottier; he had always been known as Jem-y-Lord.
7 f "Company not arrived, air," he said. "Wait or serve" "What is the time?" said Philip.
Struck eight; but clock two minutes soon." "Serve the supper at once," said Philip.
When the dishes had been brought in and the man dismissed, Philip, taking his place at the table, drew from his button-hole a flower which he had picked out of his water-bowl at lunch, and, first putting it to his lips, he tossed it on to the empty place before the chair which had been drawn up opposite. Then he sat down to eat, lie ate little; and, do what he would, he could not keep his mind from wandering. He thought of his aunt, and how hurt she had been the previous night; of his uncle, and how he had snubbed and then slavered over him; of the Governor, and how strange the interest he had shown in him; and finally, he thought of Pete, and how lately he was dead, and how soon forgotten.
In the midst of these memories, all sad and some bitter, suddenly be remembered again that he was supping with Kate. Then he struggled to be bright and even a little gay. He knew that she would be taking her supper at Sulby at that moment, thinking of him and making believe that he was with her. So he tried to think that she was with him, sitting in the chair opposite, looking across the table between the white cloth and the blue lamp-shade, out of her beaming eyes, with her rings of dark hair dancing on her forehead, and her ripe mouth twitching merrily. Then the air of the room seemed to be filled with a sweet presence. He could have fancied there was a perfume of lace and dainty things. " Sweetheart ! "
He laughed-he hardly knew if it was himself that had spoken. It was dear, delicious fooling.
But his eyes fell on the chest wherein he had buried the letters and the medallion, and his mind wandered again. He thought of'his father, of his grandfather, of his lost inheritance, and how nearlyhe had reclaimed the better part of it, and then once more of Pete, crying aloud at last in the coil of his trouble, " Oh, if Pete had only lived ! "
His voice startled and his words horrified him. To wipe out both in the first moment of recovered consciousness, he filled his glass to the brim, and lifted it up, rising at the same time, looking across the table, and saying in a soft whisper, "Your health, darling, your health !"
The bell rang from the street door, and he stood listening with the wine-glass in his hand. When he knew anything more, a voice at his elbow was saying out of a palpitating gloom, "The gentleman can't come, seemingly; he has sent a telegram."
It was Jem-y-Lord holding a telegram in his hand. Philip tore open the envelope and read-
" Coming home by Ramsey boat to-morrow well and hearty tell Kirry Peat."
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2008